" THE WOUNDED HERO "
CHAPTER1: THE WISH
EXCELSIOR SCHOOL -METROPOLIS
It was Friday afternoon and the school was almost deserted. Soon after lunchtime had started the parade of wealthy parents coming over to pick up their children for the Christmas holiday.
Lex was in his room, as usual, all by himself. Sitting up straight on his bed with his back to the door, he looked out of the window with a forlorn look in his eyes, wondering if Lionel would come to collect him this time. It was certainly possible he would be too tied up in a meeting and send the Luthorcorp limo with his personal chauffer to put off the awkward silences between father and son.
The bald boy was dressed in his perfectly ironed school uniform, his pair of patent-leather shoes polished to a fault- they never failed to reflect his own milky complexion whenever he lowered his head in response to one of his father's tirades. " We Luthors must set the example, son. Being well-groomed is a pre-requisite no self-respecting leader will ever neglect to fulfil. " Those words, like most of his father's speeches, would come to haunt him almost every minute of the day, except when he was in the school Chemistry Lab , his head busy with equations, molecules and chemical substances.
Lex was lost in his reverie holding tight his cherished St George's box- a birthday gift from his mum- when Mrs Lewis , the school cook, tapped gently on the door and made her way in.
" Lex. Lex, honey, your father's chauffer has just arrived. Have you packed yet ?, " asked Mrs Lewis softly.
The reserved boy had always been a favourite of hers, and it killed her just to see how much he suffered. Many a time- before the meteor shower had taken away his beautiful red hair and he was in bed nursing a severe asthma attack that had left him exremely weak- she would sneak up from the kitchen to bring him a special treat. A piece of her renowned apple pie with dollops of whipped cream or, his favourite, a glass of milk with a warm batch of ginger biscuits fresh from the oven would pave the way for him to open up and pour out what was eating him up. She treasured his trust because she knew how hard it was for him to let himself believe someone would actually care about him without having a secret agenda of his own. At the same time, Lex inwardly thanked his having a loving elderly woman as a confidant and foster gradmother. He had never met his father's mother- she had died when Lionel was still an adolescent- and his mum's mother stopped talking to Lillian the moment she chose Lionel to be her lawfully wedded husband. Mrs Lewis helped somehow fill the void in his heart that had resulted from his mother's death. He missed Lillian's warmth so much. Before her untimely death, she had fought tooth and nail Lionel's decision to send Lex away but it was all to no avail. His father was adamant. " It's final. A strict boarding-school is just what he needs. I'm sending him to Excelsior and he should count himself lucky I haven't enrolled him in a Swiss school. He can't hide behind you for ever, Lillian. He's not a wimp. He's a Luthor and the sooner he gets used to that idea the better. "
Lex turned his head to look at the cook and she could tell by his misty eyes that he was on the brink of tears. Lorna- that was her first name- rushed to his side and sitting on the bed next to him gave him a hug. It took him what felt like an eternity to wrap his arms around the tiny figure and, then, the dam broke down. " Damn Lionel Luthor and his incapacity to see how hungry his son was for a word of affection or a simple embrace. "
"It's OK, sweetie. You can cry to your heart's content. Never let them convince you that giving yourself to tears from time to time is a sign of weakness in a man. It shows you're human, you're still alive and feeling. "
Five minutes elapsed and, when his sobbing started to ebb away, Lorna produced a a white cotton handkerchief from her pocket and gave it to Lex to blow his nose and dab his eyes. It smelled of lavender and it reminded him of her mother's cologne. It smelled like home, a home that no longer existed. The tears threatened to fall again but he managed to control himself.
" Now, are you ready for a present ?, " asked Lorna taking a thin gift-wrapped packet from underneath her apron.
Lex raised his eyes to her face and, with the young eagerness of a child, took the present and tore the paper to reveal the cover of a hard-to-get issue of " Warrior Angel ". It featured the wounded hero lying in the arms of his beloved, a world of tenderness in her eyes as he looked at her, his deep most secret feelings out in the open for her and the world to see. " Some day, Lex. Some day, " thought Lorna, " a woman we'll see in you what I've seen and she'll give her unconditional love to you. "
CHAPTER 2: THE PROMISE
SMALLVILLE - CHRISTMAS EVE
It was Christmas Eve. Lana and Chloe were back from university for the Christmas season and they were enjoying the best Christmas Eve dinner Lana could remember. Gabe had always been an accomplished cook but this time he had outdone himself. There was so much food that Lana doubted they would be able to finish it before New Year unless they invited several of the neighbours over. She was eating with realish her second serving of turkey with cranberry sauce when her mobile phone rang. She looked at her watch. It was exactly midnight.
