Wine, a Constant Proof
Wine, a Constant Proof
Lex didn't drink anymore.
After losing most of his twenty-second and twenty-third years to an alcoholic stupor, and in light of the cautionary tales Lionel told about old Lachlan Luthor ("It's in the blood, son. My father was a drunkard, a wastrel, and a petty thief. I won't watch you go the same way.") it just didn't seem prudent. Not that he ever took anything Lionel said at face value. Verification was his watchword. Thorough research and never-ending vigilance enabled him to conceal his continuing memory problems. He was spectacularly successful in the business world, but only because he was both hard-working and a genius.
When Lionel was unexpectedly devoured by hyenas while on an ill-fated business trip to Gotham City, the mantle of LuthorCorp fell to Lex. He bore it well -- not easily, but well -- and LuthorCorp prospered with him at the helm.
Lex didn't have much time for a social life. He remembered his wild teenage years in the Metropolis drug-and-club scene vividly but without affection, and he'd read all there was to be found about his two horrific marriages in his early twenties. A social life seemed like something else that it would be wiser to avoid.
There was no avoiding the invitation to Lana Lang's wedding, though. Lex chose to regard it as a business affair, despite the delicately written pink-ink-on-pink-stationery letter via which the invitation was issued. After all, Miss Lang had been his first real business partner. The Talon had been his first independent business venture, even before his short-lived LexCorp. He'd doomed LexCorp with his own weaknesses, but Lana's coffee shop had survived and done moderately well all these years.
Lex remembered Lana from the year he'd spent in Smallville before the boredom got to him and he took to drink. For a while, she and Lex had vied for the title of 'Most Rescued from Madmen and Mutants.' Lex smiled nostalgically when he thought of Clark Kent. It was still hard to believe that the mystery boy, Savior of Smallville, hadn't been enough of a challenge to keep Lex away from the booze. Well, he got the girl at last.
Good for Clark.
Lex had his assistant accept the invitation for him and order a gift. He marked down the date immediately in his private PDA, the one he carried with him everywhere, just to make sure he didn't forget.
Three weeks later, Lex made it down to Smallville without incident. His personal physician had been making noises about his blood pressure and recommending a vacation for quite a while, so he decided to spend the week at the mansion. He reviewed the "Smallville" file in the limo on the way down (driving himself was another thing he knew he'd formerly done, but that didn't seem prudent these days) just to try to refresh his memories. The dossier was informative, as usual, but the photos unleashed a flood of surprisingly vivid recollections. Metropolis was his hometown, not Smallville -- Smallville had been his downfall. Still, he was overcome with feelings of warmth, fear, comfort, gratitude, and relief. "Emotionalism is my weakness," he muttered. Maybe this was the reason it had all come crashing down on him in Smallville.
The mansion was surprising, too. He knew he'd lived there for almost three years, but it was like a place he'd never been before. The servants had it all ready for occupancy; at least he didn't have to contend with sheet-covered furniture and no food or heat. He wanted to sit down and get to business, but he was under strict medical orders not to do any business this week. Lex had grown accustomed to complying with medical advice. Wandering the gray, unfamiliar halls held little appeal, so he went to bed early.
The city of Metropolis lay spread before him, a jeweled tapestry of bright lights and tall buildings filled with people who owed him their lives or their livelihoods. It was a familiar view. He'd seen it from LuthorCorp Tower every day for as long as his damaged mind could remember. Lex thought it might be unusual to share that view with anyone, now that Lionel was -- dead? But he sensed a man standing just at his shoulder.
"Is this what you had to come back to?" the man asked.
Lex didn't recognize the voice, but he had that familiar itching at the back of his mind that said he should. It was a feeling he loathed.
"Back?" Lex asked.
"That's right. You don't remember, do you?"
Lex swallowed. He hated to say the words. He worked like a dog every stinking day so that he wouldn't have to say the words. "I don't remember."
The man laughed unpleasantly. "The first step is admitting you have a problem," he sneered.
Lex found he could turn and face his tormentor. As he did, Metropolis and LuthorCorp Tower somehow disappeared. He faced the wild-eyed man across a sandy waste, surrounded with ominous jungle-like vegetation. The threatening trees leaned in against the sticky air. Suddenly, as if the volume on a radio had been turned on, Lex heard the far-off pounding of heavy surf, and the high-pitched whine of insects.
"Who are you?" Lex asked.
The ragged stranger laughed again, and shook his head so that his dirty blond dreadlocks danced against his shoulders. "Who are you?" he challenged.
Lex woke up.
Lex woke up in his own bed, in the mansion, in Smallville. His PDA was clipped to his pajama sleeve, but for once he didn't need it to tell him where he was. He hadn't awakened so clear-headed since -- he didn't know when. He hadn't had a dream that he remembered upon waking, either. Strange dream.
Lex wondered who that guy had been, whether he was someone he used to know or just a figment of his imagination. His hands automatically opened up the PDA; his eyes automatically began to read -- these were habits of long-standing. He didn't remember how they'd been drilled into him. Unlike his regular business-hours PDA, the device he kept with him always (even in bed), didn't utilize the latest cutting-edge technology. It was a few years old, but his hands knew its controls without him having to remember anything, and he'd thoroughly trained himself (or been trained) to record every single thing he needed to remember.
Today, though, everything seemed strangely familiar. Smallville, vacation, party tonight, Lana's wedding tomorrow. Lex snapped his memory shut, got up, and dressed.
Yesterday the mansion had felt like a place he'd never been before, but today it was different. Not only did he vaguely remember arriving the previous night, but he also found that his feet knew their way to the kitchen. Even more surprising, his hands knew where the coffee was kept, and how to operate the coffee-maker.
When he ran over the day's agenda to fix it in his mind, all he kept getting was, "I'm on vacation," so he was still staring at the coffee when a stout, gray-haired woman bustled into the kitchen. She stopped, startled for a moment, then smiled broadly and greeted him.
"Mr. Lex! It's good to see you so well, sir!"
Lex looked her in the face for a long moment, then closed his eyes. "Mrs. Digman?" he ventured.
When he opened his eyes again, the woman's smile was even broader. "Yes, sir," she grinned.
Lex returned her grin and let her hustle him out of her kitchen so she could get started on his breakfast. He took his cup through to the dining room, where he found a vase of tulips on the table and the morning's Daily Planet.
He'd finished that first cup of coffee and half the Metro section when Mrs. Digman brought his food. "This is wonderful," he told her after the first taste of the scrambled eggs. She pinked up and bobbed her head, then vanished back into the kitchen. There was some sort of spiced cooked apple concoction as well. It tasted heavenly, but the almost-familiarity of it was maddening -- like a sleeping foot coming back to life.
As he ate, Lex ran through his PDA again. "Vacation," he mused. He linked to the name of Dr. Paulson, who had prescribed the vacation time. "Exercise and Fresh Air" was another of the doctor's recommendations.
Thumbing idly through the device's functions, Lex found his attention caught by the Global Positioning System, and then by the beautiful day outside the dining room's broad windows. He double-checked the time for tonight's party. It would start at 7 p.m.
The housekeeper came in to refill his coffee again. "Mrs. Digman," he said, feeling somehow very daring, "I'm going to take a walk. If I don't call in," he checked that his tiny cell phone was in its customary pocket, and then pulled it out and checked that the number for the mansion was programmed in and clearly labeled, "or return by 4:30, please call me on my cell, and I'll give you my location so you can send the limo for me."
"Yes, sir. Very good, sir. May I?" She held out her hand for his telephone, and he knew she was also checking that he had the correct numbers programmed in and labeled. He appreciated the way she made it look like she was noting down his number instead, and he liked the non-condescending smile she gave him when she returned the phone. Lex decided he liked Mrs. Digman a lot more than his Metropolis housekeeper, whatever her name was, and wondered why he couldn't swap them. Probably Mrs. Digman was happier here in Smallville than she would be in Metropolis. He knew he had been.
And where did that come from? Lex wondered.
He shook his head, checked again that he had his phone, wallet, and PDA, got his coat and hat (so much easier to tolerate than sunscreen) from Mrs. Digman, and left the house.
From the front door, Lex's feet automatically took him to the garage. It was full of cars. None were the latest models, but they were shiny and beautiful, and they tugged at his tattered memory most uncomfortably. He didn't have a valid driver's license anymore anyway, so he didn't go more than a couple of steps into the garage before turning around and fleeing back into the open air.
Lex let himself walk at random, not researching the route or trying to figure out which roads were most traveled, and in a couple of hours he found himself in downtown Smallville. Walking without thinking (which was hard for him to do, but often brought good results -- he had that listed as a truism in his PDA) brought him directly to the Talon, a small movie theater that had been converted into a coffeehouse. The marquee read "Best Wishes Lana" and underneath that, in smaller letters "Best Capuchinos in Town." Lex noted the misspelling, double-checked it in his PDA's spellchecker, then went in.
