Clark took a breath, found surprisingly enough, a center of calm that by all rights ought to be a far and distant thing, considering he’d just lost all hold on sanity and reason.
Lex had retreated to the bedroom, the lingering marks of Clark’s fingers – – Clark’s mouth – – on his pale skin, and even that wasn’t throwing Clark. Clark wasn’t sure if he was in some weird state of denial, or shock, or simply satiated into complacency. If he’d had time to really think about it, he might have been able to achieve a more appropriate state of mind. In other words – – panic.
But the woman outside the door demanded immediate attention, so he fortified his self-control, composed his face and opened the door.
He’d only seen her before through a crowd of people, under the eerie blue light of the club’s back room. If her face hadn’t been so memorable, like some classic beauty off the silver screen, he might not have recognized her as the same scantily clad woman who’d been pressing up against Lex last night at La Cruz.
She was a vision of elegance now, in a tailored ivory skirt suit that clung to her curves like an expensive second skin and emphasized the olive hues of her skin and the darkness of her long hair. Up close she was the sort of woman that caused intelligent dialogue to dry up and wither away. The type of woman that billionaires would have pursued – – and had.
“Uh, hello.” He felt like an idiot, standing there staring at her.
She canted her head, eyes flicking over his face, a faint, patient smile on her lips. “This is Lex Luthor’s suite?”
“Yeah. He’s on the phone. Important call.” Idiot. Absolute moron. Clark smiled to cover it, one of his big, sort of apologetic ones that usually had women tumbling over themselves to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Sophia Daniakos lifted a brow, looked him up and down a little more thoroughly. “I believe he wanted to speak with me. May I come in and wait?”
She walked past him without waiting for consent, her heels clicking on the marble of the entryway before she hit carpet. She had really fantastic legs, but Clark tore his eyes away in a panic as he passed the wall he’d had Lex pressed against less than five minutes before. There were no stains, no splotches, nothing to indicate it had been anything other than a twisted dream. Except for the smell – – and God, Clark hoped the scent of sex was mostly in his head and not actually permeating the air.
“So,” She turned in the center of the room, to look at him. “Are you here by the hour, or did he pick you up last night at the club?”
She asked it with such a composed smile, such an elegant lilt to her voice that he almost didn’t get the connotation. It took him a second, before his defenses started kicking in and he got past the deceptive beauty and remembered this woman might have had something to do with Lana’s death, that she’d certainly done something to Lex last night. She was a shark. A pretty shark, trolling for blood.
“I’m a friend,” he said, mouth twitching in the sort of smile he might give Lois when she was rubbing his last nerve raw.
“Hmm,” She wasn’t making the effort to hide her appraisal of him. “Lex always did have exquisite taste in ‘friends’. I do hope I didn’t interrupt anything other than his call.”
She settled on the couch, her fingers, tipped with manicured nails stroking the leather of the seat cushion next to her, little rotating circles of her index finger that were almost sexual. She was the sort of woman, he thought that drew you in with her beauty, but seduced with the little things, the subtle movements, the simple grace of crossed legs – – and he found himself oddly numb to it.
“No interruption at all.” He crossed his arms, not backing down from her dissecting gaze, not bothering to tack the smile back on. Having played enough games this morning and not wanting to play hers.
She pursed her lips a little, a pretty pout at his lack of interest in her verbal teasing. Let her play with Lex when he came out, because Lex was at the top of his ‘words as weapons’ game today.
“Do you have a name, Lex’s friend?” she inquired.
“Yes,” he answered.
She kept watching him, and wary of her as he might be, he hadn’t been raised to employ discourtesy easily. He relented.
“Clark,” she repeated, lips curving a little as if she’d won some sort of victory. “Pretty.” She said and he knew she couldn’t mean the name, because, well, it simply wasn’t. He finally felt the blush that should have risen minutes ago. He couldn’t help it. Lex had said not to talk to her.
“So what do you do for fun, Clark? What sort of games do you like to play?” She purred and the innuendo was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Clark had no idea how to answer that one or even if he should try.
“Not the type you like, Sophia,”
Lex kept him from having to, strolling out of the bedroom as pressed and neat as he’d been doing nothing more stressful this morning than reading the paper, not even glancing Clark’s way. “To what do I owe this – – pleasure?”
