Title: Simpler Times
Plot: When Vandal Savage sends Superman back in time, he ends up in Lex's past. Will Clark be able to find his way home in time to save Metropolis?
For: Written for the svgiftexchange for jlvsclrk!
Cover, illustrations and banner by the lovely ctbn60!
It's been an alarmingly busy 24 hours: Smoke bombs all over Metropolis courtesy of Toyman; The Mayor taken hostage by Silk Sapphire; A Grodd sighting – Grodd! – on the outskirts of town.
There's been no time to ponder the cause of these events; the League has been too busy dealing with the effects.
"Are you all right?" Batman's voice over the com link.
"We are," Clark blinks. "We were."
Wally had been right there, standing beside him. And now he's gone. Not – vroom! – gone, in a streak of red. Just not there.
"Superman?" says Batman.
"I've lost Flash," says Clark.
"Very careless of you," says a voice behind him.
Clark's chest tightens. He turns around to meet the one good eye of Vandal Savage. He says:
"The chaos in Metropolis, this is your work."
"Merely the warm-up. Just getting all my players on the board – and moving a few players off."
"What did you do to Flash?"
"He’ll be back," Savage looks at his wrist. "Soon. He's just taking a five minute furlough into the past."
"You sent him back in time?"
"As I said, I need a few players off the board."
Savage has something in his hand; it glitters. Clark takes a step towards him:
"Ah ah ah," says Savage, wagging a finger, and aims a weak beam of kryptonite in Clark's direction. It's enough to hold Clark back.
"Don't you feel, Superman, that you have earned a vacation? A journey back to a simpler time. A time before your troubles, your responsibilities began…"
There's something in Savage's other hand, a small silver wand. It casts a thin beam of light. Savage aims the light into Clark's eyes; Clark tries to shift his head, but he can't look away. The light pins him where he stands. His feet are lumpen as cement and he can feel himself detaching from the world. Oddly, it’s a rather pleasant feeling, warm and light.
"Where are you going?" murmurs Savage. "Oh, the places you'll go!"
No. Resist it. Clark thinks of his mother, of Lois, of the family he rescued yesterday. Smallville in springtime. Playing football. The barn. Talking with Lex in the barn. Lex.
Why Lex? Any anchor in a storm. Lex will do. Think of Lex: his eyes, his voice, how he can make you so angry….Lex.
It’s his last thought before the column of light gently gathers him up.
* * * *
"Supes?" Wally looks around. "Where are you?"
* * * *
Birds are chirping, there's a soft breeze on his face. Clark opens his eyes. There is blue sky above him.
He takes a moment to collect himself: Is this a dream, another dimension? Could Savage truly have thrown him back in time?
Clark sits up. He's in a courtyard, an old-fashioned quadrangle with turreted buildings on each side. If this is another time, it’s not his time. Clark is quite certain he's never been here before.
"Hey!" A boy has come up behind him. He's wearing a blazer and a cap.
Clark stands up and brushes the grass from his….flannel trousers? His costume has vanished. He's wearing the same blazer as the boy. The boy says:
"You're new, right? You'd better get inside before the Headmaster sees you. It's study hall."
"Oh," says Clark. "Thanks."
The boy gives him a half-smile.
"No problem. They don't mess around at Excelsior."
Excelsior? That's Lex's prep school. And Oliver's. So know he knows where he is, the next question is when, and how…
The boy has been waiting to walk with him. He says:
"So you got stuck rooming with Luthor? Raw deal."
That answers Clark's next question.
* * * *
The Study Hall is beautiful: wooden carrels, stained glass windows, a high domed ceiling. Boys are working quietly. Clark nods goodbye to his companion and looks around for Lex.
There's a pile of Daily Planets by the door. Clark takes one and checks the date. April 22, 1996. So Lex will be fifteen years old. And back in Smallville, Clark would be nine. It's odd to contemplate a younger version of himself on the farm, unaware of the spaceship in the storm cellar, of everything to come.
He walks down the aisle to a window carrel. His neighbour is sighing over calculus. Clark closes his eyes and listens for Lex.
No superhearing is required. There's a faint babble of noise from outside, excited boys, all talking at once. Several boys suddenly get up and rush out of the hall; others look up.
Clark leans over to whisper to his neighbour:
"What's going on?"
The boy shrugs:
"Probably Luthor getting his ass kicked or gangbanged or something. It's about four o'clock, isn't it?"
