Lex was just a little drunk. Maybe more than just a little. But even before, when his tolerances for alcohol had been considerably higher, he’d had a soft head for sake.
And the damned waitresses, in their little thigh length silk kimonos keep refilling the cup. Or Wade did, in between fondling the servers like they were ensconced within an exotic whorehouse instead of a restaurant of some repute. But the waitresses didn’t seem to mind any more than the beaming management had when they’d breezed in, Emerson Wade and his nineteen-year old ‘girlfriend’ and his trio of bodyguards and Lex Luthor. And though Lex might have been the more recognizable face – – and God, he wasn’t sure he wanted this sort of recognition and felt distinctly annoyed at his original self for dying and setting him up to be in a position to have to endure it – – Wade gathered attention to him like a billionaire with an open wallet and a penchant for spreading the wealth.
Lex hadn’t planned on this outing. He’d figured downstairs for drinks in one of the Regency’s bars either before or after they talked a little business. But Wade would have nothing of that, and Wade was feeling expansive, having just divorced wife number four, and Wade had a new girlfriend – – which Lex suspected was the pay by the hour sort, because Emerson Wade a reputation for liking ladies of the evening – – and Wade insisted on celebrating Lex’s return from the dead in style while they talked the possibilities of a WadeTech, LexCorp allegiance. Once Lex regained control of LexCorp, that was, which he assured Wade that he would, when the courts ruled to break the trust’s hold on his assets.
“Sounds like a damned good idea,” Wade had agreed. “Let’s talk about it over drinks.”
Which had turned into a procession out the Regency’s front doors, because Wade had a favorite spot and the stuffy environs of the Regency wouldn’t do. There was nothing for it when you were in the lamentable position of badly needing whatever leverage, financial or otherwise you could get, but to go with the flow.
The press outside surged, but Wade’s security was good, and his driver almost flattened a few stray paparazzi as he brought the stretch hummer up to the Regency entrance. All of which ended them up at Kurato, in a private room, with Wade’s bodyguards on the other side of the low table stuffing hibachi cooked steak into their mouths, and Wade’s girlfriend leaning on the old man, her hand firmly planted on his thigh, while Wade went on about that ‘smarmy blonde prick Oliver Queen’, who’d swooped in at a bad time and acquired one of Wade’s pet projects. Some tech company on the outskirts of Star City that had been one of Wade’s first non-oil related projects. It had had sentimental value.
“From what I hear, the chances of you getting LuthorCorp back are slim to none?” The man, even years out of the oil fields still had that Texas twang in his speech.
“I’m not trying to get it back.” He was either five or six cups of sake in, and his head was feeling just a little disconnected from his body. But he could function. If Wade would just stop looking at him expectantly every time the old man threw back a cup of the stuff waiting for Lex to do the same like they were in a shots contest.
“I’m going to take it down and drag Queen Industries with it.”
Wade laughed. “That’s a damned ambitious plan, boy, with what you got to work with. LexCorp stock is down to single digits.”
Lex smiled tightly, appreciating the ‘boy’ less than Wade pointing out the dismal state of his affairs. “It won’t be for long, once I have control of it back.”
Wade tossed down another cup of sake and one of the waitresses hovering inside the rice paper sliding doors rushed over to refill it. She hesitated, the little sake bottle poised, as Wade looked at Lex, waiting for him to mirror the move.
Fucking old reprobate.
Lex tossed back his own sake and the waitress moved to gracefully refill the cup.
“I don’t doubt it,” Wade said after, leering up at the waitress as she retreated. “You tripled LuthorCorp’s net worth after you took over from your daddy. You think I’d be wasting my time if I didn’t think you had it in you to smack that little cocksucker down.”
“So I can count on your support?”
Wade tossed another sake down and leaned in to fondle his escort. “You can count on me being damned interested. I’d like to see Queen Industries take a lickin’, but I don’t go blind into anything.”
“I wouldn’t respect a man who did.”
Which led to another few hours worth of conversation and drinking, by the end of which, Wade left a tip for the entire establishment that impressed even Lex – – but by that point, he’d become pretty easily impressed. The fact that the door slid open on tracks instead of opening was a fascinating thing.
He had the presence of mind to decline Wade’s suggestion that they hit Pentar drive with its array of gentleman’s clubs and or strip joints – – Wade had a brand new bottle of Viagra that he was dying to delve into – – and asked to be taken back to the Regency.
It was late enough that most of the press camped outside had left, only a diligent few remaining. Wade’s security got him past them fast enough that he didn’t have time to consider answering the few questions they tossed his way.
They left him at the elevator and the stilted quiet of the Regency lobby, and it took him a few moments to figure out that the doors weren’t going to open unless he pressed the up button.
He did, and they did and he got on only weaving a little – – and leaned against the wall after he’d pushed his floor, silently laughing. The last time he’d been this drunk – – well, was pretty much the first time he’d been drunk, sophomore year at Excelsior with some of the finest weed money could buy, a bottle of fine scotch and a near case of alcohol poisoning. It had been a bad semester. Or a good one. He’d come into himself that year. Left the victim behind and started exploring how good life could be when you stopped letting the fear of what other people thought rule you. God, he’d pissed of his dad a lot that year. And the next few, until he’d gotten banished to the shit factory in Smallville.
He laughed at that, because if Lionel had only known the events he’d set in motion he’d have kept Lex under his thumb in Metropolis and weathered the bad press. Which would have been truly lamentable – – because no Clark. And Clark at fifteen had been truly something to behold. Clark at any age had made Lex want to do things that would inevitably lead him into trouble, for so very many reasons. Clark at twenty-two, with those arms and his big hands and that growl he got low in his throat when he was focused on fucking – – that Clark made Lex fray at the edges and dissolve.
The elevator pinged and he started at the sound, blinked at the doors sliding smoothly open and took a moment to check to make sure it was actually his floor.
It was. He got off, made his way down the hall, one hand trailing the wall for balance and tried to get the door to his suite open with his keycard. It didn’t seem to want to work. He stood there, swiping it, furrowing his brows at the locks inability to perform a simple task.
After about the fourth or fifth try, the door opened rather abruptly from the inside, and he looked up to find Clark, with a less than pleased expression on his face.
Lex held up the card and complained. “It’s defective.”
Clark’s brows drew down. He plucked the card out of Lex’s fingers and turned it around. “You were using it backwards. You said you weren’t going out.”
Lex stared at the card skeptically. Then back up at Clark, who had on that same damned red windbreaker that he’d always used to wear, and a blue t-shirt that had seen better days, the only redeeming factor of which, was the fact that it had gotten rather thin and clung in interesting ways to the contours of Clark’s chest. He put a hand out, splaying his fingers across those intriguing pectorals, and felt Clark’s nipple under the thin fabric pebble under his thumb.
Clark took a breath, took hold of his arm and pulled him into the suite.
“God, Lex. How drunk are you?”
That was an amusing question. Hilarious really. He dropped his head and laughed, because was there a degree really, by which to quantify? He supposed if someone forced a breathalyzer on him, he might blow a high score, but other than that – – pretty damned, seemed an accurate term.
“Sake,” he explained. “Kicks my ass.”
He leaned in against Clark, sliding a hand under his shirt, still focused on that hard little nipple.
“You’re lucky he had bodyguards,” Clark said, catching him by the shoulders and stalling his progress.
Lex looked up, calculating. It was a slower process than usual, but eventually he came to a conclusion. “You followed me?”
“No. I found you after I got back an you weren’t here,” Clark clarified, then added disapprovingly. “That old man could be that girl’s granddad. It’s just wrong.”
Clark and his high moral standards were adorable. Clark’s mouth when he was pouting was pornographic. Lex recalled how very nice it looked stretched around his cock.
“Girl’s got to make a living,” It was frustrating trying to reach Clark when Clark’s hands were firmly keeping him away. “And from what I saw, Wade’s a big tipper. She might get a college education out of this if she plays her cards right.”
Clark stared at him aghast. “You’re saying she was a prostitute? But – – she was so young.”
“I don’t think she wants saving, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Lex caught his balance as Clark abruptly took his hands away to take a few annoyed paces across the floor. “And how long were you tailing me? Because that could be con – – construed as infringing on my personal privacy.”
Clark gave him a dubious look, which Lex ignored, more interested in figuring out if the floor were dipping under him or if he were loosing his hold on gravity. Clark stomped back over, planted his hands firmly on his shoulders and kept him grounded.
“I kept an eye out now and then. I wasn’t glued there, listening in on your conversation or anything?” Clark looked sulky, pissed off maybe that he’d had to go searching. And he’d had to go searching because he’d been worried. And worried Clark was annoyed Clark. Which was touching and made Lex feel warm and satisfied.
