Disclaimer: I do not own DC. My man Robert Pattinson killed it as Batman. I told anyone thinking he couldn't do it because they're still stuck on him as the Twilight vampire dude, don't sleep on him. That was more than ten whole years ago. He's been more than just that guy for a while. He was my favorite in Tenet. My mans went toe-to-toe with Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse.
...Hey, kind of off-topic, but whatever happened to Taylor Lautner? Now THAT'S a guy whose career's soul got stolen Shang Tsung-style by Twilight. Goddamn.
Chapter 46: One Problem At A Time
True to Null's word, he and Red Hood managed to gain on the same bomber plane that had taken off from the airport right after they had teleported onto the scene. He had already given Supergirl a call to let her know where the plane was and the direction it was heading in, but as they pursued and saw that it hadn't been intercepted yet, they prepared to take action themselves.
"They probably know we're coming," Red Hood said as the Gravboard flew ever closer to the plane, "We're gonna have to grab the bomb and bolt. Your specialty, right?"
"Sure. Why not?" Null said, "I wish I could just yank the whole bomber out of the sky, but armed or not, I'd really rather not drop a nuke or whatever the hell is in there on some random town."
While Gotham City was the apparent target, Null didn't put it past The Society to cut their losses and simply take out the nearest large metropolitan area they could reach if they found it necessary. Keeping their hometown from being annihilated was Null and Red Hood's ultimate goal, but that didn't mean they found it acceptable to allow such a fate to befall anywhere else.
"Let's try this whole knocking thing again, shall we?" Red Hood suggested as they trailed right behind the plane.
At that, Null reached out and forcefully opened the cargo ramp. Once it was open wide enough, Red Hood and Null jumped forward to make it inside. It was there that they caught sight of the 'bomb' meant to wipe out Gotham City.
A sentient, man-shaped container of horrific chemicals with metal hands and feet. Over 25 feet long and over two and a half tons in weight, its contents glowed a sickening green. It seemed to register that Null and Red Hood were present, "Gg..."
"What in the blue hell is that?" Null asked, pointing at the creature restrained and suspended above the bomb bay doors.
"That's Chemo," Red Hood's palm impacted off of the front of his helmet in exasperation, "Alright, this makes things a bit more complicated. He's chill now, but I'd bet that he'll start fighting back the second we get him loose from the release."
Null wanted to get a closer look, but the smell Chemo gave off made him feel too faint to want to approach, "Do you think he knows what they're gonna do with him?"
"Not really sure he cares," Red Hood said, "Be careful with your powers. If any of those chemicals spill, they'll eat a hole through this plane in a minute."
"Which is why you put away your guns," Null said.
"Which is why I put away my guns, yes," Red Hood echoed. Not that he felt anything he had armed himself with could penetrate Chemo's shell. The substances that comprised Chemo were more dangerous than any caliber ordinance he had on him.
"Alright, new plan," Null said, "We've gotta take over the cockpit now," Even if neither of them could fly the plane, once it was secured, he could just guide it down with his powers, "We're gonna have to make this-, look out!"
From the shadowy rafters of the plane, Deathstroke dropped down, wielding a titanium staff. When Null and Red Hood separated, he broke the staff into two eskrima sticks and used them to fend off the thief and the vigilante simultaneously when they retaliated against him.
Null tried to focus on the weapons to try and disarm Deathstroke, but every time he tried to gesture his hands to help him aim, Deathstroke made him pay for it, in the close quarters, he was well within reach to have his hands smashed from fingers to wrists.
Red Hood pulled a knife from his boot and attacked from the other side. Using his sticks, Deathstroke evaded and blocked every stab and cut with one hand. Once Null had been rebuked, Deathstroke used the handful of seconds he'd garnered to use both hands. He hit Jason on the inside of his right knee, dropping him to the ground before kicking him in the face, sending him sliding across the floor.
"I can't believe Grant had trouble with you," Deathstroke said in regards to Red Hood, "...Gonna have to put that boy through his paces again..."
Null growled, cradling the broken fingers of one hand to his chest as electricity sparked in his eyes.
"You sure you want to start flinging around lightning in here, boy?" Deathstroke warned, gesturing to Chemo, "He's comprised of a rainbow stew of nasty chemicals. Very volatile. Unless you want to set him off?"
"Better up here than down there," Null said.
Deathstroke chuckled. Someone didn't know how fallout worked, "Not really. Besides, I doubt you would actually sacrifice yourself that easily."
"What would you know about it?" Null spat, his bluff called.
"Making the sacrifice play? You're not that guy," The elder mercenary declared, "Trust me. You're definitely not that guy."
Red Hood took advantage of the distraction and pulled a smoke bomb that he threw to the ground, engulfing the bomb bay in smoke. Deathstroke was disoriented and blinded, but anticipating Red Hood's next move, he went to intercept him, only to be tackled into the wall of the plane by Null. Red Hood took the opportunity to slip away.
The mercenary covered up as Null smashed him with heavy punches to whatever exposed area he thought he could land on. Deathstroke lashed out wildly in the smoke only to hit nothing as Null concealed himself in the smoke. Feeling his way along the wall, Deathstroke opened the cargo door to remove the smokescreen. It was a timely decision, as Null had been approaching to assault him again.
Deathstroke caught Null's entire arm as he went for a punch and flipped him over onto the floor. His follow-up stomp aimed at the head missed the boy, but he refused to let up. Rolling over to his back to avoid having his skull crushed, Null reached up to the ceiling to magnetically pull himself to safety, "Oh, no you don't!" Deathstroke smashed him in the stomach with both of his eskrima sticks, sending him back down to the ground.
Null gasped, but grit his teeth and pulled his knees to his chest, the soles of his feet pointed upwards before he extended his legs in a powerful upkick/kip up that boosted him to the ceiling. He bounced off and ricocheted back down with a dropkick that sent Deathstroke stumbling away.
