Title: Different Paths
Author: Victoria P.
Summary: "She still smelled the same ... The scent reminded him of being fourteen again, and fumbling for kisses in the dark while his hands tangled in her long, dark hair."
Notes: Thanks to Jen, Pete, Dot, and Meg. This idea just wouldn't let me alone. There will be sequels, but I thought this needed to be its own little fic. Dot, you'll get your wish in the next one.
Date: December 20, 2001
Disclaimer: All Smallville characters belong to Warner Bros., DC Comics and/or Tollin-Robbins; all Angel characters belong to Mutant Enemy, Fox, Sandollar, Greenwolf Productions and a bunch of others who are not me. I do not own them and do not intend any infringement on their copyright.
"Night rushes down, and headlong drives the day:
Tis here, in different paths, the way divides;
The right to Pluto's golden palace guides;
The left to that unhappy region tends,
Which to the depth of Tartarus descends;
The seat of night profound, and punish'd fiends."
ll. 725-730, The Sixth Book of the Aeneid, Virgil
Lex sat in the Red Carpet Club lounge at the United terminal of LAX.
He hadn't been in a public terminal at an airport in more years than he could remember. Everywhere the Luthors flew, they used a private, corporate jet.
Yet here he was, ensconced in a leather wing chair, reading the Financial Times, waiting for Clark.
He was picking someone up at the airport.
Another first in his romantic career. And very significant, considering he hadn't even gotten to first base with Clark, wasn't even sure Clark knew about first base.
He sighed and ran a hand over his scalp, a gesture left over from the days when he'd first lost his hair, and hoped like crazy to feel some sign of stubble or growth. Now, just a casual, secretly comforting reflex.
At least he'd gotten Clark upgraded to first class. Jonathan Kent, stubborn as a mule, had refused to let him pay for Clark's ticket, refused to let his boy set foot on a LutherCorp jet at all, lest he be tainted by mere proximity. Lex was amazed the Kents were letting their son come to Los Angeles at all, even if it was on an interview with UCLA. The fact that Lex had pulled some strings to get freshman Clark an interview for a summer journalism program that normally only took juniors and seniors was never discussed, though he figured Clark at least had an inkling.
They'd reluctantly agreed to let him "chaperone" Clark, since they could only afford the one ticket (and if they'd let him handle it, he supposed he'd have had to fly at least Martha out, and where was the fun in that?), and he was planning on making the most of it. He was going to show Clark all the delights money could buy. He still couldn't get over Clark's refusal of his gifts; he had the secret, niggling hope that Clark liked him in spite of his money, rather than because of it.
That aberration, so rare in Lex's experience, was enough to make him want to give Clark the world. The whole life-saving business, coupled with the boy's amazing beauty, was just icing.
A sharp voice broke into his reverie.
"I'm telling you, Wesley, it's not here. Your great evil is so not lurking in the Red Carpet Club lounge at LAX."
"Fine," said a British voice. "I'll remain here whilst you search wherever you feel is the most appropriate hiding place for a Thal demon." He cringed internally; the man sounded like too many of his headmasters at Eton. Sliding down in the chair and peering out from behind his newspaper, he thought this had the makings of an interesting conversation. Two seemingly rational people discussing demons of all things. Demons at the airport. He might have to fly commercial more often.
"Oh, no you don't, Wesley. Remember your division of labor? Big, strong man goes to fight bad guys. Meek, little woman sits in red velvet comfort and waits."
Lex grinned at that. She didn't sound at all meek, and she was far from little. He cast his gaze over her curves appreciatively.
The man, Wesley, sighed in exasperation. "Bollocks. You're more than capable of taking on this demon, Cordelia."
Cordelia? Lex thought. No, couldn't be. He looked at her profile, and God, it was her. She'd grown into a beautiful woman, one who wasn't going to let her escort push her around.
She smiled blindingly. "You really think so?"
"Yes. Your training is coming along marvelously. And it's barely out of the larval stage. So--" Wesley made shooing motions.
Cordelia frowned. "But Wesley, these are my new Prada shoes. They cost me a week's salary - which, by the way, I still have not been paid, boss." This last word dripped with sarcasm.
Wesley opened his mouth and then closed it with a snap. Lex could tell he was used to Cordelia and resigned to his fate. She obviously hadn't changed much since he'd known her. "Very well. If I'm not back in half an hour, call Angel." And he stalked off, clutching an odd-shaped duffel bag that clanked with every step.
Cordelia sighed and put a hand to her head. She was beautiful, but she did look tired.
He folded his newspaper and stood. "May I buy the lady a drink?" he asked.
She looked up, startled. "Oh. My. God," she exclaimed. "A Luthor in an airport lounge? Hell really has frozen over."
He laughed and held out a hand, which she took, and pulled him in for a hug. He noticed the strength of her arms and the beginnings of calluses on her palm. She felt good pressed against him for a moment -- comforting. She still smelled the same -- expensive haircare products and fine, French-milled soap -- though it had to be seven or eight years since he'd last seen her. She rarely wore perfume, complaining that it made her sinuses act up. The scent reminded him of being fourteen again, and fumbling for kisses in the dark while his hands tangled in her long, dark hair.
