(A sequel to "Ponyville")
For neverbeen2spain's Snakes on a Plane Challenge (futurefic, AU as of some time in season 4, rated okay for older kids, not my characters; just fooling around; please don't sue)
(Five million thanks to ligiaelena! She not only beta-read this silly thing, she also rescued it from oblivion when my computer crashed so badly that the smoke got out! Yay! All remaining errors and offenses against simple grammar or common decency are, as always, mine and mine alone.)
There were very few things that Lex Luthor hated more than flying.
One of them was losing out on a business deal to his father.
Lex made a point of double-checking the backgrounds of his pilots and mechanics very, very carefully. He knew from painful experience that they held his life in his hands. Unfortunately, he had never quite grasped the fact that Lionel Luthor could corrupt even the most respectable people, including trusted LexCorp employees.
So when a particularly lucrative deal required Lex's presence in California, he boarded the LexCorp jet with a completely unwarranted confidence.
Lionel Luthor knew more about Superman than any man now living. It was entirely possible that he knew more about the alien than any person who had ever lived -- dear Martha had never let on whether or not she and her late husband realized exactly what Clark had been up to in Metropolis the summer he met Morgan Edge.
To Lionel's sure knowledge, there had been at least six extremely troubling incidents in the past four years: demonic possession, ordinary carnival-type hypnosis, polka-dot kryptonite, and three magical spells. Lionel wasn't sure if there had been more times when Superman had held the fate of the world in his all-too-fallible hands, and was only prevented by dumb luck from throwing it away. Six was plenty.
Nobody else would do anything about it; nobody else had the knowledge, the will, and the ability. Above all, nobody else had Lionel's access to the perfect bait and the perfect trap.
He prayed Martha would never know.
There was no amount of careful planning that could prevent Lex on a plane from displaying a certain long-tailed-cat-in-a-room-full-of-rocking-chairs demeanor. He was therefore well strapped-in and holding hard to the armrests when the plane lurched suddenly to the left. He suppressed that scream, but another lurch and a choked-off cry of pain from the cockpit brought him panic-hearted out of his seat. He didn't carry a gun on an airplane -- there had been a maddeningly large number of pro-con lists that had gone into that decision, some years ago, and he wished with all his heart at this moment that he'd decided it the other way. His steel-reinforced laptop case at least gave him something to grip as he forced himself forward along the uncertain aisle.
Lex made it to the cockpit door after what seemed several miles of bad road, but was really just a few yards of wildly pitching plane decking. There had been a total of two yells and a few thumps; something was happening to the pilot. Maybe Johnson was just pulling some sort of crazy practical joke. Yeah. Right.
He took a deep breath, squeezed the laptop handle, and wrenched the door open. Nothing could have suppressed his next scream. There was a huge snake -- green, glowing (shoot!), eight or ten feet long at least, and thicker than Lex's leg. It launched itself at him, and he slammed the door. There was an almost-satisfying thud as it crashed into the other side, followed by the inevitable intimation of doom.
No one was flying the plane.
Johnson had been lying on the floor, unconscious or dead. Lex had taken several classes at various small out-of-the-way airports on Flying from the Right Seat -- the blue-haired ladies who were mostly his classmates called them Landing the Plane When Your Husband Has a Heart Attack. He could almost certainly land the plane, except that there was a huge poisonous mutant reptile between him and the controls.
Suddenly the air went rushing every which way as the side of the passenger compartment was ripped apart. "Luthor!" Superman shouted. "Clark Kent received an anonymous tip and passed it on to me! What nefarious plan are you up to now?"
Stunned, Lex opened and closed his mouth silently once or twice, then blinked and just said the first thing that came to mind. "There's a big snake on the plane. My pilot--"
Without waiting for Lex to finish, Superman strode masterfully to the cockpit door and pulled it open.
"Wait!" Lex yelled, suddenly remembering. Green. Glowing. Shoot.
Of course, he didn't wait. Clark never listened to him. The big snake jumped out as soon as the door was open and went straight for Superman's throat. Superman pitched over backwards with a groan. Lex barely evaded the falling alien, and dodged through the cockpit door to take control of the plane before they crashed. It only took a second to get her straight and level again, and then he had time to look around.
The snake had definitely bitten Clark. There was nothing Lex could do, and it was turning around to head back this way. Lex slammed the door. Johnson had two big holes in his hand that were dripping with blood and some greenish fluid, and his arm was red and swollen all the way up, but he was still breathing, barely.
Kryptonite. If a human was almost dead, then Clark didn't stand a chance.
Lex looked around desperately for a landing field with a directly adjacent hospital, specializing in poison treatment for alien do-gooders. Of course there wasn't one.
But there was a rainbow, at the edge of a little cloud system just off to the right.
Lex hoped as hard as he could, and aimed the plane for the rainbow.
