by C.M. Decarnin
I'm not looking for another as I wander in my
Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme.
You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
It's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
But let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.
-- Leonard Cohen
The time of year was getting to him.
He flew through the city, zigzagging to watch and listen over all the streets, and the glitter of the skyscrapers, the rivers of diamond headlights and ruby taillights that made jewelry of the freeways, the cold air and the day's snow still fresh where it hadn't been scraped off roads and sidewalks... It all conspired to make him feel like the only person with nowhere to go, and no one --
He'd tried. He'd hauled himself up by his bootstraps. Whatever bootstraps were. He'd made Clark Kent, Daily Planet reporter, a reality in Metropolis, not often grabbing the splashy headlines, but a work-horse journalist Perry relied on and other reporters accepted as one of their own. Clark had Lois and Jimmy to direct the limelight off him and a self-effacing persona to keep him free of dates. He was at his comfort level with a job that let him meet everyone and yet stay one step removed, friends who were too busy to obsess about his weirdness, a salary that let him still help out his Mom and Dad back at the farm, and an apartment that he was used to.
He had the costume.
At first he'd tried wearing a mask, but it had bugged the hell out of him, always there in his peripheral vision, and it scared people. He got rid of it. The costume, pure color and skintight enough to be slightly risque, drew eyes away from his face. Rivetted them, in fact.
The first time he'd seen his picture in the paper, he'd laughed.
It looked nothing like him.
And what were the chances he'd ever have to rescue -- or arrest -- anyone he knew?
There were, after all, still firemen and paramedics and cops in Metropolis by the hundreds.
By the time he'd landed his job, Clark had started wearing his horn-rims, knowing pretty much how his life needed to diverge, and at peace with it. Clark no longer craved for recognition. He knew who he was.
His self-esteem had taken such a beating he wasn't sure it would ever get up and walk again, but it wasn't the type of thing the adulation of a crowd could help.
Okay, it helped a little.
People grateful to him.
Admiring. Cheering. It was egoboo, no doubt about it.
But it didn't have much to do with the kind of hit he had taken. He was a passing phenomenon in other people's lives. Not the center...
A drift of Norman Luboff Choir cheeriness wafted up to him, full of jinglebells. Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup, let's go...
In a better mood it might inspire a loop-the-loop. Tonight he was glad when it was replaced by faint screaming.
He homed in on it and bulleted down to a nearly empty parking lot outside a chain store. A man in a parka was bashing at a woman's face and dragging her toward the open trunk of a car. Her purse and plastic bags of purchases lay scattered on the wet asphalt. Just as he bent her over the lip of the open trunk, Clark whooshed up behind him, plucked his hands off her, and in a blur, tied them with a piece of the rope waiting in the trunk. Furiously, the man kicked and bit at him, and Clark dumped him unceremoniously into the trunk and shut the lid.
The woman had run as soon as she felt herself free. Clark picked up her things and whooshed after her, letting her reach the light and safety of the store before he appeared to her. Her face was already showing bruises, her jacket was half torn off, and she was jabbering to a cashier to call the police. She looked like she was in shock. One thigh of her jeans was smeared with grime where she must have fallen under the man's assault. When she saw him, she looked terrified. Or maybe just astonished.
"Call the police," Clark said quietly to the manager who had come hurrying over to see what the disturbance was. "There's just been an attempted abduction in your parking lot. The kidnapper is locked in the trunk of a tan Dodge." He handed the woman her purse and two plastic bags.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you. Thank you so much." She had started trembling with reaction.
"You're welcome," he said politely. He had learned long ago that it was not a good idea to try to hug someone who had just been attacked by a stranger, no matter how much they looked like they needed it.
The manager was on a cell phone, giving their address.
Clark sighed to himself in resignation. With no witnesses, this would be another case where Superman would have to testify if they wanted to put the guy away. Which they had to make sure of -- everyone knew that scenario in the parking lot almost always had only one possible ending. But a bitter surprise about the life of a superhero had been how much of it he ended up spending in court.
For that, they always wanted his I.D. and home address. Finally he'd worked out a system with the D.A., kind of a cross between witness protection and how they handled homeless witnesses; and he'd listen in from afar to know just when they called him to the stand. Still, Clark Kent had so many 'doctor's appointments' he'd gotten an image as kind of a hypochondriac.
The police arrived and took custody of the wrongdoer -- and asked for Superman's address.
It took the usual amount of time to get everything sorted out, the victim sent off to the hospital to be photographed and checked for concussion. He hoped nobody was being attacked somewhere else while he stood around in a cape and tights being eyed dubiously by peace officers. As the woman was being helped into the ambulance she looked back at him, her expression suffering, anxious, yet alert and aware; she raised her hand in acknowledgement and farewell to him, saying again, "Thank you."
Well that was what it was all about. Saving people from harm and evil. Maybe someday they'd be able to do it with less paperwork. Meanwhile, she was a living being who would go home to her family, turn up at work, hug her friends, and probably always be afraid of parking lots -- but living, breathing, doing what she was meant to do. As her feet disappeared into the ambulance door he noticed for the first time she was wearing cheap old-fashioned sneakers, retro-created for those who couldn't afford air-pumped sculpted and treaded athletic shoes at ninety bucks a pop.
Something prickled over the surface of his eyes,
and he blinked at superspeed.
He should be home in bed.
It was the slow time, so late at night all the crooks had packed it in.
So late everyone he knew would be asleep, lights out, in an alternate universe of dream. Most unlikely to be sitting fully dressed in the living-room, reading, with a glass of scotch. Fingertips propped against his temple until they were needed to turn a page, expression absorbed, somber. Clark didn't recognize the title from the Daily Planet's Metropolis Review of Books section.
His cape flapped a little in cold wind as he gazed through floor-to-ceiling glass into the well-lighted room.
Though no one would know he was there, he kept scrupulously outside the limit of the hundred-foot restraining order.
Lex kept having it renewed.
He'd hoped Lex would cut back on the drinking, even if he wasn't there to nag at him. It had been one of the problems.
One of them.
He should try to break himself of coming here every night.
He needed to know. To see. That Lex was all right, looked well, was safe.
When Lex wasn't home, he could just about count on it that he was out screwing someone somewhere.
He knew because he'd followed him. Enough to be certain. Lex didn't stay out this late for any other reason. He never brought dates into the penthouse. That was his sanctum. He kept a set of rooms elsewhere to take a date if her place -- and they were all female -- wasn't convenient or featured parents or roommates or too much press.
And that had been another one of the problems. Lex's incredulity that he would choose his profession among the ranks of the paparazzi and tabloid writers who had plagued him all his life.
Lex, Clark discovered, could hold a grudge.
He differentiated between the Inquisitor and the Planet by tone rather than content; their separate status in most people's eyes cut no ice with him. Clark had argued the importance of information being available to the people, and Lex had scoffed at the childish level of disinformation, superficiality, and PG censorship most 'reporting' presented. "Your paymasters are your advertisers -- do you believe that if Brahms and Leister or Spielman's" -- naming the two poshest downtown department stores -- "got up to hanky-panky it'd be front page news? To say nothing of the national chain-stores. You think the Planet will back legislation to regulate them? How about their billboard advertising? Parking? The streets that lead to them? The politicians their CEOs prefer? If you think there's anywhere it stops, you're being naive. Why do you think a state full of farmers consistently votes for the party that's been dismantling the family farm for the past hundred years? Because they believe what they read in the editorial pages of the Planet or the Star or the Capital Journal."
