Author: Signe (oxoniensis)
Summary: Lex, Superhero
Disclaimer: Gough and Millar's, not mine
Original story: I, Superhero by arysteia.
Notes: A huge thank you to my beta, scribblinlenore.
a million miles in another man's mask (superhero blues)
Buildings like trees, forest-like city. He stands above it all. He sees it all, everything that goes on in his city.
From behind glass.
The disguise is absurd.
Both of them, because the hideous glasses Clark Kent wears can only be an attempt at disguise too, an idiotic anti-disguise.
Lex knows disguises. He's been ambushed by men wearing masks, men who've had plastic surgery to change their faces, men who've become other men for the sake of hiding who they are. He knows disguises better than most.
Clark doesn't. He's a fool, a small town fool who thinks that some colorful lycra in place of a suit and slicked back hair instantly makes him unrecognizable.
It makes Lex furious, that Clark is so sloppy about his identity, putting all his friends and family at risk because he can't come up with anything better to disguise himself. Lex is angry a lot these days – mostly about Superman.
If he's honest though – and Lex can be honest, with himself at least – he's most angry that it's actually working. Unless the entire population of Metropolis is in on the secret, and keeping spectacularly quiet about it, no one has made the connection between the city's new superhero and the newly bespectacled Clark Kent. Not even the people Clark works with, not even Lois Lane, who Lex has always suspected of having some sort of super powers of her own, X-ray vision maybe, or superhearing.
Lex sees it all, but he's not a part of it. He's separate, shut off in his glass cage. He likes it like that.
Lex isn't given to daydreaming, or flights of fancy. They're not his style. He has dreams, yes, but they're concrete; he makes them come true. Simple as that.
He's ambitious, and he has all the power and the wealth and the intellect he needs.
He would help Clark, if only Clark would let him. Help him do more than just fly aimlessly around waiting for disasters to happen. That's how he spends his nights – Lex sees him sometimes, silhouetted against the sky, hovering over the city before he tilts his head in query and darts down to a rescue.
Sometimes he hovers outside Lex's windows. He doesn't knock, doesn't enter even though the windows aren't locked. He just waits until Lex looks up and lets him in.
"A quiet night?" Lex asks.
"Crime's down," Clark says. And it is, down forty-two percent over this time last year, an astonishing drop.
"It could be down more," Lex says. He looks at Clark, but leaves the offer of help unspoken. It's a reminder that it's still available, but he's not going to argue, not now. They've gotten beyond their constant arguments, the same way they've gotten past being in love with each other. It's all still there, just silent now.
"I gotta go," Clark says, a blur before Lex can even say goodnight.
Lex isn't given to daydreaming, and if his dreams at night are full of maybes and wishes, at least by morning he's forgotten them.
His favorite lab. It's small, and the staff is minimal. It takes years of good service and built-up trust to be invited to work here.
The projects are varied, some small, some grandiose and probably impossible. Lex wants to do a lot of things. He wants to cure cancer, he wants to end hunger, he wants to rule the world. He wants to put an end to little bald boys being bullied at school, and he wants to make love something that never dies.
He tries not to say I wish too often, but this is the place the words slip out most often.
The security is tight, the best. But things can still go wrong.
The gun has been underneath his chin long enough to lose its cold metallic chill. The hand holding it is shaking, the figure at the other end slight in her black costume. Lex takes a moment to admire the disguise – so much better than Superman's – he has no idea who it might be under the mask. A meteor mutant, he assumes, from the way she moves, too fast. Not one he's come across before though, he's sure.
"Are you going to tell me what you want?" he asks.
"You know what I want," she says.
"You're giving me too much credit."
"You must know," she says. Sounds desperate.
Lex needs to calm her down, buy time. Time for what, he's not exactly sure. His security team are all dead, there's no one else here. No one about to pull off a last minute rescue. Unless—Unless someone got a message out before they were killed. He'll work with that hope for now – it's all he has. He's worked with less.
"Will you at least tell me your name?" he asks.
"Melissa," she says, and Lex isn't encouraged by the easy confidence.
"Okay, Melissa, have we met before?" Gentle tones, soft and reassuring.
"My father used to work for LuthorCorp."
