Callaesthetics

by Livia

Thanks to LaT, Te and Merry for initial pre-reading and thoughts. Any mistakes or clumsy bits left after my heavy revisions aren't their fault. :)

Callaesthetics
by Livia

Lex tipped his head back against the door that led back into the penthouse, taking a minute or two to breathe deeply and look, disbelievingly, at the stars. Tonight they seemed close enough to touch. Absently, he fished a custom-made cigar case and matching lighter from one of the inner pockets of his coat. Cigars were an indulgence he didn't often permit himself, but tonight was a special night. And tradition was, after all, tradition.

On the landscaped rooftop terrace of LexCorp Tower, eighty-nine stories above the street, Metropolis might as well have not existed at all. Lex could hear no city-noise, no blaring traffic, trains or crowds. Only the wind, whispering through the trees dotting the elaborate garden.

A dozen years ago, critics had claimed that the era of massive corporate headquarters (or 'self-glorifying monuments,' as the LexCorp Tower had also been dubbed) was long gone. Lex had been glad many times over that he'd ignored their petty sniping, but never gladder than tonight.

The Tower had been fitting. A worthy place for his child to come into the world. An exceptional child deserved an exceptional birthplace; not just the heart of the city, but the heart of an empire.

Clutching a cigar between his teeth, Lex bent his head and flicked the lighter. The rasp was startlingly loud. The flame sparked and rose, then wavered and died as a sudden hard breeze swept the rooftop.

Out of the corner of his eye, Lex caught a blur of garish red and blue, transmuted by the night into somber, more regal tones. Distant lamps threw highlights onto the new arrival, gilding the sleek lines of Superman's body.

"Luthor."

Lex focused on his hands. Flicked the lighter again, cupping his hand to shield the flame. He inhaled deeply, then exhaled, snapping the lighter shut and tucking it away. Only then did he look up, catching Superman just as he pushed a handful of tousled hair back off his forehead. The gesture was purely, almost painfully, graceful.

Lex's lip curled, and he looked away.

He knew a high percentage of the American people considered Superman... handsome. He probably had exact numbers filed away in some database somewhere. But Lex himself had never seen it. Had never wanted to. Superman. It was a ridiculous, obvious falsehood of a name. He wasn't a man; he wasn't even human.

Lex had managed to acquire the text of Lois Lane's groundbreaking original interview hours before it hit the presses. He'd known Superman was an alien before he'd ever laid eyes on him. And no matter how... attractive, how exquisitely formed, an impostor was an impostor.

Lies were lies. No matter how pretty.

"Come to convey your congratulations?"

"Actually, yes." Superman said. Lex's sarcastic tone seemed to bounce right off him, like... well, like everything did, really. "How is your daughter?"

He spoke with flawless, inhuman composure. Nothing like anything human, least of all the heart-tugging, helpless beauty of Lex's daughter's face. Tomato-red, messy, squalling like a little goblin as she rested in his arms. Lex smiled to himself. "Perfect."

Lex wondered briefly how Superman had found out that the birth would take place at LexCorp Tower. Lex had been very discreet, acquiring the right doctors, the best equipment. Still. Odd as it was, he wasn't all that irritated. Tonight of all nights, his usual rage, so easily sparked by the alien's customary hypocrisy, was simply nowhere to be found.

The alien nodded, his eyes gleaming with faint sincerity. Or possibly reflected starlight. A nice effect, if you could pull it off. "And the Countess?"

"Healthy, I assume." Lex shrugged. Had there been complications, he'd have been informed. He exhaled smoke, thoughtfully, and watched it dissipate.

"Ah." Superman turned his head away, the lift of his brows an eloquent but hardly subtle. It always amused Lex to watch the alien attempt to imitate the artful nuances of human behavior. For all his strength and ability, sometimes the Kryptonian was like nothing so much as a particularly awkward child.

"You're surprised?" Lex asked skeptically.

The alien ignored the question, staring into the greenery beside the path. "Have you picked a name?"

He wondered if it mattered. Lex always been 'Luthor' to the alien, and he'd be vastly surprised if his offspring were to receive a warmer reception. "Leanna."

"Oh. That's pretty."

Lex laughed. "Thanks, I was so hoping for Superman's personal seal of approval--"

"Lex," Superman said softly, and Lex opened his mouth, exhaling surprise and smoke. Something odd about the alien saying his name. Something strange about his voice, and almost familiar... "If I give you my word," Superman continued, "that I'll never come within a hundred yards of her--"

The cigar fell from Lex's hand onto the stone path, and he ground it underfoot as he jerked forward. "If you ever--"

Superman glanced sideways at him. "I'll stay away." The alien's face was a study in contrasts, drawn tight with tension. All jags and bars of pale skin and shadow. Lex squinted at the shadowed profile, looking hard, but then the alien crossed his arms over his chest, frowning and the strange, sudden feeling of unfamiliarity flickered out as quickly as it had sparked to life. "I'll stay away," the alien repeated stiffly. "And you keep the Kryptonite away from her nursery."

"What?" Lex blinked, then forced a short laugh, sliding his hands into his pockets. "What did you think, that I'd be stuffing her teddy bears with it?"

"You practically painted the walls of this tower with it," Superman shot back, swallowing hard, and Lex smirked a little. "Look, Luthor, do we have a deal?"

"We do," Lex said, instantly. Why not; he wasn't agreeing to behave any differently than he'd originally intended to. Of course he wouldn't raise Leanna here. She'd have the world for a playground. For a kingdom.

And if Superman kept his part of the bargain, that would be all to the good.

Extracting another cigar from his pocket, Lex flicked the lighter again, and grinned as the flame lit his face. "Make it a mile, and I'll quit smoking, too."

The alien exhaled. Tension stretched the skin of his face tight over noble cheekbones and a firmly set jaw. Absurdly exquisite features, almost like a mask.

Exactly, Lex thought, exactly like a mask.

"What do you care, anyway?" he asked, and the alien shifted, shoulders moving as he... sighed? Lex grinned, sharply. "Afraid she'll turn into a mentally warped criminal mastermind, just like her old man?"

For once, he allowed himself a good, long look, hoping to see some result of his jab. The alien met his eyes for the first time since he'd arrived on the rooftop, and Lex stared back evenly. Twelve years ago, it had taken a ridiculous amount of effort; these days it was pure reflex, totally effortless, to see past the alien's absurdly exquisite face. To simply not see it.

The mask hardened, even as he looked. "Aren't you?"

Lex's eyes narrowed, and he flinched slightly as a miniature thunderclap rattled the panes of glass in the penthouse windows. With a sigh, he tilted his head back, eyes drawn to follow the crimson blur as Superman sped away.

The alien was out of sight almost instantly, but Lex kept his head tipped back for a long while. He let the silence envelop him, smoking and watching the sky. Here, above the ambient light of the city, the stars were almost painfully bright.

[end]

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Livia