The room stank of rotted wood and dust. I clench my jaw and swipe a black-gloved hand across my forehead. It's hot under these lights and we have been here too long.
I stand with my back to the man who sits tied to a nondescript wooden chair. The two Secret Service men who came with me are waiting outside the door, guarding against any possible interruption; plausible deniability. No matter; I don't need them for this. Mercy is here. She can handle anything.
"I will ask one more time," I whisper softly. I curl my prosthetic hand into a fist. "Where. Is. He?"
"You'll never get away with this," the man says through gritted bloody teeth.
I cross my hands behind my back and slowly turn around. "Oh, but I already have. Mercy," I bark the name and the large woman, who has spent the last three hours happily interrogating the prisoner, is right there behind him. He struggles uselessly against the bonds. One of her large, strong hands curves around his neck almost lovingly.
"Boss," she says harshly. I know what Mercy thinks of this. I know she feels it is all a waste of time, but she will follow every order to the letter no matter what her personal feelings are. That is why I enlisted her unique talents for this particular assignment.
I turn and I can see the barely checked desire in my favorite bodyguard's eyes: desire to crush, smash, and destroy the man. My desire is her desire.
The corner of my lips turns up. "Come now," I purr as I step close enough to touch the other man's bare toes with the tips of my expensive black shoes. I brush a hand down the lapel of my black suit, and straighten an imaginary crease. "One word from you and I will make sure everything is taken care of. Your family relocated, given everything they will ever need." I reach down and grasp the man's jaw with my gloved hand. My prosthetic hand is stronger than any human's and I take pleasure in clenching it now, tightening it imperceptibly.
It's enough to make the man cringe. Mercy holds him steady. Up this close, I can see the straining muscles in her arm. She can twitch her fingers and snap the neck in her grip, but I need to do this myself. My prisoner needs to know the seriousness of his situation.
"If you don't tell me, after Mercy is done with you, I will have every one related to you: family, friends, school teachers, bank tellers," I liked that one, "killed, and I will make sure each one of them knows why."
I grin and stroke his chin absently. I straighten and hold up a folder. Casually I flip through it. "Daniel, your nephew, he's quite an adorable child. I'll bet Mercy would love to show him a thing or two, just before she snaps that sweet neck." I hate to resort to these tactics, but nothing else was working, and a bluff was just that: a desperate measure taken in desperate times.
I smirk coldly, and hand the folder to Mercy who smiles as she takes it. The man does not miss this. I can see it is having an effect. I just hope it's enough.
"Smallville. He's in Smallville. The Lang woman trapped him in the old Luthor plant."
"Bitch," I curse violently. I had suspected Lana had been behind all this, hoped my suspicions were wrong.
People never surprise me anymore.
I pull out my cell phone and make a few calls with my back turned to Mercy and the prisoner. Mercy still cradles the man's throat in one hand. I don't look back at them until I'm finished with my call.
"Boss," Mercy hums with anticipation. I drop the phone back into my coat pocket, and signal to Mercy with a motion only she understands. Mercy backs away, still holding the folder up for the man to see.
"For your own protection, you will remain here." I turn to leave, then stop. "Oh, and if you are lying. . ." I leave without finishing the sentence. I know the implication has struck home.
Mercy follows me out.
"That Lang bitch never got over her parent's death. Stay here. I'll call with further instructions."
Twenty minutes later, I'm on Air Force One headed for the town where it had begun.
I think of the events that led me to this.
It had taken two weeks. Two weeks of the worst hell I had ever endured. My job had become more difficult than that of any president before me.
The helicopter landed two minutes late. I wanted to break the pilot's neck. In the past I would have, but some things were not allowed in some circles. I was now Alexander Luthor, President of the United States and a certain modicum of appropriate behavior had to be maintained.
Two weeks ago a terrorist group revealed the true identity of Superman, Last Son of Krypton, and my former nemesis.
On national television the terrorist group, showed the world what the Man of Steel was really made of. I have barely slept since that night. The knowledge unraveled my entire existence.
No spin job could cover this up. No amount of denial could undo the damage that had been done. It was an impossible task. Luckily, I specialized in the impossible.
I stepped out of the chopper and straightened my suit jacket. Nancy, one of my aides, handed me the latest operative report.
It made me furious. "Why wasn't I informed of this immediately?" I barked as I walked briskly toward the White House. My pace forced Nancy to almost run to keep up with me.
"It turned out to be the wrong information. When the team arrived, the complex was empty and showed no signs of anybody having been there in months."
I nodded once and ignored the Secret Service men. Mercy was the most important one.
"Mr. President, it's ready," she said as I approached her.
"Good," I shifted the folder in my left hand to my black-gloved right one. Four Secret Service men fell in behind me and Mercy took point.
