Lex's voice was hoarse, but it was the content that shocked him. Lex hadn't used that name in years. Clark fumbled for water as Lex pushed himself upright in the bed. He accepted the cup as if it were due tribute.
After a long swallow, Lex put the cup on the bedside table and looked at Clark - again, Clark couldn't remember the last time Lex looked him in the eyes instead of staring at some point fixed yards beyond his head. Lex's regard had an impact physical blows never did.
"What happened? Where am I? And why are you wearing that ridiculous getup?"
Oh God. Intense relief crashed into new worry.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Lex's brow wrinkled. "I - the wedding reception, Helen's little cousin Sophie stepped on her train and Helen fell down, the flowers went all over. She was laughing. Then -" He stopped, frustrated. Once again searching for answers that only Clark could give.
Clark had to look away. His hands twisted in his lap.
"Something's happened to Helen." Lex's voice tried for calm, but when Clark looked up the expression on his face was as vulnerable as it had been back when Lex confessed that he'd thought about letting his father die.
"Lex." His voice cracked and he had to swallow. "Lex, Helen died ten years ago." Or at least had been declared dead, but the subtleties were probably not what Lex needed right now.
Lex grew even paler, the veins on his scalp standing out like whip marks.
"You'd better get a doctor," he said dully, closing his eyes. "What hospital is this?"
"There's no doctor. There's just me."
Fists clenched in the Fortress's carefully replicated white sheets. "How long have I been here?" Lex examined his arms, found no sign of muscle atrophy, and looked up at Clark.
Right. Lex would deny grief and search out the puzzle. "Only a few days. But it's 2013. I'll take you to Metropolis and you can get a specialist." The words rushed out, because he didn't know how to be gentle with a shock like this.
Lex swung his legs off of the bed and stood, shakily. His hand went to the back of his head.
(Contre-coup injury, the Fortress said in Clark's memory. Inflammation. Internal bleeding. Tearing of the dura mater. Possible permanent cognitive impairment. Possible permanent motor and sensory deficits. "Fix it," he'd said, as savage with the AI as he'd been with Lex.)
Standing in just his underwear, Lex looked terribly fragile. It had been so easy to forget that he was nearly human.
Clark had to forget everything else and concentrate on what Lex needed now. It didn't matter how they'd gotten here. He'd ruined too many things in his life by thinking about the past; he wasn't going to ruin this.
"I'm so sorry," he said, and Lex allowed himself to be hugged, even squeezed Clark back with a force that should have bruised. He was warm, and God, the smell of him, cocoa butter and something tart, still the same. All of it the same, skin smooth as the inside of an oyster's shell, the blood so terribly close to the surface.
"How did she die?" Lex asked, a whisper against his shoulder.
"An accident," he answered, not letting Lex go as he tried to pull away. He didn't need to know she'd betrayed him just yet.
"I loved her," Lex said. Although Clark knew better, he thought that Lex probably believed it. Lex had needed someone to share his obsession, enjoyed the company of a woman as focused as he was, wanted a sex partner. He didn't love her. Love would have been uncontrolled, and Lex controlled his interactions with Helen too much for it to have been love.
It had been the same with Sylvia, the one Clark never even met in person. Lex just kept looking for people twisted enough to accept him but upright enough not to betray him, and when they couldn't contort themselves properly, he stopped caring. Of his wives, Desiree was probably the one Lex loved most, because someone else was controlling his emotions.
Of course, Lex might have changed after Clark had given up on him. Or possibly Clark's definition of love was seriously deformed. Chloe, Lana and Lois would have been happy to endorse that latter thought.
"I'm sorry," he said again. He should have felt more guilty, he thought, but he'd been carrying around Lex-guilt for so long that there was hardly any difference.
Lex was pushing away with a fair amount of seriousness now. Clark released him and he stepped back, still breathing hard.
"So," Lex said, rubbing the back of his head, "what else is new?"
The idea presented itself to him like Venus rising from the waves, naked and pure.
Possible permanent cognitive impairment.
It worked once before. At least until the evidence piled up into a new mountain.
"Let me get you some clothes," he said. "I'll be right back."
Out in the hallway, he scanned through the door and saw Lex sit on the edge of the bed, shoulders held straight. When they were still in Smallville, when things hadn't gone all the way bad, he'd sometimes stand outside the mansion and look in at Lex, checking up. Lex sat that way when he was getting ready to do business with people he didn't trust. In other words, with people.
"Can you tell if the memory loss is really permanent?" he asked the Fortress.
Its voice came from the air around him. "Many neural connections were damaged beyond repair. The structure of human memory, however, is not strictly temporal. He should recover fragmentary memories related to the memories he currently retains. In addition, there are doubtless gaps before his self-reported cutoff date which he simply has not yet noticed."
Clark waved off that extra information. "Fragmentary. Not complete?"
"Correct." The Fortress managed to sound disapproving, even without a frown or arms to fold across its nonexistent chest. It was smart enough to follow his thinking.
Lex had never remembered what happened between the time he was rescued from the island and the time he came out of Belle Reve. Mutant healing was good for many things, but it could only remake neurons wholesale, not reconnect them to retrieve specific memories.
Clark reached the closet and got Lex's clothes. The Fortress had managed to get the blood out of the jacket and shirt - if he could patent that, he'd be nearly as rich as Lex. He remembered too much blood, Lex seizing in his arms as they whipped through the atmosphere, decelerating so horribly slowly to avoid further damage to Lex. The rich fabric held no trace of Lex's scent.
Lex was still sitting when he returned, which was worrisome. Clark would have been more comfortable with the punching of walls. Lex's hand had still been bandaged at Sylvia's funeral, though the shattered bones had mostly healed.
This Lex didn't have the smooth suspicion of the Lex he knew now, just a shadow of it. Clark couldn't remember how he'd dealt with this Lex a decade ago. He hadn't been any good at it then, anyhow.
This was one wish Kryptonite never could have granted. They would get it right this time.
Wordlessly, he offered the pile of clothes to Lex, who didn't even raise his eyebrows at the wrinkled jacket. Clark thought the tie had been lost over Tierra del Fuego. Lex dressed and left the collar of his shirt open. As always, he made it look like the only possible ensemble. The hollow of his neck was visible, Lex sharing another one of his secrets.
"You might want to sit down again. I have some things to tell you."
Now Lex did cock his head in that mildly ironic, thoroughly intense way of his. Clark realized he'd been longing for that look for years, instead of the one that said: 'I'd really like to dissect you, and it would be a bonus if you were still conscious while I did it.' "I assume you'll be explaining that outfit and why the door wouldn't open for me."
So Lex had tried to get out. Clark felt a moment of betrayal that the Fortress hadn't warned him. He crossed his arms over his chest, feeling exposed. The suit had always been proof against blushes. It displayed Superman, not Clark. This Lex changed all that, mashing his identities together.
Clark cleared his throat. "There's no good way to say this. I'm an alien, this is my secret hideout."
Lex's mouth worked. He half-turned, raised a fist, put his hand down again. "I knew it. I knew it! Not exactly, but I knew you knew something about - Where are the rest of you?"
Damn. Neither shock nor grief nor traumatic memory loss slowed Lex down. "I'm the last. My planet was destroyed. I'm the only survivor." The words had gotten easier over time, worn smooth by repetition.
Lex blinked. "Okay. I'm sorry," he said, his voice gentling, fast as the drop in barometric pressure before a tornado.
"I've had time to get used to it. I don't have any memories of Krypton." He wanted to, but any half-dreamed recollection was untrustworthy.
"Krypton," Lex repeated, considering.
"Anyway," Clark continued, wanting to leave the subject, "I'm kind of a, well -- you know I'm strong. And fast, and invulnerable, and I can fly and see through things and, you know, stuff like that. So I help people who are in trouble."
Could he have rushed through that in any lamer a fashion?
There was a lot of white showing around Lex's eyes. Still, his voice was even as he asked, "So that explains the costume how?"
