Title: The Quality of Mercy
Fandom: This is the unholy love child of Smallville, Sports Night, and Justice League.
Disclaimer: Ain't mine. Wouldn't want 'em. Too unruly.
Notes: Thanks to taraLJC for inadvertently sparking the idea, and to slodwick for poking me with pokey sticks until I actually wrote it. Also, there was some beta'ing. That was cool, too.
It was almost noon; in two minutes he'd be late for his weekly lunch with Lex, and there were still 40 stories straight up to contend with. Clark did his best bob-and-weave through the crowds in the lobby of the LexCorp building. Super-speed notwithstanding, his best bob-and-weave was actually pretty good, especially considering his height and the fact that, walking at a leisurely pace, he often turned too fast to talk and smacked Lois in the face with his shoulder. He knew his picture wasn't smiling up from anyone's Merriam-Webster next to the word "stealth," but Clark liked to pretend that any poise he did possess wasn't completely regulated by the Lycra.
The elevator doors gleamed chrome as they slid open a few yards ahead of him. He leaned into his walk, driving for the elevator at a just-this-side-of-Hey, I'm Superman!-pace, only to stop short, stutter-stepping around a baby carriage. The woman pushing the carriage glared at him and murmured things Clark was pretty sure no mom should ever say. He apologized and stepped backwards through the elevator doors as they slid shut.
"For I am Clark," He hit the button for the top floor and leaned against the wall, cleaning his glasses on the hem of his shirt, "the smoothest man alive." After forty floors of experiencing the various colognes and head colds of a dozen LexCorp employees (the woman in the twenties who'd turned her head to avoid coughing on the woman next to her and instead coughed full-on at Clark made his skin, invulnerability be damned, crawl), Clark stepped off at the top of the tower.
He thought of excuses down the length of the eerily quiet hallway to Lex's office suite. Another Perry-inspired Jimmy Olsen meltdown, mutated sloths clogging up downtown traffic (they weren't dangerous, just really big. And inconvenient. And their speed, normally glacial, was apparently inversely proportional to their size.); for most people, Clark thought, you didn't need a fantastic excuse for being three minutes late. This of course cued a rousing chorus of "Most people aren't eccentric billionaires, alien boy!" in his head.
He sighed and shook his head to clear it as he walked past Margaret's desk. She left for lunch at exactly five past noon every day. Clark was even later than his watch was letting on. He stood outside Lex's office, tapping his fingers gently on the silver knob.
Clark Kent, boy reporter, strong in the face of thugs, politicians, and Lois Lane, not to mention that whole Man of Steel thing, was completely cowed by his boyfriend's anal retentive punctuality complex. That and the fact that Lex had been in a brooding mood the past few days anyway.
Deep breath in, turn of the knob, and an empty office stretched out to the enormous windows across the room from where he stood. Mostly empty. There was a woman, tall with dark brown hair down past her shoulders, all in black and facing the windows.
"You're late." She didn't turn around.
"Yeah, well, you're who the hell are you?" Clark's brain cycled through the mental Rolodex of all the women he'd ever seen Lex "pretend" to flirt with at various public functions.
"I'm Lex's assistant."
"And by 'assistant,' you mean 'muscle'?"
"Well, you could say that, though from what I hear if anyone knows about Mr. Luthor's ... " she swept her eyes over him in a way Clark thought entirely unwholesome, "muscle, it'd be you, Clark."
"You know my name, I should probably know yours." He halted quickly, holding up a hand in front of him, "Please tell me it does have some vowels in it right? I wouldn't ask, but -- there's been some recent unpleasantness."
"Mercy," she came around Lex's desk and took Clark's hand in hers, shook with a quick hard professionalism, "Mercy Graves, and we've already met, Mr. Kent."
Clark's eyebrows nestled in somewhere near his hairline as he forced his smile (mostly) down.
"I think I'd remember that. So, you're Faith's replacement?" he took a moment to look her over -- he'd put good money on an X-ray scan finding a small arsenal strapped to each of her long legs.
"I think you mean Hope," it was her turn for eyebrow aerobics.
"Hope, Faith, Mercy, whatever --" Clark grinned and dismissively waved a hand.
"Yeah. Whatever. And no, I'm not her replacement. She's with Lex. I was supposed to stay behind to meet with you."
"To meet with me, regarding ?"
"Why Lex isn't here. You did notice that he wasn't here, right?"
