CLOSE QUARTERS I: THE OFFER
Genre: Smallville; Lana/Lex; Lana POV
Summary: Lana moves into the Luthor guest house when Nell decides to move to Metropolis.
Spoilers: Ryan, Heat, Metamorphosis
Notes: Canon through most of "Ryan", AU for anything after. This story assumes Lana is not living with Chloe.
Disclaimer: Alfred Gough and Miles Millar created Smallville; TRP and other corporate entities own the rights. No profit made.
The back office of the Talon is small, windowless and messy. Not at all conducive to working, but perfect for hiding. I don't use the space much, but when I need to have a good, uninterrupted cry, it's the only place to be.
I'm not kidding when I say no one ever comes back there, so the soft but persistent knock scares the hell out of me and shoots my 'hiding place' theory to pieces. I wipe my eyes as best I can without tissue (who sits down for a good cry without tissue?) and turn toward the door. It's sitting ajar, pushed closed as far is it will go and held there with an old aluminum chair. The office is a piece of crap, really.
Please, please let it be the new girl, needing something trivial like extra napkins or wanting to know if we make frappuccinos. I wish I had a mirror so I could at least check to make sure my eyeliner hasn't run and made me look like a raccoon, but all I've got is the clean corner of my apron to go by. I'm assuming since there isn't black smudges all over the fabric that there isn't black smudges all over my face.
I pull the chair out of the way and Lex Luthor fills the doorway, hands slipped into the pockets of a suit I'm positive cost more than the Talon itself.
"Lana, are you alright?"
He asks the minute he sees me, so I'm convinced that I do have eyeliner smudged all down my cheeks, but it's not exactly something I can ask him so I just grin and hope for the best. It's shadowy in here, no windows and all, so maybe that helps hide the fact that I've been bawling for upwards of a half an hour.
"I'm fine, Lex," I say, hearing the false cheerfulness in my voice and not rendering it believable for even the most clueless male. Of which, Lex is not. Still, I gotta go with it. Maybe he will too. "Just going over vendor invoices."
Right. My eyes follow his around the mess in the room. Sure, there's probably a vendor invoice among the piles of papers littering nearly every surface, but not one dating later than 1983. Yeah, Lex, just going over vendor invoices for hot dogs that were delivered here to the theater before I was born.
It's silent for a long moment. Suddenly my little attempt to save face is a big fat lie that hangs over our heads like a black rain cloud. I feel guilty lying to Lex. Like he shouldn't be lied to. Like he's somehow different from any other person that I regularly lie to, like Nell. I think the problem is not so much that he's special, but that he knows things, and he has this way of looking at you that let you know he knows. And that's a little frightening.
"Do you come back here to cry often?"
And there it is. So matter of fact, Lex drops the charade, and I suddenly remember that he's too important for games. I briefly consider lying again but Lex makes the decision a lot easier.
"I talked to Nell. I know of her plans to move to Metropolis."
When I look up at him, I'm surprised to see that he looks genuinely concerned about me. It's not that I don't think he cares about me, he does in his own little way, but you barely get to see him show it. Extravagant gifts say "I'm sorry," or "I appreciate you," or "you're doing a hell of a job, kid." The words would work too, but Lex isn't much into that, and I'm okay with it. I learned to accept the generosity as his way of caring without actually having to say he does.
So when he looks at me like that, like he might hug me and say something nice, I can't figure out what to do with it. I simply say, "oh."
He smiles a little and his hands slip from his pockets. "Have you thought about what you're going to do?"
Well, gee, I've given it a little thought. I didn't think the office could feel any smaller than it actually is, but I suddenly feel like the walls are shrinking toward me, like I'm trapped in that garbage compactor in Star Wars. It's hard to breathe and I've got no metal poles to brace the walls with.
Lex often makes me feel like I want metal poles to brace the walls with. Does he do that on purpose?
"I looked into emancipation but it's too long a process," I finally manage to tell him, feeling better just pulling the words from where they were stuck in my throat. I'm successful. That cute little robot thingy has shut down the power to the compactor and saved the day. "Nell told me I don't have a choice, I have to go with her no matter what."
He inclines his head. "Nell's right, legally speaking."
Getting the straight, non-sugar coated truth is something I usually like about my boss and so-called silent partner. Except now. He's not silent enough and I know, legally speaking, I have to go wherever Nell tells me to, no matter how much she disregards my feelings in the matter.
"Well, I'm just going to have to find someone to stay with that Nell approves of." I try to sound more assured than I actually am. "Cause I'm not going to Metropolis," I add for emphasis.
Lex smiles then, sort of looking like the genie just released from the bottle and about to grant my three wishes. I was told when I was younger that you can't ask for more wishes, that's against the rules of wish-making or something, although it always seemed to me like the logical thing to do.
"You've found someone," he says.
"What, you?" I laugh, because the thought of rooming with Lex Luthor is just too ridiculous to comprehend.
He attempts to look hurt at my disbelief and says, "yes, me," in a pouty way that really doesn't work for him. I'm not buying it, and I cross my arms over my chest and tilt my head, waiting for an explanation.
