Disclaimer: Smallville and all related elements, characters and indicia © Tollin-Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television, 2002. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situationssave those created by the authors for use solely on this websiteare copyright Tollin-Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.
Author's note: My beta just had a baby, so she’s out of commission. I tried to catch things, honest. For Maura, who asked what I was thinking.
Jasmine and Silk
When he thinks back on the night, he remembers the cool brush of silk against his cheek. The elegant sleeve of his mother’s robe was a separate caress from her cool fingers against his brow, and he will always smell jasmine and think of her touching him softly in the dark. He feigned sleep, as usual, for just a moment, soaking up that fleeting touch, the one that told him implicitly that of all her fine jewels, he was her favorite treasure. His lashes would eventually part to sneak a sly, adoring peek up at her, matching slate gazes tangling in the shadows until they both smiled.
He had been eleven, then. Old enough to shun such affection in the light of day, another painful attempt to become something less of a disappointment to his father. So she had come to him in the dark, where she could still touch him and he would still allow it. Relish it.
“Can’t sleep?” she had asked, and he had nodded, her fingers slipping over his scalp as if it were the most natural thing in the world to see the gleam of moonlight on bare skin there, instead of the same fiery red hair that cascaded over her own shoulders in a tumble of curls. “Baptisms are nothing to be afraid of, my darling.” Her smile had been soft, assured. But weren’t they? Tomorrow morning the entire world would know that Lionel Luthor had another son, a son that he was proud of, who didn’t wheeze, didn’t question authority. A son who was born with more hair than Lex had, and yes, the shallow things had hurt, even then.
“Will Dad…” He hadn’t voiced the rest of the question, the words lodging in his throat, stubbornly resisting any encouragement to come out or be swallowed back down. He had known how proud his father was of the new baby. His brother, Lex always had to remind himself, because it seemed so alien after eleven years of being an only child. He had seen how Lionel looked on the pinched, ruddy face with the gleam of determination and hope. The same look that had faded from his father’s eyes when he had looked at him, since that day in Smallville a few years earlier. He hadn’t been able to choke out the words, too needy to even admit to his mother in the shadowed sanctuary of his bedroom.
There was no need to voice the question, anyway. One look in his mother’s eyes and he knew she understood how he thought, how he ached, what he feared most here in the dark when he couldn’t sleep. He still remembers the rustle of her hair on silk as she shook her head and murmured, “No one will ever take your place, Alexander.” Then she had smiled, smoothing over the jagged edges of his pain like a cool, coral balm. “Sleep, sweetheart. Tomorrow, it’ll all be over with, I promise.”
He had drifted off to sleep adrift in a soothing sea of jasmine and silk.
Lillian had taken his hand, squeezing it with what little strength remained in her weak, frail frame. “Alexander, look at me.” He had obeyed, even though looking into her sunken eyes was something akin to a hell that Dante had never managed to get around to describing. He blinked, words lodging again in his throat as his eyes burned and her face blurred. She was dying, probably in the next few days, possibly within hours. He had known that as he held her hand, wondering how fingers that had once been so wonderfully cool against his skin could be so hot and brittle now, curled around his own. His mother was dying, her body wasting away from the heart disease, but Lex had known she was dying for two years, far before any doctors had made their pronouncement. Since Julian’s death, that night before the baptism, they had been losing her, -he- had been losing her. His father had pulled away before the disease ever appeared, something human in him withering from the blow of losing a second chance to mold an emperor. The death of hope had killed something vital and human within him, and so Lex grieved his mother’s passing alone. Only he had been here to hold her hand, as she decayed before his eyes. Eyes that still tangled hopelessly with hers in an effort to understand how she could leave him, when he still needed her so much.
She had turned his hand until the sunlight that spilled through the heavy draperies had caught on the face of the watch she had given him only recently. Reflected sunlight had blinded him momentarily, leaving her words spoken in a brilliant, almost ethereal glow. As though she were already an angel, but Lex had pushed that thought brutally aside. “You must promise to remember your destiny.”
Destiny. How far back could he remember those words being spoken around him, to him, possibly –over- him as he lay in a tulle draped bassinette? He hated the word, hated the connotations of power and isolation and of an inescapable future. Most of all, he hated the ruthless glint in his father’s eyes when he spoke at length on the subject. He had pleaded with her, not wanting these final moments to be marred with talk of something so closely associated with Lionel. “Mom, I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
”Great things. You’re destined for great things,” she had insisted. “Great sacrifices have been made for you.”
Lex had leaned in, kissing the backs of her fingers, dampening them with tears that his father would mock. But then he had never understood. “I’m sorry,” he had whispered. “I’m so sorry that I’ve disappointed you. That I can’t…”
”Shhhh,” she had murmured, brushing her fingers along his cheek, strands of fire to scar his memory, if not his skin. “Don’t cry for me when I’m gone.” She smiled weakly, the cool coral withered into a dry bed of sand, but she still was his balm. “I live on in you, and you must fight for us. For this gift I have given you.” Her eyes had closed and she had swallowed, her words rasped when she spoke again. “The throne will be yours alone to take, someday. Judge well when you make that move, or everything will have been in vain.”
More words of power to taunt him, the unavoidable fate that seemed to mock the pain he had felt then, as a heartbroken thirteen year old boy losing the only person who had ever treasured him. “I love you,” he had whispered in a cracked voice, curling her fingers beneath his chin. He saw that same desperate adoration reflected back in the hollows of her eyes.
“Perhaps more than I deserved.” She brushed her thumb against his chin, and he would always remember it. One of the last times he had allowed anyone to touch him. “I love you, Alexander.” She had looked into his eyes, fierce and frightening in that moment. “I loved you more.” A long moment had passed with only the beep of a heart monitor to punctuate the lost seconds ticking by. “Earn the sacrifice that I made.” Then her eyes had closed, the horrible look broken as she slipped away, and when she had died a week later, he was left to hold her sins and guilt, her silent disease, in his own heart.
It had been so long since he had thought of it all. It was possibly the first time he had spoken his name aloud in ten years. To Clark, of course, who had taken the pieces of the story that he was willing to offer and been satisfied with what he supposed was a meaningful secret from the past. It would make him happy after the incident with secrecy surrounding the Club Zero debacle, happy enough that he would never pry into gaping, obvious holes in the story. Clark came from simple people who would never dream of probing the kind of pain that came from losing a baby brother in the dead of night, and Lex was grateful for that simplicity.
It was too much to have even spoken his name, to have remembered his mother on the eve of a fateful dinner that could possibly decide his future. He wonders now what it might have been like, as he explains how his father would have had them at war, all of their lives. What would it have been like to have a competitor, someone better than him, worse than him? For the first time since he was a boy, reading comic books, he wonders what it would have been like to have an arch nemesis.
Well, he has dad.
There’s a certain amount of enjoyment to be taken out of the chess game that they call life, these days. The latest move had left him uncertain of his father’s strategy, and of his own. Even after all these years, Lex still didn’t know when or how to take this destiny that everyone had spoken of for as long as he could remember.
‘Judge well when you make that move.’
Her words whispered over his mind, as cool as her fingers had once been, touching his face in the shadows. Clark was just behind him, saying something that silenced the ghostly echoes.
“If anyone can choose who they want to be Lex, it’s you.”
No, not me, Lex thought and almost allowed a smile at the irony of it. Someone else decided that a very long time ago, Clark.
Sometime...sometimes, he wondered if Julian hadn’t gotten off easily. A goodnight kiss, the soft brush of fingers along his brow before he had escaped into sleep on a sea of jasmine and silk.