"You cut your hair," he said, pulling back to look at her.
There were shadows under her eyes, the clear hazel marked with a depth and sorrow he'd never have expected from a girl like Cordelia Chase.
She'd been the little fish in a big pond at summer camp, her family rich by most American standards, but barely noticeable to a Luthor. His father hadn't liked the connection, which had only made it more exciting when he was fourteen. That had been their last year at camp and he hadn't seen her again. Never expected to, really, with her father being stupid enough to get caught by the IRS -- for tax evasion, of all things. Chase Industries had gone belly-up three years ago. He'd watched his father partake in its deconstruction with malevolent glee, snapping up factory space and moving into the markets left vacant by its demise.
Cordelia had to work for a living now.
"Yeah," she said, reminding him that he'd spoken, one hand going to her hair. "It kind of got in the way."
He turned her palm up and thumbed the calluses, noting her sharp intake of breath. "You've taken up fencing?"
"I know my way around a sword, yeah," she answered, and there was no teasing double-entendre in her voice.
"My instructor kicks my ass," he confided.
Another smile, this time rueful. "Mine still tries to treat me like a girl sometimes. But I showed him. Can't always rely on the big, strong man to save me, now can I?"
"No, I guess not." He shifted away slightly, though still kept her hand in his possession. He was good at knowing when people wanted something, and he'd approached her, after all, yet there was no hint of supplication in her voice, no unspoken question asking him for help.
He held up a hand and a waitress appeared as if by magic. He looked at Cordelia. "Coffee?" She nodded; he turned to the waitress and said, "Two, please. Black, no sugar." Then he led Cordelia to one of the loveseats scattered about the lounge.
"I heard about your parents," he said.
Her lips twisted into a bitter grimace. He'd forgotten how expressive her face was. "Yeah. I try to forget about that. I've got my own life now, here in LA. Away from Sunnyhell."
He choked on a laugh. "That bad?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Thinking of the superstrong farm boy winging his way out to LA, and Chloe's Wall of Weird in the Torch office, he said, "You never know. I might."
The waitress brought their coffee, and Cordelia took a sip, wrinkling her nose at the bitter, black liquid. "So, what are you doing here?"
An obvious change of subject. He could do that. It's not like he wanted to air his dirty linen to someone he hadn't seen in seven years, either.
"At the airport?"
"Oh." He laughed in self-deprecation. "Meeting a friend. He's never been to LA before. His flight's been delayed." She raised an eyebrow but said nothing. "And you? Looking for 'great evil?' he teased.
"Well, obviously I was wrong about the lack of evil," she answered. "You're here." But another of those stunning smiles and a hand on his arm took the sting from her words. "Maybe I exaggerated a little," she continued, leaning into him. "I work for a detective agency now. Some of our cases are -- unusual."
"Really? Interesting." She opened her mouth and he said, "I've already got several private investigations firms on retainer."
She laughed again, but this time it ended with a sigh. "Well, if you've ever got -- unusual -- needs," and he wondered what a Thal demon was, and what the hell it was doing at the airport, "here's our card."
He took it and slipped into his pocket, wondering what forces had combined to make Cordelia Chase into this intriguing woman. She certainly wasn't the vapid starlet he'd been expecting when he decided to speak to her. He knew she'd been raised to be the wife of a man like himself, educated, pampered, bred to be the queen of whatever social gathering she attended. And now she was learning to use a sword and working for a private investigator.
They'd both done some growing up, he thought, and she was probably the better for it.
She opened her mouth to say something, and suddenly her hand clenched around the delicate coffee cup she'd been given, crushing it and spraying the hot brew all over her, him and the couch.
She didn't seem to notice. Her face was drawn into a rictus of pain and she let out a loud shriek that died away to quiet, pained whimpering.
"Cordelia. Cordelia!" he said, feeling the panic begin to rise, the same helplessness he'd felt when Cassandra had died, clutching his hand. He hadn't had an asthma attack since the meteor shower, but the tightness in his chest was making breathing difficult.
She went limp on the sofa, breathing heavily, and he could see the sweat soaking her hair at the temples.
"Phone," she croaked, and he fumbled in her handbag for her cell phone. She smiled weakly and took it from him, pressing a button and tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for the call to go through. He clutched the purse like a lifeline, unaware of anything but the soft leather in his white-knuckled grip and the fact that Cordelia appeared to be all right.
The waitress hurried over to clean up the mess and he waved her off. Cordelia didn't even seem to notice.
Cordelia spoke urgently into the phone. "Angel. ... Yeah. Wesley's on it. I -- yeah. ... No, I'm not alone. ... An old friend. ... No. No one you know. ... Not from Sunnydale. Can we stop with the third degree? ... Tonight. Place called Cruciato. ... No, I didn't need to know that. ... Typical. Big, ugly, never seen 'em before. Lots of chanting and slime."
She held out a hand and Lex gave her the purse. She pulled out a bottle of Advil and fumbled with it. He took it from her and opened it, tapping out two orange tablets into her open palm, and then giving her his cup of coffee. She tossed her head back and swallowed, and he found himself momentarily mesmerized by the sleek line of her throat, bared to him. Her voice snapped him out of his daze. "As soon as Wesley gets back. Okay. ... Be careful."
