Lex walked through the administrative wing of Smallville's newly renamed Lexcorp Plant #1. He nodded cordially toward Gabe, then entered his own office. After about twenty minutes, he was caught up on the emails and voicemail messages that he'd missed since checking in last night. He was about to pick up the phone again to call back a distributer when it rang. Outside line. There were only two people who knew his personal line and so didn't have to go through his secretary to get to him. He had thought Clark would be out searching for his father using the cellular frequency grid with his friends, but it couldn't possibly be his father because Lionel should be undergoing surgery right now.
Picking up the phone, he surpressed his curiousity and answered professionally, "Luthor."
"The subject got away, sir," an unfamiliar voice reported.
"Got away?" Lex repeated, managing to sound annoyed rather than confused only through extreme effort. He could only assume someone had called him by mistake, expecting to reach his father. The elder Luthor's experiments had proven dangerous before and it was best to find out any information he could before the person on the other end realized his error.
"I checked in on him ten minutes after you left, as per your orders, sir, and he was gone. Judging by the wet trail, someone entered through the runoff to Crater Lake, released the prisoner, and they both escaped by the same route."
Lex's mind raced. Crater Lake placed the incident within the boundries of Smallville, but there was no connection between the lake and any Luthorcorp or Lexcorp facility. Besides which, his father was in the hospital and couldn't possibly have been checking up on any secret projects that morning. Lex himself had only been to the hospital to order the surgery and here in his office since then. There'd been the electric lines down on the road which had given him a brief jolt as his Porsche drove by them, but that shouldn't have given him weird inexplicable phone calls. A mutant power depending on if there were any meteors nearby, perhaps, but not weird phone calls.
"That will be all," he said, because he needed the phone to make another call and he didn't think he could say anything else without sounding suspicious. He pressed down on the cradle release to end the call, then punched in Gabe's extension.
"This is Lex. I'm expecting Harrison Mulch to try to get back to me this morning, but I need to step out. I'm going to have Betty patch the call to you if they do. They're doubling their order, but want a discount for bulk. We can go as much as 15% to match Luthorcorp's bid, but try to get them to agree to less."
"Sure thing, boss."
After arranging things with Betty, he drove out to where he'd driven too close to the fallen wires. He parked a safe distance away, then cautiously moved nearer. A few minutes search revealed the expected outcrop of meteor rock. Squatting down a few feet away from them, he considered his options. The smart thing would be to get far away, call in some enviromental specialists and electricians in hazmat suits and get them to get the electric lines up and the meteors packed away in radiation-resistant containers. The stupid thing to do would be to reach out, grab the meteors out of their puddle with his bare hands, put them in his trunk, then call in the electricians. Calling the electricians first was the least intelligent option of all because that was just inviting meteor mutatants.
Of couse, Lex, Clark, Chloe, and Stephen Hamilton seemed to be the only people in the town with the sense to realize that this situation did, indeed, demand hazmat suits.
Lacking the inclination to wrangle minions into his way of doing things, he instead went to his trunk where he had packed his own suit before leaving the plant. The crap factory, however, dealt mostly with chemicals and bio agents, and he doubted the suit was qualified against radiation or whatever caused the mutation effects. Still, it was better protection than none.
Once he had collected all the green stones he could find in the area into a titanium container that he had brought for just that purpose, he called in the electricians to have the live wire dealt with. He striped out of the hazmat and put that in the titanium box as well. That he locked shut and put in his trunk. He'd store the box in Level Three when he got back to the plant. First, though, he wanted to check out Crater Lake.
He'd hiked halfway around it without encounting any sort of stream in or out of it when his cell phone rang. "Luthor," he greeted, not recognizing the caller id number.
"Mr. Luthor, this is Professor Fine. Did you have an opportunity yet to review my background?"
