Lex was making changes. Moving and shaking the foundations of the world that existed beneath the surface of the one he allowed the public to see. Oh, there were public efforts too, things his PR team pushed him towards in efforts to shift the current state of disfavor LexCorp and more importantly, Lex himself was enjoying in the poll of public opinion. Subtle things that his detractors couldn’t throw back in his face as obvious ploys to repair his damaged reputation. All it took, after all, was a mention of the inescapable fact that he was still an active suspect in the murder of his wife, and any efforts he made would be dashed.
The public labors were a façade, though, chosen by his people, which he carried out with due diligence, while his mind was elsewhere.
A great deal of his attention was focused on the things closer to his heart that had gotten so terribly out of hand. Things he had known about and overlooked because they were the means to an end. Because his genetically well-defined streak of cold practicality had been sharpened to razor sharp precision during his year carrying around the amputated ill intentions of something considerably more bloodthirsty than he liked to think he’d ever been.
Redundant efforts it seemed, regardless of whose compulsion had prompted them – – since apparently there was no alien invasion on the heels of Zod.
There had been liberties taken with subjects – – with people – – that had ventured into the realm of mad science. Things that had started out as necessary evils perpetrated not out of prejudice, but an honest desire to study a phenomenon that had taken and ruined more lives than anyone who hadn’t kept exacting track, might be willing to believe. Granted, his goals might not have been purely altruistic, but total exploitation had not been the original plan.
Very few of his subjects were victims, though, and those that were – – those innocents who’d had no blame to their name and gotten swept up in the frenzy – – one day the research that was carried out might be the only thing that saved their lives or their sanity. Or the sanity of their children.
Because meteor mutation was, come to find out, an inherited trait.
He still believed strongly in all the initial reasoning. Ceasing research would frankly be irresponsible – – but changes had to be made. Policies had to shift and researchers kept on a tighter rein. Black ops kidnapping was not a practice he was willing to condone again. There were plenty of monetary or philosophical motivations to sway desirable subjects. It was surprising what a man or woman might be willing to do, to put a child through college or discharge an overwhelming debt, or even in some cases assuage a debilitating guilt. And those that had already crossed the line – – the murderers and the psychopaths – – those were exceptions to his newly rediscovered sense of morality. If they were willing to break the rules, he had no problem following suit.
It was no simple task though, to revamp a system that had veered so far off course from the original vision, without compromising the foundation on which it stood. He wanted to initiate change, he simply wasn’t willing to go to jail for it.
He’d been systematically disenfranchising every link to LexCorp and any project remotely linked to 33.1 or meteor related research. If he lost control of LexCorp, he was damned and determined that the new management wasn’t getting access to those projects.
Which brought up the second front on which he was waging war. Staving off the inevitable for weeks and finding reason after reason to avoid the meeting of the board that the Japanese had been pushing for with their new acquisition of LexCorp stock.
They had thirty-three percent that he knew of for a concrete fact. Snatched up from every panicked LexCorp investor during the bleakest of market dips. God knew where the two million shares of his own stock, that he’d reluctantly bartered for the capital to meet that first installment of Government blood money, were. He had law hounds breathing down the neck of the supposedly faithful financial backer that had brokered that particular deal and sold him out, with every intention of owning them by the time he finished, stock or no stock.
If Toshiba had those shares, they’d have close to majority ownership and then it would be up to the board to keep their current, somewhat tarnished CEO seated, or vote in shiny, new upstanding and law-abiding management. And boards were fickle. Just ask his father.
As far as the world was concerned, Lionel Luthor was on sabbatical in Europe, a claim backed by the occasional doctored photograph and digitally altered phone call to this gullible acquaintance or that. Lex wasn’t ready to deal with upheaval in LuthorCorp when the stocks were on the rise and the company had reachieved stability and Lionel’s disappearance – – for any reason – – would certainly stir those waters.
Where his father was in reality was anyone’s guess. Lionel had been gone for over a month, disappeared apparently, off the face of the earth, but he’d left his mark on LuthorCorp with restricted files and corporate firewalls the likes of which the best of Lex’s people had yet to crack. Subtle, insidious things, no doubt that would come back to bite him on the ass when his guard was down.
Lex still frowned grimly about that now and then when thoughts of his oh, so resourceful father crossed his mind. He was frowning now, making the circuit of the Centennial park jogging path early enough that only the occasional other jogger was out. He had security following him discreetly, far enough distant not to interfere with this rare moment he allowed himself to clarify his mind.
