I. The Ballad of Reading Gaol
Alas! it is a fearful thing
To feel another's guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.
Lex was leaning on the balustrade, highlighted against the sky like a Bronte hero, watching the last of the alien ships lift beyond the clouds. As always, by the time Clark saw him, he was already posed. It was one of his more annoying habits.
The wind stole the warmth from the air and made his cape flutter nervously around his legs. He looked at the burn scars on the stone wall beside him, the crumbled bricks not ten feet from the balcony, and wondered briefly about the building's structural stability, but figured that Lex wouldn't take unnecessary risks.
Superman cleared his throat.
"If you're here to take me to prison, surely you won't begrudge the condemned man one last sunset." Lex's voice was even, but then he'd known it would be.
"The League's been in session for ten hours," he said. "Bruce and I -"
"Ah yes," Lex said, turning and resting his elbows on the stone railing behind him, "you and Bruce. Did you know that my father was nearly killed by a disgruntled employee when I was five years old? One lucky bullet, and I could have been Bruce. Do you ever think that maybe Bruce only wishes his parents were alive because they died young?" His skin was pale and smooth: milk, moon, pearls. The shrapnel wounds had faded away. Nothing since the meteor shower could touch Lex, and that was just a little too heavy-handed for Clark not to believe in fate.
All he could do was look at Lex, helplessly sorry.
"Bruce would never think something like that, though, would he?" Lex uncoiled from his relaxed posture and stalked towards Clark. A dozen stories below, people were still celebrating liberation; he could hear their laughter and shouting. There was barbecue, and beer in plastic cups. Lex had been the keystone in their victory over the Bugs, and no one denied that.
It was the other things that were problematic.
"A deal," he said, gasping the words out as if they'd stop Lex from moving forward. "You can stay in the Fortress."
Lex raised an eyebrow, actually surprised. "That would be a step up from Leavenworth. I suppose the actual analogy would be Elba. And would you be there for me, Josephine?"
"Yes," he breathed. He couldn't stop the League from breaking its word to Lex, but he could spend the rest of his life making up for it. He knew all about atonement.
"Except of course when someone else needed saving," Lex said, dismissing him. He shrugged, for a moment looking small in his trademark black coat. "But then you do get all the satellite channels, don't you? I could entertain myself." His eyes, slate-hard, slashed across Clark's face and then away.
"I assume your supercomputer knows better than to let me use the Fortress's more interesting toys. But how would you get me to stay in the Fortress? Does the Justice League propose to trust the word of a Luthor?"
Clark couldn't say anything.
"An implant, then. Perhaps a bracelet, or a ... collar." Lex was moving around him now, at the edges of his peripheral vision. "Would you like that?" His breath was hot and moist in Clark's ear. "To bell the cat?"
"Curiousity killed the cat," Clark said, for no reason other than that he couldn't think when Lex was slinking around him like this.
"Satisfaction brought him back." Lex's voice was mild but still far, far too close and nowhere close enough. His hand stroked Clark's back through layers of invulnerable fabric. "We might satisfy each other. And you'd have me on hand, in case something happened that required my -- unique talents."
"You could have a lab," Clark said, already calculating how to make it safe. Lex was standing behind him now, his hand moving over Clark's shoulder, sliding down, pulling Clark against him. His exhalations raised the fine hairs on the back of Clark's neck.
Lex tried to slip his hand under Clark's belt, but the suit didn't allow that kind of access. He gave up and just rubbed over the surface of the suit, over Clark's hardening cock. They'd been together all of twice since Clark had convinced the League to ally with Lex's forces (and Clark had never been more grateful for Lex's obsession with secrecy, because his Leaguemates never would have listened if they'd known what the two of them used to do back in Kansas), and he was desperate for more.
"I'd rather be dumped in the exercise yard at Supermax with a tattoo saying `child molester.'"
Lex's tone was seductive enough that it took Clark a few moments to process. And a few more to realize that he really ought to step away from the handjob if he planned to discuss this like an adult.
"Why not?" Clark managed to turn around and step backwards, and crossed his arms over his chest in good Superman form. The erection clashed with the image, but the stance still helped.
Lex laughed, a harsh sound over the distant cheers. "No human's ever built a prison that could hold me, and you ask why I don't want to be locked up in your Fortress?"
"It doesn't have to be like a prison, Lex."
"It couldn't be anything else. Exactly how long do you think you'd want me if I weren't dangerous? God knows you tried hard enough with that Lane woman -"
Lex's shirt was expensive enough that the thick Egyptian cotton didn't tear when Clark hoisted him up by his collar. "Don't you say her name."
He got a shark's grin in return. "That's my Superman."
