And I have to thank you guys for bothering to read this. I hope I can bother you a bit more to comment-- feedback makes me a very happy girl. Please be gentle, though; it's my first time. *dirty wink*
The Body in Falling Stars 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
"Don't be dead, Clark. Please, don't be dead."
On some level, Lex Luthor is aware that he is dreaming. He must be, because they've done this all before-- Riley's field, dark and rustling with the wind through the corn, everything etched in shadow under the cold, glittering stars. He can see Clark on the cross, and his mind rankles at the obvious symbolism, even as the flashlight falls from his hand. Because Clark isn't smeared with sloppy red paint, or pinned-- like a butterfly on a display slide-- by the ridiculous fragility of Lana's glowing green trinket. He's lanced right through the heart, blood so thick and dark it's brown, hanging limply on a crucifix composed of meteor rock itself. It glows, this deadly, otherworldly cross, bathing the field in a sickly, neon daylight, throwing the anguish on Clark's face into stark contrast. Lex is moving, he's running, but it feels like he's already too late, and all he can think about are those patronizing religious films from the fifties, technicolor like the rainbow of carnival balloons. And God, they always made their Jesus look so peaceful, regal as he endured mortal pain, but Clark's body is broken and sagging in ways that makes Lex taste his own sour tears.
"Don't be dead," he begs Clark, pulling at the cruel ropes even as he watches his friend's chest fail to rise. All is still and heavy in the Kansas night air, shadows moving in the corn without a sound. Underneath Clark's bronzed skin, his veins pulse and writhe an inky black.
"I wanted to tell you," Clark says, voice a whisper of intimacy against Lex's ear. The teen's body is still where it hangs, head bowed as if in shame, and his lips have not moved. Nevertheless, Lex feels a hand on his shoulder and he turns to find Clark standing before him, hands stuffed in his jean pockets, wordlessly accepting and painfully young. His wide, hazel-green eyes are pleading, filled with an affection that makes Lex at once long to draw near, and frantic to stay away.
They're in the caves now, surrounded by arcane drawings that pulse with secrecy and their own strange meaning. Lex can see Segeeth and Naman locked in battle, sapphire and blood red, neither holding back or giving quarter. Clark's gaze follows his own and a warm, strong hand comes to rest on Lex's shoulder.
"Something's coming." Such an earnest voice, and there are so many lies.
"This is a dream," Lex says with more relief than he'd like to admit. Clark's touch burns through him, passing through his skin and bone like sunlight through water, pleasure at reaching such depths. "You're not dead." He moves to embrace Clark, to clap him manfully on the back and linger just a moment, soothe his own subconscious back into dreamless sleep.
"Are you so sure of that?" His father, stepping out from behind a bend of rock, and the cave's many, vibrant paintings seem to hiss as one. "It's all written here." Lionel makes a sweeping motion with his hand, flint-rock eyes undimmed by blindness. "When you've deciphered it, you'll be able to destroy Clark Kent."
And Lex hates dreaming, hates the way it loosens his tongue and pries forth words that would not have come so easily in waking life. "I wouldn't do that." Couldn't. What a difference a letter makes.
"You already suspect how, son," Lionel continues, as he always does, without heed or care for Lex's words. "Just a shard, a splinter's worth, and you'd have him on his knees. You could cut him open and--"
"That's enough!" his voice is loud, growing and moving in the vast chamber. Strangely, he feels boxed in, claustrophobic, as if a thousand shapeless forms are pressing against him, pushing him in a current without mercy or thought. Clark's hand is still on his shoulder, gently squeezing, as if Lex is the one in need of comfort. "I won't let anything happen to you," he promises his young friend. "I've never wanted to hurt you." Clark's smile is beautiful, bringing Lex a prang child's longing, of watching the sheen of fireworks and wanting so much to catch a spark like a firefly in a jar. Above them, Naman and Segeeth ripple and move-- Lex can no longer tell if their embrace is one of anger or love. Their age mocks him, itching like the words 'preordained' and 'luthor' against his skin. "I don't want to be your enemy, I just want--"
Another voice. "To own him." Lex allows himself the liberty of a full sneer, as he never would if faced with the real Jonathan Kent. "I've known that from day one," Clark's father spits, face dark with anger. His voice becomes louder, the voices of countless strangers, all condemning him, all screeching that Luthor blood will out. Lex's own rage propels him forward, away from Clark, until he's dizzy and lost in a crowd of nothing.
