The Sweet Smell of Air

by slodwick

Originally written as an answer to LJC's "Sports Night" Title Challenge. Thanks to Tresca for the beta.

A marble floor, even an exceedingly expensive one, is a rather uncomfortable place to spend any extended period of time.

He pulled himself up from the bathroom floor, using the edge of the sink to steady himself, and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. He wasn't sure how long he'd been kneeling in front of the toilet, but the heaving had stopped some time ago. Not surprising considering he hadn't eaten since yesterday. So, instead, he had simply sat, motionless and silent. It was only the slow ache in his knees that had forced him to consider relocating.

Through the small window over the bathtub, he could see that it was dark. The sun had still been shining when funeral ended, he remembered, but sunset wasn't far off. Her monument, which had been resurrected nearly overnight, had been lit from behind, creating a peculiar and slightly unnerving silhouette at the end of the cemetery.

His presence at both the memorial service and the gravesite had been expected. It would have been outright demanded if he'd attempted to skip either. So he went, but he hadn't spent a comfortable moment in either place. There were too many curious stares, too many hushed whispers. Supposed family friends and paparazzi, all of them too eager to have something to gossip about tomorrow.

Why couldn't the vultures leave the infamous Luthors in peace for one day? Didn't they deserve it? This day, of all days? Simply dealing with her death was demanding enough, much less doing it with an audience.

Certainly it hadn't been unexpected, but that didn't really make anything easier. These months spent watching her waste away, losing the vitality and independence that had always been so strong in her, had been agonizing. Her arms, which had always held him so lovingly, had been reduced to barely-covered bones. Guilt loomed large as he considered all the times he avoided her touch, distressed by the very feel of her. But, really, wasn't any embrace preferable to none at all? He thought so now.

The near-painful tingling already beginning in his legs, he exited the bathroom. The foyer was empty, shadowy, as he hadn't had time to turn on any lights in his rush. The large French mirror that hung opposite the massive front door had been draped in black cloth. Flowers of varying shapes and sizes lined every available surface, from the matching antique sideboards to the tiny accent table in the center of the entryway. The heady aroma was overwhelming, and more than a little nauseating to him in his present state.

He knew he should eat something, but a wave of weariness suddenly washed over him. Stomach roiling, he ascended the staircase slowly, each step echoing. His suit jacket lay forgotten on the floor in the downstairs bathroom, and as he advanced, his tie and dress shoes too fell by the wayside.

Upon reaching the head of the stairs, he paused. The house itself seemed eerily calm, considering he had spent the better part of the day surrounded by throngs of people. Even when they were trying to be quiet, large groups of people rarely were. Now, standing quite still in the upstairs hall, the only discernible sound was his own heartbeat, his own breathing. He supposed it should have been soothing.

He turned right and began down the hall, when he abruptly stopped. Turning slowly, he eyed the far end of the hall. It was fairly dark, and as he approached he could barely make out the door he knew was there. It didn't matter. He had walked this path so many times, he could have done it in his sleep. In fact, he may even have done that a time or two.

He reached out and turned the doorknob, swinging the door inward. He didn't enter right away; rather, he leaned against the jam, and allowed his eyes to adjust. A fair amount of moonlight poured in through the many windows in her room. On a sunny day, this room was warm and pleasant, a welcoming respite from the formal dcor in rest of the house. Now, at night, it was rife with shadows and ambiguous shapes.

She had adored this room. It had been her bedroom, her sitting room and her sanctuary. Here was where she sat to read, to enjoy the Sunday crossword in the Metropolis Journal, to compose her correspondence and her poetry and her thoughts. Here, she sang to herself when she thought no one could hear, and often swore the same way. She rested both her physical and mental self here, and it was a place she would never be again.

It was that thought that moved him further into the room. Sidestepping the small bench that sat at the foot of the bed without thought, he climbed onto the bed gingerly, as though she was there, sleeping, and he didn't want to awaken her. Falling face-first into the bedding, he breathed deeply, wallowing in the scent of her that lingered on the pillows. The staff had been instructed not to disturb any of her things yet, and that included the washing of any garments or linens.

Clutching a pillow to his chest, he rolled onto his back. A bitter sob escaped from his mouth, and the tears that he hadn't even realized that he'd been fighting all day finally defeated him. He wept fiercely, not only for her, but for them both. For the things that he would never be able to say to her, for all the secrets he would long to share with her, for all the strength and support she would never be able to offer him now. He wept for the loss the world itself had suffered, whether it was aware or not.

The pain of the entire day, everything he had blocked out or tried to deny overwhelmed him. He wrapped himself around the pillow, trying to leech out whatever essence of her had been left behind, and used it to muffle the cries of grief and anguish that escaped him. Never again would her soft hands stroke his back to comfort him in times like these. Never again would her gentle voice soothe him. She was utterly gone.

He didn't hear the footsteps approaching.

"Father? Is that you? Are you alright?"

"Everything's fine, Lex. I'm just trying to find something." He managed, in a voice that was nearly as commanding as usual.

"In the dark?"

"It's late, Lex. Go back to bed. We'll talk tomorrow."

He listened to Lex's retreating footsteps, and waited for him to close his bedroom door before sitting up. He replaced the pillow, smoothing out the wrinkles he had caused, and climbed down from the bed. He crossed the room and opened her closet. Accosted again by her scent, he leaned in, pressing his face to her clothes. Reaching in, he grabbed something soft and thick, anything, and pulled it off the hanger. Holding the garment close, he started towards the door. He would sleep in a guest room tonight.

As he reached the doorway, he turned back to the empty room.

"Goodnight, beloved." He whispered.

And closed the door.

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