"What?" Clark said, startled.
"What's wrong?" Lana asked him, frowning.
"Is it Chloe again?" Lois asked, peeking her head around the corner.
Clark tilted his head, changing his grip on the phone. "No, Chloe, that's... thank you for telling me. Yeah. Ok, you, too -- bye." He hung up, grimacing to himself.
"Clark?" Lana asked again.
"Lex has been shot," Clark said, turning to her.
"What?" Martha gasped.
"Twice," Clark added more quietly, rubbing at his eyes with his fingers.
"Probably deserves it," snorted Jonathan.
"Dad!" Clark yelped, wide-eyed.
"Oh, you know what I mean. He hasn't exactly been playing clean politics; you lie down with unsavory characters and, well..." the elder Kent shrugged.
Martha slapped him in the arm, looking upset with her husband.
Lana glanced up at Clark as they walked out of the kitchen to leave his parents to their bickering.
"You're not actually going to go see him, are you?" she asked when she saw him look towards his coat by the door.
Clark looked down at Lana, then glanced over at his parents, then gave a noncommittal shrug that Lana interpreted as a 'no'.
Lex awoke later that night as someone entered his room.
He didn't move, didn't even bother to open his eyes. If it was a nurse, they could bear ignoring. If it was his father... well, he'd either be yelled or shaken awake for yet another confrontation, or he'd give up at Lex's unresponsiveness in 'slumber' and leave again soon enough.
He heard a quiet shuffle of footsteps, a sliding sound of metal against plastic and a rustle of papers by his feet, then a soft sigh, nothing more. There was a pause, then the sound of his clipboard medical file being replaced at the foot of his bed and footsteps receding.
Lex slitted open his eyes at the retreating back, then softly cleared his throat and said, "Well, I have to admit, you were the last person I expected to see here."
The body froze, then turned slowly.
"Clark," Lex acknowledged. "Come to check up on your father's running mate? Or are you gathering background on a story for Chloe? --Oh, don't look so surprised, I know you're one of her most frequently used 'anonymous sources'."
Clark grimaced and wavered at the open doorway.
"Either stay or go, Kent," Lex drawled blandly.
Clark pulled a sour face, but he stepped inside the door and closed it.
Lex blinked, slightly surprised.
"I don't suppose you saw your assailant?" Clark asked quietly.
"What, all business tonight? Not even an 'are you ok?' No concern for my well-being at all?" Lex nearly sneered. He was tired of it all, tired of all the games and lies, and the last thing he needed was to entertain the son of the man whose good name he was trying to drag through the mud when all he wanted to do was get some real sleep and hopefully wipe the vision of loved ones dying horribly out of his mind.
Clark angrily took a deep breath, then looked away and blew it out. "I saw your chart, you're fine now."
"You don't seem to approve," Lex jeered.
"You're right; I don't."
"Oh, no?" Lex drew himself up, ready to snap back about how Clark was the one who had ended their friendship, not him, and he didn't have a right to judge him anymore, if he ever had to begin with. Jab at how his running mate's son dropping by to look in on him was inflammatory material, and oh, how Lex could spin that! Looking in on him to see if he was dead yet? Rumors that maybe he'd hoped he could try to help it along? Get a good yelling match going and maybe someone would think that the mugging hadn't been quite so accidental... and why not? Clark was in the way of Lex and Lana, wasn't he? Why not help it along? It wasn't as though he owed Clark any sort of consideration; they weren't friends anymore.
"No, I can't believe that you're still letting your dad make medical decisions for you."
Lex felt like he'd been shot in the gut again.
"Really bad ones."
"And who exactly should I appoint as my healthcare power of attorney, Clark?" Lex laughed.
"Not. Lionel." Clark gritted out.
"Well, that's a rather large group there, Clark? Maybe we should narrow it down a bit. Helen? Nope, still wants me dead. Desiree? No, for the same reason. Hmm, how about Lucas? Oh yes, I think a self-centered little psychopath up to his eyeballs in gambling debt would be incredibly trustworthy for making life-and-death decisions about my health and well-being, don't you? My mother? Dead, and not too talkative with the doctors, I don't think," Lex ended with a sick feeling, because after what her spirit had indicated about what she wanted for him, well, he wouldn't have trusted her with making life decisions for him, either. "Well, let's see, who does that leave? Well, after ex-spouses and family, I suppose that the closest person left would be... you."
