When Clark was a junior in high school, his English class read a Sylvia Plath poem, Lady Lazarus. He didn't realize until late in the class discussion that he'd misread it, and that's why it didn't make any sense above and beyond the senselessness of regular poetry. He'd thought it went: "Lying/Is an art, like everything else,/I do it exceptionally well."
Much later in life, it occurred to him that this was a pretty big Freudian slip.
The first time he kissed Lex - or, possibly more important, the last time he demanded Lex believe him - was burned in his mind in digital perfection. Nothing was lost; he could call up the full memory, sound and sight and scent, any time he wanted.
It went like this:
Lex's eyes roved under closed lids and his whole body twitched in unquiet sleep. Clark wished his X-ray vision could find the source of the bad dreams and burn it out.
"Hey," Clark said, his voice rough with disuse, as Lex blinked sleep from his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been skinned, stuffed and mounted," Lex said and coughed. Clark put an arm around Lex's shoulders to help him sit up and brought a glass of water to his lips. Lex drank slowly but steadily until half the glass was gone.
"Not that you're not welcome, but what are you doing here?" Lex asked when Clark put the glass down. "I was under the impression that I paid people to look after my well-being, though admittedly you've often done a better job out of pure philanthropy."
"Um," Clark said, grateful that Lex was getting back to his old, loquacious self, but still a little intimidated by it, "I was worried about you." He'd missed enough chances to protect Lex. He'd made a promise to himself not to delay or assume that anyone else could help from now on.
And this one was really his fault, on a lot of levels. Richard Wyman blamed LuthorCorp for the massive mutation rates in Smallville, including the one that took his daughter's life. Cheryl Wyman had been able to teleport objects up to the size of a basketball, and she'd used her abilities to, among other things, decapitate the football player who'd slept with her and then publicly humiliated her. Clark hadn't known whether his powers could resist similar treatment, so he'd gone in hard and fast. She'd been in a coma for six months, and one night she'd just slipped away. Two months after the funeral, Richard had taken his shotgun to the LuthorCorp plant and started downsizing.
Clark had heard a chunk of Richard's anti-Luthor rant before he'd zipped in; Richard had made Lex's secretary tie Lex up before he shot her, and he'd then spent a considerable amount of time using his fists and the rifle barrel on Lex as he lectured Lex about the taint in his blood.
"I appreciate the concern, but I'll be fine." Lex let his head sag back onto the pillow. His eyes closed, making the purple patches underneath them stand out even more. He looked ... Clark didn't like to think it, but Lex looked defeated.
"Can you sit up?"
Lex grimaced and tried to push himself upright, but didn't resist when Clark sat down beside him and helped prop him back against the pillows.
Clark felt himself twitch with guilt. "Uh, I think it would be good if you ate something."
Lex's mouth quirked. "Do you know, I think it would be good too."
"I'll be right back." Clark went down to the kitchen, only a little faster than he should have. Lex had fewer staff these days - residual distrust? Clark couldn't be sure - so there was no one around to catch him in the act. He grabbed a soda and heated a bowl of soup.
Though Clark hovered in case Lex was too weak, Lex managed to hold the soup between his knees. He took big spoonfuls, alternating between that and the Coke sitting on the bedside table. Clark watched, grateful to get this look at a side of Lex other people didn't see, Lex hungry and not pretending anything. Then he realized that Lex might not want to be watched in his vulnerability, and looked away, his hands twisting in his lap as he waited for the small noises of Lex eating to stop.
"I should check in at home. My parents - I'll just talk to them, and I'll be back really soon."
"I believe you, Clark," Lex said, not opening his eyes. Clark felt sick to his stomach.
"Clark," Lex said, quiet and sane, his eyes the color of the spring sky reflected in Crater Lake. Clark, already half-rising from his chair, stopped. "What happened, earlier today. Those bullets hit you - and then you threw him -"
"Lex," he interrupted. "That's not what happened."