She fixed her gaze on Lex. Clark did, eyes drawn almost helplessly as Lex moved across the room towards the suite’s bar. He had on a blue gray shirt, buttoned up to the neck and a silvery gray tie, back slacks that fit him – – well, like all of Lex’s clothes fit, perfectly – – which was absolutely the wrong direction for Clark’s thoughts to drift.
“As if you didn’t expect a visit, Lex?” Sophia was saying, drawing Clark’s attention back to the issue at hand, instead of how Lex wore his clothes, how his ass looked in pants – – or out of them – – Clark drew a sharp little breath, stomach churning like someone had slipped a sliver if meteor rock into the room, and forced his eyes to the woman. She was safer by a long shot.
Lex canted his head, considering the selection of hotel liquor, and said lightly, as if it were of little consequence. “After your little stunt last night? I assumed you and Niko would find the nearest available rock to hide under. I would have, in your shoes.”
Lex smiled at her, and it wasn’t one of his nice ones. He poured a finger’s worth of something amber colored, and lifted a brow, a silent inquiry to her preference.
She waved a hand sharply in refusal, the first indication that she did indeed have nerves and that somehow Lex had already pricked them. No surprise there, Lex was good at it.
“You don’t play innocent well at all, Lex,” she said. “I don’t know why you try.”
Lex shrugged, sipping at his drink. “Is there a problem, Sophia? Perhaps I can help?”
She tightened her lips, then regained control of her calm and smiled thinly back at him. “Our yacht was impounded early this morning by New York city police. It seems they were tipped off about the possibility of illegal substances onboard.”
“Unfortunate,” Lex managed a brilliant imitation of sympathy. “I hope you weren’t careless enough to have any lying around.”
“Apparently they discovered several kilos worth of cocaine.”
“That’s a lot, even for the two of you,” Lex remarked. “Planning a party, were you?”
“It wasn’t ours and you know it, Lex.” She hissed the name like it was poison on her tongue. “They’ve been questioning Niko for hours. And then there seems to be some issue with our visas that has the interest of your Homeland Security.”
“Imagine that. Well, I suppose it would be criminally negligent if suspected drug traffickers were to flee the country.”
“You bastard,” she said with more level calm than Clark could have managed under the same circumstances. “Don’t tell me you’re upset about last night. It seems to have worked out quite well for you.”
She glanced towards Clark and he felt another little rise of heat and tightened his jaw.
Lex simply lifted a brow, not rising to the bait, not following her glance, as if Clark weren’t even in the room.
“Or,” she asked, a deeper hue if insinuation settling in her eyes. “Is this about our little party on the boat, all those years ago, Lex? Even after gutting the company, you still can’t get over it? I still think about it, now and then. How delightful it might have been if you’d been more – – accommodating.”
A muscle twitched in Lex’s jaw. His fingers on the glass were white, but nothing else showed on his face or his voice when he spoke. “If I were still harboring that grudge, Sophia, the least of your problems would be drug charges and revoked visas.”
She glared and Lex’s knuckles relaxed on the tumbler, composure quietly regained at her expense. And Clark had to wonder what it was that had happened that Lex so very obviously did hold a great deal of bitterness over. He remembered those pictures he’d seen, of Lex with this woman and her brother, as cock-sure as any eighteen year old with a fortune to back him up, but still very, very young. While she looked the same. Same expression, same seductress smile, like she knew so much more than the men around her and always had.
She gathered herself, settling back into the cushions, stroking the skin between the hem of her skirt and her knee. “This is about the girl.”
It wasn’t a question.
“My wife,” Lex agreed and Clark felt something clench inside, a hard little knot between his heart and his gut that would never, ever accept with grace that unholy union.
“Would you care to explain?” Lex asked.
“Lovely young woman,” Sophia shrugged. “Sweet. I met her in Metropolis while you and Niko were fighting over the dissolution of Papa’s company. Sad little thing though, caught in your shadow.”
Lex’s mouth tightened.
“I can understand you sleeping with her. She was beautiful and I know you like your beautiful things, but taking her as a wife? She was ill-suited. No proper match for a man that likes challenge.”
“When I need your advice on my personal life, Sophia, I’ll email.” Maybe she’d scored deeply, because Lex moved to the window, hands loosely in his pockets, looking out over the multi-hued park and the city beyond. “That was six months ago. Why was your man meeting with her last month?”
Sophia rose, brushing past Clark with the deliberation of a hunting cat, as she moved towards the bar. “We commiserated on past disenchantments and future pitfalls – – the general disappointment that women share over men. I gave her my number. She called it.”
