Halfway through the flight home and Lex was a little drunk. The flight attendant had kept filling his glass and he’d kept drinking it down, because he’d needed to have his hands on something, otherwise it was drum the arms of his seat obsessively or walk the cabin and the turbulence was rough enough to put a damper on comfortable pacing. Lex hated turbulence. It made him nervous and he hated being nervous.
He hated being distracted to the point where the simple act of conducting essential business was beyond him. He had his laptop, he had his phone, he had a great deal of work that he could have been doing – – if he could have torn his thoughts away from this disaster of a weekend. From this very curious week in its entirety. From Clark.
He accepted Sophia’s story. It even made sense to him, that Lana would seek outside help in her attempts to leave him. If he looked at it logically, past the hurt and past the anger, it had been a smart move. Funds from what should have been an untraceable source – – he might never have uncovered it if he hadn’t been so dogged in his determination to clear his own name – – or if Clark had killed him in Reeves Damn, driven to murder by grief over Lana’s death and a clear indication that Lex had been responsible.
And he’d come close. Lex remembered the look in his eyes, dilated pupils, narrow rage, all the empathy, the compassion, the humanity that normally dwelt in Clark’s expression just gone. He’d seen that look in the eyes of killers, in the faces of no few number of psychotic ‘guests’ he had acquired and kept safely locked away from a blithely unaware populace in various off-the-books facilities.
He’d never seen it in Clark – – not like that. It had been terrifying and exhilarating, because a brief flicker of something inside him had thought that if he were going to die, better by Clark’s hands than the thing he’d left in the lab. It would have given Lana the justice she thought she needed, even from the grave – – and Clark would have been a murderer for her – – just like Niko was willing to kill because his snake of a sister let him believe a falsehood.
If he could believe it of Lana. If Clark hadn’t stopped and Lex still wasn’t entirely sure why he had. Just as he wasn’t certain why Clark had picked him up off the road and taken him home, or sat in his bedroom all night while Lex slept off what he was sure now, had been an exhaustion and stress related attack.
Oh, the looks he could understand. Clark had always looked at him – – under the lashes when he didn’t think Lex was watching. The nervous, curious looks of a young man who didn’t entirely understand why he was so fascinated.
Lex could understand fucking someone you despised. He’d done it on more than one occasion. Apparently Lana had all through their sham of a marriage. He just didn’t understand the concern, or why despite his best efforts, Clark kept coming back and looking at him occasionally like he was something wounded that Clark needed to mend.
Perhaps it had all been the driving need to discover who had killed Lana and the fact that Lex had found a possibility in the Twins that had kept Clark so determined to shadow him? That reason was gone now along with any vague idea of where to look next. So perhaps he could expect not to see Clark in the foreseeable future. Perhaps? After what had happened between them in the Mandarin Executive suite that morning, in the heat of anger and frustration – – he doubted Clark would ever willingly cross his path again. Which was exactly what he’d wanted. Wasn’t it?
He shuddered a little, an uncontrollable reaction to a sudden jolt of turbulence, clutched the seat arm in one hand and the smooth planes of the glass in the other. He rode it out, no choice but to ride it out, as the air buffeted the plane from without and Lex thought about the terrible sounds of engines failing and the whine of insubstantial objects power-diving towards the earth from thirty thousand feet in the air. He had nightmares about those sounds. He’d known Clark seven years, a quarter of his life – – and it didn’t seem nearly long enough.
He shut his eyes and pushed that panic induced thought away. Another one followed on its heels, of Clark kissing him, fierce and desperate and Clark’s big hands on his body, tentative, like he’d been touching something pricey and fragile, before need took over and the grip tightened and god, Clark’s strength had never felt so good. Until it stopped. And that had been an embarrassing, inopportune let down. Might have been entirely disappointing if Clark hadn’t stood there staring at him raptly, mouth open, cock half hanging out of his open jeans, while Lex stroked himself to completion.
The turbulence actually proved helpful, since it kept the flight attendant in her seat and not prowling about noticing the beginnings of the tent in Lex’s pants.
