So. Without *too* much further ado, have a bit of
It was the day after they’d gotten married and there were birds outside – a flock of green parrots that flew past the white slatted shutters, chattering and clacking loudly. They landed on the trees by the balcony, squawking like feathered limes, calling back and forth to one another. The long yellow-streaked leaves of the banana trees shivered beneath their weight and the tickling of a gentle wind.
He came up behind her, an arm snaking around her waist, hand resting lightly on the planes of her stomach. “Do you like it?” Lex asked, his voice low.
“Yes,” Lena answered, leaning back against his warmth without thinking. “I like it very much.”
Lex’s breath teased the tendrils of hair beside her ear, and Lena listened to him as he began to describe the history of the plantation, telling her the house had stood for hundreds of years. White paint was peeling charmingly off the exterior of the window sill, and curls of lavender paint joined the flecks of white below in the dense green foliage.
She knew that he liked history, his coffee with cream, and that his feet got cold when he slept. Lena looked down at his hand, pale against the pink of her dress, the wedding bands on their interlocked fingers glinting in the Caribbean sun. She turned her head and looked into his pale eyes.
He smiled slightly – simple, happy, and his eyes slid away, following the winding path of the birds as they left the trees. They made a long brilliant line of green against the blue brushed sky. “I like it here, too,” Lex told her.
And Lena wondered not for the first time if, maybe, she could love this man.
Lena wondered why he’d chosen her. There were obvious reasons; Crandall and Merck Pharmaceuticals being the first and foremost, but if Lex had wanted the company she would inherit, he could have had it easily.
She thought, sometimes, that it was because she hadn’t pressured him to. Or, maybe it was some other reason – one only Lex would ever think of, something inscrutable.
Either way, it was October when he proposed. Another function, and Lena’s feet had *hurt* because of the heels she’d worn. She remembers that – remembers leaving the main gathering and sitting on a low, cream couch in the ladies room, rubbing her red feet in her hand. There had been palm trees printed all over the wall in the lounge area, and a potted palm in the corner. It had looked sad, the pale green fronds drooping toward the floor.
There were footfalls behind her, light and even. She’d reflexively turned to look over her shoulder. Lex put his hands in his pockets and smiled down at her.
“Lex, this is -- ” she began, oddly scandalized by his presence in the woman’s room.
“I know,” he responded, his smile a small, satisfied crescent. He put one hand in his pocket while the other toyed with the palm tree. She’d wanted to stop him – it looked too delicate to be touched.
“My father doesn’t like you,” Lex said cryptically.
Lena raised both brows, slipping her feet back into her shoes. “I haven’t given him any reason not to.”
He shrugged his father away as inconsequential with a simple fluid motion of his shoulder. “He doesn’t like many people.”
Lena said nothing, knew that she wasn’t supposed to, felt that something important was coming yet couldn’t see the shape of it until the words had left Lex’s mouth.
She blinked, and looked down, eyes fixed on the raw skin over her heel. “Yes,” she whispered, and then again, more firmly as she looked up at him this time, meeting his eyes in the low lighting. “Yes.”
As the night wore on, she watched him. Watched him laugh, and talk, and glitter, and felt the weight of his hand in hers as they moved from table to table. His eyes would slide toward her sometimes, and he would smile – and she would wonder why. When she fell asleep against the cool cotton of his sheets, curled in on herself, he pulled the blankets over her, and sat up – working on spreadsheets until the morning.
When Lena was a child she sucked her thumb. Held her mother’s hand, and sucked her thumb, and refused to look strangers in the eye. She remembers impressions of people looming over her, of legs that seemed to go on forever.
“She’s shy,” her father explained patiently, patting her head lightly, affectionately. He would smile down at her, the curl of his mouth gentle, kind, but Lena remembers always feeling her stomach fall, knowing he was disappointed.
She was eight when she stopped.
Lena wasn’t supposed to be in her mother’s reading room, but she’d hidden there, loving the way birds chirped outside the windows. She’d brought her markers and some paper, and slid beneath the big, brown couch that stood inches above the floor and had monsters carved into the wooden feet. Their faces were twisted, contorted into hideous grimaces, but they felt smooth against her fingers as she explored the shapes. Some were feathered, others seemed to have manes like lions, but their features were all strangely human – especially their eyes.
The day lengthened, and Lena tried to draw the monsters. She couldn’t get them right, though, and instead just lay on the floor, listening to the quiet chirping.
