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Locked Room Mystery

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Clark could’ve been moving at superspeed for how frozen Lex seemed.  Not just shocked, but—fundamentally unmoored from his baseline understanding of how the world worked.  He’d been chasing Clark Kent, and had caught Superman, which Clark could say without excessive pride was a bit more surprising than a dog catching the mail truck.

“Tell me,” Lex said at last, and even if it was all that he could get out and even if his eyes were as silvery and dangerous as military drones, it was enough to unstop the words that Clark had been waiting to say for years, even though he hadn’t known he’d been waiting.

“This isn’t how I would have told it then,” Clark began.  “Your father was a monster.  He hurt you because he liked it, and he told you it was love, and you didn’t want to but  you believed him because you didn’t know anything else.  Your mother had died and he forced another woman who cared for you to leave and he told you it was your fault.  He did so many things—I don’t think I know the worst of it.  We weren’t friends for long enough.  I thought he didn’t love you, and the worst thing he taught me was that he did.  But that didn’t make anything he did right.  I should have—I should have done more to stop him.  I’m sorry.”

Lex stared at him, mouth open.  Reducing Lex to stunned surprise was something most people would’ve said couldn’t be done, like unassisted flight or a boy turning into a bug.  Lex blinked a few times, which looked closer to rebooting than Clark was really comfortable with even though he knew for a fact (he paused and scanned again; yep) that Lex was organic.  “You were—you must have been—just a teenager.”  Lex paused.  “We were friends?”

Clark tried to smile.  “You said we were going to be epic.”

“Did I know?”

There was no mystery about the referent.  Clark had to duck his head, years’ worth of remembered fear and shame and anger rolling over him like rough waves at sea.  “You suspected.  A couple of times you knew, but something always happened and you—Tess wasn’t the first person who damaged your memories.”

A muscle twitched in Lex’s cheek.  “Were you?”

It was a fair question.  “No.  But I—I gave up on you too soon, and you were doing dangerous things, to find out my secret and also to get an advantage over your father. I told you that you were imagining things. After a while, you stopped trusting me.  And I don’t know whether you would’ve protected me if you’d known the truth.  You might have tried to use me instead.  Not all of the bad things that happened in Smallville were from your dad, or from meteor mutants gone bad.”

Lex nodded, not accepting Clark’s verdict, but accepting that Clark was giving his honest opinion.  With the whiplash speed that he always brought to their conversations, he changed the subject: “How do you pull off two lives entirely lived in public? Do you have a Clark Kent robot stashed somewhere to do your reporting for you?”

Clark blushed, because he still felt bad about some of the shenanigans that had proved necessary for his cover.  “The Fortress … tweets for Clark Kent, when I’m out as Superman.”

“That’s both shockingly simple and absolutely terrifying on about five different dimensions,” Lex said, looking thoughtful.  “Also, most civilian and government estimates of your top speed are off by a factor of at least three, which surely helps you maintain the pretense.”

Clark was pretty sure Lex had intended to scare him with that last statement, and entirely sure that he’d succeeded.  With the background of years of fearing Lex, and what Lex might do, it was terrifying to think what else Lex might infer from all the data he had—Clark might’ve put the entire Justice League at risk of exposure. No, he shouldn’t be stupid about it: Clark’s revelation would definitely allow Lex to unravel the identities of the rest of the League, if Lex chose to take his inquiries in that direction.  

You didn’t get to be Superman without a willingness to face scary things.  “So what happens now?”

Lex’s smooth surface—seriously, self-healing metal had nothing on Lex Luthor absorbing shocks—cracked a bit.  “What do you want?”  The question was quieter than his previous words, and it made Clark want to move closer.  Asked like that, it could’ve just been Lex assuming that no one would ever give him anything (votes, secrets, trust) if they weren’t being transactional.  But he could also hear the man he’d come to know over the past few months, the Lex who wanted to hear his opinions about the farm bill and the latest Netflix series.  Maybe the trick of it was that Lex was always both, the operator and the intellectual, even without the memories of his father’s torture.  Maybe Clark was okay with that.  He knew a lot about trying to integrate two different men into one life, after all.

He closed his eyes, gathering his courage.  (Just because he was used to being brave didn’t mean it was easy, especially when it wasn’t his body at risk.)  When he opened them, either Lex had stepped towards him or the room had gotten smaller.  Clark wouldn’t put anything off the table right now.  “I want—”  He was using Superman voice, he realized.  He stopped, cleared his throat.  “I want to do something I should’ve done thirty years ago.”

He moved at human speed, but Lex always could think fast, and Lex’s eyes—the color of the oceans seen from space—were already dilating, his face tilting up, his shoulders relaxing, all of him saying yes to the one question Clark had never asked of him back in Smallville, the one demand he’d never made.  Too late to wonder if it would’ve changed anything, all those years and all that blood behind them.

Clark gripped Lex’s upper arms, gently, so gently, because Lex had always been more fragile than he looked when it came to Clark and Clark didn’t want to make any of the old mistakes.  Here they were, two tiny beings on a small world whirling through the unimaginable vastness of the universe, and it was inconceivable that anything else could be more significant than this moment.  Clark kissed him—Lex kissed Clark—and the future cracked open like a geode, sharp and sparkling and fractal in its complexity.

When Lex pushed at his chest, not even enough pressure to move a human man, Clark stepped back immediately. Had he misread—but no, Lex was smiling, almost the way he smiled at Lena but with some very significant darker edges. 

“Epic, I said?”

Clark took a few seconds to remember the previous conversation. “You did,” he confirmed.

“Well, I wasn’t wrong.”

Clark felt himself flush, the way he’d done in the old days, bright red in his cheeks and heat all across his skin.

Lex sighed.  “I have to meet with the Joint Chiefs and then the Russian Ambassador.  Come back tomorrow?”

He nodded vigorously.  “Same time as usual?”

“Yes.  And Clark—”

Clark stopped moving, frozen on the elegant Afghan carpet. 

Lex let him wait a moment.  Then, the promise in his voice more exciting and terrifying than flight ever had been: “Don’t plan on leaving again.”

So he didn’t.