Clark had imagined the evening turning out considerably better than it had. Was it even possible, in all the realms of space-time, that it could have gone worse?
Well, maybe. He supposed blood could have been shed, Lex’s own men in black could have come rushing in, meteor rock could have been involved – – and Lex hadn’t really even yelled at him, so all in all yeah, it probably could have been a lot worse. But, it had gone pretty damned terrible nonetheless.
The look in Lex’s eyes had been – – well, Lex had never looked at him like that, even when they’d both been spitting mad at each other. Never looked at him with that hollow anger like he was a thing instead of person. And it hurt. This phantom pain deep down in his gut that made him slightly nauseous.
So Lex knew and Lex wasn’t taking it as well as hoped. It was just fair odds that out of the handful of people that knew – – really knew – – at least one would freak out. Clark really, really wished that Lex hadn’t been that one. Maybe if the situation had been different. Maybe if it hadn’t just been sprung on him in the middle of a kidnapping/attempted murder. Maybe if Clark had had a little time to compose a reasonable explanation? Perhaps in bed, with Clark’s mouth somewhere in the vicinity of Lex’s lower half, because Lex seemed to become particularly malleable during and after oral sex.
Clark ran that scenario through his head and groaned, vividly imagining the sudden onslaught of flaccidity after such a declaration. God. He kicked a snow-covered rock and it shattered, sending a powdery spray of granite and ice into the air. He looked down at the shards, and they were watery in his vision, faceted through a spill of wetness that he hadn’t even realized had formed.
He had no idea where he was. The lay of the land and the winter tilled fields suggested he was still in the Midwest. He wondered how far he’d have to run to escape the ache in his chest?
He’d run, because he hadn’t known what else to do, hounded by Lex’s accusation. He needed to fix this. Somehow, someway, he needed to make this right.
He went back to the place he’d found Lex about to be summarily executed and found nothing but trampled snow marred by a bit of blood and tire tracks leading back out to the dirt road that bisected this particular stretch of undeveloped Kansas wilderness.
It had taken him an agonizingly long time to find this spot the first time around, having nothing to go on but the distorted sounds he picked up Lex’s cell. It wasn’t until he’d stopped and concentrated on the one thing he did know that he’d finally zeroed in. Almost too late.
That had been a horrifying moment, seeing the gun to Lex’s head, hearing the click and the hollow slide of the round rocketing through the barrel and not knowing whether he could make that last crucial distance in time. And when Lex had gone down, rocked backwards into the snow – – God – – it was like he’d taken the bullet himself, deep in the gut, this painful blow that he could still feel the echo of. Daniakos and his thugs had never been so lucky in their lives as they had the moment Clark heard the continued thud of Lex’s heart.
He went home. Sat in the loft, because the smell of Lex and sex still seemed to linger in the house and he couldn’t stop the mental images of what they’d done and the specific locations – – so the barn was safer all around. He sprawled on the old couch and stared up through the roof at the few stars winking through cloud cover.
He’d told Lex he could show him where Krypton used to be. He wasn’t even sure now he could find that quadrant of night sky without all the familiar constellations visible. Could you even see it at all during the winter months on the opposite side of the sun? He really ought to have taken a few astronomy classes, all things considered. Hell, finishing the classes he had registered for would have been a plus. Lex had asked why he didn’t have a degree yet, and even though he’d been trying to draw Clark off track at the time – – it had still been a damned good question. A question none of his friends had asked since he’d just sort of drifted out of attending classes. What the hell had happened to him and his goals for his life?
After Zod and the released phantoms, the mundane things just hadn’t seemed to matter. Maybe before then – – maybe after Lana and Lex had gotten together his focus had been shot. He didn’t know. He couldn’t find that hinge moment where his priorities had shifted away from the dreams he’d held for his future – – his escape from Smallville – – and turned elsewhere. He didn’t even know what his dreams were now.
They’d used to be so cut and dry and had revolved around a girl and the fantasy life he’d imagined with her.