He is dreaming, he is. Awareness is coming closer, filtering into him, like the return of sensation to frozen fingers. He can feel his body, stretched out between silk sheets, laying almost motionless under the castle's stone ceiling.
'Move!' he orders his appendages, slightly pleading and annoyed. 'Get up and go to the cabinet, take something to dull these dreams into unremarkable flashes. Sleep the sleep of the tortured but well-drugged.' There is no response, just his chest rising and falling, marking measureless moments after midnight, that feeling of suspension that comes before dawn. Fleeting, phantom touches come to him, the memory of Clark's friendly brushes, and all the little intimacies Lex has imagined. Warm, firm and gentle, they draw him downward, even as Lex sneers at himself-- at the clumsiness of his own subconscious, at the weakness of his need. He falls, a slow motion sigh, into lightless depths and the lovely, affectionate cadence of Clark's voice.
And. The crowd again, jostling, loud, moving as a composite entity, pulling Lex along with the tide. He fights it determinedly, so focused that it takes him a while to realize that the crush of bodies has thinned out, and that those around him carry an air of unfamiliarity that prickles along the back of his neck. Strangers in dress he's never seen before mill merrily around him. Women in long, liquid-fabric dresses, diamonds clustered like dewdrops on their skin; men in formfitting costumes of silver, black and bronze. Their faces seem human, but so strangely idealized, eyes wide and tilted, mouths full as they titter and sing in an offbeat, lyrical tongue. He's on a walkway, a wide stretch of quartz cutting across city streets, lit all along with bright lanterns and delicate, translucent garlands. For a long time, Lex is still, absorbing his surroundings the same way he absorbs all information-- with an endless, vigorous thirst. The night sky above him is filled with stars, but also three moons, hung like careless pearls above a glassy, twilight bay.
He wanders, seemingly unnoticed by those around him, or at least unremarked upon. The city is alive with celebration, with vibrant music and laughing song, all of it strangely human and yet _not_. He's in a world far beyond Metropolis' kin, with spires breathlessly tall, everything graceful and clean. Lex follows the walkway to a pavilion, where the couples dance like elegant clockwork, partnering the sexes in a mix both like and opposite. There's a want in the pit of Lex's stomach as he watches a male pair dance, eyes tracing the ease and intimacy of hands that rest and cradle, more meaningful than any of his adolescent adventures. He backs away a little, struck by the depth at which this reverberates, at the image of Clark burned behind his retina.
There's a scrape, and a sound of dismay-- Lex has backed into one of the many glass tables encircling the dance floor, and he finds himself face to face with a woman. She wears the veneer of humanity as they all do, with a carelessness that betrays their otherness, the wordless suggestion of something _more_. Motioning him to sit, she tilts her head, the expression on her face one of careful decision. Her long, dark curls are piled atop her head, strewn with gemstone flowers and other beautiful, nameless ornaments, but her eyes-- her eyes are brown and unadorned, bringing to mind...
It's gone, and she is speaking. Lex has heard so much of the alien speech tonight that his ears almost jar at the sound of English.
"Would you care for a game of chance?" she asks, raising a delicate eyebrow. On the table, there are five dice, inscribed with geometric characters like those Lex has seen in the cave.
"You speak English," he says, cursing the surprise that filters his tone. She laughs politely, as if he has said something funny. She does this in a way so many upper-class women on Earth do, with one hand raised in front of her mouth. The light of the lanterns catches on her silver ring-- he recognizes the enclosed 'S' symbol he's seen before. There's something familiar about her face, like running across the sister of someone you knew in school.
"Your world is so very far from mine, so different," she says effortlessly, as if this is part of some previous conversation. "The machinations of fate are so hard to divine, don't you think?"
