mithen: (Coffee S/B)
[personal profile] mithen
Title: Looking Outward Together
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Maggie Sawyer
Rating: PG-13
Warnings/Spoilers: None
Fandom: DC Comics/Pacific Rim
Summary: Jaeger pilots are the only hope for the Earth--but Superman and Batman can't seem to enter the Drift together despite all their efforts.
Word Count: 3700
Notes: Set early in the Pacific Rim timeline, about three years after the first kaiju appears.

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. --Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Neural link terminated. Would you like to try again?" Apogee Shadow's artificial voice was as calm and sweet as if she hadn't said the same thing five times today.

Superman pulled off his helmet, feeling sweat plastering his hair to his forehead. Beside him, Batman was wrenching off his own helmet. "Yes, damnit. We would like to try again," he snarled at the same time Superman said "No. System shutdown."

"We will try again!" Batman snapped.

"Disengage," said Superman, and stepped forward out of the apparatus to round on Batman. "What the hell do--"

He broke off as he realized that beneath the dark (now-earless) cowl, a thread of blood was making its way down Batman's upper lip.

Batman knocked his hand away before he even realized he had lifted it. "Quitting already?"

"Alread--" Superman bit back Batman's real name, painfully aware as always of the dozens of technicians and staff milling around. "Batman, I would hardly call a record number of failures in one day quitting early."

"Well I would." But Batman was stripping off his outer jumpsuit with sharp, economical motions; only someone who knew him very well would have noticed that his hands were trembling--with fury and perhaps with something else.

Superman noticed.

"Look, maybe it's just time to admit that Kryptonians and humans are not drift-compatible, that you and I just--"

"--We are drift-compatible!"

Superman followed him down the winding corridors of the Shatterdome, watching the tense lines of his back. It was still strange, being able to see Batman's back. His own still felt naked somehow. He missed their capes.

Far from the most important thing lost when the kaijuu came.

"If you would just try with someone else, with Robin--"

A sharp bark of incredulous laughter. "As if I'm going to break up the first and most successful jaeger teamup? No, he and Barbara have a good thing going."

"With someone else--anyone else--"

"There is no one else." Batman whirled at the door to his quarters. "I'm not letting anyone else into my head."

Superman felt his hands clench helplessly. Helpless. "Look, maybe we need to admit that being pilots is not the way we are going to help the earth. Your technical skill--you have so much to contribute in jaeger technology. And me--there's still crime to fight, still regular disasters to help with. We should focus on being helpful in other ways."

"I will when you will," Batman snarled, and stepped into his quarters. The door sealed shut with the locks that no one--not even Lex Luthor, and Superman was sure he had tried--could override, and Superman was alone in the corridor once more.

For a moment he let himself sag forward against the impenetrable door, his forehead against the unyielding metal. Then he straightened his shoulders and strode toward his own quarters, ignoring the pitying looks from pilots and technicians as he passed.

After two years of failure, he should be used to them by now.

: : :

He wasn't surprised when the nightmare returned again that night, all jaws and slime and helplessness.

He had been young and brash and used to working alone--Batman was the only other hero he'd ever worked with. When that...thing had emerged from the dark water and plunged toward the shore, Superman had flown to the rescue solo as always, sure that a few punches would put it in its place.

Instead it had batted him out of the sky like a broken child's toy.

Scientists argued for some time about the reason, and eventually concluded that "extra-dimensional" apparently meant "magic," or close enough. Superman didn't particularly care about the reason. The only truth he had known was that it had shrugged off his blows, that its claws had rent his flesh and left him floating in bloody sea water, half-conscious. It had been impervious to other attacks as well, and it had taken nearly all of the world's super-powered heroes to take it down. But that hadn't been the worst part.

Again in the nightmare he was shivering with cold and pain in the ocean, the churned-up spume around him turning scarlet with his own blood. Again he watched as the monster roared and struck Wonder Woman out of the sky, Hawkgirl's mace glancing off its scaly skin.

Again he felt the cry of anguish as the Martian Manhunter reached out to touch its mind, to try and reason with it. Pain bloomed in his brain and he clutched at his head as the message stabbed all of them to the core.

This is only the first. There will be more. And stronger.

H'ronmeer help us all!

Then the beast reared up against the baleful sky and collapsed into the ocean, bitter blood pouring from its wounds.

The wave had washed over him and dragged him into a darkness from which he had never truly emerged.

