Title: Good Men
Pairing: Batman/Superman (so if you don't like RPF, obviously, stay away!)
Rating: NC-17, mostly for one scene. Most it gets other than that is PG-13.
Warnings: Slash, RPF
A/N: First thing's first. If you got here by googling yourself... Oh, for the love of Pete, please hit the back button. Now that that's taken care of... I started writing this before reports of the Batman killing people came in. I personally think he may have been set up, there's some evidence (check the boards!), and I explore that possibility here. So if you are deep in the criminal!Batman camp and are about to flame me for 'glorifying a killer', do us both a favor and skip the fic entirely. Aside from Batman, Superman, Commissioner Gordon, Bruce Wayne, and his boyfriend (all of whom I think are big enough public figures that this fic won't do them a lick of harm), and a few high-profile criminals, all people appearing in this story are fictional. Any similarity to any actual situations is a really big freaking coincidence. (In short, I apologize for conveniently kidnapping said Bruce Wayne's boyfriend. That's what you get for being in Metropolis and dating a Gothamite. Of course, if you're reading this, you didn't hit the back button. :|) That being said, enjoy!
Springtime in Gotham City was a time of contrasts. The arrival of spring traditionally lent itself to thoughts of rebirth and renewal, of freshness and new beginnings. Gotham City, by and large, did not encourage those thoughts. Those who had lived there for some time understood it, to an extent, and some loved it, to another one. But they also knew enough to be wary of it. Gotham had dangers hiding where one wouldn't expect them, and also where they would. And it didn't easily take to change and renewal. Those who tried to cause it were just as often dragged down into the city's darkness as they were able to bring in light.
One April afternoon, in an old Gotham neighborhood that was desperately clinging onto the remaining threads of its shabby gentility, a rather nondescript man sat at a bar, nursing a gin and tonic. He'd been sitting in the same seat for most of the afternoon, not appearing to pay terribly much attention to the comings, goings, and soft conversations around him. Of course, the other patrons in the bar were doing him the same favor. His only real interactions up to that point had been with the bartender, who would occasionally provide him with another drink, and with the baseball game on television, which he would occasionally glance up at. Aside from that, all indications were that he seemed to be fairly content to leave everyone alone and be left alone himself.
Nothing changed much for quite some time. Shortly after a couple patrons who had been conversing in the back corner left, the man at the bar stretched a little and smiled to himself. The bartender looked quizzically at him at that, as it had been his first real indication of emotion in hours. He was about to say something when suddenly the camera angle on the television abruptly switched up to show what appeared to be a passenger plane bearing down on the field. At the front of that passenger plane was a small speck of bright color that attracted the attention of every set of eyes in the room. It was a very familiar sight, because even with the passing of half a decade, it was just not possible to forget that figure in red and blue.
Superman-- it was Superman, beyond all reason-- was evidently steering the plummeting airplane to the stadium. The players had run to take cover, the game forgotten for the time being. Everyone in the bar was transfixed to the happenings on the screen, a few murmurs of "He's back." flitting through the air. The plane was brought to a halt, rather the worse for the ordeal, and set in the middle of the stadium. Cheers erupted in the park, and in the bar as well. Superman flew up to enter the plane, presumably checking on the passengers. The sportscasters were frantically babbling to each other, at a loss for anything remotely resembling coherent thought. The bar's patrons were all on their feet, staring at the screen. After a few moments that seemed like an eternity, the brightly-suited alien emerged from the plane to further deafening cheers from the crowd. After a moment spent soaking in the adulation, he flew off as quickly as he had arrived.
The feed on the screen switched abruptly to the regular newscasters for the biggest bit of breaking news since Superman had disappeared in the first place. Of course, they had little more information than what had already been broadcast nationwide, so it was taken up by replays and analysis. The crowd in the bar sunk back to their seats almost as one. The bartender rang a bell and announced a round on the house in celebration. That one announcement raised more cheers amongst the patrons than Superman's reappearance had in the first place.
The man at the bar stared fixedly at the newscasters with a gaze of laser-like intensity. He hadn't outwardly shown that much interest in anything since his arrival. He continued soaking in the news even as old stock footage of Superman's prior exploits was dragged out. Then they brought in further breaking news. A flurry of sightings of the alien, all around the world. Stopping a robbery in Scotland, preventing a building from collapsing in Japan. New footage was piling up, one after another, after another, almost as quickly as they could broadcast it.
And then he came to Gotham.
The picture on the television was unmistakable. The great figure in red and blue sweeping out of the sky and dragging a drowning man from Gotham Harbor. Even the newscaster reporting on the event was unable to keep her voice from slightly trembling in awe.
The man at the bar left some money for the bartender and walked out, leaving his half-finished gin and tonic behind him. This was unexpected. But not entirely unplanned for. Preparations would have to be made.
He had been back for only two days before the first contact. He was flying through the air one day at dusk, fresh from helping evacuate a factory which had been engulfed in a chemical fire, when a high-pitched whine, too high a frequency to be registered by human ears, rang through the air and made him stop short. It was not a noise he had heard before, either in his first time on earth or in the time since his triumphant return. And then, after a long beat, it simply ceased. After a moment, the sound returned, except in a series of long and short pulses he quickly identified as Morse Code. SUPERMAN. FIND ME. FOLLOW THE SIGNAL.
He frowned absently to himself and concentrated. The source of the signal seemed to be... Ah. If it was coming from whom he suspected it was coming from, this was a meeting he certainly did not want to miss.
He turned in midair and made a beeline for Gotham City.
It did not take him long to find the black-shrouded figure slightly crouched on a rooftop on the outskirts of Gotham.
"Superman." His voice was a husky and soft, yet clear, baritone, almost an extension of the shadows. Superman was sure the effect was very stunning to those who encountered him. Even though his own enhanced vision made the details of the man in front of him much more apparent than they would be to an ordinary observer, the overall effect was still striking, even to him.
"You must be the Batman," Superman said, hovering slightly above the rooftop.
"You're back." It sounded more like an accusation than anything.
Superman frowned, taken slightly aback by the tone in the man's voice. "Yes."
If the Batman had noticed the alien's confusion, he made no acknowledgment. "Why?"
Superman looked up at the dark sky for a moment. "What I was hoping for was gone."
There was no change in the other man's tone. "And so you decided to grace us with your presence again."
"It's fine," the vigilante tersely cut in. "The world is yours, alien."
Superman frowned at that. "No, it's--"
The Batman cut him off yet again. "Just stay away from Gotham."
The shock on the Kryptonian's face was palpable. "What?"
The tone in the other man's voice didn't change. "Stay. Away. From Gotham City."
Superman blinked in confusion, looking at the other hero. "Why?"
"There is too much riding on what I am trying to accomplish here to risk your interference in it. Stay away from Gotham."
The confusion was still pasted on the alien's normally remote face. "What do you mean?"
"We got soft. Then you left, and we found out just how soft."
"I'm back now."
"That is not the point. If you leave again--"
It was Superman's turn to cut in. "I won't."
"Pardon me for not just taking the word of someone who just strolled back onto the planet after leaving for five years with no warning."
"I was just--"
"Spare me the excuses. It's like I said. We got soft. It's my duty to make sure we don't again. You have the rest of the world at your disposal. Just stay out of Gotham City."
Superman narrowed his eyes. "And if I don't?"
Batman's eyes narrowed slightly in return. "Are you really the kind who will interfere where you are clearly not wanted?"
"How do you know I'm not wanted? There are millions of people in Gotham City, and you claim to speak for all of them?"
"Maybe you haven't caught up yet. It was a Metropolis reporter who just won a Pulitzer for saying the world doesn't need you."
Superman's voice grew slightly colder. "I'm aware."
"We're more self-sufficient here. And I don't need your help."
Superman crossed his arms, boots still hovering over the rooftop. "I'm not going to stand idly by if there's a major catastrophe."
"Why not? It worked for the last five years."
There was no reply from the alien.
"You left. We grew up again."
"And it's too late for you to justify yourself."
There was no reply again. The two caped figures just remained silent for a moment, getting the measure of one another.
Superman's voice was the first to break the tense silence. "If there is something large that I can effectively deal with that normal human effort won't be able to... I won't let masses of innocents that I could have saved die just because you felt like staking your territory."
"Then you should be satisfied with the condition."
"You don't get to set terms here."
"I'm talking truly extraordinary circumstances."
Batman seemed to mull it over for a moment. "If I determine you're needed, I will contact you."
"Don't be so quick to thank me. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."
"I can hold my breath for a long time."
"Just remember, though, if you go too far, impose too much, there are ways of dealing with you, too."
"Was that a threat?"
"Not if you don't make it necessary."
Superman frowned. "I'll see you around, then." He rose farther into the air and flew off.
He was already a good distance away by the time the shadowed man's, "Let's both hope not," reached his ears.
As the Batman watched Superman fly off into the distance, he frowned to himself, unmoving on the rooftop. So the alien had decided to return. Good for him, but he would have to learn that Gotham was a special case. His objectives, by definition, could not be accomplished by having the shining superpowered guardian flying in whenever trouble was afoot. This was the first time he'd ever seen Superman in person, and he had to admit that he was certainly a rather striking presence. Whether that was from something inherent in the Kryptonian or whether it was simply because the Batman knew what power the alien was capable of was as yet undetermined.
