Precision, his father whispered in his ear as he taught Lex to mount and hang butterflies.
Precision, his father insisted as he laid into Lex with cruelty mounted upon superiority and disappointment.
Precision, his father demanded on his deathbed.
Precision. Like a knife sliding through flesh and muscle, avoiding bone and striking a beating heart.
His affair with Bruce is all teeth and bruised skin.
They meet at a philanthropic function, benefiting survivors of a civil war in a country that no one would care about if LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises hadn’t brought their attention to it. They’re both asked to speak, and while Bruce delivers a staid and pithy condemnation of government-contrived violence, Lex is categorically unable to bring himself to care much about the approval of a group of people who have ix hundred dollars to pay for a plate of sole almondine but little in terms of actual redeeming qualities.
“It’s funny—well, not ‘ha ha’ funny, but funny in its own way—how people can come together like this and open their pocketbooks while being fundamentally disengaged with the wellbeing of humanity during the other three hundred and fifty-one days of the year.” People shift uneasily in their seats; he’s obviously off to a promising start. “I’ve heard that charity hardens those who give it and degrades those who receive it, but we keep giving money to people who use it to stay in power and stock up for the next civil conflict to inevitably come along and congratulating ourselves when we look at pictures of battered children and point them out to our friends as beneficiaries, when really all we’ve done is perpetuate a cycle which will end up battering their own children. I’d prefer the return on my investments to be quantitative, rather than administrative. There’s already too much red tape tying up the planet and the people doing the wrapping present it to everyone and tell us it’s a bow.”
Out of the corner of his eye, the event planner is waving at someone, probably hoping to get Lex off the stage before he derails the hope of squeezing more money out of the pockets of those present.
His eyes narrow somewhat and he shakes his head. “LexCorp has given money tonight because it’s a significant tax break. I’m not going to confuse the act by self-aggrandizing and saying that it was the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to make sure that the money actually benefits the casualties of the area. I’ve challenged the ethics committee of the organization tonight to make sure that happens.
“I’m supposed to tell you to give generously tonight, but instead I think I’ll tell you all that the amount that I’ve personally donated is essentially the bare minimum to get me a noticeable return. If the organization can provide exhaustive details about where the money is going, however, I’m willing to match the amount donated by every single person here. Whether or not you give generously depends on whether or not you think that you’ll be lining the pockets of some wannabe dictator or actually doing the world some good. So I suppose you could call this entire thing an exercise in pessimism versus optimism.” He claps his hands awkwardly and grins through his contempt. “Up to you. Enjoy your fish.”
He leaves the podium to make uncomfortable small talk with the people he’s essentially insulted for the remainder of the evening.
It’s not until close to midnight that he and Bruce Wayne find themselves facing each other over the head of a petite septuagenarian who knew their parents and wants to wax philosophical about fallen apples and their proximity to the trees that grew them.
Bruce’s eyes are hard, like the lines of his face, and his responses are of the same perfunctory nature as his speech earlier. There’s a tug of amusement in the corner of his mouth when he looks at Lex, however, and Lex takes a second to relish it.
Eventually, Grandma is drawn away by the temptations of society gossip and they’re left along with less than two feet between them.
“Nice speech,” Bruce says.
Lex tuts. “I was hoping for a better opening volley than tired niceties. But I suppose I can’t expect more, considering your speech was all about moral duty and the horrors of war.” A quick, unstoppable chuckle punctuates his point and he gestures futilely with his hands, searching for a way to emphasize his words without resorting to air quotes. Inevitably he drops his arms to his sides, useless.
“I can see how much more effective it is to alienate the wealthy.”
“The alienation of the one percent isn’t my problem.”
Bruce sniffs, contempt brushing away the formerly amused turn of his mouth. “Should I bother pointing out that hypocrisy?”
“It’s not hypocrisy if my wealth is used for the betterment of mankind.”
The amusement returns. “I’m not confident mankind is worth the trouble.”
It’s a daring play, letting Lex glimpse whatever lies beneath the masquerade of bland society playboy. Lex tilts his head, as though he might see more – a raise of the skirt and a flash of bare ankle.
