a/n: Another longish fic for you guys. It's a short story. Originally, I wrote it for a fanzine but that project seems to have been set aside in the wake of real life troubles. I can so relate. So I thought I'd go ahead and share this. Thanks to mandalee1013 for help betaing!
Title: Same Old Story
Universe: Smallville-based, influenced by Justice League
Description: When a team of unfamiliar supervillains start wreaking havoc in Washington DC, Batman immediately suspects Lex Luthor, until he discovers that they are ghosts of Smallville past. Ghosts with a thirst for vengeance against Superman.
Warnings: character death, slashy smut, continuity soup
Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine. Thirty. Clank.
Bruce carefully lowers the weights and leans away from the padded seat, grabbing the towel around his neck and swiping it over his sweat-streaked face. His breathing is barely affected, however, so he has plenty of energy left for another workout.
He hears a click and the sound of feet lightly padding across the carpet. A smile flickers across his lips.
"About time you got here," he says, rising from the stack machine and heading to his bench press.
A low chuckle fills the room. "I still don't know how you do that."
Bruce lays flat on his back, reaching up and gripping the handholds. "Ninja. Remember?"
"How could I forget?"
A blue and red form steps into view, one hand rising to detach a crimson cape and set it off to the side. "Aren't you supposed to have a spotter when you use one of those?"
Metal rattles as Bruce lifts the weights and starts to bench press them. Five-hundred pounds is nothing to sneeze at, even if Clark would be able to lift them with his pinky finger. He can feel the strain in his muscles, the push and pull that proves his weight-training is working. More sweat breaks out over his skin.
"Don't need one," Bruce says with a grunt, seeing Clark approach from his peripheral vision, already bare from the waist up. A sight Bruce can appreciate.
Kicking out of his boots, Clark circles around the bench until he stands at Bruce's knees. He leans over, his hands to either side of Bruce's waist, his thumbs brushing Bruce's bare side. "Your confidence is reassuring."
"Isn't it always?" Exhaling, Bruce presses the weights one last time before letting them settle back in the cradle, the burn in his muscles a welcome sensation. This is hardly enough for a proper workout, but with such a distraction in front of him, there's no use in continuing. Especially since Clark's thumbs have started a gentle, circular stroking.
Clark chuckles. "Where's the Batclan?"
"Out. On patrol if they know what's good for them," Bruce replies and props himself up with his elbows, which puts him in perfect proximity to Clark's lips.
"The night is ours then," Clark says.
Bruce answers by closing the distance between their lips, drawing Clark into a soft, exploring kiss. Right now, Clark smells like the sea, all fresh air and salt. There's a subtle dampness hanging around him. Been rescuing stranded ships, has he?
Bruce shifts his weight to one elbow and reaches up with his other hand, tangling fingers in – yes, damp – black hair. No surprise there. His lips gently tease at Clark's, teeth soon getting involved to nibble as well. Clark shifts his own balance, freeing up a hand to press his palm to Bruce's bare belly, fingers tracking over sweat-slick abs.
Yes, this is the best way to heat up after a workout. Never mind the cool down.
Bruce's mouth wanders away from Clark's, to nibble on a strong jaw and toward a sensitive ear, feeling Clark shiver above him. He sits up further, straightening his spine, forcing Clark to lean upward, losing his single-handed grip on the bench.
"I do still have patrol you know," Bruce teases as his free hand drags down Clark's chest, tracing the planes of muscle before heading straight for the waistband of his reinforced leggings. He drags his fingers from Clark's hair, both hands now teasing at the red waistband.
Clark sucks in a breath, pushing his hips toward Bruce's fingers. "It doesn't have to start immediately," he replies, voice soft and husky, in such a way that always goes straight through Bruce in a wave of molten heat.
"It could." Bruce's lips wander lower, tracing the strong muscles in Clark's neck, fluttering over a prominent collarbone, and continuing downward. The taste of sweat is a salty accompaniment to his leisurely exploration.
He holds Clark's hips, thumbs sweeping over twin ridges of hip bone. He feels the flutter of Clark's abdominal muscles with his lips, continuing his trek downward. There's something so very alluring about having this much power at his mercy, at knowing he can make Clark – Superman – twitch and need.
Clark groans, his hands landing on Bruce's shoulders, fingers squeezing rhythmically. "Don't taunt me, Bruce."
Bruce laughs softly, warm puffs of air against Clark's abdomen. "I suppose I could delay for a few minutes."
"Only a few? I thought you had better stamina than that," Clark retorts playfully, but the fingers pressing into Bruce's skin belie Clark's nonchalance.
As does the arousal nudging at the reinforced fabric of his leggings. Bruce sweeps his hands inward, brushing over the sensitive bulge and Clark hisses in a breath above him.
"Of course I do." Bruce presses a bit more firmly and Clark arches into his touch, a subtle tremor racing through the reporter's frame. "I was referring to you."
Clark laughs, though it comes out breathy. "You-"
The beeping of the comm in Bruce ear cuts off whatever Clark had been about to say, immediately followed by J'onn's voice. -Batman.-
He curses under his breath and reluctantly draws away from Clark, who echoes his sentiment. Likely, his comm has just received the same questioning ping.
Clark draws away with a frustrated noise, putting some much needed distance between them as Bruce activates his comm. Better he than Clark, who right now is still muttering curses as he fights to get his body under control.
-Forgive the interruption, but we have a situation.-
When do we not? Bruce huffs and rises to his feet, part of him trying to will away his own rising arousal. He looks around, trying to remember where he put the remote for the TV. Clark, as psychic as always, finds it in a blur and presses it into his hand.
Bruce aims the remote at the television and clicks it on. A news broadcast has taken over all channels, and the running ticket at the bottom explains the situation. Clark, standing next to him, mutters something as he crosses his arms.
-Who are they?- Bruce asks, staring intently at the screen. He doesn't recognize any of the six costumed villains currently wreaking havoc in Washington D.C.
One of them, a tallish blond in silver and black, seems to be the leader. He bears a symbol on his chest – three spheres in a triangular pattern – and he's currently hovering in the air, spewing fire from his eyes. Not unlike Clark's heat vision in fact. Law enforcement vehicles burst into flame left and right.
He has five others with him. A blond man with extremely pale skin dressed in blue and white, spewing ice from his fingertips and leaving footprints of ice in his wake. A thin man in yellow and blue body armor calling down lightning from swirling clouds. A dark-haired woman in leather whose ability Bruce can't fathom at the moment, only seeing the explosions that result. The fourth is dressed in dark-purple from head to toe, leaving gender inconclusive. And the last wears a black bodysuit with a bright red horseshoe on his chest and a mask over his eyes.
They are a team of some sort, but none that Bruce has ever seen before. He immediately suspects Luthor by process of elimination, but it's too early to be certain.
-They are not anyone with who I am familiar,- J'onn answers. -But their apparent leader is displaying Kryptonian-like abilities.-
Bruce turns his attention to Clark, who is now staring so intently at the screen that it appears he plans to set it afire himself. "Clark?"
He visibly shakes himself out of his fugue. "I won't know anything until I get there," he says, and glances at Bruce. "Need a lift?"
"I'll catch up."
Best to let Clark head there in a flash. It'll take Bruce a bit longer to slide into his suit. He clicks off the television, rising to his feet. He contemplates if he should contact Robin or Batgirl. Perhaps not, with the nature of the abilities he'd seen displayed on the television. He is reluctant to expose them to that level of danger. Gotham's assortment of supervillains is bad enough.
-I'm sending in Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern,- J'onn informs him.
-Good,- Bruce replies as a red-blue blur races around his exercise room, gathering discarded pieces of the Superman costume. -We'll join you as soon as we can. Tell them to be careful, J'onn. I don't like the look of this.-
-On this we agree.-
The communication goes quiet once more in the same moment that the blur slows into the shape of Superman, whose brow is drawn. He hesitates before asking, "You think Luthor is behind this?"
"We'll find out, won't we?" Bruce says. "Be careful, Clark." He cautions, knowing full well that Clark's definition of careful and his vastly differ.
"I'll be on my guard." Clark hesitates again, his eyes flicking to the dark screen, before he shakes his head, half-turning to the open window. "See you soon."
He's gone in a flash, barely disturbing the curtains. Bruce watches him go, disquiet curling in his belly. He doesn't like charging head-first against opponents he knows nothing about. There is no time for a full investigation however.
He hurries to the Batcave to change.
Washington DC is a warzone, and that is the kindest word Bruce can use to describe it. Buildings leveled, smoke spewing into the air from lingering fires, the sounds of terror echoing around him, the sharp bite of burning on his tongue. The underlying scent of blood and the acrid odor of ozone, likely from the electrical attacks of the one in blue and yellow.
Batman arcs the Batplane in a quick pass over the battlefield, taking stock of the situation. For the most part, the others are fighting the four lesser concerns, tossing their respective villains amongst each other. It best resembles a free-for-all brawl, which makes it difficult to tell who is dealing damage to whom. At least it seems the Justice League is emerging victorious.
Superman, however, is facing down the Kryptonian-like man as well as the female causing spontaneous explosions. The exact opposite of being careful. Gritting his teeth, Batman steers the Batplane into position and punches it into auto-pilot. He hits a switch and drops into midair, cape snapping against the wind and slowing his descent.
Batman is well aware of his own limitations. While he'd like to be stubborn and prove himself capable of damn near anything, he aims his plummet toward a villain more within his abilities to subdue. The explosive vixen never sees him coming, only managing a shouted curse as he slams into her, knocking the both of them down to the harsh concrete of the roof.
Batman tucks himself into a smooth roll, ending back on his feet with the wind barely knocked from him. The dark-haired woman is much slower in rising, her blue eyes glaring hotly as she gingerly prods at her lip, where blood slowly wells.
"Now that wasn't very nice," she says, her voice husky and chastising. She rolls her shoulders, eyes flashing gold.
He throws himself to the side without thinking twice about it, years of fighting villain after criminal after genetically-altered being teaching him to expect the unexpected. His shoulder hits concrete first, cape trailing after him, as an explosion rends the air where he'd been standing.
Batman rolls to his feet, flinging out a batarang as he does so, and keeps moving, resolving not to stand still. He doesn't want to present an easy target. Unfortunately, the woman is as quick as he, and twists to avoid the tossed batarang. It's a deadly game of knives, Batman skittering across the rooftop, avoiding flashpowder blasts as he tries to discern how she's producing them.
Small bombs? No. Her hands are still at her sides. She must be metahuman, producing the explosions by some internal mechanism. Perhaps she is manipulating the elements in the atmosphere.
The sky rumbles. Streaks of electrical light strike a jagged path upward from the street below. The building beneath Batman shakes. One of the male villains down there yells a taunt. Flashes of green light announce Green Lantern's attacks.
Another batarang flies from Batman's fingers, and the woman effortlessly flips backward, avoiding it. She scurries around the side of an HVAC unit, dropping out of immediate sight. The air smells of sulfur, of fireworks on a day of celebration. Somewhere behind the unit, the woman laughs darkly.
Above, Superman and the Kryptonian-fake clash with a resounding boom of two great powers colliding.
Batman stalks across the rooftop, mindful of the shadows, gaze sweeping around for the dark-haired woman.
"Flash!" The shout echoes both in Batman's comm link and through the air. It sounds like Wonder Woman and Batman knows that tone. She's worried, angry; Flash has been hurt somehow, and it's not the usual battering one gets in the midst of battle. It's something serious, something distracting.
Batman's comm unit crackles, Wonder Woman's voice pouring into his ear.
He backs toward the edge of the roof, keeping one eye out for the woman, and peers downward. Between the debris, the charred brickwork, and the puddles of half-melted ice, it's difficult to discern much of anything.
-Flash is hurt! Bring us up. Now!-
The air prickles and Batman watches as Wonder Woman and a limp Flash disappear in a flash of light, leaving only Green Lantern to fend off their opponents. Of the four they initially faced, only two are still standing. The one dressed in yellow and blue is currently down for the count, half of a brick-wall pinning him down. Batman can't see the one rimed in ice, but judging from the hole in the ground half a block away, he won't be getting up anytime soon.
"Ah, ah, ah. Did I say you could ignore me?"
