By: Arian (arianstarr)
Disclaimer: don't own, don't profit, just like to play
Notes: Written for the most awesome Lari, who won me at Sweet Charity! This fic was written when I was in a very dark headspace (I had just lost someone I loved very much), and that darkness is certainly reflected in the words below. Please take note of the warning that this is a very dark fic containing non-con, among other things.
Original Prompt: Lex knows (and has always known) who Superman is, and it's not really his hatred of the alien invader, so much as his anger at the person who said he was his friend but then deserted him (in his opinion ;p). He'll play with Superman, and hurt him with Kryptonite and schemes. But he'd never kill him, and if anything *really* dangerous ever happened, would step in to help Clark.
Characters: Smallville: Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Chloe Sullivan (Watchtower), Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), Lois Lane, Bart Allen (Impulse), Victor Stone (Cyborg). DC Universe: Bruce Wayne, Mercy Graves, Poison Ivy. Original Characters: Rikkard, Dr. Teison, Grant Myron.
Etymology: Latin distortus, past participle of distorquere, from dis- + torquere to twist — more at torture
1: to twist out of the true meaning or proportion <distorted the="the" facts="facts">
2: to twist out of a natural, normal, or original shape or condition (a face distorted by pain) ; also : to cause to be perceived unnaturally (the new lights distorted colors)
3: pervert <distort justice="justice">intransitive verb: to become distorted ; also : to cause a twisting from the true, natural, or normal
"Are you feeling weak yet? Thirsty?"
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"I ask the questions, Kent. This isn't about you. Do you think your buddy, Bruce Wayne, would be willing to risk his own ass to save yours?"
"What are you talking about?"
"It’s a simple question. A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter should be able to grasp it. I’ll repeat. Do you think Wayne will come looking for you? Will he pay for your freedom?"
"Wayne is someone I know through my job. He owns the newspaper I work for."
"What about Batman? Do you think that he will admit he’s the Bat in order to rescue his comrade? Better hope that he does, Kent. Your life depends on it."
"Oh, god, w-what-"
"I guess that hurts. Any idea what it is? I know you’re feeling a little under the weather right now, but if you just take a few minutes to think about it, I’m sure you’ll come up with an answer. Superman."
"I-I don’t know what you’re t-talking about."
"Come on, Kent, don’t bother with the games. I know. I’ve seen the proof. You’re living it right now."
"Red sun energy."
"Give the man a prize!"
It wasn't at all the way Bruce imagined flying with Superman – with Clark – would be like. He had assumed that Clark, should the situation ever arise, would be the one holding on to him instead of the other way around. He’d also counted on Clark being conscious. And that they would be flying instead of plummeting.
"Come on, Kent, wake the hell up. I don’t feel like dying today." Bruce’s gloved hands gripped Clark’s suit tightly, a finger catching the small hole in the material. They were chest-to-chest and falling rapidly, their legs tangled together, his arms wrapped tightly around Clark’s chest. The wind was so loud he could hardly hear the sound of his own voice, but Clark had super hearing and Bruce was screaming right in his ear hoping to bring him around.
Clark’s eyes fluttered for an instant and Bruce screamed his name, letting out a relieved bark of laughter when they finally opened and stayed that way. There was a sudden jerk as instinct took over and Clark gained control of their unplanned descent. His arms came up around Bruce and their legs straightened out as Clark guided them into a loose curve, to bring them parallel with the earth still a few hundred yards beneath their feet.
"The next time you decide to let Luthor play with bullets made of kryptonite," he said loudly, overemphasizing the words. "It would be great if you made sure he stayed on the ground."
"I’ll put that on my to-do list," Clark replied dryly, fixing Bruce with an amused look.
"I can’t understand why you don’t put him in his place and be done with it."
"For the same reasons you won’t kill the Joker."
"Because life wouldn’t be quite as much fun if they weren’t around to ruin our day?"
Clark squinted at him curiously. "You’re being funny."
"That worries me. I don’t think I’ve heard you crack a single joke in the entire year we’ve worked together. Where’s the ‘I’m more intelligent than you and therefore have no time to be anything other than serious’ Batman that I’ve come to know and tolerate?"
"I think he’s feeling a little woozy from blood loss."
Clark jerked violently, jostling Bruce and reminding him about the gunshot wound above his clavicle. A round had pierced where suit met cowl at just the right angle to do damage. His groan was stifled by Clark’s startled yelp and followed by a grunt when they came to a sudden halt mid-air.
"I thought that thing was bullet proof?"
"It is. Except when it’s not, I suppose. The angle was a fluke. Can we land now?"
Wordlessly Clark pulled him closer and then they were moving so fast Bruce had to close his eyes against the motion. When he opened them again, Clark was setting him down on the couch in his apartment.
"I can do that," Bruce grumbled when Clark began to pull off his suit.
Clark answered with a frustrated glare aimed somewhere in the vicinity of Bruce's chest and continued to work quickly and carefully until he was free of its confines. He moved careful hands over the wound, and Bruce could tell by his expression that he was x-raying it.
"You need a hospital," Clark said as he braced himself for the inevitable reaction.
"Take me back to Gotham. Alfred can patch it up."
"The bullet hit bone on its way through. You’ll need x-rays. By a professional," he added as Bruce opened his mouth to protest. "I’ll get you some regular clothes."
"You’re not carrying me into a hospital. The papers will have a field day with that. Hospitals are required to report bullet wounds, and I have no desire to explain this to Metropolis’s finest."
"Half the city saw the attack, heard the shots. I know there are bullets embedded in the roof of the Daily Planet. You own the paper. It’s not a stretch to say you were there on business and went up top when the commotion broke out."
"The angle is wrong."
"Do you really think the MPD is going to argue with you? You’re a scary son-of-a-bitch when you want to be, Bruce Wayne."
Bruce was mid-retort when a small gust of wind lifted his tousled hair from his forehead. Clark was standing in front of him with a pair of dark wash jeans and a black, long-sleeved t-shirt.
"Bullet hole," he reminded sullenly.
Clark rolled his eyes and held the shirt up in front of him, burned two small holes in the material and ripped it apart a few inches. "Don’t make me dress you on top of having to undress you."
Bruce’s response was cut short as he stood and swayed dangerously to the left. He reached to press his hand against his collarbone, surprised to find that gauze had been placed over it without realizing. Clark sighed and began to help him into the clothes, grimacing when Bruce tried to push him away. Everything tilted once more as Bruce was swept up into Clark’s hold and carried out the balcony doors and back into the sky.
True to his prediction, the media latched on to Bruce’s injury. Interest peaked as the news broke that he’d been injured in the mysterious attack on downtown Metropolis and subsequently rescued by Superman. After the tenth "no comment" was followed by a discrete and well-placed elbow to a reporter’s side as he tried to leave the hospital, Bruce was ready to break out the kryptonite himself. He glared at Clark, who stood smirking in the midst of the shouting crowd of media and slipped into the car waiting to take him to the airport.
Settling into the back and sighing at the restricting sling his right arm was encased in, Bruce let his head drop back against the seat and closed his eyes. He didn’t open them again until sunlight flooded the interior twenty minutes later.
"Are you alright?" Clark asked, reaching out to help Bruce from the vehicle.
Bruce ignored the offer and stepped onto the tarmac of the small, private airfield just outside the city’s downtown business core. "I’ll be fine once I get out of here."
"I can come with you if you like."
"Don’t you and Lois have to find a way to prove Luthor was behind that mess earlier?"
"Lex is on a plane returning from Europe."
"Ah. Out of the country and free from liability."
"Something like that." Clark winced as he closed the car door, not quite able to hide the reaction from Bruce’s keen eyes.
"Nothing, I’m fine."
"You’re a lousy liar. Get on the plane, Clark."
They were silent until after take off, but then Bruce was out of his seat and crouching before Clark as he tugged open the buttons of his navy, pinstripe dress shirt. Pushing the fabric aside, he ran his fingers over the spot on Clark’s chest where the bullet had exited before pushing through his own flesh. The skin was smooth, the injury itself gone, but the area still held a faint trace of redness.
"Does it still hurt?" He tugged at Clark's shoulder until he obliged and leaned forward so Bruce could see the entry point.
"Not the actual wound, no. That’s gone." Bruce eyed him in annoyance. "It went through a few inches from my heart, Bruce. It's bound to take a toll. Nothing to worry about."
Bruce frowned before humming thoughtfully to himself, pushing and up to his feet, moving back to his own seat. "You'll rest when we get to the manor," he said decisively.
A soft knock on the door prefaced Alfred’s entrance. "Master Clark? Breakfast is ready. Master Wayne is waiting for you in the kitchen."
Clark blinked, surprised to find early morning sunlight streaming through the open curtains of the elegant guest suite. He turned his bleary gaze to Alfred and smiled. "Morning. How long has he been up?"
"I’m not certain he even went to bed." Alfred fixed him with a knowing look before leaving Clark to his own devices.
The clothes he’d arrived in yesterday were freshly washed and pressed, laid out on a settee at the foot of the huge bed while he’d slept. Throwing off the covers, Clark made his way into the bathroom for a shower before dressing and going in search of Bruce.
