“Mr. Kent. Thank you for coming.” The doctor stepped forward and shook Clark’s hand even as he guided Clark to a chair in front of his desk.
Clark sat and waited until the doctor had taken his seat as well. “To tell you the truth, Dr. Owens, I’m still not sure why you’ve asked me to come.”
“I’m sure,” the doctor began, “that as a reporter, you’ve heard about Mr. Luthor’s unfortunate car accident last month.”
Clark nodded, swallowing hard. By all accounts it was a miracle that Lex was even alive. Several of the Joker’s goons had spotted Lex’s Lamborghini and had taken it upon themselves to try and capture the billionaire for their boss. When they couldn’t make Lex stop, they decided taking him out of the picture would work just as well.
“He has defied all expectations. At first, we were convinced he would never survive the first night. The odds were...” The doctor stopped for a moment. “Well, to be frank, the probability was astronomically slim. When he did, we were sure his heart would give out during surgery, but it didn’t. Then we didn’t expect him to ever wake from his coma, or sit up or even walk, and yet, he has done all these things. Believe me when I say that I’ll be studying his test results for decades to come. The man is a walking miracle.”
Clark nodded, although his confusion must have shown on his face because the doctor nodded, silently asking for his indulgence.
“Physically and emotionally, Mr. Luthor has exceeded all expectations. In fact, I wouldn’t be out of line to say that he’s made a full recovery.”
“I feel a ‘but’ coming on.”
The doctor nodded. “Mr. Luthor has lost almost ten years worth of his memories.”
Clark blinked. “I beg your pardon.”
“To him, it’s the summer of 2003.”
“We’ve tried to tell him the truth, but every time we do, he collapses, as if his brain can’t handle the discrepancies between his reality and the reality around him. When he awakes, he has no memory of the attempt to realign him with the current date.”
Clark took a deep breath and slowly let it out, ever mindful not to blow the papers off the doctor’s desk. As angry as he and Lex had been with each other over the years, he would never have wished this sort of fate on his nemesis. Lex’s brain, his knowledge, was what made the man. Even though Clark often wanted to pull out his hair because of Lex’s schemes, he couldn’t help but admire the intelligence behind them.
“I’m still not sure--”
The doctor raised his hand to silence Clark’s question. “Did you, or did you not, spend the summer with Mr. Luthor in 2003?”
Clark nodded. It had been the summer before Lex had met Helen. He still wasn’t sure how they had convinced his parents to let him spend a whole month in Metropolis, but somehow Lex had sold his parents on the cultural experience, of spending time at the museums, the art galleries, and other places that most farm boys would never get the opportunity to explore.
“Yes, I did.”
“For some reason, Mr. Luthor has focused on that time period. He’s convinced himself you’ll be arriving in Metropolis on the first and that he has to be out of the hospital by that time. He told me the Luthors have broken too many promises to the Kents over the years and he promised your parents he was going to expose you to all the educational experiences Metropolis has to offer.”
Clark found himself at a loss for words.
“Did something significant happen that summer?”
Clark frowned as he sifted through his memories. “Nothing comes to mind. We spent hours in museums and art galleries. We hung out, laughed and stuffed my brain with so much history I aced every subsequent history test I took in high school and college.”
The doctor acknowledged his humor with a small smile, then folded his hands on the desk, and looked Clark squarely in the eye. “I believe something important happened that summer, Mr. Kent. It might not have been earth-shattering, but it was important to Mr. Luthor. His brain, in its attempt to get better, is focusing on that time frame. And as such, Mr. Kent, you have become his motivation for getting well.”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, doctor.”
“I know you’re a busy man, Mr. Kent--”
Clark inhaled in surprise when he realized what the doctor was asking. “Are you suggesting you want me to...”
“Spend the month with Lex.”
“Dr. Owens, I’m a grown man now, not an eighteen year old boy.”
“I know, but there’s a very high likelihood Mr. Luthor won’t notice the difference. Already he’s come into contact with several people who are several years older than he should remember, but he doesn’t seem to realize any time has passed. We believe it’s just another way Mr. Luthor’s brain is protecting him.”