There was a coffee shop at the end of the route that brewed exceptional product, the best in the city and he looked forward to that. City habits he’d shed during his hard time in rural America had come back with comfortable ease. He chided himself for waiting so long to relocate. The only things that had been keeping him were delusions anyway. The city cleared his head and let him breathe. The city reached out to him in all its boroughs, from the gleaming high rises of New Troy to the trendy galleries of Little Bohemia, to Glenmorgan Square and Bessolo Boulevard with its theaters and clubs.
Not that he’d had the luxury of spare time to enjoy any of those countless galleries or shows or nightspots. Trying to reorder the pieces of one’s life was a protracted business. A morning run twice a week – – three times if he were feeling particularly stressed, was the most he’d allowed himself since he’d left Smallville. He’d been living off four hours sleep a night for weeks now and the lingering sense of exhaustion was always there, under the surface. It wasn’t that his body didn’t want it, it was more that the brain refused to cooperate. So he ignored it, the fatigue. Forced it back just as he forced back all the other counterproductive things that gathered at the back of his thoughts – – the things he absolutely refused to dwell on.
Jacquelyn Soveno was waiting for him when he reached the end of the path, a steaming cup of coffee in her manicured hand. His new head of security, she had lived up to the reputation that had brought her to his attention.
He took the coffee she offered and started walking around the path to cool down, with her at his side. She was tall and skinny, and wore designer clothes like a runway model. With heels, he had to look up at her, but she had on sensible shoes today, which put them eye level.
“What do you have for me? He sipped coffee through the slot in the plastic top. It tasted like the beans had been plucked from the plants and roasted that very morning.
“Scranton is now defunct. All transfers have been successful. The reintegration process is progressing smoothly, Mr. Luthor. After the secondary offer was made the four non-compliants have agreed to the non-disclosure wavers.”
He nodded, listening to her give specifics.
The snow was almost gone from the park, trampled away by thousands upon thousands of feet and there was yellowed grass beneath, with just the hint here and there of new growth struggling against the cold. You could see the lake in the center from here, through a strategically placed copse of bare limbed trees, but the fountain wasn’t running. The fountain hadn’t been running since he’d been back.
“There’s another issue,” she said, when they’d reached the crossroads where the jogging path intersected the riding path. There was still the occasional old moneyed blue blood that thought it the height of prestige to stable horses in the city that used it. Generally it was used by people and their dogs, which seemed to keep the jogging trail clear of unexpected organic pitfalls.
He tossed the cup in a trashcan and veered off the path towards the sidewalk. He had a car waiting, following as discreetly as his security, but it was only a three-block walk to the penthouse overlooking the upper east end of the park.
Funny how he’d lived in the country for all those years and hadn’t felt the inclination to walk anywhere – – but the city brought the desire out in him.
“Your Ares researchers are getting antsy. I’ve been fielding calls from the project head for the last week, wanting to know when active research can resume. It appears the Colorado lab isn’t up to par?”
Lex took a breath and kept walking. His Ares staff were used to a no limits budget and his personal, focused attention. And he’d made a promise weeks ago, for fresh resources. He’d made a lot of promises before he’d accepted certain truths.
Earth wasn’t a target for alien invasion. And even he’d wanted to continue development of meta-enhanced soldiers, without a source he was willing to plunder for those all-important alien peptides, what was the point? Ares was no longer a valid undertaking.
“Disperse the team,” he said. “Distribute them to other projects. Compile all the research data and see that any backups are destroyed. Bring the originals to me. If they have a problem with this, I can have them studying the effects of fertilizer decomposition in sub-zero climates for the next decade.”
Jacquelyn didn’t bat an eye. “I’ll see to it.”
Lex stepped into the shower before the water was warm. Stood with his hands on the cool tile wall and gasped under the first cold barrage. He let out another long, slow breath as it warmed and dipped his head, water running down the sides of his face in rivulets, like the illusion of hair.
He should have dealt with the Ares project long before this, should have finalized a decision instead of shying from it like it was poisonous fruit. It had simply been easier to ignore it in favor of other things, because one way or another its existence or lack of, was the final declaration of the burial of beliefs he’d held close to his heart for over two years. That blood, sweat and pain, a relationship or two and billions of dollars had been for nothing but justified paranoia.
It had nothing to do with Clark.
He grimaced a little, even thinking the name, because he was usually so very good at compartmentalizing all things Alien related to the very back of his mind. Until he couldn’t anymore, and then he generally went for the scotch until the fit of anger or remorse or God-forbid, longing passed in a haze of alcohol induced emptiness.