How many Clark-related fantasies had he entertained over the years of just such an occurrence? Even while he’d been getting regular sex from Victoria, Helen and various other partners. Certainly while he’d been courting Lana. Even after Clark had stopped being the boy who had first enthralled him, for so many reasons, and became a young man full of distrust and accusations. When had the sexual whimsies actually stopped and turned into darker musings? He looked back, being analytical about it, because analytical made the hard-on recede – – ticking off dates and events in his head.
After Dark Thursday – – when he’d been so traumatized by the destruction he’d wrought under the possession of something utterly alien, that the whole of his worldview had altered. When he’d half killed himself and invested a good deal of his fortune in his pursuit of an answer to preventing such a thing happening again. When he’d dreamed every night about things he couldn’t recall in the morning and couldn’t ever shake the feeling that he wasn’t quite alone in his head. Like an amputee feeling the ghostly sensations of a limb that was no longer there.
Only he hadn’t felt it for a while and he wasn’t sure when that had gone away either. He wasn’t sure about so many things and it vaguely felt like the onset of some mild mental break. Which he damned sure wouldn’t allow. He had too much to do for that sort of inconvenience.
There was a light covering of snow on the ground when the plane touched down in Metropolis. Ridiculous that it was colder in Kansas than New York, but the cold front they’d been experiencing seemed unusually persistent.
Lex left the plane with a bag he hadn’t had on the trip up, walked across the private strip butting up against the vast tarmacs of Metropolis International, towards the parking lot. There were a few stray flakes in the air and an overcast sky made early evening darker than it ought to be.
The Porsche was blocked in by the long, black shape of a limo, the exhaust of which spit white clouds of condensation into the cold air. Lex didn’t have to see the license plate to know it was a LuthorCorp car. No one else would have the audacity to blockade him but his father.
Lex ground his teeth, considering options as he walked across the lot, shoes crunching in snow. The front passenger door opened and his father’s usual security man got out, opening the back door in invitation.
His choices were limited. He could refuse it, walk around and sit fruitlessly in his car hoping his father would give up and leave without voicing whatever it was he’d come out here to catch Lex and say, or walk back to the terminal and call for a ride of his own. Or just step into the Lion’s den and see what was so fucking important.
He chose the latter, triggering the Porsche trunk open and tossing his bag at the waiting security guard, before he slid into the back of the limo.
“Son.” Lionel sat in his leather-upholstered cocoon of warmth, the melodious sounds of one of Mendelssohn’s concertos oozing through the sound system.
“What?” Lex wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries. He had a buzz that wasn’t entirely contributing to razor sharp wits and he hated to feel disadvantaged around his father.
“You’ve been avoiding my calls, Lex. I was beginning to worry.” Lionel turned the music down a few notches, a subtle, patient smile curving his lips.
Lex had, but really, avoidance between the two of them had been working out so well lately. Lex found himself less constantly in a murderous mood when his father was out of sight and out of mind. “I find it hard to believe you don’t have more productive things to do than sit out here waiting to ambush me because I haven’t been returning calls. What do you really want?”
“I was worried about you, son. Have you seen your doctor yet? Some things shouldn’t be taken for granted, your health chief among them.”
“Don’t – -” Lex started off with a growl, stopped and got hold of his temper and started again. “Don’t concern yourself with my health, dad. As busy as you are, pulling LuthorCorp from the brink, I wouldn’t want to distract you.”
“Ah, this morning’s pretentious Journal cover.” Lionel laughed. “The young man who took the interview was overly enthusiastic.”
Lionel shrugged and Lex practically choked on the false modesty.
“Don’t be bitter, son. We agreed this was for the best, no matter wounded pride. This will blow over. People will forget. You’ll have your place back in the sun, if you choose to take it.”
“Choose? You mean you won’t have your tendrils sunk so deeply by that point that I’ll actually have a choice in the matter?”
“You have your safeguards. You think I’m not aware?”
“I think you’re entirely aware, which is why I worry, dad.”
Lionel laughed again, that infuriating casual amusement he could wear when Lex felt nothing even close. “You think I want to end my days waging war on the corporate front, Lex? I have visions of retirement. Someplace sunny. Spain, perhaps, I always did love Marbella.”
