Obsessions: 2

Clark was in the midst of a dilemma. Oh, he’d sailed into the house three minutes before midnight and got away Scott free on the curfew thing, and they never suspected he’d had the pleasure of driving a Porsche all the way home, or the reasons why – – but he couldn’t shake the Lex thing from his mind.

He spent days turning it over in his head. It was like he’d just discovered the earth revolved around the sun or something, instead of the other way around. The revelation disrupted all his longstanding faith in the way the world was supposed to be.

Lex liked guys. Lex liked women too, because like – – duh, Victoria – – and at least a half dozen other that Clark had actually seen on his arm, not to mention the ones he hadn’t seen. So that absolutely was the definition of bi – – Cark had looked it up first chance – – and he still didn’t know how he was supposed to feel about it.

He could imagine what Pete would say – -an unequivocal ‘gross’ – – before he went into a vehement I told you so rant, which was why Clark would pull teeth out before telling him. But there was nothing ‘gross’ about Lex, even – – and Clark sort of tightened up in misery a little admitting it – – when he’d been letting that guy grind up against him.

Okay, so it made him uncomfortable in a weird sort of way. In a mortifying sort of way, because when he spent too much time thinking about it, his dick would get hard and want to poke right up out of the top of his jeans. It was bad enough he got stiffies like every other hour when he wasn’t even thinking about anything vaguely sex related. But when they cropped up when he was thinking about Lex? He just sort of wanted to die.

Worse even than when his mom had started taking notice of all the bathroom time, and even walked in one morning when he was half awake and sporting the most embarrassing tent under his sheets. And then gone on that morning, when he couldn’t look her in the eye without blushing, about how it was natural for a boy his age and how his body was changing and stuff about hormones and that maybe physical puberty came before sexual puberty with his race, while the whole time his dad had been standing there with his mouth open in shared embarrassment. Clark had wanted to dig a hole and jump in and never come out.

And yeah, getting a boner thinking about Lex liking guys was worse than that.

So he avoided Lex all week. And even though he was pretty sure he’d blown it all out of proportion, he wasn’t sure how to look Lex in the eye and not blush.

He went to his part-time summer job at the feed store, and to the Talon afterwards to sit and watch Lana and make sure Toby Pierce wasn’t doing the same. Lana smiled at him like she always did, and didn’t mention anything about his weird ass phone call the night of the show, or her aborted trip for the same. Summer business was slow and she had time to sit down and chat between bussing tables and waiting on customers. They talked about the summer heat and school starting up in a little over a month, and a book she’d read that he’d tried to get into and failed. He lied a little and pretended he’d gotten further than he had. He didn’t ask about Whitney or whether she’d made the decision to break up with him and she didn’t bring it up. It was sort of depressing.

A little while later Pete’s refurbished old convertible pulled up outside the Talon and Clark spent a few minutes grinning out the window as Pete laboriously tried to parallel park the big thing.

Finally, when he’d managed to squeeze it in between two pick-ups, Pete ambled in, spotted Clark and headed for his table.

“Something cold,” he told Lana when she waved at him, then slipped into the seat she’d abandoned.

“So what’s up, Clark? You work today?”

“Yeah,” Clark drained the last of his iced coffee and the straw made sucking sounds at the bottom of the plastic cup.

“You work all week? I haven’t seen you.”

Clark shrugged. “Mostly. We harvested the east field beginning of the week. Sort of kept me busy.”

“So I heard from Toby Pierce that that date his sister tried to set him up on with Lana fell through.” Pete eyed him critically waiting for reaction.

Clark chewed the inside of his lip and considered breaking the news that he already knew, thanks very much. Clark glanced towards the coffee bar to make sure Lana was still occupied making Pete’s iced coffee, before leaning in and admitting. “Yeah, I know. I was there. Sort of.”

Pete widened his eyes inquisitively. “Sorta how? What do you mean ‘there’? Dude, you are so holding back on me? Spill.”