In the kitchen, Bruce was hunched over his fourth cup of coffee that morning, paper spread out before him while he sipped at the black liquid. Clark grinned gratefully when Alfred set a mug in front of him alongside a plate of eggs, bacon and toast.
"You’ve eaten already?" he asked Bruce, who still hadn’t looked up, before he scooping a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth.
"An hour ago."
"I can’t remember the last time I slept that long," Clark commented after a few minutes of silence. "If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone drugged me." To anyone other than the two men in the room, the slight twitch of Bruce’s jaw would have gone unnoticed. "Bruce?"
Blue eyes flickered up to meet Clark’s before dropping back to the paper. "Fourteen hours isn’t an unusual length of time to sleep after you’ve been injured."
Clark put his fork down as Alfred busied himself with starting a fresh pot of coffee. "It is for me. How?"
Bruce sighed, putting the paper down with a rustle a taking a drink before answering. "A regular sleeping pill crushed and mixed into your water after we got in yesterday."
"They don’t affect me."
"I had a theory."
"Are you going to share with the class?" Clark asked, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest.
"You were still feeling the effects of the kryptonite, so I hypothesized there may some residual traces in your system. If so, the pill might have functioned, allowing your body to rest while it healed. If not, no harm done."
"Creative," Clark murmured, regarding Bruce closely. "Next time, give a guy some warning." He picked up his fork and continued eating. Across the room, Alfred shook his head and went back to tidying up the counter before leaving the two alone.
"Did you mean what you said?" Bruce questioned once he was gone.
Clark looked up from the section of newspaper he'd picked up from the discarded pieces spread between them. "What did I say?"
"That you ‘tolerate’ me."
"I didn’t mean it like that."
"How did you mean it?"
"You aren’t the easiest person to get along with." Clark sighed at Bruce’s unchanging expression. "It was the wrong choice of words, alright?"
"In your line of work, that sort of thing could get you fired."
"Planning to let me go, boss?" Clark tucked his chin down as one eyebrow arched playfully.
"I was curious to know if I had offended you somehow."
Clark laughed. "You’ve offended me at least once a day since the first time we met. I stopped taking it personally after the second week." When Bruce’s only acknowledgement was to swallow more coffee, Clark turned back to the newspaper.
Bruce let the silence reign for a little while before speaking. "I respect you a great deal both professionally and personally. Don’t hesitate in future to tell me if my behaviour offends you, whether you take it personally or not."
"But don’t expect you to listen unless it suits you?"
"Of course." Clark caught a glimpse of the sly grin Bruce tried to hide behind the business section.
* * *
"What’s the status?"
"Superman was hit." Mercy leaned casually against the edge of Lex's desk, waiting as he quickly scanned and then signed the sheaf of papers she'd handed him.
"I gathered that from the news coverage," Lex said impatiently. "Did it work?"
"Your guys are still waiting to see results. Have you seen the news yet? Superman arrived at Metropolis General with Bruce Wayne, claiming he’d been on the roof of the Daily Planet and gotten hit with a stray bullet so Superman wasn’t around for the clean up; the League handled that."
"Have Rikkard report in; I'll need the next event staged for tomorrow. I want to start seeing results." Lex handed the documents to Mercy and leaned back in his chair, the length of his index finger resting against his mouth. His eyes were fixed on the computer screen in front of him as it played news footage of Superman and Batman’s aborted descent. Mercy took that as her signal to leave.
Once the door glass doors slid shut behind her, Lex allowed a grim smile to cross his lips. "Let’s see how long it takes you to fall, Clark."
Chloe's voice came to life in his ear. "Superman, the Metropolis Police Department is receiving reports of a string of potentially connected robberies downtown. They're spread over several city blocks, but they're happening one on top of the each other. The perpetrator at each scene is being described as a man of average height dressed in black, ski mask covering his face, and an Egyptian style tattoo on his left hand. Green Arrow is in Star City, but Impulse can be called in if needed."
"Thanks, Watchtower. I’ve got it."
Clark focused his hearing, listening for police reports in order to zero in on the latest theft. Moments later he was arriving on scene at jewellery store where a masked man stood watching the door as if waiting for him. Around him, patrons and staff were crouched on the floor, mostly silent save one man quietly shushing his fussing infant.
The robber grinned behind his mask, raising a hand in greeting and revealing a tiny flash of green so swiftly that Clark might have thought it imagined if it weren’t for the faint sensation of discomfort that washed over him.
"Put the gun down and step away from these people." Clark scanned the guy in search of lead that might be concealing greater amounts of kryptonite and found none.
"Or you’ll do what, Superman. Strong arm me into giving up?" Sarcasm coloured the thief's tone.
"If need be." Clark crossed his arms over his chest and stared impassively at him.
He laughed, tugging his mask off slowly and tossing the gun at Clark’s feet. "Alright, you got me." Dark hair fell around his face in thin, greasy strands, covering watery blue eyes as he lifted his hands into the air. The kryptonite was no longer in his grasp.
Clark kicked the gun out of the way, blinking against vertigo as he moved close and settled a hand around the thief’s bicep. "Metropolis PD would like to have a word with you," he said, leading the man out of the store. The police were pulling up as they exited, and he handed the criminal over to them with a brief nod and a small wave at the people slowly climbing to their feet inside the store.
He scanned the criminal once more in search of the kryptonite before moving his visual search to the surrounding area. It was gone. From the backseat of the police vehicle, the man grinned maliciously as the car pulled away.
"What do you mean, it disappeared?" Chloe was seated on the couch in his apartment that evening, feet tucked up beneath her as he related the details of the robbery.
"It was in his hand and then it wasn't."
"Like slight of hand you mean."
"Except the quarter usually ends up in the magician’s sleeve, doesn’t it. That kryptonite was gone. I scanned him for lead and he was clean. I scanned the whole scene and everyone there. I don’t know what happened to it, Chloe."
"What about the guy? He committed eleven separate acts of theft in an hour and seven minutes, Clark."
"MPD is still working on that. They’re reviewing video surveillance; so far there’s been nothing out of the ordinary. He's been taken to Metropolis General for tests. I'm thinking he's meteor infected. Oliver is gathering information from his satellite feeds, and Batman is checking traffic cams, ATMs, and any other available video source. We’ll figure it out."
"Bruce is assisting with a Metropolis case? Hmm, it’s not like him to be so… helpful when it comes to anything outside Gotham."
Clark rolled his eyes at the smirk she flashed him. "Batman is intrigued by the particulars of this case. Give it up, Chloe. I’ve told you that you can guess at Batman’s identity until you’ve listed off every citizen of Gotham in triplicate. I’m not going to tell you his identity. And there’s nothing going on there outside of collaboration between colleagues."
"It seems to me he'd be more interested in the man investigating this case than the case itself. I bet you’d like to collaborate with him on a more personal level?"
"One time in college and you’re never going to let it go, are you."
"Sorry, Clark. Walking in on you and our very hot, very male editor getting it on is far too juicy to ever let go. Just screw and get on with it. Who knows, maybe getting laid will improve Batman’s attitude. He could growl 92 percent of the time instead of 96."
Clark shot a warning glance in her direction.
"Alright, I’ll stop!" She laughed, raising her hands in a sign of defeat before reaching for the phone. "Do you want pizza or Chinese for dinner?"
"Excellent choice, Mr. Kent. Pizza it is."
* * *
"What are these things," Bruce growled as he flung a small, mechanical creature off his arm. Bruce turned his attention to the second onslaught as Clark melted the remainder of the first attack into a pile of molten steel.
"No idea. Something the Joker cooked up?"
A tinny series of pings preceded Bruce’s response as he launched batarangs at the coming assault. "These are barely denting the damn things. They're too sophisticated for Joker. He prefers a more hands on approach, and he can't get close enough to the action out here in the open like this."
"What about Lex?"
"He knows he’ll get his ass handed to him if he tries to play in Gotham."
"By you? Or by the inhabitants of Gotham's underbelly?" Bruce didn't answer. Clark aimed his heat vision at a swarm of the half-foot tall monkey-like robots heading straight for Bruce’s back. "Tell me you know you can’t hurt Lex without proof."
"Does that mean if I get proof, I can mess him up? It’s not me I’m referring to anyway. There are plenty of criminals in this city who would have a field day if they thought Luthor was stepping in on their playground. I wouldn’t have to lay a finger on him."
Clark rolled his eyes. "You make it sound like they’re all a bunch of childr – Ow!" He glanced down to see where one of the robots had made it past his defences and fixed its metal claws into his arm. He was startled to see two tiny round, glowing bits of kryptonite where the eyes should have been.
As if on cue the remaining robots took off, leaving Clark and Bruce to stare at the slim, bight lines of red where the creature had sunk in three claws. "It had green eyes," Clark said. "Maybe it was Lex?"
Eyes dark and mouth grim, Bruce pulled Clark's arm closer to examine the shallow cuts. "Luthor needs to re-evaluate his stance on whether or not he likes living with all his fingers intact, if that’s the case."
