Lex noticed her right away. She was stunning. Beautiful, and she knew how to show it best. He asked around and eventually found someone who knew her name. A name that was worse than a wet blanket. A name that was one of two that could turn him off faster than thinking of the vats of shit kept in the Smallville plant. Desiree. A Helen would have been equally bad, but it was a Desiree he was faced with now. And it was Desiree Clark had said he married first. Of the two, it was Desiree who posed the greater risk even knowing the future. Clark had said she was a mutant with powers that simulated mind control. Something like fear trickled through him.
He was in Metropolis. Metropolis knew nothing of Smallville mutants. Yet, here she was.
As discreetely as possible, Lex escaped the main hall where the charity event was being hosted. Granted, there was a certain amount of cowardice implicit in running to the men's room to hide from a woman, but the extenuating cirmstances all but demanded it. He couldn't leave yet without raising eyebrows but he needed to back off, regroup, and form a strategic plan.
For reasons he couldn't explain to himself, he found himself checking that he was alone, locking the door to make sure he stayed that way, and calling the Kents on his cell phone.
As his day's poor luck would have it, Jonathan answered. "Kent Farm."
"Mr. Kent," Lex greeted politely because the man had been trying, even if he still occassionally appeared to be causing himself great pain when he did so. Lex had taken to good deeds just to watch the veins on Jonathan's forehead when the man had to praise him for them. It was absurdly satisfying. Pavlov and Martha definitely knew their stuff.
"Luthor," Jonathan returned, dark and angry, and sounding completly unlike anything Lex was expecting. His mouth opened and closed a few times, at a loss to explain this sudden hostility and not knowing how to respond to it. From anyone else, he'd answer in kind, but this was a Kent. The Kents had adopted him. Clark said so.
His silence must have lasted too long because Jonathan started speaking again, "I don't know what makes you think you have the right to call this house. Having your photo shoot at the Talon where Martha works -"
"Wait," Lex interrupted, beginning to get an idea of what was happening, and that scared him nearly as much as finding out today was the day he met Desiree. Because he hadn't had any close encounters with Kryptonite recently. If what he thought was happening was happening, then Martha might have been more right than he realized. "I'm not Luthor."
"You sure the hell sound like him. Who are you then?"
Who was he? What a good question. Well, it's an alternate future he hoped never to see. The truth couldn't hurt, could it? "Look, Mr. Kent, I'm twenty-two years old. It's September and there's a terrible heat wave over most of Kansas. I'm currently in Metropolis at a social event that you will probably remember best because I came home with a fiance named Desiree. I haven't actually met her yet, but I know she's here and quite frankly, I thought I was calling the Clark from my time, but your Clark will be even more helpful right now." Lex was talking too fast, he knew that, and he talked over Jonathan a few times when the man tried to interrupt, but he had to explain the situation. "I don't care if you don't believe me, but I need to talk to Clark." Then, because he had spent far too much time over the summer with them, he added, "Please."
There was a very long silence on the other end. Then, "CLARK! Phone!" A few more moments, before Jonathan's more muffled voice said, "It's Lex. The young one, again." So. That timeline remembered him, and Clark must have told his parents about it. That made his day mildly easier.
"Lex?" Clark's voice asked cautiously.
First, verify the facts. "Desiree's here. Atkins, right? I'm not hiding from the wrong girl, am I?"
"No, Desiree Atkins is the one I told you about."
That didn't come as a great surprise. Had Lex not been paranoid about the women he dated for the last couple of months, he would have taken her back to the penthouse without any need for phermones. Marriage, on the other hand, she would've needed their help. "Is there any way to counter the phermones? I really shouldn't leave yet, but I will if the only other option is to wind up married to her."
"Well," Clark hedged dubiously, "If you don't let her breath on you, you should be alright."
So cause a scene by leaving far too early or cause a scene by jumping away from a woman when she approaches too close. "Dammit, I wish I brought a date. Would it be really evil of me if I try to sic her off on a business rival?" he asked in a plaintative tone of voice that he hoped conveyed to Clark that he wasn't really considering it because even he knew that would be wrong. Then a different idea occurred to him, and this one he couldn't dismiss so easily, "Or better, Dad?"
"Lex," Clark warned, and Lex sighed the sigh of the overrruled. Kents were no fun. What a battle that would have been to watch. Superhuman versus devil incarnate.
"I wouldn't let her kill him," he tried to wheedle. Then, as an afterthought, because it wasn't an impossible outcome, "Or him kill her, either."
Clark was quiet for a few seconds, then he asked in something approaching incredulity, "Are you asking my permission to sic Desiree on your father?" Lex was sure he must have misheard Jonathan in the background saying, "That'd be perfect. He should do it." Sure, he'd known Jonathan strongly disliked Lionel, but, God, the man had a vicious streak Lex had never suspected.