Clark hadn’t planned on it, but not telling somebody about his big night in a college town was killing him. He’d been hit on by a college girl, for God’s sake. And driven a Porsche. It wasn’t like he had to mention Lex sex-dancing with strange guys or admitting things that Clark would just as well not have known. It wasn’t like Pete was going to rush home and tell his mom. He might not like Lex much, but he wouldn’t rat out Clark just to spite him.

Pete was appropriately impressed with the story. Especially the collage girl part, even if Clark couldn’t remember exactly what she’d looked like.

“Damn, Clark, why didn’t you ask me to go? Those girls wouldn’t have known what hit ’em.”

Clark smirked, imaging Pete trying to pull out his smooth with a bunch of twenty-year old girls. “You couldn’t have gotten me the tickets and even if you could have, would you have gotten within ten miles of a show called Uterus?”

Clark said this last really low, just in case Lana was close enough to overhear and connect the dots.

Pete snorted into his iced coffee, shaking his head in amazement. “Not even that close. Watching you make a fool of yourself over Lana is a better show anyways.”

Clark laughed, but it wasn’t like it wasn’t true.

He was in the barn a few days later, currying the old brown mare while the gelding looked over the door of his stall in anticipation of his turn, when Lex stopped by.

He strolled in, with his silk shirt and Italian loafers, about as out of place as it was possible to get in an old dusty barn. He avoided a clod of manure and stopped in the open stall door, leaned a shoulder against the post and watched Clark stroking the currycomb down the mare’s sway back. She swished her tail at him, bored of the whole thing.

“Hey,” Clark took a breath and told himself to get over it, and looked Lex in the eye.

“I get the feeling that something’s bothering you.” Lex didn’t take prisoners, and he could be as uncomfortably blunt in some things as he could be evasive in others.

Clark swallowed, pausing at the mare’s flank. “Why? I mean, no, nothing’s bothering me.”

He hated lying to Lex, because Lex always got that flash of a look, like Clark’s lies physically hurt, before he covered it up and reverted to inscrutable. He had to about the alien stuff – – everybody got lied to about that – – but when he lied about regular stuff, it just made him feel like crap. Lex didn’t deserve it.

But it wasn’t like he could come right out and admit what had been eating at him all week. He talked with Lex about a lot of things, but that wasn’t a topic of conversation he could bring up and survive.

Besides which, it was stupid. Who Lex liked to sleep with had no bearing on him. It wasn’t like he was scoping Clark out for future conquest ‚Ķeven though he sort of was giving him the critical once over right now in that way he had sometimes. That way where his eyes raked Clark up and down and it almost felt like he could feel the whisper of a touch on his skin.

He swallowed again, moving around to the mare’s shoulder, putting her bulk between him and Lex because his damned, unruly dick was twitching in his jeans and he didn’t want Lex to see.

“I haven’t seen you all week. You can usually be expected to show up at least once a week to get your ass handed to you in pool.” Lex lifted a brow, daring him to contradict that assessment.

Clark rolled his eyes at the mare, who rolled hers right back. “You wish.”

Lex’s mouth twitched. “I can understand, if you were a little troubled when you heard about my – – exploits – – before I came here. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

God, Lex had to bring it up in detail. “No. I mean, it’s okay – – that’s not – – I’m cool, Lex. Just been really busy, is all.”

Lex kept watching him, his eyes the color of what Clark imagined the ocean would look like in some tropical place. Worried, Clark thought. About what Clark thought about him. It hit him that it was really, really flattering, that concern. That Lex worrying about Clark’s good opinion sort of trumped Clark worrying about Lex’s sexual preferences.

“So,” Lex said finally. “We’re good?”

“Yeah.” Clark gave him a smile and felt an indefinable weight lift off his chest. “We’re good.”

Summer vacation, as summer vacations tended to be, was over too soon. Smallville High opened its doors once more to the rank and file. Chloe came back from Metropolis, fresh from her summer internship at the Daily Planet. She’d talked to Pete in the days before School started up, but Clark hadn’t seen her until the first day and there wasn’t much time to talk in the mass confusion of finding lockers and figuring out class schedules. From what little talking they did manage, Clark got the feeling that something was a little off – -but he wasn’t quite sure what.

