Friendship Lost and Found






Lex Luthor was sitting at his desk in the study, when he remembered.

The memories surged forth, flooding his mind, triggered by an article on Bob Rickman in the Daily Planet. Images of Lex trapping Clark Kent and Kyle Tippet in his car, pouring gasoline on it, and lighting it on fire. Images of him with an uzi, threatening Kyle's life. Images of him firing upon Clark, with intent to kill.

Lex had tried to kill Clark.

Bile rose in Lex's throat. Sweat beaded his brow and upper lip. He began to shake uncontrollably. Guilt, self-disgust, and fear rolled through him, churning like acid in his stomach.

He had tried to kill the boy he loved.

Lex rose from his desk on trembling legs, went into the vault, and filled a briefcase with cash. He went to his bedroom next, changed clothes, and put on his winter coat. Moving on automatic, he took the Porsche keys, went into the garage and climbed into the car.

Ten minutes after he'd remembered, Lex Luthor was gone.

*****

The e-mail reached both Clark Kent and Lionel Luthor the following day. Sent from an in-flight messenger program the night before, it informed them that Lex had to leave and might not come back. No explanation was given as to why.

Clark was upset, but eventually moved on. He was sad to lose a friend, seeing as he had so few. He had no true friends, his secrets saw to that, but Lex came the closest to it. The chance that Lex would become Clark's true friend was lost, however, with his disappearance. Clark tucked away his worry for Lex and the questions about the sudden departure in the back of his mind, not to be brought forth again for years.

For Lionel Luthor, Lex's leaving caused much upheaval. After six months, Lionel admitted that Lex was not just on vacation somewhere. He became angry and slightly worried. He hired private investigators to look for Lex, and all they could report was that Lex had flown from Metropolis to New York City and disappeared.

The press smelled a story, undoubtedly leaked by one of the investigators. "Luthor Lost" became the banner headline. Rumors of how and why Lex had disappeared ran rampant: he was kidnapped, he eloped, he was murdered, he killed himself. Gloryhounds, with their eyes bright at the thought of a reward, went hunting for Lex. After a year, Lionel did offer a small reward. It was to no avail. Lex could not be found.

Interest in the missing heir waned, and new sensational stories took his place in the news. Years passed without word from Lex, and Lionel finally washed his hands of his son. All of Lex's belongings were boxed or donated to charity. Lionel groomed a new heir to the Luthor empire, one who, sadly, didn't fight him every step of the way. A single private investigator was kept on retainer to continue the search for Lex -- mostly to reassure Lionel that Lex wasn't dead -- but the trail was cold after so many years and the investigator didn't really care if Lex was ever found.

Five years passed... ten years... twelve... Lives moved on, and all but a select few remembered Lex.

It would be fourteen years after Lex sent his final message, before Superman found him, literally on accident.

*****

Clark Kent sat at the long, dark wood bar in his usual spot at Finnigan's Irish Pub, eating his usual meal and being ignored by the other reporters... as usual.

Clark ignored the twinge of envy he felt when a table-full of staff reporters for the Journal burst out laughing over some shared joke. The feeling of loneliness was harder to ignore, but he was used to it. It was his own fault, anyway. It was better to keep to himself, because of his dual identity as Clark Kent and Superman, instead of being in constant worry that his secrets would be discovered.

It would be nice, though, to have a friend who knew that he was Superman. His parents provided great support, but they were his parents. He couldn't imagine sharing with them tales of sex, where he'd broken the wall and the slapstick events in trying to hide the damage. He was also almost 30-years-old. It would be nice to have someone to pal around with his own age, someone who accepted his differences readily, as if he was just really tall instead of being able to fly.

However, it wasn't to be. Clark didn't trust anyone enough to share his secrets and those that found out in the past always tried to blackmail him. Besides which, no one was interested in pursuing a friendship with someone who runs off abruptly, with no explanation.

Speaking of needing to run off... Clark's attention was caught by the news report on one of the three televisions above the bar. He concentrated, and his hearing filtered out everything except for the low volume of the newscast.

"...--unsure of the number of casualties. The police and fire rescue crews are already working to free those trapped beneath mounds of dirt and rock. Satellite photos show that the landslide has cut a swath of devastation through several villages and the city of Kala, Tibet--..."

