Can't Be
by Lenore

Summary: In a different take on "Exodus," the ship has other plans for Clark, and a hapless Lex gets caught in the middle.

Warnings: Rated R. m/m, MPreg

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Sarah for looking this over for me and giving me lots of encouragement. I really appreciate it!

Notes: I used to wonder why people wrote MPreg. Not that I objected exactly, but I just didn't get it. Now I understand. MPreg is like Mount Everest. It's just there.

Also, the Shakespeare quote in here is from The Tempest.

Since Lex arrived in Smallville, the phrase this can't be happening has come to dominate his thoughts. He's had it about various meteor mutants, Clark's many exploits, the fact that he himself is head honcho of a shit factory. In fact, this can't be happening has become something of a personal motto, embarrassing him with its sense of bumbling cluelessness. If Lex could manage his inner monologue the same way he does his business, he'd go back to the drawing board, develop a new and improved catch phrase, something snappier, preferably making use of the words "world" and "domination."

But life is life, and Smallville is Smallville. And he's stuck with a mantra of dazed incredulity.

One thing that doesn't surprise him, though, is Helen's last-minute balk before the wedding. He's not sure why she's even hung in as long as she has. Most women wouldn't have, knowing that their fiancée keeps a larger-than-life photograph of his best friend, an extremely pretty teenaged boy, in a secret, locked room. He has to give her credit. She does have staying power. It took actually breaking into her office, stealing Clark's blood, confessing his transgression like some beleaguered guest on Dr. Phil to finally drive her away.

To be honest, he's relieved she broke under the Clark-sized pressure. There are things he admires and respects, maybe even loves, about her. He's glad he can continue to think well of her, even if proving herself worthy means that Helen will never want to speak to him again. At least his judgment doesn't suck for once, and he finds consolation in that.

The "this can't be happening" moment occurs when she comes back the next day, bright and early on the morning of their wedding, which he hasn't cancelled, more out of superstition than anything else. Because, really, when has his judgment about women not completely sucked?

"I just couldn't do it. Walking away would be the biggest mistake I've ever made." Helen's voice trembles earnestly.

Lex stares at her. There are only two possible explanations for her return, and he's pretty sure she hasn't had a psychotic break with reality.

He sighs, takes her hands in his. "Thank you for giving us another chance. I promise to spend the rest of our lives making sure you don't regret it."

His Lifetime movie dialogue gags him, but Helen beams, her doe eyes shining. Lex sighs again. He can't believe they're really going to do this, play each other to the bitter end. He'd call off this fiasco himself, but he really needs to find out what she knows about Clark, what she plans to do with the information. He has no idea what's in it for her. Clearly, love can be ruled out as a suspect.

The one thought that buoys him up is that at least he'll get to see Clark. Have Clark standing beside him as he trades disingenuous I-dos, dressed in the tux Lex picked out for him personally, showering him with that big goofy Clark-grin. The promise of this is enough to carry him along, and as the ceremony approaches, he actually catches himself smiling.

When there is no sign of Clark anywhere, however, his smile quickly disappears.

He finds Clark's parents milling around in the foyer. "Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Kent. Have you seen your son?" He tries to sound casual. He's pretty sure they both understand more about his feelings for Clark than he'd like. He's sometimes caught a look of concern from Mrs. Kent when she's seen him with Helen. And Mr. Kent has liked him so much better since he got engaged.

"I'm sure he'll be here any minute," Mrs. Kent assures him with a gentle smile.

He dips his head, a little sheepishly. Clearly, he has not sounded casual at all. Mrs. Kent smiles again and pats him kindly on the arm.

Lex waits, and every soft tick of the watch on his wrist is the most devious kind of torture. But there is still no Clark. The guests shift restlessly in their seats. Helen's father keeps informing him that the bride is ready any time he is. Even the minister starts to radiate impatience.

Finally, Mr. Kent comes up and claps him on the back. "You don't have to wait for Clark, you know. You have more important things to do."

It sounds like more than friendly advice, and clearly the politic thing would be to go ahead and start the wedding. Lex does need to find out what Helen is up to, and Clark will still be there when he gets back from his honeymoon. But he just can't make himself do it. It's not simply that he wants Clark standing beside him. He needs it. The only way he'll ever be able to go through with this sham of a ceremony is if he has something to remind him that it's worth it.

Lex smiles. "I think I'll just pop over and hurry him up."

"Lex--" Mr. Kent's jaw tightens.

"It'll just take a minute. Don't let them start without me," he jokes while practically running for the door.

Outside, the clench that's been gripping his chest all day finally relaxes a little, and he can breathe again. He slips behind the wheel of the red Ferrari--Clark's car, he always thinks of it--and heads to the farm.

When he arrives, he knows instantly that something is wrong. He knocks at the door. No answer. He walks to the barn but doesn't find Clark there, either. He is about to start calling for him when he notices the door to the root cellar flung open. This is something he's never seen before in all his many visits.

He goes down the stairs a little cautiously. When he gets to the bottom, he stops and stares, his personal mantra playing over and over in his head. Almost two years of searching and pondering and crossing various ethical and legal lines, and he finally finds all the answers sitting innocently in the dirt next to a shelf of Mrs. Kent's canned peaches.

He takes a step toward the ship, but then notices Clark huddled in a dark corner, his face streaked with dirt, looking like he's gone twelve rounds. And lost.

"Clark." Lex starts to go to him.

But Clark's frantic expression makes him stop. "The ship-- I tried to destroy it. But-- Get out of here, Lex. Run!"

Before he can do anything, the ship whirs to life. Lights flash. The ground vibrates. And a flash of what looks like lightning shoots out of it, hits Clark, arcing through his body, lifting him high into the air.

"Clark!" Lex watches in horror, no idea what to do, how to help.

Clark's expression is oddly apologetic, and Lex thinks that only Clark could be sorry for someone else when he's the one being zapped. But then the beam turns on Lex too, knocking him off his feet. His ears ring, his head spins. When he opens his eyes, he finds himself looking down at the ground.

"I'm so sorry." It is Clark's voice, very softly, near his ear. And Lex realizes that the freaky whatever-ray has them sandwiched together, his back to Clark's front. The light gets hotter and presses them closer until Lex feels as if every atom of Clark's body has been seared into his.

He doesn't realize he's blacking out, so it's rather a surprise when he comes to on the hard-packed dirt floor. Every muscle, every nerve, every everything he has, shrieks in disapproval at how it's been mistreated. He tentatively flexes his foot, and jagged pain zigzags up his leg.

"Fuck," he mumbles.

It takes a minute or two to get complete control over his vision again, and then he notices Clark sitting a few feet away, looking quite the worse for wear, his face even grimier, his clothes askew. Clark's expression is sad, but his eyes are wild. Lex doesn't know why, but that scares him. Of course, he's half guessed Clark's secret anyway, but half-guessing is nothing compared to actually knowing. It is only now that he sees Clark looking so terrified that Lex truly understands what it means for him to be an honest-to-God alien from an actual other planet. The realization makes his throat go tight. He has absolutely no idea how to make any of this better, for either of them.

"Sorry," Clark finally says, his voice so raw it hurts Lex to hear.

"It's okay," he says, as calmly as he can under the circumstances. He feels the need to play the adult in this situation, as much for his own peace of mind as Clark's.