Clark folded his arms across his chest. "So. Lex couldn't make our lunch daa--our lunch lunch."
"No, he couldn't make your lunch-da-lunch-lunch; something came up, he had to run to another meeting." "
Well, I could catch up with him after -- where was his meeting?"
"Taipei." She eased herself back against Lex's desk, smoothing the front of her jacket.
Clark smirked and shook his head, taking a moment to actually run that weapons scan. He had underestimated the powers of Velcro and the advances in diminutive weaponry. The woman could easily lead a coup on the artillery strength of her pants.
"He could have left a message at my house, or -- I have a cell phone ... "
"You know Lex," Mercy stood again and walked towards him, "he likes that 'personal touch' to all his dealings."
"Yeah, well," Clark leaned forward a bit, "I'm not one of his dealings, and he knows that. I get it -- he was feeling persnickety, so he cancels on me in spectacular Luthor fashion. That's fine. That's very thirteen year old girl of him, but that's fine. I'll bet he's actually in Taipei, too?"
Mercy nodded, unblinking, at Clark. They stood at almost even height, though her boots had to have some sort of military grade stilt capability.
"Well, then, I guess I'll be going." He turned for the door, "You have a nice day Mercy, was it?"
She put her hands on her hips.
"You honestly don't remember me?"
"I honestly don't." He pushed both doors open and headed back for the elevator.
Outside again he hit a few buttons on his phone and walked down the street.
"CK, what's up, big dog?"
"Jimmy. I have begged you, literally, begged you not to call me that."
"Which? I mean, because there were tw--"
"Either. Neither. Please. Is Wally around?"
Jimmy snickered, "Yeah, hang on " Clark heard the phone clunk back down on the table and Jimmy shouting for Wally.
"Hola, big dog, what's up?"
"I hate you both," Clark crossed the street and headed uptown.
"Naww, you don't."
"I really do."
"You don't. Secretly, we're your two favorite non-bald men in the world."
"Oh! I just remembered -- the reason I called! I had to tell you something --"
"Yeah, I believe it was a little message I like to call 'shut up, you assho-'"
"Easy there with the profanity, Kent. You'll tarnish the American Way."
"Secret identities, Wally. You need another go around in Bruce's 'stealth school'?"
Wally gulped and Clark smirked, looking both ways and narrowly avoiding a messy scene involving a taxi and a watermelon vendor.
"Jesus, Clark -- don't even joke about pairing me back up with Sergeant Sadsack. My psychological wounds haven't healed completely from the last time."
"Understood. Anyway, I wanted to know what you and or Jimmy were doing for lunch."
"I'm going to The Java Pump with Chloe to recharge our rechargeables, and then I'm headed over to Aunt Iris for some stuff."
"And by 'stuff' you mean she'll do your laundry and give you pie?"
"Like you would turn down pie." Wally grumbled. Clark's phone beeped.
"Okay, I gotta' go. Do me a favor and tell Jimmy I'm gonna' be at the Regal for the next hour or so grabbing lunch if he wants to join me. Tell Chloe I say 'hi.'"
"Later, big guy."
Clark growled a little and hit the send button on his phone to switch lines.
"I hear you met my new girl?"
"That was the idea, right, you big baby? You could have called me before leaving the country."
"You know how my moods have to work themselves out."
"Unfortunately, I do. Promise me you didn't quash any empires to boost your spirits."
"None you'll miss."
Clark smiled as he slid into a booth at the old boxcar diner off Central and Ivy streets. Aggie knew the routine, and set a glass of chocolate milk in front of him as he sat.
"Usual?" a corner of her orange-lipsticked smile curved in a worn-in smirk. Clark nodded and mouthed a 'thank you.' She walked away and he took a long, refreshing sip of chocolate milk.
"So, Mercy tells me you slept with her in Spain."
Chocolate milk, while delicious and somewhat nutritious, is a lousy sinus purgative. Clark furiously mopped his lap and the tabletop as clean as he could of choco-lacto spray and slumped down in his seat so no one could see the hyper-red blush doing jumping jacks in his capillaries.
"What?" he hissed into the phone.
He could hear Lex trying to stifle a laugh.
"It's okay, Clark. I don't mind. Well, a little, but it's nothing a little alone time with you won't work out."
"Because you've never been to Spain?"
"Because I have never been to Spain."
"She says you never called, Clark."
"Damn right I never called."
"I never called because I never slept with her."
