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Chasing Redemption

by P L Nunn

 

Ten

 

He never would have figured he'd fall prey to sleep. There were too many things crowding his mind, gnawing at his gut like little parasites to allow him that luxury. But it snuck up on him anyway, after Lois dropped him off at his apartment, and he slipped into the shower to wash off the grime and the blood. Lex's blood.

He'd stood under the cool spray of the shower and stared at the back of his hand as the water washed it away, mesmerized. He'd had Lex's blood on him before, but it had never before felt as if he were loosing something when he'd carelessly washed it away.

He'd shut his eyes afterward and stood there, blocking out everything, all the familiar noises of the city, as he reached for the sound of Lex's heartbeat. Found it easily enough. Slow and steady and reassuring.

Forehead against the wet tiles of the shower, he'd let himself shudder. Wrapped a towel around his hips and sat down on the edge of a bed that had sat rumpled and unmade for weeks and let himself simply relax. It felt good to be here, the home he'd made for himself in Metropolis. It felt good knowing that even should danger rear its head, that there would be someone other than him, to meet it. The League would see to it that Superman was undisturbed until enough time had passed so that no link might be made between his reappearance and that of Clark Kent's.

The lack of responsibility was surprisingly liberating, when there were other concerns weighing upon him. Lex related concerns.

He collapsed onto his back, stirring up tiny dust motes. The sheets smelled musty, but they were better than anything he'd lain on for a long time.

So when he'd shut his eyes, just for a moment, just long enough to breath deep and let the stripes of sunlight from the half shut blinds warm his skin - - sleep crept up and overcame him.

The phone woke him. He blinked at the ceiling, at the different angle of light coming in from the window and digested the fact that he'd slept for hours at the very least. It was his cell, still plugged into the charger and sitting on the bedside table. He didn't recall putting it there. Realized that he'd left it with his street clothes atop the courts building when he'd changed into uniform to intervene in Lex's abduction. One of the League must have retrieved it as well as his clothes and returned it here. The same league that had kept up his rent and paid his bills while he'd been languishing in an alien prison. Comforting to know there were people out there that would always have his back.

He picked up the phone and muttered 'hello?' He didn't even have to fake the grogginess in his voice.

"Hey, Smallville. You half human again?"

He blinked at the query, taken a little off guard at Lois's opening gambit. He always wondered when she was going to put it all together.

"Um - - what?"

"Did you get any sleep, dumbass? You looked dead on your feet when I dropped you off."

"Yeah. Yeah, a little." He looked back out the window, only half listening to her as he sought out Lex's heartbeat. Habit. Checking for Lex first thing was like breathing to him now.

"Good, because we need to sit down and have a nice long chat. I want details, Clark."

"Yeah, sure," he agreed out of routine. He'd figure out the tale he was going to tell on the fly. He had gotten a lot better at it over the years than when he'd first started needing to come up with cover stories way back when in Smallville. Even discerning minds like Lois Lane swallowed his excuses and his cover-ups. Lex never had.

Lex was sharper than all the rest of them. Always had been. Always would be. It would be nice, Clark thought with a grin, not to have to play word wars with him anymore. To not have any wars with him. There were so many better things they could do to pass the time.

"Clark! Are you listening to me?" Lois' voice got shrill when she was on the edge. She must have been teetering now. He winced and held the phone away from his ear.

"I'm listening."

"Then you'll meet me at the Planet?"

No, the Planet was the last place he wanted to be right now. He wanted - - he needed - - to check on Lex. Needed to see Lex's eyes and hear his voice to assure himself everything was all right.

"Um, Give me a few hours. I promised mom, I'd drive out and see her. You know how worried she gets."

Lois made an unhappy sound, but didn't argue the point. Depriving a mother of seeing her newly returned son in the flesh to assure herself of his condition was an obstacle even Lois balked at hurdling. Martha Kent never failed to be an ironclad excuse in a pinch. He might even fly down for a few minutes to give his mom a hug and an apology for any worry caused. A worthy enough reason to avoid one more flat out lie.

