Spoilers: roughly through season four canon, but not specific
Codes: Lex, Clark, Lois, AI, Clark/Lex, Clark/Lois, Lois/Lex, Pete/Lana, Clark/Lex/Lois, etc, futurefic, AU
Summary: Five ways the world didn't end for Lex Luthor.
Author Notes: Most of this is basically due to svmadelyn and issaro. When I stopped writing, they reminded me, and when I stopped caring, they sort of didn't, and when I tried to delete it, they talked me down. cjandre walked me through plot problems, issaro beta'ed every word and sometimes went over it twice.
I misjudged the final word count, so I had to recut the last part and the ending, equaling roughly twelve unless livejournal is kind when I do the ending later this month. I'm correcting backward through the earlier parts, and everything through part eight should be up on my webpage later today. Sorry about that.
Lex closes his eyes, opening them again on the walls of his office.
It looks like his office--like he left it only a few weeks ago, like it had been only seconds since he'd last seen it, from the polished wood of the desk to the wide, blinded windows that when open, would look out at the Metropolis skyline. The chair was his, too, soft leather almost melting under him, custom designed to him alone, and even the pen in his fingers is the one he bought only a few weeks ago.
It's his, all of it, and he straightens from the semi-slump, trying to find the dissonance. Every time, there's been something that felt off, but--no. It's his, like the way he knows the back of his own hand. A brief, internal glance shows only the faintest traces of that other Lex--echoes of familiar rage and even more familiar hate, so close to his own that he withdraws quickly, finding the world again with hands on the fine grain of his desk. Reality, solid and strong and perfect and *his*.
"Wow," he hears himself whisper. It could be his office in Metropolis, though cleaned from that temper tantrum he threw before taking off for parts arctic with a modified death wish. Running his hand over the smooth surface of his desk, Lex turns to look at the wide double doors that lead to his secretary.
His home. His *world*. Or so close as to not know the difference. Taking a deep breath, Lex relaxes in his chair, glancing at the open laptop. He doesn't quite recognize the charts, but he recognizes his own code. Kryptonite tolerances on living subjects; he knows the equations, though these are more advanced than he ever remembers achieving. Frowning, he watches the curve on the subject, not sure what the coding seems to be implying.
The low buzz of the intercom snaps his attention away. Lex pushes down the button. "Yes?"
"You said to tell you when it was time, sir." His secretary's voice is the same, sharp consonants, the Tennessee drawl of her childhood replaced from too many years on the east coast and midwest. "Do you want to be present when they finish, sir?"
Glancing at the laptop, Lex nods, then realizes she can't see it. He has to start somewhere, he supposes, wondering what kind of project this is. "Yes."
"I'll tell them to wait for you." She clicks off, the soul of efficiency, and Lex leans back, stroking lightly over the keys. Human subjects? Perhaps. Lex frowns. It's been years since he--since he closed those labs. Something just below ethics, some twitch of himself when he watched what he did. He'd never used any but volunteers or those already affected, dangerous to themselves and others, but--
But, but, but. Locking the laptop, that unbalance comes back when his password is the same. There's no way in hell that so much could mirror so perfectly--but it did, and closing the top, he stands up, straightening his coat from habit, before going to the door.
This should, at least, be interesting.
Lex loves the labs.
Underground, mostly because it amuses him during the periodic Federal raids, the agents get jumpy just going down the elevator, and doubly amused when they come out on the other side. A lifetime of horror movies seem to have been their major source of inspiration for what he keeps down here, imagining body parts hanging in specimen jars, mutated creatures crawling the walls, and mad scientists cackling over living vivisections while the patients screamed.
That's just not Lex's style. Illegal he may be--and really, the line is so blurred--but stupid he is not, and so, their first reaction to the clean, crisp lines of lab tables, neat rows of beakers, and exclusively animal subjects, is always, always worth the hassle of getting his lawyers out again. It's just funny, on so many levels.
The door opens on a perfectly normal room, where a receptionist in a neat suit glances up from behind horn-rimmed glasses with a short, glacial smile. "Sir. Dr. Thompson told me to tell you they're ready when you are."
Lex nods, letting her code open the door, Sylvia on his heels like an extension of his body. Down this hall, another one, passing familiar experiments, familiar rooms, familiar faces he recognizes. They're even doing things he recognizes.
The startling glow of kryptonite green, however, makes him flinch, and he turns his head before Sylvia can see it, moving past the door as quickly as expensively comfortable shoes can go. Sylvia lengthens her stride to keep up. "I think that covers it," she says, and the pad vanishes again. Lex has taken inventory at considerable length of her body, but where she stores her office supplies is still a mystery. "As usual, your schedule has been cleared through tomorrow afternoon."
Cleared? Lex almost asks, but she makes a sharp right, and Lex blinks a little at the new addition. The door is new, too, and the feel of it is all wrong for titanium backed stele. The slow itch beneath his skin only confirms it. That particular mix isn't one he's ever achieved, though he'd burned out more metallurgists than he can count trying. The faint, greasy green sheen reflects his face like a funhouse mirror, distorting his smile into something more appropriate to the Joker.
