by Vivian Darkbloom
Lex has certain expectations about how today will go. He'll spend some time in the board room, some time in his lab. Then perhaps, some time in his secret lab.
He definitely hasn't anticipated being lifted through the air by a blinding beam of light, before his first cup of coffee, no less.
Clark isn't surprised to get the call from J'onn. It's simply been that kind of day. He spent the entire morning setting Metropolis back to order after Mister Mxyzptlk, for reasons known only to himself, decided to make all of the city's post boxes ambulatory. The resulting panic led to rioting in the downtown core and several pile-ups on the highway.
His afternoon has been spent rescuing stranded families from a mudslide in Peru; by evening, Clark is thoroughly prepared for the worst:
"You need me, J'onn?"
J'onn's deep voice reverberates through the com-link:
"Lex Luthor has been kidnapped by aliens."
Of course. The first rule of hostile alien visitors is that they always make a bee-line straight for Lex. Clark sighs:
"I'll be right there."
He lifts the last trapped car to safety, waves goodbye to the family inside and flies back to the WatchTower. Everyone is assembled in the conference room.
"Cruller?" says Flash. Clark takes two and eats them absently, his eyes fixed on J'onn's monitor. Flash says, with sympathy:
"Day that never ends for you, Supes?"
"Just about," says Clark. He notices something. "What's that rock doing in the middle of the table?"
"It was left at the scene of Luthor's abduction," says J'onn.
"And Mercy just handed it over to you?"
"Not willingly," says HawkGirl, with a reminiscent smile.
"Do we have any footage of Lex's abduction?" asks Clark. Batman is already cueing it up for him. Clark watches as a beam of light punches a hole in the side of LexCorp and neatly extracts Lex who, even bathed in a golden aura and ascending towards the heavens, manages to look supremely pissed off.
"So that's the how...." says Clark. "Do we know the why?"
"Not yet," says Wonder Woman. "This crystal apparently contains a message but it's addressed to you." She holds up a crumpled plastic envelope with the crest of the House of El seared into its side.
"Can we get it to play?" says Clark but once again Bruce is far ahead of him and is already doing things to the rock, flicking it deftly around in his hand.
The crystal makes a clicking sound and emits a greenish gray light; Batman sets it gently down on the conference table. Gradually, the light divides into three human-shaped figures. Clark waits for the figures' faces to grow distinct but they remain blurry, the merest dents where eyes and mouths should be.
There's a pause.
"So....when's the show?" asks Flash.
"This is the show," says J'onn. "They appear to communicate telepathically."
"Are they doing it now?" asks Green Lantern.
"Yes," says J'onn. "They're sending me a picture. It's forming very slowly in my mind."
"Like a mental Etch-a-Sketch!" says Flash and gets shushed by HawkGirl.
Silence except for Flash drinking his coffee; all eyes are on J'onn. After a few minutes, the crystal stops vibrating and the green-gray figures vanish.
"Not much of a show," observes Diana. "What did they have to say?"
J'onn shakes his head, as though the transmission has given him a headache.
"They are from the planet Vaylox. And if I've correctly understood....they have taken Luthor in hopes that we will give them Superman."
"That's not exactly a sweet bargain," says Flash.
"Why would they think we'd trade Superman for Lex?" asks HawkGirl.
J'onn considers this:
"They have been observing our planet for some time. They are not from our dimension; they've been watching Earth through a portal."
"So not just hostile aliens but hostile pan-dimensional aliens?" says Flash. "That's just great!"
"The Vayloxians appear to have misconstrued the nature of the relationship between Superman and Luthor."
Clark leans forward, very conscious of Bruce's eyes on him:
"Superman, you spend a great deal of time with Luthor, tracking him, pursuing him; the Vayloxians seem to be confused as to his role in your life. They think he is your consort."
There's a clatter as Flash falls off his chair, laughing. J'onn adds soberly:
"Or if you prefer.....your Queen."
"That's....not....helping," gasps Flash from the floor. Then he says "oof" when Green Lantern kicks him.
"Hey, it works for me," says HawkGirl. "Why not let them enjoy Lex's company to infinity? It solves two problems at once."
"No, we have to rescue Lex," says Clark. "We don't know anything about the Vayloxians or what they might do to him." He avoids meeting Bruce's gaze.
"There is a coda to the message," says J'onn. "They claim they will be broadcasting a message on Earth's airwaves in," he glances at the clock, "a few moments' time...."
Everyone turns back to the monitor.
"Can we watch channel 6?" asks Flash. "Their reporter is cute."
Lex returns to consciousness stark naked and wet, which is doing absolutely nothing to improve his mood. So, aliens....
Lex's track record with aliens has been quite good in recent years. If you can successfully negotiate with an artificial intelligence that's taken over your abdomen, there's not much that fazes you. The aliens will want something; Lex has to figure out how to make them think he can obtain it for them.
He inspects his surroundings. The room is nearly empty, save for the trickles of water coming down the walls. He's on a spaceship; a very damp spaceship. And they've put him in a metal tub filled with gray jelly. Sentient jelly?
Lex prods it.
No, regular jelly. Lex tries to get out of the tub but the jelly seems to be holding him in place. He tries to lift a handful of it and he can't do that either. Interesting.
Before he has a chance to explore further, the door slide opens and a crowd of green-gray figures shuffles inside. They surround Lex's tub, looking like mossy statues come to life. Lex studies them; this isn't a race of alien that he recognizes. He tries to adopt a dignified posture, the best he can manage while naked and streaked with gray goo:
"Why have you brought me here?"
No response at all. Not a blink, nor a flicker of movement
"I see," says Lex, as much to fill the silence as anything else. "This is a whole new category of social awkwardness."
Odd sensation in his head, like something prodding him:
"You will come with us."
The words form with tortuous slowness in Lex's brain, as though written on a chalkboard by an arthritic hand.
"You're telepathic," says Lex aloud, and then he thinks it, adding "What do you want?"