His soft-field landing technique worked just the way it was supposed to. The grass at Paradise Estate was still as impossibly green and the sky as impossibly blue as it had been five years before. C'thulhu still lay sleeping in the flower garden next to the big house, although somebody (somepony?) had placed decorative pots of flowers and strawberries all over him. The place was, naturally enough he supposed, still full of ponies. They crowded curiously around the plane, and Lex hurtled out to warn them.
"Look out for the snake!" he yelled.
"Hi, Lex!" called some of the ponies, even as they quickly backed up from the plane. (How long had it been since he'd been greeted anywhere in such a friendly way?)
"My -- my friends have been poisoned. I need, um. Is it true that unicorn horn can cure any kind of poisoning?"
"Uh huh!" exclaimed various ponies. There were so many, capering around in various ways, and Lex was still shaky from landing the plane, as well as worried about ponies getting too close to the snake and getting bitten.
Some of the prancing ponies started to sing.
Oh, no! It is a snake!
She'll sleep and never wake!
Lex's friends will be okay,
The poison will not kill them,
'Cause ponies can stop
Lex considered sinking to the ground and putting his head in his hands. (Where did otherworldly ponies learn the "Bewitched" theme song tune, anyway?) Then there was suddenly some purposeful movement, and a no-nonsense voice called out, "Stand aside, everybody!"
Windwhistler cantered up to the ripped-open side of the airplane. Other ponies made room for her. She was carrying something that looked like a toy rocket launcher. She set it down in the clear space the other ponies had made. The big green krypto-snake stuck its head into view, and Windwhistler stomped on her device. A spray of powdered something puffed out of it, and the snake fell back, asleep. "There!" Windwhistler said triumphantly. "Uni-ponies?"
Buttons, Gusty, and a few other uni-ponies trotted forward and into the plane. Moments later, they dragged Johnson and Clark out onto the clean green grass. Johnson's arm looked a lot better, and Clark had lost that horrible blackish-green veiny look that kryptonite always gave him.
"Thank you," Lex breathed.
The ponies all clustered around him, chattering. "We're so glad to see you again! Where did that snake come from? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine! I'm fine," Lex reassured the ponies, patting them on their foreheads and stroking their soft little noses. He'd forgotten how soft they were.
"Hey!" Skydancer exclaimed. "Isn't that the big scary plaid guy who shoved you before? Want us to keep him here with C'thulhu?"
"He looks much better like this," commented Cupcake. "I like his cape."
Ponies wandered all around Superman, holding up his cape to look at it, blowing on the curl on his forehead, giggling.
"We really could keep him here, Lex," Windwhistler said. "It's no trouble. And that way he couldn't hurt you again."
Lex looked at Clark, at Superman, deeply asleep on the green grass of Ponyville. He must have gotten a good dose of the powder when Windwhistler blasted the snake. He looked so harmless in his garish superhero garb -- good, lovable, even noble. As always, appearances could be deceiving. Superman was no Warrior Angel. He wasn't right all the time; he wasn't always particularly compassionate.
The semi-legitimate attacks were one thing -- being roughed up by a superhero was one of the risks Lex was sometimes willing to take, depending on the potential payoff, just like possible lab explosions or stock market crashes. He did what he could to minimize the downside as much as possible, and made a rational judgment as to whether or not to proceed.
The times when Superman "wasn't himself" were something else. Whenever magic spells or bizarre space elements altered Clark's reality, Lex always seemed to bear the brunt of it. Even when others -- Batman, the Justice League, Chloe Sullivan -- were the ones to ultimately stop the Kryptonian and save the world, Lex invariably seemed to take the most damage in the fray. Remembering the time when Clark had been possessed by a demon still made Lex physically shudder and feel sick, and that had been more than a year ago!
On the other hand, Superman stopped a lot of street crime; he rescued kittens from trees; he was the perfect go-to guy in case of alien invasion….
Lex sighed. He wished he were the implacable bastard he always claimed to be. "Betray me and you'll gain my enmity forever." How many people had he told that? Clark had been one, years ago in Smallville. Lex supposed some of them believed him.
But look at the facts:
Mom murdered Julian, whom Lex had cherished as he'd never cherished anyone again. She'd even let twelve-year-old Lex take the blame for the crime. And Lex just loved her with all his heart until her dying breath.
Pam had abandoned him to Lionel, to anguish, to despair. Knowing everything she'd known, she had still done it, and money wasn't a good enough reason for that, even if it was Lex's money rather than her own that she'd been trying to protect. Lex had been able to hold that grudge for years, right up until the day she showed up in his life again, dying, and asked for his forgiveness. He didn't even hold out twenty-four hours after that.
Perry White, that bibulous old hack, had hounded Lex and harassed him and twisted his words, blackened his reputation when he was almost too young to have one really, and gotten it all in print, so it would follow him forever. What had Lex ever to done to retaliate? Nothing. Perry got his act together, joined AA, climbed right back up to the top of his lousy profession, and Lex didn't lift a finger to knock him back down to the gutter where he belonged.
There was no point even thinking about Dad. Compared to him, Clark was absolutely blameless.
