Clark logs him into the mainframe, then leaves the room.
It's more than weird. All the Clarks are recognizable, but in an infinite universe of infinite variation, there's this one, too, just recognizable enough to hurt, just unfamiliar enough to feel like someone ripping off a scab every time he opens his mouth. It's like chewing on glass, cuts everywhere and bleeding out, but no way to make him stop.
There's an almost uncontrollable urge to follow, and God, it's fucking Smallville all over again, with Lex chasing Clark who chases God knows what. A Clark who doesn't bother pretending and never bothers hiding anything, not even the glimpse of his scarred back, where a Lex implanted kryptonite chips to keep him safely earthbound and an endless source of entertainment.
It's just the right combination of sadistic and practical to be right up Lex's alley. Constant manacles cut down on maneuverability. And there's nothing like using someone's own body to betray them, to give it that special, dehumanizing touch. Psychological warfare never gets boring.
It's just simpler to focus on the information, scrolling by as quickly as Lex can read it.
"You know, it's easier that way."
Lex jerks his head up. The room's still empty, and his cellphone's in the other room.
"Oh please. You've done this for five different worlds now." The amusement's cut with bitter rage, the kind Lex curbed before he finished his twenties. It got him nowhere except the emergency room with broken bones and a truly spectacular series of front page Inquisitor issues. "You know who I am."
"They never manifested vocally, either." Is he talking to himself? He's not sure he wants to know.
"There is that. Auditory hallucinations. Interesting pattern of brain damage. I miss the AI sometimes. It was an interesting experience."
He can feel the smile like he's wearing it himself. "Listening to it beg for Clark's life. I was cutting it to pieces, fragmenting its consciousness, and all it could think to ask for was poor, mistreated Kal." The voice stops, curious. "You want visuals?"
No. "You can't."
"Those are words I don't believe anymore." Another pause. "How are you keeping me--inactive, anyway?"
Lex would like to know how he got this active, but a slide inside to check out the state of his mind seems like a bad idea, all things considered. Last time he'd tried that, he'd ended up shooting his way through LuthorCorp, which, while cathartic, hadn't been on his list of top ten plans. "Establishing dominance is the first step toward satisfactory relations. Didn't Dad teach you anything?"
There's a flicker on the edge of his vision. His head aches suddenly, a pounding migraine striping up the center, like a machete carving up the center of his skull. Eyes wide, Lex grabs for the desk, satiny wood sliding beneath suddenly sweaty hands. "Yes. That's--interesting."
Lex forces his teeth together and bites into his tongue, hard enough for the shock of pain to narrow his focus. "Back the. Fuck. Off. Or I'll make sure by the time I leave this body, there won't be much of it left for you to return to."
And he means it. Suicide isn't a Lex thing, but homicide's right up his alley. The anger again, almost blacking out his vision, then slow recession. Spots dance in front of Lex's eyes. "Calm down, Lex. That sort of spike can be bad for your--sadly weak mind. You've done a lot of damage, you know."
A slimy feeling, of cool fingers trailing through his closest memories, pulling some out for a look, passing over others. There's nothing quite like it. "I don't--this is my imagination."
"Kind of. While you were having some kind of crisis of conscience, I thought I'd explore my newly smaller residence. You're--different." Flavored with the curiosity that's as much a part of him as his eyes. "But not so much."
Very much. "My idea of a good weekend isn't genocide."
The snort's like a breath on the back of his neck. "Please. You're just pissed it didn't occur to you first. If it's any consolation, you couldn't do it--I had Clark two years before I figured out to make it all work together."
The images that follow are sharp and slick, like expensive photography, glossy and brilliant. Time is nothing in your own head, so it's an eternity of things he's never seen--Clark in the labs, Clark on long, cold-white tables under brilliant lights, and vivisection was just the warm-up exercise, so much blood that anyone human, even superhuman, should have, could have, must have died. And to look at him--and Lex has, that long, perfect body--the only scars are the new ones.
Lex's stomach turns over, but it's worse, somehow, when he can't--quite--make himself stop watching. These aren't new, they aren't strange, they're the natural outcome of a thousand threats and promises. They're *real*, and he can fool himself about everything but that.
"It was fun." And that does it, that feels true, that feels like something he'd think.
"I watched him die."
"So have I. And I brought him back."
