This is a sequel to "Nookie" and "I'm Carrying My Gay Alien Lover's Child", both of which can be found on my website.
Many thanks to velvetglove and juno501 for the fabulous beta work that languished in my inbox for several months while another story ate my brain. Thanks to cjandre for the title and quotation. And thanks to all my LJ pals who read and commented as I posted this as a WiP.
"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots; the other, wings." ~Hodding Carter
"I don't get it."
"Well, neither do I, if it's any consolation."
"It's no consolation at all!" Clark hasn't pouted this magnificently since his Smallville days. It's at moments like this that Lex is startled to recognize his son's resemblance to Clark. With Lex's coloring, the red curly hair, and the surly Luthor expression, it's rare that Kent and Clark seem even vaguely related. The pout, however, is unmistakably from Clark's side of the genetic equation.
"He's thirteen." It's inadequate, and does nothing to dispel Clark's gloom.
"I wasn't like this when I was thirteen," Clark protests. "I was polite. I never talked back to my father the way Kenny does. Did you hear what he said just now?"
Lex nods, tired now that his indignation has died down. "He's a little shit, there's no question about that."
"I just don't understand. We don't abuse him. We make his life as normal as we can. We give him every opportunity, but we do our best not to spoil him. We love him. You can't love your kid too much, right?"
"If you could, we'd have done it long before now," concurs Lex, manfully fighting the urge to poke Clark's lower lip back in.
"And why on earth is he turning on me?" Clark raves, beginning to pace. "I mean, let's face it, as parents go, I'm the good cop. You're the bastard."
Lex raises an eyebrow at this, sinking back into the couch, but he can hardly protest. It's true.
"I mean, when he wants something and you say 'no', flat-out, I'm the one who says, 'oh, honey, let's reconsider, poor little guy,' and all that bullshit. And you're the one who's always grounding him and yelling at him. I'm the one who got him ginger ale when he was sick and read him stories at bedtime when he was little. I did all the goofy voices, for Christ's sake! You just give him hell when he fails a test at school. Jeez, you give him hell for everything!"
"You're a saint, Clark," Lex agrees placidly, only mildly troubled by this depiction of himself as an ogre. "But, as you said, he is thirteen. Maybe he's not as receptive to being coddled as he was three years ago."
Clark runs his hands through his hair, which is already wild and sticking out in all directions. At long last, he sighs loudly and looks up at Lex, his green eyes hurt and pleading. "What are we going to do with him?"
They try a bonding weekend in Smallville -- just Clark and Kenny, like the old days, piling into the beat-up Toyota hatchback and driving out of the city early on Friday morning. Clark feels like he's in a time warp as he pulls up in the driveway of the farm, seeing Mom and Dad standing out on the porch, smiling. Mom is still wearing an apron, probably having made dozens of cookies in preparation for the descent of Kenny the Cookie Monster, as they called him a decade ago. Dad is wearing a new shirt for the occasion, one that buttons properly over his expanding middle.
The difference between this and previous visits is that Kenny isn't currently bounding up to the porch like an overgrown puppy. Instead, he's sighing heavily, as if to impart that he hates this point of arrival even more than he hated the journey.
"Here we are, kiddo!" Clark blurts over-enthusiastically. He wonders inwardly when exactly he became a stereotypical embarrassing TV dad. He might as well be sporting a fanny pack and a baseball cap with moose antlers.
Kenny unbuckles his seatbelt lethargically, pulling his headphones out of his ears. This is the moment when Lex would have lit into the kid with a lecture, if he were here. It would have been liberally sprinkled with mythical allusions as well as some thinly-veiled threats, but its intent would be to ensure that Kenny treated his grandparents with becoming respect. Clark, however, can never seem to muster that drill-sergeant tone when facing his son, so he just gets out of the car and watches Kenny follow suit.
While Clark struggles to excavate their luggage from the hatchback, Kenny ambles towards his grandparents.
"Oh, honey, you're getting so big," exclaims Mom, drawing him in for a hug. In fact, Kenny has yet to have a major growth spurt, and he's barely level with Martha for height, and considerably less for weight.
Dad is more circumspect, smiling gruffly and punching Kenny on the arm. "Go help your old man with those bags, huh?"
Kenny glances back at Clark, who is advancing on the house with his own carry-on weekend bag as well as Kenny's hockey duffel and backpack. "He's got 'em," Kenny observes.
Dad frowns, but doesn't reprimand his grandson. It always amazes and irritates Clark to see how lenient Jonathan can be with Kent. It makes his own stories about strict old Grandpa sound fantastic in the extreme.
They are only inside for a few minutes, exchanging pleasantries in the kitchen, when Kenny bolts, seizing his duffel bag and thundering up the stairs to lay claim to his bedroom. He doesn't come back down.
"He's driving me nuts," Clark confesses darkly as he realizes that Kenny is officially Hiding Out again. The statement has nothing to do with the preceding conversation, but Mom and Dad have no difficulty following Clark's train of thought. It helps that Clark is scowling at the ceiling as he speaks.
"He's a thirteen year old boy," Mom soothes, sounding maddeningly like Lex. "You were the same way." She eases herself down into a chair, waving at Clark and Dad to join her at the table as she pushes a plate of cookies in Clark's direction.
Clark exhales sharply through his nose, but he obediently sits and takes a cookie. "I wasn't like this." Martha barely has time for an amused snort before Clark adds, "He called me a faggot."
The older Kents are wearing identical expressions of shock and horror when Clark looks up.
He sighs, only slightly grateful to have their attention. "We were fighting about something, I forget what. Lex was trying to dress him down about something he'd done, or forgotten to do, and I backed Lex up, and next thing you know, Kenny just screamed it at me. I was so surprised, I just stood there."
Jonathan seems to remember he has a cookie in his hand, taking a bite. He asks, with an anticipatory smirk, "What did Lex do?" Dad admires Lex's parenting style, no surprises there. After all, Lex as a father is just Jonathan Kent with more classically-derived platitudes.
"He freaked. For a second, I thought he was going to backhand the kid, but he got it under control and just sent him to his room. We took the night to sleep on it, then grounded him for a month. But he's been acting the same anyway. Smart mouth, lazy, bad temper. He's so angry, we can't figure out why."
Martha shakes her head slowly. "Is he maybe on drugs?"
Clark shakes his head at this. "Kids don't do drugs anymore, Mom. It's considered old-fashioned."
Martha doesn't smile at Clark's weak joke, and her genuine worry is tying Clark up in knots. He can't remember his mother getting this concerned over anything in a long time.
"Lex and I, we're not perfect parents, but we never figured that we'd raise a homophobe," Clark rants, stuffing a cookie into his mouth. He's trying to forget Lex's suggestion that homophobia must skip a generation.
"D'you think he's-..." begins Dad, awkwardly.
Jesus, maybe it does skip a generation. "No, Dad. He's straight."
Dad has the grace to cover his relief with a fake cough, hiding his smile under the palm of his hand.
"I'm going to try to find out what's going on. He and I used to be so close. Maybe being here, he'll feel safer and he'll let me know."
Mom and Dad nod contemplatively.
"Rise and shine," sings Clark, knocking on the bedroom door, which still bears a miniature Kansas license plate that reads 'Clark'. "Come on, Kenny, there's work to do."
There's no answer, so Clark slowly edges the door open. He remembers being thirteen, and Mom barged into his room at too many inopportune moments for him to do the same to his son.
Kenny's tousled red head is buried in a pillow and he's kicked Martha's homemade heirloom quilt to the floor.
"Kent, come on," Clark coaxes gently, crossing the room to pull open the curtains. The introduction of a ray of sunlight elicits an angry growl from the sleeper.
"Gooooood ... morning to you!" Clark sings. "Good morning to you!" He knows full well that Kent is Lex's son and as such, is irritated to the point of temporary insanity by the sound of this song in the morning. In the logical part of his mind, Clark is aware that this isn't the best approach to endear himself to Kenny ... but nothing in the world is as irresistably fun as tormenting his family members in the morning.
Clark gathers more air and launches into the next phrase, cheerfully out of tune. "We're all in our places with bright shiny faces."
"Shut. Up!" moans Kenny, writhing on the mattress in agony.
"And this is the waaaaaaaaaay"--holding the high note with obnoxious tenacity and doubtful intonation--"we start a new day!"
Kenny bolts up into a sitting position, the lurch of motion and the wild red hair eerily like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist", and hurls a pillow at Clark. Clark dodges the missile easily and beams at his son. "Good, you're awake! Get dressed and you can meet me in the barn."
Kenny only has one eye open, but it's glaring enough for both eyes. "This is supposed to be summer vacation, Clark," he grunts, early morning smoothing out the adolescent wobble of his voice.
"I was up at five a.m. every single day when I was your age," Clark informs Kenny, retrieving the quilt from the floor and shaking it out.
"And look how well you turned out," Kenny sneers.
Don't react, Clark tells himself. "Exactly," he agrees. "Five minutes. Hustle."
"This is so gross," declares Kenny, staring with distaste at Rhonwyn's full udder.
"You used to love milking the cows," Clark cajoles, sitting down beside Beryl and toeing the galvanized bucket into place.
Kenny sighs and reaches forward. "That was before I realized that it involves pulling on a cow's tits."
Clark withheld his instinctive reprimand for language, simply beginning to milk Beryl.
"I mean, if I'm squeezing tits, they should be attached to a human," Kenny elaborates, clearly seeking a reaction.
Clark clears his throat and remembers Lex's advice. Return shock for shock. "Have you done that?"
Kenny is as good as Clark about suppressing reactions. "Why? Is it something you have to record in the baby book -- first tooth, first haircut, first time copping a feel?"
Clark laughs in spite of himself. "No. Just curious. You seem like a big expert."
Kenny stops milking and looks over at his father. "You have no idea," he scoffs at last.
Clark's fingers tighten invisibly, but he restricts himself to a politely doubting smile, hoping to goad Kenny into fuller disclosure.
However, the kid isn't that gullible. He's Lex's son. He only exhales with irritation and returns to his task.
Kenny manages to spend half of Saturday in relative peace with Clark, but when, after lunch, Clark requests his help with mending some fences, the boy rebels.
"I don't feel like it," he announces, causing Jonathan to sit upright with surprise.
"Kent, it would be nice to do this for Grandpa while we're here. He's got other things to do today." Clark is firm but kind.
Kenny deposits his dishes in the sink with a clatter. "I thought this was supposed to be about quality time or whatever. Not fixing crap for Grandpa."
"Kent Gabriel Luthor," Clark begins, embarrassed to have his son act this way in front of his parents. "Don't make me ask you again."
Kenny turns and scowls at Clark.
"Clark, why don't you and Kent go into town, to the market?" suggests Dad, and it makes Clark angrier to hear his father excuse Kent in this way. Dad's only doing it because Kent made it necessary to point out that Dad needs help. Dad doesn't like admitting that.
"I don't want to go to the market," Kent answers flatly, still glaring at Clark.
"Well, how about riding, then?" offers Mom brightly, trying to dissipate the tension and kindly overlooking her grandson's rudeness.
"Horses stink. This whole farm stinks."
Clark's already played the full name card. If Lex were here, he'd have some choice words for Kenny, but Clark isn't sure that would help. He levels his fiercest Superman gaze at his son, and says, low in his throat, "You're coming out to help me."
Kenny's nostrils flare, but he doesn't say anything. Instead, he slowly stands up from his slouch against the counter and strides out the back door.
Clark wants to go after him, but his nerves are too raw. Lex felt like strangling the kid last week, and Clark is now deeply sympathetic.
"Red kryptonite?" says Mom, hopefully, meekly.
Clark shakes his head once. "As far as we've noticed, he doesn't have a reaction to kryptonite of any kind." He looks over at his father, sighing. "He's just...a little shit."
The rest of the weekend is a bust. Kenny hides out in the Fortress of Solitude, playing with Clark's old video games. Clark quietly finishes chores around the farm and counts the hours until they can drive back to Metropolis. His parents seem at a loss. Clark at his worst was never like this. Mom's words of comfort are, "At least he doesn't have your gifts, Clark. Imagine how difficult he'd be if he did."
Dad reignites long-banked arguments by simply saying, "He's a Luthor, all right."
Clark hasn't felt this hostile for years, torn between defending his parents and his son.
When they get back to the house in Metropolis, Lex takes in their silence and frowns with a single glance. Kenny grunts hello, then goes, predictably, up to his room. Clark sits down on the living room couch, unsure whether to cry or scream.
Lex sits beside him, putting his arm around Clark's shoulders and drawing him in for a loose hug. "Maybe being a total asshole skips a generation, too," he muses, pressing his fingers into the tense muscle on Clark's shoulders. "You know, from my side," he adds kindly.
Clark sighs. "What are we going to do, Lex? He could get into serious trouble if he doesn't get past this."
Lex kisses Clark's eyebrow. "Well, even if he does, look at me. I had a troubled youth, and you like the man I turned into, right?"
Clark nods, not really taking in Lex's words. "I just can't stand this. I can't stand seeing him act like this."
"I want to go away for the rest of the summer."
"No." Clark's the one who says it, trying on the bad cop hat. Besides, he feels an undercurrent of panic at the thought of letting Kenny out of his sight for that long.
Kent sighs and rolls his eyes. "Daaaad." The word has about fourteen syllables, the way the kid says it.
"It's not the answer, Kent," Lex says. "We're a family and we've got to work this out."
Kent turns his green eyes on Lex. "But Simon's parents sent him away last year. And they get along better now."
"We're not Simon's parents," Clark blurts, unable to stop up the stream of Jonathan Kent emerging from his mouth.
Another eye roll. "Dad, come on." This 'Dad' only has one syllable, which is how Clark knows it's directed at Lex. "Just a couple of weeks. Like a time-out for all of us."
Lex is watching Kent with the expression he normally saves for unsavory LexCorp stock numbers. "You really think that would fix this attitude you've got going on?"
Kent shrugs. He's a master of minimal motion body language. He can express a hundred phrases just by shifting a skinny muscle or two under the layers of sweatshirt and denim. A stranger wouldn't ever guess that he ranks 99th percentile for vocabulary in his age group.
"Well, maybe Grandma and Grandpa would like to have you come and stay for a while," Clark suggests, though inwardly questioning the wisdom of foisting his brat off on his aging parents in light of the past weekend.
