Author's note: Here it is at last. This story has been running amuck in my brain for the longest time, but I always dreaded writing it. It's based on episodes from both B:TAS and S:TAS. One important note for continuity buffs: in this story, as in the comics, Superman and Batman first met when Dick Grayson was Robin, even though I'm pretty sure Tim was already Robin by the time they crossed paths in the cartoons. If you can live with that, proceed. :)
Leaning into the Light
Chapter one: no answers
Batman was trapped.
That was all he knew: he was trapped, alone and immobile.
With inhuman discipline he accepted his condition. All he could do, for now, was wait.
When feeling manifested itself, he identified it as pain and put it away. It didn't concern him. He just had to wait… to wait to escape.
Eventually, in the back of his mind, he realized that his survival was unlikely. He tried to figure out how long it had been since he'd had food or water, but it was like trying to remember something from a dream, something that had never actually happened. In a sort of epiphany, he concluded that it didn't matter. All that mattered was that he processed the pain, put it away, and waited…
Sometimes he tried to remember how he had gotten there, but only wound up grappling with anger and despair. He couldn't remember what had finally happened to him, but he did remember other things.
He remembered Alfred. And although he couldn't remember why, he felt like he owed Alfred an apology.
He remembered Robin too. He missed him.
Bruce's memories sustained him, even the loneliest ones, as the pain increased and subsided in cycles. When he felt like he'd remembered every last detail of his life, he felt an ominous emptiness, as if he were missing something. As if he were supposed to remember more, but couldn't.
At last, he had waited long enough. The pain was gone—not just managed away into insignificance—gone. But he'd been trapped for too long. He needed to escape, but he knew he couldn't do it on his own. His strength was gone. He was barely alive.
He called for help.
And he had no doubt that help would come.
The first thing Superman saw was Kara's smile. Of course, he had seen plenty of things before that. The article he'd been typing at his desk at the Planet. Lois's outer-space-amethyst eyes, smirking. The slime-mold monsters he'd had to defeat that day. People pointing up at him, as he flew over the city. The vaulted crystalline hallways of his fortress.
But the first thing he really saw was Kara's smile.
He smiled back at her.
"Good job today, Kal," she was saying, stretching her arms over her head.
"Thank you," Superman replied.
Kara looked at him strangely. "Um, wow. I totally did not tell you to say that."
Superman's brow creased. "…I'm sorry," he said awkwardly.
Kara shook her head. "Ugh. That is SO creepy," she deemed. "But I guess it's just part of you finally getting smarter and making my job easier. Hey! You listening?"
Superman's gaze had drifted to the floor. Kara snapped her fingers in front of his face, and he looked back up at her with a startled expression that was one-hundred percent Clark.
"That's better," Kara said, and heaved a tired sigh. "I've got a huge history paper to write and four finals to study for, so you're on your own here for a couple of days, okay? Don't get into any trouble."
"Okay," Superman agreed. Kara lifted off the ground in front of him, and patted his shoulder before flying away.
Once she was gone, Superman fell into his normal routine: Performing maintenance on the Fortress's computer systems, both earthly and Kryptonian. Monitoring the progress of ongoing experiments in the labs. Feeding the animals in the zoo. It was all so familiar, and he knew he'd done it all hundreds of times before, but today it felt new. He just had so much more to think about, all of a sudden.
Supergirl had said he was getting smarter, and he realized it was true. He knew it was a normal process, and, he realized, he really liked it. It was good to be smarter. And the smarter he got, the better everything seemed, until he could barely contain his happiness. It was good to be Superman- his life was amazing! He thought about his job, as Clark. He loved his job. Perry White- his boss- he loved his boss! Jimmy Olson- that hapless, well-meaning kid- he loved him too. And Lois, cynical, beautiful Lois, he loved so much it almost hurt.
And then suddenly it did hurt, as for the first time he understood the ramifications of Lois not knowing that Clark was Superman. He'd been flying a moment earlier, but that thought grounded him and quickly brought him to his knees. "I can't tell her," he whispered to no one, and covered his face with his hands. He was sorry for lying to her. He didn't want to, but he knew he would keep on doing it—he had to. It was like a rule. Well-- there was only one rule, actually, the rule about not killing. But not telling his secret to Lois was practically rule number two.
It'll be all right, Clark, he reassured himself, for the first time. Someday things will work out. I know they will.
Confidence restored, Superman rose to his feet, and continued through the Fortress, exploring the familiar spaces as if he'd never been there before.
Finally, he made his way back to the computers. He gazed up at the tall blank screens, his mind wandering. He knew everything about the computers, circuit by circuit. But he'd never actually used them. A grin broke out on his face as he brought the systems online. He was curious. He knew a lot of things, but had never thought about them before. And he wanted to exercise his new thinking powers as much as possible.
Once he started going through the files on the computer, it didn't take him long to come across a reference to Batman.
