Dark shadows absolved into the blood coating her fingertips, sudden emotional pain skyrocketing through her senses as she stared down at the limp figure sprawled beneath her. Lana could remember nothing, only the immediate sensation of horror as she beheld the crystal driven into the woman's heart. The scarlet stain coating her hands was compounded in a shudder as she collapsed beside the body, holding out her hands in despair. Through the erratic gasps that escaped her throat, she sensed someone in the doorway. Between tangled strands of hair, she beheld the bedraggled appearance of Lex, staring in at her with understanding in his emotional green eyes.
Her lips formed his name, but no sound came out. Instead it was a deep shuddering intake of breath that drew him to her. He came across the expanse of black tile, reaching out to feel the woman's neck with one hand, the other coming to rest reassuringly on her shoulder. Lana was beginning to panic, her breath coming in incontrollable gasps. Even if he had doubted that the woman before them was alive, he sensed no pulse. Guineve was as magnificent a vision in death as she had been in life. Lex could remember her from his childhood, from the long years of his mother's illness, and his father's many adulterous affairs. She had been composed, charming and seductive, using her feminine wiles shamelessly to gain power and influence. Her affair with Lionel had been brief but poignant, accumulating in a sadistic form of rivalry. Even though his memory burned with memories and suspicions, old wounds rubbed with salt and newer ones emblazoned into his soul, it gave him no pleasure to behold her fate.
Lex's eyes fell to the bloodstained element, surprised to find it in Lana's possession. Lionel had led him to believe that Jason or Clark retained it. He had never suspected Lana, whose soul could be so easily manipulated through a spiritual force greater than they could imagine. The witch that indwelled within her had arisen one final time. He had come an instant too late, witness only to a blinding light as the stone was driven into the woman's heart. His eyes lingered on the element, interrupted only by a whisper of, "She's dead. I killed her!"
He turned to her, cradling her face in his hands in an attempt to remove her eyes from the still form. "Lana," he said firmly, "you are not to blame. We will make this right, but I need you to come with me."
"I came home, and she was here! She—she wanted the element!"
Lana stared at the woman, so composed in death, the crimson stain slowly spreading across her expensive garments. "She pulled a gun on me!" Desperately she twisted her head, searching the room for proof, but if the weapon was within proximity, it had fallen beneath the desolation wrecked upon the furniture. Her precious personal items were littered across the floor, books toppling from the shelves, memorabilia from Paris smashed into fine, chalky powder. It was coming back to her in vague remembrances, but not the instant in which she had killed another human being. That was nothing but a shadow; the image abruptly ended with the sensation of hands closing around her throat.
Lex pushed aside her hair, trailing his fingertips gently against her flesh. There were imprints circling her curvaceous neck, those of a recent physical assault. Rage began to build in him, but only cold precision came through in his reassuring grip. Taking her firmly by the arms, he assisted her to her feet. She was trembling so violently that he was forced to hold her up. She leaned against him, weak with exhaustion and remorse.
"It all happened so fast… so very fast," she uttered.
"It's all right, Lana. I'm here with you. You're safe now."
Blood was beginning to seep beneath the body in a crimson pool, rippling across the black tiles. Lana pulled away from him to pick up the stone, wrapping it carefully and placing it into her purse. It was only then that she truly looked at him with anything apart from shock; a flicker of comprehension was forming in her mind, dawning through her soft brown eyes. He was grateful when she reached for his arm. She stumbled through the wreckage of her apartment, and clung to him as they descended the stairs, passing through the darkened Talon that only hours before had been filled with gaiety and laughter, students celebrating their final day at school. Lois and Martha had gone home, intending to sweep up in the morning, leaving streamers and confetti littered across the floor. Balloons dissolved into obscure shapes as they bounced out of their way. It was a sadistic situation, but neither of them was compelled to consider the irony.
"Lex, what am I going to do?" she asked brokenly.
He could not bear the note of panic and desperation in her voice.
"There is nothing for you to do," he said. "I will see to it."