He'd told himself that Lex had been horrified and angry at the revelation of Clark's abilities all those months ago, repeating it in his head long after he'd in fact understood that Lex had only been awed. It wasn't that it was safe for Lex to know - Clark wasn't blind to Lex's faults. But Lex wanted to know more than anything else, and at least at first he would have been happy just to share the secret, if he hadn't been so out of his mind on drugs that he was babbling it out to the doctor and her orderlies.
It would have been too dangerous to take Lex with him when he fled Morgan Edge's home.
They'd had nowhere to go, not without Lex's resources.
There was no way he could have known that Ian and Eric were waiting for him at Belle Reve.
He'd done everything he could.
And now it was more important than ever to keep Lex insulated from the truth. If Lex ever found out, and understood that Clark had hesitated and hesitated again, leaving Lex to be shocked into obedience to his father - well, Clark didn't want to think about how he'd react.
"You were - you got hit on the head. It might have brought back - you know it hasn't been so long since you were seeing Julian. All I did was knock you out of the way."
Lex thought that everything had a price. Clark hadn't ever wanted to prove him true, but this was his price. He could see the moment when Lex decided to pay it, like a shadow washing over his face and disappearing. "Do you think I need to go back to Belle Reve? I don't remember, but my father says it helped -"
He put his arm around Lex's shoulders. Lex was hot under his shirt, shaking a little, the way he'd done on and off ever since the electroshock. Clark pulled him closer, until their sides were pressed close and Lex's breathing slowed closer to normal. "You don't need to do anything," he said. "It was just that you got a scare and a bump on the head. You're fine."
"Thank you, Dr. Kent," Lex mocked gently, turning his head to give Clark a real smile, one that made the tight feeling in Clark's chest loosen a little.
"I make house calls." Clark wasn't sure why he was whispering.
And that was another lie, because all he had to do was tilt his head forward a few centimeters. Lex's eyes widened, then closed as their lips touched. The kiss was gentle; Lex's lips were chapped and cracked, but still soft and yielding underneath.
"Oh, Clark," Lex said, pulling back just enough so he could speak. "This is the wrong time -"
"There's never going to be a right time." He saw the agreement in Lex's eyes. "So if it can't be right, it can't be wrong either."
"Unfalsifiable," Lex breathed, and kissed him again before he could ask what that was supposed to mean.
It was like that one time with Lana, kissing and kissing, and then again it was completely different, because it was a choice they made to go no further. There were no natural stages, no first-date restrictions here. Clark would have done anything Lex wanted, anything physical that would make him feel better, but Lex didn't seem to want any more than to hold him, to rub his cheek against Clark's, to kiss him soft and dry as the sun fell towards the horizon and the shadows in the unlit room deepened to purple and black.
After that, things settled down. Lex was with Clark now, needing him and admiring him and making him want to be the hero Lex already thought he was. Lex didn't ask any questions that Clark couldn't answer.
Clark occasionally caught Lex looking at him with a kind of suspended disbelief, gratitude mixed with humility as if he thought he weren't worthy of such care. When that happened, Clark tried to be extra reassuring, wrapping himself around Lex at any excuse, his arms around Lex's waist and his chin hooked over Lex's shoulder, until Lex laughed and pushed him away.
Lex was happier now, less burdened. Like he'd been after the electroshock, though without the brain damage; he had chosen to give up his questions rather than having them ripped out of him, and that made all the difference.
If Lex had agreed not to notice Clark's strangeness, his parents had agreed not to notice Lex. They could go weeks without saying his name, even though Clark spent half the time he wasn't in school over at the mansion. It was creepy and tense at first, but eventually that faded.
When he left for college and gave them Lex's address as his own, they didn't flinch. Sometimes he wanted to talk about it, but talking had never helped him.
Everything would have been fine forever if not for Lionel Luthor, which was a lot like saying that zebras would be fine if not for the lions. Lionel's purpose in life, it seemed, was to destroy Lex in order to save him.
