Lex knows how to move fast.
Startling green glow against black leather, and he's ready, unplugging the laptop from only ground line as he reaches for the case at his feet, shoving them both into the canvas bag on the table. The alarm is at best an afterthought before the electricity cuts out, but Lex knows the old LexCorp tower like his own hand, even in perfect dark. The lead-lined door he can pull open with the lightest touch and closes with a heavy click like the bank vault from some half-repressed childhood memory.
The alley stinks of rotting garbage and backed-up sewer, and Lex leans into a clammy brick wall to catch his breath as sparks dance hazily before his eyes. Exhaustion, nothing exactly new. Sleep is a luxury, doesn't remember the last time six hours were strung together with anything but dull pressure sinking deep into the bottom of his stomach, swimming lazily until he knows he'll throw up if he so much as breathes.
And someone had asked him--God, Pete? Dominik?--why he was losing weight. Jesus.
Outside, the car's waiting, always is, key in the ignition, and he turns it on, growling to himself at the broken sound of the motor turning over. Visions in dark red and silvery grey slick the skin behind his eyes, and then it's on, thank God; time is something he's never had enough of, not even close. He guns the engine and peals out, ancient nondescript brown sedan darting into the worn, potholed asphalt of the Metropolitan south central district.
A step down for the kid who got his permit in a Roadster and crashed his first Ferrari before he passed his seventeenth birthday. He wonders if he can even remember how to use a manual gear shift anymore.
There's a flare of bright red, brilliant in the night, reflecting off every window in front of him and into the windshield, mirror blinding for long seconds that seem like eternity. His eyes are closed; it's not like he has to worry about traffic these days.
He counts off the names like a litany--he isn't stupid, he knows that it'll never be soon enough, never be fast enough, never time enough. Michaels, Fisher, Sullivan, Winters, Steele, Forbes, Hampton, and God, there were ten this time, he knows there were ten, there *had* been ten, and maybe there will be, if it was enough time, if they knew their drills, if they understood--but the thing is, they really never do, and it makes him wonder if they've been paying attention.
"Don't." He breathes the word into dead air and is surprised how calm his voice sounds.
He says it like it'll work, like saying it will make it all right, will make it true, will make this stop, and he glances up only once at a broken red light (reflex, habit, not necessary anymore) to see the billboard overhead. Peeling yellowed paper cut with lines of charred black, perfect, like someone went up there with a ruler and a blowtorch; old dulled color beneath of some random advertisement, cut across with graffiti from a seriously bitter artist, probably dead in some alley years ago, but the flat black on red, white, and blue is clear enough, someone with a spray paint can and a memory to expunge.
Hate, Lex thinks, is so easy for some people. They get the pleasure and the surety without the work, and it's still work, even now, takes everything in him to focus on the rage and the pain and let it burn until he can just *do* it.
It only takes a quick flip of the cell phone and please, God, let them be out, please. Please.
When it's picked up, Lex breathes out. "Now."
The explosion this time is green, and Lex can feel it quiver in his bones, shake the car, and he almost loses control in a slow spin that just misses an overturned trash can and stutters to a stop inches from the crumbling remains of First Metropolitan Bank. He leans into the wheel, breathing through the sharp taste of blood from the lip he bit through--when?
Maybe he only imagines he hears the distant screams, but he'll hear them again the next time he closes his eyes. Joins the other faces, the other bodies, the things that don't blur, never will, not for him.
And there's this sick, crawling feeling of disappointment that the shockwave doesn't go farther than these three short blocks, even with the crash of wreckage behind him, shudder of the brick against the hood of his car, the dust thickening the air, unbreathable for days.
That, of course, assumes there's someone to breathe it. And it won't be him, not today. Like he told his father fifteen years ago, blood slicking his hands when he pushed coiled guts back beneath shredded skin; breathing like he was going to die right there, right then; wishing he was dead and knowing that would just be the easy way out--he'll damn well go when he's ready.
Lex leans over and picks up the gas mask from the floorboard.
That's not quite yet.
People don't walk outside anymore.
He knows better than to try it himself if there's another choice. Sidewalks are death traps and the car's been discarded for three hours while he moves under the cover of night--not enough cover, really, but someone would have to know where to look if they wanted to see him. He's been doing this too long not to know invisibility's a trick that anyone can pull off with enough motivation.
The night's cold and clammy, hints of green-grey dust in the air if he concentrates enough to watch, but he doesn't. Puddles of rain in concrete depressions, chunks of asphalt torn up and tossed like kid who's dissatisfied with his toys, and Lex hates how the damp penetrates even through his coat and sweaters; the vague, sticky feeling of cold wool against bare skin.
Lex ducks between the ruins of tenements, stepping through accumulated garbage without hesitation, though God knows what's underneath and it's better, he thinks, not to know, not to even guess. There's a sticky-black trail dribbled over the top of an overturned steel dumpster that he ignores. Callused fingers slide slow and steady over spongy-wet wood and stone until he finds the edge of a door marked with lead. Slipping his fingers against it, he traces it with his palm. There's a thin burn line across it, S marks the spot, but the line's not quite clean enough, and he knows it was done by someone with an elevated sense of self-preservation and some excellent artistic skills. It even looks legit to his eyes, but his hands know the feeling of *that* char.
So far so good.