Of course, if Superman actually listened to him and stayed away from Gotham, he wouldn't have all that much opportunity to find out which. And that was... to be hoped for, certainly. The world needed to know that it was capable of taking care of its problems without a savior from another planet needing to intervene. Superman had left once, and there was no guarantee it wouldn't happen again. If Gotham needed to be the example to prove that it was possible to get by without him, to prevent the uptick in crime that happened practically worldwide upon his disappearance from happening again, then so be it. Some very powerful people had made that choice, and the long string of decisions that had followed had wound up with him standing on that rooftop that night, staring off at the spot in which the alien had long since disappeared.
He would prove those decisions correct. Failure was not an option.
Superman arrived back in Metropolis rather quickly, continuing to mull over that encounter in Gotham City with the shadowy vigilante on the rooftop. It was difficult to discern the man's motivation. Was it simple territoriality for the sake of being territorial? Was it petulance, because he had left? He had had every reason in the world to leave. It wasn't because Earth had bored him, or driven him away. The news had been everywhere, that there was evidence that Krypton may have survived after all. Was he truly expected to leave that evidence sitting by the wayside? To ignore the possibility that he might not be so alone in the universe as he had supposed? It was a fragile hope, but it was hope. He had worked on Earth to give hope to others, but was he not allowed any for himself? So he had left, to see for himself. And the evidence had been wrong, and Krypton had been well and truly gone, but he could not fault himself for the hope.
And then he returned to a world somewhat changed. In chasing hope, it seemed, he had thrown away the trust that many had placed in him. The article, written by Lois Lane, whom he had considered something close to a friend, expounding on why he was unnecessary, winning one of the most prestigious awards that could be hoped for, leading him to believe that there was a great deal of agreement with it. And then mistrust's living embodiment, dressed in black and standing on a rooftop in Gotham. It's too late for you to justify yourself. Perhaps that was so. But perhaps justification wouldn't solve the problem.
One did not build trust by justifying themselves. One built trust by earning it, one action at a time.
He was a man of his word. He would stay out of Gotham unless invited.
The Metropolis sky was turning a dusky purplish pink one evening a couple weeks later when Superman paused in midair on one of his circuits of the city. A dark shape was crouched on the roof of a bookshop across the street from a small Italian restaurant. The figure was surrounded by various pieces of mechanical equipment. He tilted his head a little and studied the figure more closely, arching an eyebrow and dropping down to the rooftop.
He landed lightly next to the dark shape, which was indeed Gotham's vigilante. "This is a surprise. What are you doing here?"
Batman jerked his head slightly towards the restaurant. "There's going to be a meeting here between the envoys of two prominent Gotham crime families."
"They presume that I'm a local phenomenon. And that you're too busy to care."
"Well, I'll go disabuse them of that notion." He lifted into the air a few feet, turning at the same time to head toward the building.
Superman stopped, turning back towards Batman. "What?"
"If you go flying in there, even if you do wait for them to, first, arrive, and second, start talking about anything of substance, the best you can get them for is conspiracy charges, and they have very good lawyers. If you can even manage to prove that much."
"So why are you here?"
"To hear what they're up to, so I can catch them in the act once it gets out of the talking stage."
"I planted listening devices this afternoon."
"Don't you think they might check for them, just as a precaution?"
Batman smiled mordantly. "They're welcome to try. I guarantee that as far as that's concerned, I'm not dealing with any technology they'll be able to track down."
"How did you manage--"
"I do hope you realize that I wasn't actually born in this mask."
"You went in out of costume, then."
"I would have figured that would be obvious."
"What if someone had caught you?"
Another thin smile crossed Batman's face. "I'm not about to let that happen."
Tilting his head, Superman asked curiously, "Who are you?"
Batman rolled his eyes slightly before replying dryly, "A concerned citizen."
"A concerned citizen with advanced surveillance technology?"
A faint smirk crossed Batman's features. "A concerned citizen with money to blow."
"I don't think so."
"Think what you want. I'm not inclined to tell you in the first place."
Superman pursed his lips. "All right. How long are you planning on staying after this meeting's done?"
"Not long. I don't want to be here any more than you want me here."
"I never said I--"
"You didn't have to. It stands to reason. I staked out Gotham as my territory, you'd be understandably... ruffled... by my appearance here." He shrugged, looking over his equipment.
"You're free to come to Metropolis if you need to. Or anywhere. I'm not going to dictate someone's movements."
"Like I do?"
At Superman's lack of response, Batman allowed a faint smile to pass across his face. "Keeping you out of Gotham is... necessary."
"Why? I... I can tell you care about helping people in Gotham, but... why do you not want me to help?" He was careful to only let his face betray curiosity. He couldn't let himself be uncertain. Not to someone he was uncertain about.
Batman looked at Superman for a moment, not saying anything. Under that piercing gaze, even Superman felt almost cowed, as if flying off and leaving the whole issue alone would just possibly be the best course of action. But then the vigilante did speak. "The meeting's just about to start. Let me get my information. Then I'll... try to explain. Somewhat."
That was reasonable enough. "All right, I'll--" He cut off, hearing a scream halfway across the city. "I'll see you when it's over, then." He shot off in a blur, leaving a swirl of air to ripple at Batman's cape. Batman himself barely noticed the departure, engrossed as he was in the conversations he was hearing in his headset.
About three hours later, Superman returned to the rooftop to find Batman crouched and motionless, the listening equipment packed away. "Is it finished?"
"I apologize if I kept you waiting too terribly long."
Batman shrugged. He didn't seem too upset, though, so Superman ventured to continue.
"So... why all this?"
"Because you left."
"That's not the point."
"That's exactly the point. You're asking me why I am doing what I'm doing and the fact that you left is... integral to the entire operation."
Batman paused for a brief moment. "Wrong choice of words. The point is that you left and things went to hell. Humanity had gotten used to your presence, and without it, the scavengers came out to play again, knowing you wouldn't be there to catch them on it."
Superman closed his eyes for a long moment. "I'm sorry."
Batman shook his head before replying. "Don't be. You had your reasons, I'm sure. We just had to learn how to go without relying on you. And that is why I'm here. I came to pick up where you left off. Only I don't have the luxury of your powers. I... have to be one man, working alone."
"But now I'm back, and I'm willing to help. Why won't you let me?"
"Because I can't allow myself to get used to your presence. If you leave again--"
"Not necessarily intentionally. But what if something happens? Something almost did, or did I mishear the reports of your hospital stay?"
"An indication that you have the potential to go down. For the noblest of reasons, almost certainly, and you're damn near completely invulnerable, but... if there's one thing I know about this world it's that bad things happen. And they obviously can even happen to you."
"So you're... some sort of backup plan for me? Ready to take over at a moment's notice?"
"Not exactly. I'm more of an indication that humanity isn't entirely defenseless in the face of darkness."
"But I knew that already."
"Yes, but tell that to the face of darkness."
"And you decided to do this on your own?"
"That question is more complicated that one would think."
"I have time."
"I'm not answering it anyway."
"Why aren't you?"
Batman looked at Superman inscrutably, his cape billowing behind him slightly. "I've already told you more than I ever expected I would. And definitely more than I probably should have. You have what you need to know."
"But I have so many more questions."
"I'm afraid you'll have to learn to live with the disappointment."
Superman tilted his head slightly as he regarded the almost motionless man in front of him. "All right. Do you need a lift back to Gotham City?"
"No. I managed to get here all right, I should be able to get back just as easily."
"All right, then. If you say so. If you need any assistance with anything--"
"Still, I have to say it. That's who I am."
The faintest tinge of amusement colored Batman's voice. "So it would seem."
"If you need my assistance with anything, you do not have to hesitate to ask."
"But I still will. That's who I am."
"Yes, I've noti--" Before he even finished the word, a shrill alarm sounded at the other end of the city and he reflexively turned to look in that direction, taking to the air. He turned back to bid a hasty goodbye to Batman.
But he was already gone.
A navy blue sedan headed out of Metropolis on the freeway towards Gotham City, the window rolled down on the driver's side, the wind running through the driver's sand-colored hair. The radio in the car was set to a talk radio news station, but the wind and the highway noise from the open window drowned it out. The driver was deftly navigating the freeway's traffic and humming something tunelessly under his breath. It had been an... interesting day, to say the least. He had revealed possibly more than he should, but it was a mere scratch to the surface of the actual story that lay there. He wasn't sure even he knew the entirety of it, although that was quite possibly better off for him. It had been taken care of for the time being, and with luck, the topic wouldn't be revisited at any point in the near future. Of course, he did not foresee needing to work with the alien in any other capacity other than perhaps in necessary forays outside of Gotham, like this one had been. But for those necessary forays, it... certainly wouldn't hurt to be civil to him. It had worked that time, at the least. With luck, it would work in the future as well. Perhaps it was a bridge he did not want to burn, after all. He sped up the car slightly. For now, he had things to do in Gotham.
