Author: Sail ([info]_sail_)

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Clex (Lex/Liam)

Warnings: Underage (Liam is fifteen)

Summary: Shortly before Lex Luthor’s 21st birthday, he is sent into exile by his father, assigned to run the Smallville fertilizer plant. But the day he arrives in town, a meteor shower strikes, changing Lex's fate forever.

During the meteor shower, Lex is witness to an alien in the form of a teenage boy arriving to earth. He captures the boy, hoping to benefit financially from the scientific discoveries alien experiments are sure to bring.

But what he didn’t count on was the boy’s ability to awaken Lex’s sympathy. Before he knows it, Lex has given the boy the name Liam, and lets him stay in his own home, with Lex as his legal guardian.

As Liam adapts to life on Earth, high school and his increasing powers, Lex has to deal with corporate schemes and his father’s machinations as well as his growing attraction to Liam.

Notes: This is actually the first fanfic I’ve completed. Figures it would be one with a word count over 50,000 words, huh? I am tremendously grateful for my wonderful beta-readers [info]talitha78 and [info]vibrantharmony. Thank you so much for everything. Without your help, this story would never have been written.


Life on Earth by sail

Last time he was in Smallville, Lex nearly died.

Twelve years have passed since then, and he never thought he would stand in the staff parking lot of LuthorCorp Fertilizer Plant Number 3, breathing in the manure-scented Smallville air, but here he is.

It’s not a coincidence Lionel sent him here. Officially it is to give him a taste of corporate leadership, a chance to prove himself to his father by turning a failing plant around. In reality, Lex is sure that there is another reason entirely.

He looks across the road to the cornfield where he once nearly choked to death from an asthma attack. He remembers Lionel by his hospital bed, his eyes blazing with barely contained fury, ordering him to never, ever repeat such a display of weakness.

Since then Lex has done nearly everything he can think of to prove to his father that he is not weak. Lex has made sure that he grew strong, and now he can turn setbacks into advantages, mistakes into opportunities.

He hasn’t had an asthma attack in seven years, but he still carries an inhaler in his pocket as a reminder. It wouldn’t do to risk giving his father the satisfaction of being right. Besides, Lex has specific plans for his future, and suffocation isn’t on the agenda.

Lex is successful; Lex is strong. Lionel got what he wished for, but Lex should have known that wouldn’t make his father happy. Lex suspects that he has become too hard for Lionel to handle; that he will become too powerful, too soon. In a month and a half, Lex will turn 21 and then nothing will be able to stop him.

Except maybe a pre-emptive strike, such as cutting him off from his natural habitat in Metropolis and exiling him to some godforsaken cow-town under the guise of parental concern and guidance.

Lex is a Luthor, and he knows an attempt at diminishing his power when he sees it. Well, it won’t work; he won’t let it.

The wind changes, bringing a fresh, stinking gust of air that feels slightly filthy. Lex represses the urge to rake a hand through his hair and walks over to the main entrance of the plant.

 

Inside, the smell is even worse. While he concentrates on breathing discreetly through his mouth, the plant manager, Gabe Sullivan, cracks bad jokes and recites facts and numbers Lex already knows by heart. The tour of the plant is insanely boring, but Lex forces himself to pay attention by asking questions. When it’s time to address the staff, Sullivan’s professional politeness has slowly thawed into the beginnings of genuine respect.

He scans the crowded room; most of today’s shift gathered in the canteen to listen to his introductory speech. They are hard-working, honest men and women with tired faces. These are his people now.

They listen with a closed kind of intensity, defiance burning in their eyes, but as he talks he can tell he gets to them. “I’m not my father,” he promises, wrapping the speech up, “and I hope that you and everyone else at this plant will realize that once I’ve had the chance to prove myself.” That was apparently the right thing to say. Some of the faces in the crowd are less grim, and Sullivan smiles broadly.

 

Later, Lex breathes in the substantially cleaner air as he sits outside the local coffee shop sipping a substandard latte and pondering his options. This is an opportunity. Here, away from his father’s influence, he can build his own base, his keep, his sanctuary. Perhaps he will find his own destiny in Smallville.

He smiles bitterly to himself, wondering if Lionel has foreseen this step, and if he’s already working to counter Lex’s moves.

When the first dark smoky ribbon streaks across the blue Smallville sky, he is hardly even surprised. There’s a whistling sound, followed by loud crashes, and it quickly becomes clear that the town is being hit by something; and that if he wants to stay alive, he’ll have to get the hell out of there. He gets into his Jaguar cabriolet and drives, knowing that it says a great deal about his level of paranoia that his first thought is that his father is behind this.

A slightly more reasonable guess would be that it is a terrorist attack, but that possibility is also ruled out. By the look of the blazing fireballs falling out of the sky, Lex concludes that they are meteors rather than missiles, which is a relief, but not a big one. Just because there isn’t a hostile force behind the strike doesn’t mean it will cause less devastation. Around him people are fleeing in scattered masses, screaming as more meteors strike the town, crushing cars and buildings into dust. He steps harder on the gas pedal.

A meteor hits the road in front of him, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground and falling debris. He is forced to make a sharp left turn, and soon he is out of the town, racing on a random road between cornfields and grazing pastures. The wind tugs at his hair, carrying sharp smells of smoke and ozone that make his eyes water. Another nearby hit makes him swerve, running off the road and crashing into a ditch. After that the engine won’t start and he has to get out of the car and take off at a run, searching for a place that will offer him shelter.

Even if you’ve spent more than half your life mastering your fears, it’s never too late to develop another one, Lex quickly learns as he runs across the field. Cornstalks break under his feet, clay sticks to his calfskin shoes, making every step heavy. His throat constricts and he is already wheezing with every breath, so he reaches into his pocket for his asthma inhaler.

He thinks he’s close to the end of the field when he trips on some barbed wire, falling to his hands and knees. The inhaler slips from his hand, falling out of his grasp, and just like that it’s gone. It’s just like being nine again, lost in a forest of cornstalks, running for his life and struggling for every breath. If he wants to survive he needs to stop running, calm down and get his asthma under control, or it will kill him just as surely as being flattened by a meteor.

He searches for the inhaler frantically, stumbling blindly in the corn, his vision closing in as his body is deprived of oxygen. Just as he spots the inhaler there is another strike, this one very close, and the ground is shaking. The earth erupts; dirt and corn leaves catapult into the air, and Lex sails along with them, the shock wave searing his skin and forcing what little air there is left in his lungs out of him.

He falls forward into darkness.

 

He’s on the ground. His mouth tastes of dirt and ashes.

Every inch of his skin burns; every breath fills his lungs with stinging oxygen. His head feels oddly vulnerable, like the air is too close.

Even thinking about moving is painful, so he just lies there for a while.

After the deafening roar of erupting fields and falling debris, everything seems eerily quiet. Even the low sizzling and occasional crackle of the earth burning is subdued, distant. Then he hears footsteps. There’s a voice, young and clear, but Lex can’t understand what it is saying. He frenetically tries to decipher the babbling string of syllables when a shadow falls over him, breaking his line of thoughts.

He finally dares to open his eyes, and sees crushed grass and orange tufts of corn silk and there are … bare feet in his direct line of sight.

Lex looks up, moving only his eyes.

It’s a boy in his early teens, maybe fourteen years old, naked and unharmed and beautiful. He’s looking down at Lex curiously, dark hair spilling messily to his shoulders, falling into his eyes.

Completely unconcerned about his nudity, the boy crouches down, coming closer to Lex’s level, looking him in the eye. He speaks again, gesturing with clean pink hands.

Obviously there’s something important he is supposed to understand, and since he doesn’t, Lex worries that he lost too many brain cells in the blast, because he has never felt this stupid. The boy’s large eyes glint with something like frustration, but he smiles reassuringly at Lex before merrily repeating the same words over and over, more slowly each time.

When Lex still doesn’t get it, the boy motions to someplace further away; Lex has to crane his neck carefully to avoid blacking out from the pain. There is more burning dirt, and what looks like a crater. In the center of it is a dull gleam of charred metal, a smooth shape sticking out of the smoking ground, halfway imbedded in the scorched earth.

There is some sort of answer here. Lex feels his brain trying to put the pieces together, but everything hurts and nothing works the way it should, and he can’t function. He feels his body start to shake.

The boy seems to sense his distress, because he smiles and comes closer. He reaches out and lets his hand trail a light caress from the top Lex’s head, over his cheek down to his chin.

And Lex feels his heart rate slow.

The last thing he thinks before he slips into unconsciousness for the second time is that the boy’s eyes are wonderfully, wonderfully green.

 

When Lex wakes up, he can’t open his eyes.

He’s in a bed, not his own. His head hurts; a dull ache centered behind his right eye. It throbs lightly when he moves his eyes around behind his closed eyelids; it’s irritating, but not enough to worry him. He’s certainly been worse off than this before.

 

He tries to open his eyes again, but something keeps his eyelids sealed. Whatever it is, it’s transparent enough to let light through; when he turns his head to the side, vivid reds and yellows dance across the insides of his eyelids, like closing his eyes against the sun. He turns his head back as quickly as possible.

He seems to be overly sensitive everywhere, the fabrics of bedclothes and pyjamas are close, close; touching him, rasping on his chest, rough against the insides of his thighs, his calves, the backs of his hands.

It’s silent except for the little beeps that syncopate his pulse and an underlying electronic hum. He recognizes those sounds, remembers them from his mother’s bedroom, her very last one on the first floor; when she didn’t have the strength to use the stairs anymore.

It’s a heart monitor. That means he’s in a hospital.

That realization spurs him into action, makes him sit up and evaluate the situation. If he’s in a hospital, his father is going to know about it. Probably already does. His father could be there in the room with him right now, and Lex wouldn’t be able to tell.

His first impulse is to get out of here. He feels blindly around for IV-tubes and wires to the heart monitor, finding the skin on his chest and arms smooth and naked from when they must have shaved it to attach the sensory pads. Before he can really process what he is doing, he has torn them off, something warm and liquid running down his arm. The signal hiccups and goes into the constant tone indicating flat-line, which will bring medical staff, which in turn might bring his father. Shit.

Lex tries to quench the unease by reasoning that it’s better to bring the bear out when you are ready than to have it surprise you in your sleep. As for being ready to face Lionel, giving his father direct information of Lex’s emotional state in the shape of a speeding pulse indicator is never a good thing. Neither is blindness.

He reaches up to gingerly touch the material pulling at the thin skin around his eyes. It feels like silicon, smooth and elastic; not unlike one of those rather expensive gel-masks Lex likes to use when he needs to look fresh for work the morning after one of his grandiose night-time adventures. This one seems to be glued directly onto his face, covering his eyebrows as well as his eyes, almost half of his face. It hurts when he tries to remove it, so he doesn’t.

His fingers venture further in their investigation, slipping over his forehead, down to his ear, and there’s something missing. He should have reached his hairline long ago, and in a slow controlled motion he puts the flat of his hand to the top of his head and strokes all the way down to the back of his neck.

Nothing. Not a hair.

They must have shaved him. A wave of dread rushes over him, cold and petrifying. He remembers falling; he could have received head trauma severe enough to need stitches, maybe even severe enough for brain surgery.

He touches his head again, searching for stitches or bandages, and finding nothing but smooth, warm skin. When his fingertips trail down his temple, another shock courses through him. His skin remembers this kind of touch, remembers being bare and caressed. A series of images flashes through his mind; fire from heaven, reddish corn silk (hair!), a boy with green eyes, burning soil. A metallic streamlined shape that Lex now distinctly recognizes as a fucking space ship.

Suddenly there’s a loud crash as the door to his room flies open and people rush in, effectively disrupting Lex’s attempts at grasping the enormity of intelligent extra-terrestrial life arriving on earth and the possibility of an invasion.

“Oh, you’re awake,” a woman says, relieved. “False alarm, everyone. Dan, take the crash cart back to the emergency room.” Seems she’s a doctor too, by the commanding tone of her voice and the haste with which the others scurry to obey her. Lex hates doctors.

“You had us worried there, Mr. Luthor,” she says to him as she fiddles with something in the bend of his left arm: reconnecting the IV, Lex guesses. When the others have left the room, after a nurse has wiped up what has to be his blood, she takes his hand, shaking it. “I’m Helen Bryce, a resident doctor here at Smallville Medical Center.”

Lex firms his grip on her hand, relieved that she doesn’t act as though aliens rule the earth. “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Bryce,” he replies, applying the appropriate amount of charm, secretly astonished of how fast he can push the amazement at the discovery of aliens to the back of his mind and ease into polite mode. He adds a rueful smile. “Even during circumstances like these.”

“Likewise. You seem alert enough, but I need to check your vitals just the same.” She listens to his heart and his lungs, instructs him to breathe deeply, to cough. Lex complies. The cold lips of the stethoscope make goose bumps rise over his skin.

“You have a few minor contusions, but all in all, you are in very good health, considering you’ve been unconscious the last four days,” she says as she finishes prodding and poking.

“Four days?” It’s far too long. Anything could have happened in that time. The plant he just assumed leadership of could have been hit, the impact reducing it to nothing more than a heap of rubble and unprocessed animal waste. LuthorCorp stock could have dropped like a piano in a cartoon. Worst of all, someone else could have found the ship and the alien boy.

“What happened to – …” he hesitates, stopping himself before he reveals too much. People claiming to have met aliens tend to end up in psychiatric care, and that is a failure Lex will not ever repeat again. “– my car?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Luthor.” She pronounces the words clearly and calmly, like she’s used to dealing with people in shock. “But I can have someone find out.”

Furniture scrapes across the floor; she’s bringing a chair over. “How much do you remember?” Her voice is closer now, gentle and more solemn. Lex hates that soothing doctor voice, the one that is just about to tell you something terrible and irrevocable.

Deciding that keeping it vague is the safest option, Lex offers her nothing of importance. “Not much. Meteors falling, running for my life through a corn field, falling…” He trails off, letting her take over the conversation.

“You were found in Miller’s Field, one of the areas most exposed to the meteor shower. You were unconscious, but more or less unharmed.” She falls quiet, and in that hesitant pause Lex can hear the ‘but’ quite clearly.

“However, your hair had fallen out.”

Oh. They hadn’t shaved him. He is suddenly very aware of his body, the unfamiliar immediacy of cloth against skin without that buffering layer of body hair. “All of it,” he says faintly. It’s not a question.

Doctor Bryce must assume he’s in shock, and it’s true, more or less. She pushes on, the hard part over. “Yes. Your condition is very unusual. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. We’re not sure what could be the cause, but we suspect it was somehow related to the blast. So far we’ve ruled out radiation, known chemical and biological toxins and --”

“Will it grow back out?” Lex has learned to ask the important questions first, even though the answers may be painful.

“I’m afraid not. There hasn’t been any hair growth since you were brought in, and from the samples I took, I don’t think there will be. Your follicles are dead. Every last one of them, as far as I can tell.” She hesitates again. “When I informed your father, he opted for an eyebrow and eyelash transplant right away. It was performed while you were still unconscious.”

After all that’s happened, world-altering events followed by near-death experiences and close encounters of the third kind, Lex thought he’d be numbed, that nothing would startle or shock him anymore. He’s not pleased that the thing that has him shaking is something as trivial as his father making medical decisions without Lex’s counsel or consent.

His father trained him to recover quickly, to rein himself in, and he’s never been more grateful for that, because it enables him to turn shock into comfortable, familiar bitterness.

“I guess that explains this thing. What is it?” he asks, touching the weird elastic material covering his eyes.

“In five years, that’s what we all are going to use instead of band-aids.” Her voice brightens considerably; she obviously likes to talk about this topic. She continues enthusiastically. “It’s a protein-based sealing gel; you apply it to the injured area in liquid form. As it coagulates it seals the wound, but allows oxygen to pass to the skin, as well as being antiseptic. Best part of all; no suturing is needed, reducing the risk of scarring up to 70%. That makes it a plastic surgeon’s wet dream, or so I’ve been told. Let’s take a look.”

Dr. Bryce’s hands are cool and professional, positioning his head so she can look more closely at his eyes through the sealing gel, and Lex just can’t hold back anymore. “By your phrasing, I take it that this gel isn’t exactly on the FDA’s approval list just yet. Let me guess; the research is funded by LuthorCorp?”

She doesn’t answer, but stiffens a little before resuming her examination, and there is a wary cautiousness in her movements now. Lovely. His father was using him as a guinea pig. Well, that’s nothing new. Just one more reason to get out of here as soon as possible.

“This seems to be healing exceptionally well. The swelling is almost completely gone. I think it might be time to remove it,” she states, her voice strained with the new effort of guarding her tongue.

“That would be great, thank you. I could certainly use my eyesight back. Clearly, I have a lot to catch up with.” His tone is curt and clipped, his patience wearing thin. He wants to leave.

“I’m sorry,” she says, not sounding it at all, “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until your father arrives. His specific request was to see the results of the new experiment himself.” Her voice is farther away; she’s getting ready to leave. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have a hospital full of patients to care for.”

The door opens and closes, and Lex thinks about what she just said about his father. Wanting to see the results himself sounds like Lionel, all right. Lex just isn’t sure if his father considers the sealing gel or Lex to be the experiment.

 

 

Being left alone is such a relief Lex actually sags, the papery hospital gown rasping as he slumps back down onto the bed.

He feels surprisingly drained from his little exchange with Dr. Bryce, and the notion of Lionel profiting from Lex’s misfortune makes him irate and restless, even as fatigue washes over him. It alarms him to lack the most basic strength, but he supposes four days of near coma after being rescued from an interstellar crash site could be a valid excuse.

Eventually his door opens again and another woman comes in, stating she’s his attending nurse as well as the assigned messenger to tell him about his wrecked car. Apparently, Dr Bitch –- as he’s gleefully renamed Dr Bryce in an act of petty revenge –- is still trying to remain on his good side, even if she’s too much of a coward for another confrontation.

The temptation to take his irritation out on the nurse surges; immediate and strong. He can be rude and uncooperative, easily the worst patient ever to enter Smallville Medical Center. It would upset her, drive her off, and he would get some measure of childish satisfaction from that, an outlet for this irritation his weakness infuses him with.

But he won’t do it. Lex has enough experience from the business world to know when it’s a less than stellar move to ‘shoot the messenger’, and so he reins himself in. At the very least he should spare her just because she’s considerate enough to try to play down the condition of his Jaguar, even though it’s obvious it’s damaged beyond repair.

She’s the chatty type, talking nonstop while she works. “Well, now that you’re awake we should get you to eat solids again. So I’m going to disconnect your IV, okay?”

Lex asks her if there is any way to get some news while he’s hospitalized. A TV or a radio in his room, perhaps? She apologizes, but they’ve had some sort of power failure and have to conserve electricity. She offers to bring him up to date with the latest events, if he’d like.

Lex most emphatically wouldn’t like, but accepts anyway. A nurse at the medical center in a small rural town can’t be the best source of all the hard facts he needs, but for now it’s all he’s got.

Surprisingly, it turns out better than he’d hoped for. He doesn’t even have to steer the topic towards the meteor shower and its effects on the town. All he has to do is listen to her nattering, and occasionally give a sympathetic response, trying not to act too eager for news; or worse, indifferent to the town’s situation.

Silently, he files the information she gives him away in his memory. This farm and that foundry destroyed. This herd of livestock lost and that crop ruined. These people dead, those people injured, that family homeless.

So much devastation, but nothing that indicates alien invasion.

“They say that the meteor strike has created a large crater outside of town. In the fall, when the rains come, it will fill with water,” she says, voice filled with wonder. “To think, Kansas will have a lake that big.”

Eventually, the most disastrous and astonishing events are accounted for, and she starts in on the more mundane complaints about the news teams that get in everybody’s way.

Lex filters her voice out, trying to assimilate the new details, fitting them together like pieces in a large puzzle. He knows that the gossip of a nurse isn’t the most extensive source in the world in any circumstance, and certainly not when it comes to an event such as this, but the lack of observation of the alien and his spaceship is worrying. It could mean someone else got to him first, and that doesn’t sit well with Lex. Not well at all…

Something the nurse says jolts him out of his ruminations. “Sorry, what was that?”

“I said that Mr. Luthor, uh, your father that is, shut the plant down before he left. Temporarily, I’m sure.” There’s a pointed tone in her voice, expecting him to reassure her that he isn’t going to leave Smallville and its citizens to the wolves.

There’s no way he’d readily admit his absolute ignorance of the current fate of the plant, so Lex tries to distract her by expressing his genuine surprise over Lionel’s actions.

“My father has been here?”

“Don’t you worry, dear,” she says, misunderstanding completely. “Your father stayed with you for days and only left for Metropolis just yesterday. Had to return to work, I imagine,” she says as she fluffs his pillow. “Mr. Luthor made sure you would have the best care and requested to be notified as soon as you woke up. Nobody thought you would wake up so soon, is all.”

Emotions roil inside him, but he can’t tell if he feels pleased or terrified.

He’s woken up early when he was estimated to stay comatose, he should feel proud of that, that he’s stronger than Lionel acknowledges, but all he can muster is a dull sense of disappointment at Lionel’s low expectations.

He doesn’t know what Lionel visiting Lex’s sickbed signifies. Lionel who despises weakness of any kind, emotional weakness the most. Lionel, who is on his way back right this minute.

Suddenly, he needs to think, to regroup and come up with a game plan. He can’t do that with her constant chatter; he needs to be alone. He needs some privacy to break down, just a little.

He asks to be led to the bathroom, and firmly declines her offer to help him with his ‘business’, assuring her that he will be quite all right by himself. She finally agrees and hangs a cord with a small plastic box-like thing around his neck, moving his hands so he can feel a big button in the center of it. She tells him it’s a call button for contacting the nurses’ station. ”Press it if you need anything.”

Well inside, he locks the door and leans back against it, exhaling. He hesitates a moment, debating whether or not to check the extent of his hairlessness first hand, but he has to do it or else he won’t be able to really believe it.

Someone said that touch is the truest of the five senses. And Lex is inclined to agree because he can’t deny the tangible proof as he lifts the papery material of his hospital gown, putting the flat of his palm against his chest and letting it travel downward, stroking over his belly and under the drawstring waistband of the worn pajama bottoms.

He really is bare all over, the skin smooth and soft as a girl’s where it used to be covered with short-trimmed raspy auburn hairs. There isn’t even any fuzz on his balls.

He takes his hand out of his pants and feels his way around the small room, trying not to think about the unhygienic things he could be touching, until he recognizes the toilet seat (thankfully with the lid closed) and sits down, trying to sort his mind out. It is unnerving to say the least, not to be able to see.

The nurse said Lionel was in Metropolis, now on his way to Smallville. That gives Lex slightly more than three hours to get some sort of hold of the situation; two if Lionel’s taken the helicopter.

He has no idea what Lionel might have in store for him when he arrives, but it can’t be good. It never is. Lex needs to form a battle plan, and do it fast. For that, he needs more information. With his eyes still glued shut he can’t read newspapers or production reports, and he refuses to contact any of Lionel’s drones.

That leaves the one person he has won over so far: Gabe Sullivan. Lex doesn’t know the man nearly well enough to either trust him or manipulate him, so it’s still a liability, but it is the only option he has that even comes close to meeting his need for independence. It will have to do.

With that decision made he feels a little more at ease. Unbidden, his thoughts return to the alien boy. Where is he now? Why did he come here? What does he want?

He turns the questions around in his head for a while, until he has reduced what happened to two main possible scenarios. Of course, there’s always the possible third option where Lex never woke up in the first place and is presently having a very vivid coma induced hallucination. But that kind of thinking isn’t very useful, and, as it will get him nowhere, he abandons that thread of thought.

Scenario number one. The boy is part of an extraterrestrial army, and the earth has been subjected to an invasion either by force, or by subtle assimilation. The former seems unlikely judging by the way Dr. Bryce and the nurse have acted so far. They had seemed slightly stressed yet focused, concentrated on their jobs while still allowing themselves to interact with the patients – expected behavior in the wake of a local catastrophe. Additionally, the nurse, for all her gossiping, never mentioned anything that could be signs of warfare. Lex would like to believe that the people of Earth would put up one hell of a fight before surrendering to an alien force. It couldn’t have been over in four days.

But perhaps it hadn’t been necessary, perhaps the aliens were much, much more efficient at subterfuge than humans ever could imagine. The human appearance of the alien speaks in favor of the stealthy variant of invasion, but… still, there should have been reports of more meteor showers from several other places around the globe, and the nurse didn’t mention anything resembling that either. Stealthy assimilation would demand fewer agents than outright attack, but it would still need more than just one alien.

While scenario number one admittedly has its origin in the immediate, irrational and very human fear of the Other, scenario number two deals with what Lex actually knows about the arrival of the alien.

He examines the observations he made when he encountered the alien boy, or more correctly, what he can remember seeing from his position on the ground and in a state of shock and pain. The imagery is fragmented but very sharp and clear, like snapshots.

Lex singles the relevant memory images out, breaks them down, and concentrates on the spaceship.

It was nothing more than a pod really, a capsule barely big enough for one passenger, and a small one at that. He thinks about the smoking crater it had created at touchdown; the force of impact must have rivaled the surrounding meteorites’. It could not have been a controlled landing.

Everything he’s seen points to one conclusion: the boy came here alone, by accident or chance. If he took what happened at face value it would seem that the boy, for all intents and purposes, is the intergalactic version of shipwrecked.

The only thing that speaks against this version is the way the boy had been able to walk across burning soil barefoot and without harm. Nothing says biologically engineered soldier like indestructibility.

Yet there had been no malice to be sensed in the alien. Quite the opposite. He had seemed rather benevolent, judging from his friendly expression and gentle touch. Suspiciously chatty and friendly. Lex has never been faced with this exact situation before, but he doesn’t believe little boys fall out of the sky for no reason. No. This version is too good, too innocent to be true.

Lex weighs the two scenarios against each other until his head hurts, a low ache spiking every time his pulse thuds in his temples. Finally he gives up deciding which one of them to act upon.

There is one thing is Lex certain of. Whichever scenario turns out to be the closest to the truth, he needs to get hold of the alien.

The image of the ship – or escape pod as the case may be – in its crater lingers in his mind. It would have easily been found, lying out in the open for anyone to see. Whoever stumbles across it would immediately recognize the treasure of technology and scientific discovery it was and know to keep it well hidden. Keep it to themselves.

That is what Lex would do. What he will do, once he obtains the alien. And the ship.

The ship and the alien are going to be his main assets, the very foundation he will build his empire on. Lex can almost physically feel it; the mere prospect of discovering the secret to interstellar travel gives him little shivers of delight.

He’s going to need top of the line research facilities, located somewhere his father won’t come snooping around too often, somewhere Lionel wouldn’t think odd for Lex to focus his energies on. Wouldn’t the plant here in Smallville benefit from a new program in fertilizer research? Building one set of legitimate laboratory facilities is the best way to disguise the financing of building its more secret twin.

With Smallville as his research base, he needs to anchor himself to the town and the community, spin up a passable explanation for making Smallville his home. The first step is to find a suitable local to get involved in a romantic relationship with. That should appease the small town mindset, and even make for a nice fluff piece in the press.

It won’t, however, appease Lionel.

No, if Lex is going to convince Lionel, there has to be something more to it. He fully expects Lex to tire of the dull small town life and beg to return to his rightful place at his father’s side. He probably also suspects that Lex already anticipates Lionel’s low expectations and that Lex’s claiming Smallville as the better habitat for a young Luthor is nothing more than petty defiance, a defiance doomed to fail when Lex’s patience runs out. Lex can practically hear what Lionel is going to say. Something along the lines of Lionel not being able to buy into the obvious fib about Lex “finding love”, and doesn’t Lex know that sexual attachment is not an acceptable reason for limiting oneself to and spending one’s resources and energies on a dead end town such as Smallville, with no future prosperity, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

That is just fine. Let Lionel think it’s a big show of stubbornly claiming false independence. That way he won’t see the real reason.

Finally, if he is going put up with living here, there will have to be some changes. But that is no real problem. Lex is determined to fit in in Smallville as much as a Luthor can. And the most natural way for a Luthor to fit in a dirt town like this, Lex thinks, is to own it.

 

When the nurse guided him to the toilet he was foresightful enough to count the steps from his bed, so he’s able to fumble his way back. He climbs clumsily back in his bed, and presses the call button. When the door opens, he asks whoever’s there for his cell phone.

After a good long while someone Lex distinctly perceives as an orderly comes in and puts a small plastic crate in Lex’s lap, informing him it’s his personal effects. When Lex is sure he’s alone again, he opens it and rummages around inside until he recognizes the smooth flat shape of his cell phone among the various other items.

Incredibly enough, there still seems to be enough energy left in the phone for it to operate. The cell phone makes a happy sound as he flips it open, and Lex makes a mental note to invest in more Motorola stock. They seem to be doing something right; most other brands would have had their batteries discharged after four days.

He has Sullivan’s direct line on speed-dial 5, but all he gets is the plant’s answering service, informing him in a chirpy recorded voice that Gabe Sullivan is on leave due to family emergency.

The main number to the plant is, of course, preprogrammed in his contact list, but he can’t use it since he can’t see the display. He has to dial it from memory, which ordinarily isn’t a problem; except that he finds that dialing a cell phone by feel alone is incredibly difficult. After trying and failing to press the right buttons for nearly twenty minutes, he’s truly regretting he never bothered to activate the voice dialing option.

When he finally succeeds in calling the plant, it doesn’t do him any good. In Sullivan’s stead there’s an idiot left in charge, a subdued creature who can’t tell him much about anything, except parroting the same line of information over and over, namely that the plant is to stay closed until further notice, on orders from Lionel Luthor.

Even when Lex persists, asking about production set-backs and profit loss, the state of the work force, and the estimated time until they can reopen, all he can get out of the incompetent fool is more excuses. Apparently, Lionel’s really sunk his claws into this one.

Finally Lex has to resort to coercion; threatening to not just fire the moron but to make sure he’ll never get another job that doesn’t involve a spatula, an apron and enough saturated fat to clog up his goddamn nostrils ever again if he doesn’t come up with some answers.

That makes him talk. The reason for the shutdown is that some of the warehouses in Section 7G have been partially hit; but at least it seems to be a just a minor structural damage and loss of maintenance material, not the wasteland of rubble and manure that Lex had imagined. It sounds like production flow won’t be affected too much and that the expense of rebuilding will be small enough to be easily covered by LuthorCorp’s main insurance. Still, it means there is a lot of work to be done when he gets out of the hospital.

When he hangs up, he is shaking with exhaustion, the whole telephone call a draining and frustrating experience. His headache has increased, pounding in a way that makes Lex think that the IV had more than just nutrients in it.

He wants to rub his temples, or his forehead, but the sealing gel is in the way. He has gathered as much information as he possibly can in these circumstances, and he hopes it’s enough to be able to stand his own. Facing Lionel without proper preparation is never a pleasurable experience, and Lex curses loudly until a nurse comes in to see if he needs pain relief. He does, but makes sure they know he doesn’t want anything too strong.

He needs his head to be clear for the next few hours.

 

Lex is in the middle of trying to reacquaint his stomach to semi-solid food when Lionel saunters in. It must be Lionel; no one else would pull the door open nonchalantly and just stand there, taking their sweet time before speaking.

Lex smiles, swallows another spoonful of mashed potatoes and says, “You managed to clear a space in your busy schedule so you could come all the way here from Metropolis to check up on me? I'm touched, Dad."

“You are looking well, Lex,” Lionel says by way of greeting, stepping into the room without bothering to close the door.

“Well, then you must be pleased.” Lex leaves his spoon on the plate, and pushes the tray aside, careful of the edges of the side table. “After all, your concern for my appearance seems to be the reason you are trying out experimental wound-care products on your own son.”

Lionel takes a few steps further into the room, and Lex can hear the slight clatter of him dragging the chair Dr. Bitch used earlier over to the bed. “Is that any way to talk to your worried and caring father? You know I took every precaution necessary, and I highly doubt you would want to go through life looking like a chemo patient.”

