Ce Qui Aurait Été

by DebC

Feedback is to lowly fanfic authors as water & sunlight are to flowers. Needed for growth, needed for life.

Author's Notes: This is a "what if" that I've been kicking around for a while with some friends of mine. It's an alternate reality fic in which Lionel is dead and Lillian (his wife) is the parent who raises Lex. This is raising the question--would Lex be different because he lacked his father's lasting influence? If so, how different would he be? The title, by the way, is French for "what might have been."

"Ce Qui Aurait t"


(Homecoming Weekend 1989, Smallville, Kansas)

The contract had just been signed, and Lionel Luthor was now the owner of a dilapidated cream corn factory and some cornfields. Nothing special, but once he brought in the wrecking ball and a construction crew, it would be magnificent. Well, as magnificent as a fertilizer factory would ever be.

With a sneer in the Rosses' direction, Luthor pocketed the contract and turned to leave. He called for his son as he headed for his helicopter.

The boy did not come.

Lionel turned impatiently towards the field where he'd last seen his son headed. He couldn't have gotten far. "Lex!" he called out, raising his voice. An edge of warning could be heard in it. "Come here, son!"

The pilot who'd flown then in caught sight of his boss's face and grimaced. He'd been in the Luthors' employ long enough to know that the look on Lionel's face meant trouble for young Lex.

Lionel's wrath, however, was eclipsed by the wrath of something more natural and yet unnatural at the same time. Just as he reached the edge of the newly purchased cornfield, a tidal wave of fire and energy washed over them, heading like a rocket towards the earth.

The angry shout on Lionel's lips died away only to be replaced by another... one of panic. "Lex! Son!" he called out as he began to run, pushing through the corn stalks as he searched. "Son!"

"Dad? Dad!"

He heard the small, frightened voice in the distance, and ran towards the sound. Just as he caught sight of something he hoped was his son's red hair and made towards it, another wave of energy came crashing down over them, forcing him face first into the ground.

Later, when the meteor showers had passed, the helicopter pilot led a team of rescue workers and volunteer firemen into what little remained of the blackened cornfield in search of his employers.

A volunteer found Lionel twenty feet from where the helicopter had waited to carry him to safety hours before. His body was severely burned and still smoldering in some places. A few feet away, in a mass of torn, burnt clothing and surrounded by the stench of singed hair lay the small form of a child.

"This kid's still alive!" one of the rescue workers called out.

"Da..." The boy in the bed called out weakly, as if the broken syllable was all his body could muster.

"Shh..." a soft, feminine voice answered as his eyes slowly opened for the first time in nearly a week. "It's alright, Lex. Mommy's here."

He turned his head in the direction of the voice. "Mommy?" he asked, his mind still cloudy from his long sleep. He felt her hand on his cheek, softly stroking. Comforting.

"Oh, baby," she cooed, gathering him in her arms.

About that time a doctor came in. He motioned for the boy's mother to move away from her son, and began inspecting the child. He asked a few questions about how bad the pain was in certain places, showing him a chart with smiley and frowny faces. The boy stared at it for a while but didn't indicate a face that matched his pain level. His father had always tried to tell him that pain was for babies.

"Lex, sweetie. Tell the doctor how you feel," his mother prompted. "He can't help you if you don't tell him." The boy frowned, but finally pointed to the middle face. Not smiling, but not frowning, just an average face.

"You're sure?" the doctor asked. The boy nodded. "Well, then... Let's have a look under your bandages, shall we?"

For the first time since waking up, Lex became aware that he even had bandages on his head. He reached up to touch them. "What happened?"

"Honey, there was a meteor shower," his mother explained. "And you and Daddy were trapped in it. You were..." here she paused, looking at the doctor hesitantly. "Exposed to an awful lot of heat and radiation... and..."

"Mrs. Luthor," the doctor said in a gentle reprimand. She fell silent as he began to unwind the bandages. The doctor continued to remove Lex's bandages. When the last one came off, however, he stepped back, a look of pity on his face.

It was the first of many looks--some of them not as nice--the young boy would receive throughout his life. As if prompted by it, he reached up, tiny fingers finding bare skin where hair should have been.

"Where's my hair?" he asked, fear filling his young voice. The doctor said it had fallen out during the meteor shower.

"Because of radiation," the doctor told him.

"M-mom?" he whispered, turning frightened, eyes to his mother. It was, perhaps, the only emotion the boy would show for his lost locks.

"It's okay, baby," his mother told him, drawing him into her arms. "It doesn't matter if your hair comes back or not. Mommy loves you no matter what."

"Does... does Dad know?" His voice sounded doubtful. His dad would be angry. It was bad enough when he was a redhead. He would be worse of a freak in his father's eyes if he were bald.

"No, Lex. Your father doesn't know," Lillian told him with a strange hitch in her voice.

"Mom?" He pulled away from her, just enough to let him see her face. She was crying. He reached out to touch a tear that slid down her face, watching it as if he'd never seen its like before.

"Lex, honey, your daddy didn't make it out of the meteor shower. He's dead," she told him, hugging him tighter.

Lex's eyes screwed shut as the memory of what happened flooded back to him. He remember being in the field, and hearing his father call to him. But the man on the cross and the fire in the sky scared him, and he couldn't let his father know he'd been scared. It was a weakness. His father was always pointing out his weaknesses; Lex was very weak for a Luthor. Finally, the fear overcame him, and he ran, calling for his father. And then... nothing but fire and darkness.

He'd killed his father.