Clark bit his lip. "It's kind of my secret identity. Because it's dangerous for me to have friends and family who could be taken hostage. They, uh, this -" he indicated the symbol on his chest - "is adopted from the symbol of my family on Krypton. But people call me - don't laugh, okay? - they call me Superman."
Lex's mouth compressed in a valiant and, unsurprisingly, successful attempt to hide his mirth. "All right," he said at last. "I know all this."
Clark nodded. "Yeah, you've stayed here before when you needed to get away. And also to play with the Fortress's computers."
"All right. I share your secret, and that's why you're not wearing your mask."
Clark realized that it was, in fact, possible to blush even more than he already was. He should feel dizzy with all the blood rushing to his face.
"Actually - um, well. I don't wear one. Nobody who doesn't already know recognizes me," he reassured Lex. "Clark Kent is - I'm a reporter with the Daily Planet. I wear glasses," he added hopefully.
Now Lex was seriously taken aback, blue eyes narrowed. "Really. How - unobservant of our fellow citizens. How did I lose my memory?"
He should have expected Lex to change directions as fast as he took hairpin turns. It was a perfect opening.
"Like I said, it's dangerous for Superman to have friends. That's why he's separate from Clark Kent. We decided that Lex Luthor and Superman would be antagonists in public. Everyone thinks we're enemies, even your staff. Even my writing partner, Lois Lane."
That didn't quite answer the question, but Clark had gained a decade of lies on Lex, and he was just warming up. "Unfortunately, I had a - fan, I guess. Stalker. She decided to do me a favor by getting rid of you. I didn't get there in time. You were already so seriously injured, I had to take you here - the Fortress - to treat you." It wasn't the worst lie he'd told Lex. And Lex shouldn't have pushed him so far --
Lex nodded, his eyes free of suspicion above his usual background paranoia.
"I'm sorry," Clark added, for verisimilitude.
There was silence for a minute. Clark looked at Lex, not caring if Lex saw the hunger and relief. He was entitled. He wanted Lex to know that Clark still cared, after everything, even if Lex didn't quite know what 'everything' was.
"I need to think," Lex said, frowning distractedly. "Shit - LexCorp. It's okay? It's not going to fall apart because I disappeared?"
"I'll send a message that you're okay. You've got good people working for you. It will be fine." He tried not to sound too enthusiastic. "Is there anything I can do?"
Lex snorted and looked away. "I'm over thirty - when Alexander the Great was my age, he was dead - I'm a widower, my best friend is an alien and pretends to be my nemesis - I need a little time here. And I need to learn everything I missed."
He hadn't thought of that. Lex needed to get up to speed fast, or he'd have more business rivals to worry about than just his father. "I'll have all your files put on a console here. The Fortress can get into any human computer system," he explained at Lex's inquisitive look. There might be secret files about him on some LexCorp computer with no connection to the net, but Clark could find those in due time, when they went back to the world together.
"Kal-El," the Fortress interrupted, "a message from the Department of State has arrived. They have received intelligence warning of a possible assault on the U.S. military base in Riyadh, and they request that you go there for an inspection and 'to show the flag.'" The last phrase was uttered with the mechanical version of distaste, which sounded an awful lot like the human version.
He looked at Lex apologetically. "I'd better go. 'Truth, justice and the American way,' that's me."
On his way out, he told the Fortress to help Lex learn the public details of his life.
He flew towards Saudi Arabia in a great mood, even though he hated political missions more than anything else. Lex had recovered from his injury. Better than recovered; he was Clark's friend again, and Clark's confidante at last. At this point in his career, he could scan for weapons et cetera with only ten percent of his attention. The rest was occupied by what he recognized as over-elaborate fantasies about having Lex's friendship, Lex's presence.
Lex would think the Fortress was the coolest thing ever, which was correct, and there were things he could say to Lex about Superman that he could never say to his parents and that the Fortress wouldn't understand, like the various ways in which a lot of women (and a not insubstantial number of men) tried to reward him for rescues. And he wasn't just talking about the sexual favors, which were a lot more understandable than the food, knitted garments, and occasional plants and animals. Lex would love that sort of thing.
When Clark returned from his post-Riyadh patrol, sorting out some fishing vessels caught in a hurricane off the Grand Banks, Lex was still hunched over the console the Fortress had added to the room, flicking through screens of information as fast as a human could.
"You should eat," he said, coming up behind Lex and placing a hand on his shoulder. "What would you like?"
Lex's muscles jumped under his hand, but Lex didn't pull away. Funny, how he felt just like other humans. Clark always thought he should be different somehow, made of sterner stuff. Warm and breathing, though, which were the most important features. "I'm not hungry," Lex said absently. "So much has changed, and nothing has."
Martha Kent's child was not so easily deterred. Stepping to the far wall of the reconfigured room, he asked for food. That was enough to trigger Lex's not-so-inner geek, and he watched in fascination as a slot opened and Clark removed two trays.
"I got the Fortress to watch a bunch of Star Trek episodes," he admitted, smiling and avoiding Lex's eyes. "It needed a template."
Lex took a tray from his hand. "And still the food's pure Kansas." Meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. Clark frowned; he hadn't thought of catering to Lex's tastes. Lex, however, simply put the tray on his knees and tucked in without further comment, eating rapidly and efficiently. Clark pulled up a chair and imitated him.
When he was finished, Lex put the tray on the desk by the computer and folded his hands in his lap, leaning back a little in his mogul-of-the-universe way.
"You didn't mention that I was a widower twice over," he said mildly.
Clark remembered Sylvia's face, gray with Kryptonite poisoning. He couldn't get near her, couldn't stop her mad attempt to drive away from what she'd become. And she'd become a mangled body in a crumpled metal shell. Clark wasn't certain, but he suspected Lex kept the fragments of the Porsche that remained after they cut her out, just as he kept the remains of the first one. Clark hadn't been able to attend the funeral, not with Lex's ring and Sylvia's - and Sylvia. At the end, Sylvia had fled rather than risk hurting Lex, so she must have cared about him. Lex was chronically short of people who cared about him - partly his own fault, partly not. If Sylvia had lived, things might have been different.
And if your grandmother had wheels she'd be a wagon, Clark.
Then again, for all he knew, she did and was.
Clark swallowed. "I didn't really know what to say."
"What was she like?"
Here Clark was at a bit of a disadvantage. By the time Sylvia and Lex got together, Lex wouldn't have told him if it was night or day. He smiled weakly. "She was really smart, intense. You were - I wasn't sure when you got time to see each other, you were both working so hard."
"Did she know about you?"
Clark shook his head. "I've learned over the years that every person who knows is in danger." Not from Lex, oddly; Lex seemed to think that attacking his family and friends would have been gauche or something. Maybe he thought that Clark wouldn't mind Kryptonite arrows as much as any threat to his parents' safety. Lex was always a smart guy. In fact, if that lab hadn't blown up with Lois barely ten feet away, Clark wouldn't have gone to the penthouse in such a fury -
Lex was talking, something about LexCorp and its re-emergence from Luthorcorp in the last five years.
His face attempted impassivity, but Clark could see the hurt very clearly. Lex had been rewound past the time when he learned not to feel so deeply. Clark couldn't get distracted by emotions he needed to work through. That had been his mistake with Lex when he was a kid. Lex demanded Clark's full attention, and this time he was going to get it.
"From all reports, it seems that I have become my father," Lex said.
"No," Clark protested, sincerely but not quite meaning it the way Lex probably thought. Lionel lived up to his name, his mane; he roared and cuffed and kept a harem and lost interest. Lex was swifter, sleeker, a laser-guided missile whose megatonnage made the lion's strength irrelevant. "The Planet - Lois needs a crusade, and you're it. The TV stations love you."
Lex snorted. "While it's wonderful that I'm still photogenic, I wanted more than to become Metropolis's merchant prince. I keep thinking, ten years later and this is it? Still rich, hated and alone." His mouth did its old rueful twist, which made Clark want to hug him.