"In Spain, in Helsinki, in Newark I never slept with her. Period. She's crazy, Lex."
"I knew she got along too well with Hope."
Clark couldn't seem to stop shaking his head. There was a droplet of milk on the left lens of his glasses; it was driving his peripheral vision mad.
"Crazy, crazy, crazy."
"I'm sure that's it, Clark. Listen, are you coming over tonight?"
"If you want." He rested his forehead against his hand and squeezed his eyes shut. The last thing he needed was this fresh dose of surrealism in his life.
"I do want."
"What time does your flight get in?"
"From Taipei? Where you are?"
The Felix clock across from Clark got it before he did.
"You're not in Taipei, are you?"
"No, no, I'm in 'Taipei.' Didn't know you could get good cuttlefish in Kansas, though -- great San Pei, seriously. I can actually see your office from here."
"You're such a pain in my ass."
"Now, don't you get persnickety."
"I'll see you later."
"You bet," Lex was full on smiling. Clark could hear it. "I wanna' hear more about Spain."
He hung up before he heard what Clark called him.
Clark was staring intently at his monitor, willing a synonym for "rapacious" to come to mind, ignoring the fact that "rapacious" was actually a pretty good word, when Lois came up behind him and whapped the back of his head with her copy of the morning edition.
"What the ... ? Did I deserve that?"
She hopped up on the edge of his desk and crossed her legs. He cringed as her far-too-pointy Blahniks flashed so close to him. She sipped her coffee and pointed at him over the top of the steamy mug.
"You sleep with women and don't call, Smallville? I expect that kind of hit-and-run behavior from Olsen -- or, I would if he could get any women at all, but -- Clark. Honestly."
"Jimmy told you?"
"Jimmy knows? I am so kicking his ass for not telling me. No, I heard it from Fontana."
Lois cringed sympathetically and nodded. Fontana was a dick.
"He heard it from Rebecca Jameson in managing."
"Who Jimmy's been making daily trips downstairs to hit on for the past two months."
"The little guy used your plight as a conversation piece."
"It's not my plight. It's fiction."
"Clark. You could have sent flowers."
"Lois, I'm serious, hear me out."
She put down her mug and crossed her arms.
"Okay," Clark ran a hand through his hair, "I met this woman yesterday. For the first time. She claims that we slept together in Spain, spent a night together after which I didn't call her. Several things are wrong with this claim, and I'll tell you what they are in handy, easy to repeat to curious co-workers bullet points. One, I met her yesterday. Two, I have never slept with her, especially not in Spain, because three, I have never in my life set foot on Spanish soil. And finally, most importantly, I met her yesterday! Am I coming in clear with all this?"
Lois nodded slowly. "You should have called her, Kent."
She swung her legs to the side of his desk and stalked off towards her office.
"Augh!" Clark banged his head on the keyboard. For a moment, he thought he'd had her on his side. And he seriously doubted Perry would accept "fgrtyh5t" as a synonym for "rapacious." This was not his best day.
At noon he bolted uptown to Lex's office to straighten the whole thing out. Lex was leaning on Margaret's desk when Clark came around the corner. He stood and smiled.
"Well, Clark, it's good to see you."
He glared at Lex, wishing he could say "get bent" in each of the ten languages Mr. "Oooh, I'm an Evil Genius" spoke. He also wished he could pinpoint the moment at which he became a ten year old in regard to this whole situation.
"You are here to see me? Or should I get Mercy?"
Clark settled for walking past Lex into the office and saying it in English.
Mercy and Hope stood at opposite ends of Lex's desk, like pit bulls with wonderbras. Wonderbras, and also considerable firepower.
Lex stayed by the door, leaning on the frame and smiling at the whole extremely uncomfortable tableau before him.
"Hope, I need you for a moment."
"Yes sir." Smirking as she walked past Clark would have been unprofessional. It was Hope's assessment instead that it was a small grin that crept across her face. A small grin of evil.
Lex pushed the door and winked at Clark as he left, the aluminum mechanism hissed softly as it closed Clark in the room alone with Mercy. The entirety of the Metropolis skyline was glittering outside a wall of windows, and Clark had never felt so claustrophobic.
"Mercy, you have to believe me that I have never slept with you. You're confusing me with someone else."
She moved away and sat behind Lex's desk. Okay, so she was new, and frankly a pain in the ass, but Clark sincerely hoped she didn't do that in front of Lex. That'd be one hell of a harsh way to learn that lesson.