Granted, there was a good deal he did not remember from his college years, but Lex was sure he never had a Professor Fine. Further, he did not recall having one background checked recently, either, and that he would remember as well. "Did you submit a resume to Cadmus? Between my father's injury and sorting out the employee buyout, I'm afraid I haven't had an opportunity to review any of the more recent applications." Of course, that didn't explain how the man had gotten his cell phone number. Perhaps an investigation was due. If this wasn't some scheme of his father's, he could appreciate the initiative and gumption shown by finding his private number. "What school do you currently work for, Professor?"
There was a momentary hesitation on the other line. "This is Lex Luthor, right?"
Lex stopped picking his way through the underbrush along the side of the lake and frowned at the middle distance. "Look, Professor, I appreciate the skill it takes to find my private number, but I'm in the middle of six different things right now. You've sufficiently grabbed my notice and I'll give your application the due consideration it deserves. Unless you have something else to say, I really have to go."
"Mr. Luthor. I spoke with you at your castle two days ago. I believe you threatened my job, possibly my life."
Lex blinked. "Nixon? Where the hell have you been? Is Jonathan Kent with you? If you did anything to him, I swear you'll regret it."
"I told you, this is Professor Fine."
"I don't know any Professor Fines!" Lex declared, frustration finally getting the best of him. "I certainly haven't threatened any!" Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. Everything fell into place. The double. An escapee near Crater Lake. "Oh, shit, did that shape changer get away? What time did 'I' threaten you?"
"Early evening two nights ago."
Lex frowned and shook his head. The timing was wrong. The escape wasn't reported until that morning. Unless Lionel caught her at the mansion before coming in to agrue with Lex. Yes, that must have been what happened. which would account for why he was so cocky about how Lex didn't stand a chance with the buy-out. He was probably planning on using Greer somehow. "I assume this was before the tornado? I -"
"There was no tornado two days ago. A vampire rabies infection, but no tornado."
Lex stilled. He was clearly operating on false assumptions. "Professor Fine, what month is it?"
"September," Lex repeated slowly. "Smallville High had their Spring Formal two nights ago. I assume your year is 2002 as well?"
"2005, actually, Mr. Luthor."
"Really." Lex sat down on a convenient rock. If this person was to be believed, all sorts of laws of time, physics, paradox were being ignored. But this was Smallville, so Lex wasn't going to discount the possiblity just because of those small anomolies. "Professor Fine, you have no idea the number of questions I want to ask you right now."
"I can guess," the man's voice sounded oddly grim and hard.
"You don't like me," Lex observed, though it probably ought to have been obvious by the fact that 'yesterday' he'd threatened Professor Fine.
"No, Mr. Luthor, I don't. I think you're evil piece of scum."
Lex blinked. "I appreciate your honest opinion," he said, a little stunned by the bluntness. "What did I do to deserve that judgement?"
"Starting with developing a military weapon that destroys the ecosystem of whatever waters it gets used in?"
Lex considered the possibility. "How badly? Lexcorp strives to -"
"Ninety percent of the fish population in Crater Lake went belly-up after only two or three test runs."
A very bad feeling began to form in his stomach. "This was a Lexcorp project? I can't be held responsible for my father's -"
"It was for Luthorcorp, but you took control of the company while your father was in prison."
Lex sat stunned for a moment by that revelation. "Well, I guess that answers the question of whether he survives today's surgery. What did he get pinned for?"
"I don't feel that I should answer that."
Lex considered that, then nodded in agreement. "You're probably right. So the big Luthorcorp project on Crater Lake. How do I ask this - was there a meteor mutant involved? I got a weird call this morning that someone escaped. I'm starting to think it's from your time period."
Hesitation, then, "Clark could probably answer that better. I was unaware of anything but the weapon and its side effects."
"Yes, of course, Clark," Lex's voice turned wryly fond on his friend's name. "Makes sense he'd be involved. The kid's a genuine hero. He's probably the third party who did the rescue." His stomach clenched again as he remembered he was the apparent villian in the story. "Wait. Why would Clark need to save him from me?"
"Because you're an evil piece of scum."
Lex scowled. "That's my dad, not me."
"Your father's a saint compared to you."
Lex rosed to his feet in agitation, his left hand fisted and his right hand turning white knuckled on the cell phone. "I am nothing like him!"