“Dude,” Pete just looked at him and shook his head during the break between second and third period bells when he mentioned it. “There’s oblivious and then there’s you. You hurt her feelings. Girls don’t just get over stuff like that, without you know, some serious groveling.”

Clark blinked, putting things together and still not ‘getting’ it because she’d been okay with it – – she’d told him flat out after the storm that she’d been okay with going back to being just friends instead of attempting to be more. He was pretty sure that had been the way the conversation had gone, but he’d been sort of distracted looking for his dad at the time.

He worried about it all through biology and five minutes into lunch. Then she came in with her tray and plopped down next to him at the lunch table and started going on about what she’d heard had happened over the summer with Andy Carter and his apparently meteorite infected pack of hounds. Clark smiled at her breathless questioning and realized how glad he was that she was back.

She looked at him with bright-eyed intensity when he mentioned that yeah, his dad had lost two heifers to the pack, before the sheriff had had to put them down, and asked for the full scoop. So apparently no groveling was required, just a low down on all of the usual strange goings on that had happened in Smallville while she’d been gone.

Life returned to normal.

Lex, who hadn’t been attacked by anything vaguely meteor-related all summer, got married to one, and Clark, who didn’t think it was possible to resent two beautiful women in a row, found it entirely plausible if they happened to be dating/marrying Lex. At least Victoria hadn’t been out to kill him, just to use him to stick it to his dad’s company.

And Lex pretended it was no big thing, like getting pheromone jacked by a woman out for your money was something that happened to him every other day. But Clark knew better. Clark couldn’t figure out girls to save his life, but Lex he could read. What he saw beneath his impervious veneer after the fact, was bruised and embarrassed that he’d been taken so thoroughly and it made Clark hate Desiree all the more.

Which made him feel twice as bad when he found out she was dead.

In the entire two weeks Desiree had been working Lex, Clark had pretty much avoided the mansion. But with her gone and him worrying a little about Lex and Lex’s avoidance issues, it was the first place Clark stopped after school. And yeah, maybe he’d picked up the concept of avoidance issues from Chloe when he’ d tentatively discussed it with her. God knew, discussing Lex-related concerns with Pete was out of the question and generally when he talked with Lana the subject always swung around to her own issues with Whitney. Lex wasn’t the only one with avoidance issues apparently. Lex might or might not have picked up on the concern, because he’d get that dry, amused look that he wore when he thought he had people and things all figured out. But he was nice enough not to call Clark on it. And Clark would hang around and talk or urge him into a game of pool if Lex wasn’t busy. Or if Lex was immersed in work, Clark would go to the library and prowl all the first editions and various dog-eared contemporary paperbacks that Lex had mixed in with them.

After about a week, Lex got tired of him showing up every afternoon and started suggesting he go pester Lana at her place of work. If he hadn’t said it with that lazy smile and that gleam in his eyes that he got when he was trying to set Clark up with her, Clark might have been a little hurt. As it was, he figured that Lex was back to okay and that insistent urge to hang around and assure himself of that fact eased up.

Two days later, when Clark showed up on entirely legitimate reasons with the weekly produce order and strolled in for a quick hello – – because he couldn’t stop by and not see Lex – – Lex was sitting at his desk, phone in hand, wearing an expression unguarded shock.

“Everything okay?” Clark asked.

Lex looked up at him, stared as if it were taking him a little longer than usual to register Clark’s presence, then shook his head and carefully placed the phone back in its cradle.

“Desiree’s dead.”

Clark blinked, feeling his own little wash of shock.

“She was being transferred from the women’s penitentiary to the Lowell county courthouse for arraignment when she was killed.”

“H-how?” Clark’s mouth was dry. A week ago, he’d been sending a lot of ill will her way.

Lex rose in a sudden jerky movement and stood for a second with his palms on the glass top of his desk before heading to the bar. “Apparently the cruiser she was being transferred in stopped for an obstruction in the road, and a sniper shot her in the head. They couldn’t find the gunman.”

Lex tossed down a half a snifter of scotch and drew a deep breath. “I was all for seeing her rot in prison. I didn’t want her dead.”

