Link to Art: http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a169/alatri/smallville/bigbang/buildingblocks800_zpspmd6e0io.jpg
Art by Tallihensia
Lex had always assumed that his victory over Superman would be more… well, flashy. He envisioned multi-million dollar ray-guns and Kryptonite-laced bombs with a little monologuing thrown in on the side. Superman should have been crumpled on the ground at his feet; a bleeding and broken validation of each and every one of Lex’s disappointed expectations.
Superman giving up and moving to Wisconsin, of all places, was not how Lex pictured things would go. Still, an absentee super-hero was a win, no matter how the departure occurred, and so Lex shrugged and tossed the file on Clark Kent into his bottom right-hand desk drawer, alongside the one of his father’s ruined Cadmus Labs, before moving onto a hostile take-over of Apple.
Lex should have known that his day would go from horrible to shitty when he got the email from Marsden down in Engineering, the man blustering about unexpected complications and deadlines, but Lex didn’t, and he was paying the price of his blind and stupid - so stupid - optimism.
Marcia Henderson, the headmistress of Corvier Institute, sat in a chair on the far side of his desk, simpering away. Marcia had been a teacher at Corvier, a stepping stone-school for gifted children, when Lex had attended, before the meteor fall, and had been just as annoying as she was now.
The prudish woman was thinnish, middle-aged pudginess beginning to creep up on her, with brown pixie-cut hair and dull brown eyes. She wore entirely too much makeup and not enough skirt for a woman of her position, and gave an overall mixed impression of exactly what she’d do for a contribution to the Institute.
“It’s so wonderful that you’ve finally agreed to meet with me and discuss donations to the school,” she gushed.
Lex had agreed to no such thing but let her prattle on in hopes of getting her out of his office sooner rather than later. He glanced at the clock on his desk and counted the minutes until she noticed he didn’t actually care. It took eight and a quarter.
Marcia cleared her throat nervously and her smile was a bit tight as she shifted, and Lex felt a headache form. She cleared her throat again before straightening in the seat and hiding her, most likely low, opinion of him beneath a blank expression. It was a neat trick, the change from bubbly woman to controlled headmistress, one that Lex found quite similar to his own. It ignited a grudging bit of respect for her in the CEO and made dealing with her a tiny bit more bearable.
“I’ll stop wasting your time then,” she said, her voice no longer grating now that Lex saw an actual end to this meeting. “A benefactor died, and while normally that would not be an issue this late into the school year, his contributions were vital.”
Lex rested his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth. He took in his guest’s serious expression and smirked. “So you’re looking for someone to fill in the money pit.”
Irritation flashed across the headmistress’ face before she schooled it back into neutrality. Marcia shook her head. “No. The school is operating in the black, completely.”
“Then why do you need a new benefactor so desperately when, as you just said, it wouldn't be an issue?” Lex asked, genuinely curious. "Tuition is paid by the end of September, it's now mid-November."
Marcia sighed quietly. “The father of one of our students can afford the normal tuition, but his son requires additional attention and that is what our late benefactor was generously paying for. We could cover the costs for a semester or two but, in the long run, it would be impossible for us to continue doing so.”
Lex hummed. “It’s not like Corvier to admit normal children.”
“He’s far from normal, Mister Luthor. Corvier wants to do everything we can to keep him. Badly. That’s why I’m here. You’re the only one with connections to the school that I could approach so openly, and quickly, about money. If it makes a difference, it won’t be permanent, a couple semesters until I can find someone else to fill the void permanently.”
“Hm,” Lex hummed to himself, curious about the boy. “Tell me about him.”
“What?” Marcia asked.
Lex sat backwards and reclined in his chair. He crossed his legs and looked at his nails. “If you want me to donate a - yet unknown - ridiculous sum of money, I want to know what it’s going towards.”
“Well…” she frowned thoughtfully. “He’s intelligent, one of our brightest. He has a rudimentary grasp of physics and excels in mathematics. He enjoys chemistry. Though, despite all that, Dinosaurs are his favorite.”
“Dinosaurs?” Incredulousness filled Lex’s voice.
“Yes.” Marcia nodded, her smile softening with fondness as she warmed up to the topic. “He likes to be active. He’s always running around the school. The teachers have to constantly remind him to walk.”
“He doesn’t sound that impressive that you’re scrambling to keep him.”
“Mister Luthor, he’s five.”
Lex looked at her in surprise. “A five year old with an understanding of physics and math? Five?”
Marcia nodded. “Technically we haven’t tested his math level. That could be a bit higher.”
“What, exactly, was the benefactor paying for?” he asked her, still reeling from that piece of information.
“Well, tutors for one. Extra classes, supplies, textbooks, field trips, day care sometimes.” She pressed her skirt down against her thighs. “Most children his age can only focus for a half-day, even the bright ones. He stays the entire day, later even. He genuinely enjoys learning. He’s inquisitive and, quite frankly, adorable.”
“What about the parents? They allow their son to stay the entire day?”
The school mistress nodded slowly, obviously considering her words very carefully. “This is touching on private matters, Mister Luthor.”
Lex snorted, knowing that he had her in a corner and that if he pushed for the information she’d have to give it. Marcia obviously knew that as well because she frowned distastefully.
“I want your word that you won’t speak about this to anyone. Corvier has a reputation to uphold.”
“Of course,” Lex waved a hand, curious about the secrecy.
Marcia bit her lip briefly before sighing. “It's only the father, and he's ill. Which is why a benefactor is needed to cover the additional costs. He’s paid ahead for the regular tuition for the child’s entire schooling, but can’t afford to do anything extra. He’s a good man, very kind to the other children and the school staff whenever he can visit. Even if the boy wasn’t as remarkable as he is, I’d try to keep him for his father’s sake.”
Lex thought about that. It was rare for in-demand schools like Corvier to go out of their way to keep a student. If a parent couldn’t pay, well, there was always someone else who could. Both the father and child had to be exceptional for the headmistress to be so attached to them.
“Whenever he can visit?” Lex asked, finally focusing on that particular part of the explanation.
“As I said, he’s ill. I’ve only met him a handful of times because of that. Most of his visits are on his trying days so he isn't able to stay long. Usually the nanny does the pickup and drop-offs. There haven’t been any issues needing his presence at the school, so I only see him during the times where his son is participating in an activity, like a play or concert. He tries his best to come every time, but I can tell that it’s a struggle for him.”
“Didn’t the previous benefactor meet him before donating?”
“No.” She shook her head. “They spoke over the phone, but his illness made it physically impossible for the father to come to the school, and the benefactor didn’t want to intrude in his home at a sensitive time like that. The benefactor was kept up-to-date on the boy’s schooling and grades, and he and the father spoke several times throughout until, well…”
She waved a hand and Lex understood her meaning, until the benefactor died. He sighed and paged Charity, his finger holding down the intercom button to the outer office.
“Yes, Mister Luthor?”
“Please have Accounting draw up private donation paperwork for the Corvier Institute, the amount left blank. I want it in the next fifteen minutes.”
“Of course, sir.”
Marcia beamed at him, her dimples deepening with the action, and it was his turn to wave a hand dismissively. They sat discussing trivial things about Corvier until an accountant and notary arrived with the forms and Lex didn’t blink at the large sum of money he was giving away; enough to cover any needed costs for this miraculous child for the next two years. The headmistress thanked him profusely and placed her copy of the completed paperwork into her black leather briefcase, the locks clicking into place.
Lex walked her to the door and spoke up as she was halfway through it. “What’s his name?”
Marcia stopped and looked back at him. “The child?”
“Connor,” she said with a smile. “Connor Kent.”
The temperature in the room seemed to plummet at the child’s last name, and for brief seconds Lex felt as if he were trapped and suffocating. His hands, buried in his pants pockets, clenched and he felt his nails bite harshly into skin.
“Kent?” he asked in a forced casual tone.
Marcia didn’t seem to notice anything wrong as she nodded. “Yes.”
“By any chance…” Lex licked his lips, “would his father be Clark Kent?”
The woman’s eyes lit up right before her smile did, and Lex’s stomach dropped out from under him.
“Yes!” she said happily. “You know him?”
He found himself nodding against his will, his traitorous mouth working of its own accord. “We were friends. I haven’t heard from him in years."
Marcia practically squealed in her excitement, making Lex want to jump back in shock.
“Oh, isn’t this wonderful!? Oh, Clark will be so excited when I tell him the news.”
“No,” Lex said. He winced at the volume and urgency in his voice. “Ah, I want… I don’t want him to know I provided the funds. I want to tell him myself, later, much later.”
Marcia tilted her head, puzzled.
He grimaced. “We had a reoccurring issue with me throwing money at him. It’s been years, but I don’t want to risk him turning the donation down because of who provided it.”
She seemed to understand immediately what he was getting at, and he was relieved when she promised to keep his identity anonymous. She smiled once more before she set her briefcase down and pulled out a pad of paper and pen from a pocket. Marcia scribbled something on it before handing it to him.
“Here,” she said gently. “In the off chance you want to get in touch with him. Happy Thanksgiving.”
She picked up her case and quickly left, leaving Lex standing in his office doorway, stunned and a bit horrified at the turn of events. He turned and made his way to his desk numbly, paper forgotten in his hand. It fell onto the desktop and he stared at it as if it were a viper.
Shitty day, 1, stupid, stupid optimism, 0.
Lex prowled the penthouse, anger and irritation twisting his insides into knots, leaving very little room for the other emotions that wanted entry, like hurt or surprise. He glanced over to his laptop where information on the Kent family resided; his investigators having pulled through, despite the major holiday the day before. The files remained yet unopened, the attachment symbols taunting him from where he stood.
It was after seven on Friday, the weekend officially started, which meant Lex was usually into his second scotch by now. But the bottle was unopened so far and would most likely remain that way. After all, while the effects of alcohol were minimal for Lex, he needed his head as clear as possible right then. It was a very bad idea to mix alcohol-fuddled reasoning with Clark Kent, Lex's brooding tended to take on a violent nature and priceless objects ended up getting put back together with superglue. The computer screen brightened as he dropped himself onto the couch in front of it and ran a finger over the touch pad. He sighed and dragged a hand over his head, debating if he wanted to fall back into this particular rabbit-hole.
It had been just over five years since Clark had left Metropolis, taking a job in Wisconsin as a freelance writer. Clark had stayed off the radar, Superman remaining strangely quiet as well. Sure, there were still the random and increasingly infrequent appearances of the superhero, the last being over eight months ago, but they were nowhere near Metropolis or Wisconsin. Earthquake-suffering California had seen a great deal more of the alien than any place else had. Lex had tracked each appearance, saving the recordings and clippings like he always did.
Marcia had said that Clark was ill. Lex scoffed as he brought up his email, not believing that for a second. The alien was impervious to humanity's diseases, so Clark had to be using the story as a cover for his Superman persona. It wouldn't be that far-fetched of an idea, Lex thought. Clark had turned lying into an Olympic sport before he abandoned Metropolis. Lex scowled and clicked on the first attachment harshly.
It was Connor's school records, a picture of the child sitting prominently at the top of the scanned pages. Messy black hair and shocking blue eyes registered first, followed by the wide and infectious smile. The little boy was in a school uniform and the blue of the jacket made his pale skin stand out. Lex had to admit, the kid was cute.
And a genius it appeared. In his own age group, he was in the 99th percentile across the board. Letters, numbers, time-telling... all basic identifiers for five year olds. The next few pages were results from various tests the child had taken. Connor was on a sixth grade reading level. He had basic understanding of physics, as Marcia had said, and comprehended the supporting math behind it.
Math, it would seem, was something the little boy excelled at. Lex felt himself smiling slightly as he scrolled through Connor's art projects. Numbers and mathematical equations littered the pages, carefully written by a kid's shaky hand, sometimes forming shapes like clouds or bushes or even people.
His gaze rested on one particular drawing, one without any numbers what so ever. The teacher titled it 'My Family' and it consisted of a little boy and a man labeled 'Son' and 'Daddy' respectively. Rationally, Lex knew that he was looking at Clark and Connor Kent, easily picking out Connor with the messy black hair and blue eyes and wide smile, but it was surprisingly difficult to recognize Clark in the child's representation of his father.
The other figure was sitting, and it took Lex a long moment to see the two large wheels connected to the chair. A pit began to form in Lex's stomach the longer he analyzed the picture. Clark was skinny, barely wider than Connor, nowhere near the massive size he should be. Lex felt that an illustrated-Clark should engulf the entire page, not a measly few inches. He was pale too, paler than what Connor had colored himself.
Lex closed the file and opened another, still bothered by the last picture, to find it was an investment portfolio. Here Lex sat up and took notice. He pulled apart the details and bore down into its underbelly, looking for how Clark could afford Corvier Institute.
It was surprisingly solid. A secret life insurance policy and trust fund from Grant Clark, Martha Kent's father, left to his only grandchild at his death when Clark was seven, nothing overly large for a man of his wealth, but wisely hidden from Jonathan Kent and left in the care of Grant's financial advisor until his death four years ago. Under the advisor's brilliant guidance, the initial policy payment of $750,000.00 and the one million in the trust fund tripled within five years, and then continued to increase at an exponential rate each year after. By Lex's calculations, in a year or so, Clark's investments would be worth over 18 million dollars.
Lex was surprised to see Lex Corp as one of the many companies in Clark's portfolio, invested in when it had just started to genuinely take off after Lionel's death. Lex pondered the purchase of Lex Corp stock for a bit before deciding that it had probably been the advisor's choice to invest, not Clark's. He pushed the faint disappointment aside before continuing to read into Clark's assets. He flicked through the rest of the documents: a house in Wisconsin, a condo in a upper-downtown Metropolis, a practical but higher end SUV. Most of the money was tied up in certificates of deposit, corporate and treasury bonds, trust funds, and IRAs.
He closed the portfolio and hovered his finger over the last file, the biggest one. He wondered why it was so large. The pit in his stomach seemed to increase and cold needles did their best to jab painfully at his insides. Lex huffed, irritated with himself, and clicked on the file, immediately wishing he hadn't. The cold ball of dread coiled tightly before erupting.
It was Clark's medical history. Lex scanned through the hundreds of pages, pale blue eyes growing wider as red ink and frustrated prognosis became more frequent as the dates became more recent. Comments like 'unidentifiable' and 'rapidly deteriorating' were scribbled by several different sets of hands, and Lex's attention froze over the most recent addition to the file.
"Most likely fatal," Lex whispered. His eyes continued on to the next sentence, and he forced himself to read that as well. "Estimated length of time until irreparable deterioration and death, 18 months."
He scrolled back to the top of that particular document and blinked at the date, April 23rd. Seven months had passed since the prognosis, which meant less than a year remained. It was a vicious sucker punch to Lex, worse than any pain he'd ever felt before, surpassing even the few memories he had of Belle Reve. His chest hitched and breath left his lungs in shaky spurts. His hands trembled horribly as he pushed them over his scalp, and Lex read and reread the final prognosis.
Clark was dying. The thought didn't seem to want to settle long, raging and pounding against his skull, claws gouging deep bleeding wounds. Lex closed the laptop with an unsure snick and leaned back, staring out the floor-to-ceiling window in front of him with a blank expression.
Clark dying had never crossed Lex's mind, not genuinely at least. Sure, he had wanted to make the man hurt, hurt as badly as Lex had been hurt, but that final step really hadn't occurred to him. Lex tried to force himself to envision it, a world without Clark, but his brain shied away instinctively.
This was a big problem.
Lex snorted at his own understatement and stood to shakily fill a glass with scotch. The liquid sloshed over the rim of the glass but Lex ignored it as he slung it back, the burning of the alcohol momentarily dulling his thoughts. Soon enough though, the bitter truth came back and Lex didn't know how to handle it.
Did he confront Clark? Or did he leave it be until it was too late? What would happen to Connor?
He frowned and poured another finger-full at the thought of Clark's son. While Lex knew he hadn't had an ideal role-model for a stable father-figure growing up, he did realize that the little boy would be left on his own if Clark died. That notion, an orphaned Connor Kent, didn't sit well with Lex, and it left him surprised at how insanely quickly the child had been added to the short list of individuals he cared for, especially seeing as how he hadn't even met the boy.
Conner looked so much like his father it was unsettling. Only the eyes didn't match on that young face. Lex turned and opened the file with Connor's school records again, going over the information with closer attention. He was truly brilliant, Lex thought with admiration. It was amazing that such intelligence was contained in so small a body.
Then there was the core of the issue, Clark's health. Lex frowned before going over that particular file again as well.
The prognosis did not change, staying as bleak as the first time the original doctor suggested it in an impersonal black ink. 'Irreparable deterioration and death.' It sounded so detached, so unsympathetic and cold that Lex's chest ached with the unfairness of it all.
Clark was going to die.
Lex forced himself to stay away as long as he could. Really, he did. An entire month and two more holidays passed before his control declined to the point where Lex found himself staring at Clark's door, wondering how exactly he got there in the first place. The memory of a child's drawing of his family came to mind and Lex squared his shoulders and knocked.
There was silence for a long moment, leaving the billionaire standing in the building's hallway feeling like a fool, before he heard a muffled, "Coming. Coming!"
His eyes darted to the elevator one last time in stifled panic, but the sound of locks disengaging on the other side of the door had Lex swallowing back the discomfort and awkwardness that had built on his way to Clark's condo. The door swung open and there was a prolonged silence.
"Lex," Clark said finally, his tone both startled and resigned at the same time.
"Clark." Lex tipped his head slightly, taking in the other man's appearance in quiet shock.
