Clark had worried all night and all morning while he’d been tending to the farm. While Lex had slept in his bed, dreaming God knew what sorts of things that might possibly have a grain of Kryptonian origin. Bad things, Clark thought, because the sleep hadn’t been easy at first. No more alarming, half familiar alien words, but, murmuring and restless movement, until well past midnight, when Lex had just settled.
Clark hadn’t slept himself more than a brief half hour or so of dozing downstairs in the reclining chair in the front of a TV with the sound turned down. He’d woken up Lex a few times in the night, just to be safe, but somewhere around five, he’d decided Lex was okay – – brain swelling wise and just let him sleep the rest of the morning through while he went out saw to the morning’s work.
He might have been done in half the time – – a fraction of half the time if two of the heifers hadn’t gotten adventuresome and tried to cross a section of barbed wire separating pasture from a copse of wood beyond, tangling themselves in the wire.
So he’d ended up tending yet more bloodied creatures in the crisp light of early morning and hoped this wasn’t the sign of an oncoming trend.
Lex had been testy and hostile, when he’d gotten up. It might have been just the way things had regressed between them, that they couldn’t be in a room without tensions mounting, but more likely it had been pain induced, because morning after stiffness was a bitch – – so Clark heard, and Lex had taken a bad beating.
A lot of the bruises had already begun fading by the time Lex left though, and the cuts scabbed over. Clark couldn’t remember if damages had healed quite so rapidly years ago, when he had been hanging around Lex on a frequent enough basis to notice such things.
But no. Fast – – but not this fast and Clark started thinking about that Kryptonian word and the things the ship might have had to do to a human body – – the alterations of basic genetic code to make it capable of dealing with powers it was never meant to possess.
The powers had vanished with Zod, but the basic alterations might still be there, lingering in the complex chain of human DNA. Something Kryptonian inside Lex – – some fleeting element that might be enough for a fragment of something else Kryptonian to latch onto.
He cursed, an hour past noon, blissfully alone again on the farm and still obsessing about Lex – – when Lex wasn’t his business anymore. The bare fields of the east 40 were ready to be sown with winter wheat. He’d already planted a small stretch of kale in the field closest to the house, which was breaking through the earth, thriving in the early cold.
The work was mindless, but still, he couldn’t concentrate. If he had facts – – even educated supposition to counter doubt, he’d be able to breath easier. Because if there was a trace of something that didn’t belong in Lex – – it was his business. His shoddy work at ousting the invader to start with.
He showered off the dirt that went hand in hand with farm work, put on clean clothes and headed out.
It took less time to reach the city than it did to take the elevator ride to Chloe’s floor in the Daily Planet and he only took the time to ride up, instead of whipping up the stairs, because he needed to figure out exactly what he wanted to say. Not that Chloe could give him answers, but she could corroborate his theories – – or shoot them down as crazy-talk. Either way, he needed to talk with her.
She was eating lunch at her desk when he came in, a deli sandwich and a bottle of water, while she tapped at her keyboard one handed. She looked up when she saw him, and smiled around a mouthful of turkey on rye.
“Hey. You have a few minutes?” He stood over her desk while she was swallowing. She was Googling something about paper manufacturing that he figured was for an article. He didn’t inquire, very much distracted by other concerns.
“Sure. Just taking a late lunch. I take it since you’re here and not scowling too much, that everything went okay? Did the sheriff come out?”
“No.” Clark felt the afore mentioned scowl forming of its own accord, and Chloe lifted a brow at him. “He wouldn’t let me call him.”
He didn’t go into why. She didn’t need to know and it was the least he could do, keeping quiet about certain things that would hurt nothing but Lex’s ego, when Lex had asked him almost nicely.
“God,” she said. “He’s not going to take care of it himself? Should we arrange protection for those guys?”
He opened his mouth. Shut it. Because she looked dead serious and it was yet one more thing that was hard to wrap his mind around sometimes – – that Lex was capable of arranging casual murder.
“I don’t think he remembers them – – listen Chloe, about Lex.” He pulled up a chair and sat down close to her, so he could speak quietly. “Do you think he’s different than he was before Zod?”
He whispered the name very softly, not even really liking it on his own lips. Chloe blinked at him, eyes scrutinizing his face, wheels turning inside her head as she tried to get beneath the question.
“How?” she asked slowly, with the wary look of someone who thought they might not like the answer.
“I dunno. I mean – – just different. Colder. Crazy obsessed in a way that he wasn’t before.” He didn’t know how to explain it. He wasn’t sure if there was anything to explain other than him grasping at things that just weren’t there.
“Okay,” she said, running her fingers across the edge of her desk thoughtfully. “I’ll play along and say – – maybe. But Dark Thursday changed a lot of things for a lot of people. And as much as I’m not a Lex supporter, I’ve got to admit that it must have been pretty traumatic for him – – seeing the aftermath and knowing he was inadvertently responsible. That can change a man. Some for the better, some for the worse. And maybe before then there were lines he wouldn’t have crossed – – at least not without some really long, hard thought – – lines that just don’t seem to exist for him now. But people change, Clark – – I mean three years ago I put my life on the line because I believed in what he was doing, and this year he uses my mom as a guinea pig and has me kidnapped and tagged – – so yeah, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say there was a change. Now I’d like to hear why you’re interested in the psychology of Lex all of a sudden?”
He’d freaked her out. He could see it in her eyes. He was sorry for that. Sorrier still that he just didn’t feel comfortable revealing the why’s and where fore’s – – not unless he knew for sure.
“Just – – just a couple of things that struck me odd. Don’t worry about it. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Clark,” she stood when he did, frowning. “You don’t just bring up the L and the Z words and then say never mind and take off.”
