Rich Man's Darling
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters. This is just for fun. Acknowledgements: A million thanks apiece to TheDieHard, imsane_honest, and especially diluvian for their beta reading! All remaining errors and offenses against common decency are mine and mine alone! Warning: In the words of quiet_tiger, "If Clark Kent's throwing up, it's probably not just the flu."
A note about the AU'ness of it all: Although this is set pretty much in the present time from a House point of view, it's set a hypothetical twenty years in the future from a Smallville/Superman point of view.
"Nausea, vomiting, weakness," Cuddy snapped, running House to ground in the cafeteria line.
"Gastroenteritis," he countered, NOT dropping his cake. What was she doing in the cafeteria at 10:30 a.m.? And how did she manage to sneak up on him in those shoes? "Are you helping Chase with his crosswords now?"
"Occasional faintness and mood swings. You're having cake at this hour?"
"Coffee's upstairs. So, Dr. Cuddy, are congratulations in order?" He leered and leaned closer. "Tell me it wasn't 613."
"Not pregnant, and not me."
Suddenly bored with the conversation, House straightened up and shoved his tray to the cashier's station. "Whatever. I'm not an OB, and I don't do gastroenteritis."
"The patient's boyfriend has made a ten million dollar donation to the hospital, contingent upon you taking the case."
House pointed at Cuddy and told the cashier, "She's paying."
And this was it, the reason his emotions had always been his downfall and always would be. Lex hated that Lionel had been right.
After all these years, these twists and turns, from love-him-but-hate-him, through hate-him-but-love-him, and finally sweetly home to just plain love (requited love!), when they'd finally, against all odds, gotten it right, here Lex was again -- seated in an uncomfortable hospital chair, holding a loved one's limp hand, watching his heart die.
Lex looked at Clark, too pale, too pretty, drowsing on the crappy institutional sheets, and he was afraid he couldn't live through it again -- especially if it turned out to be his own damn fault.
Before killing himself, though, Lex would make damn sure the Joker suffered a painful and lingering death. Plotting elaborate revenge scenarios (Belle Reve was far less permeable than Arkham -- Lex could definitely get his hands on that clown whenever he was ready for him) kept other insanities at bay for a little while, and then the door opened.
Huh. When Cuddy'd said, "The patient's boyfriend has made a ten million dollar donation to the hospital," the picture House's mind had conjured up had looked a lot more like a sorority girl, rather than a big good-looking scruffy guy wearing BCG's. House double-checked the room number and the name on the file folder. Okay, that must be a K rather than an A.
"Clark Kent," House said.
"Present," Glasses Guy quipped weakly. He straightened his big ugly specs and tried to sit up. The bald guy in the sharp suit -- House mentally dubbed him Ten Million Dollar Boyfriend -- propped pillows behind him and got a pale smile in return.
Greg stumped into the room, trying to remember what they always said about bedside manners. "I'm Dr. House. What seems to be the trouble?"
Allison's pager went off. She smiled apologetically at her clinic patient and his mom, and checked it. House. Cuddy must have found him and forced him to take that case.
"Just make sure he keeps this dry, and take him to your regular doctor when you get back home," she told the anxious mother. "And no more jumping off of things!" she added, turning to the boy. He stuck his tongue out at her.
"Thank you so much! I didn't know what to do when--"
Cameron cut her off, as gently as she could. "I'm so sorry; I have to take this page. Good luck!" She hurried up to Diagnostics. House was already at the board.
"Clark Kent. Thirty-eight year old male, nausea, vomiting, weakness. Fainting. Mood swings." The rapid-fire delivery slowed as he studied what he'd already written. Then he turned to face his fellows.
"The patient's boyfriend has donated ten million dollars to the hospital because I agreed to take the case."
Patient's boyfriend? "AIDS?" Cameron guessed. House ignored her and went on.
"He said he'd donate twenty million more for a diagnosis, and fifty million dollars if we cure him."
Allison's mouth dropped open with surprise, and she hoped nobody had noticed before she got it closed again. "That's crazy!" she exclaimed.
"It's eighty percent of what Vogler gave," Chase said, sounding confused.
"Who has that kind of money?" Foreman asked, sounding skeptical. "Who even thinks of that kind of money for gastroenteritis?"
"It's not gastroenteritis. Patient's boyfriend is Lex Luthor. He may be crazy, but he does have the money."
Allison's jaw dropped again. "Lex Luthor? Why is he here? Why not Metropolis General? He practically owns that place, and its reputation is--"
"Not as good as mine, apparently." House looked at his shoes for a moment. Allison knew he wasn't modest; what was bothering him? He raised his head and cleared his throat. He looked directly at Foreman. "He also said to send you on vacation."
Eric's eyebrows went up, and he looked astonished. "What?"
"I'm sorry, Foreman. Take your vacation. Now, please."
Cameron was amazed. House hated being told what to do! Now, for money, he was following the orders of Lex Luthor? The guy made Vogler look honest and public-spirited! She couldn't restrain herself. "House, what are you doing?" she asked.
He didn't say anything, and he didn't look at her. He kept looking at Eric. Eric kept looking at him.
Finally Foreman threw up his hands. "Fine," he said. "I'll see you guys in two weeks."
"Take four," House said flatly. "I'll make sure Cuddy pays you for it."
"Whatever," Foreman muttered, and he left.
"What if we need a neurologist?" Chase asked. Cameron could see he knew that was a dumb question as soon as he asked, and House didn't bother to answer him. Instead House took something out of his pocket and set it on the conference table. He unwrapped it to reveal three broken hypodermic needles.
"That happened when I tried to take a blood sample. Three times." House pulled out a chair and sat down.
"Scleroderma?" Chase guessed, leaning over to look at the broken needles.
"Wait," Cameron said. Lex Luthor? Metropolis? "Oh, my God. Clark Kent is Superman?"
Nausea was the worst thing ever.
Okay, barfing was bad, but at least barfing was doing something, and after he barfed he felt a little better for a little while. Nausea was a grinding, building thing, and it reminded him of kryptonite even when there was no kryptonite anywhere around.
This was so unfair. Clark wished he could just sleep for a thousand years, and when he woke up everything would be better. He wished he'd decided to fly into the sun eight days ago, before that Gift had gone away. He wished he'd never made up with Lex, so Lex wouldn't be so doggone hurt by whatever it was that was happening to him.
Watching Lex's heart break was the worst thing ever.
But Lex was trying awful hard to be brave, and Clark couldn't do anything less.
"Whatcha looking up?" he whispered, swallowing saliva. Drooling -- that was another gross symptom they'd have to remember to tell the doctor about. He double-checked that the little plastic barf dish was right there by his head.
Lex looked up from his laptop screen and smiled at him. God, that sweet, doomed smile. Poor Lex. He hadn't been more than one room away from Clark in the whole week since Clark had finally admitted he was really sick. He hadn't slept; he'd barely eaten. He spent hours on the laptop, looking things up, and he stayed glued to Clark as if attached by a tether. Clark remembered every story Lex had ever told him about his mom, about Pam, about Julian. He remembered the spectacular meltdown the year Lionel finally died, even though he and Lex were no longer speaking by then. He wouldn't put Lex through that again. Therefore, he had to not die. Ideally, he had to get better. Simple, really.
Clark leaned over and hurled.
Lex held his hair back (the laser vision had been the first Gift to quit working, and so Clark hadn't been able to cut his hair in over a month) and cleaned him up. How could he be so patient and nice about it? He was Lex Luthor, for pete's sake! Clark knew the answer, though -- he loved him.
Settled again, and feeling a tiny bit better, Clark repeated his question. "What are you looking up all this time, anyway?"
"Well, I was researching doctors for a while. House is the best diagnostician in the country, head and shoulders above anybody else."
"But you already found him. We're here. Why don't you put the laptop down and get some rest?"
Lex smiled at him again. He looked so tired. "C'mon, Lex," Clark wheedled, carefully shoving over to make a little room. "I promise not to throw up on you."
Lex set the laptop down on his chair, and helped Clark move over. He got the pillows distributed, and the rinsed-out little barf tray arranged, and climbed up next to Clark. He felt good. He smelled good.
"I'm glad you're here," Clark sighed.
Lex petted his hair. "Me, too."
Clark's brain might not be in top form (some said it never was) but it was still a reporter's brain. "What are you looking up?" he persisted.
He could feel Lex freeze, just momentarily. Maybe he should have always done all his interviews cuddled up with the subjects. He smiled at the thought of explaining that theory to Lois.
"After you get better, I want you to still have a life," Lex said, very quiet and serious-sounding.
"They'd never be able to help you if I didn't let them figure out you're -- what you are, but--"
"I didn't tell them, but they're diagnosticians; if they're any good at all they'll figure it out. I'm reasonably certain that House figured it out before he left the room."
Clark felt a whole different kind of sick.
"Don't worry; it'll be okay."
"How can you be sure?"
"I'm sure. I've been researching House's staff ever since I decided he was the one we needed. There are all sorts of things -- I got House to send one of his doctors, Eric Foreman, on vacation. He was the only one I didn't think I could -- well, I could, but it'd take threatening his parents, and I didn't think you'd be too pleased." Lex swallowed nervously. Clark hadn't seen him do that in almost twenty years.