Clark was out of Finnigan's and flying across the Pacific within seconds. He made a rapid pass over Tibet, taking in the damage and determining where his help was most needed. Although he was not omniscient, he still felt guilty that he hadn't prevented the natural disaster that caused people to be killed.

The rescue efforts were concentrated in the city of Kala, so Clark chose to start at the village where the landslide had caused the most damage in the Kangmar Dz.

Flying overhead in his Superman costume and utilizing the bright light of the full moon, Clark memorized the layout of the village. A monastery lay on the outskirts of the small village, a portion of its temples and living quarters crushed to rubble. The village had approximately thirty shack homes, a meeting building, a school and a police outpost, almost all of which were knocked over or buried under dirt and rock.

The monks from the monastery unhurt by the landslide were already working on helping their brethren, so Clark focused his attention on the village. Landing in the center square, he used his superior hearing and X-ray vision to determine the location of survivors.

Grief squeezed Clark's heart. As it was the middle of the night in Tibet, most everyone had been in their homes. The north end of the village had no survivors, the shacks having been flattened and buried beneath tons of dirt and rock. Clark could see heartbeats and movement in a dozen shacks on the south side. Two more people were alive beneath the remains of the police building and another person was moving in the back of the partially standing school.

Clark went to help the person in the school first, in order to possibly gain able-bodied assistance. Mindful of how he was shifting through the wreckage, so as not to bring any more of the building down on the survivor's head, Clark called to the person he was rescuing.

"This is Superman," he said, speaking in the common tongue of the country. "I'll have you free in a minute. Then, if you're not badly hurt, I'll need your help. Answer if you can hear me."

The response in Lhasa was muffled by the half-fallen wall of the school, but Clark could hear it easily. "I am unhurt, only stuck."

"Don't worry," Clark reassured, a few boards away from the victim. "I'll have you unstuck in a--" He gasped when he moved the last board and saw who was trapped. "--Lex?"

It was indeed Lex Luthor. No one could mistake the perfectly bald head, the scar bisecting his lip, and the piercing blue-grey eyes narrowed at Clark.

Recognition came swiftly, and Lex's eyes widened stupendously. "Clark?"

Clark refused to blink, in case the apparition disappeared. His hand was trembling as he reached out to touch Lex. Lex flinched, but the shoulder under Clark's hand was real.

"Oh, my God," Clark said in disbelief. "I thought you were dead."

"Only the nerves in my foot are dead," Lex responded in Lhasa, clearly as shaken as Clark despite the joke. "If you would please..."

"Oh. Sorry." Clark quickly freed Lex's foot and helped him to stand. Clark looked him over from head to toe and saw that he was perfectly fine... for a ghost.

Lex looked around and his features tightened. He bowed his head and said a soft prayer in a sub-dialect of Lhasa, then glanced up at Clark. "Tell me what to do."

Clark reclaimed his senses from the surprise of seeing Lex. He had work to do, and this was just one of the villages hurt by the landslide. He'd have time later to grill Lex on where the hell he'd been for the past 14 years.

"If you know where there had been medical supplies, find them," Clark instructed. He gestured to the half-standing meeting building. "I'll bring the survivors there."

Lex nodded and immediately began digging through the remains of the school. Clark assumed that meant the medical supplies were there, and left Lex to it.

Both the police officer and his spouse were bruised by otherwise fine. They helped Lex with the injured, as Clark continued to bring the survivors to the meeting building. The building held roughly 50 people once Clark had finished. Lex had informed him that the village had had a population of 137.

Clark didn't want to go, but Superman was needed elsewhere. He left with a promise to Lex that he'd return.

It was a full two days later when Superman touched down in the village again. He noted that several homes had already been rebuilt on the south side, as well as the meeting building. Also, the remains of a funeral pyre stood on the far east side of the village.

The mid-morning sun was bright and glaring, and the air thin and cold at the high altitude. Clark could see the men working together in erecting a new home on a cleared patch of ground. The women and children picked through the rubble of the fallen homes, scavenging for salvageable items.

A dirty-faced boy in a bright cap charged out of the meeting building, barely avoiding Clark, his booted feet carrying him towards the path out of the village. Lex appeared in the doorway of the building, wiping his hands on a towel, yelling after the child in the village's sub-dialect. Lex was dressed like the other men in the village, wearing brown trousers, a chupa, felt boots on his feet, and a colorful cap on his head.

