Anya had chosen to appear right inside the study of Luthor manor—although the security was laughable, mere window dressing, and she probably could have walked straight through the impressive entranceway without a problem.
She was probably a little underdressed, given the architecture and expensive furnishings, though she knew she looked good in the red skirt and fashionable light coloured blouse. Around her neck was a small amulet which no-one was getting their hands on this time around. Vengeance was her true calling, she realised that now. Once a demon—no, make that twice a demon—always a demon. Or something.
Lionel heard her approach even if he couldn't see her, head tracking her movements. For some unimaginable reason he had been facing the window.
"No." She walked slowly towards him. He had a cane nearby and she tried unsuccessfully to put herself between him and it. Humans could be dangerous creatures, some more so than demons.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?" he demanded.
"That's not important," she answered. She perched herself on the desk nearby. "I just came to talk."
Lionel muttered something unpleasant. "Did Lex ask you to come here? Some sort of psychiatrist?"
Anya shook her head, realized what a pointless activity that was, and said, "No. Although you could say I'm a counsellor of sorts. I fix things."
"I don't think you can fix anything here," Lionel told her.
"You'd be surprised." Anya hesitated. "This isn't my patch, you know, I'm just covering for someone. Although I must say, my own recently adopted town of Sunnydale has some frightening similarities. Frightening as in oh-dear-god-what-is-that-thing?" She laughed. Lionel didn't.
Undeterred, she continued, "Also, I'm usually with the whole woman scorned thing. Which you clearly aren't. A woman. Or, for that matter," she added, "scorned."
Lionel sat forwards and reached for his cane. "Do you have a point?"
"Yes. I'm getting to it," she said huffily. "Now, I've done a little research, spoken to a few people. I'm amazed, actually, that I'm here to help you with vengeance rather than to serve justice upon you. You've done some terrible things."
He didn't react to this assertion, which told her he knew he'd done some terrible things—terrible from a certain point of view, at least—and she did admire a man who owned his responsibilities.
"Although," she went on brightly, warming to her subject, "are you sure you haven't been cursed before? What with meteor storms almost killing your son and tornadoes- and, well, look at you -"
Lionel switched the cane to his left hand and reached out for the telephone with his right, fumbled, but found it, and picked up the receiver. "You have one minute to start to making sense before I call the authorities. Start with your name."
Anya glared at him, angry at being spoken to in this impolite manner. She'd turned men inside out for less. After a moment she found glaring to be as pointless as nodding and gave in. "My name is Anyanka," she said sternly.
This seemed to appease him and he put down the phone. "Very well, Anyanka. What is it you want? Revenge of some sort?"
She shook her head again out of habit. "You have it wrong. I'm here to help you get vengeance. To put things right. For example, you weren't always blind, were you?"
Anya knew all about anger, from the fiercest white-hot high through to its deepest glacial depth. She also knew all about the concept humans called "pain" and the fascinating varieties, from the physical to the mental, emotional and even spiritual variety. These were her bread and butter, so to speak, clouding the mind and heart enough to have someone summon her and wreak their revenge. So, when Lionel was silent for a long moment then answered, slowly, "No," she knew that she had plenty to work with.
"You must blame your son Lex for at least some of this. Not just the choices he made for your treatment, either. I mean, if you hadn't had to come out to him in such bad weather..." And his body language marked her as right.
"I blame him for this completely," Lionel said sharply.
"He's headstrong," she went on, finding her way now.
Lionel gave a sharp laugh. "Reckless," he said. "And stubborn."
"Ever think it would have been easier if he'd been a daughter? I could turn him into a girl. Would you like that?" Anya asked, thoughtfully, still trying to twist things into an area she knew well. She added knowledgably, "Girls are easier to control."
"I wanted a son," Lionel said stiffly.
Anya scowled. "Of course," she said, unable to keep the anger from her voice at this slight to her sex. "Because men are good and noble creatures while women are just things to be used and tossed aside?"
She stood abruptly. "Of course, you wanted a son to carry on the family name." She paced the room, aware she was now on the wrong side of Lionel, tried to think of a way to get him at least wishing for something.
"A son," she said, suddenly, in the same angry tone, "who has made you so proud." She let the sarcasm sink in and went on, "Who disobeys you at every turn. A son who went behind your back. A son whose hasty actions left you blind and weak."
She spun to face him, not giving him a chance to interrupt despite his obvious and growing fury. "You sent him here, didn't you, to try to make him more responsible, the son you always wanted. But it simply made him more wilful."
In full swing, now, Anya went on excitedly, "You should have kept him with you. In the city, at your side, where you could keep an eye on him." She stopped short. "Sorry. No pun intended." And, because she never knew when to stop, added, "You know, because you're blind."
Lionel tapped his cane impatiently on the floor. "I think I've heard enough," he said tightly. "I don't understand what you hope to accomplish here but you're failing miserably."
Anya strode across the room and knelt down to bring her face almost level with his. "What I'm hoping is to give you a second chance," she said intently. "You must rue the day you sent Lex here, to this backwater settlement, where he's been corrupted by these oh-so-nice people. They're all so happy, aren't they, with their little farms and their little coffee shop! It's madness, given that a major disaster seems to happen here every couple of years but they keep on grinning like lunatics. You must long for things to have worked out differently."
She reached out and took his hand in hers. "Come on. Tell me what you want. Tell me what you wish."
"And then you'll leave?" Lionel asked, exasperated.
Anya lifted his hand now, pressed his palm to her cheek, so he could feel it when she nodded solemnly. "I promise."
"Very well. You want to know what I wish? For my sight back, for some appreciation for all I've done for this town, for Lex to be more...more like me!" Lionel pulled his hand from her grasp and gestured. He named a few more things he would like, but it was useless, completely useless unless he said the words exactly.
"Excuse me," Anya put in when he paused somewhere between owning Alaska (which as a ruthless capitalist she approved of) and becoming the President of the United States (which she really didn't see the point of, what with the senate still telling you what to do).
She made a 'time-out' signal with both hands, looked down, realised her mistake and sighed. It seemed she had his attention anyway, so she said brightly, "Little 'Jeopardy' type rule. Can we please have your answer in the form of a wish?"
"A wish?" Lionel gave a harsh laugh. "A wish. You know, I do blame Lex. And I do blame this town. I'll tell you what I wish."
"Please do. I have other business to attend to," Anya muttered.
Lionel showed no signs of having heard her. He stood and said, emphatically:
"I wish I'd never laid eyes on this damn place!"
Anya gave a sigh of relief. "Finally." Her face contorted, seemed to turn inside out, veins and sinew on the surface, her voice deeper and more sinister as she intoned,
It was a warm afternoon in Metropolis and Lionel was sitting at his desk
Slowly he looked around the room, then put one hand to his face. He began laughing at the beauty and impossibility. He didn't know how it had happened, but he was able to see again, and he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Well," he said, to himself, for he was plainly alone. "I don't know who you were Anyanka, but thank you."
He went to the window and looked out. You could see most of the city from here, the good parts like the better architecture and the odd green space holding out defiantly against the concrete and steel, while the homeless and the litter were too far away to be of note. It was good to be back here, to see it again. Good to see anything again.
With sudden inspiration Lionel returned to his desk and opened one of the drawers. He rifled through the papers and came up with a photograph. He sat down, suddenly sad, gazing at the portrait of the woman who had been his wife. Lillian. Lily. He'd forgotten what a beauty she had been with her delicate features, her long red hair. He'd avoided looking at any pictures of her for such a long time; after his accident he would have given anything to see an image of her again once more.
He allowed himself a few more moments of sentimentality, then put the photo away. He wasn't about to let mawkishness take over his life now he'd got it back. He picked up his phone and pressed the button.
"Yes, Mr Luthor?" responded his secretary.
At least, he assumed it was his secretary. It wasn't Ms Carstairs, that was for certain. No hint of a New York accent. A little thrown by this, Lionel said, "Could you come in here please?"
A moment later a woman, early thirties with cropped brown hair entered. "Yes, sir?"
Lionel stared at her until she was clearly uncomfortable.
"I—I wanted you to remind me of my appointments this afternoon," he said. Fine, his secretary had changed. That was a minor thing, nothing to worry about. Just get straight back into the swing of things.
She nodded. "You have a three o clock with Mr Darrow and a meal booked for seven thirty with Mr Grey."
"Mr Darrow?" Lionel asked, the name unfamiliar to him. This was clearly a mistake, judging by the look on the woman's face.
"Yessir. Mr Jonathan Darrow. Managing Director of the Burlington subsidiary of Luthorcorp?" She reached behind her and shut the door, approached his desk. "Sir, are you all right"?
Lionel wasn't about to be questioned. "Fine. Just...make sure my vehicle is ready."
She nodded. "Yes, Mr Luthor. Anything else?"
"No. Leave." Lionel knew he was being overly sharp, but really didn't have the energy to be charming. What the hell was she talking about? He didn't have a plant in Burlington; he'd never even been to Colorado...
I wish I'd never laid eyes on this damn place. Anyanka had said she could grant that wish and she had. He'd never been to Smallville. Ever.
The implication of this sank in. Okay, Lionel thought to himself. You wanted your sight back. You wanted to have not been injured. You didn't want to change everything. Maybe you should have just wished you hadn't gone to Smallville during the tornado.