"I don't want to go there," Kenny declares. "It stinks. And Grandpa is always trying to get me to learn stupid stuff, like woodwork. Plus, there aren't any hot girls in Smallville."
Even Lex can't quite supress a smile at this. Kenny has been vociferously heterosexual for a few months now, but it still strikes both men as hopelessly funny to imagine skinny short Kent Luthor as the kind of ladies' man he seems to think he is.
Unfortunately, like their cat Jezebel, Kenny does not react well to being the object of a joke. "There aren't! They're all inbred and creepy-looking."
"Hey, you didn't think Sara was so bad, last summer," teases Clark, thinking of Lana's youngest, who resembles her mother in a very good way.
Clark raises an eyebrow at Lex, who's looking at Kenny with a sympathetic nod. Lex still isn't Lana's biggest fan, and he's not overly fond of her offspring either.
"Kent, do you remember the conversation we had yesterday, about respecting other people?"
"And the dangers of sounding like a misogynistic little bastard?" Lex adds thoughtfully. His tone, which was always cutting when necessary, has been honed to razor sharpness in the last year or so.
This gives Clark an idea. It's an evil, wonderful idea. He just has to approach it in the right way, so Kent doesn't suspect.
"Well, where do you think you should go, then?" he asks pointedly, as though there are no other viable alternatives in all the world. He's hoping Kent will cast about for any other suggestion, no matter how strange.
"What about Mom's?" Bullseye. Clark manages to catch Lex's eye, keeping him from laughing outright.
"No," Clark says, praying that reverse psychology isn't too simple an answer.
"No," echoes Lex. "She's too busy to keep an eye on you, and Vancouver's not a city for a kid to be wandering around in."
Kent's eyes widen dramatically as he takes in this united front. "She's my mom!" he cries in disbelief. "It's her job to keep an eye on me!"
"She's your surrogate mom, and she's a career woman with other things to worry about than a snotty teenager," Lex corrects, obviously catching on to Clark's ploy.
"You are such a freak!" Kent explodes. When this outburst only gains him a silver-gray glare, he tries a different tack. "Can't I just ask her and see what she says?"
Clark and Lex make a great show of considering this, looking at each other doubtfully and having an entire marital eye conversation. "Well..." says Clark at last.
"Well..." answers Lex, in a slightly more optimistic voice.
Clark turns his gaze on his son, who suddenly looks like visiting Chloe is the most amazing prospect he's ever known. "I guess you can give her a call," he concedes heavily. "But you have to be polite about it. And if she says no, that's the end of the conversation."
"Okay," Kent nods, the corners of his mouth tightening with determination. He's a replica of Lex going into a difficult board meeting.
When the phone rings, Chloe is shaving her legs, smoking pot, and watching TV all at the same time. It takes some coordination to get her cell phone integrated into the process.
"Shit...hang on. Fuck. Um," she says, by way of salutation.
The other person is saying something, but Chloe is concentrating on finding some place to set her joint while she rinses her razor in the kitchen sink. She would turn down the TV, but the remote is buried deep in the couch.
"Hey. Go," she says at last, hopping on one foot over to the TV and toeing the power button.
Jesus, Kent always picks the best times to call. Chloe immediately stubs out the joint, as though he could smell the pot over the phone line. "Hey, Kenny G."
"What are you doing?"
Chloe looks around, trying to find an acceptable answer in the chaos of her apartment. "Oh, just tidying up. I dropped the phone, that's all."
"Oh." Kent's voice is disturbingly low. Chloe is trying to remember if he sounded like this the last time they spoke. Could he already be hitting puberty? She tries to figure out how old he is. She missed his last birthday a couple of months ago, being stuck in Canada for a conference.
"So what's up in Metropolis, sweetie?" The endearment always sounds forced, but Chloe makes a point of using it. It makes the title of 'Mom' feel more justified. Too bad she can't remember the kid's age.
"Not much. Um, Mom, I wanted to ask you something."
"Yeah?" Chloe is actually tidying up, as much from a sudden awareness of her cluttered surroundings as from a desire for honesty. She unearths a week-old pizza box from under a stack of articles.
"And you can say no," he adds, after a rumbling voice sounds in the background.
"Got it. Can say no," Chloe repeats distractedly, looking for a garbage bag.
"Pardon?" Chloe asks, genuinely unable to decipher the question.
"In Vancouver. Just for a couple of weeks. Clark and Lex will pay for the flight and everything."
Chloe sits down on the floor, having uncovered a few square feet of berber. "You want to come for a visit?" she guesses, a little stunned. It's hard to tell if this is actual surprise she's feeling or just the marijuana kicking in.
There's an awkward pause while Chloe tries to absorb this fact. She's never had Kent come to her before. Usually, they see each other at Christmas in Smallville, and Chloe often will fly to Metropolis for his birthday in May. Twice a year is the standard visitation schedule. It's not that she doesn't want to see more of Kent...it's just that he's so much on the periphery of her life, she honestly forgets most of the time that she sort of has a kid.
"You're probably too busy, huh?" Kent says, taking her silence as a bad sign.
Chloe blurts it before she can think. "No, Kenny. No. Of course you can come. I'd...really like that."
"Really?" And he sounds like a little kid again, deep voice aside. It could be his sixth birthday, when Chloe gave him a real guitar (for which Clark and Lex have never forgiven her). "You don't mind?"
"No, of course not," she reassures him, slipping into the kindly aunt character with only minimal squirming.
This is slang for good, Chloe knows. The voices in the background are rumbling again.
"Oh, hey, Dad wants to talk to you."
Exactly who 'Dad' is, is always a bit of a mystery with Kenny, since neither Clark nor Lex has laid exclusive claim to the name.
"You said yes?" Lex. Sounding amused and slightly worried.
"I said yes," Chloe confirms, realizing that she really is a little buzzed.
"Kent, go to your room," Lex says, his voice slightly muffled. He continues talking a moment later. "God, the kid's hovering an inch above the carpet."
Chloe smiles in spite of growing apprehension in her belly. "Not literally?"
Lex chuckles softly. "No, not literally."
"I take it that things have not been rosy at the Luthor-Kent house?"
"Remember that old movie with Macaulay Culkin, where he's an evil homicidal sociopath?" Lex reminisces. "We'd prefer that kid, right about now."
"And you're sending him to me?" Chloe confirms. The apprehension is increasing exponentially.
Lex laughs. "Regretting your choice?"
"No," Chloe lies while she wonders what in hell she was thinking. B.C. bud isn't that good.
"Look, if he's being a dick, just send him home."
"Lex, it'll be fine," she protests, wishing she believed herself.
"Chloe. He's a teenager. He's being a total dipshit these days. I want to you promise me that you won't keep him around out of some misplaced surrogate mommy guilt."
Lex knows her too well. It's very annoying. "Listen, Luthor, he's my kid, too. You guys are the ones always saying that. Trust me on this. We'll be fine. It'll be good for you to have some time to yourselves too."
Lex laughs again. "Clark wants to talk to you."
"Oh, Jesus, not him," she curses, which makes Lex laugh again before handing the phone over.
"Chloe, you can still change your mind," Clark begins.
"Okay, is the kid vomiting pea soup and turning his head around 360 degrees or something?" Chloe rants, her panic rising.
Clark isn't laughing, which isn't a good sign. "He's not far from it, I think."
"Well, I'll keep some holy water handy just in case," Chloe sighs. "Any other words of encouragement?"
"Yeah, don't bring up the birds and the planes."
"Don't you mean the birds and the bees?" she corrects.
It takes a second to sink in. Birds, planes...oh. Superman. "You still haven't told him? I thought it was supposed to be this year that you let him in on the secret."
Clark clears his throat loudly. "We agreed that it'll wait a couple of years. Especially now, the way he's been acting. We don't think he's ready."
"Do I have to remind you how thrilled you were about a certain secret your parents kept from you?"
"Just don't bring it up, okay?"
"Okay, Superman," Chloe agrees in a goofy voice. "You big doofus."
"No secrets shall pass this reporter's lips."
"And remember what Lex said. If he's being a dick, send him home."
"Trust me, I'm okay with that. That approach is the reason I'm still single at the age of forty-two."
"Forty-three," Clark corrects, and damn him for always remembering that she's a couple of months older than him.
After several more rounds of warnings and advice, Chloe says goodbye to Clark and hangs up. She slowly surveys her apartment, then sighs heavily. It's going to take some serious work to kidproof this place.
They play this game now, sometimes, with guilty glee.
"Remember when he was four?" Clark whispers, cuddling up behind Lex on the bed, still warm from speeding out of his Superman costume.
Lex smiles and presses back into Clark's heat. "Hmm?" he queries sleepily.
"And he wanted, more than anything, to be Cookie Monster for Halloween?"
They both chuckle, remembering a hyper preschooler with a precocious vocabulary and a predilection for cookies of any kind. "And when we finally got a costume custom made and showed it to him, he screamed and cried and hid in the pantry," Lex finishes.
"That's my boy," Clark rumbles, tucking the point of his chin into Lex's shoulder. "Irrationally scared of blue fur."
"And when he was seven," Lex begins, knowing it's his turn. "When we got Jezebel, and he insisted that she was really his sister."
"And that Chloe 'gived birth' to that stupid cat," Clark grins, "who was apparently created using 'smurf fusion'."
Lex convulses into giggles. "I forgot about the smurf fusion," he admits, shaking his head. "God, he was a crazy kid."
"He wore that stupid nose plug around his neck for a year, in case"--
"There was a flash flood," concludes Lex. "God forbid he get water up his nose if that happened."
They're quiet for a while. It's not that they liked the little version of Kenny better...it's just a lot more work to be fond of Kenny these days.
"I miss how he used to crawl into our bed on Sunday mornings," Lex says, surprisingly sentimental in tone.
"I don't," Clark retorts, unexpectedly. "It's a hell of a lot easier to get some action on the weekends now that he sleeps until noon," he explains, sotto voce, his hand slipping down under the covers.
"Well, there is that," Lex agrees.
Chloe gives her spare room a critical once-over, trying to see the space through the eyes of a thirteen year old. Small. It's very small. The bed is only a twin, but Clark and Lex have assured her that Kent is still well able to fit into it. The window's big, with a view of False Creek and the north shore, spread out at the feet of her highrise. The view's actually better from this room than from hers, but she can't bring herself to live in the smaller room for the sake of the window.
The decor is pretty spartan. Chloe's never gotten around to decorating the whole apartment, so although her living room and kitchen are pleasantly reminiscent of her personality, the rest of the place is all white walls and beige carpet. The bed is covered by a brightly patterned duvet from Ikea. She's eighty-sixed the old one, realizing that Kent probably isn't a huge fan of giant pink cabbage roses.
Her PDA beeps, reminding her that if she's going to make it to the airport on time, she has to leave now.
Traffic is atrocious, as always, and she gets to the airport about fifteen minutes after Kent's plane lands, according to the monitors she sees as she jogs through the terminal. Customs will have kept him for a while, but...
It's about the fourth time she's heard that word called, but it's only now she realizes that it's Kent yelling, and he means her. She turns in the direction of the voice and sees him standing, knapsack on back, looking at her with mild amusement.
"Kenny G!" she shouts, and they do the Joyful Airport Reunion thing, just like they do every Christmas in Metropolis. Clark started it, way back when Kenny was tiny, and she and he used to slow-mo run towards each other, alternately crying one another's names with increasing dramatic joy. Kenny had joined in when he was old enough to understand it, and now it was a traditional joke between them.
He collides with her at last, having garnered amused glances from the surrounding crowd. His hug, unlike his greeting, is shy and tentative, and he draws back immediately. His shoulder blades feel sharp and kittenish under Chloe's palm. "Good flight?" she asks.
"Bo-ring," Kenny sings, hoisting his backpack up higher. "They were playing some challenged movie."
Chloe leads them towards the luggage carousels, trying not to stare too obviously at Kent. He hasn't changed a whole lot since Christmas, except for that disconcertingly low voice. His nose and feet are the other differences - they've doubled in size, at least. Chloe thinks, for a moment, that Clark's monkey feet are bad enough on a six-foot-four frame. On this kid, they're ludicrous.
"Your folks are okay?" Chloe inquires out of habit, then remembers that things are tense, to say the least.
Kenny sighs and rolls his eyes. "I guess. Here, they said carousel number twelve."
Chloe glances up at the signs to confirm that this is the right one. "Were you worried when I didn't show?" she teases. "Did you think I was backing out at the last second?"
He smiles obligingly. "No."
Chloe wants to ask him about school, about friends, all the safe innocuous topics she could pursue. However, she remembers her own childhood longing for her mother, and says what she would have wanted to hear, instead. "I missed you."
He looks over at her, embarrassed but unmistakably pleased.
"You know I love you, right, sweetie?" she continues, hoping she doesn't sound as dorky as she feels.
Kenny nods twice, flushing deeply. "Me too," he mutters.
Chloe beams, surprising herself, and snakes an arm around him to squeeze his shoulders. "You and I are going to have a blast, my boy."
"Party on, dude," Kenny returns, dead-pan, and Chloe chortles at the nineties phrase, which must sound as antiquated to Kenny's ears as 'groovy' and 'keen' had sounded to Chloe when she was thirteen.
"Ever been to Canada before?" They're walking across the covered walkway leading to the parking garage, Chloe slipping her sunglasses on.
"Um. Is Toronto in Canada?"
Chloe grins. "Yep."
"Then yes. But I was really little." Kent looks around appraisingly. "It seems pretty much like America. Dad gave me some money though--it looks fake."
Chloe is digging through her purse for her keys. "I like it. You can tell the bills apart. All the different colours."
"Well, who uses cash anymore anyway?" Kenny scoffs. "It's all plastic."
"True. I did a piece on that a couple of years ago. Did you know that Canada was way ahead of the U.S. in changing over? I think it's because they use so many coins. People don't like carrying it all around. Even fives are coins, now."
"Well, that makes sense. Five bucks isn't very much."
"Would you believe that was my allowance when I was a kid?"
"You only got five bucks a day?"
"Holy shi--moley!" Kent blurts, then shifts his eyes to see if Chloe is going to reprimand him for his near swearing.
She just pops the trunk and waves at him to toss his suitcase in. "Yeah, you wouldn't believe it, the way he treated you, but Poppa Gabe was a real tightfisted bastard back in the day."
