It was past two and the majority of the business day was behind him – – Lex hesitated to say wasted, because wasted meant nothing had been accomplished and a great deal had been accomplished, he simply hadn’t figured out all the nuances of the achievement yet.
Clark interfered with his thought processes. Badly. Clark had always been a distraction, Lex had just never entirely realized how proximity and actual skin-to-skin contact exponentially increased the effect.
For a while there this morning, he hadn’t been able to form a coherent thought at all and other than various incidents where drugs had been involved, Lex could not recall a bout of sex that had deprived him of his higher brain functions. Because sex, when you got past the physical gratification aspect, was all about control and profit and gain. Alliances made and deals brokered between the sheets, whether personal or business. Sex was about power, because when you lost the upper hand you left yourself open to victimization. A hard lesson. He kept forgetting it. And relearning the hard way.
He’d lost it with Clark somewhere along the way, last night or this morning – – that comforting control. Maybe he’d never had to it begin with, desperate as he’d been for Clark to chase away the threatening darkness. That scared him. Clark scared him. That pure intensity that drew him in like a moth to fire and shredded all his carefully coiled discipline. What made it worse was that he hadn’t cared. Had welcomed it like a newly made addict seeking his fix and no other high would ever do.
It was just sex, damnit and sex after six, almost seven years of recurring fantasy buildup should have been a colossal let down. Reality always let fantasy down. It was a given. Except when it wasn’t.
Except when it was Clark.
And if Clark had an agenda, Lex had yet to figure it out. It wasn’t like Clark’s motivations were ever that complex. Clark’s hidden layers had very little to do with his emotional state. Clark wasn’t him and he wasn’t Lana, he wasn’t capable of the sort of deceit it took to feign depths of emotion that just weren’t there. What you saw was generally what you got.
It was in Lex’s nature to question and to doubt. But no matter what angle Lex looked at it from, and he looked a lot, during the flight from Smallville to Metropolis, what he kept coming back to was simple. It wasn’t some elaborate set-up. Clark wasn’t in cahoots with his father or any other agency out for Lex’s blood. Clark had decided, for his own inexplicable reasons, to stop hating Lex and Lex couldn’t fathom it any better now than he had yesterday.
It wouldn’t last though. Nothing good ever did.
“Mr. Luthor, we’re about to touch down.”
Lex refocused, looking out the curved window of the LexCorp helicopter at the jagged, white rooftops of the city. The helipad was a patch of smoothness beneath them and at the bottom of the stairs leading down from that, huddled the small, windblown figures of several of his personal assistants. They descended on him like a flock of organized vultures sporting PDA’s. They scattered like them too, fluttering aside when he strode through towards the rooftop elevator and following in his wake, their caws wisped away by winds.
He shed them, one at a time as he walked towards his office, answering this question, okaying that one, signing this, giving the go ahead for that, until it was only him and his executive assistant and she’d already whittled down the mountain of things that needed to be done into a smaller hillock of the most vital.
Two days worth of business squeezed into an afternoon, two days worth of meetings. He rose to the challenge, falling into the steps of a familiar dance that ate up the dwindling hours of the day. His people stayed late without complaint, while darkness seeped up outside the windows of his office. When the final piece of business crossed his desk he let himself pour the half tumbler of scotch that he’d denied himself all afternoon. Let his thoughts drift to that place he’d denied himself of necessity, all afternoon.
Until the doors to his office opened one more time and admitted not his assistant but a less welcome visitor and Lex fixed an emotionless mask on his face and tracked his father across the floor.
“I see the weather didn’t keep you in Smallville, Lex.” Lionel waved an expressive hand, the tails of his coat rippling behind him.
“You’re extraordinarily perceptive.” Lex recalled their last conversation and his fingers tightened on the glass. Swallowing down the whiskey in one gulp would be a sign of weakness he wasn’t willing to show. So he lifted the glass and casually took a sip, before setting it down.
Lionel came up next to him at the bar, clasping his hands behind his back and staring out at the lights of the city below.
