Lex stood tranfixed, emotions warring within him as he gazed at his father, pinned under a column and helpless for the first time in Lex's life. The tornadoes roared outside and the wind whipped through the destroyed mansion, but Lex didn't notice such insignificant things. His world had narrowed to what lay before him--his tormentor and father lay before him, almost as a sacrifice.
"Lex!" Lionel gasped, desperation apparant not only on his face, but also in his breathy voice.
Shaken from his shock, Lex hurried forward, frantic now to save the man whom he both loved and hated, but could not allow to die when there was a chance for Lex to save him. For Lex to be the man he wanted to be, he needed to save Lionel, even though he knew the action would be certain to cause him problems in the future.
"Hang on, Dad. Just a little farther..." Lex managed to lift the column just enough to allow the older man to pull his leg free. Lionel began crawling towards the doorway, and Lex was stumbling after him. An ominous sound came from the ceiling above, and Lex just had time to give his father a final, forceful shove when, for the second time in his life, the sky fell down on top of him.*****
Lex groaned as he slowly came awake. It felt like every bone in his body had been bruised, his skull most of all. Slowly bringing his hand up to rub his head, he stopped when he felt a sharp pinching in his hand. He opened his eyes to see what it was, but remained in darkness. Absolute darkness -- no hint of light anywhere. What the hell? He brought his other hand over and identified the pinching as a needle connected to tubing... an IV? Wracking his brain, he tried to figure out what could have happened. The last thing he remembered was... oh, the tornadoes. Dad. The ceiling coming down. Lex sighed heavily. What was the phrase? No good deed goes unpunished?
"Mr. Luthor! You're awake! That's very good. How are you feeling?"
An entirely too cheerful voice came booming out of the darkness, and Lex jumped. He widened his eyes in an attempt to see something, anything, but they refused to cooperate. The world remained stubbornly dark. Clenching his non-IV-encumbered fist, Lex held his breath and counted carefully backwards from ten in Latin. It wouldn't do to let anyone see him lose his composure. 'Luthors never show weakness, Lex,' Lionel's voice echoed in his mind. Pasting on what he hoped was a convincing smile of cool politeness, Lex finally responded to the question. "Like a castle fell on my head. And please, call me Lex."
A surprised chuckle came from somewhere to his right, and Lex could hear a slight rustle as the man approached the bed. "You've kept your sense of humor, I see. That's always a good sign." There was a soft click, and Lex flinched as he felt the air move in front of him. "Alright, Mr. Lu... Lex, do you see any light at all?"
"No." Moving his hand under the covers, Lex continued to fist it tightly, his nails biting into the skin of his palm. He was not going to fall to pieces in front of a total stranger.
The doctor sighed and moved back. Then Lex heard the scritching of a pen on paper. "There's no easy way to say this, but I'm afraid that your optical nerve has suffered significant damage. You also have a concussion and various bruises that are going to be quite colorful tomorrow, but I'm sure your major concern is the blindness. Your father flew in a specialist from Metropolis who insisted upon operating immediately. Unfortunately, the operation was not a success. As of right now, you need to be aware that this may be a permanent condition. Having said that, however, you should not give up all hope. As the swelling goes down, there is a slim possibility that the damage to your optical nerve will repair itself."
Lex nodded his understanding, refusing to think about what his blindness might entail, and grabbed hold of the one thing in the conversation he actually wanted to know about. "Speaking of my father, how is he?"
"I believe he's being prepped for surgery as we speak. His leg was broken in three places, and they're going to put it back together. Other than that, he emerged from the storm relatively unscathed. As he is unavailable at the moment, is there someone else I can call for you? A relative or a friend?"
The only two people Lex really wanted at the moment, his mother and Pamela, were both gone. And his father, even if he wasn't in surgery, was the last person he wanted close to him in this vulnerable state. Clark... no. Lex started to shake his head before a thought suddenly came to him. "Actually, yes, Doctor. Could you please have Gabe Sullivan contact me? I need to speak with him as soon as possible. His contact information should be in my file."
"Of course. I'll have the nurse call him right away. In the meantime, why don't you try to get some rest?"
Waiting and listening until he was sure that the doctor had left the room, Lex slowly turned over so his face was buried in the pillow. He let himself take a few shuddering breaths, hot tears spilling silently out of his useless eyes. After a few moments, firmly supressing all of his fear and anger deep inside himself, he took a deep breath and held it. He didn't have time to fall apart now... maybe later. Wiping away any evidence of his weakness with the sheet, Lex carefully felt around next to him until he encountered the small stand that was always next to the bed in the hospital. Fumbling a bit, he finally located the phone and picked up the receiver. Taking his time, he felt out the buttons to be sure he dialled correctly. "Donovan? I need you to come get me. Yes, I'm at the hospital. Please bring me some clothes and a pair of sunglasses. Thank you."
He had no more than placed the receiver back on its cradle when it rang. "Lex Luthor." He was pleased to note that his voice didn't reveal any of his inner turmoil. "Gabe, yes, have Sheri arrange for an emergency meeting of the LuthorCorp stockholders this afternoon. With the damage from the tornadoes and Dad in surgery, we need to assure them that LuthorCorp will not be adversely affected and proceed with the buy out of the Smallville plant. There is one complication, but I'll explain on the way to Metropolis. Can you meet me at the Castle in an hour?" Lex smiled slightly at Gabe's enthusiastic agreement. "Good. I'll see you then. Thank you." It took him a moment, but after he had replaced the receiver, he realized what he'd said. 'I'll see you then.' But he wouldn't. He wouldn't be seeing anyone or anything. He could feel a very unLuthor-like urge to either laugh or cry trying to build in the back of his throat, and it was all he could do to force it back down into his chest. Once the current crisis was past, he promised himself he'd have a nice, private breakdown in his bedroom at the mansion, with the door locked, the Scotch plentiful, and maybe something a bit stronger to help him escape reality for awhile.*****
Gabe glanced over at the young man sitting next to him in awe. Lex had handled the LuthorCorp board perfectly. He had never actually lied, except possibly by omission. He had explained to Gabe that his current blindness had no effect on LuthorCorp, so the Board simply did not need to know. When questioned about his sunglasses, Lex said that he had a concussion and his eyes were sensitive to the light. Both of which were true, they just didn't tell the whole story. He could still feel the nerves that had been zinging ever since he had entered the meeting with Lex, but now it was with excitement rather than anxiety. LexCorp was now its own company, completely separate from LuthorCorp, and the plant was going to remain open. Chloe would be happy. She had been devastated when it looked like they were going to have to move out of Smallville. Gabe shook his head ruefully. It wasn't that long ago that she had rebelled against moving from Metropolis to "the middle of nowhere."