Clark shakes his head. "It's not okay."

"Clark." Lex puts some sternness into his voice, trying to shake Clark out of whatever post-traumatic shock he's fallen into.

But Clark starts to rock, like a lost, lost child. "You shouldn't be around me. Nobody should."

"Let's just try to calm down, okay? And figure out--"

"No!" Clark's eyes sparkle. He jumps up. "I'm sorry, Lex. I can't-- I have to--"

Lex doesn't actually see him leave. Just one moment he's there and the next he's not.

"Clark!" he yells, although he realizes Clark is probably in the next county by now.

Lex struggles to his feet. His clothes are oddly enough in fairly good condition. He smoothes away a few wrinkles and stumbles toward the stairs. His body is stiff, as if it's been misused in a dozen different ways, none of them fun. Walking takes more concentration than it has since he stopped dabbling in pharmacological recreation.

Thinking too much about what to do next would take stores of energy he just doesn't have. He knows it's pointless to chase after Clark. He'll never find him. So the easiest thing is just to go forward. He stumbles back up the storm cellar steps, closes the door behind him. He doesn't want anyone else discovering what's down there, not now, not ever. He staggers to his car and feels the most intense relief as he settles into the driver's seat. He starts the engine and puts the Ferrari in gear, taking comfort in the soothing familiarity of it. He has the hazy, not unpleasant thought as he carefully picks his way down the Kents' driveway that maybe he's been gone so long Helen has called off the wedding again.


Of course, he is not nearly this lucky. He makes it back to the church and is immediately set on by Helen's relatives, the minister, the Kents, all asking questions. He makes up a bullshit story about car trouble, says that's what he gets for not buying American, directing this at Mr. Kent, who nods with a certain satisfaction, as if Lex is finally making sense after all this time. The Kents, noticeably, do not ask where Clark is. They simply trade meaningful glances with one another and quickly make their excuses.

The rest of the afternoon goes by in a blur. He has only the most random sensory memories: the feel of sweat beading along his forehead, the cloying scent of gardenias in the church sanctuary, the press of hands shaking his. He does not actually remember taking his vows. Eventually, though, Helen appears in a beige suit, smiling brightly, ring on her finger, and he realizes that he must have.

At the airport, they board the LuthorCorp jet. Lex sinks into the leather seat with a truly profound sense of gratitude and the unshakeable conviction that sitting down is humankind's most important invention. Helen disappears. He guesses to powder her nose, but he doesn't really care. He's comfortable and quiet, and the weird throbbing in his body is starting to subside. This is all that matters.

When Helen does finally come back, she is carrying two glasses of champagne. His stomach rebels merely at the sight of it, and for a desperate moment, he thinks he's going to be sick.

"A toast," she says, handing him one of the flutes.

He tries to smile. "To us."

"To us."

They clink glasses, and he takes the smallest sip possible. It tastes like industrial solvent, and he has to dig his fingernails into his palm to keep from making a face. He sets the glass down, trying to seem casual.

But Helen frowns. "Isn't it a good year?"

"Wonderful. I'm just-- You know, all the excitement." He smiles brightly, as if this makes some kind of sense.

She smiles back. "It was a wonderful wedding, wasn't it?" She picks up his glass and hands it to him. "To our family and friends. For making it such a special day for us."

His fingers clench. His stomach lurches. But he makes himself take another drink, and then that really is all he can manage. Apparently, his body does not appreciate being plied with alcohol and zapped by alien technology all in the same day. Besides, he's starting to feel sleepy, and after everything he's been through, he really could use some rest.


When he wakes up again, the sun is already starting to go down. He looks around, calls out, but no Helen. In fact, there are no sounds at all. He gets up and searches. The back storage area is empty. He knocks at the lavatory, but hears nothing. Finally, he makes his way up to the cockpit, and his breath hitches as his brain struggles to make sense of the fucked-up scene before him. No pilots. No controls, just a tangle of useless, dangling wires. No hope as the nose of the plane starts to dip, the water rushing up to meet him, too fast, too final.

He does find irony in the fact that his last conscious thought is most certainly going to be his old familiar standby, as he closes his eyes, bracing himself for impact.

Many, many minutes seem to tick by, a whole damn eon, as he's waiting to die. Finally, he opens his eyes. And shit! This really can't be happening. Because he sees the silvery wreckage of the plane floating on the waves below him, a person-sized hole in its side. And he-- well, he appears to be hovering several hundred feet in the air. He flails in a desperate panic, terrified he'll fall, but it's as if gravity has packed up and gone fishing. If he closes his eyes, it feels just like he's on solid ground.

It takes him a while to figure out how to move, a combination of will and proper aerodynamic form. He--flies?--a little haltingly, but he's still not falling and that's a good thing. Eventually, land comes into sight, and he begins to lurch, like he's not quite as steady as he was before. He starts to drop, not in smooth, steady increments, but precipitously, dozens of feet at a time. The terror rushes back, and he can't seem to breathe. He closes his eyes again and fights down the urge to bargain with God. A Luthor begs no one, not even a supreme deity.

He does not plummet to his death, happily, but is dumped rather unceremoniously onto a beach, half in the water, half out. He lifts his head and spits out sand, drags himself onto the shore before he's swamped by the next wave. He sits up and takes a look around. It seems suspiciously like the middle of nowhere.

When his head clears a little, he takes stock of the situation. Yet another of his wives has tried to kill him, but on the bright side, at least that's grounds for annulment. He doesn't seem to be injured, but there's no chance anybody has any idea where he is. He's safely on dry land, but has the survival skills of someone who finds the word "outdoorsy" just a little bit gauche. Oh, yeah, and he flew.

He sighs. And for the record? he thinks This can't be happening.


The island--or rock pile as he comes to think of it, not very affectionately--is nothing like Gilligan's lost tropical paradise. No swaying palm trees, no tasty mangos just lying around, waiting to provide him dinner. Thankfully, there is a fresh water spring toward the interior of the island, which he fervently hopes is not poisonous every time he takes a drink from it. He is able to scavenge some berries and something that might be a wild yam and digs clams along the shore.

The first couple of days, he spends a lot of time trying to fly again, because, really, anywhere else has to be better than the rock pile. But this new brand of weirdness seems to have disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as it came.

Finally, he gives in, makes his peace with the fact that he's going to be here a while and starts to figure out how to make himself more comfortable. His effort to construct a shelter proves, not surprisingly, that he's none too handy. To even call his listing collection of leaves and bamboo a lean-to is really rather generous, but at least it gives him a place to sleep and a way to get out of the sun during the day. It gets surprisingly cold at night despite the brutal daytime temperatures, and he is proud of the fire pit he's made, something he once saw on the Discovery channel. He has even managed to get a fire going by pounding rocks together, something he never thought would actually work. But then, he's Lionel Luthor's son, so really, what would he know about campfires?

The days are long, and he thinks a lot about his favorite dishes at his favorite restaurants. In his imagination, he sits down to dine and enjoys forty-seven course meals. The yams and berries and clams are staving off starvation but hardly satisfying. Days, weeks go by, and his belly starts to bloat like those starving African children on the Save the Children commercials. The thing is, though: he's pretty sure he's not hungry enough for this to be happening.

