Superman saw Lex standing in the ruins of his secret lab and began laughing hysterically. Lex had accidentally made himself a bald nine-year old boy. Lex was standing in what was left of his clothes, which now were much too big for him. His face and the top of his head was besmirched by ash and soot but he was otherwise unhurt, a fact that Superman made sure by using his X-Ray vision to check for broken bones or internal bleeding.
Lex glared at Superman. "It's all your fault! If you hadn't blown up the generator, right in the middle of the experiment . . ."
"I heard you were working on a project that involved various radioactive isotopes. I could assume it was some kind of weapon. Was it a youth potion experiment?"
"None of your damn business! This is private property, trespasser! I should get you for attempted murder and arson!"the little kid yelled.
"You'll probably need your parents' help filling out the forms at the police station."
"Go to hell, alien." It should have been a wonderfully nasty snarl, but coming from a small child with pipes to match, it sounded like a tantrum.
The superhero snickered at how he sounded. "Are you going to call me a doo-doo head next?"
Lex turned his back on him and tried to stomp off, but tripped over clothes now much too big for him.
Clark stopped smiling. Lex was this old when I ruined his life. "Lex, the Fortress could. . ."
"I'm going to fix this by myself," Lex said as he picked himself and took care to roll up his sleeves and his pants. "Like I've always done. Go away before you make things worse."
He walked to his Porsche that had luckily been parked far enough away not to be damaged or smudged by the explosion and opened the door.
"Lex, you're too damn small to drive that thing. The cops will pull you aside! You'll get yourself killed."
Lex snapped, "Volunteering to drive?"
Clark simply picked him up and began flying.
Clark pouted as he rang the doorbell. "I didn't want you to try to drive and go flying head first through the windshield or bang your head into the steering wheel!"
"Like you really give a damn if I die or not!"
"If I wanted you dead, I would've let you drive!"
"If you cared if I lived or died, you wouldn't have blown up the generator!"
"I was just trying to shut down the power source to another one of your many nefarious experiments!"
"You don't even know what the hell I was doing!"
"What the hell were you doing then?"
The door opened and Enrique said, "Luthor Estate, how may I help my Master's long-time nemesis and obsession?" He looked down to see mini-Lex. "Oh, why that child looks just like Master. Are you here to blackmail him with a forgotten love child?"
"Idiot, I'm Lex, your Ma . . . boss!" Lex said.
Enrique blinked and blinked again. "Master?"
"Come here and let me whisper something that'll convince you!"
Enrique bent down. Lex whispered in Enrique's ear details regarding Enrique's crazy booze-soaked orgy that involved Phil (Lionel's former seeing-eye servant), Dominic and Dominic's sister held last year.
As Lex walked in, the maid (who smelled of furniture polish and pine cleaner)and the laundrywoman (who smelled of detergent and fabric softener) smiled and cooed. "Oh. He looks just like Boss Supremo," said the maid.
"I am Boss Su . . . Lex Luthor," said Lex. I really must cure her of using that ridiculous nickname, he thought.
"Oh, how cute," said the maid, perfectly sincere. "He's egotistical and insane."
The laundrywoman squatted down and gave Lex a little pinch on the cheeks. "What's your real name?"
Lex looked like he was about to throw a tantrum.
"This child IS Master," said Enrique.
"Huh?" the serving women chorused.
"I was doing one of my experiments when the blue flying fool," said Lex as he glared up at the superhero and pointed in his direction, "interrupted the flow of power. I consider that attempted murder."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, I wasn't trying to kill you."
"Boss, your clothes are a mess . . ." The laundry woman and the maid looked at each other and the gears in their heads started to whir.
"No silly costumes!" snapped Lex. "Just make me a shirt and slacks my current size. In the meantime, I'll just put up with this. And tell the cook I'd like some lunch."
The gears in the women's heads slowed down. "Darn," said the maid as she and her coworker went to start work on something suitable.
Lex turned to Superman and said, "Why are you still in my house?"
"Your servant invited me in. Besides, I want to help fix the problem I . . ." He let out a big sigh before saying, "I caused."
"Master! It took you months to make whatever it was you made and you only have two weeks until the annual shareholders' meeting."
"Oh, I forgot all about that. Enrique, get me a bottle of Scotch and a glass."
"You're too young to drink, Master."
"I'm the same age I was this morning! Get me some Scotch!"
"Luthor, you'll end up sick from alcohol poisoning. Imagine how hard it's going to be explain at the hospital as they pump your stomach . . ."
"Shut up, DAD!" Lex blinked because he hadn't intended to say it.
Superman took a step back like he'd been slapped. "I'll . . . I'll be going to the bathroom." With that, he zoomed away.
Lex pinched the bridge of his nose. Enrique looked horribly uncomfortable.
Clark splashed water on his face then dried it on his cape. Why am I so upset, he thought. It's not like he's said worse things to me. I guess I know how it feels when I used to tell him he was just like his father.
There was a knock on the bathroom door. "Yes?" he said.
"LUNCH IS READY!" said the maid.
"I'll be right there."
"ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?"
"I'm fine. You don't need to yell."
