Another Thing Altogether
They'd been in worse situations, actually. There was that time when the Forces of Evil ™ had tried to re-make the world in their own image. Or, those few times when the Forces of Evil ™ had tried to remake the world in their own image. There was that time with Metallo when they'd both almost died. This time wasn't any worse than those, it's just that they were a little outnumbered.
A lot outnumbered.
They were half organic and half machine. Not terribly independent of motion or thought, but numerous, self-repairing, and single-minded.
They also learned quickly. The first electromagnetic pulse—courtesy of WayneTech R&D—Batman had hit them with had knocked them out, but they second wave of the damn things had already adapted and only sneezed when he blasted them. Superman's heat vision still did some good, but it looked like they were working on that, too. The corridor ended in exactly fifty meters and then there was nothing but a wall for them to put their backs against while they waited for a miracle.
Radio contact with the League: nil. Radio contact with any other allies, human or meta-human: nil. Worse, many of Batman's gadgets—famous for saving everyone's bacon when the chips were down—seemed to be useless inside the fortress. Superman wasn't fairing much better.
The last lead wall Superman tried to punch through had turned out to hold explosive charges. Batman had advised him, as calmly as he could manage through clenched teeth, to not do anything like that again. Ever. The entire fortress was a giant booby trap. They'd decided—or rather, Batman had—that if he couldn't see through it, he wasn't allowed to punch through it either.
"Anything yet?" Batman said. He'd been fighting nonstop since they'd arrived, but he wasn't even winded. Superman didn't have a scratch on him and almost looked like he was enjoying himself.
He looked from side to side as he tossed another robot up and over its brothers. "Nope. Lead, lead, lead, explosives, lead, lead," he chanted until finally he added, "Wait. Aluminum!" with a triumphant whoop.
"Superman, wait!" Batman shouted as he was whipped into the air by a pair of steely arms and then flown through the wall at dizzying speed.
A lead door slammed down behind them, blocking their only way out.
He had the decency to look sheepish and apologetic, but Batman only hit him with the patented grimace and then turned to take in the room.
"Can you get us out of here?" Superman asked, looking around as he realized the room had been designed with him in mind. He really didn't like thoughtful villains. "It's all lead. If I hit anything, it could trigger another booby trap. And if it's explosives, no amount of Kevlar is going to protect you from a close range blast."
Batman didn't look like he appreciated the consideration Superman was putting into his well-being. He cursed, in Kryptonian, which was very telling. His choice of words made Superman blush a little. He was almost positive that the dark space hid most of his reaction.
"Look on the bright side: they're out there and we're safe in here," he tried.
Which is when the walls started to move with a terrible, grinding certainty. Batman glared at him as if his optimism was responsible for everything wrong with the world. Judging by what he'd seen of the rest of the fortress and the deadly intent their unknown assailant displayed, Batman didn't like the math on how many tons of pressure were moving towards them. The timeline didn't look promising, either. They'd be crushed in a matter of minutes. Superman would live to fight another day. Batman wouldn't be so lucky.
As if following his train of thought, Superman reacted with blinding speed. He stretched out his arms and pushed against one wall, grunted when the steadily advancing metal came in contact with his powerful, squarish hands. His feet slid and he had to dig his toes in to the lead floor below. "This isn't going to be easy. You have a plan, right?"
Batman grunted as he spun, looking for something Superman couldn't fathom. He must have spotted it because he moved forward quickly, his cape brushing against Superman's legs in the ever-shrinking room. He placed his hand against the wall and then extracted a small device from his utility belt. It resembled what a stethoscope would look like if it decided to merge with a digital camera and an iPod. Batman turned his head to the side and listened carefully. He moved the device up and down over the surface of the wall and Superman was amazed at how quiet and regular his heartbeat was. The amount of training it took to become more than a man…it was something Superman admired about Batman.
Batman came to a halt and remained where he was for long seconds, concentrating.
Behind him, the sound of metal buckling was loud and terrible. Both of Superman's arms were touching the walls on either side of him now and his shoulders were bunching up close to his muscular body. "So…how's it going?" Superman asked, failing to keep his voice light.
