cover art by mutecornett
Kon had to blink a few times to clear his gummy eyes. Tim was sitting in a chair across from him, in civvies, jeans and a t-shirt, hair a mess. His elbows were braced against his knees and his forehead was against his clenched hands. There was a white bandage around his left hand, slowly staining red over the third knuckle.
"Y're leaking, man," Kon said. It came out weird and slurred; his tongue wouldn't work right. He felt strange, heavy, and his head wouldn't come up off the pillow.
Tim's head jerked up. "Jesus! Don't move!" He got up and ran out of the room, yelling for a nurse.
There was a lot of noise after that, a bunch of people in lab coats talking at him way too seriously, and he was too sick and groggy to follow any of it, until a few of the words started to hit the walls of his brain and stick, and he said, "Wait, spinal injury?" He grabbed for the railings on his bed to sit up and the nurses all started trying to hold him down. "Get off me!" he yelled, and holy fuck, holy fuck, his legs—his legs weren't working, he couldn't feel anything—
"Don't, Kon, stop!" Tim was grabbing onto his shoulders too, and Kon shoved all of them back, equipment tumbling and racks crashing to the floor.
"Kon," and then Clark was suddenly there, in costume, big hands pressing him gently but inexorably back down against the bed. "Kon, you have to stay flat, you'll—make it worse," and the look on his face was so miserable that Kon knew this was happening for real.
His life turned into being prodded a million times a day by five million doctors and nurses, all of whom were bitter that they couldn't get needles through his skin and determined to make up for it by making him as uncomfortable as possible otherwise. Clark stopped by twice a day like clockwork, mornings on his way to work, evenings on his way to patrol, and made uncomfortable fake-cheer conversations, trying so fucking hard it made Kon want to throw things at him.
Lois came by with him a few times, and brought a stack of paperbacks, which was at least useful. She didn't try to cheer him up, just patted him on the shoulder and said, "Hang in there, kiddo," quietly, as she left.
Tim had been camped out for a week already and had to go back home; his dad wasn't buying the excuses anymore. "Call me," he said. "Seriously, Kon, just—any time, okay? You have my cell, use it."
"Yeah," Kon said. "I'll make sure to get you right in the middle of an op, just to piss off you-know-who."
"There you go," Tim said.
After a couple of days, Tim started calling and leaving voicemail messages. Kon listened to them, but he didn't call back. What was the point? They were done; he was done. He wasn't going to be fighting crime with no fucking legs.
Martha came in from Smallville over the weekend to see him. She looked anxiously at his mostly untouched dinner tray and tried to get him to eat the cookies she'd brought. "Not hungry right now, thanks," he said, shortly, and pretended to fall asleep so she'd go away.
The next day Clark sat down heavily and rubbed his forehead. "The doctors are saying you're not cooperating with the physical therapist."
Kon shrugged with one shoulder and flipped to the next channel on the TV. That was about all his freaking TK was good for, these days. He'd tried to lift himself up with it, and somehow it didn't work—or rather, it worked fine on his upper body, and then his legs were left dangling crazily loose, dragging him down and throwing him off. And after that one thirty-second try, everything had hurt like crazy and the doctors had gone off on him for being stupid, reckless—like things could get worse when he was already having a bedpan emptied twice a day.
"You can't just give up like this," Clark said. "Kon, you've got to keep trying—"
"Fuck off," Kon said, tightly. "What the fuck do you know about it, you're invulnerable." He looked away. "I'm just the second-rate model."
"Yeah, save it," he said, and rolled over onto his side and gave Clark his back. It hurt, but he did it anyway. After a little bit, Clark got up and walked out.
Two weeks after the accident, a reporter from the Inquisitor got into the room. Kon woke up when the flash went off in his face, and nearly broke her neck throwing her across the room with TK. She screamed, but she held on to the camera as she half-crawled out of the room, while he yelled for the nurses and tried to fumble his way free of the covers.
It was the top story on the six o'clock news on every channel: poor Superboy, paralyzed hero, no hope of recovery say doctors, confidential sources whispering about temper tantrums. Kon threw the remote into the TV screen and watched it shatter into sparks with angry satisfaction.
"Kon!" Nurse Radson came in and glared at him. "You realize that we're not going to be replacing that, I hope."
"Like I care," Kon said. "I hope you guys got paid a lot for talking to them. Now you've got another story to give them. How much for letting her in, anyway?"
She flushed an ugly red and said, "Kon, believe it or not, we are here to help you, no matter how difficult you seem to—" She broke off; there was some kind of weird commotion going on in the hallway. The door opened and two big men in black suits came in. "What is—who are—?"
The men were going to the windows, closing the blinds, ignoring her completely. They finished and went to the two far corners of the room, put their backs to the wall. One of them lifted his wrist and murmured, "All clear."
"You can't just barge in here," Radson said. "I'm going to call hospital security—" She stopped and turned as the door opened again.
Lex Luthor walked in.
He glanced around the room, one quick flicker of eyes that seemed to take everything in: Radson, the bed, the bare antiseptic walls, the thin pale blue quilt on the bed, the smoking TV, and then came to rest on Kon. Kon gulped. He wasn't about to yell for Clark, but he kind of felt like it. Visions of scalpels and vivisection were dancing in his head, and he really hadn't wanted to find out just how much worse things could get than this.
Luthor studied him a few moments, and then said, "Nice. I'm going to kick Clark's ass."
Kon was still boggling at that when Luthor turned to Radson. "I'd like to see the doctors in charge of Kon's case."
She was staring at him. "They've, they've gone home—"
"I'm sorry, maybe I'm not making myself clear," he said. "I want everyone who's been involved with this case here in," he looked at his watch, "fifteen minutes, unless they want to be looking for a new job tomorrow. And get me the files."
"Those are confidential!" she said. "I don't know what you're used to, Mr. Luthor, but—"
"Nurse Radson," Luthor said, "do you have a sense of the typical court awards for treating a minor without notification or consent of his parent or guardian? If not, I suggest you go look them up. And bring me my son's records. Now."
Clark pushed his way through the knot of reporters outside the front door of the hospital and used the revolving door to cover going to super-speed, blurring through the lobby and up the stairs. He felt sick. Kon was already taking this about as badly as he possibly could, even before being turned into the main act in a three-ring circus.
He stepped out of the stairwell and froze. The hallway was full of people: not reporters, but people in black suits and headsets, a couple of LexCorp troopers in full armor, and worst of all Lex, who was standing by the nurses' station talking to a couple of pale, scared-looking doctors.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Clark said, shoving the bodyguards out of the way, not gently. "If you've hurt Kon—"
Lex wheeled around. "If I've hurt him?" he snapped. "You mean something like letting him get his back broken?" He threw the medical file at Clark's chest, x-rays and MRIs flying every way. "How much longer were you going to leave him lying in that hospital bed being neglected on your crap HMO insurance before you swallowed your fucking pride and asked me for help?"
Clark flinched back. Lex looked really angry, eyes flat and glittering, the kind of rage not even Superman could provoke, not anymore. Lex had gotten more and more locked down with every passing year. "What do—how—"
"I made what was obviously a major error in judgment and decided that he'd be happier being raised by people who had some experience with a metahuman teenager," Lex said. "I wasn't thrilled by your choice to let him play costumed superhero before he even graduated high school, but it never occured to me that you wouldn't be paying attention."
"Go to hell," Clark said, clenching his fist into the front of Lex's shirt, ignoring the stuttering of gun safeties coming off, the dozen barrels pointing at his head, the screams as the doctors and nurses threw themselves to the floor.
He'd been on assignment downtown when the Titans signal had gone out over the Justice League frequency, like it did every so often; he hadn't thought about it after that, not until he was hearing Tim yelling, "Backup! JL, we need backup now! This thing is some kind of alien tech, we can't stop—Kon!" over the radio, his voice cracking into real terror. Clark had blown across two states in five minutes and smashed straight through the runaway alien robot to get to Kon's terrifyingly limp body, still huddled in the wreckage around the crying little girl, unharmed, that he'd been trying to protect.
Clark had lived it a hundred times over since then: if he'd listened to the report more closely, if he'd been monitoring the situation, if he'd gotten there sooner, if—
Mercy was suddenly next to him, with a gun leveled at his temple that made him wince, kryptonite radiation coming off it in waves. "Let go or I'll blow your head off."
Lex jerked himself free of Clark's loosening grip and pulled his shirt straight. He stepped close and said, low and cold, "I'm taking Kon to the penthouse, where my doctors are going to start working on his case. Get in my way, and I'll file a formal suit for custody that'll blow your secret sky-high."
"If I thought for one second that you were going to help him—" Clark said, tightly; god, he wanted to believe that Lex was going to help Kon, that Lex could fix this and would—
"I am going to," Lex said. "In fact, I'm going to start right now, by getting him out of that piece of shit hospital bed."
"Fine." Clark folded his arms. "Get him into a wheelchair without force and I won't stand in your way. Otherwise, you had better be ready to go through me, and don't think Mercy's gun is going to stop me."
Lex turned away without saying anything else and stalked into the hospital room. Kon was sitting up in bed, sweating; his eyes brightened when he saw Clark. Lex turned and beckoned, and one of his people brought in a wheelchair. Kon snorted. "Yeah, like I'm going anywhere with you."
Lex said quietly, "Get in the chair or you're going to be bumped from the 11 PM news by a list of the alternate identities of every other member of the Titans, delivered by e-mail with video and photographic evidence to every major network in the country."
Kon crossed his arms over his chest. "You're so bluffing."
Lex took a clipboard out of one of his people's hands and wrote a short list and handed it to Kon silently. Kon gave it one look and then stared up at Lex in horror.
"You son of a bitch," Clark said, grabbing Lex by the arm. "You think I'm going to let you—"
"And you're going to stop me how, exactly?" Lex said. He turned back to Kon. "I'm sure Clark here has been very nice to you. Very understanding, letting you have this nice little wallow in self-pity." He leaned in. "Well, I hope you've enjoyed it, because I'm not going to be nice. What I am going to do is get you walking again." He straightened up. "Now get in the fucking chair."
Luthor's doctors were a lot less with the comforting bedside manners and a lot more with the cool scientific interest. It took a week before Kon stopped expecting to get dissected and started hoping, unwillingly. Maybe Luthor's plan was to find a cure, then make a deal—he'd fix Kon if Kon would promise to work for him or something. And Kon for one would have zero problems shaking hands on that and walking away after.
Meanwhile he had to deal with Mercy as a physical therapist. Her idea of a gentle workout was to make him do a couple hundred pull-ups, no TK allowed, and Kon had no idea how, but she could freaking tell when he was cheating. After that it was bench-pressing, and free weights, and some pilates yoga crap that he made the mistake of saying was for girls, after which her eyes got narrow and she twisted him into a pretzel and made him stay that way for half an hour.
"I hate you so much," he moaned, crawling back into the bed. It was a special platform that collapsed down to the floor, so he could pull himself onto it without needing help or even to use the TK, and raise it back up again.
She sniffed. "You don't take after Lex much," she said as she left, making it sound like an insult, for crying out loud. Kon lay on his back afterwards and glared at the ceiling, wondering what the hell that was supposed to mean, anyway. Like he hadn't spent the last two years, since he'd found out, basically praying not to take after Luthor.
"She's wrong, actually." Luthor came into the room and sat down: he'd been coming by every day, even though he pretty much just listened to Kon yell at him about how the therapy was cruel and the doctors were assholes and then went away again without expressing any sympathy at all. "I whined at least as much as you do when I was sixteen."
Kon glanced over, curious despite himself. "What, you were sick or something?"
"I ODed on homemade heroin in a London nightclub and my dad put me in rehab for six weeks," Lex said, casually. "I was a pretty miserable kid," he added, seeing Kon's expression.
"As opposed to now, when you're a happy and well-adjusted adult," Kon said, staring.
Luthor actually laughed. "By comparison."
Kon had a hard time picturing Luthor clubbing, much less partying hard enough to be doing drugs. "Do you even wear anything besides suits?"
"There's a pair of jeans hidden in the back of my closet," Luthor said. "Don't tell anyone."
One week later, the doctors didn't come in first thing. Instead, the breakfast tray came and was taken away—and okay, Kon had to admit, that was one major improvement over the hospital: piles of real bacon and eggs that tasted better even than the ones on the farm and fresh-squeezed orange juice and warm bread slathered with melting butter. And then Luthor came in, carrying a briefcase.
Kon eyed him warily. Luthor pretty much defined expressionlessness; the only other person Kon had seen match him was Batman, and he had a mask over more than half his face. But there was something different, maybe his mouth was a little tighter or something.
"The team have completed their initial assessment," Luthor said quietly, and Kon felt his hands ball up into knots. "The good news is that the nerve damage is highly localized, restricted to the L-1 vertebra area. Below that, the spinal cord looks to be in good shape."
"Fine, now give me the bad news," Kon said tightly.
"I'm not going to whitewash this for you," Luthor said. "The damage is pretty severe. It's worse than we were hoping for." He paused, and bent down to look in the briefcase, which gave Kon a chance to blink hard and swallow a bunch of times. "We've got two main approaches to take. The first one is the ideal—to get your own cord to regenerate. That's going to be harder because of the injury. That means I'm going to put together a second team to work on the alternative, which is prosthetic replacement."
"Right, you can replace a spinal cord?" Kon said bitterly.
"Not yet," Luthor said. "But we'll find a way." He looked at Kon and held out his right hand, the smooth, black, shining hand. "I didn't take impossible for an answer when it was me," he said. "And I'm not going to take it this time, either."
He left afterwards. Nobody came in for the next hour, which gave Kon enough time to break down and then scrub his face after to erase the evidence, thanks to the pitcher of water and fresh towels that stood by the side of the bed. He hadn't known just how much he'd let himself hope that Luthor really would just walk in one morning and hand him a miracle.
He was lying numb and wrung-out afterwards when Luthor knocked and came back in. "This isn't going to happen overnight," he said, "and you've been lying in that bed enough."
"Maybe I like it here," Kon said. "Not like I'm good for anything out of it." He'd ignored the wheelchair by the bed since getting here.
"Sure, but bedsores are a bitch to clean up," Luthor said. One of his flunkies came in pushing a new wheelchair, red and shiny, with a little yellow stamp on the back.
Kon eyed it and snorted. "Since when does Ferrari make wheelchairs?"
"I've bought forty-two cars from them," Luthor said, "so whenever I ask them to." He tossed a set of keys with the same yellow stamp into Kon's lap, landing in the blankets. "It's been designed to lock into the car parked outside in the no-standing zone. If you get down there before it gets towed, it's yours. Otherwise those are going to be your only wheels for the next year."
Kon stared at the keys, stared at Luthor, and yanked the chair over with TK.
"Oh my fucking god!" he yelled, skidding to a stop outside. He almost threw himself onto the hood. It was red and sleek, with slashes on the side like shark gills and a hard-top convertible, the yellow shield stamped on each side and the hood, and all black inside. It took him ten minutes to figure out how to get the chair to work—then he finally got it locked in, and in a single smooth motion, the chair tipped him up and into the driver's seat, one side folding down, and then flattened itself out and stowed away behind. "Oh my god," he said again, stroking the dashboard. There were little post-it notes on the gearshift and the steering wheel, stuck on some extra buttons: brakes and gas and clutch.
The passenger door opened and Luthor got in the car. "Please tell me you've been taught how to drive stick," he said.
"Uh, on the tractor?" Kon said.
Luthor closed his eyes and looked like he was in pain. "Right, we'll start slow." He pointed at the stick. "Hold down the clutch and let's start shifting gears."
"You can't keep this," Clark said reflexively.
"Oh, watch me," Kon said. He petted the dashboard. "Don't worry, baby, I'm not going anywhere."
"Kon—" Clark stopped. When exactly had he turned into his dad, he wondered? Kon was looking happy for the first time since—Clark looked away. "Just, be careful," he finished lamely. "Lex's presents have price tags attached."
"I've been living in his freaking apartment for two weeks, Clark, if he was going to do something evil he'd have done it by now." Kon's head bent over the dashboard. "It's not like I'm worth doing anything evil to, anyway."
Clark didn't know what to say.
"I could have some mind control devices implanted next week if it would make you feel better," Lex said, strolling up to the car. "Did Clark tell you to give the car back to me yet?"
Kon rolled his eyes. "Yes."
"It's nice that some things don't ever change," Lex said. "Have fun. And don't let him take you on any hills yet," he added to Clark.
"I can take her out?" Kon said.
"I'm hoping I can afford the inevitable tickets," Lex said. "Just try to avoid any major property damage or vehicular manslaughter."
"Whoo!" Kon said. Clark had that low miserable sinking feeling that meant Lex had just outmaneuvered him. Again.
And Kon's driving genes had definitely come from Lex, Clark thought as they went around another corner on what felt like two wheels. "Watch the hydrant!" he yelled.
"Relax!" Kon said. "It's under control," which was a ridiculous lie. "Jeez, Clark, you're invulnerable, quit bracing yourself against the dashboard."
"Could you please slow down a little?" Clark said. "God, this is worse than driving with Lex."
"You've gone driving with Lex?" Kon said, wrestling the car around a death-defying obstacle course of a gas tanker, a Hummer, and five taxicabs. "When? It doesn't seem like the kind of thing nemesises—nemeses?—do."
Clark stared out the window. "A long time ago," he said. "We knew each other in Smallville."
"Are you shitting me?" Kon said. "Uh, kidding me! Kidding me, I meant. You guys were, what, like, pals?"
He'd never talked to Kon about Lex; he didn't talk about Lex to anyone, if he could help it. "Best friends, for a while," he said bleakly, the taste of it like ashes in his mouth. He'd saved thousands of strangers, tens of thousands, but he'd failed Lex, and now he'd failed Kon too. He wondered if that were inevitable, if Lex was right—that he was trading the important private battles to fight the public one.
"Seriously?" Kon said. "No, come on, seriously?"
"I don't care! What I care about is you're the biggest jerk in the history of the universe," Tim said.
"Yeah, okay, but dude!" Kon said. "They were best friends! That's freaking insane! That's like, if you went evil someday!"
"If anyone is going to go evil, it is totally you, you asshole!" Tim yelled. Kon winced away from the phone. "I just sold my ipod on ebay so I could buy a plane ticket to Metropolis for next weekend and make sure you weren't dead!"
"Aw, man," Kon said. "Look, I'm—I'm sorry, okay? I just—" He hadn't even really thought about it, he'd just gotten back and gone straight to the phone and called Tim, because this was freaking weird, and who else was he going to talk to about it?
Tim was quiet. "You are so not off the hook," he said finally. "I'm still coming out next weekend, and if I get killed trying to break into Luthor's penthouse to see you, you-know-who is going to be out for your blood."
"Okay, okay, jeez, you don't have to threaten me!" Kon said. "I'll even come pick you up." He grinned suddenly, spinning the keys around his finger. "And just wait till you see my wheels."
Afterwards, he looked at the wheelchair. He'd managed to spend the last week or so using it to just go straight from the bed to the car and back; after some practice, it now took him five minutes tops to get downstairs and locked in, and then he could almost forget he was broken from the waist down. He tugged it over and lifted himself in from the bed, and went out of the bedroom.
The elevator was only a few yards away from his door. He turned in the other direction for the first time and wheeled along. It was stupid that he'd never even tried exploring; Lex at least had to have a TV around somewhere.
The hallway opened up into a giant living room, Metropolis skyline lit up like Christmas, like flying. Kon stared out at it. Lex was sprawled on a black leather couch, jacket off and shirtsleeves rolled up, feet on the coffee table, reading something on a tablet PC and drinking what smelled like hot chocolate.
"Come in, I'll get you some," Lex said, touching his intercom. One of his assistants—blonde, legs a mile long, and just wow, Kon couldn't help noticing—brought in another mug, and it smelled so good Kon wheeled into the room and took it. If Lex Luthor wasn't too cool to drink hot chocolate, Kon figured he could get away with it.
"So, um," he said, looking down at the mug, "I was just—I talked to a pal of mine, Tim Drake." Except Lex knew who Tim was, duh, he realized, and the chances he'd let Tim stay—
"You're welcome to have guests," Lex said.
Kon blinked. He really hated when Lex did that mind-reading thing, it was creepy.
"I got you here with threats because there wasn't any time to waste," Lex said. "But you're not a prisoner. Not that I wouldn't appreciate it if your friends didn't leave too many bugs in the apartment," he added, dryly.
"I'm not going to let my friends bug your place!" Kon said indignantly. "What kind of jerk do you think I am?"
"One who's friends with Robin," Lex said. "I give him fifteen minutes before he tries to crack the wireless network."
"Tim wouldn't—" Lex raised an eyebrow and Kon deflated. "Okay, Tim totally would, but I won't let him." He thought of something and said abruptly, "Um, hey, I. You know, after the car and all, I didn't say—"
"You don't have to," Lex said quietly.
"Yeah, I do," Kon said. "I mean, okay, maybe you're going to go back to being evil or whatever at some point, but I can't live like that, reminding myself you're the bad guy all the time when you're actually being cool. Okay?"
Lex' mouth twitched. "Okay."
"Okay," Kon said. "So, you know, thanks."
"You're welcome," Lex said. He looked like he wanted to laugh. He handed the tablet PC to Kon. "Want to watch something? The Sharks are playing."
"On what?" Kon inspected the tablet: it wasn't actually a PC, it was a freaking remote control. He touched the button for HDTV and picked ESPN from the menu. The windows went smoky and opaque, the lights went off, and a twenty-foot screen slid down from the ceiling. "Holy shit," Kon said reverently, as Mahoney got sacked by the Broncos' offense with a thump that made the furniture rattle. He could hear people screaming from all sides like he was actually in the stadium.
Lex snorted and put his feet up again. "Daniels should never have left him exposed like that. There's a recliner switch on that thing, by the way."
Kon looked down the side and found it, and the chair stretched itself out under him. "Cool." The TV went to commercial, and the speakers muted automatically. "So, uh," he said, "you and Clark—"
Lex looked at him narrowly.
Kon gulped. "Never mind."
Tim folded his arms at the car. "It's okay," he said.
Kon leaned back in the wheelchair and gave him a look.
"Okay, fine, shut up, it's a freaking Ferrari," Tim said. "Can I drive it?"
"No," Kon said, smugly. "But you can keep asking in case I change my mind. Hop in, bro, because we are on a mission."
"Please don't ever say 'bro' again," Tim said, stuffing his bag into the space behind the seats as he climbed in. "What's the mission?"
Kon revved up the engine and pointed her west, on I-73 heading out of Metropolis. "We're going to Smallville."
Martha made faintly impressed noises when Kon pulled into the driveway, although she looked at the car anxiously. Clark really hadn't fallen far from the tree. Well, the tree he'd landed in, anyway, Kon amended mentally.
He got out of the car and wheeled around, using the TK to keep the chair a little off the uneven ground, and stopped. There was a ramp on one side of the front steps. "Where'd that come from?" Kon said, eyeing it.
