by Mistress Ace
It was Christmas again.
It was that time of year when everyone believed in the impossible. They believed in hope and love and tradition. They believed in the spirit of giving and that spirit was embodied in a jolly, fat man dressed in red, trimmed in fur, and with a beard that tickled if you hugged him.
Everyone believed in Santa.
Everyone but her.
Santa didn't exist.
If he existed, then he would've answered her letters. He would've made it so Daddy didn't have to work so hard and Mommy didn't always look so sad. He would've fixed what was wrong.
She didn't believe in Santa.
He didn't exist.
Another Christmas and her father's company was failing. It was going to collapse any day now and yet - here she was, standing in the middle of a Christmas party with all of the Bartlett Co. employees milling around, each one of them chatting about their families and their lives and their wishes for Christmas morning.
There was a band playing and Santa's arrival was scheduled for eight o'clock on the dot. Lillian Bartlett sipped from her glass of Silver Oaks Merlot, a wine that hadn't graced her family's table in years but flowed freely here. Her father had gone all out this year, masking their impending bankruptcy with expensive food and wine, trying desperately to hide the truth.
The only reason she'd come tonight was because her father had begged. Her roommates were in Vail on their annual ski trip, a mini-vacation that doubled as an escape from filial duties. Her plans had been to join them but when her father showed up on her doorstep with that frantic hope in his eyes, she couldn't refuse his invitation.
So here she stood, watching the dying throes of one of Metropolis's oldest institutions and wishing she were curled up in front of a fire, drinking hot chocolate while flirting with whomever her friends had snagged on the slopes. From across the room, she could see her father dancing attendance on the crowd. He was meeting and greeting, shaking hands with everyone and beside him stood someone she'd never seen before.
Tall, and from what she could tell, very handsome. A broad smile, well groomed and well mannered. He shook hands with everyone right along with her father, working the room with consummate skill. He looked like every corporate shark she'd ever seen before. But instead of haranguing her father, he was right there at his elbow, handing him drinks and listening to his every word.
A new executive employee then. Fresh from the Ivy League, if the suit was anything to go by. Charming, trained in the social graces and obviously her father's new hope.
Someone else for her not to believe in.
It was Christmas again.
New life fluttered within her. Small and precious, barely moving but definitely there.
Snow was falling outside, blanketing the world in pure white. The tree in their great room soared toward the ceiling, covered in white lights and ornaments that all matched. Perfect and pristine, every present wrapped just so and placed with infinite care under the tree. A tiny train ran around its base, the same train that had encircled her family's Christmas tree for years.
It was one of the few things she'd brought with her. A tiny train, a failing company and her family's name were the only gifts she had to give when her husband had come calling.
He'd taken them all gladly. And he'd achieved the impossible. With the use of the Bartlett name and his own skills, he'd rebuilt the company from the ground up. Five years from the day of their wedding, they'd hit the Fortune 500 and they were climbing higher and higher.
Earlier this morning, he'd set up the train.
Just like he had every year since they'd married.
It was the one thing he wouldn't let the servants do.
Humming to herself, Lillian Bartlett Luthor sat in front of the tree, listening to the little train as she wrapped presents. Deep within her, their son moved, shifting and settling down again. She laid her hand over her stomach, smiling as her humming shifted into a crooned lullaby.
"Hush little baby, don't say a word. Momma's going to buy you a mocking bird..."
The doctors had told her at first that she couldn't and then later that she shouldn't. That having children triggered her mother's illness and it would do the same for her. That she and Lionel should adopt.
But neither she nor Lionel listened to what they had to say.
Alexander, their son, was growing underneath her heart.
He wouldn't weaken her.
He would make her strong.
He would make her believe.
Christmas was here again.
There was the huge tree, the tiny train and her most precious gift of all - Alexander.
Her son, her beautiful son, so sweet and strong. He was walking now, able to pull himself up onto his feet with the help of a table or a wall. His steps were unsteady, but then again, so were hers.
The doctors had been right. Having a child brought on the same illness. It was a defect in her heart, which lay hidden until after she'd gone through the stress of childbearing and Alexander's birth. Against her doctor's wishes, she'd chosen a natural childbirth and as a result, her heart had weakened even more.
Lionel had been furious.
