The thing about everything being eventual is a load of absolute shit because Helen is watching Lex sputter - and really, there's no other word for what he's doing - around her room and frowning at everything. Not three weeks ago, she remembers watching Lex sleep, collapsed in bed after an exhausting day in Metropolis and thinking that very, very soon, everything would fall apart.
Everything did - but in just the right way.
She would laugh if it didn't hurt so badly to move that much and really, she's pretty sure that Lex would have some sort of mental implosion if she did.
She feels just as fragile as Lex is treating her, so she supposes that it all works out - for now.
She intends on bouncing back, returning to normal, and not crying at night eventually.
Just as soon as she can look into a room with shadows and not see Paul waiting for her in corners. Just as soon as Lex doesn't have to be there when she goes to bed. Just as soon as she has full mobility of her arm again. Just as soon as she can go back to work and not want to vomit every time she is near the pathology lab. Just as soon as all of this disappears into a comfortable fog of forgetting.
There's a medical term for it, she's sure, she's just...fuzzy right now.
"Helen?" Lex says gently, taking a few steps closer. He is still wearing his shirt from work, the sleeves rolled up. His watch flashes silver against his wrist and she can't take her eyes off of it to look at his face. "Helen?" he asks, so softly.
She doesn't look up but she says, "I'm tired, Lex."
Helen feels him nod and then feels his hands, those same hands that she remembers very, very distantly stroking her hair and brushing her cheek when everything was so dark and cold. He is pulling the sheets higher, up around her shoulders.
"Don't go," she says. This is important.
"I'm not going to go anywhere," he answers, but he disappears long enough for her to hear the sound of his shoes falling to the floor and his belt being discarded. He climbs up on the bed behind her, slips under the covers, and doesn't put his arms around.
She doesn't know how he knows not to do it, but she is grateful that he doesn't.
She wants Lex here; but she can't be trapped.
Lex lets her pretend to sleep until nearly eleven. Then she turns around and cries into his shoulder until everything fades.
The fourth day After, Clark comes to visit her.
More specifically, Clark comes to talk to Lex and sees her in the den where she and Lex settled on letting her stay during the daytime. Lex has issues with Helen being out of bed; Helen claims that unless he wants his girlfriend's ass to be bruised from total inactivity, he's going to need to suck it up.
She hears them, because it's an old building and sound echoes.
"How is she?" Clark asks, nervous, scared and young.
Helen cannot help but to think about his blood, his plasma, his fucked-up mitochondria. And at the same time, she thinks of a blue-lit room and an enormous image of him on the wall, a temple to curiosity. "What is this, Lex?" she asked. "I want to figure some things out," Lex admitted. "For science?" she asked, mystified, horrified, and intrigued all at the same time; who needed skeletons when you could have plasma screens? "For lots of reasons," Lex said quietly.
She remembers thinking, this is it, this is the end. This is when he realizes that he's already dating Clark and leaves me.
She also remembers amending that with, this is when he realizes that he is stalking and dating Clark and says goodbye.
It didn't happen, and Clark and Lex are climbing the stairs up to the third-floor den where she is sitting in a large, soft chaise, reading a book. Her fingers slip between two pages and she can feel the cheap paper against the new, raw skin on her hands. There was glass, and splintered wood, she remembers feeling her palms press against the floor and pain blossoming, so much more concentrated and clear than what was happening. She remembers thinking that she needed help, needed Lex, needed someone or anyone or more time - to think, to do something about it. But she's not there anymore and her fingers are slipping between two pages to feel the cheap paper against skin. She is reading The Hundred Secret Senses again, and she wonders if she is maybe trying to tell Lex something she isn't brave or stupid enough to say out loud.
"She's improving," Lex says carefully, and Helen hopes that she doesn't turn that into a lie.
There's a silence and only one set of footsteps moves until they stop as well. "Clark?" Lex asks.
"I - I'm really sorry, Lex," Clark says.