"Mr. President," Nancy ran to keep up. She flinched when I glared in her direction. "An article is set to hit the newsstands tomorrow morning."
"I'm sure there are quite a few articles set to hit the newsstands tomorrow."
Nancy handed me a sheet of paper. Front page of the Daily Planet,
President Luthor boyhood friend of Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman
I stood motionless as I glanced over the article.
"It's true," I stated bluntly. I tossed the paper behind me carelessly. Nancy scrambled to retrieve it.
"Sir, I can't do my job if . . ."
"You don't need to know this."
"But sir, they're accusing you of . . ."
I clenched my jaw and stopped abruptly. I turned my barely checked fury on the trembling woman. "Finish that sentence and I will kill you myself."
Nancy looked down at the stack of folders in her arms.
"The anti-terrorist bill was well received," Nancy said.
My upper lip twitched. "Do we have enough support?" and just like that, it was as if nothing untoward had been said.
"Yes," she said as she consulted another folder. She almost dropped the bundle she carried, but managed a recovery. I stood and waited. I knew impatience showed on my face. "You have eighty-two percent of the congressmen behind you."
The grin was the one I reserved only for true victories. Nancy flinched. "I want it passed by tonight," I said.
"With the disappearance of America's favorite hero, it should be easy to get it passed by tonight."
"Good, then we'll put it to a vote," I said as I stepped through the door Mercy held open for me. Vice-President Pete Ross and two aides were waiting for me in the oval office. Pete Ross was talking on the phone. I ignored him, for now, and concentrated on the speech that sat on my desk.
"What?" Pete suddenly barked into the phone. "Oh God, Clark." I set the speech down and stood. I knew by Pete's voice that it was going to be bad. My body sagged from exhaustion and fatigue at the thought of what could be wrong now. So many things had already happened. One more would surely drive me insane.
Mercy herded the rest of the people in the room out, leaving only Pete and me. I moved to the bar to pour a drink. I saw the look of sheer horror in Pete's eyes. What ever it was, it was very bad. Now there were tears streaming down Pete's cheeks. I swallowed hard.
I turned my back on Pete and poured two fingers of scotch. I gulped it down and poured two more. To my surprise, tears burned in my eyes. I blinked them back with shock. I wanted to crawl into the bottle and never come out.
As soon as I heard the phone being placed back in its cradle, I turned to face Pete.
Pete's eyes were a watershed. "Clark's parents. They murdered Clark's parents!"
I sat down hard; luckily a chair just happened to be there.
Jonathan and Martha Kent were dead. They were salt of the earth people who had never intentionally hurt anybody. Sure, Jonathan had made me work for every stitch of respect back in the Smallville days. Sure, they hated me. They hadn't voted for me. But I remember how kind and understanding Martha had been when my second wife Helen had gone mutant and tried to kill Clark.
Fuck. I was going to destroy these people.
My hand was trembling as I lifted my glass to my lips. I ran the other one over my bare scalp and sniffed. "Oh God, Clark," I whispered. "Why couldn't you have trusted me?" I almost laughed at the sadness in my words. I had asked that question every night since the broadcast. "You told her and look what it got you."
Mercy broke through my shock.
"Mr. President, you may want to watch the news," she said calmly.
My men filed back in and a hidden television was brought out. I was buried in thought, only half paying attention as the footage taken by a cheap camera filled the screen. Lang, so cleverly disguised, stood in front of a burning building as she ranted about those who allied themselves with alien beings and what should be done to them.
Nancy covered her mouth and started to cry.
I glanced at each one of my people and watched their reactions. I knew now that passing that bill was the most important thing I could do right now.
"I want to make an address," I suddenly said. All eyes turned to me. "I want an emergency vote tonight. This is more than enough proof that now more than ever it is necessary for the anti-terrorist bill to become law." I fought down my first instinct to avoid using the deaths of the parents of the only person who had ever given me a reason to care about something besides boardrooms and stock quotes.
"You can't use them like this, Lex," Pete said.
I stood and walked over to my reluctant partner. I placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I have to do this for Clark. Those people are going to pay for what they have done."
Pete just nodded.
The bill was passed with very little opposition, and by the next day I had carte blanche to hunt down and punish the terrorist group that had killed the Kents and which was most likely now intent on kill Clark.
That night, I sat in bed with a picture in one hand and a glass of vodka in my prosthetic hand. The picture had been taken back in Smallville when we had only known each other a few years. Back then, I had loved Clark with such devotion and fierce passion. I would have done anything to make Clark mine but looking back in age and sadness I knew that dwelling on the past was not meant for here and now.
"Forgive me, Clark," I whispered. Wetness splashed down into my drink, mixing with the bitter liquid.
