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So Like A Rose

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So Like A Rose

by Brighid

Disclaimer: So not mine. So not making money.

The Fourth of the Unrelated Beautiful Garbage vignettes, although this one could be seen as loosely related to "nobody wins".

For Beth, and dine, who's bringing the buns and the napkins to the corn roast.

So Like A Rose
by Brighid

The sun is always ripe and red and hot these days, blood orange brilliant and bittersweet.

That's what happens when a world destroys itself.

It would seem that some things are inescapable, that there is a fate which, ultimately, shapes our ends. That, more than anything else, would have pissed my father right into an aneurysm if he hadn't been in the White House when the first bombs fell. Lionel always liked to believe he made his own destiny.

The air is harsh, almost unbreathable. Ozone and ashes and the taste of death is everywhere, even three years later, even after all that he's done. Sometimes I think it penetrates down here, down through the rock and metal and heat-resistant ceramics and soft, humming cocoon of technology that we've built. He assures me that it can't, that the air scrubbers prevent that.

But I can smell it in his hair, taste it in the creases that have formed at the corners of his mouth.

I can see it in the shadows that haunt his eyes.

Ten years ago I found him silent in his loft, seventeen and still and shuddering. I remember asking him what was wrong, and he looked up at me, and he was so goddamned miserable I wanted to take the world apart with my bare hands, rip it up and make it over, just to get rid of that look in his eyes.

He said, "I talked to my Mom and Dad last night. Told them something I don't think any of us was really ready to talk about, but I'm just no good at," and he paused, and his breath hitched, so I sat down on the sleeping bag beside him and sat close, offering animal comfort, something the Kansas farm boy seemed to understand.

"Lying," I finished for him. "So what was the big secret?" And waited. All appearances to the contrary, Luthors are damned good at waiting.

"I think ... I mean, I'm pretty sure ... I'm gay. Or something like that." Or something like that. Why comes temptation, but for man to meet? I rubbed my hands over my face, sighed.

"I don't see you kicked out of the house with a scarlet "F" stitched on your shirt, Clark. It can't have gone that badly," I said at last, trying to be reasonable, trying to ignore the treacherous, hopeful leap in my pulse. "Unless they threw themselves into the thresher out of despair?"

Clark made a soft, terrible noise, somewhere between a sob and a laugh. "They said they loved me, that nothing would ever change that, that three generations of farming teach you not to have illusions about what is or isn't normal. And Mom hugged me and Dad clapped me on the back and then she cried all night long and he worked on the tractor until three in the morning." And he shuddered, fine tremours, like a chill that starts on the inside and eats it way out.

"Clark. You probably shocked the hell out of them. They're probably worried about you, about what this will mean to you, to your life. Give them time. They love you." I leaned into him, nudged him.

Long minutes stretched in silence, and then came his voice, rough and thick. "You didn't ask me how I knew," he said, and the words were pulled out of him, from a place so deep I thought that I could almost smell blood.

"How did you know?" I asked, obligingly, and suddenly I was the one shaking.

"I fell in love," he said softly, simply, waiting for the recoil, for the rejection he was so sure was coming.

A sharp hiss of surprise, instead, when my hand found his, when the other hand came up and cupped his dark head. His tears tasted like salt and something sweeter and I licked every drop away and if the riverbank had been rebirth, this was redemption.

Ten years later and the world is gone, save for those we managed to rescue ... a few great minds, a few families, a few children. A handful of hundreds stored away in the bunkers we began building as soon as I got enough control in LuthorCorp to reinvest the money as I chose. I let Lionel think it was some master plot, let him think any damn thing he wanted so long as it meant I could do what I needed to do.

What we needed to do.

He goes out, days at a time, reclaiming the land, the air, the water, a bit at a time. Sometimes he brings backs survivors. Sometimes he brings them back only to die, but at least they don't die alone. Many that he brings back are children, orphans.

We let Martha and Jonathan take care of them. They did petty damned good the first time, after all.

He always leaves in the pre-dawn, the only time I can breathe outside, can stand bareheaded in the wind and pretend, for a minute, that we're back in Kansas, that this is all just a bad dream. Sometimes, if the winds are right, I can see the stars. I watch him leave, and go back under and make sure everything is running right and the little shit details get taken care of and I worry about him every damn minute, because I know that while nothing can break that thick head of his, that stubborn hide, it takes so very little to break his heart.

This morning, I hold him tight, and he leans in, and licks away the tears I didn't even know I'd been crying, and mutters the word "sweet" against my temple. The sun is coming up, blood orange, angry, swollen behind its layers of dust and soot and human remains, and he's still little more than a boy in blue jeans and blue flannels, except for the slight grooves around his mouth, the hint of sorrow in his eyes that still makes me want to take the world apart with my bare hands, rip it up and make it over, just to get rid of that look in his eyes.

Instead, I kiss him hard, taste my own salt, watch him run, leap, soar, and try to remake the little part of the world I do have control over.

And maybe, maybe I was wrong. Maybe there is an overwhelming fate, a final end that must come ... but maybe, too, we are given choices over the parts we play in that end, in that outcome.

So if it had to be this end, this world, then I'm so very glad I'm in it with him, planting the seeds, not ploughing it under.

So very glad to be with him.