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Take off Lex's hand?
For a moment, Clark didn't get it. Just didn't make the connection between words and meaning. It was too terrible to contemplate. But Lex kept staring at him, unflinching, something steel glittering in back of his eyes and Clark started to get it.
He drew a breath, horrified and shook his head in refusal. Taking Lex's hand off at the wrist to get at the bracelet would be no less of defilement than what Sweet had done. Bile rose in his throat at the metal image. At the thought of the lengths Lex had been pushed to that he decided this was the solution to the problem.
"No," Clark set his jaw. "Its insane."
Not a statement that paved the way to Lex's heart, surely, but certainly one that held merit when a man was offering up a limb when there had to be another way. He had to believe that. He had to believe he could find it. Or that help would find them. Clark's friends were nothing if not tenacious and the League had no shortage of resources. They were looking now, he had unswerving faith, and they would never give up on him.
Lex didn't have that sort of faith. Lex didn't have people that would lay their lives on the line for no other reason than that they called him 'friend', much less because it was the right thing to do. Lex had employees. Lex had minions. Lex paid well for loyalty, but when the chips were down and the money swallowed up by corporate politics, that sort of loyalty shifted. How did you really believe in people who were mercenaries to begin with? Other than Mercy, who had ever protected Lex's back with unwavering loyalty? And Mercy was dead. Killed doing just that.
Lex smiled at him, cold, humorless, thumb stroking the chaffed skin above the bracelet on his wrist. "Insane? That's your definition of any brand of logic that doesn't parallel your own sense of right and wrong. Thinking outside the box was never your strong suit, Clark. I, on the other hand, have always excelled at it." He held up his hand. "It's a simple, elegant solution to a problem with no other viable resolution. A price I'm willing to pay to avoid the slow, painful death this place promises."
There was too much calm reason in Lex's tone. Too little emotion from a man proposing what he was proposing. Too little emotion from a man still bleeding from a brutal attack upon his person. He has to be in shock. Numb from it, holding everything back behind those mile wide shields of his.
Clark caught his hand, the one he was offering as sacrifice, and squeezed gently. "There's another way. Lex, we'll find another way. There are people looking for us. People with resources."
Lex's eyes narrowed. "The justice League? If they didn't track you down when the trail was hot, they aren't going to now, when it's cold and dead. No one's coming, Clark. I might be teetering on the verge of insanity, but it's a damn sight better than floundering blindly in denial."
He jerked his hand out of Clark's grip, frustration welling up at the edges of the cold calm. "Don't you get it, Clark? We're out of options. Maybe you could make it here for years, running on fumes, but I'm doubting I have that much time."
"I'll protect you," It was an empty promise and Clark knew it even as it passed his lips. He hadn't managed to protect Lex very well this time and it would only get worse now that the wolves had tasted blood. Only get worse as his strength dwindled. It didn't mean he was willing to give up.
Lex stared at him, things going on behind blue eyes, scorn blending with the bruises on his face. He withdrew his hand.
"All right," he said. "It would have been cleaner with your help. Amputation and simultaneous cauterization would have been preferable, but I can make due without."
"God, Lex - - just think a minute. You've just survived something - - horrible - - and you're not thinking straight."
Lex lifted a brow. "See, that's where you're wrong. Physical trauma has always served to clear my head. It washes away all the illusions and leaves nothing but stark truth. This is the way out and with or without your help, I'm taking it."
Clark had no doubt that he was capable of taking off his own hand. He was capable of much worse when his back wasn't even pressed to a wall. And how did you stop someone determined enough to do such a thing when the whole damned mine was filled with tools designed to break through dense stone. Clark couldn't be there every second of every day to protect Lex from Lex anymore than he could be there every moment to protect him from the outside dangers.
Lex rose, movements stiff, no doubt suffering from the beating he'd taken to get him to the point that they'd been able to do the other things. His eyes flicked around the chamber, assessing, looking for an appropriate tool perhaps. There were none here, the tools of the trade returned to the hub after each shift along with the carts. He'd have to trudge through the mines to get what he needed and even then it would be damned messy. God.
"Just wait," Clark snapped, angry at his lack of options. "Just let me think a damned minute."
"Take all the time you need," Lex said with the tone of someone who couldn't have given less of a damn what Clark did or did not do with his time.
Clark growled, shooting up and catching Lex by the shoulders in mid-pace. Lex stared up at him blandly, waiting. "Just give me a goddamned moment to think, Lex. It's not like you're not asking me to take out the damned trash."
Lex canted a brow at the language. Superman did not curse. Hell, Clark very seldom did, but some situations simply called for it. Lex shrugged, and inclined his head, acceding.
"Don't take too, long."
Clark swore under his breath, a more creative word, and spun on his heels, stalking out to the shadowy confines of the hall. He ran hands through his hair, pacing the now dead track, desperately running scenarios through his head. The warden's of this place had had a long time to cover all their bases and with that bracelet on Lex's wrist, the normal brute force method of escape Clark would have preferred was not an option. And there were other lives to consider as well, so he had to be careful of the perimeter sensors.