Standing in front of the door, she keys in something, and Lex watches the retinal scan glaze across her right eye. He follows her for the same, remembering how much he hates these, no matter their use in security, almost feeling the thin trace of red before it's gone, the door clicking open. He follows her in the door, too, fingers fisted to avoid rubbing at his skin. The sensitivity to kryptonite hasn't diminished over the years, and all the recent exposure seems to make it worse. Or maybe it's his memories that are doing that.
"It's been two weeks," Sylvia says, apropos of nothing, consulting a Palm Pilot with a faint trace of a frown marring her otherwise expressionless face. "Tests show there's been significant degradation, but nothing permanent."
"Degradation." The beginnings of a headache settles just behind his eyes, just what he needs.
"No permanent damage," she says, almost too quickly, and he can feel her move a little away. "Dr. Jorgenson assures me that they wouldn't take that kind of risk with it, sir."
Lex nods, reaching up to rub at his temple, wishing desperately that whatever this is, it could wait. "Of course." And maybe he should have been briefed first. "Is this going to take long?"
"No, sir, of course not." The baffled voice cuts off as she opens up another door. "Right in here. Everything should be ready."
The faces he knows, and in this case, he's not comforted. His head helpfully tries to offer up names and places, but everything in him is frozen by the familiar wall of glass, with the same faint distortion of green running through it. How the hell had he done *that*? The dark within reflects the room at them, solid white and steel, usefully insane scientists, and Sylvia, almost bouncing beside him.
"Sir." A faint nod from someone to his left, and Lex watches as the room illuminates, green through the glass, revealing a painfully bare white room, an emaciated body in filthy hospital pajamas curled in the middle of the floor. And like that, Lex is standing, watching himself at Belle Reve, except the man behind the glass isn't him.
It could be a lot of people, Lex tells himself, nausea rising, tamped down almost reflexively, and Lex takes a slow step toward the glass, the rising light outlining painfully thin flesh over sharp-edged bones, something out of a horror movie set in Auschwitz. The people around him are fixed on the scene like it's the latest blockbuster, which makes it that much more unreal.
Lex doesn't realize how far he's come until his finger touch the glass, feeling *current* in it, radioactive, something he can sense with every altered cell in his body. If he can feel it, then the man on the floor--the man curled pitifully on that greasy, glazed green floor--
"Superman." It's barely breathed, Clark's name catching at the back of his throat. Deep inside, something flares in rich satisfaction, arousal so sudden that Lex catches his breath. This--to this Lex, to this man--
"He's been unconscious since the procedure ended," a voice says helpfully to Lex's left. Eager. Excited. "Thank you for the opportunity, sir."
"Is he conscious?" Lex's lips feel numb, and he can see his hand shaking. Different world, he tells himself sharply. Different Lex. Different place. Very different man.
"No, sir." Sylvia, now, tugging at his arm. "Usual procedure, sir?"
Lex licks his lips. The light's so bright it's almost blinding, reflecting off green-tinged skin and green-tinged hair and green eyes that open slowly, as if even that hurts too much to bear. Blackish fluid drips slowly from the corner of his mouth to pool beneath his head. There are--bruises. Bone deep, skin deep. Unhealed--places.
It's someone else entirely who says the word, short and sharp, *eager*, so much his own voice, his own tone, that he barely realizes it's not him. "Yes."
From some half-seen door, two orderlies in pale purple come in, gloved and masked, leaning over to pick up the barely twitching body, pulling him up between them like a drunken frat boy. As they move to the door, Lex's eyes fix on the red-black puddle left behind on the floor.
"Sir?" Sylvia pauses at a door that he hadn't seen when he came in, the same general direction as Clark had been taken in that room. Was he expected to--no. Whatever he does here after--this--won't happen today.
"Have him--brought to the penthouse when he's--awake." Sylvia gives him her closest approximation of confusion, then slowly nods, stepping away from the door. "I'll be--waiting."
Sylvia nods, and Lex turns blindly toward the door, barely seeing the gathered scientists, barely feeling the doorknob beneath his fingers--all thought on *moving*, getting *away*--
Lex freezes at the door, hands clenching. If he'd been armed, she would be dead. And everyone else here as well. "Yes?"
He can almost hear her thinking. "It should be in the hour, sir."
Lex nods. "Good." Pushing the door open, Lex escapes into the hall. Thousands of feet between him and the nearest bathroom, thousands of feet before--no. He won't think. Not about this. Not now.
From somewhere comes a startled, pained shriek, hoarse babbling that makes every nerve want to crawl out his skin.
Lex doesn’t run for the elevator, but it's a very close thing.
There are pieces of kryptonite imbedded beneath his skin.
That's the first thing, with the biopic and the x-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, other tests he's never heard of. Color pictures of vivisections and internal organs, green-metal retractors holding back living grey-green skin. Words like ants feet trailing over page after page, documenting the details of an alien life like a Discovery Channel documentary. Kryptonite worked into living muscle, killing by slow degrees, living wounds. They change the location to avoid permanent damage. Sometimes.
LexCorp's computers are marvels of fascinating information for the strong of stomach and lax of ethics, and the notes are perfectly organized and dazzlingly informative. It's everything he ever wanted to know about Superman, from the inside out.
Two weeks isn't the longest, Lex reads, finishing off the first bottle and opening the second without looking up from the laptop screen. Two months isn't the longest.
They've learned so much, he thinks numbly, ignoring the glass that broke on the floor halfway through the first bottle.