Their – affair? Involvement? Personal transaction? – begins that evening. Bruce sends his starry-eyed ward home with the car and he follows Lex to his apartment. They kiss with too many teeth, and Lex runs his science-calloused hands over surprisingly roughened skin to map out each sensitive area of Bruce’s body, of which there are an unfortunate few. They feed each other with philosophy, and Lex whispers Rowe into Bruce's mouth and berates him for bringing Swinburne to bed and killing the mood. There is a darkness to Bruce that appeals to Lex; Bruce wants to be punished for his sins in ways that the string of blithe yet shrewd supermodels cannot offer. The sex borders on violent and it feeds Lex’s love of chaos. There is a strong subjective morality buried in with his masque of apathy as well, and Lex does his best to ignore it for his own sanity.
Finally, Lex thinks, there is someone who understands me.
Lex decides to work out of his Gotham holdings for a few weeks, to test the waters and see how it goes. He doesn’t directly make contact with Bruce, but is gratified when the other man appears out of nowhere to take him for lunch. Lex plies him with offerings from his candy bowl, shows off his promising preliminary results from R&D and then pushes him down into his office chair and gives him a reason to come back again. Bruce’s hands twist against his head, and while Lex typically doesn’t enjoy the sort of faux supplication that comes hand-in-hand with fellatio, he does like the hard pull of the fist in his hair.
Lex has made a life of putting the world beneath a microscope, and his observations are enough to warrant theory. Bruce disappears a bit too readily at the first sign of the gaudy silhouette in the sky. He acquires inexplicable injuries and brushes them off with excuses bordering on ridiculous. His ward appears during one of their personal interactions with a broken arm just days after the Boy Wonder was reported to have suffered a similar injury.
Lex appeals to the scientific method with a clinical detachment bourn of severe disappointment.
Hypothesis: Bruce Wayne is the Batman of Gotham.
Experiment: Observe Bruce during a time when the Batman is under increased stress.
Method: Lex pays for the chemotherapy of an uninsured guard at Arkham Asylum, and Victor Zsasz is loosed again on the unsuspecting public. Lex tracks the movements of the former inmate while observing the behaviours of his… of Bruce.
- Bruce and his ward disappear for long absences in the evenings.
- Batman and the Boy Wonder are more frequently observed in the streets, searching out Zsasz and finding corpses which pile up with predictable alacrity.
- Bruce makes weak excuses for his absences, and always over the phone with an engine roaring in the background.
- When they finally find Zsasz, which Lex helps along with an anonymous call to the police when he deems the parameters of his experiments to be too broad in scope, Zsasz manages to slash through the Batman’s armour, through to skin. Lex watches this from a building that is close enough to allow for observation, but far enough to not draw notice.
- With Zsasz returned to Arkham, Bruce comes to Lex, triumphant, with an identical wound in his left forearm.
Conclusion: Bruce Wayne is the Batman of Gotham.
Lex is alone once more.
He has never been disappointed by the scientific method. That does not infer that he is not bitterly dissatisfied by the results.
They continue their personal interactions for another few months, content if not happy. Bruce seems pleased to have a bedmate who does not question his frequent absences, and Lex is resigned to having a person in his life who believes that an outdated form of vigilante justice is the best way to decontaminate the cesspools of humanity. Knowledge of the Waynes’ deaths is well-documented, so Lex can understand if not empathize with Bruce’s motives. Eventually, he becomes almost fond of this modernized noblesse oblige.
And then the Boy Wonder is murdered.
Two nights after the killer is back in custody, Bruce comes to Lex in violence, and Lex feigns ignorance and accepts the teeth, the rough hands, the bruises, with glee. Finally, he thinks, he’ll be proven correct about the thread-thin line between heroism and vigilantism; the naïveté that anyone can look into the abyss night after night and remain beyond its sight. Bruce’s brand is old and worn out, and it’s about time he realized it. Perhaps once he moves past it, they can become real equals.
Bruce’s knuckles are split and raw; Lex runs his tongue over them and imagines the taste of blood.