"You're not alone," he said instead and reached out to put his hand on Lex's knee. Lex looked down at it with a kind of wonder, and Clark kept it there for a few seconds before he pulled away. "Also, you're going to run for governor in three years, at which point you'll employ more people in Kansas than everybody else combined. Not to mention all your holdings outside Kansas. And then -"
'And then' had kept Superman awake on some late nights. Sometimes he'd fly out to talk to his mom, who was sleeping less with age. It was easier to talk 'and then' with her than with Dad, who just got upset and did his heart no good.
"And then," Lex agreed softly, staring down at his hands. "Unless my little relapse into instability gets out. Americans didn't take too well to electroshock treatment for Senator Eagleton forty years ago, and I doubt they've changed much. Frankly, ten years' worth of amnesia doesn't sound reassuring even to me."
"No one will know," Clark promised. "You've kept my secret for years."
Lex looked up at that, his eyes narrowing, sensing some mistake -
Oh. "Also, the Fortress says you should recover more memories over time. But not everything."
He got a glance over his shoulder at that. Lex should be looking at him, not the wall. "The Fortress also wants to monitor you overnight. But I can take you back first thing in the morning. If you feel ready."
Lex smiled a little smile at that, the off-kilter, self-mocking one he'd never lost, just hidden until he thought no one was watching. "I've never been ready for any of the changes in my life. Why should this one be different?"
Clark fidgeted in his seat. Lex's self-pity seemed less romantic now than it had when he was seventeen. Okay, lie, but it was romantic and gratingly maudlin at the same time. As far as Lex is concerned, you're older now than he is, he reminded himself.
He'd always held Lex to a higher standard than everybody else. Lex, he knew, could meet it if he'd only try.
"You've always succeeded, you know."
Lex's face went blank. "I'll have to take your word for that."
Maybe he was being just a little bit unfair. Lex had lost nearly a third of his life. That couldn't be easy to accept in under eight hours. God only knew Clark had taken plenty of time to accept the whole alien thing, which Lex was now trying to assimilate merely as a side note.
"Why don't you get some rest?" He gestured back at the bed.
Lex's gaze followed Clark's hand. He frowned. "I should review more -"
"You should sleep. You won't help yourself by getting too tired to think."
Lex swallowed, looking suspiciously at the bed. Maybe he feared bad dreams. Or maybe it was just that his princess-and-the-pea sensibilities could tell the difference between 800-count Egyptian cotton and Kryptonian simulacrum.
"What else is going on?"
"What?" Clark tried to look innocent. He'd been told he did it well, these days.
"I can read you like a book. Granted, the book is Wittgenstein's Investigations, but I can tell there's something crucial you're not saying."
Clark froze like a rabbit spotted by a hawk. "I -"
Lex's eyes whipped around the newly created room. "You just had this place made for me. When I was here before, where did I stay?"
Whoah. Lex's brain, twisty like a dragon being carried through the streets of Chinatown, had not gone anywhere Clark expected.
"You and I are more than friends, aren't we?"
Yes. And no. And yes! They'd never made it that far before the truth tore them apart, but they should have. "I don't think this is a good time to talk about that, Lex. Whatever happened before today - it wasn't you."
"What if I wanted it to be?" Lex's face was as serious and intent as when he'd first confronted Clark about the accident on the bridge, as when he'd stood in his Metropolis office and told Clark that this was his last chance to tell the truth, as when he'd sworn to stick a Kryptonite knife into Clark's chest and cut out his beating heart.
Clark drew in a calming breath, wondering if Lex would ever have admitted to his desires without thinking that Clark already knew.
"There's so much you need to get used to," he said, trying to be as gentle with his refusal as Lex would tolerate and expect.
Lex swallowed, his face so open and wounded that Clark nearly gave in. "Right. I'll be better off if I handle it on my own."
"It's all right, Clark." He turned away. "Any chance of materializing a toothbrush?"
Clark extended his hand, then let it drop. "I'll tell the Fortress."
When he left the room, Lex was sitting on the bed again, waiting for the next thing to happen. Clark quickly checked to see that the world was safe and sound and asked the AI to create a fully equipped bathroom for Lex.
"Are you certain this is wise, Kal-El?"
Clark winced. The Fortress only used his birth name when it was rebuking him. "The alternative is cruel. To tell him he's hated and feared by everyone who knows who he really is and that I'm his worst enemy? Would that be better?"
"It would be true."
Sometimes Clark hated that the Fortress's voice came from everywhere and nowhere at once, like the voice from the burning bush. "I never hated him."
There was a slight pause, doubtless calculated for effect. "It would be easier if you did."
This hearkened back to old debates about who really ought to be ruling the world. "Hate can be blinding. And I want to see everything. Especially about Lex." Reminded, he cast a glance through the walls, and saw Lex bent over a sink, examining his face in the mirror.
"As you wish," the Fortress said, and Clark just knew he was supposed to hear the omitted "Master."
While Lex slept, Clark decided to take care of a potential problem. The Fortress coughed up the requested information without protest, probably because it disliked this particular loose end even more than he did.
It was evening in Paris when he alighted on the terrace. The woman he was there to see was leaning on the rail, looking out over the city; she didn't hear him land. She was slim and elegant in the classic Parisienne fashion, wearing black slashed with crimson, like the claw marks of a panther that worked for Vogue.
She was blonde now.
"Hello, Helen," he said.
She spun, clutching at the iron railing. Her mouth worked as she struggled to say something.
He didn't give her the opportunity. "I know you probably won't believe me, but Lex really isn't still mad."
"Of course," he continued, "I'm still a little cranky."
"I haven't tried to use what I know," Helen said quickly, already regaining her composure even though her hand was white-knuckled on the railing, and she had to be thinking about the six floors between her and the ground. "I'm not going to start now."
Clark smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. "It turns out that I need a little more assurance than your word on that."
"I'm not going to kill you, Helen," he said, smiling, as he advanced and she stopped breathing in terror. "I just need you to come with me. It won't take long."
He didn't need to use the knockout drug the Fortress had provided; she fainted quite nicely into his arms. He flew her back to Antarctica, and if he was a little less careful with her limp body than he'd been with Lex's, no one could really blame him.
She'd already had some plastic surgery, so he didn't need to change her appearance. The Fortress altered her DNA and her fingerprints with its wondrous Kryptonian technology. If she later decided to come back into Lex's life, all she'd have would be crazy claims, disproved by the evidence of her own body. It was ironic that Clark had brought her closer to Lex than she'd been in a decade, even though neither of them knew it.
The Fortress was glad to do the work - the Fortress would have preferred her to be made completely safe, by which it meant interred in the tundra, but it and Clark had learned that compromise made life much easier on both of them. He hadn't minded the risk when the only thing she could have done was harass Clark Kent, but if she'd come back to give Lex a different version of his history, that could have been bad.
After he dumped her back in her Paris flat, he cleaned up an oil spill and took a detour to round up a gang of elephant poachers. A good trip all around.
Clark had been half-dozing when he answered the call, tired out from a heavy day of hostage-rescuing and rebuilding a Kurdish town, but he snapped awake at the harsh, pained tone of Lex's voice.
"What is it?" he asked and sped into his uniform.
"I need to see you."
The request must have cost Lex terribly. After nearly a month in his strange new world, Lex must feel as alone as Clark had ever been, lost on a planet that could never accept him for all that he was. Now more than ever, he was Clark's responsibility, and it was no longer an awful one.
"I'll be right there," he said. He was outside the Fortress before the phone circuit registered the disconnect.
Lex was waiting on the balcony of his penthouse. The highball glass in his hand was almost empty, as was the decanter on the elegant metal and glass table nearby. His collar was undone, the tie missing, his shoes gone. The look in his eyes was terrible, like a forest fire raging unchecked.
