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Chasing Redemption

by P L Nunn

 

chapter 9

 

It was raining. Again. And Clark began to worry that Lex was right. That the planet was in the midst of some seasonal rain. Or worse.

The twilight orbit theory was frightening when he was stuck on the grey side of the planet. He got as high as he could in his little chimney and tried to find the planet's sun. It was a bad angle to see and even here the rock was dense with pockets of ore that obscured his vision.

He settled down, wet and disturbed and held out his hand in the dreary light that was filtering down. Big hand. Strong. Dirt under the nails, but no chips or torn cuticles. He'd never in all his life had a callus. Even when he'd been very young before his powers had started kicking in. Lex had probably never had one before this either. He had a lot now. Clark felt each and every one when Lex ran his hands over his skin.

Lex was breakable and it scared Clark to death that he'd fail him, strength dwindled from his damned reliance on yellow sunlight.

He balled the hand into a fist and glared resentfully up at the dismal patch of sky visible through the hole in the earth. All it would take was him getting high enough above the cloud cover where he could take in unrestricted sunlight. Just a few minutes would be enough to refresh failing strength. And just a fraction of a second past the damned prison sensors and the damned bracelet around his wrist would explode and trigger Lex's as well. And while it would be hell on Clark's wardrobe, but it would spatter Lex into a thousand pieces and parts and even during their bitterest conflicts, Clark had never wished that.

In the course of his career - - of his life - - he'd made mistakes out of bad judgment or fear or the pride that human's and kryptonians alike seemed to share, but he'd always tried to do the right thing. Always tried to hold himself to a standard higher than those mortal men around him, because if he didn't, terrible things might happen and he never wanted to be the cause of pain and suffering. He'd watched good men and women do horrible things and despicable men do worse and did what he could to stop them. He forgave the former on occasion for lamentable lapses in judgment and the latter he tolerated, never going farther than the laws of man dictated in his dealings with. Being very careful not to be what Lex had always accused him of being when he intervened.

Maybe Lex's campaign against him, the constant litany of anti-Superman propaganda that he'd spewed over the years had even contributed to that restraint. God help him if he'd ever proved Lex Luthor right, after all. God help him if he ever let Lex think he was the morally superior one. And he supposed Lex had held similar views. He might even go so far as to imagine Lex had been considerably more vehement about the issue. Just take the crazy kryptonite dirty bomb plan.

Clark still wasn't certain how he was supposed to react now when the situation between he and Lex had altered so drastically, when he heard about stuff like that. Granted, he had 'friends' who had little contingency plans in the case he went off the reservation and started a world conquering rampage - - he knew for a fact Bruce had a stock of kryptonite for just such an occasion. But Bruce's plan damned sure wouldn't have included the slow starvation of the world to get the point across. Clark had no doubt the Batman had his own brand of psychosis, but it didn't include devastating the planet to get one up on an enemy.

That was all Lex. Lex at his craziest, when no means was too drastic to achieve his ends. Lex who had lot of blood on his hands because of just that. It always had amazed Clark that Lex could cause so much death and destruction and justify it with the theory that maybe one day Superman would crack and become a threat to the world. Maybe one day. A day that might or might not ever come. And people had suffered and died because of that speculation.

And really, Clark ought to hate Lex because of that. Ought to have hated him enough before they'd ever come here, not to give a damn if some intergalactic 'pseudo' peacekeepers decided to pop in and make off with him. Only he hadn't. And he couldn't. And it was just confusing sitting there listening to Lex calmly relating evil plots and trying to decide whether to be royally pissed or just push him back down and perpetrate a bit of rough sex to work off the frustration.

Lex had been conflicting him for a lifetime, it seemed. And he'd been conflicting Lex and all hell had broken loose because of it for a damned long time. Until, the 'Magistrates and their intervention and their prison mines that had forced them to take a good look at the issue. For that one thing, perhaps, he had his jailors to thank. Sometimes he needed a slap in the head to see what was right in front of him.

