by Jayne Leitch
Spoilers: little things from the first season, mostly 'Leech'. Disclaimer: so very not mine. But oh, the fun I could have... Notes: Many more thanks to MaryKate for another speedy beta. This is another one for Livia's Bradbury Titles Challenge.
DRUNK, AND IN CHARGE OF A BICYCLE
by Jayne Leitch Copyright 2002
With all attendant derogatory clich, Victoria is like the town bicycle.
Lex isn't drunk. He's not, despite the ample reasons he really should be, but he has downed enough brandy to find the insult that just swam to the top of his mind to be worth a quick twist of a grin. His mirth is hidden, appropriately enough, by the complicated style Victoria's hair is in this evening, as he strolls up behind her and presses an anonymous kiss just over her left ear.
She doesn't turn around, but leans back into him, never breaking attention from the conversation she's nodding along to between two portly--and oblivious--CEOs. Lex knows them only enough to be fairly certain that they wouldn't be interested in Victoria's offer of transportation: Rufus Gordon has been out since the seventies, and Josiah Granville's still holding that grudge against Churchill.
Lex is bored by this gathering, which his father is hosting in the Metropolis Commercial Tower's banquet hall. The guest list consists mostly of men older--if not richer--than Lionel, men whose business practises are so out of date that the companies they own will be ripe for takeover as soon as they die. Since a great number of the attendant barons are hobbling around on next-to-last legs already, this soiree is little more than a last pretence at civility: a chance for Lionel Luthor to shake hands and make false assurances so the old bastards can feel free to die under the assumption that their legacies will be safe once they're gone.
Absolutely none of them are fooled. Lex hasn't yet decided whether he'll share with his father the conversation he overheard in the men's room, in which the head of Wainwright Castings Inc. swore to his private nurse that he damn well refused to die until he saw the anti-trust crusaders catch up to LuthorCorp and "carve it into bloody pieces".
Lex has slept with the man's great-granddaughter. He applauds the notion, but can't take it too seriously.
Aside from a trophy wife or two, Lex had spent most of the mind-crushingly boring evening under the impression that he was the youngest person there. When he noticed Victoria navigating the sea of geriatrics with two very large drinks clutched in her hands, he'd been mildly surprised to note his extreme lack of surprise; after the unpleasant business of Cadmus Labs--and Victoria's subsequent falling-out with Sir Harry--Lex imagined she would have had to pick up the pieces the best way she knew how. It *shouldn't* be a surprise to find her attached, in whatever capacity, to a wealthy man too decrepit to find companionship elsewhere. The only part of her behaviour that's at all unexpected is her willingness to accompany her current "just business" partner to a party thrown by the man with whom she cheated on his son.
Lex pauses, and considers that last thought before deciding that it is factually correct, though maybe not grammatically. He shrugs it off; he knows he's always been better with science.
Victoria still hasn't turned around, but he can't imagine that she doesn't know whose chest she's leaning into, ever more suggestively; if nothing else, the fact that he has muscles under his shirt instead of a golden-aged barrel-belly should tip her off. Or maybe his cologne's distinct lack of Asper-Cream overtones...
Then again, Victoria's never really been known for her deductive reasoning skills. Taking pity on her--and her attempt at a show of faithfulness to whoever she's with tonight--Lex tilts his head so his lips almost buzz against her earlobe and murmurs, "Fascinating party, don't you think?"
Her spine straightens--she's pressed herself in so tightly, he thinks he can feel individual vertebrae shift--but she doesn't move away, and when she turns to face him, her mouth is curved into a coy smile. "Lex. I was wondering when we'd find each other."
"Really?" Lex widens his eyes in feigned innocence. "I didn't know I was supposed to be searching."
"Oh, Lex." She laughs, fluttering and slightly too brittle. She still hasn't backed away, and Lex thinks he's been almost this close to her in bed. "Tease if you like; you're not going to ruin my good mood."
"You do seem to be having a good time." Lex lets his gaze flicker for a moment to the almost-empty champagne flute dangling between her fingers; it's not the first--or third--glass he's seen her carrying this evening. "I have to admit, I didn't expect to see you here. I didn't know my father had included the Hardwicks on the guest list."
"Yes, well..." Victoria turns a little to place her glass on a nearby table, the movement a beat too late to hide the momentary dimming of her smile. By the time she turns back, she's recovered, and she sounds perfectly blas as she talks around what Lex already knows. "Actually, I'm not working for Hardwick Enterprises anymore. I've never been very interested in the business, and--do you remember my cousin Royston? He's always wanted to work with Daddy, and I decided I quite like it here in the States, so we've had a bit of a management shuffle to accommodate everyone." She pauses, arching an eyebrow, and when she continues her tone could etch steel. "I thought you might've heard. We are just another subsidiary of LuthorCorp now, after all."
"Oh, that's right." Lex offers a self-deprecating smile. "With so many of them, it gets hard to keep track."
"Mmm." She nods, slowly, and manages to step back--finally, if only a few inches--in a way that looks almost entirely casual. "Right, of course."
"So," he continues after a moment, arranging his expression into one of earnest inquiry to keep himself from smirking, "how are you, Victoria? It's been so long, and I've obviously lost track where you're concerned..."
Her answering smile is dazzling, if held together by pride and designer wet lipstick. "I'm splendid, thanks. In fact--" she tosses her head slightly, as if realigning her posture from the shoulders up in preparation for her next declamation "--I've met someone."
