by Ivy Blossom
You can feel it when someone dies. It's as if they take that last breath and exhale themselves into you, wrapping fingers of fear and regret and panic around your heart just as they go. We feel them inside ourselves, and for a moment we become them.
It doesn't make sense, it's not rational. You want to claim everything that happens under your own skin, because if someone else could become you, even for a moment, if someone else could take over your mind and dictate how you feel, you wouldn't know where you end and others begin. You'd have to start believing in fairy tales. You'd have to start looking up for a change, not to see the sky but to scan the horizon for giants and dragons.
But it's still true that you can feel the moment of someone else's death in a way that doesn't make sense. You feel it as surely as you can feel rain on your face or a pinch on your arm. So when the doctor comes and turns to you to tell you the news, you don't need to hear it, except that you want it confirmed. You already know, even if you can't believe that you do.
Lex knows this is true because he's felt it before.
When his mother died he was walking into her sick room. He was excited, he wanted to tell her something. He doesn't remember now what it was, the details have been washed out from the whirlwind of events that happened after. Sunlight streaming through the sheers, a slight breeze billowing them; he was looking at the sunlight soft in the window when he walked into the room, sunlight and flowers on the bedside table. Limbs under the sheets, not moving, the sound of one breath.
He doesn't remember now if he said anything, if he burst in shouting whatever news he was keen to tell her. If he did it fell flat into the room, knowledge untransmitted, forever unknown and forgotten.
If it had only been the sight of her unmoving body he probably wouldn't have guessed that she had died. He was young, after all, and though her death was imminent he had never entirely believed it would happen. There was such a thing as a miracle to him then, and he knew in his heart that there would be one to save his mother. The sight of her utterly still between sheets would not have been enough to convince him otherwise. He would have thought she was sleeping, kissed her and crept out again. There was something else.
He burst into the room, looked at the sunlight through the windows, the sheers puffed out with the breeze, and felt a great sense of relief. He smelled the fresh air, the tiredness of a body that could not be his own, and took the deepest breath he had ever taken, she had ever taken. Relief. Joyful relief to feel the end of this.
For years he felt guilty about that sense of relief. How could he feel that way as his mother died? His beloved mother. Had she been a burden on him? Had he secretly wanted her to die? Did he, but some weird accident of his childish and misunderstood brain, manage to inadvertently kill her with a random thought? Had he made a secret wish for her death and had it granted?
For months afterward he dreamed that his thoughts all became manifest; monsters appeared in dark corners, women sat stripped naked, bound and gagged in shop windows, his teachers exploded in a hail of blood and bits of flesh. And in all of these dreams he would shut his eyes tight and shake his head as his father whispered, "Lex, you need to be stronger. A Luthor witnesses the destruction he creates," prying Lex's eyes open.
But he felt it again when Pamela died. At first he thought it was a memory of his mother's death, the light, fleeting feeling. Anguish, guilt, joy, relief. He held her hand, eyes open and aware this time, and watched her go. The last breath, the way it settled in the air between them, curling into raw emotion, drawn inside Lex's lungs and becoming him. For one moment he saw himself through her half-closed eyes, his face strangely anxious and concerned, loving. It was oddly reassuring to him, the look on his own face, blurring into darkness. He sat with her for what seemed like a long time until the doctors came and shook him out of his reverie.
"She's gone," they said, as if he didn't know.
Lex wonders if Clark had felt it too, when he was dead under the water. When Clark rescued him, gave him another chance. Clark had found the way to beat the inevitable; he had taken that breath and pressed it back inside Lex. He had vague memories of it now, so stretched out and surreal he had trouble believing them anymore. Feeling completely free, rising up out of his body and soaring over Smallville. It didn't look nearly so hateful from that vantage point. The pull on his legs, dragging him back down, feeling entwined inside someone else's body, so foreign and strong and young. Clark. That was before he knew Clark, before he knew his name even, but in that moment Lex was sure he knew everything.
For that time, with Lex's breath inside him, Lex became Clark, he knew all his secrets. A swirling mass of them, cold and hot and red. Simple. But a second later he was back in his own body again, coughing up water and retching. A stone under his head, his legs wet and heavy. This boy looking down on him. Lex was certain there was a moment that passed then between them when they both knew everything about each other; Lex almost hugged him. But then he shook his head and forgot everything, he remembered careening off the road, hitting the boy, the crash of water. The inevitability of that rush, wheels that can't stop. If there was a time when he could stop that fatal path it had passed; his helpless hands on the steering wheel.
Lex wonders if Clark remembers, but he doesn't really want to ask. He is protective of his secrets too, after all.
And now Lionel Luthor is staring into the great oblivion. Though, hardly staring; he is in a coma, in of all places the Smallville general hospital. Lex finds it ironic and entirely just that he should die here like this, with no one around him but Lex, who is peering down at him with weird fascination and distaste. What will it feel like when Lex becomes Lionel?
Lex debated with himself for weeks before he came back to Smallville to witness this. Would it feel better to watch the old man die? Or would it be safer to stay in Metropolis, to keep cooing into the phone at the doctors who called him every few days? At first he decided that he didn't want to see it. He wanted Lionel to die alone, he didn't want to be there to feel it when Lionel finally slipped into the unknown. Let him die like that, Lex thought. Let him reap what he's sown. But he kept picking up those phone calls anyway, assuring the doctors that yes, he would be there as soon as his schedule allowed, planning to wait for the one phone call that he would heed, the one that told him Lionel was dead. It was only a matter of time. And that would be the end of it. He would be free.
But in the end it was curiosity that got to him. What would it feel like? Would Lionel have a last moment of panic, regret? Would he feel some sadness for the suffering he caused? Would he see the light in the end and want Lex's forgiveness, love him? Would he remember Lex at all, would he grovel? Or would he just die feeling triumphant and certain, cold and mean and scornful? Lex was curious; he couldn't help it. What does a man like that think about as he dies? When the doctor said it was now or never, Lex finally packed a bag and headed back to Smallville.
He sits down next to Lionel's bed and waits, bracing himself. His father's chest rises and falls weakly, almost imperceptibly, and Lex imagines each breath to be the very last. With all the beeping and clicking and buzzing from the equipment in the hospital room it will be difficult to hear that last breath. But Lex knows it will come.
He closes his eyes and waits.
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