Quickly moving from one offensive move to the next, Null manifested his iron sand from his suit. Not having enough time to fashion a proper weapon or charge enough magnetic force to truly make it devastating, he made a fist-sized ball and bludgeoned Deathstroke from all angles. If he protected from the front, he would hit him from behind. When Deathstroke turned to protect from that side, Null charged the distracted man and hit him in his blind spot. Misdirection was his friend. Over and over, despite the tight conditions being much to Null's disadvantage, he fought furiously in an effort to make it somehow work.
Eventually, Deathstroke dodged the ironsand side of the two-pronged attack. He turned to see Null re-absorb the ironsand back into his suit and stepped in toward him before he could lash out with another punch. He grabbed Null's hood and whipped around, pitching him to the side and into Chemo. Null bounced off and hit the floor. Scrambling to his feet, he rose just in time to endure a barrage of eskrima stick blows; three to the stomach, then one to the side of the head. The only thing that kept him from getting his jaw broken and being knocked unconscious was that he turned with the final blow before it struck. Still, it was devastating enough to leave him floored.
Seeing stars, with everything spinning around him, Null crawled underneath the suspended Chemo to buy some much needed space. Deathstroke took his time walking around, stalking his prey. Blood dripped on the floor from Null's mouth, "This won't be the first time Gotham's been wiped off the map. I know you're aware of that. Between the Contagion and the Cataclysm, it seems like God just doesn't want your home to exist."
Null pulled himself up via the wall, backing away to buy himself a little more time, "That's a funny way of referring to your boss."
"I don't have a boss," Deathstroke said, "I have a business partner."
Null wiped at his mouth and nose, his hand coming away stained red. Despite this, he grinned a gruesome smile, "You can church it up anyway you want to. You're still just Lex Luthor's bitch."
In a burst of speed Deathstroke had been holding back on, he quickly closed the short distance between himself and Null. Despite Null successfully trying to goad him in, his ensuing attempt to strike at Deathstroke was swatted aside. Deathstroke pinned Null to the wall, forearm against his neck, "I'm not doing this because of Luthor, or The Society. I'm doing this because of you!"
Null grimaced and reached up, grabbing Deathstroke's arm. He unleashed an electric shock until Deathstroke drove his forehead into Null's face, leaving him seeing stars. He turned Null around and smashed his face into the wall, pinning him in place with his forearm against the base of his skull, one of his arms painfully bent behind his back.
"I send my daughter away to test her, and what does she do? Instead of making her own way, she goes to you!" Deathstroke bellowed into Null's ear, "You, who got into her head! You, who made her rely on someone other than family! You, who made her too soft to kill you even when I made it an order! Even taking her away from you, course correcting her for months, wasn't enough!"
With one arm still free, Null filtered ironsand out of his suit into his palm and fashioned it into a jagged wave of metal that he swung at Deathstroke, forcing him away. Angrily, Null charged at Deathstroke and leapt forward, forgoing any martial art ability he had in exchange for a full-body tackle that sent Deathstroke to the floor. Punches from above and corresponding waves of ironsand that would have torn flesh from bone followed. Deathstroke's armor protected him as he covered up. In the midst of this, he combined the two eskrima sticks into a single staff and jabbed the end into Null's belly, firing an energy blast that rocketed the teenager off of him.
Deathstroke sat up and watched Null try and fail to get back up. Every time he tried to push himself up past his hands and knees, he slipped and fell back down onto his face. The man glared through the single eye hole in his mask as he slowly stood.
"The only reason I didn't kill you sooner, in front of her, was because it would undo everything I taught her," Deathstroke said, slowly approaching Null again, carefully this time. He had already shown that he would fight back viciously when pressed, and he was more effective at it than Deathstroke had anticipated, "You're a greedy child who doesn't know how to leave well enough alone. If you think you can take any part of my family from me again, I'll take everything from you. Even if you somehow survive tonight, I'll make sure you know that you can never go home."
Breathing heavily, Null rose to his knees and looked over at the world's most notorious mercenary, looming over him, weapon in hand, ready to strike once and for all. The thief shook his head, "...I can't believe I used to be scared of you."
"Another reason why you're a child," Deathstroke said, "You still should be."
Null looked over out of the open cargo door at the night sky before him. He wondered how close they were to the drop zone, and if Red Hood could secure the cockpit in time. It was doubtless that Deathstroke had brought along competent help to assist. Red Hood probably had his own problems to deal with at the moment.
He couldn't count on Red Hood to pick up his slack and get the job done; they were in the same situation together. He couldn't count on Supergirl to swoop in and pull off some kind of superpowered Kryptonian fuckery; if she hadn't arrived yet, she was probably being sidetracked by something significant.
Batman wasn't there to save the day. Wonder Woman wasn't going to fly up and suddenly take over the heavy lifting for him. It was up to him to get himself out this. It was up to him to get Gotham City out of this.
Tasting blood as he licked his lips, Null flicked two of his fingers, sending a tiny magnetic pulse to Deathstroke's energy lance and the metal floor of the cargo hold. The weapon was pulled from the mercenary's hand, magnetically sticking to the floor.
Deathstroke took his eyes off of Null for just an instant upon losing his weapon. Raising his gaze back to Null, he narrowly shifted his body out of the way of a single ironsand spike that would have run him through, dead-center. Instead, the tip pierced through his side. Now wounded, Deathstroke stumbled back before falling to a single knee.
"You know, I hate Gotham City," Null complained aloud, "I hate the grey and black color scheme. I hate the lame-ass gothic architecture scheme. I hate the villains, and all of its heroes are dicks. I hate that I have to fly 400 miles south just to get a Bluto's chicken sandwich," He breathed out a laugh, "There's like three people from there that I actually like."
"What's your point?" Deathstroke replied, nursing his injury as he stood with a grunt.
"My point is, I hate that fucking city. But it's mine," Null slowly rose to his feet as well, "It isn't Batman's. It isn't Black Mask's. It isn't whatever crazy dickhead decides he wants to run the streets that weekend. It's MINE," He growled, "Doesn't mean I own it. Doesn't mean I control it. Doesn't mean I have any say in what it does or how it works. It means I claim it – it's important to me."