“But...but I have a job.”
“I know I’m asking a lot.”
“Dr. Owens, even if I wanted to help Lex, we’ve had a very adversarial relationship for the past several years.”
“I’m well aware of that fact, Mr. Kent. I do read the paper after all.”
Clark shook his head, but kept silent about the fact his estrangement with Lex went even deeper, especially considering that Lex knew he was Superman, even though he pretended he didn’t.
“Maybe,” the doctor said softly, piercing through Clark’s thoughts, “this could be an opportunity to mend some bridges.”
Clark turned his gaze to stare out the doctor’s window, surprised at how chilled he felt even though it was mid-summer. Over the years, Clark had spent a lot of time thinking about the separate paths he and Lex had taken, had often wondered if things would have remained the same if he had made different choices. Could he have kept Lex from going down such a dark path?
Putting aside past ‘what ifs,’ Clark couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he spent a month with Lex and his nemesis suddenly remembered his past. Would he be making things worse than they already were? Or could they maybe reforge the bonds that had been broken so long ago?
Clark shut his eyes. “Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Watchtower to Farm Boy. Come in. Watchtower to Farm Boy. Please respond.”
Clark opened his eyes and momentarily watched the planet spin beneath him. As much as he loved Earth and her people, sometimes he enjoyed floating above the planet’s atmosphere, where he could soak up the sun’s rays and lose himself in thought, not having to worry about the cacophony of humanity which always seemed to be demanding his attention.
“Go ahead, Watchtower.”
“I don’t mean to intrude, but you’ve been at my doorstep for two hours now and I’m starting to feel neglected.”
Clark frowned in confusion, then rotated, surprised to find the League’s space station orbiting behind him.
“Deep thoughts?” Chloe asked, as if she could see his face.
“Yes, I suppose they are.”
“A burden shared...” she offered quietly.
Clark super-speeded to her side and snickered when he found her right hand sitting squarely on a small stack of papers. His back draft rarely caught her unaware anymore, but it didn’t stop him from trying. Over the years she had developed a sixth sense about when he was going to sweep into her presence. He was beginning to suspect she and the tower’s mainframe were slowly integrating, for it always seemed like whatever the computer knew, she knew.
“Hey, gorgeous.” He bent over and kissed her cheek, pretending to grimace when she ran his toes over with her wheelchair for his insolence.
As he started to step away from her, she caught a corner of his cape and tugged on it affectionately – her way of silently asking ‘So?’
Without preamble, Clark threw himself into the conversation. “You know about Lex’s accident?”
Chloe nodded once, her face impassive.
“You’ve read the reports?”
Again she nodded.
“And the doctor’s recommendation?”
“You’ve already told the doctor yes.”
This time it was Clark’s turn to nod.
“And now you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing.”
Usually, when Clark was dressed in his alter-ego’s wardrobe, he was the epitome of calm, a mountain in a storm, but sometimes, when it was just Chloe and him, he felt himself revert back to being a teenager, a time when he could rarely sit still.
Chloe watched him pace for several seconds. “You miss him.”
Clark stopped and spun, a denial on his lips, but the kindness in her eyes stopped him cold.
“I miss that Lex myself,” she said softly. “The boy who would do anything for us because he’d never had any real friends before.”
“How did we end up on such separate paths?”
Chloe shrugged. “We were teenagers, Clark.”
“That’s not really an excuse.”
“No, I suppose not, but rehashing the past is only going to lead to finger pointing and I don’t think that will help either of you.”
Running a hand over his face, Clark blew out the sigh welling up from his soul. “This has the potential of going so very wrong.”
“Yeah, it does.”
He smiled at her. “You never were one to beat around the bush, were you, Chlo.”
“If there is one thing the past has taught me is that pussyfooting around doesn’t get you anywhere.” Chloe maneuvered her chair so she was facing Clark. “So here’s my two cents.” She looked at him until he nodded at her, letting her know he was ready to hear her theory. “After the summer you spent with Lex, he stepped up his fixation on the secrets he thought you were hiding from him. Lionel eventually noticed his obsession and got involved himself, and we’re not even going to touch that whole kettle of fish. My point though...” But she stopped.
