Disclaimer: I do not own DC. So, Ezra Miller is likely out as the Flash after... um... shenanigans. But that's cool. There's like three different ones running around at any given point. Just cast someone new as a next-gen Flash and let's roll. Hell, you don't even need to do that. Look at the Hulk. Those Marvel mofos switched Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo in the same goddamn continuity and just kept pushing.
Chapter 47: Nullifying Agent
Lex Luthor's entire explanation of what was going on and what he knew lasted just a shade under twenty minutes. In that time, Null felt his mind bend into a pretzel more than once. It was difficult for him to come to terms with.
An alternate Superman, Superboy, and Lex Luthor from other dimensions, playing around with the very fabric of reality. The moment Luthor's explanation dipped into that realm, Null wanted to throw him out of his house through the window, but he kept going. The false Luthor was behind the Secret Society of Supervillains, using them to destabilize the planet, do his legwork, and sow seeds of mistrust in the only organization with the strength and resources to stop his plan; the Justice League.
Null didn't trust Luthor in the slightest, but the more he spoke, the more things started to make sense. That he had the credibility of knowing everything Null had done as a member of the Secret Six also gave credence to his hidden role as Mockingbird.
"I underestimated my double," Luthor bemoaned his previous failure, "Armed with the information you and the Secret Six managed to dig up for me, I made my move. But he was stronger than I could have anticipated. And that Superboy... he shredded my warsuit. They would have killed me."
The idea of taking on any kind of Superboy, either from his universe or another's was not Null's idea of a good time. Even if this one smacked Kara around. He wanted to, of course, and was willing to try, but willingness did not equal capability.
"I can't fight a Kryptonian straight-up," Null admitted.
"Nor would I ask you to," Luthor said, "Honestly, Null, if you ever see me in anything approaching a fair fight, you can easily discern that it wasn't by choice."
The way Luthor described things from his end, however, the fight had been anything but fair. In fact, Null couldn't see anything that could level the playing field for them. Alternate Luthor had the power of most of the world's supervillains. An army of evil. The heroes of this universe couldn't even be counted on to come together.
"Do you have an actual plan?" Null asked, "A way someone can take them down? Or are we just supposed to throw ourselves at the bad guys for some heroic sacrifice?" Null's tone showed his lack of excitement over that prospect.
On his own end as well, Luthor seemed appalled at the thought. Whether it was at the thought of sacrificing himself for anything, or taking any course of action without a well laid out plan was uncertain, "For all my troubles up north, I got a very good look at their technology," He smirked as he showed Null an image of a titanic golden tower.
Okay. That was one piece of the puzzle. If Luthor could discern what they had and what they were doing with it, there was a chance Null could point someone in the right direction to stop it without having to go directly to the source. As much as he wanted to cut the head of The Society off like it was a snake, he had to be realistic in his own chances of doing so, especially if the one in charge had a Superboy prowling around doing his bidding.
"We haven't a moment to waste," Luthor said getting up from his chair. Null followed suit to the front door where Luthor opened it and stepped outside, "We have to-," Luthor stopped talking when he got a good look at the sky ahead of him.
Null caught himself staring as well. In the sky, past the horizon, there was another Earth – a mirror image of the world that he called himself an inhabitant of.
"Luthor," Null prompted hesitantly, "What the hell is that?"
"It appears, by my observation, to be Earth."
"...But aren't we already on Earth?"
"The last time I checked, yes," He grumbled sarcastically. He was quick to shake Null out of his stupor. As much of a marvel as it was to see another Earth, there was work to be done, "If you wish to save the one we're on, we need to go. Now."
(Undisclosed Hideout – North Pole)
Alexander Luthor was very much accustomed to playing with power. He had control over both matter and anti-matter. In another timeline, another universe, he had helped saved all of creation by making precise, specific moves while wielding the power within his very hands. In order to achieve goals of that magnitude however, he required the means to amplify that power beyond measurable limits.
With his technological advantage and The Society managing to capture all of the heroes from alternate universes that he needed, he was able to build a massive machine that could seek out the previously erased universes and bring them back into existence. With Superboy-Prime's strength capable of moving entire planets around, he had changed the center of the universe to resemble Kal-L, the elder Superman's universe.
Now, everything was set up. The time for action was upon them.
"Activate Program: Earth Spawn."
The machine Alex had constructed at his hideout was something of a dimensional tuning fork, able to change reality itself at his whim.
Sweat poured from the Earth-Three Luthor's brow as he focused his energy and thoughts through the massive golden tower that magnified his power, "Y-Yes... yes..." He could feel the entire universe, and with that feeling, and the thoughts of universes long erased, he brought a second Earth into existence.
At his side, Superboy-Prime marveled at what he was seeing, "That's amazing!" He observed, "Alex! It's really happening! You did it!"
After creating only one alternate Earth, Alexander Luthor needed to take a moment to catch his breath. While his machine amplified his power, the process was still exhausting, "Not yet. It's just the beginning, but we have everything we need."
He directed Superboy-Prime's attention to the captured, neutralized heroes he held captive in different areas of the golden tower that served as his mechanical key to the multiverse. In addition to Black Adam and Martian Manhunter of the existing universe, there were several more from beyond.
"Power Girl for Earth-Two. Nightshade for Earth-Four. Lady Quark for Earth-Six. Breach, the Captain Atom of Earth-Eight. The men and women plugged into the tower will help me re-form the core Earths, but I need the rest of the multiverse back as well."
"Why don't you just bring back our worlds?" Superboy-Prime asked excitedly. He had seen firsthand that Alex's planning had been legitimate. Now, he was closer than ever to being back in a universe where he was the only Superboy, the only hero period.
"Patience, my friend," Alex said, trying to keep his ultra-powerful ally pacified, "There is a careful balance that needs to be kept, or else everything could fall into ruin. There are thousands and thousands of worlds. Worlds I must sift through like sand, one grain at a time. Earth-Two was first simply due to chronological order. After all, the wretched universe we're in was based heavily on Earth-One, so it already exists. Things would be easier with the Brother Eye satellite to use for coordination, but..." At that, he trailed off, both of them aware of the loss of Brother Eye.
They were in prime position, but without Brother Eye, he couldn't see and keep track of everything happening in the universe, nor could he narrow down which Earths he brought into existence. Now that they were in the endgame, it mattered less than it did previously, but it was still a peace of mind he would have preferred to have.
While the explanation didn't make Superboy-Prime particularly happy, there was little he could do about it in the interim, "I get it..." He groused.
"Rest assured, you will get your perfect universe, Superboy," Alex said, "We all will."
(Earth-Two – Metropolis)
As the second Earth had been created, Kal-L had retreated to the pocket dimension that at one time had served as both paradise and prison for he and his co-conspirators. While he, Superboy-Prime, and Alexander Luthor had all been free to move about, there was still one among them too weak and weary to be active; his wife, the Lois Lane of Earth-Two.
She was dying, and Kal-L's primary motivation to act and re-create the multiverse. Alexander Luthor had told him that the taint of the current universe was poisoning Lois' body, killing her slowly. He told him that once Earth-Two was restored, Lois would recover.
In an instant, he found himself transported from the pocket dimension to a location that he found more familiar than just about any other. In the heart of a city that he knew like the back of his hand, Kal-L looked around, a smile growing on his face. It was only when he looked up and saw a sign labeling the nearest building as "Daily Star", that he allowed himself to speak.
"We're here, Lois," Kal-L said softly, awe-struck, "We're home."
On her feet for the first time in a long while, Lois had to adjust. Her weak body leaned against Kal-L's as she tried to understand what was happening, "Clark?" Her eyes were still closed.
"It's okay, Lois," Kal-L assured her, "We're back in our Metropolis, on our Earth. The right Earth."
"The right-?" Lois repeated, processing her husband's words, "The air's so warm."
Kal-L let out a light laugh, "You must still be disoriented from another trip. Open your eyes. Look around us," He said, "We did it. We saved you," He pointed to the place they had spent so many years working together as reporters on Earth-Two, "It's the Daily Star. Do you see it?"
Lois looked around at the Metropolis they had thought lost to them, "It's just like I remember, but it's real. Everything's real..." But something was wrong.
Where were all the people? There wasn't a soul on the street other than them. There wasn't a single vehicle moving on the roads. The stands and stores were all empty. The Metropolis of her memory had been so bright and full of life, but this was more of an empty husk of a city.
It was wrong. What's more was that it wasn't working. Lois could feel it. She felt worse than ever, hardly able to stay upright. And yet, looking at Kal-L, he was so proud, so relieved that everything had worked out.
It hadn't. It just wasn't that simple.
But even as Lois tried to appeal to Kal-L's better nature, she could feel what little remained of her strength leaving her, "Clark... I love you so much... but this isn't... hnn..."
"Lois!?" Kal-L watched his wife collapse. He swept her up into his arms as her legs gave out, gently setting her on the ground, "Lois, what's wrong? We brought back Earth-Two. You're going to be fine. You have to be fine."
If she wasn't, what had all of this been for? All of the subterfuge, everything he had allowed to occur under his watch, it had been for her.
"I've lived an absolutely wonderful life with you," Lois started to say. To Kal-L, these sounded like last words.
"Don't give up," He begged her.
"I'm not giving up, Clark. I'm grateful for the extra years we've had."
"We'll have more," Kal-L frantically said, "I couldn't save our Earth back then, but I will save you. That's what I do. That's what I always did. Superman always saves Lois Lane," There was an almost manic look in his eye at that, "I can't be another survivor of a dead world. Not without you."
Lois tried to smile, to comfort Kal-L. It was a pained, difficult expression, "With all your powers, with everything you saw and did... you still never..."
"It can't end this way..."
As she trailed off, a shock of fear ran through Kal-L's heart, "It's not what? It's not going to end this way? Is that what you're trying to say?" Her eyes slowly closed, smile still in place as they did, "Lois? Lois, tell me it's not going to end this way. Lois, please. Be strong... be..."
There was only so strong she could be. The human body had limitations, and Lois had reached hers. Kal-L felt her go limp. For all his power, in the end there had been nothing he could do. She was gone. Even after everything Kal-L had taken part in and had condoned in order to save Lois, there she lay, dead in his arms.
This wasn't how things were supposed to go. He was Superman. Superman always found a way. Superman could do anything. Yet there he was, powerless to affect the one thing he cared most about.
Holding the lifeless body of his love in his arms, Kal-L stood, weeping, body shaking in grief. Turning his head to the sky, he desperately howled his wife's name.
The force of Kal-L's anguished yell obliterated his surroundings around the planet. Windows on buildings and vehicles shattered, trees were stripped of their leaves and had the bark on their trunks crack, pavement and building exteriors cracked.
Earth-Two's Man of Steel had broken.
(With Null – Earth-One – North Pole)
When Lex Luthor told Null that they needed to go now, he didn't mean right at that very second. With the help of a teleporter, Luthor took them all the way to the North Pole. The change in temperature was jarring, but with his suit, it didn't bite at Null as much as it would have for someone unprepared. The temperature, however, wasn't what caught Null's attention first.
"There it is," Luthor said as they both took in the sight of the massive golden tower miles away, built around an alien corpse, radiating pure energy. Around it, the very universe itself seemed to be projected, somehow in a scaled-down model.
Null had been to space on a few occasions at this point, but this was something else entirely. A pair of golden hands appeared on the universal projection, reaching in and grabbing hold of entire worlds. Entire Earths, "Holy shit..."
Much like the last time Luthor had gotten anywhere near his duplicate, the closer he got, the more pain he felt. His mind was already beginning to lapse and he wasn't even in his alternate's presence yet. The plus was that they didn't seem to notice their arrival, "Whatever you do, don't screw this up."
Null paused. Why did Luthor sound like he was about to do this alone, "Wait. What are you going to do?"
"We've already been over this. I can't fight my doppelganger. I can't even get close," Luthor said, "You're the thief. Between the two of us, you're best equipped to sneak in."
Maybe, but Luthor was the super-genius, not him, "So... it's just me. That's what you're saying," Null replied.
"That will have to do," Luthor declared.
Null shook his head, tentatively stepping back away from the man. Luthor was out of his mind, "I can't! It's too much! It's too big! I can't do this alone!" This couldn't be his plan. It was insanity.
Luthor sneered before turning his back, walking several more steps away, "We don't have options here. Your choices are to go it alone and die, or do nothing and die. In the grand scheme of things, there really isn't a difference," He said, "I've given you all you need to know to accomplish the task."
"You son of a-!"
Luthor left no more room for discussion, teleporting away the instant his device had recharged enough to do so.
Null stood there alone, mouth agape. There was no way Luthor was banking the fate of the universe on him. Null was good at running, hiding, and stealing, and decent at fighting, but against enemies on this level? If they spotted him, they would tear him apart and that would be it.
...And that would be it.
It quickly dawned on Null, if he failed here, what would really be lost in the grand scheme of things? This wasn't Luthor's plan. He wasn't Luthor's plan. If anything, he was a distraction – a diversion meant to buy time. At best, a probing, information-gathering measure to see what the enemy was capable of without a compromised threat against them. He was a skirmisher, meant to dash himself against their defenses, all in the name of testing the waters.
Leopards didn't change their spots. Neither did Mockingbirds, it seemed. To be fair, with all of existence at stake, losing him before it all came crashing down wouldn't be much of a setback. That didn't make the medicine that was the truth of Null's situation go down any easier.
He could feel himself begin to hyperventilate. Aware of what was happening to him, he did his best to get his breathing under control. The frigid air burned his lungs with every deep breath he took; it helped to calm him.
Even as he stood composing himself, parallel Earths continued to appear in the sky, one after another. More than Null could count; more than he could see, even. They just kept forming.
Closing his eyes, Null used his powers to reach out and link his phone with the nearest communication satellite he could, then another, then another. One-by-one, he mentally overrode the transmission sequences of each of them until they were all on his. Once that was done, he held his phone up to his mouth. He hesitated for several moments before he finally began speaking.
"This is Null speaking. I'm currently at the North Pole, coordinates 86.50 N, 164.04 E," He started, mouth suddenly feeling dry. Still, he carried on, "...The entire world is falling apart all around us. It has been for a while now. All seen the good guys have been drifting away from each other for months, while all the bad guys have been coming together. If any hero out there can hear me, I know we've all just been thinking that worst-case scenario for The Society winning is the end of heroes and crimefighters, and the world falling into ruin... but it's so much worse than that. Even The Society doesn't know it."
At that, he realized, why stop at just heroes? It didn't matter where he got his help from at this point. He'd just had Lex Luthor helping him, despite doing nothing more than dropping him off and leaving him there like it was the first day of school. The point was, any help from anyone was welcome.
"If any villain can hear me, this isn't going to end the way you think it will," Null continued, trying to warn anyone listening, "You aren't gonna mindwipe the Justice League and take over. There isn't going to be a world left to fall into ruin. There isn't going to be a world left for the bad guys to take over. If no one stops the man at the top of all this, we're all going to be wiped out; we'll never have existed at all. That's why I'm here, again, coordinates 86.50 N, 164.04 E, to try and stop the fucker responsible for threatening everything, for using half of us like pawns on a chessboard."
The silence that accompanied his plea was disheartening. Only the howling wind of the arctic seemed to answer him. But he had to try.
"I can't do this alone," Null closed his eyes tightly and shook his head, "Even if I had help, I'm still probably not good enough, not strong enough. By myself? I'm definitely screwed. But even if nobody else comes, I'm going to where the enemy is, and I'm going to deal with him there. If I die? That'd suck. But if I don't do anything, it doesn't look like I'm going to survive anyway. I don't think any of us are. So, whatever."
While nihilism probably wouldn't do much to inspire a rousing response, Null doubted anyone who didn't have to hear him still was. It was his elevator pitch for saving the universe, and he was going to do it his way.
"I'm not with the Justice League, or the Titans, or whoever you think of when you think 'good guys'," He said, "I'm not a hero. I'm not doing this because I think it's my job to save the world. I don't even think I can save the world. I'm doing this because it's the only chance I have to survive," Slim as it was. Luthor was a piece of garbage, but he wasn't wrong. Null's options were to stand up on his feet and probably die, or curl up in a ball and definitely die, "So, I repeat, my name is Null. I am currently at the North Pole, coordinates 86.50 N, 164.04 E, and I really need your help. Anyone's help."
