Interstitial by runpunkrun
DVD Commentary by elandrialore
This is one of those fics that I go back to time and again because it never gets old for me. It's comfortable and warm and perfect in so many ways I just want to snuggle up against it and not think about anything beyond this world that Punk created. It's one of the first stories I read in the fandom and will always be one of my very favorites.
It's a Saturday night and he calls home. His mother tells him about a calf born just that morning, a new bookstore on Main, his father's constant struggle to repair the porch. The world he left behind is going on without him.
He tells her about the tree in front of his building, his neighbor that works graveyard and always comes home with fresh bread, the old theater he found that shows dollar-fifty movies.
They say goodbye and I love you and he hangs up without mentioning the real reason he called.
When he was six he got tangled in some fencing wire. He bled, scared his parents, ended up with a morse code scar along his arm. It lasted a year, then started to fade. By his tenth birthday it was gone entirely. But he's twenty-two now and he thinks the scar is coming back.
That last line still gives me chills. And I love the way the reason he called isn't explicitly said, but shown through a memory. Clear, concise and perfect, and every writing teacher I've ever had would be proud.
He turns off the lamp. It's still early but he doesn't want to be awake.
On Monday he nearly forgets what floor he works on. He rides the elevator up to the fourteenth floor, back down to the lobby, up again. He has elevator music stuck in his head when he finally steps off on the twenty-fifth floor. He's not sure what it is, but it has the plinky sound of a child's piano, flat and percussive.
It's like the disjointed soundtrack to a horror movie, the slow building of tension as you ask yourself, "What in the hell is happening here? What's wrong with him?"
Don whistles when he sees him. "Whoa, Kent. Lookin' pretty rough. Wild weekend?"
Clark mumbles something about not sleeping well, moves a plastic fish out of his chair and sits down at his desk. I love the plastic fish and all the little details about where he works. It's small, small things like this that makes the world come alive around him. He knows he has to cheer up because if Lois sees him like this she won't leave him alone until he explains himself. It's not that she's concerned about him, she just doesn't want him knowing anything she doesn't. And that is perfectly Lois right there.
He starts cleaning off his desk and Lois comes up behind him, already talking. "Chin up, Clark. It's just Monday, it won't kill you."
He shakes his head because Lois never slows down. She's got enough nervous energy to light up Metropolis.
"Tell that to Avery Tyler," he says, tossing a wire story at her.
"He's dead? Shit. I was so close to getting an interview with him." She dumps her coat onto her desk and stares down at the story, chewing on her lip. "'The radical environmentalist blah blah blah found dead in a building he's suspected of setting on fire.' Fantastic! This'll sell. No one liked Tyler."
"It's good that you can see the positive side of things, Lois."
"Maybe I can get the girlfriend to talk to me, who do I know that knows Bethanne?" Lois paces back and forth, talking to herself and chewing on her thumb. "Jane could get me into the club on Seventh and Gregory..."
Lois is on a roll, muttering and scheming, and Clark goes back to sorting through the paper on his desk. He picks up a bulletin that wants to advise him on his retirement savings and something happens to his hand. I love that. Something happens, but she doesn’t tell you what. Not right away. He drops the paper.
There's a white line across the tip of his index finger. He pushes at it with his thumb and it becomes red. He's bleeding. He chokes, doesn't know what to do. The last time he'd seen his own blood he was fifteen and his parents had been there to pretend everything was fine. This story is the exact reverse of Smallville. There, Clark was a teenager trying to be normal and having to cope with this superhuman powers. Here, Clark finally thinks he knows who he is, but he's losing whole chunks of his identity. He's back to being a teenager again and he didn't handle it well the first time.
Lois stops her muttering long enough to glare at him. "What's wrong with you?"
He holds up his finger and she grabs his hand, pulling it closer to her face. "Tch! It's just a papercut, Clark. Don't be such a baby." Rolling her eyes, she drops his hand in disgust.
Clark puts his finger in his mouth experimentally. His blood tastes nutty, like seaweed and salt.
Moving again, Lois picks up her coat, digs her palm pilot out of her bag. "I'm going to the Hall of Records, but you'd better stay here. It's not safe, you could get another papercut."
She flounces off, and it's just Lois being Lois but he wonders what else isn't safe for him.
Reading this is kind of like floating through a fog. There's a steady direction that you're moving in, but you can't see anything but what's right in front of your face. We're learning about things as they're happening to Clark, but he started out knowing more than we did. It's a refreshing change from a lot of fanfic where we know much more about the situation than the characters.
Clark drives a 1998 Jetta. The heat doesn't work and the passenger-side door won't unlock, but that's okay because he rarely has passengers. Clark tries to turn the radio on, but the knob snaps off in his hand and suddenly the radio doesn't work either. He rolls down his window and pulls out of the Planet's underground parking garage.
The traffic in Metropolis is always bad. It's an old city with even older streets and it can't handle the flood of SUVs and town cars that routinely clog Broadway. It's six o'clock and Clark's got another forty-five minutes before he gets home.
Feeling impatient, he decides to take the side streets because at least that way he'll be moving.
On narrow one-way Garfield, a bicycle messenger passes him from behind, flying by so close Clark's surprised he doesn't clip the bumper. Weaving in and out of traffic, the cyclist cuts off an orange Mercedes, zips past a parked delivery truck and turns the corner. The Mercedes skids, crashing into the parked truck, and the driver in front of Clark slams on his brakes. Clark swerves to avoid him, running up onto the sidewalk and hitting a newspaper box instead.
For a moment everything is strangely silent and then Clark opens his eyes and the noise of Metropolis returns. His hands feel numb and when his car door doesn't want to open he can't tell if it's him or the car. Someone is leaning through his window and asking if he's okay. I love this reversal. This weird sense of discordance. Clark is now every other victim in the world, and people are asking him if he's all right. That's probably almost as much of a shock as the actual accident.
He turns his head. It's the driver from the car in front of him. Clark tells himself to wake up, tells the driver he's fine. The door needs an extra push, but it opens and he climbs out of the car.
The air smells like heat and broken glass. Across the street, several people are gathered around the Mercedes, disagreeing.
"We're not supposed to move her, don't you watch TV?"
"But what if the gas tank explodes?"
