Disclaimer: If I owned these guys, Smallville would air on PrideTV, not the WB.
Series: the first in the Nickyverse.
Feedback: makes my day.
Summary: He likes to hear the story every time we cross the bridge.
Nicky points out the spot every time we cross the bridge. Before Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss, he heard the story of how Daddy and Papa met. It's one of his favourites.
He was a month old when we made the first trip to Smallville. I had already talked to Mom three times that day. It would be the first time Nicky saw the Kent farm and, though Dad hid it well, he was just as excited as Mom. Fifteen years of playing nice at the dinner table, Lex and my father have found their common grounds. Their true bond came the day Nicholas was born a boy.
My parents were in Metropolis that day. Mom insisted they stay an extra week. "Just in case," she said. She missed out on my baby years; she wasn't going to miss her grandson's. Her own mother gone, Lois was grateful to have Mom there for those first few days.
In Metropolis, she not only embraced her role as grandmother but fell back into the role of mother. She missed me. I was 18 and headed to college when we left Smallville. Lex was taking a job next to his father in Metropolis. Before I stood on the bridge with my son, the last time was the day we left.
It was Lex that stopped. I got out of the car, peered over the side of the bridge. The water was calm that day.
I coaxed him up onto the guardrail and took his hand. He was shaking, just that little bit of weakness that he was learning to show with me.
"Don't let go of me, Clark."
"Don't worry, I'll catch you."
I held his hand and we sat there, not saying anything. This was his last attempt to persuade me to go to Harvard. It was what he promised my dad before we left. It only seemed appropriate that this conversation take place on the only bridge out of Smallville.
"Metropolis University is a great school, Lex."
"It is." He might have sounded defeated if he thought there was a chance of winning.
"Besides..." I jumped down, stepping between his legs and holding him tight. "In Metropolis, I'm paying next to nothing in rent."
He laughed and then he kissed me. We didn't talk much about the bridge after that. Before it became Nicky's fairy tale, it was just another story that got told at dinners. Lex still uses it at parties, adding 10 miles to the speed with every telling. He closes his eyes when we drive to Smallville yet his story always begins: This actually happened.
"I must have been going 90, 100 at least. You know those Kansas roads. They're all straight lines and cows for miles. Everything goes black and the next thing, I'm opening my eyes and there he is. My hero."
That's when he calls me over, kisses my cheek and introduces me to the Senator and his wife.
Nicky and I made the first trip alone; an unexpected meeting keeping Lex in Metropolis until the morning. I don't drive often. Lex clings to the steering wheel like it's his last vestige of control.
"I love you. And I will give anything up for you and Nicky." It's always romantic until the next line comes. "But not my car."
I wasn't thinking about it until I found myself slowing the car. I pulled Nicky out of his car seat and carried him to that spot. The replacement rail is easy to spot; a lifetime from now I'll still know where I was standing. And then I told my son the story of how his parents met.
Lex wasn't happy the next morning. He thought it was morbid.
"Every child needs to know how their parents met," I told him. "It's part of life: you learn about letters, you learn about numbers and you learn about love."
"Not if the lesson about love is immediately followed with a brief demonstration of CPR."
"Where's your sense of romance?"
"I don't know, Clark. Maybe I left it at the bottom of the river." I'm laughing now but he continues. "Why don't we save the traumatic family history until he needs an excuse for his miserable life? You know, when he's a teenager?"
We have this argument still. The story gets lost and Nicky gets distracted, walking away, leaving it unfinished. It doesn't matter anymore. It's his fairy tale; he knows it has a happy ending.
It's not the story; Lex hates the bridge. Instead of a street corner or a coffee shop, we have a crime scene to commemorate our first kiss. He refused to drive the bridge when Nicholas was a baby. Driving to Smallville was a practice in musical chairs. We would switch at the bridge and back once Lex opened his eyes again.
"Why is okay for me to drive?" I ask him.
Nicky makes the only sound, a gurgling from the back seat.
"Cause, you know, if we go over, I'm the one with the superpowers." I look over, his eyes shut tight. "Maybe I should be the one with my hands free."
He smiles in spite of himself.
Nicholas is five now. I've survived villains worse than the silver Porsche and been home in time to make dinner. Lex drives more often these days.
"I still get a chill," he admitted to me once. "But then again, I still get a chill every time you kiss me."
I kissed him hard just to feel him shiver in my arms.
He's driving today but he hasn't said a word since the county line. Nicky's up on his knees, head out the window, mooing at the cows. Trips with me are always more relaxed; we taunt the cows and stop at every fruit stand on the way down. Lex drives straight through but I don't think it has anything to do with the bridge. I point out another red tractor and Nicky adds it to his tally. Lex has been so quiet we jump when he finally speaks.
"Nicholas! Sit down and put your seatbelt back on."
He moves fast at the sound of his Papa's voice. I turn back to give Nicky a reassuring smile and help him buckle in. I look up at Lex and reach over to touch him. He flinches away and grips the steering wheel tighter.
"Do you want me to drive?"
He's not. His jaw is clenched and his eyes are staring straight ahead. I watch him for a minute and he doesn't blink once.