Her mother and two friends swept into the room unexpectedly, and Lena wanted to leave but her body refused to move and a hot fear of embarrassing her mother swept through her. She held her breath, and laid flat against the floor.
The wood was smooth, hard against her cheek and she saw three sets of shoes as the women walked past her – three sets of low heels, one after the other. One pair stopped in front of her. The leather was steel blue, scuffed in places, and to Lena it seemed that the small black marks were delicate, curved like wings.
“It’s not healthy for a child of her age,” said a woman’s sharp voice. “By this time she should know better than to suck on her thumb like that, Natalie, she really should. You just spoil her.”
“Well,” Lena’s mother responded firmly, “she’s my daughter. It’s my right to spoil her, isn’t it?”
A second woman chimed in, her voice thick and dark with disapproval. “It’s bad for her teeth, you know.”
The shadows under the couch deepened and lengthened, purple against the blonde wood, but Lena never moved once until the click-clacking of high heels led out of the room and away. She slid out; markers clutched to her chest and scurried down the long, gleaming hallways to her bedroom.
She looked in the mirror and forced a smile. Lena stared, looking at her teeth and she decided, quite resolutely, that she would no longer be shy.
Two months married, and Lena didn’t know what to do when Lex came home, slumped with defeat for the first time since she’d known him. He sat in his study, staring into the fire, and drinking slowly, curling and uncurling his toes without thought.
“Lex?” Lena ventured, hand hovering above his shoulder. “What’s wrong? Did something happen at work today?”
“I want you to have a dinner party next week. Tim Keeler likes you,” he said distractedly. “Invite him, his wife, and people he’s comfortable with. Get them all here, and we’ll charm the hell out of them.”
Red light from the fire flickered over the muted tones of the carpet, threw strange shadows on Lex’s face and his eyes seemed to sink further into the pale oval of his face, until they were simply blue tinted slivers of silver.
“The deal fell through, then?” she asked, carefully.
“Yes,” he bit off. “It did.”
Pops and crackles echoed through the room as the fire burned down the long lines of lumber.
“I’m sorry,” Lena offered, sitting in the chair beside him. He looked so…empty, and she wondered if his ambition was all that filled his hollow spaces, if without it he would be flat, motionless. She shivered, frightened. “Can…I do anything?” she asked.
Lex’s expression shuttered into neutrality immediately. “I’ll be fine.”
“I –” she started, but he turned to look at her, and his eyes were two slicks of ice. “I’ll call the Keelers in the morning.”
He nodded, turned back to watch the fire, swirling his drink slowly. “Good.”
A few minutes passed, and she sat still, listened to the hissing of the fire, the slight rasping of fabric against skin as Lex shifted in his chair, the slow, steady sound of his breathing. She wanted to reach out, touch his hand, but Lex was too far away. Lena’s eyes traced the patterns in the carpet, climbing the curls and spirals, slowly up until she was looking into his face again. She didn’t know the man she saw there.
There should be something warmer than this, Lena thought inanely, looking hastily into the fire. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
Lex nodded, took a sip of his drink. And neither one of them said anything until the last flame in the hearth fizzled, and died.
She didn’t know why she remembered, but the dream stayed with her for years. Made her feel cold all over -- under her skin -- when she remembered it.
Lena stood in a room painted white, trimmed in blue, wearing a suit and no shoes, shivering, and she could hear the sound of wings beating against the air. Looked around, saw nothing, until feathers began to fall. They were long, oval, and colored like nothing she’d ever seen. Turquoise, citrine, magenta edged in gold – bright like gems, and she knew they would be soft against her fingers, yet Lena couldn’t lift her arms. Couldn’t make herself move because her entire body seized with dread, and her breath caught tight in her throat.
And they fell, landing on the floor around her feet and shattering, as though they were made with glass. Tears slipped over her cheeks, freezing on her skin, and when Lena looked down, her hands were ice.
Another feather floated down from the ceiling – this one plum, shot through with silver and she forced herself to reach out for it, felt the velvety brush of it against the tips of her fingers and warmth crept back up her arms. Lena closed her eyes, and the feather tumbled out of her hand, tripping along the light gusts of air until it crushed into shining slits all along the length of the floor, small slices of purple and silver glinting in the blue-tinted light that filtered through the room. Lex’s voice echoed around her, breathing her name, sighing through the sharp, curved pieces littered across the floor.
