Lex had to go in person. He couldn't chance another Nixon, and also he had to see for himself. Lionel was not watching too closely, for fear of exposing his own interests by too-active surveillance. It was an acceptable risk.
He'd only found out by coincidence. One of Luthorcorp's Pennsylvania businesses made a certain chemical of interest, and while hacking into the files he'd taken a gander at the budget, just out of curiousity. Then, the odd budget line item sparked his interest, and after that it was a matter of following the breadcrumbs.
Only Hansel and Gretel hadn't been able to trace their trail back to its source, and Lex had the feeling that he was the one with the gingerbread house in this story. He'd just have to watch out for open ovens.
Smiling at his own pretensions, he took another drink of the terrible soi-disant microbrew (made, he knew, by Anheuser Busch operating under another name) that The Gemini Bar served and idly scratched at his left sideburn.
Whoever put this stupid haircut in fashion ought to be castrated, skinned and then shot. The wig glue felt the same no matter what the haircut, but it was still more annoying with a bad 'do.
His target stood up from the table halfway across the room, said something to his companions, and headed off towards the men's room. That left three girls and one guy, making it acceptable for him to head over to the blonde, with whom he'd been having a meaningful eyefuck relationship for the past half hour.
"Hi," he said. "Is this seat taken?"
"It is now," she said and smiled even wider.
He scooted the chair closer to her, so that his leg brushed hers. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"Only if you tell me your name."
"Richard Warner," he said. They'd been drinking for well over an hour, and their memories of his appearance in the dim light of the bar would be fuzzy at best. Better, his hair and eyes were a steady dark brown, so hard to remember and so easy to forget. "I'm from Princeton, in town for a conference."
"What are you studying?" one of the other girls asked. She had red hair, terribly cut in a way that reminded him of Chloe, but her eyes were dull and her nose sharp.
The waitress came and took further drink orders. Lex gathered that the blonde was Christine, the redhead Susan, the brunette Terry, and the guy Terry's brother Sam, who was with Susan. They all had various majors at Penn, but that wasn't important.
The important thing came back to the table just as the waitress left.
"You gave away my chair," Lucas Wainwright said with mock outrage.
"Luke, this is Richard, our newest and dearest friend," Christine said. "He's from Princeton."
"Slumming, eh?" Lucas scooted into the bench seat against the wall, causing Susan and Terry to scrunch together and squeal in half-hearted protest.
"Improving my education."
Indeed, photographs and school records weren't the same as meeting Lucas in person. Despite his age - older than Clark, but not by much, and he wasn't at all confident that Clark's official age was accurate - he had the Luthor fire in his eyes. His sleek brown hair was a little long, most likely from inattention rather than unknowing emulation of a father whose coiffure was chosen to make a point.
Lex could make party conversation in his sleep, and he was careful to keep his eyes mainly on Christine as he kept the talk running in safe channels, slowly nudging it to --
"So, you're a chemist, Richard? Any chemicals you'd like to share with the class?" Christine -- good, she was the right one -- asked. Though Lucas's juvenile busts were sealed, Lex had been sure that his adventures in better living through chemistry hadn't ended at age seventeen. His own proclivities, and the cocaine-eaten hole in Lionel's septum that had been repaired in 1984, told him that.
Lex suppressed his smirk, twisting it into a sunny smile. It was easier, somehow, with the putty that erased his only scar and made his mouth look less dangerous. "I don't normally, but --" He dug the vial out of his pocket, uncapped it and shook two pink pills the size of M&Ms into his hand. Swallowing one, he held the other out to Christine.
"My friend here? She's known to the trade by the initials MDMA, but you might know her by just one letter."
"X marks the spot," Terry said, giggling at her own cleverness.
Christine hesitated, looked at the others for reassurance, then reached for the pill. Her fingers brushed against his palm as she took it. Her friends, practicing safe drugging, would wait, and would keep her from going off with him alone, all exactly as planned.
At this very moment, Clark was at his senior homecoming, maybe dancing with his fairy princess. There was a slim chance he'd be drinking, too, but he'd still be innocent. Alcohol was as unlikely to affect him as it was to impair Lex.
The meteors had made the two of them a little less than kin, and more than kind.
"So why Penn for you guys?" he asked, knowing as the words came out of his mouth that it was stupid, unnecessary, possibly harmful.