The next morning, I was informed that one of the terrorists had been captured. He was being detained for questioning. I was on the first plane to oversee it personally, with Mercy and two Secret Service men at my side.
Hope waits patiently. She holds the door of the presidential limo open. Four Secret Service men accompany me today.
I clench my jaw at the sight of the burnt, hollow shell of the Kent farmhouse and barn. I watched and acted wordlessly as tears mingle with the sting of ash. I stare long and hard, take it in and breathe the stench of death.
It has been only days. Nothing has been touched at my request. I want to see for myself what these people are capable of. I want to see what all these years of bitterness have wrought. Nothing good ever came out of hatred. I put mine behind me now, and inhale.
I climb back into the limo and we move away from the destruction.
Absently I fist my gloved hand, and revel in the sound of the leather. The limo slides to a halt half a mile away from the old abandoned Plant Number Three. The secret militia group I've called in for this particular project has set up their base of operations here. They have been told only that a terrorist group had taken over the facility. From where we are, I can see that they are already bombing the building and smoking out the men and women hiding inside.
My cell phone rings.
"Mr. President. Target has been acquired. He is on his way to the designated co-ordinates."
"Good, you know what to do next." I clench my fist again. This is going to be the sweetest victory.
"They have all been detained." I grin and step out of the limo. Three Secret Service men fall in around me as I walk quickly to the waiting army jeep. Just as I am about to step into the vehicle, an ambulance pulls up. I move away from the jeep and almost run to the vehicle as it stops. I ignore all protests of the Secret Service as they run to keep up with me. Anxiously I open the back door of the ambulance and climb in.
"You can't help him," I say as I push one of the doctor's aside. The unmoving body that lay before me startles a gasp out of me. "Get out of here all of you, now. Bring Hope to me" They obey without hesitation. When I am alone with him, I dare to look back down into the battered face.
"Why aren't you healing?" I whisper. I lean in and reach out with my flesh hand, to caress the cheek of the face of my long-time enemy. "God, Clark, what did they do to you?" Superman's body looks like it has been beaten over and over again. Every bone looks broken, and bruises cover his chest and arms and face. There is so much dried blood; I barely recognize him.
Clark's hand reaches up and weakly grasps my wrist.
"Clark. I'm here. You're safe now. Why are you still hurt? Shouldn't you already be healing? I know they used the meteor rocks to keep you in check, but they're all gone."
Clark shakes his head and motions with his eyes to a corner of the ambulance. There it is; a faint green glow. I narrow my eyes and scoop up the rock. Violently I kick the back door open.
"Who kept this near him?" I know I shouldn't be displaying such emotion with so many people around, but I am so furious; I want to kill them all.
Nobody says a word. Jaws drop in astonishment as I jump out of the ambulance and place the rock in a soldier's hand. "These rocks, every one of them will be collected and brought to the Justice League to dispose of as they see fit. Do you understand?" The soldier nods and steps out of the path of my fury.
I move off and make the phone call to Mercy. I give her the execution order. I smile as I put the phone back in my pocket.
Clark is stepping out of the ambulance and moving to stand beside me as I walk to the jeep. He is already completely healed. His skin is still covered in dried blood, but he looks like a god as he walks beside me. For the first time, I realize he is naked. I pull an army issue blank off of the jeep and hand it to him. He wraps it around his waist.
"You should go to the airport. Wait for me on Air Force One." I don't look at him. I don't want to look at him. I am afraid Clark will talk me out of this.
"Stop, Lex," Clark dares to reach out and touch my arm. The Secret Service men jump in, but I motion for them to stand down. I turn to look up at Clark. God, his eyes; they are so cold, so lifeless.
"President Luthor." I remind him.
"Why? Mr. President? Why did you do it?"
I smile and look down at Clark's bare chest. "Remember? I once I said I would do anything to protect my friends."
Clark narrows his eyes. "We haven't been friends for years."
I place my real hand on Clark's cheek. I never touch anybody with my real hand. "We've always been friends, Clark. I was just waiting for you to come home." I smile softly and watch as Clark nods. "Go. I don't want you here for this."
"I'll meet you at the plane." Clark turns and I motion for two of the men to go with him. They take a jeep since the ambulance is no longer necessary.
As I climb into my waiting jeep, General Harris updates me on the situation. All the terrorists have been captured, most of them killed. Lana and her closest people are being detained in the old manager's office of the building. I have left her for last, though she is not the leader.
Minutes later, I am stepping through the rubble of my old plant. It has been all but demolished. I don't really care, haven't cared about this place since the day I'd shut it down years ago after taking LuthorCorp from Dad.
I don't want to think about that now, though. I only want to think about what I have to do.
Hope falls in behind me. I can smell the gunpowder wafting through the air, feel the vibrations of the explosions; hear the cry of the lunatic fringe. This is where it all changes. I can feel it. After today, my life will never be the same.
