VISION
by Insomnikat

E-mail : katzouchka@rogers.com
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Exodus
Summary: Visions: intrusions of the flesh which humans suffer. A sickness, no more. Companion piece to Castaway.
Disclaimer: Until the day I own DC comics and the WB, I am but a poor fanatic drunk on too much time.
Author's Note: Humphrey Bogart. Ingrid Bergman. See if you can spot the similar quotes. Casablanca forever, baby!

******

She promised herself she wouldn't cry. Not again. Not after that bawl a few hours ago in the last bathroom stall on her break. It was just the cleaning solution, she assured herself as she rubbed harder at a non-existent stain on the table. The smell was simply too strong and it was getting to her.

"Goodnight, Lana," the two part-time helpers called as they waved to her at the door and closed it behind them for the evening. Alone now, Lana put away the cleaning products and crossed to the other side of the shop where a television screen flickered silently with an aerial view of an eerily calm ocean surface filled with several rescue boats and a tanker. The camera zoomed in as the twisted remains of what looked like a plane's tail was hoisted from the waters and into the tanker, which already contained several similar-looking scraps of metal. The LuthorCorp logo could be seen distinctly amongst the wreckage. With a trembling finger, Lana reached over and turned the volume up, the sound of helicopter propellers filling the empty Talon.

{ ...round the clock, searching for what remains of the Luthorcorp private jet and its passengers. Bodies have yet to be found, but after nine days there is little hope that Alexander Luthor, son of billionaire Lionel-- }

"They'll never find me," Lex proclaimed as he stepped up to stand beside her, arms folded behind his back. Startled, Lana fell back into a plush armchair.

"Lex!" she cried, her eyes wide with disbelief.

"In the flesh," he grinned and shrugged lightly. "Well, figuratively speaking." He reached over to grab the remote from on top the table and seated himself on the wide arm of her chair. "May I?" he asks politely, pointing the remote at the television. Bewildered, Lana could barely bring herself to nod.

The image on the television changed to black and white and the name 'Casablanca' appeared on the screen. "Ahh," said Lex as he leaned back and made himself comfortable beside her. "A true classic." Silence fell between them as the movie started, and whether or not Lex noticed how white Lana's hands were from gripping tightly to the other armrest, he did not show. It took her a few minutes to gather the courage to look at him - really look at him - and open her mouth to speak.

"Lex," she started. He turned with a bemused look on his face, and her words came out floundering. "How did you...I...not that I'm n-not glad you're...you're..."

"I'm not really here, Lana." He answered coolly, his eyes darkening with some unknown emotion. "I'm just a figment in your beautiful little mind," he continued, leaning in close as his voice dramatically dropped an octave. "Of all your admirers in all of Smallville, you picked me to be your invisible friend." He paused for effect when they came face-to-face, and the close proximity made Lana squirm. "I'm touched. I am, really. But a little disappointed as well. Have you really sunk this low, Lana?"

He half-hissed the question in her ear, his voice having dropped again to an almost seductive whisper. Lana found the heavy gaze of his roving eyes maddeningly unnerving and pushed him away as she jumped to her feet. She crossed her arms over her chest as she walked away and frowned at herself. Was she really so far gone that she was seeing ghosts?

"I know what's wrong," Lex mused behind her, and she wished more than anything that he would just disappear. "Nell is gone. Chloe hates you. The Kents are in the hospital and Clark..." he chuckled bitterly. "Looks like we've both been abandoned." A ragged breath filled Lana's lungs as she turned to face him. Lex stood by the armchair, his hands hanging stiffly at his sides and face tilted at an angle, devoid of emotion. But his eyes -- oh, how they betrayed him! "Again."

Lana bit her lip and shuddered. "Is that why you're here? So we can --" She choked back a sob as her vision got bleary. "-- 'comfort' each other?"

Something dark fall over his face and his body grew rigid. "No," he said, his voice ominously low. "I'm dead, remember? And you better not cry. Don't you dare cry, Lana Lang." he warned under his breath, glaring at her. "I will NOT be your Clark substitute."

A cry escaped her lips before she could raise a hand to stifle it. She couldn't help it. Tears streamed down her face. "Why are you being so mean?"