"Oh—" Martha tried to smile. "Clark just did a little work on the house," she said. "He even put in an elevator, one here and one in the barn." She cleared her throat. "We were thinking, sweetheart, you might be ready to move back in soon, go back to school... Anyway, we just wanted to make sure you would be comfortable here," she finished, a little hurriedly, and went into the house before Kon could even have answered the question.
She brought out cookies and milk and apples to the porch and bustled away back inside. Kon took the emptied plates in to her at the sink and said, "Hey—thanks, you know? It's—it's cool, I'm just sorry 'cause you didn't have to do all this. Lex has these people working on it, they're going to find something. I'll be on my feet again soon."
She paused in the dishwashing, her hands closed tight on the edge of the counter. She didn't say anything for a moment, then she turned and smiled at him, a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Well, it wasn't a bad idea anyway," she said. "I'm not as young as I used to be, and all these stairs weren't doing my bad hip any good." She reached out and cupped his face with a hand. "I hope they find something soon."
She turned quickly back to the sink. Kon tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair. "So, look," he said, "what's the story with Lex, anyway? I thought he was just, you know, this Metropolis big bad, I didn't know he used to live out here."
Martha hesitated for just a moment and didn't look around. "The Luthor mansion is in the neighborhood," she said. "His father sent him here to run the fertilizer plant."
"A fertilizer plant?" Kon said. Wow, was he going to get mileage out of that one when he saw Lex.
"A fertilizer plant?" Tim said. They'd taken an extra bag of apples and gotten settled up in the loft. "I wonder how he got from that to the takeover."
"What takeover?" Kon said. Martha hadn't shared a lot more information; going by what she'd said, Lex and Clark would maybe have gone past each other a couple of times at the store, not been BFF.
"You said he came here when he was twenty-one, so that was probably his first management position," Tim said. "He took over LuthorCorp from his dad when he was twenty-four, locked it down when he was twenty-five, went back to Metropolis not long after that. Not really enough time for him to have gone someplace else in between, if he and Clark got close."
"Oh, right," Kon said, pretending he'd known any of that. "So now what?"
"Why are you asking me? You're the one who wants to know—whatever it is you want to know," Tim said. "What exactly are you looking for, anyway?"
Kon waved his hands frustratedly. "I don't know! Anything. These guys are like a freaking bank vault, I have no clue what's inside. But something has to have happened here. First they were friends, which is weird enough, then they get to Metropolis and they're trying to kill each other. Come on, you're the detective, help me out here."
Tim leaned back and steepled his fingers. Kon nearly choked on a bite of apple swallowing the laugh; Lex did the same thing when he was thinking. "All right," Tim said. "Let's make the assumption that anything major that Lex did locally would be news. Not that many billionaires in Smallville. Let's hit the library and check out the back issues."
"Okay, I've got the local paper and the school paper both," Tim said, putting down a bin full of microfilm reels. "Just remember, we've got five or six years to cover here, starting September that first year. It's not going to be in the first thing we look at."
"I found it," Kon said, holding the first frame of microfilm up against the light.
"What?" Tim said.
"Billionaire saved by local teen," Kon said, handing it to Tim. "He crashed his car into the river and Clark pulled him out."
Tim peered at it and tossed it back into the box of reels. "Well, that takes care of how they got to know each other."
"One hell of an introduction," Kon said. "Now we just need to figure out how it all went south."
They started going through the rest of the microfilm: one story after another involving Lex Luthor and Clark Kent, one or the other between the lines sometimes, unexplained miraculous rescues and subtle movements of money and power. "Hey, Lex ran against Clark's dad for the State Senate?" Kon said. "Think that's where—"
"No," Tim said, reading a year ahead. "They're working together again here. I'm almost at the end," he added.
They hit the end without a clear answer. The final story was the departure of Lex Luthor for Metropolis, the renaming of LuthorCorp to LexCorp. Clark Kent's departure didn't make the press. "But it's fall of the year he started college," Kon said. "So they even left town at the same time. It makes zero sense."
Tim sat back, tapping his fingers against his lips thoughtfully. "Well, they started with a bang, but maybe they ended with a whimper. We aren't going to find anything subtle in newspaper articles. We need to find someone who knew them both at the time, who can tell us how they stopped being friends."
"I can name three people who can," Kon said. "None of them are talking, though."
"I've got an idea for someone who will," Tim said, pointing to the byline that said Chloe Sullivan.
"They didn't," Chloe said. They both stared at her blankly, and she sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Look, I realize this is a wacky concept at sixteen, but you can love somebody and be mad at them at the same time. They never stopped being friends. They just—started being enemies too."
"How does that even work?" Kon demanded. "They alternate days or something? 'Oh, it's Tuesday, I guess today I have to try to kill Clark?'"
"No offense, Kon, but better minds than yours have been trying to make sense of the eternal mystery that is Clark Kent and Lex Luthor since before you were even born," Chloe said. "You want to know what they think, you'd have to ask them. If they even know at this point."
"Great," Kon said, pulling in to the LexCorp garage. "Dead end."
"But what more did you want to know?" Tim said. "They were friends, they had a bunch of fights, they grew apart. That's the story."
"Well, it's a stupid story!" Kon said. He shoved the car into park and yanked the emergency brake up, then slumped back in his seat. "I don't even know what I wanted," he said after a minute. "I guess I wanted it to make some sense. I wanted to know—" He stopped and shrugged angrily.
Tim said quietly, "You wanted a reason to trust Luthor."
Kon stared at the steering wheel, the sleek and gleaming dashboard, the silver stamp of the rearing horse. "Yeah," he said. "It's been so weird—I mean, he's supposed to be this utter bastard, and instead he's a pretty cool guy."
Tim rolled his eyes. "It's not mutually exclusive. His company is the fifteenth largest economic entity in the world, and he's the absolute ruler. If he didn't have charisma in spades he'd never have made that happen."
"Fine, but why's he being nice to me if he really is evil?"
"Are you actually thinking we're going to sit here and figure out Lex Luthor's agenda?" Tim said. "Clark and Bruce together can't figure out Luthor's agenda nine times out of ten. Bruce says that's probably because he has five agendas at any one moment, and they're constantly shifting based on what's happening."
"So what am I supposed to do!" Kon said, thumping his hand against the wheel. "Do I trust the guy or not?"
They sat in the car silently a while. "There are five people I'm not supposed to take on alone," Tim said finally. "Joker, Ra's Al Ghul, Two-Face, Penguin, and Luthor. I'm not even allowed to try to bug him or hack into his systems without a direct OK."
He shrugged. "And last time I saw you, you were acting like you just hadn't gotten around to dying yet, and you wouldn't even talk to me on the phone. So I don't have an answer for you. He's dangerous, but he could help. He's already helped. I don't know how to tell you to turn your back on that."
Kon looked away. "I can't take being stuck like this," he whispered. "I can't—I can't spend my life like this."
"You know what happened to Oracle," Tim said. "She didn't let it stop her."
"I'm not like her," Kon said. "You're the computer guy, the smart guy. What have I got if I'm not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Ow! Hey!"
Tim tasered him in the arm again. "You idiot!" he said. "Did you get brain damaged along with paralyzed?"
Kon grabbed the taser away from him. "Quit it!"
"You've got you," Tim said, "if you'd just quit treating this like the end of your existence. Clark isn't Superman because he's got a rainbow of super-powers, he's Superman because he figures out ways to use them to help people. Find something."
Kon took Tim upstairs to his room, and they flopped side by side on the bed. Tim stared at the ceiling. "Hey," he said after a few minutes, "is there a computer? I need to check my email."
"I thought you weren't allowed to try and hack into Lex's network," Kon said. Tim twitched guiltily.
"I just want to see if—"
"No," Kon said.
Tim folded his arms and muttered.
"So how is everybody?" Kon said. "Anything big happening?"
"Everyone's okay, far as I know," Tim said uncomfortably. Kon rolled over and looked hard at him. Tim shrugged. "Nobody's exactly been jumping to hang out."
"What about the regular weekends?" Kon said suspiciously.
"After Luthor got involved, we had some differences of opinion on what to do," Tim said, which meant there'd been a knock-down drag-out fight involving serious property damage. "Cassie wanted to bust in here and break you out, Bart was with her."
"Uh," Kon said. "That might not have been the best plan."
"No kidding," Tim said.
"I don't just mean because your asses would be toast." Kon pulled himself up to a sitting position against the headboard. "Look, I didn't say anything before, but you need to know about this. Lex knows who you guys are, you and all the other Titans."
"Clark told us that already, dork," Tim said. "You think any of us would actually let that stop us from taking you out of here if Luthor was doing something bad to you?"
"Oh," Kon said.
"I just had the radical idea that Clark maybe had some clue what he was doing leaving you here," Tim said. "They hadn't seen you in the—in the hospital, they didn't know—"
Kon dropped his eyes to his hands and fiddled with the sheet.
"Anyway," Tim said, about as brightly as he ever got, "everybody's going to be glad you're doing better."
"Hey," Kon said, "let's call them."
"What?" Tim said.
"It's Saturday night, the Titans should be meeting," Kon said. "It's not like they're going to be blowing their identities if they come over. Besides," he added, "you guys have got to see the TV room in this place."
"Hey," Bart said, poking his head up from behind the bar, "check it out, this even has Mezcal. We can make Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters!"
"What?" Kon said, glancing over his shoulder. "Oh, goddamn it!" he yelled, as Tim proceeded to backstab his sorceror.
"You snooze, you lose," Tim said smugly, looting the corpse. "Oh, that's a nice dagger."
"It took me three freaking quests to get that thing!" Kon said, watching miserably as his inventory disappeared.
"Voila!" Bart zipped over and put six glasses down on the coffee table, full of bright green liquid and bubbling with white smoke that poured down off the sides.
"Whoa, cool!" Cassie said. "How did you do that?"
"Dry ice!" Bart said. "Isn't that awesome? I saw the recipe in Wikipedia a month ago, I totally wanted to try it, but I haven't been able to get the stuff for it."
"Wait, did you put in actual alcohol?" Tim demanded.
Raven said hoarsely, "Yes, he did." She put down her empty glass. Even the dry ice was gone. A little thread of steam drifted out from the depths of her hood.
"Are you nuts?" Tim said.
"Dude, we're old enough to save the world, we're old enough to have one freaking cocktail," Bart said. "Like you weren't driving that cycle before you had your license."
"Can't argue with that logic," Kon said, ignoring Tim's glare, and tipped the glass back. "Holy shit," he squeaked, putting it down.
"Wow, what is in this?" Cassie said, taking a gulp.
"Everclear, Wild Turkey, rum, Gatorade..." Bart ticked items off on his fingers.
"What's the thing in the bottom?" Kon said, peering at the glass from underneath.
"Huh? Oh, that's the worm from the Mezcal," Bart said.
"Crunchy," Raven added.
Cassie spit her drink out all over the remote-tablet-thing. "Oh, crap!" Kon said, grabbing for it as the LCD screen flickered, and managed to knock over Tim's ignored glass. Smoking globs of dry ice went skittering over the coffee table, green liquor spilled everywhere. Half the window panels suddenly turned transparent again; blue track lighting came on overhead; and abruptly the speakers thundered out Beethoven's Fifth, the volume going up and up and—
Everything stopped. The lights came back on.
They all turned slowly. Lex was standing in the doorway, hand on the wall control panel. Kon looked back at the room. The TV was still stuck on his character's bloody corpse, the windows were messed up, there was a giant green stain on the white carpet, and the dry ice was still smoking, so the place looked kind of like they'd set it on fire.
"Um," Kon said, clearing his throat. "So, on a scale of one to ten, just how screwed am I?"
"I'm not angry, Kon," Lex said.
"Really?" Kon said.
"No," Lex said. "I choose to take this as a cry for help."
Tim muttered, "It goes to eleven."
Cassie and Bart followed Lex with wide and scared eyes as he came into the room and walked around the couch towards them; Raven's face was hidden in the hood, but she had pulled the cloak tightly around herself. Tim just went utterly stoic and folded his arms, clearly practicing his Batman impression.
Lex inspected the glasses. "How many of these did you all have?"
"Just one!" Kon said.
Lex picked up the remnant of Kon's drink and sipped it. He made a face and put it down. "Yes, that would have been enough."
"We're all dead," Cassie said faintly, clutching at Bart's arm. "Tell my mom I loved her."
"Speaking of which, I think there are probably some other adult authority figures I should have a conversation with about this," Lex said.
"Wait, that's it?" Bart said. "You're just going to call our parents? No torture?" Kon threw him an incredulous look just as Tim kicked him in the ankle. "Ow!"
"Sorry, the rack is in the shop this week," Lex said dryly. "But actually, I thought I'd call the Justice League. This is Batman's shift, isn't it?"
Tim's eyes got wide and scared.
"Dude, he took away the car," Kon said into the phone, miserably.
"Shut up," Tim said. "Do you have any idea how much Bruce loved having Lex call him up to lecture him about my behavior?"
"Um," Kon said.
"Yeah. I'll be lucky if I'm allowed out on patrol again before I'm thirty. And I'm not supposed to be talking to you on the phone, either."
Kon hung up and sighed. No car, no Tim, the TV room was off-limits, he'd read all the books. This sucked as much as humanly possible.
Clark opened the door and stepped into the room, looking seriously pissed off.
Okay, and now it sucked as much as superhumanly possible.
The lecture covered underage drinking, respect for the property of others (even Clark's worst enemy ever), excessive idleness, generally irresponsible behavior, and then wound up for the real kicker. "Kon, I know it's been hard," Clark said quietly, "but it's time you got back to a normal life. I want you to come back to Smallville."
Kon folded his arms. "Maybe I don't want to go back to Smallville!"
"You can't just sit in this apartment and play video games," Clark said. "Whatever research Lex is doing, you don't need to be here for it full-time anymore. You should be in school."
"Yeah, dragging myself past the jocks and the prom queen wannabes in my wheelchair," Kon said. "I don't think so."
"The effects of my influence are obviously already taking hold," Lex said, standing in the doorway. Clark stood up, jaw tightening, as Lex sauntered in. "So, Kon, are you sufficiently bored yet?"
"Yes?" Kon said, hauling himself up instantly. "Seriously, Lex, I'm really sorry," he added, with the earnest look that always worked on Martha after he'd cut class, especially when he brought back a story about a minor disaster somewhere he'd averted.
"Thank you, Kon, that's a nice apology," Lex said. "In fact, you can have the car back today."
"Really?" Kon said, brightening. Wow, that had been easier than he'd expected.
"No," Lex said. "Also, you lie about as effectively as Clark does."
"Shit," Kon muttered.
Clark looked like he was having trouble deciding which of them he wanted to glare at more. Lex won out. "I'm glad I could be here to let you score points off me, but do you really think this is good for him? He shouldn't just be running wild."
"Clark," Lex said, "why don't we agree that I'm infinitely more qualified than you to assess high-risk teenage behavior, and then I can comfort you with the assurance that sitting in a living room playing video games with his friends and spilling a novelty drink on my $60,000 carpet in no way qualifies as running wild."
"Hey, so why am I grounded!" Kon said.
"Did you miss me mentioning the carpet you destroyed?" Lex said.
"Oh, come on, you're worth more than Sweden," Kon said. "Tim said so."
"I am," Lex said, "but I liked that carpet, and it's going to take a month to get a new one broken in. Besides which, Clark is right."
Clark said, "Look, Lex—what?"
"Huh?" Kon stared at Lex. "You want me to go back to Smallville?" He felt like he'd been slapped, stupidly; like Lex would actually want to have him around a minute longer than he had to put up with—
"Of course not," Lex said.
"You just said—" Clark started.
"Are you going to try convincing me that Smallville High is an idyllic place for a metahuman kid?" Lex said, pointedly. Kon coughed, remembering all the school paper stories about Clark's various disasters.
Clark did look a little embarrassed. "Fine, so what's your alternative? One of those high-priced private schools you went to?"
"Of course not," Lex said. "I'm hiring private tutors."
Mercy put him through another vicious workout first thing the next morning, and when he wheeled out of the bathroom, a woman who looked like a supermodel was waiting for him: Japanese, tall and slim with long straight black hair. He stared at her, entranced. "Wow. Um, hi? Are you looking for Lex?"
"Ohayou gozaimasu," she said, and bowed.
"Huh?" Kon said.
She smiled at him and repeated it. "Ohayou gozaimasu." She bowed again, then held out a hand to him.
Kon blinked, getting it. "Um, ohayou go—"
"Gozaimasu," she said.
"Ohayou gozaimasu," he managed, and she nodded, then came over to make him bow, putting her hands on his shoulder and waist to incline him forward just a little bit. Kon grinned up at her, blissfully, and nearly fell out of the wheelchair.
She looked tolerantly amused. "Nan ji desu ka," she said, and held her hands open in a puzzled expression. Then she pointed to the clock on the wall.
"Um, what time is it, right?" Kon tried.
"Nan ji desu ka," she repeated, nodding.
"Nan ji—" but she was shaking her head, pointing at the clock. "Um, well, it's nine am, but I have no clue how to say that."
"Gozen ku ji desu," she said, beckoning.
"Gozen ku ji desu," Kon said, and she smiled again.
"Hey," he said, catching Lex in the kitchen after she'd left, "not that I am complaining about the babe of a tutor, but you actually think I'm going to learn Japanese? I almost flunked English."
"You could learn Mandarin instead," Lex said, pouring coffee. "But it's harder."
"Uh, no, that's okay," Kon said hastily.
"You can use the TV room again, by the way," Lex said, strolling out of the room. "All the games and movies have been switched to Japanese, though."
"What?" Kon said. "Oh, come on, that's not fair!"
The afternoon lesson was history: Japanese history, so apparently Lex was working on a theme. Mr. Asahara wasn't as spectacular a tutor, being a stooped-over old Japanese guy instead, but he started by bringing out a big sack of clay. Kon worked on making a pot in what Asahara said was the Jomon style, while he talked about the way pottery had created a population explosion in Japan, because suddenly people could boil things, which was actually kind of cool to think about.
Asahara also brought out a whole bunch of old clay pots to show Kon decoration examples, one of which Kon picked up and rolled around in his hands casually until Asahara mentioned that it was five thousand years old, at which point Kon put it very carefully back on the table.
He thought that was going to be it for the day, but after dinner, Lex took him to the study, put him on a second computer, and opened an investment account for him with a Japanese online trading house. "You want me investing money when I can't read the language?" Kon said. "Actually, wait, you want me investing money, period? You're going to be bankrupt in a week."
"Kon, you can't possibly lose more money than I make in a day," Lex said. "The broker won't handle sums that large for an individual investor. Besides, you can read the charts, and search for information on the companies in English if you have to." He handed Kon the piece of paper with the userid and password. "And you get to keep any profits you make, after tax. Call it an allowance."
"Seriously?" Kon zipped up to the desk and started trying to figure out how to spell Sony and Tokyopop in Japanese.
Lex sat down on the other side of the desk and opened up his laptop, sipping occasionally at his coffee. He picked up the phone a couple of times and talked to people in other languages: Japanese, which Kon surprised himself by recognizing, and also something else. "Mandarin and Malay," Lex said, when he asked. "We're opening a new factory in Singapore to make components for our Tokyo R&D division."
"What do you guys make out there?" Kon said. "Like, space weapons and stuff?"
"I think Clark's given you a skewed perspective on my business activities," Lex said dryly. "Out of Tokyo we're mostly working on next-generation consumer electronics and robotics." He reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a credit card, tossed it over to Kon. It lit up when he touched it, a needle-thin antenna going up, a number keypad coming to life.
"Huh, cell phone?" Kon asked, turning it around in his hands.
"Satellite, actually," Lex said. "But the satellite itself won't be launched for another two years. Nothing up there now can handle the bandwidth this system will use. We have a prototype up, but it can't manage more than a few dozen phones worldwide." He reached out and turned the phone sideways in Kon's hands. "Denwa chou," he said, and abruptly Kon was looking at a giant two-page spread of a phone book, the images transparent and floating in front of his eyes, full of smiling models and cartoons, each one coming alive with sound when he looked at it.
"Oh, cool," Kon said. He moved the phone to one side and another. The images stayed where they were, until he flipped the card around and they winked out. "How does it do that?"
"Projects the images directly onto your retina, tracks where your vision is focused and generates the audio by transmitting an electronic signal directly to your aural nerves," Lex said. "It's going to be our next media delivery system."
"Uh, can I buy LexCorp stock?" Kon asked.
Lex laughed and said, "Diversify instead. There's enough of that in the family."
After a month and his first $1K in profit, he asked Lex in formal Japanese if he could stop being grounded. "Please?" he added, a little plaintively. Lex grinned and tossed him the car keys, and a debit card drawn on the investment account.
"Kon Luthor?" Kon said, looking at it.
"There are a few too many people who can make the connection between Superboy in the hospital and the kid now living in my apartment," Lex said. "If you use the Conner Kent identity, somebody might make it the rest of the way back to Clark. We can change it to something else if you prefer."
"Nah, not worth the hassle," Kon said.
It was weird and also extremely cool to be Lex Luthor's "kid" in Metropolis. People opened doors for him at stores and restaurants, and it wasn't because of the wheelchair; they were calling him by name. "And man, let me tell you, you would not believe how many girls I've been able to pick up, and that's not even using powers or anything. Just imagine if they knew I was Superman's kid too," Kon said, coasting home after another night of clubbing. The phone was sitting on the dashboard three feet away from his head, but that apparently wasn't a problem.
"Sounds like you have enough fans already," Tim said sarcastically, and cut the call short to go stop a bank robber or something. Kon sniffed. Jealousy was so petty. Then he sighed. It wasn't like he could do anything with the girls he picked up but give them a ride in the car or buy them a drink. Everything below the waist still worked, thank god, but he wasn't getting anything out of it. It was pretty depressing.
The next morning Mercy came in and didn't drag him off to the gym. "Lex wants you in the conference room," she said. He rolled down the hall to find Lex sitting at the big table, two of the doctors standing at the head of the room around a laptop and projector, looking nervous and hopeful at the same time.
"You remember Dr. Hwang and Dr. Meyers," Lex said. Kon gulped and nodded. "All right, gentlemen. Don't make this a waste of my time."
The presentation took twenty minutes. The lights hadn't quite come up all the way yet before Kon was wheeling forward to look at the doctors. "How soon can we do it?" he demanded. "This week? Tomorrow?"
"We have a final model that should be finished by the end of the week—" Meyers began, only to stop when Lex lifted a hand.
"How many of the lumbar vertebrae would have to be removed?" Lex said quietly.
Hwang and Meyers looked at each other, hesitating. After a moment, Hwang said, "Four."
Lex shook his head. "You can have one." He stood up. "Talk to me again when you've got the numbers down."
"What?" Kon shot the wheelchair after him down the hall. Lex went into the kitchen, took ice, poured Scotch. "What the hell was that!"
Lex downed the glass in a single swallow, filled it up again. "It's not worth it," he said. "Taking out that many vertebrae means no chance of regenerating the cord, not with any kind of therapy we can develop in the next ten years. Hwang's prosthetic won't give you back full mobility."
