“That’s not an answer I want to hear,” Lex said coolly, phone cradled between shoulder and ear as he poured himself a healthy two fingers worth of scotch from the crystal decanter on his office bar. “If you can’t find them via business routes, try the society pages or the gossip rags. Just track them down.”
His people were having trouble contacting the Daniakos twins. The lawyer that had met with Lana was also proving difficult to locate. It wasn’t as if Nikolas and Sophia were particularly furtive in their activities, so it should have been an easy matter to find them and set up a meeting. An hour’s worth of work arranging it between his assistants and theirs – – only it seemed, for all intents and purposes, as if they were avoiding his calls.
Quite likely, considering the overall nastiness of the buy out. More likely if they’d had a hand in the Lana conspiracy. He snapped the phone shut and laid it on the bar, taking a moment to savor the burn of the liquor, while he considered methods of extracting information from a pair of jaded socialites that wanted to play hard to get.
Over three hours on the road from Metropolis to Smallville in the middle of rush hour traffic, with a driver that didn’t have Lex’s tendencies to double any posted speed limits, had put him in a fine mood. The Mercedes that had been towed back from the sheriff’s impound, sitting outside the garage, front end crumpled beyond reasonable repair had been icing on the cake.
The phone rang again, vibrating slightly on the glass surface of the bar and Lex glared at it a moment, before checking the number of the incoming call. He recognized the name as the supervising manager of one of the LexCorp holdings in the process of liquidation. A panicked call, no doubt. He’d been getting quite a few of those as people discovered their worlds were being turned upside down.
He ignored the call. Cut the phone off, having had his quota of telephone conversations this evening on the way back from the city. He was tired of dealing with the people who wanted a piece of him and mollifying the ones who were unavoidable sacrifices.
The door from the main hall opened and he expected someone from security, because the house staff was avoiding him like the plague. He half turned, irritated at the intrusion, quarter to nine and well into time that ought to be his own, and then kept turning, because it was Clark, walking in blithe as if it was mid-day and he had an open ended invitation.
There were standing orders at the gate – – had been since the ill-fated engagement party – – that Clark Kent was not allowed onto the grounds without express permission.
“How did you get past the gate?” He wasn’t feeling particularly genial. He was feeling off his balance, confronted with the last thing he’d expected tonight, with hands in its pockets and a faint, awkward expression on its face.
“They let me in. Were you busy?” Which was the sort of answer he might have gotten out of Clark when he was fifteen and admitting to charming his way past the housekeeper to loiter about Lex’s office and distract him from his work. Generally Clark gave less genial answers nowadays with more accusation in his voice.
“They let you in?” Lex blinked, calculating just how many people were going to lose their jobs over this little blunder. “What is it with you and these night time visits, Clark?”
“Lex.” Clark put out his hands, as if emphasizing that no, he wasn’t armed. Just damned persuasive, obviously to have gotten past the gate guard, and through the front door. “I – – I just stopped by to see how you were – – y’know, after.”
“I’m fine,” he said automatically, even while he was trying to wrap his mind around the sudden concern.
“I saw the car – – out by the garage. Looks totaled.” Clark commented, throwing Lex further off balance because they just didn’t have these sorts of conversations anymore.
“What do you want, Clark? Forgive me if I find it hard to believe that you stopped by to check on the state of my health and comment on the condition of my automobile.”
Clark frowned, but it wasn’t his usual glower, more a sigh of resignation and a forlorn look from under ridiculously long black lashes. Lex narrowed his eyes, because Clark was staring at him – – really staring – – like he was trying to get inside his head or under his skin – – and without the usual antagonism in his eyes, Clark’s stare was entirely unnerving.
But whatever Clark’s problem was tonight, whatever mental dilemma that had him acting out of character – – it couldn’t be Lex’s problem. He had more than enough of his own.
The papers on his desk fluttered gently, like an errant draft had found its way into the study and wafted across his desk. He glanced aside, lifting his hand at the whisper of a tickle across his skin.
“Clark, it’s been a long day, and my graciousness evaporated two hours ago sitting in traffic on the inter – – state – -” he trailed off, the rest of his sentence eaten up by a wave of dizziness. A surge of panic came up in its wake, his mind crowding with all the possible reasons for two episodes in one day – – blood clots and untended head injury and pushing his luck that little bit too far this last time when maybe his father and Clark and anyone else with decent common sense had been right and he ought to have had himself checked out – –
The room was spinning – – or was that him? Staggering against hard warmth that hadn’t been there a second ago, clutching at the material of a jacket and pressing his face against the stability of Clark’s shoulder in the desperate search for solid ground. And there was the smell again. It hit his brain, countercurrent to the sickening recoil of the rest of his senses.
