Phantom Pain

by DebC

Author's Notes: After kicking the idea around in my head for a little over a week, I decided it's likely that the proposal scene in "Precipice" could have happened after a minimal of two weeks. Why? Because in the episode, Lex says Helen is "fighting for her life" and if this is the case, then she wasn't out of the hospital and looking so well after only a day or two. Also, they spoke of Paul pleading insanity, which means a legal action was started. To me, this means that some time had to have passed. Therefore, this is a missing scene, set after Paul is apprehended and before the "proposal scene" in the episode. If you don't like my logic, write your own.

"Phantom Pain"

Warm mid-morning sun was streaming through the windows and across the bed. Helen's eyes opened slowly, heavy in the sunny haze. She rolled over, hoping rather than expecting to find more than the other side of the bed that greeted her or the empty pillow where Lex's head should have been. This phenomenon was not indicative of anything, however. It simply meant that Lex either rose early and had not wished to wake her, had slept elsewhere in the mansion--which often happened if he was waiting for a business call from some overseas source and didn't want to keep her up--or that he simply had not returned home. Unfortunately, she thought she knew which of these options was likely to be the truth and whatever happiness she might have felt upon waking up was instantly erased.

Throwing back the damasked comforter, she slid from the bed and padded to the bathroom. The full-length mirror on the wall caught her reflection, but she ignored what it showed her. That was just one more reminder what Paul had done to her--a physical reminder, which in time would fade, but a reminder nonetheless.

Once inside the bathroom, she closed and locked the door, then turned on the shower. She adjusted the water to as hot as she knew she could stand it and stepped inside. The water made her skin flush upon contact.

Her hair came first. Lather, rinse and today repeat because it felt like a repeat sort of day. Anything to keep her in the shower and essentially cut off from the rest of reality a little longer. She considered this her only true sanctuary.

Next was her skin, washed clean with a gentle moisturizing soap and a soft white cloth. Her hands still trembled a little over the spot where her bandages had been, as if they were still afraid of reopening the wounds. They were healed and she knew it instinctively as a doctor, but as a victim, she couldn't seem to convince herself it was true. Sometimes it still hurt there--phantom pain but pain nonetheless.

Rinsing clean, she stood under the water until its heat started to fade, turning it up a little more every few minutes until the water ran a constant lukewarm. Then she turned it off and stepped out of the shower. Reaching for the huge white towel--the softest Luthor money could buy--she dried off, gingerly dabbing at the tender areas.

Finally, she opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out a tube of plain cocoa butter, applying it evenly to the scars Paul's attack had left on her body. Cocoa butter was an old wives' remedy and there other modern wonder creams that she could have used instead, but the cocoa butter had one thing to offer which the others did not. The smell reminded her of sandy beaches and warm summer breezes, and those were welcome thoughts.

Wrapping a waiting robe around her slim body, she exhaled the breath she'd been holding in and left the bathroom. She was searching in the armoire for something to wear when a clicking sound alerted her to someone's arrival. She turned just as the door opened and Lex stepped inside. He was dressed in one of his usual long-sleeved cashmere sweaters. Blue, the color of his eyes. She knew even before he crossed the room and wrapped his arms around her how soft the sweater would be and how warm it would make his embrace.

"You're up," he murmured just before kissing her lips. "You were so angelic this morning, I couldn't bear to wake you."

His voice was like silk, soft and decadent. His lips were warm and inviting, like the blankets on their bed. For a moment, she allowed herself to forget and lose herself in the heaven offered by arms circling her waist. Until, that is, heaven fell into ruinous hell as his hands slipped inside her robe, palms skimming still sensitive areas. Panic rose in her brain at the innocent touch, and she pushed him away.

"Helen?" She turned away as he tried to catch her eye. "Have I done something to offend?" His words were confusion laced with sadness and pain. She ached at hearing them, but couldn't take back the action which caused it.

Grabbing some undergarments from the drawer, she walked to the other side of the room, putting space between them. It was all the answer she could give, and Lex accepted it with a saddened "I'm sorry, Helen," and then she was alone.

She dressed in silence in the empty room, tears rolling quietly down her cheeks. Those she ignored until it was time to apply her makeup, and then they were wiped away by a steaming cloth.

She was on the terrace, seated in a chaise lounge facing the waning sun when Lex returned, his quietly confident footfalls marking his presence long before he even spoke.

