Clark had very strong feelings about the MetU journalism program, and some of his strongest were about the advanced reporting class that took hopeful future reporters, crushed their hopes, chewed up their aspirations, and stomped on their GPAs with cheerful, reckless abandon.
"We're all doomed," Chloe said softly.
"So so doomed," Clark agreed.
"I mean, I knew about doom in a relative sense, you know?" Chloe commented sadly. "But I don't think I really had the proper context to really understand what doomed truly meant."
"Yeah, no context at all," Clark said, and stared at the S-1 statement in his hands. It was 265 newsprint-thin pages. 265 bland pages of solid text: accounting lingo and legalese and Clark had never felt more like crying, not even when the professor had assigned all the males in the class a story about obstetrics and all the girls in the class a story about proctology.
"There's also kind of a sick irony to this." Chloe sounded thoughtful and flipped through the volume, sighing as she said, "A few years back, we could have just picked up the phone and gotten the story of a lifetime--and an explanation."
Clark scowled at the stylish "LEXCORP" graphic on the front of the S-1 filing and determinately did not think about picking up the phone and calling Lex. About asking him, "Okay, so I know I said some stuff and you did some stuff and we both kind of swore to be mortal enemies--but is there any way you could like, translate your IPO filing into English for me?" Clark was torn between hating the teacher, hating Lex, or hating himself for changing his major from English.
"Risks," Chloe read out loud, eyes rounding as she spoke, "the uncertain long-term effects of meteorite radiation on the low methane levels from plant number three located in Smallville, Kansas, though steadily monitored, could lead to unpredictable muta--are you for real?"
"What page is that on?" Clark demanded, and when Chloe shoved her book in Clarks face, Clark stared down at it, numbered as risk seven in a list of what seemed like dozens.
The price of manure changing; massive educational shifts; outsourcing; Lex's father warranted a three paragraph mention. It all seemed weirdly masochistic, and when Clark continued to skim over the potential pitfalls and disasters their professor explained companies were obligated to point out in their S-1 filings, Clark had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Apparently, some things never changed, and Lex's particularly ironic sense of humor hadn't. Land wars in Asia indeed.
But past the risks and without skipping ahead to the board bios, there was a lot of pages of a lot of words and numbers and incomprehensible charts and Clark felt himself groan as he tore one of the pages out by accident--one with something about underwriters on it.
Clark glanced at Chloe. "Study session?"
Chloe groaned. "Study session," she agreed.
"Kent, there are Haitian drug runners on the other line. Well, there are contacts for people who know of Haitian drug runners on the other line. My Blackberry just snapped at me that the guy who knows the guy about the kiddie porn ring out in Kansas City is ready to talk. Perry White is breathing down my neck. When you said "emergency," I hope to God you meant "Timmy who is a six-time Nobel Prize winner is being arrested for bestiality and money laundering," and not needing help with advanced reporting," Lois barked into the telephone, connection staticky.
Clark swallowed hard. "I have to go," he said feebly.
"That's what I thought," Lois snapped, and hung up on him.
Chloe wandered back into Clark's dorm room with a bag of takeout from the Chinese place on the corner and cocked her eyebrow at Clark's bushwhacked expression and limp hold on the room phone before saying, "I've warned you like a billion times about calling Lois for help."
"The triumph of hope over experience," Clark muttered and thanked Chloe under his breath as she handed him three dollars and twenty cents change. "You'd think she'd be a little merciful. She did this, too, back in the day."
Chloe narrowed her eyes, saying darkly, "Lois knows not this concept of mercy."
"Preach it," Clark muttered and attacked his Kung Pow Chicken, smearing brightly red grease all over the S-1 and trying to repress the flutter of petty joy he felt at it, a little F-U to Lex, for being wily enough to fuck with Clark's life without even trying.
"If they're selling at $23 a share for 8 million shares " Chloe muttered to herself, tapping it into a battered TI-83+ calculator she left over from high school calculus.
"What the hell do you think he wants the money for, anyway?" Clark asked, irate.
"It's $183 million, Clark," Chloe said, rolling her eyes. "What does anybody want it for?"
Twenty minutes into making themselves blind reading the paper S-1--all in excruciating 10 point Times New Roman--Clark and Chloe had discovered the beauteous joys of EDGAR and pulled up the PDF file, fat lot of good it was doing them to do word searches for "evil" and "death ray."
"Is there a euphemism for death ray?" Clark pondered out loud.
"Oh my God, stop talking," Chloe snapped. "You're sapping my will to live."
Clark glared at her and did a word search for "Lana," out of perverse curiosity, and it of course came up blank as well. He did a search for "safety" and dozens and dozens of occurrences appeared, and Clark thought that if he didn't know Lex he might be falling for this "biotechnology firm of the future" garbage the S-1 was spewing in tortured legal mumbo jumbo.
