Eventually, she goes to Lex.
It's not as if she has a choice. After Clark dies, the Fortress doesn't so much die itself as slowly decompose. She'd always hated the loneliness anyway, and she's back in the States before the sensor-screens fail and a brace of scientists, surrounded by soldiers with guns, descend on the remains. She sends the antigravity sled that brought her home off to bury itself in the Gulf of Mexico and accesses her old accounts.
The money's been piling up, but not quite as fast as inflation has chipped at its value. That's not what sends her to Lex; she knows how to work, and even in this brave new society there is still room in the service professions.
But she can't work without an identification card, and the one she has, the one that says she was born in 2010, would be unconvincing. It's so old, in fact, that she has to wait while the public information kiosk downloads software that will allow it to read the card; it's no longer a standard format.
There's surely a cash economy somewhere in Metropolis, where no one cares about identification cards or names or, really, anything but survival, but it's been too long for her to be confident she can find and navigate it, and the last thing she can afford is to be picked up in a security sweep.
So she goes to the current LuthorCorp building. The ID readers at the doors are automatic and see nothing particularly disturbing in the visit of a near-centenarian, since her facial structure still matches the biometric data on the card. She's learned that computers are safer than people because computers do what you tell them, and only what you tell them.
At the front desk, she speaks to a young (but then they're all young) blonde with her hair fashionably long, sleeked back into four parts too elegant to be called pigtails.
"My name is Martha Kent," she says. "I'd like to see Mr. Luthor."
Here's where it could go wrong. She doesn't doubt that Lex has some system designed to bring him any mention of certain names, but if the girl isn't well-trained enough she might just laugh it off. It is, after all, preposterous to think that a woman off of the street would have anything Mr. Luthor might want to hear.
That's what the smirk on the girl's face says, but she repeats the name into her computer anyway.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Kent, but -"
The automatic brushoff cuts off and her face is stunned blank, just for a second. She recovers well; Lex's personnel selection skills have improved substantially over the years. "If you'll have a seat, Ms. Kent, someone will be down from Mr. Luthor's office shortly."
She sits, though she's not tired from the long walk from her flophouse hotel to the center of Metropolis. Video screens scroll the news of the day at her, but she's not really watching. Somebody's going to emergency, somebody's going to jail. It's just like Metropolis was when she was a kid, now that the big post-Superman jump in the crime rate has mostly dissipated.
A large man in a suit that nearly hides his bulk approaches her. "Ms. Kent?" His voice is cultured, not at all goon-like. "If you'll come with me?" He holds out a badge that says "Visitor" for her to put on her jacket.
She follows him back into the building, past further screening devices and to an elevator that requires both a handprint and a retinal scan. She has to remind herself that this isn't Lex's paranoia; the procedure would be the same if she were making a sales call on a buyer for the Gap. Living in the Fortress, she'd been able to forget a lot of the details of the new world, but she needs to pay attention now.
Up, up, up they go. The LuthorCorp building will always be the tallest in Metropolis. The office into which they are decanted is clean and spare, silver and white and black like something out of Kubrick's 2001.
Lex comes through the far door. His hair is dirty blond now, shading to brown at the roots. It changes his face, makes him look less vulnerable than he seemed when they met. She wonders whether it's bioengineered to grow from his head or just a great wig. He looks as good in this year's wide-lapelled, shiny suits as he did in the fashions of 2003.
His eyes, well, his eyes are just the same.
"Martha," he says warmly. "Joseph, you may leave us."
Joseph raises his eyebrows, but exits through another door.
"Hello, Lex," she says, realizing that she's been staring.
"I use Alexander, actually. Alex to my friends." His smile's self-mocking. "Lex was my grandfather's name."
She thinks he wants her to play, so she gives it a try. "Your grandfather's name was Leonard. He ran a sporting-goods store about eight blocks from here. I got my gym shoes there."
The smile twists. "Ti theleis, Martha?"
It's not Spanish, which she learned during the years she worked in day care. "What?"
"What can I do for you?"
He's too fast, which in theory is no surprise but is difficult to adjust to in practice. "I - I need an identity I can use."
Lex nods. "I can do that. I'll give you a line of credit, so you don't need to worry about working."
"Thank you." She's shaking, a little. Lex is supposed to want something in return. "Ah - how have you been?"
He gestures her over to a seating area and sprawls on a pristine white couch as she perches on a nearly transparent chair.