Clark blanched, and Lex couldn't help but grin at him. "Well, why not?" he continued, shoving the knife in just a little bit further, "After all, you've saved my life before, several times in fact. No doubt you feel obligated for whatever reason to save it several more, or were you really asking after a description of my assailant for your health?" Lex pursed his lips. "Because that seems to me like an odd thing to be asking if all you were after was a story. That's rather more the sort of thing that one tells a police officer, hoping that they'd catch the perpetrator." And Lex watched Clark stand there and squirm.
"Well? So what do you say, Clark? Think you're up to it?"
"The last time we talked, I punched you in the face!" Clark said, almost accusingly.
"And I did the same -- what's your point?"
"I-- I--" Clark stammered, and Lex watched in detached interest as Clark actually seemed to be taking him seriously and trying to think it through.
"I know, let's give you a little test and see if you're up to it," Lex said teasingly, as if it were all a big game. "Let's say that I ended up shot--"
"--and I got through surgery and my life was no longer in danger, and was lying unconscious after surgery--"
"Lex," Clark sighed, starting to relax.
"--and had a blood clot that was pressing on my spine and going to leave me permanently paralyzed--"
"--from the chest down if nothing relieved the pressure--"
Clark looked almost sick.
"--then what would you do?"
"Oh yes, Clark, say my name a few more times, I'm sure that'd help matters along."
"Tick-tock, Clark. You need to make a decision soon. Time's a-wasting!"
"Ask the doctor to relieve the pressure." Clark looked frustrated and angry.
"Ah, but what if I wasn't stable enough to have surgery?"
"What if surgery to get rid of the blood clot was life-threatening so soon after the previous one to sew me back together?" Lex proclaimed, gesturing at his abdomen and shoulder.
"Who said anything about surgery?
"How else could they get rid of the clot?"
"Why couldn't they just relive the pressure using drugs or... or needles or something? I don't know. Don't they have medications to clear up blood clots?" Clark said heatedly. "Get you stable long enough that you wouldn't be risking your life to fix it, or until you could wake up and decide yourself?"
Lex lay there, irate. His hands itched. He was fairly sure that he wanted to strangle Clark. "You're sidestepping the issue, Clark. Your two choices are: me, going through a life-threatening surgery that could kill me, and me, paralyzed from the chest down, permanently. Decide."
"I'd rather have you in a wheelchair."
"I'm sure you would," Lex sneered.
"It's better than you dying!" Clark yelled, stomping forward and slamming his palms into the bed on either side of his head. "What the hell is wrong with you! Do you have a death wish or something?!"
Lex stared up at him, feeling a growing disquiet. He searched Clark's eyes, and the feeling grew.
"You really mean that..."
"Of course I do!" Clark spat out. "I guess it's too bad that we don't agree, and you'd rather risk dying than, than, I don't know," Clark stepped back, scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Sinking some of your R&D budget into something like robotic legs, or something, instead of torturing meteor freaks in Level 3," he spat out, turning away.
Lex stilled and wondered if Clark knew anything about the new SynTechnics project he'd been overseeing, because that hit a little too close to home.
"I don't torture meteor freaks," Lex said evenly.
"Fine, whatever -- you just have your scientists experiment on everybody at Belle Reeve, doing whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want! As if that is any better, or different!" Clark glared back, teeth bared in righteous fury.
...Though there was more than that there, maybe a trickle of ...fear?
"You don't know what you're talking about, Clark," Lex said grimly, because really, he didn't.
Clark just shook his head and clamped down on whatever else he was about to say.
As Clark reached for the door, and turned the knob, Lex called to him, almost casually, "Make sure you sign the paperwork on the way out, would you?"
Clark turned to look at him oddly, eyes narrowing. "What paperwork?" he asked suspiciously.
"The power of attorney." Clark looked at him blankly. "For overseeing my medical decisions." Because, honestly, if Clark was willing to make the trek from Smallville to Metropolis in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to come see him and manage to bully his way in at such an ungodly hour when they weren't even friends, and then give him straight answers to medical decisions that he was far happier with than what his father did...