At half past two in the morning, having read the document maybe not at all, Chloe sent Lois an SOS on the Blackberry--the only medium of communication powerful enough to compel her to read at a pace slower than she typed.
At half past three, they got a reply:
You two are
Professor Harris gives you notes on all of this shit!!
1. corporate strategy--okay, guys, this is hard but: WHAT DOES THE COMPANY DO?
Clark and Chloe winced. "We probably deserved that one," Clark admitted.
risks--reasons why this company will fail totally and completely
3. price of stock & # shares they want to sell--how much $ they want to raise
4. financial performance--how good are they at making money (in the past)?
"Well, it's Lex, so " Chloe started, and looking at Clark, they said together, laughing, "Very."
"Very very," Clark elaborated.
5. use of proceeds--how are they going to use it? (and Clark, they're not going to type shit like DEATH RAY into their SEC filings so stop being a total loser.)
Clark gave Chloe the dirtiest look he was capable of and Chloe just feigned innocence.
management--pretty lies about their ceo! their cfo! their cmo! all
their c etc. os!
6. underwriters--insurance companies whoring them out, basically
8. compare offering price to book value--how much they want you to pay v. how much they are actually word (divide total assets by # stocks offered to get bv)
Clark wondered how Lois remembered all of this junk and more than that, how she made it sound so much easier than Professor Harris had in class.
IF YOU TWO STILL FAIL I WILL DISOWN CHLOE AND ADOPT CLARK JUST SO I CAN DISOWN YOU AGAIN!!!!!!!!! Lois.
Chloe looked at Clark, Clark looked at Chloe. And then they looked at Chloe's email inbox as another message streamed in:
BTW LOSERS--THERE IS A TABLE OF CONTENTS. GOOD NIGHT!!!!! IF I AM NOT ABOVE THE FOLD TOMORROW THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY!!!!! Lois.
"Maybe she's kidding," Clark said feebly.
"We better hope she's above the fold," Chloe said after a beat.
An hour later, Chloe was passed out on Clark's dorm room floor and Clark was staring at his ceiling, delirious from exhaustion and missing Lex so much it was hard to breathe. When their friendship had started falling apart, nobody had said, "This will hurt--years from now--probably forever." Everybody talked about broken hearts and first loves being the best and worst at the same time, and nobody mentioned that friendship was a forever kind of ache.
The absence of it was huge and unwieldy, and even now, years down the road, Clark sometimes wanted to reach his phone, to dial the numbers that were instinctive to him and get Lex's voice smooth on the other end of the line. Lex was easy; Clark and Lex were easy and burned into his skin, sense memory and convincing himself they weren't part of one another's orbits had taken weeks and months and days and days.
Clark closed his eyes, because as far as he was concerned, the imagination was harmless, and thought about what it'd be like, if they'd taken a few different turns.
He saw himself sitting on the floor of Lex's den in his Metropolis penthouse, with the S-1 marked up with purple ink and highlighter, charts and M&Ms representing shareholders all over the rug, Lex laughing, red cheeked and lightheaded from lack of sleep and cartons of the best Chinese food Metropolis had to offer stacked on the coffee table. Lex would have the topmost buttons of his shirt undone, be barefoot for comfort, and he'd say:
"Does that make sense now, Clark?"
And Clark would say, "No, but you know, good try and everything."
But the faint memory of Lex laughing undid it and Clark opened his eyes and said to his blurry ceiling, "There's an opportunity cost to everything," more to himself than anybody else.
Over the next five weeks--"This is an ongoing story, I expect you all to keep an eye on it," Professor Harris had told his groaning class as he'd collected their articles--LexCorp's IPO share price bounced from $23 to $29 to $27 and thirty-three days after Clark first got a copy of the printed-off S-1, the last amended document was filed.
It was 250 pages and 8 million shares were being offered at $28 and Clark couldn't help boggling at $224 million dollars the same way he'd boggled at Radiohead tickets, helicopter flights into the city for gallery openings, bailouts for the farm--the same way he'd always boggled at the huge and impossible things that only Lex seemed to be able to do.
He and Chloe sat in the student union of MetU and stared out across the cityline at the cranes putting up the skeleton of a new building, and were quiet for a very long time before she said:
"I can't even remember why you stopped being friends with him."
And it took everything in Clark not to say back, "Neither can I."
At the end of February, LexCorp completed its IPO, with the initial buyers making a small fortune by the time the markets closed on LexCorp's first day as a publicly-traded entity. The stock had grown from $28 to $56 in the space of hours and Clark tried to imagine what it was like in the executive suites of LexCorp, how Lex might look, all flushed with success and red from champagne, tie loose and body limber and so bright Clark closed his eyes to keep from going blind at the imagined thought of it.