A few days later, after several tests, Lex was released from the hospital. His mother came for him early that morning, but by the time the doctors actually signed his release forms, it was closer to afternoon.

An orderly pushed him in a wheel chair towards the hospital entrance, but stopped when he saw a huge crowd of reporters out side. "Mrs. Luthor?" the man inquired, unsure, as several bodyguards rushed to their side. One of them informed her that the media had all the entrances covered.

"Mommy, I wanna go home," Lex whispered, his voice sounding louder than it really was in the moment of indecision.

"I know, honey," Lillian replied, lifting her son into her deceptively strong arms. She dismissed the orderly and nodded to her chief bodyguard. Moments later, the automatic doors slid open as she strode out, feigning oblivion in regards to the microphones being shoved in her face and the cameras flashing around them.

Halfway across the parking lot, Lex looked up, peering over his mother's shoulder at the sea of reporters. One of them saw him look and shouted out his name. He heard another ask what it had been like in the meteor shower. Another asked about his hair. He scowled back, his darkening with something akin of hatred. Their questions--cruel and demanding--frightened him even more than discovery that he had no hair. He hated them.

Moments later, a guard was opening the limousine door and his mother was ushering him inside. They were going home, he thought, pressing his face against the tinted glass to watch the parasites as they attempted to rush the car. Home to a strange world without his father. He had to be brave.

Part 1

(Metropolis International Airport, 1997)

Lex Luthor strode through the crowd milling about the lobby with the air of a returning prince. In every respect, he was, and the crowd--which parted before him as the Red Sea parted for Moses--seemed to know it. People who recognized him as he breezed towards the glass-plated doors and the limousine that awaited him paused to look upon him with awe and amazement. Those who didn't know him on sight paused, as well--eyes drawn to the charismatic personage and the entourage that followed behind him.

Lex ignored the stares; he'd become all too familiar with them during the course of his life. He knew what each look meant--awe of his wealth, wonder at his lack of hair, sympathy if they knew why he had no hair. He'd seen them all, plus born the brunt of many others--the taunting and mocking of fearful children, the scorn of "normal" kids. They were the looks and words that hardened the young heir, made him seemingly impervious to their sting. If he were truly that--immune--he would never let on. He merely ignored them, motioning to his companions to following him as he pushed past those who would gawk.

Once outside, he halted, waiting for his friends to catch up with the fast pace he'd set. "Here's my ride," he said as they came to stand slightly behind him, as if in deference to him. He motioned to the limo before turning a smiling face to the two women he'd picked up on the flight home from his stuffy British boarding school. He was sixteen and a half; they were more like twenty-one. Both obviously knew who he was, whereas he could care less who they were--just girls he could smile at, charm a little, and then throw away. Just like Bruce had taught him over the past two years.

He handed a card to the one with the raven hair. "Call me sometime. We'll get together." He kissed each on the cheek, giving them the best flirtatious smile he had before slipping into the limousine.

He settled in to the soft leather of the back seat, still grinning and whipped out a cell phone. His mother had said to call as soon as he was en route. He always tried to do as she asked, especially when it was something so simple as a phone call. It kept her happy and to Lex, his mother's happiness was everything.

Lex scowled. He hadn't even been home a full day yet and already the summer was full of bad news.

"Lex, honey," Lillian Luthor told him. "I know what you're thinking..."

"No, you don't. You haven't the faintest idea, Mom." His hot retort produced a hurt, stung look on her face and he immediately regretted it. As his expression softened, he went to his mother with out-stretched arms. "I'm sorry. I guess I was hoping I'd actually get to meet this one." He hugged his mother to him, smoothing her hair in a gesture of comfort. She'd just told him that the man she'd been dating for the past six months--Walter--had broken up with her just that morning.

"I know, honey, so was I. You might have liked Walter. He was a good man." She sounded a little sad.

Lex snorted. "And just what excuse did this 'good man' give for breaking my mother's heart?"

Lillian sighed, and Lex thought he knew what was coming before he heard her say "He said he really cared about me, but he couldn't handle the pressures of publicly dating a Luthor."

Publicly--there was a key phrase, and one Lex had heard a hundred times in the years since his mother had set aside mourning in favor of moving on with her life. None of her beaus lasted very long--Walter made it longer than most--under the intense scrutiny of the media, who seemed to think it was very important that the whole world knew who was going to fill the romantic void in Lillian Luthor's life. Lex wasn't sure, but he had an inkling that the void wasn't made so much by his father's death as it had been fabricated by years of media meddling. Too many cameras taking too many pictures and too many reporters asking all the wrong questions at all the wrong times.

Sometimes, he wondered what life would have been like had his mother ever remarried. Would he have liked his stepfather? Would he have had siblings? A brother would have been nice, or even a sister he could have spoiled rotten and protected at all costs. People to share life with. But these were things they'd both been denied, and personally, Lex blamed the press and the "fame chasers" for pushing away all his mother's best prospects. All the ones whom she really cared for--with whom she might have been happy--had been put off by the attention. Lex couldn't say he blamed them, really. He hated it, too, and would gladly stand aside and let someone else have the spotlight if he could... if the media would let him.

"Maybe a 'good man' isn't what you need, anyway, Mom," Lex replied flippantly, trying his best to make her smile again, like she had when she saw him standing in the foyer upon his return... before she told him he wouldn't be meeting the infamous Walter. "Maybe..." He grinned a little. "Maybe what you need is some scoundrel to sweep you off your feet and leave you reeling." He faked a leer, and Lillian's hands flew to her mouth to cover a gasp of feigned shock.

