The other times he's flown with Clark Kent--or Superman, rather--it hadn't been pleasant. Held by the scruff of the neck like a disobedient puppy, handcuffed, or unconscious. None of them made him any more fond of flying than he'd been before.
Clark's gentle, though--careful of windburn and passing debris, which the sky is surprisingly full of. Almost afraid, and Lex wonders at the way Clark touches him, like he's not sure how, like he never touches anyone, like he's never touched anyone before. Too rough sometimes, in that way that's all about awkwardness. It's unreal, and it hurts Lex, though he's not sure why.
The Kent farm is like he remembers from his days in Smallville, though the paint's more worn and the porch seems to have sunk into the ground more than he thinks it used to be. Clark lands them on the front porch, letting go of Lex with quick but reluctant fingers, and it's strange, still, and for some reason, it makes Lex want to stop him.
A stupid instinct. He can't even be sure why it's there.
Martha Kent, greyer, but still rolling bread on the counter, like it's any day in the world. Lex feels himself freeze in place, but Clark somehow pushes him without touching, and the blue eyes find Lex as the screen door opens, hands freezing on the dough.
The *stupidest*, most inane things occur to him. He's wearing Clark's too-big t-shirt and jeans, rolled up above the loafers he'd stolen from the motorist he'd accosted. There's no reason, but it feels wrong.
The last time he'd seen her--in his world, not the other--she'd been grayer, strong hands clasped as she watched Clark marry Lois. Nothing was left of Smallville but burnt, blackened fields and crumbling stone. Not even trees had survived the thing's attack.
Attack of what, Lex still doesn't know.
Brushing her hands off on her apron, her eyes dart to Clark. Lex wonders what he told his mother. If he told her anything at all.
"I set up your old room," Martha says to Clark, voice too high. Lex watches the rhythmic twisting of her apron, the tension in her knuckles, the tight mouth that bespeaks fear. Of him or of Lionel, he's not sure. Maybe both. "You can--take Lex up."
Yes, wouldn't want the dangerous psychopath in the kitchen. Lex's eyes narrow, but it's not like it's not *true*. Taking a breath, Lex walks to the stairs. Behind him, he can hear Clark's footsteps slowing. If they want to have a mother/son bonding moment about Luthors and their evils, Lex thinks the nostalgia should be indulged in. It's not like he doesn't know where Clark's room is.
Walking into the past is never easy, Lex thinks, freezing at the door. It's been over a decade since he last saw this small room, but it's like nothing's changed. Cleaner than he remembers, the smells of lemon Pledge and floor wax, Windex, strong enough to make him want to sneeze. Immaculate bed, definitely not a Clark thing. But his things haven't moved, like they're waiting for the boy to come home.
Setting the laptop on the bed, Lex turns in a slow circle. The closet's empty, bare of a boy's clothes and shoes. He wonders how Martha feels when she comes in to clean.
Lex tears his gaze back to Clark, standing awkwardly at the door, like he's waiting for an invitation. Too polite a boy, Lex thinks, almost smiling, but the expression dies before it reaches his lips. "How long?"
"There's nothing on the news yet." Unsettling. Though maybe understandable--Dad might not want anyone looking too closely at Belle Reve, even if it's only as far as looking for a missing son. His own resources should suffice. The question he should be asking is, is Clark one of those resources?
There's no reason to hide him. If Clark really worked for Dad, Lex would be hog-tied at his feet already. Don't borrow trouble. Or more appropriately, worry about it at a more opportune moment. Sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed, Lex takes a deep breath. "She doesn't want me here."
"She doesn't want me here either." Clark's crooked grin vanishes as he turns away, closing the door like he's shutting out the rest of the world. "Since Dad died, she--likes her privacy." He leans back, eyes on the floor. More than anything Lex wants to ask him about--Christ, so much. But he's on the clock and a Smallville farm isn't going to do him any good at all. "Lex--"
"I have questions." Clark seems to shrivel a little, nodding. "There's a--thing. A mechanical and kryptonite--"
Lex blinks. "You call it Xerxes?"
Clark's mouth turns down. "Your father calls it Xerxes. His pet."
Pet? "I'm not sure we're talking about the same--"
"It's an organic machine--built of robotic and organic tissue." Clark's eyes flicker to the window. "I--I don't know who made it, but your dad acquired it a few years ago. When it was--weaker. He's had problems controlling it, outside specific missions he assigns it." Clark gives him a curious look, probably wondering why the hell Lex would be interested in that, considering all the far more pressing matters of freedom and upcoming assassination. "How do you know--"
"I heard something." Christ. He shouldn't be offended that Lionel had managed what he couldn't, but he is. Fuck. Also, apparently, it *wasn't* destroyed here, double fuck. On the other hand, this is Dad. He has contingency plans. His contingency plans have contingency plans. So, thought; get those.
Clark's still watching him, eyes narrowed. "Why--"
"It's nothing." For a few seconds, Lex wonders what Clark would have done with the other Lex, if that's who he had found. There are a lot of nasty possibilities, not the least of which is that even Clark, alien power though he may be, might not be up to handling a clinically insane Lex Luthor, whose grasp on reality included Bach music on nonstop repeat.
It's on the tip of his tongue to mention Ryan. Even now, he's not that cruel.
"I-what are you planning?" Clark looks innocent enough against the wall, but Lex's instincts don't like the question, and while inner Lex isn't voting, he's pretty sure he doesn't like it either.
And what *would* Lex be planning? It's almost a no-brainer. And exactly what will get him into LuthorCorp. "Kill Dad. Any objections?"
There always, always are.
Clark opens his mouth, then shuts it tight, an almost audible clatter of teeth. They stare at each other, conversation a distant memory. Inner Lex isn't weighing in, and Clark Kent has never been the best conversationalist on earth.
"Do you need anything?" Clark says awkwardly, shifting against the door. Somewhere downstairs, Lex thinks, Martha Kent is doing dishes with a criminally insane Luthor above her, chatting with her son.
Lex finds himself looking away. "It's upsetting your mother that I'm here."
