"I'm sorry," Batman says, and he is, oh, he is; Clark knows that much, and more. "But you are not rational on this subject. He is too dangerous. This is the last time I will ask you: surrender Lex Luthor."
This isn't the Emerald City but Clark still has the impulse to tell him that hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable. Not that it's relevant to Batman; he'd think Clark had gone Joker-crazy. "I am sorry," he says instead, soft, not at all like Batman said the same words.
"I know," Bruce says, a moment in which Bruce is present, and then Clark can feel him submerging even without another word being said. It's Batman who cuts the connection, and Batman Clark needs to prepare for now.
Lex is standing by the door—Clark has configured the place in human scale, doors and hallways and offices, for his new tenant. Prime real estate, new construction. If only the market weren't about to drop off of a cliff, they'd be set for life. "I'd tell you to turn me over to the League and save yourself," Lex says, "if I were the kind of man you didn't feel the need to kidnap for the greater good of the world."
Clark thinks: the world and Lex, they're like two dogs fighting over a single bloody bone. Lex is smaller but more vicious, and he's got Clark between his teeth. The fact that Clark has locked him up and implanted bombs in him to keep him in place is at best incidental. Maybe that makes Lex as much Clark's prisoner as the reverse. But Clark wouldn't place any bets.
"Are you even going to let me help you protect me?" Lex asks. But he doesn't protest when, instead of answering, Clark takes him to bed.
Clark has to go patrol. If he doesn't help where he can, he's not himself. Integrity is all he has. Well, integrity, a giant ice fortress, and Lex, but the Fortress is basically a toy and Lex is ... Lex.
They catch him just after he's evacuated a Mexican town collapsed from an earthquake. Whatever their hopes, he's not distracted and he's not tired. He doesn't really get tired any more, and maybe Batman knew they had this date from the beginning, because alien invasion only slowed down the pace of Clark's progression past human boundaries.
Clark easily dodges the Kryptonite barrage and speeds back to the Fortress. He could have started a knock-down fight, but he knows that chances are better than good that one of the Leaguers wouldn't walk away from that. And then there'd be no possibility of truce, no time to convince them that Lex can learn to behave.
Lex is waiting. He doesn't say anything while Clark cleans up.
He doesn't say much at all, now. But they leave the lights on, so that he can see as easily as Clark when they come together.
Wonder Woman corners him outside Jakarta. "If you turn him over," she says, "we won't consider you an accomplice."
"How long before Batman decides that you're too powerful to be trusted?" he asks. "Do you really think this is just about Lex, Diana?"
She waits a long time before she answers; in between there is a punch that could have cracked a mountain open, and Clark strikes back with equal force.
Neither of them are breathing hard as they float, wary, twenty feet apart. "Lex Luthor has demonstrated the desire and the capacity to rule the world," she says. "Our judgment is hardly speculative."
"That doesn't mean he has to die!"
"Does he love his cage so much, then?" she asks, and he can see the goddesses in her bloodline. Her face could be marble. "Death is not the cruelest punishment, Kal-El. Not for such as us."
For a moment, Clark is amazed that she thinks he doesn't know that. But then, so many of his fellow superheroes consider him some sort of child, even now.
Clark leaves her—he isn't fleeing, only avoiding a beating that would prove inconclusive.
He knows what he's doing to Lex. He just prefers it to the alternatives.
The end comes on a day like any other.
The sky lights up with rockets. Something in them—magic, if Clark guesses correctly—sets up a web of force entirely surrounding the Fortress. Sirens are whooping, the high end of Kryptonian technology ultimately no more advanced than a car alarm. Clark feels the weakness that is Kryptonite, reaching inwards towards him.
When Clark finds Lex near the exit, he's talking to the Fortress, fast and steady; the ground rumbles. Clark presumes that the Fortress is taking the defensive measures Lex has suggested.
For a moment Clark hates everyone in the League, because they either agreed with this or didn't fight it, and things could have been different. They could have believed in Clark's strength, or at least in Lex's fragile political position; they could have seen that the hole Lex left in the world's politics would close up around him the way power vacuums always did—this is pride, human and weak, that is leaching Clark's powers and drawing them ever closer to new losses.
"What are you going to do?" Lex asks, who has naturally appointed himself to the role of Greek chorus if he can't be the king.
Clark wonders if he should kiss Lex, for luck or goodbye or any of those other reasons that have nothing to do with who they are. "I wish I'd met you when I was older," he says instead, because it's true; if he'd been a little more formed, if Lex had been a little less in need of a hero to worship and inevitably to lose faith in, they might have made a very different pair.
Lex, for what it's worth, looks extremely understanding. "Sometimes I wish—" he says, confessional like they've really gone back in time. Then he shakes his head. "Rip Batman's head off for me, would you?"
Clark does smile at that. And then he's off, flying, moving so fast that light slows and bends around him.
He never sees the arrow coming.
Pain. Pain and pain and pain again, jolting and twisting through him. Clark forces his eyes open and sees that he's being dragged backwards across the snow. There's a trail of red, shading to pink, in his wake. And there's a shaft protruding from his chest, a couple of centimeters to the left of midline.
It hurts like hell, but he tilts his head back and sees that it's Lex dragging him. Presumably the Leaguers have retreated to the perimeter, safety before glory. They should know better; Lex isn't approaching to surrender, that's for certain.
Lex checks over his shoulder and sees that Clark has regained consciousness. "There are a lot of ways for a dead man to make things happen, you know," he says, casual over stressed steel. "Wills aside, if you wrap your directives in enough layers, nobody knows that the man behind the curtain is missing."
Clark can't make himself ask why Lex has chosen this particular monologue. His mouth is full of blood, hot compared to the chill wind against his face.
Lex isn't bothered by the lack of response. "You'd be surprised at how much resentment there is against the metahuman," he says, which is a lie, or at least Clark hopes is a lie. Clark has always known how fragile tolerance can be—"meteor freak" was Chloe's term, and Chloe knew and sometimes even liked the kids in Smallville. Lex is panting a little with effort. Clark's not light. "History will record me as a martyr. And your friends—they'll be war criminals. Like Stalin and the West, used to win a war and then demonized in turn."
The pain is fading now, even though Clark can see, where his hands are dragging beside him, that his veins are still blackened with Kryptonite exposure. He feels like he's getting heavier. He tries to swallow the blood in his mouth, chokes, spits—looks like a total fool, he's sure, which is another sign that they're retreating through time, back to the days when they were so awkward, so soft: vulnerable as peeled oranges, as unshelled chicks.
He misses his mother.
"All that," he gets out, and has to stop to catch his breath, "just for your own memorial?"
Lex stills. The sun is rising and Lex is a black tower, an outline cut in the world; his shadow is preventing Clark from soaking up the sun, which seems like it ought to be symbolic except that it never was. Over Lex's shoulder Clark can vaguely see the perimeter, a series of stone pillars he put up years ago. Get outside that, and the bombs implanted in Lex's legs will go off. If the Fortress were working properly, it could retrieve him and treat him so he wouldn't die, but Clark's not exactly prepared to bet that Batman will allow the Fortress to do its job.
"Not for my memorial," Lex says, and Clark really thinks that what he hears is regret. "For yours."
Lex drags him forward and they go into the light.
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