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Therefore I Am

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 3

 

Lex is alive. Lex is alive. The thought ripped through Clark's head, relentless, mind numbing. For the longest time, there'd been some part of him that didn't believe Lex was really dead - -that kept expecting the other shoe to fall - - some attack on him or the people he cared about when they were least expecting. But it had never come and months had passed and it had sunk in. And on the one hand, he'd been able to breath again, relieved, because even though there was a world of bad still out there, Lex had been the most dangerous because Lex had been personal and Lex had had a vendetta and a cause. But on the other he had grieved even though Lex damned well hadn't deserved it and now he felt the idiot because it had all been smoke and mirrors. He'd been played.

He should have known.

Lex is alive. Lex is alive. He shook his head, trying to dislodge the mantra. His world had just gotten a whole lot more complicated and he wasn't entirely sure what he ought to do first to start preparing for the trouble Lex could be relied upon to bring down upon him. There were people he needed to warn. People Lex would have good reason to hold grievance towards.

Lana. Oliver. Chloe to some degree. Tess for certain. Tess. He remembered the gunshots and the gun in Lex's hand. Maybe Tess had been the first check off Lex's list. And he'd just left him there, to his own devices. The most dangerous man Clark knew and he didn't even have an ability to his name. But what other option had he had? If Lex had murdered Tess, he'd track him down and deposit him with the authorities, but other than that - - there were lengths he wasn't willing to go. Things Oliver might condone, that Lana might even, that he never would.

Lex is alive. Lex is alive. Only he'd looked damn thin and damned pale and not entirely sporting the arrogant confidence of the Lex he remembered. Where had he been all this time? From what Clark had come to understand from the pieces of information he'd gotten from Oliver via Tess, or Chloe via Lana, Lex had been in bad shape. The type of shape a human man didn't bounce back from. But then Lex always had healed fast. Maybe his meteor ability had kicked into overdrive.

He headed towards LuthorCorp and zipped around back, the way he'd always used to enter when he used more than human means. He needed to let Lois know he wasn't coming back, but a phone call would cover that, and better that he didn't cut out on her face to face anyway. Less bitching. Besides, if there had been a murder in LuthorCorp Plaza she'd be too busy chasing the story to care whether he was dogging her heels or not.

But there were no police or ambulances outside the building. None of the confusion at all that might result after a high profile shooting.

He wasn't familiar enough with Tess Mercer to be able to single out the individual beat of her heart in of a building full of people. Not like Chloe, or Lois or mom - - or Lex. Without thinking he sought that last heartbeat, just to see if he could, had almost latched on when he shook off the impulse, and tried to zero in on Tess instead. He just needed to get up stairs and he could find her voice.

He heard it before he even got to the stairwell leading up from the parking garage. In the garage itself, over past public and employee parking in the private, secured section. He breathed a sigh of relief that no murder had been committed.

Almost he left then, thinking that he'd find Chloe first, and have her get a message to Lana. Though Chloe never admitted it to him, he knew she and Lana still spoke. God knew she hadn't exchanged so much as an email with him since she'd left - - thanks to Lex's machinations - - close to two months ago.

A snippet of conversation stopped him.

" - - Want no mistakes this time." He heard Tess say. There were the heavy breaths of multiple other people around her. He narrowed his vision and saw through concrete and steel, found her at the center of a good dozen men that could only be security by the amount of hardware strapped to their persons under dark suits.

"Under the radar is preferable, but if circumstance requires it, if he tries to go public, take any measures. And I'll want eyes on confirmation when the job is done. Failure is not an option, gentlemen. Am I understood?"

There were nods and grunts of affirmation and it hit Clark suddenly that there was a small army there about to go out on the hunt under Tess Mercer's order. That they were after Lex. Who he'd left puking up his guts in an alley not a block away.

Lex had told him LuthorCorp security was out to kill him - -Clark just hadn't realized the seriousness of the claim. How soon before they found him and carried out Tess's orders? And did Oliver have any idea his business partner/girlfriend was in the habit of sending out hit squads to do her dirty work?

