Spoilers: Jitters, Rogue
The headstone wouldn't arrive for a few more weeks--funerals usually didn't give enough advanced warning to send in and get it carved and dated ahead of time. And Clark supposed that even the most morbid who might go ahead and order while still among the living probably shied from giving absolute date. So, for now, a tiny marker at the head, name and date inscribed, barely visible from his spot near the foot of the mound.
The crumbling dirt squatted dark and clammy over the surface of the grave, and Clark pushed a foot lightly into the disturbed soil, a shocking contrast to the first light snow coating the ground. Cemeteries were always so neat and clean--stretched long and smooth like that perfect carpet you only saw in movie-star homes, flawlessly maintained as if to deflect attention from what they all knew was going on beneath the ground. When Clark had been a kid, he'd always thought it would be fun to play here, among all those stones, mausoleums, and crypts; the perfect spots to hide, curled up small and giggling on soft warm grass.
Still was an idea of sorts. He was only three years out of GI Joes and trucks in the sand lot out behind Pete's house--it wasn't nearly as easy as generally believed to leave childhood behind. More a process of accumulation of experience to drown out the voice that still whined for cartoons in the afternoon and rejected lima beans from dinner than a clear line to be crossed and never retreated back over.
He still had a small fleet of Hot Wheels under his bed, after all, dusty box wrapping them close against prying eyes, though his mom probably knew. Probably knew about the more eclectic magazines he'd taken to collecting around the time he figured out the point of girls, besides the fact they took over the female parts in the school plays. Though he tried not to think about that too hard--don't ask, don't tell was a teenage boy's only source of comfort.
Pushing back onto the balls of his feet, Clark drew in a breath and let it out slowly, fingers closing in on themselves into tight fists.
*I wanted to kill him.*
There'd been something dreamy and unfocused in the memories, not quite real, rapid sense-images without substance at first; rough fabric beneath his hands and the smell of fear and cheap cologne thickening the air, words that didn't have much meaning because he wasn't listening to them, only the rapid beat of both their hearts. *That* moment, that wasn't real, wasn't substantial, could still be denied or ignored until he'd told his father.
Grey stone walls high around them, a quarter inch of fragile Plexiglas between them, he'd admitted the unthinkable and the memory was color, just like that.
*I wanted to kill him.*
Not distant, with a gun against a bare temple to spill brain and blood across the pristine floor his mother scrubbed on her hands and knees, but--personal. With his own too-large hands wrapped around that vulnerable throat, watch the life fade from those mocking eyes and *enjoy* it. Feel the useless struggles of the body pressed between him and the beam, the knowledge that there was no escape, and it'd been more than want there, more than anger or hate or even vengeance.
There'd been pleasure in that too, and those were the words he hadn't said, had barely thought, because making that real was a step Clark wasn't quite ready to take.
Cemeteries; he had intimate knowledge now on them, on how long it would take the dirt to settle (six weeks give or take rainstorms or natural disasters), how long for the tombstone (three to seven weeks, depending on type, style, and current demand). He'd watched Greg buried in the cold black dirt of Smallville, Coach Arnold soon after, Tina's poor mother that he hadn't been in time to save, and the old man.
Three of them were his, this fourth in this cemetery with the same MO attached and the same history. A history that he could summarize it in a sentence that might very well be the definition of who and what he was in the end.
People who pissed off Clark Kent tended to get really dead, really, really fast.
It was never direct, of course. Because good boys didn't commit murder, good boys didn't fantasize about how they'd like to kill and the ways they could do it when their father was in prison for trumped up murder and their mother was crying her eyes out in her room every night.
Good boys didn't kill, but they sure seemed to leave a body count behind them that could have made a serial killer take note. His hands were clean, though, or at least as clean as they'd been before he'd started looking through his own head and finding the result less than satisfactory.
*I wanted to kill him.*
But he hadn't needed to, in the end. Because a rain of bullets in that deserted museum had done it all for him, a cheap way out of making him get his hands dirty. Like machinery falling on Greg or fire taking out Arnold or grain suffocating that old man. New method every time, but the same story--he was around when they died, and he didn't have to take those lives personally, because fate or karma or what the hell, alien intelligence, had long ago decided that he was going to be a good boy whether he wanted to be or not.
He'd wanted Coach Arnold dead, but only in retrospect. He'd wanted that cop dead with all the immediacy one could wish for in a good boy going bad. Motivation had been there, will had been there, probability had been there, and the thing that had stopped him in that moment, in that second, wasn't anything like morality or ethics or good boy-ness seeping into his brain, or the idiotic words the man had poured out like acid.
It was shock, that it was in him in the first place. That it was *there*, dirty and sweet and rich and *awake*.