There's no answer but the figures abruptly spring to life and start moving, rather faster than a human can move. Their movements are jerky, like speeded-up clockwork dolls. Lex is unceremoniously yanked from his tub and whisked along a damp corridor, with no fewer than four stony hands clutching him.
Lex tries to see as much of the ship as he can while being rushed along. Most of the doors are closed. He glimpses an engine room, an empty room identical to the one containing his tub and then....
Lex whistles under his breath:
"Now, I wonder....where did you get all that kryptonite?"
The room is full of meteor rocks; the walls and floor are stained green from their reflected light. The sheer volume of rocks matches or surpasses Lex's own supply, which he wouldn't have thought possible. Lex also catches a brief glimpse of a man-sized chamber; similar in size to the one Dr. Garner had experimented with at Summerholt. He feels a ripple of unease at the sight of it. This can't be good.
Lex tries to drag his feet and see a bit more but the creatures are already hauling him past the door. He is led into a room that is clearly the bridge, the main sphere of activity of the ship. Lex looks around. Though the aliens seem primitive in appearance, they are evidently sophisticated when it comes to technology. Lex says:
"This is an impressive display. What's on the agenda? Conquering Earth? You know, I can help you with that."
The silence of the creatures is off-putting; they apparently never speak, even to each other. Lex attempts a step towards a control panel - is that thing a laser? It looks like a laser - and is restrained by a stony grip.
Another message forms slowly in his mind:
"You will deliver a message to Earth."
"We have phones for that," points out Lex.
"We will trade your life for that of your consort."
"You have my permission to abduct any of my ex-wives," says Lex, promptly. "In fact, take all of them."
There's a confused hum in his brain.
"Your consort. Superman."
Lex blinks: won't Clark enjoy receiving that ransom note? It would almost be an amusing situation, if not for the amount of kryptonite on the ship. The chamber is obviously a trap for Clark. Lex aims a thought at the room at large:
"Why do you want Superman?"
There's no response, no flicker of awareness. Lex says aloud:
"I have a hypothesis. I think your telepathy works only in one direction. You can broadcast messages to me but you are unable to receive or interpret my response."
Silence. Two of the creatures take Lex by the arms and lead him to a pole. His hands are cuffed above his head and a bright light is aimed at his face. There's a painful throb in his temple; Lex is starting to recognize this as the sign of an incoming message:
"You will tell your world to surrender Superman to us. If we are not given Superman we will kill you and destroy your world."
"Cheery," says Lex. He considers his options. There is certainly more than enough kryptonite on the ship to incapacitate Clark, kill him even. This is not an acceptable outcome to Lex. One way or another, Clark belongs to Lex, to the death. No Justice League, no Joker and no damp alien encroachers are going to interfere with their destiny. Whatever Clark might feel about it, he's not getting rid of Lex that easily.
The pain begins again:
"Fuck!" says Lex, as fresh words carve themselves into his mind:
"YOU WILL SPEAK NOW."
"As you wish," says Lex. He looks straight into the light and begins:
The Channel 6 news team wavers, replaced by zig-zag lines, which slowly form an image of Lex
"Here we go," says Green Lantern, turning up the volume.
"It doesn't look like Lex is hurt," says Flash, with a quick glance at Clark. "But I bet he wants his clothes back."
Clark doesn't answer; his eyes are fixed on the screen. Lex is pale. There are smears of a gray substance on his shoulders and chest. But the look in his eyes....Clark knows that look, all too well. It means Lex is about to cause trouble.
"My fellow citizens," says Lex, in his smoothest television voice. "I speak to you from ground zero of the latest threat to our planet. I have been taken hostage by aliens who wish to bend the human race to their will. They would have you trade the planet's safety for mine. They threaten to take my life, if Earth does not peaceably surrender to them."
J'onn shakes his head:
"Shhhh," says Clark, eyes intent on the screen.
Lex leans forward, pulling against his chains. It's an effective pose, Clark notes. Lex's eyes are glittering:
"But I tell you, leaders of Earth, do not give into their demands or there will be no stopping them. Prepare to fight, as I am prepared to fight -and die - for the freedom of our planet!"
"Laying it on a little thick," murmurs Diana.
"And not to be cryptic," continues Lex. "But should I die.....I would not lose so great an honour as one man more methinks -"
The screen abruptly cuts to black.
"What was he babbling at the end there?" asks Flash.
"Shakespeare," says Batman. "Henry V."
"Just as well they cut him off, then," says HawkGirl.
J'onn is still shaking his head:
"Luthor was not delivering the message the Vayloxians were transmitting to him. They were repeating the same demand they broadcast from the crystal, to turn Superman over to them and Earth would be spared."
"Isn't Lex taking a huge risk, to openly defy his captors?" says Diana, frowning.
"Unless they can't understand what he's saying," says Batman.
"That's possible," says J'onn. "They can broadcast their messages but are unable to interpret ours."
"It's trusting of them to assume Lex would deliver a message as asked," says Clark.
"From the little I've been able to discover about the Vayloxians, they are exceedingly literal-minded," says Batman. "The notion of lying, especially while under threat of death, would be inconceivable to them."
"And why is Lex playing martyr all of a sudden?" says Flash. "Wouldn't he happily trade his freedom for Superman's?"
Clark shifts uncomfortably.
"Or he'd want the League to come to his rescue," says Diana. "There must be an element we haven't figured out yet."
"Portals," says Batman, grimly. Everyone turns to look at him. "There's been a pattern of portals opening in this area," he points to the map on his monitor, "over the last few months."
"Around Smallville," says Clark.
"If the Vayloxians have been monitoring your activities, Superman, it's likely they know your weakness," says J'onn.
"You think they've been stockpiling kryptonite?" says Clark.
"In his message, Lex used the word "cryptic"," says Batman. "It seemed out of context."
"The closest word he could get to kryptonite," says Clark, thoughtfully. "A warning."
"I could have done a better hint than that," says Flash. "I would have said "Oh, and People of Earth? My favourite band is Meteor - because Meteor rocks! Get it? Meteor Rocks?"
