Lois was still bitching about Lex, but Clark only heard a fraction of the complaints, the sound of her voice the only thing really getting through for a few moments as he watched Lex’s car speed away. When Lex had been younger, he’d used to drive dangerously fast – – like a man with a death wish. He’d slowed down in recent years. Graduated for the most part, from the sleek extensions of male ego he used to have imported in, to more refined works of automotive art.
Everybody grew up, sooner or later. Lex no exception. Clark no exception. Everyone gave up some cherished ideal, some coveted dream, sacrificed on the alter of adulthood.
Lex only reverted now a days, spun tires and mistreated his toys when he was pissed. At least in Clark’s admittedly limited knowledge of recent Lexian behavior. He hadn’t been keeping track. He should have been. Maybe then he’d have a clue what was going on inside Lex’s head.
Lex had half smiled at him, and it had seemed really, really honest – – not the tight, fake smile that was the only thing Clark had seen from him in a long, long time. The tension had been on its way to relaxing off his face, and his eyes had almost lost that guarded look – – halfway to something familiar and candid.
Before Lois drove up and banished it.
Lex was a half mile down the road, and Clark adjusted his vision, slowly focusing back on what was standing in front of him still talking, and away from the car going way too fast down a country route that still had patches of icy slush.
“What?” He cut into her diatribe and that question could have covered a plethora of subjects that he didn’t want her to have to repeat.
Lois snapped her mouth shut, eyeing him narrowly. She took a deep breath and said with exasperation practically oozing from her pores. “Were you listening to a word I said, Smallville?”
“Uh, yeah. I just missed that last part.” He tried to recall if there might be some reason she was out here this morning that he’d forgotten in the confusion of the weekend.
“I said, I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him – – me, not you – – and what was he doing out here anyway? You really would think he’d have better things to do than harass the local yokels.”
Clark narrowed his eyes and gave her a glare at the insult, which she either didn’t notice or ignored, because she plowed right on.
“Considering what happened last week and the love the rest of the town has for anything Luthor, you’d think he’d just pack up and move back to the city where soulless scum are a dime a dozen.”
“Lois.” He felt a little surge of protectiveness, which was just damned stupid and uncalled for, because Lex could take care of himself just fine. Except when he couldn’t.
“Don’t tell me he was out here thanking you for your little save? A little late for that, isn’t it? What did he want?”
Even if Clark had an inkling to the answer of that one, he wasn’t prepared to share with Lois when she’d already managed to get him on edge.
His still mostly neatly folded shirts were on the steps. Lex had probably had them washed. But then, Lex always was a stickler for the most miniscule detail. Things most people would never even consider important, Lex thought of and dealt with. Obsessive compulsive to a degree, with the way he liked things ordered. The way he folded his clothes and kept his surroundings immaculate. The way he poured over books, craving knowledge – – the way the unknown plagued him like a demon with a sharpened stick.
“What are you doing here, Lois?” He asked without answering.
She huffed a little, cheeks pink from the weather and her irritation. “Just stopping by to see if you were home. Chloe and I tried to reach you all weekend, but you were incommunicado and apparently not even bothering to answer your cell. Did you forget to charge it, or were you just feeling unsocial?”
Actually, now that he thought about it, he probably had forgotten to charge the phone late last week before the impromptu trip to New York. He’d thought it had been unusually quiet all weekend.
Easy to plead forgetfulness since it was God’s honest truth. So he shrugged and managed an embarrassed look.
“Sorry about that. Mom used to always remind me to plug the thing up. I forget.”
“God, Smallville. You’re hopeless.” Lois rolled her eyes, but there was a little twinkle that suggested satisfaction, as if she’d gotten to the bottom of a mystery and the answers all pointed to someone else’s stupidity. “But it still doesn’t explain where you were all weekend. We stopped by a couple of times looking for you? The truck was here, but no you.”
That was a harder one to explain. He tried for simplicity. “I needed to get away, so I went to the city this weekend. I got a ride with a friend headed that way.”
Half lie. Half-truth, if you overlooked the implication that the city in question was Metropolis and not New York.
“You have friends other than Chloe and me? And my God, I didn’t think they had barn dances and ho downs in Metropolis.” Lois lifted both brows as if that was the most astonishing news. Clark lowered his, wondering if there would be any painless, successful way to mark Lois off that short list.
“Shut up, Lois.”