In Gotham, a shrill scream rang out as a young woman in her twenties started running down an all-but abandoned street. She was so intent on making sure she was outpacing the thug with a knife behind her that she didn't notice his partner ahead of her until she plowed directly into him and stumbled back onto the pavement. She screamed again, tears trickling down her face, certain as she was that no help was coming. The two muggers shared a twisted smile before turning their attention back to the woman. In the space of half a heartbeat, reinforced boots had dropped from the sky, pushing each of them to the ground. Attached to those boots was, of course, the Batman. As the young woman scrabbled out of the way, the Batman handily disarmed each of the thugs, his flowing motions moving between the two without any hitches. It was graceful, in a way, and the woman who was already running as far as she could away from the scene truly didn't notice. There was a watcher who did, however.
As Batman strung the would-be perpetrators upside down from a light pole, clarion blue eyes watched him from above.
As he moved stealthily through his rounds of the city, he continued to be observed, unbeknownst to him. Superman was, however, smiling slightly, and nodding. Gotham was in good hands, it seemed.
A few weeks later, Superman saw Batman once more crouched on a Metropolis rooftop. He dropped closer. "Another meeting of Gotham's Most Notorious?"
One corner of Batman's mouth quirked upward a bit. "Not exactly," he replied. "I've come to ask for your assistance."
Superman's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You have?"
"Mmhm. Kidnapping. Happened in Gotham, but the victim's a Metropolis resident. Had it stayed within the confines of Gotham, I wouldn't be here right now, but I'm fairly certain the perpetrators went to ground elsewhere."
"All right, who's been kidnapped?"
"Bruce Wayne's new boyfriend. The reporter. You may have seen him once or twice, he's been known to work with Lois Lane...."
Superman furrowed his brow thoughtfully, saying nothing for a beat. "Yes, Mr. Kent. I'm familiar with him. What happened?"
"Wayne took him out to a charity banquet for Gotham Children's Hospital. As they were leaving, some unidentified men pulled up in an untagged black van, got Kent inside, and drove away, all within the space of about two minutes. Wayne immediately went to GCPD, who, let me tell you, are the biggest comedy troupe this side of Monty Python."
Superman frowned. "So then he went to you? Is that even possible?"
"Not exactly. I have some contacts high up in the department. Thankfully not everyone's incompetent. Or haven't you heard of the spotlight?"
"Okay, so the police went to you. Any idea of motive?"
"Ransom, pure and simple. Wayne had a note waiting for him at his home when he got back. I... acquired it for some forensic examination. It's clean of prints, but I'm doing a bit closer study. It may yield some clues yet."
"And you're certain they've left Gotham?"
"Fairly. The van was found abandoned in a storage facility just outside of Gotham city limits. I'm not ruling out the possibility that it's just a red herring, but it's worth pursuing, and I don't think the perps in this case are quite bright enough to plan that much."
"What gives you that impression?"
"Gut instinct. It does work on occasion."
"And so you want my help tracking them down."
"You are a bit more mobile than I am, I've seemed to notice."
Superman laughed a bit. "True. So do you have any information about where to start?"
"Not yet. All I'll say for now is to keep an eye out. I don't want to bias you in any particular direction. Not yet, at least. I'm going to get back to Gotham and finish running some tests on the forensic evidence I already have. See if I can get some clues from that. We'll continue from there."
"All right." A faintly amused smile crossed his face. "And if I find them before you're done?"
Batman tilted his head a bit. "Then good. I admit it's a possibility. You do have tools. As long as the goal is achieved, it doesn't really matter who achieves it."
"... As long as if it's in Gotham, it's you."
Batman's smirk was response enough.
Circling through Metropolis the next day, snatches of conversations reached Superman's ears. Normally he tried not to eavesdrop on people, but he could hardly turn off his hearing entirely, so he made do. He wasn't listening closely, at any rate, because he needed to listen out for signs of trouble or emergencies from as far as he could manage to hear, which was, as everyone knew, a rather sizable distance. The city itself was what was the most vibrant to him, by virtue of distance. He preferred it that way, though. Every place had its own... sense, its own vibrancy and rhythms, and he felt as if he meshed well with Metropolis, which is why, among many reasons, he had chosen it as his main base of operations. He stilled in the air, floating some distance over the globe atop the Daily Planet building and letting the sounds of the city wash over him.
"...and then Miss Sanderson let us go outside for reading! It was..."
"...down, Peanut! You silly little puppy, it's time to..."
"...bought what? There is no way you could have afforded..."
"...want to know if you'll do me the honor of becoming my..."
"...take one down, pass it around, sixty-seven bottles of..."
"...just breathe, honey, not much longer now..."
"...word from Wayne yet? He's gotta--"
Superman's focus was immediately drawn and, eavesdropping or no, he zeroed in on the conversation, moving again as well as he went to go locate its source.
"--know that we're serious here. It's a drop in the bucket to him, and we all know that much. What's a few million here or there to a man who has more money than God? ... Yeah, shut up, Charlie, I know God doesn't actually need money, it's a... thing... metaphor. Or something. Whatever. How's the reporter holding up? Yeah, well you tell him to just cool his heels, if his boyfriend really cares all that much, he'll be out of our hair-- and we'll be out of his-- in no time."
Superman found himself floating over a houseboat in the harbor, staring through the walls at the short, squat man talking on the phone to... Charlie, whom he could only assume was an accomplice. He remained silent and motionless, knowing that since Clark Kent wasn't actually present, it was a time to wait and pick up information, because should he just fly in, then it could have profoundly unfortunate results for the hostage. Wait and watch, and listen. It would work out.
"... Ha, yeah, aren't you glad we got the quiet one instead of the loudmouth billionaire? Easier for us to actually get the money, too, when he's actually around to authorize it. ... Yeah, okay, you and Greg get back to your game, or whatever. I'll give you guys a call later on. Yeah, take care."
The man hung up with a soft chuckle and flopped down on a seat, flipping on the television to watch the news. The kidnapping itself hadn't been made public to the news stations, possibly to prevent the kidnappers from getting nervous in the proverbial spotlight. He didn't appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere, so Superman carefully memorized his features and those of the houseboat and took off, heading towards Gotham. ... With any luck, he would be able to track down the Batman. He hadn't exactly given Superman his contact information. Hopefully, he'd somehow manage to get his attention. And he just might have had an idea of how to do so.
The policeman pacing on the roof of GCPD headquarters barely even startled when Batman emerged from the shadows next to the giant floodlight. A reminder was all that it was ever publicized to be, but it also served an interesting dual purpose as a signaling device.
"You needed me, Gordon?"
"Batman. I didn't need you so much as... Someone asked me to pass a message on to you. Someone... well, let's just say I wasn't expecting I'd actually ever meet him."
"Mm. What's the message?"
"Go back to where you first spoke. He has information for you. I'm guessing you know where that is?"
"Oh... and tell him thank you again. My kids will really appreciate the autograph."
Batman tilted his head wordlessly before melting back into the shadows he had emerged from.
Twenty minutes later, Batman climbed to the edge of the rooftop where he had encountered Superman after his return. The Kryptonian was waiting, hands presumably clasped behind his back, from the way his arms were being held. The dark red cape obscured the details. It was difficult to tell how long he had been waiting. An almost surprising number of his methods of nonverbal communication, he shared with humans, on the whole, but there were some areas in which he could seem... quite remote in that regard. He stepped out of the shadows, knowing it was highly likely that the alien was already aware of his presence, but also knowing he would probably not say anything until he had announced himself. "Good thought, going through Gordon."
"I figured that you probably wouldn't want me flying around the city shouting for you."
Batman emitted a snort that was not quite laughter. "You figured right. So what information did you have?"
Superman quickly relayed the story of the conversation he was fortunate enough to have overheard. He thankfully did not spend a laborious amount of time going over trivialities. He concisely zeroed in on the details of the man he heard, his whereabouts, and the conversation that they were having. It didn't exactly give information on where the hostage would be found, but it was also a very helpful lead.
"And you just left him there?"
"For the time being. He wasn't going anywhere, from the looks of things. But just in case, I'm keeping an ear out on him for the sounds of movement or anything suspicious."
Batman frowned. "You can pick out normal sounds that far?"
Superman inclined his head, as in concession. "Normally, the best I can hear outside the range of a few miles or so is sudden loud noises. A scream, a siren, a crash, a gunshot... it makes me rather uniquely suited for what I do. However, if I need to, and I know what I'm looking for, I can concentrate on a locale or a person. It's like... the difference between listening to an orchestra and carefully following the sound of the second chair flute."
"Bet that comes in handy."
"It can. So have you been looking into it on your end?"
"The van was stolen from a rental agency. They covered their tracks fairly well, but not necessarily well enough. There were shoe prints on the floor of the vehicle. Enough to at least work out shoe sizes. I'm in the process of examining the dirt they're made of, to see if I can pin down any indication of where they might be from it."
Superman smiled a little. "CSI: Gotham?"
Batman snorted again. "Something like that. ... At what point did you manage to pick up pop-culture references? Can you listen to satellite signals?"
