Lionel Luthor looked down at the file on his desk. Pictures. Transcribed interviews. Illegally-obtained court records. Even some records from the LuthorCorp files themselves. Such trivial things, to carry such weight. Like all the insignificant-sounding names which history had laden with dreadful freight. Pompeii. Bhopal. Chernobyl.
Smallville. Who would have guessed?
One person in particular certainly hadn't. Lionel touched a picture in which a young man figured prominently. Smiling sunnily, the way Lionel hadn't seen him do in years, lounging contented next to destruction and doom.
To think he'd sent Lex to Smallville in part to get him away from his unsuitable friends. Lex did have an instinct.
Lionel would not have been himself if he did not note with dry satisfaction this further proof of the validity of his concerns, but the pleasure was muted. He could sense it--that this was the weakness that might finally bring his empire crashing down into the dust. The unsuitable heir caught in the maw of history. Commodus or Heliogabulus. He wanted to yank Lex out of the picture by sheer force, to undo what was already being written. That, however, was impossible. The only thing to be done was to ensure that he wrote the rest of the story himself.
He frowned across his desk at his security chief. "This is the entire file? There are no copies?"
"No, sir," Brian said. "As you instructed."
"And you've communicated this to no one? Not even in the company?"
"No, sir. I've kept it completely confidential."
"Excellent. Thank you, Brian. I appreciate the work you've done here."
He could see Brian swallow, fighting not to articulate the conclusions that he had--that anyone could--derive from his investigations. It wasn't, however, Brian's place to make policy judgments; his knowledge of that fact was one of the most important qualities that had allowed him to keep his job for ten years. "Thank you, sir."
"I'm sure you have other work to do."
"Yes, sir." Brian rose and left.
After he was gone, Lionel tapped thoughtfully on his desk. Then he picked up the phone, dialing for the special line. "Loevinger."
"Brian McNeil. A clean job."
Lionel hung up the phone and began packing the file away. He'd think about hiring a new security chief after this was all over. Right now, other matters were far more important.
Lex eased up on the accelerator as he hit Metropolis city traffic. He'd be on time, for once. Not that he would miss the dinner itself for anything, but he'd made a habit of being late or stoned for every single cocktail party at the mansion since he was seventeen.
Not today, though. He knew that Lionel's invitation for drinks before their annual National SIDS Society fundraising dinner was a measure of his approval lately, and much as he'd like to trifle with that, it had its uses. To say nothing of its novelty value.
He wondered why they were meeting at the mansion instead of the penthouse, which was closer to the hotel where the dinner was taking place. It probably meant that Lionel wanted to talk to him again about getting married while he had a captive audience. Not only would Lex never walk out on this particular charity, but he'd agreed to spend the night in Metropolis so they could go over some figures. "I trust you won't drug my Scotch, Lex," Lionel had chuckled over the phone, rich and warm, and he'd said he'd stay before he'd really thought about it.
When Lex arrived at the mansion, he headed straight upstairs to change. He was surprised, then annoyed, when he came into the drawing room afterwards to find only his father there. If they were going to be held up waiting for the latest arm-candy...
"Lex," Lionel boomed at him across the room. "Good evening. Have a drink."
"Where's..." He calculated the pause carefully. "Cynthia?"
Lionel didn't even seem to notice the jab. "Well, this is really a family event, Lex," he said, handing him a martini. "I didn't think she'd appreciate the significance of the evening."
"You're not bringing a guest, either?"
"As you know, Dad, the Social Register is just a little underrepresented in Smallville." He was not going to think about Clark. Not here, not now. There were far too many ways in which that wasn't safe.
"Perhaps that's why you're doing so well there. Fewer distractions."
Lex opened his mouth to say that he'd never really demanded that someone be in the Register before he let them distract him, but his eye fell on a photograph on the table. "Is that--?"
"For this year's program." Lionel picked it up carefully and handed it to Lex.
