“Where is she?” Clark asked before Chloe could get the door all the way open. She still had the phone in her hand, the connection still open to the one in his.
She took a breath and gave him a look. “I don’t know. I tried to calm her down but she was pretty upset. She took off just before you got here. I’m surprised you didn’t see her on your way up.”
“She didn’t go after Lex?”
Chloe snapped her phone shut in frustration and shook her head. “I don’t know. I’d like to slap him – – but I don’t think so. I think she just needed to be alone. She was pretty devastated.”
“He didn’t hurt her?”
“She didn’t hurt him?”
Chloe laughed disgustedly. “I don’t think so. She would have, if he’d given her the chance. He came prepared, with this – -” she held up a little metal cylinder. Clark recognized it as the one Lex had pulled out of the envelope his lawyer had delivered yesterday.
“He pulled her strings like a maestro – – pissed her off, incited her to attack him and then delivered the coup de grace.”
He looked from the cylinder to Chloe. “You said he’d depowered her – – with this?”
“A techno virus, I assume, designed to neutralize the hyperactivity of the nanites in the Prometheus Suit.”
“Where did he get it?”
“He neglected to share that information, Clark. He did however feel the need to share a few other tidbits. So you and he are an item now? And no he didn’t put it that delicately when he broke the news.”
He took a breath, trying very hard to curb the urge to hunt Lex down and shake him. He gave Chloe a long look, not even beginning to know how to respond to that.
“Sooo – – okay.” She looked away, mouth tight, before looking back on a release of breath. “As you might imagine, that set Lana off. Is it also true that Jor-el used Kryptonian technology to transfer Lex from one body to the next?”
“Well. He’s not so different after all, is he?”
“He is.” Clark looked down at her levelly. “He didn’t hurt her, did he?”
“I would have done things differently, but can you really fault him for protecting himself? She’d have killed him. She wanted to kill him, Chloe, and there was only so much I could have done to stop her. And if I had tried – – what I might have had to do – – just might have hurt her. He didn’t.”
She stood there, staring up at him, trying to understand. He could see the struggle in her eyes. She’d been his staunchest ally, always his one rock when other safe haven’s failed him and he wanted her to comprehend.
“You really believe that?”
He nodded. Then nodded again, suddenly sure of it himself, regardless of what version of Lex resided inside his new body. And as annoying as this little stunt was, most especially because it could have backfired so dreadfully if Lex hadn’t been quick enough, or Lana a little less inclined to restraint in front of Chloe, it cemented the belief.
“You’d have fought Lana to protect him?” She asked a little tentatively.
He swallowed and nodded. “Yeah. I would have. If nothing else, I’m glad he took that possibility out of the equation.”
And he was. Immensely relieved that she didn’t have that burden anymore, that power that could in the heat of emotion make it so easy for her to take a life. Because once she crossed that line, it would have been so easy for her to cross another and another. Look what it had done to Lex and look what Lex would carry because of it. He didn’t want that for her. He didn’t want her to have to bear the weight of terrible deeds for the rest of her life.
Chloe took a breath, nodded more to herself than him, then gave him a dubious look. “God Clark, you really do have a thing for high maintenance relationships, don’t you?”
That was Chloe trying to make a bridge.
He ran a hand through his hair and gave her a belabored smile. “How long ago did he leave?”
“About a half hour.”
“If you hear from Lana – – just – – just let me know she’s okay.”
He hit the Regency balcony a few moments later, striding into the suite and calling Lex’s name. Silence answered back. He narrowed his eyes, scanning the suit even as he padded into the bedroom, but there was nothing living here, save him. A prickle of unease started in his gut. He dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed Lex’s cell. It rang twice before going to voice mail.
Okay, so Lex was high off his victory over Lana and he hadn’t come straight back to the hotel. Either than or he was avoiding Clark, pissed about Clark’s hesitation outside the caves, or wanting to give him ample cooling down time after the Lana stunt. Lex would have known Chloe or Lana would have called Clark and tattled.
Those were better scenarios than the alternatives. But Clark’s life tended to run on the path of the worst that could happen generally happening, so he took a breath, cleared his head and tried to focus in on the tell tale sounds that were Lex’s and Lex’s alone. Heartbeat, breathing, the sound of his voice.
And heard nothing. He redoubled his efforts, but the thudding of his own heart seemed determined to get in the way. There were explanations that had nothing to do with Lex’s heart not beating. Clark’s hearing wasn’t infallible. There were a lot of background noises in the city and if Lex were somewhere crowded, or blaring with sound, Clark might not pick him up. Overly thick walls of concrete or steel, or even basement level under the muffling buffer of earth might hamper his ability to detect him.
He checked the room one more time, looking for anything out of place, but as far as he could tell, it was exactly as they’d left it this morning.
He swore and went downstairs, caught the eye of the concierge and asked the man if Lex had been back to the hotel. No, Mr. Luthor had not returned.
Clark felt like growling. He shut his eyes for a moment instead and stalked outside, past the four or five photographers outside just waiting for a shot of Lex – – or even it seemed – – Clark, and stood staring at the city as they tossed questions at his back that he neither cared about or heard past the focus he was putting into one more time trying to hear Lex.
Chloe had said a half hour. Lex had been with her a half hour ago, which meant wherever he was, it couldn’t be far. He had to be inside the city still. And since Lex had effectively neutralized Lana’s threat potential, that left Tess.
Clark walked far enough down the sidewalk to blend with the pedestrian traffic before putting on a burst of speed and heading to LuthorCorp. He was shoving open the doors to Tess’s office before the poor secretary realized he was there.
Tess herself looked up in surprise, as did the two men sitting across the desk from her, apparently in the process of making a presentation.
“Where is he?” Clark didn’t mince words, didn’t stop his advance towards her desk.
“Clark.” She did herself proud, not flinching. “I thought I’d made it clear – – appointments, or at the very least knocking, were required before you showed up at my office again.”
“Get out,” Clark snarled at the two men. They looked at each other, then helplessly to Tess. The secretary had appeared at the door, wringing her hands, in fear for her job perhaps, for having let him barge in a second time.
Tess nodded to the two men. “We’ll take this up later, gentlemen. Ms. Hanson, I’ll let you know if I require security.”
She waited for the men to clear the door before narrowing her eyes and glaring at Clark.
“For someone who earns a paycheck from a LuthorCorp subsidiary, you certainly lack a modicum of respect. What is it that you want this time, Clark?”
He slammed his palms down on the surface of her desk so hard the glass fractured. She did flinch a little then, spidery cracks appearing over her embedded flat screen computer. The screen winked out with a garbled flash of static.
“You know what I want. Where is Lex?”
“Lex? Why, have you lost him?”
He narrowed his eyes, thought about shoving the desk away, but if he did, he’d shove it through the wall and whatever she suspected of his powers, he didn’t need to give her a first hand demonstration unless he absolutely had to.
“So help me, if you’ve hurt him – -”
“Clark,” she rose, her own palms on the desk top, leaning in to meet his stare, eye to eye, as if she had nothing to hide. And God, Lex had nothing on her for the poker face. Lex, Clark had always been able to read, one way or the other. Tess was impenetrable. “Other than set every attorney I can spare on fighting his suits, I haven’t done anything to him. If he’s gone missing, I might be more concerned about the people he has grudges against, than him. He is Lex Luthor – – or a close facsimile there of – – isn’t he?”
Clark straightened, not wanting to believe her, but not prepared to do her physical violence to wrench the truth from her, either, when he wasn’t absolutely sure.
“Don’t make the mistake,” he said softly, between clenched teeth. “Of hurting him and thinking I won’t make you pay for it.”
She stared at him, a wrinkle of perplexity between her brows. “What did he do to gain such loyalty, Clark? After all the things he did – -?”
“What did he do to gain yours? And you only knew him after he was broken.”
He left her at her desk, stalking past the worried secretary and the two security guards the woman had apparently decided to call up regardless of Tess’s instructions.
He went back to Isis, because Chloe was his fallback when his own powers failed to be meticulous enough to find the crux of a problem.
Chloe was on the computer when he stormed back in.
“Clark!” she said in surprise, fingers poised over keyboard. “I haven’t had the chance to track her down yet. She’d not answering her cell – -”
“I can’t find Lex.”
She shut her mouth, eyeing him warily. “What do you mean – – can’t find?”
“He didn’t go back to the hotel. I can’t hear him, Chloe. I should be able to hear him. Something’s wrong.”
“Clark, you don’t think Lana – -?”
“No. I think Tess Mercer – – but she’s denying it. Oliver promised he wouldn’t do anything and I want to believe that – – God, this is my fault. I left him alone.”
She blanched a little, sitting there staring at him with wide green eyes.
“Clark – – you can’t be there for anybody all the time. And Lex is a big boy – – who can manipulate his way out of trouble just fine.”
“Or into it,” Clark snapped.
“Or into it,” she sighed. “And besides the usual suspects – – I’d wager he’s made a few other enemies out there who might have grudges to settle now that he’s back in circulation.”
“God.” Clark tossed her an unappreciative glare. He didn’t need to expand his pool of things to worry about. But she was right. Lex had been a magnet for crazies even before he’d actively started pissing them off.
“Chloe, I know he’s not on your Christmas card list, but for me, please use your techno wizardly to try and track him down. It’s been less than an hour, he’s got to be in Metropolis. I’ll owe you one, big time.”
“You already owe me more than one. But I don’t expect payment for helping a friend and don’t offend me by offering. I’ll see what I can do. Let’s start with his phone. Give me his number.”
He paced while she did her thing, locking onto Lex’s cell and tracking the phone. It took her less than no time to get results, but they had her frowning at the screen in confusion.
“What? Did you find him?” He leaned over her shoulder impatiently.
“I picked it up – – but, its saying the phone is here, Clark – – within a block radius of this building.”
He was out of the building before she could turn to give him a questioning look, focusing vision and hearing to take in everything – – then stopped, ten feet down the sidewalk, the gleam of a blue Porsche half a block down catching his eye.
He was there in a heartbeat, staring at the rental plates, at the mud spattered bumper. God, it was Lex’s car and he’d walked right past it the first time he’d been here. He pulled out his cell and hit Lex’s cell number. He didn’t even need to use enhanced senses to hear the ring.
