Pairing: Clark/Lex, Conner, Mercy
Word Count: 33,722 (broken into four posts for length)
Spoilers/Warnings: Future, post-Rift fic, so only vague spoilers through S5. Also, the existence of Conner and Mercy in the Superman comics.
Summary: They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results. Lex had become resigned to this maxim, until a family emergency brought Clark and Conner to him for help, perhaps this time to stay.
Notes: So many thanks to txtequilanights, who held my hand and betaed for me and helped me come up with all sorts of ideas that made this fic sooo much better. The epilogue? Is totally her brainchild. Thanks also to truemyth who finally helped me come up with a title. Also, I kind of assume that everyone knows who Conner Kent/Kon-El/Superboy is. If you don't: Yes, Superman and Lex Luthor did have a test-tube baby in DC canon. Because DC is on crack like that. *loves them* Beyond that, you don't have to know much because I rape DC canon up the ass to make it fit in with the SV-verse. Also: *wibbles* This is the first SV fic I've ever completed.
“Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.” – Francis Bacon
Lex had been dialing the number for the Kent Farm for the fourth time that afternoon when the proximity detector on the roof went off. He waved off Mercy, slipped the remote control and a .45 with Kryptonite slugs (just in case) into his pocket and all but ran up the stairs. The small Zen garden on the southwest corner of the roof was looking decidedly un-Zen at the moment. The koi in the pond darted about in frantic alarm as flashing white and red lights heralded the arrival of one of his most dangerous enemies.
Along with his son.
Lex slowly removed the remote from his pocket and turned off the alarm. That caught Conner’s attention, and the younger Kryptonian stepped forward to meet him and even let Lex indulge himself with a hug and lengthy inspection, including a full analysis of why Conner needed a haircut. Throughout this universal parent-child reunion ritual, Clark hovered in the background, in full Superman regalia, and didn’t so much as look at them.
“H-He’s been like this…” Conner offered nervously, readjusting the duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
Lex nodded absently and approached Clark. “I’ve been trying to contact you all afternoon,” he informed his old friend cum greatest enemy cum uncomfortable ally in a vain effort to spare their son further life trauma. “I couldn’t get any answer at the farm, and the phone company insists that your cell number is no longer functional.”
“Live Wire,” Clark said numbly in response to that last part. “I’ll give you the new number.”
“Why don’t you come inside first?” Lex suggested.
Conner looked more than eager to follow that suggestion and slung his bag more comfortably over his shoulder before heading for the stairs down to the penthouse. Although, technically, Conner was wearing the shirt that constituted his ‘costume’, so Lex supposed he was actually Superboy at the moment. Such distinctions generally annoyed him, but he felt the need to make the effort, given the present circumstances.
Clark didn’t waver from where he’d landed on the roof mere minutes before and seemed oblivious to everything Lex had said. With a tired sigh, Lex rested his good hand against the small of Clark’s back and guided him towards the stairs. The touch seemed to spark something back to life inside Clark, and he moved willingly if not enthusiastically.
“I know it’s a lot to ask,” Clark began in a low voice, like their son didn’t have perfectly serviceable superhearing, “but can you keep Conner until…”
“As long as you need,” Lex agreed instantly. He’d never been able to figure out why Clark seemed to think that taking in his own son was a burden. He was tempted to make a snide remark about Clark forgetting to bring along half the Justice League and an armored car division in order to monitor all of Lex’s interactions with Conner, but given the circumstances that would probably be in bad taste.
“I-I probably should have gone to Lois…” Clark sounded lost.
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“But I just couldn’t face her…”
“I don’t blame you. I can never stand that woman,” Lex offered lightly.
Clark glared at him, which was the closest Clark had been to himself thus far. Lex considered that a hopeful sign.
“My condolences,” Lex added more seriously. “Martha was a wonderful woman. She was always kind to me, even when I probably didn’t deserve it.”
Clark gulped, and his breath seemed to catch in his Adam’s apple for a moment before he released it. “She was old.” The way he said it made it all too clear that he wasn’t even half convinced of what he was saying. “It was her time.”
“At least she died peacefully, and at home.” It was a ridiculous platitude, of course, but Lex was willing to offer up platitudes all evening, if Clark wanted. Of course, it wouldn’t help at all. Lex remembered that well enough from his own childhood. Nothing could help, really. And, if the pain faded over the years, it never went away entirely.
“Conner found her,” Clark said darkly.
Lex froze at that.
“Sh-She was in the living room, on the couch, and Conner came home from school, and…” Clark closed his eyes and looked away, fighting back emotion. “He hasn’t said anything. H-He had to call 911 and did chest compressions and… He thinks he broke one of her ribs. I told him that she was gone and he didn’t make things worse, but if you could rattle off some medical statistics to him…” Clark swallowed, long and ragged. “I think he’d believe it, coming from you.”
“Of course. Anything I can do.” A sense of dread had filled Lex at Clark’s report. There wasn’t often anything they agreed on, but this one thing was absolute: I wish I had found her instead.
“He’s acting like he’s fine,” Clark went on. “But… He’s always afraid that I’ll see him as weak…” Clark sounded so helpless when he said it because, really, Clark would’ve loved to have been the one that Conner leaned on. But it really was well nigh impossible to show vulnerability to Superman.