“That’s okay. I’d do the same thing for you,” he promised and smiled to let Clark know he wasn’t holding grudges. Clark frowned and loosened his hold, which let Lex get close enough to lean in again. He pressed his face into Clark’s neck inhaling the scent of him. “God, I love the way you smell.”
The taste wasn’t bad either, and he licked a swath across Clark’s jugular. Which was warm and throbbed in beat with his heart and solid enough to want to bite down on. So he did, wrapping an arm around Clark’s neck and sliding the other one up under his shirt. He pressed his hips up close, grinding, and it didn’t seem to matter how drunk he was, this body had no problem getting hard – – but then he’d been pretty much unstoppable at twenty, so it stood to reason.
Clark sighed, standing there and enduring it for a moment, like he was a martyr under siege, before simply lifting Lex off his feet and starting them in the direction of the bedroom. A fantastic idea if Lex had ever seen one. Though it might have been better if Clark hadn’t tossed him unceremoniously onto the end of the bed, because honestly, Lex’s equilibrium wasn’t up to drastic changes in orientation.
He lay there, head spinning, while Clark bent down and pulled off his shoes. A move in the right direction, at least. Better as he worked his way up to the rest of Lex’s clothing, handling him with careless ease, the pads of his fingers making Lex’s skin tingle when they ghosted over, leaving him in nothing but clingy, soft Hugo Boss boxers.
Clark leaned over, a knee between Lex’s thighs, and looked down disapprovingly. “It’s like I’m dealing with someone with no sense of self-preservation at all,” Clark complained. “Did not you get some pretty serious threats leveled at you this morning?”
Lex tried to pull Clark down by the collar but Clark wasn’t budging, so he slipped his hands up into his hair, curling strands around his fingers. “Threats of countersuits and exposure. If she wants to send a team of attorneys after me, I can take ’em.”
He pulled himself up a little, using Clark’s hair as leverage and Clark didn’t seem to mind.
“See, I got a whole different sort of vibe from her,” Clark caught one of his wrists and gently disengaged it from his hair. “I got the ‘she’d rather have you in a dark room somewhere taking you to pieces’ vibe.”
Lex transferred the hand Clark had loosened from his hair to around his neck, which gave him better access to the hinge of Clark’s jaw. Clark shuddered a little as Lex sucked at the hollow under his ear but didn’t let it keep him from his lecture. “And I’d rather you not give her an easy opportunity to do that. It was a couple of hours before I got back here and realized you were gone, you know.”
Clark shuddered again and this time Lex hadn’t done anything to provoke it. Like he was thinking about all the things that might have happened, worse case scenario. Clark always had been a glass half empty sort of guy.
Lex flicked his tongue into the shell of Clark’s ear, and whispered. “And I love you, too. Now would you stop making me do all the work and get down here and fuck me?”
He felt Clark tense, shoulders going rigid under his arm. Clark unwound his arm, pushing him down so he could look at him, wide eyed.
“Lex – -?”
Which was a damned annoying time for Clark’s prudishness to rear its unwanted head. It wasn’t as if Lex were asking for that much.
“Oh, come on,” he lifted his knee and rubbed it against Clark’s hip. “I’ve been thinking about you all night.”
Which was a lie, because he’d mostly been thinking about how, with the proper backing, he was going to screw Oliver Queen. Whole different context of screwing, of course.
He reached down and rubbed himself through the boxers and Clark’s eyes shifted down to track that movement despite himself. Clark obviously had a thing for masturbatory voyeurism, because it never failed to snag him.
“You’re wasted,” Clark finally said, hoarsely. “I don’t want to take advantage.’
Which was a completely ludicrous statement. Even wasted he could out argue that one. “We’ve been fucking for two days straight. How is it even possible to take advantage after that?”
Clark kept staring, eyes flicking over his face like he was trying to decipher some foreign language imprinted on Lex’s skin.
“Please . . .”
Big hands captured his face and Clark leaned down and kissed him. Lex opened his mouth to deepen it, but Clark kept it slow and languid, sweet. The sort of kiss you could close your eyes and melt into, while it made warm jelly of your limbs.
The hands left his face, slid over his shoulders and down to his hands, fingers twining with his, pinning his arms above his head. He moaned into Clark’s mouth, Clark’s weight this heady, solid thing pressing him down into the mattress, Clark’s hands gentle, implacable restraint, keeping his arms immobile. He shuddered, kept shuddering, so hard between his belly and Clark’s he thought he’d die.
Clark liked watching. Lex liked power. Powerful cars. Powerful toys. Powerful reach. Powerful lover who could bend steel bars and leap thirty stories and rip the hoods off drowning cars. Who could take his power away from him like it was nothing, and turn him inside out and make him beg.
“Please, please, please . . .” he mouthed the words against Clark’s mouth, and maybe it was the sake that made him not care that he was shedding pride. Maybe he just needed Clark that badly.
Clark rose, looking down at him with big liquid eyes and kiss flushed lips. Then he started pulling off clothing, tossing off shirt and kicking pants in the other direction. Naked then and so fucking beautiful, so fucking perfect that it hurt to look at him sometimes. Not this time.
Clark shifted them both up the bed, so their legs weren’t hanging off the end, got what was left of the lube, slicked himself up, and he was livid and straining and already leaking pre-come from the glistening tip peeking past his foreskin.
Intoxicating sight. Lex sucked in a breath and tried to shed himself of the boxers, but he’d lost his grasp on grace at some point during the night, and Clark had to help him, which Clark did with the sound of tearing cloth. Lex didn’t care. He just wanted Clark inside and the hell with his wardrobe.
Clark was being nice, though, settling over him and trying to work a hand down to loosen him up. Lex caught his wrist, as relaxed as it was possible for a body to relax with as much alcohol as he had in his system. And the burn wouldn’t last for long.
Clark hesitated a fraction of a beat, before swallowing, hooking an elbow under Lex’s knee and bending it back. He pressed in, slick and hot and Lex shut his eyes and hummed.
Clark slammed into him and every long stroke, tip to balls, tip to balls, drove him over an edge and sucked him back until he was mindless and gibbering, screaming out God knew what, coming hard and sloppy on his stomach without ever even touching himself.
Clark leaned down, balls tight and hot against Lex’s ass, cock twitching and jerking inside him as he came on the heels of Lex’s orgasm.
And against his ear was a whispered breath of words, ragged with emotion. “I love you. I love you, too.”
Almost he lost them, in the rush of blood in his ears, the in dizzying slide down the other side of climax. And it seemed to him that he ought to take note, to tack those words down someplace where he wouldn’t forget, but the world was spinning lethargically and the only ballast he had was Clark and even he seemed to be slipping away. But the darkness was warm and it smelled like Clark, so Lex let himself drift into it.
Clark lay for a long time, Lex a loose limbed, warm weight in his arms. His heart was still beating a little fast – – long after the he’d spent his passion, long after Lex had passed out – – fed by this warm sort of exhilaration that he couldn’t seem to shake.
He knew what it was; he’d been in love before, after all. Just with Lana it had been different. He’d always known he’d loved her, from the very first moment he’d laid eyes upon her – – the little girl across the field, with her big sad eyes and her penchant for playing dolls on her aunt Nell’s front porch. There’d never been any question about falling in love with her – – he’d just decided it was to be.
It had never rushed up on him and slapped him upside the head and made him go – -oh, yeah, that’s what all the fuss is about – – I love him. And brought with it this utter, ecstatic amazement at the realization.
And he did. Love Lex. And maybe even Lex hadn’t meant what he’d said, drunk as he’d been when he’d uttered the words, maybe Lex hadn’t meant it that way when he’d said it in the Arctic, when the world had been coming down around them – – but Clark had. Every syllable. It made sense of what he’d been struggling with these last days – – with the lust that wouldn’t let him out of its grip, with wanting Lex so bad it trumped all his good sense. It made him feel less the hypocrite, because he’d always believed that sex wasn’t something casually engaged in without deeper feelings to back it up.
God knew he’d never had a deficit of deep feelings for Lex. Lex had, over the years made him feel all sorts of things and none of them had been particularly casual. Affection, protectiveness, hate, frustration, hurt, fear, grief – – love – – a whole range of emotion – – just not the sort of love that made him want to stake a claim, to kiss him until he melted and protect him with a vengeance from every agency out there that wished him harm.
Or if it had been there, lurking under the surface, he’d been too stupid to recognize it, pin it down and force the truth out of it. Lois seemed to think there’d been something and Lois had instincts that Clark had learned not to doubt.