It was a family portrait. Of all the Luthors. All four. Mom was holding Julian, and Dad had his hands on Lex's shoulders. Lex blinked at the image. If it weren't for the physical evidence, he'd tend to believe that that time had only been a dream, a fantasy he'd made up for himself to ease the loneliness a little as a child. Had his father ever really touched him like that? Had he ever soaked in that approval, that sense of belonging, like parched earth in a rainstorm?
"I often wonder," Lionel said gravely, "what it would've been like if he'd lived."
"I'm sure it would have made things easier for you."
"Quite the contrary. I would have had to find another world for him to conquer."
Lex set the photo down. Was this some new test, his father trying to see if Smallville had turned him maudlin? He downed his martini and held out the glass for another before answering. "He could have had mine."
"Don't be foolish, Lex. You were born for this. You know you were."
"That's not what you thought when you exiled me to the crap factory."
"You weren't living up to your promise then. But I always knew you had the potential."
Lex snorted. "Thanks, Dad. How is Dominic?"
"Claustrophobic," Lionel answered. "I had to give him a raise."
"That's too bad," Lex said with exaggerated sincerity.
"It'll be coming out of the profits from your plant."
"At least there are profits for it to come out of."
Lionel grinned wolfishly. "True." He reached out and, before Lex had time to react, patted him on the shoulder. "Let's go. Your mother would never forgive us for being late."
Lex swallowed. The place where his father had touched him ached with warmth. "Right."
Lex had been to many LuthorCorp social functions since he'd joined the company, and it was usually only his deep inner reserves of irony that got him through them--that and the vivid image of the Scotch waiting for him when he got home. This, however, was not an event he'd ever been able to be ironic about, even at the height of his adolescent rebellion.
That was why he was so pleased that his father had let him be one of the official sponsors this year. Why he mingled beforehand in the ballroom and suffered fools with something approaching enthusiasm. Why he was so determined that everything should go smoothly. It was going smoothly, too--there weren't many problems that could resist the combined forces of himself and his father--until Peter Sinclair appeared.
His heart stuttered when he saw Peter across the room. He was almost unrecognizable. He was gaunt, his blond hair gone stringy, and his greasy tux fit the dress code only under the most generous interpretation. If Lex had told anyone that just four years earlier, Peter had been one of the most beautiful young men in the city, they wouldn't have believed him.
Peter had never written from the remote New England college his parents had packed him off to once Lionel had told them about the affair, but Lex had always chalked that up to understandable anger, fear, and maybe even good taste. It would have been more than awkward to try to stay together, and Peter--they'd liked each other. Peter wouldn't have wanted to push it. Evidently, however, there had been other reasons.
And now, there he was. His eyes met Lex's across the crowd; full of horrified fascination, he couldn't look away. After a minute, Peter smiled weakly and jerked his head towards the men's restroom. Lex gulped down his drink and then headed in that direction.
Peter was leaning against the wall when he came in. The air smelled, incongruously, of Pez. "Peter," he said, automatically scanning to make sure no one else was in the room before moving to touch his shoulder. "God, it's been forever."
"Lex." He shivered, that faint grin still plastered on his face. "Yeah."
"What are you doing here?"
"Well, I'm on a leave of absence from school. My parents thought I should be making the social rounds, so..." He shrugged.
Lex remembered the Sinclairs--smiling and patient and infinitely hard. They made Lionel seem positively supple. He'd seen them at other society events in Metropolis, and their hate for him had radiated so clearly from behind their friendly masks. It would irritate them if he and Peter were seen talking together, but his dad didn't care for them, either, so that wasn't exactly a deterrent. "I'm glad you're here. We can catch up on old times."
"Great. But, speaking of old times..."
"What've you got on you?"
Lex felt his stomach sink, and he automatically took a step back. "On me?"
"Oh. Nothing tonight, Peter." Which was the truth, though he was already wishing it wasn't.
"Oh," Peter echoed, and looked down for a minute before meeting his eyes again, smile even brighter. "Well, what can you get?"
Lex gave a hollow chuckle. "What, you want me to just order something in for you?"
