For one dizzy moment as the bits of the boat's steerage rained down into the ocean past the edge of the Tower, Clark felt his muscles tense for action, felt an impossible urge to run to the edge, to leap out and catch the now-falling vessel. As if he could. As if 200ft of empty air and all the weight of a lightsailer meant nothing. It was a ridiculous instinct. But his fingers bit into his palms as he watched the striken boat list drunkenly on its axis and begin the slow tumble to the sea below, and he couldn't help but wish it wasn't impossible.
Behind him, he heard the Sea King gain the summit of the Tower and start bellowing instructions for seaborne rescuers to scramble. With the explosion aft of the cabin, there was every chance of survivors provided Wayne and the girl had had the sense to bail out. The sense, or the ability. But even as orders were relayed down the length of the Tower, Clark felt a wind curl around his back, and looked back to see their own boat lift off. Of course. Their pilot would have been watching, and decent girl that she was, she'd moved to help. With the two cabin crew aboard to man the ladders, she'd have the best chance of getting to survivors in time to do something.
And on the heels of that optimistic thought, a far more chilling one.
He spun to look for Luthor. The Lord of Metropolis stood in the center of the Tower, his face moulded into an expression of shocked concern, barking orders into his personal radioglass. Any survivors were to be taken immediately to Metropolis. The pilot knew best where to find medical facilities in her own City, and time was of the essence. Don't worry about the diplomatic concerns. He'd handle them. Switch channels. Metropolis, send down another boat to pick up the landing party, and prepare for casualties. No. No hostile action.
No hostile action at all.
Clark knew his thoughts were showing on his face, the sick realisation. Luthor caught his eyes as he looked up from the radioglass, and the glittering triumph behind his concerned facade was unmistakable. The tiniest twitch of a smile curved the Lord's lips as he saw the disgust in Clark's face. It didn't matter to him what Clark thought. He'd achieved his aim. He'd successfully managed to either kill or capture Gotham's Lord, without apparently violating neutral territory, and with every appearance of diplomatic integrity. No matter that the ruse fooled the Sea King about as well as it fooled Clark, judging from the hard and violent stare the man directed at Luthor. All that mattered was the appearance, and what could be proven. And they could prove nothing against him, nor prevent him from getting the hostages safely to Metropolis. Not without risking their lives.
Lord Luthor had every reason to feel triumphant. He'd just beaten the Nightlord himself, under the Sea King's very nose, and without breaking a sweat.
Clark did not so much walk back to the group as stalk, his back stiff with anger. And a certain degree of guilt, by association at least. It was his Lord that was responsible. His City. But Metropolis had never been meant for this. That betrayal hit closest.
Luthor smirked at him as they climbed aboard the second boat. "I take it you do not approve, Commander?" he asked quietly. Clark faced him squarely.
"No, my Lord. I do not." Pure truth, and damn the consequences to himself. But Luthor merely shook his head patronisingly, and looked at him as if he were unbearably naive.
"An interesting title, Nightlord," he mused, and smiled at Clark's confusion. "Have you considered it, Commander?" Clark shook his head.
"It's the title for the Lord with a veto on the Council of the Nightside Cities," he answered. "I don't see ..."
"Yes, yes," Luthor waved his hand. "But that is not what you think when you hear the word, is it? It has ... darker connotations, does it not?"
Clark blinked. "I have heard people say that, but there is no reason to suppose ..."
"Isn't there?" Luthor cut in, quietly. "For a man to allow himself to be called such an ominous name ... don't you think it possible that he does so because he intends to live up to it? You know the stories. And while I don't for a second believe that Gotham has literally resurrected herself from Hell ... Her Lord has amassed an awful lot of power in a very short time, has he not? I wonder where he has been, and what he has learned, to garner so much support so quickly. And equally, I wonder what a man of such questionable background intends to do with such power. Gotham's Nightlord. The scourge of the Nightside. Is this the man you would trust with the planet's future?"
Clark opened his mouth to answer, but stopped. Because, put that way ... But that still did not excuse the appalling methods Luthor had used, or the incredible breach of trust ...
Luthor smiled sadly at him. "I do understand, Commander," he said. "You are a relentlessly moral man. But while you may not approve of my means, I assure you that they were necessary. Gotham has too much power to risk a straight confrontation, and with the fate of the world resting on the outcome of this confrontation ... I do as I feel I must, Commander."