“Ironic,” Lex agreed simply. “I’ll talk to him.”
Clark nodded from where they’d come to a halt at the top of the staircase. Lex could hear voices from the penthouse below: Mercy and Conner. Of course, Mercy had been appraised of Martha Kent’s demise and would know to be on her best behavior. She would also undoubtedly attend to the dozens of little details necessary to make Conner’s stay more pleasant. Lex was grateful for that just then, because he had his hands more than full with Clark.
“When’s the funeral?” Lex asked casually, halting their downwards procession. Clark seemed reluctant to take another step and was looking up at the stars above.
“I… I haven’t thought about it.” There was a hitch in Clark’s voice now, like he was about to break.
“Would you like me to—?”
Clark was nodding vigorously before Lex could even finish his offer. Of the two of them, Lex was far more qualified to orchestrate formal events like funerals. “She’s got friends in Smallville, and a plot next to dad, and…”
“I’ll have it taken care of,” Lex promised. “What about the farm? And Conner and school?”
A long, agonized sound that was as close to a sob as Lex had ever heard from Clark, and then an angry: “I don’t know, all right?” Clark was wiping the back of his hands over his eyes, and Lex reached out to touch his shoulder, and was batted away with a force that knocked him clear across the stairwell. “Just…don’t!” Clark exclaimed angrily.
“I’m sorry.” Lex held his hands up before him, making it perfectly clear that he wouldn’t try that again. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can—”
“I don’t want to come inside!” Clark was fully in angry, self-indulgent mode at the moment, and was acting like quite the brat. Not that Lex could blame him.
“What do you want?”
“I want…” A deep half-sob. “I want everything to stop reminding me of her! I want this whole damn planet to stop closing in on me, and…” Clark’s eyes met Lex’s fully for the first time since he’d arrived, and Lex read the intent there all too well.
He took one step forward to try to stop Clark, but then there was the equivalent to a sonic boom around him, and when he rose from the steps where he’d fallen due to the impact of Clark’s thunderous take-off, he could just barely make out the wink of Clark’s form as he flew up into the stars and as far away from his adopted home as he could get.
Lex let out a deep sigh and processed all that had happened. “Just terrific,” he announced to no one in particular.
When Lex finally arrived downstairs, he discovered that Conner had set himself up on the couch of the recreation room and was flipping through channels, with the muting on, at what had to be superhuman speed. His duffel bag was absent, so Lex assumed that Mercy had taken Conner’s things to his room.
Conner had only actually spent the night in his room at the penthouse on about half a dozen occasions, but Lex always kept it reserved for Conner just in case. After all, he had plenty of spare guest rooms, and letting Conner know that he was a permanent and welcome fixture in Lex’s life was of paramount importance. It was always reassuring to Lex, in the weeks between the visits Clark allowed them, to wander into Conner’s room and see a book here, a picture there, a pile of clutter in the corner. All constant reminders that, yes, Conner really did exist and was his son.
“Where’s Clark?” Conner inflicted the words with that casual, disinterested tone that teenagers only used when they cared very deeply about the answer and didn’t want to show it.
“Most likely? Smashing up the Asteroid Belt,” Lex offered smoothly, buzzing for Mercy and settling down in the armchair beside the couch. He still hadn’t had time to change after work and loosened his tie slowly and methodically as he watched Conner pretend supreme indifference while staring at the 200-inch TV screen, eyes glazed and unfocused.
“Great. There’s nothing like being ditched by Superman,” he grumbled. Conner’s abilities had increased dramatically over the past year, yet he was still very much bound to Earth and its supply of oxygen.
“Believe me, I know all too well,” Lex agreed, more than a little annoyed at Clark. Although at least Clark had had the sense to get Conner someplace safe before he ran off to have his breakdown…
“Sir?” Mercy poked her head in. She’d been in the middle of her nightly work-out routine when the alarm had gone off, and was still wearing her karategi, black belt fastened tightly about the waist of the flawlessly white karate uniform.
“Can you call the governor and inform him that a family matter has come up?” Lex always asked, even when he could order. It was just polite.
“Sorry to mess up your plans,” Conner muttered under his breath, staring down at the remote desolately.
“Not an issue. It was just a museum gallery opening.”
“With the governor?”
“Yes.” Conner seemed more interested in this than in the television. Perhaps it might be a good idea to encourage him. “We can go together, if you’d like. I just assumed…” He let the offer trail off.
Conner looked at the muted television screen before him. He’d eventually ended up on what looked like a Japanese soap opera. “It’s better than sitting around here, right?”
“It’ll be boring,” Lex warned.
“More boring than the Carlisles’ party last Christmas?”
Lex scowled. “Nothing could be more boring than that.”
Conner gave him a lopsided grin that always reminded Lex horribly of Clark’s. “So let’s go.”
Somehow, Lex had become the ‘cool’ parent. Clark fretted and fussed and imparted words of wisdom that his father had once imparted to him, so naturally whenever Conner had anything weighing on his mind, he went straight to Lex.
It was the same illogic teenagers had been using since the dawn of time.
