Spoilers: roughly through season four canon, but not specific
Codes: Lex, Clark, Lois, AI, Clark/Lex, Clark/Lois, Lois/Lex, Pete/Lana, Clark/Lex/Lois, etc, futurefic, AU
Summary: Five ways the world didn't end for Lex Luthor.
Part II: Research Method
Home is a house in upper class suburban Metropolis.
Lex stares at the door, somehow surprised to find a key in his pockets, even more surprised that he knows the code for the security system.
At some point, he's going to have to admit to himself this isn't the most terrible thing ever.
A pile of mail rests beside the phone in the hall. This is more Lex's taste than anywhere he's ever lived--minimal furnishings, muted colors, the perfect calm background. Lex likes the high ceilings and approves of the warm leather furniture in what appears to be his office.
He's not so sure he approves of the second desk, the miasma of paper and clutter informing him that this side of the room is Helen's.
He shares his *office*, for God's sake.
So far as Lex can tell, there isn't any help, though there's a grocery list beneath a magnet on the big refrigerator. TyNant water inside. A dizzying array of fruits and vegetables, more milk than he ever suspected anyone could need, and fine china in the cabinets. Clean granite countertops. All in all, he thinks he could live here comfortably.
He even thinks he might actually *like* it.
Explorations end with the dining room, and Lex leaves the twelve-seat dining room table that he faintly remembers belonging to his mother in their house in Philadelphia, going up the wide stairs to the second floor. His head says that he should get down to business in finding out what happened with that metallic monstrosity in this reality, but there's a kind of morbid fascination that comes into play when exploring your own alternate life. The last one hadn't been that great, less known the better, but this one--
He's a *doctor*.
The room is all warm shades of blue and green, and Lex thinks he can feel Helen's influence here. There's guest rooms, suitably bland, and an upstairs media room. Nothing less than what he'd have expected eventually, had his marriage to Helen not ended with attempted homicide.
Downstairs again. So. He's a doctor. A geneticist, apparently. Does LexCorp exist? Lex rubs his hands restlessly into the neat black pants, not quite up to his usual style. He'd almost swear they were off the rack.
"I can do this." He should find out if Helen's due anytime soon. Years pass, but rage never quite does. Unexpectedly running into her in the house might turn out very badly for whatever Lex lives here.
And here Lex had thought that the last universe he was visiting would have taught him to *feel* this sort of thing.
Clark materializes in front of him, serious dark eyes and strangely stern mouth. Glimpses of Superman in the strong set of the jaw, like when Superman descends from on high to administer justice. Very fucking annoying right now.
But Clark's still there, too. "We have a problem."
Oh. "A problem?" Lex tries to think, but God alone knows what kinds of problems Clark comes to him to fix these days. Diapers? DNA coding? Wine choices? "Okay."
"Come on." A big hand wraps around Lex's wrist, but gently, pulling him unresistingly past his office, past the kitchen, stopping at a closed door at the end. Clark murmurs something before pushing it open.
Lex is almost instantly blinded by the light inside. A few blinks later, he gets the impression of a second office--thank you God, he has a private office here somewhere--but Clark's heading for the back wall, staring at it for a second before murmuring a word that doesn't sound anything like English.
And like that, there's a door.
Lex blinks. "Clark--"
"I need you to look at something," Clark says, and Lex has never felt more like a giant stuffed animal as he's pulled inside what appears to be--an elevator.
An elevator? "Clark--"
"I know, it's kind of early," Clark says, like this is the most normal thing in the world. "So I'm being a little paranoid." A gorgeous smile lights up his face. "Lois said I should look before I jitter myself into a fit or something." Without missing a beat, Clark pushes on a flat metal panel and the elevator whines softly before it starts to descend. "I re-read your reports to the League, and I was thinking--" The words are cut off by the door opening, and Clark walks out, forgetting Lex's wrist.
Lex doesn't need urging. At least, not much.
A huge room, probably spanning the entire size of the first floor of the house. Against one wall is a screen and a variety of computers that he can't even begin to recognize. Lex lets himself stare at the alien pod sitting on a platform nearby.
This. Isn't. Happening.
"Welcome, Clark, Lex." The voice of the AI here is distinctly masculine, and Lex draws in a deep breath. "There have been no reported disasters--"
"Just research, AI," Clark says, and Lex doesn't laugh, but only because he's staring at the high ceilings and sunken fluorescent lights. "Can you pull up the report on the latest Metropolis crime wave? I was thinking and something occurred to me--"
Lex lets himself take two more steps, and with Clark's back turned to him, slowly look around, taking it in. There's something familiar about the set-up, though he can't quite put his finger on what. Neatly tiled floors and painted walls. A spaceship in his cellar. The fucking Fortress in his cellar. A big, heavy looking metal door that looks like a walk-in safe. A smaller set of platforms with disturbingly familiar clothes inside, and at first, Lex can't quite take in what he's seeing, though really, it's obvious, isn't it?
"You want to look at this, Lex?" Clark asks, and Lex snaps his head around. A bewildering graph is building and collapsing in a myriad flash of colors over and over again, which apparently makes some kind of sense to Clark.
"I--uh. Already did." Lex tries to force himself to take a step. "I--agree with you." It seems safest. Clark flashes a smile over his shoulder before sitting down, tapping at the keyboard at just under the speed of sound. There's a second chair beside Clark, and Lex eyes it for a minute, but he needs to sit, like, *now*. His legs aren't going to hold him much longer.