"Tell that to this 'Nixon' fellow."
"That entirely different! He's investigating Clark! I protect my friends!"
There was a long pause on the other side then, "Clark just came into my office. Would you like to speak with him?"
"Yes!" Like he'd say no to talking with Clark. Besides, he didn't particularly like this Professor Fine guy.
Another lengthy pause. "Lex?" Clark asked dubiously.
"Clark! It's two days after the tornados. You're dad's missing, mine's in surgery. What went wrong since then?" Yes, asking that question broke every rule known to science fiction, but if the universe didn't explode or grind to a halt in paradox, it was something he desperately needed to know.
Another uncomfortable pause. Lex swallowed, inexplicably worried that Clark wouldn't believe him, or worse, wouldn't tell him. Or worse still, lie. "God, Lex, is it really you? You're . . . sane?"
Sane? Considering he was talking to a Clark he truly believed was four years older than the Clark currently searching to find his missing father, he wasn't sure 'sane' was the best adjective for him right now. "Define 'sane', Clark. In ancient Greece -"
Clark laughed. "You're you, all right." Then his voice turned wistful and sad, "God, I missed you." Just as quickly, it turned urgently purposeful, "Lex, promise me, you'll never marry Helen."
Lex blinked. "She turned out to be a bitch?"
"She tried to kill you. So did Desiree, but that was different. You didn't really love her."
This was too much. "Who? What? Clark! Who's Desiree?"
"Oh, you haven't met her yet?" Clark asked, sounding surprised. "Well, don't marry her either if you can help it. She's a mutant with phermones and she tried to be your black widow. She was your first wife but she doesn't really count because you weren't acting under your own volition. Helen was the real mind fuck."
"Clark!" Lex exclaimed, shocked. He'd never heard Clark swear.
"She was," Clark stubbornly insisted, though he still managed to sound chasened. "And the thing with your dad putting you in Belle Reeve didn't help either. You gotta stop drinking Scotch, Lex. That's how he drugged you into sounding insane. Nothing was ever quite right after that."
Lex swallowed. "Clark? Do you think your parents would adopt me and forbid me to ever get married or see my biological father again?"
"Sounds like a good plan, Lex," Clark agreed, sounding disturbingly sad and almost pitying.
"Damn, I should have let him die last night."
"No! No, Lex! Lionel's a bastard, but that would make him win. Fight becoming him, Lex. Just because you lost in this timeline -"
"Clark," Lex interrupted, not wanting to hear how impossible the battle really was. "Please?" He had no idea what he was asking for.
"Part of the problem was me, Lex, I know that now. I never told you my secret and it tore you apart. Nobody really believed in you and eventually you just gave up trying." Lex swallowed hard, not liking the admission that even Clark didn't trust him and never had. "Lex?"
"Do you think you could stay on the good side if I told you my secret now?"
Lex had to sit again. What Clark suggested wasn't trust. That was . . . something far more obscene than trust. "You'd tell me your secret. Even knowing how I turned out in your time? If I understand correctly, you had to rescue a mutant from my labs, Clark."
"Lex," Clark said, a sad smile in his voice, "the you I'm talking to now is dead in this time. I trust that you. I didn't realize how much until you were gone and by then it was too late. You'd already been strangled to death. You just needed on person to really rely on you. But me, your father, and Helen all betrayed you. So I'll rely on you now. Lex, you have no idea how many times I've wished for a second chance to help save you. All you need is someone to trust you and I do, Lex. I'm an alien. I come from a planet called Krypton. I came down with the meteors in '89 and the Kents found me. The meteors are called Kryptonite and they're the only things on Earth that can hurt me. You did hit me with your car and it was superstrength, not adrenaline that let me lift you and Earl up onto that catwalk."
"God, Clark," Lex breathed, glad he was already sitting.
"I know you won't betray me, Lex."
Lex's eyes widened. "I have to kill Nixon."
Clark said nothing.
"I have to Clark. He was saying things. About your family. I have to make sure he never tells anyone what he found. I need to burn his apartment in case he has copies of anything."
