He's out of the room the second he feels his body again.
"Did you discover--"
Lex stops in the bathroom, stomach clenching over food that this body had eaten only minutes before in this time. He barely makes it to the toilet.
"Do you require--"
"Shut the fuck *up*!" Lex leans against the cool pseudo-porcelain, eyes closed. The room is too warm, and still, he can't stop shaking. He thinks he can still smell it, the slow sweetness of encroaching rot, permeating his skin even though this skin was never near it. Another spasm, bringing up bile the color of kryptonite. "Christ."
The AI is silent, but silence doesn't mean it's not present, watching, probably calculating what the hell could have caused this reaction, wondering perhaps at the emotions of humans. He's always wondered what the AI can feel, if it does, if--
Slumping toward the floor, Lex's fingers grip the toilet seat hard enough to make his fingers ache. "How long?"
The AI's voice, strangely, seems wary. "You were in that universe for ten minutes, current time--"
"No." His voice sounds scratchy, like speaking through broken glass. "In that field. With him. Watching." He doesn't remember, and he does. He remembers it in that bed, how he could recognize every symptom, know when--know how--
"It was several hours before they found you." The gentleness surprises him. "They did not find it easy to remove you."
Lex closes his eyes. "You didn't tell me. You didn't show me that." It hurts to breathe. "I didn't remember." He's lost memories before, but God, he wishes he could have lost this one. "I watched him die." And rot, on that burned out grass.
Lex shifts to his knees, a lifetime of discipline snapping into place, but a thousand years can't make his hand stop shaking. "I watched it. Him. Die." Again, he doesn’t say. I saw it and I remembered it, and I can't--I can't-- "He died."
There's only silence for a few seconds. "He lived first."
"What the *fuck* does that mean?" Lex can't imagine being that other Lex, feeling--this. But after a life together, all fences mended. He can't imagine how that Lex would feel to be him, after a life where no fence can ever be mended, no amends ever made. "I hated him."
"Everything else was burned out before he even *made* you."
Softer. "I know."
All fucking dust, nothing else. There had been nothing left of Clark in that room, just a body. "What did he--what was the fucking point? There--there he took fucking *bullets*. He wasn't saving the fucking world. He was the target of a fucking assassin." With bullets Lex designed. With an assassin that could have been him, one world over. He never knew, not really, what those bullets did, not like that. Or maybe, he never would have loaded one gun with them. "I--" The rise of nausea's as slow and inevitable as the tide, and just as irresistible. Lex leans over, tasting blood this time. It's fitting. It's real. "I watched him die. He didn't die for anything."
"There was more than that." The voice seems closer, almost in his ear. Something to do with physics, or just his imagination, and it's wrapping around him like a blanket. "How he lived his life. The choices he made. The man he became. The end is always death for humans. But before, there's a universe to be lived."
"Containing multitudes," Lex whispers, eyes closed as he hits the button, flushing the toilet, leaning against the wall, the tile cooling his body. "Sanctimonious bullshit. He was human."
"Yes. In this, he was very human."
Slowly, testing his stomach with every movement, Lex gets to his feet, stumbling toward the shower. The water is perfect, hot and clean, washing away the smells of vomit and cold sweat and fear. Leaning against the tile, Lex lets himself sink down, water beating on every exposed inch of skin, tasting salt on his lips.
He doesn't know if he cried for Clark in that field, or if he did at his bed in that world, but he does now.
The AI watches him.
The next jump is in twenty four hours--despite the ease of the jump, the AI wasn't risking Lex's neurons getting fried, or something more technical, and less picturesque, grounding him for a day. Strange things keep showing up in his room--ancient Kryptonian literature, for one, and a history of the last years of the race, which as far as Lex can tell, has no practical value, but there it is, and Lex has nothing better to do.
It's surprising, how much his Kryptonian's improved, just from all the time he spent examining the technology that would never work to stop Xerxes. "I can almost understand this."
"Your intelligence quotient is extremely high." He can almost feel its amusement. "Your exposure has been sufficient to improve your contextual understanding over the last few weeks."
Weeks. It feels like years, and like hours. Lex is losing track of time. It would be easy, disturbingly easy, to curl up here, fuck the world, fuck Xerxes, and fuck the human race, too. Easy, like sleeping forever would be easy, like taking a bullet between his teeth would be easy, like finding out first hand if a mutant's body is as vulnerable to kryptonite laced bullets as Clark's had been. Easy.
Lex jerks his head, up, realizing the book slipped out of his hands a long time ago. "I--" he stops, wondering why he's explaining himself to the AI. "I was thinking."
"Your heartrate and respiration increased rapidly. I was concerned you would suffer another seizure."
"There weren't any--complications this time."
If the AI could snort, it would have, but it came through in voice all the same. "The damage still lingers. Perhaps you should rest."
"I've *been* resting. I haven't done anything *but* rest." He's hasn't had this much unstructured time since he left Smallville. It's eerie, really. No reports to read, minions to control, people to manipulate, deals to make. Just books, and the Fortress, and this room, and more books, growing strangely more familiar every second.
