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What you Sow
Lex woke with the echo of his own cry ringing in his ears, half out of bed, heart pounding so hard it hurt. A panic fogged mind sought out threat in the shadows of the room. But the room only stared back at him, unmalignant and cool. Devoid of blame.
He took a breath, gathering scattered wits, the images, as always, fading as soon as his conscious mind stirred. Leaving him with nothing but the surety that they had been appalling. The nightmare could have been anything - - so many things to choose from now to torment the subconscious. New nightscares to compete with the old and he didn't know which he preferred. At least with the old one's he'd been able to recall a thing or two.
He looked for the bedside clock and it wasn't there. He remembered that this wasn't the master bedroom. He hadn't slept there in close to a month. He ought to move his things, if he were going to avoid it. He ought to have hers removed - - those things the police hadn't already taken in their quest for evidence. He didn't want it anymore. Didn't need reminders.
He wondered idly, forcing himself to lie back and settle into the comfort of the guest bed again, if he ought to offer her belongings to Clark. A morbid little collection for him to build a shrine around. He could worship at the alter of her personal artifacts like a man seeking to revive an old religion and maybe it would keep him out of Lex's business.
He looked at his watch, unable to find sleep after the turbulence of the nightmare - - 5:19. He had an appointment in Metropolis at ten. Another round of board advisory meetings overseeing the liquidation of assets. LexCorp stock was suicidal at the moment, and LuthorCorp values were dropping.
Distance LexCorp from LuthorCorp his lawyers, his board, every business advisor he had preached. Let Lionel take a public role as spokesman for LuthorCorp dealings and hope he could re-instill lost confidence.
It was like pulling teeth, considering it. Considering stepping back until this blew over and giving his father even the illusion of power. But, it would be foolish not to bow to the inevitable. Stupid to hold out until the board voted him down, just like they'd voted Lionel down three years ago when he'd been defamed and defrocked. Better to step into the shadows willingly and let his father do what he did best. Charm and maneuver and fool everyone into thinking he was the second coming. And meanwhile Lex's name would still on all the company charters.
No reason, since he was awake and not likely to find sleep again, not to get a head start. There were a few other things in Metropolis he might use the time to take advantage of. Give him a chance to get out of the country for the morning, maybe he'd even spend the night in the city.
So he showered and dressed and by time he was downstairs someone on his domestic staff must have realized he was up, because there was fresh coffee in the pot, and sliced fruit on a cold trey under glass on the island where he took quick breakfast.
The staff was very quiet nowadays. Diligent in their jobs, but furtive almost. Perhaps they were respectful of his space, grieving husband that he ought to be - - or perhaps, like the rest of Smallville, they thought he'd had a hand in her death. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he caught the occasional accusatory glance or two, as his back was turning.
Now that he thought about it, the staff had catered to her like she was some fragile, fractured creature and maybe she had been, drifting through the mansion like a wraith those last months, dissolute in her not so cleverly hidden misery. He'd just chosen not to see it. He considered dismissing them all &endash; bringing in a new staff from the city.
He needed to get out of the mansion.
He drove himself, and at 6 in the morning there was enough frost on the ground, covering fields along the road, tilled bare after the last harvest, that it almost looked like light snow. Traffic was marginal, until he hit the interstate and then the road was one long, grey, empty track and it felt like release to press the pedal to the floor and feel the powerful engine surge to full life.
An hour down the road and traffic picked up, cars feeding onto the highway from exits along the way, all city bound. He still made a three-hour trip in just under two.
The meetings were predictably long, and frustrating. The thought of going out and finding a drink or two, at maybe one of the exclusive clubs on upper Grace, where you needed an 8 digit bank account just to get in, where he'd still be welcomed with open arms, even though LexCorp stock was in the red and they'd set in motion the liquidation of more prime assets than he could name in one breath.
