Bruce threw the cowl and the cape down onto the ground of the cape. He tore off the rest of the suit as quickly as he could. He threw it all into a pile, deciding to deal with it all later.
He was having really bad day. There had been ten hostages in a building. He only got eight of them out in time. The other two did not make it. Bruce was furious at himself for that. He could not stand being in the cave either.
He went up into the Manor, brushing past Alfred, feeling a small twinge of guilt for that. He walked out into the gardens, slamming the door behind him. He took a deep breath, breathing in the air. It was about an hour from sunset, so he could go for a walk, if he wanted.
Bruce started off into the forest that practically engulfed the Manor grounds. As a child, Bruce had loved the forest. He used to play in there, but only near the edge. His parents did not allow him to go too deep into the trees.
But the forest calmed Bruce in a way that not even the cave could. But after his parents’ death, Bruce used to go deeper and deeper into the trees to hide by himself until he felt better.
Alfred strongly disapproved, but he never exactly stopped Bruce either, knowing he needed space. Bruce had explained before that the forest made him feel safe. There were no animals larger than rabbits in those trees, so there really was nothing to worry about.
When he had been sixteen, Bruce found the jewel of the forest. It was a small lake about a twenty minute walk from the edge of the gardens. It was not particularly large, bordering on being a pond.
But it was peaceful there, and Bruce loved it. He would sit there for as long as he could, listening to the sounds of the night start settling in. It always surprised him that he was still in Gotham while sitting by the lake. Night in the city was so different from nighttime here.
And today was no different.
Bruce sat down heavily by the lakeside, leaning against an old, gnarled tree. He leaned his head back on the rough bark and let the cool breeze run over his hot skin and sweaty hair.
He sat there with his eyes closed until he had calmed down. When he opened his eyes again, the sun was just starting to dip over the horizon. The sky was a bold orange color, with hints of darker blue creeping in from the opposite skyline.
He looked out over the lake, at the way the water shimmered all different colors like a kaleidoscopic mirror. Then, something plunked into the center of the lake. Bruce blinked, sitting up a bit. It looked like someone had thrown a small stone into the water. But no one was around.
Bruce watched the water ripple outwards away from where the object disappeared. He waited until the water became still again, and the sun was halfway down before he stood up and left.
A few days later, Bruce decided to spend some time by the lake again. He told Alfred he was going for a walk, then started into the forest.
He settled down in the comfortable nook between two tree roots, overlooking the lake, and opened his book. The afternoon sunlight spilled onto his face, warm and comforting.
Then, he heard a tiny splash from the lake, and he looked up. He saw the most curious thing.
A bright blue ball of… something flew out of the water, barreling towards him. At the edge of the lake, it stopped, and the glowing blue settled and took shape. Bruce stared unblinkingly. It was a tiny person, floating at the edge of the lake, with a slight blue glow surrounding it.
The tiny person floated closer, circling Bruce’s face, looking awed. Then, it reached out to touch his hair.
Bruce jerked back, and so did the tiny person, a small gasp leaving it.
They stared at each other for a few moments.
“What are you?” Bruce murmured.
The little person’s eyes widened comically, and then it zipped away, back towards the lake. Bruce’s eyes followed as the tiny blue ball of light plunked into the center of the glimmering lake. Bruce closed his book, standing up and approaching the edge of the lake. He squatted down and squinted at the place the little person had ducked into. At first, he could not see under the shimmering surface of the lake, but then, he saw the pale face and tiny blue eye.
A small bubble escaped from the being’s mouth and popped on the surface. Then, the little person’s face disappeared. Bruce stayed where he was, watching intently, his mouth turned down in a little frown.
Had he really just seen what he had seen?
He waited, and five minutes later, a tiny head poked out of the water, a few feet away. The little person peered up at him, ducking under a tiny bit again when it saw that Bruce was still watching it.
But slowly, it brought itself out of the water and then slowly floated towards Bruce.
It was floating right in front of Bruce now, and Bruce could see it clearly.
It really was a tiny person, male, by the looks of it. He was wearing something akin to a tiny blue leotard of changing, shimmering shades of blue. The pale blue glow surrounded him like a second skin, moving as he moved.
The person opened his mouth. “You… You can see me?” he asked. His voice was high and tinny, but not jarring.
Bruce stared at it for a moment, then nodded slowly. “Yes, I can see you,” he said. “What… exactly are you?”
The creature looked awed. He started circling Bruce’s head. Bruce was a bit apprehensive, but the creature did not seem to mean him any harm. Instead, he seemed curious.
“I am… I am Gwragedd Annwn,” the creature said. He looked at Bruce’s blank face for a moment before explaining further. “Gwragedd Annwn are… water fairies. Lake Maidens, we are also called.”
“You’re a fairy?” Bruce asked, unable not to sound incredulous. “And there are more of you?”
The creature looked away, ducking his – her? – head. “No, I am the last of my kind.”
“And you are… female?” Bruce asked, eyeing the fairy dubiously.
His tiny head shook vigorously. “No,” he said. “Males are just rare among the Gwragedd Annwn. Males are not needed for reproduction, nor can they reproduce,” the fairy explained. “So females are the dominating of our population.” Then, it laughed softly, sounding somewhat to faraway tinkling of wind chimes. “Well, it is just me now.”
“Oh,” Bruce said, unsure of what else to say. “So… do you have a name?”
The fairy nodded proudly. “My given name, the name of my people, is Kal-El. But it is in the language of Gwragedd Annwn. In common fairy language, I go by Clark.”
“Clark,” Bruce said. “Is common fairy language just… English?”
Clark’s expression went alarmed. “English? Is that not one of the languages of the humans? I do not know how to speak English!”
Clark gasped. “Are you- Are you human?”
Clark let out a small scream, went limp in the air, and fainted.