by Celli Lane
Lex was about to turn 40, which was a good age to think presidentially, Pete said. He was halfway through his second Senate term, and his approval ratings were steady. He and Clark had been together for so long, he was mocked more often for dating a reporter than for dating a man. And with his father's death, many of his political rivals had found themselves suddenly low on funds.
"Perfect timing," Pete said for possibly the hundredth time. "But you have to start staying in Washington, Lex."
Lex turned a page in the Post. "You don't."
Pete gestured around the LexCorp jet (funded privately, they always pointed out). "You're kidding, right? With this thing, my commute is shorter than if I lived in the suburbs. And the kids don't have to switch schools."
Lex said nothing.
"But you need to be having dinners, going to parties. Being seen with the movers and shakers. Being seen as a mover and shaker." Pete's voice was getting louder and louder, and he was talking with his hands again. Lex covered his amused look with the newspaper.
"And miss these strategy sessions where you tell me what I already know?"
Pete's response was rude and nonverbal. Lex snickered into the Metro page.
"Lex," Pete said in a more serious tone.
"I know." Lex lowered the paper. "You're right."
"It's not like Clark can't...visit." Their caution was ingrained by now; Pete hardly even hesitated over Supermanrelated euphemisms. "He does now when you have to stay over."
"It's not the same." Lex was whining. He would have known it, even without Pete's eloquent look. He sighed. "All right. I can spend an extra night or two a week in the Virginia house."
Pete nodded with satisfaction, and Lex went back to glaring at page B5. He didn't even know why he was putting up a fight. Clark wouldn't care; whenever Lex had to stay for a late legislative session, Clark would either fly up after he was done knocking heads together, or call him and--well, Lex didn't have a secure cell phone just for Intelligence Committee calls. So he was left with the feeling of having lost an argument he shouldn't have wanted to have in the first place.
His phone distracted him. "Luthor."
"Lex?" Clark sounded--he sounded scared. "Is Pete with you?"
"Of course. What is it?"
"There's been--Pete needs to get to the hospital now. Are you still in DC? I'll come pick you up."
If Clark was willing to risk--Lex shut the thought off. "No, we're about to land in Metropolis. My car's here."
"All right." Clark paused. "Drive fast."
Laura was the first person they saw as they entered the ER. She ran the length of the room to them, her braids whipping behind her back. "Daddy! Daddy!"
She threw herself into Pete's arms with enough force that he staggered back a step. "Petey--" And then she interrupted herself with sobs.
"Shh. It's okay, Laura. Daddy's here." He held her close, but his eyes scanned the room.
Lex stepped forward. "I'll take her," he said quietly. "You go find Lana and Clark." He peeled Laura away from her father. "Come here, baby."
"Oh, Uncle Lex." Her arms went around him. Lex squeezed back as hard as he dared. "Petey was bleeding. Superman had to come get him."
"Okay. It's okay." He needed to find a doctor, an administrator, someone to interrogate and bully, but he couldn't do anything with a twelve-year-old attached to him. He bit his tongue and hugged her some more.
"Laura, where's Mom and Uncle Clark?" he asked when her sobs had turned to hiccups. She pointed vaguely in the direction she'd come from, and they shuffled that way like the losers in a three-legged race.
Lana and Pete were conferring in hushed tones at one end of the waiting room. Clark was pacing nearby. He hurried over to them. Lex relaxed into the comfort of Clark's hand on his upper arm.
"Did the doctors come back while I was gone?" Laura asked.
"Okay." She looked up at Lex. "Uncle Lex? I'm hungry."
"What? Oh!" Lex detached himself from Laura and fished out his money clip. He handed her some dollar bills. "Is that enough?"
"Uh-huh. Thanks." She looked at them both. "I'll be right back," she said firmly and dashed off.
"Poor kid," Clark said. "I forgot they hadn't had dinner."
"Clark, what happened?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you over the phone." Clark scrubbed a hand over his face. "It was a dumb playground accident. They were in the park down the street. P.J. was playing, and Laura was keeping an eye on him. Probably reading a book right by the playground, knowing Laura. He got tangled up in the monkey bars and just--fell."
"She said Superman came to get him."
"I was on the other side of town on a story when I heard her screaming. That reminds me, I never called Lois," Clark said parenthetically. Lex noticed that his shirt was buttoned crookedly, leaving just a hint of blue peeking out by the collar. He re-buttoned the shirt and smoothed it down while Clark kept talking. "It was bad. He'd hit his head, so there was a lot of blood, and his neck--I don't know. I just don't know."