The scent of the place hit him like something important, and he stood at the entryway and just breathed for a little while, looking around himself without recognizing anything. There were people and tables and a weird Egyptian-Assyrian decorating scheme that he was pretty sure he never would have chosen. Lex moved toward the counter to order a coffee -- he thought he'd rather take it outside and drink in the sunshine.
An older woman with graying red hair came out the door from the coffee shop's kitchen, bidding goodbye to someone over her shoulder as she walked. Lex froze, breathing hard. His heart was crying "Mom!" but he knew that was wrong -- he knew his mother was dead, he remembered her dying a long time ago, when he was a kid. The woman turned and saw him.
"Lex!" she said. She hurried to him and hugged him tight. Lex couldn't hug back, couldn't move, couldn't breathe. It was absolutely all he could do to stand there, frozen stiff, instead of falling -- to keep mute instead of calling out "Mom?" (He knew his mother was dead!)
The woman smelled like cinnamon and fresh air. She stepped back from the embrace and gripped him by his upper arms and said, "Lord, Lex! It's been years! Let me look at you!" She smiled at him, a happy, worried, sly sort of a smile, and the world slid a little in his mind.
"M - Mrs. Kent." He managed to make it not a question.
Her smile broadened, became something soft and luminous. "Martha, please," she told him.
Damn! He wanted that hug back! He'd spoiled it with his stiff stupid insane surprise, and he might never get another! But then he did. Martha gathered him into her arms again, and this time Lex hugged back, closed his eyes and held her carefully, like a precious, precious thing.
"Oh, Lex, sweetie," Martha said. "It's so good to see you again."
"You, too," he managed, without choking or crying or falling over dead. God. "You, too."
After the pleasantest half-hour that Lex could remember ever having spent in his life, drinking good coffee, eating pie, and listening to Martha Kent's affectionate chatter, he continued his walk. Martha had to get back to her day's work -- she was making Lana's wedding cake. That almost struck a chord in Lex's so-called brain; had she perhaps made the cake for one of his two long-forgotten weddings? Lex insisted on paying for her coffee and pie, gleaned another blessed hug, saw her on her way, and set off on foot again.
He hadn't gone far before a warm rain began to fall. Fortunately, the coat and hat that Mrs. D -- what was her name? The housekeeper, anyway -- had given him were just as well-suited for rain as for sun. The townspeople mainly went inside, and Lex found himself alone in the quiet streets.
Presently he left the shops and houses behind. The rain wasn't so heavy that it turned the roadside path to muck, nor so cold that he felt compelled to call his servants to fetch him back to the mansion. He walked past crops and pastures and wooded areas until he found himself at a small river.
He remembered it.
The first day he'd spent in Smallville as a young man, the first since the meteorite shower, he'd nearly killed a local boy and nearly died himself. He tsked his younger self's recklessness. He felt a strong desire to see the river ("The place where I drowned," he thought with a shiver) from closer up.
Lex carefully began to work his way down the embankment to the edge of the water. His foot slipped on the wet grass; he fell, missing his grip on the slippery metal guardrail and striking his head on a rock.
Lex opened his eyes to find Clark Kent looking worriedly down at him. The boy --young man, now, Lex corrected himself -- was sopping wet. Lex was soaked, too.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," Lex said with a smile. Clark grinned at him, and he immediately felt at least five degrees warmer.
"Are you okay?" Clark asked, looking him over intently.
"Just had the wind knocked out of me," Lex claimed. He didn't know why, but he felt strangely reluctant to admit to a head injury.
"No bones broken?" Clark said.
Lex looked at him searchingly. There was something off about the intonation of that question? Statement? He let Clark help him up. Once he was on his feet again he found that Clark was a lot bigger than he expected, both taller and broader.
"My, Mr. Kent, how you've grown," Lex muttered, searching himself automatically to make sure he still had his wallet, phone and PDA.
The grin that Clark gave him along with his mud-speckled hat was just the same as Lex remembered, though. "I picked up three inches freshman year at Met. U." Clark admitted. He took a pair of glasses out of his shirt pocket and put them on. "Had to get all new clothes. Let's get you home and dried off. Where's your car?"
"I walked." Lex saw Clark's surprise at the simple statement, re-doubled when Clark noticed his sensible walking shoes.
"Me, too. Well, let's take you back home to the folk's place. Mom'll be glad to see you."
"I saw her." Lex put his hat back on and let Clark help him up the bank. He was suddenly chilled, and his head hurt. "I saw her. Um...."
Clark finished for him without seeming to really notice that Lex had been purely unable to finish the damn sentence. "At the Talon. Here, let me hold this barb-wire for you. We'll just cut along through here -- Merrit won't mind. Dad'll be glad to see you, too."
Lex didn't remember Mr. Kent ever having been glad to see him. It didn't seem likely that that had changed, either, but he didn't argue with Clark. He just followed him.
By the time they got to the Kent farmhouse, still painted the cheerful yellow he remembered from years before, Lex was leaning on Clark more often than not. The rain had not lessened. The cropland and pastureland were wet and treacherous. His head hurt, and he was soaked to the skin.
The Kent Organic Vegetables delivery truck wasn't visible; Lex hoped (in a way that was disturbingly familiar) that he and Clark would be alone in the house. Or that Mrs. Kent -- Martha -- would be there; she was sweet and motherly; her very presence soothed abraded places he usually didn't know he had. But Mr. Kent hated him, and he didn't need any more paternal hating -- Lionel had been gone for -- well, for quite some time, anyhow, and he was just finally starting to relax.
Clark hauled him up onto the Kents' back porch, opened the door and called out, "Hey, Dad! Look who I found!"
Mr. Kent started up from the kitchen table with a shocked look on his face. "Lex!" he exclaimed.
If there was one thing Lex was sure he knew, it was how to convey the desired impression. He put some distance between himself and Clark, stood square on his own two feet, composed his face into a strong business-like expression, and extended a perfectly-judged hand for Mr. Kent to shake. Despite his wet muddy clothes, his unquenchable shivering, and his raging headache, Lex was exquisitely prepared to meet an old enemy or rival.
This left him completely unprepared for Mr. Kent's enthusiastic bear-hug.
"Lex, it's good to see you! How've ya been?" Mr. Kent let Lex go and beamed at him.
Lex was undeniably flustered. "F-fine, Mr. Kent. I'm fine."
"Jonathan, please. See, Clark? I told ya he was all right! Down for the wedding, I suppose -- Gosh, you're wet through. Son, how 'bout you take Lex upstairs and get him some dry clothes on -- there's plenty of stuff won't fit you anymore! -- and I'll put some coffee on."
"Sure thing, Dad!" Clark replied, and escorted Lex up the stairs.
"He likes me," Lex said in a small voice.
"Well, yeah, Lex, he does."
"When did that happen?" Lex wondered silently.
Once Lex was dressed in some of Clark's outgrown clothes (they were still too big for Lex, of course) and his own practical garments were running through the washing machine, the three men sat at the Kents' kitchen table drinking coffee and talking. Lex knew how to engage in social chitchat without giving away the deplorable state of his memory. He got a lot of practice. He was a master at drawing people out, getting them to open up and talk, leaving him free to use his still-viable analytical faculties to size up their plans and personalities. Sometimes he'd surreptitiously tape casual conversations with business rivals or allies (there was a function for it on his PDA), and he always took notes. Today he was on vacation, though; he didn't need to keep a record.
Mr. Kent -- Jonathan -- really was glad to see him. What could Lex possibly have done to ingratiate himself to the irascible farmer? He had no idea -- especially since it would have to be something that had happened during his alcoholic blackout years. Lex's Smallville dossier had told him that he'd paid off the Kents' mortgage, but he was sure that wasn't it. Mr. Kent's personality would have had to have changed drastically, and Lex, sitting across the kitchen table from him today, didn't think it had. He was the same old Jonathan Kent, platitudes, touchiness, stiff-neck and all. The differences were: he clearly seemed to like Lex; he was worried about Lex, in some way that seemed connected with Clark; and he obviously felt guilty about something.
The coffee wasn't as good as the Talon's, but the pie was fresh and warm. (Did people in Smallville ever eat anything else?) Clark looked a little worried and guilty towards Lex, too, but (if Lex recalled correctly) he always looked worried and guilty, especially when he'd been rescuing people. He kept asking if Lex was sure he was all right, and Jonathan kept reassuring him that Lex had said he was fine. There was something else in the way Clark looked at Lex -- something Lex didn't quite understand but felt very strongly that he wanted to.
Lex's PDA alarm went off, and he checked it. Ah, yes, time to call for the car to take him back to the mansion. He had to get ready for the party tonight. "Excuse me," he said to the Kents, and pressed the clearly-labeled speed dial button for the mansion.
