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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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svfic: landscape, clark/lex, etc, 7/12
children of dune - leto 1
seperis



Clark turns, leaning into the dresser. Lex thinks if Clark had ever looked at him like that and meant it, he'd have had a hell of a harder time screaming him down every time Clark fucked up his projects. "You mean won't."

"I mean, can't, as in, can't." Another shoe. "Last time, too much bleedover, the AI had problems pulling me back and putting me together. I'm not risking being stuck in this world just to satisfy your curiosity."

Clark's head tilts quietly. It's more unnerving than yelling would have been. "How do I know you're telling the truth?"

You don't. "If you don't trust your own AI, who can you trust?"

Clark stares back, arms crossed across his chest, and Lex turns his full attention to his shoes. "Bleedover?"

Lex almost sighs. "I'm a temporary presence here. If I get too--mixed into the one already here, I don't leave. Neither of us do. You want your Lex back, we stay separate."

Clark's mouth is a narrow white line before he turns, walking out of the room. Not very Clark, that part, and to think, only a few months ago, a moment like this would have led to violence or possible attempted homicide. Standing up, he glances at the mirror. It's almost eerie to see himself in a body that's just off of being his, just that inch beyond familiar. Everything moves almost right, and everything feels almost right, and it even looks almost right, but it's just not.

Clark behind him, watching him in the mirror, takes that extra step. Lex watches Clark come closer, lifting his left hand. The wedding band is still body-warm and feels as heavy as destiny.

"It's his body," Clark says roughly. "You're borrowing it, and this comes with it." The pause stretches, fingers tightening on his to nearly the breaking point. "If you do anything, anything at all, that could hurt him--"

"I know." Lex tries to look away, the image in the mirror more vivid than his life has ever been. "At least some things stay the same. All my spouses want to kill me."

Clark almost cracks a grin, a softening at the corners of his mouth. For a second, the hand on his loosens, then Clark's expression freezes as he steps away. Lex breathes cool, air conditioned air and forces himself to turn around.

"Ready?" Clark says stiffly, and Lex nods. "Right. Let's go."

*****

Lana is, no real surprise, an excellent politician.

Vivid in black and autumn-red, she seems to be everywhere--chatting up these Congressmen, laughing with another group, listening patiently to a Supreme Court Justice with an expression that can only be described as rapt. Her way of fixing wide, guileless dark eyes on whoever she's speaking to and isolating them in the room. Lex barely has to do anything but let Clark and Lana lead him around, shoving him in front of men he both recognizes and doesn't at all.

"Are you okay, Lex?" Lana turns around in a whirl of color, looking at him over the rim of her glass. He thinks, a little dazedly, that she's never been more beautiful. It's been years, and the last time he saw her, it was days before her closed-casket funeral, hours before deciding to join her husband and family in Smallville, a small, lonely figure getting into a guarded car.

"Fine." He takes a drink, trying to fight the urge to ask for something stronger. In brandy bottles, even. Clark, behind him, stiffens. Clark was never a very good liar. "Long afternoon. You look lovely tonight."

She flushes into bright rose. "You're not so bad yourself, Mr. Luthor. Take Clark and go for a little walk. Dinner's not for another hour and you both look like you could use some fresh air. I'm going to go have a little chat with the chairman of the defense subcommittee." With a wink, she slips away, and not for the first time, Lex wonders what life would have been like if he had met her at a different time, a different place. Smallville poisoned everything it touched, including anything they could have been.

"Come on." Clark's arm through his is more restraint than friendly, but to outside eyes, it probably looks the same. "You're a politician for God's sake--aren't you?" Clark's voice is a study in uncertainty.

Lex shrugs, finishing his glass to leave it on the tray of a passing waiter. "Yes. But it was considerably easier to get the nomination than this."

Clark frowns, looking down at him. "Really?"

"One hack into the FBI database and a few surveillance videos." Lex almost grins at the shocked look on Clark's face. "Don't look so surprised."

"But you're--not--you're a--" Lex supposes that the habit of accusing someone of evil, especially for him to do so to Lex, is rusty.

"Only you and my biographer will ever know the truth." The delicate French doors open onto a wide balcony. It's an effort to pull away from Clark's warm presence. They're alone, a surprise at such a packed event, but then, all the power is in that room. Unless what Lana and Clark said is true--in which case, he wonders if this Lex knows everything that will mean. Everything that will change. "Are you ready for that?"

Clark crosses his arms over his chest. "Ready for what? You to do evil?"

Trust Clark to make the word sound cuter than it should be. "For the presidency. What it will mean to you both. To Superman. What will change."

Clark's expression cracks just a little, head turning to view the full room inside. "Yeah. We--haven't talked about it. But I'm--I've thought about it."

"Thought about it isn't enough." It's a long way to the ground from up here, Lex thinks, glancing down before turning completely to lean against the rails. Clark frowns in his general direction. "Don't look like that. I've been in the public eye since the day I was born. And I wasn't ready."

"Lex--"

"He's a Luthor, just like I am. We all think will is enough. That wanting it is all we need to have it."

The silence stretches between them for long minutes, broken only by the sound of their breathing. Too much time to think.

Finally, Clark cocks his head, looking at him with dark eyes. "He said something like that once." Shaking himself, Clark glances over his shoulder. "Come on. They're getting ready for the toast. Another hour, Lana should have everything in place. Think you can do this?"

Lex snorts. "In my sleep." Extending a hand, he waits for Clark's fingers to slide around his. "This should, at very least, be interesting."

*****

"..and to my good friend, Lex Luthor." The governor's smile is warm and avaricious, as only a man taking massive payoffs could smile. So many things stay the same. Lex grins, raising his glass in acknowledgement, aware Clark is watching him like a hawk.

There's more, the practiced, soothing drone of a practiced politician's voice, but Lex tunes it out from habit, studying the room. The general lack of fear of him is different. Lex remembers the ability to walk into a room and shut down conversation with a look. Not always pleasant, admittedly, but oftentimes useful. Clark is all rapt attention, but the glazed eyes give away he's somewhere else entirely. His Clark never quite learned that trick.

"Clark." Clark jerks a little, lowering his glass to give Lex a curious look. Lex tries to think of something to say. Nothing comes to mind. "What are you thinking about?"