Kenny smiles fondly, opening the passenger door of the car and sliding inside. "He was always giving me stuff, wasn't he?"
Chloe nods as she settles herself in the driver's seat beside him. "Do you remember him much?" Gabe died when Kenny was about eight. It doesn't seem that long ago, and yet it's been five years, which translates to about a dozen shoe sizes in Kenny-time.
Kenny nods. "Dad's always talking about him. How much he misses him."
This 'Dad' must refer to Lex. Clark didn't know Gabe very well. "I miss him too."
"Heh," Kenny grunts, smiling. When Chloe shoots him an inquisitive look, he explains. "Something you and Lex actually have in common."
Chloe is taken aback by this observation. She's always thought she and Lex hid their mutual aversion to each other far under the radar of the kid. Apparently not. "Well, that, and you," she adds thoughtfully.
"And Clark." He laughs again, and Chloe is really surprised this time. She forgets to turn the key in the ignition, staring at Kenny with shock. "It's funny. You guys love all the same people, but not each other. Maybe you're too much alike."
Most people couldn't see anything similar between a bald middle-aged billionaire tycoon and a journalism prof whose biggest investment decisions involve the choice of a toilet paper brand. But, then Kenny is different from most people.
"Maybe we are."
"You're not going to turn into a giant queen over this, are you?" Lex cackles gleefully, seeing the expression on Clark's face.
Clark lifts his hands, gently touching the hair at his temples. "I just might," he moans, grimacing. "You'd think I could fake being cool about having gray hair at the age of forty-three."
"I think it's sexy," Lex consoles Clark. "But then, I'm bald. Any hair would be a plus in my case."
Clark is still fixated on the new look. "I look so old."
"You are old. Sort of."
"Well, I don't feel old." Clark picks up the jar on the dresser in front of him. "And this stuff will, what, neutralize it?"
Lex pops off the lid and slicks a dollop of the gel onto Clark's hair, slicking it back into a Superman wave. The gray hair disappears instantly.
"Weird." Clark, looking oddly like his alter-ego, is tilting his head to and fro, looking for a telltale flash of silver. There is none.
Lex kisses Clark's cheek. "Not any weirder than having to wear blue-tinted contacts with your spandex every day for twenty-odd years."
"This is weirder," Clark insists. "Since when do middle-aged men have to get gray hair plugs?"
"Hey, just be glad that I talked Dr. Slynatki out of making you get nose hair implants. His computer projections of an aging human Clark Kent are truly staggering. You look like you have a couple of ferrets coming out of your nostrils."
Clark winces. "Have I mentioned how glad I am that you're bald all over? Including the nostril and ear regions?"
"Have I mentioned to you how interesting it is to have my spouse literally look the same as he did the day I married him?" Lex's hand is tousling Clark's hair, separating it back into loose, albeit slightly sticky, curls. Clark smiles slowly at Lex's reflection in the mirror.
"Too bad you have to hide me away under baggy suits with love handle padding, gray hair implants, and big coke bottle glasses," Clark snickers. "What's next, a padded bra?"
Lex sweeps his other palm across Clark's flat pectorals. "Mmm. Thanks, but I opted out of the boob thing a while ago."
Clark reaches around and tugs Lex down onto his lap, kissing him deeply. "This is about the time when Kenny's supposed to walk in the room and go, 'Oh gross!'" he murmurs.
"I miss him too," Lex acknowledges.
"This is it. Home sweet whatever."
Is it just her paranoid imagination, or does Kenny look distinctly unimpressed?
"Your room is the door on the left," she offers, and he takes the few steps over and dumps his stuff on the freshly-vacuumed carpet just inside the doorframe.
"Hungry?" It's nearly dinner-time in Metropolis, though it's a very early hour for Chloe, who normally throws her instant noodles in the microwave at about 10 p.m.
Kenny nods absently. Teenagers are always hungry--even Chloe knows that much. "I should probably call my folks," he says heavily. "Can I use your phone?"
Chloe reproaches herself for not being the one to remember this. "Of course. Kenny, I want you to feel totally at home here."
"'Kay," he answers with the slightest hint of 'lame adults tire me' in his expression, then picks up the portable phone. It took Chloe three days to figure out how to dial on it (whatever happened to the good old 'Talk' button?) but Kent has no difficulties. He even finds Clark and Lex on her long-lost speed dial list, saving himself the effort of dialing his own phone number.
"Hey, Dad? It's me."
Chloe smirks, remembering the days when she had begun her phone calls to her father that way. As if he'd think it was someone else calling him Dad. But, no, clearly, it's "me". Kids are unbelievable in their sense of self-importance.
"Yeah. No, she was there."
Lex. It had to be.
"A couple of minutes, but it was okay. I had her phone number still, I could have called her if..." Kent trails off, conscious of Chloe listening, and she remembers her manners, busying herself with 'tidying' the unnaturally immaculate living room.
"Anyway, I'm here...It was okay. No, Dad, I'm not. Jeez." He was beginning to sound a little annoyed.
"No, it's okay, just tell him--oh, hey, Dad."
Now Clark was on the phone, and the change was obvious from the increased sullenness of Kenny's voice. "I don't know, it was some crappy movie." More silence. "Yeah, I'm fine. Daaaad. My ears haven't hurt on a plane since I was, like, three."
Chloe is running out of things to do, so she pulls a stack of take-out menus down from the top of the fridge. She has every intention of taking the kid out for dinner, but...
"So? I'll buy one." Heavy sigh. Chloe decides to be 'cool mom to the rescue', and frantically begins to wave the menus, grinning. "Hey, I gotta go. We're gonna get food." Kent starts several sentences, mumbles "Yeah," five or six times, then holds the phone up to Chloe. "He wants to talk to you."
"Hey, Clark, what's up?" she smiles into the phone.
"Is he being good?" Clark demands, his voice edgy.
"Well, we did hold up a gas station on the way home, and then he beat up an old lady outside my building..." Chloe begins. "But other than that, he's been an angel."
Kent is smiling conspiratorially at her. Chloe is so cool and she's very proud of herself for showing it.
"Chloe, that's not funny."
"Oh, lighten up, Clark!" she exhorts, still grinning at her kid. "He's been fine. He's continuing to be fine. I've put all the holy water away and I'm thinking of taking the crucifix down from over his bed. And I've promised him that if he stops biting when I get close, I'll untie the straitjacket."
Kent is laughing now, eyeing Chloe with admiration. "Chloe..." When no more snarky remarks are forthcoming, Kent wanders into the bathroom and closes the door, sensing that the conversation will take a while longer.
"Clark," she returns, getting a little annoyed. "Everything's great. He hugged me at the airport and he said please when he asked to call"--had he?--"and he's been cracking jokes and being his usual self. Now, if you're going to be calling every day and giving him shit, all that might change. This is supposed to be a time-out, right?"
"So...back off a little. I promise you two things: a) he's perfectly safe with me--not a word about the fate of past houseplants, Clark Kent--and b) if he's being a pain in the ass at any point in time, you will be informed, and I will deal with it accordingly. Okay?" The toilet is flushing, and miracle of miracles, Chloe hears the clank of the toilet seat being returned to its starting position. How on earth had that nicety been reinforced in an all-male household?
"Now, you two enjoy your little vacation and go and have mad passionate sex or whatever it is you old married people do."
"Chloe! Is he listening?" Clark sounds scandalized.
"Of course not," she sighs. "Though I hardly think he's ignorant of the concept, the way the two of you act at home."
Clark pauses. She can almost hear the wheels turning. "If you tell him one word of that story with the mangos and that stripper in Tijuana, I swear to God, Chloe Sullivan..."
Chloe laughs. "Hey, I only made two promises, Clark."
Clark growls playfully. "If you can..." he begins, his tone suddenly serious, then trails off. "If you can think of a way of saying it to him, so he gets it...can you make sure he knows how much I love him?"
"He knows, Clark," Chloe reassures him. "He can't help but know it." Kent is wending his way back into the room, examining all the pictures on the wall as he goes.
"Oh, and he forgot his toothbrush, so can you make sure he gets one? I wouldn't put it past him to just do without it for six weeks."
"Yuck. Got it."
"No problem, Clark. It's not every day that I get to have one-on-one time with Kenny G."
"Don't call him that."
Chloe just laughs. "Bye, Clark."
"Bye, Mom," Clark taunts in return. Chloe just grins and pulls the phone away from her ear, hearing the click on the other end. Where the hell is the hanging up button? She can't remember.
"Just hold the red one down," intones Kent from the front hallway. When she looks up, blushing, he smiles. "Dad has the same problem with the TV remote."
Chloe decides to attribute this 'Dad' to Lex, because it would be really funny to see Lex Luthor swearing at a piece of plastic, unable to turn off his own TV.
"Vegan, huh?" Chloe asks, surveying the menu with sudden panic. Luckily, this is Vancouver and half the population is on some sort of alternative diet. Vegan entrees are denoted by little green carrots.
"Yeah. It makes Dad--Clark--really mad." He says it with great satisfaction and no pretense of a moral high ground. "He always gives me this lecture about how Grandpa runs a really humane operation, and animals are treated much better these days, blah blah blah. How he and the cows were like best friends when he was a kid." Kenny shrugs. "I just think milk and meat are gross. I'm not trying to prove something." Chloe privately takes leave to doubt that, judging from the kid's smug expression.
"Guess I have to throw out all the lunch meat I bought," Chloe says, not really meaning to speak aloud.
"Sorry," Kenny apologizes, a little sheepishly. "I'm not surprised they forgot to tell you. Lex is always making me ham sandwiches for lunch, and I have to trade for someone else's food."
"He's probably just hoping that you'll eat it anyway," Chloe replies sardonically.
Kent raises an eyebrow. "I never thought of that. You're probably right. At least, he might do it, you know, subconsciously."
"Like Clark's dad used to do," Chloe remembers, "back when he and Lex started dating. He knew Clark was gay and into Lex, but Mr. Kent kept pushing girls at him. Clark swore he was just hoping that Clark would fall for it."
"How did Grandpa push girls at Dad?" Kenny asks, fidgeting with his napkin.
"Well, one time, I was there during summer break while we were in college, and Clark and I were playing basketball outside. And he took off his shirt because it was hot, and when he went to grab some sodas, Mr. Kent came out of the barn and said, 'Clark's really filled out since he started college, huh?' And he just kept saying all these weird random things about how good-looking Clark was, until finally, Clark came out with the sodas and Mr. Kent just went back into the barn."
Kenny is listening with wide eyes, and Chloe suddenly wonders if this is a good story for a thirteen-year-old. "So he was trying to get you to hit on Dad?"
Chloe nods, grimacing.
Chloe laughs, and the server arrives to take their orders. When she leaves again, Chloe shoots a look at Kent. "It wasn't that gross. Your dad was a major hottie, you know."
Kent rolls his eyes, either at Chloe's archaic words or the actual idea. "Well, he sure isn't anymore."
"Anyway, I told Clark what his dad said, and he freaked out."
"What do you mean?"
Chloe smirks. "He got really angry. He went into the house and yelled at your grandpa--they had this huge fight. I felt really bad for having said anything to Clark about what happened, but Clark thought that it worked out for the best. I think it really cleared the air between them."
Kent is looking at her as though she has just revealed that his father is an alien. "Dad was yelling at Grandpa?"
Chloe nods once, brows knitting with confusion. "Why, doesn't sound like your dad?"
Kent shakes his head slowly. "He hates yelling. And when you yell at him, all he does is stop talking. He just looks all sad and hurt. Especially when Lex is the one yelling."
"Lex yells at Clark?"
Kent shrugs. "They fight. Everybody's parents fight. Just dumb stuff...mostly about me, lately." He takes a sip of his drink, then looks up at Chloe, big blue eyes pensive. "Lex says it's because Clark's a pacifist, but I think that's kind of bullshit, you know?"
"Why?" Chloe pursues, intrigued.
Kent looks at her for a long moment, then shrugs. "I don't know." His expression is unfathomable and closed, but Chloe's decades of experience in investigative journalism tell her that he's not telling the whole truth. "I just don't think that's true."
Having restocked her pantry with soy products, Chloe is at somewhat of a loss to entertain her young houseguest. "I've got a week off right now--it's summer session at Simon Fraser, but I'm not teaching this year, and I'm a few weeks ahead for my column in the Sun. I might just have to pop in a couple of times next week, but otherwise I'm all yours."
Kent nods as he studies her music collection. "You have a lot of good music," he comments, running his fingers over scratched CD cases. "Lex only listens to classical music anymore, and Clark's radio is stuck on easy rock for old farts, all that crap from the turn of the century."
The accumulated comments of the day are combining to make Chloe ready to lunge for the Geritol and a walker. She's had enough. "All right, that's it."
Kent looks up, surprised by her tone.
"We're going out. What do you want to do? Anything you choose."
There's a pause, then a careful visual perusal. "Did Lex give you the security run-down?"
He's worried about the paranoia that has surrounded him, in the form of Lex's security team, since he was a little kid. Chloe shrugs. "Vancouver's not like Metropolis, Kent. It's a big city, but it's got a rep for leaving famous people alone. That's why so many celebrities have homes here."
Kent's fine red brows come together. "Do Canadians not know about celebrities?"
"Oh, they know. It's hard to explain. I guess it's a subtle cultural difference. Most Canadians won't go up to a celebrity if they see them in public. They'll recognize them, but they're too polite to go and talk to them. One time, I saw Sarah Michelle Gellar walk all around a bookstore on Granville, and you could tell people knew it was her, but no one approached her. It was unreal."
Kent does a half-smile, copyright Lex Luthor, but superimposed on Clark's lips. "Was she mad?"
Chloe laughs. "I think she was, a little. After all, some celebrities are famous because they actually like having people watch them."
"And others have celebrity thrust upon them," Kent quotes dryly, sounding startlingly like Lex. "Like me."
"I seriously doubt anyone's going to recognize you, kiddo. No offense, but Vancouverites have little to no interest in the offspring of American businessmen, even the important ones."
Kent's smile has been upgraded to something more in Clark's part of the genetic code. "Cool. I want to ride the Skytrain."