A small voice comes from the back seat. "Can we do the story, Daddy?"
Lex looks over at me and I feel the car start to slow.
"I don't know. Maybe if you ask Papa nicely."
"May we please stop at the bridge, Papa?"
There's a tired sigh but there's also a smile. He's looking for the best place to pull the car over. Lex has never been able to refuse his son anything; especially with that voice. Nicky knows how to get what he wants.
He unbuckles and opens the door. "Are you coming?" he asks before getting out.
"I'll be right there, Nicky."
He slams the door; that's the latest lesson. Lex came home last week to the two of us in the backyard and the front door wide open.
"Nicholas, your father may have been raised on a farm but in Metropolis we close the front door."
I took responsibility for the door and paid later for laughing at Nicky's dirty hands on Lex's Armani suit.
"Look, Papa, we're planting tulips; just like Grandma's garden."
The house has been an orchestra of slamming doors. The flowers aren't growing yet but I haven't felt a breeze all week.
"Are you feeling okay?"
He leans forward with a groan as his head hits the steering wheel. I rub his back in slow circles. He turns his head to look at me and even that seems to take an effort.
"Am I old, Clark?"
I run my hand up to his neck, massaging gently. "Not yet," I say with a smirk.
He'll be 35 tomorrow. Lionel was trying to get him to agree to a Luthor Corp gala when Mom phoned with an invitation to dinner. Lex agreed immediately. It got him out of the gala but I know a trip to Smallville isn't his idea of a vacation.
"I want to sleep in the loft," he told me. I couldn't refuse Lex a birthday present that makes him feel 21 again.
I put a kiss on his temple. He leans back in the seat and I kiss him again, just catching the corner of his mouth. A look out the window and Nicky waving back at us.
"Just stay here. We won't be long." I get out of the car and join my son on the bridge.
Nicky used to sit on my shoulders. He would lean forward to look over the edge; Lex's hand protectively on his back. He's not much older now but I let him climb up on the guardrail. Lex comes up behind us, wrapping an arm around Nicky's waist to make sure he's safe.
"Alright, Nicky. Let's do this. Grandma and Grandpa are waiting."
They look up me, expectantly. I've always been the one to tell the story. "You teach him about love," Lex decided years ago. "I'll teach him about sex."
"I think it's Papa's turn to tell the story."
Nicky leans his head back, looking up at his Papa with wide eyes. There are pictures of Lex and his father where Lex has that same look on his face that Nicky has now.
"Awe," Lex told me. "Didn't you ever look at your father like that?" I did. Nicky looks at Superman like that too.
I run a hand through my son's fire red hair, trying to get his attention.
Father and son turn and give me the Luthor smile. It's the one Lex used to save for me. It's a good smile and before Lionel saw his grandson, I didn't know Lex got it from his father. "What do you think, Nicholas? Isn't it time Papa tell the story?"
Nicky giggles his approval because he knows Lex won't say no. He looks down at Nicky with mock seriousness. "Tell Daddy that he is not funny."
"You're not funny," Nicky parrots back to me.
Lex sighs, stalling. Nicky wriggles in his arms. "Pick me up, Papa." With his arms around the tiny waist, Lex picks him up and lets Nicky sit on the battered guardrail. He leans back against Lex and swings his legs happily.
"Why don't we do the story in the car, Nicholas?"
"No, I wanna do it here." He's wriggling again. I think he's picked that up from Lois; the constant movement. When she's not on a trip, she's planning the next one. "But do it quick. Grandpa said I could help drive the tractor."
"He did, did he?"
Lex gives me a suspicious look and I try to remember the last time I was as innocent as he says I still look.
Nicky may be heir to Luthorcorp but Lex won't let him fall into the family business. Either family business.
"Nicholas is not the name of a Kansas farmer," Lex has told me.
My father is doing everything he can to prove Lex wrong. Nicky has asked for a horse for every Christmas and birthday since he could talk.
"You can't keep a horse in Metropolis."
"He can sleep in my room. And I promise I'll feed him every day."
We have vegetables growing in our backyard that he checks every morning before school.
"There are little green things in the dirt, Daddy. Can we pick them yet?"
When the carrots were finally ready, he couldn't eat them. They stayed in the fridge for a month and he showed them to anyone that came over to the house.
"Papa?" He looks up at Lex, waiting for the story to start.
"Don't make me do this, Clark." He's whining, the same pout he uses when he doesn't get to choose the restaurant.
"C'mon, Lex. Thirty-five's a big year. Maybe it's time to exorcise the past."
He holds my eyes for a moment, not saying anything. And then he begins the story: This actually happened.
"A long time ago two people met on this bridge and fell in love. The first thing you should know is that this couldn't have happened anywhere else. And the second thing is that it may sound scary but, in the end, this is a story about love."
Lex is resting his chin on Nicky's shoulder, speaking so quietly that I shouldn't be able to hear. This version of the story he is telling is for Nicky alone.
"A boy named Clark stood on this bridge, right where you're sitting now. It was a beautiful day, they always were then, but he didn't see it. He was thinking about a girl."
