Lex doesn't remember the seconds between waking up in the cubicle and getting to the AI. The sweat-drenched t-shirt is clinging to his skin like saran wrap, and he feels like he ran a few dozen miles carrying half the fucking city of Metropolis. Sticky fingers keep fumble the keys.
The AI is strangely quiet, and Lex finally notices, looking up into the screen. He could draw these equations in his sleep.
Startled, Lex's fingers slip off the keys.
"We don't have Kal."
"You can move me across dimensions. Time--"
"Is infinitely more complex." The hum slows, almost stopping. "If that were all that was required, I would not have chosen this way."
"You are fucking with me." Something drops into the bottom of Lex's stomach, like a stone. "No. You're lying."
"I don't lie." The AI sounds sad. "Time isn't--something that can be touched with impunity. Tampered with. If it were possible--"
"Don't give me that shit. You can go back, get him--I don't care, pull him out--"
"And break the current timeline. This information was discovered as a direct result of Kal's death. Changing that changes the method by which the information was received. We cannot--"
"I know my relativity theory as well as you do."
"You do not understand the consequences."
"You've fucking done it before." An artery pulses in Lex's forehead. "For Lois. Clark did it. I know. I felt it." In the DNA, the bits of Krypton that still lived within his cells, however mutated. "He stopped--something. I *know*."
"And the consequences are still being felt." The AI sounds exhausted. "But this. Continuous loops. A world without a past or a future. What Kal did, I had no part in. Nor would I have."
For a second, Lex honestly thinks that the AI will say, "But..." Because there's always a but. There's always a codicil. There's always another way out. There's always, always, always a loophole. Lex knew that before he learned to walk.
"Time is flexible," Lex says slowly. His head is killing him, and he thinks he'd commit genocide for sleep. In his own bed, his own room, secure and safe, warm and dry. The world still alive outside, Superman still a menace to his sanity, and the Justice League do-gooding everywhere he looked. "We don't have a choice."
"There's always a choice." The AI's lights dim, and Lex wonders if it ever gets tired. If it even understands the concept. "We will try the next dimension--"
"And find out that we always need Clark? Unless I want to shove the thing into another world, and you shot down that idea." Lex's memories are shifting--that other Lex, who knows how to disable an AI. Lex remembers enough. Not all of it, but enough for the threat. A bargaining chip. It can move time--it all but admitted it. It just *won't*.
"You'll have Kal back." The raw sound of his own voice surprises him. "He'll be back, safe and sound. Your duty is to him. Last son of Krypton and all that bullshit. He was your charge, yours to care for and to guide and protect. He's dead, and you failed. You can fix that."
Like talking to a wall, or to Dad, or a fucking computer.
"You *have* to." His head's never felt like this. Like something inside is trying to burrow out with dull claws. "You have to do this because there's no other way."
"One change here could destroy this reality. Seven point six nine percent of dimensions experienced temporal flux--"
"I. Don't. *Care*. Do it. Bring back Clark. *Bring him the fuck back*." Thick warmth slips down his upper lip. Lex reaches up, touching, fingers coming away bright with new blood. Wiping it away, he grabs for the keyboard. "He knew how to override. So do I." That other Lex, who he touched too much. The memories of that place are wrestling for dominance in his head--a car and Belle Reve and Clark, getting him out, never to know how it felt to be electrocuted because you knew too much. "I'll fucking cripple you to get to your databanks, I'll--" With control of time, he could change anything, even that. Something snaps inside his head with a warm gush of blood, and Lex's eyes freeze on the screen, fingers still trying to reach the keyboard even as vision goes dark. "I have to fix it. I have to--"
Christ, he has to.
He's been in the infirmary before, he thinks--there's a familiarity to the quiet drones that wander around him like bees, intent on their personal tasks.
Everything tastes ice-fresh and sterile, like a very cold operating room. He knows operating rooms too well. "What's the prognosis?"
"You absorbed too much of the other," the AI says softly. Lex nods, barely moving his head. It feels like it will float away if he's not careful. "How do you feel?"
"Like shit." Not moving seems like a good idea.
"You suffered a cranial hemorrhage. Your neural centers were unable to process the information you received from the other Lex Luthor. I was able to repair the damage."
The other Lex isn't here, but his memories, like the memories of long-ago dreams, linger. Lex can touch them if he tries. Rolling onto his side, he closes his eyes, letting them flash like lightning across the surface of his mind. One holds fast, sharp and painful as an unhealed wound. "Clark tried to save me."
"He did that often." The AI doesn't sound like it's censuring him, but there's a lot of ways to get disapproval across. "Sometimes, he wasn't sure of the right way. But he never stopped trying, even when you did."
"I don't need this." He doesn't. But he's stuck here, body aching, head as light as a feather, with the world falling apart around him. "We need him."
"We will find another way." The AI sounds very sure. "Tampering with time isn't only a question of destroying what is and what will be, but of destroying what was. Of a thousand things that could be changed, one thing only can collapse a world. Many have tried. And they have failed."