Emptiness was preferable over being a man without the sense to realize when he was being played yet one more time. He’d played that part often enough to know the lines by heart and he was tired to death of the role.
It was so much easier not to feel. To close himself off and refuse the lure of sentiment. If his mind wanted to reminisce about Clark in a moment of weakness, Lex was perfectly willing to use it to his benefit. Just as he might use any high dollar whore to sate his needs, even if this one was in his head. God knew he’d paid the price.
He ran his hand down his body, circled his half flaccid cock and let the image of a big, strong body on its knees before him bring it to fuller attention. Lips like bruised red fruit that played so well at innocence, but knew intimately all the right things to do to drive a man past the point of sanity. He didn’t allow himself this often, because it was addictive and if he dwelled too long, his mind would wander to more painful things. But as long as it was just this, just him imagining his thrusts bruising Clark’s soft mouth – – as if such a thing were possible – – it was safe.
There was a safety net after all, if he wanted to stop the fantasy. He’d discovered the perfect method. Simply envision those beautiful lips wrapped around his father’s wrinkled cock and Lex’s own erection was guaranteed to deflate.
He didn’t need the out now. Just few minutes sharing his head with the facade of something he wasn’t sure he’d ever really known and it would be out of his system. Until the next time.
He needed to start dating. Even with the rumors of spousal homicide over his head he could have his pick of bed partners and one way to relieve stress was as good as another, if you didn’t care about who you were fucking.
A few rough strokes and it was over. A fading surge of relief that the water washed away along with the residue. It took a moment longer for him to chase away the accompanying images and the tremor of feeling that wanted to follow in their wake. But a reassertion of will and they were gone, pushed back to where they belonged and Lex stepped out of the shower, clear-headed and focused.
Nothing else was acceptable, because in five hours the LexCorp board of directors would convene, his repertoire of delays finally exhausted. In five hours, it was likely he’d find out who had acquired his missing stock and depending on which side of the fence they threw that considerable weight, he’d either walk out of there as untouchable as he’d walked in, or short the reins of one corporation that bore his name.
The way his luck had been running, he rather feared the latter.
He knew which board members were prepared to sell him out. The one’s that had been in contact with foreign interests. He knew which one’s were under his thumb – – though in big business no one’s loyalties were ever written in stone. It was the one’s whose intentions he hadn’t been able to pin down that worried him.
If he’d had those missing shares – – and in retrospect bartering them away to keep from liquidating assets of great import to him had seemed like the lesser of two evils – – and his firm fifty-one percent ownership, he’d have laughed in their faces. Would have let Toshiba enjoy their minority holdings and still done exactly what he pleased when he pleased. Replacing half the board would have been first on the agenda.
The morning was spent with Lawyers and consultants, preparing for worst cast scenario. He let them plot and listened to the fruits of their labors, desperate legal tactics to slow the inevitable. They’d flayed his last nerve by 10:30, and his overwhelming consumption of caffeine and nothing else all morning wasn’t helping the state of his temper. He vaguely entertained the notion, if things went as predicted, of a boardroom shooting spree.
“They’re waiting for you, Mr. Luthor.” Miranda stood inside the door of his office and informed him solemnly, in fear no doubt, for her job. There were a thousand people in this building itself, not to mention the tens of thousands company wide, on pins and needles, afraid of the change new management might bring.
He was halfway out his door when the phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. Almost he slipped his hand in and shut it off. But the curiosity about whoever was calling him at zero hour caught at him, and he reached down and pulled it out instead. The number was unfamiliar, no name attached.
“This better be good.”
“Hello, Lex. Is that stress I hear in your voice?”
He stopped dead and various sycophants, lawyers and aides had to scramble to avoid treading on his heels. “Fancy hearing from you, dad. Your timing is impeccable.”
“Is it a bad time? When you’re living the life of leisure, time sometimes gets away from you. Where am I supposed to be again? On sabbatical in Spain?”
A loose fist of suspicion settled at the pit of Lex’s gut. Time, like opportunity, never slipped away unnoted from Lionel Luthor.
“I would think a southerly climate more appropriate.” Like the pits of hell. Now that was a fond image.
“I’ve told you time and again, Lex, when you have an advantage, you don’t give it up. Parting with those shares was a foolish, foolish gambit.”
Lex shut his eyes, the fist in his stomach clenching. Of course. His father had orchestrated the situation to begin with. Horrendous fines that he’d had to take drastic measures to meet. So why not be there, waiting in the shadows to snatch up what Lex had had to sacrifice to avoid deconstructing the company?
