This half-story isn't what I intended to write, but good intentions and a buck fifty will buy you a grande at Starbucks.
Summary: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.
She says, “Are you sure about this?” when what she means is, “Please don’t make me do this.”
Jonathan, who chooses how much of her he hears, says yes. Fire with fire, he says, and she nods and throws the letter in the trash.
He doesn’t know that her fingers itch to get it back.
The first time Lionel lets her handle a negotiation by herself, she thinks maybe he hired her for more than access to Clark. She knows that wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true, but still – Lionel has reasons within reasons, and maybe it wasn’t a binary choice. Lionel doesn’t like to waste his stones on single birds.
The first time Lionel touches her below the waist, she doesn’t know what to think. If he’d asked for anything in return, she would have fled, but he doesn’t. Lionel’s good at this, in more ways than one. Three days later, she comes across the records of his meteor rock refining operation. He’s long known that the rocks have mutagenic effects; a note in the file, written in his now-lost copperplate script, indicates that he wants carefully calibrated amounts so that his tests aren’t affected by variations in the size of naturally collected rocks.
She can’t tell where her fear trails off and her fascination begins.
“I know why you’re working for him,” Lex says, and her first thought is that he shouldn’t be here, not in Lionel’s office, Lionel’s building, Lionel’s side of Smallville. He’s come up behind her, and she doesn’t turn from the desk even though she can feel the heat of his presence at her back.
“You tell yourself it’s to keep an eye on him.” His voice slithers around her like smoke, making her want to clap her hands to her ears. “And an outside observer might ask, why would the Kents need to keep an eye on Lionel Luthor? But I’m not an outside observer, Martha.”
She can’t control her shaking. “Did Clark tell you –“
He clicks his tongue. “Clark knows better than that.”
The papers fall from her fingers onto the desk.
“It’s not your eyes you’re keeping on him,” Lex continues, his breath hot in her ear. His hand comes up and finds her waist, and she gasps even though there’s two layers of clothes between them.
She turns, because she doesn’t have a choice, and he’s looking down at her. His eyes are like ice; her gaze is frozen to them.
“What does it take to be a good mother?” he asks, and he’s completely sincere, even as his hand smooths her jacket to the small of her back. “Is it ever right to decide *not* to sacrifice yourself for your family?” Her eyes close, and she can see Clark, grown, not understanding that he ought to keep a piece of himself for himself, burning up until his fire runs out of air to feed it. She can see Lex, no longer able to share any part of himself, a fire burning cooler than Clark’s and leaving only char behind.
Lex has both hands on her now. Part of her mind still insists that Lex needs a good hug and a plate of cookies with milk, little boy lost. She can feel him, hard and heavy, pressing against her belly, and she’s afraid that if she looks at him she’ll come apart like wet newsprint.
His mouth passes within millimeters of her cheek, almost nuzzling her face. She raises her hands to his chest, to push him away, to do what she should have done long ago. “Lex, stop –“
He’s stronger than she is, of course, and has her backed up against the desk. The heat of his body burns her hands through his soft linen shirt.
“When you look too long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” he says into her half-closed mouth.
His lips ghost across her cheek, back to the curve of her ear. “I can smell my father on you.” She can’t breathe for a moment, and shudders against him when she realizes that his tone isn’t disgusted.
And he’s gone, leaving her to collapse into her chair, her face in her hands.
She doesn’t open her eyes for a long time.
She’s never been one to call out Jonathan’s name when they make love, so she doesn’t worry about that. And Lionel never leaves a mark that shows. Jonathan does, sometimes, but of course Lionel can’t see them.
There are days when she comes home determined to confess all. But Jonathan doesn’t like to hear about her job. She’s even stopped telling him about the meteor files she finds, because it makes him helplessly angry and she can’t stand to see him helpless.
When and where Jonathan grew up, it was normal for a man to smack his wife around if she got out of hand. She knows Jonathan would never do that, and loves him for it. If she told him, he might shoot Lionel, but he wouldn’t hurt her.
The farm runs as always, casual conversations at breakfast or dinner, budgeting every Saturday night. The hours she spends at work, with Lionel, might as well not exist, except that her dinners are quicker to make, and the boys don’t mind that. Don’t, truth to tell, seem to notice. The only difference, perhaps, is that they don’t talk about Clark’s powers much. Even when they’re alone, they aren’t alone.
What keeps her silent isn’t fear of breaking Jonathan’s heart.
She’s afraid he already knows.
Clark says “Chloe,” and Clark says “Pete,” and Clark says “Lana.”
Clark never says “Lex” these days.
He’s still making the deliveries to the castle, and he’s still not around when Chloe or Pete calls for him.
One Saturday, when he’s home for a change and wanders into the kitchen to grab a cookie, she decides it’s time to ask.
“Clark,” she says and waits until he puts down the milk jug and looks at her, “I’m concerned about your friendship with Lex.”
He hunches his shoulders and stares at the floor. “It’s not a problem.”
“I know you want to think he’s a good person, but – He wants to know your secrets, and I’m afraid he’d use them to hurt you,” she says, which is as close as she can get to what she really thinks.
“I said, it’s not a problem.” He’s looking at her now, and there’s a new hardness to his expression. “We have a deal, me and Lex. He doesn’t ask about my secrets. And I don’t ask about his.”
She grips the back of a kitchen chair so hard her fingers hurt. “That doesn’t sound like much of a friendship.”
He smiles, and it takes her a moment to figure out what’s wrong: he’s not showing any teeth.
She knows, then, how wrong, how desperately wrong she’s been. They aren’t friends, any more than she and Lionel are friends. “Clark, honey –“ Oh my baby, what have we done to you?
“Don’t worry, I’m not saying anything to Dad.” As if that were what she – or had Lex told him? This time, she’s the one who looks down, trying to hide what’s written on her face. “Thanks for the cookies. By the way, you can cross ‘flour’ off your shopping list –“ he nods over to the little message board she uses – “I found some in the cupboard.”
I'm thinking it's called "Wargames," but if that's too lame, I'm open to "Knight Moves," after Suzanne Vega. "Wargames" has that single-word episode-like title thing going for it, but it might be overkill. Thoughts?