She’d been so perfect in all his visions of white picket fences and postcard tranquility. All of those visions of a normal life, that could never be anything but a pipedream for him. The universe itself seemed stacked against him ever leading that mundane existence and no matter how well she’d taken the revelations he’d made to her, he didn’t think that was the sort of life she’d have wanted to lead. The girl of his dreams ran a coffee shop in a small town, and lived in a yellow house with a garden out back, and a dog and one point two laughing children and never had to contend with threats to the world trampling the flower beds on the border of the front yard.
Even if she’d been alive and well, Clark didn’t think he fit into that picture anymore. It was likely he never had.
He wasn’t certain if he’d ever consciously fantasized about Lex, aside from the usual envy over sleek sports cars and sinfully sophisticated entertainment systems. Subconsciously, though, he was almost certain Lex had gotten a lot of play, but never the happy ending sort of dreams he’d had about Lana.
Lex had never safely qualified as dream material. Lex was all gritty reality, silk-smooth evasions and painful honesty, confusion and insight, frustration and unbelievable gratification all mixed up in one complicated package.
Lex lied and he manipulated, he was obsessive and vindictive and sacrificing the little people for the big picture wasn’t necessarily a problem for him. But he regretted them. The sacrifices weren’t meaningless and the lives that had been lost while he’d been driven by the ghost of a genocidal general haunted him. That was painfully obvious. And he could have done a lot worse under Zod’s influence, only he hadn’t. And maybe they – – Clark – – the world in general – – ought not be as thankful that the sway of the Zod remnant had been minimal, as much as they ought to be that Lex’s will had been strong enough to ignore the darker compulsions.
Lex would never shrink when the demons trampled his gardens. He’d fight them back with whatever ammunition he had available. He’d seek them out – – he had been seeking them out, only with no one he trusted to temper him, to balance out that cold Luthor practicality that Lionel had gone to such lengths to instill into him, it had gotten out of hand.
Trust. An awfully huge concept for such a little word. Clark wasn’t sure how he was supposed to get Lex’s back, when he wasn’t sure how to offer it himself. All his life he’d only ever been encouraged to trust two people in the whole of the world. And they’d been damned vehement about it. He could think of a half dozen times off hand when it would have felt so good to tell Lex, when it would have maybe been something welcomed instead of something to feud over. And at each and every mention his dad had metaphorically smacked him down, all full of fearful suspicion, while his mom had taken the gentler, but no less impactful tact of quiet reasoning.
And he’d listened, because after all, they were the only two people he could ever really be sure of. The only people he could trust. Only that proved wrong too, because look at Chloe, and Pete to a lesser degree. And Lana wouldn’t have betrayed him, he was sure of it. And even Lionel was guarding his secret like it was some proprietary formula and Clark had never in a million years thought he could trust that particular Luthor. So why not Lex, who he’d been closer to than any of them for a while there, who he’d loved like a brother – – like more than a brother and just hadn’t realized it?
He stared down at the old tractor. The one Jonathon Kent had spent almost as much time with as he had with his family. The thing never had run the same under Clark’s care. A lot of things on the farm didn’t. Clark’s stubbornness ran on a different vein. Different things were important. He wished he could go back and know the things he knew now and make different choices.
“I love you dad, and I know you were only ever trying to protect me, but you gave me some crappy advice.”
The tractor sat mute, not even the miniscule creak of rusting metal and Clark rolled his eyes, reduced to talking to the dead via farm equipment.
He stomped down the stairs, running a hand through his hair in frustration. He stood in the half open barn doorway and looked out at the snowy fields, at a sky that was pale with pre-dawn light, the stars all gone now, vanished along with true darkness.
It wasn’t fair.
It had been such a good morning. It had felt so right. Pieces falling into place that had been disjointed for so long. How did things go so wrong so quickly? He’d done the right thing damnit. Lex’s life had been at issue and saving it had been more vital than keeping up appearances. He shouldn’t get penalized for that. Lex needed to take into consideration that he was alive and be a little thankful instead of going straight to pissy. It wasn’t like Clark was holding Lex’s misdeeds against him,, because if they wanted to play tit for tat, Lex would damn sure hold his own in the lies and misconceptions department.