He carefully slipped his arm out from under Lex, but Lex didn’t stir, even when Clark rolled out of bed and padded to the bathroom and came back with a warm wet cloth to clean up the after sex stickiness.
He settled down again after, arranged Lex comfortably against him, and turned it over again in his head. He loved Lex. He loved Lex Luthor. Which was a confusing sentiment, because there were versions of Lex – -not even taking into account the clone thing – – that were distinctly separate in his head. The one that had been making his life hell for the last few years, he couldn’t really connect warm fuzzy feelings to, what with the killings and the crazy plots. The Lex/Lana marriage era Lex had made him crazy, just seeing red half the time he was so mad with jealousy. And God knew maybe even some of the jealousy had been because of Lex instead of Lana, but Clark damn sure hadn’t been feeling affection towards him because of it. Before that – – that’s when things started getting murky. When Lex would alternatingly piss him off and then make him ache with regret because of it. Because he hadn’t wanted Lex to make those choices he’d made, because he’d wanted Lex to be so much stronger than Lex had ended up being; to ignore the temptation of power and knowledge that it just hadn’t been in Lex to ignore.
But maybe even, given the choice between blithe ignorance and unlocking the secrets Lex had claimed were integral to his very existence – – no one human could have passed up the chances. There were, Clark had come to learn the hard way, very few saints in the world. And curiosity wasn’t a crime, even though Clark had used to view it that way, back when he’d been very young and very naïve. He’d condemned Lex a lot for it, when it hadn’t been the curiosity that had been the problem, so much as the lengths Lex went to appease it.
But early Lex – – young and unscathed by the things Smallville could do to a man under long exposure – – who asked his questions and pursued his curiosities by more mundane means – – who honestly tried to do the right thing and put himself and his reputation on the line to make a difference in a small town struggling to keep pace with the world – – that Lex maybe Clark had loved. And just hadn’t known what to make of it or how to recognize it fully for what it was.
There were a lot of Lex’s there, a lot of incarnations, and most of them were rolled up in this one in his arms, who lacked the psychosis, but not the curiosity, the penchant for plotting, or the Luthor need to fuck over his enemies. But as long as he didn’t start doing it with guns or bombs or hitmen, Clark was okay with that. Most of Lex’s enemies could take care for themselves.
Of course, most of Lex’s enemies were friends of Clark’s. Which was a problem, and one he needed to address once things settled down – – even if he had to strong arm both sides of the issue into some sort of cold war cease of hostilities.
He rubbed his cheek across the top of Lex’s head. Smiled in the darkness, until it turned into an idiotic grin. But he couldn’t help himself. Because really, all that backward thinking of his boiled down to one point. He’d loved Lex an awful long time, in an awful lot of ways, and just had been too damned obtuse to realize it.
He didn’t get much sleep that night, but then, he didn’t really need a lot of it. He dozed off around dawn, got a few hours in, before his internal clock had him up around seven. He eased out from under Lex, who had an arm and a leg draped over him, his face pressed into Clark’s neck and was still dead to the world. After a quick shower, he dressed and headed out for a breakfast biscuit and a copy of the morning edition.
Lex was denoted to below the fold today, pushed aside by the ever-evolving news cycle. He’d read pretty much everything but the classifieds when Lex’s cell rang. He hesitated answering it, but then, Lex hadn’t given that number out to just anybody, and it might be important, so he picked up.
It was Lex’s lawyer, who declined to leave a message, and assured Clark just a little snidely, that he’d call back at a more convenient hour – – sometime after noon – – since Lex apparently didn’t keep honest hours. Clark got the feeling there wasn’t a great deal of affection between Lex and his attorney, but he did sort of grin a little at the man’s snark.
He got a call himself, a little after that, from Lois, whose snark he could have done without when she gleefully asked if he’d seen today’s Inquisitor.
“No,” he answered warily, dread growing in his gut.
“Oh, then let me give you a synopsis,” she said with the rustling of paper over the line. “Lex Luthor’s new boyfriend? Not a particularly clever headline, but it gets the point across. There’s a nice little picture of you two in the park, and a couple of more at the Regency. The dinner one that somebody shot with a cell, is my favorite. It’s so romantic. It goes on to point out that you’ve been pretty much stuck like glue to him since his comeback, and that somebody saw the two of you shopping – – shopping!! – – on Ridgley drive, and they’re speculating that his break up with Lana turned him off women. Hee. You, they’re assuming, are just flat out gay. C’mon, Clark. You went shopping with him?”
“Lois,” he ground his teeth and tried not to snap. She hadn’t written the article. He shut his eyes and continued. “Thanks for the heads up.”
“Hey, I warned you. Lex Luthor’s like crack for the paparazzi.”
He got another call, a little later from Chloe, who sounded as if she were trying to tread very carefully around him, but offered an olive branch via an invitation to get together over coffee and talk about things. If she’d seen the Inquisitor article, she failed to mention it.
He promised to make it soon. Chloe on his side would be a good thing. He missed having her input and her calm head.
Around ten he checked to make sure Lex was still alive and kicking, and brought with him a cup of fresh brewed hotel blend coffee. The scent alone wasn’t quite enough to stir Lex, so Clark gave him a shake, until one bleary blue eye squinted up at him.
“Good morning,” Clark beamed down. “How’s the head?”
The look turned vaguely sulfurous. Lex muttered something incoherently indecent and pulled a pillow over his head, shutting out Clark and the light coming in from the curtains Clark had drawn.
Around noon, Clark succumbed to the need for lunch. He went out, avoiding all his regular spots, just in case someone who knew him had seen the Inquisitor, which he very pointedly did not pick up a copy of. After he had returned, Lex roused of his own accord.
He stuck his head out the bedroom door while Clark was sprawled on the couch, pecking at his laptop. Clark looked up, smiled and offered one of his dad’s tried and true hangover cures if Lex wanted.
“I’m absolutely certain I can do without,” Lex refused dryly, with the sort of soft, level tone a man might use who had a pounding head, before he retreated back into the bedroom and eventually the sound of the shower.
Lex reappeared a little later, in one of the new pullovers, a pair of slacks – – not, Clark thought, one of the hand tailored ones – – and eased himself down on the end of the couch opposite Clark.
“Was there coffee earlier?” Lex asked carefully.
“Sure. You want the old stuff, or for me to brew up a fresh batch?”
Lex considered. “Fresh.”
“No problem.” Clark put his laptop on the coffee table and headed into the kitchenette to start a new pot. He doctored it with a spoonful of sugar and brought it back in to Lex, who was sitting there in the corner of the couch, with his eyes closed and one knee drawn up, trying, Clark assumed, to chase away the pounding in his head.
He settled down on his end of the couch and watched Lex nurse his coffee, wondering how much Lex recalled of last night. He wasn’t quite prepared to bring it up on his own. But there were other things of depressing interest to report.
“So, we made the Inquisitor.”
Lex shrugged, sipping slowly. “To be expected. ”
“I haven’t read the article, but from what Lois said, it could have been worse. They just had some pictures of us out, and speculation. They accused Lana of turning you off women.”
Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and laughed. “Ah, that’s priceless. ”
Clark frowned. “It’s mean.” Then he started thinking, and had to ask. “She didn’t, did she?”
Lex rolled his eyes behind the hand. “No, Clark. I assure you, I was having deviant thoughts about you long before she was a blip on my radar.”
“Oh, well, that’s comforting,” Clark said dryly. Then, since he’d spent a lot of time thinking about it already. “How deviant? And when?”
Lex lifted a brow, took another sip of coffee and took his time answering. “Let’s just say, I still entertain the occasional dirty little fantasy about you tied to that cross.”
Clark let a slow smile spread across his face. “Yeah?”
Lex gave him a ‘what can you do’ sort of shrug.
“Want to know a secret?”
Lex gave him a wry look. “Those five words from you also used to figure prominently in my fantasy scenarios.”
Clark laughed, and restrained the urge to scoot over next to Lex. “When I was a kid, and I used to – -” He was still too much Martha Kent’s son to come out and say the words, so he made a circle of his fingers and mimed jacking off.
“Masturbate?” Lex filled in dryly.
“Yeah. And I’d always start out thinking about Lana or boobs, or whatever – – you know the things you’re supposed to think about, but sometimes, you’d pop into my head and it would just freak me out.”
“And would you come?”
“Oh, yes. I think those were the best times. The freak out generally occurred after. And I’d think about Lana twice as hard later, to – – you know – – purge the unclean images.”
Lex’s lips twitched with a smirk. “God, that explains so many things.”
