"I'm going to be the one stuck with this fucking article, I can already tell."
Clark did not look particularly sympathetic to Lois' plight. He rarely did. "What makes you so sure?"
"You couldn't write a celebrity puff piece if you tried," she said. "Just-The-Facts Kent, here to discuss the latest gossip with a list of citations three feet long and an aside about the latest studies on monogamous behavior in bonobos."
"Bonobos aren't usually monogamous."
"See? That's exactly what I mean." The wind on the tarmac picked up again, blew her hair directly into her face. She tried in vain to keep it from sticking to her lipstick. "Oh, fuck this." She turned around so that the wind would blow her hair in a more flattering direction, crossing her arms and scowling at Clark as if that would wipe the smile off his face. "Let me know when they open up the plane."
"I'd be happy to pick up some of your other stories, if you'd like." Deliberately baiting her while pretending he was being considerate.
"Like hell you will," she said.
"You've got something that good?"
"Don't even try it," she warned. "If you think you can scoop me on this, you've got another thing coming. This isn't the kind of lead you can just pull out of your ass." A bribery scandal like this came along maybe once a decade, if that. And she had an aide in the senator's office with a guilty conscience. Every journalist's dream. But she couldn't take it to Perry until she actually had something, and she couldn't get anything to show him while she was working on other stories. It was an ouroboros of bullshit.
"I don't know why you assume that's where I get all my leads," he said. "It's not going to do you much good if you're busy trying to spin a story out of Bruce Wayne existing within city limits."
"I'm not wasting my time kissing his ass," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Powerful men are my bread and fucking butter. I'll shake his hand, I'll ask him some questions, I'll extrapolate into an article about how he's well-meaning but naive, or a shallow manwhore, or a spoiled prettyboy, or—"
Clark had a look. His hand was on his chin, nodding thoughtfully, his eyes never leaving her face.
There was something behind her that he was trying not to look at. He didn't want her to know about it.
"—a really nice, kind, forgiving person who's really very interesting—"
"I liked the other ones better," said a voice right behind her, confirming all of her worst fears. Clark was just lucky she couldn't set things on fire with her eyes like Superman, because he'd have been fucked. Clark would have looked convincingly surprised if she hadn't known him better. If she turned around, not only would she need to face her mistake, but she was going to get a face full of hair while she was at it. Insult, meet injury. "Don't tell me you're done," he said. "I wanted to hear more about how pretty I am."
Nothing to it but to do it. She ran her hands quickly over her hair to gather it over her shoulder, holding it out of her face so she could spin on her heel. "I am so sorry for the misunderstanding," she began. She tried to remain standing where she was instead of backing up, even though he'd turned out to be much closer than she'd expected. Not distant, just kind of quiet. Taller than he looked in pictures, cliché though it was.
"You don't think I'm pretty?" he asked. "I'm hurt."
Pretty wasn't the word for what Bruce Wayne looked like. Hair a charcoal color, not gray but a light black. Angular in a blocky sort of a way, heavy brows and his mouth a wide line softer than the rest of his face. Odd angles in his nose, subtle but present, the telltale signs of having broken at least once and probably more.
Old-fashioned. That was the word. Handsome, definitely handsome, but the kind of handsome that looked more at home in black and white.
"I think there was some context that you may have missed out on, which may have lead you to believe that my statements were..."
His expression was neutral. Diplomatic. Not disinterested, but not interested, either.
"... I may have been talking shit," she admitted. Bruce smiled, practiced symmetry and perfect teeth, familiar from press releases. But it didn't quite come through in pictures, the way it never went further than his mouth. It made him look absent, not all there. She looked over his shoulder toward the plane—the door still closed. "How did you...?"
"Hm?" Bruce looked back over his shoulder. The other members of the press had not yet noticed him, for the same reason she and Clark hadn't noticed his approach. "Oh, that's for the executives. I never take that. I brought my own." He jerked his head to the right, and she looked where he indicated, to where airport staff were taking care of a Cessna.
Lois sighed. "Of course you did."
"I've always wanted to learn how to fly," Clark said, sounding impressed.
"You should," Bruce said. "It's fun."
"It always seemed like it would be."
"At any rate," Bruce said, and he held out his hand toward Lois. "I'm Bruce Wayne," he introduced, no small amount of irony in his tone. "And you are?"
She accepted his handshake, surprised by the callouses on his hands. They made sense for a notorious adrenaline junkie, but they felt incongruous on a billionaire. "Lois Lane," she said, and with her other hand she held up her press pass, gestured to Clark. "This is Clark Kent. We're with the Daily Planet." Her hair started to get picked up by the wind again, and she caught it as soon as Bruce had let her go, hoping he wouldn't notice. Would putting it up with a pencil be unprofessional? Probably.
"They sent two of you?" Bruce asked, shaking Clark's hand. Lois tried not to make it obvious that she was watching them. Clark, she knew, was not the type to try and establish dominance with a handshake. She'd seen more than one person try and fail to crush his fingers to prove some kind of point. Bruce, however, was as polite with Clark as he'd been with Lois.
It wasn't a test, exactly. But it was sort of a test.
"Well," Clark explained, "you're a very large man. It seemed like a two person job."
Lois could see an expression flit over Bruce's face that she'd seen many times before, though he hid it better than most. Trying to figure out if Clark had just implied what he had seemed to imply on purpose. Clark continued to look as oblivious as ever.
This really was not the time for Clark to be getting cute. She attempted to subtly jab her heel into the top of his foot, to no avail.
"Mr. Kent and I tend to have very different approaches as journalists," Lois corrected. "Our editor was unsure which would result in an article most appealing to the Daily Planet's readership."
"Ah." Bruce accepted this explanation, regardless of whether he really believed it. He tucked his hands back into his pockets. "And the angle for your pitch was going to be... ditzy himbo?"
