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Clark was prepared for it this time and the transit still messed with his head. The physical stuff he could take without batting an eye, the things that went beyond mere physical he was a little more susceptible to. He kept his hold on Lex though, both hands free to do it now, once he'd pushed the Magistrate away from him at that last fraction of a fraction of second before the teleportation ring opened to swallow them up.
Everything tilted - - perception, color, sound - - and he felt a vague tinge of nausea and gulped it down. He couldn't afford weakness upon arrival on the chance that they'd double-crossed him regardless of the threats he'd leveled.
They dropped out of the sky, and with the disorientation of transit, Clark did just that - - drop ten feet without a hint of flying ability rearing its head and hit the concrete like a super powered lead weight. Steps splintered a little under his impact. He bowed his legs a little, gritting his teeth, forcing himself to orient. He whipped is gaze upward, at the ragged, sizzling hole that had vomited them forth, only to see it rapidly crumple in upon itself. It left nothing in its wake but a faint smell of burnt ozone.
He took in everything else in a heartbeat. The towering columns of the Metropolis Federal Courts building. The layered sounds of a city at mid-day. The interruption of the motion of the nearest portion of the steady crowd that migrated to and from and around the Courts building as people realized that something unexpected had suddenly dropped into their midst.
Clark tightened his grip on Lex, who wasn't struggling to stand under his own power. Who was this mostly dead weight in Clark's arms, skin gone cool and clammy. Unconscious finally. Succumbed to too many multiple shocks, the dizzying ride of the teleportation simply the last straw.
"Oh my God," someone cried, staring, drawing other stares and Clark was in nothing but tattered trousers and tousled hair that was all Clark Kent and very little Superman. If he took off flying now - - damn. Little enough choice though, with Lex failing in his arms. The preservation of a secret identity seemed such an inconsequential thing now compared to Lex's life.
"Clark Kent." A voice boomed out over the growing sound of the crowd.
He looked up. A glowing green orb descended. There were several distinctive man shapes within its translucent confines. Clark blinked, frustrated, any chance of the people here not making the connection between Clark Kent and a super powered entity evaporated by the declaration of his name. What in the hell was Hal thinking?
A second later, the Lantern's orb disintegrated, and the black cloaked figure of the Batman dropped gracefully to the stairs while the Green Lantern floated down, propelled by the power of his ring. The crowd around them was gathering, people whispering, calling questions, snapping photos with handy cell phones. He heard Lex's name among the growing tumult as people began to recognize him.
"Mr. Kent," the Batman enunciated the name, eyes dark, flinty points under the shadow of his cowl. And he was maybe the only thing that kept the crowd from rushing forward, no one particularly eager to invade the Batman's personal space.
Clark blinked again, not in the mood to figure out Bruce's games. "I've got to get him to a hospital."
"I can do that," The Green Lantern stepped forth. "It looks as if you both might benefit from a little medical attention."
Clark blinked again, the center of a very large crowd. Bruce put a hand on his elbow, fingers gripping hard enough to let Clark know he was trying to make some silent point.
"You've been missing for close to seven weeks, Kent. Let's get you checked out."
He nodded warily. Seven weeks. It had seemed longer. He felt the green aura of the Lantern's shield close around him even as people were shouting questions, reporters from within the courthouse having forced their way to the front of the crowd.
"What the hell?" Clark demanded, as soon as the protective orb had closed and Hal was lifting them into the air.
"Superman's on a mission off planet," Bruce said shortly. "Clark Kent got swallowed up by an alien wormhole during Luthor's kidnapping."
Clark took a breath. That made sense. He'd been there as Clark and then - -not. And the crowd had been knocked senseless by the time Superman had come onto the scene. No one had been in the frame of mind to notice him. It was a good explanation. A simple one. They'd been protecting his identity. He'd have to keep Superman under wraps for a while, not to make their reappearances too coincidental. There were sharp minds out there - -like Lois - - who only needed the right push to put two and two together.
"We've been looking," Hal added. "Monitoring the area for similar spatiotemporal disturbances. As soon as this one started registering, we were on our way. What happened?"
"I'll fill you in after we get Lex help."
Bruce looked down, as if only just deciding to take notice of Lex. His mouth tightened a little, just enough of a tell to those who made a habit of trying to decipher the Batman's emotional ticks, to hint at distaste.
To be expected, his friends' animosity towards Lex. And something he'd have to deal with. Later. Now, all he could think about was getting Lex the help he needed and hoping against hope the damage done could be repaired.