She smiled at him, pleased with herself. Followed him to the house when he stalked that way, sweeping up the shirts as he went like it was the most common thing in the world – – like he’d left them out here for some reason, instead of having them hand delivered by Lex Luthor – –
– – Who’d looked really good today, in a black wool pea coat and sensible black boots with soles fit for early winter instead of the imported shoes he usually wore. Who’d had a little bit of color in his cheeks from the morning cold – – who’s skin would have probably felt really chill if Clark had touched him – – really smooth.
Clark tightened his lips and turned to press his hands to the kitchen island, looking at Lois, who was rooting around in the cabinet for creamer to put in the coffee she’d helped herself to.
“Chloe at work?” he asked, while she was liberally dosing.
“Why aren’t you?”
“Who says I’m not?”
And that almost scared him, because God knew what she’d uncovered or what had happened in town while he’d been doing things he’d been trying really hard not to think about with Lex six states away.
She turned around with the mug in hand, a frustrated line between her brows. “I wasn’t just busting his balls, when I asked about the dam. I’ve been trying to get in there for weeks now – – I mean I figure I have the right if anybody does, having almost died there myself – – after what happened to Chloe. I thought once the army cleared out, I could slip in, take a few pictures – – do a little snooping, but LexCorp security moved in when the military moved out, and they’ve got it locked down.”
“Lois, you can’t believe they left anything there?”
“No. But sometimes you just have to see for yourself.”
The dam was twenty miles outside Smallville, four miles off the highway at the end of a road that had seen better days. He owned it through a subsidiary of a subsidiary that had the government contract of its upkeep, and under normal circumstances it would have taken a magnifying glass and a leap of logic to connect Reeves Dam to LexCorp. That or a disaster of major proportions.
Everyone knew now. It had been plastered across the front of papers country wide, even if the press never did get the real story. And even those that suspected had been shut down, one way or another. The Government didn’t want public knowledge of what had been going on here, anymore than he did. Maybe more so. There was a limit, after all, to what Lex could lose. No matter how vast, his resources were finite. If people got wind of aliens and government sanctioned genetic manipulation the federal government stood to loose the sort of face that could cost it more than money.
There was nothing subtle about security now. Before, they’d tried to hide their presence, to dispel the notion that any thing out of the norm was happening here. Now, they were posted to keep out the curious. The trespassers with a cause and a press badge. The mourners, come to see the place where the waters had been unleashed.
Sixteen civilian lives washed away in the initial torrent. That was the final count. There were lawsuits filed for wrongful death that were trickling into the courts, even though settlements had been offered. The families of his own casualties had already been compensated. He took care of his employees and his employees’ interests.
The subjects were another matter. Men that were already supposed to be dead, fatalities of another sort of war altogether. Volunteers who hadn’t an inkling what they were really getting themselves into. Who’d given themselves over because they’d believed the spiel. The protection of country, of liberty, of all the cherished things against not the ‘internal’ threat of global politics and religious fanaticism, but something so much worse.
The ends justified the means, right? Of course they did. Even if it meant stripping the humanity from a group of men willing to give their lives for a cause, making them something more than human and less, to fight the advent of something – – more than human and less.
He walked into the dam, past rubble on the floor, past the raucous sound of repair work in progress. They’d shored the dam, sealed the cracks and patched the holes and the river was held at bay once more. More power in that stymied water than what he’d hoped to gather here.
He’d wanted that army. He’d wanted it so bad everything else had faded to obscurity. Trifling distractions from the long-term goal of power. Power for security? Power for the sake of power? Power to subjugate – – who? He wasn’t even sure if he could differentiate between legitimate goals and pipe dreams anymore- – but he’d been so sure when he’d pushed this project into overdrive- – so damned fervent – –
The path he remembered that led to the lab was blocked by a wall of uncleared debris and dark with failed lighting. He flicked on the flashlight they’d given him at the entrance when he’d ignored their warnings of unstable areas. He had to work his way around the long way, through security gates wrenched off their hinges, and halls with walls slimy from algae growth, stinking of mold and mildew. Water still pooled on the floor here and there, and he trod through it, uncaring, focused on the goal, on the subtle underlying scent of death in the air. Or was this in his imagination?