He turns back to his grubby notes. Clark speeds from the hall and follows the noise down to a small quadrangle.
There's a knot of boys. Clark recognizes mob posture when he sees it. He skirts the group until he sees the top of a bald head, right in the centre, Lex is backed against the wall, two larger boys looming over him.
"You wearing makeup, Luthor?" asks a boy.
"No," Lex's voice. It shocks Clark. He sounds so scared and impossibly young.
"Are you sure? Doesn't it look like he has lipstick on?"
"Yeah," says another boy.
"You steal your mother's make-up?" says the first boy. "Of course, you could. She's dead."
Hiss from the crowd: half shocked that things are going this far, half thrilled
Clark begins to push his way to the centre of the group, implacably moving boys in his path aside. He catches a glimpse of Lex's face. The two lead bullies are almost on top of him. There's a knee between his Lex's legs, hands on his arms. A definite sexual undercurrent here, a menacing one.
"So who you trying to impress with that lipstick, Luthor?"
"No one." The same tight voice. It gets to Clark. He remembers Lex using that voice when Lionel had just been for a visit.
"How 'bout a kiss then?"
Lex struggles and the crowd laughs.
"Enough," says Clark and sends the first bully sprawling. The crowd "oohs".
"Who are you, then?" says the second bully.
Clark meets Lex's eye. There is no trace of recognition from Lex – how could there be?
"I'm Lex's roommate. And friend."
The crowd laughs at the idea of Luthor having a friend,
"So THAT'S who the lipstick is for," says a voice in the crowd.
"Luthor's got a boyfriend."
Clark ignores them:
"Come on, Lex."
Lex moves towards him, his face uncertain. The first bully has picked himself up and is blocking their path. He says to Clark:
"You knock me down, my dad sues your ass. And you look like a scholarship kid to me, not even two dimes to rub together."
"Go ahead and get working on your writs," says Clark and takes great pleasure in lightly knocking him to the ground.
He turns to Lex: "Come on."
They leave, with a buzz of whispers in their trail.
* * * *
"Vandal Savage," says Batman.
"Which means: magic, time-fuckery, all round bad stuff," says Green Arrow.
"Don’t swear in costume, GA!" says Flash.
"The question is: was getting rid of Superman :"the plan"?" says Wonder Woman. "Or did he get Superman out of the way to launch another plan?"
The disturbances in the city have calmed but it feels like a false peace, with fresh eruptions waiting in the wings.
"J'onn is searching but can sense no psychic trace of Superman," says Batman.
There's a pause.
"I HATE waiting," says Flash, drumming his fingers on the table.
* * * *
"Do you work for my father?"
Lex is pale and anxious at Clark's elbow. It actually hurts Clark to look at him: he's the same age Clark was when they met, but he looks so much younger, so much more vulnerable.
"No," says Clark. "Lionel and I don't get along."
"Did you come to kidnap me? If it gets me out of here, I’d be open to it."
"No, I'm here to protect you."
"And I have…no idea where I'm going," says Clark, stopping at the bottom of an ornate staircase.
"I was going to go back to my room first, then to the dining hall." He makes "dining hall" sound like a place of dread.
"Everything gets its own hall here," says Clark. He follows Lex up the stairs.
The room is small, given the grandeur of the place. Two single beds, two desks. Lex sits down on a bed and looks at Clark.
"Are you going to unpack?"
"I didn't bring anything," says Clark. He looks at Lex's side of the room, which is equally barren. No photos, no personal touches.
Lex narrows his eyes:
"Who are you?"
"My name is Clark."
"Are you a reporter? Do you work for Perry White?"
Of course, Lex would think this and the irony is, he isn't wrong.
"I'm not here to do a story on you, Lex."
"You look too old for this school," says Lex.
"Hey!" says Clark. "Maybe I just need some tutoring-"
"Tell me the truth."
Clark offers a partial truth:
"I'm here by mistake. I'm an imposter. I probably won't be here long but if you can help me fit in, I'd very much appreciate it."
"If you were looking to blend in, you chose the wrong roommate."
Then he flops on his bed with a book and the conversation is apparently over.
Clark lies back on the bed and thinks:
Several possibilities. Savage could have literally sent him back in time – or perhaps this is an illusion. He'd been thinking of Lex when the beam hit him, so he's hallucinating he's with Lex now.
If he can get a message to the League, they might be able to figure out how to bring him back to "Now."