"Luthor Residence," the housekeeper answered. It sounded like she was using the speakerphone in the kitchen.
"Ah. Mrs...." Lex blanked on the name. It just wouldn't come. He swallowed and went on. "This is Lex Luthor. I'm ready for the car to come for me now. I'm at the Kent farmhouse."
Someone in the background on the other end of the line said, "I told you so! Pay up!" The housekeeper didn't seem to be a betting woman. She just said, "Yes, sir. I'll send Charles right away."
"Thank you," he replied, and hung up.
"You can't go yet -- your clothes aren't dry!" Clark protested.
"I'll see you tonight at the party, right? You can give them to me then, and I'll send them home with the chauffeur."
"How long will you be in town?" Jonathan asked.
"I'm taking a week's vacation," Lex replied, grateful that the answer was straightforward and easily recalled.
"See, Clark? No rush. Lex could even come back day after tomorrow and pick up his things."
"Thanks. I...." Lex looked at Clark and his father, and his voice just dwindled away. This seemed so odd. Mr. Kent was a little uncomfortable with his presence there, but it was more than that. As always, there was some maddening something here he didn't know. Kents, lies, secrets -- what had happened? And as baffling as it was, as they were, this still felt like a place he belonged.
The awkwardness was cut short by the sound of Lex's limousine outside. Clark walked Lex out to the car. The sky had cleared, and the late afternoon sun struck brilliant spangles from Martha's rain-jeweled sunflowers.
Lex felt as if he were outside of time. The huge young man carefully handing him into the limo seemed simultaneously like a complete stranger and yet like someone he'd known all his life -- someone he knew better than he knew himself. He didn't know what to say to Clark, and his head still hurt where he'd struck it against the stone earlier. Fortunately, Clark didn't appear to expect him to say anything. Clark's smile reached long-untouched places deep inside of Lex. "See you later tonight, then."
"Yeah," Lex breathed.
Back at the castle, he was greeted at the door by Mrs. Digman -- the name came right back to him as soon as he saw her face again. She made as if to take his hat and coat, but for some reason he didn't want anyone to see the bruise on his head. Quickly he said, "Mrs. Digman, I got pretty wet out there. I'm just going to hurry on upstairs and take a bath. Could you bring me a warm drink, please? Not coffee." He laughed. "I've drunk plenty of coffee for one day."
The woman looked pleased to be able to do something for him. "Right away," she promised, and let him get out of reach with his outer garments intact.
Lex hurried upstairs, and didn't take off his hat until he was locked in his own bathroom. The mirrors there let him get a good look at the back of his head, and the bruise was already pretty impressive -- the greens and purples were just coming into play. Several clean white terry-cloth robes hung next to the towel cupboard. Lex searched until he found one with a hood, transferred his PDA to its pocket, then took his bath.
The warm water and the scent of lavender made him feel heavy and relaxed. Maybe there was a slight concussion helping out with that, too. He got out of the water before he could fall asleep and drown, put on the robe with his PDA in the pocket, and checked that the hood concealed his bruised head in case someone might be in his bedroom. The servants had been and gone, apparently. His suit was laid out for the party, and there was a steaming cup of something white on a silver tray on his bedside table.
Lex sat heavily on the edge of the bed and took a sip. It was warm and sweet and the flavor had just a hint of rum. Some sort of eggnog, he thought. It couldn't really be rum, of course; all the Luthor family servants knew perfectly well that no wines or spirits of any kind were to be used in the cooking. Now that Lex had finally made it through rehab, it was important that there never be another chance for him to get hooked on alcohol. It must just be that rum flavoring that people sometimes used.
Whatever it was, the drink was delicious. Lex checked the time, and double-checked his PDA for the time of the party. He'd have time for a little nap. After all, he was on vacation. He set his alarm for an hour and slid under the covers.
There was that wild-eyed, wild-haired man, on a blazing beach, sitting cross-legged in the sand and popping grubs into his mouth with one hand in the intervals of honing a big machete with a rock.
"You're back again," Lex whispered.
The man looked up at him, squinting in the brilliant daylight. "You're back again," he replied. The man returned his attention to his grubs and his blade.
The most unnerving thing, Lex thought, was that he knew exactly how those bugs would taste.
"Who are you?" Lex asked.
The man didn't look up again. Lex was almost ready to shake him when he finally replied. "You know me. You know me as well as you do yourself." Then those red-rimmed eyes looked slyly up at Lex through the screen of his matted, filthy hair. "Course, you don't know yourself too well either." The man snickered and returned to his work.
Lex kneeled across from him. "What is this place?" he tried.
"Ah, that's a different story. You spent your better honeymoon on this island. A little lacking in the finer things, but at least nobody set you on fire...." Apparently Lex looked confused; the man sighed and elaborated. "The summer of 2003? After you married Helen? When... You don't remember any of this either. They sure did a number on you."
"Who?" Lex urged.
"You know Helen was working for your dad. You know that you heal like a sumbitch, from any injury at all, courtesy of those damn space rocks. You know a lot of stuff you think you don't, and let me tell you, boy...."
The ragged madman sprang up, swinging his razor-sharp machete.
Startled and wide-eyed, Lex scrambled backwards, only to end up, breathing hard, cornered against a palm tree, with the blade's wicked edge at his neck.
The stranger's smile was crazed. "Walls come tumbling down," he whispered.
Lex woke up.
That dream had been considerably more unsettling than the first one. Lex was still breathing hard. He reached for his PDA, as he always did when he woke up disoriented. He tabbed through the information, reassuring himself of his place in the world, and of the things he knew that he knew, even if he had to admit he couldn't always remember them.
Strangely, he recognized the room; he didn't need to look at the schedule for today or for tomorrow; he remembered all of that without having to look it up. He paged to the truisms; those always calmed him. One that seemed applicable was "A man of any consequence always wears a tie."
He could remember when Lionel had told him that. They'd been getting ready for a charity gala of some sort; Lionel had fixed Lex's tie for him. The look on his face had been disturbingly similar to the look on Jonathan's face today. Why had his dad felt worried and guilty towards him, however long ago that scene had taken place?
And why could he picture it so clearly now?
Lex didn't really feel calmer, but he knew he had to get up and dress for Lana's party. He hesitated over the clothes the servants had laid out for him, then finally went to a drawer he was sure he hadn't opened since he'd lived in Smallville before, years ago. He found a soft gray sweater, and replaced the starched white shirt and classic necktie with that. It was a little too big for him now. He seemed to remember that he used to work out when he felt angry, and he used to feel angry a lot. How long had it been since he'd been really mad?
The house phone by the bed rang. Lex picked it up.
"Mr. Lex?" Mrs. Digman asked. "Charles is waiting with the limo for you, sir."
"Tell him I'll be right there." Lex went into the bathroom to recover his wallet and phone. The PDA was already safely stowed in his jacket. He glanced in the mirror and froze in shock.
The bruise on his head was completely gone.
The party was at the Talon, of course. Clark was waiting for him outside the front door, carrying a neatly folded pile of his clothes from earlier in the day.
The limo driver -- Charles -- stopped at the curb. Clark opened Lex's door before the driver could get out and do it for him. Lex didn't mind.
"Hey, Lex," Clark greeted him with an enthusiastic grin. He was wearing a baggy brown suit (maybe he'd been afraid he'd grow another three inches and have to buy another complete wardrobe, Lex thought) and an ugly tie. He had those thick black-rimmed glasses on again, too.
"Hey, Clark." Seeing Clark again calmed Lex down like nothing else had since he'd awakened from that disturbing dream. "We can just toss that in here. When's the party going to be over, so I can tell Charles when to come back for me?"
"Oh, midnight or so, I guess. Smallville, you know? We don't go that late. Or, wait, why don't I just give you a ride home when it's over?"
"That would be great. Charles, you have the rest of the night off. Thank you."
Clark closed the car door for him, and they walked into the Talon.
The spicy scent of the coffee-shop hit Lex just the same way that it had before, but this time the place was full of people. He recognized quite a few of them, which was an odd and different experience. There was Henry Small, surprisingly well-dressed for such a scruffy little guy -- wait. Was he the father of the bride? Lex remembered Lana's researches, and a red-haired woman? Not Martha, not Mom, with an axe? -- and a guy with Dad's cheekbones, and a gun at Lex's head....
"Lex? Lex! Are you okay?" Clark's big green-blue eyes looked even bigger through the glasses.
Lex ran his hand over his head, then got control of himself. He put on his affable-businessman face and smiled reassuringly at his old friend. "Sure, Clark, I'm fine. Is it a little hot in here?"
Clark still looked worried, but Lex had successfully distracted him by giving him something concrete to do. "I don't know, but I'll go check the thermostat," Clark said.
Lex smiled warmly at him. "Thanks, Clark, I'd appreciate that."
