Lex hadn't slept a wink all night. Instead he lay in bed turning the situation over in his head, trying desperately to find another way to resolve it. Helen slept, blissfully unaware, beside him with her head on his chest. They weren't normally cuddly sleepers but as she drifted off he had pulled her next to him. She had been too exhausted from her day at work and her evening with Lex to comment. He had been especially affectionate all night, so much so that they wound up leaving a beautifully prepared full course meal half-eaten to get into bed. What followed was, without question, the most amazing night of Lex's life and he suspected the same was true for Helen. There were moments when he would've sworn they were one person. He felt every breath, every moan, and every move she made as if it were his own. All of this made the fact that it would be the last night that they would spend together even more bittersweet.
He had spent the early part of the day in business meetings in Metropolis. They were a pain in the ass, but he had just gotten Lexcorp back by the skin of his teeth, and he had to take steps to make sure he wouldn't lose it again. In the middle of one very tedious meeting with his CFO, he received a message that his father wanted to see him before he left town. Lex had absolutely no desire to talk to Lionel, but if the old man were up to something, it would be good to find out about it early. He went in expecting some legal roadblock that his lawyers, despite the exorbitant fees they charged, had managed to overlook. What actually happened completely blindsided him.
"Lex, don't you think this little affair with the doctor has run its course?" His father stated bluntly as Lionel entered his office. He had left Lex waiting as usual because he'd been in a meeting. It was a classic stalling tactic and it was nothing more than an irritation. He supposed Lionel was exerting whatever small amount of control he still could.
"What is it about her that bothers you so much?" Lex asked, not really interested in the answer. He seriously doubted his father had asked to see him just so he could express his disapproval of Helen yet again. "I've been with women much more objectionable than her and you've barely batted an eye, unless I married them." He brought up Desiree before his father got the chance to needle him about it.
"You're the CEO of a major corporation Lex. You can't accomplish what you have without a certain ethical flexibility. You need to ask yourself if your morally upright small town doctor will find you so captivating once she knows how many people you've stepped on to get where you are." Lionel let a brief smirk escape before he continued. "End it now, before you get any more involved with her. You'll both be better off."
"Helen knows exactly what kind of man I am. The way I do business doesn't change that." Lex sighed with what he hoped sounded like weariness and boredom. In reality Lionel had touched a nerve. "If this is the only reason you wanted to see me, I really need to get back home. I have a business to run," he said pointedly.
"I was hoping you d be reasonable and it wouldn't have to come to this," Lionel said sliding a file folder across the desk toward Lex. "These are signed affidavits from Smallville Medical Center staff who will testify that Dr. Helen Bryce was criminally negligent in at least four cases where patients passed away unexpectedly. There's also a statement from the bartender at a tavern 3 blocks from the hospital that says he served her 3 very strong Bloody Marys while she was on a shift break."
Lex looked over the information in the file. "None of this is true," he said. "You either bought these people or blackmailed them."
"In some cases, I did both." Lionel's tone was mocking. "Of course I couldn't t get any real information on her. The woman's never had anything more serious than a speeding ticket."
Lex thought he detected some bitterness in that last statement. His father had no doubt done an exhaustive background check. And when he couldn't t find anything to use as leverage, he created it. Of course none of that mattered.
"Of course none of that matters. Said Lionel, mimicking Lex s thoughts. Once the information gets out there will have to be an investigation. Then, of course, the papers will get a hold of it. Scandal always sells well. It will most likely make the Metropolis papers as well, given her father's prominence. Eventually, she'll be exonerated. But it won t make nearly the headlines the rumors did. Her career won t recover. She s a good doctor Lex. Do you really want to ruin her because you re too stubborn to listen to your father and end a relationship that s doomed anyway?" Lionel was still smirking but his tone was icy.
Lex knew his father would go through with this plan if he didn't comply.
"If this relationship isn't dead in two weeks time, the Board of Directors at Smallville Medical Center will receive this information."
"This isn't about Helen, is it?" Lex said, barely keeping his emotions in check. "You can't stand that I've broken from you for good and this is your way of punishing me for it. By showing me you can still control my life."
"Don't be paranoid Lex. I'm merely looking out for my son's best interests. It's what any good father would do." Lex was up and out the door as Lionel called after him. "Someday you'll thank me. Remember, two weeks!"
Lex spent the drive back to Smallville going over his options. His first impulse was to tell Helen about it. This wouldn't be the first time his father had tried to end the relationship. There had been the attempted payoff at the beginning of that relationship (though in truth, Lex's own mistrust had done more damage than Lionel could have). His second attempt had been subtler. A very lucrative job offer had come from Cedars Sinai. Lex recalled the incident vividly. He had encouraged her to take the job, though he knew a long distance relationship would be almost impossible. She had gone so far as to fly out to visit the facility and check on housing availability, but she came back two days early, insisting that she wouldn't accept the position.
"What went wrong?" asked Lex when he picked her up from the airport. "I suppose the orderlies filed a grievance with their union when they heard the formidable Dr. Helen Bryce was coming to town." He kept his tone light, hoping to elicit a smirk and a sarcastic comeback from her, but when she only managed a half-hearted smile he became concerned. "What happened Hel?"
"Did you ever wonder why Cedars Sinai chose a small town doctor from halfway across the country, when they have more than enough qualified candidates in Los Angeles?" Her voice had an edge to it, as if she was ready to snap at the slightest provocation.
