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Music of the Spheres

Chapter Text

They distrusted each other from the moment they met.

"I've been wondering when you were going to stop by." The black-clad man's voice was raspy, low, clearly disguised. Superman hovered in the air above Gotham, facing the man people called the Batman for the first time. The vigilante was crouched in the shadows. Superman caught a glint of eyes in the inky darkness. "Around the world in eight hours, rescuing puppies in Paris and moppets in Melbourne. Nice P.R. stunt."

Superman bristled despite himself. "I don't do P.R. stunts."

"Really." The response was dry, sardonic. Not a question. "Gotham doesn't need your help or your approval, alien." The last word was loaded with icy venom.

All right, then. If the man wasn't even going to try and be civil...Superman narrowed his eyes, focused his x-ray vision on the black cowl. Then he frowned.

The gravelly chuckle was as fake as the voice. "Special lead-based alloy weave. Did you think some of us weren't going to prepare in case you bothered to come back?"

"That sounds uncomfortable to wear."

"It is."

Superman made his voice as cold as he could to match. "I'm not your enemy."

Batman edged out of the shadows just a bit. "I'll need some proof of that."

"I've read about your actions in the Narrows during the Night of Fear. You saved a lot of lives."

"This is my city. I won't let people hurt it...or dominate it." A pause. "Go home to Metropolis. Or Krypton. Just get out of my city."

Superman considered Batman's words. Was he engaged in some kind of turf war? Did he really see Gotham as a thing, a possession? Did he care only about the city, the bricks and glass, or did he also care about the people within it?

Superman cocked his head, focused. "There's a woman getting mugged three streets over in that direction." A jerk of the head. "Just thought you'd like to know."

Batman's lips curled in something like a snarl, but Superman barely had time to register the expression before the vigilante was running for the next roof. Interesting. A lesser man would have refused to believe Superman--or pretended to--so as not to seem beholden to him. So the people did come before this man's personal pride.

Very interesting.

The mugger cowered as Batman fell from the rooftop and disarmed him with a swift kick. A quick snapping-on of restraints, a curt nod to the grateful, tearful woman, and he was soon back on the roof. He heard the rustle of silk behind him. He supposed it was too much to hope he could finish up his patrol in peace.

"You could have handled that yourself." He didn't bother to turn around.

"It's your city."

Now Batman did turn around, trying not to let his surprise show. At that moment, the sun slipped just above the horizon. The alien's face was bathed in rosy light. Batman blinked. A gust of wind caught their capes, red and black streaming together, almost touching. Almost.

"I...appreciate the help." The words came hard.

"But you still don't trust me." The Kryptonian's voice was mellifluous and smooth, unruffled by emotion.

Batman glared at the floating figure in its nimbus of morning light. "You appeared in Metropolis on April 16, six years ago. You started saving kittens and children and falling reporters, changing lives and doing good." He tried to give the words sardonic freighting and might have succeeded. "And then, five months later--five months!--you disappeared. Just vanished. You didn't even give humankind half a year!" He tried to sound angry rather than indignant.

"You tell me why I should trust you now, just because you've decided to come flitting back to visit your pets. The Earth isn't just some pretty bauble you can put down when it bores you and pick up again when you feel like it. Its people--they matter."

Superman shifted from foot to foot, a strangely human gesture for a man hovering sixteen stories above the ground. "I know they do."

"Well, start acting it! Show us earthbound mortals some fidelity and I'll trust you. Prove to me you see this world as something other than a playground for some capricious godling and I will trust you. But not a moment sooner." The golden morning light was annoying. It made Superman's face look sad rather than remote, which was distracting. "It's past my bedtime." He turned his back on the alien and made as dignified an exit as he could. The ability to fly must make dignified exits substantially easier, he thought irritably.

Two days later, watching Superman fall from the sky like a pale star on his television, he felt a pang which he resolutely ignored. He rewound to watch the images of the Kryptonian lifting the crystal continent on his back. Was it exertion that had nearly killed him? Or was it something else?

Chunks of the blackish continent falling about Superman's figure into the ocean. Glints of green in them. Interesting.

Very interesting.

: : :

They disliked each other from the moment they met.

Bruce Wayne sipped from his glass of champagne, his arm around...Alyssa? Alice? Well, she was blonde. The string quartet was playing Haydn in the background while Gotham's finest milled about, chattering politely. Not many were talking to him. They still hadn't quite forgiven him his drunken tirade on the Night of Fear, when he had chased them out of Wayne Manor as sycophants and parasites. But little by little they were starting to warm up again to playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne and his feckless, winning ways.

Money might not be able to buy you love, Bruce had discovered, but it could easily buy you friendship. Or, at least, a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Speaking of which...Lex Luthor was coming toward him, a wide, sharkish smile on his face. The man was wearing tails. At five o'clock. At a business reception. Bruce tried not to roll his eyes and held out his hand, smiling amiably.

"Brucie boy!" exclaimed Luthor, shaking his hand vigorously. He chucked Alanna/Arianna under the chin. The dark-haired woman behind him rolled her eyes. Bruce grinned and she looked surprised, then smiled warily back. He'd have to look into who she was.

Luthor didn't seem to have noticed the interchange. He took a place on Bruce's unoccupied side and wrapped a friendly arm around the playboy's shoulders. This, Bruce thought irritably, was why he tried to keep a woman on each arm.

"We're going to achieve great things together, Brucie! Great things!" He spread a hand out in front of him like a marquee. "LexCorp and Wayne Industries, what a combo."

Bruce tried to edge away a little, get a little personal space without seeming overly rude. Luthor let him gain a few inches between them. It was clear who had most of the power in this partnership; LexCorp was only a few weeks old and in a much more precarious position than the established Wayne company. But it was also clear that Luthor thought "Brucie" was a dim bulb that he could manipulate if necessarily. It screamed from every bit of body language the man had.

That was how Bruce had planned it, after all. A foppy idiot is more likely to be underestimated than a ruthless businessman. There was certainly no reason to be insulted that most people found it so easy to take him for granted. And certainly no reason to feel depressed about it.

His eye candy on his arm, his business partner sizing him up like a piece of meat, surrounded by people who thought him a vapid fool, Bruce Wayne felt a stab of cold go through him. Ridiculous. He hadn't been lonely in the most remote, desolate places in the world. Why should he feel lonely here?

He was still feeling off-balance when he heard someone to the side of him clear his throat hesitantly. He and Luthor both turned to see a man standing nearby with a press badge and a notebook. He ducked his head nervously, thick black bangs falling over the rims of heavy glasses. "Mr. Luthor, Mr. Wayne...may I interrupt for a moment?"

Luthor grinned at the new arrival. "That's why we're here, m'boy! Meet and greet, press the flesh, answer questions!" He held out his hand to the newcomer, who shook it.

"Right. Press the flesh," said the reporter. "Clark Kent, Daily Planet." Bruce shook his hand in turn and was annoyed to find himself out-limped in the handshake department. He usually tried to keep his handshake just a touch weaker than the person he was shaking hands with. He relaxed his hand a bit...and the reporter's grip also went just a little more gentle. There was an awkward pause and the handshake went on rather longer than it should while Bruce struggled to extricate himself gracefully.

"Daily Planet? Aren't you a little off your turf?" Bruce noticed the reporter was surreptitiously wiping his hand on his pants leg.

"I'm here to cover the incorporation of LexCorp and whatever deal Luthor is announcing here tonight with your company. As LexCorp is a Metropolis-based company run by a known felon--" Kent's voice remained mild, "--the press has a responsibility to keep an eye on its activities."

Luthor's grin grew barbs. "The verdict against me was vacated, Mister--?"

"Kent. Clark Kent."

"Right. Kent. I'll remember from now on." Luthor gave the reporter a long, appraising look. "Anyway, I'm a reformed man, Mr. Kent. I only want to give back to the great city of Metropolis some of what it deserves. In partnership with Wayne Enterprises, of course," he added hastily.

The reporter blinked owlishly behind his smudgy glasses. He abruptly turned his attention to Bruce as though Luthor was beneath his notice. "Mr. Wayne, you're going to announce a joint project with LexCorp tonight. May I ask what it is?"

Bruce mustered his most charming smile. "Well now, Mr. Kent, wouldn't that spoil the surprise?"

Not a glimmer of an answering smile crossed the reporter's face. "I don't like surprises."

At this point, Bruce didn't bother to hide his annoyance. "People without a sense of humor rarely do."

Kent ducked his head a bit. It wasn't a concession. "Ah yes, the Wayne sense of humor. Like burning your parents' house to the ground."

"I think you're rather out of line, Mr. Kent." Bruce smiled and kept his voice low, but put every bit of fury he felt into it. Playboy Brucie would be angry at this tactless ass, so it was all right if Bruce was too. "If you want to get your story and not be escorted out by security, I would suggest you shut your mouth."

Clark Kent shut his mouth.

"And an apology would be nice."

Kent's blue eyes blazed behind his glasses and he whirled and walked away.

"Nice job, Brucie!" Luthor clapped him just a little too hard on the back. "You really put him in his place." Amanda...Ariel?...giggled appreciatively at Bruce Wayne's bon mots.

Bruce finished off his champagne a little faster than he should have.

Clark Kent scowled into his glass of orange juice, watching Bruce Wayne pal around with Lex Luthor. From his research, it seemed unlikely Wayne was bright enough to even know how dangerous Luthor was. Wayne had the classic good looks of East Coast blue blood--sharp, refined features, dark wavy hair, and a charming smile--but he had squandered the advantages of his birth, spending years as a wastrel in Europe and Asia. Just a few months ago he had waltzed back into Gotham and quickly become its most eligible bachelor and toast of the town, despite his careless ways and general fecklessness.

Bruce Wayne was the kind of man who was going to spend his life skating by on his good looks and his parents' inheritance, not caring how many people got hurt on the way. He was just the kind of man Clark Kent had dedicated his life to counteracting.

Wayne and Luthor walked to the podium together. Luthor waved his arms to get people to stop talking and pay attention. After watching him gesticulate for a minute, Wayne held his hand up and silence immediately fell across the room. Luthor shot the playboy an annoyed look. Wayne smiled blandly back and handed him the floor with a gesture.

"Ladies and gentlemen of Gotham," announced Luthor, "I'm pleased and proud to be in your fair city this evening, to announce the start of a joint venture between LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises." A slide appeared on the white wall behind the two businessmen. It showed what seemed to be an offshore rig.

Clark frowned.

Bruce Wayne cleared his throat. "Recent events in Metropolis have left humanity with a great opportunity." More slides showing what appeared to be a launching pad for ocean exploration. "The artificial continent that was threatening the Eastern seaboard is gone, but fragments of it remain below the ocean." A slide showing a small submarine picking up rocks from the bottom of the ocean. The rocks were dark green. "Considering the awesome potential power of these minerals, it is essential to scientific progress that we retrieve as much of the debris as possible and analyze it for possible uses."

Luthor elbowed Wayne out of the way to seize the floor again. "The rocks from this continent could be used for space exploration, or for weapons manufacturing--"

"--or, perhaps, to help cure diseases or create sources of alternative fuel," cut in his dark-haired partner smoothly. "Certainly we can't afford to let such an opportunity go unexplored." The slide show came to an end on the image of a scientist holding up a glowing green test tube with a smile. "Are there any questions?"

Clark held up a hand. Wayne's icy blue eyes passed over him without acknowledgement. "Yes, Ms. Vale?"

A blonde reporter smiled winsomely at the playboy, who raised his eyebrows appreciatively. "Mr. Wayne, considering these rocks seemed to have an adverse affect on Superman, how do you justify trying to retrieve them?" The crowd murmured.

"Why, Vicky, that's an excellent question." Wayne seemed completely unflustered. "Personally, I doubt that the actual crystals in the continent were what harmed the Metropolis hero. Surely the Herculean efforth would have been more than enough. But even if it were something in the minerals themselves, would it not be better if those minerals fell into the hands of his friends, rather than his enemies?" Next to the playboy, Lex Luthor's smile went sharp and feral for a moment.

The statement seemed to mollify the crowd somewhat. There were a few of other questions, and the press conference broke up with polite applause.

Clark looked at the smiling scientist on the slide, with his gleaming green vial, and did not join in. He wandered out to the balcony, hearing Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor's companionable laughter behind him. He looked up at the stars he could see through Gotham's lights, glittering and perfect and distant. He had spent a lot of time with those stars lately. Maybe he knew them better than he knew humanity now.

Bruce Wayne tried not to shake Luthor's oily hand off his shoulder. He was surrounded by false friends, snares and deceptions. For a moment he felt a wave of self-disgust and dread pass over him. His life from now on would be nothing but a hollow sham, with nothing to turn to but his mission. He had chosen that path, chosen it freely. He had no right now to feel so lost.

Clark Kent looking at the stars, unwavering and cold in the distance. Bruce Wayne surrounded by faces that have never known want or loss. Both are thinking to themselves: No one in this room, in this city, in this world, is as alone as I am right now.

Chapter Text

There is a rumour and a radiance of wings above my head,
An intolerable radiance of wings. . . .
--Rupert Brooke

Bruce Wayne tried to focus on Lex Luthor's latest tirade. The topic was the same as his last tirade; indeed, the same as all his tirades: The greatness of Lex Luthor and the hypocrisy and inhumanity of Superman. Luthor flung his hands out to indicate the Metropolis skyline. How the people of this city and the world could be cozened into trusting that faithless, manipulating, scheming alien was a mystery to Luthor. Humanity needed a safeguard against him and only Luthor--and his pal Bruce Wayne, of course--were wise enough to have contingency plans.

Bruce smiled until his head ached. Next to him Kitty Kowalski filed her nails and sighed. Luthor paused dramatically in front of a bust of his own head. "Humanity deserves better than to be violated and betrayed yet again by this inhuman force!"

Luthor was a fool and a buffoon, although Bruce was beginning to suspect he was a very intelligent--and thus incredibly dangerous--buffoon. The businessman continued to deny any involvement in the recent creation of a new continent, but Bruce was more and more sure it had been his doing. But one of the most annoying things about Luthor was the way perfectly valid and reasonable opinions sounded like mad, paranoid ravings when said in Luthor's bombastic fashion.

"Gosh, Mr. Luthor," Bruce drawled--he had learned that Luthor relaxed and condescended a bit more if you said "gosh" and "golly" a lot. "You really are a genius, to see all this. I'm just glad we can work together to make humanity safer." Luthor grinned benignly at his handsome protégé and business partner and rumpled his hair.

Bruce Wayne added that and the last fourteen hair-rumplings to his mental "Crimes of Lex Luthor" list. If Bruce ever managed to get his hands on some of that green crystal--and so far the mining rig had turned up nothing--Luthor was never going to know about it.

Someone really did have to safeguard humanity, but Lex Luthor was certainly not the man to do it.

: : :

Kitty sipped her CelestialDollars coffee carefully. It was really nice of Mr. Wayne to take her out for coffee after that meeting. She had a high tolerance for Lex being fond of himself, but today even she had found it boring.

The playboy smiled at her across the table. Kitty reassured herself--this wasn't a date, it was just going out for some coffee. Nothing unreasonable there.So Lex would never need to be told about it.

"Mr. Luthor certainly seems to have a long history with that Superman character," said Mr. Wayne. Kitty stifled a sigh. Lex was clearly the winner in the obsessed-with-Superman contest, but Bruce Wayne was running a close second.

"Yeah, they go back a long way. It was Superman who got him sent to prison that first time, and even though he helped Superman against General Zod, Superman still turned on him." She knew the list of grievances by heart now.

The billionaire looked interested. "How did Luthor help him against Zod?"

"Oh, he says he helped Superman get his powers back to fight Zod." A sudden thought crossed Kitty's mind and she spoke without speaking. "Oh, I bet that's when he'd been there before!"

Bruce Wayne leaned forward. "Been where before?"

"That makes perfect sense," Kitty continued enthusiastically, half to herself. "I mean, he really looked like he'd been there before, he seemed to know the place, and then when I asked him he--"

"Ms. Kowalski. Kitty." Bruce Wayne smiled warmly and she felt herself blush. "Been where before?"

"Up at Superman's fortress, in the Arctic. The big crystal place." Kitty clapped her hand over her mouth. She had said too much, she knew it from the sudden leap of interest in the playboy's eyes. "Oh dear, oh dear, please forget I said that." For a moment Kitty felt oddly afraid.

Bruce Wayne smiled at her again. "Forget you said what, Kitty? Anyway, whatever it is I've forgotten you said, I'm sure it wasn't important."

She sighed and sipped her double mocha frappachino. "I just don't want him to get hurt again," she said softly, looking off at the Metropolis skyline.

"Gosh, I'd never hurt Mr. Luthor. We're working together, after all."

Kitty Kowalski blinked at Bruce Wayne. "Huh?"

: : :

The seaplane landed, sending up plumes of ice-clear water on either side. The black suit was not well-insulated, and Batman was shivering a bit. Breaking into Luthor's office and finding maps to this place had been the easy part compared to finding efficient transportation to such an isolated place. He walked across a plain of snow, a black mote in a vast field of blank and dizzy whiteness.

When he walked into the massive crystal structure, he knew it had been worth all the effort. It was like walking into the heart of the Kryptonian--soaring, awe-inspiring, and empty. It had fallen into disrepair in the last five years, but Batman could see signs of rebuilding here and there. He knelt and picked up a clear, glittering fragment, and as he stood up the sun came out from behind a cloud and the structure burst into cold flame around him.

He stood in the middle of the structure, the crystals catching the low, late fall sunlight and magnifying the beams into a bewildering web of sunlight on crystal. Rainbow shards of light glowed around him in the vast silence. He suddenly felt trapped, like a fly in amber. Would he go back to find that years had passed in Gotham while he stood here, dazzled with the light? Why had he even come here? To find something to help him understand...but what could a human understand of a place like this?

"What are you doing here?" A voice like a clarion, clouded with cold fury, snapped him out of his reverie. Superman darted down from the roof like a bird to land in front of Batman. Beams of light bent around him dizzyingly. "Get out. Get out of my home."

"It''s beautiful," he heard himself say, his voice a little too high.

Superman turned his back on him, floated over to what looked like a computer console made entirely of crystals. "It used to be more beautiful. This is what you and your kind have left to me."

Batman struggled to pitch his voice to the proper register again. "Is this where you grew up? All alone here?"

Superman didn't answer him. The Kryptonian shot him a laser-bright look. "Your heartbeat. It's different than the last time we talked."

Batman felt on surer ground now and he laughed softly. "Biofeedback is a wonderful thing, Superman."

A blurring motion and the alien was right in front of him. "It's Kal-el. My name is Kal-el. Kal, of the House of El." He motioned back at the console, the crystal sheets hanging in the air. "My mother and my father--they talked to me here. They taught me. They died before I ever knew them, and the voices and images these crystals gave me were all I had left of them. And now they're gone, dead and lost twice over, thanks to people like you, breaking in to see what you can scavenge for your own ends." Batman started to interrupt, to defend himself somehow, but Superman--Kal--continued, his voice rising. "I'll never hear my parents' voices again!" All the commanding resonance was stripped from the alien voice, leaving only a raw anguish that struck Batman mute. He stood there still gripping the crystal he had picked up, a broken fragment of lost memory.

There was a long silence. Kal struggled to maintain his composure. He didn't want to look weak in front of the man who was clearly setting himself up as Superman's enemy. Yet another enemy.

When Batman finally spoke his voice was low and rough, but softer than before. "I'm sorry for your loss."

Kal laughed as harshly as he could manage with that sudden surge of grief still choking him. "Did you come all the way here just to give me your condolences?"

"I wanted to understand you better."

It was galling, how much he wanted to believe the dark figure in front of him. "Do you even think that's possible?" He tried to make it a sneer and not an honest question.

Not an important question.

Batman knelt and very gently put the crystal back on the icy ground. "I didn't." Then he turned and made his way out of the Fortress, his black figure standing out against the piercing alien light around him.

Some time later, Superman heard the seaplane's motors start up. He was alone again at the top of the world. The broken, darkened crystals sang quietly to him, but it wasn't enough.

: : :

Bruce Wayne woke up from a groggy, jetlagged sleep full of crystalline light to the mundane sunlight of a fall morning in Gotham. He groaned and pulled the blankets over his face as Alfred put a breakfast tray in front of him. "The construction workers won't be here until one o'clock today, sir. Might I suggest that this would be a good time to finally get around to filling in that old well? Wouldn't do to have people falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland on top of the Dark Knight, after all."

Bruce emerged from the blankets to take a bite of toast. "More like Through the Looking Glass, I suppose." He sighed.

"Well, at least you're used to believing six impossible things before breakfast by now, sir."

A few hours later, Clark Kent paused a moment before the massive stone gates of Wayne Manor. "Hello?" he called, a bit hesitantly. No answer. He paused a moment longer, then ventured onto the grounds. He didn't feel exactly comfortable walking in like this, but then he remembered Luthor's arm around Bruce Wayne's shoulders, grimaced, and kept going.

The burned-out hulk of Wayne Manor loomed on the hill ahead of him. Even gutted, the building had a solidity, a sense of presence, that was impossible to ignore. Clark paused to take in the creamy beige walls streaked with soot and bathed in sunlight. There were places he had seen on Earth that somehow felt morereal, more alive than others. Even in ruins, Wayne Manor was one of those places.

What a shame its heir wasn't more worthy of it.

He heard hammering noises and made his way in that direction. He rounded a corner to find playboy Bruce Wayne pulling apart the stone wall of an old well. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and heavy pants stained with dust and paint. His soft hands were clad in work gloves as he wrenched at a recalcitrant rock. Clark cleared his throat.

Wayne turned around and glared at him. "You." Dark blue eyes like a blow, under a shock of black hair. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"The gate was open."

"That doesn't mean it's all right to just go tramping onto private property! I ought to call the police and have you arrested." He turned his attention back to the well as though the reporter was beneath his notice.

"You're a pretty territorial man. You wouldn't let investigators onto the property after the fire, either."

Wayne got the stubborn rock clear, put it on the ground, and stalked over to Clark, dusting his hands off so powdered rock flew everywhere. He stood close enough that even merely human senses could have caught the scent of his sweat, eyes narrowed in his handsome face. "There was nothing to investigate."

"Oh, really? How convenient." And there it was, hanging in the air between them, the accusation all Gotham whispered about: had the spoiled Wayne scion burned his house down by accident, or had it been deliberate?

Bruce Wayne's face tightened in pain or a convincing imitation of it. "I did not burn down my parents house! You've done your research on me, you know this house was all I had left of my parents--" The warm, sophisticated voice cracked, "Destroy it? I'd rather have cut off my own hands!" He spread his hands in the heavy gloves out before him as if in appeal.

Clark felt a sudden desire to leave the man in peace, but he fought the impulse. "If your parents' memory means so much to you, then why are you working with Luthor? Don't tell me you don't know what kind of man he is!" That level of naivete and blindness had seemed possible in the vapid Bruce Wayne he had met at the party, but this man with dirt smudging his high cheekbones and sweat dampening his hair was a very different thing. This man either knew precisely what Luthor was and admired that, or-- "You can't imagine your parents have approved of your connecting their name with Luthor's."

Bruce glared at the reporter, standing there with his notebook and that prim look on his face. Glaring was easier than showing how close Kent's words had hit to the mark. He gestured peremptorily to Alfred, who had managed to materialize at some point in the conversation. "Alfred, please see Mr. Kent out. He seems to have overstayed his non-existent welcome."

If looks could kill, Bruce had no doubt he'd be in pieces on the ground from the glower the reporter shot at him. But the other man allowed Alfred to gently steer him away.

Bruce attacked the low stone wall with a vengeance. Why had he shown so much of himself to that damned reporter? He was tired, but that wasn't reason enough. He had no reason to trust the man, and many reasons not to. He and Luthor were both from Metropolis, after all. Kent said he was distrustful of Luthor, so why was he spending so much time focusing on Bruce Wayne? If Luthor were starting to be suspicious of his business partner, is would make sense to have someone investigate him further, poke around the Manor, see if he could dig up some dirt. Bruce felt cold. It seemed all too plausible.

And yet--Kent's tone when he spoke Luthor's name--his disgust and repulsion had been almost palpable. Something had rung, resonant as a bell, in his voice. Something that struck an answering resonance in Bruce Wayne. He snarled at the stones of the well in front of him which refused to give way.

Alfred's footsteps came up behind him, quicker than his usual pace. "Is he gone?"

"Actually, sir, he has asked me to convey his apologies. He feels his words were... unduly accusatory and confrontational."

Bruce raised his eyebrows. "Alfred. What did you say to him?"

The butler met his gaze squarely. "Nothing that you shouldn't have said youself, sir." The butler eyed him. "He seemed sincere."

People who could sincerely apologize were...rare. "Alfred, could you go back and tell him that I accept his apology and--" He broke off as the butler bent over and rested his hands on his knees in probably-unfeigned exhaustion.

"With all due respect, Master Wayne, I'm not a bloody carrier pigeon. If you want to accept his apology, I suggest you go do it in person. You'll have to run if you want to catch him before he leaves the grounds. Besides, it'll do you good. The exercise, I mean."

Bruce Wayne flashed Alfred a quick grin and broke into a run.

He caught up with the reporter at the gates to the Manor. Kent turned as Bruce approached him, his face still serious. "Mr. Wayne, I did want to apologize. Mr. Pennyworth...he..." The reporter's clear skin turned rather pink. "He gave me rather a dressing-down."

Bruce couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "Alfred can be very vociferous in my defense. He practically raised me all by himself and he takes slights to the family honor very seriously."

Kent nodded solemnly. "As well he should."

There was a pause that should have been awkward, but felt more...appraising. Bruce broke it almost reluctantly. "What do you have on Luthor?"


"You wouldn't dislike him so much if you didn't have extra information on him. I' to know what it is." He watched the reporter chew on his lower lip a moment, clearly tempted. "I...could potentially get some information about him you would find useful as well. A trade, of sorts." If Kent was working for Luthor Bruce was in trouble now, but he had some ideas for how he could get around that too.

Clark Kent pushed his glasses up on his nose, squinting. "I'd need a little time to get my information in order. Maybe we could discuss this tomorrow on more neutral ground...over dinner, maybe?"

Bruce arched an eyebrow coyly. "Why, Mr. Kent, are you inviting me on a date?"

The reporter's clear skin flushed dark red. "What? I mean, no! Not that--no, no, I'm sorry--"

"I'm just kidding, Kent, relax." Memo to self: skip the teasing flirtation with humorless reporters. "I know just the place."

Kent left, still blushing, and Bruce headed back to his work.

He caught himself whistling absent-mindedly a few times as he broke down the wall, and had to sternly remind himself that this was serious work.

: : :

Late that evening, Superman landed in a Gotham alley and Clark Kent walked out of it, returning to the rather seedy hotel Perry White had put him up in while he investigated WayneCorp's latest project. He took the elevator to the fifth floor and entered his room, feeling tired. Flying back and forth from Gotham to Metropolis every night wasn't exactly physically wearying, but it was an extra strain.

He sorted his notes, frowning over the ones he had taken at Wayne Manor earlier. He typed a few paragraphs on his laptop, then deleted them. Typed almost exactly the same paragraphs again. It was tempting to try and speed-type, but since he had come back he had been trying to live, when he was Clark Kent, as humanly as possible, even in private. No heating up his coffee with heat vision, no chores at superspeed. If he was ever going to make human connections, he had to remember what it was like to live as one.

He stared at the two paragraphs on his screen about playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne. Human connections. Closed the window in irritation and read a book for a while instead, a recap of Middle Eastern politics over the last five years. He forced himself to read at a normal human pace, carefully, slowly, until he caught himself nodding off. Time for bed, Clark. He changed into pyjamas in the bathroom--always change in the room without windows if you have the costume on--snapped off the light, and made his way to the bed, trying to focus on the usual sounds of traffic and city life outside his window. Go to sleep, Clark.

If Clark Kent had known what he was listening for over the white noise hum of Gotham, he might have been able to pick out the steady, nearly-silent whir of a camera nestled in the smoke detector. But he didn't know what to listen for, so the camera remained where it had been put a few hours ago, its electronic eye watching over the nosy, intriguing reporter through the night, like a guardian angel.

Chapter Text

The ancient philosophers imagined the universe to resemble a complex clockwork consisting of concentric crystalline spheres, nested inside one another, which carried the sun, moon, and planets in their motions and made the “music of the spheres” as they revolved.  --Columbia Encyclopedia

Batman managed to find a sliver of shadow among the glaring lights of Metropolis and crouched in it with a sense of relief. He pulled out a pair of binoculars and focused carefully on the rig far out in the bay. Click. Now he could see movement on it. He frowned. Midnight was an odd time to be hanging out on an offshore rig. Click. Slightly more magnification revealed a group of five or six figures. Click. Was one of them Luthor? Click.

A huge red "S."

Batman reared back, dropping the binoculars. Superman caught them effortlessly, handed them back. "Is it my turn tonight?" He cleared his throat theatrically and struck a dramatic pose, reciting in his resonant voice. "'What are you doing here? Get the hell out of my city.'"

"Don't sneak up on me like that."

"I don't 'sneak up on' people. Generally speaking it's pretty obvious when the man in a bright red and blue suit is happening by." Was that the very slight curve of a smile on that too-perfect face? "Unless they happen to be extremely absorbed in something...more interesting." Superman turned to follow Batman's gaze; the almost-smile slipped away.

"Is there something happening on that rig I should be interested in?" said Batman.

"It depends. On why you're interested."

"What do you think Luthor is up to?"

"Luthor and Wayne." The alien said the names as if they went together. Batman stifled a grimace. "They're almost certainly looking for something they can use to harm me."

"Have they found anything?"

"I haven't seen or heard any sign that they have yet. But you're probably thinking to yourself--correctly--that I'd have no reason to tell you if they had."

Batman didn't know exactly what to say to that, so he settled for glaring out over the too-bright city.

Superman tilted his head suddenly to the side, oddly bird-like. "I'm...there's something going on uptown I need to check. Library." He darted away slightly in the air, then stopped. "Would you like to come along?"

Batman snorted. "Why would you need my help?"

"One should never reject help." Another flicker of something like a smile. "Besides, you did say you wanted to understand me better. Live-action would be better than tape, don't you think?"

Batman silently readied a grapple as his answer. He launched himself from the rooftop as the Kryptonian sailed away.

: : :

"Just how fast do you think he's capable of moving?" Batman's voice was conversational as he watched the street below. The man he was addressing said nothing. Nothing coherent, at least.

"Even rocket launchers do nothing at all to him. Very impressive, don't you agree?" Batman reached out and gave a light push to the man who was hanging upside down next to him, propelling him out over the thirty-story drop for a moment. "Honestly, I can't imagine why you people even bother."

The hanging man glared at Batman. They had reached the crime scene to find members of what was probably Intergang trying to break into an library by blowing the doors off. Superman had taken care of the falling debris and the robbers in the library proper, and now was mopping up--where had Intergang gotten a tank? Not that it seemed to be doing them any good.

In the chaos, Batman had noticed one particularly greasy-looking mook trying to slip away. Said ringleader was now dangling by his feet and engaged in a rather one-sided conversation with Batman about the futility of being a villain in Metropolis. He gibbered something, caught his breath, and managed a fully coherent utterance. The man did have some guts.

"We're not total saps, you know! We got plans. Contingency plans."

Batman moved until his face was very near the gang member's face. He smiled. The other man blanched.

"What kind of contingency plans?"

: : :

Superman dropped off a tank full of criminals, sealed shut like a sardine can, at the police station. He noted the slimy-looking man trussed up neatly on the steps. Batman had apparently been busy. He went back to the building where he had found the other man earlier, not really expecting to find him there now. To his surprise, there was a black shape standing on the roof, a Gothic shape incongruous against the stark Art Deco lines of the building.

"Thanks for the help."

"My pleasure." Batman's mouth was curved in what was unmistakably a smile. It looked...odd. Though not unpleasant. "You won't believe what they're going to try and use against you."

Kal wasn't even sure he wanted to know. He made a sound that could have been encouraging, and Batman broke into an actual throaty chuckle.

"They're searching the world for--" he shook his head, "--magicians." Batman snorted incredulously. "What are they going to do, pull bunnies out of hats and throw them at you? Oh, I know--they can conjure up a bunch of scarves and dazzle you until you don't notice their crimes." He shook his dark head. "Honestly. Criminals really are a cowardly and superstitious lot. No wonder I scare the crap out of them."

Kal snorted in echo of Batman's mocking mirth, trying not to show the sudden worry that seized him. Jor-el had had little to say about the alternate quantum worldview humans dismissively called "magic," but everything he had said made it clear that Kal-el wanted little to do with it.

"Well, thanks for the heads-up." He tried to keep his tone light.

"Just thought you'd like to know and be on your guard in case David Copperfield shows up in Metropolis or something. He's a dangerous one. Hoo." He sighed as if he hadn't laughed in a very long time. Which seemed quite likely. "Anything else I can do for you, Superman?" His tone was dry and still slightly mocking.

"You can call me Kal, for starters."

A pause. Superman knew perfectly well why the Dark Knight didn't want to call him by his name, wanted to keep him as a silly title. The silence stretched on. He was almost ready to turn and fly away when the voice came again from the shadows. "Anything else I can do for you...Kal?" Was the tone just a bit less mocking? He was ashamed and alarmed again by how much he wanted it to be.

The human heart is still subject to monstrous deceits.

The human was still waiting for his answer. "I'm keeping track of Luthor here. Wayne's based in your city, your responsibility. Will you keep an eye on him?"

Batman inclined his head gravely. "He does bear watching."

: : :

The cave was cold and clammy, as usual. Bruce rubbed his hands together briskly, then clicked the computer screen to open up the window that showed Clark Kent's hotel room. Nasty little place. His editor couldn't even be bothered to spring for a hotel with Internet access. Kent was hunched over his laptop, typing. Notecards scattered the table. He was frowning in concentration.

Bruce minimized the window. No need to have Kent on his screen all the time if the man wasn't going to do anything interesting. All he ever did was type, read, and sleep. He often came in very late--two or three o'clock, according to the camera logs--but that was probably because he was hitting an all-night Internet café. Clark Kent didn't look to be the kind to be out savoring Gotham's nightlife.

Bruce polished up a few more of the bat-shaped shuriken, checked his lines for flaws and fraying, and did a little repair work on the car. He came back and re-opened the camera feed window. Kent was shuffling though his notes. He glanced at his watch and looked alarmed, then grabbed a suit and went into the bathroom to change.

Bruce found this ingrained habit of changing in the bathroom intriguing. It was a sign of paranoia in a man who otherwise seemed quite stable. Maybe Batman should slip back in and install another camera in the bathroom. He kind of hated to invade the man's privacy at that level without good evidence against him, though.

Kent came out of the bathroom wearing a gray flannel suit--not the most stylish, but he looked passable in it. Which reminded Bruce that he had to change as well. He was supposed to be meeting the reporter in just over an hour.

: : :

Clark paused in front of the gleaming brass doors of "La Lune," the restaurant Wayne had said to meet him at. It looked...stuffy. And pretentious. He really disliked places like this. But if he wanted to get access to the billionaire with Luthor's ear...he sighed and went in.

An obsequious maitre d' immediately ushered him to what had to be the best seat in the restaurant, where Wayne was already waiting for him. The playboy looked utterly at home surrounded by brass and mahogany, lounging in his burgundy chair gracefully, like some kind of exotic cat. He rose to shake Clark's hand. "I hope Gotham's been treating you well, Mr. Kent."

"I have few complaints." Mostly because bedbugs can't get through my skin, fortunately.

Wayne beamed vacantly. "Glad to hear it." He didn't seem much like the intense man Clark had met in the ruins of his house yesterday. An automatic response to different surroundings...or a deliberate, structured persona? And if the latter, why?

They ordered dinner, Clark just picking a couple of items that seemed most edible. After the waiter left, Wayne leaned forward. "Now, Mr. Kent. You said you had information about my business partner? Some reason I shouldn't work with him?"

Clark sighed to himself. "An associate of mine...she witnessed his actions in relation to the crystal continent. Luthor was behind its creation, he was hoping to sell the new continent for real estate."

The man across the table frowned. Oddly, he was more handsome when he frowned than he was with that empty smile. "That's about the craziest scheme I've ever heard of. Doesn't make much practical sense."

"I think his real motivation was more the rush of power, to be honest. The thrill of doing something to see if it could be done, of reshaping the world in your own form."

"Why doesn't your associate come forward with this information?"

"She has no evidence beyond her word, and..." Clark grimaced. "She was technically trespassing at the time. She and her son went onto Luthor's ship without permission and were trapped there. He tried to kill both of them."

Wayne looked incredulous. "She took her son with her trespassing on someone's property? That's practically child endangerment!"

Clark pushed his glasses up on his nose. "She...let's just say she tends to get fixated on a story." Lois... "Anyway, with no evidence, and the fact that she was technically breaking the law herself, she hasn't been able to do much with the information. But it's true, I swear," he assured the billionaire hastily.

The man across the table pursed his lips thoughtfully. "It does fit. And I have suspected as much..." he said reluctantly. He looked at Clark. "I'll take your words under advisement. I...I want you to know that I'd never want to be associated with a project that would hurt people."

"Hurt humans, you mean." He heard the bitterness thread his voice and wished he could call his words back, as dark eyebrows rose in surprise. But he had said them. "Finding something you can stop an alien with...that's a different thing, isn't it?"

Wayne looked at his well-manicured fingernails. "Why does he mean so much to you, Mr. Kent?"

"I'm sorry?"

A level glance from blue eyes, no hint of vapidity now. "I've been doing some research on you. You disappeared from Metropolis just after Superman vanished. Now you're back, and he is too. I think I know what you were off doing for five years."

" do?" Oddly, the emotion he felt was closer to relief than panic, but he didn't have time to look at it closely as Wayne continued.

"You were looking for him, weren't you? You went hunting for him, hoping to find where he had hidden himself. That's what you've been doing for the last five years. Looking for Superman, in all the lonely places in the world an alien might find to hide."

Clark said nothing, knowing that his silence would be taken for assent. It was even true, in some ways.

"So my question is, why? Why do you think he's so important? Why do you trust him? I want to understand."

Clark floundered. "I just--I just think he does what he can to make the world better. He loves humanity. He wishes he could save them all, all the time."

Wayne's hands played with a spoon, staring down at his distorted reflection in the silver. "How can someone with his level of power ever see us as valuable? Aren't we insignificant, unimportant to him?"

This conversation was terribly difficult. "All I can do is judge him by his actions. Does he treat humans like they're valuable?"

Wayne spoke softly. "He left." There it was again, the impassible crystal wall that stood between him and humanity now. He had failed them.

"Maybe he made a mistake."

"Gods can't afford to make mistakes."

"He's no god, Mr. Wayne." He didn't know what else to say anymore. Thankfully the food arrived and derailed the conversation.

Bruce Wayne looked blindly at his plate and started cutting. He was annoyed at how much it upset him that the alien had simply left, after all that hope and all that promise. Further proof that humanity was better off without gods.

"Are you...really going to eat that?" The reporter's voice was mild but clearly disapproving. Bruce looked down at his plate: veal and foie gras.

"Do you have a problem with eating meat, Mr. Kent?"

The other man gestured at his salmon. "Eating meat has its place in the cycle, but I prefer to consume without cruelty when I can. Do you know what is done to make that stuff?" He pointed at the food on Bruce's plate.

Bruce cut off a piece of veal. "I do, as a matter of fact." He speared a piece of foie gras to go with it. "The animals are penned up from birth in the darkness, unable to move freely, and force-fed against their nature." He carefully, deliberately put the food in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. "The results are delicious."

Clark Kent looked at him curiously. "Is it delicious, Mr. Wayne? Really?" He didn't sound accusing, he sounded legitimately wondering.

There was a long pause. Bruce heard his fork clink against the plate with a strange sort of finality. He looked across the table. "No. Actually, it doesn't taste that good at all.

"And why don't you call me Bruce?"

He realized at that moment that he had never seen Clark Kent smile. Because he was certain he would have remembered what it did to his face if he ever had.

"How's about you show me a restaurant in Gotham you actually like...Bruce?"

: : :

Bruce watched Kent--watched Clark--wolf down another slice of mushroom pizza. The neon sign that spelled out "Sal's Pizza" in the window cast flickering light across the reporter's face.


"Much. Thank you." Clark licked his fingers. "So, why are you working with Luthor?"

"Would you believe me if I said it was because I thought he was dangerous and I wanted to keep an eye on him?"


"Okay, honestly, I do believe the world needs some options in case Superman ever goes rogue. We've all seen what Kryptonians like Zod are capable of. Even if Superman is trustworthy, it's good to have a safeguard." Clark looked sad. He was awfully fond of the alien. "But Luthor's clearly dangerous. If I wasn't doing it to keep an eye on him before, I'm certainly doing so now."

Clark reached for another piece of pizza. "Oh. And here I thought you were hoping to get insights into his impeccable fashion sense."

Bruce stared at him. Clark looked innocently back, deadpan. Bruce chuckled despite himself. "Why, Clark Kent, I do believe you've found yourself a sense of humor."

The limpid gaze clouded somewhat. "You know, I used to have a sense of humor. Really I did, I swear. I...think I've misplaced it, recently."

"Wandering the desolate places of the Earth will do that. The isolation, the emptiness." Once the words were out, he suddenly realized they sounded far too knowing, and Clark flashed him a startled glance.

"Exactly. You spent the last five years away from Gotham yourself."

"Totally different." Bruce waved a slice of pizza carelessly, trying to backtrack. "I was carousing across Europe most of the time. Wine, women, and song and all that."

Clark frowned. "Still. It sounds like at your heart, you felt very alone."

For some reason, Bruce couldn't bring himself to gainsay the reporter this time, but he did try to keep his voice light. "Well, that's the human condition, isn't it? Isolation, alienation, we're all alone at the core."

"The human condition." Clark looked at Bruce. "Hm." A pause. "This is...really good pizza."

"The best in Gotham."

"I wouldn't have expected you to know about places like this. Aren't you supposed to be hobnobbing with the upper crust all the time?"

"Gotham's a lot more than crust, and I love all of it. I'll have to show you the best falafel in town sometime." For no very good reason, this sentence made Clark beam again.

It was getting late. He ought to be heading back. Back to work. Back to the cave. He looked at Clark, who was polishing off yet another piece of pizza and sighing happily to himself.

"You've given me some information on Luthor, but I haven't given you much in return."

"You've given me your promise not to trust him, that's enough for me."

"I still feel I owe you more." He smiled winningly at the man across the table.

"So, do you feel about a little breaking and entering?"

Chapter Text

"I don't think we should be doing this."

Two dark figures slipped through an unlighted hallway. The one leading the way looked back and smiled, a flash of white in the darkness.

"Oh, come on. Where's your sense of adventure?"

"I think I left it wherever I left my sense of humor. And apparently my common sense. Bruce!"

Bruce Wayne halted at the next keypad and entered in a string of numbers. The door clicked open. "Technically, one can't burgle a building one owns, I'm pretty sure. I just don't want Luthor to know I've been poking around the files on our shared project."

"Your building, not mine. Where does that leave me if we're caught?"

"If we're caught, I'll vouch for you, Clark."

"Great, the character witness of a drunken wastrel known best for burning down his own property." Clark Kent's mild tone belied his harsh words; his face in the glow of the dimmed hall light was worried but not hostile. "I have the utmost confidence in the success of our mission."

"Money, Clark. Money is the ultimate character witness." Bruce pulled Clark against a wall to let a security camera scan past them, then gestured him on.

"Speaking of your character, Bruce, if we're going to be embarking on a life of crime together, I'd like to know the whole story behind what happened to your house. I'm pretty certain you didn't do it, but it was no accident, either. And you're no more a drunken wastrel than I'm a...a..." Clark seemed at a loss for the right phrase.

"An international porn star?"

"Exactly. I mean--hey! Well, yes."

Bruce smiled to himself as he could practically feel the reporter's blush even in the darkness. He shouldn't tease the man, but ever since he had started to realize Clark had a sense of humor tucked away somewhere behind those ridiculous glasses, he couldn't seem to help himself.

He also shouldn't be risking getting Kent in trouble like this. It had started off mostly as a sort of test, to see how game the reporter was--and how much of the evening's escapades Luthor seemed to know about later. Bruce was pretty sure he could keep Clark safe if things got difficult, but he was feeling a bit guilty about dragging him into it at all.

On the other hand, it was oddly enjoyable to be doing this kind of thing with another person rather than alone. Even if the other person was largely incompetent at breaking and entering and would inevitably be more of a hindrance than a help if the situation deteriorated.

"Don't try to sidetrack me, Bruce. If you're going to be enticing me to break into your offices, I deserve at least some answers. Oblique answers will do, since I know that's the best I can get from you."

Clark was pretty sure that he could keep Bruce safe if this all went badly, but he wished he didn't have to be worrying about it. He frowned, concentrating on moving quietly but not suspiciously silently--it was tempting to hover--and almost ran into the other man, who had stopped moving forward.

"Look, Clark. When I was abroad, I lost control of my family's company. It's easier to get the advantage of people when they think you're incompetent, so I played that up a bit. They took me for granted, I got control of my company back. See? That wasn't even so oblique." He turned and started moving again.

Clark understood that kind of reasoning. "But what about the Manor?"

"Can we talk about this later, Clark, when we're not in mid-burgle?"

Clark sighed. The man was as elusive as quicksilver, even when he seemed to be direct. Maybe especially when he seemed to be direct. He wasn't sure why he had let Bruce talk him into doing this. Maybe he just wanted to see how far the other man would go, or how much he was willing to share with Clark. Maybe he just wanted to find some concrete reason to support his intuitive desire to trust Bruce Wayne.

Maybe he had just wanted to put off returning to his miserable hotel room a few hours more.

The pair entered the main office of the R&D branch of WayneTech. "I think I've managed to get this far without leaving any record of us," Bruce said as he started up the main computer and began tapping at it. "Now, I just want to check and see if there's any record of--what?" he asked as Clark held up a waste basket. Clark pointed inside soundlessly.

Nestled in among the shredded paper was a cylindrical shape with wires sticking out of it. It was ticking softly.

With a timing that they might have found comedic under less stressful circumstances, Clark and Bruce started speaking simultaneously.

"You have to get out of here! What? I'm not leaving without you!"

Clark put the basket down gingerly on the desk. Bruce grabbed Clark's wrist; Clark grabbed Bruce's, and they dragged each other out of the room.

"That was a bomb," Bruce pointed out as they charged down the hall.

They both lunged at a fire alarm, Clark got there first. "Thanks for the update, Bruce," he said as alarms started to ring out through the building. Clark headed left, Bruce headed right. "Where are you going, Bruce? The exit's this way!"

"I have to make sure my people are all out of the building! Don't worry about me, get out of here! Go!" He made shooing motions with his hands, whirled and broke into a run.

Clark let him go, cursing to himself in Kryptonian--Kryptonian actually had a surprisingly inventive range of curses. He changed costumes and got back to the office just as the bomb went off. The hot wind and concussion blew out around him as he quickly scanned the building to see if there was anyone who needed immediate help. The only person within range of the blast had been Bruce, who had been blasted sideways and was now staggering forward to get out of range of falling debris, but he wasn't in immediate danger. Clark had no desire to explain how Superman had happened to be hanging out at WayneTech headquarters when the bomb went off, so he watched to make sure Bruce got out safely, then slipped away for a while. No reason to go back as Clark; Bruce would know that it was probably a bad idea that they be seen together close to the bombing.

He came back a few hours later, when it would be reasonable to assume Superman would have heard of the bombing. As he had expected, Batman was already there, combing through the wreckage in a section of the rubble the police hadn't searched yet. It happened to be what was left of the hallway where Bruce and Clark had split up. Batman straightened as Superman swooped in, almost as if eager to see him.

"Kal. Can you scan for heartbeat, life signs, anyone trapped in what's left?"

"I already did. There's no one there."

The vigilante paused. "Could you use your x-ray vision to search for--for bodies?"

Kal did a careful search this time. "There's nothing. Everyone got out all right."

"Okay. Well. That's good, then." Even the gravelly rasp of his disguised voice couldn't hide the relief underneath it.

"You know someone who works here?"

"I never like to see anyone caught in something like this." Batman's voice was flat and unrevealing again.

"You know..." Kal hesitated. "We keep running into each other, but...I have no way of contacting you if I were to really need to get in touch with you. I can't exactly float in the skies of Gotham and yell 'Where's Batman!' until you show up."

"Why not? It would be an impressive sight." Humor threaded the hoarse voice, warming it. Kal wished suddenly that he could hear it undisguised.

"I'm just saying, it would be useful if there was some way we could get in touch."

Batman turned away and started to scrape some residue from a girder, putting it carefully in a vial at his waist. "I'll think about it."

"And you'll find some way to let me know who you think did this?"

A sardonic snort. "I suppose the most likely suspect is the building's owner, Bruce Wayne. The man does have a history of destroying his own property, after all."

Kal felt indignation leap in him. Bruce had risked his life to make sure his employees were out safely,and this paranoid nut-case in a mask had the nerve to suspect him? He had to suppress the urge to defend Bruce to Batman; after all, how would Superman know any of that? It might lead to...difficult questions from the brilliant mind in front of him. Besides, if Bruce wanted to be seen as irresponsible, character witnesses from Superman were the last thing he needed.

But Kal was pretty sure at this point he trusted Bruce more than the saturnine, suspicious man he was currently dealing with.

"I'll let you know if I find anything, Kal." It was clearly a dismissal, and Superman took it as such. Clark Kent was the reporter stuck on the Gotham beat at the moment, so he clearly had a lot of work ahead to cover this bombing story. Superman was annoyed enough that he barely felt any pleasure in noticing that the man was calling him "Kal" now.

: : :

[7:04] Drunkenwastrel: So, do I know how to show a guy a good time or what?
[7:06] Mildmannered: How did you get this chat name?
[7:07] Drunkenwastrel: Ve haff our vays.
[7:10] Drunkenwastrel: Any leads yet, information I should know?
[7:14] Mildmannered: I can see you were frantic with worry about my fate.
[7:17] Drunkenwastrel: Once the police reported no casualties I knew you'd gotten out fine.
[7:23] Drunkenwastrel: But I was.
[7:24] Drunkenwastrel: Worried about you, I mean.
[7:26] Mildmannered: I appreciate the concern. I'm fine besides some mussed hair. You?
[7:27] Drunkenwastrel: A few scratches and bumps. Nothing serious.
[7:32] Drunkenwastrel: So, any theories on what's going on?
[7:40] Mildmannered: Look, I hate to be rude, but I *have* to get this story filed ASAP. I'm paying for Internet access at this café by the hour, and I've gotten no sleep.
[7:41] Mildmannered: Besides, I'm sure you've got a million police forms to fill out.
[7:45] Drunkenwastrel: Okay, okay, you've got a point.
[7:48] Mildmannered: Thanks for checking up on me, by the way. It was a fun evening, other than the whole bomb thing.
[7:50] Drunkenwastrel: My pleasure. Yeah, a bomb can really ruin your whole night.

[9:09] Drunkenwastrel: So...want to get together tomorrow and compare notes?
[9:09] Mildmannered: You're on, playboy.

Chapter Text

WayneTech Offices Sabotaged

Billionaire Industralist Hit Once Again by Tragedy

by Clark Kent, Gotham City

Early this morning at approximately 1:25 AM, the headquarters of WayneCorp's Research and Development division were destroyed by a bomb in what police described as a "possible act of corporate terrorism." There were no casualties, and police report no suspects in the crime as of yet.

According to the police report, WayneCorp CEO Bruce Wayne was on the scene of the crime almost immediately and aided rescue workers in searching for victims of the bombing. Wayne--who recently also lost his home, Wayne Manor, to a fire--was commended by Police Commissioner McRae for "his helpfulness and bravery in this potentially tragic event."

The evening edition of the Daily Planet had more--a history of WayneCorp, a discussion of possible leads--but nothing important. Batman brushed the text lightly with his fingertips. "Helpfulness and bravery." Bruce Wayne, selfish playboy, was going to have to work overtime to make up for this.

Batman probably should feel annoyed at Kent's presumptuousness.

He opened the computer window that looked into Clark Kent's hotel room. He heard the shower running and after a few minutes Kent emerged in a maroon "Smallville" sweatshirt and jeans. He scrubbed vigorously at his hair for a while, then left the room with it still damp and curling about his ears. It was a few hours before Bruce was supposed to meet him; he must be going to get some Internet time at the cafe before their meeting.

Nothing interesting in the window any more, so Batman closed it.

: : :

Clark's back was turned to him as he entered the cyber-cafe. The reporter was typing at a blistering pace, multitasking between a chat window, a search engine, and a Word document. Bruce wondered who he was chatting with as he ordered a cup of coffee and sat down next to him.

"Morning, sunshine."

Clark seemed unsurprised to see him, glancing over and smiling briefly. "Let me just say goodbye to my mother," he said, tapping out a message into the chat window. He had to wait a while for a response. "She's just starting to get the hang of this Internet thing," he added somewhat apologetically.

"No rush." Bruce sipped his coffee and grimaced. "This is..."

"Swill, I know. But the Internet access is cheap."

"When you're done I'll take you someplace with some decent coffee. And maybe falafel for lunch?"

Clark started closing up windows hurriedly.

They discussed the events of last night in low voices over very good falafel and babaganoush. "I think it was just corporate espionage, Clark. Someone's trying to keep WayneCorp from finishing some project or other."

"Don't you think that's just a bit extreme for corporate espionage?"

Bruce chewed thoughtfully for a while. "You think it's Luthor."

"Of course I think it's Luthor! The man's a cold-blooded killer!"

"Why would he want to blow up my offices?"

Clark glared down at his babaganoush. "To prove he could?" He endured Bruce's raised eyebrows. "It's the same motivation as with the crystals. Or maybe he wanted to scare you for some reason?"

Bruce sighed. "Those aren't motivations, those are random acts without any reason."

"You live in a town where villains dress up as scarecrows and clowns and you're going to lecture me on reasonability?"

Bruce's cup hit the table hard. "Don't run down my city, farm boy. You don't know anything about Gotham." Clark looked rebellious, and Bruce tried to temper his tone. "Maybe you just haven't had a chance to get to know it. Practically all you've seen of it is that rat-trap hotel you're in. Let me show you more of it, and maybe we can get some information about the bombing while we're at it."

Clark nodded and smiled as if he were the one who had won the point.

: : :

To Clark's surprise--he had expected to be taken to a library or park--they went first to a soup kitchen filled with ragged, ghostly people. Bruce breezed in the door to blank gazes. Clark couldn't imagine how he must look to them, an apparition in a cream cashmere coat and elegant wingtips.

He was surprised again when the director of the soup kitchen seemed to know Bruce, although he didn't seem pleased to see him. "Ah, Mr. Wayne, our gracious benefactor." He shot Clark a sour look. "And which member of the press have you brought by for a photo-op of you scooping a cup of soup today?"

Clark stammered. "Well--actually I am with the Metropolis Daily Planet, but...I don't think this is a photo-op."

The director sighed. "Well, try not to get in the way too much, Mr. Wayne. You may basically own us, but we are trying to get things accomplished here." He stalked off. Clark looked at Bruce, but the billionaire's face was studiously blank.

"Wait here, Clark, I'm going to talk to a few people and it's less threatening if there's only one of us."

Clark couldn't imagine that Bruce would seem approachable to the people here, but he let the man step away. He stood in the middle of the dining hall, feeling large, awkward, and conspicuous. Eventually he walked into the kitchen and asked if he could help. The director gave him a startled glance and put him to work washing dishes. In between wiping plates Clark could see Bruce talking to a few different people. Eventually Bruce came back, helped Clark finish up the dishes, then grabbed a cup of coffee for each of them and sat down, tugging Clark to sit next to him.

"This is part of what I wanted you to see about Gotham."

Clark looked around the room at the homeless people eating their soup and bread: tired-looking men, haggard women with big-eyed children in tow. "I don't know how this is supposed to make me feel better about Gotham, Bruce."

"Don't look at them, look at the workers." Behind the counters the volunteers were greeting people, serving soup, washing dishes in the steamy kitchen. They didn't look happy, per se, but they looked...determined. Resolute. Bruce's voice continued beside him. "They have hope, Clark. Hope that they can make a difference. Gotham may have its wretched and miserable sides--every city does--but we also have people who work to make it better, who find the hope and the courage every single morning to get up and try to change things in some small way."

Bruce tilted his head and looked at Clark. "Isn't that amazing? People say Metropolis is the City of Hope, but I see so much hope here. So much."

Clark took in Bruce's face, flushed from the heat of the kitchen and the passion of his speech, the blue eyes fixed on him earnestly. "You're an interesting person, Bruce Wayne."

The other man blinked and the earnestness was gone from his eyes. He continued lightly, "And of course, there's always the hope of a stunning photo opportunity that will get me good press in the papers, right?" He rose and Clark rose with him, heading for the door.

When they were out on the street again, Clark asked, "Did you get any information in there?"

"Huh? Oh, yes, I talked to some guys who spend a lot of their time in the area of the building that got blown up. I got some information I think might lead me to someone who'll have some information. Eventually. Give me a few days. You keep digging on Luthor."

"I would whether you told me to or not," Clark pointed out. Bruce flashed him a sidelong grin. "So, what else are you going to show me of Gotham?"

"Well, I thought to balance this we'd go to the Gotham Art Museum. From hope to accomplishment, so to speak. You up for some art?"

"I think I can probably handle some art."

The Gotham Art Museum, with its wrought-iron griffons perched in front of it, was one of the better-known sights of the city. Clark and Bruce wandered through it, pausing here and there to compare judgment on a work. Mainly they agreed, although Clark put his foot down when Bruce declared Gustav Klimt "jejune."

"You can slap whatever condescending label you want on it, Bruce, his paintings are gorgeous."

Bruce waved a dismissive hand at the image of Pallas Athena in her armor of glowing gold scales. "Come on, every college student in America has had a Klimt poster tacked on their wall at some point."


"Damn straight."

Later, Bruce finished prowling one gallery to come across Clark still staring at a piece of art by Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus." The simple ochre drawing of the angel with appalled eyes and outstretched hands seemed to grip his attention wholly. As Bruce drew near him, Clark said softly, almost to himself, "'The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.'"

Bruce continued the quote. "'But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them.'" When Clark startled and looked at him, he smiled and said, "Where'd you pick that up?"

"Oh, I must have read it somewhere, I don't remember where."

"It's Walter Benjamin writing about this drawing in "On the Concept of History," and you know it perfectly well." Clark shrugged dismissively. Bruce tilted his head and eyed him. "You're an interesting person, Clark Kent."

Clark opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say was cut off as the skylight above the two of them burst open and scattered shards of glass down on the people in the room.

From the shattered skylight descended a column of ice, and down the column a man clad in blue with a glass dome encasing his head. The room immediately filled with cold, frosty flowers blooming on every glass surface. The man looked about him, gesturing at his henchmen who had followed him in. They brandished canisters that emitted some kind of bluish, frigid smoke.

As the fumes filled the museum room, the museum-goers around Clark and Bruce started to slump to the ground. Through the haze, Bruce saw Clark slip down and grabbed at him, unable to avoid breathing in the gas as well. His last thought as he slipped into unconsciousness was, Oh great, another lunatic to deal with.

He dreamed of cold light and limitless tracks of snow and ice.

: : :

Clark shifted uncomfortably, his back against the wall where they had placed him. The smoke had done nothing to him, but it had seemed best to play along until he knew what Gotham's latest crazy was after. Then the henchmen had surprised him by going about the room, snapping some kind of cold, flexible restraints on people pair by pair, perhaps assuming that as they became conscious, being attached to each other would make it more difficult to escape or resist.

Thus Clark Kent found himself tied by the wrist to a sleeping Bruce Wayne and propped unceremoniously against a wall, listening to the villains discuss their plans. He had surreptitiously tried to break the restraint binding him to the playboy, but it was surprisingly strong. He was sure he could break them if he exerted himself, but he couldn't do that without calling attention to himself at this point.

This was...frustrating.

The room was cold to a level that humans would find very uncomfortable, although the villain--who seemed to call himself Mr. Freeze--seemed completely unaffected by it, even to relish it. Clark cringed to imagine the damage the frost was doing to the art in the museum. Freeze was commanding his underlings to look for something, although he seemed reluctant to tell them exactly what it was. As a result, his henchmen were bringing material from all over the museum, piling it up and letting Freeze sift through it.

Bruce was shivering in his sleep, his teeth chattering and his shoulders shaking. He had curled up in a fetal position facing Clark, tremors rattling his body. Clark gently wrapped Bruce's hands in his own and tried to will warmth into the other man.

In the middle of the room, Freeze was ranting--if you could call anything in such a flat tone "ranting"--at his followers. "No, no, no. Not this. Not this. Keep bringing me more. More. I must find it." He was muttering to himself as the other men left the room yet again. Clark focused on catching his words.

Then Bruce threw one arm over Clark's chest and slung a leg over his hips, nuzzling as close as possible to the warmth next to him.

He couldn't help it; Clark's eyes sprang open in shock for a moment. Before he closed them again hurriedly, he got a good look at the armful of shivering playboy wrapped around him, dark hair touched with frost and dark eyelashes shadowing pale cheeks. He felt like it had been burned onto his retinas.

He lay there carefully, trying to be warm and...unobtrusive. It was difficult with that knee flung so possessively and naturally across him, as if claiming him.

Clark had not been unaware of Bruce Wayne's attractiveness; one would have to be deaf and blind--and lack a sense of touch or smell--to not find the playboy utterly captivating. Physically. However, his personality had been so repugnant to Clark at first that Bruce's considerable beauty had been mainly wasted on him. And he had come to see Bruce's bravery, compassion, and intelligence so gradually that he had almost forgotten how gorgeous the man was. Until now.

Clark squirmed uncomfortably in Bruce's embrace, trying to keep the all-too-intrigued parts of his anatomy away from the questing knee. Bruce murmured something unintelligible and wrapped himself more tightly around Clark. Clark decided to focus on keeping Bruce warm--and, frankly, on enjoying the moment. Bruce Wayne could have his pick of any lovely creature in the world, was in fact probably dreaming Clark was one of them. He was certainly never going to waste a glance on a dorky, awkward reporter. Live in the now, Clark.

Another ten or so minutes passed with Clark listening to the robbers discuss what exactly "the boss" wanted and feeling Bruce's body, heavy and proprietary, on his. Kryptonian physiology was completely immune to relatively minor temperature changes like the ones this "Mr. Freeze" was capable of. So when Bruce woke up enough to pull abruptly away from him and roll onto his back, Clark had no reason--no reason at all, really--to feel cold without that leg across his hips.

After a reasonable interval, he slitted his eyes open to find Bruce watching his face for signs of consciousness from beneath lowered eyelashes. Seeing that Clark was awake, Bruce sidled nearer to get his mouth close enough to Clark's ear to whisper unnoticed. "They're looking for something specific. They haven't found whatever it is yet."

His breath was warm.

Clark whispered back, "What should we do?"

Of course, the obvious answer was "Lie low and hope no one kills a harmless reporter and feckless playboy."

Being around Bruce made Clark somehow less interested in the obvious answers.

Bruce said, "The other hostages are awake now, we could--"

A woman on the other side of Bruce hitched herself closer to him at the sound of their whispering. The villains, engrossed in pawing through their loot, continued to ignore their discussion.

"Do you two think you can do something about this?" Vivid blue-green eyes sparkled under short black hair. "If you two can create a distraction, I bet we can get the hostages out of here. There are only a couple of guards here right now..." The man she was shackled to looked decidedly less confident, but he nodded in agreement.

The sound of their whispering finally attracted the attention of Freeze, who came over and prodded Bruce in the side, not gently, with a foot. Bruce pulled himself--and by necessity, Clark--up to a crouch. "Do you know how much I'm worth, mister?" he demanded peevishly. "I suggest you let me go immediately."

Freeze made a sound not unlike a laugh. The two henchmen remaining in the room came to stand by him, attracted by the strange noise. "The item I'm seeking will fetch me a much tidier sum, I'm afraid."

"And what would that item be?" The black-haired woman had sidled away from the conversation and was whispering urgently to the other hostages.

"If I won't tell my 'trusted followers,' I'm certainly not going to tell you."

"Maybe I can help you find it." Clark could feel Bruce's body tense. Behind their backs, the cold hand tied to his squeezed his wrist. As Freeze started to respond, Bruce suddenly yelled, "Run!" and took off, yanking Clark along with him.

Bolts of icy energy spattered around them. Clark tried to keep his body between them and Bruce's as they charged down the marble hallways of the museum. Risking a glance behind them, he saw to his relief that one of the guards and Freeze were coming after them, leaving the hostages with only one distracted guard. He hoped they could take advantage of the opportunity.

As they hit a sloping, curved marble ramp, Clark felt his feet lose purchase and slide. In the cold, the marble had become coated with a fine sheet of ice. He and Bruce were now skating, gathering momentum as they went down the ramp, Freeze and his man shooting at them from the top.

Time seemed to slow down as Clark gripped Bruce's hand and they wheeled about like Olympic skaters. Clark could keep his balance easily, of course, but he knew that there was no way Clark Kent should be able to negotiate this ramp skillfully. He'd have to fall down in some way that looked clumsy, but landed them safely on the other end of the ramp. Thinking fast, he calculated the distance, velocity, and angles necessary, then flopped onto his back in a way that looked graceless but would position him to cushion Bruce's impact.

Out of the corner of his eye, like a flash-bulb impression in the middle of chaos, he saw Bruce go down in a heap at precisely the same angle and position.

Time started up again as they slammed into a large case, the impact shattering the glass doors. Clark managed to negotiate the end of the slide so he absorbed most of the impact, but before they could move again ice locked the two of them in place.

Freeze walked up to the case and took something out of it with a mirthless chuckle. "Gentlemen, thank you for leading me to exactly what I needed. Good day." Freeze walked off with the item--a book bound in maroon leather, covered with gilt engravings--tucked under one arm.

Clark let him go. A book was less important than making sure Bruce and the hostages were all right. The two of them managed to chip away the ice, Bruce cursing steadily under his breath, Clark exerting enough strength to go as fast as possible without being suspicious.

They got back to the entrance to find that the police had captured all of the henchmen except for the one that had gotten away with Freeze. The dark-haired woman who had led the hostages had disarmed and overpowered the remaining guard with no casualties. She came up to them as an officer worked on getting them out of their restraint, smiling at Bruce.

"Thank you for your help." Her crimson lips curved impishly. "Too bad he got away, but the two of you could hardly be expected to stop him."

Bruce raised her hand to his lips with his free hand. She covered her mouth with her other hand, clearly amused. "We were lucky to escape unharmed, frankly."

"All that work and he took...a book? Whatever for, I wonder?"

"As long as he's gone, I don't give a damn, my dear."

Clark looked off into the distance, wishing the policeman would get the restraint off a little faster so he could get out of Bruce's way. Bruce was complimenting the woman's quick thinking and action. "You were an inspiration."

"Well, it pained me to see priceless items treated with such disrespect. I'm a huge art lover." Her lips tilted upwards again, as if at a private joke. The handcuff finally released and Clark moved away to give the two some privacy. It was sheerly by accident that he happened to catch her saying "Well, perhaps I'll see you around then," shortly after, and heard Bruce's wingtips on the marble floor approaching him.

"The police seem to have given us leave to go, Clark. Shall we get out of here? I know it's late, but I have one more place I'd like to show you."

Bruce's last scenic location was the observation deck from one of the tallest buildings in Gotham. It was closed for the evening, but some persuasion (both charismatic and monetary) opened it to Bruce. The two of them stood alone overlooking the city, glowing like a black diamond below them.

Bruce leaned on the rail, looking out. His lean face was proprietary and proud. "What do you think of my city now, Clark?"

"It's lovely." Bruce smiled, lit up from within like a lamp. "Even if it's full of crazy people." The smile turned rueful.

"That it is, Clark. I have to admit that."

"Two nights ago an exploded building, tonight a museum things like this often happen to you?"

Bruce's eyebrows shot skyward; he placed a theatrical hand, fingers outspread, on his chest. "Happen to me? Might I point out that these events have, by definition, happened to you as well?"

"They never used to. I think you're a bad influence on me."

Bruce chuckled and went back to looking out at his city. After a moment Clark joined him. Far off in the distance he could hear liquid, crystalline shattering sounds. The massive columns and sheets of ice in the museum were thawing.

Chapter Text

I heard the sweep
Of mighty wings, that in their waving keep
The music that the spheres make endlessly...
(Philip Bourke Marston)

Batman stood on top of the Metropolis building where he had met Superman a few days earlier. He didn't particularly feel like calling out for the Kryptonian's attention, so he simply stood there and hoped that eventually the alien would notice him.

He hadn't waited for very long before Superman floated up to the roof, perching with inhuman grace on the railing. Kal crossed his arms and eyed him in a way that Batman would have called "warily" if the other party weren't invulnerable.

"Any leads on the WayneTech building?"

"I've tracked down the company that made the explosives and I suspect it's got links to Luthor."

Superman looked puzzled. "Why would Luthor want to destroy his partner's building?"

"Maybe he wants to keep Wayne guessing, paranoid. He's probably assured Wayne that he's the only one who can keep him safe." This was, as a matter of fact, true. "It's a way of keeping Wayne cowed and in line, since he's not the brightest to begin with."

Now the alien's chiseled mouth tightened in obvious irritation, but he said nothing.

"You've been keeping an eye on that rig? Any sign that it's found anything interesting?"

"Again, I'd have no reason to inform you if it had, but as far as I can tell, no."

Batman felt frustration rise in him as he looked at that remote face in the moonlight. "Superman. Kal. Whatever it is, I don't want to get my hands on it to hurt you."

"Oh?" Disbelief freighted the clear, deep voice.

"It's just...a precaution. What if someone found a way to control you, somehow? You're so powerful, Kal. You can't blame humanity for being concerned."

"And by 'humanity,' you mean...?"

There was a long pause. Superman descended onto the roof fully, his feet landing with the softest of thuds, and looked up at the stars. "Sometimes...I'm amazed anyone trusts me at all. I'm not human. How can people know my motivations? I'm so different." He sounded, briefly, very tired.

Batman felt a perverse impulse grip him, maybe a knee-jerk tendency to disagree with anything the alien said. "Don't flatter yourself. You're not that mysterious and inscrutible. You rescue kittens from trees. Little kids from traffic accidents. You might be an alien, but you obviously care about the same things we do. You value humans, even if you weren't raised as one."

Kal's face was still in the silver light, completely expressionless, looking up at the sky and not meeting Batman's eyes.

Batman shrugged, suddenly almost embarrassed. "Not that I trust you to stay, or to remain satisfied with serving us instead of ruling us. I'm just saying." He stopped there because he wasn't sure what he was saying. He made a mental note not to let irritation prompt him into making speeches merely for the sake of argument in the future.

Changing the subject seemed like a good idea. "You wanted to have some way we could get in touch with each other. Here." He wanted to get back to Gotham very badly all of a sudden.

Superman took the little device he held out. "What is it?"

"It's a pager of sorts. Transmits voice across a secure frequency. Lets you get in touch with me if you need to."

"Or you to get in touch with me."

"Unlikely." Superman nodded gravely at Batman's flat statement and pocketed the tiny device somehow. Batman couldn't see any pockets in the outfit, but it was gone. "I'm getting back to Gotham now." He disappeared into the shadows as best as one could when dealing with super-hearing and x-ray vision.

A couple of hours later, speeding in his roadster back toward Gotham, Bruce Wayne heard the little pager chirp. He picked it up, dropped his voice to Batman register. "Kal?"

"Batman?" A pause. "Thank you."

Batman grunted and closed the connection. Bruce Wayne stepped on the gas. Clark usually got in to his hotel room around now and he wanted to check on the reporter.

: : :

Clark Kent sipped his morning coffee, grimacing at its bitterness. As soon as he started up his laptop and connected to the Internet, a chat window popped up. Bruce Wayne. Clark hadn't heard from Bruce for a couple of days, since they had parted with Bruce promising to look into the lead he had gotten at the soup kitchen. Now it seemed the lead had panned out somewhat. Bruce had a time and place to meet someone who might have known someone who was involved in the bombing. Was Clark interested in coming along?

Count me in. Clark certainly wasn't going to let Bruce keep risking his skin in some foolhardy adventure on his own.

The meeting was this evening, at some sort of Gotham club. Bruce gave him the name and address. What should I wear to blend in?

A delay. Oh, anything is fine. Something comfortable.

After Bruce signed off, Clark frowned and typed the club name into Google. He stared at the club's home page, unsure whether to be annoyed or amused. Something comfortable. Bastard.

After a while, amusement won out. Clark drained his coffee, paid up for his access time, and left the café. He had some errands to run.

: : :

Bruce Wayne waited outside the club for Clark to show up, lounging against a wall and watching the club's exotically-dressed and glittering patrons come in and out. He chuckled slightly to himself. It was probably cruel of him to leave the reporter in the dark about the nature of this club, but he needed Clark to provide a distraction, and it would work better if the country mouse didn't know what he was getting into.

Bruce's ensemble--a black mesh shirt with leather lacing at the neck, black leather duster and pants--was almost embarrassingly tame for a cutting-edge cross-dressing bar. He had to admit he was looking forward to seeing how a sweatshirt and jeans would go over here. It would probably be applauded as an ironic postmodern statement. Bruce was so busy scanning the crowd for Clark's familiar "Smallville" logo that he didn't notice one of the more exotically-dressed patrons walking up to him.

"Bruce?" said the man in Clark's voice.

Clark Kent was dressed in a flowing shirt of some glimmering golden cloth, brushed with a feathery pattern and open at the neck. Midnight-blue velvet pants tied with a wide sash and laced-up leather boots completed the outfit. He had traded in the heavy black glasses for something oval and lilac-colored; behind them his blue eyes were lined with metallic gilt, the lids painted with peacock-blue. His dark hair was so thick with gold dust that it gleamed in the streetlights. The effect should probably have been effeminate; it was not. Rather, Clark seemed to have transcended gender altogether. With his high cheekbones, pale skin and chiseled lips, he looked ethereal, otherworldly. Bruce felt a shiver go up his spine.

Then the other man ducked his head and smiled, Clark's familiar aw-shucks smile, and Bruce felt himself back on more familiar ground. He realized he was staring unabashedly and pulled his eyes away to case the crowd of patrons--who seemed much more mundane now.

"Nice outfit," said Clark. "You should wear leather more often, it suits you."

Bruce hid his smile and gave Clark an exaggeratedly appreciative once-over. "I've got nothing on you. That's...impressive."

Clark merely smiled rather enigmatically. "When should the person you're planning on meeting get here?"

"We're about fifteen minutes early."

"Well, I'm just glad it was tonight. I just got word this afternoon I'm to go back to Metropolis tomorrow."


"Well, I've finished collecting the information I needed to, wrote that background story...I've done all that I can do here."

Bruce felt at a loss. "It just seems kind of...sudden."

Clark grinned, turquoise blue eyeshadow glinting in the light as his eyes creased. "Gotham's a great city to visit, Bruce, but I don't think I could live here." He looked directly at Bruce, his gold-streaked hair falling almost into his eyes, his face serious again. "Don't worry, I'll keep in touch." Before Bruce could respond, Clark turned and made his way into the club.

Inside the club itself the crowd surged in a tumultuous wave of glitter, latex, and metal. High-pitched electronic music throbbed urgently and plaintively, with a trance-like rhythm. Bruce leaned against the bar and ordered them both drinks. Clark drank his gingerly, looking rather like a blue-and-gold butterfly sipping nectar. Finally Bruce spotted his contact. He grabbed Clark. "I need you to go dance."

Clark stared at him. "What?"

"I need to talk to that guy over there, and I need to be seen doing it by as few people as possible. Thus, I need a diversion."

"You think my dancing will provide a" Clark indicated the seething frenzy of exotic people.

"Clark, looking like that, you could distract God himself, I suspect." He kept his voice light and tried not to notice the sudden high color in those incredible cheekbones. Clark looked like he wasn't sure if he'd been complimented or insulted. He took another sip of his drink, then suddenly looked worried.

"But I don't know how to dance."


"I don't know how to dance, Bruce. I've never danced before in my life."

"Are you kidding me?"

Clark shot him a glittering look. "Bruce, do you know why good Midwestern Christians disapprove of sex?"


"Because they're afraid it might lead to dancing." The look was definitely sly for a moment, then it sobered again. "But seriously, I have no idea how to dance."

Bruce waved his hands helplessly, indicating the frenetic dance floor. "Dancing is...just dancing. You just close your eyes and hear the music and move your body the way the music wants you to."

Clark looked at him gravely. "I can try."

Bruce clapped a friendly hand on the other man's shoulder. Gold fabric slipped under his fingers like liquid. "I'm sure you'll do your best." He pushed Clark slightly toward the dance floor and started to make his way toward the contact.

Clark walked toward the dance floor. He knew he must look strange in all this silky, velvety fabric. The music was insistent and repetitive. He was fairly sure, if he remembered correctly, that a good Kansas farm boy shouldn't feel comfortable in these clothes, shouldn't feel like they fit him better than the suits he wore every day.

He hesitated on the edge of the crowd of dancers, shooting a look back at Bruce. The playboy might not realize it, but he was entirely transfigured by his outfit as well, tame as it might be here. The mesh and leather seemed to pare away everything affected and superfluous about him, leaving only a sense of predatory grace. He had brushed his hair in long strands on his forehead and along his face; his only adornments were the dark kohl smudged around his eyes and one dangling earring with a pale moonstone in it, glowing against his cheek. He looked back, saw Clark hesitating, and gave him a reassuring smile.

Clark stepped onto the floor. People were already looking at him. Just close your eyes and hear the music and move your body the way the music wants you to.

Clark closed his eyes.

Kal heard the music.

: : :

Clark was dancing. Bruce supposed it was dancing. It seemed to be part dancing, and a good part--a very good part--sex, and part...skating? Swimming?

After a while, he managed to tear his eyes away and back to the contact. Who was also staring at Clark, like almost everyone in the room. Annoyed, Bruce snapped his fingers at the man. "Hey, eyes here." The man--who was friends with a man who had planted the explosives that had leveled WayneCorp's offices--gave Bruce some information and some names, in between sneaking glances at Clark. Then he scuttled off.

Business out of the way, Bruce turned back to watching Clark. As he watched the man dance, his eyes closed, lost in the music, Bruce suddenly felt a suspicion seize him. It seemed impossible, but he forced himself to look at it seriously. The more he considered it, the more he had to admit that it was oddly plausible. It explained so much--Clark's diffident ways, the feeling that he was always keeping something hidden, his shyness and remoteness, the incredible physique he kept hidden under those ill-cut suits.

Not that Bruce had been paying attention to his physique.

Once he had seen it, the enigma that was Clark suddenly made perfect sense, the pieces fell into place, and Bruce cursed himself for an idiot for not having seen it sooner.

It might seem far-fetched, but was it not possible that Clark Kent...was gay?

He would, of course, be in the closet--Metropolis was a much more straight-laced town than many, and Clark wouldn't want to risk his job.

Watching Clark dancing, breathtaking and exotic, Bruce felt a pang thinking what it must be like, growing up in a small Midwestern town and knowing in your heart you were so different. As a teenager, Bruce had learned--somewhat to his chagrin--that in "The City that Makes San Francisco Blush," being bisexual warranted barely a raised eyebrow. But in America's heartland, Clark must have always felt isolated, alone. He had grown up surrounded by people who saw an important part of him as not even human. Bruce ached to think of the life the young Clark must have lived, always hiding something, learning to deny that side of himself and keep it locked away. He looked at Clark, his face rapt and lovely, the way his body moved beneath the velvet and the shining cloth.

How could anyone deny something so beautiful?

Another song began and Bruce realized that he had been watching Clark for some time now, and the other man had never stopped dancing or even opened his eyes. He didn't even seem slightly out of breath. Most of the patrons of the club were still watching him in open fascination. Bruce felt--something--flicker through him, but he wouldn't look at it closely. He just knew that he didn't like having all those people watching Clark. Admittedly, he had sent the man out as a diversion, but that diversion was over now, and no one should be staring at Clark except--well, no one should be staring at Clark.

He made his way onto the floor and up to Clark, speaking loudly to overcome the sound of the music still ebbing and flowing around them. "Clark, you can stop now." The other man didn't seem to hear him. "Clark? That's probably enough. Hello? Clark?" Still no response. The other man continued his strange, weaving dance, lost in whatever world he had entered. "Clark!"

Almost alarmed now, Bruce put out his hands and grabbed Clark's shoulders. Clark's blue eyes leapt open in shock and he stopped dead, one hip coming to rest slightly against Bruce's. He blinked. "Bruce?" His voice was strange and distant. He shook his head sharply, once, then twice; golden dust rose from his hair like an aureole.

Bruce continued to hold him by one shoulder, steering him toward the bar. "Come on, let's get you sitting down." Clark followed meekly, his eyes dazed. He sat down but stared straight ahead, blankly, until Bruce waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Earth to Clark? Come in, Clark." Then he shook his head again, more slowly.

"I...I don't think that was a very good idea."

Bruce spoke lightly to try and mask the disquiet he felt. "Are you kidding? As a distraction, it was stellar."

Clark closed his eyes. "Stellar. Ha ha." It wasn't a laugh; he articulated the syllables as if he had read in a book somewhere that "ha ha" meant laughing, and was mouthing the sounds by rote now.

It must be a reaction to the noise and the crowds and lights. Maybe he was allergic to all that damn gold dust in his hair. Bruce tried to pull him back with some conversation. "Have you ever tried dancing like that with a partner, Clark?"

Clark opened his eyes again. They looked, but horribly tired. "I don't...I don't think that's actually possible."

"Nonsense. Any dance can be danced with a partner."

"Maybe not that one."

"You just haven't met the right partner then. I'd love to see it when you do, someday." He eyed Clark's exhausted face, then stood up and pulled the reporter from his seat. "Come on, I'm taking you back to your hotel room."

: : :

To walk: to move by advancing the feet alternately so that there is always one foot on the ground in bipedal locomotion. Clark was walking. One foot on the ground at all times. First the right foot. Then the left foot. Right foot, left foot. See Clark walk. Walk, Clark, walk. Bruce was beside him. Right foot. Left foot. Each one had to hit the ground before the other one could be picked up. It seemed like a very long walk.

Eventually they reached Clark's hotel. Bruce followed him in without being invited and pulled him into the bathroom when he tried to go lie down. "No, I want to get that glitter out of your hair. I think it's what's making you sick." He got Clark on his knees next to the bathtub and started to run the water. "So this is the mysterious bathroom," Kal heard him mutter over the gushing water.

Clark was pushed, unresisting, over the edge of the bathtub. He felt warm water sluicing over his head, felt Bruce's hands stroking through his hair to get all the gold out of it. By the time Bruce was rubbing his hair with a towel, Kal had pulled himself together enough to make the other man leave the bathroom while he changed. He hadn't been wearing the costume due to the low neck of his club clothes, but he still didn't really feel like getting undressed like a child by Bruce Wayne.

He emerged from the bathroom to find Bruce standing by the bed, the sheets turned down. "Lie down and promise me you'll get some sleep, not get back up and work when I leave."

Kal was too tired and distracted to argue. He nodded and crawled into bed; Bruce pulled the sheets up around him. He felt Bruce's hand on his shoulder.

"I'm going to let you try and get some sleep now, Clark." He squeezed Clark's shoulder. "I'll..." He paused. "I'll be keeping an eye on you, okay?" Kal nodded again, only half-listening. He heard the door shut.

Kal lay in bed...Clark lay in bed, trying to sleep. Eventually he put his pillow over his head, but that was ridiculous and didn't help at all. It was much worse than usual tonight.

Most of the time he could manage to lull himself to sleep by imagining concrete sensations. Usually it was the feel of soil in his hands, the smell of earth, the sound of the wind in the cornfields. He could fill his mind with them and that would help.

Tonight, however, it was the feel of water in his hair, and hands as warm and gentle as water, and Bruce Wayne's soft voice reassuring him. At some point, it was enough to lead him into something like sleep, away from the stars.

Chapter Text

The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history. (Oscar Wilde)

Bruce stepped out of the shower, threw on a robe and slippers, and hurried down to the cave. He quickly started up his computer and opened the window that looked into a seedy hotel room that had become as familiar as his own rooms over the last week. It was hard to believe that tomorrow Kent would be returning to Metropolis and would no longer be in a window on Bruce's computer. Bruce had kind of gotten used to it.

At the moment, Clark Kent was curled up in a fetal position with a pillow over his head. Bruce frowned. The reporter had been acting very oddly this evening. Allergies? A reaction to the noise and chaos of the club?

It seemed to be linked to the dancing...was it possible dancing had some terrible association for Clark Kent in the past, that tonight's events had triggered memories of it? Horrific scenarios ran through Bruce's mind, mostly involving young Clark being taunted, beaten, assaulted for being different. His hands clenched and his stomach rebelled at the idea of anyone hurting Clark, touching that otherworldly, lovely face with anything other than tenderness...he stalked off into a shadowy part of the cave and kicked a practice dummy viciously with his slippered feet for a while, which made him feel better.

He came back to check his computer.

Clark had rolled over onto his back, his arms flung out to his sides. Bruce polished a couple of shuriken.

Back to check the computer.

Clark was definitely asleep now, he was even smiling slightly and looked much better than he had earlier. Relieved, Bruce went off to practice lockpicking for a little while.

Back to the computer.

At this point it seemed easier to just stay at the computer. He pulled out a manual on explosives and started reading.

Eventually, he became aware of a couple of things more or less simultaneously. The first was that he hadn't gotten past the fifth page of the manual and had been, instead, watching Clark sleep.

The second was that under the light cotton sheet, Clark Kent was definitely aroused. And at about the same time Bruce became aware of that, the sheets moved in such a way as to make it clear that the half-asleep reporter was reaching down to stroke himself. The figure on the bed arched his back and murmured something, as the hand under the sheet settled into a steady rhythm.

The book dropped to the ground as Bruce hastily reached for the mouse to close the window. He shouldn't be watching this.

He paused.

He had told Clark he would keep an eye on him. What if the man had some kind of relapse? He decided to compromise and adjusted the camera so that it was tightly focused on Clark's face. That way he couldn't see the details of what Clark's body was doing. That should help.

The screen showed only Clark's face. There were smudges of gold dust on his cheeks, and the night vision of the camera gave the angles of his face an odd luminous look, strange and yet somehow familiar. With his glasses off, he looked more Clark that Bruce had seen at the club, fey, almost preternaturally handsome. Bruce could see his eyes moving rapidly behind the delicate lids and he couldn't help but wonder who Clark was seeing in his mind's eye. The dreamy, rapt smile on his face made it clear that whoever it might be was a damn lucky person.

As Bruce watched, the tip of Clark's tongue wetted his lower lip languorously, and then his teeth sank into the lip and his face tightened in ecstacy.

Bruce caught his breath and realized that changing the camera angle had not been a good idea at all. It merely made it possible to see every flicker of desire that passed over that fine-boned face like the northern lights in a starry sky...Jesus God, he should not be watching this. He really shouldn't.

He reached out, but that was most definitely not the computer mouse his hand ended up wrapped around. Pleasure sank its hooks deep into him, and he heard his hissing intake of breath echo through the cave. His eyes narrowed involuntarily, but he kept them open enough to see Clark's face on the monitor. He had to. He couldn't look away, couldn't stop looking at Clark's face, lost in dreams and clouded with lust. God. He shouldn't be...

He didn't care any more.

The reporter groaned and squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. The groan shifted register abruptly in the middle, became a rattling purr that felt like velvet rubbed all over Bruce's body, making him shudder uncontrollably. He found his strokes matching the insistent rhythm of Clark's breathing, as if they were somehow in synch, his own breath becoming more and more short until he was nearly panting. He wondered how Clark would feel under his hand, how Clark's hand would feel, tightly around him, and desire surged through him so strongly that he whimpered. Clark's long eyelashes trembling on his cheeks as he imagined his lover before him, God, oh God, so beautiful.

He should have climaxed by now, quivering and aching on the brink, but he couldn't seem to get over that last edge. It was like his body was waiting for something, some cue or trigger. Clark's hoarse breathing was the metronome his blood was thundering to, Clark's face the only thing in his vision. He could see Clark's features tightening, sharpening in anticipation as he readied for the climax that was about to overcome him. Bruce could hardly bear how good it felt, hovering, waiting. He wanted it to last forever. He couldn't stand it for one more second. He heard himself moan, a desperate whisper: "Please..."

Clark threw his head back, showing his pale throat, gripped by rapture, and he opened his mouth and

he said a name

he said--

said someone's name

and Ah it was like an electric cable applied directly to the base of Bruce's spine and Jesus he whiplashed back into his chair like when the tumbler accelerated at full speed and Clark it raged across him like fire and God, Clark, yes he was annihilated and consumed and remade and he welcomed it.

Eventually he pulled himself together enough to stand up. Clark was fully asleep again, a smile curving his lips gently. Stars and mist moved in front of Bruce's vision as he staggered up the stairs to the apartment in the stables and stumbled into the shower. He turned the water to "scalding" and stripped out of his robe. He stood under the water, still shaking a little.

He wanted to be angry at Clark.

He wanted to be furious at himself.

He wanted to be enraged at the world, at fate, for unceremoniously dropping this in his lap.

But more than any of those things, he wanted to hear that voice of starlight and electricity saying that name again, saying it to him and for him and because of him.

He wanted Clark Kent, body and soul, more than he had wanted anything in a very long time.

He stood with his head under the steaming water, hands braced against the shower wall, and knew there wasn't going to be any putting this away, or even putting it off.

He was Bruce Wayne.

He was used to getting what he wanted.

: : :

Clark Kent was waiting for the train to Metropolis the next morning, back in his gray suit and hat, when Bruce Wayne showed up on the platform. He shrugged at Clark's surprise. "I just wanted to see you off. And check on how you're doing, make sure you're okay. You had me worried there last night."

Clark laughed dismissively. "Oh, no problem, I'm fine. Thanks for getting me back in one piece, though. I did get to sleep eventually."

"Pleasant dreams?" Bruce asked innocently.

Clark smiled guilelessly. "Very."

Bruce bounced up and down on the balls of his feet a bit. The train would be here soon. "Look, Clark, I'll probably be down in Metropolis next week. Luthor wants to show me he's making progress--I know, I know," he added hastily at Clark's expression, "I'll be careful. Anyway, while I'm down there, maybe you'd be willing to show me Metropolis? Your turn to show off your favorite restaurant?"