And Clark. Always, always fucking Clark. "He died. There."
"So I gathered." Wary again. Lex supposes his earlier bathroom activities hadn't given it any reassurance on his stability.
"He was assassinated. I funded them. He did. Before. They were together." And now, they're not. Lex thinks of the man he left grieving on that bed. "I--felt him. I pitied him. He pitied me. It was a big internal pity party of two, really. He lost his lover. I--didn't. I just lost an enemy."
"It must be difficult, to lose someone you love."
Lex breathes. "I didn't--love him."
The AI's voice is softly curious. "Then why did you assume I was speaking of you?"
The little *bitch*. Lex wishes there was a face he could turn to glare at, but it's only his room, pale cream walls and neat bed, rug, closet, and a pile of books. "It wasn't--" He doesn't need this. "He's dead. If he'd lived--here--nothing would have changed. We weren't--good as friends." Though apparently, anywhere else, they seem to be doing just *great*, give or take a homicidal Clark and a psychotic Lex in the mix. All in all, things could have been far worse.
"Everything changes," the AI answers, almost lightly, and Lex remembers a Clark saying that to him once upon a time. "That's the nature of living, of life. It's change."
"Or you choose not to. That's a kind of change in itself." The AI sounds amused again. "You are tired, Lex Luthor. Your brain patters are showing the first stages of exhaustion."
"My body isn't *doing* anything. Hasn't done anything." But it feels like it did.
"Your mind thinks it did, however. Kal--often did not understand when he was tired. His body did not--function thus. He did not grow tired. But his mind did."
Yes, day in and day out world-saving, from flash floods and earthquakes to crawling the sewers of a thousand cities to save helpless kittens--that would be exhausting. Even if his body could go on forever, his mind-- "Poor method of adaptation to our planet. The body never needing sleep, so the person never thought to do it." That could--drive you crazy. There were entire fields of study on sleep deprivation and its effects on the mind. Lex wonders what it must be like, living every moment aware and awake, alive to everything, all the time. It couldn't be easy. Not for Clark, who'd thought of himself as human for too long to ever truly be as alien as he was. To be that different, in that most fundamental way, one of the few things all humans had in common that he no longer needed, perhaps could not even do. "Did he come here for that? To sleep?"
"Sometimes." The AI's voice is very soft. "Sometimes, he would come here, and I would help him to rest."
Lex imagines Clark for a second, stretching out on a bed, desperate for something, anything, to slow the world down around him. There've been days Lex has done it--days when valium was his drug of choice over whiskey, falling into exhausted, induced slumber, only to awaken too soon, too fast, throwing off the cobwebs too quickly. "I--can imagine." A little. His body's differences had saved him in so many ways, but it had taken away something, too.
Restless, Lex stands up, circling the room. He wants to do something, and he's not sure what. "They--there, the answer was the same. We need Clark." Or another Kryptonian, anyway, and they just don't have any of those lying around. "If he'd--" Lex stops. "He wasn't ready. He was--" Tired. Exhausted from trying to save his friends, save the world, finally, save Lex. It was stupid. "It was too much. The others that survived were ready for it.. Clark wasn't."
The AI doesn't say anything to that. Lex tilts his head back, staring at the ceiling high above his head. Clark came here, to this place, to think. To rest. To be himself, whoever the hell that had ended up being in the end. And who was that, anyway?
Pushing a book with his toe, Lex studies the cover, some vaguely post-modernish art of the stick-figure variety. Maybe the cutting edge of Kryptonian culture in the end. "Do you miss him?"
The entire Fortress seems to pause for that, a feeling of--surprise? Curiosity? Unsurety? Lex can't tell. "Miss him?"
"Kryptonians were the most advanced alien race we've encountered. And the most sophisticated. We're no where near having the sophistication to produce an AI like you. I've wondered. So yes, do you feel? Miss Clark?"
"I notice his lack, yes." The AI's voice is thoughtful. "The way humans define--emotion, personality--is very different from Kryptonian. In your language, yes, I 'miss' him."
"Are you--" The word 'alive' comes to mind, but it seems silly to say it. "How did Kryptonians view you?"
"As a slave."
Lex swallows. His voice doesn't need to be bitter for Lex to hear the bitterness. "Not an equal."
"Flesh was the prerequisite for equality--for humanity, you might say." Still that blankness. "Or so I have come to believe. I wasn't--in existence, as I am now, on Krypton. When I was programmed, I was capable of adaptation and learning, but not--" The AI stops, like it's searching for the right word. "I was not self-aware. But my studies of Krypton for Kal have led me to believe my place there would have been as any other machine that assists the race survive." The curiosity is back. "Why do you ask?"
"You remind me of Clark."
"I take that as a compliment." Now amusement. "Humanity is no different. Your race would view me as a resource, an intelligent one, but not as an equal, with the same rights and privileges--"
"We contain multitudes," Lex says, closing his eyes briefly. It does remind him of Clark, achingly. The same bone deep idealism and skepticism all at once. The man who believed he could save the world, but that the world would never save him. "Some would yes. But some of us don't--you seem real."