Gotham City made him who he was, for better or for worse. His history was intrinsically tied with the city, and he could never ignore or run from that fact, even if he wanted to. The same went for all of the important elements in his life.
"Just like your daughter is mine," Null continued, "Rose doesn't live with me and I'm not fucking her... anymore," He added as a jab at the girl's father, "She decided she didn't want to stay, and that's fine. She can make her own choices. For the time she was with me though, she matters. She was important. And after everything you just said, I'm thinking I'd be doing her a really big favor if you just disappeared."
"You're late to the party, boy," Deathstroke said, "I've been thinking the same thing about you for months."
"Hey, we agree on something," Null remarked, "I guess there really is a first time for everything."
Before the two could engage again, the plane pitched and rolled harshly, knocking them both off balance into each other. During the impromptu tussle, they found themselves thrown from the open cargo door into the night sky.
On a positive note, Null could at least appreciate that it looked like Red Hood managed to get through Deathstroke's backup and make it to the controls.
Supergirl couldn't help the thrill of hope that went through her heart when she received Null's message. He had done it. He'd found the plane. Her boyfriend had managed to find the plane. He had sent her the coordinates that it had taken off from with the words 'bomber heading south'.
That was all she needed to take action.
Taking off like a shot, she flew off to try and intercept the plane before it could reach its target and drop its deadly payload. She had been fruitlessly trying to look through every plane she could find with her x-ray vision as it approached Gotham City airspace, but now she could be proactive.
Racing to meet up with Null, Supergirl quickly found her way barred by another person in the sky with her, moving even faster than she had been. Coming to a halt, the relief she felt compounded when she felt she recognized the clothing, "Oh, thank goodness. You really do show up in the nick of time, don't you, Kal-El?"
But it wasn't Superman. At least, not her cousin, "I always do," A youthful voice chirped.
As he came closer, Supergirl took better note of his appearance. It was more of a Superboy than a Superman, still, not the one she was accustomed to, "You're not Conner," He looked more like a young version of her Superman, complete with blue and red outfit, cape and the 'S' emblem on his chest, "You're definitely not Kal-El."
"Not the Kal-El you're used to," The odd Superboy said before scowling horribly, "And I'm definitely not that loser clone, Conner Kent. I'm better than both."
Something about this Superboy put Supergirl off greatly, but she had somewhere important she needed to be and lives to save, "Alright, well, we can dig into this more in a few. Since you're here, come with me. With the two of us, we can stop something terrible from happening."
She went to fly off, past the Superboy, only for him to grab ahold of her cape as she went past. Stopped by an iron grip, Supergirl turned to find Superboy staring out ahead with a cold expression on his face, "About that..."
One moment, she was floating in the sky. The next, Supergirl found herself hurtling through the air toward the ground, miles out of the way of the Society bomber's estimated trajectory. Tumbling and falling out of control, Supergirl smashed into a building on the corner of a town in what she presumed was New Jersey. She had been turned around so much, she couldn't have been certain.
Quickly extricating herself from the rubble, Supergirl felt thankful that it was late enough at night that no one was around to be put at risk from such a callous action. The odd Superboy floated down in front of her, arms crossed over his chest, scowl affixed to his face, "I don't think you're gonna make it."
"What is your problem!?" Supergirl shouted, fists clenched.
"This universe full of failures is my problem!. You included!" Superboy yelled back, "But that's fine. I'm going to set everything right. None of you are going to get in the way."
"You're the one that's in the way," Supergirl said.
She couldn't get past him. Instead, she tried to go through him. Flying hard and fast across a short distance, Supergirl barreled into Superboy. The shockwave produced by the two clashing shattered every window for blocks, yet he hardly budged. He seemed to begin opening his mouth to speak again when Supergirl punched him. This time, he went flying, sprawling down the street. His body smashed into a parked car and flipped it like a toy upon impact, sending it into the side of a building.
Supergirl stayed on him, punching Superboy several times, each blow skipping him farther and farther, like a stone on the surface of a pond. Every time she hit him, he grit his teeth and protected himself as best he could, getting angrier with each strike, "You hit like a girl!"
Supergirl's offensive was stopped by a burst of heat vision. Fired recklessly, it missed her, decimating a row of nearby buildings right by them.
"What are you doing!?" Supergirl shouted. The way he used his powers was entirely reckless. It seemed like he had no sense of control. In the minute or so that they had been fighting, Superboy had already destroyed entire blocks' worth of property, harming an unknown amount of people.
However, he seemed incapable of reconciling his actions as a mistake of his own doing, "You made me do that!"
By this point, sirens and screams rang out through the night. Supergirl tried flying away again, this time not bothering to try and get past Superboy. She could always circle back around and continue on her way. As long as she got him away from people.
Superboy took off after her, quickly overtaking her and tackling her down on an interstate highway, "You're not so strong," Superboy boasted as they separated, "Is that really the best you can do?"
No, because if she started throwing her strength around the way this fool did, there was no telling who she would hurt, "Who trained you?"
"Trained me?" Superboy seemed confused before, laughing to himself, "There aren't any other superheroes on Earth Prime. Just me."
Earth Prime? Supergirl had no idea what he was talking about, but instead paid more attention to the portion of his answer affecting the question she had actually asked, "That explains everything then; why you don't have any control. You can't just throw your power around in the middle of a town. You could have killed someone. You actually might have."
"That was your fault!" Superboy-Prime yelled at her, "You should have just stayed down! You should have done what I said, instead of trying to run away to help your criminal boyfriend!" He looked down on her, "A Supergirl and a thief. Just another example of why this universe is so screwed up. You don't deserve that emblem on your chest."
"'You should have done what I said'?" Supergirl repeated, almost in disbelief, "Do you hear yourself? You sound like a stupid kid."
