DESIRE

There was nothing except the punching bag, the soft sound of ribbed leather as the gloves connected with its surface, the motions it made as the chain revolved overhead. He would have beaten it until blood flowed, had it eased the frustration flowing through his veins. His fist landed in the center, jolting the bag away from him, sending it crashing back toward him in a ferocious movement of defense. It seemed to be alive, the accumulation of every threat he faced.

It had not been unexpected.

Lex knew that Lionel had been biding his time, waiting the moment to strike, granting him assurance in the presence of civility. His father was a coiled cobra, an opportunist with long-term investments. Throughout the years they had battled on a superior plain, not with fists or words, but the sheer genius of imagination. Every foot placed forward, every signature on a document, was warfare, their constant struggle against one another in an eternal search for domination. It was in his genes, this quest for power. It fueled his every instinct, repressed by no man and second to none. Lionel felt threatened, unable to contend with the reality that his son was infinitely more gifted than he. Beneath the humble façade of self-pleasure in his achievements of raising such a child lie dormant a rivalry unsurpassed, waiting its moment of awakening. Lionel had warned him that he could trust no one, that he was a Luthor, and his fate inescapable. If it was destiny, and a force beyond reckoning shaped the coming tide, he would learn to embrace rather than to fight it. Embrace it he had, through manipulation and cunning. He had nearly won this battle, but lost it only at the last.

Frustration and rage flowed through his veins, turning it into an assault against the defenseless enemy. It was only as the sunlight streamed through the colored glass above, and his foot fell from its attack upon the berated canvas, that he saw her. She was only a shadow, watching from the doorway, her long dark hair held back with a clip, but the form was unmistakable. Out of all of them, she had never betrayed him, despite the many things he had done. When in a fit of madness he had thrown her beneath the churning hooves of a frightened horse, when he had attempted to have her thrown out of the Talon… when he had kissed her. Lana believed he remembered nothing of that event, that his morose nature was forever cast aside, that the memories of those days were eternally lost, but how could he have forgotten?

Temperaments had merged, and some things were lost in the echoes of his mind, but others came into the light. It was only in the darkness of his dreams that Alexander came forth, holding out a beckoning hand and whispering to him of their mutual desires. He remembered the sensation of her mouth, the softness of her lips. It made him pause when they came into one another's presence, treat her with greater sensitivity in the fear that she would know he remembered. What concerned him further was that he was not repentant of it, perhaps of his cruelty, but not the sensation of her in his arms.

Through the shifting patterns of colored light, he reached out and steadied the punching bag. Lana came forward tentatively, ill at ease for her unannounced interruption. She had heard him as she came down the hall, the primal sounds he made as he battered his imaginary foe to death. The stoic countenance so often tranquil had been transformed, and she'd been astounded by his power. The lean, muscular form so often concealed in black moved with the grace and poise of a man of confidence. Something about him had changed in those long summer months. It looked back at her as she approached, noticing the softening of his facial expression as he beheld her. His hands came out of the gloves, and he dropped them onto the side table.

"Lana," he said. "I would have thought you would be in Metropolis."

There was a strange look in her eyes, listlessness he'd not come to expect. "I got halfway there and came back. Lex, I need to talk to you."

The touch of his hand against her bare arm was enough to make her tremble. He agreed and showed her into the inner office, before vanishing through the double doors. She sat staring at the surroundings, the dominating presence of Lex as it pervaded every stone in the foundation, every book in the shelves. She had never been to the loft, and ascended the stairs. Here was his private collection of classics, the volumes he had read as a child, which had become a part of his personality: ancient scribes and poets, modern philosophers, biographies on the world's most infamous men. It was a charming little nook beneath a skylight, the summer afternoon rippling through the haze and illuminating the cold marble features of the bust of Alexander the Great that dominated a small circular table nearby.