Batman whirls, attention at once focused back on his opponent, who's twitching her finger at him, her eyes gleaming rings of gold.
"Naughty, naughty," she purrs and her eyes flash.
The atmosphere, the very air around him, flexes, which is the best word Batman can use to describe what happens next. An explosion just to the right of him, sending him crashing into an air conditioning unit. He dents the metal, the landing softened by the thickness of his kevlar and Batman's had worse hits. He can get up.
He does, reaching for a batarang as he sweeps the rooftop for a visual of the woman. Above him, Superman and the fake Kryptonian are clashing, exchanging body-rattling blow after blow, pummeling each other with their meaty fists. It's an endless rhythm, until an explosion rips the night, lighting the small space between them.
It was her, that bomb-maker. Batman sees her standing on the top of the roof top door compartment, crouched like a gargoyle, her lips stretched in a triumphant grin. Batman darts forward, batarang sailing effortlessly through the air, his aim true.
Somehow, she hears it coming. The whistle of the honed edge, perhaps. She dodges, eyes flashing as a smaller explosion rends the air, incinerating the batarang.
Green light flashes below, along with the distinct sound of a body crashing into a building, toppling bricks and crumpling metal. Ice shatters. Green Lantern is holding up well against his opponents. The air dances with electricity; another flash and Wonder Woman has returned, no doubt ready to dish out pain against whomever harmed Flash. She's protective like that.
Above, Superman and the fake are separated and the fake is laughing. Laughing like he thinks he's won, like half his team isn't lying in shambles and it's obvious the Justice League has his number. Like he has an ace up his sleeve.
The bomb-maker is no longer paying Batman a bit of attention. She looks gleefully upward, eyes bright as she watches Superman and the fake. The fake who laughs and laughs and reaches for something at his side, something hanging from a loop that best resembles a laser gun from bad science fiction.
Superman looks wary, but that doesn't stop him from rushing forward, intending to take out the fake. Since when has he ever had reason to fear a gun? It's a bad idea, as it always is, and Batman's stuck on a rooftop, watching the events in what feels like slow motion.
Superman streaking forward; the fake aiming his weapon. The sneer pulling across the fake's lips, the triumphant gleam in his blue eyes. The flex of knuckles as he pulls the trigger. The flare of bright green as something shoots from the barrel, and Superman doesn't dodge. He doesn't even think to. Why should he? Bullets bounce off his Kryptonian skin.
Except these aren't regular bullets and by the time Superman realizes this, it's too late. The bullet slams into him, cutting right through the emblem sown brightly on his chest. Superman stalls, mid-air, dipping but somehow remaining airborne. His grunt of pain is audible even to Batman, one hand rising to clutch at his chest.
The Krytonite bullet – for it has to be Kryptonite – burrows deeper, and Superman jerks, twitches from head to toe.
"What... is this?" he grunts out, eyes wide.
The fake laughs. "A present," he says with a sneer. "From me to you." He clips the gun back at his side, and then swoops down to scoop up the bomb-maker, the two of them fleeing into the night.
Batman's running. He's running because Superman is falling now, slow at first, as though he's clinging to his ability to remain in flight. But then faster as gravity catches up, pulling him down to Earth.
Superman misses Batman's rooftop, clips a fire escape, and tumbles downward, glowing green beneath his skin. The Kryptonite... it's spreading somehow. Like it's splintered within his body, and Batman isn't paying a bit of mind to the bomb-maker or the fake anymore. He's watching as Superman tumbles down and there's not a damn thing Batman can do about it.
"Green Lantern!" he yells as he leaps over the edge of the roof, launching a bat grapple to propel him faster downward.
Green Lantern looks up and focuses, a hand formed of green energy plucking Superman from thin air, before he can fracture the sidewalk with his landing. Their opponents, the one dressed in purple and the one in blue, are making their escape. Fleeing into the ruined streets as though they've accomplished their goals already. They even pause to collect their unconscious comrades. Interesting.
Wonder Woman starts after them, but Batman shakes his head, already hurrying to Superman's side. "Don't bother. They got what they came for."
They need more information anyway. They had no clue what they were up against. Batman doesn't know what they did to take out Flash. And he doesn't know why they stopped at taking down Superman either. Was that their only intention?
He doesn't know. He doesn't know anything and Batman feels himself shudder on the inside. He is the one who should be aware of these things. He should already have a datasheet two feet long on each of the villains. But he doesn't.
Superman's unconscious by the time Green Lantern lowers him to the ground, sweat streaming from his forehead, body twitching like a druggie on an overdose. The front of his suit is a charred mess, revealing burnt flesh beneath. He's bleeding sluggishly from where the Kryptonite pierced his flesh, black lines streaking out over his skin from the radiation.
Inside, Batman is cursing at Superman. How many times has he asked patience and care of his lover? How many times has he wished Superman would stop treating himself as an invulnerable battering ram?
How many times has he had to pluck shards of Kryptonite from his lover's body?
-J'onn, Superman's down. Bring us back. Now.-
There's a place Bruce goes when he needs to focus, where his conscious hovers somewhere between Batman and Bruce Wayne. He can push himself beyond human limitations, beyond the physical pain. He can push beyond emotional stimuli and concentrate only on what needs to be done. He can ignore the worry and the fear, can force calm into his hands, can steadily approach a situation without losing his composure.
It is this place that Batman draws upon right now, helping cut away Superman's costume to reveal the extent of the wound. It doesn't look like much – for Superman – but Batman can see the effects of the Kryptonite on his lover's body. Can see the way Superman is trapped in a fever, the way he twitches uncontrollably, breathing labored, skin cold for all that he's in a fever.
J'onn is beside him, activating the med scanners, technology telling him what Batman's intuition has already gathered.
"The Kryptonite has splintered inside him," J'onn says, shaking his head. "I can detect at least a dozen small pieces in various locations. There may be more."
"Will it kill him?" Again, Batman thinks he already knows the answer, but he needs someone else to confirm it, lest his own pessimism infect him.
J'onn tilts his head thoughtfully. "No. But he will be out of commission for some time. I will need to surgically remove each piece."
"A week. Maybe less."
Batman exhales softly. "Very well." He looks at J'onn, meeting the Martian's gaze over Superman's unconscious form. "Find out how they were able to do this." His eyes drop down to his lover, fingers twitching in urge to touch, but he restrains himself.
He turns away, mind spinning with possibilities, slowly allowing himself to emerge from that zone of composure.
"And what will you be doing?" J'onn asks his back.
Batman pauses. "I will be finding out who they are and who sent them." Luthor, part of him screams. "And then I will take them down."
He leaves J'onn with Superman, doorway swishing aside, and turns into the next room, where Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are hovering over an unconscious Flash.
"How is he?"
"Stable," Green Lantern answers, frowning over a readout from one of the many monitors attached to Flash. "Looks like he's sleeping. Deeply. But he should wake up in a few hours."
Batman's gaze shifts to Wonder Woman, who's pacing back and forth across the floor. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure." She pauses mid-stride, tapping her chin with her fingers. "He was running around the purple one, baiting him, you know how Flash is. Than the man grabbed him and Flash jerked, like he'd been stabbed, and collapsed."
Just by touch? Batman files away that detail.
"Did either of you recognize them?"
Wonder Woman shakes her head. "No. They had similar abilities to villains we've faced in the past, but their faces were unfamiliar."
"Same here." Green Lantern's frown deepened, a flash of anger in his eyes as he looks down at Flash. "What do you know?"
Nothing. Batman knows nothing and he can't abide by that. It is his prerogative to have the answers, and he doesn't like this ignorance.
He turns on his heel, heading for the door. "Let me know when Flash wakes up. I want to talk to him."
"And in the meantime, they got away," Wonder Woman says, and he hears her following, footsteps loud on the flooring. "What are we going to do about that?"
"Find them," Batman answers as he heads into the hallway, Wonder Woman on his heels. "But first, I need answers."
"We all do," Wonder Woman retorts, a mulish edge to her tone. She grabs his arm, drawing him to a halt, and Batman watches her from the corner of his eye, vision somewhat hampered by the cowl. "How's Superman?"
He flinches before he can stop himself, and goes rigid in her grasp. "He'll recover, as he always does," Batman says curtly. "Fortunately, he's indestructible."
He can feel Wonder Woman's eyes on him, narrowing in thought. "Fortunately indeed," she repeats softly, and then releases his arm. He quickly puts a pace between them. "I'll tend to the monitors and call in some backup as well."
"Aquaman, if he'll come. Cyborg. And Black Canary," Batman suggests after a moment's consideration. "We may need the assistance."
The Batcave is silent, the only way Batman likes it. He briefly patches in to Robin and Batgirl's feeds, but they are on patrol and out of any immediate danger. He leaves them be. There is no reason to involve both of them in this mess until he has a better idea of what the Justice League is up against.
He peels back the cowl, letting his face breathe, and concentrates on research. He pulls up images of their six opponents, zooming in to get close ups of five of the faces, and a better detail of the sixth individual's costume. He checks as many databases as he is aware of, but nothing matches. He pores through hundreds of police reports and hacks into federal databases.
He finds nothing but more dead ends.
Logically, Batman knows that there has to be something. That these six can't have appeared from thin air. The one has Kryptonian-like abilities but he probably wasn't Kryptonian otherwise he wouldn't have been able to handle the Kryptonite as he had. The other five are likely human, though it's difficult to say with the one in purple.
That Luthor is somehow involved has not escaped Batman. It is well within the realm of possibility.
Superman had acted strangely when he first saw them on the television. As though he did recognize them, though he hadn't uttered a name. Batman had intended to question him after the fact, but that option isn't available now. Besides, getting answers out of Clark when he doesn't want to talk is like battering at a brick wall sometimes.
His fingers tap a nonsense rhythm on the desk top as he leans back in his chair, considering. Smallville used to be a hotbed for metahuman activity, especially when Superman – Clark Kent – had been growing up in that area. Clark has shared countless stories about the various meteor-infected humans he'd faced while growing up. Could the six attackers be faces from the past? Is this a simple matter of revenge?
Batman frowns. There could possibly be public record of those incidents, but he doubts they are on any computer file he has access to. Smallville police back in those years don't strike him as the type to have updated systems, especially about incidents that occurred almost fifteen years ago. He'd have to physically go to Smallville to investigate.
Or better yet... ask someone who had actually lived there at the time. Someone with an impeccable memory who would be willing to help.
Someone who is only a phone call away.
If anything, it would at least save him some time in physically searching for the origin of the six villains.
Batman reaches for the console, pulling up the phone software and dialing a number he has committed to memory. It only rings twice before someone answers.
"Queen residence. May I ask who's calling?"
"I need to speak to Chloe," Batman says, or Bruce does, rather. "Tell her it's Wayne."
"Very good, sir."
He listens to dead air for what amounts to a minute, using the time to forward a few photos and files to her e-mail, before the familiar voice of Mrs. Chloe Queen comes onto the line, rife with curiosity and a touch of amusement. "Bruce," she says warmly. "I feel like I should be honored. What's the occasion?"
"I need some answers," Bruce replies, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on the console, lacing his fingers together. "And right now, Clark is incapable of giving them to me."
All cheer vanishes from her voice. "What's happened? Where's Clark?" She spoke clearly, unafraid of hacking attempts or anyone listening in. Both she and Bruce had impeccable defenses.
"He's... indisposed." Bruce struggles with tact. "He'll recover, but right now, I need to figure out who did this to him and why. I'm reasonably certain it has something to do with Smallville and the meteor shower. And more likely than not, Luthor."
"Doesn't it always?" Chloe replies with a vocal huff. "All right. What do you have for me?"
"Do you have your computer?"
"On hand like always."
"Good." Bruce lowers one hand, bringing up the file he sent to her on one screen and pulling up each photo as he intends to have her view them. "I sent you a compressed file."
He hears her fingers tapping over computer keys. "Got it. Hmm, it's a big one. I see... pictures and what looks like a report."
"Recognize any of them?"
Chloe sighs. "I wish I didn't. You're telling me Clark never told you about any of these guys?"
"Not with pictures."
