Smoke and Mirrors

by Celli Lane

Mega thanks to Jayne for the double beta and for working the phrase "no touching guns" into everyday conversation.

He misses smoking.

Odd, he should miss the stab of cocaine, the slide of heroin into his arm, the sting of tequila, but no. Out of all the vices he gave up before Smallville, this one haunts him.

The quick sulfur of a match when it's lit. One of his favorite scents, ever. The sound the flame makes when it touches the paper of the cigarette. The glow of the tobacco lighting.

Everyone has their own ritual for getting the stuff into their lungs, where it can sit and do the most damage. Lex's is ingrained, learned from watching his father and cronies with their cigars when he was too young to imitate, but remembered until he faked his way through his first cigarette at eleven.

Smoke in through the mouth, pursed around the cigarette like a virgin's kiss. Hold it for a heartbeat; draw air in through the nose, pushing the smoke down. Another heartbeat. Feel the burn in nose, throat, stomach. Exhale quickly through the nose, then puff the rest out through the mouth. Watch the smoke drift up. (He only made smoke circles when he was drunk. But he was good at it.)

Sometimes, in the gray cold of a Kansas winter, he finds himself watching the steam rise from his nose and mouth, shaping it to imitate smoke. The tingling in his nostrils is surprisingly similar, and it amuses him to pretend, although he's careful not to do it when anyone might notice. He doesn't get much of a chance; he lives a climate-controlled life. Not much cold. Not much steam.

No smoke, at all.

Still, there are nights when the plant is making his head spin and Clark has lied to him again and his father is bellowing from another room, and Lex wonders if it would be so bad to have a smoke. Just one. Or twenty. Really, isn't it the least destructive thing he could do to himself at this point?

But he knows that if he walks within range of his father after smoking, Lionel will raise his head, sniff the air, and send Lex that look that says "addict." Because cigars, well, they're business tools, and expensive, and if Lex were to take those up he'd be a boy trying a man's hobby. But Marlboros? Common nicotine? Hmph.

That look.

(They play a similar game with the brandy. If there's none missing when Lionel hefts the decanter to pour himself a glass, Lex might as well be a fourteen-year-old drinking soda with his little friend Clark. But if too much is gone, he's a lush, headed back down that road to debauchery and ruin and lower stock prices.)

So on those nights, Lex leans out his window until the central heating can't follow and just breathes until the air around him is nothing but mist and he starts to see the answers to his problems in the shapes he exhales. Then he laughs at himself, checks his head for frostbite, and ducks back in again.

He has better things to do than this.

But God, he misses it.

Lionel is beginning to forget what things look like.

Or rather, the memories that used to be taken up with visual shape have been co-opted by the tangible. He knows what round is, but round is how it feels under his hands, not how it looked to his eyes.

He clings to the few things he refuses to lose. Lilly's smile the last time she kissed him. The cover of Forbes magazine the first time he was on it. The photograph of Lucas. Lex...he can't forget what Lex looks like. Sulking, arguing, high, under a cornfield, in the midst of a tornado...the boy is as stubborn in sense memory as he is in every other aspect.

When he relaxes, though, some things come back to him.

Years ago, he used to go driving through the streets on the nights Lex didn't come home. He's still not sure why. He never found Lex, apart from an occasional glimpse of a car that might have been his in one of a hundred parking lots. Never expected to. One lone child in Metropolis? And yet he drove, and looked, and plotted the fire-breathing lectures that never made an impression on the boy.

Those nights he remembers. The glare he screwed his eyes against. Street lights, neon signs, those blaring white marquees on movie theaters. Headlights in the other lanes; they always seemed to be set on bright even when they weren't. It hurt to see, then. He's been accustomed to a driver for a long time, but on those nights he drove himself, and for a long time the driver's seat of a car meant worry and wondering and those neverending damn lights.

And when he hit the 2 AM traffic jams--bars closing, move to the places that don't follow local law, and don't forget to drive like the maniac you are while you go--the lights behind and beside would converge on a sliver of his window. He would stare into the half-reflection it provided, willing himself to find the answer, find the key, discover the strategy or invent a new one to make Lex understand. To convince him that his destiny, his potential were worth more than this nonsense.

He never found it. After a while he stopped looking at himself. Then he stopped lecturing. Eventually, he stopped driving. He had better things to do than look for a son who didn't want to be found.

The irony is, of course, that if he'd found the boy, confronted him in front of God and Metropolis, Lex would have laughed at him for being weak enough to search him out, stupid enough to think he had any control over his life. But when he stepped back, allowed Lex his freedom, he was the uncaring father, the bastard who only cared for the Luthor reputation.

He realizes, as he sits in the mansion with his brandy in hand, that Lex doesn't go out at night in Smallville. Lionel's room is close enough to the drive that he could hear a car as it came or went, but what he hears instead is Lex moving around the castle, talking on one phone or another, laughing with the Kent boy, pouring himself a drink. (Not too many, he's taught him, there's a difference between appreciating fine liquor and being a slave to intoxication). Living.

And Lionel sits and listens to his son's life and wonders if he could see the glass in his hands (round) and the light from the hall (bright?) and the brandy he tosses back (warm), would it reflect him?

He'd like to ask Lex to look and...just tell him. He won't, of course. He doesn't need a reminder of the notblank -enough look Lex gets when he's holding back scorn.

So, see, he is forgetting Lex after all, because on nights like these he can't remember any other expression.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Celli Lane

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?


Level Three Records Room