A statue of a cherubim stood glowing dully on the grounds, almost hidden by the overgrown vines that had been sophisticated in its own time, when hired landscapists tamed them into contrived abandon along the high walls. The last descendent of a proud line surveyed her family's oldest property in the States this insatiable need to uncover the truth, an urge so strong she would stop at nothing. Perhaps this was one more test, her grandfather reaching out his hand from the grave to present her with the final puzzle. It would prove her claim to this fortune.
On the first of May, during the third year of the new century, her grandfather wed a simple woman with a quiet beauty and admirable intellect. Until today, Helen Luthor was one of her favorites among the portraits of the Luthor brides hung along the third floor corridor, second only to her great grandmother Lillian.
It was not merely a bias based on that fact that she was her grandmother. Lena adored Helen because she held herself with a grace that the younger woman could only hope to have. Her grandmother had been born and bred to privilege, but so was Lena. How was it then that among her cousins, she was the least glamorous or even in temper and manner? Underneath the fine clothes and teardrop pearls, her spirit fought to be free from the restraints, called to break away from sophisticated lines to explore bursts of colors and bourgeois accessories. Her grandmother helped her tame what she often referred to as wildness. Lena would often remember Helen Luthor for the time and love she had invested to correct Lena's flaws.
Helen Luthor had not been buried in the Luthor mausoleum. But there was no mystery there. She was a teenager when her grandmother died and Lena distinctly remembered the broken woman telling her lawyer that she had chosen to be buried in her own family's site, in far Boston. Sometimes Lena asked herself why Helen would choose not to lay forever beside the man she adored and the they raised together.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"I will not stand to be humiliated this way!"
"Helen," Lex said sharply, "lower your voice."
Her skirt hugged her legs with every jerky movement uncharacteristic of the woman. She shook her head with a ferocity that sent locks of hair springing out of the chignon. Helen Luthor's breaths were harsh and panicked. "Are you so afraid of scandal, Lex?"
Lex glanced behind him to see the butler swiftly turn away and give them privacy.
"You don't care about what people think of you." Her voice was cold. "You want me to shut up because you don't want people talking about her."
"She has enough to worry about. Don't add to her problems."
Helen laughed in disbelief. "To her problems," she exclaimed bitterly. "Talk of her affair with my own husband would be my adding to her problems!"
He took a seat on one of the hardwood steps and raised his head to look up at his wife. "We've been over for a long time, Helen. You know it as well as I do. Let me go. I've offered you half of everything. You cannot need more than that in ten lifetimes, Helen."
The corner of her lips curled scornfully. "I will not have you running back to her the minute a divorce is final. Do you know how it would make me look?"
"Put all the blame on me," he answered. "Abandonment."
"They would be hard pressed to approve that when we have been in the same town all along. I will not leave my practice so you can fuck who you want," she told him. Lex's hands fisted. "I will not run out of town by my husband and his mistress."
"Then alcoholism, abuse, insanity. Plead anything, Helen. I will sign it. I'll agree to anything but adultery. Don't mention her in any way."
"Why would I do that when I have a much better way of getting back at you, Lex?"
"Don't do this to me."
"Why shouldn't I? What do I owe you, Lex, for screwing me over in this marital bliss?"
She had become so hard and if he were only fair, he would not have blamed her. Helen did not sign up for this. "I can't apologize for this. I don't regret that it happened. But I am sorry that I hurt you, Helen. I never meant to fall in love with her. When I married you, I had no idea that this happiness existed."
Helen blinked back tears that threatened to spill. She had been floating in happiness the day she married him, and he could so easily tell her that he had not felt the same. "We stay married, Lex. I will not let you revel in your own sin. She can have all of your heart that she wants, but your name stays with me. I won't give her all the satisfaction."
She rushed away from him because she could hear herself screaming in her ears. When she turned her head she saw him bury his face in his hands. For all his crimes against her she cared for the man more than she should. Part of her heart went out to him for loving someone who was contracted to hurt him in the end, whether either of them was willing or not.
The castle had been aired and swept, prepared for the last Luthor to walk through the halls in search of history. Lena Luthor sat on a chair in her grandmother's office searching for names or clues, anything that would jar her mind into recollecting a person important enough to the residents of the house. Finding a thick folder yellowed with age and brittle with wear, she drew it out of the drawer and laid it on the table.
It was nothing important. She figured most of the people listed in the patient list had died long before her grandmother did a few years ago. Still, Lena treasured pictures of the old woman looking smart in her uniform, holding the medical charts or wearing a stethoscope. She personally had no predilection for science, a weakness that her grandmother had been helping her banish when she was a teenager. After all, Helen was a doctor; her grandfather Lex holder of a biochemistry degree that was only put aside because of the desperate need of the company to have a man at the helm. Lena did not understand it herself. No matter how desperately she tried, she could not find any interest in the subject short of exposing to the world any deviations from the norm. For that alone, when Helen told her about how the human body should be made up, she listened.
Her grandmother had a thriving practice. There were names she had heard before, in family conversations. She knew that these people must somehow be connected to Helen Luthor, and to find them on the patient list was eye-opening. Curiously, Lena noted that there was a Martha Kent on the list, as well as one Jonathan Kent. Although she had not heard about them before, she did know another Kent. At least she had heard his name one time when she listened in to her dad talking with granduncle Lucas.