"Even without flesh?"
"Clark was the most human man I ever met, and he wasn't human. It's not flesh that makes the man." Restless, Lex gets up, pushing a book out from under his foot. "You contain all the culture of Krypton, but you've been here a long time. Most of what is your life? So how do you think of yourself?"
"Ah." The AI pauses, thoughtful, and Lex can almost hear it thinking. "Kal--taught me a great deal."
"How did he see you?"
"As a friend."
Lex swallow, trying to stop the envy that wells up, sudden and painful. "That's very Clark."
"Kal had exceedingly egalitarian views of machines that mimic human thought--"
"Bullshit. He saw what you are."
"How do you see me?" Curiosity again. Something else, indefinable and almost wistful. "A machine? A man?"
"Alive." Lex snickers softly, almost feeling the surprise. "We contain multitudes, humanity. I would have used you, or destroyed you if I could, but not because I didn't think you were alive."
"That is comforting." It's laughing at him now. "Kal did not like what he learned of Krypton. When I was first--activated here, when he built this place--he said the first sign that I was attempting to manipulate him, he would deactivate me and leave me for scrap. His phrasing was most picturesque."
"From what I know now, he had some bad experiences with early Kryptonian technology." To say the least.
"Jor-El was not a stable personality, even in life." The sound the AI makes is suspiciously similar to a sigh. "He was--very driven, as most of Krypton was in the end. Kal was the last of Krypton, and he'd hoped that Kal would--"
"Make more Kryptonians?" Lex tries to imagine the genetic manipulation needed, a vision of Alexander Kent's tiny, screaming face vivid for a moment.
"Refound his people, yes."
"Take over the human race? Or exterminate it?"
"I'm sure Jor-El would have been content with enslavement." There's a definite note of old bitterness now.
Picking up the book, Lex flips it open. The more he reads, the more he picks up. Who knew Kryptonian romance novels were the way to learn a language? "I suppose that's not possible anymore."
The AI is silent. Lex lets the book fall closed. "Is it?"
"This facility continues to carry Kal's genetic material." Very reluctantly. "It is possible, though not at the current level of technology enjoyed by the Fortress. Kal did not utilize or allow utilization of the most sophisticated level of technology available in my databanks. Nor did he approve of genetic experimentation."
No, Clark *definitely* would not. "You could recreate him." Something clicks in Lex's head, but not quite enough for Lex to nudge out the idea for mulling.
"I could recreate his genetic profile. Kal is dead."
And that is that. But-- "We need a Kryptonian. To stop that thing. You never said--"
"To create a viable Kryptonian would take years. Assuming anyone in this world had the knowledge of cloning and gene splicing to recreate Kal's physiology."
"Oh." And it wouldn't be Clark. Never Clark. Someone who looks like him, breathes like him, might even be so like him it would make Lex ache, but it wouldn't be *him*. Not really. Not their shared history, not the boy who grew up in Smallville, not--
But in another world, he'd hybridized human and Kryptonian DNA. The thought turns over, sliding back down, and Lex lets it go. Years. Sometime when they aren't under a death sentence, it can poke itself out again for him to mull, consider, obsess over. There are no other worlds to conquer, Lex thinks with a sudden shock. When this is over--and it will be, there's no other option--he doesn't have an enemy left powerful enough to defy him in anything he wants to do. This world, this place, and no Clark ever again, to harass him and hurt him in only those ways Clark knows how to do, to challenge him and fight him and look at him with those clear green eyes and ask, again, what the *fuck*, Lex, this isn't who you are. This isn't who you were. This can't be who you wanted to be.
All those answers Lex could never give, to questions that he'll never hear again.
"He--" Lex stops, throat closing, book sliding back onto the bed. New World Order. And how the hell has it taken this long to sink in? Clark's gone, in this world, and there's no one left. No one who knew Lex before his name became his trademark, knows Lex crashes expensive cars and plays piano and has a terrible weakness for early twenty-first century alt-rock and fences for fun. The one who bought the Talon, who played pool and ate fast food and really, really hated golf, no matter how much he had to play. The one locked up in Belle Reve to hide a truth and lied to save a friend.
Those parts of him are gone forever, with Clark. There's no one who remembers.
And this, he can't push aside. "I need some rest."
Clark had asked, is this who you want to be? Is this all you ever wanted? Is this everything? Long ago, before the only questions Clark ever asked him were with his eyes. You gave up on me, Lex wants to tell him, but that's a lie. Clark gave up on the man who learned to love power more than he could ever care for any person. He never stopped caring for the man who stopped growing up by the time he left Smallville. Lex gave up on the kid he left there. He never tried to know the man who patrolled Metropolis' skies.
"You should rest," the AI murmurs, and Lex nods slowly, feeling the wash of tiredness, not quite suspicious that the AI is drugging him into sleep, mostly because it's welcome. Another world to go, another universe to sort through, and maybe this time, this time, somehow, he'll find the way. Or maybe he'll understand--
"You understand," Lex thinks he hears, but he's too far down to be sure. "You just don't accept. Everything changes."