She felt herself start to turn pink. "I hadn't decided on an angle yet," she said, choosing her words carefully, "because I wanted to meet you first."
"I admire your sense of caution," he said, and she thought his sense of humor might be even worse than Clark's. Maybe he deserved whatever article Kent might write about him. "I take it you weren't planning to write about my promiscuity, Mr. Kent?"
"I'm always willing to go where the facts lead me, Mr. Wayne," Clark said before Lois could stop him. That expression again, and she was going to need to intervene before one of the most powerful men in the country figured out he was being mocked by a hick.
"Mr. Kent prefers an exclusively objective approach," Lois said, and she hoped he appreciated just how much she was doing to cover his ass.
"Whereas Miss Lane is a strong believer in the importance of sharing her opinions with the world," Clark added.
He did not appreciate it, and was instead an ungrateful fuck begging to be murdered.
"I believe I've noticed that," Bruce said. "I've read some of your Superman interviews."
"Really?" She didn't mean to sound so surprised.
"Absolutely," he said. "Setting aside the fact that you get exclusives with a literal alien, your style is witty and creates a sense of intimacy with the subject. Your command of language is evocative. Is your hair bothering you?"
The extensive flattery and sudden pivot into an apparent non-sequitur had her briefly speechless. Since Clark was standing behind her, she couldn't see the way his eyebrows arched in surprise. "It's—thank you, I—no, sorry, it's just windier than I thought it would be."
"Huh." He considered this. "If you don't mind turning around and letting me touch your hair, I could fix that for you."
"You—I. Okay?" Her gears had all ground to a halt, because this had all gone sideways and upside-down in ways that they usually did not. Supervillains and explosions? She could handle that. She did handle that. The idle and attractive rich offering to do her hair? That was just bizarre.
Lois turned around and let her hair go, and now that she was facing Clark she tried to communicate with him using only her eyes. Also by silently mouthing what the fuck. Since Bruce could still see Clark's face, he could not respond. She really wished she could see what he was doing to her hair. Lois tried to point to her head where Clark but not Bruce could see, and mouthed what the fuck is this? The best Clark could do was adjust his glasses and look faintly baffled. Since this was his default state of being, it was no use to her at all.
"Mr. Kent," Bruce said, tone suggesting nothing at all amiss. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but did you write a six-part piece on prison gerrymandering recently?"
This time Lois could see him blinking in surprise, clearly caught off-guard. Usually Lois was the only one who could do that. He adjusted his glasses again, though they didn't need it. "That was on my blog last month," he confirmed.
At least she wasn't the only one getting blindsided.
"I knew I'd heard your name somewhere." This time Lois and Clark's eyes met, and they understood each other's silent gazes completely. They were saying: what the fuck.
Clark looked past both Lois and Bruce. "Looks like they're going to be realizing you're not on the plane in a minute."
Bruce's hands left her hair, and both of them turned to look over their shoulders at the center of attention. Executive employees of Wayne Enterprises had finally begun to disembark, each of them of some moderate interest to business publications and no one else. Lois ran a hand gently over her hair; had he braided it?
He'd braided it. Bruce Wayne had braided her hair. Could she include that in an article without seeming like she was bragging? She'd definitely be bragging, but she didn't want that to be obvious.
"I should get going before that guy from the Wall Street Journal can find me," Bruce said. He looked back to Lois. "How about I pick you up later and we go to dinner?" he suggested.
"... like an interview?" she asked.
"If that's what you want to call it," he said with a shrug. "I was planning to treat it like a date."
"Oh." Lois was... intrigued.
Bruce's eyes flicked upward for a scant half-second, just long enough to glimpse the look on Clark's face. Carefully neutral. It could hardly be called anger, but it was a mile away from genuine detachment. Neither acknowledged the moment, though both were aware of it.
"It would give me a chance to figure out that angle," Lois mused.
That faint curl of his mouth again as he reached into an inner pocket of his jacket, produced a card. Lois took it; not a business card, but a real and actual calling card, nothing but his name and a phone number. "Eight o'clock," he said. "Text me where you'd like me to pick you up. Dress formal, if you can. If you can't..." He shrugged again. "I can pay people not to care."
Lois considered the card in her hand. "I'll be looking forward to it," she said.
Bruce walked backward to keep facing them as he started to leave. "See you then. Pleasure meeting you, Mr. Kent."
"I'm sure," Clark murmured, and he sidled out of the way before Lois could elbow him in the ribs.
After more deliberation than she would have liked to admit, Lois decided on a one-shoulder cocktail dress in basic black. Strappy heels, a French twist—basics. Best to keep it simple. Right?
She frowned at herself in the mirror. Maybe too basic? This was Bruce Wayne. He could fill a vault with supermodels and swim in them like Scrooge McDuck. Or maybe that made simplicity even better. Trying to compete with designer dresses would just make it obvious that she couldn't. She still could have done something more interesting with her hair. But she didn't have an army of stylists, either. She fidgeted with the small pendant on her necklace.
Why did she even care? This wasn't a real date, whatever else he might claim. She didn't care about impressing him. She shouldn't, if she did. This was her own fault. She shouldn't have Googled him. Better to go in relatively blind, harder then to compare herself unfavorably to others. She'd just wanted to know what the obvious questions were, so she wouldn't ask them.
She had no idea what she was going to ask. If she'd ask anything. What if he expected sex? Conflicted feelings about that. If he didn't at least ask she might be offended.
Lois refused to feel nervous as she took the elevator down. Bruce was waiting outside her apartment building, leaning against his car.
"You look beautiful," he said as she walked closer.
"You look like an asshole," she countered, and he grinned crooked.
"What'd I do wrong this time?"
