by C.M. Decarnin
Enraged squalling like a mountain lion in bonds, loops of rope on paws, hunters all around. Rage, rage...
But he didn't remember why. Maybe there was no reason. He was insane.
But the memory left him trembling with terror, alone in his bed. There were pieces of himself that weren't there any more.
White and off-white and a mirror. A mirror wall.
He couldn't touch anything.
The wall kept him in and it was a mirror.
White, off-white, red like eye-shadow in deep hollows under his eyes, eyes blue-gray dazed, lips red, lax. He looked beautiful in the wall, a ghost-being who shared a soul with him. A fish in an aquarium. Merman.
Followed his movements, until he very slowly realized, no matter what gestures he made, the other could not touch him either.
And then forgot again. Following the image in the crystal wall.
A part of him still thinking, even in the lostness of the white, they really were peculiarly unclear on the concept 'padded cell'.
His father was touching his face, and it was time to scream and run.
They kept him tied. Cage around his body. Till someone ripped it out by its steel roots. But that had to be a hallucination. Dream. Psychotic memory.
Who made you lie down on a bed of brushed aluminum?
Sweet warm tiny in his arms, more like his own child than a brother, a conscious thought, I won't let Father have this one, and the look had showed in his eyes when he looked up at Lionel. Mistake, to telegraph intent. But then, he always knew what Lex was thinking anyway. So unescapable. Tornado warnings, tidal waves, earthquakes, those were Lionel. The natural forces no one could survive. A little beating heart against his own, blue eyes that studied him with nothing like the vacant baby gaze he had expected. Days. Then he was gone. How could a baby die? Julian hadn't been a frail child, he was so fully there, reached out, with little baby hands on Lex's heart. They hadn't let him see the body, and now he was glad, he couldn't have borne that memory, though at the time he'd been hysterical with need to know. Need to deny.
Please. Oh God. If there had been a God. How much easier to have left things in His hands.
Lionel called the wood-chipper God, when many a toy had gone that way to heaven. Not since his beloved stuffed lamb had Lex ever screamed with the horror, unbearable at three years old. But having such memories had taught him things about his father Lionel perhaps had never meant for Lex to understand. Implacable distrust instead of fear. Ruthless clarity about everything his father ever did. Guiltlessness in the face of that patented Luthor pathos. The knowledge that his father had no soul.
He saw no reason to believe his sire had changed his spots.
He just couldn't put together how it happened.
No one around would tell him anything.
It might be a good idea to hide.
The castle didn't exactly have attics, but it had unused upper rooms packed with Scottish furniture. Old, heavy, dark, brought over with the castle's stones and swords.
He crawled under a solid ebony desk. The kind of thing they told you to get under in a disaster. Except he hazily remembered reading that ebony would not float, but the tidal waves he sometimes pictured sweeping over New York, Miami, London, were less likely here in Kansas than a cyclone, as they used to call it. He liked his chances. You had to always calculate the odds. It was capacious, as if the turn-of-the-century folk were giants compared to modern men like him. With bigger knees. He had plenty of room to sit upright, far back from what little light filtered through the drapes and blinds into this lumber-room. He wouldn't show at all from outside. And it wasn't a place that anyone would ever look for him, when they noticed he was gone. The desk was so heavy he could lean on the walls of his den without budging it a millimeter.
It made a pretty good fort.
He crouched further back in his cubby-hole, compressing himself smaller.
He knew that soft voice. But this was his place. No one was supposed to be here, not even --
A darker shadow fell in front of the opening of his cave, and his eyes had become so accustomed to the dimness that he could make out sneakers and blue-jean legs down to the stitching on the seams. He growled deep in his throat.
He saw the blue-jeaned legs stiffen for a moment. Then they started to bend. Slowly he bared his teeth.
"Lex?" The voice was even softer; flannel coming into view; and a pale, unzipped jacket. Then Clark was looking in at him, one hand on the desk, one on the floor. His expression searching, as his eyes met Lex's. For a moment, Lex saw the questioning give way to a pure eye-widening of atavistic fear. Clark who feared nothing. What must his face look like, to cause that second of recoil? But already Clark's expression had softened into entreaty and compassion. He could see Clark choosing a voice-level with his words.
"Why are you under the desk?"
So gentle. Of course he knew without asking. Ultimately.
He could refuse to answer. Turn away. Then sooner or later people would come, and tear him out of there, his only shelter. Sorrow, that Clark would betray him.
Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he would bring him food. Martha's cookies. To eat here like a squirrel, and no one ever finding him.
Or he could attack and kill Clark and gnaw his bones in secret. Somehow he thought Clark would be sweet and juicy, sustaining even after death, and not be vengefully indigestible. This is my body...
Lex said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
So, he had decided not to do 'insane'. Though he internally reserved the option. And when Clark asked in that softest of voices, "You want to come out now?", something flinched quickly.
He really, really didn't.
Without asking permission, because, of course, he didn't want to take 'No' for an answer, Clark was folding himself into the outer half of the cubby-hole, ending up with his back against the wall facing Lex, his long legs braced across the opening, his head slightly bowed to fit. Looking at Lex with a little smile, but determinedly.
It felt as if he'd been joined by an immovable force that would let nothing past. It was also, memories of books and movies told him, perfectly correct to have a friend with him, in his fort.
"Everything good in me has been killed, Clark. All I had, to navigate the world with, was my mind. Now, I can't tell what's the truth any more. At first, it didn't matter. But now I'm remembering just enough to understand how much is missing. I remember things that can't be true. And I remember things that don't make any sense."
"Maybe I can help." Still the determined aura, as Clark met his eyes. "I was there for some of it. And you told me more."
Clark's honest eyes and stubborn mouth -- so like Jonathan Kent's expression, sometimes, though in so much softer flesh and warmer color -- seemed to bring their own light into the shadows.
Clark couldn't have lived his life, wouldn't be able to fill in all the experience he'd somehow lost. It was that that frightened him. That in some moment he couldn't remember, he might have done something... something he didn't want to remember, wouldn't want to know, that would destroy him. Why else would he have let go of everything, repudiated the last four months or more?
Who's the worst person of them all?
Clark must have seen an anxiety cross his face. He said, "Let me tell you an outline of what I know, then you can ask about the things you remember. Okay?"
Hesitantly, he nodded.
Clark's eyes looked even more soulful than usual for a moment. "There might be things I won't want to tell you -- that are personal, about me -- that I'll leave out. But I'll tell you everything else I know." He looked so hopeful that Lex remembered he was only seventeen. A boy. But standing on the brink of that manhood that looked out of his eyes sometimes, so sober, watchful, and expectant. This might not be a good idea. Wasn't Clark the last one he would want to know things even kept a secret from himself? Wouldn't Clark judge him and find him, once and for all, unworthy? But maybe true judgement included a forgiveness...
"You didn't do anything wrong, Lex."
How had Clark known what he was thinking! No, this might not be a good idea at all --
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Oh Jesus. "Oh God!"
He hadn't, till that moment --
"I killed someone!"
That was something Clark had clearly not expected. Lex hugged his knees close and hid his face in his arms, shrinking from that look of dismay.
Lex looked around, panicking. "On the island! I killed the man who was on the island with me, after the crash!" But -- wait...
"There wasn't anyone on the island with you, Lex. You were delirious. They found you trying to chop up some imaginary guy with a stick. You were sick and had a fever and were hallucinating. That's all."
"Yes --" Relief! "Yes. When I looked, there was no one there." He slumped, reprieved.
Oh fuck. "They told me I went up in a plane again with Helen. And came back without her. What could I have been thinking? I got the pilot shot. The plane could've gone down all over again." He puzzled at it, trying to reconstruct his reasoning. Psychotic break. "Maybe that's when it started. My... losing it."
"No. At least -- Lex, you aren't crazy. You never were. Your father drugged you."
Lex felt himself gawping at Clark like a village idiot. Well, it was no more than honest truth: he really didn't understand.
"Let me tell you what I know from the beginning, okay?"
Lex felt that he should be rising up in righteous fury, but all he felt was fear, and a few first glimmerings of thanksgiving. That he could see himself, human and familiar, reflected in Clark's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Lex."
"And that... that's why I can't remember?"
"I think so. It's a common result of E.C.T. Loss of a big block of memory like that, and cognitive deficits. I've been studying it a lot. Sometimes the memory comes back, sometimes it doesn't. Exactly like a head injury. But Dr. Foster and your father... we'll probably never know everything they did to you. The first time I saw you in Belle Reve, you hadn't been taking their pills, I'm not sure for how long, but you were still -- not yourself. They might have been drugging your food, like they did with the whisky. Your medical records there have been faked, of course, so we can't know if the shock therapy was done in any of the normal ways."