They took Lex away on a gurney, medical personal descending like vultures on prey and it was all Clark could do to stand by and let them go without him. Somewhere along the way, Diana had appeared in the Emergency room. And Wally. They were comforting presences, friendly ones and Clark still couldn't stop thinking about that cold, dead hand he'd put into the care of the doctors. They maneuvered him away from the nurses who wanted to get a look at him. None of the blood on his skin was his own, but they didn't know that. The Batman was an intimidating hurdle for them to pass though, and there were reporters arriving and a great rush of speculators and it was easy enough to melt away into obscurity when there were costumed heroes for the curious to focus on. Besides, it was Lex they wanted the scoop on, Clark Kent was incidental.
Bruce tracked him down in a deserted corridor in the hospital service section. God knew how Bruce did it, what with the lack of super hearing or super sight. He had a set of hospital scrubs over his leather-cased arm.
Clark took them, grateful to get out of the tattered remains of the prison trousers. He changed, faster than the human eye - - even Bruce's human eye - - could follow, and sighed, allowing himself a moment of relief. Bruce offered a set of thick framed glasses after, silently efficient.
"Thanks. And Thanks. I wasn't thinking about what I'd - - what Clark Kent - - had been doing these past weeks."
"You should call Lois."
Clark blinked at the sleek black phone in Bruce's hand. They thought he and she were an item. Hell, he'd sort of thought it, in the spaces in his mind that reasonably knew that it was the right thing to do, the normal one. God knew what Lois thought, having endured so many false starts and backpedaling from him when things got beyond his comfort level. She knew his preferences and occasionally when she was feeling hopeful, or nostalgic, she probably even thought she might be the woman to change him.
He ought to call Lois. She was as good a friend nowadays as he had, as loyal a one and she deserved to know firsthand he was okay.
He took the phone, dialed her number and from the out of breath way she answered, she was on the move. Probably on the way here, having her own damned good sources.
There was a pause. A big breath, then an almost irritated, "Clark? Clark, what the hell - -?"
"I'm back and I'm okay and I'll fill you in on all the details soon as I can. But, I've got to go right now. I just wanted to let you know I was back."
"You've got to go? You hang up that phone and you're dead meat, you hear me, Smallville? You don't just call after seven fucking weeks - - give me two sentences and a 'talk at you later, Lo'. Fuck that."
"Lois. You'll get the exclusive. Promise. But I've really got to go. I'm sorry to have worried you."
She started yelling and he winced, clicking the phone shut on her tirade. He'd hear about that later, but right now, he just couldn't concentrate on pacifying her. Or figuring out what was safe to tell and what wasn't.
"What happened?" Bruce asked, accepting his phone and secreting it about his person.
Clark ran a hand through his hair. "Hal needs to hear this. This qualifies as Lantern jurisdiction and they need to get on it quick."
He told them what he could, details that would help them locate the prison planet. The positions of the stars in relation to the planet, the remains of the skeletal city, the sort of sun that it migrated around. The sort of things that only a man with perfect recall might have imparted. Hal soaked it in, and immediately after left to confer with the Lantern council. They'd track that planet down, Clark was certain of it. But leaving the hospital to participate in the search was beyond him. Simply gathering in this sub basement to confer with colleges had him on pins and needles. He couldn't stop focusing on Lex, the sluggish sound of a heartbeat on anesthesia. The background sound of medical equipment, the soft murmurs of medical personal.
"This has been no easy thing, even for you," Diana laid a hand on his arm after Hal had left, and somewhere along the way Wally had disappeared as well. Just Diana and Bruce left and maybe they'd been speaking to him before that last statement and he hadn't even noticed.
"You should go home. Clean yourself up. Take the time to clear your thoughts."
She frowned a little, not understanding his need. Bruce simply stared, processing.
"I need to make sure he's okay." These were people he trusted with his secrets and his life. He owed them an explanation. At least as much of one as he could manage at the moment.
"Luthor?" Diana lifted a brow, surprised, not fathoming his concern for an enemy once he'd been handed over to competent personal. He didn't fault her for it. The last time Superman and Lex Luthor had clashed here on earth, there had been mass destruction and blood involved. How did he explain his change of heart in a way that didn't have them doubting his sanity?
"He sacrificed a lot to get us out of there. He willingly gave up that hand. I need to know he's all right." Easier now just to give them an explanation they could understand and retreat. Diana lifted both brows at that, and nodded, Amazonian history full of just such gory sacrifices. It was a concept she could understand and respect.
The things Bruce respected were murkier and Clark had no idea what he suspected and what he didn't and hadn't the energy to try and figure it out. Bruce and Lex were much alike in that respect, incomprehensible thought processes that plain thinking men could not always easily follow.
He left them, working his way back upstairs in his hospital greens. Hospital security had its hands full keeping the press from roaming the halls once word that Lex Luthor had miraculously reappeared on the same spot he'd been taken. Worse for wear, granted, but back all the same.
Metropolis PD had arrived on the scene to help control the growing crowd. A little speed got Clark past well-intentioned security and up into the quiet halls of the surgery wing.