Diana pats his knee. She says:
"Are we certain that Lex isn't playing us? He might be secretly collaborating with the Vayloxians, to lure Superman into a trap."
"I don't think Lex would work with hostile aliens"
"Braniac," says Batman, simply.
"That's different. Brainiac offered unlimited knowledge; that's an irresistible prospect to Lex. He prioritizes the pursuit of knowledge over everything, including his own life. But the Vayloxians have nothing to offer him."
"Except power," says Diana.
Clark shakes his head.
"Lex is no conquerer; he prefers that the world submit to him willingly."
"Much as I'd like to spend the day discussing the finer points of Lex's personality," says HawkGirl, dryly. "I'm more interested in what our next move will be."
Everyone looks at Clark. He says:
"We check out their ship. See what level of defenses we're dealing with."
Batman shakes his head.
"No, he's right," says Diana. "If the Vayloxians have kryptonite weapons, that's an open invitation to use them. I'll go, with Green Lantern and J'onn. Batman can continue with his research."
"And in the mean time, I'm supposed to, what, twiddle my thumbs?"
Flash slaps his shoulder:
"You and me, salty snacks and a little day-time TV, buddy! It'll be great!"
Lex hovers between consciousness and dream state. He's not enjoying the side-effects of the gray ooze. It's like being a struggling fly caught in jelly. The coldness is seeping down to his bones and when he opens his eyes, he sees floating dots. He can't hear anything. The jelly has almost plugged his ears.
Images flit by, the familiar catalogue of horrors: Julian's empty crib; Lionel towering over him in a rage; blood on Duncan's face; the green light of the cells in Belle Reve.
"No," says Lex, softly. Then he says it again "NO", this time as an instruction to himself. He will not be mired by past tragedies, mistakes. He will find a way out of this.
He wonders if Clark will come for him. There's no reason Clark would, except habit.
Noise in the room and a circle of gray shapeless faces bending over him; a message pushing into Lex's brain.
"Superman does not come. Why does Superman not come."
"Perhaps he's otherwise engaged?" suggests Lex.
He's hauled from the tub and dragged back down the corridor. The bridge is crowded with the aliens, standing in groups of two or three, conferring soundlessly. Lex is dragged back to his post but this time only one of his hands is cuffed. And one of the figures is approaching him with what looks like a small laser.
"This," says Lex to the silent room, "does not bode well."
"Well?" says Clark, rushing to the Javelin Bay.
Wonder Woman shakes her head wearily. It's unusual for Diana to look disheveled but her hair is mussed and one of her bracelets is crooked. She says:
"As far as we can tell, the force-field around their ship is impenetrable. I couldn't hit through it, J'onn couldn't phase through it and Green Lantern's ring did nothing. I doubt any of your powers would have an effect either, Superman."
"Did the Vayloxians attack you?" asks Batman.
"If they were aware we were there, they didn't show it," says Green Lantern. "Clearly didn't feel we were a threat worth worrying about."
"They, on the other hand," says Diana. "Are most definitely a threat worth worrying about."
"It's a war ship," confirms Green Lantern. "No doubt about it. Missiles, lasers and a few mounted things that I've never seen before. The ship may look like a junk heap but it's loaded for bear."
"John, can you call in more Lanterns for back-up?" says Clark. "It sounds like we'll need them."
"Already done," says Green Lantern.
Flash calls out:
"Hey, guys! More action at LexCorp."
Clark speeds back to the conference room. Flash is standing in front of the TV.
"It's another light beam," says Flash. "Only this time it seems to be delivering something to-"
But Clark is gone before he can even finish the sentence.
Mercy cocks her gun in his direction but Clark can tell she's not really putting her heart into it. Mercy's face isn't the kind that shows anxiety, but there's tension knotting her shoulders. Clark has no time for reassurances:
"What's in the package?"
Mercy doesn't ask how he knows about it:
"I haven't opened it yet; the bomb squad has been summoned."
But as she speaks, Clark has already x-rayed the penthouse, located the package and its contents.
Then he has to close his eyes because they can't contain the heat of his rage.
Mercy sounds shaken. She's walking towards the room where the package is, about to retrieve it and open it herself and though Clark loathes Mercy, he can't let her see what's inside.
He opens his eyes and says:
"Don't. It's Lex's hand."
She freezes and stares at him:
Clark says, again:
"They cut off his hand."
Lex idly wonders if it will be the blood loss or the hypothermia that kills him. Or possibly the shock.
Mercifully, there had been no time for shock or fear beforehand. Before he even had time to register what the aliens intended, his hand had landed with a plop on the floor and for a horrendous moment, Lex had nearly laughed. It was the slapping sound it had made. What was it they said about "the sound of one hand clapping"? Well, he had an answer to that particular riddle now.
He's still holding back laughter as the aliens rush him back to his cell:
"Wait! I think I dropped something...."
Clark would have appreciated that joke, Lex thinks. Or possibly not.
He can't seem to stop babbling:
"So you're sending that to Superman as a peace offering? Or do I mean a "piece offering."
No response. He's roughly flung back into his tub.
"Clark," Lex says once, and faints.
Batman is walking towards the bridge when Clark returns, his face white and set. Flash rushes over:
"Supes? What's wrong?"
"We're launching an offensive on the Vayloxian ship. Now."
"How? We still have no means of getting through their shield. Unless you intend to blow them out of the sky...."
"No," says Clark. "Here's the plan. They want Superman - we give them Superman."
"You can't!" says Flash. "You can't take down an entire ship by yourself, not if they're stocked with kryptonite."
"I won't be going alone," says Clark. "Flash, get Ray on the com-link."
"The Atom?" says Flash. "Sure thing."
Flash speeds off and Clark turns to face the others. Wonder Woman's forehead is creased and Batman doesn't look happy. But then, he never looks happy. Clark says:
"Look, it'll work. Ray will shrink himself down and when they bring me aboard, he'll sneak in with me. I'll only need to stall them for a few minutes. In the meantime, Ray can disable the force-field and let the rest of you in so we can take the ship. Except Batman," Clark meets Batman's eye. "Someone needs to stay in the WatchTower, to keep League members on high alert, in case the Vayloxians attack Earth."