"Oh, God." Lex went cold. Words like "spinal cord injuries" and "paralysis" swam through his head. He thought suddenly of the karate competition that had been on his calendar for months. P.J. was justifiably proud of his martial arts skills; Lex sparred with him as often as possible, and his honorary nephew had real talent. "Clark..."
"I know." They leaned against each other for a long moment. Then Clark cleared his throat. "Laura did everything right. She hijacked some random parent's cell phone. The ambulance got there right after I did. We got P.J. on the backboard, and I brought him straight here."
"How long has he--"
"A little under an hour. They were back out once to say he was doing better, but they're worried about his spine."
Lex started to respond, but Laura came back just then with a candy bar. She offered Lex his change without even trying to pocket it. He gave her a big hug. "Uncle Clark says you did a good job today."
"I let him fall."
"It was an accident." Lex met Clark's eyes over Laura's bowed head. "That would be like saying it was Superman's fault for not getting there faster."
"That's dumb," she said into his coat, and Clark smiled slightly.
"My point exactly."
An hour passed. Then another. Lex spoke briefly with Lana, arranged for a private waiting room and food delivery, and made it clear to the hospital director that cost was not an issue. Pete, for once, didn't shake his head at Lex, but gave him a grateful look instead.
Lana and Pete were sitting in two chairs that had been comfortable once, talking occasionally and twitching whenever there was a sound from the doorway. Lex and Clark did the same not far away. Laura bounced between the two groups and eventually settled down on the floor with some old issues of Reader's Digest she'd found in a corner.
"You know," Clark said after a while, "there's this saying...Mom must have had it on her wall or something...when you have a child, you make the choice to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
"I don't know how they do it. I don't know how we will."
Clark sat up straighter. "What does that mean?"
"We had a deal. You wanted to be President, and I wanted to be a father."
"I know." Lex looked over to where Laura was turning pages. He lowered his voice even further. "I'm not saying I want to back out. I just want--P.J. could die. He could be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. No one can guarantee his safety."
"Not even Superman, you mean," Clark said, and the ghosts of a hundred dead children were in his eyes. "You think I don't know that?"
"Stop it." Lex grabbed Clark's arm. "Clark--"
"Can we not talk about this right now?"
They were both very quiet for a very long time.
Clark's head snapped up. "Here we go," he murmured. The door opened, and everyone hurried to their feet. Lex found Clark's hand in his.
The doctor who entered was tall and tired-looking. She was also brunette and wore glasses. Lex, who had seen male doctors exclusively since his second marriage, stiffened. But then she smiled, and he forgave her the resemblance.
"Mr. and Mrs. Ross, you have a very strong son."
"Damn straight," Pete said. Lana said nothing, but her smile was radiant.
"He's responsive and shows movement in all his limbs." Her smile faded a little. "We drained fluid from around his spine. We need to keep a very close eye on him. If it builds up again, we will need more surgery."
"But you said he could move his arms and legs," Lana said.
"Yes. It's a very good sign." Lex didn't question what lay behind her reassurance; he'd do his own research later.
Only family was allowed to see P.J. for the first few days. Superman did make a brief appearance, much to the delight of the entire Pediatrics wing. Lex returned to Washington, although between medical updates, researching spinal injuries on the Internet, and daily calls to Pete to lie about how well the office ran without him, actual legislative productivity was low.
It was three days after the accident when Lex slipped into P.J.'s room.
"Hey, Uncle Lex."
"Hey yourself." The room was full of flowers and not as full of medical equipment as Lex had feared. There was a video game on the bedside tray, and someone had tacked up an autographed Metropolis Sharks poster Lex recognized from P.J.'s bedroom.
"Uncle Clark took her home for a nap."
"Wow. What did he do, hit her over the head?"
Lex laughed. "Close." He pulled a chair close to the edge of the bed and sat, dropping his packages nearby.
P.J. didn't look too bad. There was some pallor under his dark skin and a butterfly bandage on his forehead. But he wasn't immobilized any more. He smiled cheerfully at Lex. "Wanna see me wiggle my toes? Everyone else does."
Lex dutifully observed the moving sheet. "Very nice. But I'm really here to check out your bald spots."
"Oh, yeah." P.J. turned his head to display the shaved spots and more bandages. "You still have more."