Lex knocks the intercom off the desk, stepping on it as he scrolls down chart after chart after chart, technicolor marvels of blue-green-red and flowing lines, graphs and lines and bars. Somewhere outside his office, Sylvia is doubtless still pushing her little button with frantic dignity, but Lex is content to let her do just that for a while. His staff has always known better than to interrupt him when he's working.
Clark's files are the unfortunate tip of the iceburg, though--Lex scrolls through terabytes of data, skimming more information than he would have believed possible. Vague echoes of the Kryptonian equations he'd seen in that first universe of that other Lex. These, too, are his hand, footnotes in a hasty typed scrawl at the bottom of raw reports. Like him, this Lex does a lot of his own dirty work for the sake of science. Page after page after page. Database after database, experiment after experiment, inexhaustibly documented. He changed the face of human genetics. Makes everything he's done in his life--in any of those other lives--look like a kindergarten health class.
That Lex, so far beneath his skin that he can barely feel him--except he does, with every word. He knows the mind that created this, his own amused asides, the way he *thinks*. And this, Lex thinks numbly, line by line blurring by, is what he does.
He does. You do.
Jerking away, Lex slams the cover down, hands shaking. Belatedly, he's aware of the broken bottle at his feet, surrounding his shoes in a puddle of rusty brown. Two stumbling steps backward leave footprints the color of dried blood.
"Sir?" From the other side of the door, her voice is barely audible, but the doors are thick, so she must be on the verge of screaming. Lex blinks at the puddle, then slowly sits back down, pressing the button that allows admittance to the room. After a few long seconds, one door swings open warily, and Sylvia's pretty, expressionless face looks at him from beneath perfectly bobbed hair, eyes scanning the room before resting on him. "He's conscious, sir. Do you want--"
Want *what*? Lex tries to think of something to say to that. For what? Another round underground, where the sun can't touch him? They know so *much*, even more than he did before, the other Lex making every word, every syllable as familiar as his own name. A few days out of sunlight make the kryptonite superfluous. It's just fun to use. It's *useful*. Licking his lips, Lex wonders belatedly what shows on his face. "Where is he?"
She looks confused. "The penthouse, sir."
There are a lot of ways to handle this.
In a different time, a different Lex had dreamed of something like this, and the reality is even sharper, even *better*. The penthouse is just as he left it only weeks ago, and it's not, in this one space, this one room. Occupation by two, not one. Neat rows of suits and casual attire in Clark's size on one side of the closet. Neat rows of shoes on the floor. Neatly welded manacles on the green-tinged bed by the window, bolted onto solid metal posts. Imagination isn't even *necessary*--Lex has had this dream more times than he can count, waking up in cold sweat and so hard his body aches. Jerking off to images of bringing Superman to this place, in this place, serving his every whim, chained to that bed, at Lex's mercy in every sense of the word.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Lex stares at the familiar bathroom door, all senses trained on the man inside. Clark's too-thin, too-tall body, leaning into the tile while he washed off weeks of sweat and blood and whatever else was on him. Clark--the Clark who couldn't even walk out of that room. Clark--
He's at the door before he knows he's moving, turning the knob and entering thick steam and an outline of a near-skeletal body leaning against the back of the shower through frosted glass, shoulders round, head bowed.
The silhouette straightens instantly, head turning toward the door. The hearing should have told him Lex was there. The--the rocks might be dulling that. Taking a deep breath, Lex shuts the door behind him, waiting for Clark to speak.
"I'm--almost done." The thin thread of his voice makes Lex think of damaged lungs. Like the last Clark on his deathbed, voice barely a whisper.
"Do you need help?" He's not sure what's in his voice now.
"No. I can--" Clark pushes off the wall and almost holds his balance. A second upright, then he's stumbling, groping for purchase on smooth tile, and Lex is across the room, jerking the door open and catching Clark before he falls into the wall. Bones he can feel moving beneath his hands, black circled, bloodshot eyes, yellow skin as fragile as parchment, and that feeling again--that other Lex, who wants to tell him how this is done. We do *this*. We touch him and stroke him and comfort him. We bathe him and dress him and tell him how proud we are of him and then we fuck him. We tell him we love him and he believes it as much as we do.
Jesus Christ. Clark weighs almost nothing, a fragile bag of sharp bones and too-tight skin. Clark's stiff but makes no effort to pull away, like this is nothing new and even if it was, he wouldn't fight it anyway. The shower pounds water hot enough to injure through two layers of clothes into his back. Lex doesn't care.
Slowly, he kneels, bringing Clark with him. "You can't manage this in the--shape you're in."
Clark's head bows slowly. "I--no."
Lex licks his lips, the quick burst of arousal tamped down as quickly as it starts, forcing this foreign body into obedience as he reaches behind him to turn off the shower, an arm around Clark's waist to keep him upright. Slowly, he stands back up, balancing Clark's dead weight against him. "Bath?"
Clark doesn't look up. "Okay."
It's not easy to maneuver six plus feet of alien across the room to the tub, and that's fantastic, because all Lex's concentration is on remaining upright, holding Clark steady, lowering him carefully into the huge, luxurious tub, settling him so he doesn't go under instantly. The big hands lay uselessly on the bottom of the tub as Lex turns on the water, as hot as he can get it, watching the tub slowly fill.