Awake, and he'd never play hide and seek again, and those two years that stretched the demarcation line between childhood and now could have been twenty or fifty or none at all.
Maybe the real difference between kids and adults had nothing to do with experience or age at all.
Kicking the dirt one more time, Clark stepped back, pulling his jacket closer and glancing up at cloudy grey skies that seemed vaguely appropriate for the morally ambiguous.
Say it, make it true.
Words had power in them. 'I love you' could get a girl's legs spread or lead you to the altar in record time or send you to suicide. 'Fire' in a theatre could cause a riot, and a dirty joke at the local bar heard by the wrong person was enough to start fights that required EMS intervention and police questioning. Words were the way you framed and defined reality, and that dreamy memory of killing had been made color and bright in his mind when he'd said it, just like that. Real.
*I wanted to kill him.*
Yes, he had. And it was scary, how easy it was to live with that.
"Didn't expect to see you here."
Low, amused voice, rolling over Clark like a soft breeze with a bite of cold at the end. Unexpected and expected all rolled into one, and Clark didn't turn around because Lex was moving with his usual easy stride to his side. Lex never waited for anyone or anything.
He wasn't in the right frame of mind to deal with Lex today. Too much was too close to the surface, wanting to spill out around them like a flood, too much between them to risk what would happen if he opened his mouth. He could feel all Lex's questions like an itch beneath the skin, even when he wasn't asking them.
There was a trace of something in the air now, softer than freshly turned soil or the scent of rotting flowers--feminine and faintly floral, elusive when he tried to pin it down, and Clark wondered where Victoria was now. A sideways glance caught Lex looking down at the grave with a blank expression, and the edge of a bruise was almost hidden by the collar of his lavender shirt. Long black jacket that would look silly on anyone else who didn't wear it like he wore his skin, black driving gloves coating his hands liquid dark..
Clark wanted to be alone, but was so glad he wasn't.
"Feel it, don't you?" Quiet, barely audible even in the silence of the cemetery. And Clark could have said he had no idea what Lex meant and walked away. He could have said it and stayed, but today, of all days, was one where he couldn't lie at all, even if he tried, because today, words had meaning, all of them.
He'd told his father he wanted to kill another human being and that person was dead, buried under this dirt, and there weren't any regrets at all. That was what he'd say if Lex asked the right question. And if Lex asked, he'd also say that in the end, he might have done it himself.
He might say it, and it would be true, too.
So he said nothing.
"He had a habit of making enemies," Lex said softly, as if Clark had answered the question, and maybe in his silence, he had. "You'd be surprised how often my father was bailing him out--more than he did me, come to think of it." Lex slid his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels. Nothing else, another whole new slew of secrets between them like a wall. "I suppose rogue cops are harder to recruit than fucking someone to get another son."
Careless indifference, as if this was something Lex had long ago come to terms with. Clark hissed a breath between his teeth.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Those secrets the cop had muttered, that sat somewhere on the edges of Clark's mind to deal with later. And maybe Lex felt that words were a little too real today too, because the look he got wasn't anything but understanding.
"It's a mutual sort of thing, I think." Lex pushed the toe of his foot into the dirt of the mound, head tilting. Clark got the feeling that whatever he'd felt for the man buried in the dirt, it wasn't even close to the violent mix that was treading water beneath the cool surface of Lex's personality.
"I don't--" He cut off the words, stared down at the mound that hid another secret or three. "Where's Victoria?"
That got him a sharp smile--it could cut if he let it, but that was another thing that had been pushed back and away for later thought. Much later. Lex was too close right now, and it was strange, that when change came for Clark, they came with friends to settle down and take out long-term leases. Bad cops, emotional upheavals, and Victoria, and Clark wasn't ready quite yet to walk in and check out the interior weather on her. He might not like what he found there, either.
"I don't set my watch by Victoria, Clark. But she's with friends--she's still wary of returning to the castle after what happened."
"Oh." Silly thought, to imagine her sitting in one of Lex's hideously expensive cars, watching them. Beautiful and glittering and colder even than Lex, if that was possible. He didn't have to even wonder at the attraction--felt it like electricity with that first look between them, and he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jacket, drawing in a breath. "I'm sorry I snapped at you--when you offered help."
"No problem." Easily said. "I understand."
And the thing was, Lex probably did. Lex didn't need excuses, didn't bother using them himself. On some level, it was annoying, that Lex knew him that well, because the reciprocal wasn't at all true, and he hadn't really needed a bad cop to tell him Lex had secrets.
Just like all things recently, the words had brought it out into the light, and Clark wondered how long it would be before he started spending quality time wondering what one would use a rogue cop for.
It might be better if Lex never told.
