Disclaimer: For once, I can't use my regular disclaimer, because if you close your eyes and click your heels together three times, you can pretend that the Clark and Lex in this story are just good friends. (Rather like the series as televised.) We all know who belongs to whom.
Author's Notes: Another entry for Livia's Bradbury titles challenge, which is so inspiring I may never finish any of my pre-existing WIPs. Italics below are for punctuation, not emphasis. Additional notes at the end of the story.
Beta: Thanks to Castro and Hope for proofreading, pointers, perspective and polish. Any stupid oversights remaining in the story are my fault.
Feedback: There are many needy writers out there hungry for some; send it to them.
Lionel Luthor, Lex mused over a swallow of scotch, had never believed his son would live up to his expectations. He'd always set those expectations unreasonably high, and obviously thought them impossibly high, as well. That was his way of keeping Lex on his toes, making sure he always strove to do better, be better, never rested on his laurels.
Not that he'd ever gotten anything resembling a laurel wreath from Lionel; the most he could ever hope for was a terse "well done" or "nice work" and even then only when it was something in which Lex would resist taking pride. Pleasure in scoring a point in their neverending fencing match, yes, but not pride. Dad made sure never to encourage or reward him for anything he might feel good about.
It was always a competition, and never a fair one, though the unfairness was itself another lesson, one of those lessons that could never be repeated enough for Lionel's taste. Judo, fencing, chess; go played on an infinitely expanding board; business; sex; family. No matter what field Lionel chose to draw him into battle on, metaphorically or otherwise, the odds, the advantage, the strength were always on Lionel's side. Not that Lex didn't have his own strengths; but Lionel selected his venues with intent.
Lex could only learn to apply Sun Tzu to twenty-first century business if he had a stronger opponent against whom to defend and eventually campaign, and his father took it upon himself to provide that challenge.
When one knows the opponent has spies in one's camp, the best weapon to use is misinformation: more Sun Tzu. When one's own intelligence agents are outmatched and subject to being suborned by the opponent to the point that none can be trusted, there is an even better weapon, misdirection: pure Lex.
Head back, he closed his eyes briefly, slumped against luxuriously comfortable leather, the better to reminisce. Remembering how he'd pretended to be surprised, dismayed, defeated, when one by one his distracting schemes had been discovered, foiled and thrown in his face as if each were just another test he'd failed.
To be certain of getting Dad's attention, Lex had started with the obvious, trying to buy surveillance of Lionel's trademark helicopter from its crew. He still wasn't sure which had been more fun, pretending during his regularly-scheduled lectures and verbal fencing matches to believe the lies he'd been fed, or pretending shock when Lionel showed the hand he thought beat Lex's. But Lex had finally learned that while he'd never win on Lionel's terms, choosing the field made it his; his father thought they were still playing poker when, in fact, Lex had switched to baccarat and raised the stakes accordingly.
Following that first bluff, Lex had made efforts to place his own people into Lionel's offices and residences, and to bring people on his father's personal staff over to Lex, each sally carefully calculated to fall in a different place along the spectrum from subtle to quixotic. It was the same tactic he had eventually brought to bear on employees further and further from Metropolis, even overseas towards the end, incursions necessary to his grand strategy.
He'd continued with attempt after doomed attempt to wrest or buy this or that subsidiary, investment property, favourite paean to conspicuous consumption, anything of Lionel's away from him, until his father had accused him, striding unannounced into Lex's glass-glittery office one day, of spreading himself too thin with all these scattered ploys. It had been all Lex could do to turn his back to keep from laughing in his father's face. Much later, he'd come back to the helicopters, trying to slip incompetent or unreliable pilots and mechanics through personnel into a position to put his father in danger, if any of those pawns had gone unnoticed and not been swept from the board.
Perhaps the most delicious feint had been an untraceable cash payment to a particular arms dealer that smoothed the way for a discounted sale to one of the rare violent anti-globalisation groups, in preparation for a summit Lionel would be attending. It had been such a challenge not to be smug when Dad accused him of getting sloppy, because he never would have dared that particular ploy if he hadn't been certain by then that Lionel's people would discover and prevent the attack. The fact that afterwards the weapons and terrorists were off the street and no longer a danger to the public was a bonus. Lionel's disgust at the apparent sloppiness of the maneouvre gave Lex a warm feeling whenever he thought of it.
Opening his eyes, he traced a finger idly over the face of his watch, briefly studying the features in the profile there. Lionel had been fooled into trying to fight on too many fronts. The danger there, as ever, was twofold; the general divided his forces and, more importantly, he left his flank unguarded. A faint smirk curled the corners of Lex's mouth, so subtle anyone in the room would have had to know him very well to see it. There was no one else there, though. Clark might have recognised the expression, but he'd delegated himself downstairs to give Lex some time alone before Lex would need, presently, to join him.
Lionel had become so accustomed to Lex's guerilla tactics, finally, so busy dealing with them, so distracted by them, that he neglected things he never would have let pass before Lex had begun to wage his quiet, secret war. So distracted, in fact, that he never took note of the areas where Lex wasn't working to undermine him, much less the significance of that deliberate neglect.
His father had been the one, in the end, who had gotten sloppy. Taking another sip of scotch, Lex rolled it meditatively on his tongue.
All warfare is based on deception.
If the enemy does not know where an attack is planned, he must prepare in a great many places; and when he scatters reinforcements everywhere, he makes himself weak everywhere. Those skilled in the art of war subdue the enemy without battle.
And that was the beauty of it; for all his worrying at his father's heels, he hadn't had to act directly at all to achieve this victory. He stood, straightening his black shirt and tie, adjusting the drape of his sombre suit. The last swallow of scotch went down in a bracing gulp, and he sighed appreciatively, setting the glass down. "I think I've got The Art of War down now, Dad," he said aloud in the empty room. Downstairs, he could hear the faint noise of people milling, the even fainter sounds of more arriving.
It was time for him to make his appearance, now. Corporate kings, rulers of business empires and the royalty of smaller countries had come to his father's funeral, just as Lex had predicted long ago. He was the solemn heir, the prince orphaned by the tragic crash of his father's private jet. No Hamlet he, though, not least because the accident really had been just that -- mechanical failure which could, perhaps, have been avoided with a more diligent attention to maintenance. Today he was Alexander, assuming the throne.
He doesn't wonder whether Lionel would have been proud of him; he'd long ago learned better than to hope. But there's a pleasant, familiar weight on his wrist as he descends the stairs, and he'll be able to meet Clark's eyes with a clear conscience. And it's enough.
Go (sold in North America as "Othello") is an ancient game of strategy ordinarily played on a grid of 64 to 100 or more squares, the size of the board increasing the complexity of the game.
In baccarat, which in casinos has traditionally been a high-stakes-only game, the tens, face cards, and aces have the lowest value.
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