Bruce Wayne's eyes are soft and foolish in the gauzy light at the party. It's dim in here -- shadowy -- and a trifle too warm, but then I never did like wearing a tuxedo. Not enough color for me.
He's a handsome man, face unlined by cares, at least tonight -- if you look close you can see the creases at the corners of his eyes, the slight mar of a line on either side of his lips. His smile is carefully stupid.
But I've suspected for a long time that Bruce Wayne is two people. He's been a fool in public and a scandal often enough, but Wayne Enterprises is too tightly-run, too profitable to be the moneymaking machine that feeds a playboy's habits. Either he has the best board of directors any man ever assembled -- he does have Lucius Fox, which ought to count for a lot -- or the stupidity is a mask.
Which is why I'm here, really.
Nobody's ever been able to crack Wayne -- nobody's gotten under the idiot veneer. There might be nothing underneath, for all we know. I suspect it's a rite of passage for Gotham reporters, but I'm a Metropolis boy, and we do things a little differently in Metropolis. Less brutal. At least in some ways.
And my luck is very good, I think.
"Clark Kent," Wayne says to me, beaming, clapping me on the back. "It is Kent, right? For the Daily Planet?"
"That's right, Mr. Wayne," I reply, adjusting my glasses.
"I knew you looked familiar. I read your last freelance piece in Vanity Fair -- well, okay, I read the big-letter quotes. Makes it go faster," he says. "What brings you to Gotham? You're attending this on a journalist's salary? Get a big book advance?"
"I'm here as the guest of a friend," I say, which is true. Pulled some strings at the paper, and they pulled some other strings, and a friend of a friend of a friend got me in with a laugh. Give it your best shot, Kent. I'll buy you a beer when you fail.
"Never knew you to write for the society pages," Bruce says. "Those, I notice."
"Actually, Mr. Wayne -- "
"Here, have a drink," he interrupts, plucking a glass of wine off a passing server's tray, pressing it into my hands. He leans in close, arm around my shoulders. Either he's drunk, or he's playing a game of some kind. "Do exactly what I say and I will make this more than worth your while," he says softly.
"Do..." I repeat, but he's dragging me out of the crowd, towards a door in the far end of the room.
"How would you like an exclusive with a few of Gotham's top robber barons?" he asks, still quiet enough that even I might not hear if I...well, you know. "Play along and I guarantee you at least three hours alone with the cream of the city's financial society."
"Am I being kidnapped?" I ask, genuinely curious, but he grabs my hand and presses my thumb to a touchplate by the door, then his own. The door swings open in shadow, and he pushes me inside.
"Gentlemen," he says, and the light's a little brighter in here, though the air's clogged with cigar smoke. "I have a proposition for you."
There's a makeshift poker table in the middle of the room, with comfortable-looking, expensive-looking wingchairs pulled up to it. There's a bar in one corner, a box of Cohibas open on the table, and a pair of men sitting up to the table, one of them shuffling cards. The young one -- lit cigar, flashy suit -- is Jonas Cudlip. Cudlip senior made his fortune in real estate; Cudlip junior spends most of his time giving the fortune away to either the needy or the gambling tables. The older man, the one shuffling the cards, is Mark T. Bryant, Esquire -- an old-school lawyer of the kind to charge you for breathing the same air as him. Wealthy men, powerful men. And then, of course, there's Bruce Wayne.
"Wayne, if it's another one of your bimbos..." Bryant begins.
"This is Mr. Clark Kent, of the Daily Planet, Metropolis," Wayne says. "Now, I have rescued you two from Bernie's clutches, so the question is, what's your rescue worth?"
"Clark buys in. Bernie stays out. What's that worth? A couple of questions from Mr. Kent?"
It's admirable, actually; he's bribed me in here with the promise of an interview, and he's bribed them to put up with my interview with the promise that I'll be more interesting than whoever this Bernie is -- probably Bernard Parelli, Wayne's biggest business rival and an extremely uninteresting man.
"You'll buy him in?" Cudlip asks, suspicious.
"Of course. Have a seat, Kent. Welcome to the longest-running floating charitable society poker game in Gotham."
"Been running longer than this one's been alive," Bryant tells me, nodding at Bruce. "Started as a way to get out of those damn hot ballrooms. Only four allowed. You've just taken the place of the biggest bore in Gotham."
It is noticeably cooler in here, more comfortable. Still, Bruce Wayne's about to sponsor me into some secret club, and --
"Mr. Wayne, I can't let you -- "
"Well, have you got fifty grand to spare? I do," Wayne says, matter-of-fact, unabashed. "It's only money, Kent. Worth it to get rid of Bernie, if you ask me. Besides, you might win. You never know."
"Well...thanks, I guess," I say, seating myself.
"Now, you can't talk about the poker game, obviously," Wayne continues, as we settle in, Bryant dealing. "And we reserve the right not to answer any question you ask. But other than that...sky's the limit, boys?"
It'd be cheating to use my abilities to win every hand, but I won't let Wayne lose fifty grand on account of my inability to bluff. I lose just enough to seem like a rube, but I'm still breaking even after an hour. Oddly enough, Wayne is cheating, but not on his own account -- he's using me like bait, and cleaning up while making sure I look like I know what I'm doing. It's almost endearing, but more importantly it confirms my theory that he has hidden depths. Possibly very shallow hidden depths, but there's at least more than that foolish grin.
For one thing, nobody as dumb as Bruce Wayne pretends to be could ever cheat at cards the way he does.
There are two other people in the room aside from us four: a sleek young man who brings fresh decks of cards and serves us drinks, and an admittedly unusually beautiful woman at the bar who mixes them. Wayne occasionally leaves the table to fetch drinks himself and flirt with her. Rumor has involved him with every debutante and half the society wives in Gotham, but it's never implied he stops at the ruling class. Though he seems to be flirting with the young man as well, so...who knows? Maybe this is just how he acts when he's relaxed.
Except he's not that relaxed. I can separate his heartbeat from the others, always a little faster.
This is good material -- not just what I'm getting from him but from the others as well. Nothing earth-shattering; mostly finance and Gotham's cultural scene, but an exclusive is an exclusive, and it's fascinating to watch them interact. Clark Kent sits down for a discussion with the leading lights of Gotham...
At the end of the evening I have exactly fifty one thousand dollars in front of me. Bruce, whose eyes are straying more and more frequently to the bartender, collects his winnings from the other two and his cut from me. When I try to give him the extra thousand, he says, "You won it. I wasn't charging interest."
"I wouldn't feel right."
"Well, I can't just take your money."
"Give it to charity, then," I reply. "Gamblers Anonymous, maybe."
He looks surprised, the first time he's been surprised all night, then laughs loudly.
"You're something else," he says, as we step back out into the ballroom -- now mostly empty, except for the catering staff. "We appreciate the entertainment. Hope your friend hasn't left without you?" he asks, and then stumbles briefly against me. "Whoops!" There's no alcohol on his breath.
"Can I be frank, Mr. Wayne?" I ask.
"I wish you would, Kent. I don't get much frankness."
"I didn't come with a friend. Just used their invitation."