Clark closed his eyes. Why did the world have to be like it was? Stupid secrets. Stupid double life. Stupid humans. Stupid -- him. "I'm sorry you have to make choices like that," he sighed.
"No, I think it's good for me." Lex slipped an arm around Clark's shoulders, and Clark leaned on him. He could feel Lex breathing. "Allison Cameron has a reputation for rigid ethical standards, the kind of reputation that I think I understand. I'll talk to her." Lex chuckled against Clark's hair; it felt so good. Lex hadn't laughed once, not even ruefully, for weeks. "From what I've read, you could probably just give her the puppy eyes, and she'd do whatever you want."
Clark smiled. "Puppy eyes?"
"You know exactly what I mean. Robert Chase'll be easy -- a couple of threats, a little bribery, badda bing badda boom."
"Badda bing badda boom?" Clark laughed a little. It made his stomach hurt.
"Yeah. Perfectly straightforward. House himself is even easier -- he hardly ever bothers to publish anymore. I think he just likes to know things, more than he likes telling anybody. The threat we have over him is that we'll just pack up and leave, and he'll have missed his chance to really examine an alien."
"That's why you picked him." Clark was afraid he sounded a little bitter. The nausea was starting to rise again; his respite was over.
"I picked him because he's the best." Lex seemed to know instinctively that Clark had stopped feeling well enough to be jostled, even gently. He gave him one last squeeze and carefully slid out of the bed. "He's going to figure out what's wrong, and you're going to get better." Clark could recognize when Lex didn't believe what he was saying.
"Yeah. I know. I'll be fine." Clark smiled reassuringly at Lex and hoped he was a better liar than he used to be.
Among the many, many things that Robert Chase really wished he didn't have to do, talking to shady multi-billionaire Lex Luthor was right up at the top of the list. He straightened his lab coat, pushed his hair back from his face, squared his shoulders, and went in.
"Mr. Kent? I'm Dr. Chase. How are you doing?" He looked pretty bad. Well, not bad, actually -- he was probably the prettiest man Chase had ever seen, even with a beard that rivaled House's in its scruffiness and hair that hadn't been tended to for at least a month, but he definitely looked unwell.
Kent smiled tiredly and said, "Not that good, today."
The other man closed his laptop and stood up. "Dr. Chase. I'm Lex Luthor." He extended his hand.
Chase fumbled his clipboard under one arm so he could shake hands with the notorious mastermind, who really knew how to use his gaze and his handshake and, Jesus, his whole physical presence to intimidate a person. Robert knew he always had a head start on being intimidated, anyway. Oh, this was going to work great. "Mr. Luthor," he greeted him, trying not to visibly cringe.
"Call me Lex," Luthor purred, threatening a horrible death with his eyes.
Chase got his hand back intact and turned to the patient. Either House or Luthor must have chased the nurses off; nothing had been done except to get him settled in a bed and provided with an emesis basin. The chart was barely started; the pulse oximeter wasn't clipped on; no IV -- of course not, if a needle would break on Kent's skin. Probably House had gotten rid of the nurses as soon as he'd ruined those hypos. Well, it had frequently been made clear that House mostly kept Chase around to do these mundane tasks for the patients (that and to make fun of his hair and his accent). He busied himself with all the work the nurses should have done upon Kent's admission, ignoring Luthor's reptilian glare as hard as he could.
"There you go," Robert said, comfortingly. "Let's just get your temperature and oxygen level recorded--"
Kent threw up again, just as Chase was trying to get the thermometer in his mouth. "Whoa!" Chase said. "Okay, you're fine...."
To Chase's great surprise, Luthor was instantly at the patient's side, tenderly holding his head, competently cleaning up after him. Chase stood back and let him; he would never be able to stop a guy like that from doing anything, he was pretty sure. Watching them together, he felt jealous. Nobody had ever treated him with such care. They were too occupied with each other to notice his unworthy feelings, even if he might have messed up and left them visible.
Luthor took the emesis basin to the sink. Chase considered stopping him, on the grounds that an analysis of the material might provide some useful information. However, House hadn't ordered anything like that, Luthor might object, Chase wasn't sure it was actually a reasonable idea, and probably Clark would be vomiting again soon anyway. Instead, he went back to the chart and got the temperature recorded. "Thirty-eight point five. That's one hundred one point three, Fahrenheit. Not too bad." Chase wanted to sound reassuring.
Kent blinked big green eyes up at him. Wow. Chase found himself stroking the patient's hair back from his forehead, and quickly turned it into the back-of-the-hand temperature-checking gesture that some of the older, more motherly nurses sometimes still used. He hoped Luthor had missed that. Not only was it wrong to flirt with a patient, and a guy, but also it was dangerously foolish to let the wealthy, powerful criminal see you touching his boyfriend inappropriately. What was wrong with him today, anyway?
"I always run a little hot. My normal is about a hundred point five."
"Don't write that down," Luthor interrupted, unexpectedly touching Chase on the hand. Chase started and dropped his pen. He welcomed the chance to duck down and hunt for it as Luthor continued. "I don't want any permanent records kept of anything that would cause a problem for Clark later. Understand?"
"Yessir," Chase muttered.
"Lex!" Kent protested mildly. "You don't have to--"
Chase surfaced and cut him off. "It's okay. House explained." Those tired green eyes were just -- wow. Chase smiled at Kent again, trying to reassure him. "Your secret is safe. House always pretty much keeps his case notes on the whiteboard anyway, and I don't have to write down anything about what you say is normal for, for you. Dr. Cameron and I can easily work it all word-of-mouth."
"Thank you." Clark smiled, and Chase smiled back. Wow.
He shook himself a little and continued the preliminary examination. "Your oxygen saturation percentage is a little low. Ninety-six. Is that normal for you, too?"
"I don't know." Clark twisted a little, wincing as he moved (abdominal pain wasn't mentioned in any of the original assessments) and looked up at his grim-faced partner standing protectively next to the bed. "Lex? Do you know?"
Luthor shook his head, tight-lipped.
"Okay, then. It's not that low, but it shouldn't hurt any to set you up with a little oxygen." Chase looked over to Luthor for confirmation. "That's okay?"
Luthor nodded once. His eyes looked haunted, and Chase turned all his attention back to his work.
"All righty then." He arranged the lines and the cannula. "Comfortable?"
"Yeah," Clark replied. He looked like the nausea was getting the better of him again.
"How often have you been throwing up?"
"Mmm. It's getting pretty frequent." Clark's forehead wrinkled with the effort of remembering.
Luthor opened his laptop and tapped a few keys. He swiveled the screen around, and Chase saw that he'd been recording all the instances of vomiting for several days. "Can I get a printout of that?"
"No. Just remember it."
Chase ducked his head and looked at the screen again. Luthor had apparently first noticed Clark vomiting four days earlier, and the frequency had increased from once every twelve hours to once an hour since then. "Is there anything else, that you haven't mentioned?" Chase asked.
"Drooling," Clark said faintly from the bed. Abdominal pain, prostration, Chase added silently. Cuddy had told House the symptom had been occasional faintness, not complete exhaustion.
"I have as much of a family history here as I've ever been able to assemble," Luthor said, touching the laptop. "You can read through it, but don't make any copies."
"Dr. Cameron will be in shortly to take the history. I'll go arrange for an MRI."
As Chase had expected, Luthor followed him out into the hall. Whatever he or House had done to get rid of the nurses, it was still working. This whole end of the VIP floor looked abandoned. "Dr. Chase, a word with you--"
Suddenly exasperated, Chase turned on him. "Look. I know you're a rich man without scruples, and that you could destroy my career or kill me slowly or whatever. I don't know how to convince you that ruining that man's life by betraying his secrets to the world is nothing that I would ever want to do! I wish you'd just take my word for it, and I would hope we could skip the part where you slam me into the wall to show how serious you are!"
Unexpectedly, Luthor smiled. The expression completely transformed his face. "Okay," he said, and went back into Clark's room.
Dr. Cameron turned out to be a pert, skinny woman with a lot of brown hair. Lex decided to let Clark handle her -- she seemed well within his capabilities. Lex really was getting very low on sleep, and his head was beginning to hurt. The room came equipped with a second hospital bed. Lex let the doctor have the chair he'd been using; he sat on the spare bed, slipped off his shoes and put his feet up.
She began by earnestly reassuring Clark that his secret identity was safe with her, which was nice and in perfect accord with everything Lex's research had revealed about her. She burbled on for a while about how wonderful Clark was to go to so much effort, to help people all the time, etc., and Clark aw-shucks'ed at her. So far, so absolutely predictable.
"I'm sure you understand, Mr. Kent, that I need to take a very complete medical history. We really don't know anything about your species, so there's no way of telling, in advance, what would be pertinent and what would be irrelevant."
"I understand," Clark said. "And call me Clark?"
Lex could hear the pale reflection of that sunny smile in his voice. He dragged his eyes open to see it -- any chance to catch Clark's smile was precious; he knew he'd regret missing even one, if he lost him. Cameron was also stroking Clark's forehead; what the hell?