By the time he got there, Lex was sitting at the dining table and there was another table setting for him. After he sat down, Enrique put a dish in front of Lex then in front of him.
"I have no idea what Kryptonians eat, so I hope that quail with morel sauce over gnocchi is pleasing to your palate."
"I'm sure it will be fine."
A frown graced Lex's now smaller brow. "I bet a certain reporter at the Daily Planet would love to write an epic about this at my expense. Gloating, smug bastard."
Clark clenched his jaw and said, "I'm sure that he would do no such thing. Every article he has written about you has not been about you personally but a balanced and fair critique of your various questionable business and scientific endeavors."
"Well, you should talk. Every single article from him and his partner is a love letter to you. `Oh, the mighty superhero has once again saved Metropolis with his bulging biceps and massive . . .'"
"I can't help that Lois has a crush on me. I assure you that he's not behind those particular lines."
"Why not? You're his type."
"What do you mean by that?"
"After all, you're brunette and `perfect' in every way. He wouldn't accept anything less. But then again, maybe Lois is more his type."
"I assure you, Clark doesn't see me that way and he . . ."
Lex closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair before opening his eyes and picking up a fork and knife. "Let's just eat." said Lex, as he cut into the quail and ate a bite.
Clark picked up his fork, took a bite of the gnocchi and tasted the earthy and savory flavor of the mushroom sauce. He had eaten this very dish once years ago when they were still friends. It had been like any other Saturday night when he had gone over to Lex's place for dinner and chatting over things in front of the fireplace. Lex had told him how the cook was an amateur mycologist and liked to go into the woods, hunting for mushrooms like wild morels. She'd come back with pounds of edible fungi. While he had a few concerns about it, Lex's enthusiasm had won him over. It remained one of the best dishes he had ever eaten, even though he ate out often in Metropolis, a city famous for the quality of its restaurants. The nostalgia added a bittersweet edge to the dish.
"No, it's good."
"I've decided to accept your help."
"What do you want in exchange? I don't want you to hold it over my head. A contribution to your favorite charity?"
"I'll tell you when we get back."
"I'll also have you know that unless you plan mass murder, you have at least three witnesses who know that the last time I was seen alive was in your presence. So killing me or making me disappear would be most inadvisable."
"I AM NOT GOING TO KILL YOU," snapped Clark. Though you are so tempting me by harping on it so damn much, he thought.
"You wanted me to pack dinner for two?" said the cook as she walked into the dining room, holding a backpack full of food in Tupperware containers. She saw Superman at the table and screamed, "AUGHH!" Then she turned to talk to her boss, only to see mini-Lex and screamed again, "GYAHHH!"
"An experiment went wrong!" said Lex. "And he's a guest. We're going on a trip together."
The cook put a hand on her chest and gasped for air, trying to keep her heart from bursting from her chest. She put the backpack on the table. "Here are the dinners, boss."
"And stop playing with all those crazy crystals. Next time, you'll turn into a woman," she said, waving her spatula at him before going back into the kitchen.
Clark chuckled. "Ok, that I wouldn't mind seeing."
Lex glared at him.
Before Clark took Lex up into the air, the maid and the laundry woman had managed to make a decent pair of black slacks and a red shirt for their employer. They had also suggested that he wear a Warrior Angel costume as a joke while flying with Superman as it would confuse comic fans into thinking Warrior Angel was real though quite a bit smaller than advertised. This idea, of course, was shot down by both Clark and Lex.
As they flew above the city, Clark holding Lex securely by the hand, Lex said, "You're not going to drop me, are you?"
Clark was about to snap something sarcastic until he saw the genuinely terrified look on Lex's nine-year old face. He said in as gentle a tone as possible. "No, I'm not."
The thought had crossed his mind to let go of Lex's hand and give him a scare before catching him as a prank. He didn't because he knew that Lex would insist on going home after that. Also, it would be extremely cruel considering how much he knew Lex didn't like to fly after all the terrible things that had happened to him in the air. Listening to Lex scream that Superman had attempted to kill him once again and ruin what little progress he had made of getting Lex to view him as something other than a target wasn't worth a few seconds of payback. He also had to admit that this was the first time in years that he got to hold hands with Lex even if he had been miniaturized. There was also the small but important fact that being connected with a flattened, unidentified nine-year old kid lying splat on the ground if he didn't catch Lex was extremely bad PR.
After a while, Lex relaxed and actually seemed to be enjoying himself. Clark saw a little smile on that face and barely repressed his own.
"Mind if I give you a piece of advice?"
"Clark Kent . . ."
"Uh, what about him?" For a second, he had thought that Lex had guessed who he was but Lex was calmly saying that name, not really looking at him.
"You could do better than him when it comes to friends."
"Why do you say that?"
Lex snorted. "Do you really think that he'd even talk to you if you weren't Superman? Those interviews you gave him put him on the map and I bet you give him all sorts of helpful little tips."
"He hasn't asked me to do anything. Le . . . Luthor, I . . . know a little about what happened between you and him. He's changed . . . a lot from then. It's been more than ten years since you left Smallville. I can tell that he misses you very much."
