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Saved by Zero
by mako

And we understand him well,
How he comes o'er us with our wilder days,

Not measuring what use we made of them.

-- Henry V


The green file folder sat untouched at the fireplace's edge. Awaiting its demise by fire, as inevitable as a sunrise and Lex ran a finger over its once-sharp edges, now softened by time. He'd known about its existence, locked up somewhere in the bureaucratic bowels of the Kansas legal system but he'd never actually seen it. Seen the tangible proof of a youth some would call misspent, one he remembered as rather liberating than otherwise.

Freedom has its own meaning for everyone.

The fire crackled and Lex picked the folder up, weighing it in one hand, tipping it up and down as if it were on a scale -- his own personal scale of justice. Down, down, down went his empty hand and the sum of his teenage criminal deeds went up, up ... up toward the sky, until his arm was outstretched completely, holding it aloft like the arm of a triumphant boxer.


Lex let his arm drop and caught the file before it tumbled to the floor. Prepared to toss it into the flames, then stopped.

Could such a thing actually burn, he wondered? It was just paper and staples and little red plastic tabs: all the neatly aligned weapons of American justice -- it should be reduced to ashes in seconds.

But it would always be there, somewhere, inside of him. The events so judgmentally catalogued inside had left their mark, taught their life lessons, even showed the first taste honest liberty to a soul that had been chained to the terror of his father's disapproval for far too long.

Their legality had never been the point.

Lex rifled the edges with his thumb, wondering if there was actually any good reading inside. There must have been something in there to turn on a jaded Inquisitor reporter enough to inspire blackmail.

Although nothing, no matter how titillating, could match the memories.

Nights spent in the Metropolis meat packing district, cruising the downtown clubs, making his way inside the seediest of them by paying off the cover charge with promises. No asking for ID: they knew who he was and some owners acted as if they'd been waiting for him to arrive at their doors since the day of his birth.

A few even said they knew his father.

That almost sent him running, but he stayed, especially once the action started in the darkest of the parties, a tiny backroom after-hours hole called Club Zero. Filled with men looking for boys, boys looking to get paid and Lex always left his cash at home. The entrepreneurial spirit was a part of the development his father wanted to encourage, was it not, and Lex tried to make his money the old-fashioned way.

Via the world's oldest profession.

He'd forgotten how much he used to charge his johns. He remembered his nickname at one point was "Nickel," so-called for the five dollar blowjobs he provided one night on a whim. The line stretched through the club and his jaw hurt for days after, aching brutally when he sat down to dinner with Lionel making him smile with every chew of food.

He was picked up by Vice almost immediately after finding the scene, and was let go more often than not, much to his annoyance. Finally met up with a rookie who didn't care whose son he was, he was going downtown to be booked. Lex remembered sitting handcuffed in the back of the squad car and offering the young cop some head, anywhere, anyway he liked -- he could even keep the handcuffs on.

The look on the rookie's face was precious, especially when he accepted.

Eventually he was brought to the station, then booked, then taken to a holding cell where the inmates weren't especially polite about taking what they wanted from a sixteen year old rentboy. That wasn't a pleasant experience but Lex did learn from it. Learned how to pick and choose who fucks you and why.

This, in turn, teaches you who to fuck and how far you can take it.

A valuable lesson, indeed.

He was finally found guilty of prostitution, a Class B misdemeanor, along with lewd and lascivious behavior, solicitation and a host of other minor offenses. His father never came to his hearings, just the lawyers, men so slimy and foul, even Lex wouldn't dream of letting them touch him. The whole procedure developed into a repetitive pattern and the judges began to grow weary of his constant presence, becoming more threatening every time he showed up in court.

Maybe that's what finally got Lionel's attention. A realistic threat to the family business. "Luthor Heir, Male Prostitute" might read the headlines of a paper not vested with Luthor interest and that would never do.

Not while Lionel was the emperor.

Maybe that's why his father called him in one night and told him to wait right there, he had someone he wanted Lex to meet. Lex obeyed, bored, until a huge leather queen came out of his father's study and stood in front of him, muscles crisscrossed with black straps, eyes as cold as night.

He'd felt himself shrink beneath that gaze, as well as the look on his father's face when he sat down behind his desk, pulled out his wallet and threw a hundred dollar bill onto the floor at Lex's feet.

"There you go," said Lionel impassively. "Now let's see it."

Lex's mouth turned dry. "See what?"

"See how good you are at being a whore. I'm betting not too talented but I'll have to judge for myself." Casual tone, and something inside Lex began to cringe. "Go on. Show us what you've got."

The cringe inside turned into a bodyblow, and Lex felt himself curling up into a knotted ball. He shook his head, feeling suddenly very sick. "No," he whispered. "I won't."

"Oh come now, Lex." Lionel snarled, eyes glittering. "What's the matter? Do I have to show you how it's done? Does Daddy have to show you how to do everything?" Feral smile. "Should I show you?"

That was all he could take and Lex ran out of the house as if he were on fire, his father's laughter chasing him through the night. He drove like a madman back to Club Zero but it was closed down, doors nailed shut by the order of the Metropolis police. He searched wildly for another place to hide, but all the clubs were shut down and he ended up stumbling back home at dawn, exhausted and sick.

Memories of his father, reading the Journal and eating dry toast at the table, not even looking up when Lex came in and sat at the opposite end, all defiance gone. "Anna," called Lionel to the kitchen servant without looking up. "Bring out some coffee for Lex, please." He smiled pleasantly at his son. "Did you have a good evening?"

"Yeah," he replied as coffee and a stack of pancakes were piled in front of him, making his stomach lurch. He pushed it away. "But I think I'll stay in tonight, if it's all the same to you."

"Good idea." The paper flapped up again and that was the end of it.

Until the day some little journalist bastard tried to throw it all back in his face, not even taking the time to think about the whys behind the arm-length rap sheet and the knowledge gained. Someone that shallow didn't deserve to live and probably wouldn't have unless Lex had a use for him. Maybe his time as Lex's personal information whore would do him a world of good, so he could benefit from the lessons that were earned so dearly by Lex himself years before.

How to fuck, who to fuck and how far you can take it. Class dismissed, boy.

Lex raised the file again, aimed it toward the fire and let it fly. Watched as the pages curled up and turned to ash, the rancid smell of melted plastic filling the room, reminding him of a small backroom after-hours named Club Zero, the finest hall of education he'd ever attended, where he'd earned his most interesting report card ...

And the right to let it burn.