Yet how could this be real? He hadn't taken the girl seriously; he'd just been letting off steam, releasing some of his pent up frustration. Whoever heard of wishes coming true? It was a most disorderly way to run things. What if poor people could wish themselves into being millionaires!
However, Lionel hadn't come this far by letting himself get distracted by details like human rights, legal permits that weren't in his favour, or indeed, just why all his rivals for a contract had mysteriously dropped out or disappeared or simply underbid. So he returned to searching his desk. If he could figure out some of what this reality's Lionel had achieved, he could playact his way for a while, until he knew all the history. Then surely there was some profit to be had from using his knowledge of the other reality—what he quickly nicknamed 'the Smallville reality'—in this one.
He found notes of various contracts and projects, all fairly familiar. A few were new to him and he skimmed them, quickly memorising the essential details. The Burlington branch wasn't doing that well, which was probably what he and Darrow were meeting about. Where the hell was Lex, then, if not managing the company?
He reached into the bottom drawer and picked up another sheaf of files—and what was this? He picked up the plastic bottle and checked the label.
At his level of business almost everyone you met was on something; antidepressants, anti-ulcer drugs, sleeping tablets, caffeine pills, prescription painkillers that were being taken far longer than was necessary. Not to mention illegal drugs. Not him though. Fine scotch, brandy, sherry, but not drugs beyond the occasional necessary antibiotics. Never antidepressants.
Lionel stared at the bottle for a long moment. Judging by the amount of pills left and the issue date, he hadn't been taking them much in this reality either. He threw them back in the drawer. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Perhaps he'd been a little more upset after Lillian's death this time around, but now he was getting over it and cutting back on the medication. Yes, that made sense.
Still it seemed it wasn't going to be easy to get a hold on this new reality as he thought. He reached over and used the phone again. Cautiously, his secretary entered.
"Ah, Janine," he said experimentally. Her name had been all over the paperwork once he started looking. She nodded, obviously still smarting from his earlier treatment of her. "I'm sorry if I was a little brusque with you earlier."
"Yessir." She held his gaze almost defiantly. Lionel was begrudgingly impressed.
"I'm..." Lionel hesitated at the thought of showing weakness. "That is—"
"I understand." Janine's expression had softened.
Was he sleeping with her, Lionel wondered? She was attractive enough. No, he decided, despite the gentle tone she wasn't flirting. There was some genuine feeling there though. Very odd.
"I need to see Lex," he told her. He had to know where Lex was, what he was doing if not running the plant, and nothing he'd looked at today had mentioned his son's name.
Janine blinked a few times and nodded. "Of course, sir," she said gently. "I'll have the car brought round." She exited without waiting for his permission.
What was all that about, Lionel wondered. He searched through the papers for a moment longer until Janine knocked quietly and entered. She took his coat from the stand and gestured. "The limousine is waiting, sir."
Lionel let her help him into the long blue coat and followed her out to the elevator, where she pushed the call button. Once inside however, he was on his own.
The lobby looked exactly as he remembered it. A few people were milling around and he exchanged greetings cautiously, trying not to get involved in any conversations lest he put his foot in his mouth. The doorman ushered him out smoothly and the chauffeur had the car door open.
Staff, Lionel thought, were a luxury he had sometimes taken for granted. In the midst of this confusion at least there were people to lead him around, for as long as he needed to be led for.
The "Daily Planet" and a few financial papers were exactly where he expected them to be, and he flicked through the pages while they drove. Whatever else Anyanka had done, she hadn't changed the date or time. The headlines were the same as he had heard on the radio that morning, shortly before Anyanka's unexpected visit.
The limousine parked up and Lionel looked out. They were outside City General, Metropolis's largest medical institute. The chauffeur got out and opened the door. Somewhat dazed, but with little choice now, Lionel put the paper down and got out. He suddenly wished he'd brought Janine with him.
He walked into the building with a sense of dread creeping over him and even the expensive coat couldn't cover the chill. Not sure of what he was supposed to be doing, or where he was going, Lionel nevertheless knew exactly what to do next. Find someone who did know, and make it their problem.
It didn't take long, for as soon as he got to the reception desk, he was recognised.
"Mr Luthor?" The nurse stood. "Did you lose your way again?" She smiled. "It's a maze, isn't it this place?" She waved to a colleague. "Angela, can you take Mr Luthor to see his son?"
Angela didn't look thrilled at the prospect, but nodded. She gestured. "This way, sir."
Okay, good, following again. Following was good, just until he could figure things out—like what the hell had happened to Lex? Lionel followed the nurse, not daring to ask any questions. While the nurse on reception hadn't been downright condescending he got the impression he'd needed to be shepherded around a little too much. Coupled with the prescription medication he'd found and Janine's obvious concern, Lionel felt that if he started asking odd questions he might end up in the psychiatric ward. "You see, I made this wish..." Hell, maybe he was crazy, but it beat being blind.
Thankfully, Angela seemed to be willing the elevator to hurry, and didn't feel obliged to make small talk. When the elevator stopped she held the door and pointed, clearly not intending to get out with him. "Just round the corner, Sir. You remember now?"
Lionel nodded, which seemed the most appropriate response, got out, feeling abandoned as the elevator doors slid shut behind him. Shaking off his fears he took the corridor Angela had indicated. He came to a door where an armed guard met Lionel's eyes, nodded, and entered a keycode to open the door for him.
The security door closed behind him with a sound of terrible finality. Squaring his shoulders, Lionel turned right at the end of the short corridor, the only choice besides turning back. He found himself just outside a private room.
It was Lex's private room. It was filled with equipment that a horrified Lionel could only assume was keeping his son alive.
They hadn't been to Smallville so they hadn't been there during the meteor shower, and that meant that Lex had kept his hair. Copper, like his mother's, kept relatively short here. It was the only healthy looking thing about his son's lifeless seeming body.
How could this have happened? What terrible incident had led to this?
Lionel turned away. The mental anguish was making itself felt, draining the blood flow to his extremities. He leant against the wall, off-balance now, fighting the urge to kneel on the floor and vomit. This was much worse than the moment he'd learnt Lillian was dying; she'd been so sick for so long there was an almost inevitability about it. But Lex...
Lionel pressed his forehead to the cool tiles, waiting for the room to stop spinning. The physical contact of the solid object helped ground him. He took a couple of deep breaths. After a few moments the nausea passed and he began to calm down. Things were bad, he reasoned, but there had to be some way to fix this.
Lionel pulled himself together, mentally, and physically too, standing upright and tugging at his coat. This wasn't what he'd wished for at all. This was all Anyanka's fault! The rage built up as he laid all of the blame firmly on her shoulders. How dare she! Who did she think she was?
"Anyanka!" he yelled, "Put this back! Anyanka!" He should have known there would be a price to pay. Who or what was she, anyway, to grant wishes that went so horribly wrong? Some kind of psychotic genie? He didn't know how to get her back here, but felt compelled to yell again, "Any-"
"What?" she yelled back and he spun to find her, impossibly, just inches behind him.
He assessed her quickly, young, pretty, Caucasian, with blonde hair. wearing a tight fitting red dress, a necklace the only adornment he could see. Nothing to suggest she was anything other than human, despite her obvious powers.
"What is with all the yelling?" she demanded.
Lionel pointed a trembling finger towards Lex's room. "What have you done?"
Anyanka glanced over. "Granted your wish. What are you complaining about?"
Lionel fought his rage. "Look what you've done. I didn't wish for this."
She seemed unconcerned. "You wished you had never laid eyes on Smallville. So now you haven't. No plant there, hence not being there during tornado season, hence not blind. That's what you wanted, isn't it?"
He shook his head fiercely. "No. Not this. Not Lex like this. What happened to him?"
"What always happens with your son. You fought with him. You made him so mad that he took his Ferrari out on a wet night in Metropolis and drove it into the side of the Daily Planet at a hundred miles an hour. The only plus side was no-one else was hurt."
Lionel shook his head again. "This isn't what I wanted," he whispered. Anyanka's words had a ring of truth. He and Lex rarely stopped fighting one way or another and Lex always drove recklessly.
Anyanka shrugged. "On the bright side he is much more like you now, what with the hair. And you have to admit, he's not disobedient any more."
"He's my son!" Lionel yelled. "You put this back." He grabbed hold of Anyanka by her arms and shook her, his lips curled back in a snarl. "You put it back right now!"
She turned, that was the only way he could describe it. Turned inside out, almost. Her face was suddenly a mass of veins and ruddy flesh. Horrified, he froze. She shrugged him off and slapped him hard, her nails scratching his cheek.
He stumbled back a step and when he looked up, she was back to normal, albeit angrier than before and with her arms tightly folded.
"How dare you," she fumed. "You made your wish. Now you have to live it."
Lionel touched the scratches. "What are you?" he asked, more afraid than he'd ever been in his life.
"Vengeance demon," she said, accenting every syllable. "I serve vengeance upon those who deserve it, usually men who have hurt the women who love them. But as a favour to a friend who deals with unexpected life change, so's she could go on vacation somewhere with her new boyfriend, Fabio or Fabian or something, I agreed to cover for her. You were her next case. So I came to you and offered you a second chance. I can't help it if you screwed it up."
