Lily Luthor played on a gently rolling slope of green, her red hair glinting in the sun. Giggling, she darted for a low-branched tree, first wrapping her arms around it in a hug and pressing her cheek to the bark, then starting to hoist herself up onto the lowest branch.
"Lily!" the dark-haired woman following her reproved, hurrying to pull her down.
Lex Luthor narrowed his eyes and rose from the bench from which he was watching his child romp to offer his own reproof. "Kathleen," he called sharply. "You are not to discourage her from taking risks. Especially not now."
The woman stopped. "But, Mr. Luthor, if she should get hurt--"
"That is what I am paying you to prevent," he said, and returned to his seat, ignoring the look of mild bafflement the nanny directed at him. He was, after all, asking nothing more of her than he asked of himself; the castle was protected by a web of security like the finest, strongest mesh, but as far as Lily would ever see, there was nothing but grass and trees and a blue sky that stretched from horizon to horizon. That was not a simple task, but he would not have his child growing up afraid. No matter what happened.
"She seems to be recovering well," said the other man sitting on the bench, looking at Lily. "It was a good idea, bringing her out to Smallville."
Lex frowned slightly, automatically bridling at the other's passing judgment on any of his affairs, but--given the circumstances--holding it back. "She likes the country," he contented himself with answering. Then, with an effort, "Thank you. Again."
Clark Kent smiled at him. "I was glad to be able to do it."
"Who should I make the check out to?"
It was Clark's turn to frown. "Not to me."
"When I offered the reward for her return, Clark, I meant it. To anyone who could return her."
"I don't want your money, Lex."
Lex sighed inwardly. Of course not. Superman would never accept money for saving a child from kidnappers. So simple, so inflexible. So conveniently leaving Lex in his debt, with no way to repay it. Intolerable, so he tried again. "Something else, then. Anything else." He looked at Lily, who was swinging from one of the low branches, singing to herself. "Anything."
He was hardly even listening, he so expected the refusal, and thus he almost didn't notice it when Clark said, "Actually. There is something."
He blinked, no more. "And what is that?"
"Lois and I would like to try to have a child."
Lex could feel sheets of white-hot anger flashing through his mind, like lightning heralding a summer storm. But he kept his voice off-hand, refusing to admit he knew where this was going. "It's not that different from sleeping with a man, Clark, and I seem to recall you had a good grasp of that."
He glanced sidelong at Clark, pleased to see the color mount in his cheeks. "Come on, Lex," Clark said, in a determinedly neutral tone. "I'm not human. I'm not even sure if it's possible, and if the child would be...all right. You're the greatest authority on biochemistry on the planet. If anyone can determine whether it's possible, and how, it would be you."
Yes, it would, wouldn't it? "I'd need...samples."
Clark nodded. "You can have whatever you'd need."
Lex shut his eyes so that he didn't have to look at Clark, as the rage broke and rolled through his mind. Clark was offering Lex real power over him--he must know that. With the information Lex could gather about Clark's physiology, he might be able to come up with a hundred ways to defeat him. Yet Clark sat there and agreed without hesitation or apparent regret. For Lois, it seemed, he would sacrifice any secret. The fit of rage, however, passed over into a kind of blankness, as it so often did, and Lex opened his eyes again, looking at Lily. "You realize what that means," he said. Superman would have fair warning. There would be no complaints that this deal had been shady, that the terms had not been clear.
"Yes, I do. Will you do it?"
Lex nodded abruptly. "Have your wife's medical records sent here, and come to the research center on Thursday at nine. I'll be ready for you then." He got up. "Lily?"
"Daddy!" she trilled, tumbling towards him on three-year-old's legs. "Did you see me climbing the tree?"
He held out his arms and picked her up. "Yes, I saw," he assured her. He'd seen every instant of it. Even when his eyes had been closed, if she had gotten in trouble, he would have known in an instant. "They're hostages to fortune, Clark," he said without quite meaning to, not looking away from her beaming little face.