"My father's company," Lex says, a reminder. Not always his, not all his mistakes.
"And yours." She's shouting now. "Your experiments too. Your fault I'm what I am."
She pulls off the mask, and the gun gleams in green light. Her eyes are glowing, cold and green – a familiar shade – and her skin glows faintly too, a pallid sickly flush.
"See," she shrieks. "See what you've done. I just want to be normal again."
"I'm sure that's possible," Lex says, reassuring, far calmer than he feels. "I have the best scientists in the world working for me."
"No. I don't want them working on it. I want you."
"I'm not a scientist."
"Don't lie. I can tell when you're lying. I can see when you're lying."
Lex doesn't think she's bluffing. It feels as though she's searching right through him. And found him wanting. It could be a valuable skill, but not in an enemy.
He shifts uncomfortably. Shivers, although the room is perfectly temperature controlled. "I can't work with a gun on me."
"Yes, you can – I told you not to lie to me. You'll work better with it. Consider it an incentive."
"I've always preferred the reward type of incentive." The gun presses harder under his jaw. "But we can try this for now."
He doesn't move, and he can see the hesitation behind the light in her eyes.
"Where do you need to start?" she asks, waving her free hand around the lab.
"Over there." Lex motions to a computer positioned above an emergency button. "I'll need to find out how this happened."
"I'll be watching you. I'll see everything you type."
"That's fine," he says, sitting down and hitting the emergency button with his knee in one fluid movement.
He logs in as slowly as possible, hesitates over every file he opens, reading documents he's familiar with slowly and carefully. "I can't rush this," he says, projecting honesty.
"I've got time," she says, and for a moment she sounds like little more than a child and Lex looks up at her.
"We'll fix this," he says, and there's a hint of a smile – of hope – on her face before she crashes to the ground in a blur of red and blue and her gun goes off. There's an explosion and the green is everywhere, light far too bright, so Lex closes his eyes against it and rides it out.
White noise and flames, and he's only human.
Lex has seen the future. He's seen himself master of the world and alone. He's seen blood dripping from the sky. He's seen himself a father and friend, a man other men respect. He's seen himself happy. He's seen the end of the world, and he was there.
He has one wish now. A simple one. He wants to live.
He's underneath bodies, but he can breathe.
He tries to move, slow experimental movements. There's no pain, and even the heat from the nearby flames isn't bothering him. He pulls himself out from underneath Melissa and the other body. Superman. He heard the alarm. Lex had hoped he would, assumed even. They don't speak of it, not now, but Lex knows Clark still looks out for him all the time.
Neither of them are moving, so Lex turns them over. Melissa murmurs as he moves her and opens her eyes. They're blue, blue flecked with gray. Her skin is pale, and there's blood dripping from a gash on her forehead, but it's a normal pallor.
"Lie to me," she whispers.
"You're going to be fine," Lex says.
"I can't tell if you're lying or not." She smiles, hopeful, then raises her hand to her head and winces.
"I'm not lying," he says, and turns to Superman. He should have moved by now. Shouldn't still be lying there while the lab's burning around them and the shattered computer on the desk above them is still shedding sparks.
"Cl—Superman?" Lex prods him in the shoulder, and there's a groan. "We need to get out."
Superman stands up shakily. He bends down to Melissa and lifts her up – she's limp, fainted, Lex thinks. Turns to Lex, and something looks badly wrong.
"Hold on to me," he says, and Lex raises an eyebrow. "I'm a little drained, that's all," he says defensively.
And then Lex notices. Blood, on Superman's shoulder, and it's not from Melissa. It's bleeding, from a wound. Superman is wounded, and Lex didn't think that was possible.
"I'm fine," Lex says, and he really is. He's never felt better in his life.
He puts a hand on Superman's back, and he only means to usher them towards the door, fast as possible through the flames that are getting higher by the second, but somehow he finds he has Superman in his arms. He's lifting Superman and Melissa, and it's no strain, and when he runs, he's out of the lab and the building in a flash.
"Well," he says as he puts them down outside, "that's a surprise."
Melissa is conscious again, scared but relieved, and Lex takes her hand before her stretcher goes in the ambulance. "I meant it," he says. "You're going to be okay."