Lex sat back, not believing it for an instant. His father would be the master manipulator until the day he died and if Lionel Luthor had his way, he might even be able to affect things beyond the grave. Chilling thought.
“If all you wanted was to inquire about my well-being, rest assured, I’m fine.”
He reached for the door handle, Lionel reached for his arm, latching on and leaning forward, eyes sharp and critical as if he were searching for something Lex had no clue of. To the day he died, Lex would never get over the feeling of not measuring up – – that there would always be chinks in his armor that his father could spy out, no matter how impenetrable Lex forged it.
He matched the gaze, pulled his arm out of the grasp and stepped back out into the cold.
He got into his own car and waited for the Limo to pull away, which after a minute it did, slowly receding into wan evening grayness. Lex sat for a while, letting calm that his father always managed to shatter settle back over him. He turned over the things Lionel could want from him when he already had LuthorCorp again – – at least on paper. When he had the approval of the public, the approval of the stockholders, the approval of the board. He didn’t need Lex’s sanction. Lex did have his safeguards against his father wresting full control, but he didn’t doubt for a moment that Lionel had already uncovered them – – was already working to disengage measures to encumber complete authority. Lex had been playing at corporate warfare – – really playing it – – for six years – – his father had been a master at it long before Lex had been born and a smart player, a paranoid one, never passed on his best tactics.
Lex watched the approach of an incoming passenger plane and the roar of it, as it passed by low overhead, shook the car a little. He cut on the engine, let the defrost melt the light layer of ice on his windshield while he checked his voice mail. Sure enough three messages from his father, an old one he’d ignored from a day or two ago and two new ones, from last night and this morning. He deleted a fair bit, mentally marked a few that he’d let his assistants deal with, a few he could put off until tomorrow and regular business hours and one that he hadn’t thought about for the last two days, but really ought to deal with now.
Making the trip to M&C labs from the airport was easier than making it from LuthorCorp towers and fighting heart of the city traffic. The congestion was still terrible though, 5 o’clock traffic made worse by the bad weather and people’s absolute inability to navigate when there was even the hint of snow on the ground.
He reached the facility, its façade dull and lazy, not even a fence or a guard to monitor incoming traffic. An old security man at the front desk that nodded at him and barely took his eyes off the little portable TV blaring some game or another. No one cared about wheat gluten and research thereof and that was what this lab studied – – on the books. He had a dozen facilities like this one, innocuous fronts concealing far more complicated things within.
This one had been set up impromptu, a means to house what was left of the premier project on his list of projects. A few weeks ago, he hadn’t been able to think of anything else but the resurrection of Ares, funny how it hadn’t crossed his mind all weekend.
The measures to reach the real sub-basement lab were more strident and the air down here was filtered and cool, permeated by the hum of equipment behind the walls. There had been testing done here, behind lead shielded walls, of meteor rock in various capacity. He still had a great deal of his father’s stolen stash, secreted here and there. More priceless than gold for its rarity outside Smallville, considerably more dangerous, instable as it was. As likely to create catastrophe as benefit from its usage. Four months ago a lab exploring the possibility of meteor rock as an alternate source of long-term energy had exploded at the outskirts of Scranton. Four neighboring buildings had gone up with it. Fourteen dead and they were still getting reports of possible side effects from survivors and not a beneficial one among them. Every one of the active research facilities had been moved out of populated areas after that. This one included.
Now it was home to eight misplaced researchers and every scrap of salvaged data they had.
“What do you have for me?” he cut to the chase, walking in on newly promoted project director Knox and his team, all of them waiting nervously on Lex’s arrival.
They offered proposals, and final analysis on the lengths the project could go without the crucial alien peptide component. They could be ready to move to the new location in a few days time if he gave the go ahead. Ready to start recruiting test subjects from a new pool – – not as ideal as military trained, but the next best thing when you were talking taking a man and playing Mr. Wizard with his DNA and hoping the process took before you made damned sure there wouldn’t be a chance he’d betray you once you’d made him into something more than human. Or less.