"Parked a car for men who need to overcompensate in a no-parking zone." She kept a few feet of distance between them. It felt safer that way. Less nervous in his actual presence, because he was more of a person, even in an expensive suit. Five o'clock shadow gave him just enough scruff to be appealing.
"It's an arbitrary zone," he said. "A real asshole would park next to a fire hydrant. And this car is pretty understated."
"It's a Jaguar. If a Jaguar's under, what's over?"
"A Porsche?" he suggested. "A Lamborghini?" He opened the door for her, just chivalrous enough. She could not deny, as he shut the door and came around, that it was a very nice car.
"If you're trying to show off," she said as he got in, "a limo would have worked just as well."
"I take limos in Gotham," he said as he pulled out into the street. "Where I know the limo service, and I know the chauffeur. If I start visiting Metropolis more often, I might vet a driver. For now, it's easier to drive. Even if it looks like I'm overcompensating"
She watched his face as he watched the road. Nothing unusual for him in the casual admission of paranoia. "I forgot—you've been kidnapped before, haven't you?"
"Yes." Very matter-of-fact.
"So now you have to be extra sure that your driver isn't a supervillain?" Maybe teasing more than she should have been, under the circumstances.
"Yes." Still very matter-of-fact, not quite terse.
"… you're serious."
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Why wouldn't I be?" he asked. "Are you saying you don't take precautions?"
"Maybe. Sometimes." She did get taken hostage more than the average person. But generally she saw it coming. Hazards of the job. "I don't really think about it that much, to be honest with you. But I also don't have a staff."
"True," he agreed before changing the subject. "Have you figured out the angle for your story yet?"
"I've figured out twenty and had to toss every one," she admitted, not bothering to pretend she wasn't irritated.
Another small smile. It still didn't reach his eyes. "That bad?"
"Pardon me for saying so, but you're really not news."
"No?" He seemed amused by the idea.
"I don't think there's anything left to say," she clarified. "Do you know what I find when I Google you?"
"Hopefully not porn?"
She snorted. "Everything but." Lois pulled out her phone and opened up her note-taking app. "Here is what I found on the very first page of results: your birthday is February nineteenth, you were accepted into Yale when you were sixteen, had a graduate degree by twenty-two, adopted a legal ward by twenty-four—"
"That's pretty standard Wikipedia."
"—you're six foot two, your shoe size is twelve, when you buy off the rack you get a double-XL and have it fitted—"
"Maybe a little weirder."
"—you like a medium roast Blue Mountain coffee black, your favorite cake is unfrosted coffee cake and your favorite pie is lemon meringue, you think that eclairs are the best kind of donut and threatened to fight the interviewer who disagreed—"
"He said he preferred powdered donuts, he was clearly looking for a fight."
"—you've made one post on social media ever, at least three different videos of you playing the violin over celebrities complaining at parties have gone viral, Rolling Stone asked you for an article and you listed your fifty favorite species of frog in order with accompanying blurbs about each frog, you have strong opinions about turtles—"
"I don't think we can trust them."
"—and you are so candid that you once famously answered, when asked about Oliver Queen, 'I've heard he has a nice dick'."
"In fairness," Bruce said, "that was what I'd heard. Also, they sprung that question on me at a nightclub and I had no idea why they were asking. I would normally never say that about someone who'd just been lost at sea." He paused. "Unless I thought that was what they would have wanted."
"Do you think that was what he wanted?"
"Well, I had to send Moira about a thousand dollars worth of flowers, but when he got back he sent me an imported Italian gift basket with a whole pig in it, so. Make of that what you will."
She chuckled, but it was rueful. "The closest thing I have to a new angle is that you're basically the entire city of Gotham's weird rich uncle."
Bruce's mouth curled, that thing she did not want to call a smile. "I want that in my obituary, just so you know."
"I was surprised that I couldn't find a recent picture of your abs," she noted.
"Thank you for assuming I have abs."
"There are so many other pictures of you out there, I'm genuinely shocked no one's posted anything. The most recent picture I could find was from eight years ago. Do you still have the scar?"
"That's telling," she said, but he didn't respond to that. "The big one, across your back. Some kind of a dirtbike accident."
"The dirtbike was my shoulder," he corrected. "The one on my back was from a fall rock climbing. I broke my fall with another, different rock. Turned out to be a bad plan."
"And yet you still go rock climbing," she pointed out. "Regularly, even."
"Can't let a little thing like a near-death experience stop you," he said, and his sense of humor was so dry that she couldn't tell if he was joking.
"If I did I wouldn't be able to walk down the street," he said, and when she realized what he meant it knocked all the wind out of her sails. "Sorry," he said, "did I make it depressing?"
"No, no," she assured him, even though he sort of had. But she didn't want him apologizing for being honest. "You just... make it easy to forget." Even though it shouldn't have been, even though the shadows it cast should have been clear in every half-smile and potentially fatal hobby. "Which might not be fair to you," she added, since forgetting was not a luxury he was likely to have.
"It's okay," he said. "Really. Making it easy to forget is... good. I don't want that to be what people think about when they look at me."
She watched the lights of the city play over his face. "Are you happy?" she asked. It was the question she'd been wanting to ask since she'd met him. Basic. Too basic.
He looked like he hadn't expected that, but took it in stride. "I am a comically rich white man in a sportscar with a beautiful woman," he pointed out.
"That isn't an answer."
"I'm happier than I have any right to be."
That still wasn't an answer, but she didn't press the issue. "You know, most guys I've met like to show off their scars," she said, returning to safer waters.
"I'm not most guys." From anyone else, the statement would have rung hollow.
"Do you just think they're unattractive, or what? You don't strike me as the vain type."