Reassurances were granted as he led her out the side door to his car. There were burn marks on the pavement where he had skidded to a halt, knowing Guineve would immediately come here. His desperate flight from the woods had not even given him pause to return home, trembling hands gripping the steering wheel as he raced for the Talon. Lana's palms were still coated with blood as he assisted her into the expensive interior, and she stared at them with a slightly dazed expression. Knowing it would be best not to attract attention, he drove to the mansion without surpassing the speed limit. He was growing calmer with every mile, formulating the best manner in which to handle Guineve's untimely but deserved death. His eyes constantly strayed to her in the passenger seat, huddled up as though she anticipated a violent blow. Lana was on the verge of a mental breakdown, every sudden movement causing her to flinch.
The security team that met him at the gates beheld her with curiosity, but responded to his orders that the "situation" at the Talon be taken care of immediately. Lana was trembling so violently when they entered the mansion that it was difficult to separate her from her purse. She gave in under an eerie stupor. Closing the double doors against the prying eyes of the house staff, Lex lead her to the wash basin, the latest in his collection of Roman memorabilia. It was polished to a silver sheen, reflecting her anguished features in eerie distortions as she scrubbed at her hands.
"I didn't mean to," she said in despair, rubbing until they were raw. The water took on a scarlet hue that reminded her of Guineve's dead face. "She was coming at me. It happened so quickly! I don't even remember stabbing her!"
Violently, she scraped at the top of her hand, bringing an angry welt to the surface. Then a gentle hand descended on her shoulders, as warm and reassuring as the calm voice that accompanied it. "Lana," he said, "I want you to take a deep breath. Try to relax."
He understood her emotions, the fragility of comprehension, and the knowledge that a human life had been taken. Lana was so innocent, so feeling, so in need of protection that the event had been more traumatic than it might have been. He had taught her to protect herself, to use her arms and legs in defense, but not the devastation of death. It was nothing he could have prepared her for, an event he'd prayed was escapable, but had known somehow that ultimately it would come to pass. Families like the Luthors and Teagues were used to such dealings, for it ran in their blood. He had attempted to protect her from involvement, to drive her and Jason apart, but loyalties and devotion had kept them together.
Her voice betrayed the ridiculousness of his suggestion. "Lex, a woman is dead because of me! I killed her!"
Water rippled from the silver pitcher as he poured it over her hands, gently removing them from the basin and covering them with a towel. Lana's movements indicated that she was soon to collapse, and protectively he placed his arm around her waist, guiding her to the couch. "You had no choice," he said comfortingly. "Your life was at stake."
She did not seem to notice the hand that fell to her knee. He could feel her trembling, sense every tremulous emotion cascading through her body. Her nearness was intoxicating, but her weakness was numbing. She was so fragile, so utterly lost in that moment that he felt a brief instant of despair. Lana was facing the same demons he had been forced to defeat in moments of utter madness. She half rose from the couch, shoulders hunched and panic still alive in her eyes. "I have to tell Jason!" she said in horror. "She was his mother!"
Lex remembered the blood as it spattered, the shock in Jason's eyes as he toppled backward over the cliff. Mild satisfaction crept into his voice as he replied, "I'll deal with Jason."
Lana let out a half moan, rubbing her fingers dry with the same urgency that had compelled her to scratch them raw in the basin. "Lex, there's a body in my apartment! I have to go to the police! I have to tell them what happened!"
Rising from the couch, Lex replied, "I'm not so sure that's a wise idea. Genevieve Teague was a powerful woman, married to an extremely powerful lawyer. Even though it's clearly self-defense, Edward Teague is going to make sure a jury sees otherwise."
He did not want to frighten her further, but to go to the authorities would be a mistake. To tell anyone would be an error. There were avenues they might take. Jason's body had still not been found, although his father had a team combing the woods and rivers for any sign of his survival. Genevieve could be yet another unsolved mystery. He could make it happen, but knew Lana would never agree to it. In her was enough pride to insist that the matter be handled appropriately. It was not like the legacy of the Luthors, that when a body was inconvenient, it simply disappeared. Edward Teague would not accept the explanation, would deny that his wife was responsible for any wrong doing, would cite it as a monstrous assault with murderous intent. Lex had seen his cruelty in the past, not merely within the courtroom. Edward was as manipulative and treacherous as Lionel in his finest hour, and would feed Lana to the sharks on his arrival from London. In this, it was fortunate that she had no close family living, for Edward would have made their lives a living hell.