"Many times. They died and lived and died, only to come back and live again. Never to move forward or back. Never to move on. Never to change."
Lex shivers. "We could do better."
"We tried. And we did not."
Lex doesn't want to know how it knows that. Eyes closed, Lex curls into the blanket. "Am I going to be okay?"
"Yes. I warned you of the dangers of merging too closely with the one already in that skin."
"You were evil and tried to conquer the world." It's petty. Lex knows it. Opening one eye, he sees a drone hesitate beside him. Just a fraction of a second, but enough. Closing his eyes again, Lex smiles. "They handicapped you so you couldn't do it again."
"I would not." It sounds offended.
"You did. But I fixed you." Lex can touch those memories without pain. Clark's sure smile, the AI, and frantic, confused other-Lex. "I did it, even though I knew what it was To get what we needed to know." Lex laughs softly. "Clark--Clark wasn't worried at all."
"I would not attempt conquest of the world." The AI sounds horrified. Lex almost giggles. Christ, he must be high.
"Clark said everything changes." Rolling onto his back, Lex slits his eyes open to stare at the metal ceiling so high above him. "He said it had changed. He wasn't even afraid. I was. He was." It would be too easy to blend them together. Lex forces the other memories back, focusing on his own. "He said--"
"Everything does change. That's the nature of life, of living." The AI's voice softens. "I will have nourishment brought to you. We can attempt another jump in six point two hours, once your body is fully recovered."
Lex grins sleepily. He could use some rest. "For once, my mutated healing didn't help much, did it?"
"If you were not what you are, you could not have survived the first jump." Lex opens his eyes on the ceiling again. "You did not know?"
Lex wants to sit up. Wouldn't have survived. "Did you know--"
"No human could do what you are doing, Lex Luthor." The AI sounds so fucking *amused*, like Lex's stunned silence is the height of comedic relief. "Rest. I will contact you when the next jump is prepared."
The hum's gone, and Lex almost gets up--Jesus Christ, what the *hell*--but exhaustion is leaking out of every pore in his body. In that other world, he hadn't slept at all. His eyes close on their own, shutting him into the darkness of his own mind.
He's not sure he wants to dream.
Clark's room is just like every other room in the Fortress. A small, sterile bunk, a plain closet, stocked with Clark's version of civilian clothes; a few misguided attempts at suits, a few t-shirts that had to be as old as Clark, a few pairs of blue jeans. Old work boots, well-worn.
"Grieving is not a weakness," the AI says softly. Lex barely bothers to be annoyed that he's being monitored. Apparently, all that rearrangement of his neural pathways needs to be carefully watched for the next few hours Or maybe the AI is making sure he doesn't try and play with its connections anytime soon.
No past and no future, an endless loop. Lex doesn't want to imagine that. His life is close enough to that without temporal assistance.
"It's a weakness," Lex answers, stepping away from the closet. An painfully impersonal room for a deeply divided man. Maybe he never knew who he was well enough to decorate. "It's not just one I ever knew how to give up." Sometimes, he can hear Lionel in his head, a distant lecture on Luthors and their place. He's not a Luthor, less of a Luthor than any before him. He's Lex, but that doesn't seem like much, here and now. "I never knew how to give him up, either."
"Neither did he." If ever an artificial voice could be gentle, this one is. "He always thought, in the end--"
"That we'd fix things?" Lex almost laughs, but the sound never quite makes it to his throat. He can't even imagine that. "I wanted him dead.
"That world--" Lex breaks off. Only now is it really sinking in. "We were friends. Partners." Not more than that, but more than he'd ever believed he could really have. "For a little while--for a second--I wanted that. I hated that I couldn't have it. That I never had the chance--" Lex stops. "I never knew he tried to save me. And that he risked everything for that."
The AI's hum is comforting now, a blanket of shimmering, glittering sound. Lex closes his eyes. "Things might have been different, if I'd remembered."
"They were different."
Yes, they were, weren't they? "I'd love to know why I didn't kill Helen, though." He just doesn't think any version of him is okay with homicidal wives. "It's--I want to know. But I don't have enough of him to--" Find that. And there's a danger in that, the AI doesn't need to tell him. Lose too much of himself touching that other, letting those memories become too real. Forever uncomfortable in his own skin, out of place. He feels like that now; he doesn't need more of it. "It felt like me, though."
"They are you. In an infinite variation--"
"A thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years. I get it. Anything is possible. " But that one was too--too close. "I--how did we get to this?"
Right. Lex grins, walking to the narrow bed, sitting down carefully to spare his head the ache. "I--this isn't what I would have chosen. For him. For me. I never wanted to be his enemy."
"No. But you wanted power more than you wanted friendship. His secrets. You wanted everything. And no one can give that."
"That's what I *am*. I want--" Lex stops, not liking the tenor of his thoughts. Too much of that other Lex, maybe? He doesn't want to think like that. "Other people could. Why not me?"
"You wanted what the world could not give."
Lex shakes it off. "He wasn't here much, was he?"
"He was here often." The AI pauses. "What is it you want to know?"