Chloe gets a Bad Feeling even as she puts the key in her door. Over years of investigative journalism, she's learned to trust her instincts, so she quickly looks over her shoulder at Kent and smiles brightly. "I'm such an airhead...I forgot my sunglasses in the car. Can you run down and grab them?" Kenny might not have noticed, after only two car trips, that the sunglasses live in her vehicle, but the slight brow wrinkle that precedes the nod makes it doubtful. She tosses him the keys.
Chloe pretends to drop something in order to give a grace period for Kent to get back in the elevator. When she finally pushes open the door, she's expecting to confront a colleague with a camera, someone who is a friend of a friend and somehow managed to rationalize breaking and entering with a key. Because the door wasn't locked.
Instead, Chloe blinks against the sight of flickering candlelight and a trail of red rose petals leading around the corner, down the hall.
Shit. Marcus has the worst timing.
Chloe dumps her purse and flicks on the lights, scuffing her feet on the tiles to sweep up the petals. "Marcus!" she hollers, and is answered by a splashing noise accompanied by the squeak of the tub. "Get your ass out here!"
There's a bottle of wine--her favorite, in fact--uncorked and ready on the kitchen island, and the stereo is softly playing something operatic. Chloe almost spares an instant to be touched before flying into action. Marcus ambles into the living room, looking rather hurt and very wet and naked. "Chlo'?" he inquires, managing to sound wounded with just a hint of impending grouchiness.
Chloe glances at him, inwardly sighing at the sight of attractive toned flesh dripping water onto her berber. "My kid's visiting, Marcus," she explains roughly. "Get dressed and get out."
"You don't have a kid," Marcus half-smiles. The grouchiness is taking over.
"Of course I have a kid, dumbass," Chloe snaps, wondering exactly how many fucking rose petals Marcus has sacrificed in this venture. She's on her third handful, and she keeps finding more. "Kent Gabriel Luthor? Ring a bell?"
"Oh." Marcus is pouting. And pointedly not either dressing or getting out. "Well, he's not yours, not really."
Chloe is swiftly remembering why exactly she's horrified with herself whenever she wakes up with Marcus next to her. It's interesting to have bypassed the fantastic sex this time, going directly to the horror. "Dress. Now."
Marcus sighs heavily and goes into Chloe's bedroom, where he's presumably left whatever sad attire he was wearing prior to the bathing. Chloe triumphantly drops the last of the petals into the garbage and ties the bag, ready to send Kenny out with it as soon as he returns, giving Marcus a chance to exit via the stairwell. It's another quick motion to silence the stereo, and then, as she's popping the wine into the fridge for later (why waste it?), the door opens.
"It smells like incense in here," Kent observes, depositing the sunglasses.
"How do you know what incense smells like?" Chloe asks, a little shocked. Most of her incense associations are drug-related, and it's worrying that Kent should be familiar with the scent at all. God, Marcus probably has a joss stick burning in the bedroom next to a big bag of weed. Fucking graduate students.
Kent shrugs, and Chloe's about to direct him to the garbage when Marcus re-emerges, wearing only his boxers. "Hey, kid," he greets Kenny casually. "Look, Chlo', can we figure out another time that'll work better?"
Chloe isn't really sure how to spin this situation. She looks back and forth between the kid and, well, the other kid. Marcus is stepping into his pants, awaiting an answer, and Kent--my God--Kent is Lex's clone, because she's never seen that particular smug amused expression anywhere but on Lex's face. "Marcus, this is my son, Kent," she manages at last, and Kent steps forward and extends a hand, officially demonstrating that he's got more manners at thirteen than Marcus does at twenty-six.
"Kenny, Marcus is a--friend." Kenny's banished the smirk and nods solemnly, accepting this explanation.
"Pleased to meet you," Kenny intones.
"Um, yeah," replies Marcus, shaking hands and buttoning his fly simultaneously. So far, that accomplishment is the only outward manifestation of his purported intelligence. "So, Chlo', when's good?"
If Kent wasn't here, Chloe would now launch into a very professorial lecture on the dangers of thinking with one's dick. Actually, if Kent wasn't here, Chloe would probably be in the tub with Marcus, all professorial instincts completely muffled. Chloe shakes her head, forcing herself away from that reverie. "Marcus, I'll call you, okay?" she offers in a polite, friendly voice. She hopes that he senses the line of steel running through the sentence. Kenny does--he shoots her a knowing smile.
"You better," Marcus purrs, and steps close enough so that Chloe can smell him. Her knees wobble a little, but she manages to turn her face away from the kiss, so it lands on her cheek.
It's not really a relief when the door clicks closed. Kent is eyeing her with that Lex-face. She's about to opt for pretending it never happened, when the kid speaks.
Chloe hasn't blushed in decades, but she does now. "Kent!" she gasps, torn between hysteria and death by humiliation.
"What? I'm not supposed to know that adults have sex?" he grins sweetly.
"Not your mother!" Chloe protests, fighting the urge to touch her burning cheeks. "You're supposed to recoil with horror at the very idea! You should be hiding under your bed as we speak, curled up in the fetal position and traumatized for life!"
Kent shrugs, still grinning. "It's not the same with you."
Chloe gapes at him for another minute before the most relevant words float to the surface of her brain. "Don't tell Clark."
The smile disappears at the mention of Clark's name. "Don't worry. I don't tell him anything."
They spend the next few days doing the tourist things in Vancouver - the aquarium, Stanley Park, the beaches, Grouse Mountain, Granville Island, anything and everything Chloe can think of to entertain a thirteen year old boy. By the end of the second day, it no longer feels stilted when she calls Kenny 'sweetie'.
This is what it's like to be a real mom, she thinks happily, opening the bags of Chinese delivery and handing Kenny a foil container.
"Thanks, Mom," he says absently, and Chloe feels a glow of warmth in her stomach at the sound of the name. It, too, is beginning to feel less incongruous.
"Why do you call me that?" She blurts it without thinking, wanting to know if Kenny feels this too, this sense of deepened reality in their relationship.
Kent is startled by the question, freezing with his vegetarian chow mein halfway to his mouth. His expression is almost wounded, and Chloe has to bite back an apology. She really wants to know.
"Do you want me to stop?" he says slowly, and his eyes are so blue, it hurts to look directly at them. Chloe often wonders how two men with such indiscriminate eye colouring managed to produce a child with such vividly blue irises. It's as though Kenny's managed to inherit Superman's contact lenses.
"No, of course not. It's ... nice. I was just wondering. I mean, I haven't exactly been there for you." Again, Chloe has to keep from apologizing. It's not like she's been a bad mother. She's simply not really his mother, and never has been.
Kent seems slightly relieved. "You've been there. It's not like I never see you," he reassures her lamely. He presses his lips together, thinking, then looks at her again. "I guess it just feels ... normal."
Raising an eyebrow, Chloe nods encouragingly.
"I mean, I can't talk about 'my dad' like other kids. That's too confusing most of the time. I have to say 'Lex' or 'Clark', and they're both sort of...famous. So it's not like I'm talking about my family anymore. It's like I'm telling stories that my friends can tell their parents--like, guess what Lex Luthor did last weekend? Or, like, did you know what Clark Kent says when his kid gives him lip? But with you...I can just say 'my mom'. Like, my mom is a reporter. She lives in Canada. She's really cool."
"Well, I am cool, can't fault you there," Chloe grins, feeling slightly giddy.
Kent sighs and rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "Okay, now you're being a dork."
Chloe spears a prawn on her chopstick and eyes it. "Hey, it's really...amazing, having you here."
Kenny's smile broadens. He ducks his head incrementally, the Clark Kent patented Sign of Shyness.
"For the first time...I feel like I can be with you without needing Clark or Lex to justify it. You know?" Okay, now Chloe feels like an enormous dork, as Kenny said.
But he's still smiling. He flicks his eyes up at her through thick lashes--another Clark move--and answers. "I know," he says, simply.
Chloe has to eat some Szechuan beef quickly to excuse the watering of her eyes.
"Mom, if I tell you something, can you promise me that you won't tell my parents?"
Chloe freezes. This is it, the big moment that Clark and Lex have waited for--but there are two things wrong: neither man is here, and she's apparently being bound to secrecy against telling them.
Kent notices her reaction. "It's just...there are some things I can't talk about with anyone else. I can't trust my friends to keep their mouths shut. And I don't want to talk about it with my parents."
"I understand," Chloe soothes, shooting a comforting smile at the kid. "I promise, my lips are sealed." Oh, God, let this not be a sex thing. Chloe may feel like a mom to the point of heartfelt talks over Chinese food, but if Kenny starts asking about the normal masturbatory habits of a thirteen-year-old boy, she's not sure she can play it cool.
"And I know you're a reporter and everything, but you can't tell anyone else, either," Kent continues, and Chloe's beginning to worry about what Kent is building up to here.
"Of course I wouldn't, Kenny G.," she laughs, semi-nervously. Christ, it was a sex thing, wasn't it?
"Lois would," says Kent darkly. Another Luthor trait--a distrust of Lois Lane.
Chloe nods. "I'm not Lois."
"I know." Kenny sits back, steepling his hands and looking at her.
Chloe has a brief moment of terror as she wonders if she's ready for this.
"Lex is having an affair."
For a second, Chloe's still frantically thinking how to cope with the masturbation thing. Then Kenny's words register, and she bursts into an entirely inappropriate giggle.
"I'm serious!" he squeaks, immediately scowling.
Chloe's heart is racing as she struggles to absorb this unexpected revelation. "Lex?"
"Lex," nods Kenny.
"Is having an affair?" she repeats slowly.
Another nod. His eyes aren't at all questioning. He accepts this as truth.
And God, who's to say the kid's wrong? After all, Chloe isn't exactly privy to Clark and Lex's marital woes. "But your parents are the poster boys for the perfect marriage!" she protests weakly.
Kenny shakes his head, once. "They're not. That's just PR."
But an affair? Well, if one of them were to stray, it would be Lex. He's never had either the sterling moral background of a Kent, nor the whole-hearted mindless devotion of a Kryptonian. Still, Chloe has always seen Lex as settled--a family man. "How do you know?" she manages, feeling more than a little ill.
"I saw him. With the other person. Kissing. And...other things."
Interesting. No name. No gender. If Chloe had to guess, she'd predict a woman. Probably one of those aristocratic types he used to drag around Smallville in his straighter days. "When?" Luckily, her reporting poise is taking over. The five 'W's are still to be completed.
"It was a couple of years ago."
Relief. "Then it's probably over--"
"It's not," Kent cuts her off. "Trust me."
Chloe shakes her head, putting off another 'why' in favor of, "Do you think Clark knows?"
Kenny's jaw clenches visibly, and his nostrils whiten. "He knows. God, I think he's known forever. And Lex knows that he knows." The take-out container is crumpling slightly in his hand.
Chloe can't fit this idea inside her head--Lex, unfaithful for years, and Clark, watching and mutely accepting. Neither of them suspecting that their observant, quiet son was in on the secret. "Is that why you're mad at Clark?" she poses slowly, and the 'eureka' moment is depressingly unsatisfying. "Because he's still with Lex, even when he knows?"
Kent nods once, and Chloe sees that the blue eyes are sparkling with tears. She reaches out an arm, shelving her own grief and hurt, drawing the boy to her side. "It's going to be okay, sweetie," she murmurs, and feels the sharp birdlike shoulder bones begin to shake under her forearm.
Something's off in Chloe's voice, Clark senses immediately. "Hey, Chloe," he opens hesitantly. "How's it going?"
There's a pause. "Oh, it's fine," she says vaguely. Clark can hear noises in the background. "Kenny, could you take the garbage out, please?"
Clark braces for the inevitable argument, and is shocked to hear Kenny answer, "Yeah, sure."
"He's doing chores for you?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Why?"
"Well, for one thing, taking out the garbage has been the catalyst for some apocalyptic battles around here."
"Oh." She still sounds weird, distant like when she used to be following a story for the Torch. Except, as far as Clark knows, Chloe hasn't been an active investigative reporter for years. "Well, he doesn't mind."
"Chloe, what's going on?" Clark's hearing picks up the snick of a door closing, then a sigh of relief.
"Look, Clark, I can't tell you anything, because I promised, but I've found out what's bothering Kenny."
Clark's heart feels like it's been blown apart by a kryptonite bullet. "What?" he manages, through the wrenching pain.
"He just told me, Clark. But I promised I wouldn't say anything."
"He told you? Already?"
Chloe sighs again. "Yes, he did. Look, don't take this the wrong way. He just...trusts me. Maybe because I'm so far removed from his ordinary life."
"Well, can you at least tell me, is he in any danger? Trouble?"
"Keep your spandex covered, fly-boy," Chloe snaps, and the simple sound of her snark is enough to make Clark relax slightly. "He's not in any danger. He's just confused about some things. So we'll work it out, the two of us, okay?"
The two of us. Clark swallows hard. So this is what it feels like, being shut out. He feels a sudden surge of sympathy for Lana Lang. "Promise me ..." he begins, but can't decide what promise to extract.
"Clark, he's just a kid. Give him time, all right?"
God, Chloe, the voice of reason. He and Lex had hoped that Chloe would wrench the truth out of the kid, teaching him some manners along the way. Neither of them had anticipated this blockade by their ally. "Yeah," he rasps. "Time."
"Take this time to be with Lex. Really." There's a strange tension in her voice.
Then she's gone, and Clark sits down heavily on the couch, hanging up the phone on the way. He hasn't felt this sucker-punched since Eric Summers took his powers for a spin.
Lex knows something's wrong when he comes home to find Clark watching old home videos.
"Okay, this officially our favorite trick so far," the younger Lex says, as the camera jostles. The frame shows Clark on the floor of the old penthouse, lying flat on his stomach beside a baby Kent. There's a book spread out in front of both of them.
Kent is drooling onto the page, but the younger Clark doesn't seem to notice or care. "Look how fascinated he is," he says softly, looking up to meet Lex's eyes, which are apparently situated slightly above the lens.
Kent's eyes are riveted by the pictures before him, his small hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically as his infant brain attempts to process the jangling colours and shapes.
"Too bad he doesn't get this excited about the financial pages of the Wall Street Journal," Lex's disembodied voice says wryly, zooming in so they can see that it's a Richard Scarry book.
"Okay, that would worry me," Clark laughs. "Oh, here he goes," he announces, sudden excitement in his voice.
One of Kent's hands is inching forward, and he's trying to pinch the page between his tiny index and forefinger.
