Like Father, Like Son
A/N: I haven't updated anything in over a month partly due to lack of time and drive, so this is my first attempt to getting back into writing after quite the dry spell. Parts didn't necessarily turn out as planned, and I strayed a little from my initial plans, so this very well become a twelve chapter story instead of the original eleven. This one's all about Luthor family politics, fun, fun, fun. So bear with me through any rough spots, as they are bound to be there, because I am a little rusty, but it should definitely pick up from here. Remember this takes place mid-season 3, and if you've made it this far then thanks and as always I am a feedback junky and it is much appreciated. Now on to the story and thanks for your patience.
6: Like Father, Like Son
“This better be good,” Lex hissed warningly as he leaned back in his creaky, slightly shoddy office chair, his expression cold and stern. “Normally I wouldn’t have even let you step one foot in the door of this place, but you said it was important.”
“It is,” Mason grunted, taking it upon himself to lower his bulky frame into one of the decidedly less comfortable chairs across from the annoyed billionaire. Lex just looked on, less than impressed.
He was not a happy man, Lex Luthor. Personal business was always to be kept separate from his corporate dealings. Having his private investigator even in the vicinity of the LuthorCorp plant in Smallville, let alone inside the building, was not proper protocol in his books. He had been left with little recourse though. Mason had declared that this meeting was to be a far more revealing one than those previous and he couldn’t really have this talk at the manor, considering the subject of his investigation was currently residing upstairs from his study.
So now he was forced to resort to back alley meetings, figuratively speaking, to hide his private goings on from both his father and his new wife. He was forced to slum it in the bowels of his own factory just so his conversation wouldn’t be overheard by opposing parties. This was not how he had wanted to spend his day. He wished he could just blame his discomfort all on Willow, but in truth these machinations and secret meetings were nothing new to him and would always be a part of his life, at least as long as his father lived and breathed.
Sitting in a room that had once been part of the labs on the lower level of the plant, which now was unused office space, Lex’s glare never wavered from the graying, perspiring older man across from him. His normally intimidating stare did little to scare the man, too used to his ways to feel shaken from a simple cold look.
“Well,” he prompted, glancing down at his expensive watch with obvious irritation. “You had something for me?”
“I finally made some progress on your girl,” Mason said gruffly.
“So I assumed,” Lex sneered dryly.
“She’s a difficult one, that girl,” the older man admitted with an almost proud half smile. “Someone has made damn sure that her past was buried as deep as they could shovel it, but there are always records, a paper trail. No one is completely untraceable.”
“What did you find?” he asked lowly, his tone hiding the uneasiness he felt inside.
“Take a look,” Mason replied, tossing him a small file which Lex caught easily, a little perturbed by his lax manner.
“What is this?” Lex grunted as he glanced over the papers inside, not seeing much of interest on the surface. These just all seemed to be basic facts about her family, where she grew up, where she went to school. Nothing out of the ordinary jumped out at him.
“Her hometown,” Mason explained blandly. “You have no idea how long it took me to even dig that up.”
“So she’s from some nowhere town in California, what good does this do me?” Lex snapped, pushing himself angrily out of his chair and staring down at the man impatiently, but Mason appeared unfazed.
“Willow Rosenberg, resident of one Sunnydale, California,” he began, not moving to stand but instead leaning back as much as he could in his seat, settling in. “Graduated at the top of her class from Sunnydale High School.”
“And?” Lex interrupted with a hard glare.
“During her graduation, were you aware that her school, well for lack of a better word, blew up?” he asked with a smug grin.
“What?” Lex replied dumbly, his eyes darting back to the paperwork in front of him.
“Oh yeah,” Mason smirked, “Authorities said it was some problem with the gas line or something. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. That town could compete with Smallville for the highest number of strange occurrences, and your girl was at the center of most of them. Trouble seemed to follow her everywhere she went. But I can’t exactly drive into town and question the residents about her.”
“She said something on the flight to Metropolis,” Lex remembered, struggling to recover the memory. “Something about her hometown, that there was some sort of explosion, trouble with the—gas main?”
“Seems to be common around there,” Mason sneered with a disbelieving roll of the eyes. “We’re not talking your everyday explosion, though. This didn’t just take out an acre or two, and it didn’t just level some buildings. We’re talking the entire town, from downtown to the county line, gone. Not just gone, but buried in a sinkhole the size of Rhode Island. I’ve never seen damage like that before.”
“I never heard about anything like this,” Lex murmured in astonishment.
