Lana was dead and Clark felt angry and helpless.
With all his powers, all his unearthly abilities, he was impotent, stymied, because there was no direction for his rage. The sheriff’s department and the Lowell county DA and Henry Small and anyone else with the influence to see justice done were spinning their tires, efforts concentrated in the wrong direction – – only casually exploring other avenues in their determination to indict Lex.
Clark might have applauded that sentiment, that dogged resolve, if he didn’t grudgingly believe Lex’s claim of ignorance in the matter. If he’d believed otherwise, Lex quite possibly would be dead already, victim of Clark’s initial rage.
Lex could lie and lie and lie, serpent sly falsehoods slipping off his tongue as calm as smooth silk, but there had been something in his eyes, some spark of honest shock, of ravaged grief in the face of a fear that had nothing to do with Clark’s anger. And later, when he’d been on his way to dead, bleeding out in winter dry grasses, victim of that same fear, who’d worn Clark’s own vestige and mimicked his powers, Lex had cried innocence again. No artifice. No sleek wordplay. No articulation at all. Just desperate need and Clark accepted it. Deep down, past the surface rage, he’d believed.
He hadn’t wanted to, because God knew, Lex was black with blame, but not in this. Not in this last crime against Lana. So Clark had deposited him at the ER and abandoned him, too fast for any human eye to follow, his own body wrung dry from the fight with the phantom that had drawn from his Kryptonian DNA.
He thought the thing was gone. He hoped it was. It had happened very fast at the end, the power of the crystal rupturing through the thing, like it had pierced Lex when Zod had worn his body – – ripping the intruder violently out. Only there’d been no body this time in the aftermath, no shell drained of alien consciousness and it was entirely possible it had fled, mortally injured or just injured, to lick its wounds.
Regardless, there had been no sign or word of it in three weeks. And life returned to normal – – or as normal as life in Smallville ever got. Chloe revived from her coma two weeks after the fact. Lois published her story about illicit LexCorp projects, but all she had was speculation. She’d never gotten to the guts of it, and the military had come in a day after the dam broke and staked claim to the area. They’d cleaned everything out, despite LexCorp protest.
Quite a lot of protest, according to what Clark heard from Lionel. But the matter had serious federal attention, spurred on by powerful interests that sensed the chink in LexCorp/LuthorCorp armor and were eager to dive in for the kill.
And Lana was dead. Flesh scorched away, bones shattered so badly from a blast centered under the driver’s seat that there hadn’t even been enough left of her for dental identification. Someone had been needlessly thorough. He’d seen the vehicle, in the police compound at night, and gone over it with his enhanced vision for a clue, for a particle of anything that might give him answers, but there was nothing left but a ravaged mess. The police had already retrieved what fragments were left of the device and from what he’d overheard, from what Lionel had been able to find out for him, all they knew was that it had been no simple, jury rigged bomb. There had been artistry behind it and that probably meant that whoever had done it might have been targeting Lana to get at Lex.
If only they’d waited a few hours, they might not have needed her death to get at him. The phantom had triggered enough of a landslide to near drown him.
And that first week, Lex was attacked from all sides, damaged from the assault of the phantom, diverted by accusations of Lana’s murder and the murder itself and he just let it happen. Clark heard gleeful reports from Lois, things she’d gleaned from sources linked to her father, to old contacts she’d gained during her stint as his mother’s aide de camp, of all manner of charges leveled, of possible congressional hearings, of assets seized.
And then, they evaporated. The charges, the federal involvement, the military presence in Smallville. It wasn’t Lex’s doing. It was Lionel’s. Lionel’s maneuvering, and Lionel calling in favors that went up so high in the federal government, a simple man could get nosebleed dwelling on it. It hadn’t been Scott free, not even close. There were fines involved. Huge federal fines levied against LexCorp. Considerably more money, according to the associated press than LexCorp had liquid access to.
There were reports of bankruptcy of the smaller LexCorp and a great deal of reorganization of its larger brethren. And maybe that had worked out to Lionel’s benefit, humbling Lex. Having Lex in his debt, dubious as the favor was. Clark couldn’t guess the workings of the Luthor mind. Not Lex, and certainly not Lionel, who claimed to channel his birth father, and most likely did. But, honestly, Lionel Luthor had been as manipulative a soul as ever existed without the added benefit of Jor-el’s own brand of machinations adding a new twist to the works. It was a frightening combination and not one Clark particularly trusted.
The Lowell county DA was still investigating the murder, still had Lex in their sights, prime suspect. Lionel’s maneuverings couldn’t erase that suspicion and maybe Lionel hadn’t even tried. Maybe Lionel didn’t really believe Lex was innocent of those charges. It was hard to tell, because Lionel liked his wordplay and Lionel liked his subtle insinuations.