Lionel clung to the one thing he was certain of. "Put this back," he insisted.
She shrugged. "You want to be blind again?" He hesitated and she gave a humourless smile. "Not so sure now?"
"Please," Lionel said, an unfamiliar word. "Please, I don't...I can't..." He knew he was rambling and he hated himself for it.
Anyanka sighed. "Look, even if I wanted to help you, I can't. New rules. One person, one wish, no recalls."
"New rules?" Lionel asked incredulously. "There are rules?"
"Of course there are rules!" Anyanka laughed. "Otherwise poor people could just wish to be billionaires, couldn't they?"
Had she read his mind? Lionel kept quiet as Anyanka explained. "Anyhow, there was this greedy little seventeen year old over in New York and she had sixteen boyfriends punished in a row, and she might have gotten away with it, except then she wanted to become Queen of England, and one of the British demons found out and she told D'Hoffryn and he said—"
Anyanka waved the name away like a troublesome fly. "My boss."
"Can I talk to him?" Lionel asked. Man to man—man to male demon, anyway - he was sure he could soon sort this out.
Anyanka nodded brightly. "Right after you're dead at my hand. You know, so you can get to the Otherworld."
"What?" Lionel spluttered. "There's got to be an easier way to get an appointment?"
"Sure." Anyanka considered. "It's Thursday now, so....in about twenty five years time."
He shook his head. "There has to be another way."
Anyanka put her head one side and nodded thoughtfully for a few moments, then said, "No."
Lionel leaned back against the wall. He hadn't meant for this to happen. This couldn't be happening. Seeing his despair, Anyanka came over and tried to cheer him up.
"There, there," she said in the manner of someone who had learnt her social skills by rote from a large print "Complete Beginner's Guide To". "It isn't so bad. At least you can see your son, now?"
She grinned and seemed disappointed that he didn't react more favourably to this. "Fine. Have it your way. Your wish didn't just ruin Lex's life, you know."
He stared at her. "What do you mean?"
Anyanka gestured to thin air. "You don't realise? You haven't thought about everyone else affected here?" She held out her hand. "Come here."
Lionel hesitated only a moment. Suddenly he wanted to be anywhere except here, at his son's bedside, a terrible indicator of what he had done. He took Anyanka's hand -
- and found himself standing in the middle of a road. A nearby sign said "Welcome to Smallville, Kansas" with a population indicator. Underneath a graphic of meteor rocks, it added helpfully, "The Meteor Capital of the World!"
"How touristy," Anyanka said thoughtfully. "I could do with some meteor rock for my shop."
"You have a shop?" Lionel asked doubtfully.
The demon nodded. "Which I have to get back to. Enjoy your visit." With that, she was gone.
Lionel looked around him, but she had plainly vanished. Left with few choices, he headed towards the town. Usually he travelled by limo, but he recognised landmarks here and there. Seeing a familiar path, he took it, and soon came in sight of the Kent farm.
Not knowing what else to do, he knocked on the door. Martha Kent answered, but it wasn't the woman he remembered. She seemed older, somehow.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
Lionel realised he was staring. "You don't know me," he said, startled. Of course she wouldn't. He'd never been to Smallville before.
"No." She regarded him a moment longer. "Although you do look familiar."
Yes, he thought, because even Smallville had magazines and television that brought images of the rich and famous into their lives. The Luthors were still rich and still well-known.
"I just..." What did he want? Probably to use the telephone and get out of here. Anyanka had dumped him in the middle of a town where he didn't know anyone and without a vehicle; supposedly he was meant to be seeing what ruin he had brought to Smallville but how bad could it be? Martha was still here.
"Mrs Kent," Lionel said, changing tack. "I just wanted to meet you and your husband. Your farm is quite near to the town and I was wondering how you felt about the cream corn factory." That was what had brought him to Smallville the first time around.
Martha shook her head. "It's not a cream corn factory anymore," she said.
"No." Martha tugged her sweater closer around her and looked around as if she feared she was being spied on. "It's the ore processing plant. For the meteor rocks."
Up until that moment Lionel had forgotten all about not having control of the meteor rocks. That was something else he was going to have to correct. He wasn't sure exactly what its properties were, but preliminary reports suggested unlimited potential, not least as an energy source.
"Wait a minute," Martha said. "Now I remember. You're Lionel Luthor. You were going to buy the factory but the deal fell through." She shook her head fiercely. "I wish you had bought it, instead of Daniels. He works that place day and night, pouring the toxins into the streams."
Another glance around the property. "Kane Daniels. He bought the factory and made it fully automated, cut most of the workface. He's got too much money for it to be all from processing ore, God only knows what he's up to." She hesitated. "I shouldn't be saying this." She gestured. "Come in."
The kitchen was warm and homely, the scent of freshly baked bread in the air. Martha made tea and they sat at the table, Martha clutching her cup tightly.
"This Daniels," Lionel said at last. "You're frightened of him?"
She nodded, ashamed. "We all are. He's a monster. I mean, first it was the factory. With the radiation from the meteors it wasn't fit for food production and he bought it for next to nothing and bankrupted the Rosses. Then he started acquiring businesses around the town. The Talon was the first. He married the owner, Nell, trying to gain standing in the community. He refurbished it, turned it into a coffee house. It was supposed to help Nell out but instead it's a burden. He makes her work the café twelve, fifteen hours a day, even though there's hardly any custom, and Lana misses too much school, helping out—trying to keep an eye on Nell, really." Martha sipped at her tea.
"Lana's her niece," she said, realising the names meant nothing to him. "She was orphaned in the meteor storm. Nell adopted her. Now they both live in constant fear. We should do something about it, but those who oppose Daniels...." She bit at her lip, fighting for composure. Eventually she had enough self-control to look at Lionel again. She held his gaze for a long time, deciding his trustworthiness. "Let's just say it's not a good idea. For one thing, Daniels bought out the bank six months ago, so he owns the mortgages. Anyone who can get out of town, does. He's torn the soul out of Smallville."
She was silent, staring at the old china cup. Then, suddenly, she asked, "Are you here to buy the factory from Daniels?"
Lionel was stunned by the eagerness she displayed. She thought he was the cavalry! "Possibly," he said. He didn't want to commit to anything just yet. "I'm making some discreet enquiries."
Martha nodded. "I understand. I won't tell anyone."
There was something else here, something wrong. The house was too quiet, too neat. Now he thought about it, Lionel realised the farm outside hadn't been tended for some time.
"Where is your husband?" he asked.
Martha glanced upwards. "Sleeping. He sleeps a lot, since the accident."
She swallowed hard. "The tractor...they said it was mechanical failure...I don't think so." She fought back tears. "I've never thought so. As I said, those who oppose Daniels.... he even has the sheriff in his pocket. Our whole life was this farm but now with Jonathan unable to work, and the pollution here...."
"What about your son?" Lionel pressed.
She stared at him. "I...I don't...I can't have any children." He'd found the proverbial straw, it seemed, for she bent over the table and began sobbing. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Slowly, he reached over and touched her shoulder. In another life he could have married her; her compassion, auburn hair, and gentle laugh all reminded him of Lillian. She'd thrown away her intellect and potential to become a farmer's wife and yet whenever he saw her, or heard her voice, Lionel's heart quickened. It had always been a useless fantasy until now. If Jonathan was badly hurt, who knew how long he would live? And then...
Lionel pushed aside these thoughts. He had other concerns right now, and if Anyanka had wanted to make him feel further guilt then she'd succeeded. Seeing this strong and powerful woman reduced to tears was enough to almost completely eclipse his selfish enjoyment at this normally forbidden physical contact.
"Don't be sorry," he said at least. "On the contrary, please, forgive me. I didn't mean to upset you. My information must be wrong."
She sat up, rubbed at her face. "There was a boy," she said, and there was a faraway look in her eyes. "He was abandoned after the meteor storm. I wanted to keep him. The department of family services took him from me. They said we could apply for adoption...but he got placed with another family. I would have loved him with all my heart." She closed her eyes, tears running down her cheeks.
Without Lionel's assistance the Kents hadn't had a chance at keeping Clark. He'd never realised just how much the adoption had meant to them. Besides, there was the chance Clark Kent was special, very special. He'd have to find the boy. God only knows where he'd been placed or what his name was now. This was a serious matter and one he'd have to remedy as soon as possible—unfortunately, right now it wasn't the only serious matter on his mind.
Martha opened her eyes and sniffed. "I'm so sorry," she said again. "I'd forgotten. Your son..."
Lionel stood. "I must be going," he said, sharper than he had intended the words to come out. He didn't want to think about Lex. He didn't want to watch Martha suffer any more. "I'll see myself out."
Outside there was a light drizzle starting. He pulled up the collar of his coat and started for the main town, more out instinct than any intellectual thought. Perhaps, he mused as he walked, now that he'd seen what had happened to Martha and Jonathan the demon would take pity on him and take him back to his office. If demons could even feel pity.
There was something eerie about the town. The scarcity of people didn't have the feel of a small but welcoming community, but rather the aura of a ghost town, an old Wild West town being slowly abandoned now the gold was gone. There was graffiti on the front of some of the buildings he passed, something he didn't ever remember seeing in Smallville. Worse was the charred remains of a car abandoned at the mouth of an alleyway.