He didn't even encode the others' responses into short-term memory. "I wanted to stay near my parents. My foster parents," Lucas corrected himself. "My dad -- he always said I'd go to an Ivy League school, and I guess he left some money for that when he went away. He said he wanted me to do great things." Lex carefully unclenched his fists under the table as Lucas stared into his beer.
"I have this fantasy, y'know, that he'll come back and see I've done well, and he'll take me with him. To wherever he lives. Which is probably just some bullshit gated community, but the last time I saw him, he said he was going to live in a castle."
"I guess he couldn't take care of you on his own?" Lex thought that his voice was sympathetic. Really, it was more hope than thought, because his pulse was pounding in his brain like Niagara Falls.
Lucas shrugged, still looking away from Lex. "I dunno. I don't remember my real mom. My dad came to visit a couple of times a year until I was nine, and then he stopped. He always looked so happy to see me, and so sad to leave. I figured I couldn't live with him because he must have another family, a wife and real kids."
There's where you were wrong, Lex thought.
"Man, that's rough," he said. Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated. Cain rose up.
Lucas shook his head as if to dispel the pall that had settled around the table. "Fuck, there're worse things. My foster parents are cool, and I gave them lots of reasons not to be. At least they don't scream at each other and throw things like half of the real parents I knew growing up."
"Or Terry and Sam's parents," Christine added, and Lex dragged his attention back to her. "They divorced and so did their next-door neighbors, and then Terry and Sam's mom married the ex-husband and their dad married the ex-wife. And all the kids went to the same school and they lived in the same houses for years."
"Freaky," he agreed and smiled at her until she blushed.
Half an hour later, after they'd all indulged, Christine was well into the giggling-touching-thirsty phase, and the others were quickly following, which was partially psychosomatic but just as useful regardless of cause. They split the bar tab (he wasn't carrying much money, because Richard didn't have much) and headed back to the apartment the girls shared. Sam clearly expected to get laid, possibly in the back seat of Terry's car, and Lucas was snuggling up against a badly-driving Terry. Christine reached into the front seat from her position in the rear and slid her hand under Lex's jacket, remarking on the softness and texture of his Gap sweater.
Lex let their nattering wash over him like empty air and thanked the meteors again for the swiftness with which drugs metabolized in his system. To think that once he'd considered that another defect, and an expensive one at that.
By now, Clark was probably acting as the designated driver, bouncing down roads far worse than Philadelphia's. He was going to be pretty surprised when Pete and Lana hung drunkenly all over each other. Later, Lex would listen patiently and not laugh, because Clark needed someone to take care of him, someone stronger.
God, he'd been nearly as innocent as Clark when he'd returned to Smallville, for all that he'd thought he was jaded and ready to meet his father on his own terms. Before Lionel had revealed a truer face, before what he'd done to Martha and all that had happened as Lex struggled to build his own empire. Lex knew better now. Lionel was always going to be able to surprise him with clever malice, and Lex was just going to have to adapt. As he was doing now. He couldn't sit back and count on his defenses; he had to keep pushing, or Lionel would strangle him as he worked on his own plans.
Wasted people were even more boring than sober people, he realized anew as Susan fumbled with her keys for three minutes before getting them into the apartment. He let Christine hold the door open for him, and walked straight to the sagging mint-green couch in the center of the main room.
The others congregated around him. "Anyone interested in another treat?" he asked.
Susan, who was licking Sam's neck, shook her head and dragged her boyfriend out of the room. Terry rolled her eyes in only half-feigned disgust. "It's not normal to watch your brother getting it on."
Christine laughed. "It is the city of brotherly love!"
"Fuck you," Terry rebutted, and they both collapsed into giggles.
"What've you got?" Lucas asked, properly focused as befitted a Luthor, whether he knew it or not.
Blood was such a lousy reason to offer love and loyalty to another; far better to choose for oneself. As David and Jonathan had, in defiance of all fathers. We few, we happy few --
Lex realized that he ought to speak. "Meperidine, better known as Demerol. Nice smooth ride down, just what you need to finish a night." He produced the second vial. "Usually I sell this stuff, but since you've embraced a stranger in a strange town --"
There was the embarrassed rush to offer payment, Lex's repeated denials, and a final token payment, hardly enough to cover the cost of the electricity used in the process. Finally, Lex reluctantly took the money, shook the brown sugar-like powder onto a hand mirror, and cut it into lines. Christine produced a straw and inhaled like a supermodel.