"Come on, Lex. It's not that bad. The Planet reports on a lot of that stuff."
"Feebly, when they can no longer avoid it."
"I would think you'd be glad if newspapers are on the side of big business. One less problem for LexCorp."
"We're not talking about LexCorp, we're talking about your future."
"So it doesn't worry you that I might be on a story you don't want published, someday?"
Lex had replied grumpily, "No, that's a given. What worries me is that you'll come to enjoy dragging people's names through the mud as a substitute for hard information."
He'd known his lover was partly right. Still,
he had to have a job where he could move around fairly freely, superspeed
through some of it to cover the times he went AWOL, wear the dorkiest of
dork-suits to disguise his physique... and whatever Lex said, somewhat-tainted
reportage was a lot better than none.
Clark hovered in the darkness, lights spread below and rising up in skyscrapers and lower buildings in the strange and beautiful shape that was a city. More diamantine than usual in the cold and snow, pinpoints of brightness flowing out on the other side of the river into the blanket of glitter that was the suburbs. You could see a lot of this from the penthouse, over the roofs of lesser towers, in a gorgeous night-time panorama or a more prosaic daytime view. He had been there a few times with Lex, though they had never lived there. Had Lex even then been saving it as a refuge? Or had it just been too redolent of Lionel, as he'd hinted once or twice. But he had moved here as soon as they split up. High in the air, cut off, as though in a fortress commanding all routes to Metropolis with its guns, and exacting tribute from all the rich trade below.
Lex in his cube of golden light let his head lie back on the back of the couch, his expression one of suffering, of chronic misery. It clutched Clark with a pang of sorrow. That wasn't the face Lex Luthor showed the world. His arrogant, calm mien, almost expressionless, drifted through newsclips without ever a word or acknowledgement of the media, already gaining him an image of that eccentricity that crowned American royalty. Rich and strange, as one Rolling Stone article had put it. As cultured as a Kennedy, savvy as a Gates; not yet as weird as Howard Hughes.
Clark had learned very early exactly how off the mark journalism generally was about his lover. It wasn't that the facts were inaccurate, though they often were. It was that the portraits the media painted simply had no relationship at all to the man he knew. With that as his exemplar, he understood a lot of Lex's rancor toward his profession. But he also knew that behind the scenes Lex exploited the media as ruthlessly as they exploited him. Without them, he would have had one less weapon in his arsenal.
So simple a man in many ways, his simplicity secured behind a labyrinthine redoubt of defenses no one ever penetrated any more.
They said he was building androids.
That Superman was always having to foil his crimes.
That he had a gang of criminals at his beck and call.
A magic ring.
And probably a talking fox whose sage advice he never heeded. Or a mirror mirror on the wall.
That was what it meant to be a legend in your own time.
Superman should know.
His long silky cape was blowing sideways now as the wind up here picked up. He had to exert a little bit of will to stay where he was against it.
He felt like a goddam hummingbird.
He should go home.
He shouldn't be here.
He stared in at Lex in his gilded world, imagining his lips pressed hot on the side of Lex's throat, the skin so soft and vulnerable, Lex's gasps instinct with surrender, the rich clothing merely layers to be dispensed with, like Clark's costume. Lex's hand on Clark's own throat, barely touching, gentle, agonized, protest against too much, too much, such overwhelming pleasure, from just a kiss, just the neck --
A hummingbird with a hard-on.
He hadn't moved, in there. Maybe he'd fallen asleep, with that look of ineffable loneliness still painted delicately on his features. Maybe that was why he stayed up so late, maybe he didn't like to get into bed alone, even though it wasn't the same mattress or the sheets that Clark had slept on. Lex had taken almost nothing from their home with him. Left it all behind for Clark to choose or get rid of, as if none of it meant anything, any more. While Clark had wept over every bath towel and piece of silverware they'd shared, finally bundled most of it into storage at the Fortress of Solitude, and tried not to think about it.
He'd learned one thing from Lex. He paid more rent than he otherwise would have to keep an apartment with one extra room in it. Invaluable as a spare bedroom for friends and strays and parents, but mainly, a permanent workroom set up so he could file stories from home at any hour, without having to shove aside books or pizza boxes and hunch over the coffee-table or a bed-tray.
He couldn't remember how many rooms were in the penthouse. It was possible he'd never been in all of them. Some were too central for him to see into, some were kept draped; maybe illogically, he'd felt it unethical to look through barriers like that, as if that would be truly spying. Here, he wasn't seeing anything that any passing helicopter -- or hang-glider -- might not see. Or someone on another roof with good binoculars.
Poor Lex. His privacy so disrespected at the best of times. It could have been worse -- he wasn't an actor or a rock star -- but with him Clark had seen what it meant to have to take care, to work every day at having a personal life that wasn't in a Petrie dish. Another way that Clark had learned from Lex, and now managed to keep Superman a mystery. Especially, no money trail.
Lex finally moved, looking wearily over to reach for his scotch. He sipped -- and Clark could feel the burn. He swallowed -- and Clark had a sensory memory of his penis in Lex's mouth that made him feel like doing a crash-and-burn into the pavement hundreds of feet below.
To feel him in his arms once more. To have and hold him, precious as he was, sheltered against the world, the night, the father who wouldn't love him. To keep him for himself.
And so to bed. It always came to this point, if he let his feelings get away. The one he wanted didn't want him; the center of his heart rejected him, found him unworthy.
At least he hadn't been replaced. Not yet.
Some sulky satisfaction to know a flying alien farmboy didn't happen along every day of the week.
And then he thought he saw, before Lex's fingertips obscured it, a single silvery teardrop start down Lex's cheek.
The restraining order. He couldn't go to the window, and flutter to be let in, like some big moth, or homing bird.
The window couldn't open anyway.
It had been snowing when Lex got home, the melting snowflakes on his scarf and hat nostalgic of other winters as he shed his outerwear. Later, though, he remembered, it had cleared and he had gazed out over the city sparkling into the distance. He sat up slowly, discovering weird-sleeping-place muscles at every move. "Ohhh," he said self-pityingly, recognizing the couch, the livingroom. He groped for his phone, hit "999" on the speed-dial, and croaked, "Coffee."
He'd decided to read. An actual book, not work and reports and market journals. He might not do that again soon, it was too humiliating to think he couldn't approach culture anymore without conking out in mid-uplift.
He shuffled into the bathroom and when he shuffled out again his eyes were clearer, if his head wasn't. There was a carafe and steaming cup of pre-creamed French-roast on a tray and he made for it like a leopard making for its prey.
First taste of coffee in the morning.
He stood eyes closed and reverent.