Superboy-Prime glared at Supergirl hatefully, his eyes burning red, "I'M NOT STUPID!" Heat vision exploded forth again, but that had been what Supergirl had been counting on. As the undisciplined burst of power ripped forth, tearing through the elevated road nearby, as well as signs and concrete barriers, Supergirl timed the blast and got underneath it and Superboy-Prime, catching him with a crushing uppercut that doubled him over her fist.
"You said I'm not so strong?" Supergirl said right into his ear as he gasped for breath, "Let's see if you feel the same way when I don't have to worry about anyone else getting hurt," Yanking him back upright by his hair, Supergirl unleashed a furious barrage of heavy punches that landed clean to the body and head, each one causing Superboy-Prime's body to jerk violently.
The furious fight pushed across much of the state. Superboy-Prime proved to be just as durable as any Kryptonian underneath a yellow sun could be expected to be, thus Supergirl hit him hard enough to make even a being of his strength feel it.
"Get off!" He demanded, only to receive another heavy punch for his trouble, "You're going to ruin everything!"
"I'm trying to save people!" Supergirl shouted back, "What are you trying to do here?"
"Who cares!?" Superboy-Prime eventually stopped Supergirl's onslaught, holding her back with his own strength. Even when she'd stopped holding back as much, he still seemed to somehow outclass her, "Why should I care about any of the crappy heroes in this universe or the people you say you fight for? This universe is a cesspool, but I'm going to make it better! That's what Superboy is supposed to do – make everything better!"
The harder she pushed him, the more unhinged he seemed to become. Was this a clone? Like Conner, but more unstable? Then again, he kept talking about other Earths, kept referring to 'this' universe.
As Superboy-Prime continued to overpower her, the slightest beams of sunlight began to creep over the eastern horizon. Upon feeling the unbridled warmth of the approaching sunrise, he grinned darkly, "Don't send a Supergirl to do a Superman's job."
(Meanwhile – With Null)
Getting thrown off of a plane was a brand-new experience for Null.
*WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!*
Getting repeatedly punched in the face by a super-strong mercenary while free-falling thousands of feet above the ground was an entirely unprecedented new experience. This was where Null found himself, flipping out of control while wrestling with Deathstroke in the air, and losing. Apparently, hurtling toward their death didn't matter very much to Deathstroke as long as he could murder Null with his own two hands before they hit the ground.
Deathstroke's hands found their way to Null's throat where he began to strangle him. His fingers dug into his trachea, threatening to crush it underneath his grasp. The only problem with that was they were no longer on a cramped plane's bomb bay, danger-close to a living chemical weapon; meaning Null didn't have to hold back anymore.
Electricity sparked to life, as much as Null could muster in short order. Deathstroke felt the shock and the burn. His body convulsed and his muscles spasmed involuntarily, "GAAAAAAHHHH!"
Still being strangled, Null worked his foot up between himself and Deathstroke's face. One mighty kick with an added magnetic boost, separated the two.
Once he was free, Null frantically touched at his wrist to summon his Gravboard. The autopilot function of the board located him and honed in, getting close enough for Null to magnetically pull himself in, saving him from a deadly reunion with solid ground.
Taking his place properly atop the board, Null identified the bomber flying away from him. It wasn't that far. Looking down, it took him a second to identify the large city just ahead. His heart leapt into his throat when he saw it, but a GPS check showed him that the plane was approaching Blüdhaven, not Gotham City. They were 30 miles away from the intended destination, meaning they still had time to safely bring the plane down.
Explosions rocked the bomber underneath the wings, causing it to immediately began losing altitude. Null's mouth fell open in horror. His head turned to Deathstroke, who had deployed a parachute. Even as he drifted to the ground from thousands of feet in the air, he glared up at Null, a detonator clearly in his hand.
He'd planted explosives on his own plane as a contingency. Of course. Cover your bases. Null had been in such a rush; he hadn't stopped to consider that as a possibility. Even if he had, it wasn't as though he and Red Hood had the time to sweep the bomber for explosives. They had been attacked almost immediately after making it onboard.
Null chose to prioritize the plane over his enemy. Pushing his board as fast as it could go, Null caught up to the bomber and immediately latched onto it with his powers. Pulling with all his might, he kicked the board into reverse to try and stop the plane, but it just kept losing altitude. It felt like his own skeleton was being pulled out of his body trying, "Guh... Hood!" Null yelled, having called his partner once he'd reached the plane, "The bomber! Uggh!"
"Yeah... we're going down, kid," Red Hood sounded like he was struggling in his own right, likely wrestling with the controls, "It's not looking good. I can't even turn this thing."
"I can't pull it back!" Null was capable of pushing and pulling cars, trucks, and tractor trailers at his leisure, but 90 tons was more than Null had ever tried to move before with his powers. His magnetic control slipped, like a rope being pulled from his hands. The loss of stability sent Null flipping away on his board. He recovered and changed tactics, trying to get in front of the bomber to catch it and push it back. It plowed right through, "I don't know what to do!"
His brain kept telling him to cut and run, to get away, maybe with Red Hood if he could, before the plane hit and Chemo exploded. But that wasn't acceptable. He had come to keep his hometown from being eradicated, but that didn't make it okay to substitute Blüdhaven in Gotham City's place.
"I can'! I can't! I can't!" Null repeated as his body felt the strain of what he was trying. It felt as though his skeleton were trying to burst through his back. The nose of the bomber began to peel paint and its top layer of metal.
He wasn't a hero. He had never been prepared for what to do in a situation like this. All he could do was try harder, but it wasn't enough.
From the direction of Gotham City, a small black plane swept in, first coming up behind the bomber, then matching speeds while flying just above.
Null could only stare in confusion, "What the-?" A call came through that he quickly answered.
No less confused, Null responded through his struggle, "Selina? The fuck? Is that you?"
"Batman is dropping a cable. Get it around the bomber, he can help keep it up."
Null watched as the Batplane above dropped a long cable. Catching hold of it with his powers, he secured it as best he could around the middle of the bomber, "Okay. Ugh. Then what?"