: : :

"Hey there." A cup of coffee appeared at his elbow and Superman looked over to see Maggie Sawyer sliding into the chair next to him. "Looking discouraged today, Big Blue."

He stared around the Shatterdome cafeteria, at the pilots milling about and joking, the technicians and scientists eating with the quick, efficient bites of people with a mission to get back to. "Do you ever regret becoming a pilot? Do you feel you could have done more good staying in Metropolis?"

Maggie gave him a narrow look. "Nope," she said, and took a sip of coffee. "The way I see it, the jaegers are our only hope for the future, and if I was able to pilot one, I sure as hell wanted in. Especially since you superheroes--" She broke off. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He took a gulp of coffee. "You and Kate are doing great."

Maggie's smile was brilliant. "We are, aren't we? Three kills so far. At this rate we'll pass Scarlet."

"Don't let Robin or Barbara hear you say that," said Superman with a wan grin. Scarlet Arabesque had the standing record for kaiju kills, and her pilots were fiercely proud of their status.

They sat in silence for a moment, and then Maggie said, "No offense, Superman, but...what are you doing here? You know damn well no meta's ever been able to enter the Drift successfully; only the non-powered capes like my Kate's ever been able to. But you keep trying."

"Of course I keep trying," he said bitterly. "I can't just sit back and let other people save the world."

She leaned over and clapped a hand to his shoulder. It was not a consoling touch. "The way I hear tell, Superman, it's that kind of thinking that's made you capes worthless as jaeger pilots. You're too used to control; you can't surrender half of yourself to another."

"Thank you for the analysis," said Superman, more sharply than he had intended. Did she think he didn't know this? Did she think it helped at all to be aware of it? He realized his he was holding the coffee mug too tightly and relaxed his grip before he shattered it. "I even agree with you, to be honest. But Batman--"

Maggie chuckled. "Say no more." She looked at him over the rim of her coffee cup. "He's obsessed with becoming a pilot, isn't he?"

He sighed and felt his shoulders slump. "He won't quit, even if it kills him. Every time we fail, he just--"

This time Maggie's hand on his shoulder was gentle. "I understand. If he won't quit, you can't either."

"It's just--what if he--" The words stopped in Superman's throat, his other nightmare vision rising before his eyes. Bruce trying to pilot a jaeger alone like Hal Jordan had: the choking convulsions, the blood. The months in a coma. He couldn't risk that, couldn't drive Bruce to try something stupid. He shook his head violently, trying to banish the images. "I have to go, we've got sparring practice."

"Superman--" He looked back; Maggie smiled at him. "We're all rooting for you."

: : :

The scientists had been the ones to dub the first monster "Trespasser"; it was the message boards that had started to call the threats "kaiju," after the old Japanese monster movies, and the term had stuck.

The Green Lantern Corps had apparently had experience with them, because when John Stewart communicated the situation to Oa the Guardians had immediately quarantined Earth entirely, confiscating the rings of the local Green Lanterns and enclosing the entire planet in a green bubble of force that had proven impossible to break.

Earth was on its own, it seemed.

Things couldn't get any worse.

And then they did.

The next incursion was called Hundun, and it had learned from the first. It was faster, and shrugged off attacks that had at least given Trespasser pause. This time the battle ended with Wonder Woman and Flash so badly injured that they couldn't fight for a month.

And Superman had barely landed a blow before it crushed him into the mud and debris of Manila.

It was after Hundun that S.T.A.R. Labs started working on the jaegers.

Emil Hamilton was the brains behind it, with a young Japanese genius named Hiro Okamura providing much of the engineering. Ted Kord, Michael Holt, and even Lex Luthor had participated in the project--"I don't want ridiculous scaly monsters stomping my West Coast property any more than you do, Superman," Lex snarled--and Martian Manhunter provided much of the framework for the neural link between jaeger and pilot so necessary to control the massive robots.

As Cabo San Lucas and then Sydney suffered, as the fledgling Justice League maintained heavy casualties defending them, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps slowly came into being. The only missing piece had been how to handle the neural overload caused by piloting a jaeger solo--and when a headstrong Robin had tried to pilot a jaeger to defend Vancouver and was joined by an equally headstrong hacker from Gotham to become the first jaeger team to Drift together, the final pieces fell into place.

: : :

Superman raised his staff. "Couldn't you take the cowl off? For just a moment? There's no cameras in this room, I checked."