You can't strangle a disembodied voice. He could try, and that would prove once and for all that every thing his father ever said about his mental stability was absolutely true. But then, everything he's said has turned out true. Ruled by his emotions. Unstable. And dangerously short-sighted.
Very dangerously short-sighted.
"You think I couldn't put a knife in your chest?" Lex says, and the other slinks by, smug satisfaction, as bright and cold as starlight, slipping through his thoughts. "Right here and right now."
Hesitation, like a crack in ice. Lex feels the shimmering of doubt. "You wouldn't."
Lex grins, feeling a heady rush of satisfaction, like a car going off a bridge, or threatening a man who has everything to lose. "I'd tear up LexCorp while I did it. I could email some *fascinating* information out too." Lex lets his certainty bleed through his thoughts. "It's not my world, after all. I don't have a damn thing to lose."
For a second, the other Lex pauses--and that's all Lex needs, slamming down against the foreign, chilly thoughts, pushing them under, and he's not even sure *how* he's doing it, but he does. When his eyes open, the room is empty and tinted in dark green from the setting sun, and Clark is standing at the doorway, as blank as a new sheet of paper.
When Lex looks down, he sees a mangled pen in one hand, ink staining three fingers, spreading black across the keyboard of the laptop. He unclenches his hand, stretching his fingers.
Uncertainty. Lex could like this, if it wasn't so very close to absolutely crazy. "Is everything--" Clark stops short, eyebrows drawn sharply together. "You were--talking."
Lex drops back in the chair, eyeing the laptop. "You have all his passwords?"
Clark blinks. "Yes."
"And you never thought to use them?"
That second. Just one. Clark looks back at him and it's obvious, no, he didn't. Not once. Not ever. It's unbelievable. "Why not?" Like a brick wall, or a clean slate. Lex doesn't fuck around when he destroys someone--he does it all the way. And every memory is *there*, everything that Lex had shown him, and seeing the progression doesn't make it any easier, just a fuck of a lot more comprehensible. "I never knew I could."
"Stop." Clark looks just plain tired now, and it could be, oh, the fact he just got out of the last of Lex's little laboratory adventures, which is almost enough to shut Lex down like a closed door.
"What?" If he can get an honest emotional reaction out of Clark, something involving his windpipe and superstrong fists--he can say he'll be thrilled, and in so many ways is this second the funniest of his life. "Jesus, Clark--"
"You're here for two days, Lex. You can't--can't--you don't understand it." Clark comes in the room, but slowly, and his eyes flick to the blinds left open, pouring progressively darker green onto the floor. Masochism--the new black. "You just--God. Did you do better?"
Lex stops, breath catching in his throat. It's an amazing concept, unfolding like an origami crane, showing everything, and under Clark's wide eyes, he *knows* it. "Yes, I did do better."
Clark looks away first.
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
Lex gives the ink stained laptop a long look. "Yes." And with Lex's memories, it tells him more. "You killed Xerxes."
Clark blinks, frowning a little. "I don't--"
"It took a while." It took a long time, as long as it took Clark to die. But he didn't, because he was stronger, because the JL had still been alive to help with the thousand other crises generated by Xerxes, and because that day, there'd been no one to protect.
No one for Clark to protect, and no one to protect the JL or Superman, either. Watching Clark's face, he thinks of all the things that have happened, one thing that came out right. It shows all over in the honest confusion in Clark's face. Clark doesn't remember how his friends died.
"You were weakened after Xerxes," Lex says instead. "Kryptonite poisoning."
Clark nods slowly. "I woke up--a long time after. In the lab." Clark pauses. "I never expected to wake up at all."
That's in the memories, too. Lex pushes them away, wondering if it's so wrong to think about giving up.
"Did you find out--" Clark's voice is far away, even though he's closer. Lex reaches for the shutdown, closing the laptop, watching the dark outside that makes Metropolis something he can deal with. For a little while.
"No." And maybe he never will. All these strange, different lives, these different worlds, and when he goes back, it's back to the medical lab and back to his room and then back to that chair to try again, and again, and *again*, no matter what the AI says, because while this isn't much hope, they don't have anything else. Brain damage, he thinks, looking down at his own hands, still on the edge of the desk. Not coming all the way back. Not coming back at all. "I'll have to do it again." And again. And again, until he doesn't remember who he is, when all the other Lexes in his head overwhelm the native resident, and Christ, that's what the AI was trying to tell him about these worlds, these lives, and he didn't understand, not until now.