Disgusted and unsure with whom, he let Lex fall. Lex was straightening his shirt before he'd fully recovered his breath.
"Why does it have to be like this?" If he could have, he would have asked his mother, but neither Martha nor Lara were available, and it did him no good whatsoever to make himself lonely and miserable in the middle of fighting with Lex.
Lex cocked his head and looked at him, taking him seriously for once. "You're not one of us. You shouldn't be interfering. And I was meant to rule, by any means necessary. You're the only thing I love, and the only thing standing in my way."
He ignored the part about love and focused on the part he knew was false. "The League -"
"Listened to you, when you said I was dangerous." Clark felt his stern expression slip. "What, you thought I didn't know? I was going to be president, and suddenly I was a fugitive from justice, a damn warlord hiding out in Colombia. Going months without speaking a word of English, shooting men in the face to prove I'd do it. But you weren't satisfied with making me an outlaw, were you? The League didn't go after any of my competitors, and so it was a good thing I was already twice as ruthless as anybody else. You didn't make me a gangster, Clark, but you sure as hell ripped off the pretty facade. And you know what? Half the world likes it better that way. Even when they call it democracy, they want a man who rules with his fist."
Lex was breathing hard by the end of the speech, which would have been a screaming fit in any other man.
"You could be so much more," he said. Maybe he was just saying it to himself, to the Lex of his memory, smiling up at him from the rumpled bed and saying he didn't have to go, his parents would survive another hour without him.
"Not anymore." It was the same face, unlined, probably another of Krypton's tainted gifts. He remembered how it was when the sight of him could make Lex's lips quirk in the slightest smile, how the room seemed to heat up and the air get heavier when they were together. The sharp-sour taste of the sweat over Lex's collarbones, the satiny feel of his thighs as they wrapped around Clark's waist.
Lex would never say, if you loved me you'd let me go. Never even think it. He knew that love was no excuse and no path to redemption.
They stared at each other, and the sun was behind Lex's shoulder now, darkening his face and outlining the edges of his coat in fire.
Clark wasn't sure who'd moved first, but they were twined like vines around each other, kissing as if they'd invented it. His hand dragged over the bare skin covering Lex's skull, feeling the wind-cooled flesh move over the bone. Lex would be happy, in his way, if Clark could snap his neck like this, but it was another thing he'd never ask for and Clark would never give.
The setting sun glowed red through his closed eyelids, and he shook under Lex's hands. Lex's fingers, artificial and real, running through his hair, ruining his careful, controlled style. Kissing like it was the last time, and they'd always kissed that way so it didn't have to mean anything.
"Federal marshals are on their way," he said, gulping air, when their mouths finally parted enough to allow him to speak.
He could feel Lex's smile against his lips. "Your doing, or that of the estimable Mr. Wayne?"
"Bruce told me you wouldn't agree to the Fortress." Lex's body was warm and solid against his, whippet-thin and strong after years on the run. He couldn't stop his hands from moving over Lex's shoulders, down his back, tracing angel's wings.
"He's a wise man. It's a pity it wasn't Bruce's car that crashed into you all those years ago." It was nothing but truth. Bruce's darkness could have been enough for Clark, could have challenged him and forced him to decide that methods mattered as much as ends. If Clark hadn't already known Lex.
Clark tilted his head, not sure what to say, and decided just to kiss Lex again. As Lex cupped his neck and sighed into his mouth, he felt a sharp sting at the base of his neck, and the agony of Kryptonite radiated out like an deadly flower unfolding.
Staggering back, he clapped a hand to his neck and stared uncomprehendingly at his own blood. The Kryptonite continued its journey through his bloodstream, driving him to his knees. When he looked up, Lex was looking back down at him curiously and using a handkerchief to clean the watch his mother had given him.
Obviously, there had been some modifications since Lex explained the watch's provenance. A replacement for the mockery that had been the Kryptonite ring.
The roaring in his ears proved not to be Kryptonite-induced, but an actual helicopter, rising just above the level of the balcony. A stocky blond man leaned out and yelled at Lex to get in, in Ukrainian-accented Russian.
It felt as if someone had set off a grenade in his chest, but years of experience allowed him to tell that it wasn't going to get any worse. Deliberately calculated, or just a function of the maximum amount of lead-lined Kryptonite Lex could store in a watch? Lex would swear the latter and want him to believe the former.
Turning, Lex vaulted onto the balcony and reached his black-gloved hand to the man in the helicopter. Clark squinted up into the backwash, trying to regain his footing. "I'm going to come after you!" he yelled. Lex looked back, his expression clearly indicating that he knew Superman's intent full well and thought it rather unnecessary to shout. He jumped into the helicopter, which immediately swerved away, heading out of the city.