"Every scar I have is a record of a mistake I've made," he explained, dead serious in the most off-hand possible way. "And I have a lot of scars. I think I'm allowed to want to keep that to myself."
"That's a pessimistic way of looking at things," she observed. Yet another thing that she wouldn't have expected, completely predictable once he'd said it.
"Is there an optimistic way of looking at it?"
Optimism did not come naturally to her. She'd been getting better at it. Too much time around optimists took its toll on even the most hardened cynic. "Maybe every scar is a time you put yourself out there and tried to do something amazing," she suggested.
It touched his eyes that time, if only barely, softness accompanied by faint surprise. "You're sweet."
That got an unattractive snort out of her. "I can think of a whole list of people who'd laugh themselves silly if they heard you say that," she said, almost a warning.
"Doesn't mean I'm wrong."
"How exactly are you supposed to get in touch with him? WhatsApp? He seems like a WhatsApp guy."
"You don't call him," Lois said, her gaze somewhere over Bruce's right shoulder. "People scream. Superman shows up. Day is saved."
She was having dinner with one of the world's most eligible bachelors, and she was barely even looking at him. Because there, at another table, was Senator Miller. A cozy corner booth with someone she didn't recognize. Lois was so dressed up she may as well have been undercover.
It was perfect. It was so perfect. It would be perfect, if she weren't on a date.
Just her fucking luck.
"So," Bruce said, "that guy on Grindr probably isn't actually him."
"No, I don't think he—" Lois paused, turned her attention back to Bruce. The crook at the corner of his mouth was rueful.
"You seem a little distracted," he said.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It's not your fault, I just have a lot on my mind."
"I can see that. Penny for your thoughts?"
"My thoughts are worth much more than that," she informed him. "And if all goes well, you'll be reading them by next week."
"I'll be looking forward to it," he said.
Lois smiled, but her eyes drifted again over his shoulder. The senator was standing—leaving? Maybe a blessing in disguise, when there was nothing at all she could do to take advantage of the serendipity. Though the other man remained, practically taunting her with the mystery of his identity.
But, no: wrong direction to be leaving. Toward the kitchen.
"You know what?" Lois said to Bruce, hoping it wasn't obvious that she was making excuses. "I think I need to go powder my nose." She grabbed her purse as she stood. "If the waiter comes back while I'm gone, just order me whatever's the most expensive."
"You've got it," he said, and it was hard to feel bad for him when she was so distracted by the thrill of the hunt.
The metaphorical hunt. But also a little bit the literal hunt.
The trick to being in places where she didn't belong was to look as if she belonged there. Lois was very good at looking like she belonged places. At least once someone she had never met assumed she was their boss. She was still a bit smug about that.
Being in a cocktail dress instead of a suit made things trickier, but it was mostly a matter of attitude anyway.
She slipped into the kitchen, staying out of the way of staff and doing her best to stay... not hidden, exactly. But no one noticed what they weren't looking for, and if she got away from the door and mingled with cooks she might pass.
A line cook frowned at her, but moved along when she winked.
Much harder to be subtle when she crouched behind a stack of egg crates. It occurred to her that the kitchen staff might be assuming she was rich. Every other customer certainly was. Being rich made it much easier to get strange behavior ignored.
Senator Miller was standing near the back entrance to L'Oiseau. This time, his conversation was with a much more familiar face. Mercy Graves. Luthor's favorite Girl Friday. They looked like they were arguing about something.
God, what she'd give to be able to hear them.
She slid her phone out of her purse, checked that the sound and the flash were all off. Not that she'd ever turned them on, but the one time she didn't check would be the one time they activated themselves. Somehow.
Phone cameras weren't made to take good long-distance pictures. This was barely even long-distance, but through her phone screen the two of them looked impossibly small. Not even remotely useful.
"What is it that we're doing, exactly?" Bruce asked in a low whisper.
Luckily for him, Lois had trained herself out of a startle response years ago. Dangerous to go jumping and screeching in her line of work. Instead she just froze, stiffened, turned her head and tried to convey the idea of hideous violence using only her eyes. He was kneeling beside her, and the ease with which he'd snuck up on her was irritating. She had no one to blame but herself, focused as she was on her target.
Lois pressed a finger to her lips to indicate that he should shut the fuck up, and went back to trying to find a way to get a better picture. The argument was getting more heated.
After a moment, Bruce tapped her on the shoulder. Her look was as much a warning as a response. She paused.
He seemed to be offering her a small camera. Which suggested that he kept small cameras on his person as a matter of course.
She'd investigate that later. For now: it had a lens. A real and actual zoom lens, small though it may have been. When she brought it to her eye she actually had to zoom out; for a very small lens, it had a very long range.
That was a weirdly specific feature for a camera to have.
Later. Investigate that later. And in the meantime, get pictures of Mercy Graves and Senator Miller having a clandestine meeting in a kitchen, the senator sticking a finger in her face and Mercy nearly breaking it for his trouble.
This was the best day. Absolutely, officially, the best possible day. Assuming her date did not turn out to be some kind of secret weirdo.
Actually, that would also be great. For her career, if not her love life. The one mattered much more than the other.
Lois ducked back behind the egg crates as Miller stormed out of the kitchen. She couldn't help looking at Bruce, who was watching her, had been watching her. His expression suggested that he found this endeavor charming. It felt patronizing. She scowled at him accordingly, but it made him look more amused and not less.
She checked and confirmed that Mercy had left before she stood. Bruce took his time joining her off the floor.
"What are you doing here?" Lois demanded.
"It was seeming suspiciously like my date had ditched me," Bruce said, not remotely ashamed of himself. "I thought I should check before I ordered her the gold-plated lobster."
Before Lois could respond to this absurdity, someone who actually looked like he belonged there made a furious appearance.
