Until

by Christie
http://number14.org/precious


The coffee that remained in her cup looked the way Lana felt: dull, bitter and cold. She moved across the long hallway toward the east window that overlooked Metropolis, legs weighted by invisible chains she'd attached in her mind long ago. The clock on the wall chimed six, though she'd have guessed the hour just by the snarl of traffic on the streets below.

"Lex is late again," she said aloud to no one in particular, her voice surfacing acrid and hard in the otherwise warm room.

It hadn't always been this way. Her husband had once been loving and she had once been warm. Lana supposed she could blame it on time; time changed everything after all and it seemed the most likely excuse. But deep down she knew it wasn't time, because people made choices and life was shaped because of those choices.

It was a lesson Lex had instilled early on. The naivete of Lana's youth disappeared soon after she began dating Lex, a month shy of her nineteenth birthday. She hadn't minded then, even as she could feel those ideals slipping away. It had all felt so mature and exciting and Lex, after all, had so much to offer.

So much to teach. So much to destroy.

Lana shook the traitorous thought from her mind. It wasn't Lex's fault, not entirely. In fact, he'd say, "your state of mind is your own doing, Lana." He'd quote Eleanor Roosevelt or some other fabulously in-control person and say, "no one makes us feel bad without our consent."

And Lana would think it over, really think because what else did she have to do, and realize he was right.

And it would be fine. Until it wasn't.

Lex had been in her life since Lana was sixteen. Ten years, she realized, ten years next month. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for her, then and now. And Lana adored him for it. Lana knew he cherished her. She was his. He possessed her. And it was exciting. Until it wasn't.

The news of their whirlwind courtship hadn't gone over well with anyone in Smallville. At the time, Lana hadn't cared. Head over heels in love with Lex Luthor who took her on a jet to the opera and rented out entire museums for the afternoon and taught her how to drive a stick shift. He challenged her intellectually and stimulated emotions inside of her that she never knew existed. He was her world, and aside from business, she was his. Lex was her savior, her ticket from Smallville and the mundane life she'd managed to carve for herself.

So when Clark, Chloe, Pete and Whitney chimed in their disapproval from the various parts of the world in which they'd settled, Lana didn't care. She had Lex and that was all that mattered.

Until it wasn't.

Friends might be nice around now, she mused.

While Lana's change had been brought about by love and experience and Lex, Lex's change had been much more gradual, and with less pure reason. Work and drink, excess of both summed it up pretty nicely, although deep in her mind, in places Lana didn't even like to acknowledge, she knew the real change.

Lex had become the one thing he feared becoming most. Lex had become his father. Not that Lionel was entirely a bad thing. He was successful and generous, powerful and respected. Now, that was Lex. Her husband hadn't lost all of the goodness in him; he still loved her, of that Lana was certain. It wasn't the everyday things that made her know, it was the desperate moments, when he clung to her like she was his only salvation.

And she had been, maybe, once. But now she wasn't so sure. Could someone so empty inside be someone else's salvation?

Lana had asked Lex once. Not over dinner, but quietly in the night when the perspiration had barely dried on their skin and their hearts had barely calmed from the hammering in their chests and they lay intertwined, clutching as if afraid to let go.

"Wasn't I yours?" he'd answered.

When they'd first started dating, sex was sweet and gentle and slow. He wasn't her first, that had been Clark on the night of their Senior Prom. She'd told Lex about it, not long after graduation when they'd really started getting close because everyone else had gone far away. For such a small town, Smallville could seem impossibly large at times.

After a while, sex moved into the 'I can't keep my hands off you' stage, and it was less gentle, less sweet and less slow. But it was good, Lana remembered, exciting and thrilling and amazing. That was when Lex started talking about moving to Metropolis; that was when he proposed atop the windmill in Chandler's Field.

Now, after six years of marriage, sex was still like that: hurried and urgent and satisfying, only less often. Lana ached for the slow kisses and the long talks in his arms afterwards, his fingers tangling through her hair until she fell asleep. But Lana knew it was just a pipe dream now; she lived in the real world and if that meant a quickie before breakfast, well, she'd take what she could get.

Lex still told her he loved her; he told her all the time but she figured he was just trying to make up for showing it less.

It turned her stomach to have such bitter, duplicitous thoughts. It wasn't fair.

Lex worked hard and provided Lana with a nice life. She'd made her own choices and if she was unhappy, well, whose shoulders should that rest on, really? Lex would probably have some inordinately congruous way of explaining it but she didn't bother philosophizing with him anymore. It wasn't the same as it once was.