He shook his head. "I can see the electromagnetic frequencies if I try, but I can't decode them. No, I've just heard police officers joking around with one another at some crime scenes. And... I do overhear people speaking to one another fairly frequently. I try not to listen in, but there's only so much I can filter out. I... pick up things, here and there."
Batman frowned a little. "Overhear people speaking to each other. Don't you actually have people speaking to you?"
Superman smiled ever so slightly, the remote smile that made him look almost doll-like. It wasn't precisely an expression that humans often had. "When people talk to me, they're not normally bringing up what they watched on television the night before."
"Touche. Have you even had an actual conversation? That wasn't about thank-you-for-rescuing me or some news interview?"
"I... sometimes. Not... for quite some time, though."
"Since you've come back, certainly..."
"Not really. I've been... a bit busy. Unless you count our conversations."
Another amused sound jumped from Batman's throat. "If our conversations are your closest thing to actual human interaction in the last five plus years, you really need to do something about that."
"Human interaction is... a bit difficult when you're not actually human."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"People... I intimidate them."
"You don't intimidate me."
"No, perhaps not, but even you... you don't forget who or what I am at any point, I am willing to wager. From what I've seen, part of human interaction is the facade you put up towards one another every day. Who you put yourself out to be. The mask you're wearing right now is literal, but everyone wears them all the time. And everyone knows it, deep down, but they're willing to work with each other's masks in a trade for their own being worked with. I... would be... it is difficult to insert myself into that kind of dynamic."
"Not impossible. If you were to... not wear the suit, maybe?"
Superman laughed. "Maybe you have the good fortune of an anonymous face that will blend in to a crowd with nobody noticing. I don't exactly have that luxury."
Batman tilted his head. "True. It would be... rather difficult for you to... be anyone but Superman."
"It wasn't exactly what I ever envisioned myself being called, but... it's an appellation I try to live up to."
"What... did you see yourself being called?"
Superman shrugged, then. "I didn't... truly give it much thought. My name... my actual name is Kal-El. It's... not a name that's been spoken much."
Right, that did get mentioned in one of Lane's articles years ago. Before he'd left. "It just... doesn't have the same ring to it, exactly."
"I suppose not. ... But this conversation is drifting a bit afield of where it probably should be. You said you're analyzing forensic evidence?"
"Ah, so I did." Batman smiled thinly. "I think I'll show you the lab."
Superman looked around in awe at the equipment he was surrounded with. "Where did all of this come from?"
"I have resources." They were deep in a bunker beneath a warehouse that was labeled as condemned for structural reasons with many large signs on the outside. The warehouse's appearance had certainly reinforced the signs, but when he had scrutinized it closely, it seemed in all honesty to be more structurally sound than practically any building in Gotham. It would almost undoubtedly withstand a large earthquake, let alone the normal wear-and-tear of weather and the like. But that was almost certainly carefully calculated to keep out trespassers, and it had more or less succeeded, barring a few tags of graffiti.
"What resources? There's virtually no way one man can have a setup like this all on his own, unless he's obscenely rich."
"Then yes, I'm obscenely rich." Batman grinned a little and then hesitated before tentatively pushing the cowl off of his head.
Superman studied him. His short sandy hair was tousled a bit from being flattened against his head for so long, and his gray eyes were simply ringed with eyeblack instead of the entire mask. He looked... well, raccoon-like instead of batlike, to be frank, but he started cleaning off the makeup, which made him look... simply human. A handsome but average face that almost certainly would blend in in a crowd, a circumstance that had probably served him well in the past. He turned to his machinery and Superman frowned.
"What do I call you?"
"Hm?" Batman-- the man beneath the Batman frowned up at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"You're not Batman. Not without the mask. It would seem... immensely awkward calling you that. You must have a name."
"Not one that's been spoken in... probably longer than yours. Call me whatever you'd like."
"I'd like to call you by your name."
He was met with a wry lipquirk. "Sorry. That's not going to happen for quite some time, if ever. Just shorten it if you'd like. B will do, you certainly won't have been the first one to call me that."
"Just a letter?" Superman frowned. "That won't do at all. Maybe something that starts with B? How about Brock?"
"... That makes me sound like a porn star."
"Do you have any better suggestions?"
He tilted his head for a while, in thought, before nodding. "Benjamin would do. Or Ben. Is that better?"
"As long as it doesn't make you feel like a porn star."
"Ha. Ben it is, then, Kal-El."
"Nice to meet you, then, Ben."
Ben just shook his head. He turned back to his matter analysis, not much noting Superman's grin.
"So the soil remnants seem to indicate rich land, possibly a farm somewhere. I'm doing more detailed spectral analysis on a larger sample I managed to acquire in order to try to pin down the location a bit more precisely. Plus I'm running some checks on the names you got, and the registration on that boat. With any luck, we'll have these guys pinned down sooner rather than later." Ben smiled a little, sitting back in his seat.
"I do have one question."
"Go for it."
"Why not just... do what they frequently do in situations like this, and arrange a fake ransom drop?"
"They'll be expecting it. Won't have Kent anywhere nearby. We'll undoubtedly do it eventually, but we want to be more prepared than they are when it happens. That way, when they realize their plans have gone belly up, it will be far far too late for them to take any actions that will be hurting the hostage or anyone else."
Kal-El nodded slowly. "That makes sense."
"Of course it does. I've prepared for this. I've prepared for a lot. I wasn't about to go into a duty like this half-assed."
"I... hope I wasn't implying that you had been."
"No, not really. Don't worry, you haven't offended me, or anything like that. I'm just... making it clear that I'm not doing this off the cuff, so you don't have to feel worried that just because you did step back like I asked, Gotham is in poorer hands or anything."
"I didn't think that. I never even came close to thinking that. You were... a harsh reminder of the mistake I had made by leaving. I've had a few of those since coming back. You were well within your rights to... come up with a contingency plan. You're right. I didn't think through the consequences, and I turned out not to be as reliable as I should have been."
"For what it's worth, after having worked with you a bit, and... watched you for longer... I don't personally think you're going to leave again, not intentionally. But--"
"I know. Something might happen. One never knows. What you're doing is important. I was just... hurt, at first. I apologize for lashing out. I shouldn't have."
"I wasn't precisely being very gracious either. Apology accepted."
Superman smiled gratefully and nodded. "Thank you."
Ben tilted his head. "After we've gotten this taken care of, would you like to go out and get a drink and... actually talk?"
Kal-El looked... remarkably taken aback. "I... would probably be a bit too conspicuous."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of that little detail. But would you like to?"
"... All right."
"Excellent." At that point a high-pitched tone sounded from one of Ben's computers, so he turned towards it. "Looks like we've at least fingered our culprits. Your boater's named Bill Murphy. Charlie and Greg would be Charles Buck and Greg Adams. They're normally some pretty small-time thugs from Central City. Looks like they've decided to overstep themselves a bit. But it should make it easier to deal with."
"But also easier to spook them. We have to be careful about the hostage."
"Very true. Let me look over at the... Hmm. Looks like they're going to be in southeastern Pennsylvania. Probably an apple orchard. Think you can find them?"
"Sure. Do you have pictures of Charlie and Greg?"
Ben hit a few keys, bringing up mugshots of the men that Kal would be looking for, in addition to a photo of Clark Kent. It wasn't a great one, as he didn't have his picture in the byline of the Planet often, but a paparazzi-snagged photo of he and Bruce Wayne would have to suffice. Kal nodded. "Thank you. I'll find them."
"I know. See you shortly."
"See you shortly."
The scenery of Pennsylvania at the region where Ben had pinpointed the likely source of the dirt was lovely. Kal did not exactly have time to appreciate that, however. He flew overhead, scanning the area for apple orchards. Of course there had to be dozens-- hundreds, even, but he was determined. He would not let one of the innocents he had sworn to protect be harmed. Information was needed, and he was going to provide it.
He flew over a rise, continuing to listen and watch for indications of where Clark Kent might be held. Suddenly, he heard hushed conversation.
"Nice to know you're being good."
"Given, uh, that my options appear to be 'be good' or 'get shot', I think I'll stick with... well, with the obvious."
"Yeah, good job. Knew you were tons smarter than that boyfriend of yours."
"He's... really not that bad, really."
"Oh, please, he's like the male Paris Hilton. All he needs is one of those little dogs in a handbag."
"That... um... That's certainly a mental image that's going to stick with me for a while. Er, provided I live a while."
"... I like you, Kent."
Kal approached, remaining at a cautious distance, and studied the setup. There was a storage building on the outskirts of one of the orchards. Greg Adams, judging from his resemblance to the mug shot, was sitting outside, which... yes, Charlie Buck inside, sitting next to the tied and blindfolded reporter, a gun at the ready. Kal was briefly tempted to burst in and disable the two culprits, but even his speed might not prevent Clark Kent from being hurt in a random burst of gunfire, or even a lucky ricochet off of Kal's own impermeable skin. He didn't appear to be in any immediate danger, and now in case of emergency, Kal knew where to return if something were to happen. At the moment, though, he was going to give Batman a status report.
