Notes: Thanks to Madelyn for organizing this challenge! My
victim assignee: HYPERfocused. Pairing
requests and prompts: (1) Clark/Lex - set in a museum, gallery or other place with exhibits. This can include Lex's Chamber
of Clark Kent.
“Oh, oh.” Lois dropped her gaze, hastily opened a file on her desk and pretended to be absorbed by its contents.
Clark frowned, but resisted the urge to turn in the direction she had been looking, knowing that the only thing of import on that side of the building was Perry’s office. “Oh, oh?” Clark turned casually toward his computer and booted it up. “Is he heading this way?”
“Not, yet, but he will be.”
“This is all your fault.”
Lois shook her head. “I’ll remind you of that when we win the Pulitzer this year.”
Clark’s shoulders slumped slightly. She had a point. Their undercover investigation into city code inspectors who accepted bribes had been brilliant, but it had also nearly cost them their lives. Apparently the corruption went much higher than they had originally suspected. Clark had been forced to use his alter ego to get them out of their jam.
“I don’t think I can handle the education beat again,” Clark whined, on general principals.
“Then you’re in luck.” Perry White jovially slapped Clark on the back. “I think Lois might benefit from the quiet pace of education for a while.”
“Perry!” she protested.
“Ah, ah.” Perry held up his hands to forestall any more arguments.
If Lois had heat vision, Clark knew Perry would have been incinerated into a tiny pile of ash, although he suspected that editors in general probably possessed some sort of natural defense that made them immune from that sort of attack.
“What about Clark?” Lois protested.
Clark shot her a dirty look and quickly debated the pros and cons of using his heat vision. Editors might have superior defenses, but he was pretty sure fellow reporters didn’t.
“Kent gets to cover the art show at the Metropolitan. There’s a new artist that is taking the art world by storm. His work is supposed to rival Kadinsky’s.”
“What?” Lois squeaked.
“Chief, shouldn’t Lois go. I mean--”
Lois nodded eagerly. “I have the perfect dress. I could--”
“Nope.” Perry’s smile reminded Clark of a well-fed shark. “I won’t put a barracuda in with the tropical fish.”
Lois opened her mouth to protest, but shut it and grinned at her editor. “That may be one of the nicest things you’ve said to me in a while.”
“But…but,” Clark sputtered.
“Besides,” Perry continued. “Kent could use a quiet evening out.” Perry smirked at both of them before either of them could protest the comment.
Groaning, Clark dropped his head to his desk and slowly banged it against the flat surface, not caring if he was creating another dent or not.
Ties, Clark decided, were one of Earth’s most elegant forms of torture. He was convinced they had come into fashion as a way for the aristocracy to prove who had the highest pain tolerance.
Resisting the urge to pull on the knot in his tie, he continued to follow the perky blonde woman, who was leading a small group of business people and art enthusiasts through a gallery of Kadinsky’s original paintings. He tried to focus on her cheerfully given pre-canned information dump, but couldn’t seem to concentrate on her words.
Clark slowed his pace and let the group move around him. Pulling on the sleeve of his jacket, he kicked himself again for giving in to Lois’ insistence that he wear his tux. Given the short stature of the people around him, he felt like an oddly formal giant.
He stopped in front of one of the paintings and tried to look at it critically, but ended up feeling vaguely foolish. What did he know about art? He was intrigued by the primary colors the artist used, but was unable to decide what the painting was supposed to represent. He knew if he contacted the AI that it would be able to rattle off several art history lectures about each piece, but he wasn’t in the mood to listen to the snobby supercomputer.
As he stood in front of the painting, he felt someone move into his personal space behind him.
“I’m not sure I understand what it’s supposed to represent,” he said good-naturedly. He didn’t, however, turn around.
“Kadinsky once said, ‘I apply streaks and blobs of color to the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could’.”
Clark turned to face the newcomer as the familiar voice washed over him.
“Maybe you’re supposed to just enjoy the intensity.” Lex gave him a hesitant smile. “Hello, Clark.”
“Lex,” Clark acknowledged quietly.
“White stick you with the art beat after the codes fiasco?”
