Author's Note: These last five challenges were writer's choice, so the prompts are all of my own choosing. :) It's been a really fun ride and thanks so much to everyone who's gone on it with me! I can honestly say that this is one of the most inspired pieces of work I've done (just speaking in terms of how much I wanted to write it, not necessarily the result, hehe). I can't say how much I've appreciated all the amazing feedback and support, especially when I know that slash isn't the most subgenre for this particular film.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who's left comments, read, etc. etc. It has really meant a lot to me :)
(Oh, there also may be an addendum chapter after this that includes all the drabbles that didn't fit the prompts/fill in some missing bits of the story, etc. In case anyone was curious :)
"They've got him on full lock-down. Two of my men are there twenty-four seven and will be reporting to me. They've also arrested the mask-maker, the manufacturer of the neuro-toxin, and a host of other accomplices. He was sloppy—didn't seem to care about covering up his tracks except to get close to you."
Bruce laced his fingers together, resting his hands on the dark mahogany desk, tone laced with command. "Don't try to see him. He's just been raving like a lunatic, anyway. They don't care how much you patrol the place—in fact, they'll probably feel safer if you do—but those two broken arms and four fractured ribs have pretty much taken away your visitation rights. We'll all testify at his trial, of course, which Perry and I are expediting as we speak."
Kal clenched and unclenched his fists. "I'll stay away," he finally conceded; looking up, his eyes burned like blue specters. "Now tell me the bad news."
"Well," Bruce said, rubbing a finger on his forehead, "First off, please do not mention to Dr. Roberts that you sucked some of the toxin out of the wound, otherwise you'll get a blistering lecture." They shared a strained laugh that they both desperately needed right now. "Also, they've collected all the data they can from the knife and they'll be launching it into space very soon; if all goes as planned, it will be burning up in the sun within a week."
Bruce came around the desk and sat next to Kal, talking quietly. "Roberts can't determine if there will be permanent damage or not, or when Richard will wake up. Make no mistake about it—he was very, very lucky. If the stab wound had been a bit deeper, or if you hadn't gotten him care so fast, he would be—in critical condition." Kal's face blanched at the odd pause but he did not comment.
"His body is fighting it, hard. Plus, he's got the best care, and he's young, healthy. He's got a lot of reasons to live. Roberts is confident that he'll pull out of it."
"Can you get me copies of all the information we have on this toxin and all of Richard's latest read ups?"
"Absolutely. They haven't narrowed down what this toxin is yet; if you can provide any tips in that direction it would be extremely helpful for his treatment."
Kal nodded, "I'm going to the Fortress right now."
Bruce hesitated for a second, and then reached out, gripped his hand on Kal's shoulder. "When he wakes up he's going to need help. Even with a full recovery chances are he'll have months of muscle therapy." He forced eye contact, not letting Kal look away from the truth. "He's going to need you."
"What he needs," Kal said, dangerously soft, jerking his arm away, "is a normal life. And I'm going to do everything I can to make sure he gets it."
"No!" He said, surging up, pacing the room, fists clenching hard at his sides. "Let me guess—you're going to tell me that life is full of dangers and that he could die getting hit by a bus or a his plane could crash or any number of other things, right?"
Bruce stood and leaned back against his desk. "There is that, yes."
"The point that I take away from that is there's no reason I should be in his life. There's enough danger out there. I'm only adding to it."
Bruce looked pained, like he didn't want to say the words but knew he must. "He's already been marked, Kal. Jason was marked from birth by his genes, just like you were. Neither of you had a choice in the matter. But Richard knew what he was getting into. He's an adult and if I know you, you warned him more than once, didn't you?"
Kal said nothing, crossing his arms, jaw tightening.
"The best way to protect them is to stay, Kal."
"That's where we disagree, Bruce."
"At least talk to them before you do anything rash."
Kal softened. "That's all I can promise."
Bruce smiled sadly. "That's all I'm asking."
Kal quickly found that one of the largest oversights in the Kryptonian knowledge base was the human race. There was plenty on the star system, on the planet itself, but very little about the species that inhabited it.
He fed in textbook after textbook; the current readouts from Dr. Roberts useless without a starting point. He got a complete analysis of the toxin's composition and properties but nothing on how to counteract it.
He sighed, looking over the data which, after all these hours, was starting to make some kind of strange sense. At least it was a starting point.
