The Air Above
Oh, you who are born of the blood of the gods, Trojan son of Anchises, easy is the descent to Hell; the door of dark Dis stands open day and night. But to retrace your steps and come out to the air above, that is work, that is labor! ~Virgil, The Aeneid
Lex stared at the printout on his desk. The words hadn't changed since he'd first looked at them. Everything else had changed. But not the words. The words that damned him and saved him all in a single instance.
Lionel Luthor was sterile.
A sperm count so low that he'd have a better chance of getting pregnant than impregnating a woman.
Date of File: October 8, 1977.
Three years before Lex's conception.
Which meant Lionel wasn't his father.
Which meant he wasn't a Luthor.
Which meant--God help him what it meant about his mother.
He wrapped his hand around a glass and lifted it to his lips. Empty. A glance confirmed the decanter next to it was empty, too. He opened his mouth to call a servant, then remembered he'd kicked them all out of the mansion right after he'd downloaded the file from Lionel's medical records.
Not a Luthor. Not a Luthor. Not a--
A tinkling sound made him look down. Shards of crystal lay on the desk. He watched in distracted fascination as crimson droplets splattered across them. Blood. His blood. But not Luthor blood.
How could it not be Luthor blood? All his life he'd been told it was. All his life he'd been made to act like it was. Luthors did this. Luthors didn't do that. Luthors were. Luthors weren't.
He wasn't a Luthor. Which meant he wasn't. Period. End of everything. What he was fighting for. What he was fighting against. There was no reason, no purpose, no Lex Luthor.
So it couldn't be blood, right? Because only real people bled. And he wasn't real. Not anymore.
No. He had to be somebody. And who would know better than the someone he thought he was.
He reached for the printout. The red dots that appeared on it startled him until he remembered the blood. He opened a drawer and pulled out a handkerchief. He took time to tie it precisely around his hand, stopping for a few seconds to watch how the liquid absorbed into the fabric. Much like LuthorCorp fertilizer leaching into the soil.
How could he not be a Luthor and still think about shit like that?
He stood and slipped into the jacket that hung on the back of the chair. Why hadn't--yes, right, he'd gotten rid of the staff. He needed to remember that. After carefully folding the printout, he stuck it in the jacket's inner pocket. Next to his heart.
That wasn't pumping Luthor blood.
God, he really needed to get over it.
Luthors didn't whine.
He made his way to the garage, noting his ability to judge distances and anticipate corners. He finally concluded he wasn't drunk. How long had his glass been dry?
To be on the safe side, he avoided the sportier of his cars, settling for a Mercedes sedan. Why did he even own it? Oh, yeah. His dad had been making some point about being mature and settling down.
He turned the music up as loud as it would go so he wouldn't have to listen to his own thoughts.
Luthors didn't whine.
Lionel was in the dining room when Lex arrived at the penthouse. Only seeing the eggs and orange juice let him know that this was breakfast. He hadn't really had any concept of time for…well, apparently for a while.
"Did we have an appointment?" Lionel asked calmly, not looking up from a report he was reading.
Lex removed the printout and let it flutter into Lionel's field of view. Lionel unfolded it, read it, then laid it aside. He turned the page of the report.
"Who is my father?"
"Who is my biological father?"
"I don't know."
Lex laughed. "You want me to believe you have no idea who your wife was having an affair with?"
"She didn't have an affair."
"Since I have no desire to sacrifice myself for anyone, much less the whole fucking Hebrew nation, I'm assuming we're not talking immaculate conception here."
Lionel laughed, too. "Sit down and have some breakfast, Lex. You look as if you could use it."
Lex sat because he could feel his knees giving away. "If I wasn't the product of an affair, then what? A one night stand gone wrong?"
"Your mother didn't see it as wrong, and it was considerably shorter than a night. Juice?"
Lex shook his head, his stomach rebelling at just the thought of the sweet liquid.
"Your mother wanted a child. I couldn't give her one, and I refused to consider adoption because of the state's required intrusion into my personal and business affairs. She said she understood. She left the house and returned four hours later. As she crawled into our bed, she said that she hoped I understood, too. Three months later, it was confirmed that you were on the way. I asked her who was the father. She said that I was. I loved her enough to let it go."
"Think what you want of me, but you know I loved your mother."
Lex nodded. It had been the only reason that he'd thought Lionel might love him one day.