The next morning, he finds Bruce watching a shaky cellphone recording capturing the moment the Dynamic Duo became the Disenfranchised Solo Protagonist. It’s unfortunate events took place in such a public forum – they’ll likely be seeing looped .gifs of it for years to come.
This would be the moment where, if Lex were one of Bruce’s conquests, he could come clean about his knowledge and allow Bruce space to mourn as both a father and a mentor.
Lex has never been a conquest, and thus he remains silent, watching the video over and over again as Bruce loses himself in the violence of it, and the sound of demented cackling fills the apartment.
“I need to end this,” Bruce says, unwilling to look his way.
Lex is gone within the hour, the entirety of his existence in Bruce’s life packed into a single carry-on with space to spare. Bruce avoids Metropolis. Lex avoids Gotham, though he keeps abreast of The Batman’s shifting brand awareness, and feels smugly disappointed when Bruce’s acquired delight of brutality proves him right.
Until the alien.
Despite the aggressive encouragement of his corporate officials, Lex remains firmly ensconced in LexCorp HQ while Metropolis tumbles around them. He stands staring out the window as they do everything but beg to try and move him. But Lex is stone. He is granite and immovable, his eyes trained on the two would-be-gods wreaking destruction across the landscape.
Eventually, his CFO stops pleading with him in favour of evacuation, and Lex is suddenly alone. The window fogs with his breathing as he catalogues everything; every blow and the approximate force behind it. Every angle and blast radius of their superheated eye projections. Flight speed. Everything that might be accounted for save for their apparent invulnerability to harm. Not that they don’t try. Not that they couldn’t try harder.
When the dust settles—figuratively, at least, with the amount of debris in the city the literal dust would take weeks to distribute—the world is left with ‘the Question of Superman.’
And Lex is the only one who seemed to be serious in asking.
LexCorp’s R&D division has poured millions into face-recognition software; he’s pitched it as a security feature for their OS, but the sudden added utility was an unforeseen benefit. LexCorp firmware is installed in everything from bank machines to traffic cameras across the country, and he’d built in backdoor access before even setting a release date. It’s a matter of keystrokes to program it to identify certain elements – namely, the identification of anyone that might resemble the Alien. He refuses to use the moniker popularized by the Daily Planet. The Alien is not a man, nor is he ‘super.’ He is an intruder playing at heroism, and Lex refuses to validate the condescension.
What he finds, though he does not immediately find the Alien, is a host of other non-humans with remarkable abilities. His teeth grind at the review of every moment of security footage, every instance of un-humanity caught on camera and then buried. These pretenders to their shared world. These un-human beings playing at humanity. He documents every instance, and backs it with research. He can tell he’s upset someone when piddling attempts to breach his network security become par for the course. He guesses it’s either the Cyborg or the Immortal—either one would have the ability, or so he theorizes from his observations. He spends hours reviewing data, trying to find a trace of the Alien among his similarly alien company.
Ironic, then, that with all the effort put into trying to uncover the identity of the Alien that Clark Joseph Kent falls into his lap.
Mercy—newly hired and terribly efficient—announces the reporters from the Daily Planet, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, here to see him about LexCorp’s new tablet. Terribly pedestrian, based on their usual fare. They must have pissed off their editor.
Mercy shows them in when Lex nods, and in walks the Alien.
It takes a moment of blinking, a moment of refitting his perception and shifting around the paradigm to realize that he’s looking at Clark Kent, reporter, and not the Alien.
“Thank you for seeing us, Mr. Luthor,” Clark Kent says, holding out his hand.
“Pleasure,” Lex says flatly, forcing his eyes to include Lois Lane in the greeting. He claps his hands together. “You’ve come to talk about our new toy. I’m so excited.” His mouth begins operating on autopilot – specs, new features, old favourites that have been included in to the new iteration – and he has to force himself to shift his gaze between the two of them, even with the entirety of his focus on Kent. Clark Kent. The more he studies him, the more certain he is that he’s looking at the Alien. He’s not sure what prompts the certainty; perhaps because it seems to him that the behaviours he’s exhibiting – shifting in his seat, pushing his glasses up his nose – all seem to be affected rather than natural. And what sort of human must affect normal human behaviour? He doesn't display any typical signs of some high-operating spectrum that might require such affectations. It leaves few other alternatives.
