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The building had been distorted so badly, it was hard to keep track where they were in relation to what it had been. Of course, it wasn't like Lex knew the layout of every conference room, every lower level office, every janitor's closet or every storage room by heart. He hadn't designed the building, he hadn't wondered the hall of its lower echalons. By the time he'd inherited it, he'd been rather distracted by the 'crusade' to really notice much more than the executive floors that housed offices related directly to upper management LuthorCorp business. His off the board projects had never migrated to this building. At least not while he'd been around to assure it.
They didn't go far, Tucker wasn't up to long meandering trips and the foray downstairs combined with his exertion of power to slow Clark down, seemed to have drained him. But the corridors were dark and some of the walls were down, distorting his sense of direction even more, so Lex was hard put to keep track of the location. It didn't help that his body was vibrating with tension/fear, anger/apprehension of what he'd talked himself into.
Two big freaks had hold of his arms, walking him at a snail's pace behind Tucker. The two little albino aberrations were scurrying along ahead of Tucker with weird, disjointed movements that made them creepier than they already were.
The procession ended up in what could only be Tucker's private domain. Lots of high-end junk cluttered against the walls. Art work, furniture, jewelry draped over pretentious candelabra's - - it looked rather like a pack rat and a pirate had melded and created a den.
It was dominated by a bed. Or a collection of beds, pushed together to form one huge platform broad enough to have housed a ten person orgy.
Balking wasn't an option with the grips they had on his arms, but he had a bad feeling. And he didn't want anything to do with that bed or the things an old, obscenely fat man might do ii. Tucker was strictly heterosexual, Lex was sure of that. He'd had a wife and a long standing position as a conservative Republican. Gay hadn't been an option. Of course fifty years, genetic mutation and a little apocalypse might have altered his views and sex wasn't always about gender preference when there were issues of dominance at hand.
But they let him go, once into the chamber, and both his escort and Tucker's two little pale pets scurried to help the fat man settle onto the broad coalition of mattresses. The whole frame creaked as he shifted, and even his bulk was dwarfed by what must have been four king box springs shoved together. Lex had to wonder what the hell he did on that bed that required so much space.
The little female - -Lex assumed she was female - - Albino Freak went to rummage in a cabinet against the right wall, and came back with a crystal goblet filled with pale liquid. Distilled spirits Lex suspected. Maybe of a finer grade than what they brewed back at the human compound. Tucker might have access to better equipment scavenging the lower levels of LuthorCorp. God knew what labs had been relocated to the basement levels after he'd disappeared.
"Where are your manners, Lizzy?" Tucker reprimanded. "Bring one for our guest."
"I'm fine," Lex protested, but she was already scurrying back to the cabinet. She came back with a similar goblet and thrust it towards him. Liquid sloshed over onto her hand and she licked it off after he accepted the drink, staring up at him with her unnerving red eyes. She scrambled back onto the bed and snuggled close to the fat man.
"Have a seat, Lex," Tucker invited.
"I'm good," Lex declined. There were no chairs in the room, just the bed.
"Sit down." Tucker's jovial tone turned sharp and Lex supposed that he wasn't used to being disobeyed. It was a big bed, and there were battles and then there were battles and making this one would be of little benefit.
Lex shrugged and sat down on the foot of the bed, leaning against one tall wooden poster as thick as his thigh. He held the drink in his hand, not sampling it, and waited for Tucker to make the opening bid.
The fat man watched him, small eyes almost hidden beneath folds of flesh.
"So let's have that talk, Lex," Tucker said. The way he said his name was almost salacious, like he savored it on his tongue. He'd only ever addressed him as 'Mr. Luthor' or 'sir' before the world had gone to hell. He supposed addressing him informally was a sort of power play unto itself to a man that had been very big on propriety once upon a time.
"Sure, Tucker. What do you want to talk about." He couldn't help it, even though he was on a mission of appeasal, he couldn't quite stop the need to needle.
Tucker's eyes narrowed. "They call me Father, here. Or the Laughing Man - - if you're an enemy."
Lex lifted a brow. "How did you get that moniker? Honestly, you never struck me as that jovial."
Tucker's mouth stretched into a humorless smile. "I've learned to take great enjoyment out of certain things, over the years."
Lex doubted he wanted to know what things. He took a sip of the drink out of habit. It was in his hand and there were nerves stretched taut. It wasn't half bad. Not the distilled kerosene that he'd shared with Granny in the shanty town.