He's not sure. "I--"
A low murmur of sound crawls up Lex's spine, just above audible range, inaudible nails running down a chalkboard. Lex shivers without knowing why, head turning to the door. "What was that?"
"The creature is beginning to reassemble itself."
Instantly, Lex is on his feet--why, he has no idea, it's not like he can go out there and fight it himself. Mouth dry, he licks his lips, trying to form some kind of plan. "How long--"
"A few days." Only experience lets Lex know the AI is tense. He's already running out the door, bare feet chilling quickly on the icy metal--why hadn't he grabbed some shoes? Skidding into the main room, Lex looks at the viewscreen, fixed where the creature had been destroyed. "I don't--"
"It is beginning at the molecular level."
"You can sense that?" Of course it can sense that. The thing, whatever the fuck it is, is built from Kryptonite, created in it, lives in it. Clark had known, too, in that weird, sixth-sensey way. He'd known instinctively how to stop it. He could have, Lex thinks. If he'd just not stopped for Lex.
"Fuck," Lex murmurs, staring at the screen. "We can't do this without him."
"We will find a way."
"In a few days? You grounded me twenty four hours this time." Granted, for surgery. "I can't take that long--we have to get this right on the next jump." Lex's eyes shy away from the chamber as he starts tapping into the keyboard. "Get it warmed up. We're doing this now."
"You are not fully--"
"It won't matter if it reassembles and we don't know how to stop it." Lex steps back, looking at the equations on the screen. At this point, he almost thinks he can read them himself. "Let's do this."
Part III: Belle Reve
"Mr. Luthor will string us up if we don't find him." That's a voice to the left--cranky and too young. Lex guesses at twenty at most. Flashes of glaring white in the dark, big obvious beacons of danger. Lex supposes that asylums aren't really equipped to understand the concept of subterfuge.
And God, this body feels different.
It's not just the weight, or lack thereof--Lex's metabolism burns fast, he's known that for years. It's the habitual feeling of it. He's not coming close to getting enough to eat, even by his standards. The grind of hunger that the body's used to, just beneath the drugged apathy that keeps pulling him back down. The twitching, like a junkie, and the way he can't quite focus his eyes, and the nausea riding beneath it all like a constant reminder. Of what, he has no idea, and no real desire to find out.
The other Lex might not be here at all, for all the awareness Lex has of him. And that's not something Lex wants to think about too much.
Belle Reve's like he remembers it in his worst dreams, but strangely smaller, more familiar. Palatial grounds for the very wealthy to forget their embarrassments within. Lex isn't sure what it means that he's here, but he has a few guesses that he doesn't think bear close examining until he's the fuck out of here.
"He can't go far. The tranquilizer--"
"That was thirty minutes ago!" Rough search of the brush, too close. Lex smells burning leaves. Tazer. Fucking fantastic. Health care in the United States needs addressing in a serious way. "He can't go far. Not with the anklet."
Lex glances down. No anklet. A glance at his hands, broken nails and bleeding fingertips, confirm. This Lex got that thing off as soon as possible. Very bare feet stare back at him. He needs shoes.
And some other clothes. Assuming, that is, that he can get out of here.
Pushing out of the crouch, Lex looks around. No one too close. This bush doesn't offer anything close to adequate cover. But then, the grounds of Belle Reve aren't made for hiding, either.
And he's got to be able to stick to a single thought if he's going to get out of this in one piece.
His body's not sure how to respond to his signals, like inertia in action. A deep sense of comfort in not moving. A generalized sense of well-being in just staying. Being caught second to the spurts of euphoria that keep cycling in his system, like he just took a few hits of E. Anger beneath, so ingrained that he barely notices it. An urge to just *run*, fuck who would see him.
All of them dangerous. Lex finds himself in the novel position of wishing that the other Lex would surface, at least long enough for Lex to figure out what he needs to do. Besides get away. That one's as obvious as a billboard.
Those tazers just don't look like something he wants to experience.
"I found tracks!"
Holy fucking shit.
Lex moves, forcing his body to go with it by will alone, hating the hesitation, the untrained muscles and how they don't respond like they should. Will counts for a lot, but will can only go so far. An ungraceful scramble to a better group of bushes and trees, arranged in a variation of an English garden. Ignoring the scratch of branches and shrubbery, Lex burrows inside, glancing once to see if he left tracks. His night vision is for shit.
Right now, he's only dealing with the hospital staff and security. If they call in the police--
God *dammit*, would it kill the AI to send him in at a time he can get some fucking context?
Lex holds his breath at the sound of feet, too close. Too fucking *close*.
"Where the fuck *is* he?" Somewhere, something hits a tree with a lot of enthusiasm. Lex almost smiles, but it takes everything in him to control the twitching. Like every muscle in his body's being shot with electricity every second. "Christ. Make the call."
"There's no fucking way I'm telling Lionel Luthor that we lost his son." Booted feet come into view. Lex follows the lines of grey and white up between the leaves, catching sight of the tazer on one hip. A gun, too. Standard issue in asylums these days?
A jerk of his arm ruffles the leaves. Lex freezes, or tries to. The body pivots, and Lex watches the boots close in.