He leaned his head back against the wall, weary of deep thought. Maybe just weary. It was a distressing feeling, the exhaustion that had been whispering at the edges of his awareness for days now. He felt guilty spending more and more time here, while the rest of the mine slaved away. He felt deficient and that wasn't a feeling he was used to experiencing.

He lingered, until he couldn't stand it anymore, and not feeling particularly energized, went back to the mines to find Lex.

Lex was doing the same thing he'd been doing for days - - traveling the myriad tunnels, mapping out breaks in the track, Kraiser trailing behind him like a menacing shadow. No one had tested the big inmates dedication to his new job of playing bodyguard yet. In fact, the mines had been rather quiet for the last few days, only minor scuffles and the usual infliction of pecking order politics. No concerted effort by Sweet and his men to retaliate for the embarrassment at the cave in. It was possible, they had realized that a unified front of miners was more than they could handle and chosen the wiser course and simply backed off.

Clark hoped so. It would be nice to get a handle on the senseless violence down here before he lost the ability to curb it. Clark let Lex know he was back with a silent nod and then went to start collecting ore. He had a quota to fill for purely selfish reasons - - chits to buy Lex and himself supper, chits to pay for Kraiser being Lex's watchdog instead of mining ore himself - - before he could start playing good Samaritan and helping out the others struggling to fill their own carts. He could spy out and reach veins of the stuff no one else could though, so it was fast work. Though not so effortless as it had been when he'd first come down here. Boring through a thousand ton slab of rock to reach a rich vein left him winded. He felt the strain in his muscles and the vibration in his fists, which were his primary tools. He got the work done though.

The big, stone faced guards were used to seeing him haul cart after cart to the hub by now and silently registered his deposits on his bracelet each time. The inmate reaction to him was a mixture of sullen glares, wary nods of greeting, and the expectant gazes of men desperate for a taste of his generosity. Some of the same ones had began to wait outside the commissary for him to make an appearance, begging for charity. He gave everything he could, going without himself more often than not because they needed it more. As if one more loaf of bread and a dollop of mealy stew would make much of a difference.

Lex was right. They needed to be given the ability to fend for themselves. They needed the support of a community. They needed for the magistrates that governed this hole to be taken down.

He clenched his fists, growling at the thought of those faceless cowards, hiding their true purpose behind moral superiority, taking innocent and guilty alike if it suited their plan and offering no mercy, no respite.

He heard a man cry out. The muffled grunt of fists striking flesh. All too common sounds here. He could no more ignore it than he could ignore breathing. He left his cart and followed the sounds through snaking tunnels, to a cramped and narrow side passage.

An old man at the feet of another, one of Sweet's men, maybe, hard to tell in the poor light.

"Stop," Clark growled, fed up with the brutality of the place, ready to stalk forward and dish out a little violence of his own. But the accoster backed away, turning after a few paces and running, leaving his victim moaning on the ground. And it was either go after him and reverse the role of bully or see to the old man, who was curled on the ground, bleeding from the face and holding what might be fractured ribs.

Clark crouched down, hesitant at moving brittle damaged bones. This man wouldn't be hacking away at stone anytime soon. If ever again if this place had its way.

"Can you sit up?" Clark started to ask, when something boomed hollowly down the passage, then again from the opposite direction. It took him a second to focus his vision through dense rock and see men at the mouth of the little passage, a second more to realize what they were about and by that time the roof was coming down.

Instinct made him move to cover fragile human flesh and bone. The rock came down like a fist on his back. Swallowing light and clogging air with dust. It felt like the whole of the mines had come down on him. The strain in his arms seemed as if he were trying to hold up a moon instead of a few dozen meters worth of rock. The man under him, moaned in abject terror, curled into a ball under the shelter of Clark's body. Getting out of this mess without crushing the man would be tricky.

"Just hold still," he ground out, searching the jumble of rocks within his line of vision for weak points.