"Clever of you."
"I suppose. Let me pitch you an idea."
He laughs. "An idea! What's your idea, Metropolis?"
"I think you're two different men," I tell him. He's good; not a flinch, not a flicker of an eyelid. "I think this is just one of them. The playboy, I mean. The other one...he's more shrewd, isn't he? Sharper."
"I don't know what you mean," he says blandly.
"I'd like an interview with you. A real one, tomorrow, before I leave Gotham."
"To see if you can't unearth this other Bruce Wayne?"
"Something like that."
"There is no other Bruce Wayne, I'm afraid. What you see is what you get. Still, could be fun. I'll send a car for you -- one o'clock?"
I offer my hand. "Thank you, Mr. Wayne."
"I look forward to it," he says, with a somewhat limp handshake. "Off you go."
Two blocks away I hear a whoosh of displaced air and a soft footfall behind me. I put my hands up immediately, ready to be mugged. There's a soft, hoarse laugh.
"I'm not going to rob you," the voice says, and Batman sweeps around from behind me. He has a nicer cape than mine, which is a little annoying.
"Batman," I say. I was startled ten seconds ago when he came down behind me, and I let it show in my voice.
"I've been asked to escort you to your hotel," he says.
Now that is unusual. "I didn't think you took orders from anyone," I tell him.
"Sometimes, when they say please," he replies. His voice is low and rough, like he's not accustomed to much speech.
"Better you don't know. Follow me."
It's more of a command than a request, and there's no pause for discussion -- he darts down an alley, so I follow. Gotham is all shadows, and he knows how to stick to them; we move quickly enough through alleyways and down streets without being seen, which is something...oddly new. I've met him occasionally, but only as Superman -- four, five, six times? A few more perhaps, when I've found myself in Gotham or he's tracked one of his pet villains to Metropolis. Never for very long. It's strange to see him...walking. Like an ordinary man.
"You know, this would be the scoop of the century," I venture, after a block or two.
"No comment," he replies, but he sounds amused.
"Nothing to say to the criminals of Gotham?" I ask.
"You don't publish in Gotham."
"The Planet has a worldwide circulation. Hence the name."
"They know enough already," he replies. "The criminals. Your paper doesn't know anything."
"I'm not a flatterer."
"I suppose not. Still, our readers would love to hear what you think of the situation in Gotham."
"Sure. Crime, punishment, corruption, honesty. Not one sound bite for me? No defense of vigilantism?"
"No comment," he says, and then seems to reconsider. He circles around to face me, cape swirling forward around him, so I stop.
"Not even an off-the-record tip?" I ask.
"You don't give up easily, do you?"
"Hm." His cowl has lenses, so I can't see his eyes with normal vision, but a muscle in his jaw twitches. I could look through the cowl, but -- well, that would really break some rules. "Here's a tip for you," he says. "The big three."
"Cudlip, Bryant, and Wayne?"
"Socialize if you want, but don't snoop. Trust me. You wouldn't like what you found -- and my job is exponentially harder when people think someone's watching them. Especially a reporter."
"Well, now you've just whetted my appetite."
"I mean it. Back off."
"Back off from Wayne, I think you mean?" I ask. He doesn't react. "Back off from what?"
"This is my city. You're a guest. Don't forget that. I'll be watching." He nods at a door in the alley, unremarkable and a little grubby. "Side-entrance to the hotel."
"I'll have to make sure I keep things interesting, I guess," I reply, and walk inside without looking back.
Well. Now I'm really interested in Bruce Wayne.
The car Mr. Wayne sends -- the limousine -- pulls up promptly at one; I prep my notes for the interview on the ride, sorting them out in my head. It's important to be professional, after all, and this is part of the...well, the fun of my normal job, figuring out strategies and angles of attack.
Wayne Manor is sumptuous but overgrown, a little unkempt. Wayne's butler greets me at the door, leading me through the house and up the stairs to a pleasant breakfast-room that looks out on the estate.
Bruce Wayne himself is in pajamas and a robe probably worth more than the rent on my apartment. Breakfast is laid out on the table.
"Mr. Kent," he says, setting aside his newspaper, artfully turned to the comics page. "You'll forgive the informality. I always sleep in on Tuesdays."
"Not at all. I appreciate the opportunity," I reply. "Though I should probably let you know it's Monday."
"Is it?" he asks, curious. "Well, then I've missed my pilates instructor. Sit down. Eat, if you're hungry. Mimosa?"
"No, thank you."
He leans back languidly. There's nothing that man can't wear well. "Suit yourself. You know, I asked about you, after our conversation last night. The corn-fed boy from America's breadbasket made good. I even had Alfred fetch me your last article -- The Weight Of Metropolis. Very insightful."
It was a one-page puff piece on Superman for the weekend magazine edition. I'd been ordered to use small words.
"I do my best," I answer with a smile. "I hope to bring the same attention to bear on you, Mr. Wayne."
"Bruce, please. Only shareholders and servants call me Mr. Wayne."
"Bruce," I keep my smile in place. He's already giving sound bites, playing the part. "Ready for the questions, then?"
He smiles too. "This opportunity to prove I'm not as shallow as I look?"
"Something like that."
"People have tried before, you know. Though you're the first man."
"Women want me to have depth," he says, but his heart rate jumps; he's not lying, just not...comfortable? Ill at ease, perhaps with the casual misogyny of it. "I'm sort of proud of how skin-deep I am. But a woman always wants to fix you."
"Bruce, I don't think you're being honest with me."
He looks surprised. "Interesting."
"Most men take that as a challenge. But you're not an alpha male, are you?" he asks.
"I imagine most men take that as a challenge."
"Point for you. Are we interviewing yet? I want to know what will go on the record."
"No, not yet. I think this is known as settling you in," I say. "But if you'd prefer, I could cut to the chase. Do you mind if I record this?"
He shakes his head, so I tap the record button on the phone I set between us.
"Fire away," he says, waving a hand.
"What kind of art do you like?"
He frowns. "That's what you want to lead with?"
"I've found it effective."
"Well, it does have the benefit of difference." He looks up and away, around the room. "Modernism. I own three Picass -- "
"Everyone likes Picasso," I point out, and let the statement hang there. He bites at his thumbnail.
"Sculpture," he says finally. "I prefer sculpture to painting. Brancusi. I find it sensual. Perhaps it's trite but I do like modernism; the way you can sketch an entire world with a specific curve or angle. There's more to look at, in three dimensions. More to care about."
I have his number now; sex and self-effacement.
"You like to express, rather than describe," I say.
"Oh, description is for the workers. I pay people to do that kind of thing for me. Yes, I like -- experience, I think you could call it," he says, leering a little.
The key to any interview is to open a dialogue; you come with a list of questions, but you let the conversation go where it will.
"So you prefer first-hand experiences?" I ask.
"Of all kinds, yes. Why waste life on work? You only get one. Might as well make the most of it. I know I'm lucky to be born into wealth -- I'd rather use it to enjoy myself than worry about the little things."
He's falling back into sound bites again. That's fine; I can work with sound bites for a while.