If he could talk to Oliver now, in the present, maybe he could plant a memory for Oliver in the future….
"Lex, does Oliver Queen go here?"
Lex instantly goes rigid and Clark realizes his mistake.
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"No," says Clark quickly. "I've just heard of Queen Industries and was curious, that's all."
"Oliver," says Lex, infusing the name with loathing. "Is on a field trip to Boston with the Senior Class for the next three days."
So that's a dead end. Clark says:
"And what about Bruce Wayne?"
This time, Lex looks amused:
"Are you scouting for a millionaire Sugar Daddy, Clark?"
Faint trace of flirtation in his voice. Clark flirts back:
"Wayne doesn't go here," says Lex. "So you’re out of luck."
"Well, I still have you," says Clark, and is rewarded with a small smile.
A bell rings.
"That's dinner," says Lex. "If you really want to protect me, now's the time." His tone is flippant but his glance at Clark is anything but.
"I've got your back," says Clark.
As they walk down the stairs, his brain works away: how can he get a message to the future?
* * * *
"Intruder in the Watchtower." It's Mr Terrific's voice over the loudspeaker. "LEX LUTHOR in the Watchtower."
"Oh, for…", says Green Arrow. "That's all we need."
"How'd he get in here?" says Flash. "Isn't this supposed to be a "can't-get-pregnant" building?
"Impregnable," says Batman.
"I'll get rid of him," says Green Arrow.
"No," says Batman. "I want to know why he's here."
Lex saunters in, accompanied by Wonder Woman.
"Luthor," says Green Arrow. "You got some nerve coming here."
"Any more redundancies you'd like to offer?" says Lex. He cocks his head. Oliver stares at him sullenly. "Good."
"To what do we owe the honour of a break and enter, Lex?" says Wonder Woman.
"Are you by any chance, missing something?" says Lex. "Misplaced someone, maybe?"
* * * *
Mahogany tables apart, the Excelsior dining hall isn’t so different from the Smallville cafeteria, Clark reflects. The boys have marginally better table manners, the food is fancier but the hierarchy still applies. He and Lex sit at the far end of a table; no one comes near them. There are stares and whispering behind hands. One boy mock-coughs "Luthor's got a boyfriend!"
Lex is playing with his food, hardly eating. Clark says:
"Why do they treat you like this?"
Lex stares down at his plate.
"They don't like my father. To be fair, they also don't like me. They think I'm a freak. They resent that I'm at the top of every class. And to top it off, there's my lack of social skills."
Clark thinks of himself at fifteen, shy & awkward:
"You're fine," he says. "They're a bunch of sheep."
"Luthor takes it up the ass," remarks a boy behind him.
"Sexually repressed sheep," Clark amends, and Lex laughs. A proper laugh that echoes through the suddenly quiet dining hall.
"What's so funny, Luthor?" says a boy from the next table. "Did your boyfriend propose and you accepted?"
Clark ignores him and says to Lex:
"The homophobia is really startling around here."
"Homo! Homo! Homo!" from behind them.
"Especially since they were trying to undress you in the courtyard," says Clark. "They're the messed up ones, you know. Not you."
In this moment, he's completely forgotten that he and Lex will be enemies.
* * * *
"Do you know where Clark is?" says Diana. "Are you working with Vandal Savage?"
"Possibly," says Lex. "And certainly not."
He turns to Green Arrow and says:
"Did Clark Kent attend Excelsior?"
"No," says Oliver. "Of course not."
"I work up this morning remembering that he did," says Lex. "It appears I have gained a new memory."
Batman strokes his chin.
"I also still have my old memory," says Lex. "Of meeting Clark in Smallville," he casts an eye at Oliver. "Long before you met him."
"Two sets of memories?" says Flash, puzzled.
"Savage threw Clark back through time," says Batman.
"And he landed at Excelsior?" says Oliver. "Why don't I remember?"
Lex shrugs disdainfully.
"Too busy with vandalism, bullying and petty larceny, I’d expect."
Oliver opens his mouth but Batman raises a hand to silence him:
"J'onn? Are you there?"
J'onn disconcertingly floats up through the floor: "Yes, Batman?"
"What's happening in Metropolis?"
"Green Lantern has picked up Vandal Savage's trail," says J'onn, in his sonorous voice. "He will report back when he has more information."
"We've got another problem," says Wonder Woman.
"We found Superman," says Flash. "Kinda."
