By my fault

by LaCasta

Thanks to Mary Ellen (who liked it enough to tell me to post it), Kaveri, and Teleen!
I adore feedback of all kinds!

Title: By my fault
Author: LaCasta
Rating: NC-17 for violence
Disclaimer: Not mine. Other peoples'.

Notes: This started as a "what would it take to get Dark!Clark" musing. Tone changes after the first bit, so be warned.

"Hey, Clark guy,

Greatest summer ever! New York is amazing and Habitat is sooooo great. Next time you see Billoinaire Boy, tell him he can have my first-born son. At any rate, until diaper age is over. Oh, this is bad, now I have a mental image of Lex Luthor looking at a wet baby. Baaaaaaaaaad moment.

We just finished rehabbing a house for a family from Bosnia. The dad, Zdenko, is in a wheelchair. Land mines--UGH! His and his wife, Zlata, both used to be engineers but they don't speak much English yet so are having a hard time finding jobs. Grenko, their kid, is two. I tell you, he looks like he's supervising, sometimes he gets this big frown, other times he grins his head off. Zlata brings him with when she comes to work on the house.

We're all staying at the YMCA, and it's like a big United Nations sleepover. You walk down the halls and hear every language there is.

Speaking of girls. (Which we never do, eh, Clark?) There's this one amazing girl from Jamaica (island, not New York), Tonu, here on the site. I think I'm really impressing her with my suave studliness. But just to make sure she doesn't feel too overwhelmed by the perfect male that is me, I drop things whenever I see her. For a change, sometimes I babble. Or open and shut my mouth a lot. Which I think makes her dream about kissing me. This morning when we were walking to the site, I kept trying to think of the kinds of questions that draw a girl out, make her realize you're interested in her as a person, and all that. But all I could think of was stupid stuff. So I blurted out, "How do you spell hieroglyph?"

Blush blush blush blush blush blush blush.

I babbled that I'd been to the Museum a while ago and it was just one of those things that got into my head and was bothering me, you know?

But here comes the great part.

"Oh, you've been to the museum?"

"Just to see if they have my portrait up yet."

"Maybe we could go sometime?"

She asked ME on a DATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gotta go now!

Irresistible Pete"

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! What terrible timing for going off camping for a week. Ah, Chloe will let me use her laptop to check email. Especially if I tell her why. We have to find out about The Adventures of Pete the Love Machine. The camp has got to have net access, right? It'd be uncivilized not to.

I'd remember to tell Lex how much his program meant, though maybe leaving out Pete the Love Machine saga. He'd set up scholarships to cover the expenses, and pay the equivalent of a summer job, for anybody who was in the hostage situation, and wanted to spend the summer volunteering somewhere. Pete had gone off to Habitat for Humanity in New York, Lana had gone to Metropolis to work for a women's shelter. Chloe had already arranged for an internship with the town paper so she didn't go. I didn't go because Mom and Dad needed me on the farm, but Lex promised that the offer was good for sometime when I could go, and arranged for anybody who could just take a week to work as junior counselors at a camp for kids with chronic diseases.

He said it was all just good PR. Would help build workforce loyalty. I decided not to ask why he did the details himself. Sometimes he seemed to like thinking he was a cold businessman like his father. I had no idea why, but didn't care, since I knew who he was.

"No cell phones. No PDAs. No electronic games. Nothing with an off-on switch." The camp counselor didn't even blink at Chloe's reaction.

"But my laptop is really more a part of me than a computer. I almost never turn it off, so that means that it doesn't really have an on-off switch."

"Nice try."

"Did you ever see Mutiny on the Bounty?"

"Did you ever see me in Tae Kwan Do demonstration matches?" The counselor firmly locked the laptop in the locker.

"Clark, this is not funny! It's deprivation!"

"It's the wilderness experience. Ow!" Sure, the smack didn't hurt, but the glare could have killed.

"The Head Hun there has a cell phone. One of those net ones, too. `In case of emergencies,' she says. Like somebody posts something new to alt dot torture dot innocent dot high schoolers."

Chloe had covertly planned to train our little charges as roving reporters looking for more meteor weirdness and post the results daily to the "Web page of Weird." "C'mon, Chloe, there's this crazy stuff that they make from dead trees. It might just catch on. Some name like, oh, `paper?'"

"Thanks for the ride!" I ran back up to the house.

Dad's in the living room and gets up and hugs me. "Clark, I was waiting for you to call for a ride. Did you run?"

"Naah, Chloe's dad gave me a lift. Where's Mom?"

"Elaine, you know her, that college friend, had a premie, and Mom went to go see her and the baby. She called and said she'd be back Sunday. Have a good time?"

There was a newspaper on the table and I saw the headline. "Luthor kidnappers still at large." I grabbed it and saw words seem to spin around. Hospitalized. Serious injuries. And his disappearance had been reported the day after I left.

"How could you do this?!" Dad opened his mouth but I didn't even let him start. "I wasn't given my gifts just to help people you happen to like! If it had been Lana or Chloe or Pete, or even anybody other than a Luthor, a stranger, you'd have called, and I'd have come back and helped. But you let them do it. You let them hurt my friend. The man I want to spend my life with." He stared at me.

I hadn't even been certain myself until I saw that newspaper. I thought that maybe what I felt sometimes when I looked at him was what it said in our health book, "Many teenagers go through a period of confusion over their sexual orientation." But then I knew that I was in love with Lex.

"I'm going to the hospital." I ran out of the house without looking at him.

