Synergy III: Strengths and Weaknesses

by Insomnikat

Spoilers: post-Exodus, pre-Third Season. Summary: Alone they are weak, but together they are powerful. Can you crack their story? Disclaimer: Until the day I own DC comics and the WB, I am but a poor fanatic drunk on too much time.

Remembrance is a form of meeting.
- 'Sand & Foam' quotations from Kahlil Gibran

Lionel was walking down the hallway towards the study when he heard something that stirred long-dormant memories deep within him. It was a sound he honestly did not expect to hear in the mansion again in his lifetime: laughter. It echoed unobtrusively in the hallway, hauntingly familiar to Lionel's ears, lilting and female. It made him nostalgic and he half expected an alluring redhead to appear in the hallway.

Instead, the doors to the study opened and a petite raven-haired beauty stepped out. A smile beamed from her wholesomely flushed face. His son joined her in the hallway wearing a rare but equally amused smile. Yet unnoticed, Lionel watched as Lana Lang turned to her supposedly funny host. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For everything," she said coyly, and Lionel was unimpressed by the expressive reply on his son's face. It was then with his brows heavily furrowed that they turned and noticed him standing there.

"Please, don't let me interrupt anything," he spoke dryly and gave his hand a small flicker to proceed. The smile disappeared immediately from Lex's face and he shot his father an angry look that Lionel returned with an equally menacing smile.

Lana took a cautious step away from Lex as he tucked his hands in his pockets - a defensive move Lionel knew well and recognized as an early victory on his behalf. "Lex," Lana started, unease evident in her voice, "maybe I should..."

Lex nodded silently, keeping his heated glare level with his father's. Then on an impulse that was partially vindictive, he broke his gaze, grasped her arm, leaned close and brushed a kiss lightly onto her cheek. His eyes darted briefly to Lionel, daring him to react as he whispered in her ear, "I'll see you later." Lana's face reddened considerably.

Lionel's jaw tightened as he watched Lex's hand release its hold on her arm and slide casually down to her palm, gripping it immediately. Lex reassuringly rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb and as she walked away, allowed her fingers to slip from his own. Lionel stared after the quickly retreating figure as she hurried by him and disappeared around the corner. *Such insolence! *He sneered at his son as he brushed by him into the study. Lex followed with a rather foolish smirk on his face. The inevitable row between father and son would not be delayed a second further. Lionel walked directly to the far wall past the foils and pes and pulled down two sabers. He threw one to Lex who caught it easily by the blunt blade of tempered steel. "Let's have a bout, hmm?" Lionel suggested as he removed his suit jacket and threw it onto a nearby armchair.

Lex raised a brow incredulously. "Now?"

"Surely all that pent up anger of yours needs releasing," said Lionel as he went to stand before his son. "Oh, and this little farce of yours? It ends now."

Lex swung his saber in quick cross swoops, getting a feel for it as he considered the proposition. "Lana is my associate and my friend," he clarified through gritted teeth that kept his anger in tact. "She is NOT some flight of fancy." He removed his jacket and assumed the en garde position with righteous indignation and determination. Lionel raised his saber in acknowledgment, not bothering to suppress a sly grin, and did the same. There would be no mask nor protective outfit to soften the blows of this Luthor duel.

Lionel attacked first and put Lex automatically on the defensive. "Prime, seconde, tierce, quarte," he identified each parry Lex did to block his physical attacks. But did Lex have a defense for a verbal attack? He doubted it. "It was your mother's last wish that I break the cycle," Lionel said, momentarily throwing his son off-guard. He took advantage of Lex's hesitation and forced him further back against the wall. "Quinte, sixte, septime, octave," he sighed the last one and circumvented a rather weak counterattack on Lex's part with a quick cut of the blade that left him wide open for the first touch. Lionel thrust the blunt saber directly at Lex's heart and watched him stumble back with a grunt. "You're not even trying, son!"

Rubbing the spot where his father had left a mark on his silk shirt, Lex grimaced. "How can ending a small coffee venture be her final wish?" He stood en garde again with more focused determination.

Lionel took a few paces back and crouched in the same position, his saber raised at the ready. "By preventing the past from repeating itself." The words left a bitter taste in his mouth and caused something deep within the younger man to flare up.