Clark ought to call him. It was almost five and maybe Lex had calmed down. Maybe a few hours sleep had mellowed him. Of course, being woken up in the wee hours of the morning might not put him in the most pleasant of moods. It was a dilemma. Clark desperately wanted to talk to him – – wanted to just hear the sound of his voice and see if he could gauge the prevailing mood. Maybe Lex hadn’t gone to sleep at all, if he was in as much emotional turmoil as Clark.
Clark pulled out his cell and dialed the mansion number. It rang maybe five times before voice mail picked up.
“Um, hey. It’s me. Listen, I know you’re upset, but please talk to me. I know I made some bad decisions, but I swear none of them were meant to hurt you. And any question you want to ask me, I’m willing to answer. No more lies – – just call me, okay?”
He took a breath and clicked the phone shut. He’d been walking circles in the snow and there was a trodden little path in his wake.
Maybe he should run over and see if Lex were in bed – – make sure he hadn’t gone on another binge and thrashed the rest of the mansion? Or maybe Lex just wasn’t downstairs to hear the office phone ring. Was there a different number for the upstairs phones? Maybe he should try Lex’s cell.
That number went straight to voice mail without the benefit of a single ring. Clark ground his teeth and blurted out a message.
“Me again. If you didn’t get the message I left at the house – – um – – call me. Please Lex. I want to fix this. Whatever it takes. Please call me.”
He winced a little after he severed the connection, having the feeling that last message had sounded a lot like begging. Heck, maybe Lex would respond well to groveling and Clark was willing to discard a little dignity if that’s what it took to salve wounds.
The cows could have cared less about Clark’s mental distress and since he was up and pacing and needed something to take his mind off the desire to zip over to the mansion and stalk Lex, he hauled hay out to the pasture and melted the ice in the water trough. He put the horses out to pasture and fed the chickens. And with nothing else live that needed tending, there was nothing holding him back from what he really wanted to do.
A handful of seconds and he was there, over the stone walls that surrounded the grounds and obscured by thick evergreen foliage in the side gardens. He listened for the sound of human habitation and discerned a single heartbeat. Almost he sighed, until the rhythm of it struck of chord of unfamiliarity. It wasn’t Lex.
Clark focused his vision, seeking out the one body inside. A man sitting in the big kitchen, drinking coffee and watching the small cabinet mounted Television. Security, by the holstered firearm under his armpit.
It was almost six in the morning, where was Lex? He couldn’t very well show up at the kitchen door and inquire of a bodyguard he didn’t know. But, there was the gate guard, who had seen him leave with Lex the day before yesterday. Maybe that familiarity might give him some leeway.
Clark circled around and approached the gate from the outside, not particularly caring if the man questioned his arrival by foot.
“Hi.” Clark tapped on the little gatehouse window and the guard started out of a doze, then narrowed his eyes in annoyance at Clark.
“Mr. Luthor’s not in residence,” the guard said testily, obviously not at his best so early in the morning.
Clark smiled, his big, charmingly harmless one, and made a gamble. “Yeah, he mentioned. I was just wondering when he left – – would he have made the city by now or do you think he’s still on the road? I tried calling but the weather’s really messing with my cell reception.”
The gate guard looked at him a little closer, debating. Then the man shrugged. “He left last night, so he’s bound to be in Metropolis by now.”
“Thanks.” Clark forced another smile. Lex must have taken off not long after Clark had left, an idiotic move, considering the condition he’d been in, shaky with near hypothermia and a probable concussion. It couldn’t have been a pleasant drive. But Lex was stubborn at the best of times – – mix in angry and he’d be unstoppable.
