The nightmare was always the same.
“Clark!” Lex’s raw cry tore at Clark and he struggled harder against the kryptonite hands holding him down. Through the plexiglass window, he could see Lex being dragged away by his ankles, bandaged fingers clawing at the floor and leaving blood-red gouges in the tile, his face twisted in fear. “Clark!”
Clark fought with strength he didn’t have and then some. He couldn’t breathe, his vision clouded and Lex disappeared from sight. Sweat coated Clark’s body as he pushed past the pain, prying the hands off him. He pushed to his feet and stumbled forward, away from one weakness and towards another. Lex had been dragged around a corner and Clark could no longer hear his cries.
The effects of the kryptonite faded as Clark lost himself in a maze of institutional hallways. Fear replaced physical pain, making him sweat and shake. Dead end after dead end blocked his way, the lights flickering overhead, until he slammed his shoulder against the wall, breaking through it.
Dust settled, and through the hole past another plexiglass window was Lex strapped to a table, body jolting against the restraints as the lights again flickered overhead. A doctor and another shadowed man dressed in a business suit stood in the background, watching Lex be electroshocked.
Clark stepped through the hole and up to the window. He laid his hand on the glass, staring in horror as his best friend was “treated” unnecessarily. Lex’s screams were interspersed with hate-fueled words spat from cracked, bleeding lips.
“I’ll never forgive you for this, Clark! Never!”
The doctor flipped a switch and Lex fell still on the table. He was pale as death, blank eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling, bloody spittle on his chin. The shadow-faced man in the business suit leaned over Lex, and then turned to the window.
It was Jonathan Kent.
“Your secret’s safe.”
Clark awoke with a gasp, sitting straight up in bed. Heart thundering in his chest, he struggled to escape the sweat-soaked sheets and stumbled to the bathroom. The overhead light burned his eyes and the cold water stung his face. A haunted, ashen reflection looked back at him in the mirror.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered hoarsely, but it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t change the past – a past Lex didn’t even remember.
“Your secret’s safe,” Clark repeated his father’s words. A painful bark of laughter tore from his throat, because his dad was right. It was knowing a secret that had gotten Lex electroshocked and mindwiped. What would have happened if Lionel had known that Lex possessed Clark’s secret?
Clark closed his eyes and swallowed past the lump of fear for Lex, in his throat. He’d failed Lex once; he wasn’t going to do it again.
“Clark, hi,” Lex greeted warmly, as he closed his laptop. He rose and stepped around his desk. “I haven’t seen you in a while. Is everything all right?”
“No.” Clark didn’t beat around the bush. He stood in the doorway of Lex’s office, anxious and despairing. “Can we talk?”
“Of course,” Lex replied instantly. Concern and suspicion crossed his features, visible only to someone who knew him well. He gestured for Clark to join him.
Clark shook his head, remembering all too clearly when Lex had destroyed his office due to it being bugged. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Lex’s brows lifted, but he agreed. “I’ll grab my coat.”
Outside, Clark headed onto the Luthor estate grounds, with Lex in step beside him. Clark x-rayed Lex’s clothing, taking no chances despite what he wasn’t going to say.
“What’s wrong, Clark?” Lex asked, breath puffing in the winter cold. The frozen ground crunched underfoot, dusted lightly with snow.
Clark exhaled sharply, knowing this was going to hurt and more than just him. But this was what being a true friend was about and he wouldn’t turn back. “Something happened recently that got me thinking about our friendship.”
“It must be important, to drag me away from possible prying eyes and ears,” Lex said with too much observation and keen interest. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“That’s just it, Lex. I can’t.”
Lex stopped walking, causing Clark to stop as well. He turned to face Lex. “Can’t, or won’t?” Lex said flatly.
“Both.” Clark delivered the blow with sadness in his heart. “We all have secrets, Lex, but I am never going to tell you mine. Never.”
Lex’s posture closed off, but his eyes were bright with hurt. “You don’t trust me.”
Clark met his gaze steadily. “I trust you with my life. I just don’t trust your life with me.”
“What are you getting at, Clark?” Lex said.
“I’m telling you that I will lie, play dumb, and always keep secrets from you, if we continue our friendship,” Clark told him flat out. “Knowing that, it’s up to you if you still want to be friends.”
Lex’s jaw was tight and his lips thinned. Anger added to the hurt in his eyes. “I’ll let you know,” he said after a moment.
He pivoted on his heel and walked away.
Clark never spoke with him again.
Lex Luthor hated Superman, but Superman was okay with that. He’s made a promise to himself long ago. Lex, alive and whole, was more important than any relationship they may have between them.
Clark wouldn’t fail Lex again.