" Hello ? Lex ? Merry Christmas ! ," she answered with a catch in her voice. The call had taken her by surprise - not that he had ever forgottten to wish her all the best for her birthday or any important anniversary, but he had always been elusive at Christmas time.
Nobody answered on the other side.
Lana. He could still remember the first time he had set eyes on her, that is, the first time he had set eyes on her as an adult. He recalled the exact place and moment she told him they had met before. It was in the stables- the day after Clark had been tied to a pole in his undies in the middle of a cornfield. Lex had purposedly sought her out to ask her if she knew Whitney's whereabouts the night before.
" You must be Lana. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. "
" We've already met. "
" I seriously doubt I'd forget meeting you. " " You were a little preoccupied at the time. " "I get the feeling I didn't make a great first impression. " " When I was ten, I went to Metropolis for a riding competition,. Your father invited us to stay over. My aunt said you had an indoor pool. When I went to check it out, I found you and a girl skinny dipping. I think you were teaching her the breast stroke. "
He remembered having to resort to everything he had learned from his years living with Lionel to cover up his emotions behind a seemingly nonchalant smile. He couldn't let anyone see, least of all this beautiful girl, that he could still blush like a teenager or else, who would buy the cold and serious businessman image he wanted to project?
" Lex ? Are you there ? Is everything all right ?, " she asked with concern.
He didn't answer but she could hear his breathing.
" Lex ? Lex, is that you ? You're freaking me out, Lex. "
He seemed to find his voice and, speaking so low that Lana could barely make out what he was saying, whispered: " She's... she's dead, Lana." He started to sob and added: " I ... I couldn't ...save her and now ... I'm... alone. She's left... me. "
Lana was speechless. Who was " she " ? Was he in a drunken stupor remembering that childhood Christmas when his mother died ? Was it Lillian he was talking about ?
" Lex, calm down. Who's she ? Who's dead, Lex ? "
He got hold of himself and wiping the tears with the back of his hand, he said: " Sorry, Lana. I shouldn't have called you. Everything's OK. I'll be fine. Go back to your dinner. Send my best to Chloe and Gabe. Bye, Lana. "
" No, Lex. Don't hang up. Lex ? Lex ? "
The line was dead. Lana turned around, looked at Chloe and Gabe and, with an apologetic look in her face, told them that a friend was in need. Lex had always been there for her and she couldn't fail him the one time he needed someone to lean on. "Absolutely, " responded Gabe. " But, Lana, it's snowing heavily. I don't want to meddle and sound like an overbearing parent. I don't want you outside all by yourself, worrying if your car has skidded and you've ended up in a ditch. Let us drive you. "
"OK, Mr Sullivan. I'd appreciate it. Let me pick up my trench coat and gloves. "
It took them fifteen minutes to arrive at the gate of the Luthor Mansion. Lana had urged Gabe inwardly to step on the gas but she knew that being reckless in the snow would only make matters worse.
The guard left his shelter and approached the left window. Gabe wound it down and let him look inside.
" Hello, Sam. Merry Christmas. Mr Luthor's expecting me. " " Hello, Miss Lang. Come in, please. "
Gabe changed gear and the car rolled along the driveway that led to the front gate of the mansion.
" Lana, will you be fine ? Would you like Chloe to go with you ? "
" It's all right, Mr Sullivan. Don't worry about my coming back home safe and sound. Lex, we'll see to it, I'm sure. If I need for you to come and pick me up, I'll give you a ring. Sorry again for the dinner. I can't thank you enough.It's been the best Christmas ever. "
Gabe turned the car round. Lana looked at the tail lights dim away and climbed up the steps that would carry her to the imposing wooden door. She knocked and it opened.
" Miss Lang, Merry Christmas. Mr Luthor's in his study. "
" Thanks, Steve. Go back to your celebration and give my regards to the staff. I can find the way myself. "
" Goodnight, Miss Lang, and thanks for coming. I know he'll appreciate it. You'll do him good, you always do. I wish I could do something for him myself. "
Steve's concern and what he had said to her didn't surprise her at all. She knew what his home staff felt for him. They were, perhaps, the only employees who didn't judge him because of his surname. They recognised in him a fair and caring boss, one who would always look after them and to whom they could turn at any time.