Clark's at the edge of the desk. "How many times have you--done this?"
Lex closes his eyes, the lids painted kryptonite green. "This is the fifth." And maybe there's only time for one or two more jumps before Xerxes is awake and Lex is out there, because who else can stop it? Who else can even try?
"Tell me about it," Clark says, slowly, and Lex looks up. "Xerxes. What happened. I--it's the last time. That I did anything. I--I always wanted--" He stops, mouth compressed to a flat line, and Lex wants to reach for him. The green eyes flare with something incandescent. "The last time I did something right."
It's. Like that. Lex licks his lips. "The JL found it early. They tracked it, kept it distracted. It--gets its power from the sun. Like you do." Lex pulls in the other memories--what difference does it make, really? Even if he went back right now, there might not be enough time. Even if they had a plan. Synching them with his own, Lex pulls it together. "It wasn't--as strong as it could have been. The JL set up a perimeter and you went to fight it. The last resort was transporting it into space. It might not kill it, but it would go dormant." God, how easy that would be, but the power they would need, power they don't have. "You--fought it. Until it burned out all its store of energy." And your own, too. Not counting the cost. "After--after you melted it down into its component parts. The--" Lex stops, mouth going dry. "You were burned out."
From across the desk, Lex can feel Clark's steady gaze.
"And. And after?"
Lex came climbing out of his bunker and made a plan. And the exhausted JL, almost unconscious Superman, they were all the threat of toilet paper. Put them on the run, took them out, did it all the way, because he knew that if he failed, he wouldn't survive, no matter the JL's position on human life. When Clark woke up, his world was circumscribed by a five by five foot white block cell, and in some ways, Lex never let him leave it again. Not completely.
"I don't know." Lex lets his hands slide off the desk. "It's not--easy to access his memories." It wouldn't be, but this Lex is perfectly happy to share, the images flashing by at the speed of light, burned into Lex to keep for good, even after he's gone. The exhibitionist in them both, wanting to show off what they've done, how smart they are, how fucking brilliant. Reaching up, Lex rubs his nose, twitching at a tickle. When he touches, his fingers come away wet.
That, the other Lex says, suddenly wary, is new.
No shit. Lex pulls away and stares at the blood. There are, he's sure, laws of physics that he's breaking doing this.
Instantly, Clark is kneeling in front of him, and the tickle is stronger, and Lex licks his lips, tasting blood. "Lex." Something against his nose, soft and smelling of copper and detergent, then Clark is tipping his head forward, trying to stop the bleeding.
Rupture, he offers up. It never occurred to me before now that just maybe, this sort of thing could be as hard on the body I'm borrowing as on mine. The other Lex isn't amused. Lex doesn't mind.
A few long seconds pass in a blur. Lex's head is tipped back. The taste is on his tongue, coating his throat. If he were anyone else, he'd be nauseous, but this is all par for the course for him.
"How do you feel?" Clark says, what feels like hours later. Lex let his head back up, wondering if he cares enough to go to the bathroom and wash up. All systems report no interest in moving. That works.
"Okay, I think." Maybe he should sleep. This body doesn't feel unrested, but he spent a lot of his late twenties taking speed when he didn't feel like sleep was required for sanity. Not to mention his teens. He's not sure what a normal body is supposed to feel like.
"Has this--has it happened before?"
"My body, yes." Though this is new and probably disturbing. Lex rubs, feeling the blood begin to flake off, half-dried, clinging. "Not so much in the host."
Clark is staring at him. "Did your--AI explain about complications? Interdimensional travel, even if it's not the body--" Clark stops short, taking a breath. "I--remember what the AI taught me. A little. It's fragmenting you."
That's the word. Like a click. "Yes."
"How long do you have here?"
Clark's hand on his jaw tilts his head down. Lex pushes the cloth against his nose, but no more bleeding. "Can it tell when you're going into distress?"
Lex wonders where this is going. "Constant monitoring of my body, yeah."
"No, here. This body."
That--Lex isn't sure of. "Maybe. I don't--it never came up." And in retrospect, after all this time, maybe he should have asked about that.
"It should have." Clark pushes up, hand slipping from his cheek. Lex almost leans into the fading touch, catching himself at the last minute. "I--this thing you're doing? It's been done before."
