Two little words that struck fear in the hearts of business moguls and common people alike. One of the most powerful men on Earth. Sworn enemy of Superman.
Lex' eyes were blind to the view outside his penthouse windows. He knew suddenly that this must have been how his father and felt at the end. Dying, none of his money or power at all able to slow or reverse the outcome. Trapped, by his fate and his choices, into an end he never really wanted.
A lot of things had changed since he was banished to that castle in the corn. His desk was still glass, still kept with military order. Today it was empty except for two battered yellow and black paperback books. The report from his physician had been read and then duly put away.
Dwelling on his mortality would not change the outcome.
Lex sighed, resignation coloring his entire being. Lexcorp arrangements had been made. There was only one thing left to do. He turned the torn cover to the devotion in the first book.
'How to be an evil villain' stared up at him and Lex shook his head with a faint grin.
"What is it?" Lex practically snarled at the girl. One of the day maids brought in to clean after Christmas and New Year's entertaining by his father. She looked ready to bolt, shaking as she placed a gift bag on his desk.
"It was found this morning, sir. When we removed the tree."
Lex was so focused on the cows frolicking in a glitter snow that he never heard the girl leave his office. He refused to acknowledge that his own hand might not be entirely steady as he turned the tag to read.
"To: Lex From: Clark"
And here he'd spent the last week cursing the pretense of friendship and the sixteen year old who had forgotten him. He'd picked up the phone and dialed from memory without even opening the present.
The female voice was immediately recognizable and Lex unconsciously sat up straighter. "Mrs. Kent, is Clark there?"
He could hear the smile in her voice. "Of course he is, Lex."
There was the faint rustle of the phone being passed and Martha's muffled instruction to take the call out to the barn. Clark, when he came on, was full into the throes of teenage drama. "You hate it. I knew it. You've been waiting and thinking of how to tell me I'm a dweeb."
Lex chuckled, his holiday blahs shattering under the power of this incredible fey creature.
"Clark." His voice interrupted the ongoing monologue of regret. "I haven't even opened it yet," he admitted.
"Lex!" Clark was clearly scandalized. "It's the third! Christmas was nine days ago."
"One of the cleaning people just found the bag."
"But," Clark paused in confusion. "I left it under the tree."
Lex smiled, a genuine softening of his features. "The tree is for show, Clark. I never looked under it because there haven't been presents there for many years."
Even without saying anything, Clark clearly expressed his opinion of that. But he was possibly the person who knew Lex best. He knew pity would never be tolerated and changed the subject.
"Are you going to open it or not?"
"Yeah," Lex said softly, moving to follow through. He rustled the tissue paper aside, shocked as he lifted out two paperback books by an author named Zawacki, tied together with a purple ribbon. Lex was stunned silent.
Clark was almost stuttering nervous as he added, "I wrote something in the first one for you."
Lex flipped open the cover of the smaller black and yellow paperback to read the inscription.
'Lex. You've told me that great men make their own destinies. If you ever choose to follow your father, be better than him.'
Lex choked on his own ignorance of what to say and emotion.
"Do you hate it?" Clark asked quietly.
"No, Clark," Lex finally managed. "I don't hate it."
Lex closed the cover and held the aged books in his hands as he stood. His secretary nodded politely as he passed and security noted his exit when he crossed through the lobby.
It was a matter of a short walk and a few minutes to reach the Daily Planet newsroom. Lex went unnoticed at first. He'd never come here quietly before. Giving silent thanks that Lois was elsewhere, he stopped next to Clark's desk.
The dark haired man looked up, eyes narrowing immediately in suspicion.
"May I speak with you in private?"
"I have nothing to say to you, Luthor."
Lex had expected the coldness, he had helped cultivate it, but it still hurt an already chilled soul. He was silent, defeated. It was a loosening of control rather than an intention action that dropped the books on Clark's desk.
"I quit," Lex whispered with the beginnings of an ironic smirk. He turned while Clark was still looking down, hurrying to the elevator as best he could. He'd almost expected the hand that stopped the doors from closing.