He couldn't let it happen. Not again. No matter how furious he was at Lex, he couldn't stand by and let a man be killed without trying to stop it.

It took him a blink of the eye to return to the ally. Lex wasn't there, but he hadn't gotten far. Out on the sidewalk on the far end, walking in the rain with the hood of his jacket down - - rain slicking the bare skin of his head. There were too many umbrellas out, too many people with their faces directed down, away from the weather for anyone to much notice the familiar face of a man supposedly dead.

Clark walked up behind him. Matched his gait and it took a moment for Lex to acknowledge his presence. He didn't so much as blink in surprise, just gave Clark a look, then focused his attention back to the sidewalk ahead of him.

Clark didn't know what to say. What did you say to the man that had tried to destroy you, to ruin everything good in your life - - had succeeded for the most part - - to break the ice?

"Tess is sending men out after you. I thought you might want to know."

Lex shrugged, barely perceptible movement in the bulky jacket. He didn't think he'd ever seen Lex in clothes like the ones he was wearing now. Clark wondered where he'd gotten them. The shirt under the jacket looked like it had a faded Gotham Ranger's logo on it. It was starting to soak through a little, from the rain, clinging transparent in places, to the skin beneath.

"To kill you," Clark clarified, in case Lex had forgotten. "I'm guessing she's holding a grudge."

"Women do that." There was something in Lex's eyes that wasn't all there. Something shell-shocked and distant, as if most of his conscious thought were directed inward. Whatever was wrong, he wasn't in a frame of mind to properly protect himself against the force Tess had set after him.

Clark let out an agitated breath, because Lex had stopped deserving his concern a long time ago and he had no idea why he felt obligated to offer it. Had no idea why he couldn't, after everything that Lex had done to him and to the people he loved, just turn his back and walk away. It wasn't like Lex hadn't brought this upon himself after all.

"Where are you going?"

Clark had begun to think Lex was ignoring the question, when he shook his head and admitted. "I don't know."

Fantastic. Clark narrowed his eyes as a big black SUV turned the corner up ahead, driving slowly as if it were trolling. A look through the metal and darkened glass confirmed it was. LuthorCorp goons. He swerved of a sudden, crowding Lex into the doorway of a boutique, shielding him from easy view of the passing vehicle. Lex didn't protest, just stood there, close enough for Clark to feel the faint trembling. It was cold out, but it wasn't that cold. Reaction maybe, from the close call in LuthorCorp Plaza. But then, Lex ought to be pretty damned used to close calls by now.

Damnit. Clark took a breath, waiting until the SUV passed the stoplight a block down, then caught Lex's elbow and got him moving in the other direction.

"C'mon. I've got a place in town."

And he did. Sublet from Lois, after she'd signed a lease and then jumped at the chance to room with a girl from accounting in an uptown Metropolis apartment with a city view and a doorman.

He didn't stay there always, not entirely ready to abandon the farm, though the fields they'd leased to the Ross's and most of the livestock had been sold to other neighbors. But it gave him an excuse to show up early and not have to explain getting up before the crack of dawn to make the three-hour drive.

He had clothes there, and gradually things from home were migrating in, but mostly it was furnished with Lois' old stuff, since her new place came fully furnished.

He hailed a cab, because walking twenty city blocks in the rain with Lex Luthor was a prolonged agony he wasn't ready to shoulder and he wasn't prepared to make the trip any way other than normal. He'd already shown Lex enough of his powers first hand today. He didn't need more fuel for the fire.

He was on the third floor of an entirely unremarkable building in mid-town. He pulled some rumpled bills out of his pocket for the cabbie when they stopped at the Clinton Street address and got Lex inside the building. The elevator was old, but it worked, and he stood rigidly in the center of it, trying not to think about the trouble he was inviting right into his home.

He cast a glance at Lex, who hadn't said a damned thing, not an accusation, not a question, not a 'hey, sorry I destroyed your one chance at happiness, but I was feeling psychotic.' He was just standing there, hands stuffed into his pockets, still with that inward-aimed expression in his eyes. Like Clark was barely a blip on his radar.

Almost, it was insulting.