"Why not? My parents are watching me like hawks. I need to get well, Lex." He clutched at Lex's lapel. "And it's not like you have a problem scoring."
God, who even talked like that anymore? Lex's mouth tightened. "Look, just--" He slid a hand over Peter's upper arm. This was one of the things that Clark definitely wouldn't understand, but he didn't have to know. "Just relax. We can--"
Peter smelled of sour sweat. Lex could feel his muscles stiffening up as he moved closer. When Peter shoved him away violently, all he felt was relieved.
"That's not going to do it, Lex. Just get me some stuff, okay?"
Peter's demanding gaze was like a weight dragging him down into filthy water. "Jesus, Peter," Lex said, "this is my mother's charity dinner. You're not going to get high and go out and make an asshole of yourself."
Peter's eyes narrowed. "Fuck you, Lex. Since when do you worry about the goddamn family name?"
There was a long silence. Lex thought of charming, lazy, warm Peter, who'd always draped himself over any handy surface and grinned up at him from under long lashes. "I care now, Peter," he finally said. "I'm not going to do this."
Peter grimaced scornfully, making lines in his face that had never used to be there. "Wow, your dad got to you even more than he got to me. Look at you. Plant president, host of social functions, probably with some WASPy bitch of a girlfriend--"
Lex said icily, "You don't know what you're talking about. And if you misbehave in any way tonight? My father won't have to deal with you. I will. Personally."
Peter started to say something else, but Lex had already turned on his heel and marched out. He barely got to his seat in time for his father's predinner speech. Only the final paragraph registered on him: "I'm pleased that this year, my son, Lex, has been able to join me in sponsoring this dinner. We miss his brother very much. I can only hope that when he becomes a father, he never has to experience the heartache I did. Stand up, Lex."
He rose briefly, automatically, not even taking in the polite applause. As they both sat, Lionel leaned over and murmured, "Everything all right, Lex?"
Sure, Dad. Just another visit from the Furies. He nodded and took another drink to hide the moisture in his eyes.
After the dinner was over, they went back to the house. Lex followed Lionel into his study. Lionel took the good Scotch down. "Care for a nightcap, son?"
He knew better than to drink too much around his father, unless it was on purpose, but he accepted it. "Thanks."
"That went well, I think." Lionel sat down, waving Lex to a chair as well. He regarded the liquid in the heavy crystal before speaking again. "Your mother would have been so proud to see you there tonight. She'd be pleased in general with how well you've been doing this year."
"Well, she always did want to see the best in me."
Lionel smiled. "Don't sell yourself short, Lex. Tonight went very smoothly. I admit, I was a little concerned when I saw that the Sinclairs had brought Peter, but whatever you said to him seems to have settled him down."
"I've gotten to be an expert at shutting up people from my past," Lex said and downed the Scotch in one swallow, closing his eyes against the burn. Peter had liked to have a good time, but certainly no more than he had. "How did you know?"
Lionel raised an eyebrow. "Know what?"
"That Peter was going to turn out like that. I used to think you chased him off because you couldn't stand to see your only son sleeping with another man, but..."
"I didn't interfere with your little affairs at Princeton?"
"Yes. So it wasn't just the profligate homosexual debauchery."
He smiled tolerantly, waved it away. "Hardly. Weakness has a scent, Lex. I can smell it a mile away."
"Is that why you were always sending me away?"
"Ah, Lex. Must every conversation we have be an occasion for stychomythia?" He lowered his voice. "Your mother always hated it when we fought."
Which was true, damnit, but--"I never thought you'd noticed that." He was surprised at how husky his own voice was.
"Of course I noticed. I loved your mother more than anyone except you and your brother. I noticed everything about her."
Lex wasn't sure what he was defending himself from, but he was scrabbling. "It doesn't seem to have stopped you."
Lionel raised his eyebrows. "Well, it hasn't stopped you, either. We're very much alike, you and I, Lex. She would have been scolding us both continuously for the past eight years."