"Gabe?" Lex had heard the other man's movement and was somewhat concerned. When Gabe had agreed to stay on for the buyout, he hadn't planned on dealing with a blind boss. Was he regretting the decision now? "Everything alright?"
"Yeah, Boss. Just thinking about the fickleness of teenagers."
"Ah." Lex could certainly understand that. After all, he'd seen for himself how fickle Clark could be. First Lana and then Chloe... He mentally shook himself. Better not to continue this train of thought; he had enough on his plate at the moment. And, of course, he was only a couple of years out of his teens, himself. With a soft sigh, he let his head fall back against the soft leather of the limo's interior. He felt much, much older.
"Mr. Luthor... Lex," Gabe corrected himself as Lex drew a breath, "what happens next?"
Lex reluctantly opened his eyes, not that it made a bit of difference, and turned his head in Gabe's direction. "What happens next? We take LexCorp straight to the top. Sure, there are going to be some bumps in the road, but any journey worth taking has a few of those. The first thing I want you to do is have the building and health inspectors come in tomorrow morning. I want to be sure that the tornadoes didn't do any damage that would make the plant unsafe. Once safety is ensured, we get back to what we were doing--making a profit."
Gabe nodded his head absently before belatedly realizing that Lex couldn't see it. "Uh, right," he cleared his throat to cover his embarassment at his slip.
Lex smirked. "Don't worry so much, Gabe. This," Lex tapped his sunglasses, "is just one of those bumps I mentioned."
Reassured by Lex's confidence and cool assurance, Gabe let himself relax and enjoy the ride.
Lex, on the other hand, was fighting to maintain his facade. Trying to appear calm and collected when he was terrified out of his mind was exhausting, and his pounding head wasn't helping. He could thank his father for all the practice he'd had in covering his emotions behind the public Luthor mask. Soon, he'd be home and he would be allowed to indulge himself in his much deserved, if delayed, nervous breakdown.*****
Lex closed and locked his bedroom door and, with a sigh, leaned against it. He'd given all of the staff the night off and left orders that he was not to be disturbed. Donovan had protested about leaving him alone, but Lex had been adamant. He wanted to be alone and alone he would be. He had agreed to allow Donovan to bring up a tray with dinner before he left, provided it included a full decanter of Scotch, as well. Happily, it seemed that Donovan had already been, as he could detect the tell-tale aroma of Mavis' roast beef. Making his way carefully across the room to the small table next to the window, Lex congratulated himself on only stubbing his toe twice. Easing into the chair, he felt along the table slowly. He really didn't want to place his hand in his dinner or, more importantly, knock over his Scotch.
As he carefully ate his dinner, Lex began to rethink his plan for the night. Truthfully, he didn't have time to wallow in self pity, and he didn't relish the idea of a hangover on top of everything else. What he really wanted to do was smash something... or several somethings... but he didn't want to deal with the resulting mess, either. With a soft sigh, he decided that a good workout was really the best he could do. But first, he needed to get in touch with an old friend--someone he hoped could help him to adjust to his new circumstances without using it against him.*****
Clark looked at the dark castle with some trepidition. He felt guilty that he had been too preoccupied with saving Lana and then finding his father to even think about Lex. He'd been certain that the Luthor mansion would be safe. He'd been wrong. His stomach clenched again as he remembered the conversation he'd overheard at the hospital while his Dad was being checked out. He hadn't been paying too much attention until he'd caught the name "Luthor," and then he'd discovered that both Luthors had been admitted to the hospital with injuries incurred when the tornadoes had demolished part of the castle. His first thought had been to contact Chloe, but their relationship was strained at the moment, due to his actions during the dance. Clark couldn't help but grimace at the thought. The 'let's just be friends' speech really wasn't what he had expected, but after ditching her to rescue Lana, he shouldn't have been suprised. Then he'd tried to visit Lex in the hospital, but had been told that he'd checked himself out 'against medical advice.' And so, here he was. He didn't even know how badly Lex had been injured.
Giving the castle the once over with x-ray vision, Clark frowned. Where was everyone? He only saw one figure in the entire building. He tried the front door, but no one responded to the doorbell. Checking again, the figure he'd seen hadn't made any move towards the door. Really worried now, he slipped around to the back and stopped when he saw the damage from the tornadoes. Well. Getting inside wouldn't even require the use of his powers. He stepped carefully through the debris and made his way toward where he'd seen the figure--Lex.
The sounds of flesh hitting something hard echoed down the hallway, but Clark was surprised that he still saw no lights. Entering the gym, he flicked on the light switch and found Lex punching at the heavy bag without gloves, ignoring the bloody streaks he was leaving on the blue surface. "Lex!"
Lex gave no sign that he had heard him. He just kept hitting, although not as quickly and precisely as usual. Without thinking, Clark stepped between Lex and the bag, catching Lex's bloody fist with his hand. For a moment, Lex just stood there, chest heaving as he sucked air in and his eyes unfocused.
"Lex?" Clark tried again. He'd never seen his friend this way before.
Shaking his head, Lex started to collapse when he was caught by the arms. Clutching at flannel, Lex finally realized that someone was there. "Clark?" he rasped.
"Yeah," Clark answered, guiding Lex towards the benches against the wall. "Why don't you sit down? I'll get you some water."
Lex nodded and allowed himself to be eased down. He was too tired to even flinch when a towel was draped over his shoulders. Wiping his face with it, he exhaled loudly as he leaned back against the wall.
"Are you all right?" Clark asked as he held out the water. He was surprised when Lex didn't reach for the blue bottle.
"Sure, I'm just peachy," Lex muttered. "You said something about water?"
Furrowing his brow, Clark looked closely at his friend. "Lex? It's right in front of you."