Clark hurried off. Lex looked around the room some more. The ability to accurately assess other people is as important as the ability to read a spreadsheet. The Kents were here, of course, talking to several tall, dark, handsome people who looked like they must be related to Pete Ross. Yes, there was Judge Ross -- he hadn't seen her since he was twenty-three, but he recognized her instantly. He remembered her, and then he remembered a kid, about twelve or thirteen -- Ryan? Yes, Ryan. He'd been genuinely psychic, and terribly abused, and he'd loved "Warrior Angel" (what the hell ever happened to my comic books? Lex wondered). Lex gasped with the sudden grief of remembering; Ryan had died. Jeeze, he'd been so scared and brave and alone, and remembering him hurt like thinking about Julian....
"Lex! Oh! You look so well! I'm so glad you could make it!" Thin little arms twined around him; moist brown eyes blinked up at him earnestly.
"Lana!" Lex hugged her back and smiled at her. "I couldn't miss the wedding of my prettiest business partner!"
Lana smiled happily at him. She was wearing a short, lightweight, fluttery sort of a dress in blue and yellow. Lex thought he remembered her wearing a lot of pink before; this suited her better. Lana looped her arm through his and led him to the buffet, talking all the while.
"I'm so happy, Lex! I can't even begin to tell you! You remember Henry Small, my biological father -- well, after Mrs. Small left him and moved to Metropolis, he took up his law practice again! He's the biggest lawyer in Smallville now! Now, you may say, biggest lawyer in Smallville? That's not much, but Lex he's so happy! He's making a good living again, and he's helping people, and that's the most important thing, isn't it? And after the divorce, his kids come to stay with him every summer! Lex, I have brothers and sisters now! I get to baby-sit, and his oldest girl -- well, second-oldest girl after me, I guess -- she's been working at the Talon all summer, and we really really get along -- just like sisters should!" Lana nodded emphatically.
As Lana kept babbling, Lex was remembering things about her, about the two of them together, things from years he'd been sure had been lost to debauchery. He remembered teasing her about some love poems, and showing her how to use a punching bag, and teaching her how to do the small-business taxes for the Talon. She really had been just like the little sister he'd never had, whining and all. He chuckled a little at her as she busily began to fill a plate for him. She didn't notice.
"She asked her mom if she could stay here over the winter, and go to Smallville High, and work at the Talon after school like I did. I hope she says yes! But, you know, even if she doesn't they're still only as far away as Metropolis. Oh! And Nell had a baby, too! Well, she's six now, but I'm a cousin! She's so cute! I'm finally going to end up with a big family! Just what I always wanted! And after the wedding, you know, when I have kids of my own, they'll have aunts and uncles by the handful!"
Lana handed him the food and turned to the cups and carafes at the end of the long table. "Now, do you want coffee or tea? There'll be champagne later, but I wanted everybody to get a good dinner first. Or I could make you a cappuccino?"
Lex had been wondering why none of these memories coming back at him today had included him hurting anyone in a drunken rage. He'd believed for years that he had done so -- "A drunkard hurts himself and everyone around him" was one of the earliest truisms he had listed in his PDA. Now as Lana said, "tea" he remembered her saying "chamomile tea" to him, years before, in just that tone of voice. He remembered flying out at her, enraged and disoriented, sure she was planning to poison him. He remembered throwing her away from him. There had been a horse? He remembered running, and the sound of the horse behind him, going crazy. There had been screams. Had he heard the distinctive sound of bone breaking? He hadn't gone back to help her. He had just run, insane with drink or whatever; he had run and left her behind to be hurt. Not very brotherly, was it?
Lana was looking at him expectantly, wondering still what he'd like to drink. He smiled confidently at her, careful not to display any of the turmoil he felt. How bad could it have been, anyhow? Here she was, happy with her life and glad to see him, perfectly fine. She couldn't have been that badly -- she had a limp. As she'd guided him across the room this evening, she'd been limping, just a little. Lana never used to have a limp. It had been, it must have been several years, and she still....
You're never any weaker than they think you are, Lex. You have to put on a good show.
"Thanks, Lana. This looks great! It's quite a spread. Maybe some water?"
She smiled at him and bobbed her head. See? She's fine. "Of course! I even have some of that Ty Nant water you like in the kitchen. I'll be right back!"
Lana bustled away.
Lex set his plate down on a nearby table and started planning how to get out of the room. Something was happening to him; he couldn't seem to get the sound of bones cracking out of his head. He didn't think he wanted to try talking with anyone else tonight. Lex was afraid he was out of control, and it was important to him that nobody know it.
He'd only made it a couple of steps away from the buffet before he was accosted by Pete Ross.
"Lex! My boy! Good to see you!" The shorter man clapped Lex heartily on the shoulder. "How you been?"
Lex summoned up a hearty smile and countered Pete's backslapping with a strong handclasp of his own. "Very well, Mr. Ross. And yourself?"
"Awesome!" Pete declared, beaming. Despite Lana's earlier statement about making sure everybody had a good dinner before any wine was opened, Lex was sure that Pete had been drinking. At least he was cheerful when inebriated.
Lex gestured casually towards the group of obvious Rosses clustered near the judge. "I don't believe I've ever seen your entire family at once," he offered conversationally.
"You still haven't," Pete replied. "My oldest brother is on a pipeline-laying project in the Ukraine. Everybody else made it back to town, though. Let's hear it for Smallville!" Pete shouted, and a cheer went up from a few people in widely-scattered parts of the room. Others laughed.
Lex couldn't help joining in the laughter. Nothing awful had sprung out at him from his subconscious for a few minutes, and Pete's good mood was infectious.
"Once a Smallville guy, always a Smallville guy, that's what I say!" Pete declared enthusiastically. "And y'know what, Lex? That even goes for you, ya freak." Pete jovially punched Lex on the shoulder.
Lex felt his eyes widen slightly at the gratuitous insult. Then he remembered the vanishing head injury from earlier and wondered uneasily what exactly Pete meant.
Pete didn't notice any of Lex's consternation at his remarks. "Hey! There's Mrs. Fordman! I gotta go say 'hi.' Hey! Chloe's here! Chloe's my girl. Chloe'll take care of you. Good to see you again, man. Really." And with one final thump to Lex's back, Pete was gone.
"Lex!" Chloe said. "What are you doing here?" She looked shocked for a second, then blinked the expression away like a pro.
"I'm down for the wedding," Lex answered blandly. "Lana invited me."
"Lana," Chloe muttered. She looked tired, and worried, and a little bitter under it all. Lex remembered, with a lack of effort which surprised him, that his Smallville reminder dossier had said she worked at the Smallville Ledger now, and had for many years. Clark Kent, the ultimate farmboy and her journalistic underling in high school, had gone on to a moderately successful career as a reporter at the prestigious Daily Planet, but Chloe, a Metropolis girl originally, had contented herself with the cattle-auctions-and-county-fairs beat. Although, looking at the tight lines on her face, Lex thought 'contented' was not really the word to use for Chloe Sullivan.
Suddenly that care-worn face eased into the toothy smile he remembered from his first few months in Smallville. "Well, what does it matter now?" she laughed cryptically, and grasped his hand in both her heavily-ringed ones. "It's good to see you, Lex! You look great! How's business?"
It was a good thing she asked about business. Lex could convincingly talk business under any circumstances whatsoever; at the touch of Chloe's hand, Lex's mind was flooded with a series of terrible images -- recollections? He didn't want to believe they were real. Chloe's pale, drawn face -- years younger-looking -- green eyes brimming with tears. Her hand was warm and sweaty where she touched his arm. She silently mouthed, "I'm sorry." He was -- he could remember the exact feel of the gag in his mouth, the restraints at his throat, waist, wrists and ankles -- he'd been secured to a metal gurney, helplessly listening as his father, some time, years ago, had comprehensively chewed out Chloe Sullivan for failing him.
Chloe, before his eyes today, was saying something civil about Plant Number Three's new pollution-control system. Chloe, in his mind's eye, however many years ago that had been, was struggling through her tears to say, "Yes, Mr. Luthor, I understand. I won't fail you again. No one in Smallville will get in touch with Lex again. I swear!" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Please don't hurt my Dad."
From the sound of it, Lionel was stalking around the room. Lex couldn't see him from his awkward position. "Before you stupidly allowed the Kents," Lionel spat scornfully, "to invite Lex to your high school graduation, your father's safety, and yours, and Lex's, were all in your hands. Fortunately for all of you, your incompetence, Miss Sullivan, may be able to be remedied. You'll just have to hope that Dr. Foster can ameliorate this deplorable situation." A short Black woman with a beaten expression on her face approached the gurney. He could remember his desperate panic as he watched her slowly prepare a syringe. Finally then, in the memory, Lionel came into Lex's view. This was Lionel in his prime, stronger, straighter, and even more sure of himself than he'd been the last time Lex saw him -- Oh, God! He hadn't ever remembered until now his father's last farewell to him, the morning he left for Gotham!