His possessive rage woke Lex up considerably.
"What can you tell me about your family?" Cameron asked, her hands more respectably back on her clipboard and pen.
Clark closed his eyes. "Well, they're all dead," he began wearily.
"Everything known about the planet Krypton and its inhabitants is right here," Lex interrupted, tapping his laptop case. He didn't want Clark to have to go through it all; he knew it made him sad to think about being the very last of his kind.
"Well, that could be a great time-saver, I suppose," Cameron said. "I'll just make a copy of the file--"
"No. You can read it all here, but don't take it out of my sight, and don't make any copies. This isn't a negotiable point."
"Mr. Luthor, I assure you that the highest degree of confidentiality will be respected at all times, and--"
"No," Lex cut her off again. He straightened up and rubbed his hand over his head. (Damn! He thought he'd broken himself of that weak habit, decades ago.) Lex pulled up the Kryptonian History file, and the Fighting Superman file, and the file he'd begun when Clark first admitted he was sick. "Here. All the available history is in this. But you'll read it here, with me, and you'll only keep notes in your head. Take it or leave it."
Clark threw up again. Lex winced. Cameron sighed.
"I'll take it."
House sat in the control room and watched through the glass as Chase brought the patient in and got him settled into the MRI machine. Cameron and Ten Million Dollar Boyfriend were nowhere to be seen.
He could see they were chatting, which was good. Chase knew his methods; House hoped he was applying them -- separating a couple in order to get both of their stories was always a good practice. Everybody lied, and the only way to find out anything like the truth was to listen to all of the different lies.
It might have been better for House to hear Clarabel's lies in person, but he found himself strangely uneasy about getting close to him. House seemed to be the only one, though -- Chase was practically cooing over the guy. He gently held the patient's hair back for him and helped him with the basin as Kent vomited yet again.
House clicked on the intercom. "Preserve that for analysis," he commanded.
"Of course," Chase answered. He gently wiped Kent's face and helped him lie straight on the table again, and then stroked his hair reassuringly. "It'll be all right. Lie still as you can, and let us know immediately if there's any discomfort."
"Thanks, Robert," Kent sighed. He gave Chase a tired but still gorgeous smile, and closed his eyes. The big ugly glasses went into Chase's lab coat pocket, to be returned after the test.
"Get in here," House said.
Chase patted the patient one last time and moved. House turned off the intercom and started the scan.
"Good job getting him away from the boyfriend. You find anything out?"
"He's been losing his appetite for two or three months. He kept it from Luthor so he wouldn't worry."
"Anything else? Affairs? Drug use? Any other secrets?"
"What, other than being Superman? Didn't seem to be." Chase went on about drooling, prostration, and stomach pain, but House tuned it out. None of it was dramatic enough to trigger any major ideas.
Superman. An alien. That was probably what was making Greg feel strange around the guy. News reports about Superman suggested, and personal observation seemed to back up, the notion that humans might respond to the Kryptonian instinctively. The stories tended to suggest either instant trust OR instant enmity. Maybe Greg's instincts were for the second response, as Luthor's own seemed to have been in the past. Chase and Cameron's reactions of attachment and cuddliness might either be the trust response that the newspapers indicated, looking different in person than in print, or something new and different -- maybe even a symptom. Or maybe Cameron was just rubbing off on Chase, and wasn't that a pretty picture?
Chase's exclamation interrupted House's ruminations. He looked at the screen.
"How is that even theoretically possible?" Chase complained.
"Did you check the calibration?" House asked, leaning over to twiddle knobs. He knew it wasn't that, though. The image was completely featureless. Apparently, Superman was invulnerable to magnetic resonance.
"Have you broken the MRI again? Cuddy will be pleased." Neither House nor Chase had noticed Wilson come in. Crap. House hurriedly shut the damn thing off.
"It's that shoddy Jewish construction," he groused, wheeling his chair out and away from the console to draw Wilson's attention more away from the machine.
It wasn't a complete success. "You're not supposed to turn it off like that, you know. This is a very delicate piece of equipment," Wilson scolded him.
At least Chase's running-and-hiding instincts were reliable. He was already getting Kent out of the tube and back onto the gurney. House continued to draw Wilson away -- he'd never forgive himself if Lex Luthor had Wilson killed, especially if it were House's fault.
"Well, nothing works up an appetite like damaging a million-dollar piece of equipment." House dusted his hands together, grabbed his cane, and lurched to his feet. "C'mon, Jimmy. Buy me lunch."
It was incredible. How could a man like that even exist? Cameron glanced through lowered eyelashes at the dangerous megalomaniac resting on the second bed. He didn't look normal, exactly, but neither did he resemble the monster portrayed in the computer files he'd freely let her examine.
The horrifying acts documented therein confirmed the worst conclusions that could be drawn from news reports and rumors, though. There were crimes described in here that nobody had ever been able to pin on him. Lex Luthor had never been convicted of anything, but if the information in this laptop could be handed over to the authorities -- he wasn't her patient, after all, Mr. Kent was, and...
"Don't even think it, Dr. Cameron," Luthor said, without opening his eyes.
Allison startled and clicked the computer shut. "Don't think what?" she challenged, weakly.
He opened his eyes, sat up, and smiled at her. "You still couldn't really prove anything, and Clark would be upset. So don't even think about trying to turn me in to the police, based on what you've read there."
Allison stood up, clutching Luthor's computer in her arms. "It's all right here," she persisted. "There are dates, names, places. It must be enough to convict you for at least something!"
He stood up and stretched. She couldn't keep from staring. The man's torso, his shoulders, the way he moved -- it had obviously been a little too long since that terribly embarrassing hookup with Chase. And Luthor was coming closer! Cameron swallowed hard and stood her ground.
He hadn't looked nearly so tall when his partner had been in the room.
"You know, Dr. Cameron, this world we share is gray." Luthor was standing so close that the breath of his speaking stirred her hair. Allison's heart was pounding.
"What do you mean?" she whispered, amazed that she could speak at all. It felt like her shoulders were up around her ears, and she'd never been so afraid in her life.
"You look at things as if the world were black and white." How could his voice be so calm? He was a criminal! "It's a flaw, one that I've struggled with myself. It feels to you as if there are good, pure people who deserve your help, and bad, corrupt people who deserve your scorn. Anyone who is good to you had better be good all the way, because when you see those feet of clay it seems like a personal betrayal. It seems like maybe nobody deserves your trust, like everyone is against you. You stop feeling like a member of the human race."
She could not tear her eyes away from his steely blue gaze.
"But you're wrong," he said mildly. "The world isn't black and white. Everyone and everything is painted solely in shades of gray. No one deserves your help. No one deserves your scorn. Whether you help or hurt them is up to you. It only reflects what kind of a person you are. I learned that from him. It took a long time, and I destroyed many, many things along the way."
Luthor stepped back. The laptop was in his hands now. Cameron didn't know how he'd gotten it away from her.
The door opened. Chase and an orderly brought Mr. Kent back in. Chase looked from Cameron to Luthor and back again. "Everything okay in here?" he asked dubiously.
Lex went straight to Clark, helping get him settled back into his bed. Cameron felt flustered, winded almost, as if she'd been running stairs and missed one. Chase looked as if he wanted to touch her shoulder. His hand was suspended in space for a second, and then he put it back on his clipboard.
"You okay?" he asked again.
"Fine. I have to go tell, uh, things to House." She pushed past him and left.
House finished teasing Wilson and eating his sandwich, and headed back up to Diagnostics. Cameron was already there, stabbing a plastic spoon into a small yogurt and looking upset. Surprise, surprise.
"What did you find out from the boyfriend?" he asked.
"That he's a criminal." Cameron got up and threw her unfinished yogurt into the trash.
House rolled his eyes. "Well, yeah. What did you find out from the boyfriend, about Mr. Upchuck?"
"He didn't let me take any notes, so you'll have to be patient." Cameron sat down and looked intent.
"I'm always patient," House grumbled quietly, but he paid attention to her anyway.
"He's the last of his species. Most of his kind were killed when their planet blew up. A few of them had been banished to some dimensional gap sort of a thing, but they've managed to kill themselves off over the years."
"As self-destructive as people," House murmured. "I like it."
Cameron gave him a Look, and went on. "But, of course, it means we can't get a healthy one to compare him to."
House made a face at her.
"All Luthor's notes indicated that he can be harmed only by two things: kryptonite, and magic. I know, I know. But Luthor seems to believe in it."
"So he thinks, what, somebody put a curse on him?"
"He didn't say that. His database had a huge number of incidents of Superman being attacked with kryptonite. Most of the time, it was Luthor himself doing the attacking."
"Don't start. The last time was almost two years ago. Luthor built some sort of a kryptonite blasting thing--"
"There were diagrams and stuff, but I didn't think it was relevant, and he wouldn't let me make copies." Cameron's voice was doing that high-pitched thing it did when she was getting a little too exasperated. House still needed to know what she knew, so he backed it down a step. He held his tongue and just waggled his eyebrows at her, and she went on. "So. This kryptonite blasting thing..." Cameron stopped and glared at him for a second, but he kept his mouth shut. "It was part of a big plan Luthor had to take Superman out and make it look as if Batman were responsible. Apparently, there's rivalry. And Luthor wanted to make it look as if there were more rivalry than there actually is, and--" Cameron must have noticed him closing his eyes and making imitation snoring sounds, because she stopped for a moment and pursed her lips disapprovingly, and then went on with actual information. "So the Joker, who seems to have some sort of weird fascination with Batman too, stole the device and used it, in some big public venue, not where it would look like Batman had done it."