Before Clark could ask what things, Lex’s phone rang. Lex winced a little at the sound, but reached for it anyway.
It was the lawyer, and aching head or not, Lex took it, rising as he did and wandering over to the kitchen to refill his coffee.
It was a template for the rest of the day. Lex fielding calls and making connections. Clark got him to eat something around dinner, and got him to do more interesting stuff a little after that, after which Lex returned back to lobbying supporters and plotting out the overthrow of rival corporations.
The next few days were more of the same. Lex met with people, in and out of the hotel and no one made any attempts on his life. The sex was plentiful and mutually initiated. There was a press presence outside, but the lack of interesting developments – – on any front – – drained their enthusiasm and their numbers. Lois came by and bullied Clark into letting her into the suite, where she tried to bully Lex into granting that sit down video interview, but Lex didn’t bully so well and he refused it. So she sulked and drank the hotel booze and looked like she was planning on hanging around until Lex did promise to give her something once he got that all important court date and he suggested she look into why said date was being held up.
“You’re saying the courts are in LuthorCorp’s pocket?” She asked, and he just raised a brow, daring her to doubt it.
She didn’t. Lois was suspicious by nature.
“They were in yours, so you’d know, right?”
“I had my connections,” he gave her that much and she got that look in her eye that boded ill for someone. Clark didn’t think it was Lex at the moment.
She grabbed his arm and pulled him along with her as she was leaving.
“Walk me out, Smallville.”
She stopped in the lobby, close enough to the doors that a few interested press who recognized Clark perked up and looked in to see what he was about.
“So you want to quash that rumor about you and him?” She asked slyly.
He shrugged, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do so far as the whole ‘coming out’ thing went. One more huge secret sat sort of wrong with him, but he damned sure didn’t need the gossip rags breaking the news. He wasn’t sure what Lex thought of the matter – – because he’d taken it all pretty casually, so far.
“It would be nice – -” Was as far as he got before she rose up on tippy toes and kissed him. A full on, arms around his neck, tongue in his mouth, wet messy kiss. She kept it up long enough that he thought he saw the flash of a few camera’s going off – – but he wasn’t sure – -then stepped back, disengaged his hand from her back and smiled up smugly.
“Rumor quashed. I’ll stomp on it a little more on my way out.” She patted him on the chest, and sashayed towards the revolving doors. She paused as someone tossed a query at her and confirmed that yes, she and Clark had been dating off and on for months now. She didn’t phrase it so politely, suggesting that certain hacks working for certain rags ought to get their facts straight before going to press.
As she was hailing a taxi, a car pulled up with one of Lex’s lawyers. The woman with the unforgiving eyes. She gave Clark a narrow look at the elevators, and the ride up was all uncomfortable silence.
In the suite, she conferred a little with Lex, before handing over an envelope that looked like it had more than papers stuffed in it. He pulled out the papers, flipped through them idly, before pulling out a little silver cylinder no bigger than an asthma inhaler and slipping it into his pocket.
“If you have any questions, you can reach him at that number.” The lawyer tapped a blunt nail on a telephone number on the outside of the envelope. Lex nodded, and sliding the papers back inside.
“So, have we gotten that liquidation injunction yet?”
“It went though this morning.” She said. “At this point they can’t move, sell or otherwise apportion any LexCorp holding.”
“Excellent. Clark, we’re going to be a while, if you had something else to do?”
Clark knew a dismissal when he heard one, even if it was delivered with a smile and pleasant tone of voice. Which was fine, since all the legal talk bored him.
So he headed out the mundane way, through the suite doors, but headed for the stairwell instead of the elevator, wanting to avoid the press outside.
He headed over to the Worthington to check up with the tenants fighting the city’s effort to rezone. Then headed further east, into Suicide Slums when he heard the wail of an alarm and gunshots.
Two kids were trying to rob a pawnshop, but the proprietor had a shotgun and was protesting the effort. Clark deprived all parties of their firearms, and left the two teenagers dazed and secured by a length of electrical cord before the shop owner had stopped gaping in shock at his empty hands.
He went by Isis, to see if Chloe had the time to have that cup of coffee, but Lana was there – – he checked before he set foot inside the building – – and it might have been cowardly, but he wasn’t up for another confrontation with her.
With that time killing option ruled out, there was nothing to do but head back to his apartment and do laundry. He was running short of clean clothing and laundry time had been notoriously shy, what with Lex-oriented issues eating up his time. So, he piled the clothes, he’d been tossing on the bed or the floor around the bed each time he’d come home to change, into a basket and headed with it and his jug of detergent down to the basement laundry room. He fed the machine and stood there for a while, flipping through a magazine someone had left lying on the folding table.
When the wash cycle ended, he transferred the clothes to the drier and headed back upstairs. It was getting dark by then, and the shadows were long inside the apartment when he entered. The last thing he was expecting was for one of them to move.
Surprise was the only thing that slowed him down enough that the shot almost hit him when the dark figure against the wall fired. It was only reflex that made him shift his shoulder out of the way of the projectile, not any particular concern for what it might do if it actually hit him.
But as it passed him by, he felt a vague little curl of sickness, before it thunked into the wall behind him. He glanced back at it in surprise, a sleek little dart, not a bullet, that had embedded itself into the plaster. He glanced back around at the muffled pop of the gun being fired again. Different angle, different intruder that was in the shadows of the hall leading from his bedroom. He made an effort to avoid this one, just blurring into motion and swerving around the onrushing dart, seeing the faint green glow of liquid kryptonite as he passed it, and knocking the second masked man’s head against the wall. He was on the first one before the man could properly register that Clark had left his line of fire, a light tap to the temple taking him down. The gun, a dull black, high tech looking affair radiated ripples of poison.
He kicked it away from the man’s out flung hand in disgust. Stared at the other gun with the dawning realization that somebody that knew his weaknesses had sent these men here after him. That one of those darts in his flesh and he’d have been down. Helpless to protect himself, Lex or anyone else. If one of his ‘friends’ had done this – – or even his uneasy acquaintances – – they were taking the game to a whole new level.
And if they’d gone after him – – Lex.
Almost, he was out of the apartment as soon as the fear crossed his mind, but something caught his eye and made him pause. The drawers of his desk flung open, the contents scattered across the floor. Every drawer in the room tossed, the same in the bedroom. It occurred to him, that they hadn’t been here to take him out – – they’d been here looking for something.
He narrowed his eyes, using his enhanced vision to check them over and see if they’d found it. And sure enough, in a pocket on the outside of the first man’s pants, was the crystal.
He pulled it out, sat on his heels staring at it, baffled as to why anyone would go to the trouble for the inert thing. But Tess had had an interest. A very keen interest so maybe she knew something he didn’t. And inert or not, Lex had been right when he’d pointed out that an alien artifact was an alien artifact. Besides, Clark had been burned by Kryptonian relics in the past. Tess Mercer didn’t need to get her hands on this one, and it was very likely Tess who’d sent these men. Tess also very likely knew his weakness, having an abridged version of Lex’s notes.
He melted the guns into slags of metal, which did nothing to improve the state of his already damaged floors. He’d figure out how to deal with the pair of darts in his walls later. The two guys, he hauled up, one over each shoulder and made a quick trip to LuthorCorp’s loading dock entrance and dumped them there.
Two minutes later he was at the Regency Suite.
Lex was fine. He was alone, watching some finance show on the living room TV. He looked up at Clark’s entrance, but whatever he’d been about to say in welcome died on his lips when he saw Clark’s expression.
“Somebody just broke into my apartment. They were looking for this.” He pulled the crystal out of his back pocket. “They came prepared with kryptonite darts.”
Lex’s eyes went narrow and hard. He moved around the couch towards Clark. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, aside from being pissed off.”
Lex stared hard at him a moment longer, before finally shifting his attention to the crystal in Clark’s hand. “Surprising that your masterfully clever hiding spot didn’t deter them.”
Clark snorted and let some of the tension escape on the breath. Lex held out a hand for the crystal and Clark gave it to him, stalked a few paces into the room while Lex turned it in his fingers.
“Clark, are you sure you have no idea what the purpose of this crystal is?”
“I don’t know, Lex. It’s a crystal. It looks just like a hundred other damned crystals in the fortress. And I don’t know what most of those do either.”
“Tess obviously has a clue,” Lex pointed out. “Or thinks she does. Enough to want it very badly, at any rate.”
“It’s inert. Used up.” Clark felt the need to point that out again, because nobody seemed to get it.
“Then let’s look at it another way. Maybe she doesn’t want it so much for herself – – as she doesn’t want us to have it.”
Clark blinked at him, working that out. “It has something to do with you.”