Lex blinks slowly. w"I--"
"It's been done before, and it isn't done often, because it's complicated. Moving a body is hard enough, but moving a mind--" Clark stops, frowning. "All those--four others? You bring them into every mind. It's--the human brain doesn't have that kind of capacity. Not for the lives of five people."
Lex almost smiles. "I'm not human."
"When you go back, there'll be six. And even I couldn't handle that."
Lex stops, staring. The implications aren't pretty. "I was--fine last time." He thinks. Maybe. "Some rest. Some relaxation."
"Some psychosis." Clark's breath catches. "It's cumulative. Your world--it's really dying, isn't it?"
Lex stares into the green eyes and doesn’t flinch. "If this doesn't work, yes. It's already--" Bad. Nightmarish. And no end for anyone, not unless it's death. "It's--disassembled right now. It's pulling itself back together. There's no one left who can fight it and win."
Clark's mouth works for a second, then he looks away.
"How do you know so much?"
Clark's eyes stay down. "Before--before the AI was destroyed, it--called to me. We--it did this thing. I didn't get it all, but I got most of it." His head comes back up, and Lex feels a flare of other Lex's shock and hate and rage, and if it's like that, buried so far under Lex's consciousness, then Lex doesn't even *want* to know what it feels like up close and personal. Clark must see something of it on Lex's face. "Yeah, he didn't know about that."
Didn't know--and everything Clark says to him, this Lex knows too. Jesus. "Then why the hell are you telling me?"
Without a word, Clark kneels in front of him, and for a horrified moment, Lex thinks that this is all going to go south again, literally and metaphorically, but Clark just takes the cloth from his hand, flipping it to a clean side, and reaches up.
When he pulls it away from Lex, it's clotted in dark blood. "Because this jump, you're not going to survive."
If his secretary looks confused, that's okay. Absolute obedience and unquestioning fear have so many excellent uses, and one of them is avoiding questions. "Where are we--how do you even *know*?"
Clark follows him to the elevator, murmuring the secondary passwords, and Jesus, he's not sure what's going on and isn't even sure he cares all that much. There's a fresh handful of tissue in his pocket and he's sniffing every time his nose tickles. He can't smell anything but blood.
"I know," Clark says, once the elevator starts going, "because I know what the AI knows. And it didn't send you into this without either really, really wanting you to die in a very obscure way or wanting you to succeed and be back in time for it to fix the damage."
Lex stares at the LED. "We're being recorded."
"You're the only one with access," Clark says. That almost makes sense. "Tell me--" Clark frowns, hands fisting. "I only know--it's been fixing you between?"
"Yes." Lex thinks of the third jump, shuddering a little. "I had neural damage after the third time. I was--treated." This last time, just some time in the lab, asleep, and hours to do nothing but sit and wait. "There weren't any--this last time, I came out fine." Give or take a bad dream, but who the hell *wouldn't*?
"Maybe." Clark stares at the falling numbers on the blinking screen like he's willing more speed. "I--there should be a--trigger. What pulls you out. Two days is the maximum before the brain starts breaking down under the pressure. Don't ask why. I don't know that much. But the core programming might."
Lex stares at the falling numbers, then sniffs back something liquid. Pulling out a tissue, he holds it up, wondering if he's going to be sick. It's like bathing in blood--the smell coats everything. 'The AI was destroyed." Lex imagines the AI in the arctic and shivers a little. Murder, the word fits.
"But we kept core functions." Clark leans forward, entering another code, and Lex freezes at the retinal scan.
"That's new." There definitely hadn't been one of these in the elevator to the labs.
It hits Clark, too, and the door seems a little indecisive before sliding open. "No one comes down here but you and your pet programmers." Coming out, Lex take a glance around the single large room, then freezes at the massive structure at the center of the room.
A weird, and unaesthetic, blend of human and alien technology, but Lex supposes that when yo'rue trying to make something work, you don't care much for how it looks. And huge, yes, a column of gunmetal and silver and blinking lights right in the middle, reaching up four stories. Christ. Makes LexCorp's computers looks really, really crappy. Workstations stationed on every level around it.
Circling it, Lex takes in the keyboard, English, and the Kryptonian one behind. "He knows Kryptonian?"
"No. Lock out access."
Lex turns, blinking. Clark's still standing at the elevator, looking at him like he's an idiot.
