Green Light Stop: Red Light Go
Clark tucked the gleaming red necklace inside his t-shirt, spread his arms over the back of the leather couch and surveyed the room. Not bad: he liked the recent additions, the stereo system, the flat-screen TV. But the place was too dark. He'd ditch the castle and get somewhere with more light, open-plan, a bed, a wall of windows, so he could wake in the sun and survey the whole sweep of the city.
"Clark. I wasn't expecting you until later." Lex, walking in, tossed him a glance. All decked out in fencing whites, Lex pitched his face guard onto a convenient surface and made a beeline for the bottled water. Clark's gaze tracked him approvingly.
"You always walk into a room like you own it," said Clark.
"I do own it," said Lex.
"Don't get me wrong," said Clark. "I like it a lot."
The lines of Lex's body went still just for a moment, but Lex's expression, when he turned, was in control, a little curious. "Clark?" The bottle lifted to his lips.
Clark rose from the couch and tried to sink his hands into the pockets of his jeans, thinking, jeez, the first thing I'm going to do is get a change of clothes. He strolled over until barely a handspan separated him from Lex.
"Lex, you're a powerful guy. Don't you ever get the urge to shake things up?" Clark watched something more careful than curiosity rise to the surface, even as Lex's eyes narrowed.
"I'm not sure what you mean."
It was two o'clock in the afternoon. Smallville High was a zip across farmland and state motorway away. History class. Whatever. Clark, bored, was blowing it off. Supersonic hooky, leaving dust and bent stalks in his wake.
"Lex, I'm going to Metropolis." Clark didn't wait for Lex's reaction. Outside, the sun was blazing. Outside, the world beckoned, a glittering prize just waiting for the right pair of hands to reach out and take it. "For real--don't try to play me or stop me this time, it won't work. I'm only here to ask you one question."
Lex, with everything contained, spoke in his normal voice. "And what's that?"
Clark said, "Are you coming, or not?"
The floodlights went on in sequence: Porsche, Maserati, Jaguar, Ferrari. Lex's garage was like a showroom floor. Clark's eyes fixed on the silver model spotlit near the centre, angular lines, low nose and a body balanced like a matador's sword. Drawn to it with a pull that felt like gravity in his gut, he let his palm slide over the sweet curve of its roof. He looked back at Lex.
"Lamborghini," said Lex, dangling the keys from his fingers.
Lex was looking at him the way a slightly interested cat might look at a mouse. Clark felt another pull, this one the wire-tug of challenge. He remembered the last time he'd faced Lex feeling like this. Lex had promised him Metropolis and sold him out to Smallville. He needed to assert himself. He lifted his chin.
"I'm driving," he said.
Lex tossed him the keys without hesitation, the corner of his mouth hooking up, his gaze steady. Clark caught them in one hand, reflexively.
"Just like that?" said Clark, blinking.
"Let's just say, I want to see what you can do," said Lex.
"Call your parents," Lex had said back at the house.
"What?" said Clark.
"Call your parents and let them know we're going to Metropolis," said Lex.
His parents? He thought incredulously of chores, early mornings, curfews. Lex didn't get it. Patiently, he explained.
"Lex, I don't need anyone's permission."
"Permission," said Lex, in a voice like a training video as he held the phone out to Clark, "is getting what you want without future complications."
"Hi mom," said Clark, after dialing the farm.
"Clark, thank god. Are you all right? Where are you?"
"I'm at Lex's. I'm sorry I made you worry. After everything that happened, I guess I just needed some time alone."
"Oh Clark, I know that a lot has happened in the last few days. But I want you to know that your father and I will always be here for you. No matter what."
"I know mom. It's just, sometimes I wish--"
His mom said, "What is it, honey?"
"I don't know. Sometimes I wish I could get out of Smallville, even just for a few days. Go somewhere where there are no--where I can't get sick. Where I don't have to think about--anything."
"Well, it's coming up to school break," said his mom. "I suppose there's no reason why we couldn't--"
"It's okay mom," said Clark, matyring himself on the sigh. "I already told Lex no when he offered to let me stay at his place in Metropolis this weekend. I know how dad feels about him, and I--I'll be fine." He gave it his all. "You know me."