“Why the hurry? Couldn’t it wait until I woke up and could make that decision myself?”

“Actually, the doctors weren’t certain when you would wake up, if at all. And if the procedure was a little preemptive, it was only because I wanted to spare you some measure of emotional stress by having it taken care of before you woke up.”

If Lionel thinks Lex is buying that, he’s out of his mind. But maybe it’s not Lex who is supposed to buy it, and Lex starts to listen for signs of other people in the room. There is a small shuffling sound coming from just outside the room, like if somebody is shifting their weight.

“And if I hadn’t woken up, what would you have had then? A comatose, but fully presentable heir?”

“I never had any doubts concerning your,” Lionel says, very close now, “determination to return to life, Lex.”

Rage rises inside him at Lionel’s words, useless and tinged with fear and remembered pain. Lionel is deliberately trying to rattle him and Lex won’t have it.

“Come on in, Dr Bryce. Let’s get this goop off of me,” he says in the general direction of the door. His tone is clipped even to his own ears. “That is why you are here, after all, Dad? To see how well your new experiment works?”

“We’ll remove the gel as soon as Helen comes; she’ll be with us shortly,” says a completely new and unknown male voice. “Nice to see you up and alert, Lex.”

Lionel chuckles, no doubt at Lex’s confusion. “Lex, meet Dr. Stanley Bryce. Stanley is one of the nation’s leading cosmetic and reconstructive surgeons, and he was accommodating enough to fly out here to perform the delicate procedure of transplanting your new eyebrows and lashes himself. Incidentally, he is also Helen Bryce’s father.”

“Nice to meet you, Stanley,” Lex says, mildly annoyed at the overly familiar tone his father set. “Dr. Bryce and Dr. Bryce. Did I get the two for the price of one special or something?”

“When Lionel opted for reconstructive hair implant treatment, Helen knew I was the only one who could meet the high standards that the Luthors are so renowned for. Facial hair is always delicate work, but brow- and lash replacement is the most intricate there is. Since I’m always up for a challenge, and it was a chance to work side by side with my daughter again, I agreed to do it. It was a little tricky, but I have to say it went very well.”

“In fact so well,” Lionel broke in, “that Helen thought that if you could experience the benefits of the gel she’s developing for me, you would hardly suffer any scarring at all. And, we couldn’t pass up such a golden opportunity, could we?”

Lex is amazed by his father’s sheer talent for the casually outrageous, even if Lex thought himself immune by now. “Let me see if I understand this correctly – there has been a meteor shower, the devastation vast, dozens of people killed, hundreds severely injured -- the hospital is overflowing – and you bring a plastic surgeon out here by helicopter to make sure I look presentable?”

“Actually,” Dr. Stanley Bryce interrupted, “Eyebrows and eyelashes are not just a matter of aesthetics. They are important for facial expressions and they protect the eyes against dust particles and blinding lights. Without them you would be quite handicapped.”

Lex turned his head sharply towards Dr Bryce, trying to convey his irritation without his usual withering stare. He has no idea if it works, because they are interrupted by the metallic sound of a trolley with squeaky wheels being pushed into the room, followed by Helen’s rushed voice. “Okay, let’s get started. Hold this.”

A shallow bowl Lex really hopes isn’t a bed pan is shoved into his hands. Lionel moves away to make room for Helen to work, and there is a series of sounds, some sort of packaging being torn open, the singing noise of liquid moving in a metal bowl. The sharp scent of medical alcohol makes him wrinkle his nose.

“We are working on a way for it to be washed away with plain water, but for now we have to use an alcoholic solvent,” Helen says apologetically as she holds his face still. “This might sting a bit.”

There is cold wet dabbing on his face, and Lex starts to mentally prepare for feeling pain in his father’s presence.

As Dr. Bryce proceeds with the gel-removal, the congealed material starts to break up, chunks of it falling off and sliding down his face to drop into a bowl he holds under his chin. Lex can tell she’s being careful as she can, but he still gets alcoholic solvent in his eyes somehow. The pain is startlingly sharp, stealing his breath like nothing before and filling his eyes with involuntary tears.

“Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them.”

Lex clenches his jaw, incredibly grateful they never reconnected him to the heart monitor. He may be able to control his breathing, but his heart rate is rapidly increasing whether he wants it to or not.

When the slick, viscous globs of gel are mostly gone, a soft, moist cotton swab wipes away the last sticky traces. Helen makes one last thorough stroke across his cheekbones before taking the bowl away. “There. Open your eyes.”

Lex has to blink his eyes rapidly, and at first he can see nothing but blurry shapes, blue, white and brown, but then the world slides into focus. The first thing he sees is Dr. Bitch. She’s quite pretty, long dark hair and big brown eyes. Lex blinks again, trying to adjust his vision, but one of her eyes still looks significantly larger than the other.

She backs away, leaving Lex to Lionel’s scrutiny. His father leans in close, studying his eyes intently, one hand curving round Lex’s bare head to keep him steady, thumb holding one tender eyelid open. “Excellent work, doctor,” he says with a smile so self-congratulatory Lex steels himself not to wince.

“Why don’t we let him see for himself?” Dr. Bryce senior offers up a mirror, and Lex witnesses his own disfigurement for the first time.

He’s ugly. There’s no other word for it.

And he’s really, really bald. The curve of his scull is jarringly uncomfortable to look at.

Aesthetics aside, he looks tremendously different without his shock of bright red hair. He’s always been pale but now he is virtually colorless, save for the fading purple, brown and sickly yellows of the bruising around his eyes.

Lex knows he must be in a light state of shock, because the first thing that enters his mind is that he has to go over his wardrobe; hardly any of his clothes will suit this new paleness well.

To focus on something positive, Lex has to admit that the lash and brow transplants have been expertly done; the hairs are very natural looking. He trails a fingertip just outside the ridge of his brow, not quite daring to actually touch the fine hairs. The new brows and lashes look very much like his former ones, as far as he can tell. Maybe slightly shorter than the original. A shade or two lighter perhaps, leaning more to the neutral than his usual vibrant tones; the brows more pale brown than auburn, the lashes more sand-colored than ginger. It’s still close enough to fit his skin tone.

Stanley Bryce clears his throat nervously. “I couldn’t find a donor with the exact right shade with such short notice, but this is close enough, I think. You could color them of course, but that’s rather stressful for the quality of the hair.”

“Donor? You gave me somebody else’s eyelashes?”

“Of course,” the plastic surgeon says, sounding confused. “As far as permanency, as well as authenticity in both looks and texture goes, all synthetic alternatives are far, far inferior to the real thing. For other types of hair, you would use your own, using a slowly inflating saline balloon to grow the skin until we’d have enough to transplant, but you can’t do that with eyelashes; your face would be permanently deformed. Either way, your hair cells are not producing hair anymore, and with the narrow timeframe we had to look for acceptable matches among the meteor shower victims.”

Lex could only stare at him in shock, mouth gaping open.

“Dr. Bryce…“ Lionel warns in a tone not to be questioned.

“Right, Mr. Luthor.” Stanley quiets and composes himself quickly. “Concerning the hair on your head, as well as your other body hair, we have yet to find what your father considers an exact color match, but we’ve extended the search. When Helen decides you’re fit to leave this place, I’ll book an appointment for you in my clinic in Metropolis, to begin the preliminary treatments.”

“No.” There was no chance in hell that Lex would let Lionel have some poor guy killed because his coloring was within the right nuances of ginger and tangerine.

Lionel chuckles again, a bit less heartily this time. “Come on, Lex. Now’s not the time to be squeamish.”

“I’d rather stay bald than wear somebody else’s hair. End of discussion.”

Stanley nods. “That is your decision. But if you change your mind, you can always come back later. It’s not like a hair treatment like this has to be done urgently. I’ll leave you my card. Contact me when you’ve given it some serious thought.”

Lex smirks a little. Having doctors who still had enough ethics to respect the patient’s wishes present when Lex issued his refusal is one of the biggest slip-ups Lionel has made in a long time.

“So, doctor,” Lex says, turning to Helen. “Now that I have my eyesight back, can I get out of here? I have a plant to run.”

“You are recovering remarkably well. Even so, you’ll be staying another day or two for observation.”

“I’ll leave the helicopter at the mansion so you can return home as quickly as possible,” Lionel states, like Lex’s pardoning from his exile goes without saying.

Lex can’t believe he’s heard correctly. “Return to Metropolis? Now? The plant needs leadership more than ever. I'll be back at the plant as soon as Dr. Bryce deems me well enough to go."

“Doctors, would you be so kind as to leave us, please?”

Like the lapdogs that they are, both Doctors Bryce obey at once. Lionel closes the door behind them, taking his time drawing the movement out, turning to face Lex more slowly than necessary.

“This is an event neither of us could have foreseen. If you would like some time to recuperate, I would certainly understand. I’ve informed the plant manager that you will be indisposed the next few weeks.”

Lex feels his determination grow like a physical thing. “You know, Dad, I feel remarkably fine for nearly being interstellar road kill; in fact, I’m sure I’m well enough to be able to keep up with most of the paperwork from my sickbed, if necessary. As for the production schedule, I need to asses the damage to the plant. If it’s nothing too serious, we’ll be able to achieve full-speed production within a few weeks.”

“The plant will be closed far longer than a few weeks. I’m afraid the meteors caused more damage than our insurance company will take care of.”

“It’s just one of the storage buildings, it can’t be that expensive to replace. Insurance should cover it without any problems.”

“Lex, Lex. I thought you had done your homework, now that you’re attempting to play with the big boys.”

Lex grits his teeth at the poorly hidden insult. “Care to elaborate?” For some reason Lionel is trying to manipulate Lex to return to Metropolis, and just last week Lex would have leapt at the chance of escaping manure-scented plant inspections and tedious paperwork, not to mention living in a drafty old castle in the middle of nowhere. But now the alien had changed all that.

“As I’m sure you are aware,” Lionel says, clearly enjoying putting Lex on the spot, “LuthorCorp’s insurance company, like most other insurance companies, applies a force majeur clause. As this meteor situation clearly falls into that category, it will save them from having to replace our losses. And with the prior poor financial state of the Smallville Plant, it is likely that LuthorCorp will have to close it down… permanently.”

Fuck. Without the fertilizer plant, Lex doesn’t have any cover for his extraterrestrial research and might as well give up on the whole idea. That is not an option.

“Pity. I was just starting to accustom myself to this charming little town. I wonder what kind of shit job you will put me on in Metropolis? Sharpening pencils? Filing reports?” Lex says, controlling his voice to make it sound casual. He can’t afford for Lionel to sense any desperation. “I can’t say that’s particularly tempting. At least here I’ll be in charge. How about this? If I can find another way to cover the costs for the rebuilding of the storage facilities, I’ll cover the production losses until this plant is in the black.” Lionel wouldn’t win, not this easily. Not without Lex even trying. He’ll make the plant profitable if he has to sell his kidneys on the black market. “Which won’t be long, I promise you. I’ll be back at the plant Monday morning.”

For a long time Lionel just stares at Lex, like he’s seeing Lex for the first time. “Have it your way, son,” he says finally. His eyes shine with what Lex recognizes as reluctant pride.

Lionel reaches out and smoothes a warm dry hand over Lex’s scalp. “Such a shame about your hair. It was so much like your mother’s.”

After Lionel has left, Lex sits in his bed, holding back hysterical giggles.

It is so ironic that the first time he ever successfully stood his ground against his father is over being allowed to run a crap factory.

He never expected to have his way so easily. Now that he had, he wonders what the motives behind Lionel’s concession can be. Lex can’t help hoping it was partly because he impressed Lionel with his determination. At this he lets the giggle out, because there’s no chance in hell that was the reason.

 

It’s already the last week of October and the first signs of autumn have appeared; the grass is dry and brittle, the leaves are already starting to turn, and every now and then there’s a cold wind sweeping over the plains and fields. The chill reaches into the mansion at night and lingers long in the morning, relentless now that the banked heat of summer is leaving the bare stone walls. Even the new heating system, installed expressly for Lex’s stay at the mansion, won’t quite hamper the cold, and Lex wakes up early in the morning, shivering.

All over the town and the surrounding farmland, there’s frantic activity; everybody is still busy rebuilding and cleaning up, salvaging what there is left to save, and Plant Number 3 is no exception. The first days after being released from the hospital were filled with work-related duties, and Lex has had no time to go looking for naked little alien boys, however much he wants to. All the work was performed from home, by phone or video conference, until Lex finally had enough of convalescence and decided to ignore Helen’s insistence that he take it easy. It’s time to do some actual work.

Today he will venture outside of the castle for the first time since the meteor shower, and that means exposing his new bald state to the world, or at least to all of Smallville.

In the shower, Lex thinks about what clothing will be the most efficient to convey power and resourcefulness, and yet casual confidence. He decides on his new gray sweater of pure cashmere, ridiculously comfortable against his sensitive skin, and black wool trousers.

In front of the mirror he takes a moment to enjoy the fact that he doesn’t need to shave anymore, and idly toys with the idea of wearing a hat. Something tasteful; a fedora or a beret, maybe. It is cold outside, after all.

But there is no point in hiding from reality like that. Quite the opposite, covering his head up will only draw more attention to the fact that he is as bald as a cue ball. Better to face the ridicule of the masses straight on, with his bare head held high. In time, if he can make this weakness his own, it could even turn into a strength; a feature to mark him different from his father.

For the drive to work he chooses the new Jaguar he bought to replace the one wrecked in the meteor strike, and he breaks the speed limit testing the gears. One good thing about living in the sticks is that there is no traffic, and no police.

Gabe Sullivan has returned to work, now that his daughter is feeling better, and while Lex is in the car, Sullivan’s assistant, Martha, calls him and informs him that they will have the requested planning and re-organization meeting in conference room two.

Martha, who waits for him in the lobby, turns out to be an unusually well preserved woman with stunning red hair. Lex is instantly reminded of his mother, even if Martha is older now than Lillian ever had a chance to be. To his relief, she doesn’t fuss over his newly bald state, just hands him the folder with the calculated costs for the reconstruction and extension plans and shows him the way to the conference room.

Gabe, on the other hand, can’t quite hide his curiosity when they shake hands and keeps casting him occasional glances all through the first half of the briefing. He manages to keep himself professional, though, and efficiently presents the data and the alternative solutions.

While they are discussing the specific costs of rebuilding and the predicted profit loss from the two week period of reduced production speed they’ll have to endure for the reconstruction, Lex makes a decision. It’s going to require quite a significant amount of money, in fact more than Lex expected, but even when he takes the amount for the new secret research facility into consideration, it’s nothing he won’t be able to handle with a large addition from his personal funds. The money his mother left him was meant to be the foundation to his empire, and Lex can see no better starting point than this.

When he makes it clear to Gabe and Martha that he intends for LuthorCorp to be one of the nation’s, if not the world’s, leading companies in the biochemical industry when he takes Lionel’s place, and that he means for it to start right here at Plant Number 3, there is a moment of stunned silence. Then Gabe points out that in that case there are reasons for concern other than just financing the reconstruction and reopening the plant; people might look elsewhere for employment since disaster had struck town.

Martha disagrees, saying, “Most of us are farmers, or used to be. Many of the families in Smallville have held their land for generations. To sell it all off without a fight would be considered a terrible failure. As my husband would say, we learn from the earth and the earth never rests. Farmers are a persistent breed.”

“Tradition may be one thing, and providing for your family another,” Gabe persists. “The strike left acres and acres of land useless; many of the households have lost most of their livelihood in one fell swoop. LuthorCorp, the other major source of income in town has been closed for over a week, and so far the workers have gone without compensation. If that’s not a reason for moving on to better grounds, I don’t know what is.”

Lex considers this for a moment. ”What you both are saying is that right now we have an excellent prospect for expanding our workforce. If we make working for us a little more attractive than moving to Granville, Plant Number 3 could expand faster than projected.”

Both Martha’s and Gabe’s faces lighten, and they start outlining the benefit packages for their current and prospective employees.

They end up with a solid yet relatively inexpensive deal to offer up when hiring, and a slightly better one for workers already in the company fold. Lex suggests free trauma counseling, as well as meteor related hospital expenses paid for his employees and their families. He would offer full payment for the duration of the shut down, but he’s going to have to justify the budget to Lionel, and Lex knows his father’s opinion of the welfare of his workers.

Before they close the meeting, they discuss the need to boost their local image. At Martha’s suggestion, Lex decides to increase the rather meager catastrophe relief LuthorCorp is offering the town. He also makes sure LuthorCorp is offering cheap clean-up and sanitation, so that the area will be livable again. He really can’t afford to look miserly and uncaring at a time like this. To be seen as taking care of their own is good for the company’s public image, and LuthorCorp could certainly use the PR.

All this is going to cost an enormous amount of money. The financial situation of the plant is one more reason Lex needs to get hold of the alien and the ship. The scientific breakthroughs that must follow the study of extraterrestrial technology would naturally generate money in terms of new patents and products. But even if the ship had already been found and was safely in chamber three of the secret lab under Section 7G right this minute, research takes time, and until then he will have to find a way to not only make the plant more cost efficient, but to make it profitable. He needs to hone and refine the plant until everything runs as smoothly and effortlessly as clockwork.

For days his mind is occupied with how to turn the plant around; what expenses can be eliminated, what organizational changes will have the best outcome. In his spare time, what little there is, Lex searches the internet for news articles about the meteor shower, looking for clues as to where the alien might be.

 

When the situation at work has settled somewhat, Lex decides it’s time to go shopping. The first piece of land Lex buys in Smallville is Miller’s Field; the field where Lex’s life changed forever.

It’s a remarkably quick and unproblematic business deal; agreeing on a price is much more trouble-free than Lex had expected. Mr. Emery, the farmer, is almost eager for Lex to take the land off his hands, saying that he probably can’t use it for farming anymore anyway. When it comes to possibly contaminated soil, farmers are a cautious lot, apparently.

It seems Gabe was right; many of the farming families are living hand to mouth in normal circumstances and with most of this season’s crop destroyed and the need for rebuilding so great, they are not at all adverse to parting ways with some of their property for the right price.

Since it’s so easy, Lex purchases land all over Smallville; mostly targeting the major meteor strike zones, but also sites near the plant for future expansion, and real estate in Smallville, primarily on Main Street. It’s also a way to take focus off of the extraterrestrial landing site.

If people think he is investing in cheap cut-rate property, taking advantage of the lowered prices, they’re not wrong. Real estate prices in Smallville will increase a good deal in a few years if Lex has his way. He is a businessman, and knows to buy when the price is favorable.

His main focus, though, is of course Miller’s Field and the search for the space ship. It’s not there.

Not on the ground, not in the rather deep crater Lex saw it in, not in the nearby woods. Even with a thorough investigation and excavation of the entire field, the space ship is nowhere to be found. It’s like it vanished off the face of the earth, like it never existed.

Since he’s already spent a small fortune digging and sifting the soil, Lex decides to at least take samples of the earth and the foreign mineral that’s strewn all over the field. It’s most frequent in the outer perimeter of the numerous craters, indicating that it must be what’s left of the meteors. He’s not quite sure what to do with the rough rocklike nuggets, but perhaps with some experiments the meteorites can tell him something of the alien’s travel through space, if nothing else.

The absence of the pod is worrisome, and Lex is starting to fear that someone, that Lionel, might have discovered it.

Thinking back on their encounter in the hospital, Lionel had seemed entirely too satisfied when he inspected Lex’s new lashes, too smug somehow. Lionel was only that smug when he closed a particularly sneaky deal or came out victorious from some semi-legal business maneuver; and it always meant big money. It could not have been just about being spared the humiliation of having a son who wore fake eyelashes to work.

The thought of what Lionel could be smug about so close to the meteor shower leaves Lex cold and sharply alert, like ice in his blood.

 

Lex’s 21st birthday is less than a month away. He has already cancelled the scandalous party he had planned for the celebration of his step into official adulthood and to scare the locals. He has had neither time nor will to arrange for all the details to make a good party great and therefore worthy of the Prince of Metropolis.

The excuses are many. Work is too time-consuming, he’s too focused on finding the alien, and he’s already fallen out of touch with his old crowd.

When he starts browsing the meteor related pages that night, he tries not to dwell on the suspicion that country life has made him boring in less than a month.

That’s when it happens. He feels nothing more than a detached sort of surprise when he almost immediately comes across a small article about a young boy found after the meteor shower. A wave of renewed energy runs through him, and Lex reads the short text with rapt attention.

A mentally challenged boy was wandering aimlessly in the fields of north-western Smallville the day after the meteor strike. Unable to identify him through the usual channels, Child Protective Services finally decided to contact the media. The boy is described to be in his early teens, with dark hair and hazel-green eyes. The article is urging anyone who might have any information about the boy or his parents or custodians to get in touch with CPS. Contact information is available through the paper.

It’s the alien. Lex is so sure he feels it in his gut.

Within 24 hours Lex has tracked the boy down to Arlington’s Home for Boys in Metropolis, and started recruiting people for the alien abduction team. It will have to be a covert swoop and grab operation, carefully planned and flawlessly executed.

If he plans it right, Lex will have a birthday present no one on earth has had before.

 

The following Saturday, Lex studies the preliminary dossier on the orphanage while he eats his breakfast. It’s very thorough; the woman in charge of intelligence on the team is clearly at the top of her game. Scanning through the pages, Lex follows an old piece of advice from his father. The first thing you always look for is where the money comes from.

He is surprised to see that Arlington’s has been the recipient of more than one LuthorCorp donation over the years. It doesn’t mean anything, necessarily. There’s a long list of aid organizations and charities that LuthorCorp regularly supports, all for the public image of the company. Still, the mere fact of his father’s involvement makes Lex wary.

In the evening, his cell phone beeps, and Lex is pleased to receive a text message telling him that the cameras are up and running. To gather as much information as possible, he’s had several surveillance cameras installed around the orphanage's property, the live video feed going straight to Lex as the only receiver.

Lex switches views in the surveillance program. It’s designed with live feed in mind, showing the floor plan and immediate surroundings of the orphanage marked with red and green dots, each one corresponding to a camera. The red dots are inactive, and the green ones are recording and transmitting.

All cameras show outdoor views; infiltrating the building was considered too much of a risk. He clicks on the dots at the front of the building, systematically working his way around the house. The alien comes into view in the back yard, near the copse of trees that surrounds the orphanage’s playground. Lex feels a quiet thrill of excitement at seeing him again.

The boy looks different. They’ve cut his hair in a short manageable crop and he’s dressed in clothes that are obviously the result of a charity gala held at least ten years ago.

The alien hurries past the swings and the basketball court, slouching and casting watchful glances. He’s clearly upset about something. Lex praises the excellent picture quality that lets him see facial expressions.

The boy seems to be looking for a place to hide, edging out to the thicket at the side of the playground, obviously heading for the tree house built a ways into the grove. Lex quickly changes cameras to keep up.

There’s a sense of desperation in the alien’s movements as he climbs the rickety ladder steps with quick jerky motions, oblivious to or uncaring of the risk of falling.

Once he’s up, he sinks to the board floor, huddling in a corner. Lex can understand the need for solitude, having spent most of his childhood in a dorm himself.

He sits there folded in on himself for a long time, his shoulders shaking. Lex realizes with a start that the alien is crying. At one point he holds out his hands, looking at them with dread. Lex would give anything to know what the boy is thinking. All in good time.

Suddenly, the boy’s head jerks up, like he hears someone calling him. Lex finds himself wondering what they’ve named him. The boy certainly responds to it; he scrambles away with an alarmed look in his eyes. The sense of desperation increases, and the boy retreats to the other side of the tree house. Lex has to zoom in to see him pressed against the railing, apparently as far away from ground view as possible.

For long moments the boy remains motionless, until he exhales and shifts his weight. Then it happens.

The railing gives way, and the boy’s expression goes from watchful to terrified in a blink of an eye as he loses his balance. He teeters on the edge for what feels like an eternity before falling out of view.

Before he knows it, Lex has risen out of his seat, his heart hammering in his chest, pumping his bloodstream full of useless adrenalin. The boy is in Metropolis and Lex is in Smallville, far too far away to help him. There is nothing, nothing he can do.

The alien is dead. The tree house is high up, too high. There’s no way he will survive the impact.

He’s dead. And Lex couldn’t save him.

After the initial shock has subsided, Lex sits down and switches cameras, his hands shaking as he maneuvers the mouse. He has to search for angles and adjust the focus to find the place where he landed.

The body is still, lifeless, with body parts bent at unnatural angles. The boy’s eyes are open and there’s no sign of breathing. All his dreams, all his careful planning, ruined in mere seconds by a playground accident. Lex mourns the missed opportunity, taken away from him by chance.

He is disappointed; sure. Lex had started to look forward to interacting with an extraterrestrial species. There’s always the possibility of stealing the body from the morgue, though. This whole operation has not been for nothing.

He is just about to shut the program off, when the boy blinks.

Lex draws an astonished breath as the boy blinks again, breathing in short and obviously painful breaths and slowly sits up. He presses his eyes shut and his face contorts in agony when he picks up his injured leg and puts it in a straight position. He is bruised all over, but his skin isn’t actually broken through as far as Lex can see.

The boy sits like that for a minute or so. When he’s breathing easier, he stands up and starts to walk, the limp only evident in the first few steps. After ten yards, no sign of injury can be found in his gait or posture.

That’s when a woman, clearly a member of the orphanage’s staff, finds him, grabs him by the arms, and talks to him with a stern expression on her face before leading him towards the main house.

Lex exhales. Extraordinary. He has just witnessed an alien recovering from an accident that would have killed a regular child, and then in mere minutes, the alien healed a broken leg, among other undetermined injuries, well enough to get up and move about.

Lex stares at the screen until his eyes sting and saves the video to file.

 

Visiting the alien was never meant to be part of the abduction scheme. In fact, Lex was meant to stay as far away from the orphanage as possible. It’s risky; people are likely to remember such an unusual occurrence as the Luthor heir stopping by, but Lex can’t wait until the capture.

Interacting with the alien may bring valuable information on how to carry out the abduction, he reasons, something the abduction team has yet to satisfactorily determine. After seeing the alien’s miraculous healing abilities, Lex has some notion of how to go about it.

 

Lex confers with team leader, tells her selected parts of the plan, and reassures himself of the status of the other parts of the project. The new facilities don’t need much more work; the main lab and the alien’s confined quarters are almost operable, with only last minute adjustments remaining to be made. Top scientists in relevant fields have been thoroughly investigated and the few that made the cut are already in the process of being recruited.

Everything is going according to plan.

 

The last few miles of the drive to Arlington’s Home for Boys, Lex makes sure to not speed too much, makes sure to keep himself as cool and collected as possible, even as the excitement of finally reaching his goal is thrumming through his body. To appear eager to meet with a teenage boy would raise all the wrong kinds of questions. Cool and calm is much better.

Twenty minutes later, Lex finds himself in a worn armchair across from the orphanage director’s desk. The director is a man with inherent calm and authority, and he doesn’t even try to conceal his surprise over Lex’s visit.

“Mr. Luthor,” he says, “we are grateful for your company’s contribution to our establishment. It’s people like you and your family that make this possible. But I have to ask, what reason could you possibly have to see a mentally challenged young boy?”

“I have asthma,” Lex starts off his well-prepared story. The best way to convince people is to act according to their expectations. The director expects a rich self-centered brat who likes hearing himself speak, and that’s what he’ll get. “During the meteor strike I had a bad attack, and in the commotion I lost my inhaler. I collapsed on the ground, and this little boy came up to me. He had found my inhaler. It was surreal, like he was my guardian angel or something. I owe him my life.”

The director eases back in his chair, considering this.

“As a token of my gratitude,” Lex continues, “I have arranged for him, along with all the children currently in the care of your honorable institution, to get a day’s free pass to the Metropolis Zoo.”

The man’s eyes go wide with astonishment. “The children will love that, Mr. Luthor.”

“It’s the least I can do.” Lex leans forward, trying to look solemn. “That, and to thank him in person.”

That puts a concerned look on the orphanage director’s face. “I’ll be frank with you, Mr. Luthor. This boy has a lot of problems. His behavior indicates that he has spent his life isolated from regular contact with society. When he first came here, he didn’t even know how to use the bathroom. The other day he was in a fight and hurt one of the older boys, broke his shoulder.”

“Curious.” Lex raised an eyebrow. “He seemed very mild-mannered when I met him. What do you think could have happened to cause such a volatile reaction?”

“You know how boys are. Getting into trouble, starting fights. Nothing serious, I assure you. Even so, he has had very little social interaction in his life, and we don’t know how he’ll react to meeting new and unknown people.”

“Well, I haven’t come all the way here to turn back on the doorstep. I’ll take my chances.”

“Certainly. I’ll get Nettie; she’s the only one who’s had any luck getting through to him.”

 

Nettie is a short round woman with curly brown hair and an easy smile. “Saved your life, did he?” she says, and nods to herself, pleased. “I knew Lander had it in him. I call him Lander, after the field he was found in, you see.”

The irony of that name makes Lex bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

Nettie leads him up a staircase and down a corridor. The layout of the building reminds Lex of the boarding school of his youth, but all the doors have little windows for the staff to check in on you, much like in a closed hospital ward or a mental institution. Such associations make Lex feel uneasy, itching to get out of there. He wonders if the alien feels the same.

“How has his time here been?” he asks Nettie, genuinely curious.

“He’s rather shy and reclusive, keeping mostly to himself. He is quite heavily socially handicapped; he won’t speak except for his own peculiar language, and he has a hard time connecting with others. Normal everyday items such as clothes and cutlery seemed to be completely mysterious to him when he first got here. We actually suspect him to have been an “attic boy”, born retarded and because of his handicap kept away from society by his parents or guardians. Still, his condition could just be a reaction to the trauma of being caught in the meteor shower.”

“The director mentioned that… Lander, was it?” He waits for her eager nod before continuing. ”That Lander was in a fight. Do you know what happened?”

“Lander and one of the older boys, Carlos, got into a fight. Now, Carlos is a troublemaker, through and through. He’s always picking on the younger kids, and the new ones too. Thinks he rules the whole place. I’d be highly surprised if he wasn’t the one to start it. Only this time he picked on someone who could defend himself; Carlos took quite a hit. As did the railing in the east dorm staircase. So now, Lander is in isolation.”

“Isolation,” Lex says, incredulous. “I thought that kind of punishment was outdated.”

“I’ll not say Lander wasn’t provoked, but Carlos’s injury was unreasonably severe. There has also been talk about retaliation among Carlos’s friends. Lander may have been able to stand up for himself against Carlos, but to fend off a group of teen delinquents looking to avenge their fallen leader is definitely more than he can handle. So you see, separating Lander from the others was for his safety as well.”

Lex seriously doubts that; based on what little information he has on the boy’s abilities so far, anyone who makes the mistake of attacking him is in for a big, painful surprise.

Nettie reads the skepticism on his face as dissatisfaction with their child care methods, and hastens to do some damage control. “Besides, it’s more like he’s got his own room, than a cell. And it’s not a negative thing for him to have some solitude, since he clearly has trouble playing well with others. Personally, I think he should be introduced to one or two at first, and then gradually increase the number of people he interacts with.”

She stops outside one of the doors in the corridor. “This is the art room; he’s allowed there while the others are at school.”

Lex moves up to the small window in the door. He looks through the netted glass, and feels the shivers of destiny.

The boy is sitting on the floor, the chairs and desks abandoned in favor of a patch of brilliant sunlight coming in from the far window. He’s bent over sheets of paper and seems to be drawing or coloring something with great concentration, biting his full lower lip, taking his time choosing the right crayon from the box. A heap of broken crayons lies to the side, the crumbles ignored or forgotten.

