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Quality Time

by P L Nunn


Chapter Twelve


Blood. Clark tasted blood. It was one of those rare flavors that he only got to experience once in a blue moon. Or under the influence of green rock.

The overheated metal of the decimated engine pressed into his back, where he'd been flung against it - - and he felt the heat - - actually felt it in a way that wasn't good. He pushed himself forward, still feeling the too close presence of kryptonite. Dropped to his knees and fought back the overwhelming urge to vomit. He shook his head, trying to clear the clinging disorientation and saw the man - - the still metal man with the gleam of green running through the exposed shell of his skin like veins.

The son of a bitch who'd been about to crush Lex's skull, who'd maybe been the one that had caused all those bruises and cuts that marred Lex's beautiful skin.

Clark growled, ignoring the weakness that threaded through his limbs - - damn sure ignoring the pain and lunged forward. Maybe not as fast as he could have, but fast enough that human reflexes couldn't react in time to counter him.

He hit the guy, a shoulder to a metal gut, and bowled them both thirty feet across dirt and debris, plowing into the soft earth at the edge of the crater. He wasn't entirely sure who he damaged more with the action. He'd never actually experienced a bone slipping out of joint - - but it certainly felt as if his shoulder had gone through some sort of dislocation.

Something hit his side - - a jackhammer disguised as a fist - - and he rocked backwards, spitting dirt, distracted from the pain in his shoulder by the pain in his kidney. He curled amidst the dirt and debris and tried to remember the last time he'd experienced so much consecutive pain. A long time.

"First time I hit you, didn't make a dent." The man was standing over him, dirt in his clothes, dirt dulling the sheen of his metallic skin. He was staring at his forearm and the tracery of green. "Is it the green rock? Same damned green rock that came down out of the sky that day and made me the man I am now? Rock do something to you too, boy? Or you one of his experiments?"

One of his experiments? Lex's? Was this one of the liberated mutants? If so, Clark found a certain lack of sympathy for the bastard.

"I don't have a grudge with you." The guy said, with this smile that made Clarks skin crawl. "You back off and let me settle my business with Luthor and you and I will be honky dory?"

Clark looked up, shook the dirt out of his hair and felt something almost feral cross his lips. Something deadly and determined that he'd back up with his life. "Over my dead body."

A grin, no less feral than Clark's, but less blood stained, split the metal man's face. "That's not a problem for me, boy."

The man drew his leg back for a kick, but Clark wasn't so far gone from the kryptonite exposure, not like he might have been when he was say, fifteen, and got weak kneed ten feet away from a necklace sized chip of the stuff. Maybe another ten years and he'd hardly flinch at all. A man could wish, anyway.

He caught the heavy heel when it came at him, and put his weight behind toppling the man backwards. A little cloud of dirt billowed up from the impact of the dense body.


Clark looked up and saw Lex at the edge of the crater, too close for comfort to the overheated wreckage of a still burning engine.

"Get out of there," Lex was yelling at him, staring not down at Clark and the metal man, but across the width of the crater. Clark turned to follow his stare and caught half a glimpse of a small figure standing at south side of the rift and then the ground heaved under him. A rolling wave of earth that tossed him off his knees and culminated under the engine, bulging like some living thing under the massive chunk of twisted metal, then hoisting it up and flinging it, along with tons of dirt and rock towards them.

Clark was fairly certain, meteor rock weakened or no, that he'd survive the impact. The metal man very well might. Lex on the other hand, wasn't quite so durable and he was close enough to the edge that some of the tidal wave of earthen debris and mangled train would catch him on the way down.

Ignoring the lethargy that wanted to weight his limbs, Clark launched himself up. For a moment, it almost seemed as if the kryptonite wouldn't allow him to break the bonds of earth's gravity, but with a surge of will he overcame the weakness and shot up. With the shadow of disaster on his heels he caught Lex in the crook of his arm and shot skyward, carrying them both past the groaning rumble of destruction.

He kept going, up and up, drawing in breaths of relief as the distance leached the weakness from his body. There were still lingering hurts, still the taste of blood in his mouth, but the hurts faded rapidly and he could swallow the blood away.

"God," Lex said softly, shivering. Clark shifted him, light as a feather in his arms now that he had his full strength back. He got an arm under Lex's knees, cradling him close, far enough up now that the wreckage below was a thin jagged line bisecting straight track and flat squares of fields planted with summer crops. He could see the approaching lights of vehicles coming down the service road running parallel to the tracks. Really close from the direction of Smallville, miles further out from the interstate and the westward towns.

"There was kryptonite," Clark said, feeling the need to explain his failure. "It was like he'd absorbed it."

Lex pressed his face against Clark's shoulder, shuddering, heart beating frantically, not saying a thing, which in and of itself was a damned big tell to just how bad a shape he was in. Lex never lacked an opinion to offer.

"Hospital?" Clark asked and Lex shook his head minutely, the fingers of the hand curled against Clark's T-shirt tightening slightly. Lex said no, but he was fading. Clark could feel it in the loosening of his body.

Clark needed to get him someplace safe, in the hands of people he trusted unflinchingly, because he couldn't turn his back on what he'd left loose down there, no matter what sort of rock was lacing its fists. He couldn't trust that the unsuspecting rescue workers who were rushing to lend their aid to that terrible wreck wouldn't run headlong into something worse than a mangled train.