Well, and hadn't he known Lex would slip away from him? Like a compulsive gambler, rolling the dice one more time even though the house always wins. Bruce was right: he ought to let someone else take care of Lex. Let Lex have his little victory in that, and win in all else.
Blinking into the wind that whipped his tears away, watching the sunset paint the sky with blood, he knew where his duty lay.
II. Oh Who Is That Young Sinner with the Handcuffs on His Wrists?
Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade; But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare, And they're haling him to justice for the colour of his hair.
Hope's voice brought him immediately to full awareness.
"What?" He was already slipping into his pants, because Hope didn't raise false alarms.
"We've intercepted communications from the police. Federal marshals are coming with a warrant for your arrest and for a total search of the premises."
"We'll take the helicopters, and then blow the labs five minutes before they get here."
Hope nodded briskly.
"Where's -?" That Hope, the paragon of efficiency, the mortal enemy of wasted movement, took the time to give him a sympathetic look was all the answer he needed. He felt his face twist, but he had no idea what expression it was showing.
"Then we'll blow the labs as soon as we're in the air." Clark would go in fast and first, and there couldn't be anything left for him, or for the feds.
Lex stuffed his feet into the nearest pair of shoes, grabbed up his discarded shirt, and put his mother's watch in his pocket. He didn't have time to get rid of the ring Clark had given him for their five-year anniversary, and leaving it behind would be criminally unsubtle.
He'd think of something to do with it, though.
Running, letting the leaves slap into his face, following Hope as she plowed through endangered and uncataloged species. President Diaz would have something to say in the U.N. tomorrow about national sovereignity, but that wouldn't help Lex outrun Green Lantern and his borrowed Army grunts.
The hot, wet air struggled against him as he trotted forward. The weapons cache was probably safe from the League's prying sensors. The men - well, the ones who made it would still follow orders, and that was really all that he required.
Down among the trees and vines, he couldn't smell a thousand acres of poppies burning, dooming hundreds of his people to starvation, displacement, prostitution, all the things that happen when your livelihood happens to conflict with someone else's idea of law. The Americans were always so confused when other people didn't like them - forget that Lex had built more churches than the Pope, more hospitals and schools and playgrounds than the government had managed in a hundred years. It was with drug money and so it shouldn't count, right?
Having the U.S. as your enemy was on occasion better than having it as your friend, albeit damned inconvenient at times like this.
He could move some of his people to the plantations on the other side of the mountains, where even costumed superheroes feared to tread, float or apparate. The soil was already under significant pressure, though.
The new fertilizer was just going to have to get a promotion from almost ready to ready. He wondered what those supercilious aliens of the League would think if they knew that America's megafarmers, paying for his patented innovations, were the source of his legitimate capital.
When Lex Luthor said "Earth for Earth," he was serious about it.
Superman's face was covered with grime, and he let the door fall to the floor in front of him. "Your soldiers don't respect a flag of truce."
Lex stayed seated behind his desk, and waved a hand to keep Mercy from going for the defense of last resort. "Most of my soldiers can't recognize a flag of truce, and half of them think that white is the color of death." Oh, and he did enjoy that look on Clark's face when he realized that there were cultures and moralities in between Kansas and Krypton.
Still, Superman had a mission, and he launched right into it. "We want an alliance."
"You want my men to die to protect the wealth of America and Europe."
Superman narrowed his eyes. "Was Bombay a wealthy city? Was Mexico City?"
"Well, from my perspective, yes, actually."
"When they're done with the First World, they're coming after the rest."
As if that were some kind of bulletin. Lex was fully aware of the danger in this game. Putting up just enough resistance that the Bugs would try to smash the better-armed, population-dense developed nations first, letting the Bugs weaken themselves against America and its protectors, and vice versa, required an exact sense of timing and an extreme tolerance for risk.
"What do I get out of the deal? I somehow doubt that your beloved adoptive homeland is going to be anxious to fund development projects in Bangladesh before it rebuilds the Golden Gate Bridge."
Clark - Superman, he reminded himself viciously - pulled a sheaf of papers from somewhere and held them out. "Legitimacy. Recognition as the chosen leader of the Developing Nations."
Chosen. He allowed himself a chuckle, bringing his living fingers to his cheek as if he were considering. It was true, if you counted choices made at gunpoint. He had a feeling that the members of the Justice League didn't.
"Kill one man and you're a murderer. Kill a million, and you're a general. But you know what I am, don't you, Superman?"
In reply, Superman only crossed his arms over his chest in the posture Lex privately thought of as his "you're about one millimeter away from being grounded, young man" stance.