She gave a small laugh that warmed his heart before shaking her head. "I had a scoundrel once," she told him. "The worst sort, too. He gave me you." She reached out to smooth a hand over Lex's cheek, seeming ready to wax sentimental about his father. Lex had few memories of Lionel Luthor left, and most of them were unpleasant in a vague way he couldn't explain. The vagueness, however, made it hard for him to hear her say what he knew was coming next. "You get more like him every year, you know. So handsome and smart." Lex frowned as he followed her out to the terrace for lunch. He didn't see the resemblance at all. He looked more like his maternal grandfather than his father, if the family photo albums Granny Latrobe liked to show him each summer were any indication.

Speaking of Granny Latrobe...

"Mom," Lex began as he waited for her to be seated before sitting down at the table himself. "I was wondering..."

"Yes, Lex?"

"...about this summer. Is it absolutely imperative that I join you in July for the Latrobe reunion this year?" He almost hated to ask, as he knew she valued the time they spent together with the family. Already he could see the disappointment pooling behind her eyes.

"Have you made other plans, Lex dear?" she asked, bringing her teacup up to her lips and taking a sip.

"Not... yet" he admitted. He hadn't said yes to anything, but he wanted to.

"Tell me, then," she commanded gently. "What is it you want to do instead of joining me on the lake."

Lex shifted under her gaze. "Bruce invited me Gotham for the summer," he told her.

"Bruce? Do I know this boy?"

Lex gaped. "Yes, of course, Mom. Bruce. Wayne? Wayne Enterprises--our biggest competitors? I go to school with him?" We do all that stuff together you never want to hear about--like the street racing and gambling and chasing after the same girls, he added mentally.

"Oh, yes! Thomas and Martha Wayne's poor dear orphan. Such a sweet boy!"

Lex smiled. His mother liked Bruce, even if she didn't have the faintest idea what he was really like. "Right," he said, "that Bruce. Anyway, he invited me out for the summer and I'd kind of like to go." The statement was laced with hopeful schmooze.

"You won't be just hanging out or doing anything unmentionable, will you?" his mother asked, and Lex could hear the hints of acquiescence in her voice. He smiled--unmentionable was what Lillian Luthor called all the stuff she didn't want to hear that he'd done during the year. All the things he and Bruce did for fun, in fact.

He shrugged, not committing himself to a yes or no answer. "Bruce has a project he wants my help with," he offered instead.


"Yeah," here Lex laughed just a little. "He has this crazy idea that he can build a remote controlled car run entirely on voice recognition. He wants me to help him test the theory."

His mother smiled a little. "Well, I suppose if it's in the name of science I can't really say no."

"Thanks, Mom." Lex leaned across the table to kiss her cheek. "I'll call Bruce later to confirm."

"You boys will stay out of trouble, right?"

"Of course," Lex told her, giving her his best Luthor smile. He was fairly certain they would be using real cars to experiment on, as Bruce had a whole fleet of them at his disposal, but Lex wasn't about share this information with Mom. She'd have a heart attack for sure.

Part 2

(Christmas Vacation, 1999)

The cheerful sounds of Christmas carols wafted into the hallway as Lex Luthor opened the door to his dorm room. His college roommate of the last two years, John, was busy packing sweaters into his suitcase. His back was to the doorway, and he didn't notice Lex until the young Luthor pointedly switched off the CD player.

"Don we now our gay ap-par-ell..." John sang out in a warped voice that only sounded good in the communal showers, then stopped when he realized his background music was gone. He whirled around to find Lex smirking at him.

"Lex!" he exclaimed. "Back from your chem. final already?"

"Piece of cake," Lex told his friend. "Much easier than the one for corporate law."

"Oh, c'mon! You know you aced all of them, Lex! You're a genius!"

Lex shrugged. It was a running argument with them, albeit a friendly one. Lex always sweated over his business classes. He knew himself and his limitations well enough to know they were the hardest on him. He wasn't a businessman by nature--he was a scientist--but his mom needed him to be one. She couldn't run LuthorCorp by herself, this was becoming increasingly obvious. Instead of switching majors midstream, however--Lex loved his bio-chemistry classes with a passion--he'd made the decision to do a double major instead. And was actually pulling it off, much his own amazement and John's awe.

"Bruce called while you were out," John told him idly as he returned to his half-full suitcase. The college sophomore spoke as if a call from Bruce Wayne was an everyday occurrence.

"Oh?" inquired Lex, walking over to his own closet and pulling out a few boxes and bags. He didn't need to pack for the winter break, as he had more than enough clothes waiting for him at home. Instead, he'd hidden a few Christmas presents and other trinkets in his closet and intended to distribute them before he left.

"I think he wanted to congratulate you for scoring with Dean Prescott's daughter," John told him with a grin.

Lex laughed. That sounded like Bruce Wayne, all right. No doubt, his friend was proud of his corrupting influence on Lex's life. "He heard about that, did he?"

"Who hasn't?"

Lex's lip curled up into a knowing smile. "Mom, and I plan to keep it that way," he said as he sorted through the boxes and bags. Finally, he found the bag he was looking for and plopped it on the floor at John's feet. "Better make room for these," he told him.

"What's this?"

"Christmas presents for you and the rest of the gang. Since I won't be able to join you in Aspen this year, I'm counting on you to make sure they get to their rightful owners." Lex smiled, but couldn't help but feel a little bad when John's own smile faded into disappointment.

