Steel-haired and steel-eyed Ruth Conroy worked as an ER nurse at St. Augustus Hospital for over twenty years. Located in the suburbs of Metropolis, the medical emergencies differed from those in the city proper, and between the hours of two to six o’clock in the morning, few people were admitted. Families in the suburbs had long since been tucked safely in their beds; expectant mothers and drunk drivers made up the sparse caseload. So when the two thirty-something gentlemen walked through the automatic doors at three in the morning one Thursday, Ruth took notice.
“This isn’t something Toby can put a band-aid on, Lex.” The taller of the two had windswept black hair and an almost too pretty face half-hidden by black-rimmed glasses. Dressed in sweats, a t-shirt, and ratty tennis shoes with no socks, he had his arm around the other man, escorting him into the hospital.
The other man, Lex, she somewhat recognized. Smooth bald head, scarred lip, and piercing blue eyes, he cradled his left arm against his chest, his shirtsleeve rolled to his elbow. His business attire, lavender dress shirt tucked into black trousers, wasn’t creased despite the late hour.
“I’m aware of Toby’s limitations, Clark,” Lex said, “but you know how I am.”
Clark, the taller one, appeared slightly exasperated, like they’d been having the argument for hours. “Your arm is broken, Lex. You still need to have it set so it heals properly.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” They came up to the window in the reception area, where Ruth sat. An array of clipboards lined the short counter. Plastic chairs and tables with old magazines made up the empty waiting room.
“May I help you, gentlemen?” Ruth said, letting her bifocals fall around her neck, hanging from a chain.
“Lex broke his arm,” Clark said.
“I can speak for myself,” Lex stated. Clark ground his jaw.
Trained with experience, Ruth saw the pain-pinched corners of Lex’s eyes and mouth, and knew anything he said, or how he said it, shouldn’t be taken to heart. “Lex, is it? You’re the one who is injured?”
“Lex Luthor,” Lex supplied. She recognized the name, which answered why he appeared familiar. “And yes, I’m the one with the broken arm, as he already told you.”
“Lex,” Clark hissed. “Be nice.”
Lex pursed his lips, hugged his left arm tighter to his chest, and then winced.
“Do you have your insurance card?” Ruth began procedure, not getting offended. She’d been a military nurse during the Vietnam War. A belligerent bald guy couldn’t ruffle her feathers.
“Would cash be acceptable?” Lex said with mock politeness. Clark glared at him.
“Of course.” Ruth nudged a clipboard towards him. “Fill that out so I may admit you.”
Lex smiled sharply at her. “That would be difficult, seeing as how I’ve broken my writing arm.”
“I’ll fill it out,” Clark said, taking the clipboard. His eyes pleaded with her from behind his glasses. “That way, you can take care of Lex now.”
“And how are you related?” Ruth said.
“Partners, ma’am,” Clark said.
“Very well. When you’re done, give it to the nurse behind this counter.” Ruth rose. “Mr. Luthor, if you’ll walk through the automatic door.”
Jenny took Ruth’s place at the reception counter. Ruth met Lex as he came back into the main portion of the ER. His dress shoes squeaked on the tile floors as she led him to the first bed, in a row of empty lock-wheeled beds. Monitors, IV poles, and plastic drawers with sterilized, wrapped equipment separated the beds. Ruth pulled a curtain on a rod hanging overhead, giving Lex privacy, and laid a pale blue hospital gown on the bed. “Have a seat, Mr. Luthor, and I’ll assist you in removing your shirt.”
Lex lifted himself onto the side of the bed, hissing as his arm jostled. Ruth poked a thermometer in his ear as he was getting settled and took a fast temperature reading. Slightly elevated, but that was normal for someone injured. She took his blood pressure, using his right arm, and his pulse rate, as well. She jotted the information on a fresh chart, filled the name in at the top and the reported symptoms, in this case, a broken left arm.
Ruth questioned Lex while helping him out of his dress shirt. “Which part of your arm do you think is broken?”
“Somewhere between my elbow and wrist.” Lex sucked in and bit his lower lip as they slid the shirt off that arm.
“And how did you receive your injury?”
Ruth assisted him putting on the hospital gown. “How did you fall?”
“He was standing on a chair, cleaning one of his Warrior Angel display cabinets, and over-tipped,” Clark answered, joining them behind the curtain. He hovered near the end of the bed.
Lex gave him an acidic look. “What are you doing back here?”