Two years ago when he’d initiated the germination of this project, he’d been content to wait out slow, methodical exploration of the possibilities of instilling select mutant abilities in non-mutated test subjects. No one that hadn’t been willing to take the risk had been involved in the endeavor. There had been no such thing as alien peptides to leap frog the potential light years ahead of projected schedules. Until the first of the extraterrestrials had turned up after the events of Dark Thursday.
Even then his researchers hadn’t wanted to take the next step, the logical progression until years worth more study had gone into it, until they really understood what they were playing with. And he hadn’t let them. One scientist had even threatened to go to the press after the dozenth or so subject was brought in. Mr. Mueller had dealt with that problem.
Mr. Mueller . . .
“You said last week, you’d like more time to evaluate accumulated data from the last run of tests,” he stood at the end of a stainless steel lab table while they fidgeted around it, nervous in his presence. He’d made sure all of them held the proper respect. There were figures on the laptop before him, but he couldn’t quite focus, wondering idly instead, why he couldn’t recall the name of the researcher that had been silenced. You’d think if he were going to have a man killed, he’d have taken the time to recall the name. It was chilling that he hadn’t cared enough to remember. But then again, you’d think if he’d had a man killed, eight months later it wouldn’t suddenly occur to him that there might have been better ways to deal with the problem.
“Well, yes. Ideally, scrutinizing that data, running purely lab based trials on non-human subjects would certainly be preferable – – but you did stress the urgency of moving the project along, Mr. Luthor,” Project director Knox said, as agitated as any researcher faced with the impatience of the powers that be.
“Is there any progress past the point we’d already reached that can be made without the peptides?”
“Well, no sir. But you did say that you wanted subjects prepared in the event we were able to obtain – -”
“Wait,” Lex cut him off, shutting the laptop with a sharp movement. “Do your data analysis. Do your lab tests. No human subjects until we have a viable source of peptides.” Until he figured out if the sacrifice of the first fifty was justifiable.
He left the lab, shocked scientists in his wake. Scientists who must have doubted his sanity, when a week before he’d been pushing them towards forging ahead regardless of caution. His shoes echoed on the hallway floor, tempo of confidence in his stride that he didn’t let falter, past electronic security, past the old guard who was part of the façade, and into the parking lot, before he let his hands shake.
He planted them on the cold roof of the car above the driver’s side door, drawing in lungfuls of condensation laden air, breathing it out in gusts of white.
What the fuck?
Month after month of absolute certainty, of doing what needed to be done, of sacrificing everything for the cause and suddenly the validation slipped through his fingers like oil through a sieve, leaving the slick feeling of distaste clinging in its wake.
He could quote all the reasons, like lines in a play. He could understand the hard truths and the hard choices – – he knew how to make hard choices, the things the average man – – the things Clark wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t condone – – but needed doing anyway. Only to make those choices you needed discipline and you needed perspective and he had the former in spades, but somewhere along the way he’d lost the latter – – somewhere along the way, his methods had gotten muddied and he couldn’t understand how or why. The more he pulled at the strings, the more his understanding seemed to unravel and it was making his head throb.
Maybe his father had been right to inquire about the state of his health, because he was beginning to feel a vague sense of disassociation that couldn’t be anything but the prelude to something worse.
He wanted a drink. Or a hit of whatever Sophia had slipped him the other night, because he hadn’t felt anything but certain on the tails of that. Maybe find some good looking kid with dark hair and rippling muscles and close his eyes and pretend.
He went back to the penthouse instead, not ready to make the drive in this weather back to Smallville. Settled down with that drink, because anything harder just wasn’t going to happen, even though all it would take was a call. He wasn’t that kid anymore that went out and got high and got fucked to chase away his dissatisfactions.
He pulled out work to prove it. Legitimate LexCorp business that had been piling up this last week. Things that needed his personal stamp of approval. Emails that needed replies, proposals and figures that needed going over. There was a meeting next week with certain high level federal authorities, smoothing out the final details of the bargain his father had orchestrated – – the timetable allotted for the payment of fines levied. He’d gathered enough capital for the first installment and only had to liquidate a fraction of LexCorp holdings, but then, it was the plummeting stock that was killing him.