This strange twist of fate had begun from almost the moment that Conner and Lex had met. It had taken two years of hard negotiation with Clark to actually arrange a meeting. Clark, somehow, had gotten the bizarre notion into his head that Lex would try to sway Conner to his side for the purpose of taking over the world. Completely baffling.
Lex’s first dozen or so efforts at broaching the subject had been met with Superman’s stony stare. So, naturally, he’d taken to shooting at Superman with Kryptonite lasers every time he flew by until he was finally clipped and forced to crash-land on the roof of LexCorp Towers, where Lex proceeded to brandish legal documents in front of Clark’s face and very calmly make his case. Lex still wasn’t sure whether Clark eventually agreed because Lex had convinced him of his point, or whether he just didn’t want to be shot at anymore. In any case, Lex got what he wanted, just like always.
Lex had, of course, considered the possibility of using Conner to try to take over the world, up until that very first meeting. Clark had insisted they meet on the rooftop of the Fairmont Building since Lex didn’t have any Kryptonite lasers there. Lex could have set up Kryptonite lasers there in mere hours, so Clark’s paranoia really just made them all more uncomfortable since the roof of LexCorp Towers was much more pleasant. Clark had also insisted that Lex was only allowed to bring Mercy, and Superman and Mercy had stared each other down, both looking equally capable of setting each other on fire with merely a scowl, even though Mercy was only human.
Under those auspicious circumstances, Lex had first met his son. Within five minutes, he knew that he couldn’t brainwash Conner. Five more, and he was suddenly completely appalled by the notion of using Conner for any nefarious purposes. Then, Clark had said something self-important, and Lex had snapped back at him, and Conner had given Lex this secretive, amused little smile while simultaneously looking downright awed that Lex had had no compunctions about knocking Superman off his high-horse.
That had been their first meeting.
By their second meeting, Lex had already been dubbed ‘cool’ probably solely by virtue of the fact that he wasn’t Clark. Conner babbled about anything and everything, from all the people who annoyed him at Smallville High to how Clark still treated him like some sort of weird clone rather than an actual son. “A clone,” Lex had corrected, “is an exact genetic duplicate of its parent. As your DNA is a cross between Clark’s and my own, you are technically not a clone.” And Conner had rolled his eyes, like Lex Luthor wasn’t one of the five scariest people on the planet or something.
After their third meeting, even Clark had had to concede that Conner and Lex seemed instinctually compelled to like each other. “Maybe I should make you give Conner the sex talk,” he’d said smugly, which was smart-assed as all hell but was the most acceptance Lex could really ever hope to get out of Clark.
“Clark still thinks I’m a virgin,” Conner had confided in Lex during their fourth meeting, which finally had occurred in LexCorp Towers and thus was safely behind sound-proofing where Clark couldn’t hear. “He’s really weird about shit like that. So don’t tell him, okay?” Like there was ever any danger of Lex telling Clark that. Instead, he’d just grinned and offered Conner a few useful tips from his own misspent youth. Mostly, they involved not marrying sociopaths who were trying to kill you for your money.
By meeting five, the rapport had been entirely solidified: “Just in case it’s somehow inheritable, I feel obliged to inform you that I’m bisexual,” Lex had offered, because if Conner was having similar difficulties, heaven only knew he couldn’t go to Clark about them. “Cool, but I’m pretty sure I’m straight,” Conner had shrugged, “which I guess proves that it isn’t genetic, since Clark is totally in the closet.” Lex and Conner had shared a wicked grin at Clark when he came to pick Conner up, which had apparently been alarming enough for Clark to get that frantic look in his eyes and demand “What?”
So, in conclusion, Lex and Conner had talked about anything and everything. Good and evil, sex and love, Smallville and Metropolis – all were common topics of conversation. Lex saw no reason why life and death shouldn’t be added to the list.
Which was why it was so disconcerting how quiet Conner was as Mercy drove them to the opening. Conner had switched into one of the tuxes Lex had bought for him after that weekend when Lex really just couldn’t get out of the Waverly banquet and Conner had begged Lex that anything was better than spending yet another Saturday in Smallville. Conner had learned to rue that decision; Lex had already known the event would cause his brain to curdle from sheer boredom. Yet still Conner agreed to do all sorts of horrendously tedious things with Lex. It was touching, in a way.
Tonight, however, Martha’s death weighed heavily on Conner’s shoulders. Lex could see it in the way that Conner seemed to stare vacantly out the car window, watching the flashing lights – white and gold for the streetlamps, red and white on the cars, blue and green and pink and all other colors in neon above the shop windows – without really seeing anything.
“We won’t have to stay long,” Lex said into the silence of the rear of the limo.
Conner didn’t even seem to hear him. He was definitely not his usual mischievous and high-spirited self that evening.
“I’m sure it will be deathly dull anyway. Although at least it’s in a museum.”
That, really was the perfect opening for Conner to make some smart-assed remark about how Lex was such a nerd that he actually thought museums were fun. Conner passed up the opportunity and continued to watch Metropolis zoom by.
Lex was considering seriously worrying when Mercy pulled up in front of the museum. “We’re here,” he offered softly.