“He’s quite artistic,” Nettie says in an overly bright voice, as if trying to justify giving an adolescent the toys of a preschooler. Lex gives her a level stare and goes back to observing the alien.

Like in the video clips Lex has collected and stored on his computer, the boy wears clothes that are mismatched and ill-fitting, clearly second hand. Lex wants more than anything else to take the boy with him, away from this place.

When Lex moves to open the door, Nettie lays a hand on his arm, stopping him. “I’m not supposed to let you in there alone with him. Regulations.”

“Tell you what, we’ll keep the door open, you can stay right outside, and perhaps I won’t rethink LuthorCorp’s decision to donate money to an institution with such blatant incongruities. How about that?” he says, and pushes the door open.

 

Lex is halfway across the room when the boy registers his presence and looks up. Instantly his whole face lights up in a brilliant smile of recognition. That smile makes Lex falter in his steps, makes his heart jump as he stops in the middle of the linoleum floor.

For a long moment they just stare at each other, the boy gazing up at Lex with smiling eyes. Rather than the brilliant green Lex remembers, in this light they have the color of river water, reminding him of pebbles on the bottom of a clear stream.

A little dizzy with relief, Lex realizes that he had expected their meeting to have been rather forgettable for the alien; in any case, not as memorable as it had been for Lex himself.

The boy laughs, chatters something excitedly, and taps the floor next to him and before he has given it any thought he, Lex Luthor, sits down. On the floor.

It’s hot in the square of sunlight. The crayons have started to melt, losing their shape and leaving colorful oily smears all over the paper sheets and the floor, making recurrent appearances on the alien’s hands and clothes, on the knees of his jeans and the elbows of the too long shirtsleeves.

The boy seems to favor primary colors; red, blue and yellow dominate the pictures, and there’s even a smudge of blue just underneath the boy’s nose.

The boy’s smile turns soft and, like the last time they met, he reaches out to touch Lex’s face. For the brief moment it takes for the boy to softly trail his fingertips along Lex’s jaw, Lex can’t breathe. This time he is utterly aware that this is an alien touching him, the warm and crayon-oily hand of an extraterrestrial being sending tingles over his skin.

Suddenly Lex is afraid the boy will do something stupid, like hug him, which would freak out the orphanage staff enough to ignore the intimidating effects of his vague threat, so he quickly breaks the moment to turn the focus to the drawings.

Sheet after sheet covered with crude drawings of mysterious things; two monsters, their bodies attached at the hips like Siamese twins, surrounded by odd markings and symbols that have to be alien writing. A grey pod-like thing inside concentric octagons in red, blue and yellow, all of it surrounded by darkness.

Lex wants to ask what the pictures portray, but he suspects that the language barrier may not allow that kind of information transfer. To determine how much of a barrier there is to overcome, they have to start somewhere, and making introductions is the natural first step.

“Lex,” Lex says and taps his chest. He makes a vague hand gesture, trying to convey “and you?” with his facial expression.

The boy grins like a loon and replies with a sound that could have been Cally or Carl or even Carol, nothing like Lander at all. This isn’t going very well. Lex can’t even be sure that the boy understood the exchange.

“You man,” the child suddenly says in clear English, very earnestly pointing at Lex. Lex perks up, nodding eagerly. He is a man.

The boy points at himself, saying something about crypt onions. When Lex still doesn’t understand, the boy looks at him as if he were an adorable, but rather dim, toddler. Then he says very slowly and carefully “A Lee-Anne,” while pointing at himself. Then he points at Lex again. “You. Man!”

Oh! Understanding hits Lex like lightning. Alien – human! The boy’s tacit vocabulary is obviously enough for him to comprehend most things he hears, but he can’t respond accurately with the limited amount of English he’d learned since he landed on Earth. This is progress!

“You understand more than you can say, don’t you?” Lex says, smiling.

The boy utters a definite affirmative while nodding his head with the vigorous thoroughness of a recently learned foreign gesture.

Then he taps one of the drawings, where a figure dressed in black lies in a sea of green, his round pink head surrounded by a halo of orange lines. “Lex!”

Lex stares in astonishment at the picture of himself, and touches his chest again to confirm. “Yeah, that’s me.”

Ever since Lex decided to pay the alien a visit, a question has circulated in his mind. How do you communicate with an alien, someone who not only doesn’t speak English, but no human language at all? It’s a relief that the alien seems to have thought of these questions as well, and a pleasant surprise that he has found a solution to the problem.

Something so simple, Lex never even thought to consider it. Drawings.

Lex chuckles and grabs a blue-green crayon. If he can draw well enough for the boy to understand him, the plan will go so much easier.

 

After having left the glitter and the music, the champagne and the laughter behind, Lex sighs and leans back against the plush upholstery of the limo seat, trying to stretch his neck as he loosens the bow tie and undoes the first button on his tuxedo shirt. He fetches a bottle from the mini bar and takes a swig of chilled water in hope that it’ll relieve the headache that’s been building behind his forehead since late afternoon.

It has been a long day, filled with greeting cards wishing him a happy birthday, numerous fruit baskets, several boxes of high quality chocolate, whiskey, cigars and even more congratulation cards from LuthorCorp business partners and employees. As usual, most of the presents were -- except the whiskey, of course -- useless things he didn’t want or need. The cigars had annoyed him in particular. If some old fart in the District Attorney’s office wanted to suck up to Lionel, presumably to stay on his “to bribe list”, why didn’t he even bother to send something that wouldn’t cause Lex a spectacular asthma attack?

All in all, it’s the same drill as all of Lex’s birthdays since his mother passed away. It seemed that if he was ever going to get something he truly desired, he’d have to obtain it himself.

Which is exactly what he’s doing. Right now he’s on his way back from an evening of celebratory fun in Metropolis, the limo swishing along in the complete darkness of rural night, the country roads quiet and near-deserted at this late hour.

A not-so-small detour from the road to Smallville takes him to an abandoned foundry, the designated drop-off point. Lex has had men stationed there since yesterday morning, and the target is reported safely acquired.

Despite the birthday festivities, Lex had been filled with worry that the plan might still go wrong, that something unanticipated would interfere and everything would just fall apart. All day, Lex has constantly run through every possible outcome of every possible scenario, calculating the probability ratio of each event and crafting contingency plans, even as he smiled and danced and ignored the badly veiled stares at his scalp, and thanked everybody for their participation in his twenty-first birthday celebrations.

The party had been a success; everyone who was anyone was invited, and Lex had made sure that everyone was duly entertained. It was a way to show the members of Metropolis’ elite that he wasn’t out for the count because of his accident, that he wasn’t afraid or embarrassed. It was also an excellent alibi, his well-witnessed whereabouts covering any plausible involvement Lex could have in the demise of a certain unidentified boy.

Lex turns on the TV; the only source of lighting in the passenger compartment is the bluish shine from the screen. The accident is on the news, probably has been all evening. Impressive how fast the Metropolis press corps can put a story on the air when it’s a tear-jerking tragedy involving children.

Lex already knows what happened, but listens to the news report anyway. The life of a young boy was taken in a hit and run accident earlier today on Centennial Avenue, outside the entrance to the Metropolis Zoo. The police have reason to suspect drunk driving, and are searching for the owner of a teal-colored Ford Focus. Paramedics were at the scene instantly, but the boy’s life could not be saved. The anchorwoman moves on to other news, and Lex turns the TV off.

Lex has set his cell phone to vibrate, which it does, buzzing quietly against his thigh through the pocket of his long coat. It’s the team leader, giving him the hourly report. She asks him if he’s seen the news, and Lex declares that he has. “Good job,” he says and ends the call.

The limo arrives on time, and Lex disembarks to stand under the harsh industrial lighting of the loading garage of the foundry. Still using urban environments as his point of reference, Lex is unaccustomed to the chilly nights of the countryside. He shivers in the cold air, and his breath mists and floats away to mingle with the autumn fog creeping in the corners of the crumbling brick walls.

One of the men standing guard disappears inside and comes back with the alien.

The boy seems rather quiet, but when he sees Lex he gives a wry little smile, almost a smirk, as if saying “took you long enough”, and hurries over to Lex’s side.

“Thank you,” Lex says to the crew, repressing the urge to put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I am pleased with your performance, and you will all be very well compensated.” The men nod curtly in response.

It starts to rain, suddenly, as if to signal that it’s time to leave. Lex wastes no time in ushering the boy into the limo and getting them both out of there.

Once they start to drive, the boy’s stillness deepens into lethargy, his body relaxing and his eyes falling shut. Maybe he has had a long day too, or perhaps the enhanced healing process requires a lot of energy, exhausting him. Whatever reason it is, the boy falls asleep on the limo seat next to Lex, his chest rising and falling in even oscillations of breath.

It's just as well, Lex decides. It’s late, and it is still a few hours’ drive to the plant and the secret research facility. He'd be too tired to endure the alien’s chipper demeanour, and his headache would only increase if he were to spend the whole ride trying to decipher the jumbled alien language. Yeah. He’d definitely be too tired for that.

The ride is quiet, and after a while a peaceful feeling sneaks up on Lex, lulled as he is by the boy’s calm breaths and the rhythmic sound of the cold November rain drumming on the roof of the car. The world is shrunk to this tiny space, consisting only of the passenger compartment of the limo, like a single air bubble trapped in glass. Lex thinks that this is what it must have been like for the alien travelling through the emptiness of space, shielded by nothing but the hull of the spaceship. It must have been lonely.

Lex takes the opportunity to observe the boy as he sleeps, appreciating this chance to unhindered take in the details of his new acquisition, the most unique birthday present Lex has ever gotten for himself.

Asleep, the alien looks so peaceful, and Lex is struck again by how human-like the boy is. Lex can’t quite place it; he looks just like any other boy, except he doesn’t. He is too good looking to be true, everything about him flawless. No one is that physically perfect, and as he looks closer, Lex does find a few imperfections. It’s just that they somehow enhance the boy’s beauty, from the tiny mole on the side of his face accentuating his high cheekbones, to the way his dark hair curls upwards at the nape of his neck.

His coltish limbs sprawl over the plush seating, completely unreserved, the fingers of his large hands twitching occasionally.

The boy’s old orphanage clothes were badly torn in the arranged accident, and besides, it’s just common sense to get rid of anything that could link them to the presumed dead Lander. For those reasons, the boy is dressed in new, clean clothes from head to toe. The only thing surviving the car crash is a red tattered backpack, and from the reports, the boy had protested rather convincingly when they had tried to take it from him. Now it lies casually dropped on the limo floor, and Lex can’t help but wonder what the boy thought was important enough to bring with him.

The boy moves in his sleep, shifting closer until his head falls to the side, coming to rest against Lex’s shoulder. The unconsciously trusting touch wakes something inside Lex, a feeling he can’t name.

His eyes widen a fraction at the realization that he doesn’t want to lose that trust. That he can’t let anyone else control what is his, can never trust the alien to someone else, not even the chief scientist he personally hired to be the alien’s keeper.

The intensity of this feeling makes him hesitate, but finally Lex dials a number to a secure line. “Cancel installation of 7G Epsilon. Pack up the equipment of rooms three, four and seven. It’s to be installed at a location to be disclosed later. I want it done within two days time. 7G Sigma proceeds as planned.”

He flips the phone shut and looks one more time at the peaceful face of the boy, the long lashes casting shadows over smooth sleep flushed cheeks, the full lips slack and slightly parted, and presses the button to lower the shaded glass partition that separates the passengers from the driver.

“New destination, Charlie. Take us home.”

As they drive towards the Manor, it seems ridiculous to keep referring to him as “the boy”. “Lander” is also out of the question for several reasons, the least of which is that it was what the boy was known as before. No, Lex decides. It’s time to give the boy a proper name. It won’t be Julian. There’s too much unhappiness in that name.

He spends some time trying out names for the boy, mouthing each one silently, tasting them on his tongue. After serious consideration, the best name he can come up with is William, a name from his mother’s side of the family. It is certainly strong and stately enough, the name of saints and scientists, heroes and rulers, conquerors and explorers. At the same time, it is sufficiently common not to draw unwanted attention. It’s just right.

But as he tests it, forming his mouth around the syllables, it’s so similar to Lillian that it almost burns the back of his throat.

Not willing to cast such a fitting name aside, Lex turns to the pet versions of the original name, finding that he dislikes the too simple nuances of “Will” or worse, “Willy”, and doesn’t even consider the unsophisticated abruptness of “Bill”.

There is another nickname for William, though. It slides easily from his tongue, a perfect fit in his mouth.

“Liam.”

At the sound of the name, the boy mumbles something in his sleep, moving even closer. His face turns towards Lex, his lips curling into a drowsy smile. Lex smiles back, pure reflex. His curiosity piqued, Lex says the name again, and the boy snuggles up to him, making a contented sound.

Liam it is.

 

The next morning, Lex lets himself sleep late as a well deserved personal reward.

When the arms on the alarm clock approach nine, he is too restless to stay in bed. He gets up, parting the drapes of his bedroom window to an unusually sunny Sunday morning for late November.

After showering and dressing he leaves his chambers, but before he descends the stairs to his office he ventures into the opposing hallway. He pauses at Liam’s bedroom door, opening it slightly. Seeing Liam’s still sleeping form through the crack between the door and the door jamb makes him feel calm and accomplished, like he has done something right.

It’s a good day. He decides he wants to have his breakfast in his office, ordering fruit juice, coffee and yoghurt with muesli from the kitchen. He intends to get as much of Liam’s cover story as straight as possible, as quickly as possible, and he is going to start with forging Liam’s birth certificate.

He sits down in the leather couch facing the doorway to the main hall and gets to work. The abduction team leader had given him several useful phone numbers to call, guaranteeing the forgers to be the top of their trade, so all he needed now for Liam’s new identity was three recent photographs of Liam, calling in a few favors from his friends in Hong Kong, and to recreate Liam’s entire history.

For some reason Amy, the housekeeper’s daughter, brings in the breakfast tray instead of Enrique. Lex absently thanks her, busy making a note to have Liam learn Cantonese as well as English.

Lex had time enough in the limo ride last night to think of an explanation that the Smallville community, the media, and most importantly Lionel wouldn’t instantly reject. As he writes down the specifics, Lex feels the calm of deeply concentrated work-flow wash over him and soon he has outlined the life and characteristics of one Carl William (Liam) Eckhardt.

Lex’s immediate plan is to keep Liam hidden at the mansion until he can communicate in passable English, and behave like he’s spent more time in civilised society than he has in a pod. Lex just prays that Lionel will stay out of their way long enough for Liam to get in character.

Of course, right that moment his father decides to pay him a surprise visit.

“Ah. I love the smell of brimstone in the morning,” Lex says, closing his laptop. “Hi, Dad.”

Lionel saunters in, suit fresh and hair fluffy despite the three-hour drive from Metropolis. “You are unusually cheerful for this time of day, Lex. Wasn’t it your birthday yesterday?”

“What can I say? Country air agrees with me, it seems.” Lex takes a sip of his orange juice.

“Speaking of your birthday,” Lionel says, handing over a tastefully gift-wrapped package. “I come bearing gifts.”

So did the Greeks, Lex reminds himself, but still finds that he’s eager to open the box. It’s a chess set, the board and the pieces made out of pale silvery metal and green gleaming stone. He didn’t expect all that much to begin with, but still. To have his father give him such a generic gift, however expensive, gives him a bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth.

“Thank you, Dad,” he manages, holding one of the green pawns up to the light. “I don’t think I have one in emerald.”

“Oh, it’s not emerald,” Lionel says, taking the pawn from Lex’s hand. “No. It’s something even rarer. I had it made in a mineral that came with the meteors. Definitely one of a kind.”

Lex is grateful that he has the composure not to drop the chess set. It’s heavy and would have left a dent in the hardwood floor at the very least. This is a warning, a message to let Lex know that Lionel know what he’s up to. His hands tremble slightly as he sets the box down on the table. “Somehow I don’t think chess is the reason you are here.”

“Well, I confess to having an ulterior motive for my visit. But chess is not an unrelated topic. Have you read the latest reports on Hardwick Industries?”

Lex nods. “Their latest investment paid out well; they’ve grown stronger and more power hungry. Sir Harry’s daughter has recently been made Executive Vice President of the entire corporation -”

“Ah yes,” Lionel interrupts, leaning against the back of the couch, toying with the meteor rock pawn. “The lovely Miss Victoria Hardwick. Didn’t you run in the same pack as her a few years ago?”

“We associated. Occasionally. Get to the point.”

“You are right, Hardwick Industries have grown. My informants tell me that they are planning to expand their American market next year, and that they have their sights set on taking over their biggest competitor.”

“LuthorCorp,” Lex states.

“As you can see, your connection to Miss Hardwick could be essential.”

So that’s what this is. Lionel wants Lex to charm himself into Victoria’s bed as a corporate countermeasure, and if Lex doesn’t want to whore himself out for LuthorCorp, Lionel would not hesitate to blackmail Lex into compliance.

Forcing his hand towards Victoria will prevent him from associating with any local women he might find interesting. That’s probably part of the reason Lionel is doing this, making it more difficult for Lex to form attachments in Smallville. Lionel interferes with Lex’s plans again. It’s easy enough to give up, though. So far he hasn’t met anyone that has sparked his interest. He shudders to think that he might eventually be forced to seriously consider the doctor with the different-sized eyes.

The real question is how much Lionel knows. He knows that Lex has been investigating the meteors, that much is clear. But unless someone from the abduction team has been less of a professional than they claimed, Lex can see no possible way for Lionel to have found out about Liam. Perhaps this is not over yet.

Lex is about to mentally draw a breath of relief when Liam stumbles into the room, clutching the red backpack, cheeks flushed and shirt wrinkly and untucked. Oh, no. If he just could have slept for another half hour.

Lionel turns around at the intrusion and stares curiously at Liam, who is making a beeline to the couch.

“Lex,“ Liam says and grins happily, and Lex feels his panic rising.

“Liam,” he says before Liam starts blabbering in his alien language, fervently hoping the boy will react like that’s his name. They never had any real chance to discuss it when they arrived late last night.

Liam grins even harder, getting a soft look in his eyes, but as he passes Lionel his expression changes into a confused look of nausea. Liam must have good instincts when it comes to people; Lex has never seen anyone react this strongly to Lionel’s presence before.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your young friend, Lex?” Lionel asks and moves closer. Liam actually backs away, an alarmed look in his eyes, which of course makes Lionel push even closer, vulture that he is.

Lex realizes something must be seriously wrong when Liam’s legs start to wobble and his face loses color. Lex is up from his seat and over at Liam’s side in two steps, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Liam shakes his head and leans heavily on Lex. “Give him some space, would you?” Lex snaps at Lionel.

Right then Amy comes half-running into the room, indignantly shouting. “You can’t go in, Mr Luthor has a meeting!” She comes to an abrupt halt, looking rather embarrassed when she realises they are all looking at her. “Oh,” she says quietly.

“Have you gotten anything to eat yet?” Lex asks Liam, seizing the opportunity to get him out of the room and away from his father. Liam barely has time to shake his head before Lex turns to Amy.

Amy who has taken to wearing too short skirts and too much makeup, and lately she appears everywhere Lex goes. Usually it is best not to fan the flames of her teenage crush, but now it may come in handy. “Amy, can you make sure Liam here gets some breakfast, pancakes perhaps?” he addresses her, looking her in the eyes and smiling.

“Of course, Lex,” she replies, ducking her gaze, a low blush appearing on her cheeks.

Amy all but curtsies, takes Liam by the arm and makes off to the kitchen.

“You shouldn’t have let him drink so much last night, Lex.” Lionel chides, picking up the backpack from where Liam dropped it on the floor. He sits down on the couch opposite of Lex, and places the backpack on the seat next to him before setting the pawn on the table. Then he chuckles, clearly amused. “Perhaps this is the wrong time to ask you to entice Miss Hardwick’s interests? Clearly, you have your hands full.”

“It’s not like that,” Lex says, half insulted on Liam’s behalf, half relieved, because if Lionel thinks Liam is Lex’s birthday celebratory date it means he has made no connection between Liam and the meteors.

“Well, do explain,” Lionel requests, clearly not believing a word Lex says. “I am all ears.”

Lying to his father is one of the most difficult things Lex ever does. Not because it pains him to be dishonest with his parent, but because of Lionel’s ability to see through the most well constructed semi-truths. Well, there is no time like the present to try this one out. “Do you remember Uncle Thomas?”

Lionel frowns. “How could I forget? He was the one to insist Lillian’s family turn their backs on her when she met me, and that after she supported him when he caused such a horrendous scandal picking up that 16-year old Chinese girl off the street.“ As always when he talks about Lillian’s family, Lionel’s tone of voice hovers between longing and bitterness. “Very indiscreet, that. Thomas was a formidable business man, but he had a tendency to be a tad… stubborn, if not obsessive. A trait that proved fatal in the end, for him and for others.”

“You were lucky that Uncle Thomas already had an adversary to obsess about,” Lex points out, “or one day he might have come after you.”

“Oh, he wouldn’t have done that; not after Lillian and I married. Thomas was an Eckhardt; his family honor wouldn’t let him do anything to hurt the husband of his baby sister. Not openly.” Lionel’s harsh tone makes certain of his opinion of the Eckhardts’ treatment of his wife. “And it wasn’t luck. Who do you think introduced him to Andrew Packard in the first place?”

He falls silent for a while, then lets out a mirthless laugh. “I suppose you have a reason for bringing up these old memories, Lex.”

“I do. Did you know Uncle Thomas had a son while still in Hong Kong? Apparently he was a bit careless with one of the maids when he was my age, she got pregnant, then sacked, and the whole thing was quieted down. Thomas apparently tracked his son down and kept in touch with him until he died. It’s a bit hard to take in, but all along, I’ve had a cousin. His name was Kenneth.”

“Was? Why the past tense?”

“Cousin Kenneth and his wife were killed in a fire last week, some kind of gas explosion. The whole building went up in flames. They left behind their teenaged son, whom you now have met, and what’s left of the Eckhardt fortune. And as I am the only remaining relative of the Eckhardts...”

Lionel’s shoulders stiffen inexplicably. “Let me guess. If you become the boy’s guardian, you’ll be administrating his financial investments.”

Lex smiles broadly and eases back on the couch, his hands clasped behind his head. “I’ve always thought that the plant could use a research and development department.”

Lionel snorts. “You may find this endeavor more trouble than it’s worth. Adolescence is usually a time of emotional instability, very wearisome for everyone involved. The little display earlier is just the tip of the iceberg.”

It was beyond bizarre to have Lionel give him parental advice, even if it was in doing something as familiar as trying to dishearten him. “The boy has just lost his parents, so forgive him for being a little moody. Anyway, he can’t be worse than I was.”

“No. I suspect few can.”

Lionel rises abruptly, straightening his suit jacket. “I want your answer concerning the Hardwick question early tomorrow morning.”

Lex nods, looking at Lionel’s back as he departs. His mind is already made up. He’ll do Lionel’s bidding, but not because he is intimidated by Lionel’s scare tactics.

Lex feels his face pull into a smile. The way he remembers it, Victoria was always up for a good time.

 

After putting the menacing chess set away, Lex sets off to look for Liam.

Since the dining room is empty, Lex heads off to the kitchen, where Liam sits by the servant’s table, enthusiastically stuffing his face. He looks much better, no sign of queasiness to be found.

Liam looks up when he enters, but looks like he really wants to get back to massacring the stack of pancakes with berries and powdered sugar, so Lex gestures to Liam to keep on eating.

“I trust he hasn’t been any trouble?” he asks Mrs. Simmons, the cook, who pours the last of the batter in the pan, the sputtering sound accompanied by a delicious smell, and wipes her hands on a linen towel hanging from her apron belt.

“Oh no, Mr. Luthor. He’s been an angel.”

“I’ve got to ask. Since when is the servants’ table an appropriate place to serve a guest breakfast?”

“He’s a guest?” she squeaks, her voice stricken. “I thought he was one of the local boys Mr. Palmer had hired to help him in the garden! Amy just told me to feed him pancakes.”

“No harm done, Anna. And I guess he’s not technically a guest, since Liam is going to live here from now on.”

Anna Simmons has served Lex and his father for a long time, and she knows when to keep her mouth shut, but her eyes are gleaming with speculation. Jesus. What kind of a pervert does everyone think he is? “Liam here is my young relative. He’s been orphaned, and I’m his new guardian,” he explains. “I’ll give you all a briefing with new instructions at seven tonight. Will you inform the rest of the staff?”

“Certainly, Mr. Luthor. And I’ll make sure to talk to Amy, especially.”

That settled, Lex walks over to Liam. “I think we have some things to discuss in my office. If you aren’t done, you can bring the food with you.”

Liam smiles and shovels the last sugar laden pieces of pancake into his mouth. Lex hands him a napkin, because having to look at Liam’s raspberry-stained lips while trying to concentrate is gong to be extremely difficult. Lex has always found sloppiness awfully annoying. Table manners are already on the list of things Liam has to learn in order to play his new role.

Liam wipes his mouth obligingly and stands up to follow Lex, grabbing an apple in passing from the bowl on the counter.

 

When they are back in the office, seated on the couch, the first thing Lex does is determine the capacity of Liam’s tacit and vocal English vocabularies, both of which are distinctly greater than the last time they had a chance to chat; in fact his language skills seem to improve noticeably as they talk. It turns out that most of Liam’s favorite words so far seem to have to do with food, something Lex finds rather amusing.

That done, Lex thinks about how to change the subject, to steer the admittedly stilted conversation over to more interesting topics.

“When you came down with the meteors, I had only just arrived to Smallville as well. I’ve been exiled here to Smallville – that’s what this town is called – by my father, designated to run the fertilizer plant.”

“Your father…?” Liam asks, looking uncomfortable.

“Yes, the unpleasant man with the wavy hair you met earlier. Don’t worry, he has left now. Anyway, I was feeling pretty resentful for being sent away, for being forced to live in this dead end of a town. I thought he was deliberately wasting my competence. To say I was angry would be an understatement.”

“Blind anger never leads anywhere.” He leans closer, locking his eyes with Liam’s. “You changed all that, Liam. You gave me a new purpose. Something to dedicate myself to. We have a future together, Liam, and I think we are going to be the best of friends.”

Liam’s mouth is slightly open as he breaths shallowly, his green eyes big and wide, all his attention fixed on Lex. Lex feels pretty affected by the intensity of the moment himself, and reaches out to touch Liam’s shoulder to assure himself of Liam’s solid presence. Liam ducks his head and looks at Lex through his long dark lashes, a small smile playing on his lips.

Lex draws back, drawing breath to continue. “You know, you have been incredibly lucky that nobody else has discovered your abilities. You will come to realize that most of us humans have an innate fear of the unknown. Things that they can’t explain, that fall outside of their neat little boxes of preconception scare them, and scared people are dangerous. If I hadn’t found you… Let’s just say not everyone would have been as welcoming as I have.”

Liam gets a serious look in his eyes. “I know,” he says quietly, like he is talking from experience. Lex decides to find out what happened and punish everyone responsible for putting that quiver in Liam’s voice. But all in good time.

Lex tells Liam about his new fake identity. “I have created the base of your new human identity, but I thought that you perhaps wanted to have some input in the more personal factors, like hobbies and favorite food, cherished memories. This is for your protection. We can’t risk anyone finding out about you being of extraterrestrial origin, so you’ll have to hide the fact that you are different. To be able to effectively help you with that, I need to know as much about you as possible. Will you let me study you so I can prevent your detection?”

“Okay,” Liam says in agreement.

“Good. So, I saw how you walked on burning hot ground without so much as flinching, and you already know I have knowledge about your physical resilience to injury, and the enhanced healing of the injuries you do contract. As you may have noticed, these are qualities no average human is blessed with. Do you have any other traits like that I should know about?”

Liam nods. “I’m strong. Fast,” he says, almost nonchalantly and takes a bite of his apple, munching slowly while visibly searching for words. “Can see through things.”

It seems that when it comes to aliens, Lex really hit the jackpot. Lex’s mind instantly fills with questions, and he quickly gives up trying to process them all, taking the first one that comes to mind.

“How strong?” he asks, pointing to a large antique Chinese cabinet, filled with old books. “Can you lift that?”

Liam grins, confident. “Easy.” He gets over to the cabinet and lifts it high with one hand, easy as anything, while still holding the half-eaten apple in the other.

Lex’s breathing hitches in amazement. “That’s incredible.”

“Wanna see how fast?” Liam says eagerly and Lex doesn’t even have time to respond before Liam’s back on the couch. Lex has to do a double take before he realizes that the cabinet isn’t in its usual spot, but over on the other side of the room.

“That is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen. Now, can you put it back, please?”

Liam smiles happily at the praise. There’s a dislocation of air, and the cabinet is back in place. This time, Lex didn’t even see Liam flicker.

“All right,” Lex says trying to subdue the bubbles of giddiness welling up in his chest. “We should probably set some ground rules right away. No performing any unexplainable stunts showing your abilities when anyone can see. Exceptions are emergencies, at the need of self defense, or when you have my explicit permission, and even then it would be best if your actions would remain unseen. If you suspect someone has seen you or for some other reason might be on to you, inform me immediately.” Liam nods gravely, and Lex continues. “No speaking your language in front of anyone but me. In fact, it would be best if you tried to speak predominately English the next few weeks.”

When they’ve established the beginnings of a modus operandi Lex brings out notebooks and pens. “I thought you should start learning to read and write. Here on Earth, most people your age have gone through at least eight or nine years of education, and if you are to blend in, you have to catch up.“

When Liam takes his pen it makes a squeaky noise and then there is ink all over his hand, dark and sticky. Liam immediately drops the crushed pen, distressed. It lands on the first page of the notebook, leaving a small blue puddle. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles, looking like he’s close to tears. “No, no. It’s okay. It was just a pen. I must have thousands,” Lex soothes, getting some tissues and starts to wipe the ink from Liam’s trembling fingers.

“It’s just… Sometimes I have trouble controlling it,” Liam says, mortified.

“Then we’ll practice. This is clearly nothing more than an issue of fine-tuning your strength,“ Lex says, giving Liam a new pen and reaching over to guide Liam’s hand into the right grip, teaching him how to hold the shaft lightly enough to slide easily out of his fingers when pulled, the way Lex once was taught penmanship at Excelsior. Lex makes a mental note to schedule some strength controlling exercises for Liam. It doesn’t have to be very complicated; playing pool, for example, is a great way to hone coordination and calibrate strength.

After that obstacle is taken care of, Liam catches on astonishingly fast, surpassing elementary school levels within an hour. Lex marvels over Liam’s rapid learning, and theorizes that it is another superpower, one that serves them well. The speed with which Liam takes in knowledge will make it possible to enroll Liam as a freshman student at Smallville High School as a transfer student, maybe as soon as January, when the new term starts.

Lex has more fun teaching Liam to read and write than he’s had in ages, and decides to select a few suitable books from his library for Liam to read.

Liam’s native language, on the other hand, turns out to be a lot more difficult to grasp, essentially different as it is from all Terran language stems Lex is familiar with. The pronunciation is tricky and shifts with case, tense, level of formality and for countless other reasons that Lex can’t determine. It doesn’t help that Liam isn’t really aware of his language’s structure, just seems to have an inherent knowledge of how to understand it. When they decide to break for lunch, all Lex can say that doesn’t send Liam into helpless giggles is “Take me to your leader“, “Nice to meet you” and “Can I have a sour intoxicant to drink, please?” Apparently, there is no equivalent of a vodka gimlet where Liam comes from.

They have soup and grilled sandwiches brought up, and continue their conversation while eating.

“So, tell me a little bit about yourself. You’re an alien. Where are you from?” Lex asks and then wants to kick himself really hard, because that opening has “date” written all over it. Then he remembers that Liam doesn’t know anything about dating, and relaxes.

“My name is Kal-El. I’m from the city of Kandor, on the planet Krypton,” Liam says through a mouthful of sandwich. “I don’t know all that much about it; I can’t have been very old when I left the planet.”

