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Quality Time

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 13

 

Lex swam towards the indistinct, lazy light of consciousness. Things became apparent. The constant, low chatter of a television or radio. The smell of strong coffee. The dull ache of pain.

Pain. He remembered the infliction. Sharp, bright recall that made him start in panic.

Flailed, expecting restraint and finding only the insubstantial heaviness of a light blanket. He knocked something over, a knick-knack on a coffee table in his efforts to scramble to something resembling upright.

"Lex!" A concerned female voice, half familiar, edged it way in through the pounding in his ears. Again and this time accompanied by the face and form of Martha Kent. She scrambled around to kneel before him, trying to keep him from bolting up or falling off the couch - - either was a viable option considering the way his limbs felt disconnected from his body. She said things, the calming sort of nonsense a mother might say to a frantic, injured child. He couldn't quite latch onto the words, his mind still half in that other place, where pain and fear came at the hands of madmen.

"Lex." She said it again, loud and firm and grasped his jaw with unflinching, strong fingers. He blinked at her, her face swimming into focus.

"You're okay. You're safe, now. Whatever happened to you, its over."

He shuddered, higher brain function beginning to cut through residual panic. Martha Kent. The Kent farmhouse. Clark had brought him home.

Clark.

He must have said it out loud because she nodded, a look of relief easing over her face at his apparent return to sanity. She moved her hand from his face to his arm, gently squeezing his forearm. "That's right, Clark brought you here. How do you feel?"

He felt like he'd recently survived torture and a train wreck, but he shook the cob webs out of his head and tried to focus on remembering important details. Like a man who could absorb the properties of a very dangerous alien rock and the alien in question who tended to rush headlong into trouble.

"I'll survive, Mrs. Kent." There were white gauze bandages around his wrists. The glossy smears of ointment on the burns on the soft skin of his inner arm. He imagined she'd swabbed other places. He refused to look down and see. Suppressing a shiver instead and looking away from the evidence of the ordeal and into her worried blue eyes.

"Where's Clark?" Clark was a priority. If Clark wasn't here, then Clark had most certainly taken that headlong plunge.

She pressed her lips, that look passing over her face that he remembered from old. The look that said she was debating what she might safely say that wouldn't implicate her son in things that might threaten his secrets. He ached to his bones and had neither the time nor the patience for it. Truth be told, he'd lost patience for those quietly furtive looks the Kent's always used to pass amongst each other whenever someone asked for simple - - or not so simple - - truths, quite a few years ago. Another one of those reasons he'd abandoned the country and moved back to Metropolis. Cutthroat metropolitan lies were easier to swallow than those thinly veiled in false, rural hospitality.

"He'll be back - -"

"You hope," he cut her off, knowing, absolutely knowing Clark had gone back after Rule and the boy. And Rule wasn't stupid. Rule had seen Clark's reaction to the kryptonite.

He tried to push himself up and gasped, grimacing as pain shot up his arm from his wrist. A sprain. He hoped it was a sprain, though it was entirely possible one too many impacts of metal cuffs against wrist had fractured bone.

"Lex," she hovered, torn between helping him up and keeping him down. "Whoever these people are that - - that hurt you, Clark can take care of himself. He's probably gone to the sheriff."

Sheer fabrication. She was so good at it he doubted she had to think anymore before voicing viable excuses. Someone had had to teach Clark after all. She'd lie with her hand on the bible, he thought, to protect her son. Then again, so would Lex. He'd do considerably more.

"There's kryptonite involved and two mutants who kill for the sake of killing," he said bluntly and she stopped with her mouth open, breath caught in her throat. "And he's been gone for how long now?"

He had no idea. He had no concrete notion how long ago all this had even started, time having lost meaning somewhere along the way. They'd taken his watch, so he didn't even have that as a beacon.

"Kryptonite?" She was keeping up the pretense, too wily after years of keeping this secret, to easily let admission slip.

He took a breath, frustrated, aching bone deep and afraid for Clark.

"I appreciate, I really do, why you and your husband horded Clark's secrets all these years, but the secret doesn't mean a goddamned thing if a psychopathic mutant with the ability to absorb kryptonite weakens him enough to do mortal damage. How long has he been gone?"

She lifted her chin, nostrils flaring and said. "Thirty minutes, maybe more."

She was a practical woman and a smart one. She had that look in her eyes that said she was turning things over in her head and coming to conclusions that she didn't like.

