by Jayne Leitch
Disclaimer: not mine, never was, never will be.
Notes: post-'Shattered' (spoilers a-gogo); written pre-'Asylum'. Many thanks to MaryKate for the beta.
NORTH-NORTHWEST by Jayne Leitch
The day of Lex's release from Belle Reve arrived with grey skies and the Luthor name at the top of every newscast in America. At breakfast, Lionel divided his attention between CNN and a precis of Doctor Foster's session notes, copied and prepared for Lionel's eyes by a discreetly ambitious orderly.
He left those papers locked in his private safe when he left, and read business contracts in the limo.
When he arrived, the press was already gathering into a scrum at the front of the sanitarium; they parted in clumsy, equipment-hindered waves for the car, but were back in place by the time the driver opened Lionel's door. As he hurried up the cement staircase and through the front doors, Lionel studiously pretended not to hear their shouted questions.
Inside, there was paperwork to be done. Doctor Foster's usually pristine desk was stacked with sheafs of forms, and her assistant brought thin coffee while they flipped pages and scrawled signatures and made tight, polite remarks on what they read.
"Lex and I have scheduled weekly appointments for the first month."
Without looking up from the form in front of him, Lionel nodded. "Continued observation seems wise."
"He says he's come to terms with the fact that he doesn't remember exactly what happened," Foster continued, and Lionel thought of the numerous remarks on that point he'd read in his blackmarket copies of her notes. "I'm inclined to believe him. Every indication suggests he'll remain stable, but I'll make further recommendations regarding his outpatient care as those weekly evaluations warrant."
"Whatever you think is best, Doctor."
Lionel was never completely at ease in the company of competent psychiatrists. Every time he spoke to Doctor Foster, he was distinctly aware that she knew that.
Three quarters of an hour after Lionel entered Foster's office, Lex joined them, thoroughly composed and impeccably dressed. His charcoal suit, pale blue shirt, pinstriped tie and gleaming shoes had arrived direct from the clothier that morning, as Lionel had arranged; the perfect ease with which Lex inhabited them sparked something warm and encouraging in Lionel's mind, and he met Lex's gaze with an approving nod. "Good to have you back, Lex."
Nodding readily, Lex said, "Thank you, Dad." He offered a conservative hint of a smile, then turned his attention to the forms requiring his signature.
Lionel watched Lex go through the same motions he'd just completed, flip and scrawl and nod and flip. They were to attend a shareholder meeting later that afternoon: a public display of Lex's health and Lionel's confidence, a chance to affirm their shared commitment to the LuthorCorp empire in the eyes of the economy, God and man. As he measured the decisiveness in Lex's hand, Lionel realized he felt truly confident for the first time since Lex's return from the island--certainly for the first time since Lex's false offer of partnership. There had been difficulties, and steps had been taken--necessary steps, if rather more strident than Lionel truly preferred--but Lex was turning to look at him with frank serenity in every line of his being, and almost everything had been worth it.
Gesturing to the door, Lionel asked, "Ready, son?"
Lex watched him a fraction too long. "Yes, I am."
The press began clamouring as soon as the doors opened, but Lex walked out of the asylum as if he was walking out of a boardroom. He made a brief, eloquent statement before turning and inviting Lionel to speak, and smiled when Lionel clapped a paternal hand on his shoulder. There was no strain as they held the pose for the flashbulbs.
Lionel watched for the smallest hint of a problem, of unsteadiness or fear or duplicity, but saw nothing. As they parted the press once more and strode together to the car, he allowed himself a glimmer of contentment.
Lex was well, and coming home at last.
Lana slept a lot, now that she was out of the hospital. The pins supporting her brace were screwed right into bone, and even the slightest motion sent stabbing pain--and then a relentless, radiating ache--all the way through her leg. The painkillers she'd been prescribed were effective, but they upset her stomach; sleeping through the worst of it was the best she could do, even if it meant that her few waking hours were muzzy and indistinct.