A small noise in the hall behind Lana startled her and she dropped her mug. What was left of the coffee splashed across the plush carpeting, staining it and the hemline of her silk kimono robe. The mug bounced harmlessly at her feet and Lana just stood, staring at the mess, tears suddenly stinging her eyes.

The source of the noise was Clare, their housekeeper of five years. She sprang forward and retrieved the mug. "Mrs. Luthor! Come away from there, I'll clean this up right away."

Lana nodded mutely and stepped aside as she was told, but remained in the hallway, staring at the deepening stain. Like blood, she said inwardly, surprising herself at the macabre thought. Clare ushered back with cleaning supplies and immediately dropped to her knees. Lana realized sadly that if Lex saw the stain, Clare would catch his full wrath and he'd say nothing to his wife, the person who had actually put it there.

There was so little kindness left in Lex, Lana realized, he only had enough to spare for her. It made her heartsick for the man she knew when they were business partners; the man desperate not to become his father.

"It's 6:30, Mrs. Luthor," Clare said, head still bent to her task. "I was coming to ask if you'd like me to set out dinner for just one, or if Mr. Luthor will be joining you."

The stain was coming up nicely, Lana noticed. Perhaps Clare would not hear from her boss tonight after all.

"Mr. Luthor hasn't called," Lana replied, eyes transfixed to the white of the carpet that was reappearing. "I don't know his plans so just set a place for me." She turned and was half way down the hall before adding needlessly, "but keep something warm for him."

She knew Clare would. Clare wasn't stupid, or suicidal. Lana slipped the kimono robe off her shoulders as she entered her bedroom and wondered if she'd remember how to clean a stain from a rug, or if those were skills that you lost without use. She stepped out of the pool of silk at her feet and toward the full-length mirror in her wardrobe room.

She was drawn to that mirror, constantly contemplating her body and how it would change if she ever got pregnant. Perhaps more importantly, contemplating her life and how it would change. Instinct warned her not to expect miracles; that having a baby changed some men but not all, and Norman Rockwell wouldn't be doing any paintings of the Luthors anytime soon, baby or not.

She stood, staring, but not really seeing until Lex's reflection behind her cut through her idyllic thoughts.

"This has got to be the best thing to come home to after spending the afternoon in meetings," he said, his grin bordering on salacious.

Lana tried to smile. She wanted to be the perfect wife but didn't even know what the perfect wife would do. Drop to her knees and unbuckle his pants? Whatever, it wasn't her and she snatched another robe off the nearest hook and slipped it on.

"Where were you?"

Lex looked surprised at the question and more than a little disappointed. He pushed himself off of the entryway to the wardrobe and loosened his tie enough to pull it from around his neck.

"Meetings," was his short answer as he turned and walked back into the main room.

Lana turned and watched as he meticulously removed his shoes, socks, watch and rings before finally pushing the shirt from his shoulders. When he turned to face her, hands in his pockets, expression morphed into a challenge, Lana crossed her arms over her chest. She really, really didn't want to fight, not now, but was unable to simply let it drop.

"You usually call."

God, she'd turned into one of those wives. Although to her credit, she distinctly remembered her father-in-law giving her some advice on her wedding day, akin to giving Lex enough rope and he'd hang himself. Whatever it was, Lana hadn't forgotten it completely.

Lex didn't seem much in the mood to fight either because his shoulders slumped and he took a step toward her, hands coming out of his pockets. His voice dropped several octaves as he spoke. "I know baby, but I was in a meeting that ran late. I couldn't exactly pull out my cell phone and call you in the middle of negotiations."

Lana knew she should just acquiesce. Say 'okay sweetie' and go have dinner. Only she didn't call him sweetie and he only called her baby when he was attempting to placate. And that annoyed her, so she responded on principle.

"You own the company, Lex. You can do whatever the hell you want in the middle of negotiations," she pointed out, earning only a hard stare from her husband.

"Besides, maybe the other guys would have been grateful if you'd given a small break, and they'd have pulled out their cell phones and called their wives."

Lex considered this, then nodded. "But as it turns out, I didn't give a small break because I wanted to get it over with and come home to you. So I guess I'm just one of ten guys who got to come home after six hours of meetings only to get bitched at by their wives."

Lana bit her tongue. Hard. She tasted blood, but counted to ten anyway. "I'm not bitching at you," she said quietly, moving to close the gap between them even further. When she could, she reached out and put her hands against his bare torso. "I worry about you."

That was pretty much a lie. When Lex was late, it rarely crossed Lana's mind that it might be an accident or some other tragedy or hell, even another woman.

