First part here
Day 2: Toner emergency
Clark woke up with a groan. Lex. Lex in the office. He knew it hadn’t been just a bad dream. He pulled a pillow over his head as the alarm sounded insistently beside him.
Getting up had never seemed that hard on the farm, but somehow since getting the junior reporter position and moving to Metropolis, Clark had ceased to enjoy mornings. He blamed the commute: all those people packed so tight together in the underground, everyone jostling and grumpy or sick. Clark missed the wide open fields of Kansas. And he missed being able to use superspeed.
The days he knew he would be deskbound were hardest. Like today, when he had no interviews lined up, no research he couldn’t do on the net and no excuses not to be at the office all day. The office. Where Lex would be.
On the train, Clark formulated a plan: gather evidence. Observe Lex as closely as possible within the office and gather evidence. It was a start at least.
Or it would have been, had he found more excuses to hang around the copy room.
Like it or not, Clark had to stay at his desk most of the day. He had an article to write, after all. And he could only take so many trips to the bathroom or the kitchen without Jimmy or, more to the point, Lois making a snide remark.
The morning had nearly passed and Clark had caught only passing glimpses of Lex, certainly not enough to establish if he was engaging in any suspicious behaviour, when Lex surprised him by coming to him.
‘Hey guys!’ It was a very un-Lex-like greeting, but Clark would know that voice anywhere.
‘Hi Alex. How you settling in?’ Lois swung out from her cubicle on her swivel chair.
‘Great thanks! I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got an intray now. It’s in the cubicle just outside the copy room. Any copies you want made, just fill out the form on the intranet and leave it in my tray, ok?’
Lois glanced across at Clark. Clark tried to keep his face expressionless.
‘Well that sounds great! Right, Clark?’
Lex drew back his lips in a smile. ‘Oh, and I’m on email now. It’s just email@example.com. Easy, right?’
Lois grinned. ‘Too easy! You’ll get spammed with office jokes and cheesy quizzes, you know. This place is nuts with the forwarding.’
Clark looked up. ‘What do you need a computer for?’
‘I’m sorry?’ Lex turned in his direction.
‘I mean, you’re here to do the copying, right? Why do you need a computer?’
Behind Lex, Lois rolled her eyes.
‘Well I can do other work too, Clark. I was going to let you both know. Any simple admin work really: colour printouts, photo research, filing…’
Lois stopped twisting on her chair and straightened. ‘Filing?’
‘Sure. Of course, any copying will take first priority…’
‘You’ll file for us?’ Lois’s dimples were showing.
Lex nodded. ‘Absolutely. Just let me know…’
‘Well, you can start with that lot!’ Lois pointed at the stack of overflowing manila folders leaning against Clark’s filing cabinet.
‘Oh, Lois, I don’t think…’ Clark, flustered, stood up.
‘What? Like you’re ever going to get round to it. I’ve been telling you for months we’ve got to get a system. I mean we’ve got stacks of great stuff there – employee files, internal reports, email printouts …’
‘Lois!’ Clark attempted to signal at her with his eyes.
‘… and I worked my butt off to get it all. But what’s the point of if we can’t find what we’re after when we need it?’
It was too late. Lex was reaching for the top folder. Clark could only watch as he flicked open the cover. The top page was, like all the documents, marked with the purple LexCorp logo. Lex looked up at Clark and smiled. He placed the folder back on the pile.
‘Well I’d love to help, Lois,’ he said, staring at Clark.
Lex turned to Lois. ‘I’ll put it on my list, don’t worry.’
‘Cheers.’ The dimples were triumphant.
‘Hey! Alex!’ A blonde from accounts called from down the floor. ‘Copier’s out of paper!’
‘Be right there!’ Lex called, and then smiled at Lois and Clark. ‘Catch you guys later.’
The afternoon didn’t go as planned either. Just after 12, Jimmy raced in with a tip-off about a factory fire, supposedly deliberately lit. While Jimmy was still rummaging through his desk looking for the lens he needed, Clark made for the door. Lois, thankfully, was at lunch.
The fire kept Superman busy for an hour or so: his ice breath ability was still patchy. After he’d rescued the trapped factory workers, and taken the edge off the inferno, he helped the fire brigade put out spot fires and mop up the chemical spills that had started the blaze. Then the police wanted to interview him. He got tired of this stuff. Not the saving, of course, but the follow-up expected of him now that he was a public figure.
He grabbed a sandwich on the way back and ate at his desk. He clicked open his email to read while he ate.