Lex raised his hand out and managed to make contact with the back of Clark's hand. He then felt along until he grasped the cool bottle by the neck. "Thanks."
"Lex, you... you're..." Clark stammered. He didn't want to believe it.
"Yes, I know, Clark. I'm blind," Lex stated matter of factly.
Clark sucked in a breath and then sat down heavily next to his friend. "Oh god..."
Lex clumsily patted his leg, not noticing that his action left his blood on Clark's jeans. "Hey, it's OK. I'm sure plenty of people would say I deserve it." He shrugged. "Maybe they'd be right."
"No. No, they wouldn't be right. God... I'm so sorry, Lex. I should have been there..." Clark trailed off, overcome by guilt.
"I'm glad you weren't. My father was almost killed. I almost let him be. So, I suppose, this is my punishment."
"What? Lex, what are you talking about?" Clark asked, completely confused by the conversation.
"When the tornadoes hit, Dad was... he was pinned and I was just... paralyzed. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't help thinking about how easy it would be to just let him remain there... He'd be out of my life, he couldn't threaten me or anyone I cared about, I wouldn't have to worry about him fighting my take over of the plant..." Lex trailed off, remembering how conflicted he'd been, his emotions twisting every which way.
"But you didn't let him die," Clark interrupted.
"No, I didn't. He's a bastard, but he's my father. And, I suppose, as hard as it is to believe, I do love him," Lex admitted quietly.
Clark could understand having conflicting emotions about Lionel Luthor. He sure didn't seem like a very good father, and he always seemed to be doing his best to hurt Lex, or at least control him. "I believe you."
Lex gave him a little half smile. "I know you do, Clark. That's why you're my best friend."
Clark smiled back until he realized that Lex couldn't see it. Casting about for something to say, he asked the question he'd been wondering about since he'd arrived on the estate, "Where is everyone?"
"Oh, I sent them all away." Lex gestured with his hand. "I really didn't want the staff see me have a melt down. Bad for morale, you know."
"Lex... I really don't think you should be alone right now. Why don't you come back to the farm with me?" Clark suggested. He didn't like the pallor of Lex's face, and Lex seemed a bit out of it, not to mention the bloody mess he'd made out of his hands.
"I'm fine. Really, I'll just go upstairs, shower, and go to bed. You don't need to worry," Lex assured him, attempting to stand up. Unfortunately, his balance was off and he would have fallen over if Clark hadn't grabbed hold of him once more.
"Yeah, I see how fine you are," Clark muttered. "Let me call home and have Mom come and get us."
"No, Clark. I don't want to impose on your family. Just help me get upstairs."
Clark was very tempted to just pick Lex up and take him back to the farm. Lex could be very stubborn when he wanted to be. "I'm not leaving you here alone. You should still be in the hospital," he argued.
"He won't be alone," a voice startled both Clark and Lex, but Clark whirled around.
"Who are you?" Clark asked suspiciously.
"Bruce," Lex said in exasperation. "I told you that you didn't need to come tonight. Tomorrow would have been soon enough."
Clark stared at the strange man. He was tall, maybe even taller than Clark, well-built, with dark hair, dark blue eyes, and a dark scowl upon his face. And he was dressed all in black.
Lex groaned internally. Just what he needed--two mother hens to fuss over him when he really wanted to get completely plastered and let oblivion claim him. Even blind, however, he could sense the tension rising in the room and forced himself to concentrate on the situation at hand. First things first, he needed to make introductions before the two started fighting over him. "Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne. Bruce, Clark." He was too wiped to do more than that.
Bruce ignored Clark as he zeroed in on Lex's bloody hands. Striding forward, he grasped them in surprisingly gentle hands, even though Lex still jumped at the unexpected touch. "Well, they're not too bad, but we'd better get them cleaned off. You're dripping blood everywhere," he said.
"I am?" Lex was surprised. He hadn't even realized his hands were bleeding. Of course, they had been mostly numb, but now that Bruce mentioned the blood, he was starting to feel the pain. "Ow," he said, as he clenched and unclenched his fists experimentally, removing them from Bruce's grasp.
"Yeah, ow," Bruce agreed. Then he glanced over at Clark. "Isn't it getting kind of late for a school night?"
Lex saved Clark from replying. "Clark is a good friend, Bruce. Don't give him a hard time. You two have quite a bit in common, you know."
"What do you mean?" Clark asked. He couldn't imagine having anything in common with the rude stranger. Wait. Had Lex said Bruce Wayne? As in the billionaire of Gotham?
A ghost of Lex's trademarked smirk appeared. "You both make a habit out of rescuing me."
Bruce and Clark looked at each other in surprise and consideration.
With this new information, Bruce looked over Clark a bit more closely. He looked like a young, wholesome farmboy. Hardly the type of person he would usually discover in Lex's company. Tall, broad shoulders, the kid was going to be quite impressive when he grew up. When Bruce reached his eyes, however, he revised his opinion. Those eyes had seen more than they should have. He'd looked into eyes like those before--in the mirror and in the man he had come to help. Eyes that held secrets.
"You've done your fair share of rescuing, too, Lex," Clark interjected quietly, a little unnerved by Bruce's appraisal. He felt like the odd man out in the room with two such wealthy and intense men, and he wondered once again why Lex wanted to be his friend, when Lex obviously belonged among the ranks of the rich and powerful.
Lex hissed in pain as the feeling returned to his hands with a vengeance.
At the sound, Bruce took his gaze off of Clark and scanned the room. He was pleased when he spotted the first aid kit on the wall next to the door. Heading towards it, he spoke over his shoulder, "Clark, why don't you grab some towels and a damp cloth. I'll see what there is in the kit."
Clark caught a bit of Lex's muttering about Bruce being bossy wherever he was and couldn't quite contain a grin. He was glad he wasn't the only one who thought Bruce Wayne was a little overbearing. Then he went to do as instructed.
With the two of them working together, Lex's hands were soon cleaned, smeared with antiseptic, and taped up. For once, Lex had sat quietly through the ministrations, not complaining about how unnecessary it was or growling irritably over being fussed over. If he was honest with himself, he would have to admit that it was kind of nice to have someone else take care of him for a change. All too often, he'd needed to tend to himself, and he just didn't have the reserves for it at the moment.