“And what do you have to say about the people who have accused you of forcing out other rival technology?” Kent interrupts as Lex starts to draw to a close.
He blinks. “The same thing I say to anyone who has leveled similar accusations in the past: if rival technology is as good as ours, it wouldn’t allow itself to be forced out.” He leans forward and peers at Kent, glad to have an opportunity to address him directly. “People tout around the word ‘monopoly’ and claim that it’s a bad thing. But the honest truth is that if there were a product out there capable of being truly competitive with LexCorp technology, then it would be on the market. LexCorp doesn’t force companies out. We make superior quality material and then let the benefits speak for themselves.”
“That seems very—” Kent pauses, his head tilted jus to the side, momentarily losing focus. He snaps back to the conversation with a half-convincing fidget. “—idealistic.”
“Is it idealism to want to profit from your own genius?”
“No one’s thrown out the word ‘genius,’ Mr. Luthor,” Lane replies.
“Funny, I thought I just had.”
“I’m sorry, would you both excuse me for a moment?” Kent says, standing. “I just remembered a conflict in my calendar.”
Lex enjoys a brief flashback to his time with Bruce. What could be happening in the world, right now, that demands the Alien’s attention? Kent leaves, and he wraps up the interview with Lois Lane in less than an hour, and then takes to social media to confirm his suspicions.
A landslide in East Asia. Thousands evacuated. A death toll of less than twenty, which could have been substantially worse if not for the timely arrival of the Alien less than an hour ago.
Hypothesis: Clark Kent is the Alien.
Mercy provides him with a list of potential guests to the LexCorp Christmas Gala months in advance of the event. Barely a whisper of an idea passed his lips before she took the helm on planning and executing the event. The list itself is a work of art; it not only includes the names, but the reported income and access to liquid assets – “for the silent auction, Mr. Luthor.” He skims through it, crossing off a few names here and there, glad to see that Perry White has been included. He makes sure to add Lois Lane, but not Clark Kent. Extra incentive – his observations on their relationship haven’t allowed the formation of concrete conclusions, but she does seem to have priority whenever danger arises.
He adds a note to invite Bruce because he invites Bruce to everything. He can expect a politely worded refusal to appear in his mailbox in Alfred’s handwriting in exactly eight hours — the time it takes for a letter sent via priority courier to get to Gotham and for the reply to return when mailed less than ten minutes later.
He plans to go all out: presents for all the guests – diamond earrings for the women, cufflinks for the men. Silent auction items impossible to resist and obviously on display. Mercy hires just enough security to make it seem as though they’re trying. He makes it the most tempting society event-slash-target of the year.
And in case the event doesn’t organically attract the underbelly of Metropolis, he asks Knyazev to make arrangements himself.
“I don’t want you or your men to be there,” he explains. “Find me professionals, though. Do people like you have subcontractors?”
“I can find men,” Knyazev assures him, the roll of his eyes obvious even over the secure line.
“Use whoever you think would be best. And fund it with the Taiwan account. This can’t be traced back to me.” Lex pauses. “Make sure they know they may have to kill everyone there. Including me.”
“If we want to induce the guest of honour to make an appearance, we have to be willing to pull the trigger, and I can’t be the only man left standing.”
It seems like a good plan, until he’s staring down the barrel of a submachine gun with an empty champagne flute loosely hanging between his fingers.
Lois Lane stands defiant beside him, refusing to relinquish the rose gold tennis bracelet from around her wrist. If the men follow orders, they’re all going to be mowed down by semi-automatic gunfire, their lives the cost of denial. The security detail are all detained or bleeding out across the white tile, leaving them all helpless before the heavily-armed extremists invading the gala.
Lex has imagined his own death numerous times. The fantasies were once quite elaborate; as a child, he thought of them both as an escape and a revenge plot. Die at his father’s hands and then enjoy the beyond the grave triumph of watching his father mourn him and regret his actions. That regret would be as close to love as Lex and his father ever came, imagined though it was.