Batman stepped forward and they fell effortlessly into the rhythm of sparring. By now they could carry on a conversation while the staves clicked and whirled and they feinted and lunged. "I won't risk it." His staff got through Superman's defense and glanced off the golden "S" on the chest of his black suit. He raised an eyebrow, stepping back. "You're distracted. I shouldn't have gotten through your guard this early."

"Yes, I'm distracted. I'm tired," Superman said. "Too much time in the Shatterdome, I guess. I just don't feel like I can be myself." Dodge, turn, parry, block. Their bodies moved together as if free of volition, free of thought. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world, except for the weight of their failure hanging over them. Why couldn't they Drift together when they could fight like this, when they could finish each others' sentences? It seemed so...unfair.

The corner of Batman's mouth twitched in the way it tended to when he had a new and interesting thought. He swept at Superman's feet; when Superman lifted into the air to avoid the blow he changed course and whacked his knees. "Two points," he said. "You might be on to something." He opened his mouth to say more--

And the Shatterdome klaxons went off.

Superman was on his way out of the room before the first braying notes faded.

"Superman!" He turned to see Batman standing, his staff held as if to block an attack.

"It's an incursion, Batman--"

"--It's a Category Three alarm," Batman said. "Our first Category Three. All the others have been Ones or Twos."

The words he didn't say--all the others that you were powerless against--hung in the air between them, and Superman felt his hands tighten. With a swift movement, he snapped his staff in two and threw it against the wall; Batman didn't flinch at the sound.

"Don't go," said Bruce, and his voice was low and rough. "Stay here."

"I can't!" He heard the anguish in his own voice, but there was no time to temper it as he whirled and flew from the room, out into the night sky, filled with uncaring stars beyond the green haze of their prison.

: : :

Reckoner was heading for Hong Kong: Scarlet Arabesque blocked the way. Superman swooped in to block its barbed tail as it lashed at Dick and Barbara's jaeger; for a moment he stopped its momentum, and he felt grim satisfaction as Scarlet's mailed fist gripped the slimy throat, hurling it down into the water. The kaiju disappeared beneath the waves, leaving a trail of bubbles sheened with oily ichor. Scarlet Arabesque gave him a thumbs-up, and Superman smiled back--

--and the waters boiled and erupted once more as Reckoner surged out of the water straight at him.

There was a shriek of metal on bone as Scarlet Arabesque punched straight through Reckoner's side and into its ribcage, but it lurched forward, snapping at Superman with a single-minded hatred.

Batman is going to be furious, Superman thought as he felt the jaws close like a vise around him, and then the thought was crushed into blackness.

: : :

"--killed, and that is...not acceptable."

A voice was speaking somewhere very distant. It sounded familiar, but it was ragged and hoarse and full of pain, and he couldn't place it. Someone else was speaking, a small and tinny sound that didn't make sense. He tried to get closer to the first voice, but it was so far away, and he was so tired. It kept fading in and out, no matter how hard he tried to hear it:

"...he won't listen to...stubborn what I must, damn it."

The second voice went away, and he heard someone sigh. How could he hear them sigh if they were so far away? Oh, super hearing, that's right. He had a lot of powers, he remembered that. Not that any of them mattered now.

"You idiot," someone said. It was Batman, he realized. No one else called him an idiot quite the way Batman did. "Don't you dare go and--" Batman's voice broke off and he took a deep breath. "Just don't dare."

"If you say so," Superman managed, and he heard Batman exhale in something caught between exasperation and laughter. He pried his eyes open and saw a dark shape by his hospital bed, swimming in the harsh lights. There was a terrible strain around his jaw, and his throat was tense as if he were holding back tears. "Oh God," Superman said, panic spiking through him at the sight. "Robin. Barbara. Are they okay, did I get them killed, did I--"

Batman hissed a breath and raised a hand sharply, as if he were about to strike Superman. Then he stopped and rested it on his forehead instead. "They're fine. Reckoner is dead."

The leather was warm, and his thumb stroked along Superman's hairline; Superman closed his eyes. "I'm tired," he said.

"I know." There was a pause, in which Superman was aware of nothing beyond the gentle pressure on his forehead. "I've been thinking about something you said, just before Reckoner arrived," said Bruce. "Tell me, when was the last time you were out of uniform? When was the last time you were--your other self?"

He blinked, trying to remember. It hadn't seemed important once the kaiju started arriving. "A long time."

"I have--let's call it a theory," said Bruce.

"As opposed to a hunch?"

"I don't have hunches."

Superman would have chuckled if he hadn't been so sore and exhausted. "Of course not. A thousand apologies. What is your theory?"

