TITLE: Cathedral
AUTHOR: TNC
EMAIL: bitchorama@diaryland.com
RATING: PG-13
DISCLAIMER: Um, no. Not mine. Am poor, lawsuits would bog down already wasteful legal system, anyway.
SPOILERS: you're cool if you've seen through 'Zero'

Thinking back, he supposes it was the sound of feathers, dragging lightly across the dark hard wood floor that first stirred him from slumber. Odd for many reasons, the least being his life-long characteristic of being a heavy sleeper. Legions of therapists called it escapism; he sometimes agreed.

Slowly opening his eyes, the scent of a bouquet finer than any vintage of wine or notes of perfume assaulted his nostrils-clean sheets, summer skies, green tea, honeysuckle, and it instantly settled his racing heart.

"What were you dreaming?" she asks, sitting by that mostly empty bed.

He pushed his lithe frame back so he nestled against the pillows, a smooth expanse of flawless creamed skin emerging from the linens. A flicker of a thought to how she was there but it dissipated faster than it occurred in the first place.

"I don't dream much anymore," he replied, sounding older than his years.

She must have thought the same. Rueful grin tugging the corners of her lips. "You're just beginning."

He rubbed his eyes, met her dark orbs with his hazy blue. "I feel like I'm finished." As an afterthought, gave her a wink; it garnered him a light chuckle.

"You're only a baby boy. Twenty-one years is nothing but a drop of time. Why won't you let yourself dream?"

Ordinarily, no one on the planet would dare call him a baby or a boy but he was processing fully that she---whatever she was---was not of the world.

"What are you?" he asked, desperately trying to keep the challenge from his voice. It wasn't fear coursing through his veins, it was wonder, with an edge of respect. He has only allowed himself to feel that way twice. Twice in his twenty-one years. One was gone, one was slipping away. He'd be more careful with her.

Now she leaned forward, elbows rested on the fine fabric covering her knees, her body, pooling over the armchair and onto the floor in incandescent waves. Her hair was so dark, her eyes so dark she could have melted into the shadows absolutely but she didn't; instead she told him a secret.

"What I am is out of my element. What I am is breaking a promise I fully intended on keeping, which was never to interfere in your existence, not even a little." She paused, making sure she had him.

She did.

"What I am...." It was as if she had suddenly lost her train of thought, considering what to say next. And then in the blink of an eye, the same rustle of soft scraping he couldn't quite see, a disarmingly familiar blur of darkness and light and she was perched on his bed, facing him.

"You couldn't possibly understand what I am." A hand hovered near the side of his face, not touching but sending fire through him like he'd been branded. He gasped.

"I want you to know that you have the most valuable possession man could desire and it is yours for the taking: You have choices. As many as you want or need."

"No," he whispers. "That is the one thing I'm certain I don't have."

"Is your destiny written somewhere?" she asks.

"Some are sure it's chronicled in detailed fashion. With pictures."

His visitor looked so disappointed in him that he hung his head. He never hung his head. His chin was almost to his chest.

"And what do you hold sure, Alexander?"

The phone rang so loudly Lex drew in a breath comparable to the one he managed when he was brought back into this world after drowning those months ago.

He ignored the pervasive ringing of the phone, struggling to remember the rest. There had been more, she had told him more, but it slipped away quickly as if he wasn't meant to remember.

Lex's eyes hurt as he stumbled out of bed. The curtains had all been pulled back and the windows opened, letting in the slightly humid summer weather, the breezed drapery tickling his calf as he walked by.

A muted pain, then he muttered a string of curses, lifting his foot to see what had prodded his bare foot's arch.

It was the blunted vane of a long white feather.


******************


It must have been finitely calculated, his visit from her, and for the rest of that day Lex became more and more convinced that higher powers were conspiring against him. He had been dreaming, that part was true. Nonsensical gaps of dreams, scene after scene of his life to be. Some were sad, others jubilant. He saw his daughter as a toddler; his father's funeral; himself very ill; smiling, weeping, rejoicing, loving, and the only constant was Clark. Clark was everywhere, in bright, broad strokes.

Her edict that he had choices kept rolling around in his mind, crazy pinballs cracking against his skull. Everyone perceived Lex Luthor to be one of the priviledged few who, on a whim, could go anywhere and do anything his heart desired. Hardly. His father had fought him tooth and nail over everything he'd ever wanted to do. Sometimes he'd agree, sometimes he wouldn't, always he'd succeed and then hear from others how proud his father was of his accomplishments. How he bragged on his only son to boardmembers and politicians, boasting of what young Lex would do.

