Static Shock/Smallville crossover with a touch of Justice League; mild slash. Originally posted on my livejournal at xparrot. as are my other Smallville fics.

According to Plan

He wasn't the last man Robert Hawkins expected to see--the President of the United States would have surprised him more, or various dead persons (two superheroes aside, Dakota wasn't yet that kind of town.) Though he was, quite possibly, the last man Robert wanted to have darkening his stoop.

His stomach had knotted when the limousine pulled into the community center's parking lot, polished near-black finish glinting deep violet in the sunlight. His office window was at the wrong angle for him to make out the license plate, or the man's face as he climbed out of the limo, but Robert didn't need to see his face. The white suit, the bald head, were more than enough. Feeling like his intestines were lassoing his kidneys, he left his office and hurried across the gym floor. Better to confront the man outside; he didn't want any more fuss than necessary.

Though it was too late for that; all the kids in the center were clustered around the windows, pointing and chattering. Robert ineffectually waved them back, just as the main doors opened and Lex Luthor strode in. He was flanked by a stout, nervous man with a palm pilot and a tall woman who walked like she could teach any of the center's self-defense classes. With one hand tied behind her back. Blindfolded.

Paying heed to neither his flunkies nor the whispering teenagers, Luthor scanned the room with one slow turn of his head, then headed for Robert. He extended one hand as he moved. "You must be Robert Hawkins. Pleased to meet you."

Robert hesitated an instant, clamped down on the gut-twisting aversion and took his hand. "Mr. Luthor." Luthor's grip was firm and dry, his smile pleasant and charming. His gray eyes were opaque, blank metal bulkheads. "To what do we owe this visit?"

He wouldn't go so far as to say 'pleasure', standard courtesies notwithstanding. Luthor knew him by name; doubtless he also knew of the three editorials Robert had submitted to the Dakota Times since LexCorp had made their first bid to acquire Alva Industries. The controversy would have been hard to miss. Even Robert's friends and fellow community workers hadn't followed his objections, especially after LexCorp had made good on its pledge to reopen the main Dakota plant, even increasing its workforce by a third again.

Robert understood their point. Alva Industries had always been one of the lynchpins of Dakota's economy. But Alva Senior had until his death been as capriciously treacherous as an old Greek god, building up and tearing down with no regard to the consequences. His son was a leech, living large while driving the company into the ground. LexCorp was powerful, wealthy, shining with the promise of both stability and growth, a safe, straight road to the future.

All that, for the low, low cost of selling their souls to the most dangerous man on the planet.

"My apologies for barging in without an appointment," Luthor said. "I've been meaning to stop by for the last week, but only managed to make time now. I hope I'm not interrupting anything." He faked sincerity well enough that there was no audible mockery in his tone, as if he genuinely believed the schedules of a few inner city kids were as important as his multi-billion dollar corporate empire.

But then that was Luthor's greatest claim to fame, even more than the financial skills or his much touted scientific genius. That charisma which could sway business rivals and politicians, which had fooled lawyers and judges and even, possibly, a superhero or two. From what Robert knew, it was that as much as his billions which had kept Luthor out of jail, time and again.

Most supervillains broke out of prison; difficult to keep something superhuman behind bars intended for regular men. Luthor had never escaped; he had never been jailed for more than a week. For that, most people trusted him as they never would the Joker or the Penguin. False arrests, rumors, libel: they could dismiss Luthor's crimes and enter the LexCorp fold guilt-free. Comfortable knowing that if they were wrong, it was a superhero's duty to save them from their mistakes.

But who saved the superheroes?

Robert folded his arms. "I'm free for the next half hour," he said. "What do you want to talk to me about?"

"There's a few things," Luthor said. "Certain of which might be more suited to the privacy of your office, if that's all right with you."

It was politely phrased as a suggestion, not a demand. Robert's guts looped themselves a knot tighter, but Luthor wasn't likely to try anything. Not with witnesses right outside the door--kids were hard to pay off; and besides it wasn't Luthor's style. He wouldn't dirty his hands personally with anything as simple as murder or extortion. Robert nodded and walked them to his office.

To his surprise, Luthor dismissed his staff at the door. "Mercy, Kyle, you can wait out with the car. Or shoot some hoops with the kids here, they look like they're having fun." Actually no one was playing at the moment, the basketballs forgotten on the floor as everyone gawked at the spectacle of a man with more money than all of them put together likely would ever see. Robert noticed no less than three cell phones snapping pictures. Luthor seemed to ignore the attention; his artfully photogenic smile might have been only for Robert's sake.

The smile didn't go away when he closed the office door, genial and genuine. It made Robert's skin crawl. Luthor was smiling like that in most newspaper shots, in all the recent photos taken at the business meetings, shaking hands with Alva Junior, but the first image that came to Robert's mind was from six months ago. The photo had been taken at the press conference in front of the LexCorp headquarters in Metropolis, the copy full of Luthor's reassurances that it had all been a terrible accident, his expressions of gratitude for the Justice League's assistance in containing the virus which had infected his new military robots' AI.

