Summary: Lex gets a "friendly" warning about staying on the straight and narrow.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: About two weeks after the end of "A Better World." (spoilers)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

FAIL-SAFE

Lex Luthor smiled as he walked out of the ground floor of the skyscraper and along the busy Metropolis street. It had been a busy two weeks since he was pardoned and released from prison: he had checked on all of the assets which had been frozen, and found they were more or less intact, including his controlling interest in LexCorp, which Mercy had meekly signed back over to him as a preemptive attempt to forestall any revenge on his part. He had smiled and reassured her that he had been pleased with her performance as CEO--certain personal issues aside--and would have no problem with her continuing in that position indefinitely. * Or until I'm bored and want some entertainment--and revenge is most definitely a dish best served cold * He had set up shop in the Presidential Suite at the Excelsior Hotel--the quality of service was excellent, and the security first-rate, allowing him to plan for the future in safety and comfort.

Lex entered his suite at about eight PM, and quickly changed into more casual clothing. His two bodyguards were waiting just outside his door, ready for any trouble, but Lex thought it would be a quiet evening--he would just go over some paperwork before watching the evening news and eating a nice dinner--

"Hello, Lex. Enjoying your freedom?"

Lex prided himself on his ability to weather sudden shocks, but he was completely unable to stop from flinching as he heard the familiar voice. He remembered all too well being awakened by it in his mansion bedroom, and the sight of Mercy being knocked cold by a single no-look punch. He took a deep breath, turned around, and saw Batman standing there with a smirk on his face. He glared at the intruder and snapped, "Hotel security really isn't what it used to be."

"Don't be too hard on them," replied Batman, pulling up a chair and sitting across from Lex. "It took me half an hour to come up with an effective way to get in here without being detected. Way better than average. If you've got some extra investment capital, I'd recommend putting it in whoever their security vendor is--they're going places."

"I'll keep that in mind," Lex replied as he shook his head in irritation. Batman remained impassive, and Lex scowled and demanded, "Why are you in here? I've received a full pardon, and I haven't done a single damned illegal thing since I've left."

"I wanted to show you something, Lex--and I thought that you might want to keep the fact that I'd met with you secret from the general public. People might come to the wrong conclusions." Batman spoke calmly, and Luthor raised an eyebrow. Batman noted the reaction and added calmly, "And I know you've been a good boy so far--that's why I'm asking rather than telling you, and why I'm giving you the option of doing it quietly. Your call."

Lex looked at Batman suspiciously, and considered the proposal. * He could have made a spectacle of things tonight if he can pierce hotel security so easily--he must have really wanted to show me something: what could it be? * He frowned, then looked at Batman. "Where do you want to meet?"

"The alley between the hotel and the jewelry store: ten minutes." Batman replied, and Lex turned to reach for his wallet. When he turned back around, Batman was gone.

Lex sighed, and went to tell his security guards that he'd be going out for a little bit on his own, and not to follow. They grumbled, but complied.

Lex threw on a coat over his casual clothes and went downstairs, out the revolving door, and over to the alley. Batman wasn't visible, but he saw the glint of metal of a car parked down the alley, and he walked over to see the Batmobile, sleek and dangerous-looking as it sat silently. The bubble-top popped open and Batman said simply, "Hop in."

Lex did so, and the top closed above them, sealing them in. Lex would ordinarily have felt claustrophobic, but the technology on display in front of him had fully engaged his attention. "Remarkable piece of automotive engineering you have here--don't suppose you'd like to put me in touch with your dealer?"

Batman smirked. "I'll pass on that." He pulled the car out of the alley, and they drove out of the city and onto a quiet highway, with Lex waiting impatiently as Batman serenely looked ahead. Just as he was about to angrily demand that Batman say something, the dark figure reached out and flipped a switch, causing a small screen to pop up in front of Lex. "Watch this, Lex."

The screen lit up, and what looked like the footage from a high-quality digital surveillance camera came up on the screen. Lex noted a time-stamp on the screen that--oddly enough--seemed to be from about two years in the future. More interesting was the fact that the view seemed to be of the interior of the Oval Office--and that he was standing behind the desk, busily grabbing papers and stuffing them into a briefcase. Lex's eyes widened. "Good Lord."

"Yes, you did quite well for yourself in the Lords' Universe, Lex--made it all the way to the big chair." Batman spoke quietly, still looking straight ahead, though Lex suspected that he was keeping an eye on his passenger with his peripheral vision. Lex nodded involuntarily, not surprised at the source of the video record, and listened as Batman added, "Of course, you got greedy, and at this point you're trying to flee, one step ahead of the Justice League and with the country at the verge of an apocalyptic war. You always were fond of making messes for others to clean up, Lex."

Lex scowled, and watched as the door to the office was kicked off its hinges and Superman strode in with an angry expression on his face. Batman pressed another switch and commented, "You might want to hear this."

Lex watched and listened, and came to the conclusion that his counterpart was a bit unhinged. * I don't sound like that! He must have gone insane from Kryptonite exposure, or something * He smiled as the other Luthor threatened Superman with The Button, and taunted him with his inability to kill. * He knows the Big Blue Boy Scout pretty well. . .but, then again, this one isn't like that, is he? *

As if in answer to Luthor's thought, the video showed Superman's eyes glowing bright red, and the other Luthor screamed. After another second, something happened that caused Luthor to close his eyes and which made him very glad that he had not eaten in some time. The sound alone would have caused more or less the same reaction.