We drift into philosophy -- his is very immature, or at least he claims it is -- and business practice, which is still immature, but a cover for something. I'm not sure what. The state of Gotham, financially; the state of its culture, of its soul. At least in a very freshman-literature-class kind of way. But it does lead me to a question which could get interesting fast.
"Do you know Batman?"
He pauses. "Well. That's unusual."
"You live in Gotham."
"Yes, but most people don't ask for a name-drop so blatantly," he says, shrugging. "I don't consort with vigilantes, but I've seen him on occasion. Men like myself are always tempting targets for the kind of people he calls enemies. I think we're all grateful for him, mainly, whatever the press says. Why do you ask?"
"Batman sells papers," I say with a smile. "So you have no association with him?"
He shifts, adjusts his robe. "Bruce Wayne sells papers too. So again -- why do you ask?"
There's the real man, or at least I think so. "I met him last night."
"You're lucky. He doesn't often come out of the shadows." His pulse jumps again. To give him credit, not a hint of it shows on his face.
"He said he'd been asked to escort me."
"Odd. He's not in the personal security business."
"I thought so. He told me not to look into you too closely, you and the others. Wayne Enterprises has had some...peculiar accounting over the years." Took me all morning to find that. He might be paying off the local reporters; it never makes more than a paragraph in some buried article in the business section. "None of it illegal. Just peculiar."
He laughs. "You think I'm funding the Batman?"
"You tell me."
"I have no association with him."
Nobody ever expects me to go for the throat. Mainly because I never do. Sometimes, though, it's worth it. I aim to egg him on. "Mr. Wayne -- excuse me, Bruce -- I don't think Jonas Cudlip or Mark Bryant have that kind of pull with a masked hero. I think you do. If you don't want to give me a straight answer, I'd prefer a simple no comment."
Bruce looks at me for a long time, then shakes his head. "Stupid, stupid," he mutters, but I can tell it's a recrimination, not aimed at me. "Well. Then let's end this," he adds, tapping the stop button on my phone, passing it to me as he stands.
"Mr. Wayne -- Bruce -- "
"Are you coming or not?" he asks, his voice different -- sharp, cold, commanding. He wasn't ending the interview; he was ending a game I wasn't sure we were playing.
I follow when he walks away. He leads me into a library, subtly unreal, overscaled somehow. The shelves are too high, the walls too narrow. He goes to a grandfather clock, itself much too large, and opens the front of it. Where it swings away, there's a dark, narrow entry leading off into shadows.
The dim stairs we descend slowly go from an equally narrow passage with walls to a sweeping staircase floating out over space, and soon enough light spills over them, dim grey light. We emerge into it and I look around in shock.
Computer monitors; strange hulking shadows; glass cases with odd displays. He turns at the bottom of the stairs and shoves his hands in his pockets.
"It's futile to lie," he says. "I don't think you want money, Kent, but I can't get at what you do want. So here it is. Make your demands. More hot tips? A real exclusive with the Batman?"
Bruce Wayne is Batman.
And he doesn't know who I am, and he thinks I knew already who he is.
"I should kill you, you know," he adds. He's not serious, asking for my demands; he's still playing, just on a larger scale. He wants the lay of the land, of me, before he goes further.
"Batman doesn't murder," I answer him absently, still looking around. This is amazing. I've got a fortress of solitude, but this is something else again. "It's a thing with you, isn't it? The not-killing."
"Spoil all my fun," he sighs. "What is it you want, Kent? Spit it out already."
The nature of our job demands a great deal of imagination. We have to picture what our alter egos would do in any given situation. It occurs to me that this is true of Bruce Wayne, Playboy, more than most; what an act he must perform for the world, and how tiring it must be.
It has never once occurred to me that I would be in a position where Clark Kent was just out-and-out told Batman's secret identity with the expectation that he wanted something. What would I possibly want in this situation? I've already got my proof that Bruce Wayne is two different people, if not in the way I was expecting.
Does he know about...me? Why else would he reveal this?
"Would you believe me," I say slowly, "if I told you all I wanted was confirmation of a gut feeling?"
Bruce looks at me, narrows his eyes, and then laughs, the sound bouncing around the walls of the cave. He drops into the control chair in front of the monitors, still smiling.
"I have to thank you," he says. "It's been a long time since I found anything that funny. Or since I've been played that expertly. You, Metropolis, just figured it out on a whim and wanted evidence for no particular reason? Just to know?" he asks, and then tilts his head. "Actually, from what little I've seen of you, that's very you. I bet you help old ladies cross the street and give regularly to charity."
I do, but that's not the point. The point is that this is a different Bruce Wayne, not quite Batman, not quite the wastrel he shows the world.
"I bet you know who Superman is, too," he says, almost wistfully. "What I wouldn't give for that little nugget."
I open my mouth to confess, because this isn't fair and not in any way how I thought this would happen if it ever did -- I figured Batman would get my number long before I got his -- but he holds up a hand.
"Don't. If you know, it's safer for everyone if I don't." He smiles. "You should come work for me. I'm sure I pay better than the Daily Planet, and I could use someone with your skills. Do you know Batman indeed."
It might be flattery, or a bribe, but I don't think it is. I can't help but feel pleased. "I'm a little big for the Robin costume."
"But not quite as mild-mannered as you seem," he replies. He looks up and around him, at this little dark corner he's carved for himself. "Well. It's somewhat anticlimactic to try and give you the Bruce Wayne Interview treatment now."
"I think I have enough to do a piece," I tell him. "Your secret's safe with me. I'll show myself out, if that's all right."
"Hey, Metropolis," he calls, before I can disappear up the staircase. I stop; I don't turn. "That job offer's not a joke. Think about it."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Wayne. I don't think I could relocate to Gotham."
"Well, if you change your mind, you know how to find me."
"I sure do," I answer, and let myself out.
My piece on Bruce Wayne and the Barons of Gotham is solid; not exactly stellar, but good honest workmanship, the kind of thing I enjoy. Wayne sends me flowers and a sardonic card, which makes everyone in the newsroom laugh.
"Don't worry, Clark, I'm sure he does that to all the boys," Lois tells me, patting me on the shoulder. I tap the card against my desk and think again about how much effort it must take to be Bruce Wayne. It seems like it should be the other way around -- that being Batman must be the exhausting part -- but I can understand the reverse. It's much harder to be an ordinary person, to build an ordinary life. Batman drives him the same way Superman drives me, and he doesn't have the advantage of speed or strength or flight.
That night, there's a noise outside my apartment window. I don't react until there's a gentle knock in the glass, tap-tap-tap.
Batman's dangling off my roof from a drop line hooked to his belt, body curved up around it, legs tucked up on the other side. Graceful and very dangerous. When I open the window, he smiles.
"Dropping in?" I ask. Oh, like anyone could resist that pun.
"Nice place." He sways a little in the wind. I can't actually tell if he's being sarcastic.
"I like it. Come inside," I say, and he swings through elegantly, the drop line disengaging.
It's strange to see the Batman in a well-lit room. It's not his kind of place. With no shadows, the cape looks less dramatic, the cowl almost silly.