"YOU'RE WRONG!" Lex cried and ran at him, feinting an attack at the last minute to knock his father's saber from its parry position from a vulnerable angle. Surprised by the swiftness in which he was unarmed, Lionel held both hands up as the blunt tip of his son's saber found the sensitive spot between the jaw and neck. The other saber clattered noisily at the far end of the room. "One for one," said Lex dryly. He pushed the blunted steel into his father's vulnerable skin and watched with satisfaction as the older man winced and swallowed painfully.

Lex sighed and threw his saber clattering to the far end of the room with the other. He turned to the bar and poured whiskey in a double-old fashioned as his father fell exhausted into an armchair. "Dad," Lex spoke blandly as he walked over and handed the glass to him. There was no malice, no trace of fury from a few minutes ago in his expression. It was just a simple statement; a part of the mask he had put on.

Lionel stared up at his son and for the first time, saw a fiercely indomitable spirit in eyes that the unemotional mask could not conceal. What have I awakened in him? he thought as he denied the fear creeping into the deepest part of his soul. He accepted the drink and took a generous swallow of the strong alcohol. His hands shook slightly as he put the glass down. "Lex." It was all he could bring himself to say to his son.

Lex nodded silently and exited the room. For a long time, Lionel sat and analyzed the duel, searching for possible reasons and implications for his son's sudden outburst in the end. The conclusions he reached as he finally got up and left the mansion were both disturbing and gratifying.

The Talon.

The strong scent of arabica coffee assailed his nostrils as he walked in. Lionel stopped and allowed himself a deep breath of the dark roast brew that once again triggered his nostalgia. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to fall back to another time, to another coffee shop. He allowed himself to remember her first words to him: *"Impressive presentation." *

Lionel knew he'd been doomed the moment he heard her seductively husky voice and turned to face the table behind him all those years ago.

*"Of course, I would've rushed out just as quickly as your potential investors if you asked me to take such a risk."*

A small grin pulled on Lionel's lips as he remembered his reply to the stunning redhead. *"No one ever gets where they want to be by playing it safe. You have to know when to take the plunge."*

*"Easy, tiger,"* a crisp and charismatic laugh had erupted from her full red lips.* "Are you always this confident or is it just the colombian talking?"*

*"I guess it depends," *he had flashed her his best Luthor grin then and dove head first into his own advice. *"What would you say if I bought you another coffee?"*

"Mr. Luthor?" a voice called him out of his reverie. Lionel blinked and looked down at a the worried face of Lana Lang. Her elfin features were bunched with a combination of concern and anxiousness. "Can I get you anything?"

He took a sweeping gaze of the Talon and noted how business was doing well for this time of the day. "One colombian, no sugar," Lionel ordered and walked past her to take a seat in a partially secluded corner in the back. It didn't take long for another coffee shop memory to surface in his mind as he waited. This one, however, was not as delightful as the first. Before his disbelieving eyes, her unhappy visage appeared across the table from him. She was older but still incredibly beautiful despite the scowl etched deep into her features.

*"Must be hard being the only brilliant person around,"* she sneered, her hands folded neatly on top of each other on the table. *"I sometimes wonder where you rank my incompetence among all the others." *Lionel frowned and opened his mouth to object, but her image shook its head and pulled back. *"God forbid the day the great Lionel Luthor became faulty like the rest of us."*

"Is anything wrong, Mr. Luthor?"

The haunting memory disappeared and Lionel turned his head painfully to acknowledge the petite once more. "Ahh, nothing to fret your pretty little head about."

She placed his steaming cup of coffee on the table and he raised a brow curiously at her when she continued to hover over him. It seemed that Lana was struggling with some kind of decision. "Yes?" Lionel prodded.

"I'm sorry," Lana chuckled nervously. "It's silly, really, but today you just seem a bit...well, off."

*Sentimental, *Lionel thought. He shook his head and gave her a reassuringly false smile. "Just a temporary lapse in humanity, my dear." He brought the coffee to his lips and winked at the young store manager. "Don't worry, I'll recover."

Her heightened expression of concern told Lionel she was unconvinced by his ruse. "To be honest, Mr. Luthor, I was afraid Lex was going to kill you with his bare hands. I shouldn't have left the two of you like that." Lana bowed her head apologetically and Lionel had to resist grinning at the irony of her genuine concern. "It must have been tough."