Clark put out his hand for Bruce to shake. "Sounds good." As Bruce took his hand, the smile on Clark's face turned impish. "Why, Mr. Wayne...are you asking me on a date?" he said. The look on his face was sly, self-deprecating. Check it out, Bruce, I have a sense of humor after all.

Bruce cleared his throat.

"Actually. Um. Yes, I think I am."

The smile was wiped from Clark's face, to be replaced by a startled look, like a wild animal suddenly considering bolting. Bruce held onto the handshake, meeting Clark's stare.

"You 'think?'" said Clark.

"I am," Bruce amended hastily. "I am...asking you on a date." Bruce felt a qualm pass through him at Clark's blank look. That someone's fun to think about while jerking off doesn't mean you enjoy their company, idiot, idiot... Then Clark smiled, a shy, almost delighted smile. Bruce caught his breath, too busy relishing the smile to worry about Clark's answer for a moment.

"All right then. It's a date."

The train whistle broke into the moment and Clark let go of Bruce's hand--just a bit slowly--to pick up his bag. "I'll see you in Metropolis, Bruce."

Bruce watched the train disappear to the south, toward Metropolis. The fall air was crisp and cool and he knew had a ridiculously goofy smile on his face and right now he wasn't even sure he cared.

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Chapter Text

Clark Kent was catching up on a backload of paperwork from the week he had spent in Gotham. He stared disbelievingly at the pile of forms he had to fill out to get reimbursed for his nights at that fleabag hotel. In triplicate. He sighed and pushed his glasses up on his nose again.

On the plus side, he had gotten an email last night from Bruce Wayne saying he'd be in town today and maybe they could get together? He had told Bruce to meet him here at the Planet at noon. If he got this paperwork done by then, maybe he could have lunch with Bruce.

He grinned and reached for the next form.

Clark knew perfectly well that Bruce was just jerking his chain with that whole "dating" rigamorole, but he didn't really mind as long as it was Bruce Wayne that was kidding him about it. After all, that was what human males did with their friends, right? Tease them about their putative sexual orientation? Clark was rusty about a lot of male friendship rituals, but he was fairly certain he remembered that one correctly. So if Bruce making jokes about dating him was the price he paid for Bruce's friendship--the word warmed him just thinking it--he would grin and bear it. Hell, he'd relish it.

A friend.

It was nearly noon when the little device Batman had given him buzzed almost silently in his breast pocket. Clark went into the bathroom and made sure it was empty before pulling out the tiny black gadget. "Yes?"

"I've got some information you ought to know," rasped the Dark Knight's voice.

"Good morning to you too." It was very strange to be talking like Superman while not in costume. Clark had to stand up straight to get the chest room to make his voice as resonant as it needed to be, which felt very unnatural in his street clothes. "I was actually just about to call you. Is there a chance you can come down to Metropolis soon?"

A pause. "It's a bit of a trip for me, Kal. Is there some reason you need me there?"

"There's something I need to physically check out, and I'd like you there with me. Our mutual friend."

"You know, I do have a daytime life in Gotham, I can't flit from city to city like you do, free of a secret identity to tie you down."

Clark Kent, standing in a dingy bathroom stall, rolled his eyes at the peeling paint on the ceiling. "Are you going to whine or are you going to come down to Metropolis?"

An annoyed grunt. "I can probably be there by this evening. Will midnight do? The top of the Daily Planet?"

"The Daily Planet?"

"It's the most obvious landmark in Metropolis."

"Point taken. Tonight, then."

A slightly more affirmative grunt and the connection was broken without a further word. Clark glared at the silent communicator for a moment, then tapped it again.


"You seem a bit out of sorts," Superman said sweetly. "You're not upset that I found the little tracking device in this thing and disabled it, are you?"

A cut-off snarl was his only answer. Clark grinned and felt somewhat better as he made his way back to his desk. He had hardly taken his seat when he spotted Bruce Wayne's lean, elegant figure entering the office. His heart leapt, and he tamped it down as ruthlessly as he could.

Stupid heart. Sometimes it didn't seem to know it wasn't human.

Bruce Wayne entered the Daily Planet offices, scanning the room for Clark's familiar form. Clark had already seen him; when he caught Bruce's eye he raised a hand to beckon him over. The reporter was in full dork mode--his hair was rumpled, his glasses smudged, his posture slumped and graceless. Bruce had a moment's surreally sharp vision--Clark's gold-dusted face lifted in ecstacy, the sculpted body under that ill-fitting suit--and nearly stumbled as the office swam around him. Clark was like the most wonderful Christmas present ever, wrapped up in ugly brown paper, shining and glittering inside, and waiting for Bruce to unwrap him. It. Another delightful secret Bruce Wayne intended to keep entirely to himself.

He made his way over to Clark's desk, pulled up a chair to sit down next to him. "I don't know how you can work here," he said, indicating the chaotic office. "It's a zoo." The editor-in-chief was yelling at someone in his office, and three different televisions were playing three different stations.

Clark shrugged. "You learn to tune it out. I hope the traffic wasn't too bad on the way down?"

Before Bruce could answer, a child's voice cut across the noise of the office: "Clark, Clark!" A boy, about five years old, was running in between the desks with the ease of long familiarity, stopping at Clark's. "We got out of school early today," he said, looking expectantly at Clark.

Clark grinned and tapped the boy on the nose with a finger. "Ask politely, Jason."

Jason rolled his eyes, smiling. "May I please play with your action figures, Clark?"

Clark opened up a desk drawer, revealing a jumble of jointed plastic figures. There was one with claws and one big one with green skin, but Bruce groaned inwardly as the kid went right for the one in black. Shadowy vigilantes could seldom retain control of their image.

"Jason, this is Bruce Wayne. Bruce, this is Jason Lane. He's the son of one of my co-workers." Jason made a non-committal greeting noise, focused on getting the Batman figure's limbs posed the way he wanted. Once he was satisfied, he started to run about the office with the figure held in a flying position, its arms outstretched and cape flapping. He halted in front of Bruce and grinned impishly.

Bruce couldn't help himself. "Batman doesn't fly," he said quellingly. "That's Superman's job."

Jason scoffed. "Clark won't buy a Superman figure, he says they look dumb."

"No dumber than that Batman does." That didn't look anything like his chin. He should feel glad, but instead he felt annoyed that some Taiwanese toy company had given Batman a weak chin. That Clark had a Batman doll--action figure--with a weak chin.

He was pathetic.

The boy shrugged. "Batman's kind of lame anyway. Superman's the coolest."

"Jason," said Clark, "It's not nice to call people lame. And Batman's not lame at all."

"He's just some guy in a mask, there's nothing special about him."

Clark plucked the black-clad action figure from Jason's hands. "And that is why he's cooler than Superman. He risks his life every day without any powers at all. Which is totally awesome." He held the Batman figure in front of the boy, pointing at him with one accusatory gauntlet. "Apologize to Batman, Jason."

Jason rolled his eyes again, but when Clark showed no sign of relinquishing the toy, he said laughingly, "I'm sorry, Batman. I was wrong, you totally rock." Clark handed over the figure. Jason took it and grinned at Clark, shaking his head. "You are such a dork, Clark." The child's voice was full of the affectionate condescension kids have toward the odder adults in their lives.

"Jason! Stop bothering Clark," came a woman's voice from the door of the editor's office. She smiled at Clark apologetically.

"It's no bother at all, Lois," said Clark hastily.

Lois came over and ruffled the boy's unruly hair, smiling at Bruce. "Clark has let himself be turned into our ad hoc workplace daycare provider. He always keeps Jason entertained when he's around." The boy now had Batman easily beating the Hulk in hand-to-hand combat, a result Bruce found improbable but satisfying.

Clark shrugged again, watching the battle and grinning. "It's really my pleasure."

"We're off to lunch. Jason, give Clark his dolls back."

"Mom, they're action figures," complained the child, as he reluctantly handed back the toys.

"Right, right," said Lois tolerantly, rolling her eyes as she ushered the child out.

"Get a Superman one, Clark!" Jason called back over his shoulder at the door.

Bruce watched Lois and her child disappear through the door and raised an eyebrow at Clark. "Lois Lane, the Pulitzer Prize-winner, is your child-endangering co-worker?"

Clark bristled. "Lois and Richard are wonderful parents and they love Jason with all their hearts. He's a very lucky boy."

Bruce shrugged and changed the subject. "I have time for lunch before I have to go meet Luthor, and we still haven't set a time for our date tonight."

Clark grinned to himself at the "date" but decided not to rise to the bait this time. "I thought we'd get some subs and eat in the park. It's a nice day."

Their sandwiches purchased, Clark found them a bench in the park and they sat, eating companionably and eyeing the city around them. Clark sighed.

"You know, I really can't show you Metropolis with the same sort of intensity you showed me Gotham. It's not where I grew up, and I've only lived here for a few months altogether. I'm still practically a stranger here." He chewed a bite of sandwich thoughtfully, looking rather sad.

"When I was about ten, my parents brought me here on vacation. I remember how overwhelming it all was, all the people and the traffic. It felt like being in the heart of the world, listening to it beat. I knew I wanted to live here when I grew up. But Metropolis isn't like Gotham. What you see is pretty much what you get."

"Like Superman," said Bruce.

"Is Superman that simple to you?" Clark was honestly curious. He didn't feel simple.

His companion waved his sub vaguely. "Like you said, what you see is what you get. He's a big, good-hearted alien. The parts of him we can't understand I figure we'll never understand, and the parts of him we do are pretty uncomplicated."

Well, at least he'd gotten a "good-hearted" out of him. "You make him sound shallow."

"Not shallow, just...uninteresting." Bruce's voice was dismissive, and Clark was suddenly angry. He knew he didn't have any right to be--hadn't he deliberately kept "Clark Kent" a secret so that no one would know he had a human side? Hadn't he done it in part to see how ordinary humans felt about the world, and about him?

But this wasn't "an ordinary human." This was Bruce Wayne, and his contempt stung a surprising amount.

"What have you got against Superman, anyway? What'd he ever do to you, huh, that you'd spend your time and money looking for a way to keep him in check?"

Bruce flared up in answer to the challenge in Clark's tone. "What'd he do to me? I learned early, Clark, that evil is strong and powerful and most humans are powerless. Then when I'm about to graduate from college, here comes this alien who has what most of don't have--power. The power to really change things, the power to bring hope against the darkness. And what does he do with that power? He leaves. He left us alone in the dark again. And the week after he left, I found out my parents' killer was going to walk free."

He was glaring at Clark now but didn't seem to see him. "You know what I did? I decided that the only power we petty humans had was the power to take life, to destroy and hurt. So I got a gun and I went to kill my parents' murderer." He gave Clark a look that was part defiance and part misery.

"But...but you didn't do that. You changed your mind."

"I didn't do it because someone else did it first, that's all. No nobility on my part." Bruce crumpled up the paper bag the sandwich had been in and tossed it angrily at a wastebasket. "You know how in the Pandora story, Hope is the last thing out of the box? Some people say that's because Hope was the last mitigating gift, but that day I knew better. I knew Hope was the last and cruelest curse of the gods to humanity."

His voice was full of echoes of bitterness and pain, and Clark found himself nearly speechless in response. He struggled for words. "You told me back in Gotham that it was a great city because it had hope. You--somewhere, you found hope again, you learned to trust it again."

Bruce sighed. "Sometimes I wish I hadn't." He stood up abruptly, his face shuttered. "I have to go meet up with Luthor." He turned and started to walk away.

Clark stood up as well. He wanted to apologize, but he couldn't apologize on Superman's behalf. The enormity of his decision to leave Earth stunned him once again. The effects had spread like ripples he had never considered, breaking on the shores of a younger version of Bruce Wayne, tormented by hope.

He ran a few steps after Bruce, then called after him. "Hey!" The other man stopped, turned halfway around. Clark realized he had no idea what to say. "What about our date? We haven't set a time and place to meet later."

"How about we meet at seven-thirty, right here?" Bruce smiled, a beautiful, rueful smile. Then he walked back to where Clark was standing, reached out and brushed a thumb along one of Clark's cheekbones. "See what I mean? Hope."

Clark stood there like an idiot and watched Bruce leave the park, that light touch still burning along his cheek.

: : :

Few men could successfully pull off wearing a purple suit, Bruce Wayne reflected. Lex Luthor was not one of those men.

"Brucie!" exclaimed Luthor, managing to pump his hand vigorously, pound him on the back, and ruffle his hair almost immediately. A new record. "I'm so glad you're safe and sound and back here in my city."

Bruce smiled and bobbed his head. His city. In his dreams. "Gosh, Mr. Luthor, I'm glad to be back too. I've been so nervous up in Gotham."

"We'll figure out who did that to your offices, m'boy. And then, you and me, we'll crush 'em." Luthor made an enthusiastic crushing motion with one hand.

"Speaking of crushing, how goes the work on the rig?"

Luthor's expression fell. "Oh, we've found all kinds of valuable crap, just not what we're looking for."

"Actually, you still haven't told me what exactly we're looking for."

"I told you--the green mineral that hurts Superman," Luthor explained as if to a small child. Bruce hadn't been expecting a discussion of the chemical composition and refractive properties of the crystal, but he would have liked something a little more specific than that. But Luthor was continuing, one arm still slung over Bruce's shoulders, "I thought I'd show you the rig today." He guided Bruce to an elevator which let them out on the roof next to a helicopter.

"Wow, that's fantastic, Mr. Luthor!" This time Bruce's enthusiasm was at least partly sincere. He had wanted to get a look at that rig close-up for a long time.

A few hours later, Bruce had gotten a good feel for the layout of the mining rig. That might be useful later. He hadn't seen anything that looked suspicious...beyond Luthor's suspicious pride in the fact that he had such very large and powerful drills at his command.

Luthor leaned against a railing, gazing out at "his city." Bruce stood next to him. He wished Clark were there. Clark would shoot Bruce a sideways look full of laughter, and Lex would seem ridiculous and small, just a silly little man.

"This is all great, Mr. Luthor...but if whatever we're looking for is dangerous to Superman, why has he let us continue looking? He could sink this whole thing easily."

Luthor clapped his hands together in delight and self-congratulation. "The first thing you need to know about Superman, young man, is that he has an aversion to taking life and destroying things. He doesn't want to risk any of the workers getting hurt, and he doesn't want to be seen as high-handedly destroying private property. It's all P.R., Bruce, all P.R.."

Lex gripped the railing with both hands and rocked backward a bit. "And besides, I have an ace in the hole. A small ace, but one that will probably make a difference." Lex smiled at Bruce. The October wind across the bay was balmy compared to that smile. Bruce hid his disquiet and smiled back.

He wished Clark were there.

: : :

Bruce looked out his hotel window. There was still some time before he was supposed to meet Clark. He felt restless and on edge. He shouldn't have snapped at Clark earlier. It wasn't his fault. Bruce had forgotten how much Clark had invested in Superman. He thought of those big blue eyes behind the glasses, wide with shock and something like hurt. Damnit.

He couldn't just sit around his hotel room, mooning on about Clark. He was already far too tightly wound about this date tonight. If he sat here thinking about it all afternoon he'd be in such a state he'd make a total fool of himself. Just thinking about it now brought back the memory of what it had felt like to hear Clark say his name, the desire that had torn through him like lightning. He shivered, realizing he had fallen into a reverie about how Clark would feel and sound and taste in person, not on a computer screen.

This was a waste of energy.

He opened his suitcase and pulled out a suit--lighter than usual for travel. It wouldn't hurt to do some scouting, get a better feel for the city.

Batman slipped out of the hotel room window and into the sunset shadows starting to fall across Metropolis.

He had meant to stick to quiet reconnaissance, but to his annoyance the convenience store he was scouting from the roof of was being robbed. Batman could hear voices raised in panic nearby. He wasn't sure where Superman was, but he wasn't going to let someone get hurt just because of some territoriality issue.

The thugs in the store were understandably startled to find themselves being kicked senseless by heavy black boots rather than tied up politely at super-speed. The owners of the store were nearly as alarmed as the criminals, all things considered. Batman righted an overturned display--Kal probably didn't cause quite so much property damage in his crimefighting--and beat a hasty retreat.

He had barely made it to the top of another building before Superman was there. It had been too much to hope he wouldn't have overheard the commotion. "Thank you."

"Apparently even you can't be in two places at once."

A slight smile. "I'm working on it, but so far, no luck." Kal descended to the roof, his cape flowing around him, grace incarnate. "You said you had information for me? You might as well tell me now, we'll be busy when we meet again at midnight."

Batman backed a little further into the mercifully lengthening shadows. "You may have heard that a Gotham-based villain who calls himself Mr. Freeze broke into the Gotham Art Museum last week?"

"I had heard of it, yes."

"He stole only one thing--a book of old fairy tales, bound in red leather. And he sold it to Intergang this week for a truly impressive sum."

Kal frowned. "Thank you for passing that on."

"Maybe they're planning to read you bedtime stories until you fall asleep?"

There was no answering smile on the alien's face. "Those old tales aren't always good ones to sleep on."

Batman shrugged. "Maybe they'll just hit you over the head with it." A thought occurred to him; he paused and added, "Also, word on the street has it that Lex Luthor believes he has an ace in the hole against you. A small ace in the hole, he was heard saying."

Superman's face went stiller than ever, completely closed and alien. He turned away and looked out at the city silently. His feet had left the roof again slightly and he hovered, his cape trembling in the slight wind, his back to the other man.

Batman stepped out for the shadows and moved closer. "Kal?" No response. "Kal. What did he mean?"

Superman tilted his head back, looking at the sky. "I can deal with it." He turned to face Batman again. "Thank you for passing that on, Batman." He stumbled on the title a bit and smiled, somewhat wistfully.

"It doesn't seem fair that you can call me by my real name and I have to call you 'Batman.' I'm not asking for your real name," he said hastily as Batman's jaw tightened, "It would just be nice to have something a little less formal to call you by. I don't think you'd like being called 'Batsy.'"

Batman shrugged uncomfortably. "I suppose you could call me B."

"B? Just the letter B?"

"Would you rather call me Irving? B will do."

"Terse and unrevealing. It suits you."

Into the pause in the conversation, a church clock struck seven.

Superman startled into the air like a bird at the sound. "Um, I really have to go," he said a little breathlessly, glancing back at the clock tower in disbelief. "I'm sorry, B, but--"

He turned back to find that Batman had already vanished into the shadows, gone before the clock had finished striking. Superman sighed in relief. He had to hurry and get changed to meet up with Bruce.

: : :

Clark had been waiting on the park bench where they had eaten lunch for about ten minutes before Bruce arrived, walking just a little bit fast. "You're late," Clark pointed out mildly.

"Am I?" Bruce looked down at his hand, grinned sheepishly and showed Clark the bare wrist. "Sorry, forgot my watch." He sat down on the bench next to Clark. "So, where to?"

"I thought we might go to this Italian place I know. Great alfredo. And within walking distance."

"Lead on, MacDuff," Bruce bowed with a flourish.

Bruce seemed to like the restaurant--it wasn't anywhere near as fancy as the French place he had taken Clark in Gotham, but it had a nice candlelit ambiance and the owner knew Clark, so they were given a good table.

Clark was trying to talk about the investigation into the bombing, but Bruce didn't seem interested in that right now. Instead he was asking questions about Clark's work, his history, his likes and dislikes, all the while looking at Clark with such a dead-on parody of romantic interest that Clark almost laughed. It would have been uncomfortable except that conversations with Bruce were never really uncomfortable, and Clark found himself unwinding and talking about Smallville, about his childhood there and his father's death, his job at the Planet and its small frustrations. Bruce shared a few stories, mostly about Alfred, but mainly he just listened raptly. It was as if he found Clark's life interesting. Considering the life Bruce had led, this seemed unlikely to Clark, but it was gratifying nonetheless.

Bruce reached out and ran a finger along the back of Clark's hand as Clark finished some story about wanting to be on the football team. Clark tried to keep his face steady as his senses ran riot. It didn't mean anything, Bruce was just pretending to flirt with him...but this made it the fifth time the playboy had found some excuse to touch him and it was playing havoc with his composure. He'd be angry at his friend for toying with his affections, but since Bruce didn't know he had affections to toy with, that would be unfair.

Though "affections" seemed rather a mild word for what right now felt more like "ravening hungers threatening to prompt him to lunge over the dinner table and attempt to ravish his only friend on the spot."

Control, Clark, control. It's all part of the playboy reputation, it doesn't mean anyth-- A shoeless foot slid up the inside of his calf toward his knee, and Clark almost choked on his wine. Bruce grinned at him from across the table.

Clark decided he was willing to be toyed with; he was, at the very least, getting enough material for masturbatory fantasies to last for the next decade.

He just hoped Bruce wouldn't go so far with the charade as to kiss him at the door, because he really wasn't sure he had the self-control to deal with that.

: : :

Bruce hoped he wasn't going overboard here, but he was having a hard time keeping his hands--and feet--off of Clark. He suspected that if he didn't watch out he'd end up in Clark's lap by dessert.

He could think of worse desserts.

Clark seemed shy and awkward but not uninterested in Bruce's flirtation. Bruce knew Clark was interested, he had seen and heard it himself--don't think about it or you'll be under the table and having him for dessert--it was just a matter of approaching it the right way. Gently, don't frighten him off. Bruce tried to look unthreateningly predatory. He wasn't sure it was working.

He walked back to Clark's apartment with him, talking, comparing movies and music, the usual things one did on a first date.

At the door, Clark paused and looked at Bruce, uncertain. The mute, almost-hidden inquiry in his eyes dragged Bruce to him like a magnet, completely unable to keep himself from kissing him as he'd wanted to for longer than he liked to admit.

Bruce felt the curve of Clark's upper lip against his mouth, the way the lower lip opened just enough to deepen the kiss.

He felt Clark's breath filling his mouth, warm and full.

He felt the neat and orderly chessboard of his life tilt crazily sideways, the black and white pieces tumbling out of control, and he put his hands on Clark's shoulders and held on for dear life.

Slowly he became aware that Clark hadn't put his arms around him in return. He opened his eyes to find Clark's startling blue eyes looking into his. As Bruce moved back, Clark took a deep breath, then smiled, a friendly smile.

"Really, Bruce, that's not necessary. I understand you want to keep that playboy reputation going, and I understand that you want to shock staid old Metropolis by flirting openly with a man, and I even understand that for some reason you've decided to flirt with me instead of some more suitable partner--" he held up a hand as Bruce started to say something, "--but don't you think this is carrying it a bit too far?" He backed into his apartment, shaking his head affectionately. "Honestly, Bruce. You kidder."

The door swung shut, leaving Bruce staring open-mouthed at the dark wood. After a moment he leaned forward and rested his forehead on the door.

This was a drawback to the playboy persona he hadn't ever really considered.

He headed back to his hotel. There were some issues that might be better addressed without Clark physically there to distract him.

22:37 [Drunkenwastrel]: Cock tease.
22:37 [Mildmannered]: WTF?
22:38 [Drunkenwastrel]: Flirt outrageously with me and then leave me hanging? I think that's the technical term, isn't it?
22:41 [Drunkenwastrel]: Clark, I meant it. I'm serious. I swear.
22:45 [Mildmannered]: No offense, but bullshit.
22:47 [Drunkenwastrel]: jnnjmnbnsdsgbsdf
22:48 [Drunkenwastrel]: This is me banging my head on the keyboard at your COMPLETE DENSENESS.
22:50 [Drunkenwastrel]: I want you, Clark.
22:51 [Drunkenwastrel]: I'm a dangerous, desperate man, and a very serious one.
22:53 [Drunkenwastrel]: What do I have to do to prove I'm not joking?
22:57 [Drunkenwastrel]: Clark?
23:03 [Mildmannered]: Bruce. I'm just a simple Kansas farmboy.
23:03 [Drunkenwastrel]: ...
23:04 [Mildmannered]: I have no idea what you can do to prove it.
23:05 [Mildmannered]: But I suspect *you* do.
23:08 [Drunkenwastrel]: Look, give me a second chance.
23:09 [Drunkenwastrel]: Give me another evening and just do me a favor and *assume* I'm serious and see how it goes.
23:16 [Drunkenwastrel]: Please, Clark. Don't let me screw this up.
23:19 [Mildmannered]: Okay, one more try.
23:19 [Drunkenwastrel]: You won't regret it.
23:21 [Mildmannered]: I bet you say that to all your dates.
23:22 [Drunkenwastrel]: ...
23:22 [Drunkenwastrel]: How did you know?
23:24 [Mildmannered]: LOL
23:25 [Drunkenwastrel]: Tomorrow night, my hotel, seven o'clock?
23:25 [Drunkenwastrel]: I've got a suite with a kitchen, I'll cook you a meal.
23:27 [Mildmannered]: Okay, okay, but you're still full of shit, playboy.
23:32 [Drunkenwastrel]: Clark, I hate to cut off suddenly, but you've worn me out. I'm beat, heading to bed.
23:32 [Mildmannered]: No problem, me too.
23:33 [Drunkenwastrel]: See you tomorrow. Don't forget, assume I'm serious.
23:34 [Mildmannered]: Sounds like our most dangerous adventure yet.

: : :

Five minutes past midnight, and Batman was already waiting for him, his arms crossed. Was that a toe tapping? "Sorry to be late." Being on time had turned out to be physically impossible. Kal imagined the conversation that might have ensued had he showed up at midnight. Hi there Batman. What's that, you inquire? Oh, just my raging, uncontrollable hard-on from accidentally imagining for a second that a friend of mine was serious about wanting me. Sorry. Carry on. It must be nice to have a costume that hid such embarrassing personal details, although the image of Batman with an erection was on the mind-boggling side.

Anyway, Clark had taken care of that little problem. He didn't remember this being a problem so often before, but Bruce was like a force of nature, he just couldn't stop thinking about his sardonic, sweet mouth and strong, gentle hands and lithe body and--the vigilante was definitely tapping his foot now, and Kal had better stop thinking about Bruce unless he wanted to be very embarrassed indeed.

Superman cleared his throat. "Right. I thought perhaps you'd like to go over to the rig tonight and do some hands-on investigation, see if Luthor has found anything."

"And Wayne."


"Luthor and Wayne. They're partners, right? Looking for this whatever-it-is together?"

"Um, right." Kal had almost forgotten that Bruce was looking for something that could hurt Superman. Though now that he had heard the story behind Bruce's feelings it made more sense. He thought of the hurt in those dark blue eyes, hurt that he had caused.

He couldn't bear to cause Bruce hurt ever again.

"I think I'm up for a little late-night trespassing," Batman said with a slight smile.

"Okay. Let's go, then. I'll fly you over."

An awkward silence followed, in which the two costumed heroes stared at each other, both of them reaching the same conclusion simultaneously: it was going to be difficult for Superman to carry Batman in any dignified manner. Superman made ineffectual, abortive motions with his hands toward Batman, who crossed his arms and stared grimly back at him.

Finally, exasperated, Superman put his hands on his hips. "What, am I supposed to carry you by the scruff of the neck?"

"You're the superpowered alien, you figure it out." Batman glowered menacingly. I'll be damned if I'm going to step toward him like a debutante at her first cotillion, he thought darkly. When Superman seemed totally at a loss, and likely to continue that way for the rest of the evening, Batman took pity on him and unwound some grapple line. "Here. Hold on to this, I'll hold on to the other end."

"You can hold on all the way out there?"

"You do your job, I'll do mine."

Superman grabbed it like it was a lifeline, and they headed over together, Batman swooping along under Superman. The cold fall air on his face helped clear Batman's mind. It was definitely not a good idea to be thinking about Clark when he should be focusing on his work. If he hadn't had this damn meeting he would have rushed right back to Clark's apartment and insisted on having his second chance then and there. His chance to pin Clark to a wall and kiss him until that startled-deer look went out of his eyes and they were heavy with lust for him, seeing only him, bright with arousal and surrender--

All right, so the night air wasn't helping him focus that well. At least not on what he should be focusing on.

Batman was very grateful that this suit was so heavily armored. He hoped the Kryptonian wasn't checking his breathing at the moment.

They landed soundlessly on the rig and moved through it together, evading cameras and guards with ease. Finally they came to a large storeroom, slipping along the floor through the moon-striped darkness. Batman didn't see anything suspicious, just as Bruce hadn't seen anything earlier, but he saw when Kal stopped dead in mid-step, his face paling. Was that sweat on the brow beneath the glossy curl?

"What is it?" Batman whispered urgently.

Superman backed a few steps away from the spot where he had paused, then dropped to a crouch. In the dim light, Batman could see the slightest scattering of dust on the floor.

It sparkled green.

Kal was staring at it like it was a venomous snake. He whispered something under his breath that sounded like a heartfelt curse. He turned and looked at Batman, eyes angry. "You wanted something that could hurt me? Help yourself."

Batman didn't move. "A little bit of dust? That's hardly useful."

Kal turned sharply on his heel. "I've seen enough."

Batman stared at the dust on the ground but left it there.

Superman was silent all the way back to Metropolis, taking the line Batman held out almost absent-mindedly, his eyes fixed inward as if in pain. He dropped Batman off on a roof and turned to fly off without speaking. Batman bristled. "Hey! Don't just go fluttering off into the night, I want some answers from you."

Kal turned back, brow furrowed. "Answers?"

"I want to know what that dust was, and what it does to you. How can I prepare for what Luthor and Wayne have planned if I don't--"

The alien cut him off, eyes flashing. "Luthor."


"Just Luthor. Wayne has nothing to do with this. You leave him out of this." Superman sounded absolutely certain, and Batman felt a sudden surge of relief. He didn't really care why Kal felt that strongly--probably had done enough homework to conclude Bruce Wayne was too dim to be a master villain--he just didn't want Superman to think Bruce was working against him.

Clark would never forgive him if he tried to destroy Superman, damn his sad blue eyes.

"Okay, okay, how can I prepare for whatever Luthor has planned if I don't know what we're dealing with?"

Kal looked at him for a very long time. Slowly he sank back to the roof and leaned against a railing. "It's Kryptonite. It's the remnants of my home planet. It's a radioactive mineral and it's deadly to me." He closed his eyes. "If I get near it, it hurts me. It burns. And it takes away my powers--I'm vulnerable, I can't fly. It's the quickest, surest way to kill me. It's where I come from, and it kills me." A long, slow breath.

Batman found himself standing next to Kal. He raised a hand to touch Superman's shoulder, hesitated. He realized he had never touched the alien before. But when he brought the gauntlet down gently on Kal's shoulder there was no electrical feeling, no surprising heat. He felt like any other man. Batman couldn't feel the cloth beneath the heavy glove, but it slid almost frictionlessly across the tense muscles of Superman's shoulder. He wished suddenly that he could feel the texture of that material.

He cleared his throat. "Kal-El." Brilliant turquoise eyes opened to look at him. "I swear that I will never use what's left of your home to hurt you." He didn't know what else to say. He couldn't explain it, it was all too complicated. I forgive you for leaving us. I care about someone who worships you. I've come to respect and trust you. "I swear."

Kal looked at him as if he could see the unspoken words between them. He put his hand over the black gauntlet on his shoulder. "I'll try to be worthy of that promise." He smiled softly, as if at a private joke. "Maybe we all do deserve a second chance."

Batman thought about Clark, probably asleep by now, their second date tomorrow night. He smiled to himself as well. "If we're lucky, sometimes we even get them."

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Chapter Text

Bruce Wayne opened his hotel door at the knock to find Clark Kent's face framed by a huge bouquet of very florid lilies. "You told me to take this seriously," Clark said, his laughing face belying his words. "Aren't I supposed to bring flowers?"

"Something a little less...garish would have done," said Bruce, but he took the lilies from Clark's hands and went into his kitchenette in the hotel suite to cut the stems and arrange them in a glass.

Clark looked about the hotel room almost shyly, at the brass and mahogany everywhere. He couldn't help peeking into the bedroom, then caught himself, blushing. He bounced nervously on the balls of his feet. "Much nicer than where I was staying in Gotham."

"It helps to be one of the wealthiest men in the country," Bruce said airily as he placed the lilies on the small glass dining table.

"So what are you making us? It smells good."

Bruce gestured grandly toward the kitchen. "Bouillabaisse and a light salad. Nothing too fancy."

"Bouillabaisse, 'not fancy'? I'm impressed. You must be a hell of a cook to try something as complicated as that, especially with the limited facilities you have here."

Bruce didn't seem to be listening. He stalked up to Clark, glaring menacingly. Clark blanched. "What?"

The other man reached out and loosened the reporter's tie, slipping it from around his neck. "This isn't a formal occasion, Clark."

Clark swallowed hard. "I came right over from work."

"And I'm flattered by your haste, but I'd rather this be a relaxing evening." Bruce tossed the tie over the back of a chair and unfastened the top button of Clark's shirt, his fingers brushing skin. "Taking Bruce seriously" had meant not wearing the costume under his clothes just in case Bruce actually meant anything he'd been saying. Clark had felt stupidly optimistic when making the decision, but now he was relieved.

And desperately, poundingly aroused. Knees shaking slightly, he pulled up a chair and sat down quickly.

Bruce wandered into the kitchen to dish up a bowl of steaming bouillabaisse and arrange some salad. He put the dishes in front of Clark and watched with anticipation as Clark took his first mouthful of soup. "Well?"

Clark paused, looking thoughtful. Bruce looked at him expectantly. Clark took another spoonful, swallowed. "It's...delicious." He ate a third spoonful, savoring it.

Bruce's mouth fell open. "You're joking. You've got to be kidding." He grabbed his own spoon and took a quick mouthful. Disgust filled his face. "It''s not bad! Damnit!" He flung the spoon down and glared accusingly at the bowl. "I can't cook worth a damn, it was supposed to be horrible and then we'd laugh about it together and order pizza and it would break the ice and make you feel sorry for me!" He groaned. "I can't believe I messed it up..." He looked so comically betrayed and at a loss that Clark couldn't help it, he started laughing. Bruce glared at him in annoyance, which only made him laugh harder. He finally stood up, holding a hand up to try and stop Bruce from glowering at him, and collapsed onto the couch, still laughing. He threw a forearm over his eyes. His sides hurt.

It felt good.

His guffaws eventually died down to snickers, and he cautiously removed his arm to see Bruce standing over him, his look still sour but a smile threatening to settle into the corners of his mouth. Clark shifted his glasses slightly, wiped his watering eyes and sighed. The smile on his face slowly softened into something wistful. "I missed our first kiss."


"When you kissed me last night, I was so surprised and disbelieving, I didn't focus on it. I totally missed it."

Bruce blinked. Then he got down on his knees next to the couch and put a palm along the side of Clark's face, moved it up to tangle in dark hair.

"Pay more attention this time, then."

: : :

Clark's hair tasted like soap. His mouth tasted faintly of saffron, and underneath that, something like cloves or cinnamon. The hollow of his collarbone tasted like salty sweat and something citrusy. So many different flavors...did everyone taste so good? Bruce couldn't remember ever being so overwhelmed with the taste of a person, finally real under his mouth and hands, not flat and distant on his computer screen. He felt an insane desire to simply spend the whole evening licking Clark all over, testing out every inch of him. He managed to get a few more buttons of Clark's shirt undone and settled for a nipple: also citrus. Lemon. Sunshine. Clark made a frantic mewling noise and pulled Bruce's head closer to him, and Bruce's world dissolved into light and taste and making Clark sound like that again.

Finally done with the reporter's chest--for now--Bruce paused to hitch himself up onto the couch, teetering beside the other man. He reached out to pull Clark's glasses off, but Clark batted his hand away. "Want to see you," he said somewhat muzzily.

Bruce grabbed the shooing hand in midair, pausing to lick between the fingers. Citrus again, but more like limes this time. He guided Clark's hand down to feel his arousal; he didn't know how else to make clear to Clark how serious he was, how serious this was. He could feel the warmth of Clark's hand even through the fabric of his slacks, and the reporter explored gently with surprisingly strong fingers, pressing and kneading, and Bruce couldn't stand it, he had to get that warm skin on his.

His hands were on the buckle of his belt when Clark gasped. The sound had nothing to do with arousal, it was pure shock. Clark went completely still, his eyes closed as though listening to a voice only he could hear. When he opened them, the expression on his face was one Bruce had never seen there before--not when he was holding a ticking time bomb, not when being shot at.

Clark Kent was terrified.

He lurched from the sofa, pulling his shirt on with shaking hands, his face suddenly haggard. "I have to go, Bruce," he stammered. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! It's not you, it's really not!" He wrenched the door open and took off in a dead run down the hall, scrambling for the stairwell after frantically, futilely, hammering on the elevator button.

Bruce closed the door and sank back onto the sofa. What had just happened? What had gone wrong? He remembered Clark's terrible reaction to dancing, his theory that the reporter had been assaulted somehow in the past. Had Bruce accidentally tapped into those memories again? He groaned and put his head in his hands. He had gone too fast, he had rushed Clark, panicked him somehow.

The tiny communicator beeped, and Bruce groaned again. He didn't want to deal with Kal right now. He wanted to find Clark and apologize to him, ask him for a second--a third chance? Did people even get third chances?

The communicator beeped again. Bruce sighed and pulled it out, tapped it. Before he could speak, Superman's voice broke in, the inhumanly smooth voice filled with pleading.

"B. I need your help. Please."

: : :

Batman stood on the roof of the Daily Planet. Superman wouldn't explain, just begged him to meet right away when he found out the vigilante was still in Metropolis.

Kal came out of the sky so fast Batman hardly saw him approach. No awkward negotiation about positioning this time--the Kryptonian scooped Batman up and the city blurred around them.

They came to rest in the warehouse district, eerily still. A crane lifted high above the low buildings, its hoist at the highest position. Dangling from the crane, tied by the waist, was--Batman blinked. It looked like a child.

He pulled out his binoculars, focused. It was the little boy he had met yesterday at the Daily Planet. Jason, that was his name. He dangled hundreds of feet above the ground, his tear-streaked face pale.

He was covered in sparkling green dust.

Batman put the binoculars down and looked at Superman. Kal's face was drawn with agony. "My son. That's my son," he whispered. Batman stared at him. "Luthor has kidnapped my son and coated him with Kryptonite dust so if I try to fly there to save him I'll probably fall and kill us both. The men on the ground with machine guns will finish him if I don't. The dust alone might kill him if I wait much longer."

Batman pondered. "On the plus side, this means Luthor doesn't have any notable quantity of the mineral, or he'd use it instead of dust."

Powerful hands grabbed the neck of his suit. Reinforced Kevlar creaked and buckled. "How can you even think of that right now? That's my son!"

Batman waited until Kal released him. "You've mentioned that. Give me a second to think. You know it's Luthor?"

"He...sent me a message. Pretended he was 'concerned' for me, had some information I might want to know. Plausible deniability, as usual."

"Does your son have any powers I need to know about? Can he fly, is he invulnerable?"

"I--I don't know. I'm not in his life much. He doesn't even know that he's--about our connection." Kal's voice was tight, his eyes mutely implored Batman: Help me. Help us. Please.

"GIve me ten minutes, Kal. Then take out the gunmen."

"They'll let Jason drop if I go after them."

Batman met Superman's eyes squarely. "Do you trust me?"

Kal swallowed. "Yes." It was almost a whisper.

Black-gloved hands on blue shoulders. "I won't let your son fall, Kal. Ten minutes." Then he was gone.

Kal waited in the darkness. He heard Jason's heart pounding, heard his wheezing breaths. Time dragged by.

At ten minutes, he launched himself at the gunmen. He had the first and second one down before the crane released its pulley.

Kal heard the click of the catch opening, heard his son's shocked intake of breath as he started to fall. He couldn't look up.

He heard the twang of a grapple line springing taut and the rippling flutter of silk, the soft impact of his son's body safe into leather-clad arms.

No time for relief as he found the rest of Luthor's crew, disarmed and restrained them. Not that they'd ever admit to being "Luthor's crew."

He found Jason's heartbeat and followed it to a rooftop where Batman was just finishing untying him and dusting off the green powder. Jason was tearful and shaking, but seemed unharmed. Kal felt the Kryptonite burn start on his skin at about ten feet and halted. It was just as well, or he would have swept Jason up in a paternal embrace. The kid didn't need to have some alien walking into his life, telling him Richard wasn't his real father. He needed stability, sanity, as normal a life as he could have, for as long as he could have it. So Kal only smiled reassuringly at Jason, his hair disheveled and one hand clutching Batman's black cape like a security blanket.

His son was safe.

"Where do you live, Jason?" the Dark Knight was asking. Jason gave his address in a tiny voice. "Shall we take you back to your parents, then?" The boy nodded and even managed a smile. Batman picked up Jason and readied a grapple. "You're not scared of heights, are you, Jason?"

The tremor in the child's voice came close to a laugh. "Not now."

"Good boy."

As Batman got ready to launch off the roof, Jason looked back at Kal. "Thank you," he whispered. Superman smiled. Then he met Batman's eyes.

"Thank you."

A nod. Then Jason was gone, held tightly in Batman's arms, on his way home to his mother and father.

: : :

Lex Luthor woke from a pleasant dream to the feel of an arm across his throat. He looked up into blackness and eyes that sparked rage.

"I would have thought that you, of all people, would have understood the necessity," he said, amused and annoyed. "We humans--"

The arm pressed somewhat harder, cutting him off. "Don't you dare give yourself that title."

"He's a menace."

"He's not the one who endangered a child tonight for his twisted idea of revenge." The vigilante's jaw clenched. "If you threaten that child again--if you threaten any human life again--I'll see to it you'll lose what matters most to you: Your fledgling empire. Your new partner and WayneCorp could crush you."

Luthor would have laughed if his throat weren't so constricted. "Bruce Wayne? He wouldn't dare. He'd probably win, but it would take him down too. You don't have that much power over him."

A laugh like steel on stone. "You wouldn't believe the kind of dirt I have on Wayne. When I say 'Jump,' Bruce Wayne says, 'How high?' Believe me, I can convince him to risk everything to take you down."

Luthor glared wordlessly at the Dark Knight, who smiled at him like a poison-edged dagger. And was gone.

Lex Luthor walked through the open French doors to his balcony and looked out over his city, rubbing his throat.

Apparently Bruce Wayne was going to be yet another impediment. As long as he controlled WayneCorp, Luthor would have to watch his step. That was a shame. Lex had rather liked the young man and been working on some...plans for him. Such a nice head of hair...

But Lex Luthor didn't like impediments. He found them...tedious.

This would have to be dealt with as well.

: : :

"Kal? I'm on top of the public library. Can you meet me there?"

"Sure." The voice sounded in Batman's ear and in front of him simultaneously.

"I've spoken with Luthor. I believe I've slowed him down a bit."

Superman crossed his arms. "How did you do that?"

"I gave him some incentive to not go after your child again. I hope you'll forgive me for not destroying him on the spot. I figured if I did that he'd have nothing to lose, which would make him even more dangerous."

Superman frowned and nodded.

"The kid's home and safe, by the way."

"I know. I checked."

"What, didn't trust me to drop him off?"

"No, I just...wanted to see him there." The alien's face was calm and serene.

Batman wondered if the question would be rude, then asked it anyway. "Doesn't it bother you that other people are raising your son? That humans are raising your Kryptonian son?"

The tiniest dent between the perfect eyebrows. "I was technically human at the conception. He might not be genetically Kryptonian at all." Batman couldn't help but wish he could run some tests on the boy: a human-Kryptonian semi-hybrid, fascinating. Of course, Superman would probably rip his arms off if he tried it. Or worse, give him that disappointed look, the one he gave people from whom he had expected better behavior.

The look he would probably give Batman right now if he knew what Batman had in a pouch at his waist, pilfered from Luthor's offices. Batman shifted uncomfortably. Twenty hours, Kal. Give me twenty hours. Then I'll give it back to you, I promise.

Superman was continuing. "He's happy and loved." A small, sad smile. "I gave up any right to disrupt his life when I left. And keeping our connection secret should minimize the amount of time he spends hanging from cranes. I keep an eye on him. He's a good kid. When he needs me, I'll be there for him."

He focused again on Batman. "Thank you. It shames me, now, to admit I haven't trusted you in the past."

Batman couldn't quite meet those eyes like azure arrows. He made his voice as gruff as possible. "We humans aren't always the most trustworthy lot. You're wise to be suspicious of most of us."

"Maybe. But not all." Kal reached out and touched him gently on the chest, just over the heart, his hand pale against the ebon suit. "Not all of you."

A darting motion and Superman was above him in the air. "Sleep well, B."

Batman was alone on the roof.

: : :

Bruce Wayne parked his car in the parking garage and walked eagerly toward the elevator that would take him to the Daily Planet offices. He had gotten back to the hotel late last night after his visit to Luthor to find an email from Clark:

I'm sorry about tonight, more sorry than I can say. I know "it's not you, it's me," is a stupid cliche, wasn't you, it was me. I'm not exactly the easiest man in the world to date, Bruce. I'm going to have to ask you to give me a second chance this time. The email had ended by suggesting Bruce stop by the office before heading back to Gotham today.

Thus the morning found Bruce feeling almost cheerful as he made his way to see Clark again. By some stroke of luck, Clark had decided that he was the one in error, not Bruce. In fact, Bruce thought ruefully, it had been just as well in some ways, because if Clark hadn't bolted, Bruce would surely have had to when Superman called him.

From now on, Bruce resolved, he'd try to take things as slowly as he could with Clark. No rushing him. Who knew what traumas he had gone through, what issues he'd have to overcome? No, Bruce would have to try to let Clark decide when he was ready to take things to the next level. He was worth the wait.

As he punched the up button on the elevator, Bruce found his thoughts reluctantly coming to a key question, one that had to be answered: how far was he going to let Clark into his life? If he was willing to wait for Clark, willing to make this long-term, was he willing to reveal his double life?

Even as he made himself finally ask the question, though, he already knew the answer. He had trusted Clark with his life already. Clark was brave, discreet, loyal, intelligent--if he couldn't trust Clark with his secret identity, he could probably never trust anyone.

Once he had faced his answer, he felt relief wash through him. If he could make this work with Clark, he'd tell him everything. He had a brief image of Clark sitting near him in the cave, his smile warming the chill away, helping him research something, his strong hands on Bruce's shoulders, soothing away the soreness and tension. Hands slipping lower--no, better not to think about that too much right now. Slowly, slowly.

Of course, with Bruce's luck, Clark would insist on putting on some silly costume and fighting crime by his side. He was halfway through composing a speech explaining to Clark why he was not going to be risking his life on the streets when he realized he was getting ahead of himself a bit.

The elevator arrived.

As he entered the office, Clark saw him and smiled, and any lingering doubts Bruce might have had about Clark being angry about last night dissipated entirely in its delighted glow. Jason was perched on his desk, scribbling on a piece of paper with crayons. As Bruce drew nearer, Clark said, "He's taking a day off from school today. Had an eventful evening last night, didn't you, Jason?"

"Yep," said the boy absent-mindedly, coloring with intense concentration. "I wanted to go to the Halloween party at school today, but Mommy said no, she wanted me here."

"He's drawing a picture of what happened last night," said Clark with a grin.

Bruce glanced over at the picture, probably of Superman taking on those thugs--oh.

The stick-figure boy in the picture was surrounded by a great deal of black cloth, and under the exaggerated bat ears--Bruce was fairly certain that his expression had actually been a Threatening Grimace rather than the jaunty grin in the drawing, but he was hardly in a position to suggest revisions.

Bruce coughed for a moment. "You got to meet Batman? Cool." He reached into his coat pocket, but as he did, a man's voice cut into the conversation.

"Jason." A handsome man with an angry face came up behind the boy, putting a hand between him and Bruce. "Come back and sit with me for a while." Over the child's head, his eyes snapped fury. "I'm sure Mr. Luthor's business partner is too busy to waste time with children."

Bruce heard Clark's sharp intake of breath behind him and spoke quickly, keeping his face bland. "No bother at all. Nice kid. Good artistic potential."

Richard steered Jason away without an answer, shooting a look behind Bruce. "Clark. I expected better from you."

Awkward silence filled the space between the two of them in the wake of the encounter. "I'm sorry," murmured Clark.

"It's a reasonable reaction, if Luthor has threatened the child's life."

"Twice now. Apparently he tried to kidnap him last night."

"An extremely reasonable reaction, then."

Another pause. Clark pitched his voice low. "I've got half a mind to drag you onto this desk and kiss you right in front of everyone."

The idealistic idiot would probably do it too, throw away his job and his reputation to make some crazy point. Bruce spoke sharply to forestall any such insanity, trying to ignore the stab of lust that dissolved the room into haze around him. "Don't be stupid. Just tell them you're trying to weasel information from me, that should do the trick." This was why he'd have to tell Clark about Batman, otherwise the man would ruin everything by trying to defend Bruce Wayne's non-existent honor.

When Clark still looked mutinous, Bruce dug hastily into his coat pocket. "I guess it wouldn't be wise to give him this," he said, holding out the Superman action figure he had purchased on the way over.

Clark took it from him, meeting his eyes. His fingers lingered just a bit on Bruce's, but it felt like Clark had stripped him bare in the middle of the office. Clark put the toy in his desk drawer. "I'll hold on to it for him." He turned back to Bruce. "Are you sure you have to head back to Gotham so soon? I hardly got a chance to show you around. And it's Halloween...a good night for trick and treating. You can be one or the other, your choice." He waggled his eyebrows at Bruce meaningfully.

Clark certainly didn't seem shy right now. "I'm bitterly unhappy about it, Clark, but there's stuff I absolutely have to get done in Gotham this evening." Bruce steeled himself against Clark's sad eyes. He had to give the item he had found in Luthor's offices to Kal as soon as possible, which meant if he wanted to get a look at for himself he had to get back to the cave right away.

Plus he had a hunch that Batman's first Halloween in Gotham might be eventful.

Clark offered to walk with him to his car, and they headed for the elevator together. "I'm afraid I'm not the easiest man in the world to date either, Clark."

"I suppose you're worth it."

"You suppose?"

A sideways grin full of laughter. "So do I still get my second chance?"

"There's no way I'm letting you get out of it. As a matter of fact...I've just today been given two tickets for a weekend cruise leaving from Metropolis, compliments of Lex Luthor. For Bruce Wayne 'and companion.'" Bruce raised his eyebrows. "You free this weekend?"

"Hmmmmm." Clark's pondering as the elevator descended was comically overdone. "I don't know. I might be really busy this weekend."

The elevator doors slid open and they entered the parking garage. Bruce stepped out and looked back at the reporter. "Clark, we are men of action. Lies do not become us."

Clark felt a wide grin blossom on his face as he followed Bruce out of the elevator. "Oh, you do not want to start quoting the Princess Bride at me, Bruce. Trust me. I'll crush you." He tilted his head. "So if you're Westley, does that mean I have to be Buttercup?" He wrinkled his nose.

Bruce waved a hand. "Oh, no, no. You'd have to be Inigo, of course."

Clark put on his best faux-Spanish accent. "You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."

An answering, challenging grin. "You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die."

Clark bowed and held out a hand as if holding a rapier. "Begin."

Bruce dropped into an extremely credible fencing stance. Rich kids and their crazy hobbies. Clark met his imaginary attack and they began a spirited fencing duel through the parking garage.

"You are using Bonetti's Defense against me, ah?" Clark did a couple of Inigo-style spins.

"I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain."

"Naturally, you must suspect me to attack with Capa Ferro?"

Bruce broke character for a moment, stepping back and dropping his "rapier." "Good Lord, Clark, you really do know this whole dialogue. I officially proclaim you King of the Geeks."

Clark waved his rapier menacingly. "King and still reigning world champion. And you know the next line as well as I do, varlet. Have at you."

Bruce sighed and redoubled his attack. "Naturally... but I find that Thibault cancels out Capa Ferro. Don't you?"

"Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa... which I have."

The other man leered at him, breaking character again. "Oh, I've also studied your Agrippa, believe me."

Clark smiled and put his heart into the next line as their swords and glances crossed. "You are wonderful."

Bruce's competitive grin faltered somewhat, but he continued gamely. "Thank you; I've worked hard to become so."

"I admit it, you are better than I am." The playboy was, in fact, breathtakingly lovely in the dim light, his motions fluid and confident. When Bruce relaxed, his body seemed filled with an almost unconscious, assertive grace. Clark wondered for the approximately millionth time what that grace would be like in bed.

"Then why are you smiling?"

"Because I know something you don't know." The millionth time today, that is.

"And what is that?"

" not left-handed." Clark mimed tossing his sword to his right hand and came back at Bruce, driving him about the parking ramp, shadows and light flickering across them.

Bruce smiled. "You are amazing."

"I ought to be, after twenty years."

"Oh, there's something I ought to tell you," said Bruce. "I'm not left handed either." He mimed switching hands in turn, clearly gaining the advantage, breaking down Clark's increasingly feeble defenses, his eyes shining.

"Who are you?" was Inigo's next line.

Bruce's smile was edged. "No one of consequence."

"I must know," said Clark, and found he meant it. He felt like he still had no idea who this man really was, standing before him as if he would be comfortable with a real sword in his hand, beautiful and dangerous as a blade himself.

"Get used to disappointment."

Clark did the requisite shrug and they fought out the "duel" to its conclusion, which ended with Clark pinned to Bruce's convertible, "disarmed," Bruce's arm across his chest. He found he was breathing heavily, which didn't make any sense. It would take more than a fake sword fight to wind him.

Bruce grabbed him by his pants pockets and dragged him closer for a kiss that left Clark gasping even more. It wasn't possible, it just wasn't, that this man could want Clark Kent.

And yet there he was, his tongue most definitely and concretely exploring every inch of Clark's mouth and his very tangible hands resting possessively on Clark's hips.




He didn't realize he had said the name out loud until he felt a shiver go through the other man's body and heard the sharp intake of breath. "Clark," Bruce said as if it was the answer to everything.

Clark hadn't thought it was possible for the kiss to become deeper, more completely enthralling, but it did. The echoing sounds of the parking garage seemed to fade out around Clark and he found himself in a circle of hush, a near-silence that he didn't dare examine, hardly even dared to notice.

A timeless time later, Bruce pulled back. "I have to go or else I'll never get back to Gotham at all," he whispered.

"Would that be so bad?"

A rueful smile. "You make me wonder, Clark. But duty calls." He brushed a thumb across Clark's lower lip. "Promise me I'll see you this weekend, on the cruise. I won't rush you, I swear, but I need to see you again soon." The emphasized word sent ripples through Clark.

"I'll be there if you want me there."

Bruce got into his convertible. Before he started the engine and drove off, he looked at Clark, dark-winged eyebrows raised, and under them, his eyes--

"As you wish," said Bruce Wayne.

: : :

It was All Hallow's Eve. The hunter's moon was shining down on a Metropolis rooftop as the leader of Intergang cowered in terror just outside a broken pentagram, staring white-eyed at the remains of his men. In the center of the pentagram a book bound in red leather was still smoking slightly. A slender woman turned from the bloody wreck before her to face the leader.

"Is this all your world has to offer?" Her sneer was like silver bells. "Mere mortals? Is there none worthy of me in all this land?" She moved to face him, her face pale and cold, a dream of perfection.

He gibbered.

Bored and impatient, she reached into his head and took the information she needed. Smiling, she contemplated it. At last. A Redcross Knight indeed, brave and true and beautiful, not small and limited like these mortals.

Licking her delicate fingers clean, she walked toward the edge of the roof. Once there, she slipped into something more comfortable, her shape flowing into platinum scales and ruby talons.

The Queen of Stories spread her wings and took to the Metropolis sky.

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres 9: Transformations
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG for some violence
Summary: On All Hallow's Eve, the Faerie Queen stakes her claim to Kal's soul.
Word Count: 4692

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow moved...

Batman was standing at a crossroads. A distressingly literal crossroads, as a matter of fact. Close-cut grass like green velvet stretched out in all directions around him, an infinite, well-tended lawn. On the horizon he could dimly make out trees. A silvery mist crawled sinuously along the grass. He stood at the intersection of two roads paved with glittering cobblestones. A signpost made of something like ivory, etched with vermilion letters, indicated the two roads led to "Krypton" and "Faerie."

He looked down at himself, at the black armor wrought and etched with fantastic patterns. A helmet and visor hid his face; his black cape curled behind him in the muttering breeze.

Batman was being forced to seriously reconsider his previous dismissive stance on magic.

: : :

All Hallow's Eve had started well enough for him. He had hurried home from Gotham to examine his treasure, secured from Luthor's office during his early-morning visit: a tiny gleaming crystal, no more than an inch long. It must be from Kal's Fortress, it must be. Superman would forgive him for taking just a little time to look at it, just a few hours. He had conducted a hasty battery of tests on the glimmering thing, hardly pausing to look at the results--he could analyze them later. By ten-thirty, he was on top of a Gotham building, holding the communicator. He was getting the crystal back to Kal the same day he had found it. For some reason, that seemed important.

Kal's voice came over the device, sounding absurdly pleased to hear from him. "B? Happy Halloween. Must be your favorite holiday."

Batman grunted, cleared his throat. "Um, Kal. I found something when I was in Metropolis. I think it's one of your crystals." He heard the sharp intake of breath on the other end and continued hurriedly, "I was wondering if you'd be willing to come up to Gotham and get it?" Don't ask why I didn't just give it to you in Metropolis, don't ask why--

"I'll be right there! Do you really--I mean, do you think--" The hope in Kal's voice shamed him. "Anyway, I'll--" Superman's voice broke off again. Batman could suddenly hear screaming and a strange roaring noise on Kal's side. "What the hell...Batman? I might be a little delayed. Got a dragon problem here. Better sign off."

A dragon problem? "Just put the communicator in your ear, Kal, it'll keep working." He didn't want to miss this.

"All right." High-pitched screeching noises followed shortly thereafter; Batman heard a ripping sound and a grunt of pain on the other end. "B? This doesn't look good. I think this thing is magic."

"There's no such thing as magic, Kal," Batman explained.

Breaking glass. Kal's voice continued, sounding winded. "Magic alternate quantum viewpoint. It's real. And I'm very vulnerable to it, B. I...I might need to bring this dragon up to Gotham and get some help from you."

Batman frowned. "Magic isn't real. Unless by 'magic' you mean the concept that any sufficiently advanced technology--"

"I'm aware of Clarke's Law," Kal's voice snapped. "Magic is something different, okay?"

"That's impossible, Kal. Dragons aren't real. They don't exist."

From the sky, like a shooting star, Superman appeared, fighting a silver dragon about ten feet long. The dragon roared and batted the Kryptonian out of the sky. He landed on his back near Batman; the concrete crazed on impact, cracks stretching to Batman's feet.

Superman rolled over painfully, glaring at Batman. "All right, B. You've convinced me with your unimpeachable logic. Magic isn't real. Dragons aren't real." He pointed up at the shining serpentine form coiling itself for a new attack. "Now, just convince the dragon of that and we'll have no problems." He gathered up his tattered cape and launched himself back into the sky.

Batman watched the spectacle, feeling a bit stunned. Why exactly had Superman thought he would be useful in this situation? He groped in his mind for information about dragons, found some story he had read as a child about how all dragons had a weak spot on their throats--there. A rough patch of brown in among the profusion of platinum scales. Before he could think about how ludicrous it all was, he threw a batarang at the spot with all his might.

If he was hoping for gouts of blood and a dramatic death, he was sorely disappointed. The impossible dragon merely coughed irritably and focused its attention on the annoying man in black. But Kal used the moment's distraction to gain the upper hand, and both dragon and man crashed to the ground in front of Batman.

The dragon--the creature that somehow looked like a dragon--seemed dazed. Superman put a foot on its throat, holding it down, and grinned at Batman. "Nice shot!"

The silver monster beneath his foot twisted and blurred and suddenly became a woman dressed in flowing silver robes, her star-pale face framed by flowing black hair, her eyes a smokey lilac. Kal involuntarily removed his foot from her throat. "Oh, I'm sorry."

The woman flowed sinuously to her feet and twined her arms around Superman's neck. "Perfect. You're perfect," she said in a husky voice.

She kissed Kal, her pale, silvery lips on his mouth.

His eyes closed.

The woman broke off the kiss and took Superman's hand, smiling. "Come, my Redcross Knight, my True Thomas, my love. Let me show you your new kingdom." She turned and shot Batman a smiling look of pure venom. Kal followed her gaze obediently, but his blue eyes were clouded and dull. He didn't seem to see Batman.

"Kal?" Everything seemed to be happening too fast. Magic wasn't real, Faerie Queens weren't real--

Kal and the woman had started to move through some sort of twisting, shimmering gate that hurt the eyes. Batman lunged forward, grabbed Superman's cape, held on.

And so the Dark Knight passed into the realm of Faerie, and found himself alone on the other side.

: : :

An eldritch light hung over the impossible field of smooth green, and the sky was thick with countless stars in no patterns Batman had ever seen before. He closed his eyes. Think, Bruce. Think. In every story, Faerie had laws that must be obeyed, they were merely not the normal scientific laws. What story was he in and what were the laws? He just had to figure them out.

"Redcross Knight," the woman had called Kal, and "True Thomas." The former was from Edmund Spenser's poem "The Faerie Queen," the latter from the Tam Lin folk songs. Both stories were about knights who were stolen by Faerie and had to be won back. As the Tam Lin stories featured a crossroads on Halloween, he would have to assume that story was the working paradigm here.

He wracked his mind to remember the basics of the Tam Lin fable. There were so many versions...but in almost all of them, the heroine was visited by her lover and given advice on how to free him from the clutches of Faerie, by standing and waiting at a crossroads on Halloween. The Faerie court would ride by, and the would-be rescuer was to seize the man on a white horse:

"First let pass the black, he said,
And then let pass the brown,
But when ye meet the milk-white steed,
Pull ye the rider down."

The Faerie Queen would put the knight through a series of transformations into vicious animals, but the rescuer was told to hold tightly no matter what:

"They'll turn me in thy arms into
An adder and a snake;
But hold me fast, let me not go,
To be your worldly mate.

They'll next shape me into thy arms
A wood-black dog to bite
Hold me fast, let me not go,
I 'll be your heart's delight."

Batman sighed to himself. Apparently he was going to be cast as the love-lorn maiden in this bizarre drama.

The specific shapes the captive knight would take varied from story to story, but all the stories he had read agreed that at the end he would be turned to fire:

'They'll turn me to a flash of fire,
And then to a naked man;
Wrap you your mantle me about
And then you'll have me won.'

Well, at least he had a mantle handy. He'd hate to go through all that and fail at the end just because he didn't have a cape.

As Batman planned his strategy, the stars in the sky shifted unnervingly, became a beautiful, placid face. "Mortal child, mortal child," said the Faerie Queen's silvery voice, "Why do you interrupt our happiness? Your love is not of Earth, does not belong to such as you." The voice was kind and understanding. "Truly, I tell you, his home is here, in the land where flowers bloom eternal and unwithered."

A door appeared out of nowhere, standing surreally in the middle of the field. It swung open to reveal the familiar concrete and stone of Gotham. "You may leave, mortal child, for I am merciful. Go home and leave us in peace, I beg of you."

Batman stared at the door. Gotham. It looked blessedly solid and sane compared to here. He could go back. What did he owe Superman anyway? He could go back and the world would make sense again. No more aliens flying around like angels. It would all be like it was before.

Like it was before.

Batman turned his back on the door and crossed his arms. "I'm not leaving here without him," he said to the sky.

The lovely face contorted in anger. "Human child, human child, he is not for you. The stench of mortality clings to you; you are rotten with it." A roiling wave of carrion stench rolled across the plain, chokingly thick. "You reek of your own death. You taint this place and all you touch." The sweetness was gone from her voice. "Leave your love here and begone."

"He chose to come back to us, he didn't choose to go with you. I'm not leaving without him." A perverse irritation made him add, feeling utterly ridiculous, "And he's not my damn 'love.' I already have one, thank you."

Delicate starry eyebrows lifted incredulously. The Faerie Queen laughed, a silver carillon of scorn. Her face faded from the sky and the door to Gotham faded with her.

It was official: magic sucked.

Thinking the petty vulgarity comforted him somewhat as he waited at the crossroads, at least until he heard, in the distance, the unearthly chiming of bells: the bridle bells of the Faerie Court's procession.

Very slowly down the road marked as leading to Faerie they came: a vast parade of horses, normal-looking except for their intelligent red eyes. At the head was the Faerie Queen, dressed in full wedding regalia. She rode by Batman without looking at him, her horse's hooves sparking on the eldritch cobblestones. Batman watched the black and brown horses go past. Kal had to be in there somewhere, on a white horse--there. Kal was in scarlet and black armor, a ruby diadem on his dark curls. He stared straight ahead, enthralled, as Batman darted into the procession at him. Dodging hooves, he made it to the white horse and grabbed Kal, pulling him to the ground with a jolting thud, wrapping his arms around him.

Things became very confusing after that. There was a hideous screeching noise from somewhere, and he was holding a black cobra that hissed and sank its teeth into his neck again and again. He felt the burning of venom and reassured himself: faerie wounds were imaginary, they would disappear once he made it through the trial. His hands started to go numb as he clutched the snake, tendrils of acid pain lancing through him. He held on.

Next was a black dog that ripped and ravened at his chest, shredding his armor like smoke. He held on. If he let go, there'd never be a voice on the other end of that communicator again; he wasn't sure anyone else in the world would be so stupid as to put on a ridiculous costume and fight evil. He couldn't let Kal go. He felt the claws and teeth rending his chest, tearing flesh and tendon--it was an illusion, it wasn't real, it hurt like it was real but it wasn't real, it wasn't.

Then he was holding a spark, it was a flame, it was a fire, it was an inferno, searing and scorching him, his flesh bubbling. It was a living, dancing star in his arms.

It was Kal.

He held on. Somehow, he held on.

And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The air was filled with a weeping keening, so plaintive that Batman nearly felt pity despite himself. Kal was unconscious in his arms, naked and pale, and Batman unclasped his cape and wrapped it around his body. The weeping died into sobbing and faded away. They were back in Gotham, under the familiar stars.

Batman tried to move Kal and noticed with alarm that the Kryptonian's bare chest was streaked and splattered with blood, lots of blood, far too much blood. Was Kal wounded? No, the skin was perfect and unbroken. Then where--

Bruce looked down at his own chest.

"Ah, hell," he heard himself say distantly as darkness washed over him.

: : :

The Fortress of Solitude was dark and quiet as Kal arrowed in, holding Batman's body in his arms. All he could hear was the thready, faint beat of Batman's heart as he put him on a crystalline dais. It was weakening. Blood stained the crystals.

He was dying.

Damn Luthor! If he hadn't stolen those memory crystals, it was possible that--wait. Kal remembered Batman's voice from before the dragon appeared, talking about a crystal, a crystal--

It was in a pocket at his waist, a tiny crystal, hardly more than a sliver. Kal inserted it into the console with shaking hands.

The heartbeat was weaker now.

A few crystals glimmered to life, but Kal could hear the murmuring denial all around him. He addressed the Fortress: "Heal him. No earthly healing can save him. You must save him."

Crystalline whispering. An icy, angry wind began to whip through the Fortress, cold and denying. It was impossible. Faerie wounds...even at full capacity, impossible. And to lavish such energy on a mere mortal, one so broken...

"Take the energy from me," Kal stood in the middle of the Fortress and cut across the denial, across the stinging, rising wind. "Draw on my power to heal him. You must obey me."

Shocked chiming, utter repudiation. The risk--Never. This place exists to protect Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton. He must continue, must not throw his life away...

Kal felt his feet leave the ground, felt his eyes kindle. Something cold inside him melted and boiled over into molten fury. The long black cape flared and blazed around his bare body; he clenched his hands in it and hurled his voice into the wind like a weapon:

"You will heal him! He's the only person like me, the only one, he's given his life for me, and you will heal him! If you do not, if he dies and you fail to save him, I swear to you I will leave this place and find a red sun and fly into it and to hell with your Last Son of Krypton! Do you hear me? I will not do this alone any more!"

His last words fell, ringing, into the sudden silence. The wind died as abruptly as it had arisen.

The crystal dais holding Batman's body burst into azure light.

: : :

He opened his eyes to starry skies hung with the Northern Lights wheeling above his head, the veils of light rippling and burning in majestic silence. Batman sat up, his cape slipping from him, exposing--he stared--his unwounded, unscarred chest. In fact, a few old scars were missing now. That was...unsettling, although he was in no position to protest. Behind him, someone cleared his throat.

Kal. Batman got off the dais to face the Kryptonian, back in his familiar red and blue. "You healed me."

"The Fortress healed you."

"With that one small crystal? How did it manage that?"

A pause. "I...told it I would kill myself if it didn't."

Batman snorted. "That's an impressive bluff."

Kal's face was calm. "I never bluff." It was Batman's turn to pause. He looked closely at the alien's face, noted the signs of strain and exhaustion that hadn't been there as they left Faerie.

"What did you do?" Kal's face showed only incomprehension, but the Kryptonian was a poor liar. "What did you do?" He sounded more angry than he meant to.

Superman looked away. "The crystal fragment wasn't enough. The Fortress needed more energy to heal you."

Batman crossed his arms over his chest and glowered. "You didn't do anything stupid, did you?"

"It all worked out."

"Well maybe it wouldn't have! And then you would have thrown your life away for nothing, you would have left us again. You're a symbol of hope, Kal, you don't have the right to just..."

Kal didn't seem to be listening anymore. He was staring at Batman, his blue eyes wide. "Your life isn't nothing, B. Don't say that, ever again. Ever." He sounded deeply shocked. "And besides, you almost died to save me."

"I didn't know the magical wounds were real."

"The pain was real enough."

"It was just pain. It doesn't count." He sounded petulant even to himself.

After a moment, Kal smiled, a very sweet, lopsided smile. "Are we keeping score now? I'll let you save me next time to keep it even, then."

Batman said nothing--he wasn't going to dignify such frivolity with an answer. He gritted his teeth and glared. Superman seemed to find this less intimidating than entertaining, unfortunately. After a moment, however, the Kryptonian's face grew melancholy again. He floated closer to Batman, his slippered feet just brushing the icy ground. "I'm sorry," he said softly, indicating the torn black armor. "I'm sorry I hurt you." His voice dropped to almost a whisper. "I almost killed you. What could I do? I had to save you."

Batman shrugged. "That wasn't you. It was the spell."

The perfect, placid face remained grave. Kal took a deep breath. "The Queen was wrong, of course. Timeless perfection is the perfection of death. And yet..." Another deep inhalation. "The appeal can be...substantial." Pain shadowed those terrifyingly blue eyes.

Batman sensed an opportunity, a vulnerability. Kal seemed to want to talk about something. He didn't know what, but any chance to understand..."What do you mean?"

Superman paused so long that Batman began to think he wouldn't answer at all. Then he began to speak, haltingly. "Have you ever heard of...the music of the spheres?"

A shrug. "The ancient belief that the celestial bodies made unearthly music in their revolutions, inaudible to the human ear? Sure."

"B. It's real." At Batman's blank expression, Kal repeated, "It's real. And I can hear it."

"You can hear it? When?"

Kal's face went rigid with some emotion too strong to read, agony or ecstasy. "All the time. It's always there, in the back of my mind. Calling me. There have been a couple of times when I thought, maybe...but it never goes away completely. When I'm awake, when I'm sleeping, it's always there." He inhaled, shook his head as if to clear it. "Always."

"How long have you been able to hear it? All your life?"

Kal laughed mirthlessly. "I wouldn't be here if I had. No." He arranged himself on a crystal pillar, wrapping his cape around him. "Five years ago, I...made a mistake. I entered into a relationship with a human woman. One night together. She--it didn't--I can't have normal relationships with humans as an immortal. I can't love them unless I give up my powers. And I can't give up my powers, because I love people and want to help them. I shouldn't even be considering--" He broke off and took a deep breath. "It's impossible. The paradox was too painful. I ran away."

Superman closed his eyes. "I wasn't thinking. I just wanted to get away from the people I wanted to love and couldn't love because I loved humanity. I think...I really do think, B, that I would have turned around after a couple of weeks, once I had time to get over the worst of my grief. But by then it was too late."

"Too late?"

Kal nodded. "I heard the music. It was--I can't describe it. Pure beauty. Pure harmony. Timeless, eternal, perfection beyond comprehension. I was part of it and was lost in it, my personality pared away to starlight and music. I remember nothing of the trip to Krypton, only the music. Then I got there and everything was dead and I had to turn around and go back into it. Back into a timeless time contemplating infinite beauty." He opened his eyes. They were glowing a very soft, silvery blue in the dimness of the Fortress. "Sometimes I can't believe I have any soul left at all. Sometimes...sometimes I'm not sure I do." A ragged breath. "I want to be here, to be fully here, so much. But I can hear it, all the time, pulling me away. The temptation is so strong to go back, throw myself into the stars, lose myself in the music again. To be...annihilated by perfection."

There were tracks of tears on the alien face. Batman couldn't understand all this mystical cant, couldn't empathize, but it bothered him to see Kal weep. It was...unnerving. Groping for something to say, he latched onto something that had bothered him earlier. "Why would you think you have to lose your powers to love a human?"

A small frown. "My mother said so. She said that I couldn't love a mortal if I was immortal. And Lois--B, it almost shattered her mind to love me. She couldn't do it when I had my powers."

Batman crossed his arms and glared at Kal. "I'm sure your mother was a lovely lady, but with all due respect, that's bullshit. I mean, look at the two of us. You're obviously capable of friendship--" he broke off as Superman made a fluttering movement.

"Friendship? Would you really say you're my friend?"

Batman snorted irritably. "After what I went through tonight, Kal, I think I deserve something more than 'business partner' or 'crime-fighting associate.'" He looked away from Kal's face and up at the Northern Lights, as they were less dazzlingly bright, and cleared his throat. "Anyway, friendship is a human connection no less profound than erotic love, is all I'm saying. It is, in fact, a form of love. You saved my life, you consider me a friend--and your powers remain intact, and I'm still sane. Relatively sane," he amended at Kal's expression.

"I'll probably outlive any friend, any love I have. It would be unwise--"

Batman interrupted almost angrily. "Love is unwise, Kal. Choosing to love is always a risk. Look at my life. Anyone who chooses to love me will probably outlive me. But that doesn't make it impossible to love me."

"No, it's impossible to love you because you're an overbearing, paranoid--"

"Shut up, you." Batman waved a black-clad hand. "I'm just saying that your mother, who wanted to see you safe and unhurt above all else, might not have been the best source of information about how to go about establishing relationships with humans. And then you have one hookup with a woman who can't handle loving you as you are, for what you are, one experience that seems to confirm what your mother said, and you throw everything away and run off? You have no sense of proportion."

He frowned. "I don't want to shock your delicate sensibilities, Kal, but it might make human relations easier if you tried to live among us, live an ordinary life at least some of the time, to know what it's like. Eat our food, have a job, see our lives from the ground rather than the sky. Sort of...have a civilian identity?" Superman stared at him. "It wouldn't be that bad," Batman added hastily. "We're pretty messy and limited, but life as a mortal does have its good sides. It might even distract you from that damned music. It wouldn't be easy to make you a history, a background, a real life. But we could probably do it." He made a small growling noise and muttered, "I can't believe I'm giving romance tips to a superpowered alien."

Superman stared at Batman like he wasn't sure whether he was going to laugh or cry. Then he nodded to himself. "Wait here."

Batman glared around him. "Where the hell would I go?"

A blur of red and blue into the recesses of the Fortress. Kal returned holding something in one hand and floated up to Batman. "I want you to have this." Batman reached out without thinking and found himself holding a small metal box in the palm of his hand. The dull metal was surprisingly heavy: lead. He cracked the box open by its hinged cover; Kal moved backwards quickly as green light leaked from the box into Batman's hands.

Batman stared at the ring for a while. Then he closed the box and met those shining turquoise eyes squarely. "But Kal...when are we ever going to find the time to register for a china pattern?"

Superman gaped at Batman. Bruce tried to keep his mouth steady, but the Kryptonian's stupidly stunned expression made his lips quirk despite himself. A snort of laughter eventually made it out, which finally broke Kal from his paralysis into whooping laughter of his own. Low and raspy, high and clear, a duet of laughter echoed under the stars.

Batman was the first to compose himself. He held the little box out, back towards Kal. "I don't need this."

Superman shook his head. "But I need you to have it. I need to know that you know that I trust you enough to let you keep it." Batman considered that for a time. Then he nodded gravely and pocketed the box.

"Are you about ready to head back to Gotham?"

Batman looked slightly alarmed. "How long have we been here? Some stories about Faerie have centuries go by in the real world..."

"I checked. We lost a day--it's early Thursday now."

Batman dusted ice crystals off his cape. "In that case, I definitely need to get back to Gotham. I have an impossibly hot date to prepare for." At Superman's incredulous snort, he said, "What? Is it so hard to imagine I have romance in my civilian life?"

"It's just the image of you showing up at someone's door in full regalia with flowers." Superman dropped his voice into a gravelly rasp. "'Brought you something. You look lovely tonight, my dear.'"

"So speaks the man who admits he's only gotten laid once in his life. I'll have you know as a civilian I have an enviable love life."

Superman looked at him a bit wistfully. "I wish I could meet you out of costume sometime."

Batman stepped forward and threw his cape and arm around Superman's shoulders, readying for flight. "Tell you what, if you let me make you that civilian identity, I'll take you out for coffee someday without the capes."

Superman smiled. "I'd like that, chum."


"You said we were friends."

"Kal? Don't push it."

Superman smiled and put his arm around the Dark Knight in turn, then launched into the sky with his friend.

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Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres 10: Consummations
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: NC-17
Summary: On a cruise with Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne must deal with boring meetings, Clark's modesty, a dinner with Lex, and--unbeknownst to him--a Kryptonian in crisis.
Word Count: 4802

I heard the sweep
Of mighty wings, that in their waving keep
The music that the spheres make endlessly;—
Then my cheek shiver'd, tears made blind mine eye;
As flame to flame I felt the quick blood leap,
And, through the tides and moonlit winds of sound,
To me love's passionate voice grew audible.
Again I felt thy heart to my heart bound,
Then silence on the viols and voices fell;
But, like the still, small voice within a shell,
I heard Love thrilling through the void profound.
(Philip Bourke Marston, "Love and Music")

Bruce Wayne scanned the Metropolis docks as he made his way through the crowd of people heading to board Luthor's cruise ship. He had arranged to meet Clark here fifteen minutes from now, but he couldn't seem to help searching the crowd, hoping for an early glimpse.

When he finally spotted Clark, he could only stare. He suspected he would have stared anyway--he had a distressing tendency to stare at Clark Kent. But today Clark was dressed in an outfit that rivaled his own in metrosexual tastefulness, tailored, understated and stylish. Even his hair was less shaggy than usual. Only the thick glasses kept the look from being complete. Bruce wondered just how many Clark Kents there were. So far he'd seen the dork, the cool-headed investigative reporter, the androgynous angel, the shy lover, the geeky movie buff--the man seemed to have as many facets to his personality as Bruce did. It would take a lifetime to explore them all.

Bruce caught that casual, flickering thought like a butterfly, looked at it closely. Yes.

For his part, Clark was admiring the way the sea breeze deranged Bruce's hair from its orderly style into something tousled and wild. You go, breeze. Bruce locked gazes with him through the crowd well before he got close, his wolfish blue eyes appreciative. The eyes traveled leisurely up and down Clark's body in its flattering clothes, but when he got close enough Bruce said, "I don't think I like you in that."

"Why not?" Damn it, he'd done a lot of work to find out what would look good and--

"Everyone will be looking at you. I don't like that." The milling crowd on the dock seemed to vanish as Clark's throat went terribly dry.

He tried to keep his tone light. "If you want me to play your boy toy, I have to look the part, don't I?"

A dangerous smile. "I want everyone to look at you and say, 'Whatever does he see in him?' Because I'll know."

Clark caught his breath, lust leaping madly up inside him, hammering at his breastbone. Jesus. The man hadn't even touched him yet.

"Besides," Bruce continued, "You're not going to play my boy toy, it would ruin your reputation here in Metropolis. You are merely my...friend, my pal, my boon companion."

Clark leaned a little closer, dropped his voice. "I'd be willing to ruin more than my reputation for you."

Bruce raised a hand as if to touch him, then dropped it, almost as if he was afraid to make that first contact now that they were finally on the same page and on the brink. Clark knew why he could hardly bear to touch Bruce Wayne--he was afraid that once he started he wouldn't be able to stop until he finally had his hands on every inch of that body, that he'd make a fool of himself with his eagerness and his infatuation.

But since there wasn't any chance cool, collected Bruce Wayne was worried about that for himself, there must be some other reason. Probably he was worried about Clark's "reputation."

Clark looked at Bruce's figure in front of him, moving gracefully through the crowd, and wasn't thinking about his reputation at all.

: : :

Bruce negotiated the long, narrow corridor between the elevator and their room, Clark trailing a bit behind him.

"So what's our schedule?" the reporter asked.

"Let's see. It's almost three o'clock now, we should cast off in a few minutes. Then I have a business meeting with Luthor and the other investors right away, which will go for about two hours. Then a formal dinner at six to coincide with when we should be passing the mining platform."

"Sounds like a full schedule," grumbled Clark.

"On the plus side, after dinner tonight we spend the whole next day and night at sea, and my obligations should be minimal." Bruce opened the door and gestured Clark in with a flourish. "After dinner, I will be able to lavish on you the attention that you so richly deserve."

Clark rolled his eyes at Bruce as they entered the room. It was small but elegant, its main feature being the huge windows, currently filled with the Metropolis skyline.

Bruce dropped his bag on one of the beds and carefully began removing and unfolding various items. He left the cloth bag with the leather and silk hidden inside it untouched in the bottom.

"Two beds?" Clark's voice had a plaintive tone that dragged at Bruce like hooks.

"Boon companions need two beds, Clark," he said lightly. Clark sat down on the edge of one of the beds rather forcefully, looking downcast. "Of course," Bruce continued, focusing intently on putting his toiletries on the bedstand, "there's nothing at all saying we're required to sleep in separate beds...if that's what you want." The little bottle of shampoo went to the right of the conditioner...or should it be the left? Bruce re-arranged the bottles single-mindedly, not looking at Clark.

"Bruce. I want it more than you can possibly imagine." Clark's voice was low, rough with desire.

The shampoo should probably be a little closer to the conditioner. And the razor should be at right angles to the edge of the bedstand. "You can't possibly want it more than I do."

An exasperated sigh. "Has everything got to be a competition with you?"


Suddenly Clark's voice was right behind him. "You lose." Bruce swung to look at him--how did he get there so silently?--and as he turned the boat cast anchor and lurched. Bruce stumbled forward a step and his hand brushed Clark's. It felt like a circuit snapping shut, he felt the click in his head and heart and groin, and then he was kissing Clark like a magnet springing to steel, irresistable and natural as the tides. He felt himself shivering deep inside and knew that whatever Clark Kent said, this was one competition in which he couldn't possibly beat Bruce Wayne.

When he finally pulled away from Clark it was almost painful. "I have to go to this meeting, I really do," he whispered. Clark ignored him and began exploring the inside of an ear with his tongue. "Clark," Bruce said a little more forcefully, "If we want to keep an eye on Luthor I have to go to this meeting."

Clark sighed and stepped back to flop gracelessly onto one of the beds. "All right then, I'll just lie here on our bed--" he emphasized the pronoun with relish--"and think about you."

"You can check out the rest of the ship."

"But I like thinking about you." Clark arched an eyebrow meaningfully at Bruce.

Bruce dragged in a breath. "You are not telling me that you're going to lie there while I'm locked away in that meeting and--"

"--Hey, if you want me to last more than thirty seconds this evening, it's probably a good idea to take the edge off."

Bruce stared at him. "You are demonic. Just how am I supposed to get through the meeting now?"

"That's not my problem, is it?"

Bruce searched for something cutting and urbane to say in response. "Clark? Bite me." Can't go wrong with the classics. The door swung shut, muffling Clark's smirking final retort, but Bruce had some good guesses as to its general content. He mentally added "shameless lech" to the list of Clark Kent's personalities.

And he had thought this weekend couldn't get any better.

: : :

Clark lay on the bed for a while, staring at the ceiling. He got up and turned on the radio. Then he turned on the television. Then he turned them both up.

Spending a day in Faerie had not been helpful.

He didn't like to use his super-hearing casually, but he was feeling woozy and distracted, and he found himself almost involuntarily picking out Bruce's light, clear voice two decks above him. The words were nearly meaningless--discussions of stocks and productivity--but Clark focused on the timbre and tenor of that voice with an intensity that almost frightened him, let it wrap around him like silk, reassuring and protecting.

He thought about his conversation with Batman in the Fortress. He still wasn't sure he should be pursuing Bruce. Was it possible to love Clark and Kal and Superman, or was that too much to ask a mortal? He remembered the dazed confusion in Lois's eyes as she struggled to reconcile herself to loving him, the pain. And his own pain when he realized she couldn't do it.

He could keep Superman a secret from Bruce. Just let him love Clark...but even as he thought it he knew that was impossible. Bruce wasn't stupid enough to fool forever, not if Clark was going to spend the amounts of time with him that he craved. Maybe if it had remained a casual sexual relationship--but there had never, never been a point where his relationship with Bruce Wayne could have remained "casual."

If any human was up to the task of caring about him, about all of him, it would be Bruce Wayne: playboy, philanthropist, flirt, hero, CEO, friend...a diamond with infinite facets, all glittering.

He'd tell Bruce just as soon as he was sure Bruce was willing to try a long-term relationship. And--he admitted sheepishly to himself--after he'd gotten one mind-blowing weekend of passionate sex with the man.

If Bruce couldn't handle the knowledge, Kal could always wipe his memory too.

And be alone again.

Clark laid on the bed, letting the sound of Bruce's voice wash over him like water. He really had meant to make good on his threat, but instead fell into a sleep more restful than any he'd had in months.

: : :

Bruce let himself quietly into the room to find Clark asleep on his back, his arms and legs spread-eagled and taking up the whole bed. He hoped the reporter didn't always take up so much space, since they were going to be--he stopped, gave himself a moment to savor the words--sharing a bed for the next two nights.

Bruce looked at Clark's peaceful face in the purpling dusky light. It was like having Clark on his monitor again, but he could just walk over there and touch him at any moment, press those broad shoulders to the bed and claim those sweetly curving lips... He savored the anticipation for a while, then moved beside the bed to make his imaginings real.

Clark inhaled sharply as the touch woke him up, his hands reaching out to clasp behind Bruce's head and pull him close.

"Did you miss me?" murmured Bruce against Clark's mouth. He tasted like mint today, mint and...maybe anise? Something rather exotic. He nibbled Clark's lower lip thoughtfully and relished the sound Clark made in response.

After a while, Clark sighed and pulled away. "All right, Bruce, it's my turn to focus on duty. We have to get to dinner."

Bruce groaned. "If I have to be in the same room with Lex Luthor for one more minute, I'm going to break something. Possibly his nose."

Clark snorted laughter as he pulled a suit out of his luggage. "Temper temper, Bruce."

"The man's a preening bag of ego. He's--hey, where are you going?"

Clark paused at the bathroom door. "I'm changing."

"I don't get to watch you change?"

The reporter smiled. "Not yet." The bathroom door closed.

How Bruce Wayne ended up with a modest lech, he would never know. "Come on, Kent, don't I get a preview of coming attractions or something?" He started changing as well, only to be startled when the bathroom door swung open again, catching him in his boxers, the shirt half-buttoned.

"Coming attractions indeed," said Clark, leaning in the doorway with his shirt unbuttoned and his chest bare, eyeing Bruce. He had the advantage of Bruce in having gotten his pants on already, though. He raised an eyebrow. "Silk boxers. I approve."

Bruce pulled his dignity about him in lieu of his pants and walked up to Clark. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he said as he reached out and began to button Clark's shirt. "It's like throwing a canvas over Michelangelo's David." Clark took a steadying breath as Bruce's hands made their way along his chest. "Honestly, Clark, if you're going to have a body like that, why do you hide it all the time?"

"Maybe I don't like having people pay a lot of attention to me."

Bruce buttoned the top button. "Will you make an exception for me?" he asked lightly.

"Yes." Clark's voice was suddenly stripped of banter, and Bruce couldn't quite meet his eyes. He stepped away into the sudden silence and finished getting dressed, gazing out over the water. When he turned back, Clark was still looking at him.

"Get your tie on and let's not keep Lex waiting," said Bruce.

: : :

Clark was sitting next to Bruce. Bruce was seated on the right-hand side of Lex Luthor. Clark was just one seat away from Luthor. Away from the man who had almost killed his son. Twice now.

Kal's hands itched.

Lex had greeted Clark politely enough, his eyebrows raised. "This is your...companion?" he had asked Bruce, just the slightest touch of incredulity in his voice.

"Mr. Kent wrote a story about me that was far more flattering than I deserve, and I wanted to thank him with a little token of my esteem." Despite knowing the truth, Clark had winced at hearing such appalling journalistic ethics ascribed to him. He would definitely have to remove himself from any stories about Bruce in the future.

Bruce focused on Luthor during the meal, letting the other man spin out wildly improbable tales of his own excellence, nodding and prompting him enthusiastically. The mask of stupidity, which Clark hadn't seen in so long, was completely convincing. Only Bruce's foot under the table, pressing confidingly against his whenever Lex's rants became almost too amusing or bizarre to bear, kept him anchored to reality.

As the meal progressed, Clark became more and more uneasy. At first he wasn't even sure why. But as the evening wore on something finally clicked. It was the furtive tone of voice that Luthor used when addressing Bruce, the greedy look in his eyes, the covetous way he leaned toward the playboy. It was veiled, hidden under a jovial facade.

But it was definitely lust.

Clark felt nausea spike through him as he watched Luthor's cold, slimy eyes appraise Bruce. Lex leaned just the tiniest bit too close to the younger man, and Clark felt a riptide of frantic worry for his friend tearing at him--worry and a fiercer, darker emotion he didn't want to examine. He found that the silverware in his hands had somehow become bent like putty and surreptitiously tried to straighten it, alarmed.

Lex reached out and chucked Bruce under the chin like a child.

Clark couldn't breathe.

As the desserts were served, Bruce excused himself and headed to the bathroom. Clark stood up and followed him, ignoring Lex's knowing smirk.

As the door swung shut behind them, Bruce flashed a grin at him, a grin that faded abruptly as Clark grabbed his wrist.

"Bruce, you've got to be more careful! Luthor is not a man to be played around with--"

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm always careful."

Bruce seemed legitimately mystified; was it possible he could have missed it--"He wants you, Bruce. He wants you in bed with him."

Bruce smiled indulgently. "I'm a big boy, Clark, I can take care of myself." He tried to pull his hand away but Clark held it tightly, pushed him against the bathroom wall and held him there. The fierceness rushing through him was roaring in his ears, drowning out everything else. My Fortress, my parents' crystals, my son--

Lex Luthor will not lay claim to anything of mine, ever again.

