The trip to M&C had been predictable. The scientists, as scientists tended to be, were skittish at being secreted away in an obscure lab, nervous over the demise of their superiors and the rash of government involvement in the deconstruction the project they had all had a hand in.
Lex was good at dealing with skittish resources. He was quite adept at mixing reassurance with intimidation. And how subtly gratifying it was to have someone just threatened into compliance look at you with gratitude in their eyes. A Luthor game and he liked winning.
He’d looked over the remaining research, the speculation on lost data and lost resources, the high percentage that the project could never be fully actuated without access to alien peptides – – the analysis on what it would take to get the project back up and running. Somewhere else, of course, far below government radar.
He was already funneling funds from other off the books projects – – from private accounts that he’d hoped not to have to breach, but had begun the process of anyway – – in preparation.
He just needed to find the perfect location, and start looking for another source of test subjects, since pulling from the military would be problematic now. The peptides – – well, where there was one, there would others. He felt it with the same surety he felt towards the creation of his army.
No one at the lab had dared ask about the cuts and the bruising, but his Metropolis secretary had inquired when he’d gone in the afternoon after he’d left Clark’s care – – the first person to do more than look and pretend there was nothing amiss in fear of offending him, and he’d given her the prepared answer. Car. Cow. Ditch.
It was what he told the sheriff when he called to arrange for his people to tow the car out of impound. And since the cow in question was not available for statement, the matter was really between Lex and his insurance company and not a law enforcement issue.
The sheriff hadn’t liked it. The sheriff would have rather Lex had veered off the road attempting to run down school children. There had been inquiry as to whether there had been alcohol involved and Lex had fought against the urge to retort, that he’d been stone sober, but the sheriff might want to check the inebriation level of the local chapter of has-been high school jocks.
He’d stayed in the city that night, too weary to make the trip back, not feeling any particular need to return to the chill of the castle with its frost rimmed windows and lingering echoes. The penthouse was sterile and quiet and there were no particularly bad memories or worrisome staff to intrude upon a body that just wanted to drink away the stiffness and the sour pang of indignation.
The bed was large and comfortable, smooth sheets, heavenly pillows – – it reminded him of any number of the guest bedrooms in the mansion that he had moved about in the last month – – one to the next, trying to find a comfort zone – – trying to find a space conducive to easy sleep. Failing.
Funny that the best sleep he’d gotten in – – quite a long while – – had been on Clark’s sagging mattress, under Clark’s cheap sheets, with the smell of Clark on the pillows. And he’d frowned at that admission, staring up at a night dark ceiling with the city outside his window.
The next morning, he almost didn’t look like he’d taken a beating at all. The accident story was much more believable. All but the worst of the bruising had faded. The cuts on his face, save for the worst one over his eye were well on their way to gone. The ribs, Lex was still very much aware of, and the general fading ache of an abused body, but the latter could be soothed away by the simple luxury of a hot shower and the former could be endured.
He went to his office in LexCorp towers and attended to business. Moral was low with the company in danger. There had been rumors of layoffs – – premature at best, and he had word of no small number of resumes being quietly distributed around town. He considered finding out the names attached to those rumored resumes and starting the firings now.
He avoided most of the incoming calls – – refused most of the people that wished to see him – – working at his desk at his own speed was one thing, dealing with nervous stockholders and anxious executives was another.
A call came in from the lawyer in charge of Lana’s murder investigation, which he did take, sitting back and listening while the man reported that a name had been placed to the face of Lana’s mysterious lunch engagement.
“Robert Hyde,” the lawyer told him. “Formally of Rampart, Hyde and Vale out of New York, before he was obtained for legal council by Vitarkas Global Transport, which is a subsidiary of – -”
“Daniakos Global.” Lex finished for him, making the connection between a grainy face in a photograph and one of a collection of lawyers that had sat across the table from him six months ago when he’d been engaging in little hostile takeover from the Twins.
Son of a bitch. He snapped the phone shut with a snarl. Nikolas and Sophia Daniakos, who’d inherited the third largest shipping company in Greece from a father who’s name could be mentioned in the company of the likes Onassis and Tsakos – – and had promptly plunged it into debt.
It had been an opportunity too good to pass up at the time, sweeping up Daniakos stock on the open market when it tanked. Almost as satisfying a financial move as a personal one.
He had a history with the Daniakos Twins. Drugs and sex and certain photographs that had gotten him into a great deal of trouble with his father when he’d been eighteen and considerably less clever than he’d thought he was.