In the back of his head, his scientist self sets up shop and busily starts putting two and two together. The weirdness in the storm cellar. The weirdness that is Clark. The odd fluttering in the pit of his stomach. The swelling in his chest. The fact that he'd dearly love a hot fudge sundae with a side of sauer kraut. But denial has the exclusive rights to the front of his brain, and he goes around consciously thinking things like: Of course not! and That's not biologically possible and I'm a man, damn it! All the while, his belly grows bigger and bigger.

He loses track of how much time has passed, although he's pretty sure it hasn't been nine months. Still, he's woken out of a peaceful sleep by the most excruciating pain he's ever experienced, gripping his insides like a vise. He sits. Lies down. Walks around. Nothing makes it better, as he's hit by wave after wave of cramps that would fell an elephant.

He is soon overtaken by the most intense desire to push, to expel whatever that goddamn hunk of tin in Clark's cellar put inside him. He gets down on his hands and knees and grunts like a professional wrestler and tries desperately just to get it the hell out of him. At first, he stifles his cries of pain. Suffering in silence is something he learned from the meteors, from his father's reaction to him afterwards. But nothing has ever hurt like this, and when he finally gives in and starts screaming, he's not sure he'll ever be able to stop.

He doesn't know how long it lasts, only that goes on far, far too long. He can feel a warm trickle running down his thighs, and he knows it must be blood. Except, of course, that this can't be happening.

What gets him through--as it often has in life--is plotting his revenge. The rocks of his campfire are close at hand and will make the perfect weapon. When he gets the chance, whatever is ripping his insides apart is going to pay, big time.

Eventually, after what feels like a few hundred years of agonizing pain, everything starts to rush forward. He pushes as hard as he can. His body feels as if it is being wrenched open and then mercifully the thing is out of him. He takes a gasping breath and rolls onto his side to see what this instrument of torture is. There is a pitiful wail, and Lex blinks. Can't move for what feels like forever. Red hair. Blue eyes. Little scrunched up face. Not an "it" at all, he realizes with true shock, but a "she."

It takes a moment longer for him to react, to pick her up, wipe the blood from her face, make sure her mouth is clear and that she's breathing. He cradles her in his arms, and she stops crying. Blinks up at him curiously.

The sun is just coming up, and the morning light glints off the rocks, an ominous reminder. Lex quickly turns his back, shielding the baby with his body, as if the danger to his daughter has come from something other than his own thoughts.

She starts to fuss, turning her head, nuzzling against him, and he finally gets it. He pushes his shirt back and her questing mouth fastens onto his nipple. His entire life has been ruled by the bizarre and the impossible, and yet, this is a whole new plane of "this can't be happening." He has a moment of out-of-body disbelief, while his daughter nurses contentedly.


Lex has no experience with babies. But his daughter is quite vocal in expressing her needs, and he soon falls into a comfortable routine with her. He fashions little diapers for her out of big green leaves and uses his suit jacket and vines to make a carrier for her so he can take her along when he forages for food. He shows her the ocean and points out plants he recognizes and birds flying overhead. By the campfire at night, he explains the mysteries of the stock market before he puts her to bed.

It soon becomes clear that his baby is not like other babies. The first time he wakes up and finds her floating above her makeshift crib, he nearly has a heart attack. Although, really, he shouldn't be so surprised. There had to be some explanation for how he flew away from the plane crash without a scratch on him. The more he sees of what his baby can do the more he starts to think that maybe the island isn't such a bad place after all. At least here, he can protect her. But in the world-- it chills him to think of all the things that could happen to his exceptional little girl.

He'd rather live the rest of his life on a rock pile.

But he is still Lex Luthor, still heir to one of the richest and most determined men in the world, and search teams do eventually turn up. It is late in the afternoon when he hears the buzz of helicopters. His daughter has just finished her lunch and is napping in his arms. He shifts the baby, so he can button his shirt to hide his swollen chest. He will have enough things to explain as it is.

The first boat lands on the beach, and the crew scrambles onto the sand, waving their arms at him. They are his saviors, but he half wishes they would just go away.

He gets up and starts toward them. The members of his rescue team are blonde and kind of scraggly and look like they routinely use the word "dude." They jump up and down and hoot, apparently as pumped at finding him as they would be if they'd just won a surfing contest. And Lex has to wonder if people have gotten stranger while he was gone.

"Oh brave new world, that has such people in't," he whispers to his baby girl.

His little Miranda.


Lex cannot say that his return to his old life is a smooth transition. It is not that he pines for the rock pile, but his senses had grown accustomed to life there, to the soft lapping of waves, the lazy sun, the reassuring hum of birds and insects. Everything in the castle jars him. The noises are too harsh, the quiet too complete. He'd once considered the place fairly tastefully decorated, but now it seems both fussy and cold, too much glass and metal, too much stuff crowded everywhere, not nearly enough room to breathe.

Civilization has its pleasures of course--a soft bed, real food that doesn't have even a grain of sand in it, an endless supply of Ty Nant. But on the island, he never had to worry about who might see what. Since he's been back, he's needed a new wardrobe of shirts in a larger size to hide the swelling in his chest. His body goes off a like a fountain whenever Miranda cries for food, and he's narrowly avoided the household help witnessing it several times. Finally, he searched the Internet and ordered a supply of what he thinks of as "chest protectors" to help prevent milk stains. Not nursing bras, mind you, because what would a man need with that?

The most difficult thing, though, is that people keep trying to touch his daughter, and it's making him a jumpy wreck. The guys on the rescue boat, the stewardesses on the plane home, Mrs. Edwards his housekeeper--everyone wants to hold Miranda. And while he agrees that she is the cutest baby in the world, nobody is getting their grubby hands on his little girl.

It adds considerably to his uneasiness that he has told the stupidest lie imaginable to try to explain how he's returned from a plane crash with a three-month-old child. For once, it actually comes in handy that people always think the worst of him, because no one would believe his outlandish story if they didn't.

Officially, Miranda is the product of a secret affair he was having with an unspecified mystery woman at the same time he was seeing Helen. Just as he was leaving on his honeymoon, this unnamed paramour showed up at the airport and sprang the news that she'd just had their baby. The woman demanded that Lex take the child since she would be busy with her new life of solitude and service as a Buddhist nun living in a convent in a remote part of the Himalayas.

With a cover story like this, it is little wonder he worries so much that someone will come and try to take Miranda away from him. He has nightmares--or whatever the equivalent is for someone who never actually sleeps--of shadowy government operatives, white-coated Dr. Mengeles, square-jawed generals, who'd all like nothing more than to get their sinister hands on a half-alien baby. Sometimes, it is even the Kents he imagines trying to take her from him, their righteous fingers pointed, claiming he'll be as bad a father as Lionel, insisting they can't let that happen to Miranda.

His stress ratchets up several notches when Lionel puts in his appearance, something Lex has been dreading since he first stepped foot on the rescue boat. It is Lex's second day home, and he is in his study. A bassinette has been set up next to his desk, and Miranda is napping peacefully.
He's trying to catch up on everything that's happened at LexCorp while he was away and is amazed that his company seems to be in pretty good shape. This is no doubt thanks to Gabe Sullivan, and Lex makes a note to give the man a big raise. Unfortunately, it's pretty much the only decision he comes to. It's hard to concentrate when he's compelled to glance over at his daughter every few seconds, just to make sure she's still there.