The chair fits him, in that perfectly designed way that says he spends a lot of time here and needs the comfort. Oh God. The computer hums at him like they're old friends, oh *God*, and Clark is saying things that are, in fact, English, but Lex isn't absorbing more than the surface of the words.
"Bruce thinks it's a good idea," Clark is saying, and Lex nods dumbly, glancing at the keyboard long enough to recognize that not one symbol on there is human. Nor are the letters on the smaller screen. Lex struggles to read it, but he's never been fluent in Kryptonian, and apparently, Clark is fond of the complex/compound sentence in a really big way.
"He does?" It's almost hypnotizing. Lex blinks, but everything is still here. Clark's Superman uniform in that damn glass case, and it's itching him, because Lex could swear this reminds him of somewhere else--
"Yeah." Stopping abruptly, Clark stretches, and Lex forces himself not to look too hard. "After I go on patrol, you might want to call him up and see if he's ready or not."
Ready. Right. "Good idea." And this is what he's reduced to. Lex looks down at his
pants. Definitely off the rack. And this shirt feels like plain cotton.
This isn't a good sign.
"Lex? You okay?"
Lex snaps his attention back to Clark, flinching when a big hand rests on his wrist. The pretty face frowns, and for a second, Lex is seeing a completely different Clark. But just for a second. "Your heart's pounding." Clark sounds worried, but he doesn't touch Lex again, hand slipping guiltily into his own lap, clenching into a fist. "Is everything okay?"
Hell *no*. "So much has happened today," Lex says slowly, testing the words on his tongue. Yes, it really has. "How is Alex settling in?"
Clark's face instantly glows. "Sleeping. Mom and Dad are practically hovering over the bassinet."
"I'm surprised you could tear yourself away." Keep it on a topic that Lex can actually discuss.
"It was close to patrol anyway." Clark stretches again, and this time, Lex lets himself look. Even now, in that freakish flannel and jeans, he's the hottest thing Lex has ever seen. And so far, no signs of random fits of violence. "I'd better get going." Standing up, Clark glances down with an awkward look, and Lex wonders what Clark's expecting of him. "I'll report in a couple of hours. You--are you sure you're okay?"
Lex tries a closed lip smile. "It's just been a long day. Don't mind me. Go--patrol." He can't make himself stop watching, not when Clark goes over to the platform, removing a uniform which resembles in many unfortunate ways the uniform of his Superman.
He's never seen the transformation, so he thinks he can be forgiven for staring. One second, young father in flannel--how was it that Lois hadn't broken him of that habit?--then the slow slide of material off bare skin. Clark, apparently, has no modesty issues to speak of. But then, they're in a secret bunker underneath Lex's house, Lex sitting at a supercomputer and Clark--
A supersecret superhero hideout in the basement.
"Christ. I'm Alfred."
Clark looks up with a bright smile. Right. Superhearing. "I always thought of you as a better dressed, noncombatant Robin, really." The jeans hit the floor. Lex looks away, or tries to, but the tights come out, sliding up long legs, and there are a thousand nasty things he's said about Superman, but no one else could possibly make tights look that hot.
"Take a picture," Clark says, and Lex almost grins at the teasing of the adolescent in his never-reliable memory, peering out for just a moment. "It'll last longer."
Clark laughs and turns away, picking up the boots. What do they call this, Lex thinks, trying to tamp down the open panic. The Fortress? The Supercave? Does Batman laugh his ass off? At least they aren't any fucking bats.
Lex clenches both hands in his lap, the buzz of the computer familiar, like being at the Fortress in the Arctic. Clark fastens the uniform top in place, straightening the cape. "You sure you don't want to go out tonight?" Clark asks.
Clark shrugs. "It's a slow night. You get bored easily." Clark moves back toward him--no, Superman does, except the hair's all wrong.
"To--patrol?" Lex's eyes instantly find the second case that he'd been ignoring with careful determination--minds are fragile things, and he thinks his isn't up to identifying the glimpse of purple. That's not spandex, that's not spandex, that's not-- "No. No. I'm good." Don't look. Not yet. Not *ever*. "You go--do your thing. I'll stay here. Um. Research."
Doctor, geneticist, and superhero sidekick. Breathe, Lex.
"Got it." Clark floats casually into the air, like he's not even aware of what he's doing. "Call in two hours. See you." A ribbon of red/blue blurs before Clark is gone, only the sound of displaced air behind him, like a subway. Lex closes his eyes, leaning back into his perfectly fitted chair.
"I'm a sidekick." Don't look at that second uniform. "I am Lex Luthor, superhero sidekick. I report to the Justice League." Clark had said that, right?
Shit, he'd forgotten the AI, and how the hell had he done that? Spinning the chair around, Lex looks at the screen, almost like he would a face. "Yes?"
A slow, thrumming starts at Lex's feet through the tile and goes up.
"There was a dimensional disturbance," the computer told him, flashing equations that are familiar, even if they make as just much sense as the ones he saw at the Fortress. "The resonance continues to gain strength."
Lex leans back, eyes narrowing. Interesting. "Can you tell me where?"
Lex feels the low hum in the arches of his feet, creeping along the back of his neck.
"The abnormality is focused on the hospital." The Fortress hums again, even lower, and the little hair on Lex's body straightens abruptly. "And here. Lex Luthor."
Lex crosses his arms over his chest. "Not bad." He wonders how smart this is, baiting a supercomputer. He knows shit about this world. Just that flicker of the other Lex in him, not so violently different as the other one, except--
"Who are you?" It occurs to him belatedly that this was a monumentally stupid mistake--this is a fucking *AI*. If anyone could fuck up what he's trying to do, it could. The hum jumps in tone and volume, and Lex shudders. The chair doesn't feel quite so comfortable anymore. "Where are you from?"