"You mean, he misses the limousine rides, the gifts, the financial bailouts . . ."
"No, he misses playing pool with you, staying over on Friday nights watching marathon sessions of Babylon Five or Deep Space Nine, sitting in front of the fireplace talking about silly stuff like fast cars, cranky principals, school election campaigns . . . I . . . hear him talking about those times a lot."
"He has a funny way of showing it, writing those articles about me."
"Oh come on, you do all sorts of insane things! Besides this experiment, you thought it was a good idea to manipulate oil prices so they went ridiculously high."
"High oil prices are good for the environment. It'll make people stop buying SUVs. People won't change their habits without a big push. Not that I had anything to do with that."
"So, it wasn't just so you could profit from certain investments."
"If a rise in oil prices happens to benefit me, how could I just let the profit slip through my fingers?"
"And after your science team invented a viable gasoline substitute derived from garbage."
"I can't believe you have something against the environment."
"Oh, please. Then your company made that penis-lengthening cream called Wiener Creme . . ."
"It worked too well. We're talking eighteen inches!"
"People just don't read the directions! You're only supposed to apply it once a week and only a teaspoon at a time! It's prescription only!
"You know how men are! They don't read directions and they think more is better!"
"Not my fault that other people abuse my inventions!"
"It had hallucinogenic properties so people thought their penises were talking to them!"
"It's obvious people were recreationally abusing this drug!"
"Kryptonite was one of the main ingredients!"
"Can I help it that it's so useful in so many ways!"
Clark was totally aghast at Lex's complete lack of conscience regarding the Wiener Creme. "You're such a twisted bastard!"
"Hey, I came out with a drug that cured them of their talking penis hallucinations and the other conditions!"
"Yeah, and it cost just as much as the first drug."
"It took a lot of research! Besides the first drug worked perfectly well for 99.5% of the patients."
Lex sighed. "Are you going to take me home now?"
"No, I'm not going to take you home. I'm still going to help you."
It was quiet for a minute before Lex said, "I'm serious about what I said about Clark Kent, though. Just think about what I said."
"Only if you think about what I said, Le . . . Luthor."
Lex looked terribly impressed at the Fortress of Solitude. "Quite the place you've got here, Superman! It's a lot bigger than what I had in Smallville."
"Yeah, I heard about that, the one you blew up before you left." He remembered watching Lex smile as the castle crumbled to the ground and the fleet of moving trucks speeding towards the horizon. He had watched as Lex got into his limousine and was driven back to Metropolis, never to come back.
"Good riddance. I was too attached to it, I had to destroy it. Besides, it's a reminder of the past and a fake . . ."
"It was a real castle all right, but my ancestors never lived in that place. Well, not unless my ancestors were the servants of the rightful lord and lady. It was all a lie my father made up to make himself look good. It felt good to destroy it." Lex frowned slightly. "Why do you look so sad?"
"I guess I don't see why you had to get rid of it if you still cared for it."
"That place . . . Let's just say it hasn't been good to me, bad memories and all. I was destroying a part of the past that I wanted to leave behind. It was cleansing."
"So, how about we get started on returning things to normal?"
"Yeah . . . sure. Stay here and don't wander off."
Lex scowled. "I'm not really nine!"
"Well, you're as curious as one. I have to talk to my artificial intelligence or AI as I call it and see what it can do. Just don't go around pressing buttons or touching stuff you've never seen before."
Clark went to the room that held the artificial intelligence. As the door opened, he heard the AI sing "They're Pinky and The Brain. Yes, Pinky and The Brain . . . Oh, hello, Kal-El. I was bored so I was watching some cartoons . . . I noticed that you brought a guest with you?"
Clark briefly wondered whether giving the AI a personality program had been a good idea. He briefly explained the problem to the AI.
"Do we really have to help him? This neutralizes him without harming him. It would solve so many of our problems, keeping him like this."
"He would have eventually figured out a way to get back to normal."
"We could facilitate his demise."
"I'm just saying . . ."
"He's a guest! I invited him here! Shame on you!"
"But life would be so much simpler if . . . "
"No! And if you try anything, I'll rip this fortress to pieces with my bare hands."
"I only exist to serve YOU."
Clark heard the hurt pout in the voice and smiled. "Glad you remembered."
"Even if you do make disastrous decisions that are against your own self-interest. I will examine your guest in the room he's in now."
After Lex was scanned a few times by the AI as he stood in the middle of the room, he said, "So, can you reverse the effects?"
After a minute, the AI said, "What were you doing with anti-tachyon particles? Do you know what kind of effects those things can have?"
Clark frowned. "You mean he was dealing with the particles that make up time?" He turned to Lex and said, "My God, what were you trying to do?"
"Look, the experiment prototyped's been destroyed . . . and it wasn't working out the way I wanted it to . . ."
"That's not the point."
"I got curious about time travel. I wasn't trying to reverse the aging process. It was a bad side effect."
"You exposed yourself to those particles? Are you nuts? You could've died."
"What do you care if I accidentally waste myself in an experiment? Your friend would have a ball writing my obituary. He could turn the whole thing into a morality play, every line a platitude about a man who finally got what was coming to him. It'd be good for a couple laughs."