"Coffee?" I ask lightly. He turns, flicking the curtains shut.
"Hard to refuse," he says, and when I'm done taking down mugs and pouring out the last of the coffee in the carafe, I turn back to find the cape slung over the kitchen counter, his cowl pulled back and dangling off his shoulders like a hood.
"I got the flowers you sent," I tell him. "Nice touch."
"If you're going to do it, might as well overdo it," he answers.
"In town on business?" I ask. "Cream, sugar?"
"Black. No." He tugs at his gloves, setting them on top of the cape before accepting the mug. "I came to see you."
"I'm flattered," I say. In reality I'm confused; pleased he came here, but perplexed as to why. He can't be worried I'd reveal him -- I'd have done so by now -- and he knows I turned the job down. Just...dropping in to have coffee is not something Batman does.
Abruptly, it strikes me as amusing. "Batman change his mind about that interview?" I ask, smiling.
"Hardly," he drawls.
"You know, you talk a lot less in the cape, but you say a lot more," I remark.
"You're wasted at the Planet."
I shake my head. "I told you, Bruce, I'm not interested in relocating."
"No, I didn't think you would be. I'd like to propose a different arrangement."
"Business after all?"
"Perhaps. Sometimes my...prey," he says, with a tilt of his lips, "goes to ground in Metropolis. Sometimes I need information on the wider world. Politics. That kind of thing. Nothing I can't find out myself -- "
"But it's easier to ask a source," I agree.
"And you're an informed, intelligent man -- the news is your business."
"So -- freelancing from Metropolis?"
He sets a little device like a bluetooth on my counter. "This is a secured comm link. It's routed through the Wayne Enterprises satellites and encrypted on a private channel." He tilts his head. "If I called, would you answer?"
I consider the little device. There are a thousand reasons this is a bad idea, another thousand reasons it's a good one. I've never been comfortable with his brand of justice, but I can't throw too many stones, given my own work. It's an opportunity to become...more familiar, which could influence him in positive ways -- or could influence me less positively. He's a charming man, at least part of him, and I want to like him. I want to forgive him for the way he works, because I understand it. And it would be nice to know I have an ally who trusts me. Especially someone who looks as desperate for his own ally as Bruce does. For no other reason than that, there's only one real answer I can give.
"If I can," I say honestly. "There may be times I can't."
"But if you can."
I nod, eyes still on the device. "Yes. Of course."
He nods back, pulling his cowl over his face again. Gloves next, and then the cape.
"I'll be in touch," he says, and slides out the window.
There's guilt in the pit of my stomach, a hard little knot of it that says I should tell him who I am, but it's easy to ignore. There's also pleasure -- at being trusted with this secret, at being recognized for something other than Superman.
I set the earpiece on the nightstand by my bed, and in the morning I put it in the inside pocket of my suit. It's probably silly; he's not likely to call me in the middle of the day. But you never know, and I'd rather not let him down.
The comm link goes with me pretty much everywhere, once I look into the circuitry enough to know there's no GPS in it. It's one-way; he can call me, but I can't call him, which seems smart, if not particularly friendly. Still, he does call -- not frequently, but with reasonable regularity. To ask questions, to see if I've heard rumors. Eventually, sometimes, he seems to call simply to talk out knotty problems with someone. His mind is incisive, but I think it helps him to have another person to talk to. It helps me, too. I can keep tabs on Gotham this way. He's never needed my help, but even if he did, he wouldn't ask. Now, I have a way of knowing.
Besides, I find I like talking to him. When he doesn't call, I miss it.
And then one evening he calls, breathless, and says, "You can get a message to Superman, can't you?"
"Well, it's no bat-signal -- "
"Tell him to get out of the cape and get under cover. There's a hit out."
"A hit?" I ask, amused.
"I'm not screwing around, Metropolis. Find him as fast as you can and tell him. I'm on my way now."
"You know he's the Man of Steel, right? Bullets tend to ricochet."
"Not when they're made of Kryptonite."
I can feel myself tense. "Where'd they get Kryptonite?"
"I don't know yet. No more stupid questions, Kent. Go, tell him. I'll call again when I know more."
He clicks off -- well, that's the end of that.
I wasn't even particularly planning on going out tonight. I walk to the window and look out, down into the streets of Metropolis, wondering. It's crazy enough, putting a hit on Superman; it's maddening and frightening to know they might have bullets that could do real damage to me. I'm not used to feeling vulnerable. Kryptonite's one of the few things I fear, and I've never liked the feeling.
I should suit up. I should find these clowns and handle them. This is my city, not Batman's.
But I trust him, and I know that the worst thing that can happen is for an ordinary person under threat to disobey orders by someone who knows more than they do.
He calls back an hour later. "Well?"
"He's not too happy about being ordered around," I say. The knot of guilt in my stomach tightens.
"Put him on."
"He's not here."
"Smart, I guess. I'll be in Metropolis in fifteen minutes. I want to meet with him."
"Roof of the Daily Planet?" I venture.
"Tell him." And he clicks off again. That's starting to get on my nerves.
When I land on the roof of the Planet building, fifteen minutes later, he's already there. He gives me a wary, guarded look.
"Kryptonite bullets, huh?" I ask. "That's a new one."
"False alarm," he replies.
"You came all the way here from Gotham to tell me that?" I say, crossing my arms -- ignoring the relief that floods through me.
"We're in trouble," he says. "Someone put word out in Gotham that there was a hit on you. They knew it'd get back to me, and I'd tip you off. They didn't count on me investigating whether or not the tip was real. Someone wanted you off the streets. Maybe for tonight, maybe for the next few days. They're planning something big."
"They can't think that'd keep me away."
He shrugs. "Maybe they're stupid. Wouldn't be the first time. We have a bigger problem."
"And that is?"
"What about him?" This is killing me.
He looks guilty too, which is strange. "I've been using him as a source."
"So he said."
"I didn't think you'd approve."
"You don't seem like the kind of man who needs my approval."
"This doesn't work unless we respect each other," he reminds me. "It's your town."
"Kent's a grown man. I'm not his father. What's your point, Batman?"
"They knew I could get word to you. They may be aware Kent's working for me." He looks away. "Puts him in a dangerous position. I want a favor," he adds.
"Depends on the favor."
"Look out for him. I've had enough of people getting hurt because they happen to be...involved..." he trails off. "Kent's special. He knows."
"Who I am. I assumed he knows who you are, too."
I nod once, jerkily. "I see."
"I'd like to stay in Metropolis for a few days. See if I can find out what's going on. Knock a few heads together."
"You know that's not exactly how we do things here," I say.
"Wolves from Gotham in the Metropolis sheep-pen. This is my mess to clean up, at least in part."
"Don't get too far above the law," I order. "Don't get in my way. Let me handle Kent. The rest is your call."
"I appreciate the courtesy. I'll pass word through Kent when I find anything."
And he's gone. There are shadows protecting him that I didn't even know Metropolis had.
Damn, he's good.