Ben crossed his arms as Kal laid out the scenario as it stood. He nodded slowly once he had finished and walked over to a computer console, pulling up satellite images of both the orchard where Mr. Kent was being held and the dropoff area that had been requested by the kidnappers. He crossed his arms again, grasping his chin in one hand. "All right," he said after a few moments, "I have an idea."
"All right, what's this idea of yours?"
"I'll get in contact with Gordon, and have him ask Bruce Wayne to call to arrange a time for the ransom pickup."
Kal-El blinked. "You think that the kidnappers won't be concerned that something might be going on?"
"Of course they'll be concerned that Wayne might be bringing police or something. But it shifts their concern to casing out the area where the exchange will be taking place, and not where they already have him held. Presuming you didn't leave any indication that you saw them..."
"Of course I didn't," interjected Kal with a frown.
"... Then they'll have no reason to think that their current location is known. If it had been, why would Wayne need to arrange the transfer in the first place? The authorities would just go in with guns blazing. They'll feel safer in their hideaway, and they'll probably split up to go prepare the transfer zone. That'll leave Kent under minimal guard. Easy to collect."
"So I go back and get him?"
Ben smiled thinly. "Oh, no. You'll be waiting at the transfer point. I will have absolutely no problems dealing with minimal guard."
Kal frowned a bit again. "You're certain? I don't want to see you get hurt."
"There is absolutely no need to be concerned for me. I'd be more worried about whoever's going to try to take me on."
It was dark, due to his blindfold, but Clark Kent could hear the voices of his abductors as plain as day. It seemed as if something was actually going to be happening.
"Greg, just got a call from Bill. They've set up the time for the dropoff."
"About damn time. ... Think it might be a setup?"
"Let's hope not for their sakes." The one named Charlie snorted. "I'm going to go help Bill scope out the area for the cash pickup. Wait about fifteen minutes before starting to drive Kent to the bridge where we're gonna leave him, got it? If anything goes wrong, we'll call you and you do what you gotta, okay?"
Clark really hoped that 'do what you gotta' didn't mean what he was pretty sure it did mean. But there was always hope.
"Yeah, sure thing, Charlie. We're gonna be loaded at the end of the night, ain't we?"
"We can only hope, Greg."
The door to the room opened and closed and silence once more reigned. He tried to count down fifteen minutes to himself. Nothing could possibly go wrong before at least he was transported, so he was fairly sure he was going to at least get out of the building. Hopefully he'd get back to safety when all this was said and done. He really wanted to see Bruce again.
It probably hadn't been, but it certainly seemed well longer than fifteen minutes before Greg roughly hauled Clark to his feet. "Let's get going. Hey, look at the bright side, Kent, we'll be out of your hair in no time. One way or another. Let's just hope your pretty little boyfriend didn't decide to try some funny business.
"Yeah," said Clark, weakly. He tried to keep his equilibrium as he was shoved out the door and led down what felt like a gravel walkway. They hadn't reached, well, anything really, before Greg's grip was abruptly removed from Clark's person, which made him stumble onto the gravel.
There were some rustling sounds and a few grunts before the sound of something heavy hitting the gravel reached Clark's ears. He curled up as best he could to offer as small a target as possible. "Please don't hurt me, I didn't do anything."
There was a slightly amused chuckle and a deep voice he hadn't heard before that moment said, "I know." With that, Clark's wrists were untied from behind his back and his blindfold was removed. Clark blinked, squinting from both the sudden influx of bright light and the fact that he had no idea where his glasses had gotten to. His eyes widened. Standing in front of him and next to an unconscious... well, probably Greg... was Gotham City's infamous Batman.
Clark opened and closed his mouth a few times. "I... I think I need to stay sitting down for a while."
Charlie and Bill arrived at the dropoff point a good hour before anything was scheduled to happen. They took a quick look at the grounds and looked at all possible hiding places that could possibly hide a cop or a few. It seemed perfectly clean. Maybe Bruce Wayne wasn't exactly as big an idiot as he'd seemed after all. They grinned at each other. This was actually going to work out.
Neither of them saw the red and blue blur moving towards them until it was far too late to do anything about it.
Bruce Wayne stood outside the headquarters of GCPD, shaking Lieutenant Gordon's hand vigorously. His left hand was clasped strongly to Clark Kent's. "Thank you so so so so much, Lieutenant, for all the hard work you did in stopping those... vile... vile... people. I just don't know what I would have done without all your help. It could have been... tragical."
"All in a day's work, Mr. Wayne," the lieutenant said, bemused. "I'm just glad the situation was able to be resolved without anyone getting badly hurt. And I hardly did it alone."
"Is it true that Superman helped to find my Clarkie?"
Kent winced a little. "... Bruce, please don't call me that ever again."
Lieutenant Gordon smiled a little. "There are some benefits to dating a resident of Metropolis, it seems."
"Mm, yeah, at least it wasn't that crazy Bat...person."
"Um... Bruce?" the reporter said softly. "I... probably need to tell you something."
From the vantage point of a rooftop across the street from the station, Batman smirked a little bit at the scene of the grateful playboy and his boyfriend playing out before them. "Talk about your odd couples."
Kal smiled a little. "There's no accounting for taste. Besides, they do seem happy with one another."
"True. Opposites do attract." He looked over at Superman silently. After a moment, he asked, "So how about that drink?"
"... If you really think you can make me unrecognizable..." He trailed off a bit at the smile on Batman's face.
Kal's hair was artfully tousled and dyed blond at the tips with some temporary dye that Ben had acquired. He had a pair of aviator sunglasses perched on his face, a baggy faded dark green long-sleeved t-shirt with a picture of an oak tree on it, and some jeans that were fraying at the hems. He felt rather ridiculous.
Ben elbowed him a little and grinned as they made their way to a table in the far corner of the bar. "See, nobody's looking twice. ... Well, nobody's looking twice for any other reason than really really wanting to flirt with you."
"... Thank you, I think. I feel completely ridiculous."
"You look fine. It's mostly your eyes, it turns out. They're so... ridiculously blue that they'd be impossible to cut without the sunglasses. So I went with them. You look fine, and if you ever really feel as if you need to take them off, the bar's probably dim enough that you should be okay as long as you've been here a while and people have stopped looking at you."
The two of them sat down at the small table. "But what if they don't? You said they... what, really really wanted to flirt with me?"
"Promise not to react violently to what I am about to do?"
Kal frowned. "I try not to react with violence unless I absolutely have to. I'm too strong, I could seriously injure someone."
"Good." His superhuman reaction times apparently completely failing him, Kal found himself completely surprised as his mouth was suddenly and unexpectedly claimed by Ben's. He gasped softly at the kiss, which seemed to last for hours. When Ben finally pulled away, he smiled. "There. Now they'll think you're off limits."
Kal blinked a few times, just staring at the lingering moisture on Ben's lips and unconsciously licking his own. "Uh."
Ben smirked and winked, gesturing around the room. "See? Nobody's looking anymore."
Kal shifted a bit in his seat. "Um. Yes." He took a few deep breaths as Ben ordered a couple of drinks. "So... what are we going to talk about?"
"Whatever? What's it like?"
"What's what like?" His head was still swimming a bit, and non sequitur questions were not exactly the best way to make that stop happening.
"Not having had a real conversation with anyone in five years?"
"Well... most of those five years, I was in space. I wasn't really expecting great conversations."
"But still. The solitude must be maddening."
"It was... different. Slightly I... I'm used to being alone in one way or another." He had to pull himself together. Tripping over his words was entirely unlike him.
"Last survivor of a doomed planet. Sent here to save us all." Ben's voice was slightly ironic, and Kal found himself glad that the music playing in the bar was loud enough to drown out their conversation as far as the other patrons were concerned. The last thing he really needed was for people to figure out who he was and swarm. Not now.
"I don't know how much you actually require saving, personally."
Ben laughed a bit at that. "Point. How long ago did you arrive on Earth, actually?"
"Long enough to have been able to watch what humanity was... about. To see how you went about things and to learn that it was something worth helping, by and large."
"And so you went to help."
"I had to. I didn't have my powers for a while after I arrived. When I got them..." He trailed off, shrugging a bit. "What choice did I have?"
"You had a lot of choices. You could easily have enslaved us, or at least come close. You could have been an enforcer, not a protector. There are some people who still worry you might decide to be."
Kal shook his head emphatically. "No, I couldn't have. Maybe someone could have, given the same opportunities as I do, I don't know, but... the sheer lack of ethics that would involve makes the very thought utterly repugnant to me. There is no way I could ever cause harm to those on this world. If I ever thought there was the slightest chance, I would leave, and not come back. It wouldn't be worth it, in the end."
The waitress came and dropped off their drinks then. Ben nodded to her and handed her a tip in thanks. He turned back to Kal, then, studying him. Kal shifted a bit under the scrutiny. "What?"
"You're a rarity."
Kal managed a faint chuckle. "What? A superpowered alien? I'm afraid I already knew that."
"No. You're a truly good man. Thank you."
"So are you."
"No, I'm a... project. I don't know how much man is left in me after all."
Kal shook his head emphatically. "No. I have not known you long, but I've definitely known you enough to say that you're a good man."
"You don't know what I've done."