"All right, Lex, I think it's time you went to bed," Bruce declared as he cupped Lex's elbow with his hand and started pulling him to his feet.
Lex swayed a bit as he rose, but then regained his balance. "You know, I'm twenty-one, not five, Bruce."
"Really? You could have fooled me." Bruce kept up the light banter, but was frowning in concern as he studied his friend. Lex had been much too compliant about everything. He looked over at Clark and was unsurprised to find the same concern there. Sharing a look, they both nodded. Once Lex was in bed, they would have a talk.*****
Lex had still been muttering about frustrated mothers as Clark and Bruce had worked in tandem to wipe him down and put him into pajamas before tucking him into bed, but he'd been out like a light before they had even left the room. Now, though, the two eyed each other warily once again.
Bruce broke the silence first. "So, you're Lex's guardian angel here in what he often referred to as his own private hell on earth?"
"Huh?" Clark was both startled and a bit embarrassed at the description. He had no idea that Lex thought of Smallville, or himself, in quite that way. Then, he flushed at his rather moronic answer. "I mean, I guess so." He winced. 'Oh, and that answer was soo much better.'
Bruce couldn't quite contain the twitch of his lips, but he worked hard to keep his expression as bland as possible otherwise. How in the world had this kid become friends with Lex Luthor? The Lex he knew would have either eaten him alive or ignored him completely. There must be something that he wasn't seeing. Glancing at his watch, he frowned. "Shouldn't you be home? I'm sure your parents will be getting worried."
Grimacing, Clark reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, but... " Clark shook his head, there was no way his parents would let him stay, but he wasn't sure he wanted to leave Lex with a complete stranger--from what he'd seen, Lex's 'friends' were often worse than his enemies. "Are you going to stay?"
"Yes. Lex called me and explained the situation. He was expecting me tomorrow, but knowing Lex as I do, I decided tonight would be better," Bruce said.
Clark digested this information with a slightly sick feeling in his stomach. Lex had called Bruce? Why hadn't Lex called him? "You know Lex well?" he asked.
Bruce nodded, as he took in Clark's reaction with interest. Was the kid jealous? "I've known Lex for most of his life. We roomed together at school for a few years."
"Oh." Clark chewed on his lip. Well, Lex had seemed OK with Bruce earlier, and he hadn't put on his "Luthor" mask. Knowing his parents would be getting worried, he admitted to himself that he had to leave. And with Bruce here, he couldn't just carry Lex home with him. Not that his parents would have been pleased with that, either. Out of excuses, he sighed softly. "Tell Lex I'll stop by tomorrow," he said finally, and then he turned and headed down the stairs.
Bruce watched thoughtfully as the teen left and then went to retrieve his bag.*****
Closing the laptop with a soft click, Bruce cracked his neck. His research had proved to be enlightening. He'd had Alfred send him everything he could find about Clark Kent. Before heading for Smallville, he had started several searches on Lex's activities since Bruce had last seen him. Lex had always been a bit wild, but since coming to Smallville, it had seemed as if he had been at least trying to settle down. Could Clark Kent have something to do that? What was it about the teen that caused Lex, the most paranoid person he knew, to trust him enough to let the kid get close to him, even see him when he was at less than his best?
Of course, it could have something to do with Clark saving Lex's life when they first met. It seemed that Clark made a habit of rescuing people, mostly from what were dubbed "meteor mutants." Perhaps Clark was one himself? Lex, he knew, had been in Smallville the day the meteors fell, and they had changed Lex in ways that were both visible and not. Bruce closed his eyes, letting his head drop back against the chair. From all accounts, Smallville seemed to be hazardous to Lex's health. Maybe he should try to convince Lex to leave. Perhaps visit Gotham while he adjusted to his disability...*****
Lex came awake slowly, his dreams reluctant to let him go. Finally, however, he blinked his eyes open and was surprised by the darkness. Then the memory returned and he sighed heavily. It would have been nice if the whole thing had just been one of his nightmares. But he'd already used up the allotment of self-pity he would allow himself. It was time for some proactive maneuvers, especially as he could expect some retaliation from Lionel for his buyout of plant three on the previous day. First, though, a shower was in order. He had no doubt that Bruce was already awake and would soon be making an entrance. When they were in school, Bruce hardly seemed to sleep at all. Thinking back, Lex hadn't slept much, either, but he didn't think they were indulging in the same types of activities.
As he let the hot water pelt down upon him, Lex began making a list of things he needed to do as soon as possible. 'Number one on the list, have Bruce secure my laptop and change the settings to make it possible for me to use it,' Lex thought. 'Followed closely by number two, which is to remove every trace of evidence I've collected about what happened the day I hit Clark on the bridge and that Nixon discovered about Clark's abilities.' Not for the first time, Lex wished he'd never given in to the impulse to hire Nixon. But the curiosity had been eating him alive. He had to know how he had managed to survive the crash. He had been dead, he was sure of that. 'Thank god Bruce, of all people, understands the necessity of keeping secrets.' He needed to have dealt with those two things before Lionel descended upon the mansion. Not being able to see his father's eyes was going to leave him at a distinct disadvantage, but Bruce's presence might just mitigate that for the time being.
Lex stepped out of the shower and reached unerringly for the towel. Sometimes, being a creature of habit had its advantages. His robe was also easy to find, and by the time he heard a soft knock on his door, he had managed to finish most of his morning ablutions. Spitting out toothpaste, he called out, "Come in!"
Bruce opened the door and stepped into the room carrying two mugs of coffee. He'd heard Lex moving around and remembered that the other man never really woke up until he'd had some caffeine. His lips quirked up into a half-smile as he took in the purple comforter. It seemed some things never changed. Lex and his love of purple had always been a source of quiet amusement for Bruce. Quiet, because the one time he had pointed it out to Lex, the other boy had pointedly remarked on Bruce's own penchant for black. He was brought out of his reminiscing by the appearance of Lex in his, naturally, purple robe.
Lex sniffed the air. "Coffee?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes," Bruce answered. He moved to sit at one of the chairs next to the small table and set the mugs down. "I wanted to talk to you, but I knew you wouldn't be coherent until you'd had your little morning fix."