"She loved you from the moment of conception. I'm not even sure she remembered who fathered you, only an uncanny knowledge that you were growing inside her. Lionel, come talk to our son. Lionel, our son will be brilliant, Lionel, what shall we name our son? She was so radiantly happy that I couldn't even be jealous of you. When you were born, she had the doctor hand you to me. Your son, Lionel. Hold him until you feel it as deeply as I do. If you had cried or cooed or squirmed, I probably would have dumped you in her arms and walked away. Instead, you opened eyes that should have been unfocused and challenged me to a goddamned staring match. Hell yeah, you were a Luthor."
"What about Julian?"
"Reproductive science made great leaps the years between you and Julian."
"He was yours biologically."
"No. Lillian had a health scare, a
precursor to her final illness. Her greatest fear was for you. She knew how
much the business meant to me, how often I wouldn't be around, and she was afraid you wouldn't be loved enough
without her. So she decided to give you a baby, someone you could love and who
would love you back without reserve like she had. Unfortunately,
SIDS--just a bad end. Hell of an epitaph. "And you decided to take away even the backups she'd left behind, like Pamela."
Lionel shrugged. "It was best that you learned early in life what it meant to be a Luthor."
"But I'm not."
Lionel drank the rest of his juice. "Think what you want. Go off in search of some unknown sperm donor. Turn your back on all that you have. But it won't matter. You are a Luthor, Lex." He wiped his mouth on a linen napkin and stood. "You might want to call that disreputable doctor of yours to see to your hand. And don't forget the board meeting on Thursday. Oh, and by the way, your computer hacking skills seem to be improving. I heartily approve."
Lex felt, rather than watched, Lionel leave. The story he'd spun had been so ridiculous that it had to be true. A desperate woman had gone out and gotten herself pregnant. How many attempts? How many men? And when she'd convinced herself she was pregnant, she'd gone home to her husband.
And he'd loved her enough to accept it.
Shaken to his core, Lex gathered his evidence and headed home. To Smallville.
Jonathan Kent was a farmer with plenty of worries. Mortgage/money problems, a teenage son who wasn’t from earth, and a Luthor who was bound and determined to stick his nose into everything that wasn’t his business. Not to mention the fact that his alien son thought of Luthor as his best friend. No good could come from that. No good at all.
He fiddled with the radio in his truck, hoping to drown out his negative thoughts by belting out one of his favorite country tunes. Just as he found a station, he noticed a car on the side of the road ahead. Even from a distance it was easy to tell it was an expensive sports car, and in Smallville that could mean only one thing. Luthor. Had he destroyed another one of his toys? Well, if Luthor was waiting for a tow, he certainly didn’t need a lift home. Jonathan pressed down on the gas.
Then he noticed the car was parked at an odd angle. No. It wasn’t parked at all. What the…? Despite his initial reaction, he pulled over behind the car and got out. The boy was rich and flashy. Sooner or later, it was bound to get him into trouble. But didn’t carjackers usually take the car? A kidnapping? Then again, this was Smallville.
He approached the car slowly.
A convertible. Keys still in the ignition. Cell phone on the passenger’s seat. Unease crawled up Jonathan’s spine. He walked down the road, looking for evidence of something bad. What he found was Luthor himself, standing on the same bridge he’d knocked Clark off of. He opened his mouth to yell at the idiot, then stopped. Something was wrong. Luthor was staring too intently at the water. And the car…wasn’t parked.
Jonathan backed up and went back to the car. He reached over, picked up the cell phone, and dialed the 9 and a 1. A second later he hit the clear button and called information for the number for Smallville High.
Clark was surprised to hear his name on the school intercom, and was even more surprised to hear his dad.
It took him a little over a minute to reach the truck and Lex’s car.
“He’s at the bridge, son. I--I didn’t feel comfortable approaching him. I don’t know if he’s on something or… I would be careful about startling him, Clark.”
Clark frowned, then his eyes widened when he realized what his dad was trying to say. He started to laugh because if there was anyone who wasn’t suicidal, it was Lex. Lex was so full of life, heck, so full of himself that he would never contemplate… But his life had been stressful lately. Lionel Luthor had been making more and more appearances. That whole Club Zero mess. The theft of that important computer disk. Pete trying to kill him.
“I’ll be careful, Dad.” It wasn’t like Lex could do anything. He could catch him before he jumped.
Seeing Lex made him understand why his dad was worried. The slim silhouette was too still, the gaze on the water too intense. He approached slowly, making scuffing noises so Lex wouldn’t be surprised. Lex gave no indication that he knew someone was there.
Clark was relieved. Whatever was riding Lex didn’t have him blinded to his surroundings. “This is a dangerous place to stand. I know from experience.”
