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What you Sow

by P L Nunn


Part 24


The city flashed by, grey and dirty, the snow no longer a pristine coat of white to hide the flaws, but spattered with mud and dirt and oil, piled in ungainly little mountains along the sides of roads. An eyesore that would only melt away by degrees.

Lex stared out the window, catching himself grinding teeth and forcibly stopping. Eight hours ago he'd come to the very reasonable conclusion that a year's worth of work could be salvaged. He'd notified his researchers and set the special arm of security that dealt with these sorts of things on alert. A year of scouring the planet for a scrap of that one viable element and all this time it had been sitting in his own backyard. Concealing itself with misdirection and lies. Cloaking itself with the allure of innocence and integrity, because God knew those were traits that any city bred skeptic would find incurably intriguing.

I forgive you - - -

Molars impacted, grinding away enamal. Lex dug his nails into his palms. The sting of pain in his hands let him loosen his jaw.

An hour ago, Lex had met with his people and told them to prepare to reawaken the project, had gotten statistics on just how far it could go with unlimited access to those all important alien peptides. He had met their skeptisism with the assurance of a garunteed source. And he hadn't wavered once in that conviction because Clark had never wavered in his.

Six years of lies. The worst sort of deceit. The personal sort where trust had been invested and squandered. It hardly mattered that he'd known - -

I forgive you - -

He'd let him inside his guard. Inside his head. Inside his body. And Clark had shared more truths with his father - - with his manipulative, malevolent father - - than he had with Lex. Lying bastard. Inhuman. Ingenious, with his k-mart clothes and his mud stained boots, scraping pennies and feeding cows and wasting time on a failing family farm. It would take more than a day's supposition to figure that one out.

I forgive you - -

Teeth ground again and vision narrowed to the watery ghost of his reflection in the tinted window.

30 minutes ago and where had the conviction gone? Eaten up by the glimmer of tears in big, pretty eyes?

Fool. He was a fool of the worst type, because he'd been burned and burned and burned and still he let emotion get the better of him.

If he'd had more time to prepare - - to come to terms with the cold hard facts, he could have carried it out. Could have called in the team already gathered in the facility beneath the facility and implemented protocol 13. Subdue and contain extreme threat of a meta or a non-human nature.

This team had tracked the phantom, had taken it in its last form. Had taken numerous violent, highly dangerous meta-human threats. They knew their business. With what Lex knew about the meteor rocks and Clark's reaction to them, they could have had him without incident. Lex had had him, no fight, no damages, no anything but that look of betrayal on Clark's face, before it had mutated into pain.

Clark's look of betrayal. Clark's forgiveness. Fuck Clark.

He sat there and tried to piece together why he'd let Clark go. Glued together reasoning that didn't make him feel weak or emotional or sentimental or any other type of fool who couldn't see the forest for the trees.

The project had been in stasis too long to jump start in a matter of days. They had no test subjects and he wasn't willing to acquire unsuspecting ones again - - not when there were men mercenary enough to willingly undergo advantageous alterations for the right incentive. It wasn't as if he didn't know where to find Clark. Even if he ran, Clark had ties. Clark had some loyalties that he'd never betray. Clark would be easy to destroy, because Clark loved.

The cell in his pocket vibrated. Lex shut his eyes a moment, and took the call.

"We've tracked Denardo to Mexico. His credit card was used in a Chihuahua this morning." The voice on the other end told him.

The pilot who'd delivered him to Niko and a meeting he'd been garuenteed not to survive. Unfortunate for Steven Denardo that Clark had a hero complex.

Lex watched the city traffic outside his window. He could have the man killed as easily as he might have a stain removed from a favored suit. But that option didn't come as effortlessly to him as it had before Clark and his father had conspired together in their little elective mental surgery. Having that piece of Zod there had made things easier. Clearer. It had been liberating almost to have that utter lack of doubt. Everything was murky now, laden with shades of guilt and morality. Little damned wonder he'd thought he was loosing his mind.

"See that he comes to the attention of the Mexican authorities. See that he's dumped someplace unpleasant and forgotten."

"Yes sir."

For the right amount of money, Denardo would have the rest of his life to languish in a Mexican prison and dwell on the enormity of his miscalulation in betraying a Luthor.

Lex felt less satasfaction than he should have at that small vengeance. The pilot was the least of his loose ends. Niko was out there still, running long and far, no doubt. He'd been hard to track when he hadn't been actively trying to hide. Lex could be patient. Niko was a fool and a pawn and he'd show himself eventually. Sophia might stay hidden forever, for she was neither.

