Nothing is Ever Simple
(Disclaimer: The Smallville characters are not mine. I'm extremely grateful to PepperJackCandy for the beta. This was written for the svundercover challenge, 1000-1500 words "Someone makes a proposition.")
I know how to soothe a man in a temper.
That's all it was, at the beginning. Lionel's electronic reader smashed on the stone steps. He was furious and frustrated, clenching angry hands on his silver-handled cane as if wishing he could strangle it. He held his head high, for pride's sake, but I could see how rough his breathing was, how near he stood to screams or sobs of rage.
I said something sympathetic. I don't remember what. He looked startled. Fair enough. Blind as he was, he hadn't known I'd witnessed his outburst. I read him his newspaper, and we chatted. He looked grateful, almost shocked. You'd think nobody had ever given him a kind word before.
We talked about LuthorCorp and the stock market. He complained about his physical therapy, and the young men Lex hired to assist him. We reminisced about the Metropolis Opera. I checked my watch and said I should be going, and he offered me a job.
I dutifully told him I'd have to consult my husband first, but I already knew I wanted this. We desperately needed the money, and it was a wonderful opportunity to finally put my education to use. When I discussed it that night with Jonathan, every word I said was true.
I found Lionel surprisingly likable; he wasn't an unreasonable boss at all. I don't know why his previous assistants had failed. He had the nerve it takes to live here, as well. When poor Byron attacked his helicopter and broke his collarbone, he took it all in stride, as an unavoidable part of doing business in Smallville.
That damn collarbone was my downfall. The doctor said he had the bones of a man half his age, but he would have to wear a sling for four weeks. He needed me more than ever, and he was still so grateful and surprised-looking at every helpful gesture. Even blind, disoriented, and in pain, his manners were impeccable, just like his son's. I found his refusal to whine endearing. He didn't get cranky and hard-to-please, as hurt men generally do, but rather distant and quiet.
It was such a contrast with Jonathan's behavior. He felt neglected, justifiably so, I suppose. It certainly didn't help that Clark and I had gone against him, taking money from my father. Every day I spent at home after Dad's visit, I felt like such a cringing, unreasonable fool. At work I always felt needed, competent, and appreciated.
The difference was even clearer after Jonathan broke his leg. He really should get rid of that antique. A good secondhand tractor would pay for itself in two years, with the time and expense of repairs he'd avoid. He could have made Clark help him. He could even let Clark just pull the damn plow, after dark if necessary, which Clark has offered repeatedly. And he always greets me, "Hi, Beautiful," as if my looks were all that I am. No. He doesn't mean it that way. Never mind.
I tried to avoid temptation. I offered to quit, to stay home and fulfill my farmwife obligations. Then Jonathan got all politically-correct about it, and encouraged me to keep the job. Oh, well. There's no point blaming him. He's the man I married, and I knew what I was getting into.
When Lionel's arm came out of the sling, they gave him a refill on his pain medication. They were accustomed to patients who tried to over-do as soon as possible. There, Lionel was no different, and his blindness didn't help. I came into the study that evening with some paperwork, and found him drinking. I reminded him the doctor had said not to mix those pills with alcohol. His expression was distant. Turning towards me, he flinched with pain and stopped.
"I only had one brandy, Martha. Two, rather." He drained his glass.
"Oh, Lionel," I scolded.
He smiled then. He had so many different smiles. This one was just sunny. He was happy to have me there, scolding him. That's when I was lost.
It was lovely. I decided I'd have no regrets. Afterwards, it was easy to clean Lionel up and straighten his clothing as he lay sleeping on the sofa. I wasn't sure if he'd remember. The medicine and liquor had him pretty looped. It might be easier if he didn't.
I was seated decorously at the desk, getting the annual report ready for his review, when he awakened. He blinked hard and looked confused. He was adorable. I reminded him again what the doctor had said about the medication and alcohol, and smilingly asked if he'd had a nice nap.
I know how to lie, too. I'll see to it that Clark improves.
Three weeks later, I knew I'd miscalculated. I tried to believe it was just age, but I don't lie to myself, and I knew better. Even in high school, when my behavior certainly would have warranted a few, I've never had a pregnancy scare.
It still could have been Jonathan's. I had always assumed our infertility was my fault, mostly because of my prior history, but no doctor had ever contradicted me. Maybe they didn't dare accuse Jonathan of such a lack. The Kent temper is legendary.
I was probably carrying Lionel Luthor's child. I built my lies carefully. There were secrets to keep this secret behind. With a day's warning, I even managed to fool poor Ryan. I wish he'd lived. He'd have gotten my last secret from me eventually, but I still wish he'd lived and we'd kept him. I couldn't help wanting the baby, either. God knows an abortion is easy enough to get, but I've always loved babies. What did it matter whose it was?
Meanwhile, life at LuthorCorp also took a turn for the dramatic. Lex had private investigators spying on Lionel, so Lionel had the mansion's office bugged. He blatantly used the insider-information that got him, so Lex would find out. They'd always played this game. Unfortunately, Lex's countermove went wrong, and people got killed. I found out a number of important things I hadn't known before, and Lionel remembered everything he'd forgotten.
I still could have kept that secret if I hadn't clung to him in the face of gunfire.
After that, I flat-out told Jonathan I was quitting. He said we should stay close to the Luthors, play their own game! He was cute when he thought he was being smart. I agreed with him to his face, but I didn't go back, and I wouldn't return Lionel's calls. I was starting to see what I'd done, even before Ethan shot him.
I knew it wasn't Jonathan. If he ever found out, he'd use a rifle, not that fancy little pistol Ethan used. He'd either turn himself in right away, or disappear into the back-country for years. He'd never take a drunken nap right here in the same county, afterwards. Most importantly, he'd have made sure Lionel was dead.
There were lives depending on my ability to lie. If Ethan had heard enough to know that Jonathan was the man to frame, then my secrets were fraying at the edges.
I spent every minute I could steal at Lionel's bedside. I put it around that it was work-related, but town-talk didn't matter after the shooting. There was enough already. I kept my ears open at the hospital. I knew about his liver almost as soon as he did. I was sure his sight was returning by my second visit; I remembered having thought he was a hell of a shot for a blind man. I had to assume he'd seen everything Clark did at LuthorCorp Tower. I visited Ethan in jail, and found out about the blackmail plot. It wasn't a shock. I've always known how people do business in Metropolis.
When Lionel was discharged, I came to him in the mansion. I stroked his ragged hair back from his forehead and told him about himself. He looked at me, for the first time without dissembling, and I smiled. He was still in pain from the shooting and the kidney shutdown, and he was miserable with the new knowledge of his own mortality. I almost loved him. He asked if I intended to try blackmail, and I wholeheartedly denied it.
I made him a proposition. I'd keep all his secrets, forever, and he'd keep all of mine.
He thought it was a good bargain. I could see it in his eyes. "Seal it with a kiss," he challenged, and I smiled at him again. We sealed it with considerably more than a kiss. He wanted to make me want to stay, and I took him as far as his poor battered body would allow.
We lay together for some time, and I whispered to him, secrets he'd sworn, now, to keep. I watched the horror start to drown the joy, and kissed him once again, and went back to my life.