"Mom's been different since Dad died. She's--" Clark stops, looking helplessly at the floor. The guilt's thick enough to cut, and there's no one in the room who's qualified to give absolution to anyone. He wonders if Clark would feel better if he knew Lex's crimes in a different world.
Provided that Clark could ever believe him.
"Are you hungry?" Clark says awkwardly, hand on the doorknob. Don't look like that, Lex almost says. No one likes their past coming back to chat with them. I met you a hundred times and it never stopped hurting. You get used to it. You have to. "I can--can see--"
"Yeah." Christ, anything to get him out of the room. Lex watches him leave, and with the door closed, Lex lets himself collapse backward on the bed. His body isn't impressed with all the lack of drugs and the sudden influx of food, and it occurs to him, only now, he has no idea how long he was under. Rolling, he looks at the clock, but eight at night doesn't give him much to work with. It was near dawn when he left the hospital, he thinks--there are faint images of near-dawn greyness on the horizon, and it had definitely been bare pink when he'd taken the car.
So, give or take, fourteen hours since he arrived. He must have been hallucinating for *hours*. Christ. Closing his eyes doesn't seem like a viable idea. He has no idea what will be waiting for him.
"...think I don't know that?" Martha's voice, faint. Lex rolls over, grabbing for a pillow. Kent family angst isn't in the plan. Inner Lex is enough. Inner Lex is more than enough.
"...know it would be this." Clark, softer. Fuck. *Fuck*. "I can't do it again, Mom. I can't. I won't."
"You're my son." Her voice almost breaks, and Lex pushes the pillow into his ears, feeling absurdly six. Very mature of you, Lionel says dryly. Melodramatic like your mother.
And insane, like my father, Lex murmurs back. They don't lock you up for being a sociopath, but if ever there was anyone who deserved the name.... Why did you do that to me? It wasn't about being unsatisfactory, was it? It was about not being you.
"...what are you going to do? If he finds out--"
"I don't care anymore!" Clark's voice breaks through feathers and mental blocks--it probably breaks some sonic barriers, too. "Everything went wrong. This isn't what you and Dad wanted."
Lex murmurs Latin into the pillow. Planning to kill him or planning to help, he's not sure which and isn't sure he really cares. I don't need this, he tells the blanket. I need information and I need to get out of here. Everything else can go to hell, Clark's angst and all. Just leave me the fuck out of it.
"You don't want him dead?"
Lex recognizes the room with its mirror-wall. Bare, sterile white all around. Humans don't do well with this kind of blankness. Neither, apparently, does Lex. "I'm getting tired of this."
Rolled eyes. Lex doesn't need to see them to know it's happening. "Sorry my life couldn't live up to your expectations. It's not a metaphor. I just thought I'd remind you that you might have been with them a few weeks, but I've been with them for a hell of a lot longer."
"That's obvious." The mirror's a window now, and he can see cheerful psychiatrists making frantic notes. Watching the monkey in the cage. "Any reason I'm here?"
"I'm guessing--and this is just speculation--that coming out of a drug cocktail is just about as much fun as living in one." A room shouldn't feel so full with only one person in it. He may not be able to see him, but damned if he can't feel him. "I can't do this on my own."
Lex spun around. "I'm not here to help you do whatever it is--"
Lex breathes out. "--you want. I'm here for what I need. Information."
"You can ask him while I'm cutting his throat."
Here, grins are feelings, sharp as razors. "I can make this very, very difficult for you. This is my body, my mind. And trust me on this, there are places in it that you really don't want to go."
The other ones hadn't been like this. But then again, the others had been very sane. This one had been constructing his own inner reality for years. Lex turns slowly, watching the psychiatrists again. "How much of this is real?"
"Most of it." The room chills suddenly, and Lex wraps his arms around himself, shivering. "I--don't remember everything. Sometimes, I don't remember anything at all. But I always remember this. This room, this place, this time. I remember him watching me through the glass, even though I couldn't see him. And I remember--" The voice trails off. "You--I can see it, you know. You."
Lex tears his eyes away from the glass. "Me?"
Shit. Shit. "The AI--"
"Don't tarry," the voice mocks. "The longer you're there, the more you will be affected by the one who is already in that skin. His body will be yours, and with time, his mind as well." Pause. "A warning?"
"You're really coherent for clinical insanity." The room seems smaller, suddenly.
"I have you to thank for that." The walls shiver. "It's hard to--think. Even now. With you here." Another sharp grin. "It'd be so much easier if you stayed."
If the room was freezing before, it reaches Arctic temperatures now and getting smaller by the second. "No."
Christ. The AI hadn't warned him what to do if the one he was in wanted him to stay around. "I'm *not* you." His teeth want to chatter. He hadn't known that fear tasted like frozen metal. "No. It wouldn't--you can't--"
"I--think I could. I've been alone a long time."
Dreams have a trigger--you can break yourself out of them. Lex wishes he'd read the New Age crap his secretary was always raving about. Dear God, he could use some help here. Anything. "I'm not you. If I'm here, you stop being you. And you--you can get out of this. Out of this place without me."
"I'm always here." The room swins a little, solidifying back into bent lines and impossible corners.
"Without what they've been dosing you with, it--it'll be better." He doesn't know that. Years. Christ, over a third of his life in this. Almost half. Lex can't imagine it. "Clark can help you."
"He never helps anyone anymore."
That's not something that Lex wants to think about right now. "How would you know? You haven't been in the world for years." No answer, but the room doesn't shrink anymore. Lex wonders if that means anything "I need out of here. There's--"
"I don't control how long the seizures last." There's a smirk in there somewhere--Lex knows how his face looks when he sounds like that--but the bite of uncertainty is worrying. On one hand, great, it's not like this is deliberate. On the other hand, fuck, it's not deliberate. He can't negotiate his way out of this.
And the walls are close enough to touch with his fingertips if he spreads out both arms. The busy psychiatrists are like bees, swarming here and there. "You were in here a lot?"
Lex closes his eyes. "I--don't remember." The things that come with the dreams don't count. Lex turns to the glass, reaching out with wondering fingers to touch. Just cold glass. Seeing in but not seeing out. "For a long time, I didn't remember anything about here. No one told me anything.
