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.
The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason. - 'Murder in the Cathedral' by T.S. Eliot
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oild wards,
And seal the hushd casket of my soul.
- 'To Sleep' by John Keats
It was just before dawn when Lionel entered the suite they called home with an overnight bag in tow. He'd just returned from a meeting on the west coast and if not for the coffee served during the flight back, Lionel was sure he'd have tripped over the school bag lying partially opened at the entrance. "That boy," he muttered before calling out, "Lex!" He took a shortcut through the kitchen to get to the master bedroom but found no one in it. Disconcerted, Lionel dropped his bag at the door and headed towards the living room. There he found Lex standing in front of the glass balcony doors wearing a black terry robe. "Son!" Lionel yelled, "what did I tell you about leaving your bag at the door?" The boy betrayed no recognition of his father, continuing to stand stock still facing the glass doors with his hands stiff at his sides. Lex was frowning and seemed to be staring hard at his reflection. At his baldness, Lionel shuddered. Lex finally acknowledged his father's reflection behind his own and turned to him. "Mom told me not to go out because I'll get sick," he informed Lionel as he joined him at the glass doors. Lex humphed offended, "Dad, everyone knows I don't get sick anymore."
Lionel placed an arm on his son's shoulder and squeezed when he saw past his reflection and at the slight figure standing against the railing. She wore only a maroon terry robe. He opened the doors and was walking out to her when the sun peaked over the Metropolis skyline. He froze mid-step when she turned to greet him, the early morning rays casting an ethereal glow on her fair skin, and for a moment she was as splendid and captivating as the day they first met. "Lionel," she breathed and smiled sweetly at him as he removed his coat and hugged it around her.
"What are you doing out here?" he whispered as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. It was frighteningly easy to envelope her completely with his own body now and her frailty worried him.
Unaware of his concern, Lillian hummed with satisfaction and molded herself comfortably into his embrace. "I wanted to see the sun rise," she sighed contentedly. A cool February breeze played lightly with her hair and she could not stop herself from shivering when the chilly air slipped beneath the coat and the robe and onto her bare skin. Lionel felt her shake in his arms and his concern heightened. Why had she gone out on such a chilly morning without a coat?
"Come, let's go inside," he said encouragingly as he pulled away and cupped a hand under her arm to direct her to the doors.
She leaned sleepily on his arm and allowed him to lead her inside and back into their bedroom. Lex had been standing at the balcony doors to close after them and soon followed into the bedroom where Lionel had already slipped Lillian under the covers. He wiped a stray strand of hair from her pale but smiling face. "Don't fall asleep, Lillian," he whispered and motioned for Lex to stand beside her. "No matter what, make sure your mother keeps her eyes open." Lex nodded as Lionel brushed by him and into the kitchen, hastily filling a kettle with water and putting it on the stove. While he waited for it to boil, he made a phone call to security who passively informed him that Lillian had dismissed her nurse for the weekend shortly after Lex arrived home from school the other day. This angered Lionel, who was now convinced that Lillian suspected the first, second, third and fourth doctor's diagnosis of her illness despite his efforts to conceal them from her. The kettle whistled and in a minute he had tea and a hot compress ready. Lionel returned to the room with the two and found Lex sitting at the bedside holding his mother's hand with one of his own and propping a book up with the other. Lionel recognized the worn binding of her favorite book before he recognized the poem being recited:
*"My life is a fault at last, I fear. It seems too much like a fate. Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed - but what if I fail of my purpose here?"*
Lex stopped, looked up at his father and closed the book. Lillian smiled and complemented her son, "you capture Browning beautifully, darling." Lex nodded once and allowed Lionel to take his seat at the bedside after placing the tea and compress on the table. He reached over with the intent to prop Lillian up in a sitting position when his hand slipped to the back of her neck and found it cold and damp with perspiration. She moved feebly away from his touch. "Hot," she mumbled. Lionel produced a handkerchief from his pocket and covered the back of her neck with it as he gently laid her back down on the bed.
"Is something wrong?" a tiny voice asked and Lionel was surprised to see Lex standing at the door frame
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "Lex, I want you to go into the kitchen and call the doctor. Tell him to come over."
"Lex!" Lionel said sharply, "now!" The boy glared at his father but left the room to do as he was told.
"You shouldn't be so hard on him," a weak voice called his attention back. Lillian stirred uncomfortably. "You push him too much. He's just a boy." Lionel responded by taking her clammy hands into his and kissing her smooth but cold forehead once more. "How was your trip?" she asked.
"Same old threats and diatribes of the southwest," Lionel replied, clasping both his hands over hers as if in prayer. "There's new development being made up north that I need to look into. I was supposed to go directly but I insisted on a detour layover here en route."
Lillian nodded sadly in understanding. "How long?"