"I'm still working on it," said Bruce. "For now, just rest. We've got you under yellow sun lamps, that should help."

"It helps to have you here," said Superman without thinking.

"Then I'll be here."

: : :

"You really think this will work?"

"I have no idea," Bruce snapped. "But we've tried everything else, haven't we?"

Clark looked around nervously as they walked the darkened, silent halls of the Shatterdome, and pushed his glasses up on his nose. Beside him, Bruce strode in a generic black jumpsuit, free of bat emblems of any sort, his face unmasked and his dark hair tousled.

We've always attempted the Drift as Superman and Batman, he had explained when Superman was strong enough. What if we tried it as Clark and Bruce?

Superman had laughed. That's the same thing.

I wonder, Batman had said, his eyes thoughtful. Anyway, I think we have to try it.

And so here they were, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, sneaking through the Shatterdome after disabling the security cameras.

Barbara and Hal met them at the jaeger bay, conspiratorial grins on their faces. "Good luck," Barbara said, and punched Bruce's shoulder.

The bay doors opened and Apogee Shadow loomed above them, red and black glinting dully in the low light. Their jaeger. Clark had never seen her in motion, but somehow she always looked unnaturally still, like she was frozen in mid-action, awaiting the touch that would release her from her spell.

"Leave them on," said Bruce as they stepped into position.

Clark paused with a hand on the temple of his glasses. "Why? I don't need them."

"They're part of what makes you Clark."

Clark shrugged and left them on, although they bumped slightly against the helmet as it closed over his head. He glanced over at his partner and felt a moment of dislocation when Bruce looked back instead of Batman, his handsome face unobscured by the cowl. His hand banged up against the helmet and he realized he'd gone to push his glasses up without thinking.

Bruce smiled at him. "You dork," he said as Apogee Shadow's engines hummed to life around them, as the lights began to flicker and waver all around.

And they fell into the Drift together as if falling into each other's arms, as natural and as easy and inevitable.

(and yet we never have, and why exactly is that?)

He wasn't sure if that wisp of thought was his, or Bruce's.

As the Drift swirled up around them, he realized it didn't matter.

: : :

Images flicker and tremble around him: dark wings brushing his face, tall mountains pale as brides against an impossible sky, and then he is falling from a great height into Gotham, into a maze of buildings that twist and writhe. This is why he couldn't enter the Drift, Clark thinks as the alley looms before him, but then the fall becomes a swoop and he is lifted above the city once more, the past falling away behind him.

I spent too many years chasing that particular rabbit to fall for it so easily. Bruce's mental voice is low and rich and seems to unwind in his own mind, so shockingly intimate that he gasps.

Then what--

Hush. The city is blurring past them. I'll show you. The voice is gentle and inexorable as rain. Look.

In the sky above them, a shining figure is battling a demon, all scales and teeth. The figure is tiny against it, a doomed St. George against an eldritch horror. Clark feels helpless anguish tear at him like a barbed-wire wind, and realizes these are not his own emotions.

A clawed hand lifts and the figure is crushed from the sky, tumbling, red-and-blue-and-red-and-blue, and Bruce's thought is as cold and sharp as steel piercing flesh, striking through to bone: I cannot bear it if he dies.

The memory collapses and they are face-to-face in the Drift, and Bruce's expression is as closed and wary as always, yet Clark can see everything there: the pain and the protectiveness and the love. You would not give up. Bruce's mouth doesn't move, his voice is in Clark's blood and his bones and it sings there. I couldn't let you keep fighting, but I couldn't bear to let you see...this.

And I didn't trust you, Clark thinks. I couldn't accept that I was only half of a whole, that I couldn't fight alone, that I needed someone to be complete.

The Drift around them darkens, swirling with shadows of some strong emotion as Bruce looks at him. And now you accept that you need someone.

I don't need someone, Clark thinks. I need you.

They look at each other for what seems an eternity, and the shadows around them turn dappled, shot through with light. They don't need to speak, they don't need to touch.

They need nothing at all but that moment.

And then the corner of Bruce's mouth twitches, and Clark's mind registers that as a laugh of sheer and untrammeled joy. Let's show them what we can do together, then.

They turn as one to look forward, and Apogee Shadow leaps to life in response. Her hands come together in a sharp clap of delight that shakes the Shatterdome, and Clark is surprised to see that it has only been a few seconds since they entered the Drift, since the world changed and he became whole.

Barbara opens the blast doors and they stride out into the morning sun, sure and true together.
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