Clark still said nothing.
"Clark! If I don't, you'll never be safe! Don't you see? People like that, they have their price. It's not safe to let him live."
"Lex," Clark finally said, sounding hoarse. "You killed Nixon in this time, too. He was about to kill Dad, but you shot him first."
Lex slumped forward, "Oh, thank God. When? Where? I need to be there."
"Lex," Lex could almost hear Clark biting his lip. "This isn't self-defense anymore. This is premeditated murder."
"Trust me, Clark, if I had my gun with me the first time, that was premeditated murder, too. For probably baser reasons, as well. It's just as easy to shoot to wound as it is to shoot to kill. I've told you Clark, I'll do anything for a friend, and that includes killing to keep them. Nixon could have told you that I hired him to investigate you, Clark. I just got really lucky that I could look like a hero while doing it."
"Lex," Clark's voice sounded like he was having second thoughts about having trusted him.
"Clark, I won't betray your trust. I'll protect your secret and the you in this time won't ever know I even know unless you decide to tell me. I'll know you trust me, despite everything, and that's enough."
"Just, Lex, just don't start killing people? Pete's gonna find out by accident. Chloe, too."
"Only the dangerous ones, Clark, the ones nobody should trust, ones who'd use you. People like Nixon."
"And Phelan," Clark agreed, sounding unhappy about it, but resigned that Lex wouldn't be moved on the subject. "Lex, be careful with Edge."
"Edge," Lex repeated, shocked, "Morgan Edge, the Metropolis crime boss? He figures you out? Jesus, Clark, you don't make being your guardian angel easy, do you? Okay, I'll start working on that one now. One thing's certain, no one will ever figure out why Lex Luthor decided to wipe out organized crime. How long do I have on that one?"
"Maybe a year, maybe forever. If you don't marry Helen, I might not run away to Metropolis."
Lex blinked. He was doing a lot of that this phone conversation. "Wait, you ran away because I married Helen?"
"No, because my mom lost the baby getting in a car accident on the way home from your wedding."
"Shit, Clark, I'm sorry." Martha had gotten pregnant? Lex wasn't sure he wanted to think about that one too closely. It was nearly as bad as considering his own conception.
"Not your fault, Lex. If I'd actually been there on time, they wouldn't have been coming back to look for me, which is why I blamed myself and felt it neccessary to run away."
"Right." Lex felt it a little disturbing that he had followed that line of logic. He'd clearly spent too much of the last year in Clark's company. "Clark, it wasn't your fault either." Someday, maybe he would help Clark get over this overactive guilt complex. Preferablly before it drove him to run away to Metropolis and draw the attention of Morgan Edge.
"Hmm," Clark said, sounding unconvinced. Then, abruptly, "Shit, Lex. I'm sorry. I lied again. The reason I blamed myself was because Jor-El, my biological father, was threatening the lives of everyone I loved, I tried to destroy the spaceship by putting a kryptonite key that Pete and I stole from your father into the keyslot, and the shockwave of that was what made my parents' truck flip over."
Lex's ear was starting to hurt from holding the cell phone to it for so long, but he didn't intend to end this conversation until he absolutely had to in order to save Jonathan's life by killing Nixon. He switched hands and held it up to the other ear as he considered how to answer that prickly gem of truth. The fact that Clark had admitted lying and fixed his deception was almost more thrilling than being told the truth in the first place. It made Clark's trust seem more real. Lex understood better than anybody how hard it was to trust, how habitual lying could become.
"It's still not your fault, Clark," he finally said. "You don't blame me for what Dad does to get at me, do you?"
Clark laughed suddenly.
"No, it's just that Jor-El possessed your father's body a few weeks ago and gave me a fatherly lecture that Lionel would have been proud to give to you. It just struck me as really funny."
"God. Lionel's dad to both of us now? You're doomed."
"Hey, five years later, did you ever date Lana?"
"A few times actually. We're on-again and it's actually going well this time."
"There's a story there, Clark, but I'm not sure I want to hear all the angsty details."
"No doubt I'll make you listen to them as they happen."
