He knew it was a bad idea to leave Madrid.
Rolling over in the bed, Cassius shivers at the sound of Lex waking up on a gasp. The painkillers aren't working. Cassius only has one more in the morphine family before they move into the kinds of narcotics that even Lex's body will have problems metabolizing too quickly. Drugged and groggy half-life to follow, until even those fail, and he'll be trapped with someone going insane from a pain Cassius won't even be able to ease.
Jesus, he's so stupid. He shouldn't have come.
It's never been like this before. Years in medical school and the hospital, training to be a surgeon, working research, but his exposure was always brief. Living with someone ill has a completely different feeling. He's re-tuned on some level he's never touched before--God, never wanted. He wouldn't have made it through college if he'd been living at this level of intensity.
Cassius can hear Lex getting up--clumsy, careless movements that Cassius will never see, shivering as Lex's body continues it's slow descent, cells changing from within.
Trying to explain how this feels has never been possible, so Cassius doesn't try to, even to himself. Being tuned to the subtlety of the human body got him through medical school in three years--his diagnoses were never wrong, understanding instantly the intricacies of disease and illness like no one living. Not an easy thing, but years of practice had perfected his control up until the day he left.
Right up until Lex, who is walking agony without any buffer at all, and Lex may not be the only one to go crazy from the pain.
Kicking the blankets off, Cassius wonders if it's really against his oath to just force treatment. If he'd even survive recovery before Lex was ordering his death. He knows an absolute decision when it's been made, even if Lex never couches it in words. They're marking time on Lex's mother's beach, until Lex has no decisions left.
That's--typical, Cassius thinks. Lex is reactive, not proactive. He's waiting for his hand to be forced.
It's stupid, to be here. He'd accepted the invitation and come along to play doctor to a dying billionaire at an exorbitant price, prescribing the drugs that gave Lex sleep, denied the only utilization of his training he really wants to use.
I want to fix you, Cassius tells the man fifteen feet and one thin wall away. And I have no idea how.
Narrow feet are pacing the room again--like the night before, and the night before that. Lex, outrunning himself and waiting for light, and Cassius wonders what on earth Lex is trying to do.
He won't sleep any more tonight, not with Lex's illness projected into every spare corner of his mind.
Getting up, he grabs his robe from the floor, pushing open the wide glass doors that face the ocean in his room, emerging onto the tiny patio, ducking by small palm trees and beach growth. Watching the ocean at night is a little melodramatic even for him, but there's nothing in the house he can take and still remain alert enough to act if Lex's condition worsens suddenly.
He hasn't gone three feet before the unmistakable click of a safety invades his consciousness, and Cassius freezes, eyes closing. A second later, an impersonal touch on his shoulder brings them open, and Cassius looks into Mercy's clear eyes.
"Patrol," she says, clicking the safety back on and tucking the gun somewhere within a truly minimal amount of clothing. Stepping back, she regards him briefly, before turning walking by.
"Where's Hope?" They hunt and patrol together--point of fact, he's never actually seen them more than a few feet from each other. She pauses, somehow managing not to slide on the sand, before she turns around.
"Briefing security and an errand for Lex." The long, elegant fingers twitch slightly with repressed energy. From conversations he's overheard, Lex is stressing both his bodyguards by living here. Something about the openness, insufficient security, uncleared staff, and maybe Cassius' presence as well. Lex runs them off with terse orders, but until now, Cassius hadn't realized that while what Lex tells them to do is treated as Holy Writ, interpreting it is up to them. Security's restricted to a mile perimeter, but apparently, Mercy doesn't consider herself merely security. "You shouldn't be out."
"I wasn't forbidden access to the beach," he says, feeling strangely defensive. What on earth does she think he can do with sand and water at night? Stupid question. Her existence is suspicion without evidence, and it's kept Lex alive and well for more years that Cassius can count. "Don't let me interrupt."
Mercy pauses, the slightest trace of a frown creasing the skin between her eyebrows on an otherwise expressionless face.
"You shouldn't be alone."
Cassius stiffens. "I don't wish him harm."
One dark eyebrow raises slowly, and with anyone else, that would be irony.
"You wouldn't be alive if you did."
He's not up to Lex or his favorite toys tonight--turning away, Cassius continues his tramp down the sand, sliding a little on too-dry hills before skidding down, and it's only in an afterthought that he's aware of Mercy, inhumanly graceful beside him, matching his speed effortlessly.
There's a very good chance that she could actually carry him without so much as breaking a sweat.