After a moment, "Maybe I can talk to your father," said his mom, and Clark smiled widely because his mom couldn't see his face. When he hung up the phone, he turned and presented himself to Lex. Voila.
"I had no idea you were so good at lying," said Lex.
"Didn't you?" said Clark.
"She goes faster than the speed limit," said Lex.
Inscrutable delivery. Clark, who'd had more than a year to learn the pattern of the grain under the smooth finish, read the amusement and floored the accelerator. The Lamborghini handled like a wet dream, turning the country road into high grade Monaco track. He could run this fast. Faster, he thought. He imagined racing himself, and then he imagined racing Lex, running just because it felt good, Lex at the wheel and the longest road in the world.
Lex was draped comfortably beside him, ease in every line of his body. He was like the ultimate expensive accessory, and Clark liked it. Fast cars and famous friends. The markers of status appealed to Clark after keeping so much hidden for so long. He flexed his fingers on the steering wheel and grinned. Last day in hicksville; they'd be in Metropolis before it got dark. It was already in his sights, distance-hazed on the horizon, better than the view from the windmill, right there at the end of the road.
"You know, I don't get it," said Clark. "After your dad asked you back, you could have left any time you wanted. Why did you stay in Smallville?"
"You can't imagine anyone wanting to stay in Smallville?" said Lex.
"I sure can't," said Clark.
Lex's sunglasses were only lightly tinted and his eyes were fixed on the road. "It wasn't any one reason. I liked managing the plant. I liked the feeling that I was building something new. A new business. A new reputation. At least, that's what I told myself." A pause, and then a breath not quite like laughter. "Just between the two of us, Clark, maybe there was only one reason."
"I didn't like being told what to do by my father."
"Yeah," said Clark. "Trust me. I get that."
"Trouble at the farm?" said Lex in a mild and enquiring voice.
"You could say that."
"You want to talk about it?"
Another glance sideways. Lex liked talking out problems, and in that way he read as a friend less like Pete and more like Chloe or Lana. But sharing with Chloe or Lana was recently a minefield where an imbalance of confidences could trigger an explosion . . . technically, talking to Lex was more dangerous, or so his father said. But going to Lex was a contained experience that didn't emotionally involve a third party. It had always felt more like . . . talking to his parents. Clark clamped down on that thought. All that was in the past.
"My parents told me they wanted the best for me, that I was special and I had a destiny," said Clark. "But all that was a lie. They've just been holding me back."
"Holding you back from what?" That mildness was deceptive.
Clark said, "You'd love to know, wouldn't you?"
"I want a lot of things, Clark," said Lex.
Clark couldn't help grinning, feeling as though he'd gotten the last word, although, technically, he hadn't. The sunlight was streaming in the windshield; bright as a new beginning, it twinkled against the necklace at his throat. Clark didn't even bother squinting against it, just drank it in, sun, power, Lex. The grin widened.
"Me too, Lex," he said. "You know what? This is going to be fun."
"Whoa," said Clark.
"Glad you like it," said Lex.
"That's one way of putting it."
The penthouse was so large that its sheer size even impressed Clark, used to wide open fields and sprawling farmhouses. Space wasn't at a premium in country Kansas, and Clark wouldn't normally have thought of it as a commodity, except that the penthouse was so big.
And this was central Metropolis. Lex had directed him to the most expensive part of town. "Left here. Now look up." And Clark had looked up. And up.
Though shipping it brick by brick from Scotland must have cost a fortune, the castle was such a bizarre oddity that it had never felt like money. The penthouse, on the other hand . . . this was it. The big time. The steel and glass of Luthor Towers touched the sky. The penthouse had been designed for someone richer than god to lord it over Metropolis from a height.
Lex strolled in, perfectly at home.
"I've got a few calls to make. Go and get cleaned up, and then we can go out somewhere if you like."
Clark nodded, momentarily overwhelmed. His veins were burning with a feeling of entitlement, bright red, like he deserved to have it all, nevertheless, as he gazed around at the penthouse, his eyes were as wide as saucers as his concept of "having it all" readjusted. The exotic parade of sports cars in Smallville was clearly the smallest expression, not the extent, of the Luthor wealth. The awed feeling was quickly becoming a rush.
