Clark left almost immediately, before Lex could even find an excuse to keep him. Unfortunate that he hadn't taken the opportunity during the silent ride to think of something--anything--to make the boy--
Keep him. Hmm. What a nice thought.
The office he'd used was dusty--he'd need to speak to the help about that--but the feeling was more than simple familiarity after a long absence, the newness of something old and almost forgotten. Leaning into the wood, Lex frowned, trying to trace the sudden onslaught of--fuck it, *something*--that wouldn't quite stop tracing the edges of his mind, telling him things in a whisper he couldn't quite hear.
Shaking his head, Lex found his phone in his coat pocket and flicked it on. Dominik was speed-dial four.
"Sir?" Not for the first time, Lex wondered if Dominik ever actually *left* his phone unattended--always picked up on the very first ring. There was an uncomfortable suspicion that it accompanied him to the bathroom, and Lex lived in a sort of curious fear of ever actually confirming that, via telephone.
"I need information, and I need it within the next hour. Clark Kent. Cross reference with Smallville." Lex paused, pulling up the memory far more easily than he'd expected. "License plate is possibly 9K9-9OL. The faster it's here, the faster you get your bonus."
Lex hung up and looked around the drafty castle. No ghosts greyed the corners of his vision and the smells were only of age, but Lex found himself leaning into the desk, flickers of something like memory dancing on the edges of his mind. Unable to quite catch them, the way his eyes wanted to settle on the couch, the chair, and expecting something wholly different than emptiness.
Shit. Pushing himself off the desk, Lex went looking for something to eat.
* * * * *
Clark didn't know whether to sit down or simply start flying--fast and far and long and just *away* until memory was the only thing that could ever link him to Smallville again.
It was like--dear God, like a bad movie, or a worse cliche, or maybe just fate fucking around with him just that little bit more.
Lex in the mud and that bright smile with no edges. A look he hadn't seen in *years*, that slid through his dreams far too often. Like twenty-one and they'd just met, kneeling with dirt covering their knees and backs, a wrecked car in the water, and only Clark's speed had saved Lex this time before he hit the water with a force that would have snapped his neck.
The feel and taste of a memory made vivid reality, and no one with even the slightest trace of sense would ever believe this was even *possible*.
It seemed Clark Kent still remained in the body of Superman in more than mere memory. Lois always had been just a little too right.
Everything he'd feared was there, all in bright hot color with the sun beating down on them. All that presence and brilliance, and that mind that shone no matter who he was or where. Beautiful and deadly and fully fulfilling the potential Clark had barely sensed in the twenty-one year old boy. Time had only added to it, twisted it dark but never anything less than blinding.
Lex could destroy the world, but he'd never lack worship.
"Clark? Are you all right?"
Lana was in the doorway, the dying sun shining around her. Beautiful and warm and moving toward him, reaching out with one brown hand to touch him, and he flinched, no way to stop it, to pretend it was anything but exactly what it was.
"Fine," he ground out, elbows pressed into the cool surface of the kitchen table. He heard rather than saw her sit next to him, and he looked up, studying the changes that twenty years could make--somehow, today, he was fifteen again and looking at the first girl he'd ever loved. The few fine lines disappearing, edges of grey in smooth dark hair gone between one breath and the next, and they could have been kids sitting in his parent's kitchen.
Beautiful enough to stop his heart.
Lex was twenty-one in the castle down the road, and if he closed his eyes, just right now, just for this moment, he'd hear his parents in the house. His father's voice. His mother's laugh. Chloe's groans over the paper and Pete's over late math homework, and Clark's fingers burrowed into the wood at the ghosts that slipped through his mind, lingering in places that hurt to think about.
--"Son, are you--are you trying to tell us you're gay?"--
--"No--not exactly, Dad."--
He could *feel* it.
"Clark--" Little pause, and her hands slid flat on the table. Brilliant dark eyes, beautiful still, grown into herself more than anyone he'd ever known. Comfortable in her own skin, finally. "Something happened on the bridge--"
Clark choked out something that couldn't possibly be a laugh, and her eyes widened on him, taking in the damp hair from his fast shower, the too-small clothes left in his room from so damn long ago. For a moment, their eyes met, and he saw every question she wanted to ask, before they were gone.