She reached out to touch it, remembering the presence of Lex's darker side. He had frightened her in the loft above The Talon, and yet it had been an awakening, causing her uncertainty. For nearly a year she had battled those emotions, attempting to find her true fate. Since the events surrounding the stones, she had fought to find herself, and each time it had led her here, to Lex. Time and again, she would seek his council, his presence, and the reassurance of his voice. He never failed her, but she knew that constantly he was on his guard in her presence, concerning that he might frighten her away again. For a long time, she had felt guilty about the actions of Isobel, had attempted to believe that they were none of her contrivance; but it was not true. This yearning for power, this spark of darkness, had to exist in order for a greater force to take hold of it, and that same driving force now brought her to the mansion.

The marble welcomed her fingers, a sanctuary for her thoughts. Lex found her thus when he ascended the stairs, not speaking as it would disrupt the perfect solace of her thoughts. She was beautiful in the waning light as it bled into evening. Her aunt awaited her in the city, but the rehearsal dinner would have to wait. Deciding to break the silence, he ascended the final step. "I often wonder what possesses mankind to etch a human face in stone," he said. The sound of his voice caused her to turn just enough so that he could see the entirety of her face. "I am thankful to them, for without such etchings, our world would be devoid of the faces of its unsung heroes."

Lex smiled faintly and reached out to caress the stoic countenance. "Many would consider him a fiend, a glimpse of evil as it once was, but he too was human." He indicated the couch and she sat down, her face granting him an unspoken invitation. He made himself comfortable on the coffee table, clasping his hands together. Lana was quiet in her inquiry.

"Why did you not come see me in Paris?"

It was not a question he anticipated. Lex looked at her strangely, an unknown emotion brewing in his pale eyes. Lana remained serious, searching his countenance for a response, but did not allow him the liberty of granting one. "I thought it strange at the time," she said, "but then I met Jason and he kept my mind occupied. You knew about him all the time. That's why you didn't come and see me, because he was there."

She lifted one hand to ward off his explanations, a mirthless smile crossing her lips. "You don't have to say anything. I have been attempting to sort out my thoughts. This summer has been exceedingly difficult for me. Everything that happened with Jason and his mom, the meteor shower, with Clark, my aunt's engagement… I wanted to believe that it was all for a reason; that I was meant to suffer because it would ultimately lead me to something greater. Nothing has changed. I am still lost. Every path I have taken, every attempt to leave this place, has been flouted. I wanted to leave the place where my parents died, where my heart was broken, where I cannot seem to escape monotony, and yet I come back. Until now, I have not known why. It is because of you.

"I never know who I am except when I am with you. All those times you were harsh with me, that you demanded I show something for my pleadings, when you made me renovate the theatre, and taught me to defend myself, I never saw the truth."

His restlessness urged him to leave her side, to pace the balcony and look into the heart of his empire, but the touch of her hand on his kept him there. Keeping her hand on his was numbing, a tingling that began at the tips of her fingers and traveled upward. He had showered and changed clothes, and his fragrance was overwhelming.

She said softly, "I thought I loved Clark, that he would always be there to protect me, but he won't be. He only sees me as a damsel in distress. All the people I have ever known have seen me that way. Poor Lana, forever trapped in that image on the cover of Time. They want to protect and shelter me, but they have kept me weak. You never saw me that way. You see the true me, the potential that I have. Every time you forced me to make a hard decision, to take matters into my own hands, you were helping me to find myself. I thought I could find it in Paris, but you had it all the time. You let me go because I wanted to, but you made me give up something that I loved, because you have never made it easy for me."

"Lana—"

"I know who I am now, and I know that I am nothing without you."

Lana leaned forward and touched her lips to his. He resisted, sensing that she was uncertain, but cradling his face in her hands, she whispered, "I am not a child any longer, Lex. I want you to kiss me."