The kryptonite used in the robots' weapons, he had explained on CNN's broadcast, was a prototype of a new extra-efficient energy source. The newspapers had dutifully reported his words, and Superman's name was never invoked, for all he had spearheaded the defense. Or had, until he had nearly been speared in return by the lead robot. That particular footage of the superheroes' actions had only made it onto half the news networks. LexCorp owned the other half.

Luthor hadn't used his arch-nemesis's name, but he had said, "I would like to personally thank Static and Gear for their work today. Their powers were instrumental in the robots' deactivation, and I won't forget their efforts. Truly, they belong in the League." He had smiled as he said it, looking directly into the cameras, and Robert remembered feeling exposed, sitting at home on his couch, as if Luthor were staring straight at them with that gracious smile and those blank-wall eyes.

Then Virgil had changed channels with a wave of his hand, looking extremely discomfited. "Don't listen to that, Pops. Supes and the Bat did more than me and Richie." Which was too modest a thing for his son to say to make Robert anything but even more concerned.

Static and Gear had been official, if part-time, members of the Justice League since Virgil and Richie's sophomore years in college, and had worked with League heroes several times before that. And it wasn't as if Dakota's particular breed of super-powered criminals weren't nerve-wrackingly hazardous in their own right. Robert had learned to deal, more or less, and he was careful to keep his son from seeing the 'less.' But it was one thing to hear about Static and Gear's exploits on the news, or firsthand over dinner illustrated with excited hand gestures and statically charged flying silverware.

It was another thing altogether to see Metropolis's supreme supervillain making barely veiled threats against his youngest child and the boy who was like his second son. And another thing still to have said supervillain moving into his city--to have him standing in Robert's office, smirking at him from under the mirror-silver eyes and sleek pale dome of his bald head.

"Please have a seat," Robert said stiffly, settling himself behind his desk while Luthor sat down in one of the two chairs in front. The billionaire leaned back comfortably on the red vinyl as if the sagging cushion and taped arms weren't totally incongruous with the immaculately white lines of his suit. He might have been sitting in a ten thousand dollar piece of ergonomically designed office furniture. No disdain, as he did a quick glance around the office, just an interested investigation, and then his focus fixed back on Robert as Robert asked, "So what's this about."

Luthor crossed his legs and put his fingertips together. "Mr. Hawkins," he said, "you do good work here. I've looked into the center's activities and quite frankly am amazed at how much you've accomplished over the years on the budget you have. My main reason for coming here is because I'm aware that Alva Industries has been a major supporter of this center for years now. I wanted to assure you personally that while Alva is now under LexCorp, those contributions will continue. In fact I'd like to expand the company's involvement. As you may know, LexCorp funds several various charity efforts. I'd like this center to be one of them."

It wasn't a complete shock. Robert had heard much about LexCorp's charities from his friends who wondered why he opposed Luthor coming into Dakota. Of course, the rumors of what had been done under the guise of some of those charities--inconvenient rumors were so easily ignored. "I see," he said coolly, and then because his mama hadn't raised him to be rude, even to supervillains, "Thank you, Mr. Luthor." He knew better than to ask what the price would be.

"Not at all," Luthor said. "I consider it my responsibility to help take care of the communities which I'm part of. As part of that, we're going to be funding a few new scholarships to Dakota University, for the sciences, mostly, to encourage industrial growth in the city, and a couple LexCorp and Alva Industries internships--I'll send over some posters and flyers. And if you have any particularly promising kids here, any bright minds or special talents, I'd love an introduction."

"I see," Robert said again, seeing all too clearly. So this was the price--LexCorp propaganda for the children, getting into Dakota's next generation at the ground floor. Luthor surely knew, too, that there were a few metahumans among the center's attendants. 'Special talents' indeed. New weapons for his schemes.

"I hope you do, Mr. Hawkins," Luthor said, still smiling. The smile of a man who knew he'd won--who knew he couldn't lose. "I'm sure you can appreciate the opportunities LexCorp offers. Opportunities many of these kids wouldn't get otherwise, unfortunately. There's nothing worse than wasted potential. Don't you think?"

"No, there isn't," Robert agreed. "And all my kids here have potential--every one of them is 'promising.' We're not just about offering opportunities to a few lucky ones--this center is about showing people how to make their own opportunities. To help them take advantage of what they already have, and to make sure they don't get taken advantage of by people who don't have their best interests in mind. Teaching them how to live, how to make decisions for themselves, how to stay out of trouble. How to tell right from wrong."

He looked straight at Luthor as he said it. Luthor's smile didn't flicker, but something in his eyes did, a flame-blue glitter that was there and then gone, extinguished in the colorless gray. "I'm glad we understand each other," he said, uncrossed his legs and stood, his slacks falling in perfectly neat creases.

"Is that all?" Robert asked, as Luthor didn't head for the door but instead paced to the wall of framed awards and photographs and children's drawings above the bookshelf.

"There was something else." Hands casually behind his back, Luthor looked over the collection, paused at one picture. "These are your children?"