Chloe maneuvered her chair close enough to take his hand in hers. “We’ve known for quite a while that Lex has somehow discovered the secret of your origins. While your costume disguises you, hides you from everyone else’s eyes, Lex has always seen you for who you are.”
Clark frowned slightly, not sure where she was going, but granting her the leeway years of friendship had afforded them.
“We know, in hindsight, there was a time, at the beginning of your friendship with Lex, when he probably would have done anything to protect you, no matter who or what he discovered you were.”
Clark looked away, although he didn’t step away from her.
“I think Lex sees that summer as a turning point. That was the summer--”
“When despite everything he had done for me, I still didn’t share my secret with him.” Clark closed his eyes against the pain of self-recrimination. There were so many reasons he hadn’t done it, not the least of which were his parents, but that was cold comfort years after the fact.
“He ended up knowing them anyway.” Chloe released his hand. “And despite playing his own twisted version of chess with you, using the world as his board, he has gone out of his way to protect you from other super villains.”
“While trying to kill me himself.”
“Clark, we both know if Lex truly wanted to kill you, he’d have found a way to do it by now.”
Kneeling beside Chloe’s chair, Clark looked his friend in the face. “So you think I should do it?”
“I think,” Chloe laid her hand on Clark’s cheek, “that neither of you have been whole since that summer.”
“I can’t just tell him my secret, Chloe.”
Chloe smiled sadly at him. “Clark, whether he currently realizes it or not, he already knows it.”
Clark leaned his head back and casually watched the floor numbers tick by as the elevator rose. The mirrored walls made it hard not to stare at his reflection; made it especially hard not to realize that flannel made him look like a gigantic dork.
Over the years, he had traded his childhood flannel for slightly ill-fitting suits, which disguised his muscle mass better. Not that he had to be overly cautious anymore, what with the current health craze and every one in Metropolis seemly spending time at the gym or jogging around the block every night.
Still, he knew if Chloe could see him, she’d probably laugh herself sick. Of course, knowing Chloe, she had probably already figured out a way to tie the League’s computer into the tower’s security system to keep an eye on him and make sure he was safe. He had an overwhelming urge to cross his eyes and flip off the security camera, but knew Lex, who was probably also watching, would never understand.
He did, however, release a much put upon sigh.
The elevator dinged a mere second before the doors open to reveal Mercy Graves, one of Lex’s personal bodyguards. While she remained silent, Clark read a whole diatribe of threats in her eyes.
He nodded once to let her know he understood.
He followed her to Lex’s den and didn’t protest when she took his duffel bag before she opened the door.
Blinking in surprise, Clark couldn’t stop a smile from spreading over his face. The genuine happiness in Lex’s voice was something Clark hadn’t realized how much he missed until he heard it. All the sharp angles on Lex’s face that Clark had grown accustomed to had soften, reminding him of how Lex looked when he first arrived in Smallville.
“Hey, Lex. How are you feeling?”
“Better, now that you’re here.”
“You know you didn’t...”
“Pah.” Lex waved off his comment, which made Clark’s smile grow larger.”
“Yes, pah. It’s an ancient Greek word which means ‘don’t go down that path’.”
“Is that so?”
A sly grin spread over Lex’s face. “Absolutely.” Lex’s delight dimmed just a bit as he looked past Clark. “Do I need to have a few words with your parents before they leave?”
The complete innocence of the question threw Clark off his game as a wave of homesickness washed over him. In Lex’s mind, Jonathan was still very much alive and Martha was probably still working for his father, instead of serving her second term as state Senator.
“No. I came up by myself.”
The relief which swept over Lex’s features was quickly followed by a smidgen of guilt, and Clark found himself wondering how many times a bruised and battered Lex had faced an unforgiving Jonathan Kent, knowing his father could never resisted the urge to rub Lex’s nose in the fact that he was a Luthor no matter what his friend had been through. Being an adult now gave him an interesting perspective as to what Lex voluntarily went through when he saw Clark home after one of his teenage adventures.
