Clark knew that Lex didn’t talk to reporters, especially not to reporters from the Planet. If he did, though, he’d definitely be saying something like ‘I am the most powerful man in the most powerful country in the world. Why am I not out of this bunker immediately?’ Even though the answer to the question was that he was the President, and the League couldn’t allow him to get himself killed during a massive storm (a lot of the reporting was calling it a ‘freak’ storm, but (a) Clark didn’t like that word very much in the first place, and (b) it was only freaky if you didn’t understand that humanity had rewired the planetary weather systems through dedicated greenhouse gas output, such that where it had touched down was unpredictable, but that it had was not; Clark had written an editorial on this very subject last month).
Lex was standing next to the door, not quite leaning against the wall, staring at the handle as if he could make it pop open with the power of his mind. Clark knew that Lex’s mutant power was accelerated healing, so he didn’t worry that anything might actually happen to the lock, at least not unless Lex was concealing some tools on his person—oh crap. He hazarded a quick X-ray, and found two knives and one very small gun, along with some pills whose composition he couldn’t determine, but nothing that was an obvious electrical kit, so he relaxed a bit.
“It should only be a few more hours,” Clark said apologetically. He should be out there helping, but he’d been so busy getting all the staff to safety that he hadn’t noticed the lockdown starting, and then it would have been dangerous to his cover to leave. According to the fifty-odd news reports being piped into the room, the others were doing fine without him, anyway, and it was a good idea not to have Superman out in front for every major fight. The others deserved respect, and they needed it, too, if they wanted people to go along when they showed up.
“Thank you, Mr. Kent,” Lex said, and it was only because Clark knew Lex so well that he could hear the annoyed condescension lurking underneath. “Remind me again what you’re doing here?”
Clark cleared his throat. “Uh, I was scheduled for an interview with your chief of staff? And then when the alarm went off, there was a lot of running around. Nobody bothered with me because I’d already been through the security screening, I guess, and I don’t think they noticed they were shoving you into a room that was already occupied.” And now they were in full watertight mode, sealed in until the President and the NSC agreed that the danger was past.
Lex’s brows lowered. People were going to lose their jobs over this, Clark had no doubt. He’d try to stand up for them, but he didn’t think that would help.
“I’m surprised you haven’t tried to upgrade your interviewee,” Lex said smoothly.
Clark folded his hands on the table—he’d figured sitting quietly was his best bet for seeming nonthreatening and unworthy of attention—and shrugged. “If you wanted to talk to a reporter about your response to the crisis, you would. And I won’t report on anything you said if you tell me it’s a matter of national security.”
Lex made a ‘hmm’ sound, calculated to indicate that Clark had gone up a notch in his estimation. In reality, of course, Lex was still classing him somewhere around ant-level, but it would be hard to know that if you didn’t know the real Lex. “So what have your observations these last few hours taught you about me?”
“That any answer I give will sound like flattery,” Clark told him. Lex had been by turns decisive, knowledgeable, level-headed, open to innovation, and reassuring. He’d spoken to generals and attorneys general and, yes, the Surgeon General, listening to problems and making connections. The League might be out there fighting the storm, but Lex was doing his best to ensure that people once saved from imminent death wouldn’t lose everything else.
“Very nice,” Lex said. Back in the days when Clark came to visit him in the mansion, he would have elaborated on how Clark’s response was likely to elicit a favorable reaction, even in people who knew better, because of the inexorable laws of psychology. Lex had even once said that the laws of physics were breakable; human behavior, though, always came through. But they weren’t friends now, so Lex didn’t explain further. “Did I miss anything?” he asked instead.
Clark gave the question some thought. “The Japanese crisis response team,” he said. “They can get to New York faster than to Tampa, and that frees up some of the National Guard to move further down the coast.” Lex’s plan was good, no question, but Clark prided himself on having learned something about organizing a big effort himself over the years.
Now Lex’s attention was on Clark. Possibly this had been a bigger mistake than Clark had realized. Even with the storm raging outside, Lex was perfectly capable of following his curiosity to places Clark didn’t want him to go. “Clark Kent,” Lex said, like he was tasting each syllable. Clark wanted to shrink down and he wanted to stand up, and so he only stared at Lex, like a kid might stare at a tiger at the zoo, except that there was no protective moat and fence between them. “Do I know you?”
Oh crap. That was not where Clark had thought Lex would go with this. Except that he was still calling Lex ‘Lex’ in the privacy of his own head, and he’d never even tried to crush the secret seed of hope curled up in his heart, that someday Lex would remember—not remember who he had been, but who he could be.
Or, Lex could remember his history and decide to paint the White House in Kryptonite paint. Clark swallowed. “I’m a reporter for The Daily Planet,” he said, bringing his hand up to tap his press pass. “I’ve had a seat at the briefings for the past two years, but you never call on me.”
“Yes,” Lex said. “You ran that story on genetic drift from LexCorp-modified seeds.”
Of all of Clark’s stories that had cost LexCorp billions of dollars and Lex millions in campaign financing to fix, he picked that one? “The science was compelling,” Clark said, refusing to look away.
Lex’s brows lowered just a fraction. “The science was frightening, you mean. You know with the growing season cut short from the storm, LexCorp seeds will be the only hope of avoiding a food price spike that would starve poor people in half the countries in the world. But that’s not what I meant. Have we … met?”
Clark’s heart stuttered in his chest. He had no doubt that Lex had a hard drive’s worth of research on him, done to neutralize his critical reporting, but Lex hadn’t once looked at him since 2011. The League’s best analysis had always been that Lex’s memories were well and truly gone—even Batman said that was the most likely outcome—but there’d always been a footnote about possible fragmentary traces. “I don’t—how could we?—press conferences!” he finished with more enthusiasm than grace.
“You’re a terrible liar, Clark,” Lex murmured, then looked faintly surprised at his own familiarity. Clark’s heart pounded like he was a human trying to raise a car off of a trapped child. Lex was across a table from him, but he felt as if they were only inches apart. Any moment the Kryptonite was going to come out.
“I always assumed,” Lex said slowly, “that if we’d crossed paths in Smallville you would have reminded me of that.”
Clark (with Chloe’s expert assistance) had spent a long few weeks erasing the records of his adventures in Smallville, digital and hard copy. He had no doubt that Lex had studied what was left after their scrubbing; they’d had to leave in plenty about meteor mutants, and God only knew what was in the secret LuthorCorp files, though there Lex’s paranoia had apparently protected Clark as well, because there’d never been any hint that the records retained any trace of Clark’s presence. Anyway, Clark was safe: there was no reason to feel faint just because Lex’s full attention was on him now.
Clark swallowed. If he said he’d assumed Lex would’ve reminded him if Lex had remembered, that would lead into some obvious questions to which Clark only had lies in response. And for all that had happened, he couldn’t quite make himself tell that last lie, that they’d never known each other.
“Very well,” Lex said after several excruciating minutes of silence, using the tone he deployed on reporters who’d asked him some question out of Fox’s talking points for the week. “How do I know you, Clark Kent?”
Clark was always stupid when it came to Lex, stupid with hope and memory and mistrust that had only been justified about half the time, and all of it was in his voice when he said--whispered nearly--“You don’t know me.”
And he didn’t know what he was feeling, other than that it was too big for his Kryptonian skin, when Lex smiled, just the way he used to smile at Clark up in the barn, and said, “That’s going to change.”