Clark blinks slowly and tilts his head, as if thinking. "Nothing, really. I hate these things." His eyes fix on the governor. "And I really don't like him."

"Careful. This is still public." Though Lex can sympathize. A soft whistle draws his attention, sharp and too close, like someone is standing just by his ear. Clark frowns suddenly as Lex swats idly beside his head. The open garden doors are a magnet for insects. "What--"

"Lex." Clark's voice is thready, slipping up a register, one big hand grabbing at his arm. Another whistle, sharper, and Lex looks down. Blood flowers bright red against the white of Clark's shirt, the skin around it beginning to bubble in pale green. "Lex, I--"

Clark's too heavy to hold up, and his slide to the floor drags Lex with him, one hand clutching at his stomach. Around them, people are rustling, noise growing to an intolerable pitch, and Lex catches Clark's head before it can bang down on the tiled floor. The green eyes are wide with surprise. "Clark, what--"

The third whistle hits Clark's shoulder, and Lex blinks. Gun. Here.

"Someone's shooting!" a woman's voice wails, and the room erupts into pandemonium. Here, Lex thinks blankly. Security everywhere, and somehow, someone got in here. Looking up, he spots a body vanishing out the door, security running toward them far too late. Under his watch, every one of them would be dead and buried before morning for this, but this Lex might be a little less militant with the help.

"Lex," Clark whispers, and Lex drags his eyes down. The golden skin shades to yellow, faint edges of green working up his bare throat, and his eyes go huge and wide, veins popping up on his neck. Kryptonite exposure, Lex's mind stutters. One target, another vivid thought. Three shots. All at Clark Kent, not Superman.

This is what they were doing.

Lex looks up at the armed men around him, wide backs beneath tailored suits. No one can see, but surely someone's called for a doctor. Shit. And shit. "Who do I call? Clark." His hand's smeared with blood to the wrist. Touching Clark's face slicks it in red lines. His stomach is turning over just looking. "Clark. Who? The AI? The Justice League?" Who the hell cared for wounded superheroes?

Clark's mouth is open in a panted O, green-tinged lips shivering. "I--Bruce. Bruce Wayne. He--knows. Enough. He'll help."

In fucking *Gotham*? "Anyone closer?"

Clark's eyes roll back as a convulsion rips through his body. They've got to get out of here. They've got to do it now. "You," Lex says sharply, kicking his heel into the calf of the nearest men. "And you. Get him to the limo. Now."

"Mr. Luthor?" Not bright, and this Lex has a lot to answer for.

"Now. Clark, look at me." He smears another streak across the line of his collarbone. A pool of warm blood is spreading beneath them. "Clark, where?"

The second convulsion rips through Clark like electricity, jerking him from Lex's lap. Superman can't die from this, Lex thinks inanely. We've never proved it can kill him. Hurt him, yes. Hurt him a lot, yes. Kill him, no. Never. "Clark. Stay with me here."

"Mr. Luthor--" The man is kneeling beside him, the other already at Clarks' feet. "they're brought the car around." A tiny earpiece peeks from beneath the short hair. "Sir, if you'll--"

"Let's go." It's hard to pull away from Clark, and his fingers are sticky when they pull free of Clark's skin with a sickening sound. Standing up unsteadily, Lex is aware of the utter quiet of the room, the huddles of people on the floor who hadn't run for the door. Four men go with the two carrying Clark, guns drawn. The rest still circle him like a living wall.

This doesn't happen, Lex thinks, looking around. No one would dare attack Lex Luthor in a public place like this, shoot down his companions as if they were in the street. No one dared, had dared in years. Slowly, he wipes a stick hand on the leg of his pants, feeling the press of his phone against his palm from the pocket. Call Bruce Wayne.

"Sir, we need to leave."

Right. Clark should be in the car by now. They have to get--somewhere. The press will wonder why Clark Kent wasn't taken to the hospital. They can wonder all they want. Pulling out his phone, Lex glances up. "Let's get out of here."

*****

Bruce hadn't asked questions, replied in soft monosyllable and hanging up without an answer, which Lex supposes could be an answer in itself. The LexCorp clinic is currently as secure as the average high-security military establishment, and Lex feels ten times better armed.

Ten times zero, however, is still pretty fucking freaked out. Clark continues to convulse in the bed. No one looks particularly surprised when the IV's break except in green-tinged skin. They really don't say much at all.

Lex leaves orders that no one is allowed out of the clinic without his express permission.

"I didn't know he responded to normal drugs," Lex hears himself say. The bundle of green-black and pale yellow flesh in the bed doesn't resemble the Clark he knows. The body twitches every so often, and Lex feels himself twitch with it.

The young LexCorp doctor makes notes at the foot of the bed. "His body is the same as any humans, minus the enhancements of a solar-fueled biology." Lex stares at the morphine dripping into the needle and tries not to focus on the restraints holding Clark to the bed. Even crippled by kryptonite, he's amazingly strong. The first set had been ripped like tissue. They brought stronger ones the next time. Ones that Lex had reason to know would work even with an unimpaired Superman. They didn't even ask how Lex knew. Maybe they thought he and Clark were into bondage games at home. "Sir, the situation is becoming critical. We should--"

"We're waiting for an expert." Bruce fucking *Wayne*? "At least until--" Until what? Clark stops breathing? Great time to start emergency procedures. Remove the bullets now, common sense states. Except they're kryptonite bullets and hollow points shatter on impact. God knows how much of that shit's in his body already. Lex has seen Clark shot, but never been around to see how he gets out of it. It'd never seemed--

--that threatening. Clark always came back afterward, none the worse for wear. When Clark convulses again, Lex fixes his eyes on the window. Around the frame is traced reddened handprints from the press of Lex's palms to the wood.

"Sir--"

"Get out."

The man leaves with pleasing alacrity, though Lex isn't sure if it's him or affronted dignity responsible. Coming back to the side of the bed, Lex stares down at the body that shivers with tiny convulsions every few seconds. "Clark."

Clark's so far under that he can't possibly hear Lex. The morphine dose currently pumping into his system would have killed anyone human. Even Lex. "We can't wait forever."