I smile, and lift a hand to my nostrils to inhale the scent of leather, to cover up the stench of death. Destruction is all around me and all I can see is victory. I'd told them not to leave anything standing. I bark a sharp laugh. They followed my directions to the letter. The heady rush of power is overwhelming.
"God, I love this job," I say absently. Hope steps in front of me and opens the door. I inhale sharply. "Please Clark, don't be listening. You don't need this," I whisper.
No one else has heard, but I hope the person it was meant for has heard. "Don't hate me."
I compose myself and follow Hope into the small room. Five men in nondescript black uniforms stand poised with AK 47's at the ready. I barely glance at Lana and the two others. They sit in matching chairs, dirty and disheveled. The leader of the group of black ops steps forward as soon as I enter the room.
"The area has been contained, Mr. President."
I hold up a hand to silence him and circle the room slowly. It has changed quite a bit. The signs that they have been using it as a base for quite some time are scattered everywhere. I pull the vibrating cell phone out of his pocket.
It's Air Force One. Clark? "Yes," I say calmly into the phone. My heart pounds in my throat.
"Lex," Clark croaks. God, it's like velvet on my brain. It's so soothing, and so necessary to my survival now.
"Can I . . . can I drink this scotch?"
I exhale a breath and almost laugh. He isn't calling to talk me out of this. "God, yes, of course you can. You can drink anything you want. You can have anything you want. . ." I lower my voice. "I would do anything for you, Clark."
"Okay." Clark exhales a long breathe and I shudder as I think of all the power behind that breath.
I turn and glare at the leaders of the movement. "I have to go do my job now."
"Okay. See you soon." And just like that, we are disconnected. Was that . . . what - permission, authorization? Is Clark telling me that what ever action I take will be all right with him? The thought unnerves me.
Slowly and deliberately, I make them wait to see what I will do. I want them to sweat it out. I want them to fear me.
I place the phone back in my coat pocket and turn to examine the room casually. I pretend to be interested in the far wall and how it looks like a fist has been drilled into it.
"Sir, what action. . ."
I held up a hand. "Hope." The woman steps forward. The people sitting flinch. Lana does not. She looks smug.
I pull another glove out and slip it onto my flesh hand. "You," I motion to one of the soldiers who immediately steps forward. "Give her a gun, preferably something untraceable."
The soldier hands Hope a Glock 9 mm. Hope expertly examines it as I step as far away from the terrorists as I can and still be in the room. Two of the soldiers move to stand on either side of me. For the first time since entering the room I look directly at Lana and her cohorts. I smile coldly at them.
"Lang, where is Jackson?"
She seems, at first, not to want to talk. "You've seen what we do with traitors," she finally says.
"It seems we have a bit of a problem then. I know you won't talk." I shrug my shoulders. "No matter, I don't care." I motion for Hope to step forward, shake my head and purse my lips. "You're still not over your parent's death are you?" I say with a smirk.
"They are dead because of him," she says firmly. I imagine that she chants it in her head like a mantra. I have no doubt of that.
"And I thought I could hold a grudge. He saved your life so many times; why would you do this to him?"
"He is your enemy. Why would you bother to save him?" Lana retorts sharply. She's always had a voice that could grate like glass. I hate her with a passion.
I turn to face her again. She looks so worn-out, and ragged. The others won't even look directly at me.
"Enjoy cutting him up? Watching, waiting to see if he would die?" I say softly. Lana did not look away, defiant even now to the end.
"You'll never get away with this," one of the others says.
I laugh. "Wow. Everybody keeps telling me that, except, I do get away with it." I glower and glance at my wrist-watch. "Look at the time. I have to be going now. Clark's waiting." One look at Hope, and I turn away with the knowledge that I will never see these people's faces again; except maybe in my nightmares.
"He did this," Lana says breathlessly.
I smirk. "You did it to yourself." How many times had I said that over the years?
"Lex," Lana calls out. I stop but don't turn to look back.
"President Luthor." My voice is tight.
"He called out your name when I cut him open."
I don't need to see her to know she is smiling. I smirk. She has just made it that much easier. "He'll be calling out my name in the White House when I take him," I say. Smug smirk firmly in place, I walk out and stop as the door closes behind me. I can hear the soft popping sounds and unmistakable thuds. I close my eyes and pretend I am anywhere but here.
Minutes later, I am in a jeep headed for Air Force One. All evidence is in flames. Martin sits beside me and places one photo after another in front of me. I barely glance at each before looking away. They are pictures of Clark in various stages of vivisection. Lana is plunging a large serrated knife into his chest in one of them. Hatred is frozen on her face. The look on Clark's face tears straight to my heart.