The man was impossible and Lex liked it in the boardroom, he liked it in hard situations, the way Lionel would not back down. He loved his father for sending him to the best schools. He loved his father for instilling in him the importance of an education, the importance of keeping relationships, the importance of good and measured decorum even when painted into the proverbial corner. But the schools were far away and the education was learned the hard way and the relationships were just trite phone calls and notes scrawled on expensive embossed letterhead to business associates around the world. There was nothing personal between he and his father, just pure biological connection and a last name that Lex was destined to live and die with in infamy.

"Why do you always try to get out of your responsibilities?" Lionel had thundered during one particularly heated argument. His yelling had progressively gotten worse since they buried his wife. The two weeks immediately after, he hadn't spoken at all. Lex thought that was worse. Still did.

"They're not my responsibilities!" Lex had yelled back, just as furious, in his sixteen year old wisdom. He knew the vein in his temple was throbbing. Every bit of him was throbbing. He hated arguing with the man, hated it worse that he never saw Lex as anything but his child. "But I forget, I'm three years old, I don't know anything, right? You can control everybody but me. Maybe if you treated me, treated us----"

"Watch it," Lionel snapped. "You better be careful, Lex."

Lex snorted. "Look, I know you don't like me. I don't like you. It's too bad, but there it is. I'll be out of your hair soon enough." The choice of verbage wasn't lost on Lionel.

"I don't understand where you learned it was permissible to treat your own father this way, Lex."

Steeled eyes met the older man's slightly waning critical gaze. "Well, who raised me? What do you expect?"

Lex was on a plane for impromptu fencing lessons in Europe the next day. His bags had been packed for him.


*******************


Lex spun the feather in his fingers sitting there at his desk, looking at the proofs from the Talon opening. Clark had been so angry with him, angry for not allowing him into that portion of his life where he was once noble. Now the feather floated away like the light in Clark's eyes when he saw Lex at the opening. Where were his choices now? His choice was to back off of what was quite possibly the thing keeping him breathing in and out on a daily basis just so his suffocative drama wouldn't transfer onto Clark.

In black and white, glossy and perfect, every line of the photograph where he and Clark watched Lana give her welcoming speech had been memorized down to the last piece of hair flipping absently over Clark's right ear. Lex's tie was slightly crooked and his shoulders were loose and relaxed. Clark's pants were just barely too short. For someone who had avoided looking at himself in the mirror or in pictures most of his life, Lex found himself pouring over the proofs, drinking them in. It looked that the Talon had probably been warm. It was warm. He remembers pulling at his tie absently and fiddling with his cufflinks. Watching the kids not so much younger than him laughing and talking, wide bright eyes and their dreams on their sleeves.

He remembers now, he and his visitor, standing on the balcony, she halfway in the shadows and he as close as possible to the edge. Lex was working his thumbs back and forth across the stone railing, blood rising to the surface of his skin and threatening to break through should he not take heed. The grainy texture felt so good, this friction he was creating to assure himself he was still feeling at all.

"There is something growing inside of you that will kill you," her voice came quietly.

He considered this. Then, "But I thought you said I had power over things, didn't you? Disease isn't biased about who it picks."

"This one is," she said. "It knows your every whim or consideration and it will take you down with it. It will make you bitter and you'll see things so twisted that reality as it is now will cease to exist for you."

Lex looked her way warily.

"It is waiting for you to make the decision where you'll shift into neutral, play the game the way you've been taught, shove your own impulses back no matter the consequences."

"You ever stop to think maybe that is my path?" His voice grew harsh. It was dry and rough. He brushed his hands against his thighs.

"To be delusional?" He could see her eyebrow arch slightly. "To be crazy enough to believe you can control everything? Everyone?"

Lex gave her a reproachful look. Her eyes narrowed.

"You can't even control yourself."

He had turned his back on her then, stalking into his bedroom, praying to whomever was listening that they'd take this servant back and leave him the hell alone. He leaned against a bed post, wrapping his arm around it languidly.

"Do you remember me at all?"

Her voice was in his ear.

"Should I?" he asked softly.

"No," she replied. "But I think you do."