Batman straightened and then looked around once more, confirming something. "Can you open this section of the wall?"
Superman pursed his lips and then rushed forward, dropping his support of the walls and then picking it up again as soon as possible. Still, the room was noticeably smaller and his breathing was ragged.
The proximity between the two teammates could already be called 'intimate' so that Superman had to lean over Batman's shoulder to direct his heat vision at the section of wall he'd indicated. The small space flashed with red and the sound of sparking, laser intensity filled the room before a rectangular piece fell away and clattered to the ground at Batman's feet. The still smoking wall revealed a perfectly comprehensible grid of buttons, switches, and wires.
"H-how did you know that was there?"
"This design is WayneTech," he said studying the collection of advanced technology before him. "I'm familiar with most of the newer, practical inventions that come down the wire. This was originally intended for use in construction but the project was abandoned when the cost of production exceeded the potential profits to be made from selling them to construction firms."
Superman made another pained noise and had to shift his grip as the walls slid closer together. "Then you do have a plan. Never doubted you."
"Just keep me from getting crushed while I work," Batman ordered. Superman nodded and smiled and felt the wall behind him come in contact with his back, pushing him forward. And it was more than inappropriate to play games right now, but with the way things were, they had to take their chances when they presented themselves. Everything was unstated. Everything left hanging in the air and it had been that way for ten years. This—situations like this, moments like this…helped. He had perfect recall, after all.
He shifted his grip again, braced his hands on either side of Batman's head, and then leaned in against his teammate. He rolled his shoulders forward a little until they touched the back of Batman's.
"Aye, aye," he said and maybe his voice was a little husky. He didn't need x-ray vision to know that Batman was trying not to smile. He used it anyway because he believed in being certain as often as possible. Maybe it wasn't a real smile, but it was amusement, tolerance. Perhaps the difficult man had realized too that this was a chance to take the edge off of…whatever this was.
Then the small flashlight every Bat carried was clenched in Batman's teeth and a small collection of precision tools were whipped from only Batman knew where. He sat to work on the wiring of the device. This time, it wasn't the wall's fault that Superman came closer. There was heat building between their bodies. Superman's forehead came to rest against Batman's leather-clad neck, moving back and forth like an embrace. The human heartbeat was strong and steady against his own and his breathing slowed to hear more, to feel more. Slow, sensual rush in, out, in. Deeper, slower. Closer.
Batman cleared his throat. "There are explosives wired into the circuitry. I can't locate where they are, but I can disable them." He paused and seemed to tilt his head contemplatively. Or closer to the unacknowledged contact. "Or delay them."
"Which one is it: disable or delay?"
Batman didn't answer. Instead he said, "When they're not an immediate threat, I need you to get us out of here. The wall in front of me is the weakest point. Based on the path we took to get here, we're relatively high up."
"Lucky you I can fly," Superman said cockily, but his voice wavered as the walls gave a terrible creak and seemed to increase in power. The only advantage to the pain and the pressure was that a single piece of paper couldn't have fit between their bodies now. He felt a groan and a name he shouldn't say in his throat and wondered if he was imagining Batman's body pushing back against his.
And no, he wasn't. Didn't want to be.
"The answer is 'delay.' Take the wall out." He paused and took a deep, bracing breath. "Now."
Batman was enfolded in his arms, pulled close and then the sound of metal ripping into shreds crashed against his ears, echoing through the small space. Then it was tumbling down gently, like leaves in the breeze and no assurances that he would live through it. Scarlet red flickered before his eyes, teased him like a flame dancing close and then away again. He had no control over anything like he had with his grappling gun in his hand or Nightwing at his back. It was just Superman. Dependable, steadfast, self-sacrificing Clark Kent who just so happened to be the world's mightiest being.
Batman wasn't afraid.
And maybe he was being held too closely. And maybe the hand around his waist was sliding lower. And maybe…maybe…
The blast was enormous, the fire and debris belching out of the building and soaring over their heads. Superman twisted in the air, turning his cargo as far away from the danger as possible. He took a hunk of flaming metal in the back for his trouble and his breath came out on an "Oopmh" that bathed Batman's chin and lips. The fall was much less graceful now, but Superman rolled them one last time, taking the full impact of the ground across his back and shoulders. Then they were bouncing, tumbling, and their hands were twisted up in red and black until Superman came out breathless on top.