It occurred to Clark that maybe he ought to be a little scared. That maybe Lex stubborn and angry and feeling personally betrayed might not bode so well for him, combined with the very alarming facts Lex had recently learned. In the long term, Lex reasoned and coolly considered options, but inevitably in the throes of fresh anger, Lex didn’t always rationally think through his vengeances.
Clark headed for the city, following the interstate along the route Lex would have taken. The roads were mostly cleared, but there were still patches of black ice and the traffic, even at six am was light today. It would have been almost non-existent last night. He hoped Lex had driven something sensible, preferably with four-wheel drive.
Metropolis was still grey and slow, city-folk not the early risers than rural residents were. But the bustle would start soon enough and the sidewalks and streets would be clogged with people on their way to work.
He stood outside LuthorCorp and slowly scanned the building, ignoring the lower floors for the upper levels, sorting through maintenance workers and staffer’s arrived early, looking for that one body – –
And found it, in the most likely place, ensconced in the executive offices of the floors that LexCorp occupied. Not alone. There were four other people in the room, two security from the armament under their clothes and two white-collar employees from the lack of.
Clark expanded his hearing, got past the familiar beat of Lex’s pulse and heard the hind end of some sort of briefing and the following ‘yes sirs’, before the assistants scurried out and Lex whipped around his desk, heeled by the muscle. Lex’s stride was fast, clipped, pissed off and Clark shut his eyes to block it out and groaned.
Okay, so the calming down period had yet to begin.
Lex was taking the elevator down, and Clark followed the unhindered progress all the way to the underground garage where Lex and his security detail got into a big black SUV and headed out.
Not following just didn’t seem a viable option. He practically could have done it without superspeed, the traffic had picked up so much. Morning rush hour had the SUV creeping along, which probably did nothing for Lex’s mood. It wasn’t until they got out of the business district that the roads cleared a little and speed picked up and the SUV headed towards the city’s north side.
The destination was a big old whitewashed factory looking building, with the faded logo M & C Laboratories on the side. It did not look like one of Lex’s usual high-tech facilities, which made Clark more than a little wary. Anyplace Lex took the time to visit that was this understated and worn had to be a front. And that made Clark’s gut tighten a little, because he didn’t want to think about Lex and his secret labs and his questionable experiments.
There was another black SUV in the lot, and a beat up old station wagon under the one parking lot light that still worked. Lex and his men went inside while Clark scanned the outside of the building and the parking lot for cameras. There was one on the right corner of the building that was easily avoidable if you weren’t coming into the lot via vehicle.
Clark x-rayed inside the building and found a lot of empty rooms. A factory warehouse floor that looked like it hadn’t been active in a while, a bunch of labs that seemed barren and lifeless. The place was an empty shell, except for the elevator at the back of an elevator that Lex and his men took down, and when Clark listened, there was the quiet hum of machinery, and the distant patter of multiple heartbeats. A lab under a lab. Something that needed to be hidden and he knew the sorts of things that Lex needed to hide.
Clark took a breath and tried not to be disappointed. What had he thought, that Lex was going to close down every shop he had, just because he’d had a little extracurricular darkness removed? Like Chloe said, Lex had had his projects even before Zod had been the whisper of a threat.
Clark tried to pick up Lex again, but there were big blank spots in his vision, places that had to be lead shielded that blocked him out. And he wanted to see, damnit. He needed to see what was down there. Because maybe something fresh to be equally pissed off at Lex about would alleviate a bit of his own guilt.
He circled the perimeter of the building, careful of hidden cameras and wondering guards. There were none of the latter and the only other cameras were at the back at the loading docks, where a couple of unmarked trucks sat. Clark moved to the side, where there was nothing but bland cinderblock and launched himself up at the roof.
