IF WISHES WERE MARBLES
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: Bars of gold, glowing orbs and a little Christmas magic. Believe again.
Author's Note: Special thanks to Lissette for filtering out the mush.
* * * * * * * *
When it came to hospitals, she was never one to stay put. The white, almost obsessively sanitized environment was both sad and unnerving to her. And no matter how clean they made their rooms, she could always smell the stench of sickness and death in them. Having already spent more time in the intensive care ward than she'd have wanted for one lifetime, it was therefore not all too surprising that Lana Lang, once the little girl whose grief had been immortalized on the cover of TIMES for all the world to see, developed a stubborn spirit that frustrated more than it charmed the nursing staff of Smallville General Hospital.
Shrugging off assistance for the third time that day, Lana struggled to her feet and ignored Nurse Samantha's pleas for the young woman to stay in bed. She smiled apologetically at Samantha as she leaned into a pair of crutches and began walking with one braced leg towards the open door of her room. The nurse had only taught her how to use the walking aids a few days ago and already regretted it. But today was a very special day and Lana was determined not to spend it all lying in bed. She hobbled out and began making her way down to the recreation room at the far end of the hallway. A thin layer of sweat covered her face as she approached the door, and though she was exhausted and panting for breath, she smiled victoriously. She'd made it all the way without any help! Her triumph, however, was destined to be short-lived: the recreation room was empty.
"They're all at the party downstairs in the main lobby," said Samantha as she approached her delinquent ward. She placed a hand on Lana's shoulder and smiled sympathetically. "I can take you down there if you want."
"Thank you," said Lana disappointingly as she entered the empty room, "but I think I'll stay here for a while." Samantha watched as the young woman struggled towards the couch, placed her crutches on the side, and plopped into it. Lana grabbed the remote from the coffee table and turned on the television in front of her. She glanced back at Samantha who nodded and left the room. Poor girl, she thought as she went to check on her more contentedly bed-ridden patients in the ward. How such a pretty thing could be so prone to violent accidents is beyond me.
No sooner had the nurse left and thought this, Lana winced and curled up in pain - or at least, what resembled curling with one good leg and the other in a full leg brace. Her still-healing joints and muscles were screaming from the stress she had just put them through and she bit down on her lower lip to keep from crying out. She was determined to be released from the hospital sooner rather than later and did not want to give them a reason otherwise. Her left hand immediately plunged into her coat pocket and produced two large emerald marbles otherwise known as therapeutic hand balls. The doctor had given them to her to assist her physical therapy. She began rolling them in her hand as she tried to lie in a more comfortable position on the couch. The balls were not only effective in the rehabilitation of her motor skills, but in stress-relief as well. After a few minutes, the pain subsided and Lana was able to watch the parade on television in peace.
It was then that the idea came to her.
She took one of the therapeutic balls and held it up to the ceiling lights. The dark emerald green was translucent, just as she had suspected, and when the light passed through it the large marble seemed to glow. Lana smiled and closed her eyes to make a wish.
* * * *
"Auntie Nell!" A little girl cried as she ran out of the doctor's office and into the woman's open arms.
Her aunt laughed and picked her up with both arms. The doctor standing at the doorway smiled. "She's a wonderful girl," he said before Nell could ask him the question and reached over to tickle the little girl's tummy. "I'm going to miss your weekly visits, Miss Lana Lang."
Nell gasped in surprise. "You mean she's --"
"I don't see any sad little faces around here," the doctor interrupted as he continued to make Lana squeal with delight. "Do you?"
Having trouble keeping hold of the squirming and extremely ticklish little girl, Nell put Lana back down and watched as she ran down the corridor to the nurses' station. Nell made to follow her precocious niece but the doctor held up his hand to stop her. "Her therapy isn't over," he warned.
"But you just said it was," said Nell suspiciously. "It's been several months now."
The doctor shook his head and sighed. "The beauty of such youth is their innocence: no matter what happens to them, they always eventually find reasons to laugh again." He paused to let his eyes wander to the little girl who was already working her cuteness on the nurses for some chocolate. "All she really needed was someone to talk to. And for my part, I can do nothing more. You, however, are her guardian and only living relative left in Smallville." He nodded towards his office. "It's not everyday that someone is given the responsibility of raising a four year old on their own, which is why I'd like to have a few words with you before you go."