He fell asleep on the couch, woke up stiff and sore from the awkward position, papers still spread out on the coffee table, lap top still open, dutifully drowsing, but on the same page he’d left it.
A shower took care of the residual body ache and chased away the lingering dregs of hangover. He went to his offices in LuthorCorp tower with a considerably clearer head than he’d had when he’d retreated to the penthouse. Concentrating solely on business business clarified his thoughts – – gave him a focus on details that triggered absolutely no contradictory musings.
But the problem with competent assistants, was that there was only so much work that he actually needed doing, when there weren’t meetings scheduled or people that needed his personal attention. He hadn’t been expected today, so the schedule was clear of all but a few face to faces. It left him time in the afternoon for thoughts to wander.
Clark would be home now. Probably home late last night, hours behind Lex at the mercy of passenger airline sluggishness. Lex thought of him slouched in too small economy seats, still in blood red silk, and leaned his head back with a sigh. The flannel and the T-shirt were in Lex’s travel bag, along with his own off the rack purchases. He’d considered leaving them, tossing them in the trash in a fit of frustration when he’d returned to that suite, rebuffed. But Clark’s scent, permeating cheap fabric stopped him and he’d sat there, on the end of the hotel bed, shirt twisted in his hands and belittled himself for sentimentality. He couldn’t leave the shirts behind anymore than he could the bruises Clark had left on his wrists that the cuffs of his sleeves had hidden from Sophia’s prying eyes.
Those had faded by morning though, along with the rest of the finger shaped bruising and an intelligent man might have chosen to put the memory of the incident behind him as well. An intelligent man shied away from assured pain and embarrassment. Of course, there were certain areas of his life that Lex had never exhibited particularly great amounts of intellect in. The arena of his personal life was the prime example. One disaster after another and God knew he’d tried to make it work. Just bad choices or bad luck that seemed to strike time and again – – like that sort of contentment wasn’t meant to be. If he believed in Luck he might have bought the excuse – – so really, it was just down to bad choices.
Sophia had met Lana for an afternoon and figured out she was ill suited. It had taken Lex over a year. He wondered when Lana had known.
But no, off that track, or he’d just get maudlin, or paranoid and he wasn’t sure which was worse.
He’d finished everything he was likely to finish by half past five and let his assistant know he’d work from the mansion tomorrow. He was on the road by six driven by some indefinable urge to simply get home. The roads were clear of yesterday’s snow and he made good time. He passed the sign declaring Lowell county an hour and thirty-seven minutes from the city and the traffic was non-existent, which meant another fifteen minutes with the Porsche pushed to its limits and he’d be within Smallville town limits. Another ten and he’d be home. Fifteen if he wanted to keep down the rural route that bordered the estate and pass the Kent Farm.
But he wouldn’t do that. He would go home and put something on his stomach other than water and scotch and the English muffin he’d had this morning and try and find a little peace. Perhaps read. It had been a long time since he’d sat down with a book and simply lost himself in written word.
There was still snow on the ground when he pulled through the gates of the mansion. More of it out here in rural Smallville than there’d been in Metropolis. Clumps of it decorated the hedges and the naked branches of ornamental trees. There weren’t many lights on in the mansion, but then he hadn’t called ahead to let them know he was on his way. Gate security would be notifying house security though, that he was back on premises, and sure enough he was met at the door by the quiet, serious head of estate security, who didn’t ask how his day had been or the weekend that he’d flown the coop without a word of warning, and probably didn’t care as long as he was in one, functioning piece. He hadn’t hired these men for their personalities.
He went up to the master suite, determined not to let the ghost of Lana chase him to lesser rooms. Tomorrow he’d have the staff start boxing up her things. Nell was enough of a social climber to still be on speaking terms with him, allegations of misdeed or no, so he’d call her and see if she wanted her niece’s things. If not – – the Smallville Good Will would get the donation.