While Clark was standing, it didn't seem likely that he would be able to for much longer. The man was as skinny as he had been in Connor's sketch and paler if that was possible. Clark resembled the half-starved orphans Lex occasionally observed in infomercials late at night. His cheeks were slightly sunken, his neck thin and seemingly elongated because of it. Black hair was dull and lifeless and Clark's overall complexion was pasty from illness.
"You look like crap."
The words left Lex's mouth before he could stop them and he winced at the impropriety of it. Clark handled the insult well, rolling his eyes before turning to shuffle back into his apartment. He left the door open and Lex took that as an invitation to enter.
The place was nice, he thought absent-mindedly as he walked further through the junction between the living room and kitchen. Tall windows took up a large chunk of the far wall and two large sofas in an L-shape provided a divider between the living room and entrance, the back of one couch extending the entrance hallway on one side and a kitchen counter on the other.
Christmas decorations were still up despite New Years having been over for almost a week. The artificial tree was standing in front of the windows, bedecked in bright, colorful ornaments and multi-colored lights, strands of beads hanging from the branches in large dopey grins.
Toys filled the living room, Connor's obviously successful haul from the holidays. They ranged from reading pads to coloring books to what appeared to be a full-fledged chemistry set on the coffee table. A large tv was turned on with its volume lowered to provide ambient noise only and one of the couches was set up as a make-shift bed, pillows and covers littering its cushions.
Lex glanced into the open kitchen and noted the updated stainless steel appliances and black counters and cabinets, both things that seemed at odds with what he remembered about Clark. The floor looked to be dark wood throughout the entire space, extending from one side of the apartment to the other, another choice that jarred with his faint memories of the Kent farm-house.
"I'm surprised you've stayed away this long," Clark said as he slowly and carefully lowered himself into the mound of blankets he had been occupying before Lex's arrival. He tilted his head and stared at Lex thoughtfully, the consent anger and accusing disappointment Lex remembered missing from the gaze. "Actually, I'm shocked. You used to use anything as a reason for a confrontation. I half-expected you to be at my door the hour I moved back."
Lex bit his tongue because, to be fair, it was true, and moved to sit on the other couch after removing his winter coat and scarf. He ignored the wheelchair that sat folded under one of the windows, gleaming menacingly in the afternoon sunlight, and, as he watched Clark situate himself, shrugged his shoulders in helpless agreement.
"To be honest, I didn't even know you were back until a month ago."
Clark smiled to himself before he reached over to pick up a glass of water from the end table beside him. He emptied it in several small gulps and shakily placed it onto the coffee table, most likely to take to the kitchen later. Things deteriorated into silence as Lex searched for a way of broaching the topics he had come to discuss, and he nodded his head toward the chemistry set.
"Your son likes chemistry?" he asked curiously.
Amusement lifted the corner of Clark's lips and the man nodded an affirmative. Green eyes softened as they looked around at the toys filling the space, the dullness fading from his gaze as pride shone through.
"Connor prefers math and physics, but chemistry is a good runner-up."
Lex nodded. "Chemistry has a lot of math in it, that's probably why he's interested."
"Probably." Clark shrugged. "He really only plays with it at home though, and even then its simple things like chromatography and density columns."
Conversation stalled briefly before Lex took the bull by its horns and straightened in his seat. "I'm the donor," he admitted.
The admission was plainly given, and the simple acceptance startled Lex.
"You know?" he asked, confused, and then repeated. "You know."
Clark nodded. "Ben died and within a week a donor, who wished to remain anonymous, is found with that kind of money? It wasn't hard to figure out."
"You don't seem very upset about it."
"Because I'm not. Connor needs a lot of support, and unfortunately I don't have the energy or the money," Clark pointed out reasonably.
"You're taking this awfully well."
The younger man laughed tiredly. "Lex, look at me. I learned a long time ago that I have to take what I can get and be grateful about it. Even if we were still fighting, I'd like to think that you wouldn't go so far as to use Connor against me."
Lex would like to think the same and so didn't voice any nagging suspicions against that argument.
"Besides," the brunette continued. "It's not like I wasn't expecting this. I knew coming back here would draw your attention eventually. I just didn't expect it to take this long."
"You wanted a confrontation with me," Lex realized.
Clark nodded. "On my terms."
"You've become sneaky," the billionaire accused.
"No, I've simply learned to pick my battles carefully. I'm in no condition to fight you on your own terms, Lex. I'd be dead in less than a minute."
The blunt admission about Clark's failing health startled Lex deeply. He fisted his hands before relaxing them, debating on whether he should go through with his plan or not in the face of Clark's obvious ill-condition. It was difficult to challenge the younger man's prognosis, not with the proof sitting in front of him, but something within him needed to push just a little further.
He pulled a small metal box from his pocket and held it in the palm of his hand. Clark stared at it for a moment before he pulled away harshly, his back ramming into the corner of the couch he was on.
"Don't you do it!" Clark hissed angrily, his face losing all color. "Don't you fucking do it Lex!"
The expletive shocked Lex into momentary inaction before he shook his head and placed the box on the table. "Don't worry, I'm not going to. I was planning to before I got here, but not now."
"Why?" Clark demanded angrily, his eyes flashing and mouth in a tight line.
Lex shook his head again. "I changed my mind the instant you opened the door. No one can fake illness that well."
Clark's furious expression slowly gave way to tired exhaustion, the sudden burst of panic stealing most of the energy stores he had left. Lex observed Clark slump in his seat, head tilting to the side in lethargy.
"What would have happened?" he asked curiously.
Green eyes locked onto his and the two shared a long, tense moment of silence.
"It would have killed me."
Dread filled the older man at that and he sat forward. "Surely not."
"Yes, Lex." Clark said seriously. "I would be dead."
"You could always just-"
The other shook his head, cutting Lex off. "I don't have my powers any more, I lost them months ago. It's why I went to the doctors in the first place. For all intents and purposes, I'm human. The only thing that's left is my weakness against Kryptonite, and that's been amplified to ridiculous levels."
"What's wrong with you? You shouldn't be this way."
"My system is shutting down." The words were weary, clearly having been said multiple times before.
"But why?" Lex pressed Clark. "Why is it shutting down? Surely you have an idea."
"I know exactly why it's happening. Just like I know it can't be stopped."
Lex growled in frustration. "Just tell me damn it!"
"It was a side effect of the stabilization process for Connor."
Lex furrowed his brows in confusion. "I'm not following."
Clark sighed, a long and tired thing, before giving Lex one of the most sympathetic looks Lex had ever seen. "You never looked into your father's labs, did you? The ones that were destroyed right before I left?"
"Not really. Not beyond the cursory examination of funding and staff. They had nothing to do with me. Besides, most of the data was destroyed, probably a fail safe Dad put into place."
"Lex," Clark said carefully, measuring his words as if he couldn't believe Lex's stupidity. "You're going to want to do that before this conversation goes any further."
It was clear that Clark knew something Lex didn't and was extremely wary of being the one to explain it to the business man. While normally Lex would find the refusal of an explanation irritating, something about Clark's demeanor had him holding his tongue and mentally reorganizing the rest of his day. He would have to go through the few files that survived with a fine tooth comb.
"Alright. I will," he promised.
"Lex," Clark looked at Lex seriously. "I know what you're going to find, and I know it's going to make you very, very angry. I need you to promise me you'll think things through before acting."
Again he held his tongue and agreed to the younger man's demands, instinctively trusting that the other knew best in this situation.
"It's that bad?"
Clark nodded solemnly. "In a lot of ways, for a lot of reasons. I never approached you because I assumed you knew and were just ignoring it. I didn't mean to hide this from you. I really did think you knew."
Lex frowned, his stomach twisting in agitation. "You're afraid of me."
"I'm afraid of what you'll do," Clark corrected. "I'm helpless, Lex. My body is destroying itself, and I won't be able to defend myself if you decide you want to fight."
It hurt, more than he thought it would, to hear Clark say that.
Time had a way of dulling certain pains and closing wounds, and the past five years were no different. Lex was no longer as angry as he had been about Superman and his identity. He had moved past that during Clark's self-imposed isolation. In the absence, Clark'd had a son and Lex had chosen to focus on his legitimate businesses. Both of them, it would seem, had grown up some in the separation.
However, Lex could easily understand Clark's concerns. The Lex Luthor Clark had known had been one that was obsessive and filled with rage and the border-line insanity that came from repetitive or high-dose exposure to the meteor rock. Clark had been in Metropolis for the very beginning stages of Lex's regression back to normal but hadn't been in a position to experience it first-hand. The two of them had still been too busy fighting each other for Clark to get close enough, for long enough, to pick up on something that Lex himself hadn't even noticed.
Maybe Clark's leaving had been the real reason for Lex's change in mentality. The younger man's presence in Metropolis and their constant encounters had seemed to add to the betrayal Lex felt each time they met, keeping the business-mogul in a perpetual state of rage and destructiveness. So the distance had probably played a large role in allowing Lex the needed space to get his head on and priorities straight.
"You haven't been trying to deny you're an alien," Lex poked.
Clark shrugged tiredly, his eyes slipping closed as his head rested back against the top of the couch. "You knew before I left. There's no point in lying to you anymore, not when it just wastes time."
Lex frowned at the last comment but gave up his attempts to get a rise out of Clark. "I'll see myself out."
The near-unconscious man nodded sluggishly.
"Should you be alone right now? Is there someone you'd like me to call?" Lex asked hesitantly, the rapid worsening of Clark's current condition making him feel off-kilter.
Clark shook his head. "No," he mumbled, his unfocused eyes opening long enough to glance at Lex standing by the end of the far couch. "Just tired. Sleep some and I'll be fine."
Lex nodded silently and watched Clark fall asleep. He noticed the glass on the coffee table and picked it up to leave it in the kitchen sink.
Sunlight streamed in through the kitchen windows, filling the darkened space with bright light. Lex's eyes traveled the dark lines of counter and stopped on the fridge, making him halt his progress towards the sink.
Paper covered the surface. Dozens of childish scribbles framed proudly between grocery lists and take-out menus, held up by funny little magnets of fruit or cartoon characters. Lex set the glass in the sink and walked over to the fridge, curious about Connor's artistic ability. Blue eyes examined each one with an amused eye and Lex felt oddly proud of the works the little boy had done. Each one was done well, though you could tell they were drawn by a child. Pictures of space and dinosaurs were interspersed with ones of Connor and Clark playing outside. Every single one of them had shapes formed from numbers.
A folded piece of drawing paper caught his attention from where it hung in the center of the exhibition. Lex glanced over his shoulder at a slumbering Clark before moving the magnet holding it in place and quietly opened it. His breath caught in the back of his throat.
It was him.
Lex stared down at the two-dimensional version of himself in slight wonder. It wasn't a very good portrayal, one obviously done from imagination more than familiarity, but all the necessary attributes were there to show that the object of the picture's attention was Lex Luthor; the bald head, the suit, the purple shirt and tie. He laughed at Connor's version of a sports car, the thing looking more like an angry purple fish than anything else. But it was the words, scribbled by Connor's little hands, that had Lex's attention riveted onto the page.
'Thank you lots Mister Lex for being Daddy's friend and helping me lots for school. Connor.'
His throat felt suspiciously thick at the message and he gently folded the drawing closed. He went to put it back but his selfishness got the better of him and he pocketed it carefully. Its absence left a glaring void on the refrigerator’s surface, but Lex wanted Clark to know he had the picture so he left it as is.
He grabbed his coat, slipped out of the apartment, and listened for the lock to engage after he pulled the door closed behind him. He tugged on the handle once to check and slowly left the building, dwelling on the past and wishing things hadn't turned out the way they had.
Later that night, as he sat at his desk amidst the ruin of what had once been his office, Lex cradled his head in his hands and wished fervently his father were still alive.
Cabinets were upturned, their paper contents spilling across the floor like white blood. The letter-opener lay near the remains of his couch and chairs where he had focused most of his attention, slashing at the dark brown fabric with an enraged snarl that was reminiscent of his darkest days. Even the artwork hadn't survived his incensed fit of destruction.
Now that Lex was drained of the immediate fury that had washed through him after closing the last of the Cadmus files, he felt the betrayal and resentment for Lionel resurface acutely. It was one thing to wish you had a different son, it was another to decide to bypass nature and simply build one.
The files from Cadmus were still in perfect order on his desk, Lex having enough control in his fit of pique to leave them alone while he destroyed the rest of his office. He lifted his head from his hands to stare at them apathetically. The information provided within the manila folders was abundant evidence, both scientific fact and firsthand accounting, of the depth of his father's depravity and hatred for his own child.
His father had been making a replacement for him. His father had been creating someone, a human being, to take Lex's place. It shouldn't have been possible, but the cold hard truth was neatly laid out in 12-point font for Lex to read at his leisure. Lex growled and shoved his laptop off the desk in frustration and building ire.
Connor wasn't Clark's son. He was Lex's clone. It wasn’t even human.
How could Clark keep something like this from him? Even if they had been at each other's throats, didn't he deserve to know? Didn't Lex have a right to decide how to handle the problem himself, without anyone else getting involved?
He stood up, his chair rolling backwards from the sudden movement, and he slammed his hands down onto the unforgiving wooden top of the desk again and again, bellowing out the indescribable emotions that were suffocating him from the inside.
Clark had known and had destroyed the evidence, all of it he could, before taking the only surviving substantiation of his father's twisted hatred and disappeared without informing Lex about any of it.
Lex was half-way to the door, Kryptonite in hand, before he came to his senses and stopped. The metal box was heavy in his trembling hand and the way it glinted dully under the office lights reminded the man of just how easy it would be to lose control and kill Clark right then. The mogul clenched his eyes shut in impotent vexation but walked back to his desk and shut the box with the meteor stone away with a sharp snap of a drawer. He sighed and rubbed his face, jammed his hands into his pockets and stilled as he heard and felt the crunch of paper.
A smile peered up at Lex from his own clumsily drawn face, after he had opened the crumpled paper from his pocket, and he stared at it as he sat down in his chair. The page was badly wrinkled so Lex spread it out on his desk, carefully using his fingers and hands to smooth the bumps until it was as undamaged as he could get it.
A little boy had drawn this, Lex remembered starkly, not an ‘it’; a little boy that Lex had immediately liked because he was the splitting image of Clark.
That thought ground all other workings of his mind to a halt as he stared at the drawing reflectively. Connor was the mirror image of Clark.
“Except the eyes,” he murmured to himself and froze.
In a burst of activity, Lex picked his miraculously undamaged laptop up and powered it on, opening his email when the machine was finally working. He scanned his emails and clicked on the attachment he was searching for, looked at Connor’s smiling face for several long moments before he leaned back in his chair with a perplexed expression.
How could Lex’s clone look nothing like Lex?
A random comment from one of the multitude of Cadmus experiments flashed through his brain, and Lex rapidly sorted through the piles of paper to get to the one he needed. The file was thicker than the others, including information on the last batch of experiments his father had commissioned before he died and the scientists’ progress until the destruction of the labs several months later. Lex flipped through the documents and stopped on the part he remembered. A long finger ran haphazardly down the page and tapped on the paragraph in question.
‘While all subjects indicate signs of destabilization, those of the KON-series show a slower rate of degeneration. This is possibly due to the inherent properties of the foreign genetic agent used in that particular group. Further testing is needed as the foreign genetic material has proven to be detrimentally unstable in all separate and independent experiments.’
‘Foreign genetic agent.’
“Son of a bitch,” Lex whispered in astonishment, sitting back in his chair with a total sense of shock overcoming him. “Well that certainly explains it.”
And it did.
Lex had noted it when he first examined Connor’s school file. The kid was a genius, even when compared to others that were supposedly on his own level. Lex had been a brilliant little shit, but even he hadn’t been able to make heads or tails of fucking physics at the ripe old age of five. Connor was simply too smart to be a copy of Lex. No clone of Lex’s could be that intelligent, not unless something extra was added to the mix. Something like a super-being’s DNA perhaps.
“Fuck,” Lex groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Of course his father had known about Clark’s origins, and of course he used it to his own ends. It would have been too much to expect anything else, Lex thought bitterly as he stared at the open file on his desk. He remembered the detached words, the frustration of the scientists as the earliest attempts at the cloning process failed repetitively. Apparently Lex couldn’t be cloned successfully.
He didn’t know what to think about that fact.
So they had started experimenting with others' DNA, to see if any would stabilize Lex’s unstable genetic material. All attempts failed. At least until they started using Clark’s DNA it would seem.
Lex reread the paragraph and frowned, flipping through the rest of the file and scanning the notes. Now that he understood exactly what they had done, he started to understand just how advanced the work at the labs had been. It sounded as if they had been close to success; manipulating Clark’s DNA so it balanced Lex’s and stopped the degeneration issue they were having. They had been using an alien’s DNA with positive results and had almost created a viable hybrid life-form.
But the notes made it sound as if they hadn’t had the chance to breech that final barrier. The last set of experiments before the labs were destroyed had all been failures, even the KON-series. So how did that explain Connor? If Connor was one of the final hybrids, it sounded as if his genetic make-up should have destabilized shortly after he was created.
There had been a one hundred percent rate of fatality in the clones, from start of the project to abrupt cancellation. So what were the odds that the only clone that survived the facility’s destruction miraculously lived for another five years? Zero. There was a zero percent chance.
Whatever Clark had done to stabilize Connor, it fixed the child but at the same time caused whatever it was that was killing Clark. The Kryptonian knew what had happened and believed it to be irreversible. So what was it that he did?
Lex’s gaze moved from the file and landed on Connor’s drawing. He picked it up with one hand and ran his fingers over his mouth with the other, his mind whirling with the new knowledge.