Lionel arrives with his usual flourish, throwing open the door, striding grandly into the room. "It's good to have you home, son," his voice booms out. "And with company, I hear."

"Shhhhh!" Lex hisses at his father. "She's sleeping."

Lionel laughs, but he does lower his voice. "Drove your bride away before you could even leave on the honeymoon. That's worse than the last time. Well, come on. Let's see your little folly."

Lex is up from his desk in a flash, putting himself between his father and Miranda. "Don't ever call her that again."

Lionel arches an eyebrow at him. "Sensitive about our little cub, are we?"

Lex grits his teeth. "I know it's a foreign concept to you, but some parents do care about their children's feelings."

"Lex, Lex, when are you going to outgrow these childish recriminations about things that happened long ago?"

"Hmm. I think that would be never."

"I've come all this way. So let's have a look at the child." Lionel takes a step toward the bassinette.

Lex takes a step toward him. "I already told you. She's sleeping."

Lionel's face goes hard. "She's my granddaughter. I have a right--"

"Wrong. She's my daughter. And you have no rights unless I say you do."

"At least have a paternity test performed. You can't take some harlot's word that--"

"Get out!"


"I mean it."

Lionel, of course, has no way of knowing that Lex has the stretch marks to prove that Miranda is his. But it's not even the intimation that she might be somebody else's that makes Lex so furious. It's the calculation in his father's eyes, the barely repressed glee that there's likely another Luthor in the world. Over Lex's dead body will Miranda ever be treated like an heir rather than a little girl. No matter what he has to do, he will make sure his daughter never spends one moment in the Lionel Luthor tough-love school of corporate succession.

"I'm only trying to look out for your best interests," Lionel says, with a straight face.

"Of course you are," Lex answers, with the appropriate sarcasm.

His father's face loses its artificial pleasantness, and Lex sees the man he never wants to be. "You'll see I'm right once you've had time to think it over," Lionel says as if it's an order. "And the next time I come to visit, the child will be awake and ready to be looked at. I trust we understand one another."

Lex crosses his arms over his chest and says nothing. Clearly, he will have to figure out some way to keep his father away from Miranda. For so many reasons.

Lionel gives him one last meaningful glare and sweeps away. A moment later, Miranda's Winnie the Pooh goes sailing across the room and bangs against the door.

Lex picks her up and holds her close. "It's okay, sweetheart. The bad man is gone now."

As much as it terrifies him that she might someday do this in front of his father, he has to admire her impeccable taste in people.


By the end of his third day back in the world, Lex has gone, perhaps, a little insane. Complete, bone-aching exhaustion isn't exactly a boon to mental health. On the island, he and Miranda had a natural rhythm. When she slept, he did, too. There was little else to do, and it kept him rested and alert. But now everything feels out of sync. Even when he's not up at night with Miranda, he can't sleep. There are too many things to worry about.

Reading parenting guides has turned out to be a really, really bad idea. According to the growth charts he's seen, Miranda seems to be in the normal range. But she grew really quickly when she was inside him, so maybe this isn't normal for her? Maybe he's actually starving her? He spends long hours tossing and turning, worrying that feeding her nothing but his own milk isn't giving her enough nourishment.

Of course, he could add formula to her diet, but that gives him a whole other nervous breakdown. What if formula designed for humans makes his half-alien baby sick? What if she has a serious allergic reaction? He can't take her to the hospital. What the hell would he do? How would he help her?

God. He doesn't know how any parent ever survives the sheer volume of things there are to be terrified of.

It would probably help lower his stress level if he didn't feel the need to be glued to his daughter every minute of every day, if he had some help taking care of her. But it's too risky, and she's rather picky about who she wants near her. He has no idea what she might do if he left her alone with someone she really didn't care for. He'd have a hell of a time explaining how his infant threw her babysitter halfway across the room.

Then there's the matter of Clark. Of course, Lex knows he will have to face him sometime, but he'd really prefer it to be at Miranda's college graduation. Clark, however, is too persistent to give him any peace. Since Lex got back to Smallville, Clark has been trying to contact him. At first, it was polite phone messages, saying how glad Clark was that he was okay, how much he'd missed him, wanting to know when they could see each other. When Lex ignored him, Clark fell back into his old habits and started showing up at the castle unannounced. Lex has given strict orders that anyone who lets Clark in will be looking for a new job, but he doesn't have any illusions about how long his staff will be able to fend him off. If a super-fast, super-strong alien really wants into your house, there probably isn't that much you can do to keep him out.

Lex isn't even sure why he wants to avoid Clark so desperately. He doesn't exactly blame Clark for what happened, although he still feels resentful about all those times Clark made fun of him for believing in extra-terrestrials. It's just easier somehow not to have to face him, and right now, Lex clutches at anything that might make his complicated life even a little bit simpler.

But this comparative simplicity is short-lived. One day, Clark is just there, at the bottom of the steps as Lex is coming downstairs carrying Miranda. He freezes, and Clark stares up at him, an awkward standoff.

"Don't blame your staff, " Clark finally says. "It's not their fault. I used my-- you know."

"I'm sure they'll appreciate your concern for their job security."

"I wouldn't have had to if-- You've been avoiding me."

Lex sighs. "Would it do any good to say that I'm just not in the mood for visitors?"

"I was worried about you," Clark says. "When you didn't return any of my calls-- I just needed to see you, to make sure you're really--"

"I'm fine."

Clark swallows noticeably. "You were missing for so long I started to think--"

"Like I said, I'm fine," he says more firmly.

"This is your daughter?" Clark asks, nodding toward Miranda.

Lex pulls her closer. He has the desperate urge to run, but he knows he can't get away from Clark. "Yes. She's mine." He sounds defensive even to himself.

"Where did she come from?" Clark's eyes are very serious.

"I was having an affair."

"I already heard that bullshit story. I mean, where did she really come from, Lex?"

Lex glares at him. "You know, Clark, I really don't feel that comfortable having you in my home anymore," he says as coldly as he can. "You're too unpredictable. Too dangerous. I have Miranda to think of now." Lex has always had a vicious streak and never more so than when he's backed into a corner.

But he must be slipping, because he feels the pain in Clark's eyes as if it is his own. "Just tell me, Lex." Clark's voice is quiet and determined.

"I don't think it's safe for you to be around my daughter," he says, his voice brittle.

"But she's my daughter, too. Isn't she?" Clark takes a step toward them, his eyes shining. "I know that's what the ship wanted. For me to-- And it happened, didn't it? You had our baby."

"No," Lex says, in feeble denial.

This is too much, too real, and he doesn't want to talk about how Miranda got here. He just wants to treasure her as the miracle she is and go forward and love her the best he can. He doesn't want to discuss what happened to him, how he was altered, doesn't care to shoot the breeze about what a fucking freak he is, a man who's been pregnant, who's given birth.

"I know she's mine, Lex. I know it," Clark says, emphatically.

Lex is swamped by sense memories. The damp smell of the storm cellar. The white-hot pain of labor. The buzzing ache he'd felt all through his body after he'd been zapped by the light. He feels something akin to that now, an arc of electricity along his skin, as if he and Miranda and Clark complete some kind of circuit, create a vital connection. It's too overwhelming, and he's way too tired to deal with this right now.

He grabs for the banister to steady himself. "Please. Stop."

Clark's expression twists with concern. "Just let me--" He starts up the stairs.