The fall of his junior year at Met U, he would swing by Lex's office at five-thirty on Wednesday afternoons. That was Clark's afternoon, when Lex never scheduled anything, ensuring that they'd get some time together every week.
One Wednesday, Lex's secretary Hannah rose to stop him before he went in. "Mr. Luthor has a visitor. I think he'd like you to wait."
Clark frowned and scanned through the door.
Lionel, standing next to Lex. Touching him. Clark's fists clenched. He unshouldered his backpack and slung it on an empty chair. "I'm going in."
Hannah didn't protest further, so Clark opened the door, trying to control his expression.
"Mr. Kent, so glad you could join us," Lionel said, smiling his monofilament smile, the one that sliced people in two. "We were just discussing you."
"It's all right, Clark," Lex said. He was standing stiffly, but he didn't look like he was having trouble fighting off Lionel's blandishments or insults.
Clark tried to cross the room to get to Lex, but a green light flared on Lionel's hand - a Kryptonite ring. The faceting somehow increased the rock's destructive power, so that Clark could barely stay on his feet even on the far side of the room from Lionel.
Lionel glanced down at his hand. "Ah, yes. I'm very fortunate that LuthorCorp has made such an investment in cleaning up the residue from the meteor shower." He made it sound as if Clark was the next clean-up project.
"Dad," Lex said, his voice a mixture of reasonability and irritation, "I don't know what you're trying to do here, but you're not going to turn me against Clark."
"He's not human, son, and I can prove it." Lionel stared into Lex's eyes, his gaze like a wave of radiation focused on Lex, trying to change him.
Lex just laughed. "You've finally gone over the edge. I always knew you'd say anything to bring me to heel, but this is just ridiculous."
Clark's stomach was churning, and he staggered back a step to brace himself against a chair. "Mr. Luthor -"
They both ignored him. "What bothers you so much, dad?" Lex asked. "That I have the capacity to love anyone, or that it's not you?"
"Lex," Lionel said, his voice dripping with pain that might even have been real, "I don't want to hurt you, but you keep making ill-considered commitments. I'm protecting you from this - this thing that wears a human face."
Before Lex could respond, Lionel pulled out a gun and pointed it at Clark. "You'll see," he said casually to Lex. "It's invulnerable, Lex. Bullets bounce off it. Cars bounce off it."
Lex's left eye twitched.
Clark didn't know what to do. He couldn't knock Lionel out, not with the Kryptonite guarding him, and he felt physically unable to speed away, not even counting how that would expose his secrets to Lionel Luthor. And with the Kryptonite poisoning him, he didn't share Lionel's confidence that the bullets wouldn't penetrate his skin.
Clark's distraction meant that he didn't see the gun until it was in Lex's hand. This gun was the oldest of Lex's personal arsenal, the one Lex had all his suits tailored to hide.
"Lower the gun, dad," Lex said. He was in a perfect shooter's stance, like something out of a training manual.
"Lex -" Clark and Lionel said simultaneously.
"Haven't enough people died for your obsessions?" Lex asked, his voice raw and red. "Haven't enough people died for mine?"
"It won't hurt him, Lex," Lionel said, using the persuasive voice that had gotten him a hundred companies and a hundred mistresses. "It's just a demonstration." Deliberately, he turned his head away from Lex, sighting down the barrel of the gun at Clark. Clark could only pant and shake, hoping that the Kryptonite was too far away, hoping that the gun wasn't filled with Kryptonite bullets. Lionel's finger moved on the trigger -
The bullet went wide, over Clark's shoulder, and shattered the glass covering one of Lex's samurai swords. The noise of the shot was overwhelming in the confines of the office. Lionel looked surprised, and half-turned away from Clark before he began to collapse to his knees.
Clark blinked, confused, then realized that Lex and Lionel had fired at almost exactly the same time, Lex just a little bit faster. Lex was standing, his gun still trained on Lionel, and he was starting to shake.