"No visitors aside from immediate family. I'm sorry, dear."

That was what she thought. I was going see Lex no matter what. But I pretended to agree. "Okay. Can I leave him a note or something?" The lady at the front desk passed me a pen and her notepad. I'd just finished when she said, "There's one of his nurses now. She can take it right to him instead of putting it on the mail cart."


She waved the nurse over. "Could you take this to Lex Luthor's room when you go back?"

"'Course. Wait, are you Clark something? I think I remember you from the Farmer's Market." I nodded and she looked at the front desk lady. "I'll take responsibility for this--Luthor's been asking for him sometimes. I'll take you up now."

I'm not going to cry I'm not going to cry I'm not going to cry. Lex was in danger, was being hurt, and I wasn't here. And he wanted to see me and I wasn't here. But I'm not going to cry I'm not going to cry I'm not going to cry.

"How is he?"

She stopped and looked at me. I knew that was a bad sign. "He's been seriously hurt."

"What happened?"

"They think that the kidnappers were business rivals or some kind of enemy of his father's. They didn't ask for ransom. They...hurt him, rather badly."

"Will he be all right?"

"He'll definitely survive."


She stopped outside a door. "Listen, Clark. This is going to be very hard for you if you're his friend. He looks very bad and we have him on some serious drugs for the pain. Do you think you can handle it?"

"I've not got a choice."

A heavily armed man was just inside the room, in front of a second door, gun at the ready. He nodded recognition at the nurse but searched both of us. They're doing a good job of protecting him now, I wanted to say.

He unlocked the door and I went in with the nurse. I'd not have recognized Lex if it weren't for his being bald. His poor face was so battered and looked like he had been burned, too.

The nurse put a hand on my arm. "Are you going to be okay, Clark? He's not awake now but he dozes on and off."

"I'll wait."

I pulled up a chair to the side of the bed, finding a spot where there wasn't any equipment. She showed me where the button is to call if he woke up and wanted anything and left.

I couldn't even touch him without being scared of hurting him. I decided that I had to see how bad it was. His skull wasn't fractured but his right cheekbone looked like a jigsaw puzzle. Under the covers and under various bandages and contraptions, I could see that there was almost no part of him that wasn't bruised or bloody or burnt.

I wanted to stop looking but couldn't. At least I wouldn't go out of my mind if I was systematic, I decided. His right shoulder was broken and so was his forearm. And then I saw what they'd done to his hand. They'd pulled every fingernail out. Some of the fingers were broken, too. Then I looked at his left hand. They'd cut off everything but his thumb.

How did he stay alive? I had to know what else had happened to him. Some of his ribs were broken. I stopped looking when I reached his hips. I'd never let myself, well, pretty much literally undress him with my eyes.

But this wouldn't be for myself, I decided and looked. I wished I hadn't. He was still...beautiful...but when I looked under his skin, I saw that they must have raped him. He was so torn up, not just outside, but inside. People do this kind of thing to people. People did this to Lex. To my Lex.

I made myself look at the rest of him. His knees were in such bad shape I wondered if they'd have to be replaced, and his feet were just like his hands, all the nails missing and some of the toes cut off.

Then I realized I must be the most selfish pig alive. I actually caught myself wondering if this meant that I'd never ever have sex with him, if he was too hurt inside. Or if he just would never want to. Sometimes I'd thought that he wanted me. Or that he might want me. But now how could he want anybody?

"Who is it?" While I was thinking, he must have woken up.

"It's Clark. Oh, Lex, I'm so sorry."

"Not your fault. I checked. Some of the ugly buildings in Cleveland, global warming, the common cold, and probably bad science fiction, those are your fault. Not this, though." His voice was raspy and slurred. He didn't know that I should have been able to save him. From at least some of this. How could Dad have done this to him, to me?

"Do you want anything? I'll call the nurse."

"No, thanks."

"I'd have come earlier. But I was away, you know. I didn't even know until this morning." Please, Lex, don't think that I knew and didn't care.

"My bad timing. You'd have saved me."

"Don't say that!"

"Clark, I was joking. You couldn't have. Despite your track record."

He slept off and on during the afternoon. I went to the bathroom once, when I thought he was sound asleep, but I heard him call quietly for me when I came back out, and he smiled with relief when I sat back down.

The nurse returned after maybe an hour, pushing a cart.

"How's the scale?" she asked.

"Oh, seven."


"Okay, nine. But it feels like it should be seven." He saw me look confused. "Sorry, Clark, we're just trading racing tips."

She looked at him oddly, then put a new bag in one of the IVs and adjusted some of the settings on another. "I'm going to check some of the dressings."

His eyelids flickered. "Clark, I hear the cafeteria here has to be experienced to be truly believed." I didn't want to go, but he added, almost in his old tone of voice, "That was a hint. Just go, okay? Fifteen minutes or so, right?"

"Make it half an hour, just to be sure." Her head is bent over a sheaf of paperwork and she's writing down numbers from the machines.

I felt like confessing I'd probably seen more than any of the doctors had, but knew I couldn't explain. "Okay."

I couldn't even think about eating so I wandered around, checking my watch every few seconds, I think. I bought a newspaper and leafed through it for any more details on who did this to him, thinking that at least I could find out who did this to him and make them pay. It wouldn't be as good as having stopped them or prevented it, but...I wanted to see them suffer. I wanted to make them suffer in front of him. And then I'd kill them.

Images floated through my mind. I imagined Lex lying in bed, and my bringing him the people who had hurt him, one by one. When each one was dead, I'd put them at his feet like a sacrifice to an ancient god.