But he needed to answer Clark, not Jonathan. What was the question? Right. Was he asking permission. "Well, I've sort of gotten into the habit of running things by your family before I do them. I don't really expect you to say go for it, but if you do, I probably will. Just to see who'd be winning when I call in the Smallville police. Honestly though, Clark? I'm going to have to watch her regardless, because if she doesn't hook me, she'll just go for somebody else and he probably won't have the benefit of being familiar with Smallville's quirks."
There was quiet on the other end, and Lex felt ridiculously disappointed. Despite himself, he prompted, "You're supposed to say you're proud of me or tell me why that's an invasion of privacy."
The silence continued, but it's tone had changed. Finally, Clark managed to find a response, "I - I am proud of you, Lex." Despite the obvious surprise in his voice, Lex still felt the usual pool of warmth he got when one of the Kents told him he was doing a good thing. "I just, I thought, well, it seemed like a weird thing to just say."
"Since when were we ever normal, Clark? I've grown accustomed to it. It's Martha's project. She's proving Pavlov's theories of positive reinforcement. I made the mistake - well, no. I wouldn't call it a mistake. I had the good fortune of deciding to confide in her. I'm now made to feel ten years old on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Even your dad tolerates me now, which is how I knew right away that I wasn't talking to my Kents."
"I have to say, Lex, I am impressed."
He was glad he was locked alone in a bathroom because the mirrors must be lying about him not glowing. Dad, at the very least, would be able to see it despite being blind. Probably most of the other sharks outside could as well. Then they'd want to know why he was glowing, and they'd probably jump to all the wrong conclusions.
"You won't regret telling me, I swear it, Clark. I'm being good." Okay, and that was his ten year old moment of the day. He really ought to do something about those. Thankfully, they only cropped up around Kents, and Kents and his father were rarely in the same place at the same time.
"I don't regret it, Lex," Clark promised, thankfully not taking the opportunity to mock or patronize him.
Best change the subject now, before he said something really embarrassing. "So, Desiree. She's going to go after somebody. Even you must admit that my dad is a really tempting target. You couldn't find two people who deserve each other more. And I can keep a much closer eye on him than I could on anybody else."
"That won't traumatize you?"
While there was a small squick factor involved in pawning his alternate self's wife off on his father and possiby catching them naked together if he spied in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that paled beside an image that Martha had once placed inside his head. Heck, even those pictures of Victoria were worse because he had bedded Victoria in his own reality. "Clark, you have no idea what trauma is."
"Desiree got to my dad," Clark confided in a lowered voice, presumably so the eavesdropping Jonathan wouldn't hear, "it was traumatizing. That whole week was traumatizing. I got my heat vision then. It was triggered by lust. Imagine needing to tell your - my parents that."
Lex laughed, mostly because it was funny but partly in delight that this was what trust felt like. Casual mentions of heat vision. God. His Clark still mostly sidestepped the issue. "Okay, that is bad," Lex conceeded, "But I can one up you."
"Prove it," Clark challenged.
"I got pictures of Dad and Victoria together. They were taken while I was dating her." Clark made a noise that Lex took as admission of defeat. "That's not even mentioning the times he walked in on me when I was a teenager."
"Okay, Lex, stop talking. You said you could one up me, not five up me."
"Your mom, though, takes the prize."
"My mom?" Clark repeated, then quickly rushed to say, "I don't want to know, Lex!"
"Are you going to start humming? That's what you did when I suggested your parents were having sex when - yes, that's the same tune, too. I wasn't even saying much, just that Martha -"
"Desiree!" Clark practically shouted his interruption, "You should go point her at your dad now! And be careful she doesn't breathe on you!"
Lex smirked, "You're such an easy mark, Clark."
"I don't remember you being evil back then, Lex," he accused. Jonathan said something in the background, but this time Lex couldn't make out the words. He doubted it was anything complimentary and decided his best option was to ignore it.
"This teasing is a direct result from the trauma your mother inflicted upon me. I'm acting out in a desperate plea for help." God, he was turning into such a brat. He'd been a spoiled rich kid for all his life, but it took a summer with the Kents to make him a brat. He assumed the inherent Luthorness of his genes had to come out somehow. Brattiness, he supposed, was preferable to drinking binges or unhealthy obsessions.
"Right, well, I'm in a different time zone, so I'll leave that to the other Clark."
"It's no good, he's too young to hear about my trauma. It's rated NC-17, at least."
Lex grinned to himself when that got Clark to ask despite himself, "And my mom inflicted this on you?"