"She turned the car off, nothing's going to explode."
"But what if the gas tank's ruptured? Look, something's leaking!"
Clark jogs across the street. "Everybody stand back, please." Still shaken himself, Clark can still do things that other people can't. Or won't. He still steps him and helps and people still listen for him. I like to think that this experience cements in him the fact that he's still superman whether he has powers or not.
They part for him. A man in a Sharks cap holds up a cell phone. "I called for an ambulance," he reports.
"Good," Clark says. His heart is pounding with what other people would call adrenaline, but, like with most things, he's not sure if that applies to him.
The Roadster is a mess, most of the hood and driver's side door are shoved beneath the undercarriage of the delivery truck and the windshield's gone, disintegrated into glass gravel. The girl inside is crying, one hand held to her head, the other still on the steering wheel despite the deflated airbag. She's just a kid and Clark feels suddenly old, stuck in his role as rescuer.
"Hey," he says softly.
She groans. "Now what?"
"My name's Clark," he says to her through the open windshield. Using his x-ray vision he squints through the twisted metal and scans her skeletal structure. She seems fine except for a broken arm. "An ambulance is on the way."
"Yeah, I know. That's my cell phone."
"Oh," Clark says, because most of the people he rescues aren't this talkative, but he is doing this the slow way for once. "Can you move your legs?"
She looks at him from under her hand. She's got a cut on her forehead and her blood's the same color as her hair. "My legs are fine. The peanut gallery just couldn't get the door open."
Clark grins, because this part he's good at. "Well why don't I give it a try?"
The door is stuck, but Clark just pulls harder and it tears open without too much work. Door open, he crouches down to look into the car.
She wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand and glances over at him. "You're gonna have to help me out. I think my arm's broken."
There's glass on the seats and he can feel it digging into his skin as he reaches across the car for her. She finally lets go of the steering wheel, makes a hitching whine when he picks her up. "Aw, fuck, my head."
And he wants to laugh because this girl knows more about life and car crashes than he does. I love this introduction to Amanda because in a lot of ways she does know more about life than Clark. For all his worldliness, he's still a pretty sheltered guy. He was scared by a papercut, but she's got a broken arm and a possible concussion and she's dealing with it like it's nothing.
He gets her out of the car and settles her on the steps of a brownstone. She won't let go of him so he sits down next to her.
"So, Clark, will I ever drive again?"
He glances over at the smashed Mercedes. The license plate says ALINN 1. "Probably not in that car you won't."
"Probably not in any car. My mom's going to ground me until I'm a hundred." She sighs and closes her eyes.
"We should probably call your mom."
Her eyes are still closed and he nudges her gently. "Hey, stay with me now. What's your name?"
"Okay, stay awake, Amanda. We're going to get a pick-up game going here any minute."
She snorts and then moans. "Don't make me laugh."
The guy in the Sharks cap wanders over and hands Clark the cell phone. "Is she going to be okay?"
"She'll live," Amanda mutters.
"She should be fine," Clark tells him. There's a siren approaching from the north and their small group all turns in that direction.
It's the police. They block the street off and assure Amanda that an ambulance is on the way. But because this is Metropolis, the camera crews get there before the ambulance does. The police hold them back, but they're still broadcasting, camped out on the street corners and making up details to pass along to their audiences at home.
When the ambulance finally does arrive, the EMTs call him sir and insist he take a trip to the hospital. They tell him he might have a concussion, and someone should check his arm. The last place Clark wants to be is a hospital, but Amanda's watching him with big eyes and Clark's too tired to argue. He climbs into the back of the ambulance and the technician pulls the doors shut, cutting off the reporters waving their microphones and demanding Clark tell them how it feels to be a hero.
That last part just makes my heart ache because right now the only way it feels is scary and alone.
Metropolis is big enough that the local news doesn't have to pad its hour with human interest stories, but it must be a slow news day because there's Clark, looking flustered and worried while an EMT picks glass out of his arms. A reporter asks him something and Clark looks directly into the camera and says, "I just did what anyone would have done." And it's funny because he doesn't remember saying that.
The ER doctor diagnosed him with a sprained wrist and a bruised head. He doesn't remember hitting his head and has no idea when he could have sprained his wrist, but he let the doctor put his arm in a sling and write him a prescription he'll never fill.
Now Clark sits in the hospital hallway, watching himself on TV and waiting for Amanda to come out of surgery. The break in her arm wasn't clean and they needed to operate before they could set it. The anchors promise updates on her condition as they become available, because Amanda is Amanda Hayes, seventeen-year-old daughter of Senator Jackie Hayes, developer of Haywire OS and worth several million dollars. I love how the day gets more and more surreal, creeping up on him in increments.
The television goes to commercial and Clark knows he should call his parents. There's a chance they're watching this, there's a chance most of Kansas is watching it, but he can't admit this weakness now, can't admit he's changing.
The doctor acted like Clark's wrist should hurt, but Clark can't really tell and he worries what it means for him if he's in pain but can't recognize it.
There is only one person who has ever said his name like that, like it means everything.
He turns around. "Lex."
Clark hasn't seen Lex in person in almost three years. He's as smooth as ever, tailored black suit, steel grey dress shirt, black tie, but he's walking a little too quickly. He's the same Lex that gets interviewed on TV, put on the cover of Newsweek, hailed the prince of Metropolis, but he's walking too quickly and there's a hint of panic in his eyes. And it's a total flashback to the first time Clark was without his powers in Leech. Lex panicked and trying not to be, but unable to help it because Clark in physical pain is such an anathema to him. Clark stands up awkwardly, unused to having one arm held so near his body.
"What are you doing here?"
Lex's expensive shoes make muted taps on the floor as he comes closer. "Clark, are you all right?"
Clark shrugs, and now he can feel his wrist, it's hot and feels like it's vibrating. "I'm okay."
Lex touches his arm and for a brief moment the coolness disappears and he just looks scared.
"It doesn't hurt," Clark tells him, because it feels like the right thing to say.
Lex stares up at him. "God, Clark, how did this happen?" And I love this because it's the first hint that Lex knows more than he's telling. Lex probably knew all of the details of the accident before he even got to the hospital. He's not asking how it happened, he's asking how it happened to Clark.
