“Are you certain?”
Superman studied the screen at the Fortress once more. “Yes,” he answered the AI. “There’s no other choice.”
“There is always a choice, Kal-El,” the AI said.
“There is no other choice,” Superman repeated firmly. “Set memory. Close all programs. Power off.”
Superman lifted from the ground towards the open hole in the ceiling. He hovered at the exit, the ice crystals shimmering from the sunlight spilling though the hole. The AI began shutting itself down, until all that remained was a small glow from the speaker crystal.
“This might not work, Kal-El,” the AI warned a final time.
Superman voiced the answer in his heart, and shot through the ceiling into the clear blue sky over the Artic, as the AI shut off completely. Superman changed course, flying east at a diagonal, picking up speed as he began circling the globe. Faster and faster he flew, beyond sight and sound, until the earth’s rotation reversed and time moved backwards.
One year… two years… five years… ten years… twenty years… forty years…
Superman landed outside the castle he hadn’t seen in decades, even though it was really only yesterday now. He knew if he looked in a mirror, he’d see his younger self, aged seventeen with already ancient eyes. He knew that he’d had a premonition last night and found the clothing he’d hidden in the bushes before school that morning. He dressed, pulling the long-sleeved shirt and flannel over his uniform, sliding on jeans and a dark jacket. His shoes hid his boots, and a finger-comb through his hair messed the slicked locks.
The code to the side door came to him without prompting and he entered the castle. He navigated the halls, memory and reality coalescing into here and now. He met up with a servant, who didn’t seem surprised to see him, instead leading him into the office with a perfunctory knock.Nervously, he looked at Lex sitting on the couch. “Lex.”
“Clark.” Lex stood, a smile hovering on his lips.
“How are you feeling?” Clark asked anxiously.
“Great, actually,” Lex said, clasping Clark’s hand with both of his own. “Never better.”
Clark examined Lex closely. He seemed okay, but…
“I heard you came to visit me, and… I wasn’t a very cordial host,” Lex said. He put his hands on Clark’s shoulders. “If that’s true, I’m- I’m sorry.”
“Did your dad tell you why he had you committed?” Clark glanced around the office, switching to x-ray vision. He saw several listening devices and a camera situated behind him.
“He said I had a psychotic break. They think my island trauma precipitated it. I’m- I’m just grateful my father recognized it in time.”
“Me too,” Clark said. The lie was obvious on his tongue.
Lex tilted his head slightly. “Do you want to tell me something, Clark?”
“No.” Clark removed a piece of paper from pocket that he knew would be there, unfolded it, and held it up between them. It told of the room being bugged and that he had truths to share. “It’s good to have you back, Lex. Welcome home.”
Lex stared at the block-lettered note, raised his gaze to Clark, and nodded subtly. “You know, Clark, there’s one thing I’ll never forget.”
“What’s that?” Clark said, tucking the note away.
“How important your friendship is to me,” Lex said seriously. He pulled Clark into a hug.
Clark stiffened momentarily, the ghosts of his memory calling out warning. Then, he relaxed, brought his arms around Lex, and hugged him back. His eyes shut against the emotion blurring them and he nuzzled behind Lex’s ear. Lex, not his enemy Luthor. It had worked.
When they left the castle, Clark would tell Lex exactly what was missing from his memory. The AI had calculated that this moment was the one with the most impact on the future, and Clark wasn’t about to make the same mistakes twice.
“I love you,” he whispered in Lex’s ear. Lex’s arms tightened around him immediately, almost desperately, and Clark held on like he would never let go - and he wouldn’t.
“Love knows no boundaries,” Superman answered the AI, hovering in the air in the powered down Fortress, the blue sky calling from above and Lex beckoning him from the past. “Not even time.”