"I'm Lex." Or the AI could give him a fast and easy way to figure out what he needs to know. "Lex Luthor."
"You are not of here."
"You're *good*." If the AI of his world could open dimensional portals, then the AI could certainly detect them. Maybe even sense whatever percentage of a difference there was between this Lex and the other one. "I'm--visiting. Reconnaissance, if you will."
The AI pauses. "The resonance indicates your world is dying."
Lex closes his eyes. "Yeah. That's what I'm trying to fix." Dying. Lex is glad he didn't check the news. "I need information. The Fortress--your counterpart, I think--told me that some worlda managed to defeat--this thing." Lex's throat closes. "We need to find a way to defeat it."
"Your--Kal, I assume--is no longer among you?"
The hum lightens a little, which Lex takes a positive sign. "Do you have a name?"
"Organic machine. Kryptonite infected. Destroys everything. And no, so far as I can tell, it doesn't have a motive."
"Or interested in an alliance?"
Yes, remind him of *that* bit of stupidity. Not that the AI could know that. "It wasn't interested in much of anything but destruction." He'll never forget the smells, which is weird. Burned stone and hot metal. Rotting, burned wood, ash. The air so dry it had burned his lungs. "You defeated it. How?"
The AI hums thoughtfully. Yeah, that's getting fucking annoying. "I will have to access my memory--"
"And that should take, what, five seconds?"
"Kal has limited my ability to access my data banks." And damned if it doesn't sound uncomfortable.
Lex tilts his head. "That doesn't sound like Clark. Why would he hobble his secret supercomputer?"
The equations on the screen flicker. If Lex were to put a name to the frantic activity, he just might say that the computer was embarrassed. "There was an incident--that made it seem wise to--curtail my freedom to access unlimited information."
Oh. *Oh*. Lex almost laughs. "I don't believe it. *You* tried to take over the world, so they Celeroned your ass?"
"Direct it," the AI answers firmly. "I had no intentions of destruction, but of order and the progress of the species--"
"That's what we all say." Lex spins in the chair, grinning. Life can be marvelous. Especially other people's. "I mean, right after, 'I'm really misunderstood', and 'You don't understand my vision', and 'I know what's best for the world' and 'God, why can't you just trust me', and--"
"I take it you have some experience with ethical quandaries?"
"I don't have ethics. I have power." Straightening in the chair, Lex studies the keyboard. He recognizes most of the symbols, but that's as far as he can get. "You have something in English?"
"Security measure," the computer answers shortly. "Your motives--"
"Trust me, I have absolutely no interest in monkey wrenching this little utopia of yours. All I want is information." Lex pauses. "Preferably in two days."
"That's the length of time you will be among us?"
"Until I revert, yes." Lex recognizes the Kryptonian equivalent of an A. So far so good. "I mean, what can I do, after all--"
"A great deal of damage." Instantly, the equations vanish, and Lex is blindsided by a panorama of visuals. Some are dark purple blurs. At some point, he's going to have to face that last uniform, but hell if it's going to be now. "Whatever your function in your world, you are necessary to the integrity of this one."
"Glad to hear it." In no universe where Lex Luthor is sane does he even consider--that purple thing. "What--do I do?" More information never hurt anyone. If you left out the psychological aspects. "You want to tell me what I'm supposed to pretend?"
Clearly, the AI isn't sure what to say at this point. Lex doesn't blame it. "You can monitor me, can't you? All I want is information to save my world. You are all welcome to superhero your little brains out after I leave. I don't give a shit."
"I can find you the information you need," the AI says grudgingly. Okay, so no further information on what this-Lex does. Great. Getting up, Lex doesn't look at the flashing visuals still running, like a soundless music video, and his eyes fall instantly on the purple thing behind glass.
Is that--a cape? And--a rocket-propelled--that's a *jet pack*.
"Oh. Hell. No." Once seen can't be unseen, though Lex thinks another round of electroshock wouldn't be amiss, if it could erase this. "That's ridiculous. I'd set myself on fire--"
"The uniform is flame retardant." And fuck if the AI doesn't sound really amused.
"That thing can't possibly work."
"You--or your counterpart--invented it. It does work."
"It's the Rockateer, after a bad acid night." What Lex wouldn't give for that to be true. Because now all those purple blurs on the screen are making a strange sort of sense. "I don't believe it." Turning around, Lex stares in sick fascination as the video footage on the screen resolves into him. Flying.
"Christ." Lex sat down on the edge of the platform, feeling the glare of all that purple spandex into his back. To think, he'd actually thought this could be a livable world.
Lois calls at some point to check in, and Lex leaves it to the computer to answer. Staring blankly at the Cellar of Solitude--and if Clark actually calls it that, Lex is giving up and declaring this entire last few days an extended hallucination--he tries to put things in perspective.
The vault works by coded lock, which the AI won't give him access to. Poking through the corners of the room doesn't yield much in the way of information, though some intriguingly interesting devices he rally wants to check out.
"Are you going to tell Clark?" Lex asks finally. Superheroing is so boring. He'd always suspected it, but this confirms it. Superheroes do a lot of sitting around, contemplating eternity or their toenails, waiting for the bad guys to do something. The other side is far more interesting, Lex thinks, hating the keyboard for not being a language he knows.
Lex tilts his head. "Oh?"