“Apparently an entire town falling into itself barely rated a blip on the Los Angeles evening news,” he scoffed. “Someone went to a lot of trouble to make sure this story got buried.”
Lex’s hands gripped the folder tightly, an uneasy feeling settling in his chest as he absorbed what he had been told. He ran a hand over his face, all the while keeping his cool, calm, and professional exterior, but he was willing to bet that Mason could see his worry plainly. If anything the smug half smirk on the older man’s face told him as much.
“Is there anything else?” he asked, lips thinned.
“I’m working on it,” Mason declared with a nonchalant drawl, leaning back in his rickety chair as far as he could comfortably manage.
“Well work harder,” Lex pressed, his legendary cool, calm and controlled exterior slipping. “I have a feeling my father knows far more than you do and that is unacceptable.”
“And your father probably has an army of guys on the case,” the investigator snapped a bit testily. “I’m just one man. I’m not all-knowing. And I could use some extra eyes and ears. You want faster progress; you either get me some help or pay me better.”
“You’d be wise never to speak to me like that again,” his frustration wearing on his polished façade. “Do your job or I will dismiss you. I can imagine the field day my father would have with you once you are no longer under my protection. I can almost smell the blood in the air. And if you ever give me an ultimatum again I’ll personally hand you to my father without a second thought. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Mr. Luthor,” Mason replied contritely, the smug smirk vanishing from his now reddened face.
“I expect you to report back to me in two days,” Lex continued, feeling more composed now that his rush of anger had passed. “And I expect progress. Find out who was behind the cover up, or I feed you to the wolves.”
“Yes sir,” he nodded, meeting Lex’s stony glare unflinchingly before slowly pulling himself up from his chair and eyeing the younger man warily. Turning his back on the younger Luthor, he made his way to the door, opening it silently and pausing just as he stepped through the threshold. Glancing over his broad shoulder, that smirk returned, though the earlier amusement had leeched out.
“You know,” he mused as Lex looked on with a vague sense of curiosity. “This is the first time I’ve really noticed the family resemblance.” And with that he disappeared into the hall.
Lex remained in the barren room, his expression unchanged but his mind cluttered. Mason’s statement, while meant to wound, was hardly inaccurate and as he thought over his actions, not just as of late but his entire life, he felt a familiar queasiness. It truly was his destiny it seemed. No matter how hard he fought it. Apparently he couldn’t escape his fate, couldn’t stop from turning into the man he despised. Undoubtedly his father was waiting for that day with eager glee. And Lex feared it was only a matter of time.
But he made no move to stop this, his prying, his threatening. He couldn’t. It was for her own good, he swore. He had to protect this innocent woman from the schemes of his father. It wasn’t because she was a mystery to him. It wasn’t because he was curious, becoming almost desperately so.
Chloe was intrigued.
It certainly wasn’t unheard of. Her curiosity knew no bounds and this was by no means the first time her suspicions had been raised by some rather innocuous conversation and general feelings of wariness, but she could not simply let it go uninvestigated.
When she read that Lex had once again had the misfortune of tying the knot, she had been sure that the woman who had attached herself to him was just some gold-digging hussy after some quick and easy cash. Hush money can be quite lucrative. But no, there was no quicky divorce and handsome settlement. Instead Lex trotted the new Mrs. Luthor home to introduce to all of Smallville.
That alone was strange enough to belong on her wall of weird.
Still, her natural curiosity was not assuaged when the new couple returned to town. Instead, she found herself even more intrigued. From what she heard from the gossips in town, no to little money had changed hands between the pair. Willow asked for no money and Lex, while he undoubtedly offered to pay for things now and again, had been turned down by his new bride. There was no divorce, ergo no divorce settlements to speak of.
So that scratched off money-grubbing skank from her list of theories for Lex’s sudden nuptials. Plus Willow didn’t really have a skank-vibe. Now Desiree Atkins, that woman gave the word a whole new meaning.
Another rather puzzling fact was Lionel Luthor’s reaction to Lex’s rash actions. She had thought about the whole situation thoroughly. Lex, who while occasionally dubious in his actions was brilliant but prone to bad luck and bad judgment, and while on a business trip manages to get completely trashed and hook up with some apparently random woman. Lex and said woman take part in Las Vegas’ noted pastime, getting married while drunk off your ass. Lionel Luthor, unscrupulous and ruthless in business as well as life, hears of his son’s antics and swiftly sweeps the mess under the rug, arranging for a quick and quiet divorce and ensuring it by paying the woman a suitable sum to keep her mouth shut.