He remembered now, he'd been thinking. Primitive thoughts of sadness, welled up from the book, whose beauty had seemingly not had a lot to do with his Luthorness; but the scenes of country life and harvest, danger and errantry, certainly had an immediate poignancy skewering right into his past. A strange gem of a book, not old enough or detached enough to often be considered "great", but Literature, unmistakably, with the capital L. It hooked him, and he was well engrossed before it crossed his mind he knew first-hand the greedy, grasping, rationalizing character of the murderous brother from his own sole family tie -- and one who'd also slaughtered among his parents.
Precious Bane, it was called, after the glittering lure Lex too knew well.
Of course it was romance that money bred but evil, never good. Even Lionel. Nothing to compare with his wickedness, but yet, the charities were there, juggled and calibrated though they were to bring him tax advantages and creepy celebration in the press.
But his father.
Often his first bitter-flavored thought in the morning.
And the last at night.
But the book also had the brave, good-hearted weaver, to swoop down and save the heroine from relatives or freaky villagers. The heroine with the disfigured upper lip.
Lex stared down at the second-hand -- 'collectible', he corrected himself -- little Modern Library hardcover face-down on the coffee-table.
So at some point he'd laid his head back against the couch and been unable to stop remembering Clark.
Their bitter quarrel -- ongoing, a series of fights he neither planned nor understood yet locked into with a savagery as though his life depended on it. He always felt afterward like some wounded but victorious male animal slowly receding back onto his well-defended territory, stare fixed on the defeated, bloodstained rival.
Except Clark was his mate, his lover, and it made no sense. His happiness was what he'd driven away at every battle.
Still, stubbornly he knew that he was right in every argument. Business, especially, Clark didn't understand, and politics. His thoughts absurd, opinions based on nothing more than what he wished were true. You couldn't live like that. You couldn't prosper. Every single thing the Kents held dear, so predicated on their nation's wealth his policies protected. Stinging shots from Clark that you didn't have to be selfish to succeed. Some rubbish about an altruism gene in certain birds and African wild dogs, that really was going to stop the plummet of LexCorp stock if Genentech got this Army contract, the way Clark whooshed in to save his crime and accident rescuees.
He couldn't understand how Clark could be so blind.
"'Gene-splicing' and 'Army' are two words you never want to hear in the same sentence!" Clark had once shouted hotly.
"Don't be ridiculous." Lex bitter cold. "It's a gene to make more comfortable wool for Arctic socks." Even while one part of his brain debated whether a hyphenated term could be considered as a single word.
"And after that? You shouldn't mess with stuff it's taken billions of years to get in balance!"
"Clark, do you have any idea how many new plants and animals we created before we ever knew genes could be spliced?"
"Not as many as we've wiped out forever! And how many human creations can survive on their own without a human taking care of them? Precious few, Lex! Not like these things you're making now."
How did you argue with logic that jumped all over the place like a berserk kangaroo?
He would be the first to admit that not all problems with genetic manipulation had been adequately foreseen. Pollen dissemination. And LexCorp's third-generation cockroach sterility situation, where the sterility gene had somehow -- no one to this day could explain quite how; some suspected a virus -- turned out to be transmissible outside the two most prevalent domestic species into certain now-declining non-domestic cockroaches important to various ecosystems.
Maybe... maybe Clark was right, they didn't know what they were doing. It was true there was a qualitative difference to certain types of progress that once unleashed on the world could never be recalled. Though maybe none of it could. Were they supposed to halt all science and manufacturing then? Or slow it to a snail's pace? The economy would collapse. Clark didn't understand the kind of disaster that would be -- ecological as well as financial. Look at Russia's nuke program, their TB epidemic...
It wasn't opinions.
It was them.
They couldn't get along.
They loved each other. But they kept hurting each other in ways that seemed hard-wired. At least, he couldn't imagine Clark ever changing. And he honestly couldn't see that he had even done anything wrong. All he'd done was to defend and act on his own opinions. What else was a person supposed to do?
So why, in his mental image of their arguments, did he see them both so slashed and splashed with blood?
It had never come anywhere near domestic violence.
Sometimes it had given him a chill he never would admit, to remember he was lying with an alien being. Clark so human he usually forgot, but then it hit, odd times in the middle of the night or watching Clark across a room: born on another world. Related to Terrans perhaps, but by what distant gene? Unspeakable tragedy, a world destroyed. How could it happen?
And then they, together, had destroyed their own world, ripping it to shreds with their fighting till it was all in ruins, nothing but broken charred remains of trust, of love, no kindness to one another... How had it happened... Everything they'd had before seemed like a dream. He remembered openness... admiration of one another; charity; desire. Now he couldn't imagine wanting Clark to touch him.
Yet missing the friendship so terribly. Camaraderie of mind. Never, never before or since.
Creamy coffee flooded his mouth with delicious bitterness.
Dawn had paled the lights outside and was strengthening toward full day. You could see the river. Lead-colored curve, not frozen over yet. He wandered toward the window-wall. Making himself, his father carped, a target. They were pretty sure, though, this glass would stop even a very high-performance bullet, from anywhere a sniper would have to stand, up here, to get a line of sight. Even the flat rooftop of the nearest comparable building, which was several storeys lower, today blanketted with white, white snow, and --
His heart stopped.
In the snow --
Down on the roof in pristine whiteness a snow angel
spread its wide white wings, outlined in peach and blue shadow from the
rising sun. And on its breast a red heart, though it would take binoculars
to see if it was made of roses, frozen by the night.
There were twelve pairs of eyes fastened on him around the boardroom table, in different degrees of hypnotized fascination, like so many trapped rabbits before a risen cobra.
Lex mentally smoothed his scales.
"I'm sorry. I was thinking of something else. Could you repeat that, from just after the outsourcing study?"
It was better not to bother trying to bluff your way through. When you were Lex Luthor, everyone assumed your mind must be on some much vaster and more magnificent -- in the Luthor sense of the word -- deal than the affairs they were reporting to you, and it only increased their awe and puniness.
But you better hadn't do it twice. Lex forced his mind back into the traces till the meeting ended.
Surprised how hard it was to keep his thoughts off of Clark Kent.
It was Christmas Eve day, so there were only a scant ten more meetings and conference calls, all in his own office, left on his workday schedule. Starting at Hanukkah, gifts of a profound appropriateness would have been researched, purchased, and hand-delivered to everyone who mattered by his sterling staff; incoming gifts X-rayed, arrayed for his perusal, and mostly forwarded to the deserving poor. Thank-you notes, where called for, poised to go out in Monday's mail. Phone calls of weightier thanks scheduled for after the New Year.
The requisite parties had been attended. Non-requisite ones declined with his regrets. His own New Year's gala massing on the horizon in supremely able hands.
All the extra work that marked the holidays was done.
He could relax.
The minor meetings ticked off one by one. At four he thanked his personal staff with handshakes and hefty bonus envelopes and sent them home.
He was alone.
The building was probably as empty as it ever got. Security, a lonely janitor or two. Even this early, dusk was settling, in a misty way, pale lights were coming on. Below, lamp-posts were twined with tinsel, stars arched the boulevard, and webs of twinkling mini-lights infested naked trees.
Lex looked down upon it, Grinch-like.
From up here, you really could hardly tell the difference.
He seemed to spend a lot of time looking out of windows, as if there were something out there he didn't have.