Upon seeing Lex, a wave of awkwardness swept over Clark. He didn't know if he wanted to hug Lex or scream at him. He had the uncomfortable wish that he'd never found the missing Luthor and was immediately ashamed of himself. Clark had wondered for years about where Lex was and how he was doing, until deciding that he must have died after a decade of no news. Lex was definitely not dead, though. In fact, he looked healthier now than he had when he lived in Smallville.

Lex saw Clark and came outside to meet him. "Was the damage bad?" he asked in Lhasa, his tone subdued.

"Pretty bad," Clark answered honestly. "Many of the villages lost over half their population each and the city of Kala sustained substantial casualties."

Sadness swept across Lex's features and he turned his face away, looking off into the distance. In Lhasa, he said quietly, "Earlier, the brothers from the monastery passed by here on their way down the mountain. They will bring comfort and aid to the other villages."

Another dirt-streaked child ran up to them, arms laden with dusty objects. He spoke rapidly to Lex in the village's sub-dialect and Lex answered in kind, shooing the boy towards the meeting building.

"Lex," Clark ventured, deciding not to beat around the bush. "What are you doing here?"

"I live here," Lex replied. He tossed the towel over his shoulder and indicted for Clark to follow him into the building. Approximately 17 people were spread out on the floor on woven carpets, suffering from various injuries caused by the landslide. The boy that Lex had sent inside, now unburdened, darted past them and out of the building.

Clark felt rather conspicuous -- and superfluous -- as Lex checked on one of the more serious patients. Lex's movements were precise and sure, as if he was a licensed physician. Once finished, he led the way to the far corner of the building, where piles of sorted and unsorted items waited.

Lex began sorting items into their proper piles without hesitation, or conversation. He didn't question why Clark was dressed as Superman, or about his powers, or about what he'd been doing for the past 14 years. Lex didn't volunteer information on his own disappearance or whereabouts, or even question if Clark was wondering about the same. He didn't make small talk. He just silently sorted the salvaged items from the village. He didn't even ask Clark to help him.

Clark quietly watched Lex for as long as he could before curiosity got the better of him. Lex looked good, for 35-years-old. He had a medium tan, a multitude of freckles across his cheeks and nose, and laugh lines around his eyes. He also exuded a sense of calmness, when once he seemed to be a bundle of controlled energy.

"Lex," Clark began, breaking the quiet inside the building. His voice seemed to boom, even though he'd spoken softly.

Lex looked up from his task, blue eyes patient and calm. "Yes, Clark?"

Clark folded and unfolded his arms. He shifted on his feet. The cool, confident, and invulnerable Superman was suddenly feeling like he should apologize for disrupting Lex. Instead, he squared his shoulders and gave Lex his "no bull" look. "Where have you been?"

Lex tilted his head slightly to one side. "I assume you mean after I left Kansas?"

Seeing as Lex was speaking in Lhasa, rather than English, Clark continued the conversation in that language. "Yes. You just left without explanation to anybody. Everyone was worried about you. Your dad had investigators looking for you and everything, but you had vanished. Almost everyone thinks that you're dead."

"I apologize," Lex said. He went back to sorting and said no more.

Clark blew his top after a half-minute of silence. "That's it? You're sorry?"

"What do you want me to say, Clark?"

"I want answers, damn it!" Clark exclaimed. The patients in the building stirred in protest, and Clark was chagrined. He was still angry, though. "I want an explanation for why you haven't bothered to contact anyone, to let us know you were all right. I want an explanation for why you left so suddenly in the first place."

Lex looked up again from his sorting, completely unaffected by Clark's anger. A corner of his mouth curved up in a gentle smile. "I left because I loved you, Clark. That's why."

Clark was the most invulnerable superhero in the world, and he could've been knocked over with a feather at that moment. "What?"

Lex smiled a little more and went back to sorting.

Clark was flabbergasted. He stammered when he repeated what Lex said. "You- you- you left because you loved me? That's the only reason?"

The smile disappeared, to be replaced by a look of calm acceptance. "No, that was not the only reason," Lex said quietly. "I also left because I tried to kill you."

One of the patients made a sound of distress and Lex stopped sorting to hurry over to the injured villager. Clark stood dumbly where he was, open-mouthed in shock by what Lex had said. If the unflappable Superman's enemies could see him now...

"Clark," Lex beckoned. He gestured towards the open door of the building, a bucket in his other hand. "Walk with me?"

