It didn't have to be this way.
"You know that can't hurt me."
He could speed over there right now; disarm Lex before he even knew what was happening. But he doesn't want to do it that way. He wants Lex to put the gun down, needs Lex to stop himself. Of course, there's also Lex's kryptonite ring preventing him from getting any closer.
Lex giggles, violently. "No, not regular bullets. But everybody has an Achilles heel, Clark. You of all people should know that."
Clark squints, focusing his gaze. The gun is lead. Of course, Lex would have thought of that.
Lex tsk-tsks at him, wagging one finger facetiously.
"Come now, Clark." His mouth twists on that last word, spitting it out with a clipped snap of his jaw. "Do you really think so little of me?"
Clark wishes he'd stop saying his name. He hasn't been Clark to him in a long time.
"I don't really think much of you at all, Luthor." Superman talking, and an outright lie at that. Lex pouts, feigning hurt.
"That's rather harsh, Clark. Hadn't I been a good friend to you back in Smallville? Haven't I been an even better enemy here in Metropolis?" He smiles, viciously, the corners of his mouth drawing up to expose white teeth. "What would you be doing if not foiling all my evil plans? What is a superhero without a villain? I made you!" Lex laughs, high-pitched and hysterical. "You're nothing without me." He advances slowly, rounding on Clark. "But I guess I should thank you, Clark. For giving me purpose, for giving me my destiny."
Clark stares at the ground, regret etched plainly in the lines of his face and opens his mouth to speak.
"Oh, don't give me that. Don't you fucking dare, Kent," Lex snarls, eyes flashing angrily. He steps toward him, closing the distance and Clark doubles over from the sudden proximity of the kryptonite ring.
"Don't you even think about saying you're sorry. Don't give me your moral high horse bullshit and your fucking pity. You still think you can save me? That I'm worth it?" Lex barks out a half-laugh, half-sob.
"You are, Lex." He tries not to gasp, but god, it hurts, and Clark's not entirely sure it's all from the kryptonite. He turns heavy eyes on his once-best friend and holds his gaze there, willing Lex to believe him. Searches his face for some sign of the man he'd once been, for some part of the friend he'd once loved.
Lex's eyes are hard and bitter, and Clark has to look away before he's entirely certain he's found what he was looking for.
"You're wrong," Lex murmurs and pulls the trigger.
Clark hears, more than feels, flesh tearing apart, bone fragments shattering. Kryptonite bullets, he thinks vaguely, waiting for the darkness to envelop him.
In the moment it takes him to realize that he isn't hearing the bullet from inside his own head, Lex falls.
In an instant, he is by his side, catching Lex before he collapses completely, pain slowing his movements until he manages to wrench the ring off Lex's hand and toss it to a far corner of the room. Lex gazes up at him and Clark sees, reflected in those blue eyes, a sorrow that mirrors his own. Even now, with blood streaming from his head, gun resting limply in his hand, Lex's healing powers are working madly to save his life. Any normal human would have died on the spot.
Clark isn't sure if he should feel grateful for the few moments it gives him, or angry that it's a futile effort.
"You know...that this was inevitable, Clark," Lex whispers between dry, cracked lips.
Clark briefly considers denying it, considers telling Lex that it didn't have to be this way. Wants to say that he used to know a man who believed he could choose his own destiny.
But this is Lex, and he's dying. And Clark is tired. Tired of lying and tired of cursing the world for being cruel and unfair. So instead, he nods.
Lex smiles then, as if some small secret has just passed between them and in that split-second, the years drop away. Clark is sixteen again, and this is any other shared moment in Smallville with his best friend laughing and joking beside him. Both as carefree as they are ever going to be, and dreaming that their futures could be something extraordinary, something more...
More than this.
"Clark..." And his name is no longer a curse; it's a benediction escaping from Lex's lips, a sigh, and a prayer all in one breath. He pulls Clark's face down to him, brushing his mouth in a tender kiss, his other arm snaking around his neck. Clark closes his eyes. He feels a wetness on his cheeks, and he doesn't know if it's blood or tears.
Lex's arm is heavy around his neck, hand pressed to the back of his head, and Clark wonders at how his fingers are already so cold and hard, almost like steel, or...
Lex's eyes are wet with tears.
"It had to be this way," he insists weakly, and Clark's not sure anymore which one of them Lex is trying to convince. Lex's eyes are pleading with him, begging forgiveness for...for something.
It takes a minute for Clark to register the audible click behind his ear.
Faint echoes of forgotten laughter in an old barn loft are drifting through his head, and he has just enough time to wonder if maybe Lex is right. And that this was inevitable, all along.
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