Summary: Something weird happens in the sky. Clark and Lex reach an understanding.
Warnings: Rated PG-13. m/m
According to the scientists you interview, the celestial oddity is unlike anything they've ever seen, a curtain of ions that has closed around the Earth. It's doing no harm as far as anyone can tell, something you make certain to emphasize for your anxious readers. Indeed, the crops are still growing undisturbed in your parents' fields. The sky flares the same brilliant pink as always when you get up in the morning for work. Maybe there's less need for sunscreen than there used to be, but nothing has really changed.
Except you, of course.
You still go out patrolling every evening--it's what you do and your instinct for rooting out crime hasn't deserted you, even if your strength has--only now you don't wear the suit and you go on foot, like a regular person. You've never had to get by on your wits alone. For a beginner, you don't fare too badly. A handy fire extinguisher helps you thwart a bank robbery. You use a police whistle to scare away a would-be prowler from a house full of sleeping people in the suburbs.
You're not quite as successful, though, with the street gang you've been keeping tabs on.
It was probably a mistake to have trailed them into a darkened alley, on a deserted block, where no one would hear you scream. This is what you think as they're beating the shit out of you. The big one with the scar lands a left to your jaw that makes your ears ring. You try to shield your face, and something warm and sticky runs down your hand. Blood. Your blood. The shock of it is laced with irony. All Jor-El's ranting about destiny and ruling the world, and this is how you're going to end up, another Metropolis crime statistic, the kind of everyday violence that gets buried on page seven, "Body Found Behind Dumpster."
You're saying a mental "I'm sorry" to your mother when the sharp squeal of tires distracts the thugs who are pounding on you. A familiar black limousine tears down the alley, and the gang members scatter. The car stops with a screech. Lex's security team jumps out and runs after them.
"Clark!" Lex's mouth is a hard line of worry as he runs to you.
He kneels down, and you feel his breath coming too fast as he reaches to touch your face, his fingers cool and very careful.
"Hey, I had them right where I wanted them," you joke shakily.
Lex frowns, as if he's not sure if this is evidence of a concussion or just your god-awful sense of humor. "Can you walk?"
You nod, and he helps you up, slips an arm around your waist. His body is slender, but you feel the power of his will running through him like reinforcing steel. Even as Superman, you envied his strength.
Maybe feared it, too.
In the long years of watching Lex battle his father, trying to extricate himself from that malevolent orbit, only to end up playing by his father's rules, slipping down a dangerous slope, you lived with the growing fear that your best friend was someday going to be your worst enemy.
Perhaps it might have turned out that way too, if Lionel hadn't gone to sleep one night and never woken up, the first truly obliging thing he ever did for his son. You wondered at first if Lex might have helped his father's death along, but the coroner's report was definitive. A simple aneurysm did what none of Lionel's enemies ever could.
You can still picture the shock on Lex's face at the funeral, his eyes wide and unfocused, the way people always look when they inexplicably walk away from something that should have destroyed them.
He was different after that. More himself. Still a cutthroat businessman, but he shut down his father's grotesque experiments, took the elected officials his father owned off the payroll, even found ways to make his factories more environmentally sound. You kept up surveillance on LuthorCorp facilities for a good year after Lionel's death, but there was never anything to find.
Lex hasn't turned out to be your enemy after all, just your harshest critic.
The bodyguards return, no luck rounding up the gang members. Lex settles you into the car and orders the driver back to the penthouse. You rest your head against the seat. Everything hurts, even your thoughts.
The first time Lex went public with his misgivings about Superman you were completely blindsided. "Great power is a corrupting force," he said in an interview with Time magazine. "I shudder to think what that could mean for someone who is virtually invincible."
Then there was the quote he gave Lois, "Right now Superman chooses to use his abilities nobly, but we should never get so caught up in hero worship that we forget he could always decide otherwise."
And just last week, in a speech gearing up for his mayoral campaign: "If elected, I will make sure no one is above the law, no matter how favored a son of Metropolis he may be."
You find it almost funny that Lex thinks you're dangerous because you're invulnerable. If he only knew how his words draw blood.
His friendship for Clark hasn't changed, of course. He invites you over to watch DVDs and takes you to baseball games and makes an extravagant gesture every year for your birthday no matter how much you beg him not to. You drag him to your favorite greasy spoon for breakfast on Saturdays and tease him about being a thirty year old who still watches cartoons and ask his advice just as earnestly as you did when you were a kid. But it's not the same, not when you know that he hates you, even if he doesn't realize it himself.
"That was remarkably stupid what you did today." Lex's reproach breaks through your reverie.
Your smile is lopsided, because one side of your face hurts more than the other. "That's me for you. Not too bright."
Lex is not amused. "Here." He takes your chin in his hand and gently cleans your face with his handkerchief.
The linen runs red, and in that moment you are inviolably connected, the way you always are when there's blood between you. You think of Roger Nixon and Morgan Edge. You think of Lex crawling through his own blood at Belle Reeve, calling your name, trying to get to you. Your heart starts to hammer in your chest when you catch the look in Lex's eyes and realize that he's thinking of the same things. That he remembers. Maybe always has.
Your head reels, more than it did from the pain alone, and you see in a completely new light all those interviews that cut you so deeply. You understand now that it wasn't hatred at all, just a friendly warning, in case you ever took it in your head to live out Jor-El's dream. Lex compartmentalizes in ways you don't, and he'd naturally be wary of someone whose power rivals his own, someone cloaked in secrets, even if it is the person he calls his best friend. Lionel may be dead, but Lex hasn't learned to stop defending himself.
You take a deep breath. "I've gotten used to other people's blood. But when I see my own-- I always feel like I'm going to faint. Not too super, huh?"
You feel the hitch in his breath, but his voice stays level, "I would tell you that you get used to it, but you never really do." He smoothes the hair back from your forehead.
You lean in to his touch. "Thanks. For today."
"I figured if you were going to be out doing stupid things you could probably use some help."
You smile, and the pain doesn't matter anymore. You slide your hand onto his leg and leave it there. No more secrets, nothing more to dread, and for the first time in your life, you feel perfectly free.
His hand settles onto yours. "I have some ideas for how we might get around this problem with the ion cloud. I'll start working on it tomorrow."
You stare. "Why?"
He meets your eyes. "Because it can't be about the power if you're still trying to save world when you don't have any." He touches your battered face. "And I can't have this."
You clutch at his hand and pull him close and don't care that your first kiss hurts like hell. You've waited so long for him.
"No more heroics until we get you back to normal."