Clark wants to point at the TV in explanation but it's murmuring about Avery Tyler's death and besides, he's got a feeling that's not what Lex means because he's got this look in his eyes like he knows and that's just not possible.
He shrugs again, tries to smile. "Haven't you seen the news? I'm a hero." And Clark still can't bring himself to believe that Lex could ever see deeper than that, and, as always, that pisses Lex off.
"Clark." And Lex sounds angry but it's just for a second. "Why don't I drive you home."
"Thanks Lex, but I want to wait and see how Amanda is, plus my car--"
"Has been towed to a body shop. Where'd you get that junker anyway? It's nearly as old as you are."
Lex teasing him is both familiar and uncomfortable. They'd always treated each other like equals, like there wasn't half a decade and several million dollars between them. But they haven't talked in three years and Lex is treating him like a little brother, like he's fifteen again and delivering produce to the servants' entrance.
"Some of us can't afford a new Porsche every time the old one runs out of gas."
Lex gives that half-smile he's so famous for and puts his hands in his pockets. "Come on, Clark. I'll take you up to see Amanda."
Amanda's got a private room on the fourth floor. The nurse at the desk informs them that it's not visiting hours, but Lex speaks to her softly and Clark hears his name.
"Clark Kent?" The nurse licks her finger and flips through some papers on a clipboard. Finding something that must satisfy her, she looks at Clark over the top of her glasses. "All right, you can go in. Amanda's still recovering from her surgery, but you can talk to her for a minute. She's in room 402."
"Thank you," Clark tells her and catches Lex giving him a look he doesn't understand.
Amanda's propped up in her bed, wiggling her toes under the blanket and humming to herself. Her arm's in a cast the same color as her wrecked car.
She sees him and grins. "Clark! You've got a bad arm too!"
Clark gives her a wave with the fingers of his supposedly bad arm. "Hi, Amanda. How are you doing?"
"Goood." She hums happily then notices Lex. "Clark! You know Lex!"
And somehow Clark isn't at all surprised. Metropolis is Lex's city. He knows everyone that counts, and Amanda is the daughter of a senator.
Lex steps up to the bed and squeezes Amanda's foot. I love that casual intimacy. Lex doesn't touch people unless he means to. "Hey kid. They've got you on the good stuff, huh?"
"Mom went to get me a soda," she says seriously. "I've not supposed to have any."
Lex laughs at her. "You're completely out of your mind."
"I knoooow," she says. "I'm all big and pink, but Clark saved me."
Lex looks over at him. "He does that." Ooooh, shiver again. God, so much meaning in that look.
It should be satisfying, but Lex sounds strange, almost homesick, and Clark can't figure out why he's acting this way, shifting from aloof to pensive without warning.
Amanda pouts. "But poor orange Sparky, all smashed. Oh! Sign my cast. Pen in the drawer!"
Smiling again, Lex finds a black marker in the bedstand and hands it to Clark. His wrist actually hurts enough now that he doesn't want to use it, so he tries his left hand. Those fingers don't seem to understand letters though (God I love that description) , and his name looks like a wobbly three-year-old wrote it.
He makes a face. "Sorry about that."
"Hee hee, Claaark." Amanda giggles, vowels apparently tasting better in her heightened state. Again with the description! "Now you, Lex!"
Lex, who actually is left-handed, prints his name in block letters precise as an architect's and then draws a little smiling car underneath.
"Smiling Sparky! Hey Mom! It's Lex an' Clark."
Clark turns around. Senator Hayes stands in the doorway, holding a can of Pepsi and looking tired.
"Lexenclark," Amanda mutters, "it's a small European nation. They make chocolate and watches and don't get into fights." Oh and that just made my heart ping too. She sighs. "I'm so high."
Lex steps forward. "Jackie, this is Clark Kent. Clark, Senator Jackie Hayes."
She takes his hand, holds it. "Clark, thank you for getting my daughter out of that car. You will never know how grateful I am." She looks past him to Amanda. "She was so scared."
The senator shakes her head. "Thank god I didn't let her get the convertible."
"Poor Sparky," Amanda moans.
Clark repeats the words he heard himself say earlier. "I just did what anyone would have done, Senator Hayes."
Lex is staring straight at him again. "That's where you're wrong, Clark. No one does what you do."
Lex sounds so serious, so intent, and Clark tries to shrug it off, but Senator Hayes doesn't let him.
"I have to agree with Lex. People are too worried about law suits and personal liability these days. They don't help each other anymore. We're just lucky you were there." She looks over at her daughter. "I'm sure Amanda will thank you herself once she's feeling better."
Amanda's nodded off, pink hospital blanket pulled up to her chin.
"I'm just glad she's okay," Clark says.
Senator Hayes smiles. "She's a tough kid."
"She's got a tough mother," Lex says in that voice where it seems like he's serious, but at the same time it's too light to be a compliment.
Her smile slipping only a little, Senator Hayes holds the door open for them. "Thanks for coming by, Clark. Lex." God I want to know that back story so bad.
"Our pleasure, Senator," Lex says, and Clark knows enough to know that Lex is playing some power game that's got nothing to do with this hospital room. Clark doesn't know what it is, but he never did understand the part of Lex that was LuthorCorp. Clark never understood a lot about Lex, even the parts he thought he did.
The hallway is empty and Clark heads for the stairs, not wanting to wait for the elevator. He needs to get home.
He pauses at the door to the stairwell. Five years ago, Lex had been his best friend, but he'd left and Clark doesn't want to go through that again. And I think at this point I was surprised the first time I read this, because usually it's Clark who leaves in futurefics. But this just adds to Clark's desolate loneliness.
But Lex is standing as close as he ever did, looking up at him in that way that still makes Clark feel like he's the only person Lex actually has to look up to. Oh, I love that too.
"I'm serious about driving you home, Clark."
Clark wants to be stubborn and say no thank you and take the bus, but this is Lex. He starts down the stairs and Lex follows, their footsteps echoing off the concrete walls like there's a hundred of them instead of just two. All the echoes of all the other Clark's and Lex's and all the times they did this before with everything between them and no words to say.
