Caliban

by Nifra Idril


Thanks to Bexless and Lyra Sena for beta and for being my all around Lex POV cheerleading squad.


You watch the sun come up for what might be the fourth time since the fever set in. Your whole body is hot, and shaking. You can feel beads of sweat drop onto the ground next to you.

You didn't get sick, not before. Not at home, but this is a new climate, a new place, a new world, so it's fitting that here, you can feel cells in your brain heat up and die. It's interesting, in a far-off way, and you wonder if maybe it's an altitude thing. The closer to sea-level you are, the easier to pick off.

You don't care. The only thing you care about is the way purple creeps up off the waves and mingles with the long swathes of orange that stroke across the low lying clouds, and you feel like you're floating in the colors. Like they're licking over your body, like they're whispering in your ear. You wonder what they're telling you, but you can't quite make it out, even though it seems like you should be able to. It's a confounding confusion that tickles and itches, turns you around and around. You hear snatches of phrases and parts of words, and it's like listening to a language you know you're fluent in, but can't understand.

You laugh, even though drawing a breath is an effort, because the feeling is so familiar.


You're getting better, but you can't move much. And so you make lists. Long lists, short lists, anything. Just feeling the words, rolling them over in your mind to make sure you're still there. To make sure you're still sane. You repeat them over and over, until your mind falls quiet, and you sleep.


These are the things you don't like about the island:

The sun doesn't shine here. It hammers. Like a rain of blows at mid-day, all across your back, your shoulders, your arms. You slow, become tired, leaden underneath the weight of it, as your skin is pulled tight - pink, and raw.

You don't like the sand, how it gets between your teeth, your toes. How it sticks in the crease of your knee, grating. You don't like the way it smells, either. The salt and powder and the thick reek of fish and death underneath. You hate waking up with your face pillowed in a dune, and going to sleep with wind trailing it over your chest, like a too-thin blanket.

Mostly, though, you don't like the way the trees close off the edge of the beach, or how every noise you make seems to echo off the shells strewn across the shore. It just proves the point that you're by yourself.

You didn't need proof. You figured that out all on your own.


These are the people you think about to pass the time:

Helen when she wakes up in the morning - how her hair is pressed against her face and her sleepy eyes are swollen. She shuffles across the room, and looks at you over her shoulder, and there's real warmth in her smile. You wonder how you'd feel about her if that warmth was always there. You picture her eyes open, and her mouth curved as she holds you, face too flushed to be beautiful. You hear her voice, thick and husky, almost hard to understand. You've never known her like that - never seen Helen be anything less than stunning, perfectly controlled. This person you picture wears Helen's face but isn't a Helen you've ever known. This is the Helen who could have done more than just marry you - this is the Helen who could have been your wife.

You think about your father, and you wish you were healthy enough to hit the round tree trunk in front of you harder. Maybe hard enough to make the skin on your knuckles tear, and dates shiver down onto the ground. And while you're wishing, you wish it was your father and not the tree you were hitting. Even if part of you is still hoping that Lionel will walk out of the shadows and just say `Son,' in that tone of voice which means that even if he hates it, even if he doesn't want to, he still loves you a little bit. Or at least you matter to him. Small things - Lionel has always warned you that it's the small things that betray you. They betray him, too, even if Lionel doesn't know it.

`Tells' are what Lucas would call them - you know better and call them by their real name. You call them mistakes. That's what Lionel would do, and sometimes knowing him so well feels like wading through a swamp. You're hip deep in things you can't help but think about, no matter how much you don't want to.

And sometimes you think about Clark. You want him. You want him to be there, with you. You want his smile, and his big clumsy hands. The comforting smell of cheap shampoo and mint flavored toothpaste.

You want him to just laugh, and help you up. You want your friend, and here there's no one here to impress, so you can even admit that he's your only one.

You want to drink water out of his cupped palms, and you want to tease him about his hair. But you want to lick his long fingers, too. You want to kiss your way past the dark hairs on his forearms, along the rounded line of his bicep, up to the hollow in his throat. You want to leave a mark there. You want his lips wrapped around your cock. You want to pull his hair and fuck your way down his throat. You want to touch every inch of his body, and you want to look into his face and know that he gets it. You want to know that he knows he's yours.

Some days you think about fucking him. Hard, and fast, and ruthless - just doing what you have to do to come. Using his body like a big sex toy, until you orgasm, hard. But during long, dry nights, when the palm fronds seem to whisper to each other, you think about making love to him. You think about careful kisses, and lingering fingers. You think about the kind of sex that makes people cry, and shakes the sky.