Lex waited as Clark boarded the elevator and hit the stop button as soon as they were alone. He shook the books accusingly in Lex' face. "What do you mean, you quit?"
Lex smiled fondly at the familiar ire. "I meant, quite simply, that I quit. Superman's life will be quiet now."
"Why tell me?"
Lex rolled his eyes, slumping against the cheap laminate covered wall. "Can we stop pretending?"
Clark's eyes widened. "I don't know what you think you know, Luthor..."
Lex interrupted. "I've known since Smallville. I've always known. I've had proof since you decided to run at full speed through a location with recording devices trying to stop Phelan."
Clark was silent, allowing Lex to explain either through sheer shock or stunned dismay.
"There are always three people in any hero's life, Clark. You already had your sidekick when we first met. I never bothered to imagine that you'd allow me the august position of your love interest."
Lex looked away, hitting the button that would return the elevator to movement. His hoarse voice revealed the emotion he wasn't able to keep his face from showing. "I made my destiny in the only niche that would keep you in my life - as your nemesis."
"You could have killed me, Luthor."
The accusation and continued use of his last name burned after he'd laid himself bare. But he wouldn't get another chance for these confessions.
"If I had ever wanted you dead, you would have been dead. I'm a genius, Clark. I was always careful to be just enough of a threat that you couldn't ignore me."
The elevator stopped and Lex stepped forward. He was blinded to the occupants of the Daily Planet's lobby by the veil of moisture in his eyes. Clark's grip on his arm would leave a bruise, but Lex endured.
"Why tell me this at all? Why now?"
Lex turned his head, unable to deny himself one last good look at the angel that had deemed him worthy of living. "Cancer. Because of my Kryptonite-based mutation, the doctors can't do anything."
He shrugged and Clark's hand fell away. "I'm dying," Lex admitted in a whisper only Superman could have heard as he walked away.
Lois was getting really fucking tired of nicotine patches that didn't work. She was also really fucking tired of her partner fanning those damn books and not pulling his weight. Since she could only do something about one of those things...
"If you don't cut it out, Smallville... I'm going to shove that book down your goddamn throat!"
There was a momentary pause in the newsroom before business as usual resumed. It wasn't unusual to hear such outburst whenever Lois was trying, yet again, to quit smoking.
Clark shrugged and put the book in a drawer. "Sorry, Lois."
His distraction almost made her feel sorry for yelling - but not quite.
"What is your problem, Kent?"
Clark turned the full weight of his gaze on her. "Lois, do you love me?"
She flinched. "I don't know, probably."
"If I asked, would you marry me?"
She spilled her coffee and jumped up cursing. "Christ, Smallville... That's a hell of a thing to drop on a woman."
He shrugged and turned away. Incensed, she persisted. "Are you asking, Kent?"
"I don't think so..."
Then, he turned back to her. "Have you ever loved anyone so much you never told them?"
Lois' mouth dropped open. She closed it with a snap, mumbling profanity as she stomped back to her chair. "I should have known this was about Luthor."
Clark startled. "What made you mention Lex?"
"Lex?" Lois asked with an eyebrow. Deciding to hell with the patch, she dug out the backup cigarette pack in her desk and lit one with a steady draw.
"Clark, let me tell you something... Blind Somalian infants know that moron loves you."
"He is not a moron," Clark muttered defensively.
"Yes, he is," she continued without pity. "He loves you and you will always put the world first."
Clark winced. "Christ, Lois.... cut the guy some slack, he's dying."
"Good," she retorted mercilessly.
He sat for a long time, staring at nothing in particular, just thinking.
Lex shifted, grinding his teeth against the pain. There wasn’t really anything strong enough anymore to deaden the sensations of his body slowly eating itself. According to his doctors, major organ failure was weeks, if not days away.
They’d lectured, sulked, persuaded but he still would not permit himself to be hospitalized. Lex Luthor would not die a pitiful figure helpless in some nameless ward. He would die the way he should have once.
