Lex had no idea how, but Clark had figured it out, and it was like a blow to the solar plexus that stole all his air and left him weak kneed and shaken. Clark’s implacable grip on his jaw was likely a major contributor to his not sliding down the wall.
“I can explain – -” he gasped, first instinct – – always first instinct – – to try and talk his way out of a troublesome situation.
“You’re not even – – you,” Clark snarled, voice laced with the very sort of confused frustration with which Lex was intimately familiar. “You’re not – – him, are you? Tell me the truth!”
Clark gave him a little shake.
“Technically – – technically – -” his voice rose in pitch as Clark’s grip tightened and his hands rose again, instinctively to Clark’s arm. “I’m not the Lex Luthor born of Lionel and Lillian – -but I am Lex Luthor.”
Clark stared at him, wide, green eyes glittering with the sting of betrayal, as if Lex had perpetrated this just to fuck with him. Which, honestly, might have been the case, considering the state of his mind before the original him had been killed.
“You’re a clone,” Clark said dully, and released his grip, stepping back as if Lex had developed an intolerable stench.
Lex swallowed, feeling the panic start to rise, trying to quench it, pressing his back to the wall because it was easier than trusting his legs to support him.
“I am. And if I had individual experiences and memories I would be intrinsically different than the original – -but I don’t. Its all here, Clark,” he tapped the side of his head. “Every memory, every feeling, every fucked up decision I ever made – – every good one. And I’ve looked for blank spots or frayed edges and I can’t find them. Perfect transfer. I don’t even know how I – – how he – -did it. The technology wasn’t that advanced a year ago. We could imprint parts of an existing persona – – but the whole thing was beyond us – – but I then I doubt I’d have settled for anything less – – so there had to have been a breakthrough – -”
He was rambling. He knew it and couldn’t quite stop his mouth from spewing the thoughts as they hit his brain. And Clark was staring at him still like he was a sideshow freak – – as if Clark had the right. The towel around his hips was sliding a bit and he caught it, snapping his mouth shut and lifting his chin. Despicable position to be in – – weak all around.
“Fuck you,” he said finally, defensiveness starting to creep in. “Like you have the right to condemn anyone for concealing basic point of origin facts.”
“You’ve been playing me,” Clark shot back, ever defensive himself when it came to his lifetime of lies.
“How?” Lex cried. “Was it all some big ploy to raid your fucking wardrobe? Is being number one on Tess Mercer’s hit list a stepping-stone to greater things? What fucking game am I playing other than trying to stay alive?”
Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. “You were the one that went after Tess. You were trying to kill her when her security chased you off.”
Lex blinked at him. Obviously he had been talking to the wrong people. Either Tess herself or Oliver Queen, both of whom could twist a story to their own benefit no less skillfully than Lex himself.
“She’s a lying bitch. I went there to confront her – – I’d just discovered she’d sold me out – – I had no idea – – I’d woken up in a warehouse lab that was under attack – – I had no idea where I was or why – – no idea I was anything other than – – me – – no memory of the last year at all – – I ran. I figured out pretty damn quickly that she’d raided every resource I had, declared me dead, sold me out to Oliver Queen – – it never even occurred to me I wasn’t – – ” He drew in a much needed breath, the oddest blur obscuring his vision.
“I swear to God, I didn’t go there with the intention of killing her. She’s the one that set her men on me.”
“You had a gun.”
“Yeah, that I got off one of her goons. Did I leave a trail of dead bodies?”
“Lex would have,” Clark said coldly and that hit an open wound. Gouged something already painful and inflamed.
“Yeah – -I suppose you’ve got a point. I left a lot of casualties in my wake, didn’t I? A lot of people dead or destroyed that didn’t have to be.”