“You conniving son of a bitch,” Lex said it softly. Anything louder and he might have lost control of his voice in the midst of people he wouldn’t allow to see anything less than perfect discipline in him.
“The pot calling the kettle – – or is that the other way around? Ah, semantics. You’ve made so many mistakes, Lex, but I don’t place all the blame with you.’
“Big of you.”
“Loosing LexCorp will be a devastating blow.”
Lex stared blindly down the hall towards the heavy brass doors of the boardroom.
“I hate to see,” Lionel continued. “A family venture in the hands of outsiders.”
“What do you want?” Lex asked. He knew shades of blackmail when he heard it. Intimately.
“What I’ve always wanted, Lex.”
“Me, groveling at your feet?”
Lionel laughed. “Your well being, son.”
“That line’s getting old.” He tried to get the appropriate amount of dry sarcasm in his tone, but it came out dull and wary. “What else?”
“Leave an old man some surprises for a rainy day. How about for starters, an apology for your little attempt to detain me against my will and the no doubt nefarious things you had planned for me afterwards? Make me feel the remorse, Lex.”
Lex felt his mouth twist into a smile. It felt feral around the edges. He did, frayed and coiled and wanting to slam the phone against the wall in lieu of his father’s head. He took a breath instead, and ate the pride down, a cold, hard indigestible lump. He was capable of doing quite a few things with a smile if they worked to his advantage.
“I’m sorry dad, from the bottom of my heart, for failing as a dutiful son. You always tell me emotion will be my downfall, and I never listen and look where it’s gotten me. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.” It absolutely wouldn’t.
“Of course it will, but I like the sentiment. You’ve got voting privileges over my personal portfolio of LexCorp stock.” The line went dead.
“Thanks, dad.” He shut the phone with a snap and stalked towards the boardroom doors. There was business to attend.
Lex made the cover of the Wall Street Journal barely two months after his father had graced it. It was the first bit of flattering press he’d had in months and with the failed Japanese takeover, LexCorp stock was actually on the rise.
He received requests for interviews from Forbes, Entrepreneur, Barron’s and a dozen other business rags. His PR people were ecstatic. When the request from the Planet came, it wasn’t surprising, he’d already given a few personal quotes to Raymond Fisk from the financial desk earlier in the week, it was the least he could do for his hometown’s finest newsprint. But he hadn’t been prepared to give Fisk the uninterrupted half hour of his time a sit down interview might take up.
“Mr. Fisk isn’t requesting the sit down, Mr. Luthor,” Miranda told him, as they were discussing the day’s itinerary. “It’s a Ms. Sullivan. I wouldn’t have brought it to your attention at all, but she’s gotten hold of my personal extension and called several times.”
“Chloe Sullivan?” There could be another Sullivan on staff, of course. And Chloe had reason enough to want to avoid up close personal encounters with him.
“Yes sir. Chloe Sullivan. I don’t think she’s from the financial section. A definitive ‘no’ would probably discourage her from calling again.”
He sat back in his chair, staring at the city reflected in the polished glass surface of his desk, turning over the things Chloe Sullivan might want in his head.
“Set up twenty minutes for her.” Curiosity got the better of him. It always did. Even though the wan precursor of danger at the back of his mind was flashing that this was a questionable idea. That there were only so many things Chloe had to talk to him about and most of those he wasn’t willing to discuss.
Chloe was shown into his office at twenty to four, trim and professional in a skirt suit, grim-faced like she was heading to war. It had likely been a battle for her getting up the nerve to walk into enemy territory, but then she’d never shown the tendency to shy away from inherently treacherous situations. Maybe it was the company she kept, but more than likely it was simple tenacity.
“Mr. Luthor, I appreciate your time.”
He watched her come in, all stiff formality under Miranda’s scrutiny, before the doors shut behind her and it was just the two of them who knew enough of each other’s dirty laundry to be on an uncomfortable first name basis.
“I’m not adverse to helping an old friend,” he said. “Were you thinking on a move to Business and Financial?”
“Oh, come on Lex, you’re big news across the board. You cross the street nowadays and people want to know why.”
He smiled, giving her a ‘what can you do?’ shrug. “You have twenty minutes, Chloe.”
She smiled right back with an equal lack of conviction and dove in.
“So, now that you’ve miraculously managed to pull LexCorp’s fat out of the proverbial fire – – what’s next?”
“Were you looking for the Newsweek answer or the People version? Or was there some other angle you wanted to explore?”