He felt better with that long overdue decision finally made. As if a burden had been lifted he hadn’t known was there. He put on comfortable clothes, and went downstairs, where the staff had started the fire in the study. It would be a while before the warmth of it seeped out and took the chill off the air. He took a late, hastily prepared dinner on the sofa next to the fire. Sat afterwards with his back to the fire and flipped through the choice of books he’d brought down from the library. He read a page of this, a half chapter of that and couldn’t find a subject that kept his attention. His fingers were cold and his mind kept wandering to how uncannily warm Clark’s hands were. Clark’s skin in general.
Clark’s skin. Lex leaned his head back against the arm of the couch, staring at the shadows at the ceiling. Copper colored nipples on golden skin. The rose flush of his cheeks that almost matched the blush of his lips – – almost matched the shade of his cock, when it was proud and erect. It would have been nice to see the whole package, but Lex’s imagination filled in details hidden by underwear and jeans.
Lex sighed, shut his eyes and considered putting the books aside in favor of switching on the TV and finding a channel that offered good old-fashioned porn.
He woke up at the muffled movement of one of the staff adding wood to the fire. The man murmured a soft apology and Lex grimaced at a stiff neck and the morning light filtering in through the stained glass. Second night it a row he’d slept on a couch. Someone had come in during the night and put a throw over him, a frankly surprising act of kindness considering how much distance the staff had been keeping from him lately. He still felt like &endash; well, like he’d slept on a couch in a room ten degrees colder than he normally liked to sleep.
He took the time for a long, leisurely shower, leaned against the tiles and stroked himself with soap slick hands while he pictured Clark doing dirty, dirty things. It didn’t take much of that to trigger release and he leaned there afterward with a self-satisfied smile that slowly faded as it occurred to him that masturbatory fantasies might be the only option open to him, as far as Clark was concerned.
He’d fucked up Monday morning. Let emotion get the better of him and destroyed a tentative truce. He thumped his forehead against the shower wall, let the hot water beat against his back and tried to figure out how he was going to fix it. Stopped thumping and rethought that and realized that he actually did want to fix it.
If for no other reason than to explore the possibility of whether he actually could. The challenge of Clark never failed to appeal – – on one level or another.
Despite the steam of the shower, the bathroom tiles were cold underfoot. Lex smeared a clear patch in the fogged mirror and stared at his reflection. His mother’s eyes stared back – – that one thing he had to really recall her to memory, eyes just like hers, changeable as weather on the outside, but he had to wonder how much of his father lurked beneath. More than he’d ever wanted to believe possible, once upon a time. But a few of those inherited traits were laudable, tenacity chief among them – – and it had gained him no small victories in the past.
He took breakfast in the kitchen while he spoke with his assistant at length about the state of his schedule for the rest of the week, of emails to be forwarded and faxes to be sent for his approval.
He even pondered going into the study and settling down to work early, before shuffling the notion aside in favor of more pressing concerns.
He took the new black Audi, and left behind security, who were probably beginning to feel superfluous, with his rejection of them this last week and headed east down route 601. It was cold of course, but the clouds were spotty and the sun just might gain the courage to peek through as the day progressed. With a little luck it would melt the snow and bring a stretch of much needed warmth.
Lex was already tired of the cold and it wasn’t even true winter yet. He had no doubt Clark had already gotten half his days work done, cloudy cold or not.
He pulled into the Kent drive, up to the bright yellow farmhouse. He got out with the implements of his plan. Granted it wasn’t a particularly brilliant plan – – but his resources on the Clark front were limited.
Lex knocked politely at the front door. There was no answer. He walked out to the big barn, where Clark could usually be found. A few of the horses nickered at him questioningly, but no Clark. It was frustrating to be stymied simply because Clark wasn’t home at quarter to nine in the morning. What possible pressing engagements could he have this early?
He headed back out, and there was Clark standing by his car, jacketless, muddy boots, sleeves rolled and a bit of hay clinging to his shirt and hair, indicating he’d been doing some cow related chore. He also had the sort of wary look on his face that people wore at the approach of tax collectors and insurance salesmen.
“What do you want, Lex?”
Lex held up the laundered, neatly folded flannel and t-shirt that Clark had opted to leave behind. “I thought you might want these back.”