The AI hums again. Lex is beginning to think the tones can indicate stress--or whatever the equivalent is in an AI's lexicon of emotional responses. "It would be unwise." Another pause. "At this time, the world is in delicate balance--"
"You don't think he'll believe you?" AIs who try to take over the world might not be considered so trustworthy.
"He would believe me, Lex Luthor." Another pause, more thoughtful. "If my counterpart thought it was necessary to send you across dimensions, then I must respect that."
"I could have corrupted it." Lex has had fantasies like that, which probably says some sad things about his life to date. It used to be underwear models and flannel-clad men in work boots. How depressing. "I could have--"
"You might have. But I would have sensed deception. The body you inhabit is not your own. And I am programmed to register the slightest change in respiration--"
"Oh." Lex had forgotten that part. He hasn't actually sat down to see what was different in the bodies--it had *felt* relatively okay, but that didn't mean much. "Right." Strange, he doesn't feel much of a stirring of other-Lex in him. Maybe blank, unending terror leaked through more easily. "So what do I do, besides sit here? While you access the information I need? Won't Clark get--suspicious? Or wonder if something is wrong?"
There is something else going on with the AI, Lex is sure, but if the computer's going to keep the secret, Lex doesn't honestly care that much. Sitting back, he watches the screen curl in colors as more footage crosses. "How long do I usually hang out here?"
"As long as Clark patrols." The computer switches the footage, and Lex has a view of Clark at a distance, flying serenely through the sky. Far above the petty humans he protected.
Wow, Lex thinks, leaning back into the warm comfort of the chair. It's remarkably easy to restart the entire cycle of resentment.
"Do I do anything? Research, or something?"
Well, that's helpful. "What would I be doing tonight?"
"Patrolling with Superman. You don't often leave the lab, so you seem to enjoy your nights--"
"And that's a hell no. I wear that thing?" These pants are itching. Not just off the rack. Lex has a horrible feeling they may have come from a chain store. "In public?"
"Yes." The AI hums again. "You have a--codename. You are called--"
"No." Oh no, no, no. Sidekicks have the most horrible names. Somewhere in there will be the word 'boy', Lex can feel it. "No, don't tell me. I can't handle that."
"In your world--"
"'That motherfucking Luthor is about as far as anyone's gotten." Goosebumps are breaking out all over his skin. He feels dizzy. "How long are you going to take to find what I need to know?"
"It is not easy to access my memory banks," the AI says shortly. "I am--restricted in the amount of power I can use. And I hold the entirety of Kryptonian and multiple human cultures in my memory. With my current configuration, it is not a simple matter to access the data you require."
Lex sits back, frowning. "In other words, this is going to take a while."
"Yes. This will take a while."
Clark checks in at the ungodly hour of three AM, and Lex stares at the smiling face on the screen, babbling happily about a tsunami and some rockfall in Switzerland, or maybe Haiti.
"...go back to Smallville tomorrow."
Wait, that was actually important information. Lex wakes himself up. "What?"
Clark rolls his eyes. "I thought you might want to come to Smallville with me and Lois for a day or so. You've been working too hard. You look tired."
Lex nods dumbly. The earnestness is frighteningly sincere.
"We can see how the castle is. You haven't been back in awhile. Maybe the cook will make those peanut butter cookies you like." Clark offers it like some kind of weird incentive. Is this his idea of bribery? Dear God, is this *Lex's* idea of bribery?
Lex's eyes flicker to the keyboard of the AI. "I have some things to do here, Clark--"
"Just for the day, then. You never turn down trips to Smallville." Clark's face gets that pinched, worried look. It'd be unattractive on anyone else, but like the tights, Clark somehow pulls it off. "We'll have fun."
Lex frowns. Fun. Not a word he'd ever associated with Smallville, not since coming back to Metropolis. "I don't know--"
"You're coming." Clark says it like it's written in stone. "You need the break."
Shit. "Fine." He tries to sound gracious, but he thinks he's coming off more annoyed than anything else. "Anything else?"
"Well, you don't have to act like it's such a huge deal." Clark doesn't pout, but it's a very close thing.
And alienating the alien--probably not a good idea. "Clark, I--it's just. So much is going on." Dear God, is so much going on.
"Your research will wait." But Clark looks happier. At least in this universe, Lex has an actual job. Even if it is just the lab. "Okay, gotta fly."
The connection clicked off. Clark's phone manners leave a lot to be desired.
"It will be several more hours," the AI told him helpfully. "When you return, I should have the information you need."
That's how Lex ends up in a minivan heading toward Smallville.
The town hasn't changed at all, which irritates Lex's already abraded nerves. Worse, people *greet* him. Lex realizes with a shock like cold water that whatever he is here, it's certainly not feared or disliked.
The inner-Lex is insanely amused, in a low-key, vibrating kind of way that does nothing for his mood. Lois stays at the Kent farmhouse with her laptop and the baby, the Kent family gathered protectively around, while Clark loads Lex back into the minivan for a trip to the castle.
Because that is really what Lex needs right now.
"You work too hard," Clark observes from the driver's seat, like this is world-shattering news or something.
"It's been a busy week." It might have been. How the hell would Lex know, anyway? "So." Conversation. Clark keeps giving him side looks, like he's working himself up to ask some kind of question that Lex will be completely unable to answer.
"I was thinking," Clark says, breaking the uncomfortable silence, staring balefully out the windshield. Clark did good baleful. Superman made it a kind of art, come to think. "I-I know that you've been careful about everything." Clark frowns to himself, like that wasn't what he meant to say. "I mean, with Helen. Shit." Clark shakes his head, pulling to the side of the road. Lex notes that their epic bridge is in view. Of course. It's just that kind of a dimension. "Do you want to tell her?"