Lex immediately felt foolish. Of course someone had pulled some strings to get her there. Helen was an amazing doctor, but she had never actively courted Cedars. You didn't get a job with that kind of competition just dropped into your lap. "My father," sighed Lex, his relief at her staying now tinged with guilt. "I'm sorry, Helen. I should've checked it out."
"Don't," she said, her manner immediately softening as she slid an arm around his waist. "You had faith in my abilities, and you supported my decision even when it meant me leaving. I was the one who took the bait your father laid out without even looking into why the job was offered. If it hadn't been for an offhand remark the Chief of Staff had made about my `great connections,' I'd still be apartment hunting in LA. I can't believe I was so gullible." She leaned her head on his shoulder as they waited at the baggage claim. Her embarrassment at being taken in by his father was evident.
"Well," he said turning his head toward hers and lowering his voice, "we could go back to the mansion and argue over whom Lionel Luthor has made the biggest fool of, but I suspect there's a long line of people ahead of us for that honor. Personally, I can think of several better ways to spend the two vacation days you have left."
She showed her approval of his plan by closing the distance between them and kissing him deeply and he realized how badly he would've missed her if she'd gone.
The sound of his radar detector snapped Lex back to reality. As he slowed to the speed limit, he wondered what Helen's reaction would be to his father's latest interference in their relationship. She wasn't someone who took kindly to threats or intimidation. She would face the ruination of her career rather than allow herself to be extorted. As much as he admired that quality in her, Lex knew he couldn't allow her to do that to herself. She couldn't know what had transpired between him and his father. He could talk to his lawyers about what they could do when the scandal broke. But he knew already that they could only clear Helen legally. They couldn't vindicate her with the public, or with any other hospitals that got wind of the scandal, and he knew Lionel would make sure that they did. Which left only one option: if he wanted to protect Helen, he had to end it with her. He headed back to town with a sense of despair growing rapidly in him.
After that last night with Helen he began to distance himself from her. He began forgetting to call when he said he would. He cancelled dates at the last minute. But merely distancing himself wouldn't t end it quickly enough. He had to make sure Helen left with absolutely no desire to see him again, which meant he would have to hurt her, badly. He told himself repeatedly that she would get over losing him, but not her career. He arranged for her to catch him while he was in his office with a pretty, young surgeon that Helen despised. It was surprising and a little disturbing how easily he was able to make this plan come together. Maybe he hadn't come so far since his reckless youth. Lex was prepared for all manner of screaming obscenities and thrown objects when Helen walked into the office.
"Helen!" He said; doing his best to sound surprised.
"Oh! Dr. Bryce!" said the surgeon with obvious mock shame as she struggled to button her blouse. God what an insipid bitch! Lex could understand where Helen's venom for this woman came from.
There was no screaming, nothing was thrown, although he wished to God she would have. Probably no more than thirty seconds passed while Helen stood there but it seemed like eons. She didn't t move or make a sound, but nonetheless Lex saw a change come over her. It was like something left her and there was just an empty shell standing there staring at him. She turned and left, not storming out, or even rushing. She just put one foot in front of the other as if it took all her energy and concentration to do so. He willed himself not to run after her, tell her everything, and beg her to forgive him. After a few moments passed her heard the front door close, then the faint sound of Helen's car starting out front as she left his life forever.
The next few weeks passed at an excruciatingly slow pace. Lex hadn't realized how much a part of his life Helen had become in such a short time. Several times he caught himself instinctually dialing her number during his down time. Not to mention the fact that this was a small town and rumors spread like plague. Helen had joked that they should change the name of this town to Whispersandpointedstaresville once when they were out together. After the breakup it was ten times worse. He had walked into the Talon several times only to have the volume level drop and several conversations were cut short. He ran into her more than once and she would never meet his eyes. In fact she did her best to appear fascinated with anything on the opposite side of the room until she could make an exit. Lex did his best to put on an air of indifference to the whole thing in public. As a consequence, his household staff took the brunt of his foul temper.
He hired a private investigator to keep tabs on her. Not out of suspicion this time, but concern. He d never seen her look so bad as the last night they spoke. He wanted to make sure she was okay. The man reported to Lex every evening, though her routine rarely changed. She worked almost constantly now, only taking enough time to sleep and eat. And she was trying to push her application for Doctors Without Borders through quicker. Lex pulled some strings to make it happen, without her knowledge of course, and soon Helen was on her way to Rwanda for 3 months. It was a relief, for both of them most likely. Day by day it got easier and he began to see that he had done the best thing. Helen was a beautiful, intelligent, caring woman who would have no trouble finding happiness without him, and Lex had learned relationships, even romantic ones, were to be kept at arms length. With the type of life he led, anyone who got too close to him would be a target for his enemies. If it hadn't been his father, it would have been someone else who came after her eventually.
One morning Lex awoke and after the initial grogginess of sleep wore off he realized he was about to start the day without that feeling of despair that had been hanging over him for so long. He wasn't happy. He just felt like he could get through the day without going through the motions. He got up, showered, dressed and went to his office to eat breakfast while he read the paper. All the while a small glimmer of hope was building up inside him. This was immediately extinguished as he opened the Ledger to see Helen's face staring back at him next to the headline "Local Doctor Killed in Rwandan Rebel Uprising." Lex sat staring at the page, not reading the article. He couldn't know it, but he was unconsciously imitating the expression Helen had the night she discovered him with the surgeon. There was no other thought in his head but the one that told him despite his best intentions he had completely destroyed the woman he loved.
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