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Stranded

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 12

 

A sound woke Clark. A trickling fall of rubble that some subconscious part of his mind must have picked up. He blinked, holding very still because there was weight against him and solid warmth. Lex. Slumped against his side, both their legs sprawled out on the steps under the stoop.

He swallowed, listening for that tell tale sound again, scanning the area for signs of danger. All he found was a rat the size of an alley cat rooting under a bit of trash across the street. He let his breath out slowly, and pointedly tried not to focus on Lex's thigh pressed up against his. From this close up, personal view, he saw a tiny, scabbed over scrape on the side of Lex's head, where something had come too damned close to clipping him. Clark recalled the barrage of debris and swallowed, because Lex wasn't bulletproof, but he was fearless anyway. A normal man facing a gaggle of mutants that had had Clark sweating and he hadn't backed down. But then Lex never backed down. It was like he was incapable of it, or maybe afraid that if he did, the world would see the weakness and go for the jugular. That sounded like a Luthor motto.

It didn't bother Clark so much today, still a little drowsy, dry and warm and relatively comfortable. They deserved a little comfort when they could find it, even if it was crammed into the corner of a stoop.

It was even sort of - - nice. The way Lex felt against him. The way he smelled, the texture of his skin against Clark's jaw.

He lowered his head a little, his cheek brushing against Lex's temple - - and yes, the skin was just as smooth and soft as it had been under the rubble. That hadn't been some adrenalin-fueled over-sensitization on his part. He did it again, luxuriating in the feel. Lex made a sound in his sleep and Clark froze, blinking himself back to sanity - - what the hell was he doing?

He jerked his head away and the motion roused Lex, who made a muffled, annoyed sound before the whole of his body went tense.

Clark froze, considering the possibility of feigning sleep to save on embarrassment. But Lex had a hand on his stomach, using Clark as leverage to push himself up and Clark was too busy thinking about that to remember to shut his eyes when Lex looked at him.

If Lex felt any embarrassment at all over the sleeping arrangements, it didn't show on his face.

"I can hardly believe we had the good fortune," Lex said dryly, settling in a position that didn't include being draped against Clark. "Not to be attacked in our sleep."

"Yeah, that is lucky," Clark muttered.

Lex dropped his forehead to the palm of his hand and looked out under at a soggy street topped by a dismally grey morning. There were puddles the size of Volkswagens filling the potholes in the road and the rain was still coming down. It was likely the sewers and the tunnels the survivors here used to bypass the dangerous sections of the city were untraversable.

"Have I mentioned this place - - for lack of a better term - - sucks?"

Clark laughed. Shuddered a little in relief as the tension he'd been managing to build broke. "Yeah. The idea of home never seemed so nice as it does now that it's gone. What I wouldn't give for that old tractor to throw an axel in the middle of a field."

"That's your fantasy?" Lex lifted a brow.

"It better than eating roach guts and fighting off hoards of angry mutants." Though honestly he'd done the latter on too many occasions back in the real world. The old world.

Lex shrugged, apparently not finding an argument there.

"Would you come after me again? If we got back home?" Clark asked of a sudden. The need to know just sneaking up on him.

Lex went still, caught off guard by the question. A big question. A vital one. He didn't offer an immediate, pat answer, expression inscrutable as he turned it over in his head. He interlaced his fingers finally, between his knees and shrugged again.

"Honestly - - I don't know. I know things now, I didn't then. It would depend on you, I think."

That was probably as honest an answer as he was going to get from Lex, who had too many layers of complexity to expect a simple yes or no. But it had been relatively - -optimistic- - all things considered.

He swallowed back the lump in his throat and rose, tromped down the steps and stretched out in the rain. He expanded his hearing, listening to the sounds of the city. It was hard to get used to how quiet it was. To how few sounds intruded upon his hyper senses, even when he wasn't concentrating to keep them out. The world was huge again. Terribly, tragically immense with so few living souls to make it small.

Lex hissed behind him, and Clark turned, noticing the way he favored his left side when he rose. He was limping a little, stiffness from an awkward sleeping arrangement maybe, but more likely injury taken yesterday.

"You okay?"

"It's nothing." But his fingers hovered reflexively over his hip and he was trying too hard to hide the weakness. "So what are the chances of getting some more of that corn for breakfast?"