"I've been well, of course. Busy introducing myself as the heir to the empire after my secluded youth. I'm thinking of following my grandfather into politics, once I get LuthorCorp accommodated to the transition. It's a good time to restructure the company, since everyone expects an upheaval anyway and they don't understand how much I know."
"Politics? Isn't it in the Constitution that you can't be president more than twice?"
He leans forward. "It's said that no man steps into the same river twice, because it's not the same river and he's not the same man. While the constitutional lawyers likely don't agree, there's a body in Lex Luthor's grave, and it would hold up to DNA testing. Not that it will come to that." His voice is low and calming; even at the first, he could control his voice so that it could control other people. It had taken him half a century to get his expression as well-mastered.
Despite herself, she's relaxing into the chair. It's amazing how much seeing him brings back, as if they were old soldiers remembering the war. She wants to trust him, because then she'll be able to share. "How did you get hair?" she blurts, surprising a real smile out of him.
"Somatic gene manipulation," he says, running a hand through the short, soft-looking hair. It makes him look young. Younger. "There were rumors that I'm a clone of my father, but my father's hair was red, and you know what kind of difference that makes in how people see you."
She nods. She was a brunette for most of the twenty-first century, after they figured out what was happening, or not happening, because it was less conspicuous. "I feel like my hair shouldn't grow any more," she admits.
"That's vampires," he admonishes, and she's leaning in as much as he is. "It would be easier if there were rules, though. My father would get a kick out of my having to sleep in a box of my native soil."
"I never wanted this," she says, her voice full of the bitterness she could never show to Clark.
Lex shrugs. "Be careful what you wish for."
"I didn't wish for this! That was Clark and Jonathan."
"Really?" He steeples his hands together and rests his elbows on his knees, now looking like a grad student minus only the coffee and cigarettes. "I always assumed you were like me, that you'd wished for perfect health and the meteors gave it to you. I was just lucky that part of my wish was to grow up strong or I'd be in a cage somewhere."
She shakes her head. "No, it was much later. When I was sick from meteor dust and pregnant with Mary." The name hangs in the air like toxic fog. She hasn't said it in years.
Lex's eyes grow distant as he searches his memory. She's found that she has to reread her journals to remember back that far, except for the biggest events. She can't remember Jonathan's face without a picture, and she feels certain that the pictures she has don't show what he truly looked like. Lex nods as if he's recalled the incident, so maybe his memory is better.
"How did they do it?"
"The ship," she says, watching his detached, fascinated expression.
"But why didn't it heal everyone in the hospital? Helen -" He stops, looking like she felt when she said her daughter's name.
"I don't know. Maybe it just did what Clark and Jonathan wanted." Why would he think she'd have answers? He was the great scientist.
Lex leans back, giving her space. It doesn't matter; his presence fills the room so that he's up against her skin. Lois Lane refused to shake his hand, saying that he had the power to cloud men's minds, and that was a long time ago. She's not sure if there's an upper limit to charisma, but Lex is probably going to find out.
"Stay here," he says, wide-eyed and sincere. "Stay with me."
She'd spent weeks after Clark died, staring at the walls and wondering whether she could kill herself. She was less afraid of Hell than of what would happen if it didn't work.
No mother should have to bury her children. Looking at Lex, she thought he didn't want to bury anyone else either.
"I don't -"
"I miss them," he says, so low she has to lean in to hear him. "I used to be a person, Martha. When we met, I was different. Stay with me and help me remember."
Are those tears on his lashes? "I don't know if I want to remember."
"Then stay with me and help me forget." His eyes are the thin blue color of the sky in the long Antarctic mornings.
She can't go back to the isolation she'd suffered in the Fortress. She'd tried not to let Clark see how hard it was, with only him for company, though she suspects it was one of those things they both knew and never discussed. Like Lex, in fact.
"I'd like to go back to school, I think," she says. "I could update my resume."
Lex smiles at that and reaches out for her hand. His touch resonates through her body. "I'll have it taken care of." He runs his thumb across the back of her hand, and she gets the feeling he's checking to see if she's real.
Lex installs her in one of the LuthorCorp penthouses. There are four, one for each corner, and Lex has had them decorated in some idiolect of his that she suspects has something to do with guardian angels and cardinal directions. She suspects this because he mentions, once, that Kal-El means something like "God's swiftness" in Hebrew, and he never mentions Clark so it must be meaningful. It's not as if she doesn't have the time to do a little research.
She's in the west penthouse, which is air and Raphael, whose name means "healing of God." The dcor is light and cheery, country farmhouse changed just enough not to look ridiculous with a floor-to-ceiling view of downtown Metropolis in the background. Lex is in the south, which is fire and Michael, whose name is a war cry. Who is God?