Clark's journey had given him a little time to think. Lex would be feeling vulnerable, just for asking Clark to come, and would lash out at the most minimal of excuses. Clark could help by not making Lex do more of the work.
He touched down gently a pace away from Lex. As soon as Lex put down his glass, Clark reached out to hug him, ignoring his stiffening. Clark would provide whatever Lex needed tonight. Slowly, Lex's arms came up around Clark's waist and his head pressed against Clark's shoulder.
"How did I live like this?" he asked, more to himself than to Clark. "I'm so tired of everyone staring at me like rabbits facing down a mad dog. Fearing what I'll do if they displease me. The only ones who aren't afraid of me are Hope and Mercy, and Clark, Jesus, who the hell are they? Why do they look at me like I'm their god? I think they'd walk into a spinning propeller if I said to do it."
The last question was the easiest to deal with, so that was where he began. "Mercy's name used to be Emily. Emily Dinsmore, version 6.5, they called her, before you got her out of your father's lab."
Lex looked up at him, blinking in confusion. "She doesn't look anything like the Emily I knew."
"She had - you got her - extensive plastic surgery. She dyes her hair and wears contacts. It's helped her a lot, Lex. You've helped her a lot."
"Okay," Lex said. His eyes were distant, no doubt thinking about his father, in whose physical presence he hadn't been for over five years. "Did - is her training from him? Or me?"
Clark tightened his grip fractionally. "Lionel Luthor had her trained as an assassin. You gave her the job as your head of security. She protects you. She loves you, in her way."
"And Hope?" Lex sounded almost afraid of the answer.
"You found her in the Metropolis slums." Standing over the dead body of her pimp. "You gave her stability, security." Also medication and Mercy. Together they looked after Lex, who was the most spectacularly broken of them all, because he still had a will of his own.
Lex was silent for several minutes. He must have been cold, in only his shirtsleeves high above the crisp fall night, but he didn't shiver. "Don't make me do this alone. I know I haven't done whatever it was that Lex Luthor did to make you - make you want me. But I can, Clark, I know it -"
As it turned out, Clark was less able to stand Lex's pleading than Lex himself. He moved his hands to Lex's shoulders and silenced him with a kiss, Sleeping Beauty's savior in reverse.
Being a stalker meant never having to admit you didn't know what your intended liked. Clark started with light, teasing kisses, moving away to the line of Lex's jaw with equal delicacy, then let Lex pull him back for deeper, rougher kisses. Lex bit at Clark's tongue and lips, as Clark had always known he would, and he moaned into Lex's mouth.
Clark pushed at Lex's shoulders, backing him against the glass doors of the balcony. As Clark's hands roved over Lex's body, ripping off buttons and tearing cloth, his mouth worked at Lex's throat, trying to cover it with bites. Lex slammed his head back against the door rhythmically, harder and harder as Clark's hands slid over his wind-cooled skin. Finally, Clark had to bring a hand up to cradle Lex's skull, the one place no one ever got to touch.
Lex's fingers scrabbled at the uniform, sliding off uselessly. He made a wordless, angry sound. Clark quickly pulled back. "Let's go inside." The bluish, scientific glow from the fluorescents made Lex's pale skin look like some exotic substance. His eyes were a purer blue. Clark was undone.
"Does that costume come off?"
"Inside." Clark picked Lex up, ignoring the offended struggles, and walked into the penthouse. Then he put Lex down and pushed him towards the bedroom.
"Just because you're the most powerful being on Earth, you think you can always get your way," Lex grumbled.
"I can," Clark pointed out. "You just have to make sure that my way is yours."
As they stepped into the enormous bedroom, Lex shed the remains of his clothes and Clark began to strip out of the suit. Clark frowned at the empty decanter by the bedside, a suggestion that Lex had been fighting too long on his own. Before Lex's accident, he'd suspected that Lex was an extremely high-functioning alcoholic with a stainless steel liver. He'd pay better attention this time around.
Smiling now, Lex backed towards the bed. "You've only gotten more beautiful." His voice was reverent. Clark had to blink to clear his vision.
Lex lay back on the bed, his skin shining against the royal purple of the bedcover. His muscles were thrown into relief as he posed, effortlessly, one arm thrown up over his head and the opposite knee drawn up and tilted out, his hard cock proud against his stomach. For a moment, Clark hated everyone else who'd gotten to see this, hated them so much that he could have vaporized them all. But desire swiftly cut off thoughts of the past, or the future.
He got onto the bed, crawling up to Lex like a cat playing with its supper. Hovering over Lex's body, touching only with his knees against Lex's hips, Clark wanted to freeze the moment forever. Lex stared up, his eyes wide and his mouth half-open, for once not talking.
The move to the bedroom had drained off the urgency. They kissed for centuries. Clark spent a thousand years touching every centimeter of Lex's skin, smooth and tight over his flesh like the skin of a ripe fruit, ignoring Lex's increasingly vehement suggestions for more focused attention. From the way Lex moaned when his struggles failed to shift Clark, Clark didn't think he minded all that much.
When Clark finally took Lex's cock in his mouth, Lex fairly screamed. His hands pulled at Clark's hair, as if that would do any good, and when Clark looked up his eyes were slitted tight. Clark pulled back, letting Lex slide out with a wet smack, and Lex's eyes obligingly opened.
"Pay attention," Clark chided.
Lex's expression suggested that, from his perspective, Clark had his undivided attention, but he kept his eyes wide open as Clark lowered his mouth.
After that, Clark barely had time to wet two fingers and slide them inside Lex before Lex was coming, arching off the bed, cursing as he wrapped himself around Clark.
This was much better, Clark thought, than it would have been if his cheesy adolescent fantasies had come true one night in front of the big-screen TV at the mansion. Lex might have enjoyed fucking him then, but he would have been helpless, poleaxed by it. He was glad to have experience and control, and from the noises Lex was making he wasn't the only one who was grateful.
He held Lex close, watching as Lex's stunned, almost prayerful expression faded into satisfaction. Lex's eyes slowly refocused on Clark.
"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," Lex said, softly enough that it almost hid the vulnerability. "You'll have to tell me what you like."
"Easy," Clark said and bent to kiss the bridge of Lex's nose. "I like you."
"Flattering, but not entirely helpful," Lex said with a trace of lemon in his tone.
"Lex," Clark said with perfect, misleading honesty, "you've never done anything to me in bed that I didn't enjoy."
Lex's mouth worked, as if he were suppressing a series of smart remarks. Then he nodded sharply and rolled them over, straddling Clark. He bent his head and began to nip down Clark's neck to his shoulder, then reversed course to follow the collarbone.
Evidently, Lex had decided to take a thorough survey. Clark let his head sag back against the pillow and relaxed into the wonder of it all.
After three or four hints about how Superman could benefit the good citizens of Metropolis a lot by taking down Lionel - possibly more hints than that, but Lex was too subtle for his own good - Clark finally told Lex why Superman had generally left the battle against Lionel Luthor in the capable hands of his firstborn son.
Lionel had way, way too much meteor rock, and seemed to have a clue about its utility in keeping Superman from poking around. Clark wasn't sure he'd made the connection between Superman and the meteor shower, but the risk had kept him from taking Lionel on any number of times. There were plenty of other bad guys in the world, and Lionel's misbehavior was only occasionally dangerous to other people.
Psychological wounds didn't count.
Most of Clark's anti-Lionel acts were done in Clark Kent's identity. The Daily Planet prided itself on being Luthor-free since 2003, in Perry's words. He'd been successful enough that not even Lionel could maintain a smile when Clark called out a question in a press conference.
It was a good thing that Lex hated his father more than he ever hated Clark. If Lex had ever let Clark's secret identity slip - and he was sure it had crossed Lex's mind more than once - Lionel wouldn't have had Lex's minimal scruples (or hesitance) about blackmailing Clark.
When Clark had explained as much of this as necessary to Lex, Lex sat back in his chair, turning his tumbler around in his hands. It was filled with orange juice, because Lex was humoring him.
