by Sarah T.
Mercy stood guard over her city.
That was what it had always felt like, those two times a week for the past eight years that she had night duty. Looking down at the vast glimmering reaches of Metropolis at night, with its lumbering Gothic arches jostled up against eager up-and-comer glass spires, she knew that she stood right at the city's heart. The man sleeping behind her was Metropolis, with all its contradictions and power. That made her responsible not just for the one person who had ever really understood, but for the city itself. She was always ready; there was nothing she couldn't take on.
This time was different, though. This time, as the night surrendered along the horizon to a grim grey light, the city was waking up, and Lex was not.
The nurses had been in three times during the night to check on him. Mercy didn't know why they bothered. She'd stood there long enough to memorize every beep of the heart monitor--every rasp of the ventilator. She wouldn't have missed a change.
Hope would relieve her soon. As reluctant as she was to leave Lex, Mercy knew that that was good. For the first time she could remember since Lex had trained her, she was unable to shake off the burning feeling of exhaustion. It wasn't just her muscles--it was something deep beneath that was giving way. She didn't usually take night duty so many times in a row, and she hadn't gotten any sleep because of the hearing. Eight hours of sitting bolt upright and totally unnoticed on a hard wooden bench, as the lawyers argued and Superman made speeches, and...
And speak of the devil. He'd landed on the terrace past the glass doors. He stood there with his hands empty by his sides, waiting for her to realize he was there, and he'd obviously been there several minutes. She scowled at herself. Now was no time to be getting stupid and sentimental and slow.
She slid the door open. "What do you want, Superman?"
The combination of his jutting jaw and suddenly uncertain eyes was ridiculous. Mercy had never understood why people thought he was handsome. "I wanted--to come by. Before work. To see if there was any change."
"There isn't any change. There isn't going to be any change. And whatever that judge might have said, it's none of your damn business anyway."
"Miss Graves to you, Superman." She remembered when Lex had given her uniform. When she saw it, she was upset at first. The tightly-fitting top, the miniskirt...it seemed like it'd been designed to draw every bit of the attention she despised. But then she realized that that was the uniform, not her. An image for the world, nothing more. When she took it off, she was free of it--of it all. For good. And when she was wearing it with Lex, she was untouchable. Lex called her Mercy. So did Hope. Nobody else. "Miss Graves."
"I'm sorry. Look...can I come in?"
He wasn't supposed to use that tone. Not while he was in his uniform. It was a disgrace. Superman always crashed into that room; he didn't ask nicely. "Why? Do you want to see what you've done? Well, take a look!" She stepped back and gestured at the body on the bed, the machines, the tubes and wires. The wreck of Lex, eaten alive from the inside.
He came into the room, but didn't get too close. Coward. "Miss Graves. I didn't do this. It was the cancer."
"It's because of you that the doctors won't turn off the life support. They would never say no to Superman. So he's going to stay like this til nothing else they stick into him can keep him breathing."
He winced. "It was too early to give up on him."
"Did anybody ask you?"
"There was no one to speak for him. No wife, no children, no living will. Someone had to decide."
"He never would have wanted this."
"How can you be so sure?"
She went over to one of the dressers. "I knew him."
"So do I, Miss Graves."
She turned around, the gun with the kryptonite bullets in her hand. While her back had been turned, Superman had crossed the room. His fingers were resting on the back of Lex's hand. That took care of any doubt. She aimed. "The hell you did. Get out."
His eyes went a little wide from the radiation, and he swallowed. "There's something you don't know."
"Quit stalling. I'm not afraid to use these."
"I know you're not." He hesitated. "He never told you, did he."
"Told me what?"
"Lex and I. We were..." He raised his jaw defiantly. "Together once. "
"Once upon a time," she snapped. "That's a pretty story."
But her head was adding up a hundred different looks and tones and not-quite-reactions, all the strange vibrations in the air when she'd seen them fight, and her trigger-finger was trembling. Don't be slow now, Mercy, she told herself again.
"But we were," he said. "I was a boy, in Smallville. We had to hide it, but you know it's true. We were really together. There's nobody else left who can say that. Not in any way that matters."
There were only three people in the world Lex had ever really hated: his father, his second ex-wife, and Superman. Looked like they had something else in common, too.
She lowered the gun, bowing her head as well. Lex could've told her. She wouldn't have cared. He knew all her secrets, and he'd never tried to take advantage. Neither would she. She would've protected that secret like she protected all the others--like she protected everything of Lex's.
"I'm just not ready to let him go, Mercy." He touched Lex's cheek with the back of his hand. "I think you understand."
She stared at Superman. Superman standing over Lex while the machines whooshed and whirred. Lex helpless as Superman touched him with such pity in his eyes. Lex who couldn't escape, because Superman was using all his influence to keep him there.
"Hope will be in here any minute," she told him. "You should go."
He nodded, brushed his fingertips over Lex's closed eyes, and was gone. Mercy closed the door behind him, but left the curtains open. Let the dazzle of the sun rising over his city greet him.
She ejected the kryptonite clip, one by one, and put them carefully back into the box. She removed another bullet, a regular one, and loaded it into the gun.
She would be careful, and she would be sure. Lex had taught her to shoot with perfect accuracy when she was just a girl, and she wouldn't let him down. She straightened her uniform, crossed to the bed, and put the barrel to the temple of Lex's head.
It was the only way she could protect him now.
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