Lex looked at her for the first time in the light. She let him. It wasn't the facial structure, not the coloring, not anything remarkably special about this creature; she was basic in every single way. Ambiguous, she would not have turned anyone's head and perhaps that was the point. Yet there was something. Something.

"I remember---I remember when the water came into my car," he began slowly. His eyes suddenly trained on the carpet. "I remember knowing I was dying. I felt the water in my lungs. And then, nothing. Then, Clark. But....I have felt so out of place here. Since the accident. Like I wasn't supposed to be here. Like that was my time and Clark interrupted it. That I was somewhere else, just a split second, and then I was on the ground by the water."

Lex paused and gulped. Luthors didn't sob like babies.

Then, "I'm missing things and I don't even know what they are. Things I had and now they're gone, and I---I don't know how to get them back." Lex looked at her once more. "Is that where I know you from?"

Her lips curved upwards. "Amongst other places."

Lex blinked suddenly and rapidly. "I don't want to talk about it, I can't."

Her face instantly went solemn again. "One day."


*******************


For once, Lex Luthor was unconcerned with how polished he appeared. When one of the maids found him digging furiously in a trunk at four in the morning, old photographs strewn around him, her eyes grew wide and she didn't have the chance to speak before her employer's head jerked up and she froze.

"Well, help me," he said coldly.

"What are we looking for, Mr. Luthor?"

"We're looking for a photograph of me, my mother and my father. A certain one. This could take awhile."

It only took another hour with the second pair of hands.

"Is this it?" the maid asked softly, passing a color print to him.

Lex stared at it, then said "I forgot how much red was in her hair."

He almost wished his uninvited guest would come back so she could see it. Lionel dressed in faded jeans, his long hair pulled back to the nape of his neck. His mother, clutching him tightly, turning him out towards the camera, a shock of red hair under her chin where he had thrown his head back against her neck in laughter.

But she had gone. Just like that.

"It's the kid I feel badly for," Lex had told her. She had regressed to her shadowy corner once more. He sat on the floor, leaning against the bed. "I look back and wonder how I survived. You think, if I could go back in time, keep my dad from being so rough, help the kid not be so weak. Make my mother proud. While I'm at it, save her life."

"You already had," she said.

Lex snorted.

"You're the best thing either of them have ever done."

Lex stared.

She had walked into the sunrise beginning to stream through the windows and Lex saw her, saw everything, for what it really was. She looked at the rays of red, orange and yellow. "I never get tired of that," she said softly.

Turning to Lex then, "Make a decision, Alexander. Get involved in your existence. It can be taken away again more quickly than you know and next time you may be without a hero standing by."

She was gone in a whirl of white flutters.

"Not if I can help it," Lex said to himself.


***********************


In the sweltering weather it was no wonder Clark's skin glistened, the light seeping through the barn's slatted structure bouncing off his arms, his shoulders, as he tossed another bale of hay. His loose and years-stained jeans had fresh mud caked on the cuffs. Random pieces of hay clung to his bare back and chest. Impossibly floppy hair pushed back distractedly by a gloved hand as his form bent once more to grasp another bale's fine line of string when the Kansas wind blew. Clark closed his eyes briefly, enjoying summer's little breeze.

He gave an almost imperceptible start when Lex flattened his palm on Clark's spine, fingers splayed, thumb and small finger landing underneath the beginnings of his shoulder blades. Moved his fingers slightly. Felt a bit like a child making flickers of art with dull, washable paint---awkward and beautiful all at the same time.

Clark's jaw came into sight as he glanced over his shoulder. Couldn't keep the tinge of amusement from his tone. "What's this about?"

A needful heartbeat.

"Just thinking this is where your wings must have been," Lex said in his standard, non-revealing monotone.

He had dressed for the weather, short sleeves and linen slacks; felt the beads on his upper lip forming and the trails of wetness on his scalp anyway.

Clark breathed in. "You think that?"

The birds that seemed ever-present on the rafters took off simultaneously, the flapping reverberating in Lex's ears.

Damn, she was pushy.

Now Clark turned. He radiated pureness, Lex radiated hope, and they grinned at each other for lack of courage to do anything better with the moment.

"I did come from the sky, you know," says Clark finally in a whisper, his finger hesitantly pointing upwards as if to clarify. He genuinely looked nervous and Lex leaned in til their foreheads touched.

"Where else would you have come from but heaven." Statement, not a question. Not a doubt. No dreaming.

Dreams never tasted this sweet.