"You were right about him." That was as close as he could come to admitting the unadmittable, and the tilt of Lex's head was another simple acknowledgement of the fact. He wondered a little vaguely what Lex knew about what had happened at the museum, decided not to think about that too hard. Luthor had a share in the museum, so surely by now he'd read the reports.
Pushing out of his thoughts, Clark watched Lex study the grave with a kind of objective curiosity, as if he were measuring the scene against other memories, finding the comparisons and contrasts and storing them away neatly in whatever mental file Lex used to chart the differences between one grave and another. Clark could tell him some interesting things about this one--Metropolitan dirt was sandier than Smallville, finer textured, fewer random rocks. The shading was closer to tan than true brown or the thicker black of some of the fields near Smallville, and the acid content was higher.
"I've gotta go," Clark murmured, and Lex nodded absently, hands still in his pockets. Clark managed a few steps away all on his own when Lex's voice stopped him again.
"How did you get into Metropolis?"
"Bus." Greyhound was the official story, even to his parents--for some reason, they always seemed to stress at the idea of him *running* to the city, which, admittedly, did sound odd if you weren't superspeedboy. He supposed it was some instinctive parent anxiety, so he'd learned how to leave some things unspoken.
"It's barely three. The bus doesn't leave until after six." Little pause, and Clark half turned as Lex took a hand from his jacket, keys shining silver in the indifferent grey light of the winter afternoon. "I'll drive you back."
Clark froze for a second, a thousand quick thoughts chasing themselves through his mind like cows escaping a fence, and the red haired girl was, oddly enough, on top of them all.
So he didn't say no, or ask any questions, just nodded briefly and Lex passed him with that curious scent still clinging to his coat. Clark followed.
Clark liked Metropolis, always had--huge in a way that had nothing to do with towering buildings and the thousands of people swarming like disturbed ants. Huge in the feeling of it, in the activity, in the compression, the sheer wonder of so much happening around him so fast.
Or maybe it was the anonymity.
Lex was carrying on a low voiced conversation with Victoria on his cell phone--or rather, listening to one half of a conversation, a curiously tight smile on his face, but Lex, Clark had observed, wasn't exactly a phone person or someone who liked to spend a lot of time in idle talk. Staring out the window, Clark pretended he wasn't trying to pick up the faint sound of Victoria's clipped voice and separate the random sounds into discernible words.
He'd guess she wasn't happy, though, from the way Lex's hand tightened on the wheel at random intervals. And that made him sink a little more comfortably into the seat and watch the passing buildings with more interest.
When they passed the museum, Clark kept his eyes on the road ahead and tried not to note that the yellow tape of a police investigation was still tracing the outside of the building. He thought he saw Lex's eyes flicker to him briefly, but nothing else, and Lex said a few low words before shutting the phone down and turning it off, reaching over with a beautiful lack of caring about road safety to drop it in the glove compartment.
The silence wasn't uncomfortable--in point of fact, Clark was beginning to feel way too comfortable, and turned his head slightly to catch a glimpse of Lex's expression. Nothing there readable, but that wasn't exactly unusual.
"You didn't have to drive me back."
Lex shrugged slightly.
"I got bored anyway. I might as well do something useful."
"Because Smallville is such an interesting place compared to Metropolis." The words escaped without Clark thinking them through at all, and Lex's smile widened, head tilting down briefly.
"Good point. Let's say I wanted to be forgotten for a little longer, then."
Lex gave him a sideways glance that said a lot of things, none of them recognizable.
"Never mind." Lex hit the gas, speeding by a poking Volkswagen and coming abreast of a white limo. "Look to your right, Clark. That's the mayor."
Clark gave the car a quick glance--mirror-dark windows hiding the passengers within, and Lex was getting rather heavy footed with the gas pedal for no reason Clark could quite figure out.
Slow, bright smile, and there were few things as dangerous as Lex when he suddenly felt playful.
"I knew his daughter very well."
Well, that answered that. And it also answered the question Clark didn't ask, because Lex was suddenly taken over by the spirit of a suicidal Indy 500 driver and the jaguar hit a cool one ten as Lex cut in front of the limo with bare inches to spare, holding there briefly, before switching to the far right lane as they began to go over the bridge.
"Jesus," Clark whispered--it'd been too smooth for either of them to be jostled, and a jaguar apparently had much better shocks than he'd expected. Cautiously relaxing from his automatic curl into the leather seats, he gave Lex a long look. "Greyhound suddenly looks good again."
"Heh. Relax. You're too uptight for fifteen."
"I'd like to make it to sixteen."
"I have a vested interest in that as well," Lex answered with another smile. Before Clark could start examining that, Lex spoke again. "I don't suppose you told your parents why you decided that a trip to Metropolis was in order."
"No." They wouldn't have understood. "Do you know?"