"How is he?"
"The same," he said, tearing his eyes away from Richard's prone form. "And you?"
She bit her lip, entranced as he had been by the vision of helplessness before them. "Getting through it. Jason's outside," she said, taking a shaky breath, "But I had to come in and see for myself first."
Kal rose, the first time his body had moved in ten hours.
"Here, let's cover up the I.V. with the blanket. I talked to the nurse earlier and she said it would be fine."
They worked in silence, carefully adjusting the fabric, as much to comfort themselves as Jason.
"I'm sorry," Kal whispered, chest tightening when they were done. Richard, skin pallid and chest barely moving, seemed so far beyond their reach.
"Sorry?" She shook her head, genuinely confused. "But you saved him."
"But if it weren't for me, he wouldn't have needed saving."
And to both their surprises, she smiled. "You really think that? You think that you're the reason Richard is a hero?" She came around the bed and sat down, staring at Richard with a faraway look in her eyes. "That's like blaming Martha for every life-threatening situation that you get into. Unfortunately, heroes are born, not made." Her smile broke, shattering into tears. "He rescued me when I needed it. When I was lost, alone, no one to turn to. That's what he does for the people he loves."
The fist in his chest gripped harder. "I can't let him. Not for me."
She finally looked at him, eyes blazing behind the tears. "He made a choice, Kal, when he stepped in front of that knife. Don't you dare take that away from him."
Then she rose, left from the room, choking back sobs that echoed long after she was gone.
It started so subtly he didn't even realize what was happening; but as the days wore on, and nothing produced results—from the Fortress, from the doctors, from talking to Richard or telling him stories or ordering him to wake up—he started to crack. He snapped at the nurses, grilled Dr. Roberts and pounded his fists into the crystal walls of the Fortress like he could get answers if he just pushed hard enough.
The fracture lines were old; they'd started with the vision of destruction, a graveyard that would remain preserved in space for as long as rock lived. The cracks formed so fast and strong that they threatened to break him, to split him down the middle.
He came within a hairsbreadth of hurtling the craft at the remains of his secret hope; it was only reasonable that he should join this graveyard, float until he had nothing left, burn up in a final blaze as he entered the sun, his final remembrance of the dead.
Something had stopped him, some tenuous string pulled him back here. He was human enough that even in the darkness of space, a small light of hope still burned.
But with each of Richard's monotonous breaths, each time Roberts cut his statistics down, each time Lois or Bruce tried to offer him empty comforts, each time Jason asked why his daddy wouldn't wake up—it dimmed, and the fractures, like festering wounds, opened.
He stood, cupped Richard's face in trembling hands, and leaned in for a feather soft kiss. His eyes brimmed with tears he couldn't shed, wouldn't, not yet, not here.
Richard did not stir; Kal fell back into the chair, taking the lifeless hand in his own, holding to it like his last lifeline in a sea of agony.
"I'll do anything," he said, voice quiet from disuse, but each word fell out like a drop of blood, "I'll do anything, Richard."
He looked at the monitor with the vital signs that were anything but, and moved from the chair to sit in the bed, putting his head in Richard's lap. "Anything you want." The wounds opened full and he curled in, wracked with a future that he couldn't face. "Please… just don't leave me."
Eyes closing, he began to fall asleep, cradled by last comfort he had left.
"Anything?" The voice in his dream was barely above a choked whisper.
He blinked when he felt the cold fingers twitch in his, instantly awake. Straightening up with a sense of fear that this really was all a dream, he looked with the expectation of disappointment, but there was Richard, his eyes bloodshot but open, lips cracked but pulled up into a smile.
"Anything," Kal said, coming apart. He fell into a million pieces under Richard's tender gaze.
"Don't leave us," Richard rasped, holding Kal's hand tighter.
"I—" But as the last pieces fell, Kal's resistance fell with them. Somehow, he knew, when Richard woke up again, he would be able to start putting all the pieces back together. Probably better than before.
"Okay," he said slowly, making no effort to wipe away the tears of relief that streamed down his face. "But it won't be easy."
Richard's smile bloomed fully, lighting up every corner of the room, of the dark places Kal thought he could hide. Right then and there, despite the ravage to his body, he was the most beautiful thing Kal had ever seen.
He brought Kal's hand to his lips, planting a seed of promise on it with his kiss.
"Nothing worth it ever is."