His rooms are dark wood and gold, and there's a fireplace, which is fairly self-indulgent considering the cost of the air scrubbers hidden in the chimney, but, as Lex never ceases to remind her, he's got nothing but money. Other than time.
She takes business courses at Met U and befriends some of the older students, people looking for second careers, and pretends she's in the same situation. At night, Lex quizzes her about her classes, claiming to be seeking cutting-edge insights.
After her daily reports, he usually lectures, the topics ranging from Cretan navies to the invention of television to minke whales to the oeuvre of Duran Duran. (That's one night, and he insists there's a logical connection, but if so it's not Earth logic, which for obvious reasons she doesn't say.) Lex wouldn't call them lectures, but since her part requires only listening, nodding, and occasionally asking clarifying questions, she feels entitled. There's years of these things bottled up inside of him, and new ones added all the time.
She guesses that his paranoia has kept this side of him silent for years, despite the procession of beautiful, intelligent people through his life. The fear not so much that they might wonder how he knew so much, because he spouted the same kind of bull back in Smallville, but that, one by one, the lectures reveal what Lex is, how he thinks. Each night is a dot of paint on a wider canvas that, viewed from a distance, shows a terrifying and awesome new world. It's like being Scheherezade, in reverse.
And joke as she will, Lex is easy to watch, easy to hear.
He tells her how he erased her earlier incarnations, digitally altering the various pictures of her that had appeared for one reason or another in the Daily Planet, back when she was her father's daughter and then again when she worked for Lionel, and the Smallville Ledger. He hasn't had the hard copy changed, but who'd ever look when the digital versions were readily accessible? He could have gone all the way, he explains, but there are two kinds of risk in any cover-up: the risk of discovery of the initial secret, and the risk that someone will get suspicious about the cover-up itself. To alter hard copy would require him to let more than a few people know that there was some reason to change those picture, and each person risked blackmail, betrayal, or disclosure through sheer inadvertence.
"What about the changes in the databases?" she asks.
"I took care of it myself," he says, pouring her a drink, and it's ten years before she thinks that "it" might not refer to the hacking. Then he segues into the decline of the Democratic Party, the economic ascendance of Brazil, and women's hemlines.
She thinks she might be addicted to his presence. Clark had said, kneeling with his head in her lap as he cried, that Lex would never change. But Clark hadn't known how long never was going to be, and Lex is a little bit new every day.
He takes her to his mother's grave, and to the nearby headstones of his former bodyguards, Mercy Graves and Hope Izquierda. She's surprised that he still leaves flowers for them. "These were the only women who ever knew me and still believed in me," he tells her, and she wonders whether it's a plea or a warning. Lilies for Lilian, apple blossoms for Hope, and verbena for Mercy. Lex doesn't know how to speak without symbols, as if without ritual he'd collapse in on himself. As if metaphor itself is an iron maiden, holding him trapped and bleeding and, most important, upright.
There are no flowers for Lionel's grave. Sometimes, Lex leaves an apple there.
The sunflower that graces LuthorCorp's current logo stands for false riches, she learns. Lex thinks he's mocking the world that way, but the Van Gogh hanging in his foyer says otherwise.
Lex is talking about muons, strange attractors, the quantum theory of consciousness, and the mating habits of bonobo apes when she thinks, I want to fuck him.
It's not that the thought hasn't nibbled at the edges of her awareness before. He seduces everyone he meets, becoming whatever it is that a person most wants. Even the ones who hate him - perhaps especially those people - respond to his overtures, unable to explain it to themselves. From what she's seen of the aftermath when it does culminate in physical encounters, he's not advertising anything he can't give. But she's never put it to herself in such crude terms.
She feels herself flushing, her clothes too tight as Lex recites a list of reasons bonobos had sex. "... To defuse aggression, to alleviate boredom, to improve social bonds - there's no problem that good, friendly sexual encounters can't solve. Bonobos were the most peaceful of our nearest relatives, and primatologists think that sexual openness is the reason why. It makes you wonder whether we humans didn't take an evolutionary wrong turn."
He looks at her, which is her cue to react, but she's just staring at him, her mouth open a bit, breathing too fast.
It takes him a minute, and then he blinks, and if he smiles she swears she's going to kill him. It's got to be possible. But he doesn't; he looks down for a moment, puts his hands in his pockets, takes them out, and walks over to the couch.