"It's okay, Clark." And oh, her calm infuriated him.
"No! It's not, you crazy, insane woman!"
"Listen. You're Clark Kent."
He nodded, suddenly realizing how exhausted he was with the whole thing.
"You're originally from Smallville. Now you work for the Planet, but when you were in college you had other plans. You liked Vonnegut and The Beatles, and your favorite movie was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
"All these things are still true, but all you've proven is your ability to access the Planet's staff bio site and wield the information you've gleaned with freakishly stalker-like acumen."
"You like beer, at first, but after a few you'll drink anything that's put in front of you."
"Okay, well, that's creepy. But you're a hired gun for my admittedly morally wobbly partner, so I don't see why I'm supposed to expect there isn't some big ol' dossier on me you had to study before getting your clearance."
"Seriously, Clark, it's okay. I've grown up. You obviously haven't."
"We all make choices Clark. Yours just include more sluttiness that I think most people would assume."
She left the room, but it was still a good two minutes before Clark scraped the last of his jaw from the floor.
Clark handed Chloe her special mug as she pulled her feet up under her on the couch.
"Thanks, Clark. Now spill."
"Wally told you."
"Of course he told me. I can't believe you didn't try to get to me first -- you're always good with the damage control. Although, I guess that's why I'm here on a Saturday morning."
"Honestly, Chloe, I need a friendly female face in my life right now."
"Well, from what I hear, there's a good chance you've got a bunch of 'em you dont even remember meeting, so -- that's a positive!"
"Chloeeeeeeeeeee." Whining was not a good look on anyone, to say nothing of how absurd it looked on a twenty five year old man.
"Seriously, Clark. You need a female to be on your side in a case where you're being accused of playing with a woman's emotions, then alienating her and leaving her feeling used, and you pick me for your champion? Have you completely blocked high school from your memory?"
"Hey, I made up for all my stupid adolescent antics!"
"Sure, sure, sure."
"Plus, I introduced you to Wally."
"Time's gonna tell whether that's a good thing or not."
"Aww, you're blushing."
"Shut it. Tell me what happened with Mercy."
"Nothing. That's the thing. She's delusional." Every time he talked about it, Clark's eyes resembled more and more those of a crazy man.
"Deluded?" Chloe giggled.
"Okay, well -- let's see how you, or she, or both of you could be mixing this up."
"I'm mixing nothing up," Clark was resolute, "she slept with some dude, in Spain, who looks just like me."
"I'm fairly sure that's not it."
"Clark, no one looks just like you." Chloe put on her aww, pretty dumb boy face and reached in to pat his knee, "If there were people who looked just like you, the world would be a better place. Plus there wouldn't be such a high premium on the original, so that'd free up some time for you, I'd imagine."
"This is serious, Chloe."
"And I'm seriously racking my brain, hon, but I think you have to allow for the possibility that -- you know. You did it."
"But I didn't! Chloe! The closest I've ever been to Spain was when we were in Paris for Spring Break sophomore year, and you were there with me!"
"This is all true."
"So, you -- you of the innate journalistic skills of observation and memory, don't you think you'd remember me hooking up with an enormous Amazonian mercenary?"
"Maybe she was smaller, then."
Clark was now officially pouting.
"Listen, Clark -- I spent a good portion of that week with a purple tongue shouting 'More vin! Sil vous please!' Not exactly one of the shinier moments of my past."
Clark laughed; he remembered that. They'd been on the train, headed south for a few days when Chloe discovered the bar car. Halfway into her third glass (which was only her third on the train. They'd hit a small tavern near the station back in Paris.), she slumped back in her seat as Clark flirted with the waitress.
"Don't get your hopes up, honey," she slurred a little louder than she'd intended to, "pretty boy here's gayer than a thing that's really, really, a lot of gay."
Clark whipped his head around and goggled at her, stopping himself right before he set her on fire accidentally.
"What?" she was almost laying across the bench, "Was I not supposed to know? Pfffft."
She slept the rest of the way south. She apologized in Perpignon, but pointed out that he never had to lie to her again. He smiled, and it was mostly genuine.
"I'm not that guy, Chloe." He rested his head against the back of his couch. "I'm not the guy who doesn't call. Hell, I'm not even the guy who gets up early to avoid an uncomfortable conversation."
"I know, but we've all done things we're not particularly proud of."
Clark shook his head and drained his coffee, too sweet and gone cold from sitting on the table for a half hour.