"Maybe." It was harder to visualize than the strangest fairy tale, his mother's still being there with them.
"And if I didn't think you were strong," Lionel turned his chair, "I would never tell you what I'm about to tell you. I want you to remember that, later. It's very important. I could have done this other ways."
Lionel reached into his desk and removed a folder. "I want you to look at this, but I want you to promise me you'll read it all the way through before you react."
Lex's pulse was a little faster as he took the thick file into his hands. What could it be? Evidence of his embezzlement? A report on the particle accelerator? Or maybe, maybe, finally, he'd earned the file on the experiments LuthorCorp had conducted on Level Three?
No. Lex's hopes sank as quickly as they had risen. Roger Nixon hadn't wasted any time looking for a new patron, apparently. Lex flipped carelessly through the reports Nixon's experts had provided.
"You don't seem to be studying those very carefully."
"I'm already familiar with them." Casual, calm. If this was all his father had, it wasn't much. He wouldn't be startled into betraying anything else.
The next items, however, were new to him. Telephoto pictures of Clark doing...things. Lifting up his father's truck with one hand while eating an apple with the other. Handing an injured cow over a fence. Pushing a beam into place in the barn. Then stills of the Metropolis Museum of Art security tape, with timecodes in the upper corner showing Clark covering yards in fractions of a second.
Meteor streaking through the sky. Coming right at him, and he had time to run, time to scream, but no real chance to escape. "I--you fabricated all this."
"Lex," Lionel said patiently. "If I simply wanted to separate you from this Clark, don't you think I would've chosen a less...outlandish...story?"
Logic as remorseless as gravity. "So, he's another Smallville mutant. I'm a Smallville mutant. Birds of a feather flock together--"
"You said you would read the whole file, Lex."
Lex swallowed hard and turned the page, hoping that there would be something--anything--to explain all this. That there would be a twist, a joke, anything to explain it all away. Just another of his father's odd tests, and he would have been happy to have failed this one. But what he found were adoption records for an abandoned child, no parents ever found, not even speaking English. And other photos, photos that sent the tidal wave of shock crashing over him.
A spaceship in a root cellar. If the sight hadn't annihilated his heart, he would have laughed. The Kents and their Midwestern alien-harboring folksiness. Of course. Where else would they put it?
"So, you're arguing...what?" He couldn't look up, couldn't look away from the image of the pod next to the sacks of potatoes.
"Lex." There was a slight impatience in his father's voice now. "You're a scientist. You need to think like one."
"I don't--" His voice was breaking. "I won't. Not about Clark."
"You have to. You know perfectly well what this means. He's an alien. They found him right after the meteor shower."
Of course he knew. Doe eyes and fumbled kisses and, God, he'd thought Clark was the innocent one.
"I believe you, Lex." "I trust you, Lex." "I...love you, Lex."
The syllable ricocheted through his head, producing an unending monotone stream of sound to accompany the stream of images. Clark smiling at him. Clark pulling him up from his doom. Clark touching him with what had seemed like such raw joy on his face.
None of it had been real. Clark Kent hadn't been real. Amazing, that he could be a fucking alien and still be exactly like everyone else Lex had ever known. He'd apologized--Clark, or whatever his name really was, had made him practically fucking crawl in that hospital corridor--
No wonder Jonathan had treated him with such contempt. He thought Lex was stupid. He'd been snickering behind his hand at the big-city kid who thought he knew it all.
And Martha--that must have been pity, all along.
Lex thought of the beautiful Smallville he'd seen when he was dead, clean and fresh and honest green spreading out beneath him for miles of gentleness. In fact, the green was rank and choked with poison rained from the skies. He could see the blight spreading in his mind, racing through the fields. Plumes of dust and ashes, and the sky going cold and grey above them. Blank.
He'd flaunted it in his father's face. Friends, people he could trust. He'd been so damn proud of himself and his one friend. His one sixteen-year-old alien friend. Had his father known then? Known and, oh God, savored the ultimate opportunity to make a fool of him? To reduce him to nothing with a few sheets of paper?
