Not finished; there's another section to come, but I hope this part's in good shape. Title: A Sort of Walking Miracle
A Sort of Walking Miracle
Eventually, she goes to Lex.
It’s not as if she has a choice. After Clark dies, the Fortress doesn’t so much die itself as slowly decompose. She’d always hated the loneliness anyway, and she’s back in the States before the sensor-screens fail and a brace of scientists, surrounded by soldiers with guns, descend on the remains. She sends the antigravity sled that brought her home off to bury itself in the Gulf of Mexico and accesses her old accounts.
The money’s been piling up, but not quite as fast as inflation has chipped at its value. That’s not what sends her to Lex; she knows how to work, and even in this brave new society there is still room in the service professions.
But she can’t work without an identification card, and the one she has, the one that says she was born in 2010, would be unconvincing. It’s so old, in fact, that she has to wait while the public information kiosk downloads software that will allow it to read the card; it’s no longer a standard format.
There’s surely a cash economy somewhere in Metropolis, where no one cares about identification cards or names or, really, anything but survival, but it’s been too long for her to be confident she can find and navigate it, and the last thing she can afford is to be picked up in a security sweep.
So she goes to the current LuthorCorp building. The ID readers at the doors are automatic and see nothing particularly disturbing in the visit of a near-centenarian, since her facial structure still matches the biometric data on the card. She’s learned that computers are safer than people because computers do what you tell them, and only what you tell them.
At the front desk, she speaks to a person, a young (but then they’re all young) blonde with her hair fashionably long, sleeked back into four parts too elegant to be called pigtails.
“My name is Martha Kent,” she says. “I’d like to see Mr. Luthor.”
Here’s where it could go wrong. She doesn’t doubt that Lex has some system designed to bring him any mention of certain names, but if the girl isn’t well-trained enough she might just laugh it off. It is, after all, preposterous to think that a woman off of the street would have anything Mr. Luthor might want to hear.
That’s what the smirk on the girl’s face says, but she repeats the name into her computer anyway.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Kent, but –“
The automatic brushoff cuts off and her face is stunned blank, just for a second. She recovers well; Lex’s personnel selection skills have improved substantially over the years. “If you’ll have a seat, Ms. Kent, someone will be down from Mr. Luthor’s office shortly.”
She sits, though she’s not tired from the long walk from her flophouse hotel to the center of Metropolis. Video screens scroll the news of the day at her, but she’s not really watching. Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail. It’s just like Metropolis was when she was a kid, now that the big post-Superman jump in the crime rate has mostly dissipated.
A large man in a suit that nearly hides his bulk approaches her. “Ms. Kent?” His voice is cultured, not at all goon-like. “If you’ll come with me?” He holds out a badge that says “Visitor” for her to put on her jacket.
She follows him back into the building, past further screening devices and to an elevator that requires both a handprint and a retinal scan. She has to remind herself that this isn’t Lex’s paranoia; the procedure would be the same if she were making a sales call on a buyer for the Gap. Living in the Fortress, she’d been able to forget a lot of the details of the new world, but she needs to pay attention now.
Up, up, up they go. The LexCorp building will always be the tallest in Metropolis. The office into which they are decanted is clean and spare, silver and white and black like something out of Kubrick’s 2001.
Lex comes through the far door. His hair is dirty blond now, shading to brown at the roots. It changes his face, makes him look less vulnerable than he seemed when they met. She wonders whether it’s bioengineered to grow from his head or just a great wig. He looks as good in this year’s wide-lapelled, shiny suits as he did in the fashions of 2003.
His eyes, well, his eyes are just the same.
“Martha,” he says warmly. “Joseph, you may leave us.”
Joseph raises his eyebrows, but exits through another door. Lex can record everything that goes on here, but he has an interest in keeping this secret.
“Hello, Lex,” she says, realizing that she’s been staring.
“I use Alexander, actually. Alex to my friends.” His smile’s self-mocking. “Lex was my grandfather’s name.”
She thinks he wants her to play, so she gives it a try. “Your grandfather’s name was Leonard. He ran a sporting-goods store about eight blocks from here. I got my gym shoes there.”
The smile twists. “Ti theleis, Martha?”
It’s not Spanish, which she learned during the years she worked in day care. “What?”
“What can I do for you?”
He’s too fast, which in theory is no surprise but is difficult to adjust to in practice. “I – I need an identity I can use.”
Lex nods. “I can do that. I’ll give you a line of credit, so you don’t need to worry about working.”
“Thank you.” She’s shaking, a little. Lex is supposed to want something in return. “Ah – how have you been?”