“What other angle is there, Lex? I’ve read all about the commercial ventures – – what I’m wondering is how come your off the books projects have become suddenly scarce? Is it just an upgrade in security, are you dumping extracurricular hobbies to build capital or are you cleaning house?”
He gave her a faint, amused smile, admiring the nerve it took to toss that out with nothing more than mild curiosity in her tone. He knew she had an investment in the subject – – more so maybe than certain of her friends. He knew she had sources feeding her information here and there, things she’d never attempted to print because there weren’t enough facts to back them. It must have been frustrating for her to have those sources dry up.
“Chloe, are you sure you want to waste your twenty minutes with libelous speculation? If you want to leave with something print worthy, perhaps you should change your line of questioning.”
He saw something give in her eyes, a flicker of uncertainty, before she squared her shoulders and asked.
“Okay. What are your thoughts on the resident alien issue? Pro or con?”
“Don’t waste my time, Chloe.” He said softly. He didn’t bat an eye. He’d been prepared for it.
“You – -” she took a breath, clamping down on whatever she was about to say and blurting out instead. “You need to talk to him.”
“I thought I made it perfectly clear – – no contact. And if he sent you – -”
“He didn’t send me,” she cut him off, green eyes flashing. “He doesn’t know anything about this. He’s playing by your rules, and the least you could do is spare somebody that was supposed to be your friend as much time as you’d give a reporter looking for dirt, and let him know whether or not to expect the hammer to fall and when. Do you have any idea what its like not knowing whether you’re going to wake up one morning and change your mind and ruin a few more lives?”
“This interview is over.” He stood, a collected movement, because the walls were firm and intact. He’d been very good at building them.
She stood too, not so calm, not so collected. Desperation in her eyes while Lex considered whether calling security would be overkill.
“What is it? Are you afraid of him? Is that why you won’t talk to him? Do you think under that farm boy exterior there are green scales and tentacles? There’s not. I’ve seen him bleed and his blood’s as red as yours or mine.”
She laughed in his face and Lex felt a sting of irritation. He’d seen the color of that blood as well. A flow of crimson that always came with evasions and lies. It wasn’t the point of origin that bothered him. He wasn’t debating it with her when he couldn’t properly debate it with himself.
“I can have you escorted out, if you’d prefer?”
“He’s trying to get his life together, you know?” She clutched her bag to her like it was armor. Or more likely a weapon, since she took a breath and one more shot at him. “Taking a few classes at Community College – – trying to work around the looming trouble with your name attached. He thinks you’re different than you were after – – you know? – – Zod. I think that’s wishful thinking, but he’ll defend you until I’m blue in the face arguing. How stupid is that, considering you won’t even say his name? But then Clark’s never been the sharpest knife in the block, has he? Look how long you played him before he wised up? Then you snare him again and he falls for it hook line and sinker. Just an idiot.”
“Don’t you have who played who, mixed up? I wasn’t the one with the world-shattering secret. I never colluded with his enemies behind his back.”
“Now who’s being the idiot?” she snapped. “Don’t pretend you don’t understand why he didn’t shout it from the heavens and don’t pretend you don’t get why you might not have been the most comfortable person to confide in. And he never colluded with your dad, you ass. That was your wife, remember? Clark didn’t have much of a choice, with Lionel spouting the gospel of Jor-el – – Clark’s real father by the way – – and he never followed either one of their advice when it came to you. If you’d bothered to let him explain anything, you might have gotten that, instead of getting on your high horse and acting like it was all some plot against you. We both know that’s a load of crap.”
Lex looked at his watch. “As fascinating as this conversation is, I have another appointment.”
Chloe stared at him, a flicker of something that might have been disbelief in her eyes. She opened her mouth; shut it, frustrated in the face of his calm demeanor. She let out a little hissing breath and turned on her heel, stalking for the door. But, she hesitated, her hand on the brass handle, her back ramrod stiff and said.
“I don’t know why I’m even bothering saying this, other than I hate seeing friends in misery – – but, he misses you.”
Then she was gone, slipping through the door with a quiet patter of heels.
A nerve twitched in Lex’s jaw. He brushed an imaginary wrinkle from his sleeve and sat down, pressed the intercom and told Miranda to send in his 4 o’clock.
Which was a set of R&D techs out of the Fort Worth division, with a proposal and a proprietary rights lawyer on the scent of a patent. He listened to them drone on about profit margins and manufacturing costs. And after a while the words started to loose meaning, worthless babble that assaulted him while he stared with an odd sort of detachment at a striped pattern of afternoon sunlight on the wall opposite the windows behind him. The cold, white light of the city in early winter.
