Ozymandias

by Corinna


Spoilers through "Calling."
Thanks to the Green Chick for beta reading. Feedback always happily accepted.


He'd said his name into the intercom, but she couldn't believe it was him until she opened the door.

"Lex."

Maybe not after that either. Time hadn't been kind to Lex Luthor. He was thinner than he'd ever been in Smallville. His skin was sallow, and pulled so tightly against his skull that she could see the bone beneath it. Only his eyes, those blue-grey beacons, were the same.

"Chloe," he said, and his voice sounded gravelly. "It's been a long time."

She cringed a little as he walked into her apartment, seeing the place through his eyes. There were dishes piled up in the galley kitchen sink, papers stacked all over the plain pine table, and behind the half-wall that divided the small studio into a C-shape, her bed was unmade and covered with books and dirty clothes. Fuck it, she told herself, if there's anyone here with something to be ashamed of, it's him. "Well," she said, "what do you want?"

He made his way over to the sofa in her living room area, and he slowly lowered himself into it. When he sat, he crossed his legs and adjusted the crease of his trousers. "How've you been, Chloe?"

"You know how I've been, Lex."

His eyes flickered with their old amusement. "It's always better to hear these things from the source." He folded his bony hands on his knee. "Still stringing for the Inquisitor?"

"It's not like I have any choice in the matter. They're the only ones who'll touch my work, thanks to the Luthors."

"Don't blame me for my father's sins, Chloe; I've got more than enough of my own. And I would have told you not to cut any deals with the devil if you'd asked, though I'll admit I would have thought even a cub reporter could figure that one out for herself from the record."

And really, she should have known. Sometimes she thought she always had. She grimaced and fell into the old armchair across from him. "What do you want, Lex?"

"I have a proposition for you."

"And to think just a minute ago you were advising me not to make deals with the devil."

He nodded slightly "Touche. But I'd appreciate it if you'd hear me out. I think you'll find I'm easier to do business with than my father was."

She folded her arms across her chest and considered. "All right," she said finally. "Talk."

He seemed to relax a little into the cushions. "Could I bother you for some water first?"

Gameplaying already, she thought. "I've only got tap."

"That's fine," he said.

When she gave him the glass, his hand shook slightly. "Are you all right?"

Lex looked almost amused. "I'm dying, Chloe."

"Oh!" Suddenly, he looked immeasurably more frail: his thinness more like desiccation, his stiff-collared coat left on not as psychological armor but for warmth. "How...?"

"Bone cancer. Kryptonite exposure." He waved his right hand slightly, and she wondered how she'd missed noticing that he wasn't wearing his ring. "It's fitting that same substance that restored my health in childhood should be what takes it away now - a great hook for a story, don't you think?"

"Is that what you're here for?" She could see the headline already: LUTHOR'S LAST INTERVIEW. She could use it for leverage, maybe even a real staff job with benefits.

He shook his head. "Why confuse my biographers with the facts? No. Not that. But I have been thinking."

"About what?"

"About my legacy." He took a slow sip of water. "As Samuel Johnson might have put it, having six months to live concentrates the mind wonderfully. Most of my personal fortune has already been disbursed to my charitable foundations."

"So you get to be remembered forever as a kindhearted and generous contributor to the common good? You'll forgive me if I'm underenthused."

He looked oddly pleased. "But I won't be."

"Excuse me?"

"Remembered. Chloe, Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy transformed America, and I doubt one person in a thousand remembers anything about him but his name. If that. Empires crumble, Chloe. Reputations fade." He leaned back and began to recite:

"*'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,/The lone and level sands stretch far away.*"

He closed his eyes and sighed gently. "I've known that poem for most of my life and I never understood it till now. I just thought I needed a better empire."

He looked so ill and worn that she almost felt sorry for him. "All things decay, Lex. Is that why you're here? To tell me that?"

"No. As I said, I have a proposition for you. I know what I want to leave behind."

"What?"

"A child."

It took a moment for the pieces to fit together, but when they did she jumped backwards out of her chair, horrified. "Oh, you're kidding. No way, Lex."

"Chloe. Hear me out."

"Are you insane?"

"Please, Chloe."

Lex never said please, not like he meant it. She stopped, willing her heart to stop pounding, and considered. DYING LUTHOR'S LOVECHILD WISH: it was even better than an interview, really. She sat back down, crossing her arms again. "Go on."

"It would be a medical procedure only. The treatments have left me sterile and impotent. Besides," he added, with some of his old bravado, "I've always been more partial to brunettes. No offense."

"None taken." The Inquisitor had sent her to follow some of those women, and the soft-eyed dark-haired boys he dined out with as well. It was her least favorite sort of assignment.