"I think so." They were flickering past cars too fast for Clark to be sure what they were passing, and Clark supposed that the license plate of the jag pretty much told the world that this one car could do as it chose. And if it chose to switch lanes like a schizophrenic on an acid trip, so be it. There might have been honking, probably was, but sealed inside this quiet car, they weren't aware. Clark looked at the radio, but Lex was already had a hand on it, and Clark wondered a little if it was safe.
But then again, Lex seemed to live some strangely charmed life.
Something vaguely alternative and not entirely unfamiliar came over the excellent speaker system, and Clark leaned into the seat, shutting his eyes.
"Taking a nap?"
"Not the way you drive. I might not wake up." Clark opened his eyes and caught Lex's little grin--very little, as if he was waging war to keep it down and away, and Clark tried very hard not to match it, with equal success. "Did he--did he have a hold over you?" The smile vanished and Clark regretted it, but--well, curious. More than curious. Something to satisfy that inner voice that silently asked what Lex could have done, had done, that needed that man so much.
"Yes and no." Lex's hands tightened on the steering wheel, the leather over his knuckles visibly straining. "Yes, he did, but not anything he could afford to use." Smile as tight as the leather. "More than once, anyway."
That made sense, Clark supposed, and it occurred to him, only now, of course, that asking Lex for help might have actually been a viable idea. One that he was glad he hadn't thought of during the worst of it, because there was a good chance he would have jumped at it.
"I--why didn't you like him?"
Lex's expression didn't change--more of a becoming even more what it already was, resettling into tighter lines.
"I'm touched with your opinion of the company I keep."
Oh. No. Well.
"That's not what I meant." Clark straightened, noticing they'd just exited Metropolis at what could be a new world record and suburbia was opening up around him. "I meant--besides the blackmailing issue--what else about him--" Clark trailed off, wondering exactly how to frame the question, because in retrospect, asking why you didn't like the guy that got you out of trouble did sound pretty odd.
Lex, as he sometimes did, played mindreader for a minute and flashed Clark a quick look that had a lot of annoyance, though none directed at him.
"The same reason you didn't like him, Clark, and for all the reasons I told you. And there was a time I was very--let us say, vulnerable to blackmail, and he capitalized on that. Leaving the iffy ethical situation in the dust, I didn't trust him to keep his word even for the amount of money my father was paying him. He lacked--foresight. Sometimes he acted without thinking through all the consequences." Lex shrugged a little, flicking on a blinker to move lanes as they merged.
"Oh." Which explained everything and nothing at all, and Clark pushed the curious thoughts back inside his head and locked them away. Lex was winding up beside him like something ready to go off at the slightest provocation, and Clark didn't want to be that.
Though he suddenly wished the phone was out and on, in hopes Victoria would call.
"So what was the interesting change in editor in chief at the Torch regarding?" Lex asked in a completely different tone of voice, and Clark blinked a little, wondering--did Lex just notice *everything*?
Or more probably, Gabe had been infected from his daughter's anger, and Lex had been known to sit around chatting up his employees. One of those things he did that made him well-liked at the plant, along with that new propensity for walking unarmed into buildings held by psychotic disgruntled employees.
Memories of which were enough for Clark to swallow hard.
"It was temporary."
"I'd think so--Miss Lang's newstyle is a little grating."
"I helped her write the article."
Lex sent him an indulgent look.
"Let's hope you take classes in reporting before you try it again, then."
Clark didn't answer, smiling a little at the windshield.
"Hmm. Had fun with the article, I take it?" And Lex made it sound--*indecent*. Flushing, he grinned and stared down at his hands.
"I'd just as soon expect the Second Coming," Lex murmured in what could have been an affectionate voice, except he'd never actually *heard* Lex use one before.
"How long is Victoria staying?"
Lex seemed to stop--breathing, thinking, doing anything but sit there driving, and while with most people you wouldn't know the difference, Lex even at rest felt like he was moving, or should be, or was about to.
"In Smallville? I have no idea." Lex was back and staring at the road with absolutely perfect concentration like a kid taking his driver's test, so little like Lex that there were *alot* of things Clark could take away from those two sentences. All of them had food for thought. Some of it was pleasant.
"She seems nice." Tiny, choked sound from the driver's side, and Clark tried not to echo it. "I mean, from what little I saw of her."
"I'm going to remind myself of this conversation next time I'm feeling particularly annoyed with the world."
"Glad I could brighten your life."
"You have that habit. I'll introduce you to her properly when she returns--it should prove more interesting than the latest grain prices, at any rate."
That sounded less than fun. Clark mulled on the reasons why, and turned his attention to the road again. The way Lex drove, they'd be in Smallville in less than an hour.
Clark let the silence stretch into perfect comfort, listening to the radio play quietly between them.