"I don't need to. You help people every night. I've watched you. I've listened to you. You're out on the streets every day doing what I do in a city that has far too many people who like to victimize others. You fight against it and you win. Over and over against the darkness, without a single non-human ability other than a force of will that is much more rare than anything you could ever ascribe to me."
"You give me too much credit."
"You don't give yourself enough."
Ben took a long drink. "I know you never lie, but if anyone asks, I never told you what I'm about to tell you."
Kal frowned. "All right."
"I was special ops. Underground projects. Twelve layers of bureaucracy, red tape, plausible deniability, and anything else you can think of. Not on any roster anywhere that you'll ever find. What I dealt with was... far too sensitive."
Kal nodded slightly. "... Assassinations?"
"Among other things. I... and I wasn't the only one, but we all worked in bubbles, so to speak. I didn't know who anyone else was, just that they existed, and even that was mostly whispers. That and the signs. I did enough that I grew able to recognize what was happening when something happened. But again, plausible deniability, no way to prove it. When you left... certain forces in the upper echelons of the military and various covert agencies realized that something needed to be done about the backlash. They decided that they needed people. Working autonomously in various cities in order to stop the hemorrhaging that the Superman-shaped gap had left behind. But they weren't sure it was going to work. So they needed a test case. So they decided to try it first in the city where, if it succeeded, it would probably succeed anywhere."
Kal slowly nodded. "Gotham."
"Exactly. The training was brutal. I was one of a dozen or so, the best of the best, chosen to even be considered for the job. None of us were told what it was, just that it was a special op that one of us would be selected for. A special op that would give us a lot more leeway in deciding what to do and how to accomplish it than anything I'd ever had before. It was... very tempting. I was the lucky one who passed the physical training and... whatever tests it was that they were throwing at us in other ways. I know there were probably some even I was unaware of."
"So you're a government agent?"
"In a way. It's how it started. I was given the resources to do my job and then cut loose. Remember. If this thing failed, they didn't want anyone tracing it back to them. I doubt there are more than five people that know the origin of what I'm doing. And that includes me."
"And your methods were left for you to figure out on your own?"
Ben nodded, taking another long drink.
"So you chose to do everything without killing to do it."
"I had to. Killing... is easy. Too easy, almost. It had become far easier for me than it ever had a right to. But with this... even if it made it harder, I couldn't. It wouldn't have been... proper."
"Because this operation was designed to take over in absence of you. And believe me, as night and day as you and I are, that... was one thing that would pervert everything that this required. You... are very difficult to live up to."
Kal stared at Ben for a long moment. And then, against all reason, he found that it was his turn to close the gap between their mouths and kiss him soundly. He let his senses take in the man as much as he could. His heart was pounding, the blood rushing through his veins in a rhythmic swish. His breathing was elevated and a surprised mewling noise escaped the back of this throat before suddenly one of Ben's hands were twined in Kal's hair and he was pulling hard on it, and even though it didn't cause him any pain, such that it was, the sensation caused him to emit a surprised little contented noise of his own.
"Well," said Ben after they pulled apart. "That was... unexpected."
Kal licked his lips a little and took a long drink of his own. "You could certainly say that."
"... You may have just been reacting to human contact after so long without it..."
Laughing, Kal shook his head. "No. I can safely say that that's not what I was doing."
"What is it you were doing, then?"
"And enjoying it."
Kal rather enjoyed being able to see Ben at a loss for words.
It was somewhat later that evening that Ben opened the door to his apartment, one of Kal's arms snaking its way around his waist. It was all he could do to not turn and molest him right in the hallway, but that would probably not prove to be the best way to go about this. To be honest, he wasn't entirely sure precisely how he'd gotten into this position- not that he was remotely complaining. He stepped inside, somehow managing not to make a very undignified noise as Kal planted a soft kiss right behind his ear. Somehow squirming free of Kal's grip, he turned to look at him, smiling faintly. "So, do you want the tour?"
Kal took off the sunglasses he'd been wearing all evening, revealing his eyes again, and blinked, nodding slowly. "Yes. That would be nice."
Ben nodded and headed further inside, giving Kal the basic tour, winding up in the bedroom. It didn't take very long, as it wasn't really a large place, and he'd hardly acquired all that many possessions to make it really look lived-in. It was a home base more than it was really a home.
Nevertheless, Kal seemed rather interested in it, on the whole. "It's very nice."
"... It really isn't much of anything, really."
"No, it's... it is interesting. It's surprisingly like you. Very regimented. Nothing extra, no bells and whistles. Not that I have the opportunity to see much of the inside of people's homes if there isn't an emergency going on."
"But surely you have to have some sort of home of your own. You have to rest sometime."
"I don't really need sleep the same way you do. I don't exactly photosynthesize, like a plant, or anything, but I draw a good deal of energy from the sun." He frowned a little then. "Besides, if I slept, I might miss something important, and that would be rather unfortunate. I wouldn't be pleased, to say the least, if something happened to hurt someone that I could prevent."
"But you're here now."
"There's nothing going on that I'm really needed for right now."
"Mm." Ben smiled slowly. "I think you might be mistaken."
"Oh?" Kal frowned.
His smile sharpened. "I think you're needed very much right now."
Kal blinked. "You mean..."
"I... don't know if that's such a good idea."
Ben stepped toward Kal, reaching up and resting his fingertips lightly on his chest. "Mm, I think it's a very good idea."
A slight tremor ran down Kal's body at even that faint touch. "My strength. I might... You might end up hurt, and I wouldn't forgive myself if that happened. I don't know if I'd be able to keep control over myself under... those circumstances."
Ben blinked, but didn't remove his hand from it's spot on the other man's chest. He was warm-- quite warm, really. Much more so than any human being would be. "You mean to tell me you've never--"
"Would you? Knowing that there was a decent chance you could seriously injure someone by doing so?"
"Mm. Never let it be said that I was afraid of risks." He leaned forward then and kissed him fiercely, almost possessively, feeling yet another slight tremor run through Kal as he flattened his hand against his chest and started to slowly slide it downwards across his abdomen. "Listen, if you don't trust yourself, you don't have to do anything this time around but lay back and enjoy." He leaned forward and sharply nipped at the side of Kal's neck, emitting a soft mm sound at the feeling of the invulnerable skin pressing slightly in at the touch of his teeth. The Kryptonian let out a soft rumbling moan.
Ben smiled against his skin. "I think you're overdressed."
Kal's voice was tense. "You... really want to do this."
Ben smiled a little and pushed Kal over to the bed, knowing that he wasn't the only one who wanted to do this. If Kal didn't want to be moved, nothing he could do would be able to budge him. Kal sat on the edge of the bed and Ben straddled his lap, kneeling down, and pulled the t-shirt off. He was faced with the bright blue and scarlet of Superman's costume, the S crest facing him. It had been Kal's concession to the evening, that he could keep his costume with him in case of emergency. Ben felt a slight electric thrill at the very visible reminder of exactly who it was in his bed. Kal reached back and detached his cape from the back of the shirt, and Ben tugged the shirt off, not being able to help whistling at the sight of Kal's torso. It was completely unblemished, like a statue made from flesh.
Kal actually flushed a bit at that. "What?"
"You're perfect," Ben murmured, bending to nibble slightly along Kal's collarbone. "Absolutely perfect."
"Mm, thank you," Kal replied softly, tilting his head back.
After a bit, Ben pulled back and stood up, leaving a bit of a perplexed look on Kal's face. He smiled a little. "Can't take care of your pants if I'm sitting on them."
Ben made quick work of the rest of Kal's clothing, leaving him completely exposed. Physically, he really didn't look anything but human, if far too perfect for an actual human. "Damn," he murmured. "You're gorgeous."
"Thank you," Kal replied, flushing again, his erection starting to fill out under Ben's scrutiny. Ben reached forwards and lightly took hold of Kal's cock, sliding his hand up and down gently, just to get Kal used to the sensation. His hands clenched at the bedsheets rather tightly, but there was no unexpectedly violent reaction. He smiled then, and leaned forward, taking Kal's cock into his mouth, running his tongue along the underside of the shaft. Kal arched his back a bit and let out a purring noise that wasn't remotely anything a human was capable of producing.
Ben smiled a bit, working his head up and down. It had been a while since he'd done this... a long while, but if anyone deserved his best effort...
Kal was squirming slightly, letting out occasional streams of for what seemed to his ears like almost melodious gibberish, but he thought might well have been Kryptonian. It wasn't much longer before he came, thrusting into Ben's mouth sharply and clenching a fist in his hair. Ben made sure to seal his lips around the head of Kal's cock then, not letting up until his orgasm was finished. Ben swallowed, licking his lips and smiling a little. It didn't even taste much different from a human's, if perhaps slightly more... savory, to some extent. It certainly wasn't unpleasant. That was certainly a good thing.
As Kal flopped back onto the bed, catching his breath, Ben stood and smiled down at him. "Well? No permanent damage seems to have been done."
"Mn. Not sure I'll ever think straight again, but... other than that, you're right." He blinked up at him. "You still have all your clothes on."
"So I do."
"Fix that. I want to... see you."