But Lex stumbles back a step. "No."

"I only want to--"

Lex shakes his head. "I can't do this. Not now."


Lex turns and flees back upstairs. He half expects to find Clark waiting at the top of the landing, but apparently, he's decided not to push, for which Lex is pathetically grateful. He hurries back to his room, locks the door behind him, not really to keep Clark out, which wouldn't be possible anyway, but simply to make himself feel safer.

He sinks onto the bed and clutches a squirming Miranda against his chest. He can barely breathe, and it's just so crazy. Logically, he knows Clark would never want to hurt them, in fact would do everything in his power to protect them. But talking about Miranda's origins just intensifies every half-baked paranoid fear he has.

"It's okay, baby," he croons to her. "I'll never let anything happen to you."

He stays awake the whole night, listening intently for imaginary footsteps in the hall, every muscle tensed, ready to defend his daughter against any threat.


The next day, he is a wreck. Actually, a wreck would be an upgrade. He is bleary-eyed and fuzzy-brained and beginning to think he might soon need a psychiatric intervention. These are not the best circumstances in which to receive a visit from Gabe Sullivan, but he can hardly turn away the man who kept his business afloat when everybody thought he was dead.

His butler shows Gabe into the study, and Lex gets up to greet him.

"Lex." Gabe shakes his hand with real enthusiasm. "It's so good to have you back." His tone is warm, his eyes bright with relief, and Lex counts himself lucky all over again to have such a good man working for him.

Gabe smiles when he notices Miranda in her bassinette. "What a beautiful little girl."

Lex can't help smiling proudly. "Thank you."

Gabe goes over to her, sticks out his finger. "Hey there, sweetheart."

"She's not really that good with people," Lex says nervously, hoping to God Miranda doesn't body slam him with a flick of her tiny, powerful hand.

But apparently she likes Gabe. She grasps onto his finger and stares up at him. Gabe tickles her side, and she giggles. "She's such a happy baby."

Gabe smiles at Lex, and Lex decides to add a bonus on top of that raise. His daughter's judgment carries a lot of weight with him.

Gabe steps away from the bassinette. His expression becomes serious and business-like. "There are some things I need to discuss with you."

"Of course. Please have a seat." Lex waves his arm toward the sofa. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water?"

Gabe sits down, shakes his head. "No, thanks."

"Okay." Lex takes a seat opposite him. "So what's up?"

"I hate to bother you. I know you're still settling in. And the baby--"

Lex holds up his hand. "I really appreciate how well you handled things while I was gone, Gabe. But I'm back now, and you don't have to carry on alone any more. I just need you to get me up to speed."

After his meltdown last night, Lex thinks it's probably wise to start concentrating on something other than all the bad things that could happen to Miranda.

"There are no outright problems," Gabe tells him. "Our production has held steady, and we're meeting our quotas. It took some doing, but we ironed out the disagreement over the McNulty contract."

Lex nods. "I saw the e-mails on that. Good work."

"Thanks." Gabe's smile is genuinely pleased. "The thing is-- And this is just my gut talking, keep in mind. But I get the sense that morale is kind of low. It's not getting in the way of productivity just yet, but you never want something like that to get out of control."

"Agreed. Do you have any sense of the cause?"

"Well-- Yes." Gabe shifts uncomfortably. "The fact is, Lex, you're the glue that holds everything together at LexCorp. People trust you to take care of the business and keep their jobs safe. There was a lot of uneasiness while you were gone. If the employees could just see you, know that you're back in charge, it would reassure them that the company's right on course. Really boost everybody's confidence."

Lex blinks. "You're saying--"

"We need you down at the plant."

All Lex can do for a moment is stare. It's been his company for over a year now, but deep down, he still feels like the spoiled brat put in charge by his father's whim. It's both heartening and humbling to know his employees look to him for real leadership.

"Like I said, I'm sorry to bother you," Gabe says hastily, mistaking Lex's speechlessness for annoyance.

Lex shakes his head. "No. No. I should have realized this myself. I appreciate your bringing it to my attention."

"I know it's hard with a new baby. Maybe you can get somebody to help out with her?"

Lex glances over at Miranda. "I'll figure something out. But I'll definitely see you bright and early tomorrow morning."

"Great!" Gabe gets to his feet. "I'll have everything organized and ready for you. It's really--" He shakes his head. "It's great to have you back, Lex."

He shakes Lex's hand again, heartily, and heads off.

Lex picks up the phone and places yet another order at the baby supply store.


When he shows up at the plant the next day with Miranda, everyone stops and stares. He smiles genially, tells them it's good to be back, accepts their congratulations on his new daughter, thanks them for their well wishes on his return. But he doesn't stop. He just breezes right through to his office. Even though she was perfectly fine with Gabe, he doesn't want to push his luck too far. The less Miranda has to do with other people the less there will be to explain.

In his office, everything has been set up, just the way he requested. There is a crib, changing table, rocking chair, even a mobile. The room looks more like a nursery than a place of business, but Lex doesn't care. He wants his daughter to have everything she needs.

He settles Miranda into her crib and sorts through the phone messages on his desk. He feels better today, less spooked, more sane. Getting out of the house, focusing on something other than his distorted fears was definitely a good idea. Lex can only hope he's turned a corner on his crazed paranoia. He winces when he thinks of the hurtful things he said to Clark, and he knows his constant edginess can't possibly be doing Miranda any good. He doesn't want the two of them to suffer because he has coping problems.

The morning passes peacefully enough. Miranda plays with her crib toys. Lex wades through a sea of production reports, financial statements, contracts to be reviewed. The only close-call comes when Genine, the cloying woman in Accounts Payable who has a disturbing habit of making goo-goo eyes at Lex, appears in his doorway with an even more saccharine smile than usual plastered to her face.

"There she is!" Genine says, in her shrill voice. "What an absolute dove. A total angel."

Miranda kicks fussily in her crib.

"Oh, could I please hold her, Mr. Luthor?" Genine bats her eyes at him. "Please!"

"Actually, I'd rather not. She's not really that good with people."

Genine waves her hand in the air. "Maybe with people who aren't used to babies. But I'm a natural. Everybody in my family always says what a good mother I'll make."

Genine advances on the crib. Lex gets up to intercept her, but Genine is determined and beats him there. She scoops up Miranda and rocks her a little more vigorously than Lex would like. Miranda screws up her face and promptly vomits all over the woman.

"Ugh!" Genine cries out.

Lex takes Miranda from her. "Sorry about that." He hands her some tissues.

"No, no," Genine says. "Babies do that. It's perfectly all right." Clearly, it is not, though, as she daubs miserably at her hair and blouse. "Maybe this would be easier in the bathroom."

"That's probably a good idea."

"Um. She's really cute and all," Genine says half-heartedly, before scurrying away.

To his credit, Lex waits until she's gone before he rolls his eyes. "A natural, huh?" He wipes Miranda's mouth and checks her forehead. "You're not sick, are you?"

But she's not hot, and she gurgles contentedly now that she's in his arms, her little fists balled up in his shirt.

Lex laughs. "You just didn't like her, did you?" Miranda makes a noise that sounds like agreement. "Who's the smartest baby in the world?" He kisses the red peach fuzz on top of her head. "That's right. You are." He holds her up in the air and blows on her tummy. "You are." She laughs happily.