The others followed suit. Lucas, whose tolerance was doubtless high, took a line up each nostril. While they were watching each other snort, Lex switched vials and, when the mirror came back to him, he matched Lucas's extravagance.
He refused the drink Christine offered him and watched as the others relaxed. Their heads nodded downwards, their eyes drooped, and their arms and legs jerked slightly, as if they were running in their dreams.
They'd be a long time dreaming.
To pass the time until he could be sure Lucas didn't somehow cough or vomit up the drug, and to let his head clear a bit (the stuff was, after all, basically synthetic heroin), he went over the reactions in his head. MPTP, aka 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine. Despite the forbidding name, it was a reasonably simple organic molecule, produced in this case as a contaminant from a sloppy garage-lab synthesis. He'd been careful to keep the pH just a little too low when cooking the meperidine analog. The formula was less complex than snips and snails and puppy-dog tails, and more predictable.
Like many molecules of its type, MPTP was oxidized by monoamine oxidase B, producing a pyridinium compound. So what? one might ask. Nothing, really, other than that the compound was a good substrate for the dopamine transporter protein, which imported dopamine into cells that required it. At the same time, it was an inhibitor of a key enzyme in mitochondria. This was unfortunate, in the sense that shutting down mitochondria would quickly lead to cell death. To review: MPTP turned into something else, which was taken up selectively into cells that imported a lot of dopamine, which then killed them.
Still not so worrisome; cells die all the time. But which cells import large amounts of dopamine? Some were in the substantia nigra, up in the forebrain.
There was another name for what happened to people suffering from MPTP poisoning: advanced Parkinson's.
He hadn't killed them like he'd killed Nixon, but as he watched them, he wondered if it wouldn't be kinder. In the morning, when Sam and Susan came out, their friends wouldn't move, wouldn't respond at all. If someone connected the proper dots, they might improve slightly when given L-Dopa. But not much, and not for long. He'd given them enough MPTP to be sure of that. The damage was permanent, years of disease progression compressed into one blurry night.
His meteoric healing might have protected him if he'd snorted the bad batch. Then they'd have seen who was the fitter to survive. But, rationally, it wouldn't have proved anything, any more than letting himself get hit by a runaway car would have.
Floating on a soft blurry cloud of contentment, Lex considered going in to visit Sam and Susan. He'd probably have to inject them, though, and if they resisted there would be reason for the police to suspect more than misadventure. With the combination of alcohol, drugs, and his disguise, it was wiser to rely on their inability to identify him than to risk a physical confrontation.
He hadn't even taken off his jacket. The mirror, razor and straw went in his pocket; he'd sterilize them back at the hotel and discard each separately. Pulling on his driving gloves, he stood and went to leave.
At the door, he turned for one last look at his half-brother. It was a shame, but Lionel would have used him as a weapon.
And it wasn't fair that another should live when his real brother, his full brother, had died. Wasn't fair that Lionel should waste smiles and hugs and all the things Luthors didn't do on the bastard of a crazy woman.
Clark, he could have accepted. Clark had enough secrets that he wouldn't want the life of a Luthor, and enough trust that he could be controlled, at least when it came to choosing between Lionel and Lex. He was worthy, in a way even Lionel backhandedly recognized in his attempts to win Martha, making Clark retroactively part of the family. Most important, Clark was a still small voice in his head, one he didn't want to lose. Lex wanted that connection regardless of the laws of God and man, and of whatever else wandered beneath the eye of Heaven.
Some stranger, though, the product of five minutes of Lionel's undivided attention, the proof that his father had thought so little of his mother - no, it was unacceptable. There would be no prodigal sons to take the birthright of the one who'd been stuck actually growing up with the man, saving his life and suffering his blindness and constant carping.
Sharks, he knew, killed each other in the womb. He was behind, but he was willing to work to compensate.
Smiling just a little, he left the apartment and began the walk back to the hotel, where Richard Warner's rented car awaited. If he caught the last flight of the night, he could be in Smallville in time to take Clark to the Talon for coffee before school, celebrating their various and several triumphs.
"What are we celebrating?" Clark would ask.
"For you? A bright new year. For me? Let's just say I nipped my competition in the bud," he'd say, and smile, smile, smile.
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