"...You can't be serious," Clark said in a slow monotone.
"Do I look like I'm joking?" Lex snapped back. "Oh for god's sake -- go and grab a doctor before I change my mind!"
Clark stared at him a little longer, expressionless, then walked out and closed the door.
Lex sank back against the pillows, grimaced, and closed his eyes.
He was more surprised than he should have been, when thirty minutes later Dr. Scanlon and Dr. Litvack trotted in, looking annoyed and harried, respectively, with Clark driving them before him.
Clark showed the next day at Smallville Medical Center, stomping his feet in the snowy drive as he waited for Lex to be transferred from the helicopter to a wheelchair and pushed out to his truck.
"What are you doing here?" Lex asked, only half-amused.
"Got a call from the Davis Clinic this morning, saying that you were trying to check yourself out?"
"Why the hell did they call you?" Lex demanded.
"Well, apparently somebody thought you were on too many painkillers to be making good medical decisions." After Clark gave him a searching look, he added, "You might want to try and treat the nurses a little better, next time, so they don't write you up like that again."
"Next time?" Lex echoed, scandalized. What made Clark think he was going to get shot again? He'd had enough of that for a lifetime already, thank you!
Clark just rolled his eyes. Then he added, grumpily and sounding unbelievably aggrieved, "Do you have any idea how hard it is to try and get doctors at a hospital to release somebody for you when you're not there in person?"
"How hard?" Lex asked rhetorically.
"It's practically impossible!" Clark continued, either totally missing Lex's cue to shut up about it, or just not caring because he wanted to rant. "I was barely able to convince them into transferring you back here, so I could ask the doctors here to release you -- not that I told the doctors at the Clinic that, or they never would've agreed to it -- and it took forever to sweet-talk the heli-pilots into flying you over -- and don't get mad about that, either, I know you would've killed somebody if you'd been stuck strapped-down in an ambulance for hours, and you can definitely afford the cost of the 'copter trip, even on Christmas -- and then I was having trouble convincing the nurses to let me take you with once you arrived, because a copy of the POA paperwork hasn't made it over here yet -- but since everybody knows me here, and how I'm not all homicidal and stuff, I was basically able to get them to promise me that they'd let you go with me if you didn't look drugged up to your eyeballs and didn't kick up a fuss when you saw me -- and I think I owe at least twelve different people a batch of sugar cookies or a pumpkin pie at this point," he griped. "And no, you are not driving, get in on that side, put on your seatbelt and stay there -- people with gut wounds who almost ended up paralyzed do not get to drive trucks the day after getting shot!"
Lex was hard put to keep the corners of his mouth from turning up as Clark continued his steady patter of minor complaints as he helped Lex into the truck, slammed the door, and then got in the driver's side himself.
The drive back to the mansion was similarly uneventful.
"So, how exactly did you explain this to your folks?" Lex was mindful enough to ask as Clark slung an arm under his shoulder and helped him up the stairs to his front door.
"This is Lex."
"You wanted a grenade to throw in the Kent camp? I got an atomic bomb." Griff was calling him on his cellphone? Dear god.
"This isn't a secure line," Lex gritted out. It wasn't out of the question that Lionel might be tapping the mansion's phone lines, as well as the town's celltower. You fool, Lex thought. Whatever happened to secrecy?
"Just meet me at Rampart and Broadway."
Lex cursed as Griff hung up. He pulled out a burner phone and quickly called the number back.
The idiot actually picked up and answered immediately. Apparently he was calling from a public phone in the middle of the city, but Lex didn't really care -- insecure was insecure. He found a niche away from the constant harassment of his campaign staff, and quietly read Griff the riot act. Then he managed to talk Griff into sending him the originals -- all the originals, for everything he'd found -- via postage envelope to a P.O. drop box that Lex had never used before -- and hopefully still would not be easily linked back to him, as all he gave Griff were instructions to get to the instructions for getting the information to him, and how to pick up his payment after.
