by Nifra Idril
Clark isn't quite sure how long he's been standing in the hallway. People keep moving all around him - he can see the white edges of lab coats flapping, snapping as doctors stalk past. There's a thick sounding voice fuzzily calling a doctor to radiology, and a wheel squeaks somewhere behind him as a patient argues with her mother. Clark's aware in a dim, disinterested way. He's taking it all in unconsciously, absorbing it without thought as his eyes trace, unsure, over the thin blue and white checkerboard pattern on the linoleum underneath his feet.
He still can't believe that if he looks up, he won't see Ryan lying on the bed across from him. It doesn't make sense - doesn't compute, can't be true, and Clark doesn't want to think about it too much. The weight of the comic books in his hand is something solid, and they're slippery in his nerveless fingers. He can feel them slipping out of his grip, slowly.
There are things that he should be doing, things that should be done. Things his parents are probably taking care of, but still seem more than faintly absurd to even think about because this can't actually be the way Ryan's life ends. That's not fair, and Clark Kent was raised to believe in the importance of fairness. It isn't fair, so it can't be true, but even as he thinks it, he knows it is. It's possible that he's in shock, and Clark doesn't really know the protocol for that.
Then again, he doesn't know the protocol for any of this - shouldn't have to.
He's had five days to come to grips with the idea of Ryan's death, but in the past two years Clark's learned that nothing is over until it's really solidly over. He's saved people from things that should have killed them time and time again, things a lot scarier than some weird growth of tissues he can't even see. So maybe he didn't take the cancer as seriously as he should have, maybe he never quite believed a word that the doctors said, maybe he just nodded and acted concerned because that's what everyone seemed to think was appropriate, but was gleefully waiting to say "Told you so," when Ryan walked out of the hospital into happy ever after at the Kent farm.
One of the Warrior Angel comics finally falls from his hand, onto the toe of his work boot. Clark just looks at it for a minute, before bending and picking it up, and as he straightens he sees the sheet-less, empty green bed. There are still flowers on the window sill, fresh from this morning, and it really hits him that Ryan is actually, really, completely, sincerely dead. He's not alive.
He's never going to be alive again.
It hits Clark. It hits Clark hard that he had his chance to know Ryan -- he had his chance to play basketball with Ryan, to eat pancakes with Ryan, to be Ryan's hero -- and that's over now. It's like there's something in his throat that's expanding into his chest, and Clark can't do anything but gulp at the air in tiny, unsatisfactory inhalations that do nothing to help his dizziness.
He needs to leave, but he can't because he knows that if he turns around and walks away, then he's admitting that Ryan's gone. So, instead, he just sits in one of the plastic chairs at the side of the hallway, collapses in on himself slowly, and puts Ryan's comic books on his knees, his hands resting on top of them. Clark draws another shaky breath, and doesn't look up, can't look up, can't look at anything other than the shiny cover where the bald superhero hits something that looks like a spider with an impressively big, purple clad fist.
The watch on his left wrist says its five twenty-three in the afternoon, and there's something about the oddness of that time, the sheer normality of it, that seems strange. The gentle glow of sun coming in from the windows seems strange, too - out of place.
It should have been midnight. It should have been raining, it should have been thundering, and lightning should have been crashing out of the sky. There should have been babies screaming, the soft sounds of people crying. Instead there's a security guard flirting with a nurse at the front desk, and the minute hand passes onto five twenty-four smoothly. No one even looks into Ryan's room as they shuffle past Clark, down the hallways.
Ryan didn't look that great earlier, but he didn't look terrible either. He'd been smiling more than the night before, and he'd been in a good mood. He hadn't had a headache all morning, and he and Clark were talking about girls. Not real girls, because it hadn't seemed right, somehow, because it was insensitive to talk about the future if Ryan really was going to die (and even three hours ago, Clark had been thinking in terms of `if', even though he didn't admit it). They'd talked about pretty girls on TV, in movies, that kind of thing.
"Kirsten Dunst," Ryan had said, grinning. "She's totally the hottest. Did you see Spiderman?"
Clark shrugged. "She's cute, yeah, not my type, though."
"Okay, who's your favorite?" Ryan asked, crossing his arms.
"Angelina Jolie or Winona Ryder," Clark told him.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Winona Ryder? She's a klepto!"
"A hot klepto," Clark replied, standing. "I'm going to go get a soda. You want anything?"