The question was, would the League break a promise to a ruthless dictator? A freak whose ascension to power was just another version of imperialism, who'd faced substantial (if minority) indigenous opposition throughout his lands before the invasion? This was a case in which asking the question got a long way towards the answer.
Still, he'd known it was almost time to take sides for a few months now. Try as they might, the Americans and their pet aliens were just holding on. They hadn't made any attempts on the Bug ships in several months, and they hadn't liberated a work camp for nearly five. No one knew how long it took for Bugs to breed (or make, or bud, or however it was done) more Bugs, but when that started happening, the Americans would be overrun.
"A real United Nations," he said. "The United States signs the global warming treaty - not as traumatic as it used to be, considering the state of the infrastructure - and all other treaties to which three-fourths of the nations have already adhered. IMF debt forgiven in its entirety. Joint military command to be given to me, with the Justice League in an advisory capacity only."
Superman opened his mouth, looking peeved, and then paused as he realized that they were in negotiations, which was his victory. He smiled, and for a second he was a beautiful boy and the only problem in the world was how they were going to avoid fatherly detection.
Lex pushed the memories aside and stared hard, fixing the image of the alien and his stupid costume in his mind. He wasn't going to give any ground just because - He wasn't going to give up any advantage he could squeeze out of the League and the scared countries huddled behind it like children who'd never learned that life could be cruel.
The floor shook and Lex could hear the distant whoomph of buildings collapsing. It was late to be wondering who'd betrayed them to the Bugs, so he simply snatched up his firearm and followed Hope into the hallway. Lights flickered, turning the run into a series of images, surprised and fearful faces, people looking to him for answers.
"Bunker or flyer?" she asked at the stairwell that would take them up or down, depending.
He jerked his head up, and she squared her shoulders and began taking the steps two at a time.
Gunfire and screaming in the distance. The Bugs never made a sound that the human ear could hear. He wondered whether the people dying to cover his retreat were his, or someone else's.
Hope kicked open the door at the top of the stairs and they were out on the roof, tarry gravel under his feet. The mini-copter's rotors were already spinning. Bo Mya was in the pilot's seat, grinning in the way that only a man driven crazy by combat can. Hope grabbed a rocket launcher from inside the copter and positioned herself at its open door.
"Come on," Mya called. Lex paused, thinking that he should really make Mya get rid of his KNU uniform now that the Karen rebellion was a moot point, and jumped in. He could see the shells whistling through the air - the antiaircraft guns were giving as good as they got - as the area filled up with smoke and fire.
"Where to, boss?" Hope asked as soon as they'd gotten their headsets on.
"League HQ." It was the most secure place, for now, and as soon as the war was over it would be about as safe as a den of scorpions. Hope frowned and shook her head so that the beads on her braids rattled, but she didn't dispute his order, not in front of other people.
Superman showed him the layout, introducing him to various people to whom he could give orders. They obviously worshiped Superman, but Batman was the one Clark saved for last. Clark was the symbol. Batman was the leader, the one who could make the tough calls. Lex appreciated that; the comfort of following orders spared Clark part of the pain when people died, unrescued, somewhere else.
When they reached the central command center, Clark took him around all the consoles and introduced him to all the techs before bringing him to the caped figure standing like a statue in the middle of the room.
Clark cleared his throat and bravely commenced the formalities. "Batman, this is Lex Luthor."
Lex stuck out his hand. "Hello, Bruce."
The mask couldn't hide Bruce's surprised blink.
"Oh, come on," he said. "We built the prototype for the Batmobile when we were fifteen. If you didn't want me to know, you should have changed the engine specs."
Beside him, he could feel Clark trying not to grin. Failing miserably, if Bruce's eyes were anything to go by.
"Supermen who don't use masks shouldn't wear smirks," he said, and Clark iced up, moving several inches further away. "You clowns are just lucky I have some fashion sense and didn't get my own skin-tight costume when all my acquaintances were doing it."
Bruce brought his hands up, clasping Lex's still outstretched hand between hard leather gloves. "Lex," he said. "It hasn't been long enough."
"I missed you too."
Someone had sent him a bottle of real scotch, not top-quality but better than he'd had since a few weeks after the invasion. He suspected Bruce; Clark wouldn't have thought it that important. Mercy, already thoroughly familiar with the layout of the encampment, procured an ancient set of highball glasses.
He only needed one.
It wasn't surprising when the intercom buzzer sounded and Mercy announced that Batman wanted to see him. "Send him in," he said and poured another glass of scotch for his guest.