I wanted to feel ashamed of this but I couldn't. I enjoyed it.

I made myself sit down and read. The story didn't have any details on suspects, it was just an update. "Lionel Luthor declined an interview but sent a statement to the press. When his security team advises him that it will not put his son in further danger, he will join him. In the meantime, he is deliberately conducting business as usual." I asked the volunteer in the gift shop if they have any older papers and she went back to check, saying sometimes they keep them for wrapping. She came back with one from three days ago.

Lex is the headline. "Luthor heir found alive in garbage dump."

"In an apparently elaborately planned setup, Alexander "Lex" Luthor was released by his captors. The television stations and newspapers, including branches of the national chains, were simultaneously contacted and told that he would be found at a specific latitude and longitude. These coordinates were immediately traced to the trash dump in Smallville, where Luthor managed one of the LuthorCorp plants. There, police and media found the badly injured Luthor, who was taken to the local hospital for treatment. He is described as being in stable condition.

"Lionel Luthor, his father and CEO of LuthorCorp, declared the kidnapping and means of his son's return as `infamous' and that every means would be taken to bring his assailants to justice. `Men of integrity settle their quarrels honestly, not with violence and an attempt to rob a man of his dignity. This vile and cowardly deed will be punished in the courts of law and, I hope, by a higher justice. However, I cannot express enough thanks to the people of LuthorCorp, all those who attempted to help find him, to the medical staff who are tending to him, and to all the people around the world who said a prayer for my boy.'" The rest of the article talked about famous business kidnappings.

Twenty more minutes. I realized that there were no flowers, no cards, in Lex's room. Not even from his father. Business as usual.

Time dragged until my watch finally said I could go back up. The guard searches me again. Lex looked so drained. "Did she hurt you?"

"Jesus, Clark, you sound fierce."

"Did she hurt you?"

"It hurt but it wasn't her fault. Clark, don't make any scenes, okay? I know you're mad this happened to me, and I'm not real pleased about it myself, but--"

"It shouldn't have happened."

"Okay, so you're like my older brother now. Wants to beat up anybody who hurts his little bro." His voice got even more slurred and trailed off.

"Not wants to, Lex. Will," I said, but under my breath.

While he slept, I thought of the ways I could find out who did this to him. I realized that I don't have the same resources the police do. Or that Lionel Luthor would. Maybe, I thought, when he comes, I can talk to him, tell him that if he finds out who they are, I'll be the higher justice. There would be no way they could hide from me or stop me. Or if he wouldn't help me, I could just get into his office or a police office. *Who'd have thought I'd have a reason to thank Phelan?*

*If only Dad had called me when Lex first disappeared, I'd have found them as well as him. Even if it had taken me a day, I'd have spared him some of this. I can't ever forgive Dad. Never. Now I don't even know if Lex will ever be able to walk again.*

Lex tried to move in his sleep and groaned.

The door opened and a doctor came in. "Can't you give him anything better for the pain?"

"First of all, son, I'm a plastic surgeon, I'm here only to see what kind of reconstructive surgery we can do. Second, without having all the notes here, the odds are good that he's being given as much as his system can stand. Are you his-?"

"Best friend. Clark Kent."

"Willie Peters. I'm with the Mayo Clinic but Mr. Luthor, senior, I mean, called me in."

Lex opened his eyes and Dr. Peters introduced himself. "All right, young man, let's take a look. I've already seen the X-rays and have your old dental records and some photographs. I think we've got a good chance of getting your face back the way it was." He used instruments with various kinds of lights, muttering and writing things down, occasionally touching Lex's face with just his fingertips.

"What's the verdict?" Lex asked.

"I can't tell for certain until the current swelling goes down completely, of course. Your right cheekbone is the worst, that's practically shattered."

"They kicked me."

"Classic radiating breakage. It might take multiple surgeries as the bone starts to heal, since sometimes the growth patterns are affected by the damage to individual parts of the bone. The rest will be pretty minor by comparison. The acid burns should heal normally over time. If the scarring is bad, we can consider skin grafts but I don't want to challenge your immune system, not at this time."

"Immune system. Did they give Lex AIDS?" I didn't realize I said that out loud until they both looked at me. Lex's eyes were so sad.

"It's a possibility, son. There are the morning-after drugs, and he's had those, just as a general precaution, but we won't know for sure until the dormancy period is over."

"And that's a long time isn't it?"

"It can be. But what I mean for right now is if we give him skin grafts, it would be another thing for his body to deal with. There are other fractures in various other parts of your face bones," he turned to Lex again, "But those won't need surgery. Once the swelling is down, we'll know for certain whether you might need some touch-up work."

"Remember that scene from Edward Scissorshands?" Lex tried to laugh. "Sounds a bit like that."

"Most of my patients say things like `Make me look like Julia Roberts.' Cher is another popular one. Edward Scissorshands is a bit different."

"But appropriate."

"We'll get your face looking almost back to normal."

Lex looked as though he wanted to believe it but wasn't sure he could. The doctor left.



"How did you know to wonder whether I have AIDS?"

Fortunately, I had time to think of my lie. "They cut you so much. And when he said that about your immune system, I thought maybe...I guess it's easy to panic."

"Very easy." He closed his eyes for a second. "All the times my father warned me about how my lifestyle...and now if I have it, it's because of business."

I had to grab this opening. "Business. Who did it?"

He tried to laugh again. "My father probably hasn't even finished the list of possibilities."

