SYNERGY
Part One: Mirror Ball

by Insomnikat

E-mail : katzouchka@rogers.com
Rating: PG
Spoilers: post-Exodus, pre-Third Season.
Summary: Alone they are weak, but together they are powerful. Can you crack their story? (Lionel/Lillian, Lex/Lana)
Disclaimer: Until the day I own DC comics and the WB, I am but a poor fanatic drunk on too much time.

BEFORE YOU READ: First of all, the title is roughly defined as the working together of two objects (in this case, people) whose combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. 95% of Synergy is comprised of scenes between two people. Though the story focuses primarily on the 'synergy' of Lionel/Lillian and Lex/Lana, it also explores the relationship of other pairings on the show (not necessarily the romantic ones, either). Other things you should know:
1. This is a semi - MYSTERY FIC. Questions are raised, plots unravel, and clues and hints are scattered throughout the story, which means it is recommended you...
2. READ CAREFULLY. And when you reach the end of the fic,
3. READ AGAIN, because it's a lot like a movie that, upon watching again, you gain better understanding and appreciation of how the pieces fit together, catching tidbits that make you go 'hello!' that you previously didn't notice before.
4. Unfortunately, there is no getting around the requirement of some HEAD SCRATCHING and PONDERING. It is part mystery, after all. But above all...
5. ENJOY! The author would like to emphasize the importance of heeding #2 and #3 by saying, "I may have written this, but it did not exempt me from 'ooh's and 'ahh's and 'I knew that!' when reading it in it's entirety."

* * * * * * * *


Welcome home.

That was what greeted him on the large banner hanging over the Talon as he drove up to it. For the hundredth time on the drive over, he considered turning back. Personally, he would've preferred hiding another day away in the mansion nursing his still-peeling sunburns. But she had insisted, and he had never turned down an invitation from her nor was about to start now.

He parked his Porsche in his regular spot in front of the shop. Lex didn't bother to give the banner a second glance as he strolled into the Talon and found itwell, 'dead' seemed rather profane after his recent ordeal. People were slumped all around the shop, dully watching the faded lights reflected from a mirror ball overhead sweep lazily across a small area of floor space cleared obviously for dancing. His entrance caused a few curious glances and some stirring from the crowd near the door, but little else. He spotted a familiar head of long dark hair among the cluster in the back near the DJ that was not yet aware of his arrival. Lex walked over.

"Lively party," he greeted as she whirled around to face him.

Lana looked down, embarrassed, and blushed accordingly. "Yeah, I guessif you were at a retirement home." She rolled her eyes and sighed, "but at least there they'd be playing bingo or doing some dancing."

She pursed her lips and gave her companion an approving once over. "You look better, Lex." Her eyes rose slowly to meet his and, with a husky near-whisper meant for his ears only, answered the unspoken question in his eyes.
"I'm glad you're here."

Lex nodded and gave her a slight smile. "Then so am I." Together, they stared around the bored room as a comfortable silence settled between them. It was four, maybe five minutes of tranquility before his overwhelming curiosity broke through. "So where's Clark?" he asked turning his head sideways to her. Lex stared hard at Lana to make sure she picked up on the real question being implied: Where was Clarkrelationship-wise?

Lana stiffened. She heard the real question loud and clear. And obviously, it was still an unpleasantly touchy subject. "You know him," she said, her tone cynical and accusing. "He never means it, but Clark always seems to keep us waiting."

Lex studied the displeasure on her face for a moment before looking away to the empty dance floor. "You know, now that he's back safe and sound, it's perfectly natural to want to throttle him with a piece of your mind." Wide, startled eyes darted at him as he continued, "Clark left you and broke your heart. There's no point trying to hide it when everyone can see it, Lana. Things can never go back to the way they were and you have every right to feel angry about it." A wicked grin crept across Lex's sunburned features then. "Besides, I have full confidence in your ability to at least dent the impenetrable Clark Kent should it come to a literal ass-kicking. After all, I trained you."