"I hate it as much as you do, Christian, but we cannot do anything. Clark Kent is out of our reach now. You have to accept that."
There had been silence then. As an eight-year-old, Lena had already been as inquisitive as no one else had been in the family. She had peeked into the office and seen her father slumped down on the desk, his elbows resting on his knees, as he looked up at Lucas who at times appeared even more youthful than the thirty-one-year-old Christian. "I will not let it go that easily, uncle."
"Your father has."
Lena had edged closer to the door, curious about the conversation that suddenly concerned her most favorite person in the entire world, her grandpa.
"Do you call what he's doing letting go? He's shut himself off from the world." Her poor father, with tears in his eyes. Lena couldn't wait for him to walk out of that room so she could pepper him with lots of kisses. "Uncle," Christian continued, "he had paid more attention to that cold marble than he has to me. And I'm Lex, Lucas, Christian and Lucas' two daughters.
Lena could find nothing that could serve as a clue to her mystery. Instead, she took the phone from her pocket and dialed her cousin's number. Ted was only five years older, but he was aware enough that he must have had an idea.
Her cousin Ted was another of the oddities in the Luthor clan, not as much as Lena but still. Theodore's passion for science manifested itself into a very keen precision for forensics, which then lodged him into the role of the family's solicitor. It had become a family tradition to tease him about how the lawyer had descended from the pettiest Luthor criminal. Whilst Lionel Luthor had been committing the century's biggest crimes, his son Lucas was off in crime alleys snitching pockets and dealing a double hand.
Despite the obvious differences in their stand on the law, Lucas was proudest of Ted. Ted was a man of distinct principles and a generous heart. Like his mother Heather, who like all the loves of the Luthor men died early, Ted placed his family above everything else.
When she had called him, Ted asked her quietly, "Are you certain, Lena, that you want to know everything? Once you open the box, you can't shut it and forget what you didn't like."
"Don't go mystery man on me, Ted. I don't even know what's up with the secrets. You obviously know things I was not informed of."
"Lena, you were being protected from hurt. You adored Grandma," he told her, referring to Helen who was the only grandmother he knew. It was the saddest part of being in the Luthor family. Lucas' wife Andrea also passed away before any of the children were old enough to remember.
"What does Grandma have to do with it, Ted?"
"Listen, Lena. I can be there in forty, tops. Will you wait for me?"
"Do I have a choice?"
Ted found her in Helen's office fifteen minutes later. She smiled and embraced her cousin in welcome. "So the prodigal daughter returns." She smiled lopsidedly at the reminder of how she had run away after Lucas died. No matter how much she adored Helen, she could not stay around when everything inside her rebelled at the image of the young woman that she was being turned into.
"I wouldn't have except for the fact that the castle was left to me," she replied, pulling away from Ted and raising an eyebrow. "Why would grandma leave the castle to me? Why not to any of you guys? You were the ones who stayed around after I left."
"Lena, sweetheart, you are the only Luthor here. Jenna and I, we don't carry the name. The castle was supposed to go to Uncle Christian. It's called primogeniture."
"That's ancient, Ted!" Lena laughingly replied.
"That's the Luthor idiosyncrasy."
The shy dimple that appeared on her cheek made her features lighter, and Ted smiled back at the face that none of their other relatives could place. Lena, golden hair and brilliant green eyes, was so unlike any of the elders that they chose to stay apart. He was privileged to be the only one in his generation to hold the information. Even his parents never knew. He was assured of that when he asked about how secure the information was. All the rest of people who could tell Lena the truth were gone and now that Lena was open to finding out, Ted felt relief that he would finally pass it on.
"We are a family cursed by death," he began.
Lena nodded, her eyes automatically drawn to the window, where the cherubim now shone under the sun. She had asked for the statue to be cleaned, the vines cleared. Another Luthor idiosyncrasy she supposed. "Except for my grandparents. Grandma Helen lived her full years. And grandfather Lex, who took death like a gift. Do you remember how he looked?"
The image of the older man's longing look and happy smile, at that precise second that his heart had stopped beating, had been his touchstone in all his adult life. "Did you ever wonder about that?"
"Everyone wondered about that. I remember my nanny telling me this story, when I cried that night, that when a person dies, he sees this brilliant light." Lena smiled. "And then from that light, someone walks out from the other side to take him through. When a man dies, the spirit of the person he loved the most will extend her hand to guide him."
Ted nodded. "That's how he looked, Lena. Grandpa Lex looked like he saw that person, so death was a gift to him."
"Do you think great grandmother Lillian came to him then?"
He blinked away the confusion in his eyes upon processing Lena's question. "Maybe. Lena, do you remember the curse that everyone was talking about when your parents died? It was the same one they talked about, they said, when Lillian Luthor passed away. It was the same one when my grandma died too."
"That the women Luthors love are destined for an early death," Lena answered. And then she shook her head. "But that's crazy, Ted. Look at grandma Helen."
He did not speak, but met her gaze for an extended moment. When she sucked in her breath, he nodded. "I firmly believe, in my heart, Lena, that great grandmother Lillian came to Lionel when he died. But it wasn't her hand that grandpa Lex took that time."
"What are you telling me, Ted? That this woman who was Mrs Luthor since he was twenty two years old Just go on, Lena. Happy discovery."