I hold up a hand to stop the parade of images. "Burn them all." I furrow my brow thoughtfully. "Are any of her people left? I forgot to ask."
"No sir. They all resisted arrest." Translation, my men have killed without prejudice.
"They burned the Kent farm down." He falls silent.
I have to know it all. I signal for Martin to continue. "The Kents were trapped inside. They were still alive."
I try not to imagine Martha and Jonathan burning. Set on fire out of hatred. Nobody deserves that.
"They made Clark watch."
I suck in a sharp breath. I hadn't known that. My eyes are burning. "Is the press conference set?"
"Yes, Mister President. As soon as you land, you can go straight to it."
I shake my head. I need more time. God, time is something I never seem to have anymore.
"Burn all the pictures. I need Clark . . . sane. Is that even possible now?" Clark had sounded so lost on the phone. I hate this, hate it all.
Martin answers his phone and talks for the next fifteen minutes. I don't bother listening in. Martin will tell me if it's something I need to know.
For the first time today I realize I am in shock, but I can't afford that. I need to gather my wits about me. Clark needs me to be strong.
"I'm coming Clark," I whisper softly.
"Sir," Martin says. "The Justice League has returned from the battle in South America. They say they will be more than willing to dispose of the kry- . . . krypto-."
"Kryptonite, it's called kryptonite. Good, maybe now Clark will have one less thing to worry about." Damn, that bitch. She'd taken the one thing away from Clark that kept him grounded, kept him in touch with humanity.
"Yes sir. They said it shouldn't be a problem. Do you want me to tell our people to procure some just in case?"
"No." I bark, harsher than I intend. "No. He's . . . just no. Get rid of it all." I drop my shoulders. God, I am so tired. I haven't slept since Clark went missing.
The car stops. I am so lost in thought I don't even realize we have finally arrived.
"We're here, sir." I jump out. I don't wait for my bodyguards to follow. I take the steps up into the belly of the plane two at a time. I can't get there soon enough. I hustle past everybody else; my eyes are focused on the man in the back of the plane. Clark is freshly dressed in a black suit with a crisp white shirt, but no tie. He has a drink in one hand. He smiles feebly when he sees me approach.
"Mr. President," he mutters. Clark's body looks fine, like nothing ever happened. No cuts, no bruises, nothing to show, no scars on the outside. His eyes tell a different story.
"It's Lex for you, Clark." I sit down across from him. Martin sits close to the front, pretending to ignore us. "How. . . I mean. I. God, Clark. I just heard about. . ." Clark looks away, jaw clenched. "I'm so sorry." I want so much to reach out and touch. I have never felt so helpless.
"I don't have anywhere to go," Clark says softly.
"You can stay with me. I have a pretty big house and the best security in the world." I try to smile but it just won't work. Clark looks so dead. I look down to find Clark's fingers interlaced with my prosthetic hand.
"I . . . I . . . don't want to be alone."
I squeeze his hand and lean closer. "Clark. I meant what I said; anything for you." Clark looks into my eyes. I can almost see a hint of the boy I'd met all those years ago back in Smallville. "Anything," I repeat with emphasis. Our eyes lock. I try to read him. I am usually very good at that but his eyes . . . they are so dead.
"I'm sorry for what you had to do," Clark says as he sets the glass down. He leans in closer, and pulls me into an embrace. "Stay with me forever," he murmurs into my throat.
I nod before I even have time to think about what I am agreeing to. I clear my throat and pull away.
"Okay, but right now we have some spin to pull off. I'll do everything in my power to fix this." Clark just nods, eyes going distant. "Martin," I call my press secretary over. He settles into the seat beside Clark.
"We have already talked to the League, sir. Two of them are meeting us in Washington."
"Good. We have to find a way to correct what that group did. Clark Kent is not Superman, and I intend to prove it." I lean back.
"Sir?" Martin looks worried but I know this man is more than capable of handling anything I throw his way. After all, that's why I've given him this job.
"I want to make a statement. Can you get Lois Lane on the line? She should be on the air." Martin immediately starts dialing. Lois Lane had gotten a job on a reputable news program just two months before, when it was obvious her partner was nowhere to be found. Rumors after the Lana revelation have run rampant but Lois has remained true to her friend Clark. Over and over again she has insisted that Clark only took a long leave of absence and is definitely not the famed hero Superman. That has made things so much easier for me. Easier to do the things I have to do.
"Sir, she's on the air right now."
I clear my throat and take the phone from Martin. Clark just watches the clouds out the window. He seems to be paying no attention to what is going on. I glare at Martin when I catch the man staring at Clark. Martin averts his eyes so quickly that I think for sure his neck will snap.
"Lois it's so good of you to fit me into your busy schedule."
"Mister President, anything for you. I heard you have Superman." One thing about Lois, she never minces words.
