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Thread: Episode 15 - "Bloodstained" (PG)

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    Episode 15 - "Bloodstained" (PG)

    Title: Bloodstained
    Written by: Zannie

    Notes, disclaimers, etc. in Episode 1

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “I’m dying.”

    The words were spoken mildly, softly, with no particular emphasis or resonance. They shouldn’t have cut so deeply, especially since Lex had heard them before. And had lived with the truth of them for weeks.

    But no one except Lionel Luthor could have used those words as a weapon.

    Lex experienced an involuntary pang of unexpected sorrow at his father’s blunt pronouncement, and then a dull ache that followed in its wake. He’d known for a while that his father was terminally ill, but had never allowed himself to grieve. Wondered why any part of him even wanted to.

    He’d been on edge during the last few weeks, knowing that his father was up to something. Unfortunately, Lex had failed to figure out exactly what that was. So when Lionel had asked for a meeting this evening, Lex hadn’t known what to expect.

    He certainly hadn’t expected this.

    Lex should have been in control of this situation. They were in the mansion—his mansion. In his library. He was sitting behind his desk, while his father was sitting in a slightly lower chair across from him. Lex held the position of power in the room, and yet for some reason he felt absurdly small. Weak. Terrified.

    He wouldn’t, of course, reveal this. Not to his father. Not to anyone. “I know,” he replied, making sure to meet his father’s eyes evenly. “Is there some reason you’re telling me this again now?”

    “I’ve pursued every possible course of remedy,” Lionel continued in that same mild, tranquil voice.

    Lex nodded, saying nothing now. Words always revealed things one didn’t intend, and too much of his soul had been revealed to this man already.

    “I understand you’ve been doing some research of your own, asking around about various experimental medical procedures. Including blood transfusions.”

    Nodding again, Lex unclenched his jaw, seeking power in the pretense of calm. He wasn’t calm. Every nerve in his body had suddenly started pulsing--because, in that instant, all the random pieces of information he’d uncovered in his investigation of his father’s activities during the last few weeks came together clearly in his mind, melding into a complete and terrible whole.

    Lex finally understood the perilous game Lionel was playing. Knew every move his father was about to make. Wishing he had figured it out before this loaded conversation, he watched as Lionel now asked a question he already knew the answer to. “And did you discover anything?”

    “Only what you wanted me to learn.” Lex couldn’t keep the resignation out of his voice, even as he tried to mirror his father’s detachment. He should have been better prepared for this. He’d had all the information he needed but had failed to put it together until the moment was actually upon him.

    “You think I can control that much? That I could even have controlled your investigation?” Lionel’s voice was pitched to convey mild skepticism.

    Lex forced himself not to look away from his father’s cold gaze. “You seek to control everything—and everyone—you touch.”

    An almost sad smile flickered across Lionel’s face. He murmured, “One of the many traits that we share then.”

    Realizing that he’d been clenching his fists, Lex released them and then purposefully relaxed his fingers. He wished this conversation was over, wished it had never begun. They were talking in circles, hedging, vying for dominance. Exactly as they always had.
    Speaking the truth—finally getting to the point—would leave one or the other of them vulnerable.

    Something neither of them could ever allow.

    Lex knew what was coming. He was going to have to make a decision very soon--a decision he’d never dreamed of ever having to make. His voice was impatient when he responded. “Get it said.”

    “You already know,” Lionel countered. “I saw enlightenment finally dawn on your face just now. So that leaves no reason for me to say it.”

    Becoming angry and no longer caring if he expressed it, Lex leaned forward in his chair, glaring stonily at his father. “If you want something from me, then ask for it.”

    “I need your blood.”

    There was something brutally stark in those words—in the way that Lionel Luthor had spoken them—and they hung for several tense seconds in the quiet room.

    His blood. His dying father needed his blood. There was something in Lex’s blood that was special, that might be healing. And saving his father’s life could be as simple as the giving of his blood.

    If only anything about this were simple.

    Lex tilted his head slightly. “And what if I choose not to give it to you?”

    “You must.”

    Lex raised his eyebrows. For the first time in his life, his father was purely at his mercy. He wished he could glory in the feeling, exult in the power. Couldn’t. Lex felt sad and a little bit sick.

    Lionel widened his eyes, feigning surprise. “Are you truly willing to be responsible for my death?”

    “Your body will kill you. I won’t.”

    “Your body—your blood—will save me,” Lionel replied, turning Lex’s words against him, as he so often did.

    Lex pressed his lips together. Thought before he spoke. “Only if I choose to give it to you.”

    This time, Lionel leaned in toward Lex. “I’m your father. Why wouldn’t you save my life?”

    It was perhaps the only foolish thing Lex had ever heard his father say.

    “The more relevant question is,” Lex said stiffly, “Why would I?”

    Lionel’s lips twisted in a strange little smile. “I do wish you had at least a remnant of familial feeling left.”

    Lex sneered. “Since when has family meant anything to a Luthor?”

    His father was angry now, but still completely composed. “It’s what makes us Luthors,” he gritted out. “I’m your father. We have the same blood.”

    Lex curled his lip. “But we don’t—because you need mine to save your life.”

    Lionel sighed and looked disappointed. “I’m not entirely surprised by your stubbornness, but I had hoped you could summon up a hint of humanity or some flickering light in the darkness of your soul.”

    It felt like Lex had been punched in the gut. He lost his breath in response to how deep, how sure, his father’s thrust had been. Edged with all of Lex’s insecurities, all of his deepest fears. He swallowed hard. Knew his father had seen the revealing gesture.

    Managed to say, “Hope is no longer a meaningful force in either of our lives. I won’t let you play me again. I won’t let you manipulate me. Say what you have to say, and then get out.”

    Appearing unaffected by his son’s hardness, Lionel smoothly slid a thin file across the surface of the desk. “As I said, I’m still giving you a chance to act by choice in this matter. But—you’re right—I have never existed purely on hope. This has been prepared for any unfortunate eventualities.”

    Feeling a tense coil of dread tighten in his belly, Lex casually flipped open the file. Scanned the pages of the documents. “You can’t do this.”

    It wasn’t an accusation or a desperate plea. It was merely a bare statement of fact. His father no longer had the resources to pull off a coup of this nature.

    Lionel smiled—not a reassuring image. “Has it ever been wise to underestimate me?”

    It never had. Not in all of Lex’s life.

    And suddenly the power in the room had shifted. Lex was no longer a corporate executive, an intelligent adult, a strong, competent man, or a person with the power to choose.

    He was a boy. A helpless boy, afraid of his father.

    Lex managed not to reveal this. Said precisely, “You would do this? You would go to these lengths—take LuthorCorp away from me—in order to pressure me into giving you my blood?” He paused, sucked in a harsh breath. “Instead of just relying on my judgment.”

    “I am relying on your judgment,” Lionel argued, appearing pleased with himself again. “You’ve always been reasonable, intelligent, and perceptive. I’m relying on you to realize the nature of our respective positions.”

    He stood up, so Lex did too, not wanting his father to loom over him.

    Lionel turned to leave, but glanced over his shoulder and added, “I have no doubt you’ll make the right decision and ultimately decide to save your weak, dying father’s life.”

    He might be dying, but there was nothing weak in the man who walked away from Lex.

    Lex was so tired. So incredibly tired. Wished that this constant war would finally end. So he revealed far too much in his last, desperate question, flung unthinkingly at his father’s retreating back. “Why does it always have to be a battle between us?”

    His father turned back toward him. But no longer appeared self-satisfied. There was now something faintly sad and haunted in his eyes.