He sits beside her without a word, and she's afraid to turn her head.
"Martha," he says, his hand brushing hair away from her cheek. She's trembling. It's been so long since anyone touched her in any but the most perfunctory of ways. Longer still since it was anyone other than Clark.
At last she turns, and his eyes are clear, his expression hopeful. After the slightest of hesitations, he leans in and kisses her.
Her eyes drop shut in relief, and she kisses him back, pulling him half on top of her, squirming underneath so that she's half-stretched out on the couch. She's making embarrassing, petulant little sounds of want. Lex pulls away just long enough to say, "Shh, it's all right," before he brings his mouth down on her again. He's hot and salty, with a hint of wood from his after-dinner drinks. His hands, his genius hands, unbutton and unclip, but she's clearly so desperate that he sticks his left hand up her skirt, not bothering to help her shimmy it off, and presses against her panties.
She gasps and writhes, motor control gone, off hiding with her dignity. Lex moves his mouth down her throat and between her breasts, still rubbing his fingers over her. He licks a line around the curve of one breast, making a humming sound of appreciation as he breathes in her scent. She throws her head back, slamming it into the padded arm of the couch, and comes, the world dissolving into brightly colored static.
Lex is tugging at her skirt now, and she raises her hips so that he can get the rest of her clothes off. She should reciprocate, but it's very sexy to watch him unbutton his shirt, toss his cufflinks aside, and open his pants. She licks her lips at the sight of his well-muscled arms, so pale from being hidden from the world.
Then he's naked too, and pressing her knees up so that she's almost doubled over, spread and vulnerable. He doesn't make her wait long; his cock is stretching her almost before she has time to feel exposed.
He holds himself up, arms braced at her sides, and she turns her head and closes her eyes so she doesn't have to see him watching. The sensation is overwhelming, her body still abuzz with the aftershocks of the first orgasm. The smell of him and of sex, sharp and wet.
Her body is shaking, she can't tell whether in pleasure or in pain, only that if it lasts much longer she's going to scream. Lex makes little soothing noises, his hands stroking long lines down her skin, from shoulder to breast to waist, ending with a squeeze to her hip and then back again. She wraps her hands around his shoulders and spreads her legs, trying to get closer. His mouth is hot on her neck, nipping at her because it doesn't matter if he leaves marks. The spring inside her is tightening, drawing inward until it breaks, she breaks around and under him, her cries high and strange in her own ears.
Lex groans and grabs her waist, lifting and turning until he's sitting on the couch and she's sitting on him, his face against her breasts. His breath paints the sweat-slicked valley between her breasts with more heat and moisture, and her legs are so shaky that he has to help her surge up and down, skin sliding against skin.
"Martha," he says, tearing his mouth away from her breast, "Martha, look at me."
So she does, opens her eyes and looks down at his face, finally as fascinated with her as she with him. He looks no older than he did nearly a century ago. He will always be the younger man. His eyes, the color of the sky on the horizon moments before dawn, are fixed on her face. It's like being in the crosshairs of a sniper's rifle.
When he looks away, it's to grab her closer and press his head against her breasts as he shudders out his own release.
They lie on the couch until the room gets too cold for her sweat-cooled skin. When she shivers, he gets up and leads her to the bedroom. The Metropolis skyline observes their nakedness through the floor-to-ceiling windows, as if they were a postlapsarian Adam and Eve, shameless.
The sheets of Lex's bed are cool and smooth, a faint lavender that makes his skin glow, the electricity that rushes through his veins made visible. The sheets warm soon enough with their body heat, and she lies on her back, alternately staring at the pristine white ceiling and trying to think.
The ceiling is blank, but her thoughts swirl like tattoos of black ink. She can't make herself believe that this was a mistake. She wants to touch so badly, and she finds herself appalled by the youthful ignorance of the people - be honest, the mortal people - she meets in her ordinary, pretend life. Maybe this had to happen; maybe anything that can happen, will. Forever, she's discovered, isn't a promise. It's a threat.
Lex is watching her, she knows, and she doesn't turn to look at him, but she doesn't pull away or tug the sheet over her chest, either, and that's as much as he's going to get.
There was a movie she saw once, a war film. The lieutenant is leading his troops into the last, unwinnable battle, the one they'll win against all odds and with grevious losses. He barks a few orders, some last encouraging, manly words. At last he says, "C'mon. You wanna live forever?"
Whatever the answer is, part of it is: not alone.