Sophia Daniakos had been twenty-three and the most stunning woman to walk into a nightclub and Lex had been in love. Or lust. It amounted to the same thing when you were eighteen and spent your time jet setting between New York and Metropolis to hit all the hottest nightspots and be seen with all the best people. And the Twins had been at the top of the heap back then – – practically Greek royalty that everybody who was anybody wanted to get near. They were the sort that opened and closed clubs just by being there. The best drugs – – the best parties – – the best sex, so the rumors went. Because very few people got into Sophia’s bedroom that her brother didn’t want there. And Nikolas Daniakos had particular tastes.
Young. Hot. Wealthy. Nikolas didn’t like to fuck too far down the food chain. And if you did get into Sophia’s bed – – it was damned certain that you would be fucking her brother as well. Or getting fucked – – but by that time, you’d be so far gone on Ecstasy or ketamines or any of the other plethora of drugs that the Twins seemed always to have at hand, that it wouldn’t really matter.
Until you sobered up and realized Nikolas had fetishes, and if you were maybe a little hazy on the details – – well, the Twins liked to take pictures.
Lex had thought he’d been so smooth, back then, so savvy in the ways of the world until he got hit with the Twin’s brand of worldly experience. A decade of private schools didn’t prepare for sex scandals and blackmail and the heady shame of having it all brought to Lionel Luthor’s attention. Of having his father make it all go away.
So when the chance had come up, almost a decade later, to strip Nikolas Daniakos of the shipping line that was the foundation of the name his father had built – – Lex had jumped at the chance. Had sat across the table while the company changed hands, and smiled emotionlessly while Nikolas glowered.
‘Perhaps a picture, to commemorate the occasion?’ Lex had asked, when they were leaving the table, and the lawyers hadn’t had a clue, but Nikolas had narrowed his eyes, and glared, knowing exactly the inference – – knowing exactly the reason LuthorCorp had sought out Daniakos shipping like shark sensing blooded prey, and consumed it.
Bad feelings? Of course. In spades. But had they sought Lana out or had she sought them? And why? She’d known about the takeover – – but not the details of his past acquaintance. Had she been looking for outside help – – wealthy help with a score to settle? Or had they been looking for inside information on him? Or had they been seeking something else? The rise to fortune and power by the Daniakos was probably littered with bodies – – killing a man’s wife, in retaliation for a business coup was not a far stretch. Involving her in it and then double-crossing her fit with the sort of games the Twin’s liked to play.
Still it was a leap, and getting either of them in a room where he could ask a few pointed questions and see their eyes would make a difference. Sophia Daniakos could lie as well as any woman, but Nikolas was the sort of man that couldn’t help but brag of his exploits – – a psychological imperative that made him a poor negotiator and worse liar.
He set his assistant the task of tracking down the Daniakos and arranging a meeting, then let his people on the investigation know there was a new direction to explore.
Clark flittered across his mind. He’d made a promise to apprise Clark of new developments. He hadn’t actually meant to keep it, and certainly it was no more than speculation at this point, but it would be an excuse to pick up the phone and call. He frowned and refused the urge. But he couldn’t help thinking of Clark standing in the living room, proffered coffee in his hand, staring at him, nonplussed.
He chased that memory away, feeling a little unsettled himself, a clear enough indication that he’d been sitting here too long today, that he was tired and sore and needed to move to work out the stiffness.
He hadn’t decided whether he’d stay in the city tonight, or go back to the mansion. A long drive for a few hours sleep, when he might have to come back to the city tomorrow anyway.
He looked up and saw his father striding purposefully down the corridor. Lex was close enough to the elevator that if the doors opened immediately, he might slip in before Lionel reached him, and avoid having to talk. It felt cowardly, the notion of easy escape, so he waited before the bronze elevator doors until his father had covered the distance, and then pressed the call button.
“Son, I heard you had a mishap on the road Monday night. You really do have terrible luck with cars.”
The doors slid open immediately, and he regretted not taking advantage of the escape route after all. He stepped in now, schooling his face into neutrality, and his father and his father’s security guard followed.
“You have sharp ears, dad. It was a fender bender that didn’t even get a write up. I’m surprised it got back to you.” Lex stared pointedly at his warped reflection in the polished brass. He could see Lionel’s wavery shape next to him in the metal, thankfully lacking the detail of expression. The security guard stood behind the both of them, just a dark shape in the brass.
“I heard something about a cow.” Lionel remarked.
Lex exhaled a long breath, refusing to expound on ridiculous fabricated details. The security guard stepped forward, close enough to his back that complaint hovered at the tip of Lex’s tongue – – and dried up as the reflections in the brass began to twist and swim, darkening around the edges.