The wide, green depths of her eyes returned to him and spoke of a similar confrontation not too long ago. If he had been anyone but a Luthor, Lionel was sure he would have been touched by her attempt to reach out in understanding. How interesting this creature was! "Hmm," he mused as he raised a hand beneath his chin and rubbed the still-sensitive spot where Lex's saber had been. "My son deserves credit for effort. He did manage to drive his point home."

Lana nodded, satisfied with his response, and began to walk away. "I'm just glad you're still in one piece." She took two steps from the table before turning her head just enough to glance back at him. "The both of you," she clarified.

And somewhere in his resurgent memories, an elegantly lilting laugh rang crisp and cold in Lionel's ears.

_The Kent Barn (aka Clark's Fortress of Solitude)._

Lex knew he'd find him here. Clark was standing by the window stargazing when he heard the sound of his approach and turned his head slightly in acknowledgment. Lex walked over and stood beside him. For a minute, the two men scanned the night sky in silence. Clark dared a glance from the corner of his eye and saw a smirk on Lex's face. "Go ahead," he prompted his visitor, returning his gaze to to the stars. "Say it. You obviously want to."

Lex's smirk evolved to an ear-to-ear smile. "You're only human, Clark. You were bound to mess up sooner or later."

Clark shook his head but couldn't stop his lips from spreading to match Lex's smile as he turned to face him. "I really screwed up, didn't I?"

Lex looked amused as he made his way over to the couch. "Well, personally, I think you've dug yourself quite an impressive hole."

Clark followed and plopped onto the spot beside him. He pursed his lips and studied Lex's profile. As much as he appreciated Lex's gesture to lighten the mood, he needed to make sure it wasn't a facade. "Are we okay?" Clark asked, troubled. The wedding seemed like a lifetime ago, but Clark knew Lex hadn't forgotten the fact that his best man had been absent on what was supposed to have been the most important day of his life. Despite his superb eyesight, Clark couldn't quite interpret the look on Lex's face in the dim lighting of the barn. It worried him and when Lex didn't reply right away, Clark felt compelled to give an explanation for his concern. "You and Lana are special," he blurted. Clark frowned and decided his explanation needed further explaining. He opened his mouth again and the words came out spluttering. "What I, um, meant by that is - your friendship and Lana mean a lot to me. I don't ever want to lose the privilege of calling you my best friends."

Lex stared hard at him for a long moment before nodding slowly. "You won't, Clark." He saw the doubt on the younger man's face and added, "we're good."

"Good," Clark repeated and sighed. "I just wish I could tell Lana the same thing."

"She knows," Lex said, turning to face him once more. "And though she doesn't show it, deep down she is happy that you're back."

A fleeting hope reached Clark's eyes for a moment, but doubt resurfaced and crushed it immediately. "I wouldn't know," he said disheartedly. "When she's not trying to avoid me, she treats me like the spurned boyfriend who refuses to believe it's over."

"Well, it kind of is," Lex pointed out matter-of-factly, stunning the younger man. "You rode off into the sunset and left her in the dust. To be honest, Clark, I'm surprised she isn't more resentful towards you."

Clark blinked. It took him a moment to recover from the figurative slap to the face. He fell back and slumped into the couch to nurse his wounded spirit. At least it had been Lex who dealt the blow. His friend had a natural talent for delivering harsh truths in a way that evoked the guilty conscience rather than offense and anger. Clark was grateful for that. "So how are you, Lex?" he sighed. "Really? I mean, two death-defying escapes in three years."

Lex followed Clark's lead and fell back comfortably into the couch. "Near death experiences have certainly become the defining moments of my life," he said thoughtfully. "They continue to alter my perspective on life...and love." He turned to Clark solemnly.

*Helen. *Clark instantly regretted his attempt to change the topic and stared at the floor in embarrassment."I'm sorry, Lex."

To his complete surprise, a chuckle broke through the thick air. "For what? Not miraculously appearing in the middle of the ocean to save me?" Lex smiled and elbowed his friend in the ribs. "Don't worry, Clark. I won't hold it against you."

Clark's confusion disappeared when he saw the authenticity of his friend's smile and for a few seconds, they shared a good laugh. Lex sat up then and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. His expression was serious again when he glanced back at the younger man. "Contrary to popular belief, Clark, Luthors are not infallible."

Clark's brow rose innocently. "You mean you've been human all along, too?"

This time it was Lex's turn to be surprised, and the sound of their laughter echoed into the night.

_Part Four: Falling_

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