And as the boat swung into the hangar, Clark had to leave it at that. He was comforted that at least, if Lord Luthor took the effort to explain, he seemed to forgive Clark his mutinous disrespect. But underneath that relief, he found that he could not quite shake his revulsion for the action Luthor had taken. No matter how potentially justified it had been ... he could not forget the sickening rush of panic as he saw the boat burst into flame, the terror as he watched it sink and thought of the two lives it had tried so valiantly to support.
It was possible that he was naive. Probably unbearably so. But he could not accept such an act, unprovoked and unwarranted. He could not accept the abuse of any man, simply because Luthor was afraid of what he might become. And he could not accept the abuse of Lord Wayne. Because, Nightlord or not, Clark had found himself trusting the man. Instinctively.
Even if he couldn't quite explain why.
Arthur Curry, King of Atlantis, faced the Glass with stern dignity as the image of a City Bridge materialised. Darker than the Metropolis Bridge, lit internally rather than by the refracted natural light of the other City, this command center nevertheless presented an equal air of busy authority. In fact, at the moment, somewhat frantic authority. A harried young man appeared before the Glass, the faint laugh lines at the corner of his eyes belying his current concerned expression. As he recognised Arthur, he blinked, and then offered the same soldier's bow with which Lord Wayne had so cavalierly presented himself. Arthur winced a little internally.
"Your Majesty," Commander Grayson muttered breathlessly. "I apologise for my tardiness." He offered a rueful smile. "We are somewhat disturbed up here, I'm afraid."
"Yes," Arthur answered stiffly. "That is what I wish to speak to you about. Our salvage crews have recovered one of your people."
Instantly, the youth's expression sharpened, his focus razoring in on the King's face. "Alive?" he asked sharply. Arthur nodded, and relief flitted briefly over Grayson's face. "Thank the stars. I assume I can send down a boat for her?"
Arthur frowned. "How did you know it was the female?" he asked, rather brusquely. Grayson smiled bitterly.
"Cynicism, mostly. I guessed Luthor had arranged to have Br... Lord Wayne taken the instant his boat left the Tower. His aims are not exactly opaque. My guess is that Cass was found some distance from the wreakage, with a handsail?" Arthur nodded, frowning, and Grayson smiled again, this time with more life. "She's going to kill him when he gets back," he murmured.
"Excuse me?" the Atlantean barked. Grayson shook his head.
"Long story. Suffice to say, in all likelihood Lord Wayne threw her bodily out of the boat the instant she started to go down. And Cass is not the type of girl to appreciate such gestures, nor the type to bother with words when a good kick can get the point across so much more eloquently. When he gets back, he's going to regret doing that."
Arthur frowned. "You seem confident Lord Wayne will be coming back. You believe Luthor merely intends to give medical aid and release him?"
Grayson snorted. "Do I look like an idiot? Don't answer that! But Bruce has never failed us before. He'll find a way." Then his eyes sharpened again on Arthur's face, and the Sea King felt a discomforting pressure in the gaze. The youth certainly had his Lord's gift for interrogating with a simple look. "But I take it you do not believe Luthor either?"
Arthur stiffened, and bowed his head a little, though there had been no hint of censure in the Commander's tone. "His treachery was obvious to all present," he growled. "But until my crews can retrieve the boat and examine it, I have no proof the sabotage was inacted on Atlantean ground. I cannot act." He raised his head to meet the Gothamite's eyes proudly. "All I can do is offer my apologies that Atlantis allowed this to occur under her watch, and promise that we intend to make restitution for our lapse."
Grayson stared at him for a second, and then shook his head, smiling broadly. "Bruce was right about you," he murmured. "If you'll forgive me, your Majesty, you are indeed a proud bastard, to quote our absent Lord. But you are an honourable one. Bruce was right to trust your authority over these talks. Gotham cannot hold your or your people responsible, your Majesty. We don't hold you responsible. I have no doubt you fulfilled your duty in this matter to the letter, and it's hardly your fault Luthor is a silver-tongued, back-stabbing snake. You have no responsibility to act on our behalf any further."
Arthur blinked, then shook his head with a snort. "You are a better diplomat than your Lord," he commented gruffly, before his tone became grave and vengeful. "But Atlantis will act when she sees fit. Luthor has offended more than Gotham with this act, and I must admit, I would quite like to personally fillet him for it."