Lex smiled shakily at Chloe. "Excuse me," he interrupted her, without the slightest idea of what she was saying. "I have to, uh...."
"Well, you know where it is!" Chloe joked coarsely. "You own the building!"
Lex fled. He made the best show he could of walking like a successful businessman in full control of himself, but he still fled -- up the stairs to the Talon's little business office. Thankfully, no one was there, and the door wasn't locked. He closed it behind him, then sank to the floor with his head in his hands.
Presently there came a knock at the door. Lex raised his head, unsure how long he'd been sitting on the floor. He found his face was wet, and wiped it with his pocket handkerchief.
A man is always at his best when he is seated at his own desk. In this case, his partner's desk would have to do. Lex quickly got up, straightened his clothes, and sat himself down at Lana's desk. He opened a catalog of some sort, from one of the piles she had stacked there, and tried to look like he'd been perusing it.
"Come in," he said, proud that his voice wasn't shaking.
It was Clark, of course. Lex relaxed infinitesimally.
"Hey, Lex," the big man said gently. "Whatcha doin' up here?"
Lex smiled in a way he hoped wouldn't give anything away. "Well, you know me and parties. No cloakroom, so I thought I'd come check out the paperwork a little. I am still a partner."
"Thought you were on vacation," Clark chided him, with a warm smile. He came and sat in the office's other chair, across the desk from Lex. "Are you sure you're all right, Lex?"
The look on Clark's face and the sound of his voice, combined with the unprecedented things his mind had been doing to him today, conspired to undermine Lex's hard-earned composure. He felt tears pricking at his eyes again, but blinked them back resolutely and said, "I'm fine, Clark. I keep telling you...." Clark kept looking at him -- warm, and worried, and Clark behind those thick alien lenses, and Lex had to close his eyes and stop talking.
They sat there in silence for a minute. When Lex opened his eyes, Clark was still looking at him.
"No," Lex whispered. "I'm not. I haven't been for -- what year is this? A long time."
Clark's face threatened to crumple for a second; he swallowed hard and blinked himself a couple of times. Lex wished desperately that he'd say something, but he was afraid to hear what it would be.
"I knew it," Clark said at length. His voice was soft and scratchy and deeper than Lex thought it should be. "I should never have let myself be -- I knew you weren't really okay when you turned up in Metropolis again like nothing had happened, and then when you came back here for graduation, too. I let people talk me into thinking that you were all right, but I knew better. I'm so sorry, Lex." There was no mistaking the repentance in Clark's voice. "I'm so sorry I ran away and left you alone with them."
"You... ran?" Lex said, and then suddenly he remembered Morgan Edge, and the beads, and the gun, and the car, and the look on Clark's face. "You aren't even human," he whispered, shocked anew, and there was that look again, on Clark's face. Lex was afraid it was probably echoed on his own. Interspersed with the images, from some of the earliest broken places in his mind, were fragments of sound, from later. His father, cursing and railing against some "alien menace" that couldn't leave well enough alone -- arrogant, interfering, woolly-minded, extraterrestrial....
Lex rose from the chair and approached his old friend with his hand outstretched. Clark stayed frozen in his seat. Lex thought he looked like he might want to run again, but he only leaned back a little.
Lex removed the thick ugly glasses from Clark's face. Then he reached a finger into Clark's hair and pulled free one shiny black curl. It fell perfectly over Clark's forehead.
Without the glasses, and now that Clark's face had lost its panicky intention to flee, his eyes were a startling blue. Lex remembered them being greener, but he knew his memory wasn't to be trusted. Clark didn't look surprised, shocked, or scared anymore, just accepting.
"You're Superman," Lex said. He hadn't been so sure of anything for a long, long time.
The man seated before him was impassive, strong, powerful -- he didn't really even look like Clark, incredible as that might seem. Lex felt his tenuous grip on reality slipping. Clark was an alien. He himself was a mutant. A prestigious, well-respected, world-renowned psychiatrist had given him serious brain damage. By his father's will had this been done -- Dad had broken his mind, because... Jeeze.
"My father was a serial killer," Lex realized out loud.
Superman's expression changed. His eyes widened, surprised, bled to green -- it was Clark's face again. "Wow," he said. "Really? I mean, everybody always thought he was bad, but...."
"Yeah," Lex breathed. He sagged back and sat on the edge of Lana's desk. "That's why.... That's why he kept poisoning me, having me drugged. I -- Over the years, again and again, I've found out, I've had in my hands, evidence of -- proof that he's committed murder, at least three --four! At least four murders himself! He -- oh, God! And he paid for others to do his killing for him more than -- and that's just what I remember now!" Agitated, Lex got up and started roaming the tiny room. Clark stood as well, watching Lex intently.
"I -- every time I woke up a little, got my bearings, it was like I was driven to always find out -- Jeeze! I never even got him on the same murder twice!" Lex stood still, ran his hands over his head, stared about him wildly. Clark loomed a little closer and looked like he was getting ready to catch Lex if he bolted. Lex wasn't going to run, though; he wasn't sure he could even walk anymore just that very second. He knew he was getting wild, losing control in front of someone, but it was far too late to care. "He, he, he kept making her up the dosage. Every time I came around, I pinned another murder on him, and he got Foster to wipe it out again, and every time she had to take a little bit more of me! I don't even know how long -- when did Dad die?"
"Sixteen months ago," Clark told him.
"More than a year and I'm just remembering now!" Lex exclaimed, unaccustomed anger warming his veins. He jumped up and violently pulled his PDA out of its pocket and flicked it on. Checking the earliest entries he yelled, "And almost two years before that! It's been three goddam years since I've been able to string together two days in a row, and...."
Lex suddenly ran out of steam. He wanted to smash the damn PDA against the wall, but his mind was still more holes than memories, and he might need it yet. He didn't dare. He stood there, exhausted, breathing hard. More of the partial memories kept swarming into his weary brain, in fits and starts. Most of them were horrible -- injections, and his father's reproaches, and his father's tears? He didn't think he wanted to remember these things. "What am I going to do?" he whispered.
Clark was suddenly right there, big warm hands on his shoulders, holding him upright against the sudden tiredness and despair. Lex wanted to lean his head on Clark's chest, but, even now, he was unwilling to show that much weakness.
Clark squeezed his shoulders gently, reassuringly, then let his hands drop. "What triggered your memory getting better?" he asked.
Lex took a deep calming breath, and thought. It was novel and pleasant to be able to recall things just by trying, and he concentrated on how much he enjoyed it. "I think it must have been hitting my head, down by the river. Did you see the bruise? It was completely gone in a few hours." Lex dimly remembered a guy with a gun -- there had been quite a few, but this one had a grudge against meteor freaks, and didn't Chloe have something to do with? Mutants? Even Clark had said, some time, something... Lex struggled, and came up with, "You remember that kid? With the meteor rocks and the gun -- the mutant-hunter? Looks like he was right about me." Clark was nodding but didn't speak. Lex concentrated again. "The first time it happened was -- My father had brought me back to Metropolis, to LuthorCorp, about six months before. I got mugged! Hit in the head, of course...." Clark was smiling at him. He couldn't help smiling back, and immediately felt a little better. "A day or two after, I started feeling more like myself, and then I started remembering things -- Dad murdered his own parents."
"Your grandfather was a murderer, too, actually," Clark added softly.
Lex didn't let himself reel. Actually, it wasn't that surprising. He hoped he hadn't murdered anybody, but it wouldn't be any kind of shock.
"The second time was just after your high school graduation. There was that huge earthquake...."
"Rick Everett." When Lex blinked at Clark a few times, he added, "Rick found out he wouldn't get his diploma on the morning of graduation. He was here when the meteorites hit, and he'd never been so mad, and by the time 'Pomp and Circumstance' started playing he was pretty drunk, and.... Well, he never did it again. He works at the Conoco station now."
"And I got hit in the head again, and came back to my senses, and eventually I found out about another one of my dad's crimes. And he strong-armed Chloe Sullivan into making sure that I never set foot in Smallville again, since I always pick up head injuries in Smallville, and Dr. Foster doped me up even more, and I was lost again."
"What happened then?"
"It was a long time before I came back up again. I think I must've been higher-functioning during that interim than I have been, um, recently. Anyway, I never went out without a bodyguard after that, and I wasn't allowed to drive, and there was no way on Earth that anybody was going to get close enough to hit me on the head at all. I was enough myself then, though, to feel trapped and get depressed and I drank. A lot."
"Huh. It was the Scotch that they started drugging you in, you know."
"I didn't know that. Anyway, getting really blasted seems to be about as good as getting hit in the head when it comes to knocking my brain into psychotropic-drug-clearing mode. Dad didn't notice right away, either, and I gathered a lot of real evidence, and -- I had an appointment with the Metropolis DA! I was actually going to hand him over to the law!" Lex was amazed at his own audacity. "Of course I didn't get away with it. He got me just in time, and he made Foster double the dosage over what she said it should be. I didn't have a chance."