He gestures her over to a seating area and sprawls on a pristine white couch as she perches on a nearly transparent chair.
“I’ve been well, of course. Busy introducing myself as the heir to the empire after my secluded youth. I’m thinking of following my grandfather into politics, once I get LexCorp accommodated to the transition. It’s a good time to restructure the company, since everyone expects an upheaval anyway and they don’t understand how much I know.”
“Politics? Isn’t it in the Constitution that you can’t be president more than twice?”
He leans forward. “It’s said that no man steps into the same river twice, because it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. While the constitutional lawyers likely don’t agree, there’s a body in Lex Luthor’s grave, and it would hold up to DNA testing. Not that it will come to that.” His voice is low and calming; even at the first, he could control his voice so that it could control other people. It had taken him half a century to get his expression as well-mastered.
Despite herself, she’s relaxing into the chair. It’s amazing how much seeing him brings back, as if they were old soldiers remembering the war. She wants to trust him, because then she’ll be able to share. “How did you get hair?” she blurts, surprising a real smile out of him.
“Somatic gene manipulation,” he says, running a hand through the short, soft-looking hair. It makes him look young. Younger. “There were rumors that I’m a clone of my father, but my father’s hair was red, and you know what kind of difference that makes in how people see you.”
She nods. She was a brunette for most of the twenty-first century, after they figured out what was happening, or not happening, because it was less conspicuous. “I feel like my hair shouldn’t grow any more,” she admits.
“That’s vampires,” he admonishes, and she’s leaning in as much as he is. “It would be easier if there were rules, though. My father would get a kick out of my having to sleep in a box of my native soil.”
“I never wanted this,” she says, her voice full of the bitterness she could never show to Clark.
Lex shrugs. “Be careful what you wish for.”
“I didn’t wish for this! That was Clark and Jonathan.”
“Really?” He steeples his hands together and rests his elbows on his knees, now looking like a grad student minus only the coffee and cigarettes. “I always assumed you were like me, that you’d wished for perfect health and the meteors gave it to you. I was just lucky that part of my wish was to grow up strong or I’d be in a cage somewhere.”
She shakes her head. “No, it was much later. When I was sick from meteor dust and pregnant with Mary.” The name hangs in the air like toxic fog. She hasn’t said it in years.
Lex’s eyes grow distant as he searches his memory. She’s found that she has to reread her journals to remember back that far, except for the biggest events. She can’t remember Jonathan’s face without a picture, and she feels certain that the pictures she has don’t show what he truly looked like. Lex nods as if he’s recalled the incident, so maybe his memory is better.
“How did they do it?”
“The ship,” she says, watching his detached, fascinated expression.
“But why didn’t it heal everyone in the hospital? Helen –“ He stops, looking like she felt when she said her daughter’s name.
“I don’t know. Maybe it just did what Clark and Jonathan wanted.” Why would he think she’d have answers? He was the great scientist.
Lex leans back, giving her space. It doesn’t matter; his presence fills the room so that he’s up against her skin. Lois Lane refused to shake his hand, saying that he had the power to cloud men’s minds, and that was a long time ago. She’s not sure if there’s an upper limit to charisma, but Lex is probably going to find out.
“Stay here,” he says, wide-eyed and sincere. “Stay with me.”
She’d spent weeks after Clark died, staring at the walls and wondering whether she could kill herself. She was less afraid of Hell than of what would happen if it didn’t work.
No mother should have to bury her children. Looking at Lex, she thought he didn’t want to bury anyone else either.
“I don’t –“
“I miss them,” he says, so low she has to lean in to hear him. “I used to be a person, Martha. When we met, I was different. Stay with me and help me remember.”
Are those tears on his lashes? “I don’t know if I want to remember.”
“Then stay with me and help me forget.” His eyes are the thin blue color of the sky in the long Antarctic mornings.
She can’t go back to the isolation she’d suffered in the Fortress. She’d tried not to let Clark see how hard it was, with only him for company, though she suspects it was one of those things they both knew and never discussed. Like Lex, in fact.
“I’d like to go back to school, I think,” she says. “I could update my resume.”
Lex smiles at that and reaches out for her hand. His touch resonates through her body. “I’ll have it taken care of.” He runs his thumb across the back of her hand, and she gets the feeling he’s checking to see if she’s real.
Lex installs her in one of the LexCorp penthouses. There are four, one for each corner, and Lex has had them decorated in some idiolect of his that she suspects has something to do with guardian angels and cardinal directions. She suspects this because he mentions, once, that Kal-El means something like “God’s swiftness” in Hebrew, and he never mentions Clark so it must be meaningful. It’s not as if she doesn’t have the time to do a little research.