"One problem at a time," Another voice said in the background. Null assumed it was Batman, "Tell whoever's onboard to keep pulling back on the controls. We're going to get this thing clear of Blüdhaven."
Null switched his comms back over to Red Hood to get him up to speed, "Hood, Batman dropped a line for the bomber. We're gonna try to get the plane clear of Blüdhaven."
"Huh... I'll be damned..." Red Hood muttered before letting out a laugh, "Alright. My arms feel like jello, and that Phobia bitch made me relive my worst childhood traumas. Still reeling from that, but I'll keep the controls as steady as I can. I'm aiming for as far out to sea as I can get."
The Batplane attempted to pull up, dragging the bomber up with it as much as it could. It was still going down, but not as fast. However, it still didn't seem like it would be enough. The plane was still on a trajectory to crash within Blüdhaven's limits. Even if it went down in the bay, it would still be close enough to do catastrophic damage.
Null couldn't stop the bomber, but he could help guide it. Flying his Gravboard underneath the bomber, he started pushing up with his magnetic powers. It was still a monumental strain, but one that was more manageable than trying to stop it outright. With much effort on his part, along with Batman and Red Hood, the nose of the bomber slowly started tilting upward. Eventually, they did get out over the water, but this did little to put anyone at ease.
"This is just stalling. We can't keep this thing up forever," Red Hood said after a while, "Eventually, we've got to put it down somewhere. How are we gonna deal with Chemo then? Not like we can just drop him in the water and let him sink," He really didn't feel like pissing off Aquaman by passing the buck to him.
Null didn't have an answer for him. He hadn't received any other instructions from Batman, and his focus was entirely on helping to lift the bomber. That was when he felt the literal weight taken off of his shoulders. A glance to the side gave him a glimpse of Superman holding the entire thing up.
"I've got it," The Man of Steel said, bomber aloft over his head with casual ease, "Do me a favor and let Batman know he can detach."
Null, dumbfounded as he still remembered his last run-in with Superman, did as he was asked, "Hey, uh, Batman? Superman's here. He says he's got it."
After a moment, the cable detached from the Batplane and the aircraft turned, heading back to Gotham City. A rather cold turn of the shoulder, but one that Superman could easily surmise the cause of, "He still mad?"
"You did kick his ass back on the Watchtower," Null said before turning Superman's own question around on him, "Are you still mad?"
Superman held a stern expression on Null before sighing, "You did a good thing tonight. But you're going to have to face due process for what happened to Maxwell Lord, Null. Not today. Not with everything else that's going on... but eventually."
Normally that would have left Null feeling nervous about his immediate future. But he was too tired to find himself concerned with anything that could occur further ahead than the next few hours, "You got any evidence that I killed Lord? Or are you just going to tell everyone that I did and hope that's enough to bring charges?" He asked, "It's been two weeks, and no one's kicked in my door to drag me off yet, so I'd put money on Checkmate having cleaned up their own mess by now."
"Cleaning it up doesn't make it go away," Superman said, "You know what you did. So do I. So does Wonder Woman."
Null rubbed his weary eyes, "I'm not going to sit here and debate this with you, man. I don't regret what I did, because the alternative was getting my ass beaten to death by you," He floated off on his board toward the back of the bomber, "You do what you think you have to do. Even if you got me charged, any evidence or testimony anyone could give wouldn't put me away. Even if you had evidence, if all the facts were laid out, there isn't a court on the planet that would convict me," He wasn't certain if that was true, but he was willing to end the conversation on it, "Hood. Let's go."
It took a moment before Red Hood jumped out of plane and onto Null's Gravboard. He spared a wary look Superman's way. He was, after all, a violent vigilante, "So, Brain, Phobia, and Hougan are onboard too, in case you were thinking about just chucking this thing into space or something."
Superman looked up at the bomber, using his X-ray vision to look inside. True enough, the remaining members of the Brotherhood of Evil were subdued within; alive. That in mind, Superman flew off to neutralize the threat of Chemo.
Null took off for the mainland with Red Hood in tow, "Wow, I'm surprised you didn't kill them."
"I don't kill every criminal," Red Hood said, "Hey... so, that whole killing thing Superman was on about with you-."
"Just, don't," Null interrupted Red Hood before he could say anymore, "I did what I had to do. I'm not basing my morals off of what the strongest being on the planet thinks is acceptable."
"It's probably that much worse for him because you're a killer that's also sticking it to his little cousin," Red Hood remarked.
"I haven't stuck anything to-," Null began to bristle at the insinuation when he remembered that he hadn't seen the newest subject of the conversation since they'd split up, "Hey, where has Kara been this whole time?"
(Undisclosed Hideout – North Pole)
Flecks of blood stained Superboy-Prime's hands, but to him, they were marks of a job well-done. Supergirl had tried, and she had done her share of damage, but upon being greeted by the full, unbridled embrace of the yellow sun, she couldn't stand up to him. None of them could – not a single hero on this corrupted Earth. And why would they be able to?
After all, when he grew up, he was going to be Superman.
Despite this, however, when he returned to his crystalline base of operation, he found himself cowed by the knowing stare of a Luthor.
"Gotham City still stands," Alexander Luthor said, arms folded sternly, "Did you at least get to blow off a little steam?"
Superboy-Prime lowered his gaze to the ground, "Sorry, Alex. I got a little selfish," He repented like a scolded puppy.
The golden Luthor let his gaze linger for a moment longer before letting things go, "It's fine. I had intended for the city to serve as yet another major distraction, but that was merely added insurance. Things are already in motion," Black Adam was now his. He had just about all of the pieces he needed to move forward.
"Do you... think he'll be mad? Superboy-Prime asked, "Kal-L. Do you think he'll be mad when he finds out The Society, all of this was just to make things right?"
"The ends justify the means, Superboy," Alex said, "Kal-L won't ever need to know that we caused any of it. Just remember, we've worked too hard to let emotion threaten it all. We have a responsibility to shoulder."