Lex blinks slowly. "Tell her?"
Clark flushes. "About me. About--what I do." Clark shifts uncomfortably, like they've had this conversation before, but from the other side. "I--I've been freaked out by it, but--she's your wife. And I know--I *know* how much of a strain this has been on your marriage."
Can't be anything close to wedding day homicide, Lex thinks, but nods appropriately. You, Clark, have no idea what new and interesting kinds of strain that causes.
"And she's--been great about it. Supportive. So. Lois and I were talking and--we both think that telling Helen would be a good idea."
And so epically bad. Lex stares into the sincere green eyes. Clark obviously had received some kind of head injury last night. "Tell her?"
Clark nods. "You've kept this secret for years. She's been with you for a long time. It's not like--I mean, she's not Desiree." Unaccountably, Clark flushes even harder, and Lex suddenly wants to know what that particular ex-wife did that makes Clark look like that. The ideas are entertaining in themselves. "You're my best friend, have been for years. I don't want you to lose your wife over this."
Lex imagines Helen for a moment; test tubes, the sterile smell of her lab, the harsh white of her lab coat, the wide, sharp curiosity of her eyes. Her softness had all been in her skin, her hair, warm only to touch. It's been too many years for him to remember everything. Even if he wanted to.
"I don't know--"
"I do." Clark sounds uncharacteristically solemn, and Lex turns in the seat to look at him. Clark gives good determination. "It's me that--you--"
Helen's bright mind and her curiosity and that way she could compartmentalize her life--fuck a fiancée and betray him to his father, love him with the same smile she killed him with. Helen is always Helen. Loving her hadn't been much of a choice, but trust had been, and he doesn't think making that mistake again can lead anywhere good. How many years had they been married, anyway? Could anyone perform for that long?
Lex thinks she could.
Clark stares at the steering wheel, then unbuckles his seatbelt, opening the minivan door and getting out. Sitting in an empty minivan at the side of the road is even less fun than Lex imagined--he slides out, trying to find the rhythm of this Clark, of this Lex he's supposed to be. This Lex may be some kind of superhero--Christ, he's not thinking about that again if he can help it--but he hopes he isn't a complete idiot.
Though that uniform's a good argument for the contrary.
Clark walks to the bridge, doubtless feeling that moments like this need symbology to back them up. Like their entire lives aren't massive, world-ending omens and anvils for the future. If Lex didn't know better, he'd think he lived in one of his comic books.
He joins Clark at the rail Lex wants to think years and bitterness and hate had finally dampened the power of this place, but time's funny in the things it never quite lets go. He's just as silent before this, just as slightly awed, even though he knows now, who saved him, and how, and why.
"You--you've done a lot for me," Clark murmurs, staring down into the water. There's history here, and in this place, Lex almost wants to know. Trace the fine differences in their past that made this future possible. "I--do you remember? When I was learning how to fly?"
Lex blinks. "A little."
Clark's smile is wistful. "You got the entire gym my freshman year in college." Clark laughs.
--"Lex, I'm in the *air*. I'm *flying*."--
--"And doing it very badly, but I guess we shouldn't model you after avians." --
Lex shivers at the sudden influx of memory--an image from a rainy day and a boy and a hundred different promises that led to that night. That other Lex is getting stronger, pushing more. Not like the last one, who barely cared if he got back his body. This one is watching--Lex can feel it like an itch just beneath his skin.
The AI hadn't ever gotten around to explaining what he should do if the other Lex wasn't too happy with being temporarily booted.
"What are you thinking?" Clark asks suddenly. Lex pushes himself off the rail, blinking away the tempting haze of other memories. They'd trap him here. And he has things to do.
"Just--maybe we should think for a while. Not rush into anything."
Clark rolls his eyes. "You've been married to her for almost fifteen years. She--she deserves to know."
She may know already, Lex doesn't say, bites his tongue. Helen could just as easily have a double life as Lex does.
"When she gets back--" he lets it trail off. Unfocused promises of the future might satisfy him for now. Other Lex can deal with whatever shit falls if Clark so completely loses his mind and pushes forward.
Clark turns his head, smiling at Lex. It tempts him back down, leaning both elbows on the rail, relax beside the tall, slim body. The friendship's so close to surface now, like it hasn't been in more years and more betrayals than Lex can hope to count. So old, but so close, almost like yesterday. "Clark." This isn't that other Lex, pushing through this time. This is him, stupid enough to want to touch this, if only for a moment.
It's been years, too many, and there's never been anyone like Clark, before or since.
Clark's head turns, honey slow. Softly parted lips, eyes lit up with the easy affection of people who've known each other so long, so well, there aren't any surprises left. I wanted this, Lex thinks, feeling a start of pain. I wanted this, even if I couldn't have anything else. I wanted this and would have done anything to have it. Anything at all.
"Clark." His voice almost breaks. "Do you ever wonder--wonder what would have happened if I hadn't found out? About you?"
Clark's eyes widen, pupils swallowing the iris. "Yeah." His voice catches. "I--when I got you out, you just kept--" Clark's voice does break then, and he looks away, staring into the water. "Everything they did to you. In there. You barely remembered your own name, but you remembered--remembered I was your friend. And that--that I would get you out." Clark's shoulders begin to shake. "I--"
Clark shakes his head. "I think about it, what you saw. When I went to get you out. All the secrets didn't matter, not with--not when it was your life. It's when I found out who I was. Who I wanted to be."