He'd grown up in a bad neighbourhood so he knew one when he saw one. The problem here was that he was older now, and currently unarmed. Not feeling very safe, Lionel quickened his pace somewhat. He wasn't sure where he was heading, until he came to the main streets, and spotted the Talon. So, this was the coffee shop Daniels owned. Half because he was curious, and half because it seemed safer to get off the streets, he went in.
A woman behind the counter looked up expectantly. She looked as washed out as the town did. "Lana! Customer," she called behind her. To Lionel, she said, "Please take a seat."
He did so, feeling very overdressed. The tables and floor were clean enough, but the décor had seen better days. The photocopied menu was simple; various coffees, teas, hot chocolate, plus a variety of cakes and muffins.
A girl came from the kitchen, her red check apron grubby. She hurried over, head bent. Lionel stared at her, trying to place her. Martha had mentioned her, but now that he saw her recognition flared in the dark edges of his memory. Lana Lang, Lex's business partner back in the other reality. It seemed Lana's fate was inextricably tied up with the Talon.
"Can I get you anything?" she asked quietly.
"Coffee," Lionel said, always a safe bet. He tried to get a good look at her face, difficult when she wouldn't raise her head. "Miss? With cream?" he said as she went to move away. It had the desired effect, for she turned to face him. The bruise on her cheek was clearly visible.
"Of course," she said and went back to the kitchen.
Lionel had been raised never to hit women. In the twisted Luthor ethical code, it was acceptable to try and dump toxic waste which was a hazard to everyone's health, but it was not permissible to strike an individual female.
He glared at the woman sitting at the counter. This was surely Nell Daniels, Lana's legal guardian, who had chosen to bed Kane and had ruined not only her own life, but that of her niece.
Lana returned with the coffee and placed it almost reverentially in front of him. She was about to retreat into the kitchen again, when he stopped her. "Who did that to you?"
She shook her head fearfully. "I don't know what you're talking about." Yet her hand fluttered to the bruise and she quickly said, "I walked into the refrigerator door." She moved to the next table and picked up the sugar dispenser to put in front of him, but somehow it slipped from her hand and fell to the floor.
"You clumsy bitch!" a male voice yelled.
Lionel and Lana both looked over at the man doing the yelling. He was stood at Nell's side. Nell herself had hunched over like a small animal cornered by a large predator. This had to be Daniels, and he obviously didn't treat his wife any better than he treated Lana.
He was shorter than Lionel, lean, but with broad shoulders. He seemed to be aiming for the cowboy look, for instead of the business suit Lionel had been expecting, Daniels wore expensive denims with a plaid shirt. His blond hair was a contrast to the tanned skin—not too tanned and very even, which made Lionel think it was probably fake. He had cold, ice blue eyes and these were studying Lionel, sizing him up.
"It was my fault," Lionel put in, knowing what would happen to Lana as soon as he left. "I distracted the young lady. I was just asking her a few questions."
"She don't know anything worth knowing," Daniels returned. "So she can get back in the kitchen." Lana did so, hurriedly, making as wide a detour around her uncle as she could. Or, since Nell had adopted her, did it make him Lana's stepfather? Either way he was a monster.
"If you want to know something, ask me. I practically run this town," Daniels said smugly, and ran a finger across Nell's cheek. "Ain't that right, sweetheart?"
She flinched at his touch and nodded fervently. Lionel hated him immediately.
"I was just visiting the Kents," Lionel said.
Daniels's eyes narrowed. "Friend of theirs?"
The other man stared for a moment. "I know you. Luthor, right? Big noise in Metropolis. What you doing out here in the back of beyond?" Lionel said nothing and Daniels drew his own conclusions. "The Kents won't sell up. I've offered them a million times. There's nothing else worth buying in this dump, nothing I don't own. And I'm not selling."
So Daniels wanted the farm. Martha was probably right about Jonathan's "accident."
Daniels strode over and proffered his hand. Lionel stood, using his height advantage and they shook firmly. "Kane Daniels. Owner of Daniels Ore Processing, Talon Coffee House, most of the mortgages round here, and so on. Maybe they should change the name to Danielsville."
"Lionel Luthor, as you so obviously are aware," Lionel said with a charming smile, deliberately ignoring Daniels's bragging. "Perhaps there are mutual interests we could explore."
"You think?" Daniels asked. "Shall I tell you what I think?" The smile became twisted and the tone turned nasty. "I think you should get the hell out of my town and not look back." He took a few steps back and stood in a defensive posture as if ready to start a fist fight. "I don't want any more of you big city twits coming here in your Armani and your limousines, waving your money around, making friends with the locals, interfering with my family. Now I have business to take care of." Without looking around, he yelled, "Nell!"
A few moments later she returned with a shotgun, which Daniels made a show of cocking. Lionel tried to remain impassive. There was no telling what might provoke the man.
"Like I said," Daniels said threateningly "I got business. I don't expect to see you here when I get back. I don't expect any calls from city lawyers on your behalf. I certainly don't ever want you coming into my town again. You think I'm bluffing, think again. I've got friends in high places, my friend." He shouldered the weapon and left.
Nell watched him go, then turned a frightened gaze on Lionel. "Please. Go. He's not joking."
Arrogance reared its head. "Do you know who I am?" Lionel demanded.
Nell shook her head. "It doesn't matter. You think what happened to Quinn in New York was an accident? Kane does know people in high places, people who want the ore."
Lionel hesitated only a moment. There was never shame in retreating. It meant you lived to take revenge later. Throwing a handful of bills onto the table, he left.
Thankfully a search of his pockets revealed that he had his cell phone. It took a couple of sharp words to convince Janine that it wasn't important how he'd got to Smallville, nor why he was there, but it was desperately important that she send the helicopter.
The agreed landing point was near the edge of town, where Anyanka had abandoned him. Any closer than that and that yahoo Daniels might shoot it down with a rocket launcher. Lionel didn't relax until he was safely on his way back to Metropolis. Kane was a redneck who'd stumbled onto a money making opportunity, a narrow minded small-thinker who bullied his way through life. The residents in the previous reality had thought Lionel Luthor had screwed them over; they had absolutely no idea.
Back in his office, Lionel had to keep his hands in his lap to hide the fact they were still shaking from the shock of the events of the last few hours. Janine scolded him as only an assistant who knew she was indispensable could.
"I was worried sick," she fussed. "How did you disappear from the hospital? What were you even doing out in a backwater like Smallville?"
"Seeing the sights," Lionel deadpanned. "Look, Janine. I know this is an odd question, but the Luthor ancestral home? I had it relocated from Scotland."
Janine nodded but said nothing. When no further information was provided she said, "Yes, you had it relocated from Scotland, brick by brick. Was that a question?"
"Where, exactly was it relocated?"
Janine gave a deep sigh of sympathy. "Texas, sir. Mr Luthor, you're obviously having another difficult day. Can I suggest you go home and get some rest?" She bit her lip, adding hesitantly, "Your pills are still in the drawer."
As his trusted PA, she knew everything about him. Probably made his appointments with the prescribing therapist. More to the point, she wasn't overly concerned about his apparent memory loss, which didn't bode well. Lionel had to conclude that in this reality he'd had some sort of breakdown and now everyone was very patient and careful around him, from the kindly receptionist at City General to the efficient yet sympathetic Janine.
"I'm fine," Lionel snapped. "Thank you, Janine. That will be all."
She nodded again and left the room.
Lionel went through his files again, then hit the Internet. There were plenty of news archives mentioning Lex's accident. They confirmed Anyanka's story about the argument. The staff had heard the fight, one even suggested they had been about to call the police because they feared it would become violent. Lex always drove too fast, whatever the weather, and while no-one knew exactly what had happened—had he swerved to avoid hitting someone? Or simply took a corner too sharply?—the result was a written-off Ferrari and a seriously injured Lex. There had apparently been talk of switching off the life support but Lionel had—according to news reports, anyway—fought tooth and nail against any such suggestions.
As suspected, Lionel had also suffered a mental breakdown—guilt-induced, one paper had the gall to suggest - although his media people had spun it a little. Those papers he had influence over merely suggested that he'd "taken time off to spend with his son", presumably the time off corresponded to the period in which he'd been unable rather than unwilling to work.
Next Lionel began reading up on Smallville. Daniels did indeed have his sticky fingers into everything. Before he'd bought the cream corn factory he'd been a businessman in Witchita, who'd inherited a profitable riding stable from his father. It didn't take much reading between the lines to make him add quotation marks to "businessman". Lionel wasn't surprised that Daniels had been a prodigal son, returning to make peace with his estranged father mere months before the tragic accident that had befallen Daniels Snr.
Since Kane had been in charge there'd been an increase in the number of accidents in the town, all of which Kane had alibis for, but each of which had helped him in his subsequent acquisitions. The move to Smallville had made his fortune, and since then he'd been almost untouchable. Quinn, who Nell had mentioned, had been an ADA in New York who had tried to bring Daniels up on fraud charges after his elderly Aunt May had been cheated out of her property on the edge of Smallville. No-one had ever been caught for the presumed mugging turned ugly that had led to Quinn's death. Kane had kept May Quinn's cottage.
By the time Lionel had finished his research it was night. He went to the sideboard and poured himself a snifter of brandy.