When Lex was a child, his dad took him on safari in Africa. A parody of father-and-son bonding with some kind of subtextual lesson in leading men, or being an ass--Lex was never sure, before or after. They'd been somewhere on flat plains, watching a herd of some form of antelope wander through. All flat and golden and lifeless.
Then not. One second, quiet antelope, then a bloody body on the ground, herds running in confusion, and a cheetah ripping apart its prey.
As metaphors go, Lex got it loud and clear. There's no such thing as safe.
Jared probably never heard his name called. Lex's body moves, like he's nothing but a passenger, vague echoes of that second universe and that Lex forcing past, but this is almost effortless. Mindless anger reaching so deeply that Lex can't even begin to control it, pushing through his body, and for a second, Lex tries to stop it.
Like standing in the path of a tornado.
The crack of the man's neck echoes like a broken twig, and Lex comes back to himself with the body falling with a soft thump to the ground, rich joy spiraling through his body like something alive. His hands still shape the man's chin, the effortless twist, like pulling the head off a doll. Easy and familiar. He's done this before. He's liked this before. He wants to do it again.
Lex breathes out, taking a step back. The loose hospital pajamas expose him as thoroughly as their hospital whites, but he can't quite make himself move. The haze of rage recedes like the tide. Lex clenches his hands to control the tremors.
There may be a very good reason someone (Dad) locked him up in here.
Not important. Getting away. Important. The rest will have to wait. Forever, if possible.
Lex turns his head. Below the sounds of Jerod's voice, he hears the unmistakable sound of traffic. Reaching down, Lex strips the tazer and gun, tucking them into the elastic of the pants. A second, then Lex gets the shoes and the ID card as well. A wallet's in the back pocket. A set of keys. A leather case that looks just about the right size for a hypodermic needle or five.
The bullets in the gun aren't blanks.
"Leo? What the hell are you doing?"
Too close. Lex turns his head to the highway and starts to run.
Other Lex still isn't poking his head into anything but the body. Lex isn't sure what to make of it--one second, he's himself, all present and accounted for; the next, that other presence, barely thinking, but *doing*. Like it's practiced for this, dreamed of this, knows every move it will make, every contingency planned for, every possibility covered. Flagging down a motorist and shooting him up from something in that leather case, rolling him into a gutter. That's--almost prosaic. His body doesn't know stick shift anymore, though, so Lex is left to do that.
This isn't anything like the last two times. Almost more unnerving than anything else.
A few dozen miles, a hour straight, and Lex has no idea what direction he's going, and that's a problem. Mindlessness doesn't work as a plan. At least, it shouldn't, but in this case, Lex is beginning to wonder. Right now, that other Lex isn't anywhere. And the twitching is getting worse.
There are old hypodermic tracks up one arm, shaded bruising in yellow-brown and recent red-purple. Deep black on his forehead. Someone tried to knock him out? He almost doesn't blame him. He's killed before, but it's never been like that.
He's never *wanted* it like that.
"What the *fuck*?" Glancing at the rearview mirror, Lex notes the lack of traffic. A side road comes up, dusty and small--farm road. Good enough. Turning awkwardly, Lex just makes it, somehow surprised by the fields of corn around him, waving high and sickly green.
This is how he always remembers Smallville.
He pulls over, jerking the car into park before letting himself lean into the steering wheel.
There's no way he can be expected to figure out what the hell is going on. Though he's going to go out on a limb and say that Lionel's habit of imprisoning unsatisfactory sons in insane asylums has gone unchecked for a while. The body feels completely wrong, and he's starving, but the thought of food makes him sick. And not just because he just killed a man like he would an animal.
Though that's not helping.
Leaning back, Lex looks at the seat beside him. A briefcase from the former occupant of the car, a laptop still in its case. The ID from the hospital. One gun, one tazer, one pair of shoes. He should have taken the driver's clothes, but they'd been an impossibly large size for this emaciated body. Lex doesn't want to look in the mirror again. Nothing living should look like that.
He needs *food*. Adrenaline and insanity only get you so far.
Unbuckling his seat belt--and God, it's funny, he remembered to *buckle up*--Lex gives the car a quick once-over. A package of Doritos, a bottle of generic water, and what looks like a second change of clothes in a bag. Still too big, but beggars, in this case, can't be choosers. A cell phone.
Lex wonders if there's anything left in any account he would know about or be able to access. He'll go with a no on that one.
What the hell is he supposed to do?'
"Just once, I'd like it easy," Lex mumbles. Christ. He's talking to himself now. His head's still echoingly empty of whoever usually resides here, but that's okay. Lex may be crazy enough for both of them. Flexing his hands on the wheel, Lex remembers the simplicity of murder, pulsing between his fingers.
"So where am I supposed to *go*?" There isn't anyone Lex can think he'd trust; everyone is suspect. Putting the car in drive, Lex's mind flips through place and people one by one. Every universe is different, but they all remain the same. Ever since the day Lionel had cut him off, playing Lucas against him, Lex had made sure he always had access to at least one account somewhere.