After he saw Lex.

He donned clean clothes, not bothering with office apparel, not planning to put in a days work. Just a pair of brown slacks that he stuffed his phone and his wallet into the pockets of, and a white shirt, minus tie that he buttoned on the way out the door.

He was at the hospital in a heartbeat, avoiding the main entrance in favor of one of the lesser frequented side ones that led to the bordering medical office buildings. He didn't know if was still in post op, or already in a private room, and though he might track him down by senses alone, he was playing Clark Kent today and Clark Kent had every reason to check on Lex Luthor, having recently survived an alien abduction with him. He decided to find Lex the old fashioned way and strolled past the cafeteria and up to the information desk, with enough of a casual saunter that none of the press lounging in the chairs of the lobby waiting room took much note of his presence. There were others, milling outside the glass plated doors at the main entrance, smoking while they waited for something to break.

Clark hunched his shoulders a little, worried of a sudden of being found out here. They'd been polite, if that word had any application to the press, when he'd been here before. But more than likely, they'd just been more interested in Lex that offering any professional courtesy to one of their own. They'd be on him like mosquitoes to warm blood if they realized he was here. Next best thing to talking to Lex Luthor himself, better even since Clark Kent had never shown the least reserve in revealing whatever dirt on Lex he could legitimately dig up. He'd spent a lot of time digging.

"Mr. Luthor's room?" he asked of the elderly volunteer behind the shiny, black marble counter top. She looked up at him with a lemony pinch of her mouth.

"You people have been told, no visitors."

She said it with finality, as if he'd been wearing his press badge. He smiled at her, his guileless, farm boy one, and confessed. "I'm not trying to interview him. I'm a friend. I came in with him. Clark Kent?" There was bound to be someone who'd made a note of that. He'd talked to enough officials before he'd let Lois drag him off.

The woman wasn't impressed. Apparently no note had been made.

"No visitors," she said with finality and looked back down to her crossword, blatantly ignoring him.

Okay, so maybe the old fashioned way wasn't going to pan out. He shuffled away from the receptionist, and somebody in the lobby must have roused enough to notice him, because he heard his name called out, and the hairs on the back of his arms stood up as the interest of a dozen or so keen eyes turned upon him. He veered towards the partition that sheltered the bathroom doors from lobby view and took off around the other side faster than the human eye could hope to follow. They'd wonder at his disappearance more than most, but he wasn't in the mood to let it concern him.

Two floors up the stairwell and he stopped on the deserted landing, canting his head to find Lex's heartbeat and zero in on it. Four more floors up. The door was locked on the stairwell side. Security reasons no doubt, considering the rabid press downstairs. He twisted the handle open and slipped through the door.

It was easy to find Lex's room. Just look for the security. A uniformed Metropolis policeman sitting in a chair outside the door. Two more dark suited men with bulges under their well-cut jackets down the hall, conferring. There were no badges under their clothing that he could see, which meant maybe private security or government of a more federal level. If they were private, then he had to wonder who'd sent them. Lex hadn't been in a frame of mind when he'd been brought in, and Clark doubted he'd been much clearer only a handful of hours after major surgery. LuthorCorp maybe. The company would have a concern, even if it had booted Lex out in favor of a more publicly agreeable CEO. Lana would have an interest in keeping an eye on a predecessor who hadn't taken kindly to the change in status quo.

The uniform at the door started at the stirring of air the door made as it opened and closed, but no one had passed and the human mind tended to accept the easiest explanation for odd occurrences, instead of jumping to the conclusion than someone faster than the speed of light had zipped past and into a guarded room.

Clark stood there, with his back to the closed door of the big, private room and stared at Lex. The arm, with the newly reattached hand was bound with so much gauze that it was this thick paw of white, suspended at an angle above his body. He was pale and bruised looking in this light. Afternoon light coming in through the windows, one weak fluorescent light above the bed. Light all the same, compared to the weeks and weeks of darkness they'd shared.