"I don't freaking need full mobility!" Kon said. "If I can just feel my legs, I'll be able to use my TK to get around—"
"The way you can use it now?" Lex shook his head. "There is absolutely no way of predicting how your powers are going to interact with this. Suryamin's team is making good progress on the regeneration. At this point, waiting for them—"
"How long?" Kon said. "How long until they have something?"
Lex hesitated. "It's a biological treatment, not a mechanical one," he said. "It's probably a year to lab testing—"
"And another one after that before they're ready to do anything to me," Kon said. "Forget it. I want Hwang's treatment."
"It's not the right choice," Lex said, with finality. "I can't allow it."
"You can't allow—" Kon said. "Go to hell, you're not in the one stuck in this fucking chair! I've been in this thing half a year already, you're talking another two years—"
"What I'm talking about is the rest of your life," Lex said, very calm. "Two years in a wheelchair seems like a long time to you now, but it's not. I'm not going to let you throw away eighty years because you're sixteen and don't have the perspective to make the right long-term decision."
"Fuck you! What right do you have to decide for me!" Kon screamed at him. "They grabbed some of your DNA and some of Clark's DNA and they grew me in a vat, okay? That doesn't make you my father."
Lex said, "Yes, it does."
Kon broke off, staring at him.
"I don't claim to be a good one," Lex said. "But I'm what you've got, and I intend to do my best."
"Oh, yeah?" Kon snarled. "Then where the hell were you? You knew about me for years, but you never bothered to show up before I got hurt. Is that what this is all about? You only wanted me once I was weak and useless and you could use me to get to Clark—and it wouldn't be any good anymore if I'm fixed?" He stopped, panting, his hands clenched.
Lex didn't turn around. He put down his empty glass on the counter with a soft click. "When I was twelve years old," he said, "after I'd lost my hair, after all the doctors my father hired failed to fix me, my parents had another child. My brother Julian. My replacement." He gave a short, mirthless bark of laughter. "My mother realized, correctly, that my father planned to pit us against each other, make us rivals for his affection and his empire, except with a foreordained conclusion. Because after all, I wasn't perfect anymore."
He paused. Kon folded his arms. "So what?" he said, coldly.
"So the night after they came home from the hospital, my mother took a pillow and smothered Julian in his crib," Lex said.
It was weird: for a moment Kon just didn't understand what he'd said. Lex's voice was so completely calm, unemotional. But his shoulders were so tense the suit sleeves were hanging down at right angles, stretched across the blades.
"Two years later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Long after there was no hope left, she went through every harrowing treatment, anything that could let her wring out a few extra months, weeks, even days. Because every minute she lived was a minute before my father could remarry. A minute that I had her protection, that I could grow older and strong enough to defend myself," Lex said.
He turned around. "That was my family, Kon. I would have given everything I had, everything I might ever have, for Clark's family. For his home. And by staying out of your life, I could give you that."
He got up and walked out of the room. Kon just sat still. His hands were shaking. Lex came back in and threw a manila folder on the kitchen table, pictures spilling out the sides. A handful were newspaper clippings, but most of them were surveillance shots: Kon on the Kent farm throwing bales of hay around, or half-asleep leaning against the side of a cow; him at Smallville High, smiling at one of the cheerleaders; at the Talon, drinking coffee, talking on the phone.
Kon turned them over slowly, one at a time. Years worth of photos, all three years of his life since he'd gotten out of Cadmus Labs, and under that a stack of papers: that final exam in history he'd aced, math problem sets, chem lab reports, English papers, all of them photocopies marked up with Lex's hand in purple ink over the teacher's comments; copies of his high school report cards, an F in English marked with a paperclipped note that said, Fix this.
"I got a D-minus that quarter," Kon said, his voice wavering in his throat. He couldn't make it stay steady.
"It would have kept you out of Met U," Lex said. "The school got a new tutoring center out of it."
Kon put down the folder. "So this, this was your idea of—did it ever occur to you that maybe I'd have liked to know you, too?" he said. "Everybody around me said you were some kind of monster, I thought that's what was in me, what was part of me."
"And now you think they were wrong?" Lex said. "I've done everything Clark's ever told you about, and some things he hasn't. Some things not even he knows about. I'm not a hero, Kon, and I'm not one of the good guys. But I am my mother's son."
"He's got conversational Japanese, he's voluntarily reading the Tale of Genji, and he made $5000 last week on the Tokyo exchange," Lex said, not even looking up from his papers. "Granted, he immediately blew it all on a new paint job for the Ferrari, but he is sixteen. Stop complaining because he's not wasting eight hours a day staring at a wall and failing to absorb any useful information."
"He doesn't need Japanese or money half as much as he needs some degree of normalcy," Clark said. "He doesn't interact with ordinary kids his own age at all, Lex."
"Imagine that," Lex said. "Could it possibly be that he's not ordinary? He sees his friends all the time. I've been thinking of giving Tim a set of keys just to save time." He put a handful of the papers into the briefcase and closed it, picked it up and walked out of the room.
Clark controlled his temper and went after him. "Hanging out with the rest of the Titans is not a substitute for learning how to relate to normal people—"
"Normal?" Lex laughed shortly. "You're the one who always wanted to be normal, Clark. Personally, I'm glad Kon doesn't suffer from that particular neurosis."
"Are you guys fighting again?" Kon said, poking his head out of the door. "Give it a rest, will you? Are you going somewhere, Lex?"
Lex turned and grinned at him, the lines of irritation around his mouth fading; there was real warmth in his eyes. Clark stared at his face from the side, a strange lost feeling in his stomach. "It's not fighting, it's just unfriendly banter," Lex said. "I'm heading to Singapore for a few days. Call Mercy if you need anything, and don't have any drunken orgies while I'm gone."
"But I can schedule one for next week, right?" Kon said brightly, and ducked back into his room.
Clark flew back to the Planet the long way. He couldn't be angry that Kon was happy and doing well and that Lex was being good to him; except after he found himself standing in the rubble of a forty-ton boulder that had been sitting harmlessly in the middle of an open field, he had to consider that maybe he was, anyway. "Um, sorry," he told the farmer, who'd stopped his tractor to watch.
"Better rocks than people," the farmer said, shrugging. "I go digging stumps, myself."
Clark figured that was good advice, and went home. At least he could be useful somewhere. He cleared out the old, neglected west field, shredding stumps and weeds and crushing smaller rocks into fine powder.
His mom was waiting on the front porch with coffee and pie when he finally finished. "Of course you're worried, sweetheart. We were, too." She sighed. "I never knew how many of our arguments about Lex you overheard, when you were Kon's age."
Clark picked at his fourth piece of pie. "Is this your way of telling me I should just stand by and watch him make all the same mistakes about Lex?"
"They weren't all mistakes, honey," she said. "Lex wasn't inherently evil, he just..." She shook her head. "You were both so young," she said sadly.
"I can't think that way, Ma," Clark said. "He's the most dangerous enemy I have. I can't keep second-guessing myself about him. And I just don't want to see Kon get taken in the way—" He looked away.
She didn't say anything, just covered his hand with hers.
He finally got into work after lunch, with a short piece on Superman bringing a hundred feral cats to the ASPCA. The cats weren't impressed, and neither was Perry, but the story would bring in donations to help pay for spaying and vaccinating them, and it made an acceptable if lame excuse for skipping the morning.
"We need to talk," Lois murmured briefly, passing by his desk just after he'd settled in to type it up. She headed for the elevators.
He met her on the roof a few minutes later; she was lighting up a cigarette, which meant she was upset. He leaned in to kiss her before she took the first drag; she caught him by the back of the neck and kissed him back hard.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Christ, this is going to be a mess," she said, inhaling deep. "Look, I know this guy who tends bar at Sarducci's, it's out on I-70. They get a lot of traffic from the LexCorp lab out there, sometimes he picks up on things."
"Tell me," he said steadily.
"A man's been coming in once every couple of weeks and getting smashed," she said. "Once he's drunk enough, he talks about a boss named Suryamin. I went out there last night and caught him after he got to the point of sobbing into his beer and before he passed out."
"That's one of Kon's doctors," Clark said, his hands clenching. If Lex was planning to do something to Kon, after he'd gotten his trust, his loyalty—
"Yeah, well, it's not what you're thinking," she said grimly. "He wasn't all that coherent, but I'm pretty sure they really are working on a cure for Kon. The problem's how they're doing it. Clark, I think they're experimenting on people."
Clark turned away, staggering, and slumped against the base of the globe, put his hands against his eyes. "Lois, I can't," he said. "I can't."
"Clark—" she said, gripping her hands tight on his shoulders.
"I can't!" he said, pulling away from her. "Lex is trying to save Kon, how am I supposed to go in there—rip the place apart, destroy the research, probably drag him off to jail—leave Kon in that wheelchair, when I'm the one who—"
"Clark, what happened to Kon wasn't your fault, no matter how much of a guilt trip Luthor laid on you!" Lois said. "You don't seriously think Kon would want this, do you? A cure that involved innocent people being tortured? He's a hero, too."
"He shouldn't have to be a hero yet!" Clark said, slamming his fist down. The metal dented like a crumpling tin can around it. He jerked away and took off, ignoring what Lois was calling out after him; the wind whipped it away.
He stopped outside the penthouse, hovering; the windows weren't opaqued at the moment. Kon was sprawled on the leather couch in the living room, talking to someone on the phone, probably Tim, a thick book in Japanese spread open on his chest, his legs propped up on pillows and the wheelchair standing next to him. He looked happy; he looked like a kid.
Clark turned and flew away, heading west, towards I-70.
He didn't bother with stealth much anymore, not since he'd started wearing the costume; part of what good he did was let the light of day into dark corners. But this time he took off his cape and left it folded in the bushes outside the fence, and then he blurred past the exterior security cameras and quietly burned a hole in the door lock to slip inside. There were laser security beams and pressure-sensitive plates in the floor; he flew past them too quickly to trigger any alert. There were fingerprint readers and retinal scans; he confused them with focused blasts of x-ray vision and pried the doors open while they were still busy resetting.
He got down to the lower levels, the white-and-silver sterility of the labs themselves. He knew he was close because he found Kon's scans covering three walls of a room, illuminated from behind like giant lightboards, the spinal cord injury highlighted, circled in neon pink, scribbled notes across the films. There were murmurs coming from a room at the end of the hall.
There wasn't any lead in the walls down here, so he could have looked through the door; he could have listened harder and made out the words. He walked down the hall slowly instead, stopped outside the door only just where he could hear.
"You do understand, sir, this procedure carries many risks." That was Suryamin's voice, high and nervous; Clark had met him a couple of times, while he'd been keeping watch over Kon's testing. "In order to get any significantly more useful experimental data than before, the injury must not only be larger, but it must left untreated for a significant amount of time, and no anaesthetic can be used. There will be initial trauma, then the wound might easily become septic, or—"
"You've already explained the risks in detail. More than once."
Lex. That was Lex. Clark's hands clenched. So he'd been going to Singapore for a few days? Lying son of a bitch—
Lex was continuing. "There's still only one question that matters to me: is this going to accelerate the project?"
"Yes," Suryamin said. "Either we will be able to completely rule out this avenue of research, or we will advance significantly; in the best case, we could move to serum in a few weeks."
"Then we're doing it. Let's get started."
Clark squeezed his eyes shut. He could hear the clatter of steel instruments, running water. If he listened harder, maybe he'd hear the heartbeats of the patients about to be sliced open, their frightened, quickening gasps. If he looked, maybe he'd see them struggling against the restraints, or lying hopelessly still, waiting for the knife. They probably weren't even kidnapping victims; Lex had probably found some people desperate enough to put themselves on the table for money, and thought that made it all right. Clark took one sharp, ragged breath and ripped the door open.
One of the orderlies gave a gasp and dropped the basin he was holding, sloshing the bitter smell of alcohol across the floor. A sponge rolled out. There were five or six doctors and nurses in the room, and a narrow metal operating table, padded, with thick leather restraints. Lex was standing next to the table, his shirt unbuttoned and tails hanging, cufflinks out. The doctors were all staring at Clark, shocked, maybe a little scared, but not like people caught in the act; there were no test subjects, human or otherwise. Lois had been wrong.
"I'd ask what you're doing here," Lex said, "but I'll settle for telling you to get the hell out." He was holding the shirt closed over his chest.
Clark crossed the room in two strides and yanked it open. There were five thin scar lines running parallel along Lex's side, over the ribcage, all of them healed to varying degrees. The last one was still red and angry: the way Lex usually healed, it couldn't have been more than a week old.
He jerked his head up and stared at Lex. "You're experimenting on yourself?"
Lex's mouth tightened. "This isn't any of your business."
"Like hell it isn't," Clark said, his voice rising. "You're cutting yourself up for experimental samples, and you think this is supposed to help Kon?"
"It is going to help him," Lex snapped. "You know I heal faster, thanks to your fucking meteor rocks. If we can isolate whatever makes it work, we can use it on Kon—"
"But you've already got samples," Clark said. "Now you're planning to gut yourself just to save time. You think that's something Kon would want?"
"Of course he wouldn't want it," Lex said. "What does that have to do with anything? I wouldn't ask him if he wanted me to give him a kidney, either, if he needed that. He's my son."
Clark didn't know what to say. He'd never really thought of Kon as his son. Kon had just shown up one day, fresh out of the jar: thirteen years old, unexplained, annoying, and insistently determined to prove himself worthy of the borrowed symbol stuck on his chest. Even after he and Lois had found out about the Cadmus Labs experiment, that Kon had been engineered from his DNA, even as Kon went from undesired sidekick to family—he'd never quite known what to do with Kon, how responsible to feel.
Lex was looking at him, a bitter twist to his mouth. "And you never asked to have a teenage kid dropped in your lap." Clark flinched back, because yes, he had thought just that in the midst of his confusion, guilty and helpless at the same time. "Don't worry about it," Lex said. "You're right, he's not your responsibility. He's mine." Lex turned and handed his belt to the staring, anxious orderly, stripped off his shirt and laid it on top. "If you'll excuse me, we have an operation to start."
Clark went out into the hallway and put his forehead against the cool metal of the wall. Only Lex could turn everything upside down like this, make everything he touched impossibly complicated and painful. Forget about tall buildings, Lex leaped moral precipices like he was the one with superpowers.
"God, I hate you," Clark whispered, and then he turned and went back into the lab. Lex was lying on the operating table. They were strapping him into the restraints, putting a bite plate in his mouth. It was like being back in Belle Reve, like seeing Lex trussed up in the asylum again, with all his own powers useless to save him. Lex's face was white and drawn, somewhere remote and far away; his hands were clenched, and if Lex could bear this, Clark was going to have to bear it too.
He stopped them from strapping down Lex's right arm. He sat down with his back to the doctors, put his hand in Lex's. Lex didn't look at him, but his hand tightened. "We're ready to begin," Suryamin said.
Lex nodded. Clark bent his head and held on.
Lex came back from Singapore a few days later, looking lousy. "Picked up a travel bug," he said, managing a smile, before disappearing into his bedroom. Kon peeked in eight hours later and saw him still conked out, on his back, pale and sweaty and oddly small in the enormous bed.
"Out," Mercy said, catching him, and pulled the door closed.
"Is he okay?" Kon demanded.
Mercy glared at him furiously, for no good reason. "He's fine. Now let him rest." She stalked away. Kon scowled after her and failed to fight the temptation to stick out his tongue at her back.
"Does you-know-who ever get sick?" he asked the telephone. He was sitting at his desk picking at dinner. He hadn't wanted to eat alone in the kitchen with Lex conked out down the hall instead of at the table grilling him about 11th century Heian court customs and the development of zaibatsu conglomerates in Edo Japan. "Not like a cold, really wiped-out?"
"He had the flu a couple years ago, tried to work through it," Tim said. "Dick had to come into town and drag him back to bed and take over for a week after his fever hit 105 and he started having hallucinations. Why?"
"Lex got sick in Singapore; he's been in bed all day," Kon said. "I don't know why I'm so weirded out, I just thought he was kind of invulnerable too. I guess everybody gets sick once in a while."
"Lex doesn't," Tim said.
"He doesn't get sick. It's a side effect of his exposure to kryptonite as a kid, it's in his file." Tim was typing on the other end of the line, the keyboard clattering.
"What are you doing?" Kon said suspiciously.
"Relax, I'm just connecting to Oracle's database, not looking for evidence to send your criminal mastermind dad to jail. He is a big fat liar, though," Tim added. "He didn't go to Singapore."
"Oracle tracks all his passports, even the fake ones," Tim said. "He hasn't left the country in eight weeks."
Kon frowned. "So where did he go?"
"I'll do some digging, but I'm not making any promises," Tim said. "Luthor's not exactly an easy mark, and this is a trail that's already cold."
Kon hung up, dissatisfied, and spent half an hour doodling kanji on his notebook instead of working, until a tapping outside in the living room brought him out into the hallway. Clark was on the balcony, knocking on the doors. Kon rolled down and let him in.
"I was just passing by, I thought I'd check in, see how you were doing," Clark said. "How's that article coming?"
"It's cool," Kon said. "I'll make you read it next week before I submit it to Animerica. You want something to drink?" He wheeled around to head for the kitchen.
"Is Lex back yet?" Clark said. "I need to talk to him."
"Yeah, but he's—" Kon said, and then stopped; Clark probably knew Lex didn't get sick. "He's kind of wiped out from the trip, though, so—"
Mercy interrupted, coming out of the bedroom. "He says you can go in," she said to Clark, angrily; maybe she was just in a bad mood. Then again, she was always angry when she talked to Clark.
Lex was propped up against some pillows and there were some newspapers and a laptop on the bed, so things were getting back to normal, but he was still looking kind of pale and crappy.
"How are you doing?" Clark said, anxiously. Kon blinked. He'd kind of expected to have to haul Clark out after they got into a fight again.
Lex was glaring at Clark. "It's jet lag," he said. "It didn't merit a personal visit. I'm sure you had another reason for stopping by, though?"
"Oh, um," Clark said. "I just—wanted to see Kon."
Kon stared at him, baffled. Lex closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the pillows. "Kon, I think you have some homework."
"Not really," Kon said, folding his arms.
"That's shorthand for, get out so Clark and I can yell at each other in peace," Lex said.
"I'm not going to yell," Clark said.
"I am," Lex said and pointed Kon to the door. "Out."
Kon used TK to shoot down to his room so fast he left skid marks on the floor, grabbing for the phone while he opened up his laptop. "Tim! Hurry, tell me how I hack into the security cameras here or something!"
"Oh, so now you want me to hack Lex's network?"
"Shut up, this is totally different," Kon said. "Clark is in on it! He just showed up and knew Lex was hurt, he was all worried. They're talking in his bedroom—" A video window popped open on his laptop. "Hey! How did you do that so fast?"
"Be quiet, I can't hear them," Tim said, hurriedly.
"—make a sign and blow on trumpets next time," Lex was saying. "I'm fine. And stop that."
Clark's head jerked up a little. "What?" he said, unconvincingly.
"If you want to see me naked, ask nicely," Lex said. "Does Lois know you go around checking people out with x-ray vision?"
Tim snickered in Kon's ear. "Oh, shut up," Kon muttered.
"I wouldn't have to if I could trust you to tell me the truth," Clark said, folding his arms. "Are you really okay?"
"If I wasn't, I wouldn't have left the lab," Lex said. "It's healing fine, I'll just be sore another couple of days. I don't need to be checked up on."
"I was worried, sue me," Clark said. "Also, why haven't you taken anything? You're in pain."
"I'm fine," Lex said. "I have work to catch up on."
"World domination can hang on for a couple of days longer," Clark said. He looked around the room and then rifled through the end table and came out with a pill bottle. "How many of these can you take?"
"Don't you have some more cats to save?" Lex said.
"Okay, I'm going with two," Clark said, pouring a glass of water, shaking out a couple of pills. He held them out.
Lex tilted his head. "What are you planning to do, force them down my throat?"
"I've been thinking, maybe I should tell Kon you're hurt," Clark said earnestly. "Mercy obviously can't make you take your meds, so—"
Lex huffed a short laugh and reached for the glass and the pills. "Blackmail, Clark? I'm impressed."
"I have my moments," Clark said. Lex swallowed the pills and handed him back the glass, lay back against the pillows. Clark reached around and underneath him, resettled him and smoothed the pillows; Lex just sighed and let him.
Clark sat down on the edge of the bed and just stared at his hands. "Did it—" he said abruptly.
Lex was silent a moment. "They're having some trouble getting it to bind with the Kryptonian proteins in his nerve cells. We'll know more in a week."
Clark swallowed. "Is there anything I could do?"
Lex snorted. "Give me a few dozen DNA samples and any information you have on Kryptonian genetics."
"What?" Clark looked at him. "Will that help?"
Lex stared at him.
Clark stared back. "Wait a second, you thought I'd say no?"
"No, Clark, I thought you'd made a one-eighty turnaround from one of the main preoccupations of the last fifteen years of your life and were now completely ready to stuff every secret you have into my hands," Lex said. "Of course I thought you'd say no. Are you saying yes?"
"Of course I am!" Clark said, standing up, furious. "God, I don't believe you! You could have used it all this time and you never even tried asking me?"
"I stopped asking you for anything a long time ago, because the answer was always no," Lex said savagely. "Don't you fucking dare—"
"He's my son too!" Clark said.
Lex stopped cold.
"He's my son too," Clark said again, more quietly.
Lex didn't say anything for a moment. "Go give Suryamin the samples. That may be all he needs."
"Kon," Tim said abruptly.
Kon jerked; he'd almost forgotten Tim was on the line. He swallowed a couple times to clear his throat. "What?"
"There's a small GPS transmitter on the underside of your left wheelchair arm," Tim said. "Catch him before he leaves and tag him."
A road went around the entire lab complex, skirting the outermost fence. Kon pulled to a stop half a mile from the gate. "This is it?"
"Yeah," Tim said, checking the GPS, "this is where Clark came yesterday, straight from the penthouse."
Kon sat tapping his fingers on the steering wheel while Tim took out the long-range binoculars and started checking out the complex, snapping photos.
"We don't have to do this," Tim said. "Clark's involved, it's a safe bet it's not going to be evil."
"Yeah, so no babies and puppies are getting killed, and I realize I'm like the only one who cares about this, but Lex still got hurt," Kon said. "I don't know what the hell they're doing in there, but this is about the cure for me. I've gotta know what's going on."
"Then I hope you're not in a rush," Tim said. "Those aren't rent-a-cops out there. They're using a randomized patrol pattern and I'm pretty sure the ground is sensor-mined. It's going to take me a week to case this place well enough to break in without setting off every alarm they've got."
A week was too fucking long. He couldn't wait a week. So think, Kon, he told himself. What would Lex do?
"I've got a better idea," Kon said. Tim put down the binoculars and looked at him. Kon reached down and hauled the laptop out of the knapsack, and handed it to Tim. "Let's go in the front door."
Kon found the lab in the LexCorp phonebook while Tim worked.
"Dr. Suryamin?" Kon said. "My dad said he sent you e-mail; when can you give me the tour?"