"Do you have a gun in the house?" he asked, trying for his feet again and gaining them this time. It hurt. Everything screamed bloody murder at the exertion. His knees wanted to give right back out, but if he sat down again, he doubted he'd be able to get up again.

"No," she said, then rethought, gaze going to the wall by the front hall where an antique shotgun graced a rack. "Clark's grandfather's old shotgun."

"Tell me you have shells." It wouldn't be much use in taking down a man long distance, and it might not be of use at all against Garrison Rule, and God, he didn't want to get close to either of them again, but some things couldn't be helped. Lex had seen Clark incapacitated by a small chunk of the meteor rock; he didn't want to think what a man constructed of it might do to him.

Martha produced a box of shells that she kept in the dining room hutch. She also offered him an old shirt, Clark's or his father's, soft, worn flannel that he shrugged into with a hiss of pain. It was much appreciated, plain warmth when he couldn't stop shivering.

He stood in the kitchen doorway, staring out at the only method of transportation available and turned to ask for keys. She was a step ahead of him, the keys jangling in her hands as she brushed past him to the porch.

"Come on, then, if you're coming," she said, starting down the steps.

"No," he gave the automatic male response to a woman suggesting such a thing.

"If you tell me its too dangerous, I'm leaving without you," she turned to face him, hair that had to be colored - - because there wasn't a strand of grey and God knew raising Clark all these years was enough to have produced a head full - - glinting in early, early morning sun.

He swallowed, half his focus directed on standing up, the other half not quite up to the reasonable, rational arguments that usually came so easily to him. He was gripping the doorjamb with his free hand. Hard. Without its support he might have toppled over.

"Lex," Martha said, no-nonsense tone. "You can barely stand. How are you going to drive? Stop being a fool and come on. We're wasting time."

She turned, without waiting for agreement from him and marched towards the old red pickup. Lex took a breath, trying to clear his head, outmaneuvered and outvoted and he hadn't even gotten more than a word in edgewise. Martha Kent was a tyrant, he realized, on a mission to save her son.

He gathered his equilibrium, hoisted the gun more securely in the crook of his elbow and started down the steps after her.

She had the truck running by the time he climbed in the passenger side.

"There was a train wreck. West of Smallville, I think. We should start there."

"It's been all over the news." She said. "It happened just past route 19 to Bakersville, eight miles west of town. There were casualties. Did the men who did this to you have something to do with it?"

The truck spit up dust as she pulled down the dirt drive. He ground his teeth, putting a hand on the dash to brace himself as she careened around the turn out of the Kent Farm's long drive onto the road.

"Yes."

"And they have meteor rock?" She wasn't entirely comfortable admitting to the origin of the rock.

"In a manner of speaking."

She frowned, casting him a worried glance. At the speed she was accelerating he really rather preferred she keep her eyes on the road. The radio was on a local talk station and the DJ's were chattering on about the train wreck. Big news in a small town that usually liked to keep its less than commonplace tragedies private.

It occurred to him belatedly, that he should have made that call when he'd had the chance in Kent farmhouse. Gotten men on the way here that had better equipment than fifty-year old shotguns to deal with dangerous metahumans. He'd hadn't been on top of his game, every thought he'd had directed towards Clark running right back into the sort of trouble that could slither past his usual invulnerabilities.

"How long have you known?" Martha broke into his thoughts before they could spiral down to a place where he started imagining the damage a kryptonite enhanced Rule could do to Clark. Her knuckles were white on the wheel and her eyes glued to the road.

Loaded question. But he knew she meant more than educated theories. "Eight months. Give or take."

Her eyes flicked to him once, a quick, gauging glance, before they shifted back to the rural route she was speeding down.

"He told you?" she asked.

"For the most part." After Lex had caught him in the act and fear and uncertainty had compelled Clark to honesty. Even after almost a year of having Clark and his secrets, Lex found that he wasn't so big a man that the echoes of those lies, from a purely personal point of view, still didn't agitate him.

She cast him another sharp glance. Not happy. Clearly not happy. He wondered what else Clark had told her, or she'd figured out on her own while he'd been unconscious. God. What must she have thought, Clark showing up with him, battered and half dressed? He knew for a fact that Clark had been avoiding the issue of them with her since day one. As far as he knew Martha Kent still considered her boy monotonously heterosexual.