"Lock out all other personnel, unless you want to be interrupted. It's kind of a twenty-four seven to keep this thing going--it does all the work for the air and water purification Lex is doing, and holds all the data." Clark frowns at the doors. "The rotation is once every fifteen minutes, maintenance every night. Someone's gonna come down here."
Shit. No, no interruptions. Lex walks back, staring at the keypad, a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. "Do you know the code?"
Clark shakes his head. And fuck. Also, fuck. "Right." And he has no fucking clue. Lifting a hand, Lex studies it a few seconds, a glance inside checking the inner--
--and no. No. Lex drops his hand. "The only way I can do it is if I ask him, and trust me, I can't--invite him back up."
Far beneath, Lex can almost sense disappointment. Sorry, you sociopathic bastard, Lex thinks, with a little mental wave that is so much more petty than it feels. Just stay the fuck away or I'll start entertaining myself, and I'll start with your feet and work my way up.
"Can you take it out?" Lex says slowly, and beside him, he feels Clark twitch. Even from here, Lex can sense the kryptonite. Tiny. Just enough to keep him weak. Not enough to lead to--anything else.
"Maybe. But--" Clark stops, staring at the door for a second. "This is the only way down." You won't be able to get back out, he doesn’t say. Clark with his almost-invulnerability, yes. Lex, not so much.
"That's okay," Lex says, taking a step back, then another. It all comes together, the most beautiful plan in creation. He's always been good with plans. "I don't plan to leave."
It's enough like the AI for Lex to be disoriented--and some part of him keeps searching for the AI's voice, the instant communication that's forever missing. It hurts, and he didn't expect it, and every touch of his fingers on the keyboard reminds him more.
Clark, cross-legged on the floor, drones out access instructions, but his eyes keep flickering to Lex on the completely wrong keyboard. "Do you know Kryptonian?"
"You could say that." Lex flicks along the keys by memory, pulling up pages of data on the recovery effort, scrolling by, closing. "I've had a lot of time with the AI. What am I looking for?" So much fucking *data*. The AI's capacity was enough to hold an entire culture. This Lex had kept the capacity, and even with all of that, there was still room to spare to control the cleaning of an entire planet.
Clark pauses. "Access to the databases. We'll want the specs on the device the AI is using to send you through."
Not the hardest thing ever. Lex skims past things that, in another life--hell, in *his* other life--he'd be memorizing. Energy theory. Particle physics. Wormholes. Jesus. Fucking *space exploration*, on the galactic scale. The Kryptonians had beat the speed of light. This fucking *close* to folding space.
Lex forces himself by it. "What do we need to know?"
"How to send a signal back to activate the pull out. The AI is probably handling it through a set of calculations--in your time, how long? Are you here?"
Lex frowns. "Ten minutes? Fifteen?"
Clark nods, like this all makes sense. Lex turns to watch the green eyes go distant. "Good enough. Okay. Found it?"
Lex scrolls faster, pushing a tissue against his nose at the next tickle. It's not as much as before, and he drops it in his lap. "There's not a lot here."
"It adapted from something." Suddenly, Clark is leaning over his shoulder, and the smells of shower gel and clean skin is almost overwhelming, even with the copper taint. Lex draws in a breath, pushing down completely inappropriate reactions, and forces himself to concentrate. "It's dangerous, so they didn't use it often." Clark's hand catches his. "Try from here."
All those fucking equations again. Lex lets them roll by. They make as much sense as the first time--vague recognition of something huge and physics-shaking that Earth science hasn't even come close to. "I remember seeing this."
"It built something to interface with you." Clark leans closer, and soft hair brushes Lex's cheek. "How long did it take?"
"A--a day." This is so the wrong time for this body to pull *any* shit like that. "Maybe more, but not much. I--" Don't remember.
Clark's hands push his out of the way, and Lex closes his eyes. "You--um, stupid question at this point. Childhood Kryptonite exposure?"
Lex almost smiles. "Yeah."
"Just double checking." Clark does something loud, computer making a weird noise. "Okay. Now--just have to--" Clark stops, and Lex opens his eyes on a nonsensical screen of random symbols. "It's going to take a while for it to--find you. Your--place." Abruptly, Clark leans back. "Not too long, I think."
Lex turns in the chair. Clark, standing only a few feet away, is watching him again, and this time, Lex knows the look. "It's hard to look at me." And see that other Lex still, no matter who inhabits the skin.
