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once and again

Once and Again
by Molly
November 2001

There are certain truths about any high school, doesn't matter where.

Death hurts. The news makes everyone stop-- walking, breathing, seeing the painted cinderblock wall in front of them as they think of that last study hall, that cigarette smoked in a rush behind the gym, that last pointless tear shed over something as insignificant as a history test.

Worse is when she was so loved. It takes longer for everyone to forget, to stop passing guilty looks in the halls just for the heavy burden of being alive and also being somehow... *less* than she was.

Even worse is watching *him* standing in front of the coffin, looking twelve and eighty all at once. There were rumors, of course; there were always rumors, always people trying, wanting, needing to see it as nothing more the quarterback and the cheerleader, high school tradition and nothing serious. High school convenience, and not love. Then they could believe in "someday," believe in hope and future possibility.

But you watch a kid in front of a coffin and see the slump of his shoulders, see it written all over him that he'll never forget the smell of a hospital and the sound that breath makes when it stops, and you had never really doubted their relationship, anyway. You had just hoped it wasn't a lasting thing.

Even from the back, you have no trouble seeing how his hand shakes, running through his hair. Teenagers aren't meant to eulogize their girlfriends.

But the worst, the thing that makes your mother watch you with huge eyes and your father keep a hand on your shoulder, steadying you, is just the coffin itself. Sitting there.

Lana is in a box, and she won't be coming out this time.

You'll never get to lift her out again.

***

It's dark and you're alone and surrounded by corn, but he finds you. He has a knack for that, is so good at it you think he waited to look because it wouldn't take him six hours.

Lex lacks a lot of things, but respect for the dead isn't one of them. Or maybe it's respect for the living, for you. You don't know, don't presume to think you do. You stopped doing that over the last year, when you couldn't keep denying that he isn't what you wanted him to be.

You just know he waited. And now he talks, but you don't really listen. You remember your father's face, when the phone rang and the news had finally reached your niche on the Smallville grapevine; you remember him looking briefly at your mother and longer at you, remember his voice saying, "Will she pull through?"

There was that moment when knowledge set in. That you'd done it after all, and taken Whitney's girl away from him when you hadn't even been trying.

That's the problem. You hadn't been there to try.

They tried to say it wasn't your fault, that you couldn't be there for everything. You thought, then, that you should at least be able to be there for the most important thing. "Lex," you say suddenly. "What do you do when you screw up really bad?"

Lex pauses. He moves closer and is pressing just by brushing your shoulder. "I cover my tracks in a hurry," he tells you evenly. "It's the Luthor way, after all."

"It's not mine."

You don't move when he touches your arm, leans in. "Must be nice, to not need to."

"What do you mean?"

"You leave tracks that people are willing to ignore."

And he's so close. Nothing is hidden here, everything out in the open. You can feel his fingers flex against your skin. "I leave them six feet under," you mutter.

"Clark, your problem is that you don't know how to make the best of things. Spin anything just right, and you'll be happier."

Some things really do run in families. Women in Lana's family rarely get old. Luthor men get what they want.

You have to wonder what your legacy is. If this is that future together he always insists upon: you knowing it's wrong and him breathing across your neck, running a hand, slow and possessively firm, across your back. You can't help but think that maybe some long-gone ancestors might have found themselves knowing, understanding the nature of a man like Lex but still been unable to back away.

"She'll always be perfect for you," Lex says, his voice expanding in liquid warmth across your cheek. You bristle, but he holds tight. "Never able to make a mistake, never able to let you down, never having any tracks to cover... Haven't you ever wanted to find a way to keep everyone happy forever?"

You hate that he's right. You hate him, because in that instant, your guilt abates‹just a tiny fraction, but enough to make it increase ten-fold. Because you envy her, cold and deep below. Lex has a knack for being right in a cold-hearted way, and Lana will never fail anyone like you failed her.

And you can't get away from that. From wanting, in that split second, to switch places with her, and not because you want her to live but because-- God. To be in her place, to let go of the guilt, let go of Lex, leaning against you and watching carefully. Lex calculates; Lex knows exactly what he's doing.

You know it, too. But you don't care. You cared for more than a year, cared yourself into worry and distraction and mistakes, cared yourself into not being there for Lana, into finding out from a phone call. And now you justŠ don't. Lex is Lex and you think you've known it all along.

You just ignored the clues. Did for him what you hoped the world would do for you and let him have his secrets, his hidden side. The catch is that you fooled yourself about inevitability, on both counts.

Life is consequence, you see now. You can't help Lana; you can't change Lex. The difference is that you can have him, without a doubt, without the veiled groveling of isolated hope.

You relax. Lex understands. And his lips are what you never admitted to imagining, exactly what you never acknowledged was a fantasy, buried carefully behind visions of Lana and a revisionist river history. So it's new but it's two years old, tangy and bittersweet and the kind of expensive taste that rolls off Lex no matter what he does.

Everything about Lex is rich. This is no exception. Even the slight gasp, the surprise, as if he hadn't believed you would ever really cave. It always did seem that Lex was somehow more sure of your willpower than you were, are, ever will be.

Again with the wanting to trade places. Maybe you are, soaking up his careful indifference, slowly letting go of the things that hurt.

Lana is in a box. You're breaking out.

*end*