She didn't feel drugged, just...half-asleep, a lot of the time. And sometimes she had trouble waking up. Sometimes it took her a while to figure out where her strange, tangled dreams ended and reality began, and sometimes she was more mixed up about that than she wanted to let on to anyone. Which was why, late one afternoon while she dozed fitfully on the couch in the den, Lana didn't pay much attention to the sound of the doorbell, or the fragments of conversation that followed from down the hall:
"...your health in every paper, not to mention..."
"...regrettably sensationalistic, although I understand..."
"...saying that you don't remember..."
"...isn't the issue. I simply don't believe..."
"...showed you the proof..."
"...sorry, but those claims..."
"...possible to do this myself. Please don't..."
She didn't try to stay awake when the voices faded out of her attention, either; instead, she drifted again into the fuzzy white silence that had become her usual sleep.
It was Chloe's voice, much closer than before, and a hand on her shoulder that finally roused her. Forcing her eyes open, Lana swallowed against the brief wave of nausea and ache full consciousness brought. "...mmm?"
"Hey, sorry to wake you up, but you have a visitor." Strangely subdued, Chloe backed away from the couch a step and just stood there for a long moment, not really looking at Lana--or at anything, really. "Call me if you need anything," she added, then turned and hurried out of the room.
Confused--trying to clear the cotton out of her head--Lana stared after her. Then, Chloe's words belatedly sinking in, she turned her head to see who else was there. She gaped at the figure waiting patiently across the room. "Lex? Oh my God, I'd forgotten you were--" She bit her tongue just in time, and tried to cover with the brightest smile she could manage. "Come in, sit down. It's good to see you!"
He smiled back--a curve of his mouth that didn't touch the rest of his face--and obliged, moving slowly closer. His hands were obvious fists deep in the pockets of his overcoat. "I'm sorry, Lana, I didn't want to disturb you..."
"Not at all!" She was on autopilot now; she carefully pulled herself up into more of a seated position, clenching her teeth behind her smile at the flare-up in her leg, then gestured broadly at the closest chair. "Just put the books on the floor, those are the ones I've finished reading. Do you want something to drink? I'm sure Chloe could--"
"Lana." His hands stayed in his pockets, and he stopped a few steps away. Looking directly at the ugly metal encircling--and piercing--her leg, Lex went very still; but when he spoke, he sounded calm and together. Normal. "I can't stay long. I just wanted to see how you were, and apologise." With a blink, his gaze shifted back to her face, and his expression made her fingers twist uncomfortably together in her lap. "I don't remember exactly what happened," he continued, and it sounded...practised, like something he'd said so many times to so many people that it was on the verge of becoming rote. "But I know your injury was a result of something I did while I was...unwell, and I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologise." Her thoughts were still moving slowly, too slowly, but Lana noticed the amusement that flashed across Lex's face and answered it automatically, even though it nagged at her and she couldn't figure out why. "Honestly, you don't. I know what was happening to you, Clark told me--"
"Whatever was wrong with me, it doesn't excuse what happened to you," Lex interrupted smoothly. "I've spent the last month coming to terms with the idea of personal responsibility, Lana, and now that I've been released--" he put the slightest emphasis on the word she'd considered impolite, and Lana felt her face warm into a blush "--I'd like to try to apply what I've learned. Please."
Biting the inside of her lip, Lana met Lex's eyes and tried, very hard, to concentrate. He hadn't exactly repeated what she'd said; he talked about what he'd gone through like it had happened to someone else; he was suddenly closed, somehow, even though his demeanour hadn't changed from the moment they'd started talking. And he didn't seem any different from the way she remembered him, from how he'd been before...
She realized that he was still looking at her, waiting for her answer. Nodding--a little too enthusiastically, trying to cover her hesitation and failing miserably--Lana thought she saw another hint of that strange, unsettling amusement lurking around Lex's eyes. "I'm--I guess, I mean...apology accepted."