"This area is for authorized personnel only," he informed them, all crisp and cutting. "You are both trespassing."
Bruce's questionable smile had an edge. "I hate to do this," he said, but then he paused. "Actually, that's a lie. I love doing this, it's one of the best parts of being me. Do you have any idea who I am?"
Lois pressed her lips together for fear of grinning and encouraging him.
"They don't actually have a gold-plated lobster on the menu, do they?" Lois asked as they walked to his car. Bruce didn't use the valet.
"You'd be surprised by the things I can order off-menu," he said. "I'm sure they'd find a way."
"I'm sorry I kind of ruined our date," she said. They hadn't even ordered drinks.
"Don't be. That was much more fun." He opened the door for her again, and again she tried to look accustomed to the chivalry. It took him a moment to join her; checking the tires, maybe. Or checking his email.
"Is there a reason you keep a camera with ridiculous range in your pockets?" she asked as he started the car. "Aside from the obvious."
"What's the obvious?"
"I'm not convinced that's obvious."
She grinned. "What else would it be for?"
That brought her up short. "What?"
"I feel like that's self-explanatory." It wasn't.
"Are you really going to try to convince me that you're a secret birder?"
"I wouldn't call it a secret," he said. "It's just not very interesting."
"You don't believe me."
"I didn't say that." She didn't believe him.
"Check the other pictures on the camera," he suggested. "I saw a painted bunting last week."
"Is that impressive?" she asked, even as she turned on the review function and paged backward through her photos.
She finally made it past the first of her frantic photos, and there, exactly as he'd said, was a bird. A very colorful bird. Picture after picture of a tiny fat rainbow bird, and nothing else. "I can't believe you have a special camera for bird emergencies."
"Sometimes it's also for frog emergencies." She couldn't tell if he was joking. "This might be selfish of me, but I do have a laptop with a data plan that you can use. In theory, we could still get dinner."
She blinked. "Really?"
"Assuming I won't distract you," he added. He did not seem at all concerned by the thought of her ignoring him in favor of a word processor.
"... did you have anywhere in mind?" she asked.
"Hm." As they stopped at a light, he leaned back, reached into the backseat to grab a laptop bag that he handed to her. "You know, I'm kind of in the mood for terrible Chinese food."
"You're kidding." She was already getting the laptop out, eager to get her fingers on a keyboard while everything was still clear in her head.
"I've never been more serious." His tone was so stern she had to bite her lip to keep from giggling. "Do you know a place, or should I ask the GPS?"
"I might know a place," she said, logging in to the guest account. "Depends on how you feel about the fact that the health inspector gave them a B."
"Aaaand done." Lois shut the laptop's lid, triumphant.
"Already?" Bruce was half done with his kung pao beef. He looked misplaced at such a small table in such a cheap place, but it was oddly charming. Lois had tried to make herself more casual by letting her hair down. They still looked like hungover refugees from a bad wedding.
"I had half an article written that I could use," she said, picking her chopsticks back up. "And I'm kind of a genius."
"That probably helps." Bruce took a bite of a bird chili, and she grinned.
"You know," she said, "I wouldn't have pegged you for the cheap Chinese food type."
"I usually prefer to get to know people better before I let them peg me."
Lois took a sip of her drink rather than acknowledge the statement.
"I'm implying that sometimes I let women fuck me with a strap-on," he added.
Lois choked, and had to cover her mouth to be sure she wouldn't do a spit-take.
"I wasn't sure if you got that." He remained completely deadpan as he continued eating his dinner.
"I got it," she managed finally.
"I wanted to be sure we were on the same page."
"Yeah, no, got it."
"It was sort of a pun."
"You can stop explaining it."
"I'm sure." It was hard to be irritated with him when he looked like he was genuinely enjoying himself. Or, she thought he did. Something about the lopsided angle of his mouth or the way his eyes didn't meet hers. "So I'll stop trying to peg you—"
"I didn't say you had to stop."
"—and just say that it's hard to imagine you eating, I don't know. A hot dog."
He raised an eyebrow. "I live in a city and I drink."
She grinned. "Favorite drunk food?"
"Asking the tough questions. Gyros, extra tzatziki. Do you ask all your dates that kind of thing, or just the ones you're trying to interview?"
"I don't date much."
She distrusted the tone of the question. "Married to my work."
"Is that all?"
"That's all," she said firmly. Lois dated in much the same way that she thought Bruce probably did, nothing more than a brief vetting process to be sure there wouldn't be unrealistic demands made on her time.
"I don't have to worry about a man in a cape getting jealous and trying to set me on fire?" he asked, and she laughed.
"He's not the type, and he's got nothing to be jealous of. Despite what the internet seems to think, I'm not having some kind of torrid love affair with Superman." Though she'd been known to use the rumor as a way to scare off undesirables.
"Good to know."
"If you thought I was, why would you ask me out?" she wondered.
"Figured if it was going to be a problem, you wouldn't have said yes. But it's nice to have confirmation."
"I try. Figured out your angle yet?"
She wasn't convinced that there was one. 'Bruce Wayne seems like he needs a hug' wasn't an article that would have papers flying off newsstands.
"How's this for a hook: After we were kicked out of L'Oiseau, Bruce Wayne bought me General Tso's and told me he was into pegging."
Going back to Bruce Wayne's hotel room after one measly date felt like a cliché. Not enough of a cliché for Lois to be willing to give up the opportunity.
Chances to sleep with attractive men who weren't assholes were rare enough without adding 'literal billionaire' to the equation.
He didn't try to make a move on her in the elevator. Hadn't tried to make a move on her at all, actually. She wasn't sure how to interpret that. That disconnect, still, between his mouth and his eyes; not just his smile, but the easy way he flirted, teased. Yet she could see nothing in his gaze but distant affection.