When Batman explains his plan to Lex, the resistance is instant.
"I'm not letting the Martian hypnotize me. I don't trust any of you."
"He doesn't need your permission," says Green Arrow.
Wonder Woman gives him a warning glance:
"Yes, he does. Lex, you have our word that J'onn will go straight to your memory of Clark – once he's located him, we can open a portal-"
"No," says Lex, standing up. "Your problem, you deal with it."
"It's Superman's problem," says Batman. "You think Savage sent him back in time for a vacation? It's obviously part of a larger plan to catch him at his most vulnerable and kill him."
Lex pauses, his posture rigid. He says:
"We will return to Lexcorp. I will be accompanied by the Martian and Batman only-"
"Agreed," says Batman, before Oliver can raise a protest.
* * * *
There are whispers and laughs down the dormitory hallway, excitement in the air. It strikes Clark as slightly sinister. He whispers to Lex:
"The Housemaster is sick," says Lex.
"What does that mean?"
"It means our floor will be unsupervised all night. In a practical sense, it means we'll have to barricade the door. Last time this happened, I was under siege for hours."
"Don't parents pay thousands of dollars to send their kids here? For what, to get harassed and bullied? Or to become bullies?"
"My father says it's character building," says Lex, glumly.
Clark thinks of Lionel and feels a flare of rage behind his eyes. He says:
"No worries. None of these idiots are getting in."
A boy shouts from the other end of the hallway:
"Do you like pillows, Luthor? Hope so 'cause you're going to be biting one real soon!"
Lex rolls his eyes and closes the door behind him:
"No lock on the door," he says. "We're not allowed."
"I'll be the lock," Clark says. He pulls a chair over to the door and plants himself in front of it. "You go ahead, go to bed."
Lex looks at him doubtfully. Clark says:
"I'll protect you, Lex. I promise."
He realizes Lex might be shy to undress in front of him so he picks up a Warrior Angel comic and reads a Devilicus-as-hero story.
"Do you like Warrior Angel?" says Lex, shyly. He's wearing pale blue pyjamas.
"A friend used to lend them to me," says Clark, with a smile.
* * * *
Lex, lies back on his couch, in a trance. His face is oddly peaceful.
"It's no good," says J'onn. His voice is tired. "Too many memories of Excelsior to sort through. We need to know when Superman was there."
"Be patient," says Batman. "Lex may have more to tell us."
* * * *
Someone has been vigorously kicking the door for the past five minutes. Clark says:
"Give it up, loser!"
There's a burst of profanity from the other side. Clark grins. It's rather fun to get to be juvenile for once. Superman always has to keep his temper.
"Are you okay?" Lex's voice from the bed, small and scared.
"I'm fine," says Clark. He uses his hearing to tune in on the conversation in the hallway. It’s all: "Get Luthor! Fucking Lex! Gonna kick his ass…gonna make him." Remarkable how obsessed they all are with Lex….was Oliver like this too? Clark thinks he probably doesn't want to know.
"Thanks, Clark," says Lex. "No one's ever stood up for me before."
He sound so forlorn. Clark listens at the door: silence. They’ve given up for now. He walks over to Lex's bed and sits on the edge.
"I know you probably get told this all the time," he say. "But it's not you, Lex, it’s them. They're idiots, jealous idiots, the pack of them."
"No one ever tells me that, especially not my Dad. He always says it’s my fault for being weak."
Clark thinks back to his glimpse of life as Clark Luthor and says:
"Well, your dad's a piece of work."
Footsteps and giggles in the hallway. Clark strides to the door and throws it open.
"I will kick the ass of any kid that sets foot in this room uninvited. Got that?"
The six boys in the hallway look at Clark, towering in the doorway, then at each other. They slink away silently.
Clark looks back at Lex and his bed is actually shaking. He thinks Lex is crying at first, but his face is dry. He's scared.
Clark doesn't act spontaneously very often; as Superman, he can't afford to act without forethought. But suddenly he finds himself crossing the room. He gets into the bed with Lex and pulls him close. Lex pulls back at first, surprised, then tentatively rests his head on Clark's shoulder. His hand finds Clark's and Clark gives it a squeeze.
This is as far as it will go, Lex is underage. But Clark can offer this comfort, at least. And anyway, it’s quite nice holding Lex in his arms.
"If there's ever anything I can do to help you…" says Lex, sleepily.