The light patterns at his office in the castle were always flavored by color. Squares of red or yellow that fell across the floor from tall stained glass. The light from Clark’s bedroom window had been bright and angled, throwing heat like a magnifying glass, catching lazy dust particles in its path that danced like living things. It had been warm upon flesh. Almost as warm as the feel of Clark’s skin – –
Something fractured, a rent in the armor that was supposed to protect him from unproductive reminisces. That was supposed to protect him period.
He was tired. No amount of caffeinated energy could drown out the ache seeping up out of the seams. He’d thought he’d had it so pinned down.
“Thank you.” He cut into the presentation. Stood and they rose with him, anxious that he was unimpressed. It didn’t occur to them that he simply hadn’t paid attention to what they were selling. “Leave the proposal with my assistant on your way out.”
They filed out, clutching their folders and their printouts. He stood there afterwards trying to order his thoughts. Trying to get the walls back up. But Chloe’s insidious words kept slipping through.
He defends you. Why? It irritated him thinking of it, of them discussing him – – of Clark assuming Lex cared enough what Chloe Sullivan thought to warrant defense. Of Clark thinking he needed it. That bothered him more than the rest.
He let out a breath of pent up air through his teeth and left his office, surprising Miranda at her desk.
“I’m done for the day.” She’d cancel or reschedule or shuffle whatever needed to be shuffled to someone lower down the food chain, if it had to be seen to before the end of business today.
He took the elevator down and had to make the snap decision garage or lobby. The one thing Smallville had over Metropolis was endless, deserted, backcountry roads. You could get in a car and drive without traffic lights or congestion keeping your speed limit under thirty. Sometimes testing the limits of a fine engine was better than all the therapy in the world.
He decided on the lobby, since driving in city traffic on a Friday close to rush hour would have him on the brink of road rage. He waved off the security that met him at the elevator doors. He wasn’t in the mood for trailing ghosts. He had enough of those in his head.
Stuffing his hands in his coat pockets, he walked.
Seven weeks ago he’d amputated a part of his life that had betrayed him, just like he might a gangrenous limb. He’d had indignation and righteous fury to fuel the separation. A very Luthor thing to do, the cold, calculated severing of emotional connection. It was disturbing on some level, that there was precedent.
It disturbed him, in retrospect, that instead of picking to pieces something that had occupied his mind for years, he chose to lock it in a room, and brick over the doorway, and plaster cautionary tape around the whole. He could have had all the answers to all the mysteries that had ever plagued him, if he’d just had the nerve to carry through – –
He shivered, hunching his shoulders against a gust of cold wind, and the people on the sidewalk around him shivered, in similar straits.
Community college, she’d said. The cheap way to education, one class credit at a time. What world-conquering alien in their right mind, tried for a degree at a two-year institution in between toiling on a dirt-poor Kansas farm? Or wore K-mart clothes, or slept in the same bed he’d had since grade school?
It was laughable. He could have had the world and he chose near poverty on a few hundred acres in backwater Kansas.
It was enough to make Lex loose all sense of awe and respect for the concept of otherworldly visitors. It was enough to make him think the power and the speed and God knew what else that Clark came equipped with were nothing compared to the sheer magnitude of his strength of will. It was so painfully easy for power to corrupt, Lex had seen it time and again, had felt it fester in his own heart, and Clark stood unblemished.
Maybe that was the truest mark of the alien among them. The ability to deny the fruit when the serpent offered.
He detested the thought that Clark had that over the rest of humanity. That he had it over him. Because Lex knew for a fact, that if the roles were reversed, he’d not only have had the fruit, but the whole damned tree, if opportunity arose.
The penthouse had a spectacular balcony view, but Lex envisioned better. When he built LexCorp tower, it would be the tallest structure in the city, taller than LuthorCorp tower by necessity and he’d have a penthouse suite at the pinnacle, with a view of all the kingdom.
But for now, the luxurious penthouse apartment at the top of the Medoc Building was adequate.
He’d spent Saturday indulging himself, because Chloe’s visit Friday had unsettled him more than he cared to admit. A charity auction that his PR people had loved and he’d dropped a very public million plus in tax deductible dollars on a turn of the century Boccioni sculpture that he found vaguely disturbing and subtly erotic.
Much like the nature of Clark Kent’s secrets.
He scowled and pinched the bridge of his nose. Now that the floodgates were open, he couldn’t stop rebellious thoughts, memories and inane comparisons from cropping up. Six weeks and only the occasional tactile input had breached his defense and now he couldn’t hold it back.