He drank the first brandy in one gulp, poured a second. None of this could be real, yet all of it was. In one wish he'd gotten what he wanted and destroyed almost everything else. He caught a glimpse of himself in the reflections given off by the full-length windows of his office. He looked dishevelled in his rolled up shirt sleeves, tired and more unshaven than usual.
He sighed. For some reason he couldn't stop thinking about Martha Kent. This was all right, however, because if he wasn't thinking about her, then he was thinking about Lex. Anyanka had screwed him over royally and yet he had to take some of the blame; always check for small print, always make sure you have an iron clad contract, always get a receipt with details of the guarantee.
Perhaps if he could reason with her; even apologise?
"Anyanka?" he said wearily.
He turned and she was there, human looking, and dressed, quite bizarrely, in fluffy pyjamas.
"You know, this is getting out of hand," she said tiredly. "I have my vengeance business, my shop, friends—well, sort of friends—and now this second chance favour is eating into the time I need for all of them. I want to get some sleep."
"Demons sleep?" Lionel asked, half-interested.
"Sure." Anyanka walked over and took his leather chair, swivelling recklessly on it.
"Anya". She stopped swivelling. "My friends call me Anya. Names really do have power and every time you shriek Anyanka like that it summons me and that's not a particularly pleasant feeling. Like you've reached under my rib cage and pulled. Necessary, in my line of work, but not pleasant. So stop it."
He stared at her for a moment. The pyjamas had comically drawn cats on them. That wasn't appropriate garb for any demon.
"Anya. I saw what happened in Smallville and I realize that my influence on the town was good for it. Of course," he added, "I always knew that, it was the Kents and Mr Ross and so on who thought it would be better if LuthorCorp had never invaded their precious territory."
Anyanka—Anya, he reminded himself - yawned. "Stick to the point."
"All right. I've seen how Lex has suffered here. I know I made a mistake. There has to be some way to put things back."
The demon thought, swivelling again. "There might be a way. It would be bending the rules."
"I'm fine with that."
She nodded. "I'm sure you are. However when demons bend the rules people get disfigured and stuff, and sometimes those people could be me."
Lionel thought this atrocious grammar through a couple of times. "You would be punished?"
"Only if D'Hoffryn found out." Anya looked at the computer. "Nice screensaver."
"Perhaps I could make it worth your while." Lionel reached past her and turned off the monitor. "How could the rules be bent? Theoretically?"
"Theoretically?" Day dawned for the demon. "Oh, you're getting all political. How Giles."
Lionel didn't bother to ask what or who Giles was. He watched as Anya stood and walked, barefoot, to the window. "There's no way I can take your wish back. There's no way I can grant you another wish. However if someone else were to wish..."
The sentence hung there, a fragile hope. Lionel hardly dared speak. Finally he found his voice and asked, casually, "This person. The one who would make the wish..."
Anya was staring at the Metropolis traffic down below. "Not just anyone off the street, naturally. Someone with a vested interest. Someone from the original timeline who is worse off now. A female, for preference; my preference that is. Someone who might listen to the proposal without dismissing you out of hand. Someone you can convince."
Lionel nodded. "Quite a tall order. But if I were to find such a person?"
Anya turned to face him. "They might summon up a vengeance demon to fix their screwed up life."
Anya yawned. "Of course this conversation never happened. I'll disavow all knowledge and stuff if D'Hoffryn asks. Good night."
She was gone again.
With renewed energy, Lionel went back to the computer and began typing. Filing wasn't part of his job description but the systems in place were logical enough and with his password granting access to all areas there were no real problems in searching for data.
Working from both the current records and from memory, Lionel compiled a list of associates and acquaintances, employees both current, past, and probable. Everyone who'd applied for positions at Luthorcorp, everyone he remembered hiring for the Smallville plant. Every possibly relevant record Lionel found, he printed.
Then he began sorting through the names, skimming through the files. Another couple of brandies, another few hours. He had to narrow the search.
No-one from Smallville. It would be too hard to try and explain to Martha, and he'd probably get shot by Daniels before he could talk to Lana. Forget all those working at the Burlington plant, they all seemed to be local residents. Most of the Smallville plant's employees had been from Smallville itself though there were a few who'd been willing to make the move there from Metropolis. He tried to focus on those in his current employ who weren't as well off as they had been in the reality he remembered. If only he'd paid more attention to his employees.
Sirens wailed outside as the night wore on. Lionel began compiling a shortlist of names—if fifty or so could be considered short. He was having trouble focussing on the lined paper as he wrote, too little sleep combined with too much brandy, too much emotional stress.
The pen fell from his grasp as exhaustion took over, and he slept.
Lionel tried to sit up, every muscle in his neck, back, and shoulders protesting. It had been many years since he'd fallen asleep at his desk, and he was too old to be getting back into the habit of doing so. He'd been half hoping this had all been some sick dream. Wait, which bit? The demon Anyanka? The tornado? All of it? Yet the female voice that had awakened him was definitely not that of Ms Carstairs.
"Janine." He stretched slowly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Please fetch me some coffee."
She gave him a look that said she wanted to scold him for not going home, but either didn't dare or hadn't the heart to. In the finish she simply nodded and left.
He looked at his desk. The notepaper was somewhat crumpled now but, still readable, in his own hasty penned capitals was a list of names. Oh, yes, the possible wishers. Wishers—was that even a word? One who wishes, the wisher; many who wish, the wishers? It was too early for grammatical questions.
He glanced down the list again. Too many names. Not enough females here, one of Anyanka's conditions. He flipped the pages back and forth...how did he know what to look for?...then one name caught his eye. Gabe Sullivan. One of the many people who had benefited from the Smallville plant for it had meant a promotion that made it worth his while to relocate to the small town. His current position was substantially less well paid. Sullivan...Sullivan.
A memory dredged itself up from his subconscious, of a small, blonde girl. She'd interviewed Lex for her school paper. She'd once tried to attack Lionel's policies to his face, until a horrified Gabe had begged his daughter not to get him fired. A glance through Gabe's file confirmed the existence of one daughter, Chloe.
When Janine bought the coffee, while he was pulling on his jacket, he told her that he was taking the day off.
"You're the boss," she said, with barely a hint of sarcasm.
Lionel paused. If he fixed the timeline Janine would never be employed by him, and she'd obviously been a loyal asset. "Thank you," he said, picking up his coat.
"For everything you've done." Lionel picked up the Sullivan file and left, intending to head home. A quick shower and a change of clothes would make sure he made the right impression.
Soon this nightmare would be over.
Lionel rang the doorbell and waited impatiently. Eventually a young blonde woman wearing a denim jacket answered the door.
"Chloe Sullivan?" he asked impassively.
Her eyes widened. "Ohmygod."
Lionel risked a quick look behind him. Nothing, so she must be referring to him. Maybe he already knew her in this reality?
"Lionel Luthor! I mean, sir!" The girl tried to stand confidently in the doorway and at the same time, get far enough away that she could slam the door in a hurry. "This, er, isn't about the article in the school paper is it?" she asked worriedly.
"No," he answered, then, suspiciously, "should it be?"
Chloe shook her head quickly. "No." She spread her hands, all innocence. "What article?"
"Indeed." Lionel gestured. "May I come in?"
Chloe hesitated. "I suppose so. Did you want to talk to my dad?"
"I came to talk to you." Lionel followed Chloe inside. "Privately, if possible."
She nodded. "My room." He followed her into an adequate sized room decorated in pastel colours, watching as she suddenly realized she wasn't prepared for company, and made an attempt to tidy up. She shoved a number of feminine articles under the bed, turned and smiled. "Sorry about that. So, what can I do for you?"
Lionel scanned the room, looking for evidence that she might believe him, like a poster of "Close Encounters" or some occult literature. His eyes flickered to the bedside cabinet where a copy of what appeared to be the offending school newspaper sat. He picked it up.
"Bad Karma," he read aloud. "The rise and fall of the Luthor fortune by Chloe Sullivan."
She cringed and backed up across the room. "About that," she began, but he took no notice. Stony faced, he skimmed through the rest of the article.
"I see." He tossed it aside. "That's not important right now." He looked for somewhere to sit. Chloe was jammed against the chair at her desk, so he sat on the edge of the bed. "Miss Sullivan, do you believe in the supernatural?"
She tilted her head sideways. "Supernatural?" She ticked off quickly, "I don't believe in the supernatural, the paranormal, UFOs, alien abductions, ghosts, vampires, the Loch Ness monster, the abominable snowman, spiritual healing, or that the Oscars aren't fixed. I'm not even sure about the karma thing, it just made for a good headline." She paused, seeing this wasn't what he'd hoped for. "Of course, I could be wrong. About the vampires."
He shook his head sadly. "I don't blame you for being sceptical. However, as a journalist," he picked up the newspaper again, "I would expect you to have an open mind. Because what I have to tell you is quite incredible."
"Okay." She pulled her chair out and sat down. "My mind is open." She reached over and grabbed a pen and paper. "Is it okay if I take notes?"
Ignoring her, Lionel began, "Supposing I told you that this isn't the way things are supposed to be?"
Chloe frowned. "What isn't?"