Bruce was still wearing his ridiculous getup; he supposed that it was full-time now. At the beginning, Bruce probably hoped to have a sybaritic lifestyle to return to, a cover story. Over time, it must have become permanent. People expected the Batman, not a human being.
Lex held out the glass to Bruce, who took it without comment. While Lex sat back in his chair, Bruce pulled another much-abused folding chair beside the desk and sat. He was perfectly still, holding his drink and watching Lex.
"I was sorry to hear about Alfred."
"I thought those lilies might have been from you." Bruce put his glass to his lips to fake a sip. Years of playboy subterfuge couldn't easily be put aside, and he suspected that Bruce's alcohol tolerance was substantially less than his. Bruce didn't have the benefit of an amazing meteor-mutated liver, after all.
Lex continued without confirming or denying. "Selina?"
"Died blowing up the Gotham base."
"My condolences. Dick?"
"With the commandos in Eastern Europe."
"Good training. He'll be ready for his own city when this is all over."
"You're that confident." Bruce's voice was flat.
It must have been hard for Bruce, never to be allowed to despair. Knowing that a moment's hesitation would infect all those relying upon him, like a single widening crack in a mighty dam. "Of course. You'll have the plan in the morning."
This time, Bruce really did drink.
"How did Lois Lane die?" His tone was careful enough that Bruce might think it only information-gathering on the enemy.
"She was a lot like you, if you'd been a writer instead of a scientist. Never let anyone get away with anything. Dark sense of humor, not what you'd think Clark would want." An answer to the question underneath his question; he had to remember that Bruce was probably his equal at mind-games.
He refilled his glass, and they sat in silence for a while.
"Lois never liked me," Bruce finally offered, taking another real drink.
"Can't imagine why, other than that you're a violent lunatic in love with her husband. Trivial things like that are so important to women."
"Is it that obvious?"
"No." Not if you didn't see the stunned, helpless look in your own eyes in the mirror every day. Bruce was studying him, and he'd be shocked if Bruce hadn't figured out that the modern Hercules was his Achilles' heel.
"You and I, we could have -"
"No. I never wanted justice for my father. I wanted him to lose, that's all." He took another gulp of scotch.
"No, I suppose not." Bruce looked down at his hands. "Just -"
The buzzer sounded, and Bruce pulled away. Lex hadn't even noticed him getting close. "Yes?" he said, annoyed, as he hit the intercom button.
"Superman to see you." Mercy's voice was either disgusted or amused. It was hard to tell.
"I'll go," Bruce said, rising, and Lex wished very much that he wanted Bruce to stay.
"Until tomorrow, then," he said and raised his glass to Bruce, finishing the alcohol with one swallow as Bruce waited for Clark to enter and then swept out, closing the door behind him.
Lex was refilling his glass when he felt Clark's presence just over his shoulder.
"Lex." He wouldn't turn. He put the bottle back on the shelf, thinking that he'd never appreciated LuthorCorp's offices until he was reduced to using bare metal and wood.
He picked up his glass with his true hand. "What do you want?"
Clark's hand closed over his and used the leverage to spin him around. Caught between Clark's hand and body-warmed glass, Lex's hand hurt, but not enough to break his concentration.
"What I've always wanted."
Now would be a bad time to bring up the Rolling Stones, though he was sorely tempted. "It never existed, Clark."
Clark's fingers flexed. Glass shards, scotch and blood dripped down his wrist and onto the floor. He could feel a large fragment pressing along his lifeline. "You never did give me enough credit for realism." The hand surrounding his tightened further, and he couldn't control his indrawn breath. Clark's eyes were every color he'd ever dreamed.
When Clark released him, he actually staggered. But possibly that was just Clark's hands on him, tearing at his clothes at the speed of thought. After glancing at his hand - looking for stray embedded glass - Clark pushed his shoulders down, and he went willingly, bracing both hands against his desk.
He never knew exactly how Clark got out of the suit, or really any of the logistics of the encounter, but Clark's fingers were wet and blunt against him, and he gasped and threw his head back.
Clark fucked him for what seemed like days, ungentle, muttering something about whether this was enough for Lex, enough, enough. He still had perfect timing, his hand moving on Lex's cock just when it was most needed. The orgasm left Lex collapsed to his elbows, panting long breaths that sounded too much like sobs. Clark reached around Lex's hips and turned two handfuls of desk into dust as he followed.
Clark's head dropped against Lex's shoulder, and for a moment they could have been anywhere, some unused room at the plant or the Talon's back office, with Clark's breath hot in his ear, Clark's sweat burning along his skin.