"But you don't know?"

"I was blindfolded. I was lucky they didn't blind me period. Aside from not wanting to lose my eyes, gave me a tiny bit of hope that they'd let me go. For a while, though, I just wanted them to finish it. To kill me. I even...asked them to."


"There is one thing, Clark."


"I don't want it to catch you by surprise. They cut the fingers off my left hand. I'm going to need a prosthetic. Some of my toes were gangrenous when I got here so the hospital amputated them. That's part of why I was joking about Edward Scissorshands."

The nurse came back just as I was trying to think what to say. "I'm sorry, but visiting hours are over now."

"I don't think I should go." *You'll have to throw me out.* I wanted to show Lex that I'd stay with him no matter what, so I was almost disappointed when she looked thoughtful and then looked at Lex. "If you'd like, we could set up a cot for him."

"Clark, you don't have to stay. Not unless you want to."

"I want to."

"No spare pyjamas, but I'm sure they've got plenty of these lovely hospital robes. The fashion world is just crazy about the fit and the colors."

The nurse laughed, "I think we can manage something else."

"Paper towels and a stapler?"

"Don't make me write `attitude problem' on your chart, Mr. Luthor. But maybe, Clark, your Mom or Dad could bring you some things? If not, we do have spares in the pediatric department for when parents stay overnight."

"I'll take the spares, if that's okay. I wouldn't disturb Dad."

Lex looked oddly at me and I guessed he heard the bitterness in my voice. But when they brought the cot in for me, he smiled and said, "I didn't want to ask, but I'm glad you're staying."

"As long as you need me."

His voice slurred again. "You're a good friend, Clark." *You'll see how good a friend I am. I always will be.*

I decided that I couldn't think yet about who I'd have to punish, but I could think about how. The problem was that I didn't know exactly what they'd done to my Lex, and he sounded as though he'd be cagy with me. He only told me about his hands and feet because he was afraid that I'd see them. I couldn't really blame him for not wanting to talk about it. But I'd have to get him to tell me, and I wondered how I could make him.

When the phone rang we both jumped. He grimaced when he automatically reached for it, raising his bandaged, useless hand.


"Who is this?" The voice was familiar but I couldn't place it.

"Who are you?" Lex looked up in surprise at my tone.

I could feel the caller's annoyance across the phone and it gave me a thrill of power when he gave in. "This is Lionel Luthor." *The one who didn't protect Lex. You've not been punished enough.*

"I'll see if he's able to talk to you."


I covered the receiver with my hand. "Your father. Do you want to..."

He gestured for me to put the phone on the pillow next to his ear. "Father."

I could barely hear him so I moved closer as if to hold the phone better for Lex. "Yes. Your condition is improving." It sounded like an order rather than a statement or even a question.

"Considerably." Lex swallowed. "Your statement was excellent. I particularly liked the part about `my boy.'"

"Elspa is a good writer."

"A suggestion."

"Go ahead."

"Blood drive. Get `an employee who would rather not be identified' to organize a grass-roots blood drive. All the LuthorCorp branches. Looks like an outpouring of love for the Tsarevich."

A dry chuckle. "Not bad at all."

"I thought so."

"I've given the Kreiss project to Philip Bellairs. He'll call you if he needs anything. Also, I want you to stay at the hospital for another two days. Elspa will arrange for the exit and tell you what you need to do. If I can fit it in I'll be there. Everything will be set up at the mansion by then."


"Good night."

"Good night." Lex nodded to me to hang up.

"Lex..." I looked at him helplessly.

"Tough old devil, isn't he?" I had to be mistaken, I decided, about the note of what was almost affection in Lex's voice. Or else it was the drugs. "I could tell you could hear."


"Clark, if I'd minded, I'd have asked you to leave."

"I wouldn't have. I have to know what's happening to you."

"The true Kent spirit. That is, the not leaving unless he wants to. Knowing, that's another matter..." He closed his eyes and I returned to my thoughts.

They'd hurt the person I love. I'd find ways to hurt the people they love. If anybody like that does love. At least the people who belong to them. Lex now belongs to me. He doesn't have a father any more, just like I don't. But I'll be enough for him.

After a while, Lex fell asleep and I turned out the light. The nurse had brought pyjamas and I started to change. In the dark, I bumped into the edge of the cot and dropped my belt. At the sound of the buckle hitting the floor, Lex cried out, a tiny, muffled cry.

"What? What is it, Lex?"

"Clark? Is that you?" He sounded terrified. "Please, Clark, turn the light on!"

I fumbled for the switch and stood helplessly next to him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"No, I'm sorry. It was just waking up and hearing a sound, not being able to see who it was."

"Got it." I felt less guilty for having looked at him the way I did, since I'd have guessed by now what had happened. "I'll leave the light on."

"No night light," he said tightly, angrily. "And you don't need to tell me a story. No teddy bear, either."

"Not even me?" I tried to smile at him but he turned his face away. Oh, Lex, you blame yourself for being so hurt and frightened.

About midnight, I heard a sound at the door and sat up. It was just the nurse, who came in with a flashlight and checked the machines and added a new bag to the IV. She gestured for me to follow her closer to the door, and said, very quietly, "Clark, your dad is here, he asked me to let you know that he's waiting for you whenever you're ready to come home."

"I'll go out to him. I don't want him to wait for me."