She turned to look at him, taking in the shards of china and the coffee staining both of them. He could feel the fear wafting off her suddenly, and her eyes, which had been wide and focused on his face, dropped. "Oh," she whispered. "Your pants -- those are Armani, right? I, send me the bill for the dry-cleaning. I --"
He forced a smile. "I hardly think you need to pay for my dry cleaning, Cordelia." He brushed her hair off her forehead, and felt his smile become genuine as she closed her eyes and exhaled loudly. "What just happened?"
Her eyes flew open, searching his face intently. "Migraines. I get migraines and--"
"And you call your boss to make plans to go to S&M clubs immediately following?"
She licked her lips, eyes once again downcast. "It's complicated."
"Did you see something?" he pressed. "Was it about me?"
"Not everything is about you, Lex," she said tartly, and he could see her beginning to return to her old self. "What do you know about Cruciato?"
"What did you see?"
"Who's to say I saw anything?"
"Cordelia Chase, you're a lousy liar. You always have been."
She nodded in acknowledgement. "Remember when I said you wouldn't believe me if I told you? This is one of those things."
"You see the future?"
She pursed her lips, and he could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she decided what to tell him. "Sort of. Sometimes. Sometimes it's the past. Mostly it's people in trouble. People that we help."
"You weren't in a place called Smallville, Kansas about twelve years ago October, were you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
She just looked puzzled. "No. Why?" Then her eyes lit in recognition. "Oh. The meteor shower thing? Where you lost your hair, right?"
"Right." She'd never been afraid to talk about it, he remembered. It was part of what made her a lousy liar, and also a large part of her charm -- the filter between Cordelia's brain and mouth didn't quite function the way most people's did, and she had no qualms about blurting out whatever she was thinking at any given moment. It had not endeared her to Lionel upon their one meeting.
"Apparently, a lot of other weird stuff has happened there over the years," he continued. "So, I might not be as surprised as you think."
"The long and short of it? Demons and vampires are real. They want to kill us all. Or impregnate us. Or make us slaves. It all depends. I get visions, we go out and kill the demons. On rare occasions, we get paid."
He blinked. That was a little stranger than what he'd been expecting, but he was willing to roll with it. "Can you see my future?"
She snorted. "I told you, not everything revolves around you or the mighty Luthor clan. There are bigger forces at work in the world." She stood and he rose with her.
He bit back the sarcastic words that sprung to his lips. He'd asked for it, after all, and she was known for never pulling her punches. It was just odd to go from being the most important, most hated man in town to being apparently unimportant in the grand scheme of things. "I don't accept that. I'm going to do great things, Cordelia. Great things."
"I'm sure you are, Lex." She cupped his cheek gently, and he was amazed she wasn't bleeding from all the shattered glass. "You always were a good guy, despite what the press thinks. But, you know, 'More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,' and all that. If I ever see anything about you, you can be sure I'll let you know."
She was on the verge of saying something else when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. "Flight 1514 from Metropolis is arriving at Gate C15."
"That's Clark's flight," he said.
"I guess you'll be going then," she replied, hugging him. Her hand briefly caressed the back of his head, where he'd always been sensitive, and he shivered. She pressed her lips to his cheek lightly and murmured, "Be careful, Lex. It was good to see you."
"You, too, Cordy. Take care."
He was walking away when she said, "S&M club, huh? Do I want to know how you know that?"
He turned and smirked. "Probably not. But you'd make an excellent dominatrix. It'd pay for your shoe habit, anyway."
As he exited the lounge, he saw the Brit walk in, still clanking. His shoes were covered with slime and the cuffs of his pants were now shredded, but he looked pleased with himself. "The Thal is no more," he announced. Then, more softly, casting furtive looks in Lex's direction, he said, "Cordelia, isn't that Lex Luthor?"
He paused briefly, out of sight, to hear the rest of the conversation. "Yes, it is."
"I do hope you didn't badger him for money."
"Badger him?" Cordelia huffed. "We went to summer camp together. You know, I did have a life before I got sucked into this whole undead freakshow. Anyway, I had a vision. We've got to get back to the office. Things are happening tonight --"
Her voice faded as he walked along the terminal to Gate C15.
Clark was the first one off the plane, bursting with coltish energy as he walked through the jet way door, overnight bag slung over his shoulder. He immediately picked Lex out of the crowd and made his way to the pillar where he stood.
"Lex! They upgraded me to first class. It was so cool. I don't think I could have made it without the legroom."
Lex smiled; at least one of the Kents appreciated his generosity. He patted Clark on the back. "Let's go. I have an appointment with my lawyers in a little bit, but you can come along. Lilah will know all the hot places to go -- we can ask her for some recommendations. I haven't been in LA in months."
"Yes. She's been working for my father for a few years. And then maybe we'll stop at a club called Cruciato. How's that sound?"
"Whatever you want, Lex. It's your show." Lex's smile turned smug as he led Clark to his Porsche.
"You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that, Clark."
And the seduction began.