By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <email@example.com>
Submitted: March 2007
Summary: An old man rotting away in prison reminisces about his life. But who is he? Sometimes, telling the good guys from the bad guys can be surprisingly difficult.
"You know," the old man said idly, the sound of his voice suddenly breaking the stillness of the room, "there was a time when those bars would have meant nothing to me."
The young man, sitting on the other side of the bars, nodded briefly.
"I had power back then," the old man mused. "Real power."
The young man nodded again. Everyone knew that.
"I suppose, even now, if I really wanted to…" There was a weighty pause, and then the old man sighed and closed his eyes. "Well, but that doesn't matter."
The old man opened his eyes again, looked around. He focused on the young man for a moment, almost surprised, as if he'd forgotten there was someone there with him.
The look sharpened, taking on a steely edge that made the young man shift nervously in his seat. It felt to him like the old man was scrutinizing him to the minutest detail, examining every fiber of his being, and somehow looking almost *through* him, inspecting his heart and soul.
The moment passed. The old man turned away, his eyes losing focus once more. "What happened?" he echoed. "What else?" He shook his head, looked back through the bars. His gaze this time held nothing but idle curiosity. "Tell me, do you know what the most powerful force in the world is?"
The young man hesitated, seemed to consider several responses, and then mutely shook his head. He looked back at the old man, unsure of what answer was expected, or what the consequences of guessing wrong might be.
"Love," the old man answered for him, a sad, wistful, bittersweet smile on his lips. "It's built empires… and torn them apart. Raised men up higher than they ever could have dreamed… and pulled the mighty off their thrones to be dashed to the ground. Saved the hopeless… and ripped everything away from those who held the world in their grasp." He stared blankly at the ceiling for a moment, then blinked, coming back to himself. He gave a little chuckle. "Ah, look at me. You'd hardly know me for the man I used to be. 'What happened?' you ask? Love."
Silence filled the room once more. The young main waited, listening patiently.
"I had it all," the old man reminisced. "For a brief, beautiful while, I had it all. And then… *he* took her away from me."
The young man nodded, understanding. There was no need to ask who "he" was; only one man could bring forth that much venom in the old man's voice.
"I'd have given her everything," he continued, looking at nothing in particular. "Laid the world at her feet… But no. *He* decided he wanted her for himself. He took her from me." The old man's eyes flashed, his gaze filled with barely controlled fire.
And then settled a moment later, replaced by that same bittersweet wistfulness. "I would have married her, you know. Almost did. But then, of course…" He closed his eyes, grimacing as he relived the memory.
"Tell me about him," the young man prompted, trying to turn the old man's thoughts from the disastrous wedding.
"He had her fooled. He had them all fooled. They looked up to him. I was the only one who saw him for what he was. I tried… I tried… He took her away from me!" His voice was harsh, filled with anger and pain. "She was the world to me. Everything that I had, I put into getting her back. And when I had nothing left… I tried again. I kept trying until…" His eyes roamed the walls, focused briefly on the bars, moved on. "Well, you see what came of that."
"And what happened to them?" the young man asked. He'd noted the old man's use of the past tense.
"Them?" A dry, humorless chuckle. "What happened to them? Heh." He looked away, falling silent once more.
"Yes. What happened to her? And him?" The young man knew perfectly well what had happened to them, of course, but he wanted to know the old man's version.
The old man's gaze sharpened again. "Your parents," he said, his voice harsh and steely, with an edge of bitter irony.
The young man started, then froze. He hadn't expected to be recognized.
"You want me," the old man repeated, grimly enunciating each syllable, "to tell you what happened to your parents?"
The young man gathered himself up, forced himself to look the old man in the eye. "Yes, Mr. Luthor. Tell me. What happened to my parents?"
"What do you think, boy? You know them. You've seen them for yourself." The old man rolled over, turning his back to the bars, and pulled the thin, drab prison blanket up around his shoulders. "What happened to them?" he muttered sarcastically. "What else? They lived happily ever after."
And with that, the room was filled with silence once more.