A Bitter Pill
by Adina Leigh
A BITTER PILL
"So did you come here to apologize? If you did, I don't really know what to say. It's been fifteen years, Clark. We aren't even the same people we were then."
Lex took a sip of wine and leaned back in his chair, looking at his old friend. At forty, Lex Luthor was a strikingly handsome man. Wealthy, powerful, confident - a far cry from the shy, bald "freak" who had been tormented and mocked throughout much of his childhood.
The man sitting across from him was Clark Kent. Sorry, "Superman", Lex reminded himself, chuckling. Clark was just a few years younger than Lex, but even at thirty-five, Lex could still see in that handsome face the awkward, flannel-clad farmboy he had known so well in Smallville all those years ago. Hard to believe what they had both become. Harder still to believe they were sitting face to face in Lex's Metropolis condominium after all this time.
"I don't know why I came here, Lex. Maybe I do want to apologize, I don't know."
"I knew. From the day we met, I knew, Clark. I understood you not telling me right away. Your parents had made sure to keep your secret from the day they adopted you. They were trying to protect you from people who wanted to hurt you. I get that. I also know I was judged by the actions of my father, and I get that too. But after three years of friendship - what I thought was a pretty good friendship at its core, despite the lies - why didn't you tell me?"
"No one knew, Lex. Not Lana, not Chloe..."
"You're right. He did. And it was an enormous burden on him. It's the main reason he moved to Wichita instead of staying in Smallville when his mother left. He couldn't do it anymore. Lex, keeping my secret almost got him killed more than once."
"Did you ever think that maybe, being in the position I was in, I could have helped you?"
"Yeah. I did. There were so many times I wanted to tell you the truth."
"But you didn't. All those times you accused me of lying, of being untrustworthy - you were keeping bigger secrets than I ever did, even on my worst day. You're the biggest hypocrite I've ever known, Clark. You and Jonathan, with your platitudes and sermons about honesty...somehow, it was okay for the Kents to lie. The rules didn't apply. The Kents, the good, hard-working, salt of the earth farm family - ultimately, you weren't any better than the evil, robber-baron Luthors were you?
"Clark, please just say what you came here to say and leave. I've got work to do." "I'm sorry."
"For what, exactly?"
"I wasn't a good friend to you. I know you didn't have many friends in your life. I know how your father treated you. I had a chance to be someone you could trust, someone you could always turn to. I messed up. The only excuse I have is that I was a teenager and I was completely wrapped up in myself. I had always been a strong kid, but it wasn't until I was in high school, around the time we met, that all the Superman stuff started happening. I didn't know who I was or what was happening to me. Add falling in love with Lana to the mix and I didn't know whether I was coming or going most of the time. But I swear, I never tried to hurt you, Lex. If my treatment of you played any part in you being so...I don't know. Closed off? Angry? I am truly sorry."
The apology was sweet and heartfelt and Lex felt a stirring of love for his friend. Lex had never not loved Clark, after all, which was why he had made the decisions he had made. But Clark still didn't see the truth. So much time had passed, he had matured so much, and yet Clark's level of self-awareness was still appallingly low.
"I'm not angry, Clark. And I'm not the evil bastard you and everyone else seem to think I am. Have you ever wondered why I do the things I do? I mean really thought about it. I was never like my father. He was a cruel, evil man, and no matter what anyone else believed, you knew me better than anyone. But you, Clark ... you're another story."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm just a man, Clark. My power is an illusion created by wealth. Money is how I control people. Without it, I would be nothing. You, on the other hand...your power is real. If you chose to, you could dominate this entire planet and everyone on it. Of course, people would never believe their precious Superman, defender of good and vanquisher of evil, would do that. Most people haven't seen that side of you, but I have. Briefly and not very often, but I've seen it. You are a bigger threat to this world than I could ever be. Do you remember Warrior Angel, Clark?"
"Of course I do."
"Then you understand exactly what I'm saying."
"Life isn't a comic book, Lex."
"No, it's even better. You are a greater, more powerful being than any comic book creator could ever have conceived of. There is a reason we met. You may think you were sent here to be a hero. But no one is born a hero, Clark. Heroes are made. The choices we make determine who we become. We both know you haven't always made the right choices, have you? The ugly truth of the matter is, you wouldn't be a hero without a villain, Clark. That's the role I've chosen to play in this little drama. Fortunately, my upbringing prepared me well for the task at hand. Whether you care to admit it or not, I'm the one who keeps you honest. Your desire to protect the world from me and people like me - to play the hero -- just happens to be a little stronger than your desire to rule humanity. If I weren't here to keep your ego in check, what would happen? Wow, what do you know? I guess I'm kind of a hero too."
Clark just stood there, shocked into silence. Lex grinned, amused by the entire exchange.
"Thanks for coming by, Clark. But like I said, I've got a lot of work to do. See you soon."