"Well, I'm cooler than you."
P.J. rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Mine's gonna grow back."
"I've been waiting," Lex said solemnly, "but I don't think it's going to happen." P.J. laughed. He reached up the hand without the IV in it, and Lex leaned forward to let his head be rubbed. "I was just a little younger than you when I went bald, now that I think about it. I spent more time than I care to remember in hospital rooms."
"How old were you?"
"How did it happen?"
Lex just stared at him for a moment. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been asked about it. "It was the meteor shower in Smallville," he said finally.
"You think so?"
"Beats falling off the stupid jungle gym."
"I don't know. Superman didn't rescue me. That time."
P.J.'s face brightened. "That's right. I don't remember it, though."
"Want to come along next time he rescues me?"
Lex eyed him. "No. Not really."
He could see P.J. trying not to laugh. "Well, what good are you then?"
"You say that like you don't want the presents I brought you."
P.J. tried to look repentant. He wasn't very good at it. Lex reached for the bags anyway.
The first package held a Sharks jersey that had been altered to fasten in the back like a hospital gown. P.J. pronounced it "so much cooler" than his own pale blue gown. Then there was a new handheld game. Finally, Lex pulled out a book.
"Whoa!" P.J. said. "Lord of the Rings! I just finished The Hobbit this morning."
"That's what your mom said." Lex watched him flip through the worn pages. "I can get you a newer one if you want, but--ah--this is the one I had when I was in the hospital."
"Really?" P.J. turned back to the beginning and smoothed the first page back. "Lex," he read. "*Here's a world for you to visit when your room seems too small. All my love, Mother.* Uncle Lex, are you okay?"
"Fine. I'm fine." Lex was bent over, shoving all the packaging back into the bags. "Like I said, if you want a newer--"
"No! I mean, thank you." He looked worried.
Lex smiled at him. "This is the book I read to you when you were little. Remember the story?"
"Uncle Lex!" Only an eleven-year-old could turn a onesyllable name into three. "I was just a baby."
"You liked it," Lex said stubbornly. He checked his watch.
"Do you have to leave?"
"No. Just wondering how long your mom's going to sleep. If she comes back and finds me beating you, that might be hard to explain."
"Ha. I could take you."
"Well, you get out of that bed soon, and I'll let you try." Lex leaned back in his chair.
P.J. looked down at the book in his lap. "The doctors aren't sure if there will be, you know, long-term problems."
Lex projected casual with all his will. "What? Have they met you?" He waved his hand. "Doctors. I could tell you stories...anyway, if you want to read that, I can just sit here."
There was a long silence. "Maybe you could read it to me?"
"I--sure. I'd like that."
P.J. fell asleep as Frodo was preparing to leave the Shire, but Lex kept reading. About the time the Hobbits were captured, the door opened. Lex shushed them, but of course P.J.'s eyes popped right open. "Dad! Laura! Uncle Clark! Come see what I got!"
"Don't jump on the bed," Pete said as Laura rushed forward. "Luthor, are you spoiling my kids?"
"Of course." Lex set the book down and followed Pete and Clark into the hall. "When Laura complains that Petey gets all the good stuff, there's a bag down there for her, too."
"What's in it?"
"A stuffed tiger and passes to the zoo." Clark smirked at him. Lex shrugged. "I was in a nostalgic mood."
"She'll love it." There was a crash from inside, followed by P.J.'s howl of rage. Pete grinned. "I never thought that would be a welcome sound." He ducked through the door, and they heard him bark out, "Look, you hooligans--" before it closed behind him.
"The zoo," Clark said, laughing. "Laura will love you forever. But I--Lex?"
Lex met Clark's eyes. "We need to talk," he said quietly.
Luthor Calls Conference
By Lois Lane, Daily Planet staff writer
Senator Lex Luthor has announced a press conference for Monday afternoon in the lobby of the LexCorp headquarters here in Metropolis. Luthor, 40, is expected to announce his candidacy for President, but no subject for the conference could be confirmed.
Luthor has spent less time in public than usual lately. Both he and Chief of Staff Pete Ross have spent more time in Metropolis after an accident injured Ross's son four months ago, and Luthor spent the last week on what his office calls a "personal trip" to Europe. Political theorists question whether this is the best time to announce a run for national office...