Wow, this was more like it.
Forty minutes later, he emerged fresh from the shower. He'd taken his time, ridding himself of the dust of superspeed, the last traces of Smallville, until he was water-clean. Now he stood in the middle of miles of carpet, smiling to himself, wandering over to the wall of glass, looking out at the twilight and thinking lazily about everything that he wanted. He'd put on his jeans, but his red t-shirt hung limply from his hands, and his bare feet sank into the thick carpet. His hair, still wet, curled in damp licks at his neck.
The city lay at his feet. The golden globe of the Daily Planet reared up on the left. All around it, the glass, lights and metal of downtown reflected the shapes of the sky. Further out, the descending sun tipped the skyscrapers with shining light and turned the water of the docks orange. Clark placed his fingertips on the glass and exerted absolutely no pressure, knowing how easy it would be to shatter. The view felt like ownership. Commanding. He wondered if this was how Lex felt all the time.
It had taken him less than twenty four hours to decide he'd had enough of Smallville. His parents and their stupid contradictory rules, the tedium of school, Lana . . . Lana didn't matter, he told himself, pushing to one side the memory of straight hair like silk slipping over his fingers. Lana was the past. Lana was yesterday's news. Lana was limitations. Pete, behind the concern, was fear. Fear of the freak and what he could do. The same fear that lived deep down inside his parents. This scene had played out before and the three of them, bone-scared of his abilities, had come after him with green meteor rocks. But there was one person who had never been afraid to face power, to seize it with his bare hands, hold it, mold it to his will. Clark turned his head.
Lex stood in the doorway, watching him.
"Nice view," said Clark.
"I'd have to agree," said Lex.
Lex's gaze tracked slowly over his body. A new sensation seemed to follow in Lex's wake, rolling up over his skin like sunshine. Clark enjoyed the feeling, waiting for Lex's gaze to meet his own. For the first time he felt capable of sustaining it, pushing at it--this--whatever it was between them, challenging it, but Lex's progress stopped at his throat.
"That's an interesting necklace you're wearing," said Lex. "It looks like Lana's."
"I thought Lana's necklace was green," said Lex.
"It changed colour," said Clark. Then, "What?"
"It's just a new look for you."
Clark's eyes narrowed at Lex's tone.
"If something's bothering you--"
"Relax," said Lex. "What would be bothering me?"
Lex's gaze was amiable. Clark opened his mouth, closed it. Feeling obscurely outmaneuvered, he frowned. But the feeling only lasted for a moment before reassurance pushed it to one side. Lex was right. Lex was on his side. Lex had been cool about everything. Clearly, nothing was bothering Lex.
"Nothing. You're right," said Clark, breaking into a smile, full wattage. "Did you say something about going out?"
Clark was almost bouncing on his toes as they rode the elevator down to the garage. A bar! He had never been to a real bar. Well, there was that one time. He'd driven just across state lines with Lana to the Wild Coyote, where the barkeep looked the other way when it came to ID on a Friday night. There had been some action: a slow grind on the dance floor, alcohol, a bar brawl. Lana, he remembered, had ditched him. It was Jessie who had stuck around for the fun, and boy had it been fun. He could remember the feeling of her curved breast under his hand, her mouth opening wetly for his tongue.
And the Wild Coyote was a nothing bar in nowheresville. This was Metropolis. He was about to break through the protective barrier of his overprotected life and see what lay on the other side: real people, real life, real excitement. With Lex. Who had seen it all. Done it all. Lex would show him everything his parents had tried to keep from him. In return, he'd show Lex things he'd never even dreamed.
He met Lex's gaze and his grin broke out again, so bright it pulled a sort of helpless answering smile from Lex, though something in Lex's eyes said that he didn't know what this was about.
"You're in a good mood," said Lex, as the elevator doors rolled open on the garage. They walked out into blues and grays, a dim sea of expensive cars.
"I'm exactly where I want to be doing exactly what I want to do. Yeah, I'm in a good mood."
"Then I take it you're feeling better."
"On the phone, you said that you get sick in Smallville."
"Oh that. I get, uh, allergies. Hayfever."
"That must make life difficult on a farm," said Lex, blandly.
"Um--" said Clark.