Flash speeds back into the room:
"Count Ray in. He'll be ready to be beamed up in five minutes."
"Okay," says HawkGirl. "Everyone's being tactful but I'm just going to say it. Why, exactly, are we expending so much effort and risking Superman's life, to rescue Lex Luthor, who causes us absolutely nothing but trouble?"
Clark feels his fury rising again. It's not fair to take his rage out on HawkGirl, who is making a valid point, albeit in her usual blunt fashion. He has an involuntary flashback to Lex teaching him how to hold a pool cue, Lex's hand gently resting on his own hand; Lex's hand on Clark's shoulder, lingering just a little too long to be purely friendly.
Lex's hand in a box: a dead thing, now. Perhaps Lex is already dead too.
"Supes?" says Flash, gently.
"We rescue Lex because he is a citizen of Earth and falls under our protection. And speed is of the essence, because of this."
He hasn't let go of the box since he left LexCorp. Now, he sets it carefully down on the table.
"Is that-" Diana takes a step forward, then stops, wincing. They've all seen worse but it makes a difference when you know the person, even if he's your sworn enemy.
"They cut off his hand?" says Flash, suddenly sounding very young. Clark drapes an arm around his shoulders.
"Harsh," says Green Lantern. Bruce says nothing but it's possible the expression in his eyes has changed slightly. Clark lifts his head and looks at HawkGirl. She meets his gaze and says:
"Well, consider me ready to kick some Vayloxian ass. When do we leave?"
Lex slips in and out of consciousness. He wishes he didn't know he was doing it -it would make it easier to enjoy his dreams, which mostly seem to feature Clark. Walking with Clark through the Kent farmyard, which in Lex's memory, is perpetually bathed in honeyed sunlight. In the dream, Lex is a welcome guest at the farm. Perhaps he even lives there, with Clark.
He dreams that Clark is carrying him, that they're floating through the air across a backdrop of stars. It's a beautiful dream and Lex wishes he could truly believe in it - but a corner of his mind keeps telling him he's really floating in the gray ooze of his tub.
Perhaps he will die. That's why the dreams have turned from nightmares to sentimental, soft-focus visions. It's his brain's way of distracting itself while his body shuts down. If he hangs on long enough, perhaps his brain will serve up a vision of world power and naked Clark. Worth hanging on for that alone....
Blurry vision of red and blue hovering over him.
"Clark?" whispers Lex, groggily. "Did you come for me?"
"Lex, you have to wake up." A whisper hissing in his ear, a warm hand on his arm. Lex tries to get his eyes to focus. It's not Clark. Someone shorter.
"C'mon, Lex. I need you," says the voice.
Lex knows that voice, he just can't place it.
"Since when does a little grey yoghurt incapacitate Lex Luthor? The same Lex Luthor who once stopped Amazo destroying the planet via a single verbal smackdown?"
Lex's thoughts are beginning to clear:
The Atom grins:
"Knew you'd get there eventually, big guy. C'mon. We gotta get you out of this tub. Your tech skills are required."
Lex can barely lift his head. But the combination of the Atom tugging on him and Lex trying desperately to launch himself out of the tub finally lands them both on the floor.
"Well, that's done!" says the Atom. "Sorry, I didn't think to bring you any spare clothes." He adds in a grave voice. "And Lex, I'm very sorry about your hand. We all are."
Lex is consciously avoiding looking at the gap where his left hand should be. If he looks, there's a good chance he'll faint again. With the Atom's assistance, he struggles to his feet.
"Control room's this way," says the Atom. "I knocked one guard out - not sure how for how long. They're pretty strong, these Vayloxians, but tasering seems to work, perhaps because they're even more water-based than humans are. They conduct well! Now, here's our task: we need to lower the force-field around the ship to let the others in."
Lex straightens up and lifts his chin, the best he can:
"Lead me to it."
Clark can feel the Vayloxians pushing thoughts at him but he's not receiving any of their messages. In high school, he'd been immune to Desiree's mind control and apparently he is equally immune to Vayloxian telepathy. Which is fine: It's giving Clark a chance to look around their ship and he doesn't like what he sees. They're leading him from the loading bay to the bridge.
"J'onn?" But neither his com-link nor his super-hearing produces a response. The force-field must be blocking both.
Clark has been monitoring himself closely for any sign of a reaction to kryptonite. What he hasn't counted on is the unexpected speed of the Vayloxians; a streak of green and gray pushes through the crowd surrounding Clark. He jumps back but it's a trick. The real attack is from behind. Clark clutches a kryptonite tipped dart lodged in his neck. He tries to pull it out, but it's too late; Clark is already falling to the floor.
This should be easy. All technology is based in certain commonalities; made in Vaylox should be merely a logical skip away from "made in Tokyo." But Lex can't seem to solve it and to make matters worse, the control panel keeps swimming in front of his eyes. A strong arm props him up.
"You're the nano-tech expert," Lex grumbles. "Why can't you solve this?"
"Hey, you're the one who knows about all about alien technology," counters the Atom. "Due to constantly stealing and exploiting it!"
Lex focuses his eyes in order to glare at him. A corner of his glare catches the control panel and suddenly it all makes sense.
"Of course!" says Lex. He punches in a sequence of twelve digits and pulls two levers. The ship shudders violently; Lex's head begins to spin again. And his hand, or rather the place where his hand should be, hurts. Which makes no sense: how can an absent limb cause pain? Yet it's there: a dull, aching throb. A missing piece. Lex blinks and tries to regain his balance. His brain treats him to a brief slideshow of Clark: at fifteen, at twenty-one, twenty-five....
"My missing piece," says Lex, softly.
"What?" says the Atom. He cocks his head and listens to his com-link:
"The shield's down. You did it, Lex!"