Clark doesn't respond to his voice. The edges of the wound are wetly black and curling away, like something burnt and still rotting. His throat tightens just looking at it. His knees feel strangely weak and he pulls a chair with one foot, dropping into it before he falls.

In Virginia, Clark's body had been a messy, blackened ruin before the few living Justice League members arrived to take his body, oddly careful as they pulled him from Lex's hands, still unable to believe, even then. They would take him to the Fortress, Lex's mind had reasoned, even as his fingers had slicked their way to the messy, open wound of his throat, looking for a pulse in the mass of green flesh and blackish-red fluid. The Fortress can heal anything. They'll take him there and fix him and he'll be back and he'll--he'll--

"You'll be fine," Lex whispers. Kryptonite bullets. Not his invention, but the shatter-tip filled with powdered Kryptonite had been. Easier to spread out and infect the body. Solid Kryptonite tip. Easier to pierce the invulnerable skin and turn internal organs into ribbons. "How the fuck long does it take him to get here?"

Lex finds himself staring at Clark's hand, laying at his side, a fist so tight that nails are cutting into his yellowy skin. Reaching over, Lex finds himself trying to pry the hand open, vision hazing as he leaves crusty, bloody trails over Clark's skin.

They packed the wounds in gauze, but Lex can seethe blood blackening the white in a growing circle. Bruce has to get here. He has to get here now.

"She kidnapped me to get to you." And if he hadn't been so fucking--fucking *stupid*, he would have put this together before. "She knows who you are. So does whoever the hell set this up."

Closing his eyes, Lex stares at his eyelids, painted in angry red. Clark's not going to die. Not like this. Not like last time.

"Last time?"

Bruce is the only person, other than Clark, that can move like air. That doesn't change the fact that Lex is on his feet with a gun trained at Bruce's heart before he can tamp the instinct down.

Bruce watches him with a mild expression, projecting boredom like an expensive cologne. "Old habits die hard, Lex?"

Lex forces his gun down but doesn't put it away. "He said you. Fix him."

Bruce's eyes catalogue Clark's injuries instantly. "I'll need the help of your staff--"

"Anyone you want."

"And a sterile work environment." Bruce slides his gloves off, tucking them into the cashmere coat draped over his shoulders. "You'd better wait outside, Lex. This is going to be--unpleasant."

"I want--"

The dark eyes fix on him blankly. "I don't care what you want. Send a medical team in and get out."

Tempting to raise the gun again, just on principle, but Bruce doesn't seem impressed. Turning, Lex forces himself to the door, slipping the gun into one pocket. Outside, the doctor he dismissed is waiting. "Go in and do whatever he says. Get him everyone and anything he needs."

When the door closes, Lex leans into it for a second. In this bright waiting room, clean white and smelling of antiseptics, the rich, earthy copper coming from his clothes is almost unbearable. The blood is dried in swirls and corners of dusty dark red, flaking to the floor when he rubs his hands together. The dark pants are soaked with it, sticking to his skin. Turning, he sees Mercy, standing with implacable patience by the door.

"Send someone to find who did this." His voice is surprisingly calm, compared to the frantic way his fingers try to rub the blood off. "I want to know before dawn."

She inclines her head and goes out the door, leaving Lex alone, staring at empty white walls. His fingers burn from rubbing, and if he isn't careful, he'll lose skin. He needs--needs a shower. He's still holding the gun in one sticky hand, and the temptation to use it is almost overpowering, even without a target.

Somewhere deep in his mind, the other Lex is close to mindless rage, pushing at every necessary barrier between them. The beginnings of what feels like a severe migraine pounds through his temples. Jesus, like this could possibly help. Stuffing the gun into one pocket, Lex finds a chair and rubs his temples gently, trying to force his concentration on the man inside, pushing him back down. Can't, he hopes the other Lex can hear. Dangerous. You want him back, this way won't do it. Stay back. Stay down.

"Mr. Luthor?"

Lex doesn't look up. "Get out."

"The media, sir--"

Shooting would feel good, but isn't necessarily the best idea. "I don't give a shit. Get. Out."

The feet pause, withdraw reluctantly. From the operating room, a short, hoarse yell cuts the air, jerking Lex's head up, almost dragging him to his feet. There's nothing he can do in there. There's nothing--nothing he can do here, either, except sit, and wait, and watch empty walls.

*****

It's nearly dawn when Bruce comes out.

Lex doesn't like the evaluating way Bruce watches him, likes even less that Bruce is the picture of the immaculate billionaire, not so much as a crease in the pale grey linen of his shirt, like he did nothing more taxing all night than idly chat up debutantes. The only sign of anything untoward is the bloodshot eyes that take Lex in head to toe.

"He's resting."

Lex stands up, almost stumbling before catching himself with hand on the arm of the chair. "Will he be--"

"He's resting." Bruce's head tilts in expressionless interest, like a musician with a sour note. If anyone besides Clark could figure out there was something radically different in the Lex before him, it *would* be Bruce.

"Thank you." Lex never knew that pride could actually make saying that *painful*.

Bruce's mild expression of surprise invites a fist, straight through those perfectly capped teeth, but Lex controls the impulse. Barely. "I assume you've filed a police report?"

Someone had, Lex thinks blearily. His personal assistant had come in and brought people with her, and he'd given some kind of a statement, watching the door for Mercy or Hope to return. Nothing yet. Outside, the sky is probably lightening to grey gloom, and they have yet to report back. Lex isn't sure what this Lex does when someone fails him, but they're about to find out what *he* does.

"Whoever did this will be found." Only Bruce could make that sound so ironic.

"You don't believe that any more than I do. That's why you and your little league are so popular." Rubbing his palms down his sides, Lex steps around Bruce, heading toward the closed door. "I'll find them."

"Lex." The familiar edge of warning makes Lex's teeth ache. He doesn’t need this. He really, really doesn't need this. "Don't do anything that--you can't live with."

"That's a very short list," Lex answers over his shoulder, pushing open the door. A glance inside shows Clark's asleep, still that unattractively technicolored, but less in the way of rapid death. One big hand lies in a loose curl by his side. Beneath the patterned cotton gown, Lex can see the heavier bulk of bandages.