House opened his eyes and straightened up. Ow. He checked the wall clock -- still half an hour yet. "I remember that. Ruined the Super Bowl."
"I guess. Anyway, Luthor couldn't stand it that the Joker had stolen his weapon and used it against his superfoe, so he decided to rescue him instead. There was a huge fight--"
"The fight was cool," House interrupted.
Cameron rolled her eyes at him and went on. "LuthorCorp Security captured the Joker--"
"Wasn't there a big jurisdictional squabble?" House was losing track of the story a little. His leg really hurt. He fiddled with his cane and tried not to look at the clock. It always moved way too slowly once he'd noticed it was almost time for his meds.
"Yeah. Luthor engineered that, actually, to draw the public's attention away from the question of what had happened to Superman. LuthorCorp maintained that since they were the ones who had taken custody of the Joker, he was subject to Kansas state law. LuthorCorp's headquartered in Metropolis, of course."
"And the Super Bowl that year was at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City, Missouri." He could take a pill. Cameron wouldn't know he was twenty-five minutes early.
"Um. Yes, it was. How do you remember things like that?"
"It's a guy thing." House gestured for her to go on.
She took a deep breath, which he appreciated -- both for its Cameron-refraining-from-nagging-him properties and the aesthetic effect. "Gotham City maintained that it had jurisdiction over the Joker, since he'd escaped from their custody, but Missouri was very happy to let Kansas take him. Midwestern unity, I suppose. He's been in Belle Reve State Sanitarium ever since."
"I'm surprised he hasn't broken out. It seems to be his specialty." House gave up and swallowed a Vicodin.
Cameron frowned at him. "Belle Reve is a notorious snake-pit, but people don't escape from it. It's no Arkham, that's for sure. The municipal warfare extended to the commercial field, too. Bruce Wayne of Wayne Industries seemed to take the whole thing personally; Luthor held onto his company by the skin of his teeth."
"So all this talk about tens of millions of dollars is a lot of hooey?"
"No, it all got straightened out eventually. His documentation even suggests that he and Bruce Wayne may have worked together on all the Business Section drama. Of course, Luthor's famous for being a little nuts himself. I'm quoting--" She closed her eyes and looked distant. House would be willing to bet good money that she didn't know how pretty she was like that. "He wrote, `I found him, nearly dead, buried in that clown's carnage. He looked up at me and knew me. He called me by name. I took him home and made him mine.' I'll leave the details of the `making' to your imagination." She looked a little flushed. Oh yeah, she'd read every word.
House smiled at her. The Vicodin was kicking in, and everything was starting to feel better. "So, he went from Superman to Rich Man's Darling. Is that all?"
"He's still Superman. I mean, he goes out on patrol and fights crime, works with the Justice League, rescues people from natural disasters...."
"He doesn't fight with Luthor any more, though. He's not regularly exposed to kryptonite, as he was in previous years. Unless that's a kink of theirs?"
Cameron made a face. "No! And trust me, if it were, it'd be in there."
"So maybe it's a deficiency. Maybe he needs a little dose of the poison to keep from getting sick."
"Like kids needing to be exposed to a certain amount of germs and dirt in order to avoid developing asthma!"
"Find out where to get some of this stuff -- Luthor should have a stockpile somewhere; ask him. Give it a try."
"Right." Cameron left the room. House leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
Clark was starting to get very tired of being wheeled around from place to place. Robert was a nice guy, and fun to listen to -- he reminded Clark a little of Jimmy -- but he seemed so disappointed when each test he tried was a total failure.
"Nothing," Dr. Chase sighed, running the cold, slippery wand over Clark's tummy. "I'd have thought this one would work!"
"Sorry," Clark whispered. All the barfing was making him really hoarse.
Chase smiled at him. He had a nice smile, but he looked tired. "I didn't expect the CT to work. Mr. Luthor told us you were immune to radiation. But an ultrasound scan is just sound. I've never heard that Superman was immune to sound!"
"I can hear it, actually -- the little noise the machine makes. Yeah, I didn't know that my skin blocked sound waves, either."
"Oh, well. House will think of something." Chase wiped Clark clean of the goo he'd squeezed onto him earlier.
"Delete the records the machine keeps, please?" Clark reminded him.
"I was just going to."
Clark's nausea was building again. It seemed to be getting faster and sharper, and he didn't know what to do. He closed his eyes and hoped he'd make it back to his room. There was a barf bowl on the gurney for him, but he didn't like the idea of throwing up in the hallways, in front of people.
He felt Chase's hand on his hair, soothing him. "It's all right," the doctor said. "You'll be okay. House will figure it out, and you'll be fine."
Clark nodded, but he didn't open his eyes. Wretched, that was the word. If he were writing this up for the paper, the word he'd use was wretched. He put a hand up to cover his eyes, and Chase caught it and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"It'll be all right. Honest. Here, do you need to throw up again before we head back up to your room? There's no one to see."
Clark nodded miserably, and did.
"Absolutely not," Lex said coldly.
"Mr. Luthor," she began again, exasperated with him. It was almost funny, the way that she'd bounced back so quickly from her earlier terror. Some girls were like that -- he remembered quite a few from days gone by, and briefly wondered what kind of diamond earrings would best suit Allison Cameron's face and hair. Not that she'd be willing to wear them afterwards, he'd wager. His tired mind was wandering. It didn't matter. He knew what she was saying, and she would not be able to convince him.
"Are you done?" he interrupted.
"No! Why won't you at least consider it?"
"We're done. Think of something else."
The blond guy (was it Chase? Not a good sign when he was forgetting people's names) wheeled Clark back in, and Lex went to him. He felt as if he had to touch Clark as much as he could, now, before he lost him forever. Lex hoped he wasn't mad enough to preserve the body and keep it with him always, his own Osiris, his own Philip the Handsome, but he wasn't making any guarantees.
"What's going on?" Clark whispered, his eyes darting from Lex's face to the enraged woman behind him.
"Nothing. Shh," Lex soothed, but Dr. Cameron didn't let it go. She came up to Clark's bedside. Lex felt like growling at her.
"Dr. House thinks that perhaps your illness is related to kryptonite, to a lack of exposure to kryptonite. Mr. Luthor's records indicate that you've been kept away from the mineral for almost two years, and that even in your childhood there was always a certain amount of it around. Have you ever avoided kryptonite for this long before?"
Clark licked cracked lips and blinked up at her. "That's a smart idea." He closed his eyes again. "Try it," he said.
"Clark, no!" Lex couldn't believe that he was willing to do this. He put his hand on Clark's face, noticed that Dr. Chase already had a hand on his shoulder and actually did growl at the man. Chase jerked backwards with a satisfying look of fear, and Lex felt a little better. He turned back to his boyfriend. "Clark, this is nuts. There's no way in hell that kryptonite is good for you!"
Tired green eyes stabbed him to the heart. He'd only seen them look that beaten, that weary, once before. The Joker was going to fry slowly in his own greasepaint. Then Lex would heal him up with all the worst experimental treatments he'd ever come up with and torture him to death again. "Clark, listen to me, please. Isn't it more likely that you're sick as a delayed reaction to almost dying from the kryptonite in Kansas City? There's no way, there's just no way..."
"It's worth a try. Please, Lex." Clark swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "I'm not sure how much more of this I can take."
Lex stepped back and ran his hand over his head. He didn't even care who saw. He took his cell out of his pocket, flipped it open and dialed. "Mercy? Lex. Bring me some k. How long? That quickly?" His next ragged breath was not in any way a sob. "Fine. I'll be waiting."
It wasn't long. It wasn't long enough. Lex knew that Mercy had most likely been on guard outside the hospital ever since they'd arrived. She had a lot of autonomy these days, protecting Lex however she saw fit. She was the best security he'd ever had, not that there was a lot of competition for the title. He'd had no idea that she still carried kryptonite with her, but that was the only way she could possibly promise to be here that fast with some. He didn't know whether to be grateful or enraged, and he didn't have time to decide which.
Mercy stepped into the room less than five minutes after he called. She no longer wore the mini-skirted chauffeur's uniform of evil, but she still always dressed in black, and looked like something dangerous. Lex knew that she was willing and able to incapacitate everyone in the room and get him out of there. It would have been a comforting thought, if his own life were a thing he cared about today.
"Boss," she greeted him.
"Mercy," he acknowledged. "Do you have it?"
She walked smoothly up to him and reached into her shoulder holster, under her jacket. Lex noticed Dr. Chase was transfixed by the sight of her. On another day it would have been enough to make him smile.
Mercy handed over a small object wrapped in lead foil. "Bullet," she said. "I don't have many left."
She had a very good poker face, but Lex knew her well enough to see that she was curious. Explaining would delay having to expose Clark to the kryptonite, and there was always the small chance that the plan would really be so insane that she'd say something; that used to happen sometimes.