He hoped that paying the man off with a tidy sum and a not-so-friendly warning would be the end of it; Griff wasn't exactly the smartest tool in the box, and Lex doubted the man was ambitious enough to think of jeopardizing a good deal when it was thrown his way. His bridge with Clark might not be anything close to repaired, but he wasn't entirely sure that he wanted to kill off the possibility completely anymore. He was going to see what Griff had come up with and make that decision for himself.
It was a miracle that Clark didn't accuse or blame him for the mess that was that poor psychopathic girl. Later that night, with a good glass of scotch in him, and more in his glass and on the way down, Lex wondered morosely whether he'd somehow supported her delusions, if somehow he could be held responsible for the near-shooting.
Past having an incompetent security staff that had managed to let her get away instead of dragging her off to the police station for arrest, that is.
He'd meant what he'd said -- he didn't want to hurt the Kents. Push for someone to dig deep and find something nasty and overturn Jonathan's hypocrisy somewhat? Sure -- he was all for that. But trying to injure or kill them?
He hadn't meant for the Level 3 'escapees' to go so far. They'd gone so far off plan that even a GPS signal, a map, and three rounds with a shock stick wouldn't have gotten them back on it.
He sank into his chair at his desk in the library and surveyed the room. He felt tired, so horribly tired, and he began to wonder whether he really wanted this or not. What he'd said to Clark earlier, and Clark's reply, came back to haunt him, even worse than his dead mother's ghost.
"Lex, why is some state senate seat so important to you?"
"It's a stepping stone."
"That's like Apollo asking Icarus why he's building wings. Look, Clark, you have everything you've ever wanted. I'm sorry if I'm still searching."
"What if you don't win? What if you get to the capital and realize you still haven't found what you're looking for?"
"Well, there's always the White House."
But now that Lex had begun to question that path, he remembered something he'd nearly forgotten from about a year ago: his nightmare from when he'd been exposed to that Lionel's toxic bacteria project that the military had originally contracted. He'd been president of the United States, and he'd launched every nuclear missile in the US arsenal, destroying the world.
While Lex doubted that that was a prophetic dream, it was still highly disturbing on many levels. If that had really been his worst nightmare, then what exactly was he thinking pursuing a path that could lead him there? It was one thing to conquer his fears... something he'd been all-but-forced into a necessity for doing so because of Lionel's influence and insistence on such... but it was entirely another to not trust himself in that sort of situation, to innately distrust himself and his decisions and actions when he had the ability to wield that kind of power.
And should he really be taking his cues from Lionel on that front? Lionel had always said that his emotions were a weakness that he should be well rid of, or at the very least gain mastery over with a complete and iron control if not. But what Lex really wanted was happiness, and happiness was an emotion, a feeling that could not be forced or felt at whim.
Lex had told Griff that Christmas Eve that the secret to happiness was money and power, because with those two things, he could secure everything else and keep it that way. But now? Now he wasn't so sure.
He could still remember the vague 'memories' of that time with Lana and their kids. Lana had said that she'd loved him because he'd turned his back on what Lionel thought it meant to be a Luthor. Lionel had said that he'd forfeited the race, and turned his back on all the money and power he had as a result of that. Clark had said that Lex had offered her something Clark couldn't; something that wasn't money or power, apparently. If they and his dead mother's fairy tale could be believed. If the entire thing wasn't a horrible delusion. Lex had never been one for reciting all his Hail Mary's and attending Sunday Mass every week, but this had smacked of something solidly real, and not just some drug-induced illusion.
He knew he still wanted more than anything to live happily ever after, but now? Now he had no idea how to go about doing it.
Lex felt like beating his head against a wall. A physical wall, just to even out the pounding in his skull from the beating he'd done against a mental one for the last thirty minutes.
All-in-all, that argument that he'd had with his father that morning had been entirely non-productive.
Lionel thought Lex had been on a power trip, trying to get elected to office, and that was so wrong that it literally make Lex feel physically sick that his own father thought so ill of him. Lionel also thought Lex needed to start treating his life like a war (...again?) and he had apparently been backing the Kents for quite some time, if Lex had read between the lines right. He'd almost certainly had Griff gunned down like a dog in the street, and what exactly had happened to that pacifist that had been sprung from prison, again? Oh, right -- apparently an evil black-meteor-rock version of himself had reminded Lionel that it was a good thing to act like a cold-hearted murderous bloodthirsty pathologically-manipulative criminal bastard who thought people's lives were worthless and meaningless so long as they were not useful to him.
