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Third Wheel

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After more deliberation than she would have liked to admit, Lois decided on a one-shoulder cocktail dress in basic black. Strappy heels, a French twist — basics. Best to keep it simple. Right?

She frowned at herself in the mirror. Maybe too basic? This was Bruce Wayne. He could fill a vault with supermodels and swim in them like Scrooge McDuck. Or maybe that made simplicity even better. Trying to compete with designer dresses would just make it obvious that she couldn't. She still could have done something more interesting with her hair. But she didn't have an army of stylists, either. She fidgeted with the small pendant on her necklace.

Why did she even care? This wasn't a real date, whatever else he might claim. She didn't care about impressing him. She shouldn't, if she did. This was her own fault. She shouldn't have Googled him. Better to go in relatively blind, harder then to compare herself unfavorably to others. She'd just wanted to know what the obvious questions were, so she wouldn't ask them.

She had no idea what she was going to ask. If she'd ask anything. What if he expected sex? Conflicted feelings about that. If he didn't at least ask she might be offended.

Lois refused to feel nervous as she took the elevator down. Bruce was waiting outside her apartment building, leaning against his car.

"You look beautiful," he said as she walked closer.

"You look like an asshole," she countered, and he grinned crooked.

"What'd I do wrong this time?"

"Parked a car for men who need to overcompensate in a no-parking zone." She kept a few feet of distance between them. It felt safer that way. Less nervous in his actual presence, because he was more of a person, even in an expensive suit. Five o'clock shadow gave him just enough scruff to be appealing.

"It's an arbitrary zone," he said. "A real asshole would park next to a fire hydrant. And this car is pretty understated."

"It's a Jaguar. If a Jaguar's under, what's over?"

"A Porsche?" he suggested. "A Lamborghini?" He opened the door for her, just chivalrous enough. She could not deny, as he shut the door and came around, that it was a very nice car.

"If you're trying to show off," she said as he got in, "a limo would have worked just as well."

"I take limos in Gotham," he said as he pulled out into the street. "Where I know the limo service, and I know the chauffeur. If I start visiting Metropolis more often, I might vet a driver. For now, it's easier to drive. Even if it looks like I'm overcompensating"

She watched his face as he watched the road. Nothing unusual for him in the casual admission of paranoia. "I forgot — you've been kidnapped before, haven't you?"

"Yes." Very matter-of-fact.

"So now you have to be extra sure that your driver isn't a supervillain?" Maybe teasing more than she should have been, under the circumstances.

"Yes." Still very matter-of-fact, not quite terse.

"… you're serious."

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Why wouldn't I be?" he asked. "Are you saying you don't take precautions?"

"Maybe. Sometimes." She did get taken hostage more than the average person. But generally she saw it coming. Hazards of the job. "I don't really think about it that much, to be honest with you. But I also don't have a staff."

"True," he agreed before changing the subject. "Have you figured out the angle for your story yet?"

"I've figured out twenty and had to toss every one," she admitted, not bothering to pretend she wasn't irritated.

Another small smile. It still didn't reach his eyes. "That bad?"

"Pardon me for saying so, but you're really not news."

"No?" He seemed amused by the idea.

"I don't think there's anything left to say," she clarified. "Do you know what I find when I Google you?"

"Hopefully not porn?"

She snorted. "Everything but." Lois pulled out her phone and opened up her note-taking app. "Here is what I found on the very first page of results: your birthday is February nineteenth, you were accepted into Yale when you were sixteen, had a graduate degree by twenty-two, adopted a legal ward by twenty-four—"

"That's pretty standard Wikipedia."

"—you're six foot two, your shoe size is twelve, when you buy off the rack you get a double-XL and have it fitted—"

"Maybe a little weirder."

"—you like a medium roast Blue Mountain coffee black, your favorite cake is unfrosted coffee cake and your favorite pie is lemon meringue, you think that eclairs are the best kind of donut and threatened to fight the interviewer who disagreed—"

"He said he preferred powdered donuts, he was clearly looking for a fight."