“A game of pool then? Lex asked.
The smile Clark graced Lex with was genuine with delight. “I’d love to play a game, Lex.”
“What’s this?” Clark gave the sheet of paper Lex slid beside his dinner plate a distracted look, but didn’t pick it up.
“It’s your itinerary for the month.”
Looking down at the paper, Clark noticed how Lex had broken the four weeks down into history, science, art and mathematics. Each day there was a smaller list of at least three different museums or businesses, focusing on a certain subject within the overall theme. Clark was surprised how closely the paper mirrored the one Lex had prepared ten year ago – the only difference was that the paper beside his plate reflected current openings and businesses that hadn’t existed before.
Clark could admit that ten years ago he hadn’t fully appreciated the amount of time Lex had obviously spent choosing his curriculum, but as he perused the list, he could see there were several fun activities interspersed with the educational ones.
He nodded as he looked over at Lex. “This looks awesome, Lex.”
A shy smile graced Lex’s face and Clark felt a bit of shame over the fact he hadn’t been as appreciative the first time around.
“I know you have to work, but will you be able to join me for any of these activities?”
Lex’s smile deepened. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Clark studied the paper again. Perry was going to be ecstatic. Once Clark had explained the situation to his editor, Perry had given him the month off with the understanding that Clark would write a series of educational stories based on the schedule Lex gave him – the Planet’s way of suggesting helpful ways for parents to supplement their children’s education.
“To be honest, you’re embracing this experience with a little more enthusiasm than I thought you would.” Lex raised an eyebrow, even as he raised a forkful of asparagus to his lips.
“Most AP students would sell their soul for an experience like this,” Clark admitted truthfully, without admitting or denying the fact he wasn’t still a student. “I just...I just appreciate the fact you’ve obviously given this so much thought.”
Lex’s cheeks reddened and he momentarily averted his gaze before returning it to Clark. “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share my classical education.”
Clark gave him a smirk. “You mean it doesn’t hurt to give me the resources to find this information on my own so I don’t inundate you with so many calls about various assignments.”
Lex’s eyes sparkled with mirth. “I must admit I’m hoping it will cut down on calls asking me about bestiality in Shakespeare.”
Clark barked with laughter. “It was A Midsummer’s Night Dream and you should have told me I was on speaker phone.”
“Yes, well, I have learned from my mistakes.”
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
Lex snickered. “Not for a very, very, very, very long time.”
Clark was amazed by how quickly the first week flew by. Lex had engaged professionals at the very top of their fields, who were thrilled with the opportunity to share their knowledge. Upon learning that Clark intended to write a series of articles about education, they all, to a person, inundated his email account with information and suggestions as to the direction his articles should take.
But as much as Clark was enjoying his break from the daily grind of chasing cutting edge news stories, he found himself longing for something. It took him three days to realize he was missing Lex’s actual company.
The first time he had gone on Lex’s special field trips, Lex had joined him for several of the excursions. His insights had often been humorous and even then Clark had enjoyed their verbal repartee.
They still ate dinner every night together and talked about what Clark had experienced and learned that particular day. After eating, they either played pool or video games. But while Clark was strangely reluctant to admit it, he missed having Lex’s full attention. While he was a teenager, Lex had been generous with his gifts, but what Clark had always appreciated about their friendship was Lex’s generosity with his time. Early on in their acquaintance, Lex would put everything on hold for Clark, even if Clark just wanted to shoot the breeze.
In the decade that followed, Clark had never had anyone lavish that sort of time or interest on him, and he could admit, if only to himself, it was rather intoxicating to be the center of that sort of attention.
“A C-note for your thoughts.”
Clark raised an eyebrow at Lex, who had his elbows on the table and had his fingers laced together over his half-finished dinner. “Inflation?”
“No. Just flaunting my wealth.”
A laugh shot from Clark and he shook his head affectionately.
“You seem to be having some deep thoughts. Something about today you want to talk about?”
“No. Yes. That is--”
“Yes?” Lex prompted.
“I know you’re still recovering from your accident...”
Lex remained silent.