Clark had somehow found out about what Lionel had been doing and stopped it, liberating a semi-viable experiment in the process. He had known about what was going on but hadn’t told Lex.
Lex sighed as he remembered Clark’s words from earlier that day, and while he didn’t want to believe him, Lex found himself doing just that. It was very likely that Clark thought Lex omnipotent when it came to Lionel’s wrong-doings, and, in the other’s mind, his inaction was merely a reluctance to get involved.
So while Lex was still sickened and absolutely furious about being blindsided by something like this, the majority of his feelings on the matter were not directed at Clark but at Lionel. Once more, he wished that his father were alive, just so he could kill him himself.
The next issue was Clark’s health. Lex was absolutely sure its decline had everything to do with whatever the younger man had done to save Connor’s life. Clark said it was irreparable but, without finding out exactly what it was that was done in the first place, Lex couldn’t say the same. For all Lex knew, it could be a simple process of reversal and Clark simply didn’t understand the underlying processes and how to do it.
Until Lex saw the empirical data that said otherwise, he’d approach the issue as if it could be undone. Clark would simply have to accept Lex’s help whether he wanted it or not. The billionaire didn’t think it would be an issue however, what with how devoted the younger man appeared to be toward his son.
That broached the final part of the situation, Connor. Lex refocused his attention onto the sketch in his hand and felt a sharp jab in his chest.
Connor was an enigma, the first of his kind. Not a clone, but not a true human or Kryptonian either. He hadn’t been born. He had been made, crafted in a lab and determined a failure shortly thereafter by the individuals that had delivered him from the test tube they'd constructed him in.
But did that matter? Lex didn’t think so.
He placed the picture down onto the desk and ran a finger over the edge of it. He hadn’t met him yet, but Lex already knew Connor was a very happy and loved child. How could he not be with Clark as his self-proclaimed father? What did it matter how he came into existence?
Connor wasn’t a thing. He was alive.
He loved math and chemistry and physics. He was good at drawing and liked dinosaurs. Whose place was it to decide he wasn’t a person because of the circumstances of his creation? Not Lex’s, certainly.
Lex may be disgusted by what his father did, but one look at the little boy Clark had saved from destruction and his sketch he had drawn for Lex had the billionaire acknowledging the fact that he was already wrapped around the child’s finger. While the method of the boy’s existence was abhorrent, by no means did that detestability transfer over to Connor himself.
Clark obviously thought the same.
Lex frowned thoughtfully. It was clear Clark considered himself the child’s father by right and, considering that part of the boy contained Clark’s DNA, Lex would agree. But that begged the question.
If Clark was Connor’s father because of only a small portion of the boy’s genetic material, vital as it was, what did that make Lex?
Clark was home by himself again when Lex went back later that week, Connor most likely still at Corvier. The younger man looked better, stronger, as he opened the door and stepped aside so Lex could enter. He wasn’t as pale and his eyes were more alive as they tracked Lex’s purposeful movements across the hardwood into the living room.
“You’re not packing are you?” Clark asked playfully.
As jokingly as it was said, Lex could hear the hidden worry and shook his head.
“No,” he said firmly. “I’m having all of it collected and stored in a safe facility, even my personal collection. I’m not going to risk exposing you accidentally right now.”
Clark looked at him quietly for a moment before shaking his head and making his way into the kitchen with a steady stride.
“You’re looking better,” Lex pointed out.
“I have good days and bad days,” the younger man said easily. “You caught me on a bad day last time and a good one this time.”
“What’s the usual?” Lex couldn’t help but ask.
“I’m up and can usually stay up, but I need a wheelchair to get around.” He nodded his head towards the metal contraption by the windows. “Water or lemonade?”
“Water.” Lex placed the computer case he had been carrying on the coffee table before pulling out his laptop. “I’m going to need to know what you did.”
Clark walked gracefully from behind the counter and sighed at Lex’s determined tone but smiled nonetheless. He passed Lex’s glass of water over to him before taking a seat on the same couch as before. “I can’t get into specific detail. I only really understand the overall effect.”
“Anything would be helpful at this point.”
The two sat in silence for a little while, Lex going through the Cadmus documents he scanned earlier and Clark watching him fondly.
“You’re avoiding the issue,” Clark accused gently, not trying to provoke.
Lex kept his focus on the laptop’s screen. “I would think your death is the most important thing right now, Clark.”
“Connor is the most important thing, Lex.”
Clark was completely serious and it both frustrated and warmed Lex.
“I know,” Lex agreed, looking the other in the eye. “But I’m still upset about that and I want to get this over with first before we tackle the issue of Connor.”
He turned back to the computer and opened up a blank document. “Tell me what you know.”
The other sighed again before he leaned back and crossed his right leg over his left, resting his arm along the back of the couch. Lex glanced up briefly, taking in Clark's relaxed posture and easy demeanor, and silently marveled at how different the other male seemed after so many years away. Lex couldn't help but notice that, while Clark was still clearly ill, he had an overall attractiveness to him that had been missing before. The quiet confidence Clark exuded was new, something the younger man hadn't been capable of before he left.
The businessman was jerked out of his contemplations when Clark drummed his fingers on the back of the cushion they were resting on and started his recollection slowly, obviously thinking the events over. “The A.I. picked something up on the channels he monitors about alien DNA and investigated. When he determined what was going on, he let me know. I went to shut it down, thinking it was still in early stages, and realized just how far along Lionel actually was.
“It was horrible,” Clark whispered, his eyes closing from the memory. “They had dozens of these… things… in large vats powered by a massive energy source further underground. I didn’t even know what they were until I got to the section where Kon was.”
Here he stopped, and Lex swallowed roughly at the images running through his brain. Both men took a drink from their respective glasses and the younger man cleared his throat and picked back up.
“There were three of them. Three babies in three identical vats, like that scene from the matrix. It made me think about all those other tubes and the things in them, and it made me want to hurt someone, badly.
“I didn’t know what to do, but before I could decide I heard people coming and hid. They were some of the scientists, doing their rounds. They spoke so clinically about everything, about the failed experiments and scheduling a trash run.”
Lex’s hands fisted in white-hot rage and noticed the Clark was just as angry. He forced the anger back and listened with detachment as Clark continued.
“They got to the three that I was by and started discussing their viability. Two were beyond hope, being lumped together with the others, but the last one, the youngest, was still potentially feasible. They made notes and adjustments on the machines and left, and I…”
Clark was pale with remembrance. “I ran. I ran and ran until I was back at the fortress.”
The living room descended into uncomfortable silence.
“The A.I. wanted more data. He made me take some transmitter device thing and go back. I did and I got into their server room and plugged it in and A.I. did what he does best.”
“And what’s that?” Lex asked quietly when Clark didn’t continue.
“Analyze data and make informed decisions.” The younger man looked at Lex grimly. “The scientists were right. Only one was potentially viable out of all of them, only the youngest in the KON-series.”
“Do you know what that stands for?” Lex was curious. “I didn’t come across the full name in the files.”
“Kryptonian Organic Necrosis – KON.”
Lex frowned. “All data pertaining to that was destroyed. I couldn’t locate any other experiments referencing that. And why aren't these files destroyed with the others? ”
“A.I. wiped it from every server there was. I spent the next week taking care of remote sites that were attached to isolated hubs or off the grid entirely. I wouldn't let him destroy the files on Kon. I thought it best if you had them.”
“Do you know what they were doing?”
Clark shrugged. “No, but they weren’t having any luck. They named it that because it killed any organic material it came into contact with.”
“But what was it exactly?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“My DNA.” The other male smiled humorously. “They would introduce my raw DNA into something and it would kill it. Nothing survived, not until they combined it with your DNA.”
That was both concerning and uplifting at the same time. If they couldn’t stabilize the destructive tendencies of Clark’s DNA they couldn’t replicate it, but if they introduced Lex’s genetic material, something that had a natural ability for regeneration, it was feasible that the two could theoretically interact with a positive result. Lex’s DNA could potentially have the regenerative speed to withstand the destructive nature of Clark’s DNA, and at the same time the reinforced nature of Clark’s makeup could strengthen Lex’s fragile one to the point that a viable clone could be made.
“But it wouldn’t be a true clone,” he murmured to himself.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Clark agreed. “You add anything else to someone’s DNA, and you don’t ever get a copy of the original.”
“What did you do? Connor's genetic makeup wouldn’t have held up much longer.”
Clark shifted on the couch, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and link his hands together. “The A.I. did it.”
Lex sighed in frustration, a sharp exhale. “Well then, what did it do?”
“He did the math and realized that Connor didn’t have enough of my DNA. The scientists were playing around with the percentages. Too much and my DNA would take over and kill it. Not enough and the genetic structure would collapse. After he got the numbers right, it was just a matter of fixing the shortage.”
The billionaire frowned, running the explanation through his mind. “It can’t be that simple. My father’s scientists would have realized that.”
“They did, but they didn’t have the capabilities of calculating the actual percentage. It’s something like 37.48327802857314%. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to get that precise an amount out of the samples of my DNA they had. I’m not sure why, don’t ask me, but that’s what A.I. said, and I tend to trust him on things like that.”
It was unlikely that Cadmus would have had the machinery necessary to get such a minute amount of DNA on site, or know which chromosomes to focus on. So it was likely by trial and error that they came as close to a successful product as they had, Lex thought with a sense of relief.
"So the A.I. identified the issue. How did it correct the deficit? Connor was already fully developed, it should be impossible to alter the percentage of genetic material that far into life."
Clark sipped his drink. "He had to destabilize Connor's already unstable DNA and inject a raw portion of my DNA into his."
"That sounds counter-productive."
"I thought so too," Clark agreed. "But it made sense to Jor-El."
The younger man grimaced briefly. "The A.I.. He's really more of an imprinted personality of my biological father."
The billionaire recognized father-issues from a mile away and decided to leave Clark's be for now. Dredging them up would only distract the two men from the pressing matter of Clark withering away. Besides, Lex could always simply bring them up later if he felt the need.
"How did it destabilize Connor? What process did it use?"
Clark sighed, obviously thankful at the change in topic, and shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "He used some weird technology I don't even want to think about it was so far out of my league. From how he explained it, it was an injection of some sort of chemical and then a mix of sonar and electrical currents to break the helix bonds. I was out before he started it, so I can't be sure."
"Out?" Lex asked, his attention focusing entirely on Clark. "Both of you were unconscious? Why?"
"Both sets of DNA had to be equally unstable to effectively combine." Clark shifted in his seat. "My DNA is completely stable on its own. It's only when it's introduced to other substances that it becomes volatile. Connor isn't a clone of either of us, Lex. He's a combination. My stable DNA would have targeted yours and destroyed it, leaving the remaining portion of genetic material to collapse. The only way to ensure that that didn't happen was to harvest my DNA after it was destabilized."
The room lapsed into thick silence as Lex digested the simplified process of genetically altering an already-living being. Blue eyes narrowed in thought, disapproval leaking into his voice as he said, "Let me get this straight. You allowed an artificial intelligence to destabilize your DNA, without knowing the possible side-effects, just to save your enemy's clone?"
Clark scowled, his face twisting from the rare action. The man's sunken cheeks paled and reddened, blotchy spots appeared on them. "Connor isn't a clone. I've told you that."
"He's made from my DNA!" Lex bit out.
"And mine!" Clark argued back, just as heatedly.
Lex took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he glared at the alien half-heartedly and tapped a finger on the laptop's space bar. His lips pursed and then thinned in contemplation and he sighed again in frustration. "So you only saved him because he contains part of your genetic structure."
It was stated as simple fact, not a question or accusation, and it made Clark deflate from where he was sitting, building the energy needed to verbally-spar with the bald billionaire. The brunette shook his head and then changed his mind, nodding slightly.
"I saved him from the lab because he was potentially viable. It wasn't his fault Lionel made him. And then when I found out what I'd have to do to fix him, I couldn't not help, not when Connor was probably-" Clark cut himself off, his mouth snapping shut with an audible click of teeth.
Lex's eyes narrowed. "Probably what, Clark?"
Clark sighed, his eyes avoiding Lex's, and he fiddled with the glass in his hands. It took several long moments before the younger man spoke up, and his voice was soft and hesitant when he did.
"He was probably my only chance at having a family."
It struck the business-mogul in the chest, the confession that mirrored the one laying unspoken in his own soul. Raising children wasn't an option yet, Lex's life still too chaotic to support a family emotionally - he'd never allow himself to be a father like Lionel Luthor, remote and distant and hateful - but he had known from early on that he did want to be a father. It had been a crushing blow to learn that while his mutation preserved his own life, it prevented the creation of others.
Lex had felt like a failure, knowing he would most likely never have the opportunity to have a son or daughter, never pass on his genes to the next generation, never see a little boy or girl running around with his red hair or freckles. It had taken a great deal of his strength and will to acknowledge that sad fact and move on. And while he had moved on with his life, he hadn't gotten over wanting it, yearning for that ever-elusive thing Destiny seemed content to bar from him.
It seemed that Connor was the last chance for both of them.
"So what happened that caused this?"
Clark observed him for a moment, green eyes startling in their perceptiveness, before he gave Lex a small, sad smile.
"When he destabilized me, Jor-El had to use far more power than he initially calculated. After he harvested the required DNA he didn't have enough energy in the main stores to reverse the effect. By the time he could reroute the needed power, my genetic structure had reached a damage threshold. Like the human brain without oxygen."
Clark sat the glass on the end table between them and lifted his right leg to slip it under his left. "The damage wasn't massive, but it was enough that it couldn't be reversed by the same process. Trying to fix it that way would result in complete destabilization. The A.I. hoped to find a solution over time before it got too bad but he didn't, and it's past the point of no return now."
Lex sat quietly, watching and listening as Clark spoke calmly about his impending demise. The nonchalance didn't sit well with Lex and it made him want to yell or curse or throw something, preferably at Clark Kent's self-sacrificing head.
"So you actually went to see specialists? Doctors? Weren't you afraid they'd notice the whole alien thing?"
Clark shook his head. "No. After the A.I. realized there was nothing he could do, he used the matrix to partially convert the rest of my body."
"What does that mean?" Lex frowned.
"Humans and Kryptonians have a nearly identical anatomical structure," Clark explained. "If you neutralize the parts of me that convert Earth's solar energy into my powers - one of the first things that happened when I got sick - then I'm pretty much human until you dig deeper. The only thing he had to do was rearrange some of my organs."
"What about your DNA? That's not something that can be faked, Clark."
"A.I. hacked their systems and adjusted the results."
Lex's mouth hung open for several long seconds before he snapped it closed and looked at the other man in blatant incredulity. "Don't you think that defeats the purpose of going to a specialist?"
"I didn't know he was doing it," Clark said with a huff. "I only found out after a third test came back inconclusive. He was really sneaky about it too. He agreed to not fudge the results if I agreed to wait until he had exhausted all options. By the time he finally admitted he had nothing left, my DNA was altered enough that most people wouldn't be able to tell what exactly they were looking at."
"What about Connor? What was supposed to happen once... once you were..." Lex couldn't bring himself to say it and so he trailed off.
The other male understood his reluctance and gave him another smile, this one more indulgent than sad. "He'd go to you. I made you his guardian in the result of my death."
"I never saw anything like that!" Lex said, surprised.
Clark shook his head. "You'd have to agree at the time of my death. It was the only way of setting it up without letting you know."
"Why? Why wouldn't you want me to know?" The words were filled with hurt.
"Because I wasn't sure you'd agree."
"And if I didn't?" Lex pointed out. "What would happen to Connor if I refused to take him?"
He was genuinely curious about that, knowing Clark had cut himself off from his friends before he left Metropolis those five years ago. There hadn't been any need to push family away, Martha having passed the year before Clark's disappearance. It would seem that the only group that was debatable was the Justice League, Superman being an unofficial member that the other heroes had wanted to make a permanent fixture.
"Bruce Wayne," Clark said matter-of-factly. "I met him through my work at the Planet. Dating Lois scarred him for life so we became friends after comparing our inflicted mental anguish. It wouldn't be ideal, but I know he'd take Connor in."
Lex felt the instinctive pang of jealousy at Bruce's mention but knew Clark was right. The friendship the two billionaires had shared as teens was long dead, but Lex knew that, while Bruce hammed up the playboy life-style, the Gothamite wouldn't hesitate to help a friend, even if it was to take in their orphaned child he had never met, or even knew existed. Lex also understood Clark's statement about it not being ideal. While Bruce was well-intentioned, he was also crazier than a bag of cats.
And that was coming from Lex.
"Well," Lex said after a pregnant pause. "I'll need specifics, if you can manage it."
Clark nodded tiredly. "I'll get A.I. to send you it. You'll probably need a couple terabytes of storage though. He tends to hoard."
Lex chuckled at the thought but shook his head and shut the laptop. He placed it on the coffee table and turned his body to face Clark fully. The younger man had slowly been drooping throughout their conversation and Lex frowned thoughtfully before standing to refill both their glasses.
"I thought you said this was a good day," he threw out over his shoulder as he made his way into the kitchen.
"It is," Clark yawned. "But I still get tired."
The billionaire turned the tap off and stood watching Clark from his place behind the sink. Blue eyes narrowed slightly in careful consideration, and Lex's lips thinned before parting. "Maybe you should sleep then."
Clark shook his head from his hunched position, hands carding through hair. "No, I need to be awake for when Connor gets home."
Lex padded back into the living room and set both glasses down on the coffee table before he plopped into the armchair and pulled the laptop onto his lap. He began rapid typing, noting down Clark's explanation and his own theories, his long fingers elegantly pressing the keys in quick motions that bled together until it seemed to be one continuous sound.