"If the meteor rocks are that dangerous to you, we need a way to protect you from them. My father's not going to be satisfied with sharing control over Metropolis with some extraterrestrial Schwartzenegge r in a clown suit."
Clark froze. Lex had used that phrase before. Did he remember? "That's not a very nice thing to call me," he said.
Lex rolled his eyes, but didn't seem tense. "Focus, Clark. The point is that you need some meteor rock antidote. Hasn't your Fortress been able to come up with something?"
"It's not good for the Fortress either." Clark wasn't one hundred percent sure of this, but given what happened to the space ship, he wasn't about to suggest that the Fortress try to absorb a sample of Kryptonite.
"LexCorp has a few crates stored in a warehouse," Lex continued. "I'll see what I can do."
Clark smiled and remembered how reassuring it had been to think that Lex was the smartest person he knew.
"Jargon check: 'Queer'?"
"O brave new world," Lex said, amused. Clark closed his eyes and leaned on his elbow, letting Lex's voice wrap around him like a wool blanket, scratchy and warming. "Anything else I should know?"
"'Nice' is bad, 'squaring the circle' is implementing an innovative plan, 'in the last mile' means that most of the time allotted to a project is gone and most of the work remains to be done, and 'unlocking the DRM' is telling you something you didn't already know. That's all I can think of right now."
"That's very helpful, Clark. I do appreciate it." The tone promised obscene rewards.
Clark turned to his monitor to hide his grin from the rest of the newsroom. "No problem."
"I'll see you tonight," Lex said and hung up.
Lois had to whack him twice across the shoulder before he noticed that she wanted to talk about the Peterson feature. He almost forgot to rub his shoulder as if she'd bruised him.
Clark X-rayed the building and saw Lois's skeleton, distinctive through long familiarity, in a strange metal room that, checking up and down the spectrum, he identified as a freezer. She was shivering but not having trouble breathing, so he took the time to round up the various and sundry goons, tie them to pillars in the garage, call the police to come get them and the contraband weapons, and zip through the records to see to whom they were selling before he changed back into mufti and went to release her.
"Kent!" Lois's arms were wrapped around herself, her bluish fingers sunk deep into her royal blue suit jacket, as she scurried out of the industrial freezer. "How'd you find me?"
Clark wondered why bad guys always seemed to have industrial freezers, or their functional equivalent, handy for use on nosy reporters. "Superman. He, um, took the gang into custody and then told me to get you out."
Lois frowned. There was a time when Superman would have come for her himself, and he could tell that she was remembering that.
"I think we can still interview Lucacs and some of the others before the police arrive, if we hurry," he suggested, which had the intended effect of distracting her.
"Well?" she asked, pushing past him. "What are you waiting for?" She headed down the hall.
"Uh, Lois?" She stopped and looked at him over her shoulder. "This way."
She overtook him in a few strides, already humming with the prospect of another story that would hit Lionel Luthor's pocketbook, if not his reputation. She and Clark hadn't found a way to connect him verifiably with any of the illegal operations they'd exposed, in part because sources willing to use his name tended to have a very short lifeline. And then there'd been that guy George Huyssen, whose use of the initials "LL" to identify his boss had caused no end of trouble.
Nonetheless, Clark was confident that they'd be able to take Lionel down eventually. Especially now that they were diverted less often by Lex's shenanigans.
"Query: Lois Lane dreamt up 'Truth, Justice and the American Way,' did she not?"
"Yes," Clark admitted. He leaned forward so his computer screen would hide his expression from Lois.
"So the question arises: if she thinks that the American way is neither truth nor justice, but something else entirely, what does she think it is?"
Clark sputtered, caught between outrage and laughter. "It's not - it's inclusive."
"What, like 'Kansas, Illinois and North America'? I don't think so."
"Like - like 'spam, spam, eggs and spam.'"
"Now truth and justice are just processed meat products to you? I fear for the future of the country."
He caught himself just before saying Lex's name. "You're a deeply strange person, you know that?"
"Whereas your strange is only skin deep. I'll talk to you later - if I don't kill this company quickly, the jackals will tear at it for years."
Clark put the phone back on the hook, grinning like an idiot.
"Who was that?" Lois asked. Lois was a very smart woman.
"Just a friend. Old college joke."
She looked at him skeptically. "You have friends, Smallville?"
"Strange but true," he said and leaned back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head and smiling at her.
"Hey, Lex. How was your day?" Clark asked, striding into the penthouse office. He got a real kick out of being able to do that, even if the very thought of adding "honey" or some other endearment was enough to make him cringe and blush simultaneously.
Lex was sitting at his desk, headset on and computer screens surrounding him, looking almost like an air traffic controller, and probably keeping just about as many planes in the air. He looked up at Clark as if he were scouting in enemy territory. Clark didn't like that expression, full of speculation and fraying trust. He kept his face curious and open.
"Not very interesting," Lex said at last, pushing back from his keyboard and unhooking his headset. "A man named Don Rohr came to see me."
Clark had been relaxing already, luxuriating in Lex's presence after a long day involving a car chase (reporter business), a trip to India to save a mosque from a mob (superhero work), and then some dumpster-diving for dessert (reporter again, naturally), but Lex's words put him back on full alert. He ran the name through his memory and came up with a handsome, narrow-faced man, a lawyer for the Russian mafia trying to expand into Metropolis through a front of legitimate businesses. "Really? What did he want?"
"He wanted me to participate in a far-reaching scheme to skim money off of government contracts throughout Metropolis. He seemed to think I'd be more than willing."
Clark looked down.
"I knew my reputation wasn't great, but I had no idea I was regarded as a criminal by the criminals themselves." Lex's tone was still mild, careful.
"You keep your eyes and ears open for me," Clark said. "Like an informant."
"I said I'd get back to him within the week. So what was our usual procedure, when we trapped some unsuspecting criminal?"
Yikes. "It didn't happen a lot, Lex. We improvised. You've just got to get him to give you information."
"It might be difficult. Mr. Rohr seemed quite a careful fellow."
Clark stepped closer, until Lex had to look up from his chair to meet Clark's eyes. He was watching Clark with the distant, evaluative look that belonged to the horrible blue room in the castle.
"I'll make it worth your while," he said, making his voice low and rough.
Lex swallowed, his pupils dilating so that the irises were only thin rings of blue, like the ocean in old maps of the world. Here there be dragons. His hand reached up, hooking his fingers into Clark's waistband, and he tugged Clark half a step closer.
"I suppose," he said, "I can think of something."
Later, when they were lying together, Lex staring at the ceiling and Clark watching Lex, he brought it up again. "I think Rohr should be the last one."
"There have got to be other ways for you to get information - hell, I can get information other ways than being a shady character. And I don't want us to be public enemies," Lex said, his voice painstakingly light. "I'm not saying we should reveal everything, but I'd prefer not to have half of Metropolis looking for my secret evil motives anytime I act."
Clark put his hand on Lex's shoulder and squeezed, then turned his grip into a caress. The satin of Lex's skin, the solid human muscle underneath, distracted him for a moment. "We decided to do it this way for a reason, Lex," he said, because Lex would expect some resistance.
Lex's face was turned away. "I can't say that I understand my reasons. We'd be fine as casual acquaintances. You've been in Metropolis long enough that it wouldn't be suspicious if I seemed to know you."
Lex wasn't saying how lonely he was, or how much he wanted the intelligent people of Metropolis not to despise him. He probably would say that if Clark made him.
"You know," Clark said slowly, "you're right. Things have changed. As long as we're discreet, we can end the antagonism."
Lex rolled over, facing Clark. His eyes were light, and some of the strain was gone from his face. "We'll take it slow. Don't worry. I'll handle everything."