“I’m glad to see you making the effort. You’ve been distracted recently, when you can hardly afford to be. Your picture was in the gossip rags, you know, coming out of a nightclub in New York. Was that what you were about last weekend? I thought you’d outgrown that particular bad habit years ago.”
“Nice to see you still keep up with your light reading, dad. Not that it’s any of yours, but it was business.”
“Really? With Clark Kent in tow? Or was it the other way around? It was a striking picture. Apparently you were less than discreet, according to witnesses. Really, Lex, I know you have little care for your own notoriety, but to sully another innocent’s name in the process? I find it disappointing.”
Lex laughed. He bit back the urge to say ‘fuck you, dad.’ Because Lionel would only smile at him condescendingly, his superiority reinforced, his point scored over Lex’s loss of control.
“Why is it that Clark’s well-being is so much more important to you than mine?” he asked instead, swirling amber liquid in his glass, but not drinking. Damned if he would.
“You’re sleeping with him.” It wasn’t a question.
Lex didn’t flinch. Just canted his head so he could see his father’s craggy profile. “That’s a wild leap, all things considered. Perhaps you ought not believe all the speculation you read in the gossip sheets. It’s so – – lowbrow.”
Lionel turned his head to meet Lex’s gaze, clearly amused. “I don’t begrudge you your pleasures, son. A man has needs, even with his wife newly buried – – but taking up with her lover?”
“He wasn’t – -” Lex tightened his lips and took a breath. “She may have been mentally unfaithful, but never physically. So get your terminology straight, dad.”
Lionel laughed. “Who’s purity are you defending? Hers or his? Poor little girl. Did she even know whom she was a surrogate for? Did you, while you were wooing what was his?”
“This can only lead to tragedy, Lex. When he finds out what you did to her, he’ll have a change of heart. And you’ll be hurt again. I don’t want to see that.”
“Get the fuck out.” He hissed it, seeing black around the edges. He didn’t understand it. He would never understand the lengths his father went to raze him to the ground. Time and again. As if there were debts to be paid that Lex had no memory of charging.
Lionel smiled at him, inclined his head and strolled out, whatever mission he’d come in with, accomplished.
Lex picked up the tumbler, brought it to his lips, close enough to smell the scent of aged whiskey, but not close enough to consume. He shut his eyes, snarled and hurled the glass at the wall of windows behind his desk. The tumbler splintered, but the shatterproof glass of the wall was unfazed, except for the smear of scotch trailing down its surface.
He scrubbed a hand over his scalp, dug his nails in and welcomed the bite of pain. It let him regather his lost calm. His father was right. There were things Clark might overlook, things even, he might forgive – – and then there were some things that Lex couldn’t even bring himself to forgive. Zod made me do it, would only go so far. He laughed bitterly and collapsed into his chair.
Pressed his palms into his eyes and leaned over his desk.
Almost he could hate Clark for doing this to him. For making him mourn something he hadn’t even lost yet. For drawing him in and giving him – – what – – hope?- – he wasn’t even sure what that was- – and having it all balanced so precariously on the edge of a razor that cut both ways. Fucked if he was dishonest, fucked if he told the truths that would come out eventually if his father had his way. What would it cost him to have those truths buried? Was it even worth the price anymore?
It was a blurred memory at best, but Lex thought something cathartic had happened yesterday when he’d admitted the deaths on his conscience to Clark. Or maybe it had just been that Clark hadn’t seemed to care.
“Mr. Luthor, is there anything more I can do for you tonight?” His assistant stood in the doorway to his office. The lights were dimmed in the hall behind her, long past normal business hours. It was after nine. He’d hardly realized. It looked like he’d gotten in a full day after all. Capped by a magnanimous visit from Lionel.
“Yes, you can make it a point not to let unsolicited visitors just waltz into my office. The next time my father hits the executive floor, I want to be notified before he’s off the elevator.”
She blanched at his tone, but really, part of her job was keeping unpleasant interruptions from his door, so he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
“Yes, sir. Of course sir. I’m sorry – -”
He waved a hand at her. “There’s nothing else tonight, Miranda. Go home.”
