Zero Consequences

by ingrid

Title: Zero Consequences
by ingrid

Category: PG-13, Episode story, drama, Lex/f Spoilers: Based on the episode "Zero"
Disclaimer: Smallville is owned by Gough/Millar Ink and the WB Network. Feedback: I'd like your thoughts, please.

Summary: Amanda Rothman prepares for her evening out.

Metropolis, 1997

She removed the purple dress from its extravagant wrappings and had to laugh. Lex Luthor was written all over it in changing shades of lavender, in every sly shimmer, in every hidden wrinkle. It was stylish and far too sexy and she wasn't quite sure what Jude would think if he'd been with her when she'd opened it.

But Jude wasn't there. He was away and she -had- promised Lex she'd come out with him, just for the night.

The outfit was tucked back into its designer box and she pulled out Old Reliable, the little dress she wore for cocktails at Uncle Gene's. With a few additions it could be worn to lunch at the Yacht Club, so maybe with a few distractions it could be worn to a club. A chunky necklace, a shawl, here were the stilettos she loved but couldn't wear in daylight -- that would do.

It was only one night anyway.

Besides, Lex didn't seem to care about her lack of up-to-the-minute clothing nor her slightly stumpy brand of style. The Rothmans were old money, that's why they had so little of it she used to joke and Lex chuckled along with her.

The Luthors were brand new sparkling dollar bills, castles and penthouses, leather and lace and Amanda's relatives hated them with the passion traditionally reserved for the nouveau riche by the settled elite.

Lionel was a fraud, a thug, a poser who gave them all a bad name. The late Lillian Luthor had been a nice lady (she'd been old money once herself after all) but anyone who lowers themselves like that had to be somewhat suspect, even after death. As for their son Lex ... well, he was the worst of all. A psychotic brat, a spoiled little fiend let loose on an unsuspecting world with too much money and zero consequences for his actions.

It was a shame and pity and they were to be avoided at all costs.

Amanda Rothman thought it was all nonsense.

Jude had introduced her to Lex the year before and she found him oddly sensitive, struggling beneath a mask of arrogance. He wore his unusual affliction fiercely -- baldness had yet to become fashionable -- and spoke candidly of his more sordid adventures, dismissing them as something that was over and done with, placed in the far distant past.

Take me or leave, but I'm not changing for you, he seemed to say with every careful word, every movement and she couldn't help but admire the strange courage with which he moved through the world.

Jude had another, ruder, name for Lex's attitude but when Amanda threw Lex a surprise birthday party one afternoon, complete with gag gifts, children's favors, pastel candles and an ice cream cake shaped like his favorite comic book hero, she'd seen a side to Lex that even Jude's cynicism couldn't erase.

Bewildered, then thrilled, Lex had sat down at the long, formal Rothman dining table soaking up a childhood ritual he'd obviously never known. He'd started looking through the gifts while the candles were still burning and she'd blown a shrill note with her plastic whistle.

Pointed at the rapidly melting cake. "Candles!"

Lex blinked, then leaned toward the flames, lips resolutely pursed.

Another loud tweet. "Wish! Wish!" she'd cried. "The wish comes first."

He backed away from the cake and thought. "All right. I wish for ..."

TWEET! "The wish is secret," she scolded. "Silent wish, candles extinguished, cake distributed, gifts unveiled! Get it right, Luthor."

"This is a lot of work," he grumbled.

"Wish, before they melt away."

He sat back and stared at the cake, tiny fires bright in his eyes. Closed them slowly and the candles went out, tiny wisps of smoke rising from their blackened wicks.

"I hope it comes true," he said, looking at her for what might have been a second or two too long.

She'd clapped then, long and loudly, before reaching under the table for the champagne she'd hidden there that morning. It wouldn't do for Papa Rothman to know where his two-hundred dollar bottle of cheer was headed that day. "Here's to Lex Luthor on his eighteenth birthday. Older, wiser and still three years away from legal," she toasted and their glasses clinked in the way only fine crystal could.

"I think I'm going to be illegal forever," he'd said after draining the glass. "In some way or another."

She always wondered what he'd meant by that because if anything, Lex's behavior improved dramatically after that day. His daily scrapes with trouble lessened to the point were the were nearly nonexistent -- to the point were even Jude complained how little fun Lex was these days.

Actually, Jude had been complaining a lot about Lex in recent weeks. Strange complaints, half-stories cut off with an impatient wave of his hand when she tried to delve deeper. Hints of jealousy even, especially after their engagement. She had no idea what the real story was or how Jude could possibly be jealous.

Lex himself had helped pick out the ring after all.

A final touch of lipstick and Amanda tottered to her feet, laughing at the wobbly feeling the stilettos gave her. Dangerously unstable without a drop of alcohol and she hoped Lex wasn't going to ask her to dance.

Thought for a moment about dancing with Lex and warm blood filled her cheeks.

My, getting loopy in your old age, she berated herself silently, brushing some unruly hair away from her neck. Twenty-one years old, engaged to a Royce and still in dark about so much.

Ignorance was bliss, so she firmly believed and thus, was happy.

One quick turn for the mirror and she started at the dark figure in her doorway, watching her with eyes the same color as her own.

