by Nifra Idril
It's cold out, but Lex keeps his window open anyway. He likes being able to hear what's going on - his room is too dark, too still without the noise from downstairs.
Dishes clink in the sink below him and he knows the dinner party's almost over. His father laughs, and Lex hears it echo, hears his mother's answering laugh. Wind quivers through the window, and someone in the kitchen turns on the faucet. Lex pulls his covers tighter, and closes his eyes.
He tries to sleep.
There are seven books in the lower shelf of the book case right across from Lex's bed. Two of them are hardcover, and the rest are slim paperbacks. He can recite the titles from memory, and does so. He never speaks above a whisper.
In the hallway, high heels click and clack against the hardwood floor.
"Are you going to bed, Lillian?" his father rumbles, and Lex closes his eyes, lies still, pretends to sleep.
"I think so. It's been a long day. What about you? Are you coming?" There's a pause, and the voices lower to a murmur, come closer to Lex's door.
Lex doesn't move, not a muscle.
"Goodnight, dear," his father says, and his footsteps fall, heavy down the hallway. The sharp staccato steps of his mother disappear in the opposite direction, and Lex opens his eyes.
Where the walls meet the ceiling, the shadows are deep, dreadful. He can't make out the corners there at all. Downstairs, the kitchen is silent, empty, and outside there's no noise but the round, low calls of owls. Lex shivers, and doesn't know why.
He doesn't remember falling asleep, but he wakes up when he hears Julian start to cry down the hall.
The floor's chill against his bare feet. He tip toes across the bedroom quickly, and winces at the light when he opens his door. Lex rubs his arms, and looks down the hall, toward his parent's bedroom.
The door is open, just a crack, and his mother's foot hangs off the edge of the bed. It's pale against the dark bedspread; she's still asleep. Julian cries again, so Lex hurries down the hallway.
A thin slice of light underlines the dark wood of the closed door to Julian's room. The knob is slick in Lex's hand when he turns it, and steps in.
"The whole world," Lex's father is saying to the crying baby, each word slow, and precise, "is yours, and your brother's. I'll give it to you, with my own hands. You'll be smart enough to take it, and do what you will with it. Both of you boys."
"Dad?" Lex says tentatively.
It's colder in Julian's room than it is Lex's; the big bay windows have been flung open. Lex crosses his arms over his thin t-shirt, and his father turns slowly, unsteadily. His face is flushed, eyes overbright. He swirls the glass in his hand slowly, and the cubes of ice chime against the glass.
"You should be asleep, son. You were to have gone to bed hours ago."
Julian's pale, round fist shakes above the crib as he shrieks again.
"Dad, the baby's crying," Lex whispers. His eyes are on Julian, and he sidles closer to the crib. The baby's face is red, contorted.
"I know that, Lex," Lionel responds, settling back into his chair. "Why aren't you sleeping? Is it because of that ridiculous night light?"
All of the blankets that should have been draped over Julian are on the floor, and Lex can see the baby shaking. His little feet are bare and purple, and when he screams again, Lex lifts him out of his crib. Julian fists his chubby hands in Lex's shirt, and presses his crying face against Lex's neck.
"I took that light out of your room to help you," Lionel says, still unconcerned, sipping at the drink he holds. "To make you fearless. Fear is weakness, Lex, and weakness isn't to be tolerated. Is that why you aren't sleeping? Because you're afraid?"
Lex pats Julian's back, and the baby's sobs lessen. He rubs Julian's feet with one hand, and holds him close.
"He's cold," he tells his father.
Lionel's brows draw close over his nose, thick and bushy. He pushes up from the chair, and stalks across the room. "Answer me, Lex," he demands. "Are you afraid?"
"He needs a blanket, Dad," Lex says, eyes on the floor as his arms tighten around Julian. Small puffs of air from the baby's mouth blow against Lex's neck, and he pulls on Lex's shirt, making small, hiccoughing cries against Lex's skin.
"No, he doesn't," Lionel says dismissively, setting down his glass and grasping Lex by the shoulders, shaking him hard. His breath is strong, thick with whiskey, and his fingers dig into Lex's shoulders. Julian cries out, his round bald head jerking with every shake.
"He's strong. Like I'm strong, like you should be. Julian will be fine. He isn't weak. He isn't afraid. Look at me. Look me in the eyes. Are you afraid of me now, as well? Look. At. Me."
Lionel shakes him harder with each word until Lex's teeth clack shut on his tongue and his head falls back. Julian's shrieks get louder and louder. His soft nails bite into Lex through the shirt as he scrabbles, tries to get away.
"Look at me, dammit! Don't be afraid, Lex! There's nothing to be afraid of - you're a Luthor, boy!" Lionel shoves him back, and Lex falls to the ground, hard. Breath burns, and he can barely gulp in any air.
Julian is still in his arms. His hands are loose, fingers spread out. Lex gasps, and gasps again, throat constricting.
Lionel stares down at him, eyes hectic and harsh. "Breathe," he orders.
Lex nudges Julian, gently. "It's okay," he soothes. "It's okay."
Julian doesn't move; his cheek stays pressed flat against Lex's chest, his body still. "Julian?"
Lionel takes a step back. The sound of his foot falling flat against the floor is loud in the still room.
"Julian?" Lex says again, sitting up. The baby is a weight in his arms, inert and heavy. Lex holds him at arms length, bounces him a little. "Julian, come on!"
His soft, smooth head hangs limply, and he doesn't respond. Julian's eyes are a milky blue, and they stare out at the windows, the open windows. He doesn't blink.
He doesn't breathe.
Air's harder to swallow, harder to inhale and Lex's eyes burn almost as much as his lungs. He looks up at his father, standing across the room with a hand on his throat, and his eyes opened wide.
"Hey, guys, what's going on in here?" his mother asks, pushing the door open, yawning as she ties her robe tightly.
"I heard the baby..." she begins, but when she looks at Lex, her eyes, dark blue, like Julian's, go round. She rushes across the room, takes Julian out of Lex's arms. His limbs, short, and plump dangle by his sides. Lillian curls around Julian, making noises like something's being ripped from her.
Lex blinks, and hugs himself. A shaking hand falls onto his shoulder, patting gently. When he looks up, his father's eyes are wet, and pale.
"It was just an accident, Lex," his father says. "You didn't mean to hurt him. You shouldn't blame yourself."
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