"May I join you?" was all he said, polite and hesitant.

"It's your house." It should have been their house but the truth was, she had yet to feel truly "at home" there. She didn't know whether it was the sheer enormity of the place, Lex's recent aloofness, or her even more recent attack which kept her from belonging, but she knew she did not.

"It's yours, too." He sounded determined, and his voice was coming closer, telling her that he was indeed going to join her. She didn't think he noticed the small shake of her head in the negative. He knelt down beside her chair, leaning close enough to her that she could smell the last fading remnant of his cologne.

"Good day at the office?" It was the only thing she could think to say that would divert them following the natural course of the "whose home is it" conversation. When she turned her head to look at him, he gave her one of his trademarked half-smiles and a nod.

"I have to go to Metropolis tomorrow evening, though." His expression was sympathetic and his words were laced with reluctance, as if he didn't want to leave. After an awkward pause in which she did not answer him, he added, "I'd like it if you came with me."

There was something enigmatic in his voice that she couldn't pin down, but it made her feel as if this wasn't an ordinary request. "Lex, I..." She wanted to both accept and decline at the same time, and the two sentiments waged war within her. She was certain he could see the conflict in her eyes because his smile faded. Instead of saying anything, however, he held out an envelope to her. She opened it slowly and found within a confirmation slip for a reservation at one of the finest day spas in Metropolis. "Lex..." It was expensive, and she found herself shaking her head.

"Think about it," he said, interrupting her protest by kissing her, a gentle, tentative kiss, as if he were testing the waters. Then he stood and informed her that he'd brought work home with him and would be in his office when she made a decision.

She remained there, alone, with the envelope still in her hand until the sun had finally slipped beyond the horizon. Grasping the white paper in her hand, she rose from her chair and went inside. The hallway leading to his office dimly lit and walking it took forever, especially with her decision weighing on her mind.

The door to Lex's office was closed when she finally stood before it. Light shone from inside, and she felt drawn to it--drawn to Lex-- like a moth to a flame. She loved him, despite everything that had happened, and wanted to be with him. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open, expecting to find Lex at his desk as he had said, but the room was empty.

Which, she decided, would make what she had to do all the easier on her.

Walking over to the neatly arranged desk, she fully intended to set the envelope and its contents in front of his computer, where he'd be sure to see it when he returned. His screensaver glowed brilliant blue--reminding her too much of the room Lex devoted to his obsession- -and she had no doubt he'd just stepped out for the moment.

As she reached out to set the envelope down, something caught her eye. It appeared to be a list of names, one of which was familiar to her. Curiosity warred honesty as she stared at her father's name, wondering what it could mean. She didn't want to break his trust but is was her father and finding his name on any list in Lex's possession was too much of a coincidence. Shutting her eyes to tamp down the guilt that rushed through her, she picked up the printout and the manila folder it was paper clipped to, skimming it to determine why her father's name would be on a list on Lex's desk. Her face paled when she realized it was a list of plastic surgeons.

Panic seized her, causing her chest to tighten and her breath to catch in her throat. She started to open the folder when the door opened behind her.

"Helen?" Lex's usually smooth voice faltered a bit when she turned around with the folder in her hand.

"What's this?" If she had expected her question to phase Lex, she would have been disappointed. Lex's eyes narrowed, but he showed no surprise.

"Research," he told her, walking closer and holding a hand out for the folder.

She clutched it to her chest, denying him the prize. "What research could you possibly be doing that involves a comprehensive list of the nation's top plastic surgeons?"

"Helen..." his voice was plaintive, eyes asking her not to push.

Something clicked in her brain. "You intended this for me, didn't you?" she accused. "The spa... this... " Her eyes darkened with anger. "You want me to--" She waved the list at him, furious. He never came to bed anymore... suddenly it all made sense. He was ashamed of her--repulsed by her appearance. So much so that he'd gone to the trouble finding a surgeon to change it. Throwing the folder down, she stormed from the room before he could say anything.

She ran down the hall towards their bedroom, one thing on her mind: escape. Reaching the bedroom, she slammed the door shut and sagged against it, slowly sliding to the floor in defeat. Tears which had stung her eyes all the way down the hall now flowed freely.

Lex didn't want her. Not now, scarred as she was. She realized now how ugly she must look to him. How much he must hate looking at her. Why hadn't she seen it before?