And then there are times when you pretend you're stronger than you are. You fantasize about sending Clark away. You think up every goddamned lie he's ever told you. You count them, you analyze them, you come up with a million better lies that you would have told if you were Clark. You imagine sending him away, and telling him never to come back. And maybe you're a sick bastard, but you smile when you think about the way his face would crumple. Because you know that he deserves it, for any of a thousand casual cruelties, for the easy way he stops trusting you, and the angry way he demands that you trust him. You want to punish him for his mistakes, and the way he's hurt you. But not just him -- his father, the whole damned town.

When you're feeling reasonable, you know that's unfair, but you're not always reasonable, not here. Here, you're not even mostly reasonable - you're vicious and afraid and so helpless. You pick up conch shells and throw them at the huge, sharp, dark rocks that gleam along the edge of the breakers just to see them shatter. It's the same with Clark. You want to see him break. You want to see him fall apart. No, more than that - you want to make him fall apart, just to prove that you can. To show that you know him well enough, to show that you mean that much to him.

You want to see him hurt, so that for once, you're not the only one. You want him to be there, with you. Maybe it's because misery loves company, and maybe it's because you know that Clark has a way of making everything bearable just by being there. You want him to have to deal with something like heartbreak, or heart ache, just because your life hurts. It moves too fast, and it doesn't let you have any softness, and when you see how vulnerable Clark is you just can't help resenting it.

As much as you want to bleed him dry and slam the door behind you as you go, you never want him to hurt. You want him to let you hold him. You want to press his cheek against your shoulder, and tuck his hair away from his face, and protect him with everything you have. You want to keep the small, gentle half-smile on his face. You want his eyes soft and happy, and you want to know that it's because of you. You want to be the only thing between him and the world - you want to save him, every day.

You don't want him to have anybody else. You begrudge his mother, his father, his friends, because Clark is yours. He should know this. They should all know this.

And then, sometimes, you feel like you've been emptied. You watch the waves, and your hands sit numb on your thighs. Your tongue lies swollen in your mouth, and salt dries on your cheeks from swimming, from crying you don't even know you're doing. And then, when you picture Clark, you picture him breaking you because as much as he deserves it, you do, too. There's something beautiful about the way his back looks as it turns away from you.

People always look beautiful when they leave you. It's something you're used to.

Your mother was gorgeous when she was dying. Ethereal, spare, and stunning - pared down. Turned her into something sharper and frailer than human, gave her eyes a hectic brightness and made her teeth look so very, very white when she smiled. You know she was always pretty. People said so all the time, and they still do. Your father most of all - pride bright in his voice like Lillian's looks were something he could take credit for. Lionel's got a picture of her on his desk, still - not for any kind of sentimental reason, but as another sign of his privilege. You know that the lustrous red curls, the dimples, that's what people are talking about when they say they say Lillian Luthor was lovely. But that's not how you remember her, and it's not what you mean.

You've always found things most fascinating when they've been distilled to their essence - your mother is no different. In those last few months, she became more herself than anything else. More definite, more defined - and more Lillian than Luthor. When you look in the wavy, watery reflections you find in the still, shallow pools of water, you see that the same has been happening to you.


You divide your life into three columns; before you lost your hair, before you met Clark, and after you woke up on the island, knuckles white around the compass you held. The knob dug into your palm - you still have a small half-moon scar.

Before you lost your hair, you were almost allowed to be your age. Or, at least you were when your father wasn't around. You liked to play alone, hidden behind the long L-shaped couch in the living room of the Metropolis penthouse. You'd crouch beside the potted palm, and make sound effects as GI Joe battled the Decepticons, even though you were wearing a suit and tie. You were afraid of the dark, but never had a nightlight. Instead you cracked the door to your bedroom, letting in just enough light from the hallway to be comforting.

In the first few nights on the island, before you figured out how to light a fire with the things you have, the old fear of the dark crept back up on you. You were weak from fighting the ocean, so you didn't even have shelter yet and your skin twitched, fearing contact with one of the thousand things that ran on feral feet over the pounded sand of the island.

Before you met Clark you were used to being alone - no matter who was with you. Clark's dangerous because he makes you think that isn't normal, that it isn't preferable. He makes you want things and need things that you used to know were false and stupid. A part of you wonders if that's why you asked Helen to move in - because you were learning what it was like to have someone there, physically at least. Because it was addictive, and Clark was pulling away. Because it was illegal for you to ask Clark to move in, and Helen looked like she'd say yes.

You got used to waking up next to someone, and falling asleep with Helen in your arms. You learned to share a bathroom, and you learned to get dressed in tandem so that you could drink coffee while she read the newspaper out loud to you. You had a system, a routine, and there wasn't ever a time when another person wasn't within shouting distance.