Clark looked from Lex's hip to his eyes and shrugged. "Pretty good. I can take you to the source if you want."

"A break from big city life would be nice." Lex half smiled at him and Clark caught himself staring stupidly. It had been a long time since Lex had had occasion to smile at him, or joke and damnit, he'd missed it, with out even knowing he was missing it.

"Let's check and make sure nobody messed with the camp last night first." He was pretty sure they hadn't - - he'd had an ear out - - and even asleep the sounds that an attack would have made would have woken him.

Seeing was believing though, and when they arrived outside the barricades, morning activity seemed normal. The smell of roasting roach drifted out over the ragged walls and made him yearn for the taste of fresh corn all the more.

"You ready?"

Lex nodded, so Clark scooped him up and ran to the spans of ragged green fields and bare open spaces that marked the place Smallville used to be.

He took him to where the farm had been. Where he'd erected his monument to the past and after Lex regained his equilibrium from the trip, he stood staring up at the thing.

"You made this?"

Clark shrugged, thinking about various storm cellars around the county that might have survived the destruction that might house bags of seed that if he were incredibly lucky might have stayed dry enough not to have rotted. Fifty years was a long time though. But life had a way of scratching its way to the surface, so maybe there was hope.

"My life began here - - for all intents and purposes. Everything I loved - - It seemed - -" He couldn't come up with a word.

"Appropriate." Lex did it for him.

"Yeah."

Clark took a breath, shaking off the grief that wanted to creep back up. He'd shed his tears and now there was only forward.

It wasn't raining here, but the ground was still wet from it, the new growth sparkling and green with dew. Without buildings to break it the wind was a little harsh and cold from the passing storm. Wild oats swayed everywhere, taller stalks of corn thrusting up among them. He walked out into it, Lex trailing along at his own pace, not a man used to walking among rows of crop.

He'd learn, Clark thought. They'd all need to learn, the people that huddled in the stark remains of Metropolis, because though the city held the false promise of shelter, this land held the real one of life. He could teach them what they needed to know to thrive. How to build. How to grow. How to fend for themselves.

He picked an ear of corn. Another and started stuffing them in his jacket pockets. Enough for him and Lex now, and later, when they returned, he'd gather more to take back to the people in the city.

The remains of his fire from the last time he was here sat soggy and cold. But upon exploration of the root cellar, and a little excavation he found stacks of dusty canvas tarp and metal rods. The means to erect shelter. It was quick and temporary, but it was a start. He'd make something more permanent later, with wood and stone. A new start where the old start had begun.

Lex sat on a rock and watched him go about it, idly twisting silk from the corn, after Clark had shown him how.

"There was nothing left of the estate?" he asked after a while.

"Flattened. Just a lot of rubble and big holes where the cellars were."

"Hmm. I want to go take a look."

Clark had no objection. He stood back and looked at his open sided lean-to and nodded in satisfaction. A little lopsided and it stank of mildew, but, it would do for shelter from rain and wind.

"I'm going to find some dry wood so we can roast those up proper," he said, and was off before Lex could respond.

He was back in a few minutes with an armful of wood. He plopped it down just outside the edge of his lean-to, dug a little pit and shoveled it in. Having heat vision that could melt lead negated the need for tinder.

Lex watched him start the flame speculatively. "When Kara, or the person I thought was Kara, came and told me about you, that's how she convinced me she was - - serious. She lit up my hearth with those - - eye beams?"

"Heat vision," Clark clarified.

Lex nodded. "Handy. Other than igniting soggy wood, how powerful is it?"

Leave it to Lex to ask the sort of questions Clark wasn't used to having to dig up in-depth answers for. But his fears over Lex and Lex's insatiable curiosity had dwindled. And if they were in this together, then Lex had legitimate need to know Clark's limitations.

"It's sort of adjustable. I can melt through solid steel or narrow it down and cauterize a wound. I've gotten pretty good at controlling it."

Lex lifted a brow, hand drifting to his shoulder where the crystal shard had pierced him and Clark had subsequently stopped the bleeding. "You?"

Clark shrugged. "Yeah."

He poked at the fire, and began laying the corn around the edges so it might roast in the husks.

"A hundred and fifty miles out from the epicenter and it flattened everything." Lex stared at the vast Kansas sky, at the uninterrupted horizon to the east. "And it's the same the father out you get."