Although Lena had wanted to come into the room at once when she received the key, her cousin Ted convinced her that it would be best to wait a while. So she opted to take down the tapestry covering the secret door at midnight. For her, it enhanced the thrill of discovery. Whatever she would find behind the door had been big enough of a secret that it had been carefully hidden away from the family for decades. It was important and life-altering enough that after finding out that his father kept such a room, Christian Luthor made a point to visit the Smallville castle every few weeks. And on such visits, he would ask Lex politely if he could view it. Lena barely remembered moments with her father in Smallville. Whenever she was taken to her grandparents', Christian would go silent and vanish for hours.
Desperate curiosity called her to the room. She informed Ted that she was going to explore it. Ted did not stop her anymore then. He only cautioned, "Lena, everything you will see in there has been taken from where they were. These items existed in their own context." She asked herself so many times why her cousin was so concerned about what she would think. It was a room. It was a room that may or may not be filled with important things but still, it was a room.
The first thing she noticed, when she pushed the door open and flooded the abandoned room with glaring lights, was the lone bed that stood proudly amidst the rest of the things there. Lena walked over to the king-sized furniture and looked down at it. There was nothing special about it other than the beautiful finish and natural wood. She ran her hand over the smooth surface and glanced down at her dust-covered palm.
Worlds existed outside her own. She believed this with all her heart. Another time, another place, or on another frequency that no human was aware of. Chloe Sullivan held in her heart this firm faith that death is not sleep but a birth to another existence.
It was cold comfort that she turned to when all that was inside her melted at the knowledge that human frailty was one dilemma she could not hope to fix.
She stared out the French windows from the penthouse apartment and wondered how painful it would be if she let herself fly. Her hand rested on the door handle, but she knew it would be a futile effort to even try it. He made sure that this door to the balcony was always locked.
"Lex." The name slipped easily from her lips when a scent of ylang ylang filled the air around her, wrapping her in a fragrant haze.
His warm kisses soothed her neck as it traced a path from her collarbone to her ears. She felt his hot breath on her ear. "How was your day?"
"Has an entire day passed?"
He turned her in his arms so that he could look down on her face. Lex could see the yearning in her eyes, her desperate need to leave the confines of the room to see the world again. He glanced out and saw the orange sky. "We'll go out in half an hour, okay?"
Chloe nodded. Lex pressed a kiss on her cheek and walked towards the bed. She watched as he wearily lay down fully clothed. She walked towards him and stared at the closed eyes. He wasn't asleep. He came to her to rest his eyes and relax his body after a grueling day at work or at the castle. She smiled at the memory of Lex telling her that the castle was the castle. With her, he was home.
There are so many reasons why she should not be with this man. She had known it the exact moment that she decided to pursue the intense emotions that threatened to overwhelm her the day that everything changed. Fate was treacherous that way too. Without warning, she looked up and he was different. From a casual friend, Lex became the drug she could not live without. Chloe crawled in beside him and pressed kisses on the lines on his face.
The gold band adorning his finger was one of those reasons. And there was the inevitable that even his wife knew, the inevitable that was the reason she hesitated entering a relationship with him. It was a reason he crushed with passionate words and promises that as long as they could, they would fight it. It was the inevitable that still hung over them like a dark heavy cloud.
He opened his eyes and reached up to touch her cheek. She could feel the thin bump of his wedding ring against her skin. Chloe reached up and closed her hand over his fingers and pulled it away. Slowly, she slipped the ring off his finger and laid it on the desk. "You can put it back on later." She laid a kiss on the pale line on his skin where his ring had been. She settled beside him and rested her head on his chest, examining his hand and raising her own to see them together. "You have a very big hand."
Lex turned his hand and entwined his fingers with hers. "I'll get you a ring."
"Don't insult me."
"Chloe," he protested.
"I'm not your wife, Lex. And I'm not jealous of Helen. This is enough."
"It's not enough for me."
Lulled by the steady rhythm of his heart, Chloe closed her eyes and breathed deeply. "You have to learn to be contented with what you have. Sometimes you don't get more." She felt his fingers thread through her hair and massage her scalp. "We don't get to choose what happens to us, Lex. Don't fool yourself that we do."
"I tracked down a research paper done by Dr. Hart. I made certain inquiries about his background. I think we have something here, Chloe."
"Just like the way we did with Dr. Yates and Dr. Sun. And Prof. Getty. Not to mention Dr. Mann," she enumerated. "Lex, I'm tired. I'm done hoping that tomorrow it will be different. I'm just of him basking under the sun in his all his glory. Lex placed a kiss on her lips and took the bag she had slung over her shoulder. When she protested, he held up his finger in a plea for silence.
They were running across the white sand, in flimsy swimsuits, laughing until they couldn't laugh anymore, feeding each other with mango slices and coconut strips, in no time at all. Although at home he cringed at the thought of reenacting these movie scenes, discovering them with her was as fresh and revitalizing as waking up beside her every morning.
"I am moving in with you the moment we get back to the States," he breathed out the promise while they lay on the beach, letting the constant wave of the water tease their legs.
She rose up on her elbows and looked down at him. His eyes were closed as he relished the warmth of the run on his face. Chloe blocked the sun with her head. Noticing the loss of heat, Lex opened his eyes and smiled at the sight of her looking confused. "Was that a joke?"
"That was a fantasy, Chloe."
Disappointment flickered in her eyes before she could completely hide it. "Of course."