"You're going out tonight? I thought Jude was away," asked her brother, his gaze seemingly fixed on her thin, black heels.

"He is. Lex asked me to go out." She adjusted her shawl, tying it high up on her neck, then undoing it completely.

"Luthor?" Her brother scowled. "Why are you going out with that creep?"

The skin on the back of her neck prickled with annoyance. "Lex is my friend and he's not a creep. Please have some respect."

"Why? He's got no respect for you. I've seen the way he looks at you, Mandy."

Another flush, this one hot with anger. "You don't know what you're talking about."

He looked down, chastened. "I just don't want you hurt." His slow gaze traveled over her like a cold draft and Amanda shivered. "I love you, Mandy. And if this guy ever did anything to you ... "

"I'm just going to have a drink with Lex at a club and then I'll probably be coming right home." She retied the shawl around herself, covering as much bare skin as she possibly could. "I think that after all these years you can trust me to do the right thing."

"You're right, Mandy. I know you're a good girl." He smiled, then leaned in to kiss her. A little too close to her mouth and she quickly turned the far side of her cheek to receive it. "Have fun, sweet-stuff. If you need a ride home, you call my cel phone. I'll have it on all night."

"Thanks, and I will." She grabbed the dress box and hurried out of her suddenly stifling room. "See you later."

"See you, Mandy. Call me." He yelled after her. "And don't let that Luthor bastard talk you into anything."

As she expected, Lex was already waiting outside, sitting quietly in one of his many stunning sports cars, its speaker system blaring so loudly the entire driveway seemed to thump with wild music.

He brightened when she knocked on the window. Leaned over to let her in and smiled broadly as she slid into the passenger seat. "Right on time," he said with a mock look of shock. "I'm afraid we'll have to work on that."

"Sorry. It's been bred into my genes by five generations of Rothmans. Didn't you know our family motto? *If nothing else, we're punctual.*" She leaned back against leather that smelled newer than the world on the first day of creation and sighed with relief as they pulled away from the house. "I'm glad to be outside. It's like a mausoleum in there."

"I know the feeling. Except that mausoleums have their charms." Wheels screeched around a corner and Lex eased off the gas with an apologetic look. "Sorry. Lead foot."

"Those go only good with lead heads." She nodded toward the windshield. "You know. For when you end up going over a bridge at sixty miles per hour."

"No bridges here in our fair city. Nothing but fear and loathing and potholes for as far as the eye can see." The streets became narrower, emptier, and Lex speeded up once more. "I'm glad you decided to come out with me tonight, Amanda. I hope this will be a good experience for you."

"It'll be different, that's for sure," she laughed. "I'm not much of a clubber."

"I know. But when you're with someone you trust ... someone who trusts you ... it can be a very enlightening time."

Unfortunate fringes of her shawl twisted between her fingers and she looked out the window at the speed-blurred store fronts. Some lit, some darkened and covered with boards and blackened bricks, seen once, then lost in the black of night, forever.

"I'm enlightened enough, I think," she said with a weak smile. "I just need a break for a little while."

"A break from what?" Softly asked, and Lex appeared to be concentrating on the road ahead with all his might.

"Stuff. Things. Plans." She tugged on the stray fringes, hard, and a few came off in her hand. "The wedding is already becoming this monster and I thought I had enough time for everything ..."

He still wasn't looking at her and everything outside was a blur. "But now you're not sure."

"No," she replied slowly. "I'm sure. I'm very sure. It's just that there's so much to do and so many people want so many different things ..."

"What do you want?"

"I ... " Strange, her lips were so dry. "I want everyone to have a nice time, of course."

"No. I mean, what do want for you?"

She swallowed past a tight throat. "I already have everything I want," she said firmly. "A wonderful fiance who'll make a wonderful husband. A ... a family that's ... that's there and ..." She paused. "A friend whom I trust."

The car came to a squealing halt and she had to steady herself against the dashboard. Turned to Lex with askance in her eyes and was shocked at the raw emotion she saw there.

Desperation, rage, triumph and desire. So much, too much and she could hardly bear to see it. "Do you trust me, Amanda? Do you honestly trust me?"

The car was so hot and she so short of breath, it was hard to reply. "Yes," she whispered. "I trust you."

He graced her with a dazzling smile. A victor's smile. "I trust you too."

The engine started up again and they went from zero to speeding in seconds flat. Up ahead she saw the neon lights urging them forward to the club. The dress box felt heavy in her hands and when Lex turned off the engine, she turned and handed it to him, hands shaking. "I have to give this back to you."

"What's the matter? Don't like it?" He was still smiling.

"It's beautiful but you know I can't take it," she said, as the music blared from the club's half-open door.

"That's okay." He took it and it landed in the back seat with a thud, forgotten. He stared at her intently, his entire being looking like it stood on the razor's edge. "You know, you and I have a future together, Amanda, and I won't let anything stand in the way of our friendship."

He slipped gracefully from the car, moved to the passenger side and held out his hand to her -- a request and a demand.

For a long moment, Amanda Rothman looked at the upturned palm, the reaching fingers before finally accepting them, letting trust lead her into the club that someone had so cleverly named "Zero" only weeks before. It would be an experience and she knew in her heart she could trust before the darkness enveloped her in its embrace, not to be denied.


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to ingrid

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?