He tried to say something – – ‘help’ would have been an adequate word and he wasn’t too proud to ask it, not if he were in the midst of a stroke or an aneurism – – only he couldn’t quite form that one simple word.
“It’ll be okay,” Clark said, grim-voiced. The words were a receding echo, falling away like they were slipping down a drain – – or Lex was.
Clark’s arm was under his arm, hand against his back. The other was on his neck above his shirt collar, palm big and warm, fingers curling around his neck, callused thumb rough/soft behind the skin of his ear.
He sank, and sank drifting down like jetsam caught in a cold current, plummeting down into darkness – –
He was drowning, distant awareness of death filling his lungs. Familiar feeling. The stuff of nightmares. It seeped inside, persistent and heavy, stretching his skin, bleeding out of his pores – – or in through them – – he lacked the perspective to differentiate.
It swirled inside him, like the lazy ripple of something sliding through warm blood – – invasive and perverse and coldly malignant. He recoiled, but there was nowhere to go, body weighted down with the presence of it, the dark press of liquid death surrounding him, crushing him subtly.
He drifted, caught in the grasp of current that swallowed everything. It always swallowed everything. The sickening plummet of the car – – the grasping pull of the plane, huge and twisted and determined to pull all the smaller flotsam under with it when it went. It dark and cold underwater – – it never ceased to be dark and cold – – and there was no wavering light of the surface and no hands dragging him up – – just the weight pulling him down.
Something reached for him out of the deep, sly and muscular like the sibilant body of an eel, attempting to tear him apart, reaching into his flesh and curling around his spine, trying to strip nerves and veins and marrow – – he screamed, mute sound in the depths and struggled to twist away from the assault – – blind animal terror – – blind animal rage.
Useless efforts. There was pain. Ripping, tearing pain as it gouged the core of him – – wrenched past his heart, and he couldn’t breath, lungs finally burst – –
The darkness afterwards was complete and thankfully pain-free.
“God,” Clark cried, “His heart’s stopped.”
How many hours had he sat or paced, watching J’onn sit motionless, eyes like low burning embers, Lex stretched out before him on the floor of the loft, because Clark hadn’t known where else to take him, private enough for what they needed to do. How long had he listened to the steady beat of Lex’s heart, slow, easy tempo brought on by drug induced sleep? Long enough that when it stopped – -just simply ceased to beat that the silence was deafening.
He slid to his knees, panic fueled fear making his hands shake – – they’d killed him. They’d killed Lex over something that might have been nothing more than a dark shadow over his subconscious.
How many seconds since the heart had ceased its rhythm? He placed his palms over Lex’s chest, ready to start compressions – – and J’onn’s eyes flared and he reached out, catching Clark’s wrist before he could make contact.
“Now. Do it now, Kal-el.” he hissed, a fine sheen of sweat glossing his high brow.
It took Clark a second to realize what he meant, and he fumbled for the crystal in the pocket of his jeans, pulling it out and willing it to life. There was a miniscule flare. A tiny little tingle of energy that barely breached the skin of his palm and then it was still and cold again. He wasn’t even sure if it had worked or just decided to sputter out.
He met J’onn’s fading red eyes with desperate ones of his own, and J’onn nodded and let go a breath.
Clark tossed the crystal aside, careless of it in his haste to get his hands on Lex. One palm in the center of his chest, atop the sternum. He remembered the guidelines from health class – – fast hard compressions – – but he had to be careful in his haste not to shatter breastbone and ribs, and it was difficult to gauge.
He got to a count of twenty-seven before he heard the sluggish thud of Lex’s heart shuddering back to life. He felt it under his hand, beneath the thin material of Lex’s shirt. His head spun with relief, his own pulse a rapid patter behind his temples. He leaned there, over Lex, and glared up at J’onn, who was uncurling long limbs from the position he’d been sitting in for – – how long had it been? Eight hours? Ten? There was sunlight leaking in through the cracks in the loft shutters.
“Minimal harm? You call that minimal harm? His heart. Just. Stopped.”
“And you restarted it.” J’onn observed, as if it were really an inconsequential thing. Clark clenched his fists, blood pounding hard enough to hear the rush inside his head. “It’s gone?”