She’s in the west penthouse, which is air and Raphael, whose name means “healing of God.” The décor is light and cheery, country farmhouse changed just enough not to look ridiculous with a floor-to-ceiling view of downtown Metropolis in the background. Lex is in the south, which is fire and Michael, whose name is a war cry. Who is God?
His rooms are dark wood and gold, and there’s a fireplace, which is fairly self-indulgent considering the cost of the air scrubbers hidden in the chimney, but, as Lex never ceases to remind her, he’s got nothing but money. Other than time.
She takes business courses at Met U and befriends some of the older students, people looking for second careers, and pretends she’s in the same situation. At night, Lex quizzes her about her classes, claiming to be seeking cutting-edge insights.
After her daily reports, he usually lectures, the topics ranging from Cretan navies to the invention of television to minke whales to the oeuvre of Duran Duran (that’s one night, and he insists there’s a logical connection, but if so it’s not Earth logic, which for obvious reasons she doesn’t say). Lex wouldn’t call them lectures, but since her part requires only listening, nodding, and occasionally asking clarifying questions, she feels entitled. There’s years of these things bottled up inside of him, and new ones added all the time.
She guesses that his paranoia has kept this side of him silent for years, despite the procession of beautiful, intelligent people through his life. The fear not so much that they might wonder how he knew so much, because he spouted the same kind of bull back in Smallville, but that, one by one, the lectures reveal what Lex is, how he thinks. Each night is a dot of paint on a wider canvas that, viewed from a distance, shows a terrifying and awesome new world. It’s like being Scheherezade, in reverse.
And joke as she will, Lex is easy to watch, easy to hear.
He tells her how he erased her earlier incarnations, digitally altering the various pictures of her that had appeared for one reason or another in the Daily Planet, back when she was her father’s daughter and then again when she worked for Lionel, and the Smallville Ledger. He hasn’t had the hard copy changed, but who’d ever look when the digital versions were readily accessible? He could have gone all the way, he explains, but there are two kinds of risk in any cover-up: the risk of discovery of the initial secret, and the risk that someone will get suspicious about the cover-up itself. To alter hard copy would require him to let more than a few people know that there was some reason to change those picture, and each person risked blackmail, betrayal, or disclosure through sheer inadvertences.
“What about the changes in the databases?” she asks.
“I took care of it myself,” he says, pouring her a drink, and it’s ten years before she thinks that “it” might not refer to the hacking. Then he segues into the decline of the Democratic Party, the economic ascendance of Brazil, and women’s hemlines.
She thinks she might be addicted to his presence. Clark had said, kneeling with his head in her lap as he cried, that Lex would never change. But Clark hadn’t known how long never was going to be, and Lex is a little bit new every day.
He takes her to his mother’s grave, and to the nearby headstones of his former bodyguards, Mercy Graves and Hope Izquierda. She’s surprised that he still leaves flowers for them. “These were the only women who ever knew me and still believed in me,” he tells her, and she wonders whether it’s a plea or a warning. Lilies for Lilian, apple blossoms for Hope, and verbena for Mercy. Lex doesn’t know how to speak without symbols, as if without ritual he’d collapse in on himself. As if metaphor itself is an iron maiden, holding him trapped and bleeding and, most important, upright.
There are no flowers for Lionel’s grave. Sometimes, Lex leaves an apple there.
The sunflower that graces LexCorp’s current logo stands for false riches, she learns. Lex thinks he’s mocking the world that way, but the Van Gogh hanging in his foyer says otherwise.
Lex is talking about muons, strange attractors, the quantum theory of consciousness, and the mating habits of bonobo apes when she thinks, I want to fuck him.
It’s not that the thought hasn’t nibbled at the edges of her awareness before. He seduces everyone he meets, becoming whatever it is that a person most wants. Even the ones who hate him – perhaps especially those people – respond to his overtures, unable to explain it to themselves. From what she’s seen of the aftermath when it does culminate in physical encounters, he’s not advertising anything he can’t give. But she’s never put it to herself in such crude terms.
She feels herself flushing, her clothes too tight as Lex recites a list of reasons bonobos had sex. “... To defuse aggression, to alleviate boredom, to improve social bonds – there’s no problem that good, friendly sexual encounters can’t solve. Bonobos were the most peaceful of our nearest relatives, and primatologists think that sexual openness is the reason why. It makes you wonder whether we humans didn’t take an evolutionary wrong turn.”