“Well, do you know why you were sent to Earth? There must be some reason you are here.”

Liam shakes his head. “My ship was broken. It told me to take it to the station and leave it for self-repair. I guess it could be fixed now.”

“You know where the spaceship is?” Lex asks, intrigued.

“I’ll show you. We might need to bring lights you can carry.”

“You mean flashlights?”

“Yeah.” Liam finishes his glass of milk. “It’s dark where I put it.”

 

They take the Mercedes, the sturdiest and most inconspicuous car Lex owns, Liam guiding the way until they reach Miller’s Bend, a forested area not far from Miller’s Field. The dirt road that leads them off the main road dwindles until branches brush the sides of the car, and Lex swears he has never seen so many potholes in his life. Finally it ends in a gravelled turnaround and they park. Liam leads the way through the wood, following a winding trail downhill. Soon it turns and sneaks closer to the rockface and there, between the tree trunks, Lex can see the dark mouth of the cave.

The opening is large enough for them to stay upright, and wide enough for them to enter without having to touch the cave walls, something Lex is very grateful for. Still, you’d think that an opening that big would provide for better air flow; there’s a dank stench that gets stronger the deeper they venture inside.

The interior of the cave opens up even wider, and Lex shines his flashlight around, finding several places where the cavern has been hollowed out into tunnel-like passageways, wondering which one is going to lead them the right way. Probably the one that’s big enough to fit a spaceship. “I didn't even know there were caves down here. But I guess there are many things I don’t know about Smallville.”

They pass through the far left passage and Lex studies the walls of the caves as they go, his interest growing. The rough stone surface is a dull brown with the occasional pale-grey of some other mineral glimmering as Lex sweeps his light over it. “You should check out the walls, they have some pretty cool drawings on them,” Liam says just as Lex’s light beam comes across a patch of primitive drawings, and Lex moves closer to investigate.

“Incredible. These may be more impressive than the caves at Lascaux.”

“At what?” Liam asks.

“One of the best known sources of prehistoric art,” Lex clarifies. “I’ll put some books about it on your reading list.”

He shines his light on a crude drawing of a man falling from the sky. There is another drawing of a man shooting fire from his eyes, and a bit higher up he recognizes the two headed creature from Liam’s crayon drawings.

“Looks like a fascinating story. Do you know what it’s about?”

“I have no idea. Maybe it means I’m not the first one to use these caves.”

Liam is on the other side of the cave, and has stopped at another wall. In the middle of the stone wall is an octagonal groove, the precise angles and the smoothness of the incision indicating that technological tools have been used in making it. As Liam fumbles with his backpack, Lex walks over, reaching out to touch it.

Liam takes out an octagonal disc made of a light cool metal. It has the same size as the groove. “It might not be safe. Stay back,” he warns Lex. He holds the disc up to the groove, which has started to pulsate, and there are symbols on the disk glowing in response.

Lex realizes that this is the reason Liam fought so vehemently to keep the backpack; that’s where he kept this alien key. He almost feels ill when he thinks that the backpack and its contents lay on the couch beside Lionel, that Lionel even touched it.

Lex jumps a little as part of the cave wall slides apart, revealing a hollow space.

“Come on,” Liam urges, and they enter into what Lex only can call a really under-decorated underground hangar.

The ship rests on an upraised flat piece of rock, bringing the top of it at level with Lex’s shoulders. The area around it is illuminated, but as Lex looks for light sources, he can’t find any.

Liam walks up and puts a hand on the rounded hull. “I had to take it here so it could recover. You had passed out, and I didn’t know how to carry you both. I returned as soon as I could.” He looks up, meeting Lex’s eyes. “But you were gone.”

He breaks the gaze, bending his head to look at the dusty ground. “I looked for you, and then some other people found me. I didn’t know where you were, and I was hungry, so I went with them.”

Liam’s inexplicable remorse; the bent head and the low voice, are doing weird things to Lex, bringing forth urges to comfort and console, things Lex isn’t very good at. He stands next to Liam, putting a hand on his upper arm. “You did nothing wrong. I was unconscious for four days; I couldn’t have cared for you. At least this way, you stayed off my father’s radar.” He lets go of Liam’s arm and taps the metallic surface of the ship to see if it sounds hollow. “Are you going to open this thing or not?”

Liam smiles a little and uses the octagonal disk again, this time on a slot at the front of the ship, similar to the groove in the wall.

The symbols glow again, and the key flies out of Liam’s hand, swivelling around rapidly, and then it zips right into place, melding with the ship. Thin stripes circling the round part of the hull light up like a Christmas tree, and then they fold back section by section, revealing an egg shaped hollow, its walls made of some kind of purple metal and covered with more of the glowing symbols.

“Has it been repaired?” asks Lex.

Liam nods and reaches in to fiddle with some kind of control tablet. A light beam appears like something out of Star Wars, projecting more symbols. They hang in the middle of the stale cave air, lines running both ways; alternately left-to-right and right-to-left. Liam stares at them, reading intently.

Lex watches his face, captivated by Liam’s total concentration. It’s almost like Liam’s listening to something Lex can’t hear. He’s just standing there, unmoving, and Lex gets a feeling of being invisible, like he could do anything and Liam wouldn’t notice.

“Hey, Liam,” Lex says, testing his theory. “Liam?” There’s no reaction. This is Lex’s chance. He reaches inside his jacket for his Blackberry, ready to gather as much information about the spacecraft as possible, in hopes of getting some research material.

He never gets the Blackberry out of his pocket. Liam’s chin starts to suddenly wobble, and then a single tear runs down his cheek. Liam closes his eyes, the stasis broken, his entire face scrunching up in anguish.

“They’re all dead!” Liam cries, his voice broken with pain.

He draws a wet, sniffling breath, and then he’s sobbing against Lex’s chest, hands gripping Lex’s shirt.

Lex’s arms close around him automatically. “There, there,” he attempts, feeling entirely ineffectual.

It turns out Liam just needs someone to hold him and listen to him trying to process the story the spaceship told him.

And it is a terrible story. Krypton had been wracked with war, until the planet’s very destruction. Liam’s parents had been part of a resistance group, employing their skills as scientists to try to save their home. It wasn’t enough. When the inevitable end drew near, they and their friends tried to salvage the most precious things they had, their infant children. Putting their hopes in the escape pods Liam’s parents had constructed and programmed, they sent their young ones away at the last minute. Perhaps too late, as many of the pods were destroyed by the first shock wave, and nearly all the others by fragments of the exploding planet. The meteors interfered with the sensors of the ships, sending them off course and out into the nothingness, doomed to sail through space forever.

During the past months, Lex has often speculated about the purpose of sending Liam to Earth, wondering if this was the extraterrestrial version of leaving infants to the wolves. But at Liam’s words he thinks that this has more parallels to Moses in the bulrushes; a baby sent forth in naught but a cradle by his parents in hopes of escaping death. Lex strokes Liam’s hair and feels a budding respect for Liam’s mother and father; it took a lot of guts, or faith, to be able to do something like that.

“I’m the only one left,” Liam sobs, heartbroken, getting snot on Lex’s shirt.

Lex nudges Liam’s head up and wipes Liam’s damp cheek with his thumb. “They must have loved you very much.”

Eventually Liam’s sniffles dwindle, and he disentangles from Lex. Reaching into the ship again, Liam picks up a pale yellow blanket from some sort of hidden compartment. “My mother wrapped me in this.” He holds it up to his face, smelling the fabric. “I can’t tell if it smells like her. I don’t remember.”

Lex walks around the ship, putting some space between the two of them. He knows what it’s like to mourn your mother. He knows that nobody can help you with that first raw pain of realization.

He feels vaguely guilty for the story he made up about Liam’s fake dead parents in Hong Kong, like he’d somehow wished it by getting it so close to the truth.

He busies himself with inspecting the interior of the ship, trying to make sense of the Kryptonian writing. The bowl of the compartment is rather small, just 5'4 across at its longest.

Wait a minute. Lex looks from the ship over to Liam, estimating his height. The top of his head reaches just to Lex’s chin, and Lex has the distinct impression that he used to be shorter before.

One thing is certain: Liam could never comfortably fit into the pod now. He’d have to bend his legs and back as well as draw his head in. It’s undeniable; in just two months Liam must have grown almost three inches. He is much taller than the boy that crawled out of the cramped space of the escape pod when Lex first saw him.

Only the fact that Lex himself is just now noticing that Liam is getting rapidly taller keeps Lex from freaking out about people taking note of the odd growth spurt. Still, this needs some serious study.

Liam taps the place where the key is fused to the ship, and as suddenly as it appeared, the light show is over, the hull closing up as the key zips into Liam’s hand.

“Let’s go home,” Lex presses, and leads Liam towards the exit.

Liam stays quiet the whole ride back.

 

 

Lex has designated one of the many rooms in the mansion to be his and Liam’s secret science lair, the place where they can study Liam’s alien powers and document his anatomic divergences. The staff thinks it’s a laboratory where Lex can indulge in recreational science experiments, and that isn’t actually all that far from the truth.

In this room, they will be able to perform the most basic examinations; pulse, temperature, weight, height and reflexes can be easily measured and documented. There will be basic research utensils; easy for them to access for regular use. The room is also meant to serve as a place to contemplate the information about Liam, to figure out how to conceal and control his powers if need be.

While they are waiting for the room to be furnished the examinations need to take place at the new hidden lab at the plant, where they would have to go for the more intricate procedures anyway.

Liam’s build is gangly and his weight fluctuates strangely, like gravity hasn’t got quite the same grip on him as on everyone else. Bare-chested, Liam steps off the digitalized scales, a small frown marring his forehead. “Are you sure it’s not broken?”

Lex nods. “Do you want me to test it again?” he asks, ready to step up on the instrument himself.

“No.” Liam cross his arms over his chest, pouting. He has been sullen ever since the time in the caves. Liam is sure finding his role of brooding teenager a perfect fit.

A cursory glance confirms that Liam has the characteristics of a boy around the age of fourteen, as a trail of thin dark hairs leads from the waistband of Liam’s sweat pants to his navel. Otherwise his skin is smooth and flawless, his muscles just starting to gain definition.

His current height is 5'7", nearly half an inch taller than the first time he was measured, just over a week ago. Comparing the data to that of human boys in that estimated age spectrum shows that Liam’s growth speed is several times the normal, even if it seems to have started to level out.

Lex turns the information around in his head, trying to form a cohesive theory. “Tell me what you remember of traveling through space.”

“I don’t remember anything. It’s like I slept the whole way through, because when I woke up, I had already landed,” Liam says frowning, bringing the art of pouty-lipped petulance to a new level.

“As I thought. You were probably kept in a sedated state with low metabolic activity much like hibernation, most likely from the moment you were put in the pod. There is no way of telling how long a time your journey has taken, but perhaps the ship deemed it necessary to inhibit your physical development, keeping you small enough to fit in the limited space of the its compartment. I think it’s reasonable to assume that when you woke up and moved out of the ship’s range of influence, your growth rate accelerated as compensation for being kept in check.”

Liam’s eyes are huge with incredulity. “Won’t people see that I’m growing really fast?”

“I don’t think we need to worry about that. Your growth rate has declined the last few times I’ve measured you and if one assumes the decline to be more or less constant, it would mean that your enhanced growth may be present but not too noticeable unless you were carefully studied. Besides, boys are supposed to grow rapidly at your age.”

Liam doesn’t look convinced, and neither does he look very pleased with the thought of growing faster than other people. Lex knows what it’s like to have to mature quickly. He can certainly relate.

To Lex’s disappointment, most of the equipment he purchased in anticipation of examining his alien proves impossible to use on Liam. Needles for drawing blood bend or break against his soft yet impenetrable skin and even the radiography camera needs calibration. The first pictures were too blurry to see anything more than diffuse contours, Liam’s body apparently too solid for regular levels of radiation.

Only when Lex increases the radiation dose with as many roentgen units as he dares is he able to get a sharper image. It’s still not clear, soft tissue obscuring some of the skeletal structure, but there are no divergences from human bone structure that Lex can see. The soft tissue, on the other hand, is far more interesting

Liam may look human on the outside, but his insides betray his secret origin. The organs Lex sees on the x-ray sheets are like nothing he’s ever seen before. There is a heart, lungs, liver, intestines; all the regular parts of human anatomy. But there are also some small unidentified nodular lumps in his lower abdomen, centered in the bowl of his pelvis. Lex can’t see any good reason for them, as all the other small organs are accounted for, such as kidneys, testes and pancreas, but he assumes they belong to Liam’s glandular system, since they have thin ducts leading from them to other parts of his body. There might be more unexplainable organs, but the pictures are still very indistinct.

When Lex re-enters the radiology room, Liam sits uncomfortably on the table of the x-ray apparatus, hunched over with his hands in his lap.

To alleviate Liam’s anxiety, Lex shows him the x-ray sheets. “When you see through things, is this what it looks like?”

“Most of the time, yeah.” He squints at Lex. “Other times it’s like I can peel off layers of things, like I can see right through stuff.” He stops squinting, rubbing his temple. “That kind makes my head hurt.”

“But the x-ray vision doesn’t?” Lex asks, making notes.

Liam shakes his head. “I tried to look at you when I was lying on that table. It was weird. I could see you with my normal vision, you know, through the window, but when I switched to, um, x-ray, the wall was just blank. I couldn’t see into the room you were in. Not even through the glass.”

“Hm. The monitor room is lead lined, to protect the technician against overexposure. Perhaps lead blocks your vision?” Lex makes certain to jot the theory down, complete with further possible testing.

Lex talks about the caves and the ship while they are conducting the rest of the exams. “I found out that the caves are being studied; a professor Willowbrook from Kansas Central College wrote a paper on them a few years ago. It didn’t mention the cave paintings, though,” he says attaching sensory pads to Liam’s pectorals. “The caves need to be protected. I’ll see if I can get a team down to authenticate the paintings, and then it will be protected by the Historic Artifacts Amendment. Of course that means they have to be opened to the public to a certain degree, but sometimes staying in plain sight is the best way to hide.”

He guides Liam to a treadmill, turning it on. “Okay, I want you to run at a moderate pace, and then we’ll see how long you can maintain that pace.” Lex sits back in a chair and brings out his Blackberry. “I’m going to ask you a couple of questions while you run.”

“Think back to when you arrived here on earth. How did you feel? If you compare that with how you are feeling now, is there any difference?”

Liam seems to be able to run at a constant speed indefinitely; he doesn’t seem troubled by having to think or talk while he is running. “I feel stronger. More powerful.”

Lex makes neat notes of this. “As in your power is growing?”

“Yeah. And maybe…” he pauses, but not to catch his breath. “Maybe like it’s changing?”

“Changing, how?” Maybe this is what’s been troubling Liam.

Liam shrugs.

“All right, we’ll add that to the ground rules. You’ll inform me of any new developments as soon as you discover them. We’ll figure it out together.”

“Okay. Sometimes, it feels like… like I’m full with energy that has nowhere to go. It’s frustrating.”

“Do you think there’s anything you could do to alleviate that feeling? Physical exercise of some sort?”

“I don’t know. It’s not like there are many things that tire me out.”

Lex takes a moment to think. Usually, whenever he felt frustration he took to the road, driving never failed him as an escape mechanism. Speed could make the rest of the world fade away. “How about going running? Thirty minutes at super speed might do the trick. Why don’t you give it a try?”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll try.”

“Anything else?”

Liam is just about to shake his head no, when he hesitates. “When your father was here. I felt sick. And weak, really weak.”

Lex doesn’t like the fact that Liam got hurt one bit, and that his father is involved makes it even worse. Trying to narrow it down, he asks follow-up questions. “Did you feel this weakness as soon as you saw him? Describe it.”

“It got worse the closer he got.”

“Have you ever felt that way before? When not in the presence of my father?”

“A few times. When I was looking for you, before the other people found me. And around the book display cases in your office; that’s why I didn’t want to read that book you told me about.”

“I think I know what caused your adverse reaction.” Of course, they need to do some testing to be sure, but Lex is already convinced.

Behind the book display is one of the many hidden compartments scattered around the mansion. This one in particular contains the chess set Lionel gave him. Turns out that the chess set has more in common with the horse of Troy than Lex initially thought, hidden weapon that it is. Lex can only be thankful that Lionel doesn’t know just how powerful the meteor mineral is.

 

Liam gets dressed and they drive home. Lex grips the steering wheel a little too tightly. Before the meteor shower, Lex had been adamant about gaining his own authority, to get away from Lionel. It had been revenge and spite and defiance. Now he has to keep his independence, to protect Liam.

They need to solidify Liam’s identity, make it Lionel-proof. As soon as they get home they will rehearse the back-story again and again until Liam knows it better than Lex, who invented it, does.

He needs to take Liam shopping. He needs new everything -- clothes, cell phone, computer, anything to help achieve his orphaned rich boy persona. They don’t need to purchase fake heirlooms from Hong Kong, since Lex let Liam’s parents die in a fire.

As soon as Liam is able to pass as a regular teenager, Lex will hire a tutor to home school him in subjects matching the curriculum of the American International School in Hong Kong.

As for Liam’s education in human culture and behavior, they don’t have time to learn it the usual way; by experience. Judging by the way Liam took in information visually and aurally from the ship, Lex thinks that movies might be the easiest and fastest way to give Liam a sense of humanity in all its faceted glory.

But most importantly, Liam has to learn to lie convincingly. That might not be too hard. The ship might have infused Liam with some sense of social interaction beyond foundational survival instincts, but when it comes to the finer points of socialized behavior such as morality and ethics, Liam is practically tabula rasa. What’s equally necessary, and what Lex suspects is going to prove the most difficult, is making sure that Liam never lies to Lex.

 

Things start to find their places, settling into a routine. They both fall into their respective roles, as tragically orphaned teenager and young billionaire’s son unexpectedly laden with the burden of taking care of said orphaned young relative.

To separate Liam’s appearance from that of the dead orphan boy, Lex has Liam grow his hair longer, until it curls just over the top of his shoulders. He’s gotten a whole new wardrobe, everything from socks to formal wear to swimming trunks.

Lex spends half his work week at the plant, usually Wednesdays and Thursdays, and works from home half the week. There’s movie night with Liam twice a week, Liam gets examined at least once a week, and Lex inspects the secret meteor rock experiments at 7G Sigma every two weeks.

The fall into a habit; when Lex works in his study, Liam joins him there to do his homework. He lies sprawled out on the floor or the leather couch, deep in concentration. While Liam studies chemistry, or writes essays on ancient Sumerian religion, Lex studies Liam. Time after time he finds his gaze fixed on Liam’s adolescent frame, the spreadsheets and progress reports covering his desk all but forgotten.

Lex knows it’s an immensely stupid thing to do if he intends to keep attention off them both, but finds that every now and then his eyes seek out Liam of their own volition. Liam is just fascinating, and try as he might, Lex can’t stop looking.

Liam makes considerable progress, both educational and social. His shy smiles and tragic history make Lex’s house staff love him, especially Mrs. Palmer, Lex’s housekeeper. She says Liam’s in his “sprouting years”, that he is going to shoot up like a weed. She ruffles his hair in passing whenever she has the opportunity. Liam usually ducks his head and continues to stuff his face with whatever snack food he has charmed off of Mrs. Simmons. “Can’t deny a growing boy his sustenance,” she says, and whips up some more waffle batter. Even Mrs. Palmer’s children, Amy and Jeff, start to hang out with Liam, probably because of all the food.

At work, Martha and Gabe are resourceful and capable coworkers and they gain more and more of Lex’s respect. It makes him want to deserve theirs, and the struggle to keep the plant in the black is not just about getting even with Lionel anymore. As they work together, he gets to know them better.

He knows that Gabe is a single father who is very proud of his daughter. She is editor of the high school paper, which is impressive since she’s just a freshman. Lex says as much, and mentions that he hopes she could show Liam around the school when he transfers over to Smallville High next semester.

Martha and her husband don’t have children and her eyes show a nearly buried pain when the topic comes up. Her husband Jonathan runs a small organic farming business together with their next door neighbors, the Langs. The main crop consists of a variety of vegetables and fruit as well as hothouse flowers. To somehow make up for unknowingly bringing up old wounds, Lex ends up ordering unreasonably large amounts of turnips and sweet corn and who knows what else. Well, it’s not like Liam can’t put it away.

The produce, a whole crate full, is delivered the following Thursday by a pretty young brunette and a tall blond young man Lex assumes is a football player. They introduce themselves as Lana Lang and her boyfriend, Whitney Fordman. Lex has Mrs. Simmons take care of the vegetables, confident she will create something delicious.

And that she does. In fact, the vegetables are so tasty that Lex decides to have a crate from Kent and Lang Organic Produce delivered weekly, and then at Martha’s suggestion he tries some specialties, like honey and apple cider, from other farmers in the area. Everything he receives is apparently of the most wonderfully high quality, and Mrs. Simmons can’t stop talking about the joy of cooking with such excellent produce.

All this talk about the lovely produce gives Lex an idea. The improvements Lex has made at the plant cost a considerable amount of money, money that he supposedly got from Liam’s inheritance, when in fact it comes straight out of Lex’s own pockets. Since the alien-based technology breakthrough, as scientific breakthroughs are wont to do, seems to be taking its time, he could use another source of liquid equity other than his trust fund. If this works out the way he hopes, profit will be made as soon as the coming spring.

He brings this idea with him to work, all the way to Martha’s desk. “Gabe has a teleconference; it’ll be over in fifteen minutes or so,” she greets him.

“I’m actually here to see you.”

“What brings you here in the middle of a Tuesday?”

“Those artichokes your husband grows. I need about thirty of them if you've got 'em.”

“May I ask what you plan to do with that many artichokes? Don’t tell me. It’s your young ward again. What is it you always say? ‘The boy eats like a horse.’”

“Ha, ha. I'm actually hosting a dinner Friday night for the local farming community, just an informal talk about some financial options. A lot of farms in town are having money trouble.”

Martha nods. “The meteor shower didn’t exactly make farming any easier.”

“I'm offering myself as an investor to help people modernize and expand. This town once grew twenty percent of the corn in the state. Smallville was a heavy hitter. Now I think perhaps the days of corn are over.”

“Oh? And what has come to take its place?”

“Top quality produce, which should go straight to the best restaurants in the state. Martha, Smallville produce is some of the absolute best I have ever enjoyed.”

“I’m glad our humble offerings have been to your liking. Am I to take it that Jonathan and the Langs are invited?”

Lex nods. “I'd appreciate it if you would consider attending as well. It would be nice to have someone with an open, non-hostile mind there. Some of the people I plan to invite could be difficult to convince. Like your husband. He hasn't exactly kept his opinions about LuthorCorp a secret, and I know he isn’t the only one in town who thinks that way.”

“It's just... your family's track record hasn't been the best in this town.”

“Well, that is something I intend to change.”

 

 

The night of the dinner party the mansion is buzzing with activity. Mrs. Palmer runs around setting the table and supervising the flower arrangements. The kitchen is filled with extra staff specially hired for the event, and it’s off limits, something that makes Liam grumble unhappily. Lex rolls his eyes and points at the bowl of apples standing on the side table, just next to Liam’s elbow, and then at the half eaten fruit already in Liam’s hand.

“Yeah, well. I was in the mood for pizza.”

“If you can keep your ravenous stomach in check, you’ll have the best cuisine Smallville can offer in less than an hour. Speaking of which, isn’t it time for you to change into something a little more stylish?”

“What? Are you telling me that t-shirt, jeans and sneakers aren’t the fashion for soirées anymore?” he mocks, one large hand grabbing the lower edge of said t-shirt in demonstration.

“Just go change,” Lex says, trying to sound stern but he’s unable to keep himself from smiling.

Liam gets up from his reclined state in the leather sofa, snickering, and heads upstairs.

Tonight is as important for Liam as it is for Lex; the dinner is going to serve as a final test to ascertain Liam’s ability to hold his own among civilized company, to see how accurately he can play the part of a rich boy brought up in Hong Kong.

Lex is confident it will go well. Liam has been dressing and acting the part more than adequately for nearly three weeks now.

 

Lex hardly ever gets nervous; it is not a Luthor trait. But as farmers dressed in their Sunday best stream through his front door to gather in the foyer, the association of peasants coming to storm the castle is not too far-fetched.

Almost everyone who accepted the invitation has arrived, except Martha and Jonathan. Liam is late too, and Lex is sorely tempted to go up and demand to know what’s taking him so long. It can’t be that hard to put on the clothes Lex had picked out for him; he didn’t even need to wear a necktie.

Just when he thinks Jonathan has put in some kind of spousal veto against Luthor dinner parties, the Kents finally arrive, Martha in her smart pale green business suit, her husband in a beige suit jacket thrown over a plaid shirt in muted browns, as if he wants to demonstrate his farmer status and reluctance to associate with a man he probably considered the spawn of the devil.

“Welcome,” Lex greets them, smiling at Martha. “I'm delighted you decided to come.”

“As if I would pass up a chance to see my new boss in his natural habitat.” She clasps his hand with both of hers in a firm handshake. “And what a habitat,” she continues, looking around. “Your house it's very- “

“Large?”

“To put it mildly,” Jonathan interrupts in a grumpy tone of voice. Lex can feel his hostility already.

“The word ‘restraint’ doesn't exist in my father's vocabulary,” Lex says dryly, extending his hand. “Welcome, Mr. Kent.”

Martha has spotted the mass of people milling around in the foyer. “I'm sorry, are we late?”

“Not at all,” Lex reassures her. “Liam should be down any minute.”

“Oh, if that handsome young man is Liam, he’s already here,” Martha says, pointing.

Lex turns around and there he is, just coming down the stairs like the star in some teen chick movie, and for a moment all Lex can think about is that Liam looks so striking in his pale blue dress shirt that it’s actually hard to breathe.

Liam’s hair is dark and shiny and curls gently around his face, framing the rosy cheekbones and the equally rosy lips. Taking in the way Liam’s eyes shine green in the low lamplight, Lex feels his heart swell in his chest and lets his gaze travel downward. As he’s admiring the way the charcoal fabric of Liam’s dress pants hugs his tapered hips, warmth pools deep in his belly, warmth that doesn’t have one shred of guardian-like pride and affection to it. What he feels is attraction; lust. Lex suddenly feels like the dirtiest man alive.

Liam smiles shyly, shooting Lex a look from under his lashes, and Jesus, this is dangerous territory, especially in a room full of conservative small-town people. Lex quickly pulls himself together, making introductions.

“Martha, I would like you to meet Liam Eckhardt. Liam this is Martha Kent and her husband Jonathan. Martha is an invaluable asset at the plant, without her I would never get any work done.”

Martha shakes her head, but is clearly flattered. “Nice to meet you, Liam.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Kent,” Liam says, perfectly polite.

“I am so sorry about your parents,” Martha says, sounding sincere.

Jonathan says nothing, just shakes Liam’s hand in what must be the manliest manner he can muster. Lex grinds his teeth. It’s one thing to be curt to Lex, that’s nothing he isn’t used to, but it’s a whole other issue if he’s rude to Liam.

“Okay,” he says raising his voice to gather all of their attention. “Everyone seems to be here. Let’s eat, shall we?”

When everybody’s seated at the large black oak dining table, Lex looks out over the expectant faces. This is no different from the board room, really.

“To start with, I want to thank you all for coming. Let’s leave business talk until dessert, and if we need to discuss it further, there’ll be coffee and cognac in the library. But for now, let’s just enjoy the food and the company.”

At first, the conversation is stilted, but then Mrs. Lang compliments the food. Mr. Petersen and Mrs. Woodsman agree, and that’s what breaks the ice. By the middle of the main course, the room is alive with chatter and there’s even some laughter. Liam’s manners are impeccable, and he is obviously charming his way into Mrs. Murphy’s good graces. While he isn’t unaware of Mr. Kent’s suspicious demeanour, Lex lets himself enjoy the ambience. The castle had probably not seen this much action since it left Scotland.

When it’s time for dessert, Lex taps his wine glass with the blunt side of his knife. “Ladies and gentlemen. The time has come for me to offer you a business proposal.”

“Do you think you can come here and with your fancy home and your fancy food and try to dazzle us? Try to soften us up so we won’t notice when you swindle the money away from right under our noses?”

“Mr. Kent. Yes, my home is pleasantly decorated, and yes the food is exceptional,” he begins, feeling triumph when Kent’s eyes darken at his display of arrogance, “but it wouldn’t have been so without the farmers of Smallville. All the flower arrangements in this room are from the Lang hothouses.”

Mr. Kent’s malice turns into bafflement, his mouth stopping mid protesting sentence.

Lex continues to make his point, gesturing to the plates on the table. “For starters we had a harvest salad, made with roasted white beets, parsnips, turnips, carrots and winter squash from Mellville’s Nursery and Kent and Lang Organic Produce. On top was sprinkled smoked cheese from Mr. Petersen’s farm. The main course was roasted lamb, seasoned with garlic and rosemary from the Walsh’s herb garden. To the lamb we had compote of potatoes and white onions, and sautéed artichokes, also from Kent and Lang Organic Produce.” He takes a bit of dessert, savoring the heavenly apple flavors. Anna really outdid herself. “And this dessert you are enjoying right now is an apple tart with honey ice-cream, made with the Woodmans’ honey and the Kents’ apples. We wash it down with the McCallums’ excellent apple cider.”

There is a stunned silence. Finally Mr. Mellville speaks up. “All right. I’m listening. What are you trying to say?”

“I believe that produce this high in quality should be on the serving plates of every gourmet restaurant in Kansas worth its name. I have the connections and the investment money; I can give you distribution service and access to the latest technology.” Lex stands up. “Now that I’ve got your attention, shall we move out to the library for further discussion?”

Enrique opens the doors on cue, letting people into said library. Lex stops Liam with a palm on his chest as he tries to sneak in with the guests.

“There will be alcohol and heated arguments, maybe even name-calling. I can’t expose an impressionable young mind to that; I’d never forgive myself.”

Liam rolls his eyes. “All right, I’ll go watch TV instead. Just come by afterwards and tell me how it went.”

 

In the library coffee is served and folders with the business concept are passed around. Lex opens a bottle of his fifth best cognac. Alcohol can lubricate the most strained of business relations, and this is no exception.

Of course, it can also fuel the irritation of those who dislike the proposal, but that is just fine with Lex. Jonathan’s unreasonable hostility is actually working in Lex’s favor; he can gain sympathy from the other guests by facing Mr. Kent’s resentment graciously.

The room quiets when the lights dim briefly, but Lex isn’t fazed by the interruption. “Guess the generator works. Power must have blown. Where were we?”

“I believe you were explaining how you could single-handedly save the financial state of Smallville’s farming community,” Mr. Kent mocks.

“Jonathan...” Martha admonishes.

“It's okay, Martha. I understand your husband's scepticism,” Lex says and turns to the rest of the farmers. “Many of your farms are drowning in debt. I'm making a business offer. You could get another loan. Or you could allow me help you get to the point where you never need someone like me again.”

“So you would give us the latest farming equipment and technology.”

“All in exchange for our independence.” Jonathan gripes. The way he says it, Lex might as well have asked them to sell their souls.

“My influence will be minimal, but existing, yes,” Lex agrees. “It's a partnership.”

 

“I'll admit, it looks generous.” Mrs. Lang says, leafing through her folder.

“It is.”

“Which begs the question, ‘What does Lex Luthor get out of all this?’” Mr. McCallum asks. Mr. Kent isn’t the only one who is sceptical, it seems.

“I believe there's profit to be made,” Lex says truthfully, and then adds a little something to get Mr. Kent even more riled up. “I'm not exactly in the charity business.”

As predicted, Jonathan latches on to that like a dog on a bone. “Like father, like son,” he sneers.

Lex doesn’t dignify that with a response, just lets a little of the hurt he feels show and addresses the other guests instead. “Take some time to think about it. I'm sure you'll see the benefits outweigh your other options.” He raises his glass. “To the future.”