"That's what I figured, and, no offense, but I think once will be enough."
"You like me anyway."
"I do, Lex. You were my best friend."
Lex hated the past tense in that statement. He vowed his time's Clark would never have to say it. He'd keep this future Clark's trust and hopefully gain the younger Clark's trust in time. He'd never be his father. "I won't just do great things, Clark. I'll do good things, too," he promised.
"I know you will, Lex."
A silence settled between them that was neither comfortable nor awkward. After almost a minute, Lex felt he should ask, "What time do I need to save your dad?"
"Afternoon. Mom, Pete, and I found Dad and Nixon under a house that fell on some old crypt. There were meteor rocks in there and Nixon stuck one in my jacket pocket and dragged me over to where his car was in that tree. Dad tackled him and they fought. You appeared out of nowhere. I was never quite sure when you actually got there, how much you saw before you shot him."
That was everything he needed to know. He'd just have to stake out Nixon's car starting around noon. He hadn't been planning to visit his father until that evening anyway. He'd planned to leave the plant once he got the Harrison Mulch contract settled, then help out the search teams during the daylight hours. Nixon's car would have been the logical starting point based on the cellular frequency grid he'd given Clark that morning.
"Lex, I really don't want to hang up, but I've got class in three minutes and I get the impression Professor Fine wants his office back."
"I should probably get over to Nixon's car. I've got a forty minute hike back to my car, first, though."
"Where are you?"
"Crater Lake. I was trying to help a mutant that I thought escaped Dad's custody, if you'll believe it. Or at least figure out what Dad was up to. Turns out, though, that project doesn't exist yet and Dad wasn't the Luthor behind it."
"Wait. You're out in the wilderness around Crater Lake forty minutes from any sort of transportation, with what you assume is a meteor mutant on the loose, expecting to come up on some secret Luthorcorp project, and you're alone?"
Now that Clark and put it that way, it struck Lex as a pretty foolhardy thing to do. He wasn't even armed. He had what, a cell phone? That would be a great help if the mutant turned out to be violent as almost all of them seemed to be. "I might have asked for your help, Clark, but you're not speaking to me right now." Which was a lie. Calling in back-up hadn't even occurred to him.
"You're such a liar, Lex."
"Takes one to know one."
"I deserved that."
"Yes, you did."
A momentary uncomfortable silence, then Clark asked plaintatively, "Were you actually trying to get yourself killed all through my freshman year?"
"No!" Lex denied, shocked by the suggestion, but then he took a moment to look at it from Clark's perspective. He half-laughed. "Looks like it, doesn't it? No, that's just me trying to be Warrior Angel but without the superpowers."
"You're welcome to have some of mine."
"Thanks, Clark, when you figure out how to make the transfer, give me a call."
"High voltage and kryptonite. Remember Eric Summers, Superboy?"
"Jesus, Clark. Do you know how tempting it is now to set up a situation with you, me, and those two components?"
"I trust you, Lex."
"I hate you, Clark."
Clark laughed. "No, you don't."
"I do," Lex insisted.
"Alright, you do," Clark agreed, but Lex could tell he was lying. "Now, I really have to go, Lex."
Lex hesitated, "I don't really hate you, Clark."
"I know. Bye, Lex."
"Bye, Clark. Thank you."
"You know what Napoleon -"
Clark laughed again. "Bye, Lex." Dial tone.
Lex frowned at the cell phone display that said 'Call ended' then folded it up and tucked it away in his pocket. He decided that as punishment for hanging up on him like that, Clark was going to get no Alexander the Great anecdotes for a week. It didn't matter that his Clark wasn't the guilty party. The disrespect to Napoleon's mother transcended time and realities, and must be avenged.
When he did eventually reach his car, he glanced briefly toward the sky to make sure Time hadn't stalled out from any paradox the conversation might have caused, but the sun had moved appropriately into its zenith. He knew where to find Nixon and Mr. Kent, he had a Clark's trust, his father would someday go to prison, and the Universe hadn't exploded. It was shaping up to be a very good day.