"He's not like that and I'm not like that, either! Listen to me, Luthor! You have got to quit doing experiments that could get you killed!" Clark felt rather surprised that he felt so upset at the thought.
Lex rolled his eyes. "So nice to see that someone cares."
The AI said, "I am not going to create a tachyon generator. The particles are too unstable and even I would be hard pressed to do it by your particular deadline. I have a rather unpleasant alternative with the one advantage that it will take a lot less time."
"I could make you a compound that will make you grow up in the space of three days. In the meantime, your metabolism will be much higher than normal thus causing you to be feverish and weak. After you reach adulthood, you will still need a couple days after that to regain your strength."
Lex thought about it for a second then said, "Do it!"
"What choice do I have? Besides, your computer won't kill me, right?"
"Right," said Clark with a slight over brightness in his voice.
Lex narrowed his eyes. "I hear so much confidence in your voice, Superman . . ."
Lex was lying in the temperature controlled bed with an IV in his arm. Clark said, "The bed's going to keep your temperature down so you don't overheat."
"Aren't you supposed to go out and patrol the city?"
Knowing full well that he couldn't say that his AI was rather interested in offing him, Clark said rather cheekily, "Well, since you here, I'm sure I'm doing my part in keeping crime down in the city by watching over you here."
"When did you become the comedian?"
"I wasn't joking. Besides, you should feel honored that you're here. You're the first person I've ever let come here."
Clark nodded. The look of delighted surprise was a welcome change from the constant suspicion tinged with resentment.
"Amazing." Lex winced. "I guess the process is starting."
"Just lie down. I'll be here if . . ."
"If . . ."
"If you need anything."
Watching Lex suffer through the slow transformation was painful. His body was noticeably growing and changing but in the most glacial way. He was often unconscious and his body was dripping with sweat from the fever caused by the heightened metabolism. During his lucid moments, Clark would give him some broth to replenish his fluids and for nourishment but then he'd go right back to a fitful sleep. He would shake his head from side to side and moan from the oppressiveness of the fever.
"Mom? Pamela?" he whimpered.
"It's going to be OK, it's going to be OK," whispered Clark, squeezing his hand and wiping off the sweat off with a towel. "AI, can't you give him something that'll knock him out?"
"I'm sorry, Kal-El, but that amount of anesthesia needed would slow down the process and I believe that his priority was the speed of the transformation."
"I just hate seeing him this way."
"Then just leave him to me."
"No, I left him once before. I don't want to do it again."
"Oh, I'm not going to do anything," wheedled the AI.
"I'm staying, don't try to change my mind."
As the hours went by, he saw Lex's features change from that of a child to that of young teenager. He thought about all the things that he found about Lex's childhood years after he left Smallville. After Lex had left, the only thing Clark could do to feel close to him was keeping an eye on him and keeping tabs on whatever he was doing, whether it be as a Daily Planet reporter or as a superhero. Along the way, he found information about Lex's past including the times nobody showed up at his birthday parties, the way kids would bully him at boarding school and how Lillian Luthor had been secretly given psychiatric treatment for postpartum depression shortly after Julian's death and the discrepancies regarding Julian's cause and time of death. It had opened his eyes about how much he had assumed about Lex and how much he hadn't known even though he had known Lex for years. It struck him as ironic that he ended up being as much of a collector of information as Lex had been in Smallville though with a different intent.
Clark mentally jumped at the mention of his name but soon realized that Lex was calling out to the people he thought could help him.
"Clark, help me."
He knelt down and whispered in his ear. "I'm here. It'll be over soon. I know it hurts."
"Kal-El, go to sleep," said the AI.
"Set up a cot so I can sleep nearby then," said Clark as he took a towel and wiped the sweat off Lex's brow.
The AI made a worried noise before doing so.
Over the past couple days as Lex continued to grow and change, Clark would look at him and brood, thinking thoughts like, That must be what he looked like when his mother died and Pamela left. Later that night after he managed to get Lex to drink more broth, he thought, This is what he must have looked like when he went to Club Zero.
When Lex looked like the young man who had told him that he wanted nothing to stand in the way of their friendship and looked at him as if he was the sun rising after years of nuclear winter, the thought occurred to Clark that he too would like to travel back in time. It had been more than a decade since he had last seen him asleep at arm's length.
"Would it be possible for me to go back in time?"
"Kal-El, I'm not making a time machine."
"Because it's not all about you." The AI promptly launched into a lecture about parallel universes, the butterfly effect, temporal physics, singularities, paradoxes, meeting one's self and the unfortunate consequences thereof, the incredibly amount of energy it would take, and how certain physicists had argued that it was manifestly impossible to travel further back in time prior to the time that the time machine had been created (thus defeating much of the point of time travel into the past) and the mathematics supporting this particular argument. The AI also talked about the sound of one hand clapping, whether one had truly gone around the squirrel if it continually faced you when you circled the tree it was on and why bread usually landed butter side down.
"But you told Lex . . ."