Clark never opens his eyes. Steaming water covers him to the shoulders, and Lex watches him slowly slump down more. It doesn’t hide anything--not the marks on his chest like burns, the fading red-blue bracelets on his wrists, the march of visible ribs to the plainly outlined breastbone. The full lips are marked with the imprint of his own teeth, sharp and jagged, barely healing. A fine vivisection line cutting up his chest, other--lines--that Lex recognizes from autopsies he's seen, lines that should never appear on Clark's body. On any body that still lived.
"Do you need anything?" It's a fairly stupid question, but Lex can't help voicing it. Clark's mouth trembles.
"Just, just rest. I'll be okay." Like he has to prove it, Clark brings up one limp hand, reaching for the bottle of shower gel near the lip of the tub. The big hand shakes at the touch, motor control shot to hell as he knocks it off, watching in dull disinterest as it clatters to the floor. "Sorry."
Lex picks it up with hands that don't quite shake. "It's okay. I can do it."
Clark's eyes close again, head turning a little away toward the wall. Slowly, Lex pours out the soap into one hand.
"I--did okay?" Clark's voice is so low Lex can barely hear it. Or he doesn't *want* to, soapy hand pausing a breath from the smooth skin of Clark's shoulder, eyes closing at the rush again--too fast, too hot, too *something*, and God, this makes him *hot*, makes him want to unbutton his pants and jerk them down, wrap his cock in those pretty red lips and rut like an animal. His body knows--it twists, trying to pull him to his feet, hand bypassing shoulder to rest on the back of Clark's neck.
He could do that, can do that, right here, and Clark would let him. Clark would do it. Clark would--Clark can--
His fingers clench on smooth skin, tight over bone and muscle, and Clark turns his head, all slow-motion, plenty of time to know exactly how this goes. Exactly what he does. Exactly what they are.
"I did okay?" Blank face, but heartbreakingly frightened voice. A kid staring at him from Clark's eyes, someone Lex has never met and met a lifetime ago, the boy at fifteen he never, never would have touched, never, never would have broken the fragile trust between them. Never would have, couldn't have, should never, should never, *should never*--
And his other hand is pressed to the front of his pants, fingers working open the button. He can still smell Clark's blood and sweat, beneath the scent of clean water and his soap. He's never been this hard in his life.
Lex jerks away, ass hitting the floor so hard he bites down on his tongue and tastes blood.
"Lex?" With a tremendous effort, Clark tries to lever himself up, eyes huge. His hand slips on the side of the tub, cracking his chin on the edge. "Lex--"
Lex pushes himself backward across the floor, back hitting the shower door with a jolt, putting feet between them he wishes could be miles. Hands pressed to the cold tile floor, Lex closes his eyes.
It's the mind, yes, brushing his, but the body, too, hardwired to this, for this, used to this, wanting this. And it's himself, in every filthy fantasy of half a lifetime's creation. Dreams made flesh stare at him with wide, confused eyes from the side of the tub.
Licking his lips, Lex forces it back--that other, himself, the pleasure in seeing this, feeling this, the reflexive need to take what's already his.
"Are you okay?"
Never again. He'll never not feel this moment, this second. He'll never close his eyes and not see himself, standing over a broken man and wanting only to break him more. He'll never-- "Why?"
Clark stares at him with blank confusion. "I--"
He can't sit in here and look at Clark--wet, small, broken Clark. He can't stay in here and see this and not want. Not touch. Not take. "Stay. There."
Clark subsides into the water instantly, but the eyes never leave Lex as he forces himself to stand up, walk by Clark to the door. Hand on the doorknob, he turns, fixing his eyes on a spot above Clark's head. "Take as long as you need."
Lex goes out, closing the bathroom door behind him, knees giving out as his mind offers up dizzying memories of fantasies and dreams and the most degrading, debased promises he's ever made.
He doesn't even realize he's shaking until he sees his hands, trembling fists pushing into the floor like he's trying to burrow through. Shakily, he stands up, knees water, getting to the bed by will alone. A slow collapse on the smooth surface of the comforter, this urge to wrap himself in it and go to sleep, never have to wake up and look at this. He doesn't, can't. There are a thousand things to hide from, but he'll never do it from himself again.
An eternity later, Lex hears the bathroom door open and close, the uneven steps toward the bed, stopping short just a few feet away. "Lex?" Lex keeps his eyes closed, wondering what Clark is thinking. If he even bothers. If Lex burned that out of him, too.
"There was--" His voice is hoarse, like he's been drinking for days. Weeks. He only wishes he had been. More than earlier. A universe of alcohol might not be enough. "People used to think mirrors would capture your soul. They covered mirrors in a house where someone died. So the soul couldn't get lost before the hereafter, whatever or wherever it might be."
Clark's silent. Lex imagines them in the castle for a second, telling Clark a story, the way that Lex never learned how to just say something. Couch it in metaphor or imagery, clothe it in the words of other people. He doesn't know how to be that direct. He's not sure at this late date he even can. "Where's the AI?"
Clark takes another slow step forward. "The AI?"
"Yours. The Fortress. What happened to it?"
"The remains make up the LexCorp computer core," Clark says slowly, and maybe he thinks Lex is crazy. Maybe he knows he is. Strange, inane conversation could be par for the course. It should be. No man should be like this and still be sane, be human. This--thing. He doesn't dare look at Clark. He doesn't want to know what else this body does, what it wants, what it knows. "Were you--injured when I was gone?"