"That’s the third time in as many days that I’ve been targeted in a kryptonite-based attack." Clark glanced at the now-quiet field they stood in, taking in the crushed and melted piles of metal scattered around them. "Whoever is behind these events is leading up to something."
"It’s too bad you melted them all. I’d have liked to analyze one."
"Sorry for not letting the little mechanical monkey things attack you, Batman. Next time I’ll let one get in a claw or two just for kicks."
Bruce cracked a brief smile. "Sarcasm hardly suits you, Superman."
"I’ll keep that in mind."
* * *
Lex stood in front of a bank of screens re-playing the scenes from the strike earlier that day. The robots served no purpose other than to test Superman and transmit footage of the event back to Lex. Even with two-dozen or so down for the count, they had provided exactly what he’d hoped to see. Superman had started out strong, but the switch between squeezing or crushing them into scrap to melting them down from a distance had not gone unnoticed by him. Nor had the expression on Clark's face when he saw the gashes.
"All you had to do was trust me, Clark, and this whole thing could have been avoided." Lex's voice was lost under the sounds of Superman and Batman's encounter with his robots as he replayed it from the beginning again. "Power like yours requires guidance. Discipline. All the things you lack." He fell silent as the fight played out to its conclusion.
"Come in," he called out a moment later when a knock sounded on his office door. Lex glanced up at Dr. Teison. "Superman appears to be suffering heightened effects from small amounts of kryptonite. In light of the spectacular failure your previous three attempts turned into, I'd be lying if I said your future hadn't depended on the success of this attack."
The scientist reached nervously to run a hand through his short, greying hair. "Mr. Luthor, altering kryptonite in this manner has never been done before. There were bound to be a few misses before we-"
"Keep talking, doctor, and I might have to reconsider my decision not to eliminate you." Lex tucked his hands behind him as he left the flustered man behind. "Launch the next attack in three days," he called over his shoulder.
"You know, he's not as bad as you two make him out to be." Clark strode into his kitchen freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a blue t-shirt. "Hey Oliver," he added, spotting the new arrival already pouring three cups of coffee.
"Who?" Bruce glanced up at Clark before fixing his eyes back on the computer screen before him while Oliver made a sound that resembled a stifled laugh.
They were gathered in Clark's tiny apartment, waiting for Bruce's uplink to the Bat Cave to finish transferring footage of the latest kryptonite-based attack. Bruce shifted in the kitchen chair and Clark could tell from his posture that he wasn't entirely comfortable in their current environment.
"Lex," he clarified. "I'll admit he's made his share of mistakes before, but he's left me alone since I moved to Metropolis." Bruce cleared his throat discreetly at his statement.
"Ok, so he's left Clark Kent alone," he amended.
"The latest string of attacks-"
"May or may not be him," Clark interrupted Oliver sternly. "Lex used to be my best friend. I know him better than most people."
"You're saying you don't think he's behind all this?" Bruce looked at him, disbelief written across his features.
"I'm saying I am not ruling out the possibility that it isn't him."
Bruce looked poised to respond, but a ding from his computer drew his attention away. "Damn it, Clark, how do you live with this internet connection? The transfer timed out again."
"I'll fly you back to Gotham."
This time Oliver didn't hold back his laughter. "You barely made it back here, and now you're ready to fly to Gotham? I don't think so, Boy Scout. I'd say you're grounded until the effects of this attack wear off. Come on, I brought the car over. Now that you've cleaned up, let's get Bruce to a better net connection before his head explodes." Oliver took a long swig of his drink before dumping the remainder in the sink, missing the glare Bruce shot at his back. Clark shook his head with a wry smile and followed the two men from his apartment.
* * *
"Over here, Alfred."
"Will you be coming up to eat, or shall I arrange for intravenous feeding?"
Bruce hid a small smile, his back still turned to the man. "No need to go to such great lengths. I’ll be up shortly."
"That’s what you said at lunch time. Dinner is ready now, Master Wayne."
He could hear the stern affection in Alfred’s voice. Several keystrokes later, he turned the chair and stood. "Alright. I can see you’re going to stand behind me until I have something. Lead the way, old man. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you keeling over from exhaustion."
Alfred’s left eyebrow quirked upward slightly. "I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that."
Settled in the dining room several minutes later, Bruce stopped Alfred from leaving with a hand on his arm. "Sit a minute?" He waited until Alfred had sunk into a chair across from him. "Have you noticed a decline in Superman’s performance recently?"
If he was startled by Bruce’s question, he didn’t let on. "Nothing out of the ordinary." Alfred watched a flicker of emotion move across Bruce’s face before his expression smoothed out again. "Is there cause for concern?"
"I’m not sure." Bruce picked up his fork and placed it back down again an instant later. "It strikes me that he has been a little slower, a little more… rough in form."
"I believe that it started with the bullet." At this mention, Alfred looked pointedly at Bruce’s arm, sans sling again. Bruce ignored it. "The bullet and the attacks that followed right after it. I was watching him today, and he couldn’t keep up with Impulse. Impulse has always been a little bit faster, but this was a pronounced difference in speed."
"Perhaps you should be speaking to Master Clark about this."
"He’ll brush it off. Damn fool thinks he can handle nearly everything by himself, and the things he can’t, he pretends not to see."
Alfred cleared his throat politely. "Sounds like someone else I know."
"You can lecture me later, Alfred. Except regarding the sling. My shoulder feels significantly better already. In fact it's, " Bruce’s pause was nearly imperceptible. "Almost completely healed." He stood abruptly, chair skidding across the hardwood floor behind him, his meal untouched.
"Dinner can wait, Alfred."
"At least take your food with you," Alfred called after him uselessly. Bruce was already moving at a jog towards the Bat Cave.
Several hours later, Bruce pushed back from the computer console and snatched up his phone. "I need to see you," he said abruptly when Clark answered.
"I’m about to go into an interview. Senator Macy wants to talk about the sexual assault charges being brought against her. Can it wait an hour?"
Bruce scowled, eyes tracking over the information compiling on his computer screen. The Senator had been declining to comment on he charges since the story broke three weeks before. "No, but I suppose it will have to. Don’t stop for anything along the way. Anything. Call the League if something comes up and keep moving. An hour, Clark. This is important."
"See you then."
Bruce slipped his cell phone back into his pocket, a cold feeling of unease settling in his stomach. Behind him he could hear the soft tread of Alfred’s steps as he approached, bringing with him the smell of coffee and peanut butter.
"I’m not eight anymore. You do realize that?"
Alfred set down a plate containing two peanut butter and jam sandwiches followed by coffee. "Of course, Master Wayne. That’s why I chose to forgo the glass of milk."
Bruce chuckled grimly. "A wise choice."
"Dinner was unfortunately too far gone to salvage, and I doubt you would have eaten it even if that were not the case. This seemed an appropriate alternative." Alfred’s eyes were drawn to the monitor. "Is everything alright?"
"Someone is trying to kill Clark. I’d lay money on Lex Luthor." Bruce picked up the sandwich, neatly tearing off a corner and chewing. "My shoulder has been healing much faster than it should be, Alfred. I’d thought at first it was because the wound was relatively minor all things considered, but when I started to think about how little time has actually passed, I realized that the process was progressing too swiftly. A blood sample revealed trace amounts of kryptonite in my system."
"From the bullet that passed through Master Clark and into you."
"There must still be traces in his system. Combined with the presence of the meteorite during these recent incidents, I suspect that is the reason for the minute decline in Clark's abilities."
"You know this for certain?"
"No. I’ll need samples fro Clark to find out anything concrete. I’ve spoken to him already; he'll be here soon. This isn’t something that should be discussed over the phone."
Alfred turned towards the elevator. "I’ll prepare a guest suite. I suspect he will be staying few days?"
Bruce's attention was already focused back on the data. "However long it takes to figure out what this is doing to him and how to reverse it."
* * *
Lex leaned against a bank of tall filing cabinets in Dr. Teison’s laboratory, arms crossed over his chest, waiting while the doctor cued up footage of that days attack. He’d seen most of it already, but Teison had gathered archive material to compare it with, and Lex was curious to know if what he suspected was accurate.
"Ah, here we go." The doctor turned his head to Lex, gesturing back at the monitors they sat in front of. "The screen on the left shows video captured approximately six months ago, while the one on the right is from today. I’ve slowed the playback down enough that we can follow." He tapped a button on the control panel.
"The individual speeds of Impulse and Superman match for the first 2.4 seconds, but after that Superman’s starts to drop in comparison to what it was six months ago. The decline continues. In fact, Superman’s speed finally levels out at a full 12.3 miles per hour less than before. From the beginning to that point, 7.9 seconds have passed. This is a significant shrinkage over previous events and indicates our predictions have turned out to be quite accurate."
Lex slipped his hands into his pockets, crossing one leg over the other as his eyes fixed on the footage playing in slow motion. "Begin preparations. I want him in my possession within 48 hours from now."
"Yes sir. We’re nearly ready to go. The holding cell is complete, and the groundwork for the final attack is in place."
"Please mommy! Please don’t! I won’t do it again, I promise!"