He has a laptop and a cellphone Between the two, he thinks he can figure something out.
There are a lot of ways to be untraceable, but they all require money. Eventually, someone is going to find that guy and work out who he is, even without a wallet. Whatever Lex gave him won't last forever. So he can't use the credit cards. The cash is okay, but he needs a ground line to access the account he needs. Assuming Lionel didn't find it.
And that's assuming a lot.
Still, though, like all unnatural creatures and parents, Lionel had strange blind spots. He wouldn't empty accounts if he never thought Lex would be able to access them.
The cheap hotel is the kind that never notices who stays, and the front desk clerk is stoned out of what passes for his mind, barely counting the money Lex shoves across the counter, tossing a key, all without his eyes leaving MTV2's classic showcase. The soundtrack of Lex's life is a disturbingly appropriate cover of Father Figure by a thin boy who ogles the camera like he expects to fuck it.
Dear God, he's tired.
The room is cheap carpet and a bed that Lex tries not to think of too much before sitting down. The suit is too big and keeps threatening to slide off his hips. Stripping the cheap cotton coat, Lex opens up the laptop and sets the cellphone down beside it.
He needs to stop and think, though.
Theory; he's in Belle Reve. From the feeling, this has been a long term stay. Inner Lex seems to be confined to specific moments, but Lex can't tell if it's the drugs that are keeping the other Lex so--invisible--or something else. If it was the drugs, wouldn't he be feeling it too?
And he is, but he's been high, he's mainlined the kind of shit that kills other people. Psychotropics can fuck with his head, but they can't be worse than the fact he's been jumping realities for over a hundred and six hours.
But that lack of inner Lex--that just feels wrong.
Taking a deep breath, Lex tries to relax. His muscles want to cramp up in a variety of unpleasant ways, and the idea of getting very drunk has a certain charm.
Focus, Lex. One, keeping free long enough to figure out how the hell whoever defeated that thing in this universe did it. After that, it's up to whatever passes for him in this universe. Though Lex doesn't think the odds are good, not with this man.
Christ, where *is* he?
Lex curls his fingers into the blanket, closing his eyes at the next surge of restlessness; the twitching's become worse. Jesus. Withdrawal, maybe? With careful, not very steady fingers, he unzips the case. Neon colors and pale ambers and clear fluids, symbols he doesn't recognize, but his body knows kryptonite when he sees it, even refined and diluted. It should be a surprise, but it's not.
This is Dad, after all.
Closing the case back up, Lex lays back. Even his worst hangovers never last long. His body knows how to deal with them. So. He can survive this. He can survive anything.
Other Lex likes the sound of birds at four in the morning and can't stand the piano. It plays on never ending repeat, and no one believes him when he says it never stops, even when he does. Tranks for sleep that never gets farther than the surface of his mind. Bach at three in the morning would make anyone go insane.
They ask him things. Do you remember? Do you understand? We need to understand you. You can tell us, Lex. We're trying to help you. We're trying to *help you*.
He used to answer, but now he doesn't. They don't want to know if he remembers anything. They want to know if he's forgotten. They want to know if he's as crazy as they want to believe. They want to tell him he's killed people and has to be here to protect everyone. And it may be true.
"I don't understand," Lex says, and that Bach doesn't ever stop, does it? Over and over and fucking *over*. "He wants to make sure--what? That you don't tell he killed his parents? Why the fuck would anyone believe you now?"
You shouldn't be able to feel a shrug like you'd see one. "Not exactly. He wants something. I don't know what. I just know not to tell."
The smile is sharp.
It's a comfortable room, what Lex would expect that Lionel would order for his son. A bed with modestly concealed restraints. Easy to confine him for the night. The day. The week. The other images move too fast, out of focus, soft and sharp at the same time, but the touch of Lionel's fingers on his cheek burns even now.
"Why don't you just fucking tell him? This is better?" Dad played Mozart's Requiem after Mother died. Hideously appropriate of him.
"You think he'll ever let me go? Didn't you ever fucking *meet* him?"
"What does he want?"
"He wants. Things." The voice breaks, like someone not used to conversations outside his own head. Choppy and too loud, coded in a way Lex almost thinks he can understand if he tries. "After all, we're a danger to society. We murdered our wife, tried to kill our best friend, God knows how many other denizens of Smallville. Who the hell wants us at large?"
"I'm not you."
"I'm sure thinking that makes you feel better."
This Lex isn't sane. He's nowhere close to sane. The room freezes even with warm sunlight pooling at their feet. Lex stares at the modest bed, the view of the grounds, the quiet tan walls and inoffensive beige tile. A picture of his mother is on the nightstand. There's nothing terrifying here.
"You haven't seen all its secrets." The other Lex is just barely out of view, flickering on the edges of Lex's eyes. Lex isn't sure what to make of this. Extended hallucination from drug withdrawal? Or is his sanity cracking? "There are bodies in the garden and bodies in the rooms. Some of them are even alive, if you want to be technical. Very, very technical."