Is that what he called it? What Lex called it? "Gone." You create your euphemisms to suit your aesthetics. Dirty words--sex and passion; death and dying; excruciating, *fascinating* experiments. It's a language all its own. Words that strip the power from the act, make it easier to swallow, make it simpler to accept. "Yes, gone. No." Lex stops, feeling Clark come closer. That higher metabolism, the sick twist of kryptonite imbedded in living flesh, just barely in the reach of his senses. A shift of the bed as Clark sits down, pulling Lex toward him by sheer inertia. "Remains?"
A tentative hand touches his ankle. Lex forces himself not to pull away, shift closer. He's not sure which response is the right one. "It was a danger to you--to us," Clark recites flatly. "It could have destroyed us if it wasn't contained. It was dangerous. It wasn't human. It wasn't th--"
Clark breaks off mid word, hand still and warm on his ankle. For a long time, there's nothing but the sound of their breathing, the hum of the ventilators, the shift of the bed beneath them. Lex opens his eyes on the ceiling. There isn't anything he can think to say. "Why?"
He feels Clark shift. "Why what?"
"Why this time?"
Clark shifts again, and the hand on his ankle starts to press, flattening on a slow slide up his calf. Lex wonders where this is going--it can't go where it seems to want to. No one--no one sane… "Clark." A slow, mechanical slide over his hip, and Lex feels Clark's bare knee press into his calf. It's like this.
It's like *this*.
Sitting up, Lex grabs the big hand by the wrist. Clark could shake him off like tissue if he wanted. He doesn't. The green eyes stare at him from a ashen face, exhaustion written into every line. "Why do I do this?"
Clark blinks, thick lashes shadowing his eyes. "I don't--what?"
It's not fair. Clark's hand is warm, limp meat, and nothing looks back at him but confusion. It pisses him off, irrational or not. "You're stronger than I am. Faster. You could *kill* me right now, even with that rock in your back. What the fuck are you doing here?"
The look doesn't change. "I can't go outside."
What the fuck-- "What the hell is he?" He wants to *hurt* Clark--that's got to be the other Lex, who can look at this and enjoy it so much. Want it so much. "You're the strongest man I know. Why are you here?"
Clark's eyebrows dart together--the big hand pulls away, so suddenly Lex almost forgets to let go. "I'm not a man, Lex."
"And I'm not Lex."
For a second, Clark doesn't move, even breathe. "What?"
"What else do I do?" He can't sit still. Movement's more necessary than breathing. Sliding off the bed, Lex puts feet of space and furniture between them. "Run over puppies? Shoot fucking orphans during drive-bys of the local park? Tear the space-time continuum for *fun*?" Did he, would he, could he, is he? "Jesus, Clark, just tell me who the fuck I am!"
Clark shifts onto his knees, wincing at the pull on bony shoulders. He's so thin, it hurts to look at him, fragile the way that Superman could never, never have been. Like Clark never was. There's only resignation left. "I don't--I don't know what answer you want. You're--you're Lex Luthor. You're everything you ever wanted to be."
Two more steps, and Lex stands at the wide windows, blinded against the late afternoon sun. Jerking the cord, they slide open, but the expected golden glow doesn't reach his skin. It takes seconds, minutes, hours to comprehend what he's seeing--longer to accept it. It's Metropolis as it was before Xerxes, and it's nothing like it, bathed in watery green, shimmering in the distance. Looking up, Lex stares at the solid green where there'd once been nothing but blue, uncomprehending.
"Lex?" He can feel Clark's wary approach, even with silent feet on carpeted floor. Cat-soft and scared to death. "Lex?"
"I didn't do this."
Clark's only feet away when he stops. "They forced you to it. They wouldn't accept your plan. They--"
Jesus *Christ*. "Do you do anything but parrot back whatever bullshit he tells you?" Lex can't take his eyes off the city. It's the *same*--there's no difference except the sickly green. "How?"
"Kryptonite fallout." Clark's voice sounds thready. Lex wonders if he's coming closer. He can't bother to turn around and see. "Hydrogen--"
"Bomb," Lex whispers. Several, probably. God alone--or Lex's marvelously awake mind, already drawing equations on the blackboard in his head--know what kind of impact splitting the atom with a kryptonite trigger could do.
"The shields keep the cities safe." Lex shivers at Clark's voice, so close to his ear. Warmth just out of reach. "You keep--"
Clark doesn't pretend to misunderstand. "Sixty five percent of all arable land. You--clean it up."
Lex closes his eyes. Of course. "For a price."
"You're the only one--" Clark stops, staring at him, utterly confused. "What happened? You're--" Crazy. Utterly insane. No one sane would do this. No one sane would *think* of this. "Tell me, Lex." Gentle fingers brush his shoulder--Lex flinches, that other Lex murmuring so close to the surface of his mind that it would be too easy to just give up. Let the AI pull out what's left if it can, or leave him to rot here. It doesn't matter. It won't ever matter. "Lex."
In the reflection from the glass, Lex watches Clark's hand hover, uncertain. There's so much here he can never accept. That he has to, and there may be no time for this, but he has to, has to, *has to*-- "I'm not Lex."