"Right." Chloe pauses, likely making certain of her memory. "The first one, in blue and white, is Sean Kelvin. He did something with heat, sucking it out of people. He's similar to Mr. Freeze, though the method is different."
Finally getting the answers he sought, Bruce quickly opens a new file in the Batcomputer and starts entering the information into the computer as Chloe relays it to him. He'll ask her to send him any files she might have later, but right now, he wants his own words.
"The next one is Bette Sans Souci or as we called her, Plastique. I don't know how she does it, but she can create explosions. You'd have to look into Luthor's Level 33.1 to understand how but we'll get to that later."
"The third one is Jeremy Creek. As far as I know, he's actually the first metahuman created by the meteor landing." Chloe pauses, making a thoughtful noise. "He did have the ability to use electricity, but last I heard, he'd lost it."
"The fourth one is Seth Nelson. He was like a living magnet. And he was somehow able to control people's minds, though don't ask me to explain it." There's a click as Chloe moves to the next picture. "Huh. Bruce, I can't identify someone without a face."
"I realize that. You don't recognize the costume?"
She scoffs into the phone. "They generally didn't wear costumes when terrorizing the normals of Smallville. What did he do?"
Bruce grits his teeth. He hadn't seen the purple one in action. He only had Wonder Woman's second hand account. "According to Diana, he touched Flash and knocked him out somehow."
"Yikes. That sounds like Parasite and he's not someone you want to mess with. He can absorb other people's abilities, make them his own. His name's Rudy Jones."
Great. So the next time they came against this Parasite, he would be as fast as Flash. That's certainly the kind of good news Bruce needs right now.
"And the last one?"
Chloe's quick inhalation doesn't bode well for the Justice League either. "His name's Eric Summers. He's able to leech Clark's powers. Like Parasite, only Clark seems to be the only one he can leech like that. But I'm assuming that Clark is still the super-powered Boy Scout we all know and love."
Bruce squares his jaw. "Yes."
"Then he's acquired his abilities some other way. Like you, I blame Luthor."
In the end, it always comes down to Lex Luthor in some shape or form.
Bruce quickly adds in the details Chloe had given him, adding his own speculations and observations. Subduing Parasite would be particularly problematic, but if Summers is all but Kryptonian, he might be the easiest of them to take down. Bruce doesn't know how he managed to handle the Kryptonite gun or where he acquired it, but he must share the same weaknesses as Clark.
"Tell me about Level 33.1."
"How much time do you have?" Chloe jokes weakly. "Because I've weeks of stories to share. And I still can't believe Clark didn't tell you about any of this."
Frankly, neither could Bruce. Some of Chloe's identifications sounded familiar. He remembered them from stories Clark had told him. But others were not. And Bruce had certainly never heard of Level 33.1.
"Summarize what you know," Bruce replies, ignoring her latter comment. "I'm sure you can tell me where to go if I want in-depth details."
"Easy. Hack into Lexcorp. Level 33.1 is where he conducted all of his experiments on metahumans. Blood testing. DNA alteration. Radiation manipulation. You name it, he and Lionel tried it. If these six are out and causing havoc, you can bet good money that Luthor's behind it somehow. They've all gone through Luthor's special care at some point or another."
Bruce feels an ache building behind his temples. "I see." He's going to have to hack into Lexcorp. He's going to need more information than this.
Damn. It would be easier to try and hack into the Pentagon. Luthor's firewalls and defenses are on par with Bruce's own.
In the meantime, however, Bruce updates the Watchtower's database with descriptions of the six new villains, as well as codenames for the five that don't have one. His lack of creativity shows, especially when it comes to dubbing Kelvin something other than Mr. Freeze.
"Thank you, Chloe. This information will prove invaluable."
"Good." He hears the sound of a laptop sliding shut. "Now, tell me what happened to Clark. And will you be needing Ollie as back up?"
Actually, having the Green Arrow on standby is not a bad idea. Especially since he already has some experience dealing with these particular enemies.
"If he's not otherwise occupied," Bruce replies, and shifts uncomfortably. He doesn't want to be reminded that Clark is all but in a coma-like state in the Watchtower's medbay. "Summers shot Clark with a Kryptonite bullet that managed to splinter within his body. J'onn is taking care of him."
Chloe makes a contemplative noise. "I wonder if that was McNulty's gun."
"Another Smallville psychopath. He hated metahumans and found out Clark's weakness, using it against him. According to my records, he's dead, but McNulty and Summers were in cahoots once upon a time."
Bruce would do his best to confirm that. The last thing he needs is another ghost from Smallville past rising up to try and take out Clark again. They need to deal with these six first.
A ping on the batcomputer alerts him to another incoming call. "Thanks again, Chloe. I'll call you later and let you know how Clark is."
"You do that. I don't want to have to fly to Gotham to wring a bat's neck." The click of a closed connection echoes through the Batcave.
Bruce shakes his head. Chloe is certainly a special kind of woman, and one of Clark's former acquaintances that Bruce can actually tolerate. The less said of Lana Lang, the better.
A quick key-press answers the incoming call. "Yes?"
"Batman." He recognizes J'onn immediately. "Flash is awake."
Bruce glances at the clock in the corner of his lowest screen and blinks. Had four hours passed so quickly? "Understood. I'll be there shortly. Batman, out."
He ends the call and sits back in his chair, pondering the information Chloe had given him. The clues inevitably lead to Luthor. He wishes he could be surprised, but he's not. Anytime there is a genuine threat to Earth, Luthor is generally to blame. And he is one of the few villains that Batman has difficulty outmaneuvering. It is incredibly problematic to guess what Luthor is thinking.
In order to understand what Summers and his team of metahumans intend, Bruce will need to understand whatever has happened to them. Which means, unfortunately, hacking into Lexcorp. He can think of nothing more tedious.
But first, Batman must question Flash, to see what he remembers and to confirm the presence of the metahuman Parasite.
"Oh, look! Bats came to see me. Didja bring flowers?" Flash's grin is weak, a bare shadow of his usual exuberance. Nonetheless, inwardly Batman is relieved to see it.
"No," Batman replies, pulling up a chair and setting a box on the end table next to Flash's bed. The speedster may be awake, but he'll be bedridden for another day or so, according to J'onn. "This is more useful."
Flash all but snatches the plain box from the table, digging into it with enthusiasm. His exclamation of glee makes Wonder Woman laugh from where she stands at the window.
"Exactly what he needs. More sugar," Wonder Woman deadpans.
Batman's lips twitch. "Tell me about Parasite."
Plastic rustles as Flash rips open some of the chocolate. "I'm going to make an educated guess and say that was the guy in purple." He shudders theatrically. "He was like a vampire, only he didn't suck blood, but energy. It was weird. I felt... slow. Well, normal speed to you guys maybe."
"What about now? Do you still feel... slow?"
Flash tilts his head, seriously considering the question. "I don't feel up to my usual speed, but I'm not slow either."
"So the energy drain is not permanent," Batman muses, both to himself and aloud. "At least not for the victim. It remains to be seen whether Parasite will maintain his acquired speed or if it is also temporary."
Wonder Woman crosses her arms. "What have you learned, Batman?"
"Bits and pieces. Not enough for a full report," he replies as he slides his chair back and rises to his feet, cape settling around his frame. "I'll let everyone know when I find out more. Any luck in locating them?"
"Green Lantern's looking now, but since we don't have a starting point, it's slow going," she answers. "The chance of finding them before they attack again is slim."
Unacceptable. Batman turns toward the door. "Keep trying. Flash, recover soon. We'll need your assistance."
"No problem, Bats."
He leaves Flash to recover, Wonder Woman standing over him protectively as though fearing he will vanish at any moment. It's an interesting habit of hers, to hover over injured members of the Justice League. Batman can remember a few occasions when he's woken to find Wonder Woman guarding his rest as though berating herself for allowing him to get harmed in the first place.
Batman heads to the next room, where Superman has not moved, except for J'onn to shift him under the direct beam of a UV lamp. J'onn himself is not present, which means that Superman must be stable enough to not require direct supervision.
The door slides shut behind Batman and he engages the locks, using his personal codes which no one in the Watchtower is capable of overriding. The benefits of supplying the funds needed to build the Justice League's base, he supposes. If there is some emergency, or J'onn absolutely needs to enter, he can always ping the comm console.
Exhaling softly, Batman takes a seat at Superman's side and reaches up, removing his cowl. Batman hasn't time to mourn, to worry and fret, and feel angry over what has happened. But Bruce Wayne does, and right now, Bruce plans to take a moment. The first he's allowed himself since Superman fell.
He removes one of his gloves and reaches for Clark's left hand, frowning at the chill in usually strong fingers. Kryptonian physiology demands a higher body temperature than humans, but Bruce honestly can't tell right now. Clark feels so cold to him.
Bruce's thumb rubs over the back of Clark's hand and he bows his head, listening intently to the sound of Clark's breathing. It's steady, if not shallow, but at least he has stopped shuddering.
He doesn't like seeing Clark so still, trapped in what amounts to a coma, not teasing Bruce or goading him playfully. Not trying to coax Bruce into an intimate encounter or rushing off to save the world. He misses the sound of Clark's voice.
Bruce wishes that this were the first time he's sat next to an unconscious Clark, waiting for Superman to wake up after fully healing. Superman has a knack for getting himself injured, for flying face first into danger, even when it's laced in Kryptonite. They've argued so many times over this, but even Bruce knows that it will never change. Clark will always think it is more important to save a stranger than protect his own life.
Bruce can get as angry about it all he wants, but the fact of the matter is, when it comes down to it, Batman will do the same thing. In that, he and Superman are too alike.
And to think, they'd hated each other at first.
"It's impolite to infringe on someone else's turf."
Batman neither startles at the unexpected voice, nor looks up at the man hovering just above him and the rooftop. Instead, Batman focuses on the electronic lock he is in the midst of hacking, sparing only part of his attention for the Man of Steel.
"I won't be here long."
"That's beside the point." Wind whips at the red cape, sending it fluttering around Superman's well-muscled body. "Why are you in Metropolis?"
The panel beeps as Batman successfully puts in the access code. The door slides open and Batman tucks away his portable equipment, intending to enter the building.
Before he can move a step, Superman blurs into the space between him and the door, blocking it. "Answer me," the Boy Scout says insistently, arms folded across his chest, blue eyes sharp and demanding.
A second's debate decides that it is quicker to talk than it is to try and use brute force. "Rumor has it that someone in Metropolis is supplying Intergang with military-grade firearms."
Batman works his jaw. "You've said it so it must be true," he replies blandly, unable to keep the spite out of his tone. "Are you going to move?"
"No." A muscle jumps in Superman's chiseled jaw. He could be a handsome man, if he weren't so infuriatingly perfect. "If there's something going on, I'll handle it. You can return to Gotham."
Batman's eyes narrow, though Superman will not be able to see with the lenses covering his eyes. "No."
Superman leans forward, a move that would probably intimidate criminals and lesser heroes. "This isn't a negotiation," he says, and then pauses, as though concentrating, only to blink rapidly as he leans back. "Lead lining?"
Batman smirks, knowing that, at least, Superman will be able to see. "Now who's impolite?"
Before Superman can answer, the distinctive noise of an explosion pierces the otherwise calm night. Batman turns to the east, where a thin stream of smoke is beginning to curl in the air. The sound of sirens follows not long after.
He turns his attention back to Superman, who appears to be listening intently. "That's your cue," Batman says.
Superman hovers in the air, arms down at his sides, but the warning in them evident. "This isn't over."
"I'm sure it's not."
The Boy Scout leaves, off to do good deeds, and Batman finds himself free to pursue his original objective. Someone's bringing powerful weapons into Gotham and he aims to find out who, preferably without Superman's interference.
Their first encounter was nothing short of disastrous. Batman didn't like explaining himself, and Superman – as later confessed – didn't know what to think of a man whose face he couldn't see. For several months, every encounter between them ended in a bitter stalemate. Batman refused to give answers, especially to someone like Superman whom he considered an amateur with a god-complex. And Superman couldn't understand the difference in their methods.
Even now, both Batman and Bruce find it difficult to reconcile their different styles. Superman will always be brute force; Batman will always be tactics and finesse. But where they differ, they complement, and perhaps in that is where the friendship was born. Friendship that eventually led to more, led to Bruce sitting here in the Justice League's medbay, clasping Clark's hand and patiently waiting for his lover to wake.