Conner looked up, nodded, and stepped out into the crisp night air.
Lex had been right; the gallery opening was boring. The Lillian Luthor Memorial Fund had provided nearly a quarter of the funding for the new Pacific Island gallery, however, so he felt obliged to at least cursorily inspect the tiki masks mounted along one wall.
Conner had stayed at his side through the first round of introductions and then had disappeared around series of glass cases featuring native ceremonial costumes. One thing Lex was permanently grateful for was how easy it was to deal with Conner in public. Frankly, Lex didn’t know how the Kents had managed with Clark all those years, heaping lies on top of lies. It certainly accounted for plenty of Clark’s neuroses.
But the strange and bizarre story of Conner’s ‘birth’, his abilities, and his genetic donors had been public knowledge from day one. As a result, no one batted at eyelash at the fact that Lex had a son who was clearly Superboy and who, 90% of the time, was seen in the company of Superman or the Teen Titans, rather than with Lex. The only deception surrounding Conner was that he attended Smallville High disguised by the facial distortions provided by the Fortress’ AI under the pseudonym Conner Kent, which necessitated him being referred to by his Kryptonian name Kon in public. And even Clark managed that one just fine, although only (Lex was convinced) because Kon was short for Conner, and Clark could stop himself mid-word. For someone who’d worked all his life at maintaining dual identities, Clark was mind-bogglingly shitty at it.
Lex was trying his best to turn his thoughts away from Clark, however, since he was growing more and more irate at Clark’s sudden disappearing act right when Conner needed him most, and if he didn’t calm himself down, he was liable to snap at the thirtieth or so patron at the opening who sidled up to him and asked whether he was planning on running for governor next term. It was well known that Bradley was retiring after the next election and that Lex would have his backing, should he choose to run.
Under normal circumstances, Lex enjoyed the political sphere and all it trappings, and would have taken advantage of this occasion to get a feel for his constituents. He was faced with unusual popularity at the moment, given that he’d finally beaten All American Insurance in court over their rising premiums and refusal to insure against Superman-related damage. Since LexCorp was the largest land-holder in Metropolis, it had just been common sense to contest the issue, especially since smaller businesses were getting so gouged on insurance that they couldn’t afford the lengthy court battles necessary. Even the Planet had backed Lex on the issue (likely, Lex suspected, because they’d taken the second highest amount of damage in the Superman/Bizzaro battle last September, right behind LexCorp). Now that Lex had won, for the first time since Superman’s arrival in Metropolis, insurance rates weren’t the highest in the country (thank you, Gotham), rent rates were actually dropping, and family businesses were showing profit margins.
Contrary to every single other time Lex had done something beneficial, the people loved him for it this time. So all the signs were ripe for his candidacy.
Tonight, however, the timing was all off.
He mingled with purpose over to the costume display, seeking out Conner. It took him less than five minutes to realize that his son had wandered off somewhere. Mercy was currently deflecting Senator Ryan, and he gave her a nod before ducking out into the Native American gallery next to the new exhibit. Mercy looked vaguely cross, but then he was very used to Mercy looking vaguely cross; she’d get over it.
He was able to follow Conner simply by going through the only doors that weren’t blocked off by metal security gates. The catering staff required access to more rooms than were officially open for the event, and thus Lex’s path led him out through the rest of the Native American exhibits. These galleries were only dimly lit, and the red from the ‘EXIT’ signs reflected off of glass cases and the shiny, round eyes of countless totem masks. A girl in a maroon catering uniform who couldn’t have been more than eighteen gave him an odd look before stepping to the side with a large tray of hors d’oeurves to let him pass. After all, he was Lex Luthor, and the ordinary rules didn’t apply to him. He went through the door the girl had come from, and found himself in the hallway leading to the Great Painters gallery.
He finally found Conner, sitting in the middle of the cold marble floor, arms wrapped around his knees, and looking very small.
“We could leave, if you’d like.”
Conner didn’t sound surprised to hear Lex’s voice, but then that was what superhearing was for, Lex supposed. “This painting is fugly,” he announced of the frame opposite where he was sitting.
Lex studied the landscape with a practiced eye. “I’ve never been fond of Gauguin.”
Conner made a face. “He sucks.”
Lex snickered at that and looked around to make sure they were alone before lowering himself to sit next to Conner on the floor. “He does, but don’t let anyone know I told you that,” he whispered conspiratorially.
Conner managed a half-grin, half-grimace at that.
Lex sighed. “Maybe it was a mistake bringing you here…”
“No.” Conner shook his head. “It’s better than just sitting at home. And I’ve learned the answer to the all-important question: ‘Are you planning on running for governor next term, Mr. Luthor?’”
“Trust me,” Lex assured him with an amused little smile, “if I ever do plan to run, I’ll consult you and not Mindy Thorpe.”
Conner looked at him, surprised. “Seriously?”
“Of course.” Lex’s tone made it clear that any doubt was simply preposterous. “You’re family. I couldn’t run without your approval.” It was true, actually. Ever since his own mother’s death, Lex had had relatives but never family. Conner was the first to fit the role in far too long, and Lex wasn’t about to do a thing to jeopardize that.