Afterwards, he'd pay a visit to M&C labs on the north side. A discreet visit that he'd put off for weeks, trying to distance himself from anything to do with project Ares. The back up research was there, evidence of a most inflammatory nature if it reached the wrong hands. Things he ought to destroy, facts and file and intimate details - - but he couldn't make himself part with it. He couldn't shake the need to pursue the project - -
He got a call that disrupted his plans. The Smallville DA had come across new evidence in the investigation. Security camera pictures of Lana meeting with an unknown man, five days before her murder. The Smallville authorities wanted him to identify the man, and his lawyers were eager for the possibility of another trail for them to start sniffing down.
He thought about refusing. Telling them they could damn well wait until he was back in town tomorrow - - but he was curious who she'd been meeting with.
When Clark had come asking for information, Lex hadn't balked at giving it simply to annoy - - he just didn't have any. He had every resource he could spare looking into her death and they were all drawing blanks. He didn't know if he simply wasn't looking in the right place, or if whoever had done it was so proficient they'd left no trail to follow.
So he agreed. It was 3 o'clock now, and he made tentative arrangements to meet his lawyer at the Smallville Sheriff's office at five. If he was late, they damn well could wait on him.
He made it in reasonable time. By the time he hit rush hour, he was well out of the city and missed the out flux of commuters from Metropolis.
The Smallville Sheriff's station was the next street over from Main, flanked, appropriately enough, by the offices of a local conglomeration of lawyers on one side and a sporting goods store, specializing in the sale of hunting paraphernalia and firearms on the other. For a town that was constantly prepared for nothing, it was an interesting mix of vultures and predators flanking the bastion of local law.
He'd been here enough during his sojourn in Smallville, that he knew the most convenient parking was around back, in the lot where impounded vehicles and defunct sheriff's cruisers were parked. He walked around the building and into the offices and a great deal of the activity stopped, eyes focused on him. He'd learned to ignore the stares early on - - long before notoriety was a factor in the attention he drew. When it had just been who's son he was. Or that he was a bald headed freak at 9. Or the sex and drugs and rebellion before he'd ever reached drinking age - - a paparazzi's wet dream. Government pay offs and murder investigations were only the latest.
His lawyer bustled up, a Metropolis yuppie, barely older than Lex. The man didn't bother with pleasantries, instead launching into a precise explanation of the nature of the new evidence. A restaurant manager in the city, after hearing about the ongoing investigation of Lana Luthor's death, had volunteered security footage taken a week before her demise.
Sheriff Taylor and ADA McMurry sat down with him in one of the little interrogation rooms - - a location, he was sure, that had been calculated to grate his nerves. They'd failed to indict him once, and they were seriously hoping for reaction.
"Was your wife having an affair, Mr. Luthor?"
"It's entirely possible." He answered amenably enough, shuffling through the photos. They were low quality captures, showing her at an outside table, with a man - - maybe forty - - forty-five - - graying hair at the temples, smart suit. They never touched in the photos, but it was clear they were having an intense conversation.
"But I doubt it was with this man." He looked up, meeting McMurry's eyes. "Her tastes ran more rural. And prettier."
But there was something about the man in the photos. Something that sparked recognition. Lex had seen him somewhere - - there just hadn't been made enough of an impression made where the occasion or the name stood out.
"So you don't recognize this man? Or find it strange that your wife was meeting with him, behind your back?" The Sheriff asked with the veiled antagonism of a man foiled time and again.
"I find it strange that after four weeks, you're still wasting time and resources harassing me. Meeting for assignation and meeting for lunch are two very different things. I'm sure she ate lunch every day, I didn't always know who with, nor did I require a full list of her acquaintances."
"You don't strike me, Mr. Luthor, as a man that lets much slip his notice. According to your late wife's journal, you were quite - - controlling." The sheriff remarked.
Lex stared back, face neutral, refusing to rise to the bait. He thought maybe he had been - - the nature of the beast brought up to control empires - - hard not to want a hand in the other aspects of his life. And she hadn't been equipped to deal with it, much less counter it in a way that didn't include betrayal. A small town girl that should have married a small town boy with reasonable aspirations. Not a man that occasionally entertained scenarios of ruling the world.
He wasn't sure where that addendum came from - - from what recess of his mind, but he frowned a little at the slip.