She backed away, closing the doors softly behind her. He shut his eyes and thought tomorrow he might have to offer a subtle apology. She was a competent assistant, though new to the senior position, and his father was not an easy man to hinder. She’d attempt it from now on, though, might even succeed if Lionel wasn’t on a crusade. God help who stood in his way then.
He looked at the phone standing in its gleaming silver cradle. It was late enough that staying in the city tonight was a reasonable option. If he didn’t call, it would just be one more broken promise and maybe nipping this thing in the bud now, before he invested to much would be the wisest course. Only he was half a decade late for that, and the investment was so high it seemed like parts of his soul were laid down as collateral.
He picked up the phone and dialed the number. Two rings and Clark picked up.
“I’m heading back now. It’s late though – – tomorrow I’ll practice proper hours. We can talk then.”
“I’ll come over tonight, when you get home.” It wasn’t a question. It was Clark practicing initiative and broking no resistance.
Lex released a breath and relaxed his hand on the phone. The relief that swept through him was intense and unexpected.
He hung up, and called to prep the chopper. Straightened a few things on his desk and stuffed his laptop into its case to take with him. He hadn’t had the time today to go through and check on the validity of back ups of personal files that might have been lost forever on the computer at home. He really should have walked around the mansion and dug around in the snow to retrieve the thing from the yard today before he’d left for the city. Irreparably damaged as it probably was, there still might be salvageable files.
Checking up on the employment status of the house staff might also have been a good idea, if he were to believe his father’s telephone hint this morning that they’d left for less moody pastures. If they had, it meant his home office was still in the state he’d left it.
The helicopter was waiting when he reached the roof, briefcase and laptop in tow. It was a clear night, but darkness had brought a drop in temperatures. The wind from the rotating blades was frigid.
They lifted off smoothly and he watched the lights of Metropolis swim by below as the chopper headed east over the multitude of rooftops. The pilot murmured into his headset, talking to Metropolis international air traffic control.
Lex settled into the seat and shut his eyes, not caring for the unobstructed views the plexi-glass shell of a helicopter provided. At least in the belly of a jet, you couldn’t see how far you had to plummet.
He dialed the mansion, let the phone ring and ring and cursed silently when it wasn’t picked up. So, no staff after all. Had he been that abusive when he’d come home from the impromptu visit of the Reeves’s dam facility, or had they just been looking for the excuse to leave? He didn’t recall exactly what he’d said, but he’d been upset. That much he knew. And the staff had been distraught since Lana’s death. Maybe distraught since before that, sensing her unhappiness better than he had and flinching at his – – whatever it was you’d call the dark mood he’d been floundering in the last few months. He could think of a few psychological terms off hand that were less than flattering. They were still better than the alternative explanation.
He could call Miranda and have her arrange for new people to come in tomorrow – – but she’d worked a longer day than he had and he’d been short with her tonight, so letting her relax at home in peace was the least he could do. Tomorrow was soon enough to get new, less skittish household staff in place. Maybe less than he’d had previously. It wasn’t as if he usually left a mess in his wake that needed an army of domestics to deal with. Or an army of security. He’d used to hate the looming shadow of an over enthusiastic security detail.
“Sir, we’ve got a problem.”
Lex looked up, towards the shadowy form of the pilot against the lights of the chopper control panel. “What?”
“Gauges are reading a utility-hydraulic system malfunction. If we have a hydraulic leak, I have to set her down before we loose all hydraulic control.”
“Then do it.” He made himself loosen his fingers from the leather of his laptop case, actually succeeded for a few seconds before he tightened his grip again. The chopper lost altitude sharply, the pilot taking it down faster than the gentle descents they usually made and Lex felt his stomach lurch. This was why he preferred cars. A two-hour drive to the city was a small sacrifice to make to be in control of his own damned fate.
He didn’t want to see the ground rushing up, but he looked down anyway. Saw nothing but treetops illuminated by moonlight and patches of snow covered ground. If he could have pried his hands away from their grip on the laptop, he would have looked at his watch – – as it was, he thought they’d been about thirty minutes outside Metropolis. Ten – – fifteen minutes from Smallville.