"Bruce, I know what wanting you looks like. I see it every time I look in the mirror. That man--I can't bear to have him look at you like that. He wants to do horrible things to you, I know it, I can see it in his eyes, Bruce."

Bruce stared at him, then suddenly reached out and yanked him close for a kiss that would have bruised anyone else. Clark buried his face in Bruce's hair, kissed his temples, his jaw, his throat. He felt the pulse thundering under his lips. "It scares me, Bruce. Don't let him get near you." He heard his voice crack. He couldn't lose Bruce, he couldn't.

Bruce wrapped a leg around Clark's knee to pull him nearer. "I'll be careful, Clark." His voice was gentle. "But I can't...I can't promise I'll always stay safe. That's not who I am."

"Just stay away from him and I'll be happy."

"I promise, Clark, that I will stay as far away from the annoying prick as I possibly can and still do my job. Will that do?"

Clark looked into those slate-gray eyes. "I suppose it'll have to." Bruce kissed him lightly, turned to go back to the banquet hall--"No. Don't go back there tonight. I can't stand it. Him looking at you." To his mortification, Clark found himself almost on the verge of tears. Bruce looked at him, his eyes amused and tender.

"All right, we can just go for a walk instead. Let them wonder where we went."

: : :

The November air was chilly as Bruce and Clark leaned on a railing and looked out at the sea, but Clark didn't seem to be feeling it. From behind them, the music from the ship's dance bar leaked past them, but otherwise it was silent. Away from the swamping city lights of the Eastern seaboard the stars sprang out in sharp clarity, pulsating in the crisp, clear fall air. The reporter had been silent for a long time, looking up at the sky.

Bruce turned to put his back on the rail and admired the planes of Clark's face in the starlight. "The stars are beautiful out here, aren't they?" he asked. Clark continued to stare up. "Clark?" Bruce reached out and put his hand over Clark's on the rail. The other man looked at him, but his eyes were far away. "What are you thinking about?"

"The music." The reporter's voice was almost a whisper. "You can't hear it."

"Sure I can hear it, it's coming from right behind you, silly." Bruce smiled. "I remember that night I saw you dancing, in that amazing outfit. Damn. I think that was when I fell in love with you, watching you dancing."

"Dancing?" Then, more slowly: "Love?"

Bruce didn't know how to answer the question in Clark's low voice, so he merely pulled the other man away from the rail, toward the club. "Hey, remember how I said you needed to try that dance with a partner sometime? Show me how, dance with me."

Clark trailed behind him until they found themselves on the tiny dance floor, only a few couples on it. Clark just stood there and stared at him. Bruce reassured himself--it might look a little weird to see two guys dancing together, but it was just for one dance. They could laugh it off as a lark.

And he wanted to see Clark dance like that again.

Bruce moved in a few tentative dance steps. "Come on, Clark, don't you remember that gorgeous dance you were doing that night? Show me, please?"

Clark blinked at him.

Then he reached out and put his hands on Bruce's hips and pulled him close, into the music.

It was like no dancing Bruce had ever done before, but it all seemed so easy and natural with Clark leading the way, guiding his motions. The rest of the world fell away, narrowed down to the moments when Clark's body brushed against him, to Clark's shining eyes, to the beat of Clark's heart in the music. Their hearts together in the music.

The song had changed at some point, become something piercingly sweet, pure...perfect. It was perfect. For one still moment everything was perfect, the dance and Clark and Bruce together, frozen and flawless, caught up as if in crystal.

And then time started again and somehow, somewhere, the dance had become a kiss, and Bruce's back was against the bar with Clark's hands under his shirt, tracing patterns of ice and electricity across his chest. The bartender was saying something about getting a room, and Clark's voice was hot in his ear, "Let them look, let them look, they don't matter, let them stare, nothing matters but you and me, Bruce, nothing."

Bruce dragged Clark off the dance floor and towards the elevators. "We have to--We have to--" he stammered between kisses. He couldn't get his hands off Clark either, he had Clark's shirt half-unbuttoned already somehow and untucked and the smooth skin was under his hands and the elevator doors finally opened. It was a glass elevator and Bruce was up against the wall now, the atrium of the ship sliding past them, and--God--Clark had Bruce's belt buckle undone already, his leg between Bruce's legs, hard and demanding, and Bruce had never wanted anything as badly in his life as he wanted and needed Clark Kent right now. Perfect, so perfect.

The doors slid open again and they were in the corridor leading to their berth. Bruce's slacks slid down at Clark's pull and he stepped out of them to avoid having his movement hobbled, left them behind, they didn't matter. They stumbled down the hall, locked together, devouring each other, the motion of the ship sending them careening drunkenly against the walls. Back at the elevator it had seemed important to Bruce that they get into their room, but by the time they reached the end of the corridor he couldn't remember exactly why anymore, why wait a moment longer, anyplace was good, here was good...

Momentum alone carried them into the room, into the flood of starlight across the bed.

Clark was on top of him and his shirt and boxers were gone now too and Clark's body was up against him, hard and smooth as marble, cold and burning. He realized dimly that Clark was talking, explaining something between kisses in a low voice that slipped between English and some language Bruce had never heard before. "We can go together, Bruce, zar-alem, go together and be there forever elo-e kana jan. Just us forever, kam-iri, we don't need the others, we don't need anyone else...I'll take you with me, you'll see, talzar, talzar..." This all sounded perfectly reasonable to Bruce, gasping at the floods of ecstacy sweeping across him, speechless in the face of his need for more, for all of it, all that Clark could do to him, all he was promising to do to him.

But then suddenly Clark was squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head savagely, as if in pain. "No," he gasped, and he pivoted and threw himself backwards onto the bed, dragging Bruce on top of him, pulling him down hard across his body. "Bruce, Bruce, don't let me leave," he pleaded, his eyes wild. "Make me yours, make me stay here with you, don't let me go!" He put Bruce's hands on his shoulders, made the other man pin him down, straining against him. "Keep me with you, make me promise, Bruce! Make me promise never to leave you...please--" Bruce didn't understand what was happening, but Clark's voice filled him with vague panic. "Bruce, promise me you'll never let me go!"

That was a promise Bruce could make, a promise he could keep.

He held Clark down and ran his hands along him until the other man shuddered and moaned and the strange light in his eyes died out, to be replaced with the hot, heavy-lidded passion Bruce had wanted to see for so long, a stare locked hungrily on his face.

He made Clark beg for it, made him swear never to leave him, Clark's voice drunken with desire, driving him on. He stroked and licked and caressed until Clark had promised everything, anything, to finally get Bruce inside him. Bruce watched Clark's face as he pushed in, gently, so slowly it almost drove him mad. Clark went silent at that moment, his perfect body still and poised, his eyes closed in tense concentration. As Bruce paused, Clark suddenly reached out and pulled him close and deep in a sharp movement that left Bruce breathless, but should surely have hurt Clark. He didn't seem to feel it, however. He bit his lip and made a noise deep in his throat. "Harder," he breathed.

Bruce would have laughed if he hadn't been so dizzy with lust. Damn, it felt so good, better than anything he had even imagined..."Clark, I don't want to hurt you."

Clark opened his eyes and made another guttural sound, something between laughter and exasperation. "You're not going to...hurt me...Bruce. You can't--harder, God, please!"

Slowly at first, still dubious, Bruce set up a rhythm that accelerated gradually. Clark seemed only to be driven deeper into ecstacy with every thrust, driven beyond words at all and into noises of pure lust that pierced Bruce with pleasure at every movement.

Clark tensed, arched his back, and grabbed Bruce's wrists again. "Make me promise," he panted, clearly on the verge. "Never...never leave..."

Bruce felt his own climax coiling within him, urgent and undeniable. "Promise me, Clark, swear you're mine, you'll never leave me, swear it."

Clark gasped and threw himself against the other man. "Yes, yes, Bruce," he said, and the sound of his name in that wild voice was like a trigger again, drowning him in rapture and release, beyond words or thought.

He found himself draped across Clark's body, feeling the thunder of their heartbeats slowing, gentling. He kissed the side of Clark's neck, the line of his jaw. Clark's arms looped around him and held him close, wordlessly. They lay like that for some time, feeling the curves and angles of their bodies settling together, warm and comfortable.

Clark made a sudden movement of surprise against him. "Bruce. Listen." he whispered.

Bruce listened. He heard the lapping of water, the low hum of the engines, the hushed surging of waves all around them. "I don't hear anything," he said sleepily.

Clark nodded against Bruce's hair. "It's quiet," he said. Bruce supposed that a farm boy living in Metropolis might miss the tranquility of the country. That could explain the dazed happiness in Clark's voice.

Bruce held his lover in the star-drenched darkness of the room, listening to Clark repeat, his voice filled with shaking wonder, "It's so quiet..."

: : :

In the morning, Bruce Wayne opened his eyes, stretched, and yawned widely. He felt damn good.

Beside him, sunlight streamed across an empty pillow.

Bruce grinned lazily to himself as a large lump under the blankets shifted in response to his stretch. The snowy bedspread shifted, and Bruce felt warm lips moving up the inside of his thigh. The lips were replaced by a tongue, then by very delicate teeth.

"Once more unto the breach, dear friend, once more?" a voice drifted up from beneath the blankets, with something suspiciously close to a snigger in it.

Bruce groaned with a mixture of exasperation and delight. "Kent, you never warned me that you were a completely insatiable lech. How many times do you...uh..." the groan shifted over entirely into delight for a moment as Clark moved his mouth elsewhere.

Bruce tried to collect himself. "Honestly, Clark, I'm only human, you know!"

The caressing mouth halted abruptly. There was a flurry of motion, and Clark Kent emerged from under the blankets, his hair madly tousled and eyes bright. The morning sun glowed on his smiling face, touching it with gold and rose.

"Oh, I know," he said joyously, "And I love you for it."

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Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres 11: Revelations
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Summary: On the second day of the cruise, Bruce and Clark bask in the afterglow, flirt, and have their First Argument. An interruption by Luthor's henchmen leads to some startling conclusions for both of them.
Word Count: 2289

"All right, wait, let's count." Clark Kent was lying on top of Bruce Wayne. They were both naked, sweaty, sticky, tired, and extremely pleased with themselves. Clark's arms were crossed on the other man's chest. He drew a small line on Bruce's chest. "The first time was here on the bed, you topping."

Bruce shook his head. "I was so not topping that first time."

"Really?" A quizzically tilted head and angelic smile. "Because I distinctly remember getting fucked..."

Bruce tried to hide his frisson at the contrast between the seraphic face and the earthy language. "I don't care whose anatomy was where, you were the one topping."

Clark grinned smugly and started drawing lines on Bruce's chest again, keeping count and muttering to himself. "The couch...the bed again...the floor...the sofa...the veranda...the couch again..."

"Don't forget the shower."

"Never," Clark said sweetly. His counting finger stroked across Bruce's nipple, eliciting a delighted shiver. "And...we just finished up back here again, so we've come full circle. Nine times in fourteen hours. Not bad."

Bruce stretched. "You didn't give me time to prepare. I can do better than that."

Clark pondered. "I think the blowjobs only count for half, since there's only one climax in those cases."

"Except that one time."

Clark looked embarrassed. "That was an accident, it doesn't count."

"You came all over the sheets--it counts."

"All right, all right, you win." Clark rolled off of Bruce and onto his back, stretching out.

"What do I win?"

"A lifetime supply of me?" Clark caught himself, blushing madly. "I'm sorry, forget I said that--" his retraction was cut off by Bruce's mouth on his, then warm breath at his ear.

"And just how do I redeem that prize?"

Blue eyes deeper than the sky. "I think you already have."

: : :

They had to get food eventually, so ventured together to the Lido deck for some pizza, and soon found themselves having their First Argument.

"What do you mean, 'After I move to Gotham,' Bruce?" Clark interrupted, dropping his rather soggy slice of pizza onto the paper plate with a squish. "I live in Metropolis."

Bruce looked mystified. "I just assumed...I mean, you don't have to move into the Manor once I rebuild it, you could have your own place..."

"You're not listening." Clark pointed at his chest. "Me. Metropolis boy. That's where I work. That's where I live. It's not that I don't want to live with you. It's just that I live in Metropolis. I'd never ask you to leave Gotham."

"That's different. It's where I grew up, I have a home there. You don't have any strong ties to Metropolis."

"I--" Clark stopped, thought of Jason. He had so much to tell Bruce--for starters, that Metropolis really wasn't far from Gotham, not for him. He opened his mouth to blurt out the truth at last--and a small child ran by, almost knocking over the table. Clark suddenly realized how many people were within earshot and changed the topic, cringing inside at having left it for so long. It seemed unfair: now that he actually wanted to tell Bruce, he couldn't. "I have responsibilities, a job, my editor's been so good to re-hire me, I owe him--and don't tell me you can get me a position somewhere in Gotham," he said as Bruce started to speak, "I am not going to be beholden to you for my job!"

"I wasn't going to suggest it," Bruce said somewhat sulkily. A rather tense silence followed. Bruce glared out over the water, and Clark sneaked admiring glances at his profile. It seemed so unfair that someone should be so much more handsome frowning than smiling; it almost made Clark want to misbehave to keep him in a bad mood.

On the other hand, seeing Bruce unhappy made him wretched.

"The two cities aren't that far apart," he said placatingly. "I can get there pretty quickly. We'll see each other often, I know it." He leaned forward and smiled winsomely. "Come on, snookums, be a dear and forgive me."

Caught off-guard, Bruce snorted involuntarily. The grim lines of his mouth relaxed a little. "I'll let the conversation go for now...on one condition."

"Name it."

You never, ever, call me 'snookums' again."

"You got it--"

"--thank you--"

"--my little pookie bear."

Bruce threw the leftover ice in his cup at him. Clark roared with laughter. Bruce stood up and grabbed his hand. "All right, back to the room with you. Someone needs to be taught proper respect."

Clark kept up a running monologue of endearments all the way back to the room. "You lead the way, sweetcheeks, my honey bunch...I'm right behind you, studmuffin, my sugar..." The elevator opened and let them into the corridor leading to their room. "Waiting for you to teach me some respect, O apple of my eye, my dove, my dearest, my reason for living, my king of glory, heart of my heart..." The door to their room closed behind them. " adored, my only one, oh Bruce, my love, my love, my love."

: : :

"Are you sure you don't want to come along?"

"Are you sure you don't want to stay?"

Clark was lounging on the bed in flannel pajamas as Bruce came out of the bathroom, tying his tie.

"Just give me a couple of hours to visit the casino, make a public appearance." More to the point, Batman needed to try and get into Luthor's room and do some investigation. Fortunately, Clark's dislike of noise and smoke meant he was willing to let Bruce go alone. Bruce felt odd standing there in front of Clark with the suit on under his tuxedo. The longer he waited to tell Clark, the more dishonest and uncomfortable he felt. But here, on Lex Luthor's cruise ship--who knew if this room was bugged? He had found none, but he was just cautious enough that it seemed better to wait until after they were back on solid ground. Bruce hadn't counted on everything suddenly seeming so very sure, so completely right. He just hoped Clark would forgive him for keeping it a secret so long.

Clark flashed him a grin. "I'll be waiting here for you." He got off the bed, eyed Bruce up and down. "Has anyone ever told you you look hot in a tuxedo?"

Bruce paused, considered.

"Let me guess," Clark continued, "Hundreds of people?"

"Oh no...more like dozens."

Clark grinned and tried to rumple Bruce's hair; Bruce dodged.

There was a knock on the door.

"Did you order room service?" Bruce asked.


Bruce opened the door to find two very large men in the hall. Before he could say anything, they elbowed him aside and entered the room, swinging the door shut behind them.

"We got a message here for a Bruce Wayne and 'Companion'," sniggered one of the men. Suddenly he was holding a gun pointed at Bruce's stomach. His partner was leveling one at Clark's chest.

Bruce saw Clark's eyes go wide and panicked, staring at the gun pointed at Bruce. He was completely ignoring the gun pointed at his own chest, the lovesick idiot. For his part, Bruce could only see Clark, absurdly vulnerable in his pajamas. Bruce would be protected by the suit, but Clark, Clark...He put his hands up, tried to stall for time.

"Hey fellas, what's all this about?"

"You don't really need to know," said the thug. He jerked his head at the other gunman. "Do it."

Things happened very quickly as the two gunshots, muffled by silencers, cracked through the room. Suddenly Clark was standing directly in front of the man who was shooting at Bruce, knocking him out with a quick punch. The thug who had been aiming at Clark had toppled over even though no one was near him at all. And Bruce and Clark remained standing, staring at each other.

Clark spoke first. "Um. How'd he miss me?" he asked lamely.

Bruce stalked stiff-legged as a cat over to Clark. He put his finger through the bullet hole in the flannel over Clark's heart to touch the perfect, unmarred skin beneath. Clark shivered at the contact, a shuddering tremor that went across his whole body like a high-strung stallion's. The movement was not remotely human, and for the first time Bruce Wayne truly comprehended, truly believed.

"Jesus," he breathed.

Clark seemed broken from paralysis by the oath. He whirled from Bruce and went to the other unconscious thug, picking up something nearby that glinted metallic. "All right, then, what the hell is this, huh? What is this?" he demanded, brandishing it at Bruce.

"It looks like...a...batarang?" Bruce suggested. Anger brushed across Clark's face. He flicked the batarang past Bruce's ear; Bruce picked it deftly out of the air.

"Do not tell me you're..." Clark stopped dead, glancing about the room. Bruce could see him considering the possibility of surveillance as well. If there were bugs the damage was already done, but still...

Bruce spread his hands in silent chagrin and mouthed, "I'm Batman."

Clark sat down hard on the bed and took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes. "God damn it," he said mournfully and rather distantly. "I thought I had two friends."

Bruce stared at his face, not really listening, thoughts cascading through his head like a broken kaleidoscope, no pattern or coherence. Clark's face. It was like that optical illusion, he thought dazedly, where you can see either the vase or the profiles, but never both at the same time. What the hell... He focused. Clark. He blinked. Superman. Clark. Superman. Clark Superman ClarkSupermanClark--Kal.

Kal. It clicked into place.

A lot of things clicked into place, and Batman began to feel very annoyed with himself.

One of the thugs stirred and groaned, which cut off further conversation. Clark--Kal?--Clark thumped the goon very gently on the head and he subsided. "Can't talk in front of the assassins," he said numbly, looking at Bruce. "What now?"

Bruce said, "I suppose these guys should get dropped off at a police station back on the mainland."

"I suppose."

"And someone else some research."

Clark nodded, staring at him as if he'd never seen him before.

"And then, maybe we Outside?"

Clark still looked rather shell-shocked. "Okay, Bruce," he said with a sort of insane calm, "Sounds good. I'll find you when I get back."

"All right." Bruce let himself out of the room, Clark still in his torn pajamas staring after him. He found a dark corner of the deck and removed the tuxedo. He just hadn't been able to do it in front of Clark, somehow.




Batman shook his head. Focus on the burglary, Bruce. Think about your love life later.

He made his way toward Luthor's room, silent as the night but substantially more bewildered.

: : :

Superman winged over the ocean on the way back to the cruise ship. The cool night breeze fanned his face as he headed back to meet Bruceman--Bat Wayne--His brain stuttered wildly, mangling the familiar terms and settling into a sort of numbness. He couldn't seem to even begin to process all the implications of what he had just learned.

He saw the dark figure crouching on an abandoned deck and swooped up to it, hovering. The familiar rasp greeted his ears. "I didn't find anything incriminating in Luthor's berth. Some plans for taking over WayneTech, but any ruthless businessman worth his salt would have plans for that. It would be easier with Bruce Wayne gone, mind you. You?"

"The thugs are safe and sound back at the Metropolis police station. One of them regained consciousness before I dropped them off, but he didn't have much to say that would lead one to Luthor. I think maybe--"

Superman broke off. Batman was looking at him. Kal felt a sharp pulse of some emotion too strong and new to name go through him as he realized that was lust he saw in those shadowed eyes, in the set of the jaw. He could understand intellectually that if Bruce wanted him, Batman would as well, but to be face to face with it...face to face...

He lowered his feet to the deck, listening to the other man's heartbeat, undisguised for the first time. The same heartbeat he had heard hammering against his all night. Batman stood unmoving, his breath very slightly ragged as he looked at Kal. Superman took a step closer and heard the heartbeat accelerate. His own pulse thundered in his ears, drowning out the rhythm of the sea all around them.

"Show me your face," Kal whispered. "I want to see your face."

Batman hesitated. Then he reached up and peeled off the cowl in one fluid motion. Bruce's wolf-blue eyes, the sardonic eyebrows, the dark hair plastered against his forehead.

Bruce. In Batman's suit.

For Kal, it was like a lightning strike, a thunderclap of realization too intense to process. He had thought he had wanted Bruce before.

He had been wrong.

Kal heard an odd whimpering noise and realized it must have been him, since Bruce was still just standing there, unsmiling, gazing at him. Bruce. His lover, his partner, his mate. His equal and his other half in everything, his heart and his soul.

He put up a hand to touch Bruce, but found it shaking uncontrollably. He stood there, watching his hand shivering in the space between them, unable to bring himself to touch the other man. He wanted it too much, it was all too much.

Bruce reached out and wrapped his fingers around the trembling hand, brought it to his face. He was--impossibly--blushing, red staining his cheeks and making them hot to the touch. "I feel naked," he complained.

Kal felt shattered by lust, every fragment of him yearning. "Not naked enough."

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Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres 12: Confrontations
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Summary: Luthor's not done with Clark and Bruce yet, but he doesn't have any idea who he's dealing with--and they finally do. The outcome is never really in doubt. The penultimate chapter of "Music of the Spheres"--only one more to go after this!
Word Count: 3942

Clark and Bruce were lying again on their bed, side by side on their backs, completely exhausted.

They were really quite excessively pleased with themselves.

They hadn't managed to get entirely naked this time. Clark's blue shirt was hiked up under his armpits into a rumpled mess, the red "S" an unreadable tangle, his tights thrown in a pile on the floor. He reached over and stroked a hand lazily down Bruce's body, starting at the ebon armor still encasing the other man's torso and trailing down to the point where hard black leather gave way to soft pale skin at the waist. Their capes were spread across the bed, red and black extravagently crumpled together in waves beneath them.

As Clark's breathing slowed down from pants to sighs, he started to laugh. "You jackass," he gasped. "'Oh, I've got an impossibly hot date this weekend....I've got an enviable love life,'" he said, his voice a mockery of the Dark Knight's.

Bruce smirked. "Was I lying? And hey, you're the one who stood there and let me go on and on about how you needed a civilian identity, you schmuck." Bruce looked curiously at Clark. "So is all that Kansas farm boy stuff a lie, a fake persona?"

"No, no," Clark said hastily. "I really did grow up in Kansas. The rocket my Kryptonian parents sent me off in crashed in a field there, and the Kents found me and took me in, raised me as their son." Clark looked sad. "I wish you could have met my father. He taught me so much about being human." Mentioning his parents brought Clark's mind back to Bruce. "And I take it you weren't actually off wenching and debauching in Europe all those years?"

"I was training. After I almost killed my parents' murderer--" Bruce stopped short, remembered what he had said to Clark about Superman. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you didn't mean to abandon us, I should have known better."

Clark snorted softly. "Why? I screwed that one up."

But Bruce was off on another tangent, putting all the pieces into place. There seemed to be infinite complications. "Clark, that means Jason is--Jason is your son?" His mind struggled to re-define his view of that relationship, but all he could come up with was, "But...I thought you were gay."

Clark laughed. "Not exactly. I think I've finally figured out I'm...brusexual," he declared with relish. He looked over at Bruce with his eyes full of laughter. Bruce stared at the ceiling, running over the last two weeks in his head, realizing now how everything fit together.

"The music..." he said slowly. Clark gave him a sharp glance but said nothing. "At the club in Gotham, and last night. Dancing. That was the music you told me about as Kal, wasn't it?" Clark nodded, his eyes wary. "I...think I heard it, for a second there. I can see what you mean, about wanting to go back to it. It was so..." He sat up suddenly, looking so alarmed that Clark spoke before he could.

"It's okay, Bruce. I can't hear it any more. I won't leave you. I promised."

Startled by the intensity of his relief, Bruce leaned over Clark and thumped his chest jovially. "Just as long as I'm not in some freaky alien lifebond with you or something," he said, grinning.

"Don't worry, Bruce, you're not bound to me," Clark said cheerfully. Bruce frowned, but Clark continued smoothly, "Besides, I think that's illegal in both Gotham and Metropolis, isn't it?"

"What, bondage or matrimony?"

"Is there a difference?"

Bruce snorted and took Clark's face in his hands, staring at it intently. "I still feel like such an idiot for not noticing. I never imagined Superman would want to go around disguised as a mere human. Oh, now that I know you I understand why," he added quickly at Clark's expression. "And...I also understand it's not a disguise per se."

Clark blinked and looked absurdly pleased. "Thank you." He reached up and touched Bruce's lips with a gentle finger. "I should have recognized your mouth. God knows I'd spent enough time admiring Bruce Wayne's mouth."

"I've found if you change the voice enough people can't really get past that." Bruce pitched his voice low and gravelly, filling it with Dark Knight menace. "Not even irresistably gorgeous blue-eyed Kansas alien farmboys."

Clark's eyes almost crossed. "Jesus, Bruce," he said weakly. "Don't do that again without warning me."

Bruce kept his voice low. "Do what? Tell you I can't keep my hands off of you?" He bent his head to kiss Clark's chest, working his way downwards between comments. "That I can't keep my mouth off you? That you're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen?" Clark was making some truly amazing noises at this point. "That I'll never get enough of you?" He kissed Clark's hip bone and Clark...squeaked.

Bruce paused there, his shoulders shaking slightly. After a moment Clark said in a very small, pleading voice, "Don't stop?"

Bruce shook his head. "I can't do it when I'm laughing," he gasped. "I can't--" he pounded Clark's hip gently, shaking with hilarity. "You're not supposed to find it sexy, damn it! It's not a sexy voice!"

He pulled himself back up beside Clark, who was definitely pouting now. "It sure as hell is sexy, when I know who's making it."

"Great. You've ruined me. Now whenever I try to terrify some thug with it, all I'll be able to think about is you getting all turned on by it."

Clark growled. "Well, I certainly am." He shot a glance at Bruce. "You know, Kryptonian males require at least one blowjob a day to stay at peak health."

"That's not true."

"How do you know?" Clark's blue eyes were utterly guileless. "In fact, there was an ancient saying on Krypton: 'A blowjob a day keeps the blazrog away.'"

Bruce eyed Clark's face for a very long time. Clark blinked back at him. "No. No fair making up Kryptonian traditions to get extra blowjobs."

Clark sighed wistfully. "Ah, but wouldn't it be nice if it were true..." He grinned impishly as Bruce thumped at his ribs.

Feeling the taut muscles under his hands filled Bruce with a strange mixture of lust and awe. Sex with Kal had been very different than sex with Clark--not because the other man had acted any differently, but because Bruce now realized just how much power was coiled up inside his lover. It was like discovering that the pleasant fire you had been warming your hands at was in reality a molten volcano. Being caught up in Kal's arms had been dizzying, almost terrifying, until the moment Bruce had let go, fallen into trust as if falling into that volcano. Kal's heat and passion had transmuted that terror into a devouring rapture that left Bruce only craving more.

For the moment, however, he was content to lie next to Clark and feel him near and talk. The blessed release of being able to talk freely, openly, about both sides of their lives, trying to piece them together somehow.

" is this going to work? You and me?" he asked. "You'll be in Metropolis and I'll be in Gotham, and...will Bruce and Clark be open lovers?"

Clark frowned. "I'd like to be. The Planet's not as stuffy as you might think, so my job wouldn't be at risk. To be honest, it's dating you that's the problem with most of my co-workers. As long as I'm not going about flirting with every guy in the office--and I won't be, I won't be!" he said as Bruce growled at him, "I should be okay. If we can rehabilitate your image, even better."

"I don't want to make your work any harder, Clark. And--" Bruce frowned, bit his lip. "I assume you're hoping to stay in Jason's life to some extent...will Lois have a problem with that if we're open?"

Clark shook his head emphatically. "Lois is a lot of things, Bruce, but she's not one of those bigots who think being gay makes you a pedophile, and neither's Richard. I've seen them with other gay co-workers. As long as I'm trustworthy I think I can stay part of Jason's life." It was his turn to pause. "Would being with just one person hurt your reputation as a feckless playboy?"

"I'll just find other ways to be feckless," said Bruce, waving his hand. Then he sighed. "Damn, this is complicated. As you might have guessed, Alfred knows all about Batman. It'll probably be unwise to keep your identity a secret from him, not to mention impossible. The man's frankly sharper than I am. And Lucius Fox has a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy about Bruce Wayne's nocturnal adventures. He could well put two and two together and come up with Superman and Clark Kent."

Clark just smiled. "If you can trust them, I can trust them." Then he frowned again. "We still haven't dealt with Luthor. He'll try again, you know. He doesn't give up easily."

Bruce made a dismissive snorting noise. "The man can't even find competent assassins to send against us. I'm not worried about him. Hell, I need him to make some stupid move so I can stop being his business partner." He grinned at Clark. "That'll be a relief."

Clark tugged his shirt down and smoothed out some of the wrinkles, then shifted until his chest was against Bruce's, the slippery blue fabric against the seams of the black armor. His bare legs tangled with Bruce's, skin against skin. He slid his foot down Bruce's thigh, hooked Bruce's instep with his toes playfully. Looking at Bruce's face above the black suit, feeling Bruce's bare hips resting against his, he felt desire move through him again like starlight, like music.

"Luthor'll never know what hit him," said Bruce.

"Just like me," said Clark, bending to kiss him.

: : :

Lex Luthor was strolling on the deck when he spotted them: Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, sipping some kind of frozen daquiris with flowers and umbrellas in them.

They were decidedly not dead.

Luthor's pace slowed. The helpful men he had hired back on shore to stow away and take care of the pair really should have gotten the job done by now. What was going on? He stopped by their table.

The two of them smiled at him as he approached: Wayne warmly, the reporter more shyly. "Hiya, boys," he hailed them. "Enjoying the cruise?"

Bruce grinned. "I haven't had so much fun in ages, Mr. Luthor. Really."

"No problems sleeping last night? No, uh, disturbances?"

Kent mumbled something about sleeping very well. Bruce laughed and said, "Well, we didn't actually get much sleeping done, did we, hon?" He reached over and punched the reporter playfully on the shoulder. Kent went scarlet and almost spilled his drink, but muttered something that sounded assenting.

Lex found his teeth grinding and carefully unclenched his jaw. He had been pretty sure the relationship was more than friendly, but to have them flirting right in front of him--! He eyed the reporter, trying not to glare. Kent slumped further under his scrutiny, his unkempt hair falling in his eyes and his foot drumming a nervous tattoo on the deck. Bruce was smiling at him, and there was no doubting the playboy was utterly smitten. Lex was mystified. What in the world could Bruce Wayne see in Clark Kent?

Well, there was no accounting for tastes. And their sexual habits were less distressing to him than their unfortunate habit of continuing to draw breath. The two "professionals" he had hired must have taken their advance and cut out on him. As if it would have been much of a challenge to plug these two pansies and toss them overboard. Well, as his dear father had always said, if you want someone killed properly...

"Brucie, m'boy, I actually stopped by to tell you that we've made an amazing discovery on the rig! I just had to come invite you to go out with me and check it out as the ship passes on its way back. I'll have a helicopter come around and take us out in a few hours."

Bruce's eyes lit up. "Really? Wow, that would be fantastic." He paused. "Can Clark come with us?"

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of leaving your pal behind, Bruce." He reached out to ruffle the man's hair, but at that point Kent really did spill his drink, and mopping up puddles of daquiri occupied the two of them completely.

Lex smiled to himself as he walked away. The damn rig hadn't turned up anything and had become a massive waste of money. A heavily insured massive waste of money.

Lex was pretty sure he could kill two--no, three--birds with one stone here.

After he was out of earshot and the drink cleaned up, Clark shot Bruce a look. "Hon?" he said, scandalized, his cheeks still red.

"Hey, you said yourself you wanted to be out. Where better to start than with Lex Luthor?" As Clark rolled his eyes, Bruce went on, "Do you think he's really found...anything important out there?"

Clark mouth quirked. "There's nothing there to find. Within three days of the event, I had gone out there with a great deal of lead shielding and gotten rid of all the stuff I could find."

Bruce's jaw dropped. "'s been nothing out there to find all this time?"

"Just how stupid do you think I am? I'm not leaving huge chunks of something that can kill me lying around for just anyone to find."

Bruce started to laugh. "I will never underestimate you again."

"Damn skippy, playboy."

: : :

"You know, Mr. Luthor...I'm beginning to get the impression that you might not actually like me."

Luthor snapped the padlock closed on the chains tying Clark and Bruce to a pillar on the rig. "Bruce? Shut up."

Clark felt the cold cement against his back. He couldn't see Bruce, chained to the opposite side of the pillar, but as he stood there he suddenly felt two warm hands snake around the pillar on either side, find his, and squeeze.

The impossible man was enjoying himself.

Clark was forced to wonder if all humans were insane, or merely the ones he tended to hang out around.

Lex circled the pillar once, his team of flunkies shadowing him, coming to a stop facing Bruce, out of Clark's vision. This was usually the point where Lex felt it necessary to give a long, ranting speech, Clark thought with resignation. Indeed, Luthor did not disappoint.

"Truly, Bruce, I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but apparently you stand between me and my ability to finally destroy that alien menace. With you out of the way, I can take over WayneCorp, consolidate my power, and find some way to keep humanity safe...and myself wealthy, of course. I'm afraid, my dear boy, that you and your sweetheart are merely...collateral damage."

His voice drew closer to Bruce. "It's a pity, really. You're a lovely young man." There was a horrific damp silence, followed by a grunt of pain from Lex and the sound of a blow across someone's face.

"The bitch bit me," complained Luthor.

"Don't," said Bruce, low and quick, and Clark shut his eyes and stood very still.

He kept his eyes closed, closed, very closed, until the helicopter's rotors chopped the air and Bruce said, "They're gone now."

Clark took a deep, steadying breath and snapped the chains holding them. Bruce stepped away from the pillar and stared at him. "All right," said Bruce a bit shakily, "It'll take a little while to get used to seeing geeky Clark Kent breaking steel chains like paper." A livid bruise was already rising on one high cheekbone. Bruce smiled slightly at the expression on Clark's face and touched the bruise lightly. "Can you check to make sure there isn't anyone else left on the rig?"

Clark concentrated as Bruce knelt next to the nearest of the four bombs that had been placed around them, examining it carefully. "I don't hear any other heartbeats. We're clear."

He was still dressed in his dinner suit and tie; he was reaching up to loosen the tie when Bruce said, "Slowly."


"Go slowly. I want to watch this."

Clark paused, his fingers still around the knot of the tie. "You do realize there are four explosive devices near us, ready to go off and send this rig to the bottom of the sea?"

Bruce's eyes were bright; he didn't look away from Clark as he nodded. "Uh-huh. They're on a ten-minute timer and we've got at least seven minutes left. There's still plenty of time.


Bruce settled against the pillar they had been tied to and crossed his arms. Clark shook his head, stopped untying the tie, and took off his dress shoes and socks, revealing the red slippers beneath. Then he removed the suit coat and folded it neatly, putting it on the ground. He unbuckled his belt and stepped out of his pants, revealing the blue tights; the white shirt still hung low enough to cover the briefs. Bruce gave an appreciative wolf whistle. Clark, deeply torn between dying of embarrassment, wanting to whisk Bruce to safety, and enjoying the attention, slipped the loosened tie off. He stared for a while at the other man, then, as slowly as he could, unbuttoned the shirt, watching an indescribable torrent of emotion wash over Bruce's face as the red insignia came into view. It was like a strip tease that left him more than naked, somehow--left him utterly vulnerable, exposed as his truest self, there in the transition between human and alien.

His hands were shaking again.

He shrugged the shirt off his shoulders, felt the silken cape cascading down his back from its hidden pocket. He slid the glasses down his nose, pausing to cast Bruce a look over the top rim, and tucked them away. Then the final step: Clark threw back his shoulders, straightened his posture, held his head high and took a deep breath, brushing his hair into the proper place with the ease of long practice.

Superman stood in front of Bruce Wayne.

Looking away from what he saw in Bruce's face, Kal said softly, "All right, let's disarm those bombs."

But Bruce shook his head. "Leave them."

"You own part of this rig as well, Bruce. It was a substantial investment."

"It was built to find a way to harm you. It can go to hell for all I care." Bruce walked a few steps closer to Kal, his eyes still fixed on the bright, angular face. "Consider it--" he bit his lip, continued, "--consider it gift, of sorts."

A long pause. Then, quicker than thought, Kal had Bruce in his arms for a kiss that could never erase memory, could only etch the moment into the mind forever.

Superman snatched Bruce Wayne from the inferno as the rig exploded around them.

: : :

Lex Luthor leapt from the helicopter, charging through the crowd of socialites on the deck. "My God, someone stop him!" he yelled. "It's Bruce Wayne, he's gone mad! He's rigged the platform with explosives, told us to get the hell out, he was blowing the place up and taking himself and that reporter with it!" People came streaming from around the ship in response to Luthor's frantic speech. "Someone call 911, quick!" Luthor didn't know what exactly Batman meant when he said he had "dirt" on Bruce Wayne, but he was pretty sure it would come to light after the billionaire committed messy double suicide and would explain the behavior satisfactorily.

The rig went up in a very aesthetically pleasing fireball minutes later, causing the crowd to flinch and murmur. Lex sagged dramatically on the railing. "Oh Bruce, Bruce, how could you?" he sobbed. "I would have helped you, somehow, I--"

Luthor gaped in fury as Superman descended from the sky, a slightly singed and smokey but unharmed playboy in his arms. As they landed on the deck, Bruce stepped away from the Kryptonian and pointed an accusing finger at Luthor.

"Lex Luthor, you disgusting, back-stabbing, treacherous snake!" He appealed to the crowd. "He was going to kill me and try and take over WayneCorp in his crazy vendetta against Superman. If it weren't for Superman, here--" The Kryptonian smiled politely, "--I'd be dead and he'd be one step further to completing his twisted schemes. I can't believe I ever listened to a word the man said."

This final perfidy was too much for Luthor. "'Twisted schemes?' 'Twisted schemes'? You didn't think they were so awful when you were helping me figure out how to get our hands on some of that mineral to kill the alien bastard!" The crowd started to mutter and Luthor glared at them wildly. "Are you all insane? He needs to be stopped! He's not a god, why the hell do you all kneel down before him?" The mood had definitely turned on him now, and he rounded on Superman. "What, did you leave that other guy there on the rig to die? He wasn't important enough to save?"

Superman crossed his arms and frowned. "Clark Kent was back on this ship before Bruce Wayne, Luthor. Mr. Wayne insisted on staying behind to make sure no other innocents were at risk from your murderous plans. I believe if you were to check his cabin, you'd almost certainly find Mr. Kent there--probably busy writing up a story for tomorrow's edition of the Planet."

Luthor was almost frothing now. "Just go ahead and kill me, then, and get it over with! I know you want to! I can see it in your eyes!"

Superman's face was inhumanly calm and remote. "Lex Luthor, I have no personal enmity toward you at all. But when you threaten innocents, you must face the consequences. I'm afraid the world is safer with you behind bars." He lifted off, accompanied by applause from the crowd on the deck, which he acknowledged with a wave before disappearing into the clouds.

A few of the larger men among the crowd laid hold of Luthor, who snarled angrily. As he spat curses at humanity in general and Bruce Wayne in particular, Clark Kent suddenly appeared on the deck from below. He strode up to Luthor and aimed a clumsy punch at his face, connecting hard enough to reel the other man back with a trickle of blood on his chin.

"That's for kissing my boyfriend," said Clark Kent, breathing heavily.

Then a look of pained surprise crossed his face and he clutched at his hand. "Ow, ow, owwwww," he moaned, his voice rising to a whine. "Oh, my hand, my hand..." He hopped about the deck wildly and awkwardly, making high-pitched keening sounds and grimacing. A few people in the crowd began to snicker.

Clark held his hand out toward the billionaire, wincing in pain. "Do you think it's broken, Bruce?" he asked piteously.

The playboy took the reporter's hand in his, looking over it to meet Clark's eyes. The women in the crowd close enough to see his face at that moment caught their breath, sighed, and mentally crossed Bruce Wayne off their list of eligible bachelors.

Bruce lifted Clark's hand to his mouth, kissed the knuckles lightly.

"My hero," he said dryly.

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Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres Coda: Reverberations
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary:  Bruce and Clark lay the groundwork for their partnership as Batman and Superman, and face their greatest challenge ever:  charming Lois and Alfred, respectively.  The final part of "Music of the Spheres"--it should have been Chapter 13, but I found myself oddly superstitious, so it's a "coda."  *grin*  I will probably write more within this universe though!
Word Count: 3184

A figure was seated in a dimly lit room, watching a recording of a celebrity gossip show.  The top news of the day was Superman's rescue of Bruce Wayne, and the subsequent revelation that the playboy billionaire was involved with a male Metropolis reporter.

The figure leaned forward as Superman and Bruce Wayne landed on the deck of the ship.  When Bruce Wayne said "I couldn't have done it without the help of Superman, here," the figure's eyes narrowed.  He paused the recording.

When Bruce Wayne kissed Clark Kent's hand and said "My hero," the figure hissed between his teeth.

This was serious.  This was serious indeed.

The figure consulted a piece of paper, picked up a phone and started dialing.

Plans had to be made.

: : : 

"I'm not sure this is a good idea."

"If we're going to work together, we have to know what our limits are, right?"  Batman stood on a building in Metropolis, hours after Luthor had been carted off, still-ranting.  "I don't want to wait for an emergency to find out how quickly we can get somewhere."  His voice was pitched low and raspy even though no one was around.  Clark marveled once again at the fact that this avatar of dark vengeance was also his bedmate.

"I've never flown anywhere close to full speed holding a human.  Except that one time, but you were almost dead already.  My cape should protect you from the worst of the friction, but--"  Superman broke off as Batman nudged himself into his arms.

"It's important to know how fast you can safely go with me."

"You're not just doing this because you're some kind of speed freak, are you?"

"Who, me?"

Superman sighed and wrapped his cape around Batman, scooping him up into a full carry.  Bruce's voice--his real voice--emerged rather indistinctly from inside the cape: "After I finish rebuilding the Manor I think I'll have you carry me over the threshold."  His voice dropped back down into Batman grittiness.  "Make sure to fly low and stay under radar and out of sight."

"That's another thing I don't like," complained Superman.

"Kal, we both agreed that people would be less likely to link Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent to Superman and Batman if we cordially loathe each other.  Plus if people assume we won't work together because we dislike each other, criminals will be more likely to underestimate us."

"I pity the fool who underestimates you."

"Me too."  The faintest hint of laughter through the gravel.  "And finally, we don't want to tarnish Superman's reputation by having him associate with a vigilante."

Superman snorted.  "I still think the main reason is you like the idea of throwing a public hissy fit whenever I enter 'your' city."

"The irony does appeal.  Hey--no tickling."

Superman straightened his fingers with an effort, tightened his arms slightly around his armful of Bat.  "You ready?"

"You're the one stalling."

"All right then."  Superman took off from the roof, picking up speed as he went, listening carefully to Batman's heartbeat.  The heartbeat was a little fast, but strong and steady, so he pushed it a bit harder, salty air whipping by them, the whir of speed humming all around them.  Soon he was at close to top speed.  The heartbeat below his hands accelerated until Kal started to be worried.  He pulled to a stop three minutes after he started.  The heartbeat beneath his cape continued to hammer.  "Batman?"  The person in the cape was alarmingly silent.  "B?"  Even shaking slightly.  "Bruce?"  Kal panicked.  He'd hurt him somehow, he'd pushed him too far...
Batman emerged from the red cape and looked around him at the ice-sheer cliffs of Antarctica, pulling off his cowl to better look around.  He was trembling.  He grabbed Superman's costume at the neck, dragging him close, his eyes full of fierce elation. 
"Kal, Kal, my God...what we can do together!"

: : :

A Gotham hospital room.  Lieutenant James Gordon is by the mayor's bedside.  Someone--they think the Maroni family--has managed to poison him in retaliation for recent crackdowns.  When the nurse leaves the room the air stirs, the curtains move:  Batman is checking the mayor's medical records.

Gordon sighs.  "The doctors say the only antidote is synthesized from an enzyme found in the salivary glands of a small, endangered tree frog in the Amazonian rainforest, and the Maronis took out the only supply of the drug in a hit last week.  Hopeless, unless you happen to have some tree-frog salivary glands in a specimen jar somewhere."

Batman grunts.  "Keep an eye on the mayor."  He doesn't have to say that someone close to the mayor, maybe someone in the police force, probably administered the poison.  The curtains move again.

Three hours later he's back with a small vial.  "This should do the trick."

Gordon holds the vial to the harsh hospital light.  Bottled hope, a man's life saved.  "You keep rare Amazonian tree frogs in your cave?"

"Just their salivary glands.  Next to the eye of newt." 

Jim Gordon can almost believe it.

: : :

Bruce Wayne walked into the offices of the Daily Planet carrying a large, shiny paper bag.    Ignoring Clark, he walked straight up to Lois Lane's desk.  Richard White stood up from his own desk; Bruce took a deep breath and addressed Lois, including Richard in his attention as well.

"Ms. Lane, Clark has informed me that Lex Luthor has done a great deal to endanger you and your family.  I want you to know that I bitterly, deeply regret ever throwing my lot in with him.  It was a stupid decision, and I am very, very sorry."  He reached into the bag and pulled out a dozen red roses.  "Trite, I know," he said at the look on Lois's face.  "But please believe me that the sentiment behind them is sincere.  If there is ever anything I can do to make it up to you more meaningfully, please let me know."

Lois eyed Bruce.  "Actually...we've ordered hoagies from D'Amato's, across the street.  Usually I'd send Jimmy to pick them up, but would you be a dear and go fetch them instead?"  She held out a wad of bills to him and smiled.

It was a test and both of them knew it. 

Bruce grinned easily back at her.  "Just across the street, right?  I saw it as I came in."  He plucked the money out of her hand.  "I'll be right back with lunch, then." 

He paused and met her eyes squarely.  "Thank you."  As he left the newsroom, he may or may not have winked reassuringly at Clark, sitting tense at his desk.

Lois dropped the roses on her desk and came over to Clark's, pulling up a chair and sitting next to him.  Clark shuffled a few papers.  "You know," said Lois thoughtfully, "He might just be good for you, Clark."  At Clark's surprised look, she continued.  "You can get so glum and introverted sometimes.  You lack confidence.  You need someone sunny and cheerful like Bruce in your life--you know, to draw you out.  He seems like a decent, friendly guy, and Lord knows Luthor's fooled smarter men then him."  Clark coughed and she added hastily, "Oh, it's not that he seems dumb...not per se.  But he's not exactly Einstein, you know?"  She smiled at Clark.  "That's not what you need anyway. seem to care for him very much."

"He's my reason for living," Clark said, then looked rather embarrassed and shuffled more papers. 

Lois watched him affectionately for a moment, then reached out and patted him on the shoulder.  "I'm just happy to see you happy.  And, if he ever breaks your heart, I'll break his kneecaps."

Clark snorted a gust of laughter, as though the image of Lois kneecapping Bruce Wayne was too funny for words.  As he did, Bruce came back through the door with a bag full of sandwiches and distributed them cheerfully throughout the office.  He handed Lois and Clark theirs last.  Clark split his in half and handed it to him to share, and the three of them ate in silence for a moment.

Lois looked over at Richard and tilted her head questioningly.  He shrugged back and nodded slightly.  She turned back to Clark.

"You know, Richard, Jimmy and I are going to take the munchkin to the football game this Sunday and we've got a couple of extra tickets...would you like to come along?  You can even bring Bruce, if he promises not to be too smug when Gotham trounces the Metros yet again."

It was Clark's turn to look at Bruce, Bruce's turn to shrug and smile.  "I think I can find the time to come down, but I can't make any promises about not being smug."  Lois rolled her eyes.

Clark beamed.  "Gee, Lois, that'd be swell."

: : : 

Superman hovers in the middle of the street, his arms crossed, as the Intergang lieutenant triumphantly brings to bear on him a ridiculously gigantic cannon of some sort, all tubes and sparking bits.  "Your interference in Metropolis is at an end, Man of Steel!" he cackles.  "This ultrasonic decapacitator is designed to stop even you!  Prepare to be pulverized!"

Superman raises an eyebrow, unimpressed.

The Intergang villain aims the cannon at the red "S," then presses the button theatrically.

Nothing happens.  Well, the cannon makes an embarrassing "doink" sound, but nothing more.

Superman produces a shiny little widget, holds it up in the air. "I'm sorry, did your uber kill-Superman machine require this piece to work?  I took the liberty of removing it a couple of hours ago."  He smiles.

In his ear, a sardonic chuckle.  "You could have mentioned that to him before he went through the whole Villainous Rant, you drama queen."

Superman's smile widens just a bit.

: : :

Clark and Bruce picked their way through the construction surrounding Wayne Manor, making their way back toward the stables and the servants' quarters. 

"There's no reason to be nervous, Clark."

"The man's practically your father, Bruce, and last time we met it didn't go so well.  He kind of chewed me out."

"You're not trespassing this time.  You're a guest.  And he knows you're coming, I called and asked him to make dinner for us."  Bruce skirted a pile of rubble.  "I win over Lois in the morning, you win over Alfred in the evening, all in a good day's work."

"I'm not 'cheerful' and 'sunny' like you, though, " Clark muttered just a little resentfully.  "And we've got a slightly harder discussion ahead of us, don't you think?"

"Harder than having to apologize in public to your former girlfriend?  I doubt that."  Bruce swung open the door to the makeshift apartments he was staying in behind the manor.  "Alfred?  We're home."  Clark felt a warm glow at the sound of the last two words, which he allowed to lift his mood somewhat.

The butler came into the cluttered room smiling, and gave Bruce a clap on the shoulder before turning to Clark.  "And Mister Kent.  Wayne Manor--such as it is--welcomes you again." 

Clark held out his hand.  "Pleasure to meet you again, Mr. Pennyworth.  Um, I hope we can get off on a better footing this time."  He smiled nervously and brushed hair out of his eyes.

The other man raised his eyebrows, eyeing Clark appraisingly.  "Shall we start by having you call me Alfred?"  At Clark's smiling nod, he went on, "I have some supper ready for you both if you'll have a seat in the dining room."

"Actually, Alfred," said Bruce, "There are a few things we really do need to discuss."

"Master Wayne, it's well past suppertime and anything you have to discuss can wait until after you've eaten."  Bruce shrugged at Clark and they sat down.

Alfred brought out two bowls of steaming chili and a basket full of cornbread.  Clark took a bite and grinned.  "This is fantastic!  It's even tofu chili!"

"Tofu?"  Bruce wrinkled his nose.  "Alfred's never made tofu chili before."

"Don't be ridiculous, Bruce, when it's simmered in cumin and chile pepper you can't tell the difference."  Clark took another huge spoonful and helped himself to some cornbread.  "This is so great, it's just like..." his voice trailed off and he frowned at his bowl.   As he considered his meal, chewing thoughtfully, Alfred returned from the kitchen.

"Oh, I took the liberty of buying a pair of coffee mugs I saw downtown this afternoon."  He put the mugs down on the table:  the Batman one in front of Clark, the Superman one in front of Bruce.  "I think they rather suit you, and I find a nice, hot cup of coffee helps facilitate after-dinner conversation," he said smugly.  "Now, what was it that you found so pressing, Master Wayne?"

Clark stared blankly at his bat-mug; Bruce started to snigger.  "I told you he was sharper than I was."

"To be fair, Master Wayne, I did have the advantage of knowing your secret already.  When I saw the two of you--the three of you," he amended, nodding at the still-poleaxed Clark, "together, it was fairly easy to guess the rest. 

Besides," he went on with an affectionate look at Bruce, "I always knew that if Master Wayne fell in love, it would be with someone--shall we say--quite extraordinary.  So when I saw reporters pestering Martha Kent to talk about her lucky boy--"

"The paparazzi are bothering my mother?" Clark stood up suddenly enough to rock the table.

"There were only a few willing to travel all the way to Kansas, sir, and she put them in their place right quick," Alfred reassured him.  "In any case, once I knew she was aware of your new...friendship, I decided to call her to find out what you might require as an occasional houseguest."

Bruce pointed a spoon at him.  "And that's the only reason you called?"

Alfred looked uncomfortable.  "She isn't aware of your...other hobbies yet, sir, but she will probably figure it out if--as--this relationship continues.  I'll admit I did want to get some sense of her personality."

Clark looked somewhat mutinous.  "The fact that she's kept my secret for more than twenty-five years should tell you something."

"Indeed, sir, but there's something to be said for checking things first-hand.  I believe I was able to reassure her, without saying anything imprudent, that her son was not dating some brainless pretty-boy millionaire."

Clark eyed Bruce.  "Not at all.  He's a billionaire."  Bruce lobbed a bit of cornbread at him.  "So does my mother pass the Alfred test?"

"With flying colors, sir.  I was quite impressed at her ability to talk around certain topics."

Bruce put down his coffee mug with its red-and-yellow logo, which he was certainly not holding rather possessively.  "If the press attention gets to be too much, she's welcome to come and stay with us.  It's tight quarters here right now, but the security's pretty high."

Clark raised his eyebrows.  "You'd let my mother come and stay with you?  You really are in love."

Bruce shrugged dismissively.  "It's mostly my fault she's getting hounded, after all."

"I'll pass the invitation on, if you're ready to deal with her trying to redecorate everything.  She has a certain fondness for plaid." 

Bruce shuddered elaborately, then smirked.

After dinner, Clark offered to help Alfred wash the dishes.  The two of them stood over the sink, washing and wiping, as Bruce went to unpack from his trip.  After a while, Clark cleared his throat.  " I have your blessing?"

Alfred focused on scouring a pot for a moment while Clark agonized.  Then he put the pot down, turned and looked squarely at Clark.  "Do your best to try and keep my boy safe."

Clark slipped his glasses off so Alfred could see his eyes unguarded.  "Mr. Pennyworth, I swear I'll do anything to keep Bruce safe...anything that doesn't interfere with his--with our mission, and his autonomy."

Alfred nodded.  For a moment, a relief so intense it was almost painful glinted in his eyes, and his shoulders sagged as if removing a weight.  He reached out to rest his soapy hands on Clark's shoulders.  "That's all I've ever hoped for," he said simply. 

Then he turned back to the dishes and asked Clark about his mother's cornbread recipe and the conversation slipped easily back into safe and small topics.

After the dishes were done, Bruce took Clark through the jumble of construction to uncover a trap door in one corner of the foundations.  Below was the dim cave filled with the twittering of bats and the rushing sound of the waterfall in the corner.  Bruce watched Clark's face as the other man scanned the cave, taking in the tumbler, the computers, the workbenches.  "This is incredible," Clark breathed.

"So speaks the man with the crystal palace full of alien tech."

"No, no, this is totally different.  You did all this yourself, with your own hands.  It's amazing."  Clark reached down and clasped Bruce's hands, brought them to his lips.  "You're amazing."

Bruce moved backwards a couple of steps, pulling at Clark, his face eager.  "Let me show you everything.  I want to show you everything."

It took hours to go through all of the gadgets and gear, until moonlight was glimmering through the waterfall.  Finally they were at the computer, Clark standing behind Bruce with his arms wrapped around his chest.  "Can you hack into Stagg Robotics' databanks?"

Bruce tapped at the keyboard.  "Now, why would you want me to do something of such questionable legality?"

"The CEO is hiding something, I know it.  If you can just give me something to go on, Superman can push at the right spots."

Bruce paused.  He stood up, shifting in Clark's arms until they were facing each other.  For a long time he looked gravely at Clark, then leaned forward to kiss him gently, tenderly, passion running just beneath the surface.  He broke the kiss and rested his forehead against Clark's, drawing a deep breath.

"Oh, love, what we'll do together," he whispered. 

Then he turned back to the computer, rubbing his hands together gleefully over the keyboard.

"Let's get to work."

: : :

It's not a perfect world.  Good people still die.  Bad people still succeed.

But fewer than if they weren't there; fewer than if they weren't working together.

There are still failures, and still nightmares.  But there is also joy, and love. 

And music, both heard and unheard.

Chapter Text

Interlude 1/5: Mother-not-Quite-in-Law
Title:  Interlude 1/5:  Mother-Not-Quite-in-Law
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes:  Interludes 1-5 are set right after "Music of the Spheres," and are loosely connected short stories showing different relationships between Clark and Bruce and other characters.  Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Summary:  As Bruce and Clark start to settle into their new life together, they pay a visit to Smallville and Bruce attempts to charm Martha Kent.
Word Count: 3923

This story manages to fulfill the requirements for [info]worlds_finest  monthly challenge of "porn stash"!  *wins Shoehorn Award, takes a bow*

Also, [info]sasha_anu and [info]damo_in_japan ironed out more wrinkles than usual in this one, so any good effects are probably their doing...

Batman felt the cold and damp of the cave in his bones more than usual as he returned from an evening's work.  He had stopped four muggings and a burglary...a slow night, but a satisfying one anyway. 

The tumbler needed an oil change and some repairs.  Bruce needed some sleep.  He hadn't gotten a lot since coming back from the weekend cruise three days ago--playing catchup.  He changed from the suit into a gray coverall and got under the car.  He could sleep later; the tumbler needed to be ready to go. 

An hour or so later, he heard the chirping noise that indicated a new instant message was on his computer.  He emerged from underneath the car to find that a muffin and warm mug had appeared near his computer at some point during his work.  He wiped some of the oil off his hands and picked up the blue-red-and yellow mug, took a sip, and frowned.  Warm milk instead of coffee.  Apparently Alfred also felt he needed to get some sleep.  The instant message was still flashing.

Mildmannered:  Late night?

Bruce yawned and blinked groggily at the message.  Apparently Clark was listening in again.  He did that a lot lately.  It should feel like snooping...but somehow it didn't.  "Why are you instant messaging me?" he said out loud.  He tapped his ear once, triggering the receiver that let him hear Clark's voice.  Nothing.

Mildmannered:  It's 8:00, I just got to work like most normal people, dummy, and it would hardly do to be muttering under my breath to myself here constantly.

Bruce took a bite of muffin.  "You probably shouldn't be IM-ing at work either."

Mildmannered:  I've tried to keep off the channel when you're busy in the evenings, but I miss talking to you. 

"I told you, I can't do the routine with you nattering in my ear.  You make me smile.  It's very annoying."

Mildmannered:  It would help if you typed some messages now, you know.  I'm just typing to myself here atm.

Bruce rolled his eyes.

Drunkenwastrel:  Sorry...I wasn't ignoring you.  How's my little sweetie?
Mildmannered:  Oh, peachy-keen.  Working hard.

"I rather like this setup, actually.  I can tell you all the filthy things I plan to do to you next time I see you, while keeping up a stream of unbearably twee IM conversation."

Drunkenwastrel:  Have you decided what you're going to wear to the party next week?  Something darling, I hope.
Mildmannered:  Only the best for you, hon.

Bruce grinned.  "I still haven't had you here in the cave.  I think getting you bent over the tumbler sounds fun, don't you?  All that white skin up against my nice, black'd have to be careful not to dent it when you came, though."

No instant messages, nothing but silence in his ear except for faint, hoarse breathing.  Bruce tapped his ear again to prompt the receiver to pick up environmental noise beyond Clark's voice.  Now he could hear the office sounds of the Daily Planet, but no keyboard tapping nearby.  "Have I rendered you utterly speechless, Clark?"

Mildmannered:  You bastard.

Bruce laughed out loud, the laugh segueing abruptly into a yawn.

Mildmannered:  You had a late night, you should get some sleep.
Drunkenwastrel:  You may have a point.
Mildmannered:  After all, you have to be rested to meet my mother tomorrow.
Drunkenwastrel:  An *excellent* point.  Good night, Clark.
Mildmannered:  *kiss*

As Bruce went to type his response, there was a blur of motion behind him and someone was brushing the hair away from the back of his neck to kiss the nape firmly.  Bruce turned around, but no one was there now.

Drunkenwastrel:  You're crazy, you know.  *kisses back*

As he climbed the stairs and headed toward the makeshift apartments, he reset the receiver to hear only Clark's voice again.  Even if the man sometimes broke into his sleep by talking in meetings, Bruce found that somehow he slept better with Clark's breath sounding softly in his ear.

But there was no reason to tell Clark that.

: : :

"I still say we could have driven."  Clark walked up the stairs to the second floor of the farmhouse, Bruce close behind him.

"I'm not taking days out of my schedule to do some crazy buddy road trip with you, Clark."  The staircase was narrow and steep;  Bruce was admiring the view.  "Besides, I'm not going to risk you getting sick of me, trapped together in a car for so long." 

The view turned around abruptly and scooted down two stairs to wrap Bruce up tightly, push him against the flowered wallpaper, and kiss him, tongue caressing and probing delicately, insistently.  "Don't be ridiculous.  I'll get sick of breathing before I get sick of you."  Clark let Bruce go and started back up the stairs again.  Bruce looked after him and realized he'd forgotten something.  What was it?  Something Clark had said...

Oh yes.  Breathing.  He inhaled shakily and continued to follow Clark.

The farmhouse was empty;  Superman and Bruce had touched down in the field behind the house to find Martha Kent's car gone, and Clark had offered to show Bruce around while they waited.

Now Bruce walked into a tiny attic room, the ceiling sloping over his head.  There was, as he had been warned, an inordinate amount of plaid.  He bumped his head on an X-Wing model hanging from the ceiling as he moved into the room.  Clark sat down at the edge of the bed and grinned at him.  "You look so totally out of place here, Bruce.  It's quite...charming."

Bruce looked down at his "Gotham U." sweatshirt and jeans.  "I tried to dress appropriately."

Clark shook his head.  "You're a hopeless cause.  It's like trying to dress a phoenix up as a parakeet."  Bruce snorted and twirled the suspended X-Wing with his finger. 

Clark was rummaging through his bedstand.  "I didn't take much time to look around last time I was here, in a hurry to get back to Metropolis.  Hard to believe it's been five looks exactly the same.  Hey, it's my stamp collection!"  He looked up to see that Bruce had opened his closet and was poking about in it.  "Hey, what are you doing?"

"Looking for your porn stash."

" what?"

"Your porn stash."  He pried up a corner of the bed to peer between the matress and boxsprings.  "Come on, every teenaged boy has a porn stash.  I want to know which pictures the magazines fall open to and if they feature handsome, dapper young men or not."  He got on his hands and knees to poke about under the bed.

Clark stretched himself out on the bed, his feet lopping over the end now.  He crossed his hands behind his head.  "You won't find one."

"So it's out in the barn?"

"No, it's not out in the barn."

Bruce sat back on his haunches and shrugged.  "I give up, then.  Where?"

"I mean I didn't have one, Bruce.  I didn't...think about sex a whole lot at that age."  Bruce's eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hair.  "I didn't!  I was worried about other things, you know, like if I was going to start accidentally killing my family with my eyes tomorrow and how I was ever going to hide the fact that I couldn't be cut." 

Bruce pulled a pile of old Star Trek novels out from under the bed.  "This is the closest thing you've got to porn?"

Clark turned a bit red.  "I found them intriguing."

Bruce tossed a book at Clark and glared.  "You expect me to believe that as a sixteen-year-old, you weren't obsessed with sex?"

Clark caught the book carefully and grinned.  "You're revealing a lot about yourself here, Bruce.  I'm just sorry I'll never have the chance to look for your stash."  He flipped through the book absent-mindedly, put it on the bedstand, and shrugged.  "Maybe I'm a late bloomer.  But as a"  His eyes widened somewhat as Bruce got onto the bed with him, straddling his hips, his hands on Clark's chest.

"And now that you're a..."  Bruce paused.  "How old are you, anyway?"

Clark grimaced.  "It gets difficult when you start your life in time-suspended space flight.  My parents say I looked about two when I got here.  Fifteen years later my father died, then I spent twelve years being tutored at the Fortress, went to Metropolis, spent five months there, then five years in space...that would make me about thirty-five, right?"

Bruce felt rather alarmed.  "You're ten years older than me?  You don't look it.  Don't you age?"

Clark looked uncomfortable.  "I spent all but six months of the last seventeen years cut off from human contact, in different kinds of trances.  So in terms of lived experience I'm more like eighteen, really."

"Oh, now that's more like it.  Hot, barely legal Kryptonian."  Bruce leaned in to kiss Clark and the question of Clark's aging slipped by, unanswered.  "So anyway, if you didn't think about sex much at sixteen, what about now?"  He punctuated the question by thrusting his hips against Clark's rather forcefully, putting his hands on the low-sloping ceiling and pushing himself down, pinning the other man.  The bed creaked and Clark's eyes rolled back in his head.  He reached out and put his hands on Bruce's hips, tugging him even closer, delicious friction making his interest extremely palpable.

"Bruce," he moaned, "I feel like I'm going crazy sometimes.  I think about you all the time, and when we're going to get to do it again, and where and how and for how long next time."  His hands were under the sweatshirt now, on bare skin and pulling Bruce down against him.  "Is that how it feels for human sixteen-year-old males?  I'm not sure I like it.  The thinking about it," he amended quickly as Bruce stopped kissing his neck and looked at him.  "I'm sure I like the doing it, I'm very sure about that.  Just not the...the thinking about your mouth and...all the other parts of you...all the time."

Bruce sniggered and pulled off his sweatshirt, tossing it on the floor.  "'All the other parts of me'?  Clark, we have to work on your dirty talk.  You can't just throw 'fuck' around now and then and think that's a fully developed filthy vocabulary." 

"I'm...I'm willing to work on that."  Clark's face was flushed as he unbuttoned Bruce's pants and tugged them down.  "All right, then, what are the proper ribald terms for this delightful handful I have here?" 

He slid his hand in a rubbing motion and Bruce made an incoherent noise.  Clark grinned.  "Now now, I can hardly say 'I want to lick your rrwrghhh,' can I?" 

A door slammed downstairs and footsteps echoed in the kitchen.

Bruce found himself unceremoniously dumped on the floor.  "Geez, it's my mother!" hissed Clark.  He stared wildly at Bruce, still bare from the waist up and largely bare from the waist down.  "You--I'll--" Clark looked around in a panic.  Bruce got the distinct impression he had considered picking Bruce up like a large Ken doll and dressing him at super-speed, but had discarded the notion.  Bruce felt a vast sense of relief.  "I'll stall her!" 

Clark galloped down the stairs.  Bruce could hear him chattering as he hastily yanked his clothes back on:  "Ma!  Hi...oh, I missed you too.  Oh, I was just showing Bruce my room.  He's using the bathroom now, he'll be right down..."  Bruce winced and nudged "lying convincingly" above "talking dirty" on the list of skills Clark needed to work on, pausing to flush the toilet in the tiny bathroom before hurrying down the stairs.

He took a deep breath before entering the kitchen, putting on his most charming smile and ingratiating air.  Bruce Wayne was nothing if not smooth when he had to be.

Martha Kent turned around as he entered the kitchen, putting a teakettle on the stove.  His first impression was of a sort of luminous grace, the elegant face under her nearly transluscent hair dignified yet warm.  She looked nothing at all like Bruce's own mother, and yet--

His second impression was of demure amusement, as she put a hand up to cover a smile.  She was looking at his chest.  Behind her Clark looked like he wanted to sink through the floor.  Bruce glanced down at himself.

His sweatshirt was inside out. 

Of course it was.

He felt his cheeks flaming out of his control as she raised her eyebrows at him.  He had faced down criminals bent on the deaths of millions without quailing, but under the gaze of this one woman he wished he could skulk out of the house and disappear.

Martha Kent removed her hand from her mouth.  Her lips still twitching slightly, she said, "I gather all the fashionable young men in the big city are wearing their sweatshirts inside out this season?"

Bruce cleared his throat and grabbed the merciful lifeline.  "It's the cutting edge of trendy, ma'am."

"Oh please, call me Martha."  Martha stepped forward, taking in Bruce's red cheeks, the way his eyes sought out her son's behind her.  Then she swept the playboy up into a hug.  Over her shoulder, Bruce could see Clark beaming, and he put his arms around his mother-not-quite-in-law as if she were made of porcelain.  "Dear boy," murmured Martha.  "It's such a pleasure to meet you."  She patted him gently on the back, then released him. 

He didn't pull away quite as briskly as he could have.

Martha turned up the heat under the teakettle.  "It was so kind of you to invite me to your place for a little while," she said to Bruce as they sat down at the table, Bruce still hunched a bit uncomfortably around his inverted sweatshirt.  "It hasn't been too awful, but I wouldn't mind getting away from some questions for a while."

"I'm...sorry.  It's my fault you're being subjected to the scrutiny." 

Martha smiled.  "It's worth it all to see how happy Clark looks."  She glanced fondly at her son.  " two...came here..." She spoke haltingly, as if overcoming years of reticence.

Clark broke in.  "I flew him here, Ma."

The look on Martha's face was an odd mix of relief and chagrin.  "I...I just can't get used to talking openly to anyone about it.  It's's been nearly twenty years since I lost Jonathan, and there's never been anyone else really talk to..."  She smiled bemusedly at Clark.  "How nice it must be, dear, to have finally found someone you trust enough to share your secrets."

The teakettle started to whistle, and Martha leapt up to remove it from the heat.  Bruce and Clark exchanged glances behind her back.  "Anyway, Mr. Wayne--"

"--Bruce, please, Bruce."

"Bruce, then."  She threw a smile over her shoulder that made Bruce feel like he had done something very clever.  "It was very kind of you to come and meet me here before I went to Gotham.  We older folks feel so much more comfortable on familiar ground, you know?"  She let the tea steep, then poured it into a mismatched set of cups.  "Are you absolutely certain you're willing to have me visit for a little while?  We just met, and I don't want to be a bother."

Bruce sipped his tea--done to perfection despite the unorthodox serving method.  Alfred would approve.  "I'd love to have you," he said, and was surprised to find he meant it.

Martha's eyes were dreamy.  "As a little girl, I always dreamed of visiting Gotham, and I never got the chance.  It always seemed mysterious and gloomy, like anything could happen there."

"Ma, I never knew that.  I always assumed you preferred Metropolis."  Clark looked slightly scandalized.

Martha waved a hand.  "Oh, Metropolis is lovely, of course.  But there's something about Gotham, isn't there?"  She smiled at Bruce over her teacup.

Clark looked at the grin plastered on Bruce's face and smiled to himself.  Bruce had come here scheming to win over Martha, but something told Clark the tables had been turned.  Well, if she was going to go on and on about the wonders of Gotham, this seemed like a good time to bring up certain topics.  "Ma, there's something I have to tell you.  I' Superman, I've been working a lot with Batman."  He was going to continue, but the smile on Martha's face disappeared and she sat up straight, her lips compressed in a tight line.

"Why in the world would you be working with that horrible, horrible man?"  Clark opened his mouth, but she cut him off.  "You have nothing at all in common with him, Clark.  He trusts no one, he's all fear and suspicion and darkness...why, his very existence makes a mockery of everything you stand for.  He--" Suddenly she caught sight of Bruce's face and broke off, aghast.  The teacup slipped from her hand; Clark caught it before it could spill.  "Oh dear.  Oh...oh dear.  You're that horrible man, aren't you?"  Bruce smiled, rather more wanly than usual.   She put her hand over her mouth again, this time in chagrin.   "Of course you are." 

She rounded on Clark, her eyes flashing.  "Why didn't you stop me?"

Clark flinched.  "I did try, Ma."

Martha turned her back on him and put a hand gingerly on Bruce's shoulder.  "I am so, so sorry, dear.  How thoughtless of me."  She patted the shoulder gently.  "How did such a nice young man come to dress up as a bat and terrify criminals?  I would like very much to understand you...if...if you're willing to talk about it, of course."

Clark had expected that Bruce would give a terse explanation, the bare bones of his life.  Instead, he found himself listening, both enthralled and appalled, as Bruce detailed the long path that had led him to this place.  Clark had never heard the full story himself; it had been enough for him that Batman was Bruce.

When Bruce detailed his parents' murders, Martha reached her hand around to his other shoulder and tugged him closer, pulling his head to her shoulder.  Bruce blinked a couple of times and continued.  He described how Alfred had done his best to raise him, his aimless and lonely drifting through high school and college, searching for some kind of meaning, his plan to murder Joe Chill.  Clark was grateful he left his animosity toward Superman out of that section.  Then the years wandering the world, training his body and his mind, ending in the Himalayas and the enclave of Ra's al-Ghul.  When he described how he had chosen not to murder and gained al-Ghul's animosity, Martha hugged his shoulders and murmured, "Good boy."  The image of Batman, Dark Knight of Gotham, being called a "good boy" by a Kansas farmer's wife in a kitchen full of bric-a-brac brought a smile to Clark's lips, and he saw it echoed faintly on Bruce's face.   

"...and then I met this annoying reporter who insisted on pestering me constantly, and the rest is history."

Clark snorted.  Martha let go of Bruce and cleaned off the table, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a napkin when she thought they weren't looking.  "Well, it's nice to have someone who actually gives some detail in their stories.  As opposed to, 'Hi Ma.  Went to Krypton.  Nothing there.  Gotta run.'"  Clark rolled his eyes.  "I'll have to get the full story of how you got to know each other some other time, it's getting late.  But I'm sure it's equally fascinating, and I'll definitely ask you instead of Clark."

Bruce frowned and continued as if he hadn't wholly been listening to her.  "I don't always work within the letter of the law, Mrs. Kent, but I do try to--"  He blinked again as Martha threw a dishcloth at him with surprising accuracy.

"You've explained yourself enough for one day, child," she said briskly.  "I'm a foolish old woman who should know better than to judge people by their appearances."

Bruce folded the dishcloth carefully, making sure all the edges lined up perfectly, and put it on the table. 

After the dishes were done, Superman stood behind the barn with Bruce.  "I'll be back for you in a few minutes, Ma."  He wrapped the playboy up in red cape and took to the sky.

The whistling wind made normal conversation impossible, but Bruce's voice hummed in Kal's ear.  "Your mother is...annoying, Kal."

"Considering 'annoying' is Bat-speak for 'makes me smile,' I will take that as a compliment."

An irritable chuffing noise.  "It is apparently my cruel fate to be surrounded by annoying people."

: : :

When Superman returned to Smallville, he found his mother sitting on her suitcase on the hill behind the farmhouse, gazing back toward her home.  She was wearing a heavy coat and hot pink earmuffs against the November cold, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them.

She stood up as she saw the red and blue figure in the air above her.  Kal touched down in front of her, dried grass bending at his approach.  "Your turn, Ma."

She put a hand on his chest.  "Wait a moment, Clark."  She paused to study his face.  "He's good for you," she said softly.

"I'm happy," he answered simply.

His mother shook her head.  "No.  It's more than that.  There's something more."

Clark stood silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  "He's...when I'm with him, I'm whole, Ma.  No wondering if I'm Clark, or Kal-El, or Superman.  I'm...who I am.  It all fits together."

Silver tracked down her cheeks.  "I had always hoped...that your father and I could do that for you."  She rested her head on his chest.  "But I'm happy, Clark, and he'd be happy too, that you found someone who could."

Clark put his arms around her and they stood there together for a time.  Eventually he felt her shoulders move in a small laugh.  "I'm so embarrassed to admit this, dear, but I'm terribly nervous about meeting this Alfred as well.  After everything Bruce said about him...he sounds extraordinary."

"He is that."

"I do hope we can get along a little bit."

Clark tipped his mother's head back and wiped the traces of tears from her cheeks.  "I'm sure you'll get along famously, Ma."

Martha Kent laughed a little tremulously and adjusted her earmuffs.  "Let's get going before I change my mind." 

Her son lifted her gently in his arms, and she felt his feet leave the ground, the cold air streaming by them.  As she felt Clark begin to descend, she peeked out from the folds of the cape to watch the lights of Gotham glimmer into existence on the horizon.  Anything could happen there.

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Chapter Text

Interlude 2/5: Go! Fight!! Win!!!
Title: Interlude 2/5: Go! Fight!! Win!!!
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: Interludes 1-5 are set right after "Music of the Spheres," and are loosely connected short stories showing different relationships between Clark and Bruce and other characters. Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Summary: Martha tries to make the Batcave more cozy; Superman and Batman do some alpha-male chest-thumping at a football game. Bruce and Clark find both of these events rather amusing.
Word Count: 2616

The tumbler tossed up spray from the waterfall as it re-entered the cave. Batman threw open the door and hurried toward his computer, cape flapping around him. He had to find those police files and check to see if Simon Stagg had ties to--he stopped dead as he found his chair draped with cloth. Next to the computer stood Martha Kent and Alfred Pennyworth. Martha had gone quite pale at the sight of Batman, and Bruce suddenly realized that Clark's mother had not yet seen him in the suit. In fact, as far as he knew, this was her first time in the cave since arriving yesterday. "Br--Bruce?" she said a bit shakily.

"Sorry, no time," he said curtly, and sat down at the computer. As he entered data, he heard Martha and Alfred pick up what seemed to be an argument that had been running for some time.

"Honestly, Mr. Pennyworth, it's just one afghan. It's so damp down here. He'll catch his death of cold."

"Master Wayne has never complained of the damp before, Mrs. Kent."

"You need to be more proactive, Mr. Pennyworth. Like the kitchen." Alfred's sigh indicated this was a return to a well-worn topic. "Re-making it exactly as it was makes no sense. I've looked at the blueprints and it would be so much more practical to have a kitchen island, you must see that."

"Ma'am, Wayne Manor is not to be re-arranged on some whim. There are centuries of tradition in this house that cannot be ignored."

"Oh, blazes with tradition if it's impractical! I'm telling you that a modern kitchen with modern design would be easier to entertain in and make your job much less troublesome."

Batman spoke without ceasing to type. "Alfred. She has a point."


"The public areas can be replicated with no sacrifice of efficiency, but you should at least consider her advice on the layout of the kitchens and bathrooms. See if any of it is more practical."

Martha shot Alfred a look of triumph. The butler bristled. "Sir, she says gingham curtains would go well in the kitchen." His voice held a distinct this-is-the-last-straw tone.

Batman kept typing. "No gingham." Now Martha looked crestfallen. They started up the stairs, still arguing, and then Martha turned around and ran back to gingerly tuck something around Batman. He looked down.

An afghan.

A light blue afghan.

Batman hunched in his chair and attempted to look as brooding as one could with a baby-blue afghan wrapped around one's shoulders.

After a while he heard the ping that meant Clark was checking to see if he could talk. He tapped his ear. "How goes the research on Stagg?"

"All dead ends so far."

Kal's sigh echoed in his ear. "Sorry to hear it." A moment's pause. " are my mother and Alfred getting along?"

"Do you want the truth?"

"Nope, lie to me, please."

"They're getting on like gangbusters."

Another sigh. "Should I offer to take her home?"

"No, I actually think they're enjoying arguing about the drapes and where the secret cameras should be hidden. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to coming to Metropolis tomorrow, just to get away from them." Batman shut off the computer. "I'm heading back out on patrol."

"I just found a lost dog and got an accident victim to the hospital. Slow night here. I think I'm going to lie down for a couple of hours." There was a pause. "Do you mind if I leave this channel open? I promise I won't talk."


"I just like to hear you. I like to know that if you need my help you can wake me up easily."

"I won't need your help."

"I know. I just sleep better if it's open. If you don't mind."

Batman slammed the tumbler door down behind him. "I can't stop you from being a sentimental fool, can I? Just don't break in and distract me. I've had enough annoyance for one night." He started up the engines quickly so he could pretend he hadn't heard Kal's quiet, "Thank you."

: : :

Lois Lane turned around in her seat and shook a large foam finger in Bruce Wayne's face. "We'll beat you this time, Gotham!" she announced gleefully. She and Richard White were sitting with Jason between them, while Bruce, Clark, and Jimmy Olsen were seated behind them. Everyone but Bruce was dressed in Metropolis red.

Bruce lounged backwards in his seat, away from the threatening finger. "In your dreams," he jeered back.

"With Washburn at running back, there is no way you can beat our offense this year."

"You people say that every time, and yet every game--despite whatever high-priced star you bring in--Gotham still manages to beat you," Bruce retorted. Lois, Richard, and Jimmy began a spirited barrage of statistical and strategic arguments why the Metros could take the Knights this time; Bruce just leaned back and smirked. He found he was actually enjoying the argument, though the persona was a delicate balance right now. He had to be kind of dumb but still likable, to keep Clark in everyone's good graces. Complicated.

He also had to keep scanning the crowd and the field. He and Kal had picked up some chatter that there was a possible terrorist threat to the game today, so both of them were on their guard. The costume under his sweater was lightweight, but still a constant, slightly uncomfortable reminder not to lose focus.

As Richard and Jimmy continued the assault on Bruce's certitude, Lois turned her attention to Clark, who was reading a newspaper. The foam finger came down hard on the paper, causing Clark to jump and squint nervously at her. "Don't you have some theories on why the Metros will win?" Lois demanded. "Or have you gone over to...the Dark Side? Followed your heart and become a Knights fan?"

Bruce slanted him a look.

"Gosh Lois, I just don't really go for...violent contact sports, on the whole," Clark stammered.

"I didn't give you premium tickets to the biggest regular season game of the year so you could read the newspaper, Clark!"

Clark hastily folded up the newspaper, looking apologetic.

Lois reached over and took Jason's Playstation Portable away from him. "You too, Jason. Pay attention."

Clark and Jason shared an aggrieved look, but grudgingly turned their attention to the field, where the teams were streaming out to begin the game.

: : :

As the teams left the field at halftime Bruce looked smugger than ever, and the Metropolitans were slumped unhappily in their seats. "I still can't believe that call," moaned Jimmy. "He was, like, five feet out of bounds--the ref has got to be on Gotham's payroll or something." As the gripe session continued, only one person noticed Clark sit up straighter, his gaze fixed on the field where the halftime show was setting up. Bruce caught his eye and nodded.

"Bathroom break for me," said Clark, getting up. "Anyone want anything while I'm up?" He listened to requests for popcorn and soft drinks, fidgeting a bit. "Okay, got it, back soon."

"I'll come along," said Bruce, stretching and standing. The two of them headed for the exit, taking the stairs two at a time.

The stadium lights went out as the halftime show began, plunging the crowd into darkness. On the stage at the center of the field, a dance routine started up, lit by criss-crossing beams of blue and red light, music pounding from the speakers.

The music was loud enough that no one heard the first gunshots, but it became obvious quickly that all was not well with the halftime show as a shadowy figure began to incapacitate some of the dancers, while others shrieked and fled the field. By the time the music stuttered to a stop and a wavering blue spotlight finally was trained on the center stage, Batman had already tied up five or six struggling figures.


Before chaos could break out entirely in the stadium, another figure appeared within the careening light beams, which quickly focused on him: Superman descended from the sky, his arms crossed, glaring at the dark figure in the gloom below. He paused in mid-air, looking down with his head held high. His voice resonated easily to every seat and the crowd fell silent to listen to him, to witness this first public confrontation between the two. "Just what do you think you're doing?" His clarion voice was cold, yet slightly amused.

Batman stared up at the figure in the sky. A nearby microphone caught his voice just well enough to send its rough tones echoing about the stadium. "I'm making your job look easy," he growled.

Superman tossed his dark head dismissively. "You've got a lot of nerve, Dark Knight."

"I got the job done. More than you did. If you're not up to it, step aside." The crowd muttered darkly. Batman snorted and released a grapple into the curving roof.

"This conversation is not finished," said Superman sharply.

"Oh, I think it is." Things happened very quickly after that, as Batman swooped upward in a wide, swift arc. Superman darted in front of him, hand outstretched to bar his way. There was a series of brief popping flashes in the air between them and Batman put up his legs and slammed into Superman with all his force, sending both of them reeling, grappling and tumbling out of the air end over end together, the line snapping with a harsh twang. As the crowd gasped, the two of them thudded into the turf below, the Dark Knight on top of the Man of Steel, straddling him.

Batman leaned forward, his mouth close to Superman's ear, and whispered something the microphones couldn't catch. The Kryptonian responded by contemptuously tossing Batman into the air in a dizzying arc. At the apex of the wide parabola, Batman released another grapple and vanished abruptly into the night, a stray microphone catching the wisp of a last rasping chuckle.

Superman pulled himself up from the turf, looking just a bit dazed. As applause swelled through the stadium, he helped the police carry the criminals away and quickly fixed the lighting array so the field was washed in radiance again. Acknowledging the applause with a bashful nod, he said, "I'm sorry about that display, ladies and gentlemen, you shouldn't have had to see that. I'm very sorry." The crowd whistled and stomped its approval, and Superman lifted up into the night sky.

The game had begun again by the time Bruce and Clark returned with hot dogs and soft drinks for everyone. "Did we miss anything?" Clark asked cheerfully as they sat down.

"Only the best half time show ever," said Jimmy. The three adults filled in the other two on the excitement, their voices overlapping and arms waving. It was pretty obvious to Lois and Richard where the two men had been during halftime: the high color in their faces, the quick breathing, and the way they were studiously not touching each other. Once the two stragglers were caught up on events, the conversation quickly became an assessment of the matchup between the two costumed crimefighters.

"Look, I'm playing devil's advocate here, I know," said Richard, raising his hands apologetically, "But did you see the way the Batman's kick knocked Superman for a loop? I mean, are we even sure the guy's human? Maybe he's another Kryptonian or a different kind of alien altogether, huh?"

"I don't care if he's a Norse god, he's not taking out Superman," Jimmy countered belligerently. "No one beats Superman. He's no superhuman, he just cheated. Used those flashbulb thingies to throw Superman off."

Lois leaned toward Bruce. "Hey, you going to defend your hometown hero?"

"When I'm surrounded by fanatics whose team is already three touchdowns down to Gotham at halftime? I'm not suicidal," laughed the playboy. "Besides, I agree with Jimmy a hundred percent. What Superman wants, he gets." He hooked an arm through Clark's and Clark inhaled rather giddily. "I don't know what that nutjob thought he was doing, coming all the way here to Metropolis just to show off."

One person was not joining in the argument. "They shouldn't be fighting," said a small voice. Jason was sitting with his arms crossed, glaring at the field from under his mop of brown hair. "They should be working together, not fighting. It's all wrong."

Bruce smiled. He made a motion as if to ruffle Jason's hair, but refrained. "Don't worry, Jase, I'm sure they'll be able to put aside their differences and settle things to their mutual satisfaction eventually." Jason looked unmollified.

"Are you kidding?" Jimmy snorted. "Did you see the look on Superman's face? The only thing he wanted was to pound Batman--hammer him right into the field." He smacked his fist into his hand for emphasis.

There was a gurgling noise as Clark fell over, convulsed in uncontrollable giggles. Everyone stared at him. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he choked before going off into gales of laughter once more.

"Discussions of violence make him very nervous, and he tends to get the giggles," Bruce said apologetically. He patted Clark on the shoulder. "There there, sweetie."

Clark yanked his shoulder away from Bruce's reassuring hand and sputtered something that sounded vaguely like an epithet in between gusts of agonized laughter. Everyone else decided it was most polite to ignore his outburst and went back to debating Superman versus Batman and, by extension, the Metros versus the Knights. As the game picked up again, Bruce wound his fingers through Clark's in a grip so strong it looked like it might almost hurt the other man.

Everyone else watched the Knights trounce the Metros. Clark mostly watched Bruce.

: : :

Bruce and Clark waved goodbye as the subway pulled away from them with Lois, Richard, Jason and Jimmy inside. They headed out of the station and down the street, until Clark abruptly pulled Bruce into a dark alley.

"Your apartment's only a few blocks away, Clark," murmured Bruce, his hands all over Kal's body already, his breath short.

"Can't wait. Can't wait that long," gasped Clark. They grappled together, reeling against the dumpsters and fire escapes. Clark let Bruce shove him hard up against a wall, wrenching at his clothes, kissing and biting in a frenzy. "God, Bruce, I don't know how I kept from taking you right there on the field, my dangerous beauty, my dark one..." His voice trailed off into a wild moan as Bruce went on his knees in front of him, yanking his clothes down, sucking and licking and biting madly with no technique, no finesse at all. Despite that, Clark came almost immediately, the evening's tension shattering inside him, transmuting into bone-deep satisfaction.

Bruce stood up, dusting off his knees and licking his lips like a cat. "Let's get home and you can return the favor," he said coaxingly. He leaned forward to touch his tongue to the sweat on Clark's temples, then kissed the corners of Clark's eyes, their turquoise turned sated and languid.

"You know why Superman and Batman fight all the time?" Bruce said smugly. "Because the make-up sex is incredible."

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Chapter Text

Interlude 3/5: A Touch of Gingham
Title: Interlude 3/5: A Touch of Gingham
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: Interludes 1-5 are set right after "Music of the Spheres," and are loosely connected short stories showing different relationships between Clark and Bruce and other characters. Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary: Clark's mother deals with groundskeeping, Alfred Pennyworth, and the difficult realities of life as the support staff of a masked vigilante.
Word Count: 1593

Happy birthday to [info]spix_in_lj !

Bruce wandered into the kitchen for a glass of orange juice, skirting around the latest skirmish between Alfred and Martha. Since losing the battle over gingham curtains in the kitchen, Martha had launched a full-scale assault on the garden layout. She seemed to be suggesting that some herbs would make a good addition, and Alfred was insisting that upper-class flower gardens simply did not include edible plants.

Martha scoffed. "All the better for hiding any of your little toys in, Mr. Pennyworth. Who would expect a motion detector in the parsley?"

Alfred frowned and tried to tug the blueprints of the grounds away from her. She pulled back, and there was an incongruously genteel scuffle.

Clark's voice sounded in Bruce's ear. "Are you sure you don't want me to come up there and tell her to behave? I don't think I've overheard the two of them doing anything but fighting for the last four days."

Bruce sipped his orange juice with an air of resignation, eyeing the two of them. "No, no, I think I'm starting to get used to it." The two stopped bickering to stare at him, and he grimaced apologetically. "Talking to Clark," he explained.

Martha glared through Bruce. "You can tell that son of mine that he can come up here more often, you know. He's neglecting you."

Clark's voice sighed. "I can hear her just fine," he said as Martha continued to tell him he needed to lavish more attention on Bruce. "You should tell her how I take the time to sing you lullabies when you can't sleep."

"That was only that one time," Bruce snapped. "Sorry, Martha," he added apologetically. "Clark says to tell you he'll be up again very soon, probably tomorrow."

"Only if you promise we'll get to have sex in the cave for the first time. I'm thinking under the waterfall."