"Your--in your place, Clark came?"
Lex swallows. A borrowed memory from another man. And it all fits, like he was supposed to know all along. "Surprisingly, yes."
"He never came here." The wistfulness is almost like a physical ache.
"He--wanted to." Lex remembers the look on Clark's face. "He's never stopped wanting to."
He can feel Clark before he opens his eyes. The hand pressing against his forehead in slow strokes, the quick, almost silent breathing, the tension that radiates like heat from his body.
I'm not who you think I am, Lex wants to tell him, because God, whatever Clark will have to deal with once he's gone, it won't be this. He's not sure Clark can handle it. Hell, maybe he shouldn't even *have* to.
"Lex?" Right. Superpowers. Clark probably knew when he woke up. "You're--back?"
Lex keeps his eyes closed. "Did I go somewhere?" He's aware of aching muscles and a strange taste, like blood. He tests his lip with his tongue and feels the ragged mark of teeth. "I--feel--"
"You were--on the floor when I came in." Lex thinks he should pull away from the touch, but he can't make himself. It's Clark, and this body hasn't been touched like this in years. "I didn't know--your heart--"
Lex raises a hand to his chest, feeling the slightly too-fast rhythm. Panic, maybe? "Just the drugs working out of my system." He's cold, and it's not the room. *Years*. Locked in there, in that place, in his own mind. Clark's so close, warm and alive, no latex gloves or sheets, restraints or the thick cloth of the straightjacket. He's turning into Clark without meaning to.
He almost expects Clark to pull away, but the hand on his forehead slips down, a slow curve around the back of his neck, curling over his shoulder, down his back. Warm everywhere Clark touches, shifting closer on the small mattress. Soft hair brushes Lex's face.
"Lex." He's never heard his name said like that before. Never felt someone touch him like this--neither of them have. Slow, careful strokes, pushing warmth into his body by the inch. Clark's forehead presses against his, his other hand rubbing slowly larger circles on Lex's hip. It's so warm. So much more real than anything in years.
All these tendrils of that other Lex, reaching out, curious and wondering. There was an entire life before Belle Reve, but it stopped feeling real a decade ago. Stopped being real, too. "I--"
"I was there," Clark says, voice thick. The stroking's rougher, like Clark needs to feel him, convince himself as much as Lex that this is happening. "I--I thought--he let me visit, at first. I thought--I really thought he cared about--about what had happened to you. I didn't know--I didn't until later--" Clark breaks off with an indrawn breath. "I saw what he was doing to you. To all of you. He wanted me to know--"
"Clark--" He's not the one who should hear this. Trying to move is pointless--it feels too good. He needs it like air.
"I--I was a kid, I didn't know what he was doing. I'm sorry."
Lex closes his eyes. "Do you work for him?"
"Not--he has jobs. For me. That no one else can do." Clark's voice cracks. "Just sometimes. When he can't--when he's desperate." Something terrible in that voice; Clark says more with that than the words. "He said it was my choice. But you and Mom and Dad and Smallville were--things could happen he couldn't control, and if I helped, he'd make sure--"
"He wouldn't--he'd make sure they were safe, you were safe--"
"He asked for things I could do, that--they didn't hurt people. He said--the things wouldn't hurt anyone."
Not in any way Clark would see, when he was younger. Lex feels his hands shake, fingers clenching in the soft flannel of Clark's shirt.
"He said you would get better." Clark's voice twists, and yes, Lex knows Lionel, knows all the ways he can make the impossible reasonable, the ridiculous normal. How easily he could make a Smallville boy believe anything at all. "He said--"
"It's never been okay."
*"He never helps anyone anymore."*
"Superman," Lex whispers. He feels Clark draw back, looks up into puzzled eyes, the bewildered curve of his mouth. Drying tear tracks beneath the greenest eyes in the world. No recognition at all.
Lex closes his eyes again. No Superman. Just this broken man. "Nothing. I just need to rest."
Clark's hands shiver, like they might pull away. "Do you--do you want me to leave?"
Lex drops his full weight on the arm beneath his head. "No."
So this is the world if his father had been left to pillage at will. On balance, Lex did a better job, but not by much. The fields of Smallville don't look too good, and from the quality of the soil, they won't get any better. Lex knows the land, in that way that his father would never understand. Smallville is home, rejected or not.
Holding the cup of coffee Martha gave him, Lex stands on the porch and stares at the endless, flat greyed earth. "You know, for some reason, I thought I was the worst I could be. Turns out I was wrong."
Talking to himself; sign of insanity. Goes with the gig, he supposes, taking a slow sip. Beneath his skin, the other Lex surfaces briefly. *Coffee*. His father didn't just lock him up, drug him into submission, and use him as a guinea pig. He denied him *coffee*.
"You--seem better, Lex."
Martha's voice is too close, and where the hell are his instincts, anyway? Probably reveling in the best coffee in creation and some unproductive self-pity. There are worse things, Lex tells himself. Clark could be in Armani trying to kill you. Or fuck you. Perhaps both. Or you could be delivering another Kent spawn while keeping your virtue unwillingly intact. Or you could be married to *Helen*.
"The lack of a forced drug regimen does tend to have that effect." Lex tries not to be bitter. One universe over, Clark came back for him. Whatever went so wrong in this one, it started here, somehow. "Did you tell him to leave me in there?"
"We--were afraid." Martha's voice is steady. "Of what you saw. We didn't know what your father would do to you."
"Or what turning away would do to Clark." Taking a sip of coffee, Lex turns around. He wishes, suddenly and ridiculously, that he liked her again. That when he looked at her, she didn't hurt him. He'd do anything, anything at all, to be the twenty-something in Smallville who thought she was everything that was good, everything that was a mother.
The problem with pedestals is that the fall always maims, and not just the person on the pedestal.
"We couldn't have guessed this." Her arms are wrapped tight around her, hard lines around her soft mouth. So much older than he remembers, with a lifetime of bitter guilt. He's not sure he can blame her for resenting his presence in her home. He's a reminder of everything that wasn't supposed to be.
