When Lionel Luthor came home to the castle, he walked in the front door supported by two nurses, one on each side, whom he called respectively "East" and "West."
He barked orders at them, telling them to watch their backs as they passed the tables lining the long foyer, so as not to knock over anything valuable as they walked.
"Turn here, East," he commanded, the nurse holding onto his right arm. "Stop tugging me down, West. Now move it along."
It was the blind leading the frightened. Lex lagged a little bit behind in the shadows, watching the strange procession as it came to a halt at the bottom of the main staircase, everyone looking slightly confused as to where they should go next.
"I'll take it from here," Lex said quietly to the nervous women. He took his father's elbow. "I counted the stairs last night, Dad. They're thirty-five and shallow, no more than four inches high. Hold onto the railing and we'll go one at a time."
"Very proactive thinking, son," Lionel murmured. He raised his voice slightly. "Certain people could learn from you."
"Don't insult your nurses, Dad."
"Why? Will they spit in my Jell-O?"
"No," sighed Lex. "Because it's rude. Come on, let's try the first one. Don't worry about tripping or falling. I have you."
"Thank you, son." Strange how dignified Lionel looked as he climbed the stairs at a snail's pace. One leg up, steadied on Lex's grip, the rest of him following. After a few steps, he seemed pleased. "This isn't so hard."
"Only thirty-two more to go. If you get tired ..."
"I won't get tired." Crisply, and it took nearly half an hour, but they made it to the top landing without incident. Lionel smiled sightlessly with a steely sort of triumph. "The mountains also shall bring peace and the hills righteousness unto the people."
Lex straightened his father's long overcoat, rumpled by the climb. "Milton?"
"The Book of Common Prayer. There should be a copy in the library."
"Should I bring it up?" Lex hesitated. "I can read it to you."
Lionel seemed lost in thought, then frowned. "No. I'll need more important things read to me later on." At this, he seemed to sag, but immediately straightened up again. "Is there a room ready? I confess, I'm tired."
"Everything's set up. Has been for a while." Lex steered him slowly to the first room to the left of the landing, chosen specifically for its proximity to the stairs. He pushed the door open and led his father inside. "Let me take your coat."
After the jacket was peeled off, Lionel reached out, arms outstretched, as if looking for something.
"Dad, be careful," Lex said quickly. He gripped Lionel's arm to steady him. "What is it you need?"
"Perspective," Lionel replied. "How big is this room?"
"Seventeen by twenty," Lex replied immediately. He'd made sure to carefully measure everything his father would come in contact with while in the castle. Lex knew what questions were coming and he wasn't about to let the details fail him as badly as the big picture had. No, there would be success -- somewhere. Success by inches. "The bed is a queen-size. I can get a king in here if you'd prefer it, but I thought ..."
"That I'd have more room to fall down without hitting my head on something and adding to our already enormous doctor's bills?" Lionel sat down heavily on the bed, running a hand over his paler-than-usual face. "Very thoughtful of you, son."
Lex's throat tightened. "I'm trying to make this as comfortable for you as possible. But if you want to fight ..."
"I don't want to fight. I want to sleep." Said with finality, and Lionel slid down onto the bed, pain twisting his features. "When you go downstairs, tell the Witches of Oz I'll need my painkillers. Now."
"Yes, Dad. Anything else?"
Lionel slowly shook his head. "No." He sighed heavily. "Things that love night, love not such nights as these," he whispered.
Lex took a long, shaking step backwards. Felt the doorjamb against his back and edged his way out into the openness.
"I'll send them up," he said hoarsely.
When outside the room, Lex practically flew down the stairs.
Clark arrived later that afternoon. Lex found him waiting in the office, holding a large yellow casserole dish. "Hey, Lex." His expression was solicitous as he handed over the food. "Mom made this for you and your dad. How is he?"
"Blind. Pissy. Strange," replied Lex, accepting Clark's offering. The plate was heavy and smelled of warm eggs and cheese. "Tell your Mom thanks. And how's your dad? Is the farm getting back into shape?"
"Almost completely back to normal." Clark stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked around the newly repaired room. "I see your builders worked pretty quickly in here. It looks almost exactly the same as it did before the tornado."
"Obscene amounts of money often work miracles."
"But not always," Clark said distractedly. He immediately looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, Lex. That just slipped out."
Lex chuckled humorlessly. "The truth has a habit of doing that." He smiled at Clark, letting him know everything was all right. "So, what's next on the agenda for the intrepid Clark Kent? Back to homework and Miss Sullivan?" He watched as Clark fidgeted with red-faced discomfort. "What's wrong? Something happen on the Chloe front?"
