The sun glowed crimson as it peeked over the horizon, turning the spires of Kryptonopolis scarlet with morning light. Usually the sight filled the heart of Kal-El with joy, but today he watched it with glum foreboding.
Today was his twentieth birthday.
Today was the day he would meet his betrothed for the first time.
He sighed and made his way through the gardens on his way to work at the Kryptonopolis Star. He had just started working at the holo agency a month ago, over his father's strenuous objections. Apparently being the son of the Savior of Krypton meant he wasn't supposed to pick up some job "peddling information." Jor-El's actions two decades ago, alerting Krypton of its danger just in time to avert its destruction, had propelled the House of El to become one of the most powerful houses of Krypton. Kal didn't see why that fact should hamper his job choices, though. He loved his job, even though it took up most of his time.
How was he going to balance that and a husband, too?
Especially a human husband?
Kal sat down at his desk and started going through the feeds of the day, wincing as he discovered his own marriage next week was the lead story. He felt his mood becoming more and more stormy. It wasn't his fault his house had been one of the five most powerful on Krypton when Hasel Lor-Oph had discovered the jump gates that had linked Terra and his home! When the Terrans had discovered the effects of yellow-sun radiation on their new very near neighbors, relations had been quite strained for a time. Only some extremely deft negotiations had managed to stabilize diplomatic ties to a delicate detante, neither planet willing to break the treaties and risk retribution by the rest of the civilized galaxy.
One of the stipulations the Kryptonians had insisted on was that five of the heirs to the most powerful houses of Earth come to Krypton to wed Kryptonians and live--a sort of implied hostage situation carefully phrased as an "opportunity for cultural exchange."
And thus did Kal's life take a decided turn for the unexpected about a year ago, when he had been summoned to his father's study and informed that he was now engaged to a human. Kal had stormed and fumed, but his father's will was inflexible: unless Kal wished to provoke an interstellar war, he would be wedding a human. Jor-El pointed out that Kal should feel lucky that they had taken the sexual orientation of the heirs involved into consideration, but Kal had felt anything but lucky.
He sorted through the holofeeds to piece together the best possible story about the "fairytale wedding" between the Houses of El and Wayne, shuddering as he picked out footage of Gotham. Terra was a hideous backwater of crime, filth, and superstition, and he had no doubt at all that this "Bruce Wayne" would be a hopeless provincial like the rest of his fellow-Terrans.
Oh, Kal had done his research when he found out his fate. He had learned English, he had studied Terra's barbaric and bloody history. He had even--in secret, without telling his father--taken a jump gate to Gotham to see what kind of city his future mate was from. He had returned appalled at the disparity between rich and poor--apparently humans measured power by wealth rather than by knowledge, and the Waynes had a great deal of the former.
No one seemed to have much of the latter.
He had even gotten a glimpse of his betrothed as he stood outside a hotel for some social event. Bruce Wayne had been handsome enough to impress, with a face entirely empty of all intellect and compassion. Kal had watched as Wayne nearly tripped over a homeless man in the street, then laughingly peeled off a couple of bills to toss to him as a show of power to the people in his party. Kal's stomach had turned at his glibness: he was being wedded to this? He had hoped against hope, as he researched the House of Wayne, that a man who had suffered the loss of both his parents would have something in his eyes beyond pride and preening, that the extensive traveling he had been doing had brought him some measure of depth and enlightenment.
No such luck, it seemed.
Kal's eyes ached with exhaustion as he finished editing the story and handed it to his editor, who took it with a knowing smirk. He turned to another story, trying to ignore the churning in his gut as he resolutely did not focus on the fact that he would be talking to Wayne for the first time tonight.
Those beautiful, soulless eyes...Kal shuddered and bent back to his work.
: : :
"--And I simply cannot live without my beloved dog and my faithful butler! They must come as well." Bruce Wayne's list of demands was so long and detailed that Kal began to suspect he was trying to be difficult on purpose so the Kryptonians would give up on the wedding and choose someone else to avert an interstellar war. Kal rather wished Wayne could pull it off, but he knew the rigidity of the Kryptonian system all too well. If it was to be Bruce Wayne, it would be Bruce Wayne.
"We will happily make space for this...Ace and Alfred you name on the Estates of El," Jor-El explained patiently. Kal wondered which was the dog and which the butler.
Bruce looked a bit desperate. "And all members of the House of El are to speak to me in English, as I cannot be bothered to learn your impossibly unwieldy language!"
Kal knew his father well enough to know that Jor-El was refraining from rolling his eyes with a great effort. "We all have already learned your language, my future son-in-law."
"It's a rather simple language, after all," Kal said in English, breaking silence for the first time.
Bruce's back went a bit stiff, but he didn't turn to look at Kal. He hadn't looked at Kal since he entered the room with his list of demands, and Kal felt obscurely peeved by this. The human looked down at the list again. "I insist on a full Kryptonian wedding! No short cuts!"
Kal felt his mother go tense at that, but Jor-El merely nodded. "Certainly. Do you have any other requirements to ease the transition to your new life?"
Bruce stared at the list. "I...no. That was the last one."