When he turns around, his head of security is talking with Bruce, gesticulating wildly. It could be the lack of sleep, but Lex is getting very tired of Bruce Wayne, no matter how useful he might be in a crisis. "I want twenty four hour security on Clark," Lex says, jerking the man's attention to himself. The glance at Bruce before the man nods earns him a sharp look and a filed away reference before he turns his attention back to Bruce. "I was kidnapped yesterday."

Bruce blinks, the equivalent of a shout of shock. "This wasn't reported."

"You can find the body down off fiftieth and Wyman. Third basement." Lex waits for Bruce's features to take on a faintly disapproving cast. "It was planned. Someone knows who Clark is."

Bruce pauses. "Has Clark reported anything--unusual--over the past week?"

How the *fuck* would I know? Lex wants to scream, but right, he's Lex, and he's supposed to. "Not that he's told me."

Bruce's lips tighten. "Your security?"

His security is going to find out what happens when someone fails Lex Luthor. "They'll be dealt with."

"Lex--" The warning's annoyingly clear.

"Can Clark be moved home?"

Bruce pauses, studying him. "Yes." His eyes flicker over Lex again, then back up. "You may want to change before you see him again. I'll be in town for the rest of the week." He walks away, taking his coat from a corner chair, walking out the door without another word. Lex thinks of all the ways he could have killed Bruce in the last ten years. It's soothing.

"Sir?"

Mercy's flat voice is like music. "Who?"

She pauses, never good. Turning around, Lex watches what passes for expression on her face. "We were unable to find any traces of the assailant, Mr. Luthor."

This--this has never happened before. Lex isn't sure how to react.

"We will," she states, obviously taking his silence as understanding. Or permission for failure? "Sir?"

He can't just--Lex unclenches his hands at the feel of his nails cutting into his skin. "Find. Them. Whoever they are." Beneath her tan, Lex is pleased to see her skin pale. "I don't tolerate failure, Mercy. You should know that." Should. This Lex is sloppy. Sloppy and *weak*. Playing house with Clark had done something to him. "Is the house secure?"

Mercy nods jerkily. "Yes, sir."

"Arrange transportation for Clark immediately." His skin itches, and not just from the rampant incompetence. Blood flakes seem to fill the air whenever he moves. Mercy vanishes as soon as his eyes turn away, and he wonders what she's thinking.

When he opens Clark's door, Clark looks at him from behind pain-glazed eyes. "Lex." He's groggy from the medication, the only reason Lex can think of for that huge, mindless smile, as bright as sunlight. Like a magnet drawn north, Lex goes to the bed, reaching down for one big, slack hand. "I feel so shitty."

"I'm not surprised." This isn't the time to lose his calm. It's past the time--his calm is in another time zone and running at the speed of light. He won't even bother sending a search party. "You look--" Shitty. Green cast to swallowed skin, jade-black circles under his eyes like he took a round of punches, and the hand in Lex's is trembling. "You should rest."

"Can't." Clark's nose wrinkles. "Cramps. From the kryptonite." Lex glances at the morphine drip and winces. "You--you okay?"

Lex wonders if he even knows he's talking to the wrong Lex. "Fine. Just dirty." And he's not in any hurry to remind him, but for practical reasons. And some non-practical ones, too. It's been so long since Clark looked at him like this. Didn't jerk away from his touch. Being close. A concept that Lex isn't sure he's capable of anymore, but this Lex *is*. He can be this Lex for a little while, for a sick man. "We're moving back to the house. Safer."

Clark nods dazedly, wrapping his fingers clumsily through Lex's. "Sorry."

"Sorry?"

"On your night. This happening."

Lex tightens his grip. "It's not your fault."

"Keeping you safe--this is just--I want you to have this. Everything else--worth it if you can get this. After everything else."

Lex nods, wondering what the hell Clark is about.

"Didn't want to--hurt your chances. Want this."

"It can't hurt my chances to be seen caring for my--my husband, when he's been injured." The words slide out effortlessly. Clark's smile widens, and he pulls jerkily at Lex's hand. When Lex is close enough, the green eyes close and Lex shivers at the kiss, clumsy and sweet and familiar. They've been doing this for years, Lex realizes. Years and years, enough for his body to know what he doesn't, opening his mouth to the silky-wet press of tongue, the satiny interior of Clark's mouth familiar, the feeling of Clark's other hand resting lightly on the back of his neck. Messy and badly angled and sticky. Clark tastes like antiseptic and blood and Lex doesn't care at all.

Too few short minutes, it ends, and Clark falls bonelessly into the mattress, pliable and soft beneath the rough clinic sheets. "Glad--you're okay." His voice is slurring--fighting exhaustion, or whatever sedatives and painkillers they gave him. "Wanna go home."

"Soon." Gently, Lex smoothes the dark hair back. "Soon, Clark."

With another dopey smile, Clark's eyes fall shut, with a snort like a sleepy puppy. Lex doesn't move from his seat on the edge of the bed, watching the slow rise and fall of Clark's chest. The Clark of his world hadn't looked this young in years. Decades. Aged by the world, maybe, by being a superhero, by being a reporter, a husband to a driven woman, a son who lost his father too early. That's not all it was, though.

Touching the dark hair, Lex thinks of Clark's shuttered face in memory, years and years of it, the Clark that he'd hated so much it had been like acid, corroding everything it touched. It had never occurred to him until now that it ate at Clark just as surely, just as viciously.

In all those years of hating Clark, wanting to hurt him as deeply as he'd hurt Lex, he'd never guessed the hate would almost be enough to do it.

This Clark hadn't had a Lex who knew him too well, who could strike wounds that could never fully heal, be a living reminder of failure, a blighted friendship, and the thousand wrong choices they both made. Clark's sleep-smile widens as Lex strokes his hair, the rhythm a sharp counterpoint to the maelstrom in his head.

There'd been a time he'd have done anything not to hurt Clark, and an eternity after he'd done nothing else. This Lex had done something--said the right thing, like Lex never had, done the right thing, like Lex never quite could--and history had changed.

"What was different?" Lex whispers, watching Clark's face. He could look inside, but that's a place he can't risk. It's not--relevant to the mission. It's not--necessary. But God, he wants to know.