"Simple physics--bring a substantial amount of liquid to a boil within a sealed container. . .sooner or later, something has to give." Batman commented, glancing over to the screen, which showed the other Luthor's smoking corpse and the other Superman standing quietly at the window, looking out at the Washington Monument. Batman and Wonder Woman showed up and reacted to the spectacle, and Wonder Woman walked over to check on Superman. The Kryptonian's answer to the Themysciran's concern chilled Lex to the bone:

"I feel *great*!"

The screen went blank, and Lex sat in silence for several seconds before commenting softly, "I always wondered if there was something that would make him cross that line--now I know."

"Yes." Batman replied, looking at the road ahead and noting that Lex was visibly pale. "My counterpart sent me that footage, along with a lot of other information about the Lords' world that might well come in handy for preventing what happened there." Lex was silent, and Batman continued, "We're having this conversation because you've proven that you *can* deal in good faith when you think it's going to benefit you, though you'll certainly cheat if you think you'll come out ahead."

Lex shrugged. "If you say so."

"I do." Batman smirked again, and continued: "That incident was the first and most crucial catalyst to the downfall of that world: there were others that followed, but the willingness of Superman to cross that line without regretting it was the start of the avalanche. Once he had fallen, the others followed, whether reluctantly or not. He must not be allowed to go down that road, and that mission statement leads me to you, Lex."

"Well, I certainly know not to taunt him like that--I don't really see having my head exploded with heat vision as a viable lifestyle choice," Lex replied, shivering slightly.

"Yes, but as the saying goes, 'All roads lead to Rome.' You've made trying to destroy Superman a large part of your life, Lex. We knew before that he could be brainwashed into being a threat to humanity--now we know that simply pushing him too far can force him past the point of no return. He's done a remarkable job of resisting Lord Acton's adage about power corrupting--but he has limits, and you're the one I see as most likely to push him past them." Batman's tone was grim, and he turned to look at Lex as he concluded, "The world needs a fail-safe to protect it from what you might cause him to do."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "Really? And what, pray tell, is that failsafe going to be?"

Batman didn't move a muscle, but the tone of his voice caused Lex to flinch involuntarily as he uttered a single word:

"Me."

Lex took a moment to recover from the burst of irrational fear he had experienced, and he chuckled loudly, "You? Oh, you've done a good job of piercing my security a couple of times when I wasn't specifically trying to keep you out, but do you really think that I couldn't come up with airtight security against you if I wanted it?"

"Possibly--do you really want to risk it?" Batman smirked, and pressed a couple of buttons before Lex could answer. A printed page came out of a slot in front of Lex. "Recognize those numbers, Lex?"

Lex grabbed the paper, and read it quickly. The chill returned, redoubled. "What in the hell--?"

"Four different hidden bank accounts, in four different nations that don't exactly practice good financial citizenship with the rest of the world. Total amount in those four accounts as of two days ago: fifty million dollars." Batman replied matter-of-factly, watching Lex's reaction with a placid expression. "If you call those banks, you will find those accounts contain precisely one thousand dollars each--just enough to keep them open."

"You're lying," Lex whispered, refusing to believe. "They wouldn't--"

"Given the right combination of bribes and pressure? Like hell they wouldn't--but there's a phone right in front of you that you're welcome to use to confirm what I've told you." Batman said, amusement now audible in his voice.

Lex stared at the phone, and decided that he'd check when the hero wasn't around to snicker at his discomfort. "You bastard--I'll see you ruined and hanging from a flagpole for this!"

"Doubtful, since the very fact that you have such bank accounts could have you back in prison for twenty years, if you are indiscreet enough to call it to the attention of the authorities by kicking up a fuss." Batman's voice was now a silky whisper, and it fanned Lex's rage even as his rational mind told him that he'd better calm down. He fought down the anger, and Batman added, "Don't worry--I didn't go on a shopping spree with your money." He pressed another button, and a second sheet came out of the printer. "The money is here--and here's what you need to do to claim it."

Lex took the paper and read it--the last paragraph caused his jaw to drop and his voice to crack as he said, "You've got to be kidding."

"Oh no, Lex--to the letter. And don't try to bribe them to get around it-- they've been warned about the consequences of doing so." Batman replied, pulling the Batmobile into the parking lot of a roadside convenience store and turning to Lex before adding, "If you remain a solid citizen--albeit one with a few little secrets like those bank accounts--we don't have a problem. If you start straying, you will find that your life is getting increasingly unpleasant in ways that will be hard to trace or prevent. If you become a genuine threat to the human race again. . .better that I have to try to resist Lord Acton's adage than Superman, and I don't need flashy superpowers to end you, Lex. Let's not go there, all right?" The top popped open on the Batmobile, and Lex noticed a battered cab parked nearby. Batman smiled evilly. "I've covered your ride home, Lex. Enjoy."

Lex didn't wait to be told twice--he got out and entered the cab, which immediately headed back for Metropolis, with the engine sounding as if it would die at any moment. Lex wasn't paying attention to that particular indignity--he was wondering how many people he would have to bribe to keep the spectacle of having to sing "The Barney Song" in front of the occupants of a busy Bahamian bank at mid-day in order to reclaim his money from being the headline of every gossip rag in the civilized world.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.