But Lex has already fainted.
Clark wakes to find himself cradled in Wonder Woman's arms. The dart is gone from his neck, tossed away by Diana. He shakes away the last of the green fog.
"We're all here," says Diana. "The Lantern Corps have the Vayloxians are cornered in the bridge. They're fine for the moment but we should get over there soon, and help."
The Atom appears over Diana's shoulder, and says:
"I recommend using your Super-breath; the Vayloxians are damp and should freeze nicely."
"Flash is rushing him back to the WatchTower in the spare Javelin."
Diana never minces words:
"He was unconscious and not looking his best. But Batman will patch him up."
"Guys! A little help?"
It's HawkGirl's voice. Clark wobbles to his feet, then feels his full power surging back. Lex is safe and Clark's ready for battle.
Batman doesn't mind being left behind in the WatchTower. There's no place for injured vanity in the League and he's well aware that he's less useful on space missions than the others. He monitors their progress from afar, knows the exact moment the Vayloxian shield comes down and breathes a secret sigh of relief when Wonder Woman reports that Clark is unharmed.
He does not breathe a sigh of relief when Flash calls in to say Lex is alive and needs medical attention, but he prepares the medical bay anyway. While he's waiting for the Javelin to arrive, he gets a call from Clark:
"Batman? The Vayloxian ship is now under our control."
"What is your next move?"
"We're going to try and maneuver it back through the portal and send them back to their own dimension; we'll need Dr. Fate to seal the portal."
"I'll contact him," says Batman. He adds a few moments later. "He's on his way."
"Thanks," says Clark and Bruce has a sudden image of Clark's post-battle smile, the way he looks when a bad situation has been resolved and no one has been hurt.
Flash is vaulting down from the Javelin, Lex in his arms.
"He's been going in and out of consciousness the entire ride."
Batman takes a clinical look at Lex. He's pale, almost to the point of waxiness.
"Get him to the medical bay."
Lex wakes up briefly and starts at seeing Batman bending over him with a thermometer. He murmurs:
"I don't recall a medical degree among your many achievements, Bruce."
"Feel free to take your business somewhere else."
The room starts swimming again. Lex can feel himself slipping back into limbo. And he's cold. So cold, he's gone past the point of cold into a kind of neutral grayness. But he can't fade out now; there's something important to take care of. He whispers:
"It's here. But it may be impossible to reattach it. The nerve ending are burned-"
Lex shakes his head, impatient:
"No. Tell....tell Lois Lane. It was kryptonite. Kryptonite did it. In my lab."
"You want me to tell the press that you lost your hand because of your experiments with kryptonite? You want me to lie?"
Lex nods, gratefully. Batman says:
"Stop... other super-villains, aliens from using it against...." Lex's voice trails off. The room is turning fuzzy but he can still hear Batman's voice.
"You want to protect Superman?"
"From everyone except you," says Batman flatly. Lex can't see his face but he can imagine his expression. He chuckles:
"Oh, Clark's never safe from me, Bruce. Never. You know that."
And then Lex passes out properly.
Flash pokes his head round the door.
"How's he doing?"
"Not well," says Batman. "We need to raise his core temperature."
"We?" says Flash, with a touch of suspicion. "How are we going to do that?"
"The same way hikers and boy scouts do it," says Batman. "By sharing body heat. Take off your costume and get into the bed with him."
"Can't we just stick him in a warm bath?"
"No, that would shock his system."
"Why do I have to do it?
"Because you're the one who can vibrate," says Batman patiently. He waits. Flash shakes his head but Wally is nothing if not a team player and in a minute he has stripped down to his red boxers and mask.
"I deserve a medal for this," he informs Batman, slipping into the bed behind Lex, who moans softly.
"Luthor certainly has the resources to buy you one....now, press against him and vibrate," instructs Batman. "At low speed."
Flash sighs and complies.
"He just better not make any more sex noises."
"I'll be back in a few minutes to check his temperature," says Bruce. He leaves the bay, with Flash's complaints echoing in his ears.
It's Clark on the com-link.
"I'm here, Superman."
"We're going to be a bit longer than we expected. The engine seems to be linked to the force-field. If one's shut down, the other won't work. Ray's been struggling with it but he can't get it going."
Batman grits his teeth and doesn't answer. If he was there, he knows he could get the engine going.
"Are you still there, Batman? It looks like we're going to have to physically push the ship through the portal."
"We will." There's a pause, then Clark asks awkwardly: "How's Lex?"
"Good," says Clark. "Good. Signing off."
Batman returns to the medical bay feeling unaccountably annoyed. The annoyance is not allayed by the sight of Lex, resting peacefully under a sleepy, still-vibrating Flash.
It's a silent ride back to the WatchTower. Everyone's exhausted. The Atom shrinks down and naps on Clark's shoulder; HawkGirl's ax droops in her hand, all the Lantern rings need to be recharged and even J'onn looks weary. Clark's own dissatisfaction must be showing in his face, for Diana says:
"At least, it's all over, Superman. The Vayloxians are back in their own dimension."
"So we've made them someone else's problem," says Clark.
"Well, they are someone else's problem," points out Diana. "They don't belong in our world. And we certainly have no shortage of villains and troubles in our own dimension."
This sets Clark's mind back to thinking of Lex. Why does he react so strongly whenever Lex is in danger? After all this time, he should be inured to Lex in peril, be indifferent to his fate - or at the very least, see Lex the way the rest of the League does: as any other human, who can't be left to die. But for Clark it will never be that simple when it comes to Lex. The old affection is braided in with the newer enmity. The instinct to protect Lex, to save Lex, has never gone away.
When they land, Clark heads straight to the medical bay. Batman is standing in the doorway:
"How is he?" says Clark, and has his first laugh of a very long day when he sees the occupants of the bed.
"Oh, I want that image for my screensaver," says HawkGirl, peeking over his shoulder. Flash is wrapped round Lex, fast asleep, their heads on the same pillow.
"Neither will be happy when they wake up," comments J'onn.