Clark eyed the offering. Looked back up at Lex with vaguely annoyed eyes and asked sullenly. “Did you think I was getting down to my last few?”
Lex managed not to loose the impartial smile, even though Clark was considerably less endearing moody and resentful at twenty-one than he’d been at sixteen. He supposed he deserved a bit of hostility though, after some of the goads he’d used against Clark in their last encounter. Lex could take his medicine to get a step closer to a goal.
“I didn’t want to take the risk of you going without. I wouldn’t want your reputation ruined if you were seen without plaid or primary colors.”
“If you’re worried about my reputation, being seen with you’s guaranteed to have people avoiding me.”
Okay. So Clark’s sense of humor was currently hibernating, even if he had hit the nail right on the head. Lex hadn’t been able to take a step into town within the last month without people glaring, or whispering, actively crossing the street to avoid him, not to mention gratuitous physical attacks on his person.
“Well, the risk of social stigma aside, I thought I’d drop them by.” He held out the clothes.
Clark looked at them like they were laced with poison. Looked back up at Lex with a dead on stare that was so reminiscent of Jonathan Kent’s frank, accusing gaze that Lex had a brief, fanciful moment thinking of Clark channeling his spirit.
“All right, Clark I admit it, it was a flimsy excuse. It seems to me we need to talk about – -”
“No!” Clark snapped, accusing stare turning white around the edges with sudden panic. “We don’t.”
Clark snatched the shirts out of Lex’s hands, gave him wide berth in moving past him as if the risk of touching him were too great to bear. “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Lex tightened his mouth, watching Clark’s stiff shoulders as he walked towards the house. He swallowed back an angry knot and spun towards his car.
Lex stopped, one hand on the hood, one on the open door. He didn’t turn to look back. He was tired of the animosity on Clark’s face. It occurred to him that one of the things he missed most in his life was Clark’s smile.
“Thanks for the shirts.”
“You could have sent somebody by.”
“I could have.”
He heard the squelch of Clark’s boots in the soggy drive. Felt his presence a few yards away – – had always been uncannily aware of Clark’s simple presence.
“What are you doing, Lex?” Clark asked softly.
He didn’t know how to answer that. Trying to heal a rift they’d both been damned and determined to create? Trying to appropriate what had once been a valuable resource. Trying to gain some measure of control over something personal when he seemed to be losing control over so much else. Trying to get laid?
“That’s an excellent question. If I come up with an answer that makes sense to me, I’ll let you know.”
Clark was silent, maybe caught off guard by that bit of blatant honesty. Lex took a chance and turned, caught Clark staring at him from under those ridiculously lush lashes, eyes somber.
“I don’t understand you,” Clark said.
Lex almost laughed. Caught it and flashed a wry smile instead. “I don’t understand me, either.”
Another brutal honesty – – but this one Clark wouldn’t get the gist of.
“Lex, why do you go out of your way to hurt – -” Me, was how Lex thought Clark would have ended that sentence when he didn’t finish it. Just stood there swallowing like something had flown down his throat.
That was another one that Lex wasn’t entirely sure how to answer. At least honestly. Clark was hitting on the difficult questions today.
Because you hurt the things you loved the most. But no, that wasn’t right either, that was just him channeling his own father. And he didn’t love – – he hadn’t come here because he loved – – he’d come here because he wanted. Two very different things.
“Lex?” Clark was closer, a hint of concern in his eyes and Lex didn’t remember seeing him move. “Are you okay?”
Of course he was okay, he just needed to catch his breath, to quell the rapid beating of his heart and try and ignore why the panic had surfaced in the first place.
“It’s my nature, Clark. Just like it’s yours to be gullible and believe the best of people – – until they show you otherwise. Isn’t that how it goes?”
“You’re doing it again.”
He was. Basest instinct to strike first when he was feeling disadvantaged and Clark put him on the defensive just being Clark.
“It didn’t used to be,” Clark had a hand on the edge of the door. The folded shirts were on the porch steps behind him, probably already stained with bits of tracked mud from the yard. It occurred to him, out of the blue, that with Martha Kent doing the Washington circuit, Clark was left to his own devices in the domestic areas that she had probably claimed as her own before.