“Yeah,” Clark whispered. He’d seen death. He’d seen some terrible things living in this town, people driven mad from something he’d brought with him when he’d come, but it never ceased to shake him to the core. He stuffed his hands in his pockets to hide the way they were shaking, and stared wide-eyed at Lex. His mouth had turned grim and his blue eyes had gone ice cold. He looked like he was trying to push aside any remorse he had been harboring for a woman he’d slept with. A lot. Even if it had all been in the course of a two week high.

“I – I suppose she maybe pissed off a lot of people – – you know, doing what she’d been doing with her – – power.” He didn’t particularly like talking with Lex about the meteor freaks and the crazy abilities most of them had, because inevitably things would turn around to Clark just happening to land smack dab in the middle of most of the incidents. And then Lex would start thinking about the river and the dent in his car and all sorts of things that Clark hated having to deny.

Lex looked at him a long silent moment, then, “Listen, Clark, I’ve got some calls to make, so – -”

“Sure. Sure.” Clark got the hint. “I’ll see you later.”

Then, at the door he paused and said, because he thought Lex needed to hear it voiced. “It’s not your fault.”

“It’s Lex’s fault,” Pete said, sounding snide and full of himself, which made Clark sort of want to reach out and smack him hard up against the side of the head.

The three of them, Clark, Chloe and Pete, were taking lunch in the Torch’s office. Chloe had a tray from the cafeteria, but she was pretty much ignoring it, opting to work on the computer instead. Pete and Clark had been vying for her tater tots until Pete started up his usual hate for all things Luthor. He was worse than Clark’s dad sometimes.

“You’re full of shit. How is possibly his fault?”

“He probably had it done himself. I wouldn’t put it past a Luthor.”

Clark rolled his eyes. “You saying that is just ignorant. It’s like because my last name is Kent, I’m automatically locked into being a farmer. Just because his dad’s an asshole, doesn’t mean Lex is.”

Pete snorted. “Yeah, he already shot one guy.”

“To save my dad! Geeze Pete, even my dad understood that.”

“Guys!” Chloe slapped her hand down on the desk and both he and Pete jumped out of their glaring contest to stare at her in surprise. “Pete, you need to get over the fact that Clark has this weird affinity for bald millionaires, and Clark, give Pete a break, he’s got this teeny tiny brain – -”

Pete threw a tater tot at her, but she dodged and laughed, the tension successfully broken.

“You remember that guy Grady Cooper?” she asked, after they’d finished fighting over the remains of her lunch. “The one that went after Lex last year after LuthorCorp bought out the bank lien on his farm and forced him off his land? Banged him up pretty bad before you just happened to show up?”

Chloe gave him an arched brow look, sort of like the one Lex sometimes gave him when he was ticking off coincidences involving Clark.

“Yeah?” Clark said slowly, remembering pretty vividly that there had been a man gone mad from the meteor rocks embedded in the earth around his house, and there had blood involved and Lex, and that Clark had been scared to death he’d come too late.

“Well, he got early parole about four months ago, and a week later, somebody broke his neck down in Granville.” She turned the monitor around so they could see the article.

“Damn,” Pete stared wide-eyed at what looked like a police scene photo.

“How do you even find this stuff?” Clark asked and Chloe lifted a brow as if he were stupid for asking.

She waved a hand at the wall of weird and all its varied clippings and photographs. “I keep track of this stuff, dufus. I get flagged when certain names pop up. It’s not rocket science. And even though I agree that Pete’s full of it about Lex being behind it, that’s two people that have done him personal damage that have turned up dead in as many months. And you know what they say about coincidence.”

“That it’s the mother of invention?” Pete offered.

Chloe rolled her eyes. “That there’s no such beast. Especially in this town.”

Donovan Decker had been dishonorably discharged from the Army Special Forces eight months after the Gulf War. Things had come to light that SOCOM couldn’t overlook, even from one of its high value assets. Things that comrades at arms, who would have died for him on the field, found themselves honor bound to report. Even then, Don Decker’s particular skills had been valuable enough during those missions that would never ever see the light of day, those missions that entailed quietly and efficiently eliminating threats to the interest of the great nation he served, that the powers that be had been reluctant to pull him from the field.