"I promise, Clark." Bruce smiled innocently at Martha and Alfred. "He made me promise to get more sleep."

Martha and Alfred both nodded triumphantly at Clark's prudent advice. "That's a promise you should keep, sir," said Alfred.

"Oh, I intend to," said Bruce.

: : :

As it turned out, he wasn't able to keep either promise.

Alfred and Martha were in the cave debating heating and electricity options when the tumbler screeched through the waterfall and Batman clambered out, limping and clutching his leg. Alfred hurried to his side.

"It's...nothing serious..." gasped Bruce, pulling off the cowl and fumbling at his right boot. "That damn Freeze...hit the back of my leg, made the armor brittle...shattered it..." He shook his head, not speaking to them now. "No, damn it, Clark, you're not running up here to kiss it and make it better every time I get a little hurt! You stay focused there, I didn't get you all that information to have you miss the drop off."

Alfred knelt to examine the lacerations where the armor had cut into his calf, blood pooling on the cave floor. "It doesn't seem to have hit the tendons or any major arteries, thank goodness. He got the muscle rather badly, though." He helped Bruce to a medical table. "Let me get the bleeding stopped, get you stitched up." He gestured toward Clark's mother. "Mrs. Kent, would you go and get me--"

Martha's face was white with shock and fury, her gaze riveted on Bruce's gashed leg. She rounded on Alfred. "How--how can you let him do this?" she demanded angrily. "How can you let him go out, night after night, where he might get hurt or--or killed! You should take better care of him!"

Alfred reared back as though the woman had slapped him. "Mrs. Kent, I don't have time for this now. I need your help, I need some hot water from the kitchen." When she continued to stare, aghast, at Bruce, he stepped forward and grabbed her shoulders. "Martha, please."

The sound of her name seemed to break Clark's mother from her paralysis. She whirled and ran up the stairs, returning soon with a bowl of hot water. Her hands were steady as she helped Alfred stitch up the wound, her touch gentle as she wiped the sweat from Bruce's brow. But as the last stitches went in, Bruce saw her eyes were full of tears.

As Alfred pulled off his surgeon's gloves and sighed, the tears spilled over. The butler heard Martha's faint sob and looked at her. "I'm sorry--" he started to say, but Martha cut him off, wiping at her eyes.

"I know, I know...I let Clark go into danger every day too. But--but there's so little that can hurt him! But have to let that dear boy go out there and then wait here and know that any horrible person with a gun and a little luck could kill him. How do you do it?" She stared at Alfred, her face full of agony. "How do you bear it?"

There was a long pause as Alfred looked at her. Bruce couldn't see his face. "As best I can," he said softly after a time. "As best I can."

He squared his shoulders. "Would you help me get Master Wayne upstairs to his bed?"

Martha blinked. "Yes, of course." The two of them got Bruce to his feet and helped him up the stairs, their arms together across his back, supporting him.

: : :

The sun streaming through the windows woke Bruce up the next morning. He groaned and rolled over, wincing at the pain in his calf, and tried to go back to sleep. After a while the door swung open and he heard the familiar sound of silverware and glass clinking. He pried his eyes open to see Martha Kent setting up breakfast next to the bed. He pulled the sheets up over his bare chest a little more and saw a faint smile tug at the corner of her mouth. She sat down next to the bed as he took a bite of cantaloupe. Her eyes were slightly red but her face was serene.

"I'd like to apologize to you," she said calmly, her hands folded in her lap. Bruce shook his head, his mouth full, but she went on. "It's--" she gestured vaguely to her own face, "--it's who you are too. That's who you are."

Bruce swallowed his food, picked up his coffee mug and looked into it, away from her eyes. "I couldn't...couldn't be with him if it weren't."

He heard her faint sigh. "Bruce, dear, I never think of him as anything other than Clark. That he's not from Earth, that he's a me he's always just my son, my little boy who used to be afraid of cows." She smiled to herself and Bruce filed that tidbit away for future use. "My boy who hid in his room for a week when he first got his heat vision." A sadder smile this time. "He's always Clark."

She reached out and patted Bruce's knee under the white coverlet. "But I understand, I do, that there's more to him than that. I'm not entirely foolish. And I will understand that there's more to you than just a darling boy who hates tofu and who looks at my son with so much love in his eyes."

Bruce cleared his throat. "I am that, too."

Martha Kent stood up and nodded briskly. "Indeed, it took me years to like tofu myself." Looking out at the gardens, she added, "I know that it's unlikely you ever could do this, and I understand. But I would like you to know that...if you were ever able to call me 'Ma,' I would be pleased." The door clicked shut behind her.

Bruce sipped his coffee thoughtfully. "She's okay sometimes," said a voice in his ear.

"She's okay," said Bruce softly. A smile tugged at his lips. "...Afraid of cows?"

A slow, exasperated breath. "'Afraid' is a little strong. 'Spooked' might be more accurate."

"Semantics, Clark. Semantics."

: : :

Martha stood in an isolated corner of the grounds next to Superman, her suitcase next to her and her hot pink earmuffs on. She was hugging Bruce Wayne. Alfred Pennyworth stood nearby.

"You're welcome to come back any time, Martha. You could have stayed longer this time," said Bruce.

She smiled impishly at him. "Admit it, you could use a break from my endless wrangling with Mr. Pennyworth."

"Not at all," he said gallantly. The other three just laughed at him.

She turned to Alfred and held out an awkward hand; he shook it gently. "Thank you for having me. I'm sorry I was a bother, and I'm glad--" Her cheeks turned slightly pink. "Well, I'm glad," she finished rather lamely. She stepped backwards and Superman put an arm around her shoulders.

Alfred cleared his throat. "I hope you won't wait too long before returning. I was hoping to get your advice on decorating my personal quarters next."

" were?"

"Indeed. I was thinking they could use...just a touch of gingham."

Clark's mother smiled suddenly, then darted forward and kissed the butler on the cheek. "I look forward to seeing you again, Alfred."

"And I you, Martha."

Bruce clapped Alfred on the back as Martha and Superman disappeared into the clouds. "Why Alfred, you sly dog."

The older man harrumphed. "I have no idea what you're talking about, sir." They turned and walked back through the ruins, Alfred casting one last look over his shoulder back at the sky.

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Interlude 4/5: Sound Affects
Title: Interlude 4/5: Sound Affects
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: Interludes 1-5 are set right after "Music of the Spheres," and are loosely connected short stories showing different relationships between Clark and Bruce and other characters. Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Meetings are boring.  Communicators are fun.  PWP:  As the inimitable Tom Lehrer says, "smut--and nothing but."  I feel deeply uncomfortable writing smut and wanted to work on it a bit with a silly ficlet.  Inspired a great deal by [info]sasha_anu's "S/B watch Brokeback Mountain" drabble and thinking about the effects of sound.  *hides in a corner, blushing with intense embarrassment* 
Word Count: 1051

Bruce Wayne woke up to the sound of Clark Kent giving a very boring status report in a very boring meeting.  He listened to the Man of Steel drone nervously on for about five minutes, then sit down.  Bruce tapped the receiver in his ear to pick up the environmental noise.  Perry White was giving what sounded like a breakdown of circulation figures and business strategies.  It sounded really dull.

Bruce stretched and winced as his torn calf protested.  He'd been out of commission for two days now and was dying of boredom.  Listening to the meeting at the Daily Planet go on with no relief, he felt deep sympathy for Clark, and then a spark of mischief.  He'd been thinking about this for a while...

"Clark?  You listening in?" 

The one tap that meant "Yes." 

"Sounds like a boring meeting."

Another tap and the faintest of sighs.

"Me, I'm just stuck in bed.  Without you."  He dropped his voice just a bit, to a velvety purr.  "And I know I'd much rather be with you."

A slightly alarmed intake of breath.  Hah.  Boy Scout or not, Clark had spent time thinking about the possibilities as well.  He was just too shy to take full advantage of them.

Bruce Wayne was many things.  "Shy" was not one of them.

He shifted in bed so the sound of rustling sheets would reach Clark's ear at the Daily Planet.  "It's been--what?  Four days?  You must be almost as horny as I am.  And Clark, I am damn horny.  Hell, listening to you give that boring report turned me on.  I just kept remembering how you sounded the last time, panting and moaning and begging me for more.  God, Clark, fucking you is like nothing else in the world.  You're so hot and tight and greedy.  If the other men in that room knew what an incredible lay you were, you'd be in a world of trouble." 

He certainly didn't need to feign how uneven his breath was getting.  In his ear, Clark's breath was short and fast.  Perry was analyzing a pie chart.  "And then there's getting fucked by you.  That magnificent Kryptonian cock that reaches all the right spots and makes me want to scream, it's so good.  The way you take me and fuck me and make me yours again every single time, and I want it more and more every time you make me come, Clark.  I want you in every way possible, I want your hands on me and your mouth on me, I want you, I want you."  His voice died down into a moan that was actually rather less controlled than he had meant it to be.  Bastard made him lose control just by breathing in his ear.

Clark was clearly having increasing difficulty controlling his breathing.  Time to close the deal.  Bruce dropped his voice down to Batman's register, put in all the grit and menace he could.

"How much do you want it?"

There was a startled grunt that must have been audible to the other people at the meeting.  Clark sounded like he'd been hit with a taser.  Bruce briefly grinned smugly to himself and pressed the advantage, growling through the link.

"I bet you're so hot by now that you're in danger of coming right there, just from hearing my voice and the friction of your clothes on your cock.  You're just that turned on, aren't you?"  It was surprisingly difficult to keep the voice in the right register when he was so aroused himself.  He suspected that the occasional breaks into a normal tone only heightened the effect for Clark, though.  "I suggest you do something about that."

The sound of a chair being pushed back.  Perry broke off his speech with a concerned, "Kent?  You don't look so--"

Clark's voice, high and uncomfortable.  "Sorry, Perry, little stomach flu.  'Scuse me, sorry."

"Don't even think of showing up here, Clark, I'm in no shape to give you a workout and you need to get back to that meeting."  Bruce didn't even try to keep the laughter out of his voice on that line.  Clark muttered something very rude.  Footsteps clicking down an empty hall.

"Where are you going, Superman?"  He kept it very low and dangerous, and the change in address produced a stifled groan on the other end.

"Upstairs one ever goes there..."  In Bruce's ear, the sound of a door opening, the acoustics shifting, the door closing.

Belt buckle.  Zipper.  The slithering sound of cloth.  A sharp intake of breath.  The soft, caressing whisper of skin being stroked.

"Clark..." His voice cracked wildly upward for a moment.  He forced it low again.  "Not until I say so.  You don't finish until I say so, Kal."

A hoarse gasp of assent that became a rumbling moan, low and throaty.  "Bruce," Clark whispered huskily.  "God, yes...yes.  Tell me.  Tell me when.  Oh, please."

Bruce found, somewhat to his surprise, that he was tangled in the bedding, hips thrusting hard against silky sheets.  He also seemed to be quite speechless, which was unfortunate because he was sure Kal would somehow manage to wait forever unless he managed to give him permission.  He caught his breath and grasped for language before it was too late and he--"Nnn."  Tried again.  "Clark--Now."

A shuddering, almost shocked breath on the other end.  A jumble of bitten-off sounds that might have included "love" and "fuck," eventually stammering to a halt in ragged gasps. 

Bruce's own breath rattled hoarsely in his ears, in synch with Clark's, slowing gradually with his racing heart.

Clark was the first to break the silence.  "That was...very unsporting."

Bruce laughed rather weakly and lolled back on the pillows.

"Keep that up, playboy, and you'll find yourself the recipient of a superspeed blowjob in the middle of some boring reception."

"I'd like to see you try."

"You think I wouldn't have the guts?"

Bruce sniggered.  "No, Clark.  I mean I actually, really would like to see you try."

"Oh."  A slightly smug silence.  "I'll make a note of it."

"You do that."
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Interlude 5/5: A Few Good Men (And Junior)
Title: Interlude 5/5: A Few Good Men (And Junior)
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: Interludes 1-5 are set right after "Music of the Spheres," and are loosely connected short stories showing different relationships between Clark and Bruce and other characters. Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary: Bruce and Clark establish relations with various members of the Gotham contingent.
Word Count: 2056

"Gosh, Bruce, is all of this really yours?  I mean, it's...very impressive."  Clark Kent looked admiringly around the marble and mahogany office overlooking the Gotham skyline.  The secretary bringing them coffee stifled a giggle at the awe in his voice.

Bruce Wayne shrugged.  "I suppose, technically.  The office belongs to Mr. Fox, though, really."  He smiled at the secretary.  "Thanks, Linda."

Linda smiled back.  "Mr. Fox will be with you shortly, sir."  She cast Clark a conspiratorial, "you and I are just plain folks" grin as she left.

Bruce ambled over to the window to stand beside Clark.  "A little heavy on the 'golly gee' routine, don't you think?  Mind you, I find it adorable, but..."

Clark raised his eyebrows.  "Maybe you take opulence like this for granted, but the 'farm boy' isn't entirely feigned, you know.  I'm...not used to this."  He gazed out the window to the horizon.  "You come from a different world than I do in more ways than one, Bruce."

Bruce didn't have a chance to respond, as the the door opened and Lucius Fox entered.  As Clark shook his hand, he noted the wry smile and the slightly knowing glint in the man's eyes, the underlying and understated warmth in his manner toward Bruce. 

"This is Clark Kent, my...partner," said Bruce.  "Clark, this is Lucius Fox, the CEO of WayneCorp.  He takes care of all the difficult things for me."

The glint in the dark eyes turned into a flash of good humor as the three of them sat down.  "Mr. Wayne is the best kind of majority shareholder.  He mostly stays out of my way."

Bruce smiled winningly.  "I've got no head for business."  He leaned forward, picked up his coffee, and sipped.  "Oh," he said as if it were suddenly occurring to him, "I wanted to tell you that those new grapple lines work really well."

Lucius paused with his coffee cup at his mouth, flicking a quick glance from Bruce to Clark, sitting meekly next to him, his clothes rumpled.  "And is Mr. Kent also a...spelunking devotee?"

"His interests lie more in the base jumping area, but he has been known to do a little cave crawling."

Lucius nodded slowly, his eyebrows raised, eyeing Clark more carefully.  "So, do those new communicators I sent your way work well also?"

Bruce beamed.  "Like a charm." 

Lucius continued to nod thoughtfully to himself.  After a while, he said, "So.  Partners."

"In every sense of the word," Bruce said levelly.  "If there's ever anything I need to know, and you can't reach me for some reason, you can talk to him."

Lucius stared at Clark.  "Has Mr. Kent got anything he'd like to say, or does he let you do all the talking?"

Clark flashed a quick smile.  "When he's on an roll with the double meanings, I generally let him run with it.  I prefer not to interfere with great art."

The older man snorted a laugh.  "Oh, I think you'll fit in just fine around here, Mr. Kent."

: : :

"--so I guess you're 'not in Kansas any more,' huh?"  The skinny man shared a knowing glance around the circle of people, who all giggled at his bon mot. 

Clark rolled his eyes.  "Oh, wow, I've never heard that one before," he muttered as a larger man thumped him on the back.

The tuxedo wasn't physically uncomfortable--Bruce Wayne would never allow his consort to wear an ill-fitting tuxedo--but Clark felt awkward and stifled anyway.  He could see Bruce in another corner of the room, surrounded by admiring men and women.  He didn't really want to be seen as hanging on Bruce's arm all evening, but without the other man there to wink at, the "shy Kansas farmboy" routine got old fairly quickly.   And the dislike of random crowds and shallow chatter was no act.

Clark extracted himself from the group and drifted toward the fringes of the party.  It was the annual Policeman's Ball, but most of the actual policemen there--as opposed to their highly visible supporters--largely seemed to be avoiding the center of the room as well.  Clark eventually found himself in a fairly quiet corner with a man and his family.  They had clearly come here to get out of the way while they calmed the fussing toddler down.  Next to the woman with the baby on her lap sat a small girl, deeply absorbed in a book.  The father stood up as Clark approached, offering him a chair.  Clark declined and the two stood for a while in companionable silence, looking out at the rest of the party.  After a while the man turned to Clark. 

"Pleased to meet you.  Jim Gordon." 

Clark took the hand extended to him.  "Clark Kent."

"Oh, I know you."  Gordon's tone left no doubt he knew Clark's relationship to Bruce Wayne.

Clark felt himself blushing a bit.  He knew Jim Gordon as well:  one of the few Gotham cops Bruce trusted.  Even in this short time, he could see why.  The man was unassuming, quiet, yet seemed to have a self-possession at his core that Clark found appealing.

The policeman was continuing.  "So how'd a nice Metropolis boy like you end up in Gotham?"

"Gotham has its charms."  Clark tried to add the lascivious twist to his words that Bruce would put in them, but failed.

Gordon laughed.  "It does?"  The touch of bitterness stung Clark to respond sincerely.

"Actually, yes, it does.  It's a good city, with good people in it."

Gordon looked down into his mostly-untouched drink.  "If you find any, be sure to let me know," he mumbled.

At that moment, Bruce Wayne separated himself from the rest of the crowd and appeared at Clark's side.  "Clark!" he said cheerfully, ignoring Jim Gordon.  "I was just talking with the mayor about my plan to bring in a team of psychics of help with unsolved crimes."  He turned to face Gordon.  "You know, like Miss Cleo.  They could help them track down evildoers--a sort of magic detective squad."

There was a small, contemptuous snort.  Clark looked over to see the girl glaring at Bruce over the top of her book.  Behind her thick glasses, her eyes snapped emerald sparks.  "That's stupid.  Magic isn't real."

"Honey!"  Gordon's voice was aghast.  "Um, Mr. Wayne," he continued hastily, gesturing to the woman with the squirming toddler. "This is my wife, Barbara, and my son, Tony.  And you've met my daughter, Barbie."  A horrified look from the child caused him to backtrack.  "--I mean Junior.  She wants to go by Junior now."

The girl shook her head, her coppery ponytail swishing, and continued to lecture Bruce.  "Magic isn't real."  When Bruce looked dubious, she went on, "It would be smarter for the city to update the file system, you could have a really good computer database and keep track of everyone--even link it with the one in New York or Metropolis."

Bruce grinned.  "A budding computer whiz at six, huh?" 

"Seven," hissed the girl.

"So what are you reading there?  Fluffy Bunny Gets a Computer?"

Junior held up her book so Bruce and Clark could easily see the title.  Bruce stared for a moment, then made a "tsk" noise between his teeth.  "C Plus Plus?  Sweetie, you seem pretty bright, you should be aiming for an A." 

A look of withering scorn from Junior.  Bruce continued, "So you do a lot of, uh, webbing and stuff at home?"

The redhead looked downcast for a moment.  "We don't have a computer at home.  I use the school computer.  It's a 486."

Clark could see Bruce wince beneath the smile.  "Well, 486 is a nice big number, my new computer is only a two or duo or something.  Yours sure sounds nifty."  Junior sighed to herself.  Bruce turned to Jim Gordon and pulled out a checkbook.   "How much does a new computer run nowadays, Clark?  I have Alfred do all my buying for me.  Would ten thousand be enough?  Let's make it fifteen. He can get the girl something nice."

Gordon's eyes narrowed.  "Do I look like the kind of cop who can be bought?" His voice was very mild, and very dangerous.

Bruce chewed his lower lip.  "No, you do not.  Favoritism must be avoided, I agree."  He whirled and went to the stage, grabbing a microphone.  "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, sounding maybe just the slightest bit tipsy.  A bright smile, teeth shining. "...members of the press.  I believe the children are our future, and I know how hard it is to make ends meet on a cop's salary.  So I just wanted you to know that as of tomorrow, every policeman in Gotham with a child under ten will will have a new computer delivered to them--courtesy of the Wayne Foundation."  A murmur of approval mixed with laughter at the latest Wayne folly went about the room.

Bruce came back to where Clark was standing with the Gordons.  "Now you owe me nothing," he said quietly to Jim Gordon.

Junior was obviously thrilled and just as obviously trying not to show it.  "Thank you, Mr. Wayne," she said primly.  She blinked up at him through her glasses with a hesitant smile.

Bruce reached out and ruffled her hair.  "There's a good girl," he said carelessly.  "Someday you can teach me to play that Doom game I hear everyone talking about." The smile on Junior's face disappeared as Bruce turned back to Gordon.  "She's a charming, too.  I can easily see her rising above her station into Gotham society."

"Thank you, Mr. Wayne," said Gordon.  Not if I have anything to say about it, said his eyes.

"It was nice to meet you," said Clark hastily, holding out his hand.  Gordon shook it politely and then gathered up his family and left.

"I don't like that," said Clark quietly to Bruce.

"What, buying computers for precocious redheads?  I found it rather gratifying.  And she has more motivation now--to show up that arrogant windbag who didn't understand a thing about her world or her skills. Oh, and I need to look into the school computer situation too.  486s!  That's barbaric."  Bruce shuddered.

"No, you know what I mean.  It's one thing to play it up for Luthor, or for strangers, but I don't like to deceive good people."

Bruce looked at him, his eyes troubled for a moment.  "I know, Clark.  I do.  But it's for his safety and the safety of his quite charming family.  What he doesn't know very literally can't hurt him--can't be beaten or threatened out of him.  Isn't it worth sacrificing our dignity for their security?"

There wasn't much Clark could say to that beyond getting him to a darker corner and kissing him thoroughly.


A few weeks later.  Clark was digging into a stack of waffles in the kitchen of Bruce's temporary apartments after one of his rare nights over, when Bruce burst into the dining room.  "This is great news," he announced, waving a newspaper, then placing it triumphantly on the table in front of Clark.

Clark read the headline and looked at the picture below, swallowing his bite of waffle.  "He looks pretty young.  And pretty...pretty," he said dubiously.

Bruce snorted.  "When will you learn not to take us pretty boys for granted?"  He grinned impishly at Clark.  "I'm telling you, Clark, he's one of us.  We were at Princeton together.  He gets it.  There's a lot more to him than the handsome face," he tapped the paper enthusiastically, "way more than meets the eye.  He's brilliant and driven."  He reached over and grabbed a bite of waffle over Clark's laughing protest.  "This is going to make a huge difference, you'll see."

Bruce rapped the headline again with his knuckles:  Dent Wins D.A. Election.  He smiled.  "I've got a really good feeling about this, Clark."

[To be continued in Syncopation]
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Fic: "Whole"
Title:  Whole
Bruce Wayne/Harvey Dent
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: Happy birthday to [info]tmelange!  Almost all of my fic is tied up in the WFA or Secret Santa right now, so when it comes to birthdays recently I've been a disaster.  The Harvey vibe's been going around (I blame [info]arch_schatten, of course), and so I thought this might do as a birthday fic.  My Harv's a hell of a lot less together than your great version, unfortunately for him.  I don't really have a Bruce/Harvey muse (sorry Mina!), and it probably shows, but I wanted to give it a go.  I'll also send along my first two Secret Santas, and maybe between the three it'll be enough of a birthday present.  *grin*
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent in college.  This takes place in the same universe as "Music of the Spheres," set, of course, well before that series begins.
Word Count: 1653

Two men in white gi faced each other in a deserted college gymnasium.  One had shaggy dark hair that fell into stormy blue eyes, his face set into a sort of perpetually serious, wary look, like a wolf at bay.  The other had wavy chestnut-brown hair and sharp hazel eyes alight with sardonic laughter, an easy smile on his face.  "All right, Bruce," he said, "Ready to get owned at the Fa’aelise forms?"

Bruce flashed a small half-smile.  "Only if you are, Harv." 

The two men bowed deeply, then closed in a series of attempted throws, their bare feet flashing and hands grappling.  Harvey got the first throw in, but the second--and far better-executed one--was Bruce's.  The gym was silent except for their deep breathing and the sound of their feet moving on the mats.  It was clear the two were very evenly-matched.  Most of the time, Bruce could counter Harvey's moves without effort, dancing away from attempted holds and throws with a sort of graceful ease that left the other man scowling.

Bruce brushed his hair out of his eyes and bared his teeth in a grin.  "I thought you had something to teach me, Harv."

Harvey snarled good-naturedly.  "Aristocratic bastard.  Some of us have had to work to be as good as we are."  He lunged forward and grabbed Bruce's gi, executing a nice throw.  Bruce landed on the mat with a satisfying thump, and Harvey loomed over him triumphantly.  "Gotcha," he crowed, only to find himself landing hard on the mat beside his opponent as Bruce scissored his legs and caught Harvey at the knees.  "You shit," he growled as Bruce hopped to his feet.  "You're not supposed to do that after you've been downed."

"So I've taught you something--namely, that I'm not afraid to fight dirty."  Bruce grinned and offered Harvey his hand;  Harvey stood up on his own, ignoring it, his face dark and thunderous.  Then a calculating smile flickered across it.

"So if you're so big on ignoring the rules right now, how's about the Ti’apega ma Lo’u forms?"  Harvey went over to a cabinet and removed some aluminum nunchaku, tossing two on the floor in front of Bruce. 

Bruce eyed the gleaming weapons on the floor.  "You know we're only supposed to spar with practice weapons."

"Oh, oh," sneered Harvey.  "Little Brucie's suddenly decided he likes the rules after all."  He picked up one of the double rods connected by shining chain and began to spin it in his hand until it buzzed dangerously.  "Afraid?"

Bruce's jaw set despite himself.  "Like hell."  He reached down and picked up the two nunchaku, dropping into a defensive stance.  Harvey scooped up the other while maintaining the whining spin on his first set.  Then he danced forward.

The nunchucks were a perfect weapon for someone like Harvey, Bruce thought as he got out of the man's way--quick, flexible, hard to predict.  In addition, the risk of backlash and self-damage while using them was alarmingly high.  Bruce cautiously knocked at Harvey's gleaming circles of aggression, but his blows were easily deflected.  He barely dodged a vicious volley and realized to his shock that Harvey wasn't holding back at all, he was aiming to injure.  On the defensive, startled by his friend's onslaught, Bruce fell back step by step until an overly-conservative move allowed one of the sticks to connect sharply with his temple. 

He felt the skin break and warmth started to trickle into his eyes, but Harvey still didn't let up.  Through a mist of red Bruce saw a feral smile on the other man's face which finally broke him out of his paralysis and into anger.  "Stop it!" he yelled, and threw himself forward into a desperate fusillade of attacks.  One by one Harvey's nunchucks went flying across the room;  Bruce tossed his aside as well and grabbed the other man's gi, throwing him to the ground, straddling him.  "Stop it!" he yelled again, shaking Harvey desperately until his shoulders cracked against the mat.  Droplets of blood splattered onto Harvey's face and he closed his hazel eyes, breathing heavily and straining against Bruce's body for a moment before going limp.  He made a sound that was somewhere between a snarl and a moan.  Bruce stared at him.  "Stop it," he whispered.  "Harvey, please, stop it."

Harvey took a deep, shuddering breath and smiled, opening his eyes.  "I'm sorry, Bruce," he said casually, as if he had bumped into his friend and spilled his drink rather than attempted to give him a concussion.  Bruce stood up a bit shakily, pressing his hand to his temple.  Harvey tsked, looking at the wound, then went and got a first aid kit and bandaged it, his hands steady.  "You need to be more careful, kid," he muttered as he put the cotton into place.  Then he patted Bruce on the back and said, "Well, I'm heading back to my dorm.  Thanks for the workout."  And he was gone, not even bothering to change.

Bruce got himself back to his dorm room and tried to study for a chemistry exam, but his head was spinning with pain and his vision a bit blurry.  He was squinting muzzily at a textbook when there was a knock on the door.

He opened it to find Harvey Dent standing there, a half-empty bottle of vodka clutched in one hand.  "Comin' in," he said belligerently, and walked through the door before Bruce could protest, dropping onto Bruce's bed and taking another swing of alcohol.  "Got a glass?  Wanna share," he explained, waving the bottle.

"I've got a big exam tomorrow, Harvey," Bruce said.

"Find my own fucking glass," Harvey retorted, rummaging through the room until he found a shot glass and pouring a healthy measure of vodka into it.  He handed the glass to Bruce.  "Bottoms up," he said, with a snigger that didn't seem directed at Bruce.  He tilted the bottle up again.

Bruce sipped the vodka and put it aside.  "Look, Harvey, I know you feel bad about earlier tonight, but--"

"You gonna drink that vodka or not, you pussy?"  Harvey glared at him.  "What the fuck kinda man are you anyway, Wayne?  Should want to knock my fucking block off, not be so fucking nice."  Harvey spat the last word, then started to raise the bottle again but stalled out, staring at it absently.  "Fucking faggot," he said, rather distantly.

Bruce pulled the bottle away from him and set it on the desk with a thump.  Harvey had been dancing around this topic all semester and Bruce was tired of the sly jabs and innuendos.  "Not that it's any of your fucking business, Harv, but I'm bi.  To put it in terms you'll understand, I fuck both men and women.  It's not a big secret, all right?"

Harvey squinted at him.  "But don't like to get fucked, right?  That's sick shit."

"What the--what do you care?"

Harvey didn't answer him, reaching out to smooth the dark hair away from the bandage on Bruce's temple, his fingers shaking.  "Sorry, Bruce.  Sorry.  I didn't mean to hurt you.  I just hate when you beat me.  I can't let anyone beat me.  Can't be weak, can't ever...damn it, Bruce..."  He leaned forward and put his lips to the bandage, then slid them down to Bruce's mouth.  He was trembling as if he were terrified, and Bruce put his arms around him largely to steady him as the kiss deepened.  Harvey was panting as the kiss ended, his eyes wild.  "I need...I need...I don't know what I need," he said hoarsely.  He started to unbutton Bruce's shirt, his ice-cold hands on Bruce's chest.

"This isn't--" Bruce started to say, but something in Harvey's eyes stopped him.

"I know what the fuck this isn't," Harvey growled.  He kissed Bruce again, his hands fumbling with desire and lust across Bruce's body, his need eliciting echoes of the same need from Bruce, unable to deny the comfort and reconciliation of touch.

Harvey's hands were frantic and desperate on Bruce's clothing, and Bruce soon found himself ready, poised and achingly erect, Harvey lying beneath him with his eyes closed, breathing shallowly.  Then suddenly Harvey coiled like a snake away from him.  "What are you doing, " he hissed angrily, "Don't you dare, don't you dare, you bastard, what the fuck do you think I am?"  The two of them grappled for a moment, a confused welter of blows, and bizarrely it felt to Bruce like Harvey was trying to pull him closer rather than push him away.  He broke free and fell back.  The look on Harvey's face sparked into full-fledged fury and he swung wildly at Bruce.  "Why the fuck are you still listening to me?" he cried.  "Jesus, Bruce, please, I need it so much and I can't want it and I can't stand it, please--"  His voice broke.  "--God, please, don't make me beg you anymore."  He turned away and buried his face in the pillow.

Bruce leaned forward and kissed Harvey gently on the shoulderblade;  the other man flinched and moaned.  "It's okay," Bruce whispered.  "Please stop it.  Don't hurt yourself any more."  He ran his hands down Harvey's body, caressing.  "There's nothing to be ashamed of."

Bruce gave his friend what he needed and maybe they both found a little bit of peace, a small space where each of them was, for a moment, whole.

The next day, Harvey said nothing about the events of the night before.

The next time it happened, and the time after that, and the last time, he never said anything about it at all.

Chapter Text

Fic: "Shattered" (Bruce/Harvey, the second and last)
Title:  Shattered
Bruce Wayne/Harvey Dent, Superman mentioned
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A continuation of Whole, though you don't have to read that to understand this.
Rating: R
Summary:  Superman leaves Earth.  Two weeks later Joe Chill's sentence is commuted.  Bruce's reactions, and Harvey's inability to deal with them, set the future in motion for them both.
Word Count: 1800

Bruce Wayne was in his friend Harvey's room, trying to study.  Harvey's room was not the best place to study, as it was cramped and cluttered with books as well as food wrappers.  But they couldn't study in Bruce's room, because Harvey never came to Bruce's room.

Bruce glared over at Harvey, who was flipping channels on the minute television set in the corner of the room.  Harvey laughed at the glare and winged a stray bottlecap at his friend, which glanced off his shoulder.  "Bruce, we've been studying for this psychology exam for six hours straight!  A half-hour break isn't going to make us fail."

Bruce just shook his head and bent back over the book.  Harvey snorted a laugh at something on the screen and Bruce sneaked a glance at him, sprawled lazily across the bed, his big, blunt-fingered hands laced behind his head.  As usual, he looked confident, even cocky, a powerful young man who knew his place in the world and knew he was going upwards in it. 

Harvey was always like that--hard and sharp-edged, supremely self-assured, never letting anyone close.

Except when he wasn't.

And he never came to Bruce's room.

Except when he did.

Bruce still couldn't believe that his friend who never let him relax, who was always jabbing and jibing and testing Bruce's endurance of him, was the same man who had come to Bruce's room three times now in the last two years.  Once a semester, when the pressure from finals became most intense, Harvey would show up at Bruce's door late one evening, alcohol on his breath, for a night of frantic fucking.  It was like an explosion of lust, a shaken champagne bottle pressured beyond endurance into shattering, a paroxysm as intense as it was silent but for Harvey's wild, gasping howls. 

Harvey always had to be the one fucked, and he always struggled and struck blindly at Bruce's gentle caresses until abruptly giving in to a pleasure that seemed almost as tormented as his resistance.  Bruce would hold his shaking body between the bouts of desperate exertion and try to soothe some comfort into his friend.  Sometimes, when Harvey was completely spent and exhausted, Bruce thought that maybe there was a moment of calm in the maelstrom where the two of them could drift together in something like peace, something close to solace.  But the next day Harvey was always back to being his impermeable, affable self, as if nothing had ever happened between them.

Except it had.

Bruce tried to concentrate on his textbook and not recall the sound of his friend groaning in agonized, voluptuous delight beneath him.  He succeeded somewhat, at least until Harvey suddenly stopped on a channel with a sharp "Whoa."

It was a press conference with a group of scientists, astronomers.  They were flanked by various politicians--Bruce recognized the mayor of Metropolis.  All of them looked deeply disturbed, even in shock.

"--may have been evidence of life, but we can't be sure at this juncture," the lead scientist was saying in response to a question.  His voice was shaking very slightly.  "Whatever the reason, Superman obviously decided to travel there and examine the remains himself."  A welter of confused questions from the press.  "No, because we don't know the technology he's using to travel there, we don't know how long he'll be gone."  The scientist swallowed as if hesitant to transmit bad news.  "Based on what we know of space travel, however, it seems unlikely he could return in anything less than twenty, maybe thirty years." 

The mayor of Metropolis stepped up to the podium to take questions, reassuring everyone that the Metropolis police would be more than capable of stepping up to cover Superman's absence.  The news station cut away from the conference and the anchor filled the screen.  Behind him was a graphic, a close-up photograph of the Kryptonian, his inhumanly piercing blue eyes looking out at the audience--out at Bruce--his face remote and godlike. 

"Whoa," said Harvey again.  "That's big news.  Wow.  Metropolis is going to be a mess without him.  Good thing Gotham already can't get worse, huh Bruce?"  He looked over at his friend to find him staring at the television screen with a strange intensity in his eyes.  "Bruce?"

"Must be nice," muttered Bruce, lowering his head so his shock of dark hair almost obscured his eyes.

"What, to be able to fly?"

"No, to care so little that you can just...leave like that.  To be that distant from everything, floating above it all."  Bruce inhaled sharply, his eyes dark and fixed on Superman's face, on the placid smile.  "To not be human."

"Hey, hey," Harvey said, sounding a little alarmed.  "Let's not get all scary-deep on me here, Brucie.  Besides, you and me, we don't need his help, do we?  We're going to clean up Gotham all by ourselves.  The world's finest lawyer and detective, righting wrongs and fighting evil."

"Computer coder."

Harvey huffed a sigh.  "That's right, you're going into cyber-crime this month.  Bruce, you have to focus a little more.  You switch fields like normal men switch women."  A lazy grin, all teeth and taunt, but Bruce wasn't looking at Harvey.  He was still watching the television screen, which was now running a reel of great Superman moments.

"Must be nice," he whispered again before looking back at his book.

: : :

Bruce was sitting under a tree near the Quad a couple of weeks later, the day everything fell apart.  He had been studying something, but the book had slipped unheeded off his lap, and now he was staring up at the infinitely blue autumn sky.  Random thoughts chased through his mind, with no real pattern, as he stared up at the opaque lapis sky.  Nobody's eyes were that blue, he thought absently.  Nobody on earth.

"Bruce?"  Harvey's voice from behind him.  Bruce dragged his eyes from contemplating the impossibly perfect blankness high above him to his friend's face.  "I came as soon as I heard," said Harvey.  He crouched down beside Bruce and put a hand on his shoulder.  "Man, I'm sorry.  Fate can be cruel."

"What's wrong?"  Even as he asked it, Bruce realized he didn't want to know.  He wanted to just stay here and stare at the untouchable sky.  He didn't want to hear what Harvey was going to say, didn't want to see what was on the newspaper Harvey was holding out, infinitely slowly, time slowing down to a crawl as he saw the headline. 

Freedom for Wayne Murderer. 

The world shattered around him.


Harvey got him back to his dorm somehow as he cursed and choked, staggering against his friend.  At the doorway of Bruce's room Harvey hovered, caught on the threshold, unable to enter.  "You'll be okay?"  he asked nervously as Bruce moved further into the room away from him.

"Oh, I'll be okay," said Bruce.  He didn't meet Harvey's eyes.  "I'll be okay."

: : :

A few days later, Bruce's dorm room swung open without a knock.  He looked up from his suitcase.  Harvey was standing on the lintel, breathing heavily, his face filled with rage.  "You're dropping out.  You're quitting," he choked.  "You're running home with your tail tucked between your legs--you pussy, were you even going to bother to tell me?" 

Bruce turned back to the suitcase and kept packing.  "I'm sorry, Harv."  He tossed some socks into the corner of the bag.  "You're right, I can't take the pressure here anymore."

Harvey's hands clenched and unclenched as he quivered with fury on the threshold.  Then with an abrupt, pained motion he came into Bruce's room, grabbed him by the shoulder, shoved him against the wall.  "You can't leave me here, Bruce!  You can't leave me here alone!  I--I--"  Harvey looked blankly shocked for second, then rallied and continued. "I--need you, I need you here, Bruce."

Bruce closed his eyes, feeling Harvey's hand pinning him to the wall, imagining bright blue eyes as remote as heaven, beyond caring.  He shrugged the hand away.  "Nobody needs anybody, Harvey.  There are things I have to do.  You can't follow me there."  He felt the weight of the gun nestled in his suitcase across the room, a black hole tugging him beyond some event horizon.

"I'd follow you anywhere," Harvey whispered hoarsely, and kissed him, devouring him, needy and desperate. 

Bruce pulled away.  "This isn't right, Harvey.  This isn't good for either of us."

Harvey ignored him and clasped Bruce's wrists in his broad hand, yanking Bruce's hands above his head, holding him in place.  "I won't let you leave me," he snarled.

Black fury rose up in Bruce, cold and lifeless as vacuum.  He broke Harvey's hold on him with almost contemptuous ease.  "Won't let me?  You don't have that kind of control over me.  No one has that kind of control over anyone, to keep them where they're needed."  Bruce saw again that pale face on the television screen, distant as the stars, emotionless and detached.  Free.  He had to find that kind of freedom within himself, to do what he had to do.  The black hole in his suitcase.  "You can't control me."  He laughed bitterly and pushed Harvey onto the bed.  "You can't even control yourself from wanting this."

There was no joy in what followed, beyond the sheer, sharp physical release for them both.  There was no solace, and no peace.

For Harvey Dent, there never would be again.

After, Harvey buttoned his shirt with hands that didn't shake at all, threw back his glossy brown head and glared at Bruce.  "I hated it, every time," he hissed, his eyes like golden coins, flat and bright.  "I hated what you did to me here, and I hated you for doing it to me.  Every time."  He went to the door, threw it open, and looked back at Bruce.  "None of this ever happened, do you hear me?"  He said it with the tone of a person making an official pronouncement, his voice completely affectless.  "Nothing in this room ever happened." 

Later, much later, Bruce would remember the look in his eyes, like doors slamming shut on things beyond bearing.  At the time, however, he felt mostly crushing relief as the real door clicked shut almost gently and left him alone.  He picked up the suitcase, thrown to the floor sometime in the last hour, clothing spilling out.  The gun was still there, safely tucked in its pocket, deadly and cold.  Bruce touched it again and wondered why he was crying, when he felt so free.

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres Interlude: Pygmalion
Title:  Pygmalion
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Music of the Spheres is a series set in the combined movieverses of Batman Begins  and Superman Returns The whole series can be found here.  This story is set sometime early in Syncopation, but isn't really otherwise connected to it.
Rating: R
Summary:  A cold December evening in the cave, and Bruce finds an unexpected surprise waiting for him.
Word Count: 860
Story Notes:   [info]evangelene's scorching hot Superman stories (found here, here, here and here so far) made me wonder how it would be from the other temperature extreme.  Just another fairly smutless PWP...

Cold, damp air hit Bruce Wayne in the face as he opened the trap door in the ruins of Wayne Manor to go down into the cave, and he shivered.  This was his first winter in the cave, and he had started to get used to having to wear extra-heavy sweaters when he went down there to work.  Unlimited steaming-hot coffee helped as well.  He was sure the cold and damp were hell on the computers, and the space heaters he had going were less than satisfactory at keeping the place tolerable.  It didn't help, of course, that there was a gaping hole open to the frigid December air, screened with a waterfall to add that extra touch of damp humidity.

The Christmas tree caught his eye again as he entered the cave, making him smile as usual.  Clark had found a tiny artificial tree made of ebon-colored foil and hung strings of black lights on it.  It looked festive, in an aggressively gloomy way.

Clark had a strange sense of humor about Bat-related things sometimes.

Bruce was about to sit down in the computer chair when he noticed something else unusual about the cave.  He blinked at the waterfall, cascading in icy, glassy torrents in the moonlight, glinting silver ripples around the cave.  There was something in the waterfall.

His eyes widened despite himself when he realized it was Kal, naked and white as snow, hovering in the waterfall like a star, his bright blue eyes regarding Bruce steadily.  His black hair streamed about him in the pounding water, and his pale lips were slightly curved. 

Bruce found that he was holding his breath, staring.  He forgot sometimes how eerie and unearthly his lover could be.  With a shaky inhalation he walked over to the waterfall. 

Kal floated out from the cascade to meet him, ice-cold droplets raining around him.  "I've been waiting for you," he said softly, lifting a hand to shake moonlit water from his hair.  His skin was paler than Bruce had ever seen it, the blood entirely chased away from the surface by the frigid water.  Bruce put out a hand to his shoulder.  It was like touching stone.

"What the hell," he muttered, somewhat alarmed.  "Let me get you a blanket."  He grabbed a fluffy black blanket from the back of the chair and came back to Kal, still hovering in the gloom of the cave like some kind of alien Christmas ornament, all crystal and frost.  Throwing the blanket around his lover's shoulders, he pulled Clark closer, put his mouth to Clark's lips.  A human would have been wracked with shudders, but Clark was utterly still.  It felt like kissing a statue at first, and Bruce felt a jolt of unease, opening his eyes to reassure himself that Clark's were still sentient and gazing at him hungrily.  Under his lips, Clark's mouth slowly warmed, becoming soft and pliant again.

Starting at the neck, Bruce ran his hands over Kal's body, gleaming like a pearl in the moonlight.  The blinking purple lights of the goth Christmas tree cast lilac and amethyst accents over the snowy whiteness.  As he stroked Clark's colorless form, Bruce could see the blood rush to the skin's surface in his hands' wake, rosy trails of warmth and color appearing behind them.  It was as if he were bringing a statue to life, turning alabaster into bright flesh.   "What were you thinking?" Bruce said as he breathed on Clark's ice-cold hands, watching the nails flush from pale blue to pink.

"I was waiting, and the moonlight looked good.  It felt good," Clark said, his eyes closed.  "This feels better," he moaned as Bruce drew his hands along his ribcage, color flooding into his skin in response to Bruce's coaxing touch.  Bruce leaned forward to put a warm tongue to a nipple almost lavender with cold, teasing and flickering until it warmed from marble to taut flesh.  A tug on the blanket and Kal floated downward to be wrapped in Bruce's arms, shivering now indeed, but not with cold.  They went to the ground together, the black blanket folded around them like night, Kal burning like a star now.  His faerie prince, his elfin love.

Bruce's hands caressed arousal into Clark, his tongue enticed and warmed and tempted, until Clark was ardent with desire and sweet under his lips, until they were both aflame together in the unquenchable fire always between them.

When they were both finally warm and glowing, wrapped up in the blanket and radiating contentment, Clark kissed Bruce's ear a little sleepily.  "I brought you an early Christmas present."  A flicker of movement and Clark was back in his arms before Bruce fully noted the absence, this time holding a small package.  Bruce unwrapped the bright paper and couldn't help but laugh.

Cozy, thick woolen socks.

Bruce looked a bit chagrined.  "I don't have anything to give you," he said.

Clark smiled lazily, warm in his lover's arms.  He closed his eyes against the moonlight and nuzzled Bruce's neck, drawing him closer.  "Don't be so sure," he murmured.

Chapter Text

Fic: Five Times Bruce and Clark Had Less-Than-Earth-Shattering Sex

Title:  Music of the Spheres Interlude:  Five Times Bruce and Clark Had Less-Than-Earth-Shattering Sex
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  The Music of the Spheres is a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: R
Summary:  Sometimes sex just isn't terribly spectacular.
Word Count: 1240


"What went wrong there?"  Bruce's voice was brisk and annoyed.

Clark frowned.  "You tell me."

"Well, for a guy who woke his lover up in the middle of the freaking night to have sex, you didn't seem very enthusiastic."

"What?  You're the one who woke me up to have sex!  You can't blame me for not being properly enthusiastic when you're the one groping me in the middle of the night."

Bruce glared at Clark from his pillow.  "Oh no you don't.  I'm the one who woke up at three a.m. with your hand on my crotch.  You can't exactly expect raging lust under those circumstances."

"But...I only had sex with you because you wanted..."

"No, I only had sex with you because you wanted..."

 They trailed off and looked at each other for a while.  Finally, reluctantly, Bruce started to laugh.  "You mean neither of us wanted to have sex, but we thought--"

"--we thought the other one did."  Clark flopped down onto the pillow next to Bruce with an exasperated snicker.  "It's kind of like 'The Gift of the Magi'."

"Yeah, if O. Henry wrote it with a lot less watch fobs and a lot more mechanical obligation sex."


Clark was sprawled out across the bed, taking up too much of it as usual, looking sated and pleased.  He pulled the blankets up and to his chin and started to tug Bruce down next to him.



"I will point out that although you have gotten your Kryptonian rocks off, there's still one very horny and unsatisfied person in this bed."




"It's not you, Clark."

Clark pulled sleepy blue eyes open.  "Oh!  Bruce, I'm so sorry."  The eyes started to drift shut again.  "Lemme my eyes for a moment...and then I'll fix that."

Bruce yanked at immovable blankets.  "Don't you dare!  I know how this goes.  You say that and then you fall asleep and I'm left like this."

A yawn.  "No, no.  I won't fall asleep, I promise."

"You'll fall asleep in mid-sentence."

Clark's voice was hurt.  "Have I ever done that to you before?"


"I promise I won't this time, because..." 

There was a long pause in which Clark might have been collecting his thoughts to make a more cogent argument.  Eventually Bruce, nerves still jangling, snapped, "Because what?"

Silence.  It eventually became clear Clark was starting to snore.

"Oh, for Christ's sake."  Bruce managed to extract a blanket and wrapped himself up in it with as much dignity as he could manage.  "Not that you'll notice, but I'll be in the bathroom, taking matters into my own hands."  He padded off down the hall.

Clark muttered something happy in his sleep and curled up around a pillow.


"Clark, I can't believe Perry put you up in this flea-bitten hotel to cover the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."  Bruce looked around the tiny, dingy hotel room.  "You should have let me pay to put you somewhere nicer."

"Nuh uh uh," admonished Clark, shaking a finger at Bruce.  "No depending on the rich boyfriend to get me out of these assignments."  He dropped a suitcase onto one sagging twin bed.  "Thanks for coming by, though."

Bruce gave him a leer.  "I can think of some ways you can show your gratitude."

They were sweaty and naked and just beginning a sequence of frenzied motion when they both abruptly became aware of a rhythmic squeaking sound beneath them:  rrk rrk rrk rrk.  Each tried their best to ignore the squeaking springs, but eventually the silly noise (rrk rrk rrk rrk) undermined all their attempts to be passionate.  Clark broke down in snickers first, and started tickling Bruce when Bruce glared at him.

"Aw, come on, Clark," groaned Bruce.  "It's been three weeks, don't let a squeaky bed get you out of the mood."

"I can't help it, it just makes everything ridiculous," gasped Clark.  "Okay, hold on, I'll hover and you" He floated in the air and did some deft arranging with his hands.  "There, like that."

It took a little while, but eventually Bruce found his rhythm again, despite the surrealness of having sex hovering a foot above a probably bug-ridden, broken-in bed.  As he rocked back and forth, though, he suddenly heard a soft noise begin beneath him.  Rrk rrk rrk rrk.  

Bruce glared daggers at the man under him, whose shoulders were quivering slightly.  "Clark Kent.  Stop creaking."

"I can't help it," Clark choked, breaking down entirely into giggles, "It's just--"

Bruce rolled off of Clark and onto the bed with a thump.  "Bruce Wayne and his Incredible Creaking Kryptonian.  A hit at parties," he intoned sonorously.

landed on top of him.

he bed gave an agonized squeal.

After that, they couldn't seem to stop laughing.


Clark's hands were tangled tightly in Bruce's hair, tugging, making sure Bruce's mouth remained in the proper, delightful place.  "Ah, God, yes, damn it, yes," he moaned.  "Been waiting all day for this, you bastard, you cock tease, ah..."  His back arched and tensed.  "So close, so close, so close, yes, yes,!  Don't you dare stop, don't stop now, you..." Clark was reduced to helpless choking noises as his lover paused to nibble his thighs for a while.  Bruce went back to where he had been before with renewed vigor, but something was off now.  

After a while, Bruce stopped.  He looked deflated.  So did Clark.  Which was the problem.

"Well, Jesus," Clark explained at Bruce's questioning look, "You rile me up all day talking about this, get me crazy hot and over-stimulated, and then stop to tease me at the worst possible instant...just give me a moment, I have to calm down a bit."  Clark took a few deep breaths while Bruce looked concerned.  "It's not you, geez, don't get paranoid.  It's just I'm too wound up.  I'll be fine in a couple of minutes, just--"

The light of the Batsignal suddenly glowed into the bedroom, outlining Clark's chagrined face in golden light.  Bruce sighed and started to pull on a robe.

"Bruce, couldn't we just leave the drapes closed now and then?"  Bruce stopped long enough to drop a kiss on Clark's forehead. 

"No, I suppose not," said Clark to the empty room.


The room was dark and Bruce was wrapped in Clark's arms.  They had both been tired after a night of patrolling, but still had had sex before falling asleep.  It hadn't been anything special, nothing life-changing or traumatic or even particularly good.   Certainly nothing worth writing a story about.  Just the usual average kind of sex people have with their partners, the mundane, pleasant act that helps keep people whole and sane and together.

Drifting in the darkness, catching a moment of rest before getting up and doing it all again, the work and the charade and the routine, Bruce heard Clark's voice.  "Thank you."

Bruce pulled Clark's hands tighter around his chest.  "For what?"

"Oh, nothing."  A pause.  "Everything."

Bruce nodded, feeling his hair brushing against Clark's cheek.  "You too."

Chapter Text

Syncopation: Chapter One
Title:  Syncopation:  Chapter One
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: Syncopation is an arc set in the same universe as the combined movieverse Music of the Spheres.  The whole series can be found here.
Rating: PG
Summary:  Harvey Dent begins his tenure as Gotham D.A., and deals with meeting both his old friend, Bruce Wayne, and his fellow crusader, Batman.
Word Count: 4600

the process of displacing 'expected' beats by anticipation or delay of one-half a beat.  This adds a flavor of ambiguity as to where the beat is...

"He's only five minutes late, Bruce.  He'll show."  Clark Kent watched Bruce Wayne pacing outside a high-class Gotham restaurant.  They were meeting the new District Attorney for lunch.  Bruce took another awkward pivot, stalking by Clark like a caged animal.

Clark had never seen Bruce so filled with apprehension before.

He reached out and grabbed his lover's arm as Bruce made another pass.  "Bruce.  I thought you said you two were old college friends?  What's to worry about?"

Bruce sighed and ran a hand through his hair, rumpling it.  It made him look very young.  "We didn't really part on friendly terms.  And it's been almost six years.  But he sounded okay on the phone.  I mean, busy, harried, but okay.  Anyone can sound okay on the phone for a few minutes though..."

"Bruce?  You're babbling."

Bruce frowned.  "I am, aren't I?"  He looked at Clark and flashed a small, apologetic smile.  "I'm sorry.  Harvey's opinion always meant a lot to me.  And he never really took me seriously."  A shadow passed over Bruce's face.  "He hated me, at the end.  For quitting.  Being a coward."

"You're not a coward."

A deep breath.  "Oh, but I was, Clark.  I was."

Before Clark could ask for a clarification--and he was beginning to want one--a warm, loud voice came from behind them.  "Brucie!"

By the time Bruce finished turning around, all worry was erased from the face that was now blandly handsome, vapid.  "Harv!" Bruce said as if he hadn't a care in the world, as if he hadn't just been admitting to Clark that he wasn't sure the man would be glad to see him.

Enthusiastic handshakes and back-clappings followed, and then the dapper, well-dressed man was turning to Clark.  "This must be Clark Kent," Harvey said jovially, looking Clark up and down, "The farm boy who's stolen the heart of Gotham's most eligible bachelor."

Clark allowed himself to wince a little at the man's strong handshake, and noted the flash of satisfaction in the hazel eyes.  The new District Attorney smiled at Bruce.  "We'll have to see if we can get the wheels in motion on finally legalizing same-sex marriage around here.  Can't lag too far behind Star City, can we?"

As the waiter showed them to their seats, Harvey Dent continued talking, looking at Clark.  "Though I'm surprised Wayne could ever bring himself to settle down with just one person.  He was always the ultimate dilettante back at Princeton.  Changed majors every semester.  One month he'd be cracking the books in history, the next month we'd find him at the chem lab at all hours of the night.  We called him the Boy Wonder because he'd do so well in each area and then just leave it.  He made many a professor weep at losing their favorite student."

Bruce laughed easily as they sat down.  "Nothing ever quite seemed to suit me."

Harvey leaned back in his chair, flinging one arm across the back.  "And then he burned out entirely, dropped out, and ran off to Europe to wench it up and destroy his brain cells for five years.  Left the rest of us to pick up his slack the best we could."  He laughed, showing teeth.  "I always knew you wouldn't be able to cut it when the real pressure came down."

Clark lowered his menu to look at Dent.  "He seems to be doing all right for himself," he said mildly.  Bruce shot him a quick look:  I can take care of myself.  Clark realized abruptly that he had placed a possessive hand on Bruce's arm and removed it gingerly. 

Dent's grin was wry and lopsided.  "It helps if your parents leave you a company to run.  Not all of us are so...lucky.  Chance and fate, Brucie, and I could be in your place and you could be humping it in the D.A.'s office."

Bruce smiled at the other man with real affection.  "I've missed you too, Harvey."

Harvey snorted. 

"District Attorney is hardly a low-profile job.  You've got a lot of chances to do good there.  And we'd like to help.  Just let us know where the Wayne Foundation can make a difference."

Harvey's eyebrows rose a bit, but then he leaned over and jabbed a finger at Bruce.  "Money's not enough, Wayne.  You can't just throw cash at a problem and expect things to get better.  I heard about your stunt at the Policeman's Ball.  Well, some of those kids are going to do good things with those computers.  Others are going to become hackers and peddle online pornography with them.  You have to do something real."  His eyes flashed angrily and he waved a hand at Clark.  "Hell, I read the farmboy's report on the flaws in Metropolis's child welfare system--he did more good with that report than you've done in your whole life.  And he doesn't have half the resources, the talent, the gifts you do.  You're too afraid to get your hands dirty, Bruce.  And so you leave the rest of us to try and make this city better, alone."  He caught his breath and took a quick sip of his water.

Clark saw the tightening in Bruce's jaw beneath the lazy smile.  "Clark's been a good influence on me," he said easily.  He leaned forward.  "Please, Harvey, believe me when I say I want to make a difference.  That I think the three of us, working together...we could do a lot."  Clark knew Bruce well enough by now to know that he was letting the playboy mask slip just a bit, meeting Harvey's eyes and speaking with real sincerity.  But Harvey seemed to miss the shift, turning his attention to his steak and cutting at it savagely, as if it were all the criminals of Gotham bleeding onto his plate.  Bruce sat back with a sigh and the moment was gone.

As the meal ended, Clark excused himself a little early.  "I have to catch the train back to Metropolis.  It was a pleasure to meet you, and congratulations again on your election."  Dent crushed his hand one more time, grinning.  Clark leaned over and kissed Bruce on the cheek.  Bruce looked surprised--Clark almost never was affectionate in public--and Clark kicked himself mentally.  He felt embarrassingly transparent.  The hand on Bruce's arm, the good-bye kiss--all the usual ways a man sends the message:  Stay away.  I mark this as my property.  Apparently he remembered some human mating behavior after all.  All of which was ridiculous, because there was absolutely no sign that Harvey was interested in Bruce.  They were old friends, that's all.  Clark turned back at the door to see the District Attorney saying something to Bruce, Bruce answering with a smile that was more genuine than his usual public smile.

Clark sighed to himself as he headed toward the train station.  He wasn't sure what Bruce had been worried about--Harvey Dent seemed perfectly pleased to see his old friend. 

He supposed he could turn on the receiver to hear the conversation they were having now, but it really wasn't any of his business. 

"He must be really good in the sack, Wayne," Harvey was saying to Bruce as he finished his coffee.  He laughed at the look on Bruce's face.  "I mean, come on, he hardly put together two words during the whole meal!  He's a good writer, but his personality isn't exactly sparkling.  So I figured there had to be some other, more compelling reason to keep him around.  That's okay, I don't need details!" He held up his hands in mock horror.

Bruce smiled slightly, looking just a touch troubled.  "Still waters run deep, Harvey."

Something flickered across Harvey's face and was gone.  "So they say." 

Bruce leaned forward, gnawing on his lower lip.  "Harvey, back when I left school--" He stopped and watched Harvey's face, which reflected only slight puzzlement.

"You mean back when you pussied out on us?"  The puzzlement shaded into another vicious smile.

"Yes," Bruce said steadily.  "Back then.  I'm sorry.  For what happened."

Harvey cocked his head to one side, looking slightly confused.  "'What happened?'  What do you mean?  Nothing--nothing happened."  A strange look crossed his face and he repeated, more forcefully and flatly, "Nothing happened."  He stood up and flicked the tab toward Bruce.  "Well, I figure you'll be getting this, since you're so anxious to help out the city in any way.  Now if you'll excuse me, some of us have work to do."  He clapped his hat onto his chestnut hair and patted Bruce on the back.  "Take it easy."

Bruce Wayne stared at the check for a long time.  Then he paid it.

: : :

Batman crouched behind a gargoyle in the rain, watching the lights burning in the D.A.'s office.  Working late again.  Dent had started his job just a week ago and seemed determined to get more accomplished in a month than the last D.A. had managed to do in a year before being murdered.  Batman saw the figure in the room finish scribbling someone on a form, then sigh and rest his head in his hands briefly.  He felt a pang of empathy.

"I was wondering when you'd show up," said Dent without turning around as he heard the footfall on the floor behind him.

"I had to meet you."

Harvey turned at that, his eyes narrowed.  "And now you have."  He stood up and walked away from the dark figure to look into a small mirror hanging on the wall, adjusting his loosened tie.  The Harvey in the mirror looked back at Batman.  "So what do you think of me?"

"I think you're a good man, doing your best in a system that isn't going to ever give you any help.  There are very few people you can trust here."

"Are you one of them?"

"I hope so."

The D.A. turned from the mirror to face Batman squarely.  "I hope so too."  His eyes flashed, unguarded for the first time.  "Our city needs more people like you.  God, if only..." He dropped into his chair and ran a hand through his hair, across his jaw.

"You can trust Jim Gordon.  And Rachel Dawes."  Batman opened his mouth as if to add another name, closed it again.  The two men stared at each other in the light of the dim bulb.  "What can I do to prove I'm on your side, Dent?"

Harvey picked up a file on his desk, waved it at Batman.  "Have you got anything on the Lucci case?"  Lucci was a small-time mobster, strictly middle-management, who had been murdered a few weeks ago.

A pause.  "I have some leads."

"Any evidence we don't have?"

A longer pause.  "Maybe."

"You're afraid if you turn it over then it'll get disappeared.  I understand.  Share it with me and I swear I'll do everything in my power to see it gets used.  And I might trust you a little more."  No answer.  Harvey pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers, closing his eyes.  "You're going to have to take a chance on me, Batman.  Just like I'm going to have to gamble on you.  Or we're both totally alone." 

He opened his eyes to find the room empty.  He laughed slightly to himself.  "I can see I'm going to have to get used to that."

The next day, the plaster casts of a blurry footprint and two carefully typed pages of detailed analysis appeared on Harvey Dent's kitchen table.  They were enough to put away the guy who hit Lucci--for a little while, at least.

: : :

Bruce tapped his earpiece as he headed up the stairs to the apartment.  "You there, Clark?"  No answer.  That was unusual, but not entirely unexpected--Batman wasn't the only one who had problems staying in character with his lover's voice in his ear.  He decided to stay up a little longer and study some lockpicking until Clark could get back in touch with him.

It was a couple of hours until Clark's voice came over the comm.  "Hey.  Sorry I didn't answer earlier."

Bruce finished making a notation in the margin.  "Particularly recalcitrant kitten?"

A snort.  "No, that hurricane brewing down in the Gulf.  Had to try and divert it without messing up local weather patterns entirely.  There's still going to be a lot of flooding down here, but I think I managed to get it down to category two without making too many mistakes.  Did you get to talk to Dent?"

"Briefly, yes."


"Mm.  I think we'll be able to work with him.  He's angry--at Bruce Wayne, at the city, at the world--but he's a good man.  I'm going to give him some leads tomorrow on the Lucci case, that might be a beginning." 

The voice on the other end was slightly diffident.  "It must be nice to have someone to talk to about these things."

"I have you, Clark.  I don't need another person to talk to."

A pause.  "I meant another human."

Bruce frowned and closed the book, focusing fully on Clark's voice for the first time.  "We're not having this argument again, are we?"

"What argument?"  Bruce could hear the sounds in the background of Clark making himself a cup of coffee.

"Clark.  This argument.  The one where you think you're not a suitable partner for me--in either role--because you're not human."  Silence on the other end.  "Harvey's a brilliant man.  It will be good to work with him.  But I can't talk to him like I can you.  He doesn't understand what it's like to have two lives, to juggle the private and the public like we do."  Bruce's voice caressed the "we," and he heard the very slight intake of breath from Clark.  "We're unique, Clark, the two of us.  That makes us equals in a way no one else can be.  The heat vision and the rest, that's nothing in comparison."

Clark sighed, but it had a thread of relief running through it.  There was a silence that slowly eased into comfort again.

Eventually Bruce decided it was safe to change the subject.  "Here's an odd thing.  When I was surveilling some smugglers tonight, I heard them talking about how Batman had taken out a few of their friends a couple nights ago.  Put them in traction."

"Whoof.  You didn't mention you'd had such a rough fight."

"That's just it.  I didn't.  I wasn't anywhere near there at the time they said it happened."

"Huh...maybe it was the work of a rival gang member or something.  If they didn't get a good look at whoever was fighting them, of course they're going to assume it's the Batman."

Bruce frowned.  "I suppose it enhances my reputation....but that doesn't change the fact that some guy took them down.  That means there's someone out there who's good.  Really good."

"Are you implying there might be someone in Gotham doing the same kind of thing you're doing, another vigilante?  That you're not alone?"  There was a pause on the Metropolis end.  "Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?"

"I don't know.  It's unlikely whoever it is and I would see eye to eye on how best to deal with crime here.  Gotham isn't a city that's easy to share."  Bruce paused, going back over what Clark had said, his tone of voice.  "Clark?  You're wrong about one thing."


"I'm already not alone."

: : :

Clark Kent was covering a case at the Metropolis courthouse a few weeks later when he heard Harvey Dent's voice behind him.  "Kent!  Hey, Kent!"  Clark found his hand being gripped again.

"Harvey?  What are you doing in Metropolis?"

"Kind of off my usual turf, I know.  I'm here for a meeting with the Metropolis D.A. on information-sharing."  Dent rolled his eyes.  "Applying band-aids to an arterial wound.  What we need is some radical surgery."  He leaned closer to Clark, his face serious.  "Kent, is there any way you can--I don't know--get through to Bruce somehow?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

Dent's brow furrowed and he tapped Clark's chest.  "You know perfectly well what I mean.  Get him to start doing more than frittering his life away on games and such.  God, Kent, he could do so much if he'd just set his mind to it.  You didn't know him in college.  He was...He was..."  His eyes grew distant, looking through Clark at some vision of the past.  "He was unfocused, but so bright, and so passionate.  We were going to make a difference in Gotham together, and now..."  Harvey put his hands on Clark's shoulders and shook him very gently.  "Please, Clark, he can be so much more than this, I know it."

Clark looked down at his shoes.  "You're not giving him enough credit, Harvey."  He forced himself to look up and meet those sharp hazel eyes.  "Bruce is doing everything he can for Gotham.  Please believe me."

Harvey stepped back a pace, the pleading look on his face changing to something close to a sneer, closing up, shadowing.  He shoved his hands angrily into his pockets.  "Well, I'll keep him on speed dial for whenever I have a pressing need for an educated opinion on the best wine to serve with Chateaubriand."  He took a deep breath.  "Christ, Kent!"  He brushed past Clark, shouldering him aside, and was gone.

: : :

Rachel Dawes was typing up a report when a tentative knock came on her door.  "Come in," she called, and the door opened to reveal Bruce Wayne standing awkwardly in the doorway.

Rachel raised one eyebrow.  "Haven't seen you around for a while, stranger."  Bruce ducked his head and almost smiled, moving into her office.  Rachel leaned back in her chair, neither smiling nor frowning, simply appraising.  She wanted to make some reference to his new lover, find out how privy to Bruce's secret life this Kent guy was, but she couldn't seem to find a way to ask without looking unbearably catty.

"Actually, I was here to ask you how your new boss is doing.  We had lunch together a month or so ago, but he...hasn't been returning my calls since."

Rachel felt her brow furrowing.  "Dent's a good D.A..  He's strict, but he's as hard on himself as he is on the people who work for him, so people don't take it the wrong way."  Harvey's outbursts of temper had quickly become legendary around the office, but part of his anger always seemed to be directed at himself, so it was always difficult to take it too personally.  People working late at the office claimed they could sometimes hear him yelling in his office--apparently at himself--late at night.  "He cares about the city.  And he seems to be getting some extra help--he comes up with evidence and information other people don't have sometimes."  Bruce was looking out her tiny window at the skyline.  "Is someone helping him?"

Bruce didn't look at her.  "Of course."  She couldn't see his whole face, just a sliver of his profile.

"But that's not enough for you.  You want him to respect you,  Bruce Wayne."

He tapped absent-mindedly on the glass.  "Of course."

"You should tell him."

He made a small scoffing sound.  "Maybe I should just take out an ad in the newspaper, or hire a skywriter, and get it over with.  That's a crutch, Rachel, one I've relied on...too often now."  So he had told Kent, too.  "That's the easy way out.  I'd like him to understand I want the best for Gotham without taking that shortcut."

Rachel walked over, put a hand on his shoulder.  "But Bruce, that's never going to happen.  Dent's focused on stopping crime;  all the charity work in the world isn't going to impress him."

He looked at her now, his face pained.  "I know, Rachel."  He touched the hand on his shoulder lightly.  "I know."

"I'll put in a good word for you if I can."

A wry smile.  "I'd appreciate that."

: : :

Another charity function.  Clark was starting to get used to them, but that didn't mean he enjoyed them.  He had begged out of the last two, though, and Bruce had insisted that Clark had to come to these sometimes.  "Otherwise I start getting hungry stares from the properly-oriented eligible women and men."

Clark was standing next to Bruce, playing the wallflower with some sincerity as Bruce joked and laughed.  Suddenly Bruce broke off in the middle of a story and darted through the group to grab a man's sleeve.  "Harvey!  Join us?"

Harvey Dent turned to reveal a lovely woman on his arm, her platinum blonde hair upswept like Kim Novak's in Vertigo, her blue eyes large and sweet.  "Brucie!  Kent!"  He smiled down at the petite woman.  "I'd like you to meet my fiancee, Grace."

"Your...uh...fiancee?"  Bruce sounded rather taken aback.  Harvey nodded, watching Bruce closely, and the playboy rallied.  "It's a pleasure to meet you, Grace," he said gallantly, kissing her hand elaborately and making her laugh.

"Grace is an artist," Harvey explained while the woman demurred.

"I paint pictures, Harvey.  I wouldn't call myself an 'artist.'"

Harvey smiled at her affectionately.  "No, you wouldn't."

"What medium do you work in?" asked Clark.

"I paint watercolors, mostly.  Nothing too dark.  I think Harvey is intense enough for both of us."  She grinned impishly at her partner.

"I'd love to see your work sometime."

Grace looked surprised and gratified.  "Actually, I'm going to have an exhibition in just a few weeks.  I'll be sure to invite you both."  And then Harvey was steering her away, with a last level look at Bruce.

After they returned from the party, Clark strolled around the Manor library rather aimlessly.  He was wondering if Bruce was going to suggest he spend the night, or if this was going to be one of the evenings they both went off to their respective jobs.  Bruce seemed to be in a pensive mood tonight, but that could still go either way.

He looked up to find Bruce standing in the doorway, smirking slightly.  "You're wondering if this is a work night or a play night."

"Is it that obvious?"

"It's the way you pace.  You have a specific 'Am I getting any tonight?' pacing style."

Clark laughed, then tilted his head.  "Something's bothering you."

Bruce sighed as he moved into the room, dropping onto the overstuffed leather couch and propping his feet up on the arm.  "It's Harvey."

Clark leaned over the back of the couch, looking down at his lover.  "Think he's too good for his spun-glass fiancee?"

"No, no, it's not that at all.  Clark, Harvey's gay."

Clark's gaze grew rather sharp.  "And just how do you know that?"

Bruce rested an arm behind his head and met Clark's eyes squarely.  "He...told me.  In college."

"Maybe he's bi?"

Bruce shook his head.  "Not when I knew him, he wasn't."

Clark let that line of questioning drop, although he wanted rather badly to pursue it.  "Well, he won't be the first person to hide their sexual orientation to further their political career."

"In Gotham?  There's no reason to be in the closet in Gotham.  Hell, being openly gay might even win you constituents."

"Maybe he has his eyes set on higher political office.  What plays in Gotham might not play in Peoria.  Or maybe he has more private reasons for staying in the closet."  Clark reached over the back of the chair and touched Bruce's chest, over the heart, very gently.  "Who are we to judge what kind of inner demons and secrets a man might have?"

Bruce stared at Clark for a while.  "We slept together a couple of times," he said abruptly.  "It--wasn't a good thing.  He doesn't--even seem to remember it."

Clark blinked.  "I don't need to know everyone you've slept with, Bruce.  I don't even want to.  I suspect it would make these parties even more unbearable."  The thread of bitterness woven under his voice made Bruce wince and sit up.  "It's not that I'm jealous of him," Clark went on, cutting him off before he could speak.  "It's you know where I was while you were in college?  Mostly frozen in that damned Fortress, being home-schooled by my father in all the knowledge of the world.  Everything except what the knowledge of what it's like to get drunk and fool around with a friend, or stay up all night and talk about our futures.  I envy you your life, Bruce."  He stopped and laughed wryly.  "I know full well it wasn't a great life, but at least you had one.  All I have are...blank spaces where I should have friends, ex-lovers, even rivals."

He sighed again, looking down and away from Bruce.  "It may be arrogant, but I'd rather have had a past full of pain than an empty past."

Bruce got up on his knees on the couch, the couch back in between them, and put his hands on Clark's.  "I'd like to think I'm helping you make up for lost time.  You've got friends and ex-lovers now, and see--I even got you a rival." 

In Bruce's dark blue eyes was something like an apology, and it was that which Clark answered.  His smile was small and maybe just a bit wicked, a crescent moon in a still sky.  "Harvey?  You really expect me to see him as a legitimate rival?"  He slipped his hands out from under Bruce's and rested them on top of his lover's, delicate as filagreed steel clasps.  He leaned forward and kissed Bruce's throat.  "You're going to have to do better than that.  You may want his approval and respect, but it's me you want, isn't it?"

Bruce tugged at the hands pinning his to the couch, pushing forward into Clark's kiss.  "Let me go and I'll show you how much I want you."

"Tell me you want me and I'll let you go."

"We appear to be at an impasse here," Bruce noted, his quick breath belying his dry tone.

Clark nipped his earlobe.  "So, play night?"

"Play night," Bruce agreed.  "At least the first half," he added hastily.

Clark just laughed.  "That's all I need."

Chapter Text

Syncopation: Chapter Two
Title:  Syncopation:  Chapter Two
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Syncopation is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG-13
Summary:  As the new vigilante in town steps up his activities, Bruce Wayne worries about Harvey Dent, and brushes up his Kryptonian (the language, that is).
Word Count: 2200

Batman landed on the roof of police headquarters in a cold drizzle to find Jim Gordon waiting for him, his face somber.  "What is it?"

A flicker of anger on the usually-diffident face.  Gordon reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a set of photos.  Batman took them:  a badly beaten corpse, face pulped into unrecognizability.  He glanced at Gordon.

"Louie Merton.  Muscle for the Maronis.  Also known for his taste in young boys.  We got him on rape charges a few months ago, but the Maronis pulled some strings and he got sprung on a technicality.  He was found like this last night."

Batman handed the photos back to Gordon.  The misty rain wisped around the policeman's face.  "I shouldn't have to tell you that wasn't me."

Gordon's face was unreadable.  "He was a despicable man.  If anyone ever deserved it--"

"--I don't make those kinds of decisions.  Ever."

Gordon's shoulders sagged.  "I want to believe you."

Batman's hands clenched at his sides.  "I'd never cross that line.  Please believe me, Jim."

Gordon looked up, surprised.  "You've never called me by my first name."

The black head inclined.  "My apologies, Lieutenant."

Gordon snorted, removed his glasses and wiped rain from them.  "Don't think getting buddy-buddy all of a sudden is going to convince me you're trustworthy..." He put the glasses back on; the vigilante was gone.  "Just be careful," he whispered into the mist.  He made his way back to the door, looking back once at the rain-washed night skyline of his city.  It was true:  using his first name wasn't going to make Jim Gordon trust the man.

No, it was something else that did it.  Something he couldn't put a finger on, as intangible and as real as the mist soaking his coat.

: : :

"You need me to what?"  The sportscar's wheels sang on the road.  Bruce and Clark were fashionably late to Grace Lamont's exhibition. 

"I need you to listen to Harvey Dent's heartbeat while I talk to him.  Tell me if you hear any notable changes in rate."

"You need a lie detector?  Why?"

Bruce sighed.  His hands, in creamy leather driver's gloves, tightened on the wheel for a moment.  "Those random beatings and such that we've started to suspect are the work of one person?  They've turned lethal."

"You think Harvey knows something about it that he's not telling you?"

Bruce slanted a look over at the passenger seat.  "Did I ever mention that Harvey is an accomplished martial artist?  The only person who could really push me back in college.  Hell, he was probably technically better than me.  Of course, I've gotten a bit better since then," he said, flashing teeth.  "But he was damn good."  Gloved fingers drummed restlessly on the steering wheel.

"You don't mean to imply he's your nighttime vigilante?  Come on.  He's arrogant and driven, but he hardly seems murderous."

Bruce frowned.  "I don't know, Clark.  I just have a really bad feeling about all this.  There's something going on.  Something I can't quite unravel.  And I think Harvey has something to do with it."

At the exhibition, Clark sipped his champagne and eyed Grace's watercolors.  They were generally innocuous and pretty, although there was a vigor to their lines that belied the delicate coloring and gave them more depth than they might otherwise have had.  Pastoral landscapes, still lifes with fruit and flowers, a self-portrait in fragile pastels, only the eyes with any vibrancy--Clark stopped short in one corner in front of a small painting.  Unlike the others, it was an oil painting, a portrait of a man with wavy chestnut hair.  He was leaning back in a chair and smiling warmly out of the painting, his hazel eyes twinkling.  Eye, actually.  Only one eye was visible, because the left side of the man was plunged into a dark shadow.  The loving gaze of the man bisected by shadow was oddly unnerving. 

The man was holding something in each hand.  Cards.  Clark blinked as he realized they were Tarot cards, painted with an almost hallucinogenic attention to detail and picked out in gold paint.  The right hand, on the lit side, held the Lovers card, the twinned figures intertwining.

The left hand emerged from the shadows just enough to reveal the Wheel of Fortune.

"Oh, this," said a laughing voice behind him.  He turned to find Grace looking at the picture and blushing slightly.  "I don't usually work in oils and I'm not sure I like the effect at all here.  But can you imagine trying to render Harvey in watercolors?" She laughed at the thought.

"He is...not a watercolor sort of guy," Clark admitted.  "You love him very much."

"Yes," Grace said quickly, "Oh, yes.  He's a wonderful man."  She looked at the picture and sighed.  "But I worry about him.  He takes it so personally when the system works against him.  It eats him up inside."  She raised a hand as if to touch the portrait, hovering.  "Apparently he hasn't been sleeping well.  He says he has nightmares.  I think...he fights the battles of the day in his mind again all through the night."

"Does he love you?" Clark said.  If Bruce were correct, it was a cruel question, and the look in Grace's china-blue eyes when he asked it made him flinch.  "I'm sorry--" he started, but she raised her elegant chin and cut him off.

"I know what you're implying, Mr. Kent, and I have to say I don't appreciate it.  Harvey respects me.  He cares about me.  More than that is--none of your goddamn business."

She slipped away from him to another part of the exhibition, her eyes bright and her heart pounding, leaving Clark to feel like the biggest heel in the city.

As he stared at the little oil painting, he realized Bruce had started to talk to Harvey across the room, just the usual small talk at first, but Clark could feel Bruce waiting for the right moment.

"So, Harv--have you gotten a chance to meet that spooky nutcase Bat yet?  Is it true he's got fangs?"

Harvey glared at Bruce.  "He's just a man, Brucie.  You might have forgotten what a real one looks like, but I haven't."

Bruce's eyebrows skyrocketed.  "Whoa there, Harv, no need to get hostile."  He leaned forward and playfully punched Dent on the shoulder.  "That's right, you wouldn't be scared of him anyway, you were a regular Jackie Chan in college.  Hey, there's a thought--ever consider putting on a costume and joining in, kicking a little evil butt on your own?"  Bruce shadowboxed a little, making the people around the pair laugh.

Harvey Dent glowered at Bruce and shoved his hands into his pockets.  "Don't make me laugh."  He removed his hands with something in the left one--a silver dollar that he twirled absent-mindedly between his fingers.  Curious, Clark squinted at the coin and noted that one side was gouged and scarred, the other clean.  "I don't take the law into my own hands, Bruce.  I have enough challenges in my day job without moonlighting as a vigilante."  He looked down at the spinning coin in his hand as if surprised to see it there and clapped it into his palm, stopping the motion.  He looked back up at Bruce.  "Sometimes I wish I had the guts," he said very softly.

Bruce looked taken aback.  "I'm sorry, Harvey, I didn't mean--"

Harvey flipped the silver dollar in the air and caught it, slapping it onto the back of his hand.  It was the unblemished side, and Harvey lifted his eyes from it to smile with something like relief at Bruce.  "It's okay, Bruce.  No harm, no foul."  He reached out and touched the other man, almost tentatively, on the shoulder.  "I'm sorry too."  Then he was moving past Bruce to talk to someone else, leaving Bruce looking half pleased, half puzzled.

In the car after the evening was over, Clark said, "No noticable changes in heart rate when you were talking to him.  Either he's telling the truth and has nothing to do with it, or he's got some way to control his heartbeat."

Bruce sighed.  "I'm...relieved."

"You don't look very relieved."

"It still doesn't feel right, somehow.  I'm missing something.  Somewhere."  Bruce lightly thumped the steering wheel with his fist.  "Missing something."

: : :

It wasn't often that Bruce spent the night at Clark's place.  For starters, the bed was a lot less comfortable and the food a lot less good.  But Bruce had had a meeting to discuss business with a Metropolis company and had allowed Clark to talk him into spending the night there.  Right now they were both sitting on the couch reading, Bruce's legs draped across Clark's lap.  Bruce was marking up the margins with what looked like scribbles, but weren't. 


"Huh?"  Clark looked up from his book, looking surprised.

"Uwyrr, uwyrr.  God damnit, have I gotten the pronunciation wrong again?"

"Are you trying to say 'interesting'?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact."

"You're not drawing out the 'y' enough.  It's the Gothamite in you, all your vowels tend to be too clipped."

"So what have I said instead?"

Clark smiled impishly.  "Actually, the way you're pronouncing it puts it really close to 'blowjob.'"

"You've got to be kidding me."

"I haven't really dared to tell you this before, Bruce, but shortening vowels tends to add...lascivious undertones to Kryptonian.  It's a very sedate, scientific language, but with just a slight clipping of tone the meanings shift to more innuendo-laden ones."

Bruce was torn between laughter and annoyance.  "So you're saying basically the same words can be either very technical or extremely filthy."

"There are lovely examples of scientific treatises in Kryptonian which, when read out loud with just the tinest change in accent, can become long erotic descriptions of stunning explicitness."

"So if I try to say diyor min shavrinninw, I might be saying 'Hand me the salt," or I might be saying, 'I wish you to bugger me.'"

"Actually, that one's closer to 'I worship your vagina.'"

"Oh."  Bruce raised his eyebrows.  "Don't think I'll get a whole lot of use out of that one.  Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but I'm very glad I'll never have dinner with your birth-parents.  'Diyor min shavrinninw, Lara-ghyln,'" he said in a blandly conversational tone. 

Clark snorted with laughter and whacked his knees with the book he was reading.  "And what are you reading that's so uwyrr?"  He pronounced the word for "interesting" with exaggerated correctness, and Bruce rolled his eyes before answering.

"Chapter on malignant narcissism.  Fascinating case studies."

"I thought you travelled the world to master your understanding of the criminal mind."

"The criminal mind, sure.  With the Scarecrow and Joker and their ilk running around, though, it's clear I'm going to need to brush up on the totally fucking insane mind.  Why does Gotham get all the crazies?" Bruce mused, flipping through the pages.

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

Bruce glanced up from the book, surprised.  "What?"

Clark put aside his book and absent-mindedly rubbed Bruce's feet while he spoke, eliciting a pleased shiver from the other man.  "I get a feeling when I'm in Gotham, especially when I'm there as Superman."

"Which you aren't often, because it's--" Clark chimed in-- "Batman's goddamn city."

"Anyway, Gotham feels different than most places.  Resistant.  Slippery.  It's like an echo of what it felt like in Faerie.  I feel it a little bit in London too, much stronger when it's foggy.  But Gotham is unusual."

"You're saying Gotham is...magical?"  Bruce looked astonished and slightly offended.

"Not in any simple way.  But it's...different.  My usual approaches don't work as well there.  And it's apparently a magnet for insanity."  Clark saw Bruce's expression and backtracked hastily.  "I mean, just villainous insanity, of course."

Bruce smirked.  "No, you're right.  For example, it's insane to be learning an entire language to communicate with just one man, especially a language as nightmarish as this one.  There's only one good reason for such insanity, I suppose.  Uwyrr."

"It's interesting?"

Bruce grinned and shifted his position, starting to unbutton Clark's fly.  "No.  Uwyrr," he said again, deliberately clipping the vowels and rolling the "r" lasciviously.

"Huh?  Oh!"

"So does Kryptonian have a word for when I do this?"

It did.  In fact, it had three different words for subtle variations in technique.  Clark taught him all three in a voice increasingly wild and uncontrolled, then added a jumble of broken vocabulary from which Bruce could discern only oaths, endearments, and obscenities.

Bruce was going to enjoy mastering Kryptonian.

Chapter Text

Syncopation: Chapter Three (of Six)
Title:  Syncopation:  Chapter Three (of Six)
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Syncopation is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Batman tries to track down the other vigilante in Gotham;  Clark worries about Bruce;  and Harvey bets everything on the Wheel of Fortune.
Word Count: 3100

Rain was pounding down on the roofs of Gotham.  Batman wished his boots were as waterproof as they were bulletproof, but against a true Gotham downpour modern innovation quails in disbelief.

Sheets of water parted around him as he swooped from building to building.  Batman wondered about Clark's theory that Gotham had some spark of magic about it.  It didn't seem so ridiculous on a night like this, with the hissing of the rain like an enormous serpent all around him and the inky darkness swallowing up everything into gloom.

On nights like this, Batman loved his city more than ever.  He could joke about it with Clark, but he felt a strange relief that Clark didn't like Gotham, didn't feel comfortable working there.

She was all his, dark and beautiful, the only rival Clark ever need worry about.

The mysterious new vigilante hadn't struck for a few days now, and Batman had been watching for him or her carefully.  The attacks had become more and more frequent and were now up to once a week or so.  More alarmingly, whoever it was had started to use a gun--with lethal efficiency.  The hits might be more frequent, though;  some of the assailant's work might be obscured by other factors, like gang wars or rival mob hits, so he might still be missing something.

Obviously he was missing something, Batman thought irritably, since he hadn't caught the bastard.

He landed on a crane near the docks.  Varieties of thugs were transferring crates to trucks.  A big weapons shipment for the Falcone family.  Batman crouched, readying himself for the fight.  A flicker of movement caught the corner of his eye, and with a swift leap he knocked down one of the men below.

The bullet meant for the thug's brain only creased his shaven scalp, and the man collapsed with a yell.  Batman was already yards away, chasing down the shadowy figure in the rain who was almost certainly the Dark Knight's lethal twin.

The man leapt from building to building with an almost inhuman strength and accuracy, but eventually slipped and went down on a rain-wet rooftop.  As Batman closed with him, the man whipped a gun from his pocket and fired.  The bullet whined past Batman's head and then he was in brutal hand-to hand.

In the middle of a battery of blows, Bruce felt an intense relief--this definitely wasn't Harvey.  Bruce had sparred with Harvey many times and knew his personal fighting style as well as he knew his own.  This person's style was reminiscent of Harvey's--Batman filed away the possibility that they had trained under the same teacher--but rougher, angrier, more vicious and uncontrolled.  A foot connected hard with his ribs and Batman fell back a step.  There was a space, a rain-drenched moment, as the two faced each other.

"Don't you get it?" the other man snarled in a voice rough with rage from behind his black ski mask, "We shouldn't be fighting each other.  I want the same thing you do, Knight.  The wicked punished.  The just rewarded.  Something to balance the chaos of it all.  We're two sides of the same coin.  Don't fight me."

Batman danced forward between the sheets of rain and engaged him again, silent and grim.  He wouldn't be baited into a distracting discussion.  This had to end. 

His opponent grunted as a fist connected with his arm, and he fell back in turn.  "So you're my enemy too," he growled.  "I should have known none of you were to be trusted.  None of you!"  This time his foot connected with the side of Batman's head, and the assailant took the moment to feint, slip sideways into the rain, and disappear.

Batman scrubbed water out of his eyes and cursed to himself.  As long as this other man stalked the streets of Gotham killing, Gordon and Dent and the rest of his city would never fully trust Batman.  A part of them would always be wondering if he was obsessed enough in his mission to murder.

Torrents of rain obscured his vision as he made his way home.  He couldn't seem to see anything clearly enough.

: : :

Bruce was poring over a chemical analysis of some cloth fragments found at the latest murder scene.  They might be from the vigilante's ski mask, but he wasn't sure.  He took a sip of coffee from his mug and grimaced.  It had gone cold.  The results blurred in front of his eyes.  Inconclusive, inconclusive, everything was inconclusive

A whisper of air and Superman was standing behind him.  "You should have called to see if I had time," Bruce said without turning around.

"I don't care if you have time.  I needed to see you.  You can keep working."

Bruce kept working.

After a while warm hands rested on his shoulders and began to work some of the tension out of his knotted muscles.  He sighed and relaxed a little despite his best intentions.  "You don't make this easy, Clark."

"What, killing yourself with overwork?  Heaven forbid."

Bruce grunted, tapping on the computer keyboard.  They had had this argument many times in the last few months.  This was the first time Clark had been right.

Not that it mattered.

Clark's voice behind him again.  "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"You can leave me alone for the moment and let me work."  A rather chilly silence filled the cave at that, until Bruce finally turned around, looking slightly apologetic.  "Sorry, Clark.  I promise this is temporary.  I just really need to rid Gotham of this guy.  It's my reputation he's destroying.  I have to stop him on my own."

Clark nodded.  He was at least being kind enough not to give him that kicked-puppy look, Bruce noted with relief.  "I'll leave you alone for now, if you promise you'll go to the charity function at the casino this weekend and then get a good night's sleep."

Bruce grimaced wryly.  "You're nagging me to go out to a party?  The worm turns."  An exaggeratedly exasperated sigh.  "But I promise, all right?"

"You haven't been getting out enough as Bruce, you're too isolated lately.  With Wayne Manor re-opening next month you have to be a little more active.  And in case you're hoping to cheat me, I'm spending the night with you and making sure you sleep."

"Yes, Mommy."

Superman crossed his arms and floated a few inches into the air, looking stern.  "That's Super-Mommy to you."

Bruce couldn't help it, he snorted a laugh, but Clark was already gone.  Bruce sighed and turned back to his work.  He picked up his mug once more and smiled slightly.

The coffee was hot again.

: : :

Both Dent and Gordon were on the roof of police headquarters, looking grim.  Batman watched them pace for a while, then slipped onto the roof and stepped out from behind the floodlight, causing Gordon to start a little and Dent to smile slightly.  "What's the problem?"

Jim Gordon hesitated.  "Jerry Nelson's been found dead."  Nelson was a Gotham policeman;  it was an open secret that he was on the take.  "Same gun as your friend the rogue vigilante."

"Isn't 'rogue vigilante' something of a redundancy?" put in Harvey Dent with a wry grin.  "Would that make the Bat here our 'pet vigilante'?"