He sounded quite deflated, and the sting of pleasure Kal took in his dejection made the Kryptonian feel suddenly guilty. He cleared his throat and stepped forward. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Wayne. I hope that we can work out an acceptable partnership." He swallowed hard and held out his hand in the way Terrans did on meeting someone.
Bruce eyed the hand glumly and for a moment Kal worried that he'd picked the wrong custom for this region of Terra. They seemed to have a bewildering array of ritual behavior...But then he realized Bruce seemed to be deciding whether or not the snub the handshake. After a long, tense moment, he took Kal's hand and met his eyes for the first time. "We all do what we must," the human said distantly, then let go of the hand quickly and left the room.
The minute the door closed behind him, Lara was pacing the room and wringing her hands. "How are we ever to get a full wedding together in just a week?" she wailed. "The cake alone takes a full six days to make!"
Jor-El pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers and eyed his son with the first glimmers of sympathy Kal had seen in years. "Our son is getting married to a vain, preening simpleton, Lara, and you're worried about the cake?"
Kal felt hope spring inside him. "Does this mean you'll try to have the marriage stopped, Father?"
Jor-El shook his head, sadly rather than sternly this time. "I'm sorry, son. It's the only way."
"I must find a bakery that takes rush jobs!" Lara cried, heading for the door.
No way out.
: : :
Kal adjusted his crimson robes and tapped his ivory staff on the floor, sighing. The last week had been a daze of preparations and Bruce had gone back to Gotham to prepare himself for the move; they hadn't seen each other since that handshake. "We all do what we must." Was it possible Wayne was as opposed to this marriage as he was?
It didn't seem possible anyone could be as opposed to this marriage as he was.
The door opened and Bruce entered, wearing his white robes and carrying his mahogany staff. He looked at Kal guardedly and Kal had to admit he made a pretty picture. If only the human were a civilized man of science, Kal would probably be happy to share his bed.
"We're supposed to have a talk now," Kal explained politely in English. "Unburden our hearts to each other." They were also supposed to dress each other, but he had managed to get out of that one.
Bruce cast his deep blue eyes downward briefly. "I'm sorry I was such a jerk the last time we met," he said. "You seem...nice. And I hope we can get along." He looked back up, his eyes limpid. "Nothing else burdening me."
Kal felt a twinge of disappointment. He had rather hoped that now, at least, he could find some depth in the man he would be forced to share the rest of his life with. "I'm sorry I've been so resistant to the idea of this marriage," he said softly, trying to be honest. "I don't...I'm afraid I don't have a very high opinion of Terrans. But I'll try to be a good husband to you. I promise."
A brief, dazzling smile. "Thank you," Bruce said. He gestured to the door and Kal took his place by his side with a sigh. Together they left the Room of Preparation and began the walk toward their destiny.
The aisle stretched out ahead of Kal, impossibly long, lined on either side with curious Terrans and Kryptonians. Bruce paused a moment, his eyes scanning the church, flicking along the balconies and chandeliers, resting briefly on the giant white cake to the left of the altar they would later have to enter and cut their way out of.
"What is it, Bruce?" Kal whispered, a little surprised at his fiance's sharp and assessing glance.
"Nothing," said Bruce. "Just...looking."
They started down the aisle accompanied by the traditional music. Everything seemed to be going fine until they reached the altar.
Then suddenly everything started happening very quickly.
Kal barely had time to register Bruce's sudden shove as the cake exploded into a hail of energy beams and flying frosting. Out of the cake emerged three well-armed men in black, aiming at the grooms. Kal grabbed Bruce's arm but Bruce broke free in the pandemonium and ran off, apparently fleeing at random in his panic. Kal groaned and tried to dodge crackling energy blasts as the assassins honed in on him. He had to get them away from the guests! He briefly glimpsed his mother's terrified face as he charged up the stairs and into the empty balcony, the banister exploding into splinters around him. Ducking behind a pew, he hoped he could just keep the gunmen occupied long enough for the people to get safely out of the church. He hoped Bruce was safer than he was--
There was a rippling flutter of black and a figure arced across the church, swinging from one of the chandeliers and into the balcony where Kal was cowering. Kal could only gape in amazement as his savior dispatched one of the assassins with a fluid grace and beauty, then dodged the fire of a second assassin to deliver a vicious kick to his jaw. The final attacker drew a short blade from his belt and tried to close on the black-clad man, who swerved aside at the last second, the blade catching his black cape with a liquid ripping sound.
Alarmed at his rescuer's close call, Kal charged forward to catch the assassin off-balance and club him over the head with a large copy of The Holy Sayings of Rao. The would-be assassin toppled with almost comedic slowness, and Kal abruptly realized that the church was now entirely empty save himself and the mysterious man in black. He heard his own breathing, hoarse and quick, and he put the book down carefully. The other man didn't seem to be out of breath at all.
"Thank you," Kal said awkwardly. The man drew closer and Kal noticed for the first time that the cowl covering his face had pointed ears sticking up from it, making him look like one of the flying predators of the Mazhin Wood. He shuddered and the man put out a leather-clad hand.
"Don't be afraid. You're safe." The man's Kryptonian had a slight accent to it that Kal couldn't place. Perhaps he was a Mazhini? That would explain the costume, maybe.