His lawyer put an end to the meeting. Lex had answered their questions, claimed ignorance and there was no reason for them to turn a voluntary meeting into an interrogation.
"I want copies of those photos." He told his lawyer on the way out.
"Do you know who he is?"
"Not yet. Make it a priority to find out."
The lawyer nodded, turning about to make requests of the ADA for copies of the information, while Lex stalked out.
The sun sat early this time of year and the shadows were already long, the sky tinted with the rose hues of oncoming dusk. He seldom took the time to notice simple beauties like the broad Kansas sky in the throes of sunset. There were too many other things vying for attention, too many other priorities.
He pulled out his phone, had his thumb on the menu, and got accosted, half way down the steps by the unpleasant voice of Lois Lane.
"So, Lex, you managed to weasel out from under the hand of the law again, I see. Can I get a comment? The average person wants to know how it feels to be above the law. Apparently the price of buying your way out federal prosecution is in the ten figure range, but what's it cost to get away with murdering your wife?"
He snapped his phone shut and tried to ignore her. Lois Lane was an aggravating, persistent pain in the ass. The Inquisitor printed speculative, libelous drivel to start with, but Lois pushed the envelope with her string of poisonous articles. For the past month, she'd been getting print space - - high profile print space in her campaign against him and LexCorp.
Chloe had enough integrity and enough legitimacy to print stories she had the hard evidence to back up - - she also had the sense to know when to back down, but her lamentable cousin lacked all of those attributes. And with the ongoing scandal, the Inquisitor was willing to risk the lawsuits LexCorp Lawyers were threatening, to sell out issues. Suing Lois herself was a lost cause, since she had nothing to lose, and pressuring her with more inventive methods would only egg her on.
He knew her type. A loose cannon with a pen and an outlet for publication. All his years of experience with low-rent journalists just like her, said keep his mouth shut and step over her, like any other unsavory obstacle. Anything he said would be twisted regardless.
But she pissed him off. "Don't you have better things to do, Ms. Lane? A follow up article on your Chupacabra piece, perhaps? Your take on Mexican folklore was truly uninspiring."
"So you follow my work?" She paced him, a condescending smirk on her lips that was quietly infuriating. "How about a comment on rumors of LexCorp insolvency in the wake of federal fines? I'll assume a no comment means you're too broken up about it to discuss it."
He scoffed. "You don't really get the concept of 'liable', do you, Lois? And as refreshed and challenged as I am by your constantly unique points of view, you're getting boring."
"Yeah, well I haven't killed anybody recently, so I guess I'm pretty low key, compared to you."
If he ran her over in the sheriff station parking lot, there'd be hell to pay. It would almost be worth the risk. He pictured the finer details while she was trailing him, spouting more inflammatory babble, then slowed, noticing, with a rapidly increasing surge of irritation, the group of men loitering by his car. Actually sitting on the hood of his Mercedes.
"Get off my car." He strode towards them, unlocking the car as he walked, noticing letterman jackets on two out of the five, the gaudy mix of red and yellow on men that were at least three or four years out of high school if not more. There were cigarette butts and a six-pack's worth of empty beer cans on the ground. Apparently they'd been here a while, choosing the most expensive car in the lot to lounge about on while they shot the breeze or whatever it was they'd been doing, wasting time on the back lot of the sheriff's station.
"Well if it ain't Lex fucking Luthor himself," one of them sneered, not bothering to rise from his sprawl on the car hood.
"Strutting around town after what you did that sweet thing."
There was belligerence in their eyes, the indignant rancor of men whose initiative was bolstered by the addition of alcohol.
"Get off of my car." Lex repeated, slowly, calmly as if he were speaking to children.
"I dated Lana Lang once." One of the Letterman's claimed, and the man had to be a year or two older than Clark, if not more, which meant a few years ahead of Lana in high school. Football player maybe. He probably had a reputation in a town that idolized its high school players, past and present, but Lex had no notion who he was, having paid little heed to the state of Smallville high school football outside of the brief time Clark had been on the team. Even then, the other faces had been a blur. But if Lana had dated this broad faced hick, he'd have heard about it from Clark.