“The nurse said I could come back,” Clark said, sounding hurt.
“I’ll page the doctor,” Ruth said, taking the chart. She left the two behind the curtain. The phone hung on the wall around the corner and she dialed in the paging number for the ER doctor on call.
“Thanks a lot, Clark,” Ruth heard Lex say, as Jenny walked up, handed her the information Clark had filled out, and returned to the reception counter. Ruth clipped the pages to the chart.
“What?” Clark said defensively. The curtain did not afford audio privacy.
“Now it’s going to be in the newspapers tomorrow: Lex Luthor Breaks Arm While Playing With Toys.”
“No, it won’t,” Clark said. “There are laws preventing the nurse from doing that.”
“That’s never stopped anyone before,” Lex said scathingly.
“Then threaten to sue her. That’s what you usually do anyway.”
Ruth’s lips pinched. She prided herself in never repeating anything she overheard, unless it related specifically to a medical or ethical concern of the patients in her ER ward. She would walk away, but it was her duty to remain within earshot of her patient, in case he needed assistance.
“Besides, I thought you said you were cleaning,” Clark went on.
“I was cleaning,” Lex said.
Clark was silent, and then humor laced his voice. “Liar.”
“I am not.”
“You are. You’re looking right at me. You only do that when you lie.”
“I look at you all the time.”
“Different kind of looking, Lex.” Ruth heard the clink of someone bumping the curtain.
“I’m not lying,” Lex insisted, though he sounded sulky.
“Uh-huh,” Clark said. “What were you reaching for on the top shelf?”
Lex sighed loudly. “Gabriel Station Medical Center.”
“Re-creating Issue 115 again, huh?”
“How did you know?” Lex sounded surprised.
“Despite what you think, I do listen to you, Lex,” Clark said. “Gabriel Station was only used in issues 115 and 137, and you hate issue 137, because Cal ‘acts like a lovesick fool’ over Hector.”
“Hector needs to die.”
“Yes, I know. He destroyed the series.”
“He did! Warrior Angel is about Cal and Sean and how they were once best friends but now they’re the worst of enemies, yet they still can’t stop caring about the other even with the horrible things they both do. Issue 115 proved that when Sean got caught in his own bomb blast and—”
“—and Cal rescued him, took him to Gabriel Station Medical Center, and sat by his side every day until he woke from his coma. Cal still loved him, in spite of their fighting.”
Lex was quiet a moment. “I could never decide whether I wished Cal to hold on or just let go of Sean.”
“I hope he never lets go,” Clark said. “Sean may be blockheaded, but he does love Cal very much.”
“They never stop fighting, though.”
“They’ve been together for twelve years. That’s a lot to let go of, if Cal left.”
Ruth heard the layers in the conversation. Lex and Clark were a married couple, for all intents and purposes, who’d hit a rough patch. She’d been married for forty-three years and had experienced her fair share of roughness. That’s why they said it took work to make a marriage last through the bad times and what made the good times that much better.
“That’s why Cal went to Gabriel Station Medical Center every day,” Lex said quietly.
“I know,” Clark said. “You always set up Issue 115 when you’re unhappy. You just usually don’t break your arm doing so.”
“The chair was too short, and I stepped on the back to reach the top shelf and over I went. The chair scratched up the floor. I’ll have to get it refinished.”
“I’m going to stick one of those folding stepladders in that room so it won’t happen again,” Clark said. “You gave me a heart attack when I heard you crash.”
“Not my most shining of moments,” Lex said with a self-deprecating smile in his voice.
“At least it’s only a broken arm and not a broken head.”
“True.” Lex sighed. “If they cast my arm, I won’t be able to write.”
“You’d make other people do it for you,” Clark said. “Or, better yet, we could use it as on excuse to go on vacation. I hear the Ninth Dimension is supposed to be a hot spot to visit.”
Ruth didn’t catch the response, as Dr. Turnboldt finally arrived. “Nurse Conroy, what do we have?”
“Broken arm in bed one,” Ruth replied, handing him the chart.
“Lex Luthor, huh?” Dr. Turnboldt checked over the chart. “How did he break it?”
Marital troubles, Ruth thought. But she replied, “Standing on a chair.”
“It’s nice to know that even the mighty can fall like the rest of us,” Dr. Turnboldt said, heading around the corner towards the curtained-off bed.
Ruth shook her head and said quietly to herself, “You’d be surprised, doctor, how normal they are.”