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Helpless

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“I believe this belongs to you.”

Superman dropped the broken robot head on Lex Luthor’s desk, feeling a slight satisfaction as the dented metal scratched the dark mahogany wood.

Luthor calmly put down the tablet computer he’d been holding, folded his hands, and fixed Superman with his piercing green eyes.

“You have ten seconds before I call security to escort you out of my office.” He nodded towards the broken window across the room. “Shall I add that to your bill? Not that you’ve ever taken responsibility for the damage you’ve caused me before.”

“Don’t talk to me about damage when your robots wounded 25 people—two critically—and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to S.T.A.R. labs!”

“I assure you, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Luthor flicked a dismissive hand at the robot head on his desk. “This is nowhere close to LexCorp’s design for our assistance automatons. Ours are much sleeker. Not this clunky junk.”

Superman’s hands balled into fists at his sides. “I know it was you, Lex. Who else would have the technology—and the motive—to hurt S.T.A.R. Labs like that?”

“Even if you were right, which you are not, you couldn’t prove anything.”

As much as he hated it, Superman knew Luthor was right—he had nothing to prove that the attack had been staged by Luthor. There had been no serial numbers, no identifying markers, nothing to link the robots to LexCorp. Except that Clark knew. Whenever there was trouble like this in Metropolis, Lex Luthor was always behind it.

As Luthor steepled his fingers beneath his sharp nose, his Kryptonite ring made his eyes glitter like emeralds. “Now, be a good boy and go fetch a cat out of a tree. I have work to do. I don’t have time for your baseless accusations.”

Frustration churned in Clark’s belly. He was Superman, the Man of Steel. He should be able to do anything—so why could he never make Luthor’s crimes stick on him? Even when he was caught red-handed, he’d weasel his way out with his army of high-powered lawyers and a few well-placed bribes, and was back in business within days.

“Someday, I will find a way to put you away for good, Lex.” Superman growled. He strode towards the hole in the window.

“Not before I do, first.” Lex’s voice was pure ice, stripped of his oily business-man veneer. “Do yourself a favor and disappear, before someone helps you to.”

Clark didn’t dignify Lex’s threats with a response as he leapt away into the air. Within seconds, he was miles away from Metropolis, the cool night air soothing his resentment a bit.

When Clark had revealed himself to the world as Superman three years before, he’d known he would have to contend with powerful enemies. He’d never imagined, though, that his nemesis would be an egomaniacal, evil genius who hid behind a wall of high-dollar bureaucracy as impregnable as a Kryptonite fortress—

Wait. That was odd.

As he looked down at the freeway, he saw two identical, unmarked semi-trucks in a single-file line. Hadn’t Clark seen a pair just like those amid the chaos at S.T.A.R. Labs this afternoon? Suspicious, he honed in with his X-ray vision to see what was inside. He saw nothing. The trucks were lined with lead. Someone didn’t want him peeking inside.

Luthor. More of those robots, perhaps?

He could’ve just swooped in and forced the truck’s doors open. But, there was the off chance they were simple cargo cars, and Superman would just be destroying property at that point. No, it would be best to keep a safe distance above and trail the trucks.

It wasn’t long before the trucks took a fork onto another major freeway, and their destination instantly became clear-- Gotham City.

Clark swallowed hard. He avoided Gotham when he could. It wasn’t just the unsettling architecture, the heavy smog, or the general pall of despair that shrouded the sinister city. He could get past all that, easily, if it meant helping people who needed him…except there was one Gotham resident who had made it very, very clear that he didn’t need Superman’s help.

Well, too bad tonight. This wasn’t about Batman, or Superman trying to “muscle in on his territory,” or whatever the reason Batman had repeatedly told Superman to stay away from Gotham. This was Clark’s investigation into Luthor’s wrongdoings, and if Batman wanted to stop Superman, well, he was welcome to try.

Clark half expected to see the silhouette of the Batplane against the full moon as he crossed into the city limits, but there was no such welcoming committee. Clark felt oddly disappointed. Despite his threats and warnings, Batman might have been able to help. His intel was always spot-on, and he probably would have freely shared if it meant getting Superman out of Gotham faster.

Clark bit back a sigh. That wasn’t entirely fair of him. He and Batman had teamed up several times in the past couple years to take on enemies that neither of them could have defeated alone. They’d actually worked pretty well together—once Batman had deemed Superman worthy of his trust. If Clark could call it that. Two years they’d known each other, and they still didn’t even know each other’s real identities. Not that that bothered Clark. Not at all. He was perfectly content to work with a surly, ice-cold vigilante who was part genius and part nightmare. 