Lex looked up, and if there had been the slightest triumph or mockery on Lionel's face, he would have killed him with his bare hands, just to not have to bear it.
Lionel, however, was regarding him with nothing but seriousness.
"You see the problem, Lex. How are we going to deal with it?"
Lex felt such a wave of gratitude at being let off so easily that the file nearly fell from his nerveless fingers. He didn't know what he had done to merit the absolution, the grace his father was offering him. If there was a lie here, a trap, he couldn't see it, was afraid to try. Still, it felt like he was fighting to come up from water to speak, with only his father's eyes to help pull him up. "He'll come here, if I ask him. The meteorite affects him somehow--makes him sick, I think."
Lionel nodded. "And then?"
And then--Lex surfaced in the drawing room, staring into Clark's dazed eyes as the men restrained him. "How could you do this, Lex?" he cried.
"How could I do this?" Lex smiled coldly. "That's funny, Clark."
"God, I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I was just afraid--"
"And you were right to be. I'm a Luthor. My father's son."
"You never believed that," Clark said desperately.
"I never believed anything else." Lex looked at the men. "Get him out of here."
After they were gone, Lex poured himself a drink. Then another. Then another. His hands were perfectly steady the whole time. Then he went up to his father's study and knocked on the door.
"It's done," he announced when Lionel let him in. Lionel had waited there. Trusted. His father had trusted him.
"Excellent, Lex. Well done."
Then he was on the floor, retching, and Lionel was around him, all around him, as he shivered and shook and sweated. "I want to go home," Lex whispered. He immediately realized what he'd said and braced for the reprimand, but Lionel didn't pull away.
"Let's get you upstairs, Lex."
So many weaknesses he was being forgiven. He didn't know how he would ever pay.
Lionel Luthor sat by his son's bedside at 2 a.m. and contemplated his victory.
This night was the kind of the night that made empires, and perhaps not even metaphorical ones. The danger had been averted, and what had happened in this house would change the course of history. He had no doubt of it.
He had secured not merely a power base for his empire, but its future as well. It had been touch and go with Lex for so many years, but in the end, blood and training had told. He'd performed admirably. More than admirably. Magnificently. Once he'd accepted the facts, he had lied to and manipulated his friend without a flicker or a qualm. He would, indeed, make a fine heir one day.
The smell of alcohol was powerful in the room. Lex had flung himself down on the bed with the carelessness of extreme drunkenness and utter desolation. His hip jutted up where he'd landed on a pillow; he obviously hadn't even cared enough to shove the pillow off the bed.
Lionel had seen Lex in any number of undignified positions--drunk, badly beaten in a holding cell, sprawled unconscious on the stoop of the Metropolis--but this was different. This was no burst of self-indulgence, nor the funk that Lex regularly fell into when bested.
This, this collapse... There was nothing theatrical about it, nothing calculated for effect. He had turned his face away from the door, a hand unconsciously protecting his eyes, like a prisoner flung into a deep dungeon who hoped for nothing from his captors but to be forgotten. Lex must have actually cared for the boy. The alien. Ah, Lex and his forever-surprising capacity for emotion when you'd least expect it. In love.
Lionel rose and crossed to the windows. He looked out at the Metropolis lights. Lex would inherit the city, the country--perhaps the world. Perhaps even more, he mused, curling his fingers around the windowframe. Perhaps even more. It was a small price to pay, surely, a love for a dangerous being who might well destroy them all, a love built on lies and betrayal and manipulation. Not a love worthy of a Luthor.
There was a faint cough from the bed. Lionel turned around quickly, but Lex's eyes were still closed. That was, surprisingly, something of a relief. There had been something glassy in Lex's eyes that evening as they'd planned that had troubled him.
Better that he sleep, eyes puffy and swollen from tears, jaw slack, body abandoned as if he didn't care whether his consciousness ever returned to it--
Lionel closed the door quietly on his victory, on the future, and went for a drink of his own.
"solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant" --Tacitus, Agricola