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Quality Time

by P L Nunn


Chapter seven


"Clark, is - - is everything okay?"

Lana poised the question, a little furrow of worry between her brows, when Clark stepped back inside the kitchen.

It wasn't. Not even close.

Chloe wasn't saying a thing, looking like she'd rather be elsewhere. Knowing things Lana didn't - - hell, knowing things Clark didn't, information gatherer extraordinaire that she was. Clark knew that she did a lot of outside work for Oliver - - he hadn't known that she was further up the loop than he was. But then, maybe that was intentional, because Oliver Queen and Lex Luthor had been carrying on wars for some time now, one way or another and Clark wasn't impartial anymore. So they hadn't told him things it would have been nice to know. Just like Lex hadn't told him for different reasons altogether.

It pissed him off. A lot.

Oh, I had an accident at the airstrip in Chile. Oh, nothing's wrong, just tired, Clark. You weren't going to tell me about Lana - - I wasn't going to tell you about the meteor infected I had stashed in South America. Fair's fair.

Prick. Conniving, clever bastard, who hadn't actually, now that Clark thought about it, told a lie, but just skillfully avoided revealing truths. Clark wanted to strangle him.

"Clark?" Lana put a hand on his arm, concerned. He didn't even want to imagine how dark his expression was. It felt like ten degrees of black.

Lana's fingers were very soft, very delicate, like all of her. And the concern was real - - Lana didn't fake things like that. Lana was a kind, decent girl just trying to find her own way. Her lies were generally small, white ones.

"I'm with Lex." The words came out fast, like air from a punctured tire, pressure decreasing by the second now that the seal was broken.

She blinked at him, not understanding. Chloe's eyes had grown large and round. Clark took breath, pacing past her into the living room, anger and frustration still making his fists clench a little - - and feeling a surge of liberation despite it.

Lana shook her head a fraction, that soft, confused look on her face that always used to make him melt a little.

He turned to look at her when she trailed him in and said it again, with more clarity. "I'm with Lex, Lana."

"You're with - -? I don't understand." Why would she? It wasn't like he hadn't chased after her for enough years for her belief in his blatant heterosexuality to be firmly rooted.

Admitting it was one thing, explaining it was another. He'd played out having this conversation with his mom, in his head a thousand times, but Lana Lang had never entered the equation. Telling the girl he'd wanted to marry what a tragic mistake it would have been if it ever had worked out between them - - telling her that she'd never really been what he'd needed - - telling her that what he did need and what he did want had just stormed away in a self-righteous huff because he'd gotten caught covering up things he'd damned well should have admitted - -

"I love him." Maybe admitting wasn't so hard after all.

She stared, confused. Patently bewildered and the part of Clark that wasn't spinning its tires in frustration over Lex, felt bad for it.

"But - - but you're not - -"

"Yeah, I am," he confirmed, with a pained smile.

"Oh." She sat down like a doll with her strings cut, staring at nothing as she tried to process. Clark cast a helpless look at Chloe who gave him an equally powerless one from the kitchen.

"But - - how - -?"

Like he knew the answer to that question. He'd tried to figure it out himself back when he'd first been struggling with an attraction too strong to deny - - how you could spend your whole life not knowing and just have it jump up and slap you in the face one day. Had it been some Kryptonian sexual awakening thing, or just Lex, who God knew had enough sexual combustion to turn a straight man's head, or had Clark just been that badly in denial?

He squatted down before her, covering her tiny hand with his, dipping his head to catch her unfocused eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. Honestly, I didn't know how. It's not something I've had a lot of practice sharing - - my mom doesn't even know."

"He didn't even tell me," Chloe offered, edging out from the safety of the kitchen. "I had to walk in on something I shouldn't have to figure it out."

Lana glanced to Chloe, then back to Clark, swallowing. "In a way, I guess," she said softly. "It explains a few things."

Chloe lifted both brows and advanced further into the room, hesitation overridden by curiosity. Clark wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"What things?" Chloe asked.

A little smile trembled on Lana's lips. "I thought it was my fault - - when we made love - - and it wasn't good. I thought that was why you didn't want to again. I guess it wasn't me after all."

Chloe made a sympathetic sound. Clark opened his mouth - - shut it - - feeling a stab of wounded pride. Somehow, in his memory of the event, he'd managed to convince himself that even though he hadn't come away from it with all his expectations met, that Lana had been fully satisfied by the experience. Guess he'd been in denial about a lot of things.