Clark was seconds away from Gotham when the screams reached him. Stopping mid-air, he took a moment to focus and find the source of the sound. The snick of the gun reached him next, and the understanding that this was something he would have to stop for despite Bruce’s warning was barely processed before he plunged back down. Clark slipped into x-ray vision to find a small child curled into the corner of an old tenement building, long since abandoned to the rats and homeless. Above him, a woman stood gripping a gun.
"Mommy, please!" The little boy couldn’t have been more than six years old, his mother not even twenty.
She fired the gun with shaking hands, aiming high above the child's head as Clark moved in to catch the bullet, not really registering the small sting caused by its impact. The child was secure in his arms an instant later, and Clark sped away. He left the little boy seated opposite a startled Commissioner Gordon before going back for the mother.
Clark stopped several feet back from the crying woman, taking note of the gun flung away and to the left from where she had folded over to her knees. "Why?" he asked, voice softer than he'd intended.
She looked up at him, eyes bloodshot, and hands trembling as they reached up to push long strings of dingy blonde hair off her face. "I’m sorry. I wasn’t going to… I never would have – but he paid me. I needed the money to feed us." Her voice hitched on a sob. "I’m so sorry."
A quiet shuffle behind Clark drew her attention, causing her green eyes widened in fear. "Run," she whispered an instant too late.
Clark tried to turn when he felt the effects of the kryptonite, but he wasn’t fast enough. A net shot out, glowing green as the material fell over and around him, sinking him to the dirty cement floor. The vicious blow that followed cracked his skull, just above the right temple, and pushed him into oblivion. He never heard the gunshot that killed the young mother.
Shadows from a dim red light casting shadows on rough stone walls was the sight that greeted Clark as he forced his eyes open. His head ached fiercely, and an exploratory hand found a sizable lump and dried blood matting his hair to his skin. Beneath him, cold seeped into his boxer-clad body through the hard-packed dirt floor. Registering his lack of clothing with a start, Clark struggled to sit up but a wave of dizziness sent him crashing back down. He grunted as his elbow hit the ground and the impact tingled through his arm from the point of contact. Inhaling stale, musty air, Clark held the breath before letting it out, gathering himself together enough to push back up to sitting and then to his knees. Head down, hands planted on the ground for support, he made it to his feet after a several minutes and a few failed attempts. A slow circuit of the room revealed four walls that formed a six-foot square space broken only by a smooth steel door which appeared to open only from the other side.
Frustrated, Clark pounded his fist against the door. "Hey!" he shouted. "Hello? Is anyone out there?" He hit the door again when there was no response from the other side. Closing his eyes and trying to focus his hearing yielded no results. He banged again, wincing when the blow stung his hand. Turning, Clark pressed his back against the cold metal and let his body slide jerkily to the floor. The exertion had left him flushed and trembling.
"Where in the hell am I," he whispered. There was no answer, only the sound of his panting and the thrumming of his pulse in his ears. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there before the shivering forced him to shift away from the cold door and into the centre of the room. He couldn’t seem to shake the lethargy or the fuzzy feeling in his head, and before long he curled onto his side and let the desire to sleep take over.
The camera was nestled high in the corner of the cell, camouflaged by the stone surrounding it. The equipment whirred quietly as it settled on the still man, sending images back to his captor on the other side of the lens.
* * *
"He should have been here by now," Bruce growled. He paced the length of the computer console, agitation evident in the stiff line of his body and the way he glanced compulsively at his watch every time he turned to move back in the opposite direction.
Alfred spoke from the shadows, keeping well out of Bruce’s path. "Have you tried tracing him through his communicator?"
"There’s no signal. Someone turned it off."
"You are quite positive that Master Clark did not turn it off himself?"
Bruce turned a glare in his direction. "He doesn't turn off his communicator. Ever. Arrange for a car, Alfred. I'm going to Metropolis."
Bruce strode through the wide double doors of the Daily Planet early the next morning. He met with Perry White, spoke to the senior editors, and made the rounds of the bullpen. Finally he stopped in front of Chloe and nodded politely.
"Ms. Sullivan. I hear the expose you and Clark wrote regarding the resurgence of criminal activity in Edge City is short-listed for a Pulitzer. Congratulations." He lowered his voice so that only Chloe could hear. "Have you seen or heard from him since yesterday evening?"
Chloe’s frown was fleeting. "Thank you, Mr. Wayne," she said in a normal voice before offering him a slight shake of her head.
Bruce slipped her a piece of paper when she shook his proffered hand. It read simply, back alley as soon as inconspicuously possible. Chloe raised her eyes from the paper to Bruce’s retreating back as worry began to churn in her gut.
Six minutes later, Chloe made her way out of the bullpen. She took the elevator down to the second floor before switching to the little used emergency stairwell in order to exit closer to the service doors along the back of the building. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, Chloe slipped outside and walked intently towards the waiting gunmetal grey sports car. Bruce nodded at her as she pulled the door open and slid into the passenger seat. Chloe returned the gesture but didn’t speak, waiting for Bruce to take the lead.
They drove for ten minutes before Bruce pulled into the underground parking garage of a condo complex, taking the corners at a speed faster than the posted signs suggested until they reached the far corner of the last level. Throwing the car into park and shutting off the engine, Bruce indicated Chloe to follow him. He stayed silent through the elevator ride to the top floor, waiting until they were behind the locked door of a penthouse suite before facing Chloe with serious eyes.
"You know, don’t you?"
"Know what," Chloe responded cautiously.
"I don’t believe Clark would have told you something that wasn’t his to tell, but you’re smart and you’ve had more dealings than most with those considered to be super heroes." Chloe heard the hint of scorn in his voice as he spoke those last words.
"Mr. Wayne, Clark is the most trustworthy person I know."
He regarded her warily for a moment. "And he trusts you with his life, doesn’t he."
"Then I need to trust you with mine." Chloe raised her eyebrows in question, waiting for him to elaborate. "His life depends on it," Bruce finally finished.
"Something bad happened."
"I received a ransom demand. Six hundred thousand dollars to be delivered by Batman tomorrow night at eleven o’clock in exchange for directions to where he is being held. The money isn’t an issue; it’s ready and waiting for the drop. It’s the fact that I think Clark may be dead by the time I can get to him."
Chloe had paled considerably, but her voice didn’t waver. "What makes you think that?"
"The ransom demand was delivered to me personally rather than Batman. It cited Clark by both his real name and as Superman. Whoever has him knows who he is and how to contain him. Which means they also know how to kill him. With that kind of knowledge, leaving a witness behind is a very unwise move on the kidnappers part."
"He knows who you are as well," Chloe said, acknowledging his admission.
"It would seem so, but I’m not making any assumptions."
"What are you planning to do?"
"That’s why I’m here. You’ve proved yourself invaluable in the past under the guise of Watchtower, and I need your assistance in tracking Clark's movements prior to his disappearance. I've also contacted Oliver."
Chloe understood the gravity of his words; Batman rarely asked for help from anyone. She agreed without hesitation, taking it in stride that Bruce was aware of her role as Watchtower. "Let’s go."
Clark slept fitfully as a headache throbbed constantly behind his eyes and his body was wracked by shivers and a steadily growing ache. He couldn’t tell how much time had gone by, but he figured the gnawing pain in his stomach meant that it had been a couple days at least.
"Are you feeling weak yet feeling weak?"
Clark lifted his head to look around the red-lit room. He was still alone.
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"I ask the questions, Kent. This isn't about you. Do you think your buddy, Bruce Wayne, would be willing to risk his own ass to save yours?" The voice was loud in the enclosed space.
Clark struggled to sit up, dragging himself back to lean against the wall. He could feel the rough stone scraping his skin as he shifted to get comfortable. "What are you talking about?"
"It’s a simple question. A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter should be able to grasp it. I’ll repeat. Do you think Wayne will come looking for you? Will he pay for your freedom?"
Confusion was reflected in Clark’s voice. "Wayne is someone I know through my job. He owns the newspaper I work for."
"What about Batman? Do you think that he will admit he’s the Bat in order to rescue his comrade? Better hope that he does, Kent. Your life depends on it." The voice laughed when Clark doubled over as the red light suddenly grew in intensity.
"Oh, god, w-what-"
"I guess that hurts. Any idea what it is? I know you’re feeling a little under the weather right now, but if you just take a few minutes to think about it, I’m sure you’ll come up with an answer. Superman."
Clark raised his head, searching the room for any signs of the speakers or a camera. "I-I don’t know what you’re t-talking about."
"Come on, Kent, don’t bother with the games. I know. I’ve seen the proof." There was a pause. "You’re living it right now."
Clark’s eyes moved to the dull source of light. "Red sun energy," he whispered as realization dawned.
"Give the man a prize!" the voice crowed. "Get some rest. Who knows if your pal Wayne is gonna cough up the cash; you might be here a while. You are turning out to be a very valuable find, Kent. Nighty-night."
The light grew brighter until Clark was left sapped of strength, panting as he hunched on his side in the dirt. Clark squeezed his eyes shut and let the tremors take over until he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer.