He was sitting in a worn chair in the corridor, looking tired. "Clark, I-"

I cut him off with a gesture. "I wish I could show you what Lex looks like. I'll just have to tell you instead. His face is smashed in. He's been burnt with acid. His knees are crushed. His toes had to be amputated because of gangrene. They cut off most of his hand and pulled out all his fingernails. I stopped counting how many broken bones he has." I drew my face near his and savagely whispered in his ear, "They raped him. He's a pulp all the way inside as far as their cocks, or whatever else they used, could reach. I looked."

He turned away and I saw that there were tears in his eyes. But Lex hadn't been able to cry, at least not in my arms. I hadn't been able to let myself cry. "Clark, I'll never forgive myself."

"I'll never forgive you."

"Son-" He controlled himself.

"I'm not your son any more. Lex is my entire family now."

"Your mother isn't to blame. She was with her friend. Just like you were, Clark. She must have thought that I'd tell you, since I had the camp number."

"She was wrong. She should have known how much you hated Lex. How jealous you were. You probably thought it was funny that they found him in a garbage dump. You probably thought that was the best place for him."


I turned around and went back to Lex, but not before I saw the tears return to his eyes. *I know how much you love me. I know how much this hurts you. It's agony to see the child you've loved so long turn away from you and to know that it was your doing. You're filled with guilt and pain.* That's why, as I walked back, I was smiling.

When I went down to check for a newspaper, the headline was "Lead in Luthor kidnapping." I grabbed the paper so hard that I crushed it, and I had to buy another.

"Yesterday, William Finston, 34, of Metropolis, turned himself in for the kidnapping of Alexander "Lex" Luthor. He said that he and his associates, whom the ringleader had recruited separately, had been paid for their involvement, but that he did not know their identities. When asked why he confessed, he answered that he was being followed and was afraid for his life.

He is being held without bond. No further details are available as the investigation is pending."

I went back up to Lex's room. Another doctor was there, a woman who was sitting next to the bed in my spot. "It depends on a lot, Mr. Luthor. We can't predict these things with the kind of accuracy we'd like."

"So you don't know anything at all, really?"

"If you want to put it that way."

He rolled his eyes. "I want to know if I'll be in a wheelchair all my life. Give me odds, a guess, anything to go on. Screw being professional, be human."

She sighed. "I really shouldn't do this, but fine. I think you'll probably need a wheelchair to go any distance, more than a block, but will be able to move around some on your own."


"I've tentatively scheduled the knee replacements for three weeks. It will be difficult because of all the other damage, and there's a possibility, though a remote one, that a full replacement won't be feasible. Then, assuming it is, physical therapy. Without your toes, balance will be a big problem and you'll have to learn to correct for that."

His eyes were hooded. "I see."

She got up and left.

I didn't know what to say so I just showed Lex the newspaper. He nodded slowly. "It makes sense. Maybe it's hindsight, didn't feel personal. It felt like they were doing a job. Not hating it but not enjoying it. Business."

"Who do you think--" I stopped, feeling like I'd put my foot in my mouth, but Lex just looked thoughtful.

"Depends. There are more than enough people who hate LuthorCorp, or the Luthor family. But most of them, like your father, just say things." *Lex, you don't know, you don't know what my father did to you. I won't tell you, not yet.*

The phone rang, this time, it was a woman.

"I'm Elspa Denniston. I'd like to speak to Lex Luthor, please."

Lex gestured for me to put the phone on the pillow.

"Your father's schedule won't allow him to be in Smallville tomorrow so I've arranged for you to leave very inconspicuously. Of course, this is now to avoid security problems and exposing you to publicity for which you're not ready. Approximately 2:00. A van will take you to the mansion where everything is set up. Staff, equipment, and so on. Best of the best."

"I wouldn't expect anything less from your arrangements."

She paused, even sounded hesitant. "If you think it would be too taxing, he also okayed your leaving the day after tomorrow."

"Tomorrow will be fine."

"Good. I'll confirm tomorrow morning, of course."

"Thank you, Elspa."

"My pleasure, Mr. Luthor."

After I hung up, he looked thoughtful.

"Lex, are you sure you'll be ready to leave tomorrow?"

"Probably better equipped than here. I'm not even sure why he didn't do that from the start."

"He probably thought that a nice homecoming would make a good photo op."

"Clark, Clark, you're turning cynical. Am I rubbing off on you? That's also probably the best explanation."

"Lex, he treats you like garbage!"

"No, Clark, he treats me an asset whose value he knows exactly. The Luthor heir. Father of the next generation of Luthors. But--a son is an asset that can be replicated. He's got more than one reason for talking to me about marriage to a good woman rather than just screwing whores and rent, uh, tramps. He lets me know he hasn't married again and fathered a replacement heir because he loved my mother and doesn't want another Mrs. Luthor at his side, but if he has to, he will."

"He loved your mother?"

"He was crazy about her. We both were. Sometimes when they left...I pretended to myself that she was just going to come through the door, like she did when I was a little kid, and make everything all right."

I couldn't take any more. Besides, I had a job to do. "I've got to go, Lex. I'll be back later today, okay?" He nodded, still looking into the distance.

I first went to the library where I looked up what I needed to know. I found the jail where Finston was being held, and figured out how I could get in, then went to his house and did the same. By that time, it was almost night, so I didn't have long to wait.

Nobody was watching but I was still quiet, just in case. I first went to the kitchen and took the phone off the hook, then tiptoed up the stairs.