"I'm sorry, Kon, I don't believe—just a moment, please, I will look at my e-mail." Suryamin went away; Kon could hear him typing something in the background. "Oh—oh, I see," he said, sounding doubtful. "Well... you realize, we are making exceptional progress, but I would not wish to misrepresent the situation, we have several weeks more before we can go to animal testing, so I am not certain that there is much to show you—"
Kon didn't say anything for a second; his throat had clenched tight. They were down to weeks? He swallowed. "Yeah, I know, I'd still like to check things out," he said. "I'm not expecting miracles or anything."
"Those we have already achieved," Suryamin said. "However, even miracles have their limits."
"Understood. Look, I'm on my way back to Metropolis right now. I'll swing by, you can have some peon show me around for fifteen minutes, I'll be out of your hair again," he said.
Suryamin came to meet him personally, of course, giving Tim a dubious look. "My bodyguard," Kon said. "Lex is kind of overprotective." Tim, wearing all black, hands on the back of the wheelchair, gave Suryamin an utterly blank stare, cold as ice.
"Oh, yes, of course," Suryamin said, edging back. "If you will come this way—"
Kon managed to hold it together until they got back out into the parking lot, and then Tim had to lock the chair in for him, because his hands were shaking too hard to work the mechanism. He folded his arms against the steering wheel and buried his face in them. He couldn't look at Tim, even though keeping his eyes shut was almost worse: the merciless photos were printed on his eyelids, the peeled-back layers of skin and flesh in technicolor red, hard white bone showing underneath, clinical notes scribbled on the pages.
"Kon," Tim was saying, "hey, come on buddy, you're freaking me out here. Okay, yes, it's—but you didn't ask him to do this, you didn't—"
"I did," he gasped, not lifting his head. "Jesus, Tim, I did. I threw a fit at him when he wouldn't let me do the prosthetic, I said it was taking too long—"
"That's not the same thing," Tim said, gripping his arm. "Anybody would have lost it, it's not your fault."
"It is," Kon said. "It is my fault."
Clark stopped by Metropolis General and asked nicely for some Vicodin. Sure enough, when he got to the penthouse, the pill bottle was standing empty on the end table; Lex had either flushed them or thrown them out onto the balcony to poison hapless pigeons. "Can we be enemies again?" Lex said. "Because you were less annoying."
"No," Clark said patiently. "Take the pills."
The phone rang while Lex was still bitterly drinking water. He put down the glass and grabbed it. "What?" He frowned and hit speakerphone. "Go ahead, I'm always happy to play secretary for the Justice League."
"Huh?" Clark said.
"Is Tim there?" Bruce asked.
Clark glanced over the apartment. "No, he and Kon must have gone out. Why?"
"He dropped off radar five minutes ago and I haven't been able to re-establish."
Lex hung up on him and hit the intercom. "Get me Kon's location, and I want it in thirty seconds," he snapped.
"You just hung up on Batman," Clark said, staring.
"He can bite me," Lex said. "Mercy!" he bellowed.
She popped through the door like a jack-in-the-box. "Kon's missing, we have to find him," Lex said. "And send someone in to help me get dressed." He threw back the covers.
Clark caught his arm as Lex levered himself up and out of bed. "You're not—"
"Finish that sentence and I swear to god I'm going for the kryptonite," Lex said. "Why are you still here? There's a tracker on his car and another one on his wheelchair—" The intercom buzzed, and he hit the button. "Well?"
"Sir, we can't get anything on the car, but the chair tracker is reading in your room," the secretary said uncertainly. "Right next to you."
"What?" Lex said. He turned and looked at the end table.
"There's nothing there," Clark said, scanning. "What does it look like?"
Lex abruptly turned and put his hands on Clark's chest, slid them straight down his sides, stopped on his waist, ran fingers around the belt and back to the buckle in front. Clark sucked in a breath, half-jerked back; his heart was pounding. "Like this," Lex said, holding up a little glittering black dot.
Clark stared at it without seeing it, for a second. "What—it—it came off his chair?"
"Not a chance," Lex said. "It would have to be pried off, it's got a hypermagnet. He put it on you deliberately. Where have you been lately?"
Suryamin met them jubilantly at the lab, clearly missing the fact that Lex was on the verge of killing him. "We have gone to serum!" he announced. Clark could smell champagne; there was music playing down the hall.
"That's nice," Lex said pleasantly. "Now you can explain to me why you thought it was even remotely a good idea for you to show my son around this facility without authorization."
Suryamin blinked. "But, you—you said to?"
Lex took one look at the faked email and said, "I'm going to kill him."
Clark followed him back out, trying not to grin; now that he knew the boys had taken off on purpose, he couldn't be that worried: Bruce would find them, even if Lex couldn't. "Won't that defeat the purpose of finding him?"
"I'm not going to kill Kon," Lex said. "I'm going to kill Tim. And don't even think you're going to stop me," he added to Batman, who had just appeared out of the stairwell, looming.
"What have you found?" Clark said hurriedly, stepping between them before the bloodbath could start.
"Nothing," Batman said. "He's disabled all his trackers and the ones you had on Superboy. He also managed to scramble the feed on the I-70 radar cameras for thirty minutes, which would have been enough to get them out of the Metropolis area. They're off the map."
"Oracle is watching airline ticket purchases in the Metropolis area," Batman said. "We need to—"
"—find the car, thanks for that brilliant insight," Lex snapped as he stalked towards his helicopter, dialing his phone. "I already have people on the long-term garages and the airport entrances. Marjorie, put every one of our copters on I-70 right now if they aren't there already," he told the other end. "No, I don't care; the state can fine me afterwards. And get the APB out to the police, just make sure they think the car's been stolen."
Batman looked after Lex and then looked at Clark, assessingly; probably wondering whether Clark would let him beat the crap out of Lex. Clark shrugged. "Give him a break, Kon is—"
"His son?" Bruce said.
"You think I'm so thrilled at the idea of Lex having a meaningful role in Kon's life that I'm going to give him more credit than he deserves?" Clark said.
"You tell me," Bruce said, gliding away. Clark glared after him.
"Here," Lex said, coming back, with a map that marked off a search area and a photo that had come in over the copter's fax machine. "When the car was repainted, I had them use a coating that's reactive to extreme UV wavelengths of light. It'll show up highlighted like this to your x-ray vision. Chances are his helpful little friend won't have figured this out."
"You should go back to bed," Clark said. "We'll find them, Lex."
"I hate to ruin this zen thing you have going, Clark," Lex said savagely, "but shut the hell up. My security people have dealt with fourteen separate attempts to kidnap Kon in the last three months. The street estimate on his ransom value is $10 billion, and that's only because larger amounts would make it impossible to prevent me from tracing the money."
Clark numbly took the papers Lex was shoving at him.
"Get out there and find him," Lex said.
Clark touched down at the penthouse again seventeen hours later, Metropolis slowing down for the night, lights in the towers blinking out, only the nightclubs still going. Lex was pacing his office shredding five different people simultaneously on a conference call, an empty coffeepot and an untouched plate of food standing on the desk. He slammed down the phone and rounded on Clark. "If you and that pointy-eared bastard have found the car and you're not telling me—"
"What? Why wouldn't we tell you?" Clark said.
"How the hell should I know? You wanted to get to them first? On general principles?" Lex said. "I never understood why you used to lie to me half the fucking time before."
"Because you always kept pushing when it was none of your damn business," Clark said.
"Well, this is," Lex said. "And believe me, I do realize how much you hate that, but you can work on sabotaging my relationship with Kon after we've found him."
"Of course not," Lex said bitterly. He turned away and leaned on the desk with both hands, breathing hard. His back was hunched over.
Clark caught him by the shoulders and turned him gently around, taking Lex's weight and lifting him off the ground: there was a red stain creeping through his shirt, just visible under the buttoned jacket. "Goddamnit, Lex, I'm taking you to a hospital."
"Stop pissing me off, it hurts," Lex panted. "Get me—towel in the bathroom, just—"
Clark shook his head and carried him to the bedroom, then zipped to the bathroom and back with the towel. He gently stripped away the shirt and the blood-stained bandages; Lex lay still, eyes closed, breathing shallowly. Blood was welling up sluggishly around the neat little black Xs of the stitches holding the gash together.
"Just pulled some stitches," Lex said. "It'll be fine. Pressure."
Clark put the towel down and pressed gently. He could feel Lex's heartbeat against his hand, the urgent thump-thump of it resonating through his body. "I'm not going to do anything that would hurt Kon," he said quietly. "I'm scared you will."
Lex laughed, shortly, mostly a gasp. "That makes two of us." He tried to put his own hand on the towel. "Send Mercy in. I'll be fine."
"I've got it," Clark said. Lex gave up and let his arm fall back down. The tension stayed in his face, muscles drawn like cords along his jaw. "You need to stop this. We're going to find them, it's not going to help if you wipe yourself out in the process."
"I don't give a shit if you think Batman is the fucking end-all of detectives," Lex said. "He trained Tim, the kid knows his techniques. I can find them faster, but not if you keep things from—"
"Will you quit being paranoid?" Clark said. "I'm not hiding anything from you. You're always talking about what a rotten liar I am, wouldn't you be able to tell?"
Lex didn't speak for a while, lying quiescent under Clark's hand. "It's been too long," he said finally. He sounded hollow.
"The longer it takes to track down the car, the colder the trail is going to be. If we haven't found it by now—"
"You can't seriously be worrying that you, me, and Batman aren't going to be able to track them down," Clark said.
"Of course we'll find them, but it's going to take months," Lex said. "I'm going to have to put ten thousand people on the ground and hope one of them gets a lucky break before some lunatic like the Joker does. So please," he said, looking at Clark, "tell me you've found the goddamn car."
Clark stared back at him and slowly shook his head.
Lex lay back and closed his eyes again. "Give me the fucking painkillers."
Clark got water and gave it to him. Lex swallowed the pills without even opening his eyes. "Is there—is there anything else I could be doing?" Clark said, watching him.
"I'm useless right now, I haven't been thinking past the car," Lex said. "Get some sleep. Come back tomorrow." He pressed his hands to his eyes. "Maybe something will break loose overnight."
Clark woke up and caught the receiver off the hook before the phone actually rang, the electrical signal just heading for the ringer. "Yes?" Next to him, Lois murmured and turned over in her sleep.
"I need you over here," Lex said.
"I'm coming." Clark put down the phone.
"Clark?" Lois sat up, rubbing her face. "What time is it? When did you get in?"
"Five thirty," Clark said, skipping the other question. He'd slipped in next to her at two: he'd waited until Lex had fallen asleep, to make sure the blood had stopped. "Lex called, I have to go."
"Wow, this brings back great memories, not," Lois said.
"No, I get it," she said. "Just be careful, okay?" She kissed him. "I'll tell Perry you've got the flu."
Lex was in the office with Mercy, the desk covered with maps and papers printed with IP traces.
"You've got something?" Clark said.
"Nothing good," Lex said. "A $20 million deposit was made to a Cayman Islands account two hours ago, transferred from Gotham Central Bank. The account belongs to the mercenary Deathstroke."
"It's a little coincidental," Lex said. "Someone logged in and confirmed the deposit from a hotel in Vancouver an hour ago, and then bought plane tickets to Seattle. The flight lands in twenty minutes."
"I'll go pick him up," Clark said grimly, and caught the headset Lex tossed him.
"Keep in touch," Lex said.
Slade Wilson stepped off United flight 8241 from Vancouver and walked to his waiting rental car, the one with the missile launcher, machine gun, and several other weapons in the trunk. It was parked on the nearly empty roof of the long-term parking garage, so Wilson could look over the equipment; Clark landed next to the car.
"Wonderful," Wilson said, and fired a smoke grenade into his face. Then he blew up the car.
The explosion took Clark by surprise and tossed him off the edge of the garage; he fell into a fountain and smashed it to pieces, making the two dozen tourists waiting for their bus alternately scream and take pictures. Clark shook himself off. "He went off the other side and he's heading back for the terminal," Lex said.
"You have got to be kidding me," Clark said, leaping back aloft. "Where does he think he's going?"
"For hostages, most likely," Lex said. "If he grabbed enough explosives, he could blow up a support pillar and force you to stay there holding up the ceiling until the building is evacuated."
"He's not going to have time," Clark said, and dived. He grabbed Wilson by the scruff of the neck and took him off the ground ten feet short of the door; more travelers whistled and clapped as he lifted away again.
"So how did I manage to piss you off?" Wilson said, folding his arms; Clark had the bag of grenades in his other hand.
"I've got issues with your latest contract," Clark said tightly. "This is low even for you, Wilson. Where are the targets?"
"I'm here on vacation, actually," Wilson said. "I like the Space Needle. Now why don't you drop me off with the police like a good superhero so I can get my phone call, and you can go back to more important things. I hear Seattle's got a real problem with strays you could be helping them out with."
"Bring him back here," Lex said.
"I'm on the way," Clark said, and accelerated.
He dumped Wilson on Lex's balcony fifteen minutes later; Wilson staggered and grabbed onto the railing, disoriented from the trip—or maybe not all that disoriented, because once he got a look over the edge with its thousand-foot sheer drop, he straightened up and didn't look that dizzy anymore. "The hell?"
"You've got two options, Wilson," Clark said. "You can tell me where the targets are—"
"Or what?" Wilson said. "You'll tell me what a bad man I am some more?"
"Or you can tell me," Lex said, standing in the doorway.
Wilson turned to look at him; he did a good job of controlling it, but Clark could see his shoulders stiffen. He looked at Clark, eyes narrowing. "Since when are you Luthor's gofer?"
"Superman," Lex said, "I'm pretty sure there's something happening in the city right now that calls for your attention."
"You know," Clark said, "there are some strays loose in Central Park. You can take care of getting Wilson to the police, right?"
"Not a problem," Lex said, putting his hands in his pockets.
Wilson snorted. "Nice bluff."
In fact there was a fire in Suicide Slum, where a handful of runaway junkies trying to stay warm had set a small bonfire going on the ground floor of an abandoned tenement and accidentally let it spread to the cheap, flammable insulation in the walls. Clark smothered it quick and took the junkies to the nearest good shelter; they all looked painfully young with their bruised, skinny arms, and he felt a little sick, dropping them off, even though he knew Kon and Tim had money, had training.
He hovered outside his apartment while the sun was rising: Lois was just getting up, phone held in the crook of her shoulder while she ate oatmeal, laptop already set up on the kitchen table. He thought about going in, but she'd ask him what was happening, and he wasn't sure he could tell her. But he wasn't sorry—he couldn't be sorry, not when it was Kon's life on the line. Deathstroke wasn't one of the good guys. If he wanted to hold out to protect a scumbag who was paying money to have a pair of kids killed, kidnapped, then he deserved anything Lex was going to dish out to him.
The headset crackled. "Clark," Lex said, his voice was tired, bleak, and Clark knew they'd struck out. "He was after a drug lord for Black Mask. He didn't know anything."
Clark dropped his head to his chest, his eyes squeezed shut. So it had all been for nothing. He'd handed a man over to torture, or to—
"I bought him off and let him think the drug lord is a covert operative," Lex said, and the knot in Clark's chest slipped loose and untied itself. "He's gone."
Clark flew back to the penthouse. Lex was sitting on the couch with a glass and a bottle of Scotch and his eyes closed, early morning sunlight creeping across the floor towards him. He opened his eyes and looked at Clark. Clark sat down next to him. "Do you have any more of that?"
Lex handed him the glass.
Two weeks later, they still didn't have any new leads, the car was still missing, and Clark still hadn't spent a full night at home.
"You need to calm down a little," Lois said. "If you guys can't find them, no supervillain is going to either, and they aren't exactly helpless and broke. Kon had enough stashed in that account he cleaned out for them both to live on for a year."
"They're sixteen years old, and Kon's in a wheelchair, Lois!" Clark said. "If they had the judgment to be out on their own, they wouldn't have taken off like this. All it takes is for one person to get lucky because they're too busy worrying about staying hidden to stay safe."
She shook her head. "I'm not saying don't do everything to find them," she said. "Just that wherever they are, they're probably fine, and they don't want to come home. What are you going to do when you do catch them? They're sixteen, if they don't want to be at home, they're just going to take off again. You can't put them in jail."
Lex had suggested a nice tropical island with no airport and an electrified fence, actually, which was sounding better by the day.
"I'll come up with something after we find them," Clark said. He hesitated. "I was thinking—"
"And if you don't come back to work at some point," Lois said, interrupting, "we're going to need to give Perry a better excuse than the flu."
"I can't worry about that right now," Clark snapped. He blurred to super-speed and cleared the table, stacked the dishes in the sink. "I'll take care of the washing up when I get back," he said. "I'm going over to see if Lex has anything new."
"I can take care of the damn dishes, Smallville," Lois said. She sighed and came over to kiss him. "Just be careful, okay? You're distracted as hell."
He opened the window and headed out to the penthouse. He didn't know why he didn't just ask her; he couldn't imagine her saying no. If anything, he was more worried about Kon being resentful at having to spend weekends over: their apartment didn't have a 200-inch television and a souped-up Xbox 360. But if they'd been closer—if he hadn't just parked Kon in Smallville and used the Teen Titans as a weekend camp, if he'd treated Kon like a son, the way Lex had, instead of an inconvenience—maybe Kon would have trusted him enough to come to him, instead of taking off from guilt.
—and didn't that sound familiar.
Clark landed on the penthouse balcony. The doors slid open automatically for him: Lex had programmed him into the system. Lex was stretched out asleep on the couch, pot of coffee on the table, the whole screen lit up with scrolling windows of data. Lex had so many people working on the hunt now that new tips came in about once a minute; even if most of them were dead-ends.
"Hey," Clark said, leaning over to touch his shoulder. "You should get some sleep in bed."
Lex sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. "I'm fine. Anything?" He poured more coffee, gave Clark a cup.
Clark shook his head, moved over to the couch next to him. "Batman's gone to Tibet. He thinks they might have gone to Lady Shiva."
"They didn't go to Tibet," Lex said, knocking back his coffee. "If Kon got on an international flight, he went to Japan."
"Tim's worked with her before," Clark said.
"Tim's not the one steering the bus," Lex said. "He's just keeping Kon from going off the road and hitting a tree." He put the heels of his hands to his eyes for a moment, dropped his hands. "Clark, we're doing something wrong. We should have found the car by now. It would be useless, but we still should have found it."
"If they hid it well enough—"
"No, I don't buy it," Lex said. "They went off-radar at the rest stop on I-70. There's no way they risked driving the car for more than an hour after that. I've got high-res satellite photography of every inch of ground, you've gone over the whole search area backwards and forwards—"
"It could be in a garage, Lex," Clark said. "I could have missed something—"
"Yeah, a fucking lead-lined garage—" Lex stopped. "Jesus. I'm an idiot." He stood up and headed for the balcony. "Come on, let's go."
"What? Where?" Clark demanded, following him.
"Smallville," Lex said.
The mansion was dark and quiet, black shuttering boards neatly fitted over the windows and the stained glass. The driveway was full of weeds and the lawn of dry yellow patches. Clark landed them on the front steps, past the fence with its redly-blinking camera eyes, and they climbed the stairs together to the front door.
Tim and Kon were sprawled out on the bed in one of the first-floor bedrooms, fast asleep in the middle of a pile of Warrior Angel comic books. There were two empty tv dinner trays stacked up on the floor.
Lex closed his eyes and let out a slow deep breath. Then he crossed the room to the bed and sat down on the edge, put a hand on Kon's shoulder. "Hey."
"...dad?" Kon said, drowsily. Then he sat up abruptly, grabbing for the headboard to pull himself up. Tim stirred and opened his eyes and yelped, falling off the bed as he recoiled. Kon wrapped his arms across his chest, huddling back against the pillows; Tim looked for a split-second like he wasn't sure whether to be panicked or relieved, then he pulled himself up tall as he could manage and went expressionless: Clark could almost see the imaginary cape draping from his shoulders.
"You do realize these were all mint condition first printings," Lex said, picking up one of the comics, which was now folded twice over, one corner of the cover accordioned.
"I'm not taking it," Kon said. "I'm not taking the fucking cure, and you can't make me."
"Don't be ridiculous," Lex said. "Of course I can make you. I'll just have you knocked out with kryptonite and chained down."
Kon opened his mouth and closed it again without making a sound.
"That wouldn't be my first choice, but we all make compromises," Lex said. "You can hate me for it after you're walking again. Are you finished with the melodrama? Because the last three weeks have sucked pretty spectacularly, and I'd like to take you home now."
Kon just stared at him. "I didn't want—" he said, "Lex, I didn't want—" His face was crumpling, and Lex reached out and pulled him into his arms.
Clark caught Tim's eye and jerked his head towards the door. Tim hesitated, but Kon had his face buried against Lex's shoulder, and after a moment Tim slipped out into the hallway. Clark followed him and closed the door. Tim darted a look up at him. "I couldn't let him take off alone," he said defensively.
"We'll discuss it later," Clark said. "In the meantime, you've got a couple of calls to make." He handed Tim his cell phone.
Tim stared at the phone miserably, his shoulders gradually sinking down, turning him back into a sixteen-year-old boy. "I'm so dead."
Lex opened the door again after about half an hour; Kon was sitting up in bed, red-eyed and wiping his face with a washcloth. Tim was slumped morosely in an armchair.
"The copter will be here in about an hour," Lex said. "In the meantime, you two can try and save whatever's left of my collection."
"Um, sorry about that," Tim said awkwardly, standing up.
"About that?" Lex said, raising an eyebrow.
Tim made a faintly desperate noise and dashed back into the room. Lex looked after him, thoughtfully. "Batman is going to take care of him, I imagine?"
"You could say that," Clark said, wincing; he'd overheard most of Tim's conversation with Bruce.
Lex nodded and gave him a half-smile, washed out and tired. "I'm going to go call for the helicopter."
"I'll keep an eye on them," Clark said. Lex nodded and walked away down the hall.
Tim and Kon worked quietly on the comics, and packing up the rest of the mess: playing cards, video games, books.
"We've got some stuff in a few of the other rooms," Tim said. "I'm just going to go grab it." Clark nodded; he didn't think either of them was going to try and make a break for it, but it didn't matter if they did: his hearing had locked onto their heartbeats almost as soon as they'd gotten into range, and he was pretty sure he could have followed them for a thousand miles without even trying.
He picked up a handful of the comics that had gotten scattered on the floor and gave them to Kon.
"How could you let him?" Kon said abruptly. "I know you hate Lex, but—"
"I don't," Clark said, automatically; then he realized it was even true. He sat down on the bed, his hands clasped. "I don't hate him," he repeated. "I didn't stop him because I knew I wouldn't have wanted anyone to stop me."
"I'm just a clone," Kon said. "You guys didn't ask for me to be made. The Cadmus Labs people just wanted a freaking superweapon."
"My parents didn't ask to have an alien dropped on their heads," Clark said. "It worked out okay."
He left them finishing up and went back down the hall to find Lex. Now that he actually had attention to spare for his surroundings, it was deeply strange to walk through the familiar, wood-paneled hallways, dimly lit, the twisted metal sculptures putting out clawed fingers of shadow: like stepping into the past. He almost expected to meet himself coming around a corner, Kon's age and twice as unprepared.