"Are you sure you can't come with us? It won't be the same without you, Lex."

"I know." The words were smug and self-aware--everything Lex Luthor was, in fact. "But I can't disappoint Mom, John, you know that." His mother meant the world to him. No... she was the world to him, and if she wanted him home for Christmas, he would be there.

The first thing Lex did when he arrived at the festive-yet-tastefully decorated town house was seek out his mother. He found her in the kitchen, a place where she almost never went. They had servants to deal with menial tasks like cooking and cleaning, after all.

The sight that met his eyes, however, was priceless. His usually immaculate mother in old clothes--sleeves rolled up haphazardly--and covered in flour on confectioner's sugar. She was... baking. Lex watched her for several minutes before he made his presence known. For a moment, he reminded of holidays in his long forgotten youth... before his father's death... when they used to bake sugar cookies together and decorate them. They would box them up for local churches to use in gift baskets for shut-ins and others less fortunate, but his mother always saved out a dozen or so of the best ones for him and his father.

It was, oddly, one of the few pleasant memories he had left of his dad. Lionel Luthor would always savor the biggest cookie on the platter with his morning coffee, and then they'd all adjourn to the family room to exchange gifts. Lex hardly remembered any of his childhood presents--except for maybe his first chemistry set--but he could never forget the cookie ritual.

Pulling himself away from the memory, he cleared his throat and made himself known to her.

Lex!" she exclaimed as she turned around, wiping flour from her face with the back of her hand. "When did you get home?"

"Just now. Cookies, Mom?"

Lillian Luthor looked down at the mess she'd made, smiling self-consciously. "I thought maybe just this once, for old time sake." She laughed a little. "Silly of me, I know, but..."

"Not silly, Mom. Not silly at all." Lex grinned as he hugged her. "Let me help with this... mess," he said, chuckling softly.

"That's sweet of you, dear, and probably a good idea. We have dinner reservations at eight."

Christmas Eve in the Luthor household meant dinner at their favorite restaurant. It was tradition, one that Lillian had started after Lionel's death, to help ease Lex's pain over losing his father. It had been a break from the cookies and coffee that young Lex had associated with his father and the holiday. Lex loved it because it was all their own.

They would sit and eat in a quiet corner of the restaurant reserved just for them and speak softly of Lex's year at school. Finals, friends and all the little things were the topic du jour.

"People have been saying things about you again this year," Lillian told him after they were seated.

"People?" Lex's eyebrow shot up. Tabloids, she meant. She wouldn't say it out loud, not that way. She didn't even read them, but Lex knew there were plenty of people in her sphere of 'friends' who did. People who wouldn't hesitate to speculate about her freak of a son in front of her.

"I trust it's all just ugly rumors," she continued, reaching out to pat his hand. "You weren't doing anything wild, were you?"

"No, Mom. Just having some..." Lex gave her his most charming smile. "...good, clean fun with some friends." Lillian nodded, smiling in a doting fashion and they settled down to their dinner.

"Mrs. Luthor!"

"Mrs. Luth--!"

" Lex! Over here!"

Their pleasant evening was suddenly short to hell as reporters and paparazzi swarmed the outside of the restaurant. Lex, who had just taken his mother's arm to escort her out, now shielded her from flashing cameras and wildly waving microphones. Their bodyguards and limo driver, whom Lillian insisted wait outside for them, pushed through the crowd to their side.

But not soon enough.

One of the vultures--or so Lex thought of tabloid reporters--made it to Lillian's side. "Mrs. Luthor!" he shouted in her face. "Do you have any comments about your son's nocturnal activities at college this year?"

"Nocturnal activities?" Lillian echoed, turning confused eyes to her son. "Lex?"

"Get out of here!" Lex told the man, shoving him even as he reached out to grab Lillian's arm.

"You don't know? That's priceless! Keeping your mom in the dark, Lex?" he sneered. "How very chivalrous of you. I'm sure Dean Prescott would commend you for--"

Anger welled up inside Lex. Deep, hateful feelings he'd been holding back for a while now. Lashing out, Lex struck the reporter--fist connecting with the side of his head. The man stumbled, and when he did, Lex hit him again, pummeling him repeatedly until the bodyguards managed to pull them apart.

The police were there, as well, though Lex wasn't sure quite when they'd arrived. He was led away to the sounds of his mother's sobs and threats shouted by the man he'd attacked.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Lex told his mother as they faced each on opposite sides of his holding cell bars.

"I know, honey."

"I didn't mean to ruin your Christmas."

"I know." She sounded sad. Lex hated it when she was sad.

"It's just--" he stopped when he felt the anger welling up again. "They're always there, always getting in the way...saying things...writing things. I can't stand them."

"They're just doing their jobs, Lex, honey. You know that."

Yes, Lex knew that the reporters and photographers who hounded them were just doing their jobs, but it did not mean he had to like it. "I just wish they'd leave us alone. We can't even get peace and quiet at Christmas anymore."

"It will be worse now, you know," she told him softly. He hung his head, silently admitting she was right again. "The man you hit dropped the assault charges, so the police are letting you come home. There's a bigger crowd outside now than there was at the restaurant. I want you to behave. And I want you to apologize to that man. His name is Nixon."

"Mom, I--"

"No, Lex. I need you to do this for me. It's Christmas, Lex. We can't have hate in our hearts tonight."