In the following days I see him sometimes, lurking, investigating god knows what. I'd worry he might follow me, but he was right: we need to respect each other, and I trust he won't betray that. If he sees me he'll acknowledge with a look or a wave, but we don't talk. There's no need to talk, at least from his point of view, not until he finds something. I've found nothing -- no evidence of major banks being targeted, no suspicious activity in the wealthier neighborhoods, no more than the usual amount of political corruption.
Sometimes, when I'm not in uniform, I think I see him dart around a corner, watching Clark Kent from a distance. Could just be imagining things.
The third night, an explosion rocks the city.
I'm in the air with hardly time to think. It's in the packing district, an old warehouse, and could easily have been just a ruptured gas main -- or, I suppose, some kind of drug lab -- but my senses tell me otherwise. Somewhere in this mess of fire and debris raining down there was a bomb.
There aren't many people to rescue -- there are bodies, but it's not hard to tell who didn't make it -- and once the living are safe I focus on helping the fire teams keep it from spreading. Three buildings totaled. Sort of a minor event, in fact, if not for the deaths. I don't even wait until the fire is out. Metropolis PD's bomb squad is already preparing to go in. They toss me salutes as I pass. Lois is there as well, talking to the police. I'll probably have a voicemail from her on my phone, letting me know she's covering it.
I live on the top floor of my building, so it's easy to get back inside -- land on the roof, change at super-speed, duck into the stairwell, and I might just have stepped out to stargaze for a few minutes. I don't notice the batline embedded in the masonry. Sloppy, but I'm tired and ready to be home --
I do notice my lock's been picked. And there's heavy breathing inside my apartment, and a familiar heartbeat.
I open the door and flick on the light. Batman -- Bruce, his cape a shredded heap in the corner, cowl, gloves, and shirt off -- is sitting in one of my dining-table chairs, a strip of his cape pressed to his right side. Blood drips onto the floor. There's a seize of panic in my chest, fear closely behind.
"Kent," he rasps, when he sees me.
"Jesus, Bruce -- "
"Was gonna get up, just needed a minute, would have -- " he takes a shuddery breath. "Wanted to make sure you were safe -- "
"I'm fine," I say, kneeling next to the chair. "What the heck happened to you?"
He eases the fabric away from his side. There's an ugly streak of blood and shredded skin there.
"Oh, my God," I say, pressing the fabric back over it, my hand over his. "The explosion? I heard it -- Lois went to cover the story, I went up to the roof to see -- "
"S'okay, just making sure -- " he gasps and his eyes roll alarmingly in his head. "Got any bandages?"
A hospital is out of the question for obvious reasons. But while it is a bullet wound it's not a deep one, just ugly and bloody.
"I'll patch you up," I tell him, checking his eyes before I retreat towards the kitchen. I don't have much use for bandages or disinfectant, but I keep a first-aid kit in the kitchen -- it's good to be prepared, and nobody else who visits me is, well, invulnerable. I give him a clean tea-towel, better for staunching the blood, and pull up a chair facing him while I dig out butterfly bandages, alcohol, sterile pads.
He grunts when I disinfect it, and under cover of the burn of alcohol I cauterize the wound with my eyes, stopping the blood loss at least. Bandages keep the wound closed, and a big white pad with strapping around his ribs will keep pressure on it. X-ray vision comes in handy; he has two bruised ribs and what I can recognize as a mild concussion, but no internal bleeding, no serious wounds aside from the bullet graze.
There are nicks on his face where the cowl didn't protect him, and his lip is split; I clean them as best I can with a disinfectant pad, avoiding his gaze. His skin is warm; at least he's not in shock, which eases some of my worry. The rest I can care for, and I focus on the wounds instead of his warm skin.
He has a lot of scars. Fine white lines and brown pockmarks decorate his chest, evidence of past battles. I wonder how he explains them to all the lovers Bruce Wayne supposedly takes.
"Bomb wasn't meant for the warehouses," he says, as I finish.
"That's not important right now."
"If he asks -- Superman -- the bomb. Was meant for the Science Museum."
"Who'd want to bomb a science museum?"
He shakes his head, almost pitching forward. "Field Day's tomorrow."
Field Day at the Science Museum -- every schoolchild in Metropolis will be there. It would have been carnage. A slaughter.
"Who?" I ask, horrified.
"Dun't matter. All dead now," he hisses, hand pressing over the bandage. "Set off the bomb, 'fore they could plant it. Got 'ny painkillers?"
"Sorry. There's a store downstairs, I'll get some -- "
"No, stay," he grabs my wrist. "D'mestic terror. Tell you later, make you r'sr'ch it. I should..."
"Bruce, you're dead on your feet. You're not going anywhere," I tell him. He's not slurring precisely, and the concussion isn't bad enough to cause this. It's more like he's having trouble getting words out. It's exhaustion, pure and simple.
"Can't stay, s'dangerous. Shouldn't have..." he exhales. "Damn, that hurts."
"Superman's got his eye on me. Come on," I tell him, getting a shoulder under his left arm. When I lift, his body swings against my side, head dropping into the crook of my neck.
We walk -- he mostly staggers -- into the bedroom. He needs rest, and the danger is past. He's half-conscious by the time I get him laid out on the bed, shoes and belt off. The blood loss has to be significant; it doesn't seem perilous, but you never know. I hurry back into the kitchen, pour out a glass of orange juice. He laughs and then chokes when he sees it.
"Nice, M'trop'lis," he murmurs, but he drinks obediently when I hold it to his lips. "Thanks."
"Rest. You're safe here," I tell him, and his eyes slide shut, body curling a little to protect the wound.
I clean up the blood, throw out the tea towel and the odds and ends of bandages, picking up his gloves from where he dropped them just inside the door. His shirt has kevlar plates that should have protected him, and they did protect him from glass and shrapnel embedded in the back of the shirt, but the bullet got a seam -- no wonder the wound was so messy. I fold it and set it aside, along with his cape, scorched and shredded around the edges but mostly intact. I stop for a moment when I gather up his cowl from the table, hands running over the little points on the sides, the sharp jut of the nose. This is so, so important to him, and I wish I could fully understand why. I know why I do it, but he's different. Wounded. Not something I can heal, and he wouldn't be Bruce if I could, but...
No point in thinking about it right now.
I lock the door and check in with the Daily Planet, letting them know I won't be in tomorrow; Lois is there, putting in her copy of the warehouse bombing, and she sounds annoyed and resigned at my lack of dependability. I'm used to it; I foster it, and it's not her fault this is how things have to be.
I sleep with one ear cocked for changes in Bruce's heartbeat, signs he's waking or in more pain. He must be pretty nocturnal by now. Batman's been in Gotham for years and he's a creature of the night. He's probably also used to sleeping where he can, when he can, and he doesn't wake.
In the morning he's still asleep, so I make coffee and then breakfast. He drags himself out of the bedroom just as I'm finishing with the bacon, and he still looks like death warmed over. His eyes dart to the door (locked) and then the windows (curtained), and he smiles sidelong at me.
"I appreciate the patch job," he says, slumping into a stool at the kitchen counter. I pass a cup of coffee across to him. "Sorry about the mess."
"You singlehandedly saved the children of Metropolis. I think you get a pass on the bloodstained floor," I tell him, taking the pancakes out from where they were warming in the oven.