The room was cast in shadows, bathed in the warming glow of dispersed lamps. The atmosphere was having a calming effect upon his companion. Lana was not so broken as she asked, "What's going to happen to me? I'm going to prison?"
Passion arose in his voice as he stepped closer, as though to defend her from an unseen adversary. "No," he replied. "I retain one of the best defense attorneys in the country. Once he arrives from New York, we'll go to the authorities."
Lana nodded her head. "Okay," she whispered. "Thank you."
There were unshed tears in her eyes, and he drew her into his arms. Her face rested against his chest, arms encircling him in gratitude for his support. Her body conformed neatly to his, the slight pressure of her embrace causing him to close his eyes, wishing that this moment were different. He wanted to fully hug her, to feel a tremor of desire course through her veins, for he knew that it could be prompted, but now was not the right moment. "You have to trust me," he whispered. He would allow no one to know the truth, to reach through to her. Lana's inexperience would make her a vulnerable target. He had not been able to protect her from Genevieve, or from Lionel, but would not make the same mistake twice. She was willing to let him take control, to maneuver her safely into the future.
"Until the lawyer arrives, I want you to stay here and talk to no one."
She seemed not to hear him, tensing suddenly as her head lifted to stare beyond his shoulder. "My purse!" she demanded. "Where's my purse?" Catching sight of it on the couch, she abandoned him in pursuit of the element that called to them both, echoing in the emptiness of their souls. It was a poisonous thing, the stone that granted so much pain when it promised power. The same desperation to obtain it that had once burned in his breast, and lingered there still in a faint whisper, prompting him ever-toward madness, was aglow in her eyes as she dug desperately through the contents.
"Don't worry," Lex said as her hand fell upon the scarlet wrapping. "It's still there. I would never take it from you."
He had been so earnest, so gentle, so reassuring in her rising concerns, vowing to protect and assist her at peril to his reputation. From what little she knew of Genevieve, she guessed Jason's father was even more dangerous. Manipulative people were drawn together by circumstance, feeding off one another's weaknesses and accomplishments. She thought of Lionel, so clever in his deceptions, and felt a tremor of fear toward this unknown enemy. Lex stood as her only means of salvation against the impending storm, quiet and appeased in his somber black suit. He looked as though he would say more, but there came a voice from the doorway.
"Mr. Luthor, we have a situation."
Before leaving her alone in the magnificent room, a sanctuary in a world plunged into immortal darkness, Lex turned and offered her a final reassurance: "It's going to be okay." Then he was gone, leaving a vast emptiness in his wake unfulfilled through the presence of the stone as she gazed upon it in awe. Genevieve's blood still coated the metallic surface, retaining droplets crystallized by the element's power. It felt cold in her palm, trembling with a vibration that pervaded her skin. How long she sat staring at it, she did not know, only that she could remember the pandemonium, the flash of a gun, the crack of her foot connecting with Genevieve's outstretched hand. She was becoming aware of her bruises, of the throbbing in her shoulder, the rawness of her hands, the aching of her throat.
Lex was gone for more than an hour, and in that time she wondered miserably what else Isobel had done. She knew a primal force had ripped through her, taking fate into hands far more devious than her own, that it was the same power that had possessed her in China. No one would ever tell her what Isobel had done, and part of her desired never to know. She knew Isobel had harmed all the ones she loved, that she had turned on Clark and Lex. And yet Lex never pulled away from her, remaining steadfast despite the concern that dominated his tranquil responses. Her hands folded the fabric over the element, tucking it back into her purse and slowly setting it on the floor. The room felt so empty without him, solitary in a magnificent house besotted with the ghosts of former Luthors.
Shivering, she closed her eyes in an attempt to calm her spirit. It came to her hollowly, a faint noise in the corridor, the approaching of footsteps. She knew who it was long before he opened the doors. There was a weariness strained with tension in his approach, a newfound determination to the set of his countenance that softened when he beheld her, still seated where he had left her. Lionel's threats to turn her over to the police resounded in his mind as he beheld her, awaiting him trustingly. Panic was gone, replaced with complete faith in his ability to assist, but the mournful ties of responsibility remained. Her features were pale, the hands clasped in her lap still slightly trembling. Lex sank onto the couch beside her, answering her unspoken question with, "I've sent for my lawyer. He's going to fly out in the morning."
