Forgotten Face

by Helena Handbasket

Forgotten Face
by Helena Handbasket

Whoever said there was no such thing as altruism had a big fucking mouth and ruined the scam for the rest of us. Fortunately, though, there are a few exceptions in the world and P.T. Barnum no longer has a monopoly on all the suckers. Case in point: Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Kent.

They found themselves a kid - God knows from where: probably lifted him off of some homeless family in exchange for a loaf of bread and a Benjamin Franklin beneath one of Metropolis' rarely-policed suspension bridges. And when they needed to drum up some phony adoption papers they came to me. As fate would have it the wife's dad, Jeremy Clark, was on staff in one of my accounting offices. He worked on some of my more... sensitive accounts and being a reasonably capable number-cruncher had rapidly identified the ghost companies among his purported clientele. So, naturally, they sought me out for assistance; a most innocuous form of blackmail.

All of this happened around the time when Lex was still in the hospital, suffering from multiple traumas incurred during the meteor shower. At the time the Kents contacted me the doctors were estimating about a fifty percent chance that he would pull through. I had given them explicit instructions to do everything they could to maximize those odds, although if I had known the opportunity I would soon receive, not to mention the migraine-inducing trouble that Lex would eventually cause, I probably wouldn't have bothered. As it was, though, I was stuck. After making overt demands about the quality of care for a beloved offspring one can hardly return to the doctors and say, "Never mind with that one. I've found another heir to take his place so just pull the plug and be done with it." It would be considered undiplomatic. It is a travesty the kind of constraints political correctness places on one's actions nowadays.

And so I complied with the Kents' wishes. I arranged the adoption and dutifully ignored the bullshit they fed me about why such illicit methods were necessary. And while I garnered an undeniable profit from the arrangement, the true value of the investment lay in the insurance. If, for whatever reason, Lex failed to pull through I had an alternate option: a couple who could be stripped of their child without the slightest legal recourse at their disposal. The boy was strong. Healthy. The kind of son I'd always coveted, only to be disappointed by an offspring more interested in burying his nose in a book than burying the corpse of a loathed competitor. Best of all, the orphan was thoroughly untraceable and had pre-prepared adoption papers filled out in the Luthor name. Should Lex take a turn for the worse I would have another successor within a matter of hours at no cost to myself unless the adoptive parents put up too strong of a fuss. In that case, I would still obtain my heir at the paltry expense of two dead country bumpkins that no one was likely to miss. No doubt an acceptable expenditure.

A month or so after the adoption Lex's health started to improve and I began to seriously regret the cautiousness of my prior actions. Why had I been willing to settle for a sickly son clinging to the edge of life when I could have availed myself of such a vital specimen as the Kents had managed to obtain. The toddler they had presented had amazed my medical team with his quick reflexes and highly developed motor skills. And yet there I was, expected to content myself with being the sire of a bed-ridden freak.

One particular evening I left work early and found myself taking the long route home, the route that bypassed the hospital. Before I knew it I was inside, navigating my way through the chaos of the lobby in search of the elevator that would take me to the private wing. Moments later I sat at my son's bedside, regarding nauseously the wan features and hairless flesh of my sole, pathetic progeny. Barely denting the feather down of his pillow, Lex's head appeared pale and delicate, like an eggshell. Weak. I looked away.

Glancing at the floor, I noticed that another pillow had fallen from the mattress and all at once I came to a decision. There was absolutely no purpose in my feeling sick with worry over what may or may not become of my legacy in the distant future. What was the value of expending precious energy in regret and self-doubt when I could easily take the reins of destiny for myself?

I casually strolled to the door of the private room and locked it before returning to Lex's side and collecting the pillow from the floor. The hum of the florescent lights and the clinical beep and whir of the monitors fell dully against my ears - I hardly noticed them. In a few moments Lex would no longer be my concern. In a few hours the Kents would be childless. Or dead. In a few months my life would be as ideal as it ever was.

"Goodbye, son," I said. "Your mother will forgive me." It required virtually no strength to press the pillow against his face, even when he began to struggle. I heard the keening of the heart monitor rise in frequency and then fall to a steady drone. Our brief battle had reached its inevitable conclusion. My only son was dead.

I took a deep breath and adjusted the fall of my jacket, extracting a few specks of lint and a solitary feather that clung lightly to the lapel. With the weary knowledge that progress had been made, I removed the pillow from the boy's pale face and tossed it to the floor. His expression seemed oddly peaceful and I felt the inexplicable urge to brush my thumb against his lifeless cheek. Family sentiment was just another incomprehensible artifact of human nature but it troubled me none the less - principally because I occasionally found myself compelled to give in to it.

Permitting myself a moment of weakness I laid a warm hand against Lex's cold cheek, failing to shudder at the clammy, foreign texture of the corpse's skin. For a moment all was still. And then the extraordinary began to transpire. I had barely touched his cheek for a few seconds when Lex's heart monitor faltered, rising from a steady whine to a slow but definitive pulse. His eyes flickered open and they gazed deeply, knowingly into mine, betraying an intelligence far too developed for a boy at the age of ten. How was it that I had not perceived such palpable brilliance before?

Lex reached up weakly to grip my arm, eyes flitting wearily towards the hand that still lay against his cheek. His fingers encircled the bone of my wrist and drew the hand away, severing its contact with his flesh. "Don't. Ever. Touch me. Again," he spat, his weakened vocal chords barely able to form the words.

Lex's statement held such hate, such anger, such vitriol... I have never been more proud of my son than I was at that moment. Screw the Kent kid. This. This was my boy.

Obviously, in the long years since that fateful day my satisfaction with Lex has wavered. While I appreciate his undeniable intelligence and singularity of mind I am often aggravated by his conceited independence. Even in the context of his many failures the boy acts as if he has a choice but to obey me. I find it troubling.

And on those instances when I am most greatly perturbed I often fantasize about the abominable Kent child and the greatness he might have achieved on my behalf if afforded the many benefits that accompany the Luthor surname. Had I succeeded in obtaining him for my successor in place of the obdurate child who apparently deems himself a match for his venerable father, what greater accomplishments might I have realized?

Of course, it doesn't matter now. While I frequently boast that I never forget a face, this child's visage is lost to me. I am too late. Twelve years later and it is only my bitterness and an ungrateful son that persist to remind me of the worst decision of my life. Lex will never know the abject pain that accompanies the simple longing... the patent desire for the companionship of this boy. Add another entry to my list of regrets.

Among my innumerable compunctions, one of the greatest is my failure to maintain contact with Clark Kent, a boy who even as a toddler held such extraordinary promise. In vain, I hope that my true son appreciates the sacrifice of his would-be surrogate.

It's ironic, really: so many barely notable faces remembered and somehow his was the one that was forgotten.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Helena Handbasket

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?