A hand touched his shoulder and he felt himself falling. A long, long freefall with no bottom in sight. The descent was slow, like the pull of anesthesia that drowned out the sense of time and place, but still left some semblance of awareness. Something slithered inside him, some animal sense of alarm that wanted nothing more than to reach the bottom of the fall and retreat into darkness – –
– – And Lex sputtered back to awareness, swiping at the hand that was trying to dab at his face with a cold, wet handkerchief. He was back in his office, on his couch, his father crouched next to him with the cloth in hand, his secretary hovering behind nervously, and his father’s security guard beyond her – – only it wasn’t the same man from the elevator. He’d seen this one before, but the other had been an unfamiliar face – – tall, lean black man with tinted shades. He couldn’t remember the features, because he hadn’t paid enough attention to take them in.
“What happened?” He decided that he detested the feeling of disorientation that came with opening his eyes someplace entirely different than he’d closed them.
“Lex, you fainted. My god, did you have yourself checked out after your ‘fender bender’? Head injury is not to be taken lightly.”
Lionel’s fingers hovered near the scabbed cut over his brow and Lex knocked his hand away – – unexpected panic crowding in from the back of his mind at being touched – – by Lionel, by whoever had gotten him here from the elevator to his office.
“I’ve called for a physician,” Lionel rose, looking down, nothing but concern on his face. Benevolent, fatherly concern.
Lex almost choked. “Don’t bother.”
“It’s been a stressful month, son. LexCorp issues aside, you’ve experienced physical trauma and the body needs time to recover. Why don’t you stay in the city for a few days, take break and rest in the penthouse where I’ll be close by if you need me.”
God. Lex pushed himself up, straightened his coat while he searched for some sign of the lightheadedness that had assaulted him in the elevator. It was gone. His head was clear and focused.
“If that’s a threat, dad – – it’s a good one. I’ll stay in the country. Don’t bother to come out.”
“Clark.” Lionel’s voice oozed out of the kitchen phone, and Clark didn’t think he’d ever reach the point where unexpectedly hearing Lionel purr his name wouldn’t make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. “Could you come to the city and meet me at my office? It’s important.”
“I’m sort of in the middle of something.” Which was not entirely a lie. He had water boiling in preparation for boxed macaroni and powdered cheese. He’d been thinking of calling Chloe, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
“Its about Lex.”
Clark tightened his jaw, pulse jumping a little. He’d been trying not to think about Lex-related things today. But the bag of ruined clothes he’d thrown out this afternoon had brought back vivid images of Lex on the road, crumpled and bleeding and he’d come close to making a trip out to the Wild Coyote where he knew at least the Briggs brothers hung out to see if they were still in the gang beating frame of mind. But he’d dismissed the notion a moment later, because it wasn’t his nature to pick fights, even if they were well deserved, and he’d already left his mark on at least one, if not both of the Brigg’s brothers. He didn’t need to make more of an impression. Besides which, Lex was the last person who needed anyone to fight his battles for him – – the last person Clark needed feel concern over the welfare of.
“What about Lex?”
“Some things just shouldn’t be discussed over the phone.” Lionel said.
Clark turned off the heat under the water, and covered the distance between Smallville and Metropolis while Lionel still had the phone to his ear, sitting behind his desk in his LuthorCorp tower executive suite. Papers fluttered and Lionel blinked up at him in surprise.
“Okay, what?” Clark asked, then stopped, registering the still figure in the shadows by the floor to ceiling windows behind Lionel’s desk.
“It appears you were correct in your assumptions concerning my son.” Lionel regathered his calm and leaned back, watching Clark gape at the brutal implication of that statement.
The man – – the being – – that claimed to be an emissary of his long dead father, turned away from observing the night dark city outside the window and faced Clark. His eyes were mundane brown now, but Clark knew it was an illusion that covered an unnerving glow of red.
“J’onn?” he said, then looked back at Lionel, putting pieces together. Of Lionel having more of a means to contact the elusive J’onn than he’d claimed – – and of them pursuing his concerns without bothering to let him know they were about it.
A surge of anger came out of nowhere – – irritation and no small bit of anxiety. “You sat here yesterday and told me it was nothing and then you go behind my back and – -”
“Behind your back, Clark?” Lionel cut him off, a narrow eyed look of impatience in his eyes that he usually was so adept at hiding. “This is my son, we’re talking about. My concern.”
“Yeah, and your concern has always worked out really well for him.” Clark snapped.
Lionel canted his head, considering, running the back of his knuckles along the stubble on his jaw.