But no, instead of Lionel stepping in and fixing the P.R. nightmare, he arranges a press conference and shows off his new daughter-in-law to the entire world shamelessly. Chloe couldn’t even begin to understand how Lionel Luthor thought; the mere act of trying gave her a headache.
There was the extremely off chance that Lionel, sick of covering for Lex’s mistakes and missteps, was taking a stand and refusing to help Lex, leaving the younger Luthor to fix this debacle of massive proportions on his own. But Chloe seriously doubted that. Lionel would never allow anything that could potentially harm the reputation of LuthorCorp to go on like he was. And he damn well wouldn’t be celebrating it. Hell, the way he had been acting she was surprised he didn’t throw the happy couple a belated wedding shower.
Lionel’s behavior was strange, but Willow herself had Chloe even more confused.
This was a girl who, from what she had seen and observed the short time they spent together, seemed to have no attachment or feeling for Lex Luthor, good or bad. She was there in Smallville, dutifully playing the role of Lex’s wife, but playing it what is looked like. While she and Lex, as rumors and Lana told it, were friendly together, they weren’t close. Their entire relationship was off. Lex wasn’t acting strangely or out of the ordinary as he did with Desiree. He wasn’t overtly caring or besotted like with Helen. He was just…Lex. This was no man in love. And Willow was most definitely not a woman in love.
Thinking back to their conversation in the Torch, and how abruptly Willow had ended it, Chloe bit her bottom lip in thought. Willow didn’t think of herself as a Luthor, no matter that legally she supposed that was her new name. When Chloe had brought it up, in apology for saying something offensive about all Luthors in general, Willow had simply shrugged it off and said she was only “technically” a Luthor. It didn’t sound like her new name would be a permanent feature.
So if Willow didn’t marry Lex for his money, then why was she still with him when they obviously were not in love, or even in lust for that matter? And why hadn’t Lex simply divorced the woman who he hadn’t even known two weeks ago and put an end to a loveless, and seemingly pointless, marriage? And what the hell was Lionel Luthor so happy about?
Left with more questions than answers, Chloe was determined to find them on her own, if only to soothe her nagging curiosity. Besides, if she found anything suspicious on Willow’s behalf, or Lionel’s for that matter, then Lex deserved to know that he was being played. She rarely had any strong feelings when it came to Lex Luthor, but she knew he had not had the easy life that many believed he had. He had been unapologetically used and manipulated by family and the women in his life too many times to count. No one deserved that.
Besides, she more than anyone knew what it felt like to have your strings pulled by Lionel Luthor. And while she was almost tempted to believe that Willow may be an innocent party in yet another Luthor family game, Lionel was in no way innocent. Whatever was going on, undoubtedly he knew it all and was most likely playing puppet-master.
Leaning forward in her hard but slightly cushioned office chair, Chloe stared at the monitor of her computer in the Torch with a grim sort of determination. Researching the background of the wife of Lex wouldn’t be appreciated by many people. She ran the risk of not only Lex, but Willow, or even Lionel’s retribution if she found out something unsavory, not to mention the risk of alienating Clark and even Lana by digging into Lex’s personal life. Somehow she didn’t think Pete would mind. But for the sake of her sanity she couldn’t resist. Typing information into her top of the line computer, one donated by Lionel Luthor she recalled with a disgusted grimace, she began what could be a fateful search for the truth.
Night had long since fallen and Clark, and any of her other would-be detractors were long gone from the halls of Smallville High by now. Sitting in the solitude of the darkened Torch, Chloe still found herself hesitating momentarily.
She was putting herself in a dangerous situation. Lionel had warned her explicitly. If he ever caught her digging into the past of a member of his family again, like she had done with Lex, a “computer glitch would be the least of her worries”. But she dared to defy the billionaire. Her journalistic curiosity and skepticism could not be dissuaded.
And if she could manage to find something during her search that could pull the rug out from under Lionel Luthor’s smug feet, even better.
“Late night, Miss Sullivan?” came the low, almost pleasantly deep voice from over her shoulder, causing the startled girl to jump and a slow, cold sliver of dread settled into the pit of her stomach at the sound of it.
Turning her head abruptly, Chloe immediately drew back, unprepared for Lionel Luthor’s weathered but intimidating face to be in such close proximity. He was leaning over at the waist, face eye level with the glimmering computer screen and only inches away from Chloe herself.
Following his stony gaze, Chloe silently cursed her horrid luck. She had been taken so off guard that she had no time to clear the screen and Willow’s name was still pasted on the screen, the letters glaring at her accusingly. She didn’t bother to close the window or open a different file in haste, knowing it was pointless. Lionel had already seen what she had been up to and there was no use playing dumb now.