He was a patriot, after all, even if he was a flawed one. Even if the voices in his head clamored for blood beyond that of enemy combatants. It was a price to be paid for a man as skilled in wet work as Decker, and the bodies, or what was left of them were quietly covered up, swept under the rug of covert secrecy as long as Decker was a high value asset.

It wasn’t until the conflict ended, that the US Government decided that his services were no longer needed. There was no military tribunal, since there was no official record that he’d ever been any of the places his – – offenses – – had taken place, so his expulsion was a quiet affair.

And like many of his ilk, those meticulously trained men whom the military no longer had a use for, he found work in the private sector. He was a hot commodity, highly skilled, highly focused and highly loyal. Once Don Decker was on mission, it was his life. If there were a few unsolicited casualties along the way, they were a small price to pay for a job well done.

It was how he ended up working for Lionel Luthor. A contract job that went especially well, and an offer afterwards that Decker couldn’t refuse. Luthor was a generous man who knew value when he saw it and Decker spent the next few years helping to remove obstacles from the path of his benefactor. There were parts of Metropolis that were no less a battleground than the stink holes of the Middle East, or South America and Decker had free run of them with Luthor’s blessing.

Luthor didn’t care about the scum who prowled Suicide Slums. He cared about his company and his power and his legacy. Which consisted a freakish, hairless kid, who flinched at shadows and always had his nose in a book, like he could find the answers to his existence from print on paper. But he was Luthor’s flesh and blood and part of the mission was to protect the old man’s interests and Decker never strayed from point. He lurked in the shadows, true to his training and saw to Luthor business in the way in which he was best suited.

When the threats came, and the assassination attempt on Luthor himself, the old man went to war – -a stealthy, secret war that consisted as much of underhanded business dealings as the more hands on methods Decker employed. They went after the kid, and Luthor put Decker on it. A damned fierce watchdog charged with the life of the Luthor heir.

Chances were, the kid, Lex, never did realize there’d been people out to take him out in retaliation for his father’s actions. It was Decker’s job to make sure it never got that close to him, and it didn’t. He spent years shadowing the boy as he went to and from his fancy private school. Watched Lex come out of his shell and somewhere in those last few years of prep school all the adolescent gawkiness dissipated, and a boy who’d been the little bald-headed freak evolved into a sleek, confident predator himself.

Not Decker’s kind of predator. His prey tended to be the pretty girls and boys of the upper echelons of Metropolis’ elite and they generally walked away unscathed after he’d finished with them. The contemporaries that had scorned him, maybe when he’d been that awkward little bald boy. And now they flocked to him like flies to a pretty corpse, because he oozed charm, and he moved like sex.

Hard to imagine that a few years ago the kid had been flinching at his own shadow. Pale and soft skinned and Decker imagined he still was that, even if he’d gotten long legged and lean, imagined other things while he shadowed his charge, the kid none the wiser because the old man wanted it that way. Because the old man liked to keep track of what his son was up to, now that teenaged rebellion had set in full steam.

But the kid was his mission and mission was sacrosanct and Decker’s baser instincts got twisted up in a way they hadn’t been twisted before because of it. The duty to protect and the desire to break a body down, bit-by-bit all mixed up in his head. The voices in his head, always on the prowl, begged until the juices were flowing for him to just get the kid alone somewhere dark and dirty, when he was stumbling out of one of his clubs, stoned out of his head and teach him the meaning of true debauchery.

But he didn’t, loyalty to the old man keeping the desires in the back of his head at bay. And when the voices became too much, he’d track down one of the casual fucks Lex left in his wake and take out his frustrations on them.

Oh, but he wanted the boy. Wanted him in a way he’d never wanted anything in his life. He’d watched the transformation and he felt a connection, even if he’d never spoken a word to the boy in all the years he’d worked for his father. A soul deep connection that made things inside of him churn and coil. Made his heart thud and his cock leak when he’d watch him from his distance. Made the voices scream with incoherent rage when the kid was fucking someone else. Dirty whore. Dirty whore. They’d scream at him, and urge him to those things that would betray his service.