The chirrup of the communication console announces someone's attempt to contact the room. Bruce stirs out of his contemplations, reluctantly releasing Clark's hand to activate the vid-screen as he slides on his cowl with the other.
J'onn's face comes into view. "Batman, Metropolis is currently under attack."
He slides his glove back onto his hand, flexing his fingers to adjust the fit. "The same six as before?"
"There are only three this time: Parasite, Shox, and Polarity. They don't appear to have a particular aim, only causing widespread destruction."
Batman's mind spins with possibilities. What are they after? Could they really only want to tear the world apart? Where are the others?
Parasite is the true problem here. Shox's electrical attacks are easily dispersed with the right techniques. Polarity could be an issue; best not to send someone who relies on physical weaponry after someone who can control metal. But the Justice League won't be effective against any of them until Batman can hack into Level 33.1.
"Have the others sent word on whether they will provide back up?"
J'onn inclines his head. "I've already summoned Black Canary and sent her with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman."
"And I will help as well," another voice inserts from off screen, one Batman recognizes as belonging to Green Arrow. Apparently Chloe delivered her message.
"Good," Batman says. "I'll be out of contact shortly, J'onn. There are things I need to do."
"Understood." The screen goes blank as J'onn ends the transmission and Batman turns off the monitor.
He turns back toward Superman, who hasn't so much as twitched. One gloved hand lifts, brushing back the stubborn curl of jet black hair. He says nothing, but there are no ears to hear him anyway.
There is work to be done.
It takes him an hour to break through the first firewall, only a fraction of his attention spared for the newscast detailing the attack in Metropolis and the Justice League's involvement in it. Batman's only consolation in trying to break into Lexcorp's private files is that Lex's password is always some derivative of Clark Kent or a detail relating to Superman/Clark Kent. It takes some trying, but in the end, Batman perseveres.
Another hour of searching, identifying key files, and digging deeper passes before Batman finds the information he needs, and then, it's an overload of content. Only six of Luthor's experimented meta-humans have shown up recently, but there are at least two dozen here on file. All of them with equally worrisome abilities, especially the ones listed under "location unknown."
Batman copies all of the files, suspecting that they will be important later, and flags the six main perpetrators for perusal now. This sort of data could land Luthor in prison for a very long time... except Luthor would find a way to weasel out of it somehow. He always does. It's both frustrating and infuriating, to the point Batman wonders if Lex Luthor and the Justice League will be countering each other until the end of days.
He backs out of Lexcorp's database and carefully covers his tracks. A skilled hacker will be able to discover his intrusion, but only if he or she is looking for it. Though Batman supposes it doesn't matter. Lex will know who did it and if he's been watching the news – or if he's behind Summers' team – he'll know why.
The files on Summers' lackeys are straightforward, with Luthor's usual disregard for a human being's comfort or function. Their abilities have not been augmented, but they have been taught control or given the means to do so. For the most part, all five of them – Kelvin, Creek, Nelson, Jones, and Souci – have been infused with a greater endurance, super-strength, and faster reflexes.
It is in Eric Summers – Supernova as Batman has dubbed him – that Luthor's team of deranged scientists and physicians got creative. They somehow managed to force his ability to leech a Kryptonian's attributes, and then altered his DNA (with hefty doses of meteor rock) so the leeched powers would remain. On top of that, they also stuck Summers in another program, something entitled the Phantom Project. The scientists were able to encourage Summers' leech ability to absorb "Bizarro," which is similar to Kryptonian physiology but different in one noticeable way.
Bizarro loses strength in the face of the yellow sun while a Kryptonian gains strength. It seems pointless to Batman. Combining Bizarro and Krytponian abilities in the same individual would effectively cancel each other out.
Unless... unless they found a way for Summers to switch between the two leeched set of attributes. It would be similar to Parasite's mutation actually. Except that Summers' leeching implies something more permanent than the temporary absorption that Parasite's records indicate. There seems to be some indication that Summers will continue to bear the ability he's leeched until it is taken from him. Granted, Summers has only ever absorbed Superman's powers.
If Summers could consciously shift between his Kryptonian abilities and that of Bizarro, then Kryptonite would have no effect on him. He'd be vulnerable to the yellow sun, but according to the notes in his file, it wouldn't harm him like Kryptonite does to Superman, but it would strip away his invulnerability. And Bizarro does have one key weakness: another shade of Kryptonite. Blue as a matter of fact.
Batman has only ever heard of the green Kryptonite and the red. He remembers Superman telling him of what happens when he encounters red Kryptonite and why he considers it just as vile as the green. But Superman – nor Clark for that matter – had ever mentioned the possibility of other shades.
The vulnerability of Bizarro to blue-K is not so much that it weakens him, but that it overpowers him. There is a large notation in Summers' file that claims his unique leeching should protect him from the effects of both blue-K and green-K, but the scientists couldn't be sure. It is marked for further study.
Batman checks the date on the file. A month ago. Beneath that, a notation that Summers and a team of metahumans had broken out of Level 33.1.
So. They hadn't been "released" as Batman originally assumed. Unless, of course, Lex is covering his tracks several times over by faking his own files. He won't put it past the devious man.
No matter. However they found their way to Washington, DC and Metropolis is a moot point. They need to be taken down, imprisoned, or better yet, they could get the medical help they needed. The medical help Luthor was supposed to have given them, but opted for experimentation instead.
Batman sits back, lacing his fingers together as he contemplates the best way to take down their new opponents. Plastique is only human, susceptible to brute force and anesthetics, just like Sean Kelvin aka Iceman and Jeremy Creek aka Shox. Seth Nelson aka Polarity could be problematic; Batman will have to ensure that he is taken down by someone with superior mental strength. Parasite will require a special touch, perhaps another inhibitor specifically used against metahumans.
Summers will require something a bit more complicated. Batman believes that blue Kryptonite will be the answer. Or green Kryptonite. Or possibly, a blend of the two. It would be smart to have both on hand, especially if Summers thinks he's going to escape by shifting between the two leeched abilities.
There's only one place in the United States that Batman can be certain to acquire blue Kryptonite: Smallville, Kansas.
Flying to Smallville as Bruce Wayne with the intention of finding blue Kryptonite is not as simple as it sounds. Smallville is not a large town and discovering the location of meteor impacts it not difficult, but discerning which of the multiple impacts bore which type of Kryptonite is not only tedious but time-consuming.
Bruce doesn't quite know where to start.
Lex's records listed three locations where blue Kryptonite had been found, but Bruce came up empty when he investigated them for himself.
Frustrated, he wanders the main street of Smallville considering his options. He could always ask Jonathon and Martha Kent, but if he were to appear on their doorstep without Clark, they would only worry. They would ask questions and Bruce would have to fight off guilt as he answered them.
He pulls out his cell phone. Chloe is probably the only one who can help him now. His numbers quickly dial a number he has memorized, and his thumb is millimeters away from pressing send when he notices movement out of the corner of his eye. Bruce pauses, looking up.
Lex Luthor is standing on the other side of the street, dressed impeccably, sunglasses shielding his eyes from the afternoon glare. It's hardly a disguise and frankly, Bruce is surprised the citizens of Smallville haven't mobbed their most hated former resident yet.
Bruce lowers the cell phone, eyes narrowing. From this distance, he can still see the upward curl of Lex's lip – a smirk – before the villainous mastermind shoves his hands in his pockets and turns, heading up the sidewalk. There are no bodyguards around, no sign of someone to watch his back.
What exactly does Lex Luthor have up his sleeve?
Shoving his cell phone back into his pocket, Bruce hurries across the street, trailing behind Luthor at about ten paces. Lex's pace is casual, unhurried, until he stops at a coffeeshop that breathes of recent construction despite the nostalgic décor. The smell of paint and fresh-lain brick still hangs in the air.
Lex enters with a cheerful chime of doorbells and Bruce follows him without waiting. What's the point? It's obvious that Lex knows he's here. Inside, the scent of coffee and pastries assault him, along with the sound of light conversation. It's also dim, but Bruce easily picks out Lex heading toward the back of the coffeehouse, where a few tables are secluded from the rest of the shop.
He sits at a table, takes off his sunglasses, and then looks up, his gaze meeting Bruce's from across the coffeeshop. There is an unvoiced invitation in the look.
It's most certainly a trap, but Bruce doesn't think the intended harm is physical. He accepts the invitation, sitting in the only chair left at the table, directly across from Lex.
Bruce says nothing. This has been orchestrated by Lex. He will let Luthor make the first move.
Lex smiles, the same charming smile he uses for the media, especially when he's being duplicitous. "Now... isn't this nostalgic?" he asks with a broad gesture to the coffeehouse.
Bruce stares. He will not be goaded by Lex Luthor. Lex knows good and well that the Talon has never been a memory shared between Bruce and Lex.
"Clark and I used to have coffee here all the time," Lex continues as though Bruce has somehow encouraged him. "Well, not here as they've recently had to rebuild, but you understand what I mean."
He doesn't have time for this. "Why are you here, Lex?"
They are interrupted by the arrival of their server, who must be new to town or incredibly young, as she doesn't immediately recognize Lex Luthor. She smiles cheerfully as she asks for their order.
Before Bruce can get a word out, Lex orders for the both of them, going so far as to order a pastry for himself. Lucy, as denoted by her nametag, writes it down and flounces away.
"The better question, Bruce, is why are you here?" Lex says as soon as she is out of earshot. He leans back in his chair, looking perfectly at ease.
"I'm looking for something," Bruce replies, which is all the detail he is going to give. "Your turn."
Lex laughs, amusement sharp and incisive. "Some things never change." One hand disappears beneath the table.
Bruce tenses, though he doesn't think Lex will do anything truly disruptive in the middle of a small town coffeehouse. Then again, Lex's unpredictability is part of what makes him so dangerous.
What Lex draws from his pocket and sets on the table with a quiet click, however, is the last thing Bruce would have expected. It's a piece of blue stone, roughly hewn from whatever rock it had once inhabited, and carrying an ethereal glow. Bruce doesn't need Lex to tell him what it is.
He squares his jaw, eyes narrowing at Lex. Is this supposed to be some attempt at intimidation? At mockery?
"Isn't this what you're looking for?" Lex asks, one finger nudging the piece of rock toward Bruce with a flick.
Lucy returns with their drinks, setting the coffees in front of each man with a flourish. Her eyes flick to the Kryptonite, something like recognition in her gaze, but she doesn't comment. Smart girl. Then again, Smallville's known for having it's share of explosions, dangerous men, and villainous activity. Probably best not to ask questions.
"Enjoy!" she tells them, and walks away, but not without a final glance at the two of them.
Lex picks up his drink, examines the shade of his coffee, before taking a drink of it. Bruce doesn't touch his own.
"What are you planning, Lex?" Bruce demands, once he's sure that Luthor is waiting for him to continue their tete a tete.
One eyebrow quirks upward. "Is it a game if I tell you?"
Bruce leans forward, lowering his voice. "You can't expect to control Summers for long."
Lex's smile slips, but only for a moment before he regains his composure. "Control was never an option by the end. And what good is a weapon that can't be leashed?"
It doesn't make sense. "Did you honestly think Summers could do the job?"
"You must be losing your touch, Bruce, if you think I'm going to let an escaped labrat take the death that belongs to my hands alone." Lex sips his coffee, looking pointedly at Bruce.
So Summers did escape. Or Lex is still claiming that he did. Either way, Bruce does not allow himself to relax. There's something in Lex's words that hint at a deeper meaning.
The smell of coffee is starting to call to Bruce, who hasn't slept since sometime yesterday, but he ignores it on principle alone. "I didn't think letting your nemesis live would benefit your ambitions."
"He's not my nemesis," Lex says with confidence, one hand resting on the table while the other curls around his coffee cup. He's completely ignoring the pastry that the woman had brought. "He's merely been led... astray. Unfortunately, Summers' inability to aim himself in the right direction is part of the reason why he's a failure."
