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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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svfic: landscape, clark/lex, etc, 6/12
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
Title: Landscape
Author: jenn
Spoilers: roughly through season four canon
Codes: Lex, Clark, Lois, AI, Clark/Lex, Clark/Lois, Lois/Lex, Pete/Lana, Clark/Lex/Lois, etc, futurefic, AU
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Five ways the world didn't end for Lex Luthor.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five



*I never told*.

Lex opens his eyes on the ceiling of the Fortress. He can taste blood in his mouth.

"Please do not move. There was a great deal of damage."

Lex closes his eyes again, licking his lips. They taste dry, and the room reminds him of--

When he tries to move, something's holding him down. His fingers scratch at bare air. Instantly, his mind floods. Shit. Shit. No.

"Lex Luthor." The voice is familiar. "You incurred massive brain hemorrhaging. If you promise you will not move, I will release you."

"Where am I?"

The pause lasts too long. This isn't--Belle Reve. The room's not cold, and the voice is--he knows that voice. "I can't--" Lex sucks his lip between his teeth. Think. Christ, think. "I'm at the Fortress."

It's funny, how he almost thinks he feels the AI relax. "Yes."

His head aches, feeling curiously empty. Lex draws in a slow breath, then another, trying to orient himself. He's in the Fortress. The AI got him out. He's--alone again.

There's a place in his mind that feels torn, and he explores it curiously. An unscabbed wound that flinches when he ventures too close. "I--I wondered--"

"You went into cardiac arrest. I had to remove you earlier than planned."

"I won't--I won't move." He's not sure he can. Everything feels unfamiliar, his body a strange weight that pushes him down. "I don't think I can."

The restraints slide slowly away, and Lex lets his arms relax. Just lay there, breathing, trying to find himself.

"I feel--" He stops, trying to find the right words. "Something's missing."

For a long time, there's only the soft sound of whatever is monitoring him. Curious, Lex turns his head. A thin black band circles his upper arm, and fluid is being distributed into an IV. Very human hospital of the AI. "You should rest."

"Something is wrong." Lex slowly reaches up with his free arm, touching his head. "I feel--"

"You are exhausted." The bleep of the monitors rise in speed. "You upset yourself to no purpose. Nothing is wrong. The damage has been repaired to the utmost of this facility's abilities. Rest is what you need now."

"Damage?" Lex rubs his forehead. Everything feels wrong, and he can't quite touch the reason stretching just beyond him. "I feel wrong." All those lonely tendrils of thought, groping for the place that's gone, sliding around in his head with pain that isn't physical. He can't even try to describe it. "It's like--"

"You merged too much."

Lex nods carefully, trying to make the thoughts close around it, like grass covering a grave. And what a fucking odd metaphor to use. "I--wondered."

"It was difficult to extract you without--damage."

"Why did I go into cardiac arrest?"

The AI hums softly. "The earlier damage to your brain was--not fully healed. I should have anticipated this result. You were more vulnerable to the other presence." The silence that follows makes Lex wonder, but not enough to open his eyes. "When you collapsed, I was forced to remove you very suddenly." Another pause. "There were complications this time. You had not--I was unable to be--careful."

Lex searches slowly. All his own memories of there still exist, but the other Lex, that other life-- "What did it do to him?"

The AI's voice is quiet. "I do not know."

Lex draws in a slow breath. Christ. "He was already damaged. Insane."

"I see."

But he's not here now. The other Lexes are, in some shape or form, like his own memories but not quite, but not that one, just the flat memories of memories, the things that Lex showed him. The ragged edges of the pull are almost visible in his head. "It's like--I feel like I've lost something."

"I was able to extract you whole." The AI pauses again, and Lex is staring to hate those. "Your mind was--entwined with his. He did not want you to leave. It was very difficult to prepare either of you. He fought me."

And lost. Lex bites down, trying to push it aside. He didn't find shit on Xerxes, except that Lionel had controlled him, somehow. And he did--that. "His mind was fucked already. He was--" Crazy. "He wanted me to stay. He said my presence made him better."

"You might have exerted a stabilizing influence on his mind, yes." There's a gentleness in the voice that he's never heard before.

"This--I might have destroyed what was left of him." Lex thinks of Clark, leaning over him, telling him no one should have to kill their own father. And telling Clark-- "He never told. He was better. I lied." Christ. "They tortured him for almost half his life and he never told."

"You should not blame yourself."

Lex almost laughs. "I--don't pour on the bullshit. I won't for long. I never do." Just carry it around with him, that place in his mind where that Lex had clung too hard, needing what he was. His skin still feels so wrong, too tight, too thick. "I feel wrong."

"The damage was extensive. More extensive than anticipated. I do not know what that will mean for further--"

Lex almost sits up. Almost. "What?"

The AI seems to be bracing for something. "I don't know that your mind can survive that damage again. While I can restore brain tissue, I cannot--guarantee--that you won't be. Lost."

"Crazy? That'd be par for the course--"

"No. Your self. Your--being. The man who lives in this skin."

Lex's mouth twists. "You mean a *soul*? I never pegged you as the romantic type."

"That is a word humans use to describe it. The collection of experiences and thought-patterns that are yours alone. I cannot restore that if it is lost. This time, it was not easy to--assure that." Another of those fucking pauses. "Until you awoke, I was not sure if that had survived this time."

Slowly, it comes to him. What the AI is trying so carefully to say, then trying not to say at all. "This feeling--my mind feels like something was--"

"The merge was incomplete. The other Lex was a part of you, as the others were not. He wanted to keep you, this unique combination of memories and thought patterns. And he almost succeeded. What that is--is the place he was, that he made for himself in you. I was forced to--remove him so I could remove you."

Lex breathes sllowly, trying not to move his head. That place moves with him, and it aches in a way he thinks he'll never lose. "Will it always be there?"

"I do not know."

Lex concentrates on his body. It's his--he knows it. "And me? Did you have to pull--was I too far in him, or was he too far in me?" He's having trouble wrapping around the concept, but somehow, he thinks he understands. "It--it was not just him, was it? It was--I was part of him, too."

"I explained the dangers of this. Of letting the other self touch you too much."

Yeah. Lex remembers. "I didn't mean to." He hadn't. He'd needed that Lex, and his own sanity was the only way he could use him. "I--he was--" So broken. Lex blinks hard. "There wasn't any other way. He couldn't even function. It was all instinct and--" Lex stops. "My father did that to him. His father. The same thing. They did that to us."

The AI doesn't say anything.

"He locked us in there because of what we knew. He left us there to rot, to--he did things to us. I don't know what. I don't want to know what." Christ. That place. "He made our whole world one lie. There was--he was broken." And when I left--when I left-- "Will he be okay?"

"I cannot predict. If he is cared for, he may recover. He will--have some of your memories. The things he touched in your mind, as you have his. He did not possess the same degree of neural damage you have, so the physical aspect is probably negligible."

"But this--" Lex touches his head lightly, brushing the skin with the tips of his fingers. It feels new.

"He will feel that too. That--loss."

Lex rolls onto his side, careful of the IV. "I need to rest. Can you--" He doesn't want to think anymore. If he dreams, he doesn't want to remember them, either.