Even if she hadn't possessed for years, the rare ability to intimidate, it wasn't his place to bring it up. Clark's cowardice's were few and far between, but coming out of the closet seemed to be on the short list. Breaking the news to his mother was most certainly Clark's burden to bear. Ideally with Lex safely a hundred or so miles distant - - but then, he supposed he'd dealt with more frightening individuals this last day than Martha Kent - - so he'd probably survive.

"When we all get back home," she finally said, stubbornly optimistic. "You can both explain to me what that means."

Joy. He fumbled after the gun and braced the hand that wasn't screaming bloody murder against the dash as she swerved off the main road onto a considerably older, precariously paved side road.

"It shouldn't be far," she said. But Lex had figured that out, from the not too distant billow of dark smoke rising up into the pale sky. A helicopter passed overhead, maybe a news chopper out of Metropolis, since none of the local stations had a budget that allowed for air reporting. He saw another one, further away, circling like a buzzard over a promising meal.

If they got a shot of Clark doing something patently beyond human ability - - Lex didn't even want to think of the lengths he'd have to go for damage control. He did anyway, cursing his lack of a phone and his ability to call in preemptory favors.

Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. Movement a good ways off to the east of the train wreck. There was a line of trees past broad oceans of corn and something big had risen past the foliage and arced back down like it had been shot from a catapult. There was a dirt road coming up fast that led that way. A road that ran parallel to the tracks. Probably the same road Rule and the boy had used to pace the train in pursuit of him.

They wouldn't have waited around after Clark left. They'd have gotten back in that car and fled the scene. Maybe gotten as far as those trees before Clark chased them down.

"Make a right," he said, staring at that distant tree line.

"What?" She didn't understand, focused on the obvious destruction.

"There. Turn there." He jabbed a finger at the upcoming intersection. "Head towards the trees."

She opened her mouth. Shut it without argument, jamming on the breaks to make that too close turn in a vehicle not designed to make 60-degree changes in direction at those speeds. Martha Kent must have had a back stock of good karma, because if Lex had been driving, his own store of bad probably would have had flipped them twice over off the side of the road.

A good ways down that long country road running between fields of corn, a test of endurance for an old Ford's shock absorbers to be sure, more so for a man lately abused. They came upon the trees soon enough, a large copse at the edge of the cornfields to the left of the road. There was no question this was the place.

"My God," Martha whispered, jamming on the breaks as the road gave out before them. There was a car ahead, on its roof, half on, half off the road. Great gouges in the earth , like some gargantuan thing had raked claws across the road and into the low foliage at the edge of the wood ran parallel to it. Trees were uprooted, and rich, dark soil spewed everywhere. The boy's doing, certainly. Who'd flipped the car was anyone's guess.

Lex stuffed shells in the big pocket of the shirt, and got out, weeded around the edges of the closest chasm while Martha Kent gaped, dismay clear on her face.

"What did this?" she asked.

Lex didn't answer, attention snared by the faint trembling of the ground under his feet. Something shrieked, the ripping sound of wood splintering that wove its way out between the boles of whole trees from the depths of the forest.

Mostly whole trees. There was a path of damage leading from the road and into the depths of the forest.

They were in there, easy to follow and find where, and Lex knew in his gut that it wasn't good. That Clark was in danger, hurt maybe because Clark played by the rules that Garrison Rule and his psychopathic little sidekick didn't acknowledge the existence of. Clark wouldn't have gone into this with the intention of striking fast with a killing blow and that would have been Clark's downfall. Lex would have. Oh, absolutely he would have. But then Lex was a realist and his quota of narrow escapes was likely long depleted.

"Mrs. Kent," he turned, gave her a level stare. "I need you to get in the truck and go and find a phone."

She shook her head at him, ready to argue the point. He didn't give her the chance.

"If he's in trouble, you being here is just one more thing to distract him. I need you to call a number and tell them a code."

"Code? Who's number? What kind of code?"

"The kind that will bring people here that can deal with what Clark's up against out there and can clean up the mess afterwards without word of it leaking to every news outlet in the world. Neither one of us wants that sort of exposure with Clark involved."

She stared, turning that over and if it had been Chloe he'd have gotten an earful of accusations on the other reasons he might have to wish avoidance of exposure, but Martha Kent's priorities were considerably more focused. She nodded, her mouth set in determination.

He told her the numbers and she climbed back into the truck. Lex didn't wait to watch her pull away, starting instead into the wood, picking his way along the path of destruction made by Clark and the two mutants.

 

 

 

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