When they raise their glasses in response, he knows he has won them over.

The lights go out again, and this time it stays dark. Servants quickly come in with lit candles and hand out flashlights, and Enrique builds a fire in the fireplace.

Phil Raines, Lex’s head of security, comes in and pulls him away from the crowd. “Sorry to disturb your meeting, Mr. Luthor, but I have to let you know. The police are seeking a high school student named Sean Kelvin for murder. He was last seen in the vicinity of the Smallville power relay station. That’s not far from here. And since both the power relay station and our generator are down…”

“You think he’s on the premises? Go apprehend him and call the police,” Lex instructs. He gestures at the room full of potential business partners. “Make sure they stay here until he’s found. And keep it quiet. Let’s not scare them unnecessarily.”

Phil slips away to make the call and Lex returns to his guests. He has to remind himself that Liam is safe upstairs watching TV, and that he doesn’t have to worry. Besides, he is Liam, and no ordinary killer can ever be a match for him.

When they hear Lex’s complaints about rusty old back-up generators they all make sympathetic noises, clearly familiar with the problem. Martha, who’s either looking for a raise or is just too helpful for her own good, offers to help. “I'll check the generator. Where is it?”

Lex has to keep her out of harm’s way without raising suspicions. “It's on the side of the house, but you stay here. I can get it.” He grabs a flashlight and heads outside.

The air outside is frigid, making Lex shiver as he follows the wall of the mansion to the back-up generator. He is surprised to find it completely iced over, even though the wall around it is frost free.

“Hello, there,” says an appreciative voice from behind him, making Lex turn around. The light from his flashlight falls on a teenaged kid emerging from the shadows, his face blue from cold, rubbing his arms for warmth.

“Sean Kelvin?” Lex inquires, ready to call security.

“That’s me.” He gets closer, and Lex can see frost glittering in his eyebrows and hair.

“What do you want?” Lex asks as he edges towards the corner, trying to get closer to the nearest entrance.

“Who, me?” Sean says. “I just want to get warm.”

Lex spots the door to the garden storage and tries to make a run for it, but Sean blocks his path, grabbing him by the arms in the coldest, hardest grip Lex has ever felt.

“Not as hot as the pretty one, but you’ll do,” Sean says, smiling. Something is bothering Lex about that, but he can’t begin to interpret the meaning of those words because a terrifying icy is numbness spreading through his body.

“Get away from him,” Lex hears Liam’s voice shouting, and suddenly he is out of Sean’s hold, Liam’s angry shoulders blocking the view.

Lex slumps against the mansion wall, drawing a shaky breath, and coughs when he can’t get enough air. “Liam,” he manages, disbelieving. Liam is supposed to be safe in his room, not out here with a homicidal freezer-boy.

Liam’s shirt is damp, like he walked through mist, the thin blue fabric clinging to his body, and Lex thinks there are chunks of ice in his hair. “Go inside, Lex. Go, now!” he orders, never taking his eyes off Sean, shielding Lex with his body.

Lex wants to obey, he really does, but it’s hard to move when he can’t breathe properly, and his legs feel heavy and every cell screams with the vicious pain of thawing. “Sean, you have to get to a hospital,” he says instead, trying to divert attention from Liam.

Sean huffs, moving so he can see Liam and Lex at the same time. “What are they going to do? Put me under an electric blanket? I need heat, baldy - contact! That's the only thing that's going to work for me. Every person's another fix. And here is a house full of warm bodies.”

“You're not getting into that house,” Liam says, determination strong in his voice.

“And you think you can stop me?” Sean says disbelievingly. “I’d like to see you try.”

He makes a lunge forward, surprising Liam and Lex both by knocking Liam to the ground. He must be extraordinarily strong to be able to do that.

The boys roll around on the ground, both of them trying to get the upper hand, the fight taking the both of them farther and farther away. Lex strains his neck trying to see, but can’t make his legs obey him yet. Sean has the advantage of his heat-draining power which he uses on Liam to slow him down, making his moves fumbling and sluggish. Lex scrambles after them as fast as he can on uncooperative hands and knees.

They come to a halt at the shore of the pond on the edge of Lex’s property. To Lex’s horror, Liam has somehow wound up on his back, Sean straddling him. Liam is whimpering in pain and Lex can see frost roses growing over Liam’s skin. Lex is powerless to do anything but call for help and watch Liam die.

Sean has an ugly light of satisfaction in his eyes, consuming Liam’s body heat, drinking it up in deep, his face gaining color as fast as Liam’s loses it. “I don't know what it is about you, pretty boy, but I haven't felt this good in two days.” He touches Liam’s face, dragging his fingers over the blue frozen lips. “And when I'm done with you, there's a room-full of people to drain…” He bends down to whisper something in Liam’s ear.

Whatever he says must have triggered Liam’s fury, releasing some hidden power reserve. “I'll never let you hurt him!” Liam howls, throwing Sean off, sending him sailing through the air far enough to fall into the pond, the water instantly freezing around him.

Liam scrambles to his feet just as Lex finally reaches him. “Thank God you’re all right!” Lex grabs Liam’s arms, holds his face, palming him all over. “God, Liam. You’re freezing.”

Liam inhales once, and then presses Lex to his chest, holding him close. Then they just stand there shivering, staring at the surface of the pond, which is now completely frozen over.

 

The police arrive just as everything has calmed down, and are not useful for anything but giving Lex and Liam blankets and getting them inside. They take everyone’s statement, but since the dinner party guests didn’t exactly see anything they are soon allowed to leave. Everyone is a bit shaken up and Lex can’t blame his guests for wanting to go home without as much as a “thank you” or “we’ll let you know what we decide about the partnership”.

By the time the last guest has left, the numbness has wholly transformed into a prickling, uncomfortable ache and Lex is exhausted. He sinks down onto the couch by the fireplace, feeling warmth slowly regaining its place in his bones.

Liam sits huddled in a blanket on the floor in front of the couch with his head tipped back, resting on the seat just next to Lex’s hand. His feet are bare, and under the blanket Lex knows he is dressed the same way as Lex is; in T-shirt and pyjama bottoms. Lex runs his hand through Liam’s hair, appreciating the heat he can feel radiating from his skin, even this close to the fire. Lex finds that he needs this reassuring gesture, probably more than Liam does. He needs to feel the comfort of Liam, alive and well and entirely restored, to chase away the image of Liam writhing in pain under Sean’s body, his warmth and his life draining.

“What were you doing outside, Liam?” Lex starts, trying for angry but only reaching tired.

“I was at the Palmer’s, with Amy.”

Lex raises an eyebrow. “What were you doing at Amy’s that late in the evening? Am I going to have to start buying you condoms?”

“No! No,” Liam groans. “God. She’s just nice to talk to; we have some shared interests, that’s all. Besides, it’s not like I have that many other friends.”

Mr. Palmer comes in to tell Lex that the power isn’t going to come back until tomorrow at the earliest. The main power station was severely damaged, repair is underway, and a new generator for the mansion is going to be ordered first thing in the morning.

When he’s left, they sit in silence for a while, Lex still stroking Liam’s hair.

“My room doesn’t have a fire place.” Liam says, completely out of the blue.

“Hm?”

“No fire place. I’m going to freeze.”

Lex knows Liam will do no such thing; in fact he is as resilient to cold temperatures as he is to hot. Well, naturally cold temperatures, anyway. He stills his hands and leans forward inquisitively.

“Can I sleep in your room tonight?” Liam asks quietly, turning his head to look at Lex.

It’s a bad idea for many, many reasons; Lex himself topping the list. The only reasonable answer is no. But as he looks into Liam’s eyes, he is persuaded by the vulnerability and fear he sees there. Tonight, Liam was almost murdered. Tonight, Liam feared for his life for the first time. Lex discovers that he can’t deny him this simple source of safety and comfort.

“Of course you can,” he says and strokes Liam’s hair again.

That’s how Lex ends up waking up in the middle of the night with Liam’s warm body draped all over his right side.

Liam had puppy-dog-eyed his way from the mattress on the floor into the bed, on the condition that he promised to stay on his side of the bed, something Liam solemnly agreed to.

Liam is a liar, or at least his subconscious is, because Liam’s grip is inescapable, like he has Lex exactly where he wants him, arms and legs tightening whenever Lex carefully tries to extricate himself.

Suddenly Lex feels an unmistakeable hot length harden against the side of his hip. He checks Liam’s face; he is still undeniably asleep, drooling onto Lex’s shoulder. An involuntary reaction, then, brought on by youth and proximity. Those reasons are not, however, fully applicable to Lex’s own frustrating problem, which arises in response.

Lex closes his eyes, keeping as still as possible, trying to will his erection away. There’s nothing to do but prepare for a long sleepless night.

 

The next day at work, everybody is talking in hushed tones about Sean and his misdeeds. Apparently the girl he killed was his ex-girlfriend. Nobody seems to have connected the blackout with Sean’s activities.

“We haven’t had such a tragedy here in Smallville since that kid Jeremy was assaulted and hanged to die in a corn field,” Martha says, as she and Gabe sit down in Lex’s office. “Of course, there were no heat-craving freaks involved that time.”

Gabe, who obviously has been initiated into the true nature of Sean Kelvin by his daughter, says that Chloe could have been his next victim. “He asked her on a date, but my girl is too clever to fall for something like that. She saw right through his lies. Thank God.”

 

“Where is Sean now?” asks Martha. “I mean, I know he fell into Hobson’s Pond, but what happened then?”

“I’m afraid he’s still there,” Lex says. “The pond is frozen solid, and the weather report claims winter is just around the corner. To extract him, we’ll have to wait for spring.”

“Well, I have some good news, at least,” Martha tells him. “Kent and Lang Organic Produce has decided to take you up on your business offer. Lewis Lang is going to call you about it later this afternoon. And we’re not the only ones. Marie Woodman called me this morning, saying they’d accept, and she said the Walshes will do so as well.”

And they are not the only one. Apparently, getting attacked and being half-carried limping and vulnerable into his home is the best way to do if you want to win the sympathy of Smallville’s farmers.

 

The forecast was right. The temperature dropped overnight; there was even a little snowfall, the tiny flakes whirling in the wind, gathering behind tree trunks and in hollows in the ground.

The ice is glassy under Lex’s feet, and he makes his steps slow and sliding, careful not to fall.

Liam is already out by the uneven frozen swirl where Sean’s body was thrown into the pond. He stands bent forward, his hands on his knees, squinting into the depths.

“Can you see him?” Lex asks when he comes up to Liam’s side.

“Right there,“ he says, pointing. “Maybe three feet down.”

“Is he alive?” Anyone should be frozen to death after twenty hours encased in solid ice, but Lex isn’t taking any chances.

Liam shakes his head, his bangs flopping a little. “No. Well, I don’t think so. His heart isn’t beating.” He falls quiet for a while, staring through the icy surface.

Finally he speaks. “Lex?”

“Yes, Liam?”

“He was strong, almost as strong as me. But he wasn’t like me at all. When we were fighting, he said he needed body heat to stay warm. He sucked the heat out of me, and that girl he killed, and the town Power Relay Station and our generator and he still couldn’t stay warm for more than a few minutes.”

“His ability to retain his body heat was impaired, most likely,” Lex muses. “Perhaps his powers were a way to compensate for that impairment.”

“I wonder how he got like that.” Liam sounds almost sad.

Lex has a few theories on that himself, but chooses to keep them quiet. “Well, at least it’s over now,” he says instead, placing a glowed hand on Liam’s back. “It’s getting dark. Up for some hot chocolate?”

“Oh, yeah!” Liam says, firing off that brilliant smile never fails to make Lex melt inside. “Definitely!”

They head back towards the mansion, Lex’s arm thrown over Liam’s shoulders. Making sure Liam doesn’t notice, Lex casts a glance backwards, thinking that this is many things, but certainly not over.

 

Time passes, Christmas and New Year’s, and after Winter Break it’s time for Liam to start at Smallville High. Anna packs the world’s most luxurious lunch bag and Charlie drops him off in the limo. Chloe Sullivan has agreed to show him around the school, Lex reminds himself. With his natural charm there’s no way that nobody will like him. There’s no reason to fret over Liam not making any friends.

Liam comes home flushed and awed and a little stunned by Chloe’s journalistic talents. He and Chloe hit it off right away, apparently, and Liam has already signed up to help her with the Torch, the school paper. He relays all of Chloe’s fantastic traits; her humour, her sarcasm, and her intelligence with such animated enthusiasm that Lex thinks that it might be time to get Liam those condoms after all. But he’s happy, and Lex knows this was the right decision.

Over the winter holidays Liam’s voice and Lex’s clavicle broke, the first causing all kinds of hilarity every time Liam tries to speak, the latter the result of an impromptu and rather intense snowball fight and bad footing.

The injury heals oddly fast; by New Year’s there isn’t even any soreness in the injured area. Curious as to what’s going on, Lex remembers the incident with Sean Kelvin. Does a half-frozen human body really regain full operability over night? Somehow, Lex doesn’t think so.

To find some answers, Lex decides to go through a complete medical examination, calling in Doctor Vargas from Metropolis, the only doctor he’s met that he didn’t hate on sight.

The Doctor arrives while Liam is at school. There’s treadmill running, heart monitoring and invasive questions about medical and personal history. When Doctor Vargas asks about childhood illnesses, Lex answers asthma. “I never quite grew out of it, though.”

Doctor Vargas takes out a pen and pad and starts making notes “What are your triggers?”

He walks across the room and retrieves a blue bottle of water, and takes a drink. “Cigarette smoke.” He counts on his fingers, a remnant from when he first was diagnosed, around age eight. “Anxiety, exertion, cold temperatures.”

The doctor frowns, looking at some of the cardio-vascular test results. “I can’t see any indication of shortness of breath. It looks like you could go on like that forever. Have you experienced any of these circumstances recently?”

“Yes.” The Kelvin incident accounted for three out of four criteria, and Lex hadn’t even started to wheeze. “No symptoms though.”

“Perhaps you have grown out of it, after all. When was the last time you had an attack?”

The meteor shower. “I don’t remember,” he says instead.

“Well, there you go. No asthma,” he states, as if checking it off a list. “There is one thing I need to talk to you about. Your blood work came in. You have an unusually elevated white cell count.“

“What? Like Leukemia?” Lex asks, mildly concerned. He might have been exposed to radiation; fallout from the meteor rocks. If so, all of Smallville might be affected.

“Could be. To be sure, I want to order a series of tests.”

Lex nods, thinking that this condition has more to do with harboring an alien or living in an area littered with meteor rocks than plain old blood cancer. “Do it.”

The doctor nods in confirmation and starts packing his briefcase.

 

After yet another evening spent listening to Liam prattle on about Chloe Sullivan like she’s the greatest thing to ever walk the earth, Lex decides that it’s time he paid Smallville High a visit. Of course it’s not to see the girl that has Liam all excited, he tells himself, he would never interfere with Liam’s budding love life like that. No, it’s mostly to check out Liam’s new learning environment, have a talk with the principal. As Liam’s guardian, taking an interest in his schooling is the responsible thing to do.

The meeting with Principal Kwan had been dull and perfunctory, but it had allowed him to sneak away to the Torch office afterwards.

The door is unlocked, open even, and Lex goes right in. It looks just like he has imagined it, desks covered with all kinds of items needed for teenage journalism, like pens, notepads, brightly colored erasers and packets of gum. There are also computers and filing cabinets, but it’s a bulletin board covered with newspaper clippings that catches Lex’s interest. In the middle of the board is the Daily Planet’s big article on the meteor shower.

On closer examination, he finds that there are also maps and photographs, and the occasional police report pinned to the board, and all of it is neatly connected to the meteor shower article with pieces of string tied to the pins. Lex recognizes Sean Kelvin’s face on one of the photographs, the title “Human Freezer” on a neatly cut piece of paper just above it. He is just about to read about the “Fire Starter” when Liam makes his entrance.

“I thought I started high school to be able to handle myself independently away from your direct influence,” Liam says from the door, quoting Lex’s lecture back at him, teasing good humor in his voice. “It will be really difficult to do that if you start showing up here.”

Lex turns around, smiling a little. “I was meeting with your principal. Apparently, you guys are in dire need of a new computer lab. I figured I could help.”

Making his way further into the room, Liam puts his jacket on the back of what is obviously the chair of his designated desk. “And somehow this meeting ended up here?”

Lex feels his lips stretch into a grin. “I just had to see the place you spend all of your free time in. Thought I’d drop by and say hello. You weren't around, but I was struck by this.” He taps the bulletin board, eyes still on Liam.

“That's Chloe's hobby, she calls it ‘the Wall of Weird’,” Liam explains, coming closer. “Unexplainable things have started happening in Smallville since October. She thinks she can trace all the freak things in Smallville to the meteor shower.”

Lex gives Liam a meaningful glance. “Interesting theory.”

“Most people think it’s crazy.” Liam smiles a little, uncomfortably. “But I guess the meteors could have brought more than me with them.”

Lex considers this. “Have there been many of these ‘freak things’?”

Liam nods gravely. “More than Sean Kelvin, anyway. And Chloe thinks that we’ve only just skimmed the surface.”

Lex sees movement in the corner of his eye, and speak of the devil, Chloe Sullivan walks into the room.

“Mr. Luthor,” she greets him.

Lex turns towards her, turning on his charm, and when he faces her, he’s smiling. “It's Lex.” He walks over to her and shakes her hand.

She’s blond and pretty and sparkling with energetic determination. Lex can see why Liam likes her so much. The Wall of Weird shows that she’s fearless and not afraid to think outside of the box. Her sharp mind could prove dangerous, though. This one he’d have to keep an eye on. “Liam was just telling me your meteor theory. I like it.”

Chloe watches him with calculating interest. “Most of these things have been written off as coincidences or pranks. I think there’s a pattern to it.”

“Are you the only one who connects these incidents to the meteor shower?” Lex asks, trying to determine the spread of this information.

Chloe nods. “Pretty much. Guess that speaks for people’s tendency to put their heads in the sand, huh?”

“Or your overly active imagination,” Lex points out. “Either way, I’m intrigued. Call me when you're looking for a summer job. I've got friends in the media business.” He turns to Liam, unable to refuse himself a discrete look at him before leaving. “I'll see you tonight after school.” For some reason, seeing Liam and Chloe so comfortable with each other makes him want to stake his claim, even when he knows there’s no claim to stake.

 

When he exits the school, there’s a man nonchalantly leaning on his car. “May I help you?” Lex says, holding back his instant aversion.

The man extends his hand. “Roger Nixon, Metropolis Inquisitor,” he introduces himself, proving that Lex’s instincts are functioning adequately. Lex hates journalists almost as much as he hates doctors.

“Get off my car.“

“Too busy to stop and chat, huh? Well, I strongly recommend you stop for this.” The journalist waves a file in Lex’s face “It's your juvenile record. Fascinating reading. It must have taken a good chunk of your dad's money to keep all those people quiet.”

Lex has long since learned to control his facial expressions, but right now he’s not sure his astonishment is adequately concealed. “Those records are sealed.”

Nixon flashes him a smug grin. “I'm a resourceful guy. You know, it’s been awfully quiet about you the last couple of months. Moving to the country, taking in an orphan, socializing with farmers. Very un-Luthor-like. How about we bring these good people up to speed? I can see the headline: "Lex Luthor's Wild Youth in Metropolis."

Lex doesn’t bother to mask his anger. “You print one word about that, I'll sue.”

“Ah, but lawsuits take years. The genie will be out of the bottle and all the people will know that the new and improved Lex Luthor is nothing but a facade. A quiet little community like this would be shocked. I wonder if anyone would find you suitable to raise a child. They might just take that pretty boy away from you.”

Lex snorts, getting into his car. “You know what I think? If you wanted to print that, it would already be in the paper. I think you're looking for a payoff.”

Nixon chuckles. “You got me there. Think of it as a business proposition. 100,000 dollars and these records will disappear forever.” Nixon offers Lex his card. “Contact me within 24 hours.”

 

Lex takes the card and speeds away.

 

Lex sits at the desk in his office, the envelope with the test results from Doctor Vargas in his hand. Knowing he can’t put it off for long, Lex sighs and takes out his letter opener, cutting the envelope open with measured flicks of his wrist. He reads the letter, relieved and a bit surprised to find that he has a perfectly clean bill of health. Even with the latest injury, Doctor Vargas can’t find the smallest trace of a fracture. Lex knows this is unusual, if not outright impossible, but he is beginning to think that unusual and impossible are everyday occurrences in post-meteor Smallville. The suspicion that he was exposed to meteor radiation, and somehow developed some kind of healing powers is certainly strengthened.

He pulls up the Smallville Torch website on his computer. The Torch website has a special report as the lead article: “Smallville: America's Strangest Town.”

Chloe’s meteor theory makes sense. Except for Sean Kelvin, meteor rocks are the only things Lex knows of that have the power to harm Liam. It makes Lex want to know if there are more meteor-altered kids running around in Smallville, latent dangers to the town. To Liam.

 

That evening after dinner Liam is acting strange; he’s alternately fidgeting and staying completely still, looking in general like he has something to say, but doesn’t know how to bring it up.

Finally Lex takes pity on him. “Is there something on your mind?”

“Lex, something happened this morning. Can I talk to you about it?”

“Of course, Liam. You know I always have time for you.”

“Well, you said to tell you if I had any changes.”

“Go on. You can tell me anything.”

Liam ventured on, obviously uncomfortable with the topic. “I was dreaming and - Well, when I woke up…” he trails off, squirming.

Oh. It was one of those problems. Lex’s body betrays him and he experiences the sense memory of that hot, hard and not so small shaft against his hip. Suppressing his reaction as much as possible. Lex mentally prepares for the most embarrassing conversation of his life. Just remember, be informative yet not too clinical.

“It’s perfectly natural for a boy your age to… um, have these kinds of nightly experiences.“

“It is?” Liam’s eyes look like they are about to pop right out of his head.

“It’s a part of your natural development; your body changes and you are getting these feelings and might even have dreams with, ah, erotic content. An efficient way to avoid making a mess is to, well, take the matter in your own hands.”

Liam snickered. “Relax, Lex. That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“Oh, thank god!”

“I know all about wet dreams and how to take care of seminal overflow through masturbation. You gave me that book on male puberty, remember? As for what’s not in that book… the internet is a vast source of information.” He sounds pretty confident, but Lex can see that the tips of his ears are red.

“If that wasn’t it, what were you going to tell me?”

“I was floating in my sleep.”

“Floating? As in airborne?”

“Yeah, kind of. Just hovering over my bed. It’s just that -- when I woke up I stopped.”

“Stopped floating? You mean you fell.”

Liam bends his head in embarrassment, glancing up at Lex from under his lashes. “Yeah… I kinda broke my bed.”

“Okay. Then you’ll get a new one for your birthday.”

“That’s all?”

“Yeah. I’d better make sure it’s adequately reinforced, though,” Lex muses.

“Thanks for being so cool about this stuff.”

“Anytime.”

Liam is already by the door when Lex calls his name again.

“Liam. Out of curiosity… what could you have been dreaming about to make you fly?”

The color returns to Liam’s cheeks alarmingly fast. “Um, yeah. That… that might have more to do with… with those type of things you mentioned,” he stutters, and bolts.

Lex smiles to himself. Making Liam squirm is almost compensation enough for the indignant flare in the pit of his stomach Lex gets when he considers the fact that dreaming of Chloe Sullivan makes Liam float.

 

 

Nixon arrives punctually to collect his money, looking triumphant, but Lex knows he won’t have that look for long. Lex smiles a little to himself. Revenge is fun.

Lex allows himself to toy a little with Nixon before going in for the kill. The contacts he got from the team he hired to kidnap Liam have proven their worth yet again. It’s as easy to annihilate a person’s records as is to create them. Easier, even. Lex just about owns Nixon’s life.

When Nixon has come to understand his new situation and is appropriately defeated, Lex lets him stew a little before giving him instructions.

He lets Nixon follow in his own car, so Lex can leave as soon as the information has switched hands. They park at one of the LuthorCorp parking lots, the one farthest from the main entrance. They take the elevator down to Sigma.

After all the security clearances, they enter a room with the frozen remains of Sean Kelvin, petrified in his block of ice.

“Jesus. What have you done to him?” Roger asks in a thin voice, like he’s only just now realizing exactly who he has been dealing with.

 

I didn’t do anything,” Lex says, smoothing a hand over the icy surface. It comes away wet. “Sean here has been the unfortunate victim of a cellular change, giving him the talent of freezing people and objects, and for some reason causing him to go on a killing spree. The theory is that this transformation was instigated by contact with a certain mineral which nowadays is very common in Smallville.” He walks over to one of the metallic chests at the other end of the room and flips the lid open, revealing the mineral in question in all its glittering green glory. “Meteor rock.”

“What do you want me to do?” Nixon asks.

“I want you to find out if the theory holds. If Sean was exposed to the meteor rocks, and if so in what way. I also want to know if there are any other mutants loitering about in Smallville, and if so, a complete documentation of their abilities and how they changed.”

 

When arranging Liam’s identity papers, Lex had set his birthday to mid-January, and the early birth date turned out to be a stroke of pure luck. Liam’s escalated maturation has made itself known and physically, Liam already looks more like 16 than just about to turn 15. Lex supposes that he’s not quite tall enough to rest his chin on Lex’s shoulder, and he’s grown more solid, but he’s still lanky, his head too disproportionably big for his body, the way it is on the young.

Despite Liam’s older appearance, Lex has decided to go along with the pretense of him being 15.

The plan is to have Liam attend Smallville High as a way to experience the teenage part of human society, and it was considerably easier to make that transition in freshman year, where most students were still trying to adjust, than any of the later years.

Liam’s 15th birthday is celebrated with loud music thrumming through the halls and the ballroom full of dancing high school students. Lex knows how important this kind of party is; it can make or break a reputation, especially when you’re new in school. Thus, most of Smallville High has been invited to a night of birthday delights, complete with fireworks and ice sculptures.

Lex is standing on a balcony watching the activity. Liam had stayed firmly seated on the sofa for most of the night, drinking punch (alcohol-free, because Lex might be Liam’s cool guardian, but he isn’t all that keen on getting arrested for enabling underage drinking) and talking to Chloe. Lana and her boyfriend, Whitney, join them and they all seem to have a good time, as far as Lex can tell from the sidelines. Lots of people come by to congratulate him and hand over presents, and Liam gives them that sunny smile of his every time.

Eventually Chloe succeeds in persuading Liam to dance, more or less forcibly, and they join the teeming mass of people on the dance floor. Liam is an awful dancer, Lex observes fondly and makes a mental note to have that remedied.

“So how was your party?” Lex asks after everyone has gone. “I hope you liked it.”

Liam answers him with a gentle smile. “It was great, Lex. Thank you. I didn’t see much of you, though.”

“I made myself scarce. Nobody wants a worn old man like me snooping around their teenage party. I’d just be in the way.” Liam looks like he’s about to protest, and Lex holds up a hand to quiet him. “I do have something planned just for us. Tomorrow, we leave for Metropolis.“

 

They have a great day in the city, stopping first at Lex’s penthouse apartment to unload their baggage, and then spending the day exploring the cultural wonders of urban life. They visit the Observatory and the Metropolis Philharmonics’ afternoon concert in the park, and they would have gone to the zoo as well, if Liam hadn’t already been there.

They even do a little shopping, restocking Liam’s closet to fit his ever-growing body. Lex has a great time making Liam model the outfits he puts together for him and Liam has a lot of fun at Lex’s three primary shopping rules – a) shiny is cheap, b) primary colors in moderation and c) black goes with everything. To round their day off, Lex buys a telescope for Liam’s birthday gift, something Liam gets almost overly excited about.

The evening is devoted to visiting the Metropolis Museum; this year’s Luthor Hall exhibition has its grand opening in the form of a lavish gala. The exhibition’s theme is something Lex for once finds interesting; artifacts from the time and realm of Alexander the Great, the main attraction a jewel encrusted breastplate said to once have belonged to Megas Alexandros himself.

The breastplate itself is rather tacky -- every inch of it covered with overly large red and blue gemstones, and a golden snake curls itself into an S in the middle. Alexander may have been great, but he had no sense of subtlety.

Liam seems to agree. “Wow. This breaks all of the shopping rules at once, doesn’t it? And I can't exactly see myself going into battle with that on my chest. Wouldn’t it be seen from miles away?”

“That was the point,” Lex explains. “The design is said to symbolize strength and courage. Darker times call for darker methods. His opponents thought he was invincible.”

“Here we go again,” Liam says, grinning. “Giving me a history lecture.” He gives Lex a friendly nudge, then stays in close proximity, half behind Lex’s right shoulder. “History buff.”

“I'm not,” Lex protests, mock-offended, turning his head half towards Liam. “I'm just interested in people who ruled the world before they were thirty.”

“Don't worry, Lex. You still have a few years to go,” Victoria Hardwick says as she walks up to them.

His father’s informants had spotted her out shopping in Metropolis two days ago, and he’d wondered when she’d accidentally on purpose happen to cross his path. Now, it seemed.

“Victoria?” Lex exclaims, smiling and feigning surprise. “What are you doing in America?”

Victoria’s eyes flicker between them. “I'm sorry. Am I interrupting?”

Lex smoothly morphs into gracious host mode. “Not at all. Liam Eckhardt, this is Victoria Hardwick, a very old friend.”

Liam offers her a courteous handshake and a polite but short: “Hi.”

A waiter comes their way and Victoria turns around to take a flute of champagne from his tray. Liam leans in close and speaks quietly near Lex’s ear. “And what sort of methods does she call for?”

Lex keeps his smile on his face, and his eyes on Victoria. “I'll catch up with you later, Liam.”

Liam’s pretty mouth forms a pout at the dismissal, a thing he is rather entitled to do since this was supposed to be their time in Metropolis, but thankfully he doesn’t make any fuss as he leaves. Lex regrets it, but he does what he has to do.

“Want a private tour?” Lex says to Victoria.

She smiles, angling for mysterious and enticing. “I thought you'd never ask.”

Lex shows Victoria one display after another, pretending to enjoy explaining this or that piece of history. She laughs and sips her champagne, pretending to be interested. Liam has disappeared somewhere, but Lex is in no position to go look for him.

When closing time approaches, Lex looks around for Liam, finding him hanging around the buffet looking morose. He lightens up slightly when Lex approaches, but his face darkens again when he sees that Victoria is still around. Lex puts an inquiring hand on Liam’s arm. “Liam, where were you for so long?”

Liam, obviously still in a snit, eyes Victoria like she’s guilty of some heinous crime. “I was just outside, getting some...air,” he answers, his tone of voice nearly arrogant.

Victoria ends up coming with them to the penthouse. As soon as they get inside, Liam goes straight to his room, slamming the door shut. Lex is concerned, but still impressed by the restraint he shows; Liam is obviously upset yet he still manages to rein his strength in.

“So touchy,” Victoria says about Liam, not quite interested. She sidles up Lex’s body, leaning in close for a kiss. She’s a very good kisser; Lex finds it no hardship to do his corporate duty, his body responding quite satisfactorily.

“It’s his birthday.” Lex says when their lips part, equal disinterest coloring his words. Appearances are everything.

“Poor boy didn’t get what he wanted,” Victoria teases, taking Lex’s earlobe in her teeth. “But you will, tonight.”

“Oh, yeah?” Lex rasps, holding her hips as she presses her body against his, licking the sensitive skin of the nape his neck. It suddenly strikes him that he hasn’t had sex since he went bald.

“So, tell me,” Victoria whispers as she breathes over the saliva-wet stripe of skin. “Are you this bare and smooth all over?” Her hand sneaks down his abdomen and comes to rest on his hip inches from his straining cock, like a filthy promise.

“Well, you’ll just have to find out, won’t you?” If his breath is a little shaky, it’s all the better for his performance.