Lana was visibly stunned. It took her a second to recover and when she did, she shook her head and smiled. A pure, honest-to-goodness Lana Lang token smile. "The ever-wise Lex Luthor. Always bringing out the best in people." He raised a brow curiously at her, unsure if what he had just heard was sarcasm, and she allowed herself a good laugh. "I missed that about you."

He pouted mockingly. "Surely that's not all you missed."

"And who do you think this party is for?" she asked, feigning aghast.

"Clark, of course," he answered briskly, shoving his hands customarily into his pockets as he took another sweeping gaze at the bored crowd.

"It's every bit your party as it is his," said Lana, who was rather disappointed by his quick answer.

"So I gathered from the enthusiastic reception." He shrugged, but did not turn to see the inevitable embarrassment return to her face. He didn't like that look on her very much. "Don't worry about it, Lana. I was never a popular guy around town."

A group of guys near them were reaching for their jackets and getting up to leave. Their actions upset Lana and put a rather unpleasant frown on her face. Lex decided he preferred the embarrassed look better. He elbowed her lightly to get her attention. "Lana, I can't do anything about the bingo - frankly, I don't want to - but maybe I could do something about that other thing."

He winked at her and walked over to exchange a few words with the DJ. A minute later, the lights went out so that the mirror ball alone illuminated the shop. Lex crossed over the now-starry dance floor, murmurs and hushed whispers following in his wake as he made his way back to Lana and held a hand out to her. He raised his brow expectantly. "Shall we?"

*****

Thirty minutes later.

Clark burst into the Talon. "Sorry, I'm late! I ran into some"

He blinked once. Twice, so that his eyes could adjust to the dim lighting. The atmosphere in the Talon was humming with casual conversation and a melodic, jazzy tune. A handful of couples spotted the makeshift dance floor beneath the illuminated mirror ball. Clark took a seat at a table near the counter while his eyes locked and narrowed on the couple directly beneath the mirror ball.

"You have to admit, they look pretty good," said Chloe as she appeared by his side with a cup of punch in either hand. She offered one to Clark and smiled, raising her own cup in greeting. "Nice to see you decided to attend your own party."

"Now you know that's not true, Chloe," smiled Clark, accepting the cup and turning his gaze back to the couple on the dance floor. "This party is for Lex, too."

Chloe followed his gaze to the dance floor and a sly grin crept across her face. "Yes, well, at least one of you is making the best of what the welcoming committee's put out." She glanced sideways at him for some kind of reaction, but Clark merely continued to watch the couple dance as he brought the cup to his lips for a drink. However, something caught his eye in the next moment that caused his hand to involuntarily twitch and almost spill the cup. Lex had just casually tucked a loose strand of hair behind Lana's ear, leaned in and whispered something. They shared knowing smiles.

"Lana and Lex dance well." Clark commented with genuine surprise.

Chloe rolled her eyes and stalked off. "When you get those blinders off, Clark, let me know," she called over her shoulder. Clark frowned at her departing back and took another sip of his punch before getting up and making his way towards his two friends.

"Clark," Lana smiled uneasily to the approaching figure. Lex, who had his back to him, craned his neck and also smiled. But unlike Lana, his came easily and stress free. His hands dropped from Lana's side and they both turned to greet Clark.

He took an appreciative sweep of the decorated shop before resting his gaze on Lana. "This is some party."

"Thanks," she replied edgily, shifting a little behind her dance partner. "But if it weren't for Lex's quick thinking, it would've been a real bust."

The two men nodded to each other in greeting just as a new song began to play. Someone entering the shop immediately caught Lex's eye and caused his lips to purse into a thin line. His two companions did not notice. Clark was too busy trying to catch Lana's eye, who in turn was too busy sliding herself behind Lex to avoid meeting his gaze. Lex was made aware of the awkward situation when he felt a small hand press on his still painfully sensitive sunburned back. He winced, looked over his shoulder at her frightened figure and then at Clark. He understood now the request being conveyed through the tiny pressure being applied to the small of his back: shield me.