"If it makes you feel any better," Chloe said, squeezing Lana's shoulder. "After all those years of him ignoring the fact that I was lusting after him, finding out he was batting for the other team really boosted my ego."

Thanks Chloe. Clark gave her a dirty look, which she ignored entirely.

Lana attempted another smile and this time it was stronger and warmer. "You shouldn't have to explain yourself to me. Lex - - Lex said some cruel things - - but he was right. I'm so used to you being there for me, Clark - - to save me from my mistakes - - I just took for granted that you would be this time."

"You can always count on me to save you from your mistakes, if you need me too. It's just - - well, sleeping over kinda gets me in deep shit."

Lana looked down, nervously wrapping the gold chain around her finger. "Did you fight about me? Is that why he left?"

Clark sighed, looking over her head at Chloe. "Not this time."

"I think, maybe I will go and stay with Aunt Nell until I figure out a few things," Lana said. "She's got a guest room and I won't be stepping on any toes."

"You can still stay with me, if you want," Chloe offered.

Lana shook her head. "I know I chased Jimmy out last night. Aunt Nell will be glad to see me."

She rose and Clark rose with her, feeling that little tingle of guilt at the idea that she was fleeing the shock of his revelation. But it was overshadowed by the relief of getting her safely out of there so he could focus on the more important problem of Lex and whatever the hell it was Lex had been up to.

She hugged Chloe, made an aborted movement towards him, hesitating and then simply nodded.

Chloe sort of looked like she wanted to follow her.

"Don't even think about it, Chloe," Clark said grimly. Lex himself needed some serious cooling down time before Clark tried to pry information out of him, but Chloe - - Chloe was bound to have more facts than the abridged version she'd shared on the patio. "I want details."

The knife was at his throat until they cleared the city, the boy humming softly now and then and scraping the blade experimentally across the pulse in Lex's neck. It pressed deeper when he attempted to speak and after the first few dribbles of blood rolled down to soak into his collar, he stopped trying, knuckles white on the wheel, heart beating so hard it felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. But he didn't allow it to show on his face. Didn't allow them to see the fear or the various terrible scenarios that his mind insisted on concocting.

Garrison Rule had pushed the passenger seat back to make room for legs almost as long as Clark's and one booted foot was propped up on the dash, heel scoring fine leather. He'd found a country music station on the radio and the toe of the boot tapped in time to the wailing lament of the present tune, as casual as if this were any ordinary Sunday morning drive.

He directed Lex out of the city, eastbound and it wasn't until they hit the interstate and picked up speed that the boy leaned back, the blade withdrawn, once the easy prospect of Lex opening the door and hurling himself from the moving car had decreased.

He glanced down at his cell phone, in the well between seats - - all he needed was to hit the speed dial and just leave the connection open - - he wouldn't even need to speak, because Clark's hearing was just that good - -all he needed was just to slip his hand down when the chance presented. Not now though, with the boy rocking in the back seat, taut-strung and the flesh and blood again fingers of Rule's left hand tapping lightly on the gear shift.

"Where are we going?" Lex asked softly, making his voice calm, as if he were only vaguely interested in the answer. 70 east was a straight shot almost out of the state, with a lot of possibilities in-between. A lot of open road and long stretches of empty land.

"I used to drive this route all the time, hauling freight," Rule commented.

Lex remembered the bio. The man had left a string of bodies in his wake. Mostly hitchhikers and drifters, victims that no one would miss, found in shallow graves from Texas to Indiana - - scattered far enough apart that the authorities never put together that they were all the victims of one man. After the second meteor shower and Rule's mutation - - he'd picked up his pace - - gotten sloppier as kryptonite infection took a furtive, simmering psychosis and turned it manic.

It was the only reason they'd been able to track him down.

It was a nice day, the sky vast and cloudless, the road this long, straight strip of black spread out before them. Another 150 miles and they'd pass the exit to Smallville - - where each and every one of them had been altered, one way or another.

But in another two, there'd be a roadside billboard, that Lex knew from experience was a favorite state trooper hiding spot.

"If you're trying to lay low," he eased down on the gas and the needle on the speedometer drifted up. In this car, you barely felt the increase. "Taking me isn't the way to do it. My people are probably looking for me as we speak."