Clark shifts in his sleep, hand tightening on his again, and Lex wonders if he has the strength to pull away again.

*****

The house is ready for them when they arrive. Lex approves of the professional demeanor of his security, but that doesn't tempt him to relinquish either gun he's carrying anytime soon. He glances over the reports with no idea what they tell him and takes a briefing without losing forward momentum up the stairs. People are *everywhere*--normal staff, what he speculates is his personal assistant and her assistants, medical personnel, and someone in LexCorp PR, unmistakable with the sharp look of someone trying to re-spin the situation in a positive light. Clark's set up in their--his bedroom. A doctor and two nurses are moved into spare rooms down the hall. Someone is background checking every clinic staff member who was in the building when Clark was brought in, though Lex wants to think that his counterpart had enough common sense to keep track of anyone who would know who and what Clark was.

Mercy and Hope stay out of his line of sight as much as possible, though that's not much--he can feel them even when he can't see them. He finds himself studying them, looking for differences from the ones he knew. In his world, Mercy and Hope wouldn't have failed on an order like that. No matter how difficult it was.

Clark's probably as stoned as a teenager who first discovered weed. It's charming on some level, since Clark's flings with RedK hadn't ever gotten him into this state of doped up euphoria. He mumbles things in no Earth language into the ceiling and smiles so much that Lex thinks he might need sunglasses soon.

Staying in here is an insupportable idea, but going back out to be questioned seems just as bad. Five stations have set up camp outside the iron gates. They all want statements.

"Sir?"

The assistant, Lex thinks--his own back home had died in a bloody mess outside LexCorp headquarters, gun clutched in one hand.

"If they want a statement, they can wait." She backs off a step with a nod and a nervous smile. Nothing like his. Another jerky nod, and she quickly goes back out the door with a nervous glance back, like she suspects him of ulterior motives. He suspects himself.

"Don't--scare them." Clark's voice is hoarse from the bed. Lex snaps his head around to see clearer jade eyes fixed on him. "She's--not used to this you."

Lex licks his lips. "Another day or so, she'll have her normal boss back. Until then, she can deal. How are you feeling?" His palms are sweating. It's just strange.

"Stoned, but okay." Clark shifts uncomfortably on the bed. "Bruce said it'd take a few days to work out of me."

"This has happened before?"

Clark's smile twists. "Here, you designed that bullet. Works *really* well. Very popular with the less savory parts of society."

Well, shit. "There, I did too. You never seemed sick after, though."

Clark grimaces. "Superman takes a few days off. Never got three of them, though." His body trembles beneath the blankets. "I--thanks."

"It's against my interests to get you killed." Or stand around watching you die. Lex closes his eyes, wondering if he should eat something. Nausea's rising sweet and familiar at the back of his throat, a slow burn of bile. He'd thrown up so much at the hospital it had been streaked with blood. "You--"

"Hey." One hand gropes for his; Clark's being comforting? It seems the strangest thing of all. "I'll be okay. A few days to flush me out, no permanent harm done." The green eyes are barely open now. The drugs pulling him back under. "Get--get some rest. You can access the AI from the computer in your office, so--won't lose anything." His voice drifts off. "Sorry."

Of course, Clark would worry about that. Lex nods to the sleeping face, then forces himself to walk away. He doesn't think anyone would be stupid enough to try and talk to him now, no matter how desperate they are, so he goes back out. Still a mill of people he doesn't know, but has to assume aren't enemies. It's that or sit at the foot of Clark's bed, gun in his lap, waiting for the next attempt.

When he doesn't even know where the hell the *first* one came from.

"Who wants you dead?" Lex asks, and maybe it's a stupid question; Superman has enemies, Christ, does he have enemies and to spare--but few would do it like this, fewer still would have the brains to figure out the connection between Clark and Superman. And fewer than that would know-- "Clark. Who?"

The green eyes open slow and heavy. "I--there are a lot." Almost instantly, he's under again, and maybe it's kinder to let him sleep, let the drugs hold off the pain. When he'd created those bullets, he'd been going for maximum damage. Apparently, he succeeded a hell of a lot better than even he knew.

Lex grits his teeth, trying to force himself to leave the room. Security can't protect Clark, though--not his, not these idiots, probably copies of the idiots he hired in Smallville, before he learned the best protection is terror of failure. Settling back in the chair, Lex loosens the holster on his thigh and sets himself to wait.

The information, after all, isn't going anywhere. And neither is Clark.

*****

After a while, he brings up his laptop, settling by Clark's bed. He doesn't trust security, who don't have a healthy fear of what pissing off the great Lex Luthor would cause.

And God, he needs something to *do*.

Memorizing data isn't a task that requires much work--Lex's memory is erratic, but his learning curve is high enough to make up for it. It tells him what he knew before; for this, they need Clark, Clark's power, Clark's gifts, and whatever the hell Lionel did to control Xerxes isn't here, either.

Though in retrospect, maybe that was Clark, too.

Clark isn't getting better, pale-green face and sweat-slicked skin, shivering and shaking at turns, and Lex finds himself lingering by the bed, watching the slow, uneven breathing. Clark died like this, in the end, Kryptonite poisoned, invulnerability breached, a slow trickle of life seeping away into burned and bloodied dirt. Lex doesn't know how long he knelt in that field, but he thinks it might have been longer than he thought, to remember so much.

He's not getting better, and that makes Lex wonder, pressing his hand to Clark's forehead, almost shuddering at the cold. Clark is never cold.

Far beneath, the other Lex is *pushes*, an almost physical jolt. Lex jerks his hand back. The rage is bright hot, flowing just beneath his consciousness, searching hungrily for a way through. Get to Clark. Get out of here. Protect.

But not kill, he thinks, arrowing the thought down, wondering if the other Lex can hear him. You won't kill for him, you won't kill to protect him. I will.

You never protected anyone but yourself.

Lex's hands grab for the arms of the chair, pulling his consciousness back into this reality, nailing it into straight, cold floors and wooden chairs and bright sunlight, spilling through the thin wooden blinds. Here. Not there. Not--

"Lex?" Clark's voice is so low that Lex almost misses it. Pushing himself up, Lex moves closer. The green eyes are glazed. "It's--can you turn on the lights? I can't see."