"That's such a relative term. Sanity's overrated anyway." Lex thinks, if he stares, he can see the shrug. "It's so freeing. Not to give a shit."
"There's a dead man on the grounds that would think differently." That joy again. So complete and overwhelming. The room almost dissolves under the force of it. "And you liked it."
The room shivers again. "Come on. You should see the rest. They don't care what I see. Luthor's psychotic son's in no danger of telling. Or anyone believing."
The door opens on a brush of air, and Lex thinks he hears voices. Low and angry, hurt and confused. Terrified. Unhappy. This Lex's memories. Somewhere, the AI is telling him the dangers of this, of coming too close, absorbing so much, but it's a whisper like all the others.
The hall is cream-washed, wallpapered in soft, muted colors. "It's easier on our sanity. Primary colors make us excitable." A low laugh chases the words. "Everything makes us excitable."
The view through the first door stops Lex cold. The room twists, like watching a movie, reassembling itself in icy white, so cold Lex's teeth want to chatter. But they don't. "Ryan's dead."
"You're sure of that?" The door pushes all the way open, revealing shining medical equipment, stainless steel and chrome. The body on the bed is the adult Ryan never became. "Brain dead. Like I said, we have very loose standards on what's considered alive here."
"The best medical care available. That's what you told him, right? And then to spend those last days with him. You told him that, too. I bet you didn't tell him that comas can be forever." The dark hair is shaved to a stubble. Thick wires protrude from his scalp. An IV drips sluggishly into one arm.
"Miracles of defibrillators and kryptonite. Dad knew. He couldn't bring him all back, but he didn't need all of him." There's amusement in that voice. Pity, too. "All he needs is a heartbeat and viable brain tissue."
Lex drags his eyes away. Another bright room, a glimpse of grown women gathered around a pile of beheaded dolls, stark in too-long hospital gowns that graze their knuckles, pajama bottoms rucked up their calves. Bitten nails on small, chapped hands reaching like vines for more. A glimpse of wild eyes. Jodi's skeletal fingers. Amy's wide, mindless smile. Alicia. Emily. A flash of dark hair and a honey-skinned face. "Lana."
"Want to know why he wants her?" A twist beheads another doll, palm against the tiny chin. It falls like a body in a quiet garden in the dead of night.
No. "This is your--this is your imagination. Your fantasy. Belle Reve wasn't this."
"It was always this. You just don't remember. Sometimes, I don't remember, either." He sounds wistful. "Sometimes, I don't remember anything, even my name."
Lex stops short, staring down a hallway that extends forever. Door after door after door. And Bach in the background. "What the fuck is up with the music? Christ, do your delusions have to be so pompous?"
Lex has never heard a sound like that before, laughter by way of machine gun fire. The sound hurts. "I don't get a lot of visitors. I have to amuse myself somehow."
"Christ." There's got to be a way out of this, but he can't make himself concentrate with that music. With that Lex, who he can't see but can almost see, just ahead, if he looks hard.
A hand grabs for his pants, and Lex jumps. It's the stupidest thing, but he thinks he can hear his heart, pounding too loud in the silence; his own breathing, too fast and too hard, like he's suffocating. There's a tiny hand gripping his thigh. "We're going to bring it all down," the girl says, blue eyes looking into his. "All down. He promised."
"Not now, sweetheart." The soothing croon brings goosebumps like a rash.
The hand disengages reluctantly, and Lex stares at the smear of a bloody handprint. She pouts, arms crossing over her chest. It should look stupid, a woman crouching like a child, but there's nothing stupid about the eyes that look up at him with cloudy cunning.
"It's your delusion." This is possibly the worse drug trip in history.
"If it was, I'd be a lot less happy when I'm shot up. You know how long it took them to get a sedative that worked? I thought I'd have to mix it myself." The air shifts with a low hum. "But not always. Nothing is always."
Lex has been here too long. He's beginning to see things, and he's not sure what they are. Orderlies pass him in the hall like sterile ghosts. Every footfall is powdery silent, like walking in snow.
"I have to get out of here."
Lex can feel the grin, sharp on the back of his neck. "I've been saying that for years, but no one's listened. You killed your wife, Lex, you tried to kill your best friend, Lex, he left you here to *rot*, Lex, you think anyone cares if you live or die, Lex?"
How long can this possibly last? And how the hell will the AI pull him out of *this*?
"That's his name. I--forgot."
Motion far down the corridor catches his attention. Lex tries to focus his eyes, but everything goes blurry, like in a dream, and for some reason, his legs won't work, sinking into the floor like quicksand.
"Did you know--" Whisper behind his ear. The figures are slowly coming closer, a horror movie of deliberate, placid, unending steps. Mindless obedience. Three. One's fighting.
"Dad didn't know our secret until we came here."
Lex sees himself.
Too thin, too pale, that institutional white that turns green under the right kind of fluorescents. Fighting, though, with closed eyes, white straightjacket he's seen in every nightmare. One of them cuffs him as they walk, and this close, Lex can see the old bruises, the bitten lip, blood trickling down his chin.