Lex is driving a silver Bentley and seems embarrassed by it. "I was at work," he explains. *giggle*
It's almost midnight. The traffic's eased and the Bentley slips through the streets of Metropolis like an indulgent thief.
"Enjoying your work at the Planet?"
The streetlights pour through the windshield, wash over Lex's bald head, make him seem like some exotic sea creature, phosphorescent in the deep. Clark has to look away. I can see Clark's hands fisting here, and his throat's closing up at all the times he wanted to reach out and touch and didn't, which should make him feel better because Lex probably would have left anyway, but instead it just makes him more alone.
"I'm just a first year reporter. They don't give me much to do."
Lex runs a red light. "Then you've just got to do something that'll get yourself noticed."
"That's more Lois' style. She's not happy unless she's making waves."
"You should follow her example. Get your name on the front page."
Clark watches the light reflect off the river. "Maybe I don't need my name on the front page."
Lex glances over at him. "Then what are you doing there, Clark?"
He can't answer that, and doesn't.
Lex doesn't push, just drives through West Metropolis, taking all the right streets without asking Clark for directions. The radio plays something cool and distant, like love in space, (God that kills me) and Clark rolls down his window so he can be reminded of the world outside this car.
Clark's shabby rowhouse neighborhood has already gone to sleep, curtains drawn and the recycling at the curb. Lex double parks in front of Clark's building and Clark remembers Lex shouldn't know where he lives. But Clark's not surprised. There are probably few things he knows that Lex doesn't. Less than he thinks really.
"You're sure you're all right?" Lex asks. "I could get you something a lot stronger than whatever that doctor gave you."
It takes Clark a while to understand that Lex is offering him drugs and if he weren't so tired, he'd laugh. "Oh no, I'm fine."
Lex's hand tightens on the gear shift, but it barely happens and then he's pulling something from the pocket of his jacket and passing it to Clark. A business card on paper so fine it feels like silk. The LuthorCorp logo winks at him from the corner, pressed in purple and silver foil.
"This is my private line, it will reach me anywhere." In the dim light Lex is serious and worried. "Call if you need anything."
"I will." Clark fumbles with his seatbelt, with the door, finally gets out and turns to look back at Lex. "Thanks for the ride."
Lex's smile gleams. "My pleasure, Clark. Maybe I'll see you around." He rolls the window up and speeds off, leaving Clark to stand in the street and watch the Bentley's taillights melt into the rest of the city. Lex is as dangerous as ever, though not for the reasons that always worried Clark's father. Lex isn't dangerous because he'll find out Clark's secrets, but because Clark wants him to. I love how fully entrenched Clark is in his denial.
Clark's apartment is dark and he doesn't bother turning on the lights. He puts the chain on the door, pulls the sling off his arm, leans against the wall and tries to remember what he's doing here. He should call his parents, but his wrist is sore and his head hurts and he knows he isn't going to call.
Lex left Smallville the summer before Clark's senior year. Clark was seventeen and had just saved Lex's life again. It wasn't meteorite fallout that time, just an angry ex-employee with a shotgun and a grudge. They'd been outside the Talon and Clark hadn't had enough time to think, he just stepped in front of Lex and let his chest take the impact.
The shooter seemed surprised, like his gun had betrayed him. He started to fumble for more shells and Clark tackled him, making sure the man bumped his head on the sidewalk when he hit the ground. Clark had learned head injuries allowed people to let go of a lot of weirdness.
It had been dark, probably not dark enough to laugh off a point-blank shotgun blast to the chest, but Clark tried anyway, zipping up his jacket and doing his best not to sound like he was lying when he said the guy had missed. Lex was shaky and breathing hard and clearly not buying it. Oh Clark. This makes me ache for the both of them because Clark must know that lying to Lex is only pushing him away but he can't help but do it anyway.
The police came and took their statements and Clark spent the next hour lying to the sheriff and being watched by Lex. Both things made him nervous. With all the lying he had to do he really should have been better at it, but he lacked the basic confidence that all good liars had. Clark simply didn't believe what he was saying. He had a good smile, though, and knew how to lie that way, so he played dumb, shaking his head and insisting they'd been very lucky.
It was around that time that Lex looked away. He seemed angry, and Clark gave Sheriff Paul one last manufactured look of confusion and said he'd better get Lex home.
Clark drove the Porsche because Lex's hands were still shaking. He'd tried to hide it, putting his hands in his pockets and throwing his shoulders back, but Clark knew better. Lex was an excellent liar, but his body gave him away. Clark needed to be alone with him, needed to somehow mend this breach in the pretending they both did, but Lex wouldn't look at him.
The drive was short but it was enough time for Lex to regain his composure. Clark knew he needed to fix this somehow, come up with some spectacular lie that would explain everything, but at this point even the truth wouldn't explain everything, and Lex had already turned himself into the untouchable businessman he was with everyone but Clark.
Clark felt ill, like he'd swallowed a meteorite and was about to be sick, but he had to do this, had to keep pretending. "Good thing that guy was such a lousy shot, huh?"
And he knew it was exactly the wrong thing to say. Clark could feel the end coming, saw it clearly when Lex turned to him, gave him an empty smile and said, "You're right, Clark. We were really lucky back there." Clark probably felt those words impact him harder than the shotgun pellets. And yet he still lets Lex walk away. This boggles me so completely only because it's ridiculously in character for him.
The next week Lex announced he was going back to Metropolis.
Clark spent the rest of the summer missing him. He started reading the Daily Planet compulsively, hoping Lex might be mentioned somewhere in its pages. He often was, showing up in the business section, the society column, the Sunday magazine, the style page. Lex Luthor had returned to Metropolis and that world embraced him like Smallville never had.
Clark's senior year of high school was both boring and unbearably lonely. Pete couldn't hide his pleasure at Lex's departure and Clark found it hard to be around him. Chloe was busy applying for every scholarship she even vaguely qualified for and the only time she seemed to talk to him was to ask if she could pass as Shawnee, if he thought she could cut it in the Marines, if it was wrong to say her dead mother used to golf and the sport held a very special place in her heart. Lana and Whitney had just broken up for what had to be the millionth time, and Clark found himself spending a lot of time with Lana, usually just sitting and not talking, Lana with a book, Clark with a copy of the Planet. It was comfortable and undemanding, but there were times Lana's simple company just made him miss Lex even more.