“She thinks she can use it against you?”
Lex shrugged. “Or she thinks I can use it against her. I wish I knew. There’s no way you can find out?”
The last time Lex had asked, Clark had hedged around mentioning the fact that the fortress was back online. He hadn’t trusted Lex enough with that vital information. Now – – you wouldn’t think ten days would make all that much difference – – but it did.
“I can ask Jor-el.”
Lex stared at him. “Jor-el, as in your dead Kryptonian father? The artificial intelligence that was destroyed with your fortress in the Arctic?”
Clark winced at the edge in Lex’s voice. “Well, it wasn’t so much destroyed. It came back.”
Lex stared some more, before looking away with an entirely unhumorous exhalation of laughter. “So I – – the original I – – took what was essentially a death blow for absolutely nothing. You came out unscathed and your fortress resurrected itself. Was it all some elaborate set-up to snare anyone who got close enough to discovery of the secret?”
If Lex had a faint whiff of conspiracy theorist in his voice – – well, he was probably due it. Since as far as Clark could tell, it had – – in parts – – been one big convoluted mess designed to maybe protect him or maybe to hamstring him if he got out of line, or maybe some safety measure aimed towards something else entirely. Jor-el tended towards cryptic details if he decided to give any at all.
“You’d rather I’d been taken out?” But still Clark’s ingrained instinct was defense, when Lex got that tone in his voice.
“No. God, no. That was never even my initial objective even when I was convinced you were a danger to the planet.” Then he paused and gave Clark a hard look. “How is it that out of all the corporate sharks and professional negotiators I’ve dealt with in my life, you’re the only person who’s ever – – with appalling regularity – – made me turn on a dime and start trying to justify and defend a simple question?”
Clark opened his mouth. Couldn’t think up an answer, so he shut it and took a breath. “Sorry. Sorry. And I wish I knew the answer, Lex. I really do. But Jor-el doesn’t feel the need to fill me in on the details of these things – – I think he gets off on seeing me scramble trying to deal with the aftermaths. And it wasn’t all Jor-el’s plan – – you got a lot of faulty information from Brianiac, remember?”
Lex smiled tightly. “We’ve gotten off track, here. Let’s go back to the fact that your scheming AI of a dead father might be able to identify this artifact.”
Lex held the crystal up pointedly for emphasis.
“Well, I guess I should go and ask.” Clark held out a hand for the crystal. Lex stared at Clark’s hand and actually laughed. He didn’t relinquish the crystal.
“We. We should go and ask.”
“Ahh – – Jor-el doesn’t really like it when I bring visitors.”
“Well, fuck Jor-el. Its not like I haven’t been there before. And this is about me, Clark. I don’t need to hear it second hand.”
“Lex, it could be dangerous – -” And it could be, Jor-el could freeze a man in seconds on a whim. And he had reason enough to be wary of Lex.
“Fuck you too, if you think I’m backing down from this.”
He could take the crystal from Lex and go and find out what it was on his own, but he had the feeling that the consequences of that might severely curb his newly discovered sex-life. Besides which, Lex had a point. Whatever this thing was, it was centered firmly around him and he had a right to hear it first hand. Clark would just have to be on his toes in case Jor-el tried anything.
“Okay,” Clark took a bracing breath. “So first thing we do is head for Smallville.”
Lex canted his head curiously and Clark flashed him a smile.
“Remember the Kawatche caves? There’s a quicker way there than flying to the Arctic and tracking through a hundred miles of snow and ice.”
Clark gave him a choice. They could drive to Smallville the mundane way in a car at human speeds, or Clark could attempt to take them Clark’s way at very much non-human speeds. Clark admitted, a little warily, that he’d never carried anyone that long a distance before and he wasn’t sure how well normal people could actually breath at the speeds he traveled. Which was not particularly comforting and Lex couldn’t actually recall if he had taken a breath on the occasions Clark had carried him. He did recall, however, the spinning head and the vague desire to vomit after being carted a few city blocks at mach speeds.
He opted for choice number one. And since he’d scored a victory finally over the forces of the DMV and had a new license in his possession, he was more than willing to drive.
The Regency concierge, who was a man of many talents, Lex had discovered and was in line for a healthy gratuity once Lex had it in his power to give it, had no problem arranging for a rental. When asked if he had preferences, Lex supplied the criteria. Fast, obscenely expensive and German. The original him had been driving a lot of luxury sedans over the last few years before he’d gone into hiding, and he was in the mood for something with a little danger under the hood.
So, when Lex and Clark came downstairs, bright and early the next morning, the smugly beaming concierge handed over the keys to a midnight blue Porsche 911 Carrera. He hadn’t seen this new model and it was a true thing of beauty. He slipped into the soft, leather interior and sighed. Clark got in, pushed his seat back as far as it would go and just barely had enough legroom to be comfortable.
It was a long drive to Smallville, but with a car like this, and an intimate knowledge of where the state troopers liked to set their traps, or at least where they used to, Lex could make it in half the time.
And he did. They headed straight to the caves. The area was surrounded by a wire topped chain link fence to keep out vandals and local kids. Clark snapped the chain on the gate, and Lex drove in, parking beyond a thicket of trees. It was doubtful anyone would happen by, he hadn’t bothered with security out here for a while, but Clark stood for a second, concentrating, just to make sure.
“There’s a couple of deer at the edge of the field,” Clark pointed. “And a copperhead right there.” He pointed closer to a big flat rock not four feet away, upon which the reptile was sunning itself. Lex took a hasty step in the other direction, which instinctive retreat made Clark grin. “But other than that, it’s just us. I’ll meet you inside. I’ve gotta go and get something.”
Lex’s coat flapped a little bit in the wake of his departure. He gave the snake one last wary glance, before readjusting the armful of winter gear he’d purchased in the city and heading towards the cave entrance.
He pulled out a flashlight and used it to knock down a few spider webs, then shined the light inside. Narrow, dank rock walls loomed, a close passage that led to the larger caverns deeper in. He shined it on the floor just in case anything serpentine were lying coiled in wait, but it was just debris blown in from outside.
The colors of the cave drawings were muted with a layer of dust, but otherwise just as he remembered them. He shined his light upon the one that had always held the most interest to him, the one depicting Naman and Sageeth, and thought somebody, somewhere along the line had gotten their translations skewed.
He was expecting Clark and still, his sudden appearance made him start. Clark held up a familiar octagonal disc and explained. “It’s the key.”
“Ah. Of course you’ve had it all this time.”
Clark gave him a quirk of a smile and headed to the matching hole in the wall. When he fit the disc into place, there was a ripple, of perception, and when his vision solidified, there was a narrow passage where there had been no passage before. Clark walked inside without hesitation and Lex followed to find a small room, dominated by a round stone pedestal, covered with Kryptonian symbols. In the center was a slot that looked about the size of the disc.
“You might want to put your coat on,” Clark suggested. There was a look about his eyes that suggested apprehension. Lex suspected it had less to do with inviting him into the heart of Clark’s Kryptonian heritage than the reaction of that elusive artificial intelligence that inhabited it.
“Okay,” Clark took a breath, and slipped the disc into the slot.
The world disintegrated in a prickly shimmer of light – – reconstituted with a wave of cold and huge resounding silence.
Lex drew a startled breath and even that sounded loud in the pristine silence that surrounded him. Spots danced at the edges of his vision, and when they cleared, he gazed around him at a fantasy of crystal and ice. He remembered it from the first time he’d stepped foot here – – longer, harsher trip getting here, granted – – bitterly cold, and stark and utterly beautiful.
It was the same now. Everything identical, as if no action of his had ever marred its stabilizing foundation. Apparently no action of his had. Annoying on the one hand, because he’d been played – – and on the other, what a loss this treasure trove of knowledge would have been. This immaculate example of alien – – everything.
He looked at Clark, this wash of color in a whitewashed landscape and shivered at what could have been a greater loss. The Kryptonian artifacts were intriguing – – the Kryptonian himself was beyond value. And for the hundredth time – – Lex couldn’t fathom how he’d convinced himself that Clark was the harbinger of destruction. Lies and rivalries aside – – every secret Clark had ever tried to hide, infuriating and frustrating every one – – but in his gut, Lex had known Clark wasn’t the danger – – up until the point where he’d let inane prophecy and a few false accusations sway him.
He blew out a breath and it fogged the air. The sound of the exhalation and the soft pad of Clark’s shoes as he moved across the ice were the only sounds. The absolute wintry silence of the place reminded Lex of a mausoleum.
“Jor-el,” Clark called and his voice echoed off a thousand facets. Silence answered him.