The faces wafted behind his eyes, the innocents, the not-so innocents, the acceptable losses that had been less than statistics on a sheet of paper to him. His father’s eyes, shocked wide as he fell – – He sank down the wall, digging knuckles into his eyes. Tired. Just damned tired of the emotional rollercoaster than he couldn’t seem to get off. The cold pragmatism of a mind that had lost its empathy seemed not so bad a thing at the moment.
“I can’t help what I am. I can’t help what I was. You can believe this or not, but something was – – skewed – – Clark. Fucked up beyond a genetic tendency towards mental instability. Between my father’s electroshock parenting methods and your brethren fucking around inside my head it’s a wonder I was functional at all.”
Clark frowned, chewing on that, then his eyes widened a bit and he asked. “You remember Belle Reeve?”
Lex laughed bitterly. “Aside from the heavy drug days. Everything. You were a selfish prick for leaving me there. But I appreciate the eventual change of heart when you tried to get me out.”
Clark stared, aghast. Chastened maybe to be found out after all these years. Or ashamed. Lex rather thought it was the latter.
“But I was too late,” Clark whispered. “Too late to stop him from – – from doing what he did.”
“Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it?” Lex said hollowly. “He got repayment in full.”
Clark flinched, no doubt recalling he was supposed to be pissed off about the method of that repayment. Lex didn’t care, too busy reliving it in his own head. Different viewpoint this time, without the utter emotional detachment he’d experienced the first time round.
“He fucked me up Clark. Belle Reeve was just the instance with the most permanent after effect. I don’t regret killing the bastard – – He deserved it ten times over. I just wish I’d been able to feel it. Feel something other than the satisfaction of one more obstacle out of the way.”
He felt it now, fresh as if the glass had just shattered. Rage and accusation and – – grief. Dead was dead and how was he supposed to rail at a dead man? Or destroy everything he had, or make him pay and pay and pay? How was he supposed to live with himself when the legacy his progenitor passed down was patricide and murder and ruthless obsession, but the remorse was his all his? How did he deal with that look of abject horror on Clark’s face? Or with the fact that once Clark turned him away, there were no avenues open to him that wouldn’t require funding and resources to travel. That starting from scratch with a high dollar bounty on his head would be damned daunting. That despite the occasional flirting run with destitution during various disagreements with dear old dad, he’d never had the experience of truly clawing his way up from absolute nothing.
He felt that shortness of breath that came hand in hand with adrenaline fueled anxiety. He dropped his forehead to his knees and tried to breath. Tried to stop the spots from dancing at the corners of his vision and his hands from shaking. Hard things to prevent when reality crashed down.
He heard Clark thump down to the floor, close enough to feel the electrical current of his body. A big hand hovered over his shoulder. Came down, a hesitant touch that steadied with determination when Lex shivered under it.
“Calm down.” Low voiced, sounding just a little uncertain.
“I am calm.” Lex had trouble getting the words out what with the lack of proper breathing. And Clark’s hand was just heavy and broad on his back, and really he should have just grabbed the first pair of oversized sweat pants he’d come across instead of wasting time looking for something that appealed more to his sense of fashion. It wasn’t like he’d truly expected Clark to have anything that fit the bill and at least he’d have been dressed, instead of clinging to a towel, mostly naked just like he’d been when he’d tumbled off of the lab table, fresh from the cloning chamber.
Breathing came harder. Thud of pulse so loud in his ears Clark had to shout at him to be heard.
“Stop it, Lex! Breathe.”
Clark caught his arm, hand slipping around his back, pulling him in and if Lex hadn’t been in the midst of the first serious panic attack he’d had since Excelsior, he might have appreciated the gesture more.
But Clark’s warmth was compelling, and the feeling of being enfolded by arms longer and larger and infinitely more powerful than his own was uniquely comforting, instead of the disconcerting he might have supposed. Lex found his center somewhere in the midst of Clark’s hand rubbing circles on his back and the faint rasp of Clark’s stubble grazing the top of his head. Breathing evened out warily, as if it weren’t quite certain if he might not tumble back into the abyss again.