Clark's hand drops uncertainly, one foot stepping back. "I don't--"
It's easier than he thought. "There was an organism. Not long ago. It was--something. We don't know why. I don't care why. It destroyed half the country. It killed everyone I--know. It killed Clark. And the AI sent me here to find out how to beat it."
If he didn't know better, Lex might think Clark stops breathing. Clark's eyes catch his in the glass, a perfect reflection of expressionless shock. The big hands clench into fists.
"So I'm not Lex. This Lex, anyway." He waits for Clark to look away, but Clark doesn't, just stands there, like a complete fucking moron, or a man with no idea what the script's supposed to be.
Finally, the big hand falls on his shoulder. Lex can't pull away, can't even *think*, eyes glazed with green skyscrapers and green streets and so he turns when Clark pulls him, feeling smooth palms cup his face, and the kiss is so soft, so slow, that he can't even try to fight it.
He thinks he's going to pull away. He wraps his hands around bony wrists and thinks he's going to pull away, but it never comes. Soft hair brushes his face, the faintest trace of stubble scraping his lips, and Clark makes it all so *effortless*, and somehow, they're on the bed and he's stretching out on impossibly soft sheets and Clark's fingers are fumbling open the buttons on his shirt, pulling it from his pants--faster at his belt, the softest whisper of leather before it hits the floor.
It's almost enough to make him open his eyes, but he never wants to do that again. He opens his mouth--God alone knows what he'll say--but Clark's back, warm tongue exploring his mouth while a big hand closes over his cock--oh God….
"Clark--" The sound buries itself in Clark's throat. He thinks there's something he should be saying--something important, something *necessary*--but it's swallowed up by the first slow stroke of his cock. Clark has amazing hands. And he knows how to use them.
He moans when Clark pulls away--his hands are buried in Clark's hair and he hadn't even known it, twisted between his fingers like he won't ever let go. Clark's warm, wet mouth takes a scenic route, licking slowly down his collarbone, stopping to lap tenderly in the hollow of his throat. Gentle, God, almost sweet, almost better than anything, and Lex bends a knee at Clark's urging, feeling the heavy body settle between his legs. Mouthing his nipples hard and aching for the fingers that follow, licking a slow circle around his navel, and he's arching, pushing his cock into Clark's belly, his chest, his--oh God, his *mouth*, those soft lips wrapped all around him and taking him down so fast he can't breathe, like drowning.
"Clark," he hears himself whisper. This is all wrong, except it's not, and he's not sure why it's supposed to be. Thrusting up with careful strokes, making Clark follow his rhythm, and he just *does*, like he knows it, one hand carefully stroking his balls, the other braced on the bed to ride every roll of Lex's hips. It's never been like this. It can't possibly ever have been this good. All that focus, a need to please that makes Lex tighten his fingers, push it harder, fuck that pretty soft mouth, he could--he would--he can--he *is*--
"Clark," he says, and when he opens his eyes, the naked, helpless *fear-hope-need to please-have to please*--just makes it so much better. Press his foot into Clark's back and hold him there, *take*, coming so hard that the entire fucking *world* is an explosion of light so bright he could go blind and not even care.
Clark mouths him down, slow and easy, and Lex, boneless, feels him move, sliding back up to ease down beside him. When he opens his eyes, Clark's looking down at him, lips swollen and red, and it's sexy, it's the *definition* of sex, but the look in his eyes shouldn't be and is, making him hard again, too soon. Lex untangles his fingers slowly, hands spasming from the grip. Clark turns his head to brush a kiss against his palm on the way down, and Lex's hand freezes on one cheek, cheekbone jutting against his fingers.
"Jesus." He's got to*stop*. Stop reacting, start thinking, start putting this together. He's here--he's here for-- "I did it, didn't I?"
Carry doesn't lean into the touch so much as accept it as necessary, a pale tongue darting out to lick, and Lex jerks his hand away before he does something else. Something even less a good idea, even less-- "Stop that."
Clark jerks away like he burns, and Lex pushes himself up, tucking himself back in his pants, feeling like he just might be sick. "I'm not your Lex."
Clark doesn't so much as *twitch*.
"You don't believe me."
There can't be a safe answer to that, Lex realizes as Clark's lashes fan down. Maybe there are no safe answers with this Lex. Maybe every answer is the wrong one. You choose your euphemisms to suit your aesthetics. You choose your conversation to suit the madman who locks you up with his scientists when he gets angry. Or bored. Lex scoots farther away, trying to give himself space to think. Stop reacting. Think. Think. Think.
"Interdimensional portal. The body's his, the mind's mine." Clark's eyes flare for a just a second. "You know what I'm talking about."
Clark licks his lips. "You--were on the edge of a breakthrough. On the multiverse. Using the computer's stored data. You said you--that you wished you hadn't burned out the AI before you discovered how--how-" Clark falters, blinking slowly. It's fascinating--Clark draws himself back onto his knees, staring at Lex like a nightmare. "You. Lex."
"Same name, different man." And so much alike, it bends the mind. But Lex isn't going there again--that way leads surreal landscape and blowjobs and God alone knows what else. Straightening, Lex watches Clark.
"You--in your--world?" Clark measures out the words. "You're--not Lex."