He found it, half hidden in garbage in the alley. Stared at it with his heart thudding so hard it felt like it might break ribs. Here. They’d taken him here. If Clark had been a few minutes earlier maybe – – he stood there, staring at the dank confines of the alley, violent scenarios running through his head.
He didn’t hear Chloe come up beside him, barely felt her hand on his arm. Whatever she said to him, she had to repeat before it started to sink in that she was speaking.
“Clark, we just take this one step at a time. We check police reports. We check hospitals. We go from there.”
Hospitals. God. His hands were shaking. The sleek little cell crunched in his grip. It was very likely that if he didn’t move, now, he might throw up. He handed Chloe the slightly damaged phone, and took off. She’d call him if she found anything out, he trusted that.
He went looking for Oliver. Found him in his 45th avenue penthouse, in the gym that dominated the entire floor beneath the living arrangements. He was in the midst of pulling arrows out of a target at one end of the archery range that spanned the width of the building when Clark strode in.
He stopped, a trio of arrows in one hand and gave Clark a wary look.
“What do you want?”
“The truth. If you know where Lex is, you need to tell me.”
Oliver let out a bark of laugher, and yanked the final arrow out of the target. “How the hell should I know? You ‘re his self-appointed keeper.”
“Somebody took him, Oliver.”
“And this is my problem how?”
“Because we save lives. The day we start questioning who deserves it and who doesn’t is the day we’ve lost sight of what it is we set out to do.”
“You’re the boy scout, Clark. I’m just a guy who likes to play with arrows.” He held up his handful bitterly.
Clark stared at him, trying to read him. And there was something there, this kernel of disgust, but it seemed self-directed. And maybe it did hint of guilt, but Clark didn’t think it was guilt over this. If Oliver had had a hand in Lex’s abduction, he’d have committed himself to the action and never wavered.
“I’ve already been to LuthorCorp. Tess denied knowledge, but I don’t believe her. Chloe’s working on it, but if you can find anything out – – let me know.”
“To help you find Lex Luthor?”
Clark clenched his fists, restrained the urge to grab Oliver by the shirt and shake him. “To help save a life.”
He started walking away. Time was his enemy.
“If she took him, he’s probably dead already, Clark.”
Clark felt a wash of red along the edges of his vision. Pushed it aside and said more to himself than Oliver, “Then somebody’s gonna pay.”
Lex drifted back to consciousness with the throb of a headache that made the one that had accompanied his hangover seem mildly discomforting. There was nothing like minor concussion to make a day complete.
He stared up at an off white ceiling. It was concrete with one small six by six grate in the center and a slanted plexi-glass shield over surveillance camera in one corner. He was lying on the floor, also concrete. The walls were very close, the same white as the ceiling, windowless, a featureless door, a dry-flush toilet, a narrow metal bunk bolted to the wall, which disturbingly enough had two sets of dangling restraints bolted to it.
He took a shaky breath, and pushed himself up. Discovered he’d been relieved of jacket, watch, shoes and socks, belt and the contents of his pockets. It pissed him off, and he turned, surveying the limited scope of his world before looking up at the camera and saying coolly.
“I was playing fair, Tess. You keep that in mind, for when I stop.”
Of course there was no response. Nothing but silence, and the sound of his own breath. He sat on the bunk, staring disdainfully at the restraints.
He was alive, which meant he held some interest for her. And alive he had a chance – – to talk his way out or for Clark to find him – – and Clark would be looking. Thrown off his balance by unsettling revelations or not, Clark would be looking. He didn’t have it in him not to. Lex believed that.
Of course, Tess wasn’t stupid. She ‘d have come to the same conclusion and she’d know enough about Clark to know his blind spots. His weaknesses. Which thought made Lex rise and start pacing. Four steps from wall to wall, back again and again. Lex knew without a doubt he was worth more dead than alive to her – – but Clark. Clark was invaluable. She hadn’t gone after him before, but lines had been drawn now, and Clark might just go after her. She might be looking to take down all her potential threats with one gambit.
Almost he opened his mouth to warn her against it – – but then it might not be her that was listening, and that plan might not actually be on her agenda. There was no need giving her ideas she hadn’t hatched on her own.
God, he hated confinement. He hated small spaces with a passion.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d paced the epoxy coated concrete floor before he snapped and demanded of silent air. “What do you want, Goddamnit?”
No enlightenment followed. He swore under his breath, and sat back down, staring sullenly at the bland wall. No cracks, no irregularities for a man with time on his hands to fixate on. Just his own thoughts and those weren’t pretty. He could imagine all too well, what might be done to a prisoner in a place like this. God, how ironic would it be if this were one of his own facilities, specifically designed to keep enhanced prisoners in and super powered ones out. Not that he qualified in either category, so it was a bit of overkill. Clark did though.
Fuck. He needed not to start thinking along those lines again. He’d drive himself mad. Which, he suspected, was the whole point.
A seamless panel at the bottom of the door slid aside, and a plastic bottle of water was pushed inside. The panel closed smoothly behind it. Lex stared at it warily, making no move off the bunk. Glanced up at the camera and wondered what game they were playing now. The people who operated places like this were oh so good at mind games.
He ignored it. Returned to his pacing when sitting on the metal bunk became uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been here. Hours certainly, and that wasn’t even taking into account how long he’d been unconscious. His internal clock was no help at all. His body was a better barometer. He was hungry and his mouth was dry and the bottle of water sitting innocuously on the floor by the door wasn’t helping the craving.
If they were trying to see how long he’d deprive himself, then they were getting a good reading. If they were attempting to drug him with a bottle of water – – well, they were making life far too complicated. If they wanted him down, they had numerous easier options.
Fuck them anyway. He went for it. It was room temperature, but liquid was liquid and it felt good going down.
A half of bottle down and the room started spinning. Son of a bitch, he thought, disgusted, as his hand lost the capacity to hold the bottle and it hit the floor. A moment later his knees gave out and he did, too. He laid there, cheek against the concrete, watching the water leak out of the bottle, while his vision grayed. He blacked out completely before the bottle emptied.
Came back in degrees, thoughts hazy and sluggish. Images seeped through his mind, maybe the vestiges of dreams, maybe the products of hallucination, maybe memory. The echo of the AI’s voice off glittering ice and crystal. The sheen of Lana’s tears. The rush of air and the hum of a powerful engine as a good car topped a hundred on a long stretch of Kansas intestate. The feel of Clark’s body in the darkness, a whispered declaration – – I love you. I love you, too.
God. That came back to him of a sudden, along with a rush of adrenalin. He tried to bolt up, and couldn’t. He was on the bunk, wrists snared by the leather restraints. Ankles as well. The dizziness rushed back, hand in hand with the panic. Dignity said don’t fight it – – they’re watching – – animal instinct said, fuck, fuck, fuck and wanted out.
He hissed, yanking against the restraints. Gave up after a few moments as the panic subsided and lay there, letting his head clear of the fog. They’d come in here, while he was helpless, unspecified someone’s, and handled him and it rocked him to his core. It didn’t matter how much the reasonable part of him realized it was all part of the game. Didn’t matter that he recognized the pattern – – the damned effective pattern – – for one his very own people had used in breaking down 33.1 inmates, because a mind fuck was a mind fuck, even if when realized it for what it was.
Twenty-six hours. Clark had been going non-stop for twenty-six hours. He’d searched every underground LuthorCorp facility he knew of, every abandoned one he or Oliver’s team had taken out of operation in the off chance Tess had brought it back on line. He’d been working his way outward concentrically from the city, LuthorCorp storage facilities in Granville, Chemical plant in Durben Station, the Smallville plants.
Two LuthorCorp cargo planes had taken off from Metropolis National within four hours of Lex’s disappearance and Chloe tracked their logs for him. Chicago and Long Island destinations, and God, but that widened his search pattern a damned big lot. There weren’t just LuthorCorp facilities to take into account, but subsidiaries, and subsidiaries of subsidiaries and Queen Industry assets that Tess would have access to without necessarily needing Oliver’s consent.
Then there was LuthorCorp ground freight which was always moving to and from the hub of Metropolis, truck and rail and God, but so damned many ways to move a man unseen that even Clark couldn’t track them all in a short span of time. If Lex were even alive. If Oliver hadn’t been right in his assessment, and Tess hadn’t just had him killed and disposed of in a manner that Clark could never track. And then there were the other options to consider – -that it hadn’t been Tess at all and that opened a whole new world of possibilities.
He stopped, somewhere between Chicago and Metropolis, on his way back to confer with Chloe, and stood there on a stretch of country road, shuddering.
It hurt. He didn’t even know if that worst-case scenario was true and still it hurt. Familiar sort of hurt, because he’d believed Lex dead before, and it had never failed to make him clench up inside and want to retreat to someplace safe and numb – – but this time, this time he wasn’t fooling himself about what was at risk. This time he didn’t have teenaged ignorance veiled in the refuge of red K, or enmity or anger to curtail it. He felt raw thinking about it, through and though. He felt raw not knowing.
He clenched his jaw, shaking off the dread, because imagining the worst wasn’t productive. All it did was threaten to shut him down and he couldn’t afford to let that happen. Lex couldn’t afford it.
He wouldn’t let himself fall victim to that sort of pessimism. He’d search until there were no more options and then he’d search some more.
The second time they put him out, they used gas, filtered in through the grate in the ceiling. After what had to have been hours strapped to the damned bunk, without them doing a thing, he heard the faint hiss of something pumping in from above, before his head was swimming again and he was sucked under.
He might have been more alarmed, if he hadn’t been so damned annoyed. They were just showboating now, showing him that they could.
He came awake this time on his stomach, with hands on his person. He caught of glimpse of them, bland faced men in gray smocks lacking any identifying mark. He tried to gather the strength to roll and shake them off, but his limbs were still half numb from the lingering effects of the gas. The grips on his arms tightened still, and he felt leather of cuffs bit into his wrists as they fastened his arms behind him.
“Son of a bitch,” he spat out as they dragged him up, neither one of them much smaller than Clark, neither one of them showing an iota of emotion. “This is the biggest mistake of your lives and you can tell that bitch – -”
Was about as far as he got in his threat leveling before he was shoved, not gently, against the closed door and gagged. It was demeaning as hell, and infuriating and no small bit frightening. He fought it, fought them, damned and determined not to go along with this meekly, but they were professionals, the sort of men hired specifically for the purpose of handling recalcitrant subjects.