Lex was feeling better about having Clark as his medical-legal-guardian already. Hell, if he'd done it back when they'd been friends, he probably never would've been "treated" with electroshock at Belle Reeve, if what he'd heard after the fact about how Clark had been running around trying to stop it had been any indication.
Treat Lex like he was some puppet on a string, would he? Well, Lex had had enough of Lionel for a lifetime. Multiple lifetimes. To hell with this.
Lionel was against him? Well, fine. Lex would end this like he'd started it -- on his own -- and he was going to win this thing on his own terms, without having to resort to dirty tactics, damnit. And if he lost? ...Well, then, so be it. He'd gone into this wanting to work at something, having to face the real possibility of losing, and he would see this through. He'd try his best, certainly -- because, well, that was part-and-parcel of what made him him, after all, and he doubted that that ever could change, even if he wanted it to -- and he doubted that he did want to.
And if he really did lose, well, he would have just lost this time, to this person. It would be a learning opportunity for him -- he would know what it felt like to lose on such a grand scale (though it was probably going to involve a lot of alcohol) -- and he would be the wiser for it. Worst-case, he would just have that much more time to figure out if this was really what he wanted, or if there was a better way. A better path to happiness.
Oh dear god.
Lana was in this situation because of him.
Those crazy ex-cops had been gunning for the black ship, which he didn't even have anymore, and it was so ludicrously sad that he was fighting bubbles of hysterical laughter.
And he'd been shot. Again.
Clark was going to kill him.
If he didn't bleed out first.
He'd been working with Lana. Sharing things, not sharing things. Lying and not lying.
He was going into shock and saying things he really shouldn't say.
He never talked about his hair, or lack of it, now. He never talked about Clark's hair. He shouldn't be talking about Lillian's fairy tale nightmare lollapalooza, not ever.
He apologized for not telling her about how the ship had vanished, for lying to her.
She knowingly walked out of the panic room for him.
She was going to get herself killed.
Clark was here.
And then there were EMT's and a ambulance and he told Clark where they went but he shouldn't have done that because Clark was going to go after them himself because the sheriff was dead and no-one would send for backup to help and he knew Clark was going to go anyway just like Lana had gone anyway and Clark was going to get hurt but Lana was going to die and so he had had to say something and...
Lana came to see him in the hospital. She wanted the truth from then on, and Lex promised it easily. Lex asked to be partners, equal partners, working together to solve this mystery and all the others... but Lana wanted to be friends.
And all Lex could do was sigh, because he was pretty sure that he couldn't be friends with her, because he didn't know how.
Partners implied equal footing and some sense of emotional... well, not distance, but more... a lack of an unhealthy co-dependence where they might each become dependent on the emotional stability of each other, which honestly was what he felt friendships tended to involve in this town.
Lex knew how to treat a partner. He knew about respect, self-sufficiency, the sharing of information and responsibility and trust, and how to balance all of that.
He didn't know how to interact with a friend. Clark had showed him that.
It probably didn't help that whenever he looked at Lana, he also saw two happy, healthy children who were yet to be born, either.
And perhaps one child who needed to never be conceived in the first place, so that Lana might live.
It didn't escape his attention that Clark had arrived at some point and saw him and Lana hugging.
Nor did it escape his attention that, rather than interrupting, or barging in and getting all alpha-male about 'his woman', or doing anything else that Lex could conceive Clark doing as a response to being kept out of the loop while Lex did stupid tings that nearly got himself and Lana killed...
...Clark just turned and walked away.
Lex had a sinking feeling.
Because that couldn't be good.
So now Icarus was stopping his wing-build prematurely to go ask Apollo if he had any better ideas.
