Lex Luthor checked his watch again and could hear his father's grating voice. "Patience, Lex, patience." Usually anticipation was the necessary prelude to any thorough satisfaction but this anticipation merely made him tense. No, not just tense. Agitated. Anxious. All sorts of things that meant emotions out of control. The irony of it was that this was the moment when everything was in control.
Superman was wounded or dead.
His preference was for wounded--the collector's urge in him hated to destroy anything that was one of a kind, irreplaceable--but at this point, he'd be quite pleased enough if he were dead. His team had called in an hour ago, reporting that the Kryptonite booby-trap had gone off. That Superman was seriously injured. Bones broken, lacerations, half his teeth knocked out, probably internal organ damage. That they had nonetheless put the additional Kryptonite chains on him. The next steps were that Hope and Mercy would meet them, pay them, and bring Superman to him.
His victory was inevitable, he told himself. They were the most capable group of men and women he could assemble, experts in every field that could apply to their task. Three assassins. A psychologist. An animal tracker. A counter-intelligence specialist. Three materials engineers. Two actors, brought on once the trap was designed. And it had worked.
Superman's fatal weakness was caring. Caring indiscriminately. Caring so much that he couldn't stand by and see people be hurt. Caring so much that even if he suspected a trap, he couldn't fight his compulsions.
Superman's most bitter enemy knew that sensation. He'd once ached with helplessness at watching suffering. But discipline had changed all that, discipline and persistence. Not to the point of eradicating the ability to care, he'd not gotten that far yet, but enough that to hurt him through others, destiny would have to prove not only malicious but precise. He'd have liked to seal that off completely, but allowed himself the weakness of loving a daughter and a friend whom he could protect from most of the relentless blows of fate. It amused him that both were equally oblivious of the sheltering hands he had cupped around their lives.
Lena was still an infant. Clark didn't have that excuse. In fact, for a reporter, he seemed downright unobservant. Which perhaps was just as well. There were things in Lex's life that he definitely would have disapproved of. Been troubled by. Didn't know the world enough to be able to comprehend their necessity. He'd be incredulous if he found out that Lex had just neutralized the threat that Superman presented. If the deluded do-gooder was a symbol of hope to most, to Lex he was an insufferable reminder of the relative weakness of the human body. The body that betrayed. The body that died. Died taking love and memories and warmth into the decay with itself.
With Superman as his subject, he might learn how to conquer human death. Never to lose or be lost to Lena or Clark.
A buzz interrupted his reverie and he automatically looked at his watch, noting that only a minute had passed. "Luthor."
"What's wrong?" He knew immediately something had gone amiss.
"He got away."
He threw the phone across the room, following it with everything on the desk, and overturned the desk itself.
One glass had rolled away undamaged and as he retrieved the phone, he ground it underfoot. "What happened?" This made accounts to be settled.
"Uh, I'm not sure how he did it. He, I guess..."
"Video," he snapped. She was hiding something and finding out what mattered more than the only marginally lower level of security.
"We got here and it was just like it should have been. We didn't even need to put the chains on-" His angry exclamation interrupted her but she continued, "But we did, anyway."
"I don't know what happened! He was there, and then he was gone!" Lex let her see that he was starting to smile. She showed all the tells of a far less experienced liar, hand near her mouth, eye contact at just the wrong times.
"Gone after him. He was injured, he might not have been able to get far." He'd have her clothing analyzed, see whether the bloodstains were Superman's or window-dressing.
"Keep me posted," he said, with no real hope, and disconnected.
An intense weariness came over him. It was as though the same way that his power, keeping Clark and Lena safe, overshadowed any other, there was a power protecting Superman, a power that overshadowed his.
That was no way to think, he chided himself. Blaming fate is just finding excuses. Weakness.
But at that moment, he wanted to surrender to weakness.
Mental associations led him right back to Clark Kent. That was what he wanted, somebody to grumble to about things not working out, somebody who was sympathetic but didn't let him indulge in self-pity. Thursday night guaranteed that he'd be home, struggling with the column he'd finally been given.
He called for a driver to bring one of the cars around and take him there.
The phone buzzed again. "Luthor."
"I thought you'd like to know that he didn't get away. Your amazons came in, got one good look at him, and sent us out. But I still had the audio tap on in the room. They blabbed a bit, trying to decide what would make you angrier, and then took him out another way."
He hissed in rage. He'd entrusted his life to them, not just this mission. Another betrayal. His anger pounded in his head and he was still lost in it when the driver said, cautiously, "Mr. Luthor? We're at Mr. Kent's apartment."
He grunted a response and got out, went into the building, rode the decrepit elevator up to the sixth floor, then climbed to the seventh. Clark had warned him that higher than six flights, it tended to get stuck. God knows he'd offered Clark better housing, but his friend refused. "Journalist's ethics," he answered, a teasing grin taking the sting out of what might have been a rebuke.
He rapped at the door, waited for an answer, and then rapped again. He felt through his pockets. One of his key rings had Clark's. He told himself that it was nothing, that Clark was in the bathroom, had gone to write it in the coffeeshop, had some perfectly good reason for not answering the door. But he was still going in.
"Clark?" The lights were off but the apartment felt inhabited. Not seeing Clark, he opened the bedroom door, then stood staring at the prone figure, marked with the faint lines of healing injuries, and the mass of red and blue cloth on the floor.
AN: It's a recurrent theme in nearly every folklore. A human changes into an animal shape during the nighttime, sometimes for harmless purposes, sometimes for harmful ones. One night, the person is hurt while in animal guise, and the secret is revealed when the next day, the person's body shows the same injury. In the Japanese version which I encountered again this evening, the animal was a fox and the injury was a severed paw.
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