“If you plan on keeping the burgundy silk, it’s dry clean only.”
Clark blinked at him.
Lex managed not to mimic the dumbfounded look, even though he felt it. God knew where the laundry tip had come from.
“Yeah, I can read laundry instructions,” Clark said dryly, but there was a miniscule curve to his lips. “Don’t tell me that you’ve ever, in your entire life, had to do a load of clothes?”
“Clark, very few of my clothes are of the type you just throw into the machine.”
“That wasn’t what I asked.”
“No,” Lex said. “I’ve never done my own laundry. I’ve never cut the grass. I’ve never washed my own car – – cars. It doesn’t mean I don’t know how it’s supposed to be done.”
“You’ve never cut grass?” Clark sounded astonished. Like it was a rite of passage that every young man was required to take before he was allowed into the ranks of adulthood.
It was an inane conversation, but it felt very much like the kind of therapy that no earthly amount of money could buy.
“I’ve been outside while it was being done. Does that count?”
Clark’s mouth twitched. He stared over the door at the hood of the car as if the cooling patterns of condensation on the gleaming paint held some secret meaning. He looked back to Lex and there was a shift in his eyes, a subtle intensity that hinted at the iceberg that lay beneath the surface of Clark’s beautifully simple façade. It was the sort of look that contradicted every lie Clark had ever told claiming normalcy. Because nothing normal could exude diffident farm boy naivety the one moment and that sense of overwhelming power the next.
It made Lex’s pulse start racing again – – but not from panic.
There was the sound of tires spitting mud up the drive. Clark swallowed and turned his eyes down the drive. It felt like something physical being ripped asunder, the loss of that gaze and Lex leaned back against the edge of the car, recovering. Turned his own stare down the drive as a car drove up. Pulled to a stop a few yards behind the Audi and vomited out the unwelcome presence of Lois Lane.
Clark shuffled away from him, obliquely putting distance between them. Lex tightened his jaw and straightened, putting on a face that showed nothing.
“What are you doing skulking about this early in the morning?” Lois stomped through the mud like she was on a mission, ignoring Clark and glaring at Lex suspiciously.
“I could ask the same of you?” He could very easily hate Lois Lane to the point of violence for her interruption.
“Well, unlike you, I’m welcome here. Don’t you have laws to break? Murders to commit? The day’s a wasting, Lex.”
He smiled tightly, not in the mood to waste his time in verbal battle with her in the middle of Clark’s driveway when he was feeling so damned cheated. Since Clark pointedly wasn’t looking at him, he didn’t look at Clark. Just got into the car with the purpose of orderly retreat.
Lois fired a parting salvo. “Have you been to the dam since the army pulled out, Lex? Of course, they’re in cahoots with you, covering up information, so I was just wondering, how many bodies did they really recover? I heard they were finding them a mile, two miles down the river once the water receded. What’s it feel like being responsible for that? Can I get a quote?”
“Fuck you.” He said softly, because no calm, impassive answer could fight its way to the surface though the surge of queasiness he thought he’d left behind at the Metropolis lab.
Her eyes gleamed in a predatory, gleeful way at his lapse.
He pulled the door shut, started the engine and made a U-turn around Clark and Lois – – not looking at Clark’s face. Not wanting to see his expression. He got out onto the road and floored it, the car surging forward and he was halfway home before he slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop off the side of the road. Sat there with his hands, white knuckled on the wheel, leather creaking under his grip, mind awash in a chaotic swirl of static that finally coalesced into one thing.
She was right. He hadn’t been back there since the incident. He’d read the reports. He knew the exact number of casualties. He knew the official explanation of what had ruptured the dam walls. The unofficial theory was less popular and involved things the army wasn’t entirely prepared to admit existed, fools that they were.
Lex knew. Lex had had its fucking cock down his throat. But the responsibility didn’t lie with the entity, it lay with him. And he hadn’t set foot within the wreckage to see for himself the damage wrought. He needed to go. Needed to make the pilgrimage, because maybe if he did, he could get past whatever subconscious hang up was impeding his mind.
He turned the car around and headed for Reeves Dam.