That Lex does not consider Clark his nemesis should not come as a surprise to Bruce. That Lex and Clark have a history is common knowledge to any resident in Smallville. Superman and Lex Luthor's near-historic clashes have always held echoes of that past relationship, a friendship that Lex had probably wished to become more.
Bruce could never be certain of what Lex wants from Clark or Superman. Clark prefers to believe that Lex only wants to control him, completely dominate the power that is Superman but sometimes... sometimes Bruce isn't so sure. There's something else. As powerful as obsession but nowhere near as pure as true affection. It's lust and the desire to possess and a need to claim and something that twists together until it's near undefinable.
Clark doesn't want to identify it; Bruce needs to catalog it. This discussion has been such a frequent point of contention that they had agreed to disagree and left the rest of the matter alone.
This knowledge forces Bruce to look deeper, to read between the lines of Lex's words. And when he connects the dots, again, it doesn't come as a surprise to him. There is no love lost between himself and Lex Luthor, both professionally and personally. And it appears that Bruce Wayne has once again acquired something that Lex Luthor intends to destroy him to obtain.
Though if he considers Summers a true threat to Batman's existence, perhaps Lex is not as intelligent as Bruce believed. Or perhaps Lex hoped it a fortuitous circumstance that might prove to shift the balance back into Luthor court.
Sometimes, it's too hard to tell with Lex Luthor.
Bruce leans back, more at ease now that at least some of Lex's intentions are less murky. "If you're expecting me to thank you..."
Lex sets his cup of coffee down slowly, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on the table. "Of course not," he says, lacing his fingers together. "I'm sure, given time, you would have found it on your own. But I've noticed you enjoy cleaning up some of my more... obtrusive messes and it amused me to assist."
Bruce feels his eyebrow twitch, though it's the only outward sign of his growing irritation. "A small pittance to make up for your incompetence? It's not going to make him forgive you."
"I don't need forgiveness." Lex smiles, all teeth and no charm, like a shark getting ready to strike. "There's nothing I regret."
What a load of crap. Bruce doesn't believe that for a second.
Bruce shakes his head. "This is pointless." He rises to his feet, intending to leave, one hand reaching for the blue Kryptonite. He may loathe that Lex has given to him, but he's too practical to leave it sitting there.
"It is, isn't it?" Lex comments and leans back, looking up at Bruce steadily. "And yet there's always a reason."
He pockets the blue Kryptonite. "An excuse, you mean."
Lex stands, one hand sliding into his pocket, the picture of nonchalance. "Call it that. But remember this, Bruce. You'll never be free of me. I'll always be that shadow lurking behind the curtains, the skeleton in the closet."
He steps around the table, not so much threatening as he is certain of his claims. "He'll fight me until the end of days. No foe will be greater than I. And no matter what you do, you can't change that. I'll always be a part of his life."
The anger that settles within Bruce's chest is so hot that it has become cold. Yet, he will not allow Lex to goad him into showing it.
Instead, he draws out his wallet, peels out a twenty, and throws it onto the table, paying for their drinks. "That may be true," Bruce says, pocketing his wallet and meeting Lex's gaze again. "But you're the part he's trying to forget. Think about it."
He doesn't give Lex a chance to retort. Bruce turns on his heel and weaves through the tables, heading directly for the exit. He's received what he came to Smallville for, and there's a group of dangerous metahumans out there causing mischief. He doesn't have time for pissing contests with Lex Luthor.
He can feel Lex's glare boring twin holes between his shoulder blades, but Bruce doesn't turn back. Doesn't give Lex a final glance. He leaves Luthor in Smallville's coffeeshop surrounded by ghosts of the past with no chance of giving them physical form in the future.
It isn't that Bruce or Batman need reassurance. But after his discomfiting visit to Smallville, the first place he goes is not to the monitor room to formulate a plan to bring down the metahumans. No, instead he makes a side trip to Superman's convalescent room, where his lover still lies beneath the UV lamp, motionless save for the rise and fall of his chest.
Batman makes sure that the blue Kryptonite is locked away in a lead-lined case before he gets closer to his lover, and is glad that J'onn is not present. He sits in the chair at Superman's bedside, removes his glove as before, and takes Superman's hand. It may just be his imagination, but Superman feels warmer than before. It's a good sign.
He should not need this much reassurance, but something about being in Lex Luthor's presence has always unsettled Bruce in a deeply buried portion of himself. He would never admit so aloud, but he abhors the long-ago connection between Lex and Clark. He despises the fact that Clark's greatest enemy used to be his closest friend. Bruce loathes that there is that connection, that who Clark is now has been shaped by that past friendship.
Clark has risen above his friendship with Lex, and they will never be so close again. That trust has been irrevocably shattered and Bruce doesn't doubt Clark's affections for himself, nor does he distrust his lover. But in this, Bruce is regrettably like Lex. He is possessive, and he doesn't like any part of Clark ever once belonging to Lex.
He longs to replace all of that past with a different future, by erasing Lex's existence from Clark's life. But Lex continues to linger, like a pest infestation which refuses to be exterminated. A villain who rises again and again, weaseling his way from true justice, and being a constant thorn in Bruce's side. Oh, it's no question that Lex Luthor is Superman's nemesis, but in the undercurrents, he is very much Bruce Wayne's as well.
But he hadn't been lying when he spoke to Lex earlier. Yes, Lex and Clark have a past. But that is all it is, the past. One Clark wishes to put behind him, from the moment he and Bruce let their rivalry than friendship turn into something more.
The sound of footsteps is the first indication that Batman is not alone. He shifts his attention from his checklist to glance over his shoulder, expecting J'onn or Diana and instead seeing Superman. They've come a long way from Superman hovering everywhere he went, haven't they?
"I can't believe you managed to get this built in less than a year," Superman comments, looking around and taking in every metallic curve, gleaming console, and darkened monitor, all waiting for their first official day of operation.
Batman returns his attention to his clipboard. "It was a group effort."
"Perhaps. But the bulk of the organizing and funding came from you." Superman comes to a halt beside him, peering somewhat over his shoulder to look at the checklist. "We ready for tomorrow's launch?"
He glances at the Boy Scout from the corner of his eye. "Of course." It takes great effort not to sound offended. "I wouldn't settle for anything less."
Superman chuckles. "I know. I was teasing." His hand rests on Batman's shoulder companionably, the weight noticeable even with the Kevlar. "I'm honestly impressed."
A part of Batman imagines he can feel the heat of that touch, the higher temperatures that are part of a Kryptonian physiology. But these are dangerous thoughts. Such thoughts that shouldn't distract Batman. Nevertheless, he can't seem to convince himself to shrug out from beneath the casual touch either.
Superman is always like this. So... tactile. Touching people. Comforting them. Shaking hands. Batman should not consider himself so special and he's always ruthlessly reminded himself of that fact. Neither should he be so flattered by Superman's compliments.
Batman's answer is to grunt noncommittally. "You can have the others come up here tonight if you wish. The living quarters are ready for residence."
"You'll be staying here, too. Right?"
This time, Batman slides out from under Superman's hand, turning to face him. "You do remember my statement that this was only part-time."
"Well, yes. But that was before you dropped a few hundred million into this project and designed the Watchtower." Superman lifts his shoulders in a shrug, but his gaze is not as casual as one might expect. "I took that as a sign you might like a more permanent position."
Batman snorts. "I don't work well in a team. I thought that was pretty obvious." He turns away, but Superman moves faster, appearing in front of him.
"That's not true," he says, so close that there is barely a foot between them, yet somehow he manages not to loom. "There's a reason they've started calling us the World's Finest, you know."
Ugh. Not a reminder Batman needs. It is such a cheesy moniker.
"Two people don't constitute a team. What you're talking about is a partnership," Batman replies.
Superman leans closer, his blue eyes darkening to cobalt. "Partners?" he repeats as though tasting the term. "I like the sound of that."
There's something in Superman's voice, an underlying resonance that makes Batman look at him curiously. "Was there a reason you came here early?"
Superman looks as though he's battling with himself, mouth opening before clamping down closed again. He pauses, tilts his head to the side, then appears to come to a decision. "Which truth do you want? The professional one or the personal one?"
The realization that he has his own choice to make takes Batman by surprise, which is rare for him. There are layers of implication in Superman's simple questions, and Batman can't answer flippantly. Not that he ever speaks flippantly.
In other words, is now when they keep things professional or will Batman allow things to progress to something further? Something that could severely complicate matters but also improve them perhaps.
Batman doesn't need more complications. He doesn't need Superman either.
But Batman – and Bruce – wanthim.
"Both," he finally says, and clears his throat when the single word comes out unintentionally rough.
Superman nods, something like tension visibly easing out of his stance. "I brought up some supplies for the infirmary. And as for the other, I knew you'd be here. Alone."
"I'm always alone."
One hand lifts, reaching toward Batman, but hovers in midair, as though equally indecisive. "Let me change that."
"It's not a good idea," Batman says, but his gaze seems locked on the hovering hand, eyes only shifting past it to glance at Superman's lips, his handsome features, the curve of his jaw.
"Probably not." A hint of humor, but still patience.
"We don't need this." Need and want are two entirely separate things, no matter how closely they may occasionally be intertwined.
He watches Superman's lips curl upward. "Yes we do."
Batman lifts his eyes up to Superman's, asking the one question that matters right now. "What about Lois?"
There's less than a foot between them and Batman takes advantage of that, closing the distance and sealing their mouths together in a hungry kiss. His cowl pokes Superman in the cheek at the nose, and Superman's lingering hand reaches up, sliding back the cowl, his fingers carding through damp black hair.
Batman breathes into the kiss, tongue teasing at the seam of Superman's lips and begging entrance. It's given to him, and then he can taste Superman, the wet heat of his mouth, the faint afterflavor of toothpaste. Their bodies come together, nearly the same perfect height, interlocking at all the right places.
Superman's warm, one arm wrapping around Batman, hauling him close. Batman's own arm winds around Superman, refusing to let him escape. He's made his choice; no backing out now. Not for either of them. All or nothing.
Months – years possibly – of sexual tension have culminated in this and Batman – Bruce – can't remember a time when he's wanted anything more.
"J'onn says he should wake up in a few more days."
Batman stirs out of the memories at the unexpected voice. He quickly replaces his glove, then subtly draws back, putting an appropriate distance between himself and Superman. He hates getting caught off guard.
"I wouldn't expect anything less," Batman replies, rising from the chair and turning to face Green Lantern.
Hal's lean against the door frame looks casual, but Batman can read the subtle tension in his stance. "We caught two of them earlier. J'onn thought you'd be interested in knowing."
"Which ones?" This is excellent news. Batman will have to convince them to give up wherever the others are hiding.
Hal tilts his head. "Iceman and... Polarity? The one that controls metal."
"Polarity," Batman confirms. "Conscious?"
"More or less." Hal smirks, sliding into a confident stride as they head down the hallway. "Iceman seems more willing to talk. So where've you been?"
Batman glances at him, askance. "Finding something to take down Supernova." Though whether or not it will work remains to be seen. He can't exactly test the effectiveness beforehand.
"J'onn will be glad to hear that."
Ahead of them, the door slides open, giving them free rein to enter the monitor room, where the rest of the conscious Justice League waits. Even Flash is on his feet, looking a little less energetic than usual, but recovered for the most part. Several of their secondary members are also present: Black Canary, Aquaman, and Green Arrow.
"About time you showed up!" Flash says with a grin and a thumbs up. "Tell me you have good news."
Some things never change. "I think I have found a method which will subdue Supernova," Batman replies, a general statement to everyone rather than Flash in particular.
"You think?" Green Arrow repeats with an arched brow. "You don't know if it will work?"
Batman's gaze shifts coolly to him. "Luthor's scientists don't know. I can, at best, hypothesize. I only know that it won't increase his abilities, whether or not it will be detrimental to our benefit remains to be seen."
"What is it?" Wonder Woman asks.
Batman reaches for his utility belt, pulling the small chunk of blue rock from its lead-lined box. "Kryptonite."
"Kryptonite's green," Flash says, rising on his tiptoes to look around Wonder Woman's shoulder as everyone crowds around Batman to look at the Kryptonite.
"Not all of it," Batman replies. A fact which, prior to this date, hadn't been made aware to everyone. "Because of the genetic manipulation, they are unsure if this will have an effect on Supernova. As we can't test it, our best option is to use it and see what happens."