And once there, he found himself at a loss. One of the most powerful beings in the known universe and still helpless to do anything but wait. It reminded him why he hated hospitals. Why he'd rather be out doing anything but waiting there, no more useful than the chair in the corner.
Special investigations came by to take a preliminary statement from him and it was easy enough to fake shock, after such a harrowing experience, and give them obscure details. He barely noticed their departure, attention constantly snared by those methodical sounds from beyond the walls of Surgery 1.
He paced, eliciting stares from passing medical personal. But it was either move or sit there and tear himself to pieces. He'd never been good at idleness.
There were two other people in the waiting room with visitor's tags on, that had been here when he'd arrived. They sat huddled together over long cold coffee, tense and expectant; someone they loved beyond those surgery doors with their life on the line. There was the clack of heels and he saw the long coat of a doctor from his peripheral vision entering through the outer doors and heading up the hall towards surgery. He didn't pay much heed until the doctor in question veered towards him and hissed his name.
He blinked at Lois, hair up in an untidy knot, stethoscope around her neck, stolen hospital Id clipped to the pocket of her stolen doctor's coat. She stalked up to him with the sort of angry urgency in her step that warned him to soften up in expectation of a blow, either open handed or not. He tried hard not to injure her hands when she felt the occasional need to vent physical frustration upon him. She latched onto him instead, hugging herself close.
"Lois, how'd you - -?"
"Shut up. Just shut up for a second," she ground out against his shoulder. He felt her gather her resolve and push back. Green eyes glared up at him. "I came close to thinking you were dead, you know? I mean getting dragged into the type of monumental shit that attracts itself to Lex Luthor would do in most people. Did you call your mom?"
"Well, no - -" He hadn't, but then mom had a pretty good idea of just how durable he really was. She worried, but she also had unshakable faith in his ability to overcome.
Lois bit her lip, tossing over the fact that he'd called her before his own mother and apparently didn't find the notion untenable. "Well, you get right on that. It's all over the news though, so she's probably already figured it out. Somebody got a good cell phone shot of you landing on the courthouse steps."
"Oh." It was a good thing he hadn't immediately taken off then.
"I would theorize that it was some escape attempt of Luthor's, but he'd already weaseled his way around the law. Murder attempt? Kidnapping? Alien abduction? Speculation's running wild. "
"Maybe sort of all three?" Clark drew her a little ways down the hall away from the couple in the waiting room and gave her a few facts. Perry would make room for this story on the front page of the evening edition.
"You know, I don't entirely hate these guys," Lois said, afterwards. "I mean he did completely subvert the justice system here. A little interdemensional payback doesn't seem all that out of line."
Clark gave her a look. She lifted a brow unrepentant, then jerked her head back towards the outer doors leading to surgery reception. "There's all sorts of suits out there. Agency suits. The only one's wearing ID are local, so who the hell knows whose interests are being pursued. Five will get you ten that they'll want to talk to you."
"Some already have." He thought about it and added. "Local guys."
"Um hum. Plenty of people still have an interest in what Luthor's been up to, that's for sure."
Clark frowned, thinking about whatever deal Lex had made that had gotten him off from charges where the evidence had been stacked neck deep. Lex never had shared that particular information. It had to have been deals made with people very, very high up in the halls of power, though.
He was interrupted from that line of speculation by the emergence of a doctor still in surgical greens from behind the inner sanctum of Surgery. It was one of the ones that had been called in to attend Lex.
Clark headed to meet him, Lois on his heels. The surgeon looked from Clark to her. "You're not family."
"No," Clark agreed. "He doesn't have any living. I'm a friend though. I was there when he lost the hand."
Lois made a sound behind him, but he didn't care what she thought of that declaration.
"You did a good job of preserving it." The surgeon nodded. "We managed to reattach, but only time will tell whether the procedure takes. The amputation itself was clean, but the degree of heat that caused cauterization damaged nerve endings."
"How soon will we know?" Clark's knees felt weak. He'd thought the focused precision of heat vision had been the best option. Lex had thought so and Lex knew a little bit about everything.
"A day or two. " The surgeon took pity on him and added. "He won't be out of recovery for about four hours. If he's willing to accept visitors then, you can stop by."
The surgeon excused himself and Lois wound her arm through his, urging him into movement. "C'mon, Clark. You need a change of clothes and a shower and not in that order. And food. You know you want food. I've got a story you need to help me hammer out and not much time to write it."
She was persuasive and this place in its own way was as oppressive as the one he and Lex had just escaped from. Those people in the waiting room looked just as hopeless as some of those men in the mines. He let her lead him out.
In four hours Lex would be awake and cognizant. In twenty-four to forty-eight they'd know whether Clark had been the weapon that had cost him a hand.
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