"A sedative can be administered." Lex feels the brush of something against his inner arm, a drone pulling away just as he lets his eyes flicker open. Closing them, the rush is like the AI pulling him out, but this time with no pain.

Nothing at all, really. Just warmth, and softness, and emptiness. He wonders if he'll ever stop feeling it.

*****

A few hours of wandering around the Fortress leaves him a little more familiar with his body. It's his--slipping around him like an old glove, well-worn and fitted to him--but that feeling remains, lingering on the edges of his mind.

He needs something to *do*.

"You should rest."

And the AI doing its best impression of a mother hen isn't helping. Lex almost growls, taking a seat at the main screen, just to get it to shut up. "I'm fine."

"You are recovering." The AI isn't above casual brutality. "Your brain is still fragile. The work done to repair the damage is not yet complete."

"When can I go again?" That last universe; Christ, the mission went to hell in a hand basket. Nothing new to add, and it had been so close--Lionel *controlled* the fucker. Shit. Shit, shit, *shit*.

The AI hums, in that way that makes Lex nervous. "I don't think it would be advisable at this time."

Lex turns in the chair, staring up at the screen. "What do you mean?"

"After your last experience, I am uncertain if it is logical to continue." Lex barely has time to grasp the words before the AI continues. "The damage was far more extensive than even I anticipated."

"But that thing's still out there."

The AI can't argue that. Lex waits, trying to force down impatience. "When I considered this course of action, I did not anticipate that your body may not be able to handle the stress."

"I'm dead anyway." Lex taps on the table with the tips of his fingers. Somehow, it grounds him. It's different, but then, everything's different, even if he doesn't know how. "We're all dead."

"Further research--"

"We don't have time for further research." This almost feels rote. "How far has the reassembling come?"

The AI is silent for a few seconds. "It will be functional in less than ten days."

Lex rubs his forehead, urging away the ache. "Is there anything you can do to--make it less dangerous? I have to go. We both know that."

The AI makes a hum that's amusingly close to a sigh. "I can repair destroyed and damaged neurons. Your own healing can accomplish much on its own. The damage is in the merging of the two psyches. If you can avoid absorption of the other--"

"He didn't want to let me go. He was--different. He could just--take over."

"That was from the weakening from the second jump." The AI pauses mid-hum. "You cannot allow that much again--"

"I didn't allow it this time!" Maybe the insanity, the winding twists of that Lex's mind. Maybe the drugs, or the seizures, or everything in between. Lex closes his eyes. "How long until it would be safe enough for me to go?"

"Never. But the optimal would be within the next six hours."

Lex stiffens. That's--not nearly as long as he expected.. "How long was I out?"

"It took three days to stabilize you and repair the damage."

Three days. Lex blinks, trying to put the information in context. Three days. *Three days*. "I almost died."

"Death was never a concern. What would have been left would have lived and breathed. You would not have been there to experience it, however."

Lex closes his eyes. "Your bedside manner sucks."

"I do not want you to take needless risks. You are correct; during the time you were unconscious, I researched other possibilities. There were none."

"Except for time."

"Yes. Except for time."

Lex nods, pushing himself up. "I should eat something. Call me in six hours." He stumbles--still adjusting to a healthy body and stronger muscles. "I--can I be alone?"

"If that is what you wish."

Lex nods and walks out.

*****

At some point during his time away, the AI had been busy. The small room he's been using had a rug by the bed, the blanket in dark purple simulated wool blend, soft to the touch. He hadn't brought much with him, and the AI still used Clark Kent as a model for modern fashion, but the clothes in the closet fit better than his most talented tailor could provide. Lex ate and showered, mind blank, dressing slowly in the small room. At some point, the temperature had risen; his skin didn't goosebump despite being wet. Soft, almost-leather boots wait in the closet, but he doesn't bother with those.

It's easier just to stretch slowly on the covers, eyes closed.

"I thought he betrayed me," Lex tells the air. He's not stupid. The AI is monitoring every breath. "Just answer. I know you're watching. What did you think I'd do, hang myself in the bathroom? I'm not him. Any of them." All of them.

"I was leaving you your privacy. Monitoring your vital signs is necessary."

"He was crazy, that other one. That Lex." Lex draws in a breath. "I never remembered Belle Reve, not really. Not like that." Lex pauses, licking his lips. "I never told Dad what I was. When I was younger--when you're a kid, you don't notice stuff like that. ODs that never end up any closer to a death certificate than an overnight in a hospital ward. Being able to walk away from--" Christ, from so much. "I knew--something. He never did. He thought--I don't know what he thought. He guessed, but he was never--sure."

"Your father was ruthless."

"My father had cancer once." Lex's hand goes automatically to his side, tracing the invisible scars of pointless operations. "He was dying. I know he'd do that. He tried it before with this rock.... But that place--he kept me there. A living, breathing--" Lex's breath stops. "He *kept* me there. To use. An organ bank. A living miracle. His own private fountain of immortality." His fingers refuse to unclench. "That wasn't a father. That wasn't even human."

"He was--Kal spoke of him."

Lex laughs softly. "Clark thought he could save him, too. Once."

Yeah, he gets the feeling the AI's lost on that one too. Lex shuts his eyes. "I--you know what I've done. What I'd still do. I know he did it, because I would have done it. That Lex didn't get it, but I do. He said he saw me, but he didn't see anything at all. Dad and I had a lot in common. Neither of us, in the end, were ever as human as Clark."

"Do you believe that?"

"You should *know* that." Turning his head, Lex wishes the computer had a corporeal form. The amusement in the simulated voice grates over his nerves. "I've seen your databanks. You know everything. Even Clark knew, eventually. That you can't just--that some people you can't save." From other things? Yes. From themselves? Never.

"You're still alive, Lex Luthor."

In the strictest sense of the word. "Yeah." Lex opens his eyes on the ceiling. "Why didn't you tell him to kill me?"

"Kal refused to take a life. He was--strangely adamant on that point." The AI sounds confused, but Lex isn't. When you see so much death, like Clark did, watched it around you every day, bathed in it, you only had two choices in the end. You stopped caring or you didn't. Clark didn't grow harder as he grew up, and that might have been his greatest weakness. "Your death, however, would have created a void that could have caused--significant problems for Kal and the remainder of the Justice League. It seemed wiser to terminate that line of consideration."

"Better the organized devil you know than the one that might cause chaos?"

"Despite your moral depravity, you were a gifted businessman and researcher. The risks, in the end, outweighed the potential gain." Lex almost grins. Moral depravity. Heh. "You would have been an extraordinary scientist."

"Being at the top of the Bell Curve doesn't change the ambition. I wasn't meant for that." Though one Lex was. Lex shies away from the thought, pushing down the associated memories. "When that thing is dead, you know nothing changes. They were right--this world, it's mine. It can be. No Superman, no Justice League to organize against me. All of it, everything in it."

"If that is what you want, I have no doubt you'll succeed."

And damned if it doesn't sound amused. Lex lets his thoughts drift. "How much longer?"

"Five hours, ten minutes."