Lex snorted softly, but didn't deny it. He moved slowly, carefully, not wanting to make a fool of himself in front of Bruce. They were friends, yes, but they hadn't exactly been close since they had left school.
As Lex eased into the other chair, Bruce picked up the coffee and blew on it gently. He could tell by the tension practically radiating off of Lex that the other man was uncomfortable at feeling so vulnerable in his presence, but he didn't know how to alleviate it. Shrugging it off as something he couldn't do anything about at the moment, he decided to concentrate on what he could do. "So, you mentioned needing some help? I assume you had something specific in mind?"
Finding and raising the mug of coffee to his lips, Lex gulped down a healthy swallow before answering. Ignoring the scalding on his tongue and throat as inconsequential, he nodded. "Yes. Actually, there are a couple of things that I really need you to do immediately--before my father makes his inevitable appearance."
Bruce snorted. "After that stunt you pulled yesterday, I don't doubt it."
"The first one is fairly easy and shouldn't take you long at all. I just need you to set up my computer so I can use it and make sure that it's secure from others."
Bruce nodded and then remembered to answer verbally. "All right. I can do that. Where is it?"
"It should be in the case next to the bed."
Locating the case, Bruce got up and retrieved it. "Still a Mac user, I see," he murmured.
"Of course. I like to have the best." Lex smirked.
Lex hesitated just a moment. Allowing Bruce access to his computer was almost like giving the man an intimate look into his mind, but it couldn't be helped. Sighing softly, he answered, "Javelin, substituting a three for the 'e' and a one for the 'i.'"
Bruce raised an eyebrow in surprise. "What? No references to Alexander the Great or Warrior Angel?"
Lex shook his head. "Too obvious." He took another sip of his coffee as he listened to Bruce tap away on his keyboard.
"I'm going to turn on VoiceOver," Bruce said as he studied the system preferences available.
"I did some research earlier this morning on some applications and peripherals that should make using the computer easier for you. After we've dealt with your emergency situations, I'll give you a quick tutorial. There were a few more minutes of tapping and clicking, and then he grunted in satisfaction. "That should do for now. I've ordered a peripheral that will allow you to use your thumbprint, instead of typing in your password, but until it arrives, you'll just have to be careful not to access your laptop when other people are in the room."
Lex couldn't help but smile. Bruce had always had a penchant for gadgets. Obviously, that hadn't changed. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
"OK, that's the first thing. What's next?" Bruce asked, closing the laptop and putting it back in its case. He was careful to put it back where he had found it so Lex would be able to locate it easily.
Lex sighed. "The next one is a bit trickier, I'm afraid." He put down his coffee and rubbed his face with his hands. "I'm sure you know all about how Clark saved my life after my car went off the bridge. However, and this can't go any farther, I hit Clark with my car that day." Lex held up his hand to forestall the objections he was sure Bruce would have to that statement. "I know, I know, it doesn't seem possible that I did and we both survived, but we did. I know I hit him, no matter how much he denies it." Lex shook his head. "But that's not the important thing. The important thing is that I started investigating how it was possible that I survived. I mean, I'm pretty sure I was dead, for at least a minute or two, but Clark? Not a scratch. So, I've collected evidence which, in hindsight, I realize was a terrible idea, but at the time I just had to know. I mean, I was supposed to be dead, and so was he, but we aren't!" Lex exclaimed.
Bruce was quiet for a moment, studying Lex's face. Then he took a deep breath. "Am I correct in assuming that you want me to dispose of the evidence you collected? It's somehow incriminating or dangerous?"
"Yes." Lex blew out a breath in relief. Of course, Bruce would understand him. "If my father got ahold of what I have, he would never leave Clark alone. Clark is... special. And not just because of what he can do," Lex said, his tone softening as he spoke about Clark.
Disregarding Lex's last statements for a later discussion, Bruce focused on the matter at hand. "And where is this evidence currently stored?"
"Let me get dressed and I'll show you."*****
Bruce paused just inside the blue-lit room. He was uncomfortably aware of how similar it was to a room, or 'cave,' of his own. "If I didn't know you so well, I would be worried about your stalking tendencies," he observed as he took in the enlargement of Clark's driver's license displayed prominently on a giant screen.
Lex grimaced. "Yeah, well." He shrugged. There really wasn't anything he could say about that. It was true that he was a bit... obsessive when it came to Clark, but it wasn't as if he had any nefarious plans for the teen or anything. In fact, what Lex wanted most was to protect Clark and his secrets, whatever they were.
"All right. Do you want me to move everything and find a better hiding place, or simply destroy everything?" Bruce asked as he wandered about the room, creating and discarding various methods of dealing with the various pieces of... was that a Porsche?
That was a good question. Lex bit his lip. He hated to lose everything he had so meticulously collected, but it would be safer for Clark if all of the evidence no longer existed. "You'd better destroy it all. That way, there won't be the worry of someone else discovering its existence. Not that I don't think you couldn't hide it extremely well, but one never knows when someone might happen to find hidden treasure."
Bruce narrowed his eyes, nodding. "The easiest thing to do would be to have a fire. After all, part of the mansion is already decimated; it wouldn't be unheard of for a fire to break out--some wiring that was damaged when the roof collapsed, perhaps."
Lex nodded. "Whatever you think is best. But it has to happen soon. I doubt it will take my father long to get himself discharged from the hospital so he can come and let me know of his displeasure over my latest 'act of rebellion.'"
"I will never understand the relationship you have with your father, Lex. And I don't think I want to. Can you make your way to the more stable side of the mansion? I'll take care of this room," Bruce stated.
"Yes. And, Bruce, thanks. I really appreciate all your help. I'm not sure what I would have done if you hadn't arrived. I'm usually quick on my feet, but I never conceived of such circumstances," Lex said sincerely.
"You're welcome. I know we haven't seen much of each other since school, but I think we should remedy that. If you're going to be taking on Lionel, you're going to need all the help you can get. Now, get out of here so I can destroy some more of your house, all right?"
Lex chuckled. "Going, going. I forgot what a pushy bastard you can be, but I'm glad you're here."
