Nell can make Lana out easily among the other kids. She sits on the bench in the park and follows her down the slide, up the stairs again, up and all around the play structure, smiling and shrieking, pigtails bouncing all around.
Nell checks her watch and stands up from the playground bench, smoothing out her skirt. "Lana! Time to go!"
Lana separates herself from the throng of faceless kids, wanders back over towards Nell. "Is it time to go home?" she says, all wide-eyed and sad-sounding, and Nell smiles at her awkwardly.
"Not yet, honey. Are you hungry?" She takes Lana's hand as they walk to her car. Slowly, because Lana is half-skipping and pulling on her. Her hand is sticky, too. Nell doesn't know why.
"Yes," Lana says, around her thumb. That's a nasty habit, Nell's heard; it causes overbites, or braces, or something.
"How do you feel about McDonald's?" Nell says, in the cheeriest voice she can manage.
"Yay!" Lana says. "Can I get a Happy Meal?"
Good aunts buy their nieces happy meals, Nell is pretty sure. And they sit across from them in ugly fast food restaurants and watch them eat chicken nuggets and get honey mustard sauce their faces and the front of their overalls.
"When I get home, I'm going to have a cookie," Lana says seriously, talking with her mouth full.
Nell has the feeling she's supposed to say something about that, but the moment passes, and she just says, "That's nice," and takes another sip of her coffee.
Lana is practically bouncing during the car ride. "He's going to be so jealous! I got to see the zebras and the monkeys and play on the swing and have a happy meal."
"You had a nice day, honey?" Nell says. She feels a kind of warm feeling all through her. It's ... nice. Maybe this is being maternal; Nell's never really been familiar with the feeling.
Nell made a lot of promises to Laura before she died, but there are the things you promise and the things that are right for everybody.
When they pull up at the Kents' place, Martha's already waiting outside the door, Clark half-hiding behind her leg.
"Hello, Nell," Martha calls.
"Hello, Martha," Nell says back, trying for the elaborately kind and civil voice she can imagine, as she unbuckles Lana from the car.
Lana slips out of her grasp as soon as she can, and stumbles towards the house. "Mommy! Clark! I went to the zoo and the penguins and the slide and the playground and I had chicken nuggets!"
Martha scoops her up into her arms and picks her up. "Was she any trouble, Nell?"
"Clark, look what I got!" Lana says, leaning over Martha's arm to show Clark her toy. Clark takes it from her hand, silently, and turns it around in his own. "It's a car, but it turns into a monster that eats people!" Clark looks at it suspiciously.
"No trouble at all, Martha. She was a total doll," Nell says.
"Mommy, can I have a cookie?" Lana says.
"Just one before dinner, Lana. And say goodbye to your aunt, and say thank you for taking you out."
In one big rush of words, Lana says, "Bye, Aunt Nell. Thank you for taking me out."
Nell kisses her on the cheek. "I'll be back next weekend, okay, sweetie?"
Lana just nods before Martha puts her down and she and Clark run off to play.
As she drives back to her house, Nell is a little relieved that the weekly visit is over. Being a good aunt is exhausting.
Pamela sits at the table in her room. The fork at her place is smudged, she notices. She frowns at it and rubs at it with a napkin till it looks acceptable. Then she leans back in her chair and folds her hands in her lap and waits.
The knock on the door comes earlier than expected; there are still five minutes left before the meeting time they agreed on.
It's an easy strategy, really; an exceptionally simple way of throwing the other person off their guard, of gaining the stronger ground. It loses some of its effectiveness in this situation, though, since she's already been sitting at the table, waiting, for ten minutes.
Pamela sets down the teaspoon she'd been fiddling with. "Come in."
"Good evening, Ms. Jenkins," Lionel says, and he closes the door behind him with a loud click. "Quite a charming place you have here." He looks around the room with an observing eye, and Pamela winces inwardly when he picks up the photograph on the chest of drawers closest to him.
"Please sit down, Mr. Luthor," she says, with her coolest tone.
He moves his glance back to her at her speech. "I don't imagine this should take very long. Surely you've made the right decision by now."
"I have, indeed. I don't see any reason we shouldn't discuss like civilized adults." She meets his eye calmly. He smirks as he slips into the chair across from her.
"If you think a tea service is going to change my mind, Ms. Jenkins, you are severely underestimating me."
She smiles and says nothing as she pours tea into first his cup, and then her own.
"My wife had many odd quirks during the last years of her life, and I chose to indulge them for her sake. Now that she is gone, however, there is no need for such compromises." Lionel raises his eyebrow as he leans in closer. "I want you out of this house and away from my son by noon tomorrow."