"I'm Lex Luthor, not *this* Lex." This could get tedious very fast. Clark draws back more. Lex tries not to take it personally. Too personally.
"You want something. From here."
The calm is too calm. Reminder of the deathly silence before a storm, all still and quiet and then--something. God knows what this Lex has taught Clark. "Yes. An answer."
Clark nods slowly, sitting back on his heels. A long time ago--so long that Lex can't even mark the time and place--Clark would look at him like that, on that edge between necessary doubt and hopeful belief, the way Clark always wanted to believe him and never quite could make that last step. It was, Lex thinks in retrospect, a look he should have known how to interpret a long time ago. "What happened to L--to this Lex?"
There's a lot to be said for settling into informative conversation, fast and sharp and completely able to block out everything. "He'll be back. No worse for wear." It would make him wince, but he's beyond the indulgence. "I need help."
Clark stares down at his hands for a few seconds, and Lex can almost see that mind pulling things together. Everyone who thought Clark Kent was a little slow had been fooling themselves, and Lex is included in that group, unfortunately. It'd been years before he could acknowledge, even to just himself, that even beyond the powers, Clark could still have given him a serious run for his money. He thinks fast. And he thinks completely different from anyone else. That's not the alien, either, because Clark isn't an alien in any way that counts. It's just--him.
So far, so good. "Let's say where I come from, I didn't--get this far." Ever wanted to. Maybe? No, don't go there, don't think that, don't--do that. It's not *him*, it's someone else. "I don't have a lot of time."
"An organism in your world. What kind?"
So Clark *had* been listening. "Mechanical and organic. Two worlds back, dad called it Xerxes. Seemed appropriate." In so many ways. "Kryptonite power source."
It's like he's seeing a different person entirely from the one who just blew him into a guilt-thickening orgasm. Interesting. "Yes."
Clark nods, sliding off the bed, completely ignoring nudity and still-weak limbs, looking off into the distance. "We had one of those."
Lex breathes out. "Yeah. The AI thought so."
Clark's head whips around at close the speed of light. "The AI--"
"You--kept it. You called it the Fortress--"
"Of Solitude." Almost involuntarily, a corner of his mouth twitches up. "Yeah. I remember."
There are so many questions to ask that Lex is stumped on which one to pick. And none are necessary for his mission. Plan. Thing. It doesn't make it easier not to ask them.
"I need the data."
Clark's head tilts. "You need to know how to defeat it."
It would almost be spooky--it's like a completely different man is here now, and no one changes personalities that fast without a serious psychological condition making the transition easier. "To destroy it."
"You--was I--" And like that, just to fuck with him, that other person slides out, nowhere except behind the green eyes, watching him warily.
"You tried." Lex wonders what's showing on his face. "You--succeeded in stopping it. For a little while."
Clark nods slowly. "I--it wasn't easy." Completely naked, completely at ease--it's almost unreal. Lex watches, trying not to be fascinated. "It was--a long time ago." The dark brows draw together sharply. "I don't remember much about it."
Lex pushes that aside. "Clark--my--the Clark from my world--he couldn't kill it. He was--" Exhausted. Angry. Grieving. Now, he can think it, say it, even mean it. "Everyone we--he knew, died. There wasn't anyone left." And Clark needed that connection, needed it like people needed air. The part of Clark that was always vulnerable and could never stop.
They stare at each other, all full of questions.
"Why are you telling me?"
I think that performance in the bathroom explains *that*. "Because it seemed like a bad idea to try to be--whoever he is." And there's no way Lex can do it and not enjoy it. It's not quite bleedover--he's not sure what it is, but it's there, like this Lex has an access that feels natural. A direct hardwire to his thoughts. Separate, but not quite. Almost--almost-- "And I need help. I've done this four times. And nothing. I need to get it right this time."
Clark's at his unreadable best, like Superman when he was feeling particularly non-judgmental and ready to knock you on your ass when you fucked up. The nostalgia's curdled with the touches of that other--old rage, unhealed and frighteningly close. Like right now, seeing this part of Clark, pisses him off beyond belief, and Lex feels the rise of sharp, deadly words, just to bring back that one that obeyed without question. Lex clenches one hand, nails cutting brutally into his skin. The wave of pain helps. A lot. "I need your help."
"I--don't remember a lot of it. But Lex kept recordings, somewhere." Clark frowns, blinking a little. "He's going to be so pissed when he--when you leave."
Oh yeah. The others will pale in comparison to this one. Power and the will to use it, backed with the kind of blind rage that Lex himself had learned to temper. Maybe getting the world at your feet does corrupt, but in the most simple ways. It makes life a series of no-consequences. Jesus. Would he have been like this, able to strike out just because he could?
You did, you do, and you are. Very simple. "Can you handle that?"
The blank looks is back. "I have, for years. There's nothing he can do to me that can--surprise me. And nothing I can't imagine. I'm--valuable." The slight quirk of one corner of Clark's mouth tells novels. He's right, and right in ways that make Lex twitch in odd places. Lex won't kill him. That would be easy. It would have been easy. Is easy. No Lex in the universe, in all its infinite diversity, would choose a dead Clark over a living one. Or take it easy when it can be hard, and interesting, and useful. Valuable.
"I don't--" Want to do that to you, what the hell? He already had this Clark, and he knows himself. That alone--that *alone* would be enough. "You don't have to--" Lex stops himself. He's turning down help? Is he *crazy*?