Lex nods, letting himself relax into the bed. "Wake me up when it's time."

*****

This time, at least, the AI got him in during downtime.

Stretching, Lex takes in the room. Wide windows look out on a garden, warm with spring sunshine. Walls painted in dark cream, a few pieces of furniture, very him, a comfortable bed, and no bars or locks on doors or windows.

An improvement, then.

Sitting up, Lex warily takes stock. The body feels normal enough. No mysterious bruising. His head feels--well, like it does when he jumps. Clutters of that other Lex, just below, confused and curious and angry, too. Easy to ignore this time. The AI had said that there shouldn't be the problem with leakover unless he initiated it.

That seems to be holding. So far, so good.

Sliding out of bed, Lex goes to the closet. Perfectly normal clothes. Shoes in neat, military lines into the dark. He's even wearing the watch his mother gave him. It's--completely ordinary.

Except the being in a house, but really, with all the other problems in the other worlds--

"Oh God." Lex blinks, turning around, then looking down at his left hand. Wedding ring. Fuck. "Helen." But he doesn't smell her perfume, see her clothes. Maybe she has a separate room? Maybe in a separate house?

There are all kinds of new levels of paranoia associated with dimension jumping, Lex decides, going to the door. So many ways this could be bad, even if it's not a mental institution and he's not crazy.

So far, anyway.

Warily, Lex opens the door, half-expected either underlings or orderlies, but it's just a long hall, bright with sunlight and artwork. Stairs at the end. Downstairs are voices, and none sound like Helen.

Maybe he could just get *over* that already.

The stairs are carpeted, an unforgivable cruelty to hardwood, and it's well-worn, like its been here a while. The voices get louder and he can't just stand here forever. Someone eventually may come looking for him.

He follows the voices to the kitchen. A loud laugh freezes him in place--*Clark*. A low female voice, sweet and lilting . Dear God, Lana. Is he married to Lana? Lex finds himself rubbing the ring, like it'll grant wishes if he tries hard enough.

He--can do this. He's not living this life, after all, not really. Observing. What he should have remembered last time. Taking a deep breath, Lex pushes the swinging kitchen door open.

It's like a nightmare, but a relatively okay one. Lana's cooking something at the stove--she can cook? That's news--and Clark's seated at the island, glasses perched on the end of his nose, reading the newspaper, a little frown creasing his forehead. Casual in jeans and t-shirt. His hair is a mess, though, and still damp, like he just got out of the shower. Why is he here?

Lana turns around, spatula in hand, and Lex takes a deep breath. She's wearing a ring. Oh God. Oh dear *God*. "Lex!" She grins, waving the spatula in the general direction of the island. "Have a seat, I'm almost done."

That sounds--reasonable. Lex sees Clark look at him over the top of his glasses with a curious look, starting at his head and going straight down to his feet, then back up, a leisurely progression that at twenty-one ,would have led to Clark being bent over said island. Because he'd just been that kind of a guy then. Or now, come to think of it, surprised to feel himself flush like a teenager. Then one big, jeans-clad leg kicks, pushing out a stool. "Jeez, Lex, sit down." A grin chases the words like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. "And here you said you'd be dead and buried before you ever went out in public without being dressed."

Lex eyes the stool. It looks okay. In fact, except for Lana, everything looks okay. And there are worse things, Lex thinks philosophically. He used to think he was in love with Lana. And she never tried to kill him. Sitting down, he glances at the paper Clark is holding. Lois on the byline. So far so good. He and Clark are on speaking terms. Also, new and good. Lex takes the cup Clark slides across the granite, taking a sip. "Good morning."

Clark snickers. "You're not really awake, are you? Just wait." His voice lowers conspiratorially. "I already called poison control, so don't worry. They'll be ready."

"Hey!" Lana turns in a streak of shining dark hair, but she's smiling. "I can cook."

"Pete told me."

Pete?

"He said your talents are obviously all political, not culinary." Putting down the paper, Clark sighs, pushing off the glasses and laying them the counter, leaning on both elbows. "So, he's up and here. You want to tell him now or wait?"

Lana's eyebrows arch, turning to turn off the burner. Two plates make a magical appearance in front of them, and Lex looks at the strangely shaped pancakes. It doesn't look any worse than some of the things he's cooked himself, and he's never died. Yet.

Clark is digging in, but Clark's not human.

Gracefully, Lana seats herself across from him, picking up a cup emblazoned with smiling fish and the words 'Metropolis Sharks'. "Right. You want to hear about it now?"

Lex takes a bite of the pancake. It's not bad. A little runny in the middle, but he can deal with that. Chewing slowly, Lex picks up his coffee cup and nods.

"I was going to wait until tonight, but I think they'll bring it up, so." Lana spreads her hands on the counter. "They're going to ask you to try for the nomination. I've looked at the numbers, and--well, it's not going to get much better than this. I want you to think about it."

Lex slowly puts down his cup. The nomination. "Numbers?"

"We've done some good things this last session," Lana says, tapping the counter with one manicured nail. "Everyone is paying attention. There isn't a stronger candidate in the field. If you run, I think you can win."

For-- "Lana--"

"I know." Lana spreads her arms, shaking her head. "You said this would be the last time, that you wanted to be a private citizen again. But--Lex, not everyone gets this kind of opportunity. It's the presidency."

Lex wonders if he's still breathing. "Oh."

Lana rolls her eyes. "'Oh'. Yeah, so you. Look, talk it over with Clark, and think about it, okay? We've done everything we can as senators." Her eyebrows raise in amusement. "We can talk about it later. Just don't reject it out of hand, okay?" Glancing at her watch, Lana makes a snorting sound. "I'd better get back to Pete and the kids. Technically, I'm supposed to be off the clock until the next session." Leaning over, she brushes a kiss on Clark's cheek. "You two think about it, okay? I'll se you tonight." Picking up a tiny purse, she waves, walking out the kitchen door.

He's--not married to Lana.

"You should think about it." Clark picks up both their cups, walking to the coffee pot. "I think she's right. It's time."

"I--yeah." His eyes fix on Clark's left hand, watching for the platinum blur. When Clark turns back around, he wonders if this is another hallucination, left over from the other Lex. It has to be. "Clark--"

"Here. And good morning to you, too." An absent kiss touches his mouth, tasting of too-sweet coffee and sticky from syrup, then Clark is sitting back down. "You slept late. It's nearly ten." Clark grins, bright and sunny, and that's right, even if nothing else is. "You want the paper?"

Lex stares at it for a second. "No, not right--Clark." Resolutions to observe be damned. Clark is close enough to touch. And--and he's allowed to. Supposed to. He pushes his palms into the granite to stop himself. "I--you have any plans today?"

Clark laughs. "Besides working on my book, not so much." Taking a drink of coffee, Clark stretches. It's mindbending. Lex feels like a teenager seeing porn for the first time, and they're in a perfectly normal kitchen, and Clark's fully dressed. "Why? Did you have something planned?"

"I--not really." Fuck you. It's just there, and inevitable, like a car crashing into a guardrail. He's got to get out of here. "I'd better get dressed."

Clark cocks his head, eyes following Lex's body as he stands up. "Need help?"