    Lionel said softly before he left the study, “When is life anything else?”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark shifted his body behind the steering wheel so that he could face the passenger seat more directly. He took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice calm. “I just don’t understand why you’re so upset about this. I said I was sorry. I wasn’t gone more than a few minutes.”

    Lana’s face crumpled the way it always did when she was dealing with any strong emotion. “We’re supposed to be together now. And I don’t like the feeling that you have all these other priorities when you’re with me.”

    Blinking a few times, Clark replied in a tense voice, “I’ve explained it about ten times now. While we were watching the movie, I remembered a call I’d forgotten to make, so I just got up to use the pay phone before I forgot again.”

    He hated lying to her, just when they should be getting closer. But what other choice did he have?

    Lana narrowed her eyes. “What call did you have to make?”

    Clark was starting to wish he had come up with a better excuse. This one wasn’t holding up very well. His frustration was evident in his voice when he spoke, “What does it matter? Just something for my parents. Can’t we just forget about it and move on?”

    “It didn’t look like you had just forgotten something,” Lana argued, shaking her head in a way that made her shiny, dark hair sway around her shoulders. “You jumped up like it was an emergency.”

    It had been an emergency. “It was just one of those reactions to when you remember something you were supposed to do earlier,” he mumbled, praying that this conversation would end soon. That Lana would get out of the pickup and make her way up to her door.

    “It was like you heard something,” Lana persisted.

    He had heard something. A woman had screamed, and Clark had rushed out of the movie theater to help her. He had saved the woman in the span of three minutes and then had returned to Lana. When he had sat back down in his seat, Lana hadn’t spoken or looked at him. But he had known she was sulking during the remainder of the movie, and then they’d argued about it all the way back from the theater.

    “You heard everything I heard,” Clark lied, trying to remain patient. Lana was getting more and more suspicious of what he was keeping from her. It was almost surprising. Clark had expected Lana to ignore all the clues and complexities and remain content with the easy answers, as had been her habit in the past.

    “You should have told me where you were going,” Lana insisted, sticking out her chin, giving him a sad, reproachful gaze.

    Clark’s chest ached at how much he always had to hurt her, even though he thought she was being a little unreasonable about this particular situation. “I know. I’ve said I’m sorry about twenty times now. Can’t we let it go?”

    Lana glanced down at her little hands twisting in her lap. “You left me alone. Just got up and left. It was like you had abandoned me.”

    Trying not to roll his eyes, Clark asked slowly, “Don’t you think you’re blowing this out of proportion? I didn’t abandon you. I was gone for about five minutes.”

    Lana sniffed a little and whispered, “I know. But I don’t like being left alone without any answers.”

    Clark couldn’t argue with that.

    Nobody liked being lost and alone.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    “What do you think I should do?”

    Lex’s question hung in the air for a long moment, while he and Lucas just stared at each other.

    While Lex had been in the middle of deliberating about his decision the day after the conversation with his father, Lucas had shown up at the mansion unexpectedly. Lex wasn’t sure why his brother had stopped by, but he was grateful for the distraction. He couldn’t seem to come to a clear decision about his dilemma--there was so much at stake and so many issues on each side of the question--so he had told the whole story to Lucas to see if his brother had some worthwhile advice.

    Lex wasn’t in the habit of asking for advice, but at this point he was conflicted enough to try anything.

    After the tense silence, Lucas’s face transformed into an expression that was almost surprised. He shrugged, “Give it to him.”

    Lex sighed, disappointed that Lucas hadn’t understood that the situation wasn’t at simple as it might appear. “Has he been such a father to you that saying yes would be so automatic?”

    Lucas curled up his lip. “Doesn’t matter. He’s your father. Our father. And he’s the only one we have.”

    Clenching his jaw, Lex asked tightly, “We wouldn’t have been better off without him?”

    “You’re missing the point,” Lucas countered, leaning forward in his chair. “You’re talking about what he’s done, what’s he’s earned, and what he deserves.” His face grew more earnest and impassioned. “I’m talking about family. All of the other stuff flies out the window with family. You don’t have to like him, Lex. In fact, you have every right to hate him. But he’s still our family. He’s our blood.”

    It always seemed to come back to blood. It would have been amusingly ironic if it weren’t so bitterly true. Lex stared at his brother without speaking, trying to sort through the conflicting thoughts and feelings in his mind.

    Lucas smirked. “You know what they say. Blood is—“

    “If you dare to say that blood is thicker than water,” Lex muttered, glaring at him coldly. “I’ll—“

    “You’ll what?” Lucas interrupted, grinning irrepressibly.

    Lex sighed and smiled reluctantly in response. “I don’t know.” Maybe this was one of the benefits of family. For some reason, even though they didn’t know each other very well, Lex didn’t feel quite as alone when Lucas was hanging around. “But it will be something hideous, I assure you. So don’t say it.”

    “I won’t,” Lucas replied agreeably. “But, seriously, you should really consider helping him out. This might be an opportunity for reconciliation. Don’t you want to be like a real family?”

    Of course, he did. Lex had longed for that all his life. But some things were impossible. Some things you just couldn’t choose. He answered honestly, “Not if it means losing part of who I am in the process.”

    Lucas shook his head and looked impatient. “For God’s sake, Lex, it’s just your blood.”

    Lex tightened his lips. He should have known that no one—not even a brother—would really understand. His blood was the vital issue for his father, but to Lex the blood itself was trivial. In helping his father this way, he’d be sacrificing something far larger than what was flowing through his veins. “It’s a lot more than just blood.”

    They were silent for so long that it grew slightly awkward. Lucas shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Finally asked, “So what are you going to do?”

    “I don’t know,” Lex admitted, briefly dropping his head into his hands in exhaustion. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

    Lucas stood up. Walked to the door. Turned around and spoke his final words before he left. “He’s not a good man, but who says that he doesn’t have the potential to be one? Who says we don’t have the potential to be a real family? Shouldn’t we have the chance?”

    He turned back to the door, opened it, and added, glancing over his shoulder, “It’s his blood running through your veins, Lex. You might as well give it back to him.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lana sat at a table in the corner of the Talon and spoke into her cell phone to Mrs. Kent, “Oh, okay. Sorry I missed him. Can I leave a message for him when he gets back?” At Martha Kent’s response, Lana continued, “Can you just tell him that I’m sorry I was so selfish and sulky last night? And ask him to call me when he gets the chance.”

    After thanking her and saying goodbye, Lana ended the call with a sigh. She hadn’t been able to sleep much last night after her fight with Clark, and she really wanted to fix things between them.

    They had both been waiting so long for this relationship that Lana couldn’t bear to let her own silliness get in the way of it.

    Lana saw Chloe at the front counter getting a cup of coffee, so she smiled and waved at her in greeting.

    Chloe grinned in response and made her way over to join Lana at the table. As she approached, Lana found herself studying her friend intently. Chloe appeared the same in the obvious ways—blond hair, quirky fashion sense, wide smile—but for some reason Chloe struck Lana as looking different this year. The change was so subtle it was hard to pinpoint.
    In a way that was impossible to really explain, Chloe seemed to be more mature and more distant at the same time.

    They were better friends than they had been in previous years, but Lana couldn’t help but feel that Chloe was gradually growing out of her reach.

    “Hey,” Chloe greeted her in a friendly voice. “What’s up?”

    Lana made a face. “Fighting with Clark.”

    Chloe’s lips twitched. “Why aren’t I surprised? What happened?”

    “Oh, he pulled another disappearing act on me at the movies last night,” Lana explained with a long exhalation. “And I totally had a hissy fit.”

    Shrugging, Chloe looked neither surprised nor concerned. “So say you’re sorry. Clark’s good about forgiving. Believe me. I know.”