That spring, the farm nearly went under and Clark almost failed Biology. He applied to University of Metropolis and K-State, but expected to attend Lowell Community College if he went anywhere. They didn't have the money to send him to school. They didn't have the money to hire more hands to replace him if he left. He told himself he would stay in Smallville, that it wasn't a bad life.
He'd written an essay as part of his application to University of Metropolis and one day he came home to a letter announcing his acceptance and the award of a full financial aid package -- scholarships and work study -- and suddenly he could go away to school. His parents told him they wouldn't allow him to throw this opportunity away, that they wanted him to go, that he was destined for greater things than being a farmer, and he could see the relief in their eyes, the knowledge that he wouldn't have been able to do this otherwise.
When they called his name at graduation he finally felt that thrill that had been driving Chloe all year. He was getting out of Smallville. He'd have an entire city to move in, six million people who had no idea who he was.
As valedictorian, Lana gave a commencement speech as sweet and optimistic as she was, and even though his crush had faded during their sophomore year, she was still as lovely as ever. She spoke of striking out and making a mark upon the world, and the class of 2005 listened and applauded, but Clark knew Lana would be staying in Smallville for Whitney, so any mark she made would be on this backwards farming community that only took her for granted. The fact that Clark had almost been forced to make a similar decision helped him appreciate just how much she was giving up, and how lucky he was to have a choice.
There was a special addition to the ceremony that hadn't been on the program, so Clark hadn't known to expect Lex, not that he could have possibly prepared himself for it because even standing on a shaky collapsible stage in a high school gymnasium Lex managed to be regal and gracious and charming. Clark should have been indistinguishable in that crowd, just one more student in a sea of crimson robes and square hats, but for a second, Lex seemed to be looking right at him.
There to award a scholarship to the child of a LuthorCorp employee, Lex had an envelope, but didn't open it, just said Chloe's name and grinned. Chloe squealed, popping up from her seat in the back and throwing her arms in the air. Pete whooped and high-fived her so hard his hat fell off.
Lex motioned her up and she squeezed past her classmates, stepping and tripping over them until she was free of her row and in the aisle. Robe and tassel flying, she ran to the platform and took the stairs in two big leaps. Clark had never seen her so excited. Lex handed her the envelope and she threw her arms around him, bouncing up and down, saying thank you over and over. Lex gave her a one-armed hug and smiled for the cameras.
That summer was spent packing, going to farewell parties, letting his parents give him sad looks when they thought he wasn't watching. In September, they loaded his stuff into the back of the Chevy and drove to Metropolis, squeezed three across in the cab with the windows down because it was a work truck and didn't have air-conditioning.
He'd been in Metropolis before, but while making the trips back and forth from the dorms to the truck, for the first time he realized how much easier it was to breathe there. He felt stronger, clear-minded. Even just being near the truck had a dampening effect on him, and as he hugged his parents goodbye and watched them drive away, he knew he couldn't return to Smallville. The meteorites had saturated the land and he couldn't be comfortable there knowing nearly anywhere else would be better.
Winter term he took a media studies class, wrote his final paper on the necessary compromise between freedom of speech and personal privacy, got an A and the professor's attention. There were one hundred and fifty students in that class, and Professor Carlyle pointedly mentioned Clark's paper as an example of a researched and balanced argument. The last day of class, Clark stepped out of the lecture hall and found Lex standing in the lobby studying a display case of antique typesetting tools.
Lex must have seen Clark's reflection in the glass of the display case. "You know, Clark, I have a friend at the Daily Planet. He's the city editor, and I know he'd appreciate someone as observant and well-spoken as you are."
He came close enough to hand Clark a business card, to remind Clark exactly what color blue his eyes were. "You should give him a call." Then he left.
Ever since meeting Lex, Clark has had to wonder what parts of his life were due to chance or hard work and what parts were actually Lex's doing. I love that even after Lex walked away he couldn't sever things completely and he can't help but meddle in Clark's life as well as the other people he learned through him to respect. I love that Clark realizes it and doesn't stop him. Clark took an internship at the Daily Planet because Perry White said he'd have to prove himself, start at the bottom and work his way up, and even if Lex's influence had made this opportunity possible, Clark would be the one to turn it into something great.
That was the last time they'd spoken, but Clark still saw Lex on TV, saw him assuming control of LuthorCorp after his father's death, saw him rich and powerful and alone.
The next morning Clark still smells like the hospital, like iodine and gauze, but his cuts and bruises have healed and his wrist's no longer sore. He's back to normal, but in the shower the scar on his arm stands out like a tracing in wax.
He stares at it too long and his x-ray vision flicks on unexpectedly, showing his bones smooth and strong beneath his skin, his downstairs neighbor leaning in close to the mirror to put her mascara on, the storage space under the front steps, the skeleton of some small dead animal. He closes his eyes and waits for it to pass.
He eats breakfast, takes the bus to work, watches the little old ladies on their way to the library, the businesswomen in their trim power suits and sneakers, the men in dirty jeans and workboots. These are the people he lives with, protects, rescues from fires and muggings, floods and tornadoes, all the things he can save them from.
He was always stronger and faster than anyone else. As a child, it took a lot to hurt him, and even then he healed quickly. His parents taught him to be careful of other people, not to grab or squeeze or hit, because they weren't special like he was, and he could hurt them.
He grew up, turned into a teenager, got hit by a car and learned he was invulnerable. His freshman year of high school brought him x-ray vision, freakishly good hearing and the ridiculous and useless ability to float in his sleep. The rest of his powers straggled in over the next four years like gatecrashers who had trouble finding the party. *snerk*
He could outrun bullets, lift tractors over his head, see through anything except lead and his own eyelids, and if he got angry or cold enough he could start fires with his stare. He could hear a cry for help from miles away, and though his mother warned him he wouldn't be able to save everybody, he still tried.
But he's no longer invulnerable. A sharp edge can cut him open, and somehow his skin remembers a wound from seventeen years ago. Twenty-two years old, and his powers seem to be leaving in the same uneven way they arrived.
The bus stops to pick up a guy with a bicycle and Clark realizes he has no idea where his car is.