Lex's skin shivers. The other Lex is trying to push things up, dream-like images with a familiar flavor, but Lex pushes them back down. When, he almost wants to yell it, grab Clark by the shoulders and shake him. When did I do the right thing, say the right thing, what made you trust this one and not me? What the hell did you *want*? What did I need to do?
"I guess--I never really--I don't like to think about it." The corners of Clark's mouth turn up in a hard smile, so unlike him that Lex almost draws back. "What they did to you--what your father did--"
It's too much--the inner assault and the outer, and that look in Clark's eyes that he's never seen before, vengeful and dark with old hurt. It's almost blinding, the images, some fitting into the slots already in his head because he's always had them, and one more--dream-like, soft around the edges.
I thought I was crazy, Lex thinks. That white washed, sterile building, that car coming at him at sixty miles an hour, and Clark standing between him and the car, between Lex and the entire goddamn world if he had to. Belle Reve's never been this vivid before. He's never tried to remember before.
You left, Lex thinks. You left. And then you came back.
I *saw* that. Not part of the insanity, the drug haze, from Helen's betrayal to the day he emerged from Belle Reve with something forever missing, though he never really knew what it was until now. I *saw* you, you betrayed yourself for me, and I never knew. I never remembered.
You hated him, that other Lex murmurs spitefully. You hated him for not telling you everything, but he did that, he did it for you, and he went to rescue you, and you never knew.
I didn't *remember*.
"I didn't know--" Lex backs up a step, tripping over a loose board. Clark's eyes widen almost comically, and Lex would have laughed if he'd had enough air. A lifetime of hate built on a lie. Clark had never told him, and Lex had never thought to wonder.
"Lex?" One big hand catches his wrist before he can tumble on his ass like the idiot he is. "Lex, what's wrong?"
"I." Nothing. Lex just stares at him. It's almost the same Clark, but not quite. This one had to live with the knowledge of a Lex who knew his every secret. You can't overcome a lifetime of hate in a second, but Lex thinks that he just might be coming close. "You should have told me."
He should have, but he didn't. Lex wouldn't have either, not to the person that walked out of Belle Reve.
"Lex?" Both hands on him now, so close that Lex can smell the detergent he uses on his clothes. Clark looks scared. Lex can't really blame him. "You--are you okay? Did you--"
There's no way to explain it. No way to wonder. "Clark. I just--" What the hell does he say? "Sleep deprivation."
Clark just stares at him, and Lex thinks that expression must be a lot like some of the ones he's given Clark over the years, with the words like 'adrenaline' attached. You have *got* to be kidding me, it says. You are fucking unbelievable, it says. And, you can get away with that right now, but only because I'm so stupidly in love with you.
Kissing Clark isn't like he imagined. For one, when he'd imagined it, Clark had fought back.
Not so much with that.
Clark's mouth is soft, and the big hands grip even tighter, like he's scared Lex is going to back down. A lot of things try to run through his head all at once--stupid, not this, Lois, baby, no, no, no, but that other Lex isn't trying to fight him. A perfect single-minded meld of hunger and old disappointment and want so thick it's like a taste. Whatever happened here, some things stayed the same. Lex has never wanted anyone, anywhere, the way he wanted Clark.
Any of them.
Lex isn't sure how he ends up half-backed into the guardrail, Clark's teeth against his neck, being pawed through his cheap jacket and touched roughly and needed and--
"Clark." No, wait. What?
"Don't." Clark's voice is muffled, gentler now. "Don't say stop again. Don't say--"
"We can't do this." Why the hell *not*? Lex's hands untangle themselves from dark, silky hair. "You--your wife--"
"Shut *up*." Clark backs off, though, but not enough so Lex can get any kind of breath back. Rumpled hair and swollen lips, flushed all the way down his neck. Eyes dilated completely black. "She has nothing to do with this."
"I don't think she'd agree." He can't believe the words are coming out of his mouth. A few quick tugs of clothing, he could be bent over the rail and dear God--God..... You never, he thinks toward the other Lex, you never, you fucking *idiot*, what the fuck were you thinking?
It's like a hiss in his ear, other Lex's pain. I've never been that brave. Or that stupid.
It looks like Clark might stop thinking again, stepping closer, but the ring of the cellphone at Lex's hip stops him cold. Fumbling, Lex gets the phone to his ear.
"There are unexpected difficulties in accessing the information you require."
Lex stares at the ground. Of all the times for the computer to call-- "Do you monitor us at a distance?" Did the computer play duenna? Jesus.
"Yes." Christ. "But I contacted you to request assistance. The databanks I need are not accessible at this time."
Shit and fuck. "And you couldn't figure this out last night?"
"My ability to search for information is limited. With your assistance, however, I think I can discover what you seek."
"AI needs you?" Clark looks unsurprised, which makes Lex wonder just how often this sort of thing happens. Frowning, he stares at the ground. "Funny, how it always seems to want one of us when--"
A lot, apparently. "Yeah. I need to get back. I'll call a car from the castle. Stay with Lois and enjoy all this great Smallville ambiance." He's not entirely sure his sarcasm comes through clear enough. He's never happy when he's this hard and no hope of relief in sight. "Drive me to the castle, okay?"
Clark looks rebellious for a second, but beneath the soft blue sweater, he seems to admit defeat, nodding and pulling the keys from a front pocket. Green eyes stare into the ground like he's wishing it would swallow him up. "Lex--"
"We'll talk about this later," Lex lies, knowing they'll never talk about it again. He thinks other-Lex will make damn sure of that. More stupid him "Let's get going."