Lex realized that his earlier analogy might have had more than a few problems with it, if he was really comparing Clark to a sun god and himself to a man obsessed with flight (true) who tended to circle a little too close to Clark (also true) and tended to get burned doing so (very true) and would inevitably be unable to maintain those lofty heights to which he aspired (ye gods, what was wrong with him?) and lose his fight to meet and exceed Clark's godlike and unreasonable standards (so true) and end up crashing in a great bloody mess (true again, emotionally and otherwise) into a dark ocean of madness, anger, guilt, and despair in which he would drown without help (except that Clark tended to trundle along in a boat every so often and try to help him fish himself out of the water, damn him, at which point the entire fucked-up cycle would start up all over again).
He was staggering to his car, with a glass bottle of cheap (for him) liquid courage in his hand, and drunk-calling Clark, and complaining how life was so not fair to Clark's voicemail, and mad as hell that Clark wasn't answering the damn phone, and what the hell was Lana doing here? He was supposed to be alone and miserable and maybe taking it out on Clark for some reason that could maybe have to do with Clark not checking up on him at the hospital properly like he was supposed to because now Clark was his guy and sure that could totally work as a reason-excuse-reason.
But Lana was happy-excited-glowing and she was wearing a ring and oh god Lex had lost her and that was just just why no nooo that was because-because-because she knew something she wasn't telling yes she was lying about not knowing because she wanted-needed to know about Clark and she couldn't wouldn't have committed to him without knowing and she knew she knew Clark's secret and the aliens and the ship and everything else were now all meaningless to her and Clark oh god it all had to do with Clark didn't it ohh it must and she was lying to him now and he'd promised her he wouldn't lie but she'd never promised him and that wasn't fair--
And now she was running-driving-driving away and why was she doing that? and he had to apologize because he hadn't meant it hadn't meant to scare her he wanted to be friends he really did but he was just so tired and so angry and had screwed up and yelled just once only the once and nothing ever worked out and why was that why was it so unfair and oh god what had just happened no the-bus no Clark no it was all wrong and he was sorry--
But Lana was horribly upset-angry-crying and Lex didn't know how to fix this. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Lana and Clark were broken up for good, she said. It was because Clark just didn't trust people for whatever reason, and he told her that, and he told her he wouldn't lie to her, someone he loved, and he could do that -- he could give her something Clark couldn't and that was it! that was why they were together they were going to be together! -- and he kissed her and it was so good so right so perfect--
...Oh dear god what had he done?
Because she ran-away ran-to-her-car-drove-and-ran-away and he had to apologize-apologize-apologize now because she hadn't wanted that -- stupid-drunk-idiot -- because she hadn't seen them together with happy kids in a happy family and she didn't know how good how right it could be and he'd just gone... and... he shouldn't have done that because she wasn't ready for that and what was he doing--
Oh god, she'd nearly died again.
Bled out from a car crash instead of childbirth in a hospital and how would that be any different when dead was dead was dead?
And he was stone-cold sober in the snow.
Lex got to say he was sorry.
Lana forgave him. He got a do-over.
He'd do it right next time. No screw-ups.
Lex hugged her tight and didn't ever want to let go.
Jonathan Kent was dead.
Jonathan Kent had dropped dead in front of his own house, on his own property, after having finally moved beyond simply farming his own land, at the age of 51.
They were offering the senate seat to Martha. Lex was fine with that; he didn't want it anymore. Not at this price.
Jonathan Kent was dead from a heart attack, some form of stroke.
Two and a half years ago he'd gone from having the heart of a 20-year-old to that of a 70-year-old and needing triple-bypass surgery to live.
Lex knew that whatever had occurred to cause it must have happened while he was planewrecked on the island and Clark had been playing at being a Lost Boy in Metropolis. He could see how badly Clark was taking it, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that Clark was taking Jonathan's death far more personally and with far more guilt than if he'd thought that it was some accident that he'd had no part in.
Clark was alone in a sea of people, and Lex was a ghost on the outskirts.
Martha left before Clark did, and Lana held his hand for awhile, but she left, too. Everyone left.
Clark took a handful of dirt -- good, clean earth -- and slowly let it fall through his fingers onto the cold grave.
He stayed there, still and frozen, not leaving. Not even looking like he could.
Lex, a ghost still, slowly made his way to the graveside.
Something else he didn't know how to fix.
He stood there next to Clark. Two people, alone together.
He stood there with Clark until Clark stood again and turned.