    “Yeah,” Lana agreed, still feeling kind of heavy about the whole thing. “But it’s just one more thing getting in the way of us being happy together. Why can’t anything between us ever go smoothly?”

    “Go smoothly? With guys?” Chloe quipped, taking a long swallow of her coffee. “Not likely.”

    The two of them grinned at each other.

    Lana decided not to dwell on depressing thoughts today. So she changed the subject intentionally. “So you and Jason?” She was glad she could ask about it so casually, so lightly. And she was surprised that she only felt a tiny twinge of jealousy—although her first reaction had been less . . . tolerant.

    Chloe blushed slightly and shrugged. “Maybe. It’s too soon to tell. I do like him. And he’s awfully cute.”

    “That’s true,” Lana agreed. They shared an embarrassed look, and Lana added, “Is this kind of weird? To be talking about it?”

    Chuckling, Chloe replied, “And even weirder that we seem to be okay with it.”

    “Is he serious, do you think?” Lana asked, genuinely curious.

    “I don’t know. I’m starting to think that maybe . . . I don’t know. Anyway, we’re taking it slow.”

    “Good. He and I should have taken it slower,” Lana admitted, thinking back over her crazy summer and what she thought had happened in Paris. “It’s just so easy to fool yourself into thinking that romantic notions can transfer smoothly into the real world.”

    Chloe’s expression looked startled—almost shocked.

    Her obvious surprise made Lana uncomfortable, so she asked sharply, “What?”

    “Nothing,” Chloe replied, with a hint of an ironic smile. “I just never expected to hear you say that, is all.”

    Lana’s immediate response was annoyance. She wasn’t blind to the amusement sparkling in Chloe’s eyes or the implications of her words. It sounded as though Chloe was talking down to her. Making fun of her.

    But before she fired off an automatic retort, she looked again. And decided that it hadn’t been superiority at all. Chloe’s expression conveyed nothing but easy friendship. So Lana relaxed, sighed, and confessed, “I’m learning a thing or two with Clark.” Giggling a little herself, Lana continued, “I think relationships would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with the other person.”

    They both laughed at this, and Lana felt briefly ashamed of thinking that Chloe had been making fun of her.

    “Yeah,” Chloe said pleasantly. “Particularly guys. They are definitely weird in relationships. Take me and Lex, for instance . . .” Her voice trailed off, and she got a strange conflicted look on her face.

    Lana blinked rapidly and tried to process her shock. “You and Lex?” she breathed. Some fanciful part of her mind saw Chloe, even as she was sitting in the chair across from her at the Talon, moving even farther away, fading into the distance.

    Chloe’s mouth dropped open in surprise, but then she smiled and laughed merrily. “Not that kind of relationship. Lex and I aren’t dating!” Her expression made it clear that her response was absolutely genuine.

    Lana couldn’t really explain the shattering relief she felt at those words. But it made things so much clearer and simpler. Chloe was once again her friend, her peer, her equal.

    “But Lex and I are supposed to be friends,” Chloe went on. “And yet—“ She cut off her words, and her face grew sad and almost angry at the same time.

    Lana shook her head, concerned and becoming more convinced than ever that Lex just wasn’t a good friend for Chloe. “What happened?” she asked softly.

    Chloe knew that she couldn’t tell Lana the truth, not the specifics anyway. As she thought about how to censor the information, her face grew tense, and her voice was hard when she replied, “He hid something from me. Acted . . . stupidly in order to keep something a secret.” Her chin jutted out in a very familiar way. “We had a big fight. And now he hasn’t called me in a week.”

    Lana furrowed her brow. “Have you called him?”

    “I’m the put-upon one here,” Chloe pronounced indignantly. “He’s the one who needs to apologize to me.”

    Her expression was so outrageously victimized that Lana couldn’t help but giggle.

    Chloe giggled too. “Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic. But he really has hurt me, and now he seems to think he can just run away from it by avoiding me completely. I’ve been going back and forth since we had our blow-up, trying to decide if I want to go over and yell at him some more, or just ignore him completely, or maybe send Clark over to find out how he feels about the whole thing.”

    Lana stared at Chloe with a dropped jaw.

    “I know,” Chloe acknowledged. “It’s a huge, ridiculous mess. I don’t know what to do. So I’ve been stalling until I figure out what the best option is. I do want to be Lex’s friend, but it’s so complicated. If he would make any move that showed me he wanted to mend fences, I would be thrilled to work things out between us. But I’ve heard nothing from him at all. He’s just not an easy person to be close to.”

    Lana thought carefully before she responded, “Clark is Lex’s friend, and he feels the same way. He wants to be friends, but Clark isn’t always sure we can trust Lex.”

    Chloe’s face was very strange as she murmured, “I know.”

    “Be careful,” Lana said soberly. “Lex is a lot older than us, and he’s . . . different.”

    “Different than Clark, anyway,” Chloe muttered, almost under her breath.

    Lana felt like she was losing Chloe again, and she was inexplicably nervous at the prospect of Chloe being so involved with Lex. Hadn’t she learned her lesson from her involvement with Lionel? Of course, Lex had helped her out of that situation, but Lana knew that being friends with a Luthor was complex, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. She tentatively said, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

    Lana had tried to be friends with Lex, had forgiven him for so many things: his insanity-induced attack, terminating their partnership in the Talon, his obsessive interest in removing Adam. It wasn’t that Lex was all bad—he had occasionally been there for her when no one else was-–but there was so much going on with Lex that Lana didn’t know about and wasn’t comfortable with. She didn’t like the idea that Chloe might get caught up in the ambiguity.

    Chloe shrugged. “Sometimes friends get hurt. It happens. It just depends on what you do afterwards.” She paused and looked off in the distance, over Lana’s shoulder. “But still, I feel like he betrayed me. I thought we were friends.”

    Lana had no idea what to say. Wanted to give some good advice and support Chloe in her dilemma, but what advice could she possibly give? So she said the first thing that popped into her mind. “I’m not sure Lex really knows how to be a friend.”

    She hadn’t thought her words would be very helpful, but Chloe’s eyes darted over to her, looking at her so intently that Lana started to squirm.

    For some reason, Chloe was staring at her as if Lana had said something unexpectedly wise.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex picked up the phone and started to dial Chloe’s number. But before he completed it, he put the phone back down again.

    Yes, he shouldn’t have tried to take away Chloe’s memories. And he’d been a fool to use indirect methods of appeasing his own guilt, but still . . . he’d apologized. Or he would have if she hadn’t interrupted him. He wasn’t sure he deserved this lengthy silent treatment.
    If Chloe couldn’t accept a sincere apology when it was offered, then he wasn’t going to humble himself yet again.

    But he did kind of want to get her opinion on the whole situation with his father. So maybe it would be worth the discomfort in order to have her speaking to him again.

    His hand hovered over the phone—uncharacteristically torn over as small a thing as making a phone call.

    Before he could decide, Clark barged into the library. “Lex?”

    Lex glanced up and then moved to greet his friend. “Clark. To what do I owe this unexpected visit?”

    Clark grimaced and lowered his long length into a chair, looking woefully out of place in his jeans and flannel shirt. “I just got the strangest call from your father.”

    Sitting down in an adjacent chair, Lex tightened his lips. “My father? What did he want?”

    “He explained about how he needs your blood to stay alive, acting as if it were normal for him to be telling me something so private.” Clark paused, looked uncomfortable. “And then he said that you might need a friend to talk the whole thing through with.”

    Lex was suddenly enlightened. This would also explain Lucas’ inexplicable appearance. Lionel Luthor was rallying an offensive line against his son.

    “Is it true?” Clark prodded, looking sincere, and honest, and good-hearted—as he nearly always did.