As the center director, he was in more of the photos than not; how Luthor had picked out the single shot of him with Virgil and Sharon was beyond Robert. He realized his jaw was clenched, unlocked it and said, "Yes."

"I can see the resemblance. Good-looking kids," Luthor commented. "You must be proud."

"Thank you." His teeth gritted again, and the knot in his stomach was winding tighter, for all there was no threat in the man's easy tone, his careless stance. "Mr. Luthor--"

"Ah, yes." Luthor turned back towards the desk, his expression serious. "I thought you should know, Static will be absent from his patrols, for the next day or two at least."

The knot squeezed so tight it strangled. Robert was on his feet without realizing he had stood, the shoved chair's legs scraping on the floor.

"Apparently he's...indisposed with a minor matter. Nothing so urgent as to be the League's concern," Luthor went on calmly. "But it will leave him unavailable in the near future." He paused, only an instant. Maybe he smiled, or maybe it was just the sun's lengthening shadows across his smooth face. "And Gear as well."

Robert almost, almost glanced at the wall, the photograph--he couldn't remember, was Richie in the picture or not? He had been on the hiking trip with them, but maybe he had been the one taking the picture...but it might be too late anyway.

Far too late. Luthor had captured Gear six months ago, during the robot attack. Neither Virgil nor Richie had been willing to talk about it, but Robert watched the news, and he wasn't stupid. He didn't need everything explained to him. Luthor had had Gear for several hours. Long enough. Robert had known Richie for more than ten years, knew how strong the boy was, but Luthor had years of experience with superheroes.

Robert drew himself up, drew a breath to steady his voice. He met Luthor's eyes, stared into that ice-slick gray with nothing to support him but his convictions, and his faith in his boys. "I don't know why you'd be telling me this, Mr. Luthor. If something's happened to Static and Gear, then surely the police--"

"Oh, I don't think the police need to be brought into this," Luthor said lightly, guileless warning. "It's not in anyone's interest to make it public that the city's local superhero population is temporarily reduced. In such circumstances criminals often get ambitious. Why, when Superman is away, Metropolis..." He shook his head, wordlessly. "Some Dakota miscreant may be inclined to try something, if they know there's no one to stop them."

Robert tried to swallow. The throttlehold his stomach had around his throat made it difficult. He should be proud his voice wasn't wavering, at least. Small victories. Empty triumphs. Luthor had his son. He made a last-ditch effort, for Virgil's sake, on the off-chance that Luthor was guessing rather than certain. "I still don't see why you think I need to know about this. Sure, I support Static, but so does most of the city."

"I thought you'd understand, Mr. Hawkins," Luthor said, low, a purr that was almost a serpent's hiss. He inclined his head, hands still harmlessly behind his back, and glanced up at Robert through his lashes with provocative amusement.

Robert's hands were curling into fists. Luthor was maybe only an inch shorter than him, but lean, a lightweight, and the translucent pale baldness of his skin gave him a frail, almost sickly look. Probably a glass jaw, one punch could put him down--it wouldn't solve anything. Might even make things worse, to humiliate the man; at best it would only underline Robert's helplessness. It might even be what Luthor wanted, why he had come. Use personal assault as an excuse to drive Robert out of the center and put his own cherry-picked director in place to further his goals.

Or maybe he had just come to gloat. Megalomania was a primary symptom of a supervillain, and Luthor was the textbook case.

He put his hands down flat on his desk. "I don't know what you mean, Mr. Luthor."

Luthor's expression was worse than a smile, a satisfied look that made Robert sick to his stomach, that somehow he was playing into Luthor's hands. "Oh, merely that Static and Gear often visit this center, I've heard," Luthor said. "I wouldn't want to leave you hanging, with your kids expecting a celebrity who disappoints them."

"I'm sure that Static won't disappoint them," Robert said, and opened the channels of his anger. Not for useless violence, but he wasn't going to cower before this posturing thug in his pristine white suit. "Whatever's occupying him and Gear, I'm confident that they won't be long at it. They know this city needs them. I believe in them, and if you knew Dakota better, Mr. Luthor, you'd know why. Static and Gear may be young, but they're members of the Justice League, and true heroes--they've come out on top against the worst this city has to offer; they won't be stopped by any unmoral, arrogant criminal, no matter how powerful he might believe himself to be."

"Mr. Hawkins..." Something in Luthor's expression changed, but it wasn't the vicious rage of stung pride, and not the feral smirk Robert would have expected, either. His tone was different, too, and as he raised his arm, Robert had the bizarre, unreasonable impression Luthor was going to offer him another handshake, as if they had just sealed some unknown deal.

He didn't get the chance to ask. Without warning, the floor under his feet opened into a whirling vortex as dark as a black hole. His desk dropped down into that unfathomable pit, followed by his chair, as Robert scrambled back against the window sill. Looking across the whirlpool of darkness, he saw Luthor clawing for purchase on the low bookshelf as the vacuum sucked him down, his plum-colored tie loose from his jacket and whipping in the wind.

Maybe this was a ploy. One had to be ready for anything, with a supervillain.