"A net." J'onn plucks the stone from his hand, peering at it thoughtfully. "I believe I can fashion that small sample into one."
"And in the meantime, I've been informed that we've caught two of them?"
Wonder Woman nods, folding her arms over her chest. "They're in the holding cells until the powers that be decide who gets custody."
"Supernova hasn't been seen since they attacked DC," says Green Lantern, affecting a casual pose as he leans against one of the monitor consoles. "What do you think he's planning?"
"I don't know." Batman hates such uncertainty; it rankles against every inch of his detective mindset. "But we will stop him before that becomes an issue."
"And how are we going to do that?" Black Canary asks, one hand propped on her hip. "We don't know where they are."
Batman inclines his head. "We will by the time I finish speaking with our... guests."
He turns on his heel, heading for the doorway. Let the others make the plans and debate amongst themselves what their enemies may have in store for the world. Batman has better things to do: like interrogating Iceman and Polarity. Surely one of them is not loyal to Supernova. And if not, there are other methods of persuasion.
"Did anyone else think that sounded ominous?" he hears Flash mutter behind him, with an exaggerated shiver.
Rapid footsteps across the metal catwalk announce the fact that Batman is being followed. "If you're going to interrogate them, I am coming as well," Wonder Woman says, hurrying to catch up.
"Because I don't know how in control you are right now."
Batman pauses, mid-stride, whirling to look at her. She returns his glare evenly, not at all intimidated. "What?"
Unfazed, she elaborates, " I may not be as observant as you, but I'm neither blind nor stupid. Superman's unconscious because of Supernova. You might not admit it, but that compromises you."
Inwardly, he bristles, seething with indignation. How dare she? Never once has Bruce succumbed to a desire for vengeance in his parent's death. To imply that he would do so now, when he's constructed Batman for the sake of justice, is insulting.
Batman works his jaw for several moments, debating and tossing away several answers that sound argumentative and contradictory. "Do as you will," he says, and stiffly turns, his boots thumping a harsh stride in the hallway.
Wonder Woman follows as he knew she would.
The Watchtower has an adequate collection of holding cells furthest from any systems that possibly escaping criminals could use to their advantage. There are only four cells as the Justice League doesn't imprison said criminals for long, but they are maintained by state of the art security measures and monitored at all times by whomever is in the main control room at the central hub.
Batman inputs his override code to be allowed into the holding cells, aware of the Wonder Woman-shaped shadow hanging over his shoulder, managing an effective loom for all that she is only an inch shy of his height.
He stands between the two cells, debating which of the two would be more inclined to speak. Polarity, stripped of his costume, is lying on the small bunk, arms folded behind his head. He looks perfectly at ease, one leg crossed over a drawn up knee, foot bouncing to a beat only he can hear.
Iceman, on the other hand, is restlessly pacing his cell back and forth, muttering to himself. Occasionally, he wrings his fingers together, or rubs his palms up and down his arms as though he can't get warm.
The choice is obvious.
Batman walks up to the clear panes of the cell, tapping it with his finger. Iceman startles, whirling toward him, eyes wide. His lips move, but of course, they can't hear his words. Each cell has been soundproofed.
Wonder Woman hits the panel that activates the two-way comm system, and Iceman's comments come through.
"What do you want from me?"
How nice of him to make it easy.
"Answer my questions and you'll find out," Batman says, effecting the low growl that greatly intimidates lesser criminals. "I'll even do you the favor of finding the help you need for a cure."
Iceman's face twists with a healthy dose of fear and disgust. "That's the same thing Lex Luthor promised me and now I'm worse," he snarls, hands whipping down and ice falling from his fingers like a snow storm.
"I am not Lex Luthor," Batman snarls.
"I don't know that," Iceman retorts defiantly, hugging himself as he gets close to the clear panes, frost creeping into his hairline. "I've heard it all before."
Batman forces his fingers to unclench, once he realizes they've balled into fists. "Then you have a choice. Trust me and perhaps we can find a cure. Or don't and stay in here until the authorities decide which jail would better suit. Just remember, once you leave the Watchtower, there's nothing we can do for you."
Iceman stares at him through the glass, gaze flickering from Wonder Woman and back to Batman. "... What do you want to know?"
Now they are getting somewhere. "Did Luthor arrange for your escape?"
Iceman glances past Batman to Polarity, but either Nelson hasn't noticed that they are interrogating Iceman, or more likely, he doesn't care. "If he did, Summers didn't tell us. Far as I know, Summers got us out."
Iceman shrugs, and icicles fall from his shoulders, shattering into bits where they hit the floor. Ice is starting to rime on the walls. "Man's got plans and a burr up his ass about Clark Kent, like all of us do. He's not right in the head either. Safer just to keep my distance, you know." He visibly shivers. "He's crazy for wanting to take on the Justice League."
Batman files that information away. Have they not connected Clark Kent to Superman? Granted, according to some of the data that he found, the Clark Kent they fought in their high school years was only supernaturally fast and strong. He couldn't fly or shoot lasers from his eyes or any of the numerous feats that Superman is capable of.
They probably assumed him a meteor freak like the rest of them.
Though Batman wonders if Summers isn't aware of Superman's identity and had chosen not to share that information with his team. Why else would Summers attack Superman directly? Unless, of course, his mental imbalance precludes rational thought. Such is also a possibility.
"Why did he attack Superman?"
Iceman shivers, lips turning visibly blue. He blinks away snowflakes in his eyelashes. "I dunno. Summers hates him, too, I guess. He's just like Kent, only stronger."
Well, there's one question answered.
Iceman might not realize that Kent and Superman are the same person, but Summers certainly does. Whether or not Luthor had given that information to Summers, or he'd figured it out on his own remains to be seen. Why Summers hadn't just chosen to reveal Superman's identity to the world remains a greater concern. Batman can't even begin to fathom Summers' twisted logic.
Then again, with Superman incapacitated, it would be a lot easier to destroy the world, wouldn't it? Though if Summers plans to use the opportunity to wreak more havoc, he isn't doing a good job of it right now. A portion of his team is now in custody and they haven't succeeded in much of anything.
Honestly, this seems more like a cry for help than it does a cohesive plan.
Batman supposes he will never get all of his answers unless he can speak to Summers directly. Right now, Iceman is the only one who can provide that detail.
"Where can I find Summers?"
Here is where Iceman hesitates. "You said you were going to help me. How?" Frost is creeping over his face, his cheek and forehead. Is it the anxiety making his power manifest worse, lose what semblance of control Luthor's scientists gave him?
A little bit of reassurance couldn't hurt. "The Wayne Foundation is always interested in rehabilitation. Just ask Victor Fries. You'd probably know him better as Mr. Freeze." Ironically, if Iceman consents, there will have been two ice-related metahumans that the Wayne Foundation has helped. At least the doctors and scientists there already have a basis to work with.
Iceman's eyes widen fractionally at the familiar name. His head lowers, shoulders lifting and dropping.
"You'd think Summers would want to get out of there," he says, as though it's a great surrender to him. "But in the end, where else would a kid go?"
The realization sweeps over Batman and he takes a step back, cursing under his breath. Right under his nose and he hadn't noticed. He'd been all over Smallville looking for the damn blue Kryptonite and Supernova was there all along. In his parent's house, no less, which has sat empty since the Summers' left Smallville not long after their son's first brush with the meteor rock.
Wonder Woman looks at him. "I don't understand. Where are they?"
"Smallville," Batman all but snaps the town's name feeling like a complete fool.
Iceman nods, ice crackling out of his hair. "Now what about me?"
"We'll arrange something with the proper authorities," Batman replies curtly, whirling on his heel without waiting for Iceman to respond. He's learned all that he needs to know.
Wonder Woman releases the comm system, cutting off whatever Iceman is in the midst of saying, and moves to follow after him. "Now what?"
"We wait until J'onn has that net ready. And then we take them down."
Batman punches the console for the door and it slides open. "That's up to you." He already knows where he's going to spend his time.
He should be getting some sleep. Yesterday... or was it last night?... is the last time he had so much of a nap. He needs to eat, too, something more sustaining than a power bar grabbed on the run. Robin and Batgirl have been clamoring for some kind of update on what's going on. Alfred's started with that disapproving tone and worried furrow to his brow.
There's a lot of things Batman should be doing. But instead, he leaves Wonder Woman in the hallway and heads straight for the medbay.
It's been less than an hour since he was last here and nothing has changed. Not that Batman has expected it to. He locks the door behind him with his personal override, and takes off his cowl, expelling a soft breath of relief. He pulls off his gloves, too, and tosses all three into a chair. His cape quickly follows.
Right now, he's not Batman. Right now he's just Bruce Wayne, a man concerned for his lover. Despite knowing that Clark will pull through just fine like he always does.
Bruce checks out the machinery, making sure all is well. The UV lamp is still humming along, bathing Clark in concentrated rays of healing power. His vitals are stable. Everything is as it should be. All that remains is for Clark's body to finish fighting off the Kryptonite radiation sickness before he wakes. Which could be any hour now.
Satisfied, Bruce returns to the chair by the bedside, pulling it closer so that he doesn't have to reach as far. The soft cadence of Clark's breathing, the rhythmic beeping of the monitors are soothing. Relaxing. It's reassuring to Bruce and he feels his tensions ease, if only by a fraction.
Clark's going to be fine and the Justice League should have Summers and his team in custody by the end of the day. It's business as usual, so Bruce should not be so concerned.
Yet, he is. This is not the last time he's held vigil at Clark's bedside. Bruce knows it will not be the last. Each occasion is no easier than the one before. Each held breath no more anxious for all that he knows Superman will recover.
There is always the tiny, niggling doubt. The question of what will happen someday. The day when Superman rushes headlong into battle against something that he cannot recover from. Something that no matter of yellow sun or J'onn's quick thinking or Batman's intuition or even Zatanna's magic can cure. Something that not even Dr. Fate could have prevented.
On that day, what will Bruce do?
He will admit, only to himself, that he does not know. A part of him selfishly wishes that such a thing won't happen until after he's long gone, as he knows Clark will outlive him. It's a topic they have skirted delicately around for several years now, but it will come up eventually. Bruce is only human, mortal, and no matter how much he wishes it, his will alone can not keep him alive into all eternity.
Such are thoughts saved for another time. Right now, Bruce need only concentrate on the fact that Clark is alive, he will recover, and when this is all said and done, they can finally finish what was started back in his exercise room what seems like so long ago. The others wouldn't mind if he and Clark disappeared for a night. In fact, knowing Diana, they'd likely encourage it. The core members of the Justice League are part of only a handful of people who know about Clark and Bruce, their relationship a secret out of necessity. They had both agreed on this.
"You know... we can't tell anyone."
Clark shifts, head tilting to look up at Bruce from where it rests in Bruce's lap. "Doesn't matter," he says, stretching out one long limb so that it dangles off the end of the ledge. "We can tell the people that matter. Barbara. Tim. Dick. The Justice League."
Bruce's lips quirk into a smirk. "You mean one of them hasn't noticed?"
"... Hal maybe."
Both he and Clark chuckle at that. It's not so much that they are obvious, but that most of their team members are particularly perceptive. And in J'onn's case, telepathic. Though, to be fair, the rumors were around long before he and Clark actually made things official between themselves.
Bruce turns his head, looking out the opening of the loft and watching the horizon change colors in the distance, as the sun sets on Smallville. "It's not that I don't want to tell people," he says quietly.
"You're an intensely private person even without the secret identity, Bruce," Clark replies, reaching up and clasping his fingers around Bruce's hand, which is resting on Clark's chest, palm right over his heart. "I understand."
It is that understanding which makes Clark so ridiculously easy to love. Though there are other reasons as well. But it is also what makes this relationship possible. Where Bruce refuses to bend, Clark compromises.
"You're quite lucky," Bruce murmurs. "The Kents are amazing people."
Clark makes a warm, rumbly sound in his chest. "I know. I couldn't have asked for better parents."