"Get help," Lex ordered as he reholstered the gun and dropped to his knees, pressing his father's bloody hand between his own. "Get help!"
Lionel's glittering eyes watched Clark as he stumbled from the room. He thought he could feel that gaze even hours later, sitting at the police station as he tried to figure out what Lex would have told the detectives.
"This isn't the first time Luthor's shot somebody," Lt. Palmer said. If he was angry, nothing showed on his dark face. "It isn't even the first time he's shot somebody for you. Remember Roger Nixon?"
Clark didn't glance down at the pictures Lt. Palmer slid across the table. He looked the officer in the eye. "Mr. Luthor - Lionel Luthor - doesn't like me, he doesn't like losing to his son, and he was drinking. That's all. It doesn't have anything to do with Nixon."
Lt. Palmer raised his brows. "Who said it did? It's just that the combination of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor seems to be ... dangerous to the people around you. I made some calls to Smallville, Mr. Kent, and it seems as if you and Luthor were at the center of a four-year-long crime wave."
There wasn't a reasonable answer to that, so Clark stayed silent.
Lt. Palmer sighed. "Lionel Luthor has already said that he doesn't want charges pressed. Ordinarily we don't defer to the wishes of the victim when guns enter the picture, but he's agreed he was belligerent and brandishing a weapon of his own. And the Luthors have a lot of friends in City Hall.
"Luthor's a good shot, by the way. You know, the average Joe isn't allowed to carry a concealed weapon in Kansas. It takes a private investigator's license. Any idea why Lex Luthor feels the need to be a licensed P.I.?"
Clark imitated Lt. Palmer's expression of surprise. "Smallville can be a dangerous place, sir. Lex needs to be able to defend himself."
"And, apparently, you."
If Lt. Palmer thought that this would impugn Clark's masculinity enough to get him to say something rash, he'd picked the wrong gay alien. "If there's nothing else, may I go?"
Clark guessed Lt. Palmer had learned his disgusted grunt from a thousand cop shows. "Sure. Why not. I have the feeling I'll be seeing you again, Mr. Kent."
Clark rose and bit back several acid comments, mostly variations on the theme of "not if I see you first."
After that, with Lex firmly divided from his father, Clark thought he wanted things to change. He was sure of Lex now, and he was working on the whole "secret identity" thing so he could protect the people close to him, which would allow him to expand his activities.
It had been years since he'd even tried to explain away his disappearances. He just left when he needed to be elsewhere, and Lex carried on without him, making excuses if necessary. Metropolis's upper crust must have thought Clark was a hypochondriac or lacked an immune system, but that was a good cover. Lex never mentioned it to him.
Not long ago he'd caught a bullet aimed at Lex, and Lex had been looking right at him as he'd pocketed the flattened slug. Lex hadn't even blinked.
He'd been hoping that Lex would pick up the dropped breadcrumbs, whole loaves by now, and admit that he'd figured everything out. Lex would be proud of his inferences and protective of Clark. He'd be grateful to be in on the secret, to be its master, to hold it close against the prying eyes of those not worthy of it. He'd have good suggestions about how to deal with the situations Clark encountered.
Clark had never imagined that, when he was ready to tell Lex his secret, Lex wouldn't be listening.
He dropped hints. He moved too fast, changing from work clothes to his dinner jacket in seconds. He lifted objects that were too heavy and told Lex what was in unopened envelopes.
When he thought too hard about Lex's apparent failure to observe the obvious, it made him a little sick, like a low-level dose of Kryptonite, but he was persistent - he was going to be an investigative reporter, so he had to be persistent.
"Get out, Clark." Clark thought Lex's voice was low only because he couldn't dare yell, and commanding only because he couldn't make himself beg.