There was a strange note in Clark's voice. "We're willing to take the risk."
Of course he was. For Lois. "Tell Superman goodbye, Lily."
He'd be ready for him on Thursday. Yes, he would.
Lex didn't sleep much for the next few days. He refused to take any time away from Lily, but after she went to bed, he sat up for hours, poring over Lois's records, reviewing the hundred different speculations he'd had about Superman's physiology, feeding possibilities into his computers. Working off his anger in science--living beings turned into DNA sequences, math he could master. Drinking coffee, craving something...more. But not with Lily in the house. Never. He worked on adrenaline and anger alone, and they were enough. He met his schedule.
So did Clark, for once, walking into the new lab space almost exactly at nine on Thursday. He'd probably been pacing around outside, Lex thought sourly. Like an expectant father.
"Hello, Lex," he said. In a friendly tone.
A steady, earnest gaze into his eyes. "Lois asked me to thank you. I wanted to thank you, too. I know we've have had our problems--"
"Indeed." He gave Clark a thin, coolly professional smile. "Let's get down to business."
He nodded. "All right." He wasn't even nervous. Superman had decided to see something through, so it would be done. No panic, no complaints, no regrets. Lex gritted his teeth.
"Have a seat." Lex nodded to the examination chair. Clark sat down. Lex handed him a cup. "Saliva."
Clark started to give him a grin, but Lex stared back blankly. So he shrugged, ducked his head, and spit into the cup. As he did, Lex slid the lead cover off the exposure lamp and swung it down into position over his arm. He heard Clark gasp, saw the flinch away as the green hue crawled up into the surface of his skin, and neatly retrieved the cup from Clark's hand before he spilled it.
"What are you doing?"
"I have to draw blood, Clark," he said. There had been pain in that voice. Lex very carefully did not smile.
"Right." It was gone. Lex swabbed the skin, tied off the arm. "Lex, you know you don't have to--"
"If you object to every step of the procedure," Lex said, holding the syringe up to the light, "this is going to take a very long time."
Clark stilled, and Lex calmly slid the tip of the needle in. No invulnerability now, no skin that repelled all attempts to get underneath it. Just a thin layer of dead protein, yielding up the deep red fluid. Lex watched in fascination as the blood rose in the syringe. The power to draw Clark out at last. The blood, the twitches, the shallow, rapid breaths as the effects of the meteorite traveled up all his arm.
Good. He deserved it. Bastard.
The syringe filled, and Lex withdrew the needle. Three tubes more. Then skin samples. Clark set his jaw and looked stoic when Lex produced the scraper, though beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. Lex drew it along his forearm with smooth precision, savoring the slight tremble under the blade. A fresh one with each stroke; he watched the tremor go up the muscle of his arm, even into the region that hadn't turned green yet. Beautiful.
Then only the hair was left. He adjusted the focus of the lamp and watched Clark's face contort. He fantasized, briefly, about jamming the scissors into Clark's ear--they had a surgically-sharp point--but contented himself with snipping a lock as close to the face as he could manage. Watching the small jump at the sharp clack, the way Clark's throat worked as he swallowed.
Clark almost sprang up as Lex pushed the cover back into place, cutting off the radiation, and Lex's resentment flared. It was over when he said it was over.
"Wait. I still need one more sample." He picked up the jar and handed it to Clark.
Clark frowned. "A sample of...?"
"Semen, Clark," Lex said matter-of-factly. "Though I'm afraid I haven't got any magazines."
"Oh, of course." Clark looked around the room. "Here?"
"Right." He put his hands to the button of his jeans, then glanced up at Lex, clearly expecting him to turn away. Lex, however, just gazed back at him dispassionately. Had Clark really thought he would indulge his modesty in a scenario like this?