Lana rushed to the study. Twenty minutes had passed since he hanged up on her and she didn't know in what state she would find him. She pushed the door open and let herself in.
It took Lana a minute to adjust her eyes to the darkness and make out Lex's fragile figure sitting in an armchair next to the fireplace. She could see he had been drinking for there was an empty tumbler and a similarly empty decanter on a side table by him. She came up to him and placed a hand on his left arm. She felt him recoil and then relaxed. He turned his eyes to the flames and, placing his right hand on top of hers, gave her a squeeze. She lowered herself down on the sofa across from his seat and gave him time to collect his thoughts.
Lex stood up, crossed the room, took a blue bottle of spring water, opened it and took a huge gulp before sitting next to her on the sofa. Not a word had passed between them yet but she could feel he was hurting and she didn't know what to say. There had never been anyone in her life, not even Clark, to whom she had felt so much attuned. She perceived him like a kindred spirit, someone who had suffered as much as her, or maybe, more. At least, there had been Nell in her life, while he had had no one as far as she knew. She found it hard to envision Lionel as a loving parent .
" She passed away this afternoon. Her name is... was ... Lorna. I wish you had met her, Lana. You would have liked her, and she would have liked you. She was an extraordinary woman. She was the grandmother I never had. "
And so he started. He told her about his miserable and lonely years in boarding-school, having no friends, losing his mum and having someone with no secret agenda actually caring for him. He smiled and his face beamed when he recalled all those times Lorna had sneaked up from the kitchen carrying food to brighten him up.
Lana felt privileged that he confided in her this much. Many of the things he knew about him she had heard from Clark and the rest of the information she got from him wasn't given voluntarily but at moments of weakness. She remembered one particular occasion when she thought he was losing his mind. Clark had found him rocking a rolled blanket thinking it was his baby brother Julian, and Clark and her had hidden him in the stables where she kept her horse. She was aware that Lex wasn't sure how much of him he had revealed to her but she was convinced he must have a pretty good idea because their relationship changed somehow after that, it deepened. Although he had scared her stiff, she was touched to learn there was a whole other side to him she could identify herself with, his wounded self.
Lana looked at Lex's profile and noticed his eyes glistened. She followed his gaze down to the coffee table and saw an old copy of " Warrior Angel " lying there. She stretched out her hand and picked it up.
" That was a gift of hers. I've always kept it in the top drawer of my desk so that I could look at it from time to time and remember there was someone out there who still cared for me. And now she's gone. She was right. My mother was right. Some things money can't buy or secure. No matter all the means at my diposal, I couldn't stop Lorna from dying. I brought to Metropolis the best doctors from the remotest corners of the world but nothing could be done.I know there are things that we can't help but, Lana, it sure hurts like hell."
" Lex, you've been the best friend someone could hope for all these years. You've been constantly there for me, for Clark, the Kents, the Sullivans and countless others. You're a good man. I'm sure she loved you for all the things you've done for her and that she was proud of the man you've become. She's dead, yes, but you're not alone.You've got friends who care about you. I care about you. "
Lex faced her, his eyes brimming with tears and Lana could do nothing else but wrap him in her arms.
Lavender. She smelled of lavender. Lex was at home at last and he let the tears flow down in a torrent for the second time in his life. His crying was heart-wrenching and Lana tightened her embrace in an attempt to ease the pain. She had never seen a man dissolve in tears in front of her, least of all Lex. He was the one she constantly turned to when she didn't know what to do. He always had the answers. He was so confident, so bloody sure of himself. She wasn't afraid to recognise that she had been in awe of him before she got to know him better. Therefore, for all his suffering, she was glad he allowed her to see this side of him. It showed that he was human and not unapproachable.
Once his sobbing had ebbed away, Lex stretched out on the sofa and placed his head on Lana's lap. The tears were now falling silently and Lana caressed his face and wiped his tears with her own hands. Then, she lowered her head and placed a tender kiss on his forehead. Lex took her left hand and, after planting a soft kiss on it, let it rest on his heart. She could feel the steady beating and realised he was falling asleep. It was at this moment that she accepted the truth, the truth she had tried to deny for several years and, particularly of late; she loved him.
It was Christmas morning and the sun rays entered the study through the tinted glass. Lana woke up and felt Lex stir. His eyelids fluttered open and his eyes focused on her face. He lay there, with his heart completely open, vulnerable, ready for her to crush it. She knew then. She could read it in his eyes.