"You can do it, buddy," Lex urges, unfamiliar tenderness underlying his tone.
Kent squeezes a corner of the glossy page, and pulls at it with a triumphant crow, managing to drag the page halfway before Clark lends a hand. "That's our son," announces Clark, patting the diapered rump. "The page-turning genius baby."
Lex laughs. "Apparently, he's actually the dyslexic page-turning genius baby. He's reading the book back to front." Kent used his left hand to turn the page, not the right.
"Probably gets it from you," Clark suggests, not at all disturbed by this apparent setback. "You're the one who always reads the endings of books first."
"Hey, sorry I'm late," Lex says at last, dropping down beside his transfixed spouse and interrupting the banter of their younger selves. "That Weyerbaum project's kicking our ass."
Clark snuggles into Lex, watching seven-month old Kent crawl across the carpet towards his younger self. The snuggling is another bad sign. Clark is only this hands-on when something's upset him. That, combined with the methadone baby Kenny fix, means trouble in Vancouver.
"What's wrong?" Lex asks quietly, pressing a kiss into the artificially greyed hair.
Clark bites his lip. Bad sign number three. "I talked to Chloe tonight."
"Kenny told her what's up. And made her promise not to tell us."
Lex is still for about two seconds, then he launches off the couch. "What's her number?"
"Lex, no," Clark protests, standing and reaching for the phone that's now in Lex's hands.
Lex finds the number in the redial list, and is about to hit send when Clark whisks the handset away. "Clark, give that back."
"No, Lex," Clark repeats.
"That little shit has been tormenting us for months, Clark. I want to know why."
"So do I." And damn Clark for being taller than Lex. He doesn't even have to lift off the hardwood to keep the phone out of reach.
Lex goes for his cell phone.
"Lex--she's his mom."
"She isn't," Lex snaps back, flipping through the phone directory on the screen.
"She's trying to be," Clark corrects himself. "We have to let this happen, or we'll just push him away more."
Lex pauses. He hates it when Clark makes sense.
"Right now, she's the only one he trusts. We can't ask her to betray that, Lex."
Lex stares at his phone for a moment, wishing he could crumple it up like Clark could. "Fuck," he exhales at last, sinking back into the couch.
Clark joins him a moment later, after replacing the phone. They stare at crawling Kenny for a minute, then Lex says, in a very small voice, "Do we have the one where he ran around the LexCorp picnic naked?"
The first is not one that Chloe would have suspected on initial instinct, but it all makes sense, the more she thinks about it. Jessica was Kent's nanny from the time he was four until Kenny turned twelve last year. An Australian by birth, only twenty-two when Clark and Lex hired her, she had fit seamlessly into their lives without being uncomfortably distant or inappropriately familiar. Prior to her, there had been five different nannies, all of whom had been dismissed by Lex. But Jessica...she had been perfect.
Kenny had adored her, not on the scale of hero worship reserved for his fathers, but with the whole-hearted little boy affection that Clark Kent had once directed at Lana Lang. Chloe well remembers a couple of Christmases when Jessica had flown back home for the holidays, and Clark and Lex spent hours consoling their son for the loss of his beloved 'Jess'.
Tall, dark-haired, perpetually smiling, tender with Kent, and discreetly oblivious to Clark's comings and goings, Jessica was an ideal employee. Lex had fallen for the young woman almost as hard as his little boy. Clark teased him, Chloe remembered, at Kenny's fifth birthday. "You're a married man, Lexicon," he growled as Lex's eyes followed Jessica across the room. Lex only smiled vaguely. Their open bantering about Lex's admiration put Chloe at ease, at the time, because they could hardly be serious about something so freely and lightly discussed.
But if Clark knew all along...and it would explain Kenny having seen Lex with the mysterious other. If Jessica were the one, then the affair could well date back to that party, or even earlier.
"Do you still see Jessica?" Chloe tries casually, over almost-burnt waffles the next morning.
Kent doesn't even look up. "Sometimes. She's finally marrying that guy, Ian. She's been dating him since I was like seven."
Chloe teases him about how he used to throw a tantrum whenever Jessica went out at night, mentally crossing Jessica off the list.
Candidate number two was more along the lines Chloe had originally envisioned. Penelope DeLorca is a minor celebrity from Metropolis, an acquaintance of Lex's who has appeared with him over a dozen times in the Daily Planet during the past ten years. She's been in several films, mostly independent productions, and is mostly known for her stunning beauty. Chloe met her once, at the LexCorp Christmas party three years ago, and she noticed the way Lex steered her around the room, as though she were his date.
If she's not the secret lover, Kent won't know who she is, except perhaps in a teenage pin-up kind of way, so Chloe doesn't bother pumping him for information. Instead, she calls Lois.
"Oh, she's just...Clark hates her."
"She's always convincing Lex to introduce her to so and so, hoping this'll be her big break, and Lex says yes just because he likes having the eye candy on his arm."
"Clark isn't eye candy enough for him?"
Lois laughs, making Chloe realize that Clark's mild-mannered reporter persona has never made so much as a blip on Lois's sexual radar. Jesus, can't anyone else see Clark under the horn-rimmed glasses and the humungous suits?
So Penelope might be a winner, especially given Clark's animosity towards her. But then, if this was an affair that Clark condoned to some degree, would he be so openly hostile? Chloe would expect Clark to play dumb around the woman his husband was fucking. It was his approach to most secrets, after all.
Number three: Nolan Reeve. One of Lex's up-and-coming young execs, sleek, stylish, everything that Clark Kent, frumpy reporter, isn't. Even so, Chloe thinks it's ludricrous to even consider Nolan. It doesn't seem Lex's style to be knocking boots with anyone who so patently ranks beneath him on the corporate ladder. But one afternoon, there's a press conference on TV, and Nolan is the spokesperson for LexCorp.
Kenny growls. Chloe's attention snaps to her kid. "What, you don't like him?"
It seems very promising.
Chloe researches Nolan on the net that night while Kent plays yet another hideous video game. Turns out the guy has risen through the corporate ranks almost at light speed. Very suspicious.
Three days later, another LexCorp press conference, and this time, Lex is the one talking. "This matter is of internal interest to LexCorp and I can only assure you that the appropriate measures are being taken to find those responsible." The following morning, the Daily Planet reports that Nolan Reeve has been axed for alleged embezzlement.
"Dad said he was up to something," Kent says around of mouthful of cereal. "He's been investigating him for months, waiting for him to trip up. Guess he finally did."
Chloe arches an eyebrow. "Is that why you wouldn't say why you don't like him?"
Kenny shrugs. "Dad says you can't be too careful."
And that was what led to candidate number four. Because Lex really did say that, and meant it. So how could Lex possibly have slipped up enough to let his own son find out about his affair? Even Clark must be hard-put to find out something that Lex doesn't want him to know, let alone a kid.
Why would Lex be so careless? He was acting as though he wasn't ashamed of his extramarital activities, as though it were nothing more important than groping Clark in the kitchen while they made dinner.
Chloe sits straight up in her bed in the middle of the night when it occurs to her. "Holy shit!"
Lex is having an affair with Superman.
The giddy relief phase is short-lived. Fast on its heels comes the nail-biting head trauma of indecision.
Chloe starts making a pro-con list, realizes she hates making lists, then sits cross-legged in the middle of her bed and thinks.
Kenny doesn't know about Superman. If he did know, he wouldn't think Lex was having an affair.
On the other hand, when he finds out, he's going to be one mightily pissed off kid. Because not only have his parents been lying to him all his life, but he's been suffering through two years of repressed angst over something that never even happened, not really.
Even so, he must be told. That much is clear.
But it's Clark and Lex's secret to tell, and they think he doesn't need to know yet. If Chloe tells Kent, she scores the good guy points for honesty, but the men will never forgive her, whatever her motivation.
Yet, how can she convince them to tell Kent themselves without spilling the beans about Kenny's suspicions?
Given the choice, Chloe would much rather betray Clark and Lex than Kent. After all, they're older, tougher, and, frankly, more used to her abuse. Still, she's not sure it's the sort of thing she can justify to them, even in the face of their son's distress.
Which brings her back to the simple fact: Kenny must be told.
Clark never thought he would become more comfortable in his Superman costume than he is in his civilian garb. He didn't count on Clark Kent's diguise becoming more elaborate than spandex and a pair of boots.
Nowadays, he feels freer when he's up in the air like this, seeking out situations that need his help, than he does on the pavement, ensconced in what has long since become a caricature of his secret identity.
He and Lex have discussed Superman coming out of the superhero closet, but they've both decided that it would be too much to ask of Kent. It would have to wait until the kid was an adult, and who knew where that line lay anyway? It certainly wasn't now.
In the meantime, the only place Clark can be himself is in the privacy of his home, with Lex, or up in the clouds, alone.
Right now, he's bracing himself for something bad. He can taste it, just over that horizon.
It will probably come in the form of a phone call. Chloe would make Kent do it, just as Clark and Lex had, one month ago.
"Dad?" No, more likely, "Clark?"
"I ... have something to ask you. You and Dad."
"I want to stay with Mom. I want to stay here."</i>
"No." Clark says it out loud, into the mist of a cumulus. "No."
"I'm happier here, Clark. Mom and I get along."
Ha. As if he'd be that reasonable. Clark certainly hadn't been, not at thirteen. Not at seventeen, for that matter.
It'd be more like ... "Mom understands me. She trusts me. It's better here."
"Well, if that's the way you feel," Clark would answer.
No, he wouldn't. He'd fly directly to British Columbia, scoop up the little brat, and deposit him back in Metropolis where he belonged. "You're my son," he tells the sky. "She's just...just..."
A phase? An experiment? A cry for attention?
No. He can't cheapen Chloe like that. He doesn't have Lex's talent for dismissal, never has had it.
Chloe is his son's mother.
God, why does that hurt so much?
Clouds have a certain scent to them. Clark doesn't know it, but it was this discovery that finally helped Lex outgrow his long-held distaste for Superman. Hard as it was to resist Clark in spandex, it became patently impossible when he came home smelling like rain and ozone. Lex was instantly addicted to the sensation of breathing air that is necessarily out of the realm of human experience.
"Mmm..." he sighs now, feeling the moisture seep through his silk pajamas from the damp uniform.
"Yeah, lots of smog today," comes the irritable answer. "Come on, let me go. I stink."
Lex steps away, surprised. He's seen Superman in all sorts of moods--fierce, sullen, brooding, ecstatic, furious, and even tired Superman are all familiar incarnations.
Bitchy Superman is a first. Clark dons and sheds his Superman disguise like it's an entire personality, not just a suit. On a very rare occasion, Clark might have a Superman moment, but Lex has never seen seepage in the other direction. Yet that pissy voice could only belong to Clark Kent.
"What?" Lex says simply, releasing Clark.
Clark sighs shortly. "Nothing. I'm just tired, Lex."
Lex just looks at him, then leans in and gently but firmly licks a stripe up Clark's jawline. Superman or not, Clark has never been a match for horny Lex.
Pissy-ass Superman just may be an exception to this rule, judging by the resulting glower.
"Shower. Bed," he grunts, tugging at his cape.
Lex watches Superman retreat into their en suite bathroom. He's about to follow, determined to get laid tonight, Superbitch or not, when the phone rings.
"Luthor-Kent residence," Lex says, a little shortly. He can hear the shower running now, and that means that the cloud smell will be gone within seconds.
"Mr. Luthor, it's Steve Slynatki."
"Yes?" By now, Clark will be wet all over.
"Uh, well, sir, I'm sorry to bother you at this hour, but as you know, I've just returned from Taiwan."
Lex grunts. Slynatki has been in Asia for three months, conducting some research into a few potential biotech acquisitions for LexCorp. Clark is probably all soapy and slippery. He'll need help rinsing.
"Anyway, I've just taken a peek at your son's blood samples from his last check-up." Kenny's last physical had taken place while Slynatki was away, but under Lex's orders, the specimens were left for the senior physician's analysis. He is the only one trusted with this delicate work.
Lex's concentration suddenly returns. His heart is pounding so loud, he's shocked that Clark doesn't burst out of the shower in terror. "Shit. Is he--"
"He's fine, Mr. Luthor," Slynatki interrupts, and Lex exhales shakily. "It's just...well, for the first time since he was five weeks old, we're seeing some anomalous cell types here."
"Anomalous how?" Lex barks.
"Do you remember the cell we called an SM-cyte?"
The blood cell that had appeared in Chloe Sullivan's blood when she was pregnant with Kent, right before she had become invulnerable. The same cell that had been found in Kent's blood when his post-natal invulnerability had begun to disappear. "Yes," Lex says.
"Well, it's there, in low concentration, but there nonetheless."
"But--" Lex begins, shocked. "But the pediatrician said that his strength and speed were completely average for his age, Steve. And that if he'd managed to begin puberty without a sudden change in those indicators, that he'd--"
"I know, Mr. Luthor. Those were my projections. However, I just pulled that data and compared it with his last exam. It seems, from our results, that Kent actually got slower and weaker since his 12-year check-up."
"He--he what?" Is Kenny sick? Why haven't he and Clark noticed?
"That's just the thing. Given his growth since last year and his general health, it's completely inexplicable. And in light of these hematological findings..."
"...He's faking it," Lex finishes, gripping the phone hard. "God, he was holding back, wasn't he? Skewing the test results on purpose."
There's a long pause. "That's my favored theory at this point," says Slynatki at last.
"But...why would he do that?" Lex murmurs, numb.
"Mom?" Kenny's voice, through the bathroom door.
Chloe shifts in the tub, suppressing a groan of irritation. "What?"
The honeymoon phase of mother-son love has definitely passed. Chloe guesses it died at about the same time as Kent brought home that damned Nintendo thing.
"Can I go get another game at Blockbuster?"
Chloe sighs. "What time is it?"
There's a pause. "Nine thirty."
"Then, no," Chloe answers. "You know you're not allowed out alone after nine." He's been given curfews, in addition to colorfully delineated maps of the Vancouver transit system, showing where he may and may not go.
"Well, can you drive me then?"
Chloe wonders if the new game will have a less irritating soundtrack than the current game. Then she contemplates getting dressed all over again, and hardens her heart towards the little brat. "Not tonight, sweetie," she calls firmly. "Tomorrow we can go."