His hotel suite was nicer than her apartment. Or any apartment she'd ever been in. He'd managed to seem so down-to-earth, for a minute there.
"Your mini bar is a regular bar," she observed.
"I thought about asking them to stock it with tiny bottles." He was waiting at a distance, watching her. Like bringing a pet somewhere new and letting it scope out the room. That seemed an uncharitable metaphor, though. He might have wanted to be sure she hadn't changed her mind. Everything she'd seen so far suggested that would be important to him. "Would you like a drink?"
Lois looked out the enormous window to the Metropolis skyline. She'd always loved her city's skyline. She didn't know what it was that made it so much lovelier to her than everywhere else. Maybe the architecture, skyscrapers designed by optimistic futurists in impractical shapes; maybe the neon, kitsch they'd never abandoned that turned the night sky into a lightshow.
Maybe nostalgia had her stupidly attached to a pile of metal and glass and concrete.
"Sorry," she said. "I only drink out of tiny bottles."
"Tch. Knew I should have asked."
She set her purse down, turned to move back toward him. He'd wandered further into the suite, still giving her plenty of room as he poured himself a drink. Bourbon or whiskey or some other thing as old-fashioned as the rest of him. She watched him shrug out of his jacket, and he wasn't putting on a show deliberately, but she enjoyed it all the same.
"For a notorious playboy," she said as she came closer, "you're not trying very hard to get in my pants."
He raised an eyebrow as he sipped his liquor. "You're not wearing pants," he pointed out.
She rolled her eyes, took his drink out of his hand and tossed it back like a shot.
Bourbon. Good bourbon.
"I was drinking that," he said, an air of affected befuddlement and offense as she set the glass back down on the bar. She grabbed his tie to pull him downward, and a lift of his eyebrows was the only concession to surprise she saw before their mouths met.
If Lois was completely, totally honest with herself, he reminded her a little of Clark.
His hands went to her hips, pulled her close against him, didn't let her have the upper hand for long. There was something forceful in the way Bruce kissed, not aggressive but assertive. Not passionate, because she associated passion with desire, with want. He didn't want, because want suggested deprivation. It was like the world was divided into things that were his, and things that he had not yet decided were his. That was how he kissed her: like an inevitability.
His hands slid downward, and suddenly he was lifting her by her thighs. She let go of his tie to wrap her arms around his neck, gasped as he pinned her to the wall beside the bar. Not the first time someone had pulled that trick, but it was always nice when they did it right. Her dress bunched around her thighs as her legs wrapped around him, and he ground his hips against hers. He buried his face in her neck, kissed a line down from beneath her ear to her shoulder, nipped at her skin. His stubble was faint, but already there was enough of it to feel like sandpaper in the best possible way.
He hadn't made a sound. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
"You're wearing too many clothes," she informed him, breathless.
"You're the only one here wearing pants," she countered.
He stepped away from the wall, still carrying her. "Well when you put it like that."
"Don't hurt yourself," she warned, because while she got carried around often enough, it wasn't usually by human beings.
"I'm not going to throw my back out," he said, exasperated. "What do you take me for?"
"A man who sometimes breaks his fall with rocks."
"Touché." He kissed her again as he set her on the edge of his bed—bigger than any bed had any reason to be, unless he was planning to invite another four people over. Reputation said he might. Personal experience brought that into question. Didn't crawl on top of her, but almost did, forceful enough to nearly tip her backward. She unwrapped her legs from him so he could stand, loosening his tie.
"Ooh," she said with a grin, "I'll finally get to see all those scars of yours."
"That was your real plan all along," he said as he unbuttoned his shirt, started stripping down to the undershirt beneath.
Bruce looked down at himself, at his now-visible arms. Great long ragged scars along his biceps, a splotch of thick pale skin that suggested he'd set himself on fire, what looked like it might have been a bullet hole on one shoulder. "Should I quit while I'm ahead?" he asked dryly. "Technically I can leave this on."
"When did you get shot?"
He looked at his own shoulder and prodded at it. "Monaco Grand Prix. Angry Italians. Not actually related to the race, their mother was—that's actually a long story. Nice guys once you got to know them."
"Now you're definitely going to need to take your shirt off."
He crossed his arms. "I'm not sure I appreciate your tone, Miss Lane."
She snorted a laugh as she reached behind herself to unzip her dress. "I make you shy?"
"I'm sensitive," he said, and she laughed again. She stood, and let the dress fall to the floor. His eyebrows shot up.
"Still feeling shy?" she asked. Not that she could compete with professional lingerie models, but she still looked fantastic in black lace. And Lois had amazing legs. That wasn't pride; that was simple, objective fact. A woman didn't flee from giant robots in heels without getting a great set of legs.
"Significantly less shy, all of a sudden," he conceded, and he pulled his undershirt up over his head.
"Holy shit," she said again.
"You know," he said, tossing the garment aside, "I'd really prefer it if you saved that for when I take my pants off."
Scars on top of scars, though most of them seemed to have faded. She started to circle him, not at all concerned about his alleged sensitivity. "The one on your shoulder is gone," she noted, the one he'd attributed to a dirtbike. The larger one across his back had faded as well, but was still obvious.
"I get laser treatments sometimes," he said with a shrug.
"Why does it look like you got whipped?"
She ran her fingers over a long, thin line. "I have a confession to make," she said.
"That doesn't sound good."
"It's possible that I find this really... really hot." She kissed a scar experimentally, left red lipstick on his skin.
"So I'm just a fetish for you, is that it?" His offense wasn't convincing.
"Pretty much," she said, hooking her fingers in his belt and pulling him back into her. A dominating sort of a gesture, not necessarily suited to the circumstances.
"I feel so used." He kicked off his shoes even as he said it.
"You have not yet begun to feel used."