“I understand how terrified you must have been at the thought of people finding out.” He said against the skin of Clark’s neck, needing to regain some semblance of control or at least put up a good front. Needing to know where he stood with Clark beyond Clark’s obvious need to play savior.
Clark swallowed, shuddered – – Lex felt it all along the places his body lay in contact with Clark’s – – and Clark’s hands stilled. There was a moment of frozen silence, before Clark choked out. “Raiding my wardrobe?” As if he’d only just picked up on that comment from light years back in the conversation. Or perhaps he’d only just realized Lex was wearing nothing but a towel. Obliviousness was a trait Clark Kent excelled at.
“My clothing is dirty and previously owned and I just wanted something fresh.”
“Oh. Oh!” Clark untangled himself, scrambling to his feet, eyes flicking down to the towel and back up, the faintest blush staining his cheeks. “That’s — sure. Fine.”
Lex pushed himself up, needing to be on even footing with Clark, one hand holding the edges of the towel, one hand on the dresser for leverage.
“All I’ve been doing, since I found out, is questioning myself. My legitimacy. I can’t seem to stop. But then, this isn’t your usual dilemma. I might be the first man in the history of the world to experience this particular brand of identity crisis.”
Clark opened his mouth, paused for a good long moment as if the words had stalled on his tongue. Finally he shook his head, scrubbed a hand through his hair and said slowly. “I can’t even begin to understand the logistics of this whole thing – – I don’t even know if I want to. But I know you – – and these last few hours – – you’ve been more familiar to me than you – – than Lex – – has been for a long time now. If that makes a difference to you. Take whatever clothes you want.”
Clark turned on his heel and fled. Lex could hear him stomping around the kitchenette.
If that makes a difference – – God. It felt like some sort of benediction. He sank down on the edge of the bed, a whole different sort of weakness setting in. The sort that came with the budding of hope.
Lex was dead. Again. The original one at any rate. Who’d never been back ‘alive’ again in the first place. Replaced by a – – clone – – Clark didn’t like the taste of the word – – who was more like Lex than Lex had been in a long time. Which didn’t necessarily stop the little rebirth of loss he felt at the reestablished news that the – – first? Original? – – Lex was back to being dead again, when Clark had thought him miraculously alive and well. But it went a long way towards tempering it, because how did you really work up a good bout of grief when the object of loss was right there. Alive and warm. And Naked.
Clark downed the dregs of cold coffee, barely noting the taste.
It was all damned confusing. Worse than time travel or women, or high school poetry. And those were the big three that made his head hurt trying to figure out and understand the twists and turns of.
He completely understood Lex not mentioning the fact. First off, it wasn’t a really comfortable conversation opener and second, if Lex had only discovered the truth yesterday – – it was a wonder he wasn’t curled up in a ball somewhere all snarled up and tangled in his own head trying to make sense of it. Clark sort of thought he might be pretty floored, if he were to discover the same information about himself. It really wasn’t much less shocking news that learning you were not, in point of fact, a Kansas born farm boy, but a crash landed alien. Not the sort of information that inspired self-confidence.
All things considered Lex had been handling things pretty well. And what if he were right – – and somewhere along the way Lex had been damaged – – something in his head knocked out of alignment – – something that just gradually got worse and worse and worse until Lex was killing people without blinking an eye, blowing up buildings and planting crazy kryptonite bombs just to fuck with the people he blamed for – – pretty much everything. And maybe it had started – – in little ways – – after Lionel had shocked him into submission and a permanent case of amnesia at Belle Reeve. If what Lana said was true, it was sometime in the year after that, that he’d started up the antecedent of 33.1. When the paranoia had starting taking a turn towards the dark side.
Which made it Clark’s fault, really. If not in the deed, than in the lack of deed. If he’d been faster – – if he’d gotten a backbone sooner instead of letting Lex languish – – He shut his eyes, old guilt coming back in full force.