Clark scanned the bomb. It was incredibly elaborate. It still had the gray dropcloth with "IBM" stenciled on it that had been used to get it into Lex's office. (Heads would roll, he thought; he just hoped it wasn't literal.) It had to weigh a thousand pounds.
He looked back at Lex, sitting at his desk where he'd been trapped since the bomb armed. The note was centered on his desk. Clark could read it upside down.
"This bomb is so sensitive that the slightest movement either inside or outside will cause it to explode. This bomb can never be dismantled or disarmed without causing an explosion. Not even by the creator." It continued with some pathetic demands. Once again Lex was being asked to pay for his father's crimes.
The building's evacuation had been complete, except for Lex, by the time Clark arrived on the scene. In fact, he hadn't even known there was a scene. He was just looking to have lunch with Lex, which was why he hadn't changed into his new, silly hero suit. Once he knew what was going on, he wasn't willing to waste time changing.
A quick X-ray of the bomb showed twenty-eight toggle switches. He needed to separate the power source from the detonator. If he could disrupt the wiring - but no, it was like spaghetti in there. There were all kinds of decoy relays and switches, and he couldn't trace the wires from the battery to the blasting cap. There was also a wire weighted with a nut and bolt hanging in a PVC tube lined with tin foil. It was a motion detector; if the bomb was moved or shaken, the circuit would close: boom.
Liquid nitrogen would freeze the parts and keep them from moving, but the whole bomb was lined on the inside with tin foil. Cut into it and the foil would meet the casing, completing the circuit: boom.
Lex was saying something, more orders to leave, but Clark was trying to think. The battery was the key. Take it out fast enough and it wouldn't have time to reach full current. A shaped blast of wind? In theory, he could do it. If he missed, would he have time to grab Lex, punch a hole in the wall and go out that way? Probably not, at least not if he wanted to shield Lex from both the explosion and the solid steel of the building's walls. Lex's windowless office was sniper-proof, but it was a little problematic in this situation.
Grab Lex and zip out through the interior corridors, punching a hole on the other side of the building? That had potential, he thought.
"Clark, please," Lex said. He hadn't sounded as desperate when he begged Clark to get him out of Belle Reve. "Please go." His hands were leaving wet marks on the glass of his desk. Lex was never that scared.
"It's okay," he said, smiling his rescuer's smile.
Lex opened his mouth, but Clark decided that the time for conversation was past. Shooting a blast of air at the battery, he dove across the desk, slung Lex over his shoulder like a jacket, and reversed course, putting his hand out to punch the office door off its hinges before he and Lex went through.
In the strange slowed-down way of superspeed, there was a low rumbling sound behind them. Missed, then. He was ahead of the fireball, but not by much. Already he could feel the heat at his back - where Lex's head was. He ran as fast as he could; he'd fly, except he didn't quite understand how that worked and he couldn't go as fast in the air as on foot. As they approached the far end of the corridor, where the big windows looked out on Metropolis's uptown, Clark repositioned Lex so that he wouldn't be first through the glass, tightened his arms around Lex, and barrelled through.
Glass and fire spewed out of the LuthorCorp building, carrying Clark and Lex with the force of the explosion.
Clark couldn't stop to check if Lex was all right. He had to get them to safety and away from prying eyes.
He flew them to Lex's penthouse, moving fast enough that he hoped there wouldn't be any clear images even if someone managed to grab a picture. He really needed to train himself to fly better, instead of just muddling along.
He could hear Lex's torn and panting breaths as they flew, Lex's face pressed into his chest. Lex's arms hugged him, but not tightly, not with the terrified hope of other people he'd rescued.
They went to Lex's penthouse, high above the city. He touched down on the balcony as gently as a feather. Lex half-stumbled, weaving back as soon as Clark let him go.
"Are you all right?"
Lex didn't say anything. His arms came up, wrapping around himself as if he were cold from the journey. He looked out at the air, from where they'd come. The LuthorCorp tower burned in the distance, five floors gone from the force of the blast.