Clark smiles, and it's so sudden, so blinding, Lex's breath catches. It's like they just met. "No. It's just--it's you." The green eyes flick away, and Lex watches Clark pace away, banked energy in every jerky movement. "I thought--I thought this must have always been there, for him to--do this. That I was--that I was wrong."
Lex stiffens. That, he hadn't expected. "It was."
Clark shakes his head, smile fading from everywhere but his eyes. "No. You don't get it. I thought this was all there was. That that was all he could be. That'd I'd been wrong about him all that time."
Christ. "You weren't." Really weren't, and Lex's tongue tries to form the words, stop the hope he can feel like the sun. "Clark, it's not--I'm not--" That much better. Any better at all, really, but even Lex can't believe that. "In my world, we weren't friends."
"In your world, you didn't burn out the sky." Clark's stare is almost challenging. "He can be--he could--"
Oh God, no. No. "You can't--Clark, you can't help him. You can get the fuck *away* from him. You can kill him. You can sow the fucking ground he walked on with salt, but you can't *save* him."
Clark shakes his head. "You--"
"There's better, and there's worse than me. This man? You can't help. You can't change."
"Why the fuck *not*?"
This isn't Smallville. He won't let Clark hope that, let himself remember when he thought the same thing. "Clark, you're--while I'm in this body, you can *leave*. You can't stay because you think he'll change--"
"He's better than this! You--"
"I wasn't better!"
Clark stares at him, chest heaving, marshalling a thousand arguments, filling his eyes like heat. They'll sound reasonable and sure, because this is Clark, and Clark is absolutely like no one ever born. He believes things. Incredibly stupid things. But he believes them.
"We were enemies." Lex takes a deep breath. "We hated each other. We tried to kill each other. When I get back--when I get back, I don't have any enemies left. Superman's *dead*. And I'll be able to--" Lex feels his voice catch. "If I want it, the world is mine."
"Do you want it?"
Yes. It would be easy to say the word, but it's not true, not the way it should be, not the way it's supposed to be--the culmination of a lifetime and he's. Not. Sure. "I don't know."
Like this. This easy. No.
The green eyes hold his. "What's the difference?"
That's the hell of it. "I don't know."
Clark stares at him, like he just might try to argue the point, and Lex searches for every argument he can think of. There aren't any. The Clark of his world had known, in the end, and hadn't at all. He'd died for it. This one--won't. "He has to want to, Clark."
Wanting so desperately to believe in something better. "Lex--"
"I *know*. What he is. Who he is. And you do too. This is--" Lex motions around the room, trying to ignore the chill bite of the air. A computer built on the remains of a murdered AI. A world built on a single, burning vision of winning at all costs, any cost. "You don't go this far if you ever plan to come back. You never go this far when you think you might want to. There's nothing *here*."
Clark turns away, and Lex slumps down, rubbing his temples. The low-grade pain makes him nervous now--aneurysm, blood clot, maybe some kind of strange neural damage. His body can heal anything, given enough time. Rubbing his nose, his fingers come away clean.
"Let me see." A rough hand tilts up his chin. Lex doesn't bother pulling away, closing his eyes as Clark's hand tightens, turning his head. "Okay, so far so good."
"The third time--" Lex stops, opening his eyes to see Clark crouching in front of him. "There was--"
"No as much."
Clark nods, like it makes some kind of sense. "The AI is--I think it can fix most of the damage. It's just--" Clark shakes his head. "Even with your mutation, it's dangerous."
"Apocalypse is an amazing motivator." Straightening, Lex pulls away from the now gentle hand, glancing at the screen. Still sheets of numbers, flowing by like water. A world's entire culture, everything it was or would ever be, here. And in Clark.
Clark, and Lex now knew what was in his head, and how he'd hidden it. Lex leans over, pulling up a screen. A few flicks of the keys, and a different kind of information rolls by, more comprehensible than Kryptonian, but not by much.
"Is this hooked up to the LexCorp network?" Copying every file he can get.
"This has all the core commands and functions?"
"Heavily encrypted." Clark stops short. "What are you doing?"
"When this is over, you have to kill him." Lex leans down, pulling up the edge of his pant leg, feeling the ankle holster beneath. Some things will always remain the same. Unfastening the flap, Lex pulls out the gun, still watching the screen, then holds it out, hilt first. "Two shots to the back of the head. If you wipe out higher brain function, the body won't be able to access enough neurons to complete regeneration." Even if it can, the regenerated body won't be anything more than a vegetable. Lex can live with that.