"What does he do for Lionel?"
Martha blinks, eyes flickering to fix somewhere above his shoulder. "He doesn't kill for him. And Clark isn't going to give you back to him."
"But you wish he would."
She doesn't have to say it. Her son against Lex's life; it's not a choice. It's a fact of life. "Are you going to call and tell him? While Clark's gone?"
Temptation isn't temptation unless you want it badly, and she wants to. Buy her son's safety and her own fragile peace. He thinks he might even understand. Clark's her child, and she'd do anything to protect him.
"No." She hesitates, leaning into the open doorway of the kitchen. "No."
"Not even for your son? To save Clark from any more special jobs from my father?"
"Why? You did it before. Protected him with my life. Why not this time?"
The tightness hardens into something unfamiliar, and he wonders if he pushed too far; he's only the partially wronged party in this, but then again, that other Lex can't speak in his own defense. Curl up in bed and stay catatonic for a while, maybe.
"It was wrong then, and it would be wrong now."
Lex almost laughs. *Wrong*? "What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything." The blue eyes seem to pick up all the light from the kitchen. "We said--we always said that no one would die to protect Clark's secrets. We taught our son that. And we betrayed it, and him. Do you think there's ever a day I don't wake up regretting it? We taught Clark to be afraid--of himself, of other people, of the world. And we sentenced you to--that."
Fragile hands twist in her apron. "We told him not to save you. To protect him. And we taught him to hide. To protect himself. And that's what we made him, and that's all he knows how to do. I watched my son grow up and grow away and let himself be used by Lionel Luthor, because we taught him that. And he never forgave himself."
Sixteen years old. No one should make a life decision at sixteen. "He--he was just a child."
"Yes. He was. He trusted us to teach him right from wrong, and we taught him wrong."
It takes so little to cross over to the wrong side. A second, a minute, a single changed moment.
Lex turns, almost spilling the coffee, as Clark materializes at the foot of the porch steps. He looks exhausted, but there's a hum around him that wasn't there before. That glint of immortality, of Superman, even in flannel and jeans. Like waking up after years of sleeping, or years of hiding. "Clark."
Clark licks his lips, eyes flickering to his mother before focusing on Lex. "I know how to get into LuthorCorp."
Lex uses the cellphone to make the connection. Amazingly, it still works. Clark must have put the motorist and the orderly somewhere very far away from civilization and the police.
"What are you doing?" Clark asks curiously from the desk beside the bed. He cranes his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the laptop's screen.
"A few things." Dad is Dad, and he's predictable as hell. It took years to figure it out, and longer until Lex understood the pattern, but it's like breathing now. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different response. Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting that nothing will ever change.
Of course, Lionel couldn't have anticipated a sane son, either.
"Those are LuthorCorp's accounts."
"Only the hidden ones." Of all godforsaken places, the Caymans. Switzerland. Bulgaria? Lex shakes his head. So clichéd. "You know that LuthorCorp's assets are very widely distributed, right? He keeps the special project budgets here." Lex makes a few adjustments, rubbing absently at the back of his neck. "Here, for example, is where he funds Belle Reve, while it masquerades as an actual hospital." Lex thinks of the women around the pile of dolls, almost opening his mouth to ask about Lana, then shuts it tight. If that's true, he doesn't want to know. If Clark doesn't know, this would be the worst possible time to tell him. "He doesn't have the liquid capital to possibly back it up if, say, this account vanishes." Which it does, in the blink of a keyboard. Lex stretches both legs, fighting the cramps. It's becoming worse, he thinks clinically. Withdrawal can do that. "Or this one." There are eight, but those are only the ones Lex knows about. "Getting into LuthorCorp will be easy. It's going to be getting out that's hard." For you. Not for me, or for this Lex. I don't think he cares whether he comes out or not. Trying to kill Lionel Luthor is a very rarefied kind of suicide.
There's satisfaction in killing accounts across the board. The damage won't even be noticed until the next time whoever runs Belle Reve tries to use a credit card or buy a single straightjacket.
"You want to destroy him?"
Some things are better than death. He hopes the other Lex feels the same way. "Burn him right into the ground." His fingers are shaking on the keys. Rubbing his eyes, Lex focuses his eyes on the clock. Past midnight. "Does he expect you to check in or--"
"No!" Clark's hands tighten on the desk. "He doesn't--not unless he wants something." Clark runs a hand through his hair, green eyes fixed on Lex's hands. "You--you're--"
"Just withdrawal." The other Lex will be a mess when this is over, but at least he'll be a clean and sober mess. Lex pushes the laptop aside, breaking the connection. He can do more later, just for the hell of it, but what he's done will start it. And like all businesses, the very smell of blood in the air will bring every corporate raider and personal enemy of Lionel Luthor circling. It should be enough. "I'll--be fine."
"You don't sound fine." A flash, and Clark's behind him. There's no way to get used to that happening, but the strong hands on his shoulders make that just fine. Hard thumbs rubbing into the rhythmically tightening muscles of neck and shoulders. Soothing. Lex lets the laptop slide neatly to the floor and leans back into it.
Everything changes, the AI says, somewhere in the back of his head. The thing is, Lex *knows* that. It changes, and it does it when you're not looking, and sometimes, it does it at the worst possible moment.
It changes, with slowing hands that stop on his shoulder, and Lex is aware of Clark's warm breath on the back of his head, the stillness that's about decisions and how're they made. They can be a second in the making and a lifetime in the doing.
They can be this, the lightest brush of lips against the back of his neck.
"Clark." He's hard, in that sudden, hideously embarrassing way that he hasn't been since adolescence. This body's been going without a long damn time, and this is the worst time to figure it out. He opens his mouth to tell Clark to stop. "Touch me."
No. Oh God, no. That's not him.
The big hands slide down his arms, stopping at his elbows, lingering there. Another light kiss, chaste as a child, but the erection pushing into Lex's back isn't chaste at all. Fuck. And *fuck*. And that other Lex is peering out, curious, trying to connect this with needles and rough hands, reaching for Lex's memories to give it context. "Clark."