Clark shrugs, then seems to realize he's naked, a fact that Lex hasn't stopped being aware of for a single second. "I should--" The flush isn't unexpected, but it should be. This Clark probably doesn't do that much. "Just a second, and I'll show you how to access the mainframe. Lex--built a lot of safeties in." Clark turns away. "For the protection of LexCorp projects."
"How to clean kryptonite poisoning." No use in poisoning the land if you can't clean it up afterward. That's suicide, and for Lex, for any Lex, suicide isn't an option.
Clark tosses a glance over his shoulder. "You'd be surprised what you can learn with a captive Kryptonian and a lot of really smart scientists."
Lex nods. There aren't words, and he wouldn't say them if there were. Clark vanishes into the closet, and Lex considers the slant of green on the floor that means the sun must be setting.
When Clark comes back in, Lex is still watching. "Kryptonite shield?"
Clark glances out, casually pulling a t-shirt over his head. "Not exactly. That's what's outside the shield."
What's outside-- "That's reflection from outside?"
Clark's head nods through the t-shirt before it pushes through, tousled dark hair and solemn, tight mouth. Habit, Lex thinks. Clark doesn't look like someone who smiles very much anymore. "More or less. You'd have to ask the physicists to get something clearer than that, but--yeah."
Lex stares up into the bright green ball of sunlight. "No one could live out there."
"A lot do. The shield also keeps them out of the city." Clark absently sits down on the edge of the bed, and Lex watches in fascination as he pulls on socks. "More outside than in the protected cities. They tend to be--unstable."
There are so many ways that disturbs Lex. "Mutants."
Clark's head lifts briefly between socks. "They aren't human anymore. Some aren't even sentient."
Lex digests that. "I did that. He did."
Clark pauses, mid-sock. "Not--on purpose. It was a combination. The Justice League--well. The government sort of forgot how to negotiate without them."
Lex blinks. "With me."
"It's complex." Clark pulls down the edge of his jeans, then stands up, glancing out the window expressionlessly. "Everything went wrong. I don't think Lex ever forgave them for pushing him that hard."
"*Pushing* him?" And if Clark would look even a little appalled, it would be easier, except that's a lie. Nothing could make it easier. "Genocide isn't what I call resistance to being manipulated. It's--"
"They wanted your kryptonite research." Clark sits back down, arms braced behind him. "They wanted a lot of things that you couldn't do, even if you wanted to. They would have broken LexCorp--"
"And this was a solution?"
Clark shrugs. "It wasn't supposed to be this--powerful. Smaller area, more contained, just a threat, an experiment. But Kryptonite--reacts weird. There was this storm or--I don't know how to describe it. And it was a big chain reaction. The prototypes for the shields went up almost immediately, but--" Clark shrugs. "I wasn't--around for a lot of it. Lex explained when I got out."
Got out, from an experiment, from containment, from whatever Lex did to Clark when he was unhappy and needed a target that could always come back for more. "And you believed him?"
Clark stares straight back. "No. But I believe the computers. He kept me under until it was over. He didn't want me killed by the storms."
Lex closes his eyes. "Because you would have tried to help."
"That's what he said, too."
That wasn't reassuring. "I--" Understand.
Clark nods back, like he hears the unspoken, and Lex thinks of the Clark he remembers. He was Superman and Clark, he practically *invented* the multiple personality concept and did it better than Sibyl and a few hundred horror movies combined. But this. He can't quite wrap his mind around it. Staring out the window is more comprehensible, and that's saying something.
"It was--an accident. He was forced to it."
Every muscle clenches when he turns around. "It's a choice."
It's a choice. You get up in the morning, you have breakfast, you pick your clothes, you pick your life. You choose.
"It's not--that simple."
Strangely, it was. "It's always simple. Everything that creates the it is complex, but in the end, it's simple." You do, or you don't. Jesus, he can almost *see* Clark, see Superman, saying just that. Pompous son of a bitch. And he'd said it, and then he'd thought it, loudly, in Lex's general direction every time they met. The helpless resentment that Clark always tried to hide, the disgust he never bothered to. Your choice, he said, and he might as well have said, and look what a fascinating mess you've made of it.
What a truly *spectacular* mess.
"You should have killed me." Lex hears the words, and it may be his voice, but he's not sure he recognizes it. "Him. Me. Whatever pronoun works."
Clark's head tilts, confused. "Why?"
That he can say that-- "You can't see out the fucking *window*?"
Clark's blank face could be an answer in itself. "Then there'll be no one. No one who knows how it started, how to fix it. No one who--" Clark stops again. "You don't understand."
"I have an extremely well-developed sense of self-preservation." And Clark never managed to develop much of that, by the way. This one-- "He's going to kill you. Jesus, he'll kill the whole world if he feels like it." Because you don't go this far without being willing to go all the way.
Clark shakes his head, almost too quickly. "He would never--"
"He would. He did. He will again, next time he gets bored and Jesus, you know this. You have to." No Clark in the universe was that stupid or that optimistic. "You *know*."
Clark's head tilts again. "He has the world to jump when he says to and a living, breathing science experiment. Trust me, he's entertained enough."
"And you're willing to be that?"
The green eyes fix on him with a level gaze. "Yes."