*"Come on, oh my star is fading,*
*And I see no chance of release,*
*I know, I'm dead on the surface,*
But I am screaming underneath.
*And time, is on your side, it's on your side, now,* *Not pushing you down, and all around,* *No, it's no cause for concern."*
*Amsterdam - Coldplay*
The sun was low in the sky, shining over the trees, but it's beams lacked real heat. Just a soft, lingering warmth against Clark's back. It should have been relaxing, but it only made him clench his fists. This wouldn't be easy, and he didn't want to relax.
He opened the vast front door slowly, trying to remember the last time he had done so. The servants were all gone now. Despite Clark's pleas, Lex had still dismissed them all while he was away. And he had been away too long this time, he knew. His regret was as real, as tangible as the chill in the dim hall.
Clark climbed the stairs, making as little noise as possible, counting the steps for no reason. Twenty steps to another world, just as it always had been. He turned left at the head of the staircase, moving until he was standing outside Lex's door. The room he hadn't seen in nearly three years.
Quietly, he opened the door, and stepped inside. For a moment, he simply stood, taking in the large room. What he saw made him stop, and drove him to his knees with tears of shock and grief threatening. It was awful.
It wasn't the room itself It was everything Clark had expected, after all. Everything he remembered. Substantial wealth and obvious taste, whether it truly suited the owner or not. Dark paneling covered the walls, but the colors were oppressive, a suffocating presence in the room. Tall, arched windows lined one wall, and the impressive view they provided should have been a welcome sight.
The late afternoon sunlight poured in the windows, casting the room in a muted, fiery glow. The quality of the light hovered somewhere between comforting and menacing. Dusk was too much like an inevitable conclusion. The waning of the light reminded him of another ending; one he didn't want, couldn't face.
And it wasn't the smell, either, though it was certainly unpleasant. Clark had taken to avoiding hospitals just to escape things like this. The surface smell was something sharp and nearly bitter, and that was bad enough, but there was something ghastly under it. Years ago, he read a description of this smell in a Stephen King novel and it had always stayed with him: shit and rotting grapes. It was the smell of slow death, overwhelming and sickening. After his mother, a part of him had hoped he would just get used to it.
And another part of him was horrified by that hope.
Honestly it was neither the appearance of the room nor the smell that had broken him. Those were things he had anticipated on some level, things he had been mentally preparing himself for.
Rather, it was the patient.
The massive four-poster bed looked like it belonged in a fairy tale somewhere, with elaborate scenes carved into the headboard, and dusty velvet curtains pulled back to reveal it's occupant. The room was silent, and the remaining sunbeams were filled with slow, swirling dust. More evidence of things he couldn't change or control. Couldn't deny.
Clark could just see Lex's face from his position on the floor. Lex was positively dwarfed by the sheer size of the bed. His skin was ashen, gray in a way Clark had never seen before, despite Lex's advancing age. The smudges under his closed eyes were dark and ugly, and when combined with the amount of weight Lex had lost, he looked nearly skeletal. His hands rested gently on his concave stomach.
After a moment, Clark had to look away. Lex's body was too still, his position too reminiscent of a corpse, and the shock of his rapid deterioration had hit Clark hard. He stifled a sob, biting into the back of his hand.
"Clark? What are you doing here?" The voice was deep and harsh, cracked when the pain rolled through him. "I asked you not to come."
Lifting himself off the floor, Clark stepped to the end of the bed, grasping the frame to steady himself. He wanted to speak, but as he looked into those familiar blue eyes, he faltered. Lex was so frail, the bones pushing dangerously against skin, yet an amazing strength still existed in those eyes. In all the years Clark could remember, Lex's eyes had never lost their intensity. He never lost the power to warn, to wound, to educate with those eyes. What would Clark learn today?
"I had to know, Lex," Clark answered, rounding the bed. "I just... had to see."
Lex nodded, eyes drifting closed again. Air sucked in like a hiss suddenly, as Lex clutched fistfuls of the expensive silk sheets. The moment passed, the sound of suffering swallowed by the sound of shallow breathing, and Clark watched the obvious battle for control within the man. Pain was winning.
"Now you've seen." Lex rasped.
"Where are your pills, Lex?" Clark asked tenderly. "Let me get them for you."
"They don't help, Clark. Haven't for months. Useless." Lex said quietly, through his tightly clenched jaw.
He turned his head away from Clark, the lingering sunlight illuminating his face, nearly giving him the illusion of youth. He relaxed, and for a moment the few wrinkles were gone, and the crease between his eyebrows smoothed. The angle of his jaw, the curve of his skull silhouetted against the dark pillow, it made Clark hurt. He was beautiful, even now. Despite everything. Like a piece of art. Like a natural disaster. Like a miracle.
"I'm so sorry, Lex." Clark spoke softly.
"I know, Clark."
Clark sat gently on the edge of the bed, his hand smoothing tenderly over Lex's shoulder. Lex turned his head back to Clark, his eyes wide and moist, his good hand grasping weakly at Clark's arm. It was the closest to afraid that Clark had seen Lex since they were both young. Clark leaned forward, placing his forehead where he had been rubbing Lex's shoulder, trying to remember a time it didn't wound him to do it. Trying to remember when this had been a promise of better things, not goodbye.
He didn't move for half an hour. The sunlight faded, shadows rising up around him. It was softened his view, made it harder to see the stark contrast of white skin to black silk. Clark was grateful for that.
"Clark..." Lex whispered finally, his hand tracing small shapes on Clark's back. "What now?"
His breath caught, and he sat up. He blinked, and all the tears he'd been fighting poured down his cheeks, rivers of sorrow tracing over his cheek, down his neck. They cooled too quickly, though. As though the heat of this pain wasn't enough to burn them there, as a permanent reminder of this day. He wanted to feel it, wanted to remember.
"I don't know."
"I don't think I can... I should... I think I should just sleep now." Not what he was going to say, Clark was sure, but why push? There was so much that would be left unsaid now. So much that would never be discussed, shared or explored. Things left unknown and unresolved forever. And wasn't that just life? He wondered if this was something he might get used to, too, someday.
"You're right. I... I'll go." Clark began to stand, readying himself for the last touch, the last word, the last look. But never the last ache, never the last thought. Never.
Long fingers caught his wrist. Colder than they should be, like his tears, and Clark stopped in mid-motion. "Will you stay? Please?"
"Yes, Lex. Of course."
Relief and terror waging a war for control beneath his skin, he simply wiped his face and lay carefully next to Lex, wincing when Lex did. He turned on his side, adjusting the thick comforter, Lex's slight shape lost beneath it. Clark stilled, just watching Lex, trying to pretend this wasn't what it was. Pretending it was years ago, when the world was still full of new love and surprises, and not dark, haunted memories, and unavoidable conclusions.
Lex did his best impression of a smile, and Clark could see what it cost him. It was a gift he would accept. He didn't try to smile back, instead lifting one hand to smooth gently down Lex's cheek. It was all he could do. And for once, all the things left unsaid between them were unnecessary.
Lex closed his eyes and soon, he slept.
As Lex slept, Clark waited and cried.
The sunlight was gone.
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