"Martha," Lex says, trailing two fingers down her cheek, "did you ever -"
Apparently there are things even Lex can't bring himself to say. "Sleep with your father?" she asks.
He swallows. "Yes."
"If I had, what would you think of this?" She gestures down where their bodies are tangled together.
"Wouldn't be the first time - though, clearly, the last," he says, as the thought occurs to him. "It was - something of a game to him, I think, and on occasion I turned the tables. There was a period during which I only slept with men, because he didn't bother with them. But I like women too much to make that a long-term policy."
Because it's honest, even though it's no answer, she gives him honesty in return. "I never did. I thought about it, but - I loved Jonathan too much to risk it."
He nods. "I guessed as much. If you'd - succumbed, I suspect he would have found a way to make it public, to do the most damage. I think - he admired you, in his way."
She considers this. It matches her memories. There had been hints, not very subtle, that the position of Mrs. Luthor was available for her if she wanted it. But she loved Jonathan and she thought then, as she almost fears with Lex now, that Lionel would break her, use her up and then keep her around for his occasional amusement. There never was room enough in Lionel's world for any full-fledged people other than Lionel himself.
"What about you, Lex?" she asks.
He looks away, pretending not to understand. "I never slept with my father."
She almost frowns, but it's a sore subject, and one much closer to the present than her relationship with Lionel. Also, Lex is a man, for all his sensitivity, and men don't like these talks.
"Were you and Clark lovers?"
He glances at her. "He never --?"
"He didn't tell me enough for me to be sure."
Lex reaches out for the covers, pulling them up as if he needs more protection before he can talk. "We were never lovers. We were obsessed with each other - maybe even in love, some of the time. But never both of us at the same time. There was a period of about three months in 2011 when I thought - well, I was wrong."
She runs her hand across his chest, wondering if she wants to soothe him. "What would you do if you could do it all over again?"
He's quiet for a long, long time, and she's half-asleep when he answers.
"I wouldn't change what I did. I still believe that the world needed me. If not for my experiments, America might well have starved when the weather changed. If not for my decisions, more people would have died when the seas rose and the epidemics began. Clark always thought I didn't care when I risked people's lives, when I sacrificed their lives, because I kept on doing it. But I did care. Most of the time," he adds, scrupulously.
"Don't let me forget to care," he whispers, right before sleep overtakes her.
The period that begins then lasts for years. Or maybe months, or decades; it's hard to tell. Classes by day, the classrooms and libraries filling with new faces and emptying like the tide. At night, Lex, his voice and his mouth and his hands. It's like floating on a warm and salty sea, no decisions to be made, trailing her fingers through water that feels almost like air.
She likes it when he takes her against a wall. Lex is strong enough to hold her up, with her legs wrapped around his hips, and she loves feeling that strength employed for her. She likes being there for him at the end of the day. The old bargain: he provides and protects outside their charmed circle, and she does the same inside.
One day she realizes something. "Lex?" she asks. "What happened to your hand?"
He holds his right hand out to her and examines it, turning it to look at the palm. "It grew back."
"About fifty years ago, I started experiencing pain where the wrist joined the prosthesis. Imagine my surprise when I saw five nubs pushing out from the wrist. It took nearly eight years to reach adult size and strength; I had to keep changing the prosthesis to fit. A good thing too; Xander Luthor closely resembled his father, but identical false hands would have been hard to explain."
"That's -" She stares at it, thinking about the time two of Clark's enemies kidnapped her and the third-degree burns that had healed without a scar.
She nods. For a while, thinking "I'll never die" had a fantasy quality for it, a sort of "Never? Well, hardly ever" feeling, as if death were waiting behind some far-off corner. It hasn't for a while now, and Lex's regenerated hand is a symbol of immortality, the phoenix rising from the flames.
After a while, she starts to notice something about her classes at Met U. In a few years she's going to need another identity change -- even a one-digit alteration in her national ID will prevent the computers from picking up on the anomaly of a permanent student -- but right now she's just another part-timer, slowly working on her second degree.
What she notices is that most of her classmates are about her apparent age. The eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds are thin on the ground, and, honestly, they drag the level of the discussion down so she doesn't mind their absence. But one day she looks around and realizes that she's in adult education classes, not college classes.
There are two questions - Lex has taught her that there's never just one side to a problem - first, where are the kids, and second, why are all these adults here?
The first is easier to answer: birth rates have been dropping for some time, after the postwar surge in the Thirties. Immigration isn't making up for the decline as it did in the twentieth century, now that the US is less a promised land and more a making-promises-it-can't-keep land. Met U is the healthiest public university in the nation, but even it's had to drop its standards to get an entering class that won't embarrass the institution with its size. They've taken to having graduation in the second largest quad, nonetheless.