"Thank you," she says. "And—I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you, I just—"
"And thank Superman for me, for getting us out."
"I will," Lex says, and watches the ambulance draw away before turning back to Superman.
He's leaning casually against a wall, cloak covering the bullet wound.
"Are you okay to get to my car?" Lex asks.
"Yes. I'm not bleeding much. I'm just—"
Not used to it, Lex mentally finishes the sentence for him. "Come on, we don't want anyone else to see you're injured."
One or two of the fire crew stare, but they've gotten used to Superman these days, and no one seems too shocked to see him driving away with Lex rather than flying away.
"It happened once before, back in Smallville," Clark says once they're in the car. "A lightning strike that time. Guess the explosion and power surge when the bullet hit the computer and the Kryptonite in the girl – she was green, I didn't imagine that?" Clark interrupts himself.
"Yes, she was green."
"Guess that had the same effect. And now you've got my powers."
"Yes." Lex is still processing.
"We can change it back," Clark says. "We'll have to go home – to Mom, she's got what we'll need."
"Okay," Lex says, and changes lane. He needs to double back to head to Smallville. "What do we need?"
"Some Kryptonite. Mom has a couple of pieces."
Lex has destroyed all his stock, though he's never told Clark that. Seems he knows anyway. Never considered that Martha might keep some on hand, but when he considers it, it's sensible. A just in case they probably never like to think about.
"That's it? That's all it takes?" Clark looks uncomfortable, and Lex has to push, because he's sure Clark is hiding something. "What else?"
"A high voltage," Clark says, and carries on quickly. "It won't hurt you, I promise. We did it before, and Eric was fine."
"No." Lex is furious, and he doesn't want these powers, but he's not going to let Clark electrocute him. He's not going to lose weeks or months of his life, years maybe, not again.
They drive to Smallville anyway. Clark needs to go home, needs somewhere safe, and Smallville seems like the best idea. Their refuge, always.
Clark looks out the window on the journey. Barely speaks, so Lex turns the radio on and lets it fill the gap.
"It wouldn't be like it was in Belle Reve," Clark says as they're passing the Welcome to Smallville sign.
"You were there, Clark. You saw it. You saw the result. And you want me to risk that?"
Clark hangs his head, and doesn't say anything more until Martha is welcoming them into her house.
Lex has to remind Martha and Clark that it's safe for him to go to the hospital now. They're startled for a second, conditioned by years of protecting Clark from outsiders, then get in a truck and drive off, calling out admonitions to Lex to be careful.
It's a heady feeling. This power. Power in himself, not just in who he is, a Luthor. It's exhilarating, and he has to try everything. Once Clark's back, bandaged but otherwise well, Lex goes over to the mansion. He doesn't want to do this in front of Martha, and there are no staff there to see. Clark insists on coming with him though, and Lex can't bring himself to say no, so they drive, Clark a silent, sullen passenger again.
He stabs himself with a knife and watches the knife crumple against his chest. He lifts cars. Picks up everything he can find that's not nailed down, and nothing is too heavy for him. Clark remonstrates, and Lex calls him a spoilsport. Clark laughs eventually, and starts suggesting things for Lex to try moving.
He discovers how the heat vision works by accident – feels the buildup between his eyes when he's sitting opposite Clark sprawled out on the sofa, jeans tight over his crotch. Imagines how Clark might have discovered it – remembers fires at Smallville High School when Desiree taught there and thinks he can guess. He speeds outside, eyes barely open, and sends a beam of fire over a statue he's always hated. His father bought it. It blackens instantly, cracks, and the head falls off and shatters on the pavement. It's satisfying.
He gives himself a day. He tells Clark it's for adjustment, but that's only partially true. It's fun. It's like the best, most fun-filled Christmas present ever, all the ones he never had as a child rolled into one.
He soon learns that flying isn't as easy as Clark used to make it look.
"I didn't fly for ages," he says, after Lex falls back to the ground again, thankful for invulnerable skin and bones that can take a twenty-foot drop without feeling it. "I just sort of made these huge leaps to start with."
Lex is determined though, and by the end of the day he's hovering with no effort, turning somersaults in the air and shooting up high in giddy loops when he thinks Clark isn't looking.