Christ. He's moving before he means to, but it's Clark, smiling at him, big hands sliding up to rest on his hips, like they do this every day. Any time they want. For a second, Clark just looks at him, eyes the dark green of wet leaves, lips slightly parted. So. God.

"Take a picture," Lex whispers, feeling his throat tighten. "It'll last longer."

Like that, he's straddling Clark's lap in a rickety stool, forget the odds of crashing to the ground, but God, he doesn't care, tasting Clark's warm, perfect mouth, hungry and desperate and eager, until Clark takes control, softening the touch into something else. Soft and warm, lazy, like people who do this all the time, people who are used to this. Clark's hands move in slow circles up his back, resting briefly on the back of his neck, tilting his head away, forehead pressed to Lex's. "I like the real thing better."

Lex realizes his hands are tangled in Clark's hair. He's breathing too fast. Clark's playful smile, the slow circles of his hands--Lex remembers this, with Lois, with Lana, even with Chloe. How they all could coax this careless joy from Clark when he never quite could. These touches. These smiles.

There aren't words to clothe this feeling, and Lex pulls himself back, almost falling. Clark blinks, staring at him, pushing off the stool. Lex backs up. I can't. I don't. I want. Christ, do I want. "I need a shower."

He turns away before he can see Clark's face.

*****

Clark's sitting on the bed when he gets out of the shower. He should have expected that, somehow. Widespread knees, big hands resting on the denim, looking at the door with thoughtful impatience. Lex feels the eyes on the towel like a touch, like Clark can see right through it.

Hell, he *can* if he wants to.

"You okay?" Clark doesn't stand up, and Lex remembers times like this, before--years before they were enemies, but after the word friend stopped applying in any but the loosest sense. Wary study, cocked head and shaded eyes. What are you thinking, Lex, what are you doing, Lex, what are you hiding, Lex. "You seem--off."

"Just more tired than I thought. I overslept." Clark's eyebrows raise in polite disbelief. "I'm--sorry, Clark." There's no way he can figure out how to explain this that sounds sane.

"I--is everything okay?" Clark's face twists in concern. He's almost vibrating on the bed, wanting to come closer, Lex thinks, but not sure how Lex will react. Lex isn't sure of that either. "You don't have to make a decision today. Lana's just--enthusiastic."

Lex nods. He wants to go to the closet desperately; nudity while talking to Clark isn't a good idea. Not a good idea at all. "I'm fine, Clark." He watches Clark's hands rub restlessly up and down the denim of his jeans. Wedding ring. Their room. This room. Lex absorbs it slowly, like he ignored it in the shower. They are--them.

"Then why--"

I have no fucking idea. Lex stares at Clark, feeling the hand gripping the towel grow sweaty. "I'm just tired."

He's lied to Clark for years. He's good at, brilliant at it, but the words aren't honey-smooth on his tongue and they ring discordant in the room. This body, this Lex, doesn't lie. He's not even sure how.

"Bullshit. Something's bothering you." Clark stands up, prepatory, Lex thinks, to him coming over and *touching*. His body *knows* it, skin shivering in anticipation. Not just this body. Lex wants, too. This is *Clark*. Wanting had never changed, even when everything else did.

Lex steps back, sees the green eyes widen in surprise, glistening in hurt. Christ. He can't handle this. "I'm thinking about something," Lex hears himself say, words tripping over his tongue to get out, remove that *look*. He's never seen it before, never wants to see it again. He's never had a Clark who cared like this. One that he could hurt this easily. "It was a bad night."

"You seemed okay when I left." Clark isn't coming at him again, but he looks a little more understanding. "You want to talk about it?"

Shit. "In a little while. When it's not so--fresh." How ironic, that his nightmares are so much tamer than the realities he's seen now. "I'll be in my office." He wonders if the words come out as sharp as they feel on his tongue, and they do, they *cut*. Clark takes a backward step that's as good as flinch, belatedly nodding his head, and going to the door.

Lex relaxes when it closes, letting go of the towel, feeling it unwind from around his waist and pool on the floor. "Fuck."

*****

The metal and glass office is located to the back of the house on the first floor. A careful exploration of the house hadn't yielded up Clark's presence, which had been a bitter kind of relief. He can't face him again, but he wonders if he's okay. The other Lex--ah, the other one could handle this when he's gone. Say whatever, do whatever, go with it, make Clark happy however he does it. God knows, Lex never got it right, no matter how hard he tried.

Sitting at his desk, Lex activates the LexCorp interface, bringing the network online. Information first, this time. No wandering blindly. This, *now*.

"Xerxes," he murmurs to himself. So like Lionel, to name it something semi-mythological and ridiculous. Password in, Lex pulls up the interface. If Clark and perhaps this Lex dealt with whatever it was, they'd have put the records in here somewhere.

There's the possibility that the information is on a Lexcorp computer not connected to the network, of course. Lex rubs his forehead and starts the first search string. Too much to hope that this dimension and the one before paralleled names.

*Xerxes*, though. Lex shakes his head, leaning back, watching the screen. This might take a while.

"Lex?"

Automatically, Lex locks the screen, waiting for the door to open on Clark, but it doesn't. Hmm. "You can come in."

Carefully, the door pushes open. A dark head peers inside, wary. Lex doesn't like himself much in that second--he gets the feeling this Clark isn't used to a Lex that acts like this.

Inner Lex, far beneath, agrees. Lex shuts him down. "You busy?"

Lex tries not to react, but he can't help it. Clark looks *good*. Or he's been dimension jumping way too much. "Not really. Just running some searches. What can I do for you?"

The look on Clark's face tells him he's not acting anything like whatever Lex lives here. Well, how the hell is he supposed to know how to act? All his spouses try to kill him. Taking a deep breath, Lex leans back, trying on a careful smile. See if that works. Clark pushes farther into the room. So far so good.

"I'm going out for a while. A thing." The significance of the words aren't lost on Lex. A *thing*. A Superman thing, maybe. "If you need me, call the AI."

"What happened?" Mudslide in Bolivia? Uprising in Peru? Snowstorm in Venice? Who the hell could tell?

"Just a patrol on the western seaboard. Earthquake." Clark shrugs, sliding further into the room. "I know I said there wasn't anything to do today--"

"Disasters respect no man," Lex answers, wondering how his mind will ever re-adapt to his own life when this seems so normal. New world here, new lover there, a side trip to insanity, all par for the course. "Go ahead. I'll be--here, probably." Or LexCorp, if necessary.

Clark stays at the door, eyeing him uncertainly, like he's expecting more. What now? Lex stands up awkwardly. He's sure he doesn't want Clark coming close enough to see the locked screen. Clark's mouth relaxes suddenly, and Lex wonders why he hadn't noticed how tight it was before.

A second, then Clark flashes across the room, and Lex is helpless against the desk, the slow, gentle kiss taking breath and reason. Comfortable. Familiar. Sweet. His body knows how to slide into that embrace, curl his fingers in thick dark hair, relax into the easy, familiar moment.

