The blue eyes sharpen instantly. "What?"
"What I always said. They're coming for us."
Cassius stares up at him, calculation plain, and Lex loosens his hand by degrees. His fingers will leave bruises on the man's throat that will last for days. Lex wonders if he'll want to see them. "What do you know?"
"Superman's not the only one."
Lex slips off of him onto the sand. Exhaustion and anger and this confused tangle of emotion that he's never been quite able to examine, not for longer than his name's been his symbol. Lex. He's not Alexander or a Luthor. He's not building an empire that will last forever. He's building one that will last for only himself.
"Spend all the time you like psychoanalyzing me," Lex says softly, and even to himself, he sounds tired. "It won't matter. You'll all be on your knees for them before grass has grown over my grave."
"Superman didn't try to conquer us," Cassius says softly, and Lex looks away. If he's masochistic, he could agree. "What makes you think they will?"
"What makes you think they won't?"
Cassius sits up, shaking sand from his hair, hand rubbing idly at his back. Lex wonders if he hurt him. "You don't have any proof--"
"I have the recording from the ship Superman came in," Lex answers, and he's got Cassius undivided attention. "Took a while to learn Kryptonian, but I've had a lot of time on my hands."
"He was sent to conquer us."
"But he hasn't."
Lex stares at Cassius for a moment, wondering why he's even bothering. "He won't. He was raised human. They weren't."
Cassius is silent--Lex can see the beginnings on Cassius face. Disbelief giving way to shock. It'll sink in, slowly and surely, like it had with Lex. A thousand possibilities flashing through his mind, a thousand different plans made and discarded, because they know what Superman is.
Lex stares into the sand. "I don't know. I don't want to be around to find out."
Cassius draws in a slow, shaky breath. He's less denial-prone than Lex, but then again, he didn't have Lionel Luthor to teach him how to do it, either. "Superman will fight them."
"And he'll die."
Lex hasn't said the words before, even in the privacy of his mind, when he spent sleepless nights staring at the numbers, at the inevitability. Their planet wasn't ready for Superman, and it sure as hell can't be ready for more of him.
There's a vague feeling of vertigo--the sand swirling slowly beneath him as if it wants to swallow him whole, and Lex thinks of his father. I won't get that empire, Dad. I ran out of time and it's not my fault. No one, even you, could fight this.
"The Justice League," Cassius whispers, and Lex can hear his own fear in Cassius' voice.
"Superman's the most powerful of them." Bruce, maybe, could have something ready, but Lex doesn't think even Bruce could handle this. "Multiple Supermen against them? They'll die."
Lex looks up in time to meet shocky blue eyes and a mouth open on words that aren't there. Cassius feels it, then.
"Who else knows?"
Lex runs his fingers through the sand slowly. "My scientists. Me. Now you. A guy you may know--Rhinestadt. I brought him on staff when I first--noticed something coming toward us. We--" Believed it. Scientists are skeptical by nature, but math doesn't lie, no matter how creatively you play with the numbers, and they'd played for days. Weeks. "Two years. They'll be here. Tell me you're going to be around to watch them land."
Cassius licks his lips. "The government--"
"We don't have the technology. We're half a generation from the technology." Somewhere, Lex can see the look on Rhinestadt's face. It's on Cassius', on his own, as inevitable as the ocean.
Cassius pulls his knees in close, uselessly defensive, and Lex breathes out.
"You haven't told."
"No one," Lex agrees softly. "The words 'end times' come to mind. And I don't want to know how many people would go down on their knees before it happens." Including himself. The temptation's there, below everything else, and it wakes him up at night. He can tell them things that will make this so much easier. The only man that can fight you? I know where he is and how to bring him to you without a fight. Their names are Martha and Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Chloe Sullivan, Lana and Pete Ross. You can have this planet in twenty four hours, just give me my empire and I'll do whatever you want.
His dad would have done it without a second thought. Lex stares at the sand.
"They'll be war." Cassius voice is shaking.
"And we'll lose."
Lex takes a deep breath, images of burning buildings and running superimposed over the beach. He can see cities on fire in every dream. "Yes."
Cassius looks up at him through a too-long fall of blond bangs. The dying light's painting him in orange and red, and Lex thinks of green eyes for no reason at all that looked at him like that once upon a time.
"You're giving up."
Superman won't give up.
The click is something Lex can feel down to the soles of his feet, spreading outward. Superman doesn't know, and Lex thinks of that only in the early morning. He flies here and there and stops disasters while hurtling through them at something above the speed of light is the end to everything. Like bandaging a cut finger when the jugular's already cut. They're all going to die, Clark, and it's kinder you let them do it now.
His hand flares in sudden, shocking pain.
"Maybe the gun's a good idea," Lex whispers, and he finds his feet clumsily. "It would be over fast, Cassius. You won't have to watch our civilization die." He pauses, hands falling to his side. "You won't have to feel their pain."
Superman won't give up. Not when the ship lands and they ask him to take a side. Maybe they won't ask. Lex wouldn't. Lex never has, not since the first time, when the lines were drawn between them. Shoot first, they'd know how to kill their own kind.
Lex stumbles a little.