"What are you, Clark?" Lex was looking at him at last, his eyes dark in his too-pale face.
"I'm an alien." It was such a relief to say the words, like bursting out of an old, over-tight skin. "I meant to tell you, but - you had to know, after all these years."
Lex backed away further, until he fetched up against the stone wall around the balcony. The wind was sharp so high up, shoving at Clark's back like another accusation.
"Lex," he said, the name cutting his mouth like it was made of Kryptonite.
Lex stared at him, and the terrible thing (a terrible thing) was that he was never thereafter able to tell whether the sanity leached out of Lex's face, or into it. Or maybe it was just insanity, switching channels.
"Lex, please -" He took a halting step forward.
Lex's mouth worked, which was how Clark knew that things were hopeless, if Lex couldn't find words. "What - what test did I fail, Clark? What was I going to do that was so terrible?"
He just looked at Lex, through vision blurred with useless tears.
"I would have taken your side," Lex said. "You think I like humanity? The difference between a man and a dog is that if you treat a dog well, he'll be loyal. If you wanted to pave the way for the rest of your kind, it would have been fine by me. I would have helped. I would have done anything - I shot my father for you."
"I'm not - there's no invasion, it's just me, I'm the last -"
Lex laughed, a sound like a car crash, echoing across seven years. "Whatever you say, Clark. Or is that even your name? My father said you used the name Kal before - is that more like it in your language?" He didn't pause to let Clark answer; it wasn't a question for Clark. "I worked so hard to believe in you. I was - I was doing a good job, you know. I -" He cut off, mouth clamped in a hard line against his own ranting.
Clark had been so proud of Lex's growing self-control. Pride goeth, a voice twittered in his head.
Lex half-turned, clutching the top of the wall that kept him from a sixty-story drop. In profile against the cruelly bright sky, he looked carved from marble, drained of blood and belief. "Nothing -" he muttered.
Clark made an involuntary, pained noise.
Lex turned back and raised his fine brows in a parody of surprise. "Still here?" The tone was light, even if his hand was white-knuckled on the stone, his fingers trailing blood where he'd scraped them raw.
Clark opened his mouth to say something, anything -
"I wouldn't, if I were you. Stay," Lex clarified. "I have the feeling - and this is an exclusive, Clark, so pay attention - I have a feeling that things are going to get hot for - out-of-towners. If you know what I mean." His smile was back, the same intimate little grin Clark had seen every day for years, and Clark realized sickly that there were worse things than seeing Lex's face go slack in shock and pain.
He didn't believe in hopelessness. He couldn't. "I love you, Lex. Not everything was a lie."
Lex leaned forward, until Clark could feel his hot breath, sweet from the coffee he'd been drinking not half an hour ago. "Clark?"
"Yes?" Hope flared in him like fireworks.
"It will be."
It was his responsibility.
A bridge strong enough to withstand any weight, any storm, can collapse if the forces operating on it move in just the right frequency, forced resonance shaking the structure apart. He hadn't understood, when he was younger, how he was in lockstep with Lionel, telling Lex not to believe anything he saw, not to see anything he believed.
Clark hadn't known Lionel had built Lex with a special vulnerability to secrets. What Lionel had intended to accomplish Clark still didn't know. Clark sort of thought he might be the devil.
He had one album of pictures from before. Couldn't bear to keep more, couldn't bear to throw these away. He had pictures of Lex, Lex who'd seemed so adult, so wise and world-weary when Clark was a kid, and was amazed at how clear and open Lex's face was in the pictures, how untroubled.
"I'm not going to give up," he told the picture from his high school graduation, when he'd dared to hug Lex in public and his parents had even managed to smile through it. Clark's face wasn't visible in the photo, only his bright red gown, almost the same color and size as Superman's cape, and Lex's face over his shoulder was relaxed and smiling.
Maybe, Clark thought, there was a difference between "it's not your fault" and "it's not your responsibility."
A lot of days he even believed it.
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