"Yes, ma'am." Lex told her. He'd apologize for her, and only for her. An apology, however, would never dull his feelings for the media. They hounded him, haunted his shadow and waited for things they could capture on film. When they couldn't find him doing anything fun of his own accord, they made things up. And this man, Nixon, he'd crossed the line. He'd threatened to expose Lex's mother to their lies. That would never happen again; Lex would make sure of it.

Part 3

(Graduation, Spring 2001)

It was warm, the late May sun shining down through the sunroof of the auditorium. Over a thousand bodies packed tightly together amplified the heat sufficiently, and Lex was sweating in his graduation gown. He fidgeted a little, twisting around in his seat and looking up into the balcony behind him. He could just barely make out his mother's auburn hair and wondered if she could see him. He risked a slight wave of his hand, and was rewarded with a slap to his wrist.

When he whirled around in surprise, John grinned at him from the row ahead. "Bruce is here." He nodded towards the ornate double doors to their left. Lex turned in time to see his long-time best friend escorting an exotic-looking brunette to a seat in the back row. "Looks like he brought a date."

Lex smirked at the sardonic comment. He was about to point out that the woman in question was Aurora Kincaide--two girlfriends ago for him--when Dean Prescott stepped up to the podium at the front of the auditorium. The microphone shrieked as the dean began to speak.

His mother was standing with Bruce--laughing at something witty he must have said--when Lex approached them, a petite blonde at his side. He gave her hand a squeeze, knowing she was nervous.

"Lex!" The young head of Wayne Enterprises boomed out as he came to stand next to them. "We were just talking about you."

"Were we?" Lex smirked as he leaned in to kiss his mother's cheek. "Should I be worried?"

"Not at all, honey. Bruce was just making me feel bad about not letting you take last year off like you wanted."

Lex was supposed to have graduated last year, and he and Bruce were going to take a year off to kick around Europe together. Two up and coming billionaires taking the world by storm. That, however, had been before Lex decided upon the double major and graduating a full year early became irrevocably out of the question. Bruce had gone alone, and Lex had a drawer full of postcards and tabloid articles to attest to the fun he'd missed while studying too hard.

He gave a half smile and squeezed the blonde's hand again, drawing her a little closer to his side. The gesture was not lost on anyone, especially not the brunette hovering between Lillian and the young Gotham mogul. "Mom, Bruce... I'd like you both to meet Leslie Ward." Turning to his companion, he added, "Leslie, this is Bruce Wayne... and my mother, Lillian Luthor."

"Lex..." Leslie fretted. "That's the Bruce Wayne. The head of Wayne Industries and founder of the Gotham Humanitarian Foundation and--" Her cheeks were turning a brighter shade of pink with each words.

Lex nodded matter-of-factly, rescuing her with his next statement. "Yes, I know. We're old friends."

Bruce laughed heartily. "Is this the one you were telling me about?" He directed this to Lex, taking Leslie's hand and giving it a polite, if slightly too intimate squeeze. She flushed a little at the touch and the words. Lex felt a little sorry for her, as he hadn't expected Bruce to come to his graduation and therefore had not had time to warn Leslie. "Don't worry..." his friend added, as if sensing her discomfort. "...it was all good." He winked, prompting a laugh from her at last.

Bruce's companion gave a rather impolite snort. Lex shot her a warning look, and Bruce frowned, the expression on his face indicating that he'd finally made the connection between Lex and Aurora. He didn't offer to introduce her to Leslie.

"This one must be special," Lillian commented to Bruce conspiratorially, moving in to take Leslie's hand from him. "I can't remember Lex ever introducing me to one of his girls." Beside Bruce, Aurora frowned at Lillian Luthor's smiling comment. The widow seemed not to notice as she merrily said, "A pleasure meeting you," to the girl.

"Thank you, Mrs. Luthor," Leslie replied.

"Please, call me Lillian," Lex's mother replied. Leslie glanced at him, and he could tell she was unsure. He gave her an encouraging smile and felt her grip on his hand lessen.

"Mom, I, uh, invited Leslie to come with us this summer. I hope you don't mind?"

His mother's smiled bloomed some more, she regarded Leslie with stronger interest. "I don't mind at all."

In the privacy of the guest bedroom, Lex pulled his girlfriend close to him, sliding his hands down her hips to keep her from pushing him away. She was tense and obviously still worried about spending the summer with him and his mother.

"Don't worry," he whispered against her skin. "You did fine. Mom loved you."

She shook her head slightly, sighing against the lips that sought hers. "You surprised her, Lex. How was she supposed to react?"

Leslie's concerns were sweet and honest, Lex decided. Another reason he loved her so much--she was genuine. But he wanted to reassure her anyway. "Exactly as she did. Mom would have let us know if she disapproved of you."

"Like she did with Bruce's... woman?" Leslie asked, chewing on her lip thoughtfully.

Aurora had not made a good impression on his mother at all. This, of course, was exactly why Lex had not seen the need to introduce them when he was dating her. She just... wasn't the sort you brought home to meet your parents and, to be honest, he'd never intended to do anything of the sort.

Lex had never expected to meet someone he'd want his mother to know to about. The women he'd dated in the past weren't more than, well, mindless flings. He'd lucked out when he met Leslie in one of his business classes. She was smart, beautiful in a classic way, and the minute he met her, he knew she was different from the rest.

"Exactly like that," he told her, kissing her one more time. "Now, come on. Dinner."

The sun was setting over the ocean, tinting the sky in reds and purples. Lex watched his mother from the doorway, hesitating to interrupt her private time.

"There's something on your mind," she said, cutting into his thoughts.