Clark went into the office with Lex early in the morning. Sundays were part of their special time: no saving the world, no "completely legitimate" business deals. And yet, Clark was nodding off in one of the big chairs in the lobby outside of Lex's office. They hadn't gotten a terrific amount of sleep the night before, and their planned nap-a-thon was cancelled at dawn with the ringing of Lex's phone. Clark's eyelashes hit his cheeks with a whoosh only audible to super powered, super tired ears.
In his dreams he was climbing Everest, or trying to. Diana stood a few yards ahead of him, kicking snow down onto his face. He tried, but he couldn't just take off and ascend to the summit. He was just a man, clinging to the side of the mountain. He had absolutely no right to be so close to the gods, and Diana was making damn sure he knew that. A particularly wet bit of snow cracked across his face, knocking off his glasses and loosening his grip on the mountain. As dream Clark fell, fast and painless, reality Clark's leg did that twitchy thing where drags you, whiplashing, from a dream.
Clark jerked his head up and opened his eyes. He may have also snorted. He pushed his glasses up onto his head and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. Mercy was sitting across from him, her hair pulled back severely into a high ponytail.
"Good morning, Mr. Kent."
"Good morning, Mercy," Clark groaned and tapped his glasses back onto his nose, "have you come out here to tell me more about our imaginary liason."
"I hadn't planned on it, but I can if you want."
She looked away for a moment, and Clark noticed for the first time that her hair, where it lifted up and away from her head, was blonde.
"I think I'm just about done arguing this with you. It happened, and I've gotten over it. Why you're dragging this out is beyo--"
"Hey. Listen. Crazy lady. I have never slept with you. Ever. I have a long and fabulous enough history of treating women I like badly, and I remember each and every godawful offense. I really don't need you to fabricate a few more ballots to vote me into the special hell, okay?"
"No, this whole thing's caused me nothing but trouble since you first brought it up. My boyfriend's looking at me with that creepy sidelong plotting look he gets, and my friends keep calling me asking for 'The Ladies Man'. No one seems to be looking at the fact that I NEVER SLEPT WITH YOU, so I'm just going to forget all about it, and the next time you feel like bringing this up, you'd better be armed with a picture of me and you, and we'd better be in Spain. What's that?"
She had taken a wrinkled three-by-five snapshot out of a zipped pocket in her vest.
"That's me." Clark pointed to a younger him, tousled hair and the bleary eyed look of someone who liked beer at first, but drank whatever was in front of him after he'd had a few. Mercy nodded.
"Can you read the towel?" She tapped the corner of the picture, where a big white hotel towel was tossed across the corner of the bedspread.
"Hotel de Spain." Clark looked up. "The Hotel de Spain's in Spain?"
"Who'd have thought?"
"On the border. It was when we were in Perpignon and we went driving along the coast, and we got lost."
"You drove to Spain."
Clark stared at the picture. "Okay, but that's not you. I know this girl," he scrunched his eyes and tried to remember her name, the tiny bird-boned blonde girl who he'd met in the bar, who he'd swung around in a messy waltz. "Her name was Mary Beth. Her name was Mary Beth Graves ... "
His voice trailed off as he looked up at her.
"You didn't actually think my name was Mercy, did you?"
"Oh my god."
Mercy nodded and ran her hand over the top of her head.
"I grew into quite the imposing figure."
"I'll say. Mary Mercy I am so incredibly sorry."
"It's okay, Clark."
"No, it's really not. I can't adequately express to you how not okay this is."
They stood in long cold silence until Lex came striding from his office, with Hope flanking him.
"Let's go kids -- we're stopping by the docks on our way home, I've got to put the fear of god into some peons."
Mercy snapped to and fell into line on Lex's other side. Clark trailed behind them.
Outside he put his hand on Mercy's arm as she moved to close car door after Lex.
"Clark, really, it's okay. I have to work now."
"I should've called you. If my not calling you made you feel like any less that what you are ... I'm sorry."
Her eyes softened for an almost imperceptible second.
Clark leaned down into the car.
"Lex, I'm going to head home. I'll see you later."
"Okay." Lex was focused, but he always smiled for Clark.
Clark straightened and nodded tersely at Mercy as she closed the door and took her seat in the front. He walked away, towards home and facing into the chilly wind whipping around between skyscrapers. There were church bells behind him, and the black car carrying Lex and Mercy passed him and disappeared around the corner.
© scrunchy 2004