On the other hand, Luthor's eyes were wide and his face was shocked white, winking in the shafts of sunlight across the office, interrupted by the blinds rattling in the vortex's wind. And the pool of shadows itself was familiar. Robert had seen it in news footage and in person on one unhappily memorable occasion, and that had been years before Lex Luthor had set foot in Dakota.

"Luthor!" Robert shouted over the wind, reaching out his hand.

Luthor looked over and his eyes narrowed in calculation. The supervillain's face was rigidly calm but for its paleness, and Robert wondered just how big a mistake he might be making. Then it was too late to consider. Luthor lost his grip, falling down towards the black hole. Robert lunged, stretched out to grab him.

He got hold of Luthor's wrist, set his heels to the floor at the edge of the vortex and heaved all his weight backwards. For an instant he thought he could make it, but the suction was too strong, and overbalanced he was pulled forward.

Luthor's legs were already drawn down into the dark vortex. He stared at Robert, mouth open and red in his pale face, wide eyes reflecting the blackness. "Let go!" he hollered, trying to push Robert back, but it was too late. Like tripping and tumbling into an unexpectedly deep puddle, Robert fell forward, plunging into the whirling void with Luthor.

o o o

Robert awoke to his head throbbing with the worst hangover since the morning after his bachelor's party. But that had been some twenty-six years ago, and he had never drunk as much since. Certainly not after he had had children; up to him to provide a good example, one couldn't leave everything to television or their peers--

"Mr. Hawkins?"

The voice was mostly unfamiliar, as professionally calm as a brain surgeon's but far too smooth. And no hospital bed would be this hard. Groaning, Robert sat up. The motion focused the pain to a point at the back of his head. He brought up a hand and gingerly examined the spot, found a bump but luckily no blood.

Cautiously he opened his eyes. The light was dim and brought no extra pain, just illuminated the blurred white figure in front of him.

"Here," said the figure. "Though I'm afraid they were broken in the fall."

Robert took his glasses, put them on. The frames were bent and one lens was cracked, but it was better than nothing, enough for him to focus on the gray peeling walls, the gray cement floor, and the gray-eyed, bald-headed man sitting beside him, legs drawn up and elbows loosely resting on his knees. Even in such dingy surrounding, dust streaking his white suit, Lex Luthor looked every cent of his billions. That easy relaxation was sheer ego, the relentless and reckless confidence of a madman. Megalomania had its perks.

Robert coughed dust from his lungs. "Are you hurt?" he asked.

"I'm fine," Luthor said. "Are you? Concussion?"

Robert turned his head experimentally. It still throbbed, but not severely. "I don't think so. Not a serious one, anyway. Was I out for long?"

Luthor shook his head. "Only a couple minutes. Tell me, Mr. Hawkins. I've only been in your fair city for a week, and haven't had much opportunity to check the local weather. Are localized spatiotemporal rifts common in Dakota?"

"Not exactly," Robert said. "Did you see anyone when we got here?"

Luthor frowned. "I thought, for a moment, that I saw a dark figure in the shadows, but he was gone without the door opening."

The door in question was a thick, battered metal portal with a wire-fenced window, firmly and decidedly closed. "A tall man, with pitch black skin and hair in cornrows about the same color as your shirt?"

Luthor glanced down at the deep purple under his white jacket and nodded. "That was what I thought I saw. Friend of yours?"

"Metropolis isn't the only place that breeds supervillains, Mr. Luthor," Robert said. "You've heard of the Bang Babies?"

"The first wave, and the second. I make it a point to research any place LexCorp's going to be located. I like to know exactly what I'm getting into."

Robert imagined this was so. Especially as Static and Gear were Bang Babies as well. Luthor would want to know every possible exploitable weakness of the superheroes he would face. Static and Gear didn't have a kryptonite vulnerability, but Robert was painfully aware that they were not invincible. As aware as Luthor must be, and that was an even more unbearable thought.

But Luthor couldn't be doing anything to them now. Unless this was part of his plans after all. "His name's E-bon. As Dakota's metahumans go, he's probably the worst of them." In fact, Robert knew, he was one of only two Bang Babies to have made it on the Justice League's official list of Class A supervillains. E-bon was not only powerful, but just smart enough to use his power in immensely dangerous ways. Though he hadn't been too active lately.

Suspicious, that he would make his move just as another supervillain came on the scene. Robert watched Luthor narrowly.

Surprisingly, Luthor didn't hesitate to admit, "I've heard of him. His powers are some manner of shadow manipulation, yes? I hadn't realized that included teleportation. I'm assuming the range is limited. Even so..." He paused, musing. "'I being the target, I wonder what his motives were in taking you, or was it inadvertent..."

"Mr. Luthor," Robert said, not willing to let this pass, "why would you assume you're the target? What kind of arrangement did you have with E-bon?"