I chuckle and look at Clark who turns to pay attention. He can probably hear what she is saying.
"Yes. Superman has been recovered. He will be meeting us at the White House for the press conference."
"Us, Mr. President?"
"Yes. I have the reporter from the Daily Planet with me, Mr. Clark Kent. He was also captured by the terrorist group. They still would not believe, even after seeing them as two separate people, that Mr. Kent is not Superman." I feel a hand slide into my flesh hand, and I squeeze it reassuringly.
"Mr. President, if they saw Clark Kent and Superman together in the same room, why did they murder the Kent's?" Clark's hand tightens around mine and I swallow hard.
"They were terrorists, Miss Lane. I didn't get the chance to ask why they did it." This is probably being seen by millions across the country, and I hope the ruse will work.
"Are any of them alive?"
"I have to defer that question until the press conference."
"Mr. President, on behalf of all the American people, I would like to thank you for being so diligent and for bringing our hero back to us." I watch Clark's eyes. They seem to brighten somewhat at hearing Lois' voice.
"I felt it was my duty, Miss Lane. See you at the press conference." I hand the phone back to Martin and motion for him to leave. I notice Clark is still holding my hand.
"Thanks," Clark whispers.
I lean in close and look into the emerald eyes.
"Clark, the League is sending somebody to be Superman. You won't need to do anything except stand beside me. I have everything taken care of." I smile softly and stroke Clark's palm. Clark looks down at the hand, confusion clouds his eyes. "Is this okay?" I ask softly.
"Yes." He seems to be contemplating something. "Why did you really do it, Lex? No lies this time, it's just you and me here." Clark holds my gaze unblinkingly.
I bite my bottom lip and swallow reflexively. "I did it because I love you, Clark. I always have." My heart is racing and my fear levels have reached their limits. It is soul-baring time, and I feel stripped down to the bone. It hurts much more than I had ever thought it would. I don't expect anything in return. I know I might never get anything in return. It is the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken. I've already spent most of my life alone. I am the first president to not have a First Lady. Maybe it doesn't have to stay that way.
"I know, Lex." Clark says with a smile.
I should have known that Clark would have figured it out. After all these years, it is still so hard to look at this man and think he could be anything but special.
I grin and reach out with a hand to caress his cheek.
"Who's going to be me, I mean, Superman?"
I shrug. "Batman wouldn't say."
"You talked to Batman?"
"Martin did. He's a godsend and the best spin man ever."
"What?" Panic hits me again. The look in Clark's eyes echoes looks from past countless encounters.
"You've done so many things, Lex."
"The past is the past, right? Starting today we forge a new destiny." I squeeze Clark's hand for emphasis and swallow nervously. My heart is pounding so hard, I think it's going to burst.
"Your heart rate is speeding up. It's been a bit high since the plane took off. Is there something else you need to tell me?" Clark is slowly starting to seem his old self, but the haunted look in his eyes still remains.
I have a fear that he will reject me, but I must never voice that. To voice a fear would mean it has taken hold of me.
"To be honest Clark, so much has happened in the last few months I can't remember it all." I rub at my temple with my free hand and sag into my seat. "Maybe Martin could fill you in."
"I'm sorry I missed your inaugural ball."
I grin and sigh. "That was a long time ago. Besides, you hated me back then." Silence fell between us and for a while we just sit quietly. "Do you still? Hate me, I mean?"
Clark shakes his head.
"So you're Superman." I say absently.
Clark nods and looks down at his hand, the one still holding mine. "How long have you known?"
"Since the video Lana sent to the media." My upper lip twitches.
Clark leans forward and licks my mouth. This startles me into sitting up straighter. "What the hell was that for?" I notice Martin glance over with narrowed eyes.
"Promise of things to come." Clark grins and sits back with shuttered eyes.
"You never cease to amaze me, Kent. Do you have any idea how much time I spent being angry at you when I first found out? The Justice League wouldn't confirm it, but I knew if Lana was saying it . . . well, she would be the one person you would have told."
I sit back and punch the armrest of my seat. I am furious but I don't want to show it. I know I am failing miserably. I can see by the almost amused look on Clark's face that I am. "Guess I wasn't trustworthy enough," I whisper softly.
"Lex, you are not going to sulk for the whole trip."
"No," Clark said shakes his head.
"President Luthor, Vice-President Ross is on the phone."
I take the phone from Martin and change to hands-free mode. "Pete, what is it?"
"Is it true, Lex? Did you really find Clark?" I look over at Clark.
"And Superman," I say. "They're both fine. We should be there in," I look at Martin who holds up two fingers. "Two hours?" I mouth `really?' to the man. I glance over at Clark. "Did you want to talk to Clark yourself? He's right here."
