Lex couldn't even remember what they argued about now. It seemed insignificant in comparison to the events that followed, one right after another, like the water flowing over Niagra's falls. He'd not had time to come up for air afterwards, let alone reflect on what trivial spat had started it all.
They could have argued about Helen, who still loved Lex and had a hard time accepting her position as "ex." It could have been something regarding their fathers. Neither Lionel nor Jonathan knew what went on between their sons. Both were overbearing and intolerable at times, and Lex disliked Jonathan Kent as much as Clark could not stand Lionel Luthor. The argument may have centered around money; all couples argued about money at one point or another. Lex had money and wanted to give it away, spoiling Clark with gifts and pampering. Clark was simpler than that, and asked for nothing but Lex himself.
All Lex knew for sure was that they had not argued about secrets. They'd had none at the time, having made their confessions and their amends long before. Lex destroyed every file he'd ever kept on Clark Kent or his family, and those of his father as well. Clark apologized for putting a dent Lex's Porsche, and they'd laughed about it while curled up together on the sofa in Lex's media room. Clark's kisses tasted like chocolate. They'd been drinking cocoa in front of the fire.
Lex closed his eyes.
There was a quiet cough from somewhere nearby, and the sound of a low voice. "Lex, they're waiting."
"Let them wait," he said. He turned slowly from the window.
Pete wasn't happy about making people wait on purpose, but he nodded when Lex gave him a look that brooked no denial.
Lex never in a million years would have predicted himself being friends with Peter Ross. The Rosses and the Luthors had bad blood between them. Lionel had bilked them out of thousands of dollars during the time he'd swept through Lowell county like Sherman, buying up and destroying farms, businesses and families. The Ross family had been lucky to get through their economic upheaval and the ire they'd faced from the community when Luthor Corp. immediately shut down the creamed corn factory and built an environmental nightmare there in its stead.
Pete had hated Lex for years, and stopped speaking to both him and Clark for months when he'd been told of their relationship. Lex didn't blame him. He'd felt pushed out, betrayed, and abandoned. Lex knew quite well how that felt. Pete and Clark had fought too, and it had been Lex who'd sewn the seeds of forgiveness between them. He could remember the argument between Pete and Clark, but not the last one between Clark and himself, the one that had sent Clark out into a raging storm. Lex remembered the storm. The crackle and roar of thunder and lightning had echoed what was going on inside him as he'd watched Clark leave in anger.
Clark had told Lex about Eric Summers. Both of them knew the dangers of mixing lightning and Kryptonite, only it hadn't been called Kryptonite back then, but "meteor rock," a misnomer Lex had always found irritating. Neither of them thought Clark walking home in a storm was something to worry about. Clark was invincible and there were no meteor rocks between the Kents' farm and the Luthor mansion.
Lex called the next morning, before it was time for Clark to leave for school. His heart had ached with regret. "Mrs. Kent, may I speak to Clark?"
He wasn't there. His bed had not been slept in, nor was there any evidence he'd been in the loft that night. They'd known he'd been at Lex's for a game of pool (among other things) the evening before. They'd assumed when the storm set in, Clark had decided to spend the night at the mansion. Lex did not reveal to them the quarrel he'd had with their son, nor that Clark had set out for home long before midnight. He lied. He told them Clark spent the night with Pete.
Pete had been unavailable when Lex called the Ross home, disguising his voice to avoid conflict with Judge Ross, Pete's mother. Clark had not been there either, and Pete had gone out earlier looking for him.
"Lex," Pete said quietly. "It's time. You can't put it off any longer."
It was the here and now. Lex stumbled blindly around in the past, going over events he wanted to forget - no - erase permanently so he could start all over again. He closed his eyes once more, leaning heavily on his desk. Pete had been his friend ever since that day the Ross' truck pulled up behind the mansion and Lex was called down to meet him. He had chosen to come to Lex first, unable to face Clark's parents. He'd been nearly hysterical, it had taken Lex some time to figure out what he was saying, and then Lex found it hard to believe.
"Show me," he had said, and Pete did.
The day had been deceptively bright and sunny. No clouds remained from the previous night's storms. The grass glittered with dew rapidly burning off in the sunlight. Birds flitted through the tall strands, their songs rising into a blue, blue sky. A few wild-flowers turned their faces to the east where the sun glittered through the trees like molten gold. Lex's pants caught on brambles and the cuffs became damp as he'd followed Pete through the meadow. He would never forget that walk.
Something crunched underfoot when they were halfway across. Lex had looked down to see the glint of something shiny reflecting the sun, and his breath caught in his throat when he'd seen what lay there. Scattered about were dozens of glittering stones in luminescent red and green, spilled upon the ground like candy from an overturned Easter basket. Ahead of them the grass had been trampled and broken. Lex rushed past Pete calling Clark's name. He'd known before he got there what he'd find. The memory brought back the pain he'd felt, pain like a knife being plunged into his gut.