He used to know the survival percentage of helicopter crashes – – but he hadn’t checked statistics recently. New technology and innovative system advancement didn’t necessarily mean lower fatality when you hit the ground from a few thousand feet up. He really should have kept abreast.
But the meeting with earth was less catastrophic than expected, just a soft jolt against snow covered ground and Lex took a breath, and another and gathered embarrassingly scattered wits. Yet another airborne mishap survived. His guardian angels were obviously clocking overtime.
The pilot was checking gauges, tapping on his control panel like a man trying to bully a TV on the fritz into compliance by banging on the side.
“Shouldn’t you be radioing in and letting them know we’re down?”
“Yes sir.” The pilot, reached out, flipped a switch and started babbling off a distress call. It occurred to Lex that he ought to have been on the radio with air traffic control the moment he’d seen the warning gauge.
He picked up the passenger headset and brought it to one ear, and heard nothing but silence on the other end. Glanced out the chopper door and saw the approaching headlights of a vehicle crunching through the snow towards the grounded craft.
Fuck. Maybe his guardian angels had been napping after all.
“What did you do?” Lex ground out, and the pilot shut up, abandoning the pretense of reporting their forced grounding and stared straight forward.
“Get out of the chopper, Mr. Luthor.” The man said, voice trembling. He knew the man’s face, but not his name. He’d been on the payroll for a year or more at least. Which meant he probably wasn’t some recent plant, but a man that had been bought out.
“Son of a – -” If Lex had had a gun on him, he’d have put it to the back of the pilot’s head. As it was, he had a brief case and a laptop and neither of them made for particularly threatening weapons.
The vehicle was getting closer. Close enough to see it was large enough to be a Hummer or some approximation there of. Lex cursed and shoved the door open, not willing to sit here and wait for whoever had bribed his pilot to sit him down out in the middle of nowhere.
“Whatever they paid you – – it’s not nearly enough.” He snarled and stepped outside, crouching under the threat of still whirling blades, staggering back a step as the chopper suddenly rose, the door not even fully shut behind him.
There were men getting out of the Hummer, dark figures in the glare of the headlights and he wanted to know badly who they were and what they wanted, but not badly enough to stand there passively and just let them walk over and take him.
He ducked under the landing skids of the helicopter and ran for the edge of the woods maybe a hundred yards away. Voices behind him got whipped away in the noise of the departing chopper, but he could figure out well enough that they were yelling for him to stop. He dug his cell out while he pelted through the snow, hit the newest number in his speed dial instead of 911. God knew why, other than the fact that the authorities had always been next to useless to him in dangerous spots and Clark had never let him down. It wasn’t as if either one could do him much good when he didn’t know where the hell in rural Kansas he was. Thirty minutes from the city would have put him – – where? That was even if the pilot had actually been on a vector to Smallville.
He hit the tree line, when the first shot rang out, hissed and dove into brush. Skidded in snow and fought to untangle himself from bramble. The phone was lost somewhere in the trampled undergrowth and stopping to grope for it in the darkness seemed a tad too suicidal for his tastes. Another shot that hit a tree to his left and he darted the other way, half slid down an icy slope and his feet broke through the thin film of ice at the edge of a spring fed brook. He went down at the unexpected give under his boots, to his knees, hip deep in damned cold water. It was like a jolt of current to his system and he gasped and struggled up, splashing to the snow covered slope on the other side. A shot thumped into the snowy slope at eye level, even as a breathless voice called out.
“The next one’s in your back.”
He froze, grinding his teeth, drawing in gasping lungfuls of air. He turned, slowly, holding his hands out at his sides. Two men scrambled down the opposite bank. Big men, with the sort of look you’d expect from someone’s hired muscle. They were dressed for the cold – – thick coats, gloves, hats – – and he figured they might have been out here a while, waiting for him to be delivered, lamb to whatever slaughter they had in mind.
“Get over here.” They had their guns trained on him.
“Who are you working for?” He was trembling, but it was more from cold than fear. His sodden pants were fucking glacial “I can make what they’re paying you seem like pocket change.”