Lex knew she would never ask him to leave Helen. He also knew that she was aware of how many times that he tried. "It's a fantasy that I'm turning into reality."
Chloe removed herself from his sun and lay back down. The sand worked its way into her hair but she did not mind. "Don't get my hopes up, Lex."
"It's true. I don't care that Helen won't sign the divorce papers anymore. I need to be with you."
She looked steadily at him. "Are you sure? Lex, what if she Helen Luthor's--fault. Faced with all logical evidence, Chloe was the criminal and Helen was the victim. Try as she might though, Chloe could not form the name on her lips.
The doctor smiled tightly. "I was wondering where my husband had been the entire weekend. Until of course one of my associates who came from Bali informed me that he thought he saw my husband in the island."
Did any mistress ever possess the answer when a wife said something to that effect?
"Chloe, I don't care what depravity you and my husband wish to involve yourselves in."
With gritted teeth, Chloe clutched at shreds of a dignity that the other woman was so bent on destroying. "There has never been anything depraved or wrong in what we have, Helen," she told the doctor calmly.
"Nothing wrong other than that it's adultery." Chloe kept her silence because Helen was right. The corner of Helen's lips curled upwards. "As I said, I don't care what you do as long as you do it somewhere where you won't be seen. You're already doing this. Spare me the humiliation."
"We were in Bali!" Chloe defended. "How much farther into the edge of the Earth do you need us to hide?"
"Scoot over to an orifice where none of my acquaintances will see you!" Helen bit out. "And make sure it's not in a place where candid photos will be taken to be stamped on newspapers everywhere. Can you imagine how embarrassed I was to have to reply to my Dr. Johns earlier? Chloe, I know my husband is having an affair. Don't continually slap me with it!"
Chloe blinked away the tears that rose to her eyes, a reaction more to suppressing the anger that the woman's words caused. Helen was the one who insisted on keeping the marriage intact. Helen was the reason that Chloe had to hide the one thing she could be proud of. "Helen," she tried again.
The tear of frustration finally escaped. "Stop it!" Chloe took a deep breath. "You have no idea how sorry I am that this is causing you so much pain. But your marriage was over before anything happened between your husband and me."
Helen's chin lifted and released a snort of laughter. "You want me to agree with you," she inferred. "To clear your conscience, isn't it, Chloe?"
"I just want you to be happy, Helen. Whether I like it or not, I did have some part in your pain now."
"I know all about you, Chloe. I only wonder why my husband is throwing his life away on a woman who will leave him much more quickly than he did me." Helen opened her bag and drew out dark sunglasses, then covered her eyes. "I won't ease your burden by telling you that I forgive you. You destroyed my marriage, Chloe." Her voice dropped to a hushed and angry whisper. "You can bring that to your grave."
If the last months had strengthened anything inside Chloe, it was her acceptance of her weaknesses as a human. Fully intending to lash out with as much hurt as she was feeling, her hand flew to Helen's cheek. The moment her palm connected with the woman's skin, Chloe froze.
"You don't have the right to raise your hand against me," Helen told her.
"You didn't have the right to say any of those things you said, Helen," Chloe responded.
"Don't I? Chloe, you're my husband's mistress," Helen said in disbelief.
"You can only admonish a child so many times before he becomes immune to it. I'm the one he loves. If you can't let the surname go, then just leave us be. Let us commit our sins. I'm sure you wouldn't get punished for them."
"The one he loves" the brunette scoffed. "Like that's going to matter to a court of law when I'm the wife."
"Like being the wife would matter in the long run."
Helen took one step forward and narrowed her eyes at the shorter woman. "It would matter, Chloe. I have all the aces here. Soon, you're not even going to be around. I can wait until then. When that time comes, no one will remember your name and I would still be Mrs. Luthor. Now do you know why I can't divorce my philandering husband?"
Tired of the conversation and of the fact that Helen's words held her own fears that remained unsaid, Chloe shook her head. "Okay, Helen. Wait until then." With a brief, tense smile, Chloe walked towards her parked car.
Every day you learn new things that you need to deal with at your own time. For Lena, the barrage of information that she never really asked for was overwhelming. An extreme in her simple question about whether or not she should sell a castle that no one wanted to live in, a house that drained tax money in a place that was so backwater that she wondered why any of the Luthors even wanted to remain here in the first place.
In the span of an hour, the esteem she held for her grandfather shattered. There was a man admired by his workers and his relatives. Even her poor grandmother held him in such high regard. Lena was filled with pity for Helen, who struggled to accept a husband who was as far from perfect as a husband could be.
Whatever happened to the woman who caused Alexander Luthor precious years in his marriage? Having grown up in a household that recognized both grandparents, Lena was certain that somewhere down the road, Lex regained what little there was that remained of his pride and gotten rid of the mistress. If there was anything that gave her enough eagerness to explore the odd collection, it was the knowledge that deep inside a drawer or pushed to the backs of whatever shelf there was in the room, was evidence of the exact way the blonde woman was discarded and Lex was returned to the bosom of the family to which he belonged.
Deliberately keeping her eyes from the bed that mildly disgusted her, Lena walked over to the bookshelf that was pushed to the wall. She ran her fingers over the spines and breathed the wonderful scent of old books. They were murder mysteries, literary anthologies, books on the paranormal an assurance that he had finally earned the right and ability to say the name again a million times more into the future. "What are you doing in there? Come out. I have a surprise for you!"