"Remember this date," Clark whispers. "April 22nd, 1996."
* * * *
Still in a trance, Lex sits bolt upright:
"April 22nd, 1996."
Batman and J'onn look at each other:
"We found him."
* * * *
Clark is almost asleep, Lex warm in his arms, when a greenish glow enters the room. At first he's on high alert, until he sees a familiar pair of red eyes:
"We've opened a portal," says J'onn. "But you must come now, Superman."
Clark looks down at sleeping Lex. He hates to leave him to more bullying, more Lionel, more sadness. But he's learned the hard way about changing the past.
"Superman, Vandal Savage plans to activate an Anti-Gravity device that could destroy the world-"
"Okay," says Clark. "I'm coming."
As he slips out of Lex's arms, Lex makes a sleepy noise of protest. Clark awkwardly bends and kisses Lex on the forehead. If anyone else was there...but this is J'onn, who doesn't judge and knows what's in Clark's head anyway.
He reaches for J'onn's hand and steps into the portal.
* * * *
After the dark dorm room, the office at Lexcorp seems blindingly bright. Clark blinks round at J'onn, Batman (scowling but it's his pleased scowl) and Lex, still unconscious on the couch.
"Lex let you hypnotize him?"
"He did," says J'onn. "We would not have been able to find you otherwise."
Clark looks down at Lex who, with his eyes closed and an arm draped across his chest, doesn't look much older than schoolboy Lex. In sleep, his armour is off and he looks....more like himself.
"Vandal Savage. Anti-Gravity."
Clark takes one last look at Lex.
"I'm ready. Let's go."
* * * *
It takes a full seventy two hours to dismantle Savage's technology and round up his minions. Savage himself escapes - of course. But the world is safe again, for now.
Clark has fought his way back from three kryptonite attacks and a draining lack of sunlight. He should go home and crash. He tells Batman that's what he's doing. But instead he puts on his street clothes and walks through the quiet city to Lexcorp.
It's three in the morning. Impossible that Lex will be awake, or willing to see Clark if he is.
But the moment Clark pushes the intercom button, the door glides open for him and an elevator is waiting.
Lex is standing by the window. When he turns around, Clark sees that under his robe are pale blue pyjamas, just like the ones he was wearing at Excelsior.
"Sorry for coming so late, unannounced," says Clark. "I wanted to thank you. Firstly, for loaning us prototype weapons to fight Savage-"
"I suppose there's no chance of getting those back?" says Lex, dryly.
"Nope. But we appreciated them. And Lex-" He pauses. "Lex, thank you for helping Batman and J'onn find me. If you hadn't been willing to be hypnotized, if you hadn't remembered the date, I'd have ended up stranded in time-"
"And I'd have had a much better adolescence," says Lex.
"I'm sorry," says Clark. "I know the last thing you need is more messing with your memory..."
Lex looks at him for a long minute, then says:
"In this case, Clark, it's not a bad thing. At least now I have one happy memory of Excelsior. Even if it's a reconstructed, after-the-fact memory, it's better than nothing."
Clark wants, more than anything, to close the gap, to hug Lex. Walking across the room, with Lex watching him warily, takes more courage than was required in the entire battle with Savage. But when he reaches Lex and opens his arms, Lex walks right into them.
They haven't hugged for a long time. Lex still hugs tightly, clasping his arms around Clark. He still likes to put his nose in Clark's hair.
"You look," murmurs Lex, "as though you could use some sleep." He adds: "That's not an attempt to get you into bed. You actually look tired."
"It could be an attempt. I wouldn't mind," says Clark. Somehow exhaustion has loosened his tongue.
"Come on." Lex takes his hand.
Clark's too tired to feel self-conscious about undressing in front of Lex. The clothes just melt away and then the soft bed is paradise, especially with Lex draped across him.
They kiss. Lex's hands are everywhere and it feels good to be stroked and petted. Clark stretches and basks in the attention. Then he yawns, a yawn so wide and loud, it makes Lex laugh:
"Time for you to sleep."
Clark makes a sleepy grumble and puts a hand on Lex's thigh. Lex rolls closer to him and whispers:
"I want you, Clark. I've always wanted you. And in the morning I'll have you, don't doubt it. But sleep now."
The room and Lex's face are starting to swim in front of Clark's eyes. He puts an arm around Lex and lets sleep take him. The last thing he remembers is Lex gently planting a kiss on his forehead.