    Nodding, Lex said briefly, “Yes. It’s true.”

    Clark looked impatient and prompted, “And?”

    “I’m still debating about what to do.”

    Clark stared at him blankly. “What do you mean, you’re debating? Of course, you have to give him the blood. Isn’t it obvious?”

    Another simplistic answer to a very complex question. “Why should it be obvious?”

    “He’s your father,” Clark stated bluntly, looking at Lex as if he’d transformed into another person. “And you can save his life.”

    “Both true statements,” Lex acknowledged coolly. “But the conclusions you’ve drawn aren’t necessarily inevitable.”

    Clark made a frustrated noise. “Why wouldn’t you save him?”

    “How has he ever shown himself worthy of saving? Think about everything he’s done to people. To me. To you. To Chloe.” Lex’s voice grew more intense as he continued. “Why should I sustain his life so he can continue to do these things?”

    Clark was clutching the armrest of his chair tensely. “I know it might be dangerous to let him go on living, but that doesn’t give you the right to take his life.” When Lex started to object to this distortion of the situation, Clark insisted, “If you don’t give him the blood, Lex, then it will be like you’ve killed him yourself.”

    Lex shook his head. “Clark, that’s overly simplistic. The world is more complex than you want to believe.”

    His expression earnest and utterly good, Clark leaned closer to Lex. “What is complex about this? Human lives are valuable, and we can’t pretend to be gods and decide who gets to live and who has to die. How do you know that your father can’t be redeemed?”

    “I don’t,” Lex admitted, knowing the words that were coming out of Clark’s mouth as if he’d heard them all already.

    As if he’d heard them hundreds of times before.

    “Lex, not giving him the blood is like killing him,” Clark insisted.

    “No, it’s not,” Lex argued with frigid distaste. “He’s not dying by my hand.” He stood up, to end this conversation before one of them said something irrevocable.

    Clark stood up too, but only to continue his plea. “Lex, I’ve always had faith in you. I’ve seen you veer off the right path, but you’ve always seemed to at least want to find your way back to it again. Lex, this is farther from the right path than you’ve ever been before.”

    Lex closed his eyes briefly. “You’re assuming there’s only one right path,” he murmured.

    Ignoring him, Clark went on, “If you don’t do what you can to save your father’s life, then you’ll have lost your way for good.”

    Sneering a little, Lex shot Clark an icy gaze. “Is that some sort of ultimatum? Either save your father or lose my trust for good?”

    Clark looked distressed, looked urgent, looked torn. “It’s not an ultimatum,” he said at last. “I’ll keep trying to be your friend. But if you let your father die, I don’t know how I can ever trust you.”

    Lex turned away and stared at the panes of stained glass with a stoic expression. He wished these kinds of moral absolutes could help him, but Clark just didn’t see the world the way he did. “I haven’t decided yet,” he stated, assuming Clark would understand that this conversation was over.

    Clark wasn’t quite finished, and he spoke the words to Lex’s back. “It’s not always easy to do the right thing. Sometimes it means that we have to go against our own desires.
    Sometimes it means we have to do what seems impossibly hard.”

    Lex heard him talking. Understood the words. Wondered how it was that they could speak such different languages.

    He heard Clark moving toward the door. But Clark wasn’t yet through with his speech. “You have this gift—in your blood—that no one else has, Lex. That means you have to use it to help your father.”

    Lex heard the door open. Kept his back to his friend as he left.

    Clark said one more thing before the door closed. “When we have extraordinary gifts, we should use them for the good of the world.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark slumped back in the kitchen chair and curved his mouth down as his mother slid a pie into the oven. “It’s always been hard to lie to my friends. But it’s just that it’s so much harder when you’re in this kind of relationship.”

    His father adjusted so that he was propped against the wall on the other side of the room, watching Clark with a concerned, supportive expression.

    Confident that his parents were really listening, Clark continued, “I had to leave Lana alone to go help that woman I heard yelling for help. I didn’t even have time to think of a good excuse. I just got up and left.”

    “But you saved that woman,” Martha Kent said gently, her voice warm and textured. “You should be proud of yourself for that.”

    “Yes, but I can’t explain that to Lana,” Clark muttered, gulping down half of his glass of water. “She thinks I just abandoned her.”

    Jonathon nodded. “That will always be one of the burdens that come with your gifts. You’ll always have to keep it a secret. Sometimes having specials gifts means doing things you don’t want to do.”

    Sighing, Clark sorted through his glum thoughts. He wished it were easier. Couldn’t help but remember his conversation with Lex earlier today. “That’s what I told Lex,” he admitted. “We have to use our gifts to help people, even if we don’t want to.”

    Martha’s face twisted in concern as she changed the subject slightly. “Is he really considering not saving his father’s life?”

    “Yes,” Clark responded, briefly closing his eyes and praying it wouldn’t play out as he was imagining. He’d always liked Lex. Always supported him and had faith in him. But this—this would change things for good.

    There would be no going back.

    “He seems to be considering it,” Clark went on, hoping his parents might have some way to understand what was incomprehensible to him. “I’ll admit that at first I thought about how simple it would be if Lionel just died, but there’s no way I could ever justify it, no matter how much harm he’s done. And it should be even more clear-cut for Lex. How can he consider letting his father die? Can he really be that kind of a man?”

    Martha reached over and covered Clark’s hand on the table. “Lex is a complex person, but so far he’s always come through in the end. Give him a chance to make the right choice before you give up on him.”

    Clark didn’t want to give up on him. He’d stuck with Lex through so much in the past. “I wish I knew how to help him.”

    “Be his friend,” Jonathon advised, stepping over to put a hand on Clark’s shoulder. “Be a good example to him. Show him what doing the right thing looks like.”

    Clark nodded, silently vowing to do just that for as long as he was able. But he still felt a kind of dread twisting in his gut. “I’ll try. But do you think I can keep being his friend if he just lets his father die?”

    Before his parents had a chance to answer, Clark noticed that they were distracted by something across the room.

    He looked over his shoulder and saw Chloe standing there, on the other side of the screen door.

    From her expression, she had clearly heard the last part of their conversation at least. Her mouth was hanging open and her bottom lip was trembling a little. She looked stunned. Frozen in place.

    “Chloe,” Clark said, forcing his voice to sound friendly, although he now had a clench in his chest to match the one he’d already had in his belly. “We didn’t see you. When did you get here?”

    It mattered. It mattered a lot.

    What if she had heard their entire conversation?

    What if she now knew his secret?

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Chloe stood at the door of the Kent’s house and stared blankly through the screen at Clark and his parents.

    She had come over to find Clark, to see if he’d talked to Lex lately. It was a round-about way to check up on Lex, but she still wasn’t sure she wanted to make the first move with him.

    She and Lex were in this strange kind of holding pattern, and she wanted him to make some sort of effort, at least acknowledge that their friendship meant something to him.
    So she’d decided to stop by the Kents’ and see what she could discover. She certainly hadn’t intended to eavesdrop.

    When she’d arrived and heard Clark talking with his parents about Lex, she’d been so surprised that she’d just stopped. Stood there for less than a minute, listening to what they were saying. And then she’d felt this sinking sensation in her chest, like her heart had gotten too heavy to stay in place.

    No wonder Lex hadn’t called her.

    Chloe listened just long enough to learn that Lex hadn’t had time to worry about something as trivial as their friendship. He was in the midst of making life-changing decisions.

    Decisions that had nothing to do with her.

    Her immediate response was crippling guilt. She’d been so mad at him—thought he was running away from her—when he must be so torn up about this excruciatingly difficult decision. She felt guilty, and sad, and anxious, and sympathetic, and sick that Lex must feel so alone.