They weren't enough to keep his mind off the bigger problem. The alien problem. He repeated the word in his mind, silently sounding it out. Exploring the edges of a concept he'd thought he had such a firm grasp on. Alien. Inhuman. Merciless. Cold, frightening logic. Zod. Fine. The pair from the ship. The phantom that had worn Clark's body - - which incident needed to be reexamined now that Lex had new details - - the killing machine he'd tracked to fighting ring. Clark.

Only Clark didn't fit in well to the mix. The adjectives didn't work. At least not the ones that applied to the other aliens Lex had had contact with. Lex could come up with other descriptive terminology for Clark that had nothing whatsoever to do with extraterrestrial sources.

He contemplated the incongruity all the way up to his office in LuthorCorp tower. He started pinpointing all the little slips Clark had made over the years - - all the little things that Lex had noted and filed away and never considered using against Clark as anything other than a means to pry loose simple truth. There were a lot of things. Clark's talent for discretion had been severely undeveloped. It still was.

Lex had destroyed valueble files, irreplaceable evidence in his various attempts at salvaging friendship, but he had it all in his head. Layers and layers of Clark related trivia, starting from that first day, that first fateful meeting. How much more benifical for Clark if he'd just let Lex drown.

"Mr. Luthor." His secretary stepped into his office, the shadows of two hulking security outside the door beyond her. "He's on his way up."

Lex sat back, steepling his fingers, welcoming the cold fury that crept up. Frigid anger was the only sort to practice with Lionel Luthor.

His father swept in, past the secretary, past the security, with the air of a man that thought he held power. The air of a man that was secure in secrets he thought he knew, that no one else did.

"You're in early today, son. Already settled in and summoning me, what's the occasion?"

Lex let his mouth turn up in a humorless smile at his father's condescension. Canted his head a little and watched Lionel make for the bar and fill a glass with fresh orange juice. His assistant pulled the doors to his office closed, sealing them in. Lex had never felt the predator with his father, even when Lionel was at his lowest. He felt it now. That heady sense of power, that sense of cool assurance that he held the upper hand and had no intention of losing it.

"So what's the problem, Lex? I thought you'd still be in a tiff over yesterday."

"How long have you known about Clark Kent?"

Lionel lifted a brow, face betraying nothing. "You need to be more specific when you throw out these little quizzes, son. Known what?"

"That he's an alien, dad. How long have you known he's an alien?" Lex lifted a cool brow of his own, watching his father mimic incredulity.

Lionel laughed, shaking his head. "My god, you go from sleeping with him to concocting paranoid theories in the span of a few days. That's a record for you, son. It generally takes a little longer for you to start suspecting daggers in the dark and arsenic in the cognac."

"Krypton, isn't it?" Lex ignored the sleight, ignored the reminder that the last time he'd slept, it had been in Clark's bed. "Sent here as a baby, the forerunner of those other pesky visitors that preceded Zod? Do I have that right? I ask, because it appears that intimate knowledge of the facts is a bit of an understatement for your involvement. Channeling alien intelligences is a noteworthy accomplishment, even for you, dad."

Lionel's smile turned hard, frozen in place. His eyes fixed on Lex's face while he considered options, considered what Lex knew and what Lex was guessing at.

"Was he foolish enough to tell you?" Lionel finally tsked, as if someone had let slip a family recipie. "Naïve boy, to think you could be trusted. You'd think he'd have learned from past experience."

"Yet, apparently you have all the qualities a naïve boy would find trustworthy. How long have you been counciling him? I could make assumptions, but I don't want to jump to false conclusions when I have you right here to tell me the truth. If you know what that is."

"You're asking the wrong questions, Lex," Lionel leaned on the desk. "Instead of inquiring about possible planetary invasion, or alien infestation, you can't get past the notion that Clark Kent placed more trust in me than he did in you. That we conspired against you."

"Is there an invasion in the works?" Lex asked.

"Would it bother you to know that you'd been attempting to build your little army for nothing? But then, that wasn't all you, was it, Lex? You were channeling your own alien all this time, weren't you?"

"You'd know better than me, dad. And your concern was touching by the way. There's nothing like being drugged and altered without consent. You should try it sometime."

Lionel's smile faded, the lines on his face deepening. "It was for your own good, son. You have to see that. We couldn't be sure how much control the remnant had over you - - what it might compel you to do if it felt threatened."

"How altruistic. How's that title for sainthood coming? Now that you've got otherworldly backers, the points must be racking up. What sort of angle have you worked out? What's the agenda?"

"There is no agenda, Lex. No invasion. No ulterior motive. He's the last of his kind and what was inside my head were the last wishes of a father trying to secure a safe haven for his son."

"Well, that must have been a novel experience for you. Forgive me if I don't take you at your word. It would be irresponsible of me, frankly, not to go to extremes to gain the truth. I could probably even reestablish my credibility with the US government if I shared my source of information. Do you think they'd take you at your word, Dad?"

