TITLE: Another Such Victory
BY: Vehemently (email@example.com)
DISCLAIMER: In loving violation of Title 17 of the U.S. Code. RATING: Pretty well a G.
SUMMARY: Rescue, care, cleanup, and nobody dies. It's terrible.
They came stumbling out of the brush like drunken woodchucks, clutching each other, hay in their hair. Nobody noticed them; all backs were turned to the torn gray-green horizon. On the far side of the house, the blue and red flashers on top the van reflected off the low heavy clouds. It made them both nauseated again.
Her limping gait sent Lana crashing into Clark's side now and then, as they misjudged each other's distance and momentum. He staggered and continued, eyes closed, seeing through his eyelids anyway. "Just a little farther," she said, through her split lip. She'd been saying it since he'd found himself head first in a creek and came up, spluttering, in front of her.
But this time it was only a little farther, and as they trudged the big doors thumped shut and the engine started up. Lana saw the spinning lights begin to move as the ambulance headed out, and this time she really did throw up, flopping to her knees on the grass. There wasn't much left in her stomach anyway. Clark stood by her side, shivering, hair in wet tendrils down over his eyes. She coughed and wiped her lips, and as she struggled back to her feet, the deputy turned around and saw them.
His shout brought more people around, and soon Lana was sinking gratefully into the support of a beefy state cop, who helped her keep balance for about three steps before picking her up entirely. "Into the house," he said, and an unresisting Clark followed him through a cloud of grimacing sheriff's deputies towards that great dark building. It was only as they rounded the corner that Clark saw how an entire wing had collapsed to rubble, flapping yellow police tape around piles of stone. And only a few minutes later, as they tracked their muddy footprints through a gigantic foyer, that Clark remembered there was only one house in the whole county that had separate wings to collapse.
"What happened?" he mumbled, just as Lana said dully, "There was an ambulance."
"Don't worry, I've got a first aid kit in the kitchen for those scratches," the cop told her. She held onto his collar, frowning. "But I think that ankle might be broken, miss."
Clark kept his head down and put one foot in front of the other in a straight line. Even with his hearing, it took a few moments for Clark to understand what the cop was muttering: "You're OK, you're safe, it's over. You're OK, you're safe, it's over." Lana sat in the man's arms and peered through the tangles of her hair and didn't answer. The three of them crossed the threshold into the vast steel kitchen.
"Here," said the state cop, easing Lana into a kitchen chair. The medical kit was already open on the table, gauze bandages like little clean napkins. "Son, I really think you should put the pressure back on that cut."
Clark muttered, "Who, me?" even as he heard the replying voice behind him.
"That's fine," said Lex, remote and cool. "No, of course I don't have any comment, Janice. He'll have something pithy for you as soon as he's out of anaesthesia, I'm sure." Lex stood at the sink, looking out at the roiling clouds, a cell phone at his ear. He didn't seem to have noticed he wasn't alone. Clark stood cloddishly and watched as he finished up the phone call, mouthing the phrases of news-speak in a flat, low tone. The cop huddled over Lana's ankle.
Lex closed the phone, put it down on the counter beside him carefully. He spent a moment arranging it just so, square against the counter edge and the edge of the sink, with great concentration. Lana grunted in pain on the other side of the room, and he whipped around, blinking guiltily.
"Clark," he croaked. One side of his face was dark red-brown, the sheen of drying blood cracking at the corner of his mouth. It had dripped down his throat before it had coagulated, and marred the front of his tailored shirt. Somehow, he had dipped his shirtcuffs in it too. A brighter swipe marked his scalp above his ear, as if he had tried, absently, to brush away the cut on his forehead.
"You're bleeding," Clark blurted.
The wide black pupils of Lex's eyes studied him. "You're not." Clark saw, on the bloody side, the last swirls of liquid red dancing across the sclera. No wonder Lex was blinking so much.
Clark felt the room tilt, or himself, and he grabbed the counter's edge for an anchor. "I'm dizzy," he said. "There was a tornado."
"He rescued me," said Lana, dreamlike, pushing her messy hair off her face like snarled curtains parting. She stared over the head of the policeman and into nowhere. "I was trapped in the truck and he rescued me."
"He does that a lot," murmured Lex. He picked up Clark's hands one at a time, disentangling him from the counter, and ushered him to a chair. Muscles in his forearms flexed and leapt with unspent adrenaline.
Lana looked down at the head of the man in front of her. She touched him a little, as if anointing him. She whispered, to nobody in particular, "It was like flying. We were up in the air. I thought I was already dead." Clark and Lex both shuddered at once, and suddenly she snapped back into herself. "Hi Lex," she said. "Were you caught in the storm too?"
"It's all over, honey," interrupted the cop, patting Lana on the knee. "I've immobilized the leg as best I can, so we ought to head out to the hospital. Is there somebody you want to call?" Lex spun and stalked back to the sink, scooping up the cell phone from where he had left it. Clark had never seen him move so quickly. The cop stood up, a great meaty presence overshadowing them all, and took the phone.
He offered, "I don't know about that cut, son. It might want stitches. How bout you come on down with the girl and me."
In one deft move Lex danced out from under the large, gentle hand about to fall on his shoulder. "They're taking him to the regional hospital, in the next county," he replied. Lana was dialing her aunt's number, not noticing the weird blank look on Lex's face. Clark stood to go, and remembered the ambulance.
"Somebody got hurt."