Clark didn't think Lex was asking a question, but he nodded anyway.

"I still need to get into LuthorCorp and find out why," Lex reminded him.

Not a nice prospect. But then, he hadn't expected Lex to give up on the idea. Maybe just put it on the back burner after seeing up close and personal the sorts of people they'd have to get past to get into the depths of the L.

Clark turned the corn with his fingers. The husks were starting to turn nice and blackened around the edges and the smell of roasting corn was drifting up with the heat.

"We," Clark said. "'We' need to find out why. Don't forget that, Lex."

Lex cocked a brow at him, slight wry smile that Clark didn't quite trust.

"I realize it's not going to be as easy as I first assumed."

"Glad to hear you say that," Clark said dryly.

Lex's mouth twitched.

When the smell of roasting corn began to infuse the air, Clark began pulling pieces out of the coals. He tossed half Lex's way and began peeling back the husks of his own.

"It's hot. You might want to let it cool a little before you handle it."

"You think?" Lex eyed the steam rising off the piece Clark held in his hand.

Clark grinned, inexplicably and for the first time in a very long time - - happy. And who was he to question a sudden lightening of emotion when he'd been living in shadow for so damned long. If sitting here in eating volunteer corn in the ruins of his home with a man who'd been his enemy was cause for a good mood. So be it.

He bit into his ear, and really, cooking food via heat vision was all fine and well in a pinch, but nothing compared to slow roasting over an open fire.

Lex was gingerly pealing back the husks on his first ear, handling it like a man might who actually felt the effects of heat. He bit into it and corn juices dribbled down his chin and that made Clark happy, too.

After they'd finished, Lex wanted to see the remains of the Luthor Estate, so Clark put out the fire and they walked.

It wasn't that far a trip, if you cut across the fields and it gave him a chance to really take stock of the land. Jim Fletcher down the road had been big into his root vegetables, and if they were lucky, some of the plants had survived the frosts and propagated.

There were bound to be patches of Collards and leeks both of which thrived during the cold seasons and would have returned year after year if some of the plants had survived the initial destruction.

He told all this to Lex and Lex actually listened and nodded and asked a question or two, as if Clark were talking about something he found interesting. Which, Clark supposed, foodstuff was, suddenly having become more valuable than stocks and bonds to Lex.

By the time they'd reached the rubble-strewn grounds where the Luthor Castle had stood Lex was favoring his right leg again and Clark regretted taking the slow way. Lex stood at the edge of the gaping, debris filled pit that was all that remained and frowned.

"I thought - -" he trailed off, reassessing, then started again. "This place survived centuries of warfare - - being broken down and carted across an ocean and reassembled. In my mind, I pictured at least a few walls left standing."

"I'm sorry."

"When my father first banished me here - -it was punishment. He knew I'd hate it. And I did, at first. It grew on me."

Lex sighed, stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned an inquiring look Clark's way. "I don't suppose you could look and see if anything survived in the wine cellar?"

"Lex, you seriously did not come out here looking for booze?"

"It wasn't my primary motivation. But have you tasted the stuff they brew back in the city? Turpentine cut with gasoline would be kinder to the palate."

He stared at Clark steadily, dead serious in the request.

"It's been raining all night and its probably muddy as hell down there. When it dries out, maybe I'll root around."

"Perfectly reasonable." Lex smiled at him.

Clark felt a little tingle. But maybe that was the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

Clark tilted his face up with a sigh, soaking in the rays. It was good to see the blue sky and sunshine again, after days in the haze obscured city. A drop of rain hit his face, followed by more of the same. He laughed at the phenomenon, even as Lex cursed softly under his breath about the miserable weather.

"It's the devil beating his wife," Clark quoted one of his father's favorite explanations for rain in the midst of sunshine.

Lex snorted and pulled his coat tight.

"It's good for the land. For the crops." Clark stepped up close, shivering a little, because getting up close and personal with Lex had began, of a sudden, to dredge up the sorts of things he'd always tried very hard to ignore back when he and Lex had been fast friends. The sorts of things that hadn't been much of an issue once they'd severed friendly relations. "C'mon, let's get back."

Lex considered, rain already starting to bead off his scalp, then he took the half step that separated them and took Clark up on the offer of a faster way back than walking.

Clark scooped him up and headed back to the little shelter at the farm.

 

 

 

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