"I doubt that," he said dryly, pushing past the man blocking the door.
"How come they let you just walk out of there, you piece of shit, when that girl's in the ground?" One of them put a hand on Lex's arm and Lex tensed, cool on the verge of shattering. It had been a long day. It had been a frustrating day. If he did something unexpectedly violent, like slamming this bastard's head into his car window, he wondered how many of the others he might draw blood on before they took him down? Calculating risk-reward ratios was generally not so literal a thing with him.
"That's what I was just asking, boys," Lois hovered a few yards outside the ring of them, a big, nervous smile plastered on her face. "But we can talk about it nice - - because you know - - sheriff's station."
She waved a hand and they slowly got her point. It was a bad place for an assault. Maybe he even owed her one for it, because they backed down, giving him dark, dirty looks. One of them, when sliding off the hood of his car, drove a fist down when pushing to his feet and left a small dent.
Lex drew a breath and another. He could pursue it, which would end up less satisfying than the adrenalin-fueled part of his brain insisted it might be. Pursuing it would only mean going back into the sheriff's station and he'd seen enough of the drab interior of that building for a lifetime.
They called him a few names, before he got into the car and shut the door, muffling the sound of their voices. His hands were shaking, he was so angry. All day long he'd kept his head, and it took these ignorant bastards to get to him.
He pulled out of the space with a skid of tires, swinging close enough to make two of them jump back to avoid flattened feet, which was small enough satisfaction.
He ground his teeth all the way out of town, until he reached that last intersection before open road surrounded by nothing but empty farmland for miles.
The solitude eased the tension. It was getting to him. After all these years, he'd finally had about as much as he could tolerate of small town America. The reasons he'd had to stay in Smallville just weren't anymore. The mansion was a mausoleum of cold walls and leering memory. The people had never appreciated a Luthor among them - - and after this - - well, he could be cleared tomorrow of all doubt concerning Lana's death and they'd still blame him for destroying her. Their hometown princess. The girl who'd survived everything but him. The bitch who'd betrayed him and maybe set him up and gotten caught in the backlash.
He ought to sell the castle - - get a few million towards that debt his father had so graciously negotiated for him - - and move back to the city once this mess was over. Wouldn't that piss Lionel off? It made him smile a little thinking about it.
Something skidded onto the road in front of him. A truck veering half off its tires onto the main road from one of the countless country routes that intersected it. There was no braking to avoid it, just a frantic jerk of the wheel that sent the Mercedes sliding uncontrollably towards the embankment across the lane on the other side of the road. The front end hit earth with bone wrenching, metal crumpling impact. Air bags inflated, slamming into him and stealing breath even as they saved him from crashing into the dash.
Lex sat there, shocked, feeling the warm flavor of blood in his mouth where he'd shredded the inside of his cheek. Nothing else felt particularly damaged. Nothing but his car and his patience. He cursed, the miracle of being simply alive evaporating in the face of indignant anger.
The truck had stopped its mad rush, and pulled up not far from him. Another vehicle, the headlights which had been distant points behind him, screeched to a stop. If he was lucky, they'd been close enough to witness the jackass in the truck sailing across the intersection in front of him.
The door tried to stick, but he got it open with a shove from his shoulder. He batted the deflating airbag out of the way and managed a mostly graceful exit into the ditch he'd run afoul of. He climbed out of it and onto the road. The second vehicle had stopped, headlights on high, illuminating the sad state of his front end harshly. The other driver was trotting towards him to see what damage had been done and Lex wasn't in the mood to play gracious.
"You stupid son of a bitch, I had the right - -"
The fist caught him off guard, the guy not even stopping as he swung and belatedly Lex realized the jacket was the yellow and red of a Smallville high letterman. Lex spun, kept his footing, and came around with a blow of his own, that rocked the big bastard backward a few steps and bloodied Lex's knuckles.
"You fucking faggot!" the guy screamed, and rebounded forward. A second man from the truck was hard the heels of the first.