It was always work. Sometimes Lana wished he had a mistress, because then she could feel like she was losing out to something human. Something that, in the long run, mattered.

Lex had put his arms around her waist and was looking down at her with concern etched across his face. Lana's heart thump thumped and she berated herself for thinking such things. So many women ended up with wife beaters or adulterers or losers in general for husbands. If all hers was was a workaholic, then she should feel lucky.

Only most of the time she didn't. She felt old, tired, useless, worn. Not lucky. "What is it, Lana?" he asked her, his voice barely above a whisper, head leaning down to brush a kiss across her lips.

Lana accepted the gesture, nearly lightheaded for the contact and her entire body woke up, screaming for more. She didn't even ask him, just pressed herself as close to him as possible and leaned up for another kiss. This one was open-mouthed and needy and she felt rather than heard Lex's surprise. His breath caught and his eyes were wide when they parted, but at her inviting smile his hands immediately undid the tie of her robe, parting the white satin material to explore what was underneath.

She worked at his pants as his kisses traveled from her mouth to neck and downward, and by the time she'd divested him completely of clothes, his hand was moving between her legs in the way only Lex knew how to touch her.

And she didn't want to stop him -- God, she didn't want to stop him -- but she wanted it to be perfect, it had to be perfect, and she knew all she had to do was ask and he'd make it so.

"Lex," she breathed, practically panting with want. "Lex, stop."

He did, immediately straightening to look into her eyes. He didn't ask what was wrong, his entire demeanor did it for him and Lana loved him so much in that moment.

"I want us to make love the way we used to."

His eyes were playful but his tone completely earnest as he replied, "out on the balcony in front of God and everyone?"

Lana laughed, tension easing out of her as if she'd just slipped into a steaming hot bath. "No, like we did when we first started dating. Slow and meaningful."

Lex smiled at this, stooping down and gathering her into his arms. He carried her over to the bed and when he set her gently on it, Lana whispered, "I want a baby, Lex."

He lay down with her, dropping kisses like raindrops across her forehead, nose and cheeks. "I know," he said softly, his mouth working over to one ear. "And there's really only one way to get one, isn't there?" he teased, nipping her earlobe with his teeth and sending shivers down her spine.

Lana giggled, relaxing into his tender ministrations. She had the distinct feeling something significant would happen tonight, something that would hopefully change their lives forever.

*

Lana expected to wake up with the warmth of the sunshine bathing her bare skin, her husband slumbering peacefully beside her. Or maybe he would be already awake and simply gazing at her so he could say something romantic when she opened her eyes like, "you're so beautiful when you sleep." That was how mornings after went when babies were made, wasn't it?

Only it wasn't the sunshine that woke Lana, or even her husband's light snoring. It was her stomach, growling angrily at her for missing dinner the night before.

She sat up, finding Lex's side of the bed empty and quickly reminded herself how perfect he had been last night before a frown could push it's way onto her face. Expecting Lex to be late to work just so they could have breakfast in bed was unfair and unreasonable. It was Friday, and Lex always went in early on Fridays to sign checks.

Lana brushed the sleep from her eyes and noticed the long-stemmed rose and small, folded piece of LexCorp stationery on the pillow next to her. She smiled as she picked up the flower, thorn-free because Lex always paid obsessive attention to detail, and figured this was definitely an acceptable alternative if she couldn't cuddle in bed with the real thing.

The note, scrawled in Lex's hurried all-caps penmanship, read:

Lana,
Happy seven-year anniversary of our first date. I'll see you tonight (on time) and we'll try again, just for good measure. Love, Lex

Lana knew that no matter how much Lex changed over the years, he'd never stop surprising her. He could remember the smallest details like the anniversary of their first date and that she preferred maple syrup on French toast but blueberry syrup on pancakes.

Lana read the note three more times before her brain registered the fact that she could still hear Lex's voice carrying from the kitchen. Her smile faded when she realized he was shouting at Clare for some inane reason.

That there was one other thing Lex would never stop doing, Lana thought sadly. He would never stop disappointing her. The same man who probably oversaw the rose being picked from the terrace garden that morning, the same man who ensured that it was de-thorned so he could place it on a pillow next to his sleeping wife, the same man who scrawled out the note and remembered the anniversary of their first date was the same man who was yelling at their loyal and disciplined staff for what was most likely a burnt piece of toast or the wrong type of eggs. Lana sighed and leaned back on her pillow, her hand straying over her belly. She couldn't hold onto that, but she had to hold onto something. Maybe they had made a baby last night, and maybe it would change their lives for the better. Maybe things would be okay after all.

Until, of course, they weren't.

-end-
8 Nov 2002


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