He let the message run for a few seconds longer before ending it. It would repeat over every transmission he had hijacked in perpetuity until someone did something about it. It was intrusive and a problem for emergency crews, military, and even superheroes dealing with disasters and villains all over the world, but he needed to be heard.
Null plopped down in the snow, feeling his head throb painfully.
He would give it some time, but there was little hope of any kind of cavalry coming for him. When he had been forcing his transmission through comm. satellites, he could hear what was going on around the world. Riots were tearing major cities apart internationally. There had been prison breaks at every maximum-security facility in the greater U.S. Since Null's departure from Gotham City, it had become the epicenter of a cataclysmic magical event. There were rescue efforts due to earthquakes and tsunamis all along the Pacific. 72 percent of all volcanoes along the Ring of Fire were erupting. The superheroes that weren't active were only considered sidelined because they had gone missing.
All of those things would likely take priority for any self-respecting hero over an S.O.S. call from some random thief. And that was if communications worked wherever certain people were at all.
Null jumped to his feet at the sudden noise and appearance of an extra-dimensional portal. He relaxed somewhat when he saw who stepped out, but he was no less incredulous at who it was, "Lonnie?"
The Boom Tube closed behind a fully outfitted Anarky, leaving him more or less stranded in the North Pole with a person who at one time he would have considered an enemy, "Don't look so surprised. Didn't you send that little pirate broadcast of yours out to the whole world?"
"Yeah, but I kind of expected the world to ignore me," Null admitted, trying and failing to hide how happy he was that anyone bothered to show up, "So, are you here to help?"
Anarky scoffed, "It's complete bullshit that you were the one that got to the center of the mother of all conspiracies. I might as well see it the rest of the way through now," As he spoke, a small floating computer flew around his body. Null noted that was new, thinking Anarky must have brought everything he had to bear for this one.
"We're probably gonna die."
"I picked up on that much from the message," Anarky deadpanned, "So, what are we up against?"
Part of Null didn't want to fill him, for risk of sending him running. But from personal experience, Anarky's Boom Tube was a one-way trip, so he couldn't simply run for the hills now that he was there, "As far as I know? Well... that's gonna take a while to get through."
And that time spent would hopefully bring more assistance their way. One could only hope.
(Earth-Two – Metropolis)
A cry of grief and horror loud enough to travel from one planet to another would have been enough to draw Superman from standard Earth, but when it was a voice that sounded like his own, crying out the name of his own wife, he couldn't ignore it.
The yell drew him to a second Earth, one of the many that were appearing. It looked so similar to his, but there were many things wrong. For one, it seemed set in the past. Not terribly so, but enough that it was noticeable. Everything on the planet seemed more fragile, more poorly fabricated. Most importantly, there wasn't a soul to be found anywhere. It was entirely devoid of life. A ghost planet.
Why was a planet created with nothing on it? It hardly seemed like it could sustain life to begin with?
After flying across most of the planet, he found himself in what he could only describe as a mock-up of Metropolis; a golden age replica of his city from a bygone era, but still decidedly an alternate version of his city, "There. I've finally found someone," It was there that he found the older Earth-Two version of himself, desperately cradling a woman's body in his arms.
He remembered the conversation he had with Kal-L only a day prior. This was her; his Lois Lane.
Superman landed right behind Kal-L, swooping in to lend a hand if needed, "I heard you. I heard you cry 'Lois'."
Even with all his power, Earth-Two Superman seemingly hadn't noticed his younger counterpart approach, still in his own world from his personal tragedy, "Kal-El?" He finally took note of his presence, and was none too happy about it, "You came here? To our Earth?"
Superman caught himself looking around, still trying to understand his surroundings, "I'm not sure what Earth this is," There were more pressing issues to see to, however, "Does she need help?"
Something in Kal-L broke. He had been mentally hanging on by a thread for the entirety of Lois' illness, kept whole by the possibility that she could be saved, protected from the taint of the universe he had given everything else for. That was the thing. He had given everything to create the universe that the current Superman lived in. Kal-L's own universe had been destroyed, along with countless others by the Anti-Monitor. The only thing he had ever asked for, that he had been unwilling to part with, was Lois. It had been the only thing he'd had left, and now he had lost her as well.
Hearing the voice of Superman eroded away what was left of Kal-L's temperament, "It's your fault, isn't it?" Gently setting his Lois' body down on the pavement, he turned and grabbed onto the frame of a nearby car, "You brought the corruption with you? You're spreading it, like a disease," His fingers sank into the metal chassis, providing him a grip, "You... KILLED MY WIFE!"
Kal-L smashed Superman with the entire car, sending him flying across the street. His body bounced off of the side of a building, nearly bringing the entire wall down from the impact. Before superman could get up, Kal-L slammed the car down on top of him, front first, to try and crush him into the street.
Superman reached up and ripped the entire car in half with his bare hands. He grabbed Kal-L by the front of his costume and lifted him up off of the ground, "I didn't kill anyone," He patiently, yet resolutely stated.
Still holding on to half of the car, Kal-L hit Superman again, freeing himself. Metal pieces and car parts went flying, as did Superman, "Lois was the only one of us who still believed in you. But you took her," He gasped, tears rolling down his cheeks, "You took her from me."
Openly weeping, he clenched his fists and flew straight ahead, slamming into Superman and battering him with punches.
The flimsily constructed world had no chance of withstanding the destructive potential a battle involving two Supermen. Simply pushing each other around, trying to impose their will over each other, they tore through entire city blocks like papier-mâché.
Superman was able to gain some leverage and used it to hurl Kal-L away, but the Earth-Two Superman righted himself in the air. Both men made eye contact and flew straight ahead at each other, clashing in the air hard enough to cause a shockwave that destroyed the facades of buildings for miles around. Both strained against each other in the air. Superman found himself slowly being forced back by the sheer anger in Kal-L. It was visible behind his eyes. Still, he tried to restrain himself in the face of a grieving man. Recent events with Maxwell Lord made him understand just how capable he himself was of going overboard when faced with the reality of losing his true love.
Superman didn't want to hurt his alternate self when his reaction was something that he himself could understand very well. Still, when he saw the Earth-Two Superman's eyes burn red, he knew he had to start fighting back or find himself a victim.
"RAAAAGH!" Kal-L roared as his heat vision burst forth. The powerful blasts sliced through the surrounding city buildings, tearing them down and demolishing them in an instant. The structural integrity of the false Earth-Two struck again as fires created by the heat vision quickly spread through the fabricated Metropolis. All the while, the two Supermen battled hand-to-hand amongst the ruins of their creation.
The two Kryptonian juggernauts crashed into the remains of the Daily Star, the rubble serving as the next stage of their fight. Driven by anger, Kal-L managed to unleash a crushing uppercut that Superman found himself unable to block or evade, "I won't let you hurt anyone else!" He shouted.
Superman retaliated with a straight punch that sent Kal-L flying, "There's no one else here!" He shouted back, flying forward to grab his opponent and drive him back, carving a mighty trench into the ground, "This city is empty! This planet is empty!"
"Because of you!" Kal-L exclaimed as he broke free of Superman's grasp, "This is all because of-!" He stopped when a golden lasso wrapped itself around his upper body, restricting his arms.
Superman's eyes went wide. He followed the length of rope up to the top of the trench where Wonder woman stood on a pile of building debris, holding the Lasso of Truth, "Stop."
"You're here too?" Superman asked.
Kal-L struggled against the lasso, "Get this off of me," He demanded angrily.
Wonder Woman refused, keeping a tight hold of her mystical weapon, "I want us to talk. And I want the truth."
Kal-L scoffed, "I don't need your magic lasso to tell the truth. It's what people from my Earth do," He said, throwing a pointed barb at the rest of them, "And the truth is that your Justice League lobotomized their adversaries. Your Batman built a satellite that spawned an army that killed dozens. Your Wonder Woman condones the murder of Maxwell Lord," As Wonder Woman's lasso loosened, Kal-L turned a venomous gaze onto Superman, "The worst of all is that with everything that's happening, you, Superman, could have stopped this before it started. You should have! You should have led them to a better tomorrow. Instead, when the universe needed its greatest heroes, they refused to stand together."
Superman and Wonder Woman shared a look, but remained silent. For his part, Superman had already accepted that the near collapse of the Justice League had been on him more or less for not working to keep relations open between the parties involved. As Earth's most influential hero, if he had really pressed to keep things together, it could have been done.
Kal-L pointed at both Superman and Wonder Woman accusingly, "You had the opportunity to make that Earth into the perfect world it had the potential to be, and you wasted it! That's why I had to come here! That's why my Lois died!" He spat.
"To bring back your perfect Earth?" Wonder Woman asked rhetorically as she removed the Lasso of Truth from Kal-L.
Neither Superman nor Wonder Woman reacted in anger to match the man before them. They didn't get defensive. They simply allowed him to speak and let his accusations wash over them. There was much that they were willing to take responsibility for.
Superman shook his head at his older counterpart, "I already told you... your Earth can't have been perfect. Because a perfect Earth doesn't need a Superman."
"It... the perfect Earth... it's..." He stood among the very ruins of his city, on his Earth, alone. Earth-Two had returned, and the reality of it in the state that it was in was far from what anyone would ever have called perfect. Kal-L thought back to his last moments with his Lois, the last words he remembered her speaking.
'It's not ours.'
"My God..." The Earth-Two Superman fell to his knees in realization, his eyes pointed to the ground, "It's not mine. It never was."
This Earth-Two, it wasn't his. It looked similar, felt similar, but it lacked just about everything that had made it his, had made it home. It was a soulless husk; a planet only in the literal definition of the word, nothing more. Even if it was his world, the arrogance to call it perfect, when he had spent his entire adult life fighting to defend it from all kinds of threats.
A perfect Earth? There was no such thing. There couldn't be. There were simply Earths where people were doing the best they could, and that was enough. It had to be.
A blank expression crossed Kal-L's face before he drifted off, slowly flying away. Wonder Woman went to follow after him when Superman put a hand on her arm to stop her, "Where's he going?"
Kal-L returned to where he had left Earth-Two's Lois Lane. Despite the ferocity of his battle with his fellow Superman, she had been untouched by the destruction. A small miracle, if such a thing could be considered at this point. He landed by her side, kneeling down to gently touch her face, "...A perfect world doesn't need a Superman..." He said to himself.
Superman walked up behind Kal-L and rested a hand on his shoulder, "If we're at all alike beyond the uniform, I know how much you loved her. And I'm sorry."
Kal-L reached up and put his hand on Superman's giving it a squeeze. He wiped his eyes and stood resolutely, "I made a horrible mistake."
"We've all made mistakes, Superman. But it's not too late to learn from them," Wonder Woman said, "You realize if you replace our Earth, you'll be throwing away all the good with the bad."
Kal-L knew she was right. But even so, with all the evil he had seen carried out with little to no reprisal. Even the heroes seemed more like villains at times, "How can you still have faith in your Earth?" He asked.
Superman's answer was a simple one, "Because they still have faith in us."
As long as people believed that Superman was a force for good, that he could and would protect them when they needed him, it meant he would keep fighting. As long as heroes were necessary, Superman would make sure they knew they who they were supposed to be, what they were supposed to do, and what side of the line they were on.
He would screw up, as would all of them. No one was perfect. Their universe wasn't perfect. But it was worth fighting for.
Superman's reply steeled Kal-L's resolve to make things right, "We have a job to do," He said, "Your Earth has been splintered back into a multiverse made up of thousands of worlds. But the multiverse is unstable. The Earths will become weaker and weaker as they're divided. And if they aren't brought back together soon, the entire universe will explode in a new big bang. Everything will be destroyed."
That wasn't good. Especially because in the time since Superman's arrival on Earth-Two, enough alternate Earths had formed that they had lost track of the original. As all three of them looked up into the sky and took note of the unnumerable planets, Wonder Woman asked the obvious question, "So... which one is our Earth?"
This was not good.
(Earth-One – Undisclosed Hideout – North Pole)
Superboy-Prime had been extremely useful in helping Alexander Luthor maneuver everything to where he needed it to start manipulating the separate universes. His assistance had been invaluable, as without him, he would have had to risk directly involving Earth-Two's Superman in the dubious activities that Superboy-Prime had leapt at the chance to take part in.
That being said, now that Prime's role out and about was over, having him look over his shoulder was decidedly distracting. Having the boy constantly whine and complain was something that Alexander Luthor could do without when he was in the middle of delicate work. Entire universes were at his fingertips.
"But why can't you just do what I want and bring back Earth Prime?" Superboy-Prime complained for what seemed like the fiftieth time in a handful of hours, "Kal-L already got what he wanted!"
Alexander Luthor's calm temperament started to slip in the face of the boy's constant annoyance, "No, he didn't. Nor will he. Not truly."
Superboy-Prime was impulsive, untrained, and immature, but he wasn't a fool. Even though Alex never said it aloud, he could read between the lines well enough, "Lois... is still going to die?"
Alex cursed inside of his own head. Between the concentration it took to restore and sift through the different universes and Superboy-Prime being a pain, he had let something slip. There was no need to act as though he hadn't said it, "If she hasn't yet, she will soon," He admitted with a shake of his head, "She was never going to survive, Superboy. I never told Kal-L that this course of action would save her life. He came to that conclusion on his own, and it was easier to allow him that fantasy so that we could conduct our work."
Superboy-Prime floated away from Alex, somewhat taken aback, "I still don't believe it."
He had shared space in the 'paradise' dimension alongside Lois and the others for what seemed like an eternity. To find that she was gone, just like that... it was jarring.
Alexander Luthor tried to keep his tone and content pragmatic in nature, "I will miss her, but this is the price we have to pay for the future. As regrettable as her passing is, Kal-L is the one we really need for this."
"Why him?" Superboy-Prime wondered. He had grown familiar with the elder Superman, but even as Prime had been out doing the legwork asked of him, Kal-L's place in Alex's plans had always been a mystery.
To his surprise, for once Alex didn't have a concrete answer for him, "The Superman of Earth-Two is the key to the return of the rest of the multiverse. For some reason I can't explain or understand, and probably never will, everything comes from Superman."
(With Null – Earth-One – North Pole)
Nerves pulled at Null. The more time passed, the worse things seemed to get. Every time he looked up, there seemed to be a new Earth in the sky. There was no way such a thing could be sustainable. He and Anarky had sat back to wait for help, but it didn't look as though they would be receiving any.
They had scouted the area as much as they could from the seemingly safe distance they stood at. Several heroes were being held captive, hooked up to the machine. In a pinch, if some of them could be freed, they could possibly be used as backup, that is, if they were in fighting shape. They were too far away for Null's binoculars to properly identify who was there or what condition they were in. Either way, there was nothing more they could do to prepare.
"We can't wait any longer," Null finally admitted, "If we're going to do anything, we've gotta go now."
Anarky had spent the downtime fiddling with his equipment, making sure everything was ready for what was to come next, "Tch. Are you telling me, or yourself?"
Null was quick to respond, "Whichever one of us needs to hear it," Which was decidedly him, "Fine. Plan. All stealth. Lex Luthor was able to sneak up on these guys wearing a heavy-ass armored warsuit. I'm pretty sure we can get close to that tower machine."
"-And then we figure out just what we're dealing with," Anarky said, filling in the blanks, "Between the two of us, I'm pretty sure once we get close, we can find some way to take it apart."
That was, if they managed to make it that far. Clearly, having the entire universe at one's fingertips was a distracting endeavor if they had been allowed to linger as close as they were. Once they got into the true lair of the mastermind, however, could they remain hidden?
"Whatever," Null eventually said, "Let's do this. Scared money don't make money."
"It's always about money with you, isn't it?"
The response came from a familiar voice, but it hadn't come from Anarky. Null turned to find both Blue Beetle and Booster Gold approaching. Heroes. Actual heroes. Granted, one of them was Booster Gold, but he still counted!
Null walked up and, without fanfare, wrapped his arms around Booster Gold. The commercial superhero could only stand there, arms open in shock, "Uh..."
"Thank you," Null honestly said as he awkwardly hugged Booster Gold, "Thank you so much for being here," At least he wasn't going to die alone.