"Everything. Well, most of it," Lionel amended. He hadn't changed the whole world. "For example, what if I told you that you should be living in a town called Smallville?"
Chloe pulled a face. She looked around her, moved a few books and picked up a map. "I think I heard of it...wait, here." She pointed on the map and raised her eyebrows. "Smallville? You have to be kidding. It's in the middle of nowhere. They probably don't even have a supermarket!" She frowned. "Wasn't it the town that got hit by meteors?" When he nodded, she folded the map away, muttering, "Okay, great, lets go live in a danger zone in the middle of nowhere, like a military target practice ground or something."
"That's just for starters," Lionel cut in. "I had a plant built in the town. It brought prosperity to the region. Your father had a job there, a promotion from his current employ. You liked it there." Thinking fast, he said persuasively, "You had lots of friends, were very popular."
"Popular?" Chloe said in a voice that suggested, that, for whatever reason, she thought this highly unlikely.
Moving on quickly, he said, "My son, Lex, ran the plant for me." He caught her reaction. She'd written two paragraphs about the problems he and Lex had, the rivalry that she claimed had contributed to the accident. "We still didn't always see eye to eye."
He realized he was clutching the newspaper and stopped to smooth it out. "Now suppose things were different. I didn't have a plant built there. The region has fallen into economic decline. The people are unhappy. A waitress named Lana gets a stepfather who beats her. A young boy never gets adopted. You never get to live in a tight-knit community. Lex..." he stopped. "Lex," he said slowly, forcing his way through it, "ends up comatose with little hope of recovery."
Chloe had been listening intently. "All because you do or don't build a LuthorCorp plant in the town," she said.
"But the meteors still hit there?" she said, hung up on the danger angle.
"Yes. But I wasn't there this time to see that. Or the tornado."
"There was a tornado?" Chloe asked.
"You mean there wasn't?" Lionel asked, bemused. "Anyway, that's not important. Here and now is important. This is the alternate timeline. We should all be in Smallville right now." He sighed, realising how crazy this sounded.
He'd captured Chloe's imagination though and she stood and paced the room thoughtfully. "Okay, alternate timeline. That's not too crazy. It sounds more like science than the supernatural. Quantum physics or something. I don't know much about that though, which is why I don't know why you're telling me all this."
Lionel took a deep breath and said quickly, "I made a wish. To a woman. She was apparently a vengeance demon. She altered the timeline. She changed it so that I never visited Smallville."
Chloe was nodding politely now, the way you did to people who, while not dangerous at this moment, might at any second try to rip your heart out with a blunt spoon because you said the word 'blue'. "Okay," she said brightly.
"You don't have to believe me," Lionel said impatiently. "You just have to do something for me. You have to wish that I did build the plant in Smallville. That will put everything back the way it is supposed to be."
She laughed in bewilderment. "Why me? Do we know each other in this other timeline?"
"I chose you because you're part of the original timeline. Someone directly affected by my wish, I mean. It's more logical that you can return things to their proper state."
She gave him a sideways glance. "Logical. Right. So I just say 'I wish-'"
Lionel leapt up, scaring her. "No!" he hissed, looking around for signs of Anya. "You have to be very careful." He backed away from her, holding out his hands to show he wasn't going to hurt her. "I made a wish in haste and look where it got me."
"I don't think this is a good idea." Chloe folded her arms.
"It may be the only chance I have to put things right!" Lionel fell back on what he knew best. "Are you planning on going to college, Miss Sullivan?"
"It's a worthy, but expensive endeavour. I pay your father's wages, and I think a scholarship or a tedious waitressing job are the only options you have if you want a decent education. If you do this for me, however, I will fund your studies, whatever you choose to study, at whichever college you choose."
She was warming to him again. "Just for...saying a few words?" She shrugged, her desire for a degree outweighing any fear or scepticism. "Okay. Tell me exactly what to do."
Lionel nodded tersely. "Whatever happens, don't be frightened," he said.
She nodded her acquiescence. Clearly she believed he was crazy, but was just as clearly willing to humour him to get the cash. Anya's thoughts about Lex as a daughter resurfaced briefly and he smiled approvingly at Chloe's unexpectedly exploitative nature.
He cleared his throat and yelled, "Anyanka!"
She was there, this time wearing a long black skirt and flowered blouse, her features quite normal at the moment. "You again?"
Lionel was studiously ignoring Chloe who was alternately "ohmygod"-ing and voicing concerns about tricks with mirrors. "Actually, I summoned you here for that young woman, Chloe Sullivan."
Anya glanced over at Chloe. "She's not feeling very vengeful," she said suspiciously. "I can tell, you know. Angry, upset, blood-thirsty, hurt." With another 'Jeopardy' reference, she asked, "What are emotions felt by people in need of a vengeance demon?"
"She's very vengeful," Lionel protested. "She hates this reality."
"No she doesn't!"
"No," Chloe said, having stopped to listen to the exchange. "I don't."
"That's only because she doesn't know what she is missing," Lionel retorted. "You won't allow me to un-wish what I did, at least allow Miss Sullivan to do so. You said you could do that."
Anya considered, tapping one foot. "I think it's bending the rules, and D'Hoffryn has been very keen on not bending the rules lately. Since last night when we didn't have that conversation, I just saw a demon get her head ripped off and shoved right up—"
"We had a bargain!" Lionel interrupted, furious.
She shook her head. "We never even spoke about it," she said empathically. "Politically speaking."
"I don't suppose you can be bribed?" Lionel said mournfully, taking out his wallet.
Anya gave a big grin. "Of course I can. Money is good. Give me money."
Lionel handed over a bunch of notes. Anya skimmed through them joyfully, then rolled them up and tucked them into her cleavage. "Wish away, little girl," she said cheerfully.
"I wish," Chloe began, then stopped. "What am I wishing for again?"
Lionel sighed in exasperation. "That things were back the way they were."
Anya nodded. "Then we can all go back to important things like counting our cash," she suggested.
Chloe shook her head. "There's something I don't understand," she said. "You said this is a bad timeline and the original time was better. If it was so good, how come you made the wish in the first place?"
Lionel held her gaze for a long moment. "Things are not perfect," he said, "but they are not as bad as here. I hoped to improve a bad situation and I only made things worse."
"Specifics," Chloe pushed. "If any of this is true - and right now, I'm thinking I'm having a psychotic episode - then you are asking me to wish myself into a small town existence. The least you can do is tell me why it's so important to you. What happened there? Did Lex die? I mean, is his being comatose here worse than his being dead?"
Lionel shook his head. "Lex...Lex is fine in the original timeline."
He held her gaze for a long moment. "It wasn't about Lex. It was about me."
"You? You...were what?" Chloe asked.
Anya clapped her hands together. "People, time is money. I'll spell it out for you. Lex and Lionel had a big fight back in the original timeline except it took place in Smallville during a tornado. Lionel was injured, ended up blind."
Chloe shook her head in disbelief. "Is that true?" He didn't answer, looked at the floor. She looked to Anya. "Is it?"
"Yes. So make your wish and let's move on."
Chloe walked around to stand in front of Lionel. "You hear it all the time," she said. "That a parent would give anything rather than let their child come to harm. I sometimes wonder if it's true and yet here you are, asking to go back to that, for Lex's sake?"
He met her gaze. "Yes; and believe me, Miss Sullivan, it isn't something I relish. However it's the only choice. I had no right to interfere with the timeline."
Chloe stood open-mouthed for a moment. "I never thought the day would come when I heard a Luthor admit that they had 'no right'," she said. "You usually do whatever you want without consequence." She folded her arms. "I won't do it."
"You won't?" Lionel asked, confused.
"You won't?" Anya said, obviously annoyed. "You know, if people didn't summon me until they were good and ready to make their wish, I'd appreciate it. I had customers, you know. Paying customers."
Chloe pointed to the offending newspaper again. "It's so easy to point fingers and be mean to people when you don't know them personally," she said sadly. "I'm sorry I said those things." She considered, and amended, "Some of those things."
"That's all right. Much of your article was accurate, although you need to work on your melodramatic tendencies," he offered.
She gasped at this criticism. "Melodramatic tendencies?"
"People! Vengeance demon with the meter running," Anya reminded them.
Chloe shot Anya a glance. "I won't do it. I already feel like I'm in some sort of parallel world because usually I hate Lionel Luthor and all he stands for, and now I'm feeling sorry for him. And I won't be responsible for causing anyone harm, not even him. You want me to wish him back to the world you say he lives in? Blind? Injured? No. I won't do it."
She walked past them both and sat on the bed, staring straight ahead, arms folded in the classic you-can't-make-me stance.
Anya glared at Lionel, who went and knelt in front of Chloe so that he was in her eyeline.
"Miss Sullivan, I appreciate your compassion but you're missing the point. I want my son to live, whatever the consequences. I will pay for your education—"
"And living expenses," she said quickly. "Not just tuition."
Smart thinking, he acknowledged. "I will pay whatever you want if you do this."
"It's always about the money, isn't it?" Chloe swallowed hard. "There are some things you can't buy."
Lionel let her think about that for a moment, then reached into his coat pocket and took out his sunglasses, slipping them on in one smooth movement. "Don't you think I know that now?" he asked. "Miss Sullivan, I'm on my knees, here."