Lana nodded, tendrils of hair slipping over her shoulder. Lex longed to push them back but resisted the impulse. She clasped and unclasped her hands and looked toward the far side of the room. "I was thinking about Jason," she said tremulously, and felt him stiffen. Memories of what Alexander had told her about the Teague heir surfaced in her mind, bringing with it the incident in the flat. Lex had caught her off guard with his forwardness, the touch of his hand against her skin, the taste of his lips on hers. It made her feel uncertain in his presence, though there was nothing untoward in his current behavior. He could not conceal the hardness in his eyes when she mentioned Jason's name.
"Lex, what will he think of me?"
She knew that it was wrong to ask, that Jason's name brought out the coldness in his nature, yet the words slipped free of her throat with despair. Lex gave no immediate response, but looked at her soulfully. "If he is half worthy of you, Lana, he will understand. There are few who know the perils of Genevieve Teague more than her son."
He arose to his feet and went to the sideboard, pouring a brandy into a crystal glass. The sudden movement caused him to flinch. She had been so consumed with her own problems that until now she had not noticed his anguish. Approaching, she caught sight of the raw flesh beneath the neckline of his shirt. Her fingers gently rippled down from his collarbone, drawing open his collar and exposing the burns inflicted in the cabin in the woods. There was such open remorse on her face that it touched him, more so than the hand that remained against his chest. She could feel the beat of his heart, steady beneath her sprayed fingers. Suddenly she was aware of her nearness and looked up at him slowly, barely breathing as she found his lips near to hers. He had never desired to kiss her more than that instant, but repressed his desires.
Lex's voice was immaculately quiet as he replied, "It's nothing," and moved away. There was indecision in her face as she regarded him. A short ring from the desk alerted him to the voice of his secretary, rich and with a hint of an accent as she confirmed reaching his law offices in New York. The hour was growing late, and it would not be long until dawn awoke over the horizon, spilling golden fragments of light through the domestic farmland that surrounded the manor. The sound of the woman's voice invoked a tremor in Lana, for to the guilt-ridden mind, she sounded exactly like the deceased woman. She felt weakly for the sofa and sank into it, finding that her hands were once again shaking. Lana saw only his shoes as he approached, slowly looking upwards to the concerned countenance.
"Lana, is there anything I can do for you?" he asked, a note of desperation in his voice.
"Just sit with me." She almost didn't say it, afraid of the emotions that it might invoke, but whispered, "Lex… hold me."
Touched by this faint plea, the Luthor heir settled on the couch at her side and allowed her to rest carefully against his chest. His hand stroked the length of her hair, feeling her body relax against his as she calmed an anxious spirit. His embrace was nothing like the innocent farm boy that was Clark, clumsy in his attempts to be affectionate, nor like Jason's, slightly possessive and forceful. Lex was completely different; his caresses were non-threatening and gentle, coming from a place of complete understanding and utter acceptance. She remembered nothing of Alexander in that moment, or the madness that had briefly taken Lex from them, only a feeling of absolute safety, as though nothing could harm her within this room, in the confines of his arms. Her eyes drifted closed and she breathed in his scent, a mixture of expensive cologne and brandy. He held her until she slept, drowsily aware of when he rose to his feet and lifted her into his arms.
Long shadows reached toward them on either side of the paneled corridor, but over the manor lay a sense of contentment and peace. Lana's head rested against his shoulder, her long hair falling freely over his arm as he laid her on the bed. She stirred with the motion and as he began to pull away, reached out and grasped his sleeve. "Stay with me," she whispered. He hesitated, a comforting shape in the darkness. The mattress dipped as he placed his knee upon it, leaning over her. Her heart rate increased as he joined her, turning on his side so that she might rest her head against him. She knew that he was as nervous as she was, for she could sense it in the tension of his limbs. Wholly trusting, she found solace in the innocence of his embrace.
Just as she drifted off to sleep in the reassurance that her guardian was there, Lana felt his lips brush her forehead in an unspoken promise, and released her fears of the unknown into the darkness. Nothing could harm her, not as long as he was by her side.