Lionel stroked the fair skin of the back of her hand affectionately. "Another hour," he answered regretfully. Lillian looked up at him and blinked in astonishment. Not so much because of what he said, but because of what she saw in his unnaturally wide eyes. For a split second, she saw fear in them. It was then that her worst fears were confirmed. "I'll see you soon," Lionel added, misinterpreting her disbelief and making the irony even more bitter to swallow.
Lillian reached up to him with her free hand and touched his face with trembling fingers. "No, you won't," she whispered sadly, and for the life left in her could not be angry at him for leaving her again in these waning days.
The remaining hour was spent holding hands in silence, interrupted only by Lionel's occasional offer of tea, while Lex watched from the door.
The Torch, present day.
Clark walked briskly into the newspaper headquarters. "Hey Chloe, I got your call," he smiled at the petite blonde. "What's up?"
Chloe looked up from her computer and stopped typing. She closed the window she'd been working on and motioned Clark to come over as she opened another file. "I want to show you something."
A copy of an old Daily Planet gossip column popped onto the screen and greeted Clark with the headline, 'Oh Baby, Another Luthor!' Chloe watched as Clark's face contorted into a frown. "Did you know Lex had a brother?"
"Yeah," Clark replied but did not break his gaze from the article. "You met Lucas."
"No, a real brother," Chloe exclaimed, scrolling down so he could read the rest of the article. "Like, 100% legitimate Luthor. It says his name was Julian, Clark, but he died a few months after this was published. Crib death, I think it was. On top of that, Lex's mother never physically recovered from the birth and she died two years later."
Clark pulled away from the screen and faced Chloe. None of what she revealed was new to him. Lex had confided about Julian to him back when Clark had been mourning the loss of his own 'brother' Ryan, and despite Lex's denial, Clark knew it had been a painful memory to reveal. Lex's trust and confidence in keeping his secret pain made Clark defensive and he wondered why Chloe hadn't questioned his complete lack of surprise at the revelation. "What are you doing?" he demanded.
"I-I just told you," Chloe frowned, thrown off by his hostility.
He looked frustrated. "That's not what I meant, Chloe. What are you doing researching Lex's history?"
Her mouth fell open and she felt as if she'd just been dealt a blow to the chest. "I was just...I saw a story, okay?" she said defensively. This was not how she had expected Clark to react. It hurt and disappointed her. How foolish to think that things between them had started to get better! "I'm sorry that my journalistic instincts have offended you yet again."
"I just don't want to see you get hurt," Clark sighed.
Chloe wanted to laugh. "It's a little too late for that, isn't it?" She pushed herself from the computer and waved her hands in dismissal. "You know, Clark, forget about it. It doesn't matter." She stood up and ushered him towards the door. "You should go. I have an interview in a few minutes and I really can't have any distractions."
Clark stopped at the door frame and turned to look down at Chloe. "Just be careful," he warned her and showed himself the rest of the way out.
An hour was more than enough time for Chloe to finish up Lana's updated file and have it ready for Lionel when he arrived precisely on time for their meeting. He flipped quickly through the files and nodded approvingly, holding it neatly at his side when he was done. For the first time since she'd started working for him, he seemed in a rush and not 100% focused on the present.
"Mr. Luthor, is everything all right?" Chloe asked, "You look, I don't know, a bit distracted."
"Do I now?" he asked, his interest piqued. "It seems then that you and Miss Lang have more in common than you think."
Chloe frowned and sat down in front of her computer. "I've been meaning to ask you something, Mr. Luthor. Off the record." Lionel gave her a suspicious look and she added, "personal curiosity."
"Miss Sullivan, if you are about to ask me if I had anything to do with the jet crash that almost killed my son--"
"Oh, no!" Chloe exclaimed and grinned nervously. "I don't think I could stomach the idea of such a link existing. No, sir, I'm not interested in the cause of the crash."
"Yet you continue to walk on treacherous ground," observed Lionel.
"I know," she said and her courage floundered for a moment under his reproaching gaze. "I just need to reassure myself that the man I work for is at least partly human."
Lionel had never heard anything so thoroughly entertaining in a long time. "Make no martyr and seek no fallen hero," he chuckled. "Because you will find neither here."
Chloe chose to ignore his jest and blurted, "WHY?"
"Miss Sullivan, you promised you wouldn't ask that," Lionel pouted mockingly. "You gave me your journalist integrity."
"No, Mr. Luthor," sighed an exasperated Chloe as she fought hard to keep her composure in his powerful presence. She was convinced now that Luthors were born intimidating. "You knew Lex had washed up on the island less than a week after the crash. You didn't just NOT send a rescue party, you actually prevented the possibility of anyone finding him all summer. So I ask again: WHY?"
There. She'd said it. Gutsy reporter Chloe Sullivan. And the silence that settled between them was thick and suffocating. Chloe was afraid that if she held her ground any longer against Lionel's intensely smoldering gaze, he'd burn a hole right through her head. On the other hand, she was terrified that if she looked away, something violently feral would be unleashed. When he spoke at last, his voice was low and sounded distinctly like a growl. "It was...necessary."