Memories upon memories, layered like the skin of an onion, peeled away to reveal what lay beneath. Before the argument Clark had been in his arms, mouth open to Lex's kisses, and body responsive to Lex's touch. Lex had reveled in the warmth of his skin and the sweetness of his breath. He had felt more alive than ever before, hyper sensitive to the slightest movement Clark made beneath him, and the faintest sounds coming from either of their throats. Their time together had been brief. The fight followed, and then the flight.
Morning had found Lex kneeling in crushed grass with his stomach churning and his eyes burning from tears he refused to shed. Fury replaced grief as he'd turned to look up at Pete, who had no such coping mechanism. The boy was sobbing again.
"What happened?" he demanded. "God-damnit, Peter! What happened?"
Pete shook his head. "I don't know."
Two years before Lex had run Clark over with a car, shoving him backwards through a metal guard-rail and into a river. He should have died then. He should have looked as he did lying there in the sunny meadow, broken and still, but he hadn't. Lex didn't understand what could have happened. Grief and fear wrapped themselves around him and squeezed as he reached out a hand to touch the body he'd held close only hours before. His fingers came away smeared crimson and trembling. He vaguely recalled stumbling away into the grass to vomit.
Taking Clark's life hadn't been easy. It was obvious he'd fought someone, or something, and lost. Limbs were turned at unnatural angles, and livid bruises marked face and torso, with skin torn in jagged cuts as if pulled apart. In one outstretched palm lay a shining green crystal, which had turned the hand nearly black, with streaks of ugly black/green running up the arm. Had the effects of the stone done this to him?
"We can't call the police." Pete had whispered.
"We'll take him home." Lex murmured. "Can you get the truck back here?"
The assignment gave Pete purpose. He'd immediately hurried to obey. Instinctively both of them had known not to call the authorities. The Kents would have to be told first. Something would have to be done, but neither Lex, nor Pete were in the position to do it. Grief was better dealt with in numbers, and the number of people who knew Clark's secrets were few. They would have to seek each other out for strength and comfort. Lex would not leave Clark lying in the dirt, naked and alone, nor would he risk having him wind up under a scientists knife, reduced to nothing but a thing. Lex would take him home himself and if Kents could not do it, he would make all the arrangements, and tell all the lies.
"It was a farming accident."
No one would doubt them.
He'd sunk to his knees in the dirt, the damp Kansas soil meeting expensive slacks in a clash of the common and the elite, and he'd removed his coat. The sight of black cloth against pale, white skin made him shudder. Once, when he'd been small, someone told him when you die it was just like going to sleep. When his mother died Lex had expected her to look as if she were sleeping, serene and content, but she hadn't. The distinction between life and death was too broad and unfathomable. Clark had never looked so weary, so frail, or so utterly, utterly still. Lex had slept with him too many times, been held in his arms afterward much too often, not to know what he looked like when truly asleep.
Lex reached out to brush back Clark's disheveled hair, grimacing at the coolness of his skin and the sticky, congealing blood on his forehead. It oozed from a cut arcing up over his eyebrow, and trickled down his face like crimson tears.
The cut had still been bleeding. Blood was still flowing, but sluggishly, pumped through the battered body by a faltering heart. The realization struck Lex hard, just as a small breath of air escaped from swollen lips - a barely audible moan.
"Lex," Pete said. "Let's go."
The two voices, past and present, merged and writhed together, each seeking dominance, but the ghostlier of the two came to him the most clearly.
"Remember," Clark had murmured. "I am the one who loves you."
There had been no time to ask the questions Lex desperately needed to be answered.
How did you get here?
Who did this to you?
Likewise there had been no time for any last words on Lex's part, no "I'm sorry," or "I love you." One breath, one last phrase, was all Clark had left to give. Lex told no one afterwards. No one knew what he knew.
Sometimes it wasn't easy being the bad guy. Pete seemed to understand, but then Pete didn't know about some of the nastier things Lex did under the table either. Lex had once overheard Pete talking to his wife when they thought Lex wasn't listening. Pete had told Lana, "Lex hasn't been the same since he lost Clark." He had been referring to their friendship, their love affair. Pete didn't know there was more.
Lex was harder, colder, and stronger than he'd been before. It came with the territory. He needed that armor.
Pete guided Lex out of his office and down the hall toward the rotunda where dozens of important guests awaited him. Lex hated trite, meaningless ceremonies such as this, which served only to get him out "among the people," but they too came with the territory. Congenial men, men who mingled with the "common man" and showed themselves to be just as human, gained votes. Men who gained votes gained power, and Lex needed power to accomplish his goals.
He maintained the scowl on his face until they reached the doors, where security men fell in step beside them and a throng of press clustered about with microphones and cameras. He smiled for them. He shook hands and waved to people he knew, all the while listening to the beat of his heart throbbing in his temples, and forcing himself to remember why he was really there.
In the past he had served as pall bearer in Clark's short journey from the ground to the bed of a pick-up truck. Lex would have wanted something more dignified. Clark wouldn't have cared. Pete drove carefully, highly aware of the precious cargo that lay shrouded in a moth eaten blanket behind him. He told Lex later he'd winced at every bump and pothole he'd hit driving up Hickory Lane. Lex, refusing to acknowledge there was anything of Clark left in the limp body wouldn't have cared so much.