One of them triggered the door’s electronic lock and they hauled him out into a hall illuminated with dull, institutional lighting and lined with about a dozen windowless doors. There was a glass door at the end, which triggered before they got to it, sliding open to a small chamber with three other glass doors, all of which remained closed, until the one behind them slid shut. The one to the right opened then, to another short hall. There were a few doors with glass windows, labs, by the looks of them, and one at the end, thick and metal, that just had ominous written all over it.
Every instinct he had screamed not to go into that room, and he dug his heels in, bare feet slipping on metal flooring as they dragged him along anyway. The door slid open onto shadows illuminated by spot lighting and the flicker of monitor lights.
It was the sort of room where tests were performed, where procedures undertaken with callous disregard. This was the sort of room that inspired nightmares and no man ought to be dragged into against his will. Ironic insight to have, he thought, no small bit of dread beginning to make his heart race and bile to rise in his throat, considering he’d commissioned dozens just like it.
A skeletal man in gray scrubs and a surgical mask stood by a t-shaped metal examination table. He gave the orderlies a nod, and they wrestled Lex forward, bodily lifting him onto the table. He hit a tray with his foot as he fought it, and there was the sound of god knew what sort of metallic instruments scattering on the floor. One of them drove a fist into his gut for the trouble, and the air huffed out of his lungs in a mass exodus. That took the fight out of him long enough for them to pin him down and fasten restraints. Legs, arms secured to the t-wings of the table.
He lay there trying to breath through the gag, trying not to shake and failing miserably at it, while the orderlies retreated, and the surgeon loomed over him, eyes huge behind thick-lensed glasses. He wanted to rail and scream and threaten, but all that came out were muffled sounds of protest as the man picked up a pair of gleaming scissors and began to cut through his sweater.
The surgeon straightened, putting the scissors back on the tray he’d righted, and looked over his shoulder at a darkened observation window.
“Shall I begin?”
He kept looking, waiting, until a voice through an intercom said. “One minute, Doctor.”
Lex wasn’t even sure it was Tess’s until the door beside the window opened and she stepped through, her lumbering silver haired goon shadowing her.
Her eyes were hard, her mouth set, but there was an underlying tremor of anger, that in this place, with no one to impress, she didn’t try so hard to hide.
She walked around the table, her heels clicking on the metal floor, savoring he had no doubt, the feeling of absolute power. She traced the edge of one leather cuff with her nail, then leaned over to look him in the eye.
“Did you think I would just sit back and let you just breeze in and take over? Did you think it would be that easy?”
He’d hoped, but he’d held no such illusions. He forced his breathing calm, and met her eyes unflinchingly.
“You’re probably wondering why you’re not dead.” She ran the tip of her nail across the skin on the inside of his wrist above the cuff. “And I admit, that simply removing you would have been the conservative move. But I felt that conservative just didn’t do you justice, Lex. And one of the things you taught me was not to waste unique resources. And you are unique. This body is, certainly.”
She moved the nail to his sternum, tracing a line down the center of his chest. “We’ve been trying to create the perfect clone for years, and always come up short. But you came back with that marvelous alien tech, and that marvelous alien knowledge and what do you know – – grew a genetically perfect replacement body in a fraction of the time our technology would have allowed. A body intact with the original’s meteor enhanced alterations, I might add.”
She knew. She fucking well knew and maybe had known all along, privy to the plan back before she’d severed ties. She’d just been perfectly content to leave him in the dark, once she realized he had zero memories of that last year.
She leaned close, her breath tickling the side of his face. “You pioneered the research of special individuals. It’s fitting, isn’t it, that you endure a little of it yourself? Just think of the value medically, if we could find a way to replicate your accelerated healing? Though I imagine pinning down the details will be painful. Excruciating probably. It could take months, years even of – – experimentation.”
Leather creaked as he clenched his fists, straining against the cuffs, wanting very dearly to wrap his hands around her throat.
“Hurts already doesn’t it?” she whispered, close to his ear. “That feeling of betrayal?”
And it clicked. This whole thing – – her whole crusade against him was because of a fit of paranoia on his part when he’d been contemplating putting her into a position of power. Goddamned Veritos bullshit that had had him flinching at shadows and suspecting every goddamned body of plots and machinations. God knew he’d been going through more scotch in a day than he’d used to consume in a week and maybe that had had something to do with the fact that at the time, bugging her had seemed like such a stellar idea.
She straightened, and nodded to the waiting doctor. “Run the full battery, Doctor. Don’t worry about anesthesia, it would ruin the experience. ”
Forty-two hours and Clark was starting to feel the edges of strain from operating non-stop, at high gear with no sleep. He was running down the list of possible Long Island locations when Chloe called and told him she had something.
It took him a whole seven minutes to make it from the east coast to Metropolis, a blaring testament to just how thinly stretched his stamina was.
He blew in with a certain lack of estimation for what high-speed entrances could do to doors, and the newly replaced glass made a protesting rattle as door slammed against wall, and a little spidery crack appeared at the top edge. He stopped, right on the threshold, staring at it, caught of a sudden by how very close he was treading the line of loss of control.
Chloe looked up from her console, brows drawn. She’d changed clothes and had a Styrofoam cup of coffee on the desk by her keyboard.
“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to catch an hour’s sleep,” she remarked.
That seemed like a reasonable suggestion, but sleep was not his friend. He didn’t need much of it, but when he did, his dreams tended towards vivid and he didn’t need to experience whatever terrible scenarios his subconscious could dream up about Lex. He’d go without. He figured he had another forty-eight hours in him before it became an issue he’d have to deal with. God – – another forty-eight hours with no Lex and he’d likely start dissembling things – – LuthorCorp things – -piece by piece, and not give a damn who saw.
“What do you have, Chloe?”
She waved him over, and brought up what looked like grainy, video surveillance capture on her monitor.
“I got every security camera feed from this side of the block that I could, and came up with nothing – – then I had a bright idea, and started checking next street over. The shoe shop at the other end of the ally has a security monitor over their back door. It doesn’t cover the whole area, but look what it picked up within the half hour time period than Lex left here and you showed up.”
There was a staticy, black and white image of the alley that caught a partial view of a black car, the license plate of which was not visible. Then he saw what looked like two guys, the very edge of two guys, that might just possibly be wrestling something that could have been the size of a body into the back of a car. It was too shadowy and the image too far out of the range of the camera, to really make it out. He was in the process of complaining about that, when one guy moved around to get into the drivers seat. The angle was from above and didn’t show any details of the face, but the body was big and stocky and the shock of hair on the head was so pale it seemed silver.
Clark knew that man. Clark had seen that man twice with Tess and once by himself at the door of Lex’s Regency Suite.
He took a breath, a tremor of dread and excitement and hope shuddering through him. This was a lead he could sink his teeth into. This was solid confirmation that Tess was behind Lex’s disappearance. And this time when he went for answers, pleas of ignorance weren’t going to cut it.
“I know him,” he said grimly. “He’s LuthorCorp security.”
“Are you sure?” She asked, but he was already on the move as the question was leaving her lips.
He was more circumspect in his approach this time, stopping outside LuthorCorp, staring up and through the multitude of layers that made up a building, searching for Tess. But the office at the top was empty, and as he did a slow examination downwards, he found no sign of her anywhere else in the building.
He did find Hans Loflin in the basement garage. Conferring with two other bullnecked guys in suits, all of them carrying concealed weapons, Loflin himself, multiple ones about his person.
Weapons weren’t an issue. Hell, even ones loaded with kryptonite bullets were useless if a man hadn’t the time to draw and fire. And Clark had given all the warning he was prepared to give, on his first visit to Tess.
He waited for the little conference to break up, for the men to split off, the two walking deeper into the garage towards a car, Loflin moving for the elevator, then he headed in, full speed, caught the man about the waist without slowing, and had him ten city blocks away, on the top of the deserted JK Cranny building in the literal blink of an eye. He’d disarmed him in another, weapons mangled balls of metal that he tossed carelessly away as Loflin knelt, gasping after the air Clark had knocked out of him.
Clark stood glowering down, the sun at his back, as the man looked up.
“Where is he?”
Loflin’s mouth tightened, then he was driving a fist up, aiming more than likely for a sensitive groin shot. Clark caught his wrist before he’d cleared half the swing, crunched bones as he jerked up, pulling Loflin to his feet. The man didn’t scream at the broken bones, just drove the other fist towards Clark’s face, and Clark caught that hand too, used it to shove Loflin backwards. The lip of the roof kept him from skidding right over the side, a nasty drop thirty stories high.
Clark stalked over, caught him by the collar and hauled him up again, shook him, hard enough to rattle teeth, hard enough to disconcert a large man not used to being manhandled.
“Let’s try this one more time. Where is Lex?”
“Go to hell.” Loflin growled at him, no fear, no pain on his face.
Clark hit him. A love tap, really, that likely broke his nose and snapped his head back on his neck.
Loflin spit blood and tried to lever Clark over his hip, a smooth martial move that would have worked like a charm with a man not possessed of Clark’s particular strengths. Clark hissed in frustration and tossed the man over his shoulder, a casual flip of his arm that sent Loflin tumbling through the air twenty feet, and crashing into a rusty air conditioning unit.
He headed after him, vision oddly black around the edges, heartbeat oddly calm for what he was about, the infliction of casual brutality. He was more aware of the sound of his boots crunching in loose roofing gravel, than he was of the harsh gasp of Loflin’s bloody breath. Loflin sprawled, hands scrabbling for purchase. The fingers of his good hand found a length of pipe and closed upon it. He lurched up, swinging and Clark blocked the blow with a forearm, before tearing the pipe out of the man’s hand and tossing it aside.
He curled his hands in Loflin’s lapels and jerked him close, growling close to his face. “Where is he, Goddamn you? I know you took him!”
The man’s lips pulled back in a bloody grin, the first real emotion Clark had seen on his face. “Go ahead. Kill me.”
Clark hissed, drew back a fist and hit the man again. Harder this time, his blow driven by frustration and fury and pain. The man tumbled backwards over the AC unit and lay sprawled and bloody and still.
He stood there, shaking, thinking for a second he that he’d killed him, and that would have been okay – – save for the fact that it wouldn’t have been at all. Because he’d been preaching at Lana and Oliver how it wasn’t their place to take lives – – except when it was, apparently – – and oh, God, he didn’t want that sort of blood on his hands – – and all for nothing, since the man seemed willing to die to keep Tess’s secrets.
