Flesh and Blood: Servant of the Empire II
The portrait hung over the white marble mantle, its gilded frame glowing in late-afternoon shafts of sunlight. His mother sitting on a rococo chaise, warm and poised, her brilliant red hair and white skin set off by a violet gown. Lex, perhaps five or six, stood beside her, leaning in under her embracing right arm.
Lex stared up at his younger self, seeking any resemblance to his father. He could not find it. He knew it was there; the mirror showed it to him every morning. Something about the eyes. But the artist had not transferred it to the portrait. He remembered the intense young man, carefully posing his mother and draping her dress before gently inserting Lex between the folds. Lex could now recognize the man's talent, cleverly echoing Sargent without a hint of irony, a commodity Lionel Luthor only appreciated in himself.
His mother had been the perfect wife, bringing elegance and poise to the mansion. This parlor had been one of her favorite rooms, a cheerful spot filled with sun and the mingled scents of lemon, fresh flowers, and beeswax. Those gracious touches lived on, thanks to a precise and meticulous staff. The delicate desk where she had answered her correspondence and replied to party invitations still stood against one wall, her pens and blotter tucked away as if awaiting her return. His father would have considered anything less an insult to her memory... and to his choice of her as mistress of his home and mother of his heir.
Lex's own memories of her were tied to so many things, the smell of her perfume, the rustle of her dresses, the languid movements of her pale hands. But they were always set against the backdrop of the rooms she had so carefully decorated at the mansion, the apartment downtown, the winter lodge by the lake. Walking through them was walking across a set, the actors poised out of sight, waiting for their cues. He knew his father swept on and off the stages, always using them to best advantage. But Lex wondered if he ever thought of the woman who had designed them.
Through the wide windows, the sun was dipping lower. Dusky shadows crept along the floor, their edges swaying slightly as if blown by a breeze. Lex looked closer. None of the windows was open but one of the gold damask drapes trembled a little away from the wall.
"Come out, come out," Lex said.
A pause, then the drape bulged and was pushed aside. Clark looked up at him. "You were going to leave without saying good-bye, weren't you?"
Lex applauded mentally. The words were typical 'wounded kid brother' but the inflection .... Nothing but the barest trace of impatience. Pure Lionel Luthor channeled by a four-foot alien.
"You promised. You promised me."
"I keep my promises, Clark. I'll never leave without telling you." He broke off suddenly, his gaze caught by a glint of metal at the boy's side.
"What's that, Clark?"
The boy cast his eyes to the floor, then peered up at Lex through thick dark lashes.
"Nothing." His left hand barely twitched, more evidence of Luthor training.
"Clark." Lex kept his tone even as he reached out his own hand and lifted Clark's chin. A little token resistance - they both knew that Clark could be immovable if he wished. He held out his left hand. "What do you have there?"
Mutely, Clark offered up a pearl-handled paper knife.
Lex knew without a doubt that it matched the stationery set displayed on his mother's desk. "Is this for me?" he asked, glancing at the small tool, so large in the boy's hand. Then his gaze shifted --
Lex took the knife from Clark. The little blade was as sharp as he remembered.
"Is this for me?" he asked again.
The boy nodded again and tugged at Lex's hand, pulling to the chaise. It was wide enough for Lex to tuck Clark under his arm as they sat down.
"Roll up your sleeves," Lex whispered, shifting the knife from hand to hand as he pushed up the sleeves of his own sweater.
The old bruises were still there, faded and blurred at the edges, tucked into the crook of his elbows, tracing along the blue veins.
He looked at Clark's arms. Clear, perfect, golden skin. Not a blemish, not a scar.
"Here," Clark whispered to him, making a quick gesture across his right wrist. "Here, first."
Lex cupped Clark's right hand in his own and stretched their arms out, flexing the wrist upward. A flash of silver as he slashed with the knife and the delicate skin was laid open. Drops of blood welled like charms on a bracelet as Clark moved his hand from side to side.
They stared transfixed as the cut healed, split skin melding into a raised line, red and angry looking, then fading back to soft, unbroken health.
Lex lifted their joined hands to his mouth, licking along the trail of blood. It was heavy against his tongue, and sea brine, as if a wave had crashed over him. Always the same and always the strongest, realest thing he had ever tasted.
Clark twisted beside him, turning to look up. His hair feathered against Lex's shoulder and under his chin, the soft strands ghosting along his skin and raising gooseflesh in their wake. He watched as Lex's tongue darted out, seeking the last traces of Clark's blood from the folds at his wrist.
When there was no more, Lex met Clark's eyes and smiled. "My turn now."
Lex let the knife fall to the floor beside them and brought his hand up to lie across his lap. The boy reached out with both hands, running small, hard fingers into the creases at elbow and wrist.
Clark barely brushed along the old bruises, fading against Lex's pale skin. He pushed at their edges, watching the skin flare white, then red, as he varied the pressure. Harder, and the red deepened. He moved along the length of Lex's inner arm, darkened spots appearing wherever his fingers moved.
The bruises mixed and swirled from old to new -- yellow, brown, purple, red, blue-black, dragon scales of color against Lex's iridescent paleness. Lex hissed as Clark pushed against the blue veins just below the skin, rolling them a little from side to side. Clark pulled Lex's hand up a bit, lowering his cheek to Lex's wrist at the same time.
Even against Clark's always-warm skin, the bruises radiated heat. Clark rubbed his cheek against them, murmuring, "I can feel your heartbeat."
Lex laughed and flexed his arm, feeling the skin pull against the blood pooling under the surface. "You always say that."
Clark petted the bruise-warmed skin, tracing the marks he made. "It takes so long for them to go away."
"Not really. It just takes me a little longer to heal than you do. I'm still faster than everyone else."
"But I don't like being different from you, Lex. Why can't I be like you?"
Lex pushed Clark's dark curls away from his eyes and smiled. "Don't, Clark. You know why. You're special and you're going to do special things." He ruffled the boy's hair. "And we'll always be together, I promise."
Lex pulled Clark back under his arm and they sat there, watching the last of the light fade from the room.
"I keep my promises, Clark. Always."
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