    But then all of those conflicting emotions melted into one rush of violent feeling. And she only felt one thing.

    Chloe was absolutely furious.

    “Sorry,” she muttered through the screen. “I just got here. Didn’t mean to interrupt. And I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on that stuff about Lex.”

    Clark’s face reflected something that almost looked like relief. But it was Martha who spoke, in her natural, friendly voice. “That’s okay, Chloe,” she said. “You didn’t interrupt anything. How have you been doing?”

    Chloe was so enraged that she had to fight to be pleasant—since these people had done nothing to her. “Good. Really busy. I just stopped by to say hi. I’ll let you all keep talking.”
    And with that, she turned on her heel and hurried back to her car.

    She knew exactly where she was heading next. Couldn’t wait to get her hands around an elegant neck and smack her palm across the side of a shiny, bald head.

    “Chloe,” Clark called from behind her, slamming the screen door as he followed her out. “It’s okay, Chloe,” he said, as he quickly fell into step with her. “Don’t feel bad about
    accidentally overhearing.”

    Clearly Clark had misinterpreted her mood. Chloe hadn’t intended to eavesdrop, but she had never felt bad about it. She decided to keep this little detail from Clark. “So Lex has to decide whether or not to save his father’s life?”

    “Yeah,” Clark admitted tiredly. “He does, if you can believe it. I tried to convince him to do the right thing, but I’m afraid he’s seriously considering letting him die.”

    Chloe made a strange noise. Even she couldn’t understand what it meant.

    “If you happen to run into him in the next day or two,” Clark went on, his eyes shifting over her shoulder until he was looking off into the flat horizon, “Try to talk some sense into him.”

    Far too distracted to concentrate on this conversation, Chloe just mumbled “Uh huh,” and got in her car. “See you later, Clark,” she managed to add.

    “Yep,” Clark said with a smile. “See you later.” He closed the door for her.

    She turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of the Kents’ drive. Turned directly toward
    the Luthor mansion and pressed down firmly on the gas pedal.

    With every minute it took her to get there, she became angrier and angrier. By the time she parked her car in front of that ridiculous castle in the middle of a cornfield, she was flushed, breathing heavily, and practically seething.

    She slammed her car door behind her and stormed up to the front door of the mansion. Was let into the house and asked to wait in the library.

    So Chloe stood in the middle of the very familiar room—a room that had always been central in her history with Lex—and she clenched her fists into tight knots. Tried very hard not to explode.

    “Chloe,” Lex greeted her pleasantly, strolling in looking cool and sharp in sleek gray and black. He was smiling at her—as if he were genuinely glad that she was there. “It’s good to see you.”

    Chloe exploded.

    “What kind of friend are you, anyway?” she demanded, her voice too loud and too harsh.

    Lex blinked and stared at her, appearing rather dazed. “What?”

    “What kind of friendship do you think we have?” she rephrased, trying to compose herself enough to keep from scratching deep gouges into Lex’s cheeks. “You violate my memory in order to keep your secrets, try to buy me off or distract me with that Spring Break trip, and then instead of trying to work through it, you run away and keep important decisions to yourself.”

    His eyes widened as he watched her, and uncomfortable knowledge emerged on his face. “Chloe . . .” His voice trailed off.

    She wasn’t surprised. What could he possibly say in his own defense?

    When he did speak, it wasn’t at all what she expected. He scowled and countered, “I didn’t run away. You were the one who left here in a huff last time, without even letting me explain or fully apologize. You were the one who backed off, and I certainly wasn’t going to impose.”

    Her jaw dropped open, and she felt another wave of outrage at this utter nonsense. “What are you talking about? I didn’t back off. I was just waiting for you to make some sort of gesture to show that you were interested in still being friends.” Behind her anger, Chloe felt a faint twinge of panic. This cool, elegant man had almost killed her not too long ago, and now she had stormed his house to tell him off.

    Lex’s eyebrows went up.

    “Don’t give me that look,” Chloe snarled, forcing back any lingering fear. “I’m the injured party here. Why should I have to make the first move?”

    His face visibly relaxed. “You’re right,” he admitted mildly. “You shouldn’t have to. I was just waiting for you to do so.” He paused for a beat. “So I guess you haven’t forgiven me yet.”

    Abruptly, Chloe felt awkward and a little embarrassed, although she couldn’t really explain why. “I don’t know,” she replied uncomfortably. “You haven’t even really given me a chance to forgive you. I thought we were supposed to be friends.”

    “I tried to apologize,” Lex murmured, watching her face with careful attention. “You just stormed out, leaving me no other conclusion than that you weren’t interested in sustaining our friendship.”

    Chloe glanced away from him and thought for a long moment. “I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think I understand why you did it--the memory thing, I mean. I’ve done plenty of stupid things out of desperation myself.” She sighed. “But it really hurt that you lied to me. And it’s going to be really hard for me to completely trust you now.”

    Something conflicted flickered across Lex’s face. “I know. I was mostly protecting myself, just as you claimed the last time we . . . talked. But I also had the misguided notion that it would also help you. I was wrong. I can’t change it. But I really am sorry.”

    He sounded sincere, and Chloe believed him. And she had come over here, despite her fury and wounded feelings, knowing that she would eventually forgive him. She wouldn’t be foolish enough to rely on him completely, but she understood him in some sort of innate way.

    Most of her anger dissipated so quickly that it almost made her dizzy, and she was left feeling awkward, hurt, and defensive. “Okay,” she muttered, eyeing him from beneath her lashes. “But you better not do it again.”

    “Okay,” he agreed dryly. Then his gaze darted away and he too looked uncharacteristically awkward.

    She wished they could just skip over this part of the reconciliation. Rehearsing all the various factors of the conflict between them was becoming more and more embarrassing, although she wasn’t quite sure why that was. Without her righteous anger to spur her on, she just wished the whole thing were over. She and Lex had shared some intense moments and serious situations in the past, but they weren’t in the habit of spilling their guts to one another.

    It made things feel weird and unsettling.

    Lex went on. “So you think I was trying to buy you off by providing the Spring Break trip?”

    It was exactly what Chloe had thought. She’d been suspicious from the very beginning, although only later realized what might have been motivating his ostensibly generous gesture. “Weren’t you?”

    He narrowed his eyes. “No. I wasn’t. I genuinely wanted to help you and your classmates, and I thought it would be good for you and Lana to get away for a while.”

    “And you wanted to ease your guilty conscience,” she added, giving him a slanting, skeptical look.

    Lex’s lips quirked almost imperceptibly. “I never said it was smart.”

    “It wasn’t smart,” Chloe insisted, feeling anger rising in her chest again. “It was stupid and offensive.”

    “But why does it have to be? I understand I can’t buy you off with it, and it didn’t diminish how I hurt you. But you and your class needed my help. I use my money to help people all the time. Why can’t I use it to help you? I have plenty of money. It’s no sacrifice on my part.”

    Chloe curled her lip up in annoyance. “Yeah, well, that’s kind of the point. It’s too easy. It doesn’t mean anything to you. And it doesn’t fix anything.”

    Lex stood silently, the muscles in one cheek twitching a little. “Fine. I see your point. I still think there might be a way to make use of my resources without it always being seen as my buying you off. But I’ll admit that in this case my motives were primarily selfish. I was trying to make it up to you and Lana, and I thought it would be good for all of you to be out of the way for a while . . .” He stopped talking, as if hesitant to tell her why. “I am sorry, Chloe.”

    She could tell he meant it. And she could tell that the apology had been difficult for him to make. Something softened in her chest as she looked at his tense, unreadable face. “Okay. That’s done then,” she said simply.