But there was a heartbeat and Clark almost sobbed, having a choice now, of staying here and beating the man to actual death in the vain hope he’d break with the application of a little more pain, which was unlikely – – or backing the hell off and trying to gather up the shreds of his scattered wits.
He chose the latter. He had to choose the latter for his own sanity. The balcony of the Regency suite was a quiet strip of haven. He sank down onto one of the metal chairs, and stared hollow eyed out over a Metropolis deep in the throes of late afternoon. And Lex was out there somewhere and Clark was failing him.
He dropped his face into his hands, felt the wetness of blood on his skin and didn’t care. He wished almost, that it was his.
Physical pain would have been a stark relief from the mental anguish shredding him from the inside out.
Consciousness was harder to find this time, like swimming through barb-infested molasses. The closer he got to it, the more it hurt. A hundred little points of throbbing ache that begged to just give up the fight and sink back down to oblivion.
Lex had never been that accommodating. He blinked up at the ceiling, 7×7 square of white that went soft, then hard edged, then soft again as his vision swayed. Or was that the bunk tilting under him, the whole of the cell? He shut his eyes again, a wave of nausea rising. It came on fast, and he rolled off the bunk, cement grating his knees, made it to the toilet in time to vomit up the bare bones of whatever was left on his stomach.
He pushed himself away after, wiping the back of a hand over his mouth, shuddering, muscles spasming here and there in fits of tactile memory.
He hurt. A hundred individual aches that formed an enormous cohesive whole. His back, where skin touched the wall, felt raw. His throat did. There were visible marks on his skin, half of which he recalled the application of – – some of them scabbed over and healing, some of them – – not – – the one’s that weren’t visible, those he still felt the echoes of.
He didn’t remember passing out in that room, with that damned bug-eyed butcher looming over him, but it had been a blessing. If he’d ever had a man like that under his employ – – a man who’s amplified eyes reflected an appreciation for his job that went beyond medical exploration – -then God help him for the fucked up karma that was rushing his way now because of it. He hoped not though, hoped that the guidelines set down when he’d started the 33.1 research facilities had been adhered to by the administrators he’d put to the task. It wasn’t ever supposed to have been punishment – – just an expansion of understanding.
He leaned his head against cold concrete and laughed hollowly, sure that motto had been cold comfort to the subjects of wholly enthusiastic pursuit of a better understanding of deviant biology.
God, it sounded so altruistic when he put it that way. It might have started out pure science, pure exploration – -but he’d morphed it into something else along the way. So damned obsessed with finding a means to fight his demons, that maybe he had stopped caring that he had monsters of a worse sort working for him. Maybe he’d stopped caring that he’d been one himself.
He leaned over, forehead on knees, and sat there, trembling ever so slightly – – he couldn’t stop it – – thinking about sound reasoning backed by bad decisions. Hell, who was he kidding, bad decision-making was an understatement, full on psychopathic was a more accurate term.
He’d made those calls – – those terrible calls that had cost lives and used people up in places like this, all in the pursuit of something greater. He remembered a time when he’d despised the sort of men that could practice that callous disregard – -men like his father. And irony of ironies, he’d become one himself. So, full-circle, he’d come back around, and despised himself.
The bunk was more comfortable than the floor. Marginally. He forced his aching body to move and collapsed back onto it. Lay with his eyes shut, trying to ignore the dull throb of fading pain, trying to ignore the insistent voices of self-incrimination that would get him absolutely nowhere and thought about how he was going to crush Tess.
The legal methods were all fine and good, but really, after today – – the last few days? – – A lawsuit just seemed underwhelming. Strangling her seemed an appropriate response. Clark would take issue.
He rolled his eyes as that thought intruded, then narrowed them, thinking that yes, it actually did matter what Clark might and might not have problems with – – a great deal – – and that would put a crimp into any particularly violent acts of vengeance.
For a time, he forced himself to think about nothing, just to lie there and drift, concentrating on singling out the little pains from the bigger ones because that was better than thinking about how they’d come about. Better than dwelling on the fact that if Clark hadn’t found him yet, then Clark might not and that meant that this had only been session one.
No. Jerk his mind away from that dark, dark path and think about a way out.
After a while, he sat up, staring up at the surveillance camera in the corner of the ceiling in speculation. For Tess, this was all about betrayed loyalties, maybe even a shifting of priorities, if she was in bed – – metaphorically – – with Oliver Queen. But most especially, it was all about him. He’d bet money she had a live feed of this cell at her fingertips. The scientist in her would want to study his reactions as much as the betrayed woman would want to see his suffering.
“So, Tess, ” he said, conversational tone of voice. “All of this because I hurt your feelings? Because in a moment of irrationality I made the decision to invade your privacy? I’ve made better decisions, I admit. But come on, stealing my company out from under me, destroying my things, depleting my fortunes – – this – – ” he waved a hand around the cell. “I’m thinking the crime doesn’t quite fit the punishment. And you don’t even have the guts to accuse me face to face. Easier to try and pull off the charade of letting me think I was just a collection of copied memories downloaded into a cloned body, when you fucking knew it wasn’t true. And yeah, I know the truth, Tess, so you can stop playing that game.”
He drew a knee up, casually, like the movement didn’t ache enough to make him cringe.
“You’re nothing more than a woman scorned, Tess. Accomplishment on my part really, since I never even got around to sleeping with you.”
He smiled disdainfully for the camera’s benefit. God, he was becoming particularly adept at coming up with deliberate ways to piss off women in power, but if that didn’t get her down here, nothing would.
For a while he thought it hadn’t worked. That he’d delivered his pitch to some tech in a security office that wouldn’t understand a fraction of it.
An hour, maybe two passed, excruciating, mind-numbing time filled with nothing but blank walls and fading aches. He turned his arm, looking at the series of consecutively deeper slices in the soft flesh of his inner arm, contemplated running his own little experiment, timing how long it took for gashes to seal and skin to flawlessly heal. And it would be flawless, it always was, he’d just never paid that much attention before to the alacrity. Taken it for granted, really, when he’d probably have been dead a dozen times over if not for his particular brand of alteration.
Only problem was, he didn’t have a watch and his inner clock had never been that accurate. One of the reasons he’d had such an extensive collection of timepieces. Besides which, chances were they’d inflict new wounds soon enough and ruin his concentration. Take more samples – – and God, he didn’t need to go there, because just thinking of it made his spine tingle, phantom memory of the needles going in. The extraction of spinal fluids and bone marrow were not particularly pleasant procedures to endure.
He picked at the scab of one gash idly, peeling away crusted tissue. A little blood rose, slow seepage. He stared, drawn in by the red, until he realized his hands were shaking and he clenched his fists, driving away the weakness. This wasn’t the place to show it.
The sound of the door lock disengaging snapped his attention away. It opened, but it wasn’t Tess who stalked in, but her security chief. Almost Lex didn’t recognize him, wouldn’t have save for the silver hair. The man’s face was swollen and bruised, nose disfigured, both eyes deeply purple. His right hand up to mid forearm was encased in a cast. It looked rather like he’d been hit by an angry truck.
It didn’t stop him from surging forward though, shoving Lex back as he rose from the bunk, the casted arm tight across his neck. The other hand brought out a gun, pressed it hard against his temple and the only thing looping through Lex’s head was that he’d miscalculated Tess, and badly. That instead of a conversation she was going to give him a quick execution for his trouble.
The pain he got though, wasn’t a bullet to the brain, but a hot explosion of agony in the groin as Loflin jammed a knee between his legs. He choked on the pain, dropping down to his knees as Loflin backed off. He fought for breath, eyes tearing, and God, if there were levels of pain, this was a whole different one from what he’d experienced in the lab and Loflin had gone through a lot less trouble to inflict it.
The man gave him all of thirty seconds to writhe before he kicked him backwards against the wall, crouched down, face to face and held up the casted arm.
“See this? You get to pay for this.” The man growled, a moment before he used it to backhand him. He hit the edge of the metal toilet, double impact, curled on the floor, vision spiraling crazily, blood in his mouth from teeth shredding the inside of his cheek. He wasn’t sure if it had been Loflin that had done it, or the toilet.
A hand around his neck pulled him upright, held him tight against the wall while the man crouched there, staring at him through swollen eyes.
“You pay for this, too,” Loflin said and pulled back the casted arm, ready to smash Lex full in the face with it.
“That’s enough, Hans,” Tess’s soft voice from the door. Loflin hesitated one moment, arm trembling, before he pulled back, rose and went to stand by the inside of the door as Tess stepped over the threshold and walked in.
“He had a run in with Clark,” she said with a casual shrug. “And has a little frustration to work out.”
Lex swallowed blood and stared up at her through wavery vision. He wanted to curl up on the floor around the center of pain that still throbbed in his gut, but damned if he’d let her see it. He wasn’t sure he could get up to face her on level ground though and that was salt in the wounds. But there was a little curl of hope. If Clark had beaten her goon bloody, then he was on the right trail.
She stood there, looking down her nose at him, heels, tailored skirt suit, glitter of disdain in her eyes. So much power over him at this moment, that there wasn’t even a divide visible, but still, she’d come. Because of his taunts, so maybe he had just a little scrap of power after all.
“You’re wrong,” she said. “This isn’t personal. This is because you’re a monster and the world is better off without you free to walk in it”
He blew out a slow breath, untwisted one leg and relaxed back against the wall. Took a few more breaths, trying to gather enough control that his voice didn’t shake when he spoke. “Yes. I suppose you’re right. I was. I did – – unforgivable things. You think that escapes me? It doesn’t.”
He choked off, swallowing more blood, took a painful breath – – God, he’d be peeing pink for a while, if he survived these next few minutes – – and said. “You know I was – – not quite right – – don’t you? You’re a smart woman. A brilliant woman – – you have to have figured that out.”
“I figured out quite a few things, Lex.” She curled her lip at him in disgust, her fists clenching and unclenching at her sides. A damned big tell that she was upset. That this was so very, very personal indeed. He didn’t call her on her lie. It wouldn’t be beneficial to him.
“What I did to you, Tess, was reprehensible. You believed in what we were doing. You believed in me. And I couldn’t get past the paranoid assumption that everyone around me was poised to stab me in the back.” Though granted, half of them probably had been.