Clark--Superman will die for absolutely nothing, like the idiot he's always been, and for no better reason than to stop the unstoppable. You can't fight this war, Lex wants to tell him. Get the fuck out of here and play savior to some other people. And do it fast. You of all of us could survive.
And he won't.
Cassius stands up, staggering a little, and Lex automatically reaches out to catch him, but the man pulls away as if he burns. "Don't--"
"Touch you. I get that." It shouldn't hurt. Backing away, Lex watches Cassius try to gather himself together.
Turning away, Lex walks back to the house, rubbing his hand into the silk of his shirt. Air conditioning, a shower, and some brandy. Everclear, perhaps. Taking a breath, he pushes the screen door open, going inside the simple beachhouse his mother had built. It's never been touched by any Luthor hands but his own, and Lillian's here in a way Lionel couldn't possibly have erased. Clumsily, Lex unfastens his shirt one-handed, slightly surprised when the sounds of the television intrude. Crossing the kitchen, he emerges into the sunny living room, blinking as Superman is filmed rescuing a kid from an explosion in some country Lex doesn't care enough to remember.
The pictures flash to the devastated town--mud brick houses, technology is long in coming to the third world. But when it does, it does this. Lex doesn't need to see the LexCorp logo on the ruined building in the background. His plant may not have done it, but he doesn't fool himself into believing they weren't involved. The commentator's voice drones about inadequate safety measures and accidents, and Lex wonders which one of his employees planned this and who the target was and how it managed to go so very wrong.
That's not his fault. LexCorp competes on a level playing field when it can. He's never ordered something like this.
But then again, he doesn't have to.
Leaning into the back of the couch, Lex watches the camera pan. Bodies in the background--apparently, the station's getting more proactive in getting viewers and nothing does it like gruesome imagery. Contaminated land, someone is saying. Death rates. Chemical explosions. Poisoning. Lex recites the formulas of what was produced in that plant and thinks of Cassius, who knows how long a person has to live by presence.
Lex can do it from five thousand miles away. All it takes is knowing the math.
"He's a fool," Lex says to himself.
Cassius, apparently recovered enough to wonder why Lex is talking to himself. Fair enough. Lex waves at the screen, the loose silk of his cuffs flapping against his inner arm. "Superman. He's saving them, but they're already dead. The chemicals they were exposed to will kill them in under three years, if that." They only have two, though. Superman should take a vacation. On another planet. "It's--"
"Stupid?" Lex can feel Cassius behind him, strangely large and warm. It's the height, Lex thinks, that makes Cassius seem so big.
"They'll die anyway. If not from that--" Lex lets his voice trail off. He should drop a line to Superman, tell him what his family's up to. You can stop now. Nothing you do will change anything now. "He's--"
The big body circles around him, dropping onto the couch, leaving splatters of sand behind him. "When I practiced, I operated on patients I knew I couldn't save."
Lex blinks, looking down, but Cassius' eyes are focused on the television.
Cassius shrugs. "I could buy them time, sometimes. Or comfort. Give them what they wanted. Make it easier."
"What was the point?" Lex doesn't think he'll ever understand trying to fight a losing battle. Memories of those years with Lionel, before he'd learned to conserve his energy, fight only when he knew there was no way he could lose. The difference between Lex and half of humanity. Sometimes, you just have to give up. Waste of resources and time to continue when there's no possibility of victory.
Cassius hesitates, then turns around. The shock's still there, fear and a thousand other emotions, but they've been--catalogued. Lex frowns to see it. "Why not?"
"Waste of time, resources, money, just to start. If you can't win--"
Cassius laughs, sudden and sharp, and Lex finds himself backing away from the couch. He shouldn't have told. Should have fucking kept his mouth shut and gone with the bullet. Fast and easy and not a waste of time.
"It's--" Cassius stops, but the smile lingers, disturbing edges of hysteria in it. He's not as calm as he wants to be. "You're the least human person I've ever met."
Lex breathes out. "Tell me something I don't know."
"That's it, isn't it? That's what--all of this is." Cassius waves a hand that encompasses the room. "Jesus. I thought you were just suicidal."
Lex takes another step back. He should never have let this man come near him. "Of all people, you should understand. Or is the new way to fight getting yourself so fucking high you can't remember who you are?"
"At least I acknowledged there was something there worth fighting for. I'm just not strong enough to cope." Cassius' grin is wild. "All this time, I thought--but it's so much simpler. You're scared."
"No fucking shit." Another step. He can turn and walk away. Not listen to this. Climb in the shower and wash this entire day off his body and alcohol will wash it from his mind.
"What if they come and no one fights? What if--" Cassius presses a hand to the back of the couch, going up on his knees. "What if they all just give up?"
"What if everyone does just what they should, in the Lexian world view? They look at the invaders and just give in? Or maybe only half of them do. Tell them what to destroy, who to kill, how to break us down so conquest's faster." Cassius looks almost incandescent, staring at Lex. "Would they?" His voice drops as he leans over the back of the couch, almost grinning. "Would you, Lex?"
Leaning into the doorframe, Lex meets the blue eyes without hesitation. "I have the coin of the realm, to borrow a term. I can give them their only threat."
Cassius stares back. "Then why don't you?"