"Go sleep, Clark," he said, not looking at the younger man. "I'll stay until Connor gets back."
Clark dragged a palm over his face before sighing once and cocking his head to stare at the other quietly for an exceptionally long moment. Lex refused to allow his nervousness to show and felt relieved when Clark began to stand.
"Just an hour or so. Helen drops him off around four, depending on how long he dawdles at the park." Clark shuffled off toward the hallway on the far side of the kitchen. "Behave, Lex."
Lex snorted but kept his comment to hisself as the young father disappeared down the hall into his bedroom. When the door shut, Lex closed the laptop and began to investigate the apartment, the way that he had wanted to last time but hadn't had the opportunity to. Hands were jammed into trouser pockets to avoid touching, and he toured the flat with a methodicalness he reserved for his lab work and experiments.
Toys were examined. Many were the normal distractions a little boy would play with, but there were a few that stood out among the clutter. Learning pads and notebooks made their presence known from where they lay tucked away underneath a Crayola play-table or, most notably, in an empty fish-tank. He pulled the notebook out of the tank and flipped through the pages, snorting at the messily written equations that filled the lines effortlessly.
The chemistry set was missing Lex noticed, probably put away in a toy bin or kitchen cupboard. He crouched down and slid the learning pad out from under the table, thumbing it on and accessing the numerous programs loaded onto it. Bill Nye the Science Guy featured prominently in the television shows and there were a couple Disney movies. They were disgustingly cliché, dealing with nerdy kids becoming popular because they accepted they were smarter than everyone else but used their gifts to help others instead of lording it over them.
Lex's nannies may have made him watch similar things a time or ten.
Lex dropped from his still crouched position into a kneel as he tapped the Smart-Start app and amused himself for a few minutes with the cleverly-designed intelligence-exercises disguised as games. He reasoned out the logic puzzle that identified which colored bottles on the screen to mix to form a potion and carefully measured the right amounts into the cauldron. The mixture bubbled blue and then green and finally settled on purple before stilling. Long fingers nimbly tipped the cauldron and poured the potion into different sized jars, making sure that all the jars he filled were topped off and that no liquid remained in the cauldron.
"What are you doing?"
The sudden question in his ear startled him violently and Lex cursed as he swung around quickly, reflexes kicking in. Blue eyes met blue halfway through the about face, and Lex forced his body backwards, away from the other person when he realized he wouldn't be able to pull his punch in so close of quarters. He landed on his rear with an 'omph' but his fist went over the interloper's head without making contact. Lex breathed a sigh of relief at the near miss before awkwardly clambering to his feet.
Connor was looking up at him, clad in a plush winter coat, his head twisted and his big, doe eyes wide with curiosity. A woman - Helen, Lex assumed - stood behind the child a step or two with her phone out, her expression unsure and her finger hovering over the dial.
Lex raised his hands placatingly. "Clark's asleep."
"My Pad!" Connor's attention snapped to the device in Lex's hand and the little boy frowned. "You're supposed to ask before borrowing, Mister Lex."
Helen made a strangled sound and reached forward to pull Connor behind her. "Connor, you don't talk to strangers!"
Connor scowled his frustration as he pushed ineffectively at the woman's hand gripping the back of his winter jacket.
"But he's not a stranger. Are you, Mister Lex?" Connor stuck his head out from behind Helen's legs. "He's friends with Daddy, Helen."
"We don't know who he is," Connor's nanny hissed in frustration. "Besides, there's no way your dad knows Lex Luthor."
"Look-" Lex started, placatingly.
Connor rolled his eyes.
"Yeah huh," he countered eloquently. "He's on the TV all the time. And he does too know Daddy because Daddy showed me pictures."
Helen bit her lip and her shoulders slumped as she glanced at Lex in defeat. She was obviously used to being outmaneuvered by the child, and her easy acceptance of Connor's explanation was clearly proof that the boy often proved hisself the correct one when the two locked heads. She glared at Lex half-heartedly to save face and Lex let her, knowing he'd be doing the same thing if he had just been thoroughly trounced by the logic of a five year old.
"You have ID?" She asked in exasperation.
Lex couldn't help but smile slightly and reached into his back pocket, pulling his wallet out so he could flip to his ID. She leaned forward slightly to get a better look, keeping Connor back as she did so - much to the little boy's frustration - and then sighed in defeat after reading the name. She let go of her hold on Connor's coat and rolled her eyes good-naturedly as Connor bounded around her to stand in front of Lex, his head craning back to stare the business-mogul in the eye.
"Hi, Mister Lex!"
Connor's smile was catching and it made Lex want to grin down at the boy.
"Hi," he said instead, his lips quirking upwards slightly. He glanced at Helen. "You're dad's asleep right now, so let's not wake him up. Yeah?"
Helen frowned before motioning towards the bedrooms. Lex nodded and pushed his attention to Connor as she headed back to check on Clark. He stared down into excited blue eyes and felt a sudden wave of insecurity crash over him.
Lex knew nothing about children. The last time he had even been in the same room as a kid was the year before, at a LexCorp social function where the little heathens were contained on the other side of the room. Boys and girls of all ages, covered in syrup and sugar; sticky and hyper and screaming.
The unspoken question jarred Lex out of the memory he was grimacing over and he focused back onto Connor.
Connor pointed at the pad Lex was still holding. "Do you want to borrow my pad?"
Lex looked down at the device he had forgotten he was holding before shaking his head and handing it over to the little boy.
"No," he said. "I was just curious about what games you like to play."
"I like lots of games!" Connor said with exuberance, making it clear that Lex had said the right thing. "I like the dragon one the best though."
Lex internally sighed with relief and asked, "Oh? What's that about?"
Connor took the initiative and quickly turned his pad on, small fingers swiping and jabbing at the screen until Lex heard trumpets blaring and a loud roar.
"Come closer at your own peril, Mortal. My hoard is not for the unproven likes of you!"
Lex raised an eyebrow and squatted when motioned to, craning his head to get a better look at the screen.
"You got to answer his questions," Connor said as he jabbed at the fierce-looking dragon.
The dragon's eyes narrowed. "What asks but never answers?"
"An owl," Connor answered promptly.
"Correct," the dragon growled. "What two things can you never eat for breakfast?"
Lex bit his lip to keep quiet, the answer on the tip of his tongue. He watched Connor think for a long moment before shrugging.
"Lunch and dinner."
"You think you're so clever. How about this then?" The dragon snorted smoke and smirked. "What runs but never walks, has a mouth but never talks, a bed but never sleeps, a head but never weeps?"
Connor huffed before rolling his eyes. "A river, dummy."
Lex's lips twitched in amusement at the bored tone, a much younger and lighter version of his own. He watched as the dragon roared in anger before it jumped off the rock it was sitting on and leapt into the sky. A cave lay behind the rock and Connor tapped on it.
"Your knowledge has earned you one attempt at my hoard, youngling. Do try not to squander it."
Connor quickly navigated his way through the cave, stopping at every fork to reason out equations that were carved into the rock above each tunnel.
"You have to get the one with the lower number, cause you want to go down," he explained to Lex distractedly.
It was amazing for Lex to see Connor work his way through dozens of math problems in rapid succession, each set more complex than the last. The little boy barely slowed when the math transformed into algebra, and Lex had a sneaking suspicion that the game was custom made for the player.
Helen returned to the living room and cleared her throat. Lex looked over his shoulder at her distractedly and she smoothed a wrinkle out of her jeans.
"Clark'll be out in a minute. Do you want me to stay until he's up, Mister Luthor?"
Lex glanced down at Connor, the boy's forehead wrinkled in quiet concentration, and shook his head. "We should be fine."
Helen nodded once, glancing between them before zipping up her coat and quickly leaving the apartment, shutting and locking the door behind her.
"Helen doesn't like strangers," Connor said after a beat, fingers still jabbing away.
Lex returned his attention to the child next to him. "Most people don't."
"She really doesn't like strangers."
It was spoken plainly, as if the one additional word conveyed some universally known history that Lex should have automatically been privy to. Lex hummed and pointed to the pad's screen.
"Now what's happening?"
Connor was no longer in a series of caves, but facing a huge wrought-iron double-door. Massive locks were engaged up and down, keeping the two halves closed, and the upper-most lock glowed blue before the screen faded black and white numbers descended to form a long-hand formula proof with blank spaces.
"You've got to get each lock right or you have to start all over," Connor answered as he pressed on the blank spaces and typed in numbers. "I get them most of the time. Sometimes they're harder and Daddy has to help."
Connor switched the game off and opened the video screen. He turned to look at Lex and held the pad up. "Wanna watch Bill Nye?"
Lex glanced back at Clark's bedroom door. "Don't you want to watch it with your dad?"
The little boy shook his head. "Daddy's asleep."
"Helen said he was getting up," Lex reminded him.
"He was, but then he got tired and went back to sleep." Connor waved the pad. "Bill Nye?"
"How do you know he went back to sleep?" Lex asked, genuinely curious about Connor's assuredness.
Connor sighed in annoyance, making Lex bite his lip in amusement. "I heard him. He was getting up and then laid back down. He's snoring."
Clark wasn't snoring, or if he was he was doing it quietly, Lex thought. He glanced at the bedroom door again before turning his attention to Connor and the pad. Bill Nye's face was prominent on the screen and Lex nodded his head in acceptance.
"Sure. Let's watch some tv until your dad gets his lazy but up."
He couldn't help but grin as Connor giggled and watched the little boy run to one of the couches and took a running leap to land on it with a solid thwack. Lex's own approach was far more graceful and he waited until Connor was situated before sitting down beside the child. Connor snuggled up beside him and held out the pad, indicating that Lex should hold his half. The five year old quickly chose an episode and started it, singing along when the theme song started.
"Bill Nye the Science Guy... Bill Nye, the Science Guy... Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill...."
"Well, don't you two look cozy."
Lex was jarred out of the math-haze he had slipped into and looked up at Clark, the younger man standing by the other couch, his eyes lit with warm fondness. The billionaire shrugged and opened his mouth to retort but Connor noticed his father before he could.
"Daddy!" Connor squealed. He shoved the pad he and Lex had been pouring over onto Lex's lap, Lex barely catching it before it fell to the floor, and wriggled out from under Lex's arm and off the couch. "Daddy, Mister Lex likes math too!"
Clark laughed as Connor bounded over to him and latched onto his legs, the little boy looking up at him in amazement. He ran a large, thin hand through the child's hair affectionately. "Is that so?"
"Yeah! He got past the door even quicker than you did. He got all the dragon's questions right too but the dragon got angry and melted all the gold!"
"That wasn't very nice of him," Clark said, scandalized at the dragon's actions.
"Nuh-uh. I never got that far before. You never know the answers."
Connor looked at him accusingly and Clark held his hands up in surrender. Lex felt the urge to bite his lip but ignored it in favor of watching the father and son interact. The little boy jabbered away about what he and Lex had been doing for the past hour and Clark knelt down to better pay attention to his son.
"And we watched the Bill Nye about waves. Did you know Mister Lex never watched Bill Nye before?"
"No, I didn't."
"I told him you watch it with me all the time and he said he didn't have no one to watch it with. How come Mister Lex's daddy never watched it with him?"
Lex thinned his lips at Connor's innocent question, and he locked gazes with Clark when the other male glanced at him uncertainly. It was obvious Clark didn't know what to say to the boy that wouldn't upset Lex, so Lex shrugged stiffly and looked away. Clark watched him for a second longer before turning his attention back to his son.
"You know how I'm always home when you get back from school?" he asked Connor carefully.
Connor nodded, his little face becoming serious. "Uh-huh. You're sick."
Clark nodded back, his expression equally as grave as his son's. "Yes, Connor, I'm sick, and I don't work because I'm not well. Lex's daddy wasn't sick and he worked a lot more than he should have, and he was always too busy to watch TV with Lex."
Connor's brow furrowed unhappily and his lips pursed. "That's not fair!" he said, outraged on Lex's behalf.
"No, it isn't. But you know what?" Clark waited until Connor was paying close attention before continuing softly. "That made it all the more special for Lex when he watched it with you. Didn't it?"
The question was aimed at Lex and the business-mogul nodded. Connor caught the motion and turned to look at him questioningly.
"It does," Lex agreed. "My Dad didn't like TV, or games, or anything really. He was really boring now that I think about it. It was fun watching Bill Nye with you."
Connor bit his lip in thought, his blue eyes shifting between Lex on the couch and Clark kneeling beside him on the floor before he wiped a palm on his school trousers nervously. "Do you wanna watch another Bill Nye with us? Daddy can cook the Chinese food down the street."
"Connor, I'm sure Lex is very busy. He probably has to-"
"Sure," Lex cut in, unable to stand the disappointment blooming on Connor's face. "I'm not that busy. I can watch another episode."
If his chest warmed at the identical looks of happiness from both Kents, he put it down as preemptive heart-burn and mentally squashed the voice in his head - one that sounded an awful lot like Mercy - nagging him about the meetings he had later that evening and the dozens of contracts that were sitting on his desk.
An episode turned into two, which turned into a movie and the previously offered dinner, and Lex discreetly texted Mercy between bites of General Tao's to ask her to pass on his apologies and cancel his pending appointments. He got a strongly worded response back which he deleted immediately as he doubted Clark would approve of his son suddenly knowing so many four-letter words. He caught Clark's knowing look but the younger man just smiled and wiped Connor's mouth with a paper towel, content to let Lex pretend he had nothing better to do than watch some stupid disney movie with a five year old.
Connor fell asleep towards the end of the movie, drooping over to lay in Clark's lap, Clark's fingers running through his hair. Lex observed them from the corner of his eye and couldn't help the sharp stab of jealousy when Connor yawned in his sleep, a wide stretch of his mouth that seemed to split his face in two, and burrowed closer to Clark's midriff. Clark looked down at the little boy and smiled softly before he turned back to watch the last few minutes of the movie.
"Thanks, Lex," Clark said quietly when the credits began to roll. "This meant a lot to him and I know you had better things to do."
"Other maybe," Lex corrected. "But not better."
The Kryptonian turned to him with a weighty stare and Lex resisted the urge to fidget. Clark's lips twitched upwards before the man shook his head in amusement.
"Careful," he cautioned. "Keep this up and you'll lose your reputation as a workaholic. One minute its an episode of Bill Nye, the next it's day-long trips to the Zoo and a bulky booster-seat in the Porsche."
"I've never been to the zoo and I'm sure Porsche would be up to the challenge," Lex quipped.
Clark stilled before turning a glare onto Lex, his green eyes snapping with a surprising intensity. "Don't make promises, Lex," he said quietly. "If you think there's even a chance you can't do this right, then don't bother. I don't want him to get attached and then disappointed when you can't live up to what he expects."
Lex scowled back. "Don't judge me Clark."
"I'm not," the other man bit out. "I'm just making it clear that if you want to spend time with Connor, to get to know him, you have to be willing to put him first."
The scathing retort that rose automatically died on Lex's tongue and he sighed irritably before turning to glare at the blank TV screen. It would have been easy to continue to argue with Clark but he understood where the other man was coming from. The last thing he wanted to do, Lex realized, was disappoint Connor.
It rankled, being sucked back down into the consuming need for the younger man's approval. But Lex couldn't blame Clark, seeing as how Lex had walked into this knowing full-well the likely outcome. He had always wanted the other to approve of him, to like him, to choose him when it came down to it. It had been like that with Martha and Jonathan as well.
As he glanced over at the two Kents beside him, Lex was beginning to think it was probably an inescapable family trait.
"Mister Lex! Mister Lex, over here! Over here!"
Lex felt the instinctive urge to flush as every head in the general vicinity turned to look at him. Attention was not something he shied away from however, having been thrown into the spotlight from childhood, and Lex refused to start now. Instead of showing apprehension or embarrassment about the little boy twisting in his father's grasp and shouting in desperation for him, he kept his head high and slowly strolled over to the pair, his hands jammed in his trouser pockets.
"Clark." He tipped his head in greeting.
Clark smiled up at him from where he sat ensconced in the disgusting wheelchair Lex loathed and rolled his eyes as Connor squealed and lunged towards Lex. He easily caught the boy and halted any progress forward. "Hey, Lex."
Connor pouted when his escape attempt failed and shot Clark a betrayed look over his shoulder before turning back to Lex.
"Mister Lex, Mister Lex..." Connor was practically vibrating with excitement, his body twitching and hands waving.
Lex felt his lips twitch upwards into a smile and looked down at the child. "Hello Connor."
This was the latest in get togethers the three males had partaken in over the past two months. Most had been impromptu invites to movie night at Clark's apartment, but there had been a few treks to the nearby park on weekend afternoons, just Lex and Connor, when Clark needed rest and Connor was too hyper to stay quiet or out of trouble. Today, however, was the first public outing Lex would be going on with the Kent family. Already, he heard cameras snapping away and voices murmuring in the background.
Connor lit up in a brilliant smile and tried to wriggle free of Clark's hold again. "Mister Lex, we're going to the museum! There's gonna be dinosaurs! DINOSAURS!"
Several parents around them chuckled, obviously used to similar shrieks from their own spawn, but Clark winced at the decibel his son reached. He pulled Connor back, forcing the disgruntled boy to sit on his lap. Connor clicked his tongue in annoyance but stilled and gave a mighty sigh, staring up at Lex with a 'see-what-I-have-to-put-up-with' expression. Lex bit the inside of his cheek.
Clark gave in after a long drawn-out moment of Connor's silent martyrdom. "Alright." He shot Lex a look. "Get ready."