"But what about Lana?"
"She already has the full attention of the nurses," the doctor assured her with a grin and ushered her inside.
"See, Santa's like pixie dust: if you don't believe, you can't fly, you can't get any presents, and you grow up! But wanna know the worst part? No toys for Christmas! Just piles and piles of clothes to make you grow up faster!" She took a deep, dramatic breath and held a hand up expectantly to the young nurse named Samantha. "Can I have my chocolate now?"
"Tell you what," the nurse laughed as she pulled two chocolate bars from behind the counter and held them out enticingly. "I'll give you two: one for having such a contagious Christmas spirit and the other for successfully convincing me that magic is real."
The little girl's eyes grew wide and her mouth formed a perfect 'O' as she reached eagerly for the golden bars. "But first," Samantha teased as she pulled the chocolate away at the last minute, "I want you to do something for me." Lana pouted in disappointment, but the nurse merely laughed. "I'm afraid your irresistible cuteness won't work this time." She nodded towards the recreation room a few doors away from the nurses' station. "There's a boy in there who's only a little older than you, but guess what?" Samantha pulled the little girl closer and whispered in her ear, "he comes from a place completely of grown ups."
Lana gasped. "You mean he doesn't believe in Santa Claus? Does he even know who he is?"
Samantha laughed again and handed her a glass of milk. "I don't know, sweetie, but why don't you give him this and find out?"
"Okay," said Lana who craned her neck to stare into the open doorway of the recreation room for a glimpse of the poor boy who never stood a chance. "But can I have my chocolates now?"
Samantha slipped the two bars into the girl's back pants pockets and winked. "Play nice, you hear?"
Lana's mouth fell open and her feet froze a few steps into the room when she saw the boy. "What are you looking at?" he sneered as he closed the book in his lap and jumped off the couch to meet her. "Don't you know it's rude to stare?"
Lana turned her gaze down to her feet and blushed. "Sorry," she apologized. "I've just never seen -"
"A kid with no hair?" he spat.
Her eyes darted back up immediately. "Nooo! Uncle Marcus shaves his head every day 'cause he says he has no time to fuss. And he isn't really my uncle, but Aunt Nell knows him and I'm supposed to call him my uncle because she says its not polite to - "
"Then what were you staring at?" the boy interrupted.
Her face colored with embarrassment once more. "I've never seen a kid suit before. Only adults, and only for special days. And only black. Never seen stripes before. Did you draw them in? Was it hard to get them straight, or did your suit come like that? Do all kid suits have stripes on them? Were they sailor-made? I'm not allowed near Aunt Nell's closet 'cause some of her dresses are made out of really smooth cloth that can only be found in the ocean and only the sailors know how to - "
"You talk too much," the boy frowned and pointed at the glass in her hand. "Well? Are you going to give me that or not?"
"What? Oh," she gave him the milk she'd forgotten she was still holding and clasped her hands behind her back. She watched as the boy brought the glass to his lips and finished it in several neat gulps. When he pulled the empty glass from his mouth, there wasn't a smudge of a milk moustache on his lips.
He turned back to her and rolled his eyes. "What are you staring for now?"
"You act a lot like a grown up," Lana observed. "But you look like a boy!"
"And you kinda look like a girl," he added sarcastically.
"Were you on the naughty list?" she continued. "Is that why you stopped and grew up?"
Lana looked at him as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. "Believing."
The boy frowned and stared at her for a long moment. "What's your name?"
"Well, because it's only proper to introduce yourself before attacking with such silly questions."
They are not silly! Lana thought as she humphed indignantly.
"Well, what is it?" he prodded, crossing his arms across his chest impatiently. "Don't go quiet on me now." Never one to back down from a taunt, Lana opened her mouth to speak - but then something occurred to her that caused her brow to furrow into a tiny frown. The boy sighed, "what now?"
"My mother told me never to tell strangers my name," she said.