"I have no control of that guilty conscience of yours." He snapped angrily, making his way towards her. "Maybe it's trying to tell you something. Maybe that nagging voice in your head that you're trying so hard to ignore has finally clawed its way somewhere to be heard. And maybe, just maybe," he said towering over her now, eyes dark and blazing. "The truth is so awful that I'm the only one with the nerve to tell you."

Lana felt her legs buckle beneath her and she crumpled to her knees. She wiped feebly at her eyes and looked up at the dark shape standing over her. "I'm sorry," she cried, "I'm so sorry! I thought he was the one. That we'd -- he believed in me for so long and then -- I trusted him."

She bowed her head and took long wipes of her face on her sleeve. Figment of her imagination or not, she had just had an emotional breakdown in front of Lex Luthor. How low had she sunk, indeed? Lana felt him crouch down beside her and stiffened. She braced herself for the fatal blow; the truth he was to deliver. Instead, she felt his hand lift her chin gently and something soft and silky wipe at her face.

"You'll get out of this," said Lex, his voice surprisingly calm and reassuring. He gently pushed the silk handkerchief into her hand. "You will, Lana. We always arise from our ashes."

She looked up at him hopefully and found a grin on his face. A grin just for her. "Do we?" she whispered.

"Yes," he replied and held a hand out to her. "Part of the beauty of life is that it can surprise you. The world will hear Lana Lang laugh again."

She took his hand and was pulled to her feet once more. She wiped at her eyes with the handkerchief and blinked up at Lex. For a moment, she almost believed him. "But not you," she whispered.

His jaw tightened and his lips pursed into a thin line. "No," he replied stiffly. "But not me." Lana bowed her head and tried to blink away another wave of tears. Would the well behind her eyes ever dry up? She swallowed hard on a sob and focused her gaze on the "LL" monogram of the damp handkerchief in her hand. If she concentrated hard enough on it, could she make it disappear? Lana was unsure if she wanted to know the answer to that question. A hand reached out and lifted her chin up so that she was forced to look into the eyes that were clouded once more with that unidentifiable emotion. "We'll always have this," he said, shifting his gaze to the room around them. "The Talon."

His dark eyes returned to her, silently imploring her. Lana blinked in awe as something in them unlocked and pulled her into their murky depths. The truth was hidden there, she knew it instinctively, and she almost lost herself in his piercing gaze looking for it. Her heart caught in her throat and her eyes went wide when she saw it. Lana had not realized how physically close they were until she glimpsed the truth and staggered back in shock.

"No..." Had she - the both of them - truly been capable of such a possibility? That rejected, now impossible future that she would not have dared to imagine till now; swirling in his dark smoldering eyes and mingled with memories of a thousand brief encounters.

"Some things we never realize we have until its gone." said Lex bitterly, head bent slightly to the side and a grim expression on his face. Were Luthors ever capable of looking forlorn? Lana raised a shaky hand to her face and tried to choke back another sob. She failed.

Lex took a step forward and closed the gap between them again. Lana held her breath, but did not move away this time. He raised one arm and, with the back of his hand, gently stroked the smooth curve of her face. Lana closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She felt him move away from her then and the separation was so painful she let out a cry. When she opened her eyes, he was already standing several feet away near the door. They stood silently for a minute, simply staring at each other as the faint sound of airplane propellers filled the room around them.

{ Where I'm going, you can't follow }

Humphrey Bogart's voice echoed clearly from the television behind Lana. Her heart seized unwillingly at the haunting line and, to her horror, watched as Lex took it as his cue to leave. Her feet reacted immediately and she ran after him, her arms outstretched.

{ Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now... }

"Lex!" Lana cried as she grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around. For a second, genuine surprise marked his face. The expression instantly fell and he smiled weakly down at Lana.

"Here's looking at you, kid." He said simultaneously with Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine, turned, and disappeared through the door. Simply vanished.

Tears ran freely down Lana's cheek now, and when she lifted her hand to her face to wipe at it, the silk handkerchief he gave her was gone. She sniffed noisily and wiped at her face with her sleeve. For a long time she stood there, staring at the door expectantly.

But deep down, she knew it was over.

END.