    He stared at her, as if he didn’t quite believe her.

    “We’re friends, aren’t we?” Chloe explained. “I’m not big on holding grudges.”

    He almost smiled at her, and she almost smiled back. Then she remembered what had prompted her furious rage to begin with. “Now tell me what’s going on with your father.”

    Lex looked startled and suddenly put on the spot.

    Chloe didn’t give him any chance to recover. She continued, “How are you possibly going to decide?”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex froze, momentarily stunned beyond all speech and motion.

    Chloe’s question had been blunt and direct, with just a hint of sympathy underlying it. But it shouldn’t have evoked such an extreme reaction--not a simple question from an eighteen-year-old on a late Thursday afternoon.

    “How do you know about that?” he breathed. “Did my father call you as well?”

    Something about the idea made him feel ill--even worse than the idea of Lionel calling Lucas or Clark, to underhandedly recruit them into doing his will.

    Chloe looked baffled. “No. I accidentally overheard the Kents talking just now. Lex, why didn’t you tell me about it?”

    Lex shrugged, part of him wishing Chloe had remained ignorant of the particular dilemma he’d been forced into. “What was the point?”

    “That’s stupid,” Chloe responded, scowling at him. “We’re friends. At least, I thought we were. And, while I’m not sure how much help a high-school girl could be to you in this situation, we can at least talk it out.”

    Shrugging again, Lex didn’t reply. Just stood there feeling uncomfortable and off-stride. This was ridiculous. He was an experienced, professional adult who could hold his own with world leaders and business tycoons. Discussing something as innocuous as friendship shouldn’t make him so awkward.

    A whisper in his mind told him why he was so unsettled. This friendship was almost dangerous to him. Chloe knew too much about him and not just what he wanted to reveal. In some ways, he was more vulnerable with her than he wanted to be with anyone.

    “So what are you going to do?” Chloe asked at last, interrupting his murky thoughts, steering them away from the relational uncertainty and back to the issue at hand.

    Lex shook his head. “I don’t know yet. It’s . . . complicated.”

    “Of course, it is,” she agreed. “Do you save your father or rid the world of a man who’s done nothing but harm?” Her face was torn, but her eyes were understanding.

    He was still amazed that she hadn’t fallen back on the easy, simplistic answers he’d been hearing from everyone else. He’d known Chloe for a long time now, and he seemed to value her friendship more than he’d realized before the last few weeks. But, still, he’d never before realized that she was capable of seeing the world as he did.

    “Exactly. Common sense and basic humanity would tell me to save his life. It’s my blood, but it’s not a huge sacrifice on my part. But what would I be saving his life for? After the way he’s damaged so many lives and the threat that he still poses to the people I care about, why should I reward him with a longer life with which to do more harm?”

    Twisting her face a little, Chloe responded, “Do you get the feeling that he’s changed at all? Apparently, some people do when faced with death.”

    Lex pressed his lips together into a tight line. “He hasn’t changed.”

    “So how can he expect you to save him?”

    “Family feeling,” Lex muttered. “That’s what he fell back on. That and good will toward men.”

    Chloe snorted. “I can’t believe he didn’t have a better argument than that. I bet he put some sort of pressure on you to force you to do it.”

    She had always been clever. Lex nodded, “He’s threatening to wrest LuthorCorp away from me if I don’t help him.”

    “Is he capable of succeeding with that?” she inquired, clearing working through the repercussions in her mind.

    “I didn’t think so, but I’ve checked into his plan. And it could definitely work. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s a danger.” Lex sighed and felt like a failure again--more so because he couldn’t help but recognize that he was turning to a high-school student for advice. He added, “It’s a move I should have been prepared for. I’ve been looking in entirely the wrong direction so he was able to catch me unaware.”

    Chloe slumped into a leather chair and looked up at him. “This totally sucks, Lex.” Her words were light, but her eyes were filled with real sympathy.

    The look touched something inside him that he’d been ignoring for most of his life. Friendships might be a hassle and strain most of the time, but they had some definite advantages.

    “Do you think you can get out of his trap?” Chloe inquired thoughtfully.

    Lex eased himself down into a chair across from her. “Maybe. It will take some doing, but it’s not impossible.”

    “So you’ll be able to make a real decision on the blood issue, without outside pressure.” Chloe leaned forward and propped her head on her hands. “Which way are you leaning at the moment?”

    Lex closed his eyes briefly. Then admitted the truth, “I’m thinking about saying no. He’s done nothing to make me feel obliged or compelled to help him. In fact, everything he’s done makes me more and more sure that the world would be better off without him.”

    Staring at the polished floor, he tried to sort through his scattered thoughts. “It’s easy to just say that saving his life has to be the moral thing, the good thing, the noble thing--but is it really? Who’s to say I don’t have an obligation to all the people he’ll harm in the future?”

    She shook her head, her blonde hair glowing in the light streaming in from the high windows. “Not me. After what he’s done to both you and me, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of giving him a long life and letting him loose on an unsuspecting world.”

    She was voicing his thoughts, as if she’d read his mind. But the acknowledgment of them made something clench in his gut. “But that means I’d have to let my father die. I’d have to make a conscious decision not to save his life.”

    Licking her lips in concentration, she asked softly, “Do you think you could do that?”

    And this was perhaps the hardest answer of all. The one that Lex had been avoiding since he’d realized he was faced with this decision. “I don’t know,” he murmured, keeping both his voice and his expression blank. “But I think maybe I could.”

    Chloe was watching him carefully, and he thought he caught a trace of anxiety in her expression. It shouldn’t surprise him. She’d seen part of his true nature in the caves, in the vision. And it had truly frightened her--he’d never been deceived about that.

    But this . . . this admission was another part of his true nature. And in some ways it was worse, since this aspect of his character wasn’t far removed from the composed, competent man he pretended to be. It might not be as dark as what she’d been forced to confront about him in the cave, but this was so close to his normal self that he was pretty sure it might be even more frightening.

    “Does that make me an unnatural son?” he asked lightly, trying to hide the real urgency underlying the words.

    She watched him steadily. “Who’s to say what natural is? But you can be sure most people aren’t going to understand your reasoning if you end up making the decision not to give him your blood.” She gave him a dry smile. “I gather you talked to Clark about it.”

    Lex curled up his lip. “I did. His reaction was not as tolerant as yours is.”

    Chloe shrugged. “Clark is different. He’s idealistic and committed to things like honor and goodness.” She reached up to push a stray hair out of her face. “Out of necessity, you and I live in a different world--one clouded by things like bitterness and realism. I wish I could give you an answer on this, Lex. But I genuinely don’t know what the right thing is to do.”

    Sighing, he murmured, “Neither do I. Both choices feel wrong to me.”

    They were both silent for a long time, sitting in Lex’s library and staring at the fall of sunbeams into the deep shade of the room.

    Finally, Chloe concluded, “Saving his life would be the safe bet, I guess. You’d be spared from any immediate guilt and could find other ways to work against him, when he starts to make trouble again.”

    Lex closed his eyes, utterly exhausted. “I just want to distance myself from him
    completely. Never have anything more to do with him. I’d like . . . to live a life that he hadn’t shaped.” Then he tensed slightly, wishing he hadn’t revealed something quite so intimate.

    She didn’t react to his words. Just sat staring at the panes of stained glass. “I know.” She made a strange face and added, in a voice that Lex almost couldn’t hear. “He taints everything. I don’t want you to end up like him.”

    The way she voiced the words made Lex wonder if she sometimes believed that he would.
    Sometimes Lex thought he would too. And it was what Lex feared the most. What he could never quite run away from. His chest aching with something inexplicable, he murmured in a voice as faint as hers had been. “And yet both of my choices here have the potential to tie me to him more completely.”