* * *
"What do you mean, he never arrived in Gotham?" Lex sounded outwardly calm, but the anger simmering beneath the surface was obvious. The voice on the other end of the line answered hastily.
"We lost the signal two miles outside the city. There’s an old training facility out there that the army used during World War II. Due to severe structural damage caused by a tornado, it hasn’t been occupied in decades. The army still owns the land, but the building itself has been left to ruin. If Superman is being held somewhere in that area, it's the most logical location."
"Do you have anyone investigating the location?" The head of Lex’s Gotham City team responded affirmatively. "Good. I’m on my way now. Be prepared with a full briefing when I get there." He jabbed the disconnect button before the man could finish assuring him they’d be ready.
"If anyone is going to kill you, Clark, it’s going to be me," he muttered, slipping the phone into his pocket, picking up his briefcase, and exiting his office. "Mercy, have the plane fuelled and ready by the time I get to the airport," he ordered, striding past his assistant. "I’m going to Gotham."
Lex was furious. When Rickard brought him with the torn remains of Superman’s cape two days after the man had disappeared along with the news that the facility was empty, he’d been tempted to fire the man and start from scratch. But Rikkard had been heading teams for Lex’s more illegal than legal operations for years and had become one of the few people he trusted with such matters. Instead he had sent him from the room with instructions to take whatever action was necessary to track down Superman.
The report Rickard returned with three hours later was much more promising. Chloe Sullivan had disappeared off the map, and Lex knew she’d be looking for Clark. His operatives were already in the process of tracing her via her cell phone, and Lex didn’t have to wait very long to find out she was in Gotham. Specifically, she was on Bruce Wayne's property.
"You’re sure about this location?"
"It’s been verified electronically, sir. We weren’t able to get a visual."
"Of course not. Wayne Manor is practically iron clad. Bruce likes his privacy. Post a perimeter team well back from the road and out of sight. I want any activity monitored. Keep the trace on her cell and try to get a fix on Wayne himself. I want to know how he’s involved. Handle that aspect personally, Rickard, and consider the information classified. Keep an eye out for the damn Batman. I don’t want him sticking his nose in and getting to Superman before I do."
Rickard left with a brisk nod. Lex stood to pace the length of his hotel suite. Wayne, he knew, had just come from Metropolis. An impromptu visit to the Daily Planet offices right after Clark disappeared.
"How are you mixed up in this, Bruce," he muttered, stopping in front of the window to take in the sombre sight of a grey Gotham evening. "What’s your interest in Clark?"
* * *
"Lex is in Gotham." Chloe let the statement hang between them as she entered Bruce’s library.
Bruce lifted his eyes from the laptop to her face briefly before dropping his gaze back down. "Luthor didn’t kidnap Clark."
"How do you know that?"
"If he was trying to take down Superman, he’d be doing it publicly. He’s been doing it publicly."
"The attacks over the last few weeks?"
"Ok, Bruce, I think it’s about time you filled me in on the details here." She took a seat in the comfortable leather recliner opposite the couch Bruce was occupying. He kept his attention focused on the computer for another twenty seconds, eyes skimming across the screen, before closing it and focusing entirely on Chloe.
"Someone’s been trying to kill him, and I have reason to believe Luthor is behind those attempts. The bullet that struck Clark passed through him and caught me here," he reached to touch the spot near his collarbone. "The wound is completely healed. As of this morning, there isn’t even a scar. I began running tests the day Clark disappeared and found that there were still traces of kryptonite in my system."
"Which means there may have been some in Clark’s as well."
"That’s my theory. Every attack involved kryptonite, and Clark has been growing steadily more vulnerable after each, which has been accompanied by a steady decline of his abilities. From what I’ve been able to gather, Clark left Metropolis to meet me and was sidetracked by a woman threatening to shoot her child. He delivered the kid to Commissioner Gordon’s office and went back for the mother. All I know from there is that the woman is dead, her son claims she was never going to shoot him, and there was no sign of Clark ever having been on the scene. Luthor wants Superman out of the picture, and right now he’s the only one with the power and resources required to mount a campaign like this."
"Then why don’t you think Lex is behind his disappearance?"
"Luthor is here. He wouldn’t be so obvious as to arrive in Gotham now if he were in possession of Clark. No, he’s here to suss out the person behind this just as we are."
"Then we better get started." Chloe grinned and held out both hands, nodding at the laptop. "May I?"
"This is a secure connection." Bruce handed the machine over to her, watching as her fingers tapped rapidly across the keys.
"Untraceable?" Bruce nodded affirmatively. "Good."
"I take it you’re keen to avoid detection."
"Experience tells me Lex doesn't appreciate me breaking into his system."
"No, I doubt he would," Bruce said dryly.
Chloe worked steadily, glancing up only when Bruce stood to leave and again when the strong scent of coffee filtered through her concentration.
"I’m going downstairs to contact the League and see what I can dig up." Bruce said as she accepted the drink from him.
"The Bat Cave?"
"Yes. If you need anything, Alfred is in the kitchen. Head back to the main entrance and go through the door behind the staircase. It’s down the hall and to the left." He was exiting the room when Chloe’s cell phone started to ring.
"Lois, calm down," was the first thing she said after listening for a moment. Bruce paused and glanced back at her.
"No, I don’t know where he is. Probably covering a story." A few seconds went by. "Since when do you get so worried about Clark? I’m sure he just forgot to check in."
Chloe glanced up at Bruce as she switched to speakerphone. Lois’s voice rang out through the room.
"Superman hasn’t been spotted in days, Chloe, and now Clark is AWOL? He’s got a lead on where Superman is and he’s off following it. Without me."
"I thought he was working on the Senator’s sexual assault charges."
"He never turned the article in. Sex scandals or missing superheroes, Chloe. Which story would you be chasing?"
"What makes you think Superman is missing?"
A tsunami the coast of China about an hour ago. No Superman."
Chloe’s stomach clenched. "He could be on his way."
"The last time he was seen by anyone was three days ago in Gotham City. Rescued a kid from being shot by his now deceased mommy dearest. Only the kid is saying she told him to act like he was scared so that they would have enough money to buy food. Something’s up, Chloe, and if Clark is already on it, he better have a good reason for not calling me."
Chloe started typing again as she spoke. "Lois, I need you to find out everything you can about that woman. Her name, where she’d been living, if she had a job. Find out who she’s been talking to in the last couple weeks. Talk to her friends and neighbours, see if they saw anyone strange hanging around."
"What are you going to do?"
"I’m going to track down Clark." Which was the truth at least, Chloe thought. When she glanced back up, Bruce was gone.
* * *
"I don’t understand what you have to gain from this. The League will find you, see that you’re brought to justice."
"No they won’t. Not if they want the true identities of Batman and Superman to remain a secret." The words were followed by a small chuckle. "You, Kent, are just the means to an end. A way to get what I’m owed and get the hell out of Dodge. Gotham is full of crazy fucks, and I’m tired of it. I think I’ll set up some place where the sun actually shines more than twice a year."
"How long have I been here?"
"Three days. Hungry yet?" There was a trace of humour in his captor’s tone. "Don’t worry. Once I have my money, you’ll be on your way home." He paused. "You know, I gotta be honest with you, Kent. The legend doesn’t really live up to the man. You’re a pretty predictable guy. How are you feeling, anyway? I’m curious about the red sun’s effects on you. You know, I ran into some trouble acquiring enough kryptonite to contain you thanks to Lex Luthor and his coup on that corner of the market, but I got enough to get you here at least. I have to say, the red sun energy? So much more effective for keeping you down but not out if you know what I’m saying."
Silence followed for several minutes. Clark let his head fall back against the wall, trying to focus past his dry throat and the clenching of his empty stomach. He startled when the voice returned.
"Just between you and me, before the Big Bat swoops in to save the day and all that. You fuckin’ him?"
Clark’s eyes closed, a small sigh escaping as he rocked his head back and forth once. "No. He’s a friend. An ally."
His captor laughed. "I didn’t think it was possible for Bruce Wayne to have actual friends, let alone The Bat Man. He’s always struck me as a little bit schizo. Playboy by day, Bat by night. What the hell is up with that?"
"Fuck you," Clark whispered tiredly.
"What happened to those farm grown manners of yours, Kent?"
Clark didn’t answer. As the hours stretched on and the voice didn't come back, Clark began to fear that maybe this time his friends would be too late.
"Grant Myron. He’s a former Wayne Tech employee and a certified mensa-member. Got fired over a patent infringement two years ago. He was off the grid until he started searching out sources of red sun energy three months ago."
Lex smirked at Rickard. "Red sun energy. It’s not like I’ve made it easy for the average evil genius to get their hands on kryptonite these days."
"Speaking of that, sir, Myron showed up on our radar when he tried to purchase kryptonite almost eight months ago. We fund the duplication of his name in the database and tracked him down again. He’s been a busy guy ever since."
"What else have you got on him?"
"A home address in Gotham and a vehicle registered in his name. A few reports form former co-workers that he’s not entirely stable. There's no medical evidence to back that up. I’ve got a team on route to his apartment and another searching through traffic cam images with their attention focused on any traceable points surrounding the area where we lost Superman’s signal."