He’s thought about this moment as well; the Alien doesn’t come in time, and instead Lex is murdered alongside numerous wealthy patrons. They will speak well of him after his death, especially in such circumstances. Eventually, he’ll become a footnote in history. His Wikipedia article will put his ‘Philanthropy’ and ‘Death’ sections side-by-side in an unintentionally cautionary tale.
Now is the moment for the Alien to appear.
If he doesn’t…
The gunfire is deafening, and Lex flinches involuntarily. In the heartbeat moment when his eyes close and reopen, the Alien appears between them and the shower of bullets. Lex stares at the broad back, the metallic red cape still shifting from the inertia of his arrival. For one moment, he imagines the Alien putting himself between Lex and his father and hates him all the more.
Lois Lane breathes a sigh of relief beside him.
In moments, the Alien has swept up the hostage takers and their weapons, and directing emergency services to those who need it most. Lex can tell Lane wants to go to him, perhaps as much as he to her. Their eyes meet, flicker away and meet again. It makes the Alien seem more human. Lex despises it.
When he eventually does return, Lex has remained loyally at Lois’ side. Out of perverse curiosity, perhaps. He’s never had a conversation with the Alien.
“Seems like I should be more particular about my guest list from now on,” Lex comments off-handedly.
The Alien turns those deceptively human eyes his way. “I’m afraid you can’t always predict this sort of violence, Mr. Luthor, no matter how discerning you are.” He’s soft-spoken where Clark Kent is brash. It explains why the mask succeeds in keeping the masses fooled.
“Would we consider it violence if it was predictable? Violence requires a certain amount of chaos, I think. If it became predictable, we’d consider it part and parcel to the daily cost of living.”
“I’d hope this sort of violence never becomes the daily cost of living in Metropolis.”
“Unlike it is in the Middle East, for example?” Lex narrows his eyes as he studies the Alien up close. The human mask he wears on a daily basis is convincing when compared to the obscene figurehead standing before him. “I’m surprised you haven’t taken a more proactive approach to dealing with the violence there.”
The Alien turns away from Lane to face him fully; engaging instead of enduring Lex’s insistence. “I prefer to allow governments to address political conflict.”
“That must be convenient for you. Not so much for the civilians caught in the crossfire.”
“I—” The Alien pauses. “If I start involving myself in every conflict worldwide, I’d never be able to draw a line. Humanity must be responsible for themselves first. I just try to help where I can, while respecting political boundaries.” The Alien reads like a definitive statement from a non-profit group; bland and pleasant and not saying much at all.
“So you’ll give us the right to self-determination so long as it’s us killing each other instead of being killed by acts of God?” Lex’s mouth tugs into a close facsimile of a smile. “Doesn’t that in itself imply some affinity for godhood? Do you think of yourself as a god?”
“No one should.”
“At least we agree on something.”
Lex waves him back to Lois Lane, who is watching the exchange with discerning, calculating eyes, and moves to drop off his champagne flute on a nearby table.
Lex could arrange for the Alien to be taken out with a bullet carved from one of the green rocks recovered from alien ship wreckage across the world - the Kryptonite, as it has been dubbed - but that would prove nothing save that even God can be killed. Lex knows God can be killed. What he needs to prove is that there is no greater power than that of humanity. The Alien is anathema to humanity's progression by merit of his existence. And that means he must be destroyed by humanity.
When you are in a relationship characterized by violence, violence becomes the thing upon which you can depend. This was inherently true in his relationship with his father, his relationship with his mother and, ultimately, his relationship with Bruce. Of the three, only the lattermost proved to be mutually beneficial, and so it is to Bruce he appeals when violence must be done.
Bruce. The Batman of Gotham. The only human competent enough to prove that humanity doesn't need an Alien with pretentions towards godhood. So human, that if he is the one to destroy the alien, humanity will be able to empathize with it. They will no longer turn to the false god, but inwards instead.
He must discredit the Alien first. But that's all right: Lex has more than enough time to make it happen. He has all the time in the world.
Precision, his father's ghost whispers in his ear.
Precision, Lex reminds himself as he scribbles poison across Wallace Keefe’s stolen benefit cheques.