So the only one looking outside Lex for the people responsible – – other than Clark and his confidants – – was Lex. And even distracted by corporate disruption he had better resources than they did.
And Clark was drifting. Lost in three weeks worth of stagnancy – – three weeks of denial, of looking for someone to blame, of blaming himself, of blaming her for ever getting herself tangled up in Lex’s world to begin with, of hating the world at large for the unfairness of it all.
He needed something solid to sink his teeth into. Going to Metropolis at night, playing midnight vigilante to exercise his frustrations could only relieve so much of the pressure. He almost wished that the phantom would show up again, or some other uniquely dangerous threat, so he could really work out his rage. So he wouldn’t have to hold back when he felt the need for violence.
He wanted to know what Lex had uncovered. He needed to know it. He didn’t want to see Lex. He had avoided Lex since he’d found him by the old dirt road that bisected route 619.
It didn’t matter that it hadn’t been Lex’s hand that had forced her into the marriage. Lex was still the catalyst that made Clark’s teeth ache when he dwelled on the months she’d worn the band that declared her a Luthor. Lex had pursued her. Lex had asked her. And that was enough of a treason to make Clark see red.
He didn’t want to see Lex, but he had to, to find out what he’d uncovered.
So he drove to the mansion, late enough to qualify as rude. There was frost on the ground, frost on the windshield before the heat of the cab melted it away. Winter rolling in early, before fall could officially resign its office. It was colder out here, in the country than it was in the city – – at least that was what Clark heard. He never felt the extremes anymore. It was only ingrained habit that reminded him to don cold weather clothes at all, to avoid curious looks from the rest of the world, shivering behind their gloves and hats and winter coats.
There was guard at the gate, but he was snug in his little house, watching a tiny portable TV, so Clark go out and walked up, tapping on the glass and startling the man.
“Is Mr. Luthor home?” Mr. Luthor sounded like he was asking after Lionel.
The gate guard cast a meaningful glance at his watch, then got on the phone. After a few minutes, he hung up and gave Clark a smug look.
“He’s not receiving guests. Try coming back in the daylight, next time.”
Clark didn’t know whether the suggestion came from the guard or had filtered down from Lex on the other end. It was irritating either way and Clark stood there a moment, staring past the bars of the gate at the distant silhouette of the estate and regretted not simply bypassing legitimate routes of entry altogether.
He stomped back towards the truck, slammed the door shut with more force than needed and turned the ignition. The flare of the headlights caught the guard trotting towards him from the little house.
“He’ll see you.” The guy said, not so smug anymore, when Clark cracked the window, then went back to the guardhouse and triggered the gates open. They used to be open all the time. There used to be no guard at the gatehouse, or more than domestic staff at the mansion. Things changed.
It was a long drive, past hedges and manicured lawn. He pulled up in front of the portico, the only vehicle out front. A man that Clark wasn’t familiar with opened the door, neutral face showing no opinion of the late visit.
“Mr. Luthor is in the study.”
“I know the way,” Clark said, and moved past, rubber-soled boots making muffled thumps on the marble.
The fire was crackling in the hearth when Clark walked in, but he recalled Lex saying once, that even with the fire, and electric heat, the castle never quite lost its chill, especially in colder months. Lex had never liked the cold.
Clark didn’t see him in the room, and stood there in the center, debating a penetrating visual search of the surrounding rooms. Lex spoke to him from above.
“What do you want, Clark? Come to gloat. To see the mighty fallen?”
Lex liked to make an entrance, even when he wasn’t the one doing the entering. He stood on the balcony library overlooking the study, one hand on the railing, the other holding a tumbler of amber liquid. There was something in the careful way he held his body, in the loose set of his mouth that suggested that it wasn’t the first glass of liquor he’d had tonight.
“Funny, I never saw you as one of the ‘mighty’.” Clark said, hard eyed, standing tense and wary in a place that had once held such allure for him. “Unless we’re talking ego.”
Lex lifted a brow, a faint fey look in his eyes. He moved towards the stairs, trailing fingers along the railing. He was slim and shadowy in the wan light of the upper balcony, black pants, charcoal grey, high necked sweater that made the paleness of his skin all the more stark. It was a good look on him, but then Lex wore most everything well, and Clark had to look away, because the days of admiring the way Lex moved and the way he wore his clothing were long past.
“Ah, flattery,” Lex finished what was in the tumbler, a wry little smile on his lips that came nowhere near to reaching his eyes.
“And from what I’ve heard, you haven’t fallen. You just got spanked a little when it could have been worse. I can see you’ve had to make all sorts of sacrifices.”