Lex followed Clark's explanation painfully, as if every word might hold out some reprieve. Instead it all seemed to seal his fate. He looked away finally, cold seeping through his veins to every part of him.
The one place his father could never go. The sanctum of his mind.
"I should have protected you."
"How?" It had amazed him how much Clark seemed to have been involved in all this as it was.
"I shouldn't have let them take you."
"You couldn't have stopped them. They had the law on their side."
Clark was looking at him with terrible guilt and pain in his eyes. "It's just... I was so confused. She was a psychiatrist. And she always seemed so sincere and concerned about you. But mostly it was seeing you like that. You were so... I could understand the violent part. But... when you thought you were holding your baby brother... It completely freaked me out. You were like another person. Then when we found out it had happened before -- exactly the same way -- I thought --"
"That maybe I really was psychotic. Drugs or no drugs." The coldness seemed to be setting, like cement.
"I should have taken you away. Right then when they came for you."
"How, Clark? There were three of them, you said."
Clark just looked even more humiliated and wretched. "Two city guys and a woman," he mumbled, a little lamely.
"And you actually broke in and tried to rescue me." It should have made him feel warmer.
Suddenly Lex realized that a lot of the immediacy of the guilt Clark was feeling was from seeing him here, now. Under a desk. Flipping out again.
He turned his face away and looked down at his own thighs. Surprised that they weren't in lavender hospital pants.
He remembered lavender hospital pants.
"I was in a straitjacket," he said pathetically. "There was this... aquarium..." The merman... white...
With lavender fucking pants!
Two-way glass. Of course. Who had been watching him? One guess.
He put his head down on his arms. At length he said, "I feel like I've woken up and found out my leg has been amputated. Only I can't even know for sure what all they've taken." And maybe that went back a lot farther than just recently. Julian...
The scheme he'd hatched to get to stay home with Julian: he'd get himself expelled. No matter how many schools they sent him to, until they gave up and let him be at home. He would point out to his mother how much more normal that was. He had recently learned the word 'effete' and he intended to drop it into the discussion of boarding-schools. And he knew exactly how to get kicked out. No matter who your family was, there were some things no school would tolerate.
For the first time it occurred to him he'd actually put that plan into motion later, though the baby had been dead and gone. It had worked perfectly, an ingenious machine that went on of its own momentum. But by then, of course, there had been nothing to go home for.
"From what I've read," Clark said awkwardly, "there are mental exercises that can help. But..."
"But God only knows, in this case. Eh?"
He turned his head to see Clark nodding.
"But I'll help you, Lex. Anything I can do. Ask me any questions, anything. Maybe it will... connect. You'll remember things. At least, you'll have a context for anything you do remember."
"You said I was like another person. How do you mean?"
He thought what flickered through the painful things in Clark's expression was complex embarrassment.
"Well... you weren't like any brother I've ever known," he said honestly. "More like..."
"A father?" He remembered that possessive, jealous, protective love. Clark looked uncomfortable.
"Actually, I was going to say... a mother." He stumbled to a stop, then quickly, "Not in any drag-queen way, just --" He struggled for words while Lex watched, fascinated. "Like it was really coming from inside. You were singing to it. The rolled-up blanket. That song, from, you know, horror movies -- 'Hush little baby, don't say a word' -- It would have been creepy, except..."
"What?" There was something here. Something Clark wasn't saying.
"You just seemed so... good. I mean -- supernaturally good. Like -- a Madonna and child."
A bark of laughter came straight from Lex's consciousness. "Oh! That would encapsulate everything my father worked to stamp out in me! Oh God that's classic." He sat up, head tilted back, eyes closed. He opened them, and stared into nothingness. "I can't remember. The first time. I know it happened, people told me. I remember going up in the tower, carrying -- something. I never remembered the rest, I think it just -- hurt too much. I --" He'd never said the words before. Not to anyone. "I... loved my brother." He felt tears rim his eyelids. "It was like another world opened up when he was born. You'd think I'd be jealous, or annoyed, or bored at all the fuss. But the first time I saw him -- so innocent. I felt like he was mine, not theirs. And that they couldn't stop me."