Luthor blinked. "Mr. Hawkins," he began, but there was something untrustworthy in his face, more than the standard supervillain superciliousness. As if he had a prepared lie, but now was the wrong moment for it, and perhaps the wrong reason. "I think I--"

Whatever Luthor thought was interrupted by the clank of a padlock and the door swinging open. Luthor was on his feet in an instant, weight indifferently rocked on one foot as if he had been so standing all along, his arms folded and the lines of his suit still falling impeccably despite the dust. The tension in his shoulders was not nerves but the irritable impatience of a man of power awaiting his slow inferiors.

That didn't change even as E-bon entered, sliding into the room like ink flowing from a spilled bottle. He was six and a half feet tall, a silhouette of utter darkness only defined by the deep violet event horizon where light was trapped at his outline, but Luthor didn't flinch, simply tilted up his chin to meet the yellow-white embers of his eyes. "Mr. Evans, I presume," he said, proving that his research had been thorough, or his memory sharp. E-bon hadn't gone to any lengths to conceal his old, abandoned human identity, but most recent news reports didn't bother with such trivialities anymore. Supervillains tended to be booked by their chosen monikers for simplicity's sake.

"The name's E-bon," E-bon proved this point. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Luthor." He put out his hand.

Luthor accepted the handshake, and if he felt any discomfort in seeing his hand eclipsed in fingers of shadow, it didn't show on his face. "E-bon."

"Sorry to bring you to such a shit-hole," E-bon said, his usual growl all polite deference, "but I wanted the chance to talk. Alone."

"I'm a hard man to get hold of," Luthor acknowledged. "And the accommodations here may be lacking, but I can't fault the transportation. Impressive power you have."

"Hey, it's cool," E-bon said, ducking his head. If Robert didn't know better he'd think the young supervillain would have been blushing, had it been possible with a complexion of shadow. "That ain't the half of it. I got some moves that'd scare your hair back."

"I'd be interested in a demonstration."

"Oh, hey, you ain't seen nothing!" Behind E-bon, Shiv shoved into the room. His shock of hair was neon chartreuse at the moment and his maniac's grin as wide as ever. Most of the new Meta-Breed was in prison at present, undergoing treatments for mutagenic gas exposure, but Shiv only ever stayed incarcerated as long as E-bon did. "Wait 'til you see what I can do, Mr. Luthor!" He made fists and generated nunchakus of glowing energy, spinning them into sparking circles.

Luthor nodded appreciatively. "Impressive."

"Thanks! See, E-bon, told you he'd think so!"

E-bon's eyes narrowed, and shrank further to mere slits of light as Shiv pushed past him to pump Luthor's hand in both of his, the nunchakus dispersed. "Mr. Luthor, it's totally an honor to meet you, I gotta say, having a real supervillain here at one of our hideouts--"

"The pleasure's mine," Luthor said, smoother than E-bon's frictionless shadows. "Now, what did you want to speak to me about? I'm presuming you had a good reason to get hold of me like this."

He didn't change his voice much, just the tiniest inflection of threat, but the assured tilt of his head and the fractional tightening of his grip was an instant reminder of his power. Shiv went gray under his olive skin and dropped Luthor's hand. "I--uh--good reason--it was E-bon's idea, ya know--get you over to talk to you about the--"

"Shiv!" E-bon rapped out warningly, though the open anger in his voice was far less effective than the calmly guaranteed danger in Luthor's. E-bon must have realized that himself, because he forced himself cool and went on in a decent facsimile of Luthor's tone, "Not in front of our other guest."

He turned to Robert, the slits of his eyes radiant stars against the blackness of space. "I know you, big man. You're a Static fanboy. I seen you on the news, talking up everything those super-zeros do like they're some effing rockstars." He prowled closer, looming over Robert. "You think Static and his white boytoy come looking for his fan, we keep you here long enough?" He put one shadow-cold hand to Robert's throat, not squeezing, just experimentally. Robert stiffened his spine and refused to flinch. "Or maybe we got something better to do with you..."

Luthor coughed discreetly. "Much as I hate to interfere with a fellow entrepreneur's agenda, I'm afraid my company's schedule is pressing. Any chance you could shelve this matter for the time being so we can get down to business? I'm sure Mr. Hawkins will keep for now." He didn't so much as glance to Robert as he said it. "In fact, I can make certain of that."

He reached into the pockets of his pants and withdrew a slim tube about the length of a pencil and the width of his thumb. E-bon moved fast, grabbed Luthor's wrist. "What's that?"

"Nothing you have to worry about, I assure you," Luthor said. "Merely a sign of good faith between peers. It's a LexCorp prototype designed for capture and containment. Allow me to show you." He turned to Robert. "If you would sit, Mr. Hawkins."

Robert stared those gray eyes down. "Whatever you can do to me, I'll take it standing."

"You heard the man. Sit," E-bon rasped, and kicked him hard in the back of his knees to bring him to the floor. Robert grunted as he fell.

Luthor tsked. "Easier for you if you cooperate. I would have thought, being familiar with a certain element, that you would understand that." He crouched before Robert, held up the metal tube and turned one end toward him. "But then, there's quite a lot you don't seem to understand." He pushed a tiny button on the other end of the cylinder.