"Wow. To think that even Lionel Luthor would do that, to his own son. Just wow."
"I think it hurt him, towards the end. Every day I had to start all over again, from scratch, and...." Lex was suddenly confronted with a perfect mental image of Lionel's face, the last time he ever saw him. He'd looked old, and worried, and regretful. "I think by the end even he thought he'd gone too far."
"So he had some human feeling after all."
"Says the alien," Lex snorted. He still felt shaky and upset, but it was an unexpectedly great comfort not to be alone.
"That's right," Clark smiled. He smoothed his hair back up from his brow, and put his glasses back on. "Well, it sounds like we have the means at hand to help you get all your memories back right here. Lana opened the champagne just before I came looking for you. You feel up to re-joining the party?"
Lex thought for a moment. "On the one hand, a man is made up of his memories. I really should try to get them back. On the other hand...."
"It's kind of hard and painful, and a lot of them suck," Clark finished for him.
Lex smiled at him. "In a nutshell."
"Well, I am a professional journalist. I'll be right there with you. If it gets to be too much for you at all, I'll take you home."
Lex took a deep breath. "Besides, I've always enjoyed being drunk. I think. Lead on, Clark."
Clark beamed at him and squeezed his shoulder again. "Attaboy."
The room downstairs wasn't nearly as crowded as it had been. Martha and Jonathan Kent had left, and so had most of the people around their age. Lex must have been freaking out on the office floor longer than he'd realized.
At the sound of Clark's gigantic feet (he flies with those? Lex wondered) galumphing down the stairs, Lana twirled around from bidding a sympathetic goodnight to Mrs. Fordman.
"Found him," Clark said, smiling at the girl.
"Oh, good!" Lana declared. "Pete's setting up the movie already!"
Pete came in from the adjoining theater part of the building. "Man, whose whack idea was it to have 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes' as a bachelor party movie?"
Clark guffawed and Lana giggled. Chloe, nibbling a piece of lemon meringue pie at a nearby little round table, said, "The same person who thought it would be good to have the bachelor party and the bachelorette party at the same place and time."
"You could have objected!" Lana protested. "You're the maid of honor!"
Chloe made a dismissive gesture with her fork. "What the hell. It's all about the same. Although I wouldn't have said no to some nice Chippendales."
Lana squealed, "Chloe!" and giggled some more.
"How much champagne has she had?" Lex asked. He was sticking very close to Clark's side, or Clark was sticking very close to his, but the semi-familiar banter was drawing him in. More importantly, it seemed to be supplanting the upwelling memories of his imprisonment, and replacing them with (hopefully less disturbing) ones from his years in Smallville.
"She's working on her first glass," Chloe said in an exasperated tone.
Lex noticed that Chloe's glass was filled with apple juice. She saw him looking and said, "I'm working on my two-year pin, and will be one of the many responsible designated drivers tonight. You don't drink either nowadays, do you Lex?"
Lex resented her tone. He resented the fact that she had seen him bound, no matter how long ago it must have been, and that she had served his father's scheme to keep him subdued. The look he turned on her must have shown his resentment and fury pretty plainly, for Chloe turned pale, but then she raised her chin defiantly, and Lex was assaulted by another memory. His anger vanished, and with it much of his strength. "I said I'd protect you," he faltered, brow furrowed.
Fortunately, Lana had gone into the kitchen to bring out another tray of champagne. Pete was announcing to the remaining guests that the movie was going to start in ten minutes, and since the best possible way to watch this lame-ass film was drunk, they all better hurry the hell up. Only Clark and Chloe noticed Lex, and they both already knew at least some of what was going on.
"I'm sure you would've if you could, Lex," Chloe told him. She swallowed one last forkful of pie. "The last time I saw you, though, you couldn't even protect yourself." She got up. "Excuse me."
"Chloe!" Lex said. She stopped. "I'm sorry you got mixed up in it all. I know you did what you did to try to protect Gabe, and it's... It's...."
Chloe shook her head at him and let out a deep breath. "Water under the bridge. For what it's worth, I'm sorry, too." She raised her apple juice as if in a toast. "Let's hear it for Harley Quinn's hyenas, huh?" She knocked back the remains of the juice and headed over to the buffet for a refill.
The movie was even dumber than Lex had expected. All the guests brought their little plastic glasses of wine (Lex could remember champagne from his teenage years; this stuff was not champagne) into the theater with them. People kept going in and out. Lex was seated on the side aisle about halfway up; Clark was next to him, then Lana, Pete, and Chloe. At the second repetition of "Puberty Love" Clark got up (to many raucous calls of "Down in Front!") and edged past.
"I'll be right back," he reassured Lex, and in a minute he returned with a bottle. The "cork" was plastic; Clark popped it effortlessly and refilled Lex's glass.
"What is this stuff?" Lex whispered as Clark poured. "It tastes like alcoholic fizzy lemonade."
Clark laughed at him and showed him the label. "It says champagne."
"I don't believe it," Lex huffed.
Pete was shouting dialogue back at the screen, and so were most of his brothers, scattered around the auditorium. Lana was giggling almost non-stop, and spilling more champagne than she swallowed. Chloe was valiantly sticking with juice, but she seemed to be having a good time. Tammy Small and her summer boyfriend, Chet Meritt, were sitting just beyond Chloe -- being high-schoolers with drivers' licenses, they had been volunteered for designated driver duty, too, and the three were making up their own snarks to counteract the scripted dialogue the rambunctious Rosses were engaged in.
It was warm in the theater. The fizzy stuff (definitely not champagne) was cold and sweet. His chair rocked a little -- the squeaking was really funny, and soon Lex realized he was as giggly as Lana. Quieter, though, he consoled himself. About that time he realized he'd seen the movie before, as an undergrad, and he'd been wasted then, too. That made him giggle some more, and he realized his little plastic glass was empty. He tapped Clark with it to ask for another refill, and Clark emptied the bottle into his glass.
"Did I drink all that?" Lex didn't think he had.
"No, I've been topping off Lana's and Pete's glasses, too."
"Good. Aren't you having any?"
Clark put his mouth up to Lex's ear and whispered, "Aliens don't get drunk." It was warm and tickly and the funniest thing Lex had ever heard. He finished his glass of not-champagne, giggling quietly all the while. The room was noisy, but it was a cheerful, good-natured noise that had nothing really to do with him. Not a person there wanted to take anything from him or do him harm. How long had it been since he could say that?
Lex was getting tired. Clark didn't object when he leaned on his arm a little.
Lex fell asleep.
There was Lewis, at the edge of the water. It must be low tide; he was picking snails off the rocks and sucking them out of their shells.
"Lewis," Lex said wonderingly. It felt very odd to say that name without the taste of anger behind it.
Lewis glanced sideways up at him, then went back to the day-to-day work of survival. "Find what you were looking for?" he asked.
"I think so. I'm not sure yet." Lex squatted in the sand and watched for a while. He remembered gathering snails and little crabs like that. "This is -- I fetched up on an island like this after Helen...." Lex remembered Helen now, clearly. "She said she loved me too much to shoot me, " he added sadly.
Lewis laughed -- a short, ugly sound. "Not too much to drug you and crash a plane with you in it."
"I guess," Lex agreed. He ran his fingers through the illusory sand. Disconnected memories of Helen ran through he mind.
"She betrayed you!" Lewis declared, violently throwing a snail shell far out to sea.
Lex thought for a moment, staring at that horribly familiar empty blue horizon. "I did stuff to her, too," he decided. "Even though I thought I loved her."
"You never even knew her."
Lex played quietly with a shell. Lewis came out of the water and lay down on the warm sand to dry off.
"You were never real, were you?" Lex asked.
"You made me up," Lewis confirmed, "but I was as real as the Helen Bryce you fell in love with, and you needed me just as much."
"What happens now?"
Lewis sat up cross-legged and looked him in the eyes. "What do you need to happen now?"
Lex woke up.
"Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" was over. They were well into "Plan Nine from Outer Space." The audience had diminished considerably. Clark was still next to him, with Lana (still giggling) leaning against his other side, but the rest of their row was empty.
"What happened?" Lex asked.
Lana leaned around Clark and smiled at him. "That squeaky song destroyed the tomatoes, and they all lived happily ever after! Oh! Bang!" she cried, going back to the bad-movie-participation part of her evening.
Clark laughed. Lex had to smile.
"People are starting to leave," Clark told him. "Chloe and her brigade are ferrying people home. Pete's out front saying goodbye-thanks-for-coming-see-you-at-the-wedding. How are you doing?"