She lifted her chin, the faintest tremor in her chin. “Your lack of trust issues was the least of your problems.”
He shrugged, willing to give her that one. Willing to give her pretty much anything if he could reason her out of taking him to pieces. Pride was an expensive vice in the face of being laid to waste, slow and methodically.
“I’m sorry, Tess. You’re my biggest regret. ” Which was a flat out lie, because God, he’d done a lot worse things, but right now she was the only one that mattered. “My vision was clouded then, with conspiracies and paranoia and no regard for anything outside of those. You were the most valuable asset I had and I fucked up.”
She stared at him, a faint wrinkle between her brows, the faintest trace of uncertainty in her eyes. She shook her head minutely and brushed it away. “You’re a liar and you’re trying to play me. Just like you’ve always played me. Do you think pretty words will make a difference anymore, Lex? You made your bed. And you’re going to take people down with you that probably deserve better. As valuable as Clark is – – and I realize his value even if you had more twisted views on it – – I won’t let him interfere. And thanks to all your handy notes, I know how to deal with him.”
“That would be such a mistake, Tess,” he said it mildly. “I realize my mistakes. You don’t have to make new ones of your own. I’m not the same man I was and you have to see that. I can make allowances for a great deal of stress-related mistakes – – I can relate to a little good, old-fashioned vengeance. Cross that line with Clark – – you might as well kill me now and save yourself the trouble later.”
She canted her head, a curious quirk to her mouth. “Now there’s a familiar threat. You don’t have him wrapped around your finger at all, he’s got you. He’s always had you.”
Lex narrowed his eyes at the implication, more annoyed at the observation from her, than the probable truth of the statement.
Before he could deny it, or she add to her hypothesis, klaxons began to blare.
The charge on Clark’s cell exhausted itself a sentence in on Chloe’s call. The crackle of fire behind him, the pop of inflammables still going up from the ‘refinery’ that wasn’t a refinery at all behind him, almost obliterated her voice.
All he got was a “Clark, you need to get – -” Before the connection sputtered out and the screen went blank.
He glanced around at the handful of figures he’d dropped off on the other side of the burning building that sat atop a dank little warren of tunnels filled with labs and banks of computers.
He checked once more to make sure there was no one else left in the ruins he’d made of the facility and headed back to Isis.
The sky let loose between the refinery and there, but he outraced all but a few drops. He was gentler with the door this time, slowing down in the hallway outside, before striding in.
She wasn’t alone. Oliver was there, and whatever the two of them had been talking about, they stopped short upon his entrance. Oliver looked away from her, jaw tight and Chloe took a breath, before giving Clark an arched brow and a condemnation about his phone charging abilities.
“Its not that hard to remember to charge a phone, Clark.”
“What is it?” He wasn’t particularly pleased with Oliver at the moment, after his distinct lack of help when they’d last talked. He was tired and he was raw and his patience was a thin, tattered thing.
“Oliver has some information you might be interested in,” she said, taking note of his tone and giving him one of her own. She’d been up for the last twenty hours herself, coordinating with him, running herself ragged with her mere human stamina to help him find a man she didn’t particularly like.
He turned a hard look Oliver’s way, waiting. Oliver gave him a sullen one of his own, before taking a breath and saying. “I might have a lead.”
“If Tess has him – -”
“He’d be her number one priority.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. I can’t find her. After I – – talked – – with her guy, she went off the grid.”
“Yeah, well, I know her better than you do. She’s taken the time out to get her hair done twice in the last two days.”
Clark blinked not getting it. “And this means – – what?”
“It means,” Oliver said, voice strained as he held out a slip of paper. “If she’s prettying herself up for him, she’s got a whole other agenda in mind. But I’d assume she’s going the other direction. Check out the address, Clark. I hear they give great mani-pedis. ”
Clark glowered and snatched the paper, looking at it, then up at Chloe.
“No connection to LuthorCorp or any subsidiary that I can find,” she said. “But it does have a basement level that sits directly over the old Metro line. There are a lot of old tunnels down there that someone looking for a private workspace to remodel might take advantage of. No city records of any renovation, but the power company did get a work order five months ago to redirect power cables under that stretch of city block, so I’m thinking somebody with pull had a project underway.”
It was enough for Clark. God, he’d have gone and checked it out on the off chance that it was only a salon that he might have caught Tess Mercer visiting. He was that desperate.
He was gone before either one of them could say another word, skidding to a stop on the rain slicked street outside Kandi-Kay Beauty. It was late enough that traffic on this city side street was almost non-existent. The closed sign was on the door and the windows were dark. The neighboring shops were also closed for the night. A lone taxi cruised past him, the driver giving him the evil eye for standing in the middle of the street.
He went around to the alley behind the row of shops, found the salon’s back door and shoved it open. There was just a cluttered back room beyond it, full of boxes of shampoo and beauty supplies. He canted his head and listened for the low-grade hum of electronics. A camera nestled within an overhead heating cooling grate, which he took out with a single, quick burst of heat vision. And behind a shelving unit the quiet buzz of something else. He focused his vision and looked through the shelf and the wall behind and found the metal doors of a small elevator.
He shut his eyes for a second, praying that this wouldn’t be another false lead, then tore through the shelf and the wall to get to the elevator. A key card was apparently required for operation. Clark wasn’t in the frame of mind to go looking for one. With a wrench of metal he pried the doors open, then slammed a fist through the floor, until he had a hole big enough to drop through.
He plummeted maybe a hundred feet, before he reached the bottom of the shaft and the second set of elevator doors. Alarms had started to shriek somewhere between the beauty shop and him hitting ground. He hadn’t expected there not to be security, he just hadn’t cared.
He ripped open the elevator doors, stepped into a dimly lit hallway, even as the sound of pounding boots echoed from the other direction.
A quick glance with x-ray vision and he saw two guys with automatic weapons running down a bisecting hall, saw lots of little rooms, lots of blind spots that had to be lead coated, more men gathering themselves deeper in. Not a skeleton crew here then, but a fully operational facility, not ten blocks from LuthorCorp.
He was on the move before the two guys rounded the corner, slamming into them as he passed, leaving them unconscious in his wake, without them ever seeing his passage.
There was this level, and there was another one below it, but that seemed mostly storage, mostly big spaces with lots of boxes and generators and such. He didn’t care about that, he cared about the little rooms, especially the lead lined ones where people might be hidden out of his view. A guy came around the corner while he paused, studying the layout and sent a wave of automatic weapon fire at him. He wasn’t stupid enough to stand there and let the bullets hit him – – he remembered the kryptonite darts, thank you very much – – so he wove and ducked and slammed the man’s head against the wall, stood for a second as the guy was sliding down that same wall trying to get a bead on how many heartbeats there were in the place.
A dozen maybe. But determining if Lex’s was among them was almost impossible, what with the clamor of the alarms and his own pounding heartbeat, and the sudden racket of more gunfire directed his way.
Damn. He took an intersecting path away from the oncoming gunfire, tore open one room with a lead lined door, only to find a man in a lab coat, cowering behind a bank of equipment. Clark growled and moved on. A thick blast door slammed down, twenty feet ahead blocking forward passage. He kept going, figuring that if they wanted to keep him from that direction, then that was the way he wanted to go.
He started to wrench it up, when the whiz of something big coming at him fast from behind, drew his attention. He turned, caught the flash of the rocket as it whooshed towards him, a quicker flash of the big man down the corridor with the handheld launcher propped on his shoulder. Got distracted by the head of silver hair and only barely avoided taking a hit dead center. It hit just left of his shoulder when he shifted, and the explosion pelted him with shards of metal and put big, fire singed holes in his clothing.
Clark looked up, through the smoke, at the man down the hall, a battered man with more shock on his face at the lack of damage that Clark had taken, than he’d had when Clark had been beating him to a pulp. Loflin dropped the rocket launcher and took off.
Clark pursued. Got waylaid for a second or two by a rain of gunfire coming at him through an open doorway. He felt the dull impacts of about a half dozen bullets hitting him, before he detoured into the room, ripped the gun out of the shooter’s hands and used it to knock him out. Then he got back on track, but by the time he had, Loflin had rounded the corner, and when Clark rounded it after him, he came up short, stymied by the insurmountable roadblock of Tess Mercer with a gun to Lex’s head.
Everything else sort of blurred out around the edges for him, Loflin pelting up to join Tess, the alarms, the smell of gunpowder and burning electronics. Just Lex in focus, shirtless, barefoot, his wrists cuffed behind him, a wan, exhausted look in his eyes, drying blood o his face. The unforgiving muzzle of Tess’s handgun pressed hard into the soft flesh between jaw and jugular.
Clark’s vision came back into focus. Loflin had a gun in hand, was standing next to Lex, glowering at Clark, while Tess was behind him, using him as a shield between Clark and her.
Lex just looked at him, one brow arching slightly, a silent commentary on Clark’s tardiness getting here, maybe.
“It didn’t have to be like this, Clark,” Tess said, and there was something akin to regret in her voice.
Almost he laughed, the relief warring with the simmering rage at the fresh bruising on Lex’s face, the marks on his exposed skin, like they’d been at him with God knew what.
“You didn’t leave a lot of choices.”
She smiled coldly, almost sadly, jammed the muzzle of her gun hard enough against Lex’s neck that he winced, clenching his teeth.
“Even you’re not fast enough,” she said. “To stop a bullet from this range.”
“You want to lay odds?” he asked, soft growl, body tensed to do just that if her finger twitched. He could be there before the bullet traveled the length of the chamber and he’d rip her fingers right out of their sockets if he had to, wrenching the muzzle away.
“If it were me,” Lex said slowly, almost imperceptible tremor in his voice. “I’d have a box prepared just for you and the bait to get you into it.” His eyes shifted up to the lead lined plates in this little section of corridor.
Loflin growled, slammed the butt of his gun against the side of Lex’s head, driving him out of Tess’s grip on his cuffs, and into the wall.
“Hans,” Tess snapped, even as Clark snarled and made a move, but both of them had their guns on Lex then, and Clark wasn’t entirely sure he could stop two bullets, especially if Lex were right and this were a trap laced with lead shielded kryptonite. Tess would have planned for the eventuality of him coming after Lex. Or she’d simply planned for him.
