This story is also available at this location on The Archive of Our Own, where all my current stories and comments can be found. I am no longer updating this site.

Based on Velvetglove's creepy and erotic Siamese Twin.
Joseph's first memories were of his name, and Lex's.

In point of fact, Joseph had two kinds of memories, one kind fresh and real, one becoming misty and uncertain as it receded into the past. He thought the latter were more like normal people's memories, but it was hard to be sure. He read books on memory demonstrating its unreliability. You could tell a person he'd witnessed something and if you did it right, he'd believe—he wouldn't believe you, he'd believe it, the new memory created by mere encouragement. MRIs and other brain scans showed no difference between true and false memories; the brain treated them exactly the same. And as many a therapist's patient could testify, "recovered" memories of childhood abuse could screw up an adult life irretrievably regardless of whether an actual abuser had inflicted the damage.

Both of Joseph's memory-sets were real.

It was a pity they weren't both true.

Joseph remembered Lex's mother calling out Lex's name, back when Lex was still a sickly little red-head, pudgy and asthmatic, afraid of everything big and loud and fast. (Later, Lex bought cars with precisely those characteristics.) Lex couldn't have been more than four at the time, probably younger. They'd been out on the tarmac at the Metropolis airport—meeting the LuthorCorp private jet, back when Lillian and Lionel couldn't bear to be apart for more than a few days. Lex didn't like to recall that such a time existed, but there was this early memory, and the only reason Lillian would have dragged her scaredy-cat son out onto the noisy, windy concrete was to see her husband as soon as he'd touched down.

Lex had wandered off, distracted by something, perhaps one of the neon cone-waving men whose windmilling arms told planes where to go. Heedless of the pained lines marking off areas allowed only to machines, he'd blundered into the path of a Cessna. Not anywhere near, not really, but it had been enough to make his mother scream his name so hard she was hoarse the rest of the day.

Lionel had been angry at that. He was generally inclined to write off Lex's follies as unimportant if not for their negative consequences for Lillian.

Joseph also remembered Lionel's voice, low and insistent, saying his name again and again. Joseph had the feeling that Lionel had been trying out different nuances of pronunciation, but it had been hard to tell with so much other information flooding in.

"What—Dad?" had been the best he could manage, staring up at Lionel's face, twisting his wrists slightly against the restraints. Unwilling to struggle overtly while Lionel was there, less for his dignity than to do his best to lull Lionel into a false sense of security.

"Joseph," his father had repeated one last time, "it's good that you're awake."

"Joseph?" he'd echoed. His mind had been as fuzzy as a lollipop stuck in a four-year-old's pocket, but he'd known even then that things were not as they seemed.

"Oh, I know you think you're Lex Luthor," Lionel had said, jolly as Saint Nick, "but those memories are false ones. The fact of the matter is, Joseph, that you are a much more special son of mine."

The overhead lights had been dimmed, Joseph remembered, in deference to his sensitive eyes, physically mature but unused to actual sight-work. He'd stared up at the ceiling as Lionel had explained the facts of life.

He was a fast-grown clone of his "brother," Lex. (Emily Dinsmore, Lex's memories offered up.)

He'd been given Lex's memories, chemically assisted in some way Lionel didn't seem to fully understand. The idea of knowledge, memories, even the ability to read being somehow whispered to him while he grew in his tank made no sense. Helen Keller had known of the existence of a larger world; she'd smelled and touched it, giving her a base to work from to learn more. Joseph had no similar experience. Yet he knew what a benzene ring looked like, as well as he knew what a woman's face looked like at the moment of orgasm. It was ridiculous. Then again, once fast-grown clones entered the picture, it was hard to maintain total disbelief. (Shape-changers, electric scarecrows, life-sucking cheerleaders —Lex's memories contained much that was at least as implausible.)

As far as the outside world was concerned, he didn’t exist. (Level Three, said Lex's memories. Joseph had no trouble believing this part.)

They'd moved him into a little locked room, with all the necessities and none of the comforts of home. There had been needles and electrodes, MRIs and CAT scans and machines so exotic as to have no generally known names. Lionel was only present once every few days, which Joseph eventually discovered was because he was spending most of his time in Smallville, pretending to be a changed man for Lex's benefit.

Later, Joseph had been given dossiers to reinforce Lex's memories. First fuck, first theft, first time shot, first time shooting someone else. It was a disturbing life, but more disturbing was Lionel Luthor's total command of it. Joseph had to wonder why Lionel needed a clone when he had strings coming off Lex at every joint and needed only a tug here and there to get desired results.

Or, if Lex were rebellious beyond Lionel's plans, why would a clone be any different? Lionel was deliberately inculcating Joseph with everything that had made Lex so angry at him in the first place.

Lionel said that Lex had developed paranoid and delusional tendencies, corrected at the genetic level in Joseph.

Lionel was a liar. That much was foundational. Joseph hardly needed the chill that danced down his spine every time Lionel touched him to warn him of that. This distrust is my gift to you, he imagined Lex telling him. Don't be the fool I was. Joseph owed it to his almost-brother to take that warning seriously.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor was out there in the world; Joseph often saw him on the Metropolis news feed piped into the facility. Lex was obsessed with the meteor strike, and occasionally with Clark Kent. Joseph had another obsession.

What had been done to make him?

Lex's memories targeted meteor rocks as a likely explanation (a boy who could twin himself!), and Joseph was willing to go with that. There was also a suggestion of possible alien technology. None of Lionel's machines seemed sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic, but Lionel might well be hiding the good stuff from him. At this point, he was mostly being tested—memory, logic, business knowledge, and all the physical poking and prodding Lex's memories identified as standard for one of Lionel's freak sons.

Then Joseph broke into a locked area near the exam room—Lex's lock-picking skills proved quite useful—and found a cabinet of curiousities. Dozens of pickled fetuses, deformed, heads exploded, gutted from autopsies and crudely restiched.

His brothers?

In the same room was some inexplicable equipment with a green liquid sloshing in its guts. Joseph felt a subcutaneous tingle when he ran his fingers over the reinforced glass separating him from the liquid. He lusted for a sample and a gas chromotograph. Though Lex had yet to discover what it was that made meteor rocks different, he thought he might have a special affinity.

****

Lionel confronted him about his "little expedition" the next day, reminding him that nothing he could do escaped Lionel's control. Lionel laughed and said he wasn't ready for the full truth.

"How will I ever be ready if you refuse to share vital information with me?"

Lionel smiled proudly and called him "son." Then he grabbed Joseph's shoulder, hard, and rubbed his thumb across Joseph's collarbone, as if he wanted to check the firmness of a melon.

Lionel said this isolation, this captivity, was for Joseph's own good, which as the explanation for every horrible thing Lionel had ever inflicted on Lex did little to reassure Joseph. He could see the point of hiding, though; two Lexes might be a bit much for an unsuspecting world.

****

Joseph's Lex-memories ran out a few weeks before Lex's involuntary commitment at Belle Reve. Like a murder mystery with the last chapter torn out—indeed, given the news reports about Lionel's subsequent legal difficulties, which Lex found in a few hours' worth of hacking the lab's computers, that was probably closer to truth than to analogy.

After that fuzz-out it was all dossiers and surveillance tapes. Lionel was miffed at the gap—there was something Clark Kent-related he wanted Joseph to tell him from those lost weeks. Lionel said that it must have been a defect in the transfer process, a failure to transfer short-term memories. Joseph, however, knew that short-term memories were limited to mere minutes. Lionel would never have been so sloppy about the terms of a business deal as he was about the intricacies of science. Though perhaps it was a deliberate lie; never a good idea to rule that out where a Luthor was concerned. The truth was that Joseph, and apparently Lex, given Lex's later attempts to retrieve his missing time, had lost weeks of long-term memories.

Did Joseph really lose memories that were never his in the first place? He was inclined to think so, the way one might think of cargo lost in transit from seller to buyer.

He read the dossiers and watched the surveillance footage, both extensive if not fully comprehensive, and saw what Lex had been up to since Belle Reve. He learned about LuthorCorp's audacious and extensive meteor-related research, whose scope Lex had underestimated before he'd taken over day-to-day management of the company. Mutants indigenous and company-generated, hidden laboratories, eldritch Lovecraftian experiments like the hubristically named Adam—it was all gothic enough that he would have scoffed at a Warrior Angel arc involving similar manipulations by Devilicus. But that just went to show that his father was a better villain than any comic fanboy-turned-artist could invent.

He missed Clark. Pictures in the dossiers weren't enough. One in particular made some previously inert area of his brain fire every synapse: Clark caught looking up at the sky, the photographer's angle such that Clark towered like Paul Bunyan, golden and iconic. White light, stars, flight.

****

Lionel said that Lex's poisoning had been a warning. Given Lex's meteor-enhanced metabolism, which Joseph now shared, he'd been in no mortal danger. If Lex hadn't been found quickly by his staff, Lionel claimed, the people watching via Lionel's surveillance cameras would have alerted them.

Lionel and Lex, Joseph thought, were very much alike in their assumptions that they could control the consequences of what they'd done to the nicest detail. They had very little respect for randomness. One would think that being meteor-altered would have cured Lex of that, but all it did was make him a believer in destiny, which somehow coincided with his conviction that he was in control of that destiny.

Joseph didn't intend to make that same mistake. He'd been created for reasons not his own, like any child, and he was still all but helpless. When he got out, he intended to make more contingency plans than Lex—or Lionel, for that matter, who'd spent what were doubtless unpleasant months in prison—ever had.

****

Joseph's first sexual experience as himself was with Luis, a dark-haired orderly, lips and cheeks so ruddy he could have been using makeup. Joseph doubted the resemblance to Clark Kent was unintentional on Lionel's part. He positioned himself so that Luis's face was obscured, only his hair visible to the surveillance camera.

It should have bothered him more that Lionel was watching. But given the constant monitoring, he wasn't going to get laid in private any time soon, and he missed sex. Also, he had the feeling that Lionel was more interested in using the tapes as a weapon against Lex in some way than in manipulating Joseph.

Later there was a fine-featured young woman with spectacular breasts. Joseph wasn't sure he wanted Lionel to sleep with her, though it was the expected consequence of his own success. The Lex-memories insisted that Lionel's sexual predation was an insult. On balance, the intrusion into his privacy wasn't that extreme. Furthermore, if Lionel seduced Abigail, that would show that Joseph was as important to him as Lex was.

Joseph decided that Lex had been too easily rattled. The next time Lionel visited, his touches were pleasant and invasive. Lionel said that he knew what Joseph had been up to, trying to find out the secrets of the facility, trying to find a way out. Joseph thought that Lionel had always shown his hand too soon, and Lex had inherited the failing. Lionel warned him that he might not be stable —"We tried to correct Lex's deficiencies, but the science of cognition is not far advanced," he intoned, which made Joseph want to roll his eyes, since Lex and therefore Joseph had forgotten more neuroscience than Lionel had ever mastered.

Then Lionel told him that Lex had killed Julian. Joseph didn't have to feign his shock and horror. He tolerated Lionel's comforting hands sliding over his shoulders as he collapsed into one of the two chairs provided in his spartan room.

"It's too soon to tell whether the flaws that made Lex so weak have been eliminated," Lionel said, his tone reassuring as if he honestly thought that his tone would matter. "You need to allow some time so I can be sure."

"Julian," he said. He remembered—excitement, happiness, love, suffusing the whole house and alleviating the usual gloom. Julian was supposed to love Lex because he was the big brother, regardless of whether he was a freak. Julian was going to make them a family again. Now, with this new knowledge, the memories seemed like another betrayal by Lex.

When Lionel talked about Julian, his demeanor was different than his usual slickness. It looked like real grief; his face grew older, almost defeated.

It had taken Joseph some time to recover from the revelation. But ultimately, Joseph had argued that the only way to determine his stability was to put him in stressful situations, such as were found in the real world. He hadn't given much thought to what was going to happen to Lex—or Lex, the beta version, as Joseph was coming to think of him. Clearly, replacement was contemplated.

****

Later still, there was Dominic Senatori. Lex had been inclined to bottom, but Joseph discovered that he was more of a top. Possibly Dominic just wanted to make the experience educational for him, petty revenge against a Lex he could actually reach. But Joseph wouldn't put it past Lionel to have "corrected" a flaw like inappropriate sexual desire in the revised Luthor heir. The obvious thing would have been to straighten out Lex's sexuality, but Lionel was very ancient Greek in his sensibilities—as long as Joseph was dominant, the sex of his partner was unimportant to Lionel.

In any event, the interlude with Dominic was less than pleasant, but he had the feeling his father would appreciate the tape. Also, he learned Dominic's passcodes, which was the crucial aspect of the transaction.

****

Lionel had formally recovered his substantial private fortune, allowing him to leave the mansion and spend more time in Metropolis with Joseph. Joseph learned the details from the Internet, but Lionel would now freely admit to his legal troubles, a sign that he was almost ready to let Joseph loose. Lex's lawyers were after him, and they were the best in the country, but they hadn't brought him down yet. So Lionel took Joseph to London on a private jet and they went sight-seeing. When they went to restaurants, Lionel ordered for both of them, even though Joseph knew quite well his own likes and dislikes.

Lionel bought Joseph beautiful bespoke suits and touched his back, smoothing the fabric down so it settled properly. He told Joseph that he was a good boy. At night, he'd come into Joseph's hotel room and look at Joseph, awake on the bed. He never approached. It was more important to him that Joseph know that he could walk in any time than to do anything.

When they went back to the States, Joseph decided it was time to leave.

****

Lionel knew all Lex's security codes, and Joseph knew what Lionel knew about Lex, so getting into the mansion in the dead of night was no problem. From Lex's office, he tapped into the security feed and checked to see that Lex was asleep in his bed. Then he cut off the cameras, equipped himself and headed up to see his predecessor.

Just in case, he stopped outside the bedroom and broke the camera feed physically. He hadn't seen that Lionel had separate controls over the system—as far as he knew it was only a tap—but it would be unpleasant to be wrong.

Lex was a slow learner, but once he got a lesson down he rarely faltered. He had the nightstand open and his hand on his gun before the bedroom door fully swung open. Joseph let the safety click off the revolver he'd taken from the study, and Lex froze.

"Let go of the gun and lie back down in the bed."

"Whoever you are—"

Joseph didn't intend to enter into negotiations. He fired one shot into the nightstand. Lex complied with the order. Joseph was impressed despite himself that Lex hadn't jumped back; he must have felt the bullet go right by his hand.

"Put your hands up over your head."

Lex moved slowly. He was bare to the waist, possibly nude under the Egyptian cotton sheets. Joseph didn't approach until he could tell that Lex's hands were empty and held above him. Carefully but quickly, he looped a cord he'd taken from the study curtains around Lex's left wrist and tied it to the nearest bedpost. Holding the gun unerringly on Lex, he went to the other side of the bed and repeated the process on Lex's right. Then he went back and checked the first knot, tightening it just to be sure. Finally, he collected Lex's gun and put it, with his own, across the room; the last thing he needed was for Lex to get his hands on a weapon that he could use while still tied up.

One reason Lex didn't attack might have been that, even in the dimness of the moonlit room, he could recognize his visitor's face. Certainly the hitched breath and wide, gleaming eyes suggested he was impressed by the resemblance.

"I'm not a shapeshifter, if you're wondering," Joseph said, as if they were continuing a conversation.

"All right," Lex said. "I don't suppose you're my long-lost twin brother Louis, either."

Joseph snorted. "Long-lost, no. You can call me Joseph."

"Joseph." Lex looked like he was tasting the name. "What can I do for you, Joseph?"

He crouched by the edge of the bed so that he was only a few inches above Lex. "We need to chat, Lex. It's about Lionel."

Lex nodded. In his world, this must make perfect sense.

"I'm sure you've already guessed, I'm a product of his extremely innovative labs. And he has plans for me."

"Then what," Lex asked silkily, "are you doing here? Are you on the market for a better offer?"

He shrugged. "Possibly. Mostly I just wanted to meet you in person."

"To trade recipes?"

He reached out and slapped Lex, lightly. "Don't be facetious. At the risk of being obvious, Lionel Luthor is about as trustworthy as a local weather report. And tornado season's coming."

Lex slowly rotated his head back to face Joseph. "Then you might think about who can give you shelter."

Joseph smiled. He liked that Lex was still fighting, regardless of his disadvantage. It spoke well for his own prospects. In truth, he had only a vague idea of how this encounter would go. He only knew that it was vital that they meet and— make whatever accommodation they would make, without Lionel's interference.

"Now that you know what Lionel's been up to, I thought you might have some suggestions about what we ought to do."

Lex's eyes grew distant. Every line of his body was still tense, but he was thinking beyond the moment now. "It would be helpful to know more about what's been going on."

Joseph explained the broad outlines of the project, insofar as he'd been able to garner them. Lex asked the right questions, and he answered as honestly as he thought advisable. His existence was enough threat to Lex that it made no sense to conceal the basics, but there were aspects of the science Lex didn't need to know, not without trading something valuable in return.

"He touches you, doesn't he?" Lex asked, in the middle of a conversation about telomeres.

"What, the dreaded bad touch? He touches me the same way he touches you. Like he doesn't know the difference between our bodies." By this time, Joseph was sitting on the bed beside Lex, half a foot away. "He likes to watch you having sex."

Lex winced. "I knew he liked to fuck my women—"

Joseph winked at him. "You don't need to tell me that. I know those diamond earrings are more a way to say 'fuck you' to Lionel than to thank the lovely ladies—he reserved earrings for real conquests, women he'd spent serious time and effort on, but you throw them around with every condom you use. Anything he can do, you can do better. That rivalry helps explain what I'm doing here, doesn't it?"

Lex sighed and twisted his wrists in the restraints. "So, he watches me. Am I to presume he watche dyou?"

"I didn't see him doing it, if that's what you mean. But I knew the cameras were rolling, and I watched some of his tapes of you. I doubt my partners knew they were being recorded—though Dominic might have."

"Dominic probably jerks off at night thinking of Dad watching him—wait, you fucked Dominic?" Lex closed his eyes theatrically. "I'll never live that down."

"He had something I wanted. You would have done the same thing."

Lex looked up at him, caught between amusement and disgust. "I admit, your circumstantial evidence for that claim is strong."

Joseph leaned closer, putting one leg up on the bed by Lex's hip. "We are very good. It's no surprise he wanted to fuck us."

Lex swallowed and turned his head into the pillow. This close, Joseph could smell him, almost familiar but with an overlay of expensive cologne rather than the cheap soap from the lab. He was sweating a little; so was Joseph.

Joseph tugged the sheet down, exposing Lex's body down to his thighs. Lex looked up sharply, his wary eyes colorless as ice.

He kept his body in excellent shape. Joseph hadn't had much to do other than exercise in his room/cell and learn more about Lex's life, but Lex also managed to find the time for effective workouts. His chest and shoulders were blocky with muscle, a strength that clothing would mostly hide. His skin was smooth, pale as vanilla ice cream in the silvery light from the windows, just a hint of veins here and there for color.

He was bare all over. Joseph was used to it in his own body, but it was more exotic in a partner. Lex's breath caught in his throat as Joseph completed his slow inspection and reached out to run his finger along the curve of muscle defining Lex's upper thigh.

Joseph stared into Lex's dilating eyes. "You look good like that. Tied up." Lex's arms twitched, drawing in towards his face as if he could protect himself from Joseph's scrutiny. Joseph touched Lex's inner arm, just above where the hair would have been on a normal man, using just the pads of his fingers. They slid on the sweat-moist skin, moving up from one nearly invisible freckle to another as he approached the bend of Lex's elbow.

Lex was breathing too evenly, an obvious feint. When Joseph glanced back at his face, he'd bitten his lower lip hard enough to break the skin. "You can't pretend with me. I don't need to look down to know you're interested."

Lex tossed his head, not quite defiance. Joseph took the invitation and bent down to bite the exposed side of Lex's neck.

He tasted expensive. He groaned; Joseph bit harder. Then he licked, down over Lex's Adam's apple, across the hollow of his throat, circling around until he could hear Lex's wrists scraping against the ties as he tried fruitlessly to thrash his way free.

Joseph put one hand on Lex's stomach, hot and trembling. His thumb dipped into Lex's navel as he moved to suck on Lex's shoulder, leaving marks so thick on Lex's skin that he looked like he was getting a heat rash. Lex was panting, half-swallowed incoherent commands coming from his throat. Joseph raked his teeth across Lex's pectoral muscle, feeling it almost in his own flesh. The red trails he left behind gleamed in the moonlight when he pulled back to examine Lex.

This was going to be the most perverse thing Lex had ever done, he realized. How much better that it was a perversity unavailable to the ordinary man.

He stripped, letting Lex watch him. And Lex did; he wasn't coy. He wasn't going to pretend that being tied up made this involuntary. When Joseph's clothes were scattered on the floor, he returned to the bed, resuming his slow march down Lex's body. He knew how sensitive Lex's sides were, so he gave them special attention, ignoring Lex's curses and imprecations.

As his tongue slipped over Lex's obliques, he reached up and pushed two fingers into Lex's mouth. Lex bit down just hard enough to feel good—knowing their body went both ways, apparently.

When he sucked Lex's cock halfway down his throat, Lex thrashed like a dolphin caught in a seine. He pushed one saliva-wet finger into Lex's ass, then the other, moving his fingers in time with Lex's thrusts. It was like the obverse of phantom pain, a phantom fuck, filling and being filled.

Lex held out long minutes before coming in a rush of salt and profanity. Joseph waited until Lex's cock was twitching, then pulled off and spat into his free hand. Lex always kept lube and condoms in his nightstand—along with a gun —but Joseph didn't think they really needed to bother. He removed his fingers from Lex, and Lex made a sound that would have been a sigh in a lesser man.

He slicked himself, minimally and hastily, and pushed Lex's legs back and out, enough to strain them to the point of pain. Lex's eyes were closed—Joseph would have done the same, to better savor the sensations, even if getting fucked wasn't as much his preference.

Sliding inside Lex was more than coming home. It was exactly right and exactly wrong, sex like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the snake in the garden, beautiful emerald-green lights bursting into fireworks behind his eyes. Tight, so tight, as if he could be taken in whole, incorporated back into the source of his life. They moved together like twinned gods, every stab of pleasure Joseph felt echoed in a sound or shift of Lex's body.

Joseph opened his eyes—he hadn't meant to close them—and found Lex watching, his face smooth with ecstasy, his mouth hanging open as if it were too much pleasure to keep inside. His eyelids slipped down as the sensations overtook him. Joseph reached out for every inch of skin he could touch, not sure where he began and Lex left off.

Coming was like having his heart cracked open, heart and head and everything in between, filled up with Lex and Lex and Lex.

****

"Now what?"

It was a reasonable question. He didn't feel tender towards Lex, not now. The sex had been too good for that. So ideal that it terrified him; he was as yet unsure what had been remade in him as a result.

"Are you planning to kill me and take my place?" Smooth, unafraid, but not too challenging—almost perfect.

He shrugged, leaning back on his heels. "Is it all right with you if I haven't decided?"

Lex straightened his legs, reclining as casually as if he weren't still tied down. "I'd prefer not to be killed. And I'm fairly sure I know some things my father doesn't, things that could help you."

"Lionel thinks you're unfit. Weak, vulnerable, likely to fall apart when there's trouble."

Lex grimaced. "I'm not the one who was convicted of murder—and no matter what some purchased appellate court said, that was proven at trial. I'd say I've done a good job of keeping LuthorCorp from falling apart."

"You went crazy before. What's to say you won't do it again?"

He went entirely still, waiting for Joseph to look at him with full concentration. "I say that. I'm not going back to Belle Reve. Never again." Moses returning from the mountaintop couldn't have been filled with more conviction.

Before Joseph could decide how to follow up, Lex took the initiative. "So Dad thinks he's fixed you, is that it? Just extracted the parts that couldn't survive three months stranded on a desert island, easy as that? I suppose it must be easier than getting rid of what makes a Luthor vicious."

"It wasn't just the island, you know that." He could admit that it had hurt to read the files on the parts of Lex's life not illuminated by Lex's memories —the trouble at Excelsior, the autopsy report on Julian that Lionel had covered up. "You had problems before that."

Lex scoffed. "I had Lionel Luthor as a father before that! The sane response to being tormented by a self-serving sadist is to resist, not to pretend that life is perfect."

"You killed Julian!" It was his most basic complaint against Lex, Lex who'd brought him into being with his imperfections, who'd destroyed the natural brother he should have had. Joseph remembered his passionate devotion to Julian, his mother's grief, and he could never forgive.

Lex reared off the bed, his lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl, twisting against his bonds so viciously that Joseph heard the distressed creak of the bedposts. "I never hurt Julian! That's Dad's propaganda. He believed it for years because I took the blame to protect Mom. I even believed it—I blocked out what she'd done because I loved her. But it was Mom, Mom who had that pillow. I would never have hurt Julian!"

Joseph fell back, stunned. It felt—right. Not like one of Lionel's convenient lies. "He said—"

"He knows differently now. But he can't let it go. I guess he feels guilt, if he even can, about hating me for so many years. If you believed it, then he could feel he was justified in blaming me. But it's not true."

Once Lex said it, Joseph believed completely. No—he didn't believe, he knew.

How was that possible? There were no Lex-memories to tell him what happened. Except now he was getting flashes ­ a ghost-mother in a white nightgown, hovering over the crib; his father's hand hard against his face, the ring leaving a mark he didn't notice until much later; Julian so pale and still, so like his mother, so much happier than she would ever be.

New memories where none had ever been before. How was that possible?

The answer came to him, an insight so powerful that all his concentration turned inward, ignoring the insistent words of the man on the bed.

He knew Lex's life so well because he was Lex, and "Lex" was the replacement. The memories didn't need to be transferred to his neural pathways, because they were already his memories. His father had been retraining the original Lex to think he was a revamped version who owed everything to Lionel—that would have been the ultimate victory over his wayward son. Lionel would never let an impostor inherit the Luthor legacy. But he'd be plenty willing to let his son think of himself as an impostor all the days of his life, while leaving the double cruelly ignorant.

Somehow, the man on the bed divined what he was thinking. Well, of course; he'd been designed to think like Lex. "No. I'm Lex Luthor. I'm very sorry about what happened to you, and I'll do whatever I can to help you, but you're the clone."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Think, Joseph." The use of Lex's middle name was a mistake, an overplayed hand; it didn't remind him of his clone life so much as emphasize the lie. "If I were the clone, how would I have known about Julian? I retrieved those memories when I was trying to get back the time I lost before Belle Reve."

That explained a lingering puzzle. According to Lionel's records, "Lex" had simply stopped the memory treatments with no result, which was unusual for a Luthor. But if Lionel had lied to him about what was recovered, then there had been a result.

"The memories might have been repressed, but they were still there," he said slowly. "I know you're telling the truth, which means the knowledge was just hidden down deep. It must have been duplicated with the rest of my neural pathways."

The other man shook his head, but there was a flash of doubt on his face. "I remember my mother, standing over the crib with a pillow. I remember understanding what she'd done."

He nodded. "Dad would have destroyed her. She needed to be protected. I was his only living son. He wouldn't hurt me."

That got a laugh. "I was twelve; my logic wasn't great."

He turned away from the bed, needing to think. How could he be surprised at his father's duplicity—but then, how could he not be? The immensity of the lies!

He should have expected the blow to the head.

Twisting away, he spun and raised his hands to a defensive pose. The clone had somehow freed himself; he cursed his inattention as he scanned the room for useful weapons. The guns were too far away to reach in time. He kicked out, trying to keep the other man off balance, landing a hit on his thigh and sending him staggering back towards the bed.

The clone grabbed a small lamp from the bedside table, ripping out the cord with one sharp pull, and swung it threateningly. Lex stepped towards the walk-in closet on his right, grabbing for a heavy trouser press that would give him a greater reach. The clone closed the gap as Lex bent down to get the press; he barely dodged the lamp, catching the edge of the cord on his cheek.

He brought the press up and back, stabbing as if with a heavy foil, and managed to bash the clone's face, not hard but enough to make him bleed and back off a step. He crouched, waiting for his opportunity. The clone looked at him speculatively, his eyes lingering on the trail of blood Lex could feel crawling down his cheek. Then he shifted his grip on the lamp, obviously intending to use the cord as a whip to inflict further damage.

Lex couldn't let that happen. With a roar, he rushed forward, barrelling into the clone and knocking them both down. The clone's head hit the floor hard enough for Lex to hear it. The trouser press, pinned between them, punched them both hard, and Lex let go of it to have his hands free to go around the clone's neck. He could feel the squirming beneath him, the clone desperately struggling to get leverage as his face reddened.

A sudden twist, and the lamp cord was wrapped around his neck. Now it was a race—whose oxygen would run out first? He had the advantage—his weight was on the clone—but the cord was tight and he had to fight the impulse to let go to tear at the constriction with his fingers.

His vision grayed around the edges, pixelating and fizzing as his brain shut down.

The clone had taken over his life, usurping what had been meant for him all along. He would not give up now.

The last thing he saw before the world went dark was the purpling, distorted face that was a mirror of his own.

****

Lex felt the pain before he opened his eyes. But keeping them closed wasn't improving his situation, so he pushed himself up, blinking against the sunlight that arrowed through the room.

He'd collapsed on the floor. The clone was splayed out on the carpet a few feet away. He gritted his teeth and maneuvered until he could stand. His head throbbed with the distinctive beat of a concussion; his throat hurt, his chest hurt, and spots on his limbs joined in where the clone had left bruises.

He knelt next to the body to make entirely sure that it was a body. Too bad it wasn't an X-Files type clone, dissolving after death; getting rid of a body that looked just like Lex Luthor might pose some challenges.

On the other hand—

Challenges were opportunities.

First things first: he called down to the staffroom and sent everyone home.

Then he cleaned the abrasion on his face, put some clothes on and went to his office to call Dominic.

"Someone matching Lex Luthor's description has been killed," he said genially after Dominic picked up. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"I have tapes," Dominic said immediately, fear leaking from every word. "Evidence implicating you and your father."

Lex smiled, knowing Dominic would feel it through the phone line. "Dominic. Why so tense? I have no intention of doing you any harm. Not when you've demonstrated we can work so well together."

"W-which one are you?"

"Does it matter?" Lex leaned back in his chair, examining his nails. Perhaps a manicure was in order.

"You killed him." This late in the game, Dominic could still sound shocked. It would almost be cute, if the man weren't such a mealy-mouthed waste, a tissue to be crumpled and buried in the trash after it served its purpose.

Lex didn't bother to point out that this was hardly the first time he'd been responsible for a death. "You can't kill a man who doesn't exist. Lex Luthor is alive … and kicking, Dominic. I suggest you keep that in mind." He could hear Dominic swallow, courtesy of digital clarity. It was easy to discern why no one would fuck him without an ulterior motive.

"I'll—I'll remember that."

"Good," Lex said, sincerely and without irony.

He hung up and turned to his next task. He'd wait for Lionel to contact him.

While he was finalizing the contract with Durafex, the phone duly rang. "Your creature dropped by," he began before Lionel could get a syllable out.

There was a longer pause than he'd expected. He remembered the security box in the hallway outside his bedroom, a mare's nest of detached and ripped wires. Lionel had grown too dependent on his surveillance for information about his son.

Then Lionel laughed, a rich, relaxed sound. It used to make Lex tense, before he realized that it was all a part of Lionel's conditioning, designed to keep him off-balance. Now, it was only an annoyance insofar as it suggested Lionel was quickly regaining his self-assurance. "Lex, Lex."

The repetition gave him confidence. "Your cameras can't answer that question, can they?" he asked, keeping his expression blank so it wouldn't color his voice. "Obviously the clone was followed, we both know that, but whoever it was didn't get close enough to see. And it's confusing, of course—naked, in the dark, how could you possibly distinguish one from the other?"

"Lex," Lionel repeated. Was that a hint of desperation? This was much sweeter than playing with Dominic. "Son."

"Don't worry, Dad. I expect quickly to prove to your satisfaction that I could only be the legitimate Luthor heir."

He hung up, deeply satisfied. Let the bastard drown in his own fears. God, the only reason the man hadn't cloned himself had probably been the knowledge that Lionel Luthor v.2 would kill v.1 the first chance he got. He'd hoped for a more controllable outcome in a son, but Lex had been his own man for a while, even as a clone.

****

There was one more major player to address before he could end this.

It took time to arrange the scene properly. The body had to be dressed, parts cleaned as well. Lex moved fast, knowing he needed his swiftly-vanishing injuries to testify for him. As soon as he dared, he called Clark.

Predictably, Clark sounded suspicious of Lex's claim that he needed help.

"Clark," he said, lowering his voice, "I need you to see this for yourself. I wouldn’t ask if it weren't important."

He could hear Clark's uncertain breath. "I'll just tell my parents," Clark said after a painful pause. "I'll be over soon."

Lex spent the time waiting in the bedroom. It wasn't that he thought the clone might come back to life—well, he didn't really think that, though by all rights he should have suspected as much after Adam and his father's other Frankenstein monsters. He wanted to be with the clone, since it would have no other mourners; he wanted to remind himself of what Lionel was willing to do to control him so that he'd be on guard for the next horrendous thing.

****

Lex considered what to say very carefully. After the last few months, starting out a conversation with Clark by telling him "I need to explain what you're going to see" could only be a losing strategy, however true it was.

When Clark arrived at last, he was waiting by the door. He took Clark's arm, heedless of the slight pulling away, and guided him up the stairs toward Lex's room. "What's going on, Lex?" Clark insisted. "What happened to your face?"

"Last night someone tried to kill me," he said.

Clark stopped in the hallway, looming large enough to make the statues and paintings around him seem 3/4 scale. "What? Who?"

He let go and turned to face Clark fully. "The next step after Emily Dinsmore. The clone my father created to replace me."

No reaction for several seconds. Then: "A clone?"

"You saw Emily for yourself. You know she disappeared conveniently, along with her father. Apparently my father used her for further advances in the technology, which he then used to build himself a better son."

Clark straightened himself. One of the high mullioned windows let in a ray of light that just brushed the top of his head, anointing him. "And the clone escaped and tried to kill you?"

Lex shook his head and took a deep breath. "It gets worse than that. I never left Belle Reve," he said. "Not for months. After the electroshock, my father transferred my memories to the clone. He released it to take my place and kept me, trying to brainwash me. The clone proved … rebellious. I think that's why he made such a serious attempt on its life, but he didn't count on its inheriting my meteor-enhanced healing abilities. What's worse, while I was locked up, the clone became obsessed with you. It reopened investigations I'd closed long before, began new lines of inquiry. Invaded your life.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am that you were harassed in my name. I would never have violated your trust that way."

He wasn't sure if the message was getting through, so he tried another way. "The clone didn't escape, Clark.

"I did."

He gestured for Clark to follow him further down the hall, stopping in front of the closed bedroom door. Staring at the heavy wood made it easier to talk. "I knew about the clone; my father told me, though with his usual lies. I came to get my life back, but I didn't—I bore him no ill will. He was my brother, in a way. I would have helped him—but he didn't want to give up Lex Luthor's life. He tried to kill me, and I had to defend myself."

Saying it to Clark made it different. Made it real. He hadn't killed Julian, had managed to talk Lucas out of a rivalry that could only have ended in death, but he hadn't been able to avoid harming the brother who was closer to him than either of the others. His throat closed, emotion threatening to overwhelm him. He raised his closed fists to the door, wanting to destroy what was inside, the evidence of his failure.

My brother's blood cries out to me from the ground ­

But that would never be necessary. His brother's blood was in his very veins.

"Lex!" Clark was repeating his name, spinning him around, pushing him up against the wall. "Lex, please!"

He closed his eyes and breathed, in and out, until he was calm enough to push back and stand up on his own. He looked at Clark, Clark whose harsh judgment could always be relied upon to correct him when his morals failed. "He's dead."

Clark nodded slightly. "It's going to be okay, Lex."

In a flash, Lex recognized that Clark wasn't quite sure yet whether to believe him about the clone and the death; if it was a delusion, Clark was just going to humor him until he could figure out another explanation. Infuriated, he tugged at his collar, pulling to expose the still-bruised skin. "Look what he did, Clark! He was going to kill me! I fought back, I hit him. I fought too hard. I was afraid I was going to die."

Clark's widening eyes suggested dawning belief. He looked at the closed bedroom door and his face grew grimmer still. "Show me."

For all his bravado, he was unprepared for the reality of a dead body identical to Lex's. Even after staring for several minutes, Clark's mouth hung open, his eyes flicking from Lex's face to the corpse on the bed.

"I don't—" he stammered at last. Lex tensed, waiting for the mistrust. "I don’t understand. How could this happen? How could nobody have noticed?"

"Come on, Clark. I'd just been in a mental institution. Didn't you write off any lingering oddity as a side effect of recent madness?"

Clark looked more stricken still, his eyes shining with what Lex thought might be guilt. "You were drugged," he blurted out. "Your dad drugged you, to make you sick—to make you act crazy so he could lock you up. It wasn't your fault."

Lex nodded. "Thank you for telling me that." A year late and a dollar short —but it was something.