"I'm awake," mumbles Flash. He stretches. "Is my spooning-shift over, Bats?"
Batman nods. Flash yawns:
"Then I can take first watch so the rest of you can get some shut eye." He yawns again and eyes Lex. "Who would have thought Luthor could be ....so cuddly?"
There's a small tornado of red as Flash dresses and speeds for the coffee machine. Clark looks at Bruce:
"Thank you for saving him."
Batman stares at him for a minute, then says:
"You do realize that Lex is far from being the innocent victim in this situation?"
"How do you mean? He wasn't working with the Vayloxians."
"He facilitated their entry into this world. Those portals that were opening around Smallville - they were opened from our dimension. Then the Vayloxians used them to gather their kryptonite."
"We don't know Lex opened those portals."
"Who else has the knowledge? Lex was probably trawling dimensions for more kryptonite. He may not have intended a hostile alien race to take advantage of his portals - but they did."
Clark has no answer for this; he's tired and his thoughts are muddled. His immediate instinct is to defend Lex....but Bruce isn't wrong. Indeed, Bruce is rarely wrong and at this particular moment, that's a bit irritating.
Batman turns to leave, then pauses in the doorway:
"As in many situations before, Lex has brought this on himself."
Clark frowns again and walks over to the bed. Lex is very pale but he's breathing steadily. There's a thick mass of bandages where his left hand should be. Clark looks at the bandages and for a mad moment considers scooping Lex up and flying him straight to the Fortress, letting the A.I. fix him.
But he doesn't do it. Not because the League would object, although he can hear Bruce and Diana pointing out the inequity of using the Fortress technology on selected humans and not others. Not even because Lex himself would object, which he well might, considering his ambivalent relationship with alien technology.
No, Clark doesn't do it because he's learned that the Fortress always exacts a price for its fixes. He's come to accept that saving Lana's life set a disastrous pattern in motion that cost him his father; restoring Lex's hand could set off a similar domino effect.
There's a hand on his shoulder. Diana.
"Superman, you need to sleep."
And he surely does. He meekly lets Diana take his hand and lead him to his tiny room. The last image he sees before sleep overtakes him is a long ago flash of Lex smiling at him from across the loft. Dredged up by his memory - why? Why now? He drifts into sleep, missing Lex's smile.
When Clark wakes, he knows instantly that Lex is gone. A trip to the medical bay confirms it. Lex's bed is neatly made, with no trace of his presence.
"He checked out a few hours ago," says Flash, through a mouthful of cereal. "Hopped out of bed and demanded a ride down to LexCorp. I tell you, Supes, that's the last time I share body heat with Lex Luthor. He doesn't do "morning afters" well and his pillow talk? Leaves much to be desired."
Clark looks at his watch. He should get to the Planet. Lois will want to get the full story of Lex's abduction into the evening edition....
"Say....speak of the devil," says Flash, turning up the volume on the television.
Lex is standing at LexCorp's front entrance, surrounded by a mass of cameras. Lois is in the front row, of course, with Jimmy beside her. She says:
"So you're claiming, Lex, that the loss of your hand was not due to alien torture but actually resulted from your own illegal experiments with kryptonite?"
The expression on Lex's face doesn't flicker:
"Precisely, Miss Lane."
"Why would you choose this moment to admit to that?" asks Lois. She leans in, eyes narrowed. It's her "out for blood" face.
"As a captive of the Vayloxians, I had time for reflection," says Lex, "I came to the realization that my experiments with kryptonite were worth not risking the health of myself or of others."
"And what of Superman?" says Lois. "You've always claimed that your kryptonite stock was necessary to keep Superman in check. Does this mean you no longer consider Superman a threat to Earth?"
Lex looks straight into the Channel 6 camera.
"There are worse threats."
The camera cuts to the weather girl. Flash whistles appreciatively and says:
"I'll say this for Lex: he's full of surprises."
Then he resumes eating his cereal and Clark gets lost in his own thoughts.
A week later and Clark is on patrol, flying over Metropolis. It's a beautiful night but he's restless. If Clark's honest with himself, he'd admit that his "random" sweeps of the city keep taking him past LexCorp. Lex has made no further public appearances since his press conference; as far as Clark knows (and he's certainly been watching) Lex hasn't set a foot outside LexCorp since his return.
A little guiltily, Clark tunes into the sounds of the penthouse. He hears Lex's heartbeat - it's a little fast - and the sound of his breathing. Lex is sleeping.
He also hears Mercy's voice on the phone:
"-but the pills aren't working! He hasn't slept for more than ten minutes since his return. He needs something stronger-"
A pause, then Mercy saying, in her most dangerous voice:
"I think you misunderstand me, Doctor. Mr. Luthor needs something stronger!"
Clark frowns. Lex's heartbeat is racing now, his breathing is ragged. He must be having a nightmare....
Then Lex cries out: a harsh, terrified scream.
Clark reacts without thinking. He flies straight through the nearest window, scattering glass and causing Mercy to jump back five feet. Before she has time to draw her gun, Clark has flown to the bedroom and flown out the window again, Lex clutched in his arms.
It only occurs to him when they're a block away, that there could hardly be a more traumatic way to yank Lex out of a nightmare then to leap into the air with him. Lex is struggling in his arms, panicked and flailing. His eyes are trying to focus:
And Lex is scared of heights too! Clark glares at his own stupidity. Way to make things worse, genius. He says:
I'm sorry. I heard you screaming and....I'll take you back."
"No?" says Clark, puzzled. "But, don't you-"
"I want to go with you," says Lex. He leans against Clark's shoulder, closes his eyes and falls asleep, almost instantly.
"Now, if only I knew where we're going," whispers Clark.
In the end, he decides on the farm. Lex sleeps on his shoulder all the way to Smallville and since he doesn't wake up when they land, Clark awkwardly carries him upstairs. Lex is still wearing his suit; Clark gently helps him out of it and into a pair of his old pajamas. The process is slowed by Lex's new prosthetic hand; one of its highly realistic fingernails snags on Lex's shirt. Clark concentrates on freeing it. Lex opens one bleary eye and looks at him.