“But you also said it was a great place to think.”
“Is that why you’re here? To think?”
Lex shrugged. “Why are you here? School out? Or is this a weekend?”
Stifling a shudder, Clark moved closer. “You’ve lost track of the days of the week?”
“Sure, why not? Everything else is lost.”
“Lex, look at me.” The bare head turned slowly. Clark noted the dark circles beneath the eyes. Mental bruising. The eyes were clear, but devoid of the usual vibrancy, the keen vitality he usually saw in them. They looked--tired. “Has something happened?”
The eyes turned back to watching the rushing waters.
“Let me drive you home, Lex.”
“Do you know how to get there, Clark? I don’t.”
Clark lay a hand on Lex’s shoulder, waited for the inevitable flinch, then moved closer when his friend relaxed. “I know.”
“Good, because I don--”
Clark caught him as he crumpled. As he adjusted the weight in his arms, he brushed his lips across the smooth forehead in benediction. A sacred vow to be to this man what he needed--someone who believed in him, not his name.
“He collapsed, Dad.” Clark eased Lex into the Ferrari’s passenger seat. “I’m going to take him to the castle.”
“The emergency room would be a better idea. He could be in the middle of an overdose.”
Clark shook his head. “Lex isn’t on anything. He’s just tired…and lost.”
Clark stopped him. “I know what it’s like, Dad. I probably had the same dazed expression on my face when you told me about the space thing in the cellar. Something has rocked everything Lex believes in, and he’s hurting. I think he’s been hurting for several days. I knew I should have checked on him when he didn’t show up at the Talon liked he’d told Lana he was planning. Lex always does what he says.”
“Son, you aren’t responsible for Lex Luthor. You can’t just drop everything and run to his side just because there may be a chance that something’s wrong.”
“Why can’t I, Dad? I’d do it for Pete or Chloe or Lana. Why can’t I be there for Lex?”
“No one. No one he can turn to when his life goes to hell. Do you understand that? Can you…comprehend how that must feel?”
“It’s his choice.”
“No it isn’t. Not when there are people like you who won’t let him choose.” He was tired of going over the familiar argument. Clark adjusted the seatbelts around Lex and moved over to the driver’s side of the car. “Tell Mom not to hold dinner for me. I’m going to call a doctor friend of Lex’s--it looks like he might have injured his hand--then stay the night to make sure he’s okay.”
“It’s no less than he’d do for me. You know that, Dad, as well as I do. But you won’t accept it because he’s a Luthor. That’s your choice. I’ll do my chores when I get home in the morning.”
Clark adjusted the seat and the mirrors, turned the ignition, and drove away.
Lex woke like he always did--cautiously. He kept his eyes closed and sent out his other senses. It was apparently night. He was in his own room. And there was someone in bed with him. He quickly sent his mind in search of the recent past. Bombshell. Visit with Lionel. Watching water. Clark. Toby? Yes, Toby, because he could feel the dregs of Toby’s usual anti-pain formula cruising his veins. Damn. No wonder everything had a fuzzy edge. So, who was the person in his bed? “Clark?”
“Lex? You okay? You need something?”
The lamp beside the bed popped on and Lex turned his head, waiting for his eyes to adjust. “Answers would be nice.”
“To what questions?”
Lex turned back to see Clark sitting up, looking rumpled but fully dressed. “Was Toby here?”
“Yeah. He put some stitches in your hand and gave you a shot. Antibiotics, and vitamins because he said you looked like you’ve been starving yourself. You haven’t, have you?”
“I probably ate around the last time I slept.”
“If you plan to take over the world by the time you’re thirty, you’re going to have to take better care of yourself.”
Lex smiled. “So noted, Dr. Kent.”
“Toby said I needed to get some food into you when you woke. Mom brought some soup over when she came. I’ll go warm it up for you. What did you do? Fire your entire staff?”
“Just gave them a sudden holiday. Your mom?”
“Yeah, she came to see how you were. You scared us both when you passed out like that.”
“She was there?”
“No, but Dad told her, and there was no way she wasn’t coming over to see that you were fine for herself.”
“Your dad was there?”
Clark nodded. “He’s the one who found you at the bridge, figured something was wrong, and called me.”
“I’m surprised that he cared enough to actually stop. Why didn’t he just call the cops and have me arrested for vagrancy?”