"You're kind of terrifying, you know that?" She laughed, let him go so he could turn around and face her. He kissed her again, and she unbuckled his belt without needing to look. "And impatient," he added in the brief moments that their mouths were apart. She stepped out of her heels, and he unhooked her bra with well-practiced ease. He reached into his pocket, stuck the wrapper of a condom in his mouth to hold it with a completely gratuitous waggle of his eyebrows.
"Someone was optimistic," she said, even as she pushed his trousers down off his hips. He shrugged, his own hands busy undressing her with as much ease as she had him.
This business with his scars was a goddamned shame, was what it was. They only enhanced the appeal of him, for people to whom he appealed. The sort of people who liked thick-laid muscle and dark curls trailing down his chest and yet further were exactly the sorts of people that liked those pale cords of flesh and all the things they stood for.
She knew because she was exactly that sort of a person.
Sometimes a girl just wanted to get tossed around a little by someone enormous and kind of furry.
That probably wasn't just Lois.
She pushed him toward the bed, and he obliged by falling back, sitting and letting her climb into his lap. She took the wrapper from between his lips so she could kiss him, and getting it on him was another trick she'd could do without looking. His mouth was a bit too occupied to say if he was impressed.
"I feel like I should say," she said, teasing him with her touch and nothing more, "my interviews don't usually end like this."
"I'm flattered," he said, as easily as if she weren't touching him at all. She used her hand to guide him inside her, sank downward onto him with an involuntary groan.
"Now I'm really flattered."
"If I weren't already fucking you I'd tell you to go fuck yourself."
"Give it time. I can do both."
She laughed, but it got cut off as he held her tight against him by the hips, rolled her onto her back so that he was on top of her. That assertiveness from before, that sense of inevitability, like this couldn't possibly be going any other way. It might have felt smug if he'd hadn't been so good at it, minute adjustments to the angles of their hips until she made a sound that he decided was right.
Bruce Wayne fucked like he was solving an engineering problem, but it was hard to argue with results.
"Harder," she gasped, and immediately he obliged, his lips on her throat again and a low growl against her skin. That was new. Quiet, but there. Even less expected was the hand on her wrist, as if there were any need to hold her down when he was nailing her to the goddamn mattress.
Her most fondly-recalled encounters were with people like wild animals or people like machines, snarling beasts and methodical pistons and all sorts of evocative metaphors for the lovers she liked. But he was something else, something neither, if he was an animal he was caged and well-trained. Almost domesticated, mostly civilized, but scars and growls and rough hands gave him away.
When she came she was unapologetically loud, legs so tight around him it was like she was trying to crush him to her. Wanted him close and wanted him deep and didn't want to give him a say in the matter.
He was extremely obliging, regardless.
Probably shouldn't include that in the article.
Bruce rolled to lay next to her, give her more room to breath. Considerate of him to not go crushing her, but she might not have minded if he had. "How long until we can do that again?" Lois asked, half-laughing.
His hair didn't quite reach his eyes, but he tried to blow it out of the way anyway with a huff. "Depends," he said. "Might have to give me ten minutes. Or you could save time and sit on my face." She snorted, collapsed into breathless laughter. "You've got options."
"I might take you up on that in a minute. You going to want me gone before morning?"
Even sideways she could see him make a face. "What? No. Stay as long as you want."
"Yeah." He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Might get up at night, though. Try not to wake you, but no promises."
"Pressing midnight business?" she teased.
"Nah. Just insomnia. Driving in circles helps. You know?"
She didn't. A bar right in his room seemed much more convenient than driving around Metropolis admiring the scenery. Unless it wasn't an option.
Insomnia caused by nightmares, for instance, which drinking would only worsen.
Lois had a vague and yet highly specific desire to try and fuck all the sad out of him. She suspected he inspired that feeling in a lot of people. It didn't seem to have worked too well so far.
"Alright," she said, sitting up. "Break's over. Let's see if I can wear you out."
"Less if, and more when," he said, lacing his fingers under his head.
"Unless you wear me out first."
Bruce exhaled what could almost be called a chuckle. "I'm not convinced that's humanly possible."
Not that impossibility was enough to stop him from trying.
Lois woke up feeling cozy and sore in all the best ways. Burrowed into a down comforter, nearly pulled over her head. She yawned, rubbed at her eyes and tried to blink away sleep. The bed was empty.
That seemed weird. It was his hotel room. She sat up, running her fingers through her hair. No one else in the bedroom.
She grabbed a fluffy hotel robe before wandering into the suite's living room. There, finally, was Bruce. Dressed already, apparently incapable of anything between completely naked and business casual. Staring out the window at the city, looking... thoughtful? Pensive?
He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Nah. Just... thinking."
"Anything important?" she asked as she moved closer.
Bruce turned his head back out to the city, silent for a minute. "What was the point of having Lando go undercover in Jabba's palace?"
"He had to have been there a while. That's a pretty big commitment for a mayor. But his presence doesn't actually seem to accomplish anything. The whole plan makes no sense."
"That's what's got you looking so serious?" It was just as likely that he was fucking with her. It could have been that he didn't want to share, too personal or too painful or both.
"It was on one of the movie channels last night," he said with a shrug. "It's been bothering me."
"I thought you were going to go for a drive."
"Tried it. Guess your roads aren't sleepy enough."
Gotham was a much darker city, overall. The smog or the streetlights or even just the fact that there was so much stone. Less glass to reflect the moonlight. "I wouldn't call Gotham sleepy," she said. "Don't you have a crimefighting werebat?"
"Asks the woman who talks to a gravity-defying alien."
"The gravity-defying alien is friendly. Your guy's an urban legend." She cocked her head to the side as he finally turned away from the window. "You've met him, right?"