"Sure. Clark, I'm so glad you're okay." Pete Ross' disembodied voice says.
"Thanks. I guess I trusted the wrong person." Clark's eyes are on me as he speaks.
"So, I'll see you at the White House soon. Everything's set and ready to go. Mister President. Have a safe journey." The call is disconnected and I hand the phone back to Martin.
"Clark, get some sleep."
"I don't sleep anymore, Lex. I haven't needed to sleep in over five years. I don't even need to eat." Clark looks regretful.
"So," I say arching my eyebrows. "The steak dinner is on me." I smile and gently brush a finger alone Clark's knee. Clark grins without showing teeth, and closes his eyes.
Two hours later, I am shaking him awake. Some members of the press are waiting for us as soon as we step off the plane. I ignore them all. They mean nothing to me right here, right now. The only person I care about is Clark.
I slow our pace and wait for the Secret Service to adjust to match it. I see the look in Clark's eyes. It is eerie and I shiver involuntarily. God, I would do anything to end his pain.
A hand grabs at my elbow and I look down to see Clark's hand clinging to me as if I am a lifeline. If it had been any other time, it would have been the most savory triumph of my life, but now it just feels so hollow. A victory I neither want nor care to claim in this manner.
"Do I really have to do this, Lex?" Clark's voice is a strangled whimper. God, the damage they have done to him seems irreparable. Anguish tears at my soul.
With one head motion, the Secret Service move in tightly and surround us, blocking all view from the outside world. We are caught in a circle of protection. I take Clark's hand in mine and rub the palm gently.
"I promise not to let anything happen to you. You won't have to say anything except maybe to thank my people for rescuing you. You don't even have to say that if you don't want to." I know asking this of Clark is a risk, but I need to take it.
Clark just squeezes my hands and smiles down at me. He sucks in a tight breath and nods then turns his gaze ahead. He narrows his eyes. I recognize this look from our days in Smallville.
"What?" I ask.
"Lois is here."
X-ray vision comes in handy. Not for the first time, I find myself envious of Clark.
"Does that bother you? I know you two had a thing once."
"Yes, but it ended even before it started. She couldn't take the competition." Clark smiles down at me. I grin, and try hard not to smirk.
We pause outside and wait for the reporters to stream out. They have heard that Superman himself is about to land. Sure enough, eyes turn to the sky watching for the familiar red-and-blue-clad hero.
Seconds later, Superman stands beside me. It is a remarkable likeness. If I didn't already know the truth, I would have thought I'd been lied to again.
"Mr. President," The Superman says in an exact imitation of his voice. He holds out a hand. I take it, shaking it firmly. "I apologize if I am late. I was recovering in my Fortress."
"You are on time as always, alien." I can't help myself. My hackles rise at the proximity of him. I know it's not really him, but his presence awakens old tensions.
Superman steps forward and shakes Clark's hand. I spare a glance at the hordes of reporters, spotting Lois almost immediately. She does not look happy.
As soon as Superman steps forward and takes his place on the podium, a red blur suddenly comes into view and then transforms into the Flash. He comes to rest at Superman's left. Seconds later, Wonder Woman is landing on Superman's right.
I want to smirk at the triumph of getting all these heroes who despise me all here. My nature is to enjoy this victory, but all I have to do is look at Clark and know that those thoughts are over. I am his now, and he is mine. I have won the long-fought battle but at what cost.
I watch Clark carefully as the press conference commences and questions are asked and answered. Wonder Woman and the Flash both maintain perfect posture without once looking at Clark or me. After it is over, I leave with Clark. The two of us are surrounded by Secret Service. I breathe a sigh of relief.
I slide into the limo beside Clark. He looks so tired. The ride back to the White House is quiet. I use the time to contemplate my next move.
"Lex," Clark says suddenly. I turn my attention from the rolling landscape to the man sitting beside me and push my thoughts away. He takes the hand that I slide across the leather seat. "I," Clark bites his lip and lowers his head. I squeeze his hand gently trying to encourage the words. "She really hated me," Clark finally says, voice so tiny.
"She never got over her parent's death," I say with a sigh. "That kind of emotional baggage has to warp a person."
"It was my fault."
"NO! Don't ever think that! You were just a child. You had no control over what happened. Besides, even if your spacecraft hadn't been with the meteors, the same thing would have happened. Your ship landed far away from downtown Smallville."
"But if. . ."
I pull at the hand to yank Clark into the here and now. "Clark, look at me." I pause and hold my breath; I wait for Clark to obey. Everybody obeys me now and he will be no different.
It takes a few minutes, but Clark finally looks up at me through dark, tear-stained lashes. When had he started to cry?
"NO. I will not have you believing that poison she spewed from her mouth. Never, do you hear me?"