He found his way in through the big ventilation windows over the factory floor. Just pried one open and slid though, dropping the two hundred feet down and landing in a crouch that absorbed the impact. No one noticed save a few startled mice that scurried into the shadows. There were other rooms off the big factory floor, but they were empty and this was the path that Lex had traveled to get to the freight elevator at the rear. Clark headed that way and stopped a dozen feet from the big, dilapidated elevator doors, scanning inside the walls. There was surveillance there, elegantly hidden behind rusted walls, and a hidden panel on the back wall of the car. There was no way he was getting in there without somebody noticing, speed or no. The only way down without triggering some sort of alarm would be to tear through the floor and he wasn’t prepared to go that route without evidence of something damned nefarious to back it up. What if it was just old LexCorp records or Lex’s private stash of fine booze and embarrassing collectables?
So he backed away, into the enveloping darkness of the factory floor, amidst all the abandoned equipment, and waited, because Lex had to come up sooner or later.
Maybe thirty minutes and he heard the quiet whir of the elevator on its way back up. He didn’t bother with the x-ray vision, just sat in the shadows and waited for the doors to open and the sound of footsteps rapping upon the concrete floor.
Lex, with a phone to his ear, in the same clothes he’d put on last night after Clark had gotten him home, plus a long black wool coat, all pale skin and shadows and the vivid line where the bullet had grazed him along the side of his smooth head. There were two guys behind him, the type that fit Lex’s normal security detail specifications. Which meant big and mean and alert. They saw Clark in the shadows and two hands went inside jackets for weapons.
Lex looked up, surprised, two beats behind his trained muscle, and then his eyes must have adjusted to the dim light because his mouth went flat and he stopped dead.
They had their guns trained on Clark and Clark wasn’t moving either, staring at Lex like they were in some sort of old west showdown. Somebody on the other end of the line must have said something, because Lex’s mouth twitched in irritation a moment before he flipped the phone shut and slipped it into his coat pocket.
Clark didn’t have a clue what was going on behind Lex’s eyes. His face was all shut down, closed off and cold. Clark had no earthly idea what was onhis, but if it had any relation to what he was feeling inside, it must have held desperation.
“Wait for me outside. Prepare for protocol 13.” Lex said softly. And it took Clark a second to realize he was talking to his security. The guns reluctantly disappeared and the two men stalked across the floor, bristling as they passed Clark like dogs defending territory.
He didn’t take his eyes off Lex, just listened to the sound of their footsteps receding, and the eventual opening and closing of the door at the other end of the factory floor.
“Lex.” And with everything Clark wanted to say, needed to say, that one word was all that got out.
Lex’s mouth twitched. He walked forward, easy, rolling gait, like he was stalking prey. Clark felt a twinge of nausea. A spasm of it that clutched at his gut and stole his breath.
It wasn’t nerves. He doubled over, looking up at Lex in panic.
“Their home is their weakness,” Lex said softly and brought his hand out of his pocket, long fingers curled around a baseball-sized chunk of green kryptonite. “Isn’t that right, Clark? I never got the chance to properly test that theory.”
“Oh – – God,” Clark went down to one knee, his chance at flight gone. He could have run, at that first sickening feeling – – gotten enough distance between him and the rock to put on a burst of speed and get the hell out of there. He’d passed it up and now Lex was close enough that the world was spinning so wildly that staying upright was an impossible task. He crumpled to his side on the concrete, curling his legs up in a vain attempt to ease the pain.
“Does it hurt?” Lex asked, impassive, the toes of his shoes almost touching Clark’s leg, but Clark couldn’t quite get his vision to focus enough to see his face.
“Please – -” It was hard to catch his breath, the air inside his lungs felt like it was tinged with acid.
“Please what?” Lex’s foot connected with Clark’s shoulder, shoving him over onto his back. “Please can I tell you a few more lies? Please can I carry the charade on a bit longer? What are you selling today, Clark?”
Lex swung a leg over Clark’s hips, sank down to his knees, straddling him, the chunk of rock in his hand pressed against Clark’s sternum. “Just how gullible to do you think I am?”
“I’m not – – I didn’t – – don’t do this?” His blood was rebelling, churning like a thousand little fire ants were scuttling through his veins.
“What do you think this is? What do you think is going to happen? What do you think should, to the alien among us? After the last few encounters, I’m thinking a pro-active approach is the way to go.”