"I really don't catch your meaning," he says, finding his footing. Even tone, cocktail chitchat. "This is a dream and, though this part is mildly entertaining, I'd rather my subconscious not have a chance at self-expression."
"You want control," she lifts the dice, cradling them in her palm, rolling them together. "My race is used to that. Control over the weather, over our environment, over our baser instincts. Fate is not about control. And yet... you yourself often make mention of destiny." She throws the dice, which tinkle lightly against the glass table, blinking up at him in unknown script.
"A destiny I craft for myself," Lex points out dryly. The woman seems to consider this, before moving her ringed hand over the dice. Suddenly, Lex feels he can read it, can understand that it means 'Kal-El'. Even as this comes to him, the letters change, curling into the common Roman characters, C-L-A-R-K.
The woman smiles at him, warm but somewhat impatient. "Was that day on the bridge of your own making?"
Images before Lex's eyes-- Clark's panicked face, the depths of the river, lips on his own, drawing him back to a life he'd treated so carelessly. He blinks them away, and finds himself sitting in the Talon, still opposite the strange woman and her dice. She looks so odd amongst the shop's pixish decorations, draped in shimmering emerald, full skirts pooling at her feet. They occupy a table near the wide window, and Lana Lang comes to serve them coffee, without batting an eye. The woman raises her cup, blowing on it gently before taking a sip. She makes a face.
"I hate her sometimes, you know." Lex is startled, following the woman's gaze past the pane of glass. Out in the street, Clark and his mother are loading the truck up with produce, Martha's smile bright as her son bends to give her a kiss on the cheek. Lex studies his companion's expression. "I should be grateful and, in so many ways, I am," she continues, slim shoulders quaking, as if she is cold. "She loves him so. I couldn't have asked for more. And yet, she gets to wipe away his tears, be gifted with his smiles-- so, at the same time, I hate her more than words can say."
Real emotion hits Lex, undimmed by the knowledge that he is dreaming. Just as Clark's helplessness brought true pain and fear, this woman's confession knocks the air from Lex's lungs. He believes her implicitly, the same way his gut told him to distrust Rachel Dunlevy. The lines of her face begin to make sense to him-- he knows she is Clark's mother, of flesh and blood. He looks up, words on his lips, though he isn't sure exactly what he's going to say. It matters not-- the woman is gone, a rush of green flittering out the door. He's on his feet, following her out onto Smallville's main street, which suddenly _isn't_, anymore.
He recognizes the walkway, even expects the three rising moons. But the city is dead now, dark and groaning like a house abandoned long ago. Just a ways away, Lex can see the strange woman standing with a man, two lone remnants amongst the lifeless towers and monuments.
"It will be alright, Lara," the man says, putting an arm around her diminutive form. "It is a primitive world, but one where he can do good." As Lex nears, he can see the man's eyes-- hazel, but without the warmth and simple good that makes Clark's gaze so precious. Lara turns to Lex, like an actor giving a soliloquy in a play, unnoticed by the man beside her.
"I must have calculated everything a hundred times," she tells him. "Azimuth, incline, light-years. Everything. Now all I can do is pray." She raises a single elegant finger, directing Lex's gaze to a small point of light arching up in the sky. "There he goes," she adds mournfully, and the ground begins to shudder in a terrible, endless quake. Lex feels himself falling, feels everything being burned away by painful green light, until he hits bottom sees only the darkness of space.
Stars; stars dimmed by the bustle and electric of Metropolis nightlife, cars and people and information rushing at unbelievable speeds. Lex is cold; his back feels as if he's been laid out on a slab of ice. Gingerly, he raises himself up onto his elbows, taking in his surroundings. It isn't ice, but marble-- he's laying in the narrow interior of the Luthor mausoleum, staring at the swirls of his mother's name, etched in unforgiving stone. There are flowers in the coffer, wilted roses, browning lilies, and the smell that overwhelms him is that of the hospital and death. His eyes burn painfully-- he doesn't know how long he remains sprawled there, breathing in and out, until he gives way to the tears he's never shed while waking. They burn through him, making him clean and ashen, sheltered where his father can not see. He rises, tracing the name 'Lillian', raking his nails across the 'Luthor'. The hated name melts under his hand, falling to the tomb's floor like the bodies of dead flies.