Bruce shook his head as he watched Lex carefully navigate his way out of the room and down the hall. He had missed Lex. The younger Luthor was one of the few people, besides Alfred, who was in no way intimidated by the Wayne fortune or Bruce's sometimes abrasive personality. Of course, Lex had some rough spots of his own, and while he may not come from old money, the Luthors certainly had a substantial amount of it.
Assessing the available equipment, Bruce devised the best way to eradicate the contents of the room quickly, while at the same time leaving no evidence to suggest that it had been deliberate. It was unlikely that anyone would investigate the fire too closely, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Especially when the Luthors were involved.*****
The fire engines were pulling out of the drive as Clark drove up, and he stared in dismay at the mansion that looked even worse than it had the day before. Barely taking the time to put the truck in park, he jumped out and was racing for the front door. It opened just as he reached the top step and Bruce Wayne stood in the doorway, smirking at him.
"Fire's out. Lex is fine," he stated calmly, amusement dancing in his eyes as he took in the teen's agitation.
"But.. What happened?" Clark asked, his adrenaline still pumping from the fear he had felt, and he knew it wouldn't stop until he'd actually seen for himself that Lex was OK.
"Electrical fire. Hardly surprising, given the damage the storm did to the place. Come on in. You can help me sit on Lex. He seems to think he should go into the plant today," Bruce said, stepping back to let Clark in.
"What? But... I mean... shouldn't he be taking it easy? Is the plant even safe?" Clark asked, and then he paused. "Is it safe here? You said an electrical fire?"
Bruce chuckled. "Good, you can help me convince him to come home with me. For some reason, he's been reluctant to leave this crumbling pile of rocks."
Clark blinked. Yes, he wanted Lex to be safe... but did he want him to go with Bruce Wayne? For an instant, something that felt an awful lot like jealousy flared within him and he hurriedly stuffed it back down. Lex's well-being was more important than his feelings, he told himself sternly. He followed Bruce into the house, checking out the structure as unobtrusively as possible with his x-ray vision. He gave a little sigh of relief as he didn't find anything that seemed in imminent danger of collapsing or bursting into flames. He was surprised, however, when Bruce led him towards the kitchen.
Seeming to pick up on Clark's surprise, Bruce offered an explanation. "The smoke didn't reach the kitchen, and it was the one room in the house that the fire marshal deemed safe for the moment. He's coming back later to inspect the rest of the mansion, but he hinted strongly that he would be condemning the place until some repairs have been made."
"Geeze," Clark breathed. Lex wouldn't be happy to be kicked out of his home, especially not now when he was feeling vulnerable.
"Lex? Clark's here," Bruce called out as they approached the kitchen.
At Bruce's announcement, Lex gave the verbal command to Quit, and the computer-modulated voice obediently stopped reading his email to him.
"Hey, Lex," Clark said softly as he and Bruce entered the room. Lex was sitting at the table, his laptop open in front of him. It seemed that some things never changed. Even if he was blind and his house was burning down around him, Lex Luthor could not stop working.
"Clark. So, how do you like the remodeling?" Lex quipped.
"I think you should get your money back," Clark replied, returning the banter as he looked Lex over critically. At least his friend didn't appear to be any worse off than he had the night before.
"Yeah, well, what can I say? It's hard to get good help."
Bruce snorted at that and then moved to the counter to snag the coffee pot in order to give Lex a warm up. "Coffee, Clark?" he asked.
"Umm, no thanks. I really can't stay long, but I just wanted to stop by to check on Lex. I have chores," he said.
Lex bit his tongue to keep the snide remark about what a dutiful son Clark was from escaping. It wouldn't do to alieniate one of his few friends with the bitterness Lex felt about his own relationship with his remaining parent. Instead, he gave a slightly pained smile. "I'm glad you stopped by, in any case," he said.
Clark nodded, then swallowed hard as he realized that non-verbal cues really wouldn't work so well with Lex anymore. "I was worried," he finally said. "And then when I met the firetrucks pulling out..." he trailed off, unwilling to vocalize the feeling of terror that had briefly went through him at the thought of Lex being hurt.
Lex's smile grew more genuine at his friend's words. It really wasn't fair of him to take out his issues on Clark. After all, the teen had come out of his way just to check on Lex's well-being. "Thank you, Clark. It means a lot to me," he said sincerely. "And I'm fine." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the presence he could feel a few feet behind him. "Tall, dark, and looming back there bustled me out of the house and wouldn't let me back in until the fire marshal cleared the kitchen."
"And the kitchen is where you are going to stay. At least until I can convince you to come spend a few weeks with me in Gotham. I'm sure Alfred would enjoy seeing you again," Bruce stated.
Clark's eyes darted between the two older men as he wondered who Alfred was, and just how close Lex and Bruce had been in the past. There was an ease between the two of them that gave him a pang deep in his chest.
"You mean Alfred would take great pleasure in trying to fatten me up, don't you?" Lex turned his head in Clark's direction. "Alfred and your Mom would get along really well, Clark. They both try to feed me everytime they see me."
That comment brought a smile to Clark's face. "That's because you're too thin, Lex. You need some more meat on your bones."
Rolling his eyes, Lex just snorted. He had plenty of meat, he just had a fast metabolism. Plus, he was much finer boned than either Clark or Bruce. If he ate the way everyone seemed to want him to, it really would fatten him up.
Bruce tensed and then placed his hand on Lex's shoulder. "There's a car pulling up," he murmured.
Lex sighed. "That's probably my father. Clark, I'm glad you came to see me, but if I were you, I'd make my escape now. I have a feeling this meeting might get a bit... intense."
"Um, yeah. OK. I'll see you later. Mr. Wayne." Clark nodded in the other man's direction and slipped out the door. He had no desire to encounter the elder Luthor. The man gave him the creeps.
"What about you, Bruce? Going to stay and watch the show?" Lex asked.
"Yes, I believe I will. I haven't seen the Luthor family hour in quite some time."
"It hasn't improved any with age, I assure you."
"Lex!" Lionel's angry voice echoed through the halls of the mansion.
Lex winced. "See what I mean?"
Bruce gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze. "He should hardly be surprised when you put his lessons into practice, should he? After all, hasn't he always been preaching about attacking when the prey is weak and distracted?"