"My father. His minions. Even my mother. She wanted me to be so strong. A normal boy. A manly man. Even at eleven I knew that was a hopeless ambition. The last thing I was ever going to be was normal. But when I saw Julian... for the first time in my life I thought there was a way I could be strong." He stopped. "I know this is all pretty weird. But trust me, compared to daily life in that household... Can you imagine any kid, anywhere, wanting to grow up to be just like their Daddy, Lionel Luthor?"
The thought of his half-brother gave him no pang. They had forged an interesting alliance for a day, enough to give the abandoned son some perspective on Lionel. But they barely knew each other. "Only to the extent that he didn't grow up with him, Clark. I think he knows that the difference between him and our father is that dear old Dad would never load a gun with blanks." He was silent a moment. "I'll give him this, though. He figured out our father wasn't blind. Something all my experience with him completely missed."
Clark shivered and Lex realized their legs were touching. "I wish you wouldn't call him 'our father'."
Lex's smile was bitter. "Something of a black Sabbath feel to it?"
"Lex, I want you to come home with me."
"Your father wouldn't like that." And it would entail leaving his fort.
"I don't feel safe leaving you in this place all alone. You could do some farm-work again, like on your mother's ranch. It might help you feel grounded." Clark's look at him was beseeching, so characteristic of his big green eyes and cold-nipped complexion. "I'd be there to answer your questions, or my Mom and Dad would, when I'm at school." The temperature of the cubby-hole had actually gone up with Clark's presence, his warm vitality.
Lex was silent. "I don't feel real, Clark," he said slowly. "It's like I'm acting the role of Lex Luthor in a play."
Clark put his hand on Lex's knee. "You told me once that you heal really fast, more than a normal person, ever since the meteor shower. Maybe this will heal too, Lex. It's a physical injury, after all."
Lex thought of what he knew about the brain's functioning, and felt discouraged. The links so delicate, like an Internet in miniature, could they be put back by the same crude processes that clotted blood, closed wounds?
"'We are such stuff
As dreams are made on...'
"What are memories, Clark? They can't be just binary code, can they? And even if they are, to get back even something as complex as just a digitized movie, that only involves two senses and no emotion or connections to other memories..." He shook his head. "Reassembling it..."
"Maybe you don't have to. Maybe it's all there, but only certain links that access it have been destroyed. We won't know until we try."
A faint smile took Lex's lips. "'We', kimo sabe?"
"I can help."
"Put Humpty-Dumpty together again. You think I'll be the same person if you reassemble me, Clark?"
"I hope so."
The stout affirmation freed up a little of the ache in Lex's soul. In a soft voice scarcely his own, he admitted, "It's not just memories."
There was a silence. Finally Clark asked, "What else?"
Clark everything that was so warm, so passionate, so human. Himself so pale, so cold, so alien. The ghostly merman in the mirror.
"I don't know."
"What is it that makes you feel like something's missing?"
Lex was looking into nowhere once again. He felt... fragmented. "Nothing's holding me together. They took... something central. And not just recent. Like a stem, or a root, that ran through everything, and isn't there any more. Like their lightning-bolt just followed it and killed it all. Something that went back... at least as long as I've been in Smallville, maybe further. I don't know."
"I can't believe they could pick out selected memories to delete."
Experiments, identification of specific brain centers, diseased areas... "No, probably not. It's probably a side-effect. The part... the part of me that feels real... is..." It was hard to say. "The part that doesn't want to come out of here. Out of my fort." He looked from the corners of his eyes to see how Clark would take that. To his surprise, Clark smiled.
"I think I've met that part before, Lex. Kind of."
Lex kept sneaking glances. Clark's smile was nice. It seemed to touch some distant part of him, like prickling in a limb that was asleep.
"It's cold up here, Lex. Your lips are getting blue."
"We only heat it enough to keep it from getting damp and moldy." Could possibly have something to do with how hypothermic he felt inside.
Upheaval. Clark shifting around until he sat beside Lex. And put his jacket around him, and under that, his arm, his side warm -- god it felt good. If he could have this, he wouldn't need a fort.
You couldn't go around glued to a teenage boy all day, something caustic and adult reminded him.
Oh shut up.
He shifted himself closer, and slid his arm under flannel, next to Clark's t-shirt, palm on such warm, human reality.
A grown-up Lex about now might be pushing Clark slowly to the floor, and merging onto him like a corporate takeover.
It did sound tempting. Very.
More tingling circulation in forgotten limbs.