Lex looks around the sunny room, stomach clenching. "You're just tired."

The sound could be, in another world, a laugh. Lex's hand clenches on the blankets. "I really am. I--feel weird. It's not like--it's like I want to go to sleep."

"Sleep's good." His hands shake. He doesn't dare try to touch Clark, no matter how much he wants to.

The corner of Clark's mouth twitches. It could be a smile, in another time. "It's warm there. It's so cold here--"

It was hot in Virginia, the sun beating down on them while Lex tried to think when thinking wasn't enough, when doing wasn't enough, when will wasn't enough, would never be.

Clark had said he was cold.

"Stay here." With me, he almost says, but those words hadn't stopped Clark from leaving, hadn't paused the way the light had faded from the burned green eyes. One second, there, and the second, like a candle, he'd been gone. "You can't leave."

Clark's eyes drift slowly shut. "Just--resting. A little. I'm so tired, Lex. I'm never tired."

"You'll be fine." He'll be fine. This isn't there. He has doctors and monitors and IV's and whatever other magics can be performed when your worst, most implacable enemy is your lover, all of Lex's attention turned on making sure, being sure, that nothing could ever hurt Clark. "When you're better, we'll find them, Clark. We'll find whoever--"

"No." Clark's lashes flutter open. "No, Lex, you--we don't--" Lex hadn't even realized he was holding Clark's hand, until the bones grind into his, a parody of his former strength. "We don't, Lex. You remember?"

Remember. No. Pretend? Yes. "This is different."

"It's never different. It's what men--men like us, we have to be." Clark falls back a little into the pillows, breathing shallow and fast. Too much effort, maybe. But his hand holding Lex's is unbreakable. "We can't--we don't--"

"Rest, Clark--"

"We *don't*. It's so easy to slip, it's so easy--" Clark pants out a breath, body tensing. "You promised. We promised. That we'd be better. Only way. It's the only way."

"It's *not*." And maybe this is where Lex and Clark had always come to, a place where they could never meet and never talk. Lex believed in the safety of power, and the will to use it, as Clark never had. "Clark--"

"It's all sacred or nothing is." A hectic flush spreads neon over the pale skin, like a sunburn. "We are, they are, you can't, you have to--Lex, you have to remember--"

Clark finally relaxes, the frantic energy burned away, and Lex feels the fingers loosen involuntarily, eyes fluttering shut. A pink tongue licks dry lips, but even that effort seems too much. "You won't." The green-white lips curl again, and this time it is a smile. "I know you. I love you. I--remember."

"Rest." The room seems to compress, like something's removing all the air. "When you're better, we'll talk."

"I'm--cold."

Lex reaches out to pull up the blankets. He's shaking so badly that he drops them, clumsily tucking them around the thin body. Clark isn't--Clark *won't*--

A knock at the door interrupts him, and Lex closes his eyes, taking a breath. Slowly, he makes himself pull away, hating how effortlessly Clark's hand slides from his, hitting the bed with a dull thud.

Going to the door, he automatically slides the gun into one hand. He's not sure if he cares who's on the other side, as long as he gets to use it.

But it's just Mercy, looking tense. Maybe this Lex doesn't ride her like he does.

"We found them."

*****

This house, Lex thinks, looking around, wasn't ever meant to plan assassination. He misses his laboratories and the LexCorp board rooms with an ache that's almost physical. Clark's mother's handmade curtains--he can so see Martha Kent in both design and fabric--don't lend themselves well to murder. Nothing about this bright, sunny room has anything to do with LexCorp and everything Lex has created.

The round dining room table is spread over with documents, pictures, bios, and five laptops. The tablecloth's a discarded pile of fabric in the corner, and Lex's eyes keep darting to it, the tatted edges, the well-worn look of something loved and cared for.

"It's one of the anti-mutant groups," someone tells him, pushing a laptop in front of him. "They've been vocal against you holding public office."

Ah, the usual. Psychos. Lex is almost disappointed. "I'd be a target."

"Destruction of the Justice League has always been their primary objective," says Mercy from behind him. "After LexCorp cut off funding--"

Lex turns in his chair, almost opening his mouth to deny it--but one, back in the day, he'd funded some fairly crazy causes that promised him Superman's head on a platter, when he was still too angry, grieving too deeply, to think, and two, *this* Lex, not him. The dramatic irony of Clark being wounded by someone Lex used to contribute money to will never stop being funny, and he'll never be able to laugh about it like he should. "It was a trap, then." To confirm what they'd probably guessed--crazy, he knows, never equals stupid except on television.

"Sir?"

Lex doesn't feel like relating the kidnapping, though it argues that this group of security is going to be on the unemployment line or six feet under after this is all over. "I want them dead."

There's that feeling again--the dissonance, the way this Lex does things, the way they keep eyeing him. A few long moments of silence pass. "Sir, Mr. Kent--"

"Doesn't have any say in this. Make it fast, make it messy, and make it before sundown." By then, he'll be out of this body, and he doesn't trust that other Lex to do it right. God knows what nonsense he's picked up. "Tell me when you find them." Getting up, Lex tries to control the restlessness, almost breaking a pen in his hurry, chair knocking backward in unforgivable clumsiness. Needing movement, action, *something*. He feels the eyes on him--of course he's worried, his husband is dying upstairs, of course he'll be acting strange, of course he'll do what he'd never countenance otherwise, of course, of course, of fucking *course*--

"Get out."

They move with gratifying alacrity, papers whisked away, laptops folded, bodies disappearing from the room in a tumble of bureaucratic limbs and annoying voices. Walking to the window, Lex stares at the front gates. He can't see them from here, but outside, the entire world seems to be congregating, waiting. A different life, and Clark and Lois would be there, too, Clark's hard-won compassion tempering Lois' ruthless drive.

He grew up, Lex thinks suddenly, remembering the last time he saw him--really *saw* him, before Xerxes. Somehow, somewhere in Lex's mind, Clark had stopped growing up at eighteen, stopped changing, and that's where Lex left him. It was easy hate an eighteen year old, self-righteous asshole. Easier than accepting that Clark had had years to learn to be the man who patrolled the skies.