He flew home. Low and slowly enough not to chill his half clothed burden. Lex was out, head lolling and limbs lax, by the time Clark sat down in front of the farmhouse. He was up the steps, calling out for his mother by reflex alone, even as he questioned the wisdom of not taking off and heading straight for the hospital. Lex healed abnormally quickly - - but he broke just as easily as the next human being and some breaks needed help mending.

"Clark?" The kitchen door swung open and his mom was peering out the screen door at him in shock.

"Mom - -help," he felt halfway on the verge of some sort of hysteria. He was shaking bad enough that he didn't dare try and shift Lex enough to make a grab for the screen door.

But one of the many admirable things about Martha Kent was that she never failed to act, even in the face of the most daunting surprise. Having her son show up unexpectedly with a bloody, unconscious Lex Luthor in his arms didn't stop her from throwing open the door and ushering him in.

"On the sofa, put him on the sofa. What happened?" She moved out of his way, letting him maneuver Lex through the door, then followed him into the living room as he bent to lay Lex down on the sofa. The TV was on, the soft buzz on news in the background. The smell of coffee drifted in from the kitchen and some sort of baking. Muffins maybe.

She crowded him out of the way, bending down to look at Lex herself. "What happened to him? How long has he been unconscious?"

She had her hand on Lex's forehead. She slid it down to his neck, fingers light against the vein, checking the rate of his pulse. Clark could have told her it beat steadily. Clark couldn't focus on anything else.

"Not long. He was awake a few minutes ago."

She looked up at him, eyes wide and concerned, but he wasn't entirely sure if it were more for Lex or him.

"You - - you didn't do this, did you, honey?" The way she asked it, it was like it hurt her even voicing the thought. But she asked anyway, because another one her traits was a total lack of squeamishness when it came to vital matters.

He felt a jolt of shock that almost stole his breath at the question though. Of course she might consider the possibility. A year ago and he might have, when he and Lex had still been at odds, if Lex had done something to push him far enough - - and he'd never told her anything to let her know that the feuding was long over.

"No." he whispered.

She accepted that with a nod. "Go get the medicine kit, and warm water and some clean wash cloths. My God - - are these burns?"

Clark didn't want to look. He had the kit and the cloths in a heartbeat, but had to wait for the water to run the old fashioned way and stood at the kitchen sink trying to still his breathing as he listened to the sounds of his mother kneeling on the floor next to the sofa, and the sound of Lex's heartbeat and his soft breaths.

He sat the required items on the sofa table and stood, clenching and unclenching his fists as she took a wet cloth and began cleaning off the dirt and blood. The black rage began to churn again as the damage was revealed. Insidious, painful things that his mom made little sympathetic noises at as she tended.

"Who did - -?" she started to ask, pausing to look up at him, but the words froze on her tongue, her sharp eyes glued to his face. "Clark?" she asked softly, but he could barely register the words, the anger so terrible inside him.

She put the cloth in the bowl and it slowly leaked pink into the clear water as she rose. She lifted a hand to his face, her cool fingertips touching his cheek.

"It's going to be okay, but you need to calm down, honey."

He wasn't sure what she meant. There were a series of burns, interspaced with the shallow cuts, the size and shape of the end of a cigarette on Lex's chest. One normally pink nipple was angry shade of raw from it.

"Clark!" His mother's raised voice didn't get through to him. He didn't feel the sharp slap across his cheek, but he registered it and blinked in surprise, the smothering fury receding enough that he could focus on her face.

"Breathe." She said, in that stern mother voice that brooked no argument. He took the requested breath and it felt good enough that he realized that he might have gone some time without one. She held out her palm and there was the glistening residue of moisture there.

He lifted a hand and touched his cheek and amazingly enough the wetness was still there.

He took another breath and said. "I need to go deal with the people who - - who did this. I need you to take care of him, mom. Please take care of him."

Her eyes were still on his face, distressingly intuitive eyes that he'd never ever been able to keep a truth from for long. It was one of the reasons his trips home since he and Lex had been together had been few and far between. She glanced down to Lex, then back up to him.

"You and Lex have patched things up."

He shut his eyes. That was one way of putting it. "Yeah."

She kept staring at him, waiting and he really needed to get back to those mutants before they took innocent lives. In fact flying back into a fray that had him at a distinct disadvantage seemed a really good excuse for not expounding.

But she needed to know - - if something terrible happened, and it just might with green kryptonite in the mix - - she needed to understand that it wasn't just a patched rift. She needed to understand that there was nothing more important to him that the battered man on the couch. She needed to understand because Lex - - no matter how self-sufficient and emotionally distant he liked to portray himself as being - - would need someone who understood.

"I love him, mom," he blurted. "I'm sorry - - I'm so sorry I didn't tell you - - but I couldn't figure out how - - I thought you'd be ashamed - - I thought dad would turn over in his grave - - I thought - -"

"Clark," She caught his face, small hands that were so fragile and so strong. She waited until he shut up, until he was willing to listen to what she had to say. "I could never be ashamed of you honey. Never. You understand that." It wasn't a question, it was a demand and he nodded, slowly.

"I don't care who you love, as long as you have love. Now go and do what you need to do. I'll see to Lex."




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