There was nothing there he wanted.
Not tonight at least.
He really didn't understand how anyone could care, about the tiny doings of an ant-sized multitude, and all the rest was only air. The only fertility, and life, was in his company and his computers, that reached out for nutrients into an empty world, and made him all he needed. Outside lay starvation.
A shrink would probably have him on Prozac for that thought. But as long as he had LexCorp he'd be fine. It wasn't as if he'd grown up acclimated to a lot of human warmth. Small wonder their obsessions were not his. Only the few could look out and see how useless, really, was the world, vision unmoved, unclouded by involvement.
Snow wasn't forecast, and yet he could see a few white flakes dithering hither and thither on the wind, as if doing their own last-minute shopping. Probably blown off the rooftops. Covered with snow. A snow angel.
His first reaction had been rage.
No, first was shock, almost like fear, as what he had seen and what it had meant had penetrated in ahead of thought. Then, then had come the white-hot fury at Clark's black sacrilege. To ruin the emblem of their stainless past by dragging it into the tangled and degraded present mess to break his treasured solitude! No better than a paparazzo of the skies. To imply this way that Clark would reconcile them if he could, the pious fraud! Seething: if I let the world know what I know of you --! He'd kept Clark's secret as a trust beyond the reach of quarrelling and mundane strife. Assuming Clark would do the same with Lex's previous love. And so far Kent had published no tell-all, let fall no bedroom secrets to his bottom-feeder friends. Maybe because his own background could stand no scrutiny; too certainly it wasn't from respect.
He could imagine the version Superman would tell.
In Clark's world, it would all be Lex's fault.
No mention of betrayals! Siding with his Smallville friends, his newshound friends, the press itself when they attacked LexCorp, bandied the Luthor name as if it were all one monolith, or abused Lex directly with baseless accusations! All because he refused to truckle, toady, guilt-trip and snap spines as his father had!
He stared out resentfully at Metropolis in its encroaching dark, its heaps and spires and garlands of golden, white, amber and auburn spangles ever-increasing. The city that had once been all but synonymous with 'Luthor' now had another favorite son.
Idolized in its headlines, fawned on in television glimpses -- the media gushed over Clark like teenage girls. Captivated by his beauty, aroused by his physique, mesmerized by his images of heroism and undeterred by dress as tasteless as a flag. Oh, they ribbed him sometimes, but they didn't mean it. "Hey Man of Steel, what's with the cape?" Lex knew. In skintight clothes Clark was too shy to show his ass.
They loved Clark as they had never unconditionally adored a Luthor.
He turned away from the jewel-casket view. Time to go home and drink himself into oblivion.
No -- where had that thought come from? He wasn't a drunk, he didn't get drunk. He liked the tastes of liquors just the way he liked exquisite Thai or finest Moroccan food. He'd known how to drink discreetly since his early teens, if anything he was over-prim. He never drank when there was work to do and could hold a flute of champagne in his hand for an hour together without ever sipping, where there were eyes on him. As a CEO, his social presence piloted his stock prices. Show up smashed at a glittering affair, stagger across a ballroom floor, you could count on a similar reeling progress in the market the next day. No one in these humorless times wanted their captains of industry tipsy, never mind under the table; and Lex agreed.
He was completely in control of any drinking he ever did. You couldn't do something every day for twenty years and not know how.
Clark was just an asshole.
By the time he got home it was snowing again. There'd been nothing on the car radio but Christmas music. Even KROX had traitorously wassailed him with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree". He stared witheringly at the speaker over his second Cristal and icily instructed the driver to turn it off. He never drove himself any more in city traffic. Too frustrating, too wasteful of the precious time when he could be working in the back of a spacious limo. In the crabbed silence he stared out of the window at the falling snow and the shoppers and sipped the cold vodka and felt Russian. No, the Orthodox churches still had another two weeks of this crap before their Christmas.
He felt Jewish.
Holidays long over and done. Colonized by carols and cloying family-themed mercantilism. Manipulated amid the alien corn.
All the religious stories were about wealth and class. Not least Moses, the baby in his little basket of woven rushes found by Pharaoh's daughter. Male Cinderella stories. Or Gautama Buddha who was born so rich he didn't know poverty and death existed. Left all his wealth behind to discover that hey, guess what, poverty and death did not exist. The message was pretty much all the same, as he'd seen it expressed once in a cartoon about that little monk: "Do good. Avoid evil. Stay out of the ice box."
But there was something else, this access of sentiment he felt all about him. Like white-capped waves crashing noisily against his staid black rock. Americans with their infancy fetish were perhaps especially easy to sell on a holiday like Christmas, centered on the Nativity. Yet he sensed the sentiment mostly had quite secular roots. Memories of childhood excitement contributed, no doubt, but also adult humanity's old sorrows. The babe that is born but to die.
Abruptly he realized they were stopped in front of his building, as he had ordered. Parking garages depressed him. And though logically they were safer than the open street, they always felt like places for an ambush. Too many movies, probably.
Unless he was ferrying business guests he opened his own car doors. That way he could sit uninterrupted if he liked, finish a memo or phone call at his leisure, or scan the passersby for criminals and journalists.
He didn't usually space the destination like this.
He rolled down the privacy barrier, passed his driver an envelope, shook hands, and wished him a merry Christmas and happy Kwanzaa.
Then he stepped out into the cold fresh falling snow.
He looked up into it.
You couldn't not notice, somehow, this effortless final invasion of what was natural into the citadel of craft. The snowflakes fell like millions of tiny white paratroopers taking his city, down through the august towers and into his very face.
He smiled evilly. Metropolis Snow Removal had a surprise in store for Mother Nature's ground forces.
He shook the powder off his coatsleeves as he entered
the wide glass doors. A couple more envelopes in his pocket and then
he'd be safe, alone in the penthouse.
His liquors smoldered with the same intimate hearth colors as his city. The light had actually held out for quite a while, the dusk being the result of the overcast rather than of the sinking sun. But now the darkness was complete, and Metropolis a landscape of embers.
Scotches gold to pale, bourbons and rums red-brown to amber, vodka, schnapps, white rum and gin crystal as the streams of headlights crossing Mabel Chase Bridge, brandies smoky-dark as harvest fires, colored liqueurs the glows of curtained windows.
The trouble was, it was all up there, on its shelves.
Looking at it from down here, on the couch, was like gazing up at the stained-glass window in a church, worked in honey and topaz and russet lozenges, pinning him in its shafts of beautiful light. He couldn't make out what saint it was depicting. Knowing this town, St. Clark surrounded by wheat and golden corn in tawny husks, and autumn leaves, naked as saints had a tendency to be when anything important was going on, in his genuine colors of reaping and gathering and plenitude, stripped of plaid flannel, Spandex, navy reporter suits...
Christ he had been sweet.
To look at.
To listen to.
To fuck into.
Or be fucked by.
He shuddered away from that thought instantly. The things he had felt, terrifying emotions of the end of the world, love, surrender, death... The terror of love that could be betrayed, the affront of having felt it, of having Clark run him, own him, see him... of having his own sexuality turn on him and plunge him into that maelstrom of the unknown. Love for a man. It could never work.