"This okay?" Clark asks.
Clark settles Lex in the bed and goes downstairs to sleep on the couch.
Lex assumes this is all a dream, it has to be: rescued from his nightmare (a dream within a dream, surely?) soaring away in Clark's arms, being tenderly undressed by Clark and tucked into bed. After a week of unceasing nightmares, Lex has finally won the dream lottery.
But on the off-chance that it isn't a dream....
He softly steps down the stairs and finds Clark, sprawled on the couch. If this is a nightmare, Clark should be dead or have Lionel's face or any minute now he's going to wake up and tell Lex how much he hates him.
When none of these things happen, Lex decides to be bold. He climbs over Clark and finds himself a little space wedged between Clark and the couch. Clark grunts once, a puff of hot air on Lex's neck. Lex turns around to face him and leans his head against a warm, solid shoulder. Warm, Clark is always so warm. Lex used to draw out their hugs as long as he possibly could, any excuse to linger in that reassuring warmth.
He may not deserve this; in fact, Lex knows he doesn't deserve this - but he'll gratefully take it anyway.
Clark jolts awake in the middle of the night. Lex is pressed against him; he's lying very still but Clark can tell he isn't asleep. Clark takes a peek through his eyelids and Lex's face is tilted towards his, watching him.
It's rare to catch Lex with his guard down. Clark watches Lex, tries to read what's going on behind those eyes.
"Clark, I think you're awake."
Clark doesn't move a muscle. Lex is guessing; he can't know for sure.
Lex dips his head in closer. Clark can feel Lex's breath skimming over his face.
"You're faking," says Lex.
His tone is smug. Clark shifts - just slightly - but enough movement to unbalance Lex, who tumbles on top of him.
When Lex has his breath back, he says:
"I knew you were faking."
The words are complacent but Clark detects a little uncertainty in Lex's voice. Clark feels uncertain too. He hasn't been this close to Lex in years.... well, ever. They're practically bumping noses; he's got the full weight of Lex on top of him. Which feels.....good. Very good.
Clark tentatively reaches around to stroke Lex's back, warm and smooth under one of Clark's old t-shirts. Lex tilts his head, his eyes fixed on Clark, the tip of his tongue just visible between his lips. It seems like the most natural thing in the world for Clark to lift his head and claim a kiss. Lex's breath is a little sour but Clark is sure his breath is no better; the softness of Lex's lips, the intoxication of his tongue finding its way to Clark's, more than makes up for it.
After a few careful, testing kisses, they get serious. Lex shifts, lining up his body with Clark's. Clark trails his hand along Lex's back, over the strong muscles, down to the swell of Lex's ass, firm muscle under flannel. Lex grunts and kisses him harder, pushing Clark into the cushions, gripping his hair. Clark slips his hand down the back of Lex's pajamas and traces patterns across Lex's warm, silky skin.
Lex bites his neck and Clark thrusts upwards, lifting Lex up with him. The couch shakes. Lex looks up, then bites Clark again, with the same result.
"Clark-surfing," murmurs Lex, riding out Clark's thrust. Clark grins and lets Lex pull off his t-shirt.
Lex bends to kiss Clark's collar bone; his real hand is busy with Clark's right nipple. Clark has never thought much about his own nipples but Lex seems very taken with them, licking circles round the areolae and flicking the nipples with his tongue. Clark gasps and Lex looks up with a smirk. Then he lowers his head and gives the nearest nipple a sharp tug with his teeth. The pleasure is so intense; it's on the edge of being pain. Clark can feel the heat building behind his eyes. He closes them hurriedly. Lex whispers: "I thought you'd like that...."
Lex moves lower: a lick to Clark's belly button, a kiss to his stomach. Clark lets his legs fall open so Lex can settle in between them. Lex kisses his stomach again and smoothes his hands across Clark's hips, lingering there for a moment before stroking down his thighs. Clark moans and is embarrassed by how loud he sounds.
Lex rubs his palm across the crotch of Clark's pajamas. Clark bucks under his hand, so Lex does it again. Clark's reaction makes the couch shake. Or possibly it makes the house shake, which in turn shakes the couch.
"Lex," Clark says again, this time in a warning tone. He's never been this aroused, never been this close to losing control completely. It's a dangerous moment.
Lex smiles at him, the little quirk of a smile that Clark loved so much when they first met. He remembers his jealousy when Lex aimed that smile at anyone else. That was Clark's smile.
Clark bucks again as Lex tugs down his pajama bottoms.
"It's okay," says Lex, petting his thigh.
But I could hurt you, thinks Clark. Maybe even kill you. But he can't manage to put this into words because Lex has lowered his head and is doing things with his tongue and fingers and it's taking all of Clark's control not to set them both on fire.
Lex flicks Clark's foreskin with his tongue and squeezes Clark's shaft. He seems to understand that Clark needs it a little rough. He rubs the base of Clark's shaft with his thumb, hard and fast. Clark makes a choking noise and the veins stand out in his thighs. He desperately wants to come right now but he also wants to sustain this feeling forever.
Clark tries to watch what Lex is doing to him - but the sight of Lex lying between his legs, his hands, real and prosthetic, gripping Clark's thighs, his cheek stretched around Clark's cock.... is so exciting that Clark could come from the mere sight of it. And Lex keeps looking up and staring into Clark's eyes. Clark has never felt more exposed, more vulnerable, even when he briefly lost his powers. This moment, his limbs entwined with Lex's, his body in thrall to Lex's every touch, is the closest Clark has ever felt to being human.
He comes so violently, with such a cathartic thrust that he's terrified that he's hurt Lex. But Lex climbs back up him, unhurt and looking pleased with himself. He licks his lips like a contented cat and settles against Clark's chest.