Lois is sitting at her desk, gnawing on a pen and reading three different reports at once. This is, I think, the third mention of Lois being orally fixated and in my head it's because she's just stopped smoking. "Clark!"
Clark puts his coffee down. "Good morning, Lois."
"Good morning?! Jesus, Clark, I saw you on the news last night, you looked like hell. We'll get Jimmy to take some pictures of you now that you're back to your usual poster boy appearance. Put you on the front page, some sap about being a hero. Your face alone should sell an extra thousand copies."
"Thanks, Lois. I always knew it'd be good for something."
Half an hour with Lex and he's this Clark again. Not the soft-spoken Clark, but the one with edges and a grin. The one that can make Lois Lane stop for a moment. He sees her trying to process his tone and then deciding she doesn't care.
She turns to her computer. "Sit down, we'll do this now."
Clark leans back against his desk, crossing his legs at the ankle and flipping through his mail.
Lois taps away at her keyboard, writing aloud and managing to interview him without actually talking to him. "Just a normal day in Metropolis and Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is stuck in traffic again."
A postcard from Chloe. Mont Ngaliema in Zaire, but it's postmarked Cairo. She'd scrawled, "Out safe!! Pointe-Noire scarier than Smallville. Call you when I get to Paris. Love, C."
She hasn't called and he knows she's back in New York by now because the Planet picked up her story on Zaire's election crisis. He'll have to call and congratulate her.
"Brave, fight, meet. No, no, no."
Clark glances over at Lois. She's flipping impatiently through a thesaurus and shaking her head.
"Writing a poem, Lois?" Perry booms suddenly.
Lois doesn't even look up. "I'm bumping our newsstand circulation up twenty percent, is what I'm doing. Who wouldn't want to read a heart-warming story about Clark saving the senator's daughter?"
Scratching his goatee, Perry sighs and focuses on Clark. "How are you?"
"I'm okay, sir."
Perry puts his hands in the pockets of his brown cords. "Had an exciting day yesterday."
Perry White's been in the newspaper business too long. He can drop prepositions and pronouns until he's got nothing left but a headline, but Clark's gotten used to it and most days he can tell who or what Perry's referring to. *giggle* I love that description of Perry too. It cracks me up because I can completely buy into it and it's funny to imagine someone talking like that.
"Oh, you know, no more than usual." Clark shrugs, picks up his coffee.
"Your story's generating a lot of interest. Metropolis wants to meet its new hero."
"Lois. You should be writing this, Clark. Introduce yourself, give us a first-person account, tell us what really happened."
Clark tries not to flinch. "Me?"
Lois makes a smothered sound and turns around to glare at Perry.
"You, Clark. Daily Planet exclusive." Perry gives Lois a look. "In fact, I'm surprised you didn't think of it first, Lois."
Lois huffs and turns back to her computer. Selective hearing, completely self-centered…Lois is such a child.
Perry nods, stares at nothing for a second, then heads to his office. "Have it to me by three."
His first big story and it has to be this. Chloe's in far off countries writing about riots and insurrections and Clark gets the "fireman rescues kitten up a tree" story, though there's a reason for that because Lex was right, Clark doesn't do things that might get himself noticed. It's against his nature to draw attention to himself but now it's somehow become part of his job description.
Clark sits down at his desk and logs on to his computer. Across from him, Lois is reading her e-mail and sulking.
Over the years he's gotten to be a better liar. Once he realized people wanted to believe him, he learned how to say what they needed to hear. He's gotten good at creative storytelling, at leaving certain parts out. He can do this.
Clark types "I" and then stops because he's used to lying, but this is a new one.
"People have been calling to talk to you all morning."
He looks up to find Lois staring at him. "Who?"
Her mouth drops open. "Do I look like your secretary?"
Clark refrains from saying the obvious -- that she shouldn't have brought it up in the first place -- because he knows it'd only lead to a "did not" "did too" type argument. Lois is desperate to be noticed, but in many ways she knows even less about the world than he does and she'd have no idea what to do with the attention.
"Of course not," he says instead, going back to his story.
Lois wants to say something. She's mad at him, or possibly wants his help, with Lois it's often hard to tell. Clark tries to ignore her.
The phone rings and she snaps it up. "Lois Lane." Her eyes flick to him. "Yeah, he's here." Scowling, she hands him the receiver.
Clark and Lois share a phone for reasons he's never been able to figure out. It's supposed to be in the middle of their pushed-together desks, but Lois always pulls it closer to her side and Clark's just about given up on teaching her the concept of sharing.
Taking the phone, he pulls on the cord a little to get it closer to him. "Hello?"
"You don't have your own phone?" Lex asks, sounding completely disgusted.
Clark actually considers joking that Lois is his secretary now, but she's right there and she'd make life very unpleasant for him if she knew he was even thinking of it.
"No, but I've got my own chair. I don't have to share it with anybody."
Lex laughs, once, and he sounds startled, like he hadn't meant to do that at all. I want to see the expression on Lex's face right then cause I'm betting it would be absolutely adorable. "Good to see the Planet's not entirely wasting your talents then."
Clark frowns as if Lex can see him. "What are you trying to say, that I'm really good at sitting down? I mean, I do okay, I'm just not sure I'd consider it a talent."
Lois is pretending to sharpen a pencil but isn't pulling it off. She's holding the sharpener, but doesn't have a pencil. Clark turns away from her to face the windows.
"Clark," Lex says, the way only he does. "Meet me for lunch."
"Where?" Clark asks, and he realizes he sounds too eager, but this is Lex, who knew Clark when he was a teenager and had all the subtlety of a hungry elephant. Anything is going to seem like an improvement from that.
There's a clink on the other end of the phone. "How do you feel about sushi?"
"Okay, I guess," Clark says, but even after four years in Metropolis he's still got enough Kansas farmboy in him that the idea of raw fish makes him want to gag.
Lex chuckles. "Trust me, you'll like this."
It's an old instinct that has Clark saying "okay" again. Lex was always good at teaching him new things.
"It's called Ten. It's right down the street from your building."
"I know it." Clark writes this down for some reason, maybe to look like this actually has something to do with work because Lois is still pretending not to listen.
"Great," Lex says. "One o'clock?"