The second answer could just be a function of the first - Met U has been marketing adult education to make up for the loss in younger bodies. But that's been going on for decades. Why is it suddenly successful now?
She makes more friends, carefully, and draws them out over coffee. When she asks about their lives, she finds that they have husbands, wives, lovers, pets.
"Any children?" she asks, knowing that she's sticking a dagger in, feeling it in her own chest, but asking anyway.
Some shake their heads and look down, some tear up, some are forthright in a way that barely covers the pain, and some don't mind at all. Some ask her in return, and are silenced when she says that her two children are dead. She mentally apologizes to Clark and Mary for using their lives as trumps, and keeps on using them.
She goes home to Lex and holds him tight, hurting for the people who are suffering as she suffered. She's a little afraid of telling him, because he will never have children, but she thinks that he's probably satisfied with his own, more direct way of achieving immortality.
Lex holds her, strong arms at her waist and shoulders, whispering words of comfort. They're finding satisfaction in other ways, in learning and improving the world. People with children have pain too, he points out. It's just that they can't blame the childlessness for their sense of emptiness, of being not quite good enough. Too often, they blame the children instead. Wanting children isn't the same as being a good and loving parent, he says; you're the exception and not the rule.
She protests that people rise to challenges they never knew they could face. Lex says that some do, and gives her a significant look. Maybe, then, the challenge these people are facing is that their lives won't be like their parents', their lives won't be parents' lives.
All this makes sense, but it still bothers her.
She doesn't figure out the niggling concern until, over another ridiculously expensive coffee (plain old coffee, the fad for hair-thin distinctions and exponential variations having faded decades ago), one of her friends confides that she's been approved for assisted reproduction at the only clinic in town with a success rate above 12%.
"Over two-thirds of their clients have a healthy child within twenty months of beginning treatment!" Genene whispers, leaning over her cup so that her voice won't carry. Some eavesdroppers might be jealous and unkind.
"What's the name of this miracle place?" If the newspapers reported on the birth dearth, she'd probably know already. But even the Daily Planet respects the government's wishes on this point, and the government wishes people not to unduly concern themselves with the problem, which is the subject of much federal spending and privately funded research and will no doubt resolve itself soon.
"Ausar," Genene says, like a benediction.
The logo looks like an unfinished child's drawing of a house: a flattened triangle like a roof on top of lopsided lines suggesting walls. She tells the computer to match the pattern and finds the constellation Libra, the scales of justice. Ausar is another name for Osiris, the Egyptian god of life and death. She looks at the variants of the myth long enough to see that it's got the essentials: a father, a son, a brother, a betrayal. The necessary resurrection. As a bonus, Osiris brought farming techniques to Egypt, ending the tradition of cannibalism.
It couldn't be Lex's any less if it had had his name and profile, like a Roman coin.
No conversation with Lex Luthor ought ever to begin with "Why didn't you tell me ...?" She needs to do more research before she confronts him, so that she'll be able to see past his explanation.
She goes home to him, where he is rereading The Great Gatsby. "Do you identify with Gatsby?" she asks, and he smiles up, putting the book aside.
"I identify with Daisy," he says, and holds his arms out for her to slide into his lap.
She holds him with extra vigor, which makes him look at her quizzically until she twists so she's straddling him and kisses him, wet open-mouthed kisses that make her hands itch to touch him. He makes a pleased sound in the back of his throat and tugs her blouse free of her skirt. She raises her arms so that he can pull it off, and it's been long enough now that she doesn't feel exposed, much, even though her body won't ever again match the taut youthfulness of his. Lex makes his appreciation of her heard, and felt, with enough assurance that the original fluttering insecurity has faded.
She unbuttons his shirt slowly, biting at each inch of newly exposed skin, as she slides to her knees in front of the couch. His skin is so fine, untouched by the sun that gave Clark his strength, and yet Lex isn't a creature of darkness so much as he's made for electric lights, cities that outshine the stars.
Lex throws his head back against the soft leather of the couch and rests his hands on her shoulders. "I'll buy you West Egg if you just keep going," he promises, and she smiles against his stomach.
He breathes in deeply when she takes his cock in her mouth. He doesn't often come this way - either he thinks it's impolite or he associates it with casual blowjobs he got while he worked at his desk, maybe both. But he likes it, likes running his hands through her hair, dragging his fingers along her scalp. He lets her set her own rhythm, familiar to both of them now.