Lex shivered, trailing his gloved fingers across an outcropping of crystal. The platform in the middle with its podium bristling with crystals very similar to the one in his pocket was the heart of this place.
“Don’t touch anything,” Clark warned. “Most of this stuff – – I don’t know what it does. Jor-el, I need to talk to you.”
Clark turned, staring at the faceted planes of crystalline rafters.
The first time Lex had been here, it had been like this. Quiet and cold and unresponsive as if the thing housed here had no desire to show itself to a mere human.
“Damnit, Jor-el – – Talk to me,” Clark complained.
“Maybe it’s being shy on my account,” Lex suggested. He pulled the crystal out of his pocket, held it up in a ray of the shimmery, filtered light that perforated the place.
“Is this yours?” He felt vaguely ridiculous talking to dead space that might never answer back. He’d feel worse if they left here with no answers.
“Answer him, Jor-el. It’s important.”
“He does not belong here, Kal-el.”
Clark started, clenching his fists as the voice emanated it seemed, from the very foundations of the fortress. A scattering of wind blown snow wafted through the space, on the heels of a chill that took Lex’s breath away. He gasped, the cold stealing the warmth through layers of insulated gear.
“Stop it!!” Clark roared, glaring at the air in general while the surfaces of Lex’s eyes felt like they were developing a layer of ice. “So help me, Jor-el – – stop it or I will!”
And just like that, the sub-zero gusts stopped and the air warmed. Marginally. Lex swayed, jaw clenched to stop the chattering of teeth and thought fuck, fuck.
Clark gave him a worried look, maybe having a hard time differentiating between ‘freeze a human body solid’ temperatures and simple ‘freeze your ass off’ ones. Lex gave him a nod.
“What do you require, Kal-el?” There was a certain resonance to the voice, a certain richness of tone, but it was emotionless, pitiless, as one might expect of a computer without any real grasp on living emotion. Or at least living human emotion.
“I require,” Clark said, no small bit of irritation lacing his voice. “That you tell us what this crystal is?”
“It is a Rau crystal.”
“And what is a Rau crystal?” Lex moved up onto the central platform with Clark, staring up warily at the towering columns of ice. He had disjointed memories of them coming down on his head.
For a moment, Lex thought the AI was going to ignore his question. Either the thing had a problem with humans in general, or him specifically – – and he had to admit the latter was more likely, since the original him had brought the house down last he was here.
“A transferal device. A method to allow a Kryptonian not content with the natural lifespan of his body to carry on in another.”
“As a clone?” Lex asked.
“In a cloned body, if it was so desired.”
Lex narrowed his eyes, staring at the faint glow emanating from the crystal-studded podium, heart beginning to pound.
“Rau doesn’t translate well into English,” Clark said slowly, brows drawn as if he were thinking a mile a minute. “The closest I can come is – -” he spread his hands indicating an indefinable sphere. ” – – Is quintessence?”
The AI was silent, having no opinion on Clark’s translation abilities.
“Did I – – did the original Lex Luthor use this device?”
“You are the original.”
Lex laughed. Harsh exhalation of breath that hurt almost. He felt the fool for saying it to this alien intellect, but he did. “Human science isn’t capable – -”
It gave him the expected response. “This is not human science.”
“God,” Clark whispered, staring at Lex, wide-eyed.
Lex felt something a just little hysterical bubbling inside him.
“Not a carbon copy?”
He laughed again and this time couldn’t stop so easily. It burst out uncontrollably and sounded manic in his own ears. He couldn’t help it, overwhelmed by the enormity of what the AI was saying. By the sheer scale of the relief that flooded through him. He’d been grasping after a sense of self since he’d woken up in that lab, struggling after identity when it would have been so easy to let himself drown in the uncertainty of being nothing more than a pirated download of a unique original.
“So you’re saying, ” he asked when he could breathe again. “That out of all of these practically identical shards of alien tech you have lying around, after the sky fell down and I had to have been in pretty bad shape, I happened to grab the one the particular one that would benefit me the most?”
He didn’t remember it. He recalled nothing at all after the world had fallen apart. It was as if his life had stopped at that point after all.
“It was not your time. A balance is required.”
“Balance?” He glanced to Clark, but Clark still had that look on his face, as if he were still trying to process a revelation two steps back.
No help there at the moment. But then, he had the feeling the AI had the tendency to keep Clark in the dark. Tests. Never ending trials and tribulations. God, it was like he was dealing with an alien version of Lionel. And like Lionel, this thing liked its machinations and it had a kink for prophecy. He recalled that cave wall and laughed again, this time with an ironic twist. If it only knew.
“When? Did I take the crystal and do it myself – – or was it you? Why do my memories just stop the day I confronted Clark here?”
“Because all the vital parts of you stopped here. “
“How?” Things didn’t make sense. Timelines didn’t. He’d been walking around for months after the Arctic – – damaged past easy repair – – mad, from all accounts. “One way or another, from then to now, I lost a year. Are you saying what was running around out there wrecking havoc for months wasn’t me?”
“No. It was.”
Now the thing was just fucking with him. Somewhere in that humorless, literal artificial intelligence, there was a sadistic streak.
“The last remnants of you. The vestigial traces of memory and purpose clinging to a damaged shell. Thought processes would have deteriorated over time, and eventually dissolved entirely. Your survival instinct was very strong. I added the compulsion and the basic knowledge to utilize the Rau crystal.”
There was nothing quite like the knowledge that an alien intelligence had fucked with his mind. “That’s just – – fantastic. Just really fucking – – perfect.” He ran a gloved hand over his face, trying to figure out whether to be highly offended, or simply grateful.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Clark finally found his voice.
“It was not imperative that you know, Kal-el.”
“Not imperative – -?” Clark choked, fists clenched, cheeks flushing in spots of anger. “How can you say – – he was – – after what – -? Goddamn you, Jor-el, I’m sick of you deciding what’s imperative to me and what’s not. You’re not qualified.”
He latched on to Lex’s arm pulling him back a step from the control dais. “Send us back. Now!”
“Wait – -” Lex objected vehemently to that plan of action. He wasn’t even close to done questioning the AI. But between Clark’s hand and the flash of light that translocated them from the pristine white of the arctic bound fortress to the mud brown of the Kawatche caves, he didn’t have much of a choice.
“Son of a bitch.” He yanked his arm out of Clark’s grip. “I wasn’t finished.”
“I was,” Clark said flatly, palming the disc and stalking out of the little key chamber. “He’s playing games. He’s always playing games.”
Which was a mirror of Lex’s thoughts on the subject. But these particular games had salvaged his life. His life. No one’s stolen memories, no one’s borrowed life, but his. Rightfully, indisputably his. If he hadn’t been so annoyed at Clark for cutting short the interview, he’d have laughed again in sheer delight.
Lex took one more look at the stone key table then followed, thinking about that disc Clark had stuffed in his pocket and possible ramifications of going back to the fortress sans a Kryptonian escort. The AI, he thought would have no qualms about freezing him solid. He wondered why it hadn’t done just that the first time he’d showed up on its doorstep. Oh, right, balances. Still, the thing had a brutal streak, and there were only so many times his luck would hold.
Clark was standing in the field when Lex exited the caves, back rigid, staring at nothing in particular. He didn’t turn and look at Lex when he tromped up behind him.
“Did you know that was possible?”
Clark took a breath, cast him a quick glance, but there was something in it that was elusive, Clark trying to hide emotion and failing. “I – – there was this time – – maybe – – Listen, I have to go and put the disc away and – – and do you want to maybe start back without me. I’ve got some stuff to do – – at the farm.”
Lex stared at him, Clark’s little tells when he was lying so familiar to him that it was almost like coming home. And it occurred to him, as he watched Clark’s eyes shift away from his, unable to hold a steady gaze, that from the moment Clark had realized he was a clone, from the moment Clark had thought that he was separate from the real him, he’d also been separate from the crimes he’d committed. Thin separation granted, but still he’d been able to forgive and forget.
Jor-el had just taken that separation away. And maybe with it that forgiveness.
“Some stuff to do at the farm? Are you sure its not that you don’t want to be stuck in a car with me for an hour and a half?”
Clark blinked, swallowing. He shook his head. “No. No – – it’s just – -”
“Please don’t strain yourself coming up with a lie on my account. I think I’ve reached my lifetime quota from you. Just say what you feel, Clark. That as long as you thought you were fucking a copy – – who’s hands, both physically and mentally were metaphorically clean – – it was all good. Not so much now, though, huh? Do you feel dirty?”