He could have followed Lex's footprints in the layers of dust on the marble floors, but he didn't have to; he knew where Lex had gone. The double doors to the office were standing open, the stained glass with the Luthor crest was lit from behind by the floodlights outside, throwing purple and red illuminations onto the floor, against the pale background of Lex's skin where he stood at the desk.
"The copter is on the way," Lex said over his shoulder, not turning around; he was looking down at something in his hand.
"They're almost done," Clark said. "Found something?"
"Just some memories," Lex said. He turned around and held it out for Clark to see: the old hexagonal piece from the spaceship that had brought a baby from Krypton to Earth; useless now, a key without a lock.
Clark crossed the room slowly, looked down at it. He remembered the feeling of it in his hand, the odd almost soapy feel of the metal, the weight of it somehow right, its edges fitting into his palm neatly. Back then, it had seemed so important, the most important thing in the world: symbol of all the secrets he'd tried so hard to protect, the lies he'd thought he had to tell.
Lex silently offered him the hexagon, and Clark took it from his hand. Their fingers brushed.
"I spent so much time being angry at you," Clark said. "Because when I wasn't, I just kept wondering—" Wondering what-if, watching Lex slip further and further away all the time; until at some point he'd shut those feelings off, because all his powers wouldn't let him change the past, and he'd lost the chance to be Superman and Lex Luthor's friend both.
"I did a pretty good job of giving you reasons," Lex said. "I just convinced myself there wasn't any other way."
Once Clark had gotten pinned down unconscious under a collapsed building; when he'd finally woken up and struggled free, his legs had been numb, shaky, and when he'd crawled out into the sun, the sensation had poured back in sharp and prickling and hot, what he thought pins-and-needles must be like.
"I missed you," he said. His throat felt raw.
Lex didn't say anything, just looked at him, the old look: not that awful, remote expression, the one that put labels on him: alien, liar, enemy; not even the guarded caution of the last few weeks, but the way Lex used to look at him, like he was El Dorado and the Holy Grail all wrapped up together.
He'd never known what to do when Lex looked at him that way; he hadn't known what it meant, just that he liked it and that it scared him at the same time. It had always made him feel awkward and stupid and young, and he remembered how he'd shuffle a little, underneath that gaze, and then Lex would smile and turn it aside, put a veil over it, and they'd just be pals again, hanging out. Brothers under the skin, two different kinds of aliens alone against the world.
Well, Clark still liked it and it still scared him to pieces, but he wasn't a teenager anymore. He knew what it meant. He dropped his eyes and stared at the hexagon, his fingers rubbing uneasily over the Kryptonian symbols pressed into the surface, and waited for Lex to look away, to crack the tension and let him off the hook; except Lex wasn't doing it, and the only thing breaking the silence was the sound of his own breathing, coming quicker, as Lex's hand cupped his cheek and slid gently into his hair, fingers curling against his neck.
"You never," Clark said, except he had to stop, because his voice was cracking.
"You're not sixteen anymore," Lex said, and drew him down.
Kon put the last comic back into its bag and sealed it up again. "You okay?" Tim asked quietly; they'd been working in silence.
"Yeah," Kon said. "Is Batman totally going to kill you?"
"Yes," Tim said. "But at least it'll be quick." They both cracked up a little, weakly. "What about Luthor?"
"We're good," Kon said. "He didn't yell or anything, I think he went past mad and out the other side. But I'm pretty sure he's going to, like, implant a tracker in me or something." He looked down. "I'm sorry I freaked out and got you in deep shit, man."
Tim shrugged and bumped Kon's shoulder with his. "What are friends for?"
He brought the wheelchair over, and Kon lifted himself into it. "Dude, you realize we hid out from all three of them for two weeks?" Kon said, as they headed down the hall.
"I was pretty sure I'd missed something," Tim admitted. "I gave it three days tops before they picked us up."
"The other Titans are never going to believe—" Kon said, rounding the office door; his voice trailed away into a small, high squeaking sound. Tim was standing frozen next to him, staring.
It took Clark and Lex a while to notice them.
"Um," Clark said.
Lex just said, "Why don't you two wait for us out at the helipad?" He didn't even turn his head, his eyes never leaving Clark's face.
"Um," Tim said. "Right. Right!" He grabbed the chair and dragged it back out the doors; Kon was too busy staring blankly to move.
Kon jerked around in the chair halfway down the hall and stared at Tim. "Did—were they just—?"
"I'm trying not to think about it!" Tim said. "I've had enough shocks today."
"Oh my god," Kon said, numbly, sitting back in the chair. "They were exes."
"I'm sorry," Clark said. "This was a mistake."
Lex just lifted an eyebrow.
"It can't happen again," Clark said. "I love Lois."
"I'm sure you do," Lex said. He picked up the hexagon from the desk, where Clark had let it drop. He turned it over in his fingers, wearing that intensely amused expression, the one where his mouth wasn't even curved but he was smiling anyway.
"I'm sorry," Clark said again, uneasily; this wasn't how he'd expected the conversation to go. He'd at least thought Lex would—push a little? Be angry?
"As it happens, Clark," Lex said, sounding almost cheerful, "I know exactly what to do in this situation."
"What, because this happens to you all the time?" Clark said, sarcastically. Then he frowned. Lex had gone through five wives and any number of what the society pages called companions, so maybe it actually did.
"No," Lex said, "I just know you." He pocketed the hexagon and walked over. Clark crossed his arms over his chest, mostly to keep some space between them; he felt pathetic backing away. Lex stopped just in arm's length, though, and looked up at him. "I respect your relationship with Lois. I'd never want to interfere. We've been under a lot of stress lately, and it was just—one of those things. I'm just glad that we have the chance to rebuild our friendship."
Clark said, "Oh."
Lex smiled, mercury-quick, the flash of it there and gone again. "That's what I should say. And then a couple weeks from now, you'd stay to dinner to spend some quality time with Kon. We'd have a few drinks, Kon would go to his room to do some schoolwork, I'd have something to show you in my office." His voice was sliding lower, rougher, intimate.
At some point, Clark's arms had unfolded, not through any conscious decision. Lex stepped into that empty waiting space and cupped Clark's cheek; the pad of his thumb rubbed gently over Clark's lower lip, still wet from kissing. "Do you need me to tell you how that would end?" he said softly.
Clark didn't. They'd be looking at something on the desk. Lex would put a hand on the small of his back, leaning close. He'd tilt his head, and his mouth would be so near there wouldn't be any effort involved; it would be harder not to kiss him than to close that space. And then Lex would move so fast—so fast there wouldn't be any time to think. Clark would let Lex pull him down to the floor; he'd let Lex have everything, anything he wanted, because it would feel just like this moment, his whole body tight with longing for what he'd never gotten to have, what he'd never stopped wanting. Lex would take him fast; then take him slow; and afterwards—
Lex's hand fell away. "And afterwards, you'd leave," Lex said. "You'd pull yourself together, and you'd apologize again, and then you'd go home to Lois, either to confess or to pretend it never happened, and either way, you'd blame me for it."
He turned away and walked to the bar: still stocked under ten years of dust with brandy and whiskey, Lex's favorite accessories of choice; he didn't like to drink half as much as he liked the dramatic punctuation of opening a bottle, holding a glass to catch the light in his hand; that was probably why he'd started on cigars, Clark thought, for the cinematic effect of smoke and its little rituals.
"You think I wouldn't take responsibility for my own actions?" he said. "It's not like you could force me."
"Actually," Lex said, in confidential tones, "I've got sixteen fantasies that say otherwise, and maybe half of them are plausible," which made Clark swallow in a mouth gone suddenly dry. Lex turned around, brandy golden in his glass, and came back towards him.
"When you blamed me, you'd be right," he said. "You'd realize that I'd been manipulating you, even if you were letting yourself be manipulated. And you wouldn't come back."
Clark wondered if Lex was right. Probably; it had the bitter, familiar taste of so many of their struggles. The anger ran out of him like water, leaving shame behind. Because he'd wanted that easy out. He'd wanted Lex to give him an excuse.
Lex held out the glass and waited for Clark to take it. "I don't respect your relationship with Lois," he said softly. "I'll interfere any chance you give me. And I don't just want your friendship." He smiled, briefly. "I'll tell Kon you're flying back on your own." He turned and walked out of the room. Clark stood alone in the office, breathing hard, until the sound of his footsteps faded away down the hall.
He drank the brandy. It didn't wash away the taste of Lex's mouth.
Kon slipped out the next morning; Lex had apparently overlooked grounding him because he was preoccupied, for reasons Kon was not thinking about at all, and even though the Ferrari was still parked in the underground garage at the mansion, the Metropolis buses were wheelchair-accessible. He parked himself at the Starbucks outside the Inquisitor offices and called Chloe.
"Why didn't you tell me they used to date?" he demanded, when she sat down.
Her eyebrows went way up. "Um, excuse me?"
"Lex and Clark!" Kon said.
"Oh, boy," Chloe said. "Okay, look, I really don't think it does any good to dig up ancient history, but you're clearly getting some serious misinformation here. They dated the same girl, not each other."
"They what?" Kon said.
He called Tim on the bus home. "I am never going to have a normal relationship in my entire life," he said morbidly, leaning against the window, ignoring that it whacked his head every time the bus went over a pothole. "My doom is written in my genes."
"If you start telling me anything about what Lex and Clark have been doing, I'm hanging up," Tim said.
"They haven't been doing anything; Clark's, like, disappeared," Kon said. "But I'm trying to tell you, their issues go way beyond just macking on each other."
"Clark didn't have issues," Tim said. "He had a fiancee and everything before he freaked out from the stress or something. It's probably your fault for running away."
"It is not my fault!" Kon said, his voice rising over the car horns outside. "Listen, Clark ran away to Vegas and got married when he was seventeen, to some nutso criminal, and then she died, and then he dated this other girl and broke up with her, and then she dated Lex—"
"Kon?" Tim said. "What's that noise?"
"The bus driver's honking at the traffic, someone's double-parked," Kon said, looking out the window. Then he noticed that about half the people sitting around him were staring at him with open interest. "Um, maybe I'll call you back," he muttered hurriedly.
"Please don't," Tim said.
Kon rolled very quietly back into the apartment. Lex was in his office on the phone, but he was answering in absent monosyllables, and he had his feet kicked up and was staring out the window towards the Daily Planet globe. He had that weird, manic gleam in his eye, the kind he mostly got when he was about to make another billion dollars crushing some company, or take out half a rival guild with one maneuver in Warcraft.
Kon was seriously sorry he'd gotten Lex into Warcraft: Lex didn't seem to be able to turn off the world-conquering instincts. The guild he'd started was practically a faction all its own now, and the forums were full of complaints about how it was screwing up the game balance. It was depressing when your dad could beat the crap out of you in a video game.
Your dad, who was totally gay for your other dad. And that was actually the most sane relationship he'd ever had, according to Chloe's list, which besides Clark's ex-girlfriend had included four or five homicidal maniacs, depending how you counted. Kon was ready to take fingerprints and run background checks on any more dates Lex brought home. That supermodel had totally looked shifty-eyed, come to think of it, and the professor of Latin poetry had obviously been evil, because come on, poetry, in a dead language.
"There's only one thing to do," Kon whispered into the phone, safe in his room with the door locked and also barricaded.
"Pretend we didn't see it and that nothing ever happened?" Tim said, sounding hopeful.
"We have to get them back together," Kon said.
"There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don't know where to begin, but how about with 'we'," Tim said.
"Seriously, man," Kon said. "Do you know how much my life would suck if they were dating psycho women all the time?"
"Lois Lane is not a psycho!" Tim said.
"Yeah, okay," Kon said, uncomfortably guilty, "but I bet you anything if she marries Clark, she'll turn psycho at some point. Trust me, you look at his track record, it's practically inevitable."
"Right, you'd be doing her a favor," Tim said sarcastically.
"Oh, shut up," Kon muttered. "Fine, okay? I like this concept where my dad stops being a supervillain and my parents don't hate each other's guts and try to kill each other on a regular basis, sue me."
"Yeah, I get it," Tim said, more gentle. "I just don't think you can make something like this happen, Kon."
Kon stretched out on his back, put his arms behind his head. "Yeah, well. This guy I know told me never to take impossible for an answer."
The problem was, he couldn't do much of anything if he never got to see Clark, and instead of that he got to see dozens of Lane-and-Kent stories in the Daily Planet about Superman's unexpected and time-consuming war on petty crime, which half the op-ed pages in the city thought was awesome and the other half called a violation of civil rights. Lex read the Planet at breakfast and afterwards generally went into his office and shut the door and crushed a few middling-sized corporations and came out at lunchtime still tight around the eyes. His assistants started to have hunted expressions, and even Mercy was avoiding him as much as she could.
"We've got to do something," Kon said urgently. "We need to head this off now before he goes off the rails and does something seriously evil."
"Sure," Tim said. "Stop Lex Luthor's latest evil plan before he even starts it. Great idea. I'm officially open to suggestions."
Kon flopped back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. "He hasn't decided on anything yet, he's too pissed-off at everyone. He's only like that when he doesn't have work to blow off steam with."
"You could always take him to a shooting range," Tim said. "Let him take it out on nice paper targets for a while."
Kon sat up. "Dude. Warcraft."
"Doesn't he own half the gameworld already?" Tim said.
"Yeah, he does," Kon said. "Because he hasn't got any competition."
"Uh huh," Tim said. "Kon, we're not going to beat Lex at Warcraft."
"We aren't," Kon said.
Tim didn't say anything for a minute. "You've got to be kidding me."
"No, listen to me!" Kon said. "If you tell him Lex is using Warcraft to organize, like, a supervillain association or something, and the guild is just a front—"
"Wow, this is the most spectacularly bad idea ever," Tim said.
Three days later, Lex idly logged on to Warcraft to find his guild hall in flames and half his players jumped to other guilds. "What the hell," he snarled, and went back to playing 10 hours a day.
"Okay, it's totally working, this is great," Kon said.
"It is not great!" Tim said. "Batman doesn't have time to patrol! He keeps sending me and Batgirl out alone, because if he goes away for more than a couple of hours, Lex starts winning again."
"Well, at least they're keeping each other out of trouble?" Kon said feebly.
"I have to find out who this guy is," Lex said at dinner a few days later, which made Kon choke on the broccoli he was unenthusiastically eating. "I wonder if I could just buy the user list from Blizzard."
"You're going to go after the guy because he's beating you in a computer game?" Kon squeaked.
"Don't be ridiculous," Lex said. "I just want to hire him. I've already traced him to Gotham, I've been meaning to open a LexCorp branch office there. And he is not beating me."
Kon spent the next week frantically trying to come up with a backup plan for when either Batman figured out that Lex wasn't actually doing anything in Warcraft but blowing off steam, or Lex succeeded in tracing Batman's account and got pissed off, and one or both of them decided to take the fight to the real world.
"Don't do that," Mercy said, coming into the kitchen the next morning; she took the milk carton out of Kon's hand.
"I wasn't going to drink out of the carton," Kon lied.
"Lex wants you in the office," she said.
Clark was in the office, in costume, standing behind a chair and practically barricaded into one corner; Lex was behind his desk, not even looking at him. Kon didn't have a lot of time to think about it, though, because Lex stood up when he came into the room and said, "Dr. Suryamin's team is ready whenever you are."
"I can't believe you didn't give me any warning," Kon muttered, lying down on his side like the nurse showed him. His heart was thumping like crazy.
"You've known we were getting close for the last two weeks," Lex said, infuriatingly calm. "The best thing you could have done beforehand was get a good night's sleep, and if you'd known, you'd have spent the whole night on the phone with Tim."
"Yeah, well, I'd at least like him to know I'm going under the knife," Kon said.
"You're getting one injection," Lex said.
"That's not the point!" Kon said.
"All right, I'll call him for you," Lex said, rolling his eyes. "Just relax, this really isn't going to be that dramatic."
"I can't believe you're so blasé about—hey," Kon said, lifting his head, "hey, you're totally faking it." Lex stared at him, poker-faced. "Okay, seriously, how much is this going to suck? Am I going to die?"
"No, you're not going to die!" Lex said, obviously giving up. "I wouldn't let them do this if you were in any danger."
"But it is going to suck, isn't it," Kon said morbidly.
"The regeneration process seems to be pretty painful in animal testing," Lex admitted.
"Did—did it hurt a lot," Kon said, "when you—"
Lex put his hand on Kon's head. "It won't take long. Just try and relax." He looked up. "Clark is going to help you hold still. Ready?"
Kon nodded and looked up as Clark's hand gripped his shoulder. "How long is it going to take?"
"We're finished with the injection," Dr. Suryamin said, behind him.
"What?" Kon said. Then the pain hit. "Ow. OW. FUCK!"
He tried to curl up into a ball; he couldn't help himself, even though he knew he had to hold still. "I've got you," Clark was saying, distantly. "I've got you, Kon, just hold on—" Kon sobbed and strained against the iron, implacable grip. He tried to shove Clark away with no success, but glass started shattering all around him; water and sparks splattered his skin.
"Where's that fucking morphine!" Lex was yelling.
"—the IV needle broke—"
The next wave of pain hit, and Kon couldn't make any more sense of anything around him; it just went on and on and on—
"Kon," Lex was saying, "Kon, you have to drink this, come on." Kon opened his mouth and managed to gulp a few swallows: it was thick and sweet and bitter underneath, nauseating. "Oh, god," Kon said. The pain receded, slowly, like the tide going out, lapping lower and lower on the shore. "God."
Clark and Lex were bending over him, pale and anxious. "Is it getting better?" Lex said. "Get him some more, goddamnit," he snapped over his shoulder.
"No," Kon managed. "No, I don't want more." His voice was cracking. "I can feel them." Lex stopped, staring down at him. "I can feel my legs."
He took the first tottering steps the next day, and Lex actually sat down and rested his face against his hand and didn't lift it again for ten straight minutes, by which time Kon had gotten back into the air.
"I can fly again!" Kon whooped, and cracked his head against the ceiling, showering down bits of plaster and paint.
Lex managed to wipe his face while he was looking up. "Please don't wreck the chandelier," he said, only a little less dry than usual.
The Titans showed up on Saturday, all of them, even Cyborg and Kory, and Kon blissfully arranged to get hugged tight against her awesome breasts for, like, a full two minutes. "That was truly low," Tim muttered at him, afterwards.
"Envy is the province of small minds," Kon said, dreamily.
Raven had brought cake, which they all stared at for a while. It was black—not chocolate, not even the black of Oreo cookies, but an inky light-absorbing black that sat on the table and loomed.
Fortunately, Bart accidentally fell into it about ten minutes into the party, and Lex called out for pizza instead.
"So are you coming back for the weekends again now?" Cassie said. "Ready to get back on the horse?"
"You'd better believe it," Kon said, grinning, except Lex left the room a little while after that, and Kon went down the hall and found him in the office, drinking.
"Hey," Kon said, awkwardly. "Is everything—"
"Fine." Lex put down his glass. "I'm just enjoying the prospect of sending you off each weekend to do your best to get maimed again."
Kon swallowed. "Didn't you say Alexander the Great was at war when he was sixteen?"
"He also died at thirty-three, so all in all, not the best model," Lex said. He paused. "I know I can't stop you," he added, tiredly.
Kon stared at the floor. "I'm good at this," he said. "I know I haven't exactly demonstrated that—"
"You've got more raw power than anyone else in that room," Lex said. "That doesn't mean that wearing a costume and playing hero for strangers is the only thing you're good for. Sometimes I think half the reason Clark does it is because he thinks he has to prove he belongs here. I don't want you falling into that particular martyr complex."
"I didn't—after I got out of Cadmus, I didn't have anything but being Superboy," Kon said. "I mean, after a while, Clark gave me a name and a place to stay, but that was all kind of tacked on."
"I hope that's not true anymore," Lex said.
"It's not," Kon said. "It's not, and—" He gulped. "—if you tell me I can't, I won't. I'll wait til I'm eighteen." Lex turned and stared at him, a little skeptically, and okay, Kon wasn't actually sure he could hear about the Titans mixing it up with bad guys somewhere and not go and help, but he skipped that part for now and hurried on. "But it's something I want to do. I don't mean, just so I can be a big star and people will love me or whatever, I've got that, I'm the freaking crown prince of Metropolis. But I still want to help people. I can do things nobody else can, and I want to do them."
It all came out in a rush, and then he stopped and had to take a deep breath to catch up with himself. Lex had a weird, intent expression on his face, his eyes fixed on the floor, then after a minute he said, "All right. Here's what we're going to do."
It took a little fast talking to get Cyborg behind the idea of letting Lex monitor their communications and provide backup, until Tim pointed out dryly, "Look, if you say no, he'll just do it anyway, except it'll be harder to coordinate with the LexCorp teams, and he'll probably send them in before we get there half the time."
"He's really letting you stay with the Titans?" Bart said. "Dude, really? You're not going to have to sneak out the window?"
"The deal is, weekends only until I graduate college," Kon said, grinning, "and I have to train my TK every day and keep working with Mercy, do some martial arts stuff. But yeah."
He was flying back from Titans Tower the next week, doing a little skylarking around the tops of the bigger skyscrapers, when Clark caught up with him mid-air. Clark had stopped by the penthouse a few times, just long enough to see that Kon was doing okay, to see him walking and flying again, and then he'd split as quick as he'd shown up, mostly managing to visit during times Lex wasn't even in the building.
Kon pulled up. "Hey," he said, coolly.
"You look—you look better," Clark said, hovering. "You were with the Titans?"
"Yeah," Kon said.
Clark waited until it was clear Kon wasn't going to say anything else. He cleared his throat. "Let's land for a second."
Kon followed him down to the roof of the Tannheuser Building, folded his arms and leaned against the base of the big radio antenna. "Been a while," he said. "How's that whole saving the world from purse-snatchers going?" He felt kind of guilty when he saw Clark flinch, but also a little meanly satisfied.
"I'm sorry I haven't been around much," Clark said. "Things have just been a little complicated. But that's what I wanted to talk to you about—I'd like us to have some more time together."
"It's not like Lex lets me go out partying every night," Kon said. "You know where to find me."
"I was thinking you could come spend weekends with me and Lois," Clark said.
Kon swallowed. He almost wanted to punch Clark, even if that would've been stupid. "So, in other words, you want to avoid Lex more than you want to see me. Let me tell you how much I want to give up my weekends with the Titans to make you feel better about that."
Clark flushed. "I don't want to avoid Lex," he said, weakly.
"Whatever," Kon said. "I don't think you and Lois are really looking for a third wheel anyway. Lex actually wants me around; he's not doing it because he feels guilty."
He took off for the penthouse, and Clark didn't follow him. He landed on the balcony and went in, still tense. Lex was on the phone in the study, speaking French, a deal for a new nuclear power plant over there. Kon headed for the gym to do a few more sets on the weight machine: his legs still had a long way to go before he got the muscle mass back. He could fly easier than he could walk, these days.
Lex knocked and came into his bedroom after he'd showered. Kon sat up; he'd gotten used to thinking things out lying on the bed.