"I think they'd need proof. Are you willing to give them Clark to back up your claims?"

"Why not? His loyalty lies with you, not me." Lex said lightly, schooling his face to match his father's bland expression. Lionel was right, Clark would be the ultimate coinage.

Lionel blinked at him, eyes widening in a rare split second of surprise. He laughed again. "I knew you suffered paranoid delusions, Lex, but my God, the extent of your misconceptions are laudable. He tolerates me. He trusts me to a degree, but he doesn't want to. Where as you, he wants to trust, but you keep giving him reason not to. This isn't about where Clark Kent was born, is it? It's about damaged ego and hurt feelings and your own sense of false betrayal."

"False betrayal?" He felt his teeth grinding again and he'd managed to control the reflex till now. Managed to hold back the outward signs of irritation. But, of course, his father was so very adept at getting under his skin. Lex stood up, staring across the desk. "Every relationship I've ever had that was more than a one nighter - - every single one since I learned to walk - - you've sabotaged or gotten your claws into one way or another. Why would he be any different? He came to you. You colluded against me behind my back. Deny it."

Lionel stood there, studying him, mouth a flat line, which was the only tell Lex had that his father was unsettled. Lionel didn't give things away. You had to work for them. Lex was tired of the game. He was ready to rip the answers free and to hell with the consequences.

"You were out of control, Lex. With your obsessions and your fears. Manipulated by something less than human."

"Are we talking you or Zod?"

Lionel inclined his head, awarding Lex that one.

"You don't want to hear anything I say. You've already made up your mind and we both know how dogged you are once you've convinced yourself you're right. What else is there for me to say?"

"Quite a lot actually. With enough time and the right - - incentive, I think you'll be quite forthcoming."

Lionel opened his mouth, absorbing that threat, realizing it was not threat at all but plain fact. He composed his face, unruffled in the face of disaster. Lex had rather hoped for gibbering fear - - a pipedream of course, but a man could hope.

"What do plan, Lex? To spirit me away to one of your projects for a little inventive interrogation? The consequences might well be more disastorous than you foresee."

"Don't fret for the company, dad, LuthorCorp will survive without you in the flesh." Lex pressed a button on his desk, and the doors to his office swung open, filled with the bulk of his own private security.

"I have no doubt," Lionel said, glancing over his shoulder with a wry look of disappointment. "But it's not the company I was talking about. There are only so many bridges you can burn before there's no way back. Only so many absolutions before there's no more forgiveness to offer."

Lex lifted a brow. "From you? I think I can survive without."

Lionel looked back at him with that expression he always wore when he liked to make Lex feel obtuse. Then he was gone, and Lex stood behind his desk, spine ramrod stiff, searching for the thrill of victory. It was there, but it wavered a bit, tinged with the edge of doubt.

He clenched his fists, taking a cleansing breath. A series of them, until his head was clear and his pulse beat at an acceptable rate.

His secretary crept up to the doors of his office, face a little pale. The things that had been going on this morning were beyond the experience of a legitimate executive secretary. Swarming security and familial confrontations had her rightfully on edge and she didn't even know the half of it.

"Sir? I've cancelled all the morning's appointments as you asked. Should I reschedule the afternoon?"

He smiled at her, recalling something about sending her flowers for yesterday's short temper. All things considered, she was handling the stress rather well. "Thank you, Miranda. No. Keep the afternoon as is."

Lex had no intention of going back to Smallville. Not tonight. Maybe not ever. The Metropolis penthouse was cool and welcoming and sterile, offering up retreat, as it always had when the tomb-like confines of the mansion and the eccentricities of Smallville became too much.

He hadn't slept in 33 hours. He still didn't want to, even though his body felt the strain. Sleep was a lack of control he wasn't willing to surrender. He wasn't ready for the things his sub-conscious mind would subject him to.

He'd spent the afternoon with lawyers and analysts. With wolves in the guise of potential investors. An executive contingent from Toshiba, who'd been sniffing around LexCorp since the stocks had started dropping after Reeves Dam and Lex's own vilification in the press. They were talking mergers, but he knew they'd been plucking up huge blocks of LexCorp stock. He knew the maneuverings of one corporate predator sizing up another for the kill. It was enough of a distraction to keep him from falling into the pit of darker musings.

He'd resisted the urge to drink all day. He poured a healthy scotch now and sat down in the darkened great room and stared out at the lights of the city at dusk. It was barely six and it was dark. There was a time when he'd liked the season. He found it oppressive now, with its shadows and its early snow. Clark thrived in the fall, with its chilly weather and its multitude of color - -

Clark. He veered his thoughts away from that line of thought, swallowed the drink and sat turning the empty glass in his fingers. Forced himself to think of nothing but the dark shapes the buildings made against the muddy horizon.