Clark did let Lex take care of the timing. Even at two-thirds' cunning, Lex's grasp of PR was superior to Clark's. A change in the pattern of LexCorp's political donations and lobbying goals. An acquisition or two in which Lex didn't reflexively lop off the heads of the old management, but kept a few who were actually good at their jobs, even if they hated him more than they feared him. After a few months, a public lunch with Superman, at which they politely discussed regional and national affairs and Lex listened thoughtfully to Superman's suggestions for urban policy.
It wasn't all that hard, because so many of Lex's manipulations had never been disclosed to the public, for all Lois and Clark's hard work.
There were no front-page headlines about Lex Luthor's slide onto the side of the Light, the way there'd been about his ascension when he'd first taken on his father. "People want a fast fall, but a slow climb," he said when Clark worried that public opinion was still tied to the old Lex, not the new one. "What would I say? That I'd let Jesus Christ into my heart? That may have worked for George W. Bush, but do you think anyone would believe me?"
"They should," he said stoutly, and Lex looked charmed and indulgent.
One lunch turned into a regular weekly appointment, which just about drove Lois insane, especially when Superman declined to comment. Lex built a hospital wing and didn't demand assistance in his biological experiments in return. He spent twenty hours at a time hurrying between lab and office and came up with a new waste treatment that meant the end of dumping on Native American territory, as well as another fortune for LexCorp. He discovered a woman spying for Lionel and didn't ruin her parents' and children's lives beyond sending her to prison.
It wasn't easy. Lex still wanted to take every advantage, even the unfair ones. "You can't con a man unless he has a little larceny in his heart, Clark," he said.
"Maybe so," Clark said, "but being better at it doesn't make you a better person."
The problem was that Lex wasn't just good at manipulation. He was exquisite. He could walk into a room, look around, and start living in everyone else's skin, seeing with their eyes, breathing with their lungs, all the time retaining a perspective that let him know what they were fooling themselves about. It was, Clark thought, why Lois hated him so much - he'd seen the flash of lust in her eyes (Lex was used to recognizing that) and smiled to let her know that he knew, and it was all downhill from there. Why Lex had decided to antagonize Lois wasn't completely clear, though Clark suspected it had to do with Lex's insane desire to beat the best.
Clark tolerated minor financial misbehavior and thanked the Fortress for hacking into Lex's private accounts to get rid of Lex's scientific temptations, projects Clark had always known he'd have to shut down if Lex made too much progress. Funds were rediverted so they actually reached their nominal destinations, personnel transferred or pensioned, all without disturbing Lex. Lex knew the Fortress could read his mail, since it was the AI that had provided him with his files right after the accident, but he didn't seem particularly concerned. Clark was beginning to hope that sharing Superman's secrets had been enough to assuage his paranoia.
There was a bad hour when one of the terminated employees tried to burst in on Lex, like long-ago Dr. Hamilton had, but Mercy took him out before Clark heard about the incident, and he was reduced to reporting the attack with Lois and then babying Lex for the next three days. The man didn't die, which was a relief, but he did hit his head pretty hard - also something of a relief, given the injury's effects on his demeanor and credibility. Clark had given up feeling guilty for most of the people he couldn't save years back, and he refused to let an amoral scientist be one of the exceptions.
Lois suspected a conspiracy. She knew better than to accuse Perry of being a part of it when he wouldn't let her print Dr. Morris's allegations, but it still gnawed at her, the way all the things about Lex they'd never been able to prove to the satisfaction of the Planet's lawyers gnawed at her. Lois called her ulcer "Luthor," even though she knew full well it was the fault of a bacterium rather than a man.
"He's up to something," she said, staring fiercely at her blank screen. "I can smell it."
"All I smell is stale coffee," Clark said and leaned back in his chair.
"You're an innocent, Kent." She picked up a pen, flipping it through her fingers, one of her many nervous habits.
"You know I'm usually with you, Lois," he said conciliatorily. "All I'm saying is that I don't think there's anything underhanded going on this time."
"Hmmph," she said.
Clark was willing to leave it at that.
"Come home early; I've got to go to Japan tomorrow, and I want to spend the evening with you."
Clark had grabbed the phone from the far side of his desk, since he'd been halfway out the door when it rang, and now he walked awkwardly around, trying not to let the phone cord knock over anything important.
"Lois answers this line sometimes, you know."
He could hear Lex grin, not nicely. "Wouldn't that be an interesting conversation."
"Look, I'll be there, but I gotta go. I have an interview with the mayor, and after that a - thing," which was his code word for a job for Superman, this time a reconstruction project in South America where flooding had destroyed several towns.
He was talking to the plastic handset.
Clark wouldn't ever tell Lex this, but he loved it that Lex always hung up without saying goodbye. He'd done it back in Smallville, to show what a badass, busy guy he was, and having him do it again made Clark feel that all the years between had truly been erased.
He'd lost Lois, who was probably getting into a taxi already, so he shrugged happily and hurried after her.
Clark was yelling at Lex, calling him 'Luthor,' telling him he couldn't play with people's lives the way he did.
Lex leaned against the rooftop wall, his hands in his pockets. The sun was behind Clark's back, but Lex stared at him unblinkingly. "Check out the beam in your own eye, Superman." He was wearing a light blue seersucker suit, the jacket unbuttoned, and a yellow tie, looking like the kind of man who offered candy to children.
Clark couldn't let that go, so he started to list Lex's crimes, starting with all the investigations and lies in Smallville.
"Oh, get over it," Lex snapped. "You're always going on about what happened to you years ago. I've been through twice as much with no superpowers to save me, and I've stopped being that whining adolescent you knew back in Smallville."
"I don't believe that," Clark said stoutly, changing roles as quickly as Lex did. "The man I knew - the man I called my friend -- is still in there."
Lex looked down at his chest and inspected it. "Nope, don't see him." His tone was intimate. "Maybe I ate him."
Suddenly, there was a device in his hand, a thing like a remote control. "Here's a reminder, since you seem to need one." He pressed a button, and silvery bubbles swarmed around them, each showing a distorted image. People who had died because of Lex or had their lives ruined, dead cows in a field, raw sewage pumping into a river, Clark's blood gleaming in the blue laboratory light, Chloe's still face, Lois with her arm in a cast after a narrow escape from Hope and Mercy - they darted around Clark like butterflies, popping when he touched them. He swung his arms around frantically, trying to clear the air.
He was stunned when his hand touched solid flesh. In a blink, the bubbles were gone, and he could see Lex flying backwards, his spine hitting the top of the wall with a terrible crack. Lex didn't even look surprised as he teetered and fell headfirst.
Clark hurried to the edge of the roof and looked down. Lex was at the center of an enormous crater in the concrete, limbs tangled in chunks of broken stone, staring back up at him and smiling, red blood over white teeth.
Clark was out of the bed and pressed up against the door before he realized he was awake.
"Clark?" Lex's voice was concerned and careful, a man dealing with a dog that might bite. "You were moaning and thrashing around. Bad dream?"
He'd hit Lex in the dream. "Did I hurt you?" His voice was thin, fragile.
Lex shook his head, but Lex's definition of hurt might be somewhat different than Clark's. Clark scanned him, just to be sure, and didn't see any damage. "You called out my name."
"You were in trouble," Clark said, trying to work up the courage to go back to the bed. "I - I couldn't get to you in time." He shouldn't be feeling guilty. He wasn't lying to protect himself. It was for Lex.
Lex studied him for half a minute. "Freud says that anxiety dreams are the unconscious's way of reassuring us that everything will actually be fine. 'See,' your unconscious mind says, 'you didn't show up naked for school last time, and you won't next time. It's a silly fear, so don't worry.'"
Clark smiled weakly. "So you think I'll always save you?"
"Clark," Lex patted the bed next to him, "I know it."
Clark was editing his latest expose of LuthorCorp shenanigans - futile, in the larger sense, as long as Lionel owned half the town, but capable of providing momentary satisfaction as the FDA or the SEC threw its weight around.
The phone was an unwelcome interruption.
"What happened to my cars?"
Clark snorted, drawing curious glances from the desks around him.