"I understood your demands when you announced them earlier, Mr. Luthor," Pamela says. She holds her cup between her hands, warming them.
He leans back again and takes another swallow of tea as he looks around the full room. "You have quite a bit of packing to do, I see, and not too much time in which to do it."
"I don't think you have to worry about me." Pamela sets down her cup back on the table and watches him carefully. "In general, I find that the two of us agree on very little -- though I do think you'd agree with me on that fact. Our ideas of what is right and proper in any number of situations differ a great deal."
Lionel sighs dramatically as he sets his empty cup down with a clink. "Do get to the point of this rendezvous, Ms. Jenkins."
"I think you will find I am doing so." She scoots her chair out from the table and stands up. "As I said, we very rarely agree on anything. Yet I must agree with your statement of just a few minutes ago. Now that Lillian is gone, we have no need for compromise." She leans against the edge of the table, closer to Lionel. "I loved your wife and I love your son a great deal, Mr. Luthor. More than blood. And if you think I am going to walk away and let you do whatever the hell you want to that boy, you should think again."
"So you're willing to take full responsibility for Lex's disinheritance, then, I take it?" Lionel says quietly.
He has always frightened her to a certain extent, but she finds now that the moment is close, the revulsion and disgust are taking center stage. As if to allow her to do this properly.
"No, Lionel," Pamela says, "I am not."
Enough poison will off even a Luthor, and as she watches the first effects of the tea begin to strike, she hopes that Alexander will be allowed to visit her in prison.
He looks smaller in the hospital bed. More like a little kid, and Clark doesn't really like looking at him, because, well. You can tell he isn't going to last much longer.
"Clark," Ryan says, and Clark looks up from one of Lex's Warrior Angel comics.
"What is it, buddy?" He straightens up in his chair and looks over. Ryan's just laying there, tiny and weak... "Do you need me to get you something?"
"No, just -- Will you come sit with me?" Ryan says quickly, all in one breath, like he's afraid Clark's going to say no.
Clark smiles in a way he doesn't think is very comforting and comes to sit at the edge of the bed.
"What is it?" he says again, and Ryan flinches a little. Clark starts to move away, but Ryan grabs his hand and clutches it close.
"It hurts, Clark. Just stay here with me, okay?"
And -- Clark can do that. Even if he can't do anything else, he can sit here with Ryan and hold his hand. "Sure, Ryan."
Ryan closes his eyes, and doesn't loosen his grip. Clark just sits there watching him, and feels awkward. He lets his vision turn to x-ray for a moment, but he can't tell which is the bad part, the hurting part, the going-to-die part.
"You can't hear it," Ryan says, and he sounds kind of sad.
Clark doesn't know what to say to that, but Ryan's opened his eyes again, and he looks serious and kind of desperate, so Clark leans back against the pillows with him and squints and tries to concentrate.
Beside him, Ryan squeezes his hand tighter. "Just ... listen. You can hear them if you try. I know you can."
He sighs. "Ryan, I'm not--"
"They're everywhere. And they don't stop, ever. And just..."
Clark sighs again. "I don't..." He starts to pull away, get up from the bed, and stops.
Ryan's face looks shocked and happy. "You do, Clark. Don't you?"
It's not very loud. It's barely there at all, even, and maybe he wouldn't notice if Ryan wasn't making him, but it's there. Like tiny little whispers at the back of his mind, all merging together, and the only voice he can make out is Ryan's.
I knew you could do it, Clark.
And then: *It's less lonely when I'm not the only one."
"Ryan," Clark says. He feels nauseated, almost; violated. So many people inside him.
"It's okay, Clark," Ryan says, and then, "Will you bring me another comic book?"
Clark blinks back the itchiness in his eyes, and says, "Sure, buddy."
After a few minutes, he leaves to go to the bathroom and throw up. When he comes back, Ryan seems to be sleeping; his voice is muted, weird and jumbled. Clark sits back down again with another of Lex's comics and tries to concentrate.
He's not sure how much later it is when he notices something change, but he looks up and over at Ryan. There's something -- Ryan's voice is gone, he thinks.
Then the machines notice, too.
"Shhh," Lex says. "You'll wake him up." He nudges Lucas out of the way with his elbow, and Lucas grunts and pushes him back. Lex glares. "Shut up."
"You're hogging all the room. It's my brother, too."
"Not really," Lex says, and he moves again, to get the best position at the edge of the cradle. Lucas arranges himself to look around Lex's arm, but Lex ignores him.
"It's kind of ugly," Lucas says after a minute.