It's over with a breath, with Clark stepping back, looking a hell of a lot less freaked out. Grinning as he touches his mouth with the tips of his fingers. "If I had time--"

"Yeah." It's true. If they did--if they did, then he'd--they'd--

"Be back soon." Clark vanishes, like he's added teleporting to his list of accomplishments, leaving Lex still leaning into the desk, watching the door without seeing a thing.

"You know," Lex tells the walls, and yes, insanity may start like this, but he thinks that may be the least of his problems, "this stopped being a weird coincidence a world or two back. Is there something fate wants to say?" There are things he wants to say--Christ, if he had the AI right now, he'd have a *lot* to say, about how random worlds aren't random at all, and how he didn't believe in fate, and even if he did, this isn't what he would have chosen, no way in hell. He might be bitter. A little. Or a lot.

"Fuck." Pushing away from the desk, Lex unlocks the screen. Not done yet. Well, searching all those databases has to take some time. The results page already looks scary. He's going to be sorting files for hours. Maybe the entire time he's here. And he's--hungry.

Hungry.

"Shit." Locking the screen again, Lex finds the kitchen with minimal effort, empty but for the morning sunlight, the neatly stacked dirty dishes by the sink. A normal, extremely gourmet class kitchen--he wouldn't expect less of himself--on what seemed to be an ordinary day.

He has no idea why he's so unnerved.

"Maybe I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop," Lex tells the sink, then shakes his head, taking internal inventory. Still frozen inside, deep below, Lex can sense the other's rage. It won't be long, he tells himself, wondering if the other Lex can understand. This isn't forever. It's barely two days. Don't worry, I won't lay a finger on him.

That's a lie. He wants to. He can feel it in his teeth--and God, the fourth Clark in only weeks, and the most sane of them all. Lex swallows around a tightness in his throat.

Action makes everything simple. Mindless action is even better, his body leading him through the motions of making a sandwich, a glass of juice, a desperate wish for brandy that really makes him stop and think about his alcohol intake on a daily basis.

There's nothing to do but pace, leaking impatience, and the third bite of the sandwich finds him watching the sky. It takes seconds to realize it's Clark he's looking for.

"Fuck." Turning around, Lex tries to think of where to go. Tossing the remainder of the sandwich in the trash in the large, disturbingly overstocked pantry, he goes outside, glancing around the quiet grounds. Upper class suburbia gives the illusion of freedom and space. From here, he can't even see the other houses.

Something cool and solid just brushes the back of his head. Frowning, Lex turns around, looking into wide, dark eyes, soft like he almost-remembers after they fucked. The gun presses against his mouth.

"Hey, Lex."

She pulls back, just a little, and Lex sees the swing telegraphed in her eyes, but this body--this *fucking* body isn't as fast as his, not as strong, doesn't know everything Lex had to learn the hard way. He's a second too late, eyes closing , hand half-raised as the strike across his temple knocks him to the ground.

Oh shit, that *hurts*. He tastes blood from biting his lip, ankle twisted with a pain bright as a sunburst beneath him.

Helen looks down on him, serene as a still summer day.

"Nice to see you again," she says, and the next blow is nothing but darkness.

*****

There's nothing particularly new or enlightening about waking up tied to a chair.

It wasn't just Smallville. Being an icon had its disadvantages, kidnapping being chief of them, and even Hope and Mercy weren't proof against superhumans, out for revenge in some strange version of vigilante justice, or using him as a bargaining chip against Superman. The latter was annoying; the former, humiliating. It had never been all that comforting to know Clark felt the same slow, painful twist in his gut, every time.

This, though, feels personal, not an attack on the icon or a stand-in for Superman, and it's been years longer than even Helen could have been expected to wait, simmering with whatever quiet, insane rage had fueled her over the years.

Blindfolds were standard operating procedure. Hoods were better, dulling sound as well, but Helen had never been a very good villain. It wasn't that she didn't try. But ruthlessness had never been her forte. Back then, it hadn't been his either, though, so maybe she'd changed.

Licking his lips, Lex tasted the dried blood, but the bite on his tongue was long healed. Hours, maybe. Unconsciousness with the added incentive of some narcotic. Like this undertrained body isn't slow *enough*. Lex thinks, a little wistfully, that he could spend the rest of his life preaching the drug-free message to the masses with utter contentment if he could be guaranteed that no one would shoot him up again without his express permission.

The room's stuffy and feel small, like it doesn’t have quite enough fresh air. Bank vault, crypt, meat locker out of service? There are so many possibilities, none of them particularly comforting. An old house with an unused attic, though the lack of dust in the air suggests he's looking for somewhere with more traffic.

Lab. Good call.

It *would* figure that the most comfortable universe so far would be where he'd get kidnapped. That's just how his life worked.

"I know you're awake, so don't bother pretending."

It isn't like he's pretending. Heels on a tiled floor, the sound of a gun being dragged over a metal lab table. Yes, very Helen, bring it all back to the lab.

"I'm sure Clark will figure out you're gone soon enough."

Not if he's patrolling. Lex wonders if he and Clark have servants, if anyone noticed anything happen. Yelling for Superman, in retrospect, may have been a good idea. If he'd been thinking. Twisting his wrists, Lex tests the restraints. Feels like duct tape. Probably the most insidious restraint in the world, not to mention sticky. Crap. "What do you want?"

The heels stop, at what he judges is only a few feet away. Lex listens, but from here, he can't even chart her location by breathing. There's a low rumbling, like the subway nearby. An underground near a *subway*? She was never cut out for good villain work.

"I think fifteen years of having to hide from my own life is enough reason, don't you think?"

Lex bites his tongue. "Back then I wouldn't have killed you." Back then, he'd been very young, very in love, and endlessly worried about who he was becoming. There's so much less stress in not caring. Lex's fingers itch for a gun or the skin of her throat.

The heels leave. So much for talking the plan out of her. Revenge at this late stage seems silly--he's known for years that her father's sent her money when necessary, but it never seemed more than a small, bright spot of satisfaction, easily forgotten. Maybe he wouldn't have killed her, even if he'd been who he was now.

Maybe he should be wondering why, now, Helen's suddenly proactively seeking out Lex Luthor for no better reason than tying him to a chair and taunting him. No one, even Helen, is that stupid.

Lex moves his wrists in the tape. Sweat helps break the stickiness, but it won't do anything for all the layers. He needs his teeth. Or a knife. Or something sharp.

"Clark doesn't negotiate with terrorists." Superman does, but Superman can also crash through things afterward and keep everyone alive. Of course, God knows what this Clark does. Besides fuck Lex Luthor.

Dear God, does he hate being kidnapped. So fucking undignified.

"Who says this has anything to do with negotiations? Or Clark Kent?"

The sound of the heels vanish, and Lex pushes his feet against the bottom of the chair. Old fashioned wood. This body knows *nothing*. What kind of person is he to get this out of shape?

And what the hell does she mean, no negotiations?

"Struggling won't help you."

Five feet to the left. She must have taken off her heels. Lex bares his teeth, not turning his head toward the sound of her voice. "I feel better doing it."

"I can still shoot you in places that won't make you bleed out immediately."

True. If this was his body, he might even care more. And if he wasn't relatively sure that she had no intention of killing him.