"But I'm not a stranger," the boy said matter-of-factly, "we've known each other for a whole five minutes already!" When she still looked unsure, he rolled his eyes again. "Look, is your mother here now?"
Lana bowed her head, effectively veiling her face. "No."
"Then that ridiculous rule doesn't count, does it?"
Her head snapped up immediately. Her eyes were unusually large, glazed, and her lips trembled. "It's not ridiculed and neither was my Mommy!"
Taken aback, the boy could only stare as the little girl began to work herself into a fit of wails and tears. She was ready to burst at any moment. Why did girls have to be so sensitive? he thought as he took a step closer. They'll cry over anything! He raised both hands cautiously and placed them on her shoulders. "Look, I'm sorry. So don't cry, okay? I just wanted to know your name." Two big green orbs looked up at him then. The boy grimaced, let her go and backed away to a safer distance. She followed him with her eyes and made the knot growing in the pit of his tummy even more uncomfortable. Girls are SO strange. Looking at those large, hopeful and hopelessly naïve eyes were making him feel queasy. He had to look away.
A whimper immediately made him look back and he saw that she was about to cry. Again! Quickly, he scooped out a large dark green marble from his pocket. It was his lucky marble. He'd carried it with him everywhere since the accident. It was actually made of the very same rocks that had tried to kill him. "Tried and failed," his father had told him when he gave it to him. But over the months, it became more than just a reminder of his very first victory over the odds. It became his source of strength and confidence. It had helped him enormously in the first few weeks after the accident - most especially his first day back to school. The marble's weight on his coat pocket reminded him constantly that he had gone through the worst experience of his life and survived. And now, he was offering it to the little girl. Desperate times called for desperate measures. "Hey! I'll give you this if you stop crying."
She wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt and looked at the offering curiously. "What is it?"
"It's my lucky marble," he said. "Go on, take it!"
She took it carefully from his hand and held it to her face for closer inspection. She gasped in surprise when it began to glow. "Yeah, it does that sometimes," he shrugged, placing both his hands back promptly into his now-empty coat pockets. "When it glows it means it'll grant you one wish."
Her eyes sparkled with wonder and awe. "And it comes true?"
"Well, not exactly," said the boy. "You can't wish for anything that's already gone. I wished my hair would grow back and, well" he glanced up and shrugged.
Instead of making her giggle, his joke saddened her. "So what can you wish for?"
"Little things. It's just a marble, you know, not a genie. What you can wish for are things like." The boy scratched the back of his neck as he tried to think of an example.
"What did you wish for?" she asked.
He turned as if seeing her for the first time and a crooked grin formed on his lips. "To be brave."
Slowly, understanding graced her face and her frown transformed into a smile. The little girl held the marble back out to him. "Here, it's your marble. You make the wish." When he made to object, she lifted her chin proudly and raised a brow. "I insist."
He chuckled at her impersonation of a grown up and reached out to touch the marble. After a second, the glowing stopped. "What did you wish for?" she asked again.
He put his hands back into his pockets and failed to suppress a smile. "That we'd be friends." The truth was that since the accident, the boy hadn't been able to make any friends. In fact, he had alienated almost all of his former schoolmates and was rarely in contact with anyone outside of his family and the staffs of the various hospitals his father sent him to for check-ups. The little girl had also been the first person he'd met who didn't gawk nor see anything peculiar about his baldness. In fact, the only thing she found odd about him was that he wore a suit like a grown up! Sure that made her a little strange - lest he forget her tendency to ramble - but really, it wasn't her fault that she was a girl.
"Oh, that's easy!" Lana giggled and extended her arm for a handshake. "My name is -"
"There you are!" cried a woman as she swept into the room. She took her niece's outstretched hand possessively and shot a disapproving look at the boy. He decided instantly that he did not like her.
"Look, Aunt Nell!" the little girl said, holding the marble up eagerly. "Look what he gave me!"
"What is it?" asked Nell as she took it and held it up to the light. Meteor rock! she thought in surprise.
"It's his lucky marble and it grants wishes!"
Nell shot the boy another look before offering the marble back to him. The boy shook his head and took a step back. "It's hers now. I don't need it anymore."