The speed limit was vastly lower than his current progress. The car, a pristine reproduction of the one he’d totaled that day, had taken some time to reacquaint himself with completely. It had been a long time since he’d driven himself anywhere. It had been a long time since he’d allowed himself to behave so recklessly.
Tires squealed and protested as Lex spun the wheel. He didn’t have a roll of barbed wire to blame this time. This was no accident. Thankfully, he also didn’t have wide hazel eyes staring at him as he went through the rail.
Improved or not, nothing held against a Luthor’s determination. Lex felt the contusion as his head rebounded off the steering wheel. He’d worn his seatbelt on purpose, knowing that what the car didn’t finish the water would.
The cold bite of the river seeped through the upholstery. Calmly, he sank into unconsciousness.
Finally, it was all right. It would end where it should have ended, how it should have ended, before he’d made so much go wrong.
Superman huddled on the floor in his arctic fortress, rocking in a curled up ball.
“The process is complete, Kal-El.”
It hurt, every time he heard his mother’s voice from that vague, formless computer. He raised his head, not noticing as the tears he’d shed turned to ice and flecked from his cheeks.
“Did it work?” he asked with desperate hoarseness.
There was a delay. A long delay that caused the anxiety to well once again in the man crouched on the floor. He stood, slowly, his joints creaking more with disuse and grief than any physical malady.
“Did it work?!” he demanded in an almost scream of the empty room and disembodied connection to his past.
“Damn you, Clark,” came his confirmation. The clear and approximate tones of Lex Luthor echoed in the empty space. “What have you done?”
It was hard to admit that the man in tattered casual clothing was Superman. But Clark Kent could never have gotten away with what had been done today.
“You don’t have to ask me that… you already know.”
He wasn’t quite joking, serious as he finally allowed himself to slip into leaning against the wall. The floor had been punishment, penance for his assumption. The wall behind him morphed, sliding down into a projection that he hesitated to ease himself down onto.
“Jesus, Clark, sit the fuck down.”
It was odd to hear profanity from the fortress. Mostly because Kryptonians hadn’t apparently been emotional enough for such a use of language. Lex, on the other hand… Clark sat down on the thoughtfully provided slope.
“Do you have any idea the amount of power you have placed at my fingertips?”
“You don’t have fingertips anymore, Lex,” Clark breathed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. The sheer terror, the panicked rush of the day shed like an old snake’s skin.
“Yes,” Clark acknowledged. “I know what the fortress is capable of.”
“Jesus, Clark,” the disembodied voice repeated.
The silence began to scare Clark and he sat forward, eyes popping open frantically. “Computer, respond!”
“Don’t you ever fucking address me that way again.”
Lex’ voice was a familiar balm of icy indignation. It was his Luthor tone, the one that Superman was well-accustomed to hearing.
“I’m sorry,” Clark tried.
“If you want this pair of Kryptonian prigs you call parents to run things, then you may use that word again.”
“Lex, I’m sorry.”
Somehow, it came through that he wasn’t apologizing just for his thoughtless phrase. Clark waited, knowing that Lex would speak when he was ready. Speak the only way he could anymore, through the matrix of alien technology.
“Why did you do it?”
“I wasn’t ready to lose you,” Clark admitted. “And there wasn’t any other way to make you believe that I do trust you,” he concluded.
The silence stretched again. Clark moved, sheer exhaustion curling him along the barely adequate protuberance of the wall. It would probably be more comfortable to sleep in the air. Unfortunately, some vestige of his human raising had him absurdly certain that he’d fall while asleep. Even knowing himself invulnerable didn’t make that easier to accept.
The wall behind and beneath him shifted again, cradling him and expanding to allow comfort.
“My funeral was tasteful.”
From Lex, it was acceptance and progress forward wrapped in action rather than words.
“Yes, it was,” Clark acknowledged, turning to find his first true dreamless sleep since he’d heard the too familiar splash of a car against water.