It's dark outside but still hot as hell. Lex feels like he's coming up from the bottom of the ocean, the crushing pressure lessening so slowly that it only drives home how deep he's actually sunk. He drives aimlessly through the night, knowing that the paternal lectures he's been imagining are going to be nothing on reality, and the sooner he goes to sleep tonight, the sooner he has to get up and face the world. The skin on his back is tight as a drum, stretched over emptiness. He still can't breathe.
About an hour outside of town, he spots a 24-hour convenience store and considers stopping in for cigarettes. Lex's maternal grandfather died of lung cancer, and his mother made him promise never to take up smoking. Right now, though, he'd do anything to blot out the sugary aftertaste of love, and in the end it's not even his promise that makes Lex decide to drive on by, but the unbearable prickling thought that his wedding pictures are no doubt splashed across the rows of tabloids by the counter.
He pulls over, hunching over the steering wheel, shaking too hard to drive. Images tumble in his head, sensations washing over him with frightening clarity. He can taste her sweat, hear the vulnerable little hitch in her breath as his fingers slide across her belly. God, why is he just sitting here? He has to get her out of that jail. He'll call his lawyers back. Post bail. Get two tickets, for anywhere she wants to go. It doesn't matter what she did, or what people think. They'll go away, he'll leave it all behind for love, for Desiree--
Lex reaches for his phone, tucked away in the glove compartment, and the singed skin on his back stretches painfully. He gasps, remembering with frightening clarity the splash of cool liquid, the wash of heat, the smell of his own burned flesh.
He thinks he's going to throw up.
When he stops shaking, he starts the engine again, and drives, slowly. He doesn't head for the jail. He drives out to Kent Farms instead. The Kents don't appear to be home, but there's a dim light flickering in the loft, and he parks the car and climbs the stairs. Slowly. It's been a long day. "Clark. I was hoping I'd find you."
Clark's lying in his hammock with a book, and he startles when Lex says his name. Wariness is no less than Lex deserves. He's still not sure he's entirely safe, or sane. But Clark doesn't seem to bear him any lingering resentment, so perhaps it's just that obvious that Lex feels about as fragile as a charred stick right now. One touch and he'd crack, crumble to nothing but ash.
"How do you feel?" Clark asks carefully. Lex tries not to look at him. He wonders how unsubtle he's actually being. There's black comfort in the thought that he can't possibly look as bad as he feels. Singed on the outside, raw pink and bleeding inside... He may have permanently lost his taste for steak.
"Like I'm waking up from a bad dream." He remembers exactly when his shell shattered, when he felt like he didn't have to hide any more: the first time Desiree kissed him. He remembers smiling at Clark like there was nothing in the world to hide. Laughing. Lifting the veil from Desiree's face and falling for her all over again.
"You really loved her, didn't you?"
"I thought I did." Lex stares out of the barn window at the night. He inhales deeply, trying to ground himself in the familiar, mingled scents of wood and hay and Clark. But right now the world tastes like bile and smells like roasted meat. "I filed for an annulment, which my lawyers tell me should be final in a couple of days. I'll let the police deal with Desiree."
In his peripheral vision, he sees Clark fidget with the book he was reading. He approaches the window, still moving cautiously, as if he can tell that one wrong move will splinter Lex, split him like kindling. "And when that's finished?"
"Try to be more cautious." And he can hear his father's voice, now. More cautious-- perhaps you'll court the next gold-digging multiple murderer for two weeks? Three? "I let my passion get the best of me. I won't make that mistake again."
It's still hot and dead still outside when he gets out of the car, but he can feel something changing around him. Some subtle shift in the humidity that tells him rain's coming. His clothes stick to his skin and he barely stops himself from stripping as soon as he gets inside. Upstairs, in his bathroom, he peels his clothes off and leaves them in a pile on the floor.
He runs the shower as cold as he can stand it. Every time Desiree touched him, anywhere, even through his clothes, it felt like magic. He tilts his head into the icy torrent, eyes closed, and his face burns feverishly.
You really loved her. Clark sounded so terribly sad. He's so young sometimes. In his world, love is pure, Arthurian and knightly. He'll pine for Lana as long as it takes, always refusing to push, coerce or win her dishonorably. If Lex were in his place, he'd have fucked Lana by this time last year-- but Clark is still patient, still waiting. Still alone.
Lex isn't strong like that. He never has been.