Lex leans back in his chair. "That is, honest to God, the best piece of bullshit I've ever heard, and I know bullshit. I got out of three murder indictments and several racketeering charges with it."
The AI blinks, like it's completely surprised.
"You want me to hook up your full memory capacity so you can find me information. After Clark handicapped your ass for all that world-conquering nonsense. Just so we're clear."
"Because you've changed. You don't want to take over frail humanity and put Kal at the head of an army of minions to conquer the world as we know it." Lex can't even believe it's *trying* this sort of shit.
"I have explained-"
"No one is that stupid but American juries and children under age three. Maybe. Try another one."
The computer's humming increases, like a swarm of unhappy bees. Not quite attacking, just confused. It's not a good comparison to make--even handicapped, Lex thinks that the AI is perfectly capable of some serious monkey business if it wants. "I would think it would please you. After all, if my calculations are correct, you have less than fourteen hours before you are pulled from this world.
Lex blinks. That much time had passed. "Why do you care?"
"I do not." If ever a computer could sound smug, this one could. "You, however, indicated that the situation on your world was critical."
Lex takes a slow breath. "It is."
"If this is true, you would do anything to discover the information that would save it. I have that information."
"I don't know that."
The computer hums. "That is a risk you must take. But your 'Fortress', as you call it, told you that it narrowed the search to worlds that had faced and survived it? We did both. The information is here. Will you risk the existence of your world?"
It's *good*. As Solomon and the babies as he's ever heard. Like Dad, maybe. Lex stares at the screen, like it's an actual face that he can read. "Why should I believe you?"
"Do you have a choice?"
Lex doesn't like when a computer is right.
The first Lex he'd taken over had been pretty passive, in retrospect. Lex fights down nausea and shaking hands, prone beneath the computer's main circuit board.
Half the problem is that to do this, he needs that other-Lex's memories--he knows shit about the AI, but this Lex, and this Clark, had disabled this. He needs the information, and accessing that brings the man, who isn't happy.
Who makes it all complex and hard and drops tools, clouds his mind with images he doesn't need--Lois, smiling and happy, Clark, brilliant as a supernova on his wedding day, the Kents' joyful faces, his own perfect, flawless lab and business, the disturbingly stable marriage to Helen, this world that he loves. This *world*--where LexCorp saves a million lives a year. Where Lex is--someone else.
Someone that he might have wanted to be in a different life, at a different time. Power's addictive, but this might have been, too, for a younger Lex, a different Lex.
The other Lex thinks the AI is lying. Lex is pretty sure it is, too--not about the information, that's all here. But nothing really changes. People don't. Things don't. It wants conquest and it wants Kal to do it, and it wants these things because it's in its nature.
He doesn't even recognize the tools--something with vague phallic symbology that glows bright green that he holds *here*, a tiny piece of what looks like bright purple wire *there*, the movements of his fingers on a keyboard his mind doesn't recognize, but his body does. And every second, that other-Lex, yelling in his head, don't *do* this, you don't know what it did, what it could do, what it did to Clark, how it hurt him--
That stops Lex. But only for a second.
"You don't know what my world is like," Lex mutters, pushing the small tool cart across the room to open another panel. "We need this--"
Then find another way.
"There isn't one." He pulls up the memory of Clark, shoving it into the front of his mind. Clark's shriveled body, the glazing of living green eyes into flat and dead. The other Lex is silenced briefly, and Lex is, too.
Christ. That was such a mistake.
"Fuck. Off." Quickly, he starts work. It's becoming easier--and harder to ignore the inner convulsions of the man inside him. In his own way, as driven as Lex, as ruthless as Lex, but infinitely kinder. The capacity to forgive that Lex lost more years ago than he can count. Compromise, respect, understanding, bone-deep fear. Memories of Clark, of a life that could have been.
It's--it might have once been something he'd wanted. "That isn't me. I don't want that." He's not anything like this man, happy to flounder in mediocrity, content playing at a superhero sidekick and always wanting something he only has to reach to take, yet never reaching. "You're a fucking moron. Some kind of fucking *idiot*."
Some things are more important than want I want.
Backing off, Lex closes the panel, the cool metal slide invisibly closed in the wall. Wiping his forehead, he glances at his watch. Less than four hours left. Clark's still in Smallville with Lois for the night, and with any kind of luck, Helen won't come home until he's gone and the other Lex can deal with all that confusion.
Don't do this.
"You need a full reboot, from the bottom up," Lex tells the AI. He can feel its hesitation. That will leave not only the basement, but the AI itself, helpless until the restart is complete. "Systematic shut-down of every system, then full start. Do you understand?"
The computer seems to quiver. "Yes."
"Commence shutdown, Authorization Lex Beta Six Three One." Lex takes a deep breath. "Do it."
All the lights go out.
We can still stop this, the other Lex says, and Lex has never been this afraid, not like that, not so filled with terror and anger and soul-deep worry. We can stop this before it even starts.
Lights, along with environmental controls, are run by the computer--Lex should have expected that. The emergency stairs are coded and the elevators are offline. If he wants to risk his neck trying to trip across the room with the other-Lex trying to wrestle control from him, he could probably get in that door and upstairs, where hopefully, there'll be light.
We can still *stop* this. There are ways to keep it offline until Clark comes back. We can fix this. We don't--
"I need this information." Other-Lex is either stronger than the first one, or motivation has a hell of an effect. Lex grits his teeth, pushing his palms into the floor to ground himself. "You don't understand." He lets the images flash, everything he remembers of the blackened landscape of the heartland, the burned remains of Metropolis, Virginia and the not-quite defeat. "It's going to reassemble--"
You'll destroy my world for yours?