"The doctors here think that Clark may be sick because it's been too long since he was last exposed to kryptonite. They want to try..." Lex looked at Clark and didn't finish the sentence. He really didn't want to do this.
"Exposing him," Mercy finished. She looked calm. She looked stolid and goddamn reliable. She wasn't going to object.
Lex sighed. He handed Dr. Cameron the bullet. "Fine," he said.
Chase watched nervously as Cameron unwrapped the lead foil from the kryptonite bullet. He hoped he was ready for whatever would happen. As the intensivist, it was his job to keep the patients alive until House's genius worked its magic. As so often before, he thought this treatment was probably a really bad idea.
Immunology was Cameron's field, so he stood back and let her get on with it. Luthor's bodyguard stood back, too, looking alert and ready to spring. Chase tore his attention away from her; he had to be ready to help the moment that something went wrong. What good is a doctor if he's too busy ogling the help to be of any use?
As Cameron brought the bullet towards Clark, it began to glow with an unearthly (literally! Chase thought with a shudder) green light. Clark groaned and closed his eyes, seeming to shrink away from the evil-looking radiation.
"That's enough!" Luthor said.
"It's less than one second's exposure," Cameron argued, continuing to advance.
"It's okay," Clark choked out hoarsely.
Luthor gestured to Mercy, and she holstered a small dull-black revolver. Chase hadn't even noticed her draw it.
Just as the bodyguard was getting her gun stowed away, Clark suddenly started to have convulsions. Chase rushed to the bed, only to be thrown to the ground as Clark's uncontrolled flailing knocked Cameron into him.
The kryptonite flew up into the air and landed on Clark's neck; the lead foil thudded to the floor. Chase rolled out from under Cameron and got up, but Mercy had been diving for the bullet and was knocked into him as well.
Struggling to his feet a second time, Chase could hardly believe how horribly the alien mineral affected Clark. He stood still for a split-second, stupefied by the appalling sight.
Wading straight into those powerfully convulsing limbs again seemed counter-productive; so he pulled Mercy clear from Cameron and up, and she let him. Mercy somehow slipped past the dangerous arms and finally (although the whole fiasco had really only taken a few seconds from beginning to end) was able to re-wrap the lethal missile in the lead foil she'd retrieved from the floor. Chase was just a moment behind her, checking the patient's breathing and heartbeat.
The horribly distended, blackened veins receded into the skin as he watched. The convulsions ceased. Chase cleared Clark's airway (desperately trying not to think about how easily he could lose a finger) and was reassured to find that Clark could breathe on his own. He adjusted the oxygen cannula, which had been displaced during the fracas.
"Clark?" No response. "Clark, can you hear me?" Nothing. Chase got out his penlight and checked Clark's pupils. They were okay. The O2 sats were down to 94 -- not that bad. He could hear Cameron getting up behind him. "All right. Patients are frequently unconscious after a seizure. It's no reason to worry," he said, almost to himself.
"Get out," Luthor said. He was at the window, for some reason -- oh. The blinds had previously been closed all around for privacy, but yellow sunlight was supposedly Superman's source of strength. He must have--
"Get out!" Luthor repeated.
Chase realized he was in danger. "Right, well, I'll just go get those lab results," he ventured, hands frantic to make sure the O2 tube was really secure before Luthor killed him dead. Cameron was already leaving.
"GET OUT!" Luthor roared.
"So what you're saying is that it may have worked." House tossed his ball up towards the ceiling and caught it.
"No, what I'm saying is that Lex Luthor is a menace, and he should be locked up," Cameron huffed.
"But you don't know if the kryptonite worked." Toss. Catch. "Because you left."
"His assistant has a gun," Cameron persisted. Her hair was all messed up. House kind of liked it that way. "How did she even get a gun in here? Aren't we supposed to have metal detectors now? Maybe it's a composite. Aren't those illegal in New Jersey?"
"You're babbling." House clunked his chair back into the upright position and grabbed his cane. "What happened to Chase, anyway? You throw him out of the sleigh?"
Cameron looked at him like he'd lost his mind. He sighed. She'd be so much more fun if she could keep up. He wished he knew what she'd be like in ten or fifteen years. By the time she was old enough to really banter with, he'd probably be dead. "To distract the pursuing wolves," he muttered, hating how lame it always sounded when he had to explain stuff like that.
"No, I ran away on my own," Chase said, coming in with a handful of papers. "I got the analysis back on that vomit."
"You say the sweetest things. Gimme."
Chase handed the papers over and sat down, saying, "There's nothing there, though. It's mostly just water, with a little bit of some unidentifiable proteins and traces of sulphur and magnesium."
House grunted noncommittally.
"The CT and ultrasound were just as featureless as the MRI," Chase went on.
"How can an ultrasound be featureless?" Cameron asked.
"Don't know. His skin must block sound waves or something. He said he could hear them, though."
"Which also should be impossible," Cameron muttered.
The kids were silent for a few moments, letting House make a little more sense of the lab analysis. On the one hand, he'd kind of like to run it himself, because the lab never did anything exactly the way he liked it. On the other hand, vomit.
"Wait. Doesn't Superman have x-ray vision?" Cameron asked. "We could just have him look at himself and tell us what he sees."
"Sure, if he were a trained physician and knew what he was looking for," House answered absently.
"And if he were conscious," Chase added.
"This looks sort of like a nonapeptide," House mused, scratching his eyebrow. "Vasopressin is a nonapeptide. Maybe whatsisname is vomiting all the time because nothing's going out the other way. Do aliens have kidneys? What's his output?"
Nobody answered. House looked at them. Cameron wouldn't meet his eyes, but Chase did.
"It's not charted because you got rid of the nurses. And I'm not going back in there to ask about it. Luthor will kill me."
"Or he'll have that woman do it," Cameron put in.
House was disgusted with them. "This is why I need Foreman around. You girls are scaredy cats." He pulled himself to his feet and stumped to the door.
"Where are you going?" Cameron asked, touchingly (typically!) alarmed.
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," he quipped. Honestly, such worrywarts.
"Not alone," she declared, getting up.
"What? Let him!" Chase sputtered.
"Chase," Cameron said, fixing him with a stern eye. Wow, only one night together and she bossed him around like an old married woman. It was probably just as well that his own date with her had turned out so badly. (Just keep telling yourself that.)
"Fine," Chase said. He got up and came along.
As House and his girly-man posse stepped out into the hallway, Small Intense Asian Girl Who Sits in the Front Row swept by with her own little flock of white-coats. She was self-importantly explaining clinic duty to them. (Good God -- they had younger med students than Small Intense Asian Girl Who Sits in the Front Row now? She couldn't be an intern already, could she? Damn, he was getting old.)
"It's very important," SIAGWSitFR declared, "to always ask every patient the standard questions." She tapped her clipboard. "They're on your checklist. Always ask them! For instance, ask every female patient if she could be pregnant, even if she seems too old or too young. Skip it, and you will end up getting sued!"
House stopped dead for a second. The kids barely avoided running into him. "Oxytocin is a nonapeptide!" he said, and laughed.
"Oxytocin? But that's..." Cameron's voice trailed off to nothing.
"It's an idea," Chase said. "Wow."
Halfway to the patient's room, they ran across Wilson in the hallway.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "I heard a patient's bodyguard threw you out of a room at gunpoint."
"Patient's boyfriend's bodyguard, and it wasn't me." House gestured at the kids with his chin, and kept walking.
"And now you're going...?"
"Back to the patient's room, yes."
"Of course." Wilson fell into step with him. "Shouldn't you give the patient's boyfriend a while to cool down? Before you get shot again."
"Nah. This'll be neat, anyway. Wanna come with? You'll have to be sworn to secrecy, and you may have to falsify some medical records for me later." House was amused to hear Cameron sputtering behind them, but all the kids knew better than to interrupt when he was talking to grownups.
"What are friends for?" Good old Wilson!
So this is it, then, Lex thought. We're going to die. This is how it ends. He listened to Clark breathe. Less than an hour ago, he'd still been able to speak. It seemed fitting that Superman's last words had been wrongly optimistic, and had led to his death. Clark never was the brightest hero in the League.
Mercy was outside guarding the door. Lex would just stay there listening, resting his head on the edge of Clark's bed until the breathing stopped. No one would see him. No one would know if his eyes were wet. When Clark's breathing stopped, that would be the time to become Luthor again. He'd have Mercy call Bruce Wayne -- let Batman deal with Superman's body. Once Clark was gone, there was nothing sane to do except to dissect it or to bury it with full pomp and honor. Lex didn't want to do either.
He'd destroy Belle Reve, leaving not one stone upon another. He'd pluck the Joker from the ruins and torture him to death slowly. Then he'd put a bullet in his own brain -- the same kryptonite bullet that had killed Clark. He'd have to ask Mercy to cremate his body right away -- his mutant metabolism might heal a fatal head wound given enough time.
He had a plan. He wanted never to have to use it. It was so much better to sit here, all alone, with tears in his eyes, listening to his lover's last labored breaths.
Mercy opened the door and let a bunch of people into the room.