"Please?" Lana quipped, batting her eyes and milking her cuteness for all it was worth on her aunt.
"Oh, all right," Nell relented and turned to leave with her niece in tow. After the talk with the doctor, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with the marble now tucked safely in her own coat pocket. "We're going now."
"You know better than to talk to strange boys," Nell scolded in a voice just over a whisper.
"But he's not!" Lana cried as she tried to pull away. She looked back hopelessly at the boy standing at the doorway of the recreation room with an equally lost expression. "He's my friend!" Realizing it was now or never, she grabbed one of the chocolate bars from her back pocket and threw it to the boy. He ran forward and caught it easily. When he looked back down the hall, the little girl and her aunt were already in the elevator. She waved sadly as the doors slid closed between them.
* * * *
"What are you thinking about?"
Lana opened her eyes and jumped with a start, but a firm hand pressed down on her shoulder and kept her from falling off the sofa. She looked up and couldn't believe her eyes. "Lex?"
Sitting casually at the head of the couch, he looked down at her and grinned. Lana pulled herself quickly to a sitting position as her eyes darted around the room. They were alone. When her eyes fell back onto Lex, she realized he was wearing a similar light blue pajama-like uniform with the words 'Smallville General' stenciled onto the left breast pocket. "How -- what are you doing here?"
He lifted a small glass of orange juice from his lap and handed it to her. "Nurse's orders," he replied simply. She accepted it gratefully and drank it all down in a few gulps. Lana hadn't realized how thirsty she was, nor that Lex's eyes had never left her since he entered unnoticed into the room. He took the now-empty glass from her hands when she was through and placed it on a nearby table before coming around the couch to sit beside her. He folded his hands on his lap and concentrated his gaze on the television screen. "Listen, Lana," he began to apologize. "About what happened"
She placed her small hand on his shoulder and waited for him to turn to her. "You don't have to, Lex. I know it wasn't you." She gave him her sweetest, most sincere smile. "The Lex Luthor I know would never hurt me."
"Still, I'm sorry you got involved," he sighed. "I'm just glad you're alright."
"We both are," she pointed out and raised a curious brown in his direction. "Which brings us back to my initial question."
"Isn't it obvious?" he chuckled, gesturing to his apparel. "Can't a man who'd been deemed fit enough to be transferred out of a maximum security asylum be allowed to meet fellow recuperating patients?"
Lana burst with laughter. "You know, if you'd said that to any other person on this floor, they'd have run away from you." He stole a glance at her full leg brace and smiled sadly. Silence fell between them and unconsciously, Lana began rolling the therapeutic balls in her hand once more.
"So what were you thinking about?" Lex remembered. "When you were holding up one of those?"
"An old memory," she shook her head and laughed softly. "About how I got my necklace."
"You mean the green one?" he asked. Lana nodded. "Why don't you wear it anymore?"
"I put it away." The young woman sat thoughtfully for a moment. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but somehow it didn't feel right to wear it anymore. It belonged to a different time." A dreamy, far away look brightened her face then. It lasted only a moment, for it disappeared with the shrug of her shoulders as Lana turned to Lex. "But we all grow up eventually, don't we?"
Lex took one of the balls gently from her hand and held it up to the light. "I used to collect marbles when I was younger, particularly clear ones. I used to be fascinated with making them glow." He threw the ball up playfully and chuckled. "Turns out it was just the light passing through at a particular angle; a simple optical illusion. But back then, I truly believed that a glowing marble possessed special powers that could grant you wishes."
Lana's jaw fell open. "I believed that too!"
"Really?" Lex queried. "Did you make a wish back there?"
"Yes," said Lana.
"What did you wish for?"
She turned away, embarrassed, and shrugged. "Nothing special. Before, I used to wish for all sorts of stuff: a new dollhouse. Confidence to ride my first equestrian tournament. To be loved." The fragile smile on her face wavered. "And in a way, they all came true."
Lex was impressed. "All of them?"
"Well," Lana sighed and pursed her lips. "There was one. For the longest time I kept wishing for it to happen. After a while, I just forgot about it... that is, until today."