Lex pulled out a chair and sat down with a sigh. "I own the Tannheuser Building," he said. "There are security cameras on the roof."
"Oh," Kon said.
"I spoke to Clark," Lex said. "He's going to take Fridays off, come by and pick you up, and you'll spend the day with him before heading over to Titans Tower."
"What?" Kon said. "No way! Lex, if he wants to—"
"It's as much my fault as Clark's that he hasn't been around," Lex said. He smiled, briefly and mirthlessly. "I played an all-or-nothing game and lost. It happens." He stood up. "But you're not going to pay for it."
Kon failed to see how forcing him to hang out with Clark and Lois was not making him pay for it. Clark even tried to make him wear the dorky glasses again.
"As if," Kon said, and put on his new Armani sunglasses instead.
"Mm, I love the smell of hostility in the morning," Lois said. "Where to, Smallville?"
"I thought we'd catch a baseball game," Clark said. "The Monarchs are playing early."
"I'll drive," Kon said. Clark winced.
Clark had tickets already, but when Kon pulled up into the VIP parking lot, Eileen Yevshenko, the director of the Fielding Institute, was just getting out of her own Mercedes, and she pounced the second she spotted Kon. "Come on, sit with me. I can call it fundraising and expense the whole day," she said, laughing with all her teeth, and Kon deliberately ignored Clark's disapproving expression and let her steer him to her field box.
The seats were great, in a suite just off of first, and the coach even came over to say hi: Lex owned something like a quarter-share of the team. A bunch of people stopped by to be introduced by Eileen during the pregame, one of them a gorgeous nineteen-year-old Russian model who was perfectly happy to sit down and teach Kon how to say 'hello' and 'can I buy you a drink' in Russian, so he didn't have to talk to Clark. A couple of society photographers snapped his picture, the management sent down drinks, and best of all, he got to hear Clark grinding his teeth the whole time. Lois rolled her eyes and went to the edge of the box to smoke.
His cellphone rang five minutes into the first inning. "Are you and Clark both idiots?" Lex said. "Get the hell out of there, you're on TV and Clark is right behind you, the resemblance is a little hard to miss."
"So that was fun," Kon said, as they left the stadium after one hit and two strikes. "Let's do it again never."
"There's a plan," Lois said, grinding out her cigarette butt on the sidewalk with her heel.
"Lois," Clark said, putting a hand on her shoulder, "do you mind going home without me?"
"I'm heading back to the Planet," she said. "I'll see you tonight." She glanced at Kon and snorted. "Good luck." She walked away towards the subway entrance.
"Are we done yet?" Kon said, tossing his keys in his hand.
Clark reached out and caught the keys in mid-air. "Lex can send someone to pick up the car," he said evenly. "Let's go somewhere a little more private."
That turned out to be an empty meadow twenty minutes outside of the city. Kon sprawled out on a patch of grass in the sun and said, "Okay, let me have it."
Clark just stood there for a few minutes, possibly counting ten, and then finally he took a deep breath and said, "All right. Yes. I've been avoiding Lex, and I let that keep me away. It was never because I didn't want to see you."
Kon glared up at the clouds, trying not to let that make him feel better. "Funny how it looked the same from here."
"I'm sorry, and I'd like to be a part of your life," Clark said quietly.
Kon bit his lip. Okay, fine, so maybe Clark wasn't a total write-off. He sat up and scrambled back to his feet. "All right, you're sorry. That and 13,000 yen will buy me a share of Nintendo. Tell me what you're going to do about it."
Clark stared at him a little helplessly. "I'm trying to do something about it."
"Your solution is dragging me out to quality time with you and Lois one day a week, whether I want it or not, which does squat for me and lets you pat yourself on the back," Kon said. "You're surprised I'm not psyched about that?"
"So tell me what you do want," Clark said.
"I want what I had," Kon said. "You used to drop by, hang out; you even stuck around for dinner once in a while. I don't think that's too much to ask no matter what weird-ass thing you have going on with Lex."
"There isn't—I don't—there's nothing going on with me and Lex," Clark stammered.
"Um," Kon said. "Okay, look, not that I want to talk about this, but am I supposed to have forgotten that I saw you guys making out?"
Clark got red. "It was one kiss!"
"Excuse me, who was the one getting scarred for life?" Kon said. "That was totally making out. You had your hand on his—"
"All right, all right, never mind!" Clark interrupted hurriedly. "It doesn't matter. The point is, it was a mistake, and it's not going to happen again."
"Fine, so you'll come hang out?" Kon said, pouncing. Lex always said to nail people down to specifics as soon as they showed weakness. "Just, you know, dinner once a week or something."
Clark groaned softly, under his breath. "Yes, all right," he said. It sounded faintly despairing.
Kon managed not to pump his arms in victory. "Tuesdays are good for me," he said magnanimously.
"You could come with me," Clark called, without much hope.
"Yeah, nothing I like better than dinner with a sullen teenager and a supervillain," Lois said. She was stretched out on the sofa in the living room with a mug of coffee and a paperback. "Sorry, Smallville, you're on your own."
Clark sighed. He put on a jacket, and then took it off again; he didn't want to look like he'd dressed up. But his dress shirt from work was too crumpled without the suit jacket. He put on a t-shirt, which looked stupid with his trousers, so he grabbed a pair of jeans, and then he looked about nineteen again, which really wasn't where he wanted Lex's head to be, not to mention his own, so he put the jacket back on after all.
"What are you doing in there?" Lois said. "You might as well go and get it over with, champ. The worst that can happen is Lex salts the steak with kryptonite."
Clark looked at the pile of clothing on the bed and thought the worst had already happened. "I'm going," he called, and left by the fire escape.
The balcony doors let him in. There were three places set in the dining room, and fresh orange juice waiting on the counter in the kitchen; Clark stepped inside to pour himself a glass, and heard Lex walk into the dining room outside.
"Who's our company tonight? Tim coming over?" Lex asked. He stopped short as he came around the kitchen doorway.
Clark straightened up. Lex was in the middle of rolling up his shirt sleeves; he'd taken off his jacket and tie, and the hollow of his throat was pale and exposed. Clark swallowed. "Kon didn't tell you?" he said.
"It must have slipped his mind," Lex said dryly.
"What?" Kon said, coming into the dining room. "I didn't think it was a big deal. You never had a problem with Clark coming over before."
"There's no problem," Lex said. Then he looked Clark up and down and murmured, low and appreciative, "Nice jeans."
So, things were off to a good start there.
Clark hadn't really eaten at the penthouse before, unless he counted grabbing a sandwich to make sure his kid who'd been snatched out of the hospital wasn't being tortured, back in the early days. But while Kon had been missing, he and Lex had eaten together constantly, kung pao chicken and pad thai straight out of the carton and pizza from the box, the comfort food of the city-dweller, as they sat on the couch planning out the next day's search pattern.
It was wildly different to be at the table now, Lex relaxed and loose, drinking wine and telling Kon bloodthirsty stories about the tsars; Russian had apparently become the next language on the list, now that Kon was pretty much fluent in Japanese. "Why can't I learn something where I at least know the freaking alphabet?" Kon complained.
"I was thinking Arabic, after that," Lex said, with a cheerful lack of sympathy.
"Hey," Kon said, perking up, "can I learn Tamaran? I bet Kory would teach me if I asked her."
"If you're going to learn an alien language, you should start with Kryptonian," Lex said. He looked at Clark. "That's not actually a bad idea. It's an ergative language, he needs to learn one of those."
"It's a what?" Clark said.
"Oh god, not with the linguistics again," Kon said.
"You'll thank me when you're on your sixth language," Lex said.
"Six?" Kon said, voice rising in outrage.
"Don't worry, it gets easier as you go on. After the fourth one it's all downhill," Lex said, leaning back in his chair.
"Kill me now," Kon said, burying his head in his arms on the table.
Clark was grinning, involuntarily. "I don't know that I could teach it, actually," he said. "I didn't ever learn Kryptonian, it was sort of implanted in my head. I can speak it, but it's a gut thing, I wouldn't know how to begin to break it apart."
"I've got a grammar mostly worked out and a vocabulary of about two thousand words," Lex said. "I'm pretty sure we can figure out the rest."
"I guess it would be kind of cool to know Kryptonian," Kon said.
Okay, so he'd walked right into that one. Clark couldn't really mind; he liked the idea of other people knowing Kryptonian—of his son knowing Kryptonian.
After dinner, Kon wanted to watch the original Japanese version of The Ring, which Clark vaguely imagined would be sort of an art-house experience. As the credits rolled, Lex polished off the last of the popcorn, which had been abandoned to his hands, looked at the two of them wide-eyed and shrinking back against the couch, and said blandly, "Coffee?"
"Yes," Clark said immediately. Kon nodded.
Clark was almost at the bottom of his mug when Kon started yawning and took himself to bed. The screen had been rolled up, but Lex had left the lights off, and the skyscrapers outside glittered like Christmas. Clark could get the view anytime, but usually he was inundated with the noise of millions of lives: traffic, arguments, tears. The soundproofing that had been meant to keep him from eavesdropping worked just as well the other way around.
Lex was stretched out along one section of the couch, long and lean in his black pants. A few more buttons had slipped open on his rumpled shirt. He glanced at Clark after Kon had left the room, smiled faintly, and said, "More coffee?"
Clark had to say no. Lois would still be awake if he went home now; he could sit with her on the couch and they'd watch the talk shows together, and he could tell her about how the night had gone, everything they'd done, without any guilt. He looked down into his mug. "Yeah, thanks."
They talked about Kon's schoolwork, astronomy and physics to go with the Kryptonian lessons. Lex wandered over from there to the pathetic underfunding of NASA, out to the general failures of the current administration, back to the specifics of global warming, his idle plan for weather-control satellites and a private space station, and the merits of Kubrick versus Ridley Scott. One of Lex's intoxicatingly byzantine conversations, where Clark never knew what would show up around the next left turn: fireworks and balloons and circuses complete with tigers, and just trying to hold on for the ride was an adventure.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd just sat and talked with Lex like this; not since high school, at best, and it felt like he'd had color put back into the world. The clock on the wall was counting to two before he looked at it again.
Lex said softly, "It's late," putting down his coffee cup. His eyes were bright and not tired at all, studying Clark's face.
Clark stood up in an awkward, nervous rush and said, "Yeah, I need to get home. Thanks. We should do this at my place some time." He was taking refuge in automatic politeness; as soon as it came out of his mouth, he winced at how ridiculous it sounded, Lex coming over for dinner to his and Lois's one-bedroom-with-ambitions, its fire-escape balcony and the kitchen that made his mother look sad every time she visited.
Lex's mouth twitched. "Anytime." He got to his feet with easy grace and stepped in close. Clark wavered and took one uncertain half-step back. Lex stopped; his face went cool and expressionless as water. "Good night," he said, but all the light had gone out of his voice, and he didn't wait for Clark to answer before he turned away and left the room.
"Oh, come on!" Kon said, scowling at the laptop screen. Clark was letting himself out through the balcony doors, his shoulders hunched. "That was a perfect setup!"
"This is so wrong," Tim said, almost a moan.
"Shut up, we're on a mission here," Kon said. "This is going to take more work than I thought."
"Rise and shine, Smallville," Lois said, poking him the next morning.
Clark sat up, running a hand over his face, covers pooling around his waist. "What time's it?" he asked, drowsily.
"Six thirty, and all's not well, at least in Sudan," Lois said. "We've got a flight in an hour, so up and at 'em. Coffee's on."
He got out of bed automatically and went to wash his face, still half-asleep, and then he turned and went right back out of the bathroom. "Wait, did you say Sudan?"
"Awake yet?" She grinned at him and waved her hand at the table: there was a messenger package, full of plane tickets and visas and contact information. "The Fielding Institute called Perry an hour ago, they're funding us for six weeks on location to investigate the gun-running operation that's supplying the janjaweed. Pulitzer number three, baby, here we come!"
"Six weeks?" Clark said slowly, looking through the papers. It hadn't seemed like that much the last time they'd done this, three years ago, when they'd gone to Central America for a month; or their eight-week trek through Mongolia a couple of years before that. But he'd managed it by getting Diana or GL to cover Metropolis for him: it was a good chunk of flying time even at his top speed, and he couldn't just pick up and go any moment, not when they would be traveling with guides, in small camps, with hardly any privacy.
He put down the folder. "Lois, I can't," he said softly.
She stopped, in the middle of pouring coffee. "What?"
"I can't just leave Kon for six weeks," he said.
"Clark, this is what we do," Lois said. "I get that you want to do the right thing by Kon, but you don't owe him your whole life. He's not your kid, Clark. From where I'm standing, he's Luthor's."
Clark flinched, because it was true, and that was his fault. "Because I haven't been there for him," he said. "And if I walk away from him now, he won't ever be my son."
"Okay, and?" Lois said. "You didn't ask for Kon, you didn't do a thing to make him happen. You haven't got a moral obligation to take care of him. If Luthor wants to step up to the plate, that's his choice. He wants the kid."
Clark looked down at the heap of papers, the photos and the colored stamps. He loved their work abroad, getting to actually know people on the ground and experience places as a human being instead of a superhero. But—he'd learned to be human in a yellow farmhouse in Smallville, in the small safe space that Jonathan and Martha Kent had made for their awkward alien cuckoo-child: a circle of family.
"Lois," he said, "I want him too."
He dropped her off at the airport, putting her bags on the conveyor, and she kissed him goodbye at the security checkpoint. "I'll call every chance I get," she said. "It's six weeks, it'll be over before we know it."
He went to the observation deck and stood watching until the plane took off, Lois already curled up in business class with her shoes off and her feet tucked underneath her, deep in a phrasebook with her headphones on.
He didn't have to get to work for another hour, and he didn't feel like going back to the empty apartment, so he went for a patrol. There wasn't much happening; the tourists and their predators wouldn't be stirring for a while yet, and mostly he surfed air currents and watched the traffic crawling into Metropolis along the highways, like marching lines of small bright-shelled beetles.
Then he saw the thread of smoke trailing away from the top of the LexCorp tower, and for a moment he couldn't move, couldn't breathe; then he was shattering through the glass of the balcony doors and through two walls to Kon's bedroom. He stopped short. Lex was standing there, in a beautiful, tailored, soaking-wet suit, dripping and speechless. Kon was standing guiltily over a smoking ruin of stereo equipment. All the electrical outlets in the apartment were sizzling quietly, and the sprinklers were throwing off a gentle steady drizzle.
Lex turned slowly and stared at Clark. Clark looked over his shoulder. Bits of sheetrock and thin layers of lead and wiring were scattered all over the floor, around the series of holes Clark had just drilled through the apartment. "Um," Clark said. "Sorry?"
"Brainiac did less damage, and he was trying," Lex said. "Do you have any idea how long it's going to take to fix this?"
"Can't you just, you know, pay a bunch of people to do it faster?" Kon said.
"There's lead in the walls," Lex said. "They're going to need to work in fucking hazmat gear!"
"So, I'm grounded again, huh?" Kon said.
"Yes, you are," Lex said.
Kon hung his head. "I just wanted to see if I could hook the stereo up to the network," he said. "Tim said it would work."
"Next time, ask me," Lex said. He pulled out his cellphone and looked at it. The lcd panel on the front screen was blinking crazily, and it was dripping too. He looked at Clark. "I don't suppose you have a phone on you?"
Clark hurriedly dug his cell out of the pocket in the cape. "If you're calling for a cleanup, I could—"
"If my assistants don't already have a cleanup crew on the way, they're all getting fired," Lex said. "I'm calling a hotel. We're going to need someplace to live for the next few weeks."
"Weeks?" Kon said. "In a hotel?"
"If you don't like the idea, you should have considered the possibility before you trashed the entire penthouse," Lex said, punching in numbers.
"I lived in hotels for, like, a year after I got out of Cadmus," Kon said, in a small voice. "They totally suck."
Lex stopped dialing and looked at him helplessly. After a moment, he said, "Do you want to stay in Smallville until it's fixed? I can open up the mansion again."
"Don't you have to be in the city for work?" Kon said.
"I can commute," Lex said. "It's less than an hour by helicopter."
"No," Kon said, low. "It's my fault for being stupid, I can deal with the hotel."
"Martyrdom's unattractive," Lex said, raising the phone again. "I'll open the mansion."
"You could stay with me," Clark blurted.
Kon brightened and looked at him. "Yeah? That would be cool."
Lex went very still. He closed the phone. In a strange, flat voice, he said, "That's a reasonable solution. I'll take a suite at the Mandarin Oriental."
"Oh, come on!" Kon said, folding his arms. "You can't handle a couple of weeks in an apartment smaller than a football field?"
Clark opened his mouth, and then shut it. He had no idea how he was going to explain to Lois that he'd had Lex over while she was gone, but he had even less idea how to say that he'd only meant to invite Kon.
Lex's expression had eased a little. He glanced at Clark, knowingly, and said to Kon, "It might be a little crowded. You'll do fine. The hotel's only a few blocks away. You can see me whenever you want."
Clark felt like a jerk. He hadn't thought about how it would make Lex feel, not to mention he had just wrecked the apartment. "If you can stand the couch, I can stand the company," he said.
"I'm starting to have doubts," Lex said, looking at the couch. "Have you ever actually slept on this thing?"
"Um. A couple of times?" Clark said. He and Lois had been two days from breaking a story on Edge Industries, which was illegally dumping vats of toxic waste, except he'd accidentally handed the story to a reporter from the Metropolis Sun, complete with a bonus Superman appearance. He'd gone in to stop the unexpected next shipment; the other reporter had shown up at the scene in a black suit, claiming to be in charge of an independent investigation, and he'd talked to her for twenty minutes before realizing she wasn't from the EPA at all.
That might not have landed him on the couch, except he'd said, in a fatal attempt at looking for a silver lining, "Well, at least it helps with the cover if we don't always land every Superman story." Lois, who'd gotten the initial lead and done nearly all the legwork, made it very clear what she thought about his calling it a "Superman story," and also that he could trade his own bylines for protecting his secret identity.
It had been a week before he'd gotten off the couch. He didn't remember it with a lot of fondness.
"Hm," Lex said, skeptically.
"This is cool," Kon said, inflating the air mattress. He flopped back onto it. "Can I get a sleeping bag? I could use it again—we could go camping sometime."
Lex's expression was priceless. "Sounds like fun," Clark said, not even trying not to grin.
"Good," Lex said. "You can take him camping." He pulled out his brand-new replacement cell phone, and headed for the laptop he'd set up on the kitchen table. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I do need to actually try and get some work done today."
"Work?" Clark said, belatedly remembering it was Wednesday. "Oh, no."
"What the hell is going on with you lately?" Perry barked. "Goddamnit, Kent, you're out for half a month, now you're showing up at two in the afternoon and you tell me you said no to Sudan?" He paused and said abruptly, more quietly, "Are you sick?"
"No!" Clark said. He wondered how the hell to explain this. "I'm—I'm having some family issues."
Perry went back to scowling. "Is somebody sick?"
"No," Clark said. "It's—" His cell phone rang: it was his home number. "I have to take this." Perry glared while Clark fumbled out the phone.
"What's the number for your building's management?" Lex said.
"It should be in the front page of the address book, by the phone," Clark said. "Um, why?"
"I'm just setting up a few deliveries," Lex said. "Don't worry about it." He hung up while Clark was still saying, "Wait, what kind of—"
"Sorry," he said to Perry.
Perry was fishing for painkillers in his desk. He washed them down with the cold coffee on his desk. "I changed my mind, I don't want to know," he said. "Just go out and get me some decent copy; and not one goddamned word about cats this time."
By cheating and super-speeding from one contact to the next, he managed to come up with a minor story on the Future of Teaching Corps, a new project that was putting high school seniors into elementary and junior high schools as teaching assistants in their best subjects. Nobody had anything bad to say about the project, so Perry stuck it on page six in Metro as filler, but Clark was ready to call it a victory and go home.
He opened the door: Lex was in shirtsleeves on the couch, papers scattered around him and two laptops now open on the coffee table. "Good," Lex said, looking up, "we're stuck; how would you say I'm never going to get this problem set done in Kryptonian?"
Kon was sitting at the kitchen table scratching away on a set of physics problems; he looked up and mimed choking himself.
Clark grinned. "I think you have to say this problem set can never be done by me instead," he said. "N'kel zoran t'kaj el tan."
"Can we have dinner now?" Kon asked plaintively.
"Sure," Clark said. "You can help. There are some peppers in the fridge, why don't you get started chopping them." He looked at Lex pointedly.
Lex lifted an eyebrow. "Clark. You remember the last time I tried cooking?"
"Yeah," Clark said, "but since I'm not sixteen anymore, I've figured out that a guy who can make fireworks out of stuff lying around the farm can probably follow a recipe for salad dressing."
Clark rolled over without thinking about it, and fell right back asleep. He woke up when the sun popped through the window, and realized Lex was in bed with him. He sat up fast, his face hot and red. "Lex!"
"Mm?" Lex muttered. He was lying sprawled out on his back, naked to the waist—naked at least to the waist; Clark had no intention of looking under the covers to check. Lex opened his eyes and blinked at Clark a few times. "What time is it?"
"Seven," Clark said.
"Goddamnit," Lex said, rolling out of the bed and heading straight to the bathroom. He was wearing boxers.
Clark sat in bed with his mouth open.
"Do me a favor and put some coffee on, would you?" Lex said, from the bathroom. "I've got to be at a board meeting in an hour, and this time of day it's going to take me half that time to get across town."
"Lex—" Clark said.
"Clark, I grant you that I can occasionally rise to subtlety," Lex said, "but I didn't climb into bed with you and go to sleep as part of some complicated seduction strategy. Your air mattress suffered an untimely death in the middle of the night, so I gave Kon the couch."
"What happened to the air mattress?" Clark said, and went outside: it was lying in a deflated heap of blankets and sheets. There was a ten-inch rip running along one seam. Kon was still fast asleep on the couch, his head under the covers at one end, a foot sticking out onto a pillow at the other. Clark sighed and headed for the kitchen and stopped short; his old Mr. Coffee was gone and a complicated giant black-and-silver engine was sitting on the counter, gleaming.
Lex came out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later, reached over Clark's shoulder, and punched two buttons. The machine started hissing and sputtering away. Clark sighed and put down the user manual he'd been trying to figure out. "I don't suppose it's worth asking what happened to my coffeemaker?"
"I was going to throw it out the window, but I figured you'd disapprove if it brained an innocent bystander," Lex said, heading back into the bedroom. "I had Kon take it to the incinerator room."
Kon made an inarticulate snuffling noise from the couch and rolled over. His head still didn't make an appearance.
Clark followed Lex into the bedroom; Lex was surveying the closet, where a dozen new suits were hanging next to Clark's, making them look pathetically shabby. "Dammit, they didn't get me a green one," Lex said, irritably, and settled for one in grey. He tossed the towel aside casually to get dressed. He wasn't wearing boxers anymore, Clark noted, clinically, and went into the bathroom to hide.