Clark came back, filling the empty space with a subtly that flesh and blood Clark was deficit of. Creeping in by degrees, like he always did when Lex tried to exercise him. He'd never been able to succeed in that. Even while he'd been walking around with a sliver of something inside him that had hated and feared Clark.

Clark. Whatever that meant. A plain human name to cover something so much more. He'd always known. Never doubted, despite the fabrications that there was more to the boy who'd been his salvation. Funny that he'd wanted the details for so long, and when it came down to it he hadn't wanted to hear.

He sat the glass down, and picked up the rock from the coffee table. Dull green crystal that had gained a subtle glow when he'd held it close to Clark. Amazing that the simple presence of Clark's body could incite such a reaction. Amazing that a chunk of stone could make Clark crumble.

I forgive you - -

Lex scowled and closed his fist over the rock, felt the sharp edge of crystal slice into his fingers and wondered idly the degree of pain that had racked Clark's body.

His cell rang. He put the rock down, looked at the blood on his hand, trickling down from the bend of his knuckles and picked up the phone with his other hand.

He listened silently to the nervous voice of the man on the other end. "Mr. Luthor, your father never reached the Landover facility. The GPS of the van and the cell phones of the detail accompanying him have been disabled. We're assembling search teams now."

Lex felt something bubbling up inside and it took a moment and a released breath to discover it was laughter. He shut his eyes and silently shook with it.

"Don't bother," he finally said, when he had the breath. Why waste the resources? Lionel Luthor would be found when and if he wanted to be and God knew the resources he had at his disposal.

Lex tossed the phone down, pressed his bloodied palm to his forehead and laughed again. How weak was he, how sentimental that it was almost a relief, Lionel's escape?

Just like Clark. His father and his father's alien and he'd let them both slip away. No. He didn't like the sound of that. Not his father's alien. His. Clark's anonymity. Clark's freedom. Clark's life. In his hands. He'd earned the right, through blood and pain and years of lies. He felt a proprietary rush.

The laughter threatened again and he felt just a little bit mad - - a little bit over the edge. He probably was, sleep deprived as he was.

He went to the bar, wiped his hand on a crisp white towel, noted the slices on his fingers had already clotted, and poured another scotch.

He slept on the couch without meaning to, facing the city view. The sunlight breaching the vast windows got past his lids and drove him to consciousness and he woke with the dull feeling of sobriety after a gleeful binge.

He showered, put on a robe and padded barefooted through the quiet confines of the penthouse to the kitchen. He put on coffee and considered the option of negating a live in domestic staff here entirely. This wasn't Smallville where he had drive ten miles to the nearest restaurant. He could make exceptional coffee himself and that was his only morning requirement. He liked the quiet.

He settled at the kitchen island and opened his laptop, checking email out of habit. Checked the itinerary Miranda had forwarded. He'd requested a light schedule today. He had plans to make and things to consider. He retrieved his cell and checked his voice mail for messages, almost expecting a taunting call from his father. Two LexCorp assistants, his secretary, a company lawyer with the answer to a legal question Lex had posed a few days ago. And Clark.

Lex sat and listened to the message, unmoving.

Me again. If you didn't get the message I left at the house - - um - - call me. Please Lex. I want to fix this. Whatever it takes. Please call me.

When it was over and voice mail announced there were no more messages he sat there still with the phone in his hand. He didn't like the quiver in his belly. He hated the thickness in his throat. Weakness that needed to be aborted. He erased the message and sat there afterwards staring at his half cup of cooling coffee.

He went and dressed for the day. Looked at himself in the floor length mirror and blinked, hardly recalling choosing the attire.

If you didn't get the message I left at the house - - There was another message on the mansion voice mail, waiting for him like a drought of poison. He ought to simply erase the entire cache and be done with it. He ought to do a lot of things.

He didn't listen to it until he was in the garage, sitting inside the muffled quiet of his car. He bypassed the accumulated messages until he found the one he wanted.

Um, hey. It's me. Listen, I know you're upset, but please talk to me. I know I made some bad decisions, but I swear none of them were meant to hurt you. And any question you want to ask me, I'm willing to answer. No more lies - - just call me, okay?

He'd prepared himself for it this time. Steeled his emotions. Told himself all the things he needed to hear to put things in proper perspective. And still - - his pulse sped up erratically and he could no more stop the knot of pain in his belly than he could the rotation of the planet.

It pissed him off. His thumb hovered over the button that would send that message the way of the other. An act of finality that would sever a metaphorical connection - - that would put him on the path to squashing sentimentality.

And he couldn't do it.




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