Conner sniffed lightly and rested his head on his knee. “Clark doesn’t feel that way,” he complained. “I’m just some lab experiment he has to watch over because I’ve got dangerous powers or whatever.”
The list of petty grievances Lex had over the way that Clark was raising their son required a 12-page cross-index. However, this point was probably the one that infuriated him the most. “Clark grew up in a very conservative environment. It didn’t exactly prepare him for how to raise his child with another man.”
“Grandma didn’t have a problem with me,” Conner insisted sullenly.
“Your grandmother had already raised an adopted alien when she met you. You could hardly be any stranger than that.” Lex paused, carefully weighing how much to tell Conner. “Clark… Clark never felt half as welcome as your grandmother made him. I’m sure he never felt as if he truly belonged. He treats you in the same way, albeit subconsciously. He doesn’t mean it.”
“Yeah,” Conner grumbled. “Great. And now Grandma’s gone, and I’m screwed.”
Ah, to be sixteen and self-absorbed once again… “You’re not screwed,” Lex assured him. “You have Clark, and you have me.”
“Clark ditched me, and when he gets back, he’ll never let me stay with you. You’re supposed to be an evil influence or something. He’ll probably make me stay with the Rosses.” The way Conner said ‘Rosses’, it sounded like the end of the world.
“You will not stay with the Rosses,” Lex insisted; he had a similar opinion of that particular family. “I’ll make sure to inform Clark that that simply isn’t an option.”
“Thanks,” Conner sniffed, and then more quietly. “So what is going to happen to me?”
Lex sighed and leaned back. His mechanical right hand made an unnatural clicking sound on the marble floor tiles. “Clark didn’t want to discuss it yet, but we’ll work something out. Why, what do you want? Do you want to stay at Smallville High?”
“Not really.” Conner was picking at the rubber on the sole of his dress shoe now, and looking quite supremely sullen. “I don’t have any friends there, anyway. And I hate the stupid AI disguise.”
“You need the disguise,” Lex insisted. “Going to school as Superboy would significantly detract from your learning environment.”
“Yeah. ‘Learning’,” Conner agreed sarcastically.
“You could transfer to a school in Metropolis, however,” Lex added thoughtfully. “You’d have to stay with either Clark or myself, of course…”
Conner looked hopeful at this, before his expression fell. “Knowing my luck, Clark will probably want to make me take care of the farm, and I’ll get stuck with that and Smallville High.” He managed to remove a strip of rubber from the sole of his very expensive shoes and was now fiddling with it. Lex decided not make a point of Conner’s needless destruction of expensive property; clearly, it was something he’d inherited from Clark and therefore not his fault.
“If Clark wants the damn farm, he can take care of it himself,” Lex said decisively. “You’re moving to Metropolis. I’ll start looking into private schools tomorrow.”
Conner’s expression perked up. “Clark’s never going to agree to that…” he began wistfully.
“I won’t give him any choice.”
Conner quirked an eyebrow at him.
“I do control the largest supply of Kryptonite on the planet,” Lex reminded him.
“Great. You two can kill each other over what school I’m going to.” Conner’s tone was far more upbeat than his words, however.
“Conner, if we didn’t kill each other before you were born, we’re hardly going to manage it now,” Lex informed him breezily.
Conner’s eyes flicked down to Lex’s artificial hand.
“Merely a flesh wound,” Lex teased.
Conner snorted. “You’d probably have started wearing that stupid ring on your left hand if I hadn’t showed up,” he concluded.
Lex felt no need to inform Conner that that, in fact, had been his contingency plan. At the time, hostilities between himself and Clark had escalated to the point where going without the ring had been out of the question. Then, Conner had been thrown into their lives, and everything had been turned upside-down. Some day, Lex would have to thank Conner for saving his dominant hand. He’d just have to make sure Conner wasn’t actively laughing at him at the time.
“Unless your appreciation for Gauguin is improving,” Lex began, and Conner’s face made it all too clear that it wasn’t, “let’s get something to eat.”
“Spicy Thai, it is.”
The aptly named ‘Spicy Thai’ was a tiny place on Belmont and 23rd that was well below Lex’s price range. However, Spicy Thai served Thai food so spicy that even Lex and Conner, both connoisseurs of all things hot, downed at least three glasses of water with their meal.
Clark, whose taste for fine cuisine began and ended with all-American bland, hated Spicy Thai, so eating food so hot that steam threatened to come out of their ears had always been a way to escape Clark when he decided to be overly oppressive during the monthly visits he granted the two of them. Thus, Spicy Thai had become something of a private ritual, something that Conner and Lex shared alone.
Conner took a huge gulp of ice water after swallowing a heaping chopstickful of the peanut chicken, before eyeing Lex with something like nervousness. That was unusual for Conner who, despite having been raised by superheroes who decried Lex’s misdeeds from the highest parapets, had never really been all that intimidated by Lex. Lex had always found that unaccountably reassuring.
“What?” he asked. Eloquence deteriorated to nothing when one’s eyes were watering from the broccoli beef.