"I -" he said and was spun around to be silenced by Clark's mouth. The taste was just the same, human, as was only to be expected from a human diet. Still, he would have known that mouth even if he were deaf and blind. He ran his hand up Clark's throat and into his hair, taking pleasure in the way that the clotting blood stuck to Clark's impenetrable skin.
"Patrol," Clark said when he broke away, and Lex blinked up at him, confused. "I, uh, have to patrol."
"Of course." It wasn't Earth's fault that it was under attack, though he always wondered whether the presence of one alien had drawn the others to this ripe juicy plum of a world. He bent to get dressed, and then picked up a pen as if to go back to work.
There was a bloody handprint on one set of the papers on the desk. "Here," he said, holding them out to Clark, who hadn't left yet but wasn't looking at him.
"What's that?" Clark's dubious tone had stopped being infuriating a few decades back, after he'd broken himself of the habit of wanting to hear something different.
"D-day plans. Might as well take it; it's your copy."
Clark's face twisted, but he snatched the papers from Lex's hand and stalked out.
Lex sat down and thought about what remained to be done. "Good luck," he mouthed, but he didn't say it, since Superman's hearing could be unfortunately acute.
III. How Soft This Prison Is
Of Fate if this is All Has he no added Realm A Dungeon but a Kinsman is Incarceration -- Home.
He'd been sitting in the same position for hours, and even Kryptonian flesh was not immune to the occasional cramp. Minor stretching was possible, but he wanted to be right there when Lex woke up.
Not to mention that he wanted to get in some peaceful Lex-watching, a privilege he'd been denied lo these many years.
As the AI had predicted, the sedative wore off about eight hours after dosing, and Lex's eyes fluttered rapidly as he returned to consciousness and sat straight up, barely noticing the sheet sliding off his lap. He didn't speak, but his head whipped around until he found Clark.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," he said, and only Clark's encyclopedic knowledge of Lex let him detect the tremor at the bottom of the words.
"We've never met like this before," Clark replied as Lex swung his legs over the side of the bed, casually arranging the sheet as if it were a bespoke suit he'd just donned.
"How long have I been here?"
"Just a night. I had to knock you out for the surgery, but don't worry, I used drugs, so there's no new concussion."
Lex's scowl suggested that concussion wasn't even at the bottom of the long list of things about which he worried.
"As you suggested a few years ago, there's an implant to track your presence. There are also two shaped charges designed to go off if you get more than 400 meters from the Fortress without my direct authorization."
"Two?" Lex asked, as if checking on the weather.
"One for each knee." Lex would risk death -- hell, Lex would court, seduce and cheat on death -- but he was unlikely to risk life as a cripple. When Lex swallowed and looked away from Clark's face, Clark knew that he'd come to the same conclusion.
"There is a lab. With Internet access, though it all goes through the AI first. It's pretty good at detecting coded messages, just so you know." The AI would also stop Lex from making anything with which he could kill himself -- not by barring him from potentially deadly chemicals, because it was hard to find a nondangerous substance even if your scientist wasn't a criminal mastermind. Back in Smallville, Lex had once shown him how to blow up a building with a bag of flour. The AI would manipulate the materials for Lex, never allowing him to touch them or even be in the same room. Clark figured that Lex didn't need to hear the details from him.
"I didn't think you'd actually do it," Lex said at last, still looking over Clark's shoulder. "Did Hope and Mercy survive the crash?"
"Yeah." Mercy would need physical therapy, for sure, but he'd been able to grab Hope from beside Lex and take her out before the car hit the edge of the road. He ought to send Mercy flowers.
"Do you always wear the uniform when you're in the Fortress, or just when you have company?"
He could have been conducting a job interview for all the color in his voice. Actually, in a job interview, he was more likely to be intense, low and gravelly-voiced so that the interviewee would lean forward to be closer, to hear more. This Lex had all the passion of Peter Jennings.
Clark shook his head. "I can change if you want."
"Can you." Lex stared at him, his eyes Confederate gray in the Fortress's harsh white light. "No, don't bother. Let's just fuck."
He jerked away, his hands twisting on his knees. "What?"
"That is why I'm here, correct?"
"You're an internationally wanted criminal," Clark said as patiently as he could.
"And yet somehow this isn't The Hague, or any other court of which I'm aware. I'm also sure you could have found an out-of-the way asteroid on which to strand me, which implies that your reasons for bringing me here are more personal than public-safety-oriented."
Okay, this was silly. Lex didn't have the moral high ground. Lex didn't even have the moral bog; he'd gone beneath that years ago. "You were the one who always said the personal is political."
"I'm not quite sure this is what the feminist movement had in mind. To return to the point," he said, flipping off the sheet and splaying his legs, "you obviously brought me here to play house, and since my domestic skills are pretty much limited to the bedroom ...."