It fucking well better be gone, after that.
“And he’ll be okay?” And didn’t that cover a variety of uncertainties.
“The fragment was more entwined than I had originally sensed.” Time will tell if there was damage done.
“God.” Clark’s stomach gave a little lurch.
“Kal-el.” J’onn inclined his head at him, swung one of the loft shutters open and launched himself straight up with a faint crackle of disturbed air.
Clark glowered at the empty space and the gently swinging shutter. The cool morning breeze eased its way in, rifling old newspapers on the desk, tickling his skin. He didn’t feel the cold, but he shuddered regardless, nerves still thin and tight. He’d expected it to be quick. He’d expected not to feel sick over it – – like he’d done something dark and furtive.
He pulled Lex up between his knees, back against his chest, where he could pick at the little patch behind his ear with a thumbnail. He flicked it into the shadows, like he might something poisonous and offensive and sat there, clenching his teeth so hard his jaw popped.
He stayed there for a while, feeling six kinds of fool for risking this. The rational part of his brain insisted that they were all better off, most especially Lex with that clinging little remnant of Zod gone. It said that if the roles were reversed, Lex wouldn’t have hesitated to put a life on the line in a chancy endeavor – – Lex did it all the time, which was why they’d parted ways – – Which was why he couldn’t stand to look at Lex sometimes, because the disappointment hurt too much.
Only, he wasn’t Lex and he didn’t live by Lex’s standards and he didn’t make decisions based on cold calculation of profit ratio and scientific advancement. And neither had Lex, once upon a time and Clark could hate him for that sometimes, too, more than for Lana or years worth of investigation into Clark’s business.
But Lionel had been right in one respect, Clark could never have just let it go – – that some part of Zod still existed here – – lurking in the shadows. And yet – –
Lex’s heart had stopped – – just ceased to beat and Clark clutched him a little tighter, so he could feel the thud of it now, against his chest. He rested his cheek against the thin, smooth skin of Lex’s head and tried not to think about ‘damage done’, but once the floodgates were open, it was hard not to.
The space heater had cut out an hour ago, out of kerosene, and it was probably cold up here and Lex had a thing about being cold. With the patch gone, he might stir soon – – Clark hoped he would, at any rate, so best to get him home, past security and staff that Lionel had promised would not be overly concerned if Lex was conspicuously absent from his morning routine.
Two months ago, if Clark had discovered Lionel had a sly hand in Lex’s personal staff, he wouldn’t have given a flying fuck – – other than the concern that Lana might be caught in the middle of another Luthor power play. The notion was making his skin crawl tonight – – this morning.
He looked at his watch. 8:10. Eleven hours. It had taken eleven hours to dig the remnant of Zod out of Lex. It had seemed like days.
The air was just cool enough to make the warmth of the covers a subtle pleasure, the quiet the deep, all consuming sort that you got when surrounded by the thick stone walls of 17th century castles. And morning sleep, for a change, was not restless and tense, interspaced by the remnants of uncomfortable dreams.
Lex slid an arm under his pillow, and thought about sleeping in. It had been a very long time since he’d indulged and this morning the notion had a certain allure.
It felt good to slide towards sleep that was a luxury rather than a bodily requirement. The slither of fine sheets was smooth against his skin when he drew a knee up – – but something pricked at his senses. A vague awareness of lack of solitude.
He cracked an eye open to a room hazy with sunlight filtering in past sheer window drapery. It took a moment more to focus on Clark, as still and quiet as the rest of the room, slouched in the reading chair across the room, long legs stretched out on the ottoman, chin on chest, soundly asleep. He had the book that been on the night table draped open upon his lap, one big hand lax upon the pages.
Lex blinked, not quite questioning the state of his awareness – – because god knew odder things had happened – – and really, if he was going to dream of Clark in his bedroom, asleep in a chair across the room was probably not where his subconscious would place him.
Not that he’d had those sorts of dreams in a while – – if Clark had been featured in any dreams lately Lex had the feeling there had probably been blood and screaming involved.
He tried to recall events that might have led up to this unusual occurrence. He was almost certain he hadn’t done anything recently enough, being side-tracked by murders and government interference, that might have infuriated Clark to the point where he needed to invade the sanctity of Lex’s bedroom to level his accusations. Not that that would explain him being asleep in the chair – – Clark’s little indignant rants tended to be spur of the moment. Lex doubted he’d have the patience to quietly sit and wait till Lex woke up.