    They were silent for another stretch of time, until Chloe finally stood up with a long exhalation. “I better get going. I’m sorry, Lex, that I can’t give you any good advice. I wish I could.”

    Lex stood up too and stood in front of her--wondering how two people as incongruous as they were had become friends. “Thanks. And, again, I’m sorry about . . . that other thing.”

    She gave him a ghost of a smile. “Yeah, well, I don’t seem to be mad about it anymore. It’s funny how life and death situations change our perspective--even when it’s not our life in danger. But I might get mad again later. I’ll let you know.”

    She moved toward the door, looking young and casual in her trendy outfit and shining hair.
    Before she opened the door to leave, Lex couldn’t help but call out after her, “What would you do?”

    She turned around, her brow furrowing.

    “I don’t mean what advice would you give me,” he clarified, reading her expression accurately. “But what would you do, if you were in my situation?”

    Chloe glanced away from him and thought for a minute. And then said something that was clearly difficult for her to say. Her answer changed everything. Forced Lex to realize that he’d never really understood her before this moment. And that he might not be as alone as he’d always believed.

    She shifted her eyes back to him and locked gazes. Spoke clearly, no hesitation or wavering in her voice. “What would I do?” She gave a faint smile as she turned to leave the room.

    Then said over her shoulder, “I’d let him die.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Clark heard Lana approaching—pull up in front of the house, walk into the barn, slowly climb the stairs—long before she stood in front of him.

    “Did you get my message?” she asked tentatively, twisting her hands behind her back.

    Nodding, Clark let out his breath, affection and something else vying for control of his heart. “Yeah. I’m sorry too.”

    Lana looked relieved. “I’m sorry we had such a stupid fight.”

    “Me too,” Clark admitted. “We always seem to have stupid fights.”

    Stepping forward and hesitantly taking his hand, Lana held it in both of her own. “I know. Why do you think that is?”

    Clark was silent. Had no answer to her question. Had absolutely no idea.

    “I was being silly and immature,” Lana went on, her face tightening into an injured mask. “I shouldn’t have made such a big deal about such a little thing, even though it hurt me.”

    It had hurt her. Clark knew that. Didn’t know how he could ever not hurt her. “I know it hurt you. I’m sorry about that. I’ll try to be more sensitive to your feelings next time.”

    They were saying the right words. Going through all of the right motions. Being a healthy, responsible couple trying to deal with their conflicts.

    So why did it feel like they were still talking around the main issues? As if they could never get at the heart of their problem?

    Lana leaned forward, and Clark knew what that gesture meant. He pulled her into his arms. Held her delicate, little body against him. She felt so innocent and so fragile. She was what he had wanted for so long. He had her now. He loved her.

    So why was it always so difficult?

    “Clark?” Lana whispered against the flannel of his shirt. “Are we okay, do you think?”

    He didn’t know. He just didn’t know. “Yes,” he said softly. “We’re okay. We just had a fight. It happens.”

    “Do you feel it too?” Lana continued, her voice breathless and lilting, almost like a child’s. “Do you feel like there’s some sort of block between us? And it’s always standing in our way?”

    “Yeah,” Clark admitted, drawing back so he could look into her lovely, twisted face. “Sometimes I feel it too. But we care about each other, and we want to be together. So we can somehow get past it.”

    Lana nodded and wiped away a few tears with the tips of her fingers. “Okay. I hope so.”

    “Do you want to hang around?” Clark offered, trying to move them beyond this tense strangeness. “We could talk, or watch TV, or something.”

    Lana shook her head. “I’m kind of tired. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She reached over and hugged him again. Whispered, “I’m glad we made up.”

    “Me too,” Clark mumbled, suddenly feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed for no reason that he could understand. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

    She walked slowly back toward the stairs. Glanced at him over her shoulder. “Are you sure you didn’t hear something in the theater, Clark? I could have sworn that you did.”

    Clark swallowed hard. Lied, “No, Lana. I didn’t hear anything.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    It was time to decide.

    Lex had stalled as much as he could, gone through the motions of seeking advice from others, and debated the merits of each side for as long as he could legitimately justify.
    Prolonging the choice wouldn’t make any difference now. He knew what he needed to know. He understood what the issues were. And, sitting by himself behind his desk in the mansion library, Lex realized he’d known what his conclusion would be all along.

    Sometimes people acted by reason. Sometimes they acted from fear. But sometimes it was purely instinct that guided people, an underlying compulsion they could be neither explained nor denied.

    His instinct told him what to do. His reason backed it up. The advice he’d gotten from other people had contributed to his own acceptance of his decision.

    And so it was decided. He would do it. But first--if only for the sake of his pride--he had to get himself out of the trap his father had set for him.

    He picked up the phone and hit a number on speed dial. Waited until the man on the other end picked up, and then Lex started giving a series of blunt orders. While he spoke, he composed a brief, direct email and prepared to send it to twenty-four people. He had other options, if this first attempt failed, but he really didn’t want to get into an extended battle with his father for control of LuthorCorp. He didn’t want anything to do with his father, after this one decision was made and carried out.

    Lionel Luthor had tried to use him, and Lex refused to be used. He’d thought that his father would know that about him, but perhaps desperation and impending death had clouded Lionel’s judgment.

    Hanging up the phone, Lex hit the send button to disperse the email. It shouldn’t take long before he found out if this had worked. An hour. Two at the most.

    If he could disrupt his father’s planned takeover this easily, then he could return to his father with his decision--not hampered by pressure or fear or obligation.

    It was Lex’s company now, and he’d do what he wanted with it. It was Lex’s blood, and he’d do what he wanted with that too.

    He wasn’t a helpless boy--and it didn’t matter if at times he still feared his father.

    Lex wasn’t powerless in this. He wouldn’t be powerless in anything.

    Every choice he made would be purely his own, and he alone would decide the course of his life.

    He would never become his father because he would always have the power to stop himself. He would instead shape the life that he wanted.

    Lex was still sitting behind his desk staring at his computer screen when the phone rang fifty-five minutes later, sounding particularly harsh and brutal.

    He picked it up. Spoke a few words. Listened for a minute in silence.

    Hung up the phone again and prepared to face his father one more time.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Later that evening, Chloe was sitting in the corner of the Talon worrying about Lex, when Jason dropped into the seat beside her.

    “Hey,” she said, brightening and feeling decidedly mushy at the sight of his fair, handsome face.

    “Hi,” he greeted her, leaning over to give her a brief kiss on the lips. “You look upset about something.”

    Chloe sighed at his kiss and realized she was pretty far gone in her feelings for Jason. But since he seemed to have matching feelings for her, she couldn’t feel anything but giddy about it.

    Who would have guessed that she’d be able to attract this handsome, mature, incredibly sweet guy? Plain, old Chloe Sullivan. Succeeding where the irresistible Lana Lang had failed. She tried not to gloat about it, even privately--because she and Lana were now genuinely friends--but a kind of guilty pleasure refused to be suppressed.

    Realizing that Jason was waiting for her answer, Chloe explained, “I’m kind of worried about Lex. Have you seen him in the last few hours?”

    Jason nodded. “He’s got things under control now. Nothing to worry about.” He reached over and gently brushed her cheek in a gesture so tender it made Chloe shiver. “I was really impressed with him when I talked to him a few minutes ago. He’s really taking control of the situation. And he gave me a particular task to work on involving Lionel.”

    Chloe was about to jump in and ask about the task, but Jason must have realized her intentions.

    “I can’t tell you what it is,” he said, an endearing, half-smile on his face. “But Lex and I have this under control. Pretty soon, Lionel won’t be a factor in your life at all.”

