The Road to Hell
by jmarie79@ cal.berkeley.edu/
Standard Disclaimer goes here. Clark, Lex, Lionel, and the rest are all figments originally of someone else's imagination. Currently they are figments of my imagination. How can you own an idea? So sue me, I have no money.
"Whatever helps you sleep at night," Lex told me once, in response to my protest that I am not the bad parent he accuses me of being. In fact, he was exactly wrong. Nothing about Lex helps me sleep at night. The boy is trouble no matter how I look at it. Lex is consistently smarter and more creative than I expect, and this irks me though I should be pleased. I came here from the city expecting the same Lex as always: angry, defiant, lonely. I expected rages and women and loud music, all the excesses of youth and wealth and solitude. Instead the mansion echoes with my son's silence. In the few months he has lived here, Lex has learned self-discipline, and since the tornado, said discipline has been abruptly extended to me. His pride still prevents him from simply leaving a room when I walk into it, but let's face facts here: he avoids me. He has learned to eat silently, to walk softly, to breathe evenly no matter how upset he is. Talking to him gives me a headache, from staring into the darkness so hard. I never before wanted to see his face this badly. Lex is learning to keep his emotions out of his voice. Day by day he sounds a little less hateful, a little less bitter, a little less angry and lonely and tired. Everyday, he sounds a little bit less like my son, a person I have known all his life, and more and more like a stranger, someone I've never even seen. It occurs to me to wonder: if by some miracle my sight was restored, would I recognize him?
The emotions he allows me to see all begin with "a": anger, amusement, arrogance. Surely this cannot be all he feels, ever. Surely he must have good days and bad, like everyone else. Surely he must be happy sometimes, or tired sometimes; surely he must occasionally have one of those days in which absolutely everything goes wrong. Surely his control must slip sometimes.
I know I'm upsetting his routines. He thinks I'm doing it on purpose to upset him, which of course is true. He also thinks that is the only reason, which of course is not true, and an unusual omission for Lex, who is usually so thorough. Routine is the enemy of creative intelligence, and Lex's true potential will only be revealed if he is under enough pressure. I will admit that it may be hard to judge when the exact amount of pressure has been achieved. I want to bring him right up to his breaking point, but of course not beyond. I am not sure where this is. Living with me seems to be much more stressful for Lex than I had anticipated. He works odd hours. He drinks more than I would like. He does not sleep enough. He thinks that I do not notice these things.
Lex my son is brilliant. I named him for Alexander the Great, and so he shall be. He will shine like the sun, brighter by far than every other light in the sky. He can be ruthless when necessary, as I taught him; he can be kind when he chooses - I think he got that from his mother. People will want to worship him.
It won't be pleasant, of course. All those stars I can no longer see in my eternal night - let's not forget what they really are. A star is an explosion held together by its own gravity - a raging fireball seething on the knife-edge between dissolution and collapse. Burning is not a pleasant sensation.
"You have no idea what I'm capable of," Lex told me, thwarting my plans to force him to come back to the city with me; he thought I had no answer for that. In fact I do.
If I could say it, I would tell him, "You are right, Lex, as you nearly always are. I have no idea what you're capable of. I intend to find out."
Lex has made a friend here, the strangest thing I can imagine. A local teenager saved his life last year, pulled him out of his wrecked Porsche and pumped the water out of his lungs and has so far rejected Lex's attempts to pay him off. Out of Lex's dumbfounded gratitude and this high-school boy's incomprehensible kindness, they have forged the oddest thing: a real friendship, the first of Lex's life, I think. I have never seen the boy; I did not meet him before I was blinded. He is here today. I heard his quick light step in the hall; he greeted me politely, as he always does. His mother is my new executive assistant. She is intelligent and observant; her son likely resembles her in those respects. Mine does.
I follow the boy down the hallway to Lex's office and stop outside the door. The boy pushes the door open and pauses in the doorway; he has forgotten me already. He taps on the lintel to get Lex's attention and says, "Hey. Is this a good time?" I lean against the wall to hear Lex's response more clearly. He has not thought to sound-proof his office yet. He will.
"Clark!" Lex says. That's the boy's name, Clark. Clark Kent, how vanilla and all-American. His family lives on a farm outside of town. They are always in debt.
"You know you're always welcome," Lex is saying. The tone of his voice confuses me. For a moment I'm not even sure it's him. I try to collect my thoughts. The words are my son's; it's simply that they are absolutely true. This is not the polite, perfunctory tone he uses with staff and acquaintances - and me. Lex's voice rings with sincerity. He is delighted to see his friend.
After this, I half-expect some great emotional revelation, but none is forthcoming. Lex is still Lex, after all. Their conversation is light and meaningless: Clark has had a dispute with a friend at school. They chatter on and I try to listen to their voices instead of their words. Blindness has taught me many things, and one of these things is that Lex never says all that he means. He learned this from me, that you must always hold something back, that trusting people is never acceptable. It is a weakness.