He'd held her close as they listened to the diagnosis, his arms wrapped around her while Alexander cooed and rolled around on their living room rug. Doctor Simmons explained everything; the drugs, the diet she would have to live by, the mild exercise routines, and Lionel had remained quiet until he'd heard the final prognosis.
The room was in a shambles by the time he was done. Doctor Simmons had been thrown out on his ear. Alexander was wailing, his eyes huge and round as his desperate cries rose higher and higher. She'd tried to comfort him only to have Lionel bellow for Pamela and Alexander to be whisked out of the room.
In the end, she'd sat huddled on the couch while Lionel drank himself into a stupor.
Now, he was off making a business deal. From what she understood, it was going to double the size of their company. She had to learn that from Lionel's secretary because he'd stopped talking to her. He'd shut her out - out of the business and out of his life.
He was withdrawing more and more every day, losing himself in his work.
Just like her father had done.
This morning, Pamela had been the one to set up the train. Alexander tried to help, handing her pieces of the track, usually after he'd chewed on them.
She'd watched them while they worked, curled up on the couch with a cup of chamomile tea because caffeine wasn't good for her. Tears were wiped away with a fine linen handkerchief, a warm blanket wrapped around her legs and her damaged heart beat slowly as what was left of her family went about the business of Christmas.
She missed Lionel. She missed his strength and his love and his conviction. She missed being held in his arms and listening while he painted the pictures of his dreams with words and the movement of his hands. She missed being touched and being loved and being wanted.
Her belief was wavering, threatening to flicker out.
The flame of hope guttered, dying away as surely as she was dying, then had new life breathed into it as Alexander raced across the room on his unsteady legs and collapsed beside the couch. In his hand was a tiny sprig of mistletoe, which he now held high above his head. His eyes were closed, his tiny mouth puckered into the form of a kiss while he waited.
Alexander had been a miracle.
His very existence threw laughter into the face of the gods.
Leaning over, Lillian kissed her son, and belief in the impossible once more lived with her.
As long as Alexander lived - she would believe.
Another Christmas and this one was going to be her last.
Julian, her second most precious gift, was dead.
Alexander was gone - sent off to boarding school so her husband wouldn't have to look at him.
Lionel was flying high. His company, the company that had been her father's and now bore the name of LuthorCorp was in the top ten companies in the world. He had everything he'd ever wanted - money, fame, and power.
Everything except a wife who could stand on her own two feet. Who could breathe without the weight in her chest crushing her. Who could take his arm and smile at his business partners, charming their wives while her husband made even better deals for his company and his employees. Who could wear beautiful gowns and gorgeous jewels and be the asset he'd thought he'd gained the day they married.
Instead, he had her. A shell of a woman who could barely lift a cup to her mouth. Who hadn't been able to walk in six months or even sit up without help for the past week.
The train was running, gliding along the tracks while the lights from the tree blazed. Pamela was close by, quietly wrapping gifts and listening in case she needed anything. Closing her eyes, Lillian blocked out that tranquil scene and wallowed in her grief.
Julian was in the ground.
Alexander was in England.
Lionel was in another part of the house with one of her nurses. And she wasn't going to think about that.
Let him do what he wanted. He would anyway and railing at him about it only brought about more pain and an ever-increasing pressure within her chest.
Her life was over.
She wouldn't live to see another year.
She wouldn't live to see Alexander again and that hurt more than anything in the world.
A cup was pressed into her hand and grateful for its warmth, she murmured a quiet, "Thank you."
"You're welcome... mom."
Her eyes flew open, her heart fluttering wildly as she looked up into the face she'd never thought to see again. The lights from the tree skated across his skin. He looked older and wiser, his childhood having disappeared along with his hair. Alexander, her beloved son... Lex knelt beside her.
He'd come home.
Her vision blurred, then cleared as she blinked away tears. He was still there, unwinding a scarf from around his neck, revealing pink ears and wind-roughened cheeks. Pamela was there as well, smiling and taking both scarf and coat from him, her eyes sparkling. The look that passed between her and Lex told Lillian everything.
The two of them had planned this.
This was the present Pamela had been hinting about for weeks.
Still smiling, Lex produced a sprig of mistletoe from his pocket and held it above his head. More tears came as she leaned forward with Pamela's help and kissed her son. His arms wound around her, holding her close as he buried his chilled face in her hair and whispered, "Merry Christmas, mom."
For the last time in her life, Lillian Bartlett Luthor believed.
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