Clark let go of Connor and the boy jumped off Clark's lap and darted towards the museum's entrance faster than Lex would have thought normal if he hadn't been busy chasing after the child. He caught up halfway to the door and quickly grabbed Connor under the arms, swinging him up.
"Whoa! Hold on there Flash!" Lex looked down at the boy.
Connor grunted in frustration and squirmed viciously. "No, we're gonna miss the dinosaurs."
"I don't think they have anything else to do today, Connor," Clark drawled as he rolled up beside Lex.
The child looked down at Clark in exasperation. "Everybody wants to see the dinosaurs, Daddy. We won't be able to see them. I wanna see T-Rex."
Lex jiggled Connor playfully. "Aren't dinosaurs big?" he asked the boy.
Connor nodded, waving his arms. "Really big!"
"So," Lex tilted his head, "Wouldn't they be big enough for us to see even across the room?"
Connor bit his lip and thought about that before sighing and he relaxed in Lex's grip. "Okay," he said sullenly.
Clark chuckled and rolled forward, leaving Lex to lower Connor to the ground as the younger man propelled himself towards the museum's entrance. Lex assumed the boy would run ahead, eager to get inside, but he surprised the businessman by walking beside him instead. As they followed behind Clark, Connor reached up and slipped his smaller hand into Lex's. Lex glanced down, unsure of the gesture, and squeezed the appendage reassuringly after seeing an equally uncertain expression mirrored on the younger Kent's face.
A few hours later, Lex was guiding Connor around the miscellaneous exhibits, giving the five year old a brief history on each installation. 'Brief' was a loose description as it varied depending on the exhibit, how interesting it was, and how much Lex knew about it. They spent an hour in the Greek section alone, most of which was taken up by a truly sensational lecture about Alexander the Great that left everyone around them, including one of the actual museum tour-guides, impressed.
As they slowly made their way around the museum, Connor became more subdued the closer they got to the entrance. Lex glanced down at the boy every so often, unsure of the reason why since things had been going well until then. It wasn't until they rounded a final corner and Lex saw Clark at the in-museum Starbucks that he understood Connor's shift in mood.
The younger man looked horrible, pale and withdrawn, exhaustion buckling his form, making him appear hunched and smaller than what he had earlier that very morning when he had laughed and tried to run Lex over with the wheelchair. Lex felt his stomach wrench itself into knots at the bone-tired look on Clark's face.
A small sniffle pulled Lex from his observation and he looked down to a glossy-eyed Connor, the little boy biting his lip harshly, the skin around the teeth turning white from the pressure. It was an ugly sight, Lex thought, seeing a child trying not to cry, and he glanced in Clark's direction once more before pulling the boy back around the corner, just out of sight.
"Hey," he said, crouching down to meet Connor's eyes.
Connor pulled his arm out of Lex's loose grip and looked away, wiping at his eyes.
Lex carefully tipped the boy's face up, his thin hands large as they cupped the boy's cheek and shoulder. "Hey," he said again. "It's okay."
Connor scowled, the painfully familiar expression harshly reminding Lex of their genetic link. The child looked at Lex and the barely formed bitterness the man saw in the smaller blue eyes tore at him.
"Nuh-uh," Connor argued simply.
Lex was at a loss for words, one of the first times in years. He was out of his depth, not knowing the first thing about how to comfort a distressed child. He had never had to deal with this sort of thing for the sake of business, and Lord knew his father had never been a positive example for his son when Lillian was dying and dead.
Lex sighed, a tired sound. "I know," he agreed finally.
The honest reply startled Connor, and he looked at Lex in confusion. It made Lex smile at the boy sadly, his hand dropping from the boy's face to his other shoulder. "Everyone likes to pretend things are going to be okay, don't they? Even when you know they're not."
Connor nodded, his eyes turning glassy again. "It's stupid."
"I know," Lex said again. "People forget that it's hard not to notice something big like that."
"Daddy says everything's gonna be okay but he's lying."
"He is good at that."
Connor bit his lip and nodded. "I'm scared," he whispered fearfully.
Lex's chest clenched and he closed his eyes briefly before opening them to look down at the boy. He leaned closer. "Me too."
Connor sucked in a shuddery breath and pulled away, wiping at his eyes furiously and sniffling back tears. Lex felt oddly proud of the child when Connor got control of himself.
"Don't tell Daddy," he said firmly.
"Tell him what?"
"That we know he's lying. He doesn't want us to know he's really sick because it'll make us sad."
Lex contemplated that and thought that explained a good portion of Clark's teens, lying to hide the truth because he thought it was better for everyone around him to believe a lie, even when it was clear it wasn't.
"Okay," Lex agreed. "How about this." He held Connor's upper-arms in a loose grip and gave him a serious look. "How about we pretend to believe him and try to fix him too?"
Connor tilted his head. "You're gonna try to fix Daddy?"
Lex nodded. "Yes. You're Daddy is my friend. I don't like seeing him sick."
"He's gonna get dead," Connor whispered pessimistically, startling Lex. "Max said so."
"Who's Max and why did he say that?" Lex asked, a hint of steel in his voice.
"Max is in my class. Daddy never comes to school because he's sick and Max says he's gonna get dead like his Daddy did."
Connor's control started to fail, his shoulders began to tremble and his eyes widened and shimmered. Lex frowned and squeezed the boy's arms.
"Listen to me, Connor," Lex said clearly. "Your Dad is sick and he's only going to get more sick, but he has something that Max's dad didn't have."
"What?" Connor asked hoarsely.
"Us. We're going to help your Dad get better. It may take a bit, but I'll do everything I can."
The five year old sniffled some more before nodding and wiping at his nose with his sleeve. Lex grimaced, pulled out his handkerchief, and proceeded to wipe the tears and snot off the boy's face. Connor allowed this for several moments before he grunted in irritation and pushed the hand away. Lex smirked and folded the hanky up, handing it to the little boy.
"Here," he said kindly. "A gentleman should always have a handkerchief."
Connor took it and frowned at Lex. "But you don't got one now."
"Ah," Lex said grandly and magicked a second one from a hidden pocket, "but I do."
The little boy smiled before his face became somber once more. He held out a small hand and met Lex's gaze unblinkingly. "We're gonna fix Daddy."
Lex swallowed before taking the proffered hand and shook it once, nodding his head at the same time. "We're going to do our best."
They stayed hidden another few minutes until the flush and puffiness from crying faded from Connor's face and then rounded the corner to meet Clark.
"Not now," Lex said distractedly, his body bent over his lab station, chemicals and data spreads littering the surface.
"Not now!" he snapped, glaring at Mercy.
Mercy sighed but nodded, placing the stack of contracts and updates she held onto another station, one that wasn't a cluttered hazard-zone. "Those are due by nine am tomorrow morning, Sir."
With that she left, and Lex sat back and sighed tiredly, running a hand over his scalp.
"Great," he muttered.
He looked down at his latest experiment and grunted in frustration. The results were the exact same as every other test he'd run the past week, a complete failure. The data Clark's A.I. had provided had taken a while to sift through and understand, the science presented in it far more advanced than what humanity had to offer, so he had only been able to begin testing theories recently. Each attempt at stabilizing Clark's DNA had failed, some spectacularly, and left Lex feeling more frustrated than the previous.
It was simple in theory, excite the molecules in Clark's DNA to a point where they crash into each other and snap back into place, like weak magnets in close proximity. Simple in theory, frustrating in actuality. Clark's genetic structure was not only disconnecting from itself, the rungs of the twisted ladder splintering where the base pairs joined, but it was collapsing downwards as well.
It reminded Lex of the building blocks he played with as a small child. He would stack blocks on top of each other, side by side, until they began to wobble and then slowly pull them apart to see how far the towers could be separated before they couldn't stand up by themselves any longer. Inevitably, they would wobble once too great and then collapse in a crash of wooden cubes, prompting Lex to rebuild.
But unlike the blocks, Lex thought as he poured over the data from the most recent experiment, there would be no rebuilding Clark if he tumbled apart.
Lex startled violently off his stool, spinning around and slamming against the countertop with enough force that bruises would already be forming. He darted his gaze around the shadows of the lab and swallowed roughly as a particularly dark corner began to morph and glide into the main lab until it loomed over him, black cape and dark eyes licking at him.
"Batman," he greeted hoarsely.
The Gotham vigilante remained quiet, staring at him intensely, and Lex felt the urge to give into his panic and call for Mercy. Common sense asserted itself before he did, Lex knowing full-well Bruce could stop any sound before it had the chance to escape his throat. It was common knowledge that Batman was capable of calculated and accelerated violence. Lex stayed still as the moments stretched on and the other man stayed in the same position, a gargoyle poised to strike.
Finally, eventually, Batman took a step back and Lex let out a shuddering breath. The Dark Knight swept past as his old school-friend collected his composure and the man ran a gloved hand over the paper and pads littering the work table. Lex opened his mouth to complain but a dark glance turned the words on his tongue to dust. The examination of Lex's data and experiments continued for several minutes before Bruce spoke.
"You're trying to heal him."
Lex furrowed his brow, knowing the masked-man was referring to Clark, but decided not to risk asking questions. "Of course I am."
Bruce picked up a pad and scrolled through it idly, his eyes rapidly taking in the words and figures. "I originally thought you were causing it."
The billionaire glared, his temper getting the best of him, but remained quiet, not trusting his mouth to not say something violence provoking.
"You're not though."
It was a simple fact, something black and white and finite, and it put Lex a little at ease with the superhero. Batman put the pad down and turned to face him, his left hand moving to rest on the counter.
"Thank you for proving Clark right."
The comment was confusing, so Lex's brain did what it did best when it was faced with life-threatening situations. It turned its filter off.
"First name basis? Should I be expecting a happy announcement?" Lex wanted to kick himself as soon as the last syllable left his mouth.
Batman merely smirked and turned back to the table. "You're not getting anywhere. Tell me what you know, I might be able to provide assistance."
"Why help?" Lex asked. "You have no reason to."
The Dark Knight glared, a menacing thing that set Lex's teeth on edge and the business-mogul turned and pushed the most recent results towards the other male. He pulled up the Cadmus files on a pad and dropped them beside the piece of paper Bruce was reading.
"His A.I. had to destabilize his DNA to harvest some and couldn't restabilize it quickly enough. It's been in a continuous downward spiral since."
Batman read a highlighted portion of the Cadmus files, his blackened mouth turning down as the man quickly understood the ramifications. "It's destroying itself. No, it's collapsing. Everything's still there, it's the bonds that are breaking."
Lex nodded, tension from his shoulders loosening, glad to have someone else see what he did. The caped-crusader noticed and observed him for a long moment, his gaze weighty and impartial.
Lex scowled at the other but stayed quiet, able to remember the last time they had been in close proximity with each other, when Lex was still wreaking controlled havoc in the city and content to wipe the floor with its resident flying-menace. Psychotic laughter and semi-viable schemes flowed like cheap tequila in those days.
Batman's lips twitched but he turned back to the data. "Have you considered different methods of destabilization? High-pressure hydro-pumping?"
"I have," Lex nodded. "But most wouldn't be safe to use on him, the process would kill him. The ones that he could withstand wouldn't be powerful enough to make a difference."
Both men lapsed into uncomfortable silence, the kind that made your flesh crawl and your brain jump track out of desperation. Lex drummed his fingers idly as the Gotham Businessman continued to read, and he pursed his lips in agitation.
"Have you been tracking Clark?" Lex asked suddenly.
Batman glanced at him before shaking his head. "It was clear he didn't want me to when his A.I. infected my BatComputer with a trojan virus. That thing is a menace."
Lex smirked. "What a shame. How'd you know he was back then?"
The caped-crusader shifted slightly and then materialized an oddly shaped phone out of one of his belt's many compartments. Gloved fingers flipped it open - a BatPhone, Lex snorted - and hit numerous keys until the screen lit a harsh white and Bruce tilted it so Lex could see.
It was an article and photo of Lex and the Kents from their trip to the Metropolis Museum, the three bundled up at the base of the building, Connor held in Lex's arms as Clark smiled up at both of them from his wheelchair.
"It took me a few seconds to realize just what I seeing."
Lex nodded. "Clark's diminishment is rather drastic."
"No. I meant a child in your arms that isn't either hysterical or mentally scarred."
"Oh screw you," Lex shot back without thinking.
"Start thinking about ways of strengthening his body," Batman said with another smirk, changing the topic suddenly. The phone disappeared, and he pulled out a small device from his utility belt and plugged it into the pad he was hovering over that had the Cadmus files. "I'll go over all this, get up to speed, and get back to you on any ideas."
"What...?" Lex trailed off as Bruce unplugged his device and swept out of the lab without looking back. Lex huffed and rubbed his face. "Fucking wonderful."
Marcia sidled up next to Lex as the billionaire watched Connor dance on stage.
"Mister Luthor," she greeted quietly.
"It's nice to see you attending another school function. I haven't seen Clark though."
Lex glanced at her briefly before looking back to the child he had accompanied that night. The little boy's movements were jerky from his discomfort of having so many strangers watching him and his trembling was noticeable from the back of the room where Lex and Marcia stood. Lex wasn't worried about adults laughing though, many of the mothers were smiling at the adorable scene he made and the fathers were too focused on their phones to pay much more than cursory attention.
"Clark was unable to make it," he supplied when Marcia's attention remained fixed on him.
"That's unfortunate," she sighed. "I take it his health has gotten worse?"
The memory of a shaky Clark laying in bed that evening as Connor hugged him goodbye jumped to mind, and all Lex could do was nod.
Clark's health had been steadily declining, his good days shortening in frequency and length until they were a rarity that lasted only a few hours. The more time that passed, the more sure Lex was that Clark wasn't going to reach the estimated 18 month mark. Exhaustion confined the Kryptonian to bed most days now, leaving Connor's care to Helen, Lex and, surprisingly, Bruce Wayne of all people.
Bruce-the-businessman was infinitely easier to deal with than Bruce-the-Batman, and Lex had quickly used Clark and Connor to force a peaceful 'no-hurting-Lex' policy between the two moguls. The two billionaires would work together to try to help the Kent family, but Batman wouldn't be tolerated. Lex thought Bruce only agreed because he was secretly entertained by Lex's fear of him. Bruce couldn't beat him to death, Lex's mutation was too advanced for that to happen, but he could still inflict pain, and Lex really wanted to avoid that particular sensation.
The headmistress made an unhappy sound, dragging Lex back into the moment. "I'm sorry to hear that. With all your visits to the school to see Connor, it clear that you've been spending time with them. Most donors don't come to functions when they don't have children of their own attending."
Annoyance flashed through Lex but he ignored it in favor of applauding Connor as the little boy's dance ended and the child bowed quickly before rushing off stage, sending many of the parents into laughter. When the next group of children took to the stage, he turned his full attention onto the woman beside him.
"I may have given the money, but that doesn't make me a donor. I came because Clark couldn't and I didn't want Connor to be alone."
Marcia observed him, her gaze surprisingly shrewd, before her lips quirked and she nodded. "I'm glad neither one of them are alone."
Lex straightened his shoulders at the insinuation and glared at the woman. "That is both inappropriate and none of your business," he said before turning to walk away.
He stopped when she placed a hand on his arm, the grip light but noticeable. Her nerve galled him, but as he turned back to give her a piece of his mind Marcia spoke first.
"All I'm saying is that most children become withdrawn in a situation like this, but Connor is still happy and laughing, and I have a feeling that it's because of you." Marcia squeezed Lex's arm and continued. "His teacher says he talks about you all the time. He seems to adore you, almost as much as he does Clark, and I'm happy that he has someone else that's important to him. I was so afraid of what would happen to him when..."
She trailed off and Lex sighed. He knew perfectly well what the headmistress hadn't said. He glanced at the adults around the room before sighing again.
"It's been a stressful time," he said instead of an apology.
Marcia patted his arm once before removing her hand. "That's understandable. Not many people would do what you're doing."
Lex shrugged, uncomfortable with the woman's praise. "Anyways, I'm not sure Clark will be able to make it to any more events, so I'll be bringing Connor myself. If I can't, Clark or I will let you know. I'd appreciate it if you could keep an eye on him those times."
"Of course," she said gracefully. "Clark's a great guy, I'm sorry that this is happening."
"Me too," he murmured before turning away to find Connor.
Lex and Connor's teacher found him a half-hour later in his classroom, sitting at his desk in the dark, his head on his arms, staring at the board. Dying light from the sun shone through the windows and stole across the floor to illuminate the boy's blank expression. The only movement was small feet gently swaying and Lex knew that the boy was thinking about Clark. It wasn't all that hard to deduce when Lex was guilty of doing the same.
He motioned to the teacher to remain behind in the hall and shut the door behind him quietly, the soft snick muffled behind his back, and stood watching his son while he took several deep breaths. After a moment to collect his thoughts, Lex slowly waded his way through the miniature desks until he was standing next to the room's only other occupant and knelt down beside him. Arms rested on thighs and adult hands hung between knees in loose fists, not reaching out for the child like Lex so badly wanted to. It was silent between them, Connor's gaze still locked on the board and Lex measured his words carefully.
"My mom died," Lex started eventually, his aversion for speaking about Lillian warring with his need to comfort Connor. "She was sick."
Connor looked at him, his blue eyes filled with something Lex couldn't name, and it made the business mogul swallow roughly before continuing.
"I was older than you, but I imagine that doesn't make much of a difference."
"What happened?" The little boy's voice was hushed.
"Her heart stopped working," Lex responded just as softly, forcing himself to not look away, "and I was at school."
Connor stared at him for several beats before his brows furrowed in thought, his hands twitching from their place on the desktop. "Your daddy didn't get you."