Booster Gold looked from the young thief to Blue Beetle, "Is he always like this?" He asked his old friend.
"Not really," Blue Beetle said before patting Null on the back, "You alright there, kid?"
Null released Booster Gold and looked between the two new arrivals, hardly able to comprehend their presence, "I can't believe you guys showed up."
"You called for help, didn't you?"
"Yeah, but I didn't-."
"-You didn't think anyone would come?"
Null momentarily went silent at that, "...Not because I said so," He eventually admitted.
Blue Beetle chuckled and put a hand on Null's head, "You believed me when no one else on the planet who could help me did. I would be a hell of a hypocrite if I didn't believe you now."
"You had my best friend's back," Booster Gold said as a follow up, explaining his own presence, "You helped save the world once already. As far as I'm concerned, even if you weren't telling the truth, I owe you one. Besides, it's not just us," Booster Gold pointed off to the side.
Null followed his gesture and saw more help. Or more than likely, he would end up being the help for the newest arrival, "No way."
Batman stood gazing out at the golden tower, cape billowing behind him as he took in the scene. The absolute last person Null would have ever expected to heed an S.O.S. from him was there, front and center.
Null tried to make sense of the Dark Knight's presence, turning to Anarky to tug on his rival's cape, "Did we go in already and I got my ass kicked? Because this feels like a concussion dream," Which, as he had heard were very similar to near-death visions, so it feasibly could have been either-or.
"I'm more concerned with how we didn't hear any of them coming," Anarky replied.
Nightwing approached, grinning at the group, "The Batplane and the Bug can fly pretty silent, you know."
Six. That made six heroes in the flesh, all there to fight for the fate of the planet. The weight on Null's shoulders still felt crushing, but with some of the load taken off, he wasn't about to complain further.
Nightwing walked up to Null and threw an arm around his shoulder before whispering, "You're in so much trouble."
Null had a feeling that Nightwing wasn't talking about what they were about to get themselves into, "Kara mad?"
"So mad," Nightwing confirmed, "That crap you told me to tell her when she woke up? It didn't fly."
Null expected as much, "I'll be more than happy to get bitched out later. It'll mean we won," Nightwing shook his head, "What?"
"How fast do you think the Batplane flies?" Nightwing asked rhetorically, "Not fast enough to get here two hours after your transmission went out - by itself, anyway," He gestured his head upward, prompting Null to look up.
Supergirl hovered high in the air, her arms crossed over her chest, staring straight ahead at the tower. She hadn't bothered to greet him with the others. While Null couldn't see her face, he expected there was a scowl there.
A part of him wanted to question aloud if there was really time for him to talk to her. Another part realized though that there was a good chance he wouldn't get another opportunity. That in mind, Null took hold of the ironsand hidden in his suit and used it to lift himself up into the air until he was on Supergirl's level. She didn't turn his way or even acknowledge him at all.
Null winced at receiving such a casual cold shoulder, "Kara..."
Supergirl quickly interrupted, "You can fly?"
Null tried to ignore the matter-of-fact way she'd spoken to him, "Kinda. I'm still getting the hang of it. The Gravboard's way faster," Supergirl didn't respond. Setting aside the uncomfortable small talk, upon getting close enough, he was able to look her over.
The last time he had seen her, she had been a mess. Now, however, there wasn't a scratch on her. Nightwing had been right back in the Batcave. All Supergirl had needed was some decent rest underneath yellow sunlight, and she was as good as new.
"I'm sorry," Null said, finally getting Supergirl to glance over at him, "I sent you off on your own and you got hurt. I just... I didn't think that anything-."
"Wait," Supergirl said before Null could launch too much into an apology. She seemed confused, "Do you think I'm upset because I got beaten up and you weren't there?"
"No," Supergirl insisted with a roll of her eyes, "Max, look at where you are. Look at what you're doing. Were you really going to walk in there all by yourself?"
"Someone had to," Null defended, "And I called for help."
"But you didn't wait for me," Supergirl accused, sounding upset by this, "You left without me."
'You left me behind,' was what she wanted to say.
Null shook his head before looking away, "I didn't think you'd be ready. You were hurt so bad when I found you, Kara," She looked much better now, but that was only because of her Kryptonian physiology. Had she been made of anything less sturdy, she wouldn't be with him right now, "All because you got involved in something I got called out to do in the first place. You got hurt helping me."
Supergirl placed her hands over her hips and finally turned to face Null fully, floating directly in front of him, unwilling to let him off the hook, "I got hurt trying to help save people. It comes with the territory," She deadpanned, "...Did you seriously come out here looking to get revenge for me?"
When Null considered his motivation for storming up to the bad guys' lair, the more context he gave it, the more foolish it seemed, "I wasn't thinking I was gonna stroll in there and kick their asses. I was thinking more along the lines of blowing up their little plan and flipping them off about it afterwards."
"-And then they'd kill you," Supergirl commented as the most likely logical conclusion.
Null didn't deny it, shrugging his shoulders as a concession, "That's probably as close to an honorable death as I'd get, to be honest."
Supergirl was a very expressive young lady, but the resulting expression on her face was hard for Null to read. She struggled to find the words she wanted to use, until she decided to stop being diplomatic, "That is so... selfish."
Supergirl continued, "And, like, it's not even selfish because you'd be doing it for petty revenge instead of, you know, saving the world."
Null's admissions did little to stop Supergirl once she'd gotten on a roll, "How do you think I'd feel, knowing you came up here all by yourself and got killed because you were mad about what someone else did to me?" She reached out her hand and pressed it to Null's cheek underneath his hood, "I'm better. I got better. And you'd have left me all alone like that?"
It was kind of sweet, that she meant enough to him that he would face certain death just to glove-slap the person that hurt her. It wouldn't have given her much solace, however, to be left with his corpse after the fact.
Null closed his eyes and leaned into Supergirl's touch, "You wouldn't have been alone, Kara," He replied, "You have family, and friends, and people who care about you. You've got talent and ability. You've got a massive future, no matter what you end up focusing on. If I wasn't around, you'd be fine," In fact, she would probably be better off. Null knew full well he got more out of their relationship than she did, "Ow."
Supergirl started pinching and pulling on Null's cheek, "Still, no. Screw that," She said before giving him a sturdy pat on the same cheek, "You don't get to run off and do dumb things just because you're dumb. I care about what happens to you. You're mine."
Null glared at her until what she'd told him sank in, "Wait, what did you just say?"
To her credit, Supergirl didn't back down, "You heard me, mister. You're mine."
She had spent so much time being touch-and-go with her relationship with Null, but after the run-in with Rose Wilson, she had decided that she was all in on him, as much as a pair of teenagers could be, anyway. She'd planned to ease into a more serious relationship, but it didn't hurt to make her intentions clear post-haste. After all, tomorrow wasn't guaranteed.
Supergirl wrapped her arms around Null's neck and pressed her forehead to his, "On this giant ball of rocks and water, countless miles away from my home, you're the only thing I found to latch onto that means anything; that's just for me," In the face of his silence, she smirked at him, eyebrow raised, "Oh, are you going to say something about it? As if you have any room to talk, mister greedy thief."
Null was quick to clear his throat before trying to head off any misconceptions, "No-no, it's just... no one's ever claimed me before," No one had ever really wanted to. Even his parents had been mostly dismissive of him the older he got. There was Selina, but in reality, he had claimed her, and she had simply come around to accepting him.
"Well, I am," Supergirl chirped, "I'll totally lick you to call dibs if I have to."
Null grinned at her and wrapped his arms around her waist, "Don't threaten me with a good time," He pulled her into a deep kiss that was quickly interrupted by an audible clearing of someone's throat from below.
Right. The fate of the world was at stake, and then some.
Despite their moment being seen by a cadre of heroes, Supergirl was slow to let go, "Hey. When this is over, and we all get out of this..."
Null could tell where Supergirl was going and met her halfway, "When we get out of this, we're gonna find somewhere quiet and out of the way where nobody'll bother us for a bit."
"Good. There's a lot I want to share with you," Supergirl said, her face turning a bit red at what she was implying, "We just never seem to get the chance."
Null would do his damnedest to make sure they had one, because she was worth it, "Make it a date, then."
It was a nice thought. But before anything else, they had to win. The survival of everything counted on it.
More than ever, Alexaner Luthor missed having access to Brother Eye. The satellite would have been invaluable at helping him pick through all of the alternate Earths he had created. If Brother Eye had been active, he never would have created so many in the first place, his work would have gone much faster.
As loathe as Alex was to have to pick through each Earth one-by-one, it was nothing compared to the impatience of Superboy-Prime.
"Have you found it yet, Alex?" Superboy-Prime felt antsier and antsier the more time passed.
Alex didn't answer at first, his attention focused on the alternate Earth in his grasp, "Hn," Once he had finished his observation, he disposed of it, literally eradicating it in his hand, "No."
"You're just destroying them?" Superboy-Prime asked.
Sentimentality didn't become him. Not after everything Alex knew he was responsible for, "We don't need them, Superboy. It's not my Earth, nor yours," "We planted this garden, we have every right to tend to it. And unfortunately, good gardening requires some pruning."
The only Earths they needed were Earth-One and Earth-Two, the former because it was the Earth they were on, their base of operations, as it were. The latter was needed because Earth Two Superman was the baseline Alex was using to
Superboy-Prime watched as Alexander Luthor reached into the very cosmos themselves, entire planets in his hands as he closely scrutinized them.
"Come now, to the petri dish," Alex said as he looked upon his work. Each Earth was different. Some of the changes were small, such as heroes and villains with altered races, genders, and backgrounds. Some changes were all-encompassing, such as an entire Earth with an ancient Roman theme, "Earth-Q... Earth-381... Earth-25G..." Either way, they were all failures in Alexander Luthor's eyes, "No. No. No."
With each failure discovered, Alex crushed them in his hands, returning them to the nothing from whence they came. It made logical sense. There were hundreds of Earths, some so distant and warped from his ideal world that he hardly needed to look at them to see they were inferior. If he allowed the useless one to remain, they would simply clutter his workspace.
There was something wrong with all of them – a taint that he couldn't allow to bleed into what was to be his perfect Earth. Perhaps the answer wasn't in simply looking at the qualities of individual Earths. Maybe the answer could come from combining the aspects of more desirable Earths. To that end, Alex knew where to potentially start.
'Earth-Three. My home. Perhaps there is something there,' Alex thought to himself, drawing the Earth he had already earmarked as his own into his grasp, 'And maybe Kal-L was right. Maybe Earth-Two has some level of moral value. Something pure to add to the mix.'
With Earth-Three and Earth-Two in his hands, he used his power over matter and anti-matter to forcibly merge them together. There was a great amount of resistance to this warping of reality. Sweat beaded Alex's brow as he persisted.
'Superman, the greatest hero on Earth-Two. My father, Lex Luthor, the greatest hero on Earth-Three,' He could see the individuals in question, as well as the Earth-One Superman and Wonder Woman present on Earth-Two, out of place. It didn't matter what horrible amalgamation the fusion would create of them. He would do away with whatever that end result wound up being, 'The universe says Supermen and Luthors are destined to be at odds. Maybe the universe is wrong. I'll fuse them together.'
It would work. Of course, it would. It had to work, for the sake of reality.
So focused was he, that he didn't notice anything was wrong until his very hands were blasted with heat vision. Multiple fingers were severed.
"AARGH!" Alex cried out in pain as he lost his grasp on Earth-Two and Earth-three, losing them in the hodge-podge of alternate Earths. Enraged and in pain, he rounded on Superboy-Prime, nursing his injuries. But that was a mere trifle to him by comparison, "What do you think you're doing!? Now I'll have to find them all over again!"
Superboy-Prime responded to Alex's angered outburst with a cold stare, "Why?"
It was here that Alex realized that the tiger he had been holding by the tail may have finally found it in his best interest to bite him, "Why what, Superboy?" He asked, returning his tone to one of diplomacy.
Superboy-Prime seethed, "All these loser, reject Earths... and you won't send me back to mine! Kal-L went right back to his when it was created!" He snapped, "Why can't I go back to my Earth, Alex? Why can't I go home!?"
Alex tried to buy himself some time until he could think of a way to appease him, "I'd theorize somehow that you changed at your very core, Superboy."
"They made me change. I didn't want to, but they made me," Superboy-Prime said, almost pleading, as though doing so would prompt Alex to solve his problem for him, "I did what I had to do to find a way out. I always find a way out."
"Earth Prime is out there somewhere, Superboy," Alex said, finally having come up with a means to do away with Superboy-Prime while he did what he needed to, "You've done more than enough for our cause here. You're free to go looking for Earth Prime."
In order to get the muscle needed to see to their plans, Alexander Luthor had used his own powers to enhance Superboy-Prime's strength, to the degree that he could move entire planets and fight at a level beyond his fellow Kryptonians from other Earths. Trying to take that enhancement back to his face would end poorly for Alex, but if he could get Superboy-Prime into his reach in the stars, he could relieve him of his increased power. It wasn't like he needed Superboy-Prime to be that strong anymore.
Superboy-Prime seemed receptive Alex's idea, until he took longer than ten seconds to think about it. At that, an unpleasant smirk crossing his face that Alex didn't like. Nor did he like how Superboy-Prime flew uncomfortably close to him, "I know you're searching for the perfect Earth, but your search is over, Alex. You're going to forget your mixing and matching, because I've got an easy answer. You're going to find my Earth. Earth Prime. We'll make that the perfect Earth."
The look in his eye was manic. Alex's fight-or-flight instinct screamed at him to do something, anything. His own aims had nothing to do with Earth Prime, but if he refused to acquiesce to Superboy-Prime's demand, he had no doubt that the lad would act drastically in response.
Alex received a temporary reprieve when the universe projection flickered. Ultimately though, it remained active. It was an alarming sign, however.
"Something's wrong with the tower," Alex said.
Superboy-Prime sneered angrily, looking down the length of the tower he and Alex resided atop, "Who in the world has the guts?"
It was here that Alex found his much-needed diversion, "I need a little more time to find Earth Prime."
Superboy-Prime's eyes burned an angry red, "I'll give you all the time you need."
(Meanwhile – With Null)
That they had reached the golden tower without being discovered had been nothing short of a small miracle to Null. For once, he felt that perhaps luck was on his side. Then, they reached the level of the tower where the captured heroes were. Power Girl, Nightshade, Lady Quark, Breach, Atom, Martian Manhunter, and Black Adam.
Great progress. Things couldn't have been going better. The powers-that-be had to be distracted beyond measure to not notice them. They were even able to split up to cover more ground. Then, Booster Gold took it upon himself to yank the first hero they came across free. Nightshade was the lucky rescuee. The tower reacted to the loss of one of its catalysts.
"Goddamn it, dude," Null muttered under his breath. Being teamed with Anarky was fine, but it was just his luck to get stuck with Booster Gold as well. He figured Batman would blame him for blowing their cover, if they survived, "Should have given us Blue Beetle..."
"What?" Booster Gold defended himself, "We're here to get them out, aren't we?"
"We don't know what that did," Anarky said.
"Seriously," Null continued, "We've got a tech genius and the world's greatest detective with us, and you've got a fucking onboard computer flying around your head for reference. Could you have not waited for the smart people to figure out how the fuck this thing works before you yanked one of these guys out?"
"And why Nightshade?" Anarky said as the two teenagers continued to let Booster Gold have it, "For what we're about to do I'd have grabbed Power Girl or Black Adam first. We need firepower."
"You think Black Adam won't try to kill us when he gets loose?" Booster Gold asked.
Null scoffed, "I think Black Adam'll try to kill whoever put him in this thing before he thinks about going after any of us."
"INCOMING!" Anarky warned.
Null didn't need to be told twice to flee. He took off with Nightshade in his grasp the moment Anarky shouted. Superboy-Prime approached from above, flying at them like a bullet. They narrowly avoided him crashing right through them.
When Superboy-Prime saw who had intruded upon the tower, he rolled his eyes, his anger subsiding, "Really? Bottom-feeders like you are the ones that showed up? Of all the people..."
"Bottom-feeder, eh?" Booster Gold muttered before pointing both of his fists at Superboy-Prime, "How's this!" He unleashed a pair of powerful energy blasts from the gauntlets on his wrists, sending him flying into the side of the tower.