He drove behind the truck, silent and still as if he too had breathed his last. Like a caged animal his mind clawed frantically at the walls of ignorance, demanding answers to questions only Clark could have given. Lex wanted someone to blame, someone to destroy in retaliation for his loss, just as he'd turned his anger and grief upon Lionel after Lillian Luthor died.
At the farm all was quiet. The Kents' truck was gone and so was Martha's car, but he was there, standing on the porch, waiting for them as if he'd known they'd be coming. Pete sat behind the wheel, staring up at him in disbelief for a long moment until comprehension set in and he burst from the truck with a laugh.
"Clark! Man, I knew it! I knew it. I knew you'd be okay!" The boy pumped his fist and crowed, lifting his voice into the clear, blue sky. "Yes!"
"I just came back to change clothes," came the reply. There was a nod toward the truck. "I was going to go get him."
Lex exited his car at a more leisurely pace, his eyes never leaving the tall figure coming down to meet them. "You want to explain this?" he'd asked quietly. "Now that we've had our fright?"
They'd listened carefully to the tale. He'd taken a different way home, a longer way, in order to have time to think about things, reflecting back on his disagreement with Lex. Crossing the meadow he'd become ill, and the storm struck him a blow far more ferocious than the one he'd been dealt at the top of the Smallville Dam a year earlier. He woke to find himself still sick from the meteor rocks, stunned by the lightning, and facing his own doppleganger.
"It was the rocks," he'd explained. "Something about the rocks and the lightning."
A darker, nastier, more dangerous version of an already powerful being had been created by the combination of alien genes and alien stones, stirred together with the power of lightning. It had been a psychotic, Frankenstein version of the Clark they knew. It had to be stopped, and he had stopped it just as he would have any other meteor freak. The danger was past.
"We'll dump the body in Crater Lake," he said. "No one will know. It's best that way."
Pete had gotten back in the truck a new man, convinced all was well again and, he'd admitted to Lex just recently, a little embarrassed at his emotional outburst. He accepted the story easily, such was his trust in the friend he'd known since childhood. Lex was more wary.
Clark walked by him on his way to the passenger's side door of the truck, and Lex had slipped a hand around his elbow, drawing him up short.
Their eyes met, and Lex had known the truth immediately.
I am the one who loves you.
The click, whir, and flash of cameras accompanied Lex's ascent to the podium. Pete announced him to a standing ovation, and when the applause died down he finally set aside the past in favor of the now. The game face came on, and the governor of Kansas prepared himself to award Superman the Humanitarian of the Year Award.
When the engraved placard passed between them and they shook hands for the camera, their eyes met again for the first time since that day long ago. Knowledge passed between them too, knowledge borne of a rivalry and a hatred that had begun in a sunny meadow not far from where they now stood.
Nobody knew what Lex knew. Nobody knew about the unsolved rapes and murders often taking place in the poorer quarters of the city, events which, strangely, Superman never bothered to prevent. Lex new the truth of the matter. He also knew about the shadowy figure who often met with foreign heads of state, giving them advice, threatening them, influencing their actions, and thus changing the way the world ran its business.
Superman was a myth. The man who called himself Clark Kent was a joke, a parody of the real thing, designed not only to disguise the alien among them, but to rub salt in Lex Luthor's wounds.
Lex took home the stone Clark had used as a last ditch effort to protect himself from his own darkness. He'd had it made into the ring who's power kept him alive; Superman could not get near him. He did not wear it now and was uncomfortably aware of its absence. He wasn't wearing it because he knew he was safe under the watchful eye of the media, and that Superman wouldn't dare to anything to him in such a public forum. Lex wanted Superman to get near him this time, to look him in the eyes and be reminded of just what Lex knew.
Lex now held the governor's mansion, one day he would reign the Senate, and eventually a Luthor would reside in the White House. When that day came he would finally have the power he needed. His final goal grew nearer to hand with each passing hour, and Superman needed to know it.
The game they played was intricate, dangerous, and not at all what Lex had wanted for himself. He'd always imagined another future, something more comfortable, more domestic. He'd wanted to have Clark at his side to greet him when he came home from a long day at the office, and to hold him close during long, cold, winter nights. He wanted beautiful Clark, passionate Clark, kind and gentle Clark who had always known what to say to comfort him, and when Lex just needed someone to listen.
Superman had taken that away and turned Lex into something he wasn't. Superman had turned him into Lionel Luthor, who had lied, cheated, stolen and even murdered to get what he wanted. Lex had done all that too in order to get where he was now - except murder. He was saving that for last.
Their eyes met as they stood together behind the podium in a blinding explosion of flash-bulbs. Superman was smiling. It was somewhat dark and feral. It was not the smile Lex remembered.
But Lex smiled back. He knew if he played his cards right, and kept himself alive, one day he would get what he wanted more than anything else in the world.