"Where have you been all this time, Lex? And how are you unchanged? Is that part of your own Freak coming out?"
Lex's mouth twitched. Giving Tucker bits of the truth wouldn't matter in the long run. It might even solidify Lex's credibility.
"I found the alien fortress," he shrugged. "I thought I'd destroyed it. For me that was - - oh, less than two weeks ago." A damned busy two weeks.
Tucker's eyes widened in real shock. He sat forward dislodging his two little parasites. "Time travel? How is that possible?"
Lex took another sip of the drink. "Alien technology, Tucker." He'd call the man Father when hell froze over. "It must have had a self defense mechanism in play. It's all gone now. "
"Yes. We searched every square mile for a thousand miles for months - - for years - - looking for a trace of it - -for a trace of you - - and there was nothing. And all that time - - you were out of time." Tucker laughed, amazed.
Lex had gotten over the amazement some time ago. He finished off the drink and shrugged. "None of it mattered apparently. The Destroyer still came - - still destroyed the earth for all intents and purposes."
"Not all of it," Tucker corrected him. "Humanity still lives."
Lex laughed. "Barely. And you're whittling away at that little by little." Not a politic thing to say, but his head was starting to feel a little muddled. He narrowed his eyes and looked down at the empty goblet.
"That's not a nice thing to say, Lex," Tucker said, but his voice sounded distant.
Lex looked up, the goblet felt rubbery and insubstantial in his hand. Colors around the edges of his vision were beginning to intensify, to shimmer. The eyes of the two little albino freaks seemed to glow as they stared at him.
"You son of a - -" He couldn't quite finish the curse, tongue thick in his mouth. Lamp light wavered. He did.
Tucker's freaks scurried forward, one easing the goblet out of strengthless fingers, the other directing his slump towards the bed rather than off it onto the floor. They dragged him towards the center and he lay there, movement a hurdle he couldn't leap, everything swimming and pulsing at the edges of his vision, like they'd given him a hit of some acid/roofie conglomeration. Tucker was a large, lurid shape to his right, not moving, just lounging back against his pillows and watching.
The little ones were all over him, small dry hands skimming his face, his scalp, sliding up under his clothing. He couldn't stop them. Couldn't quite find it in himself to be repulsed.
"He's smooth," one of them said, strange old voice in that tiny body.
"All over," the other agreed, hand sliding below the waistband of his pants.
"I'd wondered," Tucker said, far away. "Let's see, shall we?"
Clark swam in and out of awareness. Out was better. Out was an escape from the pain. In was a necessity. He needed to know where he was and what was happening. He needed to find Lex and get the hell out of this nightmare.
He'd gotten better over the years at tolerating the effects of kryptonite. When he'd been fifteen, a chunk the size of the one around his neck would have likely killed him - - or at the very least put him out and kept him out, until it was gone. Now - - well, now it just felt like he was dying. Sapped his strength, sapped his consciousness off and on when his body reached some saturation point, before he gathered enough reserves to swim back towards awareness.
It didn't help that he was bleeding. Leaking a fair deal of blood from wounds he didn't remember getting. Wounds that still stung, pulsing as if infected. He felt the blood under his cheek where he lay, felt the slow trickle of it down his shoulder, from a throbbing wound of some sort on his back.
Everything after the kryptonite was a blur. One intermittent litany of pain and garbled noise and headache inducing color. He didn't recall getting here, wherever here was, but he lay on his side on a metal grate in a circular chamber that smelled of rust, and blood. The darkness was rhythmically interrupted by the lazy flash of filtered light and when he dredged up the strength to shift his head and look up, he saw far above, the slowly rotating blades of a huge fan. Somewhere far above that, sunlight leaked through.
His wrists were trapped behind him, wound with chain that was wrapped up to his elbows. It put a great deal of strain on his shoulders, muscles that usually protested nothing, screaming in agony. Everything hurt and it was more than just the kryptonite poisoning. He tried to move, to find a more agreeable position, and the rock shifted on its chain around his neck. It touched a new spot of bare skin and his heart skipped a beat, everything going red with pain, before turning black around the edges.
He swam out of it for a bit, grateful for unconsciousness, and came back to the sound of harsh breathing, interspaced with wet sobs. It took him a second to realize it was him.