Maybe it was why Lex looked like something fresh from the grave, so pallid that the purple of his veins showed through the translucence of his skin. Through the shuttered lids of his eyes.

There was a bag of something hanging next to the bed, drip-dropping liquid into the tube attached to Lex's good arm. A monitor attached to his finger that recorded the steady beat of his pulse. Other things maybe. Clark hated hospitals.

He swallowed and stepped closer. He touched the skin of Lex's arm, between the sleeve of the hospital gown and the tape that held the IV to the crook of his elbow.

"Aren't there things you should be taking care of, elsewhere?" Lex didn't bother to open his eyes. His voice was low, just a little slurred. There were probably painkillers in that drip.

"No," Clark said simply. He didn't move his fingers from Lex's arm, the warmth of his skin reassuring.

Lex breathed for a moment, silent, then cracked his eyes, peering up at Clark from beneath his lashes. His pupils were dilated. Heavy painkillers indeed.

"I'm tired, Clark. Go away."

It hurt a little, that dismissal. Clark drew his brows, trying to read Lex through the veil of painkillers and tubing and white bandages.

"Lex, I'm sorry." For taking his hand, for not getting him out sooner, for not being there when he'd woken up from surgery, for all the lost years. For so many things.

"I don't want sorry, I want those bastards wiped from existence."

"We're working on it," Clark promised. "The Lantern corps is tracking them down."

Lex sniffed, shutting his eyes again, turning his head away from Clark, towards the windows. "The Lantern Corps has a lenient way of meeting out justice."

Compared to Lex's methods, maybe. Compared to the Magistrates, certainly. Clark swallowed, not prepared at the moment to bring up the differences and similarities. He'd had his fit of rage and people had maybe died from it. Perhaps not innocents, but living beings regardless, might have perished in the destruction he'd wrought getting the magistrates attention. He'd just as well let the Lantern's deal with the remaining problem.

"How do you feel?"

"Fine and dandy." Lex let out an explosive breath and turned a bleary eyed glare back to Clark. "How the fuck do you think? Go away, Clark. I'm not in the mood to chat."

Clark's eyes shifted to the bundled arm in the sling, delved further in, to where metal pins connected severed bone. Blood pumped sluggishly through meticulously repaired veins and arteries, work so fine it was beyond his imagining. What these men of medicine could do awed a man capable of shifting the orbits of small planets.

"Stop looking," Lex hissed at him, and Clark blinked back to the surface world and the real anger chasing away some of the stupor in Lex's eyes. "I don't want you invading my privacy. I don't want your guilt and I don't want your pity."

"Lex," Clark floundered helplessly. He couldn't fight this battle. He didn't know how. "I didn't want to do it. You know I didn't want to do it. But they did a good job. You'll heal. I know you'll heal."

"The hand? The hand?" Lex snapped as if he were discovering a new word in his vocabulary. He fumbled for the nurse call button on the remote by his thigh. "Go back to your own life, Clark and leave me to mine."

Clark didn't get it. Didn't understand the rancor in Lex's eyes. The pounding of the nurse's feet made him grind his teeth. Her hand on the door handle and he hissed through his teeth. She was in the open doorway and the uniformed guard was behind her blocking an easy way out. Speed or no, he would have had to bowl the man over to slip out unseen, so he stood there and unclenched his fists and tried to look unthreatening while the guard gaped and the nurse gave him a dark look as she swept past.

"How'd you - -?" the policeman started.

"The board will hear about this," Lex complained. "The privacy of patients intruded upon by the press."

The nurse turned on Clark. "Out! This man needs rest, not harassment."

"All right, you," the officer caught Clark's arm. The two suits from down the hall had appeared in the doorway, eyes narrow and suspicious, hands hovering instinctively near the bulges of their guns. Clark allowed himself to be hauled out, the door swinging softly shut behind him.

"I don't know how you got past me," the cop was saying. "But this floor is off limits without a visitor pass. " They got as far as the elevator, and when the cop let go of Clark to press the down button and speak into his shoulder mounted radio, when he turned back, Clark was gone.

 

 

 

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