The Most Beautiful Woman

by Aelita

AN: I'm not sure if this really fits spike's Lex Qua Lex challenge ( but it was inspired by it.
I wasn't able to find the exact lacquer box but if you're interested there is a similar copy (Fedorov not Palekh) on Russian Collectibles ( Special thanks to the wonderful aelora for beta.

Lillian Luthor's memorial is a striking monolith of black and gray. Meticulously chosen classic Italian marble is complimented by the elegantly modern accents of steel and glass. It truly is a work of art.

Lex thinks his mother would've loved it.

His father has a contract with the most expensive floral shop in Metropolis. They deliver a fresh bouquet of her favorite white orchards every morning.

He thinks she would've loved that as well.

Dutiful son, he visits twice a year. On the anniversary of her birth and on the anniversary of her death.

He hates every second of it.

She is not there and he hates pretending that she is.

He doesn't believe in the afterlife. He has no doubt that when people die, they die. His mother is not watching him from above as Pamela tried to convince a shattered young boy, naively thinking that a little hope would make bearing the loss easier. He could laugh at the notion that her ghost is haunting the cold dreary castle where he resides at the moment or his father's pretentious penthouse.

She's gone.

Simple as that.

He misses her more than he thought possible.

Some people feel lucky to have walk-in closets.

Luthors have walk-in safes. With temperature, light and humidity regulators that would make MOMA jealous.

There is a Palekh box locked away in the back of the one inside the castle. It's a collectible item, and even though it's not particularly expensive, there is something extraordinary about it. The bright, rich colors on black lacquer make the scene from the Russian fairytale, *Fire-bird*, nearly come to life.

Sometimes, Lex touches the cool surface and wonders if the boy's hands scorch as they hold the blazing feathers.

He thinks that burning flesh might be an acceptable price to pay for touching a legend.

Ladispoli is a beautiful, tiny town a few miles away from Rome. Their villa was right on the edge of the city. After two weeks of visiting probably every beautiful sight in Italy, the three of them enjoyed the relaxing isolation of it. Most of the days were spent right on the beach, and it aches to recall how normal that felt.

And then one morning his mother decided to explore.

The air was humid and heavy and the heat felt almost punishing, as you moved further away from the cooling water of the sea. His mother insisted that he wore a hat, ignoring his protests.

He was mad at her for forcing him, and was sulking as only spoilt ten-year-old brats can.

When his father tried to tell him to suck it up, she forced him to wear one as well.

In those days, being on one side with his dad came a lot easier, and they pretended to ignore his mom's amused glances at their male bonding.

A small market full of people selling knick-knacks caught his mother's attention. She spied a set of hand-carved wooden chess and decided that she wanted to buy it as a present for her husband. After twenty minutes of mind-numbing Russian/Italian/English haggling that even left his father speechless, she had it in her hands.

The memories of his father's teasing and his mother's defensive monologues that haggling was something expected are slightly hazy-he wasn't as sickly as when he was younger but he could never handle the heat well. Lex remembers that she paid the seller twice what he was asking originally and the look the poor man gave her, clearly thinking her as insane. But he offered her the lacquer box as a present.

They were barely halfway back to the villa when the thunderstorm started, and were soaking wet in less than two minutes.

Thunderstorms in Italy are beautiful in their terrifying force.

His mother looked radiant and unearthly in the sharp flashes of lightning. Her hair looked as if it flamed up every time the lightning struck, almost matching in color the pretty bird on the picture. She laughed when he told her that and gave the box to him, saying that he deserved a present just as much as his father did.

Every time he touches it, he remembers how the hat chafed his ears, his mother's laugh and how it felt to have his father hold his hand.

Sometimes it helps.

There is a pair of chandeliers in his den. It took him years to find the exact copy but it was important and Lex is nothing if not persistent.

The day the originals were thrown against the wall in the penthouse, was the only time he'd seen his parents cry together. He doesn't know what the fight was about-though he has his suspicions-but he remembers his father being gone for over a month. He remembers the dark shadows underneath his mother's eyes, sounds of things breaking and he remembers hiding in his room.

He throws a temper tantrum like a pro. But he has nothing on his mother.

Sometimes bad memories work better.

He keeps a few pictures hidden inside the lacquer box.

There are some of his parents at official functions. Fake smiles, designer clothing, expensive champagne and his mother, the most beautiful woman in the room.

There are a few pictures that his mother had sent him from different cities she visited while on business trips with his father.

And there are some that Lex had captured himself with the camera he'd gotten for his seventh birthday. He likes those the best because they tell things about his mother that only a few chosen ones knew. Like that she tried to grow French lilacs on the balcony because they reminded her of her favorite perfume. Or that she could spend an entire weekend in bed reading science fiction to her son. And that she always danced like no one was in the room but her and Tchaikovsky.

His mother is different in each one. She called it a curse of being born a Gemini. His father said that it was a part of what made her so extraordinary.

In all of the pictures, Lex only sees his mother.

He isn't sure why they're here; he certainly didn't ask for them to be packed and sent to the castle. He barely remembered he bought them.

Farthest corner of the library, top shelf, left to right:

"Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease" by Dean Ornish; "Pathophysiology of Heart Disease: A Collaborative Project of Medical Students and Faculty" by Leonard S., "Harvard Medical School; Cardiovascular Diseases: Genetics, Epidemiology, and Prevention" by James J. Nora. About a dozen of others that he purchased over the course of two years since he learned of his mother's illness. The entire 1992/1993 run of "American Journal of Cardiology".

Lex doesn't think that many 12-year-olds know the difference between Verapamil, Diltiazem and Amlodipine, how each should be taken and the possible side effects.

He also learned that some drugs can keep even a kid awake for days, that having a family history of heart disease puts him into a high risk group, and that neither alternative nor experimental treatments work any better than traditional medicine.

He didn't consider his crash course in medical science an accomplishment and wasn't particularly proud. Weeks wasted on researching and learning and at the end, it didn't make any difference. He failed.

His perspective is more pragmatic now. He's glad he has the information; he prays that he'll never have the need for it.

Last book, a thick spiral-bound, slightly worn with use. *Cardiac Cuisine: A Guide to Healthy Eating* by Gail Underbakke.

If you want something done well, do it yourself. His father's voice and he'd learned to cook that year. He's proud of that, even though he never does it anymore.

It gave him an extra hour a day with his mother.

Sometimes, when it gets really bad, Lex locks himself in his room.

He takes out a small vial of Diorissimo.

And when the melody of Nutcracker fills the room, he closes his eyes and watches his mother dance.

These are the times when he can swear that she is right here, with him.

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