"Why are you following me?" he asks when they're on the beach proper, high tide withdrawing even as they speak. Glancing down, Cassius blinks at the slim boots, chunky heels. Intellectually, he knows she can fight in stilettos, he's *seen* how fast she runs, footwear is irrelevant if a threat's involved, but the sheer heat would suggest she try for something more porous. Jesus. They aren't human, any of them.
She shrugs, and Cassius wonders why he's even bothering trying to make conversation. Pacing the edge of the ocean, Cassius tries to ignore the woman matching his step.
"He is choosing to die, isn't he?"
Cassius comes to a stop, all unmeaning, half turning to face her, but Mercy's eyes are shaded in the night, fixed on something just beyond his face. He knows he gives it away when his answer hesitates, and her hand comes up in a short gesture that precludes further conversation. Helplessly, Cassius begins to walk again.
"I'm sorry," he hears himself say, stupidly. Her presence seems to be shutting him out, unimportant to whatever goes on in her head, and Cassius wonders for the first time what exactly that *is*.
Loyal to the point of blind fanaticism, resourceful, strong, ruthless, and utterly deadly, two perfect weapons sculpted from human flesh, but they're also--background. Lex outshines everything around him, and until this second they've been reflections only, something he knows is present but never there. Extensions of Lex, maybe.
The woman beside him doesn't mesh with impressions, and he wonders how deliberate that is.
"Why do you stay with him?"
It's a stupid question. He doesn't expect an answer.
"Before him, I was nothing," Mercy answers, and Cassius stops again, looking into her--beautiful?--face. Polished expressionlessness, but there's more there, like watching the still surface of a pond that will drown you if you step inside.
Something twists--all beneath the skin, nothing anyone would notice except Cassius is so close he can smell her perfume, the shampoo in her hair, feel the warmth of her body. Eyes like the ocean at night, all violent movement and no rest, never rest.
"There's no after."
There's nothing to say to that. Cassius sucks in a breath, but his mind's offering nothing useful. His mouth tries, anyway.
"I can't help him if he doesn't want help." It sounds like an excuse. What's he going to ask them? Hold down your boss and help me drug him into submission for the next few months? I can't fix this, don't look at me like I can. Cassius wonders if his life hangs on the thin string of Lex Luthor's, and then realizes he doesn't care. "I can't--do you understand? I can't do anything. I can watch, just like you. He doesn't want my help. He doesn't want--" Jesus knows what he wants. Cassius eyes flicker to the sky and then back down. Two years, Lex said.
Two years. By then, Cassius thinks he'll be dead.
"He ordered reports on the disaster in Peru," Mercy says, and Cassius blinks. "An investigation."
Cassius nods without anything like understanding.
"He rarely bothers." Mercy shifts her stance slightly, as if the sand's uncomfortable, an aberration if there ever was one. Cassius watches in fascination as Mercy turns her head to look at the house, a strand of dark hair coming loose from the knot, slipping across the pale planes of her cheek.
"He's never bothered if it wasn't going to cause a publicity problem. It's time to go inside." Her hand closes over his bare arm, strangely cold, and Cassius doesn't even try to resist. Fascination, like being caught by a big cat who turns out isn't so much hungry as curious. They're walking up the beach like two completely normal people.
"I--" At his patio, they stop, and her hand withdraws, leaving the impression of cool elegant fingers behind like a brand. "I can't help him, Mercy. I--don't even know how to start."
Turning, he's startled to find himself standing alone, like she was never there at all. Blinking, Cassius stares around him, but the dark can swallow Mercy just as easily as it swallows the trees around them. It's only a glance down that reveals a stapled set of papers, nestled in the sand, and how the *fuck*--
Picking it up, Cassius pages through it as he walks inside.
Hope delivers the reports on the disaster in Indonesia personally, and Lex flips through them before the sun rises. Sleep's elusive and he doesn't chase it any longer. There's no point.
It's what he expected, even if he doesn't remember ordering this plant to open. Insufficient safety protocols and some overactive plant manager trying to cut down competition. Lex pushes past the black and white pictures of the interior of the plant, employees sprawled in various stages of acid burn, some half-dissolved on the plant floor, but his eyes stop at the numbers.
Seventy five employees dead, eight hundred injured. Five hundred eighteen people in that village dead, more injuries. Collateral damage, his dad would have said. Spoils of war. And the plant had shown a strong profit for five quarters.
Shoddy management, lost in the concept of profit without understanding the need for investment in the same. Stupid mistakes. He'd need to send his Smallville inspectors down to get a true report. Blaming it on the climate doesn't cut it.