“As interesting as this territorial pissing match we seem to be engaging is might turn out to be – – there are more pressing issues at hand, don’t you think?” Lionel said, and Clark took a breath, turning that over in his head. Feeling a moment of sharp embarrassment – – because maybe that’s what he was feeling, some sort of misplaced protectiveness, dug up and dusted off from some years old stash of unwanted sentiment.
Clark took a breath, loosened his fists and tried to force the irritation down. He looked to J’onn who was observing them both silently.
“All right. Talk to me. There’s really something there?”
“I felt the presence of something that did not belong,” J’onn said, unnaturally still, hands immobile at his sides, when it was all Clark could do not to ball his into fists and pace.
“You felt it? How did you get Lex to – – is it dangerous, what’s inside him?” He was having trouble fixing on a target and focusing. There were too many questions. Too many concerns.
“Not overtly,” J’onn said. “It is not – – entirely sentient.”
Clark didn’t know what that meant. What it really meant when they were talking about something inside a human mind that ought not be there. Lionel was sitting back, mouth pursed, as if he’d already heard this explanation – – as if he already had decisions made in his head on what was to be done about it – – and that annoyed Clark, all over again. It scared him a little, because they’d already been at Lex behind his back and neither of them, once engaged, were casual players. Neither was Lex, but he was at the distinct disadvantage of not even knowing he was in the game.
“What is it, then?” Clark asked.
“A fragment,” J’onn said. “Possessing no cognizant understanding of its own – – merely the ghost of Zod’s inclinations. Something that clung to the mind of the host when you tore the incorporeal whole away.”
“Would it effect the things – -? I mean would he be any different because of it?”
“I do not know. When I sought it out, it retreated. It has had a long time to infiltrate his mind, and I cannot know how powerful an influence it has gained, until I have the opportunity to sift through and examine it more closely.”
“Clark,” Lionel said. “However deeply it’s embedded itself into Lex – – it’s still only a splinter of Zod’s mentality. We can’t assume that it’s done anything more than give him bad dreams.”
“How do we get rid of it?” He didn’t want to look at Lionel, with his calm eyes and the patronizing tone of reason in his voice. “Can I pull it out with the crystal?”
J’onn shrugged, expression still painfully emotionless. “You could. But the portion of his mind that it has attached itself to would be damaged. I can unravel its hold, given time – – separate it from his mentality enough that the crystal could draw it out with minimum harm.”
Clark swallowed, uncomfortable with both their eyes upon him, as if they were waiting on him to reach a conclusion that they’d already achieved. He wondered if they hadn’t needed him to use his father’s crystal, if they’d have even consulted him at all?
Zod. Even a piece of Zod – – the ghost of his intentions, his motivations skulking about the world, was enough to make Clark feel ill – – his worst nightmare come back to haunt him. Lionel said the fragment might pose harm only to the state of Lex’s easy sleep. Clark thought he was wrong. Zod was a builder of armies – – merciless in his goals – – and Lex hadn’t been – – until this last year, when he’d taken a project, that according to Lionel’s intel had not been initiated with mass production in mind and turned it into a fanatical crusade.
“How much time?” Clark asked, mouth dry.
“It will take as long as it will take,” J’onn declared helpfully.
“It’s best if we deal with it now,” Lionel said. “Lex believes he’s had one spell today, if he looses more time on the heels of it, he’ll attribute it to the same cause. He’s at the estate in Smallville now. I trust, from past experience, you’ve no qualms about breaching security.”
“No,” Clark said softly, then. “You said ‘minimum harm’. How much is minimum?”
J’onn simply stared at him. Clark clenched his jaw, turning his eyes to Lionel, the father who claimed concern. “And you’re okay with this?”
“I am. The alternative, Clark, is to simply ignore it. I don’t think either one of us is capable of that, do you?”
Clark looked away. He wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t. It could have been any stranger and he couldn’t have let it rest – – much less Lex, who had enough obsessions and moral ambiguity all of his own without the added benefit of something coldly alien. Something like that other half of Clark – – the Kryptonian mindset that didn’t understand human values and human frailties – – that he’d locked away for the sake of everything he loved.
He nodded assent, and Lionel held out something, a small flesh colored something that looked like a round band-aid on the tip of his finger.
“Put it on his neck, below his ear,” Lionel instructed, like he was giving Clark casual stock-tips. “The effects are swift.”
“You want me to drug him?”
Lionel lifted a brow. “You could use more physical means to subdue him, but chemical sedation seems more humane. Unless you prefer to inform him of the situation and ask for his assent?”
No. Clark wasn’t prepared to do that. He swallowed and gingerly plucked the patch off Lionel’s finger.
“Call me,” Lionel said, tapping a key and bringing his sleeping computer screen back to life. “When it’s done.”