“You’re fast approaching the point,” Lex said softly, leaning with his eyes closed, his cheek pressed against the corridor wall, new blood brimming from the cut Loflin’s gun had made above his temple. “Where those allowances I was talking about, just dry up.”
Her mouth tightened, her eyes flickered up to Clark, waiting to see if he’d make a move maybe, but he was busy scanning the walls, not able to see inside those lead covered panels, but able to recognize the mechanisms that would allow them to slide back, and reveal pockets in the wall. On both sides and on the ceilings with two blast doors on either side, ready to seal him in if he allowed himself within the range of something possibly crippling.
He could take them both out from right here. All it would take was a blast of heat vision. He could be precise if he tried. It was just that precision wasn’t quick and while he was taking out one, the other might get that shot off at Lex. Clark wasn’t willing to take that chance.
There were other options, a full on speed attack that he could hopefully pull off before electronic impulses could trigger the panels open. While he was assessing alternatives, Tess surprised him.
“Mr. Loflin.” She motioned with her free hand and he frowned, but after a moment, lowered his gun, taking a step back. She kept hers where it was, leaned in close against Lex’s back and whispered in his ear.
“Remember, I could have killed you.” Then she stepped back, raising her hands, so that Clark could see that the gun was not a threat to Lex.
Lex stared forward, expressionless, then he pushed himself off the wall, took a step towards Clark and staggered, balance wasted from either the blow to the head or some previous injury they’d inflicted. Clark clenched his jaw and tensed, waiting for one of them to double cross them, and try and put a bullet in his back. Kryptonite trap or not, he’d be there to intercept it. But he’d rather if Lex stepped past the boundary of the blast door on his own.
As soon as he did, as soon as he cleared that groove in the floor, Clark moved. Put everything he had into sprinting forward, wrapping his arms around Lex and retreating. He bypassed the elevator doors entirely, there were men there with guns and he couldn’t chance a stray bullet with vulnerable human flesh in his arms. He found a stairwell downward, to that vast storage area, and beyond that, past thin concrete walls were the endless tunnels of the old city metro. Miles and miles of them, abandoned, dank and dark. But they offered safety, after a distance. And he stopped after a while, in a pitch blackness that even his superior vision could only make vague heads and tails of.
He let Lex down, but not out of his arms, hugged him close, too tight probably, but he needed to feel the solid warmth of his body, to feel the steady beat of his pulse.
“I’m sorry. Sorry.” Was the only thing he could think to say, mind whiting out in relief, and guilt and gratitude to whatever twist of fate that had let him find Lex.
“Clark – – Clark,” Lex gasped against his neck, not fighting it, but sounding pained enough that Clark swore and loosened his hold.
“Get these off.”
He was talking about the cuffs, and Clark reached behind him and snapped the links. Lex’s arms dropped then, and he swore himself, more creatively than Clark, and leaned against him, shuddering.
“Where – -?” Lex asked.
“Old metro tunnels,” Clark answered. To Lex, everything would be pitch. “There’s got to be a way out somewhere down there.”
He swung Lex up without asking, and Lex sucked in a breath, not particularly fond of the practice, but not complaining. Just looping an arm around his neck and holding on as Clark put on a burst of speed.
He found a station platform down the tracks a ways, and with a little brute force, cleared the rubble from the stairwell leading up. Which got them to the new subway tunnels overhead and an easy way to street level.
“What do we do?” Clark asked, standing in the drizzle outside of the Government square subway entrance, arm around Lex because he just didn’t want to not be in physical contact. It was probably a good thing, Lex was swaying, and Lex looked paler by far than Lex usually did.
“Back to the hotel,” Lex said.
“They know where your room is.”
Lex shook his head. “She won’t come after me.”
Clark stared at him, thinking maybe exhaustion or pain had pushed him over the edge into delusion.
“Clark. Trust me. Just take me back to the Regency.”
Arguing with Lex when he looked as if he were about to fall down was beyond him. And if they did make an attempt at him, Clark would be ready.
He picked Lex up again, and headed towards the Regency, made the leap to the balcony, scanning the room even as he landed, but there was nothing sinister lying in wait. He bypassed the living area and headed for the bedroom. Slumped down on the end of the bed with Lex still in his arms, and pressed his face against the smooth side of his head.
Clark was trembling, and he couldn’t seem to stop, and eventually, Lex threaded his fingers into his hair and forced his face up.
“It’s okay, Clark. I’m okay.”
“I’m sorry. I let this happen – -”
Lex narrowed his eyes, a flash of confusion before he let out a breath of exasperation.
“Don’t be more of a martyr than you have to be. This had to do with me and it had to do with Tess. You had no bearing.”
“I let you go off alone. If I’d been there – -”
“Don’t.” Lex’s voice broke. He took a breath, gathered himself. “This was inevitable. Granted, a confrontation over brunch would have been preferable over one in a lab – – but it would have happened, sooner or later.”
Lex pushed at Clark, a signal to be released, and reluctantly, Clark let him go.
“Are you okay?” Clark asked softly, worriedly, as Lex wove like he’d had too much to drink, on his way to the bathroom.
“Fine,” Lex said, but Clark rose and followed him anyway.
“Do me a favor, ” Lex asked, his voice starting to shake a little. “Check me over, make sure they didn’t – – implant anything.”
Clark did, and found no foreign objects, but was able to get a better look at the things he’d only gotten a glimpse of before. Anger chased away his guilt and he had the sudden urge to go back there and demolish the place.
“Lex, you can barely stand,” Clark tried to reason, as Lex turned, examining those same marks himself in the mirror, lifting a hand to touch a scab here or there. His fingers were shaking, that determination his eyes had held just a few minutes ago when he’d been chiding Clark for martyrdom, replaced by something a little more hollow.
“Lex,” Clark came up behind him, hesitating before laying a hand on his shoulder.
He flinched at the touch, looked up and met Clark’s worried gaze in the mirror’s reflection, said through clenched teeth. “Stop hovering.”
Clark swallowed and backed off. Retreated to the bedroom and sat there, listening to the sound of the shower. It went on for too long, and he couldn’t stand it any longer.
When he slid the shower stall door back, Lex was sitting against the back wall, knees drawn up, head bowed under the spray of water, quaking.
“Damn,” Clark swore and stepped in clothes and all, dropped down to his knees and reached for Lex.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” Lex hissed, head snapping up, glaring at him. There was the faintest trace of red, rimming his eyes. Like maybe he’d been crying and covering it the only way he could, under cover of the shower and God, it tore Clark to pieces, because Lex just didn’t let that much weakness show. Not unless he was rent to the core.
So there was a time to bow to Lex’s stubborn defensiveness and a time to just risk his wrath, grab hold of water slick skin and draw him in. Lex fought it at first, shoving against Clark’s shoulders, before he gave in, fisting his hands in Clark’s wet shirt and pressing his forehead to Clark’s shoulder.
“What did she do to you? What did she do?” Almost Clark didn’t want to know what sort of things could be done, to reduce a strong man to this.
But Lex shook his head, ground out. “Nothing I didn’t order done myself – – a dozen different labs – – hundreds of test subjects – – I had worse done. God, so much worse. You should know that. Of all people, you should fucking know that.”
“I know it,” Clark said softly, water on his lashes, water running into his mouth. Lex was distraught. Lex had been traumatized in a place that might as well have been of his making, and well-earned guilt was rising up to rip at his conscience. And Clark felt an odd little sense of relief because of it. Lack of guilt would have been a terrible thing. He didn’t think he could have loved a man who didn’t hold enormous remorse for the terrible things he’d wrought, even if he weren’t quite the same man now that he’d been then. “I know what you did.”
He pressed his lips against the slick skin of Lex’s scalp. “I forgive you. I forgive you, Lex.”
“Why?” Lex asked, raw voiced, against his shoulder, as if he couldn’t wrap his head around how it was possible. As if maybe he never quite had believed – – really believed that Clark wasn’t holding onto grudges and old wounds and accusations. And Clark hadn’t given him reason not to when he’d let him drive off from the caves. Maybe even he was, a little, because some things were hard to forget, and alien as he was, he was still pretty human in some respects. It didn’t mean he couldn’t get past them.
“Because I love you. Because even when I hated you, I still just – – loved you. And you forgive the people you love, even when they have trouble forgiving themselves.”
It was a good explanation. He liked that explanation. Simple and to the point. Lex would probably pick it to pieces. But he loved that about Lex, too.
He wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Exhaustion maybe. The remnants of too many drugs in his system over a little more than a forty-eight hour period. Too many aches to catalogue. Maybe just a damned regrettable lack of accumulated scar tissue in the brand new brain housed in the head of this body, that had apparently served pretty well as a buffer in the past against – – well, against all manner of things.
Things that had just rushed up unexpected and blindsided him when he was already on shaky ground. He hated Clark seeing him in that state. He hated betraying that much weakness and could quote a dozen ‘tender’ maxims he’d learned from Lionel about the dangers of such. It wasn’t like Clark needed another advantage over him.
But then, Clark wasn’t Lionel. And Clark didn’t have the sort of look in his eyes of a man who’d just discovered a chink in the armor of another. Clark just looked concerned, and wet, hair clinging to his forehead, black lashes spiky and shedding tiny droplets of water when he blinked, clothes wet and clinging to his body.
“C’mon,” Clark urged, and Lex was numb enough – – thankfully numb – – to let him pull him up and out of the shower.
“You have your clothes on.” One of the more obvious statements to ever pass his lips, but his brain wasn’t up to more complex deductions.
Clark raised a brow and draped a towel around his shoulders, then started shedding soaked clothing in the shower stall. He kicked the whole sodden mess into the corner, grabbed a towel and scrubbed at his hair, before wrapping it around his hips.
Lex stared at him while he did, mesmerized by the lines of Clark’s body – – always mesmerized – – this time it just hit him harder. How beautiful he was, how unmarred and pure – – so resistant to the taints that marred the rest of them. And what he’d said – – about love – – that was hard to fathom, because Lex wasn’t sure he deserved it.
“Lex!” Clark said his name sharply, and big fingers grabbed his jaw, hard enough to make him blink back into focus, gentle enough not to hurt already bruised flesh.
It was shock, he thought, it was him going into a sort of shock after the fact. After the adrenaline and the desperate need to fight for survival were no longer required to keep him afloat. He wasn’t sure what to do about it, other than ride it out.