Robert was expecting something like Gear's fourth generation zapcaps, some kind of energy containment field. Instead a mass of silvery tendrils, no thicker than thread, shot out from the tube and wrapped around his arms and legs. He tried instinctively to jerk away, but the motion seemed to draw the tendrils to him, curling lightning-quick around his wrists and his ankles, and drawing them together, sealing his limbs in a shiny silver web.

"Hey, cool!" Shiv exclaimed, bending down for a closer look.

"I wouldn't touch that," Luthor warned mildly. He returned the tube to his pocket, brushed his hands off as he stood up. "This prototype's been tested on regular humans, but there's been some...unexpected side-effects when the sealant compound interacts with metahumans."

Shiv hastily scrambled back. "Whoa, side-effects, okay, got it, no touchy."

"So, now that's taken care of," Luthor said, "shall we get down to business?"

E-bon still loomed over Robert, heeding Luthor's hands-off warning, but not looking wholly convinced. 'Honor among thieves' didn't apply to supervillains, Robert supposed. E-bon was right to be suspicious. For all Luthor's knowledge, he had yet to say a thing about Static's supposed absence to his potential business partner, or any comment about Robert's relation to the superhero.

Robert could guess why, remembering Luthor's smile during the Metropolis press conference, Luthor gloating in his office. Luthor wanted Static and Gear for his own vengeance, villainous allies be damned. And maybe wanted Robert for those same ends. He certainly wasn't going anywhere now. The silvery web was almost imperceptible, now that it was warming to his skin, smoother and more comfortable than ropes would have been, but it rendered him immobile, as much as if he were encased in solid metal. He could flex a little, shift position or twist the lightweight bonds, but the web neither tightened nor loosened a fraction when he moved.

E-bon observed him try, then nodded and turned away, starting for the door. "Okay, Mr. Luthor. Let's talk."

"I want to see what you have first," Luthor said, not following.

E-bon stopped. "Meaning what?"

"I assume you wouldn't be so foolish as to bargain with me empty-handed. As fascinating as you and your associate's abilities are, if you're just trying to hire out your services then I'll have to decline. I don't put convicted criminals on the payroll without good reason, more than a simple abduction. So, what do you have for me?"

E-bon deliberated, clearly disliking being put on the spot so readily. Finally he got up in Luthor face and snarled, "Okay, there's something in this for you. Something worth it. But it's not ready for show yet. I know about you, Luthor. I ain't showing you shit until I know you won't go snatching it with no deal."

"All right," Luthor nodded. "Then how about you go get that ready, and I'll wait here. Unless you'd be willing to let me go back to my offices, and you can contact me when you're prepared--no? Very well, then. I'll wait."

Even in his uncomfortable position, Robert couldn't help but be either amused or amazed by how easily Luthor had control of the situation. E-bon might be a Class A supervillain but Luthor wasn't Class S for nothing. A Great White in a goldfish bowl. And E-bon was gaping like a fish, fury flashing white in his eyes and in purple ripples of shadow over his arms. He cooled down in a hurry, though, nodded stiffly. "Fine. You stay here, I'll come get you. But I want your cell and your piece." He held out a broad, void-black hand.

Luthor didn't protest, just took out his cell phone and a small pistol from a shoulder holster hidden under the clean lines of his jacket and passed them over. "That's all."

"What about that thing you tied him up with?"

Luthor took out the tube. "If it's all right with you, I'd like to keep this. It's a prototype, as I said, and I don't want to risk it getting damaged. It's ineffective without the web." He pushed the button to no effect, then offered it to E-bon, who peered inside the hollow tube and handed it back. The gun and cell phone he concealed inside himself--whether in a hidden pocket or actually within his shadows, Robert couldn't tell; the nature of E-bon's clothing was somewhat indeterminate.

"Sit tight," E-bon instructed, looked to Shiv and said, "Entertain our guests. And make sure they don't go nowhere. You can take Luthor to the office but don't let him into the hall."

"Got it," Shiv said, saluting. E-bon stepped to the wall of the cell, put his hand to it. The cracked plaster disappeared behind a spinning dark vortex, which E-bon sank into. The whirlpool vanished into itself, leaving the dim room seeming brighter for the absence of the shadows' void.

"Okay!" Shiv giggled, rubbing his hands together. "You wanna check out the central office, Mr. Luthor? There's like a million TV screens, and we got cable."

"I'd love to," Luthor said. "It's Shiv, isn't it?"

"Lex Luthor knows me! Awesome!" Shiv pumped his fist, then gestured toward the door. "Come on, this room's the pits. It used to be a padded cell, but they stripped the padding. Totally sucks, it was cooler before." He pushed open the door, politely saw Luthor through and then shoved it closed. The padlock clinked as it was snapped closed.

Robert heard Luthor saying, "So, Shiv, does this hotel have a wet bar?" and then their voices were lost as their footsteps died away, too distant to be heard, leaving him bound in silver, alone and helpless in the drafty cell.

o o o

It took Robert some fifteen minutes of uncomfortable contortions to extricate his cell phone from his pocket, and all of fifteen seconds for him to realize that no matter how he twisted or turned he was not going to get any reception. The walls were too thick, and probably the building had a steel frame.