"Traitor," Lex growled at her, sitting up and hastily wiping his face.
She just rolled her eyes at him and closed the door again.
They descended upon Clark like birds upon a carcass. Lex could still do rage. "What's the meaning of this?" he demanded.
Cameron and Chase, eyes wide, drew in closer to House. The dark-haired doctor whom Lex had never seen before approached him, making soothing noises. Lex glared him to a stop.
"Doctor stuff," House said. He hooked his cane onto the rail of Clark's deathbed, pulled the covers back and opened up Clark's gown. He started palpating Clark's abdomen and chest. Lex remembered that House's original exam had been rather hastily curtailed after he'd broken off three needles trying to get a blood sample. He wondered what the doctor thought he'd missed.
"Has he vomited at all since you scared away my delicate little flowers, here?" House asked, without looking at him.
"No," Lex said, anger bleeding away in tiredness and curiosity.
"So it's been... what? Forty-five minutes?" House asked.
"About that," Chase answered. "Maybe a little longer. Fifty or fifty-five, I'd say. Just before we left Ultrasound."
"Hmm. That could be bad," House muttered.
Lex was now thoroughly confused. The dark-haired man touched him gently on the shoulder. "Let's step back and let them work," he suggested reasonably.
"Who are you?" Lex hadn't slept more than two hours out of the last forty-eight, and events were moving too fast for him. At least they were moving again, though he wasn't entirely sure how. Any movement at all away from Clark's imminent death was a good thing.
"I'm Dr. James Wilson." He had a good handshake -- reassuring, solid. Before Lex could gather his wits to threaten him for his silence, Wilson said, "Don't worry. House filled me in, a little, and all your secrets are absolutely safe with me. All his secrets, too." Lex let Wilson draw him away from Clark's bedside, just a few feet. The space was quickly filled by Dr. Chase.
"What are they doing to him?" Lex asked. Wilson's hand was warm on his shoulder.
"House has a theory, based on some results that came back from the lab on...."
"Ha ha!" House declared. Lex couldn't quite see what he was doing -- Chase was in the way. "Told you so! Colostrum!"
"Oh, my God," Cameron said.
"And that's why fifty minutes without vomiting would be bad?" Chase guessed.
"Yup. They were up to about twenty minutes apart before the kryptonite treatment, weren't they?"
"About that," Chase answered.
"How are you going to, uh, get him started again? It's not like you can inject Pitocin," Cameron wondered.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Lex asked, but nobody answered him. He shouldered in past Chase. Wilson didn't stop him.
"Oldest trick in the book," House told his fellows. He pinched Clark's nipples and began rolling them between thumb and forefingers.
Lex took three steps to get around the other side of the bed, and punched House in the nose, knocking him to the floor. Chase and Wilson grabbed Lex by the arms and held him back. Cameron grabbed some gauze and knelt beside her boss, wiping the blood off his face.
"How dare you!" Lex shouted.
"Mr. Luthor! Please!" Chase shouted as Lex struggled to get free.
Clark groaned loudly, rolled onto his side, and threw up. Lex had never been so cheered by something so disgusting. He stopped trying to kill House immediately.
Chase let go of Lex's arm and went to Clark's side. Cameron helped House up. Lex shook himself loose from Wilson (who didn't try very hard to keep him) and grabbed Clark's hand.
Clark's eyes were open, big and green and full of baffled pain. "Lex?" he whispered.
"Right here," Lex answered thankfully.
Chase cleaned Clark up, and then he and Cameron transferred Clark over to the still-clean second bed. House washed the blood from his face in the attached bathroom, and Wilson helped him. Lex held Clark's hand the whole time.
House stumped back in from the restroom. He didn't act too surprised at having been attacked by a patient's loved one, but then again Lex's researches had revealed that it happened frequently.
"That's going on your bill," House grumbled.
Lex didn't apologize. He kept hold of Clark's hand while House examined his throat with a penlight and poked around some more.
Finally House splayed his hands across Clark's lower ribcage, just below and slightly to the left of his breastbone. "You still have x-ray vision?"
Clark swallowed and nodded. "It's not really x-rays," he choked out.
House cut the explanation off. "Look right here, right under my hands," he instructed.
"What am I looking for?" Clark asked faintly. He'd been gradually losing his voice all day, Lex thought.
"I think you'll know it when you see it."
Clark obligingly narrowed his eyes and tried to curl up so he could look into his own stomach. He was having a hard time getting the angle right, so Lex helped prop his head up with pillows. Suddenly Clark gasped. He looked up at the doctor.
"So, congratulations are in order?" House said.
"I.... How?" Clark looked very confused.
"Well, you'd know how a lot better than I would," House leered.
"The stomach's a pretty good incubation chamber, theoretically, as long as an acidic environment isn't a concern and the parent organism can afford to do without food for a while. There are fish that are mouth-brooders. It's not that different. Can you see the heart beat?"
Clark nodded, eyes rapt and fixed on (or just past, Lex realized) House's hands. "Fast," he whispered. "Like a little bird."
"How big is the head?"
Clark looked again, and made a circle a couple of inches across with his fingers. He smiled suddenly. "It's a boy," he breathed.
"Wait," Lex protested, "there's a baby? Clark's..."
"Pregnant. That's your diagnosis. You can write Cuddy a check." He patted Clark gingerly on the head. "Your throat's almost big enough already. You'll be fine. It's only a matter of time, now. There, there."
"All this has been morning sickness?" Lex said in disbelief.
"Nope!" House picked up his cane and headed for the door. "All this has been labor. Chase, go swipe some stuff from Obstetrics. Cameron, get some ice chips or something. The patient seems a little dehydrated. And clean up that other bed."
"Labor?" Lex whispered. They were going to have a baby? Now?
Clark didn't stop beaming even when he leaned over and threw up again.
Luthor's associates sure put the `pretty' in `pretty damn dangerous', House thought as he limped out past the gorgeous bodyguard's watchful eye. He gave himself a 9.4 for the exit -- would have been higher if Wilson had come with, doing that synchronized walking thing he was so good at.
They put the `pretty' in `pretty damn weird', too, and he was just as glad it was time for General Hospital so he had a good reason to leave. He'd never admit it to anybody but himself, but this whole crazy pregnant alien situation gave him a raging case of the heebie-jeebies.
"Dr. House!" Luthor called from behind him.
There was way too much corridor left before the elevator for Greg to have any hope of getting away, so he stopped and turned around. Luthor caught up with him in no time at all, he noted bitterly. Armed-and-Lethal Babe came along, a lovely looming presence five feet behind her boss's right shoulder-blade.
"You're just leaving?" Luthor stopped and took a breath, and continued in a calmer voice. "That's quite a bombshell to drop, and then just leave."
"Diagnosis is made, and I have other things that demand my attention. Important things." He'd been wondering for weeks now whether Jason would end up with Carly or Sonny. "My team is there. And Dr. Wilson has delivered more babies than any other oncologist in New Jersey. Always getting trapped in elevators with pregnant women. It's like a fetish for him." Go away go away go away, he thought. House hated how that almost never worked. He was missing his damn soap.
"Mercy," Luthor said, confusingly. He put a hand out without looking back, and his bodyguard handed him a slip of paper. He gave it to House.
It was a check for twenty million dollars, made out to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. The memo field said `donation'. It was signed and looked legitimate.
"You have twenty million in checking?" House blurted.
Luthor stared up at him with an unnervingly calm gray-blue gaze. It was as if handling obscene amounts of money had restored his equilibrium. "Fifty million more if Clark survives all of this, if he gets better. And another thirty million if the baby does. That would more than replace Vogler's money, and should do quite a bit to restore your credibility with the Board." Luthor looked House up and down and smirked. "Of course, it won't solve your numerous personality defects."
"Oh, yeah? Well, you hit like a girl." House mentally winced the moment the weak comeback was out of his mouth.
Luthor and his bodyguard both smiled at that one, genuinely amused. House watched them go back to Kent's door. Then he turned and hobbled away.
All through GH, the check was burning a hole in his pocket. Stupid billionaire, ruining his enjoyment of his soap opera.... As soon as the ending credits rolled, he made his way up to Cuddy's office, ready to put a triumphant face on things.
"She's not here!" lisped the latest boy-toy, popping out from behind a filing cabinet.
"I can see that," House grumbled, letting her office door close behind him. "Where is she?"
"On vacation. Vegas, I think. I'll take that!" Secretary Boy swooped in and plucked the check from House's hand. "Very nice!" he exclaimed.
Cuddy was gone? "She didn't tell me she was going on vacation," he mused.
"Could it be because, oh yes! You're not the boss of her! It's the other way around! See?"
Well, it was obvious why this was the one she kept. House ignored the assistant's antics and headed back down to Diagnostics.
"I'll see this gets deposited properly!" Tinkerbelle fluted after him.
"You do that," House muttered. Where had Foreman gone for his vacation? If it was Las Vegas, too, then life was beginning to resemble a soap opera even more than usual.