He looks at her, which is her cue to react, but she’s just staring at him, her mouth open a bit, breathing too fast.
It takes him a minute, and then he blinks, and if he smiles she swears she’s going to kill him. It’s got to be possible. But he doesn’t; he looks down for a moment, puts his hands in his pockets, takes them out, and walks over to the couch.
He sits beside her without a word, and she’s afraid to turn her head.
“Martha,” he says, his hand brushing hair away from her cheek. She’s trembling. It’s been so long since anyone touched her in any but the most perfunctory of ways. Longer still since it was anyone other than Clark.
At last she turns, and his eyes are clear, his expression hopeful. After the slightest of hesitations, he leans in and kisses her.
Her eyes drop shut in relief, and she kisses him back, pulling him half on top of her, squirming underneath so that she’s half-stretched out on the couch. She’s making embarrassing, petulant little sounds of want. Lex pulls away just long enough to say, “Shh, it’s all right,” before he brings his mouth down on her again. He’s hot and salty, with a hint of wood from his after-dinner drinks. His hands, his genius hands, unbutton and unclip, but she’s clearly so desperate that he sticks his left hand up her skirt, not bothering to help her shimmy it off, and presses against her panties.
She gasps and writhes, motor control gone, off hiding with her dignity. Lex moves his mouth down her throat and between her breasts, still rubbing his fingers over her. He licks a line around the curve of one breast, making a humming sound of appreciation as he breathes in her scent. She throws her head back, slamming it into the padded arm of the couch, and comes, the world dissolving into brightly colored static.
Lex is tugging at her skirt now, and she raises her hips so that he can get the rest of her clothes off. She should reciprocate, but it’s very sexy to watch him unbutton his shirt, toss his cufflinks aside, and open his pants. She licks her lips at the sight of his well-muscled arms, so pale from being hidden from the world.
Then he’s naked too, and pressing her knees up so that she’s almost doubled over, spread and vulnerable. He doesn’t make her wait long; his cock is stretching her almost before she has time to feel exposed.
He holds himself up, arms braced at her sides, and she turns her head and closes her eyes so she doesn’t have to see him watching. The sensation is overwhelming, her body still abuzz with the aftershocks of the first orgasm. The smell of him and of sex, sharp and wet.
Her body is shaking, she can’t tell whether in pleasure or in pain, only that if it lasts much longer she’s going to scream. Lex makes little soothing noises, his hands stroking long lines down her skin, from shoulder to breast to waist, ending with a squeeze to her hip and then back again. She wraps her hands around his shoulders and spreads her legs, trying to get closer. His mouth is hot on her neck, nipping at her because it doesn’t matter if he leaves marks. The spring inside her is tightening, drawing inward until it breaks, she breaks around and under him, her cries high and strange in her own ears.
Lex groans and grabs her waist, lifting and turning until he’s sitting on the couch and she’s sitting on him, his face against her breasts. His breath paints the sweat-slicked valley between her breasts with more heat and moisture, and her legs are so shaky that he has to help her surge up and down, skin sliding against skin.
“Martha,” he says, tearing his mouth away from her breast, “Martha, look at me.”
So she does, opens her eyes and looks down at his face, finally as fascinated with her as she with him. He looks no older than he did nearly a century ago. He will always be the younger man. His eyes, the color of the sky on the horizon moments before dawn, are fixed on her face. It’s like being in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle.
When he looks away, it’s to grab her closer and press his head against her breasts as he shudders out his own release.
They lie on the couch until the room gets too cold for her sweat-cooled skin. When she shivers, he gets up and leads her to the bedroom. The Metropolis skyline observes their nakedness through the floor-to-ceiling windows, as if they were a postlapsarian Adam and Eve, shameless.
The sheets of Lex’s bed are cool and smooth, a faint lavender that makes his skin glow, the electricity that rushes through his veins made visible. The sheets warm soon enough with their body heat, and she lies on her back, alternately staring at the pristine white ceiling and trying to think.
The ceiling is blank, but her thoughts swirl like tattoos of black ink. She can’t make herself believe that this was a mistake. She wants to touch so badly, and she finds herself appalled by the youthful ignorance of the people – be honest, the *mortal* people – she meets in her ordinary, pretend life. Maybe this had to happen; maybe anything that can happen, will. Forever, she’s discovered, isn’t a promise. It’s a threat.
Lex is watching her, she knows, and she doesn’t turn to look at him, but she doesn’t pull away or tug the sheet over her chest, either, and that’s as much as he’s going to get.