Gordon cast Dent a rather dark look, then turned back to Batman.  "He's going after crooked cops now.  That means he's widening the scope of his vendetta."

Batman frowned at Gordon's choice of words.  "Vendetta?"

Dent waved a sheaf of papers in Batman's direction, the easy smile gone from his face.  "Yeah, that's what I'm here to talk to you about.  I've finally made the connection between these hits.  Every one of them is someone who's slipped away from my office.  They're all people we've put away that have gotten sprung, or people we were unable to put away.  Hell, some of them were people we just didn't quite have enough evidence on, people we never went after at all."  He scowled.  "That means your buddy out there is someone who has access to our files."  He shook the sheaf of papers until they rattled.  "I don't like that at all."  Glaring, he leafed through the files again.  The glare faded to a puzzled frown, and Dent rubbed his forehead distractedly.  "I don't know why it took me so long to make the connection..." he said, almost to himself.

Batman stepped forward, putting out a hand.  "May I have those files?"  He stopped, looking at Harvey carefully.  "Are you all right, Dent?"

"Headache," Harvey said a little faintly.  "I...haven't been sleeping too well lately."  The bared-tooth smile came back and his voice strengthened.  "If you'd catch that son-of-a-bitch I'd sleep better, you know.  Get off your Kevlar-clad ass and earn your pay."

Batman cocked his head.  "You don't pay me."

Dent tossed the files at him.  "Don't say I never gave you anything."  He swung around and stalked off the roof.

Jim Gordon looked after him and sighed.  "I'm worried about him."  He turned back --and started to find Batman still there.  "Isn't this the point where you disappear while I mutter something depressing to myself?"

The Dark Knight seemed disinclined to move.  "What's wrong with Dent?"

Gordon sighed.  "He's working himself too hard, and the realization that this is an inside job--he feels betrayed and angry.  He's determined to bring down this guy no matter what it costs him."  He ran a hand through his hair and looked down at his feet.  "I just hope it doesn't cost him too much.  We need men like him here in Gotham.  Like both of you." 

He looked up again to find that this time he really was alone.

: : :

Clark Kent took a moment to admire his boyfriend from across the room.  His boyfriend.  He didn't often allow himself to simply enjoy the sight of Bruce Wayne in public, to revel in the fact that this paragon was actually his lover.  But tonight, as the charity casino rattled and jangled around him, Clark indulged himself in letting his eyes run over Bruce's form, from the powerful legs hidden by the tuxedo, up along the lean torso and to the dark, wavy hair.

Bruce turned as if he could feel Clark's eyes on him and smiled.  It was a small, tired smile, and Clark's heart turned over in his chest.  Bruce looked exhausted.  He needed a good night's sleep, and Clark was going to see he got it tonight, even if he had to hold his lover down until he fell asleep.

As he planned out his strategy, Clark noticed Harvey Dent and Grace Lamont entering the casino, arm in arm.  Grace looked lovely as usual in a silvery-blue dress, but she didn't meet his eyes as they swept by.  Harvey glanced over at Bruce, then met Clark's eyes as they walked past.  Clark felt an uneasy qualm go through him at the sight of Harvey's drawn, tired face.  He looked strung out.  He looked like hell.

Actually, he looked a lot like Bruce.

For his part, Bruce was having a hard time focusing on the conversation going on around him.  The personnel records for the District Attorney's office still swam in front of his eyes--he'd spent most of last night poring over them in search of something that would tip off who might be using the information for their own personal vendetta.  He laughed somewhat belatedly at a joke and earned himself a glare from an attractive young woman.  The chaotic sounds of slot machines and shuffling cards made it hard to concentrate. He tried harder to focus until he felt a soft hand on his arm.  He turned to find Grace Lamont standing next to him, her gentle blue eyes troubled.  "Bruce..." she started, then stopped and bit her lip.  "Could you--I think there's a problem--"

Bruce frowned.  "What's going on, Grace?"

It was the roulette wheel.

: : :

Harvey Dent was winning.  He had a large pile of chips in front of him by the time Bruce arrived at the table.  As Bruce approached, he put a stack on red 16, then another stack on black 38.  Both won.  He lost the next two, but red 13, red 29, and black 31 all won in quick succession after.  The stack of chips was much larger now.  Harvey was winning big.

He didn't look like he was winning big.  In fact, Harvey looked frightened.  There was sweat on his brow, and he was chewing his lower lip savagely.  Each time the wheel spun, he shoved his left hand into a pants pocket and fiddled with something there, like a good-luck piece.  When it came up on his number the next time, he grew even paler.  He was starting to look angry, as if his good luck was a personal affront.

Bruce walked up to him and clapped him on the back;  Harvey spun as if Bruce had struck him.  "Awesome luck, Harv!" Bruce exclaimed.  "The children's hospital will be indebted to you forever.

Harvey stared at him, breathing heavily.  "Luck," he said as if it were a curse.  The roulette wheel landed on red 5--Harvey's number had been black 30.  A few of his chips disappeared, and Harvey sighed in incongruous relief. 

He won the next two, and the crowd which had started to gather whooped and hollered.  "It's like he can't lose!" said a young woman admiringly.

"Can't lose," Harvey echoed hollowly, shoveling another pile of chips onto red 11.  "Can't lose, can't quit."  The ball dropped:  red 11.  The crowd went wild.

Harvey stood in the crowd, his hand in his pocket, glaring at the wheel.  Grace put a tentative hand on his arm, and he gave her a smile that was probably meant to be reassuring but was instead ghastly.  "All right, then," he muttered, almost to himself.  "We'll leave it up to fate.  One turn of the wheel, all or nothing.  You bastard."  Then he abruptly raked all of his chips into a gigantic glistening pile, and shoved the entire mass onto one number.  "Everything, everything I've got on black 22.  I bet it all," he said, his voice shaking.

"Whoa there, Harvey," said Bruce, "That's a bit radical, don't you think?  Wait, wait--"

It was too late.  The wheel was in motion.

As the wheel clicked, Harvey reached out and grabbed Bruce's arm, holding on to him.  "It'll be okay, Bruce," he whispered.  "He can't win all the time. He just can't."  Bruce didn't know who "he" was, didn't know why Harvey was suddenly trembling and pressed against him, all he knew was that the wheel was turning and slowing, inexorable, unstoppable, and the ball was dropping with a tiny clink into the waiting, breathless silence.

Dropping onto black 22.

In the sudden pandemonium, Harvey Dent stood staring, his face blank and disbelieving.  Then he lunged forward, sending chips scattering everywhere.  "It's rigged," he snarled viciously.  Bruce pulled him backwards and Harvey took a clumsy, wild swing at him.  "Cheaters, you're all cheaters, it's all rigged," he ranted.

Bruce dodged. "Harvey, what the hell..."  Harvey shoved him aside and strode angrily toward the men's room, but not before Bruce saw his eyes.  "I'm sorry," Bruce said to the crowd, "Let me go talk to him, I'm sorry."  He saw Clark's shocked face in the crowd and threw him an apologetic look, then hurried after Harvey.

By the time Bruce entered the restroom, Harvey was splashing water on his face at the sink.  Any tears that might have been there were washed away beyond recall.  Harvey looked at himself in the mirror and his mouth twisted.  Then he gripped the edges of the sink, leaned forward and brought his forehead sharply against the mirror, hard enough to bruise, nearly hard enough to break the skin.  As Bruce stood aghast and paralyzed, he did it again.

Bruce leapt forward and pulled Harvey away from the mirror.  Harvey stared at him as if he hardly recognized him, and his knees buckled.  They went down on the floor together, Bruce trying to support his friend as he collapsed with his head on his knees.

"He always wins," Harvey said as if he were explaining something.  "He always wins.  He needs to control everything and he always wins."  He made a choking sound.  "Bruce.  He's stronger than I am."

"Harvey.  We'll get you help," said Bruce.  "We'll get you some help, okay?" 

Harvey flinched at that and made a low growling noise in his throat, his eyes closed, sweat on his temples.  He snarled something like a laugh.  "Help him?"  His voice was low and hoarse, almost a whisper, and full of loathing.  "Help him?  Jesus, you're even weaker than he is."  He fell silent again and responded to no one, not even when Grace stood beside him and called his name, her voice choked with tears.

Bruce, Clark, and Grace got him home and into bed, still unspeaking.  "I'll stay with him tonight," said Grace softly.  "I called the mayor.  He'll put Harvey on a temporary leave of absence until we...get this figured out."  She leaned on Bruce, and he put his arms around her slight form.  "Thank you for the doctors' referrals, for the help.  I swear he hasn't been this bad until tonight.  But I should have seen it coming.  It's my fault."

"We all should have seen it coming," said Bruce bleakly.  In the other room, Harvey groaned something in his sleep that sounded half-angry, half-despairing.

: : :

Bruce was too upset and exhausted to protest when Clark insisted he go to bed when they got home.  He was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow, dark hair spread across the white pillowcase.

Clark slipped into bed beside him and wrapped his arms around the warm, solid form.  He lay awake and held his lover through the night, waiting for the lines of worry to smooth from Bruce's sleeping face, but it remained drawn and tense.  Now and then Bruce's legs twitched and his breathing came fast.

Fighting demons.

Chapter Text

Fic: Syncopation: Chapter 4/6
Title:  Syncopation:  Chapter Four (of Six)
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Syncopation is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Wayne Manor finally reopens, but on the night of the housewarming celebration Fate spins events out of control.
Word Count: 3000

Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent stood in front of the doors of Wayne Manor.  The last of the workers had gone away that morning and the reborn Manor waited for them to enter it for the first time. 
Bruce reached out and touched the Wayne crest, carved into the dark maple of the doors.  "Finally," he whispered, and swung open the door.  Beyond the doorway the marble hallways stretched out, shining.
"Aren't you going to go in?" asked Clark, smiling at his lover.
Bruce cast him an oblique look.  "Aren't you forgetting something?"  At Clark's puzzled expression, Bruce sighed with exasperation, then hopped into Clark's arms.  Clark looked down at the playboy draped across his forearms, smiling winsomely at him, worry and stress erased for the moment.  "Earth to Clark, you said before you'd carry me across the threshold."
"I didn't think you were serious about that," Clark said, but his arms tightened around Bruce.  He stepped forward across the lintel, still looking down at Bruce's face, into the vast, hopeful stillness of the new Manor.
"Welcome home, Clark," whispered Bruce, and pulled him down into a kiss.
: : :
Alfred looked disapproving.  "Sir, the guests will be arriving any moment now."
Bruce kept tapping on the computer, his gaze fixed on the screen.  The vigilante attacks had continued over the last few weeks, but Batman hadn't been able to track him down again.  It was like the man knew his patterns and adjusted for them.  Or maybe Batman was just getting unlucky, or the killer was getting lucky.
Except Batman didn't believe in that kind of luck.
After a while he grunted irritably to himself and headed up the stairs.  He didn't actually want to miss his own housewarming party.
Upstairs the Manor bustled with activity.  Martha Kent and Alfred Pennyworth were directing fleets of caterers about;  Bruce dodged an over-anxious waiter and deftly snatched a glass of champagne from a tray as it whisked by.  He caught Martha's eye, and at his unspoken question she waved toward the library.
In the library, Clark Kent and a few other guests were chatting.  Clark was focused on Lois Lane and her family at the moment.  Bruce slipped up behind Clark and brushed his hand along the nape of his neck;  Clark caught it and smiled at him.
"Well," Lois was saying, "We'd never taken Jase to Gotham and it seemed like a good time.  Thanks so much for inviting us," she said with a smile at Bruce.  "It's not often we get to see such palatial digs."
"I rather like our modest home," said Richard with dignity, making her laugh and dig him in the ribs. 
Bruce reached forward and caught Lois's hand up.  "Well well," he said at the sight of the sparkling diamond, "Have you finally set a date, you crazy lovebirds?"
"Actually, yes."  Lois was, improbably, blushing.  "Are you two doing anything August twentieth?"
Bruce grinned at Clark, who looked frankly relieved.  "I think we can clear out the day in our schedules, don't you, Clark?"
Jase was sitting on a nearby couch, flipping through a picture book next to a Senator's son.  "So this is your first time in Gotham?" Bruce asked Jase.
The boy nodded enthusiastically.  "Yep.  It's cool."  He paused, tilting his head to the side.  "It feels good here.  Inside my head."
Clark looked surprised and a little unnerved.  "Feels good?" he repeated disbelievingly.
"Yep."  The boy went back to his book. 
Bruce shot Clark a look and filed that away for later, but let it drop for now.  He gave Clark his champagne glass and smiled at the Lane-Whites.  "Sorry, but duty calls.  I'll check back later."
Out in the living room he dodged both the mayor and Rachel Dawes and made a beeline to Grace Lamont, looking forlorn in a corner.  "Grace," he said softly, taking her elbow.  "How are you?  How's Harvey?  You said he was doing better when I called."
Grace smiled wanly.  "He's doing better in general, but tonight he said he had a splitting headache.  He wanted to try to make it anyway, but when I stopped by his place he was asleep on the couch.  I didn't want to wake him up--he needs his rest so much."
"No, no, you're right.  He needs the sleep."  He looked closely at Grace.  "Are you okay?"
Her smile was warmer this time.  "I just...don't really know anyone here except you and Clark.  Will Jim Gordon and his family be coming?  Barbara said they would, but I don't see them here."
"He should be here soon.  Until then..." Bruce steered her towards the library.  "Here, I've got some friends who'd love to meet you."
Grace was introduced to Lois, Richard, and Jase and they were starting to discuss her art when Lois's cell phone burst into a noisy racket.  She looked apologetic and scooted into a corner to answer it while Richard rolled his eyes.  "Hello...what?  No way...oh, damn, it figures," she groaned.  She hung up the phone and went over to the television in the corner of the room.  "Hey, Bruce, can I turn this on?" she asked, snapping it on without waiting for an answer.
On the screen were explosions and what seemed like a small fleet of men in mecha suits over the Metropolis skyline.  "Intergang Assault," read the titles.  "Oh man," groaned Lois.  "Come to Gotham for one stinking party and miss this." 
Clark Kent quietly left the room with a wry smile at Bruce as Lois continued to complain.  "Superman will show up at any minute and thrash them and who will get the story?  That ass Steve Lombard, I bet, since all the good reporters are here."
Indeed, as Lois spoke Superman appeared on the television screen and engaged the mecha.  Lois and Richard's cell phones both rang simultaneously and they went out into the hallway.  Everyone left in the room gasped at the sight of Superman except Bruce, who was gritting his teeth.  The Senator's young son jumped up onto the couch, pumping his fist.  "Go, Superman!  He's gonna kill all them guys!"
On the couch next to him, Jason Lane's hands clenched.  He slid off the couch and stood standing in front of the still-bouncing Superman supporter.  "You take that back," he hissed.  The Senator's son came to a confused stop.  "Take that back," Jase repeated, his voice high and angry.  "Superman would never, ever use his powers to kill.  Heroes never kill people."  His face was flushed, his hands still fisted at his sides.
The standoff between Jason and the Senator's son might have continued, but there was a sudden commotion in the living room, the sound of an alarmed crowd, and Bruce suddenly had a suspicion he had more immediate problems than one angry kid. 
He found the living room in chaos.  At the center was Alfred, holding a child in his arms.  She was dressed in a black velvet dress, her red hair tied up with a black ribbon, and her feet were bare and cut by gravel.  Bruce recognized her:  Jim Gordon's daughter, Junior.
"What's going on here?" the police commissioner was asking.  Junior made a motion and Alfred put her down carefully.  She stood in the middle of the room, her breath coming in great gasps, shaking with cold and emotion. 
"My father," she said, her voice oddly calm between gasps.  "He's been kidnapped."  As the room buzzed around her, she continued.  "We were at the gate.  A man stopped our car.  He took my father.  With a gun.  He left my mother and I.  I ran here."  Her chin twitched, but she set her jaw.  "I didn't know the man.  He kept saying the same thing.  He kept saying, 'Two sides of the same coin.'  Over and over again.  He--" Her composure finally cracked and tears started to come down her face.  "He scared me, and he took my father."

Alfred put his arm around her and let her bury her face in his shoulder, but Bruce was distracted by the fact that Grace Lamont had made a terrible sound next to him at Junior's last words.  He looked over;  she was pale with shock.  "Oh God," she whispered, staring at him wildly, "Oh God, it's Harvey."

Bruce grabbed her arm, probably hard enough to hurt, but she didn't flinch.  "What are you talking about, Grace?" he asked as he steered her away from the crowd.

She continued to stare at him in horror.  "It's Harvey, Bruce.  When I went by his place, when he was asleep on the couch, he was saying that, over and over.  'Two sides of the same coin.'  In his sleep."

"That's not possible."  Bruce grabbed Grace's shoulders and shook her slightly.  "Harvey's a good man, Grace."

Her face remained completely still, but tears welled up in her pale blue eyes and streamed down her face.  "He's a good man, but he's...not well, Bruce.  He's not...he's not whole.  Inside.  He needs help."  She looked at him, pleading.  "Bruce, you're his friend.  Please help him."

Bruce was already backing away, already hearing the high-pitched, dizzying echoes of the cave in his ears.  "Help Alfred take care of the girl."  The party was breaking up without his help this time, and Alfred would see the guests off.

Not his friend.  Not Harvey.    No.

: : :

Gotham lay still before Batman, dark and dangerous, as he searched for the vigilante.  The snowdrifts of the winter were melting in the late-March thaws, slush underfoot everywhere.  He turned on the receiver and heard the sounds of metal shearing, flames, explosions.  Superman was occupied.  "You there, Kal?"

A grunt.  "Little busy."

"Harvey's kidnapped Jim Gordon."

Screaming metal.  "Checked him," Superman said shortly, disbelievingly.  "Wasn't lying."

Behind Batman's dark cowl, Bruce closed his eyes.  Gotham smiled sweetly below him.  "I don't think he was lying, Kal.  I think he didn't know himself."  He should never have relied on Superman's powers, should have trusted his gut instinct that Harvey was wrapped up in this somehow.

"Call me if you need help."  A missile dopplered by in the earpiece.  Batman winced and shut off the receiver.

Superman wouldn't come in unless Batman explicitly asked him to, but even if backup was needed there might be none coming for a while.  No matter, he wouldn't be needing help.  Harvey was his friend, his responsibility.

He widened his search to the factory district, filled with smoke and colored fogs tinted by the moon.  The names of different companies slipped by him, until one caught his eye:  Fortunato Industries.  The sign outside the factory had a golden circle behind the name.

Batman hesitated.  Then, spurred by an instinct he would have laughed at if he had thought about it, he went in.

Once inside, he could hear the sound of people talking.  As he slipped closer through the rafters, he began to make out the sounds of specific voices.  One was Jim Gordon's.  The other was the angry, rough voice of the vigilante Batman had met once before.

"Whoever you are, this is insane."  Gordon's voice was level and annoyed, but Batman could hear the worry under it.  "What are you at, playing a crazy game like this?"

"Not a game.  A wager.  A bet with Destiny.  You, Maroni--you're just two sides of the same coin.  It doesn't matter which one of you I kill.  It's all up to Fate now."  It didn't sound anything like Harvey.  Nothing at all.

As Batman drew closer, he finally got a good view of the tableau beneath him.  The vigilante, his face covered by the black ski mask, stood on a platform between two huge vats of some bubbling chemical.  The vat on the left had a hoist suspended over it, with two bound men dangling from two ends of a pole, like a bizarre set of scales.  One of the men was Luigi Maroni.  He appeared to be unconscious.  The other man was Jim Gordon, awake and trying to reason with his captor.

Batman suspected Jim's captor was long beyond reason.

"At 2:22," the vigilante continued, "I flip the coin and it decides which of you lives and which of you dies.  The one incorruptable cop in Gotham or the source of the corruption.  Darkness or light.  Two sides of the same coin, dependent on each other, always spinning.  Imagining Gotham's fate is in your feeble hands."  The voice was distracted, almost dreamy.  "We'll break the cycle here, tonight."  He waved the hand that wasn't holding the gun and Batman realized he was holding something in it.  A live grenade, the handle held down.  A deadman's switch.

So much for the full frontal assault.

Batman leapt from the rafters and landed about twenty feet from the vigilante, who started and backed up a step, waving the grenade.  "Don't try to stop me, Batman.  The scales are swinging beyond our control!  Fate has us all in her grip tonight, I can feel it.  She won't let us go.  She...won't let us go."  His voice wavered just a bit at the end, and for a stark moment Bruce could hear Harvey's tone under the harshness.  Then the vigilante leveled the gun at Batman.

"Harvey!"  He realized as he said it he hadn't disguised his voice.  It rang out between the two of them, almost echoing in the stillness of the warehouse.

The vigilante's face went slack with shock.  His eyes cleared as if he had been sleepwalking, and he shook his head.  "What the--where--" It was Harvey's voice.  He stared at Batman, his voice dropping to a whisper that barely reached across the platform to the Dark Knight.  "Bruce?"

His hand started to shake.

He dropped the grenade.

It bounced away from the vat with Maroni and Gordon suspended over it, skipping randomly toward the other open tank.  Harvey scrambled toward it, grabbing at it.  Batman rushed toward him, trying to push him away, to shield him, to save him somehow.

The grenade fell at a delicately precise angle into the liquid and detonated, sending acidic chemicals spraying everywhere.

Batman managed to get most of his body between Harvey and the explosion, but the caustic wave caught Harvey on the side of the face and body.  The concussion from the explosion slapped both men to the ground, and a piece of handrail connected sharply with the back of Batman's head.  Harvey made an impossible, inhuman noise, wrenching himself up from under Batman's stunned figure.  In the handful of seconds it took Batman to pull himself upright, he had dropped off the platform to the floor below.  Batman stared off the platform as the warehouse seemed to swing madly around him.

Harvey was gone.

"Batman!"  Jim Gordon's voice.  The two men were still dangling over the other vat, unharmed, but the explosion had destabilized the pulley and it was in imminent danger of plunging both men to their deaths.  Batman managed to get Gordon and the still-unconscious Maroni down safely, although his head was filled with strange echoes and his hands were unsteady on the controls.  Then he staggered to the edge of the platform, ready to leap down.  Gordon's voice behind him made him pause and turn.

"You called him Harvey.  Was that really Dent?"

The back of Batman's head hurt, and Jim Gordon's form blurred in front of him.  "It was."

Gordon looked narrowly at Batman.  "Are you all right?  Do you need some help?"

"I'll be okay."  He didn't need any help.

"You're...smoking," Gordon pointed out.  Plumes of acidic smoke were rising from the shoulder and side that had shielded Harvey.

"It's good armor."

"Back there--" Gordon broke off and looked at Batman.  "When you called him Harvey.  Your voice."

Batman closed his eyes and made a sound that he meant to be threatening and instead sounded tired.

Gordon looked away from him.  "I didn't hear anything different about it."

"I understand."  Batman walked to the edge of the platform.  "Thank you," he grated without looking back.  Then he was gone.

: : :

Batman was going home.  He couldn't remember at the moment where the tumbler was.  No matter, he could walk home.

He mostly stayed to the shadows, but for some reason it was harder than usual.  The shadows kept sliding away from him, eluding his feet until he found himself out in the light again, tricked and blinking.  The few times people saw him they backed off and let him pass.

One side of his cape was in tatters, eaten away by acid.  There was a high whining noise in his head.  Later there was a beeping sound.  After a while he realized the beeping noise was Superman's request for an open channel.

He ignored it.  He could get home on his own.

He found himself in the woods near the Manor.  Melting slush under his feet.  He slipped and went to one knee.  Beeping in his ear.  He was almost there, damn it.

He crawled.

Things kept getting further away, more distant.  Nothing hurt any more.  It was all very remote.  He kept crawling, damp leaves underneath him.  Gotham's shadows finally stopped eluding him and crowded around, dimming his vision.  Eventually everything was too far away to keep him there anymore.

Later, a frantic Clark and Alfred would find him unconscious, collapsed in a thawing snowdrift within sight of the cave.

Chapter Text

Fic: Syncopation Chapter 5/6
Title:  Syncopation:  Chapter Five (of Six)
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Syncopation is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Batman searches for the missing Harvey Dent and finds more than he expected.  Some moments in this story will make more sense if you've read "Whole" and "Shattered," but it's not necessary to follow the story.
Word Count: 2900

Bruce woke up slowly in an empty bed from dreams of someone holding him and singing to him, very softly.  Something about mockingbirds and diamond rings.

His head hurt.

Alfred was standing next to the bed, holding a tray with a glass of orange juice on it as though he had nothing at all better to do.  "Mister Kent left just a little while ago," he said as Bruce blinked at him.  "He made me promise not to leave your side until I got some orange juice into you.  He seemed concerned that you would come down with a cold."

Bruce started to sit up and winced, touching the back of his head.  "I think the concussion is more of a concern than a cold."

Alfred bounced very slightly on the balls of his feet.  "A little orange juice won't hurt either way, sir."  Bruce saw the sharp, wary concern under the solicitude in Alfred's eyes as he drank the juice, but chose not to address it.

"I'm going down to the cave," he announced as he pulled himself out of bed.

"Martha's made you pancakes.  You're not going down until you get a good meal in you, at the very least."  Alfred looked at Bruce's set face.  "Don't do this to yourself, to all of us who care about you.  For God's sake, Master Bruce," he whispered.

Bruce almost smiled.  "You haven't called me that for...almost fifteen years."

Alfred looked chagrined.  "I'm sorry, sir."

Bruce pulled on a t-shirt, stretching aching muscles.  "It's all right, Alfred.  I have to admit I've missed it."

"You have?"  Alfred sounded rather surprised.

Bruce paused at the door, looking back.  "Tell Martha I'm sorry I don't have time for the pancakes.  Truly."

He went down.

: : :

The receiver in his ear beeped.  He grimaced into the darkness of the cave, then opened the channel.

"You should have let me help."  He had expected Clark to sound angry, but he didn't.

"You were busy."

"I meant after your fight, while you were trying to get home on your own with a concussion.  I could have saved you a long walk in the cold."

"Batman can't rely on Superman, Clark."  Bruce paused, then added,  "I relied on you about Harvey's truthfulness, and it only led to disaster."

"There was more than that leading to disaster, Bruce."

Bruce was busy staring at a map of where Harvey had struck over the last three months of his rampage.  "I'm not going to play should-haves right now, Clark.  I have to find Harvey.  For all I know, he's dead somewhere.  Or dying."  He swallowed.

Clark's voice was small.  "Isn't there anything I can do to help?"

Bruce tried to put warmth into his voice.  "You can come and eat your mother's pancakes before they get cold." 

: : :

A few hours later, Alfred's voice behind him.  "Sir, I think you'll want to come upstairs for a moment."

"Is this another attempt to trick me into eating a good hot meal, Alfred?"

Alfred grimaced.  "I wouldn't dream of it, sir.  No, it's Lieutenant Gordon here to see you."

Bruce's hands paused on the computer keyboard.  "Did he say why he was here?"

"He said he had some questions about--about Mister Dent, sir.  Mister Kent is talking to him right now."

Bruce looked up at Alfred, oddly irresolute.  Then he sighed.  "Tell him I'll see him soon."

"I gave him the impression you were recovering from something of a bender last night and might take a while to collect yourself."

Bruce made a sound close to a laugh.  "That's an interesting way of putting it."

Jim Gordon stood up to shake Bruce's hand as he entered the sitting room.  Bruce shifted a half-empty champagne bottle from one hand to the other for the handshake.  "Hair of the dog," he said cheerfully.  "Like some?"

"No thank you, Mister Wayne," said Gordon politely.  "I was just talking to Mister Kent about Harvey Dent's behavior over the last few months."

Bruce dropped into a large leather chair, looking blankly at Gordon.  "Why are you asking questions about ol' Harv?"

Gordon's lips thinned.  "Perhaps you hadn't heard.  Last night, someone that we have reason to believe was Harvey Dent kidnapped Luigi Maroni and myself and threatened to kill us."

Bruce's face registered polite shock.  "Harvey?  Good Lord, that's appalling news if it's true."

"Mister Kent was telling me about the incident at the casino charity last month.  Did you have any suspicion at the time that he might be capable of criminal acts?"

Bruce rumpled his hair with a hand and tried to look bleary and clueless.  It was surprisingly easy, he thought bitterly.  "No."

"Even though he was clearly not stable?"

Bruce looked up sharply at Gordon.  "Lots of people are unstable without becoming criminals."  He looked away and got his face back to "hung over" before continuing.  "Harvey obviously needed help.  I guess...I guess he didn't get enough."

"We tried," Clark added softly, looking at Gordon.  "We got him to see a doctor, at least."

"Too little, too late," Bruce said.  "Far too late."  He forced himself to smile up at Gordon.  "I hope you don't think we're in cahoots with him or anything.  How terribly ghastly."

Gordon asked a few more questions, then headed to leave.  Clark and Bruce showed him out.  At the door, he paused for a moment and looked back.  "Mister Wayne?"


"I never thanked you for Junior's computer.  She loves it."  Gordon's voice was mild and diffident, conversational.  "I just wanted you to know...that I appreciate all you've done for my family.  For the city."

Bruce swallowed hard and nodded.  "Least I could do.  Really.  Great kid.  Great--" He coughed slightly.  "--great city."

Gordon held out his hand and clasped Bruce's.  "Keep up the good work."  Then he turned and made his way down the walk, his trench coat blowing in the spring breeze.

Clark watched Bruce's face carefully.  "I've got to head back to Metropolis.  Will you be okay?"

Bruce nodded, still watching Jim Gordon's hunched, retreating figure.  "I'll be okay."

: : :

Batman was investigating a potential robbery.  The last two weeks had turned up no sign of Harvey Dent, and he was beginning to think that his old friend had indeed died from his wounds.  He hoped he could find at least a body.  Bruce Wayne had never been able to help Harvey's soul find rest;  perhaps all that was left was for Batman to lay his body to rest.

Superman was off searching for some hikers lost on K2.  Bruce had kept the receiver on even less than usual for the last couple of weeks while on patrol, but tonight, somehow, he missed hearing Clark's voice in his ear.  The hairs on the back of his neck kept prickling and he felt uneasy.

The plate-glass windows of Gemini Gemstones lay shattered on the ground.  Batman seemed to have gotten there before the police.  He slipped into the store, which appeared to be empty.  Showcases were violently smashed all around.  The vault in the back was open.  Batman stepped in cautiously.

The door swung shut behind him.

Of course it did.

There was a hissing sound around him and the walls swam dizzily.  He tried to trigger the receiver to page Superman, but his hands were too heavy all of a sudden, they couldn't reach the cowl.

Stupid.  Stupid Bat.


: : :

He came to gagged and blindfolded, tied to a bed of some sort.  Vague memories of a car in motion.  There was a panicked second until he realized the cowl was still in place.

"--and I say we don't.  We don't even have to flip for this decision, don't you see?  It's simple." 

Harvey's voice.  Bruce could hear someone pacing.  The acoustics indicated a fairly small room.  The air was musty, somewhat stale:  an old building, somewhere.  A small room in an old building.  No sounds of a city outside, but it didn't sound like they were deep in the country either.  A park, perhaps.

Harvey continued to explain.  "If we unmask him, then there's just one of him.  But if we leave the mask on, there'll always be two.  The warrior and the civilian.  The darkness and the light."

"Like us."  It was the vigilante's voice, low and ominous.

" us.  Yes."  Harvey sounded tired.  Tired, and--something else.  Batman struggled to make sense of what was going on.  He had thought Harvey and the vigilante were the same person--he had heard the vigilante speak with Harvey's voice--nothing seemed to make sense right now, with the effects of the knockout gas still dulling his thoughts.  He couldn't signal Superman with his hands bound.  He kept listening.  One of his two kidnappers continued pacing, back and forth.  Every four steps a floorboard creaked, like a metronome marking the rhythm of the conversation.  It sounded familiar, somehow.  Where had he heard that sound before?

"I still say we cut him in half," snarled the killer.  "Seems appropriate.  If it weren't for him, I'd finally be rid of you."

"You won't kill him."

A savage growl.  "So if I can't unmask him, and you won't kill him, why did we bring him here?"

"You...really don't know, do you?"  Harvey's voice sounded slightly amused.  "It seems you don't know everything after all.  That's...interesting."  Batman suddenly realized what sounded different about Harvey:  he didn't sound angry anymore.  The thread of fury and self-loathing always running through his friend's voice was gone, leaving it simply sad. 

Harvey was continuing.  "We're here because this is the only safe place I know.  No one can hurt me here.  The last safe place in the world."

As his friend spoke, Batman heard a clock striking the half-hour someplace nearby.  He remembered the sound;  he had heard it every day during his years of college, echoing over the quad as he studied in his dorm room.  The room with the creaking floorboard they never fixed.

They were in Bruce Wayne's old Princeton dorm room.



"I've never been in here before," said the vigilante's voice.  "You never let me come in here.  Thought you could keep some place safe from me, but I'm here now.  You can't get rid of me now."

"I have no intention of getting rid of you."

"This place is condemned anyway," the killer grumbled.  "They're going to tear it down next week.  I hope you intend to have us out of here by then."

"We'll be gone by then.  Don't worry."

"And then we'll go deal with that faithless bitch," the vigilante said with relish.  "She betrayed us.  I know she did."

A sigh.  "I betrayed her first."

There was a pause while the footsteps continued to pace through the room.  Batman couldn't make sense of the sound.  There were two voices, moving side by side through the room.  But there was only one set of footfalls.

The rough, angry voice spoke again after a silence, sounding almost pleading now.  "I know you didn't love her, but I wanted you not to be--you know.  I wanted you to be normal.  A whole man."

laughed then, and the killer's voice joined in, the two bleak sounds echoing weirdly around the small room.  "That's wonderful," Harvey said tiredly.  "That's irony for you."

The other voice seemed to have regained its manic cheer.  "Irony for us, boyo!"  The steps stopped in front of Batman, who was still working on the ropes binding him.  He was almost free.  "But I think our flying rodent friend is awake.  Let's let him see what he's made of us." 

Hands on his face.  The left one tugged roughly at the blindfold while the right one gripped his chin, holding his head steady. 

As the blindfold was jerked free, the thumb of the hand holding Batman's chin grazed across his gagged lips almost gently.  Then his kidnapper stepped back so Batman could see all of him at once.

Bruce bit down hard on the gag to keep from making a sound at the sight of the person before him, shock pounding through his body like a nightmarish surf.  There was only one man in the room.

Harvey's face was neatly bisected, the left side scarred into a red, welted ruin, whorls of cicatriced flesh studded with one bloodshot, jaundiced eye, eternally glaring.  The lips on the left side were melted away into a permanent, drooping sneer.

The right side was unmarred.  From it, Harvey's familiar hazel eye looked at Bruce sadly.  What a mess we're in now, my friend, it seemed to say.

Batman closed his eyes.

"Can't handle looking at reality, can you?" said the sneering laugh of the murderer. 

"But really, who can?" added Harvey.  Batman forced his eyes open again to meet his friend's half-gaze. Harvey laughed softly.  " doesn't know why we've come to this place.  But he's nervous about it.  Can you tell?  I can.  And he's right, he should be nervous.  Because only here, in the last safe place in the world, can I do this."  The click of a gun hammer cocking, and Harvey's right hand came up with a gun.

He pointed it at his own temple.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, you pansy?"

  The vigilante's voice erupted from the same mouth Harvey's had, and with a surge of adrenaline, Batman tore loose the last of his bonds and leapt to knock the gun away from Harvey.  It went off, the bullet burying deep into the wall, and Batman's fist caught his friend on the chin, staggering him.  They went down together, the cruel yellow eye already closed, the hazel one dazed and blinking.

"Why'd you stop me?"  Harvey's voice was slurred and disbelieving.  "It was my last chance.  My last..."  He sagged forward, unconscious.

: : :

The guard pocketed the crisp bills Bruce handed him.  "--but in your case, Mr. Wayne, sir, we'll make an exception."  He led Bruce down the narrow, dimly-lit halls. 

Bruce listened to the howls of the damned in Arkham.

Eventually they came to a barred door.  Inside the cell was a man shackled to a wall by his scarred left hand.  They had left him unbound because he was well-known and well-liked...until he had tried to rip a guard's throat out.  His right hand dangled free, and the right side of his face lit up when he saw Bruce outside his cell.

"Well, well, well.  If it isn't the faggot friend," snarled the left side.

"Don't pay attention to him, Bruce," said Harvey cheerfully.  "He's just angry."

Bruce swallowed hard, staring at the ruin of his friend.  "Are they treating you well?" he asked, insanely mundane.

"Not particularly, no.  But then, I'm not sure we particularly deserve good treatment, do we?"

"I came to say I'm sorry."  Bruce wanted to say more, but his throat had closed up and nothing came out.

"My dear friend."  Harvey's voice was terrifyingly gentle.  "Don't be.  This is...freeing, in some ways.  I can be honest at last.  I can relax.  I can lose.  Of course, I've had to make some compromises."

"I get to run the show from now on," chortled the left side darkly.  "No more acting up from the poofter."

"Yes, yes," said Harvey, almost affectionately.  "I told you.  You win.  You always win."

Bruce tried to say something, to interrupt the insane dialogue that was a monologue.  He couldn't find his voice.

The being that had once been Harvey cocked his head at the man outside the barred window.  "Of course, we'll be needing a new name.  We haven't decided yet, but you'll be one of the first to know when we do."  A pause while Harvey's eye gazed at Bruce, standing choked and mute.

"Bruce.  I have to apologize to you too.  I didn't trust you, didn't think you were helping me.  I should have known...that you would never let me down."  A small laugh.  "It's amazing how much easier it is to say things now." 

raised his unshackled right hand and touched it to his lips.  "Love you, Bruce," he said softly, extending his hand to its fullest length, so the fingertips reached just beyond the bars.

Bruce stepped forward and let the fingertips touch his lips.  Then he backed away and left Arkham Asylum, walked through his city alone.

His lips burned as though they'd been touched with a white-hot coal.

: : :

Bruce Wayne stood on the Princeton campus, outside his old dormitory.  It was a beautiful early April day, robins hopping on the quad, daffodils starting to open.

In his ear, a whisper like the springtime.  "Bruce.  Are you all right?  I'm worried about you."

Bruce pulled his trenchcoat closer around himself, watching the building.  "I'll go home soon, Clark.  I promise."

Bruce Wayne watched as they tore down the last safe place in the world.

Then he went home, went into the cave, and locked the door behind him.


Chapter Text

Fic: Syncopation 6/6

Title:  Syncopation:  Chapter Six (of Six)
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Syncopation is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  In the aftermath of Harvey Dent's destruction, Bruce locks himself in the cave, and Clark has to try and reach him somehow.
Word Count: 2200

Superman was hovering in the night sky above Metropolis when the beep sounded that requested an open channel with him.  He tapped his temple to open it, grinning despite himself;  Bruce almost never asked to talk to him when he was patrolling.  His face fell as Alfred's voice, rather than Bruce's, came over the line.

"Sir?  This is, uh, Alfred.  Is this working?"  A tapping noise and Clark hastened to reassure the butler he was there.  Alfred continued, "I was wondering if you could come to Gotham."  His voice sounded collected as always, but there was an undertone to it that Superman didn't like.

"What's wrong, Alfred?"

"It's Master Bruce, sir."  Clark was halfway to Gotham before the next sentence came;  Alfred slipping into using the personal name was a very bad sign.  "He's...locked himself in the cave."

Superman came up short in the air.  "He's what?"

"Locked the elevator down so no one from the Manor can get in.  He's...very upset over this whole Dent affair."

"We all are, Alfred."  Superman started toward Gotham again, but more slowly now, trying to take mental stock of the situation.

"You may not have noticed this, sir, but Master Bruce does have a tendency to, brood."  Alfred sounded like he was letting slip a deep family secret, which would have made Superman smile if he weren't so worried.  Below him the jewel-studded darkness of Gotham came into view.  Superman glared down at it, at the city that seemed determined to break his love's heart.  Damn you, Gotham.  If I have to share, you have to share too. 

"Is he listening to you, sir?"  Alfred asked.

Superman frowned and tapped the earpiece to receive sound from Bruce's end.  He heard nothing but slow, steady breathing, a heartbeat, and the dim sound of bats.  "Bruce?  Are you listening?"  No change in the breathing or the heartbeat--but Bruce was good at masking those changes.  "I can't tell, Alfred.  If he's locked himself out, I can't imagine why he'd be listening to me."

A sigh on Alfred's end.  "I can think of one reason..."  He didn't finish the sentence, however.  "I'll sign off now, sir, and let you focus on him."

"I won't let you down, Alfred."

"I'm not the one you'd be letting down, sir."  Alfred's voice was somewhat quelling, but he added softly before closing the channel, "I trust you, dear boy."

Superman gently lowered himself out of the air toward the waterfall entrance.  Still nothing in his ear but soft breathing and bats.  Bruce sitting still for so long was an unnerving concept--the man was always tinkering with something or doing exercises or research.  Such quiescence was another bad sign.

As he neared the glistening waterfall, Superman suddenly drew up short.

The cave entrance had been electrified with enough voltage to knock a human out.

Superman could have brushed the force field aside like a bead curtain, of course.  But the fact that it was there said enough.  Clark blinked, trying not to feel rejected.  Bruce was hurt right now, he reminded himself.  It wasn't a personal rejection, he couldn't take it personally...he ignored the panic crawling up his throat, yammering What will I do, what will I do without him, my anchor, my heart...  Angry at his selfish thoughts, he pushed the fear aside.  Bruce wasn't going to abandon him, this wasn't about him at all.

He settled onto the branch of an ancient oak within sight of the cave mouth, feeling foolishly like a large blue-and-red bird perching there.  There was a long silence as Clark gathered his thoughts.  Superman was very good at telling villains they were doing the wrong thing, but when it came to subtleties like faith and despair, Clark felt at a loss.  How to reach Bruce?

He perched there, a silly figure in garish red and blue, and wondered what he could ever say about the human heart, when he only really knew his own.

After a while, he said quietly, "Bruce?  Are you listening to me?"  Silence.  Clark sighed. 

"Bruce?  Do you know how many people died when Zod attacked Earth?  Nine hundred sixty five.  I know the names of every one of them, Bruce. Kenneth Aaronson, a sixty-five-year old electrician and father of three.  Kevin Atkins, a twelve-year-old boy.  Rachael Atkins, his ten-year-old sister." 

Superman went through the list he knew by heart.  It took about a half hour, and at the end of it he was angry again, but not at Bruce for rejecting him.  "Do you know what I was doing while those nine hundred sixty five people died, Batman?  While some insane Kryptonian crushed them with buildings and destroyed them with heat vision for his sadistic pleasure?  I was having sex with my girlfriend at the North Pole.  When you reach that level of catastrophic dereliction of duty, then we can talk about you locking yourself away from the people who care about you, locking yourself away from your duty to this damn monstrous beautiful city you've committed yourself to."  He scrubbed at his eyes angrily.  "You don't get to give it all up to brood in the dark.  Not you."

Still silence.  Was there the faintest shifting noise?  Was Clark speaking entirely to himself?  It was important to say it anyway.

"Bruce...Harvey had people all around him who cared about him, but he couldn't accept that love, couldn't allow himself to depend on others and be 'weak.'  That's what finally broke him, that he couldn't be vulnerable to anybody.  Couldn't reach out to the people who wanted to help him, who loved him.  Bruce, will you lock yourself into that too?  Because then whatever it was that consumed him will win, Bruce, and it will laugh at us both.  At all of us who love."

Silence.  Clark had run out of words at this point and just sat, desolate.  He had failed, anyone would have done better than him, he had lost Bruce to the dark...

The force field came down. 

just stared at it for an instant, then was in the cave before Bruce could change his mind.

Bruce was still standing by the controls to lower the field.  He was in the suit, but with the cowl down.  He turned to look at Clark in the dim light from the control panels, the only light in the cave.  Something in his eyes kept Clark from approaching more closely.

"Clark."  Bruce started, then stopped for a long time.  He met Clark's eyes and continued again.  "Clark.  Henri Ducard was a friend of mine.  He met me and befriended me and then I destroyed him.  Harvey was my friend.  He trusted me, he got close to me, and he was destroyed.  I--"  He swallowed.  "I love you, Clark, more than I ever loved them.  Will--" He halted again and looked at his lover, half in defiance, half in anguish.

smiled.  He was on ground he felt sure of now.

"You've got your cause and effect backwards, Bruce.  They weren't damaged because they came close to you.  They drew close to you because they were damaged.  Because you attract people who are wounded, who aren't whole, who have..." He paused and tilted his head slightly.  "...empty places inside.  Like this crazy city of yours, riddled with hollow places it demands you to fill.  You're a magnet for the broken and the lost and the ones who need.  And for a while you can give those people some peace.  You don't cause self-destruction, Bruce, you delay it.  As much as you can, you make us whole"

There was a long silence.  "Us?" Bruce said quietly.

Kal-El's smile was as clear and remote as the stars.  He said nothing.

After a time, Bruce stepped forward into Clark's arms. 

Superman held him there, feeling the muscles underneath his hands slowly relaxing. He kept silent, waiting.  Bruce leaned his head on Clark's shoulder and Clark felt it gradually grow heavy with exhaustion against him, pressing against him.  As Bruce slipped into sleep at last, his knees buckled, but Clark supported him, taking his weight fully on himself, holding Bruce steady so he could finally rest.  He told himself he didn't scoop Bruce up and carry him to a bed for fear of waking him, but he knew that really he just wanted to feel the other man's body against him a little longer, warm and heavy, holding him down to the earth.

Filling the empty spaces with his breath and the beating of his heart.

He stood there supporting Bruce for two hours, maybe three.  Then Bruce stirred and stepped away.  "Thank you," he said.

"You need a fuller night's sleep than that."

Bruce pulled the cowl back up over his head.  "And I'll take it soon, I promise.  But Batman has a visit to make first."

: : :

The Arkham guards might have heard a rustle, might have seen a shadow move past them.  But Arkham is full of odd rustles and strange shadows, and they heard and saw nothing more concrete to indicate their security had been breached.  Soon Batman stood outside the cell of the man who had once been Harvey Dent, shackled and sleeping.  "Wake up," he said.

The livid yellow eye snapped open like a blind.  The hazel eye on the right opened more slowly, blinking with sleep.

"Ah, Bat," chortled the growling voice.  "Have you come to weep over poor lost Harvey too?  Oh, boo hoo, poor baby."  Melodramatic sobbing noises broke from the lipless mouth.

"No.  I didn't come to talk to Harvey.  I've come to talk to you."  The jaundiced eye glared at him, unblinking.  "I've come to tell you this:  you don't get to win.  You don't get to define the rules, and you don't get to keep Harvey's soul.  We'll beat you someday.  I'll beat you.  Everyone who cares about Harvey will beat you.  And most importantly, Harvey will beat you.  Because he's a good man, and a strong man, and you can't win forever."  The figure before him opened his mouth again, but Batman's voice grated over anything he might have said.  "I don't give up.  Not on Harvey, not on Gotham...and not on myself," he added more quietly.

Batman backed up a step from the cell door.  "Remember that.  This isn't over.  You don't get to win."  Then he was gone with a swirl of cape.

He probably imagined the very quiet "Thank you" behind him as he made his exit.

: : :

From the roof of the asylum, the stars looked larger and clearer than anywhere else in Gotham, preternaturally bright and lustrous.  Batman stared up at them a while, the gargoyles of Arkham leering at him from the nooks and crannies of the Gothic architecture.  Finally, he tapped his ear.  "If you're free, I wouldn't mind a lift home."

A disturbance in the air, and Superman hovered before him, solid and bright and real against the disturbing angles of Arkham.  "Going my way?" asked Clark.

"And what way would that be?"

Superman threw out one arm with a flourish, sending his cape skirling in the air about him.  He gestured grandly ahead of the two of them.  "The future!" he said dramatically.

A pause, and Clark looked carefully at Batman.  "Is that...okay with you?" he added uncertainly, rather undermining his grandiose pose.

Batman took one step closer to Superman.  "Actually...I was kind of hoping you'd say 'home,'" he said dryly.

The tentative look on Superman's face dissolved into a dazzling, almost shy smile.  He moved forward in the air until he could reach out and touch the other man.  "Well, we could stop by there on the way, if you like."  He took Bruce's face between his hands very gently, as if his lover was made of porcelain, fragile and precious, as if he might break.

Bruce reached up and put his hands over Clark's, pressing them harder against his face, pulling his lover close for a crushing kiss that nearly drew blood.  Clark's fingers tightened along his jawline and Bruce knew there'd be bruises there in the morning and he didn't care.

He wasn't going to break.

When Bruce pulled away Clark's breathing was hoarse and his eyes dark.  "Screw the future, I'm taking you home," Superman said, somewhat weakly.

Bruce felt a warmth inside him that he knew could become a smile if he let it appear on his face, could be hope if he let it into his heart.  It was his choice.

With his feet on Arkham Asylum and his eyes on Kal-El's face framed by the infinite stars, Bruce paused.

A smile crossed his face.

Then he stepped into his lover's embrace, darkness and light together, and left Arkham brooding behind them in the night.

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres Interlude: Being Safe
Title: Interlude:  Being Safe
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A stand-alone story in the series "Music of the Spheres." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: G
Summary:  Clark babysits for Jason Lane-White.
Word Count: 2400
Story Notes:  A very belated birthday-present to the wonderful and talented [info]vigilante_wake

Clark Kent was trying to make himself inconspicuous at his desk, and mainly succeeding, when Lois and Richard entered the Daily Planet offices.  Lois seemed to be in a foul mood, her voice sharp and annoyed:

"I understand that her child having chicken pox is more important than babysitting for Jason tonight!  I understand that!  But it still leaves us kind of in the lurch, doesn't it?"  She put her hands on her hips and glared at Richard, apparently not angry with him specifically so much as the whole universe.  "We paid a lot of money for these tickets, and I was--well, I'll admit I was kind of looking forward to having a quiet evening out with you.  The wedding preparations have been so crazy, why did I let my mother talk me into making this an actual event..."  She trailed off and looked helpless.  "Do we have to cancel?" she said plaintively.

"Where else are going to find another babysitter on such short notice?" said Richard.

Lois spotted Clark and pounced.  "Clark!" she said triumphantly.  "Clark, dear, Richard and I are in a terrible bind, our babysitter for tonight had to cancel, and we already had opera tickets..."  Clark looked frankly alarmed and Lois continued hurriedly, "Jason's a good kid, he's no bother at all, you could probably even bring your work with you..." Her tone turned wheedling.  "And Jase really likes you, Clark, you two get along so well.  He's always disappointed when he comes to visit the Planet and you're not here."  Behind the thick glasses, Clark's blue eyes blinked at her nervously.  "Please, Clark?"

Clark swallowed a couple of times before answering.  "Well, sure, Lois.  Anything I can do to help, of course."

: : :

"--And he goes right to bed at nine o'clock no matter what," Lois finished up, looking around the kitchen.  "And no sugary drinks after supper."  She slipped a casserole into the oven and turned it on.  "The lasagna will be done in about thirty minutes."

Clark looked through the pass-through into the living room, where Jason White was sitting on a sofa, intently focused on his Gameboy.  "Nine o'clock, no soda, thirty minutes to lasagna..."  He flashed a smile at Lois's concerned face.  "Gosh, I'm sure everything will be fine, Lois."

Lois nodded, clearly reluctant to leave her boy now that the actual moment had come, but she threw on a shawl and went out to drop a kiss onto Jason's head.  Jason looked up and smiled.  "Have a nice night, Mom."

"You be good for Clark, okay?"  Jase nodded and Lois waved goodbye as the door clicked shut behind her.

Clark stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, looking at Jason.  His son.  It never would have crossed Clark's mind that Jason were his if Lois hadn't told him that he had shown super-strength for a moment.  She hadn't given him more details than that, and Clark wondered what exactly Jason had done to prove his parentage.  He seemed like such a resolutely ordinary kid, the kind that tended to fade into the corners, rarely demanding attention, quiet and unobtrusive.

In fact, he seemed much more like Clark's child than Superman's, a thought that made Clark smile just a bit.  Jason looked up from his game to catch the tail end of Clark's smile and smiled in return, open and sunny.

Clark cleared his throat.  "So.  You wanna...throw the old baseball around in the backyard or something?"

The boy rolled his eyes slightly.  "I don't have a baseball.  But we can play it on the Wii if you like."  He jumped off the couch and began to set up the machine.

Clark took the controls rather gingerly and let Jason walk him through how to bat and pitch with the game.  "I'm really lucky to have a Wii, you know, Uncle Perry said he totally scored one for a promotion and he couldn't think of anyone better to give it to than me."  Jason swung the controls, the tip of his tongue sticking out just a little.  "Brent at school, I thought he was gonna die with envy.  It was great."

The two of them whaled at the air with their controls, and Jason taught Clark the fine art of razzing the batter.

"Heybatter heybatter haybatter heybatter swing batter!" Jason crowed as he managed to fake Clark into swinging too early again.

"That hardly seems sporting," Clark complained, pushing his glasses up on his nose with a finger.

"Hey, is something burning?" said Jason.

Dropping the controls on the couch, Clark bolted into the kitchen to discover that the oven was emitting wisps of smoke.  Yanking it open and nearly forgetting to put on oven mitts in his haste, he pulled out a woefully blackened lasagna. 

The two of them sat and contemplated the charred lump in silence for a moment.  "Hold on," said Clark reassuringly, flipping open his cell phone and hitting speed dial. 

"Yes, Master Clark?" said the voice on the other end.

"Alfred!  Um, I seem to have burned a lasagna pretty badly.  What should I do?"

There was a pause.  "What should you do, sir?"

"Yeah, I was'd tell me how to fix it?"  Clark's voice wandered toward plaintive.

An aggrieved sigh.  "Sir, as far as I know there is no earthly way to un-burn lasagna."

"Oh."  Clark drooped slightly.

"I do have one suggested remedy, sir..."

: : :

An hour later, Clark and Jason were nearly done with a large pizza, half-mushroom and half-pepperoni.  "There's really no need to tell your mother I burned the lasagna, you know," Clark said, his mouth full. 

Jason shook his head happily and grabbed another slice.  "Can I watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  They're on in ten minutes."

"Sure thing."  Clark grabbed the remote and flicked on the television in the kitchen, catching the tail end of the news.  The story happened to be about Superman catching a group of particularly inept crooks in the morning;  it probably wouldn't have even made the news except the car chase footage was particularly good.  Superman swooped out of the sky to scoop up both cars, criminals shrieking and clinging to their seats, and Clark looked away from the screen;  seeing himself in action in the third person always made him feel a bit vertiginous.  He looked at Jason instead--the boy's face was slack with wonder and awe.

"Is it true he can hear everything?" Jason said, almost in a whisper, eyes still fixed on the screen.

Clark shrugged and pushed his glasses up again.  "Probably not everything, no.  But a lot of things."

Jason's voice dropped a little lower.  "Is it true he can hear...what you're thinking?"

"What?  No, no," Clark said quickly.  "Superman's no telepath."

The news footage finally cut away and Jason looked back at Clark.  "He's awesome."

Clark fidgeted on the spinning barstool.  "He's not that great."

Jase scowled at him, a stubborn line appearing between his eyebrows, but didn't argue further, shifting his attention to the cartoon appearing on the screen.

After the show, Clark tidied up the kitchen, scrubbing the burned casserole and carefully disposing of the incriminating evidence of his negligence.  When the kitchen was spotless he went back out into the living room where Jason was sitting, this time reading an "Encyclopedia Brown" book.  Clark sat down at the piano in the corner of the room and plunked out a few random notes;  hadn't Lois said something when he first came back about Jason taking piano lessons?  But Jason didn't look up from his book.

"Don't you play the piano a little?" asked Clark.

"Nope.  I stopped."  The boy remained fixed on his book.


A shrug.  "Dunno.  Wasn't interested any more.  I decided I liked the saxophone better."

Clark moved over to the couch and sat down next to Jason.  "The saxophone's a cool instrument.  Do you have one?"

Jason frowned slightly.  "Mom won't get me one yet."

Clark made a mental note for potential birthday and Christmas gifts, although a musical instrument was an awfully expensive gift for a random co-worker to give.  He pulled out the book he was reading on the history of the Supreme Court and they sat in silence side-by-side for a while, reading.  Clark kept waiting for the stillness between them to become uncomfortable, but to his surprise it never did.  Usually people seemed to feel the need to fill such spaces with conversation, but Jason just kept reading.  Once he asked Clark about a word he didn't understand, but otherwise the quiet was complete, yet friendly.

It was probably the closest Clark had ever felt to his son.

When it was time for Jason to go to bed, Clark went upstairs with him to tuck him in, entering the room by the door rather than the window this time.  He noticed books scattered across the floor:  more Encyclopedia Brown, some Hardy Boys, another series called The A to Z Mysteries.  "You like mysteries, huh?" 

"Uh-huh.  I'm going to be a detective when I grow up." 

Clark couldn't help grinning to himself a little.  A detective:  that was cute.  He'd have to tell Bruce about that later. 

The boy yawned widely as he crawled into bed.  "Will you read me the next chapter of my book before I go to sleep?"  His eyes were heavy already, and as Clark finished reading he snuggled further down into the blankets.  "Thanks, Mr. Kent," he said sleepily.

"Uh, you can call me--you can call me Clark, if you want."

A small smile.  "Thanks, Clark."

"You're welcome."  Clark tucked the blankets up around Jason.  He felt a moment's impulse to kiss the shaggy head, but refrained--friends of the family didn't kiss little boys.  "Sleep tight," he whispered, and heard Jason murmur something indistinctly in response as he headed back down the stairs.

Clark settled back in on the sofa and started to do some work writing up an interview he had done yesterday.  The house was silent around him, quiet and mundane and relaxing.  The grandfather clock ticking in the corner of the room held no secret passages behind it;  everything was so solid and secure and safe.

He was almost done with the article when the shrieks of panic started on the second floor.

Clark was up the stairs without touching them and through the door, ready to thwart any attack--and found himself in a room empty of anyone save his son, thrashing in his bed, tangled in bedsheets, screaming in terror so abject that Clark rushed to him and put his arms around him without thinking.

Jason struggled against his embrace, halfway between waking and sleeping.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he screamed.  "I'm so sorry!"  He pulled away from Clark, his face white, eyes locked onto something Clark couldn't see.

"It's all right, Jason, it's all right."  Clark groped helplessly for something that would reassure the boy.  The image of the look on Jason's face when he saw Superman on the television came to him.  "It's all right, Superman's watching you, he's always watching you--" 

To his horror, Jason broke down into agonized weeping at his words, suddenly clinging to Clark almost desperately, his tears dampening Clark's shirt.  "I know, oh, oh, I know," the boy choked between gasps, his sobs dangerously close to hysteria. 

Clark floundered;  Superman was obviously not calming the boy right now.  What to say?  He started babbling anything reassuring he could think of.  "Everything's all right, Jason.  You're all right, you're okay, you're safe..."

His son stared up at him, tears streaking his face.  "I'm okay?  I'm...I'm safe?"  He swallowed sobs, then demanded almost fiercely, "Promise?"

"I promise.  I promise."  Clark patted the boy's back gingerly, uselessly, and Jason's tightly-clenched fists relaxed just a little.  Clark held his son while he cried himself gradually to sleep again, breath slowly easing into hitching hiccups, then the steadier breaths of sleep.  Clark lowered him gently back onto the bed again, holding on to one small hand.  He sat in the dark with his son until he heard a key in the door, then made his way downstairs.

Lois and Richard were staring at the spherical newel from their staircase banister, which had gotten snapped cleanly off at some point and now lay on the living room floor like a wooden baseball.  They looked up at Clark as he came down the stairs.  "I'm sorry," Clark said nervously.  "Jason was having nightmares and I grabbed the banister as I went up seems to have been a little bit unsound."

A tiny line appeared between Lois's eyebrows.  "Nightmares again?" she said worriedly. 

"Does he have them often?"

"Well, he's been through a tough time lately, you know," Richard said.  "They've been dropping off in frequency, and we thought maybe he was over the worst of them."  He looked apologetically at Clark.  "I'm sorry, Clark, we should have warned you."

"It's been over a month since the last one," Lois said a little faintly.  "I'd hoped..."

Richard put a hand on her shoulder.  "He'll be fine, honey.  Being kidnapped--twice in a month, even--it's the kind of thing that would give any kid nightmares for a while."

Lois bit her lip but nodded.  "I'm sorry, Clark," she said in turn.

"There's no need to apologize, Lois.  He fell back asleep with no problems.  He's a good kid, no trouble at all."

Lois smiled a little wanly.  "How was the lasagna?"

"Dinner was delicious," Clark said truthfully.

: : :

After that evening, at Jason's request, Clark babysat for the Lane-Whites about once or twice a month.  When his parents asked why he preferred Clark Kent, he just shrugged.  "He makes me feel safe," he said.

After that evening, whenever Bruce would suggest that Clark tell Jason about Superman, about their true relationship, Clark refused to even discuss it.

Chapter Text

Bruce Wayne reached up to adjust Clark Kent's bow tie.  "Relax, Clark.  There's no need to be so nervous."

Clark's smile was a touch wobbly.  "It's just...really strange to be going to my ex-girlfriend's wedding, when she doesn't even know I'm her ex."

Bruce put his hands on Clark's shoulders.  "You'll be fine.  Just be yourself."

"Be myself."  Clark's snort of laughter had a thread of bitterness.  "That's great advice for both of us.  Very nice.  Very...simple."

"Hey."  Bruce shook Clark very slightly.  "It's not simple, no.  But that doesn't mean it's not true." 

After a moment Clark nodded and took a deep breath.  "All right, let's go."

: : :

It was a larger gathering than either Richard or Lois would probably have liked, but they had so many connections and acquaintances it had been hard to keep the guest list down.  Bruce felt some relief about that, for Clark's sake.  Clark always felt better when he could stay back, out of the spotlight, attracting as little attention as possible.  That was probably one of the greatest drawbacks for Clark of openly being playboy Bruce Wayne's lover--it was so much more difficult for him to avoid the limelight.

Today, maybe there would be enough people around that Clark could avoid attention.

They stood as the wedding march began to play and Lois and Richard entered, arm in arm, Jason walking proudly in front of them with his ring-bearer's pillow.  Lois's dress was a simple a-line dress in off-white satin, with a vaguely 50s feel;  a tiny white hat and half-veil completed the look.  Richard couldn't keep his eyes off her, and she beamed back at him as they stepped up to the altar.

The ceremony itself had no frills or ostentation, merely the simplicity of two people in love committing their lives to each other.  Bruce heard the traditional vows spoken with an odd mix of joy and sadness:  joy for the couple, sadness that he and Clark had no such legal standing.  He almost laughed at his own maudlin emotion--a year ago, would he ever have imagined he would feel sorrow that he couldn't marry?  And here he was now, eyes prickling suspiciously as he heard Lois and Richard say their vows, their voices steady and clear and filled with love.

He was getting soft, how embarrassing.

Bruce reached out and took Clark's hand gently, squeezing it as the pair concluded with "...till death do us part."  Clark's hand was cold;  the fingers curled around his lightly but didn't return the pressure.  Bruce glanced at his lover's face to see it abstracted, still, staring at the couple.  "Hey," he whispered as the recessional music started, and Clark startled and looked at him.  "Don't go wandering off on me."

Clark smiled faintly.  "Don't worry," he replied as they stood to watch the couple pass by, laughing at some private joke, Jason tucked between them.  "Don't worry," Clark said again.  "I'm still here."

: : :

Outside the bay windows of the reception hall, storm clouds were starting to gather.  The gardens and grounds were dark.  "I guess it was too much to ask for, to have good weather as well," Lois said laughingly as she embraced first Bruce, then Clark.  "But everything else went smoothly, so I think we've pulled off a minor miracle, haven't we, hon?"

She and Richard grinned at each other as Richard shook the two men's hands.  "We've been pretty lucky," said the groom softly, his eyes still on Lois.

"Congratulations to both of you," Clark said shyly, ducking his head.

Lois reached out and ruffled his hair affectionately.  "Thanks, Clark.  I'm glad you came back from your globe-trotting in time to see us tie the knot."

Clark's smile was warm.  "I am too."

Inevitably, Bruce found himself in the middle of a clot of socialites, chatting about some ridiculous event or other.  He realized Clark wasn't at his side and looked around to find him staring out the windows at the sky, the dark clouds roiling in it, flickering lightning and threatening rain.  Bruce took his arm.  "Clark.  Dance with me?"

The music was some big band number, a gentle waltz.  Clark looked at him, surprised.  "You know I don'," he said awkwardly.

Bruce remembered the two times he had seen Clark dancing, the wildness that it seemed to arouse in the reporter.  The second time he had seen Clark dance, the first and last time Bruce had danced with him, they had ended up in bed together, with Clark babbling about the stars speaking to him, his eyes shining, remote and otherworldly.  Bruce had been ignorant then, but he realized now that he had seen Clark--seen Kal--at his most alien.

It had only made him want even more to hold that quicksilver passion, that gem-bright flame, and make it his.

He smiled at Clark's discomfort.  "It might be a good idea to dance just a little bit now and then.  Just a little."  He pulled gently at the tuxedo sleeve.  "We'll stop if it's too much.  I promise."

Clark allowed himself to be guided to the middle of the dance floor.  "You lead," he whispered.

Bruce put his arms around Clark and they began to waltz, Clark bumping into him at first, as gawky as he often appeared to be.  But slowly, the gentle sway of the music began to synchronize their steps and Bruce found they were moving in better harmony, Clark responding to his lead more naturally, more easily.  They spun with a swirl of music and Bruce felt the dance and the song fall into place, could feel Clark's body sway with him, woven tightly into the music together, melody and harmony inseparable and sweet together, together, together...

Clark pulled away with a small laugh, his face flushed and eyes heavy.  "Enough, that's...that's probably enough, Bruce," he said breathlessly, and Bruce realized his own breath was coming fast.  He and Clark stared at each other on the dance floor.  "Let's...outside?" Clark was panting slightly.  "Go outside?  See the gardens?"

They slipped out a side door and into the dark, abandoned gardens, heavy with the scent of roses and honeysuckle.  Clark pulled him into a shadowed corner and kissed him, leaves rustling around them in the rising wind.  "Bruce," he said, like a song, like a chorus.  "Bruce."

In mid-kiss the heavens opened and rain came down in torrents.  Clark ignored the downpour sluicing across the two of them, wrapping Bruce more tightly in his arms.  The rain just seemed part of the melody, somehow.

Lightning flickered nearby, pale fire lighting Clark's face eerily.  The wind howled around them, and Bruce could hardly hear his own whisper over the tumult of the storm, but he knew Clark could.

"To have and to hold, Clark."  Clark's lips were cold on his, but his eyes were like light.  Kisses like music.

It seemed impossible that Clark's murmured response could carry across the thunder and the wind, but it did.  "To have and to hold, Bruce."

"From this day forward."

Clark's dark hair was plastered across his brow, rain streaking his glasses and streaming down his face.  "From this day forward."  Bruce pushed the wet hair back and put his lips to the water on Clark's face, tasting salt.   Lightning and thunder all around them.  Clark's face was pale as a star. 

Bruce leaned in close to Clark's ear and finished the vow.  "Till death do us part."

Clark shivered and suddenly pulled Bruce to him, so close it was very nearly painful.  "Yes," he whispered.  "Till death do us part." 

Their souls music, their bodies the instruments.  Clark's hands on him, melody and harmony. 

Bruce heard Clark laugh softly, almost to himself, like very distant thunder.

"As long as we both shall live, Bruce."

Chapter Text

Fic: "The Memory of Music" (Music of the Spheres)
Title:  The Memory of Music
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A stand-alone story in the series "Music of the Spheres." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary:  Clark decides to celebrate an anniversary.
Word Count: 1,100

Bruce fumbled for the key to Clark's apartment.  He supposed he could just knock;  Clark was almost certainly inside.  He could probably just ask Clark to open the door and Clark would hear him.

But he had to admit he kind of liked using the key to let himself in.

"Hi honey, I'm home," he called ironically as the door swung open.  "I'm not sure why it was so important for me to come all the way down to Metropolis, but--"  He stalled out as he looked into the apartment.

It was still as Spartan as always, but the tiny card table had a nice tablecloth and burning white tapers on it.  Soft music was playing.  From the kitchen came the scent of basil and the sound of someone humming cheerfully to themselves.

Frowning, Bruce stepped into the apartment.  "Clark?" 

His lover popped his head out of the kitchen, eyes shining behind dorkishly thick glasses.  "Yo," he said with a smile, waving a hand clad in a bright oven mitt.

"What's the occasion?"  Bruce didn't come down to Metropolis terribly often, and when he did they usually ate out. 

Clark appeared and placed a bowl of tossed salad on the table.  He glanced at Bruce with a small smile.  "It's our first anniversary."

"Annivers--" Bruce fumbled mentally to figure out what Clark was talking about.  It wasn't of the day they had met, and it wasn't of the day they had decided to consider their wedding day--the fact that Clark secretly shared that day with Lois never ceased to amuse Bruce.  "Of...?" 

Clark didn't seem disappointed that he couldn't place it.  "Of the cruise."

"Oh."  Bruce remembered it now:  the music and dancing, the desperate race to the bedroom, the silence broken only by the sound of the waves and Clark's calm and joyous voice.  "The anniversary of the first time we--"  Clark nodded, blushing slightly, and Bruce felt himself grinning.  "That's an interesting choice of anniversary.  Sorry I didn't remember it or I would have brought a cake."

His lover smiled back at him, pushing his glasses up on his nose with the bulky oven mitt.  "That's okay," he said easily.  "I just...wanted to commemorate it, a little.  It...meant a lot to me.  That day.  That--all of that."  Bruce hid another smile;  it wasn't often reporter Clark Kent found himself at a loss for words. 

Clark waved at the table.  "Anyway, sit down.  Your timing is perfect;  the casserole just got done."  Bruce took a seat and watched the other man bustle about the kitchen, pouring two glasses of wine.  "It's spinach and brown rice.  I mean, not up to Alfred's standards by a long shot, but it's the thought that matters, right?"  The Kryptonian opened up the oven and pulled out the casserole, an old, battered china container filled with steaming food.

It happened so quickly that Bruce couldn't prevent it:  the casserole slipped on the surface of the oven mitt, twisted sideways, and went crashing to the kitchen floor, smashing into a pile of china fragments and food.

For a long moment Clark stood, surrounded by bits of broken casserole.  "Damn," he said rather distantly. 

Bruce couldn't help but sound a little exasperated.  "Clark, you could have just caught that, you know.  Superspeed?  Hello?  Hell, you don't even need the stupid oven mitt."  Clark looked at him and Bruce continued, "I know, I know, you don't want to use your powers in your civilian life.  Trust me, I appreciate the paranoia.  You get used to using them in private and you slip and use them in public one day and that's that."

Clark shook his head slowly.  "It isn't that.  I mean, that's part of it.  But..."  He knelt down and nudged at a fragment.  "That was my grandmother's casserole.  Ma's going to kill me."

Bruce sighed.  "You'd save yourself a lot of grief if you'd allow yourself to use powers in private."

Clark nodded, still looking at the mess on the floor.  "Yes," he said softly.  "That's true."  He looked up, blinking a little, and smiled.  Bruce's statement seemed, inexplicably, to have cheered him up somewhat.  "Well, I seem to have managed to ruin our anniversary dinner.  Any suggestions?"

Bruce pulled out his cell phone and hit a few buttons.  "Hello, Jade Dragon?  I'd like to place an order for delivery."

: : :

The candles were burned down to stubs, surrounded by empty paper containers with lurid dragons etched on them.  Bruce mopped up a last bit of duck sauce with a pea pod.  "Exquisite meal, Clark."

"Why thank you, Bruce.  I pride myself on my elegance and class."  Clark waved his chopsticks airily.

Bruce opened up one of the little packages of fortune cookies, cracking open the cookie and extracting the fortune.  "The best one of these I ever got was one that said:  'You are not illiterate.''

Clark huffed surprised laughter.  "That's a good one."

Bruce smoothed out the paper and read out loud.  "You are a person of culture.  Cultivate it."  He paused and lifted his eyebrows at Clark, adding, "'In bed,' of course."

"Oh, high culture indeed."  Clark cracked his open.  "Your happiness is intertwined with your outlook on life."  He paused.  "You know, my happiness being intertwined with my outlook on life in bed seems rather appropriate."

Bruce crunched the cookie with relish.  "I can think of some things I'd like to see intertwined with your happiness in bed."

Clark propped his chin in his hand and looked at Bruce, a smile slowly lighting his face.  "Do you have the time?"

"I haven't taken a night off for a couple of months.  And everyone's been laying low since I brought in Romano last week."  Bruce shifted the chair so their knees touched, and Clark's smile deepened.  "Besides, we don't have anniversaries every day."  He stood up to throw out the empty containers;  on a shelf above the trash a chip of crockery caught his eye and he reached out to touch it, setting it rocking.  "I'm sure Alfred would inform me that's it's not a sin to take some time now and then to re-establish connections with people I care about."

Clark's eyes sparkled.  "In bed?"

Bruce went back to where Clark was still sitting and straddled him, pulling him close for a long kiss.  "I'm sure Alfred wouldn't put it that way," he said as they broke apart very, very briefly, "but it's still excellent advice."

Chapter Text

Fic: Siren Song (MotS one-shot)
Title:  Siren Song
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Batman, Lois
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A stand-alone story in the series "Music of the Spheres." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary:  Lois and Clark are in Gotham for some investigative reporting.  The mugging is just bonus.
Word Count: 1,400

Lois Lane stretched her aching back as she stood up from another set of file cabinets.  At the moment, she almost regretted wheedling access to the files in the Gotham University library from the friendly curator;  she and Clark had been down in these archives for--she looked at her watch and almost gasped--four hours now, searching in vain for...well, she wasn't sure exactly what, but she knew she'd recognize it when she found it.

Her compatriot was still sorting through the thousands of heavy ledgers, filled with nearly-indecipherable scribbles from the last hundred years of Arkham history.  Lois rubbed at her back and watched as Clark flipped the pages.  He must have been getting tired too;  as Lois watched he started to flip though the pages faster and faster.  "Hey, Kent," she said, "I know it's boring, but you have to actually read those ledgers."  Clark stopped, sighed, and returned to a reasonable reading speed.

Lois clapped hands on his hunched shoulders and he grunted in surprise.  "Chin up, Clark.  It'll be worth it for the report we're going to do on the history of abuses at Arkham.  Some bright light and truth might help clean that place up, just a little."

Clark pinched the bridge of his nose.  "We can hope.  Reading about that place always gives me a headache," he muttered.  "They should just raze it to the ground and sow the land with salt."

Lois leafed through her notes.  "Its history is appalling.  So many abuses, so many tragedies...the very stones there must be soaked with insanity."

Clark made a tired noise.

In the distance came the sound of someone snapping a light off.  "Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent?"  came the curator's voice, "I'm sorry, but I have to close up for tonight.  You're welcome to come back in the morning, though."

"Thanks!"  Lois said as cheerfully as she could manage.  She wasn't sure she could stand another minute of reading about Arkham.  Clark was still staring down blankly at a random page in a ledger;  she reached out and snapped it shut and he looked up at her, blinking.

To her embarrassment, her stomach chose that moment to growl so loudly it almost seemed to echo through the stacks.  Clark smiled wanly at her.  "Did we forget to eat supper?"

"Looks it."  Lois clapped her hands together.  "Is there any place in this crazy town that can serve us some good food at ten o'clock at night?"

Clark's smile brightened into something close to genuine.

: : :

"It was kind of our first date," Clark explained around a mouthful of falafel.  "Bruce was showing me what he loved about Gotham."

Lois swallowed happily.  "This is fantastic, Clark!" 

"Alfred can make almost anything, but nothing can outdo this place for falafel."  Lois looked puzzled, and Clark explained, "Oh, Alfred is Bruce's butler."

Lois snorted laughter and Clark looked slightly hurt.  "I'm sorry, Clark, I just can't get over the fact that your boyfriend has a butler.  It seems totally unreal."  She sipped scalding hot coffee and smiled, mostly to herself.  "And here everyone said I was the starfucker."

"Lois!"  Clark protested, aghast at her language, but Lois just laughed.

"I've been called worse than that, hon."  She popped a stray piece of falafel in her mouth, sighing in satisfaction.  "I guess this town isn't entirely a lost cause after all.  Now if they just could make a decent pizza, maybe fewer Gothamites would go screwy."

Her tone had been joking, but Clark bristled visibly.  "There's a lot more to Gotham than Arkham, Lois.  There's good as well as bad, and a heart--a real heart--that keeps the good going even when it looks impossible.  She's not perfect, but she's got her own beauty."

"She?"  Lois arched a quizzical brow, and Clark blushed a little.

"You can't really spend any time here and not start to see this city as an almost living entity.  And very much female," he added wryly.

"Sounds complicated," Lois said, taking another bite of falafel.

"It is," Clark said slowly.  "I...hated Gotham at first.  But I think--"  He paused, staring out the flyspecked restaurant window at the lights of the city beyond, glowing murkily in a gathering haze.  "I think maybe we've come to something of an understanding.  We do seem to have some things in common," he said with a smile, finishing off his coffee.

Lois indicated his clean-polished plate.  "Like a fondness for falafel?"

"Like that, yes."

: : :

Clark offered to escort Lois to her hotel before heading to the Manor for the night.  They made their way through the Gotham streets through a mist that thickened, slowly and ominously, into a fog that obscured all landmarks, wrapping them in white.

"I think it's this way, Clark," Lois said, heading confidently despite his protests down a street that turned out to be a dead-end alley.  "Whoops," she said, staring at a blank brick wall. 

"Whoops," Clark echoed. 

Lois turned around to find a man in a ski mask pointing a gun at the two of them.

"Not from around here, huh?" A snarling chuckle.  "Gimme your wallets and nothing bad's gonna happen to you."

Lois put her hands on her hips in exasperation.  "Oh, come on.  What is this, a bad cliche?  Getting mugged in Gotham is like getting your picture taken with Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld."

"Lois," said Clark nervously, "I'd rather you not taunt the mugger."

"I warn you," Lois noted, "that I've studied Judo."

"Yeah?  Well, I've studied Shooting Mouthy Broads."

Clark made a squeaking sound of protest just as the man dropped his gun with a curse, a sharp pinging noise ringing through the alley.  The thug tried to run, but some kind of bolo tangled his legs and he fell on his face.  A dark shadow fell on him and his curses stopped abruptly.

Batman rose from the unconscious body like a vampire in an old B-movie, the mist swirling crazily around him.  His cape rippled, caressed by tendrils of fog.  He ignored Clark and stalked up to Lois.  "Be.  More.  Careful," he rasped, jabbing a finger at her.

"Yes, sir," she heard herself say, any possible quips sticking in her throat.

Batman spun abruptly to round on Clark, who took a hasty step back until he collided with a crumbling brick wall.  "And you," growled the vigilante, "I'm sure your pretty little boyfriend is anxious to have you back in his bed where you belong."  Something like contempt etched his voice, and he leaned in far too close to Clark, whose eyes were very wide behind the thick glasses.  "Do us both a favor and don't keep him waiting."

Batman stepped away from the reporter, still glaring at him. 

The fog curled around his dark form like a lover, and he was simply gone.

"Well," Lois said, finally remembering to exhale.  "I guess we have a little something extra for our story, don't we?"  She stepped over to nudge the unconscious mugger in the side with a toe.  "You seem to be rather famous, Clark.  Though I suppose it's no surprise he knows you, dating the Prince of Gotham and all."  She frowned.  "Still, I'm disappointed that he seems to be homophobic.  That tone was totally uncalled for."  She glanced over at Clark, who was staring rather glassily at nothing.  "Clark?"

"Uh?"  Clark seemed to pull himself together.  "Well.  No matter.  It's not his job to be nice, is it?"  He offered Lois his arm gallantly and helped her step over the thug's body.  "Let's get you to your hotel so I can hurry home, like the man said."

"True.  I doubt the Bat will save us twice in one night, and I don't want to have to defend you if you get us lost again."  Lois shook her head as they left the alley.  "Gotham.  Crazy place.  I'm amazed you can stand to be here so much."

From somewhere not too far away there was a faint rustling noise, silken and caressing.  Clark looked up into the fog, a tiny smile on his face, and pushed at his glasses like a salute.

"Like I said, she and I have some things in common."

Chapter Text

Fic: Silken Ropes of Sound (Music of the Spheres)
Title:  Silken Ropes of Sound
Pairing/Characters: Bruce/Kal
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A stand-alone story in the series "Music of the Spheres." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary:  Bruce is at a party while Kal listens in from the Fortress. 
Word Count: 1,100

Spires of crystal towered around Kal-El as he worked steadily on the display.  The Fortress was entirely unlit, but the Kryptonian's hands were sure and unerring, his vision keen beyond that of mortals.  Starlight filtered down into the Fortress, caught and refracted by the crystals all around him, a web of dim light, glinting.

Kal ignored the starlight and listened to Bruce Wayne's voice in his ear.

At the moment, Bruce was at a "Christmas in July" party held by a major figure in the Gotham society circles.  Clark Kent couldn't make this one--Kal had decided the Fortress needed calibrating, and Bruce had smiled wryly and let him get away with the excuse this time. 

The sounds in Kal's ear were inconsequential:  party chatter, Bruce complimenting someone's dress, the clink of glasses.  The comlinks between Bruce and Clark weren't automatically open, and Bruce almost always closed his when he was out in public.  Hearing Clark's voice in his ear, he said, made it hard to be either Batman or Brucie.

The words were always said gruffly, but with a smile that made the meaning clear:  Hard to be anything but what I truly am, with you.

Bruce never asked specifically, but he seemed to assume that Clark often turned his comlink off as well, shut Bruce's voice out of his head.  Clark let him think that.

But he didn't.

Kal shifted the array of crystals about like a puzzle, making it glow first blue, then purple, then back to white.  The party noise was an undercurrent in his ear, Bruce's mild voice a line binding him to Gotham, to warmth and conversation.

Kal had turned off the comlink maybe twice in the year and a half since they got them.  Waking and sleeping, Bruce's voice, his breathing, the sound of his movements, they were always there.

Kal didn't need many things.  He didn't need food or drink.  He barely needed oxygen.

He was a man of relatively simple needs.

As he moved to open a cache of crystals, he heard an arch voice in his ear.  "Bruce, darling!  How nice of you to make it to my party!"  Kate Wentworth, heiress and socialite.  "And where is your charming friend?"

"He couldn't make it this evening."

"So I have you all to myself?"  The voice was a purr.  "How nice!"

Small talk as Kal sorted through glittering crystals, the air cold and lucid around him.  Bruce sounded like he was surrounded by a circle of people.  The conversation turned to a recent space probe sent to Venus, and the new data collected about that planet.

"It would be quicker if Superman would just fly there with a camera, you know," said a man's voice.

"NASA asked him, I heard," said Kate.  "He turned them down cold.  Said he won't leave Earth again unless there's no other choice."

Murmurs of approval.  "But that means we're stuck with unreliable probe data about Venus," complained the first man.  "We haven't found out jack.  The results are all totally inconclusive."

"That's not actually true," Bruce pointed out.  "Clark was telling me just yesterday that from the analysis of the atmosphere we've ruled out several formerly-accepted theories about the planet."  There was a pause and Kal could imagine the rest of the circle staring at the playboy, who coughed awkwardly.  "Well, so Clark says."

There was a ripple of laughter.  An unknown woman's voice:  "Count on the Prince's pet geek to keep him up to speed on the latest developments in astrophysics!"

"Court jester, more like," murmured a man.

Bruce's voice was easy and unconcerned, even a touch flippant.  "I happen to like them brainy.  Beauty may fade, but good pillow talk is forever."

"Ooh," said Kate, "I'm sure his talk of star charts and spectrum analysis just sweeps you off your feet."  A gust of appreciative laughter and a variety of rather raunchy jokes imagining discussions of black holes, red giants, and white dwarfs followed.  Bruce laughed lightly along with it, even adding a quip here and there.

Underneath it, quietly, Kal could hear his teeth grinding.

As the laughing conversation continued, Kal held up a crystal against the starlight, checking for flaws.  He tapped it lightly and it rang out, sweet and clear, pure as silver light.  He cupped it in his hand as it sang.

In his ear he heard footsteps, a door opening.  The sounds of the party faded slightly and Kal could hear wind in leaves, a night-bird chirping faintly.  A veranda, perhaps.

A click of high heels approaching and Kate Wentworth's laughing voice:  "Don't run away, Brucie!  I hope we didn't offend you."

"I could never be offended by such a beautiful woman, Katherine."

Kate made a happy cooing noise.  "You know we only tease you because we love you, dear.  We want the best for you.  The very best."  A pause.  "Oh, look what I brought!"

"Mistletoe.  Of course," said Bruce.  "I'm not sure it counts if Christmas is still five months away."

Kate's voice was very close.  "You said you could never be offended...Bruce..."  A long silence in which Kal tapped the crystal again, listening to it sing.  Then a husky whisper, directly into Bruce's ear:  "Can he possibly kiss you like that, dear?"

"No, he can't," said Bruce, his voice also a low whisper, silken, with something else running under it.  "It feels nothing at all like that when Clark Kent kisses me.  And that's why I'm with him."

The woman's voice sputtered and choked for a second.  Then the sound of quickly retreating high heels was a counterpoint to the high, pure tone of the crystal Kal still held.  He closed his hand gently around the crystal and the tone cut off as the veranda door clicked shut, leaving only the sound of Bruce's breath in his ear, warm and steady.  A silken rope of sound leading back to Gotham.

: : :

Bruce rested his hands on the veranda railing, letting the hot July air wash over his face.  He probably shouldn't have said those things to Kate Wentworth.  But he was only human, after all.

As he stared out over the darkened garden, there was a whisper of Arctic-cool breeze by him, a motion almost too swift to register to human senses.  Soft lips passed over his for the briefest of seconds and were gone.

Bruce closed his eyes, took a breath, and turned to go back to the party.  He was smiling, the echo of the kiss still cool as starlight and silk on his mouth.

Chapter Text

FIC: The Staccato Sound of Typing (MotS)
Title:  The Staccato Sound of Typing
Pairing/Characters: Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon, Superman, Batman
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A stand-alone story in the series "Music of the Spheres." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: G
Summary:  A night in the life of Barbara Gordon at eight years old.
Word Count: 1,800

Junior Gordon's keyboard rattled under her fingers as she worked.  The smell of boiling cabbage filled the air, and outside the little apartment the monorail rattled by with a roaring whoosh again.  She sighed at the time it took a page to load and patted Goldie's side reassuringly.  It had been more than a year since the Wayne Foundation had bought every Gotham policeman's kid a brand new computer, which meant Goldie was practically an antique now.  But realistically, Junior knew she might have to last through high school.  She shuddered at the thought.  If she saved her allowance for a while, maybe she could upgrade the memory at least.

She ran her fingers lightly across the keyboard.  She loved this computer so much, the more so because she had never expected it.  She had explained to her third-grade class during show and tell that she had named her new computer "Heart of Gold" because her getting it was infinitely improbable.  Her classmates hadn't gotten the reference.  Neither had her teacher.

But then, Junior was used to that.

"Barbara!" Her mother's voice was harried.  "Come keep an eye on your brother while I cook, would you?"

Barbara went into the kitchen and scooped her drooling baby brother up.  "I'll keep him in my room, 'kay?"

"Just make sure you get all those models off the floor.  I don't want him eating some chunk of plastic from one of your robot thingies."

Back in her room, Junior deposited James on a clear spot on the floor.  "Here," she said, "You can play with this."  She handed him her Cthulhu plushie, making a mental note to wash it after he'd finished chewing on it, then turned back to the computer.

There was a message from one of her friends, Gothamgirl241, flashing.  {{Pythia!  There's a new one!  The video's up at the page now!}}

Another already!  Junior rushed to, logging in as "Pythia."  On the front page was an embedded Youtube video.  Junior felt the familiar rush of excitement--another so soon!  The last one was only three months ago!  She hoped the gang was ready for this one.

The video finished loading and Junior leaned forward in her chair to watch it.  It was muddy, probably taken from someone's cell phone, but the audio was clear enough.

"You don't listen.  You never listen."  The rasping voice carried well across the rooftops to both the cell phone and the ears of the hovering Kryptonian, who crossed his arms and frowned.

"Trouble doesn't recognize city limits, Dark Knight.  Someday, when you need my help--"

"What?  You won't be here to hold my hand?"  Batman scoffed.  "As if I'd ask you for help.  Gotham takes care of her own.  Go someplace you're needed."

In her bedroom, Junior clenched her fist and whispered, "Yes."  James gurgled and continued to try and chew Cthulhu's head off.

"And if I don't?"  The alien's voice was haughty.

"Let's just say Im not unprepared."  Batman reached into a pocket and drew out something, brandishing it in front of him.  Superman moved abruptly in the air, his cape fluttering, shock on his face.  Batman continued,  "Consider this Plan B.  Plan A is you stay the hell away from my city.  You don't want to know Plan C."

Superman tossed back his head, sneering slightly, the shock wiped away.  "You win for tonight, vigilante."  He floated backward, glaring at Batman, then blurred slightly and was gone.  Batman swiveled in turn and vanished into the shadows.

Junior grinned and hugged herself.  Oh, Kryptonia was going to have puppies over this one!  She hurried to get caught up on the message boards, checking to confirm that video enhancement had indeed revealed Batman had been brandishing some kind of green mineral.  He'd found some of that stuff that could stop Superman!  Not that he'd ever use it, Junior was sure, but just knowing he had it, that he had outwitted the alien, gave her a warm feeling.

She rolled her eyes to discover that Kryptonia and Janejane were already on the Dark Knight message boards, bragging that Superman had shown up Batman once again.  "Honestly," Junior expostulated to James, who wasn't really listening, "Did they even watch the same video?  Crazy Superman fangirls."  Gothamgirl241 and Dark_Mike were embroiled in other threads and doing well already.  Damn, she had missed at least ten minutes of debate.

Goldie's keyboard started rattling furiously.  Pythia was having none of this nonsense.  Curtly and with devastating logic, she demolished the other arguments.  No, Batman was not a lunatic.  He was pragmatic.  The argument that Pythia was a human chauvinist was specious--she wasn't arguing that Superman couldn't be trusted because he wasn't human, she was arguing that he couldn't be trusted because he was just too powerful.  Too much power concentrated in one being was never for the best--hadn't the lessons of Nazi Germany taught us anything?
Junior contemplated that last argument for a while after she posted it.  Then she logged out and logged back in as Psychebutterfly.  Psychebutterfly responded to Pythia, stating quite reasonably that there was no need to go dragging the Nazis into this.  Pythia should cut people like Janejane and Kryptonia a little more slack.  Obviously they all had the best interests of humanity in mind, they just disagreed on the best methods.  Comparing Superman to Hitler wasn't going to help matters at all.  Couldn't they all just get along?