"Necessary?" she barely managed to gasp.
*To his survival. *"Good day, Miss Sullivan," Lionel announced curtly and exited the room in three long strides.
The Talon Theater.
The worst part about throwing a moviefest was cleaning up afterwards. No one ever seemed to want to stay for cleanup, so it was strictly a one-woman party. When Lana reached the bottom step of the final aisle with her trusty broom and dustpan, she let her knees give way and collapsed into a sitting position on the floor. She was exhausted. With the seats and aisles clean, all there was left for Lana to do was to put away the projector and screen. Problem was, the projector weighed a ton.
As if hearing her silent despair, the back doors opened and a familiar figure appeared in the entrance. "Hey," Clark greeted.
"Hi," she called up to him, and rather than get up to meet him she lazily waited for him to come down to her.
"Still cleaning up?" he asked as he took a seat beside her on the step.
She shrugged, "more like basking in the fruit of my hard labor right now."
"Looks good," Clark smiled as he glanced appreciatively around the theater. "Guess it's too late to ask if I can do anything." The smile faltered on his lips as he returned his gaze to Lana. She looked away.
"I don't think there's anything left that you haven't done, Clark." And though her muscles screamed in outrage, Lana forced herself to stand and head to the back where the projector was.
Clark followed her. "I know things aren't great between us right now, but at least let me help you finish up. I don't want you hurting yourself just because you refused to take my help."
Lana stopped and sighed. "Okay," she surrendered and took a seat nearby as Clark began to tackle the projector.
He stole a glance at her as he worked and bit his lower lip as he pulled at the collapsible feet that propped up the projector. "Is there any chance things can get back to the way they were between us?"
She couldn't help but chuckle. "What do you mean, Clark? This is how it's always been between us."
Clark disappeared momentarily in the booth to retrieve the carrying case and placed it on the floor beside the now-compact projector and stand. "I'm not going to give up on us, Lana. Do you know why?" She watched him warily as he picked up the one ton projector with very little effort and packed it into the case. He looked up once more to her. "Because we're meant to be together. I feel it, and deep down, I know you do too."
Lana looked away again and bowed her head. Absent-mindedly, she began stroking the patch of skin on the back of her hand where her index and thumb met. Do you believe that there is only one person in the world that's right for you?
"Clark, you just can't do that," she swallowed anxiously. "It's unfair."
He stood up then, the projector case and folded stand in either hand. "What, telling you how I feel? The truth? I thought that was what you wanted."
"I did," she sighed. "But now what I want is time. I'm sorry, Clark." I believed Helen was the one.
Lana silently implored him to understand and forgive her, and to her relief, he nodded. "I've been waiting since I was five," he grinned sheepishly. "I can wait a little longer." He disappeared once more into the booth and came out a minute later empty-handed. He walked over to where Lana was staring off lost in her thoughts and put his hand gently on her shoulder. She pulled away reflexively.
"What's wrong?" Clark frowned.
"Nothing," she lied miserably, another reflexive move. Lana turned apologetically to him. "I'm worried about Lex. I'm afraid he might do something like -- I don't know. I just have a feeling he's holding back on something terrible."
"I saw him a few nights ago," said Clark. "He seemed okay to me."
Those were not the words Lana wanted to hear and it fueled her frustration. She took a deep breath to calm herself. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm just being paranoid about losing a good friend. Again."
The sarcasm in the last part was not lost on Clark, and it saddened him. "Caring a lot about people doesn't make you paranoid, Lana."
She knew she'd been unnecessarily mean to him then. "The legendary Kent charm. It'll definitely get you places." She offered him her token Lana Lang smile, but he noted how it did not reach her eyes like it used to.
"I should go see him," she decided.
"I don't think Lex accepts house calls yet," Clark said with mild surprise. The look Lana shot him prompted him to correct himself immediately, "though I'm sure he'd be glad if you dropped by." He was rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment when an idea came to him. "Why don't we both go see him?"
"I don't think that's a good idea," she said in a rush that surprised them both. Lana bit her lip as she formed an explanation in her mind, "It would just seem like we're confronting him. You know, two against one." Clark raised his brow at her and she rolled her eyes. "You think I'm being silly again."
"No, you're making perfect sense," he said thoughtfully. "Two's company, three's a crowd."
Lana knew Clark truly meant what he said, but the disappointment he tried to conceal was real as well. "Are you sure?"
"I'll finish here," Clark nodded and pushed her gently towards the door. "Besides, you two have some things in common. If he opens up to anyone right now, it'll be you."
I have to believe in the possibility that there's more than one right person in the world.
Lana stood at the entrance for a moment and stared back at Clark. No matter what it came down to or how things turned out, he'd always be there for her, and she was grateful for that. "Thank you."
_Part Five: She Walks in Beauty_
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