Clark blushed and turned away. "I'll show you to your room." He really needed some time to ramp back up to dealing with Lex. Nobody else was half as confusing.
Lex, of course, didn't take the sheet, just followed Clark out of the little medical room and down the glossy white halls to the room he'd had the AI create, right next to Clark's. There was a huge bed to accommodate Lex's thrashing, a closet full of plain but well-made shirts and pants, and a computer terminal slaved to the AI. The bookshelves were almost empty, though he fully expected Lex to fill them over time.
Muscles shifting under pale skin, Lex sauntered over to the one occupied shelf. "Poetry, Clark?"
"It's helped me understand some things," he said, knowing he'd never be able to explain coherently how the words could slide over him like soothing ice, reordering the chaos of his tragedy-numbed brain.
"'Malt does more than Milton can to justify God's ways to man.'"
"The real problem is justifying man's ways to God, you know."
Lex turned to face him fully, and Clark resolutely kept his eyes up. "Is that a bit of disillusionment I hear from America's favorite Eagle Scout?"
Typical. Lex wanted to prod and poke and annoy, because that distracted him from the long-term implications of his situation. Clark could wait him out. "Your self-image is just way too bound up in playing Satan to my Jehovah, Lex."
"Nonsense, you're the fallen angel." But Lex looked away, running his fingers over the spines of the books.
"I've got to go out," Clark said after a minute of watching Lex hold himself still, as if he feared he might explode like nitroglycerin if he moved. "Why don't you try to get settled in?"
"Yes, I've got so much baggage to unpack."
Practically a wagon train, Clark thought, but closed his mouth over the words.
"Later, Lex," he said and left the room.
When he returned from patrolling, after a long day highlighted by a volcano, a flood in Bangladesh, an oil spill off the coast of Portugal, a short stop to retrieve a keepsake, and a bomb in the House of Lords, there was a message from Bruce with an attached video clip. He pulled it up, and watched CNN footage of Lex's stronghold. "Sources confirm that, hours ago, Lex Luthor sent a message to his top aides: he's been kidnapped by members of the Justice League, acting without sanction from the United Nations," the bland announcer narrated. "The pro tem president of the Federated Bloc has filed a formal protest, and has threatened retaliation against the United States, where the Justice League is based."
Bruce picked up the vidphone on the third ring.
"I'll handle it," he said immediately.
"'Handling it' does not include letting Luthor rule his empire from inside the Fortress," Bruce growled.
"I said, I'll handle it."
"It's not going to work. You should bring him to the League --"
"Don't isolate yourself from us on this."
"Or what? You'll storm the Fortress to get him?"
Bruce's square jaw seemed to grow impossibly firmer. "I don't want it to come to that."
He felt his own face growing harder. "But you'd let it, you're saying. You think I don't know you've got nearly as much Kryptonite squirreled away as Lex ever did? What kind of files do you have on Wally and Diana's weaknesses? I wonder how they'd feel if they found out about those."
"Is that a threat?" Bruce leaned forward, his image filling the screen.
"I'm not going to make it that easy for you, Bruce. But you should think about this: The last time Lex and I were on the same side, we repelled an interstellar invasion. Don't convince me he's the lesser of two evils."
"The fact that you can even think about equating the League with that dictator --"
"I'm not," he said, softly enough that Bruce was taken aback. "I'm just telling you. I gave him up when I was just a kid and I didn't know how to deal with what he was becoming. It's my fault. My responsibility. I'm not running away any more." If the United Nations asked to try Lex for his crimes, it was possible he'd comply. But the League had no better claim to regulate human behavior than he did -- and Lex, whatever had happened, was only human.
"Clark --" Bruce hesitated, as if realizing that he was far from being the man who could talk about lack of responsibility for others' fates. "If this continues, we'll have to do something."
"Be careful," Bruce said and disconnected.
Clark hung his head and went to find Lex, who was sitting at his terminal, playing with what looked like a model of a strand of mRNA. Mercifully, he'd gotten dressed.
Lex looked up and grinned. "Busy day, honey?"
"Here," he said and tossed Lex the thing he'd braved Lex's compound to find.
Lex caught the ring out of the air with a slick economy of motion, and took a moment to realize what he was holding. He flushed, embarrassed to be caught at such a rank display of sentimentality.
Clark was kind, and gave Lex something to talk about. "I liked the diamonds better." He'd spent nearly a week watching gem cutters at work before he was confident enough to try using his heat vision to carve the lumps he'd created out of loose coal. The five diamonds probably wouldn't have impressed De Beers, but they'd sparkled nonetheless.
