Title: Whited Sepulchres and Other Old Lies
Summary: Lionel's got eyes to see.
Thanks: To Lyra, for the prodding and the beta, and Hope, for the wonderful inspiration of the prompt. *snugs both*
Eight-thirty at night, and all the shut-faced, honest living folks have drawn their smoke stained curtains closed and dead bolted their thin doors. Out on the street, there are shadows that hiss and whisper, and eyes that gleam in the streetlight, slick and dangerous, watching every move that Lionel makes. He's not the only predator out tonight, and even in the sputtering lamplight it's easy to see that Lionel's not from Around Here. But that's not strictly true.
He's spent a good long time trying to prove that he's not from Around Here. But he is, even though he hides it, underneath the real Armani jackets and the fake Harvard diploma. He grew up two blocks over; in a shoebox of an apartment listening to his mother sharpen her tongue on her stupid husband. His father, but Lionel's never really advertised his relation to Lachlan, even though the very shape of his face does it well enough.
Lionel looks like his father, but he thinks like his mother - Mary, who was too damned smart and too skinny to be pretty, with hair that snapped and curled, and made her look wild. She drank like a fish, and died in Lionel's fire, and if Lionel was going to give a damn about either one of them being gone, then it would have been her. She taught him how to think, how to lie, how to win at chess and how to cheat at cards - things that have served him well.
She'd sit on the stoop when she wasn't working in the summer, lean back on the asphalt and drink cheap whiskey until it was gone. She'd flirt at men who walked by, her pinched face slack and flushed from the drink. Every once in a while, one of those men would flirt back, and Mary would take them inside, make Lionel stay on the stoop. He remembers how the whole street would have that thick old-blood smell, from the butcher's two buildings down.
The whole damn place smelled like a slaughterhouse, and the ground was too hot to touch. Used to burn Lionel's skin, and in August, when it got hot enough, the tar in the sidewalk would melt and stick to his shoes. He tracked it on the carpet once, and Mary threw an empty bottle of something or other at him. It missed, went out the window, maybe hit someone - who knows? It wasn't as though Mary Luthor was the only messy drunk in the Slum.
A woman a window or two up from where Lionel's walking screams at her husband, slurs her words as she tells him he's a fucking asshole, and Lionel smirks. Thinks to himself that some things never change. There's even a good bit of broken glass under that window - glittering and angry against the tired old brick building.
Yes, Lionel's from Around Here. He knows Suicide Slum, every dirty, ruthless corner and smoke-filled back room. It's been a while since he left - a lifetime, really, but Lionel's not about to wax poetic - but this, Lionel thinks, a little grandly, this is his place.
Because all the eyes here are open; the Slum sees him, the Slum sees everything, and the Slum, well it's a mean sonofabitch, but that's not a secret. The Slum's not about to let anyone take it for a ride - and Lionel's not embarrassed to think that if he was to be a place, then he'd be this place.
Then again, Lionel's more than a little bit drunk, and frankly embarrassed by how easy Metropolis and Smallville are.
Ahh, Metropolis - clean, and urban, and bustling. Tidy streets and tidy fountains and tidy people, all in a row as they hurry on with their little lives. Green parks, meticulously watered and trimmed, and a whole tangle of roads with very important names, presided over by tall, mirrored buildings. Penthouses and parties and champagne - it's a kind of noveaux riche that makes all of those East Coast aesthetes cringe, ever so daintily.
Lionel likes it, though. Metropolis society is sleek, and chic, and just desperate enough, stranded here in Kansas, to let Lionel in. No - to welcome him, with open arms, and give him a favored daughter to take as his bride, or party favor, depending on how one views it.
And more than that, Metropolis is gullible. Wide eyed, and fresh off the farm, and eating out of the palm of Lionel's hand. He likes that in a town, or, at least his bank account does. Even the quiet little ones tucked away in the Grand Caymans and Switzerland, or perhaps especially those.
Lionel himself, well. If all that earnest credulity wasn't turning him into royalty, he'd be disgusted by it. Underneath it all, Metropolis is very, very ordinary. It's a Midwestern attempt at New York or Los Angeles, and it fails to be either. It's too...well, frankly, too pedestrian. It's a bland attempt at urbanity, with none of the wit or class one would expect.
And it's easy, oh yes; it's very, very easy. Easier even than the country cousin, that ridiculous little town, with its quaint little name.
"Smallville," Lionel says it aloud, draws the word out, enjoying the way it sits on his tongue.
Now, there's nothing bland about Smallville, Lionel thinks with a chuckle. Nothing at all, and while it's not quite a challenge it's certainly no Metropolis, coming willingly and readily to the wolf at the door.
Such a strange little town, stranger still since that inconvenient meteor shower - and Lionel thinks the strangest thing about it is the way it pretends to be anything but.
It's a cozy, and quaint, and there are actually stray pieces of hay stuck in the metal grates on the main street and oceans of corn that wave all around the football field that Lionel's bank rolling. Wholesome. Or, at least, that's what Smallville wants to be.
What it is, well, Lionel smirks, that's another story altogether. There's something fascinating about the way an entire town can fool itself. Charming, really.
Lionel's used to Metropolis, which stares unseeing at the open sores in its streets, or the Slum, which watches, and never forgets, not a single blow or drop of blood. But Smallville, well, Smallville watches murders, and kidnappings, and one unexplainable freak catastrophe after another and as soon as the dead are buried and the property is repaired? Smallville flatly denies anything has ever happened. The whole town closes its eyes and wishes away everything ugly, and gears up the PTO for another bake sale.
Lionel does love those cookies.
And, truth be told, he's learned a great deal about public relations from this tiny little speck of a place. A smile to soften an apology and a night to sleep on it, and anything can be forgiven. Anything can be forgotten - from embezzlement to insider trading to the unexplainable deaths of several high school freshmen.
Smallville is a lie, and a good one, because every single person there believes it. But Lionel's standards are more exacting - he sees what's really there. He sees the barely checked undercurrents of violence that eddy and swirl through the red and yellow festooned streets. He sees the way the children of Smallville simmer with anger - and he recognizes it. He was a lot like them.
Underneath that apple-cheeked charm, and the rosy glow of self-satisfied righteousness, Smallville is more like the Slum than even the roughest parts of Metropolis. It's not just dangerous; it's ruthless and demanding, and deadly. Maybe even deadlier than the Slum, because it's not expected. It creeps up on you, without warning.
But it doesn't ask questions, and that, Lionel thinks as he winds his way through his old neighborhood, is the fundamental difference. That's why Smallville's easy, that's why Smallville belongs to *him*, and not the other way around - the way things are with the Slum.
Somewhere, a car alarm goes off, and there's the sound of a fight - Lionel half turns, and sees a tangle of fists and limbs in front of a bar down the way. Once that would have been him and Morgan, he thinks, shaking his head, and all around him the Slum is a looming, treacherous beast.
He left this place when he was seventeen years old - left it for good, and turned himself into a man from Metropolis instead of just another immigrant whelp living out of Suicide Slum. But he comes back, he's always come back every now and then, just to see this place that was as much his parent as Mary or Lachlan.
When Lionel is done with Smallville, he won't go back, not for the pretty puzzle presented by pieces of green and red rock that pepper the bucolic landscape, and not to watch another laughable tragedy roll off of the town like water. He will have seen enough. He will be done with the mute acceptance of that place, because it's as grotesque as it is entertaining.
It's easy, and Lionel isn't interested in that kind of easy. No one who grew up where he did would be.