"You got rid of them last year, when you hired your new PR chief." Lakshmi Lyons, aside from being even more stunningly, calmly beautiful than Lana Ross, had formerly run two successful senatorial campaigns and one successful mayoral campaign.
Silence on the line. "Oh," Lex said at last. "I knew there had to be a reason I was driving domestic."
He hung up, leaving Clark to grin, shake his head, and ignore Lois's "What're you smiling at, Kent?"
Of course, Governor Luthor couldn't publicly date Clark or even Superman, not in Kansas in a conservative decade. But Lex had so much to offer the world; Clark couldn't be selfish with the treasure he'd received, all unexpected.
"Let's get lunch," he said, turning to Lois with what she called his farmboy smile. He needed some time to work on Lois so she'd agree to keep hammering at Lionel instead of following up on some of Lex's more creative accounting.
Unfortunately, he had to run out on her. Forest fires in California. It was a bit annoying, how people built in these dry areas, where fires were nature's way of cleaning up. Then they suppressed the fires for years and years and when suppression worked no longer and the bill came due, they wanted protection. They had choices; they weren't poor. They just liked the views, nine years out of ten.
Nonetheless, they were people, and in need of his help, so he went. Even though it meant another story from Lois that made Lex blink and duck his head.
"Tell me about us," Lex said, drawing patterns on Clark's back as if raking sand in a Zen garden.
Clark propped his chin on his hands, looking at the handprint in the metal of the headboard from one particularly active night. "What do you mean?"
"All that lost time - I want to know what happened. I want to know everything I used to know about you. So tell me something, anything."
He closed his eyes, willing himself not to get too emotional. And remembered, going back to when they were friends.
"Once, in college," he began, "I had a paper to write about Emily Dickinson. For a week you kept calling me up and singing me her poems to the tune of the theme from 'Gilligan's Island.' 'The heart asks pleasure first - And then, excuse from pain -'" he imitated. "I was so mad at you - I couldn't take her seriously after that. I got a really bad grade, and you weren't sorry at all."
He could feel Lex smiling. "You were mad, but did you hang up when I started singing?"
Clark snorted. "Not once."
It had been his senior year in high school, really, but that was okay, since it was the truth otherwise.
"Superman." Lionel Luthor made the name sound like an indictment.
Clark swallowed. They'd tested the new protective suit in Lex's lab, but he was irrationally sure that Lionel had done something to juice up the natural destructiveness of Kryptonite. "Mr. Luthor, this facility is being used as a transfer point for illegal shipments of guns and drugs."
Lionel's eyes widened in a mockery of surprise. "You don't say. How terrible for the owners of this warehouse." Lionel, of course, would be ten links down the corporate chain, implausibly deniable.
"But I'm surprised," Lionel said, taking another step towards Clark. "This facility, as you call it, has been in operation for at least three years. I wonder why Superman didn't think it worth his attention until now."
Clark scanned Lionel's body and found only a ring set with several hundred carats of Kryptonite. He felt fine, even with the ring not ten feet away, and blessed Lex's ingenuity.
"Does it have anything to do with the new look, I wonder," Lionel mused, stepping closer still. "I must admit, I find this darker version much more appropriate for a leader of men. Thinking about politics?"
Clark shook his head. "You assume I'm like you, power-hungry and manipulative." He probably could have gotten the new suit the same colors as the old, but it wasn't worth the fight with Lex, and crimson on dark blue was, he had to admit, fairly impressive. He crossed his arms over his chest.
"You always were judgmental, Mr. Kent," Lionel said. Clark's vision flared white with shock and fear. "Oh yes, I knew. But as long as you kept out of my way, I let the matter ... slide, especially because you kept Lex on his toes. Now, however, Superman seems to have reconciled with my son." He was within neck-snapping distance by now. "Now, I think we may have to see who is the stronger."
If the Kryptonite had any residual effect, it was unnoticeable under the plain old terror. "If you hurt anyone trying to get to me, I will kill you."
Lionel smiled and traced the 'S' with his ring finger. "I've noticed that being your friend can be as dangerous as being your enemy, Clark. Collateral damage is part of the game, and you should have known that when you decided to take me on."
Clark grabbed Lionel's hand, tightening around the wrist until the bones ground together and Lionel couldn't suppress a wince. "This isn't a game, Luthor."
Lionel's smirk stayed in his mind long after the police had arrived to seize the contraband, long after Lionel had made a brief noncommittal statement to one of his hired hands in the force and departed.
He realized that he'd expected this, expected that choosing Lex would upset the balance of power and force Lionel to make an overt move. He had hoped that Lionel didn't know too much, but there was no solution for it but to press on. And to win.
With Lex helping strategize the anti-Lionel campaign, it was brutal but swift. Lex played the market like a symphony conductor. Superman and the Daily Planet rooted out anything less than fully licit, and Lionel didn't exactly know how to conduct an irregularity-free business. Lionel's resources turned to ashes. The power shift was in the air like the taste of fall, with people who once answered Lionel's calls now responding quickly to Lex.
Lionel retaliated with an enhanced version of Kryptonite, a refinement that had Clark puking on the floor of one of Lionel's covert labs. He only escaped because Lex's people came in after fifteen minutes had passed. Mercy, who had never once changed expression in his presence, rescued him with the same stoic efficiency he remembered from when she was shooting to kill him. Clark thought it highly likely that she didn't care who the target was, as long as she got to hurt people from time to time.
The sickness was worth it, because it got Lex to spend two straight days in his presence, a rarity now that they were both working so hard. By the end, Lex had compensated for Lionel's refinements, and his new suit was better than ever.
He missed Lex whenever they were apart, which was silly because he was spending more time with Lex than he had in the last ten years. He'd extend their nightly conversations with trivialities, long after real information had stopped being exchanged, until Lex laughed at his tricks and pulled him close for a kiss. Hearing Lex's stories and pronouncements made him feel like they were really together, almost more than anything physical.
Lex sent Hope to Smallville to make sure Lionel didn't try anything against the Kents. He would have sent Mercy, but they both agreed that would be a bad idea, given Mercy's provenance. Two weeks in, Hope caught three men whose escape from prison had coincidentally sent them in the direction of the Kent farm. Two of them lived to finish out their sentences.
Clark's parents never knew they'd been in danger.
The Fortress did its bit, slicing through LuthorCorp computer systems with the ease of a karate master overpowering a week-old baby. Clark had a vague suspicion that it wasn't just giving LuthorCorp information to Lex, but he really didn't want to know. At least if that was happening, it meant that the Fortress had accepted Lex's role in his life, which was what he wanted most.
Lex asked Clark not to let the Planet report in such detail on LuthorCorp's fall. "My father never allowed me to have any dignity," he said, "but I want to be better than that. Let him go without a public hanging." Clark insisted, though, that he couldn't have his journalistic integrity affected more than it already was by dodging a serious news story just to save Lex's sensibilities. Lex sulked but didn't bring it up again. As a compromise, Clark refrained from writing the stories - Lois was more than willing to take up the slack.
The victory was, like many of Clark's victories, not very flashy. LuthorCorp was chopped up and digested by many other companies, with LexCorp only taking choice bits. Lionel was left with a good pension and a token executive vice presidency. With his toys taken away, Clark worried that he might try to get his revenge by exposing Clark's secret to the world, but apparently Lionel thought it would be too humiliating to go begging to journalists he'd owned last year.
Lex refused all his father's attempts to meet. After Mercy carried Lionel physically out of the LexCorp building, he stopped trying.
Clark couldn't help but feel smug. Lionel had destroyed months of Lex's memory and had only bought himself a few years of Lex's trust. But Lionel hadn't been able to change his habits to take advantage of the opportunity. (Insanity, he'd heard, was doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results next time.) Clark wasn't devious the way Lionel was, but he loved Lex more, enough to change for him.
Clark's parents hadn't said anything about Superman's new detente with Lex, though he did catch them in a few uncertain and worried looks.