But he was already gone. Out to the street the fast way, blending in with the afternoon foot traffic smooth enough that pedestrians intent on their own business never noticed his sudden appearance. They noticed more when he just stopped on the sidewalk to stare up at the Planet’s towering, glass-plated neighbor.
He really hadn’t wanted to talk with Lionel about this – – talking to Lionel period still made him tense, knowing how he’d pressured Lana. Knowing how he’d manipulated them all – – for the overall good, he’d claimed. To keep an eye on Lex and his obsessions – – to help Clark. As if Clark needed that kind of help – –
But Lionel knew things – – or could access things – – or had things come to him that were vital – – via a connection with Jor-el that Clark didn’t pretend to fully understand. And Lionel had been aware of J’onn and J’onn of Lionel before Clark had been aware that either one of them were working under the impetus of his long dead father. An uneasy thought, really, that someone that long dead could still effect the flow of events – – could still impose will upon the living.
So he went to see Lionel Luthor – – up in his tower of glass and steel. He was let up without hindrance, his name apparently on the list of immediate admittance, because the secretary nodded at him when he spoke it and waved him past security. He had to wait in the lobby outside Lionel’s office for a while though, until a bevy of men in suits, lawyers or stockholders or investors, trickled out of the office. When he was finally ushered in, Lionel rose from behind his desk and smiled his benevolent conqueror’s smile in welcome.
“Clark, my boy. It’s good to see you. What brings you to see me? Your mother is well, I hope.”
“Fine.” He hadn’t talked to her in two days. She was busy in Washington, wrapped up in things that, a few years ago, Clark never in a million years would have thought to find her distracted by. But he didn’t want to exchange pleasantries with Lionel.
“Do you know how to get in touch with J’onn?” he asked.
Lionel lifted a brow, a faint, curious cant of his head as he sat back down, steepling his hands before him on the immaculate desk. There was a neat stack of paperwork to his right. A pen perfectly aligned – – everything in its place and ordered and under his control. The way Lionel liked life. Little wonder Lex had picked up the habits.
“Honestly, no,” Lionel admitted, thoughtfully, as if he’d never considered the need before. “He’s somewhere out there, observing – – But I would imagine it would take quite the threat for him to make himself known. Is there a problem?”
He watched Clark with placid interest. Unruffled. It took a hand at his throat – – a serious hand – – or a threat to something he loved, to shake Lionel Luthor’s calm.
Clark remembered when he’d come to him, after the Last Phantom had taken Lex – – desperate and angry and ready to level threats he might or might not have been able to carry out, when Clark had hesitated – – wrapped up in his own guilt and grief and horror.
So Lionel wouldn’t balk at destroying Lex, financially and emotionally, but he’d move heaven and earth to protect his life. Which disposition sounded very much like Jor-el’s attitude towards Clark.
“When a host is possessed by a phantom,” He took the plunge in the shallow end, deciding to skirt around issue. “And when I extract it using the crystal – – is it possible that something could get left behind?”
“Left behind?” Both Lionel’s brows went up. “That’s an unnerving concept. Why would you think so?”
“Let’s say, theoretically, that after the phantom was gone, the host started having nightmares – – maybe started acting a little off, or claimed that they felt something inside that didn’t belong. Or spoke a word in a language that there’s no way they could know otherwise in their sleep?”
“That’s a fair deal of theory, Clark. It sounds more like you’re listing fact.”
“I just want to know if it’s possible.”
Lionel pursed his lips, considering. “I don’t know. The library of your father’s knowledge isn’t just there for my taking, it comes to me when needed. But from what I already know, it would have to be a particularly strong entity to resist the power of the crystal. And even then, once the incorporeal body had begun to be extracted – – I would imagine leaving a part behind would be like you or me exiting a building and leaving behind a finger. It wouldn’t be pleasant.”
“So not likely?”
“I didn’t say that. I simply said it wouldn’t be a sacrifice anyone without a great deal of resolve would be willing to make.”
Clark shut his eyes, a sick little knot forming in his gut. Resolve was not something he imagined Zod had been lacking in. “So, what effect do you think – – just a piece – – might have?”
Lionel stared at him, face passive, eyes unreadable, but Lionel, like Lex, was never still behind those eyes. Always thinking, always evaluating possibilities. “Has a former host been exhibiting signs? The young man from California – – if I recall – – is the only surviving phantom host.”
“Maybe,” Clark said, instinctually, and mentally kicked himself the moment the word left his mouth, because now he had to come up with a story to back up the fabrication.
“Oh my, but he’s not, is he?” Lionel’s eyes lit up with sudden understanding he didn’t even try and hide. “And here you are being purposefully vague. We’re not talking phantom possession at all, are we, Clark? We’re talking something considerably more treacherous. Has Lex been having nightmares?”
Lionel laughed, relaxing back into his chair. “The concern is surprising, all things considered, but I assure you that any subconscious horrors plaguing my son at night, are of his own design. Whatever made you suspect otherwise?”
Clark shook his head, balking at talking to Lionel about Lex. Even now, with all that was between them, giving Lionel insights into Lex’s psyche that he didn’t already have, seemed immoral. Relating his worries – – the things Lex had admitted in a moment of drunken weakness seemed like betrayal. Felt like turning Lex’s deepest fears over to the enemy – – even if Lionel wasn’t Clark’s enemy – – even if Lex was.
Wasn’t he? Odd that with Lana gone, Clark didn’t seem quite so sure of it anymore.
“If you can think of a way to contact J’onn, I want to talk to him.”