But it had been a long six weeks. A long six months, with the stress of a marriage based on so many painful lies, the drive to build an army to fight imaginary foes, fighting with Clark – – always fighting with Clark, Lana’s murder and the subsequent accusations, the fight to keep LexCorp. The ever-present knowledge that he hadn’t been alone in his head for so long. Now this – – grudge – – that he clung to like a terrier with a bone, when sometimes the reasons seemed so paper thin, that he had to build them up in his head to remind himself. When sometimes it seemed like the only thing maintaining the walls was his own contrary nature.
It was exhausting.
Chloe said Clark missed him and it was baffling. Missed what exactly? His temper? His vindictive streak? His tendencies to manipulate and obsess? An ingrained paranoia that just wouldn’t quit? It was frankly astonishing that Clark wasn’t rejoicing the fact that Lex had chosen to leave Smallville and never step back.
What did that say about Clark? That he was certifiably insane or simply too naïve to recognize good fortune when it crossed his path. Too stubborn to accept it.
Maybe they both had that last one in common.
Clark made him weak. Clark had always made him weak. Clark lied to him and destroyed his things, shattered his calm, infringed on his territory and was the key to every question Lex had ever had since the first time he’d stepped foot into Smallville. Who smelled like home and cared nothing for boundaries and carefully erected armor and just made him lightheaded from want.
Who made him smile. Ridiculously and without agenda and he couldn’t remember who else had made him do that since – – well since ever.
Clark made him – – crazy. Clark made him question himself. Clark made him want to wage war and offer surrender all at the same time and Lex never surrendered. He never ran. And yet, it felt like he’d been running from something these last weeks.
He considered pouring a scotch, but he’d had his fair share of Cristal that evening at the after Event event, and mixing and matching his alcohols was a sure path to more than the very slight buzz he was already sporting. He had been trying to avoid that particular crutch. If he’d been smart, he’d have invited the very lovely redhead that had flirted with him most of the evening, home. She would have been a better diversion than scotch. With her on her knees between his legs, his mind wouldn’t have strayed to Clark. He was almost certain.
Only chances were she’d have expected to stay the night, and the idea of waking up with her in his bed had not appealed. He was off his game in a big way when everything but the efficient application of oral sex lost its allure.
If he were feeling particularly nasty, he might blame that on Clark, too.
He sat down on the cool leather of a couch, and stared at the clean, cold face of a hearth he’d never had to light to chase the grasp of winter from the apartment. Between him and it were the glass topped coffee table and the emptied contents of his jacket pocket. Wallet. Keys. Phone.
He stared for a moment, remembering Chloe asking if he were afraid. An offensive question. But, and it was a grudging admission, perhaps he was, but not of the things she assumed.
He picked up the cell, thumb ghosting across the sleek surface. He hadn’t listened that message – – that plea from Clark – – since the day he’d first gotten it. But he hadn’t erased it either. He hadn’t analyzed that irrational need to cling to the recorded tones of a voice, when he’d decided to break ties with the source of it. And Lex analyzed everything. He picked things to pieces to try and worm out all the hidden meanings and yet he shied from this.
He pushed to his feet, annoyed, restless and paced to the doors leading out to a balcony that wrapped around the corner of the building. The Medoc was a conglomeration of vintage architecture and modern luxury. The balcony rail was gothic, wind kissed stone with tile inlay. It was like ice against his naked palms.
He leaned there, looking out upon Metropolis lights and dug up a few self-truths. He hadn’t erased the message because, like his often father accused, he was too sentimental to give up all connection with something that he’d allowed to matter to him. He hadn’t listened to it because hearing Clark’s voice would shatter his resolve.
The resolve in question centered around – – what?
Insurmountable indignation that Clark had given Lionel something he hadn’t given Lex – – trust.
The perfectly reasonable desire to protect himself from yet one more person he’d left himself open to, when he had a fantastically crappy track record for affairs of the heart.
The genetic inability to admit that maybe – -just maybe he’d been a little too quick in refusing to hear Clark’s attempt at explanation.
If he threw the phone out over the balcony, it would solve the nagging little impulse to dial Clark’s number. But then again, the plummeting cell would probably nail some unfortunate pedestrian in the head and all Lex needed was more bad press.
He scowled at the phone and punched in the number. It rang, four, five, six times and he almost breathed a sigh of relief. It was late and Clark was either keeping farmer’s hours or hadn’t charged his phone. Either way, Lex was off the hook and he could deal with this another day when he had the time to plan out strategies.