Clark's voice is rough. "Don't tell me to stop."
He wants to--dear God, he wants to, but the words won't form. Lex turns his head instinctively at the soft brush of hair, and that's a mistake. Clark kisses him, slow and light and gentle, like he's handling glass that will shatter on a breath.
Lex could break from this. Clark tastes like coffee and pie from dinner, and hope, electric on his tongue Lex finds himself turning reaching to touch, high cheekbones and silky hair.
A careless surge of other-Lex, and everything happens too fast--stretched out on Clark's childhood bed, Clark beside him, touching with those flickering fingers that feel like warmth and comfort both. In some ways, this is closer for the other Lex--wanting Clark so desperately, wanting to touch like this, and it moves him to dig his fingers in, wrap a leg around Clark's thigh and grind down. No. No, such a bad idea.
Such a fucking *bad* idea.
"I won't hurt you." Clark lifts his head, lips red and swollen, eyes wet and dark. "Let me. I just want to--I need to--"
Let me, the other Lex whispers. I want. I *need*.
Clark kisses like a kid, or a very desperate man, a man trapped by a choice he was too young to make too many years ago to count. He's Clark, and there's never been a time Lex didn't want him, even when he didn't.
This is new. These careful, tentative touches. Making out like kids on a plaid bedspread in a Smallville farm--how could it be more clichéd? Lex had dreamed about this once upon a time, and this Lex did, too. Warm and soothing and so fucking slow, all with clothes on and hands above the waist. But starving for all that, so deliberate, so careful. Christ, when is the last time Clark touched someone? Hell, Lex can't remember the last time *he* did, that it meant something, that it was more than anasthesia or rush. When it was--
Safe, Lex hears murmured in his head. It's safe.
It comes to a slow stop, Clark shifting beside him, hand touching his own mouth, like he's not sure it's still there. "Sorry," he breathes, like he's not sorry at all. "It's just--"
"Been awhile." And he's hard, and suddenly exhausted from this too long, too complicated day, and this is a warm bed that has Clark in it. Clark breathes out beside him, curling up with him in the narrow space, like he has no intention of moving. Lex really doesn't want him to.
"I can get us into LuthorCorp," Clark says slowly, fingers moving on Lex's arm like he's imagining skin, not worn cotton. "But I don't know how to--I mean, the computers. How to access the information you want. And you--"
"Don't worry about that part." Lex lets his eyes fall shut. "I'll take care of it. You--should rest."
"I don't sleep." That brings Lex's eyes wide open. "But you should." The big hand starts stroking again, and Lex's body is falling under without even meaning to. "Don't worry," Clark says against his skin, and Lex thinks he says something else, voice low and rough, matching the possessive touch of that hand. A twinge almost jerks him upright, but Clark's voice is wordlessly soothing in his ear, and his head feels like it's stuffed with cotton. He goes to sleep feeling Clark, big and warm against him, feeling that gentle hand.
It feels very safe.
There's a hypodermic needle discarded on the floor; Lex feels it in his muscles, the sluggish response of arms and legs, the fog in his head. The case is on the bedside table, the other needles methodically broken, the vials gone.
Will is all he's got, and it drags him downstairs, rail clenched between his fingers, everything blurred into incomprehensibility. But he knows this house like he knows the back of his hand. Stumbling into the kitchen, hands catch him, small and rough. He's too weak to knock her aside, falling into the chair she pushes him into.
"Where is he?"
Trust is like cobwebs when the habit's not in place, but even now, Lex's mind can't wrap around a why.
A cup's pushed in front of him. "He left this morning."
Lex tries to reach it with shaking, uncertain hands, splashing himself with burning heat. Red blossoms across pale skin, and he can't help but stare at his skeletal fingers. It hurts to think about what he must look like to Martha Kent.
His eyes focus on Martha abruptly--greyed hair and tight mouth, holding her own cup like a talisman. "He said he'd take care of it." Slowly, she takes a sip, faded blue eyes fixing on the checkered tablecloth. "Drink your coffee, Lex. He'll be back soon."
Doing *what*? He can't focus and Christ, his body wants nothing but stillness; mind, too. The cup overturns, and Lex is barely able to move enough for the rush of heat to miss his lap. One bare foot burns, but he doesn't care. "Why?"
"Lex." She's so pale. An immaculate kitchen on a sunny morning--afternoon--*afternoon*--and he's freezing and not sure why. "Don't."
He stares at her, at the sun behind her back. Afternoon. It's been over twenty four hours. It's closing on forty, maybe--his mind won't wrap around temporal math when he can't even get a thought straight in his head.
And he's so *cold*.
"What is he going to do?" He knows. He has to know. It's somewhere in his head, in the touch of those big hands, in the way Clark looked at him, murmuring against his skin. He knows it, but he can't *find* it. Clark left, came back, said I can get into LuthorCorp. *I can get into LuthorCorp.*
"He didn't go to tell my father." This Lex knows. Martha gives him an unreadable look over the rim of her cup. "He went--to--"
"Lex." Her face stops him--a turn of her head to the door, highlighting pale skin and glimmering eyes. "There's nothing you can do."
"I can do anything." His head's trying to float away and he has no muscle control at all. It's so ridiculous it's a wonder that she's not laughing at him. "I've got to--I need to get to Metropolis." The secret to Xerxes is there. And so is Clark.
*Don't worry*. Leaning over him, reaching for that fucking case he'd just left lying around. *Don't worry, Lex.* Breath against his skin. As achingly gentle as Clark always is. *Don't worry.* Pulling out the needle, looking at the vials while he soothed Lex to sleep. Finding the one he needed. *I'll take care of you.*
*No one should have to kill their own father.*
Lex stumbles to his feet. The room twirls nauseatingly, and he's two seconds from vomiting his last meal all over the floor. "He's going to try to kill my father."
Martha doesn't look at him. He wonders if she's even breathing.
"He's going to go into my father's office and try to kill him."
Even to himself, it sounds insane. As insane as a world where Clark isn't Superman and Lex lived almost twenty years in a nightmare that never ended. As insane as watching Clark die when nothing could kill him. Lex fumbles for the edge of the table when his legs want to dissolve. "I have to get to Metropolis."
