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Protocol 73 aka Rescuing Christmas

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When Lex Luthor ascended to the Presidency, he was handed a long list of protocols covering how and when to contact the Justice League. He'd thought he had all of them when another arrived in his office via a fist-sized, roughly-faceted crystal that had mysteriously appeared one morning on his desk in the Oval Office. Mercy spotted it first and intercepted him before he could touch it, warning that it needed to be checked first.

A few hours later, she brought it back from the labs with an all-clear – no deadly viruses, embedded spyware, or bomb components had been detected. Lex picked it up from the desk and weighed it in his hand, his curiosity piqued. As the crystal warmed in his palm, a familiar face appeared and a voice resonated inside his head.

A glance at Mercy confirmed he was the only one who could hear and see Clark – Superman - in the crystal. As he listened to the highly-secret seventy-third protocol, Lex suddenly felt the need to pace, to burn off the discomfort he felt at the thought of Superman – Clark – disappearing and what Lex needed to do if that happened. Memorizing the set of coordinates, Lex followed the final instruction and carried the crystal to the window and held it in the sunlight. He watched as the image blurred and disappeared, the crystal rendered permanently inert, a paperweight he kept on the corner of the desk as a reminder. Oddly enough, neither Superman nor Clark Kent showed any interest in the crystal, despite their many visits to the office, but Lex chalked that up to their practice in keeping secrets.

As fortune would have it, that crystalline reminder wasn't needed until the final days of Lex's second term in office. Fists clenched against his impotent fury, Lex watched the battle over Washington from the safety of the presidential bunker. Despite the League's best efforts, the tide didn't turn until Superman flew into the alien spaceship, carrying it up, up, and away from Earth in an impressive display of equally alien strength.

The attacking aliens had not returned, but neither had Superman.

Recovery efforts across the Eastern seaboard were well underway. Pete Ross, the president-elect, was still fulfilling his role as Lex's vice-president. It was time for Lex to listen to his gut and follow the instructions mysteriously left for him almost eight years earlier.

Lex and his bodyguards left the capital for a long-delayed vacation, the first Lex had taken for more than eight years. Leaving Mercy and Hope behind in the 'undisclosed location' to cover for him, Lex picked up the reins of an alias he'd created years ago in order to protect Superman's secret.

Xander Clark flew to Prudhoe Bay on his private jet before changing to a helicopter made to handle the worst of Arctic weather systems.

After less than two hours flying north over the polar ice cap, the helicopter dropped Lex at a secret research facility, where a polar transport holding a team of sled dogs was waiting. After checking in with Mercy, Lex was on his way, traveling thru the polar night without delay.

As Lex traversed the ice, his thoughts wandered into memories. Although he and Clark had been estranged for years after Lex left Smallville, they re-connected when Lex entered the White House. Lex had always seen through Superman, Clark instantly recognizable when he took to the skies above Metropolis. In retrospect, Lex finally understood the actions a young Clark had taken to protect himself from capture and vivisection. Lex kept the alien's secrets, never revealing his knowledge even when they met in the Oval Office.

Seeing Superman up close piqued Lex's interest, leading him to grant Clark a series of in-depth interviews. Although Clark started with a formal set of questions, his natural good humor quickly emerged, charming Lex as it had in Smallville. The interviews became weekly lunches or dinners, squeezed into busy schedules because neither wanted to lose their re-kindled friendship. They talked about everything under the sun, from books to movies to games, discovering they both harbored a secret addiction to Magic, the Gathering. Whenever Lex considered his future after leaving the White House, Clark had played a prominent part in the possibilities.

An alarm demanded Lex's attention and, after confirming his location, Lex halted the polar transport and unloaded the dogs. He would have to travel the remaining distance without any equipment which would fry inside the EMP shield. An analog measurement system mounted on the sled - combined with dead reckoning techniques - would guide him to the site hidden from electronic surveillance.

Lex was glad when the Fortress appeared on the horizon after only a few hours. Although the dogs were still full of energy, he was looking forward to being warm again. He could only hope he'd find there was a good reason for Superman's absence, not a tragedy.

Clark met Lex before he'd gone too deep into the glittering hall, his bright smile puzzled as well as welcoming. He looked healthy enough, not even a tinge of green in Clark's complexion, which left Lex feeling more relieved than he'd expected. Clark's casual acceptance of Lex's presence confirmed a long-held suspicion - Clark had known that Lex was aware of his alter ego, Superman. Lex wondered if they'd ever reach the end of their secrets.

"Not that I'm not glad to see you, Lex, but how did you get here?"

"You were the one who left the instructions in Protocol 73."

"Protocol what?"

"The one you sent in a crystal? The one that told me what to do if you, I mean Superman, disappeared for too long?"

"Lex, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"It, uh, means 'heart' in Kryptonian, Lex."

"One call to my private phone and I never would have left the White House."

"And I would have spent Christmas alone."

"We would have. It was a good thing I didn't get that call."

The End