Until the day Lionel Luthor chose to betray him.

After close to a decade of service – – unswervingly loyal service – – Decker became expendable. Someone somewhere slipped up, and the old man needed a fall guy and Decker was it.

It wasn’t so much a set-up as a cover up of any connection to LuthorCorp, since Decker had pulled the trigger in question, but Lionel Luthor put him out to dry.

They put him in a room with a psychiatrist when he refused to speak holding true to his army training. Eventually an army shrink came in and conferred, a blacked out folder full of SOCOM records of his tours of duty in hand. It was then, when it hit him that Luthor had betrayed him no less foully than the army that had taken his service and slapped him across the face with it when it suited them, that he’d started talking. And their faces had whitened as they listened, and eventually it was decided, that he was unfit to stand trial. Decided he was better off in a psychiatric ward where delusions such as his could be properly treated.

They managed to keep him there, medicated and tethered for all six months, before he decided, in the midst of a drug-dulled fugue, that it was time for him to leave. So he did, killing three attendants and wounding two others on his way out.

Don Decker was back among the living, free in the world and without a hand to guide his actions for the first time since he’d joined the army close to twenty-five years past.

But he had a mission. He had a betrayal to avenge and years and years worth of tethered fantasy to finally make real.

Clark was a distraction when Lex didn’t need distractions. He was impossible to ignore, even when he tried to be unobtrusive. Lex could hardly concentrate on work when half his attention was magnetically drawn to Clark. When he’d find himself, fingers frozen over the keyboard, staring at one of the inevitable holes in Clark’s jeans, the swell of a bicep, or the sweep of long, black lashes. Looking over and seeing Clark slouched on the sofa, reading a book, or doing homework that he ought to be up in the loft at home pursuing, tested the limits of Lex’s restraint. Desiree had gotten to him through the application of a meteorite-enhanced hormonal imbalance. Clark did it by just being Clark. And god, modern glass-topped desks were in no way designed to hide embarrassing erections when they cropped up from too much speculation about well-made sixteen year olds.

And though Clark was entirely transparent in his concern, and it was honestly touching, he really needed to go back to his normal routine and stop hovering.

Lex had gotten off track enough with the whole Desiree thing. LexCorp interests, critical as they were at this stage in the development of a business, had suffered because of it. He’d lost a contract he’d been working towards, a potentially big boost in LexCorp’s long-range liquidity. He suspected, even though it was only the vaguest hunch with no concrete proof to back it up, that his father might have had a hand in it.

His father had called after the whole mess with Desiree had hit the gossip rags and chided him for his gullibility. Lex sat there and endured it, because he had been gullible even though there had been extenuating circumstances. He then politely asked how his father’s rehab was progressing which earned him the full spectrum of bitching about incompetent therapists and invasions of personal privacy and the woes of learning Braille from idiots.

Lex sat and listened to that as well, responsibility for that blindness on his shoulders, as well. It had been his call that had resulted in his father’s loss of vision. His call had almost resulted in death when he’d had that moment of hesitation during the storm that had brought the mansion down around their heads. That moment when he’d been thinking how much easier life would have been without his father in the world.

He’d surprised himself with that contemplation. Scared himself a little, that he’d been able to stand there turning things over in his head, while his father pleaded for help, A moment of weakness and God, five months later he still experienced pangs of guilt every time he heard his father’s voice.

Hearing about Desiree’s death had been unexpected. He didn’t know quite what he felt about it. Not regret, nor any sense of justice that what she’d planned for him had happened to her. Just a numb sort of surprise.

Clark had been right that there were people other than him that she’d likely made enemies of. She’d made her own bed and died because of it.

He put it out of his mind, until Clark ambled in, two days later. Judging from the book bag slung over his shoulder, he was obviously straight from school. From the tentative expression in his eyes, there was something on his mind that he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to bring up. Desiree’s murder was the most obvious choice. Lex found himself regretting blurting out the details to him. Despite the fact that he was taller than most fully-grown men that Lex knew, Clark was still a boy and a sheltered boy, to boot. The grisly details of the murder of someone he’d actually known couldn’t have set well.