"Good. Send Mercy in." Nodding at the dismissal, Rickard dropped a copy of the report on the hotel room’s coffee table and strode out the door. Mercy appeared a few seconds later, and Lex pushed the folder at her.
"Put that in the safe and arrange for the car; we’re making a house call." He glanced up when Mercy didn’t move right away. "Something wrong?"
"I know you hate him, Lex, but I don’t understand why. What the point of all this is."
Storm coloured eyes fixed on her. "You saw the damage to Gotham City after Poison Ivy gained control over his mind last year. She used her abilities to turn him into a weapon of mass destruction. I’ve seen it for myself the things he is capable of when under the influence of someone else. He's too dangerous to be left uncontrolled. Tell me, what is there to understand?"
"I’ve been with you for a long time and until you started making plays against him, Superman left you alone. What set this all off? And don’t tell me it’s just because he took out a few buildings on the whim of a psycho plant chick."
"You’re overstepping your place, Ms. Graves."
Mercy rolled her eyes. "I overstep my bounds all the time; you haven’t fired me yet despite your daily threats. It’s because of that time we fucked, isn’t it?" She grinned playfully. "You don’t want to fire me because you think I’ll put out again some day. Or make a fuss in the press."
Lex rose and slid around the coffee table to stand in front of her. "Mercy." One hand moved to her hip, thumb brushing the smooth skin peeking between her shirt and skirt. "If I wanted to fuck you again, I’d have had you over my desk a long time ago."
"Lex," she said, breathe ghosting across the skin exposed by the open collar of his black dress shirt. "If I thought you’d actually get me over your desk again, I’d have walked out the first time you threatened to fire me." She laughed lightly, letting her tongue slide across her lips inches from his face. "The car is already standing by."
Lex was smirking as she walked away, but the cockiness slipped from his expression once she was out of sight. Mercy raised a valid point; why was he determined to see Superman – Clark – dead? He told himself it was because Clark was too powerful, held too much potential for danger if pulled under by the wrong influences. He'd seen glimpses of it himself; a cocky, Armani-clad teenager striding into the mansion, hypnotized and at the mercy of a women Lex himself had hired, a string of unexplained crimes in Metropolis when he'd been stranded and Clark considered missing.
Lex knew there was more to it than that, however, and he knew that the only other person who’d get to hear the reasons would be Clark.
* * *
When the room finally plunged into darkness unknown hours later, bringing the first relief he’d had from the light’s sapping of his strength, Clark lay still on the floor and tried to listen for sounds from the other side of the door. Hearing nothing for some time, Clark struggled to his feet as his aching body protested the movement. The door swung open as he supported himself against the far wall, and a blinding light poured in from the room beyond. Startled, Clark was left squinting in an effort to see the backlit person now filling the opening.
A low, familiar voice sent chills running down his spine.
The shadowed man raised an arm and Clark felt the sting of a dart sinking into the flesh over his heart. The room swam around him as his vision clouded, black pushing in at the edges until there was nothing left but the faint impact of his body hitting the floor.
Lex stood over Clark’s limp form for several seconds before returning to the main room. "Transport him back to the penthouse and see that he’s cleaned up," he ordered the two men stationed on the far side of the outer room. "That sedative will only keep him out long enough to get him there. As for him," he jerked his chin at the body on the floor. "Leave Mr. Myron where he is. He’ll make an excellent message for the Justice League when they finally figure out where their missing comrade was being held."
He was warm, comfortable. Dressed. These are the things Clark registered as he struggled back to consciousness. He opened his eyes to a white ceiling above and the softness of a mattress at his back. Shifting up slightly, Clark found himself in a spacious, sparsely furnished bedroom. The walls seemed to shimmer faintly as he turned his head to look around. The mattress he lay on was set atop a short, dark wood platform pushed three feet away from the wall.
"I trust you’re comfortable, Clark," Lex questioned from the open doorway to Clark’s left.
"How did you-" Clark aborted his attempt to sit up when a wave of dizziness made his head spin.
"Your kidnapper was sloppy. It wasn’t that hard to find you once I knew where to start looking."
"I don't feel so good," he murmured more to himself than in response to Lex.
"Kryptonite dust mixed into the paint," Lex offered. He unfurled his body, straightening and stepping fully inside. "The walls underneath are lead, by the way. Soundproofed as well."
Clark fought back a shiver as the door closed with a heavy thud. "You saved me from one prison and put me in another. Why?" Drawing in a deep breath, Clark worked through the wooziness until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows on his thighs and hands hanging limply between his knees.
"Grant Myron was using you to get to Bruce Wayne. He would have killed you if I hadn’t stepped in. I couldn’t let that happen, Clark. I hope you understand."
"So what, now you’re going to keep me locked away in here like some sort of pet?"
Lex's laughter was lined with mirth. "Superman for a pet? Tempting, but not the purpose of my actions. You’ll make a much better trophy, Clark."
"You’ve been coming after me for years, but you’ve never gone face-to-face with me before. What changed?"
Lex drew closer until he was standing a foot from the edge of the bed, forcing Clark to angle his head up sharply. "This time I’m coming after you as well, Clark, not just Superman. I think that deserves a more hands on approach. Wouldn't you agree?"
"How long have you known?"
"Since the beginning."
Clark looked resigned. "I should have known that."
"Are you sure you didn’t?" Lex’s tone sharpened. "You’re smarter than you let on. I doubt you never at least suspected."
"A few times," Clark said quietly after a pause. "I’m not up for your games, Lex. If you plan to kill me, go ahead and try."
"You’ve been incapacitated, you’re weak. Killing you now would be too easy."
Clark mustered up a brittle laugh. "You can’t do it."
Lex closed the distance between them in a single stride, digging his fingers into the cotton of Clark’s t-shirt and hauling him upright. Clark groaned as he was twisted and driven back against the wall, the jarring impact sending a wave of pain rushing through him.
"I thought you learned a long time ago not to underestimate me, Clark."
"Prove me wrong," he grunted.
"You want to die that bad," Lex snarled, shaking Clark hard enough to bounce his head off the wall. "I wasted years on you. Trying to be your friend, trying to be someone you could trust. You took everything and gave nothing. You turned on me more times than I can count. I tried to be good for you, Clark. I tried to be someone you could love."
It took a moment for the heated words to catch up with Lex, and Clark could pinpoint the moment of realization in his stormy eyes. His fists unclenched and Clark sagged against the wall as nausea roiled through him.
"I was never going to be good enough for you, Clark. When Superman appeared in Metropolis," he began slowly, resignation flashing in his eyes. "When he showed up, I knew that it was over. There was no chance to be anything to you but an enemy, and I’m as much to blame for that as you are. All of this," he waved his hand around Clark's prison. "I hope it was worth the pain to see me fall from your grace."
"You're not going to walk out of here alive."
"You don't mean that." He struggled not to let his words sound like a question.
"You made me who I am! I loved you, and you let me become this."
"I'm not that powerful," Clark whispered. "No one has that power but you."
"You look like shit, Clark. Get some rest."
Clark gaped as the older man turned and stalked from the room, leaving him seated on the edge of the bed alone, locked in his windowless cell. As the swung closed, he caught the sound of a nearby television broadcasting the news.
"Speculation continues as to Superman's whereabouts. Last spotted in Gotham City seven days ago, he-''
That was all he heard before the heavy thud of the soundproof door shutting cut the broadcast off.
Clark forced himself out of bed and began to pace the circumference of the room, staying well back from the walls. There were no objects that might have been utilized as an effective weapon, and the only furniture save the bed was a heavy armchair and a small desk with a task chair. Each item was placed three feet away from the faintly shimmering walls. Soft cover books were stacked on the corner of the desk; some Clark remembered reading in high school and university, others that he counted among his favourites. Books that Lex couldn't have possibly known he liked unless he'd been watching him for far longer than he'd ever thought.
The walls made him hurt, even from a distance, so after exploring as best he could, Clark dragged the armchair into the centre of the room and propped his feet up on the edge of the bed with a book in hand. Lex found him in that same position several hours later when he entered carrying a tray laden with food and a bottle of wine tucked up under one arm.
"I'm glad to see you're making yourself comfortable."
Clark snapped the book shut and put his feet back on the floor fighting off the exhaustion seeping through his body. "You haven't given me many options." He glared as Lex set everything on the desk, left, and returned shortly with two intricately carved mahogany trays and two wine glasses. He pulled the desk chair over and settled in next to Clark after distributing the dishes between them and pouring two drinks.
"You're kidding, right?"
"There are things I plan to discuss with you. I’d prefer if it were a civil conversation."
"Civil? You're holding me captive. Talk all you want, Lex. Don’t expect me to listen."
Lex ignored the comment and began to eat, looking pointedly at Clark when his dinner went untouched.
"You need to eat."
"Why, so you can kill me with a full stomach?"