Junior watched the video one more time, peering closely at it and shoving her glasses up on her nose.  At about the point where Batman revealed the rock--they were calling it Kryptonite now--she paused to look at Superman's face more closely.  Police sirens wailed somewhere nearby and she tensed for a moment, then forced herself to relax with an air of long practice.

Something soft and damp hit the back of her head.  She turned around to see James grinning triumphantly.  "Nice aim, slugger," Junior muttered, retrieving the doll.

"Ba-Ba," James said happily as she handed the toy back, and she took a moment to tickle his chubby stomach, her mind still half on the video.

"Barbara, supper's ready!  Bring your brother," her mother called.  Barbara gathered up James and went to the kitchen for dinner.

She was still eating when her mother waved a hand in front of her eyes.  "Honestly, Barbara, you're not even here half the time, I swear."

"Huh?"  Barbara wasn't sure what she'd been thinking of, she'd just been listening to the monorail rumbling by, to the sounds of the city all around her:  stray cats, garbage cans rattling, a fight next door, footsteps on the stairs--she brightened as the door swung open and her father entered the apartment.

"I'm not too late for supper, great," Jim Gordon said wearily and sat down to eat.  "How was school, Junior?"

"Not bad.  We studied long division today."

Gordon grimaced.  "You're studying algebra on your own."

"I know.  But...long division's fun in a way, too."  Barbara shrugged.  It was even true, if you looked at it right.

Her mother and father traded small talk about the day, discussed an ear infection James was battling...and then Gordon cleared his plate and headed for the door.

"Oh dear, you don't have to go back, do you?"  His wife's voice was plaintive. 

Gordon smiled a little.  "I'm lucky to get enough time to make it home and check in with you."  He kissed his wife, then kissed Barbara on top of the head as she stared down at her plate.  "Be a good girl," he said, and was gone again.  He hadn't even had time to take off his coat.

Junior closed the door to her bedroom slowly.  Her spirits rose as she checked her inbox, however:  a nice email from Kryptonia to Psychebutterfly, thanking her for being reasonable and defending her from that bitch Pythia.  Junior grinned and cracked her knuckles triumphantly.  Then she frowned and pulled up the video again, watching it very carefully.

She paused on Superman's face at the moment Batman had pulled out the mineral.  He seemed startled, almost frightened, and yet...something seemed off, somehow.  It might be impossible to judge alien nonverbals, but the more Junior stared at that cold face, the more certain she was that Superman wasn't frightened at all at that moment.  She didn't have any logical basis for it, just a hunch, a weird certainty in the pit of her stomach.

Why wouldn't Superman be afraid? 

The Super Squad over in Metropolis would say it's because he knew he could mop the floor with Batman, but Junior dismissed that theory out of hand.  She still couldn't come up with a better one, though, which made her gnaw her lip thoughtfully.  Had Superman already known Batman had that Kryptonite?  Did the alien already have counter-measures planned?  That sounded ominous.  Not that Batman wouldn't have counter-counter-measures already in place, of course, but still...unnerving.

With the ease of long practice, Junior converted the video from Youtube and stored a copy in her folder marked "BxS."  Then back to the front lines on the message boards, bouncing between different personae, building people up and breaking them down where it seemed best.

Eventually she rubbed her eyes and found herself yawning.  She had wanted to study Russian some more tonight, but the video had to be first priority.  Blearily, she turned Goldie off.  "Sleep tight," she said as she always did. 

She changed and crawled into bed, the black and yellow sheets comfortable and warm.  She ran her hand over the bat-symbol on the fleece coverlet, feeling the texture of the clipped wool beneath her palms, brushing across it over and over like a talisman.  Her mind was still racing with theories, plans, ideas, concepts tumbling across her brain like a kaleidoscope.  Hidden underneath the ordered chaos of reasoned thought, buried deeper (but not deep enough), the other thoughts still lurked:

Would Gothamgirl and Dark_Mike still like her and respect her if they knew she was only eight years old?

Was she really a "spooky little freak," like Judd Harlow said the other day?

How long was it until her father didn't come home at all one night?

She kept running her hands over the symbol.  It covered her heart.  It protected her.

Eventually she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

FICLET: Contrasts
Title:  Contrasts
Characters/Pairings: Kal-El/Bruce Wayne
Rating: R
Summary:  Bruce Wayne contemplates his lover and his car.  And his lover on his car.
Word count:  400
Continuity: Movieverse, a little scene from Music of the Spheres.
Notes:  For [info]loqia for her secular holiday season!  *grin*

Bruce knows that the Tumbler is ugly.

It's squat and square, all blunt angles and brutal lines.  Even its paint job is ugly:  drab matte black as opposed to anything glossy and reflective.  It's a tank, and its form matches its function:  pragmatic, sturdy, tough, and plain.

Batman's car is ugly, there's no denying that.

: : :

Kal's pale body glows like starlight, sprawled against the dull black paint of the Tumbler.  A bare foot is braced against one of the wide front wheels, dark hair fans against the dark windshield.  He is panting.

Bruce loves that he can make Kal's breath come fast, make him breathless with desire.  Without even touching him.

Just by looking at him.

He keeps looking.

Kal's arousal is plain and stark against the blackness, but a smile flickers briefly on his mouth.  "Bruce, my dark star, my love," he murmurs between breaths, "I will never quite understand why you like to see me draped across your damn ugly car like one of those ludicrous centerfold calendars."  He pulls his hands over his head and lolls seductively across the front of the car, arching his back in an exaggerated parody of cheesecake.  Pulling a ridiculous pout with his beautiful mouth--though not ridiculous enough to keep Bruce's pulse from leaping with desire--he whispers huskily, "Is this some kind of human male sexual response thing, linking cars and decorative sexual objects?"

Batman can't help but snort slightly, although it's all he can do to keep from crossing over to the car, breaking this moment of delicious stasis into a thousand pieces of ecstasy.  "You're much more than decorative, Kal."

Kal licks his lips, perhaps unconsciously, perhaps unaware that the slight touch of pink against pale skin makes Bruce even harder than he had thought possible.  Perhaps. 

"And am I more than just a sexual object to you, Bruce?" 

Kal's voice is light and teasing, a feather-flick across Bruce's eardrums.  He feels dizzy for a moment.  "You're the object of everything," he says without thinking.

Kal laughs, but not before the flicker of shy surprise goes across his face.  "You sweet-talker," he starts, but the flash of startled pleasure is the last straw for Bruce, and he's up against his lover, dark gloves on pale skin, black cape like shadows on shining snowfall.  He pushes Kal against the ugly metal and kneels to make him shiver with rapture.  Luminous.  Opalescent.  Passion like light.

Batman's car is ugly:  brusque, brutal and pragmatic.

Bruce Wayne has a keen appreciation of contrasts.

Chapter Text

Fic: Gotham Nocturne, Chapter 1/9 (Music of the Spheres)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter One
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Clark and Bruce walk through Gotham as Bruce contemplates a recent mystery;  meanwhile, two unlikely allies discuss their plans.
Word Count: 1700

Kal-El could hear the city singing.

He and Bruce Wayne were walking through Gotham, his lover's eyes lost in thought, pondering a case.  Bruce liked to take long walks through the city as he first started an investigation, liked having Clark at his side.  He said the rhythm of the city helped his subconscious mind start fitting the pieces together.

The rhythm of the city.

As they walked, Kal could hear it, the low bass beat under it all, steady as a heartbeat but immense beyond human perception.  A beat like the steady sound of dripping blood.

Sirens and screeching brakes like violins, punctuating the beat like a stab wound.  Conversation like a low and muttering choir, moving to the rhythm unawares.  It was under everything, an inexorable sound of blood and fate, each beat another step toward mortality.  Gotham's song, a nocturne of entropy.

Clark hunched his shoulders and met Bruce's smile with one of his own, focusing on the sights, on the happy faces in the crowd, the ornate architecture.  Bruce loved Gotham, and Gotham was worthy of love, Clark knew this.  He tried not to resent how Bruce's steps fell naturally into the song's tempo, tried to match Bruce's stride, to fit himself into the measure.  As Clark, he had learned how to do this.

(But Kal still heard the city singing).

: : :

Bruce Wayne touched the wrought-iron gates lightly as they turned into Robinson Park, its trees and hills frosted with new snow.  Joggers ran by, their breath pouring from them in white streamers.  Bruce glanced at Clark, walking next to him:  the puffy ski jacket, red wool mittens, a matching knitted red cap with a large pompom.  He looked entirely ridiculous, and as usual the knowledge of what was walking next to him, wrapped in eiderdown and gore-tex, warmed Bruce with possessive delight.

He hadn't mentioned the case he was pondering at all yet, and Clark didn't push him.  These long walks through the city were usually silent as Bruce soaked up the city and let his subconscious work on the case, the first delicate fitting-together of facts. 

Bruce took a moment to sit down on a bench, brushing off a layer of newly-fallen snow.  Clark sat next to him, not cuddling but close enough to touch, as Bruce stared out over the park.  Skaters twirled on the ice in patterns and Bruce's eyes followed them but were far away.

Eventually he sighed slightly, his shoulders relaxing.  This was Clark's cue that it was okay to break into his thoughts for a time.  "So what is it?"

"An incident today at the Gotham Airport.  A student pilot and his instructor crashed their Cessna.  Neither of them made it."

His partner reached out and slipped his mittened hands between Bruce's gloved fingers, tense on his knees.  "I'm sorry," Clark said, as he always did when something bad happened that he hadn't stopped.

Bruce shook his head absently, as he always did at the apology, staring out at the skaters.  After a moment, Clark said, "There's more, isn't there?"

"Wouldn't be much need of a detective otherwise, would there?"  Bruce said wryly.  His face clouded again.  "The plane had just passed inspection, and there didn't seem to be any mechanical problems.  The instructor had years of experience.  The air traffic tower could hear both of them screaming just before they crashed.  They appeared to be...fighting over the controls."


Bruce's frown was distant and worried.  "The tower says they just heard a lot of incoherent screaming."  Clark shuddered slightly and Bruce stood up, pulling his partner with him.  "Let's walk some more.  I think better when I'm walking."

The stroll took them down to Amusement Mile.  The boardwalk clicked underneath their feet as they made their way through the stretch of mostly-abandoned booths and attractions.  The sun was low on the horizon now, the shadows stretching long all around them from the Ferris wheel and the old wooden roller coaster.  Bits of paper--old tickets, flyers, newspaper--scudded by their feet.  It was quiet except for the low creaking of the wind through the old rides.

Bruce stopped walking for a second and just let the feeling of the area surround him.  He remembered coming here as a child--the taste of cotton candy, the music from the carousel, the way his father had pitched baseballs to win him a Gotham Knights jersey.  Everything around them was still, steeped with memories of laughter and warmth, like leaves in amber.  He smiled slightly, feeling his city hovering near them, an angel with dusty wings.

"How--how can you stand it?" Clark asked suddenly.  Startled, Bruce looked over at him.  His partner was standing with his arms wrapped tightly around himself, as if to keep himself from shivering, his eyes wary.  "I mean, what kind of city leaves an abandoned amusement park like this?  Who owns this, Bruce?  Why leave something so disturbing around?"

With a jolt as if a circuit were thrown in his brain, Bruce suddenly saw the area as Clark must see it:  the rides filled with ominous shadows, the silence and emptiness like the moment before a scream, everything desolate and abandoned.  Empty.  He put an arm around Clark and his lover leaned into him;  Bruce could feel an almost-imperceptible tremor beneath his hands.  "Stagg Industries owns most of these, I believe," he said lightly, trying not to show that he was shaken by the shift in perception.  "I guess Stagg just hasn't ever had a reason to tear them down." 

Clark's eyes remained almost glassy.  "This city," he muttered.  "It frightens me sometimes."

Bruce couldn't help but laugh just a little;  Clark twitched as the sound echoed around the boardwalk.  "Clark?"

"No," said his lover indistinctly, "Clark is okay with Gotham.  It's Kal that..."  His voice trailed off and he took a deep breath;  a gust of wind slammed the shutter of a booth loudly and they both jumped.  Clark laughed a bit shakily, and this time the sound broke the feeling of stasis for both of them.   

Bruce swung around to grab Clark's hands in his, pulling him down the boardwalk a little and then into his arms.  Clark's lips were cold but responsive;  Bruce's breath warmed them until Clark's breath was coming fast and his mittened hands were fumbling with Bruce's hair.  "So then, I gather you're not interested in exploring the Tunnel of Love?" Bruce asked.

Clark's eyes were mischievous.  "Not here, no."

: : :

On the other side of the city, Pamela Isley strolled through her greenhouse, stopping to check the lotuses for signs of blight.  The rhododendrons were close to flowering now;  she made a mental note to harvest a little of the pollen next week for the next sequence of tests. 

Being one of the top biochemists for Stagg Industries did have its perks, she mused as she brushed past some of her favorite ferns, her hands absent-mindedly caressing the delicate fronds.  They shivered at her touch and she smiled approvingly:  the genetic alterations for touch-sensitivity seemed to be coming along nicely.  Simon Stagg didn't care what she did in her spare time as long as she continued to create the cosmetics and perfumes he could make a profit from;  fortunately a mind as brilliant as hers could do in a few hours the work the rest of the staff had to slave over for weeks.  This left her a great deal of time for her...side projects.

She stopped at the door in the back of the greenhouse, waiting for the red light of the retinal scanner to grant her access.  Only Isley was able to access this room. 

At least until a year ago, when she had modified the scanner to allow in one other person.

Stepping into her personal lab, she frowned at the sight of her erstwhile lab partner washing beakers.  "What's with that prank you pulled at the airport?" she asked irritably.  "That didn't serve any purpose at all."

Jonathan Crane's glasses glinted light back at her, his ice-blue eyes, as usual, so transparent that they became opaque again.  "On the contrary, my dear Pamela.  My first true success with an induced phobia!  Fear of flying is a fairly easy one to trigger, it turns out, but one must start somewhere.  One small step for a phobia, one giant leap for fear, to coin a phrase.  Not something to be mocked, no, not at all."  He smiled beatifically.

Isley grimaced.  She hated the way Crane made her feel uncomfortable, with his creepy, almost mystical fervor.  "Well, next time find some way to make some money off your test runs.  Your rent is due next week."  If she hadn't needed the money so very badly...

Still, Isley had to admit that this last year working with Crane had been very...educational as well.  It was Crane who had taught her that perhaps she had been too limited in focusing on creating plants that could defend themselves physically, that it was time to look at more...psychological methods.  Their research complemented each others' well--Crane studying her plants to work on his toxins, Isley studying his toxins to learn more about how to protect the plants.

She eyed Crane with distaste as he began to mix up a new batch of something cloudy and scarlet, muttering to himself.  The man was motivated by only the coldest, most abstract of passions:  power, knowledge, control.  He had no love in his heart.

Isley ran a finger over the plump, shining leaf of one of her favorite jade plants.  "Who's the prettiest Crassula argentea in the lab?  You are!  Yes, you!" she crooned softly, apologizing as she broke off a bud for genetic analysis.  Love was in her heart like a blooming flower, like a twining vine.  She would use science not to glorify herself, not to gain power for its own sake, but to help the things she loved.  She would be a new Eve tending the Garden of Eden.

Jonathan Crane--like all the human race--was merely a means to that end.

Chapter Text

Fic: Gotham Nocturne, Chapter 2/9 (Music of the Spheres)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Two
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: NC-17
Summary:  Jim Gordon has a visitor among the trash cans, and Bruce forgets a very important date.
Word Count: 1700

Jim Gordon lifted the lid from the trash can behind his apartment and dropped the black plastic bag in, startling a few rats.

"What happened at the bank last night?" 

Jim was pleased that he hardly flinched at all at the sound of the hoarse, gravely voice.  He looked up to see the Batman crouched on a fire escape, peering down at him.  He shoved his glasses up on his nose, squinting a little in the dark, painfully aware that it made him look rabbitty.  "If my daughter ever notices that Batman is showing up to chat with me every few weeks, I'll never hear the end of it, you know."

One corner of the grim mouth--didn't lift, but looked for a moment as if the possibility of lifting were not entirely out of the question.  "The bank," Batman prompted again, patiently.

Jim swung the hand still holding the round metal lid in a vague motion.  "Robbery.  But you already know that."

"Where were the guards?"

Jim sighed.  "They were on duty.  A masked man walked in and dropped some firecrackers on the floor.  The guards panicked and ran away."

"Ran away.  From firecrackers."

"We interviewed them.  They said the noise startled them.  Well, they said it scared the hell out of them.  They couldn't explain it.  They dropped their guns and ran away."

A growling noise that sounded more ruminatory than threatening.  "And the man just walked in and took the money."

"He didn't bother to blow the safe;  he seemed content with the cash that hadn't been locked up yet.  Not a very thorough job."  Jim replaced the trash can lid with a metallic bang.

"Lygerophobia.  Fear of sudden loud noises."

Jim glanced sharply up at the figure above him.  "I know.  We gave the guards the anti-toxin you came up with last year and it didn't seem to help, although the fear seems to be starting to dissipate now.  Seems to last six, seven hours.  And yes, the man on the security tapes seemed about the right height and build."

This time the growl was threatening, if not directed at Jim.  "We always knew he'd be back."

"We don't know for sure it's him."

"Not yet."

The interview seemed at an end.  "I'll spare you the trouble of disappearing and head inside," Jim said wryly.

"By the way, Lieutenant Gordon."  He turned to look back--and this time he did start;  Batman was on the ground and right next to him, his voice pitched even lower.  "Your daughter is well aware of the fact I stop by.  I'm sure you know about the webcam in her room, but there's one tucked in the eaves that you might not be aware of.  That one was a bit tricky to deactiovate."  This time the corner of his mouth did lift.

Jim Gordon buried his face in his hands for a moment.  "I'm sorry," he muttered.  When he looked up again, he was alone.

: : :

The Fortress was never warm, exactly, but Kal had instructed it to raise the temperature enough that Bruce could remove the cowl, the better to squint at the readouts from the computer.  "So it's saying...lost, medicine--oh, it means anti-toxin--lost potency..."  He frowned.  "It's saying the anti-toxin has lost its potency over time?"

"No, you've missed the modifier, it's saying that it's clear it hasn't lost any potency over time," Kal noted, pointing to the key symbols.

Bruce harrumphed slightly, then sighed.  "So Crane has a new formula of toxin."

"Maybe it isn't him at all.  That isn't how his toxin worked when you last encountered him, right?"

Bruce nodded and absently ran a hand through his hair.  "The toxin based on al-Ghul's formula triggered a sort of panphobia--a generalized terror of all things.  If this is his work, it's a triggered phobia--a very different kind of thing."

"Maybe he's managed to bottle the essence of Gotham this time around.  That would do it."  Bruce shot Kal a glare and Kal grinned sheepishly.  "Can you make a new antidote?"

"Not without a sample to work from, and there hasn't been any to go on yet."  Batman stepped away from the crystalline readout and paced absently back and forth across the icy platform.  Above him the shining, slanted spires of the Fortress rose in silent beauty against the black sky, stars peeking through the crystal lattices.  The looming crystals glowed softly, hints of blue and violet and amber at their hearts.  "I need more data.  If it is Crane, he'll strike again.  He'd never be content with just a few isolated experiments."  A pivot, his boots crunching on frosted crystal.  "More data.  I hate waiting."

Kal shifted from his own computer readout to hover in front of Bruce, just out of reach of the platform.  He rarely hovered in either Gotham or Metropolis, but here in the Fortress he always seemed more willing to indulge his Kryptonian side, a butterfly spreading its wings to catch the starlight, strange and exotic.  Beautiful.

"Bruce.  Do you know what today is?"  Kal's smile was sweet and guileless, his eyes limpid.  Bruce felt his mouth go suddenly dry.

"Today's..."  He shook his head wordlessly, staring at the face like cut-crystal, eyes the cool blue of glaciers.  "What's today?"

A hint of disappointment on his lover's face.  "Bruce, it's Valentine's Day.  How could you forget?"  The hints of light in the Fortress crystals were a low indigo, throbbing faintly.

Bruce swallowed hard.  "I'm sorry."

Kal's smile was serene.  "I got you something."  He held it out:  a crystal on a loop of some impossibly fine silk, about as long as his hand.  Bruce took it and held it against the violet light;  something at the center of the crystal glinted at him.  He looked closer to find, deep in the heart of the crystal, his symbol and Kal's etched into the depths.  The two symbols were connected, twining in an endless loop that spiraled as the crystal turned in Bruce's hands.  The symbols glimmered faintly, like threads of starlight.

Bruce stared at it for a long time, caught by its beauty, aware at a visceral level of Kal's bright eyes on him, watching his reaction.  "Thank you," he whispered.  "It's perfect."

"Yes."  Kal's voice was low and intense. 

"I have nothing for you," Bruce said softly, meeting Kal's eyes.

The dim purple light sparked for just a moment into an incandescent white, but Kal's face stayed perfectly still.  "I suggest you think of something appropriate to give me in return, then, Bruce."

Bruce stared at him, feeling the pulse hammering in his body.  Then he slowly sank to his knees.  "I have only myself," he said, bowing his head and spreading his hands.  He was hard, so hard already, aching against the constraints of the armor.

"That will do," said Kal, his voice full of laughter, and Bruce looked up to find him floating naked, pale and burning against the crystals and the black night sky.  Kal lowered himself against one of the huge, slanting crystals, coming to rest against it, nearly standing.  It glowed white as he touched it, then subsided back into indigo.  "Come here to me."

Bruce jumped from his platform to stand in front of Kal, who smiled sweetly again and made an imperious gesture with his hand;  Bruce dropped to his knees once more and kissed the inside of Kal's thigh, the skin cool against his lips.  Kal shivered and buried his hands in Bruce's hair, lines of ice against Bruce's scalp.  "Pleasure me, forgetful one," he whispered, and Bruce smiled and brushed his mouth over silky balls, enjoying the way they shifted with Kal's arousal, a throaty moan echoing among the crystals, coaxing the light upward into sparkling blue.

"Bruce, Bruce...cruel love, thoughtless love, give me your mouth..." Bruce pressed kisses all around Kal's cock, licking and teasing, until the crystals were shining turquoise and Kal was repeating "Give me...give me..." as if he had forgotten any other words.  Then he slipped Kal's cock into his mouth in one swift motion, savoring the stuttering cry that made the crystals ring around them, sucking fiercely, Kal's fingers clenching in his hair, his own arousal a red veil that turned everything to fire.

He lost himself in the rhythms of Kal's body, the shifting, leaping tides of the act, lost himself in the feel of the soothing weight in his mouth and the pressure of his own desire.  He could hear Kal talking, his voice sweet and dreamy, fragments of sound among the increasing brightness of the light around them:  "...My Bruce, my hope, my everything, all I need, the only gift I'll ever need...your mouth, your tongue, yes, like that, like could I need things from you, talismans and trinkets, ah, Rao, when I have all that matters, this--" his voice was tight with lust and approaching climax, the crystals around them sparking gold and silver light, "--this, right now, this--"

Kal's voice shifted into wordless rapture, hips bucking, and Bruce held his strange angel against a pillar of blazing light, sucking greedily, joy and salt sweetness in his mouth.  All the crystals of the Fortress chimed in unison with Kal's voice, light flaring and blazing around them, the heart of the aurora.

As Kal's shudders subsided, Bruce slid upward, pressing kisses along the pale body.  Kal's face was flushed, his hair wild with static, clinging to the crystal behind his head like a dark halo.  Bruce brushed Kal's hair away from the smooth surface, hearing the crackle of energy, and Kal pulled him close to kiss and taste and laugh into his mouth. 

"It's not fair," Bruce murmured.

"What isn't?" Kal said, his voice lazy and low as it always was after they finished this game.

"That I always get two gifts on Valentine's Day," Bruce said against Kal's throat, tasting the pulse of his laughter.  "My birthday is next week, and I say it's your turn to be the errant lover."  Bruce dropped his voice to a husky purr, "I promise I'll be very inventive with my punishment."

The crystals around them hummed contentedly;  Kal's voice echoed the sound.  "If you punish as delightfully as you apologize, I'll be looking forward to my turn."

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne Chapter 3 (3/9)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Three
Characters/Pairings:  Clark/Bruce, Leslie Thompkins, Pamela Isley, Jonathan Crane
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  A phobia attack at a Gotham hospital deepens Batman and Superman's suspicions about the culprit behind them.
Word Count: 1600

Pamela Isley sauntered across the lab to peer over Crane's shoulder at his computer screen.  Crane didn't bother to try and block her view--Isley suspected it was because he believed she was incapable of understanding the formulae and models scrolling by.  That he was largely correct merely irritated her more.

But she was picking up enough to make her own research much more interesting.  Botanopsychology was an exciting new field.

Very exciting indeed.

"Any luck on the one you're supposed to be making for me?" she asked.

Crane sighed.  "Dendrophobia is surprisingly difficult to synthesize.  The proportions of different neurotransmitters are different in every case, and as a result some phobias are relatively easy to induce while others are quite difficult.  However, I've recently managed some groundbreaking advances in specific types of phobias.  Why, just last week I successfully induced folivoraphobia in a group of people in a local mall.  Or at least I think I did."  He frowned absently.  "It's very difficult to test for a fear of tree sloths."

Isley wondered if his recent breakthroughs were at all attributable to her own experiments--namely her flooding the lab with a new plant enzyme that should sharpen mental acuity and insight.  She certainly was having some extremely promising flashes of insight lately, especially in the classes of neurotransmitters linked to euphoria and sexual arousal. 

But there was no need to share those discoveries with Jonathan Crane, certainly not.  Let him work on fear for its own sake, while she worked on how to control people and get some concrete results in the world.

"This isn't the point, anyway," Crane was muttering, tapping at his keyboard.  "All these specific phobias are just experiments.  What I'm looking for is something...different."  He glanced up at her and smiled, a sudden grin full of almost childish glee.  Against her will Isley felt a shiver go down her back--a base mammalian response, just the kind of thing she wanted to escape from.  "But the next experiment should produce an edifying set of data indeed."

: : :

Leslie Thompkins was sitting in her office at Gotham General Hospital, her head buried in her hands.  A clock on the wall was ticking loudly, the hands almost at eleven, but there was no other sound beyond the rain on the glass.

"Dr. Thompkins."  Leslie flinched at the sound of the dark, hoarse voice, then recoiled from her window.  The shadowed shape crouched on the sill made no move as she recovered herself. 

"You must be the Batman," she said a bit breathlessly after a moment.  "It's a--pleasure to make your acquaintance."  She winced at the banality, but her mind had gone blank beyond safe formal phrases.

The dark head inclined slightly.  "The pleasure is mine."

She peered at the dark figure narrowly.  "I should have known you'd come by tonight."

"You should have?"  The voice sounded merely mildly curious below the obscuring rasp.

Leslie tapped the sheaf of papers on her desk.  "You heard about what happened here today.  To Dr. Sugiyama."

"Perhaps I have.  I'd like to hear the events from your point of view."

She lifted her chin.  "Why should I tell you anything?"

There was a long pause.  The dark figure cleared his throat.  "Please."

Leslie's shoulders slumped.  "Mike--Dr. Sugiyama.  He was in the middle of a very tricky heart bypass this morning.  Suddenly everyone in the operating room was terrified of the blood."  She looked up at Batman.  "Gotham's finest medical staff, suddenly afraid of blood?  It makes no sense."

"It doesn't, no."

She touched the folder on her desk, the smiling face of the man paperclipped to the front of it.  "The other staff all fled the room, but Dr. Sugiyama stayed behind.  He must have been as afraid as any of them, but he stayed.  He managed to close up the incision and save the patient's life.  But--"  She felt tears stinging her eyes.  "It--it broke his mind.  He hasn't spoken, he hasn't responded since, he does nothing now but stare at his hands."  Leslie had washed off the blood, speaking to him gently, telling him how brave he had been.  He had merely stared down, unspeaking, rocking slightly, locked in his own mind.

She heard the rustle of papers, looked up to see Batman going through the file.  "Sugiyama," he said.  "A good surgeon."

"The best," she said defiantly.  "And a good man." 

Batman turned another page.  "A friend of yours."  It didn't sound quite like a question.

"He is."  She took a breath, wondered if she was insane to say this.  "He was also a good friend of Thomas Wayne's."

No reaction from the vigilante, and she wondered if certain guesses, certain intuitions based on cryptic statements by Alfred Pennyworth and her own knowledge of a small, solemn boy and an angry young man--if they were merely the delusions of a fond old woman.  Then Batman put the folder down and looked at her directly.  "Thank you for talking to me," he said, the polite words belying the gravelly growl.  "I'll find who did this to your friend."  He slipped out the window without a sound and left her alone.

The rain was loud on the glass.  Leslie stared at the medical file and remembered another day of sorrow, another day of rain.

Black umbrellas were spread against the steady drizzle as they filed out of the cemetery.  Leslie caught a glimpse of the boy's face, pale and silent.  Alfred Pennyworth was holding an umbrella over his small form, staring into the rain.

Mike Sugiyama was holding her arm, helping her around the puddles on the muddy ground.  As they passed by the child, he stopped suddenly, crouching in the rain in front of Bruce.  His overcoat trailed in the mud as he gazed at the boy, who looked back at him solemnly.

"Here.  Wait."  Mike rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper, a spare receipt.  A few quick folds and he held the transformed paper in front of him:  a tiny frog.  "You can make it hop, see?"  He tapped its tail and it bounced in the palm of his hand.  "It's yours, here," he said.  The boy stared at him.  "I know, it's not much.  I'm sorry."

Bruce reached out and took the frog delicately from Mike's palm.  "Thank you," he said gravely.

Mike stood up, almost reached out to pat the boy's head, stopped himself.  "Well.  You're welcome," he said.  He rejoined Leslie and took her arm again.  "That was pathetic," he muttered fiercely.  "The boy's lost his parents and I give him a paper frog.  Useless."

"Hush," Leslie said hastily, looking back at the boy, who was still staring down at the origami frog.  "We do what we can, Mike.  It's never enough, but that isn't what matters.  We do the little we can.  And we hope."  She gave his arm a squeeze, and Mike sighed as they made their way out of the cemetery, curtains of rain slowly drawing between them and the boy at his parents' grave.

: : :

Bruce was running tests on samples taken from the operating room where the attack had happened, trying to find any trace of the fear toxin.  A window on his computer popped up:  "Any luck?" 

The grim line of Bruce's mouth softened just a little and he tapped his temple to activate the receiver.  "Sorry.  Got running the tests and forgot to turn this on."  He grimaced.  "I'm sorry I couldn't make it there for breakfast.  I know it's the fifth time in a row something's called me away."

"Only the fourth."  Clark's voice was warm and peaceful in his ear;  Bruce closed his eyes for a moment and leaned into the sound.  "Our shining ladies require a fair amount of time, Bruce.  That's part of the deal."

"Shining ladies."  Bruce snorted inelegantly, watching data scroll by.  "Gotham is many things, but she's rarely a lady."

"She's a bitch queen and you wouldn't have her any other way, my love."

As always, hearing Clark use such language pulled a chuckle out of Bruce.  "I suppose not."

"Shall I let you get back to work?  I should get out to patrol soon, as long as breakfast is off."

"No problem, I can take just a second while this next sample processes.  No luck so far, though."  He sighed.  "Crane has to have access to a lab, and a fairly sophisticated one, to be producting such complex toxins.  Thorne might have the capacity, as would S.T.A.R. labs, and they have a branch here.  There are a handful of pharmeceutical and chemical companies--Revonne, LaraMae, Stagg Industries--with the facilities.  But he isn't brewing this stuff up out of a kitchen somewhere.  It's just a matter of figuring out who's giving him the access."

"Any word on the doctor, the one who had the breakdown?"

Bruce shook his head.  "He's semi-catatonic.  I've arranged to have him cared for at the Sunninger Institute outside Gotham.  No way I'm letting Arkham get its claws into him.  Maybe...maybe they can get through to him.  Somehow."

"I hope so."

"It's not much."  Bruce reached out and gently tapped a little frog made of yellowed paper, set it hopping on his desk.  "But we do the little we can.  And we hope."

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne (4/9)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Four
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce, Pamela Isley, Jonathan Crane
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: Hard R
Summary:  While trouble brews, it's Bruce's birthday, and Clark takes his turn at forgetting important days.
Word Count: 2100

Pamela Isley whirled as a beaker shattered against the wall of her lab.  "Control yourself, Crane!" she seethed.  "Damn it, that enzyme wasn't cheap and that was the last we had.  You idiot!"

Jonathan Crane was transported by ice-cold fury.  "Don't you dare call me an idiot!  I'm a genius!  It's that doctor!  That cursed, imbecilic doctor couldn't have resisted my toxin enough to save that patient's life!  It's impossible!  The sample must have been weak--must have gotten diluted somehow."  He glared at his notebook as if debating whether to send it flying after the beaker.  "There's no other explanation for it."

Isley shrugged;  Crane's numbers had been perfect, as far as she could tell.  There had been no flaw in the formula she could see.  She couldn't come up with any rational reason the doctor had been able to resist its effects as long as he had either.  "Look on the bright side--it did snap his mind to do it," she said placatingly.

Crane flung his arms wide in exasperation.  "A fear toxin that can be resisted is hardly worthy of the name.  I must find the weakness, weed it out.  When I meet him again, I have to be ready.  One doesn't merely experiment on him, no.  He's the fulcrum, the alpha of fear."  He scowled blackly at the crumpled newspaper in his hand.  "He's out there, laughing at me, knowing my toxins are flawed.  But I shall exceed him.  Transcend him."  He smoothed out the newspaper and started leafing through it.  "It's time to do something big.  Something dramatic.  Something to prove that the Scarecrow is not to be forgotten, that terror shall walk the streets of Gotham once more."

His laugh was like something from an old horror film;  Isley hid her shudder as much as possible and went back to her work.

: : :

Batman was poring over the personnel records for all the major pharmaceutical companies in Gotham, looking for discrepancies, hints, anything that might lead him to Crane.  The man was brilliant, and some of the moguls of Gotham might be willing to overlook his criminal record to try and profit from his genius.

"Any luck?"  Clark's voice was right behind him rather than in his ear.

"Nothing so far, but I do believe I'll be keeping a close eye on some of the major chemical manufacturers during patrol from now on."  He turned to see Clark standing in his rumpled business suit, blinking behind his glasses, and frowned.  "The cave is secure, you know.  You can wear the uniform here, you don't have to be Clark."  They had agreed that publicly Superman was forbidden to be in Gotham, but Clark had come to extend that to private as well;  the red and blue costume almost never appeared in Batman's city, or his cave, or his home.

Clark grimaced slightly.  "I feel better as Clark here."

Batman stood to slip a gauntleted hand under the suit coat and dress shirt, running it over taut muscle.  "It just feels odd, being in full Grim Stalker of the Night mode while you're hanging out in a regular old suit."

Clark sighed and leaned into the touch.  "I like it.  I like being normal old Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter and boyfriend of the Dark Knight of Gotham."

"Normal," Bruce snorted, brushing his fingers over Clark's nipples until the other man crooned like a choir of nightingales.  "Yes, that's you, all right."

Clark's smile was wide and almost lazy.  "Just a farm boy from Kansas, that's me, who happened to somehow catch the eye of the Caped Avenger."

Batman slipped his other hand around to the back to Clark's neck, pulling him close for a kiss.  "Is my farmboy lover ready to go out to dinner?  I've got reservations at the Apex."

Clark looked surprised, his eyes wide and guileless.  "Sure, what's the occasion?"

Bruce didn't bother to hide his smirk.  This was going to be fun.  "Oh, I'll tell you when we get there."

: : :

The lights of Gotham spread out beneath Clark from his vantage point at the highest restaurant in Gotham. The food at the Apex wasn't the best, but Bruce liked the restaurant because it was a convenient place to see and be seen. Clark suspected he also liked the chance to look out over his whole city.

Clark liked it because here, high above the city, the low bass rhythm was soft enough to become soothing again.

Bruce sat across the table from Clark, white linen and crystal between them, his dark eyes watching the clientele with sharp interest. He might be noting what the latest fashions in Gotham were, or keeping an eye on who seemed to be dating whom. Perfectly innocuous playboy habits which Bruce tended to put to other uses. “Detective work among the upper crust is largely a matter of following fashion and gossip,” he said once with a grin when Clark called him on it. “Who's dressing beyond their means, who is snubbing whom—these are all important clues.”

“And of course it's not that you like dressing well or knowing the dirt on people for its own sake,” Clark had responded teasingly, which had earned him an exaggeratedly frosty bat-glare.

“You're smiling,” Bruce said now, breaking into Clark's reverie. “Be careful or I might start assuming you're enjoying yourself in my city.”

Clark smiled back easily. “I am enjoying myself, as a matter of fact. Gotham's a great city. It's just...hard for me to, you know, wear my work clothes here.”

Bruce frowned, reaching out to take his hand. “You've mentioned that before. I mean, in public is one thing, but...I don't understand the reluctance otherwise.”

Clark sighed. He had tried to explain this in the past and the words always seemed to get muddled. “It's the rhythm of the city, Bruce. When I'm like this--” he indicated the suit, the glasses, “--Gotham lets me be part of the rhythm. When I'm working, though...I'm out of sync. Nothing comes together right. If I try to help a kitten out of a tree in Gotham, it's likely to fall and break a leg. I can't...find the right harmony.  It's all...dissonant.”

Bruce's hand was warm around his, his smile affectionate. “We'll strike the right chord together someday, I promise.”

One of the things Clark loved about Bruce Wayne was his empirical mind, his logic and common sense. But when it came to certain topics, he could never seem to make Bruce see that there was more than could be measured, more than could be gauged by modern science.

For Kal, the stars were always more than balls of ignited gases.  And Gotham was more than a city.

But each time he tried to explain, the words were clumsy and awkward, and Bruce assumed he was talking in pretty metaphors.  He always gave up trying to explain with a vague sense of guilty relief, the inevitable postponed just a bit longer.  Just a bit.

Bruce's fond smile went just the tiniest bit predatory as he finished his wine.  "Clark," he said in a voice like velvet, "You know what today is, right?"

Thoughts of stars and cities vanished in the prickling thrill of tension that went through Clark's body, but he managed to smile blandly.  "It's...Tuesday, right?  Is there something special about it?  I've been trying to figure out why you brought me here." 

A flicker of mockery in Bruce's eyes;  Clark just wasn't as good at this side of the game as Bruce.  "Clark, you thoughtless boy," purred Bruce.  "It's my birthday."

Clark opened his eyes wide.  "Golly, Bruce, is it really?  I've been so busy at work, and I just--"  He cut off as Bruce's hand came to rest on his knee under the table and swallowed hard.  "I, uh...I'm sorry?"

Bruce's hand tightened on his knee, very slightly.  "I can't believe you forgot my birthday, Clark.  I'm hurt.  I really am."

Clark resisted the impulse to flutter his eyelashes at Bruce and simper.  "I'll have to find some way to make it up to you somehow, uh, later."

"Later?"  Bruce's smile went very dangerous for a moment.  He dropped his voice so low no one but Clark could possibly hear it it, let it rasp against Clark's eardrums like the very finest of sandpaper.  "Why not now?"  As Clark gaped at him, Bruce went on, "Maybe I should tell my careless lover to suck me off right here, hmmm?"

The croon in Bruce's voice made Clark go hot all over, the weight of his arousal heavy and solid.  Suddenly he didn't need to feign being flustered and uncomfortable.  "Bruce, wouldn't...right here..."

"I happen to own this restaurant, you know."  Smug satisfaction in the low voice.  "I'm the Prince of Gotham.  They wouldn't dare say a thing if I got you down on your knees right now, if I put my cock in your beautiful mouth right in front of them all."

They might not, at that.  Dizzy lust stormed across Clark like a hurricane.  Bruce's whisper continued in his ear like a serenade.  "But that might be a bit much, I'll admit.  On the other hand, I'm sure not a soul here would interfere if I gave you a hand job right now."  Bruce's hand twitched on Clark's knee a bare fraction and Clark's erection yearned toward it.  "I could just slide my hand up and undo your fly, have you out and stroking you under the table right now.  Teach you not to forget important days by jacking you off in front of all Gotham."

Clark tried to say something but seemed only able to gasp as Bruce's hand tightened, caressing and squeezing his knee as if it were Clark's cock under his hand.  "Like this," Bruce murmured.  "I'd rub you like this."  Bruce's eyes were half-veiled by long lashes, consuming the look on Clark's face avidly.  "And you'd blush just like you're doing right now, and then your eyes would go all sultry and aroused...yes, just like that.  Oh, you'd look gorgeous and feel so good, all hot and silky in my hand, getting harder..."

Clark didn't think that was possible anymore.  Bruce's thumb slid up his inseam maybe a half-inch and Clark felt his whole body cramping with arousal, as fierce and hot as if Bruce were really doing what he was describing in that low and smokey voice.  "Bruce," he said, his voice breaking almost to a whimper, unsure for a second if he was still play-acting or not, "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday, just don't..."

"Don't?"  Bruce's smile was lazy and pleased.  "Don't make you feel good, don't show off your beautiful cock to the envious hordes of Gotham?"  Bruce's hand squeezed again and there was nothing outwardly lascivious about any of it, but Clark was hot and dizzy as dexterous fingers caressed his knee knowingly.  "But I'd want everyone to see how I can reduce you to speechlessness, how I can make you so hot and hard that you can barely think.  I'd want everyone here to have a chance to see you trying not to come at my touch, see you struggling to keep your composure--like you are now, Clark--see you failing and grabbing at the table, maybe finally shoving hard into my hand, so hard as you came right here in front of everyone..."

All the china on the table rattled as Clark's hands tightened on it.  "Bruce," he muttered indistinctly,  "You don't know--you're going to--to--"  His voice broke off into a grunt as Bruce's hand did something to his knee that seemed to go straight to his groin.  His balls tightened painfully, almost on the brink, and he thought incoherently that it didn't seem possible that a hand on his knee and a voice in his ear would make him come, but--

"Might I tempt the gentlemen with some dessert?"  The genteel voice of the waiter broke into Clark's daze.

Bruce smiled at the waiter, friendly and innocent, the hand on Clark's knee like steel.  "It sounds tempting indeed, but I believe I'll be having dessert at home tonight.  What do you say, Clark honey, shall we head home for some?"

Clark almost knocked the table over in his haste to get up.  "Yes, that sounds wonderful...dear." 

The look he flashed Bruce would probably have incinerated a lesser man, but Bruce merely grinned like a schoolboy.  "Yummy," he said cheerfully as he led the way out of the restaurant, Clark trailing after, filled with aching anticipation.

He was looking forward very much to being consumed.

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne (5/9)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Five
Characters/Pairings:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG-13
Summary:  Bruce plans a trap for Scarecrow.
Word Count: 2400

Bruce Wayne Plans Closing Party, Scoffs at Fears

By Gazette reporter Vicki Vale

The Triumph Hotel was one of Gotham's great landmarks in the early part of the last century.  Since then it has fallen on hard times, far from its former glory.  But Bruce Wayne has plans for the faded beauty.  A major renovation is in store for the Triumph, and Wayne is holding a farewell party to its old incarnation this Friday, inviting some of the creme de la creme of Gotham society to bid the stately building adieu.  Guests will be dressing up in their best flapper attire for a party set in the Roaring 20s.

When asked if the recent phobia attacks have him concerned, Wayne laughed.  "The only thing I'm afraid of is forgetting how to dance the foxtrot," he said.

"I don't like it.  I don't like it, I don't like it!"

"So you've mentioned.  Quite a few times."  Bruce swiveled the chair away from the computer and rose to stalk across the cave to stand nose-to-nose with Clark.  Or rather, nose-to-chest, as Clark was insisting on floating a bit to get the height advantage.  "Get back down here, Clark.  It's bad enough you're naturally taller than me without hamhanded attempts to loom."

Clark's sneakers grated slightly on the floor of the cave as he came back to earth.  He was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, the glasses off, the effect an odd compromise between the alien and the human.  He gave Bruce a mutinous glare.  "I should be there."

Bruce couldn't help laughing.  "Clark Kent asking to come to a party with me?  Do I hear Kryptonians pigs flying by?"

"I don't--"

"--like it, I know."  Bruce sighed and met Clark's worried eyes squarely.  "Clark.  I know Crane.  I know his kind--cruel and arrogant, getting their kicks from playing God.  Doctor Sugiyama's resistance to his drug will drive him into a near-frenzy.  He'll be desperate to do something to prove to Batman, to Gotham--and most importantly, to himself--that he's still the one in control.  He needs to strike somewhere to have a dramatic impact.  He will do something, the question is if we can manipulate him into doing it somewhere where we're ready for him.  This gives him a clear and simple target.  A crowd of glittering socialites, ripe for the terrorizing."  Bruce's lips thinned.  "I've got filters planted, the highest quality available.  I can get any toxin out the air quickly--and if I'm lucky, I can even get a sample of this new stuff to analyze."  He reached out and traced a delicate line across one high cheekbone.  "And you're not going because we don't know if the toxin affects you and I want to have you in reserve if things go terribly wrong.  We'll be ready for him if we pick the battleground and force his hand."

Clark reached out and adjusted Bruce's bow tie, brushing invisible lint off the tuxedo as if reassuring himself of Bruce's reality.  "I'll be listening in and ready if you need me."

Bruce covered Clark's mouth with his own.  "I know," he said as he turned to leave the cave.

The cave was much more silent in the wake of his departure.  Clark paced a few steps, turned and paced a few more in the other direction.  He sat down at the computer and slipped his glasses onto his face like a shield.  "I don't like it," he whispered to the sleeping bats.

: : :

"Mr. Wayne?"  The woman dancing with him had a warm, amused voice and sparkling green eyes under black hair in a spiky, boyish cut.  "Earth to Mr. Wayne."  Bruce groped for her name and found he couldn't remember it, although he remembered her arriving on the arm of a major industrialist;  he kicked himself mentally.  He couldn't seem to stop scanning the crowd for Jonathan Crane's lanky form, even though most likely Crane wouldn't be here to deliver the toxin in person.

At least he remembered how to dance the foxtrot.

"I'm sorry," he said, forcing himself to focus on the woman in his arms instead of ghosts and phantoms in the teeming crowd.  She looked slightly familiar.  "Have we met?"

She dimpled.  "I believe it was at a hostage-taking."

The number of hostage-takings Batman had participated in was quite high;  Bruce's attendance rate much lower.  "The art museum.  Mr. Freeze."

"I'm flattered you remember me," the woman said, the corner of her mouth crooking amusedly.

"It would be hard to forget such a daring escape plan," Bruce said with honest admiration.

She laughed as Bruce maneuvered her around the crowded dance floor.  "I'm a resourceful girl," she noted.

Bruce was opening his mouth to respond when everything shifted.  Bruce felt a prickle of horror go through him as he looked down at the woman in his arms and saw the same terror reflected in her widening emerald eyes.  With a hoarse cry, she threw Bruce from her with startling strength, recoiling backwards into another couple in the process of scrambling away from each other.  The other couple cringed away violently as well, a ripple of revulsed terror shuddering through the crowd.  Someone started screaming as they collided helplessly with other bodies in the mob, and the sound infected everyone with blind panic.  The ripple of movement became a stampede, people struggling toward doors, windows, any exit to get away from the unthinkable, grotesque contact of flesh on corrupting flesh.

Bruce's stomach was cramped with the same fear;  he dodged a woman, her eyes blank with terror, and jumped onto a table.  Pawing hands, clinging, grabbing...the table was overturned in the crush and Bruce found himself in the melee again.  No... he flinched away from the contact, resisting the involuntary urge to kick, to get the flesh away from him as fast and hard as possible.  They're still people, they're still people inside, he reminded himself even as his skin crawled as someone brushed by him, his face frozen in a rictus of horror and disgust.

"Bruce!  Bruce!  What's going on?"  Kal's voice in his ear was urgent.

Someone had flung open a window and bodies crowded the sill, the stampede pressing them further, scrambling to avoid being crushed against the iron bars across the bottom...they were twenty stories up.  "We need some help here!  Right now!" he barked, knowing no one else would hear him over the chaos.  The only person who mattered would hear him.

Shaking, he started to try and pull people away from the window, nausea twisting his guts as he laid hands on people, bile in his throat at the defiling touch of carrion flesh.  Putrescence, decay...he swallowed the urge to retch and wrenched at the crowd, trying to herd them without touching them.

The crowd surged toward the freedom of the window, and the first person dropped into space with a horrified scream.

: : :

Superman was in the air on his way to the Triumph when he saw the woman falling, dropping like a doll from the window.  He put on a burst of speed and caught her out of the air.  "I've got you, ma'am," he said politely, holding her close and safe.

The woman shrieked in horror and clawed at his face, struggling to get away.  Superman almost dropped her in his shock.  Another cry of terror above him and he looked up to see another person leap, then another, and another.

He'd never catch them all.

He had to catch them all. 

His world reduced to catching people and finding a place to put them as they wept and vomited and cursed him.  No time to apologize, just time to dash and catch the next one.  He couldn't get to the source of the problem, couldn't do anything but react, react...

"Haptophobia," a voice was saying in his ear, Bruce's voice, tight with panic, with fear.  "Haptophobia.  Fear of touch.  Haptophobia.  This is haptophobia."  His voice bit off the Latin syllables as if the dead language could explain and thus stave off the terror.

Gotham's gravity seemed to be fighting him, to be pulling her people down to her breast faster than he could keep up.  He hoped Bruce was able to do something to help up there. 

He hoped Bruce wouldn't be the person he failed to catch.

The sound of spraying water through the transmitter--someone had set off the sprinkler system, probably Bruce.  Gasps of shock cut through the screams of terror.  "Good," he whispered as he captured another falling body, this one barely feet from the ground.  "Good job, Bruce."  The water might curtail the spread of the toxin, and maybe the shock would pull some people out of their blind panic.

"Everyone down!"  He heard Bruce's voice bark, heard the command and authority that he wasn't bothering to hide beneath the facade. 

Heard the fear under it.

"Everyone down on the floor!  Sit and then crawl to a space where you don't have to--"  Bruce's voice cut off with a choke.  "Away from everyone else.  But sit down and focus!"

Superman could hear the screams dying down to sobs as he snatched three more people from death.  The last one's hand brushed the ground as he stopped her fall, his heart pounding.  He looked up. 

There were no others. 

He floated up to peer in the window and find the room full of water, full of terrified people all sitting on the floor carefully apart from each other, many of them weeping and covering their faces to avoid looking at each other.  Bruce was standing on a chair, arms wrapped tight around his torso, shuddering.  He met Superman's eyes with a flash of anguish.  "Superman," he said weakly.  "Thank God you're here."  The playboy's voice, but sincerity under it as well. 

Sirens in the street below.  "Tell them not to touch anyone," Bruce said to Superman.  "Please."

: : :

"I'm surprised you're here, Superman," Jim Gordon said.  "I didn't think Batman allowed you into Gotham."

Kal winced at Gordon's piercing gaze and affected a haughty look.  "I heard the screams, and he didn't seem to be taking the time to show up."

"Well."  Gordon looked tired again.  "Life would be easier for all of us if you boys could learn to work together instead of doing your little alpha-male rituals."

"Do I have your permission to go, sir?"  Kal was suddenly tired of it all himself.  He had seen only glimpses of Bruce in the traumatized crowd, seen him flashing enough money to be let go early.  Kal could hear him breathing softly, the whir of bats overhead. 

He had to get to Bruce.

Gordon flapped a hand at him.  "Far be it for me to keep you here," he murmured.

Kal was in the air immediately, making his way toward the Manor in erratic bursts of speed to lose any prying eyes.  "Bruce," he whispered.  "Are you all right?  Is it all right if I come there?"

Bruce's voice was dry as autumn leaves, rustling.  "Yes.  Come here."

Through the waterfall and into the cavern, shaking off water.  Maybe the toxin had worn off, maybe Bruce's antidote had worked...

Bruce stood in the middle of the cave, still in his tuxedo, his posture stiff and awkward.  Kal met his eyes and saw the fear there; he moved further away.  "Bruce.  I shouldn't be here if you're still--"

"I need--"  Bruce swallowed hard.  "I need to--touch you."  His voice broke at the end.

"The toxin..."

"Is still there, in my system."

"So you can't..."

Anger replaced the fear in Bruce's eyes for a second.  "I can.  I won't let him...I won't let anything keep me from touching you."

Kal knew he should probably just leave, but the fierceness in Bruce's eyes seemed to keep him riveted in place.  "It will wear off in five or six hours, Bruce.  There's no reason to endanger yourself."

"You don't understand."  Bruce's voice was bleak.  "When I imagine--imagine--" he shuddered, "--touching someone, even's like putting my hands into a cesspool, corruption, mortality incarnate.  I won't let anyone or anything do that to me, I won't let my reactions to you be dictated to me.  I'll break this."  His eyes blazed.  "Nothing can keep me away from you, Kal.  Ever."

He should leave.  He shouldn't let Bruce risk his mind to prove a point.  It was weak of him to want that reassurance, to have Bruce touch him despite the fear. 

He was weak. 

"Promise you'll back off if it's too much?"

"Of course," Bruce said with a shaky smile.

Kal bit his lip.  "What should I do?"

"Just...stand perfectly still for now.  And be patient with me."  Bruce edged forward a half-step, then another.  He stopped at the third, staring at Kal's eyes fixedly.  A deep breath, and another step. 

Finally he was in front of Superman, just a few feet away.  He raised his hand into the space between them, bringing it closer with incredible slowness.  "Kal," he whispered, more to himself than to his partner.  "This is Kal."  His hand was shaking.  "This is your Kal."  The very tip of his index finger brushed Kal's cheek, and he made a terrible gulping noise, almost a retch.  "No," he said.  "This is your love.  My love." 

The finger came back and rested, feather-light, on Kal's cheekbone.  For a very long time they stood there, frozen, every muscle in Bruce's body clenched with the impulse to flee.  A trickle of sweat beaded down Bruce's temple in the cool cave air, and there were tears of strain at the corners of his eyes.  "I--I--won't--" he gritted, and brought his hand in to cup Kal's cheek.  Breath hissed through his teeth, and Kal yearned to hold him, to comfort him...but he remained perfectly still, unmoving, as Bruce's lips skinned back from his teeth and he swallowed a hoarse breath.

"No," Bruce said again, his voice shaking, as if answering a voice only he could hear.  "Beloved, incorruptible, unblemished--" his voice broke in something close to a sob, "--My adamantine love.  My heart."  Both Bruce's hands were cupping his face now, and Bruce was smiling.  "Never to be separated from me."  He stepped closer, until his body was lightly touching Kal's, the expression on his face that of fear transported into rapture, transcendent, incandescent.  "Never," he whispered, his arms lowering to slide around his lover.

They held each other, nothing more, and to be held was an ecstasy beyond most Kal had ever known.

Never to be separated from me.

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne (6/9)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Six
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce, Pamela Isley, Jonathan Crane
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Bruce is needed at a charity event, so Clark has to keep a lookout for the Scarecrow.
Word Count: 3400

"There."  Bruce pointed at the computer screen which currently had six different windows running footage from security cameras.  He froze the image:  a young woman with striking red hair in an emerald-green sheath dress slipping a glass of champagne.  The keyboard rattled and the personnel records from Stagg Industries appeared:  the same woman with her hair pulled back severely, her mouth set in a rather prim line.  "Pamela Isley.  She wasn't on the guest list."

"Perhaps she was someone else's guest, sir?"  Alfred looked over Bruce's shoulder and raised his eyebrows.  "I imagine she would have no difficulties finding a man willing to escort her."

"It might just be an interesting coincidence.  Isley might simply be a biochemist with a rich boyfriend and a love of Art Deco hotels."  His eyes narrowed.  "But someone had to get that toxin into the hotel, and as far as I can tell Crane came nowhere near it."  He glared at the images on the screen.  "She'll require some close watching from now on.  And if she wasn't someone's guest, how'd she get past the guards?"

: : :

"I want that dendrophobia formula, Crane!"  Isley heard the shrill note in her voice and cursed herself as Crane merely smiled tolerantly.  Call it women's intuition, but she could feel Fate preparing to close around them both like a Venus Flytrap.  "I delivered the toxin like you wanted, now give me the one I need!"  If she just had that formula, the world would change.  The forests would remain untouched forever;  people would regain the righteous fear of the great woods they once had.  She would save them all, the redwoods, the rainforests--every day that passed another two hundred thousand acres of rainforest died!  Couldn't Crane see that their time was running out?

Crane's calm was maddening.  "I have some promising leads, Pamela, but it's just not perfect yet."  He flashed a few spreadsheets and formula on the computer screen.  "See, here?  The neurochemical fluxes in the rat brains are still too unstable.  It'll promote a flash of panic, maybe...but not the lasting terror you need."  For a moment, he looked almost wistful.  "None of this is what I'm after anyway." 

Isley noted the dreamy quality of his eerie eyes.  The inhibition-lowering enzyme in the air seemed to be doing the trick, just as it had against the guards at the hotel.  "What exactly is it you're after, Dr. Crane?"  She gritted her teeth over giving him the title, but she knew you had to give mammals and their status games their due.

"The Philospher's Stone," Crane said with a rapt smile.  "The tabula rasa...the formula that can be transmuted into any fear at all with a bit of suggestion."  His eyes glittered, not mammalian at all but reptilian for a moment.  "Think of it.  To be able to expose someone to it and then tell them what they're afraid of, and have them bend to your will irresistibly.  It could become anything one needed.  The seed of all fear."  He sighed forlornly.  "But I'd need more funds than I have...a better lab than this place, much better...and more time.  Then they'll all bow before the Lord of Fear."

Isley almost sneered out loud.  Such intelligence, such a mighty mind...and he wasted it with his petty dreams of controlling others, of putting himself on top of the pathetic pyramid of primate society.  She knew she wasn't as theoretically brilliant as Crane, but she wasn't concerned with monkey games.  The purity of her goal was more important than abstract knowledge.  She would be the forest fire that razes in order to create new growth.  She just needed a little more time...and that damn toxin.

Crane was still staring into space.  An almost giddy smile grew on his face.  "I think I'll be going out tonight," he said softly, reaching into a drawer and pulling out his ragged burlap mask.  He pulled it on, picking up a couple of spray cans and fastening them to his belt.  "I feel like hunting."

It was the enzyme, Isley knew, filling his head with vainglorious ideas and visions.  "Crane, what are you doing?  You'll ruin it all--"

Scarecrow turned to face her with a snakelike motion, and Pamela Isley's mouth went dry at the sight of the featureless mask, staring and silent.  There was nothing under it but Crane's face, she reminded herself.  There was no nightmare beneath that stained rough cloth.  Fear was an animal's response to a threat, and she was no mere animal.

So there was no excuse for the way her knees trembled at the blank stare, the way she was unable to speak until the door closed behind Scarecrow with a soft click.  No excuse at all.

: : :

"Are you sure you don't mind, Clark?"

Buckles, heavy and solid, tightening over his skin.  Leather and kevlar encasing his neck.  Clark pulled on the black gauntlets.  "I can handle it, Bruce."

Bruce looked uncertain.  "I've been on stakeout of Isley's lab for the last four days.  It's my responsibility, not yours."

More buckles and straps making their way down the inside of his thighs.  "Your father attended this fundraiser for the Sunninger Institute every year until his death.  He was one of its founders and major contributors.  When you're in Gotham, you don't miss it."  He slipped one of the heavy black boots on, then the other.  "Besides, you want to check on Dr. Sugiyama and the security there."  The black cape slid around his shoulders with a sinuous rustle.  "This way we can cover Gotham without Superman making a second appearance in a week."

Bruce's grin was wan.  "We still need to stage a big confrontation to make up for you being here without my 'permission' last week."  The smile didn't quite reach his eyes.  "You've never done this before--played Batman.  You've said it wouldn't feel right."

Clark smiled sunnily, well aware that the combination of his smile above the grim black suit would probably cause enough mental whiplash to keep Bruce from noticing how uneasy he really was.  "I suppose it's time for me to face my fears and prove I can do this."  He gestured at the still-lowered cowl.  "Want to do the final honors?"

Bruce stepped close and tugged the cowl up over Clark's head, tucking the stray curl under it tenderly.  His hands drifted over the armored shoulders, gathering two handfuls of black cloth and knotting in it.  "You can do the voice?"

Clark pitched his voice as low as he could, feeling it rasp in his throat.  He'd practiced this until the Fortress sensors could hardly measure the difference between his voice and Batman's.  "I can do anything you need, Mr. Wayne," he grated.

Bruce's eyes widened for a moment before he got his face back under control.  "Uh...okay, you can do the voice."

Clark let his smile become a bit smug and kept his voice low.  "I believe I can perform...satisfactorily."  Then he swept the cape around them both and kissed Bruce, lifting them both off the floor of the cave until they were hovering in the middle of the cavern.  The bats, annoyed at the intrusion, swirled around them in a dark cloud, but Bruce ignored them and leaned into Clark's kiss as if embracing Batman while flying in the Batcave was perfectly natural for him.

He finally broke away, panting a bit.  "No flying while on patrol," he noted as they glided gently back down to the floor.

"Don't worry," Clark said in his own voice.  "I'm just going to keep an eye on Isley's lab, I'll try not to risk anything else."  He shifted awkwardly.  "This suit is uncomfortably tight under...certain circumstances."

Bruce kissed him again, lightly.  "Now you understand why I usually don't keep the line open while I'm on patrol.  Too risky."

Clark got into the Tumbler, starting its engine with a roar.  "You do understand this is all just an excuse for me to drive your car." 

The door swung closed on his grin and he revved the car out of the cave.

"Drive safely," Bruce said after him, knowing he could catch it with both his hearing and his transmitter.

: : :

"Nothing so far," Clark said softly for Bruce's benefit.  He had the sound turned down but could still faintly hear the clink of china and chatter of people.  "I stopped one mugging--I know I said I wouldn't risk anything else, but I wasn't just going to let someone get mugged."  The look of stark fear on the mugger's face when Batman had leapt to the ground in front of him (being careful to land with an appropriately weighty thump instead of floating) had been both shocking and somewhat gratifying.

Bruce's voice went on talking about the benefits of Italian versus French shoes with someone, but an undercurrent of laughter ran under his voice for a moment.

Clark was crouched on a fire escape above an alley, keeping an eye on Pamela Isley's greenhouse.  The greenhouse truncated to become the windowless room in back that was her laboratory.  Was it possible that Crane was in there with her?  He started to focus his eyes to check--then stopped.  The idea of using superpowers while dressed as Batman, in Gotham, was...unnerving, somehow.  Pretending to be Batman seemed to be straining some unspoken truce;  using powers would violate it entirely.

He frowned at himself.  This irrational personification of Gotham was keeping him from doing his job.  Truces, promises, the crawling feeling of being watched--all phantasms  If Crane was in that lab, he had to know.

Clark focused and looked through the walls of the lab.  Inside he could see Isley talking to someone.  His heart leapt until he realized she was just talking to a potted orchid on her desk, stroking its colored petals.  She frowned and started putting on her coat.  There were notes scattered about the room;  he narrowed his eyes to get a better look at them--

"Well, well.  What have we here?" 

Clark whirled to see the Scarecrow standing on the ground below him, gazing up, his cloth-covered face unreadable.  Deciding not to risk words, Clark gathered himself to leap at Crane, who stepped back and raised two aerosol canisters.

The vapor in the air between them misted Clark's skin;  he passed through the twin clouds of toxin and tackled Crane with a solid thump.  Flipping Crane onto his stomach, he grabbed the restraints from Batman's belt and hogtied Crane.  "No!"  Crane's voice was shrill and shocked.  "I know these formulas are right, I know it!  You should be on your knees!"  Clark ignored him, briefly thanking Rao that it seemed Kryptonian physiology was immune to Crane's toxins after all.

Crane was still choking on his outrage as Clark finished tying him and backed away, hoping Bruce could hear that Crane was captured.  Now to get to the police station, alert them to Crane's whereabouts.

He was two alleys over when he started to hear it.  His running footsteps slowed, then stopped, trying to pinpoint the source of the pulsing, fluttering rhythm. 


It was the heartbeats of all the rats in the city, perfectly synchronized.

As if that were the final piece, the foundation that had been missing, the music of the city picked up to match it, a slowly building cadence of malice.

As he stood, confused, the shadows in the alley seemed to darken, rustling, hinting at unspeakable things within them, and he could feel the music shifting to a triumphant dirge.

Something was coming.

Something vast. 

Something that could crush him without even trying, without even noticing.

But it noticed him now.

"No," he whispered.  "Stay away."

It heard him and laughed, a laugh that made the shadows twine into something solid, a net of dark music to trap him and hold him until he was found and--

Promises and risks forgotten, he launched himself into the sky.

: : :

Pamela Isley smiled down at Jonathan Crane lying trussed on the ground and pulled out a wicked little pruning knife.  Enjoying the slight flinch in Crane's eyes, she began sawing through his bonds.  "Now you owe me even more, Crane," she said as they came clear.

Crane unfolded his spindly arms and legs, rubbing at them.  "Let's get out of here before the police come."  His voice was querulous.

"The big bad Bat wasn't afraid of you?"  Isley tried not to sound too smug, but the gleam in those icy eyes indicated she hadn't succeeded.

"I don't understand it," he muttered as they slipped back to the safety of the lab.  "They were two of the safest phobias I had.  Nyctophobia and acrophobia, two of the most basic fears!"  The peevishness had been replaced by wondering disbelief.  "Darkness and could I have failed again?"

"Well, back to the drawing board," Isley said cheerfully.  "And prioritize that dendrophobia, would you, dear?"

"Certainly, Dr. Isley," he mumbled, slouching back toward his notes.

: : :

Bruce was making small talk with one of Sunninger's doctors, trying to find out how Mike Sugiyama's recovery was going without appearing to understand much of the medical terms, when he heard Crane's voice sputtering in his ear, cursing the ineffectiveness of his toxins.  He felt a blaze of triumph and had to bite down on a whoop of congratulations for his Kal.  He beamed a smile full of relief at Leslie Thompkins, who smiled back, clearly puzzled at his sudden ebullience.  He heard Clark's booted feet heavy on the street and imagined his lover all bound and buckled in black leather, looked forward to getting him out of it later...

"No," said Kal's voice in his ear, a bare whisper.  "Stay away."

Bruce felt his smile go stiff for a moment before he could make it natural again.  Then there was a sudden terrible crash, the sound of something colliding with dumpsters and trash cans.  The sound of Kal falling from the sky.  The metallic echoes faded through his head and he tried to nod as if he cared about the prattle around him.  Then he heard a new sound, a low rattling burr.  It took him a moment to place the sound. 

It was Kal's teeth chattering uncontrollably.

Now seriously alarmed, he lifted his glass to take a long sip of wine.  "Kal.  Fly away," he muttered under cover of the drink.

Kal moaned.  "Can't.  I can't fly.  I'll fall.  I'll fall into the stars, forever and ever.  I can't."  There was a scraping sound of leather on concrete, as if Kal were crawling.  "It's coming for me, Bruce."

Bruce struggled to disentangle himself from the conversation around him;  Leslie looked concerned, but all he could focus on was the ratcheting rasp of Kal's breathing.  "Bruce," his lover whispered, "She's coming for me.  She wants me--to break me, eat my heart, she's--I can't--"  Kal's voice broke into sobbing gasps and Bruce gave up all pretense and bolted for the door, not hearing the dropped glass shattering on the floor, not seeing the curious eyes making way before him.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Kal cried, no longer addressing Bruce but whatever nightmare vision loomed in front of him, "Please don't--I swear I never--Please!"

Bruce slammed the car into gear, tires shrieking as if in pain, and Kal's voice echoed the sound.  "Kal!" he yelled over the sound of the engine, the speedometer needle inching toward 100 as he raced back toward Gotham.  "It's the toxin, Kal, nothing's really there.  Nothing!"

A horrible keening, hardly human, was his only answer.  It lifted and fell endlessly, with no pause for breath, as the car inched unbearably slowly toward Gotham at a hundred and ten miles an hour.  "I'm coming, Kal," Bruce said after negotiating a few hairpin turns.  "I'm on my way back.  I'll be there soon.  Is it Isley you're seeing?  Or Ursa?  They're not real, Kal.  Whatever you're seeing, she's not real.  I'm almost there."

The keening stuttered and broke.  "Bruce?  You can't--you can't keep her away, she'll find me, she sings--I can hear her singing and laughing, and her lips are bloody and beautiful, you can't stop her."  Kal's voice was bleak.  "You won't stop her."

Bruce struggled to sound reasonable and break through the delirium.  "I'll be there soon," he said, a stop sign blurring by him in a streak of red.  "When I'm there, she'll stop.  Do you hear me, Kal?  She'll go away.  I won't let her hurt you."

Gotham's skyscrapers loomed around him now as he made his way to where Isley's lab was.  Kal had to be near there.  "Tell me where you are, Kal."

Silence.  He couldn't even hear Kal breathing, he realized suddenly.  "Kal!"  The car screeched a stop and he leapt out of it before it was done moving, running, staring down alleys. 

Silence in his ears.  Nothing but silence.  "No, no, no, damn it, no!"  Rats scuttled away from him as he searched each alley.  "Stay away from Kal, he's mine, you can't hurt him, I'll never forgive you if you hurt him, do you hear me?"  He had no idea what vision Kal was seeing, but he had nothing left now but to embrace it.  "Get away from him, get away from him, I won't let you touch him!" 

A cobblestone turned under his foot and he staggered to his knees.  As he stood, he finally saw the huddled shape of Kal in the batsuit, lying in a shadow.  "God--please--"  He rolled Kal over onto his back, touching the cool white skin.  "Kal!"

The beautiful mouth opened and Kal drew in breath with a soft gasp.  "Bruce?"  A glint of turquoise eyes within the cowl.  "Stay's too..." Black-clad hands raised to cover his ears, twisting in Bruce's grasp.  "It won't go away, her song, everyone bleeding toward death with every beat..."

"It's not real," Bruce said, feeling Kal trembling against him as he helped him rise.  "It's the fear toxin, Kal.  It's not real."

"It's too real for you to hear," Kal said like a wind over stone, empty.

He didn't say anything else as Bruce drove them home.  He was silent as Bruce and Alfred got him out of the suit, trembling, his eyes far away.  He curled against Bruce in bed, letting Bruce hold him, wordless.

Bruce woke up the next morning with the bed empty.  "Clark?" he asked the empty air, panic in his voice.

"Good morning."  The warm voice in his ear had a smile in it.  "I'm back in Metropolis.  Have to get to work soon."

Bruce shook his head as if that would help clear it.  "Are you..."

"I'm fine now.  The toxin wore off in the night."  A pause;  Bruce could hear coffee pouring into a mug.  "I'm sorry about that, about freaking out like that, letting Crane get away.  Seems fear toxin works on Kryptonians with just a slight delay."  There was rueful amusement in Clark's voice.  "And...thank you.  For coming to save me."

Bruce tried to match Clark's casual tone.  "We take turns, right?"

"You overcame it on your own," Clark said slowly.  "I...couldn't."

"I'd been exposed to something like it before," Bruce responded.  "You didn't know it would affect you, so you weren't prepared."

"Maybe," said Clark.  "That could be it."

Bruce wanted to ask what Kal had seen in his delirium the night before, but something about Clark's tone seemed to close off the possibility.  "'ll be up for dinner tonight?  Alfred's making pot pie."

The hesitation on the other end was so small it could have been missed entirely.  "Gosh, there's going to be a lot of work at the Planet today, I think.  And I should put in a full patrol tonight after missing last night."

"Well then, maybe tomorrow."

"Maybe tomorrow, yes," Clark agreed.

But he didn't come to Gotham the next day.

Or the day after that.

He talked to Bruce on the headset, chatted with him on the computer, even invited Bruce to Metropolis for dinner.  Nothing in his way of talking to Bruce seemed changed at all;  he joked and flirted and complained about work the same as always.

But he still didn't come to Gotham.

Chapter Text

Fic: Gotham Nocturne (7/10)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Seven
Pairing:  Clark/Bruce, Lois Lane
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Lois's concern for her co-worker is interrupted by the arrival on the scene of a new player.
Word Count: 3000

Clark Kent was bent over his desk, typing furiously--or as furiously as one could type while deliberately keeping one's rate non-superhuman. 

"Hey, Smallville."  He looked up to see Lois Lane standing by his desk, her arms crossed and one foot tapping, scowling.

"Uh, hello there, Lois.  Is there--is there something wrong?"  He wracked his brains for what might be upsetting her and came up with nothing.

"You're working late again tonight," she said accusingly.

"Well, yes.  Is that a--a problem?"

"You've worked late here the last four nights."  Her scowl was firmly in place.  Since when did Lois get angry that he was working hard?  As he stared at her, puzzled, she bit her lip and the frown transmuted suddenly into concern.  "Are things okay between you and Bruce?  I mean, he hasn't--if that jerk has broken your heart, I swear I'll--" She balled up a fist and shook it menacingly. 

Clark burst out laughing.  "No, it's not that, Lois.  Things are fine with Bruce and I.  Really!"  he added as she continued to look dubious.  "We're both just really busy right now, it's no big deal."  As if on cue, his cell phone beeped.  "See, that's him right now.  May I...?"  He picked up the phone when she nodded:  "Hi honey!"

On the other end of the line, Bruce snorted.  "Hello, light of my life.  You know, I was just thinking, it's been a while since I've been to Metropolis.  Mind if I come over and spend some time there, maybe stay a night or two?"

Clark felt a rush of gratitude.  "That'd be great.  I'll see you soon, we'll go get Italian somewhere."  He flipped the phone closed and smiled brightly at Lois.  "See?  No problems at all."

Lois looked relieved.  "I just..."  She said a hand on Clark's shoulder.  "I worry about you, Clark.  I'm glad Bruce takes good care of you."

"He does," Clark said warmly.

As Lois moved away to get back to work, he heard Bruce's voice in his ear.  "Don't say I never did you any favors, Clark.  I know that woman, if she got it in your head I was neglecting you, we'd both be in for a world of hurt."

Clark bent over his report again, knowing he was blushing slightly.  Usually he was the one who kept the channel open and listened to Bruce's daily life;  he found himself oddly moved that Bruce was listening in on him.

He typed in companionable silence for a few moments.  Then Bruce cleared his throat slightly.  "I've missed you, Clark.  I don't know...what the problem is, exactly, but I can tell you need a little space right now.  I hope you don't mind me coming to spend some time with you."

To Clark's surprise, the report he was typing blurred slightly.  Unable to keep silent, he whispered, "I miss you too.  Please come."

"I'm packing a bag as we speak," Bruce said.  Clark could hear drawers opening and shutting.  "I think red silk pajamas rather than black this time."  He began humming to himself, some song from the 1980s, and Clark joined in under his breath, smiling.  People had noticed that he hummed to himself a lot more since beginning to date Bruce Wayne, but they attributed it to happiness rather than having an irreverent playboy singing slightly off-key in his ear.

Not many people knew it was both.

"Ms. Lane?"  The voice that cut into his secret duet was polite, but there was something under it that made Clark look up.  Standing next to Lois's desk was a tall, dark-skinned woman with a build like a refrigerator, wearing a nicely-tailored black suit.  Her hair was cut short and severe, and her face had the expression of a woman accustomed to being obeyed.  Clark felt himself tense involuntarily, his hum catching in his throat.

Lois looked up from her paperwork.  "Yes, may I help you?"

The woman reached into a pocket and flashed a badge at Lois.  "Amanda Waller.  U.S. government."  Putting the badge back, she crossed her arms over her chest.  "Statuesque" hardly did the effect justice.  "I need to talk to your boy in blue."

Lois stood, looking absurdly fragile next to Waller.  "He's not my boy--" she started, but Waller cut her off with a slice of her hand. 

"Skip it.  How do you get in touch with him?"

Lois eyed her warily.  "Most of the times I've talked to him we've met on the roof of the Planet, but--"

"Let's go, then."  Waller headed for the elevators. 

Lois shot Clark a worried look and started to follow.  "Uh, should I...?"  Clark asked, standing, and Lois grimaced assent. 

Clark trailed them up to the roof, half-expecting Waller to protest his presence, but she ignored him completely.  Once on top of the Planet, Waller turned to Lois.  "All right.  Call him up."

Lois's eyes sparked.  "I don't have some kind of Kryptonian dog whistle, lady.  He doesn't just come when I call him."

"You must have some way of signaling him."  If anything, Waller looked bored.  "Hidden in a ring, or a watch, or something."

"I have no such thing!"  Lois shook her head in disbelief.  "The only times I can really count on him showing up are when I'm in danger or falling from the sky or something," she said jokingly.

Waller shrugged.  "Very well, then."  A sharp motion, and she had Lois's hands in a vise-like grip, dragging her toward the edge of the roof. 

"What the hell are you doing?"  Lois yelped as Clark made ineffectual panicking motions.  She slammed one of her high heels into Waller's foot, but Waller didn't even seem to notice it, pulling her inexorably toward the edge.

"What does it look like?" Waller said stoically.

"Clark!  A little help here, Clark?"  Lois said as her feet were dragged over tarpaper, trying to sound sanguine and mostly succeeding.

"Gosh!  I'll--I'll--go get Perry to stop her!" 

Clark bolted for the door, wincing as always at Lois's exasperated "Clark Kent!" behind him. 

Moments later, Superman rose into the air in front of Waller and the struggling and cursing Lois, feet from the edge.

Waller nodded.  "Kal-El.  Nice to meet you.  Amanda Waller, U.S. government."

Superman glanced pointedly at Lois.  "Was that necessary?"

"Apparently."  Waller released Lois's hands and addressed Superman as if the reporter wasn't even there anymore.  "Jonathan Crane.  Scarecrow."

Kal matched her laconic tone.  "What about him?"

"The recent phobia attacks in Gotham are almost certainly his work.  The federal government wants him in custody."

Kal raised one eyebrow.  "I don't interfere in Gotham," he said shortly, hoping his sudden unease didn't show.

"The Batman won't rest until he's captured.  Once he captures Scarecrow, the federal government intends to take custody of Crane."  One massive shoulder lifted in an eloquent shrug.  "If there's some collateral damage...well, you'll be free to work in Gotham again."

Kal felt his blood run cold at Waller's implications, but he kept his face remote.  "That has nothing to do with me."

For the first time, Waller's face showed an emotion:  contempt.  "You listen to me, alien.  You and Batman may be enemies, but as far as the government is concerned, you're no better than he is.  You both seem to think you can operate outside the laws--that makes you both nothing more than vigilantes in our book.  And we'll treat you like it if we have to.  Both of you."  Her eyes narrowed.  "Are you absolutely sure, Kal-El of Krypton, that you fished every last bit of that Kryptonite out of the bay?"

Superman heard Lois's horrified gasp behind him and prayed she wouldn't call any more attention to herself.  "You're bluffing."

"Maybe.  But you'd be well-advised to help us take Crane into custody.  Without your help, who knows how many government agents Crane or Batman might kill.  Do you want their blood on your hands?"

"Batman--"  Kal bit down hard on his automatic defense of Bruce and turned it into a general glower.

"Work with her for now," Bruce's voice murmured in his ear, and Superman felt a momentary relief that they had traded in traditional radio signals for untrackable subcutaneous Kryptonian crystal receivers last year. 

"I have no interest in seeing anyone die," Kal said ungraciously, gritting his teeth.

Waller eyed him narrowly, then drew a small beeper out of her pocket and tossed it into the air, just far enough from him that he had to shift in the air to catch it.  "Be ready to move when we tell you to."  She pointed her chin at the device.  "Consider that your dog whistle."

She turned and left the rooftop.

Superman glared at the device.  Lois's voice broke into his reverie:  "Are you sure you got all that Kryptonite out of the bay?"  Worry for both him and their half-Kryptonian child was stark in her eyes.

"I hope so.  I can't be absolutely sure."

"That's a lot of heat coming to bear for a freak in a burlap sack."  Parental concern was giving way to the abstracted look she usually got when she was on the trail of a big story.

"It is."

"It is indeed," mused Bruce.

Superman hovered, watching Lois and listening to Bruce, two of the most intuitive minds he'd ever known at work. 

Lois looked up at him and nodded.  "I guess I need to get back to work.  If you'll excuse me..."  As she turned to go, she pointed meaningfully at the little box in Superman's hand, her eyebrows arching.

As the door closed behind his co-worker, Superman focused on the little radio device, using x-ray vision to check for bugs and tracking devices.  It was free of anything suspicious except for a sentence engraved on the plastic inside the case in microscopic letters:  And here I thought we trusted each other.  He snorted an involuntary laugh, then lifted into the air.  Perry hadn't been in his office;  Lois would assume that Clark had bolted from the building altogether in search of him.  The Planet building fell away beneath him.

"Batman's after Scarecrow.  Waller's after Scarecrow and Batman.  Superman's working with Waller on the assumption that he'll be willing to see Batman killed."  Bruce's voice was abstractly interested, as if he were turning the major players around in his head like puzzle pieces.  "This could be an interesting dance indeed." 

"It's going to take some very delicate negotiations," Superman said.

"Ah, but we have an edge they don't know about, don't we?"  Bruce's voice was smug, and Clark couldn't help smiling.  "Is the invitation to come down to Metropolis still open?"

"You mean it?  You'll come here?"

"Sure.  They'll be trying to keep track of Batman, so better to give them a couple of nights when there's no sign of me.  Let them stew.  There's no chance Crane will do anything after that close call--he's a coward at heart.  He'll be waiting until the Ides of March to make his next move."  Clark heard a car door slam.  "I'm on my way.  See you in a couple of hours."

Clark listened to the companionable purr of the engine as he floated above Metropolis, watching the twilight shadows stealing over his city, touching the marble and steel with purple and azure.  Metropolis was beautiful in the darkness, her lights gleaming against the dusk like diamonds on black velvet.  Superman drifted, feeling safe.  Feeling relieved.  He had worried that the fear toxin might have long-term effects, but there were no lingering repercussions at all.

He looked toward Gotham, wondering if he could pick out the headlights of Bruce's car on its way to see him. 

Gotham loomed on the horizon, its dark form punctuated with countless eyes, gleaming and avid.  Watching him, bright and sleepless and hungry.

Shivering, Clark descended from the sky.

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne (8/10)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Eight
Pairing/Characters:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG-13
Summary:  Amanda Waller and Batman close in on Isley and Crane simultaneously, with explosive results.
Word Count: 2800

Clark woke up slowly, drifting in and out of sleep, aware that Bruce had once again stolen the blankets.  The morning sun was streaming through the blinds across Bruce's hair, shadows and brightness interwoven.  Clark kissed the back of Bruce's neck and Bruce muttered something sleepily, rolling over onto his back.  Clark shifted to make room, since the narrow bed was barely big enough for both of them.

"I should buy a bigger bed," said Clark.

"Mm," Bruce said, slitting his eyes open just enough to see Clark.  "I like this bed.  My bed's too big.  I like getting all tangled up with you."  He pulled Clark on top of him.  "In so many different senses of the term."

Clark laughed and kissed his lover's neck.  "I have to get to work."  He slid over Bruce and off the bed.

Bruce made an annoyed sound in his throat.  "I see my concerted efforts to make sure you were too worn out to move have failed."

Clark looked up from the shirt he was buttoning.  "Man of steel, baby."  He dodged a pillow with grace, chuckling.

Bruce propped himself up on an elbow.  "I'm going to stay here and get some research done, but I'll come in and grab some lunch with you at the Planet, if you're not busy."

"Sounds good."  Clark was staring down at his tie.  "Bruce.  Thanks so much for coming here."

"You want to talk about it yet?"

Clark's smile was wan.  "Not really." 

"I won't push," Bruce said.  "I'm a very patient man.  I can wait, and Gotham will still be there whenever you decide to come back."

Clark finished tying the tie, feeling the knot tighten against his throat.  "I know."

: : :

"Did someone order Chinese?"  Bruce picked a little carton out of the bag and swung it jauntily by the metal hanger.  Lois, Richard, Jimmy and Clark all made absent-minded sounds of enthusiasm as he started to put the cartons on the desk.  They mostly ignored him as they started to dig into the food, still arguing with each other. 

Bruce had gotten used to being treated like the delivery boy when he came around to the Planet.  It was, in a way, a compliment.

Richard was scribbling furiously on a pad of yellow paper.  "Any luck getting any of your contacts to talk to you about this Waller woman?" he said, putting down the pad and forking a mouthful of fried rice into his mouth.

Lois and Clark shook their heads in unison.  "But Faraday hasn't gotten back to me yet," Lois said.  "I think he's trying to dodge me."

Clark made an annoyed sound.  "Faraday's not going to leak anything.  You'll have to look somewhere else."

Bruce sat down and propped his loafers up on a nearby desk, earning him an abstractedly reproachful glance from Clark.  "Clark told me someone tried to throw you off a roof, Lois.  Is this connected?"

Lois looked up at Bruce as if she's forgotten he was there.  "Uh, well...Jimmy," she said, poking the redhead's arm, "Explain to Bruce what's going on, would you?"

"Well, Mr. Wayne," said Jimmy, rubbing his chin as he tried to keep it simple, "We're wondering why the government is so anxious to get its hands on this Scarecrow guy.  Wouldn't it be enough to just let the Gotham police put him back in Arkham after--uh, if," he corrected himself hastily when Lois and Richard glared at him, "--the Batman ever catches him?  Why's it so important to have him in federal custody?"

Bruce looked enthralled.  "I have no idea, Jimmy."  On the other side of the desk, Clark was biting the inside of his cheek.

"Well."  Jimmy puffed himself up a little bit, proud to be explaining complicated political affairs to the Prince of Gotham.  "See, if the Scarecrow can create specific fears, think of what he could manage to cook up.  He could make people technophobic, so they couldn't use their communications devices.  Or afraid of guns, so they couldn't use their weapons."

"Uh-huh," Bruce nodded, clearly waiting for Jimmy to get to the point.

"Think of how powerful that would be in a war, Mr. Wayne!"

Bruce looked shocked.  "You can't be implying the government would put him to work for them!  We'd never use illegal chemical weapons like that."

Jimmy gave Bruce a pitying look and appeared to be resisting the temptation to pat him on the head.  "When you've worked as long in the news biz as I have, Mr. Wayne, you learn to be a little bit paranoid."

Lois's cell phone beeped at that point, saving Bruce from having to rescue Clark from choking to death on his kung pao mock duck.  "Faraday," she mouthed as she went to another room to take the call.  Clark and Richard continued to look up information and take notes, with Bruce looking over their shoulders and sometimes saying a word or phrase to Clark that sounded like a non-sequitur but usually made Clark nod and scribble furiously in his notepad.

Lois came back, shaking her head, and tossed the phone onto her desk with an annoyed clatter.  It skittered through the papers and files and almost fell off;  Clark caught it deftly out of the air and put it back.  "That was a very helpful conversation."

"Really?"  Jimmy looked hopeful.

"Yeah, just not really in the way I wanted.  Faraday told me Waller's the head of a new agency in the federal government--top secret.  They call it Checkmate, and it's designed specifically to deal with the new kind of villain out there, like Scarecrow and Dr. Freeze."  She paused, looking sour.  "It's also designed to 'deal with' Superman and Batman if necessary."

"Wow, he really spilled the beans to you," Jimmy said admiringly, but Lois merely snorted in disgust, kicking her chair away from the desk and sitting down in it.

"Faraday's no whistle-blower," Clark said when Lois looked disinclined to explain further.  "Whatever he said, he was authorized to say it.  They know you'll pass that information on to Superman."

Lois tapped a pencil against her mouth.  "Too bad we don't have a way to warn Batman."  Everyone stared at her.  "What?  He's a possessive freak who hates Superman, but he'd never go along with a plan to use one of his greatest enemies as a war weapon."

Bruce shrugged.  "I'm betting he already knows anyway."

Lois sighed.  "I'm going to have to dig deeper if I want to find evidence of what they really plan to do with Scarecrow.  Richard, how about your contacts?"

As Lois and Richard discussed strategy, Bruce stood up and stretched.  "Clark, hon, I have to get back to Gotham.  Thanks for having me down."

"Let me walk you to your car," Clark said as the others said distracted good-byes.

In the garage, Bruce gestured for Clark to get in the car.  "So...did Batman already know about Checkmate?"  Clark asked when the doors were closed.

Bruce's smile was innocuous.  "Well, he did by the time I said he probably did."  The smile vanished abruptly and his eyebrows drew together.  "They've kept this new agency well under wraps.  This will take some careful maneuvering."

"I don't like being used as a weapon against you."  Clark's voice was mild but his eyes were thunderous.

"If you're any kind of weapon, Kal, it's something ornate and baroque and filagreed...that hides a simple, shining blade in the hilt."  When he schemed, Bruce's eyes almost lit from within.  "If they try to use you against me they'll be very surprised indeed."  He started the car engine.  "Be ready for them to call you in soon.  It won't be much longer."

"Be careful."  The words always sounded lame, but Bruce always smiled as if they meant something.

"As you wish."

: : :

Isley watched Crane place the penultimate vial into place on the stand with delicate fingers.  There were about a dozen, each a slightly different color.  "And this, my dear Pamela," he said with a smirk, "Is your dendrophobia toxin.  Just awaiting final testing."

Isley eyed the moss-green toxin greedily but tried to be nonchalant.  "What are the others?"

Crane ran his fingers across the vials lovingly, like playing a harp of fear.  "None are my Philosopher's Stone, alas.  But it's a nice range:  pharmacophobia, or fear of medicine;  ereuthrophobia, the fear of blushing;  ailurophobia, the fear of cats.  This pretty white one is chionophobia--a fear of snow.  I'm looking forward to trying that one out," he said, rubbing his long, narrow hands together.

"The purple one?"

"Oh, this one," Crane said with relish, touching the lilac-colored vial affectionately.  "This is apeirophobia, which is a fear of infinity."

Isley scoffed.  "I'm not sure what a fear of big numbers will get you, but--"

Crane cut her off, his fanatic's eyes glowing with zeal.  "'Big numbers'?  Pamela, how entirely you misunderstand the concept of infinity.  Infinity, the endlessness of time and space, the eternal and limitless void--"

Isley turned away from his babbling and went back to her computer.  She had no interest in mystical mumbo-jumbo;  the finite would do quite nicely for her. 

She was going over her copy of Crane's latest formulas when it happened, the flash of insight that had been lying in her mind like a dormant seed for so long.  "Crane," she said, feeling elated excitement growing in her, "Crane, come here and look!"