Another pause. "Why can't I go? It's just on the corner two blocks over."
"Because it's not safe, Kenny," Chloe replies, knowing this isn't an argument-ending kind of statement, but feeling obliged to try reason first.
"I'll be really fast, I promise."
"Why not?" And that's definitely a whine. How charming.
Time to break out the less reasonable answer. "Because I said so." Oh, Christ, she's turned into her father. No, worse. She's turned into Lex.
Well, Lex would probably have included some historical analogies.
A very teenage sigh wafts under the door. "I'm bored."
"Read a book," Chloe suggests.
"All you have are journalism textbooks and stupid suspense novels," Kent throws back.
And if you hadn't blown all your spending money on a game system you have at home, you could have bought something else to read. She thinks this very fiercely, but she is proud that she doesn't voice the thought. "I think there are some romance novels mixed in there too."
"Mo-o-o-o-o-m!" Wow. Last time Kenny stretched a word out that long, he was talking to Clark on the phone.
"Come on, they're filled with sex scenes. You could pick up some tips for your lady friends."
And the resulting sound completely beats out the last time Kenny moaned at Clark over the phone. Chloe wonders if there's a world record for that sort of thing.
"Kenny, I'll be out in a minute. Then we can..." What? Make fudge? Play Monopoly? Plot someone's corporate downfall? "We can hang out," she finishes lamely. There's some soy ice cream in the freezer that she should really make the kid eat before he leaves.
"Whatever," comes the distant answer. She can hear him pouting.
The bath was a lot more fun when her male guest was Marcus. Chloe does a little pouting of her own.
"If he's faking it, then he must know that there's something different about him."
"But why would he hide it?"
Clark shoots Lex a disbelieving glance. "Are you telling me you wouldn't have hidden your differences, if you could have, when you were thirteen?"
Lex shakes his head. "But hiding it from us. I just don't get it."
"Maybe he's afraid of how we'll react."
Lex exhales sharply with impatience. "That's bullshit. Kenny knows that we're the most open-minded people in the state."
Clark takes a deep sip of wine. "I never told Mom and Dad, but..." Another sip, and he feels ready to admit this, possibly the only thing he's never told Lex. "Whenever a new power popped up, I was always kind of scared to tell them." Lex only looks confused. "I always sort of wondered if this would be the thing that made them see me differently. If this time they would really understand that I wasn't...human." Lex is suddenly still, which Clark knows to be a sign of deep emotion. He reaches out and clasps his partner's hand. "Now I'm a parent, I understand that unconditional love is a real thing, that Kenny could do anything, be anything, and I would still kill to protect him...but it's hard to understand that when you're a kid."
Lex bites at his lower lip, eyes flickering with thought. At last, he looks up. "We'll have to tell him about Superman."
Clark nods once. "We should fly to Vancouver. Tell him in person. God, he's going to be angry."
"But relieved. I mean, it'll be good for him to know that his abilities come from somewhere."
Clark is suddenly struck with horror as he realizes what Kenny is facing. They have yet to find out the extent of Kenny's abilities, but nonetheless, he is stronger. He's faster. He's going to have to spend his life hiding those facts from the world; and he's going to have to come to terms with the responsibility his gifts placed upon his young shoulders. "I never wanted this for him."
Lex only sighs. "I know. But he'll be okay. He's got us."
"Open this," Chloe orders, thrusting the jar of caramel sauce at her son. "Sundaes aren't any good without caramel."
Kent just stares for a minute, then takes the jar with a great show of exasperation. "I'm your exact height," he points out.
"And you've got hands like a lumberjack," Chloe adds pragmatically. It's true. The kid might as well have dinnerplates on the ends of his skinny arms. "You know, you're probably going to turn into a giant like Clark, judging from those mitts."
Kent tentatively twists the lid, barely exerting any visible effort. "Stuck," he pronounces, setting the jar down on the counter.
"Or you could actually try to open it," Chloe suggests acerbically. Yes, the cute has definitely worn off. She tucks her bathrobe more firmly around her body, trying not to envision Kent on a plane back to Metropolis.
Kent heaves a dramatic sigh, then gives it another go.
The jar shatters in his hand.
"Oh, God, Kenny!" Chloe gasps in shock, yanking his hand out of the pile of shards and caramel. "Are you cut?"
He shakes his head, pulling away from her. "I'm sorry. Shit. Sorry, Mom."
Chloe grabs the hand back. "Let me see."
There's a sliver of glass embedded in his palm, but there's no blood, not yet. Chloe gingerly dislodges the glass, Kent sucking in a gasp of shock at the pain. A thin trickle of blood obscures the edges of the cut almost immediately, but Chloe has enough time to see that the cut is quite deep. "Ooh, you might need stitches, sweetie." Running the tap, Chloe puts Kent's hand under the spray, rinsing away the blood.
Kenny hisses again. Chloe looks up to see him, startlingly pale under his freckles. When she looks back down, the cut is gone.
Kent leans in, sees the faint pink line like a two-week old scar, and turns paler yet. "Shit. Shit."
Before Chloe can say anything more, Kenny wrenches his hand away. Then, a heartbeat later, he's gone, and the apartment door is hanging open.
"Okay, what's the deal?"
Lex lifts the phone from his ear and stares quizzically at it. The call display says "SULLIVAN C". It also says 11:45 PM. Neither seems to suggest an answer to Chloe's opening volley. Clark raises an eyebrow and goes over to pick up an extension on their bedside table.
"There's a deal?" he says at last.
"I thought you said that the munchkin wasn't going to be a superhero!"
Lex's eyes meet Clark's. They hadn't called Chloe. So how did she know?
"Chloe, what's going on?"
"What's going on is that your son squished a jar of perfectly good caramel sauce, cut himself and healed in the space of thirty seconds, then whipped out of my place faster than I could see him."
"Where is he now?" Clark asks in a Superman voice.
"I don't know, I told you. Look, you guys said that the super stuff wasn't going to show up."
Lex doesn't have to look up to know that Clark is gone. "Yeah, well, that's what we thought too. We just found out today, ourselves."
There's a definite edge of panic in Chloe's voice. Why had they judged her a fit guardian, again? "Well, at least now you have to tell him about Superman, right? I mean, you're not going to keep bullshitting the kid about that, are you?"
Lex sighs shortly. "I'm guessing that'll be inevitable. Clark and I were going to fly up tomorrow and talk to him. But I guess Clark's probably there by now."
Chloe squeaks. "You mean Superman is here?"
"Well, someone has to find Kenny."
"But ... Lex, Kenny isn't exactly Superman's biggest fan. Hadn't you noticed?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Chloe laughs. "Lex, Kenny thinks that you're cheating on Clark with Superman."
Lex takes a long minute to understand this sentence. At last, he manages, in a very weak tone, "Shit."
The problem with getting places very quickly is that one rarely has enough time to formulate a strategy. Clark takes a moment to swoop back and forth over the greater Vancouver area as he thinks, even though his paternal instinct is screaming at him to find Kenny this instant.
Kenny has never met Superman face to face. Very few people have, in fact. Even those whom Superman rescues rarely get more than a glimpse before he disappears. As well as the 'hiding in plain sight' principle seems to have worked for the past twenty-odd years, it hasn't been maintained without a certain amount of careful orchestration. The blue contact lenses and the sleek hair are little match for the opposite side of the equation--Clark Kent's clumsy locomotion, the oversized suits (and suits that are the right size are hard enough to find), the glasses, now the grey hair. Superman's voice is deeper, more commanding, his speech more formal. Clark tends to spill things. It goes on and on, a careful double-columned list in his mind, reeling downwards towards infinity. Yet there have been times when the truth has come uncomfortably close to the surface.
Clark created an unpleasant rumour mill by insisting that Time not run a half-page photograph of the famous reporter. Superman was well-known for his fear of the camera. Not once, but three times, Jimmy Olsen has had to rig a holographic projection of one of Clark's alter egos in order that Superman and Clark Kent may appear side by side. The last time, only four years ago, Lois had to be let in on the secret so that she could play the hard-hitting skeptical reporter and then announce to the trusting public that Clark and Superman were indeed different people.
The Kiss of Lethe had its uses.
The strange part was that Clark had stopped caring a long time ago. For himself, he would gladly forfeit the complications of a double life, avoid getting shouted at by Perry every time he disappeared, the dirty looks from Kent when Clark missed a school event, Lois's unending fascination with the Man of Steel. Lex could scarcely come more under public scrutiny than he already was, between his corporation and Lois's obsession with making him into an evil-doer. But for Kent's sake, the farce has to go on.
Spotting Kent's red head is fairly easy, the kid making his way up Pender Street counter-tide to the club crowds spilling out of Gastown. Clark almost hesitates, seeing that Kent is all right. But he's heading towards the east end, and Clark can't allow his son to wander into that part of the city.
It causes no small stir when Superman unexpectedly lands amidst the crowds below.
"Aren't you a little far from home, Kent?" he booms in his ber-manly Superman voice.
Kenny stops in his tracks and looks up. "They sent Superman after me?" he says, disbelief in every syllable.
Clark steps a little to the side, avoiding the direct glare of the streetlights above. "Your parents are worried, you know."
Kenny is looking around him at the circle of people who have stopped to gawk and gape. "Wow, and they're so subtle in showing it, aren't they?"
Clark is more than a little angry that his son would be so rude to an adult and a friend of his parents. "Chloe wants you to come back to her place," he tries, forcing himself to remain civil. "Come on, Kenny. We'll talk about all this."
Suddenly, Kent goes preternaturally still, staring at Superman, his skin paling until his freckles stand out darkly even in the pale light. "You're...you're him."
There are three of them in the room, and it hasn't been like this for years. Lex still and thinking, Clark nervous and pacing, and Chloe feeling like she's desperate just to bolt. They're three beams of light lacking a point of focus.
"I should go and find him," Clark says again, and again, Lex says, "No."
Chloe flips her cell phone open and closed, wondering who on earth she could call to make this situation better. The police? "Hello, I'd like to report a missing Superboy. Skinny, short, attitude as big as his feet." Yeah. That'd be a great plan.
"If I just could talk to him for a minute. Make him understand why we didn't say anything."
"No," Lex says again, dropping his head into his raised palms. "Clark, no."
The boots and cape are distracting flashes of red in the beige landscape of Chloe's apartment.
"He's been missing for twelve hours!" Clark shouts suddenly.
Chloe casts an eye out the window at the mid-morning summer sun.
"I know," Lex says, simply. "Take a seat, Supes."
"He knows where we are," Chloe states, just because it seems like a safe thing to utter. God, she lost him. How could she just lose a kid?
Clark gradually slows, ending up by sinking down onto the couch beside Lex in a primary-coloured heap. "The way he looked at me...Lex, it was like he saw me for the first time. And hated what he saw."
Lex has no answer.
"And he's right. How could we justify inflicting this on our child? Passing on my freakishness like it's some valuable genetic attribute, making him a half-breed, a hybrid experiment?"
"He's not an experiment, and you know it, Clark Kent," Chloe blurts, surprising herself. But Clark is scarcely paying attention.
"God, do you realize what this means for him, for his life?"
"It doesn't have to mean anything," Lex counters quietly.
Clark's lips become a thin red dash. "We are not having this argument again."
"No, we're not," Lex shoots back, looking lively for the first time since he arrived on the LexCorp jet several hours ago. "Because we're not making our child into some sort of Messiah. You've martyred yourself by choice, and I've agreed to accept that, but there's no damn way you're shoving your destiny down my son's throat."
"Power means responsibility, Lex!" Clark snarls, snapping to his feet. "What, we're going to tell him that he can just keep his gifts for himself? That he doesn't need to help other people when no one else can?"
Lex sits back, looking up at Clark with steady anger. "Fuck, yes. That's exactly what we're telling him."
Clark shakes his head. "No. No, Lex. This isn't some sort of option you can forego in raising a child. You can't veto the reinforcement of a sense of decency, of ethical obligation."
Lex's eyes are blank and cold. "I never suggested that." They lock stares, neither moving a muscle.
Chloe glances back and forth. The Man of Steel meets the Man of Titanium. "Um, this is a bit premature," she offers quietly. "Maybe you should just decide what you're going to say to him, first?"
Neither man breaks his gaze, until suddenly the buzzer for the apartment sounds. They both jump and turn towards the source of the noise, watching as Chloe calmly walks up to the buzzer and presses the button. "Hello?"
"Are you coming in or what?" she asks lightly.
"Is he there?"
"Yes. I think he'd like to talk to you. Lex is here too."
There's a long pause. "Fuck this."
Chloe presses the door release button, but they all know that Kent is already gone.
"I'm going after him," Clark says in the dead silence.
Lex and Chloe just sigh, and Clark seems to realize that he's not going anywhere, judging by the inaction of his feet.
"I can't just wait here!" he protests.
Lex raises an eyebrow, then rises and heads to the bathroom.
Chloe looks deceptively small. Clark can feel the energy crackling off her petite body from across the room, and he's sure he's emitting some pretty intense angst rays himself. It's at moments like this that Clark begins to wonder if Chloe hasn't somehow gotten mixed in to Kent's genetic equation, because no one reminds him so much of his son as Chloe when she's like this. The look on her face is very much like the look Kent had right before he vanished into the crowd.
Of course, Clark was able to track his son's progress as the world shifted into slow motion. And though Kenny moved faster than the people around could follow, Clark was taller and older and a damn sight swifter. He could have just run after the kid, grabbed him by the arm, and hauled him up here.
But, that look. God, that look. That bruised, betrayed, forlorn look. The way Chloe had looked at him after the spring formal, and, much later, in an unguarded second the morning after their one night together. It stopped him in his tracks, made him avert his eyes and listen to the sound of his son disappearing into the city's rush, thinking, "I failed him."
"No, you didn't." Chloe. Clark realizes that he spoke the sentence aloud.
"What would you call it?" Clark spits back at her.
Chloe's nostrils flare. "Oh, for fuck's sake! Could you, for one second, stop blaming every damn thing that happens on yourself?" she exclaims, coming close enough to give him a shove on the last word. "Yeah, I hear that Rome fell a while back, where the hell were you?"
Clark is startled, just enough to almost grin.
"He's a person, Clark. He's gonna have problems in his life, no matter what. He's gonna hate you guys once in a while, no matter what. It sucks to watch him suffer, but that's life and you're not exactly itching to deny him that, right?"