There was the doorway, gaping black hole into the control room. Funny how he’d always been so eager to get here, to cross that threshold and behold the fruits of his labor – – and now he stood at the bottom of the steps leading up and couldn’t quite convince his legs to move. It was the sense of death, quiet and insidious that repelled him – – that drew him forward finally. Most of the tell tale equipment was gone. The army had been through here with a fine toothed comb, gathering evidence – – removing it. They had him if they wanted him. Fifty times over, well negotiated settlements or not.
The floor was littered with wreckage that he slowly stepped around, sweeping the beam of light here, there, expecting – – God, he was expecting things that were simply not going to be here. There was no stench other than mildew and no death presence other than what his imagination provided and yet – – was that his breath? That rasping sound?
Two bodies would have been found here, if the initial flooding hadn’t displaced them. The unbreakable glass separating control room from subject holding area was unarguably broken. Shattered by strength greater than anything they’d been able to reproduce. Beyond, was wreckage. The ceiling had half collapsed, though the rubble had been removed in efforts to retrieve bodies. There had been a rupture in the wall – – Lex had seen pictures – – where water had flooded in. Patched now. All but the bare bones of examination tables gone, pulled out to remove the suggestion that human beings had been housed there. Row upon row of them, neatly placed, like lines of corn in any number of Lowell county fields.
He hadn’t remembered the names before, not of the ones that had been in stasis, waiting their turn to receive that all important alien boost – – that jolt of energy that would give life to the creation – – a modern day legion of Frankenstein’s monsters.
Master Sergeant William Ramey. Lieutenant Edward Summerfield. Private first class James Smith. Private first class Steven Chenault. Wes Keenan – – the list went on. He’d read it after his visit to M & C. The first time he’d gone over as a whole, as a list of names that belonged to men, rather than assets. It hadn’t seemed to matter before.
He walked to the shattered window, passed the beam of his light over empty space. Rubble. Twisted metal. Stared for a long time, a vague sense of numbness creeping up – – like he’d felt after Dark Thursday when the damage reports starting really rolling in. When the enormity of the death toll began to sink in. The only difference being, he didn’t remember that terrible day – – not consciously. He remembered this. He’d orchestrated this – – this monstrosity. Rode roughshod over morality and ethics – – and he’d had ethics once, hadn’t he? Not Kent ethics, granted, but the Luthor brand – – still – – still – –
The beam of the light passed over something half caught under a chunk of concrete on the floor by his boots. The arm off a set of glasses. He stared at it for a moment, putting two and two together, because no one in the facility that afternoon had worn glasses but the man he’d willingly sacrificed for his own escape.
It hit him. It just hit him so hard he couldn’t breath. The bile came up, a surprising rush of acid at the back of his throat. It caught him like a slap on the face, a sudden wash of blind repulsion that sent him to his knees with the force of the nausea that came in its wake.
Lex knelt there, bits of rock biting into his knees, while his stomach expelled its contents. Reached for the gently rocking flashlight that had fallen from his hand after, vacant grab for the one point of movement and light in the chamber. Wiped the back of his arm across his mouth, the wool of the jacket sleeve scratchy against his lips.
The light was wavering, damaged when he’d dropped it perhaps. No. It was his hand. He pushed himself to his feet, staggered backwards into a wall and braced himself there, the names flitting across his memory – – but not the faces. He couldn’t match the faces, because they’d all just been naked test subjects, stacked in rows.
He got out the door, blind escape, to the bottom of the steps and leaned a shoulder against the wall as his stomach clenched and rebelled again. Nothing but a thin stream of liquid came up this time and it tasted like nothing so much as stomach acid and stale scotch. He dry heaved again, not seeming to be able to stop, once started. Wetness spiked his lashes and he blinked it away, its presence rousing indignity. Rousing fury that helped drive back the shuddery feeling in his knees.
He got out of the warren of halls without having to backtrack by luck alone, because God knew, he wasn’t concentrating on the path. Wasn’t concentrating on much of anything, as he walked out past LexCorp security towards the car. Just keeping his stomach stable and his hands from noticeably trembling. Keeping his face impassive. That was a big one. A major effort when usually it came so easily.
He drove back home, hands clenched on the wheel, trying to grind molars down to nothing, radio turned to silence because the music was noise that clashed with the disruption in his mind. The madness could only flood in if he let it. If he gave in to the weakness and let the confusion overwhelm him.
He could hold it at bay if he ignored it. If he pushed the twangs of guilt far back in his mind and went on with life. Necessary evils. Two words that held so much meaning when you were talking about survival. Personal survival no less than species. More so, maybe.