"Better to die of starvation? Your kidnapper held you without food or water. An IV got some fluids back into your system while you were unconscious, but even out cold and severely weakened you resisted a feeding tube." He broke eye contact long enough to take a sip of his drink before gesturing at the cooling plate in front of Clark. "If you plan to stay conscious much longer, you'll need that. Just eat."
Clark could feel his hunger and knew Lex was right.
"The news said I've been gone a week." He picked up the fork and hesitated before swirling long strings of spaghetti onto the utensil and bringing it up to his mouth, pausing while he waited for Lex to respond.
"The revenge-bent cyber geek had you for the better part of five days. You've been unconscious since I brought you here. The drugs I used knocked you unconscious for a few hours, and after that I suspect it was sheer exhaustion that kept you out."
Taste exploded across his palette, and Clark had to force himself not to inhale everything all at once. Despite his thirst, he did not reach for the wine. Lex didn't initiate further conversation as they ate, but he did frown slightly at Clark's still full glass. Wordlessly he gathered the empty plates and carried them from the room, returning to toss a sealed water bottle on the bed and to pick up the empty trays.
"I thought you wanted to talk."
"After you've gotten some proper sleep." He was gone a moment later.
Each meal over the next four days was the same. Lex would sit next to him while they ate in terse silence. The fifth day brought a change over breakfast.
"Why didn't you tell me what you are?"
Clark took him time answering. "Why didn't you prove yourself trustworthy?" There was no response from Lex.
Lunch arrived with another question asked as if hours hadn't separated one conversation from the next. "What do you mean by that?"
"What were you expecting when you hurt the people I love? When you hurt me? Lex, you have me locked away in a kryptonite cell with the threat of death hanging over my head. I think I was right not to share my secret with you."
Dinner brought with it an argument. "Every time I made an effort, you flung accusations. What did you expect to happen? I could have been a better man, Clark. For you, I would have been better."
"You should have been better for yourself, not for me! Not for anyone else. Why don't you get that?" Clark's rage bubbled up and out of him, anger he wasn't aware he'd still been holding on to. "You said you loved me? That's bullshit. You may have loved the idea of me but it was nothing more than that. I wanted you to be good, Lex. I wanted us to be good. Together. You talk about love, but you don't even know what it means. I loved you, and you betrayed me over and over again." Clark dragged in a ragged breath. "Get out."
Lex dropped his fork with a clatter as he stood and paced away. "Chloe is close to tracking you down," he spoke up from the doorway. "I expect she'll turn up sometime tomorrow. Maybe even tonight."
"Will she find a body, Lex?" He rose, turning to face Lex's retreating back. "Or will you have gotten rid of the evidence by then?"
Clark's reflexes were shot and Lex's sudden burst of movement left him with no time to block or brace for the blow that sent him staggering back over the forgotten dinner trays to land in a heap on the floor. Lex had him by the front of his t-shirt an instant later, lifting and pushing him back so that Clark's head smacked heavily off the wall.
"You think you're so much better than me," Lex snarled. He pulled Clark forward only to thrust him against the wall again. "But this ends now."
"Let me go."
Lex's arm came up to press his full weight against Clark's throat, cutting off his air. "Whether Chloe finds you alive or dead remains to be seen, but either way you need to shut your fucking mouth." The pressure eased off a bit and Clark was forced roughly around, face pressed into the poisonous surface as his hands scrabbled to free himself from Lex's hold. Lex grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back before slamming it forward, stunning him.
"Behave," he whispered hoarsely.
* * *
"He’s not here anymore. The area is clear."
At Bruce’s declaration, Chloe was out of the van and running into the old house they’d traced Clark back to. She froze in the entryway, taking in the sight of utter destruction. Oliver was sifting through a pile of shattered electronic equipment while Bart stood just inside a small room at the far end of the space. Victor Stone and Bruce were crouched in front of something she couldn’t yet see.
"Oh," she whispered as they rose and shifted away. "That’s- he’s the guy who-"
Bruce nodded grimly. "He’s a former employee. I suspect this was-" he paused, swallowed once before continuing. "I suspect that this was revenge. He wanted money from me because he was fired for illegal activities. He took the company to court, claiming he’d been wrongfully let go, but we had proof and the case was dismissed. It looks like his neck has been snapped."
"You guys should come take a look at this," Bart called out. "Red lights up top." He pointed his flashlight on the ground. "Blood on the ground."
"Red sun energy," Oliver volunteered. "It saps his strength, takes away his abilities. Makes him almost human."
"Where did he go?"
"Lex Luthor and his men cleared out of Gotham a few hours ago," Victor supplied. "And all the data o the machines out there was been wiped. My money would be on him having Clark."
"Then I guess we’re heading back to Metropolis," Oliver announced.
* * *
Chloe didn't pause to check the caller ID when her cell rang, answering with a distracted 'hello' as her eyes continued to scan the satellite data of Clark's last known location, looking for a way to trace Lex’s movements back to Metropolis. There was a clicking sound in her ear that indicated the call was being switched to a secure line.
"Lex commissioned a rather substantial renovation on his penthouse recently," Oliver reported. "The floor below his had to undergo massive restructuring to accommodate the additional weight of the lead used in construction."
"Hide him in plain sight."
"Bruce and I will be there to pick you up in twenty minutes. Victor and Bart are already on their way to meet us at my penthouse. If Lex has him locked up, it won't be a simple case of break in and retrieve."
"And that’s being optimistic about it. See you soon." Chloe punched the end button and tapped her pen thoughtfully on her desk for a moment. Quickly making the last of her notes, Chloe saved her data, shut down the computer, and went in search of the one person she knew could get them into LuthorCorp.
"Hey, Lois," she said a couple minutes later.
Lois glanced up to find Chloe shifting nervously in front of her desk. "I know that look," she said in lieu of a greeting.
"I need your LuthorCorp ID card."
"I'll explain later. I'm kind of on a time crunch here."
Lois stopped proofing her article and pushed back from the desk, looking inquisitively at Chloe. "What's going on, cuz? You usually stay away from the physical B&E where LuthorCorp is concerned."
"I'm sorry, but I can't go into it right now. Can I use your card or not?"
"Does this have anything to do with where Clark disappeared to?"
If Lois was taken aback by her tone, she gave no indication. "Anything I can help with? Lois didn't miss the shade of fear colouring Chloe's eyes as she shook her head no. She reached for her purse without further hesitation and dug the card out, handing it over. "Be careful."
Chloe’s hand fisted around the small plastic card hard enough to turn dig harsh red lines into her palm. "I will. Thanks, Lo. I'll get this back to you."
"Whatever's going on, Chloe, it better be worth the risk."
"It is." Chloe smiled tightly and practically ran for the stairs. Lois shook her head slightly and shifted back to her article.
"We can go in through the roof," Oliver was saying as Chloe climbed into the back of Oliver's car
"He's got sensors up there," Chloe interjected. "And I've got us a way into the building." She held up the badge and grinned. "Lois always has the best access cards. Think you two can modify this to give us entry to the penthouse?"
Bruce took the card from her and nodded grimly. "That shouldn't be a problem."
Chloe was stationed in a coffee shop across from LuthorCorp as the fall sky turned to deep orange and purple. Keeping watch on the front entrance, she had a clear view of Bart Allen, clad in a ridiculous delivery uniform and black, wraparound sunglasses, as he carried a package through the front doors of the imposing building. Chloe lost sight of him as the fading glare against the glass walls shifted with the setting sun. Bart was doing a quick search before the team as a whole entered once night fell, looking for anything not on the building's blue prints that might cause them trouble.
He had only been inside for a few minutes when Chloe froze, takeout cup held halfway to her mouth. She was out of her seat and winding her way through the crowded shop as she phoned Oliver, muttering a single word when the line was picked up on the other end.
Chloe was racing across the street, coat flying open in the cooling air, when Clark caught sight of her and his unsteady steps faltered. Clad in worn jeans that hung loosely off his hips and a plain grey shirt, he looked ready to collapse right there on the sidewalk. Chloe could see a range of emotion running the gamut from fear to hope to relief flickering across his face as she drew closer.
"Clark," she breathed out on a gasp as she threw herself into his arms. "God, Clark," she whispered as he wound her in a tight embrace. "Are you alright?"
"I'd really like to go now," he whispered, voice raw as he held her and shivered in his unsubstantial clothing.
Chloe pulled back enough to twist and get her arm around his waist, waiting as he shifted so that she was tucked beneath his arm. "Yeah, ok, let's get you out of here. My car is right over there." She nodded to the coffee shop parking lot. "Can you walk that far or should I bring it to you?"
He was already tugging Chloe forward as he gave her an affirmative nod in response. Neither of them spoke as they made their way across the street and she helped to settle him into the passenger seat. She could see Bart exiting LuthorCorp, pace unhurried as he deliberately kept his gaze directed away from where they were parked. He climbed into the fake delivery van and drove away as Chloe rounded her car and slid behind the wheel. She steered the car in the opposite direction Bart had taken. Beside her, Clark leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes, still shivering even as she cranked the heat. He couldn't cover his flinch as Chloe laid a gentle hand on his arm not long after.
"Sorry," she said softly. "We're here."
"Home?" he asked wearily.