Which brought him back to Clark dozing in his bedroom. Had he been drinking last night? It might account for the wafting fog in his head and the circular thinking. Had Clark? Or more accurately had he been drinking with Clark, which might explain the current situation, even though Lex couldn’t recall the last time he’d been drunk enough not to remember 98% of the night before. And he’d never seen Clark drunk or heard of him drunk – – imagined yes, but stray whimsy didn’t count. So the probability of them inexplicably deciding to indulge in a binge – – together – – seemed astronomically low.
Clark’s flannel shirt was undone and the t-shirt under it riding up enough to show a thin strip of tan belly. And that was somehow incongruous to the fact that he had a translation of a wordy Russian novel resting on his chest.
Lex couldn’t stand it anymore. “Clark. Wake up.”
Clark’s eyes snapped open at the abrupt command. He started up, face clouded with momentary shock, hands fumbling for the book that he’d sent tumbling with his movement. His eyes focused on Lex and if Lex didn’t know better, he’d have thought there was naked concern there. The look was almost more disconcerting that Clark’s actual presence. Almost.
“Do I even want to know, what you’re doing here?”
“Are you okay?”
They managed the questions simultaneously. Lex tightened his mouth, a curl of apprehension working its way up his spine, because Clark still looked painfully worried and had scrambled out of the chair, book in hand to hover a few feet away from the edge of the bed.
Maybe Lex did recall something of Clark from last night.
“Why would I not be?” he asked warily, pushing himself up.
“You don’t – – remember?” Clark asked with that tone in his voice that suggested he’d been about something he ought not have.
Lex narrowed his eyes, trying very hard to put pieces together. Clark had been here last night – – without invite – – and Lex had been pissed and tired and – – fuck. He pinched the bridge of his nose, not quite remembering, but making an educated guess.
“I passed out again.”
“Again?” Clark had an edge to his voice. Clark’s fingers on the book were white knuckled.
“Second time today – -” he looked out the window at bright sunlight and corrected absently. “Yesterday. At the office. In the elevator.”
He wasn’t sure why Clark needed that information. It just slid out of his mouth. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and it occurred to him that Clark must have gotten him up here and into bed. That Clark had undressed him a second time in less a week and he felt a flutter of nerves that had no business being.
“How long was I out?”
Clark licked his lips, a quick swipe of pink tongue. He looked at his watch and a pained little smile curved a recently moistened mouth. “Uh, a long time. It’s almost one.”
Lex blinked, tearing his gaze away from Clark’s mouth to the window. One in the afternoon was beyond indulging himself a little and oversleeping. He hadn’t even known his body was capable of sleeping in so late.
“And you stayed here – – all that time?” he asked slowly, just to get the facts straight, because obviously there were blanks that needed filling in.
“I – – I was worried,” Clark admitted. “I guess I dozed off.”
“Dostoyevsky will do that do you,” Lex made an effort to put a drawl in his voice, but he was feeling a vague sense of disequilibrium that he was having trouble shaking. “He’s a wonderful cure for insomnia.”
Clark lifted the hand with the book, as if he’d forgotten he was clutching it. Lex’s clothes were laid over the chest at the end of the bed. The same ones from yesterday, but at the moment they were preferable to striding down the hall to the closet in the master bedroom in his underwear to fetch fresh ones.
“I’m sorry, Lex.”
Lex swung a wary look around. Clark hadn’t apologized to him in – – well, years, quite a few years, if you didn’t count him being sorry Lex had gotten his ass kicked a few nights past.
“What did you do?” He inquired mildly, regardless of the fact that he was insanely interested in any regrets Clark might have. He pulled on his slacks and shrugged on the shirt before they were buttoned, just wanting clothes on, because being without put one at a distinct disadvantage.
Clark seemed to think about that for a moment, before shrugging awkwardly. “I should have taken you to the ER Monday night – – gotten them to look you over. X-rays or Cat scans or whatever they do when somebody’s kicked you in the head.”
“My head’s fine.” Lex said sourly. It wasn’t lingering concussion. He damned well knew what that felt like.
“Maybe a brain tumor,” he said, because he felt a little bitter irony was needed here.
Clark’s eyes widened in distress. Over him. Like Clark had suddenly decided it was okay to give a damn again. Lex opened his mouth to say something cutting. Shut it, because nothing really came to mind.