Chloe looked away. "You can't put this on me," she said tightly. "I won't be responsible. I can't. There has to be another way."
Anya came over to join them. "There, there," she said, this being just as convincing as her attempt to comfort Lionel had been. "He really is a bad man and not worth you getting upset about."
She gave Lionel an apologetic look. "I'm just trying to make progress here, nothing personal."
To Chloe again, she said, "Wish or don't wish, but he won't remember it anyway. Only the wisher—or," she said thoughtfully, "maybe that should be wishee. Anyway only the person making the wish gets to remember the other timeline."
Chloe frowned. "So I wouldn't be able to collect that scholarship?"
Lionel shot a furious glance towards Anya, who held her ground. "You don't scare me," she said. "I'm just telling her the truth."
"What if I write her a cheque now?" he suggested.
Anya rolled her eyes. "When I alter the timeline you won't ever have been here to write the cheque. I thought you were smarter than that."
Chloe stared at Anya, then at Lionel, then down at her lap. Finally she stood up, resolute. "All right. I'm ready to make my wish."
Lionel closed his eyes briefly in relief. Anya smiled. "About time."
Chloe licked her lips and said carefully, "I wish that when my wish is completed that not only will I remember this timeline as well as the original timeline, but that Lionel Luthor will remember his wish and its consequences."
"Wait," Anya said. "That already sounds like two wishes to me." Lionel already had his wallet open and another hundred dollars came her way. "Never mind. Continue."
"The rest of my wish," Chloe said carefully, "is that the wish Lionel made was that the tornado never hit Smallville but skirted around it doing very little damage and blowing itself out shortly afterwards."
Anya frowned, mouthed the words to herself, getting it straight. She shrugged. Her face morphed once more. "Done," she said and her face morphed, eliciting a shriek from Chloe. "Wish granted."
The nearby sign proclaimed Smallville as the meteor capital of the world. They were back. Chloe stared around her, then at Lionel.
"What just happened there?" she asked nervously. "With her face?"
"She was a demon," he said. "I think that's what she's supposed to look like."
"A demon." Chloe nodded to herself. "Of course."
"I told you not to be frightened," Lionel said, a little smugly.
"I wasn't frightened!" Chloe retorted. "It's just a bit....strange. It the first time I ever saw a demon. Meteor freaks are one thing, but demons?" She tipped her head on one side. "I remember it. Living here and living in Metropolis. It's so weird." She suddenly gave Lionel a shove. Apparently she thought she'd earned the right to assault him. "You lied! You told me I was popular here and you didn't really have a clue about me!"
"I was trying to put things right!" He frowned. "You remember everything about both timelines?"
"Yeah. Smarter than you, huh?" Chloe gave a smug grin. "I'm guessing you don't?"
Lionel had to concede that he didn't. "After my wish, I was suddenly at my desk, not aware of anything that had happened, not knowing what had happened to Lex. I remember everything of this original timeline but only the part of the alternate timeline that I actually lived through."
Chloe checked her bag. "I'm not sure what we're doing together out at the edge of town, but at least I have my laptop. I could never afford one in the other reality." She gazed in the direction of Smallville itself. "Do you think it's all back to normal?"
He shrugged. "We should probably go and see."
She nodded and they began walking, by mutual consent, towards Smallville.
"So, you got what you wanted after all," Chloe commented.
"Yes. About that."
She shrugged. "What about it?"
"You found a way to fix the timeline without leaving me injured." He smiled at her. "I'm grateful."
"You owe me money," Chloe responded quickly, sounding very like Anyanka.
They walked in silence for a while. Eventually Chloe said, "It just seemed logical. If you'd made a more specific wish in the first place the demon couldn't have used it against you. So I was just correcting your wish."
"Impressive deduction," he agreed. "That isn't what I meant."
Chloe stopped and turned to face him. "If I knew what I do now I probably wouldn't have helped you. Not even for a scholarship. In the other timeline, when you begged me for help, when I didn't know firsthand some of the things you are capable of, I felt sorry for you. I respected you for wanting to help Lex." She shook her head fiercely. "I suppose I have to still credit you with wanting to put it right, at least. I just don't know what I feel right now."
Lionel let her have her say. When it seemed she was calmer, he simply changed the subject by gesturing up ahead. "We're almost at the Kent farm. I need to make a stop. Why don't you go on into town. I'll meet you at the Talon to discuss our agreement."
She seemed about to argue with him but went silently on her way.
Clark was driving the tractor a little way from the farmhouse when Lionel approached. He switched it off. "Mr Luthor," he said coldly. "I thought you weren't coming back here."
"There's a few loose ends I wanted to check up on," Lionel answered. "Are your mother and father around?"
"Inside," Clark said. "I don't think they'll be very happy to see you. What do you want?"
"Watch your tongue," Lionel said sharply. "I'm sure you were raised with better manners than that. What I want isn't important. I think I've seen all I needed to here. Good day."
He turned and headed back towards town.
Clark, bemused, watched Lionel leave. He finished what he was doing, then he got down from the tractor and went inside. "Mom? I'm just going into town," he yelled. He'd take the short cut through the fields, he thought, make sure he avoided Luthor.
As he headed off, he realised what was so strange. Where the hell was Lionel's limo?
Lana was behind the counter when Chloe entered the Talon.
"Hey," Chloe said, glad to see her friend.
"Hi!" Lana replied. "What's up?"
Chloe shook her head. "Nothing." Nothing that Lana would believe. She should make sure, though, there was no violent step-father in the picture. "How's Nell? Still single?"
"Yes," Lana said, obviously puzzled now. "Why?"
"No reason. Can I have a double chocolate sundae?"
Lana looked concerned. "Oh, Chloe. You didn't break up with Clark, did you?"
"Break up with Clark?" Chloe repeated. What was Lana talking about? Ever since the dance—
There had been no tornado, Chloe remembered. Events at the dance had clearly gone very differently. While things were mostly back to normal, in changing the tornado's path she had still altered her world.
"No," Chloe said uncertainly, aware that Lana was staring at her. "I just want ice cream." She went and sat down.
Truth be told she was overwhelmed. She had the memories of everything that had happened in Lionel's timeline, right up to her making her wish. She also remembered everything that had happened in the original timeline up until yesterday. It was odd, like having seen two movies featuring the same characters but made by very different directors. The movie analogy was particularly apt, for none of the memories felt very real. They were like vivid dreams, real once, but now possibly just figments of her imagination.
Despite the dual memories, there was a still a gap in Chloe's knowledge. She didn't know everything that had happened in this timeline after the alteration her wish had made by relocating the tornado; she was, therefore, six weeks or so of memory missing. Damn. She should've thought of that. She'd just have to make the best of it, get up to speed. How different could things be?
She flipped open her laptop and quickly skimmed through various articles she didn't remember writing for "The Torch".
"Tornado narrowly misses Smallville." Okay, good. "LexCorp: a new dawn for Smallville." So Lex still saved the day.
Lana bought the ice-cream over. Chloe muttered her thanks as she read more files, unknowingly following Lionel's example in trying to discover the truth about this new existence.
She looked up. "Clark. Hi."
He grinned at her. "So, are we still on for tonight?"
"Tonight?" Chloe's brow furrowed. What had she agreed to?
He bent over. "You know," he whispered. "Tonight." To Chloe's surprise, he ran his hand alongside the inside of her thigh. She froze, not expecting this intimate contact, and Clark drew back.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Fine." Chloe closed the laptop.
"Are you mad at me?" Clark asked crestfallen.
She gave in. Even if he had given her cause to be mad, she didn't know about it. "Of course not."
He beamed at her. "So, tonight's still okay? It'll be private," he said, lowering his voice. "My parents will be out all night."
"All night? That's...good." Chloe was out of her depth now. "Clark? At the dance-"
He smiled a little. "The night we...you know?"
"You know? You - oh." Chloe was hit with a range of conflicting emotions. "Oh. Oh my."
The staff were polite but Lionel had been kept waiting for more time than he found acceptable. He'd still tried to wrench the plant from Lex, and that had obviously caused a rift between them; however he still did and always had owned the manor. Lex would do well to remember that.
Eventually, he was shown to the study.
"Lex," he said. This was what he'd risked everything for. His son, uninjured. He had to remind himself to keep composed, though for the first time in a long time he genuinely wanted to hold Lex in his arms.
"What are you doing back here?" Lex asked coldly.
"I want to make amends."
Lex laughed bitterly. "Don't insult me. The plant is doing well and you can't stand that, can you? You can't stand that I can survive without you. Well I can."
Lionel wandered over to the sideboard and poured himself a drink. "I've had time to think. Perhaps I was wrong to close the plant."
Lionel smiled. "Don't push it. I'm trying to apologise."
"I haven't heard the word 'sorry' yet." Lex folded his arms, completely composed as he leant against the desk.
"I'm sorry." What the hell. His head was still spinning from Anyanka's manipulations of time and he was in possession of both sight and son; surely he was allowed a momentary weakness.
"Just like that?" Lex said, but he didn't sound so sure of himself now.
Lionel finished his drink and poured a second. "Tell me what happened. The day the tornado- that is, the day I shut down the plant."
Lex frowned. "Why? You were here."
His son shrugged. "We argued. I found the money to buy you out. You came back here, we fought."