"If you're planning to kill me, you should get it over with. You don't need Clark here for this."

Her voice is thick with amusement, and Lex likes that so very little. "If Clark comes here for this, then it'll be worthwhile."

And what the fuck does *that* mean?

Pushing a foot into the floor, Lex rocks experimentally, just a little. It's not too heavy, even for these muscles. And it'll startle her. Falling is an instinctive no-no in the human brain. Kicking off, he feels the wobble, like it might just come crashing back forward, and he hears her curse. For a second, all the universe seems to balance on two spindly legs and Lex's will, but Lex's will is better than wood sometimes, and it goes backward.

His head hit a wall, the back of the chair scraping downward to the floor, snapping his head forward--shit, that hurts. Every muscles screams in protest, but the wood makes a lovely cracking sound that does wonders for his mood. He can hear Helen's small feet pattering toward him, the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking, probably readying herself to air a threat that's pretty useless. Lex knows kidnappers and he knows Helen. She might kill him, but probably not with her own hands. A kick connects solidly with a her calf, and she goes down. Lex listens to the cheering sound of a gun skidding away from her and feels for the back of the chair. It's disattached itself from the seat.

This, he can work with.

"Lex!"

Superman's voice is different from Clarks, too--it took him years longer than it should have to figure out the secret because of that. Lower, somehow gentler, but far more commanding. Clark by way of Jonathan Kent, with tiny bits of Lex's own careless authority--it took him *years*, but every time Lex hears it, he thinks of Clark in his office at the manor, imagines Clark listening to him, incorporating that, one of the thousands of bits and pieces of other people to create Superman.

There's a tiny hitch of sadness in that thought. Lex crushes it, stilling himself when he feels the rush of air and gentle hands on his face, pulling the blindfold away. It's Clark, for a second, just a second, terrified and vivid green in Superman's face. Lex stops breathing.

"You're okay?" The big hands rip through the tape effortlessly, and Lex pulls his hands in front of him, studying tape cuffs on bare skin. That's so going to hurt when it comes off.

"Fine." He turns his head, watching Helen slowly crawl toward that gun. "I wouldn't try that, Mrs. Luthor."

Helen's smile freezes. Clark's eyes flicker back to him, reflecting confusion, before Superman comes back and takes over. Rising, he pulls on all the authority that a superstrong and really tall alien can get, and that's a lot. Lex has never denied the sheer overwhelming *presence* of Superman.

"Miss Bryce, you are under arrest."

Lex supposes, as he pushes himself free of wood debris, that Clark, the current spouse, can't be too pleased to hear the ex addressed thus.

"I deserve this." Her eyes are dark and fixed. Fifteen years of exile from everything you know and everything you are can't be easy. In another world, he could sympathize. Just not any one he's ever existed in. The gun brushes his shoe, and he slowly leans down, picking it up. Helen doesn't even flicker when she sees it. Apparently, Lex Luthor here isn't that much of a threat. "He ruined my life. And you--" Her eyes flicker down his body, insultingly familiar. "Thank you."

"You ruined your life," Lex says, finger on the safety. Clark doesn't even twitch when Lex comes up beside him. The Clark from his world would have disarmed him and crushed the gun by now, flying them both to the Met PD or the most local station, whichever was handier. "You made mine a living hell for the better part of a summer, though. Fair trade?"

Maybe not, from the look on her face. Her hand slides under her shirt, and Lex lines up the shot and fires.

Clark's long seconds too late in reacting--a million years in Superman time--and it's mostly disbelief, even as Helen sinks down, a pool of crimson soaking into her blouse and sliding beneath her face. The dark eyes are empty before Clark even has a chance to touch her; Lex, barring Superman, hasn't missed a shot in over a decade, not when he meant it.

When Clark looks at him, the green eyes are huge and blank.

"Lex." It's too many times in their lives to count, that forever-surprised, forever-disappointed voice, almost makes it familiar for his hand to move again, lining up a second shot at a vulnerable throat, face, chest. Not that Clark is really vulnerable; these aren't kryptonite bullets. But then again, Lex has never had a moment quite like this before. Superman never got into a position to *be* on the business end of Lex's gun and he wants a chance to savor it. The green eyes track the gun, then freeze on Lex's face again. Clark swallows, hard, not a super alien in a bright suit, but the man that left Lex this morning with his taste on Lex's lips. "What's going on?"

Lex swallows and lowers the gun. For some reason, the silly images of Clark from two worlds ago intrude--the playful shimmy into that suit before Lex's fascinated eyes, the way he pulled Superman over him like a cloak. Clark doesn't move until Lex lowers the gun, then stands up, eyes fixed on Lex.

"You--aren't Lex."

This Clark has some improvements over the others.

"What makes you say that?" Lex slides the gun in his pocket--he's not going to be unarmed again. "You're imagining things."

"You haven't touched a gun in over a decade," Clark whispers, taking a step toward him. It's not threatening, but only because it's not Superman. Clark's fragile uncertainty is like a bubble--Lex can confirm or deny, and he can make this Clark believe either one.

But the other Lex will be the one left to deal with it, and Lex doesn't hate himself that much.

"No, I'm not."

That was an *incredibly* stupid thing to say. Clark has him up against the wall by his throat, and Lex almost laughs, because God, is he tired of various Clarks doing this shit. "Who are you?"

It's hard to force words out from a nearly crushed throat, but he's had practice. "Lex. Lex Luthor."

The hand tightens. Clark could accidentally break his neck; not good. Think. He thinks you've taken over the body of his lover. Husband. Whatever. He might not kill you? But he sure as hell might have an accident.

"Different world." The words are harsh around the edges, breathless. Clark stares at him for a second, then his grip loosens, enough for Lex's feet to find the ground.

"What does that mean?" There's a copper taint in the green eyes when Clark looks at him. Shit. Not good.

"I--my world is being destroyed. Superman's dead. I needed--to find out how to stop it."

"How?"

"The AI." The other AI he'd met had known, had felt it in him. Lex forces himself not to grab for one big wrist. Prying Clark's hands loose would be a joke at best. Easier to command the wind. Which he's done, once. "Ask it. It'll--tell you. Know."

The green eyes narrow. No receding of red, but at least not more. "Let's find out."

*****

It's almost like being in his own world. The arctic fortress doesn’t look any more inhabited than Lex's last stay there, and a hell of colder. Lex shivers in his thin coat. He hadn't realized the AI had warmed the place up for him.

Clark's talking to the computer, the swift, liquid Kryptonian too fast to even try to follow. Shivering, Lex bundles the coat closer and wonders if this AI has any treatment for frostbite.

After what seems like hours, Clark turns around, staring at him. Lex can't read him at all.

"How?"

Lex licks his lips and regrets it. That only makes them colder. "The AI did it. Dimensional hopscotch. I don't know how."

The AI is silent, but it's not calling him a liar.

"Where is Lex?"

Retorting with 'I am Lex' would be silly. Really not the time for mind games. "In here. It doesn't last long, the--this. The AI pulls me out after forty-eight hours."

Clark's so blank you could write novels on his skin. "How long have you been here?"