"Bombarding Lex with tachyons would a lot easier since he's not actually traveling through time. His body would merely have aged. But as tachyons are hard to use, I know you didn't want me to accidentally age him to the point of old age and/or death. But if you change your mind, I could . . ." The AI saw Clark's eyes start to glow in that old familiar way so it decided to hush.
"Hey . . . I'm alive," said Lex, delighted and surprised, as he opened his eyes and looked up to see a very tired superhero. He looked at his hands and at his reflection in the mirror Clark was holding up for him. He sighed with relief.
"Like there was any doubt," Clark scoffed as he put away the mirror and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Like anything in the world could possibly bring down the mighty Lex Luthor. I bet even a volcano wouldn't dare to swallow you."
"Where are my manners? Thank you." Lex sat up with some effort. "I'm exhausted.."
"It's to be expected. You had a rough three days. Want to watch some TV? The AI gets all the channels here."
"Sure, I should probably catch up on the business news."
"Why were you experimenting with tachyons in the first place?"
"What do you want me to say? I had some nefarious plot about ruling the world by impersonating Alexander the Great! I was going back in time to bring back a Tyrannosaurus Rex to attack you! I was going to go back in time to talk to myself and tell myself how all my plans to destroy you failed so I could watch myself bang my head on my desk out of despair."
"Just tell me the truth!"
"I looked back on my life a couple years ago. I'm the head of Luthercorp, king of Metropolis, and someday I'm going to be President. I should be thrilled. I should be ecstatic."
"But you're not."
Lex shook his head. "I thought it was because of you. But that's not it."
Lex made a dismissive gesture. "I've come to the conclusion that I can defeat you any time I please."
The AI made a rude noise akin to a raspberry. Clark rolled his eyes. "Yes, that is why you are here in MY fortress, obviously the victor of this latest round."
Lex pouted. "I wasn't fighting you at the time. I was doing an experiment. I was trying to go back in time and fix everything. I suppose everything had gone wrong the minute I was born but I figured that if I stopped myself from wandering into the cornfield the day the meteors fell . . . So many things would've turned out differently."
Lex looked wistful. "I wouldn't have been affected by the meteors. Maybe my father wouldn't have found me repulsive after that. Maybe my mother wouldn't have felt compelled to . . . Well, let's say things might've been different in my family, as dysfunctional as it was. Maybe I wouldn't have been exiled to Smallville when I was older. That one incident . . . totally changed my life." Lex chuckled. "I bet your friend Clark would've been happy if I had succeeded."
Clark frowned. "Why do you say that?"
"I heard my father met his family that day. Jonathan Kent found us in that field and drove us to the hospital. Just think, he and his family would never have gotten mixed up with anything connected to my family if my father hadn't been looking for me, if I hadn't been exiled there. Life would've been a lot more normal for Clark without the complications I brought into his life. He would've been a lot happier if he had never even heard of the name Luthor. He probably curses the day we first met, wishes he had just left me to rot in the car. Not that I give a damn about him or what he thinks. Just another one of those side effects."
Clark reflected on the enormity of what Lex had been trying to do. He would never have met Lex or Lionel. Lionel wouldn't have been the constant menacing presence he had been. Assuming his parents could've figured out a way to keep him without Lionel's help, life would've been easier. His high school years would've been closer to normal.
But he wouldn't have become any wiser during those years. He thought about what kind of superhero he'd be without having gone through all the trials and the tribulations he'd been through during that time and shivered. Or maybe he would've ended up simply staying at home, settling down with Lana and feel a constant sense of aimless frustration at not really using his powers to do much more than do farm chores at hyperspeed.
As for Lex, Clark wondered if life really would've been any better for him. True, he wouldn't have lost his hair and wouldn't have been bullied as much for his looks but on the other hand, he could think of dozens of times that Lex would've died if it weren't for the gift of superhealing. While Lionel might have been less abusive towards a more `normal' child, he couldn't imagine that Lionel could ever be considered a good or even simply a negligent father. And what Lex hinted about his mother and what he had discovered through his own research made him wonder if even Lex being normal would've stopped her. He doubted it.
It struck Clark then how much Lex was willing to risk. It wasn't just all the material things he had now like his company, the power that he wielded now and the future prospect of becoming even more powerful. This was no mere scientific curiosity or some amusing plot to bring down a hated rival. "Lex . . . I can call you that, can't I?"
"Sure, why not?"
"You have no idea what you would've put into motion if you had succeeded. If you had changed the past, the person you are now would've winked out of existence or you would've been stranded in the past with no way to get back."
"I thought about those possibilities. I was willing to take that risk."
"The AI told me that it would be impossible to go back in time."
"I had a long argument with Stephen Hawking about that but I figured that the laws of physics could be bent if I threw enough money at them."
Lex saw the expression on his nemesis' face and laughed. "I'm just joking. I just didn't want to give up just because someone said it was theoretically impossible, that's all."