Maybe Lana Lang's too important for games, too. Ever thought of that, Lex?
"I have an empty guest house," he says, attempting to step further into the room but realizing quickly that there's just nowhere to go. I'm glad, because the room is too damn small with all the stuff that's already in it, and from what it sounds like Lex is proposing, I'm gonna need all the oxygen I can get to stay level-headed. "It's on the property so it's safe," he continues. "It's just a bedroom, living room and bath, a tiny area you might call a kitchen since it's got a refrigerator and microwave...nothing fancy but you'd have privacy plus all the amenities of the mansion if you needed them."
He finally pauses, and I'm grateful for a second to let what he's already said sink in. He rocks back on the balls of his feet and continues. "I've already talked to Nell and she said it was okay." He smiles a little bit and adds, for no reason whatsoever that I can see except to be an ass, "she and my father are pretty tight, you know."
I don't know. I prefer not to know. My aunt has been in good with the Luthors since I can remember, but it hasn't meant much to me growing up save for a few overnights at the Luthor estate in Metropolis. When I got old enough to stay home on my own while Nell went to conventions there, I was spared from that field trip and didn't even bother to think about where she was staying and what she was doing. The most interesting thing that ever happened to me was seeing Lex and some girl naked in their indoor pool, and I've since pushed that image out of my mind since he is my boss and god, it's inappropriate.
Now, based on Lex's suggestion, I'd be living on Luthor property, with a Luthor in close proximity...how weird is that? Lex is my boss! Guest house, I remind myself. Not main house. Would I really see Lex any more than I already do? And am I really going to let that be a reason to pass up my only viable option to stay in Smallville?
"What if you have guests?"
I feel the blush heat my face before I even finish blurting out the question. First of all, it's a mansion. It's got like, a billion rooms. Unless Lex is entertaining the entire United States military, he's probably set for extra beds.
Lex chuckles. "No offense Lana, but if I was entertaining the kind of people for which I needed a guest house, I wouldn't be entertaining them in Smallville."
Oh. I bit down on my lip. I hate when people start sentences with 'no offense'. It usually means they're about to say something offensive. What Lex said didn't offend me, but it made me feel stupid, not that that's a rarity when I'm having this extended a conversation with Lex.
I wonder if anyone's made Lex feel stupid. Probably his dad, but other than that, I can't think of one single time when he didn't have more on the person than the person had on him. Maybe that girl who Poison Ivy'd her way into being his wife, but he sure didn't act like he felt stupid for very long. After the flowers and cappuccino maker were bought, he was back to his old self again.
Living at the Luthor estate means living on the outskirts of town which means needing a car. But I make enough, and with Nell leaving I'd become manager which means a raise...
Thoughts getting away from me as if I'd made up my mind. Should I really live on Lex's property? Uh, excuse me, Lex. I know you're about to sit down to dinner but can we talk about an increase in pay? Yeah, don't mind my cow print pajamas and I won't mind your slutty dumb date. Oh, you're having roast chicken? Why sure, I'd love a little bite.
"Look, Lana, the offer's on the table," Lex says, finally breaking the silence. "It's okay with me and it's okay with your aunt so it's really up to you."
He turns to go and my mind races. Somehow, I have to keep him here. I have to make the decision now. I can't wait, I can't think about this. I have to do it, damn it.
I simultaneously blurt it out and trip over a box at the same time. Just call me grace and tact. When he turns around, I feel like such a child. This is why I have to say no.
"Rent," I repeat, cause I might as well ask him since I brought it up so smoothly in the conversation.
He shakes his head. "Don't worry about it."
"No, no, no. I could not live there and not pay rent. Come on, Lex, that's inappropriate."
That's as close to admonishing him as I get. He raises his eyebrows cause he knows that's as close to admonishing him as I get, and I think it entertains him. A smile curves his lips. Bastard.
"I meant you don't have to worry about it. Nell will send me a check each month."
Huh? Uh? He and Nell discussed rent? Was she so sure I'd say yes? Yes! Let me live with Lex Luthor! Yes, please! It's in no way awkward or weird or anything remotely resembling inappropriate!
Well, I had told her I wasn't, under any circumstances moving to Metropolis. I did say, 'we'll just have to find another solution'. I was pretty stubborn about it. I guess she was sure I'd say yes.
Lex pauses, and I'm staring at his back in the doorway. He fills it, his expensive suit just looking entirely out of place next to the walls in bad need of a new paint job and the dust, oh the dust, that just covers and breeds on everything it touches. He turns back slowly, one hand with two platinum rings on it rubbing the back of his neck, as if this whole exchange has given him a headache.
"If you're not paying it, it's not really your concern," he says, and turns back around, this time actually walking out the door and down the small hallway. I hear the din of the dining room as he pushes through the swinging door and it fades once the door is closed.
I stand there for the longest time, amid the boxes full of what I've convinced myself are invoices for hot dogs when hot dogs cost like a dime apiece. I have no idea whether to jump for joy or seethe with rage.
13 Nov 2002
Continued in Close Quarters II: The Invitation.