Sunday, 23 October 2005

Word count: 1,664

The Easy Way

Clark spent his whole life wishing things were easy. Wishing he was Normal and human and could just fall in Love with Lana, without worrying about all the good, easy, normal people who also fell in love with her, and had more Right to her than he did, people who had more of everything that mattered.

He thinks perhaps it might be the way his life stubbornly Refused to become easy and normal that attracted him to the unnatural – hunting out the meteor Freaks with Chloe made him feel a little less complicated, because he didn't have tentacles, or crazy mind powers, or Stupid things like that. His normalcy hadn't been ripped away from him and deposited somewhere different, it had just been different to begin with.

Flying around, in his primary colours, and his skin-tight, and his Desperate Need to keep things safe for everyone else, keep things normal. Superman strove to make Clark Kent normal. So hard and so frantic and so consistent, until having a primary coloured alien keeping people safe Became normal. And Clark had to find other things to make his life complicated.

Back in Smallville, people were simple, and easy to understand. Lana tried to lace all their conversations with Subtext, and Chloe had all those awkward questions, and Pete was always silent when it was the exact wrong time and back then it had been painful, but easy. Because he could look at them, and see what they wanted. His decision to keep it for himself had been his own. He wouldn't make himself simple for them, not when he needed their complications.

After being held hostage at the plant, after Earl Jenkins, Clark had nightmares about what could have happened, about how it could have gone wrong. The bullet-proof vest didn't protect everything; it was kind of pointless to wear one in that sense. The only reason people did wear then was because they were desperate to stay Alive.

For several years, since Clark made it clear back in Smallville that he wanted to be a journalist, Lex had been pumping money into the science area of Metropolis U. There's no point in having a university that only ever develops bachelors of arts, he'd reasoned back when Clark was young. It's because there's no funding for science in Metropolis that all the doctors and scientists go to Gotham and Metropolis is left with hacks.

Journalism called to Clark, not because he particularly liked writing, liked getting gritty and shot at and death threats sent in elegant handwriting on prison paper. But because it was so complicated, because it was all about truth, but sometimes the secrets were more important. Because it told people what to Think, by finding the world's manipulations and jumping up and down screaming 'how could you let yourself be fooled into being what they want!?' Because sometimes the Right thing to do, and the Best thing to do were completely different.

Getting people in trouble seemed to happen without Clark wanting it to. It was the one thing he regretted, all the times his parents and his friends were put on. The. Line because Clark had to find his own brand of easy, couldn't just use whatever supermarket kind everyone else did. He learnt a lot from getting other people into trouble. He was just past sixteen when he learnt that Lex never called for help.

There were people in the world who worked as hard as Clark did to keep their lives constant in their state of normalcy. His parents worked the farm, year after year; Pete always had a new girlfriend, because none of the could Commit to him, because his normal involved a spunky girl who saw everything but him; and Lana never left her parents behind, carrying them with her, all over Europe, never leaving Smallville no matter how far she went.

But then there were people who didn't bother keeping things the same, who took a blow and rolled with it. Chloe who always put the Truth first, even if it didn't make sense; the other superheroes, forced to adapt to do what they did, but still perhaps hoping desperately that one day things would finally Work Out. So different from Lex, who maybe had never known what was normal, or easy, or safe anyway.

After Lex's father died, in something stupid like a car accident just before Clark's final year, Lex packed up his clothes and his laptop and moved back to Metropolis, to study. He'd never really liked economics anyway. The only reason success in business was hard was sabotage. And Lex could understand scientific sabotage better than whatever it was that drove a man to cripple the lives of thousands of good people, just for the fun of it. And he didn't like that he was so good at it. He only went back to business after he'd finished studying and realised he didn't have anything to occupy his time any more.

For Lex, getting shot at was run of the mill. Working and doing business and being ridiculously good at it was tedious. Lex couldn't pick up a book without the feeling that he'd already read it, already thought those same things. Clark had held his breath for years, waiting for Lex to get bored with the little things and become bigger, become Dangerous. But Lex didn't. Lex could see where that road Went, and had come to the conclusion that he wouldn't last that long, and prison apparently wasn't that stimulating anyway. Lex got himself into Trouble not because he was a bad person, but because he was so desperate to feel alive.

As Superman he had seen a lot of things. He saw houses ripped apart by natural Disasters, and felt kind of glad that they weren't his own home. He saw people throw themselves in front of bullets aimed at their loved ones and felt glad that he would never have to worry about risking his Life for someone else. He had watched an ambulance stuck in traffic below while he sped over it, fast as light with Lex in his arms the first time he had been Poisoned, and was glad his life was simple enough that he didn't have to worry about road works.

Dressed in his colours, with his cape and his boots, watching people far below wearing tops with his logo on them, because Superman was normal now, Clark sighed. He sighed because he'd spent a lifetime wishing everything was easy, and he'd probably have a thousand lifetimes more. He'd be there to watch Lana stop breathing, and Lois get old, and the only almost good thing was that Lex had kind of hit his late twenties and then just Stopped getting older, which implied a lot of things that were really complicated, but it meant consistency, which could be easy sometimes too.

Lois Lane was lovely enough, but she was a reporter, and she got into trouble, and Clark had realised she liked Superman in a special way about the same time he'd realised several other things, and though it felt weird to be playing that role for once, he couldn't let his life get Complicated by chasing her as two people. Once she'd gone digging and gotten herself taken hostage with a bunch of people who were actually Important to the way the world worked. No ransom had come, and Lex had taken a bullet for her because Superman couldn't take on everyone at once. Not because he liked Lois, almost because there wasn't anything better to do.

There was never a time when Clark had to tell Lex about Superman. Probably because Superman didn't wear a mask and Lex wasn't, despite everything Lionel had tried to drill into him, an idiot. The first time Superman had saved Lex - a bullet wound in his chest because even if he was just a student then, he was still Lex Luthor – Lex had just chuckled quietly, deliriously perhaps. He still wasn't all that good with heights: At least now I can tell your mom you definitely don't need new underwear for Christmas.

Which Superman hated but Clark liked. He liked having the old Lex back, just for a moment. And having Lex know, without the dilemma of telling him, made the whole superhero thing a lot easier. Lex was like a sidekick, one that was a lot smarter than Clark and had his own lab. Well, it was the university lab. But he'd paid for it, and hired the construction workers, and had a big part in designing it, and was probably the only student who hadn't managed to nearly blow it up. So exceptions were made.

Clark didn't worry about the people in his life. He had Superman to save them. Superman was annoying because he made life Hard, but he saved people, which made Clark's life easier. There'd been a bomb threat at a restaurant, back when he and Lex still had lunches together. Don't call the police, or we'll blow you up. Don't call for help, or we'll blow you up. Clark had joked that, with the trouble they attracted, maybe it would be best if they never went outside, a Public Duty thing. Lex had let the sides of his mouth smile, without meaning it, and pulled the bomb apart. It wasn't that he knew how to, it was just that Lex didn't like waiting.

Clark sighed as he dipped through the air, the people below him waving, the thud of a body against his chest. So close to the pavement, he was getting slow. Lex never called for help, Clark had to listen for the hitch of breathing Lex didn't know he made when he jumped. If he did know, Clark's life would probably get that little bit harder, and it twisted inside him, because he knew the easy thing to do, the Best thing, would be to let Lex Fall.