Despite the blast and the impact into the wall, Superboy-Prime didn't have a scratch on him. Entirely unharmed, he floated out of the crater his body had created, "You done, weakling?"
Booster Gold blinked and looked down at his gauntlets. Granted, he hadn't really expected to hurt a Kryptonian with his equipment, but he'd expected more from that, "Well... I mean-," In the next instant, Superboy-Prime had closed the distance between him and sent him flying with a punch.
"Heh," Superboy-Prime momentarily admired his handiwork, "One cockroach down."
In the meantime, Null and Anarky had scrambled to try and free more heroes. To Anarky's earlier point, they needed someone with stopping power awake and ready to fight. To that end, the next heroes they had reached were Power Girl and Martian Manhunter. The older Kara from an alternate dimension was still gorgeous, but Null couldn't rouse her.
"Wake up, wake up, wake up," Null repeated frantically, seeing Booster Gold go flying, "Crap. Anarky, we've gotta do something!"
"You're the one with powers!" Anarky shouted back, "Give Power Girl here and do something to slow that asshole down!"
Null magnetically floated Power Girl across the divide between them and turned his focus on Superboy-Prime as he flew their way. He had avoided fighting a Kryptonian for his entire career. That streak was now over.
When Superboy-Prime slowly turned around to face them, it felt like the unstoppable monster in a horror movie turning to menace its victims. He had dealt with Booster Gold, who despite his reputation was a real hero. He wasn't a shitkicker like Null, or whatever Anarky was.
The gesture, while useless in practicality, still enraged him. But for once, he kept his cool. After all, this was Null – a worthless, bottom-feeding thief. Not even enough of a threat to be classified as a supervillain. He could give him his best shot, and it still wouldn't matter.
In fact, that sounded like a fun way to put someone in their place.
Superboy-Prime preened arrogantly, hovering in place, "Look. I have a million better things to do than slap you around. So, here's the deal. I'll give you one freebie. I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
Null felt physically repulsed at someone who looked like a Super-person, wearing their colors and emblem, possessing such an ego, "Are you kidding me?"
The universe was at stake, and this guy wanted to play 'test your might'?
"Now hold on, you might have misheard me," Superboy-Prime continued, "Not half as hard. Not some arbitrary percentage. I want you. To hit me. As hard. As. You. Can."
Both Null and Anarky looked at each other. Well, if he was handing out freebies...
Anarky stood back as Null rooted his feet to the tower platform and lifted them over his head. Energy crackled around him as a large, unstable orb of electricity started to form just out of his grasp. But it wasn't enough.
The ball grew to the size of his entire body. Again, still not enough.
It grew to the size of a tractor trailer, which prompted Anarky to hit the deck, Nightshade in his grasp, to make sure they weren't injured. Even Superboy-Prime raised an eyebrow in interest. But for Null, it still wasn't enough.
The orb jumped in size to that of a two-story house. Whatever Null felt about the potency of the attack, he had run out of time. He would have to make do with what he had.
Null threw the ball and fired the homing beacon at Superboy-Prime, sending the electric ball rocketing toward him. He didn't even move as it exploded on him. Null threw up a forcefield for the sake of Anarky and Nightshade as the force of the blast shook the entire pole.
Snoke filled the air in the aftermath as Null lowered the forcefield, "That's not going to do the job," He informed Anarky, "I'm, like... 85% sure he's floating there, waiting for the smoke to clear, just to be dramatic."
"Can't you absorb more electricity from the tower to pump yourself up or something?" Anarky asked.
Null smacked a palm off of his forehead, "Wow. I can't believe I didn't think of that," He replied sarcastically, "If I had, maybe I'd have been doing that since the literal moment I touched it. Oh, wait. I have been!" He eventually snapped back.
Anarky felt a sinking sensation in his stomach, "You have?"
Null looked over his shoulder and nodded gravely, "I've been siphoning power this whole time, just for this. I still am. And I'm gonna try my best, but I wouldn't count on me holding him at all. Unless you've got an ace up your sleeve, you should go link up with the others."
Anarky hesitated for a moment, but eventually lifted Nightshade over his shoulder and did as Null requested. The heroes had a better chance of winning if they were all together than if they were separated all over the tower.
As Null expected, when the smoke cleared, Superboy-Prime simply hovered in the air, seemingly unharmed. He in fact made a show of casually brushing off his own shoulder. Null responded by picking his nose and flicking it. However, instead of a booger, it was an ironsand bullet that impacted off of Superboy-Prime's forehead, bouncing off harmlessly. Superboy-Prime sneered at his inferior opposition, and in a rush of speed stopped in front of Null.
Just out of instinct, Null responded to the breach of personal space with a claw hand to Superboy-Prime's face. Both of their bodies were engulfed with enough electricity to power an entire housing development. Superboy-Prime slowly reached up to his own face and peeled Null's hand off. Cold eyes gazed at his target before he reached out a hand and flicked Null in the center of the chest.
Null went flying back, tumbling uncontrollably, head-over-heels until his body finally came to rest. He gasped and wheezed, clutching at his breastbone. A little more force, and Null doubted his rib cage wouldn't have exploded through his back.
"Ooh..." Superboy-Prime hissed in fake sympathy, relishing in the pain he had undoubtedly caused, "That looked like it hurt. Not that I would know," He watched Null struggle to get back up, which he eventually did with the help of the tower wall, "I know most of you criminals are complete morons, so I'm going to give you one last chance. You. Me. Hard as you can. We clear?"
Null lifted his head high enough to glare at Superboy-Prime underneath his hood, "Crystal," The metal wall groaned as he drove his hand through it, reaching in deep enough to grab and rip out a handful of sparking wires.
This was it. The most direct boost he could get from the universal tower. Since Superboy-Prime was being 'gracious' enough to grant him the opportunity to leech as much power as he could in one go, it would have been rude of Null to turn it down.
Null began to borrow so much power that his eyes began to glow white. His veins, now visible on his face, started lighting up under his skin. The smell of ozone engulfed the nearby area and a pressure began to build up around them.
Al of a sudden, Null didn't seem so weak and worthless to the alternate universe Kryptonian, "Uh..."
"You know what? You're right," Null said, heart pumping fiercely in his chest as his system was flooded with more and more power, "You are better than me, in pretty much every way I can possibly think of. You're faster, you're stronger, you've got more raw power... and you've got a pretty good jawline. But here's the thing, Psychoboy-."
"It's Superboy!" Superboy-Prime snapped.
"I know what I said," Null said before continuing, "-You're way stronger than me. But if I need more power, I can find ways to borrow it."
"...How much can you borrow?"
"That's a great question," Null replied, "I try not to fight monsters like you, so I've never really had to ask before. I'll tell you what. Let's find out together!"
Null pointed the index and middle fingers of his free hand at Superboy-Prime like a gun, forming a twenty-pound ironsand shell at the end of his fingertips. Channeling all of the electric power he had at his disposal, Null formed a fifty-foot long, two-pronged cannon made from some of the metal of the tower that extended from his arm.
Superboy-Prime could feel the power buildup, and a touch of fear crept into his heart, "W-Wait a minute."
"What's wrong, big time?" Null taunted, able to see that his target was a moment away from attacking him before he had completed the setup for his own, "You're the one who asked me to take my best shot! Or are you backing down now?"
Superboy-Prime bristled. Despite how he felt, he wasn't going to give Null the satisfaction of going back on his word, "I'm gonna be Superman, you idiot! Superman doesn't back down from anyone!"
"Glad to hear it!" Null shouted, "So, just stand there and smile for the motherfucking camera!" With that, he squeezed his fingers and let the chambered round fly.
A sharp, yet deafening blast rang out, and the large projectile within Null's launched forth faster than the recoil of the makeshift cannon could register. The cannon itself blew apart upon firing. Superboy-Prime saw the whole thing coming the entire way, and braced for it. All the same, the round hit him faster than a speeding bullet. It, in fact, hit him somewhere along the speed of 8200 feet per second.
Even with all of the power behind the shot, aim was not sacrificed in its place. With a round of that size, from a range of that close, even if Null had missed, he still couldn't have missed. Besides, he had a big, red 'S' to aim at, dead center on Superboy-Prime's chest. The shot hit true, jerking Superboy-Prime's body forward violently. With the resulting shockwave that had ripped through the air after the point of contact, Null held out hope that perhaps the dimensionally misplaced Kryptonian had bitten off more than he could chew, and had gotten a helmet-sized hole blown through his torso for his trouble.
The front of Superboy-Prime's uniform had been shredded, and as for the body underneath? Ugly purple and black bruises were visible where the shell had made contact.
Tears of pain pricked at the corner of Superboy-Prime's eyes, but the pain was merely a sign that he had survived. He touched at the injury, relishing in the feeling, "Heh-heh..." He started to laugh, first slightly, then loudly and more maniacally, "Hah-hah-hah-hah! I knew it! I knew I could do it! There's no way a second-rate thief could ever put down the main hero!"
No longer overcharged, Null's eyes and skin returned to normal. That had been his best shot; the most power he could focus into one point. He'd had to absorb more power than he'd ever gathered just to make it work.
Superboy-Prime felt his confidence and ego swell at the sight of Null's dejected body language, "Did you really expect anything better? You're not JLA. You're not a Titan. You're nobody. And nobody's going to miss you when you're gone," He threatened with a manic grin before taking off at Null.
Still somewhat overcharged, Null pointed one hand at the golden tower, the other at Superboy-Prime. The next instant, his trajectory shifted, sending him headfirst into the colossal structure. The satisfying sound of a metallic clang that resulted prompted Null to pump his fist triumphantly. However, Superboy-Prime almost immediately freed himself from being magnetically pinned.
"Come on..." Null groaned, "That couldn't even buy me ten more seconds?"
In another rush of speed from Superboy-Prime, he blew past Null. The only thing keeping him from tearing right through Null was the magnetic forcefield Null kept in place subtly pushing him aside. The thief had learned his lesson after being hit by Superman before and had adjusted accordingly. It wasn't a catch-all in the least, however, and he found himself bounced around like a hamster in an invisible ball.
'He doesn't matter,' Superboy-Prime thought as he rocketed past, 'He's just the diversion. A waste of my time.'
As he thought to himself, he was blindsided by a white and red blur. Power Girl. Newly recovered, she smashed Superboy-Prime into the side of the tower, her forearm pressed against his neck, "You have a lot to answer for."
"I don't have to answer for anything," Superboy-Prime regarded, eyes red, "I'm the good guy here."
A sharp blast of heat vision forced Power Girl to let go, lest she be burned. Superboy-Prime flew past her as she evaded, grabbing her by her cape. With a mighty heave, he threw her away from the tower, following up with a heat vision blast for good measure.
He had expected more of a fight from the former Earth-Two Supergirl, but to his surprise, once she had been moved far enough from the tower, Power Girl disappeared. That was odd, but all the same, it was a significant powerhouse taken out of commission.
'Besides,' Superboy-Prime thought, smiling at the sight of Alex's still active machine, 'It's not like anyone needs her anymore.'
Before he had too much time to feel pleased with himself, another presence hovered behind him. He turned around to find the unhappy form of Earth-One's Supergirl.
"You?" Superboy-Prime almost laughed, "I already put you in your place. What do you think you're gonna-?" His question was interrupted with a crushing right hand to the jaw.
Supergirl cracked her knuckles while Superboy touched at his lip, checking for blood, "I was holding back last time, you dingus."
Still finding himself unmarked, Superboy-Prime smirked, "Here's a fun fact for you. So was I."
Batman hadn't known for certain that the group of Null, Anarky, and Booster Gold would attract undue attention, but given the latter, he made an educated estimation on the likelihood of it. To that end, when the sounds of fighting started, he wasn't particularly surprised. He, Nightwing, and Blue Beetle simply used the opportunity to release as many of the captured heroes as they could, managing to get the remainder of them free.
And yet, the machine continued to operate.
"Freeing everyone didn't work," Nightwing observed, looking out into the projection of the universe before them, "I still see more and more Earths replicating."
A slight pursing of Batman's lips was the only sign that he was perturbed, "Beetle?"
Blue Beetle had been doing his best to analyze the technology of the tower as they went along. It was the epicenter of everything happening. Every captured hero contributed in some way to its capabilities, and its power source had clearly been Black Adam. But even with them removed, it was still active, "I don't know how to shut it off, Batman. It doesn't make any sense. It's self-sustaining at this point."
The entire time, Batman never tore his gaze away from the red-haired man clad in a golden bodysuit, "If there's a way to stop it, we can just force it out of him."
Hearing Batman's threat, Alex chuckled to himself, "You can't stop this. You and yours have had countless chances to make this universe better. And you've failed, every single time. There won't be anything different this time around. You're going to fail again; this time, for the last time!" He punctuated this with a blast of pure anti-matter energy.
The heroes scattered, trying to get an angle on Alex to approach him while his attention was on one of the others, but he had two hands available and the focus to keep track of all of them. Nightwing's acrobatics allowed him to get the closest out of the three, narrowly missing Alex with a midair corkscrew into a diving kick. Batman used the temporary lapse in Alex's attack to hurl small bombs at him. Alex saw them coming and blasted them out of the air, creating a smokescreen around himself that concealed his view of the others.
Blue Beetle tried to take advantage by blasting into the smoke with his BB gun, but when the smoke cleared, Alex was nowhere to be seen.
"Where are you aiming?" Blue Beetle's eyes went wide when Alex appeared directly in front of him and grabbed him by the throat. He took flight with Beetle still in his grasp, "Ted Kord... your snooping could have led to the undoing of everything. In this universe of failures, you're one of the few I could almost dare to consider competent," Batman and Nightwing moved to rescue their comrade when Alex held up his free hand, threatening Blue Beetle, "You are in no position to rescue him. You see? Failed again."
Both Batman and Nightwing looked at each other before the latter spoke, "Maybe we aren't. But they are."
A newly free Martian Manhunter flew up and grabbed Blue Beetle, going intangible once he did just as Atom and Breach attempted to ambush Alex. He blasted the two of them away from the tower. Once they flew far enough away, they vanished into thin air.
"What did you just do?" Batman demanded.
"They moved too far from the tower," Alex said, "As they're not originally from this Earth, they were simply transported to the Earth of their origin."
Any gloating was prevented by a bolt of lightning striking true into Alex's back. The Earth-Three intellectual turned to be faced with the looming form of Black Adam.
"The games are over, Luthor," Adam's voice boomed as he sought to make Alex pay for his betrayal, "Your plots and schemes, your treachery, it all ends now!"
Alexander Luthor fell to a knee underneath Black Adam's onslaught, blocking his following attacks with both hands, "Greater than you have tried, Adam," In an instant, he turned Adam's magic lightning against him, shooting him out of the sky with his own powers, "Far greater."
After spending time trading more punches with Supergirl, Superboy-Prime had no choice but to come to a conclusion – she had indeed been holding back the last time they had fought. After all, they had been fighting in a small town, and even then, they had still done considerable damage.
...Though that had mostly been him. But who cared? When Earth Prime was brought back, everything on Earth-One would cease to exist anyway. That meant every bad thing that he may or may not have done to bring about that change would never have happened. At least, that was his mindset. The ends justified the means when the ends would simply be erased anyway.
After an exchange of punches, Supergirl and Superboy-Prime went palm-to-palm, fingers interlocked as they tried to overpower one another. As titanic as her strength was, and as much as she was cutting loose against an enemy that could take it in a location that could endure it, she still wasn't as strong as him.
Try as she might, Supergirl couldn't budge him, even with her best efforts. Even worse, she got an up-close look at Superboy-Prime's infuriatingly smug expression, "Don't you get it yet?" He taunted, "You're supposed to be one of the tough ones, and this is the best you can do."
"Do you ever shut up?" Supergirl grunted out, her entire body feeling the strain of the struggle. Her wrists felt a hair away from breaking. Eventually, she felt them give, "Gah!"
Superboy-Prime felt them break in his grasp. His triumphant look suddenly found itself covered with a glob of ironsand that solidified around his head into a smooth mass. He immediately began to panic, clawing at the ironsand, yet unable to find anywhere to dig into to begin stripping it away.