Clark had never felt like this before. The nausea was getting to be an old thing, and he still hated it, but there was an excitement that filled him up in a way that made the nausea hard to worry about. Seeing the baby had completely changed the experience. His goal was no longer for this whole ugly illness to just please end; now he wanted only for his baby to be born, alive and healthy and preferably soon. He almost welcomed each fresh wave of sickness, as bringing him closer to this new goal. Now that he knew what was happening, it was kind of exciting and almost even fun.
Robert came back in, with a lot of things stacked in a plastic box on wheels -- oh! That was a little hospital crib! They were going to put his baby in that!
Clark bent and looked at him -- it was easier now that he knew exactly where he was. Man, he was so cute! And tiny. "Is he supposed to be that tiny?" Clark hoarsely asked the doctors, before another wave of nausea took him.
Allison held the bowl for him and stroked back his hair. Clark saw her exchanging glances with Robert and James. As soon as he was mostly done retching, she said, "We don't know, Clark. This has never happened before. You have to prepare yourself for the possibility..." She couldn't finish.
"You mean he might die." He remembered that horrible summer years before, Lex's second wedding -- the time he killed Mom's baby. "Oh, God," he croaked, and felt sick in a way that didn't help at all. He looked at the baby again.
"Don't worry." Robert was quickly and competently setting up all kinds of things on the other side of the room. "I've done a lot of work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I'll take very good care of him," he promised.
"You're in good hands, Clark," Allison said, patting him on the shoulder. He felt somewhat reassured, but still --
"Where's Lex?" he whispered.
"I'll go look for him," James offered, getting up from his place at the side of Clark's bed.
Allison stopped him. She spoke very quietly, and Clark's hearing had been dwindling for almost a month, but it was still good enough to pick up her words. "You've delivered way more babies than I have. I'll go."
When Mercy stopped just outside the door, Lex stopped, too. Mercy was still smiling. She'd enjoyed seeing Dr. House reduced to playground taunts just as much as he had.
It was almost like old times.
Lex let himself enjoy it for one small moment. Then he turned his attentions back to the present.
"I assume you heard..." he began.
"Alien baby," Mercy finished for him, quietly.
He nodded once, too tired to panic. He took a deep breath. "So," he went on, "Clark may live through this."
"I hope he does," she said calmly.
"And," he went on, "there may... or may not...." He had to stop. It was too hard. His chest hurt, and all the fun of taunting House had evaporated.
"I'll handle it."
He looked at her, wide-eyed. What?
She smiled at him, just for a second; then she was as blank and as lethal as always. The weapons-grade heels she wore always put her eyes exactly one inch lower than his. It was familiar and comforting in this latest bizarre world.
"I'll get a nursery set up, and supplies laid in. If things don't work out, you'll never even have to see it."
Lex let his head hang down. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Hey." She touched him on the cheek. He looked up at her, and she smiled. "It's my job to take care of you."
Dr. Cameron came out into the hallway. "Mr. Luthor? Clark's asking for you."
Lex went in, and Mercy took out her phone.
So, Cuddy wasn't around to torment. House went back to Diagnostics to look for his Gameboy. There was nobody there. He looked around to be sure, then got out his Pokemon game.
All alone, all alone -- maybe it was just coincidence that Cuddy suddenly decided to go on vacation right when Foreman got bounced from the premises.
Pikachu stood forgotten in the tall grass as House's attention wandered from the game.
Maybe Foreman had taken a leaf from Cameron's playbook. Maybe he'd made demands -- bargained with the woman who had the power to put him in charge of Diagnostics if she wanted. Maybe he'd told Cuddy he'd only oblige Luthor with his absence if she'd come along with him. Cuddy's fertility treatments made her hormonal. Foreman was a handsome man, forceful, ambitious -- some women went for that type. At least, they always did on the soaps.
Why wasn't anybody around? He needed to tell somebody about this. He wanted to hear the kids' guesses, and talk things over with Wilson. Stupid alien pheromones. Yes, the diagnostic process had been kind of interesting, and Luthor's donations should put him in Cuddy's good graces for a while. (Unless this whole Foreman thing set Hell's foundations a-quivering -- just because 613 turned out to be a loser, that didn't mean she had to give up on the bottled stuff entirely and switch over to draft -- especially not with Foreman!)
House switched off his Gameboy and tossed it in a desk drawer. He was convinced that the pregnant alien was putting out some sort of signal, chemical or maybe sonic or even electromagnetic, which made his team behave as they'd been behaving. Probably that was how it had snagged Luthor originally, when it had been badly injured at the Super Bowl. It would be a valuable survival technique -- kittens did it all the time -- I'm cute and harmless! Love me! Take care of me!
House didn't want to go back to Kent's room.
Everybody he wanted to talk to about Cuddy and Foreman was there for the duration, though. (If only he could remember why it was that Foreman's mom was living in a long-term nursing facility! Alzheimer's meant he was probably fine, but if it was just some sort of traumatic brain injury....)
House grabbed his cane and headed back to Clark's room.
Retching, Clark rolled up onto his knees and elbows. When the fit passed, he let his head bow down to touch the bed. Sweat dripped into his eyes, and he closed them.
"You're doing great, Clark," Allison said, brushing his hair back for him. "Do you want to lie back down now?"
Clark shook his head. He didn't really think he could explain, especially since he didn't really think he could talk, but this posture felt right.
"It's okay," James said. "Whatever position seems easiest." He reached under Clark to feel his throat and jaw. The place where the kryptonite bullet had landed earlier was just a little lump, and it didn't hurt anymore. Wilson's hands were gentle, as were Dr. Cameron's hands on Clark's back. Lex's iron grip on Clark's forearm was quite the contrast, but it was all comforting -- having people around him, caring, while this was happening to him. Clark affectionately bumped Lex's shoulder with his forehead, and then it was time to heave again.
Oh, that was different. Clark felt his jaw doing something -- something wrong -- and he opened his eyes. His chin was stretching out, and down, way further than it should have been able to go, and he was horribly reminded of that time he caught Jodi Melville crouched over Pete, so many years ago in Smallville. He sort of moaned -- the only sound he could make now. Lex was holding so tight to him that his hands were shaking, and Lex's breathing sounded sort of terrified, but Allison and James were both being very calm and matter-of-fact; it helped Clark keep from panicking.
"You're doing fine, Clark," Allison reassured him again, as the spasm passed. "Just remember to breathe."
"Nothing to worry about," James added, nimble fingers skimming lightly along and behind Clark's grossly distended jaw, then back along his throat. "It feels like the jaw is supposed to dislocate itself like this."
He doesn't know, though, Clark thought. This has never happened here, ever.
Lex must have noticed his building anxiety. "Clark," he said, and waited until Clark met his eyes. "Like an egg-eating snake." Lex half-smiled at him, and Clark knew he was remembering the same PBS nature show that Clark was, the same Sunday afternoon -- very possibly the day they'd conceived this baby.
He couldn't exactly smile, but he wanted to. The next instant, another fit of vomiting seized him. Something broke at the base of his throat, inside; bright blood gushed from his distended mouth, and things started to move. Clark's baby uncoiled and started pouring up his throat; he couldn't keep watching it, instinctively lowering his head to his hands and thrusting his huge chin forward to straighten the baby's path. He groaned as the baby came up into his mouth; he could feel its head against the back of his tongue.
And then it stopped.
Clark gagged and choked and tried to cough. The baby was stuck; Clark couldn't breathe; he started to writhe and twist, accidentally throwing Allison and James to the floor.
Lex grabbed him by the ear and held on. "Don't panic!" he ordered.
Somehow, Clark stilled himself, quivering on all fours like a frightened horse. Another wave hit; he gagged and gagged, and the baby didn't shift. He could feel its tiny struggles.
"Forceps!" James yelled, and Robert handed him something. James tried to use the forceps to grab Clark's baby, but he couldn't get a grip.
"Pulse ox down to 92," Allison said. "He's not breathing!"
"Clark can go almost three hours without air," Lex said quietly, "when he's well."
"Try to relax your throat," James said.
Clark tried; it just wasn't working. James gave Robert the forceps, and went around to push upwards against Clark's stomach. Robert couldn't seem to get a grip, either. The pushing made Clark try to vomit the baby up, but it wasn't working. Nothing was working.
"Get the kryptonite back!" Allison suggested urgently. "We'd be able to operate!"
"No," said Lex.
"Kryptonite should reduce his invulnerability; we can--"
"NO!" Lex yelled.
Allison shrank back.
Robert, still fruitlessly trying to work the forceps into Clark's throat around the baby's head, pointed out, "Remember the convulsions? We'd never make it, and the baby'd be crushed."
No, Clark thought, don't die! Baby, don't die! He thought it was struggling less than before.
House came in. "Did you guys hear about Cuddy and Foreman?" He took a split second to see what was going on in the room. "Cameron," he ordered, "close the blinds." She rushed to the window.
"Give me those," House said to Robert, who handed over the forceps and gave way.
Clark instinctively shrank back, and he realized he didn't trust House like he trusted the others. There was no comfort in his touch.
"Relax," House grumbled. "I won't hurt him. Much." He hooked his cane on Clark's bed-rail.