But what he wanted most was this warm offer of Clark's innocent strength. To -- just for the moment -- give up everything, responsibility, the struggle to comprehend, fear, even this snug delusion he had crafted for himself, to hold on to the one real, certain thing he knew. The only person who had bothered to come after him.
"How did you know where I was, Clark?"
His ear against Clark's flannel chest, he could hear inside and out, the soft voice and the deeper undertone. "I just looked until I found you."
In his mind floated the lonely merman, seeking something in his own reflection that wasn't there.
His father had locked him up in a fucking straitjacket! And looked at him through mirrors.
What did you have to hold onto after that? When they took away your self.
The fact that his father hadn't had him killed. Why not? Why not? It was the biggest mystery he faced. He realized the answer might be one to chill his bones.
He wondered if his father had been looking at him at other times. Not just the mirror -- there were the cameras at every turn, back at Belle Reve.
With a start he realized he was falling asleep, and that he remembered that -- a bit of knowledge from his time in the asylum. A sense of other patients milling near him, as he stared leadenly at a security fixture with its black, blank lens, and as he later cunningly allowed for them.
"You know," he said quietly, "Lex is one tough cookie. Being Lex Luthor isn't something you can do halfway."
After a moment's silence, he felt Clark looking at him. "I would imagine not. If you weren't going to be Lex, who would you be?"
"Alexander. But you can't do him halfway either."
"That's -- a scary way to look at yourself. With two identities."
"Everybody has to make choices about who they'll be. Some are just --" He heaved a big sigh. "-- too hard. Most people manage to be a little bit of everything, but sometimes... you just can't. It's all or nothing, one way or the other."
Lex nodded. "That's the way we play the Luthor game. Don't worry, Clark. It's all really me. Except maybe Alexander is pretty out there. He doesn't get out much." Lex smiled.
"Alexander thinks Julian is still alive."
He could hear Clark's heart beating, and feel the rise and fall of his breaths.
"Alexander can't survive without Julian. Julian was his commitment, Clark. All or nothing."
"He really only existed for a few days. Like Julian. But he wanted to go on. He couldn't face sinking back into being Lex, or losing the baby. He wouldn't quit, so I just had to... leave him behind."
"But he's not a real person, Lex. He's an attitude -- a way of behaving."
"What is a person?" Lex shrugged. "You know how you felt when you saw him. Was that me?"
He heard Clark's voice firming. "It was you on a whole lot of drugs."
"Hm. True." Jesus. It was cold up here. He started shivering uncontrollably.
"Come on. Let's go down and pack you some clothes and go to my house."
Still Lex held back. "What if I can't... get myself together again?"
"I think this is actually you doing that, Lex. You might be a tough guy, but you've always been really alive. Fine-tuned. Aware of every little thing. Since you got home it's -- well, like you say, playing a role. Walking through your part. Now -- I think you're back. A little shaky on your pins maybe."
He absorbed the reassuring thought down to his soul. "Maybe you're right. Maybe s-s-synapses c-can heal."
"Maybe you'll even get back some things you thought you'd lost a long time ago."
Lex cringed a little. Alexander. Alexander... hurt. And he didn't have a baby brother to protect any more. Surely he could do without Alexander.
"Come on," Clark finished gently, and started moving out of the shelter, pulling Lex with him. Lex slid himself along on one leg, looked around, and let Clark help him up to his feet.
It felt embarrassing to be out here. Exposed.
Clark had looked for him, had found him. He set his teeth to try and keep them from chattering, and peeked up at Clark's eyes. They were roving over his shivering body, as if checking him for damage. Then they came up to meet his, and Clark smiled. He put a hand on Lex's arm and urged him into motion. Lex took one look back at his fort, and then fixed his eyes on Clark instead. The feel of Clark's light jacket -- too light, surely, for this weather? -- around his shoulders, and Clark's determination guiding him: was he really going to end up in the Kents' house tonight? Snuggled down in flannel sheets like some kid on a sleepover, whispering stories about their favorite, uh, action figures -- No, of course not in the same room, he'd be in the guest room, like last time, a perfectly respectable adult thing to do -- he stifled a swell of disappointment. Out here, after all, he was Lex Luthor, Grown Man. The embarrassment washed back.
And the happiness.
Clark steered him past shadowy outmoded furniture and through the door, and shut it behind them. Lex started to check off in his mind what he'd need to pack for a few days' stay on a farm.