It was kinder not to tell them the full story, he thought. God knew they should be used to that reasoning.
He asked his mom to make him a sour cream apple walnut pie, the kind Lex always loved, and she agreed. "Lois likes the peach strawberry," she said when Clark came to pick it up. She was busy shelling peas as she sat at the kitchen table.
"I know, Mom."
He stood in silence in the kitchen, still his home, still warm and cheerful after a hundred years of hearty farm cooking. Over the years, he'd replaced more than a few of the beams holding the ceiling up, not even counting the one he'd broken himself. The farmhouse was likely to outlast his parents.
"Clark -" His mother didn't look up from her bowl of peas.
"Yes?" He almost wanted to have someone to whom he could confess everything. Lex knew all about the present and the future, and his parents knew about the past; telling Lex more was out of the question, but maybe his mother -
"Are you sure you're doing the right thing?"
Clark stared at the yellow floral curtains over the sink. They were new, but they were just like the old ones. Things didn't change much at the Kent farm. Maybe that was for the best.
"I'm sure, Mom. Thanks for the pie."
Lex ate three slices that night, with the coffee ice cream he insisted was a better accompaniment than vanilla. Clark's mom would have approved, he was sure; she'd always thought Lex was too thin. Lex asked after Clark's parents, but he didn't suggest a visit. Lex was a pragmatist.
Clark dodged the missile, sped to the ground, tied up the guerrillas, destroyed the launcher, darted back into the air to wrestle the missile to the ground, and punched through metal to detach the trigger from the fissionable material.
Just another one of those days, he thought, glad that he'd had the Fortress tutor him in bomb-dismantling techniques.
Sometimes he thought that America relied too much on his protection. Lex was definitely of that opinion. Clark hadn't considered it much before, but maybe some sort of speech was in order.
As he delivered the guerrillas to local law enforcement, he pondered his options. The problem was that he couldn't credibly say he'd let terrorists do what they wanted if American foreign policy continued pissing people off. Also, he pretty much agreed with American foreign policy - not that the President needed his approval or anything - and fundamentalist anger didn't seem like a good reason to refrain from acting.
He was looking forward to Lex's entrance into politics. Lex was smart enough to figure some of this out, and he wouldn't want to rely on Superman to clean up his messes. He'd hated it before, and showed no signs of change on that front.
When he got back to the Planet, Lois had already given up on him and was off talking to State Senator Gordon on her own, leaving him to tramp around Metropolis's Dead Zone - Superman really ought to clean that up for good one of these days - looking for the thugs who'd been working with the Russian mob on a complicated insurance scam. They hadn't been deterred by the failure of their first approach to Metropolis. It was a sad commentary on modern life, but the mobsters had a better work ethic than most legitimate people he knew.
Lois would rattle Gordon with the evidence of the payoffs he'd been receiving, and Clark would find someone on the bottom of the scheme to explain it. And then he'd go to the penthouse and Lex would be there.
Clark whistled as he walked towards the bad part of town, as happy as he'd been since he learned what he was.
When Clark touched down on the penthouse balcony, Lex didn't look up from his desk, even though it was positioned so that Lex could always watch him land.
"What's wrong?" he asked as soon as he was through the glass doors.
Lex stared at the papers on his desk. His fingers were clenched around a fountain pen, though he wasn't writing anything.
"Lex?" What if he'd had a stroke? The Fortress had said there'd be a lingering weakness in the blood vessels in his brain. Clark hurried to kneel beside Lex, prepared to sweep him back to Antarctica for treatment.
Lex dropped the pen, swiveled in his chair, and examined Clark's pose as if he were evaluating a sculpture for possible purchase. "Is something the matter, Clark?"
"Yes," he said, trying not to sound annoyed. "You're acting weird."
Lex laughed, a short angry sound. "Define 'weird' for us. You and I aren't exactly bastions of normalcy, are we?" His eyes kept moving, refusing to fix on Clark's face or anywhere else.
"You had a visit from your father, didn't you? And he gave you some crap about living up to expectations."
That got him a closed-mouth smile. "Not in so many words."
Clark threw up his hands. "What a jerk! I mean, I didn't exactly see him running the world when he was your age. It's ridiculous. He's trying to grind you down because he doesn't want to admit that you've already become a better, more important man than he'll ever be."
Lex closed his eyes. "Thanks to you."
He didn't need a hazmat sign to know that there was danger here. "No. You've always made your own way, Lex. I'm just glad to be by your side."
"Did Lionel - did he say something about us?"
Lex made a small, contemplative sound. "No, but I find it interesting that you think he would." He turned back to the papers on his desk, and Clark finally looked at them closely enough to see the LuthorCorp logo on the folders. "Apparently Dr. Morris, the man who gave me my most recent concussion, got a little further with his story at LuthorCorp than he did at LexCorp. According to my father, these are files he took with him when his experiments were terminated."
"He's making it all up, elaborating on that poor man's delusions."
Lex's elegant artificial lashes hid his lowered eyes. "I see."
That didn't seem to follow, until the penny dropped. Clark's heart stuttered in his chest, and it was all he could do not to clutch at it.
He really should have asked what the files said before declaring them to be delusions.
His mind flashed in all directions, like a lightning storm, trying to find some branching path that would get them back to where they ought to be. "When was the last time your father told you the truth?"
Lex swept a hand over the papers on his desk as if his touch could erase them. "Oh, my father always uses a heavy dose of truth. All the most successful liars do. It's just the - context - that he manipulates."
Clark's pulse was calming as Lex failed to launch into a series of accusations. He could deal with Lionel's poison, to which Lex was already supplying his own antidotes. "He's trying to play you again. What did he want?"
"He said he wanted to keep LexCorp at the forefront of the field of genetic manipulation. He gave me a rather long list of projects that, he assured me, LexCorp was already deeply involved in. Unfortunately, the list could also have functioned as a guide to violating every precept of the Nuremberg Code. Of course, I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. The funny thing is, for once, I meant it." Lex still wasn't looking at Clark. Instead, he was examining his hands, the palms and then the backs, as if wondering whether he was really Lex Luthor.
"What did you do?" Clark felt confident enough now to put his hand on Lex's forearm reassuringly.
"Kicked him out, naturally. But he still won, since I've been looking at these files for hours, wondering."
"You shouldn't let him -"
Lex turned his head. His eyes were like twin stars, blazing blue light that negated Clark's powers. "The truth, Clark. Were those real projects? Did I intend to remake the world in my image? Were we really allies, behind a facade of enmity? Or did you just take your chance to change the story until it read the way you wanted?"
He met Lex's eyes without hesitation. "What do you want me to say, Lex?" There was no proof, one way or another. That was the wonderful thing about conspiracy theories, and conspiracies: they were unfalsifiable, unscientific, exactly the kinds of things Lex could not abide.
"If the situation were reversed, what would you want me to tell you?" The skin underneath Lex's eyes was bruised with worry. Clark could tell that his answer would be dispositive, either wrenching history onto another track or keeping it in place.
He reached out and took Lex's hands in his, his thumbs rubbing gently at Lex's smooth skin.
With a tug, Lex was only inches away, and he leaned in to whisper the words into the curve of Lex's ear.
"What you believe - that's the truth."
Lex sucked in a breath, almost a gasp. He turned his head, and his eyes burned like Kryptonite, making Clark's heart lose its beat again. His expression was unreadable at first, until it resolved into something unexpected and welcome.
He had to struggle to control his own reaction, shock and delight. Lex knew. Lex knew and he didn't care. He liked Clark's version of reality better than his own, and he was never going to mention it again.
"We're going to change the world," he promised Lex, giddy with triumph.
Lex's eyes shone. His hands were on Clark's wrists, pulling until they were wrapped around each other, not an atom between them. He could feel the universe's center of gravity shifting, resettling itself around them. Clark had lied, and not for his own safety. Lex had let him lie.
They'd sacrificed the truth to one another, and it had been pleasing.
After this, destiny would be easy.
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