It was a conclusion that no five year old should have been able to reason out from just a few dropped comments by Lex or Clark, and it reminded Lex of just how scarily smart the child was.
He shook his head. "No, Connor. My dad didn't send anyone for me. I had to find out from a stranger."
Both lapsed into silence, Lex's fists tightening in tension and discomfort. It was always difficult to think of his mother. Lillian had been full of life before being diagnosed, only slowing when her depression and husband's hatred of their only remaining son took too great a toll. Things had been easier, nicer, when she was alive to help balance the neglect and isolation Lex experienced in the Luthor household. Lillian may have not been perfect, but he still loved her unconditionally.
Lex was so wrapped up in memories that he startled when thin arms wrapped around the back of his neck. He jerked but stilled when Connor slid off his chair and stepped closer so he could hug Lex tighter. It was an innocent gesture, something freely given that was meant to give support and comfort, and was one he hadn't felt since his time in Smallville. Lex's chest clenched and he closed his eyes and drew the little boy to him more securely, wrapping his arms around small shoulders. He turned his head and rested his cheek on messy black hair and breathed deeply, inhaling the soothing smell of lingering baby-powder and Clark, Lex's body shuddering with restrained pain.
Connor pushed his face deeper into Lex's chest and shifted his trembling hands to clutch at the purple shirt the billionaire wore. Lex felt the soft hitches of the little boy's shoulders and stayed quiet as Connor began to cry, Connor's throat working to suppress the sounds. It tore at Lex, the pain Connor was living with, because he understood the cause better than anyone, yet he couldn't fix it or even begin to make it better.
Lex carefully stood, Connor cradled in his arms, and moved to the rocking chair that was at the front of the room. He turned the little boy sideways on his lap and held him to his chest, a hand gently carding through soft hair as he tightened his other arm around the small body. He rested his chin on Connor's skull and sighed.
"It's okay," he whispered. "It's okay to cry, buddy."
Connor growled before his control broke and his form began to shudder apart with weeping. Small hands twisted Lex's shirt tightly and the man felt and heard the expensive material rip. He held Connor tighter and began to gently rock, readjusting the boy's head so his face was pressed into Lex's neck.
"Daddy's gonna die," Connor sobbed bitterly, his chest heaving from exertion.
The classroom door opened and Lex glanced up to see the silhouette of Connor's teacher in the doorway, her body backlit and her expression hard to see in the dark. Luckily Connor was too busy crying to hear the intrusion so it was easy for Lex to jerk his chin in a motion to leave. She seemed to understand and closed the door, leaving them alone once again.
Connor cried harshly for a long time, making Lex think that he would unravel at the seams from the force of his grief, before he slowly quieted. He rested heavily against Lex's chest, his body lax with the exhaustion that came in the wake of so strong an emotional release, but tears continued to fall silently. Lex felt them as they ran down the side of his own neck, soaking into his shirt and staining his skin before drying in stiff tracks.
Lex thought of when Lillian was dying, when he finally accepted that there wasn't any hope left to be had. He thought of everything he had once wished his father would have said to him, should have done to ease his grief and loneliness. His chest constricted in bitter resentment, but he pushed his own pain aside and brushed his hand through Connor's hair once more.
"It's okay to be sad," he whispered softly to the lethargic child. "Your dad loves you more than anything else and he doesn't want to leave, but sometimes, as unfair as it is Connor, people have to go and there's nothing we can do to stop it."
Lex pressed a soft kiss to the crown of black hair under his palm, a memory of his mother doing to same to him leaping from the back of his mind.
He inhaled deeply. "Your dad is really sick and sometimes medicine just isn't enough."
Connor whimpered and his fingers pushed at Lex's shirt, working their way through the tears his strong, little hands had created, until clammy digits rested on warm skin. Lex's throat tightened and he clenched his eyes shut against the building tears, pressing his forehead to Connor's skull.
"I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "God, I'm so sorry."
Connor whimpered before he took in a shuddery breath and exhaled. "Don't leave me, okay?"
The line was from a movie they had watched the night before, Lilo crying as she was trapped in a spaceship and being taken away, and Lex had never realized how poignant Disney could be until that moment.
"Okay," he whispered back, suddenly understanding the helplessness the alien had felt in the movie, knowing there wasn't anything he could do.
Clark's weak and thready voice was barely audible, but Lex heard and rose from his seat behind the desk in his room. He moved quickly but quietly as he crossed the hall into the guest bedroom he'd had converted into Clark's room, bypassing the various medical equipment that was slowly overtaking the space.
Moving Clark and Connor into the penthouse had been a strategical move on multiple fronts. While, at the heart of the matter, it was to ensure Clark was properly taken care of, the best nurses and doctors Lex could find, Lex was self-aware enough to acknowledge the fact that it would mean that Connor and Clark would be that much more accessible to him.
It also ensured that both Kents were sheltered and protected from the interest in them that was steadily growing by the day. There was no end to a journalist's ingenuity and lack of compassion when hunting a story, Lex knew that perfectly well. The younger man and their son would never have been safe from public scrutiny in Clark's flat.
It was common knowledge by now that there was something happening between Lex and Clark, the public frothing at the mouth about this radical change in the city's most eligible and aloof bachelor. The papers read like badly-written romance novels; a star-crossed love between a man and his terminally-ill soulmate, their relationship doomed before it could even begin, leaving a young child as the sole reminder of their short time together. Lex wanted to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it.
But Lex couldn't laugh. Because it was very much true.
Lex had come to realize that he felt more for Clark than just friendship. It wasn't a good day until he spoke with Clark, in person or simply by a quick text. Clark's quick and sometimes even wittily sarcastic remarks could pull Lex from his blackest of moods, and an entire day's tension would melt from his shoulders the moment he crossed the threshold into Clark's presence. Clark made him feel wanted, made him feel important in a way he hadn't felt since his early days in Smallville.
It was a different feeling of importance from when he was 21 and newly exiled. Back then, Lex had felt awed by the simple boy that seemed to accept Lex for everything he was. It was a crippling dependance that he hadn't realized existed, his need for Clark's approval, for Martha and Jonathan's as well. It broke him when it all fell apart, when Clark failed him, and it had taken Lex many years to accept that it wasn't really anyone's fault. Clark had barely been a teenager when they met, and he hardly an adult, and Lex should never have forgotten that.
But Clark and Lex were both adults now. Fully capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. Clark had been forced into adulthood when he saved Connor and had had to acknowledge that he'd never see his son grow up. It was a harsh lesson and Lex could see the scars in Clark when the younger man was too weary to hide them, reminding Lex of his own transformation.
He had spent years so wrapped up in his hatred and rage with Clark, with the world in general, that he couldn't imagine being anything but what he was. The time apart gave Lex the space he never realized he so desperately needed to do some of his own growing. Distance had scabbed-over the wound and time had healed it, leaving Lex rational and sane.
Lex was finally able to put another person first, to genuinely care about them the way he had never been able to before, not even in Smallville before the madness took hold. He had always been selfish, trying to keep and isolate any person that showed him kindness, and hadn't realized that his excessive possessiveness only drove them away. Possessiveness morphed into cherishing, that protective urge he'd always had easily accepting the change.
Lex had hoarded Clark when they were young. Now, he treasured him.
So Lex and Clark were both different, altered for the better. In different circumstances, Lex wouldn't have hesitated in pursuing Clark and he doubted Clark would have tried to stop him. However, every day Clark survived now meant that it was one day fewer he had left. Every day the Kryptonian languished away brought Lex and Connor that much closer to permanently loosing Clark, of being left abandoned by one of the only people that accepted and loved them not for who they were but in spite of it.
If seeing Clark wither away before his eyes was excruciating now, Lex didn't want to imagine how he'd survive the heartbreak if he allowed himself that brief momentary happiness of a relationship.
The call of his name pulled Lex from his mind's wanderings, and he moved to the side of Clark's bed, sitting on the edge so he could look down at the reclining man.
"Hey," Lex said, giving the other a small smile. "What's up?"
Clark's eyes were closed and he licked his chapped lips before a hand moved sluggishly toward Lex. Lex gingerly held it, mindful of the light touch required to avoid injuring Clark further. Clark's body had started sucking any moisture it could from his skin, leaving it dry and brittle. Normal pressure would crack Clark's skin and it wouldn't heal, requiring constant bandages over the wounds.
"Do..." Clark cleared his throat. "Do you think mom would... would be happy? About us?"
Lex felt his chest tighten at the thought of Martha Kent and blinked back the nonexistent tears that threatened to form. He licked his lips before he gave Clark's hand a gentle squeeze and responded. "Yeah. I think she would. Your dad would be rolling in his grave though."
Dull green eyes opened and looked up at Lex. "Dad never... never understood."
"Oh I think he understood plenty," Lex said, thinking back to the numerous times Jonathan had watched Clark and Lex interact reproachfully.
Clark's mouth twitched, the younger man following Lex's train of thought. He moved to speak but his throat caught and he coughed, his eyes clenching shut as the dry tissue in his air-passageway constricted and rubbed against itself. Lex quickly reached for the bowl of ice chips the nurse had left behind and helped Clark take some, the melting liquid easing the dehydration temporarily.
Clark moaned before swallowing roughly, panting and blinking his eyes as he tried to ride out the pain. Lex retook his seat, still clasping the bowl as he waited for Clark to gather himself. Lex watched the clock that sat on the table, counting the seconds, and knew that his inability to help made the time Clark suffered seem longer than it really was. The coughing died away eventually and Clark breathed deeply before motioning toward the ice chips the billionaire still held. Lex gave him a few more and Clark sucked on them as he watched Lex with a weighing expression.
"He probably did," Clark finally whispered, voice hoarse.
The seemingly impromptu comment startled Lex before he remembered what they had been speaking about and he shot the bedridden man a grin.
"Come on, Clark," Lex prodded good-naturedly. "We're both adults, we know what it looked like now that we're older. Most of the town probably thought something was going on."
Clark nodded, a small smile twisting his lips. "Hm, the truck, the talon, all the time I spent at your place unsupervised? No wonder people thought you were diddling me."
It was so unexpected that it tore a laugh from Lex. The businessman bent himself in half and tried to stifle the snorts escaping but a glance to the other man lying on the bed set him off again. Clark looked on, amused, and waited until Lex had collected himself before singing 'diddle, diddle, dum', making Lex loose it all over again. After several botched attempts at composure, Clark finally allowed him to gather himself and Lex straightened and shook his head as he wiped at his eyes.
"You know," Lex chuckled as he set the bowl on the nightstand, "You used to be horrified whenever I brought up sex."
Clark smiled and shook his head. "I was embarrassed because it was you. I spent an entire week of study halls in the library after Desiree reading everything I could about sex. No way did I ever want to be put in a position like that again."
"What? Hot and bothered?"
"Funny," Clark drawled at Lex, the younger man clearly catching Lex's veiled inference to the heat wave and not the teenage sexual frustration that had been rampant in those few days. "No. That was when my heat vision kicked in."
Lex tilted his head. "How does that happen by the way. You have to have at least a dozen different powers. I can't imagine you got them all at the same time."
The younger male shook his head. "They came one at a time. My strength and speed, then my invulnerability, my x-ray and heat vision. They all showed up suddenly and at really horrible times."
"Oh, do tell," Lex purred, getting more comfortable on the bed.
Clark rolled his eyes. "My heat vision manifested in class when Desiree was sweating and talking about sex. I set the projection screen on fire."
"Nice," Lex mused, completely seeing how that could trigger Clark's laser vision.
"Of course you would think so," Clark snorted.
"What about the others?"
The Kryptonian closed his eyes and seemed to make a mental tally before drolly listing powers and an explanation for each, ticking them off trembling fingers. "Invulnerability kicked in when you hit me with your car, X-ray was when Tina Greer threw me through a window, I didn't fly until Darkseid. I got superhearing when I went blind and Superbreath because of a cold."
"I'm sensing a pattern."
Clark opened his eyes and gave the billionaire a small smile before resting his head back against his pillow more fully, the pale lights shinning down from the ceiling washing his face in a pale and artificially glow. "I don't really miss them," he confessed. "When I started to lose them, I don't know, I thought it was the end of the world. But now I don't really care."
Lex weighed curiosity with propriety before speaking, eventually realizing that Clark would tell him if he'd gone too far or didn't want to answer. "How can you not? You saved lives."
"Police save lives," Clark countered immediately, calmly and without rancor. "Firefighters and doctors save lives. There's people all over the world that do what I did every day."
"But not people who can stop a bullet or save hundreds from an explosion."
"Bomb squads and bullet-vests."
Lex clicked his tongue. "You know what I mean."
The other sighed and pulled his gaze from the ceiling to look at Lex. "I realized that sometimes I can't do it all. Better yet, I shouldn't. I may have had those powers, but I was never obligated to use them, even though Dad and Mom believed otherwise. Sure, they made people around me safer, but at the cost of my own safety. Connor deserves better than to be a second thought. So do you."
Warmth spread through Lex's chest at Clark's words and he covered his pleasure by shifting the bowl of melting ice in his grasp and spooning chips into the reclining man's mouth. Clark, knowing Lex's tell, pretended not to notice, and Lex felt his gratefulness increase. After a minute or so of silence, Lex sighed and placed the bowl on the nightstand. He turned his full attention onto the brunette, blue eyes piercing as they stared into dull green.
"What are we going to do, Clark?" he asked the other finally.
Clark sighed tiredly and closed his eyes. "I don't know."
"Clark," Lex started, his voice strained with frustration.
"What do you want me to say, Lex?" Clark said, his tone surprisingly harsh. He raised his head to half-heartedly glare at the billionaire. "We both know I'll be lucky to survive the month."
It was a slap to the face, Clark's blatant truth, and Lex grit his teeth before looking past him to the wall behind the Kryptonian's head. He clenched his hands and exhaled slowly, letting his temper fade with the breath from his lungs. Clark copied the motion before his momentary burst of energy left and he was reduced to a shaking and clammy husk of his former self.
Clark shuddered. "I'm too tired to keep tip-toeing around this anymore, Lex."
"I never asked you to," Lex said.
"You didn't need to." The words were heavy and they made Lex shift uncomfortably. "I've been doing it for so long with Connor that it wasn't hard to keep the kid-gloves on with you as well. I know you don't deal well with loss."
Annoyance lanced Lex's composure but he forced it down in order to avoid a fight, Clark was in no condition for yelling, his or Lex's. "What are you saying, Clark?"
The younger man rolled his head on the pillow and looked at him from under his eyelashes. "It rips you apart when you lose someone you love. I didn't want to make you deal with it until you had to."
Lex closed his eyes and clenched his hands into fists, impotency rearing its ugly head and making him feel like a complete and utter failure. He had spent months trying to find a cure for Clark, hundreds of hours pouring over notes and experiments only to have each and every page and test result indicate an outcome of nothing but inevitable death. There was nothing Lex could do to stop Clark's demise, or even slow it.
Clark seemed to realize that as well because he gave Lex a sad smile and gently curled his fingers around the older man's wrist. "It's okay."
A bitter snort escaped Lex's throat and the businessman rubbed at his face with his free hand and twisted his captured wrist to link his fingers with Clark's. "No it's not."
"Lex, look at me."
The order was soft but firm and Lex felt compelled to obey. He turned his gaze back to the man in the bed and the other gave him a gentle smile.
"It's alright," Clark said.
The words of comfort made Lex bite his lip until it was white and blink back the sudden onslaught of tears that filled his eyes and spilled down his throat. He shook his head in denial and Clark squeezed the hand he was holding in response.
"It's okay, Lex."
Lex broke. His body shook so strongly with the force of his sorrow that he nearly fell off the mattress. He pulled his hand from Clark's and stood, moving away from the bed toward the other side of the room and the window that was there. He covered his face with his hands as he silently cried, rocking slightly in place.
Clark kept quiet and left him to his grief, a quiet witness and confidant, until Lex had composed himself and wiped the moisture from his now clammy skin. The Kryptonian caught Lex's gaze when the Billionaire turned to leave, embarrassment driving his flight, and the lack of sympathy or pity in the bed-ridden man's eyes caught Lex's attention and held him immobile half-way to the door.
"Come here, Lex," Clark whispered, his voice husky from exhaustion.
Lex went. He slowly crossed the distance and retook his spot on the bed, unable to look away from Clark as the other watched him passively. It felt both strained and final between them, as if this would be the last time they'd be like this, and Lex felt the realization slam into him like it hadn't before.
There would be a day very soon where Clark wouldn't be there to smile at Lex and Connor in the morning and evening. He wouldn't be there to needlessly remind Lex to spend time with Connor because Lex would never, ever forget about his son. No more talks and movie marathons and Warrior Angel geek-outs. He'd be alone with Connor, a brilliant little boy that he loved irrevocably but that he was incredibly scared for because of burgeoning powers he had inherited from his alien father, powers that Lex had no clue how to help Connor harness.
No more Clark meant no more chances at happiness.
Clark shifted a hand and rested it over Lex's which made the business man frown when he looked down at it. Red seeped through new tears in Clark's skin, the quick removal of Lex's hand earlier causing further injury. Fresh blood stained the white bandages and it made the mogul's mouth twist unhappily because he knew he was the cause. He reached down for the medical kit that rested under the nightstand and began to bandage the new wounds like the nurse had showed him.
"I know," Clark said finally. He tapped the back of Lex's hand with his free appendage once. "I know how it feels."
"How?" Lex asked, trying and failing to bite back the skepticism.
Clark ignored it. "You died too, you know. Back in Smallville. You got on a plane and you died. I spent an entire summer running from it."