Lionel repressed a shudder as he relived the incident. Try, he thought to himself, to remember that it didn't happen that way. "We argued," he said, trying to keep his mind on Lex's words. "What then?"
"We fought," Lex repeated. "There was some pushing and shoving, and...like you don't remember!" He left his position at the desk, paced the room. "I was furious, you were furious. It just got out of hand. Until I punched you." His hand curled into a fist at the memory. Lionel put the glass down, suddenly aware he might have to defend himself.
Lex soon calmed down however. "I didn't mean to," he said. "It changed everything. The moment I hit you." He touched his hand to his own cheek, remembering. "We just stared at each other. That I dared to raise my hand to you. You just left, without a word. We haven't spoken since. I left a couple of messages with your office..."
Lionel tried to reconcile this story with his own feelings about all this. It didn't sound right, and it didn't feel right. With hindsight, and in a calm frame of mind, he couldn't imagine leaving just because Lex got in a lucky punch. However, that was plainly what had happened that night, at least in this particular reality.
If Lex had left messages that clearly hadn't been returned, it meant he wanted to talk.
For his part, Lionel had never given up on getting Lex back under his control, regardless of the timeline. There were plenty of ways to seize control of the plant; that could wait. First he had to re-establish a relationship with Lex—and to his surprise there was genuine feeling about that. Almost losing his son had kick-started some sort of paternal concern.
"I have business in town," Lionel said at last. "I need to get going. But perhaps this weekend we might talk?"
Lex nodded, cautious, but interested. "That would be acceptable."
Lionel turned to leave.
Lionel felt a thrill at the single word. "Yes, Lex?"
His son looked a little embarrassed, but nevertheless managed, "I missed you." Then, to counteract the saccharine, he added, "My fencing's getting rusty as hell, and there's no fun in trying to outwit my LexCorp board members. Half of them are terrified of me, and none of them play the sort of mental chess Luthors excel at."
Chloe was fiddling with her jewellery in a distracted manner while Clark talked to her — or at her, more accurately. She was relieved when Lionel entered the Talon, drawing a few looks of surprise and animosity which he blatantly ignored, and headed straight for her.
She jumped to her feet. "Lionel!" She amended quickly, "Mr Luthor. Sir."
Clark was looking daggers at him but they both ignored him.
"Miss Sullivan," Lionel said smoothly. "Is everything all right?"
They both looked over at Lana, who was making change from the till. Possibly Clark was jealous of the attention being directed elsewhere, because he was making his presence felt, huffing a little and kicking the table leg.
"It's mostly normal," Chloe said at last. She sat down and Lionel took the seat opposite, further infuriating Clark.
"Are you following me?" Clark asked.
Lionel fixed him with a hard stare, but Clark was incredibly hard to faze. "No. I have business with Miss Sullivan."
"What business?" he demanded.
"Clark!" Chloe snapped. It was beginning to dawn on her that having Clark all to herself might not be the fantasy relationship she had dreamt about. She'd always known he had issues, but she'd never thought jealousy and meddling in her affairs would number among them.
"I think it is Miss Sullivan's prerogative to tell you that," Lionel said, deliberately irritating Clark even more.
Not wanting to be caught in the middle of this, Chloe waved her hand in front of Clark's face, breaking his eye contact with Lionel and putting an end to the dominance contest. Some days she was amazed guys didn't still pee up the furniture, they could be so territorial.
"Clark, Lionel's going to offer me a scholarship," she said, double-checking the words as she said them to ensure there could be no misunderstanding.
"A scholarship?" Clark repeated.
She nodded firmly. Not only was it the truth but there was no way Clark could object to her furthering her education without coming across as Neanderthal man. Still, he sat and considered it for a few moments before coming to the same conclusion. He stood.
"I'll go then." He grinned, suddenly. "Get ready for tonight." He leant over and kissed her although she turned at the last minute so he got her cheek rather than her lips. "Make sure you don't have to sign anything in blood," he said as a parting shot and headed out the door.
Chloe watched him go, partly entranced by the sight of his tight jeans on his firm behind, partly worried about what would happen "tonight."
"The paperwork will be with you within the week," Lionel said, getting her attention. "You'll need to sign a few things but I assure you ink will be adequate."
Chloe shook her head. "I'm dating him. I don't remember, and ..." She paused, remembering who she was talking to. Lionel was the only one who could understand her current predicament but she drew the line at telling him about her sexual experiences.
"You're not happy?"
Chloe shrugged. "It didn't work like this before. I broke up with him for very valid reasons. Yet now I find we're ..." quick scrabble for a safe phrase "....closer than ever."
"Relationships aren't my strong point," Lionel admitted. He checked his watch. "I have things to be doing." He handed her a business card. "If there are any problems with your scholarship, or—shall we say, other details you need to discuss - call me."
Outside, Lionel made a call and arranged transport since he was yet again stranded in Smallville. While he was waiting, he considered his next move. He had it in mind to find Janine and offer her a job, give Ms Carstairs another position. First and foremost, though, he had another call to make.
"Yes," he said, when the phone was answered. "Luthor here. I have another job for you." This was dangerous business especially over a cell phone, so he made sure he didn't say anything incriminating. "I'll be in touch to finalise the details." He listened for a moment. "Same fee, yes. The business prospect I have in mind is with a Kane Daniels in Witchita. He owns a riding stable."
Daniels would never know what hit him—and with the money it would cost to have this done, neither would the police.
Chloe turned the business card over in her fingers a few times then tucked it away. Her feelings towards Lionel were somewhat confused due to the conflicting timelines. Her feelings towards Clark were merely chaotic.
Now what? Chloe looked up to find—
The demon nodded brightly. "You remembered. How sweet."
Being in a public place wasn't the comfort Chloe thought it would be. The image of Anyanka's demon visage was etched into her mind. "Lionel's not here," she said quickly. "He's got all the money."
"Actually, I came here to talk to you."
"Why? I don't want to make any more wishes!" This reality was, so far, more than acceptable and Chloe was not about to start interfering with it.
"You're completely happy?" the demon asked in a doubtful tone.
"I'm with Clark," Chloe said. The desire to tell someone about it won over any reticence. At least Anyanka was female. She lowered her voice, and finished, "And I think we had sex."
The demon frowned. "You think? There are some ways you can tell. Firstly, did you take off any clothing?"
Chloe waved a hand at her. "No! I know about sex. It's just...I think we had sex in this new timeline. But I can't remember it." She sighed sadly. "My first time and I missed it."
Anyanka shrugged. "The first time sucks, trust me. You're just missing some awkward fumbling and a great disappointment. People make such a fuss about sex but the first time, you just think was that it? It gets better with practice." She hesitated. "Sex after many many years without any is good. That particular first time," she went on wistfully, "was good. I don't think it counts as my first though. I was no virgin, I can tell you!"
No-one Chloe knew was so forthright about sex. She tried to change the subject. "Anyway, aside from some missing memories I'm fine, thank you, no more wishes, no more money, bye now."
The demon wasn't going anywhere. "I had something else in mind, actually. That was some neat thinking you did earlier. You see, part of a vengeance demon's job is to grant wishes. The other part is to grant it in a ...unique way."
"You mean screw it up," Chloe retorted. Did salt work on demons, or was that only the Devil? She edged one hand closer to the salt cellar just in case.
"Let's just say that mortals leave us room for manoeuvre. They're usually very vague about things. Demons are much more literal." Anyanka pursued her lips as she thought of an example. "You see, when a girl says she wants to tear out her boyfriend's heart, she usually doesn't mean that she desires to thrust her own hand through his chest and pull it out, all dripping-"
"I get the picture," Chloe interrupted.
"Well, see, you beat the system. You didn't make a wish, just corrected one. The wish itself became unselfish and that kind of wish is a bitch to break. You thought about all the angles. What I'm saying is that we could use you. That kind of thinking would be an asset to us."
Anyanka gestured to her amulet. "The demon fraternity. Or sorority, I guess. You could become a vengeance demon. The pay sucks but you do get to teleport which is pretty cool."
Chloe shook her head. "I don't think so. I like my face with the inside....well, in. No offence. It's just that vengeance demon? Not really high of my list of career choices."
Anyanka shrugged. "We'll see. You think Clark is going to be faithful to you forever? One day you might want a bit of vengeance."
"We'll see," Chloe returned coldly, not least because this hit a little too close to home.
Anyanka smiled. "Yes, we will." And vanished. Teleported, Chloe thought, an apparent perk of the position.
Lana came over to clear the table. "I'm so rushed off my feet today," she said. "I know I shouldn't complain, but I just wish-"
"Don't!" Chloe yelled. At Lana's shocked expression, she shrugged. She couldn't explain it, certainly not without sounding crazy "Just don't. You should be careful what you wish for. You know what they say. It might come true."
"Weirder things have happened," Lana conceded, wiping the table and heading back the counter.
Yes, Chloe thought, picking up her laptop, and Smallville was quite weird enough without demons getting in on the game. She tried to focus her mind back on Clark and whatever he planned for tonight, although given his tone she had a pretty good idea.
Would their relationship last this time? The demon's words came back to her. We'll see. Chloe gave an involuntary shiver. She wish—she hoped - she never had cause to see Anyanka again.
Although teleporting; that was impressive.