He kept repeating it, a mantra that grew meaningless the more the words echoed in his head. Became sounds, a collection of syllables and vowels that were gibberish until he stopped – – took a breath and reevaluated the words. He heard them uttered his father’s voice along with the echoes of a hundred other ‘life lessons’.
The housekeeper was running the vacuum in the main hall when he came in, the cord undulating behind her like a serpent as she moved. Back and forth. Back and forth.
She straightened when she saw him. Cut off the machine and waited questioningly, because he was standing there staring.
“Get out,” he said, low growl and she blinked, incapable of comprehending the depths of his desire for silence.
Get out!” he yelled, and he never raised his voice with the staff. You never showed emotion to the domestics – – a rule learned young. But he was feeling the edges blur. The seams starting to rip in the fabric of his psyche.
She flinched backwards, flustered, not knowing whether to edge past him to unplug the machine or simply retreat. House security came trotting down the hall at the disturbance, and Lex realized there were too many people by far in the mansion.
“Everybody. Out. Security. Staff. Just get. The. Hell. Out of the house.”
He stalked to the study, leaving them to it, heading straight way to the bar. The taste of fresh scotch washed away the bitter taste of vomit from his mouth. He filled another glass. Downed it like he was gulping water. It hit a newly empty belly with warmth that was palpable. He shrugged out of the coat and flung it in the general direction of the couch. It landed on the arm and slithered off onto the floor and he found he didn’t particularly care to walk over and pick it up.
Another glass of scotch and he moved to his desk, leaning over and opening the laptop. His fingers hovered over the keys, while he debated files he could pull up. So many necessary evils.
He grinned. Laughter came out around it that sounded nothing less than hysterical. He slammed the laptop closed, snatched it off the desk and hurled it. He hadn’t been particularly aiming for the stained glass window behind his desk, but he managed to hit it, off center, and the computer sailed through with the tinkling of shattered glass.
The glass tumbler followed, exploding against the age-old stone wall next to the window. Everything else went off the desk with a sweep of his arm. Books flung off the shelf, priceless first editions, tossed spine up on the floor, in a blind frenzy.
He found a poker beside the fireplace and it was an enthusiastic extension of his rage. The stereo smashed to bits, objects d’art destroyed, glass cases shattered. The glass top of his desk harder to make a dent in, just splintery fractures of stressed glass that wore down his patience and sapped his energy.
He stood in the middle of it, pulse rushing in his ears like the water from a broken dam, sweat trickling down his face. No, not sweat. Blood. He lifted a hand and felt the sting of cut above his brow. Looked at the blood on his fingers as if it were alien. His head spun with the irony of that?
He licked it off, one finger at a time, salt and copper, and wondered what it was that the entity had tasted when it had been violating him in that parody of Clark’s body? Violation. Looking back, he supposed that had been pure karma at play, considering the violations he’d committed. Nothing less than he’d deserved – – not even close. The greater good never came without its necessary evils, after all.
God, he was shaking. He felt his bones rattling and he couldn’t stop it. If he’d had those pills handy, he was considering a few days ago, he would have swallowed a hand full, just to kill the tumult in his head. He glanced towards the bar, and found it decimated. Bottles shattered, precious liquid soaking into the floor, making puddles on the hardwood. Not the smartest move on his part. He’d have to go down to the cellar now for more.
He did just that, reached the door leading to the depths of the castle and realized he still had the poker in hand. He leaned it against the frame, careful that it didn’t fall, needing it not to fall, because it was his choice what to obliterate and what to keep in proper order.
Down into cool, darkness, silence where even the sound of his steps got eaten up by the density of earth buffered stone. He broke open a dust-covered case of 60-year-old Macallan that he’d bought at an auction a few years back. What he’d been saving it for, he had no clue. What was the point of it sitting down here, aging in the shadows when he could put it to more constructive use?
He took a swallow right from the bottle, a damned criminal way to savor something that had cost him twenty thousand a pop, but it was no less smooth and rich than it would have been out of a Waterford tumbler, swirled and savored slowly.
He slid down against the stair railing, sitting on the next to bottom step, drinking down rare single malt with much the fervor that a bum on the streets of Metropolis might attack a six dollar bottle of 20/20. There existed the corresponding need to forget, perhaps. Or at the very least the desire to numb persistent awareness.