Clark shoved the key in the lock and came close to twisting it off in his irritation. Took a breath afterward and glared at Lex, figuring it had to be some ploy. Had to be some brand new tactic to get under his skin.

"Whatever it is you're up to - - it's not going to work."

Lex stepped into the apartment, eyes moving slowly around the room. "I'm not up to anything at the moment, Clark."

Clark sniffed, relieved that Lex had taken up speech again, even if it was absolute nonsense. Because when was Lex not up to something? Never in Clark's experience.

So he stood there, with his back against the door, while Lex stalled by the little island that separated the kitchenette from the living space, simply at a loss. It wasn't like inviting him to sit down for a cup of coffee was a viable option. Though really, the way Lex looked, a cup of something warm might not be such a bad idea.

"I don't know why - -" he started, hating that the words just weren't coming to him easily - - too jammed up by old angers to find their way smoothly to his tongue. "I can't understand why I even bothered to help you. Whatever she's after you for - -you brought it on yourself."

Lex glanced back at him, eyes almost fevered blue against pale skin. Shut in pale, like he hadn't seen the sunlight for months.

"I suppose I did," he said simply and Clark wanted to stalk over and shake him, because where were the adamant denials and the excuses and the outright lies? He wanted Lex up in his face, demanding things that Lex thought he already knew the answers to, accusing Clark of ridiculous things, because then he'd have something he could sink his teeth into. Something to fight.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Where have you been? How do you get off doing what you did and just showing back up, like nobody's going to call you on it?"

Lex swallowed, the hand on the counter flexed, clenching into a fist. He turned finally and fixed Clark with the first real look - - the deep probing type that Clark had gotten used to from him - - since he'd found him running for his life in LuthorCorp plaza.

"That's a lot of loaded questions, Clark. Do you mind if I sit down and dry off while I think about the answers."

Clark took a breath, flung out an arm in reluctant invitation. Why not? He'd already dragged him home. Might as well put on that coffee while he was at it. He wasn't able to get a caffeine boost, but the smell and the flavor held their own subtle addiction for him. A soothing something to do with his hands.

He dumped the old filter with the soggy remains of this morning's brew and watched Lex shrug off his coat while he scooped in fresh ground. Instead of sitting down, Lex wondered to the window, staring out at the blank face of the neighboring building.

He wasn't just unusually pale, he was unusually thin as well. Like he'd been when Clark had first met him, fresh from the city and God knew what sort of frenetic lifestyle. There was something in his eyes reminiscent of that time as well, the sort of look a man had when he had no sure notion of his direction. Lex hadn't worn that expression in a long time. It was unnerving to see it now.

Lex leaned palms on the windowsill, standing over the old radiator, shoulder blades a little too prominent under the thin jersey material.

"So enlighten me," he said casually. "Which of these 'things' I got off doing, piss you off the most?"

Clark came close to snapping the handle off the mug he was taking down from the cupboard. He slammed it down on the counter and glared at Lex's back.

"You damn well know. What you did to Lana just to spite me - -" he trailed off, snarl of anger tangling his coherent thought for a moment.

"You mean the Dear Clark video?" Lex turned around, hip against the radiator as if he were reluctant to retreat from the warmth of the thing. "It was for her own good."

"Not that," Clark huffed, then thought better of it, because, yes, that had been a damned hurtful, damned annoying stunt as well. "How's kidnapping ever for anybody's own good?"

"I'd just been told you were a alien bent on the destruction of mankind. It seemed the prudent course of action, since she'd didn't have the sense to stay away herself."

Of course Lex would twist it and try to make rational sense of criminal behavior. "Right and without you here to make decisions for us, we'd all be walking into walls and making fools of ourselves. Free will is just damned inconvenient, isn't it?"

Lex let out a snort of laughter before he aborted it. "Sometimes, it kind of is. I was trying to protect her."

"From me. Right. So what about the kryptonite bomb? I guess that was all to protect her from me, too, right?"

"The Kryptonite bomb?" Lex canted his head, eyes subtly shifting in what Clark recognized as curiosity or puzzlement, maybe.