"Yeah, well, I don't think he ever seriously considered the idea that I'd be using his lessons against him. Though why not, I don't understand. It's not as if he hasn't done the same thing to me. Which is why I had to act as I did. He'll use my current disability in an attempt to control me. Just watch," Lex predicted.
For once, Lionel's entrance wasn't a dramatic performance. Being pushed in a wheelchair didn't have the same effect as stalking down corridors and throwing doors open. Lex really wished he could have seen it.
"Lex! What's the meaning of this? I told you I wanted the plant closed. That didn't mean you should organize a buy out," Lionel ranted.
Lex raised his eyebrows. "It didn't? But I always thought you wanted me to be more ambitious, Dad. To follow in your footsteps, take no prisoners, and go after what I want no matter who stood in my way. Or is it that you only want me to go after the things that you want me to? I've told you before, you don't control me," Lex said.
"That's where you're wrong," Lionel purred. "I've let you have your little acts of rebellion, but quite frankly, you're too old for that now. It's time you took your rightful place--beside me in Metropolis. How long do you think your partners in this little enterprise will follow you once they discover that you're blind, hmm?"
Lex shrugged. "I have controlling interests in LexCorp, and some of them already know. It isn't necessary to be sighted in order to run a corporation. Although, I do admit it would be easier."
Lionel snorted. "It doesn't matter whether or not you're capable of doing the job--it's how well you're perceived to be able to do the job. And one thing that makes shareholders and the market very nervous are CEOs with 'disabilities' of any kind."
"Then you'd best be worried about your own company, then, hadn't you?" Lex quipped.
"This is nothing, Lex. A temporary inconvenience, nothing more. Your own particular... problem, however, will have lasting consequences."
"And thank you so much for your overwhelming concern," Lex said sarcastically. "Especially since you made the decision for me."
"You were unconscious and someone needed to make a decision--time was against you," Lionel said, but he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He hated being reminded that he could be wrong upon occasion. "Besides, there is no evidence to suggest that waiting would have changed the outcome."
"Oh, that's rich, Dad." Lex shook his head. "You know, as fun as this is, Bruce and I really need to be going. The fire department has condemned the mansion until further notice. By all means, stay and let the place have a second go at you." Lex stood up, scooping the laptop off the table with a smooth motion. He could feel Bruce behind him, guiding him surreptitiously toward the back entrance.
"Enjoy your company while you can, Lex. You won't have it long," Lionel called after them.
Lex tensed, but resisted the urge to turn around and start shouting at his father. It might feel good in the short term, but experience had taught him that it gained him nothing in the end--just more ammunition for his father to use against him.
"I see the Luthor family dynamics are just as scintillating as ever," Bruce murmured.
Lex gave a half laugh that he choked off before it could become hysterical. So much had happened so quickly that he was having trouble retaining his equilibrium. Perhaps Bruce was right, and a visit to Gotham would allow him to find his footing once more. It certainly couldn't be worse than Smallville. "I haven't packed anything," he warned Bruce as the other man ushered him out the door and into Bruce's car.
"Don't worry. I took care of that myself. If you need anything else, I'm sure Alfred will be able to accomodate you," Bruce said.
Lex raised his eyebrows. "You were that sure I'd go with you?"
"I prefer to say that I prepared for various contingencies," Bruce hedged.
This time, Lex laughed out loud without fear of it becoming something else. Bruce was ever the cagey one, it was one of the things Lex liked best about his friend. He never exactly lied, he just put his own spin on things--much like Lex himself.*****
"Master Lex, it is good to see you again," Alfred said as Bruce guided Lex into the manor.
Lex smiled. "I can return the sentiment, if not the veracity."
"Master Bruce, I prepared the rooms as you requested."
"Thank you, Alfred," Bruce said.
"Rooms?" Lex asked.
"I have a friend flying in tonight. I believe he may be able to help you," Bruce said.
Lex furrowed his brow but didn't comment. For one thing, he was just too tired. All he really wanted was a warm bed and about ten or twelve hours of interrupted sleep. And for another, he knew it wouldn't do any good. Once Bruce made up his mind about something, it was well nigh impossible to change it--something else he had in common with Lex, truth to be told.
Bruce studied his friend carefully. He'd been mostly silent on the drive to Gotham, and Bruce could see the dark shadows under his eyes. Lex should probably have still been in the hospital, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. "I'll show you to your room and then maybe you can take a nap. I'll wake you for dinner."
"That sounds like a plan."
Lex counted his steps silently so that he would be able to find his room again. It was frightening to realize just how much he had relied on his sight. Of all the senses, it really seemed, at least now, that vision was the most important. For instance, he really doubted he would be having such problems coping if he'd lost, say, his sense of smell. Or even taste. Touch would have been regretful, but it wouldn't have left him feeling so... vulnerable. He shivered.
"Are you cold?" Bruce asked, concerned. Lex had been uncharacteristically silent on the trip from Smallville to Gotham, and he hadn't even put up much of a fight about leaving.
"No, just tired," Lex said. He was holding onto Bruce's arm, and it just felt strange. He didn't want to contemplate the fact that he might need someone to guide him around places he wasn't very familiar with in the future. Being dependent upon anyone just wasn't his style.
"You're a survivor, Lex. You'll survive this, too," Bruce stated firmly just before he stopped. "This is your room."
One side of Lex's mouth quipped upwards. "Thanks, Bruce. I know we haven't really kept in contact lately, but it means a lot that you came when I called."
"You would have done the same," Bruce said, and Lex nodded.
"Yes, I would have. I would do anything..."
"For your friends," Bruce finished. "I know. Now get some rest or I'll send Alfred in to scold you."That got him a small smile. "Horrors," Lex quipped.*****
Lex felt as though he had no more than closed his eyes when Bruce woke him up.
"Lex, dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes. Do you want to freshen up first?" Bruce asked quietly. He had been careful not to touch Lex before he woke, remembering that the other man often reacted badly to that. The experiences that had instilled such reflexive defensive maneuvers were not something he wished to speculate about, but having seen how Lionel treated Lex--both in the past and currently--he could hazard some guesses. And it wasn't a pretty picture.