Grayson struggled to repress a smirk at that. "In that case, your Majesty, by all means have at him! Gotham will certainly not stand in your way." He smiled. "I don't think we can afford to. But allow us time to extract Lord Wayne before you unleashed the wrath of Atlantis on him, yes? However many pieces he's got left, we'd quite like him to keep them."
Arthur nodded briefly, and his smile was hard and challenging. "Of course. Good luck, Commander Grayson."
Gotham's Commander offered him an ancient salute and a flashing grin. "And you, your Majesty. Happy hunting!"
Arthur gazed at the blank Glass for a few moments after he signed off, a faint smile curving his lips. He could grow to like these Gothamites. Hnh. Proud bastard, eh? He'd been right about Wayne, after all. The man had an ego to match the power of his City. If Atlantis ever had cause for dispute with Gotham, he anticipated a fine challenge in the man. And his command crew, too. That boy had been bright as anything.
But that was not the issue now. The King of Atlantis shook himself, and strode out of the Glass chamber. He had salvage crews to scramble, a forensic unit to get together, and a Tower to make ready for the coming conflict.
Happy hunting. Heh.
Clark stood stiffly to attention in the Interview Hall, just to the left of Luthor's dais, and waited for the ... the prisoner to be brought in. The 'guest', as far as most of Metropolis knew, but Clark knew the truth of the matter. He was dreading the sight of him. He hadn't seen Lord Wayne since the Atlantis Tower, and he was afraid of what the explosion -and Luthor- might have done to that stern, handsome man.
A shuffling sound outside the entrance had his spine straightening further in taut anticipation, and Lord Luthor paused to send him a snide, knowing glance. The Lord of Metropolis had dressed for the occasion, not in the ceremonial and frankly ugly costume he'd worn for the talks, but the more elegant uniform he prefered for City functions. A severe black uniform with the red and gold braiding to stand for Metropolis. He was deliberately aiming to make an impression, to contrast himself with Wayne and clearly announce who held authority over whom.
Though when Wayne was pulled roughly in, it was obvious he needn't have bothered.
Though he looked surprisingly healthy, all things considered, 'battered' was probably still the best word for Lord Wayne. He had lost his regal cloak somewhere along the line, and his shirt had been sacrificed so his chest could be bandaged. The wound, whatever it was, looked to be fairly extensive, and the man bore a number of smaller bruises and lacerations on his face and arms. His left leg looked to be paining him a little, though not enough to impede his walking. It was the harsh grip the guards had on his bound arms and the enforced frogmarch they tugged him in that did that.
And yet, for all that, Wayne's eyes when they met Luthor's were clear and lucid, and bright with contempt.
Lord Luthor steepled his fingers and tapped his lips lightly as he considered his prisoner. He frowned in faux disapproval as the guard dropped Wayne heavily to his knees before the dias, and offered him a smug smile.
"Lord Wayne," he murmured, rich humour riding beneath the patronising concern. "I do apologise for the rough treatment. I'm afraid my men can be ... overzealous."
Wayne dipped his head with a sharp grin at that. "Oh, no need to worry on my account, Lord Luthor. I'm quite comfortable. May I offer you my congratulations on my capture, by the way? That was expertly done." Clark had to admire his composure.
Luthor smiled. "I thought so. A drowning man cannot really pick his rescuer, after all."
Wayne snorted lightly. "Rescuer? Is that what you would call it?"
"You are alive, aren't you?" Luthor responded, and his grin turned threatening. "I have granted you that small mercy."
Wayne raised his head at that, eyes turning grim and sober. "Mercy, Lord Luthor?" he said softly, an air of sudden danger about him. "No. I don't think so. I don't think you know what the word means. You have another aim in mind for me, yes? One, I suspect, that involves my City?"
Luthor's smile slipped away, his own countenance swiftly clouding to match his prisoner. "I have shown you more mercy than you have ever shown anyone, according to my information. You would do well to remember that, Nightlord!"
Wayne blinked at him for a minute, then threw back his head and laughed. Clark jumped a little at the sound, staring at him in amazement, while Luthor looked on with an air of patrician tolerance. Wayne didn't appear to mind either of them, though the pain in his chest strangled some of his guffaws. After a minute, he subsided, wincing, but his eyes were still alive with cynical humour.