"Don't even start to deny it now." Clark threw out his hands and stalked halfway into the living room before stopping, because really, getting close enough to get his hands on Lex probably wasn't a good idea, when the frustration was starting to crest. Lex pretending at innocence - - at rationality when he'd been anything but before - - was making him crazy. "Why the heck are you even here in the same room with me when you were crazy-obsessed with the whole idea that I was out to destroy the world just a few months ago?"

Lex's eyes shifted around the room. Across Lois' sparse, unwanted leavings and Clark's lack of proper housekeeping, then to Clark himself, sweeping gaze from head to toe that made Clark just want to shift uncomfortably or blush. Because when was the last time Lex had looked at him like that?

"I don't know." Lex shrugged. "Maybe after seeing the way you live. The way you can't figure out how to use an iron, much less a drycleaner, I can't wrap my mind around you being that looming a threat. Rather, I'm getting this new image of - - ineffectual - - that just doesn't make me want to take up arms. "

Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. Tried to figure out what he ought to take more offense at. And then his cell rang and without even having to see the caller id, the first thing that crossed his mind was 'oh, shit. Lois', who he'd forgotten to call in his Lex-fueled distraction.

The last thing he needed in the midst of all this was Lois in a tiff. He glared at Lex and stomped into the bedroom to take the call.

"Um, hi Lois - -"He answered as soon as he was out of Lex's earshot.

"What the hell, Clark?" She cut him off, before he could start to whip up an excuse. "Since when does a five minute bathroom run turn into a damned hour?"

"Ah, it wasn't - -"

"You just left me here in a room full of business section hacks and Tess never showed. Some stooge came in and claimed she got tied up and droned on for forty-minutes about the merger and the new direction blah blah blah. It would have been a complete waste of time if something hadn't happened to have the whole building up in arms. I mean security was crawling over it like ants on honey. I haven't seen so many LuthorCorp goons stalking around since a Luthor was at the helm, so something big is up. I've been trying to get some inside information, but they're all thick as thieves here."

She took a much-needed breath and Clark took his chance and cut into her tirade. "Lois, I'm sorry I ran out on you, but something came up - - with the farm. A fire in the barn, and I had to drive home. But I'll be back soon as I see the damage and talk to the insurance man - - so, sorry. That I didn't call right away, I mean."

"You have got to be kidding me."

"No. Really."

There was a long pause on the other end. Finally she said. "Fine. Whatever. I'm going to dig around and see what I can find out here. Hope that barn fire thing works out for you. Maybe the local rag will buy a story on it."

He shut his eyes and winced as she severed the connection.

"A barn fire." Lex said from the doorway. "It's nice to know I'm not the only one you lie through your teeth to. Comforting."

Clark snapped the phone shut and glared. "You know, I didn't have to help you."

"No. I would say I'm surprised you did - - but I'm not. Those spur of the moment impulses of yours always did get you into trouble. Or someone else out of it."

Clark squared his jaw, looking for the insult.

"At least I care whether people get hurt or not."

"Aren't you the humanitarian? Well then, I should let you get to it. I'm sure you've got a busy day of lying and rescues planned."

"Go to hell."

Lex's mouth twitched in a smile, before he turned, retreating back into the living space. It occurred to Clark that maybe letting Lex wander the city unchaperoned wasn't such a good idea. The damage he was capable of setting into motion and the friends of Clark that needed heads up to defend themselves against Luthorian vengeance should he choose to unleash it were only part of the problem. There were Tess's hit squads to consider. What if some innocent bystander got caught in the line of fire? What if Lex walked out there and took a bullet to the head and Clark didn't lift a finger to stop it?

"Where are going?"

"Not your business."

Clark spat out a silent curse and zipped over, catching Lex's arm before he could shrug into his coat. "I can't let you do that."

Lex looked down at Clark's hand on his arm, then back up at Clark, irritated furrow between his brows. "Put on my jacket?"

"No. Leave. You can't be trusted."

Lex laughed. "How much damage can I do, Clark? I don't have a dollar to my name. The world thinks I'm - -" he faltered, a flash of something bitter crossing his face, before he shook it off and continued. "The world thinks Lex Luthor is dead. I have no secret stashes that haven't been pilfered, no contacts that that bitch hasn't weeded out - -so what the fuck do you think I'm capable of doing, Clark?"