The confined stuffiness of an unaired room is almost welcome; smells of stale air and unwashed bodies, faint light from a few scattered lanterns and one decent lightbulb catching on the green that hangs near the entrance that he has to duck under. Green means safety, and he blinks as he stumbles inside, pushing the door shut behind him. His body wants to relax, even if his mind knows he's not any more welcome here than anywhere else. There's no way to hide who he is, even if he wanted to, and he accepts the shocked silence when he pauses, whispered conversations dying, the gazes that are as blatant as they are terrified.
He's not exactly known to bring anything but the nightmares they're trying to escape.
The people move out of his way as if he's diseased, which isn't far from wrong. The word Luthor hisses across the room (Smallville memories) and Lex knots his hands in his coat pockets and pretends not to hear when he crosses between bundles of rags that could be people if he cared enough to look.
But he's really only interested in one person tonight.
She's at the back, curled into a wooden chair like she's hiding. Easy to spot--she's not as thin, her clothes look too new, and she's alone. Three things that mark her out anywhere she goes, and he wonders if they've recognized her yet.
Probably not. She'd have been out on the street within seconds.
Too wired, he thinks, when he crouches, finding her shoulder with the tips of the prosthetic fingers he'd had designed in a backstreet lab, last of the really good materials used up for his need. She looks up, but the brown eyes are dull, and he wonders what left in her. If she even thinks it's worth it anymore.
Not that it matters.
Her right hand's in a makeshift cast, old linen and cheap plaster that wouldn't survive a strong wind, she must have done it herself--he can do better, later, but not here. But she shakes her head, pulling away, and takes a deep, shuddering breath. Cancer's already taken her voice--he has to wonder if it's spread again, and there's a part of his mind already wondering if any of his labs are still intact in the city, mapping the locations, how fast he can get there from here. Pretty, airy fantasies he can't manage to really believe, but they're calming, somehow. Focusing. He likes to have clearly defined goals, always has.
She shakes her head, pushing her hair back, and he can see the flowering purple on her throat, a raw scrape beneath the torn sleeve of her loose cotton shirt. Mouth swollen and scabbed--no reading lips quite yet, not in this dark. The thin line of expensive lead around her neck hung with green is blissfully dull and blank, and she presses her fingers into it briefly before she slips her good hand into her pocket, pulling out a scrap of paper.
Quick, left handed scribbles with a broken pencil, but he's used to her handwriting now.
*Not this time. I don't want to anymore.*
"No." Though, God, wouldn't it be easier to say yes? Filthy and exhausted, fuck, he doesn't have time, he doesn't have the fucking *energy* to persuade, too. He can't do everything, no one can. Well, no one human, and Lex chokes on a laugh, sliding to his knees, barely remembering to catch himself on the edge of her chair because his reflexes are already shot to hell. The stone floor is so cool, God, feels so good, so solid, he could sink down and never move again. "Get the fuck up."
She shakes her head, dark hair brushing his face. It's not that he can't just walk out right now; it's that this is *it*. Ten lives, one building, and this fucking unnecessary risk--she doesn't *get* a choice. He's on his feet and gets her good wrist, pullling her up, hearing her soft broken moan, and everyone watches. He can feel their gazes, and it's eerily familiar--he's Lex Luthor, and he's been known on sight since birth.
"Sorry," he says, though he's not; he knows her wrist hurts, but doesn't she *get* it? He spent six weeks locked in a basement with a fever that should have killed him; a year ago, he was vomiting blood in the sewers of New York, and fuck if he copped out, and fuck if she will either. He can drag her, he knows no one would stop him, but--the burn of tears in her eyes makes him stop, breathe, let it out, try to remember what he's dealing with.
Who he's dealing with.
What she's just left.
"Listen to me," he whispers, getting close enough to catch the scent of filthy skin and the tack of fresh blood, a combination that's too familiar by far. "There isn't a choice. Everything will be okay, I swear, but I. Don't. Have. The. Fucking. Time. To fucking babysit."
She's shaking, fresh tears, and he hurts for her and buries it along with everything else. Later--later, he can comfort, find someone to hold her, drug her into peace if that's what she wants, but not here, not now; it's known he's in the city, and they don't have the time.
Gently, he pulls her behind him--the eyes are on them both, they're *looking* at her now, they're seeing her, but that's okay. Her legs are shaking, but she's moving at least, and Lex thinks he can probably carry her if he has to.
The unmistakable sound of a phone connection cuts through the silence and Lex turns, feeling everything drop in his stomach. He can't move fast enough if that connects. No way in hell.
"No." And there's a gun in his hand without conscious thought, and he feels a strange, almost-peace at the thought of raising it to his own head. Beautiful. "Don't you fucking dare."
But he does understand--these people's lives are forfeit if this gets out, he does *get* it, he's not stupid. He knows that every house he enters is marked, everyone's in danger, and he knows they'd buy their safety with his life. In their place, he'd sell himself out in less time than it took to draw a breath.
He can't even really blame them for that, but that doesn't stop his aim or the echoing flick of the safety. And in fifteen years, he's never missed.
And they know that, too.
Breaths catch and there's a little silence, before the sound of the phone hits the floor and Lex lets himself relax. Almost regret, but not quite, and she's crying soundlessly against his shoulder.
"Shh," he says absently, stroking the small of her back, and the room is watching them. Fear like something that can be tasted, touched, taking up more space than these bodies ever could. "Give us five minutes."
They won't, but really, he only needs three. Out the door into a pinkish-grey afternoon and he gets her to move, fast steps through garbage-strewn alleys, doesn't have a choice, hopes to God she can keep up because they can't stop.
That phone's ringing in his head like it's ringing inside that room, and he knows that their lives are measurable in minutes.