"Mm, I swear, it'll be like unveiling a velvet Elvis next to the Mona Lisa."
Kal chuckled and pushed himself up on to his elbows. "Please."
Ben nodded and pulled his own shirt. Far from the perfection of Kal's physique, Ben's skin was criss-crossed with scars and other signs of a rather painful existence. The suit he wore out as Batman was well-armored, in fact about as well-armored as he could possibly get while still retaining maneuverability, but it hardly turned him into a tank. He got injured, and even if his skill level prevented his injuries from being too frequent, little things added up.
Kal's bright blue gaze never left him as he continued to undress. He felt laid bare in more ways than one. It was hard not to shift uncomfortably under that watchful gaze. Of course, self-consciousness was hardly the only reason he was shifting, as his own erection was starting to grow. Christ, Kal hadn't even touched him yet.
When he was finally naked, Kal smiled a little and actually hovered off the bed to float in lazy circles around him. "You're... beautiful, you know."
"You have got to be kidding. I'm more mangled than someone who ran headfirst into a cactus patch surrounded in barbed wire."
Kal reached out, still hovering, and started tracing Ben's various scars with his fingertips, one by one, as if attempting to commit the pattern to memory. He had never seen them as anything else other than a physical record of his mistakes in dangerous situations, and could hardly fathom Kal's fascination. His body, however, had no trouble responding to the touch.
"Beautiful," he said again, before flitting backwards slightly. He smiled again. "I understand that there are certain preparations that should be made in these situations."
It was all Ben could do not to laugh. Or possibly groan. "God, Kal, you do not need to be nearly so formal at a time like this, I swear. I've got condoms and lube in my nightstand drawer."
"Thanks," Kal said with an almost impish smile before floating over to retrieve them. He returned and handed the condom to Ben, who rolled it on himself. "Should the lubrication really be necessary? This... won't really hurt me."
"Mm, invulnerable, yeah. But it'll make it easier for me. Trust me." He carefully coated his cock in the lube, which he found himself almost wishing was the self-warming variety, because he could feel its chill even through the latex of the condom. He looked over at Kal to see him, still floating and readying himself with some lubed up fingers. "God, that's hot." Kal ducked his head a bit by way of response. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. Yes, I think I am."
Ben smiled and reached out to grab hold of one of Kal's ankles, slowly pulling him closer. Kal laughed a bit at that. Before long, they were in a suitable position, and Ben pushed himself in.
And Christ, if he'd thought Kal's skin was warm, he hadn't even considered the sheer amount of heat that being inside him would muster. "Oh, fuck," he moaned despite himself.
Kal hesitated a bit. "... Are you all right?"
"Nng, never better." He could seriously get used to this, he mused, starting to build up a rhythm. Kal had started to make some rather pleased and breathy sounds, which only mingled with his. He wrapped his arms tightly around Kal's waist as he vigorously fucked him. He could already tell he wasn't going to last nearly as long as he normally did, although it did seem as if Kal was going to be enjoying himself regardless. Good. In a really rather short eternity, all things considered, he'd come with a loud groan and slipped out of Kal, stretching out on the bed, rather satisfied. He carefully pulled the condom off and disposed of it in his bedside trash, reaching to pull Kal close as he drifted to sleep.
Kal woke up in the morning to Ben, his head propped up on a hand, just watching him. "... Hello."
Ben smiled briefly and kissed him. "Good morning."
He felt oddly unsettled, as Ben had managed to make him feel since the first moment he saw him. "You're not... regretting anything, are you?"
Ben laughed. "No. Not in the slightest. Although I'll certainly understand if you are."
"No. I couldn't."
He smiled a little at that. "So... what are we going to do about this new development?"
"Was this a one-off? Or do you actually want a relationship?"
"Before you answer that, I'm going to warn you that I am an extremely difficult man to have a relationship with. I am very set in my ways, I have no patience whatsoever, have something of a loner streak, and I have been known to be very grumpy before I have coffee in the morning."
Blinking, Kal replied "... You don't seem all that grumpy now."
"... Residual euphoria from the sex."
Kal managed a slight smile. "Well that seems to me to offer a solution to the morning grumpiness problem."
"I... couldn't say for sure, but I'm probably not also very easy to have a relationship with."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"Not in the least. I'd be constantly haring off to all parts of the globe to save someone in trouble, because I have no intention to stop doing that."
"I wouldn't expect you to. You are who you are."
"Exactly. And you are who you are. You... made it possible for me to sit at a table in a bar and just... be myself with someone. To find out who I am when I am being myself with someone. When I don't have to be Superman. Not that I'm not Superman, but... Superman is..."
Ben gave him a kiss. "I know. It let you try on a different mask."
Kal grinned. "Exactly."
"So you really do want to try this?"
"I don't see why not. We've already proven that when need be, we can work together on one level. Why not more? And I can hardly say I wasn't rather fond of the more."
"Mmmn, neither can I. Would it be a bad joke to say that it was just out of this world?"
Ben promptly got hit in the face with a pillow.
He laughed a little.
"So... one question..."
"Go for it."
"Now that we've actually... decided to have some sort of relationship... I would like to know your real name, if you're at all comfortable with that."
Ben laughed again, a bit harder this time.
"What? What did I say?"
"Okay, I have to admit to a bit of deception on my part."
"My name actually is Ben."
"Yes. I figured at the time that if you only saw it as a pseudonym, you'd not look too closely at it if you went deeper into trying to figure out more of me."
"That's... actually kind of clever."
Ben smirked a little. "Yes, I do tend to be. And besides..." He shook his head, trailing off. "Never mind."
"No, besides, what?"
"Besides, there was always some part of me that really liked the thought of hearing my name in your voice."
"And then the dog just takes off running in the other direction! It was the damnedest thing I've ever seen!"
Kal laughed as Ben finished the story, shaking his head with a smile crossing his face. His laughter was abruptly cut short, though, when his face stilled and he tilted his head to the side slightly in a gesture that Ben was already becoming accustomed to. "Ben, I have to--"
"Go. Your food'll be fine."
In less than the blink of an eye, Superman was gone out of the balcony of Ben's apartment, leaving a half-finished plate of spaghetti behind. Ben smiled a little and turned on the news, shortly watching breaking reports of Superman assisting Metropolis firefighters with a factory fire. It wasn't much different from dating a doctor, he supposed, if one who was literally always on call. He watched for a while longer before the fire was contained and Kal took off again, heading to, to the newscasters, parts unknown.
He didn't really mind 'parts unknown' being his apartment. It wasn't much longer before Kal took his place back at the table. Ben smiled and leaned forward, brushing a bit of soot off of his hair.
Kal smiled almost sheepishly. "Thanks."
He actually managed to safely finish his spaghetti before having to leave again. This time, it looked to be a wildfire in New Zealand, and from the looks of things, wouldn't be fixed quite as quickly.
Ben just shook his head ruefully and put the dessert back in the refrigerator. It was going to be one of those nights.
Kal would swear up and down for the rest of his life that he had had no intention of actually waking Ben up that morning. He'd just stirred from the light drowse he was doing in Ben's arms, once the sunlight started peeking in the window, and he had simply impulsively dropped a soft kiss on Ben's forehead.
Ben, however, was rather jolted awake from it, unfortunately. "What the hell was that?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I was just... it wasn't much, I was just giving you a kiss."
"Dammit, Kal, I was sleeping. Just... let me sleep."
"I didn't think it was actually going to wake you up."
"Well obviously it did."
"I'm sorry. Get back to sleep, I won't bother you anymore."
"Mnrg. You'd better not." Ben hesitated. "What time is it?"
"Goddamnit. What's the point anyway? I'm having to wake up in thirteen minutes. Thank you oh so very much for getting me up early."
"Ben?" Kal flopped back onto his pillow.
"Just... go get some coffee. You'll feel better."
Ben grumbled some highly unkind things about Kryptonians and climbed out of bed, heading for the kitchen.
They were sitting on top of a mountain deep in the Alps that few people ever visited. A blanket was spread on the ground, and they were lounging on it, laughing together and feeding each other fruit and cheese, sipping from wine glasses. An empty basket sit just to the side of the blanket. The wind rustled through their hair and a few snatches of birdsong reached them. Neither of them paid it any mind, however, as their thoughts and their eyes were only on one another. Soon the plates and the wine glasses were set in the basket, and their clothes were next to it. Their lovemaking was not frantic and not forceful, just gentle and carefree, because the world wasn't going anywhere. And neither were they, for quite some time.
Ben was pacing the floor of the apartment, agitated. Kal walked in and frowned. "What's the matter?"
"It's this Joker character. He's a problem and he's going to remain a problem until he is categorically stopped. He is playing games with the lives of innocent people and I am not going to stand for it. Not in my city."
"You'll stop him, Ben. I know you will."
"I have to. He's a menace, and he has to be stopped."
Kal wrapped an arm around him. "You'll do it. I know you. I know you'll do it. He's insane, and he's a problem. But he's a problem that you'll manage to stop. ... If you need any help--"
"No, I don't need any help." Ben twisted out of Kal's grip. "Gotham. Mine. Are we perfectly clear on this point?"
"Yes. We are." Kal's voice was calm.