Lex caught himself shaking a little and put his hands in his pockets. "Part of the house collapsed. My father was injured. Don't worry yourself about it, Clark."
"Is that how you--?"
"Yes." Lex bit off the word and ended that thread of conversation.
"I'm going to carry her to the car, then," said the cop, exhaling heavily into his mustache. "If you change your mind later, one of the county's men can drive you. Boy, you coming?"
"In a minute," said Clark. He put on a smile for Lana's benefit. She was frowning and dialing again, nothing but static bouncing off the sky today. She wafted past him out the door, nestled in the bosom of the Kansas State Police.
Lex waited till they had left the kitchen, observing Clark. "You should go with them. You might have a concussion."
"I'll be fine," he said. "You're all cut up."
Lex touched his forehead and came away still a little red. "It's nothing." He wiped his fingers on a pristine white towel. "I got knocked over and hit the bookcase."
Clark came over to the sink, to give his feet something to do. He didn't dare say what he was thinking. And then, as the silence stretched and Lex stood fingering the towel he had just bloodied, Clark couldn't stand not to say it. "Was it bad?" he asked, slowly. "Was it, did your dad hit you?"
His answer was a creepy little laugh. "No." Lex turned on the faucet and moistened the towel, diffusing the bloodstain he had made, playing with it in the nap of the towel's fibers. Clark wanted to make him stop doing that. "He didn't hit me, and I didn't hit him. The wall failed and the windows all broke inward and a column came down on him. That was all."
"Is he going to die?" Clark reached out, turned off the faucet.
Lex let him do it. "Not now."
They stood next to each other at the sink. Clark wrung the towel one way, then the other way, then the first way, then the other way. He said the first thing that came into his head. "It was so dark, and -- loud. Even after it was gone, Lana and I were shouting at each other."
Lex reached up and touched Clark's hair. He came away with a broken green stalk of timothy grass. "But you came through in the end," he said ironically.
Desperate to make himself useful, Clark folded the wet towel in his hand. "Here, hold still." Carefully, he dabbed at the newest blood below the cut. "I didn't know a stone castle could collapse."
"Imagine his surprise when it landed on him." Lex seemed to realize how that sounded, and backed away from Clark's hand. "He might have been crushed to death, except the bookcase and the desk took the brunt of it. The rest fell after I pulled him to safety."
He wouldn't let Clark touch him again, but took up the towel himself. He chafed roughly at his throat and jaw, brown flakes scattering down his shirtfront. He turned away, pacing the large space of the kitchen, as his scrubbing became more vigorous.
He told the walls, "You haven't lived until you've seen your archenemy helpless, lying on the ground before you, begging for mercy."
Clark said nothing.
"I could have made myself king." A diligent polisher, Lex rubbed the towel hard and fast across the planes of his face, drawing a deep irritated pink to his skin. His efforts were opening the cut, and he bled again as he spoke. "I would be majority stockholder, chairman and CEO right now. It's a move he could have respected, even admired." Clark reached out and grabbed his wrists to make him stop. "My god," mumbled Lex, whey-faced under the artificial blush, "I'm so stupid."
"Lex, you're not--"
"It couldn't have been a better test if he'd engineered it himself. And I failed." For the first time since they met, Lex seemed on the verge of tears. "Don't you see it, Clark? I failed."
Clark let go gently, and took away the dirty towel. "You saved his life."
"I did, and I only hesitated a minute. He saw -- he was right there. He knows I was too weak, or too craven, or too obedient to ignore the social niceties and strike at the right moment."
Clark folded the towel again with care and dabbed at the fresh blood on Lex's forehead. Lex let him do it, hardly seeming to notice; he looked the way he did when he was calculating stock averages in his head. He reported the final sum dully:
"I had the opportunity, and I didn't take it. He knows it, and when he wakes up he'll despise me a little bit more." He closed his eyes and walked away, as if that were all.
Clark followed him, crowding too close. "What were you gonna do, let him die?"
With eyes slitted and head cocked ironically, Lex smirked at his outrage. "That, at least, he could have respected."
Desperately Clark reached out his free hand, settled it on Lex's shoulder. "Lex," he intoned, with as much surety as he could muster, "you did the right thing."
"I won't make the same mistake twice," answered Lex, and sidled out of arm's reach.
"You coming, son? We're about ready to go." The state cop poked his head into the kitchen, and saw them standing apart from each other. "I'll take you both on down, if you like."
"Thank you, no." Lex slipped his hands into his pockets, slouching in that can't-be-bothered way of his. "I'll stay here, to deal with the sheriff's office and, I'm sure, the press." Thanks to the impromptu cleanup, his face was almost entirely clear of blood. When he turned away like that, bored or withdrawn or both, the cut was hardly visible. It was still too soon for bruises.
"Lana has your cell phone," Clark said, and they followed the state cop out of the kitchen. He was halfway across the foyer on Lex's heels before he remembered the bloody towel in his hand. He slipped back and left it, still dirty, in the sink.
When he got outside, Lex was leaning against the squad car, all benevolent indulgence. Lana sat in the front seat, talking to her aunt or to her boyfriend or maybe to empty static still. "I was flying, like in the Wizard of Oz," she said. "It was kind of wonderful." But her face crumpled in fear.
"It's been quite a day," murmured Lex, so only Clark could hear. He stared dead-eyed out towards the dim horizon, gray on gray on gray in bilious huddling fog. The dying wind barely stirred Clark's hair out of his eyes.
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