Lex looks up from his mother's desk. Elegantly feminine, fit to write letters to friends on, perhaps engage in making a journal entry on a day's activity. Nothing like what CEO's need to run a business.
"Can't you find something to do?" Lex answers, flipping the folder shut. His hand's shaking, no surprise. The painkillers he took are already wearing off. Flattening his palm on the surface of the folder, Lex looks up.
Cassius leans into the doorway, unnervingly still. Something med school taught him, perhaps--no energy wasted. When Cassius is at rest, he's at total rest. Lean, elegant body encased in a faded red t-shirt and casual jeans, and right now, Lex can't see the scientist at all. College-kid chic.
Unsettling in a way Lex can't quite put his finger on. Cassius is perhaps four years his junior, but Lex feels immeasurably older.
"You look better." The weeks since Spain have changed him, and Lex wonders why he hasn't been paying more attention. He must be accustomed to what he senses in Lex.
A slim hand goes to his head, and Cassius almost smiles. "I feel better." Crossing the room, Cassius fingers close cool and strong around Lex's wrist, thumb pressed against the thin skin of his wrist to check his pulse. A shiver, almost invisible, seems to ripple Cassius skin as Lex watches, a wince that's all below the skin, and Lex jerks away with a step back.
"Don't want to make you sick again," Lex murmurs at Cassius' raised eyebrows. "I need to work on something for the rest of the morning. You'll have to entertain yourself."
"Like you've been a big barrel of laughs," Cassius observes, stepping back. "Have you eaten?"
Lex almost snaps at him, but catches the words on his tongue, trying to work out what Cassius is thinking. "Not yet."
"I'll make breakfast." Turning on his heel, Cassius disappears back out the door, and Lex finds himself following him, watching with narrowed eyes as Cassius removes eggs and butter from the refrigerator, placing them on the counter. Orange-pink sunlight filters into the room from dawn, bathing the room in surreal color.
"Eggs okay?" Cassius asks as he finds a pan, putting it on the stove before dropping a spatula of butter inside. The hissing breaks Lex's immobility, and he crosses to sit on the stool across from the stovetop. "I made a grocery and supply list, so whoever does that sort of thing for you, give it to them." Without looking, Cassius slides the paper over, and Lex reaches for it automatically, glancing down the list. His eyes skim the list of food and household items, freezing on items listed below.
"Why do you need--" He stops, eyes narrowing. "These are from--"
"A hospital. I've seen your lab, and the surgery and radiation treatments can be completed there with your medical staff, but you seem to want something more--private--for the chemotherapy." Cassius turns away, going through the pale-wood cabinets before emerging with the salt. Blue eyes flicker up, fixing on him without anything in them Lex can read.
"I'm not giving you a choice. You have twenty four hours, then we're going in for the amputation. If it's not too late. That will give me enough time to get post op treatment organized. This will be your last meal. Surgery's at dawn."
Sitting back, Lex blinks. "You can't without my permission."
Cassius grins at him, sudden and malicious. "Lydia's petition goes in front of a judge tomorrow. I called some friends this morning."
The paper crumples in Lex's hand. "You son of a bitch."
"Surprisingly, the judge isn't as amenable to bribing as you might think, but if he got a note from your doctor--. I'm still licensed, Lex. Your choice. Lose your company *and* your hand or just your hand."
"I can make sure you can't deliver anything out of this house." Jesus. Fuck.
Cassius shrugs. "If you cooperate, there will be a signed statement in his office tomorrow morning, declaring you of sound mind and body, simply on well-deserved and quite innocent vacation. You know my reputation well enough to know how much that will mean." Cassius pauses to break three eggs into the pan, then looks up. "This afternoon, we'll go and do a final set of x-rays and I'll run a few more tests. I suggest you get your pet staff in there this morning to get everything ready." Sprinkling salt, Cassius leans back, spatula still in hand.
It's disturbingly incongruous. Lex slid off the stool, surprised to feel his legs are shaking.
"What do you think this will accomplish?" Lex says slowly, trying to head off the blind rage, the panic of being trapped.
Cassius regards him like an insect under a microscope--interesting and repulsive both. "I'm testing a theory."
Lex's hand itches for Cassius skin. Homicide's never been so attractive. "What fucking theory is that?"
Cassius stirs the pan slowly before looking up with only the briefest flicker--something Lex can't read, isn't sure he wants to. Another man in another lifetime had looked at him like that, and it's like ice water dropped on all the anger, cooled to nothing but embers. Change blue eyes for green and Lex is in Smallville for the last time.
"I want to see if you're worth fighting for."