Somehow he was back upstairs. He didn’t remember making the climb. He didn’t remember finishing off the one bottle and grabbing a second, but he held it in his hand.
He’d wanted silence and the whole of the house screamed it at him now. Years and decades and centuries worth of unsaid things wrapped up in stone and mortar and aged wood. He saw boxes at the top of the stairs leading to the family wing that he hadn’t noticed before. Lana’s things, which the staff had obediently packed up, ready to be taken away and out his sight.
If the all traces of her were gone, he wouldn’t have to think about the depths he’d sank to assure success. Things flashed across his mind, decisions made – – necessary evils to further a cause when he thought she’d been faltering – – drawn back towards the enemy – – towards Clark.
Inevitable. Clark drew in everyone. Clark was magnetic. Powerful. Pure. The type of man you could fall in love with and not have second thoughts once you saw beneath the surface. Clark didn’t have the sort of darkness that seeped up through the cracks like blood through torn skin.
Lex wavered in the doorway of the study and took in the extent of the demolition. It was like something inhuman had gone on a tear. Maybe it had.
He searched through the scattered shards of crystal around the overturned bar for a whole tumbler. Found one with only a whisper of a chip along the rim and figured it would do. It was only fair to appreciate the Macallan out of a proper glass, now that he was on his second bottle.
He headed towards his desk and tried to right his chair. It was a treacherous task with his balance shot to hell, heavier than it looked. Defied, he sank down beside it, pushing himself back against the wall behind the desk, the glass clutched between his knees, the bottle on the floor next to him.
He looked through the clutter for his laptop – – remembered after a bit that it was probably outside in the garden somewhere, resting on sodden earth with all its damning information.
But there were things he’d never written down, on paper or behind the encrypted security of computer software. He wondered if she’d told Clark. He shuddered, tightening his hand around the glass, fighting back a new curl of nausea at the thought. There were quite a few things he’d flaunted in Clark’s face, things designed to hurt, things designed to incense – – but never, ever did he want him to know the depths of Lex’s desperation. The depths of his shame – –
He lost time. He knew he’d lost time because his hands were wet, palms stinging with the bite of scotch whiskey burning the slices in his palms. Shards of the tumbler still glistened in his hands, while the larger, broken pieces lay on the floor between his knees. He turned his palms up, watching the blood well, watching it trail, pinkish where it mixed with the Macallan down his wrists to soak into the edges of his sleeves.
Necessary evils. He’d needed to protect himself, after all. Needed to have that tactical advantage because he’d been in a war – – he just couldn’t remember why.
He touched a shard of glass embedded in his hand. Wiggled it and the grate of glass against bone or tendon or whatever it lodged in deep in the meat of his palm, registered as dull, distant pain. More blood seeped out though, around the edges, when he pulled it slowly out.
He used to have control over everything. But it was slipping now. Pieces of his life crashing down like dominoes – – click, click, click. It was nice to know he could still bleed on command.
And something in the back of his mind, stirred in alarm. He reached for the bottle and saw the silver shape of his office portable. He used to know Clark’s number by heart, still remembered the first cell number, but it wouldn’t be the same anymore. Even Clark upgraded phones once and while. The farm number would be the same. Lex had a head for numbers, even when it felt like he was bleeding from the brain.
He leaned his head against the wall and grayed out. Came back again at the crunch of glass and his name uttered like a breathy curse.
Clark stood there, in the middle of the remnants of Lex’s tantrum, fists clenched at his side, body taut with anger or surprise or hatred or fear. Lex didn’t know anymore. He’d used to be able to read Clark like a beloved classic.
“Why are you here?” He couldn’t fathom it. He couldn’t fathom the sound of that slurred voice in his ears. Was that him?
“You called me?” Clark’s face was pale, his eyes wide and bright and beautiful.
Had he? He didn’t remember. He’d thought he’d just drifted for a moment.
“And you came,” Lex whispered, a sense of reverence shivering over him. It was the most amazing thing. No matter what he did, or how little he deserved it, Clark always came. The day he stopped, would be the day Lex lost all chance at salvation.
“What have you done?” Clark moved forward, flung the overturned chair aside so that it skittered across parquet and crouched in front of him.
Big fingers, stained by honest dirt caught Lex’s wrists, turned them face upwards so the damage showed. Lex didn’t try and stop him, didn’t try and avoid the critical eyes. What was the point?