The little girl's room was all yellow and pink, like a pretty Easter egg. She didn't even stir in her sleep, she was sleeping peacefully. Was it only a few days ago that I was teaching kids that age silly songs and giving them piggy-back and horsey-back rides? Chloe laughed so hard when five of them wanted a ride at once. I did what I needed to and left as quietly as I'd arrived.

The Kinko's was open all night and empty, and I finished there quickly and quietly as well.

In the jail, he was asleep. I slapped him awake and held the newsprint in front of his face, holding my hand over his mouth. "A pretty pink and yellow room with a seven-year-old girl in bunny pyjamas. The day before, it looked like an illustration from a book. Now, it looks like an illustration from a police manual." His tears poured over my hand and he tried to hit me. I held her teddy bear so he could see it, told him, "It's because of what you did to Lex Luthor," then ran out again. I heard him scream as I left.

Outside, I closed my eyes for an instant. One last thing to do tonight. I returned to the house and to the little girl's bedroom, and carefully put the teddy bear back. I don't think she'd even woken up. "Be better than your father," I whispered and left.

When I got back to the hospital, it was already late morning. There was somebody in a suit talking to Lex.

"It's okay, we were finished," he said and got up. "Philip Johnson, FBI."

"Do you know who did it?"

"Can't say yet. We might be getting closer, we might not. Take care, Mr. Luthor, we'll be in touch." Lex nodded a bit and Johnson left.

"Lex, do they know anything?"

"He said Finston described the person who hired him. So he wasn't being honest with you, Clark. Hard to believe of a government employee but sometimes it's true. Finston was also paid in diamonds and they've got those. They'll see if they can trace the sale."

"Did you recognize the description?"

"No. Could have been four or five people."


He gave me a real strange look, almost as though he guessed what I was thinking. "Business people."

"Who specifically?"

"Clark, it's not your concern."

*Yes it is. But it doesn't matter if you won't tell me. I've gotten Finston all ready to talk. He should be good and scared now. He knows by now, probably, that I didn't hurt the little girl but he knows I can.*

Lex slept some more and I sat and thought about what to do next. The phone rang maybe an hour later.

"This is Elspa Denniston. Is Lex Luthor available?"

The phone had woken him up so I put it on his pillow again. "Your father will be able to make it after all. I'll be there around 1:00 to get things ready, and he'll be there sometime afterwards. He's asked the media to keep it quiet and you know what that means."


"I'll see you this afternoon."


After I hung up, he looked at me. "Better go home now Clark."

"What? I'm not going!"

"Clark, I don't want you and him to come into contact. I don't want you in whatever pictures appear in the papers or on tv."

"Are you ashamed of being friends with me?"

"You know I'm not."

"I want to stay with you."

"It's a bad idea. Listen, he'll probably fly out again tonight. Come over then."


"Don't argue with me over this. Please, Clark?"

I didn't want to but I nodded. After all, this way I could get things done sooner.

Finston recognized me when I came back to the jail. It was harder getting in during the daytime but I managed.

"Brianna's not dead," he stammered. "You didn't hurt her."

"I didn't. I wrote that cutting myself. But you know I got into your house and I can do it again. So tell me everything."

"Okay, fine. Listen, I don't know who the guy who hired us was, but everything I know," he stumbled over the words, "Everything I know, I'll tell you."

I waited. "It was somebody else who hired me. Not the one I described. He gave me the diamonds to put in the bank, said they were so hot I'd never be able to sell them anyway and that he'd know if I did."

"Who was this?"

"Honest, I don't know! He wore a ski mask and it was dark. Skinny mouth, though. White. Not real old. Not big or small, just kind of average. Honest, that's all I know!"

"What about the others? Who else was in it?"

"Part of the deal was that I'd kill the three of them afterwards. That way they wouldn't talk."

"Did you?"

"Yeah. Had to before I got paid. I shot them, stuffed the bodies in an old car trunk, pushed it into the river."


"The embankment at Union." *I'll find out if you're lying.*

"So why did you confess?"

"Brianna. I got pancreatic cancer. Maybe three months to live. If I'm lucky. I'd not done shit to provide her with a future. You think you'll live forever. I had a record, anyway, couldn't get a real job, not with real money. So when this guy offers me half a million, cash, to rough up some rich asshole, even says that I gotta be careful not to kill him, says what I have to do and what I can't do, I'm not going to say no. Not when I got a kid to take care of. A father has to do what he can for his kid, you know?"

I got lost on the way to the river and went into a Subway to ask directions. There was a television on in the corner. "Next, the shocking developments in the Luthor kidnapping case."

I wanted to throw something through the window each time there was a commercial instead of the news coming back. "The diamonds used in payment have been traced to a purchase financier Winston Piper made at Sotheby's in 1998. He claims that they were stolen from him and that he is completely innocent of any involvement. Earlier, the kidnap victim, Lex Luthor, was released from the hospital." They showed footage of Lionel Luthor pushing a wheelchair with Lex in it, up to a big van with a lift. After Lex was raised into the van, Lionel got in, and put his hand on Lex's shoulder as a bodyguard closed the door.

"He's got guts," said a man standing in line. "If somebody did that to me, I'd sure not go out in public, no matter how many bodyguards I had."

"Did you see the thing in yesterday's paper? They were talking about how he went into a factory to get out some kids who were being held hostage?" That was a lady next to him.

"Yeah. Who'd have thought that a scum like Lionel Luthor would have a son like that?"

"He was a wild one in college, though, everybody says," another woman said.

"Ahhh, who isn't?" The man laughed a bit. "I did my share of partying."