Lex turned, eyes narrow and bright. Clark could practically see his body coiling, no less of a predator than she was. More dangerous by far, by the simple nature of their hunting grounds. She trolled the clubs and the playgrounds of the elite. Lex was global.
“And you hoped to gain what, by fostering this association? Inside information on LexCorp? Something to use against me? You did realize you’d have to stand in line and wait your turn for that particular source of information. She was apparently stretched thin.”
“Ah, yes. Your father.”
Lex opened his mouth. Shut it abruptly, apparently not expecting her to be privy to that particular knowledge. Lana had to have told her and Clark wondered just how many people she’d confided in before she’d ever come to him. He supposed wryly, that he was a step further up in the information highway than Lex, who had been the absolute last to find out. A month ago that knowledge hadn’t bothered him in the least – – he’d reveled in it, confirmation that she’d never loved Lex – – but now, oddly enough, he felt a niggling little stab of empathy.
“She met with your man and a week later she was dead. You realize don’t you, that if I discover you or your brother had a hand in it your lives are over.”
It was as blatant a threat as Clark as ever heard Lex level, he was usually so much subtler in his insinuations, but he was angry now. Maybe more than angry and Clark could understand that, could feel it inside himself at the thought of having someone in the room that might have used Lana as coinage against Lex in the payment of some meaningless vendetta.
But Sophia Daniakos was holding up her hands, eyes suddenly wary and wide as she realized the implication of Lex’s words. As she realized what he was accusing her of and what he was capable of in retaliation.
“No. No, that’s not what happened. This had nothing to do with her death – – she asked me for help. For money she couldn’t get from your accounts without you finding out.”
Lex just stood there, not demanding she elaborate, maybe figuring things out in his own mind that Clark had yet to put together.
“Why?” Clark had to ask, and she turned her eyes on him, more than appraisal in her gaze. Curiosity. Wondering who he was that Lex let stand here in the middle of this. He didn’t care what she thought or what she assumed, he just wanted to know.
“She wanted to leave him and needed the resources to run far and wide and I was happy to help her out.” She turned her gaze back to Lex, eyes narrow. “Because I understand what it’s like to be under the thumb of a man who thinks he’s God.”
“You had money transferred to her, through your lawyer?” Lex asked, voice gone low and neutral. Nothing showed on his face. His eyes were blue-gray mirrors.
“Nothing else. Nikolas knew nothing of it. He would hardly have approved. He’s old fashioned that way.”
“How much did you give her?”
“None of your business, Lex. What does it matter?”
Clark wondered the same thing. She was dead, and if this woman was telling the truth they were no closer to finding out why or who. This had all been a colossal waste of time. All it had proved was that Lana had been so desperate to get away from the Luthor world that she had run to Lex’s enemies for aid. Instead of running to Clark. Instead of trusting him with any of this.
“Everything matters, Sophia. But I think we’re done.” He walked towards her, a hand hovering at the small of her back and she went with it, walking with him to the door.
“Be a gentleman and walk me to the lobby,” she said. “For old times sake, Lex.”
Lex shrugged, opening the door for her and Clark felt a peal of relief that she wasn’t going to walk out that door and leave them alone again. He wasn’t sure he was ready to be alone again with Lex. With Lana so fresh on his mind, it made what they’d done seem so extraordinarily wrong. So excruciatingly dirty – – because part of him still twitched a little thinking about it. The part he’d stuffed hastily back into his pants, without the benefit of a tissue to wipe off. He could still feel the slow drying wetness against his shorts.
He felt the heat in his cheeks again, but their backs were towards him and he fought it down. He wasn’t ready to get in the elevator with them, because God knew that ride down would be filled with enough tension without Clark adding himself to the mix, but damned if he was going to wait in the room for Lex to come back up. He wasn’t sure if he could hold a rational conversation just yet in the same room they’d just both gone off the deep end in. He wasn’t sure he could talk to Lex at all, because somewhere in that convoluted maze Lex called a brain, he’d decided that provoking Clark was his new method of communication. And worse yet, something inside Clark rushed to the challenge, eager for the conflict – – eager for any excuse to back Lex against the wall and let him know without doubt that there were bigger dogs in the junkyard than him.
Which was so completely screwed up that Clark wanted to yank at his hair or smash a fist in the wall, or run somewhere far distant where it was cold and silent and try and get a handle on his newly birthed insanity.