She was still crying, still seated against the door when she heard footsteps approaching. A few seconds late, there was a soft knock at the door, and Lex's voice called out "Helen" in gentle tones.

"Go away." She didn't want to see him.

"Helen, I'm sorry, but I can't do that." His voice sounded said and resigned. When she chose to ignore him--staying silent for several minutes--he continued, sighing. "I'm sorry you found out like this; I meant it to be a surprise." A surprise? Yeah, she'd been surprised alright. She snorted skeptically. "You've been so distant since it happened. You never let me touch you..." This morning flashed through her mind: Lex reaching out to and Helen pushing him away. She swallowed hard, wondering now if she'd over-reacted. Maybe Lex did want her still. "... I was worried about you. I was going to give you the list of the best choices after I finished researching them... to do with as you please. I thought maybe it would help you move past this." He sounded so sincere and genuine. "I love you, Helen."

He didn't wait, however, to see if she would answer, instead fulfilling her previous wish like a mixed-up genie and leaving. His retreating footsteps echoed sadly down the hallway. She waited until she could no longer hear them to rise on shaky legs and stumble-- still crying--across the room to the bed. She threw herself down upon the mattress and buried her face in the pillow.

Breakfast was painfully quiet.

Lex was already seated at the table when Helen came in, his entire body hidden from view behind the business section of the newspaper. He barely acknowledged her softly spoken "good morning" and went on reading and sipping his coffee as if he were the only one in the room. It reminded Helen of countless mornings growing up in which her parents weren't speaking due to some fight.

Unsure of how to break the ice, she let it grow, instead choosing to focus on the food set in front of her by a maid. "Thank you," she told the servant politely, and the newspaper rustled at the sound of her voice. Finally, he folded it, setting it aside to reach for his napkin. "Lex..."

He turned clear blue eyes to her, waiting on whatever she had to say. However, the sheer magnitude of his gaze forced the words to retreat. She looked away--trying to gather her thoughts--and by the time she looked back, he was pushing his chair away from the table.

"I'll be back on Monday," he told her, and she could only nod. He didn't ask her to go with him, nor did he make any attempt to bring up the night before. Instead, he simply stood and walked out of the room, but not without casting a glance back at her that she could either interpret as longing or sympathy. She wasn't so sure it wasn't a combination of both.

She wanted to stop him and take back the silence, but she didn't.

She was seated in front of the fireplace, trying to lose herself in a novel when she heard the creak of the door and footsteps entering the room. She tensed; she'd thought she was alone in the mansion. Turning around in her chair, she was surprised to find Lex hovering the doorway, his hand poised on the doorknob dramatically.

"I thought you had a board meeting." He'd seemed so eager to leave earlier, as if he couldn't wait to get out of the castle and away from her, so this new development was something of a surprise.

"I cancelled it for personal reasons."

"That's a first." She found herself smiling at the tone in his voice. He cancelled it for her. All the pain from the last couple of days melted away as he moved closer to her. Lex had come back--or perhaps never left--for her. Because he loved her, her heart was telling her.

He surprised her even more by talking about Paul. She didn't want to hear that he was pleading insanity--or even hear his name. She wanted nothing more than to forget him altogether, but Lex kept pushing. When he told her that he'd wanted to kill Paul, she'd been shocked, but what shocked her more was him admitting that Clark hadn't stayed his hand. Clark, his obsession, his savior. There was a tenderness in his voice and an intensity in his eyes that she'd never seen before. It made her feel giddy, made her smile.

"Clark didn't save me in that moment, Helen. You did... and that's when I knew." He was pulling something out of his pocket now... it was a jeweler's box and suddenly the whole universe seemed to slow to a crawl, leaving them suspended in that one moment.

He opened it, revealing a diamond ring.

"So what do you say, Dr. Bryce... will you marry me?"

Except she found she couldn't say anything... couldn't speak at all for fear the emotions welling up inside her would burst out like flood waters breaking through some ancient dam should she so much as open her mouth.

He loved her. Loved her. He wanted to marry her, even with her scars and insecurities since the attack. They weren't enough to push him away, like she'd feared this morning when breakfast failed to go the way she'd hoped it would.

Tears--both of joy and release of old pain--glistened in her eyes as she reached out to smooth her hand along his cheek. Leaning in, she kissed him and for the first since the attack, she didn't pull away when he held her close.

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