"You have work," he says, eyes straying to the clock on the wall.
"I called in."
"Bet they loved that."
"Lois -- Lois Lane?"
"Oh, yes. Read her stuff. I heard something about you and her?"
"Flattering, but unlikely. Still, she's covering for me, so stop fretting. Eat," I order, setting maple syrup in front of him, along with a plate of pancakes and bacon.
"Farm breakfast," he says, approximating a grin. He has to be in pain. I set out two pills from the bottle I bought downstairs earlier and he swallows them with a slug of coffee.
"No, for that you'd need to add a steak, scrambled eggs, and biscuits with gravy," I reply. "You could use them, but I'm a little short on steak."
"This is fine." He dumps maple syrup over everything, hunching as he eats, one hand pressed to the bandage under a pajama shirt -- one of mine, just a little too large on him. "I shouldn't stay long."
"Alfred can stitch me up, he's used to it."
"How are you getting back to Gotham? Batplane? You want to crash it halfway there?"
His eyes flick up at me. "I'm endangering you."
"I can look after myself." I join him, one stool over, and steal the syrup.
"This is above your pay grade."
"Wouldn't be hard. Last time I checked you weren't paying me."
He laughs, then stiffens. "Ow."
"Easy. Eat slow, you can sleep again after."
"Nah, bullet wound," I reply. "Don't make me call Superman."
He perks a little at that. "You hear from him about last night?"
"Just the basics. The fire was contained. Some bodies -- the terrorists, I assume?"
"Some militia group. Anti-science. Go figure," he says. "He's probably not happy with me."
"I think he'll get over it," I say. "He thinks you did a good job."
His smile is genuine this time, small but full of pleasure. "Wouldn't want to get on his bad side."
"I don't think he really has a bad side."
"I don't think he likes me." He shrugs one-shouldered. "Tolerates me, that's all. I get it; I'm not his kind of soldier."
"Bruce -- " I can't figure out how to say it. I should have said it a long time ago. Or I shouldn't say it at all. "I..."
Can't say it. He's watching me with steely eyes, fork hovering over his plate.
"I think he knows how hard you work," I say. Coward. "I think he admires you. It's not easy to fight, even for him, and he's got advantages you don't have. I know he respects your intelligence."
He tilts his head a little. "Selling him on me, huh?"
"Well. I think so too, I'll admit that. I may be biased, but I'm pretty sure Superman is impartial."
"Biased?" he asks.
"Little bit. I respect you. And I think you should rest a little more before you -- " I start to get up, to clear away our plates, but he twists his left hand in my shirt and tugs me forward, into a kiss.
Maple sugar, smoke from the bacon, blood from his split lip all fold together in his mouth, our mouths, and it would take more than Clark Kent -- more than Superman -- to pull away. His tongue is slick against my lips, insistent in my mouth, and his fingers tighten in my shirt. I can see him raise his other arm, an abortive movement when it pulls on the bandages. I put a hand on his shoulder, steadying him, and slide my fingers through his short hair. I let myself have this thing I've wanted, that I never could have asked for on my own.
When he pulls back he's panting, skin a little grey. His hand in my shirt is now most of what's keeping him upright.
"Okay, you're going back to bed," I announce, easing him off the stool.
"I envy him," he says bitterly, leaning on me for the journey back to the bed.
"Why on earth?"
"Bulletproof skin for a start," he says, lips curling up. His head drops against my shoulder again. "And you're here."
"Believe me, at the moment you have my undivided attention," I reply, helping him onto the bed. I'm not eager to let him go, but this can wait until he's a little more steady.
"Sorry," he mumbles.
"Don't be," I say, and he curls up again. "Really. Don't be sorry."
I don't have any way of contacting Wayne Manor, but the problem is solved for me -- my earpiece buzzes around ten o'clock, and when I answer, it's Alfred on the line.
"He's here," I say, and there's a soft sigh. "Beat up a little, but he'll live."
"I'm glad to hear it. Problem solved, I take it?"
"So I understand."
"Is there anything I can provide?" he asks delicately. I try to imagine him as -- well, what is he to Bruce Wayne? Mentor? Unlikely. Father-figure, perhaps. Caretaker. The proper man in the elegant butler's uniform, who stitches Bruce up when he's hurt; who lets him go out into the night, every night, to get hurt again.
"I don't think so," I say. "Can you check back in a few hours? He's unconscious right now."
"How very Bruce Wayne of him."
"If only," I reply.
"We'll speak again soon. Good day, Mr. Kent."
After that I check my computer -- my internet news feeds, my email for work -- and then venture further afield to the Gotham news. I pull up Lois's initial story on the bombing, too, and per Bruce's half-slurred request, try and find out what I can about the terrorists behind it. I ping Lois to ask if she's going to look into them, and she says probably not; by all accounts they all died. I ask if she'd mind if I did a piece, and she says Perry won't run it, but I could try selling it freelance. Good enough for me.
Morning fades into afternoon; Bruce doesn't wake, and his heart is steady, so I let him sleep while I make a sandwich. Alfred checks in, and says he'll call again in the evening.
Around two, I can hear the change in his pulse and breathing, a second of panic. He's probably forgotten where he is. It evens out, and I give him a moment to collect himself before I knock on the half-open door gently.
Bruce is sitting up on the edge of the bed. I wish I could face him, but I don't want to stand. Instead I sit next to him, hands clenched between my knees.
"What time is it?" he asks.
He shifts, winces. "I should call Alfred."
"He called me. I let him know you're fine."
"You seem to be. You should change your bandage, though."
He nods, shifting again.
"Are you sore?" I ask.
"No worse than usual," he says, sounding almost amused. "So. Earlier. I really did that."
"Any...feedback? Critical commentary? Opinions?"
I flex my fingers against my knuckles.
"I figure there's two ways we can look at this," I tell him.
"Well, we can look at it as gratitude for fixing you up," I say slowly.
"I'm not in the habit of grateful damsel kisses," he replies.
"I didn't think so," I admit. "Or...it could be...more?"
He looks away from me. "I've never been...involved with someone who knew both sides. Some Batman, some Bruce Wayne, never both."
"Batman? Really? How's that work?" I ask, sidetracked. "You keep the cowl on?" He nods. "That's...a little dirty."
He glances at me. "You really are tireless, as a journalist," he remarks.
"And your threshold for 'dirty' is pretty low."
"Farm boy." I pause, then plunge on. "How does Bruce Wayne explain the scars?"
His smile is sardonic. "Boating accident."
"They buy that?"
"Bruce Wayne doesn't sleep with rocket scientists. Most don't ask."
I look down at my hands. "Not gratitude, then. Something more."
"I rarely meet people -- ordinary people -- wait, no, that's not what I mean. Not to insult you, but the people I meet who are...like you, clever enough to get past me in one way or another, they're usually not ordinary, in fact -- usually they're...evil. I'm butchering this," he sighs. "You are unique. Different from other people. Similar enough to me. And I was unguarded."
"Oh." I turn this over in my head. He's got half of it wrong, but not the important half, at least I think.