Ryan shook his head and Clark walked down the hallway. The machine ate his dollar and he shook it, trying to get the soda out and was just fishing out a coke, grinning with triumph, when he turned to see doctors running down the hall, running into Ryan's room.
Clark hovered in the doorway as they tried to shock Ryan back awake, but it was like Ryan had closed his eyes and...left, and his body just hadn't caught up with him yet. They'd wheeled him out, taken him somewhere to do something specialized and sterilized that hadn't worked, and Clark had just stood there and waited, his hand getting clammy from gripping onto the soda, and then sticky and wet because he accidentally crushed the thin aluminum.
An hour ago a doctor with a round face and shiny dark bangs had told Clark that Ryan was dead, in a voice that was low and soft, like he was some kind of skittish animal that needed to be calmed. He'd nodded, said thank you, and hadn't believed it one bit. Instead he turned on his heel and went back to sitting next Ryan's bed, waiting.
Twenty minutes later, he'd finally started to realize that maybe it was true, but only because the phone rang and when Clark picked up, his father's voice broke on "Come home, son."
Clark had said something, but he can't remember what. He'd hung up the phone, and stood, just because it seemed like the thing to do. On the bedside table had been Ryan's comics, and then they'd been in Clark's hand so he figures that he probably picked them up, even if he doesn't remember the motion itself.
And now he's here. Sitting in the hallway, and listening as feet fall flat on tile, and this is not a dream, even if he doesn't quite feel awake. Time's pretty fluid right now, and it's rushing over Clark like a wave. Time is the difference between the old woman behind the walker who makes her way stiffly, slowly, past him and his mother, who always walks faster than Clark. Time is the difference between Ryan laughing and calling him a dork and Ryan...wherever he is now.
He tries not to picture it, tries so very hard not to see Ryan's lips tinged blue as he lies on a cold silver tray several floors below Clark, but he's watched way too much Law & Order, and Clark - who's never been sick a day in his life, has to sit back and close his eyes to combat the nausea.
"I don't need Warrior Angel now," Ryan had said, handing Clark the comics. "I have you."
Clark is not a savior. He's not a hero. He's not even Ryan's big brother, but he wanted to be all of those things. He should have been all of those things. What the hell good is he if he couldn't save someone who needed him? Someone he loved?
The answer is like a slow crumbling of everything Clark's tried to believe about himself. He's not strong, and he's not brave. He's just a boy sitting dry eyed on an uncomfortable plastic chair that squeaks every time he shifts his weight.
He doesn't want to leave the hospital. It feels like leaving is an admission, but Clark's not sure of what. He's not sure why it matters, but it does. Walking out the front door would make this irrevocable - as if it wasn't already.
There's a hand on his shoulder, and Clark isn't even surprised, though he didn't see it coming. He looks over, and Lex's shoes are shiny black and scaled. They can't be too comfortable, Clark thinks, detached.
Lex clears his throat, squats down so that he can look into Clark's face. "I heard. I'm sorry."
And Clark has nothing to say, because he's sorry, too. He's sorry about so many things.
He doesn't ask if Clark's okay, and that's probably for the best. Instead, Lex studies him, lips turning down with a slight frown and Clark's never noticed the three freckles across the bridge of Lex's nose before. It seems important somehow, in a way that Clark can't quite grasp, can't quite bring himself to care too much about.
"How long have you been sitting here?" Lex asks, glancing toward the nurses' station and the exit sign, as though there'd be answers written on either end of the hallway.
It takes a moment for Clark to say anything. When he does, his voice sounds to him like something different than usual; rusty and thick, the words barely make it out audibly.
"A while," he tells Lex, swallowing hard. "I think. I'm not...I'm not sure."
A long slow nod, and Lex is watching Clark again. Normally, it might make Clark fidget, but today he just meets the blue stare blankly. "Where are your parents?"
"The farm." And even that simple an answer takes him a few moments to come up with.
"Okay," Lex says, and frowns outright. His hand on Clark's shoulder tightens briefly when he notices the Warrior Angels lying between them. Lex's nostrils tighten, and his chin tilts up - like he's taken a blow - and Clark wonders what Lex thought of Ryan.
Ryan told Clark to look after Lex, before, and Clark wonders whether or not Ryan told Lex to take care of him. Then again, he probably didn't have to. Lex would do it anyway.
Clark knows that much about Lex without question.
And, really, Ryan didn't have to say it to Clark, either. Although, Clark isn't terribly sure what kind of good his protection would do anyway. It didn't do much for Ryan.