"Yes, there is."

She patted the balcony railing, motioning for him to join her. "Your father took me here only once, you know. Right after we bought it. I remember telling him we'd never need a villa on the Mediterranean, and I was right. We haven't used it since."

"We're using it now," Lex said.

"Yes, we are," his mother agreed, turning and gifting her son with a smile. "Is Leslie enjoying herself?"

"I think she is." He paused, and then "That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about. What do you think of her?"

His mother faced him more squarely now, looking into his eyes and Lex resisted the instinct to squirm, like he used to when he was younger and she was trying to decide if he was fibbing. He couldn't remember being this nervous around anyone, least of all his own mother. "I think she's a lovely young woman, Lex. Much better than the tramps the tabloids have you with all the time. But it isn't what I think of her that matters."

Lex closed his eyes. "I could be in love with her," he admitted. "She makes me feel so... better than I really am."

What came next, Lex had been expecting. His mother's eyes softened, a wistful look on her face as she said, "Your father used to say the same thing about me." She reached out, smoothing a hand across his cheek. "You'll love her... every bit as much he loved me, too."

Part 4

(Smallville, Homecoming Week 2002)

The limousine pulled in to a circular driveway, and the chauffeur hurried to open the door for Lex and his fiance. Lex stepped out first, eyes going straight to the mansion before them in an appraising glance.

"This is it," he said, extending a hand to help Leslie from the car. He'd never actually been here before, and this trip hadn't been his idea. His mother had mentioned they owned a house in the country, and Leslie had eagerly begged to see it. Lex had never been able to resist her when she batted her eyes at him.

"Oh, Lex! It's beautiful!" she exclaimed, and yes, Lex had supposed she would think so. It was a charming enough plantation style manor set back in the middle of nowhere amid trees and lush, beautifully landscaped gardens. Very picturesque.

His mother had thought much the same thing when she bought the land from Nell Potter years ago and commissioned the mansion to be built. His father had just died, and they'd both been trapped in Metropolis by the events of his death and the media's refusal to leave them be. Lex remembered the day she sat him down and told them they'd be moving to Smallville. His nightmares started up that night: dreams he hadn't had since waking up bald in the hospital. Horrible images of burning corn and a figure suspended high above him.

They didn't move after all, and the mansion had remained unused... until now.

Lex gave a small smile as they followed the chauffeur up to the front door. It was opened for them by the housekeeper, who greeted Lex with a polite "Mr. Luthor" and smiled at Leslie. She then led them on what Lex mentally dubbed the "official tour."

Leslie enjoyed every warmly decorated room, and Lex was beginning to see where this was a bad idea. He knew it was a few minutes later when they stepped onto the balcony adjoining the master bedroom.

"We should live here," she told him. "It's perfect."

Lex was certain it wasn't perfect, but he smiled as he took her hand. "It's an option," was the only thing he say. Leslie took the forced smile as hope and threw her arms around him, kissing him soundly enough to make him temporarily forget why. It all flooded back to him, however, once she slipped out of his arms to inspect the walk-in closet and he was left staring out at the gardens and then the vast amounts of trees and open fields beyond those.

Smallville stared back at him, as if it was just waiting to get him alone so it could finish ruining his life, a task it had started twelve years earlier.

"You're certain you want to do this, Les?" Lex asked as he maneuvered the sports car around a particularly sharp corner. Leslie had said she wanted to see the site of Lex's single most defining moment: the field where he lost his hair. He'd been surprised when she'd brought it up, and a little indignant, but relented when she explained that she thought it would help him get over his fear of the town if he faced it, and that she wanted to there to support him. He still wished they weren't doing it, though, no matter how much sense she made.

Much to his growing unease, she nodded, glancing down at the engagement ring on her finger. His mother had given it to him... to give to her. It had been in the Luthor family for generations and had come to her from his father years before. Lex personally thought it a little gaudy, but it was old and it was tradition. Even if he'd wanted to forego it in favor of a more suitable, modern ring, he couldn't just break a tradition his mother valued.

"Does the ring fit alright?" he asked, concern and also hoping to divert her attention away from their intended destination.

"It's a little loose, but we can get it resized or something--"

As if on cue, the ring slipped from her finger, bouncing off her knee and fell to the floor at Lex's feet. He reached for it, taking his eyes off the road. Just as his fingers wrapped around the ring, Leslie screamed--the shrill frightened sound causing him to drop the ring again as he straightened up in alarm.

In front of them, the load of an on-coming freight truck had come loose, spilling rolls of barbed wire onto the road in front of them. Leslie screamed again as Lex swerved the Porsche in an attempt to miss the barbed wire. The sports car, however, had other ideas. It wrenched control away from Lex and sent them careening towards a bridge.

The last thing Lex saw clearly before the world became a jumble of blurred memories and water was a dark-haired young man standing on the bridge. He knew instinctively that they were going to hit the kid, but Leslie's screams all but drowned out rational thought and he couldn't control the Porsche no matter how hard he tried.

Impact came swiftly, first with the dark-haired boy whose horrified expression was instantly seared into Lex's brain and then with the railing of the bridge, which mingled the sounds of tearing metal with Leslie's screams.

Then came darkness.

Lex came back to awareness abruptly, spluttering and spitting up water. Someone was kneeling next to him, a dark, wet blurry someone who transformed into the kid from the bridge when Lex's vision decided to clear.

"I... coulda sworn I hit you..." He was confused, unsure, Maybe he hadn't hit the guy after all,

"If you did, I'd be... " the boy looked away self-consciously. "I'd be dead."