"Just a minute." He yearned to burst out that now, she could take all the minutes she needed, and there never needed to be any kind of rush anymore.
Lex frowned when he heard a brief scuffle and a muttered curse. He walked over towards the kitchen and saw Chloe hastily picking up some trash that spilled from the garbage bag. He grinned at the sight of her wearing a scarf around her head to keep her hair from falling over her face. "There's a reason I hired a maid to do this for us every day, you know."
Chloe looked up at him. "Oh I just wanted to get rid of this bag." Her eyes fell on the bouquet he held in his hands. "Is that for me?" she gasped. "Tulips, Lex! They're gorgeous."
"Actually they're for me," he deadpanned. Today was too glorious and he felt the need to inject his own brand of humor, something that he never dared do with the dark cloud that hung above them for a while. "But I guess it would be a bit too feminine if I don't pretend to give it to you." With a smirk, he laid the bouquet on the table and went down on his knees to help her gather the trash.
"No. You wait for me in the dining room," she instructed. "I'll be right out." Chloe crawled a little to lean towards him. "I hope you had a great day, Lex." With one hand placed just over his heart, she pressed a long kiss on his lips.
"Ummm," he murmured. "It just got better. But I can't have the trash lady kissing me because I have someone really hot waiting for me in our Metropolis apartment. I'm going to end up smelling like produce."
"Jerk," she said lightly, slapping him teasingly on the shoulder. "Go."
Lex moved away and stood up. He was about to leave the room when he saw a flash of something white behind the refrigerator. Knowing that Chloe was probably not going to see that it rolled there together with some crumpled balls of paper, Lex bent to pick it up. The moment he felt the smooth surface, he froze. Lex read the words on the bottle in disbelief. "Chloe," he said with a touch of coolness in his voice. "Why are you throwing these out?"
The guilt on her face was so pronounced that she could not backtrack and claim that they were not meant to be thrown away.
"You promised that you would try. And we did. You're getting better, Chloe. What the hell is this?" He gripped the jar tightly in his fist and looked away. "There's an easier way of getting away from me than death, Chloe. You just had to say so."
Chloe released an exasperated breath. She grabbed the tablets in his hand and threw it back into the garbage bag. "Don't give me that drama, Lex. It's not going to work on me." She stopped when she saw his nostrils flare. He tightened his jaw to keep from saying anything. Chloe stepped towards him. She reached out and placed her hand on his upper arm. Chloe bit her lip when he flinched. "Lex, don't do this."
"Is it so difficult to understand that I want you to stay with me, Chloe? I thought we agreed that you're going to take the pills until you're completely recovered."
"Lex," she started. "We have to throw them away. Look at me." When he did not, she repeated more firmly, "Look at me, Lex." He turned his head and met her stare. Lex released a deep breath. "I need your help so badly. You have to help me not take those drugs. We're going to have a baby."
And now she was smiling when all he could do was wish desperately that he would not release his agonized cry. The news that would have brought him such happiness on another occasion merely caused his frustration to mount. It took all his willpower to say in a deep, controlled voice, "No, Chloe."
Her eyes widened at his pronouncement. "Is it going to be too much of a problem, Lex?"
He placed his forehead on hers and slightly shook his head. "I'm not going to let a baby ruin your treatment. If having one means that you have to stop taking the medicines, then we're going to have it aborted."
Chloe pushed him away. "What are you talking about?" Her hands protectively went over her stomach. "Don't be crazy, Lex! This is a once in a lifetime chance for me. I may not even survive this treatment and you want me to give up my baby?" she cried in disbelief. "You're seriously deranged if you think I'll let you kill this."
"We can have a baby when you're better."
"No!" she spat out. "Lex, I can die right now and what would I leave you? A memory that we were hoping that I wouldn't. This is the real thing, Lex. This baby will be my line from wherever I would be, to you. Please help me," she ended in a whisper.
He appeared fascinated by his hand now. He kept his gaze on it as he reached to take hers. He gripped her hand in his and pulled her to him. Lex pleaded, "Don't let us lose."
The sudden shift in his mood calmed her somehow. Chloe shook her head. "This isn't losing. We're going to be parents, Lex." This time, he could hear the tears in her voice. "It's a gift."
"If we have this baby," he replied gravelly, "I just know, Chloe, we're going to lose."
"Haven't we all been put here to lose anyway?" she answered. That was when the bright day was suddenly thrown into pitch blackness. Lex knew with those words that along with this new person that she called gift, Chloe had already accepted an irreversible consequence that would balance out her universe, and destroy his own.
Her footsteps echoed through the room as the dead night silenced any other noise except for hers. Lena wondered if she would see Ted still sitting outside and at once decided that he would no longer be there. Her cousin had fulfilled his part in her grandfather's will. He had handed Lena the key and it would be up to her to explore and learn on her own.
The lovely mahogany desk loomed a few feet away from her. She remembered seeing it several times in Lex Luthor's office. He had sat behind the impressive furniture and transformed from an old man to the vanguard of the Luthor power.
For all his sins, Lex Luthor had been a part of everything in her life. It was not his fault that he had been tempted away from the marital bed by this Chloe Sullivan, whose bright eyes and golden hair Lena was ashamed to note so resembled her own. Her grandfather's mistress was long gone and with her died any trace of her part in the Luthor line. All that remained to completely eradicate the influence of the woman was to burn this room down. Perhaps she would have men come over and haul the contents of this pathetic rendition of Taj Mahal that her grandfather created for his mistress.