They kiss. It's strange but exciting to taste himself in Lex's mouth. Clark lifts Lex up into a kneeling position and begins to undress him. Lex lets him, lifting up his arms so Clark can remove his t-shirt, then lying back, docile, so that Clark can pull down his pajama bottoms. It's exciting to have Lex submitting to his touch; Clark's cock, which should be thoroughly satiated, twitches.
Clark kisses Lex on the mouth, then lets his lips roam all over him, from the soft spot behind his ear to the soles of his long, elegant feet. It's not just about desiring Lex; he wants to possess Lex, every part of him. It's as though Clark's orgasm has awakened a primal side he wasn't aware he had. Kryptonian ancestral memory: he wants to mark Lex as his. Clark buries his face in Lex's stomach, sucks a small bruise below his belly button. He listens to Lex's pounding heart and the rhythm of his blood. When Lex shifts position and tries to sit up, Clark gently pushes him back down and continues to lick his nipples and shoulder.
While Clark's mouth is exploring Lex's chest, his hand crooks Lex's right leg back, spreading him open for Clark's enjoyment. Lex draws a ragged breath; his leg flexes in Clark's hand. His face is flushed and he's biting his lip. He's beautiful.
Clark leans back a little, to really see Lex. He strokes Lex's cheek and Lex moans, his formidable defenses, for once, completely down. Clark imagines what it would be like to have this Lex all the time: fragile, compliant, trembling at Clark's touch.
He bends to lick Lex's cock. He can't hope to duplicate the skill of Lex's blow job - this is his first attempt at this - but he follows his instinct, his lust. Right now, his lust is telling him to nuzzle Lex's balls - soft, soft skin - and to gather one ball, then the other, into his mouth. Lex whimpers, almost piteously, and Clark reaches up to give his stomach a reassuring pat. Lex clenches his legs around Clark's neck, locking Clark's head in a vise of warm Lex-flesh. Clark grins and looks up. Lex's pale skin is flushed pink and there's a fine sheen of sweat across his chest.
"You look incredible," Clark whispers. He licks behind Lex's sac, salt-sweaty skin, soft as velvet. Lex gulps and rotates his hips, trying to get more of Clark's tongue. Clark leaves his finger there instead, rubbing gently. He takes Lex's cock into his mouth. Lex is too excited to be polite and Clark instantly has a throat-full of cock. He lets Lex thrust a few more times and then holds his hips still so he can get in a few final licks. When Lex whimpers again, Clark relents and takes him in all the way.
When Lex comes, his entire body shudders, shaking Clark as well. He goes limp in Clark's arms; his cock softens in Clark's mouth. Clark feels a surge of protectiveness and gathers Lex in his arms.
Lex wearily raises his head, whispers in Clark's ear.
"You're wearing me out."
"Keeping you out of trouble," says Clark.
Lex plants a sloppy kiss on his chin, then says:
"I want you to fuck me. I'm ready for you."
"Are you sure?"
Crooked smile from Lex:
"Since the day we met...."
There's no lube but Clark finds an old tube of hand cream and rushes back to apply it to Lex, who squirms and moans at his touch.
Tight, tiny hole. Exciting just to have a finger inside Lex, to watch him writhe under Clark's hands. Clark lowers his head and adds his tongue to his twisting fingers. He can feel Lex actually opening for him, the tight circle of muscle relaxing, letting him in. He enjoys the sound his tongue makes, lapping against the tight drum of Lex's ass. Lex arches his back and says:
"Now, Clark. Now."
There's resistance at first, Lex simultaneously pulling Clark in and pushing back against him. It feels better than anything Clark has ever imagined: more intoxicating than red kryptonite, more exciting than his first flight. Nothing compares to Lex's ass wrapped around his cock; Lex trembling in his arms: the way his body fits perfectly into Lex's, like they were designed for each other.
"Deeper," moans Lex. Clark presses Lex's thighs to his chest and plunges into him, over and over, their eyes locked. Lex reaches for his own cock but Clark knocks his hand away and jacks Lex off. Lex's cock is hard, throbbing in Clark's hand. He's so close - but it's Clark who comes first, spilling into Lex, overflowing him. Then Clark collapses heavily on top of Lex, just in time to feel Lex's orgasm splash against his stomach.
For a long time, they don't move. Clark listens to Lex's panting; it merges with the sound of the wind outside. He doesn't roll off Lex; he wants to stay right where he is. Sheltering Lex, anchoring him.
After perhaps an hour, Clark bends his mouth to Lex's ear, his thoughts finally ready to be spoken.
"I love you."
Lex is very still underneath him. Clark continues:
"Even when I've hated you - and there have been times when I've hated you, Lex - I've still loved you. Just as all the times I've wanted to kill you? I've still always wanted to protect you."
"I will always love you, whether I want to or not. And I will always desire you."
Lex's heart rate has increased. He's not answering but he's certainly listening. Clark says:
"But I've gotten used to denying myself the things I want, Lex. And unless you can change, can try your best to lead a good life, I will reluctantly give you up as well, forever, and we won't ever have....this... again."
There's a silence, then Lex says:
"I've been opening portals around Smallville over the last few months. That must be how the Vayloxians obtained their kryptonite."
Clark rubs his cheek against the side of Lex's head. He hadn't expected Lex to admit to it.
"Were you....were you looking for kryptonite."
Lex, says in a careful voice:
"No. I was looking for our alternates, yours and mine, to see.....to see if we had succeeded in being friends in any of the other dimensions. To see how the Clarks and Lexes in parallel dimensions....made it work."
Clark doesn't ask what Lex found. He doubts it made Lex happy. He pulls Lex closer and says:
"Look, I know there will be mistakes, bumps in the road. I make mistakes too. But what I want from you, I guess, is a promise that you'll try, Lex. That's all. A promise to try."
Lex buries his face in Clark's neck, but says nothing.
Hours later, as the night recedes, Lex leans over and whispers in Clark's ear:
"I promise to try, Clark."
He thinks Clark is asleep and shortly Lex is asleep again himself; he misses the smile that is slowly spreading across Clark's face, bright as the dawning of the sun.
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