“If I have to come get you,” one of them said, edging closer to the embankment. “You’re going to regret it.”
“I regret it already,” Lex said, between clenched teeth.
“Shoot him in the leg and drag his ass back over here.” The second gunman suggested.
Lex drew a breath and started moving. Splashed through water that couldn’t make him any colder or wetter than he already was and scrambled up the other bank. One of the men caught his arm, hauling him up the slope, while the other trailed behind, gun trained on his back. The one with his hands on Lex, spun him around, pulled something out of his pocket and clamped the cold ring of a handcuff around his left wrist. He shut his eyes, heady rush of dread rising up as his right was pulled behind him and clamped in the other cuff.
If they’d wanted him dead, he’d be dead already, shot in the back while he fled. But, if this were a kidnapping, and the pilot hadn’t bothered cover his part in it and these men weren’t hiding their faces – – it didn’t bode well for Lex’s chances for prolonged survival. People with the balls to take on a Luthor didn’t leave witnesses.
“LexCorp doesn’t negotiate with kidnappers or terrorists.” He said. God knew his father wouldn’t.
They said nothing. Just hauled him along back through the wood to the clearing where the Hummer still waited, lights on, engine running to keep someone inside it warm and toasty.
They drew him into the glare of the headlights and the toe of a boot kicked in the back of his knee, knocking his legs out from under him. He went down and the snow was a merciful cushion to his knees.
The headlights flashed to bright and he turned his face away from the glare, blinded. He heard the door open and the crunch of boots through the snow. He blinked up, eyes tearing up from the cold, from the intensity of high-powered Hummer headlights and saw the silhouette of a man in front of him.
“Where’s she at, Lex?”
The voice was rigid with anger, and for a moment, all Lex could think was that the man was asking about Lana. Then the voice sank in, the accent and the smell of expensive cologne that was the same brand worn years past.
“Niko, you son of a bitch,” Lex hissed in fury. “You’re a fucking dead man.”
“Where the fuck is she, you little bastard?” Niko screamed and Lex half saw the fist, but wasn’t in any position to avoid it. Niko definitely had a backhand on him. Lex crumpled backwards into the snow, vision dancing, pain shooting through his head via the blow to the temple.
Niko’s twisted face appeared over him, hands grasping his coat and dragging him half up to better shout in his face. “You tell me where you’ve hidden her or I will fucking take you apart.”
“Sophia?” Lex gasped. “You think I’ve got Sophia?”
“I know you do. You fucked her and took her away from me. You laid hands on her, you hairless freak and you knew she was mine.”
Lex laughed. He had to, it was too tragically Shakespearian. It was a mistake of course, Niko didn’t take it well and the fist came down again and he felt the inside of his mouth tear against his teeth and blood welled, the only warm thing presently in contact with his body.
He spit a mouthful of it out, and glared up at the half mad Greek leaning over him. “I never touched her, you demented bastard. If she left, it was because she was tired of your incestuous bullshit and used me as a handy excuse. She played you.”
“She loves me. Only me. You twisted her mind.”
“When? In the twenty fucking minutes she was in my hotel room? If she’s that easy, maybe you’re better off rid of her anyway.”
He got hit again, a blow to the ear that hurt like hell and made his head ring like the bells of St. Paul. He pressed his cheek into the snow, thinking there was no way Niko planned for him to get out of this alive. Niko knew him too well to think the repercussions of this wouldn’t make the take over of his father’s shipping company look like a mild slap on the wrist.
Still, desperate men were easily swayed. If he could find the right leverage.
“I don’t know where she is, Niko. But I can find her for you. I’ve got global resources and she’s not exactly easy to miss. We’ll set up a search and deal with this rationally.”
Niko sat back on his heels, rocking a little, face twitching. Lex managed to get back onto his knees – – no easy task with the spinning of his head and the wet clothes freezing on his skin.
“No,” Niko shook his head, jaw clenching so hard Lex heard it pop. “No. If she left – – if the bitch left me – – see how long she’ll stay away once the money runs out. Let her wear off the rack fucking clothes for a change – – let her eat fast food. Let her come crawling back. Fucking bitch.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Lex said, teeth beginning to chatter a little. “You call me when she does and we’ll laugh about it together.”