“I’m – – not him,” Clark gasped.
Lex laughed, sharp, bitter. “You think it makes a difference?”
“Yes.” Clark hissed passed clenched teeth. There was blood in his mouth, thick and coppery and he didn’t know if he’d bitten his tongue or if it was coming up from his throat. “I’m not – – your dad, either.”
Lex snarled at him, all the cold gone and white-hot anger flooded in to fill its place. He grabbed a fist full of Clark’s hair and slammed his head back against the floor. Maybe mentioning Lionel hadn’t been such a good idea. Maybe Lex had gone over the edge into apeshit crazy and Clark wasn’t going to survive this. He didn’t even want to know what Protocol 13 was.
Lex leaned down, close to his face, breath warm on his skin, the scent of him getting through to Clark even past the pain.
“Do you know what I could do to you?”
Clark thought of the stuff of his nightmares. Flashes of things that filled his head like images of shock flick gore. Dark rooms and shiny tables and blood spattered instruments. Faceless men taking notes while they cut him open – –
“I forgive you,” Clark whispered, feeling wetness trickling down his temples and into his hair. Clark wasn’t sure for what – – just felt that it needed to be said, now before he changed his mind.
Lex’s eyes widened, then narrowed. Furious, slamming Clark’s head into the concrete again.
“You forgive? – – You don’t know what the fuck – – just shut up.” Lex was so irate he was sputtering incomplete sentences.
Another slam of Clark’s head and the hurt got through past the kryptonite poisoning. Lex growled, a frightening, primal sound and leaned over Clark, breath ragged, the rock in one hand digging into Clark’s chest, burning into his skin through his t-shirt. Clark’s heart kept shuttering and jerking in his chest like it was trying to put distance between itself and the rock. It hurt so bad he thought he was going to black out. He probably would soon enough, if past experience was any guide.
Lex cursed, low and inventive and flung out an arm. Clark heard the clatter of something hitting metal machinery parts, even as the pain eased. Lex pushed to his feet, empty fists clenched, then as if he were force-feeding himself composure, he loosened them. Looked down his nose at Clark with that Luthor disdain that could just eat you from the inside out and it was hard not to shiver under it, when it felt like the insides in question were only slowly solidifying again from jellied form.
“Don’t,” Lex said and had to stop and take a breath, so maybe he wasn’t so composed after all. “Don’t follow me again. Don’t call me. Don’t show up and expect me not to follow through with what I should have tonight. This – -” Lex waved a hand, a wild gesture that he pulled in at the last moment, and turned into something casual. “This is the scales being balanced. I owe you nothing.”
He turned on his heels and walked away, towards the far door that led back outside. He didn’t look back.
Clark rolled to his side, clenching his jaw and the empty, rolling hurt in his chest had nothing to do with kryptonite. He slammed a fist against the floor and cement cratered, cracks splintering out from the point of impact. He hit it again, with purpose and the floor split. Something underneath burst, and steam sprayed up. Clark crouched in it, trying not to yell in frustration. He could go after Lex, stop him, force him to listen – – but Clark had the feeling that forcing Lex into anything would be a sure route to disaster.
He watched the SUV pull away through layers of wall, and controlled the urge to do more damage to the floor. He jumped up instead, to the windows he’d used to come in, caught the edge and pulled himself through to the roof. Clark stood there under skies that were bright and cloud free for a change, basking in sunlight that chased away the last of the kryptonite caused weakness.
God. Lex had a lot of kryptonite. And Lex was pissed. Not a good combination to dwell on. Clark leapt off the building and ran. Got halfway home and stopped as it occurred to him that his mom needed to know. He didn’t want to think that Lex would hurt her – – he didn’t want to think that Lex would hurt him, but Lex had already proved that was a shaky assumption. She needed to be aware of at least the possibility of backlash if Lex regretted not following through with whatever it was he’d been considering, and changed his mind back again.
He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket and called her cell. If he was lucky she might still be at her DC apartment. If not – – she needed to make the time.