Once inside Lex’s bedroom, Victoria wastes no time getting them both undressed; zippers and buttons are undone in seconds. Lex feels suddenly impatient, remembering just how wild she used to be.

“Oh, you are!” Victoria exclaims when his underwear comes off, mischievously delighted. Lex lies on the bed letting her examine him. She climbs onto the bed, running a finger down his thigh to the crease where it meets his body, then bends her head to let her tongue follow. “Lovely,” she murmurs. “It’s like it’s just made to lick.”

Victoria has always been skilled in giving head; it is, in fact one of her greatest talents. Lex writhes and moans quite genuinely under her ministrations, and when her mouth ventures lower still, he gives a rough shout of shocked pleasure. Victoria has grown more inventive since he last met her, that’s for sure.

As wonderful as it is to get rimmed, Lex won’t last long if she keeps it up, so he pushes her off, reaching for the condoms as she resettles on the bed. He slips one on with a practiced move and then he positions himself onto her welcoming body, lowering his head to whisper dirty things in her ear as he sinks inside her snug hot pussy. Victoria loves dirty talk, he remembers.

He sets the pace for a good, long fuck. He wouldn’t want Victoria to be disappointed. Somehow, that thought leads to Liam. He wonders if Liam is watching, with that x-ray vision of his. Perversely, the thought does not discourage Lex, but makes him want to improve his performance, to show Liam how it’s done. After all, Lex likes to think of himself as an educator where Liam is concerned.

Victoria’s face is drawn in concentration as Lex thrusts into her; her hands gripping his buttocks tight, her eyes squeezed shut as she approaches orgasm. Unbidden, the thought of how Liam would look when he comes enters into Lex’s mind. Would he bite his lip? Would his cheeks flush in that lovely red shade? All of a sudden, Lex’s orgasm slams into him with unstoppable force and he twitches and shakes uncontrollably, helplessly, riding it out until he ends up in a heap on top of Victoria, trying desperately to catch his breath, getting a mouthful of her hair.

“Come on, Lex, come on,” Victoria urges him on, pushing at his shoulders, anxious to reach her own climax, and Lex rises up on one elbow, carefully holding the filled condom securely before pulling out. He ties it off quickly and drops it by the side of the bed, and goes back to Victoria’s waiting body. He runs his hands down her thighs, hooks his fingers under her knees, and parts her legs.

He goes down on her, his body still thrumming with pleasure. She is delightfully wet, her clit hard and her labia swollen. Lex dips his tongue deep, relishing the taste of her despite the residual flavor of latex. Lex busies himself in his efforts to give her the best cunnilingus of her life. He lets himself be swept up in her increasing pleasure, the way her moans grows loud and her panting shallow, the way she grasps his head and pushes her pelvis into his face.

Later, there’ll be plenty of time to analyze the fact that he’d just come while picturing Liam’s face in the throes of passion.

The next morning Lex gets up early, leaving Victoria still wrapped in the sheets, sleeping. He showers and dresses and puts any untoward thoughts and feelings about Liam back in the deep recesses of his mind and goes to see if the breakfast basket he ordered has arrived yet.

It seems it has; Liam is already at the breakfast table, drinking coffee and reading the paper, a stack of waffles untouched on a plate next to his elbow. Lex frowns; it’s not like Liam to leave food like that.

Deciding this has something to do with Liam’s behavior last night, Lex plunges right into the dark waters of teenage angsty logic. “Liam, what happened to you last night? You disappeared on us there for a while. And you were less than talkative on the ride home.”

Liam looks up for a second, then looks back down at the newspaper. “I wasn't feeling well. I guess I'm not accustomed to being around so many people.” It might be the truth, but certainly not all of it.

“Come on. There were more people at your birthday party. It’s something else. Didn’t you like the exhibition?”

“No, it was amazing,” Liam is eager to reassure, “it's just...”

“It's just what?”

“Something happened.” Liam hands Lex the newspaper and shows it to Lex. The headline reads: "Metro Bus Crashes Museum Gala."

Lex raises an eyebrow. Judging by the picture it must have been a considerable impact. “That explains the crushed glass on the sidewalk when we left the museum.“

“It could have been worse. I stopped the bus before anyone was hurt,” Liam says, his voice colored with careful optimism, the beginnings of pride. “I saved lives yesterday.”

Lex is shocked, but manages to lower his voice. ”You used your powers publicly? What if somebody had seen you do it?”

Liam looks annoyed. “Lex, everyone was still in the museum.”

“Are you sure? Did you check?”

“I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing!“ Liam hisses, standing his ground.

Lex scans the article quickly. “Well, there's no mention of any witnesses in the paper. I’ll grant you that it was for a good cause, but you have to stop being so reckless.”

Liam looks like he’s about to defend himself, but reins himself in just as Victoria nonchalantly saunters in, dressed in only a slinky silk robe, the shiny auburn material nearly slipping off her left shoulder. She sits down next to Lex, her smooth hand stroking the back of his head casually before sitting down. “Morning.”

Lex gives her a quick kiss on the corner of her mouth in greeting. “Sleep well?”

“Oh, yes,” Victoria purrs.

Liam says nothing, just stares down at the tabletop.

“Oh, strawberry almond waffles!” Victoria exclaims, grabbing Liam’s plate. “My favourite,” she hums, sending Lex a small private smile. As far as Lex can tell, it’s not entirely faked either.

Liam suddenly rises, the chair screeching against the hardwood floor. “May I be excused? I need to get packed,” he says, voice clipped and toneless, and leaves the table without waiting for Lex’s answer. Frowning, Lex contemplates his retreating form. What’s with him today?

“Returning to your quiet little hamlet already?” Victoria asks, leisurely picking half a strawberry from the plate and biting lightly at the pointed end of it, her smile broadening.

Lex nods. “Liam wants to install his new telescope as soon as possible, so yeah.” He slides a hand up her thigh, under the edge of the robe, drawing circles with his fingertips. “If you’d like, you could come with us.”

Victoria giggles, pleased, and spears another piece of strawberry. “Don’t mind if I do.”

When they arrive back at the mansion, Liam grabs the package with the telescope, not bothering to mask his strength properly, and slinks away to his room. Lex frowns, because they just this morning had a conversation about Liam having to be more careful. Teenagers.

He and Victoria continue to feel each other out over a lunch consisting of sushi and quite a lot of sake. It used to be Victoria’s poison of choice, if he remembers correctly. Victoria is charmed by the gesture, giggling when Lex pours her a generous glass, clearly pleased with his thoughtfulness.

She expresses amusement and a trifle surprise that Lex has rooted himself so firmly in Smallville. Lex decides to angle for her sympathies, playing up the part of poor little rich boy, sent away to a backwater town by his demanding father. It’s a role Victoria can understand; after all, her own dad isn’t the most caring of fathers. Victoria latches predictably on, using his negative feelings towards his father to launch a proposal of working against him. She even goes as far as suggesting that her father wants Lex to start working for Hardwick Industries, clearly thinking what she can offer him in terms of corporate position and sexual companionship will be enough to convince him. Lex hides a smile. She doesn’t know him at all.

As they parley, Lex finds that this older, more mature version of Victoria is disappointingly boring – sure, she’s more ambitious, but it all stems from her interest in winning her father’s approval – a far cry from the rebellious hell-raising girl she was when he first knew her.

While going through the motions of seduction and scheming counter maneuvers, tasks Lex finds just short of tedious – he does know how this charade is going to end, after all – Lex’s thoughts return to Liam and his new level of sullenness.

If he didn’t need to pay the plant a visit later in the afternoon, Lex would give in to the temptation to seek relief in the sake himself, just to shake the lingering discomfort of that limo ride from hell. Liam had kept ignoring Victoria completely, and when Lex apologized to her, Liam gave him an accusing stare that Lex couldn’t even begin to fathom. The rest of the drive, Liam kept staring out the window, looking wounded.

Liam has expressed moodiness before, but it’s never been as bad as this. This glumness is so severe that Lex suspects it’s not all due to Liam being a teenager, but more to do with Liam being an alien teenager. Even more puzzling, Lex is strangely torn between wanting to shake some sense into Liam and begging forgiveness for whatever he has done. For some reason, he feels like he’s done something to offend Liam, but that’s likely residual uneasiness from last night’s orgasm-inducing fantasies more than anything else. What irks Lex the most is that he can’t figure out the cause of Liam’s moping, can’t figure out what could have caused such a strong reaction.

Perhaps Liam wanted more praise for stopping the bus, but that doesn’t account for the way he’s treating Victoria. Lex reminds himself of the irrational reasoning of his own teenage years, and that there doesn’t have to be any logical reason for Liam’s behaviour. Lex lets the issue rest, again focusing on Victoria.

To show adequate interest in her rather unsubtle proposal, Lex lets her kiss him. This, at least, she’s good at, and he relishes the low-grade arousal slowly rising in his body as Victoria cups his surprisingly sensitive skull with her warm smooth hand.

As they kiss, Lex decides to give Victoria the corner bedroom in the east wing, all the way across the mansion from Lex’s rooms. He will not fuck her with Liam in the next room again.

 

It’s nearly evening before everything is cleared up at the plant, and Lex swings by the Beanery to grab some coffee for himself and Liam, as a peace offering.

When he leaves the coffee shop, Sam Phelan, one of the top five least favourite people Lex has made the unfortunate acquaintance with, is standing on the sidewalk next o his car.

Phelan, with his condescending sarcasm and his eyes glinting with malicious pleasure, is one of the few things Lex didn’t mind leaving behind in Metropolis, along with all the other less savory parts of his old life. At least it’s familiar, the way they trade insults in lieu of greeting, and when Phelan breaks out the thinly veiled threats, it confirms what Lex already knows; this isn’t a social call.

“You have a good life here, Lex,” Phelan says. “I'd sure hate to see that get compromised.”

Lex almost snorts. “You can't touch me and you know it.”

“What about your young ward?” Phelan shows Lex a picture, obviously some kind of surveillance footage. It’s of Liam and Lex at the museum; Lex can see the gems on the breastplate of Alexander the Great gleam in the blurry background. Lex’s head is turned to the side, as he looks at something, distracted, and Liam… Liam’s gaze is steadily fixed on Lex; an expression on his face Lex can only call admiration, because to think it was anything more than that might lead to treacherous assumptions. “Is he just as untouchable?” Phelan runs his fingertip over the image of Liam in far too intimate a gesture, and Lex fights back the sudden urge to hit him.

“Leave Liam out of this,” Lex clips, almost wincing at the desperate tone of his voice. “If Metropolis Police has anything to discuss concerning my ward, you can contact my lawyers.”

Phelan smiles, slow and dangerous. “Oh, but I can’t. See, I’m looking for a witness. I think Liam saw last night's accident outside the museum. He’ll need to give his statement.”

Lex feels a sharp chill wash over him, like somebody has poured a bucket of ice water down his back. Liam getting caught using his powers was bound to happen sooner or later; thinking anything else would be dangerously naïve. With effort, he schools his features into an expression of disinterest. “They sent you out to Smallville to investigate a traffic offense?” Lex takes a sip of his coffee. It’s too hot; he burns his tongue and he barely manages to hide his pain. “How the mighty have fallen.” And with that he turns on his heel and walks away, leaving Phelan on the sidewalk.

“I’ll be in touch,” Phelan calls after him, as if Lex would think this was over. It’s never over with leeches like Phelan.

As soon as Phelan’s out of earshot, Lex pulls out his cell. He gives Mr. Raines orders to have a team following Phelan and two men to discreetly follow Liam. He doesn’t want Phelan anywhere near Liam; the fact that he is in Smallville is disturbing enough.

Lex has already made preparations, expecting the day someone found out to come; he just never thought that it would come so soon.

Phelan has seen. That means he has to be silenced.

 

Liam has set the telescope up on the balcony of his room. Lex wonders if he tries to observe remnants of his home planet. There might still be visible evidence of the star and the planet, however doubtful. The space ship would hardly have been capable of travelling faster than light.

Lex looks at Liam for a little while longer, feeling determination to keep him safe at all costs rise and well up inside. He knocks quietly to alert Liam to his presence before actually entering his room. “Brought you coffee.”

Liam looks up and starts to smile, but then his expression darkens, as if he remembers that he is upset with Lex. To Lex’s surprise, his protective feelings do not lessen at Liam’s sour face; they are more steadfast than that.

“Liam, we need to talk.” Lex is careful to close the door; Victoria may be more mature, but he doubts she’s grown out of her habit to eavesdrop.

“Why don’t you talk to Victoria?” Liam might as well call her “bitch” outright, given the tone of his voice.

Lex sighs, weary even before the conversation has really started. “Liam, what is this about? It’s not like you to act this way.”

Liam fiddles with the controls of the telescope, avoiding Lex’s gaze. After a moment of brooding silence, the real issue comes out. “Why is she here?”

“Victoria? I invited her because she’s a friend I haven’t seen in a very long time. Liam, try to cut her some slack, she’s really not all that bad.”

Liam shrugs; his movement sullen. “She just doesn't seem like your type.”

“Relationships aren't always about love, Liam. Sometimes they're about mutual goals.”

Liam takes his hand away from the telescope, balling it into a fist at his side. At first, Lex thinks he’s going to say something, but then there’s a whirl of activity over at the walk-in closet area of the room, and then Liam stands before him, dressed in sweat pants and T-shirt, trainers already tied and on his feet.

Lex raises an eyebrow. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Out. Running.”

“I can’t let you do that.“ Not with Phelan lurking around, just waiting to sink his claws into Liam.

“Yeah? Try and stop me!” Liam all but shouts, but he doesn’t speed out; he walks to the door at normal human speed, and even hesitates a little, like he really wants Lex to do just that.

Lex stays still, doesn’t turn around. “You were seen at the bus accident last night.”

That makes Liam turn around, eyes wide and scared; this was clearly not what he hoped to hear. “Someone saw me?”

Lex nods grimly. “And not just anyone, but one of my father’s former employees. Sam Phelan. He came to see me, and even if he didn’t say anything outright, I was very aware of being threatened.”

“Oh. This is bad. What does he want? Is he going to tell anyone?

“I don’t care what he wants. He saw you, and now he’s a threat. That’s all I need to know.”

“Maybe we should call the police.”

“That would be an option if he wasn’t a detective with Metropolis P.D. He claims he’s investigating the bus accident, but Metropolis police usually don't send detectives to investigate traffic accidents. So I made a call. Turns out the official investigation is already closed. Liam, you really don't want Sam Phelan in your life.”

Liam worries his lower lip, processing the information. “You know him?”

“Unfortunately. I had my share of legal problems when I was in Metropolis,” Lex admits.

“Was it serious?”

Lex shrugs noncommittally. “Expensive. There are parts of my life I'm not proud of, Liam. Phelan was the kind of officer my father felt we could turn to for help. He'll do whatever it takes to get the job done. Plant evidence, falsify reports, anything is fair game and if he's got something on you, Liam, he'll use it.”

Liam looks at him inquiringly. “You're saying he's a dirty cop?”

“Yeah.”

“Lex... I'm sorry.” Liam says, looking painfully remorseful; looking like a scared kid. “I didn't mean for any of this to happen.”

“I’ll handle this. You’ve got nothing to worry about. Until it’s cleared up, you’ll go straight home after school. You’ll go nowhere unless it’s with me or Charlie’s diving you. When you’re home I want you to stay within the gates at all times. So please, don’t go running.” He closes the distance between them, puts a comforting hand on Liam’s shoulder, close to where it meets his neck. “The best you can do is to stay right here and enjoy the night sky.”

Liam ducks his head, exhaling from relief. “Thank you, Lex. And thanks again for the telescope.”

Lex bends down to look through the telescope. The image is as sharp as Luthor money can buy; the Milky Way is looking a lot less milky close-up. “Seems to work okay. It’s a great night for stargazing.”

“Yeah. Beautiful, isn’t it?” Liam bends to use the telescope himself.

Lex spares a quick glance at the sky, but his gaze returns to Liam before he can notice any constellations, because what star could outshine Liam? “Yeah,” he says softly, eyes travelling over Liam’s shoulders and back, lingering at the line of his jaw and the dark curls of hair at the nape of his neck.

That’s when it hits Lex, full on, just how important Liam is to him. Lex realizes he will fight tooth and nail to keep Liam safe and happy. The feeling is so strong it nearly scares him.

 

The next morning, he listens to the message Phelan has left on Lex’s voice mail. Lex has never heard an uglier sound than his arrogant voice rasping out his threats.

“Liam has a secret he doesn't want the world to know about. I'm guessing that's why he didn't stick around for the TV cameras after he stopped the bus. You want to keep things hush-hush, drop by that overpriced coffee shop tomorrow afternoon and we'll have a talk.”

Then there’s the click of the call disconnecting, and Lex swallows. Neutral ground. It’s probably the best way for Phelan to stay alive through their encounter.

Liam is sent off to school with strict orders to stay on school property, and Lex spends the morning attacking the problem from different angles. The simplest way to rid him and Liam of the threat is to have Phelan disposed of. It would be easy enough; Phelan has no family, no next of kin, and the bars he frequents in Metropolis are certainly the perfect setting for a random shoot-out. But Lex can’t bring himself to wilfully order a man’s life ended, even if it is Phelan. There must be another way.

Many things disturbed Lex during his meeting with Phelan. Thinking back on their encounter, Lex realizes something. Phelan may have been all casual threat and low-grade police brutality on the surface, displaying his usual confidant arrogance. But underneath, Lex could detect an edge of desperation he’s never seen Phelan have before, the signs and marks of a hunted man. Maybe it’s time Lex did some digging of his own.

 

When Lex enters the Beanery, Phelan is already there, waiting. He’s seated at a table in the center of the room, easily visible from all directions. There are people all around him, mostly high school kids having coffee and hanging out after school.

Liam, fortunately, is preoccupied with a high school crisis; something about Chloe being fired from her position as editor of the Torch because she’d published her meteor mutant theory, if Lex has interpreted Liam’s text message correctly.

Phelan puts his cup down. “Lex. I figured when I woke up this morning still alive that you'd show.”

Lex ignores him to put his briefcase on a chair, and then pulls out another for himself. When he’s seated he directs his gaze at Phelan. “What do you want with my ward?”

Phelan isn’t deterred by Lex’s standard withering stare, leaning back in his chair. “Nothing much. I just want Liam's help.”

“With what?” Lex bites out the question, unsurprised at the ease with which Phelan maintains his cocky countenance. After all, Phelan has seen Lex at his very worst; Lex supposes it’s hard to muster up much respect for a fucked-up, spiteful kid you’ve seen collapsing in his own vomit one too many times. But when this is over and done with, Phelan will learn what it means to underestimate Lex Luthor.

Phelan takes a sip of his coffee. “Just a few things. I’ve run into some trouble with Internal Affairs. I guess that doesn’t surprise you.”

“It doesn’t. Get to the point.”

“Now, Liam has... a gift, shall we call it? I would like to use his talents to get this whole IA business off my back. Normally, I would handle this myself, but the deputy chief is pretty hard to shake. Relax, I’m not going to have him kill anyone. He’s just gonna help me retrieve some files.”

“You got yourself into a tight spot, huh? Too bad I can’t help you. I really can’t let you exploit Liam like that, Phelan.”

Phelan scoots his chair closer, leaning in to speak in his ear, careful not to touch Lex in any way. Phelan knows better than that. “If you don't agree to help me, I will tell the world what I know. Best case, Liam's under a microscope, worst case, he's a freak in a jar. Either way, his normal life is over.”

That, right there seals Phelan’s fate.

“Well,” Lex sighs, as if he faces a particularly distasteful task. “I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. Relax, Phelan,” he says, mocking the man’s earlier words, “I’m not having you killed or anything. Let’s just say it’s in your best interests to cooperate.”

Phelan snorts, obviously thinking he has nothing to fear from Lex. “If you’re not going to kill me, what can you possibly threaten me with?”

“Your IA files,” Lex says and casually drops a dossier on the table top, watching Phelan’s face, enjoying the way it goes rigid with trepidation.

“Where did you get this?” Phelan fingers the dossier, opening it. Lex snatches it out of his reach.

“My father isn’t the only one who has connections in the department,” Lex says, leafing through the pages. “This makes for some interesting reading. ‘Accepting bribes.’ Several complaints about police brutality and use of excessive force. ‘Suspected alcohol use on duty.’ This one, I particularly like; ‘Assaulting a fellow officer.’ This is enough to lock you away for years,” Lex states, grinning. “I wonder what Internal Affairs would say if they found out about a few choice bits from your days of moonlighting as a mercenary for Metropolis’ upper crust.”

“And I don’t think your father would be pleased if he knew you plan to air the Luthor family’s dirty laundry just to let your ‘ward’ off the hook.”

Lex lets out a smug laugh. “You don’t get it, do you? If Lionel knew that IA is taking a closer look at the more unsavory activities you performed for him in the name of Metropolis’ Finest, he’d put an end to you like the rabid dog you are before the day is over. If you play nice, I’m not going to tell.”

“I should have just neglected to save your sorry hide back in Metropolis; it would have spared me endless amounts of trouble.” The look on Phelan’s face resembles that of a cornered animal; he looks ready to leap over the table and attack Lex at any moment. “I should have snuffed you when I had the chance.”

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Lex warns. “We aren’t exactly alone in here.” He glances pointedly at the corners of the room where Mr. Raines’ security men are stationed.

Phelan sees them, and squeezes his eyes shut in an obvious effort to control his temper, his hands gripping the table top hard enough for the knuckles to turn white.

Seeing one of the tormentors of his youth so rattled, Lex can’t resist taunting him just a little. “I’m not that spaced-out brat you had to pull out of crack houses anymore. You should have figured that out when my father didn’t need your services anymore. It’s been what? More that two years since he cut you loose? I’ve grown up, and I have grown strong. I take care of things myself now.”

“What do you want from me?” Phelan asks, bitterly resigned. “Besides my silence?”

“What was that thing you always used to say? ‘Never enter a crack-house with one plan, go in with ten,’ something like that?” Lex smiles; Phelan will absolutely hate this. “Well, here’s the new plan. You are going to clean up your act. You are going to attend anger management classes and get yourself sober. You are going to become a changed man. You’ll be reinstated in the force. You will go to work, do your job. When I need something fixed, reports gone missing, information leaked, things like that, you’ll do it. If you’re a good boy, you’ll get your life back, plus a monthly embellishment of your salary, on an untraceable account, of course. And this,” Lex closes the dossier and puts it back in the brief case, “this will all go away.”

“I could still tell the world about Liam and his secret.” Phelan is still fervently clinging to his facade of defiance, but Lex knows he has broken him.

“Not without evidence. With your history of violence and alcoholic tendencies, I doubt anyone would take your stories of kids stopping careening vehicles with their bare hands as anything more than the deranged ramblings from a washed out ex-cop. If you ever breathe a word about Liam again, I’ll have you committed faster that you can blink.”

Closing and picking up the briefcase, Lex gets up to leave, pausing to lean down next to Phelan’s ear. He doesn’t whisper. He doesn’t have to. “This is what happens when you try to take on a Luthor. You lose.”

 

Liam is waiting in Lex’s study when he returns, sprawled out on the leather couch, but gets up as soon as Lex enters the room.

“Is it over?” he asks and walks right up to Lex, eyebrows pitched anxiously.

Lex looks at Liam’s pretty, concerned face and feels grounded in a way that he didn’t think he needed. “This time. Unfortunately there's more than one Phelan out there in the world.”

Liam shuts his eyes unhappily, then hangs his head, morose. “Maybe I should stop using my gifts. That would solve all our problems.”

Lex reaches out and puts a hand under Liam’s chin, tilting his head up until he meets Lex’s eyes. “No it wouldn't, Liam. Your gifts are part of who you are. Limiting yourself that way, you might as well live locked up forever, and that is not a durable solution. Although a little caution wouldn't hurt… Liam, you have to be aware of the consequences of displaying your powers.”

Liam’s expression softens with relief. “I’ll be more careful, promise,” he says seriously, his green eyes big and wide and earnest. “It’s good that you feel this way. I’m not even sure I can give up using my abilities. It’s just too natural to me, you know?”

Lex nods, smiling fondly, patting Liam’s shoulder. “And I’ll do my part as well. We have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of it happening again. I’ll set up a series of counteractions and contingency plans; I will not let things come to this again.”

“I don’t know how to thank you.” Liam ducks his head, somehow managing to lean in even closer, looking up at Lex through his lashes. His gaze holds gratitude and tenderness and it sends a jolt of heat to the pit of Lex’s belly. Liam can’t know what those looks do to Lex, and Lex is completely at a loss as to how to clue him in. He’s not sure he wants to.

For some reason he can’t bring himself to step away, so Lex changes the subject in an attempt to neutralize this suddenly uncontrollable tension between them. “How did it go with the school paper? Crisis averted?”

Liam nods good-naturedly, beaming. “Yup. Chloe’s back as editor after I got her reinstated. Can you believe she thought I was trying to take over the paper?”

Finally able to convince his body to remove itself from Liam’s personal space, Lex makes his escape towards the side bar. He really wants a scotch, but doesn’t want to set a bad example for Liam. A bottle of water will do. Putting the blue glass to his lips, he raises an eyebrow. “Weren’t you tempted?”

Liam stands in the middle of the floor, his mouth is half open. It takes several seconds before he answers Lex, his eyes dazedly fixed on Lex’s face. “Not really. Too much responsibility. Besides, journalism is her dream, not mine,” he rambles, still staring. Lex wonders if maybe he has something on his face, on his mouth maybe, and traces his lips with his index finger. Liam’s eyes go huge and panicky, and his cheeks suddenly turn crimson. “I gotta go… study, yeah. I have a big test tomorrow!” He blurts out, already moving toward the door, backing away, nodding his head for emphasis, before practically running out of the room.

That was odd. Well, at least now, Lex doesn’t have to make up some excuse for leaving. He’s felt an insistent urge to spend some time with Victoria and her talented mouth ever since he came back from the Beanery.

 

Hard as it is to admit it, Lionel might have been onto something when he hired Phelan to keep Lex’s juvenile feats from reaching the press. Although Liam will never cause deliberate trouble the way Lex once did.

It might not be a bad idea to gather a variety of such people; to be prepared. He may have Phelan in his pocket, but that isn’t nearly enough. Besides, in spite of the hold Lex has on him, Phelan is certainly not someone to trust.

That’s why Lex ends up sitting by his computer until after midnight, his shirt hastily thrown on after Victoria’s enthusiastic assistance in relaxing Lex after his stressful day, researching people in key positions: district attorneys, police departments all over the state, journalists, doctors, directors of mental institutions. He needs to have people working for him to secure Liam’s long term future.

He senses Victoria coming up behind him, and has just time enough to switch windows to the Cadmus Labs’ financial report before she leans in close and slides a hand inside the open shirt.

“Lex, are you gonna come to bed?” she breathes in his ear, apparently thinking that the distraction of her body will prevent him from noticing her eyes flicker in a slightly too obvious glance at the screen.

“In a minute,” he says, holding back a small smile of triumph. She’s nothing if not predictable.

When Victoria has left the room, Lex switches the program back, returning to his research. Victoria can wait, if she’s power-hungry enough. Liam’s safety is not something Lex will leave to chance.

 

After only a couple of weeks of dating Victoria, Lex concedes to the force of his subconscious. They’re having sex daily, or close to it, and keeping his mind off Liam while sexually aroused turns out to be impossible, much as it annoys Lex to admit it.

Repressing his desire might be a noble aspiration, but nothing Lex can realistically achieve. Every time he closes his eyes when he’s with her, he sees Liam’s face. If anything, the fantasies grow even more explicit, until Lex has made a detailed imaginary inventory of every part of Liam’s body, focusing on the parts normally hidden from his view, from the juncture of his torso and thigh, which Lex imagines is just the perfect place to start licking, over the hopefully sizable length of his cock and supple balls to the gentle bulge of his perineum leading to a pink puckered anus.

No, holding it all back clearly isn’t working, and it’s getting ridiculous. Why should he limit his fantasy life? It doesn’t hurt anyone; and his attraction won’t affect his relationship with Liam. He won’t let it.

In fact, his fantasies are useful for more than reaching gratification. For one thing, they make it easier for Lex to act convincingly enamoured with Victoria. She’s a convenient outlet, something he sorely needs if he’s going to be this excited all the time. Several times, Lex has come to Victoria directly from an afternoon of Liam-watching, sweeping her up in kisses, ready and eager to engage in sexual activities. She appears rather pleased with his enthusiasm. For someone sent into his home to spy, she is almost laughably unperceptive.

Even with all this reasoning, Lex knows what he feels for Liam is wrong, but when it comes down to it he just can't help himself. Liam is his ward; his responsibility. And he is so young, so new to this world. There’s no way this is healthy.

Still, it takes Lex surprisingly little time to reconcile himself with the idea of being a pervert.

 

A few days before Valentine’s Day, strange things start showing up in unexpected places at the mansion. Little notes with poems in a tiny origami box on Lex’s desk, a box of chocolates in the glove compartment of the red Ferrari. It seems he has a secret admirer, and Lex thinks he might just know who it is; Amy’s not so little crush has not gone unnoticed. She is certainly getting creative, if a bit intrusive, Lex thinks when he finds his best calf skin shoes filled with red paper hearts. She’s not supposed to enter his private quarters; he’ll need to talk to Mrs. Palmer about that.

It’s around this time that Lex’s favorite watch goes missing. It’s not in his room, not in Victoria’s and not in the bathroom, all the places where he’d naturally take it off. When he mentions it to Victoria she offers to help him look for it. He accepts eagerly. This is an excellent opportunity for her to accidentally come across the password to his computer.

Victoria starts in the library, opening drawers, looking through the book shelves. Lex goes into the adjacent room, his office, to leave her alone so she can do some snooping.

On the off chance that his watch is somewhere in his office, Lex starts to search as well. Remembering a rather vigorous make out session with Victoria on the couch, he thinks that it could have perhaps fallen off then. He starts with lifting the cushions and finally bends down on all fours to get a closer look under the couch.

That’s where Liam finds him when he comes home from school, later than usual.

“Hey, Lex. Sorry I’m late. Chloe wouldn’t let me out until we’d finished the Valentine’s special. What are you doing?”

“I’ve lost my watch,” Lex explains, looking at Liam over his shoulder. “Would you mind taking a look to see if it’s anywhere around here?”

Liam grins and nods to show Lex he understood that Lex wants him to use his x-ray vision. “Not at all.”

Lex bends down again, resuming his search under the sofa, but rises when he hears Lana’s voice from behind them.

“Looking for something?” Her voice holds a quality of suppressed laughter, and Lex has to agree that the sight must be funny. It’s not every day you see the son of a billionaire crawling on the floor.

“My watch,” Lex says as he half straightens and turns to greet Lana. She’s holding a crate full of Lex’s latest order. “The tulips look great.”

Sitting up on the couch, Lex sneaks a glance at Liam, and is mildly surprised to see him blushing furiously, staring at the floor and shuffling his feet as if embarrassed.

Lana’s smile makes the skin on her nose crinkle. “Yeah, you cleaned us out. Dad said if you want some more, you'll have to call Holland.” She puts the tulips on the coffee table, and turns to Liam. “See you at the blood drive at school tomorrow night, Liam. It was such a relief that you volunteered to help, since Whitney didn’t come through.”

Liam mumbles something affirmative in response to Lana, and looks up with a sheepish look in his eyes. Lana makes her goodbyes, still smiling, and leaves, Liam looking after her with an expression of perfect teenage mortification.

Oh. Maybe Miss Sullivan isn’t the one and only for Liam. Lana certainly is pretty, in a vacant doe-eyed way, and now that the thought has struck him, Lex can see clear signs of teenage infatuation in Liam’s behaviour. He gestures for Liam to sit down, which he does. “What’s this about a blood drive?”