Crane grudgingly put aside his notebook and looked over her shoulder.  "See?  Here, and here."  She pointed at different places on the graphs and charts.  If you switch from adrenaline to dopamine, and if you change the" She looked at him, triumphant.


Crane's affected boredom made Isley grind her teeth.  "What?  Can't you see how it should be possible to change your formulas from phobias to philias?  With some adjustments, it would be possible to vary the strength from anywhere between a mild affection to a deep sexual attraction for the target.  Your chionophobia toxin, you could change it to make someone like snow.  Or you could make someone get incredibly aroused by seeing or touching snow!  Think of it!"

Crane's eyebrows twitched into a look Isley had never seen on his face:  disgust.  "How repulsive," he muttered.

"Repulsive?  To make people love that which they should love?"  Ivy touched the dark-green vial almost reverently.  "To shape the most basic and powerful of human emotions to serve nature?  Repulsive?"

Crane's eyes burned with fury.  "Take that back," he hissed.  "Take that back!"  Isley merely looked confused.  "How dare you imply your twisted and filthy love has any valid place in science?  Fear is pure, fear is transcendent, fear conquers all--"  Spittle flecked his lips and Isley drew away from him.  "You squalid, sordid, purtrid--"

A speaker by the door buzzed.  Someone was outside the building, requesting entrance.  Crane and Isley both froze, ideological differences wiped away by the need for self-preservation.  "It's probably nothing," Isley said, although her heart was pounding.  "I'll go deal with it."  As she left the hidden back lab, so stopped to gently touch the leaves of two large and sturdy rose bushes on either side of the door.  "I wouldn't get too close to them until I get back," she said to Crane.

She disappeared through the door, leaving Crane to wait and glare impotently at the rose bushes, which seemed to have a great number of thorns.

It was silly to imagine that the bushes were glaring back at him.

: : :

From his perch atop a gargoyle, Batman adjusted his binoculars.  In the lot next to Isley's laboratory, Amanda Waller--a gas mask around her neck--was instructing a squad of heavily-armed military types.  She must have made some of the same leaps of logic he had, maybe strongarmed Gotham chemical companies into handing over their personnel information.

Or simply hacked in and stole it, as he had.

He didn't have much time.  The lab was going to be locked down tight in just a few minutes.  Within moments he was on the roof and slipping into the building's ventilation system, making his way unerringly toward Isley's lab.

He reached a vent just as the alarm system chimed, in time to see Isley emerge from a room in the back.  He watched her take a moment to adjust her lab coat and take a deep breath, squaring her shoulders.  Not the actions of an innocent researcher answering the door.  This was going to get ugly.

Waller introduced herself cordially as here on federal business, could she take a look around?  "Nice place you've got here," Bruce heard her drawl as Isley showed her around.  "I like the daffodils.  Very charming."  Bruce could glimpse the two of them moving between the fruit trees and vines.  Isley was sweating.  The rest of Waller's squad was surveying the lab, weeapons at the ready.  "So what's behind door number one?"  Waller asked, indicating the door Isley had emerged from earlier.

"It's--it's a biohazard lab," Isley stammered.  "You can't go in without special protective gear."

Waller snapped on her gas mask.  "I'll take my chances.  Open the door."  When Isley continued to hesitate, Waller marched to the door, planted her body and delivered a kick to the door that rattled the whole wall.  Another kick and the door flew open.

Waller started to say something to Isley--then shouted as a writhing mass of thorned branches lashed at her face through the door, wrapping around her arms and shredding her clothing as if it were tissue paper.  "Son of a bitch!" Waller yelled as members of her squad leaped forward to try and disentangle her, blood masking her face from countless scratches.  One branch wrapped around a man's throat, thorns turning his cries to gurgles of panic.

Isley darted in between the flailing branches.  "Time to go, Crane!"  Batman heard her shriek.  The two of them came flying back through the doorway full of thorns, Crane clutching a handful of vials, Isley clinging to just one.

Most of Waller's squad was battling the unnaturally vicious rose bush;  Batman kicked out the vent and leaped into the chaos, trying to cut off Crane and Isley's escape.  "Batman!"  he heard Waller's voice behind him.  "Never mind the damn rose bush," she barked at her team, "Bring them down!"

A thunk, and his shoulder went numb as the armor mostly absorbed the impact of a projectile.  He staggered slightly, his hands brushing air where Crane had been, and the two fugitive scientists threw open the door and fled into the night, splitting up.  Batman paused for an instant, looking after the fleeing Isley, then went after the more obvious threat.  His shoulder was starting to ache already;  they definitely weren't using standard ordinance.  In the lab behind him, shouts of confusion and a wild thrashing of branches:  Batman abandoned them to brush-cutting as Crane made for Amusement Mile through the still night.

: : :

Superman was staring at the lights of Gotham glimmering on the horizon when the little device went off.  Startling, he pulled it from his cape and opened it.  "Kal-El, get your ass to Gotham right now."  Waller's voice was hoarse with fury;  Superman already knew why from listening through Bruce's ears.  "Batman and Crane are both out there;  you will have them both rounded up by the time this night is over."  Her voice turned sharp as she addressed someone else:  "Don't worry about my suit, just keep cutting!"  She focused on Superman again.  "We managed to shoot Batman--he'll be slowed with a shoulder wound now."  Superman was glad he wasn't talking to Waller in person so he didn't have to hide his wince.  "They're heading north toward Amusement Mile.  Rendezvous with us there as soon as possible.  Waller out."

"Yes, ma'am.  Right away, ma'am," Kal murmured to the dead phone.  "B," he whispered.  "Are you all right?"

Bruce grunted.  "Fine.  Be glad to see you, though."  Kal winced again;  Bruce must be pretty badly hurt if he was willing to make that large a concession. 

"Soon," Kal said reassuringly.

The lights of Gotham winked at him, coy and hungry, inviting him to unspeakable horrors as if to a dance.

He forced himself to draw closer, until he could hear the rhythm of the city beginning to chip away at the edges of his hearing.  Blood and death, the beat of entropy winding down inexorably to nothing, nothing, nothing... 

Superman set his teeth and descended into Gotham.

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne (9/10)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Nine
Pairing/Characters:  Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG-13
Summary:  Superman, Batman, Crane and Waller clash in the Hall of Mirrors.
Word Count: 2000

“You're late,” Amanda Waller snarled as Superman descended from the sky to touch down lightly in front of her and the rest of her squad. The wood of the boardwalk gave a hollow echo as he landed. Beyond that, the only sound was the gentle lapping of the sea under the docks.

The only sound the humans could hear, at least.

Superman decided not to remind Waller that her demand for his presence had been issued less than two minutes ago. “What's the situation?”

The woman's face was streaked with blood, fresh streams trickling downward; she seemed oblivious to her wounds. Beside her, a blonde woman was bandaging a man's throat, his breath wheezing faintly. “Batman and Crane are in there,” she said, pointing toward the tangle of rollercoasters and Ferris Wheels looming in the dark. “I want Crane alive. Batman if possible.” She paused.  When Superman said nothing, she sneered, “That's right, you claim you don't kill.” The faint red light that kindled in his eyes fazed her not at all. “We'll be right behind you, alien."

“I won't need backup.”

“I didn't say we'd be backing you up.” Waller's smile was as sweet as a shark's. “Go.”

The full moon slanted light through the latticed supports of the roller coasters, casting chaotic patterns of silver and black across the boardwalk.  The chains of the swing ride creaked in the stillness, but there was nothing there.  When Superman tried to listen for Crane's heartbeat, the trembling pulse of innumerable rats drowned out any possibility;  Kal resisted the impulse to put his hands over his ears.  It wouldn't help.  There was only silence on the receiver and Kal didn't dare try to contact Bruce. 

A ratlike skitter of movement caught Kal's attention.  He moved carefully after it, into the ground below a roller coaster, wrappers and dust beneath his feet.  Another scurrying noise, followed by a spash of liquid on the back of his neck.  Kal snapped his gaze up in time to see Crane finish emptying the contents of a violet vial;  the last drops spattered his face and in his eyes, blinding him.  As he wiped at his face and burned the liquid off his hands, causing wisps of lilac-scented smoke to curl around his face, Crane unfolded from the beams and landed with a thump on the ground, taking off at a dead run.

Fear toxin.  Full-strength.  Kal felt his stomach turn over at the memory of the last time, the roiling fear, the thousand laughing eyes of Gotham.  What phobia was this, and what would it do to him? 

No time to worry about it, only time to follow Crane.

Shouts from Waller's people, hammering footsteps on planks--Kal spotted Batman unfolding like a shadow from a booth and all three converged on Crane, who ducked into a building.  The soldiers and the Dark Knight followed him in.  As Superman approached, still shaking off clinging toxin, he saw the sign over the door:  Hall of Mirrors.

A tremor of uncertainty;  Kal paused outside for just a moment, fist clenching in something like trepidation.  Then a shot rang out inside and he grimaced and went in.

When Gotham did a hall of mirrors, it didn't cut corners.  Before Kal loomed a maze of glass and silver, twisting out of sight.  A switch snapped somewhere and the maze blazed with fluorescent light, reflected in every mirror.  Images flickered briefly in mirrors at the corners of his vision and were gone again:  a black cape, Waller's stocky figure, the spider-like limbs of Crane.  It was oddly silent inside, only furtive shuffling breaking the stillness as people maneuvered through the maze in search of their prey.

Kal stepped into the maze.

Immediately a dozen dozen images of him sprang into being around him, their faces pale and drawn.  Kal looked at the rows and rows of his image and saw tension start to stain each of them, unease bleeding from reflection to reflection.  He moved forward, trying to ignore the identical Kals receding into the distance.  His hair was still damp with the unidentified toxin--it would probably be affecting him any moment now.

He hoped it was fear of letting criminals escape justice, but somehow he doubted it.

A hoarse cry somewhere in the maze, a thump.  Kal resisted the impulse to start shattering mirrors with his heat vision, his fists...too dangerous to the humans inside with him.  He walked into a clear glass pane and grunted surprise;  when he put his hands up to feel ahead of him all the reflections around him mirrored his move, identical, lost, groping in the light. 

There was a high-pitched sound keening in his ears, drowning out even the beat of Gotham:  a crystalline resonance that he knew he couldn't listen to.  It went on and on, intolerably high and sweet, treacherously beautiful, spinning towards infinity, unending.  Unending.

He rounded a corner and came to what had to be the heart of the maze--perfectly symmetrical, casting row upon row of identical Kal-Els into the distance.  He was surrounded by nothing but himself, continuing forever, unchanged, untouched.  To eternity.

He may have whimpered then.  He couldn't be sure, because he couldn't hear anything over the eternal note that rose and fell without a rhythm, cold and pure, matching the reflections that stretched soullessly on forever.  He was lost.  He saw the reflected Kal-Els drop to their knees, shuddering, and wondered dimly if they dropped in response to him or if he was kneeling because they were.  Cause and effect were shattered like a mirror and nothing proceeded from anything, it was all now, unchanging, perpetual, static.  Red and blue, shivering, alone, receding into the light, alone, drowning in music and time without end, world without end.

Without end.

A hoarse cry in his ear, a voice he should know:  "Kal."  Meaningless sound.  Meaningless.  But somehow the empty syllable, the bit of breath, was a tiny scratch in the eternal mirror that trapped him.  He groped for something to break through the hard, cold reflective surface of infinity, to break the impossible echo of the unchanging silver note that wrapped him in immutability.

A beat. 

A rhythm.

Underneath him, around him, under the intolerable ringing chime.

The beat of Gotham.

Help me, he whispered to the song he could hear on the edges of his hearing, a black threnody that negated the eternal silver.  I want to help him.  We both love him.  Help me!

The song surged to meet his entreaty, dark and demanding.  He felt the entropy in its beats, the footfalls of time, and welcomed it, embraced it.  The infinite loop of annihilation buckled and shattered before the cadence of blood and decay.  Briefly, every mirror around him flickered with Batman's grim visage, Bruce's lazy smile, one and the same--a myriad images that flickered and vanished.

Gotham found Kal's heart and matched its beat to hers for one dark and glorious moment, and the fear fell away from him.

He surged up, the terror gone, his reflections only tricks of light once more.  Gunshots rang out somewhere, followed by the sound of glass shattering to powder, and Kal made his way toward the sound as quickly as he could to where Batman was fighting Crane, the scientist animated by a frenzy of fear, as Waller's agents fired wildly at the men and their reflections. 

Superman wasn't fooled:  only two of the choices had heartbeats.  He plucked bullets out of the air like musical notes, snatching one mere inches from Bruce's throat, and collared Crane.  Batman slipped between two mirrors and vanished like a magician.  "You can't hide forever, Bat," Superman announced grimly for the benefit of the listening agents, and heard Bruce's quiet snicker in his ear as Waller gnashed her teeth and dispatched her squad to find him.

"What are you waiting for, alien?" she barked as she cuffed Crane.  "Get that vigilante!"

Superman crossed his arms and glowered.  "The deal was to get you Crane and keep your agents safe.  If Batman gives me an excuse, I'll stop him.  Until then, I consider my work here in Gotham done."

Waller kicked in a series of mirrors, making her way unerringly toward the exit and dragging the reluctant Crane behind her.  They emerged into the cool night air, rent now with wailing sirens and flashing lights as five police cars pulled up.  Jim Gordon strode toward Waller, and her grip tightened on Scarecrow until he whimpered.

Gordon brandished a piece of paper.  "We have a warrant for the arrest of Jonathan Crane.  We'll be taking him under Gotham City custody."  He showed his teeth.  "Do you have a warrant?"

As Waller lowered her head like a cornered mastiff, another car squealed up, the doors opening to reveal Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson.  Lois shoved a microphone in Gordon's face, smiling cheerfully.  "How does it feel to have the notorious Scarecrow under arrest again, Lieutenant?"

Gordon's gaze hadn't left Waller's yet.  "My men didn't make this arrest.  I believe Agent Waller here is responsible for the capture."

"Oh!"  Lois transferred her attention to Waller as Jimmy's flash turned the air incandescent. "Will you be handing the Scarecrow over to Gotham City authorities, Ms. Waller?  After all, he committed his crimes in Gotham.  Or do you have other plans for him?  I was just talking to some folks at the Pentagon about the possibility today..."

Superman could see the wheels turning in Waller's head.  Lois was bluffing, and Waller had to suspect it.  But would she be willing to risk the public finding out and the firestorm that would certainly follow? 

After a long, pained moment, Waller smiled.  "Of course we'll be turning over Dr. Crane to the Gotham City authorities," she said through her teeth.  "My agents and I are happy to help bring such a heinous criminal to justice at last."

Gordon stepped forward and Waller hissed exasperation through her smile, but allowed him to take Crane away from her.  He pushed Crane into the back of a patrol car, Crane still peering at the sky in terror and muttering about the avenging God of fear and his wings of black silk.

"Wow, what a great moment," Lois announced as Waller stared after her lost prize.  "Superman, what's it been like working so closely with the government?"

Superman cleared his throat.  "I'm always proud to help stop those depraved souls who plan to spread terror, Ms. Lane."

"Ms. Waller, what's it been like working with Superman?"

Waller turned her attention to Lois.  "On the record, Ms. Lane?  It's been an edifying experience, working with such a pillar of rectitude."  She managed to make it sound obscene.  "Off the record?"  She stepped closer to to Lois.  "If you print anything less than a glowing story about this, I will personally pay to have you undergo a sex change operation so I can have the pleasure of ripping your balls off and stuffing them down your throat."  Jimmy swallowed audibly, and Waller shot him a look.  "That goes for you, too."

"Well, I believe my work here is done, and I'd better be heading back to Metropolis," Superman announced.

"I haven't given you leave to go," Waller snarled as Superman poised himself for flight.

Kal looked back, his gaze unfathomable.  "True," he noted.  And left.

Her growl and Crane's whimpering followed him into the sky as Jimmy's flash lit the way.

He hovered above Gotham, listening for any sounds of battle in Batman's vicinity.  "Lost them?"  he whispered.

"Of course," came Bruce's smug voice.

"Crane's in Gordon's custody and Waller's going home empty-handed."

"Remind me to send some roses to Lois tomorrow."  There was a slight hesitation, and when he spoke next Bruce's voice was cautious.  "I'm heading back to the Manor to get patched up.  Shall I meet you in Metropolis tomorrow?"

Bruce couldn't see his smile, but would be able to to hear it in his voice.  "I was hoping to spend the night here in Gotham, actually."

"Ah."  So much emotion in such a small syllable.  "With me, I hope."

The lights of Gotham burned steadfast below him, the song a lullaby now, drowsy and content.  "Always."

Chapter Text

FIC: Gotham Nocturne (10/10)
Title:  Gotham Nocturne:  Chapter Ten
Pairing/Characters:  Clark/Bruce, Poison Ivy, Lois Lane
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Series Notes:  Gotham Nocturne is part of The Music of the Spheres, a combined Superman Returns/Batman Begins series. The whole series can be found here
Rating: PG
Summary:  Clark and Bruce talk about Gotham and themselves.
Word Count: 1600

Bruce was stripping off his costume in the cave, his heart still racing from the adrenaline thrill of defeating both Crane and Waller.  Okay, Crane would probably just go to Arkham, and everyone knew what that meant.  And Pamela Isley had disappeared without a trace.  But Waller had gone home empty-handed, and Crane wouldn't be spreading fear for a while now.

More importantly...something had happened with Kal.  Bruce wasn't sure what yet, but something had changed, there in the Hall of Mirrors. 

"Bruce," said a whisper in his ear as he finished changing.  "I'm almost back to Gotham.  I had to...get something."

"Meet me at the Manor?"

"Actually...I was wondering if you could meet Clark at Amusement Mile.  There's something I have to do there."

Bruce frowned.  "You don't like that area, Kal."

Kal's voice was tranquil.  "It's all right.  I'd like to talk to you there."

Bruce pulled on a heavy sweater.  "All right, I'll meet you there."

: : :

It was the dead of night, and the muffled sounds of the city fell away as the two men walked along the boardwalk.  Their footsteps rang like wooden bells on the planks.  They walked in silence for a time, and then both of them suddenly started to speak at once.  Clark laughed slightly and waved Bruce on.  "I was going to say, I know Gotham is hard for you," Bruce said.

Clark's smile was wry.  "I was going to say, I know how much you love Gotham."  He looked into Bruce's eyes, which were at the moment exactly the same color as the sea that washed under the boardwalk, but as warm as the waves were cold.  "And I won't lie, she's still...awe-inspiring.  Vast.  Alien, in a totally different way than I'm alien.  But..."  His voice trailed off and he looked out over the choppy water, the city looming behind him.  "Gotham is tied to time.  You can't have decay without time.  You can't have death without time.  Gotham is change and flux, chaos and entropy.  All the things that--"  He hesitated, frowned, and chose his words carefully, "--that make life possible.  That make it possible to be here."

Bruce was watching him narrowly.  "Something happened last night, in the hall of mirrors.  I heard you...cry out."  He shook his head slowly.  "We've fought dragons and faeries.  But it's still so hard for me to accept that Gotham is anything but a city, Clark.  A beautiful, dangerous, unique city that I love--but still just a city, a collection of buildings and land and people.  I'm a man of science, Clark!"  he said, his voice tinged with exasperation that didn't seem to be aimed at his lover.  The corner of his mouth quirked self-deprecatingly.  "Forgive me that I have such a hard time with this."

"Last night," Clark said slowly.  "I think I came to some kind of peace there in the hall of mirrors.  An...understanding.  That we each love you more than ourselves."

A snort of scoffing laughter.  "Gotham loves no one but herself, Clark.  That's one of the reasons I love her."

Clark shoved his hands in his pockets and paced a few steps down the boardwalk.  "Her love isn't anything human, or soft, or affectionate.  But it's love.  And I feel Gotham will...give me some space, if I'm important to you."

"You really need to ask?" 

Bruce's tone was light, but Clark's eyes met his with a flash of naked vulnerability.  "Yes, Bruce.  Sometimes."

Bruce stopped walking and shrugged at Clark rather helplessly.  "What, you want me to tell the city to lay off you or something?"  He cupped his hands around his mouth and addressed the buildings:  "Give the guy a break, Gotham!"

Clark laughed, but his eyes were still serious.  "Play along a bit for the alien, Bruce.  If I really am important to you."

"All right, all right."  Bruce took a deep, centering breath, and the facetiousness fell away from him entirely.  He put his arm around Clark's shoulder, turning them both to face the city.  He cleared his throat and spoke, his tone grave and completely sincere.  "This man is my mate and the other half of my soul.  As long as I am here, he is to be cherished by all that values me.  His heart is under my protection."  He glanced over at Clark, whose eyes were closed.  "Will that suffice?"

Clark's smile was faraway and wistful.  "It's beautiful."  He blinked at Bruce.  "Thank you."  He reached into his jacket.  "I brought something.  A thank-you gift."  In his hand was a tiny chip of Kryptonian crystal.  It glimmered, reflecting the street lights.  Clark walked to the edge of the boardwalk and tossed the crystal into the cold, dark waters of the bay, where it was swallowed up in darkness with one last gleam.  Clark brought his hands together in a small bow and murmured in Kryptonian:  <Let there be peace between us, thou and I.>

A soundless answer, in no language at all.  Peace between us, thou and I.

Bruce was watching him with some bemusement.  "Are we ready to head home and get some cocoa?"

Clark laughed and took his hand, walking away from the midnight waters.  It must have been merely his imagination, his fears speaking, that conjured the soft and voiceless last whisper:

...for now...

: : :

Crouched on an ancient oak limb, Pamela Isley watched through her binoculars at the crowds milling around Robinson Park's Conservatory.  All her belongings were in a pack on her back now, just a few things she had managed to snatch from the rubble of her life, her dreams.  She had lost everything because of Crane and that Batfreak.  Everything but the dendrophobia toxin, the fear of plants.  Now she would have her revenge.

The timer on the aerosol can should go off any second now.  Isley watched, anticipation growing within her, as the unwitting crowds strolled through the great glass-walled building.  Soon, they would be gripped with fear of the plants surrounding them.  She imagined the panic, the way people would throw themselves through the massive panes of glass to get away from the trees, their animal blood staining the ground, soaking into the roots.  A feast for her dearest ones.  A beginning sacrifice.  Fortunately her scientist's memory still retained her knowledge about how to adapt plant pollen to be an aphrodisiac.  Start with fear and move to love.  Someday, someday, people would worship the great trees once again, gasping in wonder and ecstasy at the touch of their gentle leaves.  She would usher in the New Age, the age of love and joy.

For now, terror would do. 

A man doubled over in the conservatory, coughing, and Isley felt adrenaline course through her veins.  At last!  Another person staggered, then another.  People began streaming for the exits--but something was wrong.  None of them seemed afraid of the trees, only anxious to leave the building.

And then Isley saw it.  At first she thought she was imagining it, and she tried to focus the binoculars better, her hands trembling.  But it was real.  The leaves of the trees were browning, withering.  The flowers were drooping, the color fleeing their petals as they wilted.  Rose petals fell like a hideous rain, and Isley tasted in full Crane's betrayal.

She ripped the binoculars from her neck, unable to bear the sight anymore.  The bastard had given her herbicide and told her it was fear toxin!  She had killed--

She had killed all those plants--

With a shriek of barely-sane fury, Isley flung herself from the branch and deeper into the park.  The trees rustled around her, touching her face, but she shoved their branches away, weeping.  She didn't deserve their love.  As she fled the scene of her unforgivable crime, she knew only that she would have to redeem herself for her folly and naivete, somehow.  The Bat, the alien, Crane, the government--they would all be made to pay. 

Only then would she be worthy to be the new Eve. 

Until that day, she was nothing but poison.  Poison and hate.

: : :

Lois Lane was sitting at her desk when Clark hung up his phone, grinning.  "Good news, Smallville?"

"Yeah.  That was Bruce.  He says Doctor Sugiyama--the one that got hit by the fear toxin--he responded to his name today."  He tapped his pen on the desk.  "I wonder if Perry would go for a story about his recovery?"  He looked happier than Lois had seen him in a while, and she couldn't help smiling as well. 

"Speaking of good news, did you or did you not spend the entire weekend up in Gotham with your boy toy?"  she asked, getting up and stalking his desk as Clark blushed crimson.

"Uh, yeah.  Why, did something big happen here?"

"I hope he showed you a good time," she said mischievously, enjoying Clark's discomfort.  "Don't be such a prude, Clark!  I'm a married woman, you're not going to offend me.  So tell me, is he good in the sack?"

Clark cleared his throat a couple of times.  "Oh.  Yes.  Very.  Um...endlessly inventive and...energetic."  His voice was a bit husky and Lois almost laughed at the idea of dorky Clark Kent and shallow Bruce Wayne being passionate together.  But they were happy despite being such an odd couple, and that's what mattered.

She ruffled his hair affectionately.  "He really is good for you, isn't he?"

Clark's smile was infinitely sweet, his eyes far away.  "More than he knows," he said with an odd emphasis, as if to a third party.

Lois grinned indulgently and headed back to work as Clark started to scribble notes on a pad of yellow paper, most likely about the Sugiyama story.

As he worked, he hummed to himself, sweet and clear:  just the harmony, a duet with a melody that only he could hear.

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres Interlude: Sandcastles
Title:  Sandcastles
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce
Disclaimer: The boys belong to DC and to each other, but not to me.
Notes: A stand-alone story in the series "Music of the Spheres." Other stories and notes on the series here.  For the birthday of the talented and wonderful [info]summonercat!  *hugs*
Rating: PG
Summary:  Clark and Bruce take a brief vacation on a private island.
Word Count: 800

The light off the white sand was nearly blinding--though not as blinding as Clark Kent's bathing suit.  Hot pink with neon yellow squiggles, the baggy suit reached almost to his knees.  Bruce wasn't sure why Clark was covering so much of himself up since there would be no one else on the island.  Coral Cay was part of the Wayne Foundation's ecological research work, and there was absolutely no one there but the two of them.

Of course, Clark was also currently sporting a nose covered with hot pink zinc oxide, despite the fact that Bruce knew for a fact Clark was incapable of sunburn.  But then, Clark reveled in his dorky guise and seemed to be under the impression Bruce Wayne somehow found it cute.  Which wasn't true, Bruce mused.

"Hot as hell" would be perhaps a more accurate term.

Bruce pulled himself out of the improbably clear water and sat on the sand, enjoying the silence broken only by the sound of the waves and the piping of the gulls.  He, of course, was clad in very tight and flattering Speedos.  It was nice, he thought idly, to be somewhere where he didn't have to worry about his scars showing.

He slipped on a pair of sunglasses against the glare and glanced over at Clark.  The Kryptonian was piling up sand into a base for a sandcastle.  Bruce watched for a while, then frowned and got to his feet to get closer to the castle.  "Those merlons you're putting on there are completely impractical if the enemy has cannon," he noted.  "And this looks like a motte-and-bailey construction, which means you really should build the motte higher for the best lay of the land.  Let me get you some sticks to use as a palisade, unless you're going to add some curtain walls as extra defense." 

He was scanning the beach for likely palisade material when Clark said a bit huffily, "I wasn't building this to withstand a siege, Bruce."

Bruce moved his sunglasses down his nose to glare at Clark.  "If you're not going to do it well, why do it at all?"

"For the fun of it?"  Clark's dimples were annoyingly charming.

"Doing it well is the fun of it," Bruce growled, but sat down next to Clark to start building his own version. 

He became entirely absorbed in making sure to use the proper crenellation-pattern for the era he'd chosen and getting the concentric layout right, adding some nice machicolations and embrasures for good measure.  See if the invaders from County Kent enjoyed having hot oil dumped on their heads as they attempted to breach the defenses of Wayne Keep. 

He was finishing digging a nice deep moat when he looked over and saw Clark's castle, all airy spires and ridiculously impractical fluting towers.  "Very...pretty," he said.

"Well, yours is quite...practical," Clark replied, sounding like he hoped it would sound like a compliment.

Bruce was opening his mouth to explain why he'd chosen the lower-profile style of the later Medieval period when Clark gave a startled yelp.  A wave crashed up the shore and around the base of his fairy-tale castle;  one of the towers crumbled into the sea. 

Bruce gestured at his castle, where the wave had poured harmlessly into the moat and left his castle untouched.  "You see?  Careful attention to defensive structure can--"

A second wave rushed up and breached the moat;  Bruce's palisade sticks floated off into the tide and his meticulous crenellations began to collapse.  Two waves later and all that was left of both castles was smoothed heaps of sand.

Bruce stared at the wet, gleaming sand, feeling ridiculously bereft.  Had he thought the tide wouldn't come in?  He had lost himself in the pleasure of the work and forgotten--he kicked angrily at the white sand, knowing it was a small and petulant gesture.  "Damn," he muttered.  "Damn it."

Clark's arms were around him, wrapping him up from behind.  "It was beautiful," Clark's voice whispered in his ear, barely audible over the incoming tide.  "I'm sure the people in it were very safe and very happy."

Bruce slipped off his sunglasses.  "Sun's so bright, even these don't do a bit of good," he grumbled, wiping at his eyes.  He rested his hands on Clark's arms.  "Yours was glorious," he said.

"We can build new ones," whispered Clark.

Bruce twisted in Clark's arms to face him.  "Maybe tomorrow," he said softly.  "For now..."  He tangled sandy hands in Clark's hair and pulled him close.  "I say we get back to the cabin and enjoy our evening together to the fullest." 

Clark smiled.  With a swift movement, he scooped Bruce up into his arms like a bride, ignoring his indignant sputtering.  "Sounds good to me," he said cheerfully, setting off across the beach at a comfortable trot.

After they were gone, the sun set and the tide rose against the sand without them, smoothing their footprints away.

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres Ficlet: Seashell
Title:  Seashell
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: G
Summary: Clark and Bruce discuss the sea, seashells, and properties of sound and time.
Word Count: 560
Notes:  For [info]starsandsea on her birthday!  Her wonderful Nightwing/Legolas stories got me thinking about the themes...

"Is this from our trip?"  Bruce Wayne picked up a large conch shell from the computer desk in Clark Kent's apartment.  He turned it over in his hands, admiring its natural asymmetry, the spiked roughness of the outside that gave way to creamy, satin-like pinkness inside.

Clark looked over from the spaghetti sauce he was stirring and nodded.  "It's a beauty, isn't it?"

Bruce lifted the shell to his ear.  "I can hear the sea."

"It's really just the echoes of tiny ambient sounds being reflected around the small space," Clark said absently, tasting the sauce.

"I know that perfectly well," Bruce said grumpily.  "There's no reason to be so unromantic."

Clark muttered something about pots and kettles, although he didn't seem to be referring to his cooking.  Shaking a little oregano into the sauce, he went on, "I remember when I was seven years old, and someone brought a conch shell in to class for show and tell.  We talked about how you could hear the sea in it, and I put my ear to it and heard the sea."  He paused, looking off into nowhere, remembering.  "Except I realized when I took the shell away that I was hearing the actual sea, not the shell."  He smiled slightly.  "That was an interesting moment."

Bruce made a noncommittal sound, still listening to the distant roar of sound at his ear.  "You've read Tolkien, right?"

"It is blasphemous of you to imply I might not have, sir," said Clark haughtily.

"You remember the Elves and their Doom?"

"Please." Clark rolled his eyes and tasted the spaghetti sauce before answering.  "If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, Thy heart shall rest in the forest no more," he quoted.  "What good geek doesn't know the Doom of the Elves?  If they heard the sound of the sea they were gripped with restlessness until they finally had no choice but to leave Middle Earth and travel across the sea to the Undying Lands."

His tone was nebbishly didactic, and Bruce snorted in response, taking the shell from his ear and turning it over in his hands.  "Remind me never to underestimate your geekitude."

"Never underestimate my geekitude," Clark said blithely, waving his spoon.  Some sauce fell on the counter and he hastily wiped it up.  "I can also recount Earendil's geneology for you, or recite some of the Lay of Luthien."

"And they say you're no fun at parties," Bruce jibed.  He ran a finger over the mouth of the shell, touching the silky pink enamel.  "Anyway...I loved that.  It was so sad and so beautiful.  And I used to wonder, if an Elf heard the sound of the sea in a shell, if that would be enough to evoke his Doom."  He lifted the shell back to his ear, listening to the echoes.

Clark looked at him for a moment, his eyes thoughtful behind the thick glasses.  He wiped his hands on the dishcloth slung over his shoulder and crossed the room to Bruce.  Resting his cheek against Bruce's, he put his ear close enough to the shell so that they could both hear the endless echoing roar, rising and falling like distant waves. 

"I think it would depend on if he had good enough reasons to stay," Clark said softly, shifting to put his lips to Bruce's mouth.

Chapter Text

FIC: The Jewel in the Lotus (1/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 1/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Lois Lane, Jason Lane-White, the Planet staff
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: G
Summary: At the Annual Lane-White Memorial Day BBQ, Lois deals with an unexpected guest--Constance Mooreston, columnist for the the Gotham Times.
Chapter Note: You can see Mooreston's columns here and here.
Word Count: 2200

"It looks like maybe Steve won't make it?" Richard's voice was hopeful as he brushed by Lois in the kitchen, grabbing another platter of burgers and hot dogs.

"Thank heavens for small favors," Lois growled, giving Richard a withering look. "I can't believe you invited him!"

Richard looked chagrined. "He invited himself, Lois! You know how Lombard can be when he gets on a rampage."

Lois patted Richard's cheek. "I know, honey. Anyway, it looks like we might have dodged a bullet." She frowned at his plate. "Are those the regular dogs or the tofu dogs?"

"These are the tofu dogs."

"Good, good. Clark and Jason have been waiting for them." Her husband planted a quick peck on her cheek and was gone back to the patio.

Lois pulled some more beer from the fridge. This was their first Lane-White Memorial Day barbecue since she and Richard had gotten married. It was strange, somehow, that it didn't feel any different at all.

Back out on the patio, the usual crowd was gathered. Perry and Clark were off on the lawn, playing catch with Jason; when they saw the platter of food heading for the grill they started to move back to the patio. Jimmy, dressed in what he considered the height of summer fashion, was expounding on politics to an enthralled Bruce Wayne, whose black t-shirt had a smudge of mustard on it. As Clark drew near, Bruce disentangled himself from his conversation with Jimmy and loped over to meet him, scooping Jason up to whirl him around a couple of times--a game Jason never showed any sign of outgrowing. "Oof," Lois heard him say as he swung her son onto his back for a piggyback ride, "You're getting too heavy for me, slugger."

Jason laughed as Bruce galloped back to the patio with him. Lois watched them, feeling a warm glow of satisfaction at the scene: all her friends gathered around; her son, healthy and happy; her husband merrily tossing food on the grill.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Lombard Express has just pulled in to Grand Party Central!"

Lois felt her smile slip slightly askew at the voice calling from beyond the garden gate; she met Richard's eyes and shared a grimace. Whoever got stuck in conversation with the Planet's sports writer was in for a tedious afternoon. She supposed she would have to fall on the sword--

Her eyes widened as she saw the top of Lombard's head approaching the gate, accompanied by someone wearing a large, floppy purple sun hat. She felt a chill of apprehension. Surely Steve wouldn't have--He couldn't have brought---

A trill of laughter as the gate opened and Lois saw Jimmy drop his hamburger, mouth open. Lois was sure her face was a match for Jimmy's, although she hoped she was a little more subtle. Lombard had brought Constance Mooreston as his date? Lois met Richard's horrified glance as the pair swept into the garden. This was a social disaster waiting to happen.

Steve Lombard's companion surveyed the crowd, brushing her glossy chestnut pageboy out of eyes that twinkled with amusement and a touch of malice. Constance Mooreston, society writer for the Gotham Times, best known for her vitriolic rants against the Prince of Gotham and his wastrel ways. Lois didn't dare sneak a glance at Bruce, but out of the corner of her eye she saw Clark's jaw set in a surprisingly hard line for a moment, his eyes steely behind the thick glasses.

Lois cringed inside as Constance approached her, lines from the woman's columns ringing in her ears. Bruce Wayne may be a dipsomaniac, he may be a decadent rich boy, but he's got money - and that's all that counts in Gotham these days. Real class picked up and fled long ago. Constance leaned forward and air-kissed Lois's cheeks. Bruce Wayne has always suffered in comparison to his beloved father, wealthy city philanthropist and medical doctor Thomas Wayne. Some say that Bruce is still rebelling against a dad he simply can't live up to. "Lois!" cooed Constance, "It's been far too long. I'm afraid I don't get down to Metropolis too often nowadays, there's simply far too much to write about in Gotham."

"Waynester!" bellowed Steve Lombard's voice behind them. Lois turned to see Steve dragging Bruce Wayne toward them. Bruce looked like he desperately longed to punch Lombard in the gut and was barely restraining himself; not that it would do much good, Lois thought, as the sports writer was built like a brick wall. "Connie, hon, look who I caught trying to sneak off without saying hello--a fellow Gothamite! I'm sure you two should have a lot to talk about, huh?"

The party conversations continued, but everyone's attention was clearly focused on Constance and Bruce. Lois wished wildly for a moment that Superman would descend from the sky to save her from this social debacle, but party-crashing Kryptonians seemed to be in short supply.

"Ms Mooreston," Bruce said cordially. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Oh please, Brucie," said the society writer with a theatrical pout, "I think we know each other well enough for you to call me 'Constance.'"

"I wouldn't like to presume," Bruce said politely.

Constance eyed Bruce from head to toe, taking in the t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. "Slumming it in Metropolis, are we?" she beamed. Bruce looked blank, and she caught sight of the cola can in his hand. "Little Lord Fauntleroy in rags--and without his bottle? Why Brucie, I'm surprised you can bear to mingle with the unwashed masses without a few drinks in you!"

Bruce looked down at the can in his hand, then back up at Constance. He smiled, but Lois could see the strain in it. "I was...just relaxing."

Constance cocked her head to the side like a curious spaniel; the purple hat flopped with the motion. "I'm sure you've been quite busy dealing with the lawsuit the Indonesian government is bringing against Wayne Enterprises, of course." She raised her voice just enough to cut through the hum of conversation. "Illegal logging of rainforests on the island of Sumatra--how many species of flower went extinct there while you were carousing in Europe? Ten?"

"Twelve," muttered Bruce beneath his breath, but Constance was plowing on.

"Yes, Bruce Wayne has certainly left his mark on Sumatra, at least, if nowhere else." She flashed a toothy smile. "I'm sure your parents would have been quite proud of the rainforest mahogany you've rebuilt their house with."

The flash of something like anguish in Bruce's eyes broke Lois from her horrified paralysis. "Constance," she said, stepping forward, "I think that's more than enough."

"Maybe I should go," murmured Bruce, but Lois grabbed his arm and held him in place.

"Mr. Wayne is an invited guest and a friend of mine, Constance. The point of this party is to have fun and relax among friends, not to make the news."

Constance's scarlet mouth twisted in a sneer. "Oh, I see how it is." She gestured grandly at the collection of guests. "The Daily Planet, sucking up to Little Orphan Brucie in the hopes he'll throw you some scraps. He's got you all wrapped around his little finger with his poor little rich boy act, playing around at being a normal person while he's probably laughing behind his smile at all you plebian rubes." Her voice went up a notch. "He's a parasite and a leech, a waste of air, and his parents are probably rolling in their--"

"--That's enough," barked Lois, driven past endurance. "Bruce is not the one creating a scene here, and if you can't behave yourself I'm going to ask you to leave." Constance opened her mouth, her eyes flashing, but Lois cut her off. "--Now."

The society columnist's lips thinned. She seemed to be contemplating another salvo of insults, then checked herself and tossed her head petulantly. "I guess I know when I'm not wanted," she huffed.

"Took you long enough to figure it out," someone murmured sotto voce; it sounded rather like Jimmy.

Constance grabbed Lombard's arm. "Stevie, we're leaving."

Steve looked longingly at his still-unopened can of beer, then sighed and put it back down on the table. "No hard feelings?" he said jovially to Lois. Lois crossed her arms and glared and he flinched slightly, then turned to catch up with Constance as she flounced from the party. "Looks like the Lombard Express is leaving ahead of schedule," he announced as he passed through the gate.

There was a long silence as everyone didn't look at Bruce Wayne, who was staring after the columnist. Lois saw Clark's face, tight with empathy, his eyes on his lover. "Bruce--" she said, and his dark eyes met hers for a moment. She realized she had no idea what to say next.

"Mr. Wayne?" Jason's voice was small but insistent.

Bruce's smile was a polite curve that didn't reach his eyes. "What is it, Jason?"

Lois's son rubbed the toe of his sneaker on the patio awkwardly. "You promised you'd play frisbee with me."

Bruce blinked, and his smile softened into something genuine. "That I did, kiddo."

Jason brandished a yellow plastic disc with a familiar black logo on it. "Is now okay?"

Bruce picked the frisbee out of the boy's hands and spun it on his finger. "Now's great," he said.

: : :

"Geez, Clark, be careful!"

Clark was balancing an improbably high stack of dishes and plates in his arms as he went into the kitchen. They tottered and he compensated to keep them all from crashing to the floor, eyes blinking rapidly behind the thick glasses. "Don't worry, Lois. It's under control."

Lois bit back an annoyed reply. Clark had volunteered to stay behind and help clean up; she shouldn't snarl at him. Especially since her poor hostessing had nearly ruined the afternoon for him and Bruce. She sighed and put her stack of empty bowls into the sink, turning on the water. "Thank you," she said as Clark put his stack down next to the sink.

Clark grabbed a dishcloth from the hanger and held out his hands for the freshly-cleaned bowl. "I should be thanking you," he said softly. Lois snorted and rubbed at her nose with a soapy hand. "I'm serious," Clark went on. "It means a lot that you defended him."

Lois frowned. "He was my guest. And he's my friend. I wasn't going to let that harpy insult him."

Clark pushed his glasses up on his nose between bowl-wipings. "You know, your house and the Planet are...special places for Bruce. When he's here, away from Gotham, he gets to relax a little bit. He doesn't have to worry so much about...creating the right impression when he's here."

"He gets to be more himself, huh?"

Clark's smile was sweet and somewhat wry. "It's never quite that simple with Bruce. But...he gets to be a version of himself that can just have fun and be a good guy. For a few hours."

"Is it so hard to just be a good guy in Gotham? Why's he always in the papers for some irresponsible thing or other?" Since he had started dating Clark, the heavy partying and womanizing had died down, but the playboy still had a tendency to imbibe a little too freely and make a jackass of himself. The latest was when he had fallen onto five-tier cake at someone's gala. Bruce Wayne covered in frosting had made appealing copy. "If he worries so much about 'creating the right impression,' why does he constantly create such a bad impression?"

Clark sighed as he polished the ceramic bowl to a gleam. "It's...complicated."

The window above the kitchen sink was filled with dusk. In the gathering gloom Lois could see Bruce and her husband playing Frisbee with Jason. "I'm glad he has you in his life, Clark."

Clark ducked his head shyly. "I am too."

: : :

Richard sighed and wrapped his arms around Lois as she laid down on the couch next to him. "All things considered, I think that went pretty well."

"All things considered," Lois said wryly.

"We had no idea he'd bring her. And you handled her well."

Lois rolled over and buried her face in the crook of her husband's neck, smelling soap on his damp skin. "I hate to think what her columns do to Bruce."

"I never really imagined he noticed, to be honest. Brucie doesn't seem like the newpaper-reading kind, you know?"

"Mm, I always kind of thought that too. But the way he looked at me this afternoon, as Constance left..." Lois remembered again the flash of his azure eyes. "I think it does bother him. I think he wants to be...better than he is, a better man. Stronger, smarter, nobler. Like his parents would have wanted him to be."

Richard sighed. "We all must learn to live with our limitations. You, for example, are stuck with a husband who is neither a billionaire, nor a gorgeous alien. This is perhaps your only limitation, my dear, but it is a severe one."

Lois grinned and kissed his neck, adding a slight nip to make him yelp. "Then I shall embrace my limitations," she said, putting aside her thoughts of Bruce's Wayne dark eyes and the anguish she had, for a brief moment, glimpsed behind them.

Chapter Text

FIC: The Jewel in the Lotus (2/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 2/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Lucius Fox
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary: Bruce discusses family and responsibility with Clark and Lucius, and receives an intriguing letter.
Word Count:  2100

"May I?"

Batman's answer was a mostly-affirmative grunt.  A few moments later Superman was in the cave.  For a while he merely watched Batman as the Dark Knight worked, sorting slides and vials.  He had learned not to interrupt Batman or ask what he was working on;  Bruce would tell him when he was ready and his line of thought completed.  Sometimes Kal had hovered there in the cave for two hours, maybe three, while Batman worked in silence, just watching his lover think.  After years trapped in suspended animation at the Fortress and in space, a few hours of rapt contemplation of his beloved was no trial.

And he was obscurely happy that Bruce felt comfortable merely working with him watching, that he was as much a part of Batman's life as the bats and the stones, as integral and as unremarkable.

"Crane's toxins," Batman said without preamble after about fifteen minutes.  "I've analyzed and catalogued the last one."

"How many were there altogether?"

"He'd completed twenty."  Superman whistled and Batman nodded.  "A mix of dangerous and obscure--I could see uses for, say, hydrophobia, or acrophobia.  But fear of ants?  I'm not sure what purpose myrmecophobia would have served him.  Or how about this one?"  He held up a violet tube.  "Syngenesophobia--fear of one's relatives."  Batman chuckled darkly.  "At least we would have been immune to that phobia."  He waved a hand at Superman's frown.  "Sorry.  Bit of black humor there."

"You shouldn't let her get to you."


"You know.  That horrible columnist."  Kal didn't even want to say her name, but Bruce seemed unfazed.

"Moorston?"  He snorted.  "She's just doing her job.  And saying exactly what I want people to say, after all.  I suppose I should be thanking her for making my job easier.  With her screeds out there, I only need to actually misbehave a couple of times a month."

"Still..."  Kal shifted uncomfortably in the air.

Batman sighed and pulled off the cowl to look Kal in the eye.  "Look, I don't like it when a nice, comfortable get-together is spoiled by my reputation.  And I don't like being the center of attention when I'm trying to relax.  But this is the life I've chosen, and there's no point in whining about it."

Kal couldn't exactly imagine Bruce "whining" about anything, and was opening his mouth to say so when the lift whirred into life and opened soon after to reveal Alfred carrying a plate.  "A bit of early breakfast for you, sir--oh," he broke off on seeing Kal, "I didn't know you were here too, Master Kal.  Shall I bring some breakfast for you as well?"

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," said Kal, trying not to eye the bagel and smoked salmon too obviously. 

They polished off their food in sociable silence, and Bruce stretched, the joints of the suit creaking.  "I'm going to catch a catnap;  I need to head in to work today for a little bit.  Do me a favor and undo the buckles?"

Kal grinned.  "Just did," he said smugly. 

Bruce looked down to see the suit mostly unfastened, and snorted.  "Lovers with superspeed.  So handy in so many ways."  He started to slip out of the suit.

"I can whisk you upstairs to bed as well."

"I would find that acceptable," Bruce said haughtily, waving a hand.

Ten seconds later he was in pajamas and between crisp sheets, alone.

A voice in his ear:  "Sleep well."  Sounds of Metropolis in the background.

Bruce smiled and rolled over to pull the pillow close.

: : :

Bruce did his best to look frazzled as Amy opened the door to his office.  "You doing okay, Mr. Wayne?" 

Looking frazzled actually wasn't that hard, all things considered.

"Yeah, just checking my schedule for this week."  He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it in a state he had heard Amy and the rest of the staff describe as "adorably rumpled."  "I'm hoping to get out of here by three."

Amy glanced at the clock, one eyebrow raised.  "Seeing as it's one, and you got here an hour ago, you'd better be careful.  I wouldn't want you to overwork yourself or anything."  Her smile was half-affectionate and half-exasperated, and Bruce made a mental note to find a way to get her some vacation time soon.  He tried to fit enough work into his few hours at Wayne Enterprises that the secretarial staff wasn't too overworked, but it was hard to get things done without looking like you're getting things done.

Bruce was constantly astonished that the people who worked for him seemed to like him.  He relied on them far too much, worked them far too hard, and gave them no excuses beyond his innate fecklessness.  Yet they smiled when they saw him, as if the fact that he remembered their names and children's birthdays actually meant something.

He was going through his mail, sorting through the web of obligations and duties, figuring out what to saddle Amy with, what to pass on to Lucius, and what to deal with himself, when he came across an envelope addressed in an elegant, clear hand on pale purple paper.  As he opened the letter inside, a light floral scent, like lilacs and jasmine, reached him.

Dear Mr. Wayne:

Forgive me for the rudeness of mailing you directly;  I can only hope the urgency of my message can mitigate the faux pas.

I am a biologist working in the Sumatran rainforest to help record recent extinctions and, if possible, save further species from becoming extinct as loggers and pulp farms encroach on the great forests.  I've read with interest your press statements distancing yourself from Wayne Enterprises' decimation of the rainforests, and I hope to give you an opportunity to prove your sincerity.

Our funding is running low here at the Institute.  We're doing valuable work here--our efforts have saved several endangered species from slipping into the silence of time.  If you could find it in your heart to aid us, you would be doing a great service to the Earth.  Some may consider this a mere public relations move, but I would suggest that you think of it as a way to cleanse your family's name and do honor to your parents. 

Sadly, work demands too much of my time to come meet you in person, but I am sending an intermediary--my assistant, Lavender Lee--to courier this letter in the hopes of meeting with you soon.  I hope that you'll consider my proposal, Mr. Wayne.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Evelyn Ivey
Rainforest Preservation Institute
Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia

Bruce looked at the letter for a long time.  He was staring absent-mindedly out the window, tapping his letter-opener on the desk, when there was a knock at the door.

"You really don't have to knock," he said as Lucius Fox entered the room.

"I know," said Lucius.  "But I like to maintain the illusion that you run this place."  His wry smile faded as he scanned Bruce's face.  "What's the matter, Mr. Wayne?"

Bruce grimaced.  "That obvious, huh?"

"You winced," Lucius said gently.

"It's the Indonesian lawsuit," Bruce said as Lucius settled into a chair.  "It's really getting to me, recently.  It's not what I wanted my father's name to be remembered for."

"It won't be."  Lucius's jaw was set.  "We'll make it right."  He eyed Bruce.  "You look tired."

Bruce's smile aimed for "dazzling" but achieved only "wan."  "I've just been partying a little too much recently."

Lucius's eyes narrowed and he gave Bruce a long, assessing look before broadening into a smile.  "Speaking of your father--you probably won't believe me, and it was long before you were born anyway, but there was a time when Thomas Wayne's name was synonymous with wastrel."

"It was?"

Lucius stretched long legs and grinned at Bruce's astonished look.  "Sure.  I knew him when he was in med school and I was just a hotshot young engineer starting off at Wayne Enterprises.  Did you know he barely squeaked by with straight Cs one semester?  He was brilliant, but he had no real reason to apply himself--he could always fall back on running Wayne Enterprises.  He didn't have anyone he needed to impress."  The grin turned into a more reminiscent smile.  "He met your mother shortly after that.  I remember him bursting into Wayne Towers one day, knocking me right over in a hallway, grabbing me and yelling he'd finally met the woman he was going to marry."  A chuckle.  "I hardly knew him then.  He took me out for coffee--he said to apologize for bowling me over, but I think mostly because he wanted to bend someone's ear about the wonderful woman he'd just met--your mother, of course." 

Bruce still couldn't quite get past his father getting Cs in medical school.  "So that's when he got his life together?"

Lucius's eyes sharpened, but his tone remained jovial.  "Oh, he still had to spend a lot of time at parties.  Charities, fundraisers, all the events that made it possible to get the philanthropic side of Wayne Enterprises going.  He and Martha reigned supreme at them, and the Wayne Foundation flourished, but I could tell he hated them.  Wanted to be doing something real, something with his hands."  He glanced down at Bruce's hands for a second.  "That's a nasty bruise you've got there, Mr. Wayne."

Bruce drummed his fingers on the desk.  "Sailing accident."

"Right.  Given up on spelunking already?"

"Never," Bruce said with a smile.

Lucius didn't smile back. "Glad to hear it. Your father wouldn't have ever given up on something he loved either. Every now and then he'd complain about 'Those fucking parties'--his words, not mine," Lucius said, putting his hands in the air. "Your father could swear like a sailor, Bruce. Your mother could too, when the situation called for it. But that's another story. Anyway, he hated them sometimes, but he knew they were necessary to do good for Gotham, and that's what mattered to him. The medical work--that was his love, where he poured his passion, and it was valuable, but it was one life at a time. The charities, the endless round--that was change in the long run." Lucius paused. "They're both important--the short run and the long run, the individual and the global change." He stood up, unfolding his long frame. "Most of us aren't strong enough to do both. Your father was a great man."

Bruce looked down at the pale violet letter on his desk.  "Thank you," he said after a moment.

Lucius chuckled.  "Of course, your father had Martha.  She made it possible to do both to the extent he did.  Having someone who'll support you, that you can trust implicitly--it helps.  Mr. Kent may not be as beautiful as your mother, but I think he's a good influence in your life."

Bruce tapped his letter opener lightly on the dark wood.  "Having a person to trust completely is a great thing."  He looked up and met Lucius's gaze squarely.  "Having more than one is a gift beyond measure."

Lucius blinked.  Then he sketched a very slight, rather self-mocking bow in the air between them.  "I believe I'll give myself a raise," he said.

Bruce couldn't help smiling.  "You do that," he said.

As the door closed behind Lucius, Bruce turned on his desk computer.  A message appeared on the screen almost immediately:  He's a good man.

Bruce smiled slightly and put his hands to the keyboard.  He could speak and Clark would hear him, but when at work it was safer to actually type rather than get the reputation as a man who muttered to himself.  You're listening in again.

Work is boring.  Lois appreciated the flowers, though.  She says to say thank you.

Bruce leaned back in his chair for a moment, stretching out.  Back to the keyboard:  Lucius was wrong about one thing, though.


He underestimates how beautiful you are.

There was what was, for Clark, a very long pause.  Then a new message:  You make it hard to resign myself to patrolling tonight.

Consider it building anticipation.

Oh, it is that.

Bruce chuckled throatily, knowing that Clark would hear it, knowing the effect it would have on him.  Meet me at midnight sharp on top of the Wayne Tower.  You've got until the clock tower finishes striking twelve.

That should be more than enough time to get what I want out of you, Mr. Wayne.

We'll see about that, Mr. Kent.

Bruce logged off, smiling.  The evening promised to be an enjoyable one.

He tucked the floral-scented letter back in its envelope and put it out of mind for the moment.

Chapter Text

FIC: The Jewel in the Lotus (3/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 3/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Bruce meets with Lavender Lee, goes to yet another party, and greets the dawn with his lover.
Word Count:  1800

"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Mr. Wayne."  The woman on the other side of his desk was compact and composed, her straight dark hair falling slightly across her face and her dark eyes steady.  A hint of a Chinese accent touched her words.  "You've read my employer's letter?"

Bruce smiled one of his more charming smiles;  the woman's mouth curved very faintly.  "Yes, Ms Lee, and I must say I'm intrigued.  Dr. Ivey's activities seem very promising."  He'd checked the Institute;  it had been founded twelve years ago and had an impeccable record.  Doctor Ivey had been hired four years ago, according to their records--a little bit of extra computer hacking had found those.

Lavender Lee leaned forward, her eyes enthusiastic, and Bruce caught a faint wisp of perfume from her--lilacs and jasmine, like the scent of the letter.  "Evelyn--Dr. Ivey, I mean--is our leading botanist.  We have other researchers working on the animal restoration, and the ecological reclamation.  But it's Dr. Ivey's work that's the closest to paying off."

She reached into a briefcase and pulled out an envelope.  From inside it she drew a sheaf of photographs.  "These are pictures of the flower species that we believe have gone extinct due to logging practices."

"My company's logging practices," Bruce murmured as he took them from her and began to leaf through them.

"Don't be too hard on yourself, Mr. Wayne," said Lavender sympathetically.  "We're just hoping you'll see this as a chance to redeem some of the harm that's been done in your family's name."

Bruce's hands stilled on the papers.  "What's this one?"  The photograph underneath his fingers was of a flower floating on a still pond, its pristine white petals curving gracefully around a golden heart.  Its symmetry almost seemed to glow from the paper.

"Ah."  Lavender smiled, looking at the picture.  "That is--was--Nelumbo Nitidum, the shining lotus.  There are only two genii of Nelumbo lotuses left in the world, now that this one is gone."  Bruce nodded absently, staring at the flower.  Lavender rose to stand behind him and look over his shoulder;  her perfume was much stronger close up.  "It's lovely, isn't it?  Nelumbo is a sacred flower for Hindus and Buddhists, so it's an even greater loss."  There was a pause while they looked at the flower together;  she went on,  "The Lalitavistara Sutra says that 'the spirit of the best of men is spotless, like the lotus in the muddy water which does not adhere to it'."


Bruce drew back his hand to find the woman looking at him compassionately.  "I know you want to do the right thing, Mr. Wayne.  Make your parents proud."

Bruce opened his drawer and took out his checkbook.  "How much would help?"

Lavender Lee smiled.

: : :

"Christine, Crystal, please girls, let a guy have some air!"  Clark sipped his orange juice and watched Bruce disentangling himself from two identical blondes, almost sloshing champagne on them both.  The headlines next day would probably be about how Brucie Wayne was breaking his wallflower boyfriend's heart yet again, the shameless flirt.  The Gotham gossips were always laying odds that some pretty face would finally distract Bruce from poor long-suffering Clark Kent.  If they knew how fervently Bruce threw himself at Clark after one of these outings...

Clark's smile touched his lips and faded.  He knew he looked worried, and that people would take that to be jealousy, but in truth he was rather concerned.  Not about Christa or Carrie, but about Bruce.  He never asked Clark to come to the endless round of soirees, but Clark could see the relief in his lover's eyes when he volunteered--and he had been volunteering more and more lately.  Having him there seemed to make the foppish charade easier.  Bruce would look over at him and almost wink, or Clark would hum subvocally and watch the smile actually reach Bruce's eyes.

As Clark watched, Bruce suddenly was free of the two women, his smile wide and abruptly genuine.  "Dr. Sugiyama!" he exclaimed.  Clark turned to see a tall man with a deeply lined face, his temples touched with gray:  Dr. Michael Sugiyama, who last month had been rendered catatonic by Jonathan Crane and his fear toxin.  Crane had dosed the surgeon with a toxin creating fear of blood in the middle of surgery;  the doctor had completed the operation and then lapsed into unresponsiveness.

Bruce held out his hand and the doctor shook it, smiling slightly.  "It's a pleasure to see you again, Bruce."

"It's much more a pleasure to see you, doctor.  How are you doing?"

"I'm doing much better, thanks to your help," the doctor said.  "I may even be able to get back to work again eventually."

Bruce laughed slightly.  "I didn't do much."

"My boy, you kept me out of Arkham.  That's quite a bit in my book."

Bruce sipped his champagne as if to hide his smile.  "Thank you," he said softly.

Sugiyama tilted his head to the side slightly, his face concerned again.  "Bruce..." he said rather hesitantly, "I appreciate all you've done for me, but don't you ever want to make a real difference in Gotham?  Your father, he had such great plans for the future," he went on as Clark watched Bruce's face stiffen.  "I know he was hoping you'd follow in his footsteps, in medicine--but he would have been proud of any path you'd chosen to help Gotham," he added hastily.  "The Wayne family was so well-known for its work to keep this city safe and beautiful..."  His voice trailed off into vagueness, and Clark heard Bruce swallow.

A shrill giggle cut across his voice.  "Brucie keeps the city beautiful, don't you, Bruce?  By keeping us around!"  One of the blond girls draped herself on his left arm, the other on his right.  "You're not being fun, Brucie," the woman said with a pout. 

"Yeah, ditch the fogey and join the party!" chirped the other.

Bruce looked at the women and at Dr. Sugiyama;  Clark saw a muscle twitch at the corner of his eye.  "Actually..." he said, "I'm not feeling so great right now. I don't mean to be rude, but I'd better be heading home." He pried the protesting women off of him, nodded politely to the doctor, and headed for the door.  On the way, he set his glass on the table so hard most of the drink sloshed out.

Clark followed him.

He reached the car to find Bruce already sitting in the front seat, his forehead resting on the steering wheel.  As Clark opened the door, he straightened and started the car.  Clark opened his mouth, but Bruce cut him off.  "--Just give me a moment, Clark, please."

They drove back to the Manor in silence.  Clark trailed Bruce into the Manor and to the library.  Bruce sank onto the couch under the portrait of his parents, closing his eyes;  Clark sat down next to him.  Waiting.

"Sometimes I just can't do it," Bruce said, his eyes still closed, head tilted back against the couch.  "I'm sorry, I just can't."

"There's nothing to be sorry about."

"I can deal with people thinking I'm stupid, thinking I'm shallow.  But when I realize the damage I'm doing to the Wayne family name..."

"You're doing a lot of good in that name as well, Bruce.  Charity work.  Medical research."

Bruce grimaced slightly.  "That stays under the radar.  I make sure to keep it that way.  Getting sued by the Indonesian government for destroying their rainforests--that gets in the papers."

"You weren't responsible for that.  It was done while you were gone."

"I abandoned my responsibility to my parents' legacy.  I'm responsible for those extinctions as surely as if I had gone there and rooted the flowers out with my own hands.  Extinction is forever, Clark.  It's not something I can ever undo.  And it was done in the name of my family."

Bruce's voice was so bleak that Clark risked reaching out and resting a hand on his knee.  "I never knew your parents, Bruce.  But I think they'd care more about the actual safety of the city than the purity of their family name.  I think they'd understand what you're doing."

After a moment, Bruce leaned over, his eyes still closed, and buried his face in Clark's shoulder.  "I'll never know," he said hoarsely as Clark put his arms around him.  "I'll never be sure."

Clark held him, feeling the weight of the portrait's painted gaze behind them.  Then he scooped Bruce up in his arms.  "To bed, love," he said softly.  Bruce made an inarticulate sound and clung tighter.

Once out of the library, Bruce's hands began to unbutton Clark's shirt, his lips to caress the skin beneath.  Clark resisted the urge to use super-speed to get them both to the bedroom as Bruce's touch grew more insistent, climbing the great staircase slowly as ties and suit coats and cummerbunds fell like rain.  By the time they reached the door of the bedroom, Bruce had gotten his hands into Clark's pants somehow and was murmuring in delight at Clark's reaction.  No more demons tonight, love, Clark promised as he pushed Bruce against the heavy walnut door with the Wayne crest carved into it, kissed him until his lover was panting and moaning, abandoned to desire, forgetting even his name.  Nothing but joy.

: : :

Clark woke up much later to the sound of rustling silk in his ears:  not the sheets, he realized as he rolled over and found himself in bed alone, but the sound of the wind singing through Batman's cape.  He smiled and listened to his love in flight, the whistling metallic hum of the decel line, the rising and falling rhythms of Bruce's life.  It was a quiet patrol, and for a long time there was no sound but the sleeping city and Bruce's soft breathing.

Clark got out of bed and pulled the sheets up into some kind of order.  There was still time to get to Metropolis for a couple of hours' patrol of his own.  As he changed into the Superman costume and lifted into the night sky, he heard the distinctive thump of Batman's boots hitting pavement, gasps of alarm from someone caught doing something they shouldn't. 

His own patrol was uneventful.  The night lightened slowly into indigo, the shadows lightening and becoming transparent.  The sky began to flush with dawn, and Superman lifted himself above his city to catch the moment the sun appeared over the horizon.

Their moment.

As the first light of dawn touched the Eastern seaboard, he heard Bruce's soft inhalation in his ear and smiled, closing his eyes.  Another morning with both of them healthy and able to greet the sun together.  Another miracle.

"Good morning," Bruce whispered.

"Good morning," Kal said back.

Chapter Text

FIC: The Jewel in the Lotus (4/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 4/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Superman feels uneasy about Bruce's new screensaver and gets a chance to make out with his biggest fan.
Word Count:  1000

"What's that flower?" 

Kal's voice behind him was only mildly curious, but Bruce moved hastily to jog the cave's computer out of sleep mode.  The white-petaled lotus disappeared.  "Oh, it's one of the flowers that went extinct in Sumatra," Bruce said.  He had set the photo as his screen saver after meeting with Lavender Lee for the first time ten days ago.  It evoked strangely contradictory feelings in him when he saw it glimmer into existence on his computer screen:  it was a goad and a comfort at the same time, a reminder of his failures and a promise of redemption.

Sometimes he would sit and watch it shimmering on the screen, lost in contemplation, time slipping by.  It was beautiful, and it mocked him with its lost beauty, its ethereal light.

He had begun to dream of it, now and then.  White petals, curving, just out of reach.

Bruce turned to find Superman gazing at him, his eyes concerned.  "You torment yourself with that."

Bruce shrugged.  He had written Lavender Lee another check today, bigger than the last two.  It would help for a while.  "I'm sorry," he said.  "I'll try to worry about it less."

He was trying.  It was just that nothing seemed to help for long.

But he was feeling better today, so it wasn't hard to smile at Kal and grab his hand, bring it to his lips.  "I promise, Kal."

Kal smiled.  "Have you got a few hours before going out on patrol?  The Monarchs are on tv."

"You're no fun to watch baseball with," Bruce complained.  "You don't care about sports enough.  You'll just get distracted and start suggesting we make out."

"Hey, sounds fun to me," Kal said with a leer, and Bruce was privately forced to admit that it was more fun than watching baseball, most of the time. 

Okay, all of the time.

Bruce shrugged.  "I've got a couple of hours."

"I'll change--"  Kal started, but Bruce cut him off.

"No, stay in uniform.  I'm in the mood to make out with Superman today," he said.

The dark, elegant brows lifted.  "Why Mr. Wayne, you fanboy."

Bruce bit his lip slightly.  "Just Bruce tonight."

Superman put a hand out to tilt Bruce's face up slightly, smiling the confident little half-smile that always drove Bruce crazy.  "If you say so...Bruce."

Bruce ran a languid hand from the neck of Superman's costume down to the scarlet shorts, hooking his hands into the fabric and pulling him close.  "Can I show you around my humble abode, Superman?  We can watch some baseball, and I can show you how much your biggest fan appreciates you," he drawled.

As he dragged Superman up the stairs, still murmuring inanities and innuendos, Bruce caught sight of the screen saver glimmering back into life, surfacing from the darkness of oblivion:  white petals as pure as hope, as shining as salvation.  Lost forever.

His heart ached suddenly, and he closed his eyes and focused on kissing his lover until they both almost fell down the stairs.

Lost forever.

: : :

It was the third inning, and Superman had one hand slipped inside Bruce's pants.  Bruce was pretending to still watch the game, but his breath was short and his eyes focused inward rather than on the screen.  "Oh, Bruce," Kal murmured, shifting his grip, "You weren't exaggerating when you said you were my biggest fan."

A breathy chuckle.  "Do you often do comparison checks, Superman?"

Kal kept his voice low and resonant, his public voice.  "Only of the most handsome and alluring of my many, many fans."

Bruce's eyes were drifting shut.  "I'm so glad you--you approve, my hero."  He shifted his hips and groaned slightly.  "I'd do anything for you, you know.  Anything.  My hero."

Kal stared at Bruce's flushed cheeks and lax mouth.  This version of the game--"The Hero and the Playboy," Bruce had dubbed it--always amazed Kal.  Watching Bruce luxuriating in his civilian role, his eyes shining with a hero-worship that might even be, at the deepest heart of it, a tiny bit sincere--it filled Kal with wondering lust.  "I do appreciate a devoted fan," he murmured.

"Devoted," Bruce agreed with a gasp.  "So very--yes--"

"Are you ready to prove it?"  Superman asked.  Bruce said something inaudible, thrusting against his hand.  "Are you going to suck my cock, Bruce?"

Bruce twisted, his face going rigid, and came hard against Superman's hand with a long moan.  The moan resolved itself into something of a sheepish chuckle as Bruce relaxed luxuriously against Kal.  "I'm sorry," Bruce said after a moment.  "I simply cannot take Superman talking dirty.  It completely unhinges me."  He kicked his pants off with a fluid motion and was kneeling between Superman's blue-clad legs an instant later, pulling at the cloth.  "Let me prove my devotion," he said huskily.  "Tell me what a wonderful fan I am, how skilled, how loyal and ardent."

Superman told him, told him over and over until driven beyond words and into nothing but panting desire.

Half-naked and entwined on the couch, they watched the game move into its seventh inning.  Kal nuzzled Bruce's neck sleepily, letting the commercials wash over him.  He felt Bruce's body tense underneath him, very slightly.  "Is it really?  I guess it is..." Bruce said thoughtfully.

"Is what?"

"Father's Day.  Tomorrow."  Bruce's voice was casual, but Kal could hear a thread of tension underneath it.  "I hadn't noticed."  Kal ran a hand through Bruce's hair and waited.  "Do you know what the last Father's Day present I got my father was?"

"No, what?"

"I don't remember either.  Probably some tie or mug.  I didn't put much thought into it.  I wish it had been something special.  But I don't remember."

There was a long silence, in which Kal listened to Bruce's breath, the long even breaths of a person struggling not to show their emotion too much.  After a while, the breaths slowly evened out into sleep, Bruce's hands twitching slightly as he slipped under.  Kal knew he should probably wake his lover for patrol, but somehow he couldn't bear to.  Let him have a moment's rest.

In his sleep, in Kal's sheltering arms, Bruce murmured something about light.

Chapter Text

FIC: The Jewel in the Lotus (5/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 5/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Alfred Pennyworth
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
On Father's Day, Bruce has a talk with Alfred and embarks on a perhaps-unwise quest for redemption.
Word Count:  1900

"...This Father's Day, I'm reminded of the Buddhist saying about why the lotus is sacred:  although it grows from the muck and mire, it lifts itself to the light to reveal a pure flower.  Gotham's so-called Prince would do well to remember this saying--especially as there's one less kind of lotus around to contemplate, thanks to the actions of the Wayne family.

Bruce Wayne is like a lotus flower in reverse:  from his bright beginnings, he's buried his promise and his mother's and father's dreams in filth."

Constance Mooreston, "A Parable for Father's Day"

Bruce put aside the newspaper and resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands.  Nothing was going right.  He couldn't seem to shake the feeling that there was something more he should be doing, something he was missing.  If only he could figure it out...

Alfred started to clear away the dishes and caught sight of the newspaper.  He picked it up and dumped it in the trash can with rather more vehemence than a newspaper usually deserved.  "Rubbish," he muttered as he went back to his cleaning.

"Alfred," said Bruce before he could think twice, "Do you think my parents would disapprove of me?  Of my life?"

Alfred smiled.  "Of course they would, sir."

Bruce blinked.  "What?"

Alfred reached over and gently lifted the plates from the table.  "All children disappoint their parents, Master Bruce.  It wouldn't be natural, otherwise.  My father, for example--he wouldn't speak to me for years after I joined the service."  He cleared his throat with an exaggerated "harrumph" and continued, quoting:  "'Butlering was good enough for me, and for my father and my grandfather before him,' were the last words between us for many years."  Alfred smiled slightly.  "I believe he called me an 'impertinent and cheeky whippersnapper' slightly before that."  He deposited the plates in the sink and came back to lay a hand on Bruce's shoulder.  "Your parents were good people, but they weren't limitlessly forbearing.  If they could speak to you, your mother would fret about your safety and tell you to drive more carefully.  Your father would tell you that he would rather you were a doctor.  You'd probably feel rather badly about it for a while."  Alfred cocked an eyebrow at Bruce.  "And you'd get up and keep doing what you felt was right, and they wouldn't have had it any other way, lad."

"And yet," Bruce said, "Here you are."

Alfred looked a trifle taken aback.  "Yes.  Well.  It turned out I had a talent for it and a love of doing it."  He dusted Bruce's shoulder off vigorously.  "And if the old man were alive, I'm sure he'd say I wasn't doing it right, and I would have failed at making him happy again."

Bruce couldn't help smiling.  "How could anyone ever find fault with your butlering, Alfred?"

Alfred tilted his head with a rather roguish grin.  "I'm far too impertinent to my employers, for starters."

"Hmph," Bruce said, but he felt better, somehow, at least until he met Lavender Lee for lunch.  As he sat down across from her, her light perfume touched him and he felt his mood plummet inexplicably.  Snap out of it, Bruce, he thought irritably, but it was still there like a weight in the pit of his stomach, the knowledge, solid and ineluctable, that he was failing his parents.  It wasn't going to go away.  He'd do anything to make it--

Lavender was beaming at him across the table, almost bouncing in her chair.  "Don't you want to know?" she said gleefully, and Bruce realized he'd missed something.


"Our good news!"  Her face was nearly glowing with excitement.  "Nelumbo Nitidum, Mr. Wayne.  The shining lotus.  Dr. Ivey says she's found a specimen of the plant in what remains of the Sumatran rainforest."  Lavender leaned across the table.  "Oh, Mr. Wayne.  She might be able to save it!"

Bruce felt hope unfurl in his chest like petals, rising above dark water.  "Really?"  He tried to look blase and vaguely interested, but Lavender chortled with delight and reached out to grab his hands.

"Yes.  And it's all thanks to you and your funds.  We owe you so much, Mr. Wayne.  So much."  Her voice shook with emotion.  "Dr. Ivey asked me to invite you to come and visit our lab and see the shining lotus in person.  So you can see with your own eyes the good work the Wayne family has done.  You might even be able to meet with the Indonesian officials, convince them to drop the case against your company--I know we'd be happy to testify on your behalf." 

Bruce felt borne along by the young woman's enthusiasm.  "I'd love to--but when--"

"Today.  Now.  No time like the present!"  When Bruce hesitated, Lavender smiled at him, touching his face with a sweetly-scented hand.  "It's Father's Day, Bruce.  Consider this a present to him from you."

Father's Day...  "I'll get a company jet ready to go."

: : :

"...Forgive me, sir, but I find the idea of you rushing off to Sumatra like this...rather uncharacteristically impetuous."  Alfred shifted the phone, frowning.  Bruce had called from the jet;  he was already in the air on his way to Indonesia.

Bruce's voice on the other end sounded...happy.  And relieved.  "Oh Alfred, don't you know an irresponsible roustabout like myself is always dropping things to jet off somewhere?"  His tone dropped slightly.  "Seriously, Alfred.  I really want--I need to see this myself.  It means a lot to me."

It was a hard fact of life, Alfred Pennyworth reflected, that when Bruce Wayne sounded cheerful and hopeful one had to assume something was wrong.  "Couldn't you have waited to bring Mr. Kent with you?"

"Lavender says Dr. Ivey doesn't want the press poking around at this delicate stage of the procedure."

"Mr. Kent isn't 'the press,' sir, he's--"

"Alfred, please.  This is very important to me.  It' last Father's Day present.  And one worth remembering, this time."

Alfred hung up the phone, frowning. There was a flicker of movement and Clark Kent was in the kitchen with him.  "Something's wrong," said the reporter.

"You were listening?"

"I'm always listening," said Clark.  His eyes went faraway.  "Bruce?  Come on, Bruce, talk to me."  He sighed and returned his attention to the kitchen.  "I'm listening, but he's turned off his receiver.  Do you know what prompted this?  I know he's been obsessing over that lotus, but...well, Bruce is often obsessing over something," he said sheepishly.

Alfred held out the newspaper, folded to leave Constance Mooreston's column on top.  Clark whistled through his teeth as he glanced at it.  "Why would she use such a convoluted metaphor?  It's too much of a coincidence."  He pulled out his phone again.  "Do me a favor, Alfred, and see if you can find a copy of any letter this Evelyn Ivey has sent Bruce.  Handwriting analysis, paper, there's got to be a clue somewhere.  I'll join you in the cave in a few minutes."  His attention returned to the phone.  "Hello, this is Clark Kent from the Daily Planet and I was hoping to talk to Constance Mooreston..."

By the time Clark appeared in the cave, Alfred had two envelopes from Dr. Ivey laid out next to the computer.  "Mooreston was...evasive.  But I definitely got the impression she didn't come up with that lotus reference on her own.  Someone was feeding her lines."

"The same people who don't want the press 'poking around'?"

"Perhaps."  Clark stared at the lilac-tinted envelope.  "What the hell is going on here?"  He opened it and frowned as a lilt of perfume reached him.  "Alfred.  Have you got gas masks here?"

Alfred hastily grabbed a couple of streamlined masks from a cabinet and handed one to Clark.  "You need one too, sir?"

Clark's wry laugh was muffled slightly by the mask.  "After Crane, I'm not taking any chances."  He placed the envelope gingerly in a sealed container.  "We're just going to run some quick tests on this.  Let me flush the air and we can take off our masks."

Fifteen minutes went by while the computer processed the information and Alfred watched Clark pace back and forth across the cave.  "He didn't seem to be afraid, sir," said Alfred.  "He seemed almost...euphoric."

Clark growled something about hell freezing over as the computer beeped.  He jumped to the keyboard and pulled up the readouts, glaring at them intently.  "That's no simple perfume, that's for sure.  This isn't exactly my forte.  Bruce is better at making these leaps of logic than I am.  But..."  He pulled up the information for Crane's toxins and tilted his head, looking at them.  His hands danced across the keyboard.  "It's not fear toxin, but I'm asking the computer to cross-reference this with the toxins that Bruce catalogued previously."  There was a pause, and two molecular models appeared on the screen, some of the chemical bonds marked in red.  Clark leaned closer and hissed between his teeth.  "The one on the left is Ivey's perfume.  The one on the right is Crane's syngenesophobia toxin, the one that creates a fear of your relatives.  It's been altered somehow.  I can't figure out how..."

"Master Bruce has been obsessed with his parents recently," Alfred said, and Clark nodded, looking worried. 

"I can't imagine it's a coincidence.  Some subtle, slow-acting toxin, that requires repeated exposures to take effect and do...what?  Create some kind of obsession with your family's approval?"

"Why would someone want to do that?"

Clark's mouth was set in a grim line.  "Don't know, don't care.  At the moment, it's enough to know that something's not right."  He stood up.  "Can I get my hands on another company jet?  I need to get there quickly but if I go as Superman it'll be suspicious--he wouldn't drop everything to go haring off after someone who seems to be on a completely voluntary trip."

"I'll arrange it. We'll leave within the hour." Clark opened his mouth but Alfred overrode him. "It's a gut feeling, Mister Kent. I need to go too."

Clark eyed him narrowly.  "I suppose it would be futile to tell you it might be dangerous?"

"In the extreme, sir."

"Will you at least tell Bruce later that I did my best to dissuade you?  If anything happens to you..."

Alfred's smile indicated that he understood perfectly well Clark's attempts to reassure himself there would a "later."  "I promise, sir, that I shall try to shield you from any Bat-wrath that might ensue from our actions."  He headed for the stairs.  "Up, up, and away--to coin a phrase."

: : :

Bruce looked out the window at the shining clouds.  Lavender's voice reached his ears and he looked at her.  The woman's eyes were closed and she was murmuring a phrase over and over:  "Om mane padme hum."  It was a soothing sound, like a cascade of cool water.

She opened her eyes between repetitions to see Bruce looking at her and smiled brilliantly.  "It's a Buddhist mantra.  One reading of it is 'the jewel in the lotus.'  It's a prayer for enlightenment."

Bruce nodded absently as she went back to her chant;  he knew all that, of course.  He let the words wash over him, cleansing and revivifying.  Redemption almost within his grasp.

The jewel in the lotus.

Chapter Text

Bruce and his escort landed in Padang and got into a mud-splashed Jeep driven by a large, burly man.  "Isn't the Institute here in Padang?" Bruce asked, waving a hand at the small city.

"Oh no," said Lavender Lee soothingly.  "Dr. Ivey is working deep in the rainforest.  We have to go much deeper to find her and the lotus."  She put an arm around Bruce as the Jeep lurched north, away from the coast and into the rainforest.  The light, sweet perfume was stronger than ever, and Bruce felt almost dizzy with it.  He had to go deeper, like she said.  That made sense.  He had to go deeper, to find the way to ensure his parents would always be proud of him.  He'd never have to worry about it again, never have to look at their portrait and wonder, never have to look at his face in the mirror and fear.  He just had to perform this one act of redemption, to hold the lotus that he had plucked from annihilation in his own hands, shining.

Lavender and the driver were humming to themselves, the same mantra Lavender had been chanting on the plane.  He murmured it to himself:  "Om mani padme hum," and Lavender smiled radiantly at him. 

"It brings peace, doesn't it, Brucie?  Peace and tranquility.  Enlightenment and certainty."

A part of Bruce noticed with a detached interest that he had gone from being "Mr. Wayne" to "Bruce" and then "Brucie" in the course of this trip, somehow.  But it made sense.  Brucie was a child's name, and he was still his parents' child.  He had to return to Brucie before he could redeem himself.  Return to the pure child he had been, so long ago.  Only then would he be worthy to touch the jewel in the lotus.

They drove on through ever-thickening jungle, palms and vines deepening around them, the canopy creating a sort of eternal twilight.  Birds cried out in the trees around them, flashes of bright feathers, here and gone.  The Jeep pulled off the road onto a mere intimation of path and continued.

They rounded a corner and Bruce blinked at the sight:  a ziggurat-like temple of ancient gray stone, rising within the undergrowth.  "That looks like a Buddhist temple," he said, realizing belatedly that Brucie Wayne was hardly well-versed in religious architecture.  He blinked owlishly at Lavender to cover the slip.  "I thought Indonesia was a Muslim nation or...something like that?"

"There are remains on these islands of a time when the great Buddhist empires ruled this realm," Lavender said reverently as the Jeep came to a halt.  "We found this one, hidden deep in the jungle.  It's our base of operations."  She brought her hands together in front of her chest and bowed toward the temple.  "Here we serve Green Tara, Mother of Liberation, the source of enlightenment."

Environmental scientists worshiping a Buddhist goddess seemed rather incongruous to Bruce, but he chose not to point that out.  If Lavender became angry at him and denied him access to the lotus now, when he was so close...Bruce's heart twisted in his chest.  He couldn't bear it, he knew that.  He couldn't go on without seeing it, touching the pure white petals, feeling his liberation.

As they drew closer, Bruce could see that the temple's walls were covered with bas-relief drawings, covered with lichen and moss.  Gods and goddesses swarmed across the crumbling stone walls, their eyes fixed on Bruce, challenging him.

He took a deep breath and entered the darkness of the temple.

Incongruously, there was a small folding table in the antechamber,  piled with papers.  "I'm so sorry, Brucie, but before we go on, you have to sign some paperwork."

Bruce nodded wearily.  There was always paperwork.  Waivers and affidavits, consent forms and reimbursement forms.  He sat down and Lavender put a pen into his hand. 

He started signing his name.

An hour later, the forms were blurring in front of him, and there seemed to be no decrease in the pile.  Lavender and the driver were sitting cross-legged on the stone floor, their voices echoing eerily as they chanted together.  The musty scent of the temple didn't seem to drown out Lavender's perfume, and Bruce had a hard time focusing on even keeping his signature clear, much less reading every single damn form.  He didn't have time for this.  The paperwork was keeping him from redemption, from the lotus of his salvation.  He felt a vicious urge to throw all the forms to the floor and demand that Lavender take him there--but no.  He couldn't risk it.  Not when he had come so far, when he could almost feel it, shining in the darkness nearby, waiting for him.

He signed and signed and signed, and finally found himself staring at an empty patch of desk.  He was done. 

Lavender rose with fluid grace from the floor.  "Good job, Brucie," she said sweetly, and tousled his hair.  She held out her hand.  "Come with me now.  I'll take you on the last step of your journey."

Brucie let her lead him deeper into the temple.  Deeper.

Lavender stopped in front of a bas-relief of a handsome young man sitting in a beautiful garden.  "You walk the path of Siddhartha now.  The path of enlightenment.  Green Tara shall show you the way, as she did Prince Siddhartha."

Brucie stared at the young man's face, unlined and carefree, as Lavender went on.  "Siddhartha was a Prince of Earth, raised without cares, sheltered in his family's garden, kept from all worries and all fears.  He was unenlightened.  But Green Tara showed him the path."

They stepped forward to another carving:  the same young man on a horse, being confronted by a wizened old man.  The look on the prince's face was of shock and horror.  "But one day the prince ventured out into the world, and there he encountered an old man, bent and aged.  'What is this sight?' he exclaimed, and was told that the man would die soon.  The prince had never known of death, and the knowledge struck him to his core.  But Green Tara showed him the path."

Fragments of ceramic and stone crunched under their feet as they moved deeper into the darkness, the driver's flickering torch the only light.  Here the prince was confronted by a man suffering from some kind of disease, a corpse, and an emaciated man.  "Everywhere the prince went, he saw only suffering and pain, and his heart knew despair."  Bruce felt the darkness around them pressing in on him, dank and suffocating.  "Was this the fate of all beings--to wither and die in pointless agony?  He cried out in anguish:  How can I help them, my people?  And Green Tara showed him the way."

The next bas-relief showed the prince sitting under a tree, his legs crossed, his eyes closed.  Lavender's voice was almost disembodied, sibilant.  "Siddhartha meditated.  He asked for guidance, for something he could do to redeem himself and all of humanity."  There was a pause.  "Will you ask for guidance, Bruce Wayne?  Would you redeem yourself, your family, all humanity--whatever the cost?"

That was easy.  "Of course."



"Green Tara will show you the way," said the voice in the darkness, and the circle of lamplight moved on. 

The same man underneath the same tree--yet totally different.  His eyes were open, an expression of serene bliss on his face.  He was holding in his hands an opened lotus flower.  "Yes," whispered Bruce.  "Yes.  That's what I need.  Liberation.  Enlightenment."  He whirled, trying to locate Lavender outside the circle of light.  "Guide me there."

Lavender stepped back into the circle, her face grave.  "You ask a hard thing, Bruce Wayne."

Impatience cascaded through him.  "Show me the way."

Lavender bowed her head.  "The shining lotus must come to fruition, must bear seed.  It needs sustenance to grow strong enough to do so."  She looked up at him again.  "It needs the blood of a willing human to nurture it to completion.  Only then shall the jewel in the lotus come forth to shine for all the world."

For a shocked moment, Bruce hesitated.  The Buddha found the Middle Path, part of him insisted:  the Middle Path between hedonistic selfishness and vicious self-mortification.  Buddhism required no such blood sacrifices.

But a deeper part of him knew that at some level this was true, that nothing came without sacrifice, that there was no pinnacle without pain.    From his annihilation would arise salvation, from his negation the fruition of beauty.

Surely his parents would approve.

"Very well," he said.

Lavender smiled.  "One more step, Brucie.  Then you'll be freed from the endless burden of karma with your sacrifice."  She stepped forward to place a reverent kiss on his brow.  "Green Tara awaits you."

The carving of the enlightened Buddha grated and swiveled to reveal a passageway.

Bruce started down it without hesitation.

: : :

Pamela Isley waited, standing behind the altar, surrounded by clouds of sweet-smelling incense.  She inhaled deeply, letting the smoke lift her above herself, leaving the scientist behind.  She had come to understand there were things more important than science.  The drug sang in her veins:  the song of her mother the Earth, the only family she needed. 

Isley fell away and left Green Tara in her place, avatar of the Goddess, bringer of liberation.  Her skin was painted emerald, golden bracelets jangling on her hands and ankles, golden cords in her scarlet hair.  Euphoria twined around her like the smoke:  the wicked will face justice and their blood will nourish the Earth.  Soon the Great Mission would have nearly inexhaustible funds, willed to her by Bruce Wayne himself.  His body would never be found.  She gripped the knife tighter as the Sacrifice entered the room, lifting her arms so that the flickering lamplight cast a multiplicity of shadows onto the stones behind her.

He stared at her, his handsome face filled with wonder, and his awe exalted her even more.  Feel the righteous wrath of the Earth itself, unworthy one, she thought fiercely.  Aloud she said, "Approach and be cleansed."

The Sacrifice ascended the steps toward her, though the misty veils of drugged incense.  He stopped halfway, shaking his head, and staggered slightly.  That was unexpected;  he must have deeper reserves of character than she had imagined, to resist at this point.  "Bruce Wayne," she intoned.  "Your mother the Earth demands this.  Your father the Sky demands it.  You must redeem your name and through your sacrifice bring forth new life into the light, out of the darkness."

"Into the light, out of the darkness," muttered the Sacrifice.  "Out of..."  He sighed deeply, as if putting away a burden.  "Yes."

He climbed the last few steps to her.

Chapter Text

Fic: The Jewel in the Lotus (7/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 7/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Clark Kent and Alfred Pennyworth arrive in Sumatra on their way to save Bruce Wayne--will they be in time?
Word Count:  1900

The rental car bounced along the rutted Indonesian road as Alfred and Clark wound upward from the coast into the rainforest.  Clark had wanted to fly, but Alfred had insisted they take the car instead so no one would ask uncomfortable questions about how the two of them had gotten from Padang to the laboratory so quickly. 

As his nerves tightened with every kilometer, he wasn't so sure that had been the right choice.

"What's happening now?" Alfred gritted as the car lurched sideways, sending a plume of muddy water past the window.  He gripped the steering wheel tighter.

Clark was kind enough not to mention that Alfred had asked the same question every two minutes for a half hour.  "Still seems to be signing his name.  That's a lot of paperwork they have him doing."

"If he's drugged, who knows what he might be signing away," Alfred said.  He stepped on the gas a little harder;  if they got in an accident he could count on Clark to save him, after all.

"Anything signed under duress won't be legally binding," Clark said reassuringly.  "We'll get there, we'll clear things up, we'll tear up the paperwork.  Then we'll all hit the beach and have a little vacation."

Alfred snorted.  "I'm afraid I forgot to pack my swim trunks, Mister Kent."

Clark's eyes were far away despite his smile.  "They're still chanting that mantra.  'The Jewel in the Lotus.'  They've linked the lotus with his family in his mind.  At a certain irrational level, he's probably convinced if he can save the lotus he'll be saving his family."

Alfred's voice was bleak. "Extinction is...not a concept Master Bruce deals with well."

Clark gritted his teeth slightly. "It's a...big concept."

Alfred cast him a look of sympathy mixed with concern. "You inhaled some of that toxin as well, sir. Are you sure it won't affect you?"

"I can't say I'm...entirely unaffected," Clark said, his mouth set in a grim line. "My father--my Kryptonian father--probably wouldn't approve of my dropping everything to worry about one human. My father was more concerned with the...planet-wide level of salvation."

"It's not possible to love all of humanity at once, sir."

Clark's face was still abstracted. "He seemed to think it was." He shook his head fiercely. "That's not important. I can deal with it."

Alfred looked dubious but returned to focusing on driving.