Clark reflexively checks his watch. It's only nine. "One," he agrees. "See you then."
"Yes," Lex says, then hangs up.
Clark has to stretch to replace the handset and Lois catches his eye as he does. She looks mean. "New boyfriend?"
"Old friend," Clark says, not because she deserves an explanation, but because it feels good to say. Awwwww.
Ten is in a restored warehouse two blocks away from the Planet. Clark's been there before with Lois, who always eats cucumber rolls and sits facing the door so she can watch for celebrities.
The sushi bar is filled with downtown professionals, their briefcases at their feet as they chatter and pull small plates from the boats drifting past in the watery moat that circles the counter.
The walls are painted black and clusters of tiny white lights hang from the ceiling like stars. It's simple and classy and just the sort of place Clark would associate with Lex.
Clark doesn't see Lex and he's just starting to feel uncomfortably overlooked when a woman in a black suit comes up to him. She looks Japanese, almost as tall as him, but as thin and precise as a paper crane.
She holds a small leather folder and bows slightly. "Welcome to Ten. How many in your party?"
"I'm just waiting for a friend."
"May I ask the name?"
"Clark Kent," Clark says.
The hostess bows again, deeper this time. "Mr. Luthor will arrive soon. He asked that I seat you."
She leads him past the bar and into a back section of the restaurant that he's never seen before. Here the walls are made of rice paper and seem to glow, a warm yellow that reminds him of dreams.
They turn a corner and she slides open one of the walls, revealing a small room with a low table and two cushions on the woven mat floors.
"You can leave your shoes here," she says, gesturing to a spot outside the room, "and I'll have your waitress bring you some tea."
He toes his shoes off and goes inside. She closes the wall and he's alone.
The floor gives slightly when he walks and it unbalances him, like he's somehow removed from the ground. Not ready to sit down, he goes over to the window in the far wall. It looks out onto a courtyard garden where there's a clear pond with plump red and white koi wriggling from one end to another, their wise-men whiskers and round, moving mouths almost making them look capable of speech. A small waterfall splashes at the narrow end of the pool and Clark stands there and watches the fish glide through the water.
"Sorry I'm late, Clark." Lex slides the paper wall closed.
Clark wonders how many people Lex actually apologizes to. He gets the feeling it's a very short list.
He turns around and Lex seems like he's about to say something, but he stops with his lips parted and for a moment they just stare at each other. Because dear God, how could you not? Both so utterly gorgeous.
Lex is in his normal black, his shirt and tie the color of an overripe plum. Confident and sharp in what has to be a three thousand dollar suit, Lex is every bit the professional billionaire. Clark's own suit is off the rack, but he knows he looks good in it; the salesgirls are always extra helpful in finding the right size and the dark blue shirt he's wearing was suggested by the clerk at Hudson's who said it brought out the blue in his eyes. His collar's unbuttoned and he isn't wearing a tie because he's never liked the feel of things around his neck.
"Well," Lex says, smoothing his tie down and gesturing to the table. "Why don't we sit down. Us high-level executives only get an hour or two for lunch."
Lex easily folds himself into a sitting position so relaxed and balanced that it's reminiscent of yoga. Clark can't decide if he can see Lex tolerating all that stillness or if the required patience and restraint would suit his temperament.
Trying to copy Lex's easy grace, Clark sits down across from him, but his knees bump into the table and he can't figure out where to put his hands. Still so much the overgrown puppy.
"Have you been here before?" Lex asks, arms resting on his knees, long hands hanging loose. He doesn't seem to notice Clark's discomfort, but Clark knows it's an act because Lex notices everything. De-ni-al Clark. Lex notices everything and pretends he doesn't? That sound familiar to you?
Clark nods. "With Lois. She saw the governor here once and she keeps coming back, hoping he'll sit next to her and spill a few state secrets into her lap."
Lex raises an eyebrow and Clark feels himself blushing. "And I didn't mean for that to sound as dirty as it did."
"This is why I've missed you, Clark."
The paper wall slides open then, before Clark can decipher Lex and his private smile. A girl about Clark's age comes in carrying a tray with cups and a squat green teapot. She kneels at the side of their table and puts down the tray.
"Konichiwa," she greets them.
Lex returns the greeting, then launches into a barrage of Japanese, with the waitress interrupting either to clarify or make suggestions. Clark can't tell which.
Once they're finished, she unbends, standing up gracefully and Clark notices her black knee-length skirt is leather.
"Showoff," she says.
"I know just enough Japanese to order lunch or stage a hostile takeover," Lex says to Clark.
"Some days they're the same thing," the waitress smirks. "I'll be back with your food. Try not to colonize anything while I'm gone." She steps out and pulls the screen closed behind her.
"I'm assuming you know her?" Clark asks.
Lex laughs. "Michiko's studying molecular biology at MU. She's brilliant. I keep trying to hire her, but she's full of excuses."
"Excuses?" Clark can't imagine refusing Lex anything.
Instead of answering, Lex reaches for the teapot, filling Clark's cup and then his own. "Normally we'd be having sake, but I've got a meeting later, and while it'd be considerably less irritating to sit through if I were half drunk, that would probably fall into the category of bad ideas."
Clark shrugs. "That's okay, I don't drink much anyway."
Lex looks at him over the black rim of his teacup. "There's something to be said for getting the full experience."
A jolt runs through Clark's body and he fights a shiver. Lex was always so many things to him, advisor, businessman, friend. But now Clark can see the rest of him, the parts he didn't fully recognize when he was younger. This is Lex flirting. Even though flirting is too playful a word for what Lex is doing. Lex is laying siege. And Clark may be older now, but he still can't compete with this kind of intensity. Heh. He can't compete with the intensity but he's still addicted to it.
He can give his best crooked grin though. "I'll try anything once."
"Good." Lex licks his lips and sets his tea down. "Then we'll have to do this again when neither of us has to go back to work."
Lex's voice is making all sorts of promises and Clark can't keep up. It's good to be sitting across from him after so many years, but Clark's got even more secrets now than when Lex first left and even if they're both older they haven't changed that much because Clark still can't tell the truth, and Lex never liked being lied to.
Clark looks down at the table. His tea is there and he picks it up so he doesn't have to meet Lex's eyes. It tastes hot.