"I remember Helen now." Clark didn't say anything. Lex didn't know what to say. Lana and the remaining half-dozen Rosses kept up a roar of merriment directed at the screen, so it wasn't exactly a moment of silence. "I think I need another drink," Lex finally added.
"We can do that." Clark turned to Lana. "Will you be okay here alone?"
"I'm not alone!" she exclaimed. "I've got a whole lotta people with me!"
A chorus of "She's okay," and "We're all right here," and "Let the girl stay have some fun!" went up from the adjoining rows, Lana nodding emphatically to it all and giggling.
Clark smiled and held up his hands in surrender. "Okay," he announced to the nearby people, "but don't let any crazed stalkers or mutants get her before the wedding!"
That led to heavy laughter mixed with cries of "We won't!" and Clark and Lex went back to the brightly-lit cafe.
"Thanks so much for coming. I'm glad you had a good time. See you tomorrow!" came Pete's voice from the door. As soon as Clark came near, he reached out and tapped him on the shoulder. "Dude!" Pete said, "you're it! I have done the polite thing by like four million people, and I'm goin' back in to see the rest of the movie."
"The movie is cheesy, Pete. They used paper plates for space craft."
"Pie tins, and I love that part! Your turn, man!"
"Got it," Clark laughed. "Go enjoy your film."
"Whoo hoo!" Pete yelled, and headed back into the theater.
Clark got and opened another bottle of fizzy-glug, and Lex took it to a table in the corner. He remembered sitting at this very table with his laptop computer, working on LexCorp business, long before. He realized LexCorp hadn't died the way he'd thought it had, and pursued those sad memories for a while.
Dad sure had been determined not to let him succeed on his own. Bugging the castle, blackmailing the sheriff, pretending to be blind, and what had it gotten him in the end? His father's face kept appearing in his mind's eye, that last day before he left for Gotham. Lex had been eating oatmeal. (The Metropolis housekeeper, Ms. Brown was her name, made him oatmeal for breakfast every day. She never spoke to him, either, even now that Lionel was gone. She just kept doing things, in Lex's own penthouse, the exact way Lionel had liked them. He never challenged her on it, either, because he'd never realized it until now.)
Lionel had come in and taken a seat. He had a cup of coffee with him -- Lex wasn't given coffee with his breakfast. Lex remembered the scent of it.
"Well, son, I'm off to Gotham City," Lionel had said. "I leave things in your capable hands."
"Of course, Dad," Lex had replied, just as though he'd already known Lionel was going out of town today. He'd always done his best to conceal his weaknesses from his dad, even more than he had tried to conceal them from the public at large. Looking back, Lex didn't imagine he'd really succeeded in hiding much from Lionel.
Lex's PDA had been on the table, next to the morning paper. He'd fiddled unobtrusively with it, then said, "I'm sure that Wayne Industries' Kansas City holdings will be ours before the week is out."
Lionel had smiled tiredly at him. He'd finished his coffee and stood up abruptly. "Hold the fort, son. I have every confidence that you will manage LuthorCorp's interests flawlessly in my absence."
Lex stood, too. It was polite to stand when your elders rose from the table. "I'll do my best, Dad. Have a good trip."
"I know you will." Lionel had looked at him strangely for a moment, then suddenly hugged him and kissed him on the forehead. "Good luck, son," he'd said, and then he was gone.
Lex had completely forgotten that unexpected whiskery embrace until now. When his secretary had come into his office, upset and near tears (the woman's name had been Caroline; she was a redhead -- Lex wondered now if she'd been one of his father's mistresses) to report that the radio said Lionel Luthor was dead, Lex had barely remembered the morning's conversation with his father at all.
His PDA said "Hold the fort" and "Manage LuthorCorp's interests flawlessly." In the months since he'd been on his own, he'd moved those last instructions of Lionel's into the truisms. He'd obeyed his father's final words. The thought made him twist inside somehow, but he'd just taken care of LuthorCorp; he'd been more ethical and law-abiding than Lionel ever had, too. He didn't know why he should feel so uncomfortable about the business. It was fine. Lex took another drink.
The day Lionel died had been the last time he'd seen Dr. Foster, as well. Caroline had been weeping in the outer office, listening to the radio coverage, and Lex had been going over some reports at his desk. Dr. Foster had swept in, ignoring the secretary entirely. Lex had never seen her so energetic.
"Give me all your meds, Lex," she'd instructed.
"Certainly, Doctor," he'd replied. His briefcase had gone with him everywhere in those days, Lex recalled. He'd taken the three little brown bottles out of it and handed them to her.
"Is this all you have?" she'd asked.
"No. There are some more in the penthouse."
"Take me there," she'd said, and he had. He'd turned over all his medications, from his bedroom and bathroom, and Dr. Foster had dumped all the pills into the toilet and flushed them. Then he'd followed her out to the living room and watched as she'd built a big fire in the fireplace and burnt the bottles and a big sheaf of papers she'd taken from her briefcase. The burning plastic had made a terrible smell; Lex had to disable the fire alarms.
Once everything was burning, she'd gone into his father's den and asked Lex for the combination to his safe.
"You know I can't give you that," Lex had chided her.
Dr. Foster had looked at him with her face in a tight frown, momentarily balked. "Can you open it?" she'd finally asked.
"All right," Lex agreed.
There were a lot of papers inside. Lex had inspected them carefully, and only let Dr. Foster burn the ones that had nothing to do with the running of LuthorCorp. Apparently his father had mostly kept blackmail material in that safe; Lex had forgotten all about it within a couple of hours, but even at the time he hadn't been surprised. The housekeeper had stuck her head in once to see what they were doing, but she hadn't said a word.
Once all the papers were destroyed, and the safe had been re-locked, and the medicine bottles and documentation were nothing but slag and char, Lex had re-armed the fire alarm system.
Dr. Foster had looked at him speculatively for a long moment. Then she'd handed him a card. "Your new doctor will be Dr. Paulson. I've talked to him about you a little. When he asks you what I was treating you for, and what meds you were taking, just say you're not sure. He doesn't believe in medicating anything if there's an alternative, and he's a good man. Good luck, Lex," she'd said. As she left, he thought he'd heard her mutter, "God have mercy on my soul."
There was some commotion in the room; people were pouring out of the theater, laughing and talking. The movie must be over. Some got coffees, or "one for the road"; quite a few said "Hi" to him, but no one came over. It reminded him of how it used to be, in Smallville. People knew him to say hello to, but only a few were more closely acquainted than that.
Lana and Pete joined Clark at the door, saying goodnight to their friends. Chloe came in and spotted Tammy standing around drinking coffee. She went over to the high-school girl and said something that sounded pretty sharp. Tammy rolled her eyes, finished her drink, and collected a handful of partygoers. Chloe rounded up a few herself and left as well. Lex watched and laughed a little. He sure hadn't been that obedient at that age.
That age -- it reminded him of when they were all in high school, Chloe and Lana and Pete and Clark, and then that touched off his memories of Desiree. They didn't come to him clearly like all the other recollections he'd developed; he could remember the feel of her, and the intoxicating scent of her far better than he could any of the things they'd ever said to each other or done together. Martha Kent had scolded him about her in this very room, hadn't she? Or had that been at home, or in the Kents' home?
Desiree had sparked the ironclad business agreement that had been the reason his Dad had never been able to take over the Talon. Lex had been kept away from it for years, but it was still here. Smallville was still here; there were still people to whom he belonged, at least a little bit.
Lex finished the bottle musing on the differences between Desiree and Helen, then between the two of them and women like his Mom and Martha. Dad treated Mom badly, but she never tried to kill him. Jonathan wasn't exactly a prize; Lex had been almost sure, when Martha had become pregnant, that she'd fallen victim to Lionel's blandishments, but it turned out the baby wasn't -- he'd stolen her medical records? Jeeze! That memory led into other bad ones: Phelan, Nixon, the vial of Clark's blood, that whole creepy room he used to have -- Hell! Did his father get hold of all that evidence after Lex started to lose his mind? He'd shown it to Helen, like an idiot. She'd been working for Lionel, and they'd had all that summer.... That led to worse images still; Lionel had really hated Superman.
"Lex? Hey, Lex, are you okay?"
Lex looked up into Clark's friendly, questioning face. Remembering what he remembered now, he couldn't meet the alien's eyes.
"Oh, aren't you feeling well, Lex?" Lana asked, nose wrinkling cutely in concern.
"I'm fine," Lex said. Even to him, it didn't sound that convincing. Apparently Lana didn't buy it either.
"Oh! Poor Lex!" she declared. Suddenly Lex had a lap full of drunken Lana. She weighed hardly anything. "I want everybody to be happy, 'cause I'm getting married tomorrow!" She squiggled around in his lap and put her head down on his shoulder. It seemed as if she might be getting ready to fall asleep.
Lex looked helplessly up at the others. All the guests had gone; only the members of the wedding party and himself were left. The three of them were no use; they were all smiling.