Lana didn't need to push. She could do more with a look than most people could with a thousand words.
"Lex is back?"
Clark felt his eyes drop and knew he'd answered without a word being spoken.
"God," she murmured, and there was real sorrow in her voice. "Clark. He--you don't think--"
"No," Clark ground out, carefully, trying to remember what he'd told her. Erasing hard evidence had been so easy--it was the people he'd had problems with. Truth was so subjective, though--that's what had kept him sane, kept everything in it's compartments in his mind. "That--the accident a few years back--he doesn't remember. A lot of things."
Lana nodded slowly, and he knew she wanted to offer some kind of comfort. And God, did he wish he could take it.
"You--you haven't seen him, have you?" Clark asked, and Lana shook her head slowly, eyes never leaving him.
"Not since he went back to Metropolis to take over LexCorp. Why?"
"LuthorCorp then," Clark corrected absently. LexCorp. Ten times the company, fifty times as diversified, and Clark remembered the shady deals, the slashing and burning of those first months when Lex started putting his years of planning into action--there was little Lex had been able to hide from him back then. Less he'd wanted to, really. They'd both paid for that honesty, and Clark wondered, just a little, if he'd asked Lex to lie to him--just, God, lie better, lie harder, do that magical thing where the lie is almost as good as the truth. Lex was past master of it.
If he'd asked Lex to lie, to conceal, to cut himself apart just a little more, so Clark could have pretended just a little longer....
Of course, Lex would never have been elected president with Clark as his lover. That was one of the many, many ironies that sometimes kept Clark up at night, staring into the ceiling before the uniform was pulled out again, slicking over him like a second skin, getting the space back he needed so desperately. There were a lot of things that Lex never would have done if Clark had been there to stop him, slow him, talk him down.
Or perhaps not. He'd never underestimated the single-minded drive that lived beneath Lex's skin. Most people did. And some had died for it.
"Yes," Lana said, and Clark realized he'd forgotten her. Blinking back to the present, he took in her thoughtful look. "LuthorCorp then." She paused, head tilting, licking her lips with that look of concentration that always meant she was putting something together. He wondered what it was. "What?"
"You remember--" Clark stopped, wondering how to put it. Description was impossible--Lex was one of those things that had to be experienced to really be believed. "He's--different."
"I know." Television, radio, the LexCorp logo everywhere you looked, and Clark shut his eyes again. "I--know it hurt you. I'm sorry, Clark. I know how--close--you were."
The fact was, Lana really didn't. Pete had the vaguest idea that they'd never discussed, Chloe had some hints, but only Clark's parents had known almost everything. Clark had thought, back then, that he must have always known it would come to walking out like that, knowing that under no other circumstances would Lex let him go.
That drive, that clean, simple, utterly terrifying focus that never counted the cost when the goal was set--he knew Lex. Inside and out, up and down, in every way that mattered and a lot of ways that didn't. No, Lex was Lex was Lex--he'd never been able to give up what was his.
And Clark, no matter how much he'd become Superman, had never been able to give up the memories. They kept Lex alive for twelve difficult years, more often than Clark's conscience could easily deal with.
"Clark, do you want to talk about it?" Lana was watching him--reminded him of Chloe, in a way, and the memories of Chloe helped, the only personal death Clark had ever been able to lay at Lex's feet, the thing that had kept him from breaking in the end. Wrapping his fingers around hers, he wondered how much she'd guessed--Chloe might have been the pit bull, but Lana was something else entirely. He'd often had the uncomfortable suspicion that she chose not to see, rather than see too much.
The soft fingers patted his hand gently.
"It'll get easier. He won't--he won't stay long, Clark. He hates Smallville."
Clark let his mouth twist in a slow, uncomfortable smile and tightened his grip.
"Yeah," he answered, staring into the table. Maybe this was what insanity felt like, how it began. With this. "I know."
There was a little knock on the kitchen door, and Clark jerked, pulling from Lana and finding his feet in a lunge that would have sent him stumbling if he hadn't grabbed the back of the chair. The figure on the other side of the screen door was unfamiliar, and Clark was tempted--God, so much--just to turn and *run*. He couldn't do this. He couldn't face this. No one could expect that from him. No one.