Clark's eyes looked almost dead. Maybe he was a ghost, too.
Lex raised a hand and gently brushed away new tears from Clark's face.
Clark blank mask slowly cracked. Pure misery overtook him, inch-by-inch.
Lex stepped a little closer, wavering.
Clark folded himself into his arms.
The snow fell around them silently.
"I killed him," Clark whispered.
Lex was sober, unhappy, and holed up in the mansion once again.
He sent the servants home for the night, checked the locks on all the doors, shuttered and bolted the windows, and breathed out a sigh.
Then he checked the office for bugs. Nothing.
He put the electronics away and let out a deep breath.
No Lionel around.
Lex pulled out his briefcase and clicked the locks open. With everything that had been going on, Lex simply hadn't had the chance before now to look through Griff's 'atomic bomb', let alone recover it before that morning.
Lex slid into his office chair, and held the envelope in his hands, weighing it.
Lex did love a good mystery, and this was one of the best. Information that could no longer be obtained direct-from-source? Something people would kill over? A big, dirty secret having to do with the Kents? Dear god, he just about lived for knowing those!
And, well, what harm could it do now? Jonathan was dead. Lex wasn't about to share around what he'd found, just to discredit the man's good name after he was already dead and gone and buried out of pure spite. He saw no reason to hurt Martha and Clark for something they'd had no part in.
He just wanted to know.
Lex selected a thin razor, balanced it in his hand, and slit the envelope open neatly. He set the implement down, then tilted the envelope and let the contents slide out onto the table before him.
He looked at neat stack of documents and few paper-wrapped and rubber-banded-together pictures before him.
He started with the documents. And began to frown.
There was documentation on Metropolis United Charities, which Lex recognized as the company that Lionel had set up to handle Lucas' adoption. There was a birth certificate for Clark. Listed as having been placed by Metropolis United Charities.
Lex rifled through the papers until he found Griff's summary, and his desk slowly turned into a mess of exploded papers as he started shifting through piece after piece of information, trying to make sense of it all.
Clark had been adopted by Martha and Jonathan Kent through Metropolis United Charities.
Metropolis United Charities hadn't existed until the day after the meteor shower, as far as anyone could tell looking at the paperwork that could be traced back to its actual creation, rather than backdated forms and other paper-trail nightmares.
Clark hadn't been seen in town until the day of the meteor shower by the then-sheriff Ethan Miller, now serving time in prison for Lionel's attempted murder and more than willing to talk to a man who could pass him some cigarettes.
In fact, as far as Griff had been able to determine, Clark's birth parents were specters. No traces of them anywhere, or anyone who could have been them.
No loose ends there, except Clark himself.
Lionel Luthor had arranged for Clark to be adopted by the Kents.
Lionel had been seen carrying his only son into the Smallville Medical Center, having exited an old red pickup truck, on the day of the meteor shower, after the event. Eyewitnesses were fairly sure that it had been Jonathan Kent driving the pickup truck who had arrived, but were not as sure about the identification of Lionel. They were very clear about the fact that the boy being carried in was almost entirely bald.
Lex sucked in a breath. Because the man who had found him in the field... that had been... it couldn't have been... could it...?
Jonathan was the one who found me?
And Lionel had owed the Kents a favor, and they had collected.
Because as with all things Lionel, it was never that simple.
Do him a favor, and he owns you. Even though that wasn't how it was supposed to work.
Griff's notes detailed how there was a slight problem with the paperwork for Metropolis United Charities. That made the adoptions they processed not quite legitimate. A simple 'clerical error'. A mistake in the legalities, and there was the perfect piece of blackmail -- a threat that one phone call to the Department of Family Welfare could make into a horrific reality.
Shattered home took on new meaning.
It got worse.
Eyewitnesses told of Jonathan having a protracted conversation with Bill and Dale Ross the morning of the day that Lex had been released from the hospital.
Ross' Creamed Corn factory had been sold to Lionel Luthor that afternoon.
Lionel had left with Lex for Metropolis that night.