“What made you change your mind?” Conner finally asked carefully, weighing each word as if it were a potential mistake.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean…” Conner studied his plate, swirling the rice around with his chopsticks. “What finally made you decide that you, y’know…” An inarticulate shrug. “Wanted me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I always wanted you; it merely took me a while to process the fact that you did, in fact, exist.”
“Two years?” Conner retorted bitterly. “Don’t lie to me. I hate that.”
“And they say it’s not genetic…” Lex sighed wistfully.
Conner gave him an odd look.
Lex took a deep breath and set down his chopsticks neatly on the side of his plate. “Conner,” he began seriously, “I was completely unaware of what Cadmus Labs was involved in until the day the Planet published that exposé. I found out that you were my son the same day the rest of the world did.” He carefully resumed eating; one could never be too cautious with the peanut chicken. “I’m guilty of many things, Conner. Lying to you is not one of them.”
Conner met his eyes, which was always very surreal because, while Conner looked like Clark in almost every other regard, he had Lex’s eyes. Staring down his son was always like looking into an oddly distorted mirror.
Realization that Lex was telling the truth flashed across Conner’s face before he ducked his head and returned to his food. “What took you so long, then?”
“By the time I knew about you, Clark and the Justice League had already ferried you away to safety. Which, I suppose, was just as well. If I’d found you first, I’d have undoubtedly taken you for myself.”
“And that would’ve been a bad thing?”
“It would not necessarily have been in your best interests,” Lex corrected. “Everything turned out well enough, as it happened. It did take me quite a while to convince Clark that I had legitimate reason to request visitation rights with my own son, beyond some misguided attempt at world domination.”
Conner snorted. “Yeah, because one of my secret powers is the ability to command the vast land resources of Asia.”
“True, but that scheme just wasn’t viable without a financial monopoly in western Europe.”
Conner laughed at that.
Lex smiled back, peaceably. “I take it you’re reassured then? Because I’m fairly certain I suck at this.”
Conner snorted. “You’re better than Clark.”
“That’s not saying much. Speaking of which, Clark wanted me to try to convince you that there was nothing you could have done about your grandmother.”
“And?” Conner looked at him curiously.
“And I’m quite certain that you’ve inherited Clark’s bizarre penchant for blaming yourself for everything, so I’ll spare you the platitude.”
“You’re way better than Clark,” Conner amended.
“I take my victories where I can get them these days.”
Conner gulped. “You’re not going to start talking about that insurance company you beat up again, are you?”
Lex did laugh at that.
The next day, of course, disaster struck.
If Lex had believed in some kind of divine presence that governed human lives, right around now he’d be convinced that it was out to get him. The disaster struck in the form of a bank robbery turned hostage crisis at the Third Metropolis. Lex had found out about it roughly around the same time the police did, in the same way:
It seemed that Clark had taken the opportunity to drop his Justice League com. unit into Conner’s bag, prior to taking off to galaxies unknown. Lex and Conner had discovered this fact when a sudden staticy screech began emitting from the bag at exactly 12:26 PM. The sound of the feedback had all but incapacitated Conner, and Lex’s ears had been ringing as well when he’d finally retrieved the transmitter and brought it up to the roof, where the sound-proofing and security measures he’d taken against covert surveillance no longer prevented the communicator from carrying out its mission.
Batman had been less than enthused to get Lex instead of Superman when the static cleared up. There was undoubtedly some sort of multifaceted plan to get the device back from him, even as he spoke. That was disappointing, really, because the device was quite fascinating: clearly alien-tech, with the ability to transmit directly into its possessor’s cerebral cortex so that no one else was capable of overhearing the conversation. LexCorp’s tech division could certainly benefit from a detailed study of the device’s inner workings, if the Justice League didn’t manage to steal it back from him first. He’d had Mercy set the perimeter defenses to watch for all members of the League, just in case.
Of course, Conner had insisted that he could help with the hostage crisis, even though Lex had politely informed the League that Superman wasn’t available and that they’d need to send someone else over to deal with the matter. Lex had told Conner, in no uncertain terms, that he was forbidden from interfering. Conner had countered that this was his job, and Lex was evil anyway so Conner didn’t have to do what he said. Lex had reminded Conner that he was emotional and liable to make a mistake. Conner had retorted by asking what say Lex had in the matter, anyway. Lex had finally concluded with the less than eloquent, yet nonetheless incontrovertible: “Because I’m your father, and I say so.”
Conner had, regrettably, insisted that he take back Clark’s com. so he could hear what was happening. He’d also taken to stomping around the penthouse so damn loudly that there was no way Lex could forget, even for a second, that he had a pissed off teenager in the apartment. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, Batman and the Green Lantern had diffused the situation, and Conner had returned to sulking in front to the television.
Lex, on the other hand, had waited for the invasion to begin.
Sure enough, five minutes after the hostage situation had been resolved, Lex got a call from security downstairs. Apparently, the UPS lady (yeah, right) had snuck past the security desk when a certain redheaded young man had suddenly and oh-so-coincidentally ‘passed out’ in the lobby. The ‘UPS lady’ had been spotted last by a security camera in the stairwell on the fortieth floor and was still at large.
With a weary sigh, he informed Grace at the front desk to have the ‘passed out’ Jimmy Olsen brought right on up to his corporate office. Really, it was only a matter of time before Lois joined them.