Helen can imagine him in the hallway, wringing his hands and looking down at his feet, guiltyridden. Lex told her Clark has a hero complex. She wants to know if Clark would still feel guilty after he saw the room with the locked door. She wants to know if he'd still feel bad if he knew how much research she's done on him, her own file. She and Lex are perfect partners in crime, and that is why it will never work out. Crashing and burning is an eventuality.
Lex makes a sound like sighing. "This Messiah complex of yours is growing." When Clark doesn't say anything, Lex adds, "It's not your fault, Clark."
"I should have been there," Clark says, voice tight.
Helen can't imagine why Clark thinks he should save the world, but thinks it probably has a lot to do with the weird things that happen in Smallville and everyone pretends doesn't, that it is tied to why the Kents seemed so terrified by a child who was sick, just sick, and refused to take him to the hospital. It probably has a lot to do with Lex's room, and the blue shadows that hide there.
Lex starts walking again, and he sounds close to annoyed. "You can't save everyone."
Helen hears Clark scramble to catch up as he says, "I should have saved Dr. Bryce. She - "
Lex pauses, and they are very close to the door now, because she can breathe and hear them at the same time again. "She what, Clark?"
She hears it in his voice: curiosity and desire and a thousand different degrees of hope. Lex wants Clark to tell him things, all things.
"She's important to you," Clark murmurs.
Lex doesn't sound disappointed, and Helen wonders at how much effort that takes. There is a long pause before she hears the door open.
So she pastes a smile on her face and breathes in and out and doesn't ask why his blood cells are the most bizarre thing she's ever seen in her life.
She feels her raw fingertips slipping between the pages of a book or a message or a secret, and makes herself do this thing.
Thursday morning she asks if she can go somewhere.
Lex looks at her over coffee with a curious expression. "Go somewhere?"
She nods and wraps her nightshirt around her index finger. It is worn cotton and feels like college. She remembers thinking that Lex would hate it and buy her something new - until the third day she lived at the manor and found out that Lex slept in a Princeton fencing t-shirt and pajama pants older than her shirt. She remembers thinking that she loved him, right then, more than she thought she ever would.
He sets down his mug and folds the newspaper, never breaking eye-contact. "Where, exactly?" he asks.
She shrugs. "Not here," she tells him. Helen looks around and sees the sunlight streaming into the first-floor library. Yellow has been splashed across every dusty volume on the shelf, and puddles on the floor near her toes; she sticks her feet in the light, and feels warm. Just a pinpoint, but it's a start.
Lex is quiet and she thinks that he is going to say no until she hears him digging around for his cell phone.
"Yes," he says, reaching across the table to twine his fingers with her own. "I want the car brought around to the front and the jet waiting. Have Hope move my appointments back two days." She hears a murmur on the other end of the line and then Lex smiles before he hangs up.
"Where, exactly?" she parrots him, and feels a smile on his face.
There are trade-offs, throwbacks, downsides, and disappointments: cancelled dates and moods, bad days on the stock market and nights where she will wait in the bed until she sees morning light before she hears Lex again, in his office, saving his own version of the universe.
But there is so much good to be had.
She has to remind herself that this will end, too. That Lex isn't meant to stay here, or if he does, it isn't because of herself.
But he says, "Have you ever been to Montana?" and then asks, "Do you like horses?" she can't quite make herself believe these things.
His hand is warm against her palm and Helen thinks that this might be unintentional, too.
Friday morning her arm doesn't hurt anymore so she leaves Lex in bed to go out on the deck.
She watches the horses run and thinks about what Lex told her.
"I bought this back a few months ago. It was my mother's years ago. She loved it here."
He didn't say that his mother would have liked her. Helen figures this is because as morally corrupt as Lex might think he is capable of being, he won't do anything to blaspheme his mother. Lillian Luthor would have known the truth, Helen realizes with a smirk; she would have said to Lex, "She's nice, Lex, but all wrong for you. I only want you to be happy, darling."
And Lillian would have been right.
Knowing this, Helen wonders what she's doing here, and why she's doing it. She remembers telling herself that it was all a matter of time before Lex and Clark saw the light and she was a thing of the past. But that's harder to believe when she wakes up next to him, curled up in old clothes and smelling Montana and distance between herself and Smallville.