Outside, Clark fell into step beside Lex. They walked in the direction of the monastery, to a natural mountain stream that ran jaggedly across the path.

Lex crouched, filled the bucket with water, and set it aside. Cupping his hand, he dipped it in the stream and brought it to his mouth to drink. Straightening, he wiped his hands on the towel still draped over his shoulder and glanced up at the sky. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

Clark shifted on his feet. The quiet was beginning to unnerve him. Lex wanted Clark to accompany him, apparently to talk privately, but he wasn't saying anything.

Finally, on the walk back to the village, Clark couldn't stand the silence anymore. "Lex, are you going to explain?" he said in Lhasa.

"Explain what, Clark?"

Clark made a frustrated noise. "Why you left. Why you're here. Why you haven't let anyone know that you're still alive."

Lex smiled with patient amusement, like one would smile at a child. Clark wanted to throttle him.

"Allow me to give a drink to my patients and then we shall talk, all right?" Lex said, as they approached the makeshift infirmary.

"Okay. I'm going to change and make excuses at work, but I'll be right back," Clark said.

Lex nodded and went inside without another word. Clark grumbled in annoyance and took flight.

It was late evening in Metropolis. Clark stopped at his apartment, had a quick shower, and put on a pair of jeans, tee-shirt, and a thick flannel over his Superman uniform. The Tibetan plateau had harsh weather year-round, but the strong sun and cold didn't affect him.

He left voice-mail for both his boss and his partner about a personal emergency, then flew back to Tibet, landing in the village square ten minutes after he'd left.

Lex was kneeling on the ground in the shade of the meeting building, resting back on his heels. His wide grin crinkled his eyes, when he saw Clark. "You still wear flannel." He sounded inordinately pleased.

"Not as much as I'd like." Clark dropped to the ground beside Lex, leaning back against the building wall. "I'm stuck in a suit and tie most of the time."

"What do you do as work?" Lex asked in Lhasa, shifting on his knees to face Clark.

"I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet in Metropolis," Clark replied. He tugged down the collar of his tee-shirt, exposing his costume. "I'm also Superman, which you already know."

"I had heard of Superman, but never connected him with you," Lex said. "I assume you no longer keep secrets or tell lies?"

"Uh... well..." Clark twisted his hands in his lap, not looking at Lex. "You're kind of the only person who knows, because you recognized me."

"Ah." Lex fell silent and, although he didn't appear hurt or angry that it was only by accident that he learned Clark's secret, Clark felt guilty anyway.

"I'm sorry I lied to you all those times," Clark said, glancing sideways at Lex.

"I understand, Clark," Lex said with calm acceptance. "In fact, I am very glad that you never did tell me the truth." He dropped his gaze. "I was... not a good man, back then."

"You were always good to me," Clark countered.

"I was in love with you, Clark, very, very much," Lex said, not raising his eyes. "And yet, I still shot you with an automatic weapon."

"You remember." Clark understood suddenly what Lex was referring to, his perfect recall bringing up the memory, making it seem like it happened only yesterday instead of 14-years ago. Apparently, Kyle Tippet had been wrong about the influenced victims not remembering their actions. "It wasn't your fault, Lex. Rickman made you do it."

"It does not matter, I still tried to kill you," Lex said. He looked up and met Clark's gaze. "It took me eight years to accept that fact, to forgive myself, and move on." He reached out and put his hand on Clark's leg. "I apology for my actions, Clark, although an apology does not make up for what I did. I am thankful that you turned out to be bulletproof, because the world would be a much darker place without you in it."

Clark knew he was blushing up a storm, and a frog had nested in his throat. "You don't sound like the Lex that I remember."

The smile that had been gracing Lex's face most of the morning returned ten-fold. "I am happy you think so."

"Are you sure you weren't kidnapped and brainwashed?"

Lex laughed, a purely joyful sound, free from constraint. His laugher made his whole face light up and the laugh lines around his eyes deepen.

"Come," Lex said, smile still in place, rising fluidly to his feet. "It is time to start supper. As the women are busy assisting the men and I am simply watching over the injured, I have volunteered to make the midday meal."

"You can cook?" Clark stood and followed Lex around the side of the building. He saw several unbroken and semi-broken clay pots and jars lined neatly beside the wall.

"Yes, I can cook," Lex said amusedly. "Is that so amazing?"