“And even if you weren’t you’d be working...”
Fidgeting with the napkin in his lap, Clark dropped his gaze to his lap. “That is to say. I...I wish you could...”
When he finally looked up, he found Lex giving him a look that warmed him to his toes.
“Let me see what I can arrange.”
Blue-tooth technology rocked. While Lex still wasn’t up to any lengthy jaunts, the second week of educational exploration went by even quicker than the first week, especially with Lex always in his ear.
Lex’s commentary was both snarky and thought provoking, and it wasn’t hard for Clark to pretend that Lex was walking by his side. Lex’s wit was rapier sharp and the breadth of his intelligence never failed to amaze Clark, and he found himself acting as an intermediary in several fascinating discussions and even a few debates.
His notebooks were crammed full of notes and he had already emailed an enthusiastic Perry a rough outline of three separate series he wanted to write.
By Tuesday, Lex had grown frustrated by his inability to see the facial nuances of Clark’s guides while they talked, so he commissioned a small camera pin for Clark to wear. The ability to see what was happening around Clark only served to amp up Lex’s snark factor and Clark found himself laughing at several inopportune times.
Clark quickly learned to distinguish when Lex was simply listening while he worked, when he had Clark on hold or when he pushed the mute button to deal with something in the office. And while Clark loved the increased attention, he found himself craving even more, making him wonder how he had managed to function without Lex’s constant attention for so long.
Some evenings, after dinner and the nightly game of pool, Lex would beg off any further activities in order to finish up some work. Clark would always nod, then simply follow Lex into his den and read while Lex clicked away at the computer. Clark enjoyed the companionable silence and often found himself dozing on the very comfortable leather couch, totally relaxed in the presence of the man who had been his nemesis for so long.
Clark wasn’t sure how Chloe was managing it, but he hadn’t received a single League call during his sabbatical. There were no disasters to help coordinate, no super villains running amok and intent on world domination. Heck, there weren’t even any cats stuck in trees.
For the first time in a long time, he felt almost normal.
And his feeling of contentment probably should have set off all his internal alarms.
On Thursday of the third week, Lex surprised him by appearing at the art museum and inviting him to lunch in the expensive little bistro that was nestled in the museum’s courtyard. They were swapping inappropriate Van Gogh jokes when a masked gunman appeared in the doorway, brandishing a gun.
“Everyone put their hands up!”
Clark shot Lex a perturbed look and shook his head, barely managing to repress a sigh.
Lex carefully dabbed the corners of his mouth with a cloth napkin. “I hope you’re not insinuating--”
“Insinuating nothing. I’ve been in Metropolis for two and a half weeks without incident. Granted, it’s been a record for me, but still it counts. All you have to do is set foot out of the tower for the first time in a month and look where we are.”
Clark surreptitiously watched the gunman, who had finally taken notice of the fact that not all of his hostages were paying attention.
“Hey!” the gunman shouted. “Hands up, assholes!”
“That’s hardly fair.”
Clark couldn’t tell if Lex was genuinely annoyed with him or not. “Well, you have to admit your mere presence does seem to draw out the whackos.”
“I don’t have to admit anything. And that is hardly a politically correct term, Clark.” Lex’s eyes danced with mirth.
The gunman tried again. “I said, ‘hands up’!”
“You prefer socially challenged?”
“Or stunted. Perhaps legally abiding challenged.”
“That’s rather a mouthful. Whacko is easier.”
The gunman stalked toward them, winding his way through the tables.
“We could abbreviate it to LACs.”
“Which rhymes with whack, thus whacko.”
“You’re not going to be happy until I concede, are you?”
“Sure, I am, but bottom line, I want to hear you say whacko.”
“There’s no way I’m going to say whacko.”
Clark chuckled. “You just did.”
Lex stood abruptly, knocking his chair back into the approaching gunman. The man’s gun hand flew to the left, and Lex took the opportunity to step closer and punch him in the jaw before he could regain his balance. Their assailant stumbled, but quickly brought up his gun.
“Lex!” Clark superspeeded forward.