Lex knew the rest of the story. The verbal promise not kept. Hundreds of people fired, let off, otherwise displaced, having to sell their homes for cents on the dollar, and Lionel being there to buy-buy-buy at rock-bottom prices. Lionel making deals with the larger property-holders in the area, promising to rent the landowners their houses dirt-cheap if they only sold their property over to him, save them thousands in taxes, put good use to property they weren't even using anyway, just sign right here on the dotted line... and then he'd had them evicted. Lionel refusing to do anything with the plant for a good year, two years, three, until he'd milked the town dry, and then he'd converted it to a chemical fertilizer plant and proceeded to pollute the district as much as he could get away with through the EPA regulations, and pushed and fought even those until they screamed. He'd torn down all the old property and put in his own housing for his new plant staff, and he'd made money hand-over-fist like the industrial barons of old -- the majority of money in town cycling through many hands, but always back into his.
And if Lex was understanding this right, Jonathan had literally sold his salt-of-the-earth morals to the devil for his adopted son. He'd gotten in bed with the business magnate over the little guy, more or less helped to ruin the town... and basically gone and done the opposite of everything he'd built his senatorial running platform on.
Jonathan Kent and Lionel Luthor, doing backroom dirty deals, buying and selling children for a community's economic lifeblood? Destroying livelihoods in greed and selfishness? The supposedly heart-of-the-heartland everyman farmer bitterly entangled with the corporate interest?
Dear god, this wasn't an atomic bomb, this was the entire nuclear arsenal.
Lex had a raging headache. He couldn't deal with this sober.
After two glasses of something incredibly un-sobering, Lex sat back down, shaking his head, and tried to make some sense of it all.
But really, after another two glasses it seemed so very simple and clear, after all.
Jonathan hated Lionel for putting him in a position where he'd had to compromise his beliefs. He'd taken Jonathan's strength -- his love for his family -- and turned it into a weakness.
Martha was a lawyers' daughter, with a pre-law education. She quite probably could have forged the birth certificate documentation herself, better than Lionel could, and had.
They hadn't really needed Lionel's favor.
All of that catastrophe could have been averted if they hadn't accepted Lionel's favor.
Lionel had offered that favor because Jonathan had helped him with Lex.
If Jonathan hadn't helped with Lex, none of this would have happened.
If Lex had not been there, had not been caught up in the meteor shower in the middle of a cornfield, had not needed help from a farmer in a small town out in the middle of nowhere, none of this would have happened.
If Lex had not been born...
Was it any wonder Jonathan had hated him?
It probably had never occurred to the man that what Lionel wanted, Lionel got, and that Jonathan's "help", such as it was, was simply a far more expedient route, rather than the only one Lionel could have taken. Lionel would have ended up with the factory one way or another, regardless. The only difference would have been in the 'how'.
Lex sighed heavily, ran a hand over his head, and tried not to hate Jonathan too much for his callous projection of unwarranted ascriptions onto his person. He'd suffered from that before. By this point, Lex was used to people deciding that he was generally a much easier and more accessible target for hatred against Lionel than actually going out and hating the man responsible for their distress directly.
It didn't mean he had to like it, though.
...Well, at least Clark doesn't seem to have that problem. Lex snorted to himself.
He slowly started shuffling the various papers back into a semblance of neat, coherent stacks, when his eyes lit on the thin little carefully-wrapped packet of pictures.
??? was written on the top of the stack, and Lex sighed as he pulled the rubber bands off and unwrapped the pictures. He wasn't expecting much. Photos of himself in the hospital? Been there, done that. Perhaps the wrecked carcass of the town after the meteor shower? Plastered across Life magazine, along with Lana's fairy princess picture. Maybe some baby pictures of Clark? Well, the Kents probably had plenty of those. No news there. Maybe Jonathan and Martha when they were younger, and not quite so uptight? ...Well, that would be something to see, actually.
Lex pulled the photos out of their paper wrapping and frowned at the first picture.
Well, Jonathan was in it. So was Clark.
Jonathan was doing repair work on the tractor.
Clark was holding the tractor over his head.
Lex dropped the stack from nerveless fingers in shock.
They splayed out over the desk in a mad kaleidoscope of scenes.
Clark. Clark and Jonathan. Clark and Martha. Clark. Clark, again. Clark.
Lex stared at the photos in drunken amazement.
Then he started to laugh.