Clark just gazes at me, eyes glassy. "Say you hear me. Say you understand?"
"I will believe anything you tell me, Lex." He is a broken shell.
I sigh in exasperation. "Clark. I want you. . ."
"No. You didn't let me finish. I want you to stay at the White House. Recuperate. I can give you everything you need. Let me take care of you."
"Why are you doing this? We've been enemies for so long. How could . . . I never thought you would ever forgive me."
He is right of course. Forgiving isn't in the Luthor dictionary. I'd held grudges longer than Lana's, but once, a long time ago, my best friend had taught me that maybe there were more important things in life than pride, or long-held hatred.
"I guess I'm not that person anymore." I say with a shrug. "Why are you coming with me? Why aren't you going to that thing in the Arctic?"
Clark turns away. "Maybe I'm tired of fighting, and maybe making some kind of amends with you will be the start of something. Better."
I rub the pulse point on Clark's wrist. "Is your whole body . . .?" I whisper quickly, changing the subject. I look down into Clark's lap and lick my lips.
Clark bursts out laughing and nods. "Yeah, I look exactly like all humans." He stares deeply into my eyes. "All."
"Well," I tug on my tie, loosening it. "It suddenly got hot in here."
Clark chuckles again and reaches out to cup my face in one big hand. It is hotter than any normal human's touch, and I almost jump at the electricity of it.
"Lex, I did trust the wrong person. You know I wanted to tell you even from the first time we met. It's just . . . it was too dangerous."
I frown at this.
Clark slides closer and brushes a thumb across my lips. "Not for me, for mom and dad." Clark's voice hitches at the mention of his adopted human parents.
"They were afraid somebody would come and take you away from them." I nod and lean into the gentle caress. Clark's hand brushes across my cheek and moves up to ghost over my bald scalp.
"What about you, are you - all over?"
I smile and look up into Clark's eyes. "Yes," I whisper barely in time, as Clark's mouth covers mine. I close my eyes and moan at the first kiss. I can pretend this is a whole Clark, not a broken shell, more vulnerable now than ever before. His lips are so soft and gentle, the kiss so delicate, like a whisper of a touch. I want more but I can't bring myself to ask. But it doesn't matter now; we have the rest of our lives.
When Clark pulls away, I immediately pull him back, close, to show him what a real kiss can be.
"Lex," Clark whispers.
I open my eyes and lick my lips to taste him. I watch as Clark follows the motion of my tongue. I hum my approval. I don't want to risk words now. Words won't convey how I am feeling.
"I missed you. I missed being your friend." Clark's eyes glisten. "I'm so sorry."
"It's the past, Clark. No more going back there unless you need to talk about it. I'm here and I will listen to anything you have to say."
"Won't this kind of hurt your rep?"
"What, being with you?"
"Yeah, considering all the scathing editorials I wrote about LexCorp and then later, about your campaign."
I look out the window. I need to think on this more, figure out a place for Clark in my life. "What if I give you a job? Maybe head speechwriter?" I smirk.
"Don't you have a speechwriter?"
I chuckle and slide a hand up Clark's arm. "Even so, you're good with words."
Clark shakes his head. "I can't. It would look bad."
"I don't care. Besides, I am the most popular president in the history of this country. I think I just might be untouchable."
"Especially now that you have Superman on your side," he says calmly.
"Maybe," I say with a soft smirk. I turn to watch the Secret Service as the limo comes to a stop. The White House looms before us.
We are home.
Clark sleeps in my bed. He tosses and wakes up screaming most nights. I hold him as he sobs and tells me about his father and mother. I wipe at the tears streaming down his face and stay awake the rest of the night to watch over him.
We stand side by side in age and sadness. The coffins are empty; they are a lie. There are no bodies to bury, but Clark needs this. He needs to move on and I am going to do what ever it takes to help him get there.
I am motionless; my hands are clasped before me. Clark stands beside, me and all around us are the people of the community. There are hundreds of people here and I have no doubt that all of them are friends of the Kents. Smallville has lost more than just a few of its residence; it has lost its heart.
I try to block out the tears and sadness that surround me, knowing that I could so easily succumb to both. The shock of how emotional I have become since all of this began is wearing off. I have embraced it, and now I am here to put the past to rest.
*Memories of children's dreams* lay lifeless all around us. I can see the Lang headstone just two plots over. It is an irony somehow, but my mind is incapable of wrapping around it at this moment.
I feel a hand on my shoulder. I look up into the dry, cool eyes of the most powerful man in the world.
"It's over," Clark says. They are lowering the coffins into the graves. "Thank you for everything."
I stare up into his eyes. They have regained some of their sparkle, but it will be a very long time before the haunted look is completely obliterated.
I take his hand in mine. "Let's go home," I whisper.
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