Ask yourself, he got better, and you never stopped being twenty-six. Think about that one for a second.

"Sir?"

This body doesn't have the instincts to reach for a weapon when startled, and suddenly, Lex doesn't want to bother. Turning, he looks at his assistant. "Yes?"

"He's awake, sir." Her face is too expressionless, too controlled, and Lex's feels something heavy settle in his stomach. "He's asking for you." She pauses, breaking for a second for a hard swallow. "His doctor also wishes to speak to you."

Lex nods slowly, skin feeling tight. "Tell them I'm coming." She pauses, obviously not hearing the dismissal, then turns clumsily and walks out, letting the door half-shut behind her.

*****

"Kryptonite poisoning." The doctor looks like he'd rather be anywhere than here--a hospital, perhaps, where he can escape, not this private house. Lex looks at him blankly, struggling to remember his name.

"He's recovered before."

The doctor pauses. "Refined ore is very--rare, sir." Perhaps, one might say, no one but a LexCorp employee or someone Lex really liked at one point would have it. "The general public has rarely had access to it, and its effects are far more--unpredictable. And damaging."

Lex blinks slowly. "I don't understand. You've filtered the substance from his blood. He--"

"The damage was widespread, Mr. Luthor." With a rough swallow, the cool blue eyes turn away, fingers fiddling with the pen, the paper, the keys of the laptop. "We've done everything possible, but--" He pauses, clearing his throat again. "His body isn't responding to treatment."

"Then you haven't done enough."

"He was exposed to higher levels of kryptonite ore than we've ever seen, sir. Internal organs were compromised." The doctor pauses, eyes flickering down to the paper. "His own healing cannot--keep up."

That doesn't even make *sense*.

"You're saying he's dying."

The doctor's eyes close. "His chances are--" Another hard swallow, and then the blue eyes open, staring into Lex's. "Yes, sir."

No. "Mr.Wayne--"

"He was consulted last night and this morning. We can do nothing more than--make him comfortable."

The Fortress, Lex thinks. The Justice League. A miracle. Something. "I don't believe it." It's just kryptonite, for God's sake. It hurts. It damages. Lex shoots it at Clark five times a week during a *good* month. There's moaning and complaining and some fast disappearing act after, but Clark always gets up after. He's always back after. It's always--

From the other room comes the sound of something breaking, a woman's startled cry. Turning his back on the doctor, Lex feels like he's walking through honey. The door of their room looms ahead, half-open, a girl backing out clutching a clipboard. When she turns around, her face is white.

"Get out," Lex tells her, pushing her aside, barely seeing her stumble to the carpet. Opening the door, Lex watches in surreal shock as two nurses hold Clark down as strangely blurry convulsions jerk his body. A man against the wall holds a cloth to his bleeding nose. There's a dent in the white paint above him. One of Clark's arms slams out, knocking the surprisingly sturdy woman across the room. Lex doesn't see her open her eyes after impact.

The room smells of vomit and blood and things even less aromatic. Lex gets a knee on the bed and Clark's arm down before a third nurse bites the dust. She doesn't even spare him a glance. "What's happening?" she whispers, eyes trained on Clark's green face.

Seizures, Lex's mind supplies, wrist and arm and forehead reminding him. Convulsions, getting rougher and less violent and more exquisitely painful, until the end, when everything just stops. "We need restraints."

She nods, glancing behind her quickly. "David. Restraints." She gives Lex an uncertain look. What the hell good are restraints on the strongest man in the world? Cut with kryptonite will only increase Clark's pain, and Lex will see every nurse in the house dead before he'll even consider it.

Lex feels the hand on his wrist. "Move your hand, just a little. It'll have to be direct--he jerked the IV out." A hand on his shoulder steadies him, riding out Clark's next lurch, and he watches as the needle slips into skin that acts almost human, taking it in. Invulnerability breached, Lex thinks, feeling nauseated at the simple sight. There's nothing horrible in this except the unnaturalness of it. It's spreading, the poisoning, and taking Clark's invulnerability with it. His resistance to--everything. Anything.

Clark relaxes instantly, falling limp. Neither Lex nor the nurse move for a few seconds, then she slowly slides her feet back to the floor. A glance shows greenish-yellow bile and blood flecking the front of her uniform, and black bruises are forming on her arms. There's a good chance she'll have a black eye.

The hand on his shoulder steadies him, and Lex looks over his shoulder at the calm doctor. Like he sees this all the time.

"What--"

"A sedative," the doctor says calmly, tucking the bottles back in his coat. "And a muscle relaxant. They should keep him comfortable for a little while."

Lex's mind blanks. "Human pharmaceuticals don't work on Clark."

The man looks back blankly. "They do now."

*****

They call twice--once on finding a lead, once on narrowing down the location to--of all imbecilic things--the main building, their headquarters, and what kind of assassins go back to headquarters after? Ones who don't think they'll be caught.

From beside Clark's bed, Lex nods like they can see him, makes the right noises, and shuts down the phone, looking at the too-thin hand resting on the bed, close enough to touch.

The doctor had told him, but there are things that no one knows about Superman. Lex is the leading expert on dying Kryptonians, though, and knows what they don’t. The body begins to break down, the kryptonite destroying him from the inside out, dissolving muscle and burning nerves away, liquefying internal organs, until the slow, painful breakdown of brain tissue, and nothing will be left of that nova-bright mind but mulch. The AI had let him see, and he was stupid enough to ask. What was incinerated in the Fortress hadn't resembled anything that had ever been alive.

Clark's half-conscious, edging toward delirium, soft words of long-ago conversations drifting in and out of time. Lex wonders how he feels. It's shock, he tells himself. Horror, maybe, that anyone should suffer through this. Disbelief, powerful and overawing, that *kryptonite* could do this, the logical culmination of prolonged, internal exposure, that this is the fate he had sentenced Clark to so many times in his mind that he couldn't count the number. It's the slowest way to die he's ever seen.

"Lex," Clark murmurs, cracked lips parting in a smile, green and red fluid tricking from the corner of his mouth. Lex picks up a soft cloth from the bedside table, wiping it away carefully, almost freezing at the cracking of the skin beneath his touch, like ancient, dry paper.