"You're right," Superboy-Prime said, opening a clenched fist to glare hatefully at an 'S' emblem, torn from the costume of one of those he saw as pretender heroes, "We're going to fix everything. Those failures let the gift we gave them go to hell, but we're going to make it all right."
"That's right," Alexander Luthor said, reaffirming his young comrade, "All of this will be undone. We're going to fix everything."
He was going to fix everything.
(Hours Later – Gotham City – Batcave)
Null found Supergirl not long after sunrise. He'd been able to track her down, not that it had been hard once he'd gotten close enough. A trail of destruction had been left, signifying some kind of battle, one that Supergirl had lost.
She lay at the end of a massive trench, likely carved into the earth with her body. Buried by dirt and trees, covered in cuts and bruises, the 'S' emblem ripped from the chest of her outfit, she let out shallow breaths. Null was quick to excavate her, gingerly taking her into his arms. The entire time he had known her, he'd operated under the assumption that she was nigh indestructible.
To see Kara laid low in such a fashion, with no idea how, made him feel powerless. It made him feel like he did before he became Null, struggling to make ends meet with no idea how to do it the right way, only worse. He had power now. He had been neck-deep in the odd world of capes and criminals for over a year. But in the end, it still didn't mean anything.
The closest place he could think of to take her that might be able to help was the Batcave. Thankfully, being an ally of Superman and an early mentor for Supergirl, Batman was equipped with the means to care for her. He put Null's intrusion into his lair aside for the sake of the girl's health, and let him remain once he had set her up with what she needed.
Null sat at Kara's bedside as she was bathed in light with similar solar radiation to that of Earth's yellow sun. Batman came to check in on her in between heading off to work on keeping a handle on Society activities. Silently vigil, he didn't say anything to Null one way or the other. He just allowed the boy to linger harmlessly.
Catwoman had come and gone, sparing Null a hug and a kiss on the side of his head, "Call me when you get a chance, Maxie," She asked, stroking his hair once before leaving him alone with his girlfriend.
It wasn't until Nightwing dropped in that Null was pulled into an interaction more in-depth.
"She's going to be okay, you know," Nightwing told him, "These Kryptonians are damn tough. Give her some sunlight, she'll be back on her feet in no time."
No response. Null just kept staring ahead at the girl in the bed, unblinking. He had hardly moved in hours and had said even less.
Nightwing knew what Null was likely thinking. He had been in the same situation countless times. He had seen friends and loved ones get hurt, had even seen many he cared for die on his watch. Even so, he still had no idea what he would have wanted to hear in those moments. All he could do was his best. He reached out and put a hand on Null's shoulder, "I know you think you should have been there. You did the right thing."
Hearing that caused Null to finally react, "Doing the right thing feels like shit then. No wonder I avoided it for so long."
Nightwing sighed at the negative response, "Null, if someone or something was strong enough to do this to her, what chance would you have had?"
As if that were supposed to make things better. Still, Null didn't snap at him. Of all of the Bat-people he knew, Nightwing was near the top in his book, "You know, she actually had me thinking I could be like you guys for a second," He eventually said, confiding in Batman's first protege, "I always told her there was no chance, but in the back of my mind..." He trailed off, shaking his head at the sight of Kara, eyes closed, laid up in a medical bed, "This. This is why I can't do that. I don't have it in me to put my neck on the line for tons of people I don't know when people I love are having this done to them."
That was disappointing to hear, Nightwing had to admit. He'd liked Null from the limited interactions they had and kept tabs on activities involving him that he could get record of when he could. Thief or not, he'd seemed like he had his head on straight for the most part. And he was capable, as more and more people were beginning to learn.
He could be so good. The potential was there. It was the ambition that he lacked; purpose; drive. It was clear he liked being Null, but what did that mean to him? Just freedom? Freedom to what? Freedom without direction was wasted opportunity. But trying to push him in any particular direction would do no good. It was up to him to make his own choices, even if that choice was to not decide.
Null's powers, his ability, they were his to do with as he pleased – for better or worse, no one else alive had the right to tell him one way or the other. But there was no need to delve any deeper into such matters right then. In that moment, he was a kid concerned with his girlfriend's well-being.
"I left her all alone out there," Null whispered unprompted, "I sent her off by herself because I figured she was more capable of handling things if worse came to worst. 'Cuz she's supposed to be better than me."
If Chemo had dropped on Gotham City, Kara could have survived it. Why? Because she was Supergirl. That had been what he was thinking the entire time. No matter what happened that would have killed him or Red Hood, Kara would have brushed it off and walked away, because she was Supergirl.
He remembered what she had told him on their first real date, that people only saw her as another version of Superman. That was exactly how he had ended up treating her in the field.
The more he thought about it, the lower Null felt, "Did she wonder why I wasn't there? Will she ask me where I was when she wakes up? Why I couldn't help her?" His mouth moved, but no sound came out as he tried to voice more questions to himself, finally settling on a single observation, "...I'm a complete fucking asshole."
"Maybe you are, but not because of this," Nightwing joked, trying to bring a bit of levity to the situation, "Null, I've seen her cousin take more than his share of digs like this. She's Supergirl."
And there it was again.
"What does that even mean, man?" Null pulled off his hood in exasperation, his face still bruised and stained with his own blood, "Okay, so she wears big blue's colors and that 'S' on her chest. Does that mean she has to be just like him? Deal with all the stuff he deals with? Be the one everyone counts on because she's got the power?" That sounded terrible to him. She was sixteen; just a kid, "Even Superman doesn't have to do everything himself. He's got Batman, and Wonder Woman, and the Justice League when it counts. Kara didn't even have me."
At Null's mention of the Justice League, Nightwing's posture stiffened, "About that – The League isn't doing too good right now. There are some hurt feelings, a lot of lost trust. Things they don't have time to sit down and fix. Everyone's spread so thin all over. It just seems like it never ends," Even he had been fighting over in New York at the time Blüdhaven had almost been destroyed.