"He's the reason I'm here tonight, actually." Victoria waits; Lex simply looks at her expectantly until she blinks and presses on, the fingers of her right hand twitching at the fabric of her dress as she speaks. "His boss wanted him here for some reason, and since he knew it was going to be all--well, this--he asked me to come along, give him someone interesting to talk to." Another laugh, and suddenly her hands meet in front of her so she can pick at her nails. "His boss has kept him so busy, though, I've hardly seen him. I think I should have begged off to wash my hair."
Lex chuckles gamely, and is mildly intrigued despite himself. Not one of the old barons, then; one of their nurses? He hasn't noticed many personal aides or secretaries... "Business gatherings can be boring when you're not doing any business," he commiserates. "I'm sure the shampoo would have been much more fulfilling for you. Quite frankly, I'm surprised this man of yours didn't take that into consideration."
Victoria looks startled, then forces another smile despite the sudden grind of her teeth. "He's a wonderful man," she says, not quite managing to keep the edge out of her voice. "We make each other very happy."
"I'm sure you do." It's so hard not to sound condescending. Lex ignores the way Victoria is systematically chipping the hell out of a very expensive French manicure, and instead glances up and around the room. "So who's the lucky guy? Do I know him?" A beat. "His boss?"
Still pretending to search the room for familiar faces, Lex watches out of the corner of his eye as Victoria's mouth opens, then closes, then pulls into a moue of contemplation. "I...think so," she says finally, casually. "He's very well-known in your circles, really, I wouldn't be surprised if--"
"Lex! There you are." The voice comes unexpectedly from behind him, and makes Victoria jump. It continues with barely a pause, and Lex very carefully does not roll his eyes as he pivots on his heel to face the latest annoyance. "Your father's been looking for you, he wants you with him when he speaks to Octavia von Stedlhaus..."
The expression on Dominic's face when he gets close enough to see who Lex is with is enough to make the whole night worthwhile. Already flushed a diffuse pink--high colour the result of some of the drinks Lex has seen Victoria ferrying around the room tonight, no doubt--his cheeks tinge a darker red, and his eyes dart between Lex and Victoria, widening to the point where they seem like three-dimensional entities completely outside his head. His mouth has fallen open, all directions from Lionel apparently forgotten, and Lex is delighted to realize that the only other time he's seen Dominic this flustered was when the man thought his scotch had been poisoned.
A quick glance back at Victoria confirms the blush heating her face under her makeup; unlike Dominic, however, she has her expression under control, and has arched a brow in something like defiance--despite the fact that she can't quite seem to meet Lex's eyes. As the silence stretches, his estimation of her rises the tiniest fraction: after all, she was considerate enough to provide some really spectacular entertainment to liven up his evening.
Another taut moment passes before Lex clears his throat and offers a smirk that has no hope of passing for the somewhat less obviously amused smile he thinks he should have tried for. "What I find interesting about this situation," he says conversationally, glancing from Victoria to Dominic and completely failing to catch their eyes, "is how utterly easy it would have been to avoid."
This earns him a sullen glare from under Dominic's furrowed brow. His words slur slightly as he mutters, "Your father seemed certain you weren't going to come."
"And miss all this excitement? Come now, Dominic, you know me better than that." Lex remembers signing the RSVP personally; his father knew damn well he was going to be here tonight. "And even if you don't, you should know my father well enough to know that he doesn't manage my appointment calendar. Really..." and now his smirk has hardened into something Lex can't possibly pretend isn't a grin "...why take the chance?"
Dominic, obviously feeling the effects of the evening's drinks, is at a loss. Victoria, however, straightens her shoulders, steps smartly around Lex and threads one arm decisively around Dominic's waist, pulling herself in close beside him. Lex is amused to note the two inches or so of height she has on her date. "Pettiness doesn't suit you, Lex," she says, tossing her head and finally meeting his gaze. "You might not like seeing us together, but we are. And you're being rude."
It takes a monumental amount of willpower, but Lex reigns in his grin, despite Victoria's admirable attempt at maturity and Dominic's involuntary flinch. "Am I? You'll have to forgive me, Victoria, I'm not used to seeing evidence that Dominic has a life outside of the office. To tell you the truth, I'm happy to see that he's getting out a little, broadening his horizons." He smiles fixedly, just long enough to make Victoria's confidence falter. Then, turning his attention to Dominic, Lex continues very sincerely, "Congratulations, Dominic, on making it out of my father's offices for a night or two. Of course, you've only progressed as far as his bedroom on this try, but who knows where you'll go next? Kitchen? Front hall closet?"
Victoria gasps, her face turning bright pink. Dominic, his eyes turning more bloodshot with each passing second, glares at Lex's chin. "His isn't the only bedroom she's been in lately, is it," he says gruffly, earning another startled hiss of breath from Victoria, who pulls away from him as if physically stung.
Lex angles his head thoughtfully, pretending to mull this over. "No, probably not," he says finally, ignoring the look Victoria stabs his way before turning it back on her date. He pauses for a moment to admire the silent volley of promised death, then says smoothly, "Anyway, as much fun as this is, I believe my father is looking for me. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll leave you two...alone."
He counts the seconds as he weaves away through the room. The sound of a ringing slap cuts through the buzz of the crowd between four and five, and Lex doesn't bother trying to hide his grin.
And ten minutes ago he'd been bored.
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