Lex refuses to be embarrassed that Gabe Sullivan chooses this moment to walk into his office.

"Uh-- Sorry to interrupt," he says, looking around the room, taking in all the changes.

"No problem." Lex settles Miranda into the crook of his arm and sits down at his desk. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, I--" Gabe takes a seat, but he looks somewhat non-plussed. Clearly, this is not how he envisioned Lex's return to work.

Lex understands the value of refusing to explain yourself, and yet, he wants someone to understand. "I just couldn't leave her."

Gabe blinks in surprise and then breaks out in a broad grin. "They just totally own you, don't they?"

Lex smiles back. "It's good to know I'm not the only one. So you wanted to talk to me?"

"Oh. Yeah. Arcom is trying to squeeze us on next month's order. What do you want to do about it?"

"Tell them we're talking to Sanderston."

Gabe arches an eyebrow. "Are we?"

"Just tell them," Lex says. "I think you'll find them much more cooperative."

This makes Gabe smile. "I'll do that. And our bid for the ADM account. We still haven't heard back."

"I'll handle that. I've got a contact over there." Business is like riding a bicycle, and Lex begins to remember how much fun it can be. "What else?"

"I developed some new personnel policies while you were gone. If you want to take a look--"

Lex waves his hand. "That's your area, Gabe. I'll review them just so I'm up to speed. But I trust your judgment."

Gabe nods. "Thanks. And then, we need to make a decision on whether to keep repairing the sorting machine or replace it. It's gone down six times in the last week. On the other hand, a new one is going to cost us a pretty penny. What do you think?"

Before he can answer, Miranda lets out a fierce cry that means she's hungry, and Lex's chest starts to leak. He looks down in a panic to see if there's a wet spot. Fortunately, the chest protector is doing its job for now, but that's not going to last forever. Gabe leans in, waiting for an answer. Lex sighs. Of course he would have to go off like a geyser in front of his plant manager.

Lex stands up. "I'm leaning toward the new equipment. But let's do a cost-benefit analysis on it."

"Um. I do have a few other items," Gabe says.

"I really think I'd better put in that call to ADM. That contract could mean big things for us."

"Oh." Gabe shrugs. "Okay. I guess I can come back later."

"Great." Lex stands at the door, smiling.

Gabe leaves with a puzzled expression on his face.

Lex closes the door and locks it, goes back to his desk and settles into the chair. He opens his shirt and undoes the chest protector. Miranda starts to nurse. He lets his head fall back and closes his eyes, so tired his hands are shaking. Miranda makes greedy little noises while she eats, and Lex thinks that this sums up parenthood perfectly. Your kids take everything you have, suck the life right out of you, leech your last little bit of strength, and all the while you smile and coo and wish to God you had something more to give them.

And if you're Lex, really wish you had a spare shirt, too.


Lex counts their first day at the office a big success. Miranda didn't do anything more startling than barf on the annoying Genine. And Lex managed not to collapse from exhaustion. Win-win, as far he's concerned. They drive home, and Lex pulls the car up to the service entrance. Miranda has a ton of stuff, and he'll need help getting it inside. He parks near the door and starts to unload. The Mercedes is nice and roomy for the car seat and all the other baby paraphernalia, but the most recent crash test data gives a slight safety edge to the BMW 5 series. Lex is expecting his new sedan to be delivered early next week.

He slings the diaper bag over his arm and picks up Miranda in her carrier. He'll have Henderson bring in the rest of it. In the kitchen, he stops short. Clark is sitting at the table, waiting for him. Clark's eyes go big and bright with emotion when he sees them, and that hits Lex right in the gut.

"What are you doing here, Clark?"

"I just wanted to see her. And you. Please don't make me go away." He sounds so forlorn, and he looks so beautiful. Lex has been too busy and too crazy since he's been back to think about how much he misses Clark, but now he feels it, intensely, an ache all through his body.

After a brief hesitation, he says, "Well, are you just going to sit there? Or are you going to help me with this diaper bag?"

Clark only blinks at first, but then breaks out in the big, dimpled grin Lex has always loved so much. He bounds up from the table and takes the diaper bag.

"Thanks," he whispers.

And that makes Lex ache all the more.

He heads up to his bedroom, and Clark follows. Lex is about to put Miranda into her crib when Clark touches his arm.

"Can I hold her?" he asks.

Lex feels the familiar panic. "She doesn't really like--" But the hurt in Clark's face is too much to stand. "Okay. Sure. Just make sure you--"

Clark smiles, his face lighting up like it's Christmas and his birthday and every other special occasion all rolled into one. "I know," he says, confidently. "I've had a lot of practice with Hannah."

Clark takes Miranda from him. Lex has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from giving instructions and warning him not to drop her. Clark, however, does seem to know what he's doing. He settles Miranda easily into the crook of his arm, careful to support her neck, and gently rocks her.

Miranda coos, not just as if she likes him, but as if she knows who he is.

"See? I told you I was an old hand at this," Clark says, proudly.

"You're a natural," Lex says. And in this case, it's true.

"So Miranda, huh? That's a pretty name."


Clark grins. "Shakespeare. I know. We read it last year."

"It seemed appropriate given the circumstances.

"Yeah." Clark lowers his eyes. "Um. So how are you feeling? I mean-- Uh. Did you-- you know. Heal okay?" He blushes furiously, which is not surprising considering he is inquiring about the condition of Lex's ass.

"I'm fine, Clark. Good as new." Thanks to his meteor-enhanced powers of healing. Otherwise, he's not so sure he would be.

"That's good. I'm really glad." Clark's face goes even more serious. "I just want you to know-- I understand why you blame me. It is my fault. And I--"

"Clark." Lex's voice is firm. "I don't blame you."

But Clark clearly doesn't believe this, and Lex knows it's for good reason.

"The other day--" Lex shakes his head. "I haven't been acting completely rationally since I got back. I'm sorry."

"Hey." Clark puts his hand on Lex's shoulder. "When was the last time you got any sleep?"

Lex tries to remember, but he's just too tired.

"That's what I thought." Clark nods toward the bed. "Why don't you go take a nap?"

His body screams at him to do just that, but his crazed parental instinct won't hear of it. "But Miranda. I need to--"

"I'll watch her, Lex. You don't have to worry about anything. I promise." Clark's expression is solemn and a little pleading, like he really needs Lex to trust him, to let him be Miranda's father, too.

There is a part of Lex that really doesn't want to, that wants to hoard his daughter all to himself. He carried her, gave birth to her. She's his, all his, and he doesn't want to share her, with anyone, ever.

He knows this is the part of him that's like Lionel, and that makes his throat hurt.

"Okay," he finally says. "Thanks, Clark. First, I just need to--" He waves his hand in the air. He doesn't use the word "breast feed" even in his own thoughts.

Clark blinks. "Oh. Um. Okay."

He hands Miranda back. Lex debates a moment what to do and finally decides on taking her into the bathroom. Nursing is too private to share with anyone, even Clark. He feeds Miranda and returns to the bedroom. Clark is sitting in the rocking chair by the window.

Lex frowns. "She likes to be rocked after she's eaten."

"Yeah. So does Hannah." He holds out his arms.

Lex frowns harder. This has always been their time, his and Miranda's.

"Let me, Lex. Please," Clark pleads softly.