Null had been aware of some of the seedier details for some time now, and he didn't have time for their drama, "They need to get their ducks in a row somehow. The good guys all coming together was the biggest advantage they had over the bad guys. I always thought a league of villains could never work better than a league of heroes."
Nightwing smiled, no mirth whatsoever in his expression, "So did they, back when they started it."
"You would think getting the dogshit slapped out of them worldwide would get people to close ranks," Null complained. He always thought heroes were better than him because of what they did, putting themselves on the line for others. It turned out they were all people too, with all of the trappings that came with it, "I can't sit here anymore. I have to do something."
Nightwing watched Null stand. Dread filled his heart when he saw Null kiss Kara and linger his hand on her cheek. It seemed like a goodbye gesture to someone who wasn't awake to hear it, "Do what, exactly?" He asked, only to be initially ignored, "...Null. Max. What are you about to get yourself into?"
"I don't know, 'Winger!" Null finally shouted, quickly lowering his voice due to his proximity to a resting Kara, "Find who did this and kick their ass? Find something to put a knife in The Society's chest so this doesn't happen again? Get the Justice League to stop being pissy with each other so a teenage girl doesn't have to be asked to stop a city from being wiped from the face of the planet by a chemical weapon all on her own," He jumped up from his seat and went to leave, "Something. Anything. If the Justice League isn't in a position to do it, I guess I fucking have to. Just like Supergirl, right?"
As Null walked past, Nightwing hit him with a question that stopped him mid-stride, "Are you in love with Kara?"
Whatever the answer was, it wasn't meant for Nightwing's ears before Kara's, thus Null didn't answer directly, "...Blüdhaven is your turf, right?"
"That's right," Nightwing said. Crime-infested suckhole that it was, he still considered it under his protection – his responsibility, "What of it?"
Null nodded, "How would you feel if we screwed up tonight, and The Society blew it up?"
"..." Nightwing didn't answer, because he knew what he would do. When he learned of what had almost occurred, the thought rolled through his mind in full color. He would have been consumed with guilt. He wouldn't have rested until he got his hands on the one responsible. Cooler heads be damned, never mind what he had been taught as a hero, he would have been out for vengeance, whatever that would have looked like to him. Whatever he felt he needed to do to get some kind of return on his loss.
Null accepted his silence as understanding and kept moving, "If I'm not around when she wakes up, tell her I'm sorry. She deserved better, but she got me instead."
Nightwing's heart rate raised. He was very familiar with the sort of words he had just heard. It sounded like a person that didn't expect to come back from whatever it was they were about to do.
"No," Batman's first apprentice refused, "Tell her yourself. You're not passing this off onto me."
Null heaved a tired sigh, "'Winger, I'm probably about to do something really stupid," He said, "You've got real hero shit to do, so I'm not gonna ask you to watch my back. Just... do me this solid, would you?"
Nightwing narrowed his eyes behind his domino mask, but after a moment nodded tersely. Null gave the best, most reassuring smile he could. It was a twisted, empty, wretched thing. But the fact that he offered one in the first place was as good a thanks as he could give in the moment.
Mounting his Gravboard, he hovered out of the Batcave the way he had come in. The closing of security doors behind him was a lonely sound that sent chills down his spine.
Superman watched Null fly off into the late morning sun. When he'd arrived, he'd watched the boy sit with Kara, not daring to disturb the moment himself. Whatever he thought, there was a time and a place for everything, and it wasn't the moment to impose his presence upon the thief.
The entire time, however, he had been able to hear every word that Null and Nightwing had exchanged. While Null's sense of sorrow was palpable, it was his more off-handed comments that hit Superman harder. Some of his words bit to the core; about Kara, what his little cousin had to face without adequate support. About the Justice League, and how far things had fallen.
Someone had to find a way to reach out. Even if fences couldn't be mended, they needed to try. The world needed them to try.
"Bruce. He's not wrong," Superman said in another part of the Batcave, knowing that Batman had heard everything just as easily as he had, "I know you don't trust any of us, and that's something we need to work out together. But right now, we can't. This may have gone past the point where we can reverse things. We have to do something now."
So, they were finally doing this here. Batman could finally see Superman digging his feet in, so to speak. Finally. That was more like the man he knew, the one beneath all of the strength that made all of that power such a benefit to the world. Unfortunately, he was finally seeing it under unpleasant circumstances.
"I trusted you for years. I trusted all of them for years," Batman said, "They smiled in my face, knowing that they'd carved out a piece of my mind because it was inconvenient. Because they knew I'd never have let them get away with it," He shook his head in disgust, "We can't take the easy way out because it's simpler. We have to be better than that."
Superman met Batman's gaze head-on, "Things can't go on as they are. Something has to give, so I am," He said, "You're right. The League went too far with the mindwipes. If you think the whole League needs to be done, I'll trust your judgment. After this," He insisted, "There's too much at stake this time."
"One more ride, huh?" Batman asked bitterly. But still, it could work. While Batman had alienated many of their former allies, Superman was still capable of inspiring them. If he told everyone to come together and fight, they would, "And what if you or someone else goes too far?"
"You still have it, don't you?" Superman asked, knowing Batman would be aware of what he was referring to.
Batman refrained from answering for a moment, "...I do."
Superman nodded expectantly, "If anything like what happened with Lord happens again, you know what to do."
He did. It had been one of his oldest contingencies to deal with any member of the Justice League, just in case there was ever a need. It was always kept tucked away in his back pocket. Bringing it up meant that Superman was deadly serious about extending an olive branch.
"Talk to me, Clark."
Superman took the go-ahead to share what he knew, "Everything that's been happening, all of The Society's coordinated assaults, I think they've been masking what someone is really after."
"You think they would have blown up Gotham City as a distraction." Batman asked, "They could have killed millions as a diversion?" And yet, when he took the emotion out of it, what better way to hold the attention of the entire world?