Beside him, Clark is very still. "I--can't."
"This is where you don't say that." There's no way he can send the entirety of a database like this over the network, but he can send enough for others to break in and take it. Backdoors, codes, and everything in between. Kryptonian algorithms make him wish, a little wistfully, that he had time to learn. Amazing. "This is where you say, yes."
When Lex looks at him, Clark is staring at the gun with wide, disbelieving eyes, and the hands fisted at his side are shaking. "Lex--"
His Clark could never kill in cold blood. This one-- "You know what he is."
"That doesn't mean--"
Lex lets his hand drop. "You said you wanted to remember the last time you did something good. This? Is good."
"Murder is never--"
"It's not murder. It's--" Putting down a rabid dog. In the back of his mind, the other Lex simmers, that slow angry boil that never cools, never calms, never rests. He could be this, so easily. So fucking easily. "Clark--"
"I can't kill him."
And it's like *that*, like stone, like writing on the wall, and Lex stares at the gun for a second. Far below, he can feel the restlessness rise up, nipping at the edge of his mind with sharp, broken teeth. So angry. And so fucking *stupid*, too dangerously smart, too ruthless, to be safe in a locked room, a locked cage, anywhere he can breathe. I *know*, Lex had told Clark, and it's true. This man can't leave this room alive. "He can't be free, Clark. Not now." Not ever.
"You can't. Not with him. Not ever."
He'll die if he does, murmurs the other Lex, so low that it could be his own thought. Where else will he go? What will he do? What do you think we left of him that can do anything at all?
Holding the green eyes, Lex takes a breath. The gun is warm in his hand. His palm isn't even sweating. "I can do it myself."
Clark startles like a deer, eyes widening. "No."
"I can do it when I feel the pull of the AI, before he gets control back." There's a weird kind of freedom in it--almost a trade. His head's aching, and he can't smell anything but his own blood. He might not make it back sane. He might not make it back at all. A trade. The universe that Clark died to save will die, but this one won't. Clark's always been resiliant. He'll get through this. He can get the world through this. "He can't--Clark."
Clark just stands there, disbelieving and not understanding. His Clark had never understood sacrifice either, not really. "I don't believe that."
"I do. I know. There's nothing left to save. There hasn't been in longer than--" Maybe the length of Clark's life. Lex isn't sure. The other Lex is shifting with every drop of blood, and Lex wipes it away with a sleeve, licking his upper lip. Copper-bright, somehow reassuring. Maybe the gun won't even be necessary. But overkill's never a bad idea.
The sudden spurt of blood surprises him--Clark moves almost too fast to see, pressing soaked tissues over and over, the other Lex surfacing in the far back of his mind, pressing hard fingers into his temples like guns, pushing toward the surface of this thoughts--
--don't let him--
--and in the far off distance, Lex feels it start.
"Not yet," he whispers. He can feel Clark urging him to the floor, on his hands and knees, blood soaking a shirt now, and when he looks up, he sees Clark, pale and terrified through red-glazed eyes. The other Lex pushes, pushes *hard*, reaching out--
--that gun has kryptonite bullets.
"Christ," he whispers, fighting the AI, fighting Lex. Not yet. Not like this. Not when he's not done. "Clark, I can feel--it's--"
Clark's hand is gentle against his face. "You have to go back. I can--"
"You can't," and the other Lex echoes it, amused and enraged and too strong. He won't kill Clark. He'd never kill Clark. He hates him too much to ever give him that kind of peace. "Kill him, Clark." The gun is--somewhere, Lex thinks vaguely, reaching out a groping hand. One shot and he can do this to himself, he still has enough control for that. He can just--reach out. Push it against his chin. Pull the trigger.
"No, Lex." Hands cup his face, green eyes staring into his. "That's not who I am."
No. "And he's not what you think he can be," Lex whispers, the floor dissolving beneath him. "You can't save him."
Clark's thumb touches his lips, achingly sweet, painfully slow, the middle of a dying world, a field in Virginia. Christ. He can't do this, he can't live with this, he shouldn't *have* to. And for the life of him, Lex isn't sure he means Clark or himself. "But I can save you."
The last thing he sees is Clark's smile and then there's nothing.