Finally, Clark shrugged, undid his jeans, and slid them, and his boxers, down around his shins. He was flaccid, probably a result of the kryptonite exposure. Otherwise, he'd no doubt be completely aroused, thinking of his own nobility and the gratitude that awaited him at home. He and Lois probably had some sort of reward system worked out, Lex thought. So many lives saved for straight intercourse; so many for fellatio. That was, no doubt, how superheroes did it. Virtuously, and with good women, and with the lights off...
When he roused from his reverie, he noted with irritation that Clark hadn't taken matters in hand. Instead, he was just looking at Lex. Like Lex was the one who was naked. "I assume this procedure is familiar to you," he said waspishly.
Clark frowned again, but he didn't respond. Instead, he settled further into the chair and began stroking himself. For a while, Lex was icily amused to note, nothing happened. Clark finally sighed with exasperation and stopped. Lex circled around behind him, leaning down. "Problems?"
Clark looked up at him. "This would be easier if..."
Oh, he was committed to going through with it, no matter what. Lex's smile felt as if it were coming from very far away. "I don't recall your having these problems before, Clark."
That brought color to Clark's cheeks as though they'd been slashed with a paintbrush. It also started to bring his penis up. Lex wasn't sure whether he should be pleased or disappointed.
"Good. We do have a schedule," he said into Clark's ear.
"I have as long as it takes," Clark said firmly.
There was probably some response Lex could make to that, but he'd gotten distracted. Clark's penis was familiar enough, and not troubling, but now that Lex was closer, the smell, musky and warm...It was so much more intimate than the mere sight could ever be. His instincts told him at once, preempting his reason, what his response to that smell was. With the added layer of context, the vision suddenly became unbearable. Revolting. Beautiful. He swallowed and took a step back, fighting the feeling down. Back into the chill, metallic smell of refrigerated lab air, until he was himself again.
Fortunately, Clark, absorbed in his labors, hadn't noticed. Lex stormed at himself for the weakness, made himself observe coldly. This man had spurned him, ruined countless of his projects with his self-righteous interference, then come to him for help building a family with--with a nobody. A shrill, narrow-minded little reporter. It was not Lex who should be uncomfortable. No. When Clark gasped, arched, and spent himself into the specimen jar, Lex's hands were perfectly steady to take it from him.
"That's it," he said. "You can go. I'll call you when I have the results."
Clark got up and buttoned himself up, but instead of making his usual abrupt departure, rising into the sky full of confusion between moral and air superiority, he lingered. "Did you enjoy that, Lex?" he asked, and his tone was an odd mix of anger and pity that set Lex's teeth on edge. The presumption of it, the...
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Enjoy what?"
"You know what I mean. What just happened."
"Oh, you were uncomfortable, Clark?"
"What do you think, Lex?"
"You could have asked me to leave," Lex said reasonably.
"I could have--" Clark flushed. "All right. If that's the kind of game you want to play..." He shook his head. "You said you would help. I thought--"
Oh, that rush of blood to the cheeks. Lex knew it so very well. Anger, fear, shame. He smiled serenely. "Yes?"
"Something I was wrong about, obviously." Clark turned and left then.
Lex stared down at the jar in his hand. He felt strange, but he had work to do.
In the end, as was so often the case, the science was easy, but deciding how to use it was nearly impossible. Lex sat at the terminal in his office in the castle, watching the sequences scroll in front of him. Kryptonians and humans could interbreed with relatively little effort, so little that it raised again all the old worries about the alien species that had haunted him for years. He could achieve it with just a few alteration to Lois's ova. He could give Clark a child.
But what kind of child? He shut his eyes. An anencephalic child. Exposed grey tissue. Lois weeping, Clark comforting her awkwardly, then going off into another room to shed tears himself, muffling them so she wouldn't hear. A child with a rare genetic syndrome, living just long enough to win their hearts and then wasting away. Clark holding the child, coughing, racked with pain, late at night, his big, gentle hands trying to stroke health and hope into it. Carrying an armful of teddy bears into a hospital room, broad shoulders hunched. Or a damaged, but viable, child. Autistic. Never able to return a parent's love. Clark forever patient with it, forever determined on its behalf. He'd love it no matter what it was like.