Passion isn't a noble emotion. The things he did to Lana, to Clark, it was all for Desiree, for love. That high, heart-pounding trip, that heaven in her eyes. To keep feeling like that he'd have done anything, just like all the other suckers she caught in her web over the years. Christ. For a moment he's glad she only wanted him to die.
He'd have killed for her. Easily. Gladly.
Lex stands in the shower till he can't bear the cold any more. Leaving his robe on the hook, he wanders back into his bedroom, naked. Outside, the trappings of the wedding have been cleared away like dead leaves, and downstairs, the presents that had been piled in the hall have all been sent back.
He hasn't let anyone touch the rest of her things. He remembers carrying her suitcase upstairs himself, instead of letting the staff do it. Anything for Desiree. She'd smiled, and closed the door behind them. "Shut the windows?"
He'd laughed. "We'll roast."
She came towards him, seeming to shimmer in the hazy golden light of the afternoon. Gleaming like a goddess as she unbuttoned her blouse. "I like it... hot," she said, and kissed him. He closed the windows and the room was like an oven, like the chamber Zeus entered as a beam of golden light. Filled with her presence. When he touched her, hands sliding over her back, her sides, it was like magic, like heaven. Touching love.
Slowly, Lex pushes open the oaken closet door. Desiree's wedding dress is hanging in the darkness like a ghost and he feels emotion welling in his throat as he reaches out, strokes his hand down the smooth satin.
Her skin was this smooth. It's like a dream now. Her hair tumbling over her shoulders, her sweetly knowing smile as she drew him towards the bed. Breathy encouragement as she lay under him, nails cutting delicate patterns in his back.
She licked the scratches. They haven't had time to fade.
No one ever knew him like Desiree did. He thought so then and he thinks so now, though in hindsight it's less romantic that he first realized. It's got to take a special kind of predatory brilliance, to know at first sight that Lex was the kind of fool who'd fall for her act. To find the flaws in his facade, to work her claws in and pry him open.
Easy prey. Lex turns to the bed suddenly, jerks back the covers, but the sheets are clean and crisp. He swallows hard, disappointment rising, but how could he have known this morning that she wouldn't be in his bed tonight? They were-- she was his wife.
The look on Desiree's face as he came towards her, revulsion and panic, like a cornered animal. How could she not understand? He would never have-- he'd have forgiven her anything. He couldn't imagine his world without her.
He still barely can.
He's a fool. Desiree was a dream. She didn't exist. He loved her. It was like floating, like flying-- they were going to be a family, and he believed in her. Nothing was ever going to be able to touch him again.
When Ethan led her away, she looked like a stranger.
As he slides into bed he knows he won't sleep. He kicks the covers and sheets down past his feet, but it doesn't help. The heat is oppressive as a blanket, pressing down on his chest, making his breathing shallow. He licks his dry lips, six hours out of love and hungry.
Eyes tightly closed, he rolls out of bed, managing to jam his hand on the edge of the dresser and stumbling. On his knees, he fumbles open the closet door, hands sliding over the luggage zipper, tearing it open. He shudders at the sound and then gasps, breathing in. Her things, her clothes... he rummages blindly and his hand closes on plastic that gives way to silk.
White silk, for the wedding night. He doesn't need to open his eyes to see it, just brings it to his face. The cloth is cool, soothing his fever, and if he's blotting tears with the fabric, the bitch will never know. He inhales deeply, pressing the silk against his face, taking in her scent and something of her taste, "oh god, Desiree, god." The warmth of his hands pressing through the silk is a tawdry illusion at best, but jesus christ, this is all he needs, all he ever needed. Nothing matters. Nothing. "Desiree--"
When he stops shaking he's still got one hand gloved in the silk, pressed over his mouth and nose. His throat is closed up, and he swallows, carefully, lowering his hand. The silk slides away as easily as Desiree did. He opens his eyes, staring into the black emptiness of the closet. The plastic keepsake bag is still by his knee, and he rests his fingers on it, listening to it crackle.
He's sweating again, and if he went to the jail now, he could see her, touch her, he loves her--
Lex can't breathe. He crumples forward, heart pounding, catching his shoulder on the edge of the closet door. Tomorrow he's burning her things, he thinks. Take a kitchen knife to that lie of a white dress, first--
When he looks down he's just finished folding the sweat-stained negligee and sealing it back in the bag.
For love is strong as death
passion fierce as the grave;
its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it.
Song of Songs 8:6-7
Author's Notes: Thanks to Basingstoke and Sarah T. for audiencing, and Sarah T. for the title.
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