Another hand comes up and cups his knee, gently, lightly - a small, calm touch that makes Clark look up again, and finds Lex watching him like he's about to bolt. "Were you there?"
It's like his throat is closing, and Clark has to swallow hard again. His eyes fix on the beige wallpaper across from him, tracing the places where it pulls away from the wall ever so slightly.
"No," he says finally. "No, I went to get a soda. I wasn't there. A coke. Ryan didn't want one. It was only...only a minute." Clark looks down at his hands again. They look strange and awkward on his thighs.
"When I got back there were doctors everywhere and I - I couldn't get close. I don't know if he was still..." he trails off, and looks back up at Lex, unable to finish the sentence.
Lex nods, lips pressed together tightly. "Let's get out of here."
Clark gulps in a deep breath, but follows when Lex stands. As they walk through the hallway, Clark can't meet anyone's eyes, so instead he watches the tan leather of his boots as he takes one step and then another.
Lex is warmth at his elbow - a solid black clad presence that steers him toward the glass double doors that stream with the low dusk light. They're not touching, not quite, but Clark can feel Lex's focus on him, like a hand on the small of his back, encouraging him along.
He hesitates before following Lex outside, and Lex does touch him then - clasps his fingers around Clark's wrist and pulls him gently.
"Staying here won't change anything," he says quietly. "It happened. All you can do is keep moving."
When he looks at Clark, Lex's eyes are a flat blue, his lips a straight line and it occurs to Clark that Lex knows this, knows what it's like to walk around like he's underwater because of the way disbelief streams around and through. So he nods once, jerkily, and follows when Lex tugs at his wrist.
He folds himself into the car, because his legs are really too long for the tiny convertible that Lex is driving today. It's not black, but somehow it still manages to remind Clark of a hearse - something about the solemnity of Lex's expression, the slow way, careful way he drives out of the parking lot, how the comics lie on Clark's lap like dead things.
His fingers trace the curve of Warrior Angel's skull, over and over, moving without his permission. Clark wonders what happened to the rest of Ryan's comics when he was sold to the hospital, and has to close his eyes against the sudden flash of Ryan, scared and small in the big white bed. All those wires and needles going into his body.
A tear drops onto the smirking face of a villain. Clark didn't even know he was crying. Slowly, and now harder, sucking in breath in shudders, shoulders shaking, fingers clenching on the paper in his hands.
Ryan spent the last week of his life with Clark, but the months before that he was alone and that's all that Clark can think of as he curls in on himself, legs coming up as arms come down, as if to protect his vulnerable center. As if he hadn't already been hit.
"Clark." Lex's voice brushes over the surface of his skin, but Clark shakes his head, pressing against the car door.
All alone, and Clark could have been there, should have been there. He'd promised Ryan that he would visit, had gone religiously out to Edge City to visit for a few months... and then nothing. He'd been busy, and he hadn't been around to see what they were doing to Ryan.
The car stops moving, and Clark only knows that because suddenly both of Lex's hands are on him, turning him away from the window. He sees Lex's face through his tears like a watercolor that's been left in the rain - smudges of purple underneath his eyes, a line of light red for lips and eyes like smears of silvering blue. Then Clark blinks, and it's Lex again. Lex looking like he hurts too, but like it's an old hurt. One he knows the contours of well, one that he's held before.
Lex must find something in Clark's expression, because he sighs roughly, and hugs Clark. It's awkward with the stick shift in the way, the wool of Lex's jacket is rough against Clark's cheek, and it's clear that Lex doesn't quite know what he's doing, but his arms are strong and warm, and his hands pass over Clark's back soothingly.
He doesn't say anything, because there isn't anything to say. It isn't okay, and it isn't going to be, and Clark knows that, so instead Lex just holds him until he's wrung out, and clinging.
"I'm sorry," Clark whispers when the half-hitch of his breath seems too loud. He moves to pull away, but Lex just holds him tighter.
"Don't be," Lex tells him, cheek brushing against Clark's hair.
Clark closes his eyes and relaxes against Lex. It's dark out, and Clark isn't sure exactly where they are. He does know, in detached way, that his parents are probably frantic by now, and somewhere Ryan's body is slowly stiffening with death.
Lex's shoulder is damp beneath his cheek, but his hand is dry and smooth where it rests on the back of Clark's neck. In a little bit he'll take Lex's advice and he'll let motion distract him, but right now all Clark wants is to be still.
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