“God,” Clark said softly, smearing blood from the unmarred skin of Lex’s forearms and wrists as if he expected to find self-inflicted gashes. Not a particularly novel idea, but he wasn’t that far gone yet.
Clark’s eyes traveled down to the pieces of the glass on the floor, the bloody silver phone next to them, that Lex didn’t even remember picking up in the first place. Clark took a breath. When his gaze flickered back up, his eyes were narrow and hard. A muscle twitched in his jaw. Angry. Furious Clark. Lex felt confident at the classification of those emotions.
“I shouldn’t have bothered you.” Lex felt numb. Felt stabbing pain. Felt dead inside. Felt surges of emotional upheaval that came in unpredictable surges. “You can go now.”
Run out the door, never to be seen again. Betrayed. Betrayer.
Clark said something under his breath, something that probably contained foul language. He rose, pulled Lex up after him by the wrists, one smooth, unhindered motion.
“Where is the staff? Where’s your security, Lex?”
Where? Oh, he’d sent them away. They were loud presences intruding upon his solitude.
“Gone. Sorry.” Lex wasn’t sure that was what he was sorry about. There were a lot of options to choose from.
Clark muttered again, pulled Lex by a grip on one slick wrist around the desk. Lex’s hip hit the edge and he staggered, balance shot to hell, legs trembly and weak, from the booze or maybe a little from all the blood soaked into the sleeves of his sweater and pooled on the floor where he’d been sitting. Clark put an arm around him, shoring him up and the heat of contact went through him like a lazy surge of current.
“Is there a first aid kit in the kitchen?”
Maybe. Probably. When Lex got hurt, it generally required more attention than a box of generic medical supplies could provide. But he seemed to recall a kit under one of the counters. Clark didn’t wait for his affirmation, just got him moving and there was no arguing with Clark when he wanted forward momentum.
Into the kitchen. There were the signs that the cook had been about something when Lex had ordered the exodus. The remnants were still on the counter. Clark took him to the sink and stuck his hands under running water. It was cold, frigid at first, but Clark didn’t seem to notice, and Clark’s hands weren’t letting Lex pull his own back. But it washed the old blood away and made the new run pink, leaving the gashes in clear relief.
“There’s still some glass in there.” Clark said, after squinting at Lex’s pinkened palms. He looked around the kitchen then, fixing finally on one of the doors under the island. The first aid kit was miraculously inside.
Clark pulled up a stool and said ‘sit’ in the tone he might use with a dog. Lex didn’t respond well to spoken command. He did better with hand signals, which Clark reverted to after a moment, taking Lex by the shoulders and aiming him towards the padded seat.
“What the hell, Lex?” Clark picked at the big slice in Lex’s palm with a pair of tweezers out of the kit. Prodded until the ends of the tweezers clicked against something hard and solid nestled in Lex’s flesh and latched on.
Was it possible to feel yourself go pale? It hurt more, of a sudden now that Clark was here, than it had when he’d been staring at the blood in dazed fascination in the study. Perhaps Clark amplified everything.
“Do you think you could root around a little deeper?” he asked, on a harshly expelled breath, trying hard to keep his voice from wavering.
Clark held up a pink-coated sliver of crystal, disgust clearly written on his face. He plunged the hand he’d been working on under water again, and Lex swallowed, feeling the thud of pulse in both hands now, hot and throbbing.
“You’re probably going to need stitches.” Clark squirted ointment on his palms and started wrapping them.
Lex watched him wind filmy white cloth around and around, while the stool swayed under him. Or was it the kitchen?
“What happened, Lex?” Grim voice. Jaw still working as Clark fought back some emotion.
Wasn’t that the hundred billion dollar question?
“Nervous breakdown? Mental break? If I could remember the symptoms of my last brush with insanity, I’d have more to go on.” That came out shakier than he’d hoped. He’d been aiming for wry sarcasm. His wit was usually much sharper three sheets to the wind.
Clark’s eyes jerked up to his, his hands stilling on the bandages. “Why do you say that?” He asked softly, something timorous and culpable shifting through his expression.
Oh, God. If only he knew. Laughter boiled up, desperate and hysterical and he fought it down. Managed to squash all but a few strained cackles, before he jerked his hand out of Clark’s loosened grip and staggered off the stool. The kitchen was too bright. All white and gleaming stainless steel. He needed darkness and shadows to drown himself in.