He looked up at a movement at the bedroom doorway. Lex standing there, wary, hooded look in his eyes, as if he weren’t quite certain of his reception. Faint, purplish fans under those same eyes that suggested he was running on nothing but fumes.
At least he had clothes on. A pair of gray sweat pants and a black long sleeved jersey that Lois had given to Clark, claiming he needed an expansion of wardrobe that went beyond office attire. Clark had never gotten around to wearing it. It looked good on Lex. But then Lex wore black like it had been created for him. It brought out the paleness of skin that Clark had never seen darken with summer tan. All Lex did was burn and then when the skin peeled away there was the same pale beneath. And now he knew it extended all the way down. Smooth, unmarred skin that had felt really, really pleasant under his hand.
God. There he went again. Damn Lex and Damn Lana both.
He glared and Lex narrowed his eyes and lifted his chin.
“If I’m not welcome, I’ll leave.”
“Just sit down.” Apparently the prickly sense of Luthor pride was intact no matter the version.
Lex considered, still cautious, then padded across the floor barefoot, and slipped onto the bar stool across the kitchen counter from Clark. He eyed Clark expectantly. Lex’s eyes. Lex’s expression when he was wounded and guarded and trying to put up a stoic front. God, but he was so damned perfect in every respect. So perfect it was hard to keep the fact that he wasn’t the original in mind. Chloe had said ‘perfect genetic replica’ and she’d been right on the mark. Only it wasn’t just genetics. And it might be an unreasonable assumption to make in a few hours time, but Clark felt it in his gut.
She’d said some other things too, though. More ominous things about this Lex being programmed to go after the old Lex’s enemies.
“You said you remembered everything but the last year?”
“Nothing after the Artic.” Lex folded his hands, apparently willing to endure interrogation.
“Why is that?”
Lex shrugged. “I don’t know. If I were to hazard a guess – – the process was interrupted before complete transfer. When I woke up I was still attached to what might have been neural transfer equipment. I admit to being distracted. Gunfire and explosions tend to do that.”
“A warehouse in Gotham City. I couldn’t retrace my steps if I tried. I was – – disoriented.” Lex looked away at that, embarrassed maybe by the admission. His knuckles, where his fingers were laced were white and there were little marks on the backs of his hands where his nails were digging into skin. Reliving those moments, maybe.
“Lex,” Clark said his name a little louder, a little sharper than needed and Lex blinked up at him, back in the here and now. “Chloe said something that I need to know the truth about. She said Lex had maybe – – given you a set of directives – – to finish off all the things he couldn’t.”
Lex canted his head, thinking that one over. “Chloe mentioned that, did she? Being the premier authority on the subject.”
“Lex,” Clark started, but Lex waved a hand and continued.
“It’s a possibility. Subconscious impulses to fulfill directives are certainly viable – – though honestly once you give a clone – – a person – – free will, there’s always a tendency to override that programming. I’d have done it without hesitation to another subject – – but honestly – – Clark, if I’d planned on continuing on through the creation of a clone body – -of transferring my mentality so completely that there was no discernable difference – – I’d never have allowed some science geek with a knack for programming the power to influence my actions. I’m just not that trusting. Besides, the first thing on the list, would have been destroy you and I’m just not feeling the inclination, Clark.”
Clark frowned, having sort of figured that might be top of the list himself.
“So you’re saying you have no interest in me anymore? No more obsessive curiosity?”
Lex laughed. Then laughed some more. Clark glowered when he didn’t immediately stop.
“Clark,” Lex said eventually, wiping away a tear. “Not to dismiss the utterly fascinating appeal of all things alien – – but, I’ve had a few other things on my mind. Don’t worry, as far as things that hold my interest go – – you still rank top of the list.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Clark muttered.