“I don’t feel dirty! Damnit Lex – -”
“Don’t! Do what you have to do, Clark.” He shoved his winter gear at Clark’s chest and stalked past. Pissed. Just pissed. A flash flood of justifiable anger that he didn’t even try and reason himself out of. Fuck Clark and fuck the ghostly intentions of Clark’s biological prick of a father.
Clark didn’t follow him, just stood there, arms full of coat and Lex didn’t look back. He should have been ecstatically relieved, and yet with one shuffling evasion from Clark, he wanted to go and do someone somewhere, damage.
He got in the car, sat for a handful of harsh breaths, knuckles white on the wheel. Waiting maybe those brief seconds for Clark to rap on the window and apologize.
He didn’t. So Lex gunned the engine and spit up a shower of dirt and gravel in his wake. He steamed over it all through the rural back roads and twisty routes you had to take to reach a decent stretch of straight road in Smallville. It was all so painfully familiar. He’d spent the better part of his adult life here in this backwater pit of country conservatism, meteor mutants and collected community suspicion for anyone that didn’t embrace their colloquial ideas.
And why? Because none of his life lessons had ever included the simple ability to let well enough alone. He hadn’t been able to get past the idea of abandoning Clark and Clark’s secrets. And look where that had gotten him? Fucked up enough – – in so very many ways – – that it took a cloned body and an alien artifact to get him back on track.
And Clark was the one having moral dilemmas.
Forty miles down the interstate headed for Metropolis and he finally managed to unclench his hands from the steering wheel. It was possible Clark wasn’t his biggest problem at the moment, because though Clark was notorious for sudden sulks and flares of temper when his world was rocked, he could generally be counted on to get over them. Oftentimes without even prompting. And Lex supposed, grudgingly, that the AI’s little revelation was a tad unexpected. And it had been frankly amazing that Clark had been willing to overlook all his past grievances enough to let Lex in regardless of the clone issue.
Given a little time, Clark’s ethical quandary was a manageable problem. Tess was another matter. The crystal was in the pocket of the winter coat he’d dumped on Clark, but its value had plummeted drastically with the discovery of its purpose. He’d bet his life that Tess had known and been desperate to keep that information out of his hands. He had a few ideas why and most of them were considerably more mundane than the crystal itself.
Head games. It all came down to head games.
Clark watched Lex go, spinning tires in the mud and couldn’t find it in him to try and stop him. Oh, part of him recognized the mistake in not making the attempt, because Lex was offended and Lex took his offenses seriously. But that other part, that part with a closer relationship to Clark’s emotions, was still reeling from Jor-el’s revelation.
And it wasn’t like he’d started this. If Lex couldn’t give him ten damned minutes to wrap his head around – – everything – – then Lex could damn well storm off by himself in a snit.
He was home in a flash, stirring up dust as he skidded to a halt inside the cavernous silence of the barn. Different sort of silence from that of the fortress. This quiet was simple and mundane and laced here and there with the miniscule creak of old wood. The livestock was all gone, the stalls empty of life, if you discounted crickets and spiders. With his mom spending most of her time in Washington, and him living in the city, it had been just too much to take care of the animals and have a life as well, even with super speed. Living things needed human speed interactions.
Jilly Ross, the youngest of the Ross clan was taking care of Shelby, and Clark regretted that necessity, but there were some days that between being the Red Blue Blur and trying to keep a job in the city, that he forgot to eat himself, much less make it home on a daily basis to feed a dog. But it was only fair to a dog that loved companionship not to be left on his own in a home deserted a good portion of the year. A twelve year old and a working farm made a much better environment.
He secreted the disc back in its cubby under the floorboards. Sat for a while afterwards, on the steps leading up to the loft, and tried to wrap his mind around – – well, around Lex.
And maybe Lex had hit the nail on the head.
It was entirely possible that the lump Clark had felt lodged somewhere between heart and throat had been the direct result of the fact that it wasn’t a facsimile of Lex he’d been dealing with all this time, but Lex – -the actual genuine Lex – – in a brand new body. And that yeah, all the things Lex had done in the old body, all the things Clark had spent the last week or so justifying the reasons why – – suddenly seemed a lot more relevant when applied to Lex, as opposed to Lex 2.0.
Which made no goddamned sense at all, because there hadn’t been a bit of difference, save for the healthier mindset and nothing Jor-el had revealed had changed that in the least. He wasn’t any different now than he had been yesterday. It didn’t alter the fact that Clark loved him. And honestly did it make a difference to that fact, if the mind inside that brand new body was the original instead of a second-generation copy?
He ought to be thrilled that that little sprig of grief/guilt over the death of the original Lex had no basis in reality. He ought to be happy that Lex could shake that niggling identity crisis he’d been struggling with.
But there had been terrible things he could accredit Lex for – – lives ruined in pursuit of a quest – – things done that made Clark’s blood run cold. Things Lex regretted now and Clark knew he regretted – – Clark had seen the horror in his eyes – – but still, deep down, there had been that separation. Maybe even Clark had believed that his Lex had been as much of a casualty as anyone else the original had used to further his own agenda.
That validation was a little harder to legitimize now. Though it was not entirely out of the realm of belief that Lex could have easily been his own worst enemy. That Lex had been as capable of victimizing himself in the pursuit of his obsessions as anyone else. Sobering thought, because Clark didn’t think that tendency had anything to do with the mental scarring that had numbed Lex to delicate moral distinctions. A defined sense of self-preservation never had been one of his strong suits.
He sat there and stared up at a strip of sunlight coming in through the barn roof. The last big storm to rip through here had likely torn loose a few boards. Almost absently, he rose, shuffling over to the corner where plywood and lumber was stacked against a wall. He’d been neglectful of this place and it begged tending. He pulled on a tool belt, filled it with a handful of nails and headed up to patch the roof.
The work, at mundane human speeds, gave him the chance to simply be, without having to think about anything but clearing out old plywood and making room for a new sheet.
He sat on the slanted roof, after sealing up the new seams with roofing tar, and saw no few tiles missing from the house. From up here, he could see a lot of things that needed doing. There was nothing like avoidance to spur a flurry of busy work.
Two hours later, the lawn was mowed, the fence repaired, a blade replaced on the old windmill, and a new coat of paint slapped onto the barn. He was considering breaking open the five galleon buckets of yellow paint and starting in on the house, when his phone rang. It was in his jacket pocket, in the barn where he’d left it. He got to it on the second ring, heart beating a little fast in the hope, or the dread – – he wasn’t sure which at the moment – – that it was Lex.
He suspected it was the former when he looked at the caller ID and felt a tickle of regret that it was Chloe, not Lex on the other end.
Lex made excellent time back to Metropolis. He loved this car. As soon as he had access to his fortune – – the fortune that was absolutely rightfully his – – he’d make it his first order of business to purchase one of his very own. In black, maybe.
Metropolis filled his windshield, jewel of the Midwest and he grinned. He’d been drifting before, even with his cause, there’d been a certain intrinsic lack of ‘self’, that had kept him off his balance. That was gone now and he felt a thousand pounds lighter because of it.
It had been seven years since he’d lived in the city, if he discounted the last lost one, where he’d been stuck in an alien artifact. Seven years mired in Smallville in that damned drafty monument to his father’s obsession for power. It was time to reclaim Metropolis.
And he’d start by overcoming one obstacle at a time. And he might as well take advantage of Clark sulking in Smallville to tackle the first one. He bypassed the Regency and headed towards Little Bohemia and parked on the street half a block down from the Isis Foundation. He checked his inside jacket pocket for the little device Groll had sent over. Clean lined little cylinder with one dedicated usage. A one shot deal, he’d been warned. Given time Groll might have been able to develop something more durable, but Lex had been in a hurry. He transferred it to his pants pocket, and headed inside.
They’d replaced the glass on the door and he suspected the locks and security codes. He knocked.
After a moment, he heard the clack of heels on hardwood and Chloe opened the door. She gaped, but had good recovery time, narrowing her eyes after a heartbeat and casting one wary glance from the side of her eye into the room beyond. A good indication, as far as he was concerned, that Lana was lurking about and Chloe, smart girl that she was, was aware that shit might just be about the hit the fan.
“Lex,” she said, so much suspicion dripping from her voice that he was actually a little flattered. He smiled. She braced herself with her hand on the door as if she feared he’d try and strong arm his way in.
“What do you want?”
“I’m here to have a word with Lana.”
“Lana’s not – -”
“Let him in, Chloe.” Lana stepped into his line of vision. White halter-top and a pair of jeans a striking combination on her. But then she wore anything well. Even a scowl, which she was sporting now.