If it had just been him, he would have burst out with brute force, as it was it was slow going. Tedious work to inch his way though the debris and protect the old miner at the same time, shifting rock just so to keep more from crumbling around them. Exhausting work that he felt in his bones. He was sweating and he never sweated. At least not unless the circumstances were monumental.

He reached unobstructed space and cleared a path for the miner to crawl out, then pulled himself out after, little rivulets of rubble falling in his wake.

He sat there after, against the tunnel wall and breathed, the old miner sprawled a few yards away, coughing up dust and blood. And there was nothing Clark could do for those injuries that caused it. He could pull a man from danger, but he couldn't heal him. And soon, he might not even be able to do that. What would he do in a week or a month when his strength was gone? How would he protect any of these men that so desperately needed it, much less the one that mattered to him personally?

He hadn't felt so utterly despondent since his teen years, when he'd been unlucky in love and absolutely convinced he was destined for a life of puritanical isolation on the family farm.

He held out a hand and stared at it curiously for a moment, intrigued by the tremor. Clenched it into a fist, before running it through his hair, pushing dust-streaked tendrils out of his eyes. It was getting overlong, past due for a trim.

His breathing began to even out, heartbeat steadying, a ringing in his head that he'd hardly been aware of, until it faded. He looked to the old man, who was in worse shape by far than him, and started to ask after his health. Pointless question all things considered, but the polite thing to do.

He hesitated, something slipping past the edges of his awareness.

Lex.

The sound of Lex's rapid heartbeat. Too fast for simple endeavor. The rasp of breath, punctuated by a sharp exhalation of surprise or anger or pain. The heavy breath of other men, grunts of impact - - of exertion.

No.

He traversed miles of tunnel before he even realized where he was going, instinctually zeroing in on that one familiar heartbeat. Not the common mines, but the direction of the machine room. With a destination in mind, he put on a burst of speed, and the walls trembled in his wake. Not wise, considering the cave in he'd just endured, but he honestly couldn't find the capacity to care, past the dread concern for Lex. And maybe that cave-in hadn't been an accident after all. Maybe somebody had been looking to get him out of the way to clear the path to other targets.

Damn.

Between his concern for an old man's life and his own weakness it had taken him too long to extricate himself.

There was a man loitering outside the doorway to the Machine room that shouldn't have been there. Clark went past him so fast the concussion knocked him off his feet. There was the smell of burnt electrical and smoke coming from the room and a great yawning silence, the familiar hum of the fly wheel gone silent. He saw the damage done to the machine peripherally, more intent on the gathering of men. Ten or twelve of Sweet's finest, loud and raucous, vying for position around other men, fighting on the ground.

He grasped a man by the back of the collar and flung him away. Another. Tossed them out of his path like rag dolls until he had a view of what so they'd been jockeying for position to see.

Not fighting after all. The fighting had already taken place, if the blood and the bruising were any indication. Not that he could see much of Lex past Sweet and the two men that held him down, laughing encouragement as Sweet thrust his bare ass forward.

Clark saw red. Felt it flood his veins like poison. Grabbed Sweet by the back of his meaty neck and hurled him backwards. The men on the ground pressing Lex down looked up in shock, the others did, focus suddenly shifting, realizing they were caught in the act. Realizing from the bodies already sprawled across the room that benevolence was long past. Lex was pale amidst them, paler than men that had been here, deprived of the sun for years. Maybe if was just the lack of clothes, tunic half ripped off him, trousers gone entirely, blood on his thighs, eyes no less shell shocked than theirs at Sweet's sudden dislocation. Vulnerable. Bloody. Violated. His.

He dragged the two men on Lex up by the hair, tossed them in different directions. Took out another that was maybe scrambling towards him, or maybe just trying to run past. Crushed a fist in his hand that came at his face. Let another shatter on his jaw.

Something rebounded off his back, a metal bar in the hands of a bleeding man. Sweet. Standing his ground while his men fled past, dragging wounded, leaving the unconscious where they lay.