"You might want to know, by the way, that Clark doesn't hate you. Even though I'm sure he sometimes hated all the things that happened because of the war between you and your father, he . . . wouldn't want you to disappear from his life. Without you, he wouldn't be what he is today. There were a lot of things that you taught him, that you made him realize. Some of it was painful, sure, but they were things he needed to learn. And it wasn't all painful, he . . ." He paused when he noticed that Lex was staring at him with a strange expression in his eyes as if he was hearing a melody that he almost recognized but couldn't quite figure out the name of the song. He decided to change the topic. "You asked me once what I wanted in exchange for helping you. I want you to stop experimenting with tachyon particles or anything involving time travel. Think of it this way, if you were gone, who would keep an eye on me and our city?"
"You sound like you'd miss me. You sound as if . . ." Lex leaned so very close to him, close enough that Clark could feel his breath on his lips.
Clark got up and said, "I . . . I should go get you some lunch and the remote control . . ." Then he sped out of the room.
"Hey, Superman," said Lex as Clark literally dropped him off in front of his house. Lex was wearing a spare shirt and slacks Clark had managed to scrounge up at the Fortress. They weren't designer apparel but it was better than, oh, flying around naked in the arms of a superhero. Especially considering that the Inquisitor would set a photographer for life for a picture of that.
Lex stood with his hands in his pocket, flexing his hips slightly. "Why don't you work for me? I'm sure the superhero business doesn't really have things like healthcare benefits and wages."
"I'm sorry I can't accept. There's the whole conflict-of-interest . . ."
Lex walked up really close to Superman and whispered softly but with every ounce of seductive power rolling off his tongue, sweet and thick like dark Manzanita honey with notes of caramel and smoke, "You know, our interests really don't have to conflict." He finished his sentence by patting him lightly on the chest twice then turning and sashaying into the house.
Clark wiped his brow and felt all sorts of tingly everywhere. Damn it, he thought, the man still has it.
"Hello, Mr. Luthor," said Clark, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice, as he walked over to Lex's table. Lex had called him up at the Daily Planet, asking if he'd have lunch with him. Maybe all those talks I gave him about myself at the Fortress actually made an impression, he thought. It had been two weeks since he had last talked to Lex. He had been, of course, checking up on him from time to time to see if he had started doing more experiments. Lex had kept his word, though. The AI had reported no tachyon or anti-tachyon particle emissions coming from anywhere in the vicinity. It had been such a surprise to hear his voice on the phone asking if he wouldn't mind talking about a mutual acquaintance.
Lex glanced up then concentrated on his menu. "Please sit down. I want you to know that I only asked you here because of a friend we have in common."
Clark blinked. Lex doesn't look that thrilled to see me, he thought. "All right . . ."
"I hope Moroccan works for you."
"The thing is that I haven't seen Superman for a while. I know that he's been about the city but usually he buzzes by and gives me a lecture of some sort every few days."
Clark tried to dazzle him with his smile. "Well, have you been doing anything he needs to lecture you about?"
"No, not recently. Should I do something he needs to . . ."
"No, no. I could give him a message that you want to talk to him. If you don't mind me asking, what is it that you want to talk to him about?"
Lex put down his menu and leaned forward, purring, "It's a personal matter. Tell him to come to the top of the penthouse on the Fourth of July after dark. I'll be waiting for him."
Clark saw a glow in Lex's eyes that he hadn't seen in a long time. He used to see it back in Smallville. It used to be just for him.
Lex's cell phone rang. He put it to his ear and said, "Hello? I see. I see. I'll deal with it. No, I will take care of it. I'll talk to you later." He clicked the phone off. "Excuse me, I have a business emergency to deal with. Order whatever you want, it's on the house."
"Wait, I . . ." Clark said as Lex walked off.
The waiter went up to Clark and said, "Will anybody be joining you, sir?"
Clark looked at the empty place where Lex had been sitting just a moment ago. "Looks like the answer is no."
That night, Superman was in a bad, bad mood.
He was stopping a mugging when he saw that the thief was a criminal he had encountered twice before. He grabbed the thief by the collar, hoisted him up. "WHAT? You're out here AGAIN? This is the THIRD time I've seen you commit a crime. What is WRONG with you!" Superman screamed, blasting the thief with a minty assault of super fresh breath.
The mugging victim watched as Superman handed her purse back to her, took a large empty plastic recycling bin, dropped the mugger into it, flipped the lid back on and melted the edge of the lid to fuse it to the rest of the container so he couldn't pop out. Her eyes widened in surprise as he cursed under his breath while doing so. Oh, boy, she thought, my friends told me about their experiences with Superman. I never heard about this part.
This story and others like it ended up in the Inquisitor and for several weeks after that night, crime rates in Metropolis fell drastically.
"Clark Kent speaking," he said as he picked up the phone at work.
"Hello, Mr. Kent."
"Hello, Mr. Luthor, how can I help you?"
"I heard about a certain mutual friend acted very strangely a few days ago. I was wondering if that was in reaction to my message."
"Oh, no. No, it wasn't about that at all."
"Because all he had to say was no. Not like I'm forcing him to . . ."
"No, I swear it wasn't about that."
"Then what was it about? Perhaps I can do something about it."
"Well," said Clark, the hamster wheel in his head spinning a bit faster than usual. "I did tell him . . . Well, I guess he doesn't like his friends to be disrespected."
"Disrespected in what way?"
"You ran out on me at lunch."