Lex rested his hands on the podium and stared out at the reporters before him. Lois was elbowing her way toward the front of the crowd, dragging a hapless Jimmy Olson with her. If he looked to the back of the crowd, Lex could see Chloe leaning against a pillar and smirking. He knew she had her story written already. She saw him looking and flashed a thumbs-up sign. He winked back.
Lana and Pete were beside him, of course. P.J. had been determined not to bring crutches to the conference, so Laura was playing "human walker" for him, under much protest. Clark stood a little further back, head bent as he spoke earnestly to the child in his arms.
Lex turned back. "Thank you for coming," he said. For once, they all quieted immediately. He'd planned a little speech, but Clark had made a few pointed comments about antagonizing the press--further--and he'd discarded it. "You all know Clark Kent. He and I would like you to meet the newest member of our family."
Clark stepped forward. The little girl in his arms leaned over to Lex, who took her. He smirked at Clark; they'd had the "she likes me best" argument twice already that day. Black eyes peered past black hair at the sea of people. "Her name when we found her was Nadezhda, but she prefers the English translation. Honey, can you tell them what your name is?"
"Hope," she said without hesitation.
"Her English is very good," Lex said with pride. He looked out at the reporters. They all looked back, stunned. He willed himself not to snicker.
Clark knew him too well. He stepped on Lex's foot and smiled. "Any questions?"
"Hope," Chloe said from the back of the room. Hope perked up at the familiar voice. "How old are you?"
Hope thought for a second, then held up four fingers. Behind her, Laura and P.J. applauded, and she giggled. She didn't look four yet, but her Grandma Martha and her Aunt Lana both had big plans to take care of that.
"That's why you called this?" Lois had finally found her voice. "What about the election?"
"What election?" Not even Clark's warning nudge could erase the smug look Lex knew was on his face. "Oh, that one. I'm not running."
"For anything." He'd struck them dumb twice in five minutes. Lex was highly entertained.
"You're retiring?" Lois squeaked.
"Well, I do have a company waiting for me. Gabe Sullivan can't run it forever." Was Chloe rolling her eyes back there? Probably. "Although I'm not ruling out a run for governor in a few years. Hope, honey, do you want to live in Topeka?"
She gave him a repressive glare that looked suspiciously like Uncle Pete's. "I like my house."
"We'll talk about it later, honey," Clark said. Lex stepped on his foot. "I was talking to Hope," Clark whispered.
"You were looking at me."
"Luthor!" That shade of bright red clashed with Lois's blouse. "Your big announcement is that you're giving up on your political career and having a kid? For that you made every reporter in three states show up?"
"I wanted to be straightforward," Lex said, moving his foot out of range of Clark's.
"Who the hell do you think you are?"
Hope straightened in Lex's arms and almost growled at Lois. "Hey!" One tiny finger poked Lex in the chin. "That's my daddy!"
The Olson photo of Lex Luthor laughing with his daughter made the cover of Time with the caption *Luthor Finds Hope*.
"She's going to be so embarrassed about this someday," Pete said.
"I know." Lex looked up from where he was fastening P.J.'s workout shoes for him. Lana had taken up martial arts again to help P.J. with his workouts, which led to even more practicing, because, "Uncle Lex, I can't get beat by my mom!" They were in what had been the basement of Clark and Lex's Metropolis house. It was now a combination playroom, workout room, and whatever else it needed to be.
"What's funny about, it, though--" Pete stopped to let Hope run by him, screaming and carrying a stuffed tiger. "--is that it makes it sound like the whole thing was your idea. Clark's just sort of a supporting character."
Laura ran past after Hope. All three of them ducked out of the way. "Clark's very supportive," Lex said after the screaming faded.
"What I mean is--"
"I know." Lex smiled as he adjusted P.J.'s stance. "Good, bend your left knee a little more. Does that hurt?" P.J. shook his head. "Okay, start with punches. Slow and easy. Clark wanted it that way, Pete. I think he likes not being the public figure in this story. Besides--"
Clark came running through. The tiger was in one hand, and Hope was tucked under his other arm. Laura followed not far behind, laughing hysterically. P.J. whooped and scrambled after them.
"Besides," Lex said after his ears had stopped ringing, "I think he knew all along this was where we'd end up. He was just waiting for me to figure it out."
Clark went down under a pile of laughing children. "Really," Lex said. "Clark's always been good with kids." He grinned at Pete even as he turned to join them. "Hey! Make room for me over there!"
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