It stopped him in his tracks. Batman…Bruce. Superman had a lot of data about Batman, but had never had a reason to process it before. Now, images and facts were decompressing in his mind, morphing into an understanding of past events that bordered on real memories. Bruce, he thought in awe. You're unlike anyone I've ever known. You're the best superhero of all. I sure wish I could talk to you… I wonder what you're doing right now?
Clark tapped his way through the passwords to the heavily encrypted program that would allow him to call the Bat-computer from the Fortress. "Batman?" he asked tentatively, once the line was open. "It's Clark. You there?"
He waited, listening very, very closely.
And, faintly, from the depths of the cave, he heard Bruce calling for him.
Three minutes later, Superman was tearing open a titanium casket in one of the cavernous storage rooms on one of the Batcave's lower levels.
"Bruce!" Superman's hands were shaking with worry. "Are you all right? Can you move?"
"…I…can move," Batman said stiffly, sitting up.
"What happened? Who did this to you? Supergirl never told me you were in trouble!"
"Calm down, Clark… I think I'm all right, but… I can't remember…"
Clark offered him a hand, and pulled him to his feet. "Were you waiting for me for very long?" he asked, plaintive.
"I'm… not sure," Batman said slowly. "It might have been a long time… I don't know. But I knew you would come. And you did. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Clark replied immediately. "Is there anything else I can do?"
"Just… stay with me a moment. I know this is my cave, but I don't recognize some of the items in here. I need to figure this out. And whatever trapped me might still be here."
Superman shook his head. "We're alone here, Bruce. I checked the place out pretty thoroughly on my way in. No bad guys here. Just Alfred upstairs."
Bruce took a deep breath. "Alfred must be worried about me," he remarked. "And I owe him an apology."
"For what?" Clark asked, curious.
Batman scowled into the dark of the cave. "I don't know," he muttered at last. "But for something, I'm sure."
Clark grinned at him. "Maybe it's for spending all your time in a dirty cave which Alfred has to clean."
Bruce didn't smile. His eyes under the cowl were troubled. "…Maybe," he agreed reluctantly. He took a step forward and nearly fell; Clark caught him just in time.
"Whoa, careful!" Superman exclaimed.
Wordlessly, Bruce lifted one arm and Clark stepped under it, letting it drape across his shoulders so he could support Bruce as he tried to walk. A few shaky steps later, it wasn't going very well.
"I'm just going to carry you," Superman decided, and Batman didn't argue. "We'll go find Alfred."
Alfred whirled to face them as Clark nudged open the swinging door to the kitchen."Superman?" the old man asked, blinking surprised eyes. "And…Master Bruce?"
Bruce's voice was tired-sounding. "Alfred…"
"Hello," Clark said cheerfully, setting Bruce down on his own two feet. Bruce put his hand out to steady himself against the kitchen table.
Alfred looked vaguely apprehensive and very confused. "Pardon me, sirs, but aren't the two of you supposed to be on the other side of the galaxy right now?"
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked.
"Batman's been trapped down in the cave," Clark clarified helpfully. "I just rescued him."
"Down in the—" suddenly Alfred's face turned white. "Oh dear. But then… you must be…"
"What?" Bruce asked, concerned.
Alfred swallowed, and Clark frowned as subtle signs of fear appeared in Alfred's physiology. Heart rate. Sweat. Hands tightening. Alfred looked up at him, a little bit desperately. "You, Superman-- let me think--I do recall being informed of this—you're working for Supergirl right now, aren't you?"
"Yes," Clark admitted, brow furrowed.
"I see," Alfred gulped, distressed. "And, can Supergirl hear me, by any chance?"
Clark shook his head. "At the moment, no, probably not."
"What does this have to do with Supergirl?" Batman demanded.
"I let her direct my missions sometimes," Superman explained in a calming tone.
Alfred nodded, struggling to remain rational in the face of his suspicions. "Yes, that's the arrangement when the real Superman is out of town."
Clark blinked at him. "But… I'm not out of town. I'm right here."
As Clark spoke, he noticed that the fear in Alfred's system increased exponentially.
And it really bothered him. Only bad guys were supposed to be afraid of him, and then only when he was intentionally threatening them. He didn't understand why Alfred was reacting as he was, and it was making him uncomfortable.
"Oh dear," Alfred repeated. He looked hard at Batman. "And you… you don't know what you are?"
Clark didn't like Alfred's tone, and abruptly decided that he'd had enough. He stepped forward, in between Bruce and his butler, and curled his hands into fists.
"I know what he is," Clark declared, face grim. "He's hurt. And he's coming with me."
Mere seconds later, high above Gotham, Bruce shut his eyes against the assault of the sun. "Superman," he said, his voice aching with emotion. "I think something's wrong."
"I think so too," Clark replied. He lowered his brows in determination, heading north. "But don't worry. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out and fix it. I promise."
...to be continued...
Another note: hopefully everybody out there understands the premise at this point. But if you're still confused, go watch B:TAS's "Silicon Soul" and S:TAS's "Legacy Part 1."
And now, if you want to call me an evil genius, you may. Buwah hah hah haah!