He takes his one day for fun, and then it's serious. Crime rate's down in Metropolis, and Lex is going to keep it that way. If Superman can't be around, then Lex will take over.
"Are you sure you're ready, Lex?" Martha asks. "Clark had years to get used to his powers before he went to Metropolis."
"People will soon notice if Superman isn't around. Criminals will notice."
"Do you not think it's the right thing to do?"
"Well, yes, but—"
Her concern is touching. Motherly. Lex appreciates it. But he has to do this.
"I'll go back with him, Mom," Clark says.
Martha looks from one to the other, and Lex can see all the arguments brewing inside her. She sighs though, resigned, and nods.
"I'm not wearing your costume."
He chooses black. Simple and tasteful. And a black mask that covers his head.
"People are going to be scared if they see you."
"Good," Lex says.
He sets about it in orderly fashion. He gives a news conference with Superman, in which Superman hands over the safe-keeping of Metropolis to El-El, promising everyone that they're in good hands. There's a flurry of questions, especially from Lois.
"Superman, where are you going?"
"I'm going home for a while," he says.
"Why are you leaving Metropolis?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Lane. I have personal reasons, but I hope to be back."
"Does that mean you might not come back?" Lois' voice is shocked, hurt.
Superman pauses, looks at El-El.
"I can't answer that," he says, and then Lex takes over, fielding questions about his origin – he subtly implies that he's related to Superman – and his motives.
"I love this city, and this planet, the same way Superman always has. And I will take care of it. I will make your safety and well-being my highest priority, the way Superman has before me. I'm honored to be following in his footsteps."
There are claps and cheers from the audience, a huge upswell of applause, and Superman is smiling at him. Proud.
Lex thinks this is going to work.
He has a bank of televisions set up, covering every major new channel worldwide. He collects data, works out how long it takes him to get to different continents, times himself in action. Learns his limitations – very few, but he does tire, eventually, and he needs time in the sun when he gets too exhausted.
Decisions are still difficult though. The world is a dangerous place, and there are plane crashes at the same time as mud slides, there are forest fires on one continent and floods on another. And he's only one man. With all his power and speed, he can only be in one place at a time.
He stops a mugging in Centennial Park – an old lady, who he admonishes for being out on her own in the evening – then hears screams from St. Martin's Island. He's torn, unwilling to leave the mugging victim alone, or the mugger free to run away, but the screams are getting weaker already. He compromises, setting the woman down in busy Planet Square, begging her to keep to lit areas, and flies straight to St. Martin's Island. He finds a girl, little more than a child, slumped against a wall, knife in her chest and eyes wide with fear. When he lifts her up, the ground beneath her is dark with blood, and even though he flies as fast as he can to Midvale General Hospital, by the time he hands her over he can feel the warmth of blood seeping through his costume.
He leaves, doesn't look back.
Next day he learns she died.
"At least she didn't die alone," Clark tells him, when Lex visits the Daily Planet, a brief lunch break.
"Is that what you always told yourself?"
Clark shrugs and doesn't look Lex in the eye.
He runs his business too, spare minutes grabbed whenever he can, public appearances as Lex Luthor, not El-El, scheduled carefully. He has good men, men he mostly trusts, and he delegates as much as he can. His stock holds steady, and that's good enough for now.
He spends five days in Turkey, digging entire villages out of dust and rubble. The ground is still trembling when he gets there, minor tremors that don't feel that minor to Lex. He doesn't stop to eat or drink or rest, barely looks up when he hands over limp bodies to rescue workers, doesn't notice in the end whether the bodies he's finding are dead or alive. There are sobs and screams all around him, mothers and fathers and children weeping and wailing for their losses, and he can't tune the sounds out. It builds up inside him so that even after an aid worker taps him on the shoulder and tells him there is no one else left to rescue and even after he's flown away and is high over the Atlantic Ocean, he can still hear the cacophony of grief.
He wonders if he's immortal. The shadows lengthen at the end of the day, the same as ever. There are dark days when he barely comes through victorious, but he always does, eventually, and he wonders if he always will. If he's cheated death, just by virtue of a misguided girl and an accident. And cheated Clark, however unintentionally, because this is Clark's heritage that he's taken. Part of Clark's life, in every sense.