"Stay where you are!" screamed a man's voice. They both wheeled around to face the sound.
Emerging from the depths of the garage was a disheveled man in his thirties, dressed in the remnants of a suit, the jacket and tie long gone, the shirt stained and the shirtsleeves pushed up. His shaking hands were wrapped around a gun. It was trained unerringly on Lex.
Lex, who had taken three steps away from Clark and was speaking in a flat, careful voice. "Ericson. What are you doing here?"
"Don't play dumb with me," said the man. "Hand it over and no one gets hurt."
"Look, I don't know who you are, but we don't have time for this, okay? We're going to a bar," said Clark.
"Clark," said Lex. The same mild tone you used to speak to someone standing on a ledge on the thirtieth floor.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Lex, it's just one guy."
"I don't want to shoot you," said Ericson, his voice hard as he swerved his gun from Lex to Clark.
"That's right, you don't," said Clark.
"Just stay back!" said Ericson. Clark brought up short, catching a movement on the periphery of his vision.
Lex was slowly reaching into his pocket and pulling out--his car keys? Clark tipped his head to one side.
The Lamborghini lit up with an expensive, obedient sound, unlocking. Ericson's aim and attention jumped and skittered. It was neatly done: as the scene dissolved into slow motion, Lex took advantage of the distraction to close the short distance, barreling into Ericson and going for the gun.
A shot fired.
Thrown so wildly off course by Lex, it was just sheer bad luck that the bullet, now starting it's long, slow chug across the garage, was heading right for Clark. It was very much Lex's brand of luck, a heroic gesture that backfired into bizarre mischance and collateral damage. Clark looked over at Lex, sizing things up. Ericson was built more like Clark than Lex, and Lex, outweighed, would have his hands full after the initial charge. Clark looked back at the bullet, judged it, and sidestepped so that it wouldn't ruin his clothes.
The passenger window of the BMW behind him shattered as the world flipped back to normal speed.
Lex was doing okay, even outweighed, Clark thought, wandering over after adjusting his shirt. He had a grip on his opponent, but was having trouble finishing him off, so Clark punched Ericson in the face reasonably hard, and Ericson collapsed to the cement floor of the garage.
Silence overlaid by sound. Lex's exerted breathing. The distant sound of a car starting elsewhere in the complex. Clark found himself holding Lex's gaze over Ericson's prone body, grinning.
"Clark, what the hell?" said Lex.
"Nice moves, Lex," said Clark.
Lex stared at him.
"I didn't realize what you were doing with the car keys at first. I thought you were going to throw them at him," said Clark. "Who is this guy, anyway? Eric something? He seemed pretty mad at you. What did you do to him?"
"Clark," said Lex.
"'It's just one guy'?" said Lex.
"I knew you could take him," said Clark, his grin widening, impossibly.
"Jesus," said Lex, but there was something in his eyes that made Clark's heart expand in his chest, exhilaration flooding out into his veins like bright water.
"I like knowing you've got my back, Lex," said Clark, throwing his arm around Lex's shoulder and squeezing happily. "You know I've got yours, right?"
The place was called Atlantis, and it was a club, not a bar, right on the gentrified edge of Suicide Slums. A spill of people at the door, some lining up, others just getting air. Crowded. By the time Eric Something had been taken care of, they were well into the interesting part of the night.
Even after, Lex had been on and off his cell phone to security in the car, driving with one hand on the wheel. He'd spoken in cool Lexian, outlining the problem with articulate precision, never once having to say the words, "Some guy tried to kill me," or, "Clark knocked him unconscious." It was neat. Clark thought of all the times in Smallville when he'd come to Lex and asked him for help or a favour. "Sure, Clark," Lex had always said. "Leave it with me." He'd never given much thought to the way that Lex came through. He'd thought, Lex touched problems with money and they untangled like slipknots. Now he was listening to how it was done: with an exact mind trained to leadership and organization, a question of knowing exactly what to say and what to do.
They pulled up, the silver Lamborghini nosing low to the ground. Lex tossed the keys to a valet. No, not a valet, but someone on the door staff who knew Lex and waved them forward. Clark, his eyes drinking in the unfamiliar as he followed in Lex's wake, brought up short when security put a palm in his chest. He looked down at it.