Damn. Damn. Damn. If it had been his own hand, he'd have done it in a heartbeat. Sacrificing Lex - -sacrificing anyone else for that matter - - was no easy thing for him to consider. It wasn't a death-sentence though. Not if he did it himself. Lex was right, he could take the hand off with a surgical application of his heat vision, and cauterize the flesh before Lex lost a drop of a blood. And if he was quick enough. If he could manage to find a way back within a reasonable amount of time, Lex's hand might even be salvageable.
He shut his eyes, shuddering at the prospect. Then took a breath and squared his shoulders. If he could get back and get word to the Lantern Corps of this little operation, they had resources even the League didn't and they could come in and save the rest of these lives, dismantle this place piece by piece and deal with the Magistrates and their little operation. It was a hard choice, but Lex was right, it was a way out with relatively little to loose in the process. He wondered how long Lex had been entertaining the notion, before he'd been pushed to the point that he'd decided to act upon it. Knowing Lex, probably from the get go.
Clark snarled in frustration and hit the wall. Rock shattered under the impact, fractures spider-webbing outwards. He hit it again and wished he could feel the pain of it in his knuckles. Wished he could experience the sort of agony a man without superpowers might, who would be breaking his knuckles right around now upon normally unforgiving stone.
Much less forfeiting the whole damned hand.
Hitting the wall again was dangerous if he cared about the stability of the tunnel. He cursed and sped through the mines, looking for the prime hidey-hole that Sweet and his men had claimed for their own. At supersonic speeds it didn't take long to find. They'd only just limped back, the lot of them bruised and bloody. Clark didn't even recall inflicting the damage. He caught them in the process of beginning to lick wounds, the first of them staring at him at them mouth of their little cave in shock.
A warning was shouted out and the others started, cursing and growling at his intrusion like the animals they'd let themselves become. Sweet himself, one whole side of his face purple from bruising snarled for them to take him.
And they tried, sore, weary men rushing at him with whatever weapons were at hand. But the red-hot rage that might have allowed him to do something irrevocable had dissipated. Blood didn't stain the edges of the anger he felt now and whether these men deserved death or not was not his call to make. He'd never in all his life wanted the job of judge, jury and executioner. There were others better suited. What he did excel at was carrying a big stick. And punishment and execution were two very different things.
If they broke bones, it was because they chose to throw the full force of their weight behind punches at a man who could survive a ground zero nuclear detonation. Well a nose here and there and a rib or two might have suffered when a flung man hit a wall face first, but it was hardly less damage than these men doled out on a daily basis and Clark felt no remorse for it.
They lay scattered and moaning around him afterwards, all save Sweet who had declined to join in on the attempts to expel Clark from their niche. The big man crouched, bloodshot, frightened eyes fixed on Clark, waiting for the final blow to fall.
Clark took a page from the Batman's book and said nothing. Simply stared in broody silence relying on a man's own terrible imagination to put his own spin on the implied threat. Sweet turned away first, shuddering, the acrid smell of unexpected urine staining the air.
It was good enough for Clark. He was gone between one blink and the next and let them make of that what they would. Let them worry themselves to death about what it was they'd stirred into real anger.
He started walking once he was beyond the immediate vicinity. No reason to rush towards a thing he had no stomach for, right? Then again, Lex had no tolerance for delay and Clark feared him taking matters into his own hands.
He shuddered, a trickle of nausea rising. He pushed it down. Steeled himself, because Lex was right and Lex had made a hard choice - -the only choice available him - - and Lex wasn't the only one with no tolerance for delay once a course of action had been decided.
He put on a burst of speed and between one heartbeat and the next stood at the entrance of the decimated machine room. Lex sat against the far wall, eyes closed, forearms resting atop bent knees.
Exuding calm. He might have been reclined in a chair at home, watching the Metropolis sunset with a glass of fine scotch in his hand for all the tension he betrayed.
Lashes flickered up and he looked at Clark. Picked up on God knew what tells that Clark didn't know he was broadcasting, and nodded.
"All right then. Let's do this."
Asking if he were sure would have only been an insult, so Clark didn't. He just walked over and sank down in front of Lex, met his cool blue gaze and nodded. Almost imperceptibly, Lex swallowed, returned the gesture by half and clenched and unclenched his fists. The calmest man in the world couldn't stop his body's gut reaction to the proposal of removing a portion of it.
Lex held out the arm with the bracelet. Clark covered Lex's loosely clenched fist with his own big hands. It was a fine hand under the dirt and dried blood. Pale skin, long fingers, capable of expressive motion.
"Stop wasting time," Lex complained, but his voice cracked on the last word. Nerves fraying under the composure. Clark unfolded those long fingers and lifted the exposed palm to his lips. Blue eyes widened, Lex's heartbeat sped up, another chink in the armor and Clark regretted causing it, but he had to do what he had to do.
"I'm sorry, Lex."
"Just do it. Get it over with and stop prolonging the agony."
Lex was right. It was simple cruelty to make him wait with dread anticipation of the act. Clark took a breath, narrowed his eyes and took Lex's hand off at the wrist with one concentrated, surgical swipe of heat vision.
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