Lena went behind the desk and pulled out the heavy chair behind it. She settled into the cushioned seat and closed her eyes briefly. Everything reminded her of the old man who at each moment in the years she knew him appeared so lacking in an intangible manner. She would not believe even for a brief second that the loss of an illicit affair encumbered him for the rest of his life.
No detour from married life had such a lasting effect on one man "
"I hope to see my pilot face to face, When I have crost the bar," she finished.
Lex laid his forehead on the top of her head and took in deep, calming breaths. When he left the plant to his brother, Lucas commented on the well-deserved break that Lex would have, a vacation from the stress of work, of the business, of prying eyes and of an unwanted wife. What Lex neglected to tell his brother was that the vacation would not be for fun, or for respite from the stress. He was meeting every aspect of the dark face of his life head-on.
At times like this he wanted to yell at her, because she was the one who chose to stop therapy to have a child. A child was something that could have been picked up from any orphanage in the country. But Chloe was as stubborn and obdurate as the day he met her, and would not agree to a procedure that could save her life. It was easy, he told himself. It would have been. They could opt to have a baby when she was better. A life for a life. The baby for hers.
Yet at times like this, when she was in pain and all she could do was bury herself deeper in his embrace, he knew he would never tell her that. At these moments when he remembered what she sacrificed for what to him was nothing more than heartbeat that was not her own, under her skin, he also knew that he could not love her more than he did.
He would run his hands soothingly over her skin to remind her that despite being unable to open her eyes because of the pain, he remained beside her. He felt her body relax against his and heard her say, "There are no oceans in Metropolis, Lex."
"Then don't go home yet," he told her simply. [I]And all that drew from out the boundless deep turns again home. [/I]"Don't go home. There. You have me here."
[I]The flood may bear me far.[/I] "Okay," she agreed, smiling at him as she moved her hand to the part of the tight stomach where the baby's heart fluttered like a butterfly's wings. "I'll stay."
It was a promise she intended with all of her heart to keep.
Lena replaced the poem inside the drawer and covered it with the frame. She was suddenly filled with warring emotions of betrayal and despair. Her grandfather had had a child with the woman at the same time that Helen Luthor was pregnant. Even as she was scandalized by the idea, Lena knew that she was fooling herself. She turned around and was confronted by a mirror, belying the conclusion she forced herself into.
Staring at her image that was suddenly no longer such a stranger, Lena hand teased the locks around her face. She had always been an aberration in features and temperament. Quickly, she looked away, unwilling to analyze the aspects of herself that she was now beginning to recognize. As long as she refused to believe it, it would remain untrue.
[I]I hope to see my pilot face to face when I have crost the bar,[/I] another voice whispered into her ear. Now, the spiteful part of Lena wished adamantly that Chloe Sullivan never received her wish, and that she burned in hell for the sin she forced Lex Luthor into. Yet every time she remembered the disjointed puzzle that she was piecing together, her determination to curse the woman wavered " Chloe widened her eyes in warning to Lex. "Shoot," he finished lamely. "I have to go back there to get them."
"I can go, Lex," Clark offered.
"The salesgirl might not remember you. I will." Lex rushed over to Chloe and Christian. "I'll be right back. Daddy's going to get your candles, okay? Take care of mommy." Christian puffed out his chest and nodded. Lex dropped a kiss on Chloe's nose. "Be right back. It's just down on the first floor. Won't take long." Lex glanced at Clark and waved quickly. "Look after them, Clark."
While he was filming Chloe telling Christian about the eentsy weentsy spider and running her fingers in ticklish motions up her son's body, Clark's cellphone vibrated in his pocket. He looked for a place to sit the camera on and saw the counter separating the living room from the kitchen. "Hey Chloe, I'm taking a call," he informed her. Chloe waved him off while she giggled with her son.
Clark placed the camera on the counter, removing the tray of bottles and small jars seated there. "Hello." Christian squealed right behind him and Clark walked to the kitchen. "Lois! What's wrong?" He looked around for a spot to put the tray. The table was heaped with presents that Lex and Chloe had wrapped for their son. Clark walked over to the cupboard and slid the tray far into one shelf. "What? All right. I'll be there."
Clark slipped the phone back into his pocket and went to the living room. "Chloe, I have to go."
Her brows furrowed in concern. "Is anything wrong?"
"Lois ran into some trouble again," he informed her with a lopsided smile. "What is it with me and overzealous reporter girls?"
"You can't resist us," she told him with sparkling eyes. "Go and be a hero." In the blink of an eye, Clark was gone. Chloe looked at the boy sitting on her lap and grinned brightly. "It's just you and me now, kiddo."
"Rocket ship, mommy! I wanna be an astonot," Christian pronounced.
"An astronaut, huh?" Chloe stood up and raised her son up in the air. She whirled around and around, laughing when Christian squealed and spread out his arms like a bird. "I think you just want to be Superman!"
Lena was held in place, sitting on the couch as she watched Chloe Sullivan dance and whirl in the living room, seen through the camera that Clark Kent had left on the counter. It was amazing to see her father as such a little boy. Christian Luthor had always been a stiff and proper man, a deep thinker who loved solitude more than anything else. Lena's lips curved briefly at the knowledge that like all little boys, the businessman who had always been so successful on earth had dreamed to fly in space.