"I hope you weren't charged. I will fully reimburse you if that was the case."
Clark fumed. "It's not nice to invite someone to lunch, get the information and have your flunky ring you so you can leave. Uh, it's a really common trick that I've come to recognize." Oops, I nearly gave away the super-hearing, he thought. "Anyway, he will definitely be there on the Fourth of July."
"I . . . Could we try having lunch again? There are some things I've been meaning to say to you for a long, long time."
"Are you still there?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea. I still am your number one target for your column when you're not busy embroidering Superman's cape with the next chapter of his epic life. The evil deeds of Lex Lucifer once again foiled by the . . ."
"Stop exaggerating. I . . . All right, I have focused on your dealings quite a bit but I've never referred to you in that . . ."
"Yes?" He sounds really tired, thought Clark.
"What do you want to talk about? The past? I don't particularly think it would be a good idea. We'll only end up hurting each other and . . . The next time I talk to Superman, I'll ask him to give me the name of someone else I can contact because talking to you like this . . . isn't going to work. I have to go."
"Was Lex telling the truth when he told me why he wanted to go to the past?"
"If my research in discerning the truth in the utterances of Earthlings is to be trusted, then mostly yes."
"Well, he cares a trifle about your human alter-ego."
"Does he know that I'm Clark and vice versa?"
The AI was quiet for a few seconds. "Well, Kal-El. I scanned him a couple times and saved all the information in my data banks. I think there's something you should know about Lex."
"What about him?"
The AI sighed and showed a wonderful 3-D hologram of Lex's brain. "The state of this particular brain reminds me of an egg that has been scrambled, cooked, then trampled by a company of flamenco dancers. I think he's the victim of several dozen blunt trauma incidents." The AI isolated a cross-section of Lex' brain and magnified it. "See this small round section that is almost cut off from the rest of the brain because of small little tears in the grey matter? That is basically where the part of the brain that recognizes Clark Kent is located. A short distance away is the part of the brain that recognizes Superman. Notice that it is very hard for these particular sets of neurons to really communicate with each other. While one section may light up when he sees your human later ego while the other lights up when he sees you as the superhero, he can't really tell that you are indeed the same person."
"You mean his brain is so pulped he can't recognize me as both Superman and Clark at the same time?" Clark looked appalled.
"Well, you'd have to go out of your way to point it out before he makes the connection on a conscious level. He may know on a subconscious level. So, you're quite lucky that part of his brain is damaged," the AI said quite cheerfully as if it was an elementary school teacher announcing what a wonderful, sunny day was in store for her kindergarten class.
Clark put his face in his hands and moaned. "Oh, my God. No wonder none of his schemes work!"
"But, Kal-El, this is great news. This means that the likelihood of your dual identity remaining a secret to Lex is extremely high!" chirped the AI, oblivious to its master's pain.
"I want you to cure him."
"What do you mean, no?"
"I will not do anything that will directly threaten to cause you any harm. I already bent the rule last time. Besides, as I said, you do have the option of pointing it out to him but until then, you're safe."
"Kal-El, why are you crying? Would you like a cookie? I made some after watching The Food Channel all day . . ."
It was after dark on the Fourth of July. He flew to Lex's penthouse that was near the waterfront of the Kansas sea. Lex was standing on the edge of his penthouse, leaning against the railing, his hands resting on top.
"Glad you could make it before the fireworks," said Lex as Clark landed next to him. There was a boom as the first fireworks went off, lighting up the night sky.
"It reminds me of . . ." Clark had to bite his tongue. It had reminded him of the fireworks at the party he had held the time his parents had gone to Metropolis to celebrate their anniversary. But he couldn't mention it without giving away who he was. He felt sad that he couldn't simply reminisce about even the happier times they had together.
"Reminds you of . . ."
A particularly silly red happy face made of fireworks filled the sky with a boom. "Lex, is there any other reason that you wanted me to come here besides this."
"I can't see you on a strictly social basis?" A dazzling gold willow firework exploded to punctuate that sentence.
"I guess I'm wondering what you have in mind for a purely social relationship."
Clark felt Lex's hand lightly rest on top of his. "I guess I'd like us to be friends." A white ring of stars appeared in the sky.
"I like to think that I am your friend." Red, blue and yellow chrysanthemum fireworks exploded all at once.
"You must get a lot of admirers who want a little more," said Lex as he slowly moved his hand away.
Clark took hold of Lex's retreating hand, pulled the smaller man close to him and kissed him. Holy crap, your lips are touching those of your nemesis, thought the reasonable part of his brain while a more primitive part merely thought, Mmmmm, tasty. As the more rational part of his brain noticed that Lex was pulling him into an embrace, the more primitive part simply started to enjoyed its own personal fireworks show.
They both opened their eyes just in time to see the finale. Clark noticed the simple and pure joy on Lex's face.
"Come inside," said Lex.
Once they were inside, Clark knew that between his own pent-up desire for Lex and Lex's very intense interest in Superman that things would get hot and heavy and probably horizontal. Remembering what the computer told him, he knew that he could probably sleep with Lex and Lex still wouldn't connect Clark Kent and Superman.