Clark nodded. “Something like that.”
“And Ms. Lane was assigned--”
Lex nodded, then fell silent. They both averted their eyes from each other as memories of their past rose up between them like a wall.
“What are you doing here?” Clark asked, but the question sounded more like an accusation.
Lex didn’t flinch, but he did slowly blink his eyes once. “Just trying to dispel the rumors that I’ve turned into a social recluse and supporting the arts. I’m mildly intrigued by this purported talented wannabe who is trying to take on the founder of abstract art.”
Lex inclined his head politely and took a step back and Clark knew that the billionaire would no longer be imposing on his time. But instead of feeling relieved, Lex’s withdrawal made Clark feel panicky.
“Wait!” He cleared his throat, looking embarrassed as his voice bounced around the corridor. “I mean, if you don’t have any other obligations, maybe you could…that is…perhaps you might give me some insights into this new painter. Art history and appreciation really aren’t my forte.”
Lex hesitated for a moment before he finally nodded. “I’d like that.”
“So you’re saying no one knows who the artist is?” Clark asked incredulously. He stopped in the middle of the entryway to the main gallery.
A polite cough behind them alerted them to the fact that they were holding up the flow of traffic. Lex took Clark’s elbow and guided him to the side as of the room. “Perhaps if one can’t play the roll of a tortured artist, they can enjoy the atmosphere they create by being mysterious.”
“But why wouldn’t the artist want to claim their work or accept the accolades their work is garnering?”
“An excellent question.”
“Unless their identity would prevent their work from being taking seriously.”
Lex gave Clark a sidelong glance. “I thought you were supposed to write a fluff piece as penance for trying to age your editor before your time.”
Clark grinned wickedly. “I would be derelict in my duties as a journalist if I didn’t fully investigate the story he assigned.”
“Think he’s going to buy that excuse?” Lex accepted two glasses of champagne off a passing waiter and handed one to Clark.
“It depends on who the artist is, I suppose.”
Lex chuckled ruefully. “Whatever happened to the Smallville farmboy I used to know?”
Clark took a sip of his drink. “He grew up.”
The tension, which had faded during their conversation, was back in full force.
“I suppose he did.” The mayor motioned to Lex from the other side of the room. Lex nodded his acknowledgement, then turned to face Clark. “Duty calls. I hope you enjoy the event.”
Lex gave his head a little shake and granted Clark a polite smile before he turned and left Clark for more prestigious company.
Clark bit the inside of his mouth, knowing he had pushed Lex away. Again. He drained the remainder of his glass and wondered if he was ever going to master the ability to engage in small talk.
Sighing, he approached the first painting. He recognized the impasto strokes and again was taken by the bright primary colors vibrating off the canvas. Centering himself in front of the painting, he took a few steps back in order to see the whole picture. An uneasy inkling tickled his memory, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on his discomfort.
He looked at the corner of the painting for the artist’s signature, and found a ? etched lightly into the paint, as if the artist hadn’t wanted to mar the painting with something as crass as a signature.
Though he still felt a bit apprehensive, he moved to the next painting, flinching at the vibrant green paint that practically jumped from the painting. Kryptonite gave off the same green glow and his stomach churned at the comparison.
“Is that a man screaming from the center?” a woman beside him asked her companion.
“Well, the picture is called birth. Perhaps it’s a baby, reminding us that birth is often a violent and painful process.”
“Maybe. But it doesn’t strike me as a baby. Maybe we need to stand a bit closer.”
Clark’s anxiety grew the longer he stared at the painting and moved further down the gallery.
The plaque by the next painting read “Eternity.” While the painting was abstract, Clark felt like he could make out headstones. Death didn’t bother Clark, but the background colors behind the stones reminded Clark of his alter-ego’s cape–-as if someone was equating Superman with death. An image from years before bubbled to the surface of his memory and he remembered sharing a vision with Cassandra, reminding him that he would outlive everyone he knew and loved.
Clark stumbled backward trying to escape his memory and scanned the rest of the gallery. It was with a shock that he realized that each picture dealt with Superman in some aspect. Not so the average art enthusiast would realize it, but studying the other pictures Clark could clearly see the visual clues.