I finally got directions and left. Finston had been telling the truth; there was a car there and there were three bodies in it. They'd gotten off too easily, but there was nothing I could do about it. I'd go back to Lex now, see if this Piper person fit the description, if he'd have any reason to do something like that to Lex.

Richard, the doorman, let me in and I forgot to ask if Lionel was still there. I heard Lex and Lionel Luthor talking.

"I still can't believe that it was Piper. If anything, he was winning."

"He was doing no such thing," Lionel snapped. "He was probably over-extending his credit. Just like he was making me do. He thought this would distract me."

"He should have known better."

Lex looked worried when he saw me and Lionel got up. "Who is this young man, Lex?" he asked, almost drawling.

"This is Clark Kent. His family runs a farm and he delivers produce."

"I see. Kent. Jonathan's boy? You don't look like him."

"I was adopted." I couldn't read Lex's face at all, the mask had dropped back down.

"I see. You deliver produce, hmm? You hardly look old enough to drive."

"I'm fifteen."

"Fifteen, eh?"

Lex had gone paler than even before. "Thank you, Clark, for stopping by. The cook will let you know what she wants for next week."

"Oh, Lex doesn't tell you what kind of fruit he'd like each week?"

I finally understood what he meant by those sneers and looks at me, and I felt myself go red. Just then, the butler came back with a package.

"This came for Mr. Lex."

"Unwrap it, will you?"

It was a tiny tree, smaller than Lex's hand, in a tiny pot. "Was there a card?"

The butler read it. "Lex--I was passing by on the way to the convention and heard about what happened. Not quite flowers, but this one's about sixty years old, so it should last longer anyway. Take care. Ivy Wheaton."

"Ivy Wheaton...that name is so familiar...wait, is she still around?"

"She drove off, but might not have gotten to the main gate yet, with the additional security."

"Call her back, would you, if she's not left the grounds."

Lionel Luthor raised his eyebrows. "Ivy Wheaton? I think I remember that name. Where's your Who's Who?" Lex gestured vaguely at one of the bookshelves and Luthor went over. "This is an old one." Lex didn't say anything as Lionel leafed through the pages. "Yes, that is the one I was thinking of. I didn't know you knew her. She hardly travels in your circles," he added, with another weird look at me.

He didn't tell me to go, not that I would have, so I stayed, since I wanted to make sure that this Wheaton person was safe to leave around Lex.

"I think I remember her from school."


"No. Third grade through sixth, I think. I'm surprised she remembered me."

*I don't like this.* The butler came back with a girl about Lex's age, blondish, thin, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt.

"Ms. Wheaton."

Why is Lionel Luthor smiling like that?

Ivy took a step towards Lex, held her hand out, pulled it back slightly, looked awkward, and then just smiled at him. "I really didn't plan on coming in, I just wanted to drop off the bonsai."

"I should have known you'd end up with a hobby involving scissors!"

She covered her face with her hands. "Oh, God, you remembered," she groaned.

"I could hardly forget. One of the nicest things anybody ever did for me."

"I got into so much trouble!"

Lex grinned. Lionel stepped forward, almost bowing. "I think there's a story here, Ms. Wheaton. I'm Lionel Luthor, Lex's father."

"Ivy Wheaton." Her voice was suddenly much cooler.

"Lex? The story?"

"All right." Lex was smirking as he looked at her. "After the meteor shower, Ivy decided that what I needed was replacement hair."

"So she cut her beautiful hair off? That would have been a shame."

"Worse. She cut her cat's hair. Walked in the next day with a paper bag, her arms covered in scratches, and handed it to me."

"The color was a good match," she muttered.

"It was, I do have to admit that."

"Big Red took years to forgive me. Anyway, I really should run. I've got to get those plants to the show."

Lionel Luthor was suddenly standing very close to her, looking down and smirking, almost like Lex sometimes did. "Are you sure I can't persuade you to have a drink with me first? Lex, of course, can't, but I'd greatly enjoy it."

"I'm quite positive." She looked as though she smelled something bad and for just a second, Lex looked furious. She turned to Lex and hesitated, then put a hand on the arm of the wheelchair. "Take good care, Lex. I'm sorry we had to run into one another again under these circumstances."

"Stay in touch." His eyes were serious, then lightened. "I might need cat hair-trimming lessons."

She hesitated. "I will."

I didn't know what to do so I followed her to her car.

"Oh, hi," she said when she noticed me.

"Hi." I couldn't see anything in her car but more plants like the one she'd given Lex. Not that I expected to find anything, but that whole situation had weirded me out and I didn't know what role she was playing. "What are those?"

"Bonsai. Miniature trees, mostly, but other plants, too. I raise them. I was taking them to a show when I heard the news about Lex on the radio. Horrible."


"I'm Ivy. And you are?"

"Clark Kent. A friend of Lex's." She held out her hand and I shook it, not knowing what else to do.

"God. Poor guy." She shook her head. "Sometimes you have to think humans aren't worth anything at all."


"This isn't a one-off." Her eyes were distant. "Every day. Somebody does this kind of thing. Leaves another person destroyed."

"He's not destroyed!"

She brought her eyes back to me. "No. You're right. He's not. Anybody who could survive Lionel could survive anything. Besides, it looks like he's got a good friend." She unlocked her car door and then held out her arms and hugged me, a kind of half-hug, half-squeeze. "Take care, and take care of him."

"I will." Believe me, I will.

"I'll stop by again on my way back. See you then?"

I shrugged. "Hard to tell." She got in and drove off.

When I went back to the mansion, Lex was alone, his eyes closed.