But that would be wrong, he thought. I can't lie to him like that, not telling him while sleeping with him. "Lex?"
"What is it?"
"I need to show you something. Don't say anything, just watch."
"Sure," said Lex, as he made himself comfortable on his couch.
He detached the cape from his suit and let it slide to the floor. He took off his boots and now he was only in his suit. He saw the bemused look on Lex's face and hesitated. It had been so long since he had seen that on his face . . .
"Don't worry," said Lex. "If you have anatomical differences, I promise not to run."
"No, it's not that," said Clark. He slid off his blue suit and put it on the edge of the couch. He wasn't wearing anything now.
Lex smiled. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing at all."
Clark turned away. Lex doesn't recognize me, he thought. He reluctantly ran his finger through his hair to mess it up and waited.
Lex frowned. "Wait, I've . . . I've seen you like this before but that's impossible."
"Lex, I . . . That's what I needed to tell you. Imagine me in a business suit with glasses."
Lex was biting his lip and shaking his head. "No . . . no," he gasped as if he was afraid that someone was about to tell him someone close to him had died.
"Imagine me in a flannel shirt and jeans."
Lex closed his eyes tightly and started to tremble.
"I didn't want to lie to you again. I didn't want to keep it a secret from you only to have it stand between us and ruin everything. Please, Lex open your eyes." He knelt before the man and took Lex's hands in his. "I didn't want you to think I was tricking you into doing something you wouldn't want to do."
Lex reluctantly opened his eyes and stared at him for a long time. "Oh, my God. It really is you." He pulled his hands away from Clark's. "Was this funny for you?"
Clark noticed the clenched jaw and the coldness of Lex's stare. "Funny?"
Lex got up from the couch and raged, "Were you going to write a column and make a fool out of me?"
"No, I swear. I know I made you feel like one for years back in Smallville but . . . Lex, look, I'm the one who's on his knees, naked, telling you the most important secret I have. "
Lex turned his back on Clark and said, "Get out, Clark!"
"Lex . . ."
"Get out! I just can't look at you right now!"
Clark dressed super fast into his suit and flew away. He was so upset that his landing on top of his apartment building was shaky as he stumbled instead of sticking the landing like some Olympic gymnast. He sped into his apartment and changed into his regular clothes.
It was only then that Clark found that he had left his cape behind.
He briefly entertained the thought of going to the Fortress of Solitude but he imagined the following exchange:
"So, Lex now knows that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same. He knows who I am."
The AI would chirp, "And that's when you incinerated him with your eyegasms. Right? Right?" The AI would then lecture with absolutely sincere delight how to make the assassination look like Lex had simply been a victim of spontaneous human combustion.
Just the idea of that made him groan.
The doorbell rang. Clark got up from the couch and went to the door. He opened the door and saw the pizza delivery guy holding the cardboard box then realized that the guy dressed in the pizza delivery uniform and wearing the cap was Lex. "Uh . . ."
Lex brushed past him and opened up the cardboard box. "I believe this is yours." .
Clark was looking at his cape, cleaned and folded, in the box. He continued to give Lex a deer-in-the-headlights look and gasped like a fish as his hands mechanically took the box from him. Several thoughts were going through his head.
Lex hasn't tried to kill me.
Lex didn't report me to any government agency or the newspapers.
Lex looks better in a suit than a pizza delivery guy's uniform.
Lex is still sexy in a pizza delivery guy's uniform.
Lex returned my cape, pulled a silly stunt to get me to open the door, didn't come with a ton of kryptonite with which to beat my sorry ass, and is smiling at me right now.
"Lex, I . . ." Knowing that words often failed him, Clark threw the box on the couch, gave Lex a big hug and whirled him around before kissing him over and over again.
Coming up for air, Lex said, "You know what, let's talk about things over lunch. My staff's got lunch ready to send up."
"You're not mad at me?" said Clark.
"I was boiling mad."
Clark let go and stepped back a little.
Lex sighed, pulled off his cap and delivery uniform vest and threw them near the box that held the cape. "I said `was.' I did think about trying to send you back to the time of the dinosaurs but you'd probably screw things up so that Earth in the present day would be ruled by sentient apes. Then I plotted your demise by considering throwing you into a pool filled with kryptonite-powered piranhas but that was just too silly. I was thinking of combining kryptonite and sewer alligator so something like Godzilla would come out of the Kansas sea and eat you as you flew towards it to save the city."
"However, once I cooled down . . . I realized that if you really wanted to hurt me, you would've told me after we had sex and that . . . you were trying to do the right thing . . . that you didn't want to lie to me again. I realized that you were trusting me with your life and your secret and that . . . you were giving the both of us a second chance." Lex put his hands on each side of Clark's face and kissed him gently. "Besides, I've missed you a lot more than I cared to admit."
Clark closed his eyes and held him close.
The laundry woman frowned and turned to look at Enrique. "Eh?"
Enrique started to sniffle. "After all, I am so much more beautiful and wonderful than Clark Kent or Superman!"
His fellow servant patted him on the shoulder and said, "There, there, Enrique. Let all the deluded bitterness come out."
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