He didn’t get physical maladies, he simply didn’t. Maybe it ‘was’ stress or anxiety attack or the onset of some mental disease. He’d make an appointment in the city and get a professional opinion.
His shoes were by the nightstand, socks balled up inside, but he could forgo those long enough to walk down the hall and get clean socks, bare feet not being the problem bare skin was. Only Clark followed him to the door, practically treading on his heels, which was damned annoying, but not quite as unsettling as how much difference an inch worth of sole on a shoe made when turning around to complain about it and having to look up and up to meet Clark’s eyes.
First instinct said back up a step. Second one said, the hell if he would. Third one caught the scent of Clark’s soap and hay, the faint tang of dried sweat – – entirely Clark and male and – – fuck – – maybe he should take that step backwards after all. Lex took a breath and wondered when exactly he’d stopped appreciating the way Clark smelled.
Not that it mattered, because he’d wasted half the day away in bed – – sleeping. If he’d been engaging in something else, at least he’d have gained something from the lost time. It was a wonder his phone hadn’t been ringing off the hook with business that needed attending.
“Don’t you have cows to feed? Hay to bale? Other people’s homes to intrude upon?” He canted his head, putting a casual hand on the doorframe, because casual was the best method of dealing with the little flicker of tension that came with the invasion of his personal space.
Clark swallowed, eyes drifting down – – and it could have been nervousness, because Lex knew he could outstare Clark any given day of the week – – but it reminded him more of the look Clark had given him at his house – – awkward appraisal followed by quick embarrassment.
“I was just – – concerned.” Clark shuffled a step backwards, putting the distance between them that Lex had been too stubborn to create.
“Don’t feel the need to dredge up old habits on my account.” He pulled the door open and strode out into the hall. The house was quiet as a tomb. You’d think in the middle of the day, there’d be some movement from the staff. No one had appeared all day, and apparently all night, to ask what Clark was doing lurking in Lex’s room. Unless they’d come to conclusions of their own about what he’d been doing there. The suspicion that he’d murdered his wife on top of the fact that he might be fucking her ex-boyfriend would give them unlimited material to whisper about behind his back.
Where the hell was the security that had apparently let Clark roam the grounds last night?
“Is today a holiday?” Sometimes he lost track of the little things – – and he was generally quite liberal with his employee’s on things like vacations, holidays and overly gracious benefit packages. It paid to be generous when it came to garnering loyalty – – right up until the day you cut some poor working stiff off a the knees for profits sake. He’d learned that lesson the hard way, from his father.
“No,” Clark said, trailing behind him. “Why?”
“My house seems conspicuously empty.”
Clark clomped along in silence for a few steps, then offered. “It’s the last week of fall – – there’s a festival in Cooperstown. Sort of a big thing. Whatever happened to Beatrice? I liked Beatrice. I don’t think your new staff is that reliable.”
Lex almost laughed. He might have been offended if it wasn’t so utterly bizarre, Clark giving him advice on his domestic staff. Lex vaguely recalled Beatrice the cook who’d been one of two part time staffers when he’d first moved to Smallville. He seemed to recall she’d had a fondness for Clark. But, who hadn’t, when Clark had been fifteen?
Clark at 21 was considerably more annoying. And Lex had had enough years to grow immune to those eyes and a pout that bordered on pornographic to be swayed towards consideration that would profit him nothing.
“Clark.” Lex stopped in front of the doors to the master suite – – the room he’d shared with Lana and he didn’t want to open those doors with Clark standing here. Didn’t want Clark to see the ghosts because they were his – – only he didn’t know where that dismal thought had come from, ridiculous and sentimental.
He hadn’t even gone to her funeral after the fight with Nell and Henry Small and his father of all people, to have her buried in the cemetery next to her parents instead of the more ostentatious site Lex would have preferred. They hadn’t wanted him there – – and he’d been distracted, desperate to salvage what he could of Project Ares, before the government investigation tracked down all the research sites and stole it away from him.
He’d been scrambling to arrange lab space in Metropolis when they’d put what was left of her in the ground – – and he’d barely given it a thought all through the day and it struck him now at so oddly an inconvenient time, that betrayal or not, he’d owed her a little more than that.
“No,” he snapped at a question Clark hadn’t even asked, or maybe Clark had asked and he hadn’t heard and that unsettled him. Clark blinked, and Lex clenched his fists.
“Just – – get out.”
Clark stared at him a moment more. Then did.