"Lex, it's been hours. If--"
"I have to." Clark is young and stupid and doesn't think, or maybe he's too old, thought too much, for far too long. "The car--" Shit, left that a long time ago. "Your car. Truck. We have to."
"We *have* to." Redemption can't be found in blood. Lex knows that. Christ, does he know that. It's just another way to fall. "You have to help me. It's *Clark*."
She nods, and he thinks she must have said this today. This morning. When Clark came downstairs into this bright kitchen and told his mother that he planned murder and suicide all at once. Maybe they yelled, and she cried, and maybe Clark left in a rush of anger and old guilt, but he thinks that maybe they didn't. Maybe she took coffee, like this, and lifted her head while her son kissed her cheek, and he quietly walked out the door.
"You let him leave."
Like anyone could stop Clark. Like anyone can stand before that and hope to win. The blue eyes are very bright when they look into his. "I took away his choice once. I couldn't do that to him again."
"Take me to Metropolis." There's no way he can drive himself. He waits while she puts down the cup, standing up to look at him. "Mrs. Kent." He hears the pleading in his voice. His time's running out, and so is Clark's. It's been hours, and the Lex in his skin can't do what he has to. "Mrs. Kent. Please."
Her eyes flicker away to fix on the tile at their feet, and Lex holds his breath as he waits.
Two men are dead before they see him leave the car. Shooting someone in downtown Metropolis in broad daylight isn't the way to get away with cold blooded murder, but then, Lex doesn't plan to be caught. Or to get away with it.
He thinks he hears Martha's soft gasp, but he's too far from the car to know for sure.
His body's still sluggish, but he knows LuthorCorp like the most unforgettable of dreams. He was raised in its walls, has always been here, even when he hadn't been. Belle Reve's nightmares were sometimes here, too. Locked up inside cold steel and concrete, a thousand feet above the earth.
The other Lex, too, wants. Carried along in bright, happy rage, sanity like an illusion. They look at him in the foyer of the building like a ghost, and security doesn't stand a chance.
Dad, Lex thinks, looking at the elevator. It's a deathtrap, but right now, so are the stairs. The other Lex is murmuring, we can't run up forty flights of stairs.
Lex takes a second to think that if they'd gone with his plan, this is not how this would be going.
"Get out," he says, and they all stare at him like he's crazy, and he is. Who lets the hostages go to tell? But then they move, a mass running to the door, and Lex goes to the elevator, pushing in the private code he knows like his own name.
Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and thinking that the same results will occur. Every time. Right down to security combinations and bombproof elevators. Surely someone's called up to warn them.
He gets off on the nineteenth floor. Stair access is private, separate from the emergency stairs that run the rest of the building. Lex *knows* this place. He grew up in it and razed it once, rebuilt it and lived in it, across the street from the Daily Planet. He *knows* it, like he knows himself. Dad is--
Thinks he's as immortal as he is, the other Lex murmurs gleefully. He thinks--
"No one's immortal," Lex tells the air, blowing the doorknob off the stairwell. Alarms go off everywhere, even if Lex can't hear them.
He'll be waiting. He's waiting for us. He thinks he can win.
"Clark," Lex says to himself. "He has Clark." It's been too long. Lionel has Clark, maybe the way he always wanted, the way he never dared before. Clark has nothing to lose, now, and Lionel has nothing to risk.
He won't kill us. He needs us. The voice bleeds satisfaction. He needs what we are.
Reality is cracking like an egg around them. Him.
He lives in this, Lex thinks, and it's not like the other times. Dragged into the depths of that mind is one thing, but seeing the world through the fractured glass is so fucking *different*. The stairs seem to twist around and open below him like some modern version of Dante's hell. He has to stop and grab for the sleek rail to convince himself it's real.
Too much absorption of the other Lex. He can feel it, the grooves being made in his mind. Not taking over. *Merging*.
"Stop it," he whispers, staring at the wall until it solidifies into something approaching normality. A woman passes him on the stairs, too-short hospital pajamas stained with blood, a tiny, broken doll in one hand, sliding through him like he's not there. His hand tightens on the rail. "*Stop it*."
I'm not doing anything. It's like a part of his thoughts, and he can barely distinguish between the two. Christ. No. No, no, no.
"Get. Back." He's not sure who he's talking to. Staring at the stairs winding up, he forces them into rational, straight metal and concrete lines. He's soaked in sweat, and he can feel the confusion of that other Lex, but the world slowly tries to reshape itself. Not enough--the walls quiver and he can hear the piano play in the background. He has to stare at his own fingers to convince himself that he's not playing himself.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Lex focuses on his own breathing, the sounds of his feet on the stairs, the thump of his heart. Tangible things. Another flight of stairs. His legs burn and his breath is coming too fast. This body's not used to this level of exercise.
The mind isn't either. Reality splinters at the edges, and Lex sees--things. Things that closing his eyes don't erase, ghost-visions just flickering on the edge of true sight. "I can't do this if you--"
I'm not *doing* anything.
Another flight, and his chest aches from the strain. One more up, stairs spiraling up to brilliant light that's not real, not real *this is not real*--
When his hand closes over the cold metal of the doorknob, he almost cries. "Just a few more minutes." It's so close to time, and he has to get up here, Lionel's computer and Lionel's blood--
"No. The information. And Clark. That's it. You carry out vendettas on your own fucking time."
This is my time.
The surge pushes him into cold metal, moving the body, making him a passenger, and he watches as his fingers try one code, then another.
"Lockdown," Lex whispers.
His gun raising and aiming, and this Lex never lost his eye or his aim. The pad's a smoking ruin and the door opens on a pull.
Lex emerges into a silent hall. His mind calls up a map of the building, and he turns left, pushing to regain a little control. Just a little. Enough to feel the thump of his feet on the floor, feel the gun still in his hand.
"I need to know how he controls Xerxes," Lex grinds out. "We need to get Clark out. This isn't his fight. It should never have been his fight."