Niko canted his head and looked down at him. “You never touched her?”
“No. Never. I knew she was yours.”
“You knew boundaries back then – – you don’t know them now, though, do you Lex? You think I’m stupid? You think I’ll let you take everything else that belongs to me. You think she’s the only reason I want to see you sucking dirt in a shallow grave? You destroyed my legacy you smug little shit.”
“You deserved it.” Lex snarled, snapping, remembering things that left him seething a decade later. He glared up unflinchingly, hands gone too numb behind him to clench into proper fists. “What did you think was going to happen? That I’d forgive and forget? You dope me, you set me up for a gangbang with a bunch of old men with grudges against my father and you film it happening – – then you bring in your Goddamned dog, you sick fuck – – and you think you get off Scott free? You’re lucky I didn’t kill you then.”
Niko giggled, a mad sound. “The dog was Sophia’s idea. She always had the best imagination.”
Of course it had been, Niko was simply perverse, not creative in his endeavors.
“You’d have liked it, if you’d have given him a chance, Lex – – Zeus had staying power. And those old men, they paid a lot, you know, to have a piece of you. Lionel Luthor’s hairless freak of a son – – who was so, so pretty when he was stoned off his ass.”
Lex hissed in inarticulate fury. Helpless to just reach out and smash the bastard’s head against the ground until it split.
Niko rose to his feet, brushing snow off the knees of his pants, grinning down.
“You’re still pretty enough, Lex, for one more go before I put a bullet in your head.”
Lex glared up, feeling a wash of feral disregard shimmer through him in the face of imminent death. Niko pushed his coat aside and unbuttoned his pants, gloved hand reaching in and stroking himself beneath his underwear. He stepped close, grabbed the back of Lex’s head and pulled out his cock. Lex turned his face away and the hard barrel of a gun tapped against the side of his jaw.
“Suck it Lex, or I blow the back of your head out.”
“You’re going to do it anyway. So excuse me if I prefer to go without the taste of your dick in my mouth.”
It was the second time in as many months that somebody or something had wanted their dick in his mouth against his express wishes. Was there some signal he wasn’t aware he was giving off that screamed ‘open to oral rape’?
Niko snarled and the muzzle pressed against Lex’s lips. A harder jab and it was open his mouth or loose teeth. The barrel slipped in, ice-cold metal that slid across his tongue and scraped the roof of his mouth. He gagged when it hit the back of his throat, he couldn’t help it and knelt there trying to swallow convulsively while Niko clutched the back of his head with one hand and caressed the trigger with the other.
Lex heard the breathing of the two men somewhere behind him, soft and even. Not disturbed at all by the scene being played out. He hoped, when Niko pulled the trigger he forgot to move his other hand and blew the damned thing off along with the back of Lex’s skull. He hoped they left him here, instead of burying him in that shallow grave Niko had mentioned, because he’d like to be found eventually, because just going missing would be an ignominious way to be remembered. He didn’t want Clark spending the rest of his life wondering – – he didn’t want to hurt Clark anymore than he already had.
Funny thing, tragic thing, numbing thing was, Clark was the only person in the world that would probably care. When had that happened? When had he alienated every one else that might have given a second thought about him over and above the lure of what he could give them financially or of what he represented in the dynastic sense?
He felt sick and frightened and bravado and pride started to mean a lot less in the face of onrushing mortality. He didn’t want to die, and if Niko would take the gun out of his mouth he’d suck his damned cock and the cocks of his two goons, if they wanted, in the vein effort to avoid it that much longer.
He made a desperate sound, all he could get past the gun in his mouth.
“What’s that Lex?” Niko leaned down, wiggled the barrel in his mouth a little. “Change of heart?”
Lex nodded, as much as he could.
Niko pulled it out, and if the gun had had a sight, it would have chipped a tooth on its way. Niko grinned down, and pressed the muzzle to Lex’s forehead.
“Too late, baby. I’m out of the mood.”
He squeezed the trigger.