"Lex? Are you okay"

"Just thinking. None of this makes sense."

"What do you mean?"

He frowned. "I could have sworn Piper was winning. He was getting in better bids for the contracts we wanted, hiring away our best staff, and his attorneys were demolishing any no-compete clauses we had. Our PR was hiding it, but we were running scared."

"You never said anything!"

"Clark, our friendship is one thing, my business life is another. Separate."

"Maybe he got tired of doing it that way."

"But this...oh, maybe it was personal after all. Punish us for fighting it." His mouth twisted. "It would be consistent with...their general attitude."

"That Ivy woman showed up conveniently. Do you think she had something to do with it?"

"I can't think what. They're quiet, but there's huge money on both sides of her family, all in real estate. LuthorCorp isn't any threat to them and they've never wanted to move in on it. And that spontaneous `come in and do something nice' is her style. There are all the official charities Amnesty International, conservation, U.N., inner-city arts, all that, but she's also in the habit of swooping in and taking a hand in things."

"If you say so."

"I really don't know what's going on. Hell, I'm not always sure what happened. Not to exhibit the Luthor brand rudeness, but I've hit the limit, got to go get some sleep."


"How about if I just get a t-shirt that says `Not Clark's fault?'"

"Lex, stop it!"

I could see he was ready to laugh at me again so I just said, "You'll be okay?"

"Yeah. You go get some sleep, too." He pushed a button on what was a pager, I guess, and in about ten seconds, two nurses were there. "Good night, Clark."

I turned around as though I were leaving but came back to sit and think. I'd thought a lot about how to destroy people. I couldn't believe that the people who had Lex in their power for that long and were willing to do that to him wouldn't have been able to destroy him.

He was in a wheelchair and his hands were still mangled...and he had been raped, but...I was thinking of every way that I'd have hurt somebody that I needed to hurt. Lex could still see. He could still hear. They'd not done anything that would cause him any brain damage. And they'd raped him--but they could have done so much more. They could have...castrated him. That would have humiliated the Luthors even more than the garbage dump. And destroyed the family line. Lex was Lionel's only son.

His only son.

His only son.

I started to choke.

It couldn't be true.

It couldn't be true.

I finally knew how to punish, and I gulped, then made a phone call. I finally knew who to punish.

I started to run. There was a security guard but I knocked him out before he even saw me.

The monster sitting quietly with a drink didn't look at all surprised to see me, but raised an eyebrow. "How did you get in here?"

"The same way we're leaving." I grabbed him, threw him over my shoulder, and ran until we were almost at the garbage dump. I dragged him the rest of the way at normal speed. When we were there, I threw him to the ground and watched as he got up, brushing his jacket.

"How could you do it? How could you torture him? How could you rape him?"

"I didn't torture and rape him. I had it done. The difference between a business decision and being a pervert."

He was so arrogant, so cold.


"Several reasons. First, I could accept that he is bisexual. He is my son and I love him. But his involvements with women were brief and emotionless. I showed him one good woman after another but he ignored them in favor of cheap whores. Of both genders. Perhaps I raised him wrong. Perhaps some effect of losing his mother. He might have been unconsciously afraid that if he actually loved a woman, she would be taken from him." He paused and gestured impatiently. "It doesn't matter. I knew that he'd never marry and have children, carry on the family line, unless sex with men became unbearable to him. It was an unpleasant decision to make but a necessary one. You saw that it worked."

"You did this to get him to marry? I can't believe it."

"I wouldn't expect you to. You're not a businessman or a father. But it succeeded on all counts. He will fall in love with Ivy, or someone like her, a good woman who will be loyal to him out of character, not circumstances. Somebody like his mother. He'll be happy. He became outraged when right in front of him, I made a pass at Ivy. I knew she was a decent woman when she made it very clear that my attention was unwelcome, though I am certainly the better catch at this point. It also aroused his protectiveness and his competitive spirit. His two main characteristics, unfortunately."

"And you set up somebody else."

"By bringing down Piper, I preserved Lex's inheritance. Piper was close to ruining us. Because of his injuries, Lex is now one of the newly fashionable. Today, everybody who can claim to be a victim is automatically a hero. If he doesn't screw it up, he can take that and his wealth to become one of the most powerful men in the world."

"That's what it was about for you all along."

"Of course. What else is there?"

"Was that woman, Ivy, part of it?"

"No. She wasn't even one of the ones I'd even thought of as a candidate, but she'll be good for him. You saw that." He looked at me without any fear at all. "The world is so black and white for you. Good and bad. Right and wrong. Crime and punishment. Does that make your life easier, Clark Kent? No agonizing over whether your choice will come out right, because you know that the choice was right?"

"You didn't suffer like he suffered."

"It wasn't painless. But no. No, I didn't."

"You will."

He reached inside his pocket but I was able to grab his hand first, fortunately without having to use my speed. I grabbed his gun and held it. He still showed no sign of fear.

"Dad?" I called. He emerged from the darkness, holding the video camera. "He's videotaped this. I've audiotaped it. And now it's going to the media." Luthor stepped forward but I pushed him to the ground.

Dad looked down at him with a smile I've never seen on his face before. "If you think this place is dirty and smelly--welcome to the rest of your life."

Author's mumbled apology: I know it's not really a full ending, since there's a lot unresolved, but it felt like a good stopping point for what I was exploring with the idea.

I am an absolutely shameless devotee of feedback--I actually like (thought-out) negative as well as positive, though I love positive, too!

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