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variations on habit

Variations On Habit
by Molly
December 2001

***

Blink.

A pause.

Careful consideration, but you open the door against your better judgement.

Clark is there. He wants to know, and you'll tell him this time.

Some of it.

******

What started it is-- you don't exactly know. You suspect it was in the hospital, with your mother carefully poised several feet from the bed with a fashion magazine in her flawless hands. She didn't look into your eyes, so close to your scalp, the entire time she casually explained that he was back in Smallville.

He'd already surveyed the damage to you. Time to calculate the damage to the truly valuable property. You really shouldn't have been surprised.

Later, when you woke up crying and shuddering, she gave a long-suffering sigh and came just close enough to pat your hand. It was dark, as dark as hospital rooms ever got. You were used to the glow of monitors and the light shafting in through the hallway viewing glass. You were used to hospital rooms, because multiple fears and asthma never did make a good combination. You stared up at the glint of soft illumination on her hair and you realized you could breathe easily.

There was still an aching pressure in your chest, certainly, but the sort that made you feel--

Normal. Just the tension of crying, and you could breathe. Years later, you would find it amusing that ease of breath coincided with realizing the true extent of their apathy. Recognition as liberation.

Right. You still have one of your old inhalers. Souvenir of... other times.

***

Her illness taught you a great deal about the Luthor mindset. After the mastectomy, she almost never left the house, even when she felt well. Tried never to show her physical evidence of imperfection, of vulnerability to God's wrath.

You'd already grown out of your old need to please. One of many ways you couldn't, wouldn't conform.

***

There were a few days, just before she died, when you toyed with the idea of torturing yourself. Melodramatic guilt. Or something. The balance of it all begged for a certain amount of psychological anxiety: you had gotten better, she had gotten sick.

You lived, she died.

Still, though, you lacked a certain amount of pigheaded discipline at that age. So instead you tucked it away for periodic bouts of indulgent depression, and felt somewhat resentful of the very brief tears your father shed over her grave. Some twisted part of you wondered if you would warrant such a breach of sophisticated decorum; you wished, not for the first time, that you'd seen his face when he found you in the field.

The next morning he told you that you would finish out the term, and leave for boarding school in January. You stopped wishing that day. Decided to trust your imagination.

***

You were fifteen and she was about the same, and she laughed from behind her glass of champagne. "Why do you shave it?"

"I don't," you told her. The coatroom seemed to be beckoning you, but there would be hell to pay if you weren't around for the toast. "I'm just bald."

"Oh," and her eyes were wide and free of mocking pity. "It's very distinctive."

The next morning, you couldn't remember her name, though you tried for a few minutes. Just her small, light-hearted laughs and a nearly overwhelming intensity, a desperation to do it right. Whatever right was; you supposed she seemed happy enough, though it might have been the effects of a small amount of champagne on a small body. It almost -- almost -- worried you, how right it felt that she got up right after and slipped back into her clothes.

She made it easy. It made you wish you could remember her name.

Three months until the next big party and there she was, and you realized you had been way off your game for not knowing she was Dominic's sister. Dominic, the newest in a long line of brown-nosing bastards, Dominic who adopted your father's disdainful way of looking at you, like it made him, made him more like Lionel, more likeable to him. You smiled politely as he introduced you; the way she smirked knowingly turned you on. Emma, that was her name. Emma.

And later, taking small steps that backed her up towards your bed: "Your brother's an asshole."

"I agree." She unbuttoned your shirt and scratched a manicured nail across your chest. "You didn't tell me you're a Luthor. At Christmas?"

"Everyone knows who I am. The bald freak kid," and you leaned in to kiss her neck. You knew what you were doing then, had sought out experience fast in those three months off at school, but there was something nice about coming back to the first, not leaving the impression at a quick, fumbling demonstration of awkward *virginity*.

"I didn't know." She laughed as you pushed her to sit, knelt to slide your palms over her legs, fingers just barely skimming under the hem of her skirt. "Dom hates to talk about work. Just as well, since I hate talking to Dom."

And you both shut up for awhile but when you made her come and she gasped your name, you were pretty sure, in a disturbing way, that part of your sudden burst of frenzied thrusting was--

Fucking his baby *sister*. He'd never be able to do a thing, once he found out. He was the sort to protect his job above... anything.

And he would find out. You had decided, without consciously deciding, that he would. On your terms. And he would look at you like dirt because of *you*, and not because of Lionel.

***

It wasn't on your terms but all in all, different means to the same end. She refused to use her phone call, just stayed curled in the corner, a shaking mess of pale skin and flecks of blood. So you called home, and Lionel never said a word, and Dominic's appearance on the other side of the cell bars was the only way you knew he'd done anything at all.

You hadn't expected Dominic, of all things; it threw you, but then you wanted to laugh. Over a year of fuck after fuck after fuck, every time you came back to Metropolis. And the drugs and the alcohol and Emma loved to spin in circles, dance around until she collapsed and laughed softly, huskily about the way things wouldn't stop swirling. Over a year and you really actually liked her, and Dominic showed up and you had his little sister in a cell with you.

The matching bloodstains must have been a kick, too. You stood still, enduring that mocking sneer as the door clanged open. You waited until he finally reached to grab your arm, then looked slowly over your shoulder. "Emma," you said quietly. "Emma, it's time to go. Dominic's here."

You were distinctly relieved not to miss the flash of instant comprehension in his eyes-- always smart, that Dominic, just a bastard right along with it. Your turn to mock. "Didn't my father *tell* you?" you asked lightly. "I could swear I mentioned she was stuck here, too..."