The summer Lex was marooned when Helen tried to kill him. Lex had been dead to the world and Clark had spent that time punishing it. Parties, robberies, assault and battery, all blatant proof of Clark's otherworldliness. Lex'd had the surprisingly little evidence that could be located from that period either destroyed or locked away where no one would find ever it.
"It felt like half of me was torn away, like it was raw and wouldn't ever scab over. I was bleeding all over the place, even as Kal. Kal let me run from it but he couldn't make it go away."
Lex stuck the last bit of tape down and stared at the cloth-swathed appendage before speaking. "It's going to be so much worse than that Clark."
"I know but it doesn't have to be all bad."
Lex shook his head. "I can't. It'd destroy me."
"No, it won't," Clark denied. "Because you'll have Connor and I know you'd never leave him like Lionel left you. You love him too much to do that to him."
"I can't," Lex pleaded, his voice breaking at the end.
"Why can't we be happy?" Clark stared at him with determination. "I know it won't be for long, but we still have time."
"Because you'll be gone and I'll be left with the what ifs!"
Lex stood sharply, roughly pulling his hand from Clark's, and turned to pace. He flicked his head at Clark when the other began to speak.
"No," Lex said, shushing Clark. "It's hard enough as it is. It'll break me if I allow myself that."
Quiet and strained laughter broke his building monologue, and Lex looked over to see Clark's head bent back and his hands covering his face.
"You're so stupid sometimes," Clark chuckled, his emaciated chest rising with the motion, showcasing an outline of ribs underneath the shirt the younger man wore. He pulled his hands away and regarded Lex with obvious fondness. "What do you think we've been doing since you first showed up?"
The older male felt his mouth flap for a moment, words failing him, before he snapped it closed and pressed his lips together. Clark rolled his eyes at the motion and sighed sufferingly.
"You're an idiot."
"We've established that already."
"No," Clark said with a little laugh, coughing for several long seconds before continuing. "You really are an idiot. Lex, we've been a family for months. Connor's already asked me if he could call you Papa. It's too late for you to build your walls now."
Lex snorted once, a belligerent sound, and looked away from the man in the bed. But despite the grim conversation, he couldn't help but be pleased with the mention of Connor wanting to call him 'Papa'.
"Lex," Clark drawled unrelentingly, "You may not want to acknowledge it, but we've been dating for months."
"We've been watching Bill-Nye and eating bad take-out with a five year old!"
Clark nodded. "Dinner and a movie. And like you're going to complain about spending time with Connor."
"Well, no," Lex said, his brow furrowing as he muddled out a possible argument. "But we're only friends."
"Friends with a genetic love child,Clark."
Lex's brain stuttered to a halt and he looked at Clark blankly. "What? Just... what?"
"Lois," Clark offered, as if that was the only explanation needed.
And it was.
"Fucking Lois," Lex grumbled.
"Lex," Clark said, amusement licking at his tone. "The point is, we've been dating for months. You're just really bad at baseball."
"Hey," Lex argued, offended at Clark's inference. "I've been married four times!"
"And what was the longest before you got to first base? A couple hours? You're not good at dating Lex. Commitment, yes, the actually caring about another person besides yourself? Not so much. You rush things because you want the hard part over with."
"Marriage isn't the hard part?"
"No, getting to know and like someone is. Because once you do, you don't want to screw it up."
Again Clark was right and it irritated Lex. "I'm not scared!"
Clark smirked, his thin lips stretching across his sunken cheeks. "Then prove it. You're the one holding back, Lex. If it were up to me, we'd have gotten to third base by now."
Lex mentally calculated the equivalent of third base and felt blood rush to his cheeks and lower. He shook his head and crossed his arms. "No. You're not well enough."
The other man rolled his eyes. "Lex, just do both of us a favor and kiss me, alright?"
The room lapsed into thick silence and the two men locked stubborn gazes, neither backing down. Clark stared for a full minute before he paled further, his body tensed and he grabbed at his chest as harsh, wet coughing shook his frame. Lex was at his side immediately, moving to sit him up and lightly pound on his back to ease the pain and break up the building congestion. Clark spit into a bowl Lex placed in front of him and collapsed back into the pillows, drained.
It was several long moments until either spoke, Clark too busy gasping for air and Lex wincing at the ragged quality in the younger man's breathing. Finally, after Clark settled and Lex rinsed the bowl out, the Kryptonian reached for Lex's hand again and Lex met the other half-way.
"I know it's scary," Clark whispered, shifting in pain, "but there's no going back. I... I just want to be with you, no matter for how long."
Lex bit his lip as Clark spoke and tasted blood when the younger man shakily finished his plea. He took a deep breath and nodded once, a small movement that he wasn't sure Clark noticed, before slowly leaning down to press his lips against Clark's.
It wasn't mind-numbing or epiphanic but it was special none the less. Clark let out a small gasp, a puff of air curling in the space between their barely-parted lips, and green eyes shot up to meet blue. The two stared in silence before Clark pressed forward the tiny distance to make contact for a second time, a firmer touch than the one before. He raised a shaking hand to grip Lex's shirt and weakly tugged, demanding Lex comply with his unspoken request to get closer.
Lex tilted his head and cupped Clark's cheek with a hand, deepening the kiss as far as he dared. They kissed for a minute, sharing each other's space and air, until Clark grew too tired to continue. The younger male huffed a strained sound and pulled away so he could gently butt his forehead against Lex's before going limp. Lex furrowed his brow in worry but Clark merely smiled at him tiredly and shook his head.
"Where's Connor?" Clark whispered eventually.
"In his room, playing that dragon game Jor-El made for him until it's time for bed." He glanced down at his watch. "Which was ten minutes ago."
Clark grinned and motioned for Lex to bend down, and the two kissed before Clark pulled back and tilted his head. "Go get him? He's probably frothing at the mouth by now."
Lex went with a smile.
Lex shut Connor's bedroom door and leaned against it, his head thumping once against the wooden surface as he listened to the muffled sobbing coming through it. He clenched his eyes shut and rubbed at his face as he tried to push away the urge to do the exact same thing his son was. Instead, he pulled his mobile from a pocket, dialed a newly memorized number blindly, and pressed the trembling piece of plastic to his ear.
Bruce sounded distracted and Lex heard the shuffling of papers in the background. The Metropolite knew the other businessman was busy in Gotham, playing catch-up from his extended periods of time in Metropolis, but Lex couldn't bring himself to feel guilty about disrupting him. Not about this.
"Clark's in a coma," he said dully, not bothering with any formal introduction.
The other end of the line went quiet and Lex rubbed at an eye tiredly, waiting for some reaction to the announcement. It took several long seconds before he heard a shaky inhale and the expected response.
"I'm leaving right now."
Lex sighed and dropped his chin to his chest, his ears twitching at a particularly loud wail from the bedroom behind him. "Don't, Bruce, there's nothing you can do right now. I just thought you should know."
Bruce made an irritated grunting noise before sighing as well. "I'll finish this and be on my way, Lex."
It had been a surprise to both billionaires when their tentative truce slowly rekindled the ashes of their childhood friendship. They were no where near as close as they once were, but both found themselves supporting the other as their mutual friend's health steadily declined. The Gotham businessman was spending up to a week at a time in Metropolis at Lex's side as Clark deteriorated, and the papers had snapped the development up and painted it as Bruce coming to friend's aide.
They let the public think what the papers wanted, it was true after all. Bruce had come to help a friend, just not Lex. Also, stock prices for both companies were on a steady rise and the two CEOs were shrewd enough to take advantage of that while it lasted.
Lex forced his wandering mind back into the present and winced as something solid hit the door he was leaning against.
"What was that?" Bruce asked, sounding torn between curiosity, knowing no one unwelcome was in the penthouse, and the paranoia that drove Batman.
"Connor," Lex answered tiredly. "He isn't taking the news well."
The other male made a commiserating sound and shuffled some more papers around. "I should be done in a couple days. I've been planning on taking a temporary leave of absence and I just need to get everything together for Fox."
"Doesn't he run the company anyway?"
Bruce snorted. "For the most part, but I'm still acknowledged as the owner and it's not like I don't do anything."
"You just want everyone to think you're an idiot so no one expects to you to do actual work."
The tone was flippant and made Lex bite his cheek to hide the chuckle that rose unbidden. Lex stepped away from Connor's door and moved down the hall the short distance to the entrance of Clark's room and stood in the doorway to observe the nurses and doctor move about the room, manhandling and adjusting miscellaneous equipment until they were surrounding the bed. He stared at the body in the bed, Clark's unnatural stillness eating at Lex's composure.
"I don't know what I'm doing," he admitted wretchedly.
Bruce was quiet for long moments, clearly as bad as Lex when it came to emotionally charged situations. Finally, after a couple minutes of neither businessman speaking, The Batman's alter-ego sighed. "You're taking care of your family."
"No," Lex snorted bitterly. "I'm not."
"You're doing the best you can."
"My best clearly isn't good enough."
"Stop it, Lex. Just, stop. You're no use to Connor like this. Go out, drive around or start a fight. Just... do something to get over the attitude. Connor won't know not to take it personally."
Lex rubbed a trembling hand over his face but grunted in acknowledgment of the other's advise and ended the call. He left, his gaze stalling on Clark for a moment before doing so, and flagged Helen down on his way out of the penthouse. The woman agreed to stay until he returned, her eyes, red and puffy from her own crying fit, refusing to meet his as the billionaire shuffled his way into the elevator with stooped shoulders.
The doctor Lex had hired finally gave Lex an estimate of time left before Clark's body gave out. While it wasn't unexpected, the ten to fifteen days was exceedingly unfair and understandably upsetting for all parties involved.
Repetitive sounds of wooden blocks knocking together interrupted Lex's concentration as he sat the coffee table, reading over a stack of proposals that were due to his research board by the end of the week. Every time he reached the end of a lengthy and dryly-worded paragraph, the loud sound of blocks crashing to the carpet would jerk his attention from the page he was staring at.
Lex sighed and put the current packet of boring papers down. "Connor, why don't you find something else to do? How about some math? Or Bill Nye?"
Connor remained as he was on the floor, stacking the blocks into a pile and knocking them over with a harsh smack of his hand. The boy scowled at Lex's words but refused to look at him, making Lex sigh again in helpless frustration. He honestly couldn't blame his son for being angry and upset with the situation, Lex was as well. Despite that, Lex, ever the pragmatic, had things that needed to get done before he could take a leave of absence from his company and the public.
There was less than a week left, Clark's unconscious form growing weaker with the passing of each hour, and Lex knew he would need an extended bereavement period to deal with Clark's death and his and Connor's mourning. The billionaire was barely holding on to his composure, the only thing stopping the impending breakdown being the ingrained training Lionel had put him through while growing up.
Another swipe of a hand sent several wooden cubes flying across the room, hitting the wall with a hard thwack that dented it, and Lex sighed in defeat. He closed his laptop and marked his place in the current packet he was reading before collecting the wayward blocks and dropping them in front of the sullen little boy that was abusing them. He slowly lowered himself down onto the ground and began building a pyramid, his attention fixed on the toys and away from Connor. After several minutes of Lex building different shapes, Connor reluctantly joined in.
"I used to play with these when I was your age, probably younger. My nanny bought me a set that had over 1,000 blocks so I could build a miniature-sized model of Metropolis."
Connor looked up at him incredulously.
"Yeah," Lex drawled, his lips twitching, "That didn't go over so well. They got everywhere and my dad decided to use them as firewood when he sat on one."
The little boy tilted his head down, but Lex still saw the smirk. Lex demolished the massive cube he had built before giving into the old habit of building columns. He placed two blocks together and then stacked two more on top of them, slowly building the tower until it wobbled. He carefully gripped the bottom blocks and began to pull them apart, waiting for gravity's inevitable victory. An inch apart and the blocks broke apart, tumbling to the carpet.
Connor watched Lex silently rebuild the tower and futilely separate it several times until he frowned thoughtfully and tried it himself. A couple attempts of his own had Connor tilting his head before he stood and padded into the kitchen. Lex heard drawers open and shut and a quiet grunt and then the boy returned to the living room with what looked to be Popsicle sticks clenched in his hand.
Lex remained silent as Connor stacked the columns, this time with a stick in between each row. When it was done, he slowly pulled them apart and Lex felt his eyebrow raise as they stayed standing after the normal inch of distance. Connor bit his lip and pulled another half-inch where the blocks' edges wobbled on the thinner sticks one time too many and fell apart.
Lex tilted his own head, a mirror image to Connor's earlier movement, before rebuilding, this time laying two popsicle sticks side-by-side between each level instead of one. The columns remained stable, even after they were pulled as far apart as the braces would allow. Connor nodded to himself, a job well done, and went back to his own pile of blocks, leaving Lex to his own musings.
Something tickled the back of Lex's brain the longer he sat staring at the tower in front of him and he frowned before standing up. He dusted his pants off and nudged the tower with his shoe, sending the blocks tumbling over them selves into a messy pile of cubes and sticks.
"Connor," he murmured, distracted, "I'm going to be in my office for a bit. Come get me if you need me."
He wandered down the secondary hallway to his private office where he shut the door behind him. Lex pulled out the information on Clark's condition, sat down and paged through it for an hour or so before sitting back in his seat and biting his lip in thought. Fingers tapped on the papers idly while he scrolled through the pad, his brain in overdrive.
After another hour of contemplation, Lex remembered the blocks and his eyes widened and he sat straight up. One particular page of Cadmus data flashed through his mind and he pulled it out of the messy stack of reports. His eyes scanned it, making his perpetual frown lessen the further down the page he got, and he quickly pulled out his mobile to call Bruce.
"Lex?" Bruce asked distractedly when he finally picked up.
Lex could hear him moving around the hotel penthouse he was currently staying in down the street and imagined the man hanging the clothes Alfred had packed for his extended stay in Metropolis in the closet.
"I have to go to the fortress. I need you to come watch Connor."
The other end of the line was silent, all movement ceasing. "What's going on?"
Lex shook his head. "I think I have an idea but I need to run it by Jor-El. I need to leave, right now, Bruce."
Bruce remained quiet for what seemed a full minute before Lex finally heard what sounded like a door closing and rapid footfalls over carpet.
"I'm on my way. Don't leave yet."
"I know," Lex groused, gathering the messy piles of paper together and shoving it in a drawer. He cradled the phone in between his cheek and shoulder so he could grab a pad that had all the data and scanned files on it and then made a copy of it to a blank drive, emailing another copy to the generic email address the fortress had used when it originally sent its data to him. "Just hurry the hell up."
He hung up and dialed another number. "I need a plane, Mercy."
It had taken over ten hours of flying for the black ops plane to make it to the Arctic, Lex navigating from the back seat and pointing to where the tall peaks of snow turned into tall peaks of crystal. They landed in a deep valley, wind whipping at the plane and pushing it sideways in an attempt to smash it into the walls of the gorge.
Finally though they did land, and Lex and Mercy quickly made their way through the jagged corridors that made up Clark's fortress, twisting and turning to avoid the sharp and jagged walls of ice. After many minutes of careful wandering, they entered the massive cavern that was the Fortress of Solitude and came to a standstill as several of the large crystals in the room lit up with different colors.
"Lex-Luthor," the fortress voice boomed, the voice echoing against ceiling, walls, and floors. "Why have you come here?"
Lex noted the censure in the tone but pushed it aside. "I needed to talk to you about Clark, Jor-El."
The cavern fell silent before ice stepping-stone were illuminated, directing him towards a island of crystal in the center of the space. Lex motioned for Mercy to remain where she was and crossed the distance until he was standing in front of what looked to be a console made of crystals. Scientific curiosity got the better of Lex momentarily and he reached out to touch one of the larger prisms.
"Do not touch that."
Lex jumped at the warning tone and he jerked his hand away and stuffed it in his coat pocket. He tore his gaze away from the console and looked up at the ceiling. "I think I have an idea on how to help Clark."
"Kal-El's genetic structure is beyond repair. There is nothing that can be done. Leave, Lex-Luthor."
"That's it? You're just giving up?" Lex asked incredulously.
"Kal-El's system will fail catastrophically in seven days, eight hours, and twelve minutes. Nothing can be done to stop it."
"So what, you're just going to let him die? What about Connor?"
"I will continue monitoring him until he is of age. At that time he will be given the knowledge of how to access the fortress and his destiny."
Lex scowled and clenched his hands, still hidden within the pockets of his jacket. He fumed for several long seconds before he blew out a deep breath and forced himself to speak calmly. "Will you at least listen to what I have to say? I've come all this way."
Jor-El was quiet as he thought Lex's request over before allowing it with a distant, "Proceed."
The tone set Lex's teeth on edge, but he rolled his shoulders and thought of Clark, unconscious and slipping away. "First of all, I have a question for you. Whenever the scientists used Clark's DNA, it destroyed whatever it was it was introduced to."
"That is correct. That was also not a question."
Lex growled at the computer but forced himself to ignore it. "He said it destroys all foreign genetic material. How does it do that?"
"It identifies all foreign genetic material and quarantines it to prevent further spread. It then dissolves it and repairs the damage done by the infection."
Lex felt his throat flutter and he drew in a sharp breath. "Like a constrictor?"
The A.I. remained quiet and Lex rolled his eyes before explaining, his hands waving in emphasis.
"It devours its prey and then digests it."
"A primitive explanation," Jor-El groused.
"But still accurate," Lex pointed out. "So in order to target the foreign material and destroy it, it has to completely surround it, yes? Anything left outside the quarantine area and it risks continued infection."
"That is correct."
