You run into reminders everywhere.
The unlikeliest is at the theater, a charity production of Hamlet - oh, the irony - where he is seated right in front of you, slouching slightly in his seat as if over-aware of his height. Or maybe he's just bored - he never did share your love of the theater. He's not dozing off though - you see him wince every time Hamlet's trust is betrayed, but you, you laugh out loud. You laugh loud enough that others turn around glaring until they see it's Senator Luthor laughing, and then they quickly feign interest in the hideous murals on the ceiling. Betrayal and misplaced love are old familiar friends to you, ones to drink to and laugh over, not worth a second's misery.
He doesn't turn, and he exits before the curtain is fully down.
You think it is foolish to associate so much with someone who was only a friend for such a short a time. But then again, he did save your life at least three times that you're aware of, so some foolishness is permissible. Thinking of him when you're given bad coffee with a horrendous mound of canned whipped cream on top is unacceptable though.
You don't visit that coffee shop again, and soon after it inexplicably closes down.
You charted the possibilities once, all the times when you had choices, all the times when he had choices. You took a few of the right paths, and he did too, especially at the beginning, but mostly you both chose wrong.
You only had two end-points on your chart: lovers or enemies. If you covered the chart with your left arm (just so), you could see the red line leading almost directly towards lovers, just one step away at the closest point. One more move in the right direction- Your arm covered the messy zigzags that followed, the ones that led relentlessly down to enemies. Not that the knowledge is any use now, and regret is the ugliest, most futile emotion you know, so you refuse to indulge in it.
The chart was large and colorful, the product of late nights and smooth whiskey, but it angered you so much you balled it up and threw it in the fire, prodding it in sharp jabs with the poker when it didn't burn fast enough for your liking. The ashes finally disappeared when a glass of whiskey shattered against the back of the fireplace.
Today's reminder is an expected one. An anniversary, of sorts. The first time you met (as adults), the first time you nearly killed him, the first time he saved your life, the first time he lied to you. There are so many firsts to celebrate, so many anniversaries on such a regular basis. It's like being committed to someone, and in a way, you are. He is your first real relationship.
They say the first is the hardest to get over.
You're feeling uncommonly sentimental, and you haven't been for a drive alone for some time, too long, so you tell Mercy to cancel all your appointments for the day. You take a Porsche, the silver one, because a little bit more nostalgia won't hurt.
You hadn't hoped he'd be there, not really, and certainly hadn't expected it. But you can't bring yourself to make a show of being startled when he shows up beside you.
There's no car in sight besides your own, and you would have heard his footsteps if he'd walked across the bridge. That surprises you a little, that he's making no pretence of normality.
"Lex," he starts, and that's a surprise too, because it's been Luthor for years now. The trailing off isn't surprising though, because really, what else do you have to say to each other?
You stand, side by side, looking down into the water. It's muddy, higher than usual after all the unseasonable storms Kansas has had recently, and noisy. You know exactly how deep it is - there is nothing you don't know in detail about this stretch of river.
"You can barely see where the repair was made, it all looks equally weathered," he says, out of the blue. "Funny," he adds, in a tone that sounds more sad than amused, "it doesn't seem that long ago."
"It's half your lifetime." More, actually. Sixteen years.
"Yes, I suppose it is." He sighs. "A lot of water under the bridge since then." And now you have to laugh, because the clich is pure Superman - raised-by-Jonathan-Kent-Superman - but it's said in Clark's voice, and everything seems so very silly and incongruous all of a sudden.
He doesn't laugh, but he does smile at least, and it's been a long time since you've seen that smile directed towards you. It hurts, more than a punch from Superman ever has.
You both start and stop simultaneously, and you think that maybe the same question was on both your lips. But you won't finish yours now, because there was just one second when it seemed possible that you could ask, and that second is over. The chart didn't lie, and there's no way back from the end point you've reached. And he's hanging his head again, the old familiar light that was in his eyes when he started speaking is already faded.
You stand there a little longer, but the day is chilly, and the brown water will keep on swirling under the bridge whether you're watching it or not. You don't say goodbye when you walk away, because you know it won't be long before you see him again.
He's still standing there when you start your car, leaning against the bridge in the same lonely stance he had when you first saw him, and for one rash moment you consider offering him a lift, but then you smile to yourself. You both know he'll be back in Metropolis before you, and if he's not pretending, there's no reason you should either.
The next day you order out-of-season white tulips. They fill the house, every room, an overabundance of them. They remind you, with their very sentimentality - they are the same variety the Kents used to grow - that there is no place in your life for sentiment. You make the afternoon's phone calls (subtle bribes, less subtle threats) with no unnecessary admonitions from your conscience.
Notes: Many thanks to Zahra, and her marvellous beta skills. Written September 2006.
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