Besides, who was he going to call? The police wouldn't be much help; it takes a superhero to take on a supervillain. And Static and Gear were 'unavailable.'

Unless Luthor had been lying about that. Trying to get his goat, maybe proving his point with a bluff.

Unfortunately unlikely, Robert decided. Supervillains didn't bluff. When one owned death rays, robot armies, and a significant portion of Metropolis, bluffing was pretty much moot. Which left it to him to find his way out of here, and save his son. Virgil might be the superhero of the family but his old man wasn't about to sit around and wait for rescue, not when his boy was in danger.

With his wrists and ankles bound up tight in Luthor's silver webbing, Robert's options of locomotion were limited. Twenty years ago he might have had the strength and flexibility to lever himself to his feet, but his days as a fit high school linebacker were now only so many faded yearbook photos. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the camera lens in the ceiling corner and the death screams of his dignity, and ungracefully humped across the floor like a giant, overweight inchworm.

The door was firmly closed and locked, and throwing his shoulder against it didn't so much as rattle the padlock, so he proceeded to make his way along the edge of the wall, looking for a convenient vent or at least a couple encouraging cracks that might indicate a weak spot. By his estimate it took him the better part of an hour to huff and puff and inch his way around the room, and he ended up with nothing but bruised elbows and a desperate wish for a chiropractor. He wondered if E-bon had returned. He wondered if Luthor and his fellow supervillains had been watching him. Rocking forward to a sitting position, Robert glared up at the security camera's blinking red light. Hope you enjoyed the show. Maybe he'd gotten them to laugh themselves to death.

He was squirming to try to stretch his back when that hope was dashed by the clink of the padlock. Robert straightened up with the last stricken remnants of his pride and faced the door.

Luthor entered, alone. He wasn't smiling, neither the charismatic show of teeth nor an amused villain's smirk. He looked preoccupied, crossing to Robert and pulling the silver tube out of his pocket as he crouched before him, every motion quick and deliberate, if too poised to seem hurried.

"What do you want?" Robert asked, mostly because it was the proper form with dealing with supervillains. By the standard routine, now was the time for either a violent dismissal or a gloating monologue.

"Hurry, you might not have much longer," Luthor said, bypassing the script entirely. "E-bon's not back yet but it's liable to be anytime now."

Luthor spoke as smoothly as he moved, but there was liquor on his breath, which was the only reasonable explanation for what the supervillain did next. Pressing the hollow end of the tube to the silver web sealing Robert's wrists, he pushed the button on the other end. With a sucking, wet sound like a vacuum cleaner pulling up mud, the silver strands retracted from around Robert's limbs and retreated into the tube as quickly as they had shot out, leaving him free.

Robert twisted his wrists experimentally. Other than mild pins and needles, the webbing left no trace. He stared at his freed arms and legs, and then at Luthor's hand, thrust into his face. He took the pale hand cautiously and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.

"Come on," Luthor said, and hurried him out of the cell.

Shiv was half off his chair, sprawled over the desk in the old central office of the juvenile detention hall, drooling on the console and snoring. The Colt 45 bottle next to his head was almost empty, as were the plastic cups next to it. Luthor grimaced at them in passing as he ushered Robert to the exit, unlocking it with the key ring he must have lifted from Shiv.

He gestured Robert through, saying quietly, "Go as fast as you can. E-bon could show up any minute. I wouldn't bother with the police; go straight to LexCorp and ask for Mercy. Tell her you were sent by a man who--"

"Wait a minute," Robert stopped him. "You're coming with me." It didn't make sense otherwise.

Luthor shook his head. "E-bon wants me. I'm assuming you're not worth pursuing."

None of this made sense. And Robert wasn't about to be in debt to a supervillain. "I'm not leaving you here with them."

Luthor stared. "You hate me, Mr. Hawkins."

"I wouldn't abandon anyone to these monsters."

Luthor stared more, muttering something under his breath that sounded inexplicably like, "My God, it's Jonathan Kent, the urban edition." "Mr. Hawkins, we don't have much time. I'm not in danger; this is merely business. But I don't care to negotiate when there's lives immediately in the balance; it's inefficient and messy. So if you'd be so good as to get yourself out of the way in the least illegal manner possible." He once more indicated the door. "Tell Mercy you were sent by the man who drove a Porsche off a bridge. Got it?"

Robert frowned. Luthor glared back, all that glib charisma switched to intimidating command, the set of his shoulders an irresistible force. A ruler of men, accustomed to obedience and beholden to no rule himself, and short of cold-cocking him and dragging him out, Robert didn't see how he could convince a supervillain to do anything.

Stiffly he repeated, "Drove a Porsche off a bridge?"

Luthor nodded. "Ask Mercy to take you to Static and Gear. That'll be enough. None of you need contact the Justice League; this is Dakota trouble."

Dakota trouble, plus Metropolis's star supervillain. Who was breaking Robert free, possibly at risk to himself. If this wasn't the worst day he had ever had, it was at least one of the more bewildering. "You don't want the League involved."