The guy was big, and drunk and not as quick as Lex on a good day, probably. Lex avoided the charge, kicked the back of the bastard's knee in and spun to meet the other one. He drove a fist into a gut that was a lot softer than it had probably been in the football days from high school, and had the satisfaction of seeing the guy grunt and double over, before impact hit him from behind.
A fist in the ear, stole his equilibrium. It came from one of the passengers of the truck that had been in his rear view mirror - - almost all the way since town.
Fuck. They'd followed him. And knowing the back roads, one had most likely sped down a rural route and managed to cut him off, while the other one followed. He didn't know if they were just out for a casual drunken assault, or if they had something more serious in mind.
The blow behind his ear hurt and he staggered, swung and hit somebody in the face, then twisted in an attempt to drive an elbow into the side of the body closest to him - - succeeded - - before somebody got in a blow that caught him in the solar plexus. Air left in a rush as did a portion of vision. He went down, knees hitting asphalt hard, gasping after breath, thinking that he really, really didn't need to have his ass thoroughly kicked a second time in one month. At least these guys were human.
There was a gun in his glove compartment, but he doubted he could get to the car, wrench open the passenger door and fumble after if before they took exception. He saw the flash of a cheap, gold plated high school ring, and a fist smashed into his face. Pain flashed behind his eyes, instant and shocking. New blood flowed in his mouth. He would have gone down entirely, sprawling on the pavement, but they caught his arms and kept him from crumpling.
"Fucking bald freak. Come into our town like you think you own it." A fist plowed into the side of his jaw while they held him on his knees. Another blow that snapped his head back and fogged his thinking.
"Driving your fancy cars. . ." Another.
"Fucking our women. . . " And another and it felt like his brain was rattling around inside his skull with each impact, like a bean inside a maraca.
They shoved him down, and the toe of a boot connected to his back, to his ribs, with stabbing flares of agony. If he could just get on his feet he'd make them regret it. They were drunken country hicks that had just gotten lucky and he was a goddamned Luthor and Luthor's didn't get driven off the side of the road at night for a curbside beating.
"Killing that girl . . . " But he couldn't get his feet and he couldn't think past the pain, and his mind flashed back to the abandoned mill and the entity inflicting similar hurt and it was hard to differentiate between the two.
He curled in on himself, instinctive effort at self-defense. It was all that was left for him to do, assaulted from all sides. Four men determined to kick him to death. And they might succeed, because he lost control of his limbs somewhere around the dozenth blow and they weren't stopping and everything was going pain washed red.
If they were smart, they'd just put him back in the car - - and with the present love he was getting from the sheriff's department, they might not even investigate the unusual bruising. Might just write it off as an accident and that would be that. A neat tying up of loose ends, so many problems taken care of in one fell swoop - - so much time and effort saved. They'd throw these guys a private party, celebrate their ingenuity - -
Then it stopped, or maybe it was a state of nothingness and he just couldn't feel. But in Lex's experience, if someone were inflicting pain, he was generally aware of it on some level. And he could faintly, through the ringing in his ears, still hear them cursing him - - laughing among themselves, pleased with themselves. The words didn't mean anything though. Just a jumble of sound to a scrambled brain.
Something warm hit his face that wasn't blood. Hit his body, saturating his clothing. Burning ammonia smell.
A detached part of his mind realized they were urinating on him and that was an insult that his brain refused to fully comprehend. People did not piss on Luthor's. Not and live to brag about it.
But what if the Luthor in question were dead? What then? It ran down his cheek, into his mouth and he thought, maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing to die out here - - escape all the crushing problems - - escape the mortification. Maybe if he willed it badly enough - - it would happen. But no, Lex wasn't weak. Lex was a survivor. He didn't curl up and die; not when his company was teetering on the edge of disaster, not when an alien entity, with a mouth you could masturbate to the memory of was trying to bore a hole through him into the earth with fingers made of rock. So dying wasn't an option.
But darkness came down anyway, and he didn't know if it were the herald of death - - or was simply a prelude to apathy.
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