"Sort of," he admitted, flippant as always. "Caught me falling out a window."
"Is he actually ten feet tall?"
"I didn't exactly get a good look, what with the falling to my death."
"Why did the Joker push you out of a window?"
"Kicked. Kicked out. I was tied to a chair. Got mad because I'm funnier than he is." She snorted, then stifled it, because he'd still almost died. "Ironically I'm very serious. I think the henchmen who laughed got shot. Feel bad about that." He probably really did.
"That's ridiculous. The whole thing. Everything from the evil clown onwards."
"It would have been a pretty ignoble way to die," he agreed. There was a knock at the door to the suite. "That'll be room service. Hope you don't mind that I ordered breakfast."
"Not at all," she said, as he walked past her to let them in.
"I may have also had clothes sent up for you."
She blinked. "You're kidding."
"It was that or have your dress cleaned to wear it home." His tone made clear what he thought about that. Not a big fan of the walk of shame, it seemed. Not that she felt anything but pleased with herself.
"What, did you check the tags while I was sleeping?"
He turned around, an eyebrow raised, looking her up and down in a split-second assessment. "Thirty twenty-seven thirty. Right?"
"Bullshit," she said, but she was grinning.
"Am I right?"
"You can't tell that just by looking."
"I did much more than look," he reminded her, "but yes I can."
She didn't have time to retort before he opened the door, let the porter in with a cart. She crossed her arms, turned back to look out the window. Unconsciously she scanned the sky for familiar colors, a habit unrelated to recent activities. It wasn't as if he kept a regular schedule. To see Superman flying around Metropolis almost aimlessly was reassuring. To see a blue and red streak through the sky meant there was a story somewhere she was missing out on.
"You're not going to like this," Bruce said, and she turned to see what he was talking about. They were alone again, and he was looking at the paper.
"Is that mine?" she asked, and he nodded. "What, did they give me a shitty headline?" she asked as she came closer to look. The fact that she had no control over the headlines on her stories had been a source of consternation for years.
"I think you'll take more issue with the byline."
She took the paper from him to look at it, and it took all her willpower not to hiss like an angry cat.
"That son of a bitch."
THE BATMAN AND SCARECROW IN METROPOLIS
By CLARK KENT
The picture, dim as it was, was credited to an anonymous source. So were the associated details of a fight that must have happened while she'd been sleeping, down in the sewer systems beneath the city.
Kent must have sent the story in at the last possible minute to get it printed. Metahuman affairs always got the front page; they moved papers. Her bribery scandal, a coup on any other day, had been effectively sabotaged.
"I'm going to fucking kill him."
"Now might not be the best time," Bruce said dryly, "since you've apparently got two superheroes in town."
"Did you notice anything weird last night?" she demanded.
"Other than gratuitous Billy Dee Williams?" he asked, raising a single eyebrow. "Which—to be fair—does improve the vast majority of films."
"No," she snapped, using the paper to hit him on the shoulder. His second eyebrow joined the first as he looked at the spot she'd hit. "Sorry for hitting you," she said automatically, not sounding very sorry.
"You should be," he said, rubbing his shoulder. "I'm not accustomed to your violent lifestyle."
She snorted. She hadn't forgotten the sight of that bullethole burned into his skin. "I meant when you went for your little drive."
"I may have been on the wrong side of town," he said, holding out his hand for her to give him the paper. "But I'm also not familiar with the city, so I don't know what constitutes weird here." He folded the paper such that he could read it, and she stalked away toward her clothes.
... they were very nice clothes, actually. A grey a-line dress with lavender accents, professional enough to wear to work. And he'd... picked out matching shoes?
Even if the sex hadn't been great, the personal shopper would have made the whole thing worth it.
"Anonymous sources near to the scene," Bruce read aloud. "Who would have been near to the scene in a sewer?"
"Homeless people?" Lois suggested, pulling the dress on. "Alligator men?"
"Do you have those, too?" Bruce frowned as he went back to reading the article. "This is..."
"What did he do?" she asked warily, ignoring the omelette on the tray in favor of a cappuccino.
"Anonymous sources near to the scene claim that statements made by the Batman—why always the definitive article?"
"AP standard," she said, sipping coffee.
"—suggest that he came to Metropolis in order to follow Scarecrow, while Scarecrow's arrival coincided with that of Gotham billionaire Bruce Wayne. Wayne has previously been abducted or otherwise threatened by villains known as the Joker and the Penguin—more definitive articles. Why doesn't Scarecrow get a definitive article?"
"Talk to the AP."
"—in each case attributing his rescue to the Batman." He cleared his throat. "Bruce Wayne," he read pointedly, "is perhaps best known for having consistently found himself within the top ten of every popular listing of eligible bachelors."
Lois froze. Slowly, she set down her coffee. Then she buried her face in her hands, horrified.
Bruce lowered the paper, and thoughtfully considered a painting of a diner on the wall. "Is this article implying that Batman wants to fuck me?" he asked finally.
"Oh, Clark," Lois groaned.
"Is it more specifically implying," Bruce continued, "that I am a damsel in distress requiring rescue from the many supervillains who want to fuck me?"
Lois said nothing, just shaking her head.
"You know," Bruce said, "I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt out on the tarmac, but I'm getting the distinct impression that Mr. Kent is deliberately fucking with me."
"He's from Kansas," Lois explained, dropping her hands so she could look for her purse.
"Huh. And here I thought he might have just been flirting with me." Bruce lifted the paper again to resume reading. "Shame."
Lois froze again in the middle of digging through her purse. "What?" Bruce did not respond, engrossed in reading. "Did you just say it was a shame?" she pressed, her lips curling into a grin.
"You heard me," Bruce said, not looking up from the paper.
"Do I get to publish a scoop today?" she asked, