Clark stared down at the envelope in disbelief. It looked innocuous enough, but he couldn't figure out why Lionel Luther's attorneys would be sending him a letter. Lionel had died just days ago, and even though it had been ruled natural causes, everyone suspected that his son, Lex, had somehow been responsible. Just the thought of Lex still twisted his gut painfully. At one time, he would never have believed his friend capable of murdering his father, but times, and people, change. Scanning the envelope one more time, this time using x-ray vision, Clark found no indication of anything besides a sheet of paper and a smaller envelope contained within it. With a shrug, he released his paranoia and reached for the letter opener...
An hour later, Clark was still holding the letter as he reread it for the 50th time. What Lionel claimed to have done, the possibility that it might be true, both horrified and elated him. He was afraid to believe, but he couldn't deny that he wanted to, more than anything. He couldn't, however, quite bring himself to open the smaller envelope, the one simply addressed to "Lex." There was only one way to discover whether or not letter the contained the truth. He accepted the possiblity that it could be an elaborate ruse with which to trap him, or really, to trap his alter ego, but not once had either Luthor indicated that he knew Superman's true identity. There were easier, and much more reliable ways, to get to Clark--his parents, his partner, or any of his friends. Clark briefly considered calling his parents, to ask their opinion, but the memory of his father barely keeping the "I told you so" out of his voice when Lex began to show his "true Luthor colors" made him squash that idea quickly. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the phone and left Lois a brief voicemail stating that he was going to meet an informant, but if he hadn't called her by 9:00 PM, she should ask his parents about the castle. The cryptic message would drive Lois crazy, but he didn't want to leave anything too incriminating on her voicemail. If she knew he was going to the Luthor Manor, he'd never keep her away. And if what the letter said was true... then that was the last thing he wanted.
Superman studied the castle intently from the air. His x-ray vision had failed to discover anyone in residence, and the place was eerily silent. Scanning the area around the estate once more, he dove down and easily bypassed the security, just as he had once upon a time. He didn't stop until he came to the full-size portrait of Alexander the Great that was displayed at the end of the hall in the east wing of the castle. Easily removing the painting, he examined the grey stone wall briefly before bringing his fist back and punching it. The small layer of stone crumbled easily, displaying what looked like an elevator with a keypad rather than up/down arrows. With fingers that shook just a little, with apprehension or anticipation, he couldn't tell, he typed in 'Hephaistion.' The doors opened smoothly, and he discovered it wasn't actually an elevator, but rather a staircase. For some reason, that made him feel better. Less like he could be trapped. Using x-ray vision once again, the discovery that the doors and walls were made of lead gave him pause, but he wasn't about to turn back now. He had to know the truth. *Oh great, now I sound like Lex. Is this how he felt whenever he saw me? That he just had to know?* Shaking away his thoughts, he continued down the stairs, noticing a slight hum that grew in volume as he went.
A dim, blue glow illuminated the corridor at the end of the staircase, and the hum of electricity was clearly audible. This time, he didn't hesitate when he reached the door with the expected keyboard. Typing in the next password, 'Julian,' he could feel his heart beat increase in excitement. The doors slid open silently, and a lab was revealed. As he entered, the lights automatically activated, and he had to blink to adjust to the brightness. There were three empty glass vats against one wall, another had a counter with various pieces of equipment and test tubes and flasks organized neatly in rows and, against the third wall... He sucked in a breath as he slowly approached the long, silver capsule that stood upright against the third wall. This was the source of the hum. Small indicator lights blinked green on the display panel on the middle right side of the capsule. This was it, what he had come to see.
He keyed in the final password he had been given--"Lillian." The hum changed in frequency, and the indicator lights started to gradually change. It took about 20 minutes, with the green lights changing to orange, and then the orange to red. When all the lights held at a steady red, the capsule latch released with a hiss. Clark reached forward and opened the capsule the rest of the way to reveal the pale figure inside. He stifled a sob as he touched the cold, hairless skin, and he was exceedingly gentle as he removed the breathing aparatus and the tubes that were connected to various parts of the body. Once everthing had been released, he took off his cape and wrapped the slender form in its folds. When he realized that the form wasn't breathing, it was with a feeling of deja vu, and maybe even rightness, that he administered CPR. There was a choke, and then eyelids fluttered, and Clark held his breath.
Lex panted in air. His lungs felt like they were on fire, and he was freezing. Opening his eyes, he had to squint against the brightness, and then he blinked, hard. What kind of drugs was he on, anyway? "Clark?" he rasped, "What on earth are you wearing?"
Clark barked out a slightly hysterical laugh and then broke down sobbing, clutching Lex to his chest. For it truly was Lex. Who else would recognize him in his Superman uniform and then immediately comment on his fashion sense or lack thereof?*****
Making sure Lex was warm enough, Clark gently pulled the blanket under his friend's chin. Then he smoothed it down, taking care that there were no wrinkles. He caught himself starting to fluff the pillow and finally admitted that he was just delaying the inevitable. He was going to have to go downstairs and explain everything to his parents. He sighed softly, then with one last look at Lex's peaceful, sleeping face, he left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Both of the older Kents looked up at him as he entered the kitchen, and he just barely managed to squash his instant desire to run as far away as fast as possible. But he couldn't do that, as that would leave Lex alone with two people who quite possibly wanted him dead, even though it wasn't his fault.
"Clark..." Jonothan started, but Clark held up a hand.
"Just give me minute. It's kind of complicated," Clark said as he moved to the refrigerator and grabbed the milk. At a look from his mother, he also retrieved a glass from the cupboard and poured the milk into it rather than drink straight from the carton, as he usually did. Poking around, he discovered the latest batch of cookies and brought them to the table with him. At last, seeing that his parents were rapidly losing their patience, he took his normal seat at the table. "It's Lex," he stated.
Jonothan's eyes narrowed. "We could see that, Clark, but what is he doing here? You know how dangerous he is."
Clark shook his head. "You don't understand. Lex isn't dangerous."
"Honey, I know that you and Lex were once... well, friends, but you know that he has tried to kill you several times," Martha said gently.
"No, he hasn't. That's what I'm trying to tell you. This is Lex. The guy who's been trying to kill me isn't."
This statement was met with puzzled frowns, and then Jonothan spoke again, "Isn't what?"
"Isn't Lex. The guy who's been running around for the last 8 years with Lex's face isn't Lex."
Jonathan was shaking his head. "You're not making sense, Clark."
Clark rubbed his face in frustration. He knew he'd suck at the explanation. "Look, I received a letter. And this letter told me that to find the truth, I had to go back to the Luthor Mansion in Smallville. The Castle."
Horrified, Martha stared at him in shock. "You didn't... Clark! How could you do something so dangerous? It could have been a trap! Maybe it was a trap!"
"No, it wasn't. I found Lex. My Lex. The other guy... he's a clone that Lionel made, but lost control of."
Martha mouthed the words "a clone" silently, while Jonathan looked extremely skeptical. "That doesn't seem very likely, son," he finally said.
"Oh, that's where you're wrong. Lionel started his little cloning project back when I was in high school. I'd thought... hoped, I guess, that he'd discontinued it after what had happened with Emily, but I was wrong. He continued until he could make a replacement for the son he couldn't control, who was starting a life separate from Lionel," Clark stated grimly.
"But... that's insane! Not even Lionel would try to replace his own son... would he?" But Martha sounded uncertain. She didn't like to think that a parent could do such a thing, but she had seen Lionel do unconscionable things before.
"Oh he definitely would... and did. What surprised me is the letter he sent. It couldn't have been guilt--Lionel never felt any. Possibly, he thought the only way to defeat clone Lex was with the original?" Clark shook his head. "It doesn't matter what his intention was, not anymore."
Jonathan scowled. "Even if it's true, that the Lex upstairs is the real Lex and not the one who's been your enemy for the past several years, he's still a Luthor, and he's still dangerous. Maybe even more dangerous, now that he doesn't have anything to lose."
"Lex is my friend, and now I know that he never stopped being my friend. Knowing that, and knowing what it felt to lose him... I'm not losing him again," Clark stated. "Everyone is dangerous, in one way or another, and I'm probably the most dangerous of all -- especially to Lex, because he trusts me. And this time, I'm going to trust him, too."