She woke, shuddering and alone. There was a light under the door to his office. She pulled her covers up, and lay still until the light turned off and he slipped between the sheets beside her.
They didn’t pretend that what they had was anything other than what it was, so when Lex turned her face toward his, kissed her lips and unbuttoned her shirt slowly, she knew it wasn’t making love. Her sighs skittered through the dark room, and her legs sought his waist, her hands splaying out over his shoulders. Lex was gentle with her, but not tender, and his soft moans sounded nothing like a blessing or a prayer, not even as he rocked inside of her.
Lena wasn’t in love with him either, even though his lips against her neck and his hands on her hips made her gasp, made her arch up tightly, made her call his name and curl her nails into the skin of his back. And this was how they came to one another in the months after their wedding – cautious, and friendly, but oddly impersonal and when it was over, Lena would rest her head against his shoulder, and tell herself that she was lucky. Lex would stroke her hair, and talk about business before getting up and showering, and Lena would watch him go, eyes tracing the long, pale lines of his body as he walked away.
It was three weeks after their second anniversary when Lionel bought her family’s company in a hostile take over, and he did it so fast that Lena barely had time to blink, barely had time to clean out her desk before she was sitting on her bed, staring into her closet. Her suits were hung up as perfectly as ever, shoulders even, lined up one against the other. They looked obscene, like the empty skins of dead animals.
She stood, walked over, reached out a hand and touched the silk of a jacket, rubbing the red material between her fingers. She’d been wearing it the day she met Lex, sitting across a gleaming conference table, and thinking that he looked sharp. Behind him, through the window she’d seen the dark gray coiling clouds, and the day had looked like rain, and then he smiled.
“Lex Luthor,” he’d said.
“I know,” she’d responded, smiling back.
Lex waited, eyebrows arched, eyes blue with laughter. “And you’re Lena Crandall?”
She laughed, ducked her head. “Yes, I am. Lucky guess?”
“Well, we did have a meeting scheduled today,” he teased and she blushed. Afterward, he’d taken her out to lunch – a warm meal to keep the damp at bay and she wondered if he’d known then that he was going to ask her to marry him. She’d never thought they’d even talk to one another again, had gone back to work, and was surprised by the phone call.
Her family owned that company for eighty years, and Lena never worked anywhere else, though she could have. She felt the weight of her briefcase in her hand, thought of her old office, and knew she wouldn’t ever work anywhere else.
A hand landed on her shoulder, gentle. “Are you all right?” Lex asked, from behind her. “I came home as soon as I heard.”
Even *she* knew that couldn’t be true, knew that Lex must have heard what Lionel was planning because no one kept an eye on Lionel like Lex, but the time to debate the point had passed, any hope whipping past her, dried out like fallen leaves caught in the wind.
Lena closed her eyes, shutting out the light. She thought of how many times she’d wanted to reach out, to touch him. She thought of the way they always sat in the den long after the light in the firelight flickered out. She heard the hiss and the pop of flames, and the thick silence that lay between them – hard, and impenetrable. She nodded tightly. “I’m fine.”
He took her out to dinner, and said bad things about his father, and Lena would have believed him more if his lips hadn’t turned up in a crescent of admiration as he spoke. He held her hand, and told her how sorry he was, and Lena nodded, fixed her eyes on the china in front of her. Lex asked if she would look for a new job, and she shook her head, mute, and he leaned forward, the air around him tight, tense with excitement. His eyes snapped and he smiled.
“Lena, what would you say to becoming the head of LexCorp?” he asked. The short flame of the sturdy candle between them guttered out, and wax ran down its fat yellow sides.
“What? The head of LexCorp?” She frowned. “That’s ridiculous. *You’re* LexCorp.”
“No,” Lex corrected, leaning even closer, and lowering his voice, intent and intense. “I’m the future mayor, but Metropolis doesn’t know it yet. But I have a conflict of interest if things stay as they are. Please, Lena, help me.”
And she knew that she would, even though she’d only be a figurehead, even though she didn’t want to. Lena knew that she didn’t really have a choice, because Lex was asking her, and his fingers were tight against the palm of her hand his smile was bright like sunlight.
She bowed her head and watched her fingers as they rubbed the edge of her plate, pallid and long. She swallowed, breathed deeply, and she said what she always said.
“Yes. I will.”