Lex had few genuine pleasures in life, but terrorizing members of the Planet’s staff was one of them. Mercy and Hope dragged a kicking Jimmy in by his elbows and sat him down in the wooden chair facing Lex’s desk.
Lex rather loved his desk. It was all sleek, modern planes and glossy black finish. It seemed to loom like some sort of menacing beast, and Lex had chosen it for the intimidation factor he had when seated behind it.
Jimmy Olsen looked pretty damn intimidated.
Lex hadn’t bothered with the glove over his artificial hand that morning, which just added to the whole Evil Mastermind ambience. Jimmy crouched down low in the chair, glancing nervously over his shoulders to confirm that Mercy and Hope were still there, all while the servos in Lex’s artificial hand whirred menacingly as he shut down the computer screen before him. Lex’s hand actually could (and did, most times) operate perfectly quietly, but he could move it in a way to create plenty of unnatural sounds when he wanted to. He’d found that doing so tended to freak out most people.
“Mr. Olsen,” he finally looked up after a too long pause, like Jimmy was the most insignificant of disturbances in his otherwise smooth day. “We’re just waiting on Ms. Lane, then?”
Jimmy gulped, and his eyes shifted around furtively but, to his credit, he didn’t give his partner away. It was no matter, of course.
“You’re not going to get away with this, Luthor,” he finally bit out nervously.
Lex sighed. There were any of a dozen legitimate complaints that the Planet could have against LexCorp this time, but Lex was willing to bet his entire stock portfolio that this was about… “Get away with what?” He held out his hands magnanimously, and watched Jimmy’s eyes flick nervously to the artificial right one.
“Whatever you’ve done to Superman!” Jimmy spat with conviction. Bingo.
Lex smiled his evilest, most enigmatic smile. And he’d been evil for a pretty long time, so it was a damned evil smile, if he did say so himself. Jimmy gulped. At that moment Lex’s phone rang, and he immediately answered it like it was the most vital call he’d ever taken; he’d instructed Charity to put through any yokel who could figure out LexCorp’s extension numbers, since one always looked more nefarious when one was receiving mysterious phone calls every few minutes. Indeed, Jimmy began to squirm.
“Mr. Luthor? This is Happy Trails Funeral Home.”
He couldn’t have planned this better if he’d tried. “I trust the casket is ready?” he offered calmly. Clark was going to kill him for this, but the reaction was totally worth it.
Jimmy’s eyes widened, and a terrified bead of sweat formed on his forehead.
“All the arrangements are perfectly in order,” the nice woman on the other end of the phone informed him helpfully. “The expense of the service you’ve chosen does exceed the package that Mrs. Kent set up with us prior to her death.”
“Cost is not an issue. I want everything to run as smoothly as possible.”
Jimmy was fidgeting, eyes gone frantic like a caged animal.
Behind him, Mercy was trying not to crack up. Nothing in Mercy’s expression indicated that she was about to crack up, but Mercy’s sense of humor was identical to his own in every way despite their disparate upbringings, and therefore Lex could conclude that Mercy was about to crack up because he was about to crack up.
He was less sure about Hope. He’d never really gotten Hope.
“You have my assurances, Mr. Luthor,” the woman at the funeral home said confidently, before her tone softened. “And, please, offer my condolences to Clark and Conner.” Because, of course, Smallville was just inbred enough that everyone knew the Kents. Hell, this woman probably knew him even after he’d been out of that place for over a decade now.
“Thank you. I’m most pleased.”
The woman hung up to continue her work.
“Have the body bags brought up to my office immediately,” he said into the dead line before he hung up.
Jimmy let out a horrified squeak.
Lex was 90% sure he saw the left side of Mercy’s mouth twitch into an almost-smile. At that point, Charity called in to report that the fire alarm had just gone off on the floor below. “Lois will just be a minute, then,” Lex informed Jimmy with his most unreadable expression.
Sure enough, three and a half minutes later, Lois burst into his office, wielding the fire axe she’d stolen. Mercy disarmed and disabled her in ten seconds flat and sat her, kicking and screaming, into the chair beside Jimmy.
“You’ll never get away with this, Luthor!” Lois exclaimed defiantly.
“Is there an echo in here?” Lex asked Mercy, politely.
“There seems to be, sir,” Mercy agreed, holding Lois’ arms forcibly down.
“Perry White knows we’re here!” Lois insisted, eyes shooting daggers at Lex.
“Excellent,” Lex agreed. “Then he’s complicit in this act of breaking and entering?” He hit the intercom. “Did we get that on tape, Charity?”
Lois, never one to be deterred, soldiered on. “We know what you’re up to. And, if anything happens to us, the whole world will know.”
Lex got up from his desk chair and headed to the sidebar to his right. He carefully selected a snifter, examined the glass in the afternoon sunlight for a moment, and then filled it with brandy. “And what, exactly, will the whole world know?” he inquired disinterestedly.
“We’ve got the phone records,” Lois insisted. “Superman’s been missing for two days now, and the emergency call that was made to him this afternoon went straight to you. When the city finds out what you’ve done to him…” She struggled uselessly against Mercy’s grip.
