Thanks to isilya, girlinthetrilby, tstar78, and devinmoonshine, who thought I wasn't insane. And indulge me when I get moody.
His hand aches.
Pain spreads like the fine lines of a spiderweb over every inch of flesh, invisible to the naked eye. Sometimes at night, Lex traces his skin with a fingernail, outlining the web in the red of abraded skin. It's been creeping up his arm more every day, a slowly tightening lattice, and today, the strong pulse came to rest at his elbow.
He thinks he knows what that means.
Seated on sand heated from a long California day, Lex contemplates bare feet and the Pacific Ocean.
"Have you decided?"
Few people have unrestricted access to Lex--even fewer could manage the nearly impossible and approach him undetected--but Benjamin Cassius is among the privileged few, even if Lex's instincts send an adrenaline rush through every nerve. Closing his eyes, he feels the big body drop beside him, far too close for comfort.
"No." His right hand's filtering sand idly, watching the sunlight sparkle off each grain. "Quartz. Miles of it, far as the eye can see. In ancient times, if you wanted to look into the future, you went looking for quartz rock." Another long line of sparkling sand is caught by the ocean breeze, and Lex shuts his eyes.
He doesn't look to see the man's face. Cassius rarely answers.
"My mother owned this," Lex hears himself say, waving his good hand to indicate the beach. "One of the few things Lionel couldn't get around to selling. I'm not even sure he knew about it. She brought me here before she died and--"
"Told you Greek myths for kicks?"
This is why Lex thinks he really should have just killed Cassius on sight. Tightening his mouth, Lex watches the water, cool, salty air washing over him like breath. If he closes his eyes, he can feel her, fragile and too-thin, watching him with wide, worried eyes.
Napoleon's mother hadn't minded when her son conquered the world, but Lillian Luthor hadn't been quite as imperialist. He almost wishes she had been. It would have been something to know he hadn't failed both his parents so spectacularly.
"Why am I here?" Cassius asks softly. The sharp edges on his English indicate too much time spent speaking any language but, and Lex wonders how long Cassius was in Madrid.
"I'm bored and I need company. There's not another living human for miles." The staff comes and goes on command. He's got his people well trained. Even Mercy and Hope keep their distance under extreme and frequent protest. He thinks they know more about why he's here than he does himself.
Not a comfortable thought. He's marking time, and even knowing that (coward), he can't quite make the push.
"It's beautiful here." Lex hears the soft relief hidden beneath the layers of exhaustion, turns his head to look. Cassius has gained weight--the rail-thin proto-junkie replaced with someone who could have, in fact, once been a respected part of the medical community. The blond hair's neatly trimmed, blue eyes hidden behind prescription sunglasses and a fall of blonde bangs. More college student than researcher and surgeon. Nothing will erase the tight lines around his mouth, though, the way the thin lips press together. He's close enough to Lex to feel everything.
"It's yours if you want it." The words escape without Lex thinking them through, and he bites down on his tongue. One long fingered hand slides up, removing the glasses, and Lex is caught in the sharp gaze of blue eyes the color of the sky above.
"You've decided after all."
There's nothing to say to that. His hand aches, and he thoughtfully tightens it into a fist to feel the web expand, pushing above his elbow with fine, fire-hot fibers. It's happening fast. Almost too fast.
"I'd have to amputate," Cassius says, apropos of nothing. Reaching over, warm skin closes over his wrist, jerking it up. Lex almost pulls away, but he's fascinated by the vision of his own hand, fingers strangely thin and pale. "Here, probably. I may be able to save the wrist, but it's not likely." Thumb and finger circle the skin like a vise. "There. Biopsy the tissue. X-ray to see if it's spread to the rest of your body. Some surgery, maybe, to remove some smaller pockets. Radiation after, then chemotherapy." Cassius lets go, drawing his fingers down the sensitive skin of Lex's inner arm in what from anyone else would be a deliberate caress. Everywhere he touches burns. "What I'd want to do is dose you as high as I could go for as long as possible. Meteor-rock cancer's the most dangerous of all. It's in everyone who was touched that day." Cassius' eyes gleam dark. "And it doesn't give up easily.
Lex breathes out.
"In a few weeks, here." The slim fingers are on his elbow, a tight bracelet of flesh. "Maybe only a few days, if my estimates are right. You'll lose your arm to the elbow. By then, it will have spread to other parts of your body. Kidneys, probably. Maybe your stomach or your pancreas. I'll open you up like a melon and scoop out all the corrupt tissue and sew you back up. Radiate and then chemo, but not at the levels I'd prefer. More complex work. You might never be able to eat normally again. Have a normal life. And it won't be enough. I'll be opening you up again in a year or two and trying again, and in five years, you'll be dead while I pull you apart by inches."
Lex jerks away, eyes closing.
"Or we can just wait here and I can watch it kill you in front of me."
Lex watches strobes of orange-red from the sun behind his eyelids. "How long?"