Supergirl didn't take the opening she'd been provided for granted. She lunged forward and hit Superboy-Prime as hard as she could in his wide-open torso. Clenching her hands together for one final blow, she smashed him from above with a hammer-like blow that sent him falling down to the ground like a comet. He struck the cold, icy surface of the pole with enough force to break off an entire section.
Supergirl hovered over the crash zone while Null flew nearby, trying to keep the ironsand's shape and structure around Superboy-Prime's head, "This guy bugging you, babe?" Null jokingly asked before taking note of her injuries, "Shit. You okay, Kara?"
"I'll be fine. Just give me a sec," Supergirl answered, feeling the bones in her wrists knit themselves back together, "You're gonna suffocate him?" She asked.
Yes, and Null was not ashamed to admit as much, "You fuckers still have to breathe, don't you?" He replied.
They did, as evidenced by Superboy-Prime's squirming body and the flailing of his arms and legs. Before long, a red glow appeared on the surface of the mask. Heat vision burned and blasted through the ironsand, giving Superboy-Prime endings to grab onto and tear off. Once again able to circulate air unobstructed, he took massive, greedy breaths.
Once he was able to focus again on the light and the environment around him, he saw Supergirl and Null together in the air. Anger burned in him at the sight, "Him? You're getting help from him?"
"Don't take it so personally, man," Null replied, trying to buy Supergirl even a second longer to recover, "It's just because she's cute... and sweet... and not trying to destroy the universe. Oh, and she's not a raging psychopath. I'm sure if you had... literally anything going for you, you wouldn't have had to hoodwink the world's villains into doing your dirty work."
That pest. Suddenly, more about the fight up to that point made sense. Null's little electric blasts and magnetic attacks had been as effective as mosquito bites on a rhino's hide, so he simply found an alternate way to make a difference, transferring his magnetic forcefield to Supergirl to subtly divert Superboy's physical blows. That was why, despite the fact that he had still been hitting her, she hadn't folded the way she had the last time around and even seemed capable of enduring his strength at times.
This was exactly what was wrong with this universe. A hero fighting side-by-side with a thief with no issues, "You're pathetic!" Superboy-Prime shouted as he stood up, "This is why I'm doing this. We're going to have good heroes again! When we bring back my Earth, we'll have real heroes! Real heroes that are polite, and honest, and brave!"
He flew up and forced himself between Null and Supergirl. He punched the latter, while the former grabbed his face from behind and attempted to electrocute him. Superboy-Prime hardly reacted, reaching over his shoulder to grab Null and throw him at Supergirl, who caught him. Cruelty rushing through him, Superboy-Prime took aim with his heat vision and fired.
Null's forcefield did nothing to protect him as the heat vision struck true. Two eye-shaped holes burned through his upper right chest and out his back, also striking Supergirl, who lost her grip on him.
Null gasped in pain and shock as he slipped from Supergirl's grasp. He fell from the sky, "NO!"
As Supergirl recovered and went to catch him again, Superboy-Prime wrapped his arms around her neck from behind, "This is your fault," He hissed in her ear as she fought to try and get free of his chokehold, "Because you wouldn't stop fighting. Because you just had to keep trying. I'm the hero here. You're the bad guys. And the bad guys never win."
It served them both right. It all could have been a peaceful transition. All of the pretenders of Earth-One could have just faded away. They would hardly have known anything was happening at all, let alone what it was. And the universe that replaced theirs would have been all the better. But one rat after another had to keep learning more and more, and sticking their noses into things. Well, it made sense. After all, Earth One was nothing but suffering, so why would things be any different for its end?
This universe would die as it lived, ugly and gracelessly.
As Superboy-Prime opened his mouth to taunt Supergirl again, she reached over her shoulder and, fingers in his mouth, grabbed onto his lower jaw, pulling her hand away in a snapping motion that dislocated his jaw.
"MMMMPPPPH!" Superboy-Prime's hands flew to his mouth. Blood poured between his fingers as he tried to hold his jaw in place long enough for the injury to heal.
Tears in her eyes, Supergirl let out an anguished scream and flew at Superboy-Prime as hard as her will would push her forward. All the air was smashed out of him when she crashed into him full-force, driving him up into the sky.
Despite the severity of the injury inflicted on him, Null never lost consciousness. His awareness and sense of self-preservation kicked in after about three seconds of free-falling.
Between Null's magnetic forcefield and a cushion of ironsand from his suit, he survived the fall. Granted, hitting the the roof of the Bug, even with that hadn't been a pleasant experience, but it was preferable to splatting off of the top platform of the tower, which had been where his trajectory would have led him.
The Bug landed on the surface of the tower where Null rolled off and fell to the ground painfully. Anarky behind the controls gave a sarcastic thumbs up when he dropped, "Got him."
"Uuuugh..." Null writhed on the ground, clutching at his wound. At least it had instantly cauterized from the heat of the blast. The suit was also doing its part to mitigate damage, but the pain was still agonizing.
"Null!" Blue Beetle scrambled out of his vehicle and rushed over to the boy's side, "Are you alright, kid?"
"No!" Null irritably shouted, abruptly sitting up, "We figure out how to stop this thing yet!?"
Blue Beetle sighed, "It's beyond me. Maybe if I had more time, I could figure out the specifics of how this thing works."
By now, frustration had thoroughly kicked in for Null. Looking up at Supergirl continuing to battle with Superboy-Prime as their fight took them out of Earth's outer reaches, remembering how his help had little consequence in their attempts to try and stop the unstable alternate Superboy, it simply made him angry. There had to be a way to make a difference.
Unsteadily making his way back up to his feet, Null stumbled a bit, but eventually found his legs, "If that's the case, I think we should stop trying to think about a smart solution and just go with the obvious one – Tear the fucking tower apart."
Blue Beetle looked at Null as though he were insane, "This entire tower is 700 meters high and 250 around!" After taking a moment to think of their options, he tried to reason with himself possible scenarios where things could work, "Hmm... it is metal. I suppose you could do it, if piece by piece."
But did they have the time for that? Blue Beetle didn't think so. Neither did Null.
"I've got another idea," Null limped his way across the battlefield in search of the only person that could help him now, "Adam!"
It didn't take long for him to locate Black Adam. The magical antihero violently crash-landed in the midst of his struggle against Alexander Luthor. Other heroes were still attempting to stop the inter-dimensional megalomaniac, but Adam had no intention of letting others fight his battle for him.
With a snarl, Adam prepared to reengage, only for Null's call to stop him, "What do you want, boy?"
Time was of the essence, so Null tried to get his point across as quickly as possible, "Okay, remember that one time when you hit me with a bunch of your lightning bolts, and it gave me enough power to kick your ass?"
"You did no such-!"
"-I want you to do that same thing, right now. But, like, turned up to a thousand."
Adam stared at Null, trying to find some sign of insincerity in him, "Surely, you jest."
"No, seriously," Null said, beckoning Adam to do his worst, "Everything you've got. Right now."
"..." Adam momentarily hesitated, "This is the power of the gods, child. Are you certain you can handle it?"
Truthfully, no. The most power Null had ever absorbed at one time was from a lightning strike in nature. He couldn't drain the tower of its power, it was self-sustaining, and he couldn't pull enough for it to matter. Thus, he had to look for another option. Even if this killed him, the alternative was to die anyway.
"Do you really care if I can't?" Null responded.
Black Adam's eyebrows raised. Indeed, what did he care for the life of this whelp? "A fair point. Very well then," Black Adam sized Null up, channeling the focus of his magic into him, "Are you ready?"
Null closed his eyes and opened his channels, "Hit me, chief."
Null heard the crack of lightning splitting the air, and then nothing. Everything went dark. His entire body lost all feeling.
This was it. He had finally flown too close to the sun. His own hare-brained, half-cocked idea to give himself a boost had resulted in his death. But then... why could he still have these thoughts in the first place? Dead people didn't think. His hearing slowly returned, though with a vibrating hum in his ears.
"What the hell did you do?" The muffled voice of Nightwing echoed in Null's mind.
"Only what he asked of me," Black Adam curtly replied.
Oh, he was still alive. That explained everything. But did it work?
Null slowly opened his eyes to see Black Adam, looking at him in a combination of horror and awe, "...You live?" He asked, knowing the answer as he could see the boy still standing before him.
"Null..." Nightwing said tentatively, "Are you okay?"
Null wasn't sure how to answer that question at first. This version of overcharge was different than the one he had gotten earlier from the tower itself. He didn't feel the wound from Superboy-Prime's heat vision anymore, so that was a plus. And he had discovered the source of the humming sound – it was him. More specifically, the speed of his heartbeat.
Reaching up to touch his hair that was now standing up on end, electricity flickered off of Null's body with every move he made, independent of his own will or thought. Black Adam and Nightwing had to take great care to avoid not being stricken by it themselves. Experimentally, Null reached out to magnetically grab hold of a portion of the tower. Upon doing so, his eyes went wide and a vicious grin slowly spread across his face, "Get away from the tower..." He directed, "Now."
"Because you don't want to be here when I chuck this thing into the face of the sun."
"Are you serious?"
Right as Nightwing finished his query, he heard the entire tower creak and metal screech. It was a bone-chilling feeling, hearing such a mammoth construct make such a structurally unsound noise.
"Does it sound like I'm joking?" Null asked in return.
'No. No, he does not,' Nightwing decided, turning to run back to the others, "Clear out!" He shouted to the others, "Off the tower! Right now!"
With Batman's complete trust in his first apprentice, when he heard Nightwing call for everyone to vacate the premises, he didn't ask questions. He seconded the order to the other heroes that were still fighting against Alexander Luthor, "Break away! Regroup away from the tower!"
The Bug swept in to provide transport for the heroes who were incapable of flight. Alex watched the retreat in confusion until realizing that he wasn't quite alone just yet. Null remained at the top of the tower with him, "You?" He asked amusedly, "You're the one who decided to stay behind? So greedy that you aren't willing to part with the Earth itself, aren't you?"
By now, Null had bent down to get a better 'grip' on the tower, as if he were about to perform a power clean at the gym, "Of course not," He said through the strain of trying to lift, "It's...mine."
Alex floated over to Null, not registering him as a threat. But even then, just like the rest of them, struggling so mightily, all in vain, "You're a mistake, you know. You shouldn't exist," He remarked, "On every other Earth, in every other universe, there is no other version of you. You really are the perfect encapsulation of how tainted this Earth is. How far it is from how things are supposed to be."
Above an inattentive Alexander Luthor, in the projection of the universe overhead, a cosmic storm began to form near Earth-One.
"And you know how the universe is supposed to be?" Null asked.
"Of course. I've seen it," Alex said, as though it were obvious, "Like my father before me, I am the only hero in a world full of villains."
"Then you must really suck at being a hero..." Null said, grinning victoriously despite the sweat pouring down his face, "...If you let someone like me get this far."
Distracted by combat when Null had first taken hold of the tower, it was only then that Alex felt the tower quiver. His face paled in horror, "No..." He slowly shook his head in denial, "It's impossible. You can't. You can't!"
Null let out a guttural yell as he forcefully stood upright and swung his arms into the air. The entire universal tower ripped its way out of the ground, shooting straight up into the sky like a rocket.
The moment the tower was ripped free from Earth, it finally stopped generating its own power. Alex immediately felt a significant amount of his power leave him, frightening him, "No! Make it stop!" He cried out, "You've damned this Earth! I was going to do it! I was going to make the perfect universe!"
Null could feel the air thinning the higher they went. Supergirl's life support device activated once it was needed, just as Null started cackling at Alex, "A perfect universe? Nothing's perfect."
Seeing red with anger, Alex attempted to blast Null, "What would you know about it!?" He asked as Null easily dodged the clumsy, enraged attack. Supercharged as Null was, his speed and reflexes were on an entirely different level, "You're a small-minded criminal! A child rubbing elbows with gods! And now you've ruined everything!"
"You're supposed to be a genius, but you sound like a smooth-brained crybaby right now," Null taunted, "There is no perfect Earth, and if there was, you wouldn't be the one that could make it. Look at what you did to my Earth."
"I did what I had to!" Alex roared, the tower that served as their vehicle rattled uncontrollably as its inner workings seemed to be set to detonate, "Half-measures are what made your Earth the cesspool it is! I was going to create an all-new paradise!"
Null stopped dodging and pretended that he was contemplating the idea, "...Nah, I don't see it," He eventually said, "Let me tell you something, smart guy. There's no paradise. Not on this plane. Life is hard. Life is pain, and you have scrape the joy out of it every chance you get."
By this time, the tower was floating close to outer space, at the very exterior of Earth's effective atmosphere. There was a moment where the tower floated peacefully with the backdrop of the universe's endless blackness, littered with hundreds of separate Earths that all seemed to be flickering in and out of existence. In an instant, they all collapsed into the planet that had been designated as Earth-One, forming a new kind of Earth.
The sight of all of his grand plans literally collapsing before his eyes drew a tear from Alexander Luthor's eye, "No," He whispered.
"It doesn't matter how smart or strong you are. You can't control or change everything," Null said, marveling at the sight of Earth, his Earth. Once he'd gotten his fill, he closed his eyes and opened his arms, "Yeah, there's nothing wrong with doing everything you can. But sometimes, you've just gotta sit back and try to enjoy the ride."
Opening his channels, he turned himself into a lightning rod for the cosmic storm he had summoned close to Earth-One. Several bolts of electricity lashed out, aiming at Null.
"Come on, universe, you mostly empty wuss," Null whispered as cosmic lightning hit all around him, "Give me all the juice you've got."
In that same instant, the golden tower exploded.
Even when the fight with Superboy-Prime had carried Supergirl past Earth's atmosphere and into space it didn't seem to slow. Driven by anger as she was, he was still more powerful than her. But salvation seemed to come in the form of the contemptable golden tower that had been their target flying up and then exploding.
Out of the corner of Supergirl's eye, she had been watching the entire time. She knew what had happened with the tower, who had been on it. She wanted nothing more than to fly to Null, to make sure he was okay. But the moment she turned her back or took her attention off of Prime, he would make her pay for it.
With the loss of the tower, that should have been the end. For all intents and purposes, it was the end. And yet, Superboy-Prime still continued on fighting. He wouldn't let it end.
Bruised and bloodied, Supergirl managed to break away from Superboy-Prime, momentarily disengaging, "Why are you still fighting!" She screamed, "It's over!"
In similar shape himself, Superboy-Prime screamed back, "No! It's not over! Nothing is over until I bring back Earth-Prime!"
Supergirl was at a loss, "Bring back..." She repeated under her breath before yelling again, "The tower is gone! Earth-Prime is gone! This Earth is the only one left again."
Superboy-Prime held his head, shaking it 'no', "I don't want this Earth. It's disgusting. Everything on it is second-rate. All of the heroes are second-rate. It was so much better when I was the only hero in the universe!"
His words prompted thoughts back to just a day earlier. Supergirl recalled something Superboy-Prime had said during their first meeting,
"There aren't any other superheroes on Earth-Prime. Just me."
At the time he had said it so proudly, so eagerly. Only then did it really sink in just how depraved Superboy-Prime's every action leading to this point was.
"Is that what this is all about?" Supergirl asked, "You're willing to destroy everything and everyone to feel special? Needed?"
"I am special!" Superboy-Prime spat, gesturing to the Earth and the mostly darkness of space around them, "I'm the only one who can rescue this messed up universe! I'm the only one who knows how to make it right! I will be its greatest hero! I will be Superman!"
"Not as long as you have no idea what being Superman really means."
Supergirl and Superboy-Prime stopped arguing amongst themselves when they were approached by others. Superman, Superman-2, and Power Girl. But it wasn't just them. It was Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart-
Almost every space-capable superhero the planet had to offer, many of whom had been out dealing with the issue of the multiple Earths that were now gone, was there.
Superman floated forward to Supergirl. Upon singling him out among the crowd, Supergirl felt wetness form in her eyes. She didn't know why, but the sight of her 'younger' cousin filled her with relief, "Kal..."
"Hey, Kara," Superman didn't comment on the tears, instead opening his arms invitingly, "Come here," That she didn't hesitate to do so, sniffling quietly against his chest, showed the level of despair she had felt in the moment, "It's alright."