Lana started singing. "I'm getting married in the morning...."
"Two p.m." Chloe commented.
"Ding dong the bells are gonna chime...."
"Smallville First Presbyterian hasn't had a bell since the tornado in 1978," Chloe added.
"Some one who's able, lift up the table, and get me to the church on time!"
"That's it, princess," Chloe said. "If we're gonna have to start moving furniture, it's time to get you home."
Lana untwined her arms from around Lex's neck and let the others get her to her feet. "Tomorrow's my last day ever as the fairy princess!" she declared. "After that I'll be a wife, and a mom, and a cousin, and an aunt...."
"See you guys tomorrow," Chloe interrupted, leading Lana away. "Clark, can you lock up?"
"Sure," Clark said. "I've got the spare key right here."
"Goodnight!" Lana added, waving enthusiastically. She was singing again as the two women left.
"Leaving us with the clean-up," Pete commented, sitting down heavily in the chair across from Lex. He seemed to have sobered up quite a bit; he was sipping from a cup of coffee that he set on the little table.
"I'll do it," Clark volunteered. Lex had never seen such a thing; all his long-ago intelligence-gathering had barely hinted at the reality. Clark literally moved too fast to be seen; there was a brownish-colored blur in the air of the room, and things seemed to tidy themselves away.
"Clark!" Pete yelled, looking anxiously at Lex.
"I told him. Well, actually, he figured it out." Clark wasn't even breathing hard.
"Man!" Pete was still upset. "Some warning would be nice! You could give a guy a heart attack!"
Clark, laughing, smoothed the unruly curl of hair back from his forehead and put his glasses back on. Lex wished he wouldn't look at him like that, like everything was going to be okay. Now that Lex had most of his memories back, he could say with a disturbing degree of confidence that everything was never okay.
Pete seemed to get over his indignation. "First time you seen it, am I right? Pretty damn impressive, ain't it?"
Lex nodded numbly. "I built a kryptonite-powered death-ray!" he blurted out.
Pete's eyebrows climbed up into his hairline. Clark didn't look surprised. He put down the cup of coffee he'd gotten from somewhere during the cleaning spree (didn't spill a drop! Lex marveled silently) and took a seat.
"I thought it looked like your work, although I told myself it could have been almost anyone." Clark was being entirely too calm about this.
"Sh -- That was you?" Pete yelped. He was back to being outraged. "Clark could have died!"
Lex hung his head.
"Lex. May I tell him what happened?" Clark's voice was very gentle.
Lex was of two minds. On the one hand, he hated for anyone to know how bad off he had been. On the other, Pete had kept Clark's secret with great success for some time, and Lex was suddenly tired of all the misdirection and covering-up. He nodded.
"Lionel wiped out Lex's memory. He was controlling him with drugs for the last five or six years of his life. Lex is just coming back to himself now."
"Harsh," Pete said, calming down again. He certainly was a volatile young man. He took a sip of coffee. "Wait. That can't be right. You control the eighth-biggest company in the country! I've seen you on TV! There's no way you've been amnesia-boy for the past six years!"
Lex was obscurely comforted that he'd done such a good job of appearing fine. "I worked hard to cover it up," he said steadily.
"Man." Pete sounded impressed. Lex looked up; Pete looked impressed, too, and Lex felt proud of himself. It was a good feeling, one he didn't experience often. In light of the past that was coming back to haunt him, he wasn't surprised.
"I did other stuff, too," he forced himself to say. "Illegal, immoral, unethical... even before Dad did what he did. He would never have found out enough to want you hurt or know how to hurt you if it hadn't been for my...."
"Not true, Lex. There were a lot of places he could have found stuff out. It wasn't your fault, any of it."
"Yes, it was," Lex whispered.
"Call it temporary insanity." Pete waved a dismissive hand. "I could get you off."
Lex blinked hard at the offer, and Clark laughed. "Pete's a lawyer now," he explained. "Unless you're really making the improper suggestion that sounded like, Pete?"
"What?" Pete spluttered. Coffee flew across the table, and Clark cleaned it up almost before all the drops fell.
"Looks like time to take you home," Clark grinned. He locked the doors and herded them out to his old Dodge. Pete called shotgun, so Lex had to sit in the back. It was dark and surprisingly quiet on the way to Pete's apartment; Lex filled the silence up by talking softly about Julian, a painful memory he'd never lost. He wasn't sure whether the men up front were listening or not; it was enough to say the words. He must have reached the maudlin stage of drunkenness.
"The morning we were supposed to get my brother christened, I was awakened by the nanny screaming. I came, everyone came running to see what was wrong. Mom made it as far as the doorway from her bedroom -- Pam ran to her, ran from the baby's room. She saw me, touched my shoulder, said, 'Don't go in there,' and went to my Mom. They were both crying. I went in. Julian was lying there. I thought he was asleep, but I knew he wasn't asleep. I picked him up. He was so still, and heavy, and cold. I wanted him to just be asleep. Dad came in -- he took him from me and told me to go to my room. He'd handle everything, he said. Probably he thought I'd killed him." Lex stopped talking and swallowed hard. Then he started up again. "Babies are noisy and messy. Being pregnant made Mom so tired, all the time. I never wanted -- I never knew how much I wanted him until he was gone."
There was silence in the car for a moment. Then Pete said, "Hell. Nobody ever wants a new baby in the house. That's just sibling rivalry. It don't mean nothin'. He was your brother, and you loved him. Period."
"Yeah," Lex said softly.
"Here we are," Pete said. Clark pulled over, and Pete got out. "You want to move up to the front seat, Lex?" Pete asked.
"No. I'm fine here." The slamming door sounded loud. They took off again.
Lex didn't know why he couldn't shut the hell up. "You know I wasn't just talking about Julian. You're marrying Lana tomorrow, and I just...." Lex's quiet voice trailed off into nothing.
Clark cleared his throat. Lex leaned his head against the cheap cloth upholstery and wished the world were different.
"Um, Lex, you've had a really hard day, and a lot to drink, and I think you're a little confused...."
"I'm not confused," Lex said, trying for levity, "I'm just well mixed."
"I'm not marrying Lana. Pete is." Clark turned around in the driver's seat and grinned at him.
Huh. The world was different.
"Rise and shine!"
"Oog," Lex moaned. Despite the excesses of his misspent youth, he'd only suffered a handful of hangovers. This one was worse than any of them, as far as he could recall.
"How do you feel?"
Was that Clark? Lex pried his eyes open and rolled over.
That was Clark, all right, sprawled in an armchair next to the bed -- messy hair, loosened collar, jacket and glasses gone, blinding smile.
Lex shaded his eyes with his hand. It was very heavy. "Were you here all night?"
"Didn't want you to swallow your tongue or anything," Clark said warmly. "You were really wasted last night. Fell asleep in the car. I had to carry you upstairs and tuck you in."
"I'm sorry I missed that. You know, you didn't have to sit there. Plenty of room in the bed."
"Oh, I don't need much sleep in the summertime."
"Who said anything about sleeping?" Lex hoped the accompanying leer wasn't as unconvincing as it felt.
"Lex! Superman would never do such a thing!"
Lex was pretty sure Clark was faking that tone of shock, but he cracked an eyelid (when had he closed his eyes again?) to make sure. Clark's smile left no doubt. Lex smiled back and let his eyes drift shut.
"Yeah, well, Superman sucks," he said.
Clark chuckled, a deep suggestive laugh that Lex felt all the way down to the base of his spine. "Not yet."
Lex's smile broadened. His head already felt noticeably better, and he mentally gave thanks for the meteorites, which -- hey! -- had brought Clark to Earth, as well as granting Lex the ability to heal hangovers in a couple of hours and irreparable brain damage in, apparently, about a year and a half.
"I gotta go wake up Pete, pour him into his monkey suit, make sure he doesn't run away -- you know, Best Man stuff."
"Uh huh. You're the best Best Man."
"Wedding's at two. You won't forget."
"Wouldn't miss it."
There was a sudden rush of air, and then, just for a second, the unmistakable feel of Clark's lips on his. Lex's eyes flew open, but Clark was already gone.
Lex knew he'd be back, though.
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. ~Benjamin Franklin
Disclaimer: Smallville and the characters from Smallville do not belong to me; they belong to the WB and/or DC Comics and/or Millar & Gough and/or Tollin & Robbins. Superman was invented by Shuster & Siegel. I'm just fooling around.
This story was written for Signe's Blood and Wine Intoxication Challenge (located at http://www.oxoniensis.popullus.net/intoxication/main.htm), and it goes AU around the middle of season three, before "Asylum." (I was surprised to see that Belle Reeve was apparently the Kansas State Snakepit; I would have expected Lionel Luthor to employ a discreet private sanatorium.)
Thank you so much to pepperjackcandy for beta-reading this!