"He's never going to tell you, you know," Clark says, while you're replacing the cover on the new stereo.
This happens, sometimes, bad times. You talk to people who aren't there, and they talk back. Only the living, oddly. You'd spend a lot of time with Nixon in return for a visit from your mother, but it's not an option. Clark is leaning against the door, arms crossed.
"So I'm just supposed to live without my father's approval, is that it?" You straighten another row of books. Yesterday, a technician showed you an audio feed, thin as a pressed flower, from in between the pages of King Lear, Act I, Scene 4.
"Live without it or die without it, the only thing for sure is that you're going to be without it. The quicker you accept that, the quicker you can get on with your life."
"Such as it is." Your eye catches a stray piece of glass missed by the cleaners. The cleaners who followed the cleaners, of course, were looking for a different kind of mess.
Clark chuckles, and is gone. You pick up the fragment and roll it in your fingers, barely feeling it when the blood starts to flow.
"He's never going to tell you, you know." Carefully, deliberately, you throw the glass into the trash. You wouldn't turn your back on your father if it were really him, but you're strong enough, for now, to resist the urge when he's just in your head.
You don't answer, hoping he'll leave.
"Such an interesting young man, your Mr. Kent. He isn't yours, though, is he? Because if you're not using him, Lex -"
"You don't know anything more than I do."
"Ah, but Lex, son, I'm willing to do what it takes to find out. Jonathan Kent rejected your offer of help - but Martha Kent accepted my need for help."
You look around the office, but it's organized and pristine again. There's nothing to do with your hands. "My help wouldn't have threatened to rip their family apart."
"Yes, exactly. And that is why I'm going to have their secret, and you are not." Your father's not wearing his sunglasses; his eyes are merry. "It's your lack of commitment that makes you weak, Lex. You strike the blow, but you pull back instead of following through."
You've told yourself the same thing a thousand times, in your own voice. It shouldn't feel that much worse coming from an avatar of your father.
"You want him to offer it up to you," he continues. "You don't want to have to take it. But that's not how the world works, Lex, you only get to have what you can take, no matter how many times your farmboy tells you otherwise. He's leading you on. He's not going to put out."
You know that yelling "Shut up!" at the phantom is a lot crazier than just seeing him, so you keep your mouth shut. Your jaw aches as you turn on the titanium PowerBook that's supposed to resist being dropkicked across an office. It's booting too slowly for your taste.
When you look up, though, he's gone and you can breathe again.
You enter your password, and, after a bit, someone else's, and examine the extremely interesting results from a very special refinery that no one thinks has any relation to LuthorCorp.
You've been playing this all wrong, as if you could get away with simply not losing, as if you were a country resisting invasion with guerrilla warfare. Your father has no hesitation taking the battle home. You're going to push it to his home, instead of yours.
You're going to become strong, and neither of them will visit with their lectures and their superiority. If nothing else, you'll make him admit that you can't be controlled by his disapproval.
Because you know - he's never going to tell you.
King Lear, Act I, Scene 4: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." A tell, in cardplaying, is an unconscious gesture that reveals the strength (or weakness) of one's hand.
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