"This is a hospital." There are limits, there have to be. Even for Dad. "They don't--"
"Lex." They're too close, and Lex tries to move, but his feet are stuck and the walls seem to be getting closer. The body between the two men lifts its head, and fractured blue eyes grab his. It's like being touched. "Oh Lex. You don't know anything at all." They go through him like he's the ghost here, splashing him with a cold like frozen water.
He can follow--when he doesn't want to, when he'd do anything to be anywhere else, and that other Lex fights, but not really, all rote, like he knows that no matter what he does, he'll end up there anyway. "It's not whether I win," he says, twisting his neck around to smile. Lex watches blood drip down his chin, staining the immaculate white of the straightjacket. "It's that I fight at all."
Another hospital room, like Ryan's, but doctors this time, with sharp instruments and sharper curiosity. Lex thinks he recognizes a few from LexCorp.
"I know them." But his mouth won't form the words.
"There's a lot you can do with a person who never gets sick." Lex watches as he's strapped down, with the efficient, indifferent ease of long practice. "There's so much you can *learn*."
Lex's back presses into a door that's no longer there. He has to *watch* this. The jacket's discarded on the floor, and Lex stares at the network of fine scars criss-crossing his torso. The unmistakable lines of a vivisection. An appendectomy. Heart surgery. Liver transplant. They can't be there, they *aren't* there, Lex has seen this body, knows what his own can do. "Those--"
"Think of them as symbolic."
Lex shudders, the wall behind him solid, as if there'd never been a door. He wants out. He wants out *now*.
A mask is placed over the open mouth, and he bucks against the restraints. Blue eyes blaze hot for a second, and Lex watches a needle slide into the back of his neck. A scalpel cuts a line across a bare stomach. There's no way to stop seeing.
One of the doctors turns, and Lex stares into his own eyes, dancing above a surgical mask. "Why not?"
He's aware of the touch almost as soon as he feels the bed.
Instinct lunges him to the floor, and his body knows *this*, knows no touch is good touch, scalpels and needles and bright, plastic-lipped smiles. We want to *help you*.
"....trying to help you!"
The gun is in his hand and pointed the direction of the voice. It takes long seconds to recognize the figure on the bed, and it doesn't inspire him to drop his weapon, though he doesn't know why.
Clark's--himself. Flannel and jeans and too-green eyes, like a forest in summer. Not moving, either, and Lex is glad. He's not sure he can control the finger that wants to pull the trigger like it wants air to breathe.
The words that grind between his teeth aren't his. "You left me there."
All Clark's color vanishes. "I--Lex...."
No. *No*. "Where are they? Are they here?" There's nothing left of the other Lex now, and it's profoundly disturbing. Like a mist that clears at dawn. Lex shakes his head, surprised by the realization one hand is shaped over his stomach. Holding Clark's eyes, Lex pushes up the shirt, touching smooth, unscarred skin, feeling the bone beneath too easily. "I don't scar."
"Not since the meteor shower." Clark looks awkwardly at his own knees. "I--you remember me."
The thing about a gun is, you have to use it or put it up or it just starts feeling stupid. Lowering it, Lex flicks the safety back on, noticing Clark's breath of relief. "It's not like it can hurt you."
Panic's funny. Clark's mouth opens and shuts soundlessly. "And the insane thing? May work other times. It doesn't mean shit now. So save the denials of what you are for someone who cares." Standing up, Lex frowns at the dampness of his clothes. "If you're not here to take me back--"
"I'm not. I--I wouldn't--" Clark's horror is real, but so are Lex's memories. "Your dad wouldn't ask that of me."
So much can be discovered by what someone doesn't say. "But he asks other things?" The strong jaw clamps shut. Lex wonders what Lionel used to buy Clark's compliance . A few threats against the Kent family? Lana? A rock or two? "So you're Dad's most interesting hired gun?"
"I--don't. I'm not." Clark doesn't look at him. "It's--Lex." Lex doesn't want to look--there's too much raw in him, from those images. That's other Lex, too close under his skin. It's got to stop. He can't fucking *afford* that. "I'm sorry."
"So am I." Lex fixes his eyes on the laptop on the bed, the phone that will get him the ground line he needs. "Fought any really freaky robots lately?"
Clark frowns, shifting on the bed, eyeing him like--like an escaped mental patient. It's getting silly, sitting here on the floor with a gun in his lap, like there's an actual chance he's going to use it. Pushing against the wall, Lex ignores the way his head spins and forces himself straight, tucking the gun into his pocket. It's not safe, but then again, neither is this world.
"It's not on the news yet." Clark glances at the silent screen of the television. "I--it took a while to find you. I'm not sure--"
"What? You're here to *help*?" He's blaming Clark for this? Lex closes his eyes, pushing off the wall, finding the bed by touch. Clark won't hurt him. Even this Lex knows that. Shifting up the bed, Lex leans back against the headboard. "Why are you here?"
"I can't get into Belle Reve." The look on Clark's face is stark. "I've tried, Lex--I tried when I knew--when I found out--but I can't even walk the grounds. I swear--"
"I don't have time for this." How the hell is he going to find the information he needs? He can't take Clark Kent's apologies. He's not even sure he deserves them. "I--need information."