Lex finally gives in, settles Miranda into his arms. The warm gratitude in Clark's eyes is almost enough to make up for the pang Lex feels at missing out on a moment, any moment, with his daughter.

When he lies down, he expects to sleep maybe fifteen minutes, but it is already dark when he wakes up. He sits up, looks around, a little frantically. But Clark and Miranda are lying right next to him.

"Everything's fine," Clark assures him. Miranda shifts in her sleep, her little fist pressed against her mouth.

Lex settles back down, turns on his side to watch her. Sometimes it is not anxiety that keeps Lex awake at night, but sheer wonder.

"I know how much she means to you," Clark says, quietly. "But you don't have to do everything alone."

Lex frowns. "She's-- I can't just--"

"I know. She's like me, and you have to be careful. But you still have people who can help you."

He can picture what Clark has in mind. Sunday dinners and celebrating holidays and all pulling together. Family, what Lex has longed for more than anything else, only--

"I'm not any good at that," he says, sadly.

Clark smiles fondly. "How do you know? Have you ever tried?"

"You know what I mean."

Clark nods. "And you're wrong. You're not like your dad at all."

Lex swallows hard. "There's something else you should know. Helen-- She rigged the plane crash. At least, I'm pretty certain. And she's still out there. If she really wants to get back at me, she might come after the baby."

"I'll protect Miranda. I swear, Lex."

Clark's eyes are earnest and shining, and Lex feels the irony of it, this beautiful invincible boy who is destined to be a hero and will always be in jeopardy because of it. He doesn't say so to Clark, but he knows that it will be his job to protect both of them, Clark and Miranda.

Clark stirs and sits up, checks the clock on the bedside table. "It's getting late. I'd better go." He hesitates. "I'd really like-- Can we tell my parents?"

Lex has flashes of trying to explain to Jonathan Kent that he bore Clark's child, and it is much scarier than any horror movie has ever been.

"Do you really think that's a good idea?" Lex asks.

"I do, actually." Clark holds Lex's eye, not letting him look away.

Lex sighs. "If that's really what you want."

Clark's face lights up. "Thank you."

Clark presses a kiss to Miranda's forehead, hesitates a moment, and then brushes his lips against Lex's cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Lex watches him disappear out the door. He knows that all those dreams he has of a simpler life are going to remain just that. Dreams.


The next day, Lex pulls up to the Kents precisely at 6 p.m., right on time, even though he has been dreading this all day. He really doesn't want to go through a whole evening of dinner and trying to make conversation before breaking the news. He'd prefer just to get it out of the way. But Clark thinks this will help ease the shock. And Mrs. Kent called personally to invite him. He's never been able to say no to her.

At least, Miranda is in fine form. She's wearing her pretty new sunflower dress to meet her grandparents and kicks her feet excitedly as Lex takes her from the car seat.

Mrs. Kent greets them on the porch. "Lex." She hugs him fiercely. "I'm so glad you're all right. We were so worried. It's so good to have you home."

Lex hasn't blushed since elementary school, and yet he feels his cheeks turning pink. "Thanks, Mrs. Kent."

"And who is this? Is this Miranda?" Mrs. Kent tickles her under the chin, and Miranda giggles. "What a sweet baby."

"With people she likes."

Mrs. Kent smiles, clearly pleased.

"How's Hannah?" he asks.

Mrs. Kent laughs. "Loud. Very, very loud." She pats him on the arm. "Come on inside. Dinner's almost ready."

Lex steps into the Kents' house, and everything hits him. The homey smell. The cheerful yellow walls. The familiar furnishings. It is the truest sense of homecoming he's ever had.

"What do you want to do with Miranda while we eat?" Mrs. Kent asks. "Keep her with you? Or we've got a portable crib set up in the spare bedroom in case you'd like to use it."

Lex looks at Miranda, who has started to rub her eyes. "Actually, she just ate a little while ago, and she usually gets sleepy after that."

Mrs. Kent nods. "I thought maybe she could use a nap. I put Hannah down a few minutes ago."

Lex follows her up to the spare bedroom and settles Miranda into the crib. He worries that maybe strange surroundings will make her fretful, but she yawns and chews on her fist and starts to fall asleep as if she feels perfectly at home.

"Wow. She goes down so easily," Mrs. Kent says.

"Not always. Believe me."

He and Martha share a smile that only sleep-deprived parents could ever understand and head back downstairs. Clark is waiting for them in the kitchen. When he sees Lex, he starts toward him and then stops, a little awkwardly. His face is filled with many things, but he says simply, "Hey, Lex."

"Hey, Clark." Lex squeezes his shoulder, and Clark smiles, a little nervously. It seems Lex is not the only one who's anxious.

Mrs. Kent bustles around the kitchen, dishing up food, setting it on the table. "Jonathan should be in any minute."

"Can I do anything to help?" Lex asks.

"No thanks, honey. I have it all under control."

The screen door bangs open and Mr. Kent strides into the room. "Lex." He smiles warmly and hugs him. "It's good to see you." And clearly he means it.

Lex blinks. "Um. Thanks, Mr. Kent. It's good to be back."

Mrs. Kent sends them all to wash up, and then they sit down to dinner.

Lex expects the conversation to stall, but he has underestimated how much there is to say about babies. He compares notes with Mrs. Kent about diaper rash, trades opinions about brands of baby wipes with Mr. Kent, while Clark watches with a smile. Dinner passes pleasantly and too quickly, as far as Lex is concerned. He's not looking forward to losing all this good will. He doesn't even know why he thinks that will be the outcome. All he did was go down to the storm cellar to look for Clark. He had no way of knowing-- Hell, nobody could have predicted that. But he wouldn't have been there in the first place if he wasn't obsessed with Clark, and he suspects the Kents will realize that. And blame him for it.

They all help clear away the dinner dishes. Mrs. Kent serves coffee and her Dutch apple pie, Lex's favorite. He takes a bite and smiles at her. It's just as good as he remembered.

Clark clears his throat. "Um-- Mom. Dad. There's something we need to talk about."

Lex freezes, his fork halfway to his mouth. God. They're going to have confrontation over pie. This can't possibly be a good idea.

"Can't this wait, Clark. We have company right now," Mr. Kent says.

"No. It can't, Dad. It involves Lex. That's why I wanted him to come over tonight."

Mrs. Kent glances at him nervously. Mr. Kent's face darkens with suspicion. And Lex tries very hard not to squirm in his seat. He's faced down corporate raiders. Crazed meteor mutants. His own damned father. He is not going to let himself be intimidated by Jonathan Kent.

"I didn't tell you the truth before. Something did happen the day of Lex's wedding when he came to check on me," Clark continues.

Mr. Kent's jaw tightens. "What?"

Clark takes a deep breath. "The ship-- It wanted me to--" His voice drops. "Mate. And I know it sounds crazy. But Miranda. She's mine, too. Lex and I have a child together."

Lex wants to hide under the table. This is just as bad as he thought it was going to be, and he wishes he were anywhere else.

Mr. Kent jumps to his feet. "You mean--" he sputters. "I always thought there was something funny going on. A grown man spending all that time with a teenaged boy. What the hell did you do to my son?" He points his finger accusingly at Lex.

Lex stands up to face him. "Mr. Kent, I swear I never--"

But clearly Mr. Kent is not in the mood to listen. He takes an angry step toward Lex.