Perhaps his exhale of breath was "Bruce" or maybe it was nothing at all. Metal crashed down around them and he weathered it out, covering Batman until the last hunk hit the ground and rolled away. The worst was over. He could move.
He didn't feel like moving. He could feel every one of Batman's muscle branding his own, hot and hard. And close like this was close enough considering the distance they usually observed. Thinking about more was a bad idea.
An involuntary cough from below made him push up, but not too far.
He smiled down at Batman. "Breathing?"
"Barely," was the huffy reply, but his lip twitched once, twice. Superman leaned down close to it, veering sideways at the last minute to rest his head beside Batman's. The ear on his costume was a little bent, which was fitting since Superman could feel his curl completely out of place. He took a few shuddering breaths and still felt no urge to move. Instead, he settled his weight down once again, careful not to crush, and counted it a victory when Batman accommodated him by spreading legs, and yes.
Yes, yes, yes. They had to take what they could and it was never very much. Never nearly what they needed. But here was enough for a while, just this closeness and this silent recognition.
Superman turned his face into Batman's armored neck and wondered if the man felt anything at all underneath all the Kevlar. "Things could be worse," he mumbled and shifted just so.
"Hmm," Batman said, half huff, half grunt. But his hand came up as if he might wrap it around him or push it under his cape or stroke down his back or any number of things that would probably feel the way he'd always had to imagine they might. Through the fine black hair or over the red and gold symbol that gave a world hope.
There was a clatter of metal footsteps to their left. Batman's hand came to rest on his shoulder instead and pushed and maybe the world was irreparably flawed after all. It wasn't supposed to have been like that. Was it too much to ask for more?
And of course it was.
Superman stood and offered a hand down to Batman who ignored it and came to his feet in a move he must have gotten from Bruce Lee. His cape settled down like poetry made into fabric, smooth, silken, powerful. Superman's own whipped around him heroically since he didn't bother to walk on ground, but hovered just above it, buoyed up, perhaps, by simple power. Or, perhaps, by single-minded optimism. Unfounded optimism since, well…
They were surrounded. Again.
Back to back, they looked at the army of automatons closing in around them. Dozens of red light danced across the blue of his costume and the black of Batman's.
Targeted, but what else was new?
He could still feel the phantom sensation of Batman's hand where it had never touched him. From the corner of his eye, he saw Batman touch the side of his neck where Superman's lips hadn't made contact.
"You ready for this?" he asked in Kryptonian and brought his fists before his face. Batman merely slid into a position that might have been Karate or Aikido and made a noise that was pure arrogance.
"On my signal," he answered back.
The army took a step forward, jointed in odd places, jerky in their synchronized movements. The rattling metallic sound was that of dozens of automatic and semi-automatic weapons emerging from inside the hard casing on what passed for their arms. The strange clicking was their language, like binary made into words, forged from pitch and tone alone.
Reinforcements arrived to stand close behind the rest of the machine army. Superman and Batman turned slowly in a circle, mute with caution. They were outnumbered, injured, tired, and cut off from their allies in a building designed by a faceless madman specifically to defeat them, to use their strengths against them.
All things considered, they were fairly certain they'd win.
Certainly the odds were looking worse by the second, but they'd been left together, which was the villain's first mistake. The second and third were another story altogether.
"Move," Batman said and Superman did, just as the first volley of bullets shattered the air around them. A batarang soared and lodged in the neck of one of the machines. It wobbled and went down, sparking. Superman's fist punched through one, then another so that his arm was noticeably heavier. He shook off the excess weight and took down three more thanks to very good aim.
About that time, the aerial units arrived, sweeping down from on high like the fury of God. Batman cursed under his breath. Superman launched into the air like a rocket and fire and metal rained down in his wake.
They were still fighting. They were still together.
In all the ways that did and didn't count, at least.
And no bloody invincible machine army stood a chance.