"I wasn't going to win," Supergirl cried, "I didn't know what to do."
"You did great," Superman insisted, "It's our fault it got this far. It should have been us. We should have been there."
Superboy-Prime sneered at the sight of Superman hugging and consoling his sobbing cousin. Just like that, she could ignore him? Not a chance. They weren't finished. As he made to move in for an attack, his way was barred by Earth-Two's Superman; his would-be cohort.
"Superboy... stop," Kal-L insisted, trying to talk the younger man down, "It's over."
"You too," Superboy-Prime couldn't believe what he was hearing at first. But then, it made sense. The sentimental, old-fashioned, fool. They had gotten to him, "You're with them now. You've lost your nerve, haven't you? Even after we've come all this way? You're weak!"
Kal-L flinched at Superboy-Prime's venomous remark. He was right, Kal-L had been weak. But not for the reason he thought, "Alex tricked us. He tricked the both of us. He preyed on our desires, exploited our insecurities, and look at what we've done. So many have died, been hurt. We almost destroyed everything."
"You said the Earth was dark and corrupted! You saw it all happen!" Superboy-Prime shouted at his elder from an alternate dimension, "You saw our sacrifice become pointless! Lois died because of them! My Earth died because of them!" He pointed past Kal-L to Superman and Supergirl.
"You and I have strayed so far from what Superman is meant to be..." Kal-L said, trying to appeal to whatever hero there was inside of Superboy-Prime, "But it's not too late to end this madness."
Superboy-Prime's mouth worked with no sound coming out. He was at a loss for words. Alex's scheme had failed at the 11th hour. And now, the only ally he had left was throwing in the towel.
All of the subterfuge. All of the maneuvering and plotting. It had taken so much time and effort; so much of Superboy-Prime's time and effort. But the carrot that had been dangled in front of him had been worth it the entire time. It had been there, had come back into existence. Somewhere out amongst the infinite Earths had been Earth-Prime, if only for a few hours.
It was possible. But even though Alex had preached the mantra of 'no half measures' he hadn't gone far enough to make absolute certain that everything would change. There was still a way to wipe this universe from existence, and he knew that Alex had always been aware of it, but was unwilling to take that step. That was understandable though. After all, there was no way he would have had the heart to go through with a measure that would have resulted in his death.
Superboy-Prime could survive it though. He was the real hero here. And the hero never died.
Superboy-Prime's posture became less hostile, "You're right, Superman. I know you're right. This has gone too far," He said, "...I should have taken this into my own hands a long time ago."
Martian Manhunter was clearly able to read the unstable Superboy-Prime's mind, and what he saw as his future plans caused him to shout in warning, "No!"
Before anyone could stop him, Superboy-Prime shot off into the blackness of outer space. The others were quick to pursue, but he had a head start. That aside, he was faster than the lot of them to begin with.
Martian Manhunter projected his thoughts to every hero nearby in pursuit, "He is heading for Oa, the home base of the Green Lanterns. He plans to fly through the planet at light speed..."
"Going through Oa like that would cause the central power battery to blow!" Hal Jordan replied, "Nothing would be left."
"That is what this Superboy wants," Martian Manhunter relayed, "He aims to cause a new big bang, to restart everything."
"When I say everything, I mean him too!" Hal continued, "I don't care how strong he is, even he won't fucking survive!"
Meanwhile, John Stewart was getting in contact with as many of his comrades as he could, "Guy, It's Stewart. We've got a big problem."
There wasn't a single one of them that could keep up. The farther Superboy-Prime flew, the more distance he put between himself and his pursuers, and the more speed he built up, the closer he got to reaching light speed.
Looking behind himself at the welcome sight of nothing, Superboy-Prime's smug sense of superiority took over, "Heh. I knew they weren't faster than m-." It quickly dissipated when he turned forward to see an imposing green wall blocking his path to Oa, "What the hell?"
As he could see Oa from his proximity to the barrier, he couldn't turn or alter his trajectory, otherwise he risked missing his target. To that end, stopping also wasn't an option. Regardless, his pride would never have allowed him to admit that anything in this inferior universe could stop him; even the amassed might of the Green Lantern Corps.
Superboy-Prime plowed into the wall with all the force of a drill boring into the earth. And much like a drill, though it slowed him, it didn't stop him.
Guy Gardner watched with a grin expression of determination. It was only a matter of time before the target got through, but then, it was never meant to stop him by itself, "A three-hundred-mile-thick wall of pure damn willpower sure slowed his ass down. But the thin green line will stop him cold!"
Superboy-Prime seemed to take offense to that use of terminology. The moment he was through, the Green Lanterns were on him, but it mattered little, "Cold? You don't know cold."
Despite the Green Lanterns' coordinated assault, a blast of Superboy-Prime's super-breath froze three of them solid when they tried to block his path.
"Cold is being the only survivor of an Earth that was erased from history," Superboy-Prime flew right through the frozen Lanterns. They shattered into pieces.
"Ring status report. Green Lantern 885: deceased. Space sector scan 885 for replacement sentient initiated."
"Ring status report. Green Lantern 3544: deceased. Space sector scan 3544 for replacement sentient initiated."
"Ring status report. Green Lantern 34: deceased. Space sector scan 34 for replacement sentient initiated."
Superboy-Prime was remorseless, continuing on without a second glance, "Cold is having to fight the entire universe because you tried to do the right thing. Cold is what this universe has made me."
Guy Gardner blasted Prime with as much direct force as he could muster, "Code 54, Lanterns! Excessive force has been approved, and encouraged, for this crybaby!"
Upon hearing Guy Gardner's insult, Superboy-Prime targeted him specifically, cutting a swath through the Green Lanterns and their constructs until he was able to wrap his hand around Gardner's throat. A defensive field provided by his ring was the only thing that kept it from being instantly crushed.
"You're rude and offensive, Guy Gardner," He said as he continued to squeeze, beginning to feel the man in his grasp's will fade, "I wonder who your ring is going to go to..." He mused aloud before a barrage of green blasts from responding Green Lanterns forced him away.
"His ring stays with him," Hal Jordan remarked as he and his comrades did their best to slow Superboy-Prime down. His presence marked the arrival of the other space-faring heroes that had followed from Earth.
Kal-L was impressed by the resolve of the Green Lanterns. Then again, willpower and courage was their thing, "They managed to hold him up after all."
There had never been a doubt in Superman's mind, "Hal knows the plan," Now he needed to do his part on his end. He simply would have preferred if their troupe was one lighter, "Kara, you don't have to do this."
From the moment the plan of action was decided upon, Supergirl had figured herself in, and wouldn't hear anything to the contrary. After everything that had happened, this was just as much her fight to finish as anyone else's.
"I have to see this through," Supergirl said, "Besides, this is too big to take chances with."
"Alright then," Superman accepted his cousin's decision, "This is it! Take him, now!"
As Superboy-Prime had slowed, Superman, Superman-2, and Supergirl all collided with him together, driving him off-course entirely. The Supermen focused on restraining his movement as much as possible while Supergirl kept them moving in the intended direction.
Superboy-Prime couldn't break their grasp, no matter which one of them he hit, no matter how hard he hit them. Still, he was trapped, and he began to panic.
"Where?" He demanded to know, continuing to pummel his captors, "Just where do you idiots think you're taking me? I've broken out of whole other dimensions! There's nowhere in the universe you can put me that'll hold me!"
No one wasted their concentration to so much as address him. They stoically endured his abuse, all the while pushing him through the depths of space. Eventually, they began passing through a field of green rocks. Supergirl did her best to dodge as many as she could, but a good number still collided with them. Every time they did, she and Superman visibly winced.
"Oh, I see," Superboy-Prime said, "You brought me to where this Krypton exploded. But this Krypton isn't from my universe. It won't hurt me. All you're going to do is kill these two."
No response was given. There was still a job to do, after all.
Superboy-Prime cackled insanely, "I mean, did you think these rocks would stop me? HAHAHAHAHA! Did you really!? HAHAHA-, huh?" He stopped laughing upon feeling the draining sensation that accompanied a red glow.
At that, Supergirl finally said something, "You really never shut up."
Together, they all crashed through the heart of Krypton's red sun. It provided no resistance, but still did what was needed. Superboy-Prime screamed the entire way through, until they finally crashed onto a strategically placed planet. Once they broke through the atmosphere, they split apart and hit the surface separately, creating their own craters in the ground.
Bathed in the light of the red sun, as opposed to the yellow sun that gave them their powers, those same powers started to fade. For once, the notorious Kryptonian invulnerability failed them.
"Nnngh…" Superman was the first to pull himself to his feet. Looking around at his surroundings, he allowed himself a small smile, "I need to make sure the Green Lanterns thank Modo for me."
The planet itself was alive, and a Green Lantern. It seemed like the best possible place for a controlled ending.
Superman limped around until he found a crater with red and blue inside, "Superman?" As he reached down to try and help him up, a beam of heat vision blasted him from behind, "ARRGH!"
The invulnerability was definitely gone.
Superboy-Prime stalked Superman from behind, his eyes burning red as he tried to laser a hole through his prey, "Die! Die and leave this universe to me!"
He managed to bring Superman to his knees, a hole burned through the back of his uniform, badly marring the skin underneath. Before he could finish him off, the heat vision faded.
"…My heat vision…" Superboy-Prime whispered, "What's happening?"
From behind, Superman-2 put a hand on his shoulder and turned him around before punching him in the face, "You're losing!"
Superboy-Prime landed on the ground and touched at his face. That hurt. A lot, "You… you took my superpowers?" He could feel his strength fading, but still had enough left to make the ones responsible pay.
He launched himself forward and tackled Kal-L to ground. From there, he began savagely beating him with his bare hands.
"Look at what you've done!" Superboy-Prime yelled, delivering frantic, uncontrolled punches to Kal-L's unprotected face. He couldn't even muster the strength to defend himself, "We lost everything just to make this evil, garbage universe! You of all people should understand why I'm doing this!"
Before another punch could land, his fist was caught from behind. Superboy-Prime turned his head only to be smashed across the face with a stray chunk of Kryptonite, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Supergirl cringed, her hand burning from touching Kryptonite with her bare skin. With her powers fading, it had been the hardest thing within arm's reach she could arm herself with.
"Understand?" Supergirl huffed, looking the worse for wear after her own fall from space, "I'm done trying to understand. I just flew through the ruins of my dead home planet. My boyfriend might have blown himself into a million pieces trying to save the world. And I never thought about hitting the reset button on the goddamn universe!"
Superboy-Prime lay face down on the ground until Supergirl got close enough for his liking to stop playing possum. He lunged at her with another chunk of Kryptonite he had kept concealed and swung at her head. The swing was wide, however. Supergirl avoided it and grabbed Superboy-Prime by the back of the head, slamming his face into the ground. Bending one arm behind his back and pinning the other to the ground with her foot, she kept him restrained.
"Get off of me!" Superboy-Prime snarled hatefully, "I'll kill you! I'll flush this whole universe down the toilet where it belongs!" Covered in blood that was both his own and Kal-L's, he thrashed violently underneath her. But his powers were gone. Without them, and with no leverage whatsoever, he wasn't going anywhere, "You're all just fakes! I'm gonna be Superman! I'm gonna be-!"
Supergirl was tired of Superboy-Prime's egotistical lunatic ravings. She punched him once, then a second time. Even with the pain in her hands, the feeling of her fist striking its target felt good. Every sentence she uttered was punctuated with another blow, "You're not Superman," she said coldly.
"You're not even Superboy. You're just some sick parody."
"You're an overpowered, whiny little brat that never had to learn what it really means to have your kind of power."
"You'll never be Superman. Because you have no idea what it means to be Superman."
Even thoroughly wrangled and battered, Superboy-Prime refused to concede; neither his point of view, or the fight itself, "Yes, I do. I'm from Krypton! A better Krypton than yours ever was!" Even straining to properly breathe he continued, "I'm stronger! Stronger than you or him could ever be!"
Supergirl lifted her own bloodstained fist to hit him again when Superman gently grabbed her wrist from behind. When she turned to look up at him, she saw her injured, weary cousin shake his head at her.
"That's enough, Kara," Superman said, "It's done."
Supergirl looked down at Superboy-Prime. Bloody, uniform in tatters, nose shattered, lips and eyes swollen, unable to fly, unable to so much as remove her from his back or defend himself. Yes, he was beaten. Finally, it was done.
...Still, she could see the monster behind his eyes.
"Kal-El..." Supergirl started to say before her own fatigue hit her. She felt herself sway and steadied herself against Superman before getting up and leaving the scene to him, "Yeah... sure."
Superman squeezed her shoulder, regarding her fondly as she unsteadily wobbled past him. Once she was out of his field of vision, he looked down at a prone Superboy-Prime, "Being Superman... it's not about where you were born, or what powers you have, or what you wear on your chest-."
Suddenly springing back to life, Superboy-Prime leapt at Superman once more, "SHUT UP!"
The surprise attack lacked the surprise aspect, as Superman didn't even have to react. Supergirl returned around Superman's other side and hit Superboy-Prime with one more haymaker that put him flat on his back. He didn't stir again.
Somehow it served as the perfect punctuation to the conclusion of Superman's lecture, "-It's about what you do. It's about action," It was almost unfortunate that Superboy-Prime wasn't awake to hear it.
"Now it's done," Supergirl said, both she and Superman leaning against each other for support. From above, the Green Lantern Corps swept in to restrain Superboy-Prime with the power of their rings.
They could handle him from there.
(With Null – Earth)
Null had expected to die in the explosion. That hadn't happened. Apparently, absorbing the very lightning strike that gave Black Adam his power from the gods gave him durability to spare.
Then, he had expected to die from the falling debris of the tower. That also hadn't happened.
Finally, he had expected that a drop from the stratosphere would have resulted in an inevitable 'splat', whether he hit solid ice, solid ground, or even the ocean. But things never got that far.
Once he had drifted close to the ground, Null rolled over and gratefully kissed the Gravboard underneath him. He had first called for it the moment Lex Luthor had left him behind at the North Pole. Seeing as how he had left it back in Gotham City, he didn't know when or if it would ever get to him, but then again, heroes always arrived at the last second.
"Daddy loves you, baby. Never forget that," Null said to the inanimate object, giving it a fond pat, "Jeez. You're more reliable than my parents were. I bet you wouldn't have forgotten to pick me up from practice."
It was quiet, which in Null's opinion was good, because he was finished. He felt completely and utterly spent, physically and mentally. His body ached all over, not mentioning where he knew Superboy-Prime had broken a few of his ribs earlier. He hadn't slept, had hardly even sat down, in days. Holding up a hand, he smirked when he found he could still generate a charge.
"Do you realize what you've done?"
Null abruptly fell off of his Gravboard in shock when Alexander Luthor's voice reached him. Scrambling back to his feet, he saw the golden-clad mastermind glaring heatedly at him. Null doubted anyone had ever looked at him as hatefully as Alex did, which, to be far, was appropriate.
He was missing fingers on both hands. His golden bodysuit was still intact, but was far from unmarked and pristine. Quite the opposite, in fact, covered in blood and severe burns down to his skin, most of his red hair had even been burned off.
"...How in the hell are you still alive?" Null asked. The only reason he figured he himself was survived was because he had borrowed the energy of the gods.
Alex staggered through the wreckage of the tower, the destroyed proof of his broken hopes all around him, "How could you have been the one that ruined everything!?" He spat, "I accounted for everything! I accounted for everyone that could have possibly mattered, that should have been able to stop me! On this world, and every other! And YOU? You're the one that's standing in the ruins of my dream?"
It was insulting. Alex was a genius. He had coerced the help of the mightiest beings in the universe to his side in Kal-L and Superboy-Prime. He had fooled most of the planet's supervillains into forming The Society and fighting on the frontlines for his cause. He was a being with knowledge of countless realities that had seen the very genesis of the universe they were in as a whole. He had saved all of existence, and it should have made him the most qualified to dictate how existence played out.
Yet, here he stood, laid low by what he could only see as the lowest of the low.
While Null was relatively clever for a teenager, he didn't possess anything approaching a genius intellect. He had extraordinary abilities, but wasn't a powerhouse with the ability to ruin planets with simply his will alone. He didn't possess the connections or charisma that could bring together the most powerful and influential in the world to stand against his manipulations and machinations.
Null did little to provide an explanation to satisfy Alex or massage his ego, "A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, a tornado happens in Oklahoma. You squash a fly in the past and a sentient ham sandwich becomes emperor of the world in the future. You walked under a ladder, broke a mirror, and stepped on a black cat's tail," Tired of listing ridiculous examples, he eventually scoffed, "I don't know. Come up with your own excuse as to why you blew it. Or maybe, you didn't. Maybe, it's not that you lost. Maybe, it's that I fucking won."
Alex clenched his teeth so hard, a molar cracked, "DIE!" He screamed as he fired a blast of pure anti-matter.
Null magnetically shifted a large, golden shard of the tower's wreckage in front of him to block the attack, casting it aside once it had served its purpose.
"Is that all you've got left?" Null asked, shaking his head, "That's a real shame."
Alex stared at his shaking hands in astonishment, "My power... I need more power," No matter how he tried to will it forth, nothing else would come out.
Alexander Luthor, Jr. had been born with extraordinary power that transcended dimensions, and intellect unsurpassed. Almost from the moment he was spawned, he'd had the power to serve as a human bridge between universes. He had helped merge universes and alter history. Over the course of his entire existence, he had never been anything approaching powerless.
...Until now, anyway.
As Alex continued with his crisis of confidence, Null shook his head and formed a small ironsand bullet. With a flick of his finger, the bullet launched forward. Alex's eyes went wide as he gagged and started to choke, a neat round hole punched clean through his throat and out the back.
For a moment, Alex remained upright, his lifeless eyes open in shock as blood began to pour from the wound. Eventually, his vertebrae destroyed from the bullet, his body dropped to the ground. He convulsed as he continued to choke on his own blood. Null just stood and watched until Alex gave off one last death rattle, and his body went motionless.
It was almost enough to warrant some pity. Almost.
He took back every bit of his ironsand that he could find before limping back to the Gravboard, "Yeah... you're 100% Lex Luthor," He said, mostly to himself, as the only other person present was a corpse, "...We definitely don't need more than one of those running around."
For the entire walk back, Null expected something else to happen. There had been a giant alien corpse in the now destroyed tower that he'd expected to somehow come back to life and threaten all of existence anew the moment he turned around, but that never happened. Nothing else happened, at all.
So, it was over. Upon re-mounting his board, Null stood around and took a moment to bask in the atmosphere of the situation.
If it really was over, he had helped save the world. Maybe the universe. When he thought about it, he couldn't even wrap his mind around the concept. It all seemed so much bigger than he was able to process. In his head, at the very least, he had expected that sort of thing to come with some kind of fanfare. To the contrary, however, it was quiet, calm, and lonely, as opposed to the chaos and noise that the world had been subjected to for so long.
After the greatest threat to existence that Null had lived to see, there he stood, alone at the northern edge of the world, with nothing but the frigid cold blowing in his face.
"...This hero stuff is for the birds," He muttered to himself as he started flying south, "I don't know why anyone would go out of their way to bother with this shit most of the time."
At the very least, he could scavenge some of the metal from the golden tower. There had to be something useful there he could make personal use of or profit off of. He would be damned if he saved the world at a loss.
"Hey, how far away did you guys get in the Bug, Lonnie?" Null said over comms. as he flew away in search of a ride, "Get your asses back here. There's no way I'm taking the board all the way home."
Sometime after Null had departed the scene in search of the others, Lex Luthor appeared, teleporting in.
He walked around taking in the aftermath of one of the greatest calamities to ever befall the planet, but didn't dawdle for too long. Once the heroes took stock of the situation, they would be back to take inventory all their own. Luthor hadn't come as an interested observer. There was only one thing he cared about – himself.
It didn't take long for him to find what he was looking for. The dead body of his alternate self. It really did look just like him, a likeness he could recognize that much more with a good portion of Alex's hair burned off. He could find some use for this pretender. After all, a lot of trouble had been caused in Luthor's name? Who better to serve as a scapegoat than himself?
Luthor's smirk only grew as he looked down at the dumbstruck expression frozen on the dead man's face, "You made a lot of mistakes. You underestimated Superman both mine and yours. You underestimated your own Superboy. You underestimated me," He crowed victoriously.
No response. Dead men couldn't openly converse, after all. That he couldn't defend himself only boosted Luthor's ego further.
"Your biggest mistake? That you couldn't possibly comprehend that such a complex plan, with so much manpower behind it could be undone by a 'bottom-feeder'."
In the end, the monolith that Alexander Luthor, Jr. of Earth-Three managed to put together with all the resources of this universe and beyond was undone by Lex Luthor, now of New Earth, with nothing more than a box of scraps. No calculation was perfect. For any machine, no matter how finely engineered, even the smallest stray part thrown into the works could cause the entire thing to break down.
Luthor's stray had a name, however. Maximillian Gabriel. After everything that had happened, it would likely behoove him to keep an eye on that boy. Though he was but a boy of no discernable stock or background, there was the potential for great ability there. And ability was meant to be exploited.
Gathering up the lifeless body of Alexander Luthor over his shoulder, Lex didn't flinch as the weight shifted and Alex's head leaned against his, eyes still wide open. Lex merely scoffed, "Now who's stupid?"
(A Few Days Later – Gotham City)
Kal-L, the Superman of Earth-Two, died as a result of the injuries he received from stopping Superboy-Prime. He was far from the only casualty. Between Prime tearing through 32 Green Lanterns', all the deaths of heroes and civilians from The Society's actions on Earth, the O.M.A.C.s before that, and more… the final toll had been drastic in the end.
Major cities all over the world had been devastated. In the days and weeks that followed, vigils were held around the globe for the missing and dead. Similarly, there were also celebrations from Earth's grateful population. Only in the aftermath of everything did people realize just how much had really been at stake.
Very little of this mattered to Max.
It had been everywhere he looked from the moment he returned to standard civilization, and it had gotten old by the second day. He had lived it! He didn't need to hear wall-to-wall coverage in the aftermath of the same incident from yet another angle. He didn't need to be celebrated by the general public, or get a pat on the back from the hero community. Not unless the celebration and kudos came with a massive cash grant in his honor. But it wouldn't, so he didn't care.
Things were still too hot to resort to thievery to occupy himself. And as he didn't necessarily need the money, it also seemed like a real jerk thing to do for his own amusement and profit, even if he only exclusively stole from bad guys. A lot of them had gone underground for the time being in the wake of The Society's command structure collapsing, even in Gotham City. There wasn't a need to risk kicking the never-ending war between good and evil back into gear prematurely over petty profit. He'd have plenty of chances to suit up, no question about it.
There were only supposed to be a few days until high school started back up for Max, but worldwide catastrophes had a tendency to move start dates back for public classes. Given a little extra time to recuperate and take some time for himself, he jumped all over the opportunity to take some quality time with his favorite girl.
With the click of a few locks, Max hurriedly opened the door to a large, unfurnished penthouse at the top of a twelve-story high rise. Kara calmly followed him in, though she couldn't help but smile at how excited he was. After spending much of the day together, he had been showing her the building, with this being the grand finale.
"And this is gonna be my suite," Max said, walking to the middle of the floor and gesturing around, "I mean, I liked my townhouse, but that's not an option anymore. And the way Selina was living in that penthouse of hers when I stayed with her was too sweet to let go of. I needed to get one for myself. Mine doesn't have a view quite as good as hers, but this is pretty great too. So, what do you think?"
Kara walked around and took everything in. It was an open floor plan for the living room and kitchen. There wasn't a lot of furniture around, but the suite was refurbished and the appliances were all in, "This is a nice place. And you've been fixing this place up for a while?"
"Remember how you asked me before where I keep my money?" Max asked, "I took a note from Selina and her club, set up some accounts, and bought up some property."
Kara's mouth fell open in surprise, "You invested in real estate? Like, for real? How much?"
"Eh, some here, some there. It's a diverse portfolio," Max said, "Some places are pretty nice, like this. Others, not so much. They're works in progress."
"Wow," Kara felt oddly warm at hearing that. It was good to see that Max was capable of looking beyond thievery and could find other ways to apply himself, "That's so... on the up-and-up for you. It's weird. Definitely good! But, yeah, weird."
Yes. More of that. Max had a bigger brain and a quicker wit than people thought. He could use that brain to do more than steal things and hoodwink his enemies.
Upon being praised by his girlfriend, Max couldn't help but preen further, "Yeah, I have some in Gotham. Some in Metropolis. Some in Star City... Central City... ooh, San Francisco..."
It was there that Kara began to see a pattern, "You bought property in cities with lots of hero battles."
Realizing that Kara was catching on to what he was doing, Max smile sheepishly, "Yeah. I did research on spots in those towns that saw a lot of action. I took out big insurance policies on places that needed some TLC when I got 'em," He paid for the work to raise the value with a plan to make more than he put in back quickly, "Let's just say in the aftermath of this Society stuff, I'm kinda cleaning up right now."
Kara tried to give him a stern look that was ruined by the smile she still wore, "...I was totally about to say I was proud of you for making an honest living," she said dryly.
"Hey, this was totally honest," Max said, "I was totally planning on doing this the right way. I just also expected, like, for example, the Flash to eventually run through some little storefront I'd have rented out downtown and ruin the place," He had simply been covering his bases. Honestly, it would have been irresponsible of him to not take out hero insurance on his properties, "I wasn't expecting a world-ending cataclysm to almost happen. But since it did..."
A sigh escaped Kara's lips as she shook her head, "You never cease to amaze me, you know that?"
"That's my line," Max said as his tour took them out onto a balcony with a view of the ocean, "You got your win back. And you helped saved the universe."
Kara raised an eyebrow, "You also helped save the universe."
"All I did was throw some megalomaniacal egghead's overblown science project into orbit."
"All I did was give some hopped-up brat a spanking and sit him in permanent red sun timeout with the Green Lanterns," Kara responded, "And I didn't do it alone."
"I didn't either," Max said, leaning forward against the railing. Kara joined him. For a moment the two stood together in silence until Max reached out to stroke Kara's cheek, "Are you sure you're okay? He beat you pretty bad again."
Kara shut her eyes and leaned into Max's touch before answering the question, "I feel much better now that I'm back under Earth's sunlight."
In the bid to drain Superboy-Prime of his powers, Earth's Kryptonian heroes had lost their own, all except Power Girl, "Do you know when you're going to get your powers back?"
Kara stretched her arms over her head, basking in the welcoming glow of the setting sun, "Kal-El has no idea. Could be a week, could be a month... could be a year," She let out an exasperated sigh, "I wish I knew how long it was going to take to fly again. I miss it already."
Max could only imagine how weird it was. It had taken her over a year to get used to having powers in the first place, "As someone who also grew up without powers and then suddenly got them, I'm sorry. I know it would suck if I lost mine."
"You know what really sucks about it?" Kara asked, "Just when I think I'm finally starting to figure out who I'm supposed to be, I go and lose a really important part of who I've become. But it was worth it."
Besides, there were plenty of heroes to pick up the slack in the interim. Though the hero community hadn't entirely rebounded to the way it had been at its peak, it was healing. After all, they had seen how close things had come to the brink when they weren't on the same page. What had happened before could never be allowed again.
The good guys would do their work, the way they were supposed to. Kara shouldn't have had to rush to get back to form. It would come in time. In the meantime, it could have served as a golden opportunity to take care of herself.
"Eh, maybe Supergirl could use a vacation," Max suggested, "It might give Kara some free time to do some of the other things she wants to do."
"Like what?" Kara asked, an inquisitive look on her face.
Max found himself at a loss, "I dunno. Anything you want," Such a decision was not the sort of thing he could make for another person, "Just take your time and think about it. If you don't know now, something will come to you."
Kara did take a moment to think about it, pacing around the balcony, her fingers laced behind her back. It didn't take long at all for her to come up with an idea, "...You know, I've always wanted to try and study engineering. I used to think about doing something with science and technology back when I lived on Krypton."
"Yeah. There you go, smartypants. Stuff like that," Max reacted supportively, "I'm in good with Blue Beetle now. I'm sure I can get him to hook you up with some apprenticing or something."
Kara gifted Max with a beatific smile before a stray thought turned that smile into a more mischievous one. Hands still behind her back, she slowly paced over to Max, gently swaying side to side as she approached, "But now that you mention it, there's something else I really want to do. Like, right now," Standing well within Max's personal space, she looked up into his face, "I've actually been waiting for a really long time."
"Oh," Max hummed, trying to play dumb, "Is it something I can help with?"
Blue eyes sparkling with mirth, Kara was more than willing to play along, "In fact, sir, you are an integral part of it," She informed him as she pat him on the chest.
"Fantastic," Max chirped, "And, pray tell, is there anywhere in particular we need to be for this... thing that you want to do? Or can we start here?"
Kara blinked and looked around, her face slowly turning a tad red, "Well, in theory, we could do it right out here, I guess... but..."
"-I've got new giant couches that are pretty comfortable," Max suggested.
Max took mercy on her attempts to flirt. She had done very well before he had outright put her on the spot. He leaned forward and captured her lips with his. Kara calmed down and eased into the kiss until she decided to grab Max up and carry him off. Being little more than a normal girl now, she found herself barely able to budge him, "Uh, I guess I didn't think that one throu-oop!" Max wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her, pressing her back against the wall as they continued to make out.
Kara wasn't used to being the physically weaker one in any interaction she had, especially in this relationship, but as Max snaked his hands under her top and starting kissing on her neck and collarbone, she felt she could get used to it – for however long as it lasted. She wrapped her legs around his waist and mewled contently.
"Hah... where is your room?" She asked as the two hormone-driven teenagers continued to paw relentlessly at one another, "C-can't see through walls anymore."
Max tore only the bare minimum of attention away from Kara, continuing to lavish her with affection and freeing only one hand to fumble around for the door handle to take them back inside, "Come with me."
"That's the idea," Kara remarked breathily, "You have a bed here, right?"
"Just put it up today," Max confirmed.
Kara hummed in satisfaction as Max set her down on the aforementioned bed. It was brand new. It definitely felt like it, "So, was this all part of your master plan?"
"No plan," Max popped his shirt off only to fix Kara with a 'who me?' expression once it was thrown aside, "Do I look like a guy with a plan?" He asked, belt sliding out of his pants with a little magnetic manipulation of the buckle. The pants fell moments after.
"Oh, no you don't," Kara laughed. She kicked her shoes off as she took in the show Max provided for her. Returning the favor, she quickly removed her shorts leaving her in underwear, "You can't pull that 'babe in the woods' garbage on me. I'm the last person you're going to get to underestimate you ever again."
"Please keep all expectations low in the future, dear," Max requested, "It would probably be best for all of us."
Kara rose up on her elbows and raised a brow at him, "All expectations?"
Max chuckled and lowered his boxers, revealing his erect cock for Kara's viewing pleasure. As Kara made no secret of gawking at his manhood, he himself took a moment to appreciate the sight of a topless Kara in his bed. Seeing her out and usually in her uniform, she seemed downright majestic. Clad in blue and red as Supergirl, she seemed to be a wholesome symbol of untainted power; an ideal to strive after, much like her cousin. But there, alone with him, she seemed so human, and it had nothing to do with the loss of her powers. That was how she always was.
Max stepped forward and slowly maneuvered himself between Kara's legs. Gently, he pushed her knees apart and crawled up to her until the only thing separating their privates was a thin layer of fabric, "Well, maybe not all of 'em."
Kara's heart thudded inside of her chest as her nerves finally kicked in. She had been so confident up until this point, but reality was staring her in the face with the most calming brown eyes. It was almost as if he were the one with x-ray vision, the way he saw through her.
Max offered a gentle smile, leaning forward to the point where he hovered just out of her reach, "This is the time to worry about what you want. So, you tell me. Right now, more than anything else, what does Kara Zor-El want?"
She didn't even have to consider the question, "You," She whispered.
Max kissed her briefly, moving his hands to her hips to remove the last barrier between him and his girlfriend's womanhood. He could see she was still a tad nervous, so tried to keep things as casual as he could for as long as he could, "How long have you been on Earth, babe?" He asked, trying to somewhat distract Kara as he slid her panties down past her knees.