Chloe frowned, not liking it, but she stepped aside and waved a hand, motioning him in. The secret wall panel was closed, hiding the computer array, and the room looked little more than a comfortable office/sitting room. There were two sodas and what looked like the remnants of takeout lunch on the glass-topped table in front of the couch.
“Aren’t you violating your own restraining order?” Chloe remarked in passing and he tossed her a wry half smile.
“Its mine to violate.”
“What could you possibly have to say to me?” Lana asked, soft voiced hiss.
“I just wanted you to be the first to know,” he strolled into the office. “Well, second, after Clark – – that the whole – – what was your term? – – ‘meat suit with a downloaded data’, thing has been definitively disproven.
“The body’s new,” he tapped his temple. “But, its all original up here.”
She sneered. “You’re lying.”
“No actually, its God’s honest truth. Straight from the mouth, so to speak, of Clark’s biological father. We went up there this morning and had a chat.”
“To the Fortress? He took you to his Fortress?” Chloe had both brows raised. Lana’s eyes narrowed.
“Well, I’d already visited once – – but we took the cave route this time.” He added that detail just to make sure she knew he was telling the truth. “It seems he’d rather I were alive and healthy, over dead or mortally wounded – – Apparently I’m essential to Clark’s balance – – so he salvaged me.”
Chloe was staring. Lana looked as if she might blow a fuse. She took a step in his direction and he tried not to tense. This could go so very wrong if she snapped and just broke his neck in the blink of an eye.
“You would say anything to hurt me?”
“What? The truth? Yes, it can be painful, but really, I was just getting tired of being called an ‘it’ and all the clone shots.”
“You are a clone,” her voice got a little shrill.
“Not where it counts.”
“Lana,” Chloe held up her hands placatingly. “Don’t let him get to you. Just calm down.”
“Calm down? He’s going out of his way to piss me off. You saw the paper – – you,” and she stabbed a finger at Lex and turned her glare to him as she stalked over to the desk and snatched a copy of today’s inquisitor up. “You planted this drivel.”
There was a shot of him and Clark in what looked like Hugo Boss. It very likely might have come from the store security camera. That clerk had been a snide little shit. There was also a smaller picture of him and Lana from when he’d been wooing her. The caption read; Lex Luthor’s new lover? And in smaller type. Did marriage number three turn Lex Luthor Gay?
He stifled a laugh. Then stopped trying and laughed outright. Lana crumpled the paper and flung it at him.
“Its not funny,” she cried.
“Well, it is, sort of. Not entirely true, obviously. I liked men long before I met you. You did turn me off of marriage, I think.”
“You like – -?” She blinked at him, not getting it. Maybe not able to conceive that she wasn’t the center of every man’s fantasy. Chloe was shaking her head, as if suddenly so many things were clear. Chloe always had been a smart girl
He canted his head and stared at Lana critically. “Lana, use your head. How blind are you? Did you really think it was all about you?”
She kept staring. He rattled one of the pieces of newsprint he’d caught when she tossed it. “Clark. It’s all about Clark. Always has been. And this – -? This is absolutely true. We’ve fucked more in the last three days than you and I did the entire time we were dating and married – -”
As ways to piss her off went, he’d hit on a winner. She made an incoherent noise. His back hit the wall with bruising force, her hands curled in his jacket. Any breath he had left she knocked out of him when she jerked him forward and slammed him back again. His head hit this time and he could barely hear, over the ringing in his ears, whatever it was Chloe was screaming at Lana as she tried to pull her off him. And as witnesses went, he couldn’t have asked for a better one than Chloe.
He shoved a hand into his pocket, fumbled for the cylinder, pressed the end of it against the bare skin of her arm and triggered the release. It did absolutely nothing remarkable. Not a sound, not a flash of light, nothing but make her take notice that he was up to something, and wrench the thing out of his hand.
“What is this?” She shook him with her other hand, and it didn’t feel like she’d lost any portion of her strength. She flung the cylinder away and grabbed his throat, digging her fingers in. Which was about the point he started worrying that Groll had pulled a double-cross.
“What did you try and do to me?”
Answering was an impossibility with her choking the life out of him. He clawed at her hand, trying to pry her fingers loose, even as Chloe was trying to pull her away by the other arm, saying over and over, ‘Lana, Lana, you don’t want to do this.’
Then, the pressure let up. It still hurt, because she had nails that were biting into his flesh, but it stopped feeling like a vise grip on his throat. In fact, he was able to lever her fingers open and force her hand away.
She gaped at him, wide-eyed and shocked. He caught her other wrist as she swung at him holding her away from him with relative ease.
She hissed, and twisted away and he let her. She stumbled back a few steps, caught her balance and stared perplexedly at her hands, then at him.
“What did you do?” She sounded appropriately appalled.
Lex pushed himself away from the wall, ran a hand along the back of his head to see if there were blood or simply a throbbing lump.
“I infected you.”
She blinked. “What?”
He shrugged. “Well, not you per say. I infected the hyperactive nanites in the Prometheus suit. It’s a nanite specific virus. I know, cliché, but you go with what works.”
“How?” Chloe asked. She’d picked up the capsule that Lana had tossed aside and was staring at it warily.
“It’s permanent. It’s supposed to be permanent.” Lana was staring at her bare arms, as if she could see the gridwork of nanites that had been embedded under her skin.
“Oh, it is. Its still there – – the suit, the nanites that make it up – – it’s just inert. It’s still a benefit to you, though. You’ll never have to buy sunscreen again. And it’s keeping the kryptonite you absorbed from leaking into your body, which is a big plus, since we all know what prolonged exposure to that can do to a person.”
“You son of a bitch,” her voice trembled and if she’d worked a little less vigilantly at fucking him over these last years, he might have felt a little sympathy for her. It was a devastating loss, all that power.
“I’m told that the levels of kryptonite radiation will eventually diminish – – in a decade or so. Its tenacious stuff. So if you wanted to apologize for being such a bitch to Clark last week, I’d suggest a nice text.”
“You – – bastard!” Her whisper rose to a hiss and she launched herself at him. Enraged and petite and at entirely human speeds. And regardless that she’d just as soon see him dead, probably even prefer to do with her own hands at the moment, he wasn’t prepared to throw down with a woman. Most especially one that by all accounts had spent the last year immersing herself in various forms of martial training. It would be entirely embarrassing to have his ass kicked by Lana without her enhanced powers.
Chloe made the issue moot, inserting herself in Lana’s line of attack, arms spread, reason spewing from her lips. “Lana stop. You can’t accomplish anything this way.”
“Chloe, he – – he –” she was clinging to Chloe, crying full on now, big tears streaking down her cheeks and he could only thank God that Clark wasn’t here, because she’d have had him, hook line and sinker.
“You asked for this,” he said, steeling himself, because there was something about Lana Lang in distress that pulled at a man’s heartstrings. “You came after me with clear intent – -did you think I wouldn’t defend myself?”
“You’ve accomplished what you came here to accomplish,” Chloe ground out, glaring over her shoulder at him. “Now get the hell out.”
He took the stairs down, feeling less satisfaction that he should have. And maybe he had lied a little to her back there. There had been a point, when perhaps it hadn’t all been about Clark. That tenuous moment when she’d first told him about the pregnancy and he’d had visions of actual family – – before she’d miscarried early on, the result of one more in a long line of attacks, and he’d pursued the desperately mad ploy to keep her in the dark about it.
He hit the sidewalk, shuddering a little at the mindset he’d been wallowing in at the time, that had thought faking pregnancies and subsequent miscarriages, had been the rational way to win a woman. He supposed as grudges went, that was reason enough to carry a lifelong one.
He headed towards the Porsche, sidestepping a man paying more attention to his blackberry than he was where he was walking. The man staggered to the side, shoulder hitting Lex in passing, and for a split second, he actually believed it was an accidental misstep, until the man kept pushing. A sudden full body shove towards the narrow little alley between Isis and the neighboring building.
He staggered, spinning to bring an elbow up as the man tried to crowd him into shadow. Landed a blow that made the man grunt and falter , but the second figure coming in from the depths of the alley caught him unexpectedly. He caught a flash of a glimpse of a huge man, silver hair, cold eyes – – before a big fist glanced off the side of his head and he reeled into the arms of the other one, head spinning.
Hans Loflan. That had been the name on the card the man had presented at his door. Hans Loflan. Head of Internal Security, LuthorCorp. Leave it to Tess Mercer, to make a preemptive strike when Clark was three county lines away. He wondered, if when Clark had said to just call his name, if he could hear it at that distance.
Before Lex had the chance to test that theory, Loflan drew back his fist and the world came crashing down.