"Six months at current estimates, probably less. Your altered immune system's been very helpful in speeding all this along. If you want me to have this beach, I suggest you start making your will now."
Cassius doesn't sound terribly interested, and that's oddly comforting. Lex gets the gazes from Mercy and Hope far too often--something between disbelief and the kind of horror that reminds him of being a kid and watching his mother die before his eyes. Mercy would trade places with him without even a question if she could. He wouldn't put it past her to try.
Squeezing his hand into a loose fist, Lex opens his eyes to watch the water.
"You don't understand, do you?"
"You don't understand," Cassius answers calmly, and Lex notices for the first time that the man's discarded shoes and socks. Neatly rolled tan pants above the line of slim calves. "Your wife called. Mercy told me to tell you."
Lex grimaces. "Probably wondering how long before she can take permanent control of LexCorp."
"LydiaCorp," Cassius says, and damned if the man doesn't sound amused. "She's working to have you declared incompetent, you know. Your board of directors is trying to decide who scares them more." Cassius picks up a handful of warm sand, letting it trickle through his fingers. "She's closer, but you're more likely to kill them outright, not just threaten. It's a kind of balance."
Cassius pays attention, Lex thinks, turning his head. Sand flutters when he draws his knees up, dragging his heels to make trenches in the ground. Lydia's a problem. Wives always are. He'd given up the concept of domestic harmony years ago in exchange for armed neutrality. Home has always been his office, so it's not so strange that his bedroom's become a new venue for corporate politics. Like Victoria but without the sentiment and with much more creative sex.
Some part of him knows it shouldn't be that way, that somewhere along the line, something in him had changed too much, but that part doesn't get a lot of airtime in his head. Right now, the wedding ring on his left hand seems more tainted than the cancer eating him from the inside out.
"You know too much for someone who's been stoned in Madrid for two years."
"I know too much for anyone living," Cassius answers softly, and Lex looks away.
"Does it hurt you to be this close to me?"
The hand trickling sand fists abruptly, dropping to the ground.
"You hurt everyone close to you. I suppose I can't be an exception to that, can I?"
Fuck you, Lex almost says, but he's too tired to bother. The sand is warm and the day is dying, so Lex stretches out, cushioning his head on his right arm, left curled protectively against his chest. Sweat trickles down his forehead, tickling against his ear, and he almost reaches up to brush it away before he remembers his control over his left hand is getting trickier every day.
The circles Cassius made in his arm seem to burn in a different way.
"What will you leave behind when you die?" Lex hears himself say, and he's really off his game, but somehow, it doesn't matter. Six months. Maybe less, with his immune system. Somehow less culpable (cowardly) if he just lets it go until it can't be stopped. "I wanted to rule the world before I was thirty."
"I wanted to cure all disease," Cassius answers. His voice is wistful. "I had--had this vision that knowing would make it possible to fix it. But I can't fix anyone, really. Just tell them what's wrong and how long they have until they die. Five years, ten years, five minutes. In Madrid there was a car accident right in front of me. They all had twelve minutes and I almost told the paramedics working on them not to bother." Cassius laughs softly. "I didn't know enough Spanish to get it out right. I think I kept asking for the bathroom. Or a shot of Demerol."
Lex nods slowly. "You're still alive."
"Not for lack of trying to change that, but yes. I like it here." The soft cadence of his voice lulls Lex's eyes closed. "We could die together, you and I. Tonight, if you want. There's a full lab only a few miles from here. Or Mercy's gun. Either would do."
Lex stiffens. "I don't want to die."
Cassius laughs. Disturbingly friendly, as if they've known each other forever, and this is an old argument. Maybe it is. "Waiting for something to kill you isn't any different than putting the gun to your head yourself. Would you like that, Lex? No one should die alone."
Cassius looks at him with a grin that doesn't go any deeper than the surface of his skin. "You're not my type."
"I should have had you killed."
"It would have been a relief for both of us." Cassius draws his knees up, then presses both hands into the sand, getting gracefully to his feet for such a tall man. Lex has never met anyone like him, is almost sure he never wants to. "Are you having some kind of crisis of conscience?"
It may say more about Lex than anything else that he has to think about it, an answer in itself. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Cassius whistles softly, the smile deepening past the skin, blue eyes lighting up. "Lex Luthor. Alexander. No wonder you're not afraid to die. You're more scared to live with what you're thinking, aren't you?"
Lex is on his feet before he's aware he's moving--weeks of non-training take off some of the grace but none of the reflexes, and Cassius is under him, stretched out on warm sand, that vulnerable throat under his hand. The jugular pulses erratically against his thumb, and his hand trembles when he stops himself from tightening his grip.
Cassius stares up at him as if they've never met.
"Five years," Lex whispers, feeling the strain through his entire body. He's lost a lot of strength to this, no idea, and when had that happened? "Five years is generous. I only have two. And so do you."