Lex made him tense. Lex’s rolling gait down the stairs made him want to turn around and just get the hell out, because Clark instinctually felt that Lex lazy and relaxed, was more dangerous than Lex guarded and hostile.
“Ah, you’ve been talking to my father. But then, the two of you have developed so many common interests of late, haven’t you? Secrets shared, schemes hatched – – and he’s always proven so trustworthy – – so noble in his pursuits – – I can see why you might confide in him.”
“Lex, I’m not here to talk about your father.”
“Are you here to talk about how you escaped unscathed from the entity? I’d love to have that conversation.” Lex padded towards the glass-topped bar.
Clark tightened his lips, wondering what it would take to get Lex onto a topic of his choice and off the ones that Clark didn’t want to discuss.
“I don’t know. Isn’t it enough that it’s gone?”
“Actually. No.” Lex poured more scotch. “Who in their right mind would think that it’s enough? The thing is a killing machine, and you’d like me to just thank my lucky stars that it happened to go away – – no reasonable explanation? Do we even live on the same planet? Where’s your sense of responsibility, Clark? It’s generally so well defined.”
“You brought it here.” Clark snapped.
“I brought it to Smallville,” Lex corrected, liquor sloshing over the edge of the glass onto his clenched fingers. “I didn’t bring it here. That happened independent of me. I was simply working to make sure we’re prepared to deal with the things that follow in its footsteps.”
Clark took a breath, a knot of guilt in his throat. Lex was right on one count. He hadn’t brought it to earth. That was Clark’s doing. The deaths it had caused were ultimately on his shoulders.
But Lex was staring at the faint patterns of frost on the panes of the stained glass window behind his desk, a frown marring his brow. The liquid in his glass was vibrating, disturbed by the tremors of his hand.
“But maybe I did,” he said, voice distant, as if he weren’t really talking to Clark at all. “Maybe I did something – – when I wasn’t myself – – that brought them here. There’s no indication they were here before that. It recognized me, you know?”
“I don’t think you did,” Clark said carefully. Then. “What?”
Lex turned to look at him, eyes fever bright, cheeks flushed from the booze. “It – – said it recognized the flavor of him – – or whatever he was – – in my blood. How is that possible, if he’s gone? Zod.”
The sound of the name on Lex’s tongue made Clark’s heart pound a little faster. “He’s gone, Lex. It’s – – it’s been over a year. He’s gone.”
“How could you possibly know that? How could you possibly know half the things you claim as gospel? I have nightmares five days out of seven about Dark Thursday – – about Fine. About what I did when Zod was inside me. About what he did to me.”
“You remember?” Clark asked, fighting for calm. Trying to decipher the range of emotion flittering behind Lex’s eyes. Lex was never so open nowadays, never showed show much – -not unless there were great quantities of alcohol involved – – or equal amounts of blood lost.
Lex laughed and swallowed the scotch in one long swig. “Not a damned thing. It’s all a big blank, but what the mind knows and what the subconscious knows are two different things. It seems my subconscious is in on secrets that it’s not sharing with my mind.”
It was a dangerous topic. A loaded one and Lex was the last person on earth that he wanted to dredge up memories of it with.
“Lex, I have nightmares about that day sometimes. Everybody who was impacted by it probably does now and then.”
“Do you want to know what I’ve been feeling, ever since that fucking thing that wore your face, brought the subject up?” Lex hissed, a moment of flash flood anger. “That there is something left inside. Like the tip of a lizard’s tail that breaks off and lays there, still wriggling, amputated from its body – – but still fucking wriggling. I can’t get the image out of my mind.”
The glass hit the wall behind Clark, raining fine crystal on the carpet. It was unsettling, the words and the images and the possibilities and it occurred to him that none of them in the know had ever bothered to do Lex the simple courtesy of letting him know that Zod had been banished permanently. And he’d been obsessing about it, one way or another for a year or more. Fortifying because of it – – building armies.
Clark didn’t know how to go about it now. Didn’t know how to explain without going into his own involvement. Couldn’t explain about the phantoms for the same reason. All this time, he’d been so busy being pissed off at Lex, that he hadn’t realized that underneath the cool, and the arrogance and the machinations, lay fear.
Even if he tried to come up with a neutral explanation, a carefully worded, carefully edited account that dabbed at the edges of the greater truth, he doubted Lex would want to hear it from him. Lex was far past blithely accepting fanciful tales from him and Clark was past the point where he felt the need to spin them.
But it bothered him, Lex’s fears about Zod.
What if it were possible, that something had been left behind? Not a comforting thought. He’d ask J’onn about it, next time he saw him. He hesitated at the notion of inquiring of Lionel, because if Lionel were channeling Jor’el, he knew very well what his birth father’s thoughts were on anything Zod related.