"Let's say the storm ended with a whimper. She wants to be just friends."
"Are you sure about that?"
"That's what she said," Clark shrugged. "So, yeah."
"Oftentimes what women say is the exact opposite of what women mean ... or want. Strange, but true. Didn't your book, the Venus and Mars one, tell you that?"
"No," Clark grumbled. "That book was a load of crap."
Lex laughed for the first time in what felt like forever. "Now you're learning something." Lex sat back in his chair feeling incredibly relaxed. For some reason, helping Clark through his little romantic troubles was better than all the tranquilizers in the world "I have a feeling if you put up a bit of resistance to the friendship thing, you might find some favor left in Chloe's heart."
"That's just the thing," Clark said. "I'm not sure I want to be more than friends. Dating complicates things a lot more than I thought and I like Chloe too much to ruin it for ... I dunno ..."
"A cheap thrill. I understand," Lex said. He bit his lip thoughtfully. "Theoretically, that is. I've never liked anyone too much not to go for the gusto." A thought then, and Lex felt the blood rise to his cheeks. "Well, except for ..."
He looked at Clark who was examining him curiously, as if waiting on what he was about to say next. "But this isn't about me," Lex said quickly. "If you're not sure you want to date Chloe, that's fine. She gave you an out, you took it, but don't be too surprised if she's not exactly happy about the outcome."
"I know. She hardly looks me in the eye at all anymore."
"That'll pass," Lex said soothingly. "Maybe she'll find someone else for a while."
Clark's eyes darkened slightly. It was obvious he didn't like that idea very much. "Great," he said without enthusiasm.
The fickle hearts of boys, Lex thought. Possessive, yet selfish too. Lex wondered if he were ever so young as not to recognize his actions for what they were.
In matters of love, that is. As of late, his own actions had left him more battered and confused than ever.
As if reading Lex's thoughts, Clark shifted the subject. "Lex ... can we talk about something?"
The relaxation immediately dissipated, nerves suddenly set on thrumming edge.
"Sure," Lex replied guardedly.
If Clark noticed Lex's sudden change of attitude, he didn't let it show. He plodded on as always, the words falling from his lips one hesitant thought at a time. "What you did for us, for my dad especially ... that must have been very hard. On top of everything else, you had to make a split second decision, a terrible decision, and this time you didn't hesitate. That really means a lot to me and to my family, and for that ... " He paused. "Thanks, Lex. I just wanted to say thanks."
"You're welcome," Lex replied stiffly. Was now the time to tell Clark what he did was exactly the opposite of hard? That the only shock he'd felt while staring at the lifeless body of Roger Nixon was confusion over just how easy it had been to take the snake's life? To pull the trigger and make everyone's troubles simply vanish in a puff of bitter smoke?
How he'd do it again ... and again ... and again, if need be?
No, now probably wasn't the time. It would probably never be the time to tell Clark that Lex was capable of doing things Clark or the Kents could never conceive of doing ... not even to save one of their own.
Clark smiled his trademark brilliant smile at Lex. A smile that always used to make Lex's breath hitch achingly in his chest, but now looked like so many of Lex's possessions: beautiful, loved, but easy to take for granted.
Because it was his. All his.
He'd killed for it, thus it belonged to him.
They were on even ground at last.
A loud call from upstairs made them both start in their chairs. "LEX! Son, I need you up here!"
"Saved by the howl," Lex said wryly. He clapped Clark on the back before he went to answer his father's call. "Call me later. I'll need an ear to whine into."
"Both ears prepared and ready for duty." Clark gave Lex a mock salute. "Oh, and I can tell you about Lana too."
"Oh, boy. Can't wait," Lex said, as he jogged up the stairs.
He paused at the top and watched Clark leave, his loping steps filled with a bounce only youthful relief and happiness could bring. A happiness Lex knew he could either make or break at will, if he so chose.
So is the peril of needing a man who'd end a life for you.
His father called again, this time angrily. "LEX! I said I need you!"
Same as the danger of needing a man to extend your life for you.
"Coming, Dad." Lex said, smiling.
Maybe this new twist of Fate wasn't so bad after all.
"These damned nurses. Lex, I demand you fire them."
"What did they do now, Dad?"
It had been three weeks since Lionel came home and the initial flush of power had long since faded from Lex's heart. Yes, he was in control of his father's destiny, theoretically, but it seemed exactly the other way around as Lionel bossed Lex from his sick bed like a pasha from his cushioned throne.