"May I cut in?" the younger man asked.

"I believe that's up to Lana," Lex grinned and stepped away so suddenly that Lana's eyes went wide in surprise. Her silent plea rejected, she had no choice but to look at Clark as he stretched his hand out to her hopefully.

"May I, Lana? Please."

She glanced nervously at Lex who nodded in encouragement. She bit her lower lip and, while still looking at Lex so as to delay meeting Clark's gaze as long as possible, hesitantly accepted the outstretched hand. You can't avoid him forever, she read in his eyes. Lex smirked in satisfaction and walked off the dance floor towards the figure now standing in a back corner.

"What do you want?" Lex demanded, his face transformed in the brief walk over to a mask of such cold hatred it would've frozen any other man on the spot.

The older man merely chuckled. "You know, I can't quite figure out why you go out of your way for theseteenagers. Luthors are not known for camaraderie and until moving here, you were hardly the exception. At first I thought it was because you lacked exposure to people in your appropriate age group." Lionel mused, tapping his lips thoughtfully with his index finger as a grin tugged the corner of his lips. "Hmm, but that's such a tawdry excuse for social ineptitude. Then I thought, perhaps you're merely trying to relive your adolescence."

"You can't miss what you never had," Lex spat, his chin lifted proud and defensively. "And my recovery is going well, Dad, thanks for asking."

Lionel pouted, sincerely hurt. "I thought my intentions here were obvious. Is it so terrible for a father to welcome his wayward son back amongst the living?"

"No. It's not," said Lex through gritted teeth and looked away. "But nothing will ever compare to your sending away." He felt exhausted all of a sudden and turned his eyes to the dance floor. Lex was not in the mood for this repartee with his father. The wounds were still too fresh.

Lionel took the moment's opportunity to study his son's rigid posture, taking note of the way he seemed to lean more dependently on his left foot, how the skin of his hand hanging loosely at his side had grown rough and calloused with more distinctly protruding veins, how the overexposure to sunlight still bestowed on his face a perpetually flushed look, and the premature creases for one so young that surrounded his extremely wary eyes. Lionel watched carefully as Lex's gaze wandered to the Smallville darling and the stress marks relented ever so slightly around the eyes. The months of exile from civilization had definitely hardened his son physically, but how much had it changed him psychologically? What price did he pay in order to survive?

Lex noticed the serious concentration directed his way from the corner of his eye and acknowledged it with a curt, "What?"

"Nothing," Lionel replied innocently and forced himself to look away. He pulled on his sleeve to check his watch. "Well, I must be off. Previous engagements to attend. I'm sure my presence will not be missed."

"Hardly," drawled Lex as he walked away - and Lionel observed - straight to the dark-haired youths he called 'friends.' It was decided even before Lionel stepped out onto the sidewalk that his file on the now equally intriguing Miss Lana Lang was in dire need of updating.

*****

The Torch.

Lionel walked into the local highschool newspaper and found Chloe standing before her notorious 'Wall of Weird.' She had not noticed his entrance and seemed deep in thought. Lionel came up behind her and was not surprised to see that the focus of her attention was a smiling photograph of Clark Kent.

"I see the subject's return has already begun to make you question your work," he said so suddenly it made the young woman jump. She whirled around just in time to see his smile dissolve into a mask of impassivity. "Don't ever doubt yourself, Miss Sullivan. It's unbecoming on you."

Her eyes fell momentarily to the ground before rising sheepishly back up at him. "I apologize, Mr. Luthor. You're early and...well, caught me by surprise." She walked past him to get to her table and retrieve a red manila folder. Chloe handed it to him for inspection. He flipped it open and began to skim the contents within. "It's a compilation of what I think Clark has been doing over the summer based on what's been said around town and articles from the Daily Planet and Inquisitor confirming some of the local hearsay."