Lex whispers the last word like a taboo. Nicky smiles up at me curiously; like he's trying to imagine a time when I wasn't Daddy. Lex sends a comforting glance in my direction and turns back to continue his story. I take a small step closer and, reluctantly, reach out to touch Lex, not wanting to break the connection of the moment.
"She could have walked up right then and asked him for a date and he wouldn't even blush. But it wasn't the girl that appeared at that moment."
Nicky turns his head, squinting in the sun and trying to imagine our blue Beemer, parked up the street, as a silver Porsche.
"About a mile up the road, a boy - a little older maybe but still a boy in every way that counted - a boy named Lex was driving too fast and trying to answer his phone. Now, these facts may all be true, but what do they have to do with love, you ask?"
"I am asking, Papa. Get to the good part."
"You want to do the rest of the story in the car?" The answer is meek and immediate. "I'll be good." Laughing, Lex picks Nicky up, swings him around and stands him up on the bridge. Lex crouches behind him and they watch the empty road, waiting.
Watching him with our son and I think about the time when Lex had his doubts about being a father, when he feared he may never grow out of the role of the errant son. We all have our roles. Lois prefers to play the cool aunt.
"I thought the point of me having the kid was that I didn't want to be Mom." She loves being Lolo. It's Nicky's name and only he is allowed to use it.
Nicholas explains to new friends that we're a normal family. "Daddy is the mom and Papa is the dad. That's because Papa wears a tie."
Even without the tie, Nicky worships him. Lex once told me that with Nicky he often finds himself playing the son instead of the father. "But being the son feels better than it used to."
Our roles started to get confused when we introduced him to Superman. He was the one that got invited to Career Day. I was done being jealous of Superman. Lex was just getting started; he was always competing for my attention and now Nicky's.
"Who did you think he would want to show off to his friends: the guy with balance sheets and a briefcase or the guy that can fly them over the monkey bars?" Lex looks down at the leather case, admitting defeat.
Lex and I decided that Superman would have to be a part of Nicky's life from the beginning. We've been living with the idea of him long enough to know it's not just a job. We both hate sharing Nicky with him. Superman could be a dad that I could never be. And I'm not the kind of dad that Lex is. Always trying to see where I fit; I've never grown out of being unpopular.
I watch the two of them, waiting for the crash, guilty that I'm feeling left out. Nicky wakes me up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and eat Cheerios and he comes to me when he needs a Band-Aid. Lex is always good for a new toy and another hour of TV. It's Lex's story too and Nicky needs to hear it from him. I take a step back, knowing that Nicky will come to me in the middle of the night when he wants a drink of water.
The imaginary Porsche approaches, fast. "Isn't this your favourite part, Nicky?"
It is his favourite part. He recently began acting out the actual accident; making up his own moves and stealing some from a ballet we saw at a charity fundraiser last year. Lex was buried in my chest during his first performance, flinching at the biggest bang! Nicky could make. It's from Lex that Nicholas gets his dramatics.
"The car was going so fast that he may have missed the boy on the bridge completely. But, this is a story about love and that day there was something on the bridge making sure these two boys would meet."
Lex points up the road and Nicky takes a step forward, shielding his eyes from the sun to get a better view of the car. "Here it comes."
I'm smiling, watching my five-year-old son mimic a horrific car crash. He puts everything into it. I think he's been practising with his friends at home. Even with this audience of two, Nicholas craves the spotlight. He gets that from his Papa too.
Lex stands up and, instinctively, I reach for his hand. He leans over and kisses my cheek. "I'm good," he says before I can ask. This performance was catharsis. Nicky looks up at us, waiting. Lex claps his hands. "Bravo."
"Wait, that's not the end. What happened next?" I ask.
Nicky is confused. "You were there, Daddy. You know what happened." The rescue is inconsequential; merely a footnote to the crash.
He tugs at Lex's sleeve and takes his Papa's hand. "We can go now." We walk back to the car and take another step away from that day on the bridge. I let go of Lex's hand, putting my arm around his waist instead. With a contented sigh, he lays on my shoulder and I kiss the top of his head.
"Did it hurt, Daddy?"
"No, it didn't hurt." Lex shifts and kisses my shoulder. "But Papa was hurt, wasn't he? What did I do, Nicholas?"
"CPR," he recites. Lex chuckles. "That's how you saved Papa's life." He lets go of Lex's hand and walks a few steps ahead. He's eager to get back to the car. He has a tractor ride waiting for him at the end of the road.
Lex looks up at me. He's smiling and, if I look close enough, I can almost see the tension disappearing. "And then I opened my eyes. I think that's when I fell in love." He kisses me, softly.
Nicky turns back. "Is that when you fell in love, Daddy?"
"No, I had already fallen." Lex brushes my lips again, not quite a kiss but enough. Nicky turns around and runs towards the car. Lex takes my hand and pulls me after our son.
Nicky's running in circles, his arms spread wide, trying to fly. "I'm Superman!"
There are days when I wonder if he knows we're the same person.
"Did you see that, Daddy? I was being you."
And then there are days when I don't.
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