When he got home that night, the wreckage of the air mattress was gone. So was the couch. Clark didn't quite realize it at first: the replacement looked almost exactly the same, except it was a foot longer and the cushioning had the feeling of that weird memory foam when he sat down on it.
"Lex! I don't believe you! What did you do with my couch?" Clark said.
"Did you want Kon's feet hanging off the end?" Lex said, ignoring the question. "It's virtually a duplicate."
Clark gritted his teeth and made Lex chop up five onions for dinner in revenge.
"Isn't this a little too much for three people?" Lex said, blotting his streaming eyes.
"It's the secret to good pasta sauce," Clark lied without remorse. Then he threw away about half the onions while Lex's back was turned.
"Hey, I know I'm still grounded, but seriously," Kon said, while they ate, "I need to go out sometime or I'm going to go nuts. And it's kind of tough to do my physical therapy here."
"I'll have Mercy take you to the gym in the mornings," Lex said. "Other than that, you can have a field trip if you can convince me it's got something to do with your work."
"How about the Cosmosphere museum?" Kon said immediately. "They're open til nine."
Lex paused. "You had that ready, didn't you?" he said, sounding pleased.
Kon grinned. "So, what do you guys say? Tomorrow night?"
"Sure," Lex said. "I didn't really need to see the prime minister of Bolivia." After that, Clark couldn't exactly bow out because he had been planning to set up an interview with the principal of P.S. 138.
After washing up, Kon curled up on the couch to go to sleep. "It's only 10pm," Clark said.
"I didn't get much sleep on the air mattress last night," Kon said, yawning. "It's okay, you don't have to turn stuff off, I don't mind sleeping with the TV on or whatever."
Clark grimly said, "No, it's fine, we can stay in the bedroom."
"He's getting good at that," Lex said, carrying in his laptop. He tossed it onto the bed and went to change. "A little obvious, maybe."
"What?" Clark said, distracted by the effort of not watching Lex strip. He'd never realized how many reflective surfaces there were in the apartment. He turned away and determinedly started changing. This was fine. Everything was normal. They were just being practical.
"Manipulating his parents," Lex said.
Clark wheeled around. "You think he's—" He stopped, gulped; Lex was leaning back in the bed, propped up on pillows and openly watching him, appreciative. Clark felt heat curl all along his spine.
"Throwing us together at every opportunity?" Lex said. "Yes."
Clark flushed. "We're going to have to talk to him about this," he said, struggling to keep his voice under control. "That's completely unacceptable."
"What are you going to do, yell at him for wanting a stable family?" Lex said. "Kon's not so much the child of divorce as he is the child of an undeclared war. We haven't exactly given him a lot of reason to believe that we're not going to start trying to kill each other again any minute now."
The Cosmosphere was pretty quiet after school hours on a weeknight, with all the class trips gone. Even so, the tourists kept stopping in their tracks to stare at Lex; the natives pretended not to notice, but even they watched out of the corners of their eyes.
There was a special exhibit on Krypton that Clark had come to open but hadn't seen since; the big photograph of Superman cutting the ribbon always made him feel vaguely embarrassed. Lex put his hands in his pockets and looked over the exhibit with a wry expression while Kon went around reading every detail on every plaque.
"What?" Clark said, looking at him.
"I think I withdrew my funding from the museum after this exhibit was opened," Lex said. "It never occurred to me I'd be bringing my son to see it someday."
"You know, Lex, my life's really not that glamorous that you ever had to be jealous of me," Clark said.
"I was not jealous," Lex said.
"Have you seen the really cool photo of me?" Clark said. "Also, there's a statue."
Lex glared at him.
Kon came back after staring for ten minutes at the big starfield map that showed the most likely trajectory the spaceship would have taken to get from Krypton, its star circled in red, over to Earth. "Do you ever, you know, feel lonely?" he asked Clark, tentatively.
Clark swallowed and put his hand on Kon's shoulder. "Not anymore," he said quietly.
Kon ducked his head, blinking, and Clark felt something in his chest squeeze.
They wandered down to the planetarium and settled in for a show about watching the local night sky, how to identify constellations and planets, the seasonal changes. Lex leaned over and murmured in Clark's ear, "You should get him a telescope."
The plastic seat arms creaked under Clark's grip; all his muscles had tensed with Lex's breath skating over his neck. "What?" he managed.
"His birthday's in three weeks," Lex murmured. He had curled his hand around Clark's neck, keeping him tilted close. His thumb was resting on the tendon, absently moving a little bit up and down. Clark tried to remember how to breathe. "You could show him how to use it."
"I mostly used it to check out Lana," Clark whispered back, unsteadily.
Lex's hand trembled with suppressed laughter, and Clark trembled underneath it.
As they walked out, Clark a little wobbly, Kon said, "Hey, can we get some of that freeze-dried ice cream?"
Lex opened his mouth to answer, and the ceiling ahead of them collapsed in a roar of fire and shrapnel, throwing them all back, off their feet. "I knew there was a reason I didn't like this museum," Lex said, shoving off a chunk of masonry.
"See, you shouldn't have pulled the money," Clark said, helping him up. He looked around for anyone else who might have gotten hurt, but the hallway had been mostly empty, and everyone else had already taken off: he could hear people yelling for help around the corner.
"Back away from Luthor, please," a voice said behind him. Clark turned around: a man in a full-face helmet and a bulky red jetpack suit was climbing down from the rubble, through the clearing smoke. He had a gun in each hand and another pair in holsters.
"Wow, you're seriously nuts," Kon said, hands clenching.
"Please don't get in the way," the man said. "I have no interest in killing anyone who isn't in my contract."
Lex put out a hand towards Kon, motioning him back. "I'm sure we can discuss this like reasonable people," he said.
"I'm afraid I can't be bought off as easily as Deathstroke," the man said. He leveled both guns at Lex. "I'm sorry, Mr. Luthor, but you really shouldn't have have gone out without your bodyguards."
"Yeah, and you shouldn't have gone out without a brain," Kon said, flung himself across the room, and slugged the guy flat, using TK to yank all four of his guns away at the same time.
"Nice," Lex said approvingly, strolling over.
"I've been practicing," Kon said smugly. "I can totally manage ten separate things at once now."
"I hate not being properly briefed for an assignment," the man muttered, sprawled out flat on the floor. His mask had cracked open and fallen away; he had one normal eye and one artificial, a glaring red mechanical thing.
Lex walked over to him and crouched down. "Speaking of which, I don't suppose you'd care to tell me what suicidal idiot is behind this?"
"No problem," the man said. "You mind if I sit up? There's a piece of girder jabbing me in the back." He gingerly picked himself off the ground. "Black Mask hired me."
"Black Mask?" Lex said, incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me. That second-string kingpin wannabe is trying to come after me?"
"He had issues with your interference in his dispute with Mr. Alvarez," the assassin said, putting a hand to the small of his back, wincing. "This seemed like an ideal opportunity. I didn't realize you were here with—Superboy, is it? Going by the telekinesis?"
"None of your business," Lex said, before Kon could answer.
"Oh, well, what's life without a little risk," the assassin said, and moved whiplash-quick, a knife flashing silver in the hand he'd been using to rub his back.
Clark moved a fraction of a second too slow, not realizing what was happening until Lex was already looking down, surprised, at the hilt sticking out crazily from his chest. Kon was staring at him, his face utterly white and stricken. Clark was there in time to catch Lex as he slumped backwards. The knife was right at the edge of the heart, blade only millimeters away from the aorta and moving with every breath Lex took. Cradling him, Clark grabbed the hilt and pulled it out, flung it away and pressed his hand to Lex's chest as the blood welled up, bubbling between the edges of the wound.
"Kon," Lex whispered. "Don't let Kon—"
"Lex," Kon was saying, "Lex, oh god," and crying now, messy terrified sobs, his hands shaking as he knelt down beside them, reaching for Lex.
"You're going to be fine," Clark said, very calmly. "He's going to be fine, Kon; he's going to be all right, it didn't hit anything critical." He felt strange, almost light-headed and cool as he gently leaned Lex back against the wall. "I need you to use your TK to keep the wound closed."
Kon scrubbed his sleeve across his face and put his hand on Lex's chest. "Got it," he said, his voice wavering but determined. The edges of the wound sealed together, and the bubbling blood stopped; Lex breathed a little more easily.
Clark stood up. The assassin had staggered back to his feet and was going for his tossed-aside guns. Clark blurred across the room to stand over them just as the assassin reached them. The man looked up, startled, and Clark hit him. And kept hitting him, because it seemed like the only thing to do, even after the assassin had stopped making noise and just hung limply from Clark's other hand, until Kon was grabbing him, saying, "Clark, Clark, stop, you're going to kill him." Clark felt okay with that, except Kon sounded really frantic, and abruptly Clark stopped, looked at the bloody ruin he'd made of the assassin, and dropped him, trembling.
Kon was mostly asleep by the time they got back home in the early hours of the morning; Clark put him on the couch and he relaxed into the complete limpness of exhaustion before they'd even finished covering him with blankets. Lex was doing only a little better, moving mostly on obstinacy; he'd had to do a lot of shouting to get discharged, even though the gash already looked more like a scratch than a stab wound.
Clark got him settled in bed and went to the bathroom. Someone had given him a clean shirt in the hospital, but he could still see blood spattered on his neck and under his fingernails, in the creases of his knuckles, and once he started scrubbing, he couldn't seem to stop.
He was soaked to the skin, shirt on the floor, pants drenched, when Lex reached in and turned off the taps. "You've been in here for an hour," Lex said.
Clark took the towel Lex handed him and stared at it until Lex took it out of his hands and started wiping him down with quick efficient strokes.
"I should check on the—" Clark said finally, his voice almost inaudible even to his own ears. "I should see if he's—if I—"
"He'll be fine," Lex said. "He's under guard at Metropolis General. He's got a concussion and he'll need reconstructive surgery, but he'll be fine."
Clark took a deep shuddering breath and put his face in his hands for a moment. "Thanks," he said, raising it again, and took the towel to finish drying off.
Lex leaned back against the doorframe, watching him, eyes dark with concern. "I don't think I've ever seen you lose it like that," he said quietly.
Clark looked away, ashamed.
Lex reached across the narrow space and touched Clark's shoulder. "That's not what I meant," he said. "Thank you."
"For almost beating a guy to death?" Clark said bitterly.
"For wanting to," Lex said.
Clark looked at him. Lex was steady but pale, the white patch of dressing stark on his chest, taped down, and Clark leaned in and kissed him, slow and careful and deliberate.
Lex's hand tightened on his arm, but he didn't move at all, just opened his mouth to the kiss, letting Clark in. Clark put his hand on Lex's side, steadying him, and unbuttoned his own pants and shoved them down.
He was kissing Lex over and over as they stumbled back to the bed, trying to remember to be careful when his hands were so hungry he couldn't hold them still, wanted to slide them across all of Lex's skin, wanted, yes, god, please; and he was saying it out loud as they climbed onto the bed.
Lex's hands were on his hips, fingers sliding through the sweat clinging to Clark's side, urging him on, not careful at all, Lex's thigh pressing up between his legs. Clark groaned in animal desperation and slid down Lex's body, tasting collarbone and smooth flat stomach and hips. He took Lex's cock in his mouth, warm velvety skin on his tongue and Lex's hands tight, tight in his hair, and his own cock rubbing against the sheets, his hands on Lex's thighs. He'd done this a few times, half-remembered through a haze of red kryptonite, but not like this, not wanting it so badly he was on the verge of coming, already, just from the shudder of Lex's body and the taste of him spilling.
He didn't fight it, let the crest come rolling over him while he sucked and swallowed gently around Lex's softening cock, muffling his own choked, desperate moans in Lex's skin, until the feverish rush of it was past and he could breathe again, his head pillowed on Lex's hip, his hand spread loosely over Lex's side, thumb stroking in the hollow where his hip and thigh joined.
They lay there together just breathing, Lex's hand stroking through his hair. "Clark," Lex said drowsily, a wondering note in his voice. Clark pulled himself back up the bed to curl into his arms, and drew up the sheets around them.
The phone woke him. "Hey, superhero, what's going on?" Lois said, her voice crackly with the ten thousand miles in the way, calling to tell him about Sudan, about deserts and military camps and dangers faced down. Lex was warm and sleeping beside him, and Clark lay back and stared at the ceiling, slow hot tears sliding down his face while the fierce delight in her voice shredded him, because he loved Lois, her passion and her fire and her endless courage; loved and trusted and cherished her, but Lex was in him so deep there was no cutting him out.
Maybe if he never saw Lex again at all: people lived with amputated limbs, bore their phantom pain, so he could too; but there was a boy sleeping in the next room who took that choice away, and Clark could be honest enough to admit he was grateful for the justification. He wanted this, as bizarre as it was; he wanted to wake up with his vaguely amoral billionaire lover beside him, his teen-superhero son sleeping down the hall, nothing like a normal family except in all the ways that really mattered, the ways he'd resigned himself to never having.
But he'd given Lois a promise and a ring, and he didn't know how to ask for those things back, even though she'd hand them over instantly. He would be hurting her down to the bone, someone who loved and trusted him, who'd entwined her life with his on the strength of his word. She was ready to let him bring Kon into that life; he thought she could even forgive him for having an affair with Lex, if he told her honestly and put a stop to it.
Except he didn't know how to do that, either. So he just listened to her tell him stories from the other side of the world and tried to forget he was in bed with someone else, postponing the inevitable decision for a moment. He was still talking to her when Lex stirred and sat up, stretching easily; he gave Clark a thoughtful look but didn't say anything. He peeled away the gauze from his chest, and the dry scab came away with it, leaving only a faint line of pink new skin. Clark involuntarily put out a hand to touch it, the ridge soft under his fingers, so small and insignificant to have nearly killed him; it felt like a lie to see it vanishing so quickly.
Lois said, "Oh, hell. Clark, I've got to run, they think our camp position's been compromised. Don't do anything too exciting while I'm gone." Lex was watching him with dark, intent eyes.
"Relax, after the beating he got, the guy's not going to remember a thing," Kon said.
"Oh, that's great," Tim said. "The 'hope for convenient amnesia' technique, that works really well."
"Well, what was I supposed to do, ask him to wait five minutes to shoot my dad while I got into costume?" Kon said. "Okay, goddamnit, why is this thing not turning on?" He poked at the coffee machine some more. "I think it only likes Lex."
He went to the bedroom and knocked, then opened the door. "Hey, how do I—whoa! Never mind." He shut the door fast.
"What?" Tim said.
"Dude, I totally win," Kon said. "Except now I need to get them a sign to hang on the door or something."
Lex came out half an hour later, in a bathrobe, bright-eyed and humming; it was kind of disturbing. "You nearly got killed yesterday," Kon said. "Shouldn't you be resting?"
"I'm fine," Lex said. He touched the coffee maker, which immediately started hissing away. Kon glared at it indignantly over his mug of cold tea. "Clark's going to nap for a while, though."
"We have to have a serious conversation soon about the many things I don't need to know," Kon said.
Lex grinned at him, the uncomplicated happiness of it almost strange on his face, and brought his espresso to the table. "By the way, your homework for this week is to write up a report on at least ten mistakes made in the Krypton exhibit."
"I have homework from yesterday?" Kon said. "You have got to be kidding!"
"I'm the one who got stabbed," Lex said, opening up his laptop. "If I can get back to work today, so can you."
"Hello, I can see you logging onto Warcraft!" Kon said.
"This is an important project," Lex said, unperturbed. "I haven't been able to trace his connection yet."
"Whose connection?" Clark asked, coming out, yawning. He headed straight for the fridge and drank about half a carton of orange juice without stopping.
"The guy who's kicking his ass at Warcraft," Kon said.
"He's not kicking my ass," Lex said coolly. "He's just an extremely gifted strategist."
"You're going after a guy because he's beating you in a computer game?" Clark said.
"He is not beating me," Lex said.
"So, um, listen," Kon said, hurrying to head that off at the pass. "About what's-his-face, if he wakes up—wait, who is he, anyway?"
"Deadshot," Lex said. "Professional marksman, worked with the Suicide Squad black ops team for a while."
"Suicide Squad? Right," Kon said dubiously. "So what happens if he wakes up and remembers everything?"
Clark and Lex looked at each other. Then Clark said, "Kon, would you mind stepping outside for a few minutes?"
"Yes," Kon said immediately. He didn't need flashing lights and danger! danger! going off to tell him this was bad news. "You know, why don't we just forget I asked—"
"Now, Kon," Lex said, and Kon gulped and went to the window and out; but then he darted straight to the bedroom window, unlatched it with his TK, and sneaked up to the doorway.
"—murderer a hundred times over," Lex was saying.
"I'm the one who put him in the hospital in the first place," Clark shot back. "It's not about him."
"You know my hands aren't clean," Lex said softly. "I took life and death into my own hands a long time ago, and that's not a choice I can unmake."
"Stop talking like you're already damned, so you might as well go to hell in style," Clark said. "If this guy was still a threat to you or Kon—I might go there myself. But that's not the same thing as asking me to look the other way while you murder a guy in a hospital bed because he knows my secret identity."
"And Kon's," Lex said.
"Kon's probably going to be in less danger if people know he's Superboy," Clark said. "At least people aren't going to be in as big a rush to try and kidnap him for ransom."
"And what about Lois?" Lex said, leaning back in his chair. "You know, your lovely wife to be?"
Clark stiffened, but he didn't take the bait. "Hire bodyguards."
"For Lois," Lex said, his voice laden with skepticism.
"You can find ones that'll follow her around without her noticing," Clark retorted. "And you're really reaching if your big worry is protecting Lois. The point is, we'll figure something out. Pay him off and let him spend the rest of his life on a tropical island. Have Dr. Fate magic him into not being able to tell anyone. Build a robot double of me so I can be in the same place as Superman at the same time in public and discredit him—"
"Robot doubles are so passé," Lex said. "We do that kind of thing with CGI these days."
"Lex," Clark said softly, "I've never put my secrets before anyone's life."
"That's probably because you haven't thought it through carefully enough," Lex said. "It's too late for you to just be an ordinary guy with superpowers now. You've created an icon. If the world finds out that you're Superman, criminals are going to be the least of your worries. They won't be able to get to anyone you care about past the army of paparazzi. What are you going to do, go live in that ice castle you have up in the Arctic? Or maybe the Justice League satellite, there's an option. You can visit Kon on alternate orbits."
"Then I'll move in with you, and we can distract the paparazzi with that story," Clark shot back.
"Well," Lex said after a moment, "Lois will love that."
"I don't know what else to do," Kon said, leaning against a wall; he was using TK to keep the restaurant from collapsing while people came streaming out. Mammoth had broken out of Alcatraz—again, and Kon was starting to think Lex had a point about the idiocy of impermanent solutions—and gone on a rampage through San Fran. They'd finally cornered him in Chinatown, but he'd managed to bust up Gold Mountain going down, and now the street was full of the smell of dumplings and soup. It was making Kon hungry. "The penthouse is almost fixed, we're going to move back in three days, and Clark's still freaking engaged! I don't get it, they're totally sleeping together."
"Why do I have to know about these things?" Tim said plaintively, as he dropped down with a couple of kids he'd picked off a sagging fire escape.
"I still can't believe Superman is such a jerk." Cassie said, ripping off a busted car door so the trapped tourists inside could get out.
"He is not a jerk!" Kon said. "Seriously messed up, okay—"
"He is too a jerk!" Cassie said. "His wife's out of the country—"
"They're only engaged!" Kon said.
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever, they've been engaged for like three years, it's as good as, and anyway, so what if she's just his fiancée! He's still cheating on her, and he's doing it with Lex Luthor. That is so vile."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Kon demanded, putting his hands on his hips. "How does that make it worse?"
"Kon!" Tim yelled, and Kon jumped and put his hand back on the shuddering building before it could collapse.
"It is so worse!" Cassie said. "I mean, how much does it suck to be ditched for a supervillain."
"Hey!" Kon said, glaring, although he didn't take away his hand again.
"Come on, Kon. I know you don't want to deal with it, but Lex is a bad guy!" Cassie said, raising her hand to her headset as it beeped. "Okay, yes, he's cool and all, but he still wants to rule the world."
"Only because everyone else is so bad at it," Lex's voice came out of the radio, and she jumped and blushed bright red. "The emergency engineering crews will be there in five minutes. Don't go into any unstable structures until they get there."
The radio beeped off again, but she took it off her head and checked that the light was red before putting it back on. Kon smirked. She stuck her tongue out at him. "Anyway, even if Lex weren't evil, it would still be seriously lame that Clark's gay and he's been lying about it to Lois all this time," she said.
"He's not in the closet or anything," Kon said defensively. "I don't think they're gay except for each other."
"Hello, good enough," Cassie said. "Lois should totally dump his ass. I read her book and stuff, she is seriously awesome. She can do better."
Kon frowned thoughtfully. "Huh. Hey, you know—" He looked at Tim.
Tim looked confused, and then stared at him. "Are you nuts?"
"He's single, isn't he?" Kon said. "Why not?"
"I like Lois," Tim said.
Kon grumbled. "So who else can I set her up with? I mean, who's not going to be a step down from Superman?"
Kory landed in the street in front of them. "Is everyone safe? Mammoth has been confined back in Alcatraz again."
"Yeah, it's all cool," Kon said. "Lex's people are almost here. Hey, Kory, if you couldn't date Superman, what superhero would you date?"
Kory blinked. "I do not want to date Superman."
"No lie," Cassie muttered.
"Shut up," Kon hissed at her. "Yeah, but if you did want to, but you couldn't, who would be number two?"
"I don't understand," Kory said. "If I wanted to date someone, I would date him."
Kon paused and studied all seven golden feet of her, amber hair tumbling to her knees, and the scanty purple costume barely covering her breasts. "Okay, fine, nevermind."
Cassie rolled her eyes. "You are so lame. Anybody would be a step up from a lying jerk."
"He's not a jerk!" Kon said.
"I'm a complete jerk," Clark said, miserably.
His mom sat down next to him on the porch steps with her coffee. "You don't need me to tell you what you're doing is wrong, Clark. Lois deserves better than this from you. You deserve better from yourself—you're a better man than this."
Clark flinched and hunched down. "I know I have to stop."
"Stopping now isn't going to fix your problems," his mom said. "You can't marry Lois with a lie like this between you, but if you tell her, she's going to need a good reason to trust you again."
Clark swallowed and stared at his hands.
Martha studied him. "Unless you don't want to marry her anymore."
"I know that it sounds insane, after everything that's happened with Lex, all these years, but since Kon—it's not that he's turned into a different person, but it feels like a second chance with the person he used to be," Clark said softly. "I've missed him so much, and I've spent so much time angry about the way things went wrong—I don't know how to pass it up. But it's not fair to Lois, and I don't know how I could live with myself. I don't know what I want."
"Well, honey, you'd better figure it out in a hurry," she said, "or you may not be the one making the choices anymore."
He flew home by way of a bank robbery outside Wichita, just a couple of kids in stocking masks with a gun, and got back to the city late. The light was on in his apartment, and Lex was cooking: standing at the stove with Clark's apron on over his two-thousand-dollar custom silk shirt, stirring pasta sauce. Clark ducked in through the bedroom, trading his costume for jeans and a t-shirt, and stopped at the threshhold of the living room.