"How is work?" Lex asks. "Get your name on the front page yet?"
Clark glances up. "Don't you read the paper, Lex? I was the front page."
"Being in the news is not the same as making the news." Lex looks like a shark, all white skin and intent blue eyes.
"Why do you care so much about the attention I get at work?"
Lex seems puzzled, like the answer should be obvious. "I just want you to get the recognition you deserve."
And this is just one more difference between them. Lex cannot imagine being content with mediocrity, but Clark has finally accepted that ordinary is the one thing he can't be.
Clark stares at his teacup and his x-ray vision flickers in and out. He blinks. "Maybe I don't want to be recognized."
"Sometimes that can't be helped." Lex's eyes are focused somewhere beyond Clark.
Shaking his head, Lex reaches for a small bamboo box that must have come in with the tea. "Hot towel?"
This is the second time Lex has brought up something he doesn't want to talk about. The Lex he remembers didn't make mistakes like that. No he just brought up things that you didn't want to talk about, and you're better now at turning the conversation than you were.
Taking the lid off the box, Lex tilts it towards Clark. Two white towels are inside, rolled up like tortillas. Clark takes one and it's soft and steamy.
"So." Lex unrolls the other, uses it to wipe his hands. "Nice weather we're having?"
It's so unexpected that Clark laughs, and Lex's shoulders relax just enough that Clark realizes he'd been tense.
"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable," Lex says.
Clark smiles. "Yes you do."
Looking strangely pleased, Lex smiles into his tea. "I suppose you wouldn't believe me if I said I felt guilty afterwards?"
"Why don't you try me and see?" If he had a chair, he'd lean back and cross his arms. He settles for trying to raise an eyebrow.
Lex has to put his tea down. His shoulders are shaking.
Clark leans forward. "Lex? Are you giggling?"
"No! Absolutely not." Blinking hard and trying not to smile, Lex is ten years younger. "Lex Luthor doesn't giggle."
"Hm, I must have the wrong table, then." Clark makes a show of looking around the room.
"Stop it." Lex drags a hand across his mouth. "This is your fault anyway."
"The look on your face." Lex's lips quirk and shaking his head he gives in to the smile. "You looked like some demented villain from a James Bond movie."
"Hey! Who's demented--" Clark starts to complain, but Michiko comes in with their lunch and he's struck into dumb awe.
Clark's had sushi before, tame things like inari and California rolls, but this is completely different. The square plate Michiko puts down is covered with all sorts of rolls and fish parts and legs. Michiko and Lex are talking about something, but Clark can only stare at the zoo that's supposed to be lunch. From the middle of the plate, two disembodied shrimp heads stare back.
Wincing, Clark looks up to find Michiko gone and Lex grinning at him. "Dig in, Clark."
In addition to what he at least recognizes as sushi, there's things he wouldn't even consider putting in his mouth, like the suckered tentacles curled around the wasabi, or the rolls of orange and red fish eggs.
Lex looks fascinated. "Just try something."
Clark picks up his chopsticks and taps them against the plate. He considers grabbing a tentacle and eating it just to see the look on Lex's face, except it's a tentacle.
"Go ahead and say it, Clark. I know you want to."
"It's raw fish, Lex!" And Clark was embarrassed enough before his voice cracked.
Lex unwraps his chopsticks. "Don't worry about it. Try the tuna."
"I might as well be eating those fish out in the pond," Clark mumbles, wondering which one's the tuna.
"Well, there's still a difference between raw fish and live fish, Clark. Though, they do this thing with live shrimp where you dip them in a sauce and then bite their heads off t--"
"Yeah, all right, I don't need to hear the rest of that sentence."
Lex tilts his head. "You're awfully touchy for someone who was raised on a farm, Clark. Didn't you ever kill those chickens I saw running around?"
"Yes," Clark says, purposely slow, "but not by biting their heads off."
He's rewarded with a flash of teeth and a quick laugh. "Nice try, Clark. But don't think you can charm your way out of this."
Chloe used to tease him about a famous Kent charm it seemed only she could see and now it appears Lex is taking up where she left off.
"So what do I do?"
Lex puts his chopsticks down. "First, don't worry about what you're supposed to do. We're just eating lunch. Impressing prospective Japanese investors is a lesson for another day."
"Hold on, is there going to be a quiz?" Clark borrows Lex's smirk. "Because I left my notebook at work."
"Second," Lex says pointedly, "counterclockwise: salmon roe, flying-fish roe, saltwater eel, salmon, tuna, sweet shrimp, cucumber rolls, Metropolis rolls, deep fried shrimp heads and," he squints at something red near the shrimp heads, "and I don't know what that is."
Clark squints at it too. "Really?"
"It could be a clam." Lex sounds dubious.
"Or," Lex decides, "it could not be a clam. We'll eat around it."
"Okay." Clark pinches his chopsticks together, making little clicking noises like a picky crab. "So, the tuna, huh?"
"Go for it." Lex pours some soy sauce into a square saucer and pushes it toward him, but Clark just catches one of the strips of rice and tuna between his chopsticks and drops it in his mouth.
It's soft and cool and maybe a little fishy, but nothing about the taste or texture suggests he shouldn't be eating it, which was his main concern. He's still not sure he likes it though.
"You look confused." Lex is curious, head tilted, eyes measuring. Clark feels like a knot Lex is trying to untie.
"No, I just -- it doesn't seem to taste like anything?"
Lex grins. "I know what you need."
A blob of wasabi lands in his soy sauce. Lois never uses the stuff so Clark has yet to figure out what to do with it. It looks like green play-doh and Clark pokes at it with his chopsticks.
"Unless you want your head to explode, you should probably stir that in," Lex says.
"It's hot?" Clark asks.
Lex blinks in alarm then gives him a sleepy smile. "Very good, Clark. You almost had me. Though, may I suggest a little less wide-eyed innocence next time."
Clark bites his lip. "Too much?"
Lex laughs now. "Eat," he says.
This whole scene just makes me smile and giggle and laugh and I love it to pieces. It's so perfectly Clark and Lex and it's them relaxed which we hardly ever get to see, and it's so lovely to see them seamlessly fall into their old rhythms with all sorts of new melodies laying over top and keeping it interesting.