“You seem to have a reckless disregard for direct orders, Miss Sullivan,” he mused as he straightened back to his full height, his expensive suit and tie unwrinkled despite his previous state. “I distinctly remember warning you that there would be consequences if I ever caught you investigating a member of my family again.”
“Mr. Luthor—” she stammered, hoping to explain herself but for once unable to come up with an excuse for her behavior.
“I don’t appreciate insolence,” Lionel said, his voice had a dreadfully dark tone to it. “And yet you seem so determined to disobey me,” he sighed with feigned regret as he sidled casually to the empty desk across from her own and leaning against it, maintaining his superior air. “I arranged for you to have a column at the Daily Planet, funded the rebuilding and upgrading of the journalism department, aided you at every turn, and yet you cannot seem to follow simple directives. It is rather disappointing, Miss Sullivan.”
“Why are you here?” she asked tonelessly, knowing it was pointless to argue. He had caught her red-handed.
“Not going to defend yourself?” he questioned with obvious amusement. Her lips failed to twist in laughter, “Straight to the point then. I have a job for you.”
“I already told you I’m not giving you anymore information on Clark,” she repeated a familiar phrase, one that seemed to come up anytime they spoke.
“Clark is not the subject of my inquiry, Miss Sullivan,” Lionel rebuffed her effortlessly. An uneasy feeling crept over Chloe as she stared down the man who had done nothing but manipulate her for months. “You are in luck. I am willing to overlook your obvious disregard of my previous demands.”
“Why?” Chloe asked warily, distrust shining in her eyes as a small smile touched on Lionel’s lips.
“Because the person I want you investigate is my new daughter-in-law,” he informed her with a flash of a malevolent grin.
“Why would you want my help?” she questioned with blatant skepticism. “You can afford the best private investigators in the world. What can I do that they can’t? Or are you becoming cheap and are tired of actually paying people to do your dirty work for you now?”
“Funny,” he smirked dryly. “But you underestimate your abilities. What can you do that they cannot?” he repeated with dramatic flare. “You can get close to her. You can become her friend. You are no fool, Miss Sullivan, despite your rather foolish behavior at times. I know much about my son’s new houseguest. And I know there is more to discover. But she is guarded around me—”
“Smart girl,” she sneered, and he eyed with a tolerant stare, as if she were nothing but a child.
“But she would not suspect a high school girl of any…nefarious…intentions, I think. No, you most definitely can do something my people cannot,” he smiled tightly as Chloe’s expression became more closed off and withdrawn.
“I won’t do it,” she denied, arms crossed over her chest defiantly.
“You have taken an awfully high moral stance considering you were in the process of delving into her past just minutes ago,” he reminded her with an arrogant sneer. “Very hypocritical of you.”
“I don’t think you’re one to lecture about morality, Mr. Luthor,” Chloe bit out with palpable loathing.
“No need to insult my character,” he murmured, holding his hands out in a defensive position as he stood up and moved with slow calculation away from the desk he had been resting on. “Why should this bother you? You don’t know the girl. She means nothing to you. You and my son are hardly friends, so I doubt you are worried about hurting his feelings. Or are you worried what Mr. Kent would think of you if he found out you were prying into his best friend’s private life?” he said, metaphorically twisting the knife as he bit his lip almost shyly, his pleasure at taunting her obvious. “You have nothing to gain by defying me,” he whispered as he slipped past her and toward the shadowed doorway, “and everything to lose.”
“Maybe I don’t care anymore,” she countered weakly, standing as he moved by her and spinning on her heel to face him. “What makes you think I would ever agree to do this?” she asked incredulously.
Doing a background check was one thing, blatantly manipulating someone was another story entirely.
“You don’t have a choice,” he said cavalierly as he stepped out into the open, darkened hall, that small, terrible smile still pasted on his face. “Good evening, Miss Sullivan.”
Lionel Luthor disappeared into the shadows, but he did not take with him the horrible feeling that had taken root inside her. How long could she continue to allow herself to be his pawn? Was she really willing to mess with someone’s life like that just to keep their one-time partnership a secret? How long could she keep doing this to herself?
Falling back into the chair she just momentarily vacated, Chloe’s eyes closed in exhaustion and defeat. She was surrounded by questions lately, questions that had no quick and easy answers. But only she could answer these questions. The real question was, was she willing to pay the price for those answers? And could she afford not to?