In March, Chloe got a boyfriend who finally appreciated her the way she deserved, Lana went to France (again), and Clark did his first real rounds of Metropolis, wearing a completely stupid skintight suit that made him so uncomfortably aware of every inch of his body he almost couldn't bear to patrol. By day two, Lois had blasted the name "SUPERMAN" across every piece of broadsheet in the country and superhero fever was sweeping America. Clark hated his life.
By the time the insanity died down a month later, Clark thought he was in the clear. Which of course was when he heard Lex Luthor shouting out of his penthouse window, "Are you insane! Get over here!" and as a total knee-jerk reaction, Clark did, and didn't manage to remember he wasn't supposed to listen to Lex anymore until he was hovering guiltily in front of the man, half-hanging out of his living room window some seventy plus stories above ground and looking completely furious.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Clark?" Lex hissed, color high in his cheeks.
"I'm Superman," Clark argued stupidly.
Lex rubbed the bridge of his nose. "God," he muttered. "Will you--" he waved at Clark in disgust "--just come inside before I have an aneurysm."
"I'm Superman," Clark insisted.
"Yes, okay, peaceful alien helper," Lex snorted, and beckoned Clark in--a motion so familiar and well-missed Clark floated closer to the window, felt his hands on the frame. "Just come inside, all right? Do you want something to drink?"
And just like that, Clark had fallen back into his old grooves, and he climbed awkwardly into the window, watching the line of Lex's back, a burnt sienna profile as he walked barefoot into this stainless steel kitchen.
"I've got water, orange juice, cranberry juice, soda water, vodka, bourbon, whiskey, some kind of California wine..." Lex said distractedly, peering into his refrigerator.
"I'll just have orange juice," Clark said quickly, and felt immediately stupid, which wasn't a terribly new state of being when Clark was around Lex so he let it slide, sitting down awkwardly on Lex's slender, ultra-modern couch and fighting his red cape for dominance. When Lex came back into the room, both Clark's fists were bunched in the material and he was red-faced in embarrassment.
"Orange juice, peaceful alien helper?" Lex said sarcastically without sounding sarcastic at all, handing Clark a glass.
"It's the traditional drink of our people," Clark invented rapidly.
Lex just rolled his eyes and collapsed into a leather recliner, kicking his bare feet up on his ultra-sleek coffee table, and shrugging until he was comfortably melted into the seat. Clark swallowed; it'd always been hard to look and not touch when it came to Lex, who was so smooth and frictionless Clark had always wanted to run his hands over Lex, to learn his imperfections.
"Since we've left niceties in Smallville," Lex starts, and smirking, asks, "What the hell are you wearing, Clark?"
Clark scowls. "I am Superman. And this is the--the traditional garb of my people."
"Of course if it is," Lex says agreeably.
"Was there a reason you wanted to talk to me?" Clark asked, sulking into his orange juice.
"Mostly, I thought you were having an episode," Lex said easily, motioning at Clark's--granted, completely stupid--outfit with one hand.
"No," Clark said through gritted teeth, barely repressing the urge to shout his mother had made this. "No, I am not."
"Oh, well, in that case," Lex said. "Don't let me keep you any longer--and Clark?"
"Superman," Clark said without much conviction.
Lex smiled fondly at him. "Be careful."
Clark left with a mountain of questions at the tip of his tongue: can you explain your stupid S-1 to me, what colors do you think would be better for my costume, and do you miss me? Do you miss me at all?
The first thing Clark did when he reached his dorm room was call Chloe. She sounded sleepy when she answered and Clark snapped, "I remember now," and hung up before she had the chance to ask what the hell he was talking about. He peeled off his costume--uniform--spandex nightmare and tossed it into the back of his closet before folding it carefully and stuffing it underneath his mattress in a sudden rush of paranoia and going to sleep angry.
The morning wasn't much better. Professor Harris handed back their final S-1 articles and everybody marveled at the high grades--"Wow, you got an 73?"--and hid their own papers. Clark debated setting his on fire, but Chloe was giving him one of her all-knowing looks and he figured running away was the better part of valor--or something like that.
And he got all the way to the far edges of a Jackson Marriet's farm, watching the corn wave green and gray in the sun before he sat down in the sun-warm Earth and said out loud to himself, "That's not true. I really don't remember anymore."
Clark's mother had always advocated forgiveness and forgetting, and Clark was so mixed up the two felt like the same thing that afternoon--
And when he got back to Metropolis late at night and found on his desk in his dorm room a single stock certificate, worth one share of LexCorp, and a note reading "Come to a shareholder meeting sometime. We've got the traditional food of your people. LL," he thought even if they weren't the same, maybe they could be, and that would be good enough.