"If it was unwelcome, I apologize," he adds.
"No! Not -- " I gesture with one hand. "Not unwelcome. Surprising."
"It's unwise at any rate. It puts you in unnecessary danger."
"I think that ship has sailed, Bruce," I answer. I can hear his pulse jump. "But if it is more, there's something you should know."
He turns his head, studying me now. "You and Lane."
"No. I told you, that's a rumor." Not that I'd mind, but I don't really have any hope there. Lois is great, too good for the image I have to project -- the undependable, slightly scattered country boy.
One eyebrow lifts. "You and Superman?"
I can't help but laugh. "Not exactly."
"Then you have me at a disadvantage."
I can't not tell him, not now. He's bound to be angry, but -- better now than later. Better before anything gets off the ground.
"I'm Superman," I tell him quietly.
It's not something I say, really, not something I say aloud anyway. When would I have reason to? The name sounds foreign in my mouth, wrongly-pronounced somehow.
He butts his shoulder against mine and laughs, disbelieving. "Clark."
I take my glasses off, turn my face to his.
The laughter ends abruptly.
His eyes go wide, disbelieving. His body stills, except for his fingers flexing against his thigh.
"I'm an idiot," he says.
"No, it's not -- I have a theory about..." Not the time for my theories about low-level telepathic masking and the fallibility of human perception. Very much not the time. "You have no idea how many people fail to make the connection, it's kind of uncanny."
His eyes flick to my glasses. "You wear the mask in real life. That's...twisted. Brilliant."
"You asked me not to tell you," I say desperately. "When I, when we talked about who you were. You said it was safer if you didn't know. I wanted to tell you."
"Funny how I worried about you protecting yourself," he says, as if he didn't hear me.
"Bruce -- "
"Huh." He pushes himself up slowly, but he's steadier on his feet than he was earlier. "And there I was laying all my insecurities out for you at Kent Farm Breakfast."
I haven't got a reply to that. I've messed everything up.
"All this time I think I've got a clever reporter in my pocket, someone with some actual brains, someone normal, normal enough to ground me...and I've been getting tips from Superman."
He covers his face with one hand. "I'm supposed to be a detective, Metropolis. Thanks for taking me down about a million pegs."
"I made a call. Maybe the wrong call. It happens."
He nods, face still hidden behind his hand. "Now I see why you were so hell-bent on staying here. Can't exactly up sticks to Gotham when you're the guardian of a city."
"I have responsibilities here, yes. I also have a life here." Also, Gotham's not exactly Metropolis -- and hasn't got anything to compare to the Daily Planet -- but I wouldn't tell him that for the world.
"Lucky man." Bruce sounds so bitter and weary.
He doesn't move when I stand, not even when I join him, close enough to touch, close enough we almost are.
"You aren't entirely wrong about my feelings on Batman. I'm not nuts about the way you do things. But it's your town, and you do have a code. I can respect that. I respect you," I tell him. "Otherwise I wouldn't have helped you. And we wouldn't be having this very, very awkward conversation."
He lets his hand fall, tipping his head back to the ceiling. Even without the cowl or the cape or the belt, even in a pair of my borrowed pajamas with ruffled bed-head, he has never looked more like Batman. There's a wall between him and the world and while my specialty is, on occasion, bursting through walls, I'm pretty sure he won't thank me if I try it here.
"You looked through the cowl, I assume?" he asks.
"What -- no, Bruce, I wouldn't do that," I reply.
"The funny thing is, I believe you. You'd think it was...dishonorable, right?"
Just thinking about doing something like that makes me feel awkward, nervous. "It's just wrong to do."
"Then how did you know?"
I shrug. "I knew you were hiding something. Especially after you cheated in that poker game. Then you sent Batman to scare me off Wayne..."
He nods. "Stupid."
"Not stupid." I can never, ever tell him that I didn't even know before he told me. It can't make me feel better to tell that truth and it would embarrass him. He was nervous I'd figured him out, shaken up -- he did the first thing that came to mind to try and throw me off. "I would have done the same thing, in your position."
"I doubt you find yourself in my position very often," he drawls.
"I think you'd be surprised."
He lowers his gaze, looking me in the eye. "Perhaps I would."
His head ducks in closer, and I tilt mine just slightly; we're not kissing, just sharing the same breath, his nose tucked along mine. His heart is racing.
And then someone screams.
I hear it, he doesn't; my head jerks back and up, in the direction of the scream -- Superman! Help!
If it's someone's cat up a tree I will be very annoyed.
"You heard something," he says, not a question.
"I have to -- "
"Go," he orders, huffing out a breath.
"Bruce -- "
"Go, now, before whatever it is gets worse. Do you need help?"
"No. I'll be back as soon as I can."
He stays where he is, eyes following me under his lashes, and I can hear him mutter Well, this is a new sensation as I lift off from the roof.
When I return, this time I notice the hook of his line in the masonry of the roof, but that's all that's left.
He's gone. The door is locked behind him. His gloves and belt and half-shredded shirt, cowl and tattered cape are all conspicuously absent. There's a fold of paper on the kitchen counter:
I'm reminded I'm neglecting my home.
I could fly to Gotham and beat nightfall there. I could call Wayne Enterprises as Clark Kent and see about getting put through to the Manor. Not likely, but possible. I wish the earpiece could call as well as receive.
Still, it's a lot to take in. He was barely beginning to process it when I had to go. He's not used to being the one who waits behind. Best to give him space, time to sort everything out, somewhere safe and familiar.
When I get to work the next morning, running the gauntlet of my fellow journalists for calling in the previous day, there's an oblong box on my desk. No postage label; I'd be suspicious, but I can see what's inside. I open it, and there's a single black flower blossom inside -- folded and rolled out of a scrap of his cape.
And I smile.
It's coming up on sunrise the following morning when I touch down on the roof -- it's not any particular roof, except that it's one we've met on before, the few times I've been in Gotham on...Superman business.
"You're not stealthy, are you?" a voice asks, and a shadow unfolds itself. He's in the full regalia.
So we're doing it this way, then.
"I've never found it necessary," I reply warily. He paces left and I pace right, circling each other. He looks good -- fighting agrees with him, even if I happen to know he's fighting with bruised ribs and a gunshot wound. At any rate, nobody took any more pieces out of him tonight.
"Ground rules," he says. "This is my town and I look after it. When you're here, you don't fight. Not unless I ask."
"You came to Metropolis," I point out.
He waves it aside. "That was an emergency. And I did ask."
"Fine. And when you're in Metropolis, you let me handle things."
"I did, eventually." He smirks. "Worried about me?"
"It's different for me. All it takes for you is a lucky punk with a gun."
"They haven't been lucky so far."
This is not the conversation I want to be having before we've even managed to figure out what this relationship is.
"I can look after myself, Metropolis," he says, when he sees my expression. "I always have."
I nod, because arguing wouldn't really be progress. Mind you, the circles we're making have become smaller, drawing us in closer to each other, and that might actually get us somewhere.
"I want a neutral ground," I say, before I've thought about it. He stops walking, surprised.
"Somewhere neither of us have to fight. Somewhere we can meet in the middle."
