Narcissus at the Mirror of Erised

by Jayne Leitch

Rating: Gen

Spoilers: everything up to the end of 'Commencement'

Disclaimer: no one owns the Magnificent Bastard! Except those who created him. And I'm not them.


The first person Lionel ever loved was himself. His parents certainly weren't interested in the job, and even as a very young child Lionel was shrewdly aware that someone had to do it.

The second person Lionel ever loved was Morgan Edge. Their relationship began, as many did in Metropolis's Suicide Slums, out of necessity: by Lionel's sixth birthday, he and Morgan had become comrades-in-arms against the sharks and thugs that roved the grimy alleys and knifed their smaller neighbours for money, food and fun. As they grew up and into a broader understanding of the brutal politics of their neighbourhood--if the assorted gangs, mobs and other street filth could be said to have arranged their activities into anything resembling even the crudest political system--they became partners in their own forms of extortion and amusement. Their mutual reliance eventually detoured into a brief, torrid bout of sexual experimentation, enjoyed by both until both lost interest. Finally, splitting the windfall of insurance money Lionel received upon the death of his parents, they drank a toast to their friendship and parted ways before either could succumb to the temptation to slide a knife between his partner's shoulderblades.

After Morgan came a string of pretty women--socialites, the daughters and, sometimes, wives of business rivals, even a hooker or two on the rare occasions he found himself feeling nostalgic--but Lionel loved precisely none of them.

When he did fall in love, it was with Lillian. He loved the pleasure she took in his courtship of her: every trifling gift, every weekend holiday, every shared meal was received with uncomplicated pleasure by a girl who'd grown up nestled in the lap of jaded luxury. He loved the simplicity of her decision to be with him, and the lack of hesitation--even that which might have resulted from overjoyed speechlessness--before she accepted his marriage proposal. He loved hearing her introduce herself as "Mrs Luthor"--even though he loved even more keeping the society of those who didn't require such introductions.

Lionel loved the woman he married. He loved her beauty, her body, her spirit, her strength. He loved the way she looked at him when she was angry, her eyes hard and glittering and daring him to make things worse. He loved how she both softened and grew fierce with maternal protectiveness during pregnancy.

He loved their son. He loved Lex, and began falling out of love with Lillian, who was changing--fading--before his eyes, every day. By the time Julian was born, there was almost nothing left of the woman he'd married, and Lionel was disgusted by the shell of the woman in her place: physically weak, emotionally crumbled, essentially flawed. For a few brief weeks he loved his sons, finding in them all the strength and beauty and spirit that had once been Lillian's...but then that changed, as well, and suddenly Lionel loved no one.

There was no one for him to love. No one he felt compelled to love out of anything more than a sense of duty.

Years passed, and Lionel enjoyed another string of pretty yet wholly unloveable women. Even those he considered more consequential than most were eventually dismissed for some notable fault: Rachel Dunleavy, despite giving him another son, was deeply troubled; Martha Kent, despite reminding him keenly of the Lillian he'd married, was ultimately of more worth as a pawn than a queen; Chloe Sullivan, despite her tantalizing savvy, was little more than a child; and Genevieve Teague, despite being a powerful potential ally, was an obsessive bitch. Given all that--and more, usually involving diamonds or the remarkably fraught politics of personal interest--Lionel found a certain uncomplicated pleasure of his own in loving no one, and maintained his distance.

He also maintained an attachment to Lex, motivated more by a sense of spartan paternal obligation than anything else. In fact, in many ways Lex was like the strings of women: convenient when necessary, promising in potentia, but ultimately worth little more than the cost of a few diamonds and a negotiable measure of affection.

A measure of affection that Lionel suddenly and unexpectedly found himself renegotiating with greater frequency than ever before: when Lex turned exile from Metropolis to his advantage and began remaking the Smallville plant into his own private empire. When he returned from the island--from the dead--and credited Lionel with his survival. When he returned to his proper place in Lionel's empire--even when he stole Lionel's empire, because he'd done so after a psychotic break and a violent (but necessary) course of treatment, both of which would have rendered a lesser man completely toothless.

When Lex stood resolutely outside Lionel's cage.

When Lex was almost killed for having purchased diamonds of his own.

When Lex's will cut across Lionel's cheek, hard and sharp enough to draw blood.

*"You did create the son you always wanted."*

The alien torrent swirled around him, through him, overwhelming him, drowning him...but the tiny part of Lionel still under his own control heard Lex's words. And at that moment he could see in his son all the things he'd once prized--not only in the trusting, obedient child Lex had been, but in Lillian at the height of her health, and in Morgan at the height of his game.

The last person Lionel ever loved was his son.

Lex reminded him so much of himself.


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Jayne Leitch

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?


Level Three Records Room