“Ah.” Lex took a sip of the brandy. It was a bit early to drink yet, but he liked to watch the color in the light. That, and it made for an excellent dramatic flourish. “So, I take it Superman is never allowed to take a personal day?”
Lois snorted, like his statement was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard. “And, while we’re at it, I’ll bet all those banned chemicals being shipped to the 84th Street warehouse are for just another ‘military contract’.”
“There’s no need for sarcasm.” Lex made a mental note to move the 84th Street facility to somewhere less conspicuous. “Superman merely isn’t available today. Given that he works tirelessly to defend this city out of nothing but the goodness of his heart, I hardly think it’s unreasonable for the city to give him the day off.”
“I don’t know where you’re holding him.” Lois glanced surreptitiously around his office like Superman might be chained to a rack in the corner. And wouldn’t that make for an interesting conversation piece. “But you’ll never beat him, Luthor. Never.”
Lex sighed wearily. If there was anything he hated more than being caught at things he had done, it was being accused of things he hadn’t. He’d anticipated that such accusations were inevitable if Clark chose to stay away too long, but he’d thought he’d get more than one day’s reprieve. He supposed it was a mark of the high-quality investigative reporting team at the Planet. “Look,” he set down his brandy glass and leaned forward with both his hands on his desk, “Ms. Lane.” Jimmy looked far more intimidated than Lois did. “Nothing has happened to Kal-El, beyond a small family emergency. I’m sure he’d take it most kindly if the Daily Planet let him deal with this very personal matter on his own time.”
Lois rolled her eyes. “I don’t even know where to begin to tell you what’s wrong with that excuse.”
“Yet, somehow, I’m convinced you’ll do so anyway.” Lex gave her a tight, irritated smile.
“First of all: Superman’s planet? Kind of blew up. So I’m not seeing how it’s even physically possible for him to have a family emergency. Second, even in the unlikely event that something did come up, you’d be the last person to know about Superman’s ‘very personal matters’.”
“And?” Lex could feel his artificial hand digging into his desk, undoubtedly creating a very ugly handprint in the polished wood finish.
“And, finally, your breath stinks,” she informed him with a self-satisfied smirk.
It took every bit of self-control that Lex had spent a lifetime mastering to refrain from ordering Mercy to snap Lois’ neck then and there. He’d actually come up with seven ways of disposing of her body, such that her remains would never be found, before he finally calmed himself down enough to remove his artificial hand from the desktop it had partially crushed and give Mercy a warning look. She looked hopelessly disappointed that she wouldn’t get to strangle Lois with her bare hands.
“Get them out of here,” Lex snapped angrily, gesturing to Hope. Really, it was pointless to try to reason with the slanderous harpy.
The reason he’d reined in his homicidal impulses took that moment to poke his head inside the door. “Hey, Dad?” Conner froze when he saw Lex’s ‘guests’. “Oh. Hi, Lois. Jimmy.”
Jimmy made some frantic movements with his eyeballs that Lex figured was supposed to be Morse Code for SOS. Lois frowned, as if suddenly realizing that maybe Lex did have to a reason to know about certain of Superman’s family matters. It was astonishing, really, how good Clark’s friends were at completely blocking out the fact that Lex was Conner’s father as well.
“Kon,” Lex sighed with relief. He hadn’t realized just how tired he was until he saw a friendly face. “Come on in.”
Conner looked around curiously, finally freezing on Jimmy when he noticed the photographer’s bizarre flailing. “Are you having a seizure or something?” he asked helpfully.
“I believe he’s trying to inform you that I’ve murdered Kal-El with my death ray and the two of them are next. He’s hoping I haven’t brainwashed you into obeying my every evil whim.” Okay, so that had come out a little bit pissy. Lex figured he had a right to be annoyed, however.
Conner blinked at them in surprise. “Dad…er, Other Dad took off to have a breakdown because Grandma died,” he informed Lois seriously. “Everything’s cool. Right?” He looked to Lex.
Lois’ jaw drop when she realized that Lex had actually been telling the truth was almost worth the whole annoying interlude.
“Right,” Lex agreed, snapping for Mercy and Hope to remove the pair of Planet reporters from his sight. “I would press charges but, as you can see, I have important family matters that take precedence.” Lois grimaced, and he turned back to Conner. “What brings you here?”
“Oh.” Conner shook his head at Jimmy’s intense scrutiny, like he was trying to determine whether Conner had a mind-control parasite inserted into his brain. How Jimmy would’ve been able to tell such a thing by squinting at Conner lopsided was beyond Lex, but that didn’t stop him. “Batman just landed on the roof. I told him what’s up. He wants to know when Dad’s getting back.”
Lex felt a headache coming on. “If Kal had been kind of enough to provide me with a flight itinerary before he flew off, I would gladly let him know.”
“Hey, don’t snap at me!” Conner insisted defensively.
“I’m still looking into the 84th Street warehouse!” Lois shouted at him as she was dragged from his office. Apparently, the woman didn’t care whether she was being led to or away from danger; she kicked and screamed both ways.
So, naturally, that was the moment that Lex finally broke down.