"I'm going to the bunker." Ben threw a jacket on and stormed out the door.
Kal sighed and put on the suit, flying out the window to patrol Metropolis.
It was getting worse. Not even Kal had been able to coax more than two words out of Ben at a time for nearly a week. The Joker had more bodies to his name, and worse, he'd started to blame Ben-- to blame Batman-- for his failure to come forward and reveal himself. No matter how many times Kal told Ben that what the Joker did was not his fault, he knew that Ben simply didn't believe him.
He understood the mindset, to an extent. Early on, he himself had constantly seen failure in those times he couldn't make it, couldn't be somewhere. But he had come to terms with the fact that even with all his fantastic abilities, he simply couldn't do everything, couldn't save everyone. Ben was still coming to terms with that. As much as cerebrally he knew that he was only one man, this case especially was hitting him hard. But he knew that Ben had to come to terms at a gut level with what he couldn't do. And Kal was there for him, at that point, even if Ben didn't seem to notice, outwardly. He knew he'd definitely notice if he weren't.
The evening after the hospital evacuations and the resulting havoc in Gotham, Ben stood in the bunker, grimly putting on the leather and Kevlar that made up the Batsuit. "He wants to play with me, we'll play. After tonight, it will be over, one way or another."
Kal frowned. "Be careful."
Ben smiled grimly and gave him a kiss. "I'm always careful."
"I know, but... if something happened to you..."
"It won't. Trust me. I'm going to win this. There are no other options." He paused. "I know sometimes you keep an eye on me on my patrols. Please don't. Not this time. My concentration has to be entirely on what I'm doing. This is one of the trickier things I've ever done, and I'm going to need to be on my game."
"All right." Kal gave him one more kiss. "Good luck."
"Don't need it," Ben said with a smile, "but thank you."
The news was insane. Superman could hear the reports drifting from various radios across the country. Joker stopped and in custody. Batman a fugitive from justice, a trail of dead in his wake, including the new Gotham DA, who had barely escaped an attempt on his life from the Joker just previously. The news was frantic, sensationalist, and, Kal knew, entirely wrong. Yes, Ben had been determined to catch the Joker, but he wouldn't kill. He knew that much. Deep within his soul, he knew that this man whom he had barely known for three months was innocent of the charges laid. He would have to find Ben, and find out what happened, and he would have to prove it to the world.
After a quick circle high above Gotham, taking the lay of the land and trying to make sense of it all, he headed to the bunker where he found Ben, out of the Batsuit and typing furiously on one of the computers.
"If you're intending to bring me in, I'll come right out and say I'm not going to go quietly."
Ben turned to level a glare at him. "Don't patronize me. I know you've heard the reports. I didn't kill those cops. I didn't kill Maroni. I didn't kill Dent."
Kal blinked. "I know. I've heard the reports. I knew without a second thought that they were complete lies."
"... You did? I figured--"
"You figured wrong."
Ben managed the faintest start of a smile. "Oh."
"Honestly, Ben. I know you, remember?"
"Right. I do forget that part."
Kal nodded. "So what happened, and how are we going to solve it?"
"I've been set up. It's an elaborate frame, and I'm still trying to pin down who might be responsible."
"Rock-solid alibi. He was threatening to blow up ferries, and then he was being apprehended by me. He was nowhere near the murders."
"... Wouldn't that cover your alibi too?"
"Unfortunately no. Dent was killed after the Joker had been taken into custody, and the others were killed before I had arrived on the scene."
"Who could possibly have set you up, then?"
"I don't know. That's what I'm working on right now. I'm trying to piece together the clues."
"Are there clues?"
"Kal, there are always clues. The only difficulty lies in finding them."
"Have you found any?"
"I'm working on that."
Kal started pacing thoughtfully. "You said that there were only a small handful of people who knew about the truth behind your existence."
"So why aren't you going to one of them?"
"Plausible deniability, remember?"
"Rather convenient, don't you think?"
Ben frowned. "What do you mean?"
"These are people who had previously sent you all over the world to kill people and worse, right?"
"They give you autonomy in Gotham, and you do everything in your power not to kill people. Which can't be what they were remotely expecting."
"... You think they had something to do with it?"
"I think it's very possible. I'm beginning to think they weren't thinking in the long-term after all. You're a dangerous man. They set you up in Gotham as a 'hero'. The hero starts to kill. Manhunts take place. Sure, maybe you take out some of the scum, frighten the rest of the criminal underworld into some semblance of behavior for the future. But the police don't like a vigilante treading on their turf, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. So they go after you in an all-out manhunt. You're dragged out into the open, prosecuted. Since you probably started attacking Gotham's police corruption, you've undoubtedly killed some police. The department doesn't take kindly to that at all. Perhaps you're killed in a transport accident. Maybe you can just not walk again. But either way..."
"It's the effective end of a dangerous man who knows a lot more than he should."
"Exactly. And then when the dust settles, maybe the criminal underworld starts acting up again. And the second of the finalists gets their chance. Maybe here, maybe in some other city. Either way, it ends in the same result. But you put a slight crimp in that plan. You actually became a hero. People start looking up to you. People start believing that a difference can get made. In Gotham. In the city that had so little hope before. Hope comes back. The new district attorney also comes in, riding that light that you sparked. Something has to give. They need to get the plan back on track. So they decide to demonize the hero. They decide that maybe they can salvage the original plan. All it takes is sending another dangerous man to do what the first one inexplicably refused to do."
"And the hope gets crushed. Which ties up another loose end."
"The cops that were killed... totally crooked. Maroni? Rotten to the core. But why kill Dent? He was the best thing this city had going for it. He was singlehandedly doing more above ground than I could have even dreamed of doing below. Killing him made no sense, even if it were just to set the original plan in order. But they don't want hope to flourish in Gotham after all. It causes problems in an ability to repeat the experiment. And then there's too many dangerous men around that know too much."
Kal smiled thinly. "Because they made the mistake of sending in the one thing that could completely undermine the original plan."
"Sending in a good man."
Ben laughed almost despite himself. "I really have to thank you for your entirely unwarranted faith in me."
Kal shook his head. "It's not at all unwarranted. Faith never is."
"I think 'never' is a bit of an overstatement."
Kal shook his head. "Faith is an amazing thing that way."
"If you say so."
"I do. They underestimated you."
Ben chuckled softly. "I don't think they underestimated me."
"No. They underestimated what a good role model you could be, even when you're not anywhere near the planet."
"That's just flattery."
"No. It's true. You are practically the living embodiment of what it's like to hope. And the world is ten times better off with you on it. ...Even if you have to stay out of Gotham. Well, on duty, at least."
"You want me to stay out of Gotham even now?"
"Yes. Whatever the original secret plans were, the official rationale is still sound. And I'm still going to play it out."
"You're a fugitive from the law, they think you're killer, and you're still going to play it out?"
Ben smiled, a very thin and almost feral smile and turned back to his computer. "Because I'm actually much better than they are at tying up loose ends."
The headline was splayed, two weeks later, with some slight variations, in words more or less the same, in newspapers across the world.
BATMAN APPREHENDED, CONSPIRACY SUSPECTED
GOTHAM CITY. Ex-Navy SEAL James Castlebridge, 36, Gotham City resident, has been apprehended after an anonymous tip to the Gotham City police department resulted in a late night raid. A cave behind Castlebridge's home which had previously been thought empty was raided, and various pieces of paraphernalia matching the equipment of the Gotham vigilante was discovered, including a selection of suits, a custom motorcycle, and various other pieces of equipment, including a number of computers. The murder weapon used in the spree of killings including Sal Maroni and District Attorney Harvey Dent was also found in the cave, with Castlebridge's fingerprints allegedly found on both the weapon and the vigilante's implements.
In related news, a set of documents has been anonymously sent to the Gotham field office of the FBI, and this paper. It contains evidence that the Batman had been placed in Gotham as part of a secret and illegal operation by rogue elements within the United States government. Raids took place in both the homes and offices of four military and intelligence officials and warrants were issued in all those cases. The case will be ongoing but reports of attempted file destruction and general obstruction of justice are already beginning to be submitted.
"There's one thing I don't quite understand," Kal said, nestled in bed with Ben.
"Mm, what's that?"
"Castlebridge did the murders, I know you found sufficient evidence for that."
"How did you manage to set up that cave?"
Ben laughed. "You'd be surprised. He actually had a good amount of the equipment set up himself already. I just needed to add a few selected items. The idiot had actually left the murder weapon there. I didn't even have to do anything. Just needed a few spare suits and some equipment. And thankfully they were keeping closer track of him than they were of me. Just... makes it harder to keep up with that plausible deniability."
"You and your wrenches in the works."
Ben laughed. "Exactly."
"So... what are you going to do now?"
"Let the furor die down a little. And then go back to work."
"Mm. Maybe an honorable citizen decided to take up the mantle. I'm sure Gordon at least will go along with it."
Kal laughed a little. "You are a devious man."
"Mm, yes, maybe. But I have it on good authority that I'm also a good one."
Kal smiled and gave him a kiss. "Yes. And I for one am glad for it."
"So am I. So am I."