"Interesting," Lionel said with quiet intrigue. "You believe Metropolis' mysterious do-gooder was our very own Clark Kent."

"Yes," Chloe answered confidently. "It's practically embedded in him to play the hero. I called it his 'savior complex.' "

Lionel skimmed through the papers once more before closing the folder with an air of satisfaction. "Impressive as usual, Miss Sullivan."

"Thank you," Chloe smiled and sat down on the edge of her computer table. She watched Lionel approach her Wall of Weird. He looked it over appreciatively before reaching down at an old TIMES magazine cover.

He raised an expectant brow to her, his hands poised and ready to remove the piece. "May I?"

"Sure," she replied, though she was positive the question was more a courtesy than a request. Chloe could not imagine such a trifle thing as propriety stopping the great Lionel Luthor from getting what he wanted. She got up and went over to take a closer look at what caught his eye.

"Is this--?" he asked her, holding up the old picture of a crying little girl. Beside her were the words 'Heartbreak in the Heartland.'

Chloe smiled bitterly and nodded in confirmation. "Lana Lang."

A thoughtful 'hmm' rumbled from his throat as he studied the photograph carefully. "I take it you haven't spoken much to your roommate this summer."

"No, not really," sighed Chloe as she walked back to the table. "Not for a long while, really, unless you consider icy glares and cold shoulders a form of speech." She propped herself again on the edge of the table and eyed the older man suspiciously. "Why do you ask?"

Lionel followed Chloe and handed her the TIMES cover. "It has come to my attention that the file on Miss Lang requires a much-needed update with particular emphasis on her work at the Talon and relationship with my son."

Chloe frowned. "I don't quite see the relevance the Talon and her partnership with Lex has to Clark."

"Miss Sullivan, I'm disappointed," Lionel began to chastise. "I had such high esteem of your 'crack journalistic instincts.' Perhaps I misjudged." To emphasize the fact, he went on to explain, "Nothing has changed in the focus of your assignment. Part of the fascination that is Clark Kent is the dynamics of his rather unique friendship with my son and his charming associate."

Chloe opened her mouth to speak, but the thoughts that suddenly flooded her mind caused the frown to further deepen into her brow instead. The assignment had never really been about Clark. It was silly how she hadn't realized it before. Everything Lionel Luthor did was always traceable to Lex. Always. But rather than project ideas and theories forward, this revelation propelled her backwards to the meeting in the Luthor mansion several months ago when she first agreed to take on this assignment. Lionel's quote of her triggered the memory of the rest of the conversation.

"Love has a way of blinding even the sharpest of minds," Lionel said. "We don't look because we don't want to see. But once love has been stripped away, then we see the real person clearly. They're revealed to us with all their flaws, their foibles...and their secrets."

Her mind began to buzz from the faint whiff of a story emanating from the memory. Had he been speaking from past experience, alluding to a future fear, or a little of both? The latter intrigued her and her crack journalistic instincts snatched it up immediately. She did not notice the amused grin appear on Lionel's sharp features as he took her silence to be the effects of his planting the seeds of doubt once again in her mind. "Miss Sullivan?" he asked, his voice purposely snapping her back to reality. "Are your reporter senses tingling?"

Chloe blinked and a knowing smile slowly graced her face. "As a matter of fact, they are."

"Good," he said, turning to leave. "Then I will expect her updated file by the end of this week."

"Mr. Luthor!" She called after his already departing back, jumping to her feet and falling in step with his. "I know the last thing you want to hear is a Social Studies 101 lesson, but if you really want to know how your recently-back-from-the-dead son is doing, maybe you should just ask him."

Much to Chloe's astonishment, Lionel turned and pinched her chin as if she was a little child that had just said something cute. A deep, throaty chuckle escaped his lips. "Miss Sullivan, if it were that simple, you wouldn't be here now, would you?" And with that he walked away and disappeared around the hallway, leaving her with the disconcerting impression of having just been threatened.

Part Two: Baby, We Could Have Danced All Night (But Didn't)