"It's none of their business," Luthor snarled, still low but fierce, looking about as villainous as he had yet. But he calmed instantly. "I'd appreciate it if Static and Gear would use their discretion, that's all. Oh, and please tell Mercy that everything is going according to plan."

Robert choked. "This is 'according to plan?'"

"At least it will be, once you're safely out of here," Luthor said. "Now go, please."

Robert still hesitated, as Shiv snored and Luthor didn't quite tap his foot. Maybe the man was not only maniacal but certifiable. Robert had always taken that to be a Gotham supervillain trait but perhaps it was more widespread. Certainly Hotstreak was none too stable... "Luthor, if E-bon realizes you helped me--"

"I've disabled the appropriate cameras," Luthor said. "And Shiv will be lucky to remember his name, after a bottle of that subpar rotgut. Though if it'd make you feel better, you could give me an alibi."


Blue humor sparked in Luthor's eyes, almost imperceptibly brief. He spread his arms, faced Robert. "Go ahead, take your best shot."


"I tried to stop you. You've got an unexpected right hook."

"I'm not going to..." Luthor was smirking at him.

"Come now, your center has a boxing ring. You must have gone in for a few rounds sometime. And I was asking for it, wasn't I."

Definitely certifiable. "Mr. Luthor, even if I believed violence solved anything--"

"Then just get out of here. Or does any rescue in this city need Static's permission? Because I can assure you, Static will not be coming any time soon--"

Maybe it was Luthor's words; maybe it was his smirk. Robert's fist was pulled back before he knew it, readied for the shot he'd been aching to take since the supervillain had strolled into his office. Then Luthor took a step forward--a swagger, threat in every motion, and all the tension of this dangerous situation boiled over. Robert swung, caught Luthor square on the pale glass jaw.

Luthor rocked back, but didn't even lift his feet. He worked his jaw, quirked an eyebrow. "That all you got? E-bon wouldn't even notice."

Robert gritted his teeth and swung again. This time Luthor was knocked back a step, or maybe he was just humoring Robert. The supervillain straightened up and wiped his hand across his mouth. He was still smirking as he brought his hand down. "Thank you, Mr. Hawkins. Now get out of here."

Robert felt out of breath and he hadn't run a step. And Static still might need him. He took off down the hall, not looking back. Trying to tell himself that Luthor hadn't given him that chance because Robert had needed it, and not the supervillain at all.

He didn't believe it. He didn't believe he was really free, either, even after he passed through the main entrance of the old juvenile penitentiary complex and found himself in the twilight back streets of Dakota's east side. Every step Robert took, he expected to hear Shiv's shouts behind him, or to see E-bon's vortex before him, or to find Luthor following. Unless this was their plan.

It had to be. But he didn't have the requisite deviousness to solve a supervillain's scheme. Going to the police would hardly help; few enough jails were equipped to handle E-bon or Shiv's powers, and what could they arrest Luthor for? Getting oneself abducted was hardly a crime.

He called the center and verified that no one else had been hurt in E-bon's attack. He also tried Virgil and Richie's cell phones, and got the voicemail for both. Calling the special number to tap into the ShockVox's frequencies got no response, either.

With no other options, all Robert could do was spring the supervillain's trap. Flagging down a taxi, he directed the driver to Alva Industry's downtown headquarters. In rush hour traffic they made it in half an hour, without incident, metahuman or otherwise. Luthor must have successfully convinced E-bon not to pursue the matter.

The plan all along. Robert stood outside Alva Industries, in front of the new LexCorp sign, and debated.

He might have debated longer had not, exactly one minute after he arrived, a striking blonde strode out the double doors and stopped before him. "Mr. Hawkins."

Robert recognized the dangerous air of the woman who had accompanied Luthor to the center. That edge was more pronounced now, if not in any obvious way--she was easily as collected as her boss, but the calm had the same cold-bloodedly reptilian chill, and there was venom in her eyes.

"Are you Mercy?" Robert asked, not blind to the irony.


"I was told to tell you I was sent by a man who drove a Porsche off a bridge," Robert said, carefully.

She relaxed, barely, the tension of a piano wire instead of a garrote. "I see."

"He said I should ask you to take me to Static and Gear," Robert said, keeping his voice down. "And to tell you that, um, 'everything's going according to plan.'"

This didn't faze her. But then, she gave every impression that neither would a hydrogen bomb. Mercy only nodded again. "Come with me, Mr. Hawkins."

She walked him inside to the elevators, and took them down to an unmarked level below the subbasement, leading him through a sterile hall painted in the gunmetal gray of Luthor's eyes, to a door labeled 'Res. & Dev., Aux.' in black stenciled letters. This door she unlocked with a swipe of an ID card and a code she entered without looking at the keypad.

"They're inside," she told him, the first words she had spoken since they had entered the building. "I have other business now, if you'll excuse me," and she turned on her heel and strode back down the hall.

Robert stared after her, bemused and wondering if he should demand an explanation. Of what, he wasn't even sure. But he had come this far, and if his boys were really here...he pushed open the door.

to be continued...