Rule laid his head back against the rest, eyes shut against the glare of sunlight, mouth curling at the edges in that damned unnerving grin. "Some things, they're just worth the risk - -"

Lex let his hand drift off the wheel, down to his thigh, across to the sleek little cell, fingertips feeling for the call button.

Rule's hand latched onto his, warm flesh turning cool and slick as the man absorbed something he'd connected with inside the car.

"Getting you alone someplace dark and quiet for some quality time," Rule leaned across the seat, compacting Lex's fingers around the cell. "That would be worth a whole lot of risk."

Lex hissed, jamming the gas pedal into the floor, the bones in his hand close to fracturing under the pressure. The Porsche leapt forward, ninety to one twenty-five in seconds. The boy in the back seat giggled, the first real emotion Lex had heard from him since - - well, since Gordon Elliot had been taken into 33.1 custody close to fourteen months ago. It seemed fast cars and pain struck a chord with the cold-eyed little fuck.

There was a wail of sirens behind them, the flash of lights in the rear view mirror. Rule loosened his grip enough that Lex was able to snatch his hand back. He held it to his chest, fingers throbbing, while Rule held up the cell and crushed it in his altered hand. The bits and pieces fell down to mingle with the shattered glass on the floorboard.

Rule was looking over his shoulder at the tan trooper car that was struggling to keep up with them. The boy was curled in the narrow back seat, still giggling softly, as if this were some great game.

"Now look what you did," Rule whispered, but the serpent smile was spreading. "Got those fine, upstanding troopers involved. Nothing to do but pull over."

Lex cast a quick glance at Rule, cold comprehension dawning. You only ran if you were afraid of getting caught. These two weren't afraid, because there was nothing two unsuspecting state troopers, trained to deal with mundane levels of threat could do to stop them.

"Pull over," Rule growled again in his ear, hard, cold hand on the back of his neck.

"I'll deal with them," Lex said, pulse pounding. He willed it to slow, willed himself to unclench and put on the cool face. He'd made this call and he didn't want two more deaths on his head. "I'll take the ticket and they'll be on their way."

Rule chuckled, fingers tightening. "Yeah, you just do that."

The Porsche skidded to a stop on the broad shoulder, dust from a weeklong dry spell thrown up in its wake. Rule's fingers rested on his neck, just above the collar of his shirt, foreign feeling, even though the man's face still retained its fleshy appearance. It was a new skill, the partial absorption - - or one that Rule had managed to conceal during his time in 33.1.

Lex clenched his teeth and stared at the approaching figures in the side view mirror. The usual trooper mold, hard brimmed hats, reflective shades, impeccably pressed uniforms, like these guys never even slouched in the seats of their patrol cars when they were waiting for motorists to chase down and harass. Lex had gotten enough tickets, back when he'd been making frequent commutes from Smallville to Metropolis, to know the routine by heart.

No matter the outcome of this, they'd have called in his license plate number - - there'd be a record of him here, for someone to track once he turned up missing. Unfortunately that might not be until tomorrow when he started missing morning appointments, since security would assume he'd spent the night at Clark's and Clark - - God, if he was lucky Clark would give in to the urge to accuse him of atrocities to his face a bit more and try and track him down this afternoon - - if he wasn't, Clark would sulk the rest of the night, taking solace in the company of Lana and Chloe.

"License and registration." The silhouette of a state trooper blocked out the sun. The other one lingered by the back of the car.

"Of course," he reached for his pocket, and Rule's other hand slid over, fastening on his wrist and stopped the movement.

The man leaned over Lex, peering up at the trooper with fever bright eyes. "What's the problem here, officer?"

The trooper's gaze flicked down, taking in the edges of the shattered driver's side window, the glass fragments on the floor. Lex saw the moment the man realized this wasn't a run of the mill traffic violation. Saw the moment the trooper made the decision to go for his weapon. Rule saw it too, and lunged past Lex with a hand gone sleek silver and hard as the polished steel of the gear shift shaft, grabbed the trooper by the utility belt and jerked him forward against the car with enough force to make it rock.

Lex had a flash of the trooper sliding down, open mouth, glasses askew, even as he heard the other one shouting. Then the car rocked again - - only it wasn't the car, it was the earth under it, buckling and rippling as the boy pressed his face to the back window.