"ID." Voice thick with muscle.
"He's with me," said Lex.
"Mr Luthor," and opposition melted away, the crowd parting like the ocean for Lex, and for Clark by extension, closing behind them, swallowing them up. Clark shook his head in a kind of disbelieving admiration.
They were inside.
There were a thousand sleazy dives in Metropolis. Lex, who'd always been able to read Clark perfectly, had brought him here instead. The expensive, high-life version of sleaze: posing; flashing money; thinking that you owned the world. Atlantis was a rich kid's playground, the Metropolis glitterati acting out within certain paparazzi-aware parameters. Under the strobe, models in avante guarde micro-outfits, men with perfect square jaws and perfectly hair, a few famous faces in the crowd. The dance floor was packed, a strobe-lit impression of grinding movement, heads thrown back and bare skin gleaned over with sweat.
Lex, apparently, knew everyone in the universe, because they were running a gamut of greeting as they wove through the crowd towards the VIP room. At least, Lex knew all of the men in the ten thousand dollar suits and all of the women with long dark shiny hair. And the staff. Lex tipped with hundred dollar bills, and he was "Mr Luthor" to everyone who didn't kiss him on the cheek. The ubiquitous "Call me Lex" was missing.
Clark grinned, enjoying all the ways this was different from him walking into Mr Leedman's feed store and everyone saying, "Oh hi Clark."
In the VIP room, Lex said, "The usual for me, and whatever my friend wants goes on my tab." Another hundred-dollar tip. The bartender looked over at Clark expectantly.
"A beer," announced Clark, grinning stupidly.
Lex said, "Tell me this isn't your first drink."
"Well," said Clark, pitching him a quick sideways glance.
Lex's brows rose. "I thought you'd been to a bar before. With Jessie."
Lex remembered her name. He had a mind for details. Clark said, "We were a little preoccupied, Lex. We didn't exactly get around to drinking."
"No, I'm sure you didn't."
The beer tasted pretty bad, Clark thought. Truthfully, he wasn't even sure he could get drunk. Maybe later he'd get something stronger and test it out. He wondered what Lex was like drunk. Lex without inhibitions . . . hard to imagine that it would be any different. As far as Clark was concerned, Lex pretty much did whatever he wanted anyway.
The rock was warm against the hollow of his throat.
Lex beckoned some people over, and the night was suddenly about flirting, dancing and drinking. With most of these million dollar women and men, conversations were either about business or reminiscences. Following the trail of his interests elsewhere, Clark allowed himself to become separated from Lex.
Within minutes he was propositioned several times, once by a guy, which made his eyebrows rise and the corner of his mouth curl around. He turned them all down until the curvy blonde slid into his arms, and he kissed her but missed the charge he would have gotten if it had been Lana. Still, it was pretty terrific. One of the guys in suits told him he had a great face and gave him a card. Another one asked him, didn't they meet at the LuthorCorp party? which started a conversation that he only slowly worked out was the prelude to another proposition. He said no, then grinned, because he was realizing that whatever else happened tonight, it was an unarguable certainty that he was going to get laid.
He thought he loved Metropolis.
He glanced back toward the bar. Engrossed in conversation with one of the interchangeable guys in suits, Lex had nevertheless been keeping an eye on him. If it had been anyone else, it would have bugged Clark enough to head over and make a confrontation out of it. If it had been Pete or his dad or Lana or Chloe, it would have felt like they keeping tabs on him, making sure he didn't get into any trouble. But Lex wasn't like that. Lex was cool. Lex had brought him here. Lex had hooked him up. Lex was Lex, and Clark . . . liked that he had Lex's attention.
"What's your name?" shouted the brunette he was talking to. They were both shouting a little to be heard over the music, so he leaned in and said the answer into her ear. She looped an arm around his neck, and he found out that her name was Mandy and that she was extremely good with her--
Mandy drew back a little. She'd followed his gaze over to Lex.
"You're a friend of Lex Luthor?" she said.
"Sure." Clark traced his finger down the line of her bare arm. It got her attention back.
"I should probably tell you . . ."
"You know Lex?" he said.