"Five hours, give or take. I'm just here for information. I have no intention--" Of doing anything else. Sex will, apparently, be out of the question. Lex can't figure out how much he regrets that. "Just information."

"About what?"

"Xerxes." Clark's blanker look is a good indication the name changed between universes. Shit. Xerxes was so convenient, too. "A robot, organic/Kryptonian hybrid. Indestructible. Superman died stopping it once, but it's come back." Reassembling out there, somewhere, ready to commit some of the most thorough genocide ever. Lex wishes, not for the first time, that they could at least have found out why. Some things just are, but most things have a motivator.

"And you're the second line of defense?" Clark seems to relax a little, but nothing will erase the shock of Helen's death. In retrospect, settling that old score might not have been worth it.

"I'm humanity's only line of defense, and right now? You are fucking with it in a big way. I was running searches on LexCorp's computers--"

"You won't find it there." Clark leans into the wall, glancing back at the AI for second. "That's classified Justice League data."

Of course it is. Lex sighs. "I need what you have."

The look on Clark's face isn't encouraging. "I need to believe you. I just watched you kill Lex's ex-wife in cold blood. That's not something that usually inspires confidence."

"I've done worse, for less reason." It just slips out like that. Some weirdly masochistic part of him still feels those intimate looks, those touches, that the other Lex received this morning. He's better at self-sabotage than anyone he knows, even Clark. "We're not friends, Superman. But in this case, I really don't think it matters. Unless you want to be responsible for the death of an entire world."

Clark's jaw tenses. "I want more than your word. Like you to get the hell out of Lex."

"I can't. Not until the AI pulls me out. He's fine. He's just--" Raging. Somewhere deep that Lex is avoiding even thinking about, because even that much bleed-over could be deadly with his mind in the shape it's in. "He's not hurt. And you'll get him back, safe and sound. But I need this information, Clark. You have it. A little trade, and when the AI pulls me out, you get back your lover and I get to save my world. Win-win, don't you think?"

After a few long, deathly cold seconds, where Lex wishes desperately that Clark had thought to build the Fortress somewhere tropical, the AI speaks. "He is not lying, Kal."

Clark glances back. "You're sure?"

Another pause. Lex can practically see it calculating probability. "I am as sure as a full neuroscan can provide. The current brain activity suggests that he is neither directly lying nor misdirecting. His--motives are not suspect." A lot else is suspect, Lex thinks, but Clark has every reason to suspect him.

"I--still have to patrol." Clark frowns, looking at the AI. "I'm leaving him here. God knows what could happen if he runs into someone we know." Like Lex might be shooting them for fun or something, his voice seems to imply. Another glance, and then Clark shakes himself. "There are--rooms. Pick one of the empty ones. I'll be back and I'll access the information for you then." In a blurred rainbow, Clark is gone.

The AI is still watching him. It's more of a felt thing than seen. "If it's any consolation, the other AI doesn't like me much either."

The room drops ten degrees at least. Lex narrows his eyes. "That's just petty."

"You cause Kal distress. Lex-Luthor does not do that."

"This Lex Luthor caused Clark distress every day and twice on Sundays." Not true. He took Sundays off. "I'm not here to cause problems in your world."

"The one whose body you inhabit may disagree."

The other man inside does, definitely. "He'll come to no lasting harm." Not if Lex is careful, and this time, he will be. "Can you get it above freezing, or do you want to damage this body further? Mine is perfectly safe in a room back at the Fortress, so the only one you're inflicting damage on is your Lex."

"I will warm one of the rooms for you." The temperature drops so suddenly that the breath Lex lets out in shock is solid white. The message is clear. Get the hell out of here and in one place you cant' do damage where I can watch you.

It's not that Lex blames it--much--but dammit. "I'm not here to cause harm."

"You took a human life as if it were that of an animal. You distress Kal. Please go."

Oh. Yes. That. Tucking his hands under his arms, Lex sighs and turns, watching the door open for him with admirable speed. The room he's supposed to inhabit opens all on it's own, and Lex walks into the sterile white room, turning to watch the door swing shut. He wonders if he should test it to see if it will let him out, then shrugs himself out of it, aware the room is warming--reluctantly, grudgingly, but warmer.

Well. He's been in worse prisons. Going to the spartan bed, Lex stretches out and wonders if there's any way he can fall asleep.

*****

There's no way to, of course. He paces the room twice, coming to a stop by the bed each time, thinking with a longing as sharp as pain of the warm simulated wool blanket that the AI had given him, the comfort of a temperature in the seventies, and something besides endless white on white on white. It's Belle Reve's observation room all over again, which makes him itchier than he wants to admit. Bouncing him between bedroom and bathroom and bedroom again, restless and getting worse by the second.

There's a chance he's developing claustrophobia.

Stripping the jacket, Lex goes into the bathroom. Showers are still good things, and right now, maybe the only good thing in his life. And for a wonder, the hot water works--Lex tests it before he bothers undressing, wondering if this is a particularly malicious AI prone to turning it icy at a moment's notice.

Showers are still a good thing. The best thing, even. The body isn't too much different from his own--definitely an improvement over the thin skin and sharp bones of the Lex before--but it itches at him. This Lex hasn't shot a gun in a decade. This Lex definitely hasn't trained in years. This Lex is also running for president with Lana Lang as his chief of staff, probably, and if he thinks about this too hard, he's going to laugh himself silly.

Worse and worse and worse again. Rubbing his forehead, Lex closes his eyes, ducking under the water.

"Lex?" The door opens, and Clark comes in the door with no warning at all. The frosty glass that blocks the view doesn't feel private, probably because the man on the other side can see through it without even really trying. Lex takes a breath, turning off the faucet.

"At least you're calling me by the right name." Towel. Why hadn't he looked for a towel? "I suppose this means I'm not being turned over to the authorities for murder?"

Baiting a superhero is such a bad idea, but in this skin, he's as safe as he'll ever be. It's not like personal safety has ever stopped him before. But a towel would be good.

"They don't have a lot of facilities for bodysnatchers." Clark's voice is harder than before. "Do you want a towel?"

"You've seen the body." Thing is, Lex hasn't been naked in front of Clark since a few worlds back, and what do you know? Lust and terror are great motivators for that sort of thing. Reaching out, he pulls the door open. Clark holds out a towel, eyes averted. "That's prudish, even for you, Clark."

The only sign he gets are tightened lips.

"There are clean clothes on the counter," Clark says, staring at the wall like hieroglyphs that he has to read. "Come out when you're done." Before Lex can frame a suitable reply--God knows what the hell will come out of his mouth this time--Clark's gone, door closed behind him.

"I hate when he does that." Well, he hates a lot of things about Clark. There's no percentage in making Clark wait, so Lex shakes out the clean sweater and soft corduroy pants. Very Clark. Maybe very him, too. Lex isn't sure. The closet looked okay, but who knows what horror lurks in the dressers.

Clark is a splash of vivid color in the bare room. Not Superman--Clark. It's all in the tilt of his head, the vulnerable line of his throat. When he turns around, Clark's eyes on him are the green of rain-wet leaves.