What the AI had burned hadn't looked like it could ever have been something living, but it had been. It had been Clark.

"I'm here." His voice is too hoarse. He should get something to drink, perhaps. The nurses had been dismissed downstairs. The doctor had told him to call if he was needed, but the only need he could meet would be for Clark's pain. "Clark."

"Can you flip on the lights? I can barely see you."

Clark's eyes fix on some point far above Lex's head. Lex shivers, even with sunlight pouring over him from the window. "In a second. Your eyes need to rest. Just rest, Clark. Are you cold?"

"A little." His skin feels like ice. One big hand gropes out, covering his on the bed. Lex can feel every bone. Slowly, Lex reaches up with his other hand, pushing back soft dark hair. "You know. You always. Always say I need. To take a vacation." Clark smile again, and Lex carefully wipes away the fluid, edged in black this time. There's a strange smell, almost sweet, drifting through the room. "God, I'm tired."

"I know." Stroking the dark hair again, Lex settles on the edge of the bed. "You're going to be okay."

"Yeah." Clark's voice is almost a sigh. "I think--I was thinking."

"About?"

Clark licks his lips with a dry tongue, almost white. It's happening so fast, and so slow. Lex is careful with the hand in his, trying not to grip too hard. He could break Clark's bones like eggshells now. "How I--if I could get back the time we lost."

Far beneath Lex's skin, the other Lex stirs, then moves, hard and sharp, stabbing upward, a blinding pain like a needle stabbed through his eye. It's like--like none of the others. Not a blend of two, just suddenly, *there*. Holding Clark's hand, watching through their eyes, and his grief isn't like anything Lex has ever touched. "You're going to be fine," he says in Lex's voice, his own voice, touching Clark's face with years of familiarity, hand shaking. "Just stay with me."

Clark's eyes search the air around them. "I can't see you."

"I'm here."

Clark nods slowly, eyes feathering slowly shut. On the other side of the bed, a monitor starts to cluck. Reaching blindly, Lex finds the sensor on Clark's chest and jerks it off. Skin goes with it, papery and pale. He ignores it. "I have so much to do."

"You can do it later."

It's like being a voyeur, sickening and frightening and the other's pain is like a knife, twisting in his guts with every slowing breath. The phone at his hip rings. Lex ignores it.

"Lex--" Clark's mouth barely moves, just bare air. Lex leans closer, and the smell is almost overwhelming, sickly sweet, like something slowly rotting. "When we find out who did it. I'll go with you. To arrest them."

Arrest them? Their lives are measurable in minutes. "Clark--"

The thin, fragile fingers tighten, barely enough to give pressure. "You promised. You said--"

Jesus Christ, and Clark is sitting here, arguing….

"You said that it all was. Everyone has to. Have the chance. To be. Better."

Lex's breath lets out in a slow hiss. "This is different." These aren't last fucking words. "Clark--"

"It has to be. Lex. You--you and me--we made history change. We made it better. We did. And you will--" Clark's voice trails off. "I'm so cold."

"Shh. Rest." The words are thick in his throat. The phone rings again. Lex ignores it, touching one too-sharp cheekbone, eyes on Clark's slowly paling face. He's like marble, perfectly carved, almost as lifeless. "You'll feel better soon. It'll be warm again."

Clark's eyes close, little smile curling up the cracked corners of his mouth. "You always make me warm."

The big hand goes limp. Slowly, Lex touches the bare chest, eyes closed, every nerve concentrated on the heartbeat beneath thin skin that he can no longer feel.

The pull of the AI is familiar, but for the first time, Lex pulls back against it. The other Lex is still, watching Clark's face. Like a snuffed candle, Clark gone as easily as any life that Lex has ever taken. He can see all their faces in a blend of features and colors. The phone rings sharply, and this time, Lex reaches to pick it up.

The AI pulls again, stronger, and Lex flicks the phone on, holding it to his ear. The body's already growing distant, and the voices on the other end are muffled, but he knows they're telling him they have them, and that they're ready, and they're waiting for his word.

The other Lex's voice is slow and steady, giving what Lex never could have. This Lex can make promises and can keep them. This Lex had Clark.

Lex lets go.

Part 8/10


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Ahhh! No fair killing Clark off in the alternate universes! It's bad enough that he'd dead in the main universe!

Thankyou! *g* I'm glad you like it!

The other Lex's voice is slow and steady, giving what Lex never could have. This Lex can make promises and can keep them. This Lex had Clark.

Oh, God! That killed me in ways I can't start to describe. I'm crying like a baby here. I'm not even ashame of admitting it. I feel so bad for 4th-AU!Lex, who has to go on without Clark, but at least he had him, and now he knows first hand how bad it could have been. Still, it's a sad comfort, that knowledge.

I love this story; I'm reading every installment avidly. I'm just a bit shy about feedback, (which it's stupid, I know) but this, this moved me so much I had to let you know. Great work!

Okay, first, I'm *so sorry* I didn't reply sooner. I swear, I'm just--i have no idea what the heck is up with me these last couple of months answering feedback in a timely manner. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you're enjoying it, and I hope the rest lives up to your expectations!

That was so sad. Poor Lex, both Lexes actually. Our Lex losing what he never had and that Lex losing the love of his life.

My God woman, there were moments in this story when I actually couldn't breathe. This is an amazing story, and it's one of those that you can't wait to find out how it ends, but at the same time you want it to continue on forever and ever. I think I would be happy to see Lex jumping to many many universes, there are just so many amazing possibilities! This may be replacing Three Impossible Things as my favorite seperis story... OK, I'll stop with the gushing now, I know, it's embarrassing. =)

okay, this chapter needed a warning, cause crying while reading in the school library is not cool. ohmygosh, jenn this chapter...so great. lex concerned with the state of this lex and clark, wanting, can't have it, he sees what could have been, what did happen because they tried to fix it, oh my gosh. this chapter *swoons* i love it.

You know, when this 'verse started I was all excited at the prospect of Lex not getting the shit beaten out of him. Then I remembered how well you write him when he's broken, and that nothing makes him nearly as vulnerable as Clark ever could.
Absolutely amazing, sad, and damn if Lex doesn't have the worst timing in the history of mankind. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go grab some chocolate and keep on reading.

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