"Well, I can't cook, so yeah." Clark grinned crookedly at him. "I single-handedly keep the fast food restaurants in business."

Lex chuckled. "I will teach you how to make tsamba, so you are not completely inept."

"Hey! I resemble that remark!"

Lex laughed again. Clark smiled giddily. He could get used to that sound.

"Okay, what first?" Clark asked, clapping his hands together.

"Enthusiasm. I like that. I wish all of my students showed some," Lex said, gathering some of the twigs stacked on the ground. He carried them to a previously used fire ring set a short distance away from the building.

"Students?" Clark waited for Lex to move before lighting the kindling with his laser-vision.

"Thank you," Lex said before answering Clark's question. "I am the teacher for the villages here above the city of Kala. I teach the villagers to read and write Lhasa and about money. This village is my home, close to the monastery in case I feel the need to return there."

"You were in the monastery?"

Lex nodded, using water from a bucket to wash off a large wok. "That is where I came to terms with myself. I have been living outside the walls for six years."

Clark knew all too well the need to be away from everyone for self-examination. He had his own Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic, but he always returned to civilization. "Why didn't you come home after your seclusion ended?"

"I was not ready to be a part of that world again," Lex answered candidly. "I lived with the same 40 monks in near isolation for almost a decade. Moving to a village of 130 was a great shock. It took me close to a year to be fully comfortable living here and visiting the other villages. I have not even been to the city of Kala since I came to Tibet." He set the wok over the fire and filled it partially with water. "Besides, I do not have a reason to return."

"What?" Clark said. "What do you mean, no reason?"

Lex shrugged. "I am not interested in going back to being a part of LuthorCorp., nor do I wish to fight with my dad about it or anything else."

"You could at least let him know that you're alive," Clark admonished. "He was worried by your disappearance."

"I will take your word for it," Lex said skeptically. He added several tea leaves to the water in the wok.

"I'm not kidding, Lex," Clark said. "Just because you two didn't get along doesn't mean that Lionel didn't care about you."

Lex fell silent for a moment, a pondering expression on his face. "Perhaps you are right," he said finally. "It is selfish of me to not communicate with him simply to avoid complicated entanglements."

"Er... does that mean you'll contact Lionel?"

"Yes, Clark, I will contact my dad," Lex said. The subject was closed and silence reigned again, broken only by Lex's cooking instructions.

The quiet was peaceful. Living in Metropolis, there was a continuous hum of voices that Clark filtered through for the cry of Superman or other situations that needed his attention. Here in Lex's village, there were only a small number of people and Clark knew they would never call for him. For the first time in over a decade, Clark began to relax.

The midday meal was served in the former village square. Lex fed the injured first before calling the other villagers to eat. There were enough clay bowls from the salvaged items for everyone, and no one took more food than their equal share. Kneeling on the ground, resting back on their heels, they ate in relative silence, using their fingers as utensils.

Lex was not still the entire meal. He went from person to person, inquiring on how they felt, checking bandaged injuries, scrapes, and bruises caused by the landslide, and tending to new injuries from rebuilding. Clark found himself watching the villagers' reactions to Lex. They treated him with respect and openness, like they treated each other. The low murmur of conversation between Lex and who he was tending flowed smoothly and without hesitation. The villagers obviously trusted Lex and thought of him as one of their own. Unlike Smallville, or even Metropolis, Lex belonged and was accepted here, and Clark knew Lex wouldn't be returning to the States, possibly ever.

It was a good thing Clark could fly.

The meal ended and the villagers returned to work. Several of the children took the bowls to the stream to rinse them clean. There were no leftovers.

Lex checked on his patients again before coming to sit beside Clark in the shade of the doorway. The smile he gave Clark was a happy one. "I must tell you that I am pleased to see you," he said in Lhasa.

"It's great to see you again, too," Clark said. He hesitated, before adding tentatively, "Friends?"

"I would like that very much," Lex replied.

"Good," Clark said. He chuckled suddenly. "Thirty years old and I finally have a true friend, and it turns out to be the one I thought I'd lost. Amazing."

Lex grinned crookedly at him. "I told you that we had a future together."

Clark threw his head back and laughed. Lex smiled some more, looked out into the distance, and took a deep breath of the mountain air. "Beautiful day, is it not?" he commented.

Clark smiled. "It certainly is, Lex," he said, looking at his friend rather than the view. "It most certainly is."



End


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