"I liked the Kryptonite better." The five meteor fragments, he surmised, had been replaced by emeralds after Lex learned that cancer was taking his hand. Despite his tone, Lex didn't throw the ring away or even put it down on the desk, instead turning it between his fingers. It was a start; someday he'd wear it again.
"I just saw the news. How did you send the message, Lex?"
"The Evil Overlord is only supposed to reveal the secrets of his success when he thinks he's about to win, Clark. As your prisoner, I just don't feel comfortable -"
He stopped as Clark dragged him from the chair and pushed him up against the wall, holding him far enough up that Lex was on his tiptoes.
"You know, domestic abuse is a crime."
Clark's fingers tightened involuntarily and Lex gasped, flushing pink. The hell of it was that Lex was right. But it was too late; he was already shaped around Lex's damage. "It's a good thing you're a criminal."
Proximity made his anger diffuse and unfocused. He kissed Lex, using teeth, scraping from Lex's jaw to the tendons of his neck.
There was a soft sound as the ring fell to the floor.
Lex shuddered and ripped at his own shirt, loosing and losing buttons in his haste. "Take off that circus outfit," he ordered, and when Clark pulled back to comply, he leaned back against the wall and watched as if he'd just paid for a striptease.
Clark eyed his pants significantly, and Lex smirked and dropped them. He didn't get a chance to step out of them, though, because Clark was on his knees, burying his nose in the crease between Lex's thigh and groin, rubbing his cheek against Lex's hardening length. When Lex growled, Clark moved and began to suck his cock.
"I set up a website years ago," Lex gasped, rocking his hips until Clark's hands stilled them. "Just type in the right IP address and subfile, and the appropriate message gets sent."
He pulled back, letting Lex's cock bob in the open air. "I guess I'm going to have to limit your access."
Lex's human hand fisted in his hair, urging him back. "You think that'll work? You think I can't do what I want even if you limit me to fucking AOL?"
In lieu of a reply, Clark bent his head to take Lex back inside, rubbing his fingers across the new bruises he'd made.
"I've been thinking about this for years," Lex continued, and Clark wondered if even Lex knew the referent. "I can outthink your precious AI every day and twice on Sundays."
Annoyed, Clark pulled away again. "Funny how you say that from your prison in the Fortress."
"Funny how you're sucking my dick."
That could be remedied. He stood and dragged Lex over to the bed, pushing him over on his back and superspeeding for the lube.
"The AI gets to watch this, too, to further its knowledge of human-alien interactions?"
Clark didn't dignify that with a reply, just slicked his fingers and rammed into Lex, whose hiss went from his ears straight to his cock. Pressing Lex's legs up into his chest, Clark jerked his wet hand around his erection a few times and then thrust home.
He couldn't tell who was groaning louder.
"All I have to do," he panted, staring into Lex's eyes, "is keep you here long enough for the power struggles to start. If I let you go a year from now, too many people will have reasons to want you to stay gone."
The look on Lex's face told him he'd scored a palpable hit. Clark wrenched Lex's wrists over his head, stretching enough to make him arch into Clark's touch. There was blood on Lex's mouth where he'd bitten deep into his own lip.
"All I have to do," Lex gritted out, grinding against him, "is become a martyr. You know as well as I do that I'll be a legend. How's it going to feel, wearing the black hat for a change?"
"I don't know," he admitted, feeling the tingling at the base of his spine that presaged orgasm. "But I guess I'm going to rely on your advice." He released Lex's wrists to hold his face, forcing Lex to look at him. Something in his expression managed to surprise Lex, who opened his mouth but couldn't say anything before the orgasm knocked Clark over like a two-by-four made of Kryptonite.
After a hazy eternity, he rolled off of Lex. "Haven't you forgotten something?" Lex grumbled, turning to press his still-prominent erection against Clark's side.
"Not enough," he murmured, but scooted down to finish what he'd started. The taste, the smell, the poreless glory of Lex's porcelain skin, it was everything he'd craved for years. Above him, Lex was whimpering, his nails finding no purchase on Clark's shoulders, his breath harsh and pure.
He could do this, he thought as Lex filled his mouth with bitterness and salt.
He pretty much had to. The League wanted Lex dead, and that was not acceptable. Lex was adaptable, and could be kept busy. He'd return to the science that should have been his first love, and almost was even with Lionel's cruel pruning and training. Thanks to the meteor shower, he'd live a long time, maybe as long as Clark himself. And he'd be there every night when Clark returned, his attention no longer divided between Clark and his schemes.
It was going to be perfect. Lex would see reason.
It wasn't as if he'd have a choice.
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