Clark opens his mouth to interject, but Chloe steamrollers on.
"No. Listen. You love the kid. You're good to him. So maybe you fucked up a little by keeping this from him...but you did it out of love, and sooner or later, he'll figure that out. He's thirteen, and he's an unreasonable little shit, but he's got a brain on him like Lex, god help us, and he'll be using it whether he wants to or not."
Clark notes that Chloe has now paused and is giving him a chance to speak, but he can't for the life of him remember what he wanted to say.
At last, she lifts a hand and flattens her palm over the S on his chest. "Why don't you go and change out of your tights, and I'll make some tea or something?"
Clark nods, leaning instinctively into the warmth of her hand, just slightly. "Isn't this where my mom is supposed to swoop in and save the day?"
Chloe's tender smile splits, over-ripe, into a full grin. "I've got news for you, Superman. You are the mom this time."
"We're doomed," Clark groans, but he can't stop an answering smile from emerging.
Lex leans forward on the counter and contemplates his reflection. Just down the hall, in the living room, Chloe and Clark are alternately shouting and speaking in gentle tones. It's been almost thirty years since he met both of them, but Lex thinks it's taken almost this long for him to enjoy the relationship the two share, rather than resent it. Chloe is able to talk Clark down from his weight-of-the-world pathos, unlike Lex, who tends to see things on a legendary scale in spite of his best efforts. And Clark, for his part, has always been about two-fifths in love with Chloe.
The last time they fought about that, Clark said, "Chloe's what could have been, Lex. I'm not denying that. But you're what is. You're what I am."
Marriage isn't a perfect union of two souls, merging seamlessly along some cosmic plane, punctuated by funny stories about cooking disasters and finishing each other's sentences. Marriage is more like an agreement, unspoken, to paper over the gaps between two people. There are, always have been, uncrossable fissures between himself and Clark. With time, they've learned to step around them. Chloe is one. Superman is another.
God, let Kent not become another.
Lex stares at himself in the mirror again and prays.
"Maybe I could leave a trail of video games leading up to a coffee shop," Chloe suggests. "You know, lure him in, then you could tackle him with a therapist."
But Clark and Lex still aren't at the jokey stage. She earns a glare and a smirk instead, respectively.
"I'm going to ask the doorman if he's seen Kent again," Chloe tries, more because she has to get out of the apartment than for any logical reason.
This time it's a grunt and a nod. Chloe wastes no time.
She's four steps down the hallway towards the elevator when Kenny speaks. "Did you know?"
Chloe stops, turning around to see Kent encamped just outside her doorway. His eyes are red. He's hunched into a little denim ball, knees hugged tight up to his skinny chest.
It startles her that her first impulse is to run over and pull him into a ferocious hug, relief and fury simultaneously flooding her body. Instead, she stands still for a moment and takes in the sight of a very grubby and tired boy.
"Superhearing," she says simply, then tilts her head towards the elevator in invitation.
Kent gets to his feet and follows.
She waits about ten floors before answering his question. "I knew."
Kent is staring at the maroon carpet with an intensity he normally reserves for the television. "How long?"
Chloe thinks. "Twenty years. Maybe a bit more."
"Since before I was born," Kenny clarifies, using the chronological dichotomy so important to the young.
"Well, I was pregnant with you. They could hardly hide it then. But I'd known for a while."
Kent is silent until the elevator opens in the lobby. Chloe hasn't brought her keys with her, but Clark and Lex can buzz them back in, so she leads Kent out the door.
"I feel so stupid." The words come out cracked and broken, but Kent keeps walking, determined.
"Hey, I knew your dad for five years before I figured it out, Kent. And I was older than you are when I met him."
"I mean, thinking that Lex was...with Superman. And it was Clark all along." A sniffle. Chloe's carefully averting her eyes, focused on the sidewalk unwinding beneath them. "Mom, why didn't you say something? When I told you about that?"
"Well, it didn't occur to me at first, that you meant Superman. And when I did figure it out...I promised your parents. That I wouldn't tell you. They wanted to wait until you were older." Chloe bites back the next tidbit, that she disagreed with them. Trying to play the hero in this would not make things easier.
"No one thinks I'm old enough to understand anything." It comes out not in the petulant tone of a child, but with the world-weary exasperation of a coddled adult. "Didn't they think I'd notice when I started getting strong and fast?"
"Well, they didn't think it was going to happen to you. Dr. Slynatki was almost convinced that you weren't going to be like Clark." Chloe crinkles her nose, a thought occurring to her. "Hey, what did you think? I mean, didn't you think it was weird, to suddenly have all these abilities?"
Kent makes a small noise of embarrassment. "I...I thought that Superman was my real father."
Chloe stifles a smile. "He is."
"But I thought maybe Clark didn't know that. That Lex had done it without Clark knowing. That he didn't want me to give it away because he didn't want Clark to know."
Chloe sighs shortly, irritated with Clark and Lex. "Well, it's a relief to know that you were wrong about that, I guess."
Kent slows his pace slightly. "So when Clark is away on business, sometimes he's really..."
"Saving the world," supplies Chloe.
"And, what, he wears contacts to make his eyes green?"
"Actually, they're naturally green. The contacts are blue."
"He's not really a huge klutz, then. It's an act?"
Chloe snorts. "Yeah, I'm still not sure about that. This one time in high school, Clark accidentally flushed his cell phone down the toilet. Just ... plunk. It was gone."
Kenny releases a breath of laughter. "And that safe in their closet, it's not their homemade porn stash, it's where Clark keeps his rig?"
"Kent!" Chloe gasps, jaw dropped. Kent keeps walking, but he's got a little Lexian smirk playing around his mouth.
Just as she manages to get her feet working again, he shoots a look back over his shoulder. "Just kidding. The porn stash is behind the Whitman shelf in Lex's study."
"So what happened to 'gross' and 'ew' everytime I mention your dads' sex life?" Chloe demands, aghast.
Kent laughs shortly. "Hey, I wasn't pulling the visuals from nowhere, Mom."
They make it to Stanley Park and back without saying much more. "Fast, strong, and pretty good healer," Chloe comments quietly as they near her building.
"Don't forget the best power of all," Kent prompts. When Chloe raises an eyebrow in askance, he grins. "I can piss both my fathers off with a single word."
"Yeah, that one is probably from Lex," Chloe laughs.
When Kenny was very small, Clark was petrified to touch him. Years of controlling his strength had nothing on his instinctive understanding of Kenny's inherent fragility. Lex used to cup his little eggshell skull in the hollow of one hand, and Clark would be beseiged by visions of his own hand tensing a little too much, the feel of tiny gliding bone fragments under too-thin skin. Lex called him macabre, but Clark couldn't shake the feeling of terror that seized him whenever he moved one of those thin limbs in his large hands.
It's a similar feeling now, seeing thirteen year old Kenny slink into the room. Only now, Clark's very gaze has the power to hurt his son. Kent is flinching away from it as though Clark has inadvertently switched into heat vision.
"Kent, I understand why you ran off, but that was inappropriate and inconsiderate behaviour," begins Lex.
Kent's jaw muscles flex, but he gives no other sign of interest.
"In this family, we talk about things when we're angry or hurt. We don't hide and make everyone else worry."
Clark can't stop staring at his son. Is this how Clark looked, when his father told him about the ship and the meteor shower? Had he looked so abandoned? So furious? Lex's words are closing the boy's features, as though he was a sea anemone that withdrew more with every questing prod.
"Lex," Chloe warns, to draw Lex out of his pseudo-calm lecture.
It has the opposite effect. "What were you thinking, Kent? You could have gotten hurt or killed, I don't care how fast you heal," Lex explodes, and Kenny starts at the sudden onslaught of noise. "You don't do that, Kent! You don't!"
Kent's head snaps up. "You've lied to me my whole life!" he shouts back. "Why should I give a fuck what you think?"
"Yeah, and how good is a six-year-old at keeping secrets?" Lex returns. "It was for your own good, your own protection. Jesus, do you think we liked lying to you?"
"I'm not six anymore, Dad! I don't need you treating me like a stupid first grader!"
They are twin studies in fair skin flushed red with fury. Lex is about to begin pacing, which is infinitely preferable to grabbing a random object and smashing furniture with it. Kenny, being younger and lacking control, might fill in for Lex in that respect.
Clark thinks back to that quiet day in his loft, his father telling him his origins by the means of a silent glance out the barn window and a few choice euphemisms. Mom down in the kitchen, baking pumpkin muffins in readiness for Clark's inevitable hurt. The breathtaking fact of his space pod. The way the world suddenly seemed foreign, inhospitable. The silence in the graveyard, the distraction of Lana's tragedy.
Looking up at Lex and Kent, Clark begins to realize that they're doing a pretty hack job of this whole disclosure thing.
"Kenny," Clark says, softly. "I'm sorry. We should have trusted you. We were wrong."
Kenny looks over, breathing fast. "Is that supposed to make this all better?" he says incredulously. "You're sorry? What, are you going to buy me a pony or something?"
"It's not supposed to make it better, no," Clark replies. "But I hope you'll try and see this from our perspective."
"Everything I thought I knew is a lie. I can't even figure out my perspective, never mind yours!"
"Not everything is a lie. We love you. We always will, no matter what."
Kent rolls his eyes and sighs loudly. Lex looks like he might have a similar reaction.
"Look, Kenny, I'm not saying you should just forgive us. I don't expect that. But if you're really mature enough to handle this truth, then you've got to show it a little. Pretend like you're interested in hearing me out."
Kenny looks back and forth between Clark, who is still, and Lex, who is now pacing quickly. With another exasperated sigh and a scowl, Kenny collapses onto the couch.
"Um. And 43--the vegetarian chow mein. Kenny, what else did you say you'd eat? Oh yeah, 67. The almond fried rice. Uh, we'll pick it up. Okay, thank you. Okay. Bye."
Chloe hangs up and tucks the takeout menu back into the stack by the phone.
"Still a vegan?" Lex says, raising an eyebrow at Kent. Clark shoots a worried look at Lex, but Lex's expression is bland, non-confrontational.
Kent just shrugs, a slight smug look drifting across his features. "Mom told me that you once went on a diet where you only ate carrots and lentils for, like, a month."
Chloe cackles as Lex glares.
"What other stories have you been telling our child, Chloe?" Lex asks flatly.
"I've hardly told him any," Chloe objects, and Kenny snorts. "But the ones I have told have been pure gold," she adds proudly, perching on the arm of Kent's chair.
Clark shifts across the couch to settle in close to Lex, smiling to himself at the return of peace. It was a long afternoon, and more than once, Kenny nearly ran out again, but now hunger and exhaustion have united them all in a tentative truce. Lex's arm slides around Clark's shoulders, squeezing gently into the muscle on his shoulder that has a habit of forming a knot when he's tense. It's more a token gesture than an actual help, but Clark appreciates it.
"Is it true that you gave Dad a fencing foil as a present once?" Kenny asks Lex.
Lex shoots a glance at Clark, frowning slightly.
"Remember, you were moving to Metropolis? Or you thought you were," Clark prompts, grinning at Lex's selective memory. "It was my freshman year. When Ryan was staying with us."
Lex nods. "Yeah, I think I remember that."
Kenny is laughing.
"What's so funny?" Clark asks, though he doesn't want that happy noise to stop. It's been a long time since he heard Kenny laugh.
"Just ... kind of a suggestive gift to give, don't you think?" Kenny snickers. "I mean, I know you guys had Freud back then."
Clark laughs, too, watching Lex's mouth drop open with mock indignation. "It was because he was always saving people," Lex protests. "I told him every hero needs one."
This had the intended effect of making Kenny laugh more. "You guys are so gay."
Unabashed, Clark kisses Lex on the jaw. Lex is still affecting to be shocked by this accusation.
"Well, who's gonna go and pick up the food?" Chloe asks.
Clark glances at the clock. "It won't be ready for another twenty minutes or so."
"Yeah, and it'll take ten minutes to get there, so we should decide now."
Clark is about to volunteer when a thought occurs to him. "Ten minutes? Kenny and I could make it in two. On foot." He dares a glance over to see how his son reacts.
Kenny is poker-faced. "Less than that," he returns. "Except we should walk back slowly so Dad doesn't spill the food all over."
Lex is suddenly tense, but Clark turns and gives him a look, silently saying, 'Trust me, it'll be okay.' The grey eyes flicker away, but Clark sees the concession there, so he grins over at Kenny. "I'll have you know, I often carry hot coffee from New York to Metropolis without spilling a drop."
"Only because you're flying and you can't trip over your giant feet," Chloe answers in a matter-of-fact tone.
Kenny laughs again. Chloe's favorite pastime--teasing Clark and Lex--seems to have passed on to Kent. "Hey, do you think I'll be able to fly, ever?" the boy asks suddenly, his face lighting up.
Lex gets more tense, though Clark would never guess if it wasn't for Lex's arm wrapped around him. Clark subtly leans back into the increased pressure, trying to ease Lex's fear. "I don't know, kiddo. I couldn't fly until I was almost twenty. And you don't seem to have exactly the same abilities as me." He doesn't add that Kenny is not as strong or as fast as Clark was at thirteen. There will be time enough to discuss that later.
Kenny's gaze darkens. For a moment, Clark fears another outburst. Then, suddenly, he smiles deviously. "I just want the x-ray vision." His voice carries volumes of suggestiveness, like Lex in Smallville, stroking a pool cue.
"I think maybe we should see about getting Kenny into a lead-lined high school," Lex suggests. "I could pull a few strings."
"Well, biggest news first," Dr. Slynatki announces as Kenny rebuttons his shirt, glancing nervously at his fathers. "Kent here has grown two inches since his exam in the spring."
"Hey, hear that? You might grow taller than Uncle Pete after all," Lex cajoles, mussing his son's hair and making Kenny scowl.
"And as for the rest...well, you know we have no data for Clark until he reached full maturity, but we can compare Kent to the average human child. As you know, he's always been 99th percentile for speed and strength, but never quite out of the measured ranges. Now, however, he's displaying considerably aberrant abilities in both areas. As compared with Clark, he's only about a fifth of the way to a Superman. Judging from anecdotal evidence given by Clark's parents, I'd say Kenny's not quite going to equal Clark in strength and speed, even when he's full-grown. That being said, he's already emphatically out of the range of normal human abilities."