He ordered; he demanded ... he decreed from his bedroom as energetically as he'd done from his corner office not some six months before. Lex found himself doing everything; from the menial to the career-ending, all for little praise and much complaint.
All the while listening to Lionel make one unreasonable demand after another in regard to his care. The care Lex was in charge of and was obviously failing at. Again.
"Don't question me, son. Just fire them and get me two new ones."
"Dad, can I ask you something?" Lex's skin fairly itched with frustration. "Why are you being such a goddamned bitch?"
This made Lionel smile. "That's a new one. Usually it's 'bastard' but I admire your creativity under pressure."
Lex wasn't amused. "You're being impossible. I can't take much more of this."
"Of course you can," Lionel said casually. "Now, about the Lehman accounts ..."
If Lex had hair, it would have bristled all the way up his neck and over his scalp. It probably would have stood straight on end, and Lex was grateful that Lionel couldn't see the sheer rage he knew was clear on his face.
"You know, I've been thinking, Dad. I've been thinking that you can haul your blind ass back to Metropolis and hire a nanny or maybe Dominic to make sure you're fed and count your pills and take you to the bathroom. I'm sure he'd love it."
"I wouldn't let Dominic take me anywhere, not if I had every facility at my disposal. No, Lex ... you're my son and taking care of me is your job."
Lex was breathing hard with fury. "My job is to run the plant you gave me, not be a nursemaid for a relentless bastard for whom nothing is good enough. I'm only doing it because ..." A struggle to get more air. "Because ..."
"The only reason you have your precious plant, the only reason you have anything, Lex, is because you're my son," Lionel interjected sternly. "Therefore your duty is to me, to care for me when I'm temporarily incapacitated as I did for your grandfather before you. This is what families do for each other."
"Is that so? Even if you're totally ungrateful for every single thing I try to do."
"Who says I'm ungrateful?" Lionel shook his head. "You assume a lot of things."
"Maybe it's because you're treating me like a servant?"
"That's ridiculous. You're my son, I've always known you're my son and therein lies the difference between you and I, inasmuch there was never a time, never even a moment, when you were not my son. Never. But there was a moment for you when I was not your father, and that I cannot forget. So forgive me if I'm not always displaying the most generous of moods with you, especially in these trying times."
That was it. The straw that broke the insane man's back. "I said I was sorry," Lex snarled. "How many times do I have to apologize?"
"You don't. I said forget, Lex. Not forgive, since I've forgiven you long ago. You think I'm heartless, but I'm not. However, my sense of self-preservation demands I keep in mind certain events for future reference. I didn't get this far in life on the whims of a bad memory."
"You're going to make me pay for this forever, aren't you?" Lex ground out furiously. "I'm telling you now, I'm tired of paying the price for these games of yours. I don't want to pay them anymore."
Milky, unfocused eyes followed the sound of Lex's voice. "My poor son," said Lionel quietly. "I can clearly hear you've already paid the only price that's worth anything to you -- your last ounce of hatred for me."
"I don't hate you!" Lex practically spat.
"I know. And that must be killing you." Lionel held out his hand as if waiting for his son to grasp it, which he did, but with tangible reluctance. "There was something I was trying to tell you in the hospital after the operation," said Lionel. "But you turned away from me then. Perhaps you'll listen to me now."
"Do I have a choice?"
"Of course, you do. You always have a choice, son. That's something you consistently fail to understand."
"Just tell me," Lex said irritably. "Make it fast."
"Let me put it to you in the language of a fairy tale. Not one of those ridiculous sanitized versions but the real thing," Lionel said. "For the horror of this is as real as death itself. Listen now ..."
"On the day I die, Lex, you'll wake up surrounded by a pack of wolves whose teeth will hunger for only one thing: your neck. They won't even circle before they jump, but little do they know I've left you a very special inheritance. Do you know what that is?"
"It's a sword," said Lionel carefully. "A sword I've been forging since the day you were born. It's the sword of intellect, of fearlessness, and yes, of ruthlessness. Because in order for you to survive after my death, you'll have to wield every weapon at your disposal with utter impunity. I know these wolves want more than money; they want your blood -- whether it be for vengeance or their own lust. All I've ever done is make sure you don't go down, at least not without a spectacular fight. And to do that I had to become a wolf, a make-believe wolf, so you can understand your enemy long before you actually meet him. Do you understand a little better now?"
Lex stared at Lionel through narrowed eyes his father couldn't see. "Yes, I do. But there's something you've failed to understand about all of this, Dad."
Lionel titled his head in confusion. "And that would be?"
"Once the sword was in my hand, no wolf was safe. Not even the make-believe ones." Deliberately, and Lex pulled away from his father's suddenly cold grasp. "Goodnight, Dad. Sleep well."