The scent of her was overpowering, luring him to gently respond to her inquisitive teasing. Then he was no longer across from her, but beside her, drawing her into his arms. She came willingly, her body melting into his, the kiss intensifying. Her lips were warm and soft, responding to the tremulous shudder that flowed through him. Their bodies melted together, the white fabric of her evening dress stark against his somber black. There was something dangerous in his grasp, a primal instinct that seduced her with its unsung potential. She had never been kissed like this, not by any of the boys that had attempted to romance her. It was deep and sensual, creating emotions that she never knew existed, and sending tremors through her veins. She wanted to become lost in it, failing to resist when the couch was no longer beneath them.

Her hand entwined in the thickness of the fur rug, arching her neck as he explored her flesh with his lips, meeting the hollow in the nape of her neck, tracing the outline of her necklace. Whether it was Lex or Alexander, the desire was the same, something she had fled from and now embraced. Lex could feel her yielding to him, the quickening of her heart against his, the instinctive intuition that propelled her response. She wanted him; he sensed it in her movements, in the warmth of her arms around him, the desperation of her kiss. He would have given in were it not for the reality of that moment, the knowledge that this was the last bridge to be crossed, that once he took her, she would never view him the same way again. It was confusion that had driven her into his arms, an empty search for meaning in a life fraught with impossibilities. The same lost sense of purpose that had driven him nearly to madness on the island, that only faded with time and exploration. Lana would come to know herself, but only if he did not inhibit her.

It was nearly impossible for him to calm his racing blood, to draw up from the floor. He was still breathing heavily when they rested their heads together, a silhouette against the firelight flickering in the room below. He did not need to explain, for she understood. It was not rejection, but submission. Silence lingered between them, until the chiming of the clock in the lower hall warned her of the lateness of the hour. Lana didn't want to leave his side, but remembered her aunt in that moment. She gave a short, bemused laugh as her head fell against his shoulder, prompting him to follow her train of thought.

"Nell will be furious with me."

Lex smiled in the darkness, at the absurd image she made, completely disheveled. "I could send you in the chopper," he offered. Lana gave no ready response, thinking how uncomfortable the proceedings would be, how out of place she would seem among her future uncle's relations. She would once more be the girl on the tragic magazine cover, the unfortunate orphan. Morning would come, and the wedding begin, and she would stand there in her bridesmaid dress, and smile through her tears. But not tonight, nothing must ruin the majesty of tonight. She continued to breathe in his scent, playing with his open collar, her hand warm against his skin. She didn't want to leave, to disrupt the perfection of this moment, to bid farewell to destiny, or even to postpone it. But the night was darkening and she knew that she must leave, if only to propel herself out the door the following morning. There were obligations… and time. There would be time enough to explore one another's unspoken secrets.

Her voice was very soft as she asked, "Would you take me home?"

The streets of Smallville were tranquil, the headlights turning down Main Street and delivering them before The Talon. Martha had locked up for the night and gone, leaving the interior in welcoming darkness. Lana's hand fell on the latch, but Lex's touch on her arm halted the process. "Lana," he said, his features softly lit from the blue light of the dashboard. "I want you to know that you are a remarkable woman. I am in awe of your accomplishments. I cannot promise never to protect you, to want to shelter you from the world and the evils that lurk in it, but I will do my best to never stifle you."

She looked at him for a long moment, and then smiled. His features softened and he allowed her to open the door. Before she got out, she asked, "Are you coming to the wedding tomorrow?"

Lex gazed at her, an unreadable expression in his soft green eyes. "Only if you want me to," he replied. She stepped out of the car and shut the door. Her fingertips remained in the open window, undesirious of leaving him there alone. She wanted to ask him in, but knew from the expression on his face that he would not have agreed. Leaning down so that he might meet her eyes, she said softly, "It starts at eleven. See you tomorrow."

Her form melted into the darkness, the glow of her gown retaining the light until she pressed inside the shop. Lex waited until he saw a light appear in her apartment, her shadow pass by the draperies. Lana plucked at them, drawing them aside as he drove off into the darkness. The quiet of the evening could not match the frantic pace of her heart. Nothing existed in that moment except the promise of tomorrow. 