Lex glances down at his son, who may be slightly taller, but still looks small and childish. If he hadn't seen it for himself, he'd never believe that this scrawny teenager could outrun the best human sprinter on the planet.
"Kryptonite doesn't make me sick, though," Kenny offers. "They made me hold it and everything."
"His skin shows some averse reaction, not dissimilar to the rapid necrosis that we see in you, Clark, but Kenny himself seems unaffected by the kryptonite."
"How can that be?" Clark asks, leaning forward on his chair. "I mean, if he's got my strengths, surely he should have my weakness too?"
Lex grins. "Ah, but his other father is a meteor freak, remember?"
"Lex's enhanced healing abilities aren't simply a manifestation of his kryptonite exposure," Slynatki elaborates. "If you remember from when we were working on the sperm fusion, we saw that Lex's DNA has actually been altered, in every cell of his body, including his gametes."
"So Kenny's rapid healing comes from Lex, not from me?" Clark asks, incredulous. "What about those cells you saw in his blood?"
Slynatki inclines his head slightly. "We assumed those cells were linked to your invulnerability, as well as that of Ms. Sullivan, but we have no way of proving that. Certainly, Kent's skin seems more resilient than average, but such a thing is difficult to measure except in absolutes. Forgive my bluntness, but at this time, a bullet could kill your son. Yet I would have difficulty giving him a papercut. Where he will end up along the spectrum between human vulnerability and your own invulnerability...it's pure speculation at this point."
"And you don't know about Clark's other powers...the visual anomalies and his flight?" Lex asks, almost rhetorically.
Slynatki shrugs. "We can estimate when we could expect those abilities to emerge, based on Clark's own experience, but even if they were to appear, Kryptonian biology probably has as wide a range of maturation rates as human biology. When Clark was thirteen, he was almost six feet tall. You, Lex, were only five foot four. If Kent's going to develop these abilities, they'll come in their own good time."
Lex pats Kenny on the shoulder. "He's lying about how tall I was, you know," he says, confidentially. "Trying to make you feel better. I've actually been this height since I was seven years old. And when I met Clark, he was about three feet tall, fresh off the space pod. I was way taller than him. And he was naked."
"You know, if I want to get a piercing, I should really do it now," Kenny says thoughtfully, unmoved by Lex's theatrics. "Or a tattoo. I mean, I might not be able to later."
And that, Lex reflects, is what Kenny really learned from Chloe.
They used to save their talks for after Kenny went to bed, but these days, it's more likely to be before he gets up. When Lex was heading to bed last night, Kenny was watching football on television, and Clark was getting ready to patrol. Clark actually sat on the couch next to Kent while he pulled on his red boots, as if this was a usual part of their routine.
"I wanted to play football," Clark said, tugging at the cuffs.
Kenny glanced over at Clark, obviously taking in his padded-suit-less physique. "Why didn't you? You could have kicked ass."
Clark grimaced, reaching over to gather up his cape. "Too dangerous. I could have hurt the other kids."
Kent frowned. "But if you were careful..."
"No, we couldn't risk it." It was spoken gently, but with conviction. Clark stood and headed for the balcony, pausing to give Lex a kiss on his way past. "Goodnight, guys."
"See you," Kenny called lazily, not bothering to turn and watch his father fly off of the balcony.
Now Clark is naked and sleeping next to Lex. When he's like this, it's difficult to remember that he's a reporter, a respected one at the height of his career. It's even more difficult to believe that he's a hero who has the whole city, even the world, in his charge. Barring the artificial grey streaks in his hair, Clark sleeping is indistinguishable from Clark at twenty, back when he first slept in Lex's bed.
Lex plants a gentle kiss on Clark's eyebrow. When this fails to wake him, Lex continues to kiss, down the landscape of his cheekbone, his jaw, his neck where the pulse flutters in imitation fragility. Clark is awake by the time Lex reaches his collarbone, but he's being still, playing at sleep.
Lex pauses in his exploration, smiling against the sleep-warmed muscle. Their windows face full east, just for mornings like this, when he can waken next to Clark and watch the light glow softly on his partner's skin.
"It's Saturday," Clark whispers at last. "Nine a.m. We have at least three hours before the monster wakes up."
"I hear he goes by 'Kent' these days," Lex replies, kissing a nipple.
Clark gasps softly and rolls fully onto his back, letting his arms open wide. "Whatever. Don't stop."
Lex obediently shifts, straddling Clark and bending down to kiss him properly. "You know he might want to play football," he murmurs as he pulls back again.
"He can't," Clark answers softly, his hands trailing down the front of Lex's pajama shirt.
"You wanted to," Lex points out, helpfully unbuttoning the shirt, then pulling it over his head. Clark is getting harder under Lex, but he doesn't seem to be in a hurry today. Last night must have been quiet.
"And my dad said no," Clark says, reaching up to rub Lex's bare chest.
"And you told me that you thought it wasn't fair."
"I was fifteen. I didn't understand."
"Or maybe your dad didn't understand you."
Clark drops his arms, frustrated. "Do you really care if Kenny plays football? What's this about, Lex?"
Lex peruses Clark for a moment. "You know what this is about, Clark. You're the one who insisted, thirteen years ago, that we not impose any of our dreams or wishes on the life of our child."
Clark opens and closes his mouth several times.
"You were talking about me, weren't you?" Lex prompts, unable to suppress a tiny smile. "You were worried I would want my son to become an unscrupulous corporate titan. You never once considered the possibility that I might object to him putting on tights and saving the world. Or that he might not want to do that, should he find himself capable."
Clark doesn't return Lex's smile. Instead, he scowls and turns onto his side, decanting Lex onto the mattress. "It's not that I want him to follow in my footsteps, Lex. It's just about the last thing I would wish for him."
Lex shakes his head in disagreement. "No, it might be the last thing you wished for, but you can't tell me that some part of you isn't just completely stoked that your son is going to be Superboy. That you're not alone anymore."
Clark's hands are roaming again, almost as if he's unaware of their motion. "Did you just say stoked?" he says, dark brows knitting.
Lex slaps one hand away. "You're changing the subject."
Clark sighs shortly. "Okay, yeah. I'm...stoked. I mean, it's cool. He's so much your son, he always has been. He's got your features, your mind, your attitude. I mean, it's good to have something that's just between us, you know?"
"And I understand that," Lex replies quietly. "But running to get the Chinese takeout together is one thing...fighting crime is another. And imposing your father's rules on him just because it's how you were raised? Come on, Clark. You know that's not fair."
Clark runs his fingers over Lex's back, slowly tracing a curve from shoulder to hip on one side. "You're right," he says at last. "We have a lot of knowledge and resources that Mom and Dad didn't have. We could maybe get Kenny a gold kryptonite ring or something to wear if he wants to play sports."
Lex nods, knowing this battle will be fought again and again in the years to come. "And can we make a rule? No heroics of any kind until he's old enough to handle the pressure."
Clark tilts his head on the pillow, squinting. "How old is old enough?"
"Eighteen?" Lex suggests.
"I was fifteen when I saved my first life," Clark points out, hooking his thumbs into the waistband of Lex's pajama pants.
Lex raises one eyebrow. "Ah, but what if the person Kenny saves isn't a well-mannered and scrupulous young person, but some wild, oversexed playboy who just wants to jump in his pants?"
Clark blinks twice, exaggerating the motion. "Did you just say oversexed playboy?"
Lex chokes the incumbent laughter into a playful growl, launching himself across the bed into Clark's embrace. Several hungry kisses later, Lex murmurs, "Eighteen? And then he decides for himself about the superhero thing?"
Clark grunts, his hand already exploring Lex's ass under the silk. "You know, I don't really think you're sexed enough these days," he grins against Lex's lips, grinding up into him. "I'll have to correct that problem for you."
It's been a week since Kenny went back to Metropolis with Clark and Lex. Chloe knows she's supposed to be moping and broody and feeling Kenny's absence. Every little object, every stray word, should remind her of her son and send her into paroxysms of loneliness. She should be missing the space he occupied and singing, like Henry Higgins, about having grown Accustomed To His Face.
Instead, she calls up Marcus and celebrates her newly recaptured solitude with glee.
Clark phones and talks at length about how Kent is readjusting, about the rules that they're developing, about their decision to send him to a private day school in the fall to give him a fresh start to match his new attitude. With a mournful voice that makes Chloe think that Superman should moonlight--or is that sunlight?--as a funeral director, he adds, "He doesn't say much about it, Chlo', but I know he misses you."
Chloe hangs up the phone feeling not deflated and bereft, but annoyed and vaguely hungry.
Lex doesn't call. Instead, his consolations come in the form of an e-mail, only three lines long:
We need a sessional instructor for the journalism department here. Interested?
Dr. Sherman was her mentor at Met. U. and now he's dean of Arts there. He's approached Chloe about a job several times over the last few years, since she started making waves in the already churning pool of Simon Fraser University. Chloe's always been adamant--she loves Vancouver and she loves her teaching position and she's not interested in returning to the States. She's even got dual citizenship now.
Dr. Sherman also happens to be a friend of Lex Luthor.
She forwards the e-mail to Lex with the subject heading "WTF???"
She then surprises herself by hitting the reply button.
As ever, I'm flattered by your offer, but I can't see myself back in Metropolis. Vancouver is home now and as tempting as it
She stops, backspaces, and tries again.
Okay Sherman, spit it out. What did Luthor say to make you think that I'd changed my mind about moving back there? If this is some sort of thing where you owe him for a stock tip or something
With a sigh, she highlights that block of text and hits 'delete'.
The next thing that appears on her screen is not at all what she intends to write:
Send more details. It might be time for a change of scenery.
I have this kid I should be spending more time with.
"Well, it's small," Lex says, surveying the living room. "But clean."
"Says the man who lives in a mansion," Chloe answers, sounding unbothered. "I've never had a three-bedroom place before. This is palatial." She is staring at the boxes surrounding her as though trying to reclaim her long-lost heat vision. "And lucky for me, I seem to have more than enough crap to fill it up."
Clark is walking around with his head tilted back, presumably inspecting the high ceilings and possibly the plumbing and wiring beyond them. He trips over a box and falls to the floor in a way that's utterly inexusable for a person exempted from the laws of gravity.
Somewhere down the hall, Kenny laughs.
"Not to mention Kent's crap," Lex adds ominously. "You haven't seen clutter until you've seen his bedroom. And now he has two bedrooms to hoard things in, it'll only get worse."
"Thanks, dear, I'm fine," Clark pouts as he lifts himself off the carpet.
"You really are a klutz, aren't you?" Chloe says fondly, then turns her attention back to Lex. "Don't you have rules about that sort of thing? Like, isn't he supposed to keep a certain level of cleanliness? I thought you were the evil Fuhrer of fathers, Lex."
Lex raises an eyebrow. "We have two rules. Number one, he has to be able to exit safely in case of an emergency. Which means that there should be a clear path to his door at all times. And, number two, nothing moldy may remain in his room. Including socks."
Chloe is looking a little pale at the prospect, which confirms Lex's suspicion that Kenny was on his best behaviour during his sojourn in Vancouver.
As if to second that thought, Kenny comes loping into the room wielding a plastic object. "Check it out, Mom! There was a toilet brush in my bedroom! Look, it's really gross." He waves the admittedly gross brush in Chloe's direction. "Why do you think the people who lived here before left it in the bedroom?"
Clark grabs Kenny by the shoulders and steers him into the kitchen. "Garbage. Now. And you're washing your hands."
"Hey, I thought I was invulnerable to germs!" Kenny protests. "Do you think I'd get sick if I put this in my mouth?"
"No, but I would," Clark's reply comes, distantly.
Lex is very entertained by Chloe's expression, which is a mixture of nausea, horror, terror, and amusement. "You know, you really did this backwards," he comments, crouching down to open up a box. "You were supposed to stick around for the cute part, when he was little and mispronounced words, then take off as soon as the first pimple appeared."
"I'm beginning to get that," Chloe answers faintly, then notices Lex's motion. "Hey, you don't have to do that."
Lex looks up and fixes her with a contemplative stare. Chloe's announcement that she was moving back to Metropolis had been a bit of a surprise, in spite of Lex's hand in bringing about the opportunity. Clark, in particular, wasn't terribly happy about it until Lex pointed out that the move was for Kenny's well-being and jealousy wouldn't help the situation. Since she arrived three days ago, Chloe has been unusually quiet and distant. Lex supposes that it's the first time in thirteen years that Chloe has done something this important for the benefit of another human being.
"I want to," he says simply, extracting a stack of books.
Chloe kneels beside him and joins in, the two of them listening to the clamour of yet another argument from the kitchen. "I wouldn't have come back if you hadn't...I mean, I know Sherman wouldn't have bothered with the offer if you hadn't tipped him off that I might be interested."
Lex doesn't answer. He expected that Chloe would see the connection, and that her ego wouldn't lead her to think that the job itself was of Lex's creation--that line of reasoning belongs to the ever-modest Clark Kent type of journalist.
"I just...I know it bothers you. About me and Clark." She's speaking quietly, though Lex doubts if the supersensitive ears in the next room could even hear her over the loud discussion about why Kenny's not going down to inspect the laundry room.
Lex shifts more books, holding his expression in bland disinterest.
"Not that there's anything..." Chloe falters. "Look, my feelings for Clark..."
Lex stops moving and examines the cover of a textbook. "Aren't wholly unreturned," Lex supplies at last. "Which is why I'm bothered. And why you've never been able to let go of him, not entirely."
Chloe seems to contemplate protesting this, or perhaps feigning shock, but instead settles for a small sigh.
"But you didn't come back here because of that. You came back here in spite of it. For Kent."
Chloe nods, once, then glances over at Lex. "I...I promise I won't ever disappear from Kenny's life again. But sometimes, I might need to disappear from you and Clark. I need you to...could you explain to Clark, when that happens?"
Lex has never been good at spontaneously showing affection, but he surprises himself by suddenly reaching out to take Chloe's hand, squeezing it slightly.
"Chloe, do you have a screwdriver?" Clark asks, and Lex pulls his hand away, feeling that his husband might misunderstand the gesture. "Kenny pulled the handle off of one of your cupboards."
"Two words, Chloe," Lex says, standing up. "Titanium screws."
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