"Oliver's penthouse. We weren't sure your place would be safe."
Clark let out a heavy breath. "Ok." He was slowly manoeuvring himself out of the vehicle as she appeared in front of him, and he accepted the hand she held out with a whispered thank you.
The ride up the elevator was silent after they were buzzed in. Bruce, Victor, and Oliver were waiting as the door slid back and they stepped into the room.
"I’m ok," he said unconvincingly when their eyes fixed on him.
"You sure as hell don't look it," Bruce responded gruffly.
"I just need to lie down."
"Yeah, ok. Of course. Come on." Concern was painted across Oliver's face as his eyes raked over Clark from head to toe. He led the way up the short flight of stairs that opened into the loft-style bedroom. Chloe followed a pace or two behind them, eyes fixed on Clark's slow, stilted movements, hands poised to reach out in case he began to sway.
Oliver looked back at Chloe. "Can you get a glass of water?" Chloe disappeared into the bathroom long enough for Oliver to run exploratory hands rapidly across Clark’s limbs in search of obvious injury.
"Oliver," Clark said tiredly.
"You've been off the grid for a while, Clark. I’m just making sure there's nothing we need to take care of right away."
"I'd tell you if there was."
He nodded as Chloe returned with the water and passed the glass across. She didn't let go until she was sure Clark's shaky hands had a firm enough grip. He took a few grateful sips before giving it back to her as Oliver stood and headed for the stairs.
"Get some rest," he instructed as he disappeared.
Chloe sat on the edge of the bed next to Clark, hands clenched in her lap to keep herself from reaching out to touch him. Clark saw the motion and caught them up in one of his own.
She turned her body sideways to face him. "Clark-"
"The guy holding me was after – someone else," he began.
"Bruce told me."
Clark brought dull blue eyes up to meet her gaze. "Told you?" he asked cautiously.
"He came to me for help finding you." She leaned into his shoulder for a second and lowered her voice. "Alfred snuck me into the Bat Cave. It's almost as awesome as your Fortress."
Clark huffed out a short laugh. "Yeah."
"There wasn't much left of the place when we got there," Chloe said, effectively switching the subject back. "But we found traces of red sun energy. He figured out who you are."
"He suspected as much, but he'll want to have that confirmed. All of the data was gone by the time we arrived."
"Lex would have wiped it all out. He – there’s nothing to worry about there. Not anymore." At Chloe's careful silence, he gave her hands a quick squeeze and let go.
"Did Lex hurt you?"
Clark was slammed bodily into the wall, the proximity of the kryptonite sending a spike of pain through his already weary body as Lex's hot breath painted the shell of his ear."
"No. He didn’t."
Chloe let the lie hang between them for a beat. "You're still shaking," she finally said.
"What about the other guy?" She ignored the apology.
"He locked me in a room lit by something toxic to me, Chloe. There was only one door, and it didn't open from the time he put me in there until unlocked it five days later."
Chloe made a soft, pained sound in the back of her throat. "You've been gone for twelve."
"Lex showed up, and I was already weak. He drugged me. Fighting back or breaking out wasn't really an option."
"You said he didn't hurt you. Drugging-"
"I'd have hurt myself trying to get away."
"And what does that tell you?" Her voice was still quiet but steadily rising.
"No, he held you captive. He drugged you! You can't try and tell me that he didn't harm you. How did he hold you for so long? Did you stay of your own free will? Because last I checked, there isn't much that can keep you somewhere you don't want to be, and the things that can, hurt you!"
Clark's shoulders vibrated visibly as a tremor raced through his body unbidden.
"Be good, Clark, and this won't hurt much."
"Back off, Lex."
"Not an option." Lex's body was holding him to the wall, unrelenting as his fingers snaked their way into the loose track pants and slid through the coarse hairs at the base of his limp cock.
"You don't get to take this by force."
"Too late," Lex snarled before his teeth sunk into the fragile flesh just beneath Clark's ear.
"I said no."
Lex drew in a ragged breath when Clark's hand slid over his own and gripped tightly, not pulling him away but pressing his fingers around his dick.
"You can't take what I'm willing to give."
"I thought that was your plan." Clark pressed back against Lex and lifting as far away from the wall as possible.
"Don't you fucking move, Clark." Lex's voice dropped an octave. "You're going to feel every second of this." He squeezed Clark's sac brutally and grinned as the pain wilted what had been the faint beginnings of an erection.
"I hate you," Clark whispered just as Lex yanked his head back by his hair to seal their mouths together in a kiss rough enough to split Clark's lower lip.
"Get over it," Lex growled. "I am," he added as Clark's pants dropped to the floor.
"Chloe, I just want to get some sleep." A single tear slid unbidden down one pale cheek.
"Ok," she whispered, brushing a hand lightly through his rumpled hair. "It's ok. I'm sorry. Lay down." Once Clark was settled beneath the expensive sheets of Oliver's king size bed, Chloe refilled the glass of water and set it back down on the night stand.
"Call if you need anything. I'll be right downstairs." She leaned in to press a kiss against his forehead. "It's over now. It's all over, I promise."
She was already facing the other way when the shudder Clark could no longer repress raced through him. He squeezed his eyes shut and drew in a deep, quaking breath in an attempt to dispel the memories flooding his mind.
Clark's forearms were braced against the wall in an effort to hold himself up against the rebelling of his stomach and the force of Lex's assault behind him. He grunted as Lex pulled out of his body completely and slammed all the way back in once. Lex didn't speak as he fucked him, one arm braced beside Clark's on the wall and the other wrapped possessively across his chest. All he could do was close his eyes against the burn of the cock filling him. He gasped out a startled "oh" when Lex brushed past his prostate, the sudden zing of pleasure pulling him briefly from a haze of pain. Lex laughed, low and dangerous as he felt Clark clench around him. He pulled free and tugged him backwards into the room, pushing him to the foot of the bed.
"Get on your hands and knees," he ordered as Clark stumbled away. Legs too wobbly to find grace in the movement, Clark tumbled unceremoniously to the ground. He hissed in pain as his wrist bent awkwardly beneath him and tried to ignore Lex's chuckle as warm hands ran over his body.
"Is this still something you're 'giving' to me freely?" He pushed two fingers into Clark's body, past the first knuckle, before drawing them back to wipe faint traces of blood on the skin above Clark's hip.
Clark's response was lost on a strangled groan as Lex's fingers entered him again and sought his prostate to stroke across it. The nausea was lessening now that they were further away from the kryptonite and sensations other than pain were starting to encroach on his awareness. Withdrawing again, Lex folded himself over Clark's trembling body and pushed his cock violently back inside. Setting a brutal pace, he grasped Clark's hips and pulled him into his thrusts, driving himself as deep as he could for several minutes before pushing in hard one more time. Clark could feel the heat of Lex's come filling him, their twin shudders rocking his already wobbly limbs and finally driving him fully to the floor. Lex collapsed on top of him, panting lightly as his cock softened inside Clark's ass.
"It's over now, Clark. It's all over." He pushed himself up and away, reaching for his pants and tugging his shirt on over sweat-damp shoulders. "There are clean clothes in the bedroom across the hall. It's over. Go home."
Despite the warmth of Oliver's bed, Clark shuddered against the cold flooding him and pulled the soft, dark blankets tighter. He could hear the voices of his friends drifting up to him from the main room. Closer, he could hear Bruce's quiet, steady breaths as he watched him from the top of the stairs.
''Say the word and I will find new and painful ways to teach him a lesson."
"Don't lie to me, Clark. I'm not Chloe; I won't let you get away with it just because you're hurting right now."
"It's over," Clark said as Lex's voice echoed the words in his head. "Just let it be."
"He needs to be stopped."
"He has been."
"Luthor tell you that? He's a liar and you are a fool."
"Do you trust me?" Clark's voice was stronger now than it had been since his arrival.
Bruce paused, taking in the shallow rise and fall of Clark's back as he lay on his stomach with his head turned away. "Yes," he finally answered, surprised to find he meant it completely.
"Then believe me when I say it’s over and everything will be alright."
Bruce's only response was to walk away.
* * *
Several city blocks away, Lex was filling boxes with every piece of paper, every disc and flash drive that held information regarding Clark or Superman. Each full box was stacked atop a cart along with the broken remnants of the laptop he'd used exclusively for storing information about Clark on. It took nearly six hours and three separate trips, but soon all of the research stored in the building lay smouldering in his penthouse fireplace. A crew would arrive at dawn to dismantle the room. Finished with that task, Lex placed a single phone call to Rikkard. He spoke only three words before disconnecting.
"Terminate the project."
* * *
Newscasts the next day told of an explosion at a LuthorCorp facility on the outskirts of Metropolis. The building had been reduced to ashes in an early morning blaze that burned so hot firefighters could only focus their energies on keeping it from spreading to nearby land or buildings. The initial blast had blown out the windows of cars, stores, and homes within a one-mile radius. There was no way to tell how many employees were in the building at the time, so great was the damage, but over the following days reports would come to light of two dozen missing LuthorCorp employees all presumed dead in the blast.
It was finally over.