Clark is between them in a blink. "Don't!" He pushes his father back.

"Clark!" Mrs. Kent cries out.

Clark ducks his head, his cheeks red. "Sorry, Dad. Just don't touch Lex, okay?"

It seems Clark's people have territorial instincts when it comes to-- God. Had Clark really used the word "mate"?

Thankfully, Miranda takes mercy on him and chooses that moment to start crying.

"I have to--" He points toward the stairs and quickly makes his escape.

Upstairs, it is thankfully quiet. He can't hear whatever Clark and his parents are saying, and he's glad. He picks Miranda up, undoes his shirt and sits down on the edge of the bed to nurse her.

A little while later, there's a soft noise, and Clark is standing in the doorway. For a second, Lex feels caught, like he should turn his back, pull his shirt over Miranda, try to cover himself, try to hide. But he refuses to give in to that impulse, refuses to be ashamed of feeding his child. Clark sits down next to him. Lex has to work up the courage to steal a glance at him. But when he does, Clark's face is filled with something that might be awe, his eyes suspiciously bright.

Their eyes lock, and it is more intimate than any touch.

Clark clears his throat, a little awkwardly. "Um. I explained it to them. They're calmer now."

"That's good."

Miranda finishes eating. Lex hands her to Clark while he refastens the chest protector and buttons his shirt. Then he settles her onto his shoulder and rubs her back, to help get the air out of her stomach.

"I didn't handle that too well. With my parents," Clark says. "I'm sorry."

Lex shakes his head. "You handled it fine. It's not the easiest story to tell. Or believe."

"Well, actually--" Clark shifts uncomfortably. "It's not exactly the first time the ship has--"

Lex's eyes widen. "Oh." It seems Miranda isn't the only miracle baby.

Clark's face goes very earnest. "You won't--"

"No more than your parents would ever tell anyone about Miranda."

Clark lets out his breath. "I knew that. Honestly. I just had to--"

"I understand, Clark. I really do." He snuggles Miranda closer.

"Thank you," Clark says, softly. "You know, my Mom cried when she heard what you went through all by yourself."

Lex lowers his eyes. "Your mother's a kind-hearted woman."

"I really wish you hadn't been alone. I should have been there. To help you."

"It's Helen's fault I was on that island, Clark. Not yours."

"Still." Clark twists his hands. "You know what you said the other day? That I wasn't to blame for what the ship did? Well, that's not true. I was responsible."


"I made it happen, Lex. Lana and Chloe both stopped by the farm that day, and the ship didn't pick them. Because-- I didn't want them. Not deep down. I didn't really understand that until you showed up. But it was too late then. And it was my fault. And I'm sorry."

There are some things--true things, important things--that Lex can never find the right words to express to Clark. He doesn't know how to explain that in that first moment on the riverbank Clark sank into him in some irrevocable way, Clark's breath in Lex's mouth, his life flowing into Lex's body. That we have a destiny together may have sounded like a joke, but that's only because Lex isn't any good at showing that he needs people, not because he didn't mean it. The fact is that Clark became a part of him long before they ever went down into that storm cellar, and maybe someday Lex will figure out how to say it.

But for now, he starts with a simple truth. "If things had been different, then Miranda wouldn't be here. And I love this little girl, Clark. With all my heart."

Clark nods solemnly. "Me, too."

"Yes." Lex reaches for his hand. "You too." Clark's face lights up like a new day. "If you made it happen by wanting, then I made it happen, too."

Clark lets out a little gasp, and then he leans in. The first touch of his mouth against Lex's is warm and kind of clumsy. And more than Lex could ever have hoped for. The kiss grows more certain as it goes on, and Lex feels the familiar electric buzz all through his body, making even his elbows ache. All this time, he's thought it was some residual effect of the zapping, a byproduct of alien technology. But now he realizes. It's just Clark, and it's the rest of his life. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

Clark pulls back and rests his forehead against Lex's. "I want to be with you and Miranda. I want us to be a family."

Lex knows there will be many things to discuss, details to manage, priorities to arrange. Clark is only seventeen years old. He still has to graduate from high school, go to college, have a career, a life. Lex doesn't want him cheated out of any of that. But they can work all that out later. Right now, there's only one thing that matters.

He tightens his fingers in Clark's hair. "You're always with me."

Miranda squirms between them and makes a sound that seems to mean: Hey, what about me? They both laugh.

"Oh, don't worry," Lex tells her. "Nobody has forgotten about you."

Clark rubs her back and kisses Lex again. "You want to go back downstairs and talk some more?"

Lex sighs. "I guess so."

Clark squeezes his shoulder. "Everything's going to be fine. You'll see."

Lex follows him back down to the kitchen. The tension does seem to have lessened somewhat. In fact, Mr. Kent looks almost abashed.

"Uh, Lex, Clark explained what happened." He looks off to the side. "About what I said earlier--"

"It's okay, Mr. Kent. Just forget about it." He can't exactly claim the moral high ground after he's just been kissing Clark. And now that he's a parent himself he finds it a lot easier to tolerate Mr. Kent's habit of jumping to conclusions where Clark's well-being is concerned. Although Lex could still do without the platitudes.

Miranda hiccups, and Lex rubs her back, presses a kiss to her head. The room goes quiet, and he glances up. Three pairs of eyes are fastened on him.

"What?" he asks.

Mrs. Kent surprises him by crossing the room, pulling him close, kissing his cheek. "You're a good boy," she says, her voice a little shaky.

He is not too old, it seems, to need some parenting himself, and that makes him think of his own mother. He's sad she can't be here to see Miranda, but at least his daughter has two loving grandparents who will always be there for her. And be there for Lex too, something he's very, very glad of.

"Would it be all right if I held my granddaughter?" Mrs. Kent asks, with a sweet smile.

For once, he has no hesitation about handing Miranda over. Mrs. Kent settles the baby onto her shoulder, and Miranda grabs a fistful of her red hair, staring at it in fascination. In Martha Kent's arms, Miranda looks safe, happy, loved, and Lex feels more grateful than he ever could have imagined.

A cry comes from upstairs. "Ah, Hannah. Right on schedule," Mrs. Kent says.

She starts to hand Miranda back to Lex, but Mr. Kent says, "I'll go."

He comes back a few minutes later carrying a red-headed baby who looks so much like Miranda they could be sisters.

"She's gorgeous," Lex says.

Mr. Kent beams proudly. "Isn't she?" He eyes Lex a moment and then asks, "Would you like to hold her?"

Lex has to blink hard to keep from making a fool of himself. But now that he's a parent, he knows what this means, and even though he's desperately wanted Mr. Kent's acceptance for as long as he's known him, he never really expected to get it.

"I'd love to hold her, Mr. Kent. Thank you."

He's half afraid he'll make Hannah cry, but she actually seems to like him. Or at least, she likes the pearl-covered buttons of his dress shirt. She pulls at them and stares and makes happy noises. Martha relinquishes Miranda to Jonathan, who is demanding his turn to hold his granddaughter. Clark plays peak-a-boo with his sister, making her squeal with delight. And Lex's list of people he would gladly give his life to protect expands to include everyone in the room.

It seems maybe Clark was right about him after all. Because this is the kind of life that Lionel Luthor knows nothing about, that he could never value, that he would turn his nose up at if given the opportunity to experience.

Truly, Lex is nothing like his father.


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