    Grinning, Chloe scooted closer to his side and twined her hands around his neck. “Good,” she murmured huskily. “Because you’re the only thing I’ve been wanting to think about lately.”

    She felt a brief pang of anxiety after she said the words. They’d seemed a little too forward and obvious.

    But Jason seemed to appreciate her sappy comment. He wrapped an arm around her back and pulled her into an embrace, even though they were both still sitting on separate chairs. “I’m very glad to hear that,” he replied, in a low, textured voice. “Because I’m very excited about where this might be going between us.”

    He leaned down to kiss her deeply, and Chloe responded with both passion and enthusiasm. When they finally parted, she was flushed and breathless and absurdly happy.

    She whispered, “Jason, I can’t wait to see where this goes.”

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Lex slid a file--almost identical to the one his father had used the day before--across the table with a shuttered, unreadable expression.

    “I don’t respond well to being bullied,” Lex said calmly, conveying chilly arrogance in his gaze. He took a sip of scotch from the glass in his hand. It was dark outside now, and the lights in the room cast a strangely cold light. “I would have thought you’d know that by now.”

    Something flickered in Lionel’s eyes--something closely resembling uncertainty. “It’s not necessarily bullying when one guards his own interests.”

    “Even against his son?” Lex queried dryly. Despite the bitter situation, he felt in control, strong, powerful.

    He’d made a decision and asserted his own will. Ultimately, that was all a man could do.

    “Especially against one’s own son,” Lionel remarked matter-of-factly. “The price of blood, you know.” He should be worried now, should know that Lex was up to something. But nothing in his face revealed any kind of insecurity, nothing except that brief flash of uncertainty.

    Lex shaped his features into an expression of amused superiority. “I think you’re using that saying in the wrong context.” With an idle glance around the room, he continued, “But it’s hardly a priority here. Aren’t you planning to open that folder?”

    Lionel gave a graceful shrug of his shoulders. “I have no need to open it. I know what it says. From your blatantly smug expression, I assume you extricated yourself from the little scenario I put into play.”

    Some of Lex’s satisfaction faded. But he nodded calmly and replied, “I did. I’m not as weak as you seem to think.”

    “There are many ways to be weak,” was all Lionel said in response.

    Lex waited in silence for his father to ask. When he didn’t immediately, Lex felt his will hardening. He’d made the right decision, and he wasn’t going to cave before his father did.
    The two men sat in silence for a very long time, neither one willing to lose the position of power that reticence provided.

    Finally, Lionel spoke. But not to ask a question. Instead, he said very quietly, “So it’s no then.”

    Lex decided he wasn’t surprised that his father had figured this out. “It’s no,” he affirmed coldly.

    “You’re willing to let me die?”

    “You’ve never given me any reason to help you live. You can blame me for this--as I’m sure you will--but you only have yourself to blame for finding yourself in this position.”

    He would have liked to see anger in his father’s face, or fear, or grief, or something. But all he saw now was mild interest, as if Lex had done something rather unexpected. “I see,” Lionel murmured.

    “Do you?” Lex queried with grim composure.

    Lionel raised his shoulders yet again. “I think I do. It’s not what I’d hoped for, but fortunately my life isn’t dependent on one weak, unreliable player.”

    Lex felt a familiar clenching in his heart. Hoped the day would come when his father would no longer have the power to wound him. He stared at the man stoically and tightened his hand around the glass, the same hand he’d cut on another glass just last week. “I, of course, knew this wasn’t your only option.”

    With an unpleasant smile, Lionel rose to his feet. “It’s not, of course. You’ve only made this more difficult for yourself.”

    “I have no problem with things being difficult,” Lex pronounced, rising to his feet as well, “As long as my life is no longer tied to yours.”

    Lionel chuckled, and it might have been the most dangerous sound Lex had ever heard another person make. “Is that what you think, son? You think you’re pulling away from me with this move?”

    Lex clenched his jaw and didn’t answer.

    “Ah, Lex, how you disappoint me with your narrow perspective.” Lionel shook his head and looked aggrieved. “Try to see the larger picture. You’re not escaping me, Lex.” He took one step closer to Lex and pinned him with his eyes. “You’re becoming me.”

    The thought was absolutely unbearable--and couldn’t possibly be true--so Lex forced the dreaded words into the back of his mind. “I’ll become who I choose to be. You’ll define my life no longer.”

    Lionel laughed again--with that same dry, smug amusement--and took one more step closer, until he was within arm’s reach of his son. “Is that right?” he asked silkily. After a brief pause, he continued, an almost fanciful expression altering his face, “You’ve always been attracted to symbolism. Take this symbol with you.”

    Then something happened that Lex had no way to expect or prepare for. His father moved with deadly speed and precision, and Lex raised his free arm to automatically defend himself from the blow he thought was coming.

    But his father hadn’t been trying to attack him--at least not in any predictable way--so Lex’s skillful defense was of no use.

    Instead, Lionel had reached for the glass in Lex’s hand and had applied quick, strong pressure.

    In a bizarre, unpredictable turn of events, the glass of scotch broke in his hand. Lex watched in stunned confusion as the amber liquid spilled down onto the Asian rug on the floor, slivers of glass falling down after the scotch, in a rain of cracked crystal.

    A few pieces of broken glass pierced into the flesh of his palm, causing sharp pain he wasn’t prepared for.

    Despite the pain, Lex didn’t flinch. “What the . . .” he breathed, feeling befuddled and unable to understand why his father had done such an asinine thing.

    Lionel had moved to the door, but he turned around with one more infuriating smirk. “This one should be easy for you. It’s a pretty obvious symbol.” He opened the door and said over his shoulder. “Think about it.”

    Lex didn’t have to think about it. In that instant, he understood all of the significance. Knew exactly why his father had done what he had done.

    Lex’s hand was throbbing and bleeding, and a sliver of glass was still embedded in the skin of the hand he had cut on another glass not too long ago. The first time had been his own fault.

    He’d thought his father had said everything, but then he heard the familiar voice echo from down the hall. “Don’t think this is over, son.”

    Lex had been left alone, so he spoke to an empty room, in a voice that was barely a
    whisper. “Dad, I never thought it was.”

    For long, aching minutes, Lex stood by himself in the middle of his library, positioned just over a spot on the rug, made of spilled liquor and shattered glass.

    The symbol, his father had said, was obvious. No one could possibly misunderstand.
    Lex, who--as his father had known--had always been compulsively drawn to symbolism, certainly didn’t misunderstand.

    As the minutes dragged on, Lex’s eyes glazed over in a bitter pain that wasn’t remotely physical.

    But he couldn’t stop staring at the blood on his hand.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
    End of Episode 15

  2. #2
    An Accused Heretic Senior Member Kit Merlot's Avatar
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    Re: Episode 15 - "Bloodstained" (PG)

    A very intense episode!

    I like that the Chlex friendship has been repaired and the Chlason romance is preceding nicely, but Lionel's continued presence still worries me.
    KATHY

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  3. #3
    Members Lynzie914's Avatar
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    Re: Episode 15 - "Bloodstained" (PG)

    This episode was always my favorite of the series. The turning point in Chloe and Lex's relationship was so well done and I loved that side of Chloe that brought her closer to Lex. I can't wait to read the next one!

  4. #4
    NS Full Member TrinityR's Avatar
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    Re: Episode 15 - "Bloodstained" (PG)

    Wow, I like it I like the conversation between Chloe and Lex. I knew they were so alike! Though... I don't have any reason to not like Jason he's really pissing me off. OK, Chloe, be hapy but please, be happy with LexD

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