Lex dropped his head, leaning over his arms on the counter. “It was obsession,” he sighed and looked up. “It might still be. I never could stand not knowing – – and you held so much mystery. But I swear to God you were the best friend I ever had – – the only one who ever made me want to change what I was and be something different – – something better. I envied you and I resented you for lying to me and messing with my projects – – and I knew it was you – – but what I said in the Arctic was true. I never could stop loving you.”
The first time Lex had said that to him, when he’d barely been able to hear the words past the debilitating pain, the fortress crumbling around them, all he’d been able to feel was bitter irony. Now, he felt a little flutter of embarrassment, the sort any former Kansas farmer might when talking feelings with another man. Most especially when those feelings prodded a soft spot he never had been able to fully brick over in regards to Lex.
Crazy or sane. Version 1.0 or 2.0, Clark never had been able to view Lex with cold impersonality. Never had been willing to stand by and see him hurt – – really hurt – – even when he’d more than likely deserved it and probably hadn’t even wanted Clark’s help to begin with.
Lex needed his help now, though – -in a bad way – – and Clark had forgotten how good it felt to be needed by Lex. Forgotten how good it felt just to sit down and hold a conversation with him that didn’t involve veiled questions or accusations or outright insult. It had almost been indecent, how nice it had felt to wrap Lex in his arms and quell the hysteria.
Clark had a little rush of tactile memory, which went straight to his crotch. He took a breath, fighting it off.
“So what exactly are you planning to do?” Lex had to have a plan. Lex always had a plan.
“Other than avoiding a quiet execution?”
Clark’s frown deepened, that being a viable concern.
“I’d like my company back for starters. ”
“Is it technically yours?” Clark asked. “Would the clone of a man be entitled to all his stuff? You know, legally?”
The look Lex gave him was less than pleased. “I would only imagine there would be issue if the information he was – – not the original – – came to light. There are a lot of reasons LuthorCorp might not want that particular area of research to come under public scrutiny. And then there’s the little matter of proving it. I’m assuming there’s no body for them to dig up as evidence?”
Clark shook his head, dry mouthed. Not liking to think about all that had been left of – – Lex – – in the ashes of that truck.
Lex canted his head, studying him. Reading him as well as he ever had. “You did mourn me, didn’t you? Even after everything I did? You still do.”
Clark didn’t want to talk about that. Another embarrassing foray into feelings that he’d rather not embark on.
“So how are you planning on going about this?” He got the conversation back on comfortable ground.
Lex accepted he topic change, sliding an empty coffee mug over to him and turning it idly between his hands. “Even if I made a public début – – having miraculously survived a year lost in the arctic wilderness – – I’d lay odds that I end up dead before I can take the suit to court.”
“I wouldn’t let that happen,” Clark said grimly.
Lex flicked a surprised look at him, before covering it with a shrug and a casual wave of the hand. “Even if the clone issue never hit the light of day, fighting a probate that’s already gone through legal channels will take time and money. The former’s not a problem, if I can stay alive – – the latter – – that’s going to present difficulties.”
Lex drummed his fingertips along the side of the mug, eyes focused inward, the haunted look he’d been wearing since Clark found him fading for the first time, replaced by the more familiar one of Lex strategizing.
Which made Clark a little nervous, because Lex plotting anything just couldn’t be a good thing.
“So what about you? Do you plan on telling your little circle of friends that you’re harboring the enemy?” Lex surprised him with the question.
Clark took a big breath. He’d already neglected to tell Chloe the whole truth – – which amounted to the same thing as a lie. Keeping Oliver in the dark wouldn’t make him feel nearly so bad. But he had no desire to be on the other side of the fence in an argument with them regarding Lex. No desire whatsoever to sit there and listen to them tell him what a fool he was, or how naïve or stupidly trusting.
Which was damn sure what he was going to get in spades if he mentioned he was putting Lex up in his apartment. That and likely a visit from Tess’s men if Oliver happened to mention the fact to her during a session of pillow talk.
He shook his head. “No. You’re safe here.”
Clark might not know exactly what it was he was doing, or where it was going to lead, but it felt right.