So he sat back and patiently waited while Clark babbled about the annual tractor pull at Carter’s field that was happening over the weekend and about his dad winning it a decade ago. About Lana coming over the afternoon before and complaining to him about her aunt’s new boyfriend. And then finally, when Clark had exhausted his supply of fresh conversation, he took a breath, and pulled out a printout of a news article.

“Did you know this happened?”

Lex took the paper, lifting a brow at the grainy shot, obviously taken from beyond police lines of a corpse that looked as if it had been there for a day or so. First thought was, God, he’d triggered some sort of morbid death fascination in Clark, and how was he going to fix it, then he scanned the type, saw the name of the victim and made the connection.

He’d spent half a night in the guy’s barn, getting near beaten to death after LuthorCorp had bought out the lien on his farm with plans to use his land as secondary drainage for the plant. And it never failed to amaze him how his father could fuck someone over and Lex still manage to take the brunt of the blowback, despite it happening with annoying regularity. He still had no idea how he’d ended up in the emergency room and Cooper in the custody of the sheriff, under kidnapping and attempted murder charges, though he rather had his suspicions.

He looked back up at Clark. “No, I didn’t. How did you find out? Do you make a habit of scanning AP news feeds?”

“No,” Clark shrugged, looking a little sheepish. “Chloe found it. She’s got this system set up that flags meteor freak related stuff – – she made the connection to – -”

Clark broke off, chewing his lip. But Lex had made that same connection himself the moment he’d read Grady Cooper’s name. He’d been murdered three weeks ago. Two killings in a month of people that had gone after him personally. And yes, it could have been just one of those things – – an odd bout of coincidence, but coincidence, like luck, was not something Lex held great faith in the existence of.

He felt a little shiver of unease and chased it away with an application of will. Looked back up to Clark and finished his sentence for him. “To Desiree and to me? Did she think I had something to do with it? That I snapped and decided to take out all the people who’ve crossed me?”

“No!” Clark denied it with a flash of indignation. “I just thought you’d wanna know. It’s sort of weird.”

“Your concern is appreciated, but unfounded. He was found in an alley behind a bar. With his short fuse and mental instability, he probably just pissed off the wrong person in the wrong place. I doubt there’s any more to it than that.”

He looked at his watch. “I’ve got a teleconference in five minutes, Clark, so we’re going to have to cut this short.”

It was a lie, but Clark nodded, almost reluctantly, and shuffled out. Lex sat there, hands flat on the top of his desk, until Clark had had ample time to reach the front door, then he pulled up his contact list and found the number of a private investigator he used on occasion.

Everything he’d said to Clark might be dead on. Then again, it might not. And another thing he’d learned from his father was that if you ignored something long enough, it wasn’t going to go away. It was going to come back, likely twice the size and rabid, to bite you on the ass.

Four days later Lex’s world was upended. It had nothing to do with chance murders of people with violent connections to him, but rather with the arrival of his father. Blind, peevish and complaining vehemently about the stresses of city life on a man only just beginning to cope with the rigors of a new handicap.

It wasn’t like Lex could turn him away. Even if Lionel hadn’t tapped into his guilty conscience with the expertise of a man who ferreted out weaknesses for a living, the estate was technically his, under the guise of a LuthorCorp holding. So denying him unlimited access might turn tricky if his father decided to throw his weight around.

The only recourse Lex had was to have the staff put him in the west wing, far enough away from Lex’s bedroom that he didn’t have to hear the tap of his father’s cane when the old man was roaming the halls, walking off, so he claimed, the residual pain of a healing spinal injury.

Lex hadn’t had to live with his father since he was seventeen and had talked his way into his own Metropolis apartment. He hadn’t realized until he was out from under Lionel’s roof what freedom really was and God, he’d never, ever planned on sharing that roof again. When he’d been a kid he’d had a half dozen secret spots that he’d used to hide and avoid his father. He would spend the afternoon tucked away blissfully reading or daydreaming. Unfortunately, those childish escapes weren’t particularly viable when a man had a business to run and pride to maintain. And showing weakness, even when his father hadn’t the capacity to actually see it, was the last thing he wanted to do.