He ran downstairs instead. Got there long before the elevator carrying Lex and Sophia arrived at the lobby, and loitered behind the foliage in the little indoor Japanese garden.
The doors opened and they stepped out, no worse for wear. They crossed the lobby, and Sophia stopped, turning towards Lex and saying something about bygones and the times they’d shared in the past, to which Lex didn’t respond, until she leaned up and kissed him on the mouth. Which made Clark’s fingers curl until Lex stepped away from it, impassively, maybe on the verge of saying something when a man burst through the lobby doors, from an awkwardly parked black Mercedes outside.
“You come to him? Of all people? Did you touch her?”
Clark didn’t even have to expand his hearing to get that, and though he didn’t remember the features of Nikolas Daniakos as vividly as he did Sophia, vague recollection and basic math pretty much assured him this was the man.
Lex’s height, but a lot broader, the man didn’t carry his age as well as sister and the lines on his face were tense with rage and no doubt the exhaustion of dealing with the problems Lex had created for him for the last half dozen hours or so.
Sophia smiled and her hand brushed Lex’s arm, a familiarity that suggested intimacy before she left him, walking past her trembling brother towards the door.
“I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking kill you!” Nikolas shouted, face gone red with rage, body vibrating with it before he launched himself at Lex. Clark was halfway across the lobby before it even occurred to him what he was doing, and stumbling to a halt when Lex sidestepped the swing, and conveniently got a foot between his attacker’s ankles, sending the man staggering forward into the arms of frantically approaching bellmen. When it wasn’t four on one, and karma wasn’t thumbing its nose at him, Lex wasn’t half bad at taking care for himself.
“No one touches her but me. No one but me, you smug little freak!!” Niko was screaming, struggling in the hands of two bellmen, glaring at Lex like he was the antichrist.
Lex’s mouth turned up in a cool smile, but he didn’t say a thing. Just stood there with his hands in his pockets and watched them force Niko towards the door and the car where his sister was already waiting. But Lex had a look in his eyes, when Clark finally walked up, that hinted at wheels turning inside his head.
“It’s funny, isn’t it,” Lex said, tone soft and musing. “How little a woman really has to do, to have a man do her dirty work. If he’d had a gun, he would have shot me.”
Clark swallowed, the notion of that making his gut lurch. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about how badly he didn’t want to think about Lex bleeding out his life on imported tiles.
“Is your new hobby making enemies and getting death threats, Lex?” Clark asked.
The car screeched away outside, pulling hazardously into city traffic. Lex tilted his head, looking up at Clark, almond eyes inscrutable, still thinking and God that made Clark edgy. Being this close to Lex did, because Clark could smell him and feel the subtle energy radiating from his body and he hated that awareness. Lex had felt really good under his hands. The kind of good that made everything else bleed away into inconsequentiality. Until consequence came back and slapped him in the face and he realized what he was doing – – what Lex had driven him to do. It had been Lex, right? Lex’s fault. Lex’s vicious seduction.
Clark swallowed again, convulsively and shuffled a step away, needing that space. Needing a lot more than a few feet.
“It seems to be,” Lex said, with less of an edge of sarcasm than might be expected with that bitter admission.
“Did you believe her?”
Lex looked back towards the doors and the movement of traffic beyond the landscaped wall separating the Mandarin’s drive from the rest of the city. “Yes.”
He trusted Lex’s instincts and in this, he trusted Lex not to lie. Which left nothing else here for Clark, but the desperate urge to leave.
“If you need a lift back home,” Lex said in a neutral voice. “I’ll be flying back to Metropolis this afternoon.”
Clark almost laughed, the offer was so civil. Like Lex hadn’t recently been spewing vile things at him to spur him on, and he hadn’t had Lex pressed up against a wall, his dick pressed tight against Lex’s perfect ass, shooting come onto the small of his back.
He felt the panic swim up, gnawing at the edges of his calm like hungry piranha, and shook his head. What the hell was Lex thinking? Plotting? Planning? His bouts with schizophrenia were driving Clark mad. And the idea that it might have something to do with the abrupt and admittedly violent removal of the remnant of Zod just made it worse. Because then, didn’t the blame lie partially at Clark’s own feet?
“No thanks. I’ll manage on my own.” He managed to say that without it coming out strangled and did the one thing he’d always been consistently good at in this rollercoaster ride of a relationship – – he turned on his heel and walked away.