"Your medical care and living expenses will be fully covered. I'll provide you with a house, a car, a nurse - whatever's needed. I'll expect to be kept full updated on the pregnancy as it proceeds. I'll leave the child a small trust fund to be managed by my bankers: enough that he could do anything he wanted with his life, but not everything. Thirty million or so. There'd be a smaller but hardly insignificant fund for your continued expenses as well."

Chloe had been studying strange phenomena since she was fourteen, but this was the first time she felt like she'd gone down the rabbit hole herself. She still ate ramen for dinner a few times a month, and the phone had been cut off twice last year for late payment, and here she was listening to Lex talking about tens of millions of dollars like it was pocket change. But she tried to rise to the occasion. "Hardly enough to raise a child named Luthor on, don't you think?"

"Sullivan's a good name," he replied. "I'll admit to a sentimental fondness for Lillian if it's a girl, but what the child's called doesn't matter in the end; I won't be here to call it anything."

"Then why go to all this trouble?"

"A new life for an old: it seemed fitting. It seems right." He shrugged. "I like the thought of a child surviving me. No doubt it's egotism, but that's never stopped me in the past."

He uncrossed his legs and crossed them again on the other side, each movement pained and precise. Chloe felt a rush of pity for him, so fragile and alone, before she remembered who she was dealing with. Lex would never be fragile, and his bodyguards were no doubt waiting right outside her door.

"What's the catch, Lex?"

"Catch? I'd say it was earning the enmity of our old mutual friends by allying yourself with a Luthor, but you did that a long time ago."

"Is that it? Is that why you're asking me?"

"No. Though I admit I've admired your tenacity in continuing a journalism career despite my father's machinations."

"Although not enough to help me before you needed something yourself."

His face went blank, impassive and remote. They stared at each other across the small room, neither one moving. Chloe's curiosity was about to get the better of her yet again when he finally spoke.

"Two reasons. First, I was affected by the meteor shower in '89. There's a strong possibility that this... mutation, whatever it is, has entered my genetic structure. If the child were to inherit it, I'd want the mother to have some understanding of what was going on."

Lex frowned a little, almost to himself, and she knew he was thinking of Smallville again. The meteors had changed everyone and everything in town forever, and mostly the changes had been for the worst. Except for Clark, of course, and sometimes she wasn't even sure he was such a good thing to have around either.

"And?"

He looked her directly in the eye, the full force of his attention on her, and her breath caught in her throat. "There are a hundred women I could have asked. Women of accomplishment and breeding and power. Women who would happily agree to the artificial insemination process without all these questions. Who I could be certain would teach my child to prefer Mozart to Puccini, Scotch to vodka, Porsches to Jaguars. Do you know why I'm here instead?"

She shook her head.

"Because someday, something would happen. A crisis. A challenge. And that woman would ask herself, `what would Lex do, if he were alive?' That's why I'm here. Because you wouldn't." He pushed himself slowly back up to standing. "Perhaps I misread the situation. I hadn't intended offence."

"I'm not offended," she said.

"Then you'll consider my offer?"

She looked him up and down: a wraith in a perfectly tailored suit. Her father had told her once, when she was still young and crying herself to sleep at night about how unfair the world was, that you could never predict how things would turn out in the end. She'd thought he was just trying to make her feel better about losing. Now she understood.

"I'd want complete control of the trust. I don't want some banker making decisions about how my child gets brought up."

"Of course," he said.

"And a job. A real one."

"I'd be more than happy to ensure you never had to --"

"A job, Lex. Something I could be proud of doing."

He nodded in understanding. "I'll contact my foundation. I can't make you a reporter again, but I think your skills as a researcher and writer would be useful in a variety of fields. Would that suffice?"

"We'll see," she said.

"I'll have the paperwork messengered to you tomorrow. If you agree, we can set up a first appointment with a fertility specialist before the end of the week."

"You move fast."

"I don't have much choice."

She walked him to the door and opened it again. The bodyguard in the hallway murmured something into a two-way radio. "I wouldn't have to have..."

"No," he said. "Of course not. We won't make this public."

Chloe doubted they could prevent it from leaking, not if she stayed in Metropolis. EX-INQUISITOR SCRIBE IN WILD LUTHOR SCHEME: it was too good a story to pass up. But then she thought of all the things the Inquisitor knew about Lex but never printed, and she decided that, at least for now, it might be possible.

"Lily Sullivan," she said. "It has a nice ring to it."

He smiled at her. "She sounds like a woman to be reckoned with. Much like her mother."

She grinned at that, and he bowed his head slightly to her before he turned to go. The bodyguard tried to help him down the stairs, but he shrugged her off and took hold of the railing. Chloe watched them from the landing till they got to the front door, and were gone.



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