“I’m sorry, Clark, but it’s not a secret your father doesn’t like me. I don’t understand why he called you, or didn’t just yell at me for being a public safety hazard.” Teal eyes stared solemnly at him. “Shit. Please don’t tell me that I was in bad enough shape as to inspire pity in your father. Please don’t tell me I was that blatantly pathetic. And if I was that bad around your father, mine must have laughed his ass off earlier.” Lex grabbed a pillow and pressed it over his face.
It was snatched away instantly.
"It's not a fucking joke!"
Lex frowned. Apparently he was missing something. What joke? What-- Fuck! He must have been the epitome of pathetic if Clark thought-- "Let me make one thing perfectly clear to you, Kent. There is no way in hell I would voluntarily give up the minimal control I have in life for the abso-fucking-lute lack of control in death. Or, let me put it another way--if I die before I'm 120, you better bust your balls looking for my murderer. So, if that’s why you're here, you can run on home like a good little farm boy."
Clark stared at him solemnly, as if judging his speech, which Lex now thought was a little over the top. Drama queen much, Lex? He closed his eyes in self-disgust.
"No," Clark said softly.
Lex opened his eyes. "No, what?"
"No, that's not why I'm here. I'll go warm that soup."
Lex groaned as soon as Clark left the room. The first thing on his agenda when he ruled the world was to build a time machine so he could come back to now and relive the day over again. He wouldn't go see Lionel and be confronted with the ugly truth: Lionel put up with him not out of familial loyalty but because somewhere in that Teflon-coated heart of his, he'd loved his wife and by extension…he'd learned to love her son.
Fuck, that put a damper on a lot of his future plans.
Lex slid out of the bed and looked down at the soft cotton pajama bottoms he was wearing. Who had undressed him? Clark or Toby? Since the bottoms were right side out and the fly properly faced the front, he'd bet on Clark as his valet. Wasn't that interesting and down, Mr. Cock, because it was something Clark would do for his brother or a suicidal friend.
Suicide. He hadn’t considered it at all. It was just too easy, and despite what people like Jonathan Kent thought, easy wasn't his road of choice. Of all the great sins, that was the one most likely to be skipped. The others--well, the ones he hadn't already checked off--they would no doubt be undertaken at a future date.
But he wasn't a Luthor, so maybe….
What the hell did it mean? Clark had once told him that he had the power to be whoever he wanted to be. But he'd thought that impossible because he was a Luthor and that automatically meant the shadows would be his companions. So, was it now possible that he could step out into the light?
And be burned. Because whether there was Luthor blood in his veins or not, he was known as a Luthor. He'd been raised as a Luthor. He would always be his father's son to a majority of the world.
Think what you want. Go off in search of some unknown sperm donor. Turn your back on all that you have. But it won't matter. You are a Luthor, Lex.
You picked a hell of a time to dabble in the truth, Lionel.
Lex walked over to the window and pulled back the heavy drapes. It was still mostly dark, but there, just on the edge of the horizon, there was a lightening, a hint of the start of a new day.
If you start writing poetry, Lex, suicide may not be such a bad idea.
Lex grinned and laid his head against the cool wood of the sill. Poetry and drama all in one night. Could show tunes be far behind?
"You aren't getting ready to pass out again, are you? You shouldn't be standing. Toby says you probably lost a good deal of blood from your hand."
Lex turned, watching Clark put a tray down on the night table. "Don't worry. I'm not feeling faint. I just wanted to make sure the world was still turning."
Clark joined him at the window. "Sometimes you wish it would stop, just so you'd have proof that your troubles really are as big as you think."
Lex snorted. "You trying to tell me something, Kent?"
Clark moved up behind Lex. "I would never belittle your problems, Lex. You're one of the few people I know who actually doesn't sweat the small stuff. So I know if something rattled you enough for your defensive shields to go offline, it has to be on the same level as earth-shattering or earth-ending."
Lex chuckled. "Probably not that bad."
"Your earth was shattered."
Lex stiffened. "In a million ways. But I can handle it."
A hand stroked his shoulder. "I know you can. You're the strongest person I know."
"Don't go overboard, Clark. My ego doesn't need that much inflating."
"I'm not lying, Lex. You should be fragile. You have every right to be fragile. Pampered, spoiled, traumatized by the meteors and your mother's death, and raised by Lionel. You really have no right to be as sane as you are."
Lex laughed uneasily. "Thanks, I think."
"You aren't insane, Lex. Or lost. Or alone." The hand on his shoulder dropped down to his lower back.
Lex stiffened. The hand didn't leave. Instead, it began to move in long whispery strokes. For a long minute, he allowed it, soaked it into his soul as the balm it was intended to be. Then he moved forward to break contact.