By the time he pulls her back up, she's almost forgotten to wonder what he's doing with Ausar. Maybe, she thinks as he pushes her into the cushions, he wants to be a parent, the way she did, but without chancing the harm to a child raised to be a Luthor. Lex as Great White Father. The thought has some appeal, and contrasts nicely with the consequence-free pleasures in which they're indulging.
Lex sucks at her nipple with focus and vigor, and she arches up against him.
She's naked now, neither knowing nor caring where the rest of her clothes went, and his hands push against her thighs until she's bent at just the right angle. Lex can be as precise as a surgeon when it pleases him, and right now it does.
When he enters her, she cries out, and he sucks kisses just under her jaw.
He's slow, stroking her until she's saying nonsense words, then pulling back so that the wave doesn't crash over her, again and again until she can't distinguish anticipation from pain. And then his hands turn quick and decisive, and she goes under, a roaring in her ears like an angels' choir, lights flashing behind her eyes like sun on water.
By the time she recovers scraps of thought, he's pulled the convenient blanket over them both and his arm lies heavy on her chest, his hand stroking her shoulder.
"What was that?" she asks, feeling like unbaked dough, boneless and light.
"Did you like it?"
She turns her head to stare at him, disbelieving. He smiles.
"Then that's what it was," he says, and she can tell it makes sense to him.
She's never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth - Lex and his myths have made her exquisitely aware of this failing - and she's exhausted. In a few hours, she'll get up and make them a late dinner, which Lex will eat with his usual evident enjoyment, but right now she's content to lie there and feel him breathe against her.
"Martha -" he says, then shakes his head. "Never mind."
"Are you all right?" she asks, concerned. It isn't like Lex to change his mind once he's decided to speak. She cups his cheek with her hand, runs it over his unwrinkled forehead.
He turns his head, leaning into her touch until her hand is on the crown of his head, as if she were anointing him with oil. "I want you to be happy."
"I am," she says, and thinks she believes it.
A few months or days later, after many fruitless hours talking to the computer, she figures Ausar out.
Lex is waiting in his office when she comes home, a snifter still damp with brandy sitting empty on the desk in front of him. It's a certainty that he monitors both her computer use and any queries of the type she's been making; that the two coincided was, perhaps, convenient for him.
"Why are you doing this?" she asks. Lex only respects subtlety when there's some point to it.
What she'd been overlooking was that Ausar was just the edge of the empire. Even now, Lex's core business is agriculture, with biologics and chemicals emanating from the central endeavors.
Lex presses a button and his video screen shows the graphic she had the computer create.
The world is shaded from white to royal purple, depending on the per capita percentage of calories originating with LuthorCorp. Inverse correlation of LuthorCorp food consumption with fertility per 1000 women of child-bearing age: 0.86.
"You know," he says, "it's easy to make maps like this." He presses a button, and the world turns shades of pink and red. The legend shows that it's correlating fertility with pesticide, antibiotic, and prescription drug concentrations in the drinking water, and the number on the screen is 0.78. Another tap of his finger, and it's green, correlating income inequality with fertility, for 0.81. Another, and blue shows that cellphone penetration as of 2050 gets 0.90. "That's why the first rule of statistics is that correlation is not causation."
"Except when it is." She stares at him. He's not going to hurt her, even assuming he could.
He looks back. His face is as smooth and impenetrable as an icefall.
"It doesn't make sense as a money-making endeavor. The chemical treatment on the food must cost ten times as much as the revenues."
He makes her wait another minute, but when she doesn't say anything else, he sighs and nods at her to sit down. She does, wondering if that's a mistake.
"It's more like fifty times," he says when she's seated, "though even I find it hard to follow the accounting."
"Then - why?" There must be some profit in it, Lex never does anything without -
"No one can become a parent unless you allow it," she says slowly, then realizes that's not it. "No one can become a father unless you allow it."
Lex's eyelids twitch, but that's all.
"Lex, not everyone - your father was not a good man, but that's not what it's like for most people -"
He smacks his hand down on the table, and she jerks in her chair. "Crap. What about your father, whose expectations burdened you so much that you threw it all away to marry a man he hated? What about Jonathan's father, who left him to fight an unwinnable battle with the land and the banks? What about Clark's, throwing him out into nothingness so he could be raised to be a stranger in his own home - or teaching him to be ashamed of what he was?"