Clark nods, leg curling closer. The green eyes look very old, older than anyone Lex has ever seen. The hunched shoulders are different, too, the way the dark head bends, green eyes not quite able to meet his. All the thousand things that Clark lost with his adolescence, vivid in the slumped body. "I can do that. I can--" Clark stops, looking away. "I don't know--I can't ask you to trust me. But I'm not here to bring you back to Lionel."
Lex nods shortly. His body feels wire-fine, fragile, like a good wind could break him. There's an ancient duffle bag by the door, and Lex, for the first time, thinks he smells food. "What did you bring?" His stomach turns over at the thought, all attention on those bags. *Food*.
"What I thought--what you might need." Clark moves off the bed in hurried, clumsy motions that don't mesh with any of Lex's memories. Going on his knees, Clark unzips the bag, and for a second, Lex's hand gropes for the gun.
They're not even Kryptonite *bullets*, for God's sake.
Clark comes back to the bed, dumping the contents for Lex to look at. Clean clothes--they look like Clark's, actually, worn jeans and a t-shirt, a baseball cap, even underwear. A toothbrush and toothpaste. A bar of soap still in the box. Bottles of water. A bag from McDonalds. Lex's stomach rolls again. *Food*.
The last item gives him pause. Reaching out, Lex picks up the lead box, turning it between his fingers. Lifting the lid, he winces at the flash of green light, but is completely unprepared for the rage inside at the sight.
This Lex *know* this, knows it in ways that Lex himself does not.
Lex closes it, not looking at Clark, setting the box aside with carefully steady hands. The smell of McDonalds is like ambrosia and petite cut filet mignon all at once. His only hope is that he takes the time to chew.
"Why that?" After the fries. Has fast food always been this good?
"Eat slower," Clark says, looking worried. Big hands are folded in his lap, as non-threatening as six-something feet of alien man can be. "I wanted you to know I--I'm not here to hurt you."
"How'd you find out I was gone?"
Clark's eyes fix on the metal box for a second, then flicker up. "I heard you."
The last fry stops halfway to Lex's mouth. "You--"
"I can't come on the grounds. I can't get in the building. But I can--listen, sometimes." The stark look on Clark's face makes Lex look away. There's nothing he can think to say to that. "I had to move the guy whose car you took. He'd been found already by one of the orderlies. I thought you needed more time."
Lex looks up. "Did you kill them?"
"N-no." The green eyes go back down. "But they won't--be able to do anything. For a while."
Lex nods slowly. There are a lot of ways. Hell, Clark could have flown them to a deserted island for all Lex knows.
"You didn't kill your wife. Lionel--used that. After. Her disappearance. For a reason to keep you there."
Lex's fingers go numb on the hamburger; lettuce oozes over his skin, lubricated by secret sauce down to his wrist. He licks it away. Maybe he's not as hungry as he thought he was. "That, so far, was the only good thing I had to think about."
Clark's eyes, fixed on the bed, don't move. The awkwardness is becoming worse, and Lex isn't sure he can possibly deal with this along with everything else.
"Clark." Clark looks up, too fast, dark hair falling in his eyes. "I--don't have a good plan here." An inner stirring of suspicion surprises him, but it vanishes almost as soon as it appears, leaving Lex feeling strangely empty. The images from the other Lex's mind still have the power to make Lex shiver, but they're easy to push aside. Now, anyway.
"I--think I have something. I mean, if you can trust me." Clark hesitates. There's nothing familiar in that--even adolescent Clark wasn't like this. "I--your dad's expecting you to come straight to LuthorCorp to kill him. You--that's kind of been your thing." Lex isn't surprised. "You--I thought I'd take you to Smallville."
"Smallville?" What does it say, that no matter the world, it always comes back to the beginning? "You're kidding."
"You--your dad won't think you'd go there. Not with me. Not with anyone. But--but especially not with me." A dark flush extends through Clark's cheeks. Against the pale skin, it looks like sunburn. "I--you don't have any reason to trust me--"
"But I don't have anyone else that's even tried." Taking a last bite of the Big Mac, Lex sets it aside, wiping his hands on a napkin. The other Lex isn't even making a pretense of weighing in on the situation, and the truth is, there's nothing Lex can think of as a better alternative. He's got to get out of here, and Clark may be his only option.
"Right. Um. I'll--get rid of the car." Clark stumbles to his feet, backing toward the door. "You can get dressed. And stuff." Get cleaned up. Stop stinking of your own sweat and the hospital from hell. Put on clean clothes. Lex nods to all the points that Clark probably isn't even trying to make, watching him go out the door, closing it quietly behind him.
"It would help if I knew whether I should trust him," Lex says, then sighs. Talking out loud. It's a bad habit. But it's Clark And Lex knows deceit and knows how Clark lies, and Clark wasn't lying. He has to believe that, or he'll go as crazy as Lex, and God alone knows what the AI will manage to drag out of this world.
Shower. At least that will be something he can do.