" Promise. Promise me you won't leave me, Lana, " Lex said passionately.
" I do, Lex. I do promise. "
CHAPTER 3: THE GIFT
SMALLVILLE-THREE YEARS LATER-CHRISTMAS
Three years had passed since that very special Christmas. One year and a half since their private wedding ceremony. Lana couldn't believe how immensely happy she was and her bliss and Lex's would be complete this season with the arrival of their baby girl, Lily.
Lex had taken the news of her pregnancy very quietly at first. She had found it hard to dispel that wounded look in his eyes. Surely he wasn't jealous, was he ? No, of course not. It was wonderful news ! Still, she would surprise him watching her, now and then, with a look of deep love mingled with pain. It ached her because she had never seen him like this ever since that Christmas three years before.
After her first ultrasound, when they found out she was expecting a baby girl, Lex seemed to become his new self again. He was on cloud nine, and pampered her to distraction.
" What do you think of calling her Lily after your mum, Lex ? "
She knew the moment those words left her mouth that he had made him the happiest man on Earth.
Lex worried sick about Lana and, although she understood his fears, she had always been a strong-willed young woman who loved doing things her own way. Lex had tried to convince her to move to Metropolis to be close to the best-equipped hospitals but she never gave an inch. Hadn't he said once he wanted to be as far away as possible from Metropolis, Luthorcorp and Lionel ? They had vacated the mansion immediately after their honeymoon and moved into their own house to sever all ties with Lionel. They had chosen Smallville over Metropolis to raise a family and she didn't want to come near the man who had made her husband suffer so much in the past.
Against Lex's wishes, Lana still worked a few hours at The Talon in the mornings . She had resumed her duties after Lois got a job in Metropolis working for The Daily Planet. By that time, Martha Kent's her term in office had finished and she was back in Smallville for a well-deserved hiatus. God Bless Mrs Kent, her help came in handy now that Lana could scarcely move.
It was Christmas Eve and Lana had got up early to start preparing dinner for that night. She had invited Mrs Kent over when she learnt that Clark was covering a story with Lois somewhere in the Middle East and that she would have to spend Christmas alone.
Lex was in his study going over some Lexcorp papers and sending some last minute instructions by fax to close a deal he had been after for the past six months. He had closed down several divisions of the corporation, and relocated his personnel, to devote the company's energy and resources to the medical and pharmaceutical fields. Lana was proud of him and of what he was doing through Lexcorp.
Lana felt the first contraction when she opened the oven to put the stuffed turkey in, and knew the moment had come. She shut the oven door, turned the knob, cut off the gas and made her way to Lex's study.
" Lex ? It's time. "
He sprang from his swivel chair like a coil. She had never seen him move so fast. He picked up her car keys on his way down the corridor- no Porsche this time; he couldn't trust his reflexes- and drove her to hospital.
It took her eight hours of hard labour to be ready for the delivery room. Lex had been with her all the time, except when the doctor entered with a nurse to do the regular check-ups. When he was not in the room, she could hear him pace up and down the corridor like a caged animal; she was certain he would burn two holes in his soles and that they would have to change the hospital floor tiles.
Lily was born the minute the clock stroke midnight. It had been a long ordeal and Lana had lost a lot of blood but she convinced the doctors to let her say goodbye to Lex in her own terms.
Lex was ecstatic and looked at Lana as if she had given him the world. She smiled at him tenderly and stretching her arms out handed him the baby .
" She's beautiful, Lana. "
" I know she is. She's your daughter. "
He blushed and said " She takes after her mother. "
Lex couldn't tear his eyes away from the babe. It was such a miracle !
" Lex ? Lex, you have to be strong. I know I've promised ... "
" What are you talking about, Lana ? I don't understand... "
She looked up at him, all the love she felt for him in her eyes. " I'll never leave you. Know that you've been loved, Lex. You are loved. "
Lana closed her eyes and slippedquietly away. Lex collapsed on the hospital bed, Lily still in his arms, and burst into bitter tears for the third time in his life. Then, he felt the baby stir and touch his wet face with her tiny hand. He looked down and saw Lily's lovely face, eyes looking lovingly at him and realised Lana was right. She would never leave him. He had her unconditional love.
Lillian and Lorna looked at each other and smiled. God had answered their prayers, at last.
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