It took Kara a moment to register that Max was speaking to her, "Huh? Oh, uh, fifteen months, I think."
At that, Null paused and looked up at her face curiously, "You'd have only started being Supergirl like a month or two before I started stealing," Which meant that she had been just as new to heroing as he had been to thievery when they met, "Damn, you've seriously been Supergirl the whole time you've been here," And he knew for a fact that such a role wasn't the kind of thing that you got to choose your own hours for.
"Yeah, I kinda hit the ground running, didn't I?" Kara said proudly.
In Max's mind, that just meant that Kara was far overdue for some 'me time', "This whole time, you've been running around trying to take care of everybody else," He clicked his tongue as he slipped Kara's panties past her feet and set them aside, "Well, that just means it's my turn to take care of you. I'm gonna teach you how to be more selfish, girl."
Kara slowly spread her legs for him. Even though she had long since made the decision to give herself to him, she found herself unable to look him in the face out of embarrassment, "Y-you want me to be greedy like you?" Kara tried to tease, though its effect was diminished by the color in her cheeks.
"Why not?" Max asked as he started to kiss the insides of Kara's thighs, slowly working his way to her core, "Greed may not be good, but it's not so bad either."
Max saw his sense of greed the same way many other people saw things like anger, joy, fear, or other emotions. It was something he could latch on to that he could use to push him. But just like any proper emotion, you could lose yourself to it and be controlled by it. Greed was a motivating tool for him, not something to be controlled by.
"Everybody thinks greed is just for money and power," Max absently said, more focused instead on gently slipping his fingers into Kara's sweet spot, "But that's just a really obtuse way of looking at it. Everybody wants something they don't have."
"Oh, my God..." Kara breathed out. Flat on her back, she found it hard to remain still. The girl squirmed underneath the touch of her lover, "It feels so different when someone else does it."
Max found Kara to be extremely wet, simply from the use of two fingers alone. The poor thing. He had to go easy with her or she'd be overwhelmed. Still, if the bare minimum of this level of intimacy was enough to get a comment out of her...
Kara tried and failed to suppress a delighted squeal when Max pressed his mouth to her pussy. Fingers holding open Kara's sensitive folds, the tip of Max's tongue danced about inside. She grabbed Max's hair and pulled him to her. Whatever she had to do to bring herself closer to this source of pleasure. The deeper he probed, the more her body trembled.
'This is so easy, it's kind of unfair,' Max amusedly thought to himself as he spun his tongue about Kara's insides. Her outright newness to sex, combined with what was likely a new level of sensitivity for her Kryptonian body made for oral on easy mode. Each motion he made was met with a new sound of approval from his audience of one, 'Alright, time to go for the kill.'
The instant Max's tongue brushed the fleshy little nub that was Kara's clit, her legs wrapped tightly around his head, "Maaaax!" She cried out, "Max, don't stop! Please!"
Had Kara not been temporarily relieved of her powers, Max felt there could have been a good chance he would have been nursing a broken neck by now. Still, the lady's wish was his command. Max forced Kara's legs back apart, spreading her as wide as possible so that he could devour her properly. Unable to contain herself, Kara bucked wildly against his tongue.
She could feel a warmth in her build greater and greater, until finally she could take no more. The orgasm hit her like a tidal wave. Her entire body shuddered, her toes curled, her fingernails dug painfully into Max's scalp. When Max finally pulled his head up to look over his handiwork, he found Kara splayed out, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, "Wow."
Taking that as a sign of a job well done, Max savored the taste of Kara's juices and continued his ministrations, kissed her from her pubic area, up to her stomach, up to her breasts, stopping to fondle the gorgeous mounds and suck on her perky nipples. The girl cooed underneath him and wrapped her arms around his head and neck, encouraging him to continue.
Before either of them knew it, night had settled. Moonlight beamed in through the window. Max pulled away to gaze at Kara's naked frame bathed in white light, "You're beautiful, Kara," It felt like stating the obvious, but she really was to him. And it wasn't just physical.
Partially wrapped up in the sheets, Kara simply smiled up at him, her previous nerves a thing of the past once the edge had been taken off, "Show me."
Only clad in his boxers, it was clear to Kara that Max was painfully hard from the outline alone, and had still been as patient and giving as he had been. Odd, for someone who claimed to be greedy.
Max looked into her eyes and momentarily got up from the bed. Kara watched with rapt attention as he obtained a condom from the nightstand. She bit her lip in anticipation when Max shifted and reassumed their previous position; this time though, with his cockhead pressed against the entrance to her pussy. Kara's tunnel vision was interrupted with a splash of lubrication.
"Cold!" Kara exclaimed.
Max quickly apologized and set the small bottle aside, "Sorry," Though the grin on his face showed he knew what he'd been doing.
Kara pouted up at him, but once she felt Max's dick slowly press inside of her, her breath hitched. Finally. No excuses, no interruptions.
"Do it," Kara whispered repeatedly, each time getting more desperate, almost to the point of begging.
Max slowly inserted himself into Kara, pushing past the slight resistance he met along the way. At that, Kara bit her lip and closed her eyes tight. Once fully inside of the girl, Max took a moment to let Kara adjust. Internally, he thanked his lucky stars. He hadn't considered it until it was done, but trying to pop Kara's cherry if she had her powers may have had the potential to be an ordeal for both of them.
Kara eventually reached up to wrap her arms around Max's neck, bringing him down for an embrace. Face full of Kara's breasts, Max took that as his cue to begin slowly thrusting. Kara moaned and arched her back underneath Max as he picked up the pace. Grabbing both of Kara's hands with one of his own, he pinned them to the bed above her head and kissed his way up her neck, continuing to pound into her all the while.
Max felt Kara's ankles hook together behind his back and switched to long, deep strokes. Kara wanted him deeper, needed him there, "You're amazing," Max said to her, directly in her ear before nipping at the lobe, "You deserve anything you want."
"You're mine," Kara fitfully moaned.
"I'm yours," Max agreed.
"Max..." Kara desperately panted, "I want... I want... can I please...?" Kara gazed up at him pleadingly, yet unable to get a full thought out, "Mmmm..." Max pacified her with a caress of the cheek, his thumb brushing the edge of her mouth. Kara mewled shamelessly.
"Use your words like a big girl," Max teased.
"I want to be on top," Kara eventually managed to say, "Can I try?"
As if he would have a problem with anything Kara wanted to do. Max's only regret was that he had to pull out, if only momentarily. When he laid down on his back, cock sticking straight up into the air, Kara bolted upright and swung a leg over Max's stomach. Oh, so she was going reverse cowgirl. How bold, "Was this one on your list or something?"
"Right at the top," Kara admitted with no hesitation, "Little help, please?"
Max gripped the base of his cock as Kara pushed herself up, giving him a brilliant view of her dripping wet pussy and tight little asshole. Ideas filled his head when she wiggled her backside at him, 'Later,' he told himself, 'Let's put a pin in that grenade for when it isn't her first time.'
Kara carefully lowered herself, taking Max's full length from underneath. From where she sat on her knees, she felt Max give the soles of her feet a quick tickle, eliciting a laughing yelp from her. His hands grabbed onto Kara's posterior, fingers digging into the supple flesh, "Giddyup."
Kara giggled, "Yah," She began to bounce in place, the bed creaking with every motion she made.
From where he lay, Max's mouth flew open as involuntary moans and groans were drawn from him, "Fuck, Kara..." He had severely underestimated Kara's spirit and eagerness to ride, "You're a fucking natural."
"Mmm-hmm," Kara hummed, placing her hands atop Max's as he helped her go up and down. She had managed to find her own sweet spot, and was intent on milking her boyfriend for all he was worth.
Amid the sound of the bed rocking and the wet slapping of flesh on flesh, Max had a moment of conflict. In the beginning, he had been content to go at Kara's pace, having expected her to be more hesitant and restrained, what with her inexperience. As it turned out, she had the potential to be a little dynamo in the sack, and he found less reason to restrain himself.
A sharp thrust upward as Kara was descending elicited a low, shuddering groan from the girl, and Max's decision was made. He began matching her rhythm and pumping up into her, again and again. Before long, Max grabbed underneath Kara's thighs and pulled her legs forward. Her balance compromised, she fell back onto his chest, but this did nothing to stop Max. It had been exactly what he had intended.
"Max..." Kara softly murmured as she was shifted onto her side. From behind, Max kept a grip on the inside of one thigh, pointing her leg into the sky as he went to town from behind. She reached back and wrapped her arm around his head, pulling his cheek to the side of her jiggling chest.
"You like this, Kara?" Max growled possessively, hardly able to keep his lips off of her, any part of her he could kiss or nip at, "You see what you get? You see what you get when you're my fucking girl?"
"Yes!" Kara yelled out loudly. She was at Max's mercy, putty in his hands as he slid in and out of her velvet tunnel, "All the time! I want this all the time!"
With the single-minded focus of a man intent on making a goddess feel mortal, Max forced Kara fully onto her belly and spread her legs apart. Palms planted on both sides of her, his hips dropped down on her from above like a piledriver. Kara cried out in delight, her fingers digging into the sheets underneath her. Every time Max sheathed himself inside her to the hilt, she squirmed desperately.
Every time Max filled her up, Kara whimpered in response. Her pussy clamped down on his dick, and her entire body tensed up. Words failed her in the moment, "Aaaah! Buh! Mmm!" Kara eventually screamed face down into a pillow.
The feeling was mutual on Max's part. He could feel himself drawing close to his own climax, and kept ramming into her cunny furiously. Kara shook and moaned as Max drilled her as fast and as hard as he could.
He couldn't hold back. He didn't want to. The inevitable finally came to pass, "Kara! Cumming!"
It was the last intelligible sound Max found himself capable of making until he finally shot his load into the condom. His mind was in a fog, his muscles felt momentarily devoid of strength. Chest heaving as he basked in the afterglow, he kept himself poised above Kara, still inside of her.
In a matter of seconds, Max started to catch his breath, simultaneously feeling himself soften. He gently ran a finger up and down Kara's bare back. She was beautiful, glistening with sweat as she lay there peacefully, coming down from her second orgasm of the night.
Arms underneath her, Kara looked over her shoulder and smiled tiredly. She had lost her virginity, and it had been a blast. It was a milestone, and she couldn't help but be pleased with herself, "Yaaaay..." She cheered weakly.
Max chuckled and rolled off of Kara to sit against the headboard, "I can honestly say, I didn't think you had that in you," He remarked, pulling the spent condom off of himself to flick into a nearby trash can.
"I'm adaptable," Kara replied, crawling over to curl up against Max. He wrapped his arms around her, drawing a content sigh from the girl, "Thank you," She eventually said.
"Thank me?" Max said in confusion, "Kara, you were amazing."
She always was; she always had been. So kind, patient, understanding; dare he say, loving. But she had fire. There was an anger in her that others would have told her to keep suppressed, that she herself tried to keep down, but it was a part of her, just as much as the good. In fact, Kara was too good for him – that had always been the case. But it didn't matter, because he wanted her. She was worth it. She was worth anything.
'Mine,' Max thought to himself, eyes closed. He gave Kara a squeeze and a kiss on the brow. In return, she nuzzled her head underneath his jaw. Max took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of Kara's kiwi shampoo, 'All mine.'
-For as long as she wanted to be. For as long as she would have him.
In the dark and quiet of the now still bedroom, Max eventually came to a decision. One that had been a long time coming.
Max prompted the girl in his arms with a gentle shake, "Kara?"
"Hmm?" Kara hummed sleepily.
There was only a second of thought. A pregnant pause before three important words left his mouth, "I love you."
Three words, three syllables, yet once they passed through Kara's brain, they hit like a truck. The naked girl pushed herself up off of his chest to look straight into his eyes, "What?"
"I love you," Max repeated, more resolutely this time.
They had been together for months. Even though they should have in theory been on opposite sides of the line that stood between good and bad, they had risked their lives together, fought together, watched the entire universe nearly brought to the brink together. They knew one another intimately, and now biblically. It shouldn't have been a surprise to her to hear Max say such a thing, but it was... because it was him.
"Do you really mean that?" Kara asked tried to find a hint of deceit or uncertainty in his face.
There was none. Max didn't lie. He may have omitted details when it suited him, but outright lying was not his forte. His poker face was horrible.
Kara found herself at a loss for a moment, before her eyes narrowed accusingly, "...You're not just saying that because I gave it up to you, are you?"
"I'd like to think it's not that easy," Max deadpanned before smiling. He reached out and cupped Kara's chin gently, "You earned this shit... whatever that's worth to you."
What was it worth? More than Max assumed it would have meant, judging by Kara's reaction.
Tears pricked at Kryptonian girl's blue eyes; happy ones. Kara nodded in acceptance, smiling wide before pouncing on Max. She smothered him with kisses, sweet and innocent. There was no lust to it, despite their state of undress, just sheer joy – a stark contrast to their previous activities, "I! Love! You! Too!" Kara said between smooches.
He loved her – Him, a human boy, unafraid of the last girl from Krypton, who had never put her on a pedestal because of her powers and her family. He, who had treated her as an equal and cared for her as a person, not for the symbol she represented, but for who she was; the woman underneath the red and blue. He was rough around the edges, maybe a little tarnished, but to her, he was beautiful, and more importantly, he was hers.
And she loved him – Her, a budding hero with all the potential in the world, and the world itself watching her, unconcerned about cavorting with a known thief. She, who never tried to change him, but still saw all the good in him that he was capable of and believed in him. She, who was one of only a handful of people in the world Max could say truly cared for him to her core, who would give of him her trust and her body, unconditionally.
Max was over the moon. Wrapping his arms around Kara's waist, he returned her energy, rolling around in the bed with her, kissing her with all the vigor she gave to him. A triumphant feeling rushed through him, greater than pulling off any heist or success in combat. Was this what winning felt like?
Why not? He had saved the world. Standard heroic clichés would have then dictated that he also then get the girl.
Only... he wasn't a hero.
Yes, he was friends with heroes, was in a relationship with a hero, was on good terms (for now) with many heroes, and his actions had helped lots of people.
...But he was also friends with villains, had been in a relationship with a villain, was on good terms (or at least not on bad terms) with many villains, and had done things that had hurt people and caused no shortage of trouble.
He had friends and enemies, supporters and detractors, in both camps alike. Where he stood in the grand scheme of things was a mystery, because even he didn't know. On any given day, he had just as much chance of rubbing the good guys or the bad guys the wrong way, or winning them over. Where he resided on the spectrum of heroes and villains all depended on what he wanted at whatever particular moment.
No, Maximillian Gabriel was not a superhero. He never was. He never wanted to be. He probably never would be. But that wasn't so bad. After all, he had everything he could think of wanting... for now, anyway. And whenever that changed?
Well, consequences be damned, he could probably just find a way to take it.
Wow. I can't believe I actually brought this one to an end. It took time, effort, and a lot of reading for my own research purposes, but here we are, all these chapters later. And you know we had to put this one to bed on a monster update. In reality, I wanted to split this up into at least two more, but I couldn't think of a reasonable spot to cut it anywhere.
So, allow me to reiterate from an earlier author's note that I really didn't think this story would get so much traction, but I'm glad it did, because it was fun for me to write, the whole way through, and I hope people had fun reading it.
Now, when I say this story's done, that doesn't mean I don't have any more ideas for Max. I have lots, don't you worry about that. I just figured this was as good a place as I was going to naturally get to bring this portion of his life and career to a close. You can basically consider this his rookie year.
There's lots loose ends here, lots of things to follow up on, and so many things out in the DC universe I didn't even touch on in this story that there's no shortage of plot to write out in the future. A sequel series is entirely possible if I get bored enough. But I'm old now, ladies and gentlemen – between work, training and traveling for wrestling, and a relationship, I'm stretched way too thin to sit down and bang out chapters of stuff every day like I used to in college.
Gods, I was strong then. Where did the days go?
...Into stuff like this, actually.
Regardless, whether you laughed, you cried, you cheered, you booed, you enjoyed, or you hated it to the extent it made you physically ill, you gave it a try. So, thank you for your time.
Now go find something else to read... or write... or don't. Do what you want. Just enjoy yourself, and don't hurt nobody – unless they're into that, I guess.