“It’s at school; Lana’s running it. Chloe signed me up; I guess she thought she was doing Lana a favor.”

“The irony is that you’re really doing her a disservice, since you can’t donate.”

“Yeah. I told her I have a problem with needles, which is even true. I offered to help out Instead, you know, sign people up, pass out cookies, organize the schedules. I even have some ideas for the posters. ‘This Valentine’s, give from the heart!’ What do you think?”

“Catchy. So you volunteered to compensate for your inability to give blood. Is that the only reason?”

Liam’s forehead furrows in confusion. “Well, Whitney dropped out, so I figured she could use some assistance.”

“Very noble. Am I to assume your offer to help is completely without an ulterior motive? She’s a very pretty girl.”

At this, Liam looks downright affronted. “I'm just being a good friend. I swear, Lex, it’s like you expect me to go for every girl who shows any interest in me at all.”

Lex puts a hand on Liam’s upper arm in apology; apparently he stepped on a sore toe with this one. “Okay, okay. Sorry.”

Liam looks like he doesn’t want to, but smiles in spite of himself. After a minute he breaks the uncomfortable silence. “So what are all the flowers for?”

Lex picks out one of the white tulips, admiring the delicate veins on the petals. “They're Victoria's favorite.” As soon as he has uttered that sentence, the crate slides off the table with a loud crash, tulips scattering. Lex gives Liam a sharp look.

“Hey, it wasn’t me!” Liam holds up his hands in a gesture of innocence.

“Well, then I guess the castle came from Scotland complete with a ghost,” Lex rebuffs.

Liam ignores the snide words and gathers up the flowers, puts them back at the table. “So Victoria is staying over Valentine’s?

“She’s staying as long as I have need for her,” Lex says with a note of finality and goes back to looking for his watch.

Liam sighs, sounding frustrated. “Don't you have like hundreds of watches?”

“This one's special,” Lex says from under the side table, looking up through the glass pane. “My mother gave it to me right before she died.”

Liam turns his head around, squinting in the way that means he’s gives the room one more once over with his x-ray vision. “I don't see it. How about I go check the library?”

“Okay.” Lex would rather that Liam didn’t disturb Victoria’s snooping, but he can’t warn him about it without alerting Victoria that he knows.

Almost as soon as he’s left the room there is a loud banging noise coming from the upstairs guest wing. Lex abandons the tulips and races out in the hallway, where Liam and Victoria rush out of the library, looking alarmed. The noise is deafening, like someone is throwing around furniture, and they all run up the stairs to find out what’s going on. They track the noise to Victoria’s room; the door to is rattling on its hinges, bright light shining out through the edges.

Lex instructs Victoria to wait outside, and approaches the door cautiously, Liam following close behind. He reaches for the door knob and just as he turns it the pounding and the light stop. Suddenly, the door blows open and Lex is thrown backwards by some unseen force.

It knocks the wind out of him, and he would have fallen if Liam’s strong arms hadn’t caught him. There’s a moment when he’s held against Liam, his chest solid and warm against Lex’s through the layers of silk and cashmere, his hands gently but protectively curling around Lex’s arms, just above his elbows. Lex breathes in the fresh scent of boy and clover shampoo, utterly annoyed that he can’t immediately suppress the urge to stay in Liam’s arms.

When nothing else happens, Lex ventures into the room. It’s obvious even in the dark that Victoria's room is vandalized. Downy feathers from the ripped bedding float in the air. He flips the light switch, but instead of their usual warm glow the lamps emit black light. On the walls, crude fluorescent letters light up in the UV light. The message is clear; someone wants Victoria to leave.

The genuinely surprised and terrified look on Liam’s face is more than enough to convince Lex of his innocence.

Victoria looks genuinely shocked as well, but snaps out of it quickly. “Well, I guess I have to find some other place to sleep. How about your bed, Lex?”

“Of course.” There are eleven more bedrooms in the castle, but Victoria gives him a look that tells him she won’t tolerate anything else.

The image of Liam’s red, pouting lips wrapped around his cock helps Lex through the night.

 

The harassment of Victoria doesn’t stop with trashing her room. A day later, her silk morning gown is found lying in the garden, completely shredded, and the tulips Lex planned to give her are all beheaded in a seriously disturbing way. Someone is creeping around the mansion unnoticed; neither Lex’s house staff or his security team have seen anyone, and that makes Lex suspect that the culprit is yet another one of Smallville’s meteor-altered inhabitants.

Victoria takes the sabotage all in good humor, joking that the fact that the castle is haunted will affect its market value. When Lex tries to urge her to caution, leaving out the meteor mutant theory and the unmistakable aggression with which the flowers had been savaged, she laughs it off. She won’t let a jealous teenager intimidate her, she says. Lex, who has experienced Smallville’s mutated youth first-hand, can’t afford to be as carefree.

Lex is supposed to keep her happy, satisfied, and in the dark, but first and foremost alive, until LuthorCorp is out of danger. He decides to have a serious talk with Liam to see if they can do something about the situation. He takes the opportunity to call him into his office while Victoria is out of the way, taking a bath.

“I thought we should talk about Victoria,” Lex says by way of opening the conversation. Liam sits in the chair across from Lex’s desk, looking like he wants to be on the other side of the globe.

“Oh, God. You’re not getting engaged, are you?” he moans. “She doesn’t deserve you; she doesn’t even care for you. She’s using you.”

“Liam, what --“ Lex starts, thoroughly surprised by Liam’s deduction.

“No, listen! Last night, when I was in here looking for your watch, I saw her. She was going through the files on your computer.”

“I know. Very little happens in this house without my knowledge.”

For some reason this makes Liam’s cheeks turn pink, a vaguely guilty look on his face. “You don't seem very upset about her snooping around.”

“Victoria and I have known each other for a long time, and romantic commitment has never entered the equation. We're playing chess, Liam. At this point in the game it would be a very disadvantageous move to make Victoria any more upset than she already is.”

“Lex, I didn’t destroy her room! I would never do something like that!”

“I believe you.”

“Then what do you want to talk to me about?” Liam asks, his pretty green eyes big and wide with puzzlement.

“I want you to keep an eye on her, to make sure she doesn’t come to harm. Use your abilities if you have to, but with discretion.”

Liam’s eyebrows rise at Lex’s request. “Let me get this straight. You don't love her, she goes behind your back, and you still want to keep her around. Plus you want me to use my very secret powers to keep her safe? I can’t make sense of this.”

“I know you don’t care that much for Victoria, but as a favor to me…”

“Don’t like her? You know I can’t stand her!” Liam exclaims and starts muttering to himself in agitated Kryptonian. He must be really pissed off to forget himself like that. “How can you do this to me?”

What the fuck? “Liam, you’re making no sense. This intruder means business, and my security hasn’t been able to stop them so far. You don’t actually mean you’d rather see Victoria harmed than help protect her?

“No. No, of course that’s not what I mean,“ Liam says grudgingly. He starts to say something else, but is interrupted by a shout and a crash coming from upstairs.

In the blink of an eye he is gone.

Lex runs after as fast as he can, human speed, and when he arrives at the master bathroom, Liam is wet and tousled, kneeling on the floor next to an unconscious Victoria. There’s water and mirror shards all over the place, and Victoria is still and lifeless. At first Lex thinks she is dead, and his initial thought is that he hopes she already reported back to her father. Instantly ashamed over his selfish reaction, he stands frozen in the doorway -- he may not like Victoria very much, but he feels a certain kinship to her and would never want to see her killed. When she coughs, spluttering up bath water, he breathes a sigh of relief and flips his cell open and calls for help even as he hurries over to them, picking his way through the splintered glass.

“She’s going to be okay,” Liam says quietly, fiddling with the wet silk of the bathrobe he’s thrown over her. “Someone tried to drown her, but I stopped them.”

Lex kneels down next to her, looking at her pale face. Her eyes are still closed, but her erratic breathing indicates that she’s broken free of unconsciousness.

Liam gets up, circling the bathtub, bending down to pick up one of the shards of mirror glass. “Someone must have stepped on the broken mirror,” Liam informs, holding up the piece of glass to show a small smear of blood. “As far as I know, ghosts don’t bleed.”

 

Victoria is doing fine considering the circumstances, although a bit shaken. She raises no opposition when Lex suggests she should go back to Metropolis and rest up for a few days. Her complacency may have been caused by the ordeal in the bath, but the way she doesn’t insist on returning makes Lex think that it also means that she’s gathered enough information to launch an attack on LuthorCorp.

So far, so good. Now all they have to deal with is someone is sneaking around the mansion unseen, with malicious purpose. Liam has been following Lex around the mansion like they’re attached at the hip, worried that the unseen terror will strike again.

“Yeah, definitely blood,” Liam says, looking through the microscope. “Whoever left this was strong enough to knock me over. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the attack, but still, I was knocked all the way across the room. They must have been in a hurry to leave too; I had just enough time to see a skeleton disappearing through the door.”

They’re in their private science lair investigating the bloodied piece of mirror, after Liam took extra care to scan the hallway for signs of the invisible intruder before going in.

“Which means that the person who attacked you and Victoria in the bathroom is somehow invisible.” Lex concludes, and takes the sliver of broken mirror to examine it more closely, looking for clues. His fingers slip in the unexpected slickness of oil on glass. “What's this green substance?” He brings his hand up to his nose, to see if he can detect any recognizable ingredients by smell. Smells like roses, Lex notes. “What the…?”

Liam is instantly at Lex’s side, worried and hovering. “What happened?” he visibly relaxes when he discovers Lex’s expression of wonder.

“I just touched it,” Lex says, holding up his hand and looking at the place where the tips of his middle and index fingers are supposed to be. They are completely invisible. Amazing.

Lex can’t resist smearing some of it on Liam’s nose. It looks funny, like part of his nose is chopped off, and when he turns his head to show Lex his profile, Lex can’t hold back a laugh. Liam chuckles as well, and then they just grin at each other.

“Okay, really, what is this?” Liam asks, touching his nose.

Lex smiles, enjoying the discovery. “I don't know, but if you rubbed that all over you'd be --“

“Naked?” Liam looked up at him, a flash of green fire lighting his hazel eyes momentarily.

“Well, yeah, but focus. With this covering your body you'd be invisible.” Lex wipes off his fingers and they regain their usual visible state. He wipes Liam’s nose too, cupping his face to hold it still. “If we could get more of this, I wouldn’t have to worry every time you want to go out running. So do you have any idea of who is sneaking around the mansion playing the invisible man?”

Liam makes a grimace, like what he is going to say next has a foul taste. “I don’t like it, but I can’t help but think it’s Amy. The skeleton was about her size, and she’s got a massive obsession with you. I guess I should have told you about that earlier, but she’s my friend. Or she was, anyway. We’re not exactly speaking anymore.”

That is news to Lex, the thought that Liam and Amy were pretty good friends. “I was aware that she harbored an infatuation with me, but I thought it was just a teenage crush, nothing to worry about. Guess I was wrong.”

Liam frowns a little. “We had an argument; Amy told me she saw Victoria snooping around your bedroom. She said Victoria didn't see her.”

“No wonder.” Lex has to agree; all signs do point to Amy. “Did Amy give blood?”

“She did,” Liam confirms, nodding. “3:45, station B.”

“I’ll admit, there are times when I am just a smidgen envious of your extraordinarily good memory. Do you remember her blood type as well?”

Liam nods, his smile brilliant. “Type O.”

“Okay, I'll get the blood type on the broken piece of glass and then we can check it against Amy's.”

Lex transfers the blood to a test tube and puts it in the medical fridge. He doesn’t have the chemicals for testing the blood here, so he’ll bring the blood sample with him to Sigma when he leaves for work in the morning.

 

With Victoria gone, at least temporarily, Liam decides that they should reinstitute their traditional movie night. Lex is eager to agree; during Victoria’s stay he missed spending time with Liam, just the two of them hanging out.

They have just settled down in front of the big flat screen TV, when Amy comes into the room.

“Hi, Lex. Liam. Here’re your popcorn, and your drinks.”

“Amy. This is a surprise. Where is your mother?” Lex had expressly told Anna to let Mrs. Palmer and no one else bring him food, as of this afternoon.

Amy makes a nervous movement, kind of shrugging and ducking her head at the same time. “She’s not feeling very well. I think it’s the flu. I’m filling in while she rests up.”

The way she hesitates when she says this makes Lex suspicious.” Well, that’s very nice of you,” he offers.

“So now that Miss Hardwick is gone, hopefully things will be back to normal.” Amy lingers a little bit too long in setting down the tray, her voice overly cheery. She sets the bowl of popcorn and a pitcher of Anna’s best lemonade on the side table.

“Victoria will be back in a few days,” Lex tells her. He’s not the only one to feel cautious, Liam is squinting at her in that familiar way he does when he’s using his x-ray vision, and from the grim look on his face it’s not to peep at Amy through her clothes.

“Oh.” She looks down, disappointed.

Liam scoots closer to Lex, reaching for the popcorn bowl. He grabs a fistful and leans back with one arm on the back of the sofa, behind Lex’s shoulders, before cramming them all into his mouth. Lex arches an eyebrow. Those lessons in table manner never stuck, did they? “She's really not as bad as you think, Amy,” Lex murmurs, his eyes still on Liam.

“Oh, I-I never thought that,” she denies, laughing nervously, and starts to clumsily pour the drinks.

To avoid staring at Liam’s tongue as it slips out from between plump rosy lips to catch stray popcorn crumbs, Lex turns to study the evening’s selection of DVDs. Tonight it’s all sci-fi action; The Matrix, The Terminator one and two, Blade Runner.

“Oh, no!” Liam’s voice is high pitched with distress, and Lex whirls his head around to see what’s happened.

Amy is on her knees, blotting at the floor and the oriental carpet with a bunch of napkins and Liam is doing the same to a glossy purple paper bag that apparently had been sitting under the table.

“Sorry, sorry,” Amy apologises. “Let me take it downstairs. I’ll clean it up, I’ll --.”

“No.” Liam sighs, upset and miserable. “It’s too late. It’s already soaked.”

“I’m sorry,” Amy says again and gets up to leave.

Lex holds his curiosity in check until she is gone. “What’s in the bag?”

Liam’s jaw is squarely set and he has two red spots high on his cheeks. His eyes are shiny, like he’s fighting back tears. He looks dejectedly at the soaked bag for a moment and then reaches inside it, extracting a once neatly wrapped package. There’s a card stuck under the stylish bow. “It’s for you.”

Lex accepts it, handling the spongy and dissolving the paper of the drenched card carefully. The text is mostly washed off, smudged until near illegibility. He can make out the fragments of three, possibly four words.

The wrapping of the parcel is so soaked it practically falls off the box inside; and when he sees the contents Lex wants to weep; it’s a vintage Warrior Angel action figure, complete in its collector’s box, its condition already degraded from “mint” to “completely and beyond recovery destroyed by sugary beverage”. It must have cost Liam a great deal.

When he looks up, Liam is biting his lip, an action which makes Lex feel unreasonably heartened in the face of collectible destruction. “It was supposed to be a Valentine’s gift,” Liam confesses, “but I guess it’s ruined now.”

The value of the action figure has been horribly reduced, there’s no doubt about that, but Lex couldn’t care less. He hasn’t gotten an honest-to-God present without secondary motives since he was thirteen, and the fact that this is from Liam makes it worth more than gold. But what does it mean to Liam?

Lex runs his fingers over the sticky surface of the box, processing the implications of this gift. Celebrating holidays such as Valentine’s Day isn’t something Luthors usually do, unless they have something to gain from it. How much does Liam know abut this tradition? Does he know that giving somebody a Valentine’s gift usually indicates that the giver holds a certain level of romantic feelings for the receiver? Most likely he doesn’t, and Lex needs to explain this to him. He takes a deep breath to focus and looks up; about to correct Liam’s misconception, but the words dies on his tongue as he takes in the earnest expression on Liam’s face.

“I love it.” Lex reassures instead. “Thank you.”

Liam’s face breaks out in a brilliantly relieved smile, and his whole body visibly relaxes. “Chloe helped me wrap it, but I ordered it off E-bay all by myself.”

Lex has to smile back, Liam’s grin is nothing less than contagious. “And it’s an excellent start of our movie night this evening. Did you know there are several obvious parallels between Warrior Angel and Neo in the Matrix? Both were considered superiors by their contemporaries, much like Julius Caesar, Goethe and Napoleon in their days, and… What is it?”

Liam’s smile has faded. “That reminds me.” Liam brow furrows, and he’s looking determined and not a little pissed off. “I don’t think we have to wait to get the test result on the blood type. Amy’s wearing your Napoleon watch.”

 

Standing in Amy’s bedroom looking at the shrine of Lex Luthor paraphernalia she has collected, Lex feels utterly unsettled at discovering that this young, timid girl could harbor such a grave obsession. A multitude of pictures of him, both recent and of him as a boy. A key chain with the LuthorCorp logo. Newspaper clippings, paper napkins and styrofoam cups from the Beanery. When he finds his watch among the various items she has pilfered, he is actually relieved. Somehow it’s easier to use plain old-fashioned theft as the reason to sack the help, as opposed to obsessive stalking.

Firing the Palmers doesn’t sit well with him, but Lex doesn’t really have a choice. He couldn’t very well have unhinged people having full access to his house.

Mrs. Palmer is just grateful that he doesn’t contact the police. The Palmers pack their belongings quickly, but it’s already late, and in no way will the move be finished sooner than tomorrow afternoon. Lex agrees to let Mrs. Palmer’s son Jeff stay behind and arrange for the rest of the practical things, just as long as Amy leaves at once.

It’s a school night, and Liam is sent off to bed as Lex watches Amy and her mom drive away. Lex will keep tabs on Amy, he is especially curious as to how she discovered the invisibility oil, but for now he’ll settle for her to being out of his house.

Lex stands on the front steps until their car is swallowed up by the fog and the night, and then takes out his cell phone. Now that the culprit is caught, it’s time to check in on Victoria.

He has barely gotten a dial tone when the phone flies from his hand, knocked away by an unseen force. Shit, it wasn’t Amy, he thinks, and is promptly struck unconscious.

 

Lex wakes up on the floor of the war-room. He knows where he is because that is the mansion’s only room this size with stone flooring. His arms are tied behind his back, and he has a headache the size of Kansas. He blinks to focus his blurry vision, and as his thoughts clarify, he figures out who the offender is. He and Liam have let their suspicions fall on the wrong Palmer kid.

He’s proven right when he hears the bodiless voice of Amy’s brother, Jeff, spewing accusations and making ridiculous demands from somewhere over by the fireplace.

Apparently, hell hath no fury like the brother of a woman scorned. Lex can hear envy and bitter rejection in Jeff’s accusations. Envy of Lex’s money and comfortable lifestyle. Of Liam, who has Lex’s attention. The more Jeff voices his complaints, the less it sounds like he’s fighting his sister’s battle and more and more like he’s doing all this for his own sake.

“Jeff? Where are you?” Lex struggles upright and staggers toward Jeff's voice going on about not being seen or appreciated enough. The war-room is one of the mansion’s least used rooms; in fact, it is still not completely set up since he moved in this past fall. One of the walls is to be adorned with a mural depicting the battle of Hastings, and Lex has to circle the painter’s scaffolding if he wants to reach the door. It’s difficult to stand tall with his hands tied behind his back; his point of balance shifted forward as he makes his way towards he closed double doors.

He doesn’t get very far. Invisible, strong hands knock Lex backwards, hard. Lex stumbles and falls headlong into the wall, hitting his shoulder hard. It hurts like a bitch, and it pisses him off enough to drive the fear right out of his body. “What have I ever done to you?”

“Not to me, to Amy.” Jeff’s voice is very close now, and Lex imagines he can feel his breath against his skin. “She loved you and you threw her out like she was nothing.”

“I thought she was attacking Victoria,” Lex hedges, trying to avoid further angering the invisible lunatic.

Jeff laughs. “That was me. I wanted to scare her, make her leave. I wanted everything back to the way it was for Amy. But you're not interested in love.”

“That kind of love could get me arrested. She's a little young for me, Jeff.”

Jeff’s voice goes shrill with anger. “You’re such a hypocrite!” One of the many swords unhooks from its display on the wall, swinging around mid-air seemingly by itself. “You ruined her life! Our lives! I'm not gonna let you hurt her again!”

Jeff’s words are desperate and filled with rage, and Lex has just enough time to feel the skin on the back of his neck rise into goose bumps before the sword hurtles through the air, aiming straight for his face. He instinctively jerks his head away, and the tip embeds itself in the wall just where his face was one second ago. Breathing hard, his heart trying to escape through his mouth, he stands perfectly still for a moment, feeling the blade sway back and forth from the force of the impact, the air vibrating against the back of his neck, the shell of his ear.

There’s a bang at the locked doors, and Liam’s anxious voice calling for him. ”Lex! Are you okay?”

Lex swallows, clears his throat and calls back. “Liam! It wasn’t Amy!”

There’s a loud snap as Liam breaks through the door, and then Jeff’s invisible fist makes impact with Lex’s face. His head hits the wall, and everything goes black.

Lex thinks he hears Liam call for him one more time before consciousness slips away again.

 

The next thing he knows, Lex is being gently shaken awake by Liam, his big warm hands anxiously petting Lex’s face and neck. Lex wants to say his name, but can only manage a weak moan. The headache from before has re-doubled, but less than he’d expect from multiple head traumas.

“Are you okay?” Liam asks. “I’ve called for help. Dr. Bryce is on her way.”

Lex looks around the room. Jeff lies in a heap next to the tipped over scaffolds, covered with paint. Liam’s pyjamas are stained red and yellow, and the entire room is in disarray. There are oddly shaped metal splinters on the floor, and Lex looks at them pointedly.

“Oh, right. That used to be a mace, before Jeff hit me in the face with it,” Liam explains. “Better get those out of the way before anyone sees them.”

After Helen has given him a thorough exam, an appointment for next week, and most importantly pain killers, Lex and Liam go out to the entrance steps to watch Jeff’s gurney being wheeled into the ambulance.

“What do you think is going to happen to Jeff now?” Liam asks.

Lex purses his lips. “A lot of serious therapy. Clearer question is how he made himself invisible.”

“Well. He was kind of stupid enough to confess, mid-fight.”

“How very villainous of him.” Lex says, amused.

Liam grins briefly. “He’d found some kind of special green roses, right here on the grounds. They refract the light, apparently, and their oils made things invisible.”

Lex considers this, and decides to hire Jeff to work on his kryptonite experiments when he’s been through therapy and had a proper education. Talent like Jeff’s shouldn’t be left unattended.

Liam falls quiet, looking out into the night.

“Liam. Are you okay?” Lex asks, concerned.

“Yeah, I guess,” Liam answers, his distracted tone showing he’s upset. “It’s just… I’ll miss Amy. She was a good friend before she went into complete stalker-mode.”

Lex places a hand on Liam’s shoulder in comfort. Lex has long since gotten over the sting of being let own by people he thought were his friends, and he sincerely hopes that this is the last time Liam ever knows this kind of disappointment.

 

February passes into March, and as the sun gradually returns, Liam thrives. His skin tans and his once coltish limbs fill out with muscle as he grows stronger. He’s getting restless, says he’s itching to go running, but Lex thinks it’s too risky. Who knows if there is another Phelan out there waiting?

They find the roses in the garden, growing in the flower beds by the servants’ buildings. Lex’s examinations reveal that they’ve been affected by the meteor rocks, which might not only explain their light refracting qualities, but also the fact that they withstand the cold successfully enough to go into bloom this early in the year. The invisibility oil is fairly easy to extract, and Lex predicts that it will make a huge profit, mainly in military contracts. But best of all is that Liam gets a way to go out running to his heart’s content without Lex constantly worrying.

When the first refined version of the oil comes back from the lab, Liam is eager to try it out.

Lex is in his office, writing an e-mail to Gabe, commending him on the plant’s latest progress report, when his cell phone rings, the display telling him it’s Liam.

“Can you come up?” Liam asks before Lex even has time to say anything. “I need some help with the oil. There are some places I can’t reach.”

Helping Liam apply the oil means being in the same room as Liam when he’s naked. No, that is not all. Lex swallows. It means touching Liam’s naked skin. “Do you really have to go running now?”

“Lex,” Liam pleads. “I’ve already done most of it. It’s not like I can ask anyone else to help me with this. Please?”

“Okay, then.” For some reason, Lex can’t seem to talk his way out of this one.

 

When he enters Liam’s quarters, he is met with the odd yet entrancing sight of Liam applying the oil to his body.

The lower half of his body is already invisible, a fact which leaves Lex both grateful and annoyingly disappointed. Liam is in front of the window, his upper body seemingly suspended in thin air, the wan March evening light stroking the lean lines of his torso and highlighting the concentrated expression on his face. He is rubbing oil on his right arm, and perks up when he sees Lex.

“Here,” he says, handing Lex the jar, turning around. “Can you do my back?”

Lex grabs the oil reflexively, staring at the expanse of lightly muscled back, eyes gliding from broadening shoulders down over the trim waist to the slight swell just below the tail bone, where Liam’s body abruptly disappears, the invisibility oil cutting off Lex’s view just before it reaches Liam’s buttocks. Lex swallows, suddenly feeling light-headed as his blood rushes south.

“Come on,” Liam urges. “I want to get out running before it gets dark.”

Lex takes a deep breath, the air thick with the scent of roses and Liam, and dips two fingers in the jar, the sensation of the gesture mockingly familiar, and starts painting Liam’s shoulders invisible.

“Maybe I should get you some application tools for this, so you can reach yourself?” Lex says, unable to keep himself from letting his eyes rove over Liam’s tanned form.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Liam replies distractedly, slathering oil all over his front.

The oil is slippery yet thick in texture, Lex’s fingers sliding over Liam’s warm, impossibly smooth skin, lower and lower as Liam’s body disappears from view, bit by bit.

“I should give this better adherent qualities,” Lex says, just to have something to talk about. “We wouldn’t want it to wear off so you’d suddenly find yourself naked in the middle of Main Street.”

“That would be a nightmare, for sure,” Liam says, his body shuddering in exaggerated horror under Lex’s hands. Then he turns halfway around, smiling eyes finding Lex’s. “I’m sure you’ll find some lasting solution; you’re really good at those kinds of things. Give me the jar, will you?”

“Maybe I can have the oil transfused into fabric of some sort; a suit would be so much more practical,” Lex muses, handing back the oil and rubbing Liam’s lower back.

Liam turns back around and hums encouragingly, apparently enjoying the touch. Lex is suddenly very conscious of his heart beat, his pulse racing to send the blood beating hard in his cock.

They fall silent, until the only sounds in the room are the slick strokes of oil on skin and the quiet sound of their combined breathing. The floral scent and the oily touches work together, somehow creating a soothing atmosphere. Lex would almost call it meditative, if it weren’t for the maddening demand of his body, increasing with every slick stroke down Liam’s flank.

Finally, there’s nothing left to cover but Liam’s face, and Lex slides his hands up to grab Liam’s shoulders, turning him around. Together, they finish coating Liam’s body, until he’s completely invisible.

Lex feels his breath go heavier as he smoothes the last drop of oil over Liam’s lower lip, and forces himself to snap out of this state of futile daydreaming and to control his inappropriate libido. “There. Remember to keep your mouth shut, the oil won’t stick to your teeth.”

“Thanks,” Liam says, stepping away, possibly closer to the mirror. His voice sounds oddly thick, but Lex figures the distortion could be a result of not being able to locate the source of the sound accurately.

Liam speaks again. “How do I look?”

“You don’t,” Lex replies, shifting out of the relative light from the window in the hope that Liam won’t be able to see his tented slacks in the half-light. “I can’t see you at all.”

“I guess I’ll go run now.”

“Knock yourself out,” Lex says, wiping his hands on a towel Liam kept hanging on the back of a chair. “Don’t scare the wildlife.”

Lex goes to open the door, and a waft of rose-scented air whooshes past him, a sure sign that Liam has used his super speed.

Lex hastens to reach his own quarters, leaning against the door after closing it behind him, letting out a deep breath. God. That was close. Too close.

Gathering himself for a moment, he is grateful that he didn’t act on his impulses. It’s actually rather upstanding of him, considering he’s not used to denying himself what he wants, least of all someone as gorgeous and special as Liam.

He shakes his head bitterly; who is he kidding, trying to justify his attraction to Liam? He rips his neck tie off and goes off to the shower to deal with his insistent and frustrating erection.

 

In April, spring has definitely come to stay, and Liam’s accelerated growth kicks in again full force. He grows an inch in two weeks, rendering most of his wardrobe useless. Shopping for more clothes isn’t exactly a hardship, and if anyone asks, they’ll say that Liam is suffering from a mild glandular disorder, and that he’s already being treated.

As if the growth wasn’t enough, Liam is even more gorgeous than ever. He is so pretty that Lex is surprised that no one has realized he’s an alien yet. Lex is glad Victoria never came back from Metropolis. He certainly doesn’t need her around to see him making a fool of himself, mooning over his teenage ward.

It’s night. Liam is finally asleep; Lex checked in on him the first thing he did when he got back from Metropolis. Liam was upset after a run-in with yet another meteor mutant, one of Liam’s classmates. This time Liam had actually witnessed the mutation take place. It had been instigated by physical contact with meteor rock while being struck by lightning. The power that the boy obtained from the alteration was the ability to emit high-voltage electricity from his hands. Liam had fought him and won, but that wasn’t the cause of his distress.

What bothered Liam was guilt; now he knew for sure that it was the pieces of his dead home planet that were the cause for the wave of homicidal mutants that had been plaguing the town.

After Lex finally convinced him he had no control over the way Krypton ended its days, and even less over how its remnants affected human beings, Liam calmed down a little, enough to fall asleep.

Now Lex is in his living room, serving himself a congratulatory tumbler of brandy. It’s the least he deserves after a day of rather successful scheming and misleading maneuvers, if he does say so himself.

As suspected, Victoria’s decision to leave Smallville meant she was ready to move in for the kill. About time, too. When she and her father finally call Lex to a business meeting, he has been waiting for weeks already.

Victoria had walked straight into the trap, exactly as planned. Everything went smoothly; the whole thing over within a few hours. A fabricated report, a misguided investment, a little calculated acting and voila: Hardwick Industries went from planning a hostile take-over to being LuthorCorp’s latest acquisition.

Strengthened by the brandy, Lex calls his father. “Hello, Dad. How's business?”

“Tomorrow's Planet is announcing our takeover of Sir Harry's company,” Lionel says smugly, his voice a bit tinny over the speaker phone.

Lex swallows more brandy. "Did I merit a mention?”

“Third paragraph,” Lionel confirms. “That's what happens when you trust your family, Lex. I'm proud of you.”

Pride. It’s not quite what’s on Lex’s mind. The indignant look on Victoria’s face had been rewarding, but now, in the stillness of his darkened office, Lex wonders if he and Victoria were more alike than he’d wanted to acknowledge.

He thinks of his parting words to her; that he planned on being great all by himself. It had been true once. But he couldn’t claim he wanted solitude anymore, could he?

“Thanks, Dad,” he says finally. “That means a lot coming from you.” He hangs up, not sure if he meant that or not.

“You were right about the meteor rock exposure causing the mutation,” Lex tells Nixon, who is just walking in. ”Someone actually saw it happen.”

“Guess it was just a matter of time. The town is crawling with them. Who’s your source?”

“You know better than to ask me that.”

“Right.” Nixon sits down opposite Lex and puts a folder on the table between them. “I have checked the hospital and police records, trying to root out the mutants. There are many. I have counted around two hundred certain and over a five hundred likely cases. Most of them are high school kids, and the absolute majority of them were caught in the meteor shower, so I’d say direct exposure is the most likely cause of the change. As far as I can tell, there is a vast variation as to how the change manifests itself, but giving the victim strength accompanied with some other ability is the most common out-come.”

“What about the increased level of aggression? Did you find any support for that theory?”