"I have a very vivid imagination, Clark. What she said was unforgivable. The image that flashed through my mind will be with me for the rest of my life. I'm scarred, Clark. I'll never be able to have sex with a certain type of person again." He supposed he inherited this flair for melodrama from his father, but his dad had never been so flippant with it.
Clark laughed, completely unsympathetic to Lex's predicament, but it was still a good sound to hear, especially from this Clark. "So are the brunettes out then? I suppose you could try blondes. They're supposed to be fun."
"No, Clark, she took an entire gender out of consideration." And what the hell was he doing? Not even his Clark knew he wasn't completely straight. Only Martha knew, and he hadn't discussed it with her since that one time. But this Clark had told him he was an alien. Keeping secrets from him would be wrong. It was oddly freeing, being able to say anything to someone. Right now, Martha was probably the closest he had to someone like that, but it was so much easier to talk freely with someone he wasn't worried would send him to the sink to wash his mouth. "Between her sabotaging men and you prophesizing that every serious girlfriend I have will try to kill me, I really don't know what to do." And that, actually, was something of a real concern he had. Avoiding Desirees and Helens was all well and good, but clearly his taste in women sucked and he was more than a little gunshy lately.
"You're bi?" Clark asked, sounding shocked. Beyond him, Jonathan's voice echoed, "He's gay?"
"The purple shirts didn't give it away?" the question was flippant, but he really was curious. Smallville was, well, a small town. Shouldn't there have been rumours?
"Rich people are wierd about clothes. I thought you were just being Luthor-freaky." From Jonathan, "All that damn purple, of course."
Realizing the opportunity he had here, he asked, "It doesn't change anything between us, does it? I haven't told my Clark yet. Will he take it all right?"
"Um," Clark said, sounding a little uncomfortable which was a bad sign. Apparently realizing that, he rushed to add, "No, it's fine."
"I sense a 'but' in there."
Clark complied immediately to the implicit request to elaborate, "It gives a whole new connotation to 'my Clark.'"
Oh. So it did. By the growl in the background, Jonathan thought so, too. "Well, I meant 'the Clark from my time' but that's a rather tedious mouthful."
"I figured that's what you meant, it's just the juxtaposition was a little jarring. I never got the impression you wanted anything more from me than friendship." The last part was spoken a little louder, and Lex suspected it was more directed at Jonathan than himself.
Still, best to make things perfectly clear. "I assure you, my intentions were never anything but completely platonic."
"Yeah, I'm not worried about that," Clark reassured back. "Though," he drew the word out and Lex braced for a joke at his expence, "come to think of it, are you sure you never flirted with me? I mean, the way you held those pool sticks?"
For a long heart-stopping moment, Lex panicked because there was no good answer to that accusation.
Then Clark laughed, "It's okay, Lex. You flirt. I get that. Heck, it weirded me out more when you did it with Mom than with me."
"I flirted with your mom?" Jesus, no wonder Jonathan didn't like him much.
"You gave her wine or flowers a few times when you visited. Lionel was the really creepy one though."
This, he did not want to hear, "Dad flirted with your mom? When, why? How did they even meet?"
"She's not working for him yet?"
It just got worse and worse. "Oh, God, he hired her for something? I don't think I want to know, but for what?"
"Well, he's blind in your time, right? Mom came by the castle looking for me or something, I forget why she was there exactly, but she happened upon Lionel getting really upset with an auto-reader thing. So she took it and the paper he was trying read and started reading for him. He all but hired her on the spot."
"Personal assistant?" Lex deduced with dismay. "He sleeps with most of those. If I didn't have complete faith in Martha's ability to turn away his advances, I'd feel sick right now. I'm definitely siccing Desiree on him, Clark."
"Um, yeah. You do that." Clark sounded badly freaked out. After a moment's pause, he said urgently "Listen. He bugs your office, he's got a vault full of refined kryptonite, and he's got files on me. If you stop Mom from working for him, you need to burn the files since she won't find them. Also, at some point, he stops being blind and starts faking it. Warn me about that."
"Can't I let Desiree kill him?"
"No," Clark insisted firmly, which was what Lex had expected. "He's dying of liver disease, Lex. If he doesn't accidently switch bodies with me this time through, he probably won't last more than another five years at the most anyway."
Lex fell against the wall as if the world had literally shifted under his feet. Only the outcrop of moulding kept him from sliding down to floor. "No," Lex denied in a small, embarrassingly scared voice. It was like being twelve again, being told his mother was dying. Only it wasn't his mom this time. "No, you're mistaken." Lionel Luthor couldn't die. Even with the near miss the day of the tornadoes, Lex had never really thought his dad could really die. Part of the reason he'd saved him in the first place was because he was sure something would have happened and the man would live anyway and it was better to try and put him in Lex's debt than to irrevocably declare themselves mortal enemies. He hadn't been ready to kill that last small chance of ever being a family. But that he'd have died? Lex began to tremble in belated reaction. That he was even now dying? "He'll find a cure, Clark. He will."