"They're aiming for a lot more than that," Superman said, "I told you, they want this Earth replaced. I don't know who 'they' are, but even I wouldn't have been able to do all of this alone – even an alternate me. I'm not sure I would know where to start."
"Fifty-nine seconds until Black Box 73 is scanned and repaired."
Hearing his computer update him on something he had left the last time he had ventured out of the Batcave triggered a thought for Batman, "An alternate Superman..." He said under his breath, "Come with me."
Superman followed Batman to his super computer, watching him hurry over and hover above the keys, nigh impatiently, 'What are you doing?"
"The black box data from the Watchtower's destruction," Batman explained, "It's been repairing."
"What are you hoping to find?"
"The security logs showed that the system recognized Superman. But you're telling me that there's been another one of you from another Earth running around..."
Batman trailed off, just as his computer finished its work.
"Black Box 73, Justice League Watchtower teleportation log. Entries 53042 through 74524. Storage circuits scanned and repaired."
"Play back last entry," Batman ordered.
"Playing log entry 74524"
The last entry showed Martian Manhunter manning the communications nearby, on the same date as Superman's episode onboard the tower and the battle at Checkmate's castle. But the time, it was a few minutes afterwards, when things had settled. There was still a massive mess, but the Watchtower was intact.
"Ted believed there was a conspiracy at work. Maybe he was right. Maybe none of what's been happening is a coincidence," Martian Manhunter mused to himself in the recording, "But who could be powerful enough to have orchestrated-?"
The teleporter activating stopped him mid-thought, as a figure dressed in a familiar blue and red outfit began to appear.
"Superman?" Martian Manhunter said in surprise, "But you just-. Wait... you're- AAAGH!"
"J'onn..." Batman said, angered by seeing perhaps the best of them in his opinion attacked by a debilitating blast of heat vision.
As hard as it was to watch, Superman kept his eyes on the screen. As the figure came more into view, Superman was quick to point out a discrepancy, "That wasn't him. The Superman I saw was older than me," This one, however, looked significantly younger, "Bruce, that looks like a-."
"-Superboy," Batman finished the thought. A Superboy that wasn't Conner, "A Superman and a Superboy from an alternate dimension. You think they're working together?"
Perhaps, but Superman felt like they were missing a trick; or several "That can't be all. There has to be more. Something we're missing," He insisted.
The Superman from Earth-Two didn't seem to be the type for cloak-and-dagger arrangements and sneaking around. He didn't seem to be the type to operate in the shadows, or to use the harms happening in real-time all over the world for his own agenda, even if it was to reset the universe.
Fortunately, the recording continued, however.
"Bring him in alive," A voice communicating with Superboy-Prime said, "And destroy the Watchtower."
Superboy-Prime reached down to grab Martian Manhunter and leave, "Yes, Luthor."
Null was furious as he flew himself home. Without a single dedicated target to direct his anger at, he found himself more furious at himself than anything else. Sitting by Kara's side for hours, he'd had lots of time to take a long, hard look at the last year of his life.
He'd spent his entire time as Null more or less half-assing it, not in his effort, but in his commitment. He refused to commit to the lifestyle because he was afraid. He was afraid of getting in too deep and getting hurt, of getting caught up in something he couldn't get out of and being locked up, of getting close to someone else and getting them hurt. And yet, the latter had happened anyway.
This wasn't the kind of thing he could dip his toes into when he was bored. That much had been made clear to him time and time again, even if he had ignored the message. Part-time Null activities still came with the same chance of ending in disaster. If that were the case, why bother behaving tentatively?
Consumed by these thoughts, Null didn't want to return to Selina's place. He wanted to be alone, to give himself some time to consider what he would do next. Whatever he decided, however he decided to go about it, he knew that he would almost undoubtedly be punching above his weight class. With that in mind, he retreated to his townhouse. He hadn't been there in a week, so the last thing he expected upon opening his door and walking inside was to be greeted by another.
Especially when it came to the person who had come to see him.
Standing in his living room, arms folded behind his back as he peered around the home, Lex Luthor stood, turning around with a smirk, "I've been waiting for you, Null. Or should I say, Max?" There were bruises and signs of conflict visible on his face, "I hope you don't mind. I helped myself to some of your first aid. It's been a long night – for you and I both, I would imagine."
Upon seeing Lex Luthor in the flesh, a barb of rage jabbed into Null. Instead of lashing out in a rage, however, all he could bring himself to do in the moment was to laugh, "Ha... this is a joke, right? After everything that's happened, everything you did, you've got to have the biggest pair of brass balls I've ever seen to show up in front of me," He sneered, body crackling threateningly with electricity.
Lex Luthor let Null speak his mind, not balking in the face of his anger or his power, "You want a piece of me. That's good," He replied, "I want a piece of me too. It's why I hired you. And you did a good job."
Null disengaged his powers, temporarily taken aback. This was not the response of someone face-to-face with a person he had recently tried to have killed, "...What?"
Lex Luthor rolled his eyes, clearly not being understood by the boy, "Mockingbird. The Secret Six. Me."
Null stood wide-eyed, "Wha-? You were-?" He pointed at different spaces in the air, as though he were trying to physically help himself connect the dots in his head, "But you-? I thought-?" The words didn't come to express the amount of confusion he felt in the moment, "...WHAT!? Who the fuck have I been fighting all summer then!?"
"Sit down," Lex Luthor requested with a sigh, "We have a lot to talk about, and I don't think we have much time to go over it."
And that's the chapter for this time around, everyone.
Things will be coming to a head here sooner rather than later. Thanks to everyone for giving this story a try, and who've stuck around for this long. I started writing it in an effort to amuse myself in my spare time, much like all the others. That as many of you seem to enjoy it as you do is pretty killer.
Anyway, that's enough warm sentiment for this cold heart. And if anyone asks, I never said it, and you can't prove that I did.
Next time around, it's time to get the big dogs in action. We'll see what happens, come what will. Until then, guys.