Having Lionel show up during breakfast, the tap of his cane preceding him, and making sly insinuations about eating in the kitchen, which was servant’s domain, being beneath him, was like nails down the chalkboard of his nerves. Honestly, Lex would rather eat in the garage than have to sit through the entirety of a meal enduring barbs from his father. But again, backing down was not an option.

Which summed up, in an excruciatingly accurate way, the gist of his relationship with his father.

After a week, any excuse he could find to avoid the mansion seemed like a good one. Unfortunately, short of driving to Metropolis, Smallville didn’t offer a great deal of options. He ended up no few afternoons at the Talon, laptop in hand, to spend a few uninterrupted hours dealing with the work he ought to have been able to do at home. Clark’s house/loft was not quite as good an escape. Clark was generally easy company, but no less of a distraction than Lionel. Besides which, Jonathon Kent tended to find reasons to stomp into the barn and glower if he spent too much time in the company of his son. God knew what he thought Lex was up to in regards to Clark, but some of his supposition probably had entered Lex’s mind at one point or another, so one could sympathize with the man’s distrust in regards to his teenage son.

Which left the mansion and Lionel’s subtle brand of mental persecution. Finding his father behind his desk, in his office, made him want to pull out hair he didn’t have. When he started shifting things about to suit his tastes, or – – he claimed with dramatic lament – – to accommodate the limitability’s of a blind man, Lex ground his teeth and considered poisoning the old bastard’s food – – or his own – – he wasn’t sure which solution would cost him less trouble in the long run.

“Patricide just doesn’t seem so drastic a solution,” he mentioned to Clark, who had strolled into the Talon to Lana-watch one afternoon when Lex had set up his mobile office in a booth at the back.

Clark pouted at him, and settled down across from his laptop, dropping his book bag onto the floor and pulling out a glossy brochure of some sort.

“Yeah, I’m almost feeling that myself. My dad’s being impossible.”

Lex lifted a brow. Clark generally held a rather high opinion of his father, so there must have been some recent development that had not reached Lex’s ears, to have Clark riled.

Clark tapped the brochure, which upon closer examination proved to be one toting the virtues of owning a class ring. Lex failed to see what possible issue of contention there might be, so waited for Clark to explain.

“He didn’t want me to get one. Said it was a waste of money. But it’s my money, and I worked all summer to get it, so I don’t see that he has a say.”

“Ah.” Lex had the feeling this was one argument he didn’t want to get in the middle of. He could just imagine Clark going home and mentioning in the middle of the ring debate that ‘Lex said – -‘ and Jonathon Kent’s head exploding. He didn’t want to be responsible for such an event.

“So,” Clark was going on, oblivious to Lex’s dilemma. “I went ahead and ordered one anyway. I mean Pete and Chloe did, and most everybody else I know, and what, was I supposed to be the only kid in school who didn’t get one?”

“I doubt you would have been,” Lex said neutrally. He was a bit surprised he hadn’t been embroiled in this dilemma earlier, but then, since Lionel’s invasion of the mansion, his Clark time had been limited. He got the feeling Clark was a little intimidated of his father. Between the town’s general animosity and Lex’s tales of woe, it was little wonder.

Clark huffed and rolled his eyes, very much a teenager in the throes of unjust persecution. “Well, I told him yesterday and he went ballistic, like I knew he would, which I why I didn’t tell him to begin with. So now he’s pissed at me, but it’s not my fault, because – – my money, right?”

Clark stared at him, big green eyes begging for a supporting opinion.

Lana passed by and saved him the trouble. She leaned in over Clark’s shoulder and pointed to one of the selections. “That’s the one I got. I can’t wait until we pick them up tomorrow.”

Clark’s sullen look evaporated and he beamed, justified in his decision. He gave Lex a ‘See? Told you so’, look.

Lex shook his head in amusement and sipped at the coffee Lana had freshened, grateful that any debate Clark had with his father tonight about the ring issue would name Lana as staunch supporter instead of Lex.

The last thing he needed was one more thing Jonathan Kent could lay at his doorstep.