His plans were dashed with the answering of a phone. He shut his eyes and experienced the uncomfortable sensation of his heart trying to worm its way up his throat. And then the more startling one of his mind going blank. It wasn’t often Lex found himself in a situation where words failed him, but coming up with a simple telephone salutation seemed suddenly beyond him.
Hanging up and pretending he’d never had this moment of weakness was an attractive notion.
He stood there a moment longer, hating the indecision, then ended the call. He pressed the silent phone to his forehead and sucked in a lung full of cold, city air, wondering where the hell his spine had disappeared.
It occurred to him, that he was fucked. Well and truly. And he wasn’t even certain when exactly he’d lay down and spread his legs.
There was a gust of cold wind strong enough to make the glass in the doors rattle a little and the sudden sense of not being quite so alone as he’d been a heartbeat before.
Lex blinked, frozen and stared at the looming specter of inevitability. Clark was just there.
White T-shirt, faded jeans, bare feet. God, bare feet. Lex couldn’t think, mind aswirl in the contemplation of how he’d gotten there – – the speed it must have taken. How he’d managed the thirty stories up to a penthouse balcony? How his eyes could shine quite so brilliantly, like fevered specks of emerald, when the moon was half hidden behind stringy clouds, when the congestion of the city ate up the view of the stars.
“That’s not how you use that.” Clark said gravely, gaze flicking to the phone still pressed to Lex’s brow.
Lex jerked his hand away, fingers tight around the cell. Clark was large and frowning and three feet away was too close and too far. He smelled like dried grasses and leather and masculine musk. The scent went through Lex like some sort of pheromone. Skin tingling, cock expressing its interest despite clamoring disapproval from his head. It was damned annoying.
Clark kept staring at him. He looked very much like Lex felt. Tense and less than pleased.
“How did you know – – ? It’s an unlisted number.” If he could just get a few specifics, he could regain his balance.
Clark shrugged, a flicker of embarrassment making his eyes shift. “Your heartbeat – – I know the sound of your heartbeat.”
And wasn’t that entirely disturbing? And just a little bit thrilling?
“So you ran right over on the off chance it wasn’t a misdial? Tracked me down – – why exactly?” Lex laid the phone on the patio table and straightened his cuff, damned and determined to get his poise back.
Clark’s stare didn’t waver at the coolness of Lex’s tone. There was no flinch of uncertainty. It was like the boy who hadn’t known what he had wanted had been devoured by a man who was tired of games. It was vaguely intimidating and not entirely unappealing.
“You called me, Lex.”
Lex lifted his chin, fixing Clark with a cold glare. He needed the reins of control back, even though his body wanted to betray him. He moved past Clark, to the patio rail.
“It was a bad decision. Hence the disconnect. It wasn’t an open door invita- -”
“Shut up.” Clark was right there, so close, so quick that Lex took an involuntary step backwards, back against the railing. Clark followed, close enough that if Lex breathed too deeply, he’d feel the evidence of an awkward arousal.
“Do you trust me, Lex? Do you trust me with your life?” Clark braced his hands upon the stone on either side of Lex. From this angle, with the shadow of his hair and the thickness of his lashes, it was hard to see into Clark’s eyes and Lex needed to see what lurked there, the hint to this strange, intent temper that had swept over him.
He didn’t grip the stone ledge behind him, just leaned there with his hip against it, trapped between Clark’s arms. If Clark wanted him dead, there was no stopping it – – if Clark wanted him dead, he’d have been in the grave years ago, the victim of happenstance or any number of unfortunate encounters with people with grudges to settle or psychoses to vent.
“Yes.” He said softly and realized that was the starkest truth he’d told in years. With his life, his trust in Clark was absolute – – but there were other things he wasn’t so sure of. Other trusts that were devastating when broken.
“Can I trust you with mine?” Clark asked solemnly.
Lex almost laughed. That was the question wasn’t it? The crux of all the lies. The thing that had driven the wedge between them time and again. Once upon a time he could have given the right answer immediately. Now prudence dictated he think about it – – weigh options and advantages and inherent dangers, when all the time, beneath the surface of that practical caution, the truth lurked, relentless as the tide.
“Yes.” It was amazing his voice didn’t quiver. It was amazing that his knees didn’t buckle, because it felt like the admission had taken most of his strength with it when it left his lips.
Clark took a breath, dipped his head, so that all Lex saw was a crown of soft, dark hair. The ghost of a tremor seemed to pass across his shoulders. He lifted his head, and the gemstone hardness had faded from his eyes, replaced by the softer glimmer of hope.
“Okay then. Can we fix this now, please?”