"—you've made one post on social media ever, at least three different videos of you playing the violin over celebrities complaining at parties have gone viral, Rolling Stone asked you for an article and you listed your fifty favorite species of frog in order with accompanying blurbs about each frog, you have strong opinions about turtles—"

"I don't think we can trust them."

"—and you are so candid that you once famously answered, when asked about Oliver Queen, 'I've heard he has a nice dick'."

"In fairness," Bruce said, "that was what I'd heard. Also, they sprung that question on me at a nightclub and I had no idea why they were asking. I would normally never say that about someone who'd just been lost at sea." He paused. "Unless I thought that was what they would have wanted."

"Do you think that was what he wanted?"

"Well, I had to send Moira about a thousand dollars worth of flowers, but when he got back he sent me an imported Italian gift basket with a whole pig in it, so. Make of that what you will."

She chuckled, but it was rueful. "The closest thing I have to a new angle is that you're basically the entire city of Gotham's weird rich uncle."

Bruce's mouth curled, that thing she did not want to call a smile. "I want that in my obituary, just so you know."

"I was surprised that I couldn't find a recent picture of your abs," she noted.

"Thank you for assuming I have abs."

"There are so many other pictures of you out there, I'm genuinely shocked no one's posted anything. The most recent picture I could find was from eight years ago. Do you still have the scar?"

"Which scar?"

"That's telling," she said, but he didn't respond to that. "The big one, across your back. Some kind of a dirtbike accident."

"The dirtbike was my shoulder," he corrected. "The one on my back was from a fall rock climbing. I broke my fall with another, different rock. Turned out to be a bad plan."

"And yet you still go rock climbing," she pointed out. "Regularly, even."

"Can't let a little thing like a near-death experience stop you," he said, and his sense of humor was so dry that she couldn't tell if he was joking.

"No?"

"If I did I wouldn't be able to walk down the street," he said, and when she realized what he meant it knocked all the wind out of her sails. "Sorry," he said, "did I make it depressing?"

"No, no," she assured him, even though he sort of had. But she didn't want him apologizing for being honest. "You just... make it easy to forget." Even though it shouldn't have been, even though the shadows it cast should have been clear in every half-smile and potentially fatal hobby. "Which might not be fair to you," she added, since forgetting was not a luxury he was likely to have.

"It's okay," he said. "Really. Making it easy to forget is... good. I don't want that to be what people think about when they look at me."

She watched the lights of the city play over his face. "Are you happy?" she asked. It was the question she'd been wanting to ask since she'd met him. Basic. Too basic.

He looked like he hadn't expected that, but took it in stride. "I am a comically rich white man in a sportscar with a beautiful woman," he pointed out.

"That isn't an answer."

"I'm happier than I have any right to be."

That still wasn't an answer, but she didn't press the issue. "You know, most guys I've met like to show off their scars," she said, returning to safer waters.

"I'm not most guys." From anyone else, the statement would have rung hollow.

"Do you just think they're unattractive, or what? You don't strike me as the vain type."

"Every scar I have is a record of a mistake I've made," he explained, dead serious in the most off-hand possible way. "And I have a lot of scars. I think I'm allowed to want to keep that to myself."

"That's a pessimistic way of looking at things," she observed. Yet another thing that she wouldn't have expected, completely predictable once he'd said it.

"Is there an optimistic way of looking at it?"

Optimism did not come naturally to her. She'd been getting better at it. Too much time around optimists took its toll on even the most hardened cynic. "Maybe every scar is a time you put yourself out there and tried to do something amazing," she suggested.

It touched his eyes that time, if only barely, softness accompanied by faint surprise. "You're sweet."

That got an unattractive snort out of her. "I can think of a whole list of people who'd laugh themselves silly if they heard you say that," she said, almost a warning.

"Doesn't mean I'm wrong."