"I said, goodnight."
The fever came later that evening with startling suddenness.
One hour Lionel was fine, the next, doctors were speeding their way to the castle from the hospital as the nurses took turns taking Lionel's temperature and administering rubs with icy cold sponges.
Lex could hardly bear to look at his father's too-thin frame, looking so very helpless and disconnected from all that surrounded him. He took a seat at Lionel's side and could feel the heat that was radiating from his father's body. He dismissed the nurses before beginning yet another lonely vigil.
Lionel was babbling at the ceiling, the words flowing out in slurred syllables, one after the other. "Lex?"
"I'm here, Dad."
"They took his legs, Lex." Blind eyes were wild with fear and fever. "They took both of them, right off."
"What are you talking about?" Lex kept his voice steady. "Who lost their legs?"
"Your grandfather. You don't remember your grandfather. He had diabetes and didn't get it treated until it was too late. Developed gangrene of the feet and they amputated both his legs from the knees down."
"They did?" Lex said, shocked to the core. This was a story he'd never heard before, not even from his mother. "When?"
"Long before you were born," Lionel wheezed. "It was terrible. Terrible to live through, to listen to, day and night. Every day your grandfather told me the same thing again and again. He said if a man wasn't whole, his life wasn't worth living. He should die and not be a burden to others ... like I am now, Lex."
"That's not true." Lex ran a self-conscious hand over his bare scalp. "Life is working with what you have, no matter how little or much it is," he said, quoting his mother. Dear God, had she known this?
Lionel wasn't listening; his forehead gleamed with a thin sheen of fever-sweat. "I used to change his bandages, before and after the operations," he murmured brokenly. "They stank and made me sick. But I did it, Lex ... I did that and more. I took over the family company, the one he almost ran into the ground. I made it work. It nearly killed me, but I made it what it is today and he never once told me, 'well-done, son.' He still made me care for him, until the day he died."
Lex recoiled at the image. Until the day he ... "Dad, listen to me. That's over with. You're a successful man, you have everything you need and you don't know what the future holds. You told me just today to try and understand my choices, so you have to try and understand yours. Being blind is not the end."
"No, Lex," Lionel choked. "The disease went to his brain before he finally went insane and died. It took six years, but at last, he was gone. I remember those days, Lex. I remember them like they were yesterday."
Lionel began to cough, long, violent spasms for air before Lex pulled him into a sitting position, rubbing his back in frantic circles. Where the hell were those doctors?
"That's why I told you I'd have been better off dead, son. I didn't want to do what your grandfather did to me. Burden you with any illness ... burden you with the threat of poverty. You'll never want, Lex. For your whole life, you'll never want. I wanted to hand you the world without conditions, but this damned thing that's happened ... I'm sorry, son. I didn't keep my promise."
"It's all right, Dad." It was hard, maybe the hardest thing he'd ever done, but Lex drew his father close. Closer than he'd ever held him in his life. "Shhhhh," he said against the damp hair that smelled like antiseptic. "It'll be all right."
"You made a mistake, Lex. A terrible mistake in letting me live."
"No, I didn't," he replied firmly. He held on tighter. "I made my choice and I believe it was the right one. Whatever regrets we have, they aren't going to be based on some distant past." Lex pressed his lips to the hot skin with eyes closed, listening closely to his father's ragged breathing. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain ... cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart."
Lionel chuckled weakly. He seemed to gain back a little of his sense. "Thank you, Thane of Glamis. Although I prefer to 'throw physic to the dogs."
"Too late," Lex said, motioning the newly arrived doctors to enter, as he released Lionel from his grasp. "They're here." He bent down to whisper in his father's ear. "I'll come back when they're done."
"Yes. And Lex ... " Lionel's expression was cannily wry. He smiled in Lex's direction. "Well done."
It was nearly dawn when Lionel's fever broke.
Lex was sitting at his father's side, a dusty book in hand, waiting. Waiting for his father to wake up and call for his water, call for the time ... call out for anything. He would wait as long as was necessary, as long as he was needed.
He felt no regrets. Not anymore.
A minute past the sunrise, he got his wish. "Lex?"
"I know. I could hear you. Go to bed, son."
"Actually, I was doing some reading. Care to join me? I'm already near the middle."
"What book is it?"
"The Book of Common Prayer. Very interesting stuff."
"I've often thought so too. All right, you can read it to me, if you'd like."
Lex turned the page and began. "The earth is weak, and all the inhabiters thereof: I bear up the pillars of it ..."
Also, why not join
Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?