"God, Lex, I'm sorry," Clark apologized, sounding horrified with himself. "I forget sometimes that he is your dad."
Lex laughed, but it lacked anything resembling humor. "You're the only one."
"No, Lex. People forget it all the time. They remember you're his heir, but they forget he's your dad. That as horrible as he is, as much as you say you hate him, he's your dad."
"I do hate him, Clark. I hate him." Why did it sound like he was unsuccessfully trying to convince someone of that? He did. There was no doubt. Hate. Lex hated him.
"I know," Clark said, despite the unconvincing argument. "But you love him, too."
"Love is weakness. Luthors don't love." The words jumped out by rote, as unconvincing as his claims towards hate. And this wasn't lying to Clark because he wasn't lying. He hated Lionel and Luthors do not love. These were both true.
"That's not true," Clark called him on it, sounding strangely urgent. "Love is a strength, and you can still love. It's why you're you and not the Lex from my time. Don't ever give up on it. I mean it, Lex. The minute you do, you lose. Your dad and Helen, they messed you up, but not everybody is like them."
He escaped the support of the moulding and let himself slid down the wall, cold chills running down his spine and a queasy feeling in his stomach. "I realize I need the reminders and the guidance to avoid that fate, but it's still really creepy when you talk about the other me like that."
"I know, I'm sorry."
"I'm swinging in the opposite direction, you realize that, right? Plans to sic Desiree on Dad aside, I've never been this, for lack of a better term, well-behaved in my entire life, not even when Mom was alive. I was never raised to be good. If Dad wasn't so preoccupied with coming to terms with his blindness, he'd have been all over me already asking what the hell I think I'm doing."
"You're my age," Clark said suddenly and with no apparent prompt for the observation.
"No, I think I'm still a little bit older," Lex corrected, "Two years, I think."
"That's not what I meant. I mean, categorically. College age."
Lex dropped the back of his head heavily against the wall. "This is how the tramatizing discussion with your mother started."
"I'm not going to ask. This is me not asking. I'm a journalism major, so it's tough to overcome the impulse, but I'm not doing it. Not asking."
"I'm proud of you, Clark," Lex said, because that seemed to be the comment he was angling for. Of course, Lex could be biased.
Clark didn't seem to hear him. "And more importantly, you're not answering. What I said earlier about you being evil? I take it back. You're a wonderful person, Lex."
Why, dear God, did that make him feel all warm and fuzzy even though he knew, he knew, Clark was only saying it because Lex wasn't attempting to foist off his trauma? Ignore it, move on. "Right, so let's see if this leads in the same horrifying direction. We established that I'm college age. Note, Clark, there is a large danger sign beside the question 'Why aren't you at college now?'"
A short pause, then, "Not asking. I am not asking," this time, it appeared, would be the time Lex should say he was proud, because now it did seem like an effort. "Geez, Lex, that wasn't what I was going to say because I've always assumed you graduated and moved on, but now I'm really curious. Right, not asking. Anyway. Oh, dammit, why aren't you at college now?" Missed the chance, and wow, that positive reinforcement stuff really worked because Lex bet if he had said it, Clark wouldn't have succumbed.
"Dad didn't like that I joined the gay, lesbian, and bi club in my first semester at graduate school."
"Okay, now I see how it could have led to trauma. I feel much better now. I'll steer well clear of the topic of extracurriculars."
Lex smirked at the tile floor. "Actually, the danger sign is beside the question 'Your father is homophobic?'"
"Okay, that one, I'm not touching with a ten foot pole. What I was trying to point out before you distracted me is," he paused, gathering his thoughts in order, then continued, "I never really thought of you as my age before."
"Six years is rather significant when you're fifteen," Lex agreed, "Hell, it's significant when you're twenty-one. If you were a senior instead of a freshman, or better, in college, when we met, all bets are off about whether or not I would have stayed platonic. At the very least, I'd have been a whole lot less subtle in flirting."
"'Subtle', Lex, is not the word I'd use there. 'Ambiguous' is better."
Lex made a non-committal noise as someone banged on the door to the men's room. "Hey! Who's ever in there, hurry it up!"
"I need to go, Clark."
"Be careful with Desiree, Lex. Remember, keep a few feet between you whenever possible."
"Bye, Lex. It was good talking to you again. Call again if you can, I miss you."
"Me, too," Lex agreed because as much as he did talk to his time's Clark, this one was different in small ways that made him seem more like his best friend and less like his best friend's kid brother. And there was a very small remote possibility that he might - but no. That wasn't it. He did not have Luthor-banned feelings for a guy in an alternate universe. That just wasn't possible.