There was a movie she saw once, a war film. The lieutenant is leading his troops into the last, unwinnable battle, the one they’ll win against all odds and with grevious losses. He barks a few orders, some last encouraging, manly words. At last he says, “C’mon. You wanna live forever?”
Whatever the answer is, part of it is: not alone.
“Martha,” Lex says, trailing two fingers down her cheek, “did you ever –“
Apparently there are things even Lex can’t bring himself to say. “Sleep with your father?” she asks.
He swallows. “Yes.”
“If I had, what would you think of this?” She gestures down where their bodies are tangled together.
“Wouldn’t be the first time – though, clearly, the last,” he says, as the thought occurs to him. “It was – something of a game to him, I think, and on occasion I turned the tables. There was a period during which I only slept with men, because he didn’t bother with them. But I like women too much to make that a long-term policy.”
Because it’s honest, even though it’s no answer, she gives him honesty in return. “I never did. I thought about it, but – I loved Jonathan too much to risk it.”
He nods. “I guessed as much. If you’d – succumbed, I suspect he would have found a way to make it public, to do the most damage. I think – he admired you, in his way.”
She considers this. It matches her memories. There had been hints, not very subtle, that the position of Mrs. Luthor was available for her if she wanted it. But she loved Jonathan and she thought then, as she fears with Lex now, that Lionel would break her, use her up and then keep her around for his occasional amusement. There never was room enough in Lionel’s world for any full-fledged people other than Lionel himself.
“What about you, Lex?” she asks.
He looks away, pretending not to understand. “I never slept with my father.”
She almost frowns, but it’s a sore subject, and one much closer to the present than her relationship with Lionel. Also, Lex is a man, for all his sensitivity, and men don’t like these talks.
“Were you and Clark lovers?”
He glances at her. “He never --?”
“He didn’t tell me enough for me to be sure.”
Lex reaches out for the covers, pulling them up as if he needs more protection before he can talk. “We were never lovers. We were obsessed with each other – maybe even in love, some of the time. But never both of us at the same time. There was a period of about three months in 2011 when I thought – well, I was wrong.”
She runs her hand across his chest, wondering if she wants to soothe him. “What would you do if you could do it all over again?”
He’s quiet for a long, long time, and she’s half-asleep when he answers.
“I wouldn’t change what I did. I still believe that the world needed me. If not for my experiments, America might well have starved when the weather changed. If not for my decisions, more people would have died when the seas rose and the epidemics began. Clark always thought I didn’t care when I risked people’s lives, when I sacrificed their lives, because I kept on doing it. But I did care. Most of the time,” he adds, scrupulously.
“Don’t let me forget to care,” he whispers, right before sleep overtakes her.
The period that begins then lasts for years. Or maybe months, or decades; it’s hard to tell. Classes by day, the classrooms and libraries filling with new faces and emptying like the tide. At night, Lex, his voice and his mouth and his hands. It’s like floating on a warm and salty sea, no decisions to be made, trailing her fingers through water that feels almost like air.
She likes it when he takes her against a wall. Lex is strong enough to hold her up, with her legs wrapped around his hips, and she loves feeling that strength employed for her. She likes being there for him at the end of the day. The old bargain: he provides and protects outside their charmed circle, and she does the same inside.
One day she notices something odd. “Lex?” she asks. “What happened to your hand?”
He holds his right hand out to her and examines it, turning it to look at the palm. “It grew back.”
“About fifty years ago, I started experiencing pain where the wrist joined the prosthesis. Imagine my surprise when I saw five nubs pushing out from the wrist. It took nearly eight years to reach adult size and strength; I had to keep changing the prosthesis to fit. A good thing too; Xander Luthor closely resembled his father, but identical false hands would have been hard to explain.”
“That’s –“ She stares at it, thinking about the time two of Clark’s enemies kidnapped her and the third-degree burns that had healed without a scar.
She nods. For a while, thinking “I’ll never die” had a fantasy quality for it, a sort of “Never? Well, hardly ever” feeling, as if death were waiting behind some far-off corner. It hasn’t for a while now, and Lex’s regenerated hand is a symbol of immortality, like the phoenix rising from the flames.
****[More to come]
"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo."
"For once I myself saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a bottle, and when the boys said to her: 'Sibyl, what do you want?' she replied, 'I want to die.'"
Title from Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus (“Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.”) I cannot find any canonical evidence of Hope’s last name, so I went with something that seemed to match the decidedly mixed message of “Mercy Graves.” Anyone who knows better, please tell me.