He considers this. "Dusk City. Falls about between our two."
It's -- it's funny. Probably funnier if you're Bruce.
"Planned community," I say.
"Bedroom community," he answers.
"Not our kind," he agrees, drawing closer. "So, agreed? Superman stays out of Gotham. Batman stays out of Metropolis."
"Want to get coffee in Dusk City tomorrow afternoon?"
"Yes," he says, and his hands tuck under the folds of my cape, pulling me forward -- not as if I didn't want to go. The edge of his cowl is sleek and fitted, but I can get my fingers under it. Not enough to flip it off, just enough to cup my hands against his face, to hold him back a little. Teasing.
He's a good kisser. Stands to reason. He has plenty of experience, and...well, it's hard to think of anything Bruce Wayne does badly.
"Are you done for the night?" I ask, biting his lip -- gently, daringly.
"Manor?" he asks.
"I can fly us."
I barely wait for his nod, already pulling one of his arms over my shoulders, slinging one around his waist, careful of the bandage. I don't think he means for me to hear his pleased laugh when we lift off. The sun's not quite up yet, and the city smells like wet concrete, a sharp clean smell. A little cleaner for his presence, perhaps. Below, trucks rumble through the streets, clattering and growling in the cool damp air. Steam is condensing on kitchen windows as early risers make breakfast, as Gotham begins to come awake.
Halfway to Wayne Manor, he turns his face into mine and says, "Drop me."
"What?" I ask, startled.
"Trust me," he says, and lifts his arm off my shoulders, twisting. I let my grip go slack and he free-falls, flipping, spreading his arms wide so his cape catches the air, tumbling towards the street below. It's entrancing.
At the last possible moment, his arm whips out with the grappling gun in one hand, and I hear the hard crunch as it connects. He swings down in an arc, almost skimming the street, startling a pretzel vendor just setting up for the day. The arc pulls him back up eventually, into the air, and at the top of it he lets go --
And I'm there before I can think, grabbing him in the instant between upward motion and inevitable gravity. We twist and roll once before smoothing out, arrowing onward towards the edge of the city.
"Better than sex," he murmurs.
"I wouldn't write me off quite that fast," I answer. He tightens his arm around my shoulders.
"Care to prove it?"
I haven't been with many men -- well, let's be honest, I haven't been with many people at all -- but I don't think he's done this much either. We fumble, more than we would if we knew more, less than we would if we were new to this. I have to be careful of his wounds, mindful that even if he weren't injured I could hurt him; he doesn't trust easily and no matter how hard he's trying, there are moments when he fails.
But we are very driven, ambitious men, and good at thinking on our feet.
Or on our backs, as the case may be.
By the time we're resting, tangled together on his ridiculously luxurious sheets, the sun is breaking over the skyline; warm rays skate up my shoulders, soothing, reassuring, and one falls across his face, turning the pale skin of his jaw and cheek to gold. He's sleeping, head tipped back, and I watch his eyes move frantically in a dream. I can't imagine his dreams are kind to him.
He says I ground him. Wouldn't know it, from the bruises he tried to leave on me, the bite marks that disappeared as soon as they were made. But I'd like to try.
It's a strange thing, knowing and being known. I was raised to believe I should help people when I could, and let the rest sort itself out. I don't know if it was that or just natural inclination but all I've ever wanted, really, was to be able to care for people. People in general, yes, but -- for a specific person, too, if I ever found the right one. I suspect he wouldn't like it if I tried, but someone ought to. And who else could?
He shifts in the bed and curls into me, head twisting as if he could shake off the sunlight, pressing his face against my throat.
His heartbeat slows, and his eyes go still; eventually, so do mine.
Dusk City is a suburb, or would be if there were actually a city nearby for it to be suburban to. It's on the coast, a long commute to anywhere, but the people who live there like it that way. Half of them get up in the morning, walk the dog, perhaps kiss the kids goodbye, and drive south to Metropolis; the other half do about the same, except they go north to Gotham.
The people are upper-middle-class, too poor for Bruce's childhood and too wealthy for mine. The only crime, really, is of the white-collar variety, or bored children getting into mischief. We're both aliens here.
There's a coffee place in the middle of town, and the coffee is really and truly terrible, but it's reasonably private and Bruce seems to like it, so we meet there sometimes. He slums it in clothes he wouldn't normally be caught dead in, and wears sunglasses; if they know who he is, they don't bother him. Nobody knows who I am at the best of times, so that's fine.
He talks about business, about Gotham politics and sometimes crime; I talk about the stories I'm working on, or life in Metropolis. It's always surprising to see him laugh and mean it. I don't know what he finds surprising about me but it must be something, or he wouldn't come back.
We set times and places to meet. Gotham at dawn, Metropolis at sundown. Gotham is easier for him -- he doesn't feel like he's abandoning the city. It's less easy for me, because I have to leave too soon to get back to my job at the Planet, but then again, I don't have to drive back.
And the ridiculously luxurious sheets are growing on me.
"Green Lantern's in Gotham," he says to me on a Thursday evening, drinking the awful coffee while I eat an equally awful muffin from the bakery case.
"He's far from home. How's that working out for you?" I ask.
"Not so bad. He's chasing someone down, doesn't bother me."
"I hope to God he asked permission."
"I'm a nice guy when people do what I tell them," Bruce replies, mocking insult. "Yes, he asked. I made him a deal."
"That's not like you."
"He'll have his guys by the weekend, probably. I told him I'd keep out of it if he did some patrols for me next week."
I tilt my head. That's very unlike Bruce. Nobody can save his love but him. Nobody comes before Gotham.
"I've been thinking about coming down to Metropolis. There's a little textile company Wayne Enterprises is looking into. Meet and greet, party a little..." he grins, sharp.
"A week in Metropolis?" I ask. My voice might crack a little.
"Got someplace a homeless billionaire can sleep?" he counters.
"Well, it's not the penthouse suite -- "
"But it is the top floor." He leans forward, the steam from the coffee rising around his face. "Saturday night. Clean on through to the next Sunday. Go to a few parties, make you show me the sights, follow you home and take ridiculous advantage of your giving nature and innocent spirit."
A week. I can show him the newsroom, take him flying over my city, buy him a decent cup of coffee in the diner near the Planet building. I can keep him with me for whole nights at a time. No guilt, no weary too-early mornings where he's tired from fighting, no slipping out to make it home in time.
Nobody comes before Gotham, apparently, until they do.
"I think we can come to an arrangement," I tell him, and he smiles and taps his fingers on the back of my hand, the closest he ever comes to a caress in public -- right before he leans over and kisses me. The barista giggles from behind the counter.
"Sundown on Saturday," he murmurs, standing. "Your roof."
"I'll make dinner," I reply, and watch him as he leaves, jumping handily into the sports car out front.
"Your boyfriend's cute," the barista says, as I stand to go as well.
"Yeah," I answer over my shoulder, halfway out the door. I need to clean my apartment, get a jump on the next week's work, buy some food. Probably buy some nicer sheets, too, though I suppose we could have fun ruining the old ones first. "He's pretty super."