Dead. The word echoed in Lex's ears, waking his mind up to another fact it hadn't wrapped itself around before. "Where's Leslie?" The boy looked confused, as if he wanted to ask "who?" but couldn't bring himself to. "The woman who in the car with me--where is she?" He lurched upwards, struggling to stand.

Lex caught site of blonde, wet hair and a familiar blue cashmere sweater on the bank a few feet away. "Leslie!" He stumbled away from his apparent savior and towards the woman he loved, only to be stopped by the sudden arrival of a paramedic team and the police.

He and the young man both gave statements to the police and a medic took Lex aside to look him over. Lex, however, was distracted by what was happening to Leslie. He couldn't see around the half dozen paramedics crowded around her and he wanted to--desperately. By the time he got away from the ones checking him over--wet and shivering despite the blanket thrown over his shoulders--they were placing her on a stretcher and making ready to put her inside the ambulance.

Glancing around, he noticed the one who'd saved him standing alone, too. He approached, but stopped when an older, very agitated man brushed past him, calling out to the youth with a worry-filled "Clark!" Most likely it was the boy's father, and the suddenly lack of someone parental to hold and comfort Lex was very noticeable. Lex wondered if anyone had even bothered to call his mother, or if--as usual--the media would arrive before she could get to him.

"Lex? Son?"

Lex looked up at the sound of his mother's voice in the entryway to the hospital waiting room. "They have Leslie in ICU," he told her, answering the question in her eyes. "They won't let me see her."

She sat down next to him, slipping an arm around his shoulder in a maternal embrace which he leaned into wearily. "I'm sure they're doing everything they can for her." The words were meant to comfort him, but they did not. He wished they were in Metropolis, where he could ensure Leslie got the best medical treatment his money could afford. For all he knew, this place could be little more than a glorified band aide station.

As if she sensed his concerns, Lillian rubbed his back reassuringly, something she'd often done for him when he was a child. "You should go back to the mansion and rest," she suggested. When he started to protest she shushed him with a stern mother's look. "You go, honey. I'll stay here and keep watch over our girl."

Our girl. It made Lex smile to hear his mother call Leslie their girl. It meant she wanted Leslie to be a part of their family as much as he did.

The mansion turned out to be the last place Lex wanted to be. He couldn't rest, no matter how hard he tried. The bed was strange: the blankets too heavy and the sheets too coarse on his skin. When his eyes finally closed, his mind recreated the accident in perfect detail. The bridge, the boy who'd saved them--whom he had hit, his mind kept insisting fervently--played and replayed in his dreams. In frustration, he threw off the bedcovers and went downstairs.

After a brief talk with the housekeeper, he found himself in the backseat of the limo, riding through the countryside. First stop was the local sheriff's office, and after a whole lot of haggling with the sheriff, Lex walked off with the name and address of the boy from the bridge. Clark...

Clark Kent, who apparently lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Lex repeated the directions the sheriff had given him to the limo driver and slid back into the sleek, very out of place vehicle. While he was used to it, he'd still felt the eyes of everyone on the street weighing down on him. There had been a time in his life when, if confronted with someone staring at him, he'd have stared back... or worse. Today, he chose to ignore the looks, a reaction his mother had been trying to instill in him for years. How ironic that the only thing that allowed this feat was the fact that he was too exhausted to care.

The ride to the Kent farm was shorter than he'd expected, and they were pulling in to the gravel driveway before Lex knew it. He felt strangely nervous as the driver opened the car door for him.

The front door of the yellow farmhouse opened and a redheaded woman in a denim shirt and blue jeans came down the stairs. At the same time, the man he'd assumed was Clark's father came out the barn. Like before, he was dressed in flannel, jeans and work boots. It seemed to be a theme.

"May I help you... sir?" the woman asked, confusion showing in her voice and expression.

"Lex Luthor, ma'am," he supplied politely.

"You're the one who hit-- almost hit Clark," the farmer interjected. Lex wasn't sure he liked the man's tone.

"You son saved my life, and that of my fiance, as well." He dismissed the accusing tone as residual worry over his son's safety. "I wanted to thank him."

"Clark's in school right now," the boy's father informed him, and then walked off as if he considered the conversation closed.

"Did I say something wrong?" he asked Mrs. Kent, who shook her head sadly.

"Don't mind Jonathan, Mr. Luthor--"

"Lex. Please, call me Lex." Mr. Luthor had never been a title that seemed to fit Lex, much like a child wearing his father's coat and shoes.

"Lex," Mrs. Kent smiled warmly, and the chill left by her husband started to fade. "Jonathan is just shook up from finding out Clark was involved in an accident." She studied him closely. "You're Lillian Luthor's son, aren't you?" Lex nodded, his jaw tightening. That was why her husband disliked him already, without knowing him. "I met her once in Metropolis. She's a good woman."

That wasn't what he'd expected to hear, though it was certainly true enough. "I... thank you, Mrs. Kent."

"Martha," she corrected. "Clark's at school, but if you stop by later..."

Lex felt his smile returning. "I need to be at the hospital later, for Leslie's sake, but if you could send him around to the mansion... " He started to give her the address, but she stopped him.

"I know where it is. I'll bring Clark over after chores." She didn't seem to mistrust him as her husband apparently did, and Lex drove away feeling somehow better for having met her.