Rule was out the passenger door, scrambling around the back of the Porsche. There was a shot, one lone pop of gunfire. And then Rule was on the second trooper, jabbing a hand into his gut, once, twice, and the third time Lex saw the bloody blade of the pocketknife.

God. Lex pushed the door open and it jammed against the body of the first trooper. He put his shoulder to it and his weight behind the effort. Got it open enough to scramble out, even as the boy was turning, realizing he hadn't been keeping his eye on the ball.

Lex slid to the ground, one knee in the dirt, snatching for the gun the state trooper had almost cleared of its holster. Take out the boy first, because the boy didn't have the ability to shake off gunshots.

The boy stared at him, wide eyed, young - - so damned young to be what he was - - and Lex hesitated that one second too long in pulling the trigger and the ground split open under his feet, swallowing up the limp body of the trooper, sucking him into a chasm that crumbled and rolled beneath him like it was alive. He scrambled backwards, fighting for the far edge as the earth under the front wheel of the car gave way. Then there were hands on him, implacable hands that dragged him backwards, up and out of the sinkhole and flung him over the hood of the Porsche and into the underbrush at the edge the shoulder.

He hit hard, impact chasing away breath and vision. He lay there, dazed, listening to the distant buzz of passing traffic and wondering idly why no one was stopping. Didn't they notice the carnage? Were people that wrapped up in their own worlds? Too afraid to get involved? Or did they just not care? He couldn't fathom it, that deliberate blindness - - he had never been able to fathom it.

Something hit the ground next to him and shook him out of the stupor, sunlight getting in past the murk. Lex turned his head and saw the sightless eyes of a dead man. He choked a little, and pushed himself up as Rule was heading back for the other one. Looked around desperately for the gun and didn't find it. The man beside him had an empty holster.

If he ran, he might make it, Rule was slow, encumbered by the weight of the substance he absorbed and boy had a finite range for his control over the earth.

"You don't wanna do that," Rule purred, when Lex started to rise. The second trooper landed in a sprawl of limbs near the first, tossed like a rag doll by Rule, whose body gleamed gunmetal grey. The man moaned, not dead, just battered by his impact with the car.

Rule grinned, holding a gun in one hand that matched the shade of his new flesh exactly. The dully gleaming fingers were covered in blood.

The muzzle lifted in Lex's direction.

"I think I'll do the driving from now on." Rule's grin was this strange, tensile thing when his face was the consistency of cold metal. There was a bit of blood there too, spattered on his jaw.

"Gordy - -" Rule called. The boy slipped out the passenger door, leaned against the car with a reptilian look of interest, and the earth began to swallow up the two troopers, hard dirt and stone turning granular and parting like quicksand to consume evidence.

One of them was still alive, eyes half open, fingers grasping weakly as he was sucked under.

"You son of - - " Lex gasped, making a grab for a man about to be buried alive, half sliding into the unstable earth himself, but Rule latched hold of his collar dragging him back. A more horrifying way to die, he couldn't presently conceive. "He's alive - - he's still alive you sick fuck - -"

"Wanna take bets on how long?" Rule laughed and shoved him towards the car. His hip rebounded off the side view mirror and it hurt like hell. He didn't have the time to properly savor the sting, his face impacting with the heat of the hood with Rule's fingers clenched around the back of his neck, Rule's cold hands drawing his wrists behind him and fastening them together with handcuffs obviously liberated from one of the troopers.

"Pop the trunk, Gordy and bring me the bag," Rule directed, and the boy obediently reached in and did it.

"Wait - - wait. No - -" The back trunk was small and cramped and not much better than coffin space, and Lex was already jittery over the concept of live burials. Rule shoved him backwards into it. He hit his head on the way down and saw stars. Heard something tear and that something ended up being silver duct tape, that Rule had pulled out of the canvas backpack the kid had brought to him. Rule slapped a piece of it across Lex's mouth, muffling further protest, stifling attempts at reason, as if madmen could be reasoned with. Rule caught his legs and lashed his ankles together with a few layers of tape. Then stuffed his legs in and stared down with a satisfied leer.

"You just sit tight now, Lex. Before you know it, we'll have that time together. A good long time."

Lex cursed at him through the duct tape and Rule laughed, before slamming the shut the trunk, plunging Lex into complete darkness.





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