There was an email from Lex. Or rather from Alex. Clark stared at the subject line: ‘very funny’. He didn’t know what to make of it. His first thought was to delete it without opening it. What if Lex had rigged it with some kind of virus or bomb or mind-control device? But then he looked at the subject again. Perhaps it was just a forwarded joke, sent to the whole floor? After all, Lex was doing everything he could to blend in and there was no better way to do so than by mindlessly forwarding.
Finally, it was simple curiosity that got the better of Clark. He double clicked and, through half-closed eyelids, watched the email open on screen.
No bomb exploded.
The email read: Well played, Clark. I see you’ve taken the bait.
That was all. It was anticlimactic really.
Clark was still frowning over his sandwich when a shadow fell across his desk. He looked up.
It was Lex, but not Lex as Clark had ever seen him. His shirt, a pale blue today, was heavily stained with large black smudges, and black covered the hands that hung at his side. There were a couple of small smudges on his face as well. His expresion was stony.
‘Wow!’ Lois, strolling back in with a coffee in her hand, stopped in her tracks. Her eyes panned up and down Lex. Then one dimple flashed and she turned to Clark. ‘Smallville, did you make Alex clean the chimneys? You know, that’s just not fair on his second day!’
Clark glowered at her. But she’d already turned back to Lex. ‘Ick! What’s that stuff all over you?’
‘Ohh… right.’ Lois sank into her chair. ‘Yeah that’s why I’ve always refused to change it. I hear it’s a bitch to get out of fabric.’
Lex remained stock still, standing at Clark’s shoulder. ‘Yes. It was strange, though. The minute I tipped the cartridge upside down, it burst and the powder went everywhere. I guess it must have been a fault in the packaging.’
‘Huh!’ Lois looked bored. ‘That sucks.’
Clark could feel Lex’s eyes boring into the back of his neck. He stood up. ‘Excuse me a moment.’ He walked to the kitchen, wondering if Lex would follow.
Clark reached into the staff fridge for the orange juice he kept there and turned back to face the door. Lex was leaning a shoulder against the frame. There was no-one else in the kitchen. Behind Lex, the accounts department were calling out answers to the Daily Planet’s weekly trivia quiz, a Wednesday afternoon ritual.
‘So? Don’t you think it’s a little strange, Clark, that this should happen on my second day on the job?’
‘What are you impling, Lex?’
‘It’s Alex. And I’m not implying anything. I’m suggesting that you know exactly why I’m covered in this stuff.’ He stepped into the kitchen, his hands still held awkwardly at his sides.
‘That’s ridiculous.’ Clark took a long drink of juice from the packet.
When he lowered the container, Lex was right in front of him, watching him with those intense blue-grey eyes.
‘It’s ok, Clark.’ His lips puffed forward in that way that meant he was amused. ‘As I said in my email, I’m just glad you’ve taken the bait so early. It’s going to make this a lot more enjoyable.’
‘This isn’t a game, Lex!’
‘Isn’t it? Oh I’m so sorry. I must be confused. I thought that’s exactly what this was.’
‘I didn’t sabotage the toner, ok?’
‘Sure, Clark. I believe you.’ Lex met his eyes and Clark was reminded of the dozens of conversations that they’d had all those years ago, when Lex had made him lie to his face about his powers.
‘No. I really didn’t. Oh, look, it doesn’t matter what you believe.’ He tugged on the fridge door and plonked the orange juice back into its spot. ‘I’ve got work to do.’
Clark brooded at his desk the rest of the afternoon. He wondered if Lex had had to go home to change and nearly giggled aloud at the thought of Lex storming back to his rooms in the old Luthorcorp building, bellowing at his secretary to get him a clean shirt.
What a suspicious mind he had too, thinking Clark had rigged the toner cartridge. Clark had tried changing the toner himself in the past. The instructions were impossible to follow. No wonder Luthor had ended up with toner all over himself: he’d probably never even changed a lightbulb before. Lex Luthor: defeated by Canon. Clark smothered another laugh.
The look on Lex’s face had been priceless. Clark hoped the shirt had come from his specially tailored collection. He suspected it had: Lex was always such a fusspot about his clothes. It served him right!
And all that talk about a game? That was such nonsense. It had angered Clark: Lex always missed the point. There had been a time when Lex had meant more to Clark than anyone, apart from his parents, of course. But that time was forever ago and that Lex, his Lex, was gone.
This Lex was so … obsessed. Nothing was enough for him. He always wanted more: more information, more knowledge, more of the world, more of Clark.
He thought of the Luthors and their sick mind games. He thought of the files from Lexcorp that one day he hoped would form the basis of a corporate exposé.
‘What are you so happy about?’ Lois, passing by, gave him a quizzical look.
If Lex wants a game, he thought, Clark Kent will give him one.