"What is it?"
Lana met Lex's eyes for the first time in their conversation. "Why are you so interested?" she asked suspiciously.
"It's a glimpse into the workings of Lana Lang's mind," he said, giving her the infamous Luthor grin. "How could I not be interested?"
Lana shyly tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and let her gaze fall to the floor. She was flattered, but she was also anxious and doubtful. "It's very personal," she said.
Lex reached out and touched her hand gently. "Hey." She forced herself to look up at him. "I once promised you I'd tell you everything and I meant it. I trust you, Lana. Whether or not you feel the same way after what's happened, I want you to know that. One of the things I learned in my incarceration is that there are some things from the past that can't be tucked away forever. Just the knowledge that it's there will eat at you - even push you over the edge." Lex offered a sheepish grin and subtly withdrew from her.
He had said more than intended and rather than convince Lana to confide in him, had ultimately opened himself up instead. Suffice to say, he was a little surprised when she began with, "I'd never told anyone this." In fact, they both looked startled that the words had come out of her mouth. Once spoken, however, it could not be taken back. "After the meteor shower, Aunt Nell had me take weekly trauma sessions at the hospital. On the last day, I met this boy." Lana chuckled to hide her embarrassment and rolled her eyes. "Your typical girl-meets-boy, complete with a 'he almost made me cry and flush months of therapy down the drain' twist," she sighed nostalgically. Lex was too stunned to speak. "I wished I could go back to that day. We only knew each other for a few minutes, but he was the only friend I made that first year after the shower. Aunt Nell turned the marble into a necklace so that I could always have it with me."
Lex swallowed hard. "And the boy? What happened to him?"
"I don't know," Lana said, hanging her head sadly. "When I asked Samantha about him some time later, she said that he was very ill. That's why he'd lost all his hair - the chemo, I guess." A sad smile came to her lips. "It was very kind of the staff to give him a suit for Christmas. Let him pretend for a little while to be grown up since he couldn't... wouldn't..." She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.
Lex, on the other hand, could hardly believe what he was hearing. "Is that what they told you?" He got up and began pacing in front of a bewildered Lana. The truth dawned before him and he started mumbling something under his breath. Lana grew worried and with a little effort, she was on her feet too. His mumbling was clearer now and she made out three distinct words: "It came true."
"Lex?" she asked with concern, but he continued to pace and ramble incoherently. Determined to get his attention, Lana got on her crutches and made her way over to one end of his pacing nearest to the door. "Lex," she called again, but again he did not hear her. Finally, when he was about to turn and pace back, she grabbed him by the arm and stopped him. "Lex, what's going on?"
He was disoriented at first, but then his gaze fell on Lana and it all became wonderfully clear to him. His eyes lit up and his lips broke into a rare, ear-to-ear smile. Lana frowned and took a fearful step back, painfully remembering what happened the last time he smiled at her that way. "Are you feeling okay?"
Lex opened and closed his mouth indecisively. Where could he begin? Where should he begin? Lana had taken another fearful step back and was now in the doorway under the
"Mistletoe," said Lex.
"Mistletoe?" Lana looked up at the plastic Christmas ornament. "I don't -"
She lost her handle on one of the crutches suddenly and it fell clattering to the ground. She did not fall, but she never got to finish either, because the moment she turned her gaze from the mistletoe and back to Lex, he'd seized both her arms and kissed her chastely on the cheek. "Merry Christmas," he whispered as he pulled away. Lana's small frame wavered but Lex held her up. She looked up at him, and from her particular angle, the plastic mistletoe berries above their heads seemed to glow under the fluorescent hospital lights. The memories of that long ago day came rushing back to her and, finally, it clicked. She gasped and leaned into Lex, hugging him fiercely. Why did she not suspect it before? "It's you!" she cried. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so happy. A sharp intake of breath and a small groan from Lex protested to the stranglehold she had on him, but she didn't care. As far as Lana was concerned, she was never going to let go of her first and truest friend ever again.
Watching from the nurses' station, the veteran nurse Samantha smiled knowingly and went off to see to her next patient.