“Damnit, Lex, tell me what happened?” Clark stomped up behind him. Caught Lex’s arm and swung him around and the room spun with him, crazily, like he was loosely fastened in the seat of a Tilt-a-whirl. “Tell me why your study looks like a tornado ripped through and why you’re so drunk you were willing to sit there and just bleed.”
The grip hurt. It really sort of hurt, which was saying something, that he could register it past the swirley mess in his head and the throbbing heat in his hands. Indignity reared up at the manhandling. Unless the hands-on was proceeding some sort of rough fuck – – which really was an idea that held merit all on its own – – Lex was not prepared to tolerate it.
“Let go.” If there was authority in his voice, Lex didn’t hear it. It came out shaky and breathy and didn’t seem to make much of an impact on Clark, who took a step closer without releasing the grip and glowered down, self-righteous and demanding – – and entirely hot. Lex’s mind drifted back to the rough fuck notion, until Clark shook him a little and then did let him go. Without the benefit of that hand, Lex stood there, swaying, bearings lost.
“I want to help, but you need to tell me, Lex, what I’m helping with,” Clark said slowly, face very serious, eyes very intent on Lex’s face, like he was trying to see inside him. As if he were trying to figure out what made Lex tick, not because it would give him some advantage, but because he was simply concerned about Lex. Because Clark liked to understand people for the sake of people, and not to ferret out weak spots to prod and manipulate.
Clark wanted to help. Clark always wanted to help, but he couldn’t if he hated Lex so badly he couldn’t stand to look at him. And he would if he knew. But – – didn’t he already? Hate. Didn’t he already have enough grudges that any sane man would have shied far away? And he’d come anyway.
It was inside Lex’s chest, this swelling, tight ball of guilt and confusion and if he didn’t lance it, it was going to crush him from the inside out. Lex laughed at the absurdity of that macabre image, kept laughing until his shoulders shook and Clark’s hands came back, gentle this time, to weigh on his shoulders.
“My math’s all wrong,” he said trying to wrap his mind around a concept that had too many blurred edges to get a grip on. “Two and two are adding up to nine hundred and seven – – and I just can’t make sense of it.”
“What?” Clark blinked at him in confusion, but his face had the earnest magnetism that had snared Lex all those years ago – – and Clark had never lost that, they’d just stopped talking enough that Lex ever got the chance to see it. God, he missed it.
“Sixteen. Fifty. Two. Nine. Two thousand three hundred and twelve. – – One.”
“What are you talking about, Lex? What does that mean?” Clark wanted to know.
Clark wanted to know – – but really, he wouldn’t like the truth behind those numbers. Lex had added them up. He might forget a name when it didn’t seem to matter, but he didn’t forget the details. The devil was in the details, what was his father always said. Some of Lionel’s lessons, he had taken to heart.
“Lives,” Lex whispered. “That’s how many – – my hand, my actions, my orders – – that’s how many.”
His knees felt weak. Clark’s big, green eyes were blurred so badly they seemed multi-faceted. But his vision wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t see Clark putting things together. Clark’s fingers tightened on his shoulders, and Lex half expected pain. But instead – –
“Dark Thursday wasn’t your fault, Lex.” Clark figured out the big number, his mouth twisting a little in a grimace. “Nothing that happened that day was your fault. Don’t you get that?”
Lex laughed again, an aborted breath of bitterness. He was bleeding again, from the eyes. God, please let it be blood that was warm and wet on his cheeks, because anything else would be unforgivable. He couldn’t think. Why the hell was Clark playing devil’s advocate with the devil?
“I don’t know how I got here.” The words felt broken, coming out of his lips. He did. And Clark was just standing there, a foot away, blotting out the bright whites of the kitchen, smelling of clean earth and grass and the faint unique musk that was simply Clark.
“I do,” Clark said, solemnly, like he was speaking last rites.
And that was really not what Lex had expected to hear. Not even close. One more inconsistency atop a mountain of inconsistencies and the whole of the structure started to tumble. His legs gave way, overcome by that nauseating down-the-drain sort of faintness that went hand in hand with succumbing to the influence. He clutched at the closest solid support, wrapped his hands in the edges of soft fabric, but it couldn’t keep him from sinking. There wasn’t buoyancy enough to stand up to the weight pulling him down into darkness.
So he let go and plummeted.