She saw Chloe place the boy on the coffeetable and take deep breaths, all the while smiling in reassurance at her son.
"Daddy was right. Mommy shouldn't do that too much." Chloe leaned down to smooth the boy's forehead. "You look so much like Lex it's scary. You never even got anything from me, did you, Christian?"
"Are you okay, mommy? Daddy says I gotta take care of you."
"I'm dizzy," Chloe told the boy honestly. "It's just time for mommy's medicine. Stay here while I go get it from where daddy always leaves them, okay?"
Lena saw Chloe move so close to the camera that all there was on screen was the material of her blouse. "It's not here," Lena heard the soft whisper--for the first time, with a trace of fear.
She heard rather than saw when Chloe Sullivan stumbled on her feet. The woman vanished from the screen when she supposed that Chloe searched in the kitchen.
Lena saw Christian staring at a point right above the screen, so she knew that Chloe was standing right behind the camera. "Did you find them, mommy? Can you make yourself better?"
Chloe reappeared onscreen when she helped Christian off the coffeetable. "We'll wait for daddy because daddy always knows." Lena could see the whitening of the woman's skin as she gripped the edge of the coffeetable.
"Mommy, you look sick," the boy said.
"Mommy's fine, baby. See if daddy's here yet." The boy started running to the door. Chloe fell down and disappeared from the screen.
Lena braced herself for the rest because she knew now why Ted chose this tape. She could not see anything now. Clark had left the camera on too high a spot. She only assumed that Chloe Sullivan lay on the carpet. Lena could hear the boy screaming and crying.
And the boy, her father, screamed for the longest five minutes she had ever experienced before the door opened. Again, Lena saw Christian as the boy stood up and ran to his father. She saw Lex Luthor blanch at the sight that only he and his son saw. The bag of candles and the brown stuffed teddy bear he clutched tumbled to the floor. He broke into a run.
His son's piercing scream rent the air. "You lost mommy's medicine!"
And finally, Lena heard another voice other than her own father's screaming and crying. "Chloe," Lex said quietly, frantically, "don't do this today. Don't ever do this!"
"You agreed you wouldn't do this!"
It was only Lex Luthor's face that she could see. It was an expression she would rather not have seen.
The study was dark and cold. Lex was unused to its impersonality. Once upon a time he spend more than half his day inside it. It had been home more than his bedroom ever was, or his living room. Once upon a time, when he was still as cold and aloof as every piece of furniture in that room. Once upon a time when he had not yet experienced how warm sunlight playing across his face was, before one unwilling girl coaxed him out of the shell he unknowingly retreated into whenever threat to his walls faced him. It was the harbor of a different man. Inside Lex fought against having to return here.
There was a brisk knock on the door, and Lex straightened in his seat. The only person who had the right to see him so defenseless was not at the other side of that door. Lex called curtly admittance.
His brother stepped into the room and strode towards him. Lucas took a seat in front of the desk without being told to. He watched his brother carefully, scrutinizing the face for the slightest expression but finding none.
Finally, Lex spoke, "My life is ruled by women."
Lucas took it as a sign of levity. He smiled briefly and answered. "You're telling me. I've got three girls who run the house."
Gruffly, Lex asked, "What did she say?"
Lucas recognized the sudden turn and became somber himself. "She was very amenable to the arrangement, Lex. It suits well with appearances. That's the most she had really been concerned with since the beginning."
The older man nodded. "She understands that there will be no marriage."
"The fact that you were able to keep the affair out of the public eye, even with Christian's arrival, impressed her."
A crack in the mask that could be interpreted as a smile. Then it was gone like a ripple on the surface of water. "I didn't do it for her."
Lucas settled back in the chair. "She is willing to raise your son. It does go with appearances. This way, Christian will never be labeled illegitimate."
"She will never be Christian's mother. My son will never forget the woman who bore him."
"Lex, Chloe wanted your son to stay with you. Whatever it took, she said. And Helen will never divorce you. She was aware of that."
The mere mention of the name and Lex had to fight the wave of dizziness that assailed him. His senses were flooded by a scent, intangible and fleeting at once, but he continued to grasp for a whiff in the air. "She said that Helen is not a bad woman, merely a woman caught in a terrible situation."
"What wife would not have shown a dark side when threat to her happiness arrives?" Lucas reasoned. Lex remained silent. "She had one request. If you are in any way considering a transfer." Lex closed his eyes, because to open them would reveal to his brother too many things about him that he would allow no one to view. "Helen doesn't want Chloe in the family mausoleum."
Nausea was only in the mind, Lex convinced himself. He had spent too many nights cradling his son, coaching him in the ways of blocking images of his mother's body buried underground, open to... Lex shook his head to erase the thoughts. Chloe was vibrant and beautiful and ethereal, too much so to remain alive. There was no body. The body was no longer Chloe, because his wife (and he would forever deny Helen that name because his heart knew otherwise) had ascended where she would be untouched by elements that would wear the human body down. Chloe was fortunate in that regard. Voices in his head commented in his denial to no effect. If he thought one more moment of Chloe's beautiful skin marred by the inevitable marring that followed death, he would go insane.