"How did you know--"
"That there'd be an assassination attempt?" The man's chuckle was dark and dangerous and made Kal feel very odd indeed. "That hardly takes complicated deduction. But I'd picked up some chatter in the last few days that made it clearer what the means would be."
The man bent to recover one of the guns the assassins had been using. He pulled something from his belt and used it to take the gun apart with brisk efficiency. "Focused argon beams," he noted as Kal drew closer. He pointed at some marks on the inside of the barrel. "See? Distinctive blast-shadow signature. Jhal Farad-Ko's work, I'm guessing. She's made some very major advances in argon-beam technology recently." His voice turned musing. "I hadn't realized she was applying it to weaponry so effectively..."
Kal could smell leather and sweat. "What--wait, what do you mean, Jhal Farad-Ko? She's one of our leading scientists!"
A snort. "She's also dead set against the treaty between our two planets." The man looked up at him curiously. "Did you really think there weren't parties working against this as well?"
Kal leaned against a pew. "I thought--I assumed these people were Terrans! Kryptonians would never--" Something the man had just said finally percolated through his whirling mind. "You said--'our two planets.' You're--a Terran?"
The man--the human--stood up and drew nearer to Kal. "We're not all as bad as you seem to think," he noted wryly.
Kal swallowed hard, remembering the strength and grace with which this man had protected him, the sparkling curiosity and intelligence in his voice as he discussed the weaponry--discussed it in fluent Kryptonian. "I...am forced to admit I may have been...rather prejudiced about Terrans."
There was a ghost of a smile on those firm and chiseled lips. "And would it shock you to learn that there is a teeming underworld of crime and corruption beneath your shining Kryptonian exterior? People like Jhal misusing their power to gain more power, no matter who it hurts?"
Kal opened his mouth to fiercely rebuke the human for his temerity, to defend his people--and then he looked down at the assassins still crumpled at their feet. "It would," he said in a small voice. "But--" he met the black-clad man's eyes squarely, "--If it's true, let me help you to fight it! If it's true, it has to be stopped!"
The human stepped even closer and, to Kal's surprise, reached up a hand to cup Kal's chin. "I knew it," he murmured. "I knew it the moment I saw you there in Gotham, burning with righteous rage. Such passion. I wanted you so in that instant--a naked flame of justice." As Kal stood silent, shocked into wordlessness, the leather seeming to burn his skin, the other man continued, "But I did have to try and get out of it. My Mission..." Kal could hear the capital letter, "...over before it could ever begin: intolerable. But now I wonder if maybe...maybe just the focus might change..."
Kal continued to stare at the man, captivated by the lilt in his low Kryptonian, by the intensity in his stance and the strength in his fingers. Then suddenly the man let go of his face and backed away, preparing to leap from the balcony. Kal was startled out of his near-trance. "Wait! You--you can't just leave," he stammered.
The man smiled slightly. "You're right," he said huskily. And then suddenly his mouth was on Kal's, completely sure and possessive, kissing Kal until his blood burned. Nothing seemed to exist but this impossible, cryptic human--until the moment he stepped away. "You've got a wedding to get to, Kal-El," said the man, and was gone.
Kal stared sightlessly over the balcony as the first police officers entered the church. A wedding to get to.
: : :
Fifteen minutes later, he was beside Bruce Wayne and preparing once again to walk down the aisle, the church full of people waiting expectantly. His betrothed was somewhat mussed but had taken cover with alacrity when the shooting had started and remained unharmed.
The music started. Bruce took a step forward.
Kal couldn't move.
Bruce shot him a look of concern. "Kal?" he whispered.
"I can't do it," Kal said blankly. His mouth still burned with the kiss that had claimed him, his ears still thrilling to the sound of that musical voice. He shook his head as Bruce looked back at him. "I can't do this." He stared at Bruce, his thoughts in chaos. "I'm sorry, Bruce, this wouldn't be fair to you. I can't--I just met the most amazing person, and I can't--I could never be a good husband to you, all I could ever think about was him, I can't do this to you." He was trying to keep his voice low; everyone was staring. "I can't. I--I belong to someone else now, and I can't."
For some reason Bruce seemed more amused than alarmed at this turn of events. He leaned close to the Kryptonian's ear. "Kal. Trust me, heart of my heart," he whispered.
In fluent, slightly-accented Kryptonian, velvety and intimate.
Kal stared at him.
The world fell into place.
The musicians started the second verse of the processional, the music a bit desperate now. Kal smiled. "Shall we not keep them waiting any longer, love?"
Together they started down the aisle to their future.
: : :
Within a year, the first attacks on the laboratories had begun, files hacked and exposed, secret experiments opened to the light of day. It soon became clear just how many prominent Kryptonian scientists were involved in arms dealing to prohibited planets, in making illegal viruses, in keeping key information from the rest of Krypton. Murmurs began of the pair of vigilantes who were dedicated to truth, justice, and the true Kryptonian way. Disguised as two of Krypton's greatest predators, they became legends--and no one ever suspected that they were the scion of one of Krypton's greatest families, side by side with his Terran husband.