"Thank you." Lex smiled at her, then half-turned to gesture back towards the hallway and the front door. His hands were still deep in his pockets. "I woke you; I should go, let you rest--"
"What were you discussing with Chloe?" It was out before she realized she wanted to know, and Lana immediately felt ashamed of herself for blurting it out like that. Nevertheless, she met Lex's gaze as evenly as she could, certain that she could understand what was bothering her about this whole visit if only she paid close enough attention.
Lex didn't even blink. "Nothing," he said easily. "Chloe and I don't have much to talk about."
Aaron Mercer shared the minimum amount of expected pleasantries with Professor Silvers as he picked up his lab schedule, then let his face fall out of its toadying grimace and into a bitter scowl as soon as he turned away. "Asshole," he muttered, after he'd gone a safe distance down the hall.
He vented the tiniest amount of frustration in the two-handed shove he used to open the door, but the freezing howl of wind and occasional messy dash of snowflakes that greeted him outside turned his mood even blacker. Hunching into the meagre protection of his corduroy coat, he jammed his hands into his pockets and stalked off across the darkening, near-empty campus.
He wanted a burger, and he wanted to relax. And...that was it. Aaron felt his scowl deepen; when had he ever been satisfied by the simple things in life? Being schooled by the public sector was ruining him...
So preoccupied was he with his bitter thoughts that he didn't notice the slim, black-clad shape drawing up beside him on the sidewalk until it spoke. "Bad day?"
Startled, he turned to see who it was--and stopped dead in his tracks, and stared. "Jesus Christ. Lex?"
"I only ask because you have that look," Lex continued blithely, his mouth half-twisted into a wry smile. "The one I remember meaning, 'Thinking hurts, help me stop.'" He offered his gloved right hand, and Aaron blinked stupidly at it before giving it a dazed shake.
"My God. What the hell--what the hell are you doing here, Luthor?" he asked finally, reaching up to try to force his hair off his face. The wind was coming at his side, blowing it all over, but Aaron wanted his vision as clear as possible so he'd know he wasn't seeing things. "You don't call, you don't write..."
"You're not saying you missed me, are you, Mercer?"
Aaron gave a slow shake of his head. "I'm not--I'm just...I mean, fuck, man." He dared a quick, barking laugh. "It's good to see you."
Lex smirked. He'd gotten it down to an art form over the years, Aaron noticed. "That surprises me, actually."
"Christ. Christ." Another swipe of his hand through his hair did no good whatsoever, and Aaron gave up, squinting through a thin scree of blurry brown. "So how are you?" he asked, then immediately remembered. "Wait, is that--is that okay? I heard you'd been..."
"Locked up?" Lex arched an eyebrow--but then he nodded, frankly and without hesitation. "I needed to be."
Something in his voice made Aaron pause. Narrowing his eyes, he gave Lex a thorough once-over, noting the differences between his boarding school memories and the guy standing in front of him now: the way Lex's omnipresent casual distance had been honed into something effortless, the way he'd grown up, filled out, slimmed down...honed, he thought again. "I heard you killed somebody."
Lex glanced down at that. When he looked back up he fixed his gaze on a point over Aaron's left shoulder. "I don't remember exactly what happened," he said, and Aaron had to fight a sudden, uncomfortable urge to shuffle his feet on the pavement. "But...yes, I killed someone." He paused, and slid his gaze back to Aaron's, and quirked one corner of his mouth. "I'm told it was self-defense."
"Fuck." Another second of eye contact with Lex, and Aaron gave in to the foot-shuffling urge. "So they locked you up?"
"There was more to it than that." Lex smiled, just a little, then half-turned his head to keep his face from being plastered with a sudden gust of snow. "It's freezing out here."
Aaron noticed the redness spreading like a rash over Lex's head, and wondered what his own ears looked like. They stung like hell. "You want to get dinner? I was just going to eat."
Lex nodded and they fell into step, taking long strides toward the parking lot and Aaron's car. After a minute, Lex said, "Tell me about grad school. It's pissing you off, isn't it?"
"It is pissing me off." Shivering, Aaron spoke quickly to keep his face from freezing. "I like chemistry a hell of a lot more when I'm not under supervision."