"Do you miss it?" he asks, looking out over his city. A city he knows intimately now, in a way he never could before. A city he loves more than ever, but hates more too.
"The glory and adulation, the power, the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day." Lex leaves off the most important thing.
"Yes," Clark says, and Lex looks back over his shoulder, really looks at Clark. He's sitting, restlessly tapping his thigh with his fingers. He looks surprised at his own honesty. "I didn't always want it. And sometimes I hated it, the duty, the necessity, all the times I had to make decisions and either made the wrong ones or didn't really know if I'd made the right one or not. I hated the stupid costume and having to make excuses all the time, and never being there for the people I loved. I was never there for Lana, and I was never there for you, not when you really needed me. I hated pretending to be two different people, lying to friends. And, sometimes, I hated the person it made me. Less than human."
"You were never less than human, Clark," Lex says, and means it. Clark's hurt him more than any other person, more than his father even, but somehow, Lex can't hold it against him now.
"No?" Clark laughs, but it's a brittle sound.
"Well, maybe sometimes. But then, aren't we all?"
Clark laughs again, and this time it's a real laugh. "But I'm the only alien in the room," he says.
Clark's there for him now. At the end of the day, in the middle of the night, whenever there's a disaster and Lex comes back filthy and exhausted, Clark's there. He follows the news and uses the key Lex gave him years ago – a key Lex had almost forgotten in all the time they were barely even friends – and he's waiting in Lex's suite whenever Lex needs him.
Sometimes he's asleep on the sofa, static on the TV. Lately, he's waited in Lex's bed. He might not be Superman any more, but his chest is still broad, and his arms strong, and Lex lets himself take comfort in that. In someone who understands.
"How did you do it?" Lex asks one night. He's never felt so drained in his life, so helpless, absurd as that sounds. He's saved a plane load of tourists today, bound for Denver. But a school in Lake City burned to the ground – dozens injured, two firemen dead.
"I had Mom, and Dad too at first. Chloe as well. They helped when I kept getting it wrong." Clark puts the light on, and Lex sits up. "I got it wrong a lot, you know. But my father, my biological father, taught me that it was my destiny, and I think I always knew deep down that I could do it."
"I don't know if I can," Lex says, staring at the bedroom wall.
Clark puts an arm around him and draws him back down. "We can," he says, but Lex isn't convinced.
Lex hates wars, whether they're masquerading as skirmishes or admitting what they really are. Crossfire stings, bruises sometimes, and when he saves men and women on both sides, neither side is happy. He's had men in his arms trying to kill each other, even though they were both wounded. Wars are the worst kind of foolishness.
The civil war in Equatorial Kundu is the worst. Both sides attempting genocide, both sides close to succeeding. In the end, frustrated, he goes in as Lex Luthor. He acts as intermediary between the sides, and it takes time, but eventually a fragile peace is established.
He flies home by jet, and goes to bed content for the first time in a long time.
In the end, the decision is easy. He's scared, but he's not a coward and he knows this is wrong, an imbalance. He's wasting his own strengths and wasting Clark's for him. Lex can save people his way, and Clark—maybe his way didn't always seem the best, but it worked. People were safer with Superman around, however hard Lex has tried to be a worthy replacement.
They go back to Smallville, and Martha smiles at Lex when she learns his decision. "I knew you'd do the right thing," she says, and even though he remembers all the times she didn't trust him, he can't help but be pleased.
"If I don't remember—" Lex starts.
"I'll tell you," Clark promises. "I'll show you everything that's happened, the news footage, the papers, records you've kept. I won't lie to you."
Lex nods, as ready as he's ever going to be.
"I'm glad this has happened," he says. "It's been—"
"Illuminating?" Clark offers.
Lex laughs. "Yes, illuminating."
It seems a fitting description.
Lex has seen the future.
He's seen himself alone at the world's end, but he doesn't believe in that future anymore.
He's seen himself ruling the world, and maybe that will happen, though he truly doesn't care if it does or doesn't.
And he's seen himself happy, a good man, an understanding friend and lover. He's seen Clark in his life. That's not the future anymore. That's now.