The gun fired, but Clark was able to shove Lex aside. He didn’t even flinch as the bullet smashed harmlessly into his ribs, just under his armpit. He punched the gunman once and watched him collapse bonelessly to the floor.
“Lex, are you okay?” Clark ran to Lex’s side and helped him to his feet.
“Everyone freeze!” A cop stood in the entryway, pointing his gun at them.
“Let me do the talking, Clark,” Lex said, barely above a whisper.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Clark manfully resisted the urge to fidget as the elevator rose through the center of LexCorp Tower.
As promised, Lex had smoothed the way with the police, but he hadn’t spoken a word since they left the museum.
Clark knew Lex was gearing up to repeat the verbal sparring match they had played out so many times during his youth. No doubt, Lex would want an explanation of why Clark wasn’t injured or how he had managed to get a jump on their attacker.
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Lex waved Clark forward, and Clark obediently walked into Lex’s den. Lex pulled the door closed behind him as he entered the room, but before he could speak Clark held out his clenched hand in an offering gesture.
Suspicious curiosity was clearly written over Lex’s face, but he held his hand out to receive what Clark was handing him.
Clark dropped the smashed bullet into his open palm.
Blinking, Lex looked at the bullet, then toward Clark, then back to the bullet, before he looked back at Clark.
Clark turned sideways and lifted his elbow, exposing the hole in his shirt beneath his armpit.
As if a puppet master was guiding him, Lex jerked forward and roughly ran a hand over the hole in Clark’s shirt. Clark shivered involuntarily as Lex lightened his touch and ran his fingers over Clark’s ribs.
“Meteor mutant?” Lex asked quietly.
“No. Alien,” Clark answered just as softly.
Lex’s hand moved to Clark’s chest. “Makes sense. The meteors were pulled into the atmosphere by your ship, weren’t they?”
Lex closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again, but made no attempt to move away. “Have you always known?”
Clark shook his head. “My parents didn’t tell me until the day you hit me with your car.”
“But you had some inkling beforehand?” The question was spoken kindly, intimately.
Clark shook his head again. “I could run fast. I was strong. But given the people I knew in Smallville--”
Lex huffed once in amusement, in understanding. “Why now?”
“You’ve done so much for me, Lex. I can’t continue to repay your kindness with deceit.”
“Will be frightened. Won’t know if they should trust you or not.”
Lex rolled his head back slightly on his shoulders so he could look in Clark’s face. “You know I’d never--”
“I know. I think I’ve always known. But I’ve been scared, Lex.”
Clark swallowed hard. “Because I don’t want you to look at me differently,” Clark said, finally admitting a truth he had kept hidden for so many years.
Lex reached upward and cupped Clark’s cheek with his hand. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Clark started to answer, but Lex collapsed and only Clark's superspeed kept his friend from falling to the ground.
Clark sat next to Lex’s bed, watching the steady rise and fall of his friend’s chest. Lex’s personal physician had assured him that Lex had simply fainted, in all likelihood due to a combination of his previous injuries and a sharp decrease in adrenaline once Lex’s body realized it was safe from the day’s activities.
It didn’t stop Clark from worrying about which Lex would awake: his friend or his nemesis.
Lex moaned softly and Clark leaned forward in his chair.
Blinking his eyes open, Lex looked around the room until his gaze finally settled on Clark. Clark felt his heart drop as hard lines appeared around Lex’s eyes.
“So what now?” Lex asked.
Clark took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I thought we could finish the museum tour tomorrow. And you did promise to take me to a Shark’s game this weekend, but if you’re too tired to go, I’d understand. You’ve been through a lot today.”
The lines around Lex’s eyes eased and a smile teased his lips. “I think I’ll be able to manage it.” Lex hesitated. “And then?”
“Well, next week is mathematics and while you may excel at history, I can totally kick your butt in math theory.”
“That sounds like a challenge.”
“Take it any way you’d like.”
“I think I’d like to take it as a friendly wager.”
Clark reached forward and took Lex’s hand in is own. “Speaking of wagers, maybe we could make it interesting.”
Lex smiled. “I think that can most definitely be arranged.”