Lex closes his eyes. It's so dark, he almost can't tell the difference. "You know how to fight the AI, so you can win. We don't even have hope."
I could have told you.
But that's a lie, Lex knows it, can feel the lie. This Lex doesn't know. He wasn't part of the Justice League team that went after it, destroyed it, whatever it was--Lex picks up that much from him before drawing back again. It's too easy to get lost there, inside that other mind. He wonders if the AI is going to have any problems pulling him back out of this. "Only a few more hours." Though time becomes weird when you're in perfect dark. How long does a reboot take, anyway?
No idea, other Lex murmurs. It's never been done. Melded into less sophisticated computer systems, it may take a while. We can stop this. It would be easy. Just--
Lex scratches his fingers into the floor. Too close. That other voice becoming like his own thoughts, clinging to the outside of his skull. He can't risk that. Taking a deep breath, Lex pushes it into silence, piling all of himself on top of it, shoving it so far down to the bottom that he can barely feel the other Lex anymore. The effort leaves him sweating and shaking, his head strangely empty, and that can't be a good sign at all.
"Not too much," he tells himself. "It wasn't too much."
The voice is faint, far away--Lex jerks himself upright, looking up. The tinny sound tells Lex that Clark is still upstairs, probably wondering why the elevator isn't working.
Pushing himself upright, Lex rubs his head, a headache forming just behind his eyes. No, he hadn't thought that other Lex would give up. Not anytime soon.
"Lex? What's going on?" It won't be long until Clark gets proactive.
"I'm fine," Lex yells up, leaning into the wall. His skin feels like it's buzzing, and hazily, he wonders what that means. No, wait--that's the wall. A low-key vibration that moves from his insteps up his leg from the floor, across his shoulder from the wall. All at once, the lights flash on across the room, illuminating the two uniforms in brilliant white light, and the screen is slowly coming back to life.
Lex drags in a breath. The headache is getting steadily worse.
"Lex? The elevator's offline. What are you doing?"
"Running some configuration experiments," Lex says. The lie's effortless, and he wonders how he thought of it. He can barely think through the pounding. "Just--wait."
"You don't sound okay." Of course, this is the time Clark would get suspicious. Lex makes his slow way to the chair, dropping into it with a deep breath. If there's anything he's supposed to be doing to assist the reboot, the computer's going to have to figure out how to do it on it's own. He's lucky he's still upright.
The slow buzz of his skin is almost comforting, like being rocked. Or a magic fingers bed in one of those highway hotels. Jesus. He could fall asleep right now. He's so damn *tired*.
"Clark--" He cuts off the voice, opening his eyes. That wasn't him. That was the other one. Fuck. *Fuck*. "Don't you dare," he whispers, gripping the armrests with both hands. "I'm too close."
There's no time left. Stop fucking around. This is my world you're destroying!
"I don't have time for this." Leaning onto the desk, Lex focuses his eyes on the screen. From somewhere distant comes the sound of metal being bent into interesting new shapes. "My world needs this--"
You need it. So you can do what you've always done. When Superman's not there to stop you. It will be an easy world to take, won't it?
It can't be healthy to hate yourself, Lex thinks blearily. Not this much.
"That's. Not. Why."
Why? You've changed?
The screen lights up, a maze of equations and vaguely geometric symbols in a trillion bright colors, making Lex close his eyes against it. Somewhere behind him, a metal door squeals, probably torn to pieces by superstrong hands. Lex takes a deep breath, trying to hold back the words that keep wanting to crawl out of his throat. Almost there. Almost--
"Lex, what's going on?" Big hands on his shoulders spin him around, and Lex faces a desperately worried pair of green eyes. "Lex--are you--what's wrong? What happened with the AI?"
"I reinitialized the AI," Lex hears himself whisper. What the *fuck*? His fingers and lips feel numb, like they've been pressed against ice. "I-I'm sorry, Clark, I fixed it, I didn't want--"
Christ. No. Lex tries to pull away from the hands gripping his shoulders. He's got to find out--got to--
"You fixed it." There's something in Clark's voice that Lex can't hope to read, but the hands on his shoulders loosen.
"We can still stop it." Other-Lex isn't quite up to taking the body, but he's doing fine with forcing out the words. The numbness extends up his knuckles and Lex thinks the room is getting brighter. Oh. Oh God. Not yet--
"It's okay." Big hands on his face, looking into his eyes. "Lex. It's okay. Don't worry. I think--"
"Lex Luthor." The computer's voice seems to come from everywhere. "The information you requested."
Lex turns his head, watching the information fly across the screen, storing it up. Oh. *Oh*. "We need Superman for that...."
"Yes." The AI hums again, then seems to settle down. "What are you orders, Clark?"
Clark grins down at Lex. "So?"
"You have to--stop it. Before it can--"
"It won't." Gentle arms circle his shoulders. "I told you that things change and you didn't believe me." Clark's farther away by the second. "I grew up, the world still turned, and the AI learned. You never believed me before. Now do you?"
Lex stares over Clark's shoulder at the screen. Superman was needed, kryptonite--Clark had been so close, if he'd lived a little longer, if he hadn't stopped to save Lex--if he hadn't--
"Clark--" His fingers fumble on the soft blue sweater. Everything's in shades of grey. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" The green eyes are growing distant. "Lex, it's okay--"
"If I'd known, it would have been--"