Did someone know his secret?
Were they attempting to out him?
Rubbing a hand over his mouth, Clark decided it would be best to leave. After all, he had a mystery to solve. The wannabe Kadinsky could no longer remain a secret -- not if any Clark was going to have any peace of mind.
Three weeks later, Clark found himself in the trendy district of Metropolis known as “The Village,” the place where artists, actors and students lived.
The building he entered was old, but very well maintained. African music emanated from an open door, blending beautifully with Celtic reeds that floated on the air from further down the hallway.
While he hadn’t been able to get the name of his mysterious artist, he had finally been able to cajole the art director into giving him the name of the artist’s agent. However, once the agent realized he wasn’t interested in buying a painting, she absolutely refused to speak to Clark, even when he promised to give the artist a full spread layout in The Planet’s entertainment section. Luckily for Clark, the agent had apparently just finished berating her receptionist for an imagined wrong. As Clark left the office, the woman slipped a card into Clark’s hand giving him an address.
Clark dutifully climbed the stairs, resisting the urge to superspeed up them. So much of his time had been spent on trying to solve the mystery, he figured he could use the time to figure out how he was going to approach the artist.
To his surprise, the loft door was open as he approached it.
Skylights bathed the room in light and huge fern-like plants hung from the vaulted ceilings. A large brass waterfall tinkled from the far wall, giving the room an almost jungle-like air. Paintings and canvases of all shapes and sizes leaned against the walls and there were several easels standing about with paintings in various stages of completions decorating them.
“Hullo?” he called out cautiously.
“There’s a twenty on the table. Just put the bag there. And keep the change,” a voice answered from behind several bookcases which appeared to form a wall.
Clark looked at the table and spied the bill and realized why the door had been opened.
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid there’s been some sort of mistake,” Clark called out again.
“Mistake? What sort of--”
Clark’s jaw dropped as Lex stepped in to view, barefooted and wearing nothing but a pair of jeans and random oil splotches over his arms and chest.
“Clark?” Lex stopped dead in his tracks.
“Lex? What are you doing here?”
Lex closed his eyes. “You just couldn’t let the mystery be, could you?”
“And you’re still obsessing about what you don’t understand,” Clark countered.
Blue eyes snapped open and pierced Clark, making Clark wonder if there were kryptonite nearby. “I understand perfectly. I always have.”
And Clark knew he spoke the truth. Knew that despite the years and the obfuscations that Lex had always known. “Why now?”
Lex shrugged. “Why not?”
Clark struggled to find the right thing to say, but found himself devoid of words.
“Don’t worry, Clark. Even if someone else were to pick up on the theme, there’s nothing that would lead anyone back to you or your parents.”
A thousand questions raced through Clark’s brain at the speed of light and yet he was unable to vocalize a single one.
“Leave the door open on your way out, would you? It’s almost impossible to hear anyone knocking when in the back.” Lex turned, and Clark was surprised by the sadness on the billionaire’s face.
“Lex,” he whispered. He then cleared his throat. “Lex?”
Sighing, Lex turned with exasperation. “What?”
“It was either paint or find some other use for my creative juices. And while the laser I created is rather impressive, it made me want to carve my face on the side of Mt. Rushmore. I thought this was probably better for my reputation as a sane businessman.”
Clark huffed once in amusement at Lex’s self-deprecating tones.
Turning back to the backroom, Lex stopped, but didn’t turn around. “I’ve always only wanted to be your friend.”
“I know that.” Clark hesitated. “Now.”
Lex nodded and shrugged his shoulders.
Before he could move, Clark called out again. “Lex.”
“You didn’t ask me how I liked the paintings.”
Lex turned and looked incredulously at him. “Do you know anything about art?”
“I know what I like.”
Using superspeed to close the distance between them, Clark laid a hand against Lex’s cheek and gently brushed his lips over Lex’s. “I like you.”
Lex snorted once. “It’s a start, I suppose. It’s a start.” Then he leaned in and reciprocated the kiss.