“Did you ever – – talk to Lana – – about the nightmares?” He didn’t like contemplating Lex and Lana’s private moments. He didn’t like to think about them intimate. Even though he’d had nightmares about them together, disturbing ones that he didn’t like to dwell on, that involved naked bodies, writhing under sweat soaked sheets, Lex’s pale skin against Lana’s golden flesh. And him sweeping down in a rage, flinging Lex off of her, pushing him down when he rose to protest – – holding him down, pinning him, slick skin under Clark’s hands . . . and the rest inevitably turned nightmarish, because more often than not, Lana wasn’t there anymore and there was just him feeding his anger towards Lex . . .
“She has her – – had – – her own about that time. No need to burden her with mine.” Lex moved towards the fire, a hint of a waver in his walk. He leaned there, hands against the mantle and the glow turned slacks and sweater orange where it touched.
“She’s why you’ve come, isn’t she? And I diverted your train of thought.” Lex said turning off one subject and onto another as easy as changing lanes in traffic. “Have you changed your mind about me? Swayed by the dogged determination of Smallville’s finest?”
“What makes you think I ever doubted you didn’t have a hand?” Clark asked stiffly.
Lex looked at him over his shoulder, a cruel twist on his lips. “I’m standing here aren’t I? I’d be either dead in the dam or dead in the field if you truly believed otherwise, wouldn’t I?”
Clark swallowed, the truth of that statement a painful acknowledgement – -at least in the dam, when the grief had been fresh. He didn’t think he could have left Lex bleeding to death in the field either way. He hoped he couldn’t have.
“Yeah. She’s why I came. I know you’re investigating. I want to know what you’ve found out.”
“Your interest in my wife – -”
“Lex.” Clark cut him off before he could get onto that particular tirade. “You’re drunk. I’m tired. Can we not pretend that you had a happy marriage and I that don’t have a right to know what happened to her and why? What’s the point anymore?”
Lex tightened his fingers on the stone of the mantel, staring down into the fire.
“This has been a remarkably civilized conversation. I can’t recall the last time you and I spoke so – – rationally.” He said softly, slowly choosing words.
“Lex, don’t play games with me on this. What have you found out?”
“That she was considerably more – – devious – – than I gave her credit for,” Lex said softly, an ironic wisp to his voice.
“Did you know what my father did? No. You couldn’t have. You lie as much as the rest of us – – me, her, my father – – but you’ve never been cruel about it. An honest liar.” Lex laughed at the contradiction and Clark had to wonder if he wasn’t on the verge of falling down drunk, just hiding it well.
Clark clenched his jaw, because he did know what Lionel had done – – now. And it still made red crowd in along the edges of his vision, no matter Lionel’s claim of necessity.
“Do you know why they’re so intent on investigating me?” Lex asked. “Because she paved the way. She was subtly crying foul weeks before it happened. Dropping hints that, if I were optimistic, I’d suppose she thought she might use in divorce proceedings, to make her case against me. If I weren’t – – ” he trailed off, eyes distant, caught in some dark musing.
“Are you saying,” Clark said tightly, angry that the words were even leaving his lips. “That she set you up?” The desire to hurt Lex stirred.
Lex looked up at him, eyes dark, pupils kissed by the glow of the fire. “I didn’t say that. You did.”
“Fuck you. She would never – – her mind didn’t work that way.”
“No. Your mind doesn’t work that way. Don’t assume everyone shares your particular rustic sense of honor. Most of us don’t. Most of us can’t afford it.”
He’d known in his gut, it was a mistake coming here. That Lex would twist words in his gut like a knife.
He took a step towards Lex, fists clenched, maybe something of violence in his eye and Lex flinched. Minutely, but it was there all the same. A flash of something in his eyes that he couldn’t control before he straightened and shoved it aside – – A ghost of fear. And Clark recalled that a few weeks past, something that wore his face had come close to killing Lex. Had tortured and toyed with him, and just like the incident with Zod, no one had bothered to tell him that it hadn’t actually been Clark – – not his body, not his mind hidden beneath the consciousness of an alien invader.
And if Lex thought some part of Zod was still in him, what was to stop him from assuming that some part of the phantom might still lurk within Clark – – ready to leap forward and take up where it had left off?
Guilt trumped anger. He loosened his fists, taking a breath, wondering why the hell somebody hadn’t tried to pick him up and try to find out for certain about what he might play host to or how he’d survived it. Lex had never hesitated before with anything involving the phantom. Lex had never hesitated in a lot of things. And yet, no one had ever come for Clark.
“If I discover something relevant,” Lex said, sliding his hands in his pockets, a casual movement meant to reinforce the illusion of control &endash; but Clark heard the rapid patter of his heart. “I assure you, I won’t keep it private. Good night, Clark.”