"At any other time, Clark. Last week, hell, even next week. But not now. Not when--how did you put it--when my defensive shields are offline."
"Are you afraid I'll get too close?"
"And that frightens you because?"
"Because I'll want more than you're offering."
"And what is it you think I'm offering?"
Lex blinked. The sky was definitely getting lighter. "A night's solace."
"But morning's already here," Clark argued.
"Then a pleasurable extension of our friendship."
"For the times Lana and Chloe disappoint you, or you have a fight with your parents, or you just want to see what it is about life that makes it worth living."
"Is that how you see me? As a user?"
"You're a teenager and a virgin, if I'm not mistaken. You're supposed to be a user when it comes to sex. And trust me, I'll be delighted for you to use me any way you want. Just give me a few days to re-sort, re-compartmentalize, and re-structure, and I'll make sure your first time will be quite memorable."
"What if that's not exactly the offer I'm making?"
"Don't," Lex whispered.
"Don’t what? Don't love you? Too late. You shouldn't have bought me the truck."
Lex put the fingers of his uninjured hand on the windowpane. The light was so close. "You love me because I bought you a truck?"
"I fell in love with you when I came to give you the truck back."
"And the Lana stalking, the Chloe dilemma?"
He felt Clark shrug behind him. "Typical teen angst. Something to focus on while I waited to be who you needed me to be."
"And who do I need you to be, Clark?"
An arm wrapped around Lex's waist and he was grateful for the support it gave. "Maybe you should have fed me first."
"Dad's always accusing me of putting the cart before the horse," Clark admitted as he guided Lex back to bed. "So, I'm guessing your estimate of next week is still the best bet. We wouldn't want you passing out halfway through the night. Well, not because of health reasons anyway."
Lex swallowed the spoonful of soup Clark held at his mouth. "No, we wouldn't want that. And what the hell does a virgin know about passing out?"
"The internet is the virgin's friend. Did you know you can order lube online?"
Lex choked on the soup. "Lube?"
Clark nodded. "So you can fuck me."
Lex carefully took the bowl and spoon from Clark's hands and set them on the nightstand. Then he leaned forward and tentatively brushed his lips across Clark's. Clark enthusiastically kissed him back.
Minutes later, Lex was leaning against Clark's steel-corded chest, trying to stop the room from spinning. Damn, the boy was potent.
"And I thought Mom's soup couldn't possibly taste any better," Clark said against his ear with a smack of his lips.
Lex laughed, then sobered and pulled back far enough to look into Clark's eyes. "I might be sane, but I'm fucked up in a lot of ways."
"And sometimes I do things that I know I shouldn't."
"And I lie. Usually they're little lies, but nevertheless locks to daunting truths."
"I lie, too."
"I know. And I think your truths are just as daunting."
"One of the reasons how I knew I wasn't ready to be with you. But I am now. I'll tell you all about it soon. I promise."
"When you're ready, Clark. If we have to take this one step at a time, it's okay."
"I love you, Lex."
"If I knew for sure that I know what love is, I would say the same to you. But I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything anymore."
Clark rubbed a thumb across Lex's cheek. "It's okay, I'm sure enough for both of us right now, and I'll teach you how to be sure, too."
"It might take a while."
"Guess it's a good thing you're planning to live to 120."
Lex smiled. "At least."
"Which means you should be resting. Back under the covers, Lex."
Lex figured spooned in Clark's warm embrace, he'd fall asleep immediately. Instead, he wiggled carefully out of his future lover's arms and crossed to the window. As he passed by a chair, he saw the jacket he'd worn and he grabbed it. At the window, he pulled out the bloodstained sheet of paper which told him everything and nothing.. He would burn it as soon as Clark left.
He watched the sun climb higher into the sky and felt lighter and freer than he’d ever been. Gone were most of the weights he carried. The name Luthor was now who he was, not what he was. He could pick and choose the traits he wished to adopt, or abandon. The games he and his father played would continue, but now that’s all they would be--just games, not their entire relationship. And there was Clark, volunteering to replace the shadows with his own special light. A dream about to become reality. He glanced at his bandaged hand. Between his meteoric-enhanced healing and Ma Kent’s restorative soup, there was a good chance that next week could end up being tomorrow--or even sooner.
He padded back to the bed. Clark shifted behind him, instinctively snuggling.
Yes, it was a brand new day. The sun shone. The birds sang. The earth revolved. Smallville woke up…and Lex Luthor breathed.
The air was sweet and clear.