Dominic's face was red and his fists were carefully controlled at his sides. "You stinking piece of-- "

And you leaned forward, breathed right near his ear. "We talk about how much we hate you while I fuck her."

***

You could smell scotch on his breath, the good stuff he drank only when he was furious. "Do you realize how much it will cost to keep this quiet?"

"Enough to pay extra to just make it disappear?" You stared at him sullenly and went to pour a drink. You were still in your ripped jacket, stained with blood. You felt a small rush, remembering how droplets had flown from the guy's nose and mouth.

"You would expect that, wouldn't you?" Lionel smiled a cold, hard smile, toothless behind narrowly parted lips. He knocked the glass from your hands and it shattered on the hardwood floor. "Get out of my sight, Lex. We'll talk in the morning, after I speak with the lawyers and figure this out."

***

Assault with intent. Suspended sentence at a high price. And a wake-up call to your own carelessness. You realized how little control you'd had over any of it, from the moment Dominic walked into the police station. Right up to the day Emma told you, limp and breathless from fucking in the backseat of your car like, God, like the teenagers you were, that Dominic was sending her away to school.

And that it was at Lionel's insistence, in return for getting all charges against her dropped. The clutch of anger at hearing it wasn't so much at the fact of it; you had learned long ago to be shocked at absolutely nothing he did to you, about you, claimed to be for you. He just did it.

No, your anger was more at how you felt-- regret. You knew you weren't going to see her again and there was a small sense of loss, which circled back on itself to being another loss of control. You'd never intended to like her, to like her soft moans, her sharp nails, the glint in her eye when you mentioned Dominic-- or your father. Like she'd adopted your cause. Nobody had ever done that before. You shouldn't have let it become a bargaining chip.

You wouldn't let it happen again.

***

You don't think Lionel ever understood that you set yourself up to get kicked out of MU. Ridiculously easy, to piss off the wrong person and make sure they had all the information they needed about your abuse of lab policies. Not quite enough to take to the police, but enough that they knew you were making compounds for less-than-legal purposes. And you made sure Lionel knew you would have used them.

First-- only-- time he ever hit you, finding you stoned and reading Machiavelli in *his* office. No cuff to the side of the head, but a tightly-fisted punch, face red and breath harsh; you laughed and bled and warned him about sweat stains on expensive dress shirts.

You made him nervous and then you made no mistakes at Princeton. Kept him wondering, at the very least. Kept him careful.

******

Clark stares at you as you sip your brandy. "I can't say I understand," he finally says softly.

"What about it is so hard to understand?"

"I don't..." and he looks almost ashamed. Winces a little as he continues. "I just can't imagine that kind of relationship with my father."

"Spare me the guilt of your happy home life, Clark." You smile ruefully. "You know, today could be seen as a victory. I've never managed to have him so conflicted before."

"What do you mean?"

"He's always seen the scared little boy when he looks at me. Today was-- today was the first time he's seen me do anything that doesn't make him think pansy, or freak, or shame to the Luthor name. He had to have been almost... relieved. I doubt he ever expected that."

"But?"

"But what do you think would have happened if the factory had gone up?" Small frown of response. Your head is aching again and you rub it absently, wincing at the sharp pain of fingertips against the welt. "My father put me here to teach me a lesson, you see. To show me how people hear my name and hate me because of him. To show me that *he* is the defining member of our happy little family."

Clark's lips part in realization. "And you got everyone out."

"Almost everyone," you correct sharply. "By the way, much as I appreciate the life-saving, you're an idiot. When hostages are freed, they're supposed to leave."

"Not exactly how I operate. I don't leave drowning men in the water, Lex."

"Touche."

"So people wouldn't have forgotten. You'd have been a hero."

"It's one possible scenario. One which scares the hell out of my father." You get up and pour another drink, raising an eyebrow in offering to Clark. He shakes his head. "There are-- boundaries. Understand? It's taken me a long time to test them, figure out what I can get away with, how far to push... it's like every day, there are more limits. I have to be--"

"Careful," he says, and you barely hear him. He comes and takes the glass from your hands, sets it aside. "Lex, I. You think I can't possibly understand, don't you?"

"You can't, not really."

"I think I can. The important part, the things you give up because they don't fall into this-- this life *you* fell into."

"Clark, you don't--"

"Was she the last person you let yourself care about?"

His eyes are huge. You hate him for that, for the earnest care, the genuine friendly curiosity. The appeal. "No."

"Who else?"

"Vi-- an accident. It was allowed. *Appropriate*."

"So now what?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"I mean, now what? Would you do it again?"

"Which part?"

"The part where you try and be different by doing something good, not by being worse than anyone expected even from a Luthor."

You blink. You weren't expecting that. "Is it worth it? Because I'll tell you, Clark, it takes a lot of energy either way. And I always seem to wind up with the same headache."

His smile is shy and bright. You're pretty sure you shouldn't look too closely; something about being blinded even during the sun's eclipse. "I guess it depends on which set of benefits you like more."

"Benefits," you echo dully.

And he reaches out, touches flesh on your temple that must have bruised since you last looked in the mirror. Pain springs up at the contact but fades away quickly enough. "Accidents are strange the way they just-- happen, right?"

"Right."

"Well... oops?" and he kisses you with an awkward hesitance you haven't experienced in years.

Lionel would never approve. Of how amateur is all is. Of how low-class it all is. Of how you actually *give* a fuck, for the first time in at least a year. It's an eternity when you're young and getting old fast, or old and counting down the days. You feel like you're both, but everything-- time, concern, bitter hatred-- is fading against Clark's mouth.

You could get used to this.

Dangerous. You'll just have to be careful this time.

*end*