Clark turned him around, got him headed towards the bedroom, which was cool and dark with the curtains drawn. He stood there, as Clark pulled back the comforter and the top sheets, and it took a firm nudge from Clark to get him moving again.
“Just sleep,” Clark said, settling him, like he was a child that couldn’t do it himself. Annoying enough that it made something huge and painful rise in his throat. God, he was tired, but he’d slept too much the last few days and not by choice. He didn’t want that darkness, afraid of what would come at him in it.
He shook his head, looking for the remote. “Turn on the TV,” he directed.
“No.” Clark slid in next to him under the sheets, long hard limbs naked against his. Big. Warm. Clark curled around him, pulling him into the crook of his arm, leaning down and pressing his lips against the tender spot on his temple. Again, a different place and sighed afterwards.
“Sleep, Lex. I’ll be here. Promise.”
It sounded like an order, which rankled, but it was hard to snap at Clark when his heartbeat was this steady, comforting rhythm under Lex’s cheek – – when his fingers were slowly stroking circles on his skin.
When sleep came this time, it was warm and welcoming and blessedly dream free.
He drifted awake by degrees, the comfort of a soft bed drawing out the process. There was sunlight filtering in through closed curtains, and when he looked, the bedside clock read 4:10. PM.
He was alone in bed, but he could hear the low murmur of Clark’s voice from the other room. He lay for a while assessing the state of body and mind, and concluded after a bit, that the former still felt as if he’d been the victim of a beating – – which he had – – and the latter, mercifully lucid.
He got up, urinated, which yes, did twinge a tiny bit, but thankfully was blood free, pulled on the most comfortable clothing he had, a thin sweater and a pair of pajama bottoms – – he had absolutely no intention of impressing anyone today – – and headed out into the living area.
Clark wasn’t alone. The sofa was filled with Clark’s women. Two of them at least. Chloe and Lois, the latter with her shoes off and one foot tucked under her as she sipped at a tumbler of Regency booze that would go on Lex’s tab and Chloe pecking at a laptop on the seat between them. Clark was at the balcony doors, talking on his cell.
Lex stopped dead in the doorway, thinking that if he turned around now they just might not take notice and he’d be able to get away clean. He wasn’t sure he was up to fending off Lois Lane’s constant attempts at interviews, much less her cousin’s hostility.
But Lois looked up, saw him first and blurted. “God, you look like hell.” So he was caught and there was nothing for it, but to put on his bland face and continue on in as if they hadn’t made him hesitate at all.
Clark turned, eyes sweeping him up and down critically, before he softly told whomever he was talking to that he loved them and he’d call them later. His mother then, unless Clark had become far too liberal with the phrase.
Chloe took a breath, as if she were gathering resolve and nodded at him civilly, while Clark was striding over.
“Hey,” Clark said, giving him a look that asked, without voicing the question, how he was. He gave a slight shrug, half hidden from the women by Clark’s body. Clark dipped his head a little, studying him, maybe seeing something a lot clearer than he’d seen last night in Lex’s eyes, because he showed teeth in a smile after and asked.
“Are you hungry? You want me to call something up?”
Lex was. Ravenously. He didn’t have his timeline down pat, but he figured it had been a couple of days at least since he’d eaten.
“So,” he padded around the bar and poured a half tumbler of the decanter Lois had left out on the bar top – – a little alcohol on an empty stomach could only make the afternoon more tolerable. “Chloe. Lois. To what do I owe the honor?”
Lois snorted, but Chloe flicked her eyes to Clark, and Lex decided that whatever reason they were here, it had to do with him and the recently rectified situation.
“Chloe helped, Lex.” Clark said, hanging up the suite phone after his room service call. “She helped a lot. So did Oliver.”
Lex lifted a brow and snorted himself.
“He gave me the beauty shop tip. I wouldn’t have found you without it.” Clark explained.
“I’m sorry about what happened, Lex,” Chloe said, meeting his eyes levelly. “So now we both know, from personal experience, how – – unpleasant – – those sort of places can be.”
He remembered giving that order, before he’d left for the great confrontation in the Arctic, to have her picked up. He had no idea how long she’d been a guest of his facility – – longer probably than he had. There wasn’t enough brandy in his glass. He threw back what he had and refilled.
Lois looked between them thoughtfully. He didn’t know how much they’d shared with her, not Clark’s secrets certainly, but she’d had to have guessed a good deal about the rest. She’d been at the heart of uncovering no few of his dealings herself not to have pieced things together.
He stared at them, waiting, not in the mood for twenty questions.
“So you want to give me your version of the story?” Lois didn’t make him wait long. “Because the straight facts are gonna have the most impact.”
God. “You’re writing a story?” He slammed his tumbler down hard enough that amber liquid splashed over the rim and onto his hand. His head was starting to throb. He curbed the urge to fling it across the room, preferably at Clark.
“Lex,” Clark came around the bar, put a hand on his wrist, maybe a good enough judge to sense impending violence when he saw it. “It’s not gonna to hit the papers. We’re just taking a page out of your playbook. It’s leverage, Lex. We’ve got evidence – – Chloe’s been collecting evidence, we’ve got shots of that facility, and if she comes after you again, it will go public.”
He stared straight ahead, through the balcony doors, trying to get his pulse under control. Clark edged a little closer, slid a hand up his back, like he was trying to calm a spooked animal. He should have been offended. He closed his eyes for a moment instead, brushed his shoulder against Clark’s chest.
Lois was staring with both brows raised, turning things over in her head. She snorted again, and said. “You are such a liar, Smallville.”
“Shut up, Lois,” Clark muttered, but didn’t edge away.
“So I assume you’ve got a backup cache if she decides to simply take one or all of you out of the equation?”
“Of course,” Chloe said. And Chloe was good enough at what she did that Lex trusted that confidence. Besides which, he had a gut feeling – – and God knew why he was trusting his gut, when the whole of his belief system was turned on its head and battering at him relentlessly – – that this war might have turned into a cold one, instead of full out combat.
Like she’d whispered in his ear, if she’d wanted him dead, he’d never have left that cell. The smart move would have been to take him out before Clark ever got close enough to make a difference. If she’d really wanted him dead, Loflin would have put a bullet in his head in that alley outside Isis. What she’d wanted was retribution – – but it was hard to tell with a woman sometimes, if she felt she’d gotten her due.
“I also let my mom in on the basics,” Clark said. “She’s got pull and contacts.”
Lex supposed she did. A US senator wouldn’t be a soft target, if one were trying to eliminate witnesses. Clark had been thinking while Lex had been sleeping the day away.
He gave up his defensive stance at the bar, and sat down in one of the armchairs across the coffee table from the girls.
“I appreciate the help, but how long is this little pow wow going to last?”
He wanted them gone. He wanted the peace to just sit and maybe stare at news he didn’t have to think too much about. He wanted that meal Clark had ordered.
Clark could stay.
“We’re done,” Chloe said, closing up her laptop, and Lois pouted, the sort of houseguest you had to push out the door.
They got up to leave, Clark moving to the door with them, telling Chloe he’d call her. Asking Lois to keep covering for him at work.
He’d loose his job over this, if he weren’t careful. Lex couldn’t bring himself to care. He’d give him a new one once he got LexCorp back, though he rather doubted Clark would appreciate the generosity.
“It’s a shame I can’t take this to press. A Lex Luthor kidnapping story would get me back that front page byline,” Lois lamented as she was leaving. “But then didn’t there used to be like one of those stories every couple of months anyway back in Smallville?”
He gave her a dry, humorless smile.
Chloe passed, not quite looking at him. She had more axes to grind with him than Lois. More personal affronts. And still she’d helped Clark help him.
“Thank you, Chloe,” he said softly as she passed him, and her eyes flicked up, met his, then she nodded, a little uncertainly.
The meal cart was rolling up the hall as they were going down. He let Clark meet it, went and sat down on the sofa the girl’s had abandoned and cut on the TV.
Clark let him eat in peace and food, along with natural sleep went a long ways to soothing some of the knots out of his head.
“You wanna talk about it?” Clark broke his silence after the meal was finished. The question could have covered any number of subjects.
Clark stared at him from across the table, taking the refusal in stride. He rose then, and headed for the table by the door. Came back with a stack of paper.
“There were a bunch of messages while you were – – gone. Front desk sent them up.”
Lex leafed through them briefly. One or two out of the bunch were worth his time dealing with. His important contacts had his cell number. Speaking of which – –
“Damn, I lost my phone – -” He’d never fully appreciated the importance of a good assistant before. Most of those numbers he’d had to make an effort to get. Jotting them down on actual paper hadn’t occurred to him.
Clark winced and produced Lex’s cell from the pocket of the jacket draped over one of the dining table chairs. There was a spidery crack on the face, and it looked a little crumpled around the edges. The screen was a little staticy, but it blinked on.
“Sorry.” Clark shrugged. “Found it in the alley.”
The voice mail was full. Weeding through that seemed as good a task as any to occupy the remaining hours of afternoon. He never had been good at simply enjoying a lack of momentum.
Clark occupied himself, not leaving the suite the duration, though he’d had to have left briefly at some point, because those weren’t the same clothes he’d been wearing when he’d pulled Lex out of Tess’s facility. Lex suspected, that until he got security of his own, Clark would stick very, very close. Which in and of itself was not a bad thing. Was a desired thing, honestly – – up until the point that Clark’s hovering started interfering with him conducting business and or Clark began grating on his nerves.
Clark, who’d apparently gotten over his issues with room service, had another meal cart called up around 9, this time with enough food for three or four people. Which Clark delved into, gourmet hamburgers and thick cut fries, which Lex had to admit, actually looked good enough to sit down and pull a plate over and bite into himself.
“So I get that somebody kicked your ass, but what were the cuts and the burns and the other stuff all about. “Clark caught him off guard with the somber question and his eyes were very serious, like the answer to that question might send him out to track down Tess and meet out vengeance of his own.
Lex met his eyes, drawing a slow breath, and figured, if the positions were reversed, he’d damned sure want to know details. Maybe it was even important that Clark did.
“I heal at a accelerated rate, Clark. It’s my gift from the meteors. They were in the process of carrying out tests to determine how accelerated. ”
“By hurting you and seeing how fast you’d heal?”