"Oh, God, Lex—"

This was the first time, he thought, that Clark had ever reached out to him, rather than going along with Lex's hug or handshake. Clark's arms were strong and reassuring, even as Clark himself trembled with emotion. "I am so sorry. I should have known .…"

Lex couldn’t help but agree, just a little, even as he recognized the sheer foolishness of the idea. "It's preposterous, even for him," he said, hugging Clark closer. "It's the stuff of fantasy, sick and twisted. You had every reason to think I was the one who betrayed you."

"I believed your father when he said he'd changed! I believed every lie he told. I'll never make that mistake again," Clark vowed, his voice thick. He hadn't heard Lex's words yet; it might take a while for him to forgive himself. He was still holding Lex close, too close for a friendly embrace. Clark hadn't realized it yet, but he was about to. Lex inhaled, smelling cheap deodorant and the grass-and-milk scent of Clark underneath.

Lex was surprised when Clark continued without letting him go, "I always think you're so strong, and when you aren't it scares me, so I try to pretend you'll be fine—I just let him strap you down and do that to you, and I thought the worst was over. I wanted it to be okay, so I didn't ask questions. I'm not going to let him hurt you again."

"How are you going to manage that? I never could." Lex hadn't meant to sound that raw. Clark brought it out in him.

Clark's hands tightened on Lex's shoulders, not unpleasantly. "Look at me."

Lex did. Their faces were centimeters apart. Every breath he took was hot with air just expelled from Clark's lungs. Clark's eyes focused strangely, as if he were staring into Lex's brain. Up close, Lex could see that his pores were still almost invisible, while half a day's stubble all but invited Lex's caress.

"From now on, I'll always make sure it's really you."

"How? He had my body, my memories .…"

Clark shook his head. "Now that I know what Lionel is capable of, I'll be able to tell. I promise."

Another puzzle piece clicked neatly into place. The blood vessels serving the retina developed randomly, uncontrolled by genetics, differing even in identical twins. Clark hadn't been looking into Lex's brain. He'd been looking into Lex's eyes.

He hadn't known that Clark's vision was quite that advanced.

He managed a smile for Clark, who was uncertain, waiting for Lex's inevitable skepticism and questions. "I believe you, Clark," he said, relishing the smile his statement produced. "I know you won't let anything happen to me."

Really, the kiss was secondary.

And surprising—a brush of lips, dry and chaste, so quick he might have thought he'd imagined it if not for the look of sudden terror on Clark's face.

"Clark?" he asked, gently as a man trying to get a kitten down from a tree. Smiling with all the sincerity he had and some he had to borrow.

"Was that—okay?" Clark pulled away a bit, his hands letting go of Lex and drifting nervously down.

Luthors didn't often grin, but Lex was willing to make an exception. "It was wonderful. And we should return to the topic. But, Clark, I'm sure my father is heading here to see what he can salvage from this latest plot. I don't think it would be a good idea for you to be here when he arrives. He's already far too interested in you ­ I'm fairly sure that was part of what got the clone so obsessed, since it was shaped to my father's desires."

Clark looked over at the bed, obviously remembering the dead body. He swallowed and stepped further back. Lex suppressed a smirk; if people in Smallville refused to court in the presence of death, there'd never be any romance in the town at all. He needed a distraction. "Can I stop by the farm later?"

There it was, the Holy Grail: Clark's full solar smile, powerful enough to make sunscreen advisable. "Yeah. Yeah." He shrugged helplessly, half-mocking his inarticulateness.

Lex didn't mind in the slightest. He had words enough for them both.

"Your dad tried to make you into a whole new person," Clark said abruptly, distracted by the admittedly distracting circumstances. The wondering note in his voice suggested to Lex that Clark had some experience with parental coercion, which seemed a little inconsistent with what he knew about Jonathan Kent—though clearly it was a mistake to underestimate a father's desire to ensure that his son grew up in the paths of righteousness.

"You'd think he'd be happy with a son like me," he joked.

"He should have been," Clark said, scowling. "He's not just evil, he's—demented. He's really dangerous — I wanted to believe he wasn't, because I'm scared of what he's capable of—especially when I thought you weren't my friend any more and I'd have to fight him alone. But we can't hide any more. We have to do something about him."

"And we will, Clark. I promise. If we work together, I know we're going to be able to protect the world from Lionel Luthor." He'd never been more serious. It would have been better if their alliance weren't prompted by a threat from his father. But it had been established that Clark would never come to him absent an external reason, and life was about making the best out of one's circumstances.

"Go on home, I'll be there soon," he said affectionately. Clark looked at him with surprised happiness. He wanted to fix this image in his mind forever. Clark so open, willing to give what he didn't even know yet, all red flannel and red cheeks, nervousness returning him to the coltishness he'd had when they'd first met four years ago. He was as shocked by the kiss as by their first collision, and just as beautiful, even with the lies that covered him from head to toe.

Clark ducked his head and hurried off, pausing only in the doorway to look back at Lex with a concern that was nothing short of miraculous. Of course, that was true of many things about Clark.

Lex relaxed a fraction when Clark was gone. Lionel was undoubtedly going to show up shortly, and Lex did need to prepare; he also needed to dispose of the body, which was likely going to require a hacksaw. Fortunately the mansion possessed its own industrial-quality incinerator, a fact that led Lex to suspect that Lionel had all along planned for extreme personnel management. A little sweat, a little blood, and the clone would be nothing but a bad set of memories.

The matter had been unpleasant, but that was nothing new when it came to Lionel's plans for Lex.

In the greater scheme of things, a little more Lionel-inflicted torture was a perfectly reasonable price to pay for Clark Kent.

End.

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