Lex made Clark stay still -- even though Clark could have easily broken free of Lex's hands on his shoulders, the very fact that Lex was holding him there was enough to make him stay. Thinking about it, Clark knew that House was probably the only hope his baby had, but it wasn't thinking that made him stay there and let House put his hands in his mouth. They were strong hands, from years of bearing the weight his bad leg couldn't, and Clark found he was a little afraid of them.
House talked as he worked. "You've pretty much delivered the head. Rounded skull pushes its way past a lot of things. But the point of the shoulder here is caught... On what? you say. There's a spot of tissue here, that must have regenerated after the damage the kryptonite bullet did. That little bit of throat hasn't been effaced like the rest has, and the shoulder is jammed up behind it -- no way back, no way around, but the baby's been in the dark all this time; it shouldn't be invulnerable yet, and if I can -- ha!"
Clark felt a snap. The baby jerked. What had he done?
"Heimlich!" House barked to Wilson.
James stopped the gentle steady pressure he'd been exerting against Clark's stomach, and got behind him on the bed. He put both arms around him and squeezed sharply, driving his fists up underneath the center of Clark's ribcage.
Clark coughed, and the baby slithered out of his mouth and into his hands. He was covered with blood, and kicking weakly. There was a twisty little cord still dangling from Clark's mouth down to his son's belly. Chase elbowed in next to House with a blanket and some surgical scissors.
House stepped awkwardly back. "Broke the clavicle," he explained to Lex. "It happens often enough in childbirth. Chase'll bandage it up. It'll heal."
Clark looked down at his baby. Robert put the blanket partly around him, tied off his umbilical cord, and tried to cut it. It was too tough. Clark took two deep breaths, and then threw up again. This time, it was a thing about as big as his hand, that looked like a piece of raw liver. It was attached to Conner (When did he decide on a name? Clark wondered) by his umbilical cord.
Without thinking about it, Clark leaned down and bit the cord off, just where Robert had tied it. Then he collapsed onto the bed, on his side, carefully not squashing his son. His jaw was back to normal size, but it felt very sore, as did his throat. He was tired.
"May I?" Robert asked, hesitant hands not quite touching the baby. Lex nodded for him, and Chase took Conner away, just to the other side of the room, and started cleaning him and checking him over.
Lex leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. "You did good, Clark," Lex whispered. "He's beautiful."
When Chase saw the size of the baby, his heart fell. His experiences in the NICU informed him that such a small infant had a low chance of survival, and his experiences dealing with rich men informed him that he would suffer for any less-than-ideal outcome. It was bad enough that House had had to fracture the clavicle to deliver him.
The only thing to do was to follow procedure. Whatever would happen, would happen.
The first encouraging thing was when the cord wouldn't cut, and Clark leaned over and bit it through. That reminded him that this was an alien baby, Superman's baby, and he might have been a little hasty in assuming such a poor prognosis. Although, from what he'd seen from across the room, the extension of Clark's jaw would have accommodated a considerably larger delivery -- follow procedure! He could do that.
His one-minute Apgar assessment was encouraging, too -- he'd never have expected an 1190-gram preemie to score a seven. He suctioned the tiny mouth, and unwrapped the baby a little to check on movement -- the little bastard kicked his hand, hard, and then pissed on him! Chase laughed out loud. The noise must have startled the baby, because he started to cry -- an insistent, high-pitched mewing, like a lost kitten. That brought his five-minute Apgar up to nine, and that meant he'd probably be fine -- if a half-Kryptonian baby really could be evaluated by the same standards as a regular baby, anyhow.
Chase bandaged the shoulder, wrapped the baby up warmly, and made sure that his little knit cap wouldn't fall off. Then he brought him back to his parents to say hello.
Maybe he needn't have worried about what Luthor would do if the baby didn't make it. The bald megalomaniac had eyes only for his partner, who lay on his side in the blood-stained bed, arms crossed protectively over his chest, wincing, with a confused look on his face.
Chase had a flash of more-than-ordinary sympathy for the fussing kid in his arms. He knew what it was to be ignored by a father. Then Clark looked up, his attention probably drawn by the mewing sounds. Faster than Chase could see, Clark zipped over and took the baby from his hands. His enormous smile gave him the face of an angel, despite the gore that still streaked his chin and chest. Chase knew from the look in his eyes that Superman's son would be loved.
Lex was glad to see Clark could still move. The blood had been an unpleasant surprise, but he'd get Mercy to dispose of the bedding safely, very soon. No one would misappropriate anything.
Clark's crying son sounded like a kitten up a tree. Lex smiled at this explanation for one of Superman's most idiosyncratic habits. He smiled, and kept smiling -- he couldn't stop. Clark was okay.
The doctors were talking, but he paid them no mind. House sent the girl -- Cameron, that was it, why was he having such trouble remembering names today -- to open the blinds again. Lex liked the way Clark's skin drank in the sunlight.
Clark was jostling the baby, cuddling it, and wincing as if something still hurt. The baby was crying. Cameron was fluttering around with a damp cloth and a clean gown, apparently trying to get Clark wiped off and changed out of the bloody one. House and Wilson were joking quietly, near the window. Chase was talking to Clark and seemed to be trying to take the baby back from him, maybe to help Cameron.
Clark seemed reluctant to hand him over. The baby kept crying. Lex became uneasy.
Suddenly he realized that was his baby, not just Clark's. He'd known it abstractly before, but it hadn't actually hit him until just that moment.
He got up and wobbled over to Clark. "I've got him," he said. "You get into some clean clothes."
"Conner's still crying," Clark complained, and winced again.
"I've got him," Lex repeated, and Clark let him take him. So small! But he seemed okay. Lex stroked the tiny cheek, and the baby turned and tried to get his fingertip into its mouth. "He's hungry," Lex said quietly, almost to himself.
"What the heck?" Clark said, at the same time, staring in confusion at the front of his hospital gown.
"Apparently you're a mammal," House cut in acerbically. "And that's my last diagnosis for the day. The kids'll help you figure it out, although I'd have thought it was pretty damn clear. You coming?" he asked Dr. Wilson.
Wilson looked around, seeming a little startled. "I... I had appointments... My God, is that the time?"
House rolled his eyes at him. "Alien pheromones," he stated. "Okay, that was my second-to-last diagnosis of the day before. When Supes there is injured, sick, or in distress, he emits something that makes people cluster round and take care of him. He's fine now, so it's wearing off."
Clark looked up from where he was trying, with Cameron's somewhat uncoordinated help, to get the damp bloodstained cloth peeled away from his dripping chest. "What?" he asked, looking betrayed and stricken.
Lex insinuated himself between Cameron and Clark, leaving her with nothing but a momentary glimpse of Clark's perfect ass and an angry expression. He handed his son to his darling, and caught the ends of Clark's fresh garment before they could fall completely away. "Your baby is hungry," he said, tying the robe around Clark's hips like a towel. "And I've been in love with you since you were fifteen. Alien pheromones had nothing to do with it."
Clark smiled and calmed down, and finally seemed to have figured out the combination of leaking nipples and squalling baby. It was amazing to see those giant hands guiding that tiny mouth to its goal.
House and Wilson left together.
"Send Mercy in, would you?" Lex asked, and they did.
Chase showed Clark how to break the suction of the baby's mouth with a fingertip after he'd suckled for a few minutes, so he could swap him over to the other side. Cameron helped Mercy clear away everything that should never be allowed to get into the wrong hands. Soon House's staff left, and Mercy stationed herself wherever she thought best, and Lex was left alone with Clark and their sleeping son.
The scarlet light of sunset shone in and painted Clark's skin in shades of gorgeous. He hadn't looked so well in months, or perhaps ever.
Lex was almost dizzy with how un-doomed he felt. He sat down on a bed, then lay down. Clark wheeled the bassinet between the room's two beds. Conner (where did Clark come up with that name, anyway?) didn't wake up.
"Isn't he beautiful?" Clark said.
Lex opened his eyes. "Mmm. Like you."
"Like you, I was thinking. How are we -- I mean, we can't just fill out a birth certificate, like regular -- I guess we could pull that old Metropolis United Charities scam, like -- but I'd hate to--"
"Shh," Lex said. Clark stopped babbling immediately. "We'll call Chloe in the morning. See if she'd be willing to wear padding for a few months and sign some surrogacy papers."
"Okay. That sounds okay. But what if she says no?"
Lex snorted a little, amused, and closed his eyes again. "Then we'll ask Mercy."
Clark's laughter was the last thing he heard as he fell asleep.
"You may still have me beat for delivering babies in elevators, but I'm way ahead of you on aliens."
"But I was the one with my hands down his throat."
That got him for a minute, but then Wilson said, "So, how does it feel to be Superman's obstetrician?"
House checked to see whether Wilson was making fun of him, or just having fun. Deciding it was the latter, he smiled. "Pretty good, actually. You can do the next one, and let me know what you think."
Wilson turned away from their balcony view of New Jersey. His eyebrows were way up his forehead. "You think they're going to have another one?"
"Why not? Women do."
"No way. Not now that they know that it could happen!"
"I'll bet you fifty bucks they're back here for Baby Number Two within five years."
They were silent for a while. The lights of the university glittered across the way.
"How many do you suppose Cuddy and Foreman will have by then?" Wilson asked.
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