Slow, unhurried pace, moving through the empty apartment like the snow falling outside the window. Whispered pass of socked feet against marble floors, and howling wind passing over the towers, soundtrack to thoughts and memories he doesn't want, escape just on the horizon. Standing before the small counter, faced with a reflection he ignores, and glittering bottles and rich, full-colored liquids that offer the promise of forgetting.
The chill, the shiver and tightness in his skin can be blamed on the thermostat. No one is supposed to be here tonight, but that has never stopped him. He needed to be somewhere else, away from Smallville, away from expectation. He feels trivial, unimportant here, lost below the soaring ceiling, passing through arched doorways, glass in hand, like a ghost haunting this place. Should his father, the world be believed, it may be true. He is used to the hurt.
Down the hall, silence a comfort, a friend he knows well, and he finds the study. It's dark, and the tall windows framed in velvet gaze out on the sparkling city, filling his eyes, too. Apparently too much to hope it had all disappeared while he was in the elevator, but his father was gone now, and that was as just as good. No one here to disappoint as he slips soundlessly into a nearby chair, exhausted and really just tired in so many ways.
The chair is firm, supple, best you can buy, he wouldn't have expected anything less, and yet comfort evades. Shifting and positioning and repositioning, he finally discovers contentment with his feet tucked up underneath him. An imitation of a friend who might as well be on the other side of the world tonight, and that gets no further thought, he has let enough people down for one day.
The ice in his glass is melting slowly, and the cubes tumble over one another, sliding and rearranging, vying for position. The slow burn in his throat is good, matches the burn he is fighting in his eyes, but it dies after the first few sips. Like everything he enjoys, gone too soon.
Eyes adjusting, he sees the tree tucked in the corner. His genuine surprise a shock, to feel anything a shock. There are no garish lights, instead all elegant ribbons and antique globes, shades of gray and white in the dim illumination of the windows, a page from his memory made tangible. Now that his eyes have acknowledged it, his nose reveals the pine scent, natural and earthy, out of place in this man-made habitat. How long had it been?
Considers standing, reaching out a slightly-frosty hand to touch the delicate needles, marvel as he always did at the yielding softness of such a harsh-looking thing, but that would be something like sacrilege, so he just sits, looks. Wonders, who put it there? Whose hands touched her precious keepsakes, who had placed the graceful silver star atop it? Did they hum when they did it, songs that no one knew, songs that were comforting and complicated and filled with conspiratorial winks? And why?
He is fascinated. Certainly his father would never do such a thing with his own wizened hands, time and energy devoted to resurrecting a tradition that was never his. Cannot imagine he'd even care. Perhaps that is why it's hidden away in dark of the study, her study, like a secret. Like all her things, her very existence sometimes brushed under the imported rug. But then who?
Goosebumps prickling his skin, and slow-dawning realization. Alone in the dark, he is suddenly, unreasonably afraid. Afraid like he hasn't been since waking up alone, without air, chest constricted and hands scrabbling wildly on the nightstand. Afraid like lying in bed, nightmares still tickling his mind, with no one to call, no one to stroke his neck, kiss his forehead and tell him all was well, tell him he was loved. Memories that shouldn't be here, not in this place, not tonight.
Fingers curl tightly around his forgotten glass, digging into expensive leather, ears straining for something he isn't sure he wants to hear. A breeze moves light and almost impossibly real across his neck. Now he does rise, quickly and warily, eyes searching every dark corner he cannot quite see.
Cracked, wavering. A voice he barely recognizes, his own, but transformed. None of his Luthor intimidation, nothing remotely firm or commanding. He sounds, as he is, afraid and alone. But the echo of that sound could drive him crazy if he doesn't move, so he does. Around the chair, eyes focused on the floor, door like a portal to something normal, because out there is the world. Just beyond that door, and he can make it, easy, but he stops, feet freezing before he can think, question, and there is mistletoe on the door.
Would swear on his life it hadn't been there before, glowing softly in the light from the hall, and then he hears it. Low, hushed, swirling about his head, humming some old tune he might know but cannot name. Only music, but it stills his breath, glass falling from his hand, landing on the thick carpet with a thud, immaterial. Shaking, the tears thick and heavy as they flood down his cheeks, and this pain in his heart may kill him. The movement across his neck, too true and too familiar to be ignored, spurs him again.
Wiping a hand across his face, he moves to the door, looking at the mysterious plant there, red silk ribbon dangling, swaying slightly in a breeze that shouldn't be. He hesitates a moment, but the next step is obvious. Stepping forward finally, fear still buzzing in his ears, but joined by hope, he stands below, eyes dropping closed, lips quivering, arms wrapped around himself.
Waiting. Not long, though.
It is so gentle, dry but warm, lips pressing to his forehead, and something like fingers stoke his cheek. Broken sob that wrenches itself from deep in his chest, and the air is filled, strong, with a scent he hasn't smelled for years, but he would never forget: jasmine and almonds.
Opens his eyes, searching the swirling dust for something, but he is alone. There is no mistletoe on the door, but his clothes still hold her scent, and he is no longer afraid. Grateful for the moment, grateful for his gift, a message delivered straight to his heart that cannot be denied. A thought to be held close, wrapped around him in the night, in the dark, in his pain and need.
All is well, Alexander. You are loved.
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