They came to a fork in the road, and Clark closed his eyes.  "Left," he said, and Alfred turned off onto what was more a trail than a road.  Clark frowned, his eyes still closed.  "They seem to be done with the paperwork.  She says she's taking him to the lotus now."  A pause broken by the cries of birds and monkeys in the trees around them.  "She's telling him the story of Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha.  That's--that will get at Bruce even more than she knows," he said grimly.  "Self-sacrifice, selflessness, passion--they're taking all of his best, most noble impulses and using them against him." There was a sharp squealing noise, and Alfred glanced over to see that the car's door handle was a twisted mass. Clark stared at it in chagrin and tried to straighten it back out.

"We'll reimburse them later, sir."

There was a long, frowning silence, and then suddenly Alfred heard Clark inhale sharply beside him.  "Stop the car," Clark said.  Alfred hit the brakes;  Clark was out of the car before it was stopped.  Alfred started to ask what was going on, then yelped as the whole car suddenly lifted in the air.

The world blurred and they were in front of a huge stone ziggurat.  Clark opened the door with a jerk, his face white.  "They're going to kill him.  Hurry," he said.

They raced into the temple side by side.

: : :

There were no guards, for which Clark was grateful.  No time.  They ran by the bas-relief carvings of the Prince who gave up temporal happiness to save humanity.  Alfred's foot slipped and Clark picked him up briefly and carried him down the corridor in a hum of motion. 

They emerged into a long room lined with smoking braziers, their flickering light picking out details from the intricate stone carvings on the wall.  But Clark had eyes only for the tableau at the far end of the room.

At the end of a flight of stairs was a stone altar.  Bruce Wayne was on it, unbound.  His head was turned toward Clark and Alfred, but his eyes were unseeing, huge and dark.  His shirt had been pulled open to expose bare, vulnerable skin.  Behind the altar stood a woman, her skin painted green, adorned with gold necklaces and bracelets that glittered in the fitful light.  In her hand she held a naked blade.

"Bruce!"  Clark's cry rang out in the room, but Bruce showed no response at all, his eyes locked on some vision.  Clark and Alfred stepped forward simultaneously, but the woman held up her other hand imperiously. 

"Come no closer!"  Her voice echoed strangely in the hall, and for the first time Clark realized that the smoke from the braziers was a dusky purple.  It smelled sweet and acrid together and stung his eyes.  Alarmed, he slowed his breathing to a crawl, but could still feel the vapors slithering across his skin.

The woman's eyes flashed in the dim light, exalted and mad.  "Foolish mortals! You dare profane this sacred rite? This man's soul is to be liberated from samsara, from the illusory pain of this world, and that liberation will bring redemption. He has submitted to the Mother of Perfected Wisdom, and any interruption of this rite shall shatter his mind and damn his soul to eternal darkness."

Beside him, Clark heard Alfred groan.  Bruce's eyes were glassy and distant, his pupils dilated to almost pure blackness.  "Bruce," Clark whispered fiercely, but there was no change of expression on his lover's face.

Two figures stepped from the shadows to flank Alfred and Clark:  Lavender Lee and a burly, scarred man.  The woman imitating a goddess smiled, bloodthirsty and transported.  "So perish all who ravage our Mother.  May this unworthy sacrifice serve to bring enlightenment."  She raised the blade above her head.

Clark braced himself to leap forward, praying she was bluffing about Bruce's mind.  But time seemed to have slowed down somehow, the light fragmenting and fracturing as if through crystal.  He shook his head, but the light stabbed at his eyes, sweet and cloying.  His father's voice was saying something about the human heart, something Kal didn't want to hear.  Jor-El's translucent eyes gazed at him from the smoke, disappointed and regretful.  Kal hadn't listened to his father's voice, the last link to his Kryptonian heritage, and now he would learn the perils of loving a mortal.

"No," he whispered, but his voice didn't carry through the smoke, not even to his own ears.

The blade glinted somewhere in the gloom and began to descend.

: : :

Brucie was waiting for the moment:  the moment it would all become clear and he would know he had finally achieved his goal, finally earned peace.  No more wondering, no more worrying.  In the shadows of his mind, the dazzling white lotus unfurled its petals.  Soon it would open all the way and Bruce would step forward into the light, out of the darkness of his life, and touch the hidden treasure.

"Bruce!"  Someone called his name.  The voice reached him from far away, dragging at him, and Bruce groaned to himself;  he didn't want to go back.  It was time to move on, to find the jewel in the lotus.  Someone else made a sound of despair, and the echoes of it were like manacles on his feet, holding him back, keeping him from moving on.  They needed him.  They needed him to come back, to step away from enlightenment.

His family needed him.

The thought was like an arrow striking true to his heart:  his family.  Finding peace while they suffered was unacceptable.  He could never give up, not while one soul was in pain, not while he could save one person from grief.

That was his life.  His choice.  The only one that mattered.

Bruce turned his back on the lotus and struggled upward, away from the light, back toward the darkness, back into his life.

: : :

Clark was choking against the burning fumes, his eyes streaming tears.  But through the veils of purple smoke, he still saw the moment when Bruce's eyes focused, his gaze snapping to Clark's eyes like a line pulling taut between them.

Bruce rolled off the altar at the last second and the blade snapped off against the stone.  The false goddess shrieked in fury and struck at Bruce with the hilt, but her swing was wide.  Even dazed and drugged, he weaved to avoid the next wild strike, then connected a kick to her head that made her eyes roll upward.  She crumpled in a jangling heap of gold and gems.

Lavender Lee and the driver stared in astonishment--until the moment a brazier connected with their heads from behind.  Still enthralled by crystalline light and smoke, Clark turned slowly and dazedly to see Alfred grinning fiercely over their prone forms.  Clark tried to say something, but only fragments of Kryptonian emerged.  Bruce staggered down a few stairs and his knees gave out;  Alfred jumped to catch him.  Slinging Bruce's arm around his shoulders, he dragged the half-conscious man over to Clark.  "Let's get out of here," he wheezed, pulling on Clark's arm.

Clark followed him through corridors that echoed strangely in his drugged mind, half-supporting Alfred and half-supported by him.  He put one foot in front of the other, mindlessly, only vaguely sensing when the stone walls fell away into open air. 

"This way," muttered Alfred, steering them forward.  "Need to--"  The ground fell out below Clark's feet and he staggered heavily into a pond of some kind, water spraying about him as Alfred and Bruce joined him.  Alfred pushed him down and he went to his knees in the pond;  a hand on the back of his neck ducked his head into cool water.

He came up spluttering, water sluicing through his hair, washing the scent of smoke off him.  On the other side of Alfred, he could hear Bruce's choked protests.  "Wash it all off, sir," Alfred said sternly.

Clark dunked his head back under the water, running his hands through his hair, letting it rinse over him and remove the last clinging vestiges of the toxin.  When he raised his head again, his mind was clear enough to take in the three of them, soaking wet and fully clothed, water running down Bruce's tired, sane face.  Bruce caught his eye and nodded, his eyes clear and peaceful under the soaked hair plastered to his forehead, and Clark felt almost weak with relief.

Alfred splashed more water on his face and took a deep breath of fresh air, releasing it in an exasperated sigh.  He looked from Clark to Bruce.  "Honestly," he said, "You two really need to work on your father issues."

Clark started to laugh, weakly at first, watching Alfred's relieved smile crooking his mouth.  He looked over to include Bruce in the moment--and whirled clumsily in the water to find him gone.  "Bruce?"

Bruce had moved deeper into the pond, almost up to his waist.  He looked at Clark and Alfred, his eyes bright.  "She didn't lie about everything, not completely," he breathed.  "Look."

His cupped hands gently cradled a pure white lotus, its petals shining and serene. 

Chapter Text

FIC: The Jewel in the Lotus (8/8)
Title: The Jewel in the Lotus 8/8
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Alfred  Pennyworth, Lois Lane, Richard White, Jason Lane-White, Jim Gordon
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Bruce Wayne throws a Fourth of July party for his friends and family.
Word Count:  1400

"I expected you to do something a little know...extravagant for the Fourth of July," Lois Lane said to Bruce Wayne as she scooped two hamburgers off the grill.

Bruce looked around the small gathering on the Manor's wide and grassy front lawn.  Perry White and Jason Lane-White were tossing a football while Richard and Clark talked shop despite a strict prohibition against "newspaper stuff."  Leslie Thompkins and Mike and Janet Sugiyama were also deep in conversation.  Lucius Fox appeared to have fallen asleep in his lawn chair, and Jimmy Olsen was trying to impress Jim Gordon with how worldly and cynical he was.  Even Alfred--dressed in an incongruous set of Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirt--was sipping a margarita and looking as relaxed as it was possible for Alfred to look, apparently resigned to being forced off-duty.  Bruce smiled.

"I just wanted something for friends and family.  I think it might become a tradition."

"It's too bad Constance couldn't come," Lois said, knowing her smile was somewhat arch.  "I suppose being under police investigation as an accessory to attempted murder will keep one busy."  She put some ketchup on her bun, eyeing Bruce to see if the topic was making him uncomfortable, but he seemed fine.  "How involved do you think she was?"

Bruce flipped over a couple of burgers.  "I suspect she was just being used by Isley, fed information and ran with it.  I doubt she had any idea Isley meant to kill me." 

Lois looked slantwise at the billionaire.  "Is it true that you agreed to pay her legal fees?"  Bruce shrugged and smiled slightly, and Lois shook her head and laughed.  "She isn't going to like you more for it, you know.  Some people don't change."

"I didn't do it to make her like me," Bruce said.  "I did it because it was the right thing to do."  An enigmatic glint in those deep blue eyes.  "And off the record, of course--"  Lois held up her hands and laughed, and he continued, "Her opinions don't matter.  I can't change minds like hers.  I'd rather focus on the approval of the people who are important to me, whose opinions I care about.  My real family."  He looked over her shoulder and his face lit up in a smile that told Lois that Clark must be drawing near.  She turned to see Clark and her husband approaching them.

"Here for a hamburger?" she called to Richard, who grinned and grabbed one from her plate.

"--so then he was like, 'I'll do it if it'll make you happy, Dad,' and he just looked so wretched I couldn't stand it," Richard said to Clark, clearly continuing a conversation they'd been having.

"Oh, are you still feeling bad about the piano lessons?" Lois said.  "Richard's a little upset that Jason wants to join Cub Scouts instead of continuing his piano lessons," she explained to Bruce.

"I don't care that much," Richard said sheepishly, "But we did spend a lot of money on piano lessons and then he just stopped playing.  But when I mentioned that to him he gave me this tragic look and I felt like the worst dad in the world."  He sighed gustily around a mouthful of hamburger.

Clark looked sympathetic.  "It's natural.  Sons hate to disappoint their fathers.  I've had...reason to remember lately that my father might not exactly have approved of my life."

Bruce smiled slightly.  "You know, a very wise man told me once that no matter what we do, we can't always please our parents.  That all we can do is live our lives as fully as we can."  Clark smiled slightly and Bruce reached out and reeled him closer, putting an arm around him.

"Indeed, sir.  Such a wise man surely deserves a paid vacation, I think.  Or at least a fresh margarita."  Alfred lifted his empty glass to Bruce, one eyebrow raised meaningfully, and Bruce barked a laugh and took it from him, returning soon with a perfectly-made drink.

Jason was running circles around an out-of-breath Perry;  he whooped as the first fireflies began to appear, glowing and fading in the grass of the lawn.  He took off across the grass full-tilt, charging after first one light and then the next.  The stars were coming out in the sky above, a mirror for the dancing lights near the earth.

"I'm sorry the rest of your family was out of town, Lieutenant," Bruce said to Jim Gordon as he drew nearer.  "I thought your daughter might get along with Jason.  She's only a couple of years older than he is."

Jim snorted.  "Junior?  She'll have nothing to do with boys.  She loves her computer much more."  His grin was slightly sheepish.  "This isn't exactly a tragic development for my wife and me."

Lois laughed.  "I hear you.  I'm dreading the day Jason discovers girls."   Her son came pelting up with his hands cupped into a fist in front of him;  light leaked between his fingers and then faded. 

"Dad, Mom, look!"  He opened his hand and the little beetle rested in his palm for a moment, then glowed brightly and lifted from his hand into the sky again.  "Isn't that awesome?"

Lois watched the little light drifting away, waxing and waning, a tiny star.  "It's awesome, honey," she said. 

She turned to Bruce to thank him again for having them, but neither Bruce nor Clark were anywhere to be found.

: : :

In the shade of the huge beech on the south side of the house, Bruce drew Clark into his arms.  "Almost time for the grand finale," he said.

Clark nuzzled his lover's hair.  "I haven't gotten the chance to talk to you alone all day.  You heard the news from Indonesia?"

"Mm," Bruce said indistinctly, his head flung back.  "Yes.  Interesting."  Lavender Lee and the driver had vanished from the jail cell they'd been held in, leaving behind nothing but an extremely furious Pamela Isley.

"If we can extradite Isley, she might be able to tell us who she was working for, who gave her the funds and hired her."

Bruce's shrug wasn't brusque enough to risk breaking Clark's hold.  "I doubt she knows, or they never would have left her behind.  But I have my suspicions.  Al-Ghul may be dead, but the League of Shadows lives on.  It's the kind of cause they might well have championed.  And they almost succeeded."  He kissed Clark lightly.  "Thank you."

Clark laughed, a laugh touched just slightly with bitterness.  "You said that before, back in Sumatra.  I didn't do anything worth being thanked for.  I was useless.  I just stood there."

Another kiss, light as a breeze.  "You were there.  That's all I ever really need, Clark.  For you to be there for me, believing in me, loving me."

"I can do that."  Clark's eyes were almost violet-blue in the dusk.  "For as long as you need me."

"How about forever?"

He had meant the words flippantly, but Clark seemed to consider them seriously.  "If you want," he said.

Bruce's pager beeped once.  "That's the sign," he said.


"The fireworks are about to begin."

"Our own private fireworks show?"  Clark's voice was amused as he settled his back against the bark of the beech tree, keeping his arms wrapped about Bruce, both of them looking together out over the lawn.

"I felt like celebrating," Bruce said.

Clark made a small noise that Bruce could hear rumbling in his chest.  "I wish you could have brought back one of the lotuses with you."

"I didn't need to," Bruce said as whistle pierced the air, followed by a bang.  A spray of pure white light bloomed open in the sky, followed by another to match.  A fusillade of tiny explosions heralded a silvery cascade of radiance, punctuated by bursts of incandescent light.  Arcs of brilliance against the stars, yearning upward into the night, illuminating the shadows with splendor.

Across the lawn Bruce could hear the exclamations of his friends and family as the fireworks continued, silver and pearl and ivory.  "Beautiful," Clark murmured at his ear.

Bruce watched another blossom of luminescence unfold its brilliant petals, felt the light painting his face with glory.  "It was always right here," he whispered, knowing Clark could hear him over the crackle of fireworks.  "Always.  The jewel in the lotus."

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres: Kaleidoscope
Title:  Kaleidoscope
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Summary: A Halloween costume party in Gotham leads to a night of shifting identities.
Word Count: 1300
Notes:  Written quite a long time ago and put on hold, obviously, but despite its untimeliness I hope you can still enjoy it!

"Here we go again," Bruce murmured as they climbed the stairs to Kate Wentworth's palatial estate.

"Another year, another Wentworth party," Clark agreed under his breath. 

"It could be fun," Bruce said somewhat wistfully.

"Yeah, like last year where I got the French Maid outfit?  That was great."

"I found it fairly delightful," Bruce leered.

"I still suspect you of rigging the lottery so I got that costume," Clark grumbled.

Bruce's leer was touched with smugness.  "I'll never tell."

"This is a pain," Clark grumbled.  "I get enough of playing pretend in my daily life, thank you."  He fell silent as they entered the mansion and the butler took their coats.  "Besides, I don't like surprises."

Bruce punched him lightly on the arm;  Clark could feel him gearing up into what he called 'Brucie mode,' the voice lightening, the gaze turning shallow.  "I bet I'll figure out who you are even faster this year."

Clark smiled at him and matched his tone as Kate Wentworth advanced toward them.  "You're not that good a detective, honey." 

Bruce dimpled at him and tightened his grip on his arm briefly, his smile going just a touch predatory at the edges.  "We'll see, sweetheart."

"Mes amis!"  Kate air-kissed the space around their cheeks with gusto.  "You're right on time.  Grab a number from the bowl and go upstairs to change."

Clark gritted his teeth to avoid rolling his eyes and reached into the crystal bowl to grab a number.  "See you again soon," Bruce said, giving him a hearty smack on the cheek and trotting up the stairs to his changing room, an entirely innocuous playboy.

Clark watched him go, his master of disguises, his ninja dressed up as a billionaire.  Then he sighed and headed off to what he suspected was his inevitable humiliation.

: : :

Bruce took the box from the smiling assistant and was surprised at how heavy it was.  He let himself stagger a bit.  "What have you got in here, a suit of armor?"

The assistant's grin got even wider.  "You're lucky, sir.  Ms Wentworth is very proud of this one."

Bruce carried the box to a changing room.  As he opened it, he caught a glint of buckles against black matte cloth, silk and kevlar.

Oh, damn.

: : :

Clark finished changing, feeling he had dodged a bullet.  He glanced in the mirror, adjusting his silver antenna and straightening his mask.  The metallic cloth surplice was a little large, but not embarrassingly so.

"Outer space alien" was a disguise he felt he could actually pull off pretty well.

He wandered out into the party, teeming with pirates, cat-girls, and ghosts, looking for Bruce.  "Are you...Brent?  Brent O'Donohue?" asked a princess with a conical hat.

"Graggle hark harkk," he said--a mangled parody of Kryptonian that sounded "alien"--and she shrugged and wandered off.

This was definitely his favorite Halloween costume ever.

He was almost enjoying talking to everyone in gibberish and watching them stare at him blankly when there was a murmur in the crowd.  He looked at the stairs and--almost fell over.

Coming down the stairs was Batman.

Batman, and yet--all wrong.  Batman didn't bounce down the stairs like a schoolboy playing hooky, and he didn't tilt his head like he found all this very amusing.

And Batman certainly didn't smile like that.

Clark recognized the smile and felt laughter start to curl in the back of his throat;  he clamped down on it and enjoyed the view.

"I'm Batman!" the figure announced, throwing his arms out dramatically, and the crowd groaned.

"Bruce Wayne," Kate Wentworth said, her voice heavy with disapproval, "If you don't even bother to try and sound like him, you can't be surprised when everyone guesses it's you right away."

Bruce reached up and pulled off the cowl with a flourish, grinning unrepentantly.  "I'm sorry," he said cheerfully as the crowd started to turn back to chatting and guessing, "Let me try again.  I'm Batman?"  His pitch was only a trifle lower, and Kate just shook her head in disgust.

"You are the worst role-player ever, Brucie.  And after I spent so much on such a good replica, too!"

Bruce dropped a quick peck on her chagrined cheek.  "Sorry, luv.  I'll try to play the part better."

She smiled indulgently.  "That's all right, dear.  You yourself."

She wandered off and Bruce started to mingle with the guests.  Clark tried and failed utterly to tear his eyes away from the entrancing sight of vapid playboy Brucie Wayne dressed up as Batman, his eyes sparkling and his hair mussed.  Someone else tried to talk to him, and he brushed them off with more "alien" gibberish, his eyes on Bruce.  Bruce was trying to teach people something he was calling the "Batusi," to hysterical giggles from the crowd.  The light tenor of his lover seemed even more alluring juxtaposed with all the dark and dangerous paraphernalia of the Batman, somehow.  Layers upon layers, complications within complications, a tesseract of beauty and menace nested within each other. 

Another person tapped on the shoulder.  "Steve?  Are you Steve Jones?"

< Leave me alone, > Clark said absent-mindedly, watching Bruce fuss and flounce with his cape.  < Can't you see I'm busy? >

It wasn't until the other person wandered off again that he realized he'd spoken in Kryptonian without thinking about it.  Well.  It had probably sounded alien enough to be convincing.

After a while, Bruce extricated himself from the crowd and laughingly excused himself.  "Gotta use the little bat's room--I might be a while, too," he said, gesturing at all the buckles and zips to renewed gusts of laughter.  "Don't wait up, you may never see me again."  He disappeared into one of the corridors of the mansion.

Clark followed him.

The bathroom door was untouched;  a shadow disappeared around a corner just out of the corner of Clark's eye.  Into the unlit areas of the Wentworth mansion, through darkened hallways full of echoes, the noise of the party falling away, Clark followed his elusive wraith.

The trail led into a small garden, gloomy and abandoned in the chilly moonlight.  Pausing under an oak tree, Clark felt more than heard the figure dropping down from the branches behind him.  "You shouldn't be wandering around alone," grated a dark voice as an arm wrapped around him, pulling him close.  "Someone might take advantage of you."

"I was hoping," he gasped, pushing back against his captor.

Batman spun him around and pinned him against the oak, bark rasping his back.  Clark raised his hands to remove the silver mask and dark-gloved hands captured them.  "No.  I like you in a mask."  Batman's voice was a gray whisper, talons on stone.  "My mysterious alien."

The dark figure went to his knees in front of him, pushing aside the metallic clothing.

Clark made a startled noise as skin was exposed to chill air, but the dark hands were unrelenting.  There were lips caressing his right thigh, tantalizingly close.  "It's just a little blowjob, honey, no one will catch us," lilted Brucie's voice.  The lips shifted to his left thigh, coaxing.  "I want you here.  Now," said Batman.  "You're mine."

Clark shuddered, his head falling back against the tree.  "Ah, love," said Bruce at last, his voice warm and dear and familiar, breath brushing heated skin.  "My alien, my hero, my reporter, my farm boy, my faerie prince.  All mine."

Above him the ancient oak shifted in the moonlight, endless patterns and layers of leaves as Clark gazed up into them, dizzy with need and mounting desire.  Batman's hands, Brucie's mouth, Bruce's soft sounds of enjoyment, mingling, melding. 

Clark closed his eyes and felt the fragments and pieces of himself fall into new patterns, reshaped again by joy, a shifting kaleidoscope of delight.

Chapter Text

Music of the Spheres: A World of Cut Glass
Title:  A World of Cut Glass
Pairing: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Clark and Bruce visit Smallville and misbehave slightly.
Word Count: 1300

Bruce rinsed the last soap suds off a goblet and handed it to Clark to dry.  Outside the Kent's kitchen window, the night sky was thick with stars, the deep velvet silence of the country wrapping around the farmhouse.  On the windowsill a glass bird dipped its head up and down in perpetual motion, and a clock in the shape of a black cat ticked on the wall, its tail going back and forth.

The last few weeks had been particularly difficult.  Superman and Batman had clashed three times--Clark and Bruce were fine, but for various reasons their superhero personae had been required to square off in public.  A good fake row now and then was fun, but three so close together was exhausting to both of them, and Clark's relief when Bruce had suggested a weekend getaway to Smallville had been palpable.

Clark took the goblet and meticulously dried the last bits of water from it.  Bruce watched him as he plied his strawberry-print dishcloth, face intent with concentration.  He wasn't wearing his glasses--his one concession to being in private--but the drying wouldn't go one iota faster than if a normal human were doing it.  Bruce knew this from hard experience.  Clark flatly refused to use his powers when he was "being Clark";  he slipped up now and then, but always seemed deeply unhappy when he realized it.  Usually he managed to keep his powers in check, no matter how tedious this made doing the dishes.

"Thank you, boys."  Martha's voice came from the door to the living room.  She was in a lavender nightgown, combing out her long silver hair.  "I'll be going to bed now;  feel free to stay up as late as you like."

Clark kissed her on the cheek and she smiled and rumpled his hair, then leaned over to give Bruce a one-armed hug before climbing the creaking stairs to the second floor.  Bruce could hear her moving around upstairs, but besides that the house was still.

As Bruce handed Clark the last goblet and watched him apply himself diligently to it, he found himself amazed once again at the amount of self-control it would take to keep those abilities in check, to live at a human pace, with human strength.  He had asked Clark once if it was difficult to try and keep his powers limited, and Clark had just smiled wryly.  "I wish I could limit them more.  I wish I could be hurt when I wasn't in uniform...on the job, as it were."  He had smiled at the look on Bruce's face.  "God, Bruce.  What I wouldn't give to be sure that in private I could live a normal human life, that I could be the same as everyone else."

"You are not the same as everyone else," Bruce had said.  "I wouldn't want you to be."

"I know," Clark had said.  "And that makes it all possible, believe me."

Bruce watched Clark's hands on the thin glass of the goblet, so careful, so gentle.  It must be like living in a world of cut-glass, he thought suddenly, surrounded by infinitely fragile things that you could crush to powder with a careless touch.  He felt a shiver go through him, a frisson of tender lust, seeing those Kryptonian fingers turning the glass, polishing every drop of water away with loving care.

He moved to stand behind Clark, slipping his hands in his lover's pockets, sliding them along the heat of Clark's thighs.  "Whoa, careful there," said Clark, still drying.  "You might break something."

"As if," Bruce murmured, slipping his hands further inward, coaxing and stroking.

"Hey," said Clark a little faintly, but he didn't speed up his drying at all.  He wiped the last bits of moisture from the glass and finally put it on the sideboard, then turned into Bruce's kiss hungrily.  "Hey," he said again, slightly more forcefully, when Bruce began to unzip his fly.  "Bruce, not--"

Bruce grabbed Clark's belt loops and pulled him into a stagger that ended with Clark's back against the olive green refrigerator festooned with magnets of every type and shape imaginable.  There was a clatter as the "I (Heart) Metropolis" magnet and a few fruit-shaped magnets fell to the floor.  "Shh," Bruce said into Clark's ear, slipping a hand through the fly, curling around heated flesh.

"Nng," said Clark indistinctly.  He was already hard enough that it was difficult to maneuver his erection out of his fly, but Bruce managed.  As he went down on his knees a few more magnets rained down next to him:  a rock with googly eyes glued on, one of the Gotham skyline, a banana and what looked like a papaya.  He ran his tongue along the skin he could reach and looked up to see Clark muffling any sound he might make with the strawberry-print dishcloth, his eyes closed.  Bruce smiled to himself and went back to work, licking and swallowing at invulnerable skin soft as satin, savoring the taste of Clark's arousal, the small sounds that escaped his lover.

Hands that could rip a skyscraper apart cupped his head with infinite delicacy, legs that could shatter concrete with their impact trembled with growing need.  Nothing--no anguish, no pleasure--could make this man lose the exquisite control that defined his life, and Bruce felt familiar lust and wonder grip him at the power leashed in his lover, the raw strength reined in and turned to tenderness.

Clark shuddered and made a small, broken sound, a gasp of something like surprise, and magnets scattered all about the kitchen like brightly-colored hail.  Bruce took his time swallowing until Clark's knees started to give way and he slid down the refrigerator as if his bones had liquefied.  "Mm," he said, blinking at Bruce.

"Mm," agreed Bruce, licking his lips.

Slowly, Clark's eyes focused beyond Bruce's face, and his face filled with chagrin.  "The magnets," he whispered.

"We'll pick them up," Bruce whispered back, reaching out to zip up Clark's fly. 

Clark nodded and got to his hands and knees, crawling on the linoleum floor, searching.  Bruce joined him, gathering up wooden cows, felt hearts, glittery unicorns and plastic fruit.  He glanced over at Clark--meticulously crawling, no faster than a normal human--and suddenly the image of Superman and Batman, the world's mightiest being and the world's greatest detective, crawling around on the floor looking for refrigerator magnets, struck Bruce as rather amusingly absurd.  Laughter bubbled in the back of his throat, but he fought it down and kept looking for magnets. 

"I can't find the cherry," Clark hissed.

"What?" Bruce managed, clamping down on giggles.

"The cherry.  I've got all the other fruit, but I've lost the cherry," Clark whispered as though this were incredibly obvious.  "I'm not going to lose Ma's cherry!"

It was the final straw.  Bruce lay down on the black and white linoleum squares and laughed;  after a surprised moment Clark joined in, and then they couldn't seem to stop.  The spasms would finally die down and then one of them would say "But we still haven't found Ma's--" and then they'd be off again, rolling on the floor, unable to stop.

"Oh, here it is," said Clark, reaching under the oven and extracting the last magnet, still giggling helplessly.

Bruce propped himself up on the kitchen floor by his elbows.  His sides hurt;  these were not exactly muscles that martial arts training kept in shape.  He shook his head.  "Vacations with you are never dull," he said.

"Now, there's no need to get sarcastic," Clark said, putting the cherry onto the refrigerator.

Bruce looked at his lover, his hair tousled, cheeks red from laughing:  a man of steel in a world of cut glass and crystal. 

"I wouldn't dream of it," he replied.

Chapter Text

The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart (1/7)
Title:  The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart, Chapter One
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: It's an ordinary day for Clark and Bruce, until it isn't anymore.
Word Count: 1400

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)

Clark woke up with the sound of Bruce's breathing a soft murmur in his ear.  He rolled over in his empty bed, smiling to himself, listening.  The pitch and rhythm of Bruce's respiration meant he was sleeping, and sleeping well.  Clark knew the difference in sound between restful sleep and shallow doze, knew all too well what it meant when Bruce's breathing hitched in his sleep, caught in the ragged cadences of nightmare.  At those times he tried to resist flying there in an eyeblink to be at his lover's side, to smooth the hair back from his forehead and kiss him, or just to watch over him for a little while.

Usually he succeeded.

Clark was dressed and on his way out the door when he heard Alfred enter the room, heard the curtains slither open.  Far away, Bruce groaned and Clark smiled.

"Some breakfast, sir?"

Bruce's voice mumbled something that sounded like "Mphgrrph." 

"You're welcome, sir."  There was a clink of china and glass, then footsteps leaving the room.
As he got on the bus that would take him to work, Clark heard Bruce take a long swallow of coffee.  A pause.  A long, slow exhalation.  "Good morning," said Bruce's voice, still a bit blurry with sleep.  "Sounds like you're on the way in already.  Have a good day at work."

By the time Clark was sitting down at his desk and starting to look at the morning's work Bruce was working out, his breathing increasingly staccato and sharp in Clark's ear.  It was always uncomfortably similar to the sound when Bruce was aroused, and Clark usually had to spend this time every morning concentrating very hard indeed on his paperwork.  It was worse those times Bruce decided to throw in some descriptions of what he was looking forward to doing to Clark later, his voice hoarse and panting.  Those mornings had an unfortunate tendency to end with Clark making an abrupt visit to the men's room while Bruce's voice growled and shivered along his ear canal, reaching down his spine.

This morning Bruce was all business, and Clark was relieved.  Mostly.

He had jokingly complained to Bruce about it, and Bruce had reminded him that he was welcome to turn off the receiver and get some peace.  He seemed to assume Clark did it off now and then, and Clark had never felt the need to disabuse him of the notion.  Bruce usually left the receiver off for hours a time, saying he couldn't focus with the distraction in his ear.  For Clark, accustomed to filtering out a constant barrage of sound from his super-hearing, it was no distraction at all.  Quite the contrary.

It wasn't as easy to turn off the microphone, but Clark was sure Bruce had figured out how to do it.  Yet he never did, letting Clark listen to his voice, his surroundings, his life without interruption.  A gift beyond measure, although Clark had never told Bruce so.

For almost two years now, the low, constant sussuration of Bruce's breath, the almost subsonic sound of his heartbeat, had been Clark's constant companion, the rhythm by which his life danced. 

He needed no other music.

Lunchtime came, and Clark shared sub sandwiches with Lois, Richard, and Jimmy.  Jimmy's woeful love life was the topic of conversation of the day:  Lois seemed unable to resist fixing Jimmy up with potential dates, with comically tragic results.  As usual, Clark took the opportunity to check on Jason, who was wildly into his Cub Scout activities this month. 

"He's crazy about this Palmwood Derby thing," said Lois around a mouthful of sandwich.

"The Pinewood Derby?"  Clark could feel his face light up.  "I did that as a Cub Scout."

"Building a car from a block of wood, crazy stuff," Lois said.  "But he and Richard are having a lot of fun working on it together."

"I wish he'd ask me for help," said a voice in Clark's ear.  "We would totally crush the competition."

Clark stifled a laugh at the image of Bruce crouched over a pine block, brow furrowed with concentration, and focused on the conversation at hand.  "My Pa and I spent hours every year working on mine.  Happy memories." 

His voice must have sounded wistful, because Richard clapped him on the back.  "Would you like to come to the Derby and cheer him on?  It's in a couple of weeks."

"I'd like that."  Clark shoved his glasses up on his nose.  He was probably grinning like an idiot.  That was okay.  "That'd be great."

In the afternoon, a detour to deal with a couple of emergencies--an earthquake in Indonesia, a break-in at the Metropolis hospital--meant Clark had to work late, which meant he couldn't make it to the fundraiser of the night.  He didn't feel too badly about that as he listened to Bruce fuss and gripe about wearing another monkey suit.

"But you're such a handsome monkey, sir," said Alfred's voice.

"A real alpha male," muttered Clark under his breath, making Bruce snort and mumble something about showing Clark who was alpha later.

Lois dropped a cup of coffee on his desk.  "Stop talking to yourself and focus, Smallville." 

"Right, right," he muttered, as Lois sat down at her own desk and started typing at a breakneck pace. 

There was a small throat-clearing behind Clark and he turned to find Jason standing there, a shy smile on his face.  "Hi Clark," the boy said.  "I was wondering..."

"Oh, sure," said Clark, digging in his desk and coming up with his superhero action figures.  Jason ran off with them to Perry's office, making whooshing noises.

The sound of the party was an echo in his ears, the clink of china and laughter of socialites a counterpoint to his story about Suicide Slum.  Bruce's light, pleasant baritone was the music that kept him working, kept his fingers moving on the keys.

Bruce started slurring his words early;  under the blurry syllables Clark could hear his impatience to be out on patrol.  "Just need some fresh air... I'll walk to my penthouse and crash there, thanks."  Cordial goodbyes, the rustle of a muffler going around Bruce's neck, and the noise of the party fell away. 

Jason ran by behind Clark's desk as Lois absently reprimanded him, his footsteps mirrored by the sound of Bruce's wingtips on cobblestones, far away.  Bruce was humming, some meaningless love song, his voice like velvet along Clark's nerves.

And then Bruce suddenly took a sharp breath.  "You!" he said, and Clark could hear his voice snapping into clarity.

"Yes, Bruce," said a cultured, calm voice.  Clark's hands hovered on the keyboard, uncertain, his eyes fixed on nothing as he listened.

"But you're--"

"Oh, far from it."  There was a sudden sound of a scuffle, a large one although Clark had only heard the one voice.  A thud, then a silence, broken by Bruce's hoarse, labored breathing.  "Your form continues to improve.  But you're still only one man."

"Clark?" said Lois, behind him, far away.  "Are you all right?"

Clark hesitated, his every instinct screaming that he should hurry there.  But Superman couldn't just come sailing to the rescue of Bruce Wayne out of nowhere.  They'd discussed this.  They stayed out of each other's business unless--

"My Lord, he's got some kind of transmitter on him," said a heavily-accented voice.

"Does he now?"  The man sounded mildly curious.  "Where is it?"

The second man's voice grew louder, as if he were closer.  There was a hum of electronics.  "Implanted under the skin, just above his ear, sir."

"Very well then," said the first voice.  It sounded faintly regretful.  "I'm afraid you leave me no choice, Bruce, as we are rushed for time."

And then there was a horrible crunching noise, a world-ending cacophony in Clark's ear, deafening. 

The line went dead.  Silence filled Clark's ears like howling.  Silence.

He was vaguely aware of Lois's concern as he doubled over, mumbling about being sick, fleeing to the bathroom and then to the open air, cape swirling.


He couldn't pick out Bruce's heartbeat--so familiar, more familiar than his own--from among the chaos of Gotham.  The alleys were empty.  Gone.  There was nothing in his ears but silence.

Nothing but silence.

Chapter Text

i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

Alfred's voice crackled over the communicator, filled with disbelief.  "Ra's al Ghul?  But he's--"

"I know," Clark said.  He was flying in an ever-widening spiral from the point he had last heard from Bruce, staring down at Gotham.  "Bruce started to say the same thing.  But he knew his attacker immediately.  And his attacker knew him.  He said he'd gotten better.  No one would say that to Bruce Wayne unless they knew.

"And no one knows that but Ra's."  Clark could hear him pacing, his footsteps on the walnut floor of the Manor library.  "Can't you hear him?  His heartbeat?"

There was so much lead in the earth here, lead pipes like a maze underneath the ground, a haze of gaps in his vision.  "Super-hearing is no good at picking out individual sounds.  Sudden, unusual noises--screams, explosions--but a heartbeat, one heartbeat in billions..."  Even the dearest...  "No.  I can't hear him."

I can't hear him!

A loud thump startled Clark until he realized it must be Alfred slamming his fist into a wall.  "How did the bastard come back?  He was dead!"

"Bruce didn't see him die, maybe he...I don't know.  I doesn't matter."  He was outside Gotham now.  The sea stretched out to the east, endless.  The continent to the west.  Spirals.  The world spun beneath him.  Nothing.  "I'll find him."

"You can't search every acre of the world!"

Clark laughed, hearing a thread of hysteria deep under it, like a flaw deep within a crystal.  "Watch me."

He searched, the silence in his ears buzzing.  He searched, but then he heard the cries of people trapped by an earthquake, a Greyhound bus teetering on a precipice...he couldn't ignore them, Bruce would never forgive him.  Bruce would never want that...  the people were saved, the search pattern returned to.  More searching, more interruptions. 

The Earth was so large, could hide so much.  It sent landslides and tsunamis to interrupt him.  Searching.  Silence.

Alfred's voice.  "Mister Kent.  You need to rest.  It's been almost twenty hours.  Come home."

I'm looking for home, he wanted to say, but instead he went back to the silent Manor.  He ate what Alfred put in front of him, then stood to go again.

"Wait," said Alfred.  "We have to deal with Gotham, sir."

"Deal with Gotham?"  Clark ached to be in the air again, to be moving, active.  Alfred put a hand on his arm as if he could tell Superman was tempted to ignore him and leave.

"Bruce Wayne has gone missing, sir.  That means Batman has, too.  We have to initiate one of his plans for this contingency."

Clark stared at him.  "You want me to pretend to be Batman?"

"It's necessary he not disappear."

Clark blinked.  The plan had always included him impersonating Batman.  Why had they never discussed the fact that this brilliant plan meant he would lose time he could be searching for Bruce?  "I'll give it another twenty-four hours.  I'll find him by then."

"Sir...we have to provide cover for Bruce as well."

"Another twenty-four hours," Clark said.  "He'll be back."

"What about work?"

"I am working."

"I mean..."  Alfred frowned.  "What about the Daily Planet?  You missed work today.  You'll need to go in tomorrow."

"I'll think of something."  He was already out the door and in the sky again.  "There's a shipwreck in the Atlantic I need to deal with, then I promise I'll get back to the search."

"Sir."  Alfred's voice was small in his ear, hardly loud enough to cut through the silence and the rush of wind.  "You need to rest, not just eat."

Beneath him a storm cloud gathered like a fist.  He could hear the SOS signal.  "I'll rest soon."


Clark turned off the receiver and dove into the storm.

: : :

He saw it on a television screen while stopping a robbery in Metropolis, as he turned to get back to searching.  "Playboy Billionaire ditches Gotham," read the news crawl.  "Bruce Wayne has left Gotham for a world cruise on his yacht," said the perky announcer,  "No word on if he'll be back soon--or if he's taken any ballerinas with him this time." 

Clark tapped his communicator, opening a line to the Manor. "Alfred.  Why have you moved ahead on Bruce's cover?"  The Pacific Ocean spun beneath him, infinite and blue as the sky.  Empty.

"You said twenty-four hours, sir.  It's been thirty-six."

"It has?"  Clark rubbed his eyes. 

"Sir, you promised you'd come back and appear as Batman tonight.  Gotham needs to know he's around.  Just take a moment, stop a couple of crimes, and then--"

"--Then I'll get back to searching."

"No, sir, then you will get some rest."  Alfred's voice was sharp.  "You've been searching for almost sixty hours straight."

"I haven't spent it all searching.  I've had to keep stopping."

"Sixty hours, sir."

"I'm not human, I don't need much rest."

"But you do need some."

Clark shrugged as he dropped toward Gotham, then realized Alfred couldn't see him.  "I'll get some."  He was in the cave now, pulling on the armor.  Alfred handed him some food and he ate it between buckles. 

"The signal is on, sir," said Alfred.  Clark nodded.  Then he got on the bike--the machine was slow, so slow, but he couldn't fly in this costume--and headed in to Gotham.

: : :

Jim Gordon knew something was amiss the moment Batman landed on the roof.  There was something subtly wrong about his stance.  He landed too lightly.  His head was cocked at the wrong angle.

"What is it?"  Batman's growl, low and guttural.  And yet.

Nobody else would have ever noticed, but Gordon knew the man in front of him was not the man he'd been working with for over two years.

"Are you all right, Batman?"

The armored figure merely looked at him, still as stone.  There was a long silence in which a wind moved through Batman's cape.  Sirens howled in the distance.

"I said--"

"--Any leads on the Zsasz case?"

Gordon narrowed his eyes.  Very few people outside the department knew they were closing in on Zsasz.  "Another killing in his style.  A jogger.  Her throat cut, body arranged on a park bench to look like she was taking a nap."

The man in black seemed to wince.  "I wasn't there," he said.  His voice was all gravel, so close to perfect.

"You can't be everywhere at once," said Gordon. 

The man shook his head once, sharply, as if disagreeing, but said nothing.

Gordon held out a piece of paper.  "Here's the victim's name and information."  As the man took it, Gordon added, "And a word to the wise:  he stands a little more forward on his toes than you are.  You're almost perfect, though."

The man stared at him for a moment, then chuckled shortly.  "Thank you," he said, and leapt off the roof, the twang of his decel line following after.

: : :

Clark stood in the woman's apartment:  spare, clean, empty.  A Hello Kitty bobblehead sat on the windowsill, goggling at him.

There would be no information here, Clark knew that.  Zsasz chose his victims at random, crimes of opportunity.  Bruce's files on him contained all his psychological information, as well as the photos:  a man with a strange sharp focus to his eyes and a torso covered with tiny scars.  One for each victim.

Somewhere in this city, Victor Zsasz was carving himself a new scar tonight.  Clark could feel his smug pleasure in the air, taunting him.

"I'm sorry, Debbie," he said to the waiting apartment.  "I'll catch him."

But patrol in Gotham was always more difficult than anywhere in the world.  The city...eluded him, like smoke and fog.  Things went wrong.  Gusts of wind knocked over trash cans and alerted drug dealers to Batman's presence, lights flickered off and panicked mob bosses before Batman could break in on them.  At a standoff in a convenience store, the robber shoved the hostage away in a panic.  As Clark jumped forward to disarm him, the former hostage staggered into a display and it came crashing down on top of her.  Clark restrained the thug and knelt by the sobbing woman, her ulna broken, jagged edges of bone emerging from the skin.  He lifted her gently and carried her to the hospital, not caring that no mortal man could carry a woman that far, her choked gasps of pain tearing at him.

This would never have happened to Bruce, he thought.  A crazy thought, irrational, but he had been patrolling Gotham for six hours and he was exhausted, a bone-deep weariness as if he had been battling a strong headwind the whole time.  He shouldn't be so exhausted.

As he handed the woman to an astonished nurse, he heard sirens.  Not nearby.  Metropolis.  With a sense of absurd relief, he stopped in the cave just long enough to change to the spandex and was gone again. 

An hour later he was in his apartment in Metropolis, standing in the kitchen in his costume, staring almost dumbly at a teakettle on the stove.  He wanted a cup of tea before he laid down for a couple of hours, but the water seemed to be taking forever to heat.  He could just make it hot with heat vision, he knew.  He didn't like to do that at home.  But the time he was standing here waiting for the water to heat was wasting time he could be sleeping, or searching for Bruce.  He was so tired, and he just wanted a sip of hot tea before he caught some sleep, was that asking so much?

He was too busy to waste time with this.

Thirty seconds later he had his tea and was sitting down on the couch to enjoy it, but he fell asleep before he took two sips.

Chapter Text

The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart (3/7)
Title: The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart, Chapter Three
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Lois Lane, Ra's al Ghul, Alfred Pennyworth
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary: Bruce meets his captor, and Clark struggles to keep things together in Batman's absence.
Word Count: 1900


i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)

Darkness and light flickered around Bruce for some time, meaningless. The world shifted, there was cold and then heat and then cold again. Darkness and light.

When he was able to drag himself out of his drugged stupor, his eyes focused very slowly on a rough-hewn rock wall. He was on a stone slab in a small cell that seemed to be carved out of solid granite. He started to sit up and the room spun dizzily, pain lancing through his head. Skull fracture, hopefully minor. It didn't look like he'd be getting much medical attention here.

Bruce took stock of the room by the dim glimmer of light from a recessed bulb far above him, just barely enough to see by. There was little to take stock of: gray walls and high ceiling, windowless. A stone slab hewn from the rock covered with a woven mat, a wooden bucket, nothing else. The walls and ceiling were rough but free of handholds. He was in a loose linen robe. He touched his temple, wincing. No connection, of course. Because there was nothing else to do, he pulled his cramped legs into the lotus position and waited, trying to still his mind.

There was no way to mark the time beyond his increasing hunger, but eventually an almost seamless section of the wall swung open and a man stepped through: Ra's al-Ghul, Henri Ducard, Bruce's mentor and betrayer. The man Bruce had left to die. Alive.

There was a small smile on his narrow face as he eyed Bruce, who continued to sit impassively. He was wearing the same simple clothes he had always preferred, his boots scuffed from long use, and carrying a plate of bread and dried figs. "You're looking well, old friend," said Ra's, putting the plate on the floor.

Bruce took a moment to sort through his emotions, to clarify and identify them before he answered: he was in pain, he was angry, he was worried. Beneath that he was curious about how--if--Ra's had survived. Beneath that, much as he was reluctant to admit it, he was relieved that the man who had taught him so much might be alive, that Batman was not responsible for his death.

"You're looking well too," he said.

Ra's smiled as if he knew what Bruce was thinking. "You're wondering if it's really me, if I'm an impostor or a twin or something absurd like that. No, I am very much myself," he went on, tapping himself on the chest. "And if you doubt me, I would remind you that the last words I ever heard from you were 'I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you.'"

"You got out of the train in time."

Ra's smile took on a smug edge. "Perhaps." He paced the room once. "You're wondering why I brought you here."

"Sort of. Though more why you didn't just kill me on the spot."

Ra's frowned, seeming hurt. "Bruce, you were--are--the greatest of my proteges. I've been monitoring you since my...return...and I have to admit I've been impressed." Another pace across the room and back. "You thwarted my plan. Forced me to...step back and reflect on my means and my ends." He sighed and turned to face Bruce squarely, the familiar eyes steady. "I was hasty, Bruce. I see that now. I've lived so long, seen so much lost to time...ironic, maybe, that one so young would teach me patience once more."

He extended a hand: the worn, calloused hand that had taught Bruce so much, had both bruised him and bandaged his wounds.

The hand that had destroyed his home, tried to destroy his city.

Bruce simply sat and waited, not breaking his former mentor's gaze, until Ra's lowered his hand again, his expression regretful.

"I'm not giving up on you, Bruce. I can wait." For the first time, a glint of the steel in those leaf-green eyes. "I can wait a very long time indeed."

The door swung seamlessly shut behind him, leaving only the dim glow of the bulb.

Bruce sat in the lotus position until his legs started to cramp, trying to keep his mind clear. But eventually, thoughts of Clark and Alfred began to leak into his enforced calm. How long had it been now? Days? They must be worried. Clark must be searching for him.

He uncurled his legs and stretched them, then picked up the plate of bread and figs. Drugged? In some ways it hardly mattered; he was unlikely to find another source of food and he couldn't risk being weak with hunger when Clark got here.

He ate slowly, trying to get the most from the food. Then he examined the plate: light wood, not ideal for lockpicks. He broke it anyway, hoping to salvage a usable splinter from it, although he hadn't seen a lock of any sort on the door. He hid the best fragment he could find beneath his mat on the off chance he wasn't being monitored.

Then he sat down again and started mental drills of Kryptonian vocabulary.

: : :

"Kent!" Perry White's bellow nearly rattled the windows. Lois tried not to jump and mostly succeeded. As Clark Kent rose from his desk and shambled into White's office, Lois bit her lip in concern. intercepting a similar worried glance from her husband.

Ever since Bruce Wayne had suddenly left on his sailing jaunt, Clark had become unreliable at work. He showed up late, left early, disappeared before meetings, went to the bathroom and didn't return for an hour. Even when he was sitting at his desk, his hands were usually motionless on the keyboard, his eyes glazed and blank. Watching him stand in Perry's office, his shoulders slumped and hangdog as the editor harangued him, Lois felt worry and anger mingle in her.

Clark came back out and sat down at his desk, staring at the computer screen blankly. Lois went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, aiming for a reassuring pat. "He's worried about you, Clark. We all are."

"You are?" Clark's voice was dull and lusterless.

Lois swung his chair to make him face her. "Yes, we all are. Us. Your friends. We're here for you."

Clark scrubbed at his face. "I can't do this," he said indistinctly. "I can't--"

He stood up abruptly and walked back into Perry's office. Lois saw Perry's eyes widen as Clark spoke to him, saw him arguing vociferously, but Clark just stood there, shaking his head dumbly. After a while, he turned and left Perry in what seemed to be mid-sentence, coming back into the bullpen.

He stood in front of his desk for a moment, then pulled out his briefcase and opened it. He picked up the picture of him with Bruce and looked at it for a long moment, then put it in the briefcase. The photo of him with Jason followed. Then he put his Smallville mug in the case, his movements almost robotic.

"Clark, what are you doing?" said Lois.

"I quit," said Clark. "I can't do this. Something has to go, and this is the least important thing."

"The least important--" Lois looked back at Perry's office, where Perry was standing in the door, managing to look both belligerent and forlorn. "Clark, I know you're upset about Bruce, but you can't be that surprised that he--" She broke off as Clark swung his gaze to her.

"That Bruce what?" Clark's voice was very level, but Lois suddenly felt an uncomfortable prickling along her spine. She would have called it "frightened" if it had been anyone but meek, sweet Clark Kent looking at her that way.

"That he...might need some space. Some time...away."

"You think he's dumped me." Clark looked away from her and continued to pack his briefcase. "He hasn't. I'm going to Gotham to wait for him. He'll be back soon." He clicked the case shut. "He has to be."

He looked at Lois, his gaze oddly remote, as if looking at her from very far away in space. "I don't think I'll be able to go to Jason's Derby. Please tell him I'm sorry."

"I--" Clark picked up the briefcase and turned away before she could finish the sentence, striding toward the elevators.

He didn't look back.

: : :

There wasn't enough time to look for Bruce. Whenever he tried, there was an emergency somewhere. He'd be scanning the islands on the northern coast of Norway when he'd hear cries from a capsized ship. The temptation to ignore it would flash through his head, but then he would imagine Bruce's reaction to finding out he had let people die while searching for him. Other people had to come first.

Other people had to come first.

Gotham remained opaque and slippery as basalt, yielding nothing to him. People got hurt, things went wrong no matter what he did. Zsasz had killed again, was cutting another scar into his skin, a notch full of blood. Clark was failing Bruce's city. He was failing the world. He was failing Bruce.

He tried harder.

He had to try harder.

: : :

Alfred heard Bruce's voice as the lift descended: "An infrared spectroscopy of the footprint revealed trace amounts of phyllosilicate minerals, specifically a dioctahedral smectite. I believe it to be montmorillonite, which would indicate the suspect works in the oil drilling industry. A quick rundown of the major oil companies near the crime scene reveals that..."

The lift opened to reveal Clark floating in the air in the Batsuit, his eyes half-closed, drowsing as if wrapped in the sound of Bruce's voice issuing from the computer speakers. Alfred hesitated. He hated to wake the other man, but he needed to eat, too.

"Mister Kent."

Clark's eyes snapped open and his body dropped into a combat stance in mid-air. "What?"

Alfred held out the tray. "I've brought you a sandwich."

It was gone before he finished the sentence.

"I slept too long," Clark said. "You should have woken me earlier."

"You've been asleep for thirty minutes, Mister Kent."

"I don't need much. I'm going to patrol Gotham for two hours, then continue my search in the Austrian Alps."

"Mister Kent--" Alfred stopped as Clark looked at him, took a deep breath, and continued. "Mister Kent, it's been two weeks. I think we need to consider the possibility that Master Bruce is--that Master Bruce is--"

"He isn't." Clark's voice was inflexible, absolute.


"He is not dead," Clark said. "I know it."

"You hope--"

"I know." Clark shook his head slowly, his eyes closed as if he were listening to something. "If he were dead, I'd know it. I'd hear--" He broke off as a cold chill slowly crawled up Alfred's spine. "He's alive." He opened his eyes and smiled at Alfred, but it was strained. "Trust me."

"You should ask your mother to come stay, to be here with you--"

"--No." Clark's headshake was emphatic. "I don't want her see me like this. Please, Alfred."

Alfred started to say something, but the police scanner in the computer suddenly burst into life, announcing a bank robbery in Downtown Gotham.

"Gotham needs Batman," whispered Kal, touching the black emblem over his heart. "And I won't let Bruce down."

He was gone.

Alfred slowly made his way to the lift to go upstairs to the empty Manor, worrying his lip with unease.

: : :

The bulb glowed steadily, with no change to mark the passing of time.

Bruce practiced Kryptonian.

Zakh. Stone.

Wiro. Silence.

Vadh. Alone.

Zhao. Love.


Chapter Text

The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart (4/7)
Title: The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart, Chapter Four
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Lois Lane, Ra's al Ghul, Alfred Pennyworth, Jimmy Olsen
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary: Clark's search for Bruce remains fruitless, and Ra's begins to consider alternatives.
Word Count: 2900

i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

The Gotham fog was thick, twining around the lamp-posts like a living thing.  Clark pulled his trench coat tighter around himself and stepped into the bar.

No one looked at him as he entered.  He ordered a drink and sat down, surreptitiously eyeing the customers.  His legs felt restless and twitchy.  He should be on patrol.  But he was here searching for Bruce.  He forced himself to take a sip of his drink.

There was a light touch on his shoulder, and he turned to see a young woman standing behind him, her head tilted to the side, looking at him.     She was wearing a wine-colored satin dress with black lace trim, her pale face framed by waves of dark hair.  She looked vaguely familiar, but it wasn't until she smiled at him that he realized it:  she looked like she could be Bruce's sister.

Her dark eyes were enormous in her heart-shaped face.  "You're looking for him," she said, and her voice was like Bruce's too:  sweet and strong and alluring. 

Clark's heart was pounding.  "Yes," he breathed.  "Do you know where he is?"

She cast him a glance through impossibly long eyelashes and turned away, beckoning with a slender hand.

Clark followed her into the city streets.

There were cobblestones under his feet, gas lamps casting strange shadows around him.  The woman moved through the mist with a rustle of silk and Clark hurried to keep up with her.  He lost track of her for a second and stopped in the street, alarmed.  "Where are you?" he called.

The mist parted to reveal the woman at the mouth of an alley.  She smiled at him and Clark felt his heart turn over, felt something more than excitement burning through his veins.  She turned and disappeared into the alley and Clark followed.

She was leaning against a wall, looking at Clark as he drew closer.  Close enough to touch her.  Her lips were a dark curve of pure desire, her skin shining like pearl in the misty light, and Clark suddenly wanted nothing, nothing in the world so much as he wanted this woman. 

She looked up at him, her lips parting to reveal a glint of ivory teeth.  "Kal-El," she whispered, and he groaned at the sound of his name in her voice, voluptuous and rich.  "Beautiful Kal-El."

His knees were trembling and it was all he could do not to go down on his knees in front of her.  "What do you want, my lady?"  he whispered.  "I'll do anything for you."

She put out a tiny, delicate hand and rested it on his chest.  "I only want one thing," she said.

"Name it."

She smiled again.  "I want him back," she murmured.  "You promised to find him."

Her pale fingers tightened, and Clark felt nothing but shock as they went effortlessly through his clothes, through his flesh.  Grasping. 

Her smile was remote and imperious as the stars.  "Bring him back to me."  A wrenching feeling, cold burning pain.

Gotham smiled at him as she ate his heart. 

With his blood on her bright lips, Clark felt she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  He watched her, caught in pain and yearning, until the world went dark and he woke up.

After that night, he stopped sleeping.

: : :

Lois was interviewing the Metropolis harbormaster on port security, Jimmy at her side, when it happened:  a car swerved out of control on the Siegal Bridge and plummeted over the edge.  For a long, horrifying moment the silver arc of the falling vehicle was unchecked;  Lois waited, waited, felt her heart stop--and then Superman was there to catch the car from beneath just a few yards above the water, one red boot just brushing the surface.

He put the car down on the pier with an audible clang;  the doors opened and a couple of shocked and abruptly sobered young people staggered out.  Lois waited for him to smile and check to see if they were all right, perhaps tell them that they had learned a valuable lesson today, but his eyes flicked over them with no change in his expression--an expression, she realized suddenly, that was more tense and drawn than she had ever seen before.  He met her eyes briefly but his frown only seemed to contract more, as if seeing her caused him pain.  His hands clenched, and he was in the air again above the harbor, arms crossed, glaring out at Metropolis.

"People of Metropolis," he said, and his resonant, booming voice seemed to reach the pier as though he was just a few feet away.  Lois had no doubt the whole city could hear him just as clearly.  "I've just saved the life of two young people who seemed to think it would be perfectly acceptable to drink and drive, putting themselves and countless others at risk.  A small thing.  And yet of such small things are chaos and disorder born--a chaos and disorder I will not always be able to protect you from."  The red cape licked around his tense shoulders.  "How can you be so blind, so senseless, so selfish?  I can't save all of you," he said, and Lois wondered if everyone could hear the anguish and strain in his voice, or if it was merely that she knew him so well.  "I couldn't even save--"  He broke off and rubbed at his eyes, then turned his glare back on the city.  "Stop making it even more difficult for me to save the ones I can."

He was gone, leaving Lois with worry gnawing at her gut, craving a cigarette for the first time in ages.

"I got some great shots, Ms Lane," said Jimmy, but his voice was lusterless and his expression clouded.  "I suppose you'll have to write a story about it."  It hovered somewhere between a statement and question, uncertain.

"I suppose," said Lois.  "Perry will never forgive me if I don't."

"I wish Clark were around," muttered Jimmy.  He shrugged when Lois cast him a curious look.  "I dunno, I just miss him," he said.  "Bad things never seemed quite as bad when he was around."

Lois snorted slightly, mostly to cover her unease, and they went back to the car with the Supermanless space in the air hanging like an accusation behind them.

: : :

The seamless stone door opened and a guard appeared in the door with a glass of water.  Bruce was filthy, hungry, and dry with thirst, but merely looked at the guard in silence until the massive man came over and pulled him to his feet.  "Drink," he grunted.

Bruce sipped the water cautiously, one eye on the guard.  He could overpower him, run--run where?  He didn't even know where he was.  There would be more guards.  And somewhere out there...Ra's.

The guard turned and went to the door.  At the entrance, he beckoned brusquely for Bruce to follow.

Still holding the glass of water, Bruce left his cell and entered the stone corridors.

The two of them walked through whispering hallways, echoes dancing around them.  Eventually the narrow walls fell away into a great room, seemingly hollowed out of solid granite, the walls etched with runes and symbols.  On a throne carved from the living stone sat Ra's al Ghul, stroking his chin with long fingers, looking at Bruce.  The throne was flanked with dozens of guards in ninja garb.

The guard put a hand in the small of Bruce's back and shoved;  Bruce staggered forward to face Ra's.  He drew himself up and gazed around the room in exaggerated appreciation of its vastness, his eyebrows raised.  "I see you've decided to cast subtlety to the wind, Ra's," he said.  He drained the rest of his water and tossed the glass to a startled guard;  all the ninja tensed. 

A pike prodded his shoulder blades.  "You will use 'My Lord' to address the Demon."

"I'm sorry, I assumed our long acquaintance entitled me to be a little more casual."

Ra's shook his head.  "Enough of this.  Bruce, I have brought you here to ask, once again, for your help."

"My help?"  With his raised eyebrows, Bruce indicated the grand room, the ninja squad, the throne.  "You seem to have things well in hand."

Ra's lips thinned.  "I have been forced to conclude that I have, once again, underestimated you."  He waved a hand a section of stone became translucent, a projector screen.  "I assumed if I took away its protector, Gotham would fall once again into anarchy."

On the screen, Batman appeared.  Or rather, a man in Batman's suit;  the angle of the head was wrong, the movements slightly less agile than Bruce's.  Bruce's chest tightened at the sight, aching.  "Batman" stopped a robbery almost effortlessly;  the scene shifted to another crime, a kidnapping thwarted, the child hostage cradled against a black Kevlar-covered chest. 

"In only two years, you have managed to train another person in the ninja arts, raise him to the same level as yourself."  Bruce hardly heard his voice;  his eyes devouring the image of Clark in his suit, saving people, an endless stream of images.  "In fact, based on analyses of the Batman's activity since your disappearance, it seems possible you have found and trained two or more people.  The city is as safe--perhaps even more safe--than when you were in it."

From the taunting edge in Ra's voice, Bruce knew he was supposed to feel chagrin, self-doubt, to think that maybe Gotham was better off in his supposed protege's hands than in his own.  But as he watched flickering pictures, all he felt was anxiety.  He knew Clark, knew his body better than anyone's, and he could see the weariness in his motions, the exhaustion in the set of his shoulders.  Clark, Clark, what price are you paying to guard my city?

The images shut off abruptly, and Bruce found himself taking an involuntary step forward as if to call them back, to watch his love for just another moment.  "Agree to train my men as you've trained your own," said Ra's. "Become my lieutenant.  We'll try it your way for a while--a few decades, let's say.  I have the time to spare for an...experiment in hope."

Bruce set his feet against the stone, solid and real as the memory of Clark's heartbeat in the darkness of the Manor.  "I'm not interested in being part of any experiment of yours, Ra's."

His former mentor looked mildly disappointed.  "I can't say I'm surprised.  You were always so stubborn.  Fortunately--"  Another wave of his hand and the monitor flickered into life again, this time showing the Metropolis skyline, a figure hovering near a broken bridge, speaking.  "--I may have other options."  Ra's looked at the screen while Bruce felt his heart tearing at the sight of Clark's haggard face, the crackle of strain in his voice. 

"I always thought he was too inflexible to be an ally," Ra's said conversationally as Bruce hugged his pain to his chest and tried to stay impassive.  "But on the other hand, it's always the inflexible ones who shatter in the end."  He smiled at Bruce, his moss-green eyes wry and nearly affectionate.  "It's the flexible ones like you and I who can bend to the winds of time and keep our selves."  He looked behind Bruce.  "Take him back to his cell."

The guard's hand fell on his shoulder. 

Bruce swung around and broke his leg.

As the guard howled and writhed on the floor, the other ninja threw themselves at Bruce.  Starved, injured, and unarmed, he only managed to leave four more prostrate and screaming before being wrestled to his knees.

Ra's rose from his throne and came down the steps to stand before him.  A rough hand grabbed his hair and forced his head back to meet Ra's eyes, now flat and cold once more.  "Willful child," said Ra's.

His backhand blurred almost too fast for Bruce to see it and cut the world off into oblivion.

Bruce awoke to total, inky blackness.  The cot underneath his shoulders was familiar, but the light had been put out.  Darkness as thick and suffocating as wet, black cloth filled the room, the infinite, ancient weight of the mountain all around him.

His head still ringing, streaks of false light smearing his vision, Bruce struggled into the lotus position and began to drill Kryptonian once more.

Wiro.  Silence.

Giran.  To worry.

Zakh.  Stone.

Hirrath.  Death.

: : :

The lift doors opened into darkness and Alfred fumbled for the light switch.  "Leave it," a voice said.  "I don't need it."

Alfred peered into the blackness.  "With all due respect, sir, not all of us can see in the dark."  Silence.  "Are you at least getting some sleep?"

"I'm listening," Clark said.  "I need to catch Zsasz.  I need to find Bruce.  I don't need to sleep."

"That's not what you--"

"--I don't need it."  Clark's voice was flat.  "You do not need to attend to me any more, Alfred.  You may go."  The darkness was complete, folding around Alfred like wings.  "You may go," repeated Clark, and Alfred felt his spine stiffen at the other man's dismissive tone.

"Mister Kent, you cannot go on this way.  Master Bruce, he would never have let you do this to yourself."  The silence in the lightless cave had an ominous edge to it, but Alfred bulled along, fueled by anger and worry.  "You're killing yourself--and what's worse, you're abandoning everything that mattered, everything that made you more than some wretched soulless machine--"

"--Do not speak to me that way."  Red light unfurled in the darkness of the cave, two scarlet chasms;  by the sullen light Alfred could see a figure wrapped in shadows, lit only by his own eyes.  "You forget your place," the voice went on, implacable, remote.

It was a measure of both Alfred Pennyworth's bravery and his love for the two men in his charge that he didn't turn and flee the room.  Instead he stepped into the cave, into the simmering crimson glow, his hands balled into fists.  "And you forget your self," he cried.  "Clark!  What good will it do you to save the world if you lose yourself in the process?  What will Master Bruce find when he returns if you continue with this madness?  Will he love what you've become?"  The red light flickered.  "Will he?" 

For a long moment he waited, bathed in bloody radiance, hearing only the pounding of his own heart in his ears.  Then the light slowly dimmed and went out, leaving him in total darkness once again.  There was a long, hoarse inhalation, close to a sob.  "Clark," whispered Alfred into the blackness, "You say that Bruce is alive.  I trust you.  I believe you.  It would break his heart to see you this way."  He paused, swallowed.  "Please.  Please rest.  Somehow."

"I don't know how," said a small, exhausted voice.  "I can't...even when I sleep, there's no rest.  No rest without him, ever.  Anywhere."

Alfred stepped forward, fumbling in the darkness, one hand in front of him, until he touched the other man.  Clark was on his knees on the floor;  Alfred slowly joined him, putting his hands on his shoulders.  "If you love Bruce, if you love the world, I beg you:  go to the Fortress and try to rest.  Meditate.  Let the world go by without you for a little while."

"I think...I'd rather not go to the Fortress," Clark said slowly.  "May I stay here?  In Bruce's room?"

Alfred blinked.  "It's your room as well, Mister Kent.  Of course."

"Thank you."  There was a motion as if Clark were scrubbing at his face, then a small, shaky laugh.  "I'm sorry, Alfred."  Clark moved suddenly and the lights came on.  "My parents did raise me better than to leave people in the dark."

Alfred couldn't help smiling at the sight of Clark Kent in black Kevlar and leather, apologizing for his poor manners.  "Apology accepted, sir."

: : :

The darkness was stifling, even to the creature of darkness Bruce had made himself into. 

Zakh.  Stone.

Eldivi.  Sunlight.

Gairyrr.  Freedom.

Laov.  Strength.

: : :

The bedroom was dark, heavy brocade curtains cutting out almost all of the light.  Clark lay on one side of the too-large bed, back turned to the empty white expanse, trying to still his mind and breathing, trying to find a place where he could rest.  At the edges of his consciousness, Gotham lurked, beautiful and bloody.  And beyond her, the stars.

The silence in Clark's mind had no answer to either of them.

Alone in the darkness, Clark focused on that silence, letting it envelop him, wash him in pain and grief.  Bruce, he whispered into its blank and immutable depths, Help me.  Help me stay whole.  Don't let me lose myself.

The silence didn't change; it had no answer for him.  Clark felt nothing:  no confirmation, no connection.  And yet eventually--slowly, gradually--he slipped into sleep, a deep sleep without dreams, until the morning.

: : :

Vadh.  Alone.

Ia.  The soul.

Kal.  Child.

El.  Star.

My star, my soul, my strength. Never alone. 

Never alone.

: : :

Each in their own darkness, Bruce and Clark slept.

Chapter Text

The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart (5/7)
Title: The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart, Chapter Five
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Lois Lane, Ra's al Ghul
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG
Summary: Clark finally gets a lead on where Bruce is--but the rescue doesn't go as planned.
Word Count: 2400

and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

Lois Lane stood under the great golden globe in the bitter early winter wind, a scrap of paper clutched in her hand.  "Superman!" she called into the sky, hardly expecting a response, remembering the way his eyes had looked through her the other day.  "Superman!"

A rustle of fabric and he was there in front of her.  She hadn't realized how tense she was until the muscles of her shoulders and neck relaxed at the sight of his face:  pale, tired and worn, but...there.  "Lois," he said.  That familiar smile was on his face, small and tender, and she wrapped her arms around herself, hugging herself to keep from throwing her arms around him in relief.  "What's wrong?"

"There's a message for you."  She held out the bit of vellum, seeing the curving, elegant loops of handwriting appear and disappear from view as the wind pulled at the paper.  "It was on my desk."

He looked at it for a long moment, reading the message:  Tell Superman that I wish to parley.  Ra's al Ghul.  A set of coordinates followed.

"I know it's not my business, but...what's going on?  What are they talking about?"

His eyes blazed cerulean at her over the paper--not with anger, but with fear and a kind of joy.  "Something very precious to me."  He folded the paper and handed it back to her.  "Thank you, Lois."

"Don't you need it?"

"I won't forget the coordinates," he said. 

He turned away, the wind catching at his cape, and he stepped forward, one hand out.  "Superman--"  He stopped and looked at back at her, although she could see it was taking all he had not to leave immediately.  "Are you...are you all right?"

He smiled at her, that smile that always made her feel foolishly secure, irrationally certain that everything was going to be fine.  Somehow.  "I'll be all right," he said.  "Thank you."

"For what?"

He tilted his head.  "For caring.  For reminding me I'm not alone." 

And then there was no one there but Lois and the wind.

: : :

The door swung open, the dim light of the corridor outside hitting Bruce's eyes like a blow.  Dazzled, eyes streaming, he felt rough hands grab him, tie his arms and legs, and carry him from the room.

By the time they reached the great hall, the worst of the glare was gone from his eyes and he could make out Ra's on his granite throne, a dark green robe thrown around his shoulders.  The guards forced him into a kneeling position, and he felt the cold kiss of steel laid along his neck.  "Ra's," he croaked.  "It's always a pleasure to sample your hospitality."

Ra's lips quirked in a smile.  "It's a pity, but I'm afraid you won't be my guest much longer."  At Bruce's raised eyebrows, he continued, "I have made the Kryptonian an offer of alliance and I believe he shall be here soon."

Bruce struggled to keep his face still, not to show the sudden leap of hope and fear.  "Superman will never work with you."

"He doesn't seem to be much of a team player, does he?" Ra's observed.  "But as I said, the most inflexible are the ones that shatter."  He stood, pacing down the steps to stand in front of Bruce.  "And if he proves intractable..."

He tossed the cloak from his side to reveal a heavily brocaded scabbard, resting his hand on the silver hilt.  He unsheathed the weapon with a grating hissing noise, and Bruce had to bite back a startled exclamation.

It was a sword, wickedly curved and elegant.  A sword of green mineral, gleaming emerald in the cold blue light of the hall.

"Did you truly think I would allow such a powerful force to continue unchecked on the planet?"  Ra's asked, watching Bruce's face as he turned the weapon to glint in the light.  "Oh, we have been making plans.  I would have preferred to have both of you at my side, but as you are proving a difficult man to work with, I shall settle for him."  An arc of viridian as he swung the sword;  the Kryptonite hummed in the air between them.  "Steel can be made brittle under the right conditions, Bruce.  And I always find the right conditions." 

His smile sent cold water up Bruce's spine, but he schooled his face to impassivity, feeling the cold metal against his throat.

"My Lord, the alien comes!" cried a guard, and Ra's gestured to the man holding Bruce, sheathing the sword.  He was dragged behind the massive stone throne, out of sight, the dagger still poised against his neck.


: : :

The thin, cold air of the Roof of the World combed through Superman's hair, streamed his cape out behind him.  The Himalayas stretched before him like brides in white, and his heartbeat quickened as he drew near to Ana Dablam's jagged peak, shining in the rosy sunset.  Closer to the coordinates.  Closer to Bruce.

Guards met him at a steel door set in a rocky cliff face, their guns trained on him.  He thought of these same guards keeping watch over Bruce and felt his blood boil.  To make a point, he melted one of their gun barrels and seized the man by his collar.  "Take me to al Ghul, " he announced.  The guard didn't ask how he knew his master's name;  he pointed down the corridor with a shaking hand.

Superman carried the man with him.  As he entered the vast hall, he tossed the guard across the polished floor to come to rest with a thump at the base of the throne.  "You have two minutes before I start taking this place apart stone by stone," he announced.

The man on the throne stood.  "Kal-El of Krypton," he said as if welcoming a guest, spreading his hands out.  "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."  Clark crossed his arms and stared at al Ghul in silence, prompting a headshake and rueful smile.  "So distrustful.  You have perhaps heard of my...activities in Gotham before you returned to Earth.  And I can understand why these reports, filtered through the bias of the fallible humans who made them, might prejudice you against me.  But really, Kal-El, there's no need for hostilities between us."

Clark raised his eyebrows.  "Then why are we having this conversation?"

"I wished to offer an...alliance."

"Why would I ever work with you?"

Al Ghul looked surprised.  "To bring about peace, of course!  Humanity are sheep yearning for a kind shepherd.  One with their best interests at heart."

"And you consider yourself qualified?"

Al Ghul's smile was wry and self-deprecating.  "Me?  No.  I have seen too much of humanity's failings to be its guide.  But you...  You have both the power and the wisdom to usher humanity into a new Golden Age."  His eyes were kind and understanding.  "I've seen how difficult it is for you to witness their pitiful, blind actions and not want to help them more than you do.  You just need firmer with them.  Spare the rod and spoil the child, as they say."

The image of humanity--of Lois, Alfred, Lex, Bruce--as sheep or children needing a firm hand almost made Clark laugh out loud.  Instead he let the humor merely touch his voice as he said, "Even if I were to grant you that the temptation does exist, why would I need to work with you at all?  I have the power at my command to rule without your help."

Al Ghul looked eager, avid, as if he felt he was making progress.  "I have something you might be interested in."  He beckoned, and one of his ninjas dragged a bound man out from behind the throne.

Clark had suspected as much, but he still felt shock and joy ring through him like a crystal bell, tapped by hope.  Bruce's face was worn, exhausted, hollow with hunger.  A knife was at his throat;  Clark saw threads of blood making their way down from the keen edge.  But his eyes were alert, and when Clark met them he felt all the wounded and anguished raw edges in him soothed as if those dark eyes were a benison.  Al Ghul was talking, and Clark forced himself to listen, not to cry out Bruce's name:

"-- although lacking the distinctive armor, is indeed the vaunted Batman. I presume you already know that.  Similarly, I assume you have realized that the person currently posing as Batman in Gotham is an impostor.  This is the true one."

"Yes," whispered Clark, unable to look away from Bruce.

Al Ghul gestured magnanimously at the kneeling man.  "I give him to you as a gift, Kal-El.  A token of my esteem.  Here in this place, you may finally rid the world of your rival with none the wiser."

Clark's gaze snapped to al Ghul, uncomprehending, unable to keep the shock from it.  "What?"

There was a long silence in which a variety of expressions flitted across al Ghul's face. 

Then he started to laugh.

"Kal," groaned Bruce over the sound of al Ghul's amusement, and he realized he had thrown away the chance to claim Bruce as a sacrifice and flee this horrible place with him. 

"Oh," said al Ghul, still laughing.  "Bruce, you never cease to surprise me.  Truly.  I see now that your ambition matches my own--exceeds it, in fact.  Allying with an alien...I considered that boldness beyond anything you were capable of.  And here I find you not only secretly allied, but..."  He eyed Superman's face closely, " much more than allies.  Am I not right?"

Clark stood silent.  A fresh ribbon of blood was wending its way down Bruce's neck.

Al Ghul shrugged. "No matter.  I can work with this as well.  I do feel it necessary to mention," he said cooly, "That although we humans may seem slow to your inhuman reflexes, I assure you that Ubu is quite fast enough to open your friend's jugular before you can reach him.  What I would like from you, Kal-El, is your word.  Promise that you will work with me," he said to Superman, "And I shall release him."

"Let him go," Clark said at the same time Bruce hissed "No."

Al Ghul raised a cautionary hand. "I shall need your word that you will stay with me. Swear to serve me, on your honor and the memory of your lost planet."

"I..." Clark met Bruce's furious eyes. "I swear to you on my honor and on the memory of Krypton that I will stay with you if you release him without killing him. I can't," he said to Bruce's blank anger. "I can't let you die. As long as you're alive..." He took a breath. "As long as you're alive, I have hope."

"How touching," drawled al Ghul as the ninja pulled Bruce backwards into the shadows.

"You'll release him," said Clark.

"Of course," al Ghul said, his voice urbane.  Clark knew exactly how much that reassurance meant.  Bruce's eyes as he disappeared into the shadows haunted him.  But away from al Ghul, away from the horde of ninjas, Clark knew there was no way Bruce would fail to return.  Clark had bought them some time.  He could stall for a while.

Bruce would be back soon and together they'd come up with...some plan that would get them out of here.


: : :

"You heard our Lord, release him."

The night sky over Ana Dablam was a deep, dazzling violet-black filled with stars.  Ice-cold air clawed at Bruce's lungs as the world fell out from beneath him and he was airborne, stars and snow tumbling in his vision, a horrifying drop.

He landed in snow, bounced, hit rock and felt a rib crack, came to rest in snow again.  Retching for breath, he finally managed to pull in a lungful of frigid air.

Far above him a steel door clanged shut.

: : :

Clark tried to follow the guards dragging Bruce away with his gaze, but the walls were shielded, some kind of lead alloy... Straining to catch a glimpse, he ignored the shifting of the ninjas around him, remained oblivious to al Ghul's nod.

There was a flurry of motion, and suddenly there was a wet cloth clamped to his nose and mouth.  He batted away his attacker, but another took his place, and then another.  A sharp, acrid scent clung to his senses, and the room started to spin.  He staggered, threw another ninja across the room, went to his knees.  Everything seemed very heavy and far away.  The air seemed heavy.  He couldn't move.

He heard bootsteps and he heard al Ghul's voice:  nearby and yet far away, as if through a tunnel.  "I've had my finest biochemists working on a way to control you, Kryptonian.  It seems our compound mixed with Kryptonite might just do the trick."

His body felt detached, numb;  like he was a passenger inside it, trapped.  Al Ghul said "Stand up," and he felt his body lurch to its feet, swaying.  Everything was very distant.  He knew he should be angry, should be terrified.  "I never trust anyone's word," said al Ghul.  "Come with me and kill anyone who tries to harm me."

His body moved forward and Clark felt silence congealing around him.  He was lost in silence, buried within it. 

And in that, he found a small consolation, a small hope that he held in his soul like a tiny spark of light. 

Because silence meant that Bruce was still alive.

: : :

Bruce curled up as much as he could to conserve heat, taking stock of the situation.  He was bound hand and foot, injured, malnourished, and abandoned to the elements on the slopes of one of the highest peaks of the Himalayas.

Between him and Ra's al Ghul stood a sheer rock cliff face, a steel door, and an army of ninjas.

Ra's al Ghul was holding Clark captive.

Batman rolled over carefully and began to hunt for a rock sharp enough to sever his bonds. 

One thing at a time.

Chapter Text

The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart (6/7)
Title: The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart, Chapter Six
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Ra's al Ghul
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: R
Summary: Bruce arrives to rescue Clark in turn--but will he be successful with Ra's controlling the Man of Steel?
Word Count: 1400


here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

Clark was trapped inside his own body. "We should send him to raze Metropolis, Lord," said a voice from a great distance, nearly swallowed in waves of silence. Clark's heart tried to skip a beat and failed; even alarm was beyond his ability.

"Not wise, Ubu," said al Ghul's voice. "We remain uncertain how well our compound works. If we immediately send him far away to do something so against his will, we may find ourselves with a very angry Kryptonian to deal with." Footsteps moved around Clark. "Let's start with something small. Something that keeps him close to the sound of my voice. Get on your hands and knees," said al Ghul, and Clark felt his body shift and lower. "Very nice," al Ghul said as if admiring a work of art. "Stay there."

There was a slight pressure on Clark's back and he heard laughter ripple around the cavern. "May you one day use the world as your footstool as well, Lord," said Ubu.

The laughter flowed past Clark and away as if down a long, vast tunnel. It wasn't important. The silence buffered and held him tenderly, full of promise. He waited and listened.

He heard it before anyone in the room: the heartbeat approaching, steady and sure, the footsteps inaudible to any human. The gasp of a guard, the scrape of a body lowered to the floor. The heartbeat drawing closer as al Ghul and his followers discussed strategy, their voices of less import than the remembered chittering of bats in the cave roof. The heartbeat entered the room and Clark exulted, deep inside, that he was incapable of showing expression, of betraying his joy. He felt the familiar rhythm resonate in his own heart, a lifeline, an anchor. He held on.

Something must have tipped al Ghul off, for there was a sudden barked command and the slithering sound of weapons drawn. "Wait," commanded al Ghul. "I will have you disable no more of my men. Let our latest...recruit do the work. Stand up," he said sharply, and Clark felt his body rise. As if reflected in a distant mirror, he saw Bruce, all in ninja black, his eyes narrowed above the mask. "Kill him," al Ghul's voice said carelessly.

Clark's body moved, and Clark's soul wrenched itself from its disassociation to wage one of the greatest battles of his life.

: : :

Bruce flung himself to the right as Superman moved forward, feeling a sizzle of heat vision scorch the air nearby. Another tumble away from a fist that struck the stone next to him, sending jagged cracks arcing across the hall. Bruce's heart was pounding, exhaustion and malnutrition taking their toll. He knew he wouldn't be able to dodge the next attack.

But he did.

He heard Ra's snarl from his throne and realized Superman's motions were sluggish--still faster than any human's, but slowed to where he could avoid them. For now. He flung himself forward in a flip to dodge another blow, hearing his heartbeat hammering in his own ears, a tarantella of desperation--

His heartbeat.

He dodged again and saw it. Heard it. Clark's motions were in rhythm with Bruce's heartbeat, like a dancer moving to a drumbeat only he could hear. My heart, Bruce whispered to himself, Oh, my heart.

After that it was easier, a deadly dance with annihilation always a misstep away, but he could weave and dodge, almost touching his beloved opponent, safe by microns every time. "Finish him!" Ra's roared, and Bruce flicked a shuriken at the sound of his voice, feeling Clark's fist kiss his hair, dropping away at the last second. He heard the tang of metal on metal and whirled to see Ra's with his Kryptonite sword out, the tiny shuriken careening away, deflected.

Bruce was in motion, slipping under the red cape like a bull with a matador, throwing himself at the throne before Ra's could react. The emerald sword skittered across the floor with a skreeling shower of green sparks, and then Bruce had it in his hands, gleaming viridian metal before his eyes.

"Kill him," Ra's said fiercely to Superman. Bruce could see his smile. Compassion, Bruce. It hobbles you.

Superman stood stock-still, and Bruce could see muscles trembling under the blue spandex. "You will obey me," snarled Ra's, his voice curdled with anger. Superman took a staggering step forward and stopped again. He looked at Bruce and for a moment Bruce could see Clark in his eyes. Don't let me do this to you. Please.

Then Clark closed his eyes. His arms were loose at his sides. Waiting. Open.

"Now," said Ra's, and Kal's eyes opened, smoldering red. He moved forward, the vulnerable moment gone, closing on Bruce, a puppet in the hands of a madman.

Forgive me.

Bruce leapt forward and buried the sword in Clark's shoulder, above the heart, feeling the blade bite deep.

He heard a scream, a desolate howl bereft of sanity rip through the hall as Superman fell. But Clark's mouth hadn't opened, he lay on the floor peaceful as a sleeping child except for the blood, the blood--

His throat felt torn and raw for some reason. There was blood on his hands. The sword lay on the floor nearby, streaked with scarlet, and Clark's cape was in his hands, crushed in his fists. He looked up from Clark's body at the dozens of ninjas filling the hall.

Whatever they saw in his eyes, they scattered and fled before him, and any who did not were left broken and bleeding on the stone floor like grass before a razored wind.

Down a stone corridor Ra's fled; Bruce followed, borne on fury and grief like wings. A stone door slid shut behind his quarry, but he slipped through at the last second to find himself in a natural cavern, a crust of stone ledge clinging to the sheer rock. Beneath him the cave dropped off into nothing; a sickly pale glow glimmered far below.

Ra's was edging along the ledge; Bruce had no compunction, no fear, Clark's blood on his hands shielded him from vertigo or hesitation. He closed on his former mentor like an avenging angel, as if he would tear him apart with his bare hands.

Ra's smiled at him, a smile in which a strange pride and affection mingled with anger and fear. "Yet again I appear to have underestimated you," he murmured. As Bruce lunged forward, he merely stepped back, saying "Au revoir," and fell without further sound into the silent depths.

Bruce spent no time looking down after him but whirled to get back to the main hall. Back to Clark.

: : :

The pool of blood spread beneath Superman like a cape, fanning across the stone floor. The room was empty. "Clark," murmured Bruce. His eyes didn't open. Bruce got his arms under the other man and began to drag him toward the exit, toward the sky and sunlight. A long, pained smear of blood trailed behind them, and Bruce's throat hurt; someone was sobbing wordlessly, a horrible sound. Clark was a dead weight in his arms.

He staggered out into a gray world, lit like a pearl; the moment before sunrise. He laid Clark down in the snow and tore off his ninja mask to staunch the wound, blood sleeping into the snow, Clark's face white as snow. "Clark," he whispered again. "Don't leave me."

The sun rose.

Sunlight turned the snow and mist to rose, touched Clark's face with color. Clark drew a long breath and opened his eyes as the light crept across his body, laving his wound. "Oh," he said. "Bruce."

"Don't leave me," Bruce said again. He was rocking slightly, Clark's fingers wrapped in his, bowing over their joined hands.

"Never," Clark said. "I'll never leave you, Bruce."

It was cold, but Bruce didn't seem to feel it. It couldn't touch him. Sunlight was everywhere, a gold and rose benison, and Clark's terrible wound had stopped bleeding. "I knew you'd save me," Clark said.

Bruce laughed through the raw scrape of his throat, a creaking sound like leather. "I thought you saved me."

Clark drew him against the insignia on his chest, pulled him to his heart. "You always save me," he said.

They stayed like that, resting in sunlight together, letting the dawn touch and heal them.

Chapter Text

The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart (7/7)
Title: The Wonder That's Keeping the Stars Apart, Epilogue
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Alfred Pennyworth, Lois Lane, Jim Gordon
Notes: "Music of the Spheres" is a series set in the combined universes of "Batman Begins" and "Superman Returns." Other stories and notes on the series here.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Back home again, Bruce and Clark re-adjust to being safe and together at last.  The title and epigraphs for this arc are from e e cummings, "I Carry Your Heart with Me."
Word Count: 1800

Alfred had greeted Bruce's arrival home with his usual unflappable cool:  first priority had been a good hot bath, followed by a good hot meal and a solid night's sleep.  And if the sight of his ward's ribs tight against the skin of his chest made his heart hammer with pain; or if if he felt anything but pride in a well-cooked meal as Bruce ate with ravenous care, scraping every drop of soup from the bowl with a spoon that shook only slightly; or if he stayed up through the whole night to watch his son sleep, worn and battered against white sheets--well, no one knew but Mister Kent.

"Clark?"  Bruce whispered as the sunlight touched his face in the morning.

"The signal was lit shortly after you came home, sir.  He answered the summons, then called here to say he had business to attend to in Metropolis.  He promised he'd be back as soon as possible."

Bruce's smile was sleepy.  "I know he will."  There was a long silence in which Alfred thought his charge had fallen asleep again, but then Bruce said, "Is he all right, Alfred?"

"I'm certain he'll be fine now that you're back," Alfred said as he fluffed Bruce's pillow slightly.

Bruce grabbed his hand, though his grip was weaker than usual.  "I mean it, Alfred."

Alfred paused, wondering how best to phrase it.  "Mister Kent can be...rather intense.  He takes his duties very seriously.  It was...hard for him."

Bruce inhaled slowly, carefully.  "Mm," he said.  "Would you hand me the phone, please?"

A phone call later, Alfred tucked the sheets back around Bruce and smoothed the hair from his forehead--a gesture left over from childhood, but Bruce humored him sometimes.  He settled into the chair next to the bed.  "Get some sleep, Master Bruce."

Bruce was already drowsing, struggling to keep his eyes open.  "Don't you have anyplace better to be, Alfred?" he slurred.

Alfred waited until he was most definitely asleep before answering, "Not really, sir."

: : :

Eight hours before

Gordon paced the rooftop, coat collar turned up against a persistent misty drizzle.  The harsh light of the signal cut into the foggy night.

The not-quite-Batman landed lightly on the roof next to him.  "Trouble, sir?"

Gordon glared.  "'Sir'?  You're not even trying tonight."

The man in black suddenly smiled, a dazzling brilliance of joy.  "I don't need to.  He'll be back soon."

Gordon grunted to keep from smiling back.  "Good."  It was a strangely familiar smile, somehow.  He filed it away for later consideration.


"And there's no trouble, actually," said Gordon.  "I just thought you'd want to hear it first from me:  Zsasz has been captured."

The man on the roof shifted as if he had to hold himself down from leaping into the air.  "How?"

"It's a funny thing," Gordon said.  "He turned himself in."


"Well, practically.  Stumbled right into a beat cop on the street.  Oddest thing."  Gordon held up a recorder.  "He confessed to every murder.  Said some other things too."  He clicked the play button, and a voice came from it:  low and rasping and oddly dreamy, rapt.

"--so beautiful, she was so beautiful.  Lips like blood and eyes like blades, blades that would leave the sweetest scars.  She whispered my name and I followed her.  She could cut you and you'd never know she'd done it.  I wanted her eyes to touch me.  Mark me.  She did.  She said to follow her.  I told her I'd follow her to hell itself, and she laughed.  The sweetest scars."  Another voice asked him where the woman had gone.  "She's never gone," Zsasz said.  "She's carved on my heart.  I don't need to search for her anymore."

The man in the Batman suit was listening intently.  He took a long breath when Gordon clicked off the recorder.  "Interesting."

"The lady a friend of yours?"

"Not exactly."

Gordon shrugged.  "Just thought you might want to know."  He shook his head.  "Doesn't sound a thing like Zsasz;  he was never one for poetry and visions.  I guess Gotham will do that to you."

The man laughed, a short, surprised sound.  "Yes.  She will," he said.  Then he startled Gordon by sticking out his hand.  Gord