If he had called, Lionel would have relented.
Sick to death of the defiance, the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, and having to constantly spend thousands of dollars correcting the screw-ups, Lionel had finally put his foot down. Out of college, wasting nothing but time and money, his son was not getting any closer to becoming the heir Lionel wanted - that he needed. Lex had too much input; sensory overload. He had too much freedom and too many ways in which he could get into trouble. Lionel had become sick of bailing.
So instead of taking the toys away from the boy, Lionel had sent the boy away from the toys. There would be no city to roam like a wild creature prowling for prey. There would be no victims, and therefore no crimes. There would only be fields, and farms, and fertilizer. Smallville, Kansas: prison without walls.
Once Lex was gone, however, Lionel missed him. He missed the history lessons, and the verbal sparring they inevitably sparked. He'd lost his fencing partner, and in both the verbal version and the one fought with swords, only Lex could issue anything close to a challenge. Lionel prowled the house, looking for someone to admonish, but found no one. His son, his only real companion for the nine years following Lillian's death, was gone.
He'd only been gone twenty four hours when Lionel called the plant in Smallville, wanting to talk to him. It had been Lex's first visit, and according to Sullivan, he'd left looking dour. Lionel waited for the call. He knew his son. His call would surely follow, and Lionel would breathe a sigh of relief. He would have relented, and recanted the exile.
At first he would have responded with hesitation, and played mental judo, but in the end, he would have said: "Come home."
The call never came.
Years later, after both Luthors were gone, a box would be found in the basement of the Metropolis Daily. How it would have gotten there, nobody could say. It would be shuffled around, and eventually find its way to a desk in another newsroom, at another newspaper. She who had inherited it would take it home, and with her husband, would go through its yellowing, water-stained contents.
Lois and Clark would find Lionel's journal from that year; the year spent in hair pulling frustration, cleaning up after the son who never quite came to believe he was loved. Lionel spoke of the phone call that never came, the call that would have brought Lex home.
"I found out he did call. He'd picked up the phone and called me the moment he left the plant. I never received it. After the first ring, Lex drove off a bridge, very nearly drowned, and things were never the same between us again. My son died that day. I did not know the man he became."
What would have been different, Clark wanted to know. Would there have been the bitterness that eventually grew between father and son, had Lionel been able to answer that call? Would Lionel have been able to beat back the darkness to accomplish that which had been Clark's first and greatest failure?
He read the words Lionel had written, and Lois held him as he wept for the loss of a friendship that should have never existed, and a soul he had failed to save.
All of it due to one simple call that had long ago gone unanswered.
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