Part 5

(Smallville, Homecoming Week 2002 Continued)

Lex loved pool. With its mathematic and geometric applications--it was all angles and trajectories in practice--it was a scientist's game. He leaned in to the shot, lining his body up like an extension of the custom-made pool cue in his hand. And scratched when the door behind him opened, startling him. The white ball bounced off the table.

Lex straightened up and turned to see an embarrassed Clark Kent hovering in the doorway. He looked nervous, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, wanting to spring away to safety but ultimately unable to make its legs move. Lex wondered if it was the opulent mansion and the pretentious servants that set his young savior on edge.

"Clark," he greeted, waving the teen in inside. "Do you play?" He nodded to the pool table, and Clark shook his head.

"Never tried it."

Lex simply nodded and walked over to the coffee table under which the ball had rolled. Dropping onto his hands and knees, he reached for it and mentally made note to tell the housekeeper about the dust bunnies who'd taken up residence there. "You should. It's a great game and, as you can see..." He stood up, holding the ball in his hand. "It's great exercise, too." He was pleased when the farm boy smiled, a goofy grin that erased the uncomfortable nervousness of a few moments ago.

"Yeah, okay..." The boy even laughed, and Lex felt a small sense of accomplishment. "My mom said you wanted to talk to me?"

"I wanted to thank you," Lex corrected, motioning for Clark to sit down. Clark sat in an over-stuffed leather chair. Lex perched on the edge of the pool table, the cue still in his hands.

"It was nothing. You would have done the same for me," Clark said, humble in a way Lex found refreshing. He didn't know people that modest still existed.

But it wasn't nothing. Not to him, anyway. He should have died that day, he was sure of it. If it hadn't been for Clark... "Do you believe a man can fly?" he asked, emotion overcoming his friendly bravado. If Clark hadn't been there, both he and Leslie would be dead.

Clark's confusion read on his face like an open book. "Sure. In a plane."

"No. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about soaring through the clouds, with nothing but air beneath you."

"People can't fly, Lex," Clark stated.

"I did. After the accident, when my heart stopped." He hopped down off the pool table, and walked around to the other side of the room, remembering. "It was the most... exhilarating two minutes of my life. I flew over Smallville, and for the first time, I didn't see a dead end. I saw a new beginning." He looked back at Clark, who was watching him closely. "Thanks to you, I have a second chance."

Lex left the hospital in mixed spirits. Leslie was better, but just barely. Her injuries were serious, and despite his insisting that Metropolis had better facilities, the doctors refused to risk moving her so soon. Much to his surprise and chagrin, his mother had agreed with them.

Leslie was staying and so were they.

His musings on this turn of events stopped short when he took the turn in the road and his headlights flashed on something strange--the figure of a man coming out the cornfield along side the road. Their eyes locked for a moment, and Lex was struck with instant dj vu. He knew this man, had seen him before. Images of a figure strung to a cross filled his mind and when they faded, the man was gone.

He stopped the car and got out, grabbing a flashlight. A part of him was certain he imagined whatever he'd seen. It was late, he was stressed and Smallville has always held a myriad of bad memories for Lex.

"Help me... " and that was definitely one of them. Gripping the flashlight tightly, he squelched the instinct to run and plunged into the cornfield after the voice. He'd had nightmares like this in the past, but this time, Lex felt compelled to follow the voice. Maybe it was time to stand up to the memory.

"...help me..."

Lex swiveled the beam of light in the direction of the voice and saw Clark tied to a cross. A crude red "S" was painted on his chest and a strange glowing rock hung around his neck. He looked like he was dying.

"Clark?" The boy's pain-filled eyes rose to meet his and Lex felt his bile rise in his throat. He hurried to untie the ropes. "Who did this to you?"

"Doesn't matter," came a mumbled reply. The ropes loosened enough and Clark fell to the ground at Lex's feet. The strange necklace must have fallen off because when Clark stood up, Lex couldn't see it anymore. It was, however, the furthest thing from his mind.

"Clark, you need to see a doctor." His voice was full of concern for the boy who now struggled to get to his feet.

Clark shook his head. "I'll be okay."

"At least let me give you a ride," Lex started to insist, but when he blinked, the boy was gone. He stood there for a few minutes blinking his eyes in disbelief. He wasn't sure what had just happened. Nothing in this town made any sense.

"Lex, hey!"

The voice behind him stopped him in his tracks. Turning around, he smiled brightly at Clark. "Clark! I thought you didn't want a doctor?"

Clark fidgeted a little, looking at his feet. "I, uh, wanted to thank you for... last night.. the housekeeper said you were here."

"Yeah. Leslie's going to be here for a while, and so am I." Lex's eyes turned to the door he'd just exited. "She's awake if you'd like to..."

"Oh, no, I probably shouldn't," Clark protested nervously.

"Clark, I've told her all about how you saved our lives. She'd love to meet you, I think." He took the teen by the arm and gently pulled him towards the room.

There was something about Clark. Lex couldn't put his finger on it, but he knew the young man who'd saved his life was special. He would, he thought, do great things someday and if Lex could help it, he wanted to be a part of that. He'd already talked to his mother about scholarships for the high school. He doubted people as proud as the Kents would accept money from him freely--Mr. Kent seemed especially put off by his visit to the farm--but if Lex was right about Clark, he'd more than earn it on his own.

Lex hadn't been lying when he told Clark the accident had changed his outlook. He was ready to settle down and ready to prove that he was more than the party-boy the tabloids painted him as in years past.

Smallville, he thought, watching Leslie take Clark's hand and thank him in a weak voice, was just the place to start.

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