(Unless it was like Lex Luthor.)
Clark might suspect that Lex had contrived any problems, but he wouldn't know for sure. After all, they were breeding two distinct species together. Lex had offered him no guarantees...
A thump and soft wail from the child monitor interrupted Lex's thoughts. For an instant, his heart stopped as he remembered a small, empty bed, a window swinging open in the storm. He hit another button on the monitor. "Hannah? What's going on?"
Five or six seconds crawled by, and Lex's hand was already in the desk drawer where he kept the gun when she spoke. "Lily rolled out of bed, Mr. Luthor. She gave herself a good scare, but she's fine."
"Are you sure?" He could hear sniffles in the background.
"Yes, I'm sure. Tell your dad you're okay, Lily."
"I bumped my leg, Daddy..."
"Oh, I'm sorry, sweetheart. Hannah--"
"...but it's okay now. Can Hannah read me another story before I go back to sleep?"
"Yes," he said, "yes, she can. Good night, Lily."
"Good night, Daddy."
He leaned back in his chair, waiting for his pulse to slow. As he did, he realized that he was being foolish. He didn't need to betray Clark in such a melodramatic, Grand Guignol fashion. Giving him exactly what he'd asked for would be punishment enough
The most perfect child Lex could contrive for him. A child to bring out Clark's boyish, delighted smile, to make his hazel eyes soften with tenderness. Healthy, strong, intelligent--and still so fragile. Clark's flesh rendered vulnerable with no kryptonite at all. Even the ideal child would bring grief and care and heartbreak on him for the rest of his life. The inexplicable cries of the infant baffled by the strangeness of being in this world--Lex could still remember how he'd raged silently at his inability to do anything to ease Lily's discomfort. The nights spent worrying about her now. The inevitable adolescent crises--looking forward to them, he could almost sympathize with Lionel. Clark would suffer for his request. He would.
He couldn't blame Lex, either. Lex had warned him, though unintentionally. Hostages to fortune.
He brought the chair forward and began to work.
A little over nine months later, Lex Luthor was called away from a society dinner by an urgent message. He knew what it was even before he picked up the phone; he'd followed the course of the pregnancy, naturally, in case there were any mishaps.
"Lex!" Clark's voice was almost breaking with joy. He sounded the way he had the first time Lex had let him drive the Spyder--all innocent wonder. "It's a boy."
Lex smiled a little--it must have been the wine. "That I already knew. How is he?"
"He's...oh, Lex. Lex, he's beautiful. He's hideous--he's all wrinkled and covered in muck--but he's beautiful. You know?"
And Lex did know, did remember. Looking down at Lily and thinking that it was all so nearly perfect he could have wept. "Yes..."
"Lois is well, too. You should come to the hospital and see--"
Lex's stomach abruptly lurched. See the happy Kents in the cozy domesticity he had made for them. See Clark with another woman. He'd never leave her now. Not with young Hiram to keep them together. Lex didn't think so. They wouldn't want him there, either, once they'd thought about it. "Well, I'm very busy right now, Clark. I've kept my end of the bargain; I don't think I have extra time to devote to the project."
"Oh." Clark's voice went quiet. "I see."
"And I'm actually in the middle of dinner at the moment..." Not that he'd be able to keep any of it down after this. "So I have to go. Congratulations. Goodbye."
He was about to hang up, but Clark said, "Lex?"
"Lily needs someone to play with."
For an instant, anger flared in Lex's mind again--how dare he tell him what his child needed?--and then he realized what Clark meant. "You want her to..."
"I'll give you a call when we get settled in at home, and you can bring her over to meet him."
He was silent so long that Clark finally prompted him, "Right?"
Lex cleared his throat. "She--I'll check her social calendar, but I think we can fit it in."
"Great, Lex. And thanks again. Just--thanks so much."
Lex sat in the room for a little while after he hung up, determined not to scrub at his eyes. Then he went back to dinner and ordered champagne all around.