Lex chuckled. "Believe it or not, I know what you mean."
They continued in silence for another few steps, conserving their heat. But when they reached the edge of the parking lot and Aaron's car came into sight--its smooth, expensive lines indistinct through the snow-filtered light from a streetlamp--he watched Lex out of the corner of his eye and said, "You've been keeping up with everybody from Saint Antony's, then?"
Another smirk; Lex had honed them, too. "Not really."
"I didn't think so." Reaching out, Aaron snagged Lex's arm and pulled him to a stop. In the halogen glow of a security lamp, he gave him a long, careful look. "What do you want, Lex?"
Lex looked calmly back. "I want you to help me with an experiment," he said.
Lex had spent the last month telling people that he didn't remember exactly what had happened. Like a lot of things he'd told people over the last month, that wasn't exactly the truth.
If there was one thing Lex could never forget, whatever state his mind was in, it was that truth was a valuable commodity. People wanted it, or wanted to hoard it; someone who found himself in possession of a particularly potent truth could trade it for just about anything, if he was talented and shrewd enough to negotiate a good deal.
Lex suspected he'd tried to make a bad deal sometime shortly before Belle Reve. It frustrated him, not so much that he couldn't remember exactly what he'd had to barter, but that he'd apparently traded poorly enough to lose as much as he had.
Still, he hadn't lost everything. It might have been true that he didn't remember exactly what had happened, but it was also true that "exactly" was a modifier that bought a lot of ambiguity.
The truth was unclear. Everything was unclear; the drugs had been effective, the staff had been ruthless, and Lex hadn't been in a position to palm his doses until it was far too late. Nevertheless, he'd retained...bits. Abstract hints that he played with in his head whenever it was safe to do so, whenever his father wasn't visiting or Doctor Foster wasn't making one of her every-other-day mental inventories. They weren't much, but now that Lex was out, he knew he could build them up, reconstruct the truth, rediscover what he'd known.
He remembered scotch, or someone saying "scotch". He remembered a man with two faces that were really the same face. He remembered Chloe, trying not to seem afraid and failing miserably.
He hadn't remembered that until he'd seen it again two days ago. He'd withheld the truth from her then--he had things to do before he could feel easy about going to her for information--but the knowledge that he could recover what he'd lost had given him more hope than he'd ever expected.
He remembered Louis, sharpening his machete in the corner during his father's visits. He remembered Clark, blood on his face, looking at him like the world was about to end and it was all Clark's fault. He remembered...
Behind him, Aaron whimpered.
Pulling himself out of his musings, Lex picked up his notebook and a pen and swivelled his chair until he was facing his former classmate. Then, watching carefully, he scribbled observational notes in a tight shorthand all his own.
Aaron writhed on the bed, twisting and bucking and fighting his restraints, his body slick with sweat. "You crazy fuck," he spat, then started giggling as his eyes welled with tears. He blinked convulsively; his fingers curled until their tips brushed the edge of the belt around his wrists. "I let you do this to me. I let you..."
Lex set his jaw and kept writing. He'd bought Aaron's help with a reminder of their time together in boarding school, when Lex's genius for business and Aaron's genius for chemistry had benefited the entire student body, in one way or another; Lex's current proposition hadn't been much different, except in the few formulas Lex had worked up himself and hadn't shared. He knew which drugs he'd been given in Belle Reve, and what they did; he knew which drugs would have the effects he wanted to produce, and what was required to make them. It was in the exactitude of the manufacturing process that Aaron's talents had become necessary: Lex had needed his help to package everything together into convenient doses, harmless-looking pills that could destroy a man's mind.
It had been fortunate that most of the base formulas weren't very different from certain recreational intoxicants, ones Aaron hadn't batted an eye at. It had also been fortunate that Lex had taken the time to learn his own way around a lab in the years since Saint Antony's.
Aaron twitched and gibbered on the bed, and Lex remembered seeing that, too--only he'd been looking into a mirror, and the man in restraints had been himself.
He looked forward to the day when he would remember his father like that.
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