That's the worst thing about being marooned here. You know you're the only human being on your island - you can feel it. You yell sometimes, just to hear your voice come back to you, distorted. Almost distorted enough to sound like someone else, and that's...comforting, in a fractured kind of way.

You feel the space around you like an extension of yourself. Your teeth ache with how empty it is - with how alone you are. It's nothing less than a physical blow, and you feel, for the first time in your life, very, very small. You feel like you might even be breakable, or expendable. It makes you jumpy. It makes you careless, and you burn yourself accidentally. It's just one more mark you'll carry on your skin, and you're sure there's no way that there could be enough of an outward change to your appearance. Not if you wanted people to be able to look at you and know the way that you've changed.

But then, you're still thinking like you'll get home. Is that arrogance? You're not sure.


The day you're able to get up and go far enough inland to pick bananas, you feel like you've won a major battle. As you sit in the shade, breathing hard and blinking against the dizziness, you realize you probably have. The fruit is sweet - sweeter than anything you can remember eating, and soft. You eat all that you can reach, and fall asleep where you are, curled around a pile of soft peels.

You wake up to rain. It falls out of the sky in sheets. You try to stand, but you're still sick enough to get a head rush so strong it you stumble. After a few steps you're out of breath, and you sink back to your knees.

The storm's too strong for you to be able to see past your hands, and you're still so very, very tired. The ground isn't too hard, and as the rain falls over you in cascades, it's almost like a blanket. You miss the soft cotton of your sheets at home, and the worn, smooth warmth of Clark's flannels, but the leaves underneath you are slick and smell like sugar. It's comfortable enough.

Water flushes everything into the open. You open your eyes and see a dead frog floating by, even as the black tip of a tail flicks into the underbrush. You're not afraid of snakes or death. You're afraid of the chills that shake your body hard enough to send droplets of water all over the clearing.

You're afraid you're dying. And you're afraid of dying alone. The banana trees loom over you, their long, wide leaves drooping down, blocking out the reluctant light. You try to pull yourself to your feet, but your legs are shaking too hard and you fall. Mud splatters everywhere - it leaves patterns on the dripping greenery. You stare at the markings, and try to stand again. And again. And again. And each time you fall, hard. Your legs are numb, and your arms are brown up to the elbow, and you are still shaking so hard your teeth are clacking together audibly. You can hear it over the chirping birds.

And you're aware, again, of just how alone you are. You can picture each of the bones of your body, bare and bleached, lying curled here under years of banana leaves, never to be found. You can picture Clark, saying something nice and appropriate at your funeral and going on about his life, without you. It hurts.

You will miss you. You will miss him. You will miss everything. The great empty ocean around you is roaring, and the trees are rustling, bristling with life that is nothing like you. That has nothing to do with you. You don't matter here because you are alone.

You give up, and let your legs buckle beneath you, and your eyes drift closed again.


There's a hand on your forehead. It's cool against your hot, hot skin. "Clark?" you want to whisper, and maybe you do, but there's no answer that you can understand.

When you open your eyes a strange man is bent over you. His eyes are blue, and his skin is brown from the sun. His hair blocks out the light, like a dirty, frizzy halo surrounding his head.

You try to ask who he is, but you can't form the words with your swollen lips.

"You look surprised to see me," the man says. His lips quirk up, like a wave hitting the shore, and his tone rubs against your ears like sand. "To see anyone."

You feel like you're inside a brick wall and you've been drinking absinthe by the keg. You might still be shaking, but you can't tell. But you do know that the birds are singing, and that there are cowrie shells in the man's pale hair.

He scratches his back with a long bladed knife, and draws a line in the sand, stopping just short of your hand. Squatting on his haunches, he dribbles fresh water into your mouth out of an old coconut. It tastes clean and cool. You've never seen this man in your life but in this moment you love him more intensely than you've ever loved anyone or anything, including Clark, and both of your parents.

"Who...who are you?" you manage, even though your voice is weak and thready.

"You know who I am," he tells you, smirking. "I told you over and over. You just keep forgetting."

"Tell me," you rasp, "tell me again."

The man smiles. His eyes are as sharp as his teeth. "My name is Louis. I live on this island."

You must react visibly, because he smiles wider, and stands. He moves like a shark - splitting the air like they split the water. Louis stretches his knife arm up, over his head, before whipping it back and throwing the machete. It's like he's spring loaded - and the point is buried in the trunk a foot away from your head. You don't flinch. You're too tired.

"I live on this island," Louis says again, reaching over you to pull the knife out of the green wood. "And now, so do you."



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