"Well, we sorta . . . "
"You and Lex?" The thick tangle of emotional and physical responses was instant and familiar. Six months ago, with Desiree coming on to him, he'd backed into a table in confusion. It was hot, that Lex had kissed her, touched her mouth, her breasts. Had been inside her. He wanted to do all of that to her, have her, taste what Lex had tasted, erase Lex's stamp. Or seek it out. The ghost of Lex all over her.
"Just one time," she said.
"Yeah?" he said. He watched her eyes darken as he pushed his fingers into her hair, and stroked her cheek with his thumb. "What was it like?"
She laughed a little, in the moment. "Hard to forget."
"I'll bet," said Clark, and leaned in, an inch away from kissing. Then he stopped, riding an impulse. He looked over at Lex.
Either because it was time for another one of those subtle, checking glances, or simply because he felt Clark's eyes on him, Lex shifted his gaze from his business associate and looked back.
When Desiree had run her hands up his thighs . . . total freak out. Total shutdown. There had been a thousand inhibitions between him and what he wanted: his parents would never, he wasn't supposed to, he had no idea what to do. Now impulse had direct access to action. He could do anything.
"We're done," said Clark to Mandy, letting his hand drop. He pushed past her, ignoring her furious "Hey!" behind his left shoulder. He never took his eyes off Lex.
"Lose the guy in the suit," said Clark, without even looking at the guy, whoever, who was talking to Lex.
The guy in the suit said, "Listen, buddy--"
"Call my office in the morning," said Lex, smoothly. The guy in the suit, after Lex's brief glance, backed off. "Well?" said Lex.
Lex was still a version of his usual self, his clothes showcasing the sheer expense of restraint. What was different? Clark had looked at Lex before, at the curve of his neck, at the lines of his body, sometimes growing tongue-tied when he realized he'd been looking a little too long. Those evenings at the mansion when he'd practically stumbled as he stood up, blurting whatever excuse came to his lips, and backed out. There had always been a powerful quality to their encounters; one that Lex increasingly modulated, maybe because over and over again it had sent the farmboy running.
Clark reached out and brushed Lex's hip, testing it out.
Lex looked down at the touch, then up again--the glance deliberate, not involuntary. "What's this about, Clark?" he said. He shifted his hip under Clark's hand as he spoke, moving forward into Clark's space to say the words. There was a kind of alpha-arrogance to it, like Lex was expecting to prove something, like he was expecting Clark to back down. Clark smiled, long and slow. He knew exactly what was different.
"I want to kiss you," he said, his voice changed, saturated by Lex's proximity. "I've been wondering what it would be like almost since we met."
Lex didn't back off, but his eyes were opaque; the only thing showing in them was a kind of strange and repressed hilarity.
"I think that beer has gone to your head."
"It's not the beer," said Clark.
"I know," said Lex. "You want to tell me what it is?"
"Maybe later," said Clark, and dipped his head.
Lex allowed it. Lex's lips parted, letting Clark's tongue lick inside. There was a cost to the cool: Lex's body sang with tension under Clark's hands. Clark remembered Lana melting, Jessie opening up. He slid his tongue against Lex's and felt the answering full body shudder. Oh yeah. He could feel the trembling of the river behind the dam, and he was good at breaking things.
"Clark, that's enough," said Lex, breaking off the kiss. His eyes were dark, his voice was husky as hell; it wasn't an end. Clark's hands were sliding up under his shirt, unable to get enough of the feel of him. His mouth at Lex's jaw, his hands lower, tugging Lex forward.
Lex actually swore, his voice breathy with . . . maybe it wasn't amusement, too close to a kind of hysteria, like sometimes even Lex couldn't believe the universe's demands, the extent of the feats it was simply assumed he would be able to accomplish. Clark dropped his lips to Lex's neck, and felt Lex's grip close on his shoulder.
This time Clark let Lex push him back, but he kept a hold of Lex's hand, twining their fingers together. They were gazing at one another. Lex was caught up in it just like he was, he could see it; self control shot through with feeling, though the forces were mustering. Lex was easy to read once you knew he didn't show it like other people. But it wasn't going to be like that.
"Come on," said Clark, taking a step back, drawing Lex forward, and he was grinning, just couldn't stop, because this thing between them was incandescent and there was no way anyone could hold out against it, not even Lex.