Lex shrugged. He was good at uncomfortable subjects, really, he was, but this one made muscles flinch.
“Or it could have just been an excuse for her to get her pound of flesh. You know I had a ocular transmitter implanted in her before I left for the Arctic?”
Clark blinked. “What’s that?”
Lex sighed and tapped his brow above the right eye. “A camera, Clark. And I imagine the me that was running around after the Arctic got pretty good usage out of it.”
“She didn’t know?”
Lex gave him a look. “Do you think if she’d known, she’d have flown into a rage and gone about systematically deconstructing my empire? No. She didn’t know.”
“Obviously in hindsight, I wish I’d just had her keep a particularly succinct journal.”
The fact that Clark could flash him a weak smile for that observation, was oddly relieving.
Clark dragged the last of his fries through ketchup, chewing thoughtfully, then sat back, and watched Lex.
“So did she know, from the start that you were you?”
Lex shrugged. “Probably. From what I gather, she was in my confidence for quite a while before she discovered the implant.”
Clark dragged the last of Lex’s uneaten fries over and started working on them, thinking.
“So this wasn’t about her wanting to keep control of the company, or turning some new leaf and wanting to take it a new direction – – this started with her just being pissed off at you for putting some bug in her head?”
Lex shrugged again. “Women can be touchy about that sort of thing.”
Clark gave him a stern look this time and pointed the last fry. “That was a shitty thing to do and I’d have wanted to hunt you down and kick your ass, too, if you’d done it to me – – but damn, Lex she’s taken it really, really far. Are you sure you didn’t sleep with her?”
Lex leaned back, meeting Clark’s eyes speculatively. “Why, because all the people I sleep with tend to take a turn towards the unhinged?”
“Women,” Clark clarified for him. “Let’s hope it’s just the women, Lex.”
Clark didn’t often do dry sarcasm, but that was a good try. Lex grinned, the first time he’d felt like it in quite a few days.
“Yes, let’s do hope. And no, I never slept with her. She was infatuated with me though. I used that.”
Clark rolled his eyes in exasperation. Lex thought, that if Clark were going to insist on having these sorts of after dinner conversations, exploring past deeds, then looking appalled at the answers, wine with dinner just wouldn’t do. Scotch tended towards mellow. Perhaps he’d start keeping sake around.
“You can be a son of a bitch,” Clark remarked, but he softened the insult by coming over and flopping down next to Lex on the couch.
“Why, because I seize opportunities when they present themselves?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly why. I heard what you did to Lana.”
Lex leaned back a little, gauging Clark’s expression. Said slowly “I assumed you would.”
“Chloe said she’s devastated.”
Clark leaned forward, chasing down Lex’s subtle retreat. “That was a stupid thing to do. She’s almost as fast as I am.”
“Was,” Lex clarified. “Was almost as fast.”
Clark glowered, and Lex leaned back on an elbow and considered rolling off the couch and going to the bar, because he’d feel better delving into a Lana-related conversation with that and a army of alcohol between him and Clark.
Clark nixed that notion, by planting a hand on the edge of the couch between Lex and easy escape.
“She could have killed you. Dead. I don’t think she was interested in making you suffer – – I think she just wants to snap your neck.”
“My point exactly,” Lex said. “On less empowered female out for my blood.”
Clark just stared at him. Shook his head minutely, finally, a faint quizzical smile in his eyes. “You make me a little crazy, you know that?”
Lex lifted a wary brow. “I would think I’d be a mature, grounding force – -”
“Shut up,” Clark leaned down, kissed him. “I sort of like it.”
Lex let his elbow slide out from under him. Clark was very, very careful of him, holding his weight off with hands braced on the couch, until Lex tangled his fingers in his hair and pulled him down. They shifted then, settling into comfortable positions, Lex’s knee between Clark and the sofa back, Clark between his legs.
“When I couldn’t find you,” Clark said against his neck, voice gone rough and wet. “When I thought you might be – – It felt like I couldn’t breath. Like there was this fist inside my gut with a chunk of kryptonite that just wouldn’t go away.”
Lex knotted his fist in the thick hair at Clark’s nape. He could relate to that feeling. It terrified him knowing how much Tess knew about Clark. And as long as she was at odds with him, she’d be at war with Clark and he needed to rectify the situation.
He kissed the jut of Clark’s jaw, slid his fingers under the top of Clark’s jeans to the swell of his ass. Clark sighed against his neck, pushed himself up enough to peer down questioningly.
“You’re pretty banged up?”
It was sweet how concerned he was, when Lex felt the hard jut of his erection poking him in the hip.
“Did I not mention, I’m a fast healer?”
“You’re not that fast.”
“Umm. Then distract me from the residual aches.”
Clark’s worried frown evolved into one of those slow, blinding smiles. One of the one’s that made Lex melt a little inside, and want and want badly to believe the things Clark said. Things like declarations of love.
Clark leaned down and kissed him again, all tongue and slick teeth and soft lips, then pushed up, and offered a hand to pull Lex up after him. When Lex’s head stopped spinning he accepted the offer, let Clark pull him up and draw him towards the bedroom.
Somewhere between shedding clothing and Clark completing one of the most thorough blow jobs Lex had ever had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of, he decided that there was no wanting to believe, involved. He believed.
Clark was either invested, or he wasn’t. Clark was not a halfway sort of guy. Discounting various mind-altering induced incidents, Clark had slept with two people in his twenty-two years. He’d loved Lana. He probably still did. But he’d been willing to fight her for him. He’d beaten a man to a pulp for him. He’d convinced people who had good reason not to care if Lex lived or died to go out on limbs for him. He’d come for him so many times – – when he’d had no reason to, when they’d been doing their damndest to piss each other off. He knew what Lex had been and what he’d done and still he kissed him with honest abandon and gave him that smile. What else but love could it be?
God knew he was lost.
Roy Lipscomb stopped by the next morning, after breakfast, big smile on a usually dour face. Clark let him, keeping a cautious eye on him, like he thought the old man might have had a change of allegiance and come with plans of taking Lex out at the Regency. Recent bad luck aside, Lex needed to sit him down and talk him into relaxing his vigilance. Lipscomb didn’t scare easily, but even he gave Clark a wary glance as he passed. Lex assumed Clark’s focused glower was him checking under the man’s clothing for hidden weapons.
“We’ve got our trustee meeting,” Lipscomb crowed.
Lex lifted a surprised brow. “When’s the hearing?”
“No hearing. We’re meeting with the board itself. Don’t know what happened to unclog the works, but Harper, Gardner and Scholl gave us a call today and said the board’s ready to convene. Come next week, you may have control of your assets back.”
Lex sat back and considered. LuthorCorp at the behest of Tess had been obstructing that full board of trustee convergence and the only thing, short of a court order that would have gotten the ball moving, would have been a withdrawal of that corporate barrier.
He wasn’t sure if this were some tactic on her part to put him off his guard, or an overt offer for a cessation of hostilities. He supposed he’d find out, sooner or later.
“So this is good, right?” Clark asked, after Lipscomb had left.
“It’s very good.”
“Luthorcorp withdrew its objection to the hearing?” Clark surmised, apparently having been paying attention to the legal maneuverings.
“That would be my assumption.”
“Think she did it as a peace offering?”
Lex shrugged, giving him a half smile. “That’s one of my theories.”
Clark chewed that over. “So what are you going to do?”
Lex paused in flipping through the documents Lipscomb had left, looking up. “What do you mean?”
“You’re suing her personally and Luthorcorp in general for – – what about a half dozen things?”
“A few more than that. What’s your point?”
Clark sighed. “So, if she’s going to try and make an effort – – you’re not going to meet her halfway?”
Lex smiled coldly. “No. Kidnappings and torture aside – – she sold my shit, Clark. My cars – – all gone. I had a ’61 Ferrari 250 GT California. Only 55 ever made. 30 still in existence. Do you know who she sold it to?”
Clark looked as if he really didn’t want to know. Lex spat it out anyway. “Queen. Oliver fucking Queen.”
“I had a Centennial Park penthouse – – best location in the city – -” He tapped a page of the document in his lap. “That she sold and donated the proceeds of to the ‘save the Bolivian blue throated Macaw foundation’. Shall I tell you about my art collection?”
Lex snorted. “So yes, I’m going ahead with my lawsuits. I’m going ahead with my plans to level LuthorCorp and bankrupt Queen industries. I give it – – two years. Depends how fast I can get a medical application patent for the nanite technology. Once that’s done, I’ll consider truce.”
Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. Then shook his head and said, dryly. “I love it when you have a plan. Makes my life so much easier. Dr. Groll’s working for you again?”
“Did I not mention?”
“No, you didn’t mention. I assume it was him then, that made the thing that depowered Lana?”
Lex looked up from under his lashes, waiting for Clark to get pissy. Clark had looked vaguely upset this morning when Chloe had called and told him Lana had left town and instructed Chloe specifically not to tell Clark until after the fact. As far as Lex was concerned it was the first reasonable move she’d made since showing back up. If she stayed away, he might even be inclined not to pursue his suits against her.
“I convinced him that it was in everyone’s best interests to do so,” Lex said warily.
Clark surprised him, by simply sighing and sliding down the couch arm where he’d been perched and onto the seat. “Yeah, I guess it sort of was.”
Lex canted his head, watching Clark curiously.
“I wouldn’t wish – – you know, power, on anybody,” Clark admitted. “Not this sort – -” and he waved a hand at his general person. “Its not easy to maintain control – – all the time – – in case you might slip and break something or somebody. I don’t know why she wanted it – -”
Clark looked genuinely distraught over it.
“You can be daunting, Clark. The whole concept of you can be daunting. I don’t think she could quite stand the notion of just being the hometown girl standing in your shadow.”
Clark blinked at him, on the verge of being hurt. “I don’t cast that big a shadow.”
Lex gave him a dubious smile. “You do. And as much as she was Smallville’s favorite daughter, she had insecurities.”
Clark picked up a glass nic nak from the table and turned it in his hands while he considered that opinion. Big hands. Long fingers, incalculably strong. Lex loved his hands.
Clark looked back up at him finally, from beneath thick, black lashes. “You don’t have – – insecurities do you? About me?”
Lex almost laughed, but Clark look serious enough that he restrained the urge. “God, I’m sure I have a few lurking around – – but not about you. Your shadow isn’t big enough to eclipse me.”