The other Lex is iffy on moral and ethical greys, and he fades for a few blessed seconds, enough for Lex to be grounded in too bright lights. The big, wide reception area, the elevator in the corner, the empty desk where Lionel's assistant is usually stationed. All echoingly silent.
He might have got away.
The rage that follows the thought makes him stagger, almost dropping the gun.
"Not Dad." Lex almost grins. "He never backs down and he never gives up. He'll never admit we're a threat."
Every instinct wants to slam inside--it's not like he has the power of subtlety right now. Dad knows he's here. Dad's *waiting*, and somewhere in here, Clark could be dying and the information on Xerxes is waiting, and Lionel is--is *there*.
You don't understand. The other Lex presses into him, flashing things that Lex can barely understand, images that whip by like dreams. You don't know what he's done. He poisons everything he touches.
"So do I." Somehow, time hasn't erased the power of that, or the pain. "We're no different. If you'd been out, you'd be him, and there would be a blasted world and Superman would be dead. It wouldn't be *better*. We didn't do *better*. We just did it differently."
Other Lex is silent, and it's like being alone in his head, the room condensing, coming together in straight, rational lines, resolving into calm, neutral colors and solid shapes. Flat carpet under his feet. His father beyond those doors.
There's nothing *worse* here, not really. Dad got the power over Superman that Lex always wanted. There's no destruction by meteor monster because Dad figured out how to control it. He runs his business and has all the power Lex ever wanted.
Maybe he'll run for president, too, Lex thinks, and his hand freezes on the doorknob. And what kind of president would he be? Like Lex was?
You think? It's not quite a whisper, and it has a thousand questions in it. Lex touches the door with one hand, the cold wood grounding him.
"I didn't do better."
But maybe, I can do better now.
"You have got to be kidding." This is getting them nowhere. Lex leans into the door and pushes it open.
The office is so like his own, he has a second of wondering if reality's cracked again--glass and black lacquer, the huge windows, the sprawl of the man on the other side of the desk. Dad. Years in his grave, buried beneath concrete and dirt, but seated at that desk, staring at Lex like they've never been apart.
The other Lex goes silent, too.
"It took you long enough." Lionel motions at the phone. "I was wondering if I'd have to send security to bring you along." His eyes flicker to the gun, smile widening. "I see you came prepared."
Lex can't find words. Somehow, until now, he hadn't realized that facing Lionel Luthor would be facing his father. Or facing himself, and all the ways he never became anything else.
"Nothing to say after such a dramatic escape? A dramatic arrival? Really, Lex, all of this was unnecessary." Lionel folds his hands on the desk, and Lex twitches the sight of the kryptonite signet ring. He nods to the chair across the desk "Sit down, son."
He's actually going to that chair, feeling like a puppet on a string, pulled by his father's voice, the approval he thinks he can hear in the even cadence--approval, Christ, is he as crazy as this Lex now?
Lionel shrugs. "Alive and well, Lex. You know better. I'd never damage such a invaluable resource." Lionel tilts his head, smile fading. "I have other ways of controlling Mr. Kent."
Lex grabs for the back of the chair before he falls. Or sits down. "Prove it."
With a look of profound exasperation, Lionel leans over, touching two numbers on the phone, then leans back. "Dominic? Have Mr. Kent speak, please."
The crystal clear pause reveals the sounds of movement, quiet murmurs of people in the background. A few long seconds, and then the sound of breathing, sharp and heavy.
He knew, maybe, but he didn't believe. Lex swallows, feeling the gun slipping in his grasp. He's sweating. Fear or shock or withdrawal? Another seizure? Not the time. The very antithesis of the time. Lex forces himself to focus. "Are you okay?"
"Get out of here, Lex." The frantic sound of Clark's voice is thickened by something else. Lex thinks of all the ways he's used to stop Superman. The easiest and most effective has always been kryptonite. "He won't--" The voice cuts off with a thump, and Lex bites down, forcing himself to listen. After a few seconds of dead line, Lionel leans over and hangs up with the push of a button.
"If you wish to leave, son, you can." Lionel leans back with another sharp smile. "I won't stop you."
"And send people after me to take me back?" Strangely, he thinks Lionel is serious.
Lionel shrugs. "Your value in controlling Mr. Kent is now ended. And I no longer think Martha Kent will be--useful for this. Or she would have been able to stop her son." Lionel tilts his head. "His willing compliance was useful, but there are other ways."
"You didn't use them before."
"The risks outweighed the gains." Lionel shrugs elegantly, then the cool eyes fix on him. Lex feels the once over like a touch, and he's never wanted a shower so desperately in his life. "You look terrible, son."
"Torture has that effect." The wood of the chair seems to be straining beneath his hand. Lex takes a careful breath. His chest is still too tight, and his legs ache from the stairs, and he can feel the edges of everything blurring. He and that other Lex blurring. The AI might not be able to pull him out of this one.
Lionel rolls his eyes. "Your illness, son." He motions idly with one hand, like Lex's appearance is proof of--something. "It made you unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. Imagining things. You seem more coherent now." Lionel's voice is hypnotic; Lex feels the other Lex shudder softly, growling anger that brushes against the underside of his skin like heat. But not breaking through, not yet.
"I didn't imagine what you did to me." It's crazy. He can *see* what the other Lex saw, feel it on his body, feel it *in* his body. "What you did to everyone there."
Lionel sighs, the put-upon parent, and how the hell can that still work? Make him feel fifteen and a failure again. "Lex." His eyebrows push together as he leans forward on the desk. "Sit down."
His legs are giving out anyway. A chair is better than the floor.
"Son." Lionel's eyes catch his, holding them. "You don't understand. You can't. What happened to you wasn't your fault. What happened was--to borrow an expression--an act of God. You aren't *responsible*. You have to let it go. This--this habit of blaming me, of blaming Belle Reve--. You were ill. I didn't know what else to do."
"I have recordings of what you were like there." Lionel slowly pushes his chair back. "I didn't know what else to do. You tried to kill anyone who came near you. After you came back from the island, you weren't--sane, son. No one would be, perhaps, after all you went through, and the fever damaged you. I've hoped you'd recover. That we'd find a way to help you." He's circling the desk, close enough for Lex to smell the expensive cologne. As familiar as his childhood. "I never would have chosen to send you there if there had been any other choice."