She opens her mouth to defend Jonathan, then stops while she gathers her thoughts. It's enough of a delay that Lex continues to talk. "But it's not about that, whatever you may think. For decades, the average IQ in the US increased. Then, quite suddenly, the trend reversed. The best theory is that multiple chemical exposure, plus known hazards such as lead, have a pervasive systemic effect. Today, only thirty percent -- thirty percent -- of six-year-old girls *aren't* diagnosable with ADHD or a more severe cognitive impairment, and that's girls, the hardier sex. We've fouled our own nest, Martha, and that has consequences for our fledglings.
"People are becoming less competent as the need for competence increases. Do you remember what an elephant looks like? What about a golden retriever? To today's children, they're like tyrannosaurus rex - dead things only. We're on track to extinguish ourselves the way we did to countless other species. We need population control and genetic improvement. Limiting breeding is the kind way."
Kind? Tell that to the people hoping, praying for a child, dying inside a little each month.
"Isn't this the part where you tell me I'm a monster, and I'll never succeed?" Lex looks relaxed, but she can tell he's waiting for the blow.
But, of course, he might very well succeed. It isn't as if she has superpowers she can use against him and all his works. "This - isn't right, Lex. You can't just take these choices away from people."
"I didn't do that. Their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents did, sucking up the Earth's resources and turning our rivers and oceans into witches' brews. Now we have to deal with that, and my way offers some hope of long-term survival and even recovery."
She's searching for logic. "Your way is a hoax, a trick." But maybe it isn't about logic. Maybe - as Jonathan and Clark would have said - it's about something more fundamental than logic, about freedom and being human. Lex is trying to turn the course of history by himself, like a giant asteroid smashing into the planet, and he's wrong. No logic can change the horror of the deliberate extinction of most of the human race.
"I don't even discriminate, except by fitness. Compare that to what happened in the Water Wars."
"If you told people, explained it to them -"
"They'd clap their hands over their ears and continue breeding. `Let somebody elsewhere starve; it doesn't matter as long as my own kids are okay.' Dancing while the building is burning."
It would be very easy to believe in him. But who could have predicted what Mary would become? Lex judges by the "fitness" of the parents. Children are more than that. Children are more than their parents ever dreamed or feared. What hope, what cure for humanity's ills was lost when that possibility was denied?
"I'm sorry," she says and hates his stricken look. He knows what she's saying. She stands up, and he does too, rounding the desk so that they're only a few feet apart.
She shakes her head. Faint though the hope is, she needs to at least try to stop him, and that means abandoning his protection and, if possible, his surveillance. There are places he has less control; maybe France. She could learn French.
She'll take the clothes on her back and the stash of untraceable credit chits Lex insists she keep in the penthouse. She can trade them for others, and then they really might be untraceable. She'll get rid of the clothes then, because the microchips smaller than grains of sand in the fabric aren't listening on her behalf any more.
"You'll be back," he says, his face full of loss and resignation.
She knows he's almost certainly right. To him, that means she shouldn't leave in the first place. After all this time, Lex still can't understand why anyone would fight an unwinnable battle. Faced with inevitable death, Lex changed the rules when he was too young to understand what that meant, and he's gone on in the way he began. While Clark - Clark lived the best life he could, because making your own rules is dangerous, is corrupting, and Clark never knew that more than when he looked at her own unchanging face.
Lex's pain is as real as her own, and she still wants to comfort him. So she reaches out, and he closes the gap between them, and they hang on to each other as if they were drowning. He's warm and solid and everything she ever thought she needed, and there's not a cell in her that tells her to stay.
She kisses his cheek, and then his mouth, because there's no point in denying that she's mother and lover both. Isn't that always the way, when a new breed of gods and goddesses arises? When she steps out of his grasp, she's panting like she's just been rescued from a fire.
"Be careful," she says, for lack of anything else.
"Be good," he says back, and smiles a smile that doesn't need the well-hidden scar to be broken. That's all he wants, a world in which it's easy for people like her to be good. He takes all sin into himself and can't comprehend that it shouldn't always be easy to be good. Deep down, Lex is a stranger to compromise, and that's why he'll never be a parent.
She squares her shoulders, for Mary and Clark, and turns back to the world.
"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo."
"For once I myself saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a bottle, and when the boys said to her: 'Sibyl, what do you want?' she replied, 'I want to die.'"
Title from Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus ("Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.") I cannot find any canonical evidence of Hope's last name, so I went with something that seemed to match the decidedly mixed message of "Mercy Graves." Anyone who knows better, please tell me.
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