In fact Lex is not saying much at all. Mainly he listens to this farm boy discuss his stupid adolescent problems. When he speaks his voice is faintly amused, just sarcastic enough not to disguise the warm affection under his dry words. My heart begins to beat faster. Lex has warned me away from the Kents more than once. He was not bluffing.
There's something else under Lex's calm words, a ragged weariness that Clark picks up on only a minute after I do. He's perceptive indeed, this farm boy, to hear Lex's carefully hidden exhaustion, and clever, too, to ask the correct question.
Not, what's wrong Lex? or, how is it with your dad? or, is something up at the plant? These are the words I might have expected, but what comes out of the boy's mouth stuns me, both the words and the tone. "Are you really going back to Metropolis for Christmas?" Clark says, and Lex sighs. Clark's voice is curious, skeptical, not quite casual and not quite concerned, either. It's the sort of tone one might use to discuss someone else's impending root canal, and in fact that's not all that far from how Lex seems to view family holidays like Christmas: excruciating but unavoidable, something to be gotten over with as soon as possible.
"Yeah," Lex says resignedly. "I haven't thought of a good enough excuse not to." He tells the truth to this boy? My son? In exchange for his life Lex hands out to this hick farmer the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but? I want to shout at him. He pumped the water out of your lungs, Lex, did you think your soul had to go with it? When someone gives you a gift, you take it and never look back! Gratitude is a weakness you are not allowed!
Damn it, he should know that by now.
I realize I am not paying attention and Clark is talking again. I have missed the beginning of his sentence and it seems to be an important one. "...worst that could happen, he cuts you off completely? I mean, it's not like you get along now," Clark says. He is beginning to sound exasperated. This is an argument they have had before. I expect Lex to answer sharply and am surprised again.
"I want the money," he says, very softly. The money, my money, his inheritance; good.
Clark asks the question I never want Lex to ponder. "How bad, Lex?" he says, and my heart nearly stops. You'd better have a good answer for that, I think at my son. "I mean, you're pretty rich on your own already," Clark continues. "Isn't there an end point? When is enough enough?"
Lex doesn't respond immediately. I am getting a headache again. I want to see his face. There is no such thing as enough, Lex. I want you to want everything. You are a Luthor: you can have it if you want it.
Lex sighs deeply, a tired, frustrated sound. "I need to sound-proof this room," he says thoughtfully. This is the best of all possible answers: clever and opaque. I begin to breath again.
"Oh jeez, Lex," Clark says. "Now you're getting paranoid." He pauses and I know Lex is smirking at him. "You shouldn't have to sell your soul just to get your inheritance. Money isn't everything."
Lex chuckles at this melodramatic statement, but the tone of his laugh is all wrong. Of course money isn't everything. Money is a means to an end. Power is everything. The laugh that Lex gives Clark is entirely too unguarded, and I suspect with sinking heart that it's accompanied by one of his very rare real smiles. Lex does not believe that money is everything, but power is not what he is thinking of. Oh, Lex, I tell him in my mind, you will never forgive me for this.
"My father is not Mephistopheles," my son tells his friend. He is amused. He is probably smirking again. "And Doctor Faustus was required to sign in his own blood." Smarter than I expected, damn damn and double damn. He sees it already. Lex places the emphasis on "own," although he does not add, "and not Marguerite's." Clark does not respond. Probably he has never heard of Goethe's opera.
I walk away before they can decide to go somewhere else. In five minutes I have learned more about my son than I have in the past three months, and maybe the past three years. He never lets his guard down around me, never. I am breathing hard and discover with a twinge that I am not sure is pride or shame that his self-control has surpassed mine at last. He is strong enough. He can stand it.
If I could speak the truth to my son, I would hold his hands and cry. I would begin and end with, I'm sorry. I would tell him, I love you, Lex, or I wouldn't be doing this. I know this will hurt you, that it will destroy what little relationship we have. It has to be done, Lex; in time you'll understand. I only want for you what every parent wants for his child: I want to give you the world. But I am not every parent, and it is within my power to hand it to you on a silver plate. I am only trying to give you the power to take it, to hold it, and the strength to stand the weight. It's lonely at the top, and cold, and you will be warmed by your own burning. Much of that burning will be fueled by hatred for me, and I know I will deserve it, for making you so lonely. Loving people is a weakness, Lex, and one that I am guilty of where you are concerned. Worse even than trusting people, loving them makes you foolish and careless and gentle where you should be ruthless. Worst of all weaknesses, needing people to love you puts you under their control. You cannot allow other people to have a claim on your soul, Lex. Love is a luxury you are not allowed. You cannot need someone else's affection, Lex, not even mine, and you cannot have Clark Kent's friendship, however freely offered.
The day Lex was born, the curve of his skull fit exactly into my cupped hand, a perfect match. Lex does not like me to touch him.
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