"It wasn't real, son." Lionel's hand touches his face, cupping his jaw. Lex freezes, unable to flinch, not away from those eyes. "I'm your father first, Lex. Do you think I'd do anything to hurt you?"
They're all lies; he knows that. Knows it because he was raised beneath this, trained by this, shaped to believe and never believe anything at all. The long fingers stroke across his cheek, infinitely gentle, and Dad looks at him like *this*, like he's *seeing* him for the first time.
"You're a Luthor, son," Dad says, and it's like every word is coated in gold. Solid, true, absolute, can't be anything else, has to be--*has* to be. "You know that. You came here, didn't you?"
He's lying. The other voice seems so--weak, now. Or not even there. A figment of his imagination. No. No.
"I let you come here, to me. I knew, one day, you'd be able to overcome this." The gentle fingers slide around the back of his head, and Dad smiles at him. "You did it. I knew you would."
All those things--they couldn't be real. No one does that, would do that, Dad wouldn't do that to him, would never do that to him. There are lines, Lex knows that, and even Dad wouldn't cross them. They weren't--
"Let it go." The fingers stroke gently. "There's so much we can do now that you're with me, Lex. Clark, to begin. He'll be useful to us. To our plans."
"I could never understand how his--gifts--appeared." Dad's crouching, and Lex can't see anything but those eyes. "What he really is, son." Both hands on his face now, and Lex tries to breathe, but everything is blurring. "Lex. Look at me. What you believe happened--it wasn't real. It was never real. This is real. You and I. Not that."
"You used to call for me."
The big hands freeze. Lex blinks. That--wasn't a voice in his head.
"I listened every night. When I wanted you out, he covered the place in meteor rocks. He said I could listen, if it got me off, but I wouldn't see you again until I learned to obey."
Lex closes his eyes.
"I did obey. And he still didn't let you go."
"How did you get out?" His father straightens, eyes fixing over Lex's shoulder, widening. Lex wonders idly when he's seen him so genuinely shocked.
Turning in the chair is slow, like trying to move in a dream, and maybe this is a dream. But no dream has ever had Clark like this, pale-green under the lights, listing into the door, eyes wide.
"Motivation," Clark answers briefly, and Lex's eyes refuse to focus, but there are stains on Clark's t-shirt that don't look like dirt. One big hand wipes across his face, smearing--something else. "Lex. Get away from him."
"You don't know anything." Dad straightens, eyes narrowing. "You would have destroyed him. He was ill."
"He was sane." Clark's voice cracks, like the earth opening up. "He was Lex. I listened and let him stay there, because I was stupid. You can't take anything else from me. I won't let you take anything more from him."
"He's lying, Lex."
"You aren't crazy, Lex. I heard what they did to you. What they said. What you didn't say."
They asked questions about him. They wanted answers. I knew what they wanted to know and I never told.
Clark stumbles, but the green eyes never leave Dad.
"Lex." His father's voice has never been this gentle. "Don't listen to him. He was afraid of you. Afraid of what you knew. I needed to know to protect you."
"He never protected anyone but himself." Clark's voice shakes, taking a stumbling step that lands him in an awkward heap on the floor. "You're not crazy. You've never been crazy. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Stay away from him!"
Getting this close to that ring must hurt, Lex thinks, dropping the gun, reaching out with time-slowed fingers. Something new is pulling at his mind. Other Lex is trying to push through, and he can *hear* that voice, but it's all a jumbled mess. "What was the question, Dad?"
Dad's eyes snap down, staring at him.
"What did you need to know?" He forces the words between clenched teeth. The entire world is blurring out, and he's not sure why. It isn't the other Lex. Something--something he should remember.
He's not looking at Lex's hand.
"What is he?" Dad breathes, and Lex touches his father's hand. Feels him almost draw away, but he's waiting. Waiting for Lex to believe, and waiting for Lex to answer, waiting until he knows what almost killed his son to find out.
"Lex--" Clark whispers.
"What is he, son?"
Lex feels the ring with the tips of his fingers, strangely numb, like blood circulation's been cut off. Do it. Just--
He pulls, and it's not easy, he thinks he's breaking bone and flesh, and Lionel yells, trying to get away, but Lex throws himself forward, knocking them both into the desk. Lex stares down into the angry eyes and almost smiles. "He's my secret."
Big hands close around his throat. Breath stuffs his lungs too full, and Lex feels them tighten, on their way to crushing his windpipe or break his neck or both. He still twists at the ring, and Lionel growls, trying to dislodge him, but other Lex is helping, that old anger giving him energy, giving him a memory.
Somewhere distant, Lex hears a sharp sound, like a gunshot, and maybe it's his sanity, finally, merging with this Lex, and they can live out the rest of their lives incurably insane, living in dream worlds where men with scalpels and men with clipboards try to destroy him every night.
The sudden rush of air in his starved lungs sends him to his knees, curiously numb under him. Grabbing for his throat, he realizes he's holding a bloody ring, and he throws it, letting himself collapse into the carpet. Something heavy falls beside him, but he can't bother himself to look.
His mind feels like it's tearing in two.
Lex turns his head, can just make out Clark standing--staggering--against the chair. The gun falls from one hand with a soft plunk to the floor. He looks like he wants to cry. "Clark."
You can't find redemption in blood, Lex thinks, as he watches Clark stumble to him, dropping on the floor at his side. But sometimes, you can find some peace.
"I never told," Lex hears himself say, like that's so fucking *important*. In some way, it might be. Reaching out, he fumbles for the big fingers, smelling gunpowder all around them. "You--you didn't--"
"No one should have to kill their own father," Clark breathes, and Lex lets his eyes close. His voice is so faint that Lex can barely hear him. He has to remember--something--
The world blurs out in grey, and the clinging fingers of thought rip, like something tearing through his skull..
"Don't let me be him," Lex whispers, tasting blood. I am him. I've *been* him.
He barely feels the hand that touches his face.