Lex will never forget his sixth birthday. The limousine drops him off at the Metropolis Hilton, where his father meets him for lunch in between two business meetings. "Many people consider oysters to be a great delicacy," his father tells him, and orders half a dozen for Lex, au natural, of course.
Lex doesn't like the look of them, the way they glisten and wobble like jelly. They remind him of jellyfish.
"Come on, son, call it part of your education. If you don't want to look like an upstart you need to know how to eat them." Lionel squirts lemon juice on his own dozen and demonstrates the proper way to eat them.
Lex is convinced he'll hate oysters. He hates eating fish, and he doesn't like sour stuff like lemons either. But he knows Lionel Luthor doesn't take 'no' for an answer. So he braces himself, lifts the jagged shell to his mouth and slurps. The creature is surprisingly cold and very wobbly in his mouth.
He tries, he really does, but he can't help making a face. That's when his father forces him to eat all six.
While Lex tries to muster the necessary resolve to swallow the viscid blobs of sea-breeze flavor, fighting both the urge to heave and an asthmatic seizure, his father lectures him on the amazing properties of oysters: How they are able to sense the moon's subtle pull even when held in an aquarium. Opening and closing their shells with the rise and fall of a distant tide. How they change their rhythm when relocated. Guided by changes in the Earth's magnetic field.
"This is for your own good, Lex," Lionel Luthor says afterwards, ruffling his son's hair. "Do you see that man over there? He's from the Daily Planet. He's not here for the food. He's here because we are. Wherever you go, heads will turn like compass needles. People will be watching you, hunting for a story, or looking for leverage against us. You're old enough to learn to keep your feelings off your face, son."
From then on it's oysters every birthday. Where other children get a birthday cake with brightly lit candles, Lex gets fresh oysters served on a bed of crushed ice, with a quarter of a lemon sitting in the middle of the plate. One oyster for every year of age.
At first it's a bitter pill. And there is always a lecture to go with it. But over time Lex gets better at keeping his loathing from showing.
When Lex turns sixteen, Lionel is out of town and the birthday lunch gets postponed. Lex shows up at the Hilton anyway, orders sixteen oysters, eats them crispy fried with a spicy Wasabi cream, and puts them on his father's tab.
Lex is twenty-three now, and thinking about oysters, the bitter tang of his meds still lingering in his mouth. As he rests his forehead against the cool, smooth mirror, arms secured by a straitjacket, he just knows. Like the oyster knows when to open and close its shell, Lex knows his father is there, on the other side of the looking glass, can almost hear him say: "This is for your own good, son."
There is no proof. But Lex knows with a certainty that goes deeper than even instinct: if he could look past his own reflection, his father would be there, and if there is a look of concern on Lionel Luthor's face it's only there by design.
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