"Shut up," Lex says automatically.
"No, I mean. It's all, like, wrinkly. And red. And funny-looking." Lucas snorts. "Kind of like you. With more hair."
Lex thinks he looks like their mother. He can't see Dad in him at all. He reaches out his hand and touches the baby's cheek. It's smooth and soft, and the baby makes a tiny sound and shifts a little beneath his hand. Lex closes his eyes and breathes in the smell of baby powder.
"Let me," Lucas says loudly, pushing him again. Lucas is strong, even if he is four years younger, and Lex stumbles away and trips. When he gets back up, Lucas is on his toes, leaning over the cradle.
"Get away from there."
"I'm not hurting it."
"Don't touch him." Lex comes back close, a little worried. It's not like he's ever been stupid enough to trust Lucas.
Lucas glances back over at him, then back to the crib. He smiles widely, then pokes the baby hard. "You're such a jerk, Lex. I'm not doing anything to it." He pokes again with his sharp little finger, and the baby curls away from him and makes that little whimper that he makes right before he starts crying for Mom or Pamela.
Lex freezes for a second -- they're not supposed to be here, they're going to get in trouble -- and Lucas's eyes go wide. "Be quiet, you little freak," he whispers, and he puts his hand over the baby's chin and mouth and squeezes.
It takes Lex a second to react, but then, "You little fucker," Lex says, and Lucas is already on his toes, so it doesn't take much to knock him over, and Lex is on top of him. And Lex is four years older, stronger, taller, and he isn't getting through school like this without learning how to fight, that's for sure. He did promise his mother that he wouldn't fight with Lucas anymore, but they're already in trouble anyway, because the baby is screaming away, so Lex might as well get as many good punches in now as he can. "Fucker," he says again, and Lucas is twisting and gasping beneath him.
Lex can hear him over the baby. "Stop it! Lex, jeez, it was just a joke!"
He doesn't stop until the light clicks on, but when it does, he stares down at Lucas and rolls off in one quick movement.
"What are you boys doing?" Pam says as she walks over to the crib, and Lex looks down at the carpet. His knuckles hurt.
"Lex was beating me up," Lucas says, with a sad wounded puppy voice.
"Lucas was hurting the baby," Lex says.
Pamela just sighs as she picks up the baby and starts rocking him. "It's almost midnight. You both should be in bed right now, and you know better than to bother Julian." She rubs slow circles on the baby's back.
Lucas scowls, and Lex feels like a jerk, but neither of them say anything.
"You guys go to your room. I'll come by in a few minutes and check up on you."
They both mumble something like "Yes, Pamela" and are quiet most of the way to their room.
When they get to the doorway, though, Lucas gives him a sidelong glance and says, "It's just a baby, anyway, Lex. I don't know what your problem is, freaking out like that."
"He's my brother," Lex says shortly, and he faces the wall when he climbs into bed.
"So am I," Lucas mutters quietly, but Lex hears him.
"No, you're not," he says, and Lucas doesn't say anything in return.
When Lex wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, the other bed is empty. When he wakes up again in the morning, it's to his mother's scream, coming from the nursery.
She pulls away from the kiss, licking at the sweat on Lex's neck, and he moans, low in his throat, leaning back against the pool table.
"Oh god, Desiree..."
She smiles to herself then, and sucks a mark onto Lex's throat.
"Desiree, Desiree," Lex says, sounding like a man drowning. He pulls her head back up to look at her. "God, I love you. I never thought..."
He doesn't finish his sentence and she doesn't say anything in return, just leans in for another kiss and releases her pheromones in a beautiful drop.
It's satisfying, always has been. Her husband -- such a schmuck.
"Lex," she whispers, after the kiss is over, "I want you to do something for me."
Lex blinks at her, and rubs his hand over his head. He looks somewhat absent. "What is it?"
"You would do anything for me, wouldn't you?"
He blinks again, and there's the slightest of pauses before he says, "Of course. Anything."
"This is all ... pointless. It doesn't matter. None of it." She moves her hand slowly down his chest, rubbing against the silky fabric. "You should just go into your room. Get that handgun you keep in your drawer. Take it out." Lex is hanging on her every word, and she lowers her voice again. "Shoot yourself in the head."
She can almost feel the weight of his gaze. He's resisting, still. "Desiree, I don't think--"
"We could do it together. First you, and then I'll do it later. Together forever." A slow rub and squeeze down his arm, and she presses herself against him and look up into his eyes. "Please. For us..."
She kisses him again, and she can feel the exact moment when he gives in, and he's gone.
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