Coming awake instantly, Lex held perfectly still as he got his bearings--Bruce, Wayne Manor, safety. Breathing out a soft sigh of relief, Lex pushed himself up. "Yes, I think I'll take a quick shower. If you could hand me my bag?"
"The connected bathroom is approximately ten feet to your left from the foot of the bed," Bruce stated as he placed bag next to Lex on the bed.
"Thanks. I assume you didn't pack anything that would clash horribly?" Lex asked.
"Don't worry. If your purples don't mesh, you'll never know," Bruce said.
"That's comforting. However, even if your sense of humor leaves something to be desired, I'm quite certain Alfred would never allow a guest to embarass himself so," Lex pointed out.
"You're probably right. And he likes you, too, so I'd say that improves your odds," Bruce agreed. Studying Lex closely, he was pleased by what he saw. Some color had returned to Lex's fair skin and the bruising had gone down considerably. Unfortunately, the eyes were still disconcertingly blank.
Correctly discerning the reason for the sudden silence, Lex broke it. "Bruce, I'm fine. Well, as fine as a newly blind man can be, anyway. Go on. I'll make my way downstairs and then you can guide me to the dining room, OK?" he said.
"All right. But if you're not down there in fifteen minutes, I'm coming back for you."
As Lex reached the bottom of the stairs, he could hear two voices discussing something. One was easily identifiable--Bruce--but the other was unfamiliar to him and he paused. Having Bruce see him while he was vulnerable was one thing, but a complete stranger? He had almost decided to make a tactical retreat back up to his room when Bruce called out to him.
"Lex, good, you made it down without any trouble. I was just telling Matt that you've been adapting remarkably quickly."
Lex allowed a placid smile to appear. "Yes, well, as they say, needs must..."
Snorting, Bruce shook his head. "In any event, Matt has first-hand experience in what you're experiencing. He was blinded when he was twelve years old."
That brought Lex up short. This must have been the friend that Bruce had mentioned earlier. He'd forgotten that in his anxiety over facing a stranger. "I'm sorry to hear that," Lex said sincerely.
"It's old news. I've accepted it and adapted accordingly. Matt Murdock," Matt introduced himself.
"Lex Luthor," Lex returned easily. He wondered if he would someday be able to speak of his disability in such an off-hand manner. At the moment, he would have loved to rail at the gods... if he believed in any such beings, which he didn't.
"Yes, Bruce has been telling tales of some of your youthful misadventures. I must say, you certainly don't live a boring life," Matt stated, amusement clear in his voice.
Lex laughed. "No, not boring in the least. And Bruce should be careful, I have a few tales of my own I can share," he promised.
"Of that I have no doubt. But maybe later. Right now, I can smell supper and it smells delicious," Matt stated.
"Oh yes, Alfred is a master," Lex stated. "I once begged him to come work for me, instead, but he wouldn't hear of it."
"At the time, I believe you wanted him to live in your closet, though, didn't you, Lex?" Bruce interjected.
"Well, yes. I didn't think my father would approve," Lex admitted. "But then, I was only eleven years old, and my closet was really rather nice. I spent quite a bit of time in there, myself."
Matt chuckled. "You rich boys are hilarious. I get the impression that the apartment my dad and I lived in was probably the same size as your closet, Lex."
"Oh yes, poor little rich boys, that's Bruce and me," Lex agreed easily. He hadn't really considered the possibility that Bruce's friend might come from a less privileged background than their own, but he probably should have. Bruce had travelled extensively since school and had probably befriended a wide variety of friends. After all, hadn't Lex himself become friends with a farmboy?
Bruce touched Lex gently, and Lex took the hint, lying his hand on Bruce's arm. A faint tapping noise took his attention as they started forward. "Cane?" he guessed.
"Yes. I'll let you try it out after dinner, see if something similar would suit you. Have you considered a service animal?" Matt asked.
Lex's fingers clenched on Bruce's arm, but his voice was steady as he answered, "No, I haven't." And then he thought of how his father would react to such a visible vulnerability, and he shuddered.
Luckily, Bruce, as always, understood and redirected the conversation. "I believe Alfred prepared one of your favorites, Lex--macaroni and cheese with ham."
"He always did like me best," Lex quipped.*****
Once they'd finished dinner and moved to the study, Matt finally brought up the subject they'd all been scrupulously avoiding. "All right, Lex, it's time for me to lay out some painful truths for you. Being blind sucks. You need someone to mark all of your paper money, indicate what colors your clothes are, organize the boxed and canned goods in your kitchen, and more. That requires a fair bit of trust in someone, and you have to remember not to piss them off." Matt's tone was wry, "Otherwise, you might end up with salt in your coffee and sugar on your popcorn."
Lex froze, the tea cup in his hand arresting part way to his mouth. These were things he hadn't considered--just everyday tasks that were now beyond his ability to handle on his own... and then another thought struck him. "I can't drive," he almost whispered, and Bruce had to rescue the cup before Lex's trembling dumped tea all over the carpet. "God, my father is right..."
Wincing, Bruce set the cup down and placed his hands on Lex's shoulders. "No, he's not. Hear Matt out," he said, his voice low and almost soothing.
"Yeah, driving is right out. But, even with all that, you can still learn to be self-sufficient and do what you need to do. And, in some cases, it can work to your advantage, as people will underestimate you," Matt continued.
Now that sounded somewhat promising, and Lex leaned forward in his chair. "Just what is it that you do?"
"I'm a defense attorney in Hell's Kitchen. And let me tell you, that is not an easy job," Matt stated.
Lex blinked. "No, I don't suppose it would be," he agreed.
"It's not going to be easy, but from Bruce says, that won't be anything new for you. If you're willing to work hard and push through the frustration, and there will be frustration, then I'll train you to the best of my ability... and that includes how to defend yourself," Matt said.
"Defend myself?" Lex asked, surprised.
"You do seem to get yourself into a lot of trouble," Matt noted, and Bruce chuckled.
"You have no idea."
Scowling, Lex muttered to himself, "It's not like I go looking for trouble."
At that, both Matt and Bruce laughed outright, and Lex settled back in his chair with a huff. "Well, I know Bruce isn't one to talk, and I get the feeling you might not be either, Mr. Murdock."
"Call me Matt. You'll be cussing me out before you know it," Matt said with a smirk.TBC...