There was a folder on the kitchen table labeled Floyd Lawton (Deadshot), full of medical files and insurance documents, photographs and police reports. Clark looked at Lex. "I had it sent over," Lex said quietly. "He woke up this afternoon, but there's some damage to the language centers of the brain. It's going to be several months before he can communicate at any length." There was a program of physical therapy and rehabilitation, glossy brochures of a private institution. "The nurses will be high-security LexCorp employees. If he tries to share information about you, I'll be notified immediately."
Clark closed the folder and sat down heavily. Lex set down the spoon and put his hand on Clark's shoulder. "If he'd gotten a little luckier, that would be my file, not his," Lex said. "He'll get the best care there is."
"I know," Clark said. "Thanks."
Lex turned back to the stove. "Kon had something going on today with Tim. He was supposed to be back an hour ago, so he should show up in the next fifteen minutes."
Clark looked over at the duffel bag sitting on the couch, Kon's things jammed in and overflowing out the top. "Everything back up to speed at the penthouse?"
"It will be by tomorrow night," Lex said. "My people will stop by in the morning and clear everything out."
"Right," Clark said, low. He cleared his throat. "Lex—"
The window slid up and Kon scrambled in. "Hey, sorry I'm late," he panted, looking scruffier than usual with a couple of rips in his shirt and mud caked onto his boots. "Did I miss dinner?"
"No," Lex said. "You can make the salad."
Clark picked at dinner, and not just because Lex had put in too many onions. Tomorrow he'd be eating alone. Probably he'd just grab something at his desk and put in a late night; he had started working on an exposé about the Suicide Squad. He didn't like the idea that the government was pulling the worst of the worst out of jail and putting them on an elaborate, easily-deniable hit squad. Supervillains got out of jail often enough without someone opening the door and laying down a red carpet.
"So where were you?" Lex said, eyeing Kon's disarray more closely.
"Around," Kon said evasively. "You know, we just hung out and stuff."
"Am I going to see the results on the Times website later tonight?" Lex asked.
"...no?" Kon said, unconvincingly.
Clark washed the dishes, handing them off to Lex for drying. He worked slowly, each plate like another slice of time slipping through his fingers, hot and soapy, while Lex spoke beauty in three languages, helping Kon with his homework translating Japanese poetry into Kryptonian, and abruptly Clark turned and put his wet dripping hand around the back of Lex's neck and kissed him in the middle of a haiku, cherry blossoms becoming k'sitka trees, Lex's mouth warm and full of drawn breath.
"Oh my god, get a room!" Kon said.
"Go and get some ice cream," Lex said, breathlessly, and pulled Clark back in.
"Aagh," Kon said, and darted for the door; Clark was blushing furiously but not stopping, because Lex was already sliding his warm, dry hands under Clark's t-shirt, and he had Lex's silk shirt bunching and slippery in his own wet hands, and then Kon opened the door and Lois was standing outside, battered suitcase at her feet, digging through her purse.
"Hey, kiddo, you keeping Clark company?" she said, and then she saw them, already jerked two steps apart, but Lex's shirt marked with broad wet handprints, buttonless halfway down his chest.
"Uh, should we really be deserting Clark here?" Kon said, trotting after Lex with his duffel. Lex hadn't bothered picking up anything but his jacket.
"Kon, the wise general always avoids dragging out battles unnecessarily," Lex said. "Besides, I'm reasonably sure Lois doesn't have easy access to kryptonite, so there's a limit to the permanent damage she can do." He paused. The muffled sound of Lois's voice was audible even through the door and down the hall, and climbing. "Permanent physical damage, anyway," he amended.
"But she's totally going to dump him, right?" Kon said hopefully. "Isn't he going to need a place to crash?"
"This isn't a soap opera," Lex said. "She's going to eviscerate him and then drag him to counseling."
"Oh, you're kidding me," Kon said.
"We're going into counseling," Clark said earnestly, the next day.
Kon groaned and put his head in his arms.
"Look, Kon, I—I need you to understand," Clark said. "This is important. When you've made a commitment to someone—"
"—you should drag out the breakup as long as agonizingly possible?" Kon said.
"Lois and I are going to try and make this work," Clark said.
"Right," Kon said. "Let me guess, I can forget about seeing you for the next six months."
"I'm sorry," Clark said, miserably. "It's my fault, Kon; I've given Lois some good reasons for not wanting me to hang out with Lex."
"So she can come along and chaperone, if she doesn't trust you alone with him or whatever," Kon said.
"You did what?" Lex said, when he came out of his office for dinner.
"I invited Lois too," Kon said. "What?"
Lex stared at him. It was pretty much the same expression as when he'd found the penthouse in flames.
Lois stalked off the elevator, ahead of Clark, and headed straight for the bar where Lex was already pouring his second glass of Scotch. She took it out of his hand and downed it. "Hit me again," she said grimly. Lex filled it up for her again and took another glass for himself.
They started trading veiled insults about four drinks in, and the veils came off after the fifth. "Okay," Kon said to Clark, after Lex had pleasantly informed Lois she was a shrill poison-pen-wielding harpy and she'd called him a conniving sociopathic cocksucker, "I admit it. This was a bad idea."
"Oh, come on, this is great," Lois said, waving her glass. "We should do this every week. Actually, we should all move in together and be one big happy family. Lex and I can mud wrestle for who gets Clark each night—"
"Okay, let's go," Clark said, pulling her chair back. She clung to the table furiously.
"No, I like this plan," Lex said, eyes glittering. "Although mud wrestling lacks a certain dignity. Fencing to first blood has so much more tradition behind it."
"Why don't we just skip straight to M-16s at thirty paces?" Lois said.
"Works for me," Lex said.
In desperation, Clark finally just picked Lois up bodily and fled. Kon put his head down on the table. "I am so humiliated."
"Kon, new rule," Lex said, standing up; he was only weaving a little. "From now on, you ask before inviting people over."
"Put me the hell down," Lois snapped, even though Clark was already setting her back on her feet. She threw her bag on the kitchen table and stalked towards the coffeemaker, which meekly handed over a double espresso. She drank the whole thing so hot he winced, sure she was burning her tongue, and slammed the mug down on the counter.
"Are you okay?" he said, tentatively.
"No," Lois said. "I completely forgot I had my zippo in my bag. If I'd dumped the scotch on him, I could have set him on fire. God, the missed opportunity."
Clark rubbed his forehead. "Lois, if you didn't want to come, you didn't have to say yes."
"You deserved it," Lois said. "What the fuck, Kent, you took me to dinner with the other woman."
"Lex is not—" Clark said, then stopped, because that wasn't a good line of discussion. "Look, let's just—go to sleep. We've got another session in the morning."
He didn't actually know what good the counseling was doing. He hadn't been able to say no, but he just sat in the meetings trying to figure out how to say anything useful about his childhood when he couldn't explain that he'd found out at fifteen that he was an alien, or talk about his birth father's occasional attempts to mind-control him. And the therapist was still adjusting to the idea that he'd had an affair with Lex Luthor; she couldn't seem to figure out whether to focus on sexual identity or, well, Lex Luthor. He hadn't even tried to bring up Kon yet.
"And that's going great, isn't it," Lois said, which made him flinch guiltily. "No. I'd fight Lex for you, Clark, but I'm starting to get the idea you don't want me to win." She took the diamond off her finger and left it on the counter. "You can have the ring back. I'm keeping the coffeemaker."
Kon tried not to gloat too much when he saw Clark carrying boxes out to a rental car on the curb. He dropped down into the alleyway next to the building and walked out to him. "Hey," he said, attempting casual, picking up one of the boxes. "Need some help?"
"That's the last of it," Clark said tiredly, rubbing the back of his hand across his forehead; he left black dusty streaks.
"I could take this over to the penthouse," Kon said.
"Kon—" Clark said.
"Hey," Lois said, coming out of the lobby. "You forgot your cellphone charger."
"Thanks," Clark said, reaching out to take it. He stared down at it, turning it over in his hands, and then Lois stepped in and kissed him on the cheek.
"Take care of yourself, Smallville," she said. She turned away and walked back inside, wiping her hand across her cheek. Kon stared down at the sidewalk, feeling weird. It would be stupid to feel guilty. Clark was totally in love with Lex, or he wouldn't have cheated.
Clark tossed the charger into the box Kon was holding, then took it and put it in the passenger seat. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it over.
"Wait, what is this?" Kon said.
"My new phone number," Clark said. "The apartment is at Grand and 129th—"
"I can't just move in with Lex," Clark said.
Tim was sitting at a desk, head propped on one hand, doodling in the margins of a textbook; he jumped when Kon knocked, then shoved the window open and hissed, "What are you, nuts? Anybody on the street could see you! Jeez, my dad is home!"
"I need help!" Kon said. "Come on, let me in."
"Oh, for—" Tim stepped back and let Kon scramble inside.
"Dude, you're doing trig too?" Kon said, looking at the homework papers scattered over the desk. "My tutor's teaching me how to navigate with star readings; Lex says that way if I get lost flying at night I can always figure out which way to go."
Tim was staring at him as if he'd grown another head. "You flew to Gotham and knocked on my window in broad daylight to talk to me about trig?"
"Duh, no," Kon said. "Lois kicked Clark out."
Tim folded his arms over his chest. "Great. Congratulations. So what's the problem?"
"He didn't move in with us!" Kon said. "He went and got some ratty tenement in Suicide Slum because he's feeling guilty or something, and now Lex is avoiding him. I don't know what to do."
"I realize this is a radical idea," Tim said, "but how about letting them work it out on their own?"
"No fucking way," Kon said. "If I let them work it out on their own, they'll probably destroy the whole planet before they ever manage to get together." He thumped backwards onto the bed. "I am officially not surprised that every relationship they have ever had has crashed and burned. They suck at this."
"They can't be worse at it than you," Tim snapped, which was totally unfair and made Kon sit up indignantly.
"At least I don't have a track record of batting minus a thousand!" he said. "And hey, who got them this far, okay?"
"Whatever," Tim said, and went back to his desk.
"Man, what crawled under your skin?" Kon said, flopping back down. He frowned up at the ceiling. "Maybe if I set Lex up with somebody and made Clark jealous. You think Kory would go on a date with Lex?"
Tim turned slowly around in his chair. "If you actually managed to set Dick's ex-girlfriend up with Lex Luthor," he said evenly, "Dick would go after him. Which means Bruce would go after him. Which means we would be on opposite sides."
"I wouldn't really set them up," Kon muttered, cowed. "Okay, fine. Maybe I need to act out or something—you think they would freak if I did drugs? Or started sleeping around a lot?"
"What? What did I say?" Kon yelled up at the window, rubbing the back of his head where he'd smacked it on a branch, going down. Tim slammed the window shut, lowered the blinds, and turned out the light. "Some friend you are," Kon called resentfully, and picked himself up off the ground.
Okay, so there really had to be some way to get the two of them working together again. Kon flew back to the city and took the Ferrari out for a spin to clear his head; he didn't need the hand controls anymore, but he'd gotten used to them; it was nice to just be able to stretch his legs out while he drove.
"Kon!" He looked over; a girl was waving at him from the far corner: she was blonde, in red lipstick and a red dress, with huge red sunglasses to match covering most of her face: he couldn't recognize her.
But he didn't exactly need a manual to deal with this situation. He pulled over. "Hey there," he said, grinning. "Can I give you a ride?"
"Aren't you awesome," she said, and hopped right over the side in one easy move. "I'm heading to the docks, I'm meeting Jen for dinner at some hole in the wall she found at the riverbay that supposedly does the best sushi ever. You want to come with?"
Kon knew about six Jens, so that was no help; oh, well. "Twist my arm, beautiful," he said, sliding on his own shades.
He woke up a little groggy and a lot tied up, in what he figured out after thirty seconds was the trunk of a car. "Oh, Lex is never going to let me live this down," he said, snapping the ropes and yanking off his blindfold. He put his hand on the trunk lid to shove it open, then he stopped, lay back down, and tried to tie his wrists up again. It was kind of loose and the frayed edges were sticking out of his knots, but he figured they wouldn't look too closely.
When they popped the lid and took him out, there were ten guards around, unsmiling, with lots of guns—two guys Kon thought were probably some kind of metahuman, even if he didn't recognize them. They didn't try to keep him from seeing their faces, which meant they'd been planning to kill him, so Kon felt zero guilt at all playing sick and woozy for the video camera.
"Good," said a cold voice, when the video was finished. Kon lifted his head: a tall man in an ebony mask was standing in the doorway. "Go put him away."
"Hey," Kon called, letting them haul him up, "so you seriously have a death wish, right? Just checking before, you know, Lex has you drawn and quartered."
"Luthor's gotten soft," Black Mask said. "I suppose it's a side effect of fatherhood."
"Yeah," Kon said. "He's got this crazy idea of setting a good example for me. You want to know just how fast that's going to go out the window when he finds out you've laid a hand on me?"
Black Mask laughed, coldly. "He won't find you."
Kon rolled his eyes and pretended to stagger as the guards dragged him off to his cell. He figured it would take Lex and Clark a couple of hours at most to find these clowns. They totally weren't anywhere near Robin's level. He lay back on the cot and put his hands behind his head and started whistling to annoy the guard outside.
Fifteen minutes later, Black Mask opened the door. A tall, skeletally pale woman was with him. "He's not afraid," Black Mask said. "Is he stupid, or does Luthor have some contingency plan we've missed?"
"Let's find out," the woman said, smiling, and raised her hands. Kon eyed her warily.
She started muttering something in a weird language that wasn't anything like English or Japanese or Russian or even Kryptonian, and he tensed, ready to jump; he hated magic. "So much power..." Her eyes were filming over, milky white and creepy. "He's not human," she hissed. "Part of him is something else."
"He's a metahuman?" Black Mask said. His hand dipped into his jacket and brought out a gun, and thumped his fist on the wall. A half-dozen of the guards came hurrying in.
"No, not metahuman," the witch breathed out, slowly, "alien..."
"Okay!" Kon said, jumping up. "Well, it's been real, guys, but I think maybe I'll be—"
"...Kryptonian," the witch finished, and her eyes drained back to startled blue. They all stared at Kon. Kon stared back, his stomach sinking.
"Well, shit," Black Mask said.
The ceiling caved in, along with three walls, a chunk of the floor, and the rooms to either side. Clark landed, eyes blazing red, and plunged his hand into the rubble and hauled Black Mask out, fingers tight around his throat. "Did he hurt you?" he asked Kon; his voice was grim, utterly cold, and Black Mask was scrabbling at his implacable hand.
"I'm fine!" Kon said, shaking off. "Watch out, there's a—"
The witch struggled out from under some of the pinning rubble, and she stuck out a hand and grabbed Black Mask by his dangling ankle. She gabbled something out, and they vanished, leaving Clark's hand empty.
"Well, that was a brilliant plan," Tim said. "Get yourself drugged and kidnapped. Never would have come up with that one."
"Oh, shut up," Kon said, miserably. "Seriously, how bad is it?"
"I did a sweep and there aren't any photos of you and Clark together online," Tim said. "The video from the baseball game was only archived a couple of places, and I think I wiped it all out."
"Okay, and?" Kon said.
Tim was silent for a moment. "Oracle's picked up on some activity in Black Mask's organization," he said finally. "They're putting out offers for photos of you on the paparazzi network. Twenty-five grand a shoot. They aren't making it public why they're interested, but—I've already seen people speculating on a few mailing lists."
Kon slumped down in his chair. "So, in like a week the whole world's going to know my other dad is Superman."
"Yeah," Tim said quietly. "Sorry, man. The six guys in custody have probably already talked, even if just to their cellmates."
"Right," Kon said. "In other words, I've totally fucked everything."
"Come on, okay, it's not that bad," Tim said. "You don't care about keeping your own identity under wraps, right? There's still nothing out there to tie you to Clark Kent—"
"Yeah, and there's never going to be, now," Kon said. "Forget about him moving in—I probably shouldn't even call him anymore in case someone picks up the cell signal and traces it to his phone." He swallowed. "Look, I'm going to—I'll talk to you later, okay?"
He put the phone down and went to the living room to play some Halo 2—he didn't want to be in his own head right now, and he figured it was still safe: Lex probably wouldn't get home for another hour or two. He'd landed in a helicopter about ten minutes behind Clark, sent Kon home and stayed to deal with the cops and the media.
He came into the living room and stared: boxes were stacked all over the place, and Clark and Lex were on the floor in the middle of them, clothes still mostly on, although Clark was— "Oh my God!" Kon yelled. "What are you guys doing?"
Clark jerked up so fast he knocked a stack over, dumping a boxful of flannel shirts onto Lex. Lex propped himself onto his elbows and looked at the heap scattered over him. "I hope you're prepared for these to go to a quick and merciful end."
"I like those shirts," Clark said, still blushing. "You've got this ridiculous prejudice against—"
"$12.99 polyester-cotton blend from K-Mart?" Lex said. "Imagine that." He didn't look at all embarrassed, legs crossed at the ankles.
"Wait," Kon said, "what are you guys doing? What is all this stuff—"
"Clark's moving in," Lex said patiently.
"But—" Kon said. "What about—" Then he stopped, because he felt like an idiot arguing with them, but—"Look, don't you get it?" he burst out. "That jerk knows I'm your kid now. If you move in—"
Clark said gently, "Kon, it's okay. It's not your fault."
"Shut up, it totally is my fault!" Kon yelled. "I let his people grab me to try and get you guys together—"
"You what?" Clark said.
"—and then I blew him off, like a dope, so he figured out I wasn't just some ordinary kid, and—"
"Kon!" Lex said, breaking in. Kon stopped and gulped hard. Lex tilted his head. "Not inherently a bad plan, but we're going to have to work on this confessional streak."
"Lex!" Clark said, glaring at him. "This isn't funny! He let himself get kidnapped—"
"By a lunatic whose prior achievements include burning a mask onto his head and getting his ass kicked by Catwoman," Lex said. "I'm having trouble mustering up a significant amount of retroactive terror. Not that you aren't grounded again," he added to Kon.
"Screw grounding!" Kon said. "Are you guys just not getting how badly I fucked up here? It's already out there, Black Mask's sending a paparazzi army after me. Clark, you keep hanging out with me, and it isn't going to take a fucking rocket scientist to figure out you're Superman."
"Kon, I know," Clark said. Kon stared at him helplessly. Clark got up and put his hands on Kon's shoulders. "What did you think I was going to do, just walk away?"
"But I'm the one who—" Kon said, choking.
"The only reason I ever kept my identity secret was because I wanted to have a life," Clark said. "And now I have you, you and—" He stopped and cleared his throat and glanced over at Lex, who was leaning against the couch, watching them both intently.
"You're not the only one who wanted a family, Kon," Clark finished softly. "It would really be missing the point if I gave that up to protect the secret."
"What about—what about your job?" Kon said. "What about Martha?"
"I already resigned from the Planet," Clark said. "I couldn't put Lois in that position. And as for mom—she's been having trouble keeping up with the farm. We've been talking about her moving into the city anyway." He grinned suddenly. "She can come live with us."
"Really?" Kon said.
"Excuse me?" Lex said, straightening up.
"You have a thirty-thousand-square-foot apartment, Lex," Clark said. "There's room."
"You know, Clark, I've had five wives, and none of them ever made me live with my mother-in-law," Lex said, folding his arms.
"Yeah, but they all tried to kill you," Clark said cheerfully. "Think of it as a trade-off."
"Okay, so what the hell," Kon said, wiping his face with the back of his hand, trying to make himself sound normal again. "You guys weren't even talking this morning."
"I told you I just needed some time!" Clark said.
"Oh, please, that's the kind of stuff everyone always says when they're about to break up," Kon said. "How was I supposed to know you actually meant it?"
"All I wanted was five minutes to get over one engagement before—before getting into another," Clark said. He looked at Lex.
Lex came over and joined them; Clark slipped one hand around his waist, and Lex put his own on Kon's shoulder. Kon looked up at them: Clark flushed and happy, and Lex smiling hard enough that he'd ducked his head a little and wasn't looking at either of them, that thing he did when he couldn't stand letting that much show on his face.
They just stood there together for a while, holding on, until finally Clark said, a little hoarsely, "I guess I should head back uptown—I need to finish cleaning the apartment and turn in my keys."
"You've been in the place two days," Kon said. "How can it need to be cleaned?"
"It needed to be cleaned when I moved in," Clark said. "But the landlord will keep my security deposit anyway if I don't—all right, stop that." He glared at Lex, who had an eyebrow raised.
They walked him out to the balcony, and Clark leaned in towards Lex, then stopped and looked at Kon.
"Okay, fine," Kon said, rolling his eyes. "You can go ahead and kiss, whatever, just don't take this as a regular thing."
"Thank you, Kon," Lex said dryly, and stepped towards Clark; Kon turned his back, covered his eyes with a hand for good measure, and hummed the Jeopardy song under his breath. Twice.
"All right," Lex said, sounding a little breathless. Kon figured it was safe to look around again. "You'd better get going. Try not to get waylaid by any supervillains; dinner's at seven, and it's going to take a while to get all this put away." Clark grinned at him and took off. Lex stood there a long while, hands in his pockets, even after Clark had disappeared into the distance.
"You okay?" Kon asked; Lex was looking oddly thoughtful, and then suddenly he turned and said, "So I understand how you arranged the trip to Sudan. The Fielding Institute must have appreciated the donation. Points for using that stock you would have taken a loss on anyway. Did you really have to set the penthouse on fire, though?"
"Uh," Kon said feebly. "It was all in a good cause?"
"I still haven't figured out how you got Lois to come back early, though," Lex said, frowning. "When that woman gets her teeth into a story—"
"Well, you know." Kon rocked back on his heels and grinned. "I'm my father's son."
= End =
Eskandar: It's a pain in the ass to find you on neutral ground.
Galdan: I'm still not interested in the job.
Eskandar: Yes, fine, your loss. That's not why I'm here. I'm retiring. Want a slightly used guild?
Galdan: You're offering me the guild?
Eskandar: You're the only player remotely competent to maintain it.
Eskandar: Are you lagging or just overwhelmed? I have to tell you, if you're more excited over a Warcraft guild than a senior vice presidency at LexCorp, I'm going to have to revise my assessment of your intelligence.
Galdan: What exactly does your guild do?
Eskandar: Players have a monthly quota of artifacts to remain in good standing.
Eskandar: Bonuses for starting a chapter in a new realm, bonuses for defeating members of other guilds in PvP.
Eskandar: High-level items are promised to low-level players to create an incentive for them to play for a significant block of time within the guild.
Galdan: Does your guild have any real-world function?
Galdan: Do you have contact with players outside the guild?
Eskandar: Of course not.
Eskandar: Most of the players are sixteen year olds in Korea.
Eskandar: What would I use a computer game for, anyway?
Eskandar: Why would you even
Eskandar: Wayne? Wayne, is that you?
Galdan: I'm going to *kill* Tim.