She's not letting herself hope for this because it would be dumb.
"It's good to see you up and about," she hears, and turns around to see Lex leaning against the opened French door, a lazy, heavy-lidded smile on his face.
She's not letting herself hope because it would hurt too much to have to let go all over again.
Monday afternoon she stops by the Talon to get some coffee and away from Lex's watchful eye.
"You're always on business trips!" she accused him.
"I can telecommute," he said breezily. "I actually get environmental incentives for letting my employees do so." She stared. "I'm being a role model, Helen."
He was stalking, that's what he was doing, she thinks in retrospect. But it's a heavy, smileinducing, reassuring sort of stalking that has her ducking out from his presence only to long for it very, very quickly.
So she is grateful when she feels Lex sliding into the empty chair next to her own, and the sweet smile of a girl's crush bloom on Lana's face as she says, "Lex!"
Helen looks at him from the corner of her eye and sees Lex smiling politely back. "Lana. I see you're the reason she escaped this afternoon."
Lana flushes dark red and Helen laughs.
It's not so much, she thinks, about everything that can go wrong anymore.
So she is not surprised when he asks her and gives her the ring. She is even less surprised when she says "Yes" and they kiss.
She goes to the Talon a week later and feels Clark's eyes on her back. Helen doesn't turn back, and she doesn't apologize. It's her happiness to take if Lex thinks it's his happiness to offer. She can only be so good. She is getting ready to leave and go back to work again for the first time in a month when Clark stops her with a desperate expression and, "Wait, Dr. Bryce!"
Helen debates whether or not to run.
She sits down and says, "Hello, Clark." The ring is heavy on her hand and she wants it to act like a soldier.
He doesn't look at her face at all, just at her hand with an unblinking stare. Clark is not trying at all today, and what he's feeling is written all across his face. Helen wonders how he makes it through a day without everyone knowing his secret, without half the town just shaking their heads and saying, "Well, there's always a few funny ones in the crowd." But what she wonders most and most frequently about is how Clark manages to hide this from Lex.
"So," Clark starts, his voice painfully low, "you two are engaged, huh?"
"Yes," she answers after a moment. "Lex asked me - "
"He told me already," Clark says flatly.
She wonders that conversation was like.
But she can't dwell on it. Joy is fragile.
Finally, he says, "Do you think you'll make him happy, Dr. Bryce?"
Helen is still and watches him swallow hard. He is looking at the ground. And if he looks up, Helen knows what she will see there: a measured desperation she recognizes from herself. Because Clark knows as well as Helen does that she cannot save him from this, cannot give him hope or an excuse or an open door. Clark had his chances, but Clark has his secrets and he made a decision a long time ago without saying any words at all.
Now, Lex has, too.
"I can try," she says honestly. "That's the most any of us can do, Clark."
He looks up sharply, eyes dark with something she can't quite put her finger on: like grief and longing and the same fractured hopefulness in Lex's gaze.
She is grieving, too. Because this was never supposed to happen, never come to pass. She was temporary and she let herself be okay with that because she loved him, for what that was worth, and she didn't want to move again. Helen hates herself, too, because it would be *so easy* to give Lex the happiness he doesn't think he can afford, but she won't because she wants it for herself. Is it selfish and hateful or social Darwinism, she doesn't know and can't care.
It's not a word, either, but uneventual springs to mind and she strokes her ring. "Is that what you wanted, Clark?" she asks, almost gentle.
He looks at her with the worst sort of indecision before he says, "Yeah, I guess," and starts to go.
Sometimes, she has moments of clarity, like she knows that Lex wants to love her more than he actually does.
But intent, she's finding as he mouths the curve of her shoulder, strokes the length of her thigh, counts for more than people like to think.
"Tell me what you want," he whispers to her, like a prayer.
Helen thinks of temples, thinks of blue, thinks of gods and monsters and a life spent in halves. Lex deserves more than that.
But she sinks her nails into his back and arches herself into him like she is throwing herself down as a sacrifice.
"Just you," she whispers.
And means it.