"No, that's okay. We used to be friends." Lex took a long shaky breath, turned his back on the unconscious alien, and changed the subject. "That's quite a weapon," he told Windwhistler, who was carrying the launcher back to the house on her shoulder.
"Thanks, Lex! You gave me the idea for a catapult or a cannon or something when you were here before. We usually use it to puff C'thulhu to sleep again whenever he starts wiggling. Cupcake mixes up a batch of sleep powder for him about once a month."
Applesauce and Posey went by, giggling and dragging the krypto-snake over to sleeping C'thulhu. They draped it decoratively among the tentacles.
Johnson woke up. His arm looked almost normal. He sat up in understandable panic and confusion. "Mr. Luthor! What…?"
"They're magical ponies, Johnson. Don't worry about it. Where did that snake come from?" Lex said coldly.
The pilot looked down at the ground.
"Tell me," Lex insisted quietly.
"Your father, sir, he --"
Lex cut him off. "That's enough."
"I'm sorry! He said that…"
Lex snorted and turned away. Behind him, Johnson trailed off into silence. Lex took a couple of deep breaths. "So, Johnson. Do you know how to tell when my father is lying?" The pilot didn't answer. Lex waited a moment and then went on. "His mouth is moving, and sound is coming out."
"Yessir," Johnson said very quietly.
Lex watched the ponies going about their little pony lives for a while. Johnson's silence was a nervous, fidgety thing behind him.
Finally, the pilot cleared his throat and said tentatively, "Sir? Where are we?"
Lex turned around and looked at him. He looked rough, and kind of young. Lex hated feeling sorry for people. "Its inhabitants call it Paradise Estate. I always think of it as Ponyville. If I hadn't been able to get us here, my father's snake would certainly have killed you and Superman, and I might very well have crashed and died as well." Lex watched that knowledge sink in, then continued softly, "I had hoped you wouldn't betray me."
Johnson looked ashamed. Well, that was something, anyway.
"There's nothing good that ever comes of working for my father."
Johnson looked up. "I know that now, sir."
Lex believed him. "Call me Lex." He couldn't bear the relieved look on the man's face, so he turned to the damaged airplane. "Can we fix this well enough to fly it out of here?"
They walked over to the plane. Some ponies were already there, capering in and out of the gap in the fuselage.
"Excuse us," Lex said, smiling at the ponies. They smiled back and got out of the way. Several more clustered around to see what was up.
Johnson inspected the damage, whistling a little under his breath. "Do they have any, uh, do you ponies have any sheet metal? Plywood? Duct tape?"
The ponies all shook their heads. "I don't think so," Cupcake said. "Would frosting help at all?"
"No, I'm afraid not. Thank you for the offer, though. Well, we'll just have to write it off under Superman-related property damage." Darn. Lex had kind of liked that plane. To be fair, it was more Dad's fault it got broken than it was Clark's. Maybe he could get its value back from LuthorCorp somehow. "I guess we need another way home," was all he said out loud.
Several ponies quickly volunteered to help, just as Lex had known they would. "Get the luggage out of the plane, would you, Johnson?" He left the pilot to the ponies, and walked up to the house to make his good-byes.
Thinking things over on the return trip over the rainbow bridge, Lex decided that the snake had been Dad's way of getting rid of Superman, with Lex just considered acceptable collateral damage. So, he told himself, he wasn't being weak by bringing Clark back; he was just thwarting his hairy old bastard of a father.
There were three additional pleasing results of the whole fiasco, which helped quite a bit to offset the loss of the plane:
For one thing, Johnson became an absolutely trustworthy employee. Once bitten, and all that. It was nice to have somebody else around who'd seen the talking ponies, too, especially on the days when Lex was feeling his grip on reality was a little more tenuous than usual.
For another thing, Lois Lane got to "nurse Superman back to health" after Lex and the ponies left his unconscious body on top of the Daily Planet building, right under the globe. She wrote a limited series for the paper about it. Unfortunately for her, it read pretty much like stories about a woman playing with a doll, since Clark stayed completely unconscious for days, no matter how many baths she gave him or how many times she changed his outfit. As soon as he woke up, he just flew away. Picturing how embarrassed Clark must have been, Lex laughed harder than he had in years. He made sure to save those editions of the Planet, to plague Superman with in the future, and he memorized a few choice quotes from the series, to insert into his presentation whenever Lois or Clark would be covering a LexCorp press conference.
Furthermore, the ponies, without any prompting from Lex, simply from listening in on his conversations with Johnson, had decided that Lex's Dad was mean. On their way back from dropping everyone off, they apparently took it up on themselves to go to Lionel's estate and swap out his hair gel for rubber cement. Lionel didn't seem to notice for almost a week. Lex obtained copies of all his father's public appearance photos from that time period and got them framed so he could display them prominently in the LexCorp offices and lobby.
It was good to start each day with a smile.
A/N: That swapping-Lionel's-hair-gel-for-rubber-cement gag was swiped from an old ubertodd story. Unfortunately, I don't think any of those are available on the net anymore.