“The police reports could be interpreted that way, sure. But the hospital records indicate that the mutants are as likely to be the injured party as the regular, non-enhanced Smallville residents. Slightly more, actually, and since they are a minority, it’s a considerable number.”

Lex ponders this for a while. He shouldn’t be surprised; it is human nature to turn against the things you can’t understand, the things you fear.

“Here’s the interesting part,” Nixon says, as if nothing of what he’s told so far earned any real consideration. “To tie the phenomenon more closely to the meteor shower, I checked to see if it is isolated to Smallville. It’s not.”

Lex raises an eyebrow, awaiting the answer.

“There have been a few similar occurrences in Metropolis,” Nixon continues, “with people who have no connection to Smallville. Most of these people are city born, well-educated men and women, and they have practically nothing in common except the fact that they all are working at the same research institute. Can you guess who the main stock holder as of five months is?”

“Lionel Luthor.” As if it could have been anyone else.

“None other. I did some more checking, and found out that one of the world’s most renowned mineralogists, Dr Hamilton, has been recruited to work on a top secret project involving the meteor rocks.” Nixon opens the folder and shows Lex some photocopied pages. “I managed to get hold of an early version of their research report. Apparently the meteors contain a mineral that’s never been documented on this world before.”

Lex skims the report. “They’re going to register it as ’Luthorite’. It’s good to know my father hasn’t lost his sense of grandeur. This is very good work, Roger.”

Nixon nods. “Yeah, it’s not bad. This could make one hell of a story.”

“It will make even better blackmail material.” Lex smiles, and knows it’s the same wolf grin often seen on his father’s face. “If this story is accidentally leaked, you and I are going to have a serious trust issue.”

Nixon snorts. “As opposed to the close, personal relationship we enjoy now? By the way,” he says, smooth and unhurried, “care to enlighten me as to why your ward’s name shows up unusually often in the police reports?”

“No.” Lex takes another sip of his brandy. Apparently, Liam needs another talk about saving people contra maintaining discretion. “Liam’s off-limits, understand? Was there anything else?”

“Just this.” Nixon hands Lex a large manila envelope and gets up from the settee. Lex opens the envelope and pulls out the photographic evidence of what Victoria has been doing during the last few weeks in Metropolis. Lex’s father, apparently. The disappointment burns sharper than the brandy. “Nice picture quality. Who initiated this little encounter?”

Nixon gives him a wry, cruel smile. “Well, who do you think?” He walks away, heading towards the door.

“Victoria?”

Nixon pauses in the doorway. “Your father,” he says, and leaves.

He should be used to fatherly betrayal by now, but he is beginning to suspect that’s something you never get over. The irony is that Victoria wasn’t even important to him.

Lex feels the bitterness rise within. He’ll never be anything but a piece of clay to Lionel, and it hurts.

 

In May, everything is lush and green and lovely, spring holding its last breath before the arrival of true summer. The produce investment is paying off, well exceeding all expectations. Every restaurant in the Metropolis area with a culinary ambition worth its name is screaming for more, and Liam has blossomed in time with the rest of nature and now he already surpasses Lex’s height, though not by much. Judging from the size of his hands alone, he is going to be magnificent.

The weather is warm and fair, and to Lex’s frustration, Liam discovers he likes to sunbathe. In his spare time he can spend hours lying on the southern terrace, in nothing but a pair of too tight briefs, sunglasses and a lazy, sun-warm smile, soaking up the springtime sunshine.

Lex, for his part, discovers that he can spend the same amount of time admiring Liam sunbathing. He brings his laptop and his spreadsheets outside and sits in the shade under the canvas roof and sips Welsh water pretending to work, his eyes following the sleek lines of Liam’s young bronzing body in lingering caresses.

Every so often, Liam turns over in a display of rippling muscles, changing position on the hardwood chaise lounge, obviously aiming to expose all of his glorious skin to the sun.

At one of those turns, Liam’s eyes glint open to focus straight at Lex. Lex freezes, bottle in his mouth and his gaze still locked on his perfectly toned abdomen. He glances up at Liam’s face trying to gauge his reaction.

Surprisingly enough, Liam’s face hasn’t scrunched up in distaste or shock. Instead his expression is open and lazy, perfect lips parted and his cheeks slightly more pink than the sunshine can take credit for. Liam gives him a sideways look, lashes brushing his cheek, bends one knee to prop up one of his giant feet on top of the chaise lounge, before closing his eyes and turning his head slightly away, exposing the stretch of his throat. It is done in such a calculated way that Lex realizes with a start that Liam is telling him he knows Lex has been watching. And what’s more; that he doesn’t object to the attention.

Lex puts the bottle down, baffled that he hasn’t figured it out before. Putting it all together, especially the Valentine’s gift and Liam’s unreasonable dislike of Victoria, it’s really quite simple. Liam must have figured out Lex’s obsession with him, and out of gratitude or obligation or whatever the fuck reason a half-educated alien kid can come up with, Liam is actually returning that interest.

Lex has to stop this right now. He will never be able to live with himself if he corrupts the one pure thing in his life. He just has to find a way to put an end to this madness without hurting Liam’s feelings.

 

 

Deciding to reduce the time he spends with Liam to a minimum until he safely can control his attraction, Lex rises early to so he can go to work before Liam wakes up. If he can focus his energies on the plant, maybe he can put Liam out of his mind, at least temporarily.

But after a mere hour of hanging around Gabe and Martha, no doubt bugging the crap out of them, it is clear that nothing at the plant needs his direct attention. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently without his aid and not even the staff at Sigma can find a decent task for him to do.

Increasingly frustrated, he takes to the roads, speeding around the countryside as fast as his Lamborghini can carry him. Somewhere on the road between Smallville and Grandville, he spots a truck on its side halfway in the ditch, the free wheels still spinning. This is something to do, he thinks, and stops to offer his help.

The next thing he knows, he wakes up in a bed in Smallville Medical Center.

Liam is right there when he comes to, his smiling face the first thing he sees. The difference from when he last woke up here is incomparable.

According to Liam, he has been unconscious for almost two days and the whole ordeal had something to do with a supposedly extinct pollen-squirting flower. Only in Smallville, Lex thinks tiredly. Apparently other people were infected as well; everything looked bad for a while, and then Lex’s scientists found a cure. When Lex tries to dig deeper, Liam rather skillfully avoids the topic, although he seems quite smug about something.

Before he goes home, Lex’s doctors inform him of the general effects of the pollen infection. They include reducing inhibitions, making victims act on impulses, before causing a fever that leads to the victim falling into a coma. If untreated, it could eventually lead to death. Memory loss after recovery is common. Lex decides to give them all substantial raises for their hard work.

When they’ve come home, Liam insists that Lex spends the remainder of the day in bed, just to be sure. When Lex protests, Liam doesn’t listen and soon Lex is in his pyjamas, tucked in and expected to rest. He plans to get up and get a report on this Nicodemus flower as soon as Liam leaves the room.

Liam pulls up a chair and sits down, smiling like he knows what Lex is thinking.

“Whose idea was it to call in the Sigma scientists, anyway?” Lex asks.

“Yours. You called them as soon as you found the flower; you thought it had been mutated, just like the invisibility roses.”

“Good thing I am so observant.”

Liam coughs a little. “Yeah. Good thing.”

“I can’t remember anything. I have to say it’s worrisome not knowing what I’ve done,” Lex says, trying to coax some kind of reaction from Liam. “Did I do something… unwise?”

“Not really.” Liam shakes his head, avoiding Lex’s eyes.

Lex can’t stand Liam’s peculiar behavior any longer. “Oh, come on. I can tell there’s something.”

“Oh, all right.” Liam looks down for a while, petting the bedcovers with his index finger. “Let’s just say that you are a really good kisser.”

Lex feels his jaw fall open.

“Really, really, really good,” Liam murmurs to himself, touching his lips, a slow blush spreading on his cheeks.

“God,” Lex rasps, as realization dawns. Acting on impulses. Reduced inhibitions. “Tell me I didn’t.”

“Don’t worry, Lex.” Liam’s lips part in a sly smile. “You didn’t do anything to me I didn’t want.”

“You mean we –“ Lex closes his eyes against the bitter disappointment. He’s been robbed of the chance to have this first precious experience with Liam; it’s over and done with, and he can’t even remember it. “What was it like?”

Liam’s eyes are huge, taking up all of Lex’s attention, and his tongue slips out, pink and moist, wetting his lips. “I’ll show you.”

And then Liam does the thing that breaks Lex’s restraint. He reaches out and traces a fingertip over Lex’s lips, and then curls his hand around Lex’s jaw to hold him gently in place.

Lex has tried so hard to be strong, he really has, and he must deserve some kind of reward for this, because resisting something he really wants is not in the Luthors’ genetic make-up. But he can resist no more, and when Liam leans in, Lex rises up to meet him half-way, their lips mashing together, messy and sloppy and frantic-shy until Lex tilts Liam’s head a little to the left and things change pace.

He slows the kiss down enough to let Liam’s tongue into his mouth, sucking a little on it, enjoying the way Liam moans and twitches when he bites down, ever so slightly. He’s getting light-headed, and realizes he’s forgotten to breathe. He’s hard, nearly desperately so, just from kissing, and his hands shake as he releases the grasp they somehow have gotten in Liam’s hair.

Liam pulls back, watching Lex’s face with heavy half-lidded eyes, his face pink and his lips shiny with kissing. He motions as if to touch his mouth, stopping half way, a little awed. “Oh, wow. Now I know what my lips are really for.”

“I thought we’d already…?” Lex asks, confused, heart pounding.

Liam smiles triumphantly, entirely too pleased with himself. “I lied.”

Lex doesn’t have time to do so much as frown before his mouth is claimed again, and suddenly they are all over each other, just rubbing against each other. They fall back on the bed, with Liam on top, all mouths and hands and sweaty half-clothed limbs and smooth skin, nothing like the slow expert seduction he now can admit he’s planned to perform.

Liam, who has somehow managed to sneak his hand up the back of Lex's pajama top, coaxes Lex's tongue into his mouth. He’s responding to Lex with a trusting abandon and willingness that is quite new to Lex’s experience, making choked whimpering noises every time he thrusts his hips against Lex’s.

Lex makes encouraging noises and thrusts back, reveling in the friction of Liam’s erection rubbing against his own through the bedcover and their clothing. He thinks briefly of introducing something more sophisticated than frottage, but this feels too good to stop for even the small amount of time it would take to change positions, and so he grabs hold of Liam’s ass, pushing their cocks harder together and thrusts again. And again. Again, each push better than the last one until Lex feels his body fill with pleasure, the physical elation saturating every cell, Liam coloring his blood golden, golden and red.

Liam gasps, goes completely still and then starts to tremble all over. Lex gathers himself together just enough to watch Liam’s face as he comes. His eyes are closed, just barely, and his lips are scarlet and slack-jawed open in a silent shout. It’s the most beautiful thing Lex has ever seen.

Liam flops down next to Lex, his weight pulling at the covers, drawing them tight and restricting around Lex, but he can’t bring himself to mind. They lie in sweaty bliss, chests still heaving, too tired to get up and clean themselves off.

“Okay, why don’t you tell me what actually happened while I was under the influence?” Lex asks, stroking Liam’s damp hair off his forehead.

“Not much, really. All you did was to go on and on about my mouth and my body and my uncorrupted heart, but as soon as it looked like there was going to be some actual action, you chickened out, not wanting to ‘tarnish my purity’.” Liam’s green eyes sparkle with soft mischief. “I’ve been waiting for you to tarnish my purity a really, really long time now. You are just too damn noble for your own good.” They both smile at that.

As the heat of the moment cools, all of Lex’s reservations make themselves known again. If he had been a better man, Lex would have sent Liam away after this, or Lex would spend more time working, or even find himself a girlfriend. But he’s not, and he can’t refuse himself this, can’t resist Liam. There’s no looking back now. Lex has had his first taste of happiness, and he will not let it go willingly.

But how can he be certain this is what Liam wants?

“Liam,” Lex begins, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. “

“No. Don’t you dare feel guilty. You want me, I want you, end of story.“

“Is it really that simple?” Lex asks, trying to make his question as gentle as he can manage.

Liam loses some of his confidence, but still manages to hold Lex’s gaze. "I know you want me. I've seen you looking at me; I've seen you get hard looking at me. X-ray vision comes in handy for all kinds of things."

“I do want you.” It’s a heady thing, confessing. “What I meant was that you don’t have to feel any obligation, just because I’m attracted to you.”

“Believe me; I am in no way obligated.” Liam gestures at the rather large wet spot on the crotch of his pants. “I think the evidence speaks for itself.”

“I know that when you’re young your hormones can be rather overwhelming. It can be difficult to know exactly what you want, and you could easily be taken advantage of.”

“You seem to have forgotten the fact that I’m considerably stronger than you and can make things stop at any time. If anything, you should be concerned about me forcing you.”

Lex scoffs at the ridiculous notion that Liam would ever make someone do anything against their will. “You know as well as I do that coercion can be achieved by other means than raw strength.”

“True. But you haven’t tried to coerce me in the least. In fact, you have been all but bending yourself backwards trying to resist me,” Liam counters. He crawls under the covers, still dressed, and slides a hand up Lex’s leg, smiling impishly all the while. “Which was a pointless waste of energy, as I am clearly irresistible.”

“You are much too young for this, you know.” He doesn’t try to stop Liam’s hand in its journey from thigh to hip.

“We have no idea of how old I am,” Liam protests, pressing his body against Lex, his warmth branding Lex from knees to shoulder. “I’m certainly old enough to know what I want. And I. Want. You.” Liam emphasizes each word with a tiny wet kiss along his jaw line.

“Liam. Technically, you’re a high school student, and I’m an adult. If people found out, I could go to prison.“

“That’s a stupid, stupid law,” Liam mutters into the crook of Lex’s neck, puffing warm breath over the delicate skin.

“Well, yeah.” Lex feels his body respond, much stronger that he usually is able to this shortly after climax. “But it’s still the law, and if we’re caught breaking it, I’ll be charged with statutory rape.”

“Well. We won’t tell anyone. What’s one more secret anyway?”

Liam seems to have an answer to every issue Lex presents, and Lex has to admit that it is convincing. But what can you expect when you’re arguing a case you don’t particularly want to win? “What about Chloe?”

“She won’t tell anyone either. Oh, you thought me and Chloe?” Liam starts to laugh. “No. Not even close.”

“But I thought you were going to the Spring Formal together?”

“Yeah, as friends. Besides, Chloe has a boyfriend.”

Lex raises an eyebrow, irked that he missed this pivotal piece of information. Wait a minute! “What do you mean she won’t tell either?”

“Chloe knows I’m not interested in her, or any girl for that matter. I’ve told her I’m gay, but not how I feel about you. Justin and Chloe have been together since last summer. She’s going with me because Justin is still in Metropolis getting specialist care for his hands. They got injured in the meteor shower.” When Liam is finished with his rambling explanation, his face grows serious. “Don’t tell Mr. Sullivan! Chloe’s not allowed to date until she’s sixteen.”

That brings the age issue back full force. Jesus, Lex has just had sex with a fifteen year old, and he doesn’t even have any real scruples against doing it again. Without a doubt, he is a bad, immoral man and in no way good enough for Liam. He is about to tell Liam something to that effect when Liam starts to nuzzle Lex’s nipples through the silk of his pajamas.

“I really want you,” Liam whispers in his ear, and Lex knows he has lost the debate. “Lex. Please.”

“At least, oh God, at least let us take things slowly.”

“Okay,” Liam readily agrees. “If that’s the way you want it, I promise not to demand anything too advanced until I’m officially of age.”

“Okay? Just like that? You do realize that you’re not of age for a good eight months?” Lex is already fighting the beginnings of excitement, managing to keep himself at a level just short of breathless and urgent.

Liam laughs, the sound of it true and happy and liberating, and starts unbuttoning his own pants. “Do you realize that I never defined ‘too advanced’?”

 

Lex is woken up by a quiet buzzing sound. It’s still dark, so it must be night, or early morning. Liam is a warm, solid presence in the dark; his naked body pressed up against Lex’s back, infusing Lex with a rare kind of contentment.

It takes Lex a moment to shake free of the pleasant fog of deep sleep, but when he does he recognizes the sound of his cell phone, set to mute. He glances over at the alarm clock; it reads 05:42. Just before dawn, then. There are only two people who dare disturb Lex at this ungodly hour, and he can’t imagine anything either of them has to say being suitable for Liam’s ears.

Careful not to wake him, Lex shifts out of Liam’s sleep-loose arms and reaches for his cell phone. The caller ID reads “Phelan”, and Lex relaxes in relative relief. He slips out of the bed and pads naked over to the far end of his room before answering.

“You know that reporter you told me to keep an eye on?” Phelan’s voice is gravelly and harsh, contrasting with the soft, muffled sounds of Liam’s breathing.

“Yeah.” Lex remembers that Nixon was supposed to report in on Tuesday. That was three days ago.

“I found his body down by the docks, two bullets in his brain.”

Lex swallows to ease the sudden dryness of his throat. “How many people know?”

“I’m the first on the scene. I haven’t called it in yet.”

“Good. Anything on him that can be linked to me?”

A fumbling noise comes through the receiver, the sound of Phelan looking through Nixon’s pockets. “No. All I could find is a business card in his wallet. Dr. Patrick Garner at the Summerholt Neurological Institute.”

That’s the institute Lionel funds, and if the nature of the research is anywhere near as illegal as Lex suspects, Lionel wouldn't hesitate one bit to order snooping reporters killed. Nixon must have gotten careless, too greedy for the scoop to care about the risks of crossing Lionel’s path. It also means that Nixon was onto something big.

“What do you want me to do?” Phelan sounds restless, eager to get things done with.

“Stay away from this investigation. Call it in anonymously, let somebody else handle it. Document and if possible copy all the evidence you can find and bring it to me.”

“Got it.”

Lex snaps his phone shut a little too hard, the sound making Liam stir in his sleep. Returning to the bed, Lex shivers as he leaves the cool air of the room and slips back into the warm comfortable nest of rumpled covers and sheets.

Liam snuggles up against him instantly; unconsciously throwing an arm around Lex’s body in a gesture so unguardedly intimate that Lex feels his breath catch and his heart ache. His eyes have adapted to the darkness, and the faint grey light coming from the eastern window washes Liam in pale monochrome shades, inky shadows marking the landscape of his face. When he gently brushes a tousled curl of hair behind Liam’s ear, tracing a finger along one smooth cheek, he is rewarded with a drowsy smile.

Lex is instantly reminded of the smile Liam had when he first brought him home, asleep in the limo. It’s a glaring contrast, the way he thought of Liam before and after that smile. It’s a thoroughly uneasy feeling to think that he had planned to keep this wonderful being locked up in a cell, experimenting on him for profit.

Lex would like to think that he’s changed; that Liam’s influence has mellowed his cold and calculating personality.

But he knows the only thing that’s changed is that his priorities have shifted; his sense of what is important has been honed.

If anything, he is even more ruthless now.

 

In the morning, Lex wakes from a sudden draft. It seems his bedcovers have disappeared, and he can’t find them, no matter how much he feels around for them. And that’s not all that is missing.

Instantly awake, he rolls around and looks up. Liam is floating.

He’s on his side, hovering maybe four feet above the bed, stark naked save for the cover twisted around his torso. Lex stares up at him, fascinated, taking the opportunity to study the more intimate parts of Liam’s anatomy, admiring the way the bulge of his hard shaft stretches the sheet. Lex feels a rather self-satisfied smile spread on his face. Liam certainly isn’t dreaming of Miss Sullivan now, is he?

A fold of the fabric hangs down, dangling within reach. Lex tugs on it, gently bringing Liam down, careful not to wake him. Lex’s bed isn’t reinforced, and he thinks Liam would be rather embarrassed if he broke it. It’s a bit like pulling a large helium balloon through the air, just a little more resistance. A few inches from the mattress, Liam abruptly wakes up and immediately loses his buoyancy, falling the short distance and landing with a small thud, looking sheepish.

“Good morning.” Lex crawls over to Liam and kisses his forehead. “Pleasant dreams, I take it.”

Liam nods, red-faced, but is obviously pleased with Lex’s acceptance. “I thought I wouldn’t dream like that anymore, now that I have you in the flesh,” he apologises, sliding a hand down Lex’s back to grab his fleshiest part for emphasis.

Lex laughs softly, and kisses him again, on the lips this time. One kiss turn into more, and soon they are full on making out, bodies pressed together, twisting the sheets.

Lex has long since lost sense of time, but judging from the sunlight streaming in through the windows, it’s about time for them to get up. With difficulty, Lex pulls away. “We’d better hit the shower.”

“Yeah,” Liam agrees, breathless and squirming. “I bet your skin feels amazing wet.”

“Separately,” Lex insists, but can’t resist nipping at Liam’s bottom lip, “or we’ll be late.”

“You’re wrong.” Liam paws at Lex’s chest, his breath puffing warm against Lex’s ear. “I won’t be late, because, as you recall, I have the advantage of being able to move really quickly and can be at school in seconds. You won’t be late, because you’re supposed to stay in bed today. Does ‘recovering from pollen-induced coma’ ring a bell?”

Lex grumbles but agrees to stay home when Liam makes a particularly convincing argument using a combination of his puppy-dog eyes and his tongue on Lex’s nipple. Feeling like he’s losing ground, Lex decides to take charge of the situation. “Until we establish the range of non-advanced sexual activities,” he says, rolling them over to get on top, “I suggest we stick to things we’ve already done. Is that okay?”

“Oh, yeah,” Liam says and slides his hand down between them, palm flat against Lex’s abdomen to take hold of his needy cock. “Doing this will never stop being incredible.”

With that, they stop talking all together, and Liam is nearly late for school after all.

 

Lex smiles broadly at the face Liam makes when he finds him waiting outside Smallville High, ready to pick him up. “You never said how long I was to stay at home.”

“Well, I thought it was obvious that you should take it easy at least a whole day.” He still looks pretty pleased to see Lex, though.

“I really do feel a lot better,” Lex says, looking straight into Liam’s eyes, opening the car door by feel. “Get in.”

By tacit agreement they don’t touch each other in public, which is a lot more difficult than Lex ever imagined. The charge between them is so palpable he is almost concerned it’s going to give them away, that people are going to notice. He breaks he the speed limit to get them home and in private.

Since Lex insists, they can’t do anything more than light kissing until they’ve settled the terms of their sexual relationship. They have a quick meal, and then retreat to Lex’s rooms to negotiate.

“Come on,” Liam protests after Lex vetoes all kinds of penetrative sex, including fingering and oral sex. “Blowjobs aren’t even considered real sex by some people. Why is it such a big deal?” He’s sprawled out on the divan in front of the unlit fireplace, his sweatshirt riding up a little, revealing a smooth stripe of tanned belly.

“If they’re so inconsequential, why put up such a fuss?” Lex counters. He sits on the edge of his bed and leans forward to accentuate his sincerity. “Besides, I do consider blowjobs sex. I want to be sure that I’m not pressuring you.”

Just being in the same room as Liam makes it hard for Lex to stand his ground. He is already experiencing a low level of arousal; not a very good condition for steadfast negotiation. The very topic of discussion is affecting him, inspiring hot, urgent spikes in the otherwise even progression of slow sweet build-up.

“You are not pressuring me,” Liam says exasperatedly, and just like that he’s climbed up in Lex’s lap, his long legs straddling Lex’s hips. One big paw of a hand is already cupping Lex’s scalp, spanning the whole curve of his skull with his fingers. The other hand is fumbling with Lex’s shirtfront, trying to unbutton it one-handed. There is a snap, and tiny purple-grey mother of pearl buttons spill over the bed.

“That,” Lex reproaches, but only manages to sound out of breath, “was one of my best shirts.”

“I’ll make it up to you.” Liam’s eyes are huge and dark; the deep green swallowed up by black pupils until just a thin stripe of the iris is left. His full lips are slightly open, wet and red and they certainly do their best to make Lex rethink his position on blowjobs, and Lex is only able to half stifle his groan when Liam cups Lex’s erection through his dress pants.

So, Liam decided to play dirty. Well, Lex can play dirty too, and he has the advantage of not being a teenager, and can somewhat withstand the flood of arousal that already courses through his veins. He shrugs out of his ruined shirt, letting the silk fall on the floor, moving to let Liam take a good look at the pale planes of his upper body. “Fellatio is a refined art, and can be a very intimate experience. Are you sure you are ready for that kind of intensity?”

Liam breathes open-mouthed for a second, before disposing of his own shirt as well as his pants, and then he’s on Lex like a whirlwind.

Lex feels rather empowered by Liam’s eagerness and swipes his tongue over Liam’s clavicles, nibbles the fleshy part of his shoulder, anything he can reach. He runs his hands over Liam’s muscled back, letting them come to a rest when he encounters Liam’s underwear, hooking his thumbs under the waistline. “Or is it that you think the pleasure of a mouth is more intense, the act more intimate than, say, a hand-job? Allow me to demonstrate the flaws in your misconception.” By now Liam is whimpering, all grabby hands and insistently bucking hips.

“Turn around.” Lex tugs on Liam’s shoulder until he gets up to change positions, and Lex hurries to remove his own trousers as well, moving up the bed, leaning back against the pillow and the headboard. “Take off your boxers,” he instructs. The thin blue cotton falls to the floor, and Lex puts his hands on Liam’s hipbones and pulls him down, settling him in the cradle of Lex’s lap, chest to back.

“Oh!” Liam gasps when his bare bottom makes contact with Lex’s hard cock, the length of it finding a home in the cleft of Liam’s ass. Lex has to center himself as well; the feel of Liam’s firm round ass pressing into his groin is nearly unbearably wonderful.

As Liam relaxes against him, leaning his head back at Lex’s shoulder, Lex disciplines himself just to look. Staring down at Liam’s body, Lex tracks every dip and curve of his torso and abdomen before letting his eyes arrive at the prize.

And what a prize it is; Liam’s cock is big; big and thick. From this angle Lex can see that it’s slightly longer than Lex’s own. It’s thicker, too, beautifully shaped, curving proudly from its black thatch of hair up against his stomach. His foreskin covers half the head even when erect, the dusky wet tip peeking out.

Lex smoothes a hand down the planes of Liam’s chest and makes the pleasant discovery that Liam has very sensitive nipples.

“Mmm. I want you to be as passive as you can. Just receive, just feel,” Lex murmurs as he continues to pet the hardening little nubs of flesh with small exploring rubs until it makes Liam yelp and twitch, sweat breaking out all over his body. “Can you do that?”

Liam nods, trembling slightly, his glazed gaze almost cross-eyed from pleasure. It makes Lex feel smug, and more aroused than he’s ever been in his life.

“Good.” Keeping one hand tending to the nipples, Lex lets the other one make its way down Liam’s body, fitting it tightly around the base of Liam’s cock. Liam makes a noise like a hungry animal, fisting his hands in the sheets. Lex clenches his teeth, almost delirious with Liam’s pleasure, and brings his fist up in a long slow pull.

Liam squeezes his eyes shut, and goes completely still for a moment, before bracing his feet against the mattress and spreading his legs, humping up into Lex’s tight grip, his fuzzy balls repeatedly brushing against Lex’s bare sac.

Lex’s mouth is busy licking at Liam’s neck and jaw, the honey-tanned skin tasting of salt and sunshine and sweet boy. He takes Liam’s earlobe between his teeth; the flesh there is warm and as yielding as on anyone else, to a point. Lex can feel the core of steel inside, the unimaginable strength, and knows he’ll break his teeth if he bites down harder.

Bringing his hand up to Liam’s mouth, Lex asks him to lick the palm. When it’ wet enough, Lex pulls his hand away, putting it back on Liam’s shaft, his slicked grasp allowing him to pick up the pace. Lex jacks Liam faster, enjoying the way his firm ass is rubs against Lex’s hard-on at every thrust, and the desperate sounds escaping Liam’s mouth, random exclamations interrupting incoherent mumbling in what may or may not be Kryptonian.

Lex’s cock-head catches at the sweat-slippery skin at the dip of Liam’s opening; just on the outside, rubbing against it with delicious friction.

For just this instant, Lex can’t resist claiming Liam as his own, painting his initials in saliva on Liam’s skin; his monogram written on Liam’s skin in invisible ink, as his hands map out a pattern of need on Liam’s body.

A half strangled sound comes out of Liam’s throat and then he’s spasming, his strong back-muscles taut and straining as he arches against Lex, come shooting out of his cock in long, forceful jets. One spurt reaches as far as Liam’s chest, hitting the back of Lex’s hand where it’s still pinching an erect nipple.

This turns Lex on beyond his limits. Dam-breaking pleasure floods his world. Lex isn’t even sure he’s breathing, lust overriding every clear thought in his head.

His cock is trapped between Liam’s ass and his own stomach, and he clutches Liam hard against him, one arm diagonally across his chest, holding on to his shoulder to push him down onto Lex’s groin. Lex thrusts harder still and comes all over Liam’s buttocks and lower back. It slicks them further, Liam slipping and sliding in Lex’s lap, the semen running down the swell of his buttocks. Lex thrusts until all he can do is to keep holding Liam tight, enveloping him with his body.

“Fine. You win. Hand-jobs are fantastic,” Liam says finally, breathing hard. “But you really have to stop being such a merciless tease with the Ty Nant bottles.”

Lex laughs quietly and absently runs a finger through the splatter of come, mingling it on Liam’s chest.

Most of Liam's semen has turned runny and clear, but the few last spurts are of a thicker texture, coagulating fast, turning into a gelatinous opalescent clot.

Liam chuckles. “You really want to take a sample to the lab, don’t you?”

Lex feels a bit ashamed at being caught, but sees no point in denying it. “I would rather have a clean sample.”

Liam’s smile is big and wide and accepting. “If you can you wait fifteen minutes, I think that can be arranged.“

Now it’s Lex’s time to laugh, and the sensation of it is absolutely liberating.

 

 

That evening, Lex lies in bed, savoring his armful of post-orgasmic, sleeping boy. The sheets smell of clover-scented soap and intimacy. It’s a smell Lex can get used to.

It is an odd feeling, getting used to the thought of having a long-term relationship. Lex hasn’t really had one before, but that’s what this will be; he can’t really see it working any other way.

He won’t fool himself; it won’t be easy to carry on a secret affair, and since Liam is young, there is a risk that in time he will meet somebody else. That would hurt, but it hardly matters. Lex will still know Liam’s secrets, and that earns him a permanent place in Liam’s life. For now, Lex will take what he can get without questions.

Despite everything, Lex can’t help but feel carefully optimistic. He feels strong in a way he’s never felt before; it’s a powerful thing, knowing he’s not on his own.

This new strength will be the starting point when he breaks free from his father’s rein. Not that Lionel will let Lex go easily. No. He’ll tell every sweet lie there is, use every last weapon in his arsenal. What worries Lex the most is that he knows that Lionel is going to interpret Lex’s struggle for independence as a personal attack. Lex has no illusions about what his father is capable of when threatened; Nixon’s death is just the tip of the iceberg.

That makes it all the more important to reinforce his own powerbase. The key to success is not a matter of money or influence, as he’s so far believed. Those things are just by-products.

It has a lot more to do with the emotional control his father has always had over him. Before Liam, Lionel’s the only emotional fix point Lex has had since the age of thirteen. Everything he’s done until now has aimed to provoke some sort of reaction; something, anything to let him know Lionel cared. That futile hope for recognition used to make him weak, all too easy for Lionel to manipulate.

Not anymore, though. Now, he’ll be able to offer his father some genuine resistance, because in Liam, Lex has not only found a friend and a companion; he’s found a purpose. Having someone to fight together with and, more importantly, someone to fight for, is a greater source of strength than any Lex has ever known.

Lex smiles in the warm darkness of his room, pressing his lips against the top of Liam’s head. He is a Luthor, and he knows the path to greatness when he sees it.

The end




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