Lex grunted, his mind whirling with the implications. He exhaled loudly and slapped his hand down onto the console. "That means that if we could find a way of introducing an artificial wrung, Clark's DNA has to bridge the gap between the base pairs. It would form its own unbroken connection, two helix bonds layered one on top of the other. After it dissolves the foreign genetic material inside, it would then fill the gap left behind, similar to the regeneration of bone marrow when someone donates. Right?"
The fortress was quiet as the A.I. processed Lex's question.
"Right?" he pressed.
"The hypothesis is not completely without merit," Jor-El allowed grudgingly.
The business-mogul laughed and thumped his hand down. "Well then, there you go!"
"What artificial bond is to be used?"
"That's easy," Lex said with a wave of his hand. "Use my DNA. It should withstand Clark's genetic structure long enough for Clark to build his own bond over my DNA. You should be able to run the numbers to get the needed amount. Isn't that what you did with Connor?"
Jor-El made a sound of discontent and said, "There is a seventy-three percent chance of failure. The risk is too great."
"What?" Lex stared at the glowing crystals in incomprehension. "What are you talking about? Clark's dying!"
"And if this fails, the procedure will kill him more quickly and painfully."
"But if it works," Lex growled, "he'll be alive. Full stop. Isn't that worth the risk?"
The A.I. remained silent and Lex snarled, his mouth twisting into something ugly. "He's your son. You may be an artificial intelligence but you're still based on a real man. You're all that's left of Clark's father. Act like it, damn it!"
"Is it not Kal-El's decision?"
Lex heard the weariness in the A.I.'s voice, the subtle undercurrent of discomfort, and he realized abruptly that Jor-El didn't want to hurt Clark. It was a sobering realization that the A.I. genuinely cared about Clark as any parent should.
"There's nothing left to lose, Jor-El," he said instead, his words gentle and full of sympathy.
The cavern went quiet again and Lex held his breath, silently pleading.
The words were distant and unfeeling, but Lex knew full-well the emotion locked away behind them. He nodded and pulled out his mobile, looking at the reception's flat bars.
"Can you boost this?" he asked as he waved the phone.
Lex was standing outside the fortress entrance, Mercy a step behind him, when the Bat-Plane touched down, the air pressure from the landing sending snow and ice up in a brief chaotic storm before the engines shut off. He watched as the cockpit roof slid back and the black-clad vigilante stood up from his seat, jumped off the side to land on the edge of the wing just below, and man-handled the still form that was in the seat behind. Batman cradled Clark to his chest and carefully jumped the rest of the way to the ground, landing in a crouch, his cape billowing out behind him. Lex narrowed his eyes slightly as the Gothamite rose and began to cross the distance between them, icy blue eyes locked onto his.
"Lex," Batman greeted stiffly, his eyes locked onto Mercy and the gun her hand was hovering over.
Lex glanced at Clark's greyed-out face before turning around to reenter the cavern, leaving the other to follow. "We don't have much time. Come on."
They moved silently through the tunnel, maneuvering around jagged ice crystals and piles of snow until they breached the fortress-proper. Once in the large cavern, Bruce carefully traversed the large ice blocks to the center island and laid the unconscious man in his arms down on the alter that was waiting there. Lex was a step behind and glanced down at Clark's waxy complexion as he passed before moving to touch a glowing crystal that sat in what made the fortress' A.I. interface.
Jor-El's voice resonated through the empty space around them, and Bruce looked up in wonder as the opaque stalactites lit up with multicolored light.
"Kal-El's body is failing. There is an estimated 39 hours until all function ceases."
Bruce's head snapped over to the console and Lex caught the edges of a stricken expression that was hidden by the bat-mask. The time had been cut to a fourth, most likely due to Clark being hauled up to the arctic, and Lex felt his stomach roll and fought back the panic that rose at the A.I.'s words, knowing that they needed as much of that shortened time as possible to save Clark.
Lex nodded and took a deep breath before he asked, "Right, how do you need to do this?"
Jor-El was quiet before the ground next to Clark's alter cracked apart and another table formed from the ice, rising to an equal level as the original. "Lay there, Lex-Luthor."
"I don't need to be unconscious, do I?" Lex asked warily, remembering how this entire issue with Clark's health started in the first place.
"I do not need to destabalize your DNA," the A.I. soothed, clearly understanding Lex's hesitancy, "but harvesting your genetic material will be painful. You will sleep through the procedure and then wake once you are healed."
He didn't like it, but Lex understood and accepted Jor-El's explanation. He moved over to the table and unzipped his coat. "How much skin do you need?"
"Your upper torso should be bare. The table will adjust to a comfortable temperature," the A.I. added when both billionaires eyed the ice-table leerily.
Lex traded a glance with Bruce before looking back to Mercy who had remained behind in the cavern proper. She gave him a nod, indicating that she'd watch over him but still play nice with Batman, and he sighed and shedded his coat, sweater and undershirt and moved to jump up on the altar and lie back. He hummed in relief when his back met warmth instead of the usual burning from ice, and forced his rising curiosity down. He'd have enough time to question the laws of reality once Clark was safe and recovering.
"My matrix will form around you momentarily. You will fall asleep and I will begin the procedure. Are you ready, Lex-Luthor?"
Lex took a deep breath and locked gazes with Batman, silently asking the other to watch over Clark. Bruce nodded and Lex closed his eyes and relaxed. "I am."
Lights erupted around him, a multitude of colors he could see from behind his eyelids, and he felt warmth envelope his entire body, from both above and below. It reminded him of a tanning bed, the machine's lights working to darken his skin from multiple angles all at once. Lex heard a quiet gasp but when he tried to open his eyes to see what had startled Bruce exhaustion swept over him and dragged him into sleep.
He startled awake a few seconds later, the sensation of falling jarring him into consciousness, and he sat up and rubbed at his eyes. Grit jabbed at his fingertips as Lex swiped it away, making him frown in confusion. It was cold, the temperature of the table and air making him shiver and he startled again as lights from the ceiling crystals brightened around him, a spotlight on his body.
"The procedure is complete," Jor-El's voice boomed with unnecessary volume. "Your core temperature will regulate in a few hours. In the meantime, the light will provide ambient warmth."
Lex's brain pounded with an impending migraine and he shuddered before his coat was draped around his shoulders, making him twitch and jerk his gaze up to catch Batman's. Bruce shrugged uncertainly as he withdrew, stepping out from between the two ice tables to stand at the base of Clark's, blue eyes moving to watch the still form of their mutual friend. The Metropolite turned his attention to the dying man as well and examined the still pale and clammy complexion.
"Shouldn't something have happened by now?"
Bruce opened his mouth to respond, but Jor-El spoke first. "Negative. I have not begun the second procedure."
Lex frowned and glared at the console. "Why not?"
"Your genetic material needs to be refined and concentrated for best effect. Only when that is done will I begin to inject it into Kal-El's body."
The cavern quieted after that and Lex shivered again. He stood to grab his shirt, but as he stepped out of the light freezing cold air slammed into his chest and he stumbled and collapsed. He grunted and wrapped his arms around himself, trying to stop the immediate shudders that wracked his bones, and his teeth chattered violently. Bruce quickly lifted him from the ground, arms behind back and knees in a traditional bridal-hold, and placed him on the table back under the light. Mercy quickly appeared at his other side, concern etching deep lines into her face.
"Son of... son of a bitch," Lex stuttered, his mouth slow from the cold.
"As I said, your core temperature will regulate in a few hours. It is not advisable to leave the heat of the matrix until then."
Bruce's lips thinned in unspoken irritation, something that surprised Lex, but the Gotham businessman ignored the other's curiosity in favor of controlling himself. Lex had no issue with voicing his anger and the bald billionaire growled and smacked his hand down on the table.
"Any more side-effects that you'd like to downplay?"
Both men let out disgusted sounds at the A.I.'s apathetic tone before Mercy retrieved Lex shirt and sweater. Lex shrugged his coat off and quickly pulled the two articles on before shoving his hands through the arms and zipping the coat up. He tugged the hood up over the knit hat he had kept on the entire time and sighed.
"How long before you can start on Clark?" he asked wearily. "And how long was I out?"
"Estimated time of an hour and twenty seven minutes. You were unconscious for two hours and eight minutes."
Batman glided over to the table and gracefully jumped up onto it beside Lex. Lex stared at the silent vigilante before deciding to let his confusion and suspicion go, too tired and cold to care what Bruce was planning. Instead, he leaned back and stared at Clark's unmoving form.
"Who's watching Connor? Helen's on vacation."
Lex turned his head to stare at Bruce blankly and frowned. "Lois Lane."
Bruce nodded, apparently uncaring about his impending demise.
"You do realize Clark's going to kill you when he find's out. Right?"
Batman rolled his eyes. "Give me some credit, Luthor, even I'm not that irresponsible. Of course I didn't leave him with her. Alfred came with me to Metropolis. After you called, I called the hotel room. He knew exactly what I wasn't saying and came over."
"Oh." Lex grew quiet as he thought about that. He remembered the handful of times he had met the butler, the old man's dedication to the Wayne family, Bruce in particular, making a lasting impression. Even Lionel had been envious of the iron-clad trust between Wayne and Pennyworth.
Bruce's tone was bitter and Lex's frown deepened. "I like Alfred. He's a good choice."
The complement seemed to ease unnoticed tension in Batman, because the man sighed and his shoulders slumped a little. Bruce tapped his fingers on his thighs and clacked his teeth once, a sharp sound in the quiet fortress, and he turned his head slightly to glance at Lex. "He likes you too."
Lex didn't know how to react to that so he shrugged it away. "Alfred likes all the people he meets."
Bruce snorted. "He hated your father."
"Like I said," Lex drawled, his lips quirking into a smirk, "people. Dad wasn't a human being at the end. I doubt he ever was one."
Mercy snorted and the other man nodded, not commenting, and they passed the remainder of the time in silence, watching Clark until Jor-El finished with Lex's DNA and could begin the process.
Without warning, multi-colored light suddenly streamed down from the ceiling around Clark's body, shimmering and solidifying until he appeared to be encased in a crystalized cocoon made from a rainbow. The loose pajamas Clark had been dressed in seemed to evaporate under the intense radiation, leaving the Kryptonian nude for Lex and the other two to view.
Portions of the ice-table's sides cracked into perfect octagons and slid apart, exposing the darkened hollow of an empty pocket. Long, thin metal arms emerged from the spaces, twisting and bending as they rose up in the air, rapidly running over Clark's prone form in small concentrated areas.
Lex stiffened when he caught a glimpse of a long needle and realized that each arm had one attached to it, and that each one was working like a tattoo-gun, jabbing the sharp metal into Clark's body in a tight pattern, injecting ink under the skin before moving on. Only the ink was Lex's DNA and it was going far deeper than skin.
Bruce grunted a moment later, obviously realizing the same thing he had, and turned away. Lex swallowed roughly but forced himself to watch, unwilling to let Clark's potential suffering go without witness.
After several minutes of the arms' movements, Mercy moved to sit on Lex's other side, her shoulder bumping against his. The contact reminded him of her presence and he shot her a grateful smile before returning his attention to Clark.
The cavern was silent save for the whirring of the matrix and arms until the arms came to an abrupt halt and withdrew back into the table. Lex and Bruce turned their full attention back onto the table and watched as the light surrounding Clark intensified, growing so bright it stung their eyes and they were forced to look away. They heard faint crackling that grew louder and louder till it resembled massive and continuous static electric discharges.
Lex forced himself to look back and saw what appeared to be a lighting storm contained inside the matrix, bolts going off continuously and striking Clark's prone form as it lay on the ice slab, jolting his body upwards each time. Electricity slammed into Clark, making muscles seize and cramp. A charge began to steadily build Clark's body, waves of snapping blue light arching away from him and connecting the barrier the matrix created. The effect was similar to a plasma lamp, but much more dangerous.
Finally, after what seemed hours of watching the painful display, the matrix ended the electrocution. Clark's body jerked for several more minutes from the remaining charge until even that stopped and he lay still as death upon the slab. All three observers held themselves completely still, afraid to even breath, until Jor-El's voice sounded around them, tight and monotone.
"The procedure is done."
Bruce swallowed roughly. "Did it work?"
"Unknown. While Lex-Luthor's genetic material was forcibly integrated into Kal-El's DNA, it will take time to measure it's effectiveness and the response from Kal-El's DNA."
Lex frowned, thinking of the shortened timeframe they had. "How long."
"I'll go get the rations," Mercy said, reminding the other two men about her presence.
Lex nodded and watched her leave before he sat back and readied himself for the wait.
Clark's DNA showed signs of rebuilding itself, Lex's DNA serving as a sturdy crutch to hold Clark's up. However it was slow so Clark underwent two more additional procedures over the next 24 hours, each increasing the percentage of restructured DNA. Jor-El noted that Clark's DNA was beginning to layer itself over Lex's.
"It there going to be enough time?" Lex asked Jor-El after the third treatment. "It's already been a whole day."
Jor-El remain quiet for many beats before speaking. "Unknown. Kal-El shows signs of regeneration, however I cannot measure the success of the procedure at this time. More analysis is required."
"So it's a matter of waiting," Bruce translated.
Lex blew out a breath and rolled his eyes in annoyance. He had long realized exactly why Clark seemed so annoyed whenever he spoke about his A.I. in any great depth, the thing was damn annoying.
After another six hours, Clark showed enough improvement that Bruce returned to Metropolis to run interference with the press and lay the ground work for Clark's miraculous recovery. They decided on leaking information that inferred Lex had been working nonstop on a radical treatment that may or may not work. The specific details of said treatment would not be available, but hopefully the public would find it believable enough if Clark survived his very public and well documented battle with genetic disease.
Somehow The Daily Star got a hold of Clark's medical files and had a field day with it, making Lois froth at the mouth. Up until then, the female reporter had been keeping her distance, Lex thought she had been waiting for Clark to come to her, but Clark's expiration date splashed across the front page drove her to accosting Lex's secretary in an attempt to see her former partner. Lex had allowed it, knowing both Lois and Clark would give him nothing but grief if he refused, and had been happily surprised when Connor appeared to dislike her.
He couldn't help but feel a bit vindicated.
So, Lois attacked The Daily Star on their illegal means of getting evidence, and The Daily Star simply raised an incredulous eyebrow back at her. The two papers got into a pissing match, and Bruce sold the bullshit story they made up after 36 hours of little sleep to the Inquisitor, which pissed both Daily papers off to no end.
The estimated 39 hours came and went, leaving Clark still alive, and Lex breathed a little easier. Jor-El administered another round of injections before he required Lex to donate more genetic material, the computer grudgingly admitting that it appeared Clark would live. The estimate of survival slowly increased every hour the Kryptonian continued to breathe and the billionaire felt the knot in his chest loosen. Two days after the first procedure and Clark appeared to be stable.
"Kal-El may yet survive, Lex-Luthor."
Lex sighed in relief, his entire body sagging from the relief he felt. He was exhausted, his eyes burning from the lack of sleep and his stomach cramping from hunger, but all that fled for the few moments he looked at Clark after that proclamation.
"He will need to remain here for a time and undergo several more procedures, but I am optimistic."
"Thank you," Lex acknowledged Jor-El's words with a tired nod.
"You do not need to remain any longer, Lex-Luthor."
Lex scowled at the console. "Go to hell, Jor-El. I'm not leaving him."
Mercy shifted in discomfort, apparently realizing better than him that there was little they could do if the supercomputer decided to go Hal 9000 on them.
"I am merely stating that I believe Kal-El to be in stable enough condition for you to leave for a short period of time."
"I'll stay, thanks."
"Then perhaps your servant should return to Metropolis to fetch you supplies?"
Lex quickly shot Mercy a look when the woman bristled in fury and turned his attention back to Jor-El. "You're right."
"Sir," Mercy started, but was cut off by a sharp wave of a hand.
"No, Mercy, he's right. I don't know how long Clark will be like this. I'm not leaving him and Bruce needs to stay in Metropolis to keep up the charade that we're there. You're the only one able to go back and forth."
Mercy gritted her teeth. "I'm not leaving you here, Sir."
"You will if it's a direct order," Lex said with a frown.
"No. I need supplies. New clothes and food. You need to go back to Metropolis."
Mercy finally left, after a heated argument that Lex barely won, taking the plane and leaving her employer stranded in the arctic with his comatose significant other and an egotistical artificial intelligence. Lex knew the risk but was willing to pay it so long as Clark wasn't alone in case something went wrong.
"You are a surprisingly suitable match for Kal-El."
The tone was bland and it made Lex roll his eyes. "Thanks, Jor-El."
"It was not a compliment."
Lex sighed sufferingly, knowing it would be a long wait until Mercy returned.
After a full week at the fortress where Clark underwent a total of 17 procedures, the younger man's genetic structure was completely stabilized and Lex's injected DNA was almost completely destroyed. Jor-El announced Clark would live and in time recuperate, but it would be a long process. It took years for Clark's body to breakdown and it would take just as long for it to recover. However Lex was ecstatic with the positive affirmation and refused to allow Jor-El's returning pessimism to ruin his mood.
Clark was stable enough to move, so, still unconscious, Lex and Mercy loaded him onto the plane and returned to Metropolis under the cover of darkness. They situated him back in his room and Lex went to get Connor, the boy asleep in his bed. Lex gently carried the little boy he had missed terribly down the hall and into Clark's room, and laid the boy down on the bed beside his father. He watched Connor curl against Clark's side before he fetched a chair to take up a position beside the bed, letting his mind drift.
Lex fell asleep with his hand in Connor's sleep-mussed hair
He woke with his hand tangled in Clark's, green eyes open and lit with a smile.