They hadn't so much as blinked when Clark told them about his relationship with Bruce. Martha looked like she'd expected it; Jonathon had remarked something about Clark's taste in billionaires that had them all exchanging an awkward chuckle. But in the end, Bruce had been enveloped in the Kent family fold, treated to hometown cooking that would make Alfred weep from envy, and invited to visit anytime he wished. With or without Clark.
Bruce makes a thoughtful noise in his throat. "They really let you spend as much time as you wanted up here? Alone?"
"I wasn't always alone."
Clark's fingers stroked over the back of Bruce's hand. "I had visitors. Pete. Chloe. Lana... Lex."
Bruce forces himself not to twitch at the last name. Luthor's presence in Clark's life is still something of an irritation for Bruce. "That many, hm? I don't see how you can call this a Fortress of Solitude then. You had visitors all the time."
Laughter echoes in the loft. "You're right. It's more like Clark's House of Fun."
Bruce groans. "I think I prefer the other title. It has more dignity."
"Only you would be concerned about dignity." Clark rolls his eyes and sits up, one hand resting on Bruce's hip. "I just heard the oven close. Looks like the pie is ready."
"You and your obsession with pie."
"You've never lived until you've tasted my mom's apple pie."
Bruce jerks awake, wondering when he'd fallen asleep, and stares around muzzily, his thoughts feeling trapped in cotton. Usually, he's much more alert than this. The past couple days without proper sleep must be catching up to him.
"Yes?" he answers aloud before it fully registers that the request had come through on the League's comm system. -Yes?-
-I've finished the net and we're ready to take down Summers and his team.-
Bruce straightens, blinking at the digital clock. It's only been a couple hours at best. -That was quick, even for you.- He rubs the heel of his palm over his eyes, trying to chase away the lingering cobwebs in his thoughts.
-Green Arrow has a mind apt for inventions such as this. Regardless, we will leave whenever you are ready.- J'onn hesitates for a moment. -Unless you'd prefer to remain with Kal-El.-
-He'll heal whether or not I'm sitting next to him,- Bruce replies, already rising to find cowl and gloves, becoming Batman once more. -I can be of more use in this battle. Will you be coming along this time?-
-Yes. I have a theory about a way to subdue Parasite. Black Canary has volunteered to remain on the Watchtower with Cyborg as a backup.-
He slides on his gloves, fingers stretching into the reinforced leather. -That is good news. I will be there shortly.-
J'onn cuts the transmission and Batman inhales-exhales, relying on meditation techniques taught to him by one of his many martial arts masters in order to regain his center. He doesn't think that this battle will be particularly difficult, nothing like taking on Darkseid, it won't be easy either. He needs to focus and not let his mind wander back to this medbay and its sleeping occupant.
Batman glances at Superman, lying so innocuously, color returning to his features as he is bathed in sunlight. Sentimental phrases come to mind, things he could say that no one would overhear, least of all Superman. Words have never been necessary between them, but sometimes the things that aren't said, need to be said most of all.
Yet, Batman has always been of few words.
He opts to say nothing.
To battle it is.
The house is innocuous in its small town charm, though the front lawn is overgrown and weeds choke the garden. The white siding is dingy with disrepair and dirt. There is evidence of some damage to the overall infrastructure.
Clearly, Summers' parents had left town and refused to look back. No wonder Summers holds a grudge.
Batman stands in front of the house with his own team: J'onn, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, who refused to be left behind. Something about helping to clean up Smallville's messes.
Batman sends Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash around back. As they leave, he takes the green Kryptonite out of its lead-lined box and hands it to Green Arrow. It's not his only chunk, otherwise Batman would be reluctant to hand it over.
"Supernova has the ability to shift between Superman's physiology and Bizarro's. If the blue Kryptonite doesn't work, I don't think I need to tell you what to do."
Green Arrow smirks, drawing an arrow from his arsenal and fashioning the chunk of green rock to the end of it. "I think I can figure it out on my own."
The sound of an explosion rocks the quiet neighborhood, rattling the house as a plume of smoke starts to rise in the backyard. Batman hears the sound of shouting moments before streaks of lightning arc into the air. It appears that half of his team have encountered part of Supernova's.
-Who is it?- Batman demands over the comm.
-Shox and Plastique!- Flash shouts, making Batman wince over the loudness. -Guess that saves the toughies for you three. No fair.-
Batman cuts off the communication, confident that the three of them can handle their opponents. Besides, it looks as though he and his team won't have to seek out their own opponents. The front door is opening, a purple-clad figure standing in the doorway, menace radiating from his frame.
J'onn straightens, his hand sliding idly to the side where he hands off the coil of blue-coated netting he had created. "I will handle Parasite," he says.
"By all means," Green Arrow says, performing a by your leave gesture. "I won't argue."
Not that Parasite gives them any other choice. He stalks out of the doorway, expression impossible to guess with the face mask on, and J'onn literally flows forward to meet him, body melting out of the form he has adopted around the Justice League. As they clash, Batman and Green Arrow dart to either side of the two of them, heading straight for the open doorway.
More explosions shake the house from the backyard. By the time they are through, little will be left standing of the Summers home, that is certain.
Inside, it is dim, the curtains drawn heavy over the windows and none of the interior lighting lit. They step into a living room first and foremost, with no one in sight. Summers must be here, however. There's a distinct feeling of habitation.
From here, Batman can see a hallway and another doorway, through which he can see the distinct glint of kitchen tile and the metal of a sink. The hallway itself is shadowed, but the sound of boots on wood flooring echoes through the empty house. At least Summers is not going to make them hunt him down.
Batman tenses, every sense on high alert.
Green Arrow moves in his peripheral vision, a casual hold on his bow, but Batman can read the tension in his stance. "Come on out, Summers!" he calls with his usual lack of patience. "I've a date tonight I don't want to miss."
Batman resists the urge to sigh.
A low chuckle echoes in the dim as Supernova appears at the end of the hallway, his pace casual but his shoulders taut with arrogance. "Is Superman not with you?" he says, tilting his head to the side. "I was looking forward to getting another chance to kill him."
He forces himself to swallow down the outrage, burying it beneath that place inside of him that enables him to focus no matter the circumstances. Batman slides into a defensive pose as Green Arrow stealthily slips to the right, so that they are flanking Supernova.
"We could help you," Batman says instead, the words tasting like ash on his tongue. He has a feeling the offer is pointless; Supernova's sanity seems past the point of no return.
"I don't need any help." Supernova sneers, coming to a halt within ten feet of them, his silver cape swirling about his frame. His costume design is eerily similar to Superman's, save for the color and the symbol. "Not anymore."
Green Arrow barks a laugh. "One could argue to the contrary of that, kid," he says, and raises his bow, aiming it at Supernova. "Last chance."
Supernova's response is to growl and aim a stream of heat vision straight at Batman, who reads his intentions and rolls out of the way, neatly clipping an end table. It wobbles and crashes to the floor. Green Arrow rolls to the right and the end up on opposite sides of the room, with Supernova between them.
Green Arrow is quick to fire off an arrow, something flashing in the dim room as it strikes, and Batman is grateful for his lenses, as they keep him from being blinded. Supernova is not so lucky. He roars in annoyance, and uses his super speed, blurring blindly forward and smashing through an unfortunate coffee table. His aim, however, is true and Green Arrow has to dart out of the way.
Batman considers his arsenal, keeps a firm hold of the net, and draws several batarangs. He circles around Supernova, trying to get behind the metahuman. He only has one shot with the net; he needs to make it count.
Is he Bizzaro or Kryptonian right now? It's impossible to tell.
Green Arrow aims and releases, an arrow exploding against Supernova's chest, blackening his costume but doing Supernova little harm. In this, he is like Superman. Right now, Green Arrow is little more than a distraction. Perhaps Supernova has forgotten about Batman. Perhaps he's not all there in his head.
At this moment, Batman doesn't have the time to guess.
Supernova launches himself after Green Arrow, his vision restored in a ridiculously short period of time, fist smashing through a wall as Green Arrow avoids in the nick of time.
Batman hurls his batarang, and immediately changes position, watching as the shuriken strikes Supernova, releasing a torrent of electricity. It probably only stings, but it's enough to distract him from focusing on Green Arrow.
If they can keep Supernova off balance, toss his focus between the two of them, they might have a chance at this.
Supernova howls and whirls toward the source of his pain, face flexing as though it were made of elastic, turning a sickly grey shade. Is this a sign of Bizarro?
Batman's grip tightens around the net. Green Arrow launches another projectile, something gaseous exploding against Supernova's back, but quickly hardening like insulating foam. Supernova's face undulates again, the muscles beneath his tight costume rippling as though something is trying to break free. His once blue eyes flash a terrible, sickly green. Not unlike the green of Kryptonite.
Supernova's attention span only lasts as long as the most recent attack. He half-turns, motions stilted thanks to whatever Green Arrow had used, and Batman uses the opportunity to his advantage.
He sprints forward, vaulting over the back of the couch. Only one chance, he has to make it count.
He flings out the net as Green Arrow backpedals, already whipping out another arrow and aiming. Both blue-tinged net and green-tipped arrow strike Supernova, one right after the other. Batman skids to a stop, reaching for a batarang, ready to defend, while Supernova howls dropping to his knees and writhing in the blue Kryptonite net.
Green Arrow's Kryptonite projectile has tangled with the net, the green Kryptonite pressed right into Supernova's abdomen. It pulses oddly and the smell of burnt flesh fills the room. A sickly odor.
Something's not right.
Supernova screeches like a tortured man and he starts to... bulge. There is no other word to describe it. What visible skin there is turns grey and starts to crackle, something shimmering behind the cracks as though he's imploding.
"What's happening?" Green Arrow shouts over the sound of Summers' screaming.
Batman wishes he had an answers. He can only guess. The Kryptonite is conflicting, and Supernova is trapped somewhere between Bizzaro and Kryptonian. He's being tugged in two directions, each influenced by the Kryptonite.
It's killing him.
Supernova's shrieks get louder and he swells in size, more cracks appearing in his skin, his uniform melting away as though subjected to a great heat from within. It's too late to save him.
Batman backs away one step, and then another. "Out! Out now!" he shouts, catching Green Arrow's gaze, imparting the urgency. "There's no time!"
Green Arrow looks as though he might argue, but then Supernova moans again, an unearthly sound, and Batman doesn't wait to see if Green Arrow complies. He turns on his heel and hurtles himself toward the kitchen, where he assumes there is a back door. If not, he's going through the window.
-Everyone! Take cover!- Batman issues through the comms, hoping that his team has learned to listen to him over the years and don't question his order.
The entire house rattles on its frame, dishes come clattering out of the cupboards, shattering to the floor. Batman is lucky; there is a back door. Guilt claws at his insides; he hadn't meant for things to end this way. He plummets out the back, diving to the ground as the torrent of releasing energy behind him reaches a crescendo.
He covers his head with his arms as the entire house shatters, pieces of brick and wood going in all directions. The awful sound of Supernova's screaming is carried away on the winds, gone.
The dust begins to settle; the smoke clears. Batman forces himself to his feet, looking with dismay at the remains of the Summers house. There is no immediate sign of Supernova, not that he expects one.
Behind him, there is now movement.
"I am not certain I want to know what happened," Wonder Woman comments softly, coming to stand beside him.
"I... miscalculated," Batman replies, the only admission he would give them. Miscalculation is probably not the correct term as he had not calculated at all and had been working off of incomplete information. But not even he could have anticipated this.
"Hmm." Wonder Woman looks at the broken house. "I have the feeling he would not have surrendered."
How kind of her to try and absolve his guilt. She still doesn't understand him very well, does she?
Batman draws upon that center of calm. "The others?"
"Plastique and Shox are in our custody. J'onn has neutralized Parasite."
She makes another noise in her throat, one of contemplation. "You'll have to ask him for more details. Suffice to say, Parasite will no longer be terrorizing anyone, and Rudy Jones will get the help he needs."
Supernova is the only casualty then. That does not make Batman feel any better about the turn of events.
He feels tired, and more than a few days without sleep should cause him.
Batman nods, and reaches for his comm. -Black Canary? The battle is through. We're ready for pick up.-
It takes almost two hours to deal with the aftermath. From the clean up, to escorting their prisoners to first the Justice League's brig and then to the proper authorities. Batman indeed follows through with his promise and delivers Sean Kelvin to the Wayne Foundation Rehabilitation Center. Jeremy Creek is another one who seems capable of true rehabilitation. Jones, Souci, and Nelson are turned over to authorities.