You take what you can get, right, Clark? Half a friend is better than no friend at all in this line of work.

The trucks pulled off the freeway, pulling Clark’s attention away from his melancholy. They wove their way through the streets, until they came to a stop in front of a blocky white building. It didn’t take his telescopic vision to read the large, blue letters glowing at the top—WayneTech Enterprises. Clark’s pulse sped up as the pieces began to click together. First, an attack on S.T.A.R., now WayneTech. Luthor was either after something specific, or just out to eliminate the competition.

To Clark’s surprise, though, the trucks were waved in by the security guards at the lab’s underground loading dock. Was Clark wrong about another attack? Or were Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne working together? That would be the unlikeliest of pairings—

The sounds of screams and gunshots pierced the night, echoing from the loading dock. Nope, not a collaboration. A hostile takeover.

Superman swooped down on the building, using his X-ray vision to scan for the robots. They weren’t hard to spot, as they cut a swath of destruction through the building, blasting through metal doors as if they were made of paper. There were more of them here than there had been in Metropolis. Not for the first time, Clark found himself wishing he knew how to reach Batman. A phone number would have been nice. Or maybe he should start carrying a portable Bat-signal. No matter. He was Superman. He could handle anything alone.

******

 Batman’s wrist computer beeped loudly off the alley walls, interrupting the thug’s cry of anguish as his elbow popped out of joint under Batman’s gloved hand. He shouldn’t have pointed the gun at him, then. Just another idiot hood who didn’t know when he was beat—which was the moment he’d tried to rob the liquor store.

Batman finished with the crook, using a zip tie to fasten his non-injured hand to a water pipe. He could already hear the wail of approaching sirens, no doubt summoned by the store’s owner the moment Batman had bought him the opportunity to call for help. Bruce loved it when things worked so smoothly and simply.

As he stepped into the shadows of the alleyway, he checked his wrist. The bat computer was telling him the alarm system at WayneTech had been triggered. Interesting.

Once in the Batmobile, he tapped into the WayneTech security cameras. He wasn’t surprised. Since WayneTech had gone public with their plans to create the world’s first atmospheric moisture collector, they’d run into their share of obstacles and opposition. He full well expected his cameras to reveal a team of hackers, or even a motley collection of super-villain thugs bent on wreaking havoc.

What he had not expected was a horde of humanoid robots, ripping through the building like a swarm of locusts. Even less expected—there was Superman, grimly fighting his way through them.

Bruce frowned, even as he fired up the car’s engines. He’d told Superman on more than one occasion to stay out of Gotham City.

He watched as one of Superman’s punches sent a robot flying through a solid concrete wall. That was why he wanted Superman out of his city. Where ever Superman went, a swath of destruction followed in his wake. It wasn’t entirely his fault. It was in his nature, and sometimes, that raw power was exactly what the world needed. 

Gotham was not a place for raw power. You can’t beat shadows with your fists alone, or even with those strange eye-lasers of Superman’s. Gotham needed someone who turned its own darkness against itself, who was willing to wade into the slime and filth—not someone who would fly above it.

Superman brought hope to the world, and Batman, well, he brought fear. It was the choice he’d made three years ago when he taken on the cowl—

Wait. That robot.

Even as he raced through the streets towards WayneTech, Bruce watched as one of the robots behind Superman leveled a large-barreled arm weapon at him. Superman turned, his fist raised to punch—a hair too late.

The muzzle erupted in a green flash, and Superman flew back into a bank of computers. He sprawled on the smoking remains of the machines, struggling to stand. There was another green flash, and he jerked again before crumbling to the ground in a heap.

Bruce’s heart hammered in his chest. He’d seen Superman wounded before, but never incapacitated like that. It could only mean one thing—Kryptonite.

Fear gripped Bruce’s heart. He might not agree with Superman’s ideology at times, but he was a genuinely good man. A real hero—and the only other person outside of Gotham that Batman didn’t mind working with.

The closest thing to an ally you have in this crusade against crime, and you’ve just watched him go down on your beat.

The WayneTech building was already in sight, and Batman braced himself to launch from the Batmobile as soon as it came to a stop. It was going to be tricky, disabling the robots and rescuing Superman, but he was Batman. It wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle alone.