"The world thought you were dead when you murdered the whole LuthorCorp board of directors, so I 'm guessing you're capable of a fair amount."

"The board? You think I - -?" Lex was the most consummate actor alive, because the look of shock on his face seemed so real Clark almost believed it. Until common sense and past experience cut in and he shook of the weakness. He reminded himself of the bits and pieces of bodies, of Oliver who'd almost been one of them, and narrowed his eyes.

Until he figured out what to do, what measures to take, he couldn't afford to leave Lex to his own devices. He needed to talk to Chloe. Even though she wasn't entirely neutral when it came to Luthor related topics, she had a saner head than Oliver. Or Lana, if he wanted to be perfectly honest with himself, if she'd even relax her current 'no contact' policy and talk to him.

"I know you did." Clark said grimly and walked Lex over to his desk, pulling the wheeled chair out and swinging Lex down into it. He yanked off his tie, planted Lex's left on the armrest and began to wrap the cloth around his wrist.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Lex tried to stop Clark tying off the knot without avail. Clark zipped off to the closet for the only two other neckties he owned - -seriously, his supply of bondage paraphernalia was severely lacking - - and was back before Lex could begin to pick at the knot.

"It's for your own good." Clark mimicked Lex's earlier kidnapping excuse, grabbing the other wrist and tying it down to the corresponding chair arm. "The prudent course of action, since you don't have the sense to stay off the street and away from the men with guns Tess has out looking for you. Or does that only work when you're the one infringing on personal rights?"

Lex gave up the fight, leaning back in the chair while Clark finished up the other wrist and considered the best way to impede mobility in a rolling chair. "So is this some repressed fantasy or a new kink, Clark?"

Clark cast him an embarrassed glare. "Right. Like tying you up would give me a thrill."

Lex lifted a brow, looked down at Clark's hands on his knees and said. "Its not a novel idea."

Clark followed the gaze, hardly having realized where his hands had drifted. Attention lingered, snared by the way thin worn denim clung to Lex's thighs. Salacious almost. Or maybe it was just Lex.

He blushed, jerking his hands away and standing. This was a terrible idea and he knew it and still - - he had to talk to someone to try and wrap his mind around what to do. If there was anything he could do other than wait and deal with trouble when it came. And he needed to keep track of Lex while he did it. He needed the city safe from Lex and Lex safe from Tess.

"I won't be gone long. Just - -just deal with it, okay?" He snatched the TV remote and clicked it on. Locked up when he left and went to find Chloe.


Chloe wasn't at Isis, or her apartment, so Clark stood outside the Talon in downtown Smallville and tried to find her the old fashioned way. Via cell-phone.

"Hey Clark, what's up?" She picked up second ring with that tone in her voice that that hinted she was multitasking.

"Where are you?"

"Driving actually. About thirty minutes from the city."

He did a little calculation in his head, which mile marker she might be near, and ran the distance. He was in no shape, patience wise to wait for her to make the trip the Metropolis to break his news. He saw her car in passing and skidded to a stop in one of the little rest stops half a mile ahead.

"Can you pull over next rest stop?"

"Can I - -? Sure. " She rarely missed more than a beat with him nowadays. And in short order her little blue Saturn pulled off the side of the interstate, crunching gravel as she rolled up next to him. She leaned over, rolling down the passenger side window and grinned.

"Need a lift?"

He was already opening the door and sliding in. She arched a brow at him, not making any move to pull back out onto the road.

"What's wrong?"

"Lex is alive." Simple and direct seemed the most painless way to break the news.

She stared at him, a strand of blonde hair loose from the tail at her neck curving across one wide green eye. He could hear the rate of her pulse increase, saw her fingers tighten a little on the wheel, but her half smile stayed fixed in place.

"Okay. I've got one for you, too. A rabbi a priest and a - -"

"Chloe. He's alive."

She swallowed, looked out her driver's side window for a moment, then back at him.

"Are you sure?"

As sure as a man could be, who'd left another tied up in his apartment. "I'm sure."