"Legally, even if we wanted to, we can't. When father purchased the land, he made the clause that only Luthors may be interred there, possibly to ward off his bastards," Lucas continued bitterly.
"Tell her," Lex said calmly, "that she will not have a problem with that." From the side of his desk, Lex drew a bottle of brandy and poured his brother a glass of the amber liquid. He pushed it to Lucas and poured himself another.
Lucas took the glass and swirled the liquid slowly. He took one deep swallow and looked at his brother, weighing Lex's actions. "Where is she, Lex?" he posed. "You didn't even invite me. I was one of her few friends." He was not insulted. Lucas was aware that Lex invited no one. "Is she in Metropolis?"
"No," was the simple reply.
The two turned when the door opened and in walked the small boy in a crisp black suit. "Christian," Lucas said. The boy did not turn to his uncle. He walked straight to his father.
Lex stood and excused himself to Lucas. He took his son's hand and walked with him out of the study.
Lucas waited for the door to close behind father and son. He looked down at the brandy glass and allowed the amber liquid to hypnotize him. When he had drunk the contents of his glass, Lucas stood and walked over to the windows that Lex favored so much. He looked out into the garden where Lillian Luthor's roses grew all year round. It was a view that could be seen from the study and from Lex's bedroom.
That was when he noticed the new statue that stood there, a marble angel that shone under the sun. He watched as Lex and his son, formal in their suits, walked stiffly across the garden and stopped in front of the cherubim. Christian reached out and brushed his hand over the marble. From his perspective, Lucas could not see or hear the two talk. Lex merely held his son's hand while they stood silently there.
Lena Luthor stood with her cousin in front of the marble angel, now dulled by time and isolated in the abandoned castle. Lex Luthor had chosen this place so that the one person he loved above everyone else would always be close to him. Yet here Chloe Sullivan lay, until this hour unknown by her only living relative, left by the two men who mattered the most to her. Lex and Christian lay resting in their expensive plots in the Luthor mausoleum. Chloe's only consolation was Helen's decision not to be interred beside the two. It was Lena's question answered, about why Helen would decide to be taken to her childhood home instead of resting forever beside her husband and son.
"I'm not even the heiress, Ted. My father was born to grandpa and his mistress."
Ted closed his hand over his cousin's shoulder. "Your father, and you, were products of a great love."
Lena moistened her lips. Everything about her was not an aberration. "So all the things round about me."
"Were wrong because grandma Helen taught you they were. These things about you that you could not find in any of the Luthors, or the Bryces, that she taught you to suppress, were what made grandfather love you and stay away from you at the same time." Ted glanced at his cousin, who did not see his movement. Lena was staring too intently on the words engraved in the stone. "You were Chloe Sullivan, living and breathing, a reminder of everything he loved. He adored you from afar, Lena. Grandpa was so afraid to really talk to you, because in the years that Uncle Christian grew up, he had thought that he had at least been able to relegate his heaven with Chloe to mere memory. You would have reminded him everyday of what he had lost."
"Did he really feel that way?" she asked softly, looking at the words. "Did he really believe that he buried his hope with her?"
"No." Ted shook his head. He knelt down and rubbed at the stone, revealing more words set in the stone. "In fact, this is testimony to the fact that Lex Luthor held an undying hope, Lena. He knew that if he lived well enough, he would see her again. You saw that fulfillment on his deathbed." Ted stood and nodded towards the epitaph. "Prospice," he told her.
Lena narrowed her eyes and read the inscription. "Soul of my soul," she whispered, and recognized the famous line at once, "I shall clasp thee again, and with God be the rest!"
When she turned her brimming eyes to her cousin, she saw that she was once again alone. Slowly, she faced the cherubim again.
"So," she said softly, "Chloe Sullivan. We never realized there was someone with us all along. And I thought grandpa was getting really old to be looking out here all the time." Lena swallowed. "I'm Lena, and I'm your granddaughter. But you were so young, and I don't feel right acting like you're my grandma. We're practically the same age."
The clouds above her treaded the sky from the west to the east. The sun that was high above sank closer to the earth, bringing shades of red and orange to the horizon. All this went unnoticed as Lena sat on the grass now, talking to someone who could or could not hear.
"Now I know how it is that I'm such an abnormality in this family. So many things about me were from you. I did get one trait from the Luthors. I misjudge people very often. That's why I was so angry with you when I saw granddad's obsession room." Lena grinned. "You must have been so amazing to turn Lex Luthor into that. Now I know why I'm such a knockout..."
When the air turned cool and the sky was dotted with bright pinpricks of light, Ted came to bring her a basket of food for dinner. Lena thanked him for the blanket that she threw over her shoulders.
"I have so many things I want to know. I will have to spend days inside that museum."
Lena took a deep breath, and only then realized that it was night. The fresh fragrance of wet grass made her turn around to look at the castle as it stood beneath the moonlight. Her eyes wandered through each crevice and stone that made up the home she had left long ago.
Her lips parted at the soft glow that came from one of the windows. Two shadows drew together as they played on the curtains. As suddenly as they appeared, the shadows vanished and the light blinked out. High above, starlight winked at her.
Lena closed her eyes and whispered a silent prayer that long ago, when she was a child and her grandfather smiled in death, two souls met on a plane that existed beyond her own. It was no less than they deserved.
"Ted," she said, "I won't be selling the house."
"That's good, Lena. Very good."