God, but this had gone badly south on him. He hadn't expected the kryptonite. Had just gone in damned blind, not thinking, not planning, fear for Lex overwhelming all higher reasoning. Not that he ever tended to meticulously plan these sorts of things. He wasn't a planner, he was a doer. Rushing in and hoping he was more powerful than whatever or whoever he was up against tended to work for him - -oh, nine times out of ten. It was that tenth time that always got him.
He really hadn't expected the kryptonite.
The wall shifted to his left. He squinted and realized it wasn't the wall, but the mammoth figure of the giant. There all this time, watching him.
Clark blinked, swallowing something that might have been blood.
"My friend - -? My friend - -is he all right?" His voice came out hoarse.
The man-mountain didn't answer and Clark shut his eyes, shuddering through a spasm of kryptonite induced agony.
"You strong," the giant finally spoke, slow, rumbling voice, as if words came hard.
"So are you. I'm - - I'm sorry I had to hurt you. Sorry I had to hurt your friends."
After a few long breaths, the giant said. "Hard to hurt Tink. No one ever strong enough to do it before."
"You're the strongest one here?" Clark gasped out the question.
"Biggest," the giant - - Tink - - said. "Father's strongest. Father took you down. Father take us all down if he wants."
Father. The fat man with the apparent power over gravity. If it hadn't been for the kryptonite, Clark might have overcome that assault. He didn't mention that to Tink.
"You look after the others? The little ones?" Was what he managed to grind out instead. It felt like his teeth were vibrating right down to the roots.
The giant shifted, moving a little closer, coming into a fleeting shaft of light. Small eyes, overhanging brow. The face of a mentally challenged child in the body the size of a small mountain.
"Sometimes." The heavy brow wrinkled, as if Tink were thinking hard. "Some of the little ones got teeth."
Clark was sure they did. He recalled the little girl that had blasted a hole in the wall of the shantytown. Size wasn't everything when it came down to raw power.
"That's good," he said, trying to meet those small dark eyes. "The strong - - the strong should protect the weak."
"Why?" Tink canted his head as if the concept were foreign.
Clark shut his eyes, the pain making it hard to think, much less carry on a conversation that might work to his benefit. "Because - - sometimes, they can't protect themselves. Because it's the right thing to do."
Tink tilted his head, staring down at Clark as if he couldn't fathom what Clark meant. Small eyes narrowed to squinting slits as he turned it over in his head. He shook his head finally, as if thinking too hard hurt, then shambled back to his place against the wall.
Clark shut his eyes, a wave of nausea that felt like it wanted to eat its way out through his gut washing over him. He rode it out. Took a shuddering breath and tried the chains binding his arms. There was no give. If not for the stone around his neck, he'd have shattered them. He was weak as - - well as a human now. Weaker. The rock against his chest was making the skin fester. His nuts throbbed. He twisted his head to look lower, and was surprised to find himself devoid of pants. He didn't remember losing them. He didn't remember whatever had happened to make a bloody mess of his genitals. God.
If they'd done this to him - - Lex. He really, really needed to get to Lex.
"What's your - - name?" he gasped as a wave of pain rippled over him. The pain a decent sized chunk of kryptonite caused him never dulled. Never got old. Always new and exciting.
The giant didn't move for a long time, and Clark thought maybe he might have dozed off. But finally, the rumbley voice responded.
"Tink. Like Peter Pan's fairy." Clark said between clenched teeth, recognizing the irony.
The giant - - Tink - - canted his head. "What Pan? What Fairy?"
Clark laughed around a grimace. "A book. A boy from a book. Who lived in a fantasy land and never grew old. He had a friend - - her name was Tinker Bell - - he called her Tink. She was a tiny little thing with wings. Somebody has a sense of humor."
Tink thought that over, then shifted, moving closer. "Tink knows books. Father has books. Tink saw one once, with pictures of people from before. Didn't see little things with wings. How he never grow old?"
Clark closed his eyes, centering himself. Fighting back the pain, trying to remember his mother's voice when she'd read him the story.
"He didn't want to grow up. To stop being a boy. So he didn't."
"Like Lizzy and Zollo," Tink said. "They been here longer'n me and never get bigger. Always little. Always prankin'. Mean pranks. Father let's 'em."
"They don't - - they don't do the right thing."
Tink canted his head and finally seemed to get a glimmer of what Clark was trying to say. "No. Mean things hurt. Mean things not right things."
Clark shut his eyes, breathing deep. "This rock around my neck - - it hurts - - a lot. It's a mean thing. Do you think - - think you could move it away, Tink? Just a little?"
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