Reaching out, Lex waits for Clark to warily extend his hand, and drops the wedding ring into the big palm. By the look on Clark's face, it's on par with shooting Helen. "I thought--you might want to hold onto it. Until he's back."

Clark licks his lips, making a fist around the metal. "You were always big on symbols."

"All of us are, believe it or not."

"All of you?" Despite himself, he's curious. He also slides the ring into some magical pocket in the uniform--how he can manage that with something so tight, Lex can only imagine. And imagine he will. At a more opportune time.

"This is the fourth time so far." Going to the bed, Lex sits down, wishing suddenly for socks. The AI made him some wonderful ones at home. He wonders if there's any way he can make it continue to supply him after he's left.

"You couldn't find what you needed before?" Clark's not quite looking at him, trying to focus somewhere else, on anything else. It can't be easy to look at someone you think you know and realize you don't know them at all. Lex knows all about that.

"There were--complications." To say the very least. God, would he kill for socks, any socks. His toes are freezing. "Do you have the information?"

Clark's head tilts thoughtfully. "The Justice League is sending the data over the network. What do you plan to do? Memorize it in forty something hours?"

Sarcasm was never Clark's most endearing feature. "Read it and see how we can adapt it. After all, we don't have a Superman anymore."

Clark winces, eyes flickering to Lex briefly. "How--"

"Xerxes killed him."

Clark swallows, nodding. He's restless; doesn't want to be here, can't quite figure out how to leave. "He--died stopping it. That was a very Clark thing to do."

The green eyes sharpen on him for a second, and Lex realizes that the bitterness seeped through. Great. Just fucking great. "You really weren't--friends, were you?"

Lex closes his eyes. "There aren't word for what Clark and I were. But friends? Not for a long time."

Clark nods, looking away, another pace of the room. That's just weird. Clark has never been a pacer. "Is something wrong?"

Clark turns on one red booted heel. He doesn't look happy. "We have to talk about something. Lex--our Lex, this Lex--isn't exactly the kind of person that can vanish and people not--well, notice. Especially now."

"Especially now?" Lex's mind flickers back to the morning and Lana. "Oh."

"The governor's wife's birthday is tonight. We're expected to be there." Clark shifts uncomfortably. "Lex wants the presidency. He gave up--a lot. For me. For--well, for everything. We didn't think--we really didn't think he'd be able to do it, but Lana thinks Lex can secure the nomination. I won't let anything stand in the way of that. And tonight's important. If it's going to happen, we can't afford to lose this opportunity. We can probably avoid details, but Lex *has* to be seen there, with the governor's open support. Appearance is everything."

"You want me to go?"

Clark, as far as Lex remembers, doesn't grind his teeth. Learn something new every world. "If you've been honest with me, and if the AI's right, you don't have any reason to want to screw this up. It's dinner, dancing, socializing."

"I could do that before I learned my alphabet." And an improvement over a tiny room in the Arctic, that's for sure. "I don't have any intention of causing you problems, Clark."

"You seemed okay this morning." Clark doesn't look certain, but he does look determined, which with Clark is half the battle. He'd do incredibly stupid thing when feeling particularly determined. "Do--whatever you do in your world. Except shoot people."

Lex's eyes narrow. "She deserved to die."

"A lot of people deserve to die. That doesn't mean we kill them just because we can."

Lex shrugs. "I've heard this before. Blah blah superheroing, blah blah. I'll keep all your little guests safe. But you know what I'd ask myself, before I mourn poor Helen?"

Clark is looking less happy by the second. "What?"

"What was so important that she had to lure Superman out to rescue Lex Luthor to get you away."

Clark stops, eyes wide. "What are you talking about?"

"She said she wanted Clark, but she expected Superman. No Kryptonite to stop you when you showed, nothing to really piss you off. And I'm not dead. Trust me, if Helen had wanted me dead, I would have been when she found me in the garden. There was something else she was trying to do, or trying to distract you from, and I'd start asking myself what that was."

Clark's white. "She doesn't know Clark is Superman."

"Whoever decided to kidnap me? Knows now."

Clark is perfectly still for a few long seconds, barely breathing. "I--need to check some things. We'll leave in about an hour."

Lex thinks he could learn to heartily hate the way Clark flashes away with very little effort.

*****

Clark's uncommunicative in the extreme, reminding Lex vaguely of his own thirty-fourth birthday party, a miserably glittering affair with too much press coverage and his wife fucking the head of security in the dining room before dinner. Clark had drank water from the bottle the entire night, hiding behind the group from The Planet. Lex remembers falling asleep between a Greek contortionist and the anchor for CNN sometime after four AM.

That had not, in retrospect, been the worst birthday ever, but it had been enlivened by Clark bonding with champagne at some point before one and trying to sing Lois a love song influenced by the musical stylings of Trent Reznor.

But yes. Incommunicative, and accusatory, and though it may be justified, it doesn't make anything easier. Clark watches him with narrow-eyed concentration as he selects a suit, watching for treachery, or unforgivable fashion faux pas, whichever. Unnervingly familiar, actually, but it's not like Lex misses the hatred.

"Did you hate him?"

Lex jerks the tie too hard on the knot and almost strangles himself. Turning, he watches Clark study him in the mirror. The green eyes don't lose any intensity by reflection. "More than you can imagine."

Clark's eyes flicker down. It's a very Clark thing to do; poke at the wound with one fingernail, just to see it bleed, endlessly surprised at the pain that comes with it. No more sense than a toddler in cause and effect. Lex turns away, picking up a pair of shoes before leaving the closet, planting himself on the foot of the bed.

"He--hated me too." Clark's voice comes from somewhere to the left. "For a long time."

Well, fuck. Lex makes his hands concentrate on sliding on one smooth sock. "He told you that?"

The silence stretches. Turning his head, he meets Clark's eyes in the mirror. Oh. "He didn't need to." The pause stretches. "I want to talk to Lex--to my Lex."

And how many ways was that a bad idea. "I can't."

Part 7/10


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Lex nods carefully, trying to make the thoughts close around it, like grass covering a grave. And what a fucking odd metaphor to use.

Oh, gosh, that's beautiful. And a wonderful new chapter! That lets us soak in more fic while recuperating from the last one. ^_^

And, um, as mt own paltry little offering... I made a cover for this fic... Which I hope you like, with prefacing apologies for fudging with the text a bit. ^^

http://i21.photobucket.com/albums/b285/anakosama/LandscapeCover.jpg

I have--no idea how I did not see this. Oh my GOD. That is--wow. It's gorgeous. Thank you thank you thank you *so much*.

Oh man, I am so sorry. You did gorgeous work. I am so sorry it took so long to get back to you. Thank you *so much*.

Oh, Lex. He's so off balance around affection, he really did the worst job of passing so far, just because he couldn't conceive of a happy homelife.

I love what you're dragging him through, here. It's the five point tour of ways Lex fucked up.

I feel so bad for crazy Lex in the last universe! Oh, and I was so excited to see that you had posted this. Am I wrong for wishing that Lex would get to merge with one of the Lexes in a happy Clex universe? Even if it meant his universe would be destroyed?

gah. "did you hate him?" gah. next chapter...must read next chapter...

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