A sound breaks the silence of the grave-- shots being fired. Another, and another; Lex moves for the door, finding his way easily through the rows of granite and marble. Out on the city streets, crowds are gathered, screaming, clotted in expectation. They're waiting for something, Lex realizes, as he looks up to see the word 'Execution' emblazoned in bright lights on the LuthorCorp towers. He's ready to push his way through, but the crowd parts for him instead-- in the courtyard, he sees his mother, wearing her favorite light summer dress, despite the cold. Lex is running towards her before she even holds out her hand, feasting on the sight of her gentle smile and strawberry-blond curls. She embraces him, draws him further into the center of the chaos, each step reluctant, as if she doesn't want to expose him to what he is about to see.
"I love you no matter what, Lex," she says, hands on his shoulders. Tenderly, she cups his chin, directing his gaze away from her face-- his eyes find the victim of the crowd's irreverent glee, and he can not look away.
It's Clark-- it always was, always is, always will be Clark. Clark, strapped to the cross of meteor rock, sagging as if each breath is not worth the pain. Dimly, Lex registers the red and yellow 'S' symbol splashed across the young man's chest, before disgust joins the horror weaving between his ribs. He can see himself on the podium, calm and composed, attending his best friend's public execution with a blank face. He meets his own gaze and sees a quite desperation there-- he hates this man who can't or won't save Clark, even as he's dying inside. Revulsion and pain blossom along his veins, while a quite voice-- so like his father's!-- asks if Lex really though Clark's fate would be any different, having touched that of a Luthor.
"Look," says his mother, and he's in the cornfield again, back were this all began. Full circle-- he laughs inwardly, and it tastes like something bitter and dead. The crowd has faces he knows now-- Pete, Chloe, Lana, a sobbing Martha and stoned-faced Jonathan Kent. But Clark has not changed, still strung up, hurt and ashamed, for all to see. The sky is streaked with green, endless bright, verdant flashes that bathe them all in faint illumination.
"Would you care to play a game of chance, Mr. Luthor?" Lara steps out of the corn, immaculate gown and hair unfettered by her surroundings. "Or do you only play those with odds in your favor?" There's a look in her eyes, despite her imperious demeanor, a sort of pleading Lex almost understands. "My husband is a bit heavy handed," she says, coming to stand before her suffering child. She touches Clark's cheek, makes a soothing noise. "He had many concerns when plotting a course for our son. I had only one."
"The same concern I have for you," his own mother says, coming to stand beside him.
"The same desire I have for the child of my heart," Martha steps forward, eyes shimmering, taller and more earthy than Lara, but no less a mother.
"Will he be loved?" Lara asks.
There's a hand over Lex's mouth, harsh and uncompromising. This hand is his own, though aged and thick with a scent of blood spilled. There's a whisper, from both without and within, cautioning him not to say anything, to keep everything safely locked inside. It is the same strength of hurt that lashes each time Clark lies, or gazes after Lana, or begs Lex with his eyes to say it isn't so.
"Keeping secrets isn't personal," Martha says. "It's just our way of life."
"Do they matter so much?" his mother muses.
"You think knowing his secrets will help you own him," Lara states blandly. "You're afraid because you want him to be yours." Lex hates dreams-- hates their vulnerability, their willingness to speak the truth.
"But you belong to him, in turn," Martha points out, "so it's all even."
"None of us can save him," Lara says. "You can." She steps away from Clark, clearing the way for him. "Will you?"
Lex feels the arms of his double tight around him, hand like a gag. He fights them off as Clark's body seems to shudder, almost beginning to give up on itself.
"I can save him," Lex says, speaking to Lara, to Martha-- speaking to himself. He hurries forward, pulling the ropes free with his bare hands. Clark's weight is real and welcome against him-- he drags his friend away from the sick green rock, lowering him onto the dewy night grass.
Kisses him like benediction, just before he wakes up.
Comment, please? Pretty please? My muse doesn't bite... unless you ask nicely. ^_~