She let out a breath and there was a flash of something almost like relief in her eyes, before she started in as Devil's advocate. "Clark, that's impossible. You were there when he - - died."

"Apparently, I wasn't."

"Even if he wasn't in that van," she rolled over his denial, sounding a little freaked out, as a woman might who was on Lex Luthor's shit list. "Barring a miracle, he was a hop skip and a jump from the grave. Tess confirmed that."

"He got better, Chloe. There's nothing wrong with him - - physically. We always knew he healed fast - - I guess it just really kicked into high gear."

"Or he reconstructed the nano technology."

Clark shook his head. Lex no more had a nanite powered second skin than Chloe. Of that Clark was entirely sure. He shook his head. "He's not sporting super powers, Chloe."

"Did he come after you? God Clark, he knows about Kryptonite. He knows your weaknesses."

Clark frowned. It was an old song and dance, Chloe, Lana, every friend he had who knew about his origin, assuming for some unknown reason that he was incapable of dealing with a man with a little bit of knowledge. Incapable of dealing with Lex. The only person apparently who didn't think he was incapable of fending for himself, was Lex Luthor.

"He wasn't sporting meteor rock. He didn't contact me at all - - we just sort of bumped into each other. In fact the alien thing didn't really come up at all."

Which was an oddity, considering it had been Lex's primary obsession. He chewed his lip, trying to recall if there had been much of a mention. Other than the one little reference when Lex had been rationalizing Lana's kidnapping, it had sort of been a non-issue.

"How could it have not come up?" Chloe asked. "He's spent the better part of the last decade trying to find out your secret &endash; and after he's got it, he's got better things on his mind? Clark it's an act. You can't trust anything he says. He's like a pit bull with a bone. He's not giving up. Just because he's been quiet for months - - god, because he's been so quiet for months - - he has to have something in the works. I have to get back to Isis and start digging around."

She put her foot the gas and the car lurched back out onto the road. An oncoming jeep swerved into the next lane to avoid her, horn blaring. Clark put a hand on the dash, reflex action even if he were the invulnerable one.

"Making it back alive would be a good start," he said dryly, after he'd caught his breath. "You need to get in contact with Lana and let her know."

"And Oliver and Tess," Chloe said grimly, hands tight on the wheel. "With the takeover, they'll be high on his hit list."

"Tess already knows."

She swung a quick glance his way, before turning attention back to traffic.

"She's got men out after him, Chloe. With orders to kill."

She opened her mouth. Shut it. Biting back whatever it was she'd been about to say. She looked torn, and he supposed it was the shock of finding out that for these last few months they'd all been living under the guise of false security. He understood the feeling all too well.

"Oliver's in Europe," Chloe finally said. "But I'll bet you money he's already heard it from Tess. I'll give him a call anyway."

She didn't sound happy about it. Chloe and Oliver had been tiptoeing around each other since - - well, since Lex had supposedly died. Clearly tense in each other's company. There had been a lot of things going on during that time Clark still didn't completely understand - - attention so snarled up with Lana that everything else had run a dull second place. Chloe never had bothered to elaborate and honestly he hadn't bothered to ask - -to really ask - -too wrapped up in his own anger/misery/resentment to make the effort.

"Do you know where he is now?" She snapped his attention right back to her with that question. He didn't want to lie. He trusted Chloe with his life and yet - - when it came to Lex, he wasn't sure she trusted him. And he wasn't entirely certain - - no, he was damned certain - - that he didn't want her telling Oliver, who might in turn tell Tess, exactly where Lex was. No matter what Chloe thought about some master plan in play - - Clark felt in his gut that Lex wasn't up to dealing with both Tess and Oliver on the warpath. It was insanity on his part, because he'd been burned too many times in the past not to suspect Lex of ulterior motive. He wasn't naïve enough not to expect it, not to be on the watch for attack, but right now he wasn't prepared to hand off dealing with Lex to any one else. Lex was his responsibility - - had always been his responsibility - - even though everyone else seemed to think otherwise.

"No," he said, decision made. "But I could probably track him down if I needed to."

 

 

 

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