"Mr. Kent?" Slightly cultured traces of a Metropolitan accent, and Clark was vaguely aware that Lana had gotten to her feet, shooting him a confused look, before slowly approaching the door. Swinging it open, Clark watched her head tilt and her hand extend, before she turned around and--whoever--disappeared again.
"A truck?" he asked, and Lana frowned in confusion. Clark didn't laugh, but only because he wasn't sure if he could balance on his own two feet right now and do it, and God, God, God--
"No." And fully turned around, he saw the edges of a creamy envelope, heavy paper. Gently, she dropped it on the table and then reached out, brushing the tips of her fingers along his jaw.
He didn't flinch this time.
"I'll see you at dinner, okay? Pete's making barbecued ribs and Moira wants to try her hand at potato salad."
And with another gentle smile, she turned away, picking up her purse from the floor and disappearing in a haze of flower print cotton and memory.
Slowly, Clark picked it up and the contents fell out onto the table. The paper was a loose fold that opened on the lightest touch, and the handwriting was one he'd recognize anywhere.
Jesus, not a truck, not this time. Just dinner in the castle.
Dropping into the chair, Clark tried to remember how to breathe.
"Do you need anything else, Mr. Luthor?"
The smart thing to do would have been to bring his bodyguards, but Ms. Smith (and wasn't that just a name that made you think Witness Protection Program?) was the only one who'd been aware of his little jaunt out of real life. He hadn't asked her to come--rather, she'd materialized in the kitchen while he was trying to decide how serious an expiration date should be taken and gently pushed him aside to begin cataloguing the current stores.
There was no way in hell that his profile he was going to stay low for long in Smallville, but Lex had thought he'd only need a few days. Just to--do whatever it was that impulse said he should, and he still wasn't clear on the whys and hows of that one.
Well, that had changed. It just wasn't every day that he ran into--or was ran into--by a specimen of Smallville like *that*. Well, Dominik needed to start earning his keep anyway.
"I'm fine," Lex answered as he sorted through dusty bottles from the wine cellar he'd brought up. How much had he left here anyway? And *why*? These were good vintages. "Go--do whatever it is you do."
"Yes, sir." Placidly and without drama, Ms Smith disappeared and Lex looked up to study the place she'd been standing. He'd almost swear she'd never been there at all, in which case the entirety of this surreal damned day could be chalked up to the fact he was actually in a coma in a hospital after that bridge incident.
Maybe he should stop thinking about this so hard.
So. Bottle opener. Lex squinted and rearranged the bottles as he tried to remember where they were kept. Left drawer no, right drawer, silverware, this drawer potholders, that one paper.
Lex lifted out a stack of what looked like handwritten reciepts and blew the very light layer of dust off the top before checking below it. More reciepts. Kitchen stuff. Other things. Hmmm. Idle curiosity, he flipped through, coming to a yellow slip with an unmistakable name scrawled at the bottom.
Lex found a stool by dint of hitting it with his foot when he took a step backward, not at al loathe to sit down. Pulling it up, he perched on the edge and sorted the myriad papers into neat piles. Potter flowers, Lang something or other, some Fordman store in Smallville proper--yes, remembered *all* that. But the stack of yellow was taller and dated biweekly and Lex checked every one.
And the strangest thoughts flickered through his mind--why on earth had he needed that much organic produce? Reciept after recipt after reciept lined up neat and dated and his signature just below on every one, paid in flat cash and right *up* to the day he'd left Smallville.
Pushing the others back in the drawer, Lex picked up one of the bottles and stuffed the yellow reciepts in his coat pocket.
Lex glanced up.
"You delivered it?"
The man hesitated, then nodded, and Lex narrowed his eyes, putting the bottle down.
"A--woman answered the door, sir." The man hesitated, and Lex counted off to ten before beginning to consider homicide. "A Lana Ross, sir."
Lex blinked, flickered through what Dominik had sent him, then nodded slowly.
"He did get it?"
"Good." Lex thought for a few minutes, then picked the bottle back up. "Go back to Metropolis. I'll call if I need you."