"Oh, very nice," he wheezed, one bound arm twitching as if he wanted to bring it to his chest. "Very nice indeed. You are a sly one, Luthor. I'll grant you that. What a leader you must make. A man leading his blinded City by a leash. But a kind voice soothes all ills, does it not?"
Luthor smiled. "That's an interesting accusation, coming from you, Nightlord. Tell me. Where have you led your City, in your time?"
Wayne looked at him, and this time the humour in his eyes was not at all bitter. It was triumphant. "I have taken Gotham to places you will never see, my Lord," he murmured softly, reverently. "Learned things you will never know, and shared them with my City. Gotham is more than you can imagine, Luthor. She is greater than you can imagine." He paused, and smiled a little, before finishing softly. "And she will not bow to you, my Lord. Gotham will never bow to you."
For a second, Luther's face turned ugly with absolute rage. For a second, Clark stared horrified into the mask of fury that transfigured their Lord from a reasoned ruler into a man capable of blowing up a boat, risking the integrity of Metropolis, and flying in the face of Atlantean anger, just to get his hands on one man. The man who knelt injured before him, utterly helpless. As Luther's eyes glittered for a moment with mad fury, he found himself half stepping forward, to come between them.
To protect Wayne.
But before he could finish the move, Lord Luther seemed to calm himself. No. He seemed to disappear behind himself, the stern but fair facade falling neatly over that glimpsed insanity, and a warm and pitying smile made itself known.
"You have damned yourself, Lord Wayne," he observed. "You admit to owning powerful secrets, secrets you intended to deny your equals? Why, unless you intended to use them against us?" He shook his head sadly, and stood, simply watching his prisoner for a moment. Wayne met his gaze with calm amusement, and Luthor's hand tightened briefly, before he loosened it with a smile and walked sedately towards the bound man. He stopped in front of his prisoner, and smiled gently down at him. "You will be held here, Lord Wayne, until your City agrees to surrender to us. And, I am afraid, in the interests of persuading your powerful, forbidden City to stand down before she can harm the citizens of Metropolis, I must enforce that demand by example with every delaying tactic. Do you see?"
Wayne looked up at him for a moment, then dipped his head with a bitter grin. "In short, if Gotham does not surrender, you intend to torture me until they do. For the good of the people, of course. Is that correct?" Clark closed his eyes in anguish.
"It is," Luthor answered, sadly. "For the good of my people." And never did any sentance sound as bitter to Clark's ears, as he watched them pull Wayne roughly to his feet, and saw the strange smile on the condemned man's face. Wayne met Luthor's gaze for an endless instant as they moved to take him away, and suddenly he opened his mouth.
"A moment, my Lord?" he asked brightly. Luthor frowned warily, but nodded. "Just a request, and a thought. Has anyone seen my cloak? The catches are heirlooms. I would not like to lose them."
Luthor sniffed disbelievingly. "That is hardly the greatest of your concerns now, Lord Wayne."
Wayne smiled disarmingly. "I know. But I'd hate to have to tell my dear, departed parents that I hadn't at least tried to find them. It wouldn't seem right, you know?" Clark bit his lip against this announcement, that Wayne fully expected to die here. Murdered, in essence.
Luthor shook his head. "I'm afraid none of my people have the time to look, Lord Wayne. So sorry."
Wayne shrugged, with some difficulty. "Well, I tried," he said brightly. "And Luthor?" He paused until the Lord of Metropolis met his gaze, and then asked with quiet deliberation. "I was wondering ... If the Nightlord is so evil ... If Gotham is so corrupt and threatening ... Why is it that you believe they will surrender their power, just to rescue me?" He smiled gently. "That seems such a humanitarian thing for evil men to do."
Luthor said nothing, his jaw tightening angrily. But as Wayne was dragged away he flashed Clark a searing glance, and smiled slightly when Clark frowned in realisation. His question had never been directed at Luthor. It had been directed at Clark. And the answer was meant to be obvious, even to him. Especially to him.
The Commander of the Metropolis Aerial Defense Forces didn't know why Wayne had singled him out. But he had. All that remained was for Clark to decide what he was going to do about it. He frowned in thought until they were dismissed, ignoring the shrewd glances Luthor sent his way, until finally he came to a decision. Then, determined, he walked outside and headed down to the boat hanger. He had a cloak to find. Midnight blue. Heirloom catches.
That much, at least, Lord Wayne had earned from him.