"Fucking scut bastards," Sweet rasped. Blood on his knuckles, blood on the limp cock that hung out of trousers he hadn't bothered to lace back up. Clark blocked a second blow, ripped the bar out of Sweet's hands and casually crumpled it into a ball. Flung it at the wall like a canon shot and rock geysered as it impacted, driving in deep. Sweet stared, shocked. Clark had been careful not to flaunt his powers before and maybe they'd just figured he was like Kraiser, big and durable and stronger than most. They hadn't figured he was what he was. How could they have? It wasn't like Kryptonians were a dime a dozen.

Sweet was a big man himself though, maybe more than simply human to have survived that initial impact with the wall. To have survived here as long as he had and stayed on top. Murder and rape uncontested tended to put the general population in its place. Clark could rectify that. He clenched his fists and headed that way even as Sweet backed away.

"No. Clark, No!"

Lex's hands on his chest, got through to him. Lex staring up, pale face smeared with blood, eyes narrow and furious, did. He didn't understand. Lex Luthor was all about retribution. Why stop him in this?

Almost as if Lex could read his thoughts, he answered. "If you're going to kill a man, it won't be on my account. Damned if I'll have you coming back and lying the blame at my feet to assuage your own guilt, later."

Clark blinked down, baffled. Lex had wanted this, not so long ago. Wanted Clark to deal with the problem via force. Clark had balked then, but he was willing now. Take care of the threat once and for all now while he still had the power to do so. He could shift Lex aside and do it in the blink of an eye. The red in his veins still urged him on.

"God Damnit," Lex curled his fists in Clark's shirt and growled over his shoulder at Sweet. "You have one chance and one chance only to get the fuck out of here, you mindless piece of shit. Take it."

Sweet's men were gone. There was no one left to impress, so he took the opportunity and ran, the thud of his feet echoing in his wake.

Clark took a breath. Another, rage fading when there was only Lex. "Why?"

Lex drew a hissing breath and shoved away. Staggered on unsteady legs, before catching his balance. "I told you why. Where the fuck are - -" he trailed off, spying his trousers against the quiet flywheel. He retrieved them, pulling them on stiffly.

"Lex?" Clark moved his direction and got an angry glare and a hand warning him off.

"Don't! Just don't. I don't need your pity and I don't need you taking vengeance for me. You being here to stop them before they wrecked the goddamned machine would have been nice - - fuck. Fuck."

He bent double, arm about his ribs, wetness spiking his lashes. Pain tears maybe.

"I'm sorry," Clark hovered wanting to lay hands on Lex so bad it knotted up his gut. "Lex, how bad are you hurt?"

Lex flashed him a look, ice so cold it burned. Dignity mortally wounded and on the offensive because of it. He pushed himself off the flywheel and moved to the control panels. The circuit boards had been pulled out, demolished beyond repair, the insides of machine ravaged, dead now. Just quiet and dead.

Lex sank down, breath catching, staring at the ruined remnants of his labor.

"Can you fix it?" Clark asked, even though he knew the answer. But Lex was nothing if not tenacious and if he thought there was a chance. Hell, even if he knew there wasn't, sheer stubbornness might keep him going.

Lex laughed, hollow sounding and brittle. Frightening. Clark had heard that sort of laugh from Lex before, right before latch ditch efforts that led to terrible, terrible things. He moved closer, not caring about personal spaces and dropped down to his knees next to him.

"Damnit, Lex. I'm not your enemy. Let me in."

"Aren't you?" Lex looked up at him. The bruises on his face were starting to darken. The blood starting to dry under his nose and on his chin.

Clark stared back, aghast. Even now, Lex still doubted. He caught his shoulders, fighting back the urge to shake him. "No! God, Lex. No. I love you, do you get that?"

Lex stared, absorbing that, making god knew what with the admission. His face didn't change but the beat of his pulse did. "Do you? Then show me. Do something to get us out of here."

"If I knew a way, don't you think I'd do it?"

"I know a way." Lex shrugged out of Clark's grip and held up the wrist with the bracelet. "You can't break the bracelet without triggering the explosive, but you can take off my hand to get to it."

 

 

 

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