No trace of Summers is found in the debris of the house. All that Batman finds is a section of floor covered in a thick, dark ash.
He extends his thanks to Green Arrow, asking him to pass them on to Chloe, and then Batman excuses himself. The League can handle the rest. He's only supposed to be a part-time member anyway and right now, all Batman wants is to rest. To strip out of his batsuit and get some much needed sleep.
But first... he stops by the medbay.
It feels like days since he was last here, though logically it's been only a few hours. To his utter relief, Superman has shifted position since the last time Batman was here. He is now curled on his side, which indicates he's no longer in a coma-like state, but something more akin to natural sleep. He won't need the sun lamp anymore.
Batman shuts off that piece of equipment, and the soft hum of the machinery dies, plunging the room into silence. The quiet is somehow startling and Superman stirs, exhaling audibly as his eyes open, trekking blearily around the room before finding Batman.
"Hey," Superman says, voice a bit hoarse.
Batman feels tension drain out of him as though it were a physical pressure. "Morning."
"Is it morning?"
"Approximately." He tugs off his cowl, fatigue pulling at him from all directions. "How do you feel?"
"Probably better than you look," Clark replies with a weary smile. He lifts a hand, reaching for him. "Come here."
He moves closer as if drawn, removed gloves joining his cowl in a haphazard pile on a nearby chair. "That bad, huh?"
"You look like hell," Clark says with that blunt honesty that Bruce has come to appreciate over the years. He scoots over on the bed. "Join me."
Bruce hesitates. He really shouldn't. "Let me lock the door first." He hurries to do that, once again putting in his personal codes which cannot be overridden.
"What did I miss?"
"Just the usual." Bruce kicks off his boots, unlatches his cape, tossing both toward the chair. His limbs feel like loose noodles, and exhaustion makes his shoulders sag. "Old memories from Smallville causing trouble again." He pulls off the top of his costume, the reinforced Kevlar not a comfortable bedmate.
Emotions flicker across Clark's face, painfully easy to read right now. "Summers.. and some others. I thought I recognized them. Luthor?"
"Not according to Summers." The last thing Bruce removes is his utility belt, though it remains within grabbing distance, leaving him clad only in his grey leggings. "He escaped from Level 33.1 to wreak some havoc, starting with the Justice League."
Clark's sharp inhalation gives credence to a spike in anger. "I should have been there."
"I'd say it's not your fault, but I've told you not to rush into things so many times it's a moot point by now," Bruce says, and takes the sting out of his words by willingly sliding into the narrow bed next to Clark, allowing himself to be folded into those large, warm arms.
"You know why I can't stand by and wait."
"Yes. Which is why I'm not making an issue out of it." Compromises, after all. Bruce feels like a broken record and it's an argument he'll never win.
Clark buries his face in the back of Bruce's neck, inhaling deeply. Bruce winces. He hasn't bathed in so many hours; he's coated in sweat and battle grime. It can't possibly be palatable. But Clark doesn't complain.
"At least one good thing came out of it," Clark says, his breath ghosting across Bruce's nape.
His eyes flutter, lids drifting downward in a battle he can't possibly win. "What is that?" Bruce murmurs.
"It got you sharing this bed with me."
If he were less tired, Bruce would have rolled his eyes. "Sap," he accuses, but it has no heat behind it. "Now let me sleep."
Clark chuckles behind him. "Whatever the Bat commands."
Bruce wakes to the muzzy, yet pleasing sensation of a hand stroking down his chest as warm breath ghosts over his ear and the sensitive side of his neck. Warmth at his back reminds him of his bedmate, as the exploring hand continues a downward trek, brushing over his abdomen before lingering at the waistband of his pants.
"Good morning," Clark murmurs into his ear.
Bruce's tongue darts over his lips. "Shouldn't you be resting?" he asks, but his body betrays him, hips arching toward Clark's teasing touch.
"So says the Bat who's been sleeping for the past twelve hours," Clark retorts, nibbling at Bruce's nape and sending chills down Bruce's spine. "You didn't even notice when I slipped out of bed for a quick trip out to the sun."
Ah, that explains the sudden groping.
"It's been that long?" Although, honestly, he should have realized it. Bruce can't remember the last time he slept so deeply and felt so rested.
Clark chuckles warmly, aligning their bodies from behind and pressing closer, enough that Bruce can feel the wakening length nudging against one buttock. "You needed the rest."
"I wasn't the one who's been in a near-coma for a week."
"Four days," Clark corrects, nuzzling against the nape of his neck. "And I wasn't in a complete coma. I was a bit conscious. I could sense... things."
Bruce rolls his hips, gently pressing backward on Clark's burgeoning arousal. "Things?" he repeats, warmth already flushing through his body as exploring fingers make him relax from head to toe. Especially when said fingers finally slip under his waistband and curl lightly around Bruce's own length.
"I heard you talking to me." Clark's voice rumbles in Bruce's ear, sending an arousing shiver down his spine. "I could feel it when you held my hand."
By all accounts, Bruce should feel a twinge embarrassed. He normally doesn't allow himself to be caught so vulnerable. But then, Clark has seen him at his worst, at his best, and all the stages in between.
He shifts back, rubbing against Clark's arousal and hearing the Kryptonian catch his breath. "Romantic," Bruce teases, reaching behind him and burying his fingers in Clark's hair, which feels damp to the touch. "Did you shower, too?"
"Just a rinse." Clark mouths his ear, wet tongue tickling and making Bruce squirm. "Thought I'd save the washing up for you."
Bruce has to stop himself from rolling his eyes. "Pervert."
"I'll take that accusation gladly." He tightens his fingers around Bruce's cock, giving it several long pulls that make Bruce push into his grasp. "I seem to recall us having unfinished business."
Bruce shifts backward, pressing against Clark, who judging by the slide of skin against skin, is completely nude. "You intend to continue here?"
Lips mouth the shell of his ear. "I think the League is smart enough not to interrupt," Clark replies with a soft chuckle, his fingers continuing their lazy stroking. "Any objections?"
Hardly. Bruce reaches down, tugging off his leggings and with some wriggling, tossing them to the floor, leaving him nude and pressed against Clark's equally bare flesh. He makes as if to roll over, face Clark, but his lover seems to have something else in mind.
"No, stay like this," Clark says, rolling him back to face the door, so that he is pressed to Bruce's back. "Let me hold you."
There's something in his tone that makes Bruce clamp down on his curiosity. Bruce is not the only one who needs comfort, so he complies with little fuss.
Clark slides one arm under Bruce, pillowing his head and tangling fingers with Bruce's trapped hand, while the other curls around Bruce's waist, one palm pressed flat to his chest, effectively holding them together. He tangles their legs, his arousal pressing insistently at Bruce's buttocks, in the hollow between his thighs, precome leaving behind wet streaks.
Bruce shivers at the erotic sensation, especially when Clark's exhales ghost over the side of his neck, making heat throb from head to toe. Desire lit inside of him as he exhaled a soft sigh.
"Much better," Clark breathes into his ear, and presses Bruce firmly against him, rocking their bodies together, his rigid length pulsing as it pushed between Bruce's thighs.
He can't do much to reciprocate in this position, but knowing Clark, that is only part of his intention. Still, Bruce reaches behind him with his free arm, hand sliding down Clark's side and settling on one firm buttock, helping to keep him close. He can feel muscles clench and unclench as Clark rocks against him, slow and steady, banking the flames of arousal rather than pushing them into a single, bright conflagration.
Clark's hand strokes down Bruce's chest, trails over his abdomen, then lightly encircles his aching length. Bruce arches into his touch, thoroughly enjoying the gentle cadence of Clark's movements. There's something incredibly sensual in moving so slowly, just feeling Clark rock against him, his breathing in Bruce's ear, the gentle shifts of the sheets tangled around their feet.
For all that Clark is large and inhumanly strong, he is very much the gentle giant. Which Bruce can appreciate. Oh, there's a time and a place for rough handling with well-earned bruises, but not right now. Not when Clark needs the reassurance as much as Bruce does.
Clark's grip on Bruce's length gets firmer, with more intent to arouse, and Bruce moans a little in his throat, large hands stroking him perfectly. A thumb swipes over the sensitive head, making him twitch in Clark's arms. He arches forward and pushes himself backward, body moving in perfect tandem with Clark, who thrusts between his thighs, breath stuttering in Bruce's ear.
He closes his eyes, surrendering to sensation, to the scent of Clark, ever familiar, and the feel of his lover's skin sliding against his. He's surrounded with Clark's warmth, hotter than a human's and equally familiar, a testament to his health. Better health, in fact, with his flight to the sun for a pick-me-up.
Bruce squeezes Clark's hand, his exhalations coming more rapidly as the pleasure spirals inside of him. His belly tightens and his tongue sweeps over his lips. Clark's murmuring nonsense behind him, his voice a low rumble that sends shivers down Bruce's spine.
They rock together, slow and sensual, Clark's fingers squeezing and stroking Bruce's arousal as his length presses between Bruce's legs. Desire doesn't so much as tighten within him, as it does throb outward with every pulse of his heart.
His release doesn't come with a shout or an exaggerated moan. It rolls over his body in a wave of tingling pleasure that makes him exhale, pulse pounding as the heat swells outward from his belly and washes over him. Bruce's fingers dig into Clark's buttock, holding him close, as Clark's mouth latches on the back of his neck, every hot exhalation a testament to Clark's own pending release.
A damp hand lands on Bruce's hip, flexing and pulling Bruce closer in search of his own release. Bruce grips Clark's buttock and flexes the muscles in his thighs, feeling the silky slide of Clark's arousal between his legs. Clark groans behind him, buries his face in Bruce's hair, and thrusts forward, his grip on Bruce's hand tightening to near-bruising.
Wet heat spills between Bruce's thighs, and he can feel the throbbing of Clark's arousal as he comes, body trembling and exuding heat like a mini-furnace. Bruce holds still through the tremors, and waits until Clark's tight hold relaxes a smidgen. Free to move, Bruce lets go of Clark's hand, rolls over, and tangles his fingers in black hair, sealing his mouth over Clark's.
Their lips touch, tongues tangling and Bruce sighs into the kiss, loving the taste of Clark, enjoying this gentle connection. His other hand roams, a soft stroking over sweat-streaked skin, as powerful arms lock around his upper body, keeping him in place. He can feel the rapid thump of Clark's heart.
Bruce trails a stream of kisses over Clark's jaw before drawing back, looking directly into lust-drenched blue eyes. "Still interested in that shower?" he asks, voice rough and shaken.
Clark's lips curl into a genuine smile. "No nap for the exhausted bat?"
A light growl echoes in Bruce's throat. "Don't insult my stamina." He rolls his hips, slow and lazy, rocking down against Clark.
"I wouldn't dare." Clark rolls them again, pinning Bruce beneath him, one knee working between Bruce's legs. "I consider it... incentive. To prove me wrong, that is."
Bruce's hand skate up Clark's side, light touches that make his lover shiver. "You're insatiable."
"For you, of course I am," Clark replies, with his usual sappy honesty that never fails to warm Bruce from the inside out.
He leans down, kisses Bruce again, and Bruce inhales sharply, arching up against Clark. Oh, they're not likely to leave this bed anytime soon. Bruce is quite comfortable where he is. Yes, Batman has patrols. Yes, Gotham needs looking after. It can, however, wait just a few moments more, while Bruce soaks in Clark, letting the reassurance bathe him from head to toe.
Clark's alive. Clark will be fine. Clark is his. Which is the way things should be and will continue to be if Bruce has anything to say about it.
The past can stay where it belongs as far as Bruce is concerned. Clark's future is his. And not Smallville ghosts or Kryptonite guns or Lex Luthor is going to change that.
a/n: This ended on a rather fluffy note. I'm not used to that. lol. Also, let me reiterate that I've only seen the first two seasons of Smallville. I relied heavily on the Smallville wikia for some details and for others I merged this with the DC animated universe. It's a real continuity mashup.
Feedback is very welcome!