He might have asked too much. He could remember Clark loving and giving, attentive as no one had been to him in all his life. But so young, and...
There might be the possibility that Lex had had some unusually twisted Oedipal issues grabbing the wheel in the relationship...
You never knew.
He stared up glazedly at St. Clark of the Hard Stuff and planned how he was going to get up and bring down another bottle. Five or six steps there, five or six steps back. He was pretty sure he could stand up. There was the couch arm. The tricky bit would be to select. While standing upright. So many colors. So many single malts and vintages and brands, names all familial on his tongue, tastes in his memory like stock performances. Lit up like liquor-colored Christmas lights. He bet a string of novelty liquor-bottle lights would sell. Note to his patent lawyer.
Both hands were on the couch arm. He applied leverage.
Okay, less forward momentum next time.
Eight steps. Nine. Eleven. He had the impression of having to tack against the wind. A more curved route than usual.
Green flatiron bottle of Glenfiddich, blue LochRanza. Kindly Glenmorangie, seductive Edradour. But his mind had set, he discovered, on his Macallan. And it was up, too high, though he'd been able to get it easily, before. He was almost sure. People always moving things out of his reach. Clark was like that.
He was clinging to one of the glass shelves, he realized. Softly backlit by the demi-mirror wall behind them, the bottles and decanters, each separated an aristocratic inch or two from its neighbor, glimmered at him understandingly. The Macallan shone down like a halo from the very top.
So many things had gone beyond him. Out of his world, past all but memory. And memory -- he harshed one breath, that no one would have recognized as a laugh. His memory. Who the fuck knew anything.
His most important memory had left him, then come back. His mother, and his brother; screaming in a psychotic break in a tower trying to somehow save -- How had he thought the high place could be beyond the reach of death, how to protect and treasure what was gone already, he'd so wanted, wanted, needed to make it not be true, not true, not true -- truth, truth, impossible to bear.
If only. If only. A couple of minutes sooner. If only he'd been holding Julian. If he'd only never ever let him go.
Once, it had occurred to him that he had only been a little boy, back then. That if he saw a boy that age he would never hold him responsible for keeping at bay all the consequences of adult dysfunctions. It had been a startling point of view.
But he had never been just any boy. He had been Lex. Luthor. With an understanding greater than the adults around him. Heir to all the power in the world. It drove him crazy that he couldn't change what was. When if he had only been there...
It was an endless logic loop he shut down by action, normally. Tonight... Oh yes. The Macallan. Because he was marooned. In that place where you couldn't think clearly enough to occupy your mind with actions, yet couldn't quite not think at all. Peril. One last task. Make himself... taller. Or, he realized with a wave of brilliance that stunned him: climb.
He'd always been one to head for higher ground. With Julian. He had taken on his father, fatefully and forever, without a moment's hesitation. It had shown him, from then on, a side of Lionel he might never have faced otherwise, decided the course of his life and their relationship; he'd accepted that in all its ramifications instantly. But he'd never, therefore, had a time, a space, to grieve for his newborn brother, or his mother's sanity. The little helpless, tiny rival he had loved irrationally; the woman who had looked at him with insane eyes. Two beings lost in the one irretrievable catastrophe; then, the father. A tidal wave, the murder had swept his family away.
Somehow he'd known. The moment he heard Julian stop crying. The way the sound ended. Or had he always known? If he had known, why hadn't he acted? He looked up, up, at the best of all possible whiskies and set his hands on clever leverage points on the glass shelves higher than his head, and started his ascent. He knew he would have to climb lightly, make himself very weightless. Clark called on the gravitational forces, the way other people rode the ocean waves, Lex had been determined, determined, for a time, to find a technology. Now he understood. It wasn't technology, it was a state of mind; like walking on water: a matter of just being very careful about the surface tension --
If he had known CPR, might he have saved him? No way to know, all these years later.
His mind had broken, he'd forgotten everything. How did other people survive, when their families did awful things? Children of murderers, war criminals.
She didn't seem to know what she had done. He hadn't needed to be on his guard, it seemed. Luckily, as he'd been sent away, helpless to save her, sitting terrified at school day after day, not knowing what was going on at home, his mind unable to escape the loop of if. And one night he'd taken Julian and climbed the tower. To be out of reach. Peaceful and tender. If they would only have left him alone he could have been happy there. He and his brother.
Carefully he shifted his weight. His toes seemed able to grasp cunningly through the soles of his shoes. Should be wearing sneakers. But it was a short climb. Hand. Left fingers. Crevices and toeholds. Bringing his Macallan down, he suddenly foresaw, would be the critical thing. He hadn't started quite as directly under it as he had thought he had, so he was having to traverse. Could he do that, backwards, and one-handed? Put the whisky inside his shirt, maybe. But he'd changed, after work, into a slinky Henley, untucked... Ah. He could transfer it to a lower shelf, then climb down. The brilliance and clarity of his mind continued to amaze him. Solutions to all dilemmas presenting themselves elegantly. Pellucid. He was pellucid. As the glass itself. He got his fingers onto the top shelf. If only he could keep this magical clarity while he was working. It would transform everything --
His hand closed around the beautiful, unassuming bottle. No pretension with this whisky, it needed none. Clear cylindrical glass filled with the palest of golds, shining, as it tilted, as he lifted it, lowered it, and at that moment there was a loud crack!, his other hand sliced down, flailed for a nonexistent grip, his feet lost support in crash after crash of glass exploding and clutching spasmodically for the wall he realized an instant too late he had let the Macallan fall, down, down, to death, and screamed, as he, and huge broken slates of razor-edged glass shelf and a million bottles plummeted after.
But he never hit the ground or the points of plate-glass or the lakes of alcohol. He was caught up and wrapped, smothered a moment nearly, jerked sideways -- flown -- out of the storm of shards. He was set on his feet and gently, thoroughly, and fast, brushed free of arrowheads and splinters of glass from head to foot, flown and set down again away from the slivers and his clothes taken off, so quickly he didn't even realize till almost naked and once more, again, picked up and flown -- into another room.
He couldn't see. His eyes were open but he couldn't follow what was happening, who was touching him -- he'd been falling and --
"Julian!" he cried. He tried to spin around and run back and his butt unaccountably hit the carpet. He reached and was taken into arms of unending strength. "Julian," he sobbed, knowing it was, had always been, too late. "Mom. Mom." Crying, criminal, abandoned. Having taken the side of the murderer without hesitation, not knowing if it was a lesser evil, only weak, defenseless, his mother. Accepting into deep reaches in his soul the insanity in his mother's eyes, and casting off his sire. It made no sense, perhaps, as he had so loved Julian, the unloved innocent, the babe he had wanted to shelter from their warfare violent as hurricanes, who would be his brother and would understand his love. But he had chosen, without a moment's thought, accomplice to his mother's madness. He cried now, pitifully. He shouldn't have had to choose like that. He had, though, and if it wasn't truth or justice he had chosen, no, what had it been? Understanding. Maybe. He understood what she was up against. On some deep, black level words would never penetrate. There that he had chosen.
Never did he permit himself such pain. How had it got in to slash his heart today? Oh, it was Christmas. Christmas Eve, or had the midnight turned and brought the magical redemption? War is over. A hundred songs of torturous promise, in the midst of the endless, endless failure. His father, like the fucking Sauron of Metropolis, blanketing everything with malice. Beneath that, what had there ever been but grief? The innocent, innocent baby dead, dead in their tempest, while he, he was left as the one who watched, outsider forever, so excluded he had even forgotten himself, for a long while there. Accepted a simpler, brutaler reality and self. He was the one who killed; but, accidentally. Julian screaming, sometimes, in his brain.
That reality, that guilt, that horror and frozen despair a part of him even after he remembered the alternate truth, where the blame that shaped him was a different one, more twisting, another anguish. He knew the truth now, but that other truth had been his reality for so long, had made him the lone and stilted being that he was -- and other than his certainty, how, really, could he know which memory was the honest one? Searing aloneness. He was the only one alive who'd been there, heard his mother declaim like some hellborn Ophelia, seen her above the crib --
The bleak fact that nobody -- nobody in the world -- cared one way or the other whether he himself or his mother was the murderer.
His father too steeped in madness of his own, the very furor that unbalanced Lillian still flaring in his eyes. Any concern his father had in the matter was only for triumphs lost, opportunities with his surviving heir unseized.
Lex was lying, he gradually realized, still and exhausted in strong rescuing arms. Sitting, rather, on the floor, collapsed against a chest and shoulder damp with tears. Oh, god. Did things just have to keep getting worse? He recognized this torso, these arms, the feel of Spandex against his cheek. The sensation of not having died or been maimed.
Poor little drunk-ass rich boy.
If he pretended to be unconscious might Clark just go the fuck away?
Yes, sure, inability to revive, that would send him scurrying back to...
...where had he come from?
God you could smell the reek of alcohol even all the way in here.
Might it ignite?
Don't leave. Don't leave me to burn.
There was cold air from somewhere.
How had he gotten in?
Damn. He was drunk and he couldn't just make that go away. In fact he was sliding toward --
Julian! He slammed awake, clutching at Clark. Who was still there, arms still around him. He'd made some sound, he realized, some incoherent outcry jerking from the edge of sleep. Oh, this was not going to be a good night.
And flights of angels.
Wasn't everyone ... hadn't everyone died in that play? Hamlet's mother. What had happened to her?
Poisoned. Wasn't she?
Stabbed, something. He remembered everyone as pretty much dead around a feast. Freaking irony. Not lost, you could count on it, on the groundlings or the royal audience, to have so much but never satisfied. All dead. Except the undead troll who started it.
See, it is offended. It stalks away.
Could Shakespeare have... known his father?
That pathos, those demands. To send his offspring swirling down the bowl to Hell. To get revenge.
He'd have to go to meetings. Everybody said it was the only way. 'My name is Lex.' 'No kidding.' He could bring the alcoholic. Anonymous was another story.
Might there be a rich-kids chapter somewhere? Shit, had to be. In this town. 'My name is Lex and I could buy and sell you all, mua-ha-ha-ha.'
It would piss his father off.
You know what they said.
Being good is the best revenge.
He'd show him. Be the fucking Dalai Lama of Metropolis. From drunk down here on the floor it looked too airily easy. Be another matter possibly face to face with the fact that all the whisky in the house was ethereally evaporating from the carpet. Flights of Scottish angels.
It was fucking cold. Clark had put his cape around him, he became aware, but it was no down comforter. He shuddered violently, and couldn't stop. Was there another pile of glass somewhere, was that it? Please not his office.
That voice as soft as doves was murmurring, "I opened all the doors onto the roof to air it out." When had he -- well, with Clark, time didn't matter. Fast, so fast. "Come on." He felt himself lifted, gently, carried, a door shut behind them to keep in heat and he was laid in a bed and Clark lay down with him.
Slick moves, this new Clark Kent.
Covering them with sheet and, yes, down comforter.
It wasn't his bedroom. Didn't Clark know which room was his? From his spy-byes?
Taking him into his arms, his warmth.
And he felt, himself, flickering within with a pale flame, like lit alcohol licking a crepe suzette. The coldness of his limbs melting into shivers of vulnerability in the glow of body heat flowing over him in their cocoon of down, like warm filling inside an ethereal eclair. It felt like he was getting drunker. That was probably possible. Possibly probable. Entirely too many p's and b's in this language to dream of speaking it out loud. L after b like that could strangle you. He had a sudden, inexplicable craving for French pastry.
Clark still had his clothes on.
It baffled something in his mind and was -- disconcerting.
Superpeople wore peculiar clothes. He couldn't be alone in thinking this. Though he defied anybody to exclaim it. But what stopped his mind was he was wearing them to bed. Clark hadn't used to wear his clothes to bed... The thought petered out unproductively against the fact. Clothedness, at every turn.
Was he missing something?
The source of such luxurious warmth to be untouchable -- Did that make sense? On some level inaccessible to him... at the moment? His fingertips so delicately, subtly feeling around the belt for how to get the whole thing off.
They were exes. Inappropriate for him to take off Clark's clothes.
An epic tragedy.
Or, if you looked at it another way, suppressing giggles with all your might, really, really hilarious. Because --
He couldn't remember exactly, but he was naked, nearly, and Clark in a Superman suit, hadn't even taken off his...
The giggles stampeded out of their corral in his throat and out over the prairie of Clark's emblazoned chest, wild, wild horses, a hilarity untamed and untrammeled in the wilderness that was their love. He would be Daniel Boone, Clark would be... Indians. It was a love affair, it was a paintball match. Maneuvers. Every hundredth round live ammo.
It was impolite to be this drunk in front of sober company. He knew that. They couldn't follow your flights of... reasoning. They felt left out. He blushed for his hosting. You could feel the distance. Like another universe. A universe between them. He understood, for the first time really, why Clark had left him. Love that long-distance couldn't work. He had been the one to throw Clark out, of course, but Clark would have just stood there and argued, if he hadn't known it was hopeless finally. You could never actually win an argument with Clark. It was one of the things he'd liked about him. He never gave up on you. Like Lionel, only not evil.
Here Clark was and they couldn't even have a conversation. Ice seized his heart. He had to say one thing. One thing, or Clark would be gone when he woke up, as if he'd never been. He clutched his fingertips into Spandex and tried to meet Clark's eyes, but all he could see was the big bright "S". Say it -- say it anyway:
"Please." He didn't know if he sounded desperate. "Be here. In the morning."
He thought he might have heard a question, in a
voice gentle as a cote of doves, but that world slipped away, like land,
as he floated off on a dark, open sea, unlimited as the empty black of
space, and full of dreams as every emptiness.
Clark had lain a long time guarding Lex's sleep. Cold, fragile, cut off, as always, from the simple ability to need another being, drunken, as if he were committing suicide upon his beautiful mind. Leaving Clark to grieve, again and again, when they were together. Clark had read it all up, wondered if he was an enabler just by loving Lex; avowing him worthwhile no matter what he did. But if it was a physical disease, nothing would ever cure it except seeking treatment. Clark had stayed, till Lex had thrown him out in a horrible fight and horrible morning after, when it seemed like there was nothing left between them anyway.
At last, not waking Lex, he got up and went out and brushed all the glass into triple trashbags and flew them to the dump. He set aside the occasional survivor, but in the end he looked at the little city of expensive bottles and decanters and in an act of pure mean-minded spite against them swept every one into the trash. Dismantling the remaining spars and plates of the display shelves, hoovering everything with a wet-dry shop vac, scanning for every hidden splinter; gently drying the carpet with heat vision, blowing the fumes out down the hall and through the wide French doors.
He could have left it for a cleaning crew but the memory of Lex falling amid the spears of glass was killing him.
He'd heard the scream. And if he hadn't been there, right outside, in Ruby-Throated Stalker mode --
Drunken, alone, on Christmas Eve, anything could have happened before help came, even if he survived the hail of razor glass. He could have bled to death.
Clark shook himself, over the dump, making sure he hadn't picked up slivers during the clean-up. Then thinking about it, he fused the bags into several balls of harmless smooth glass. Lex's clothes, he'd decided, were just not worth the risk to innocent dry-cleaning workers; requiescant in pace, Gucci et Armani.
He shut the doors, when the air smelled finally fresh.
He took off his clothes, and laying them out of
sight in the closet -- hopefully Lex's help all had tomorrow off, but better
safe -- he slid into bed again with Lex, whom he'd been monitoring for
vital signs from near and far while tidying, and settled into place so
softly that Lex never woke. Sleep wrapped him up like an eternal
He'd always felt slightly embarrassed when he happened to see Lex waking up. It was such a personal thing. And people often were not at their best, right then, when consciousness but not all their guards came back. You might see quirky things.
He'd woken first in the unfamiliar bed. Quietly as he could with one hand he put back the comforter from over them, a bit too hot now with room temperature restored. And settled his weight back into the featherbed-topped mattress to look at Lex. The room was big and airy and white, the light filtered through thin white and yellow drapes. It must be eight o'clock to be this light. Lex lay there, shell-pale colors against an ivory pillow. His Lex. But older. You could see it, a slight thinness over the cheeks, lines on the forehead there... The line of collarbone so clear. Soft skin. Frail eyelids, infinitesimally delicate encrustation of sleep here and there along the rims --
The eyelids trembled, blinked without opening, then opened.
Lex started back aghast. Then saw who he was. Froze. And then became aware of pain.
Clark saw it, the change toward inward-turned awareness over his whole countenance, and hoped Lex wasn't going to throw up.
He didn't. Or at least, without a word he slowly pushed up, sliding out of bed, arose and walked. He shut the door of the bathroom behind him and what transpired there remained between him and his plumbing as Clark whisked himself to the kitchen and started coffee, whisked back and got his clothes and put them on, peeing and washing his face in another bathroom, then put croissants in the toaster oven and when he heard sounds of Lex going to his own bedroom and dressing, started them heating.
From his fragile gait in the hall, Lex felt like hell. Coming into the kitchen he caught sight of Clark and flinched, raising his hand involuntarily to shield his eyes. But his other hand was already reaching toward the coffee. Clark hadn't added any cream for him, knowing his stomach would revolt, and when he saw that, a flicker touched his eyelids but he raised the cup and sipped a tiny sip of black onto his tongue, letting it stay and tincture his mouth before he essayed a swallow.
"Do you want a croissant?"
"No." Like someone politely turning down an atrocious savage delicacy.
After a long pause Lex put the cup of coffee down. As if it were too much for him. Another pause. Then, with a tone of profound uncertainty: "Why are you here?"
He knew Lex enough to be sure the question was in no way rhetorical. "You asked me to be here in the morning."
Lex looked as if he were desperately trying to think why.
"Do you remember --"
"I remember last night," Lex said irritably. His eyes were squinted in annoyance as much as pain. "I don't have blackouts."
How do you know? Clark thought but did not say. This was going just like any other morning after. It was only then he recognized the hope that had been hovering in him, and he felt like a fool.
The croissants dinged and a look like agony sprang onto Lex's features and away again, leaving a grey, washed-out expression. He stared into Clark's eyes, in pain and hostile. "I don't do well with expectations, Kent."
It was nothing but the truth. Lex saw all hopes and needs other people had for him through the prism of his resistance; as varieties of Lionel's lust for control.
He seldom let it make him act reflexively, without due thought, but his primary reaction was always, "You and what army?"
Clark was surprised Lex could still read him so well, though.
Lex turned away, turned back, picked up the coffee, turned again and shuffled agedly out.
No sense in starving because Lex was ill in so very many senses of the word. Clark put both croissants on a salad plate, took a big bite of one, and followed Lex, carrying them and his coffee.
Lex was passing the living room with a wince at the horrid sunlight streaming in. He paused and looked into last night's den, and stood there, looking. After what was apparently a very extended thought process to cope with what he did not see, he shot a little, withering glance toward Clark and stepped into the room. "You've been busy," he stated remotely.
"I couldn't sleep. At first."
Lex stared at the wall where the long liquor shelves had been. Nothing but the dimly mirrored backing now remained. Unthinkingly he sipped his coffee, then gave it an offended glare.
This would go on another hour or more, before Lex's meteor metabolism dealt with the last of the poisons. Lex viewed hangovers as a crime against nature and had spent money looking for the cure. They happened seldom enough that all Clark's ounce-of-prevention hints had been received with, at best, hurt indignation. But often enough that the immediate future held, for Clark, no mysteries.
He could almost hear the gears turning as Lex labored too to solve it. Had it been drunken whimsy, or had there been some reason Lex had wanted him to stay...
Lex had turned away from him, and wiped his face with one hand, and Clark knew he was remembering Julian, remembering calling out for him last night. Weakened with pain, so tears got by his guard. Compulsively Clark took a forward step.
"Don't even," Lex croaked angrily.
Clark set down his coffee and stood eating his croissants. Too late he found they were alchemically forming into lead in his stomach. It was all coming back to him. The protocols of morning-after Lex, and, hell, of Lex most of the time. Their final year. Unwritten rules. When not to touch and not to talk -- and that had worked out well.
He set down his plate with a clack. But Lex turned and froze him with a stare. He always knew what Clark was thinking. When it came down to it.
Lex had succeeded in making him stay away. First bit by bit and then entirely. The proper parry, just the right riposte. Retreat, retreat. But it wasn't Clark retreating.
It was Lex.
It burst upon him. Seeing with fresh eyes it was so obvious. All those attacks had been defense. His final victory in fact a rout. Clark's backing off the ghastly evidence. That Lex was all-powerful, no one could stand against him.
The most terrible fate that could befall a human being.
No limits. No companionship. No world except what he made himself. No mate, no match, no one he could depend on. He'd made himself an Emperor, and all his empire void and flowerless; august in his realm of nothing. He'd even triumphed over Superman. Mastered the Man of Steel.
Because he could.
Clark gave a short laugh of astonishment.
"You dork," he said.
He saw a consciousness, between a horror and a caught red-handed look, appear in Lex's eyes. Amazement then. Then fear.
"God, Lex. Did you really think you beat me? Scared me away? Outsmarted me? I let you win, Lex. I was being polite."
All those deferrals to those dumb demands. His silence and bewilderment at pain he couldn't fathom.
"And you know what? So was everybody else."
Lex clutched one hand to the side of his head and winced but didn't take his eyes off Clark. For once having to make an effort to keep up.
"They weren't vanquished. Exasperated maybe. They don't quit living, just because you don't see them any more."
"I know that," Lex scowled.
Clark looked at him. His color was pasty, his eyes looked slightly boiled, his hand still pressing his temple. But he wasn't backing down. Of course. "Is that the only power you really want? The power to make everybody leave you alone?"
He saw something crack, behind the sickness, in the Lex facade. It was several moments till Lex retaliated. "It's a useful -- 'ability'."
A vision of him surrounded, assailed on every side by a thousand yelling mouths and grabbing hands. Mimicking the smother of Demand Central, Lionel. "If by 'ability' you mean 'neurotic reflex', yeah."
"Neuroses arise out of necessities."
"I get that. You're talking to a man with a secret identity."
A real smile broke through on Lex's lips, followed instantly by tears filling his eyes, that Lex tried to hide by closing them, and turning again to survey the vacant wall. After a silence, he cleared his throat.
"I take it there were no survivors."
Fib? "I tossed it all."
Lex nodded to himself. There was a silence, with just their watery reflections in the misty-silvered surface looking like a kind of vision.
"There's no hard liquor in the house."
"Unless you've been squirreling it away in your sock drawer."
Another long silence.
"I have a personal wine collection of a couple of thousand bottles. Some of those vintages are like my children."
"My guess is all of them are old enough to leave home."
"I'm throwing a New Year's Eve party."
Clark said nothing.
"Want to come?"
"How long is the ballroom?"
The back of Lex's neck got pink. His fingertips pressed in above his right eyebrow. He mumbled, "I can get the restraining order... annulled, or whatever." Then, "You were... watching me?" Still facing away.
"No. I never looked in except through uncovered windows. I never eavesdropped."
Lex sighed, somewhat long-sufferingly. "Of course not."
They stood there, in the dim distance of the demi-mirror, like an Impressionist painting of a man in pale morning colors watched by some Renaissance madonna of red and blue. They didn't exactly go together. But then, who did. With either of them.
"How did you..."
"I heard you scream."
Lex nodded, getting it straight. They'd always shared that craving, to know exactly how things happened.
"Why aren't you in Smallville?"
"I pulled Christmas duty at work. Not exactly rolling in seniority yet. Speaking of which, I have to go..." He finished his coffee, reluctant. He wanted to know why Lex had asked him to stay. But Lex apparently didn't know either.
"Last night..." Lex was holding his coffee cup now with both hands. "After my assault on the eastern scarp of the liquor cabinet. I decided to go to AA"
Clark didn't dare say anything.
"Can't you just feel my life teetering in the balance?"
Lex snorted softly. "God it seems easier when you're drunk on your ass."
The first step is admitting you have a problem.
The words seemed to clang in Clark's head like churchbells. At some point Lex had staggered that first step. He might still take it back. A lot of people did, and Clark had watched the rationales in bloom enough to know. People with nothing left but booze, mostly, who still weren't clear that it might be the problem. He'd learned a lot about a lot of things, since a city had become his patrol ground. But Lex... Lex stayed unique. Like everyone else, he might not go. But if he did, Clark hoped he wouldn't take it over and turn it into a thriving multinational with its first public offering and subsidiaries in the coffee and soft-drink industries.
Habits died hard.
Mainly he felt just joy.
Wide as a sky. Clear as cold prairie air.
Not that not drinking would solve everything. It didn't mean he'd get him back, and maybe Lex even had to be alone to do this.
But Lex! His beautiful Lex! Mind clear and sparkling like a diamond! Looking out instead of ever more inside and to the past and the stagnant worst of things. Not that he wasn't very very very high-functioning. But it had gotten so... mechanical. Now he might be again the full-on Lex that Clark had... loved. Had always loved. Still loved.
Would never cease to love. Because who could? He was so beautiful. Physical yearning toward him became a reminder that he had to go.
"Do you want me to take you there?"
He said it diffidently, not wanting to seem like he was pushing, just willing to help. Lex looked as if he were picturing it.
"No, thanks," he said dryly.
"Okay." What on earth was it that he normally did with his hands? They were hanging there like enormous -- hands.
The faintest of movements touched the line of Lex's mouth, and a sparkle lit his eye. "Merry Christmas."
The smile that leaped to Clark's face was total and spontaneous, a smile such as he had not felt in a long, long time, one that he knew had what Chloe used to call 'the wattage'. It was there before he even felt the feeling, really, the champagne-spurt of happiness soaring through him, melding with the thrill of just being with Lex once again, into a tingling elation everywhere in his body.
"Merry Christmas," he answered, and, still smiling,
waved, and supersped away, out of the penthouse onto the roof and into
the air with a leap like exultation. Home for his clothes and off
he'd go to work, for a day of egg-nog and Christmas cookies and light-hearted
absence of bosses and thinking of Lex!
He was surprised -- astounded -- to find his hands shaking.
There was the door. You walked through it and you wound up inside, not an unheard-of concept.
He ran meetings and talked to people all the time! They said you didn't even have to talk, you could just sit there. He'd found he'd missed a lot of early ones that met before work started. That made sense. This one was a kind of early lunch time, not near where he lived so he probably wouldn't even come to it again, it certainly didn't matter what anyone thought of him.
He wasn't even sure he should be here. Nothing had actually proven, in incontrovertible testing, that he had a disease, after all. What if they thought him an imposter? What if he was? No one had ever even seen him drunk, except for Clark of course. And one or two servants. His Dad. And, okay, several thousand fellow revelers in his clubbing days but that was different. It hadn't occurred to him he'd need credentials.
He coldly observed his brain trying to weasel out.
The door still stood there.
'Society of Friends' its sign said. The meeting was somewhere in the basement.
One or two people came along and entered. Proving the door worked.
Unless of course it led to another dimension with physical laws not of this world, where you went in never to be seen on mortal earth again.
It felt like it might.
He was Lex Luthor.
Taking his hands out of his overcoat pockets he
started up the snow-scraped stairs.
It was worse than he could have imagined because only ten people came. And they sat in a circle. He had pictured himself at least hidden in a sort of... audience. He'd decided he was going to say something, because otherwise it might not feel like he'd really done this thing. But god. And he wasn't sure, was the worst part, how could you be sure? He caught some glances. But some seemed to not even recognize him.
He watched the extremely mundane rituals with what felt like attention but left no residue of knowledge in his mind. The things people told about themselves were also mostly unexotic. Then everyone who was going to seemed to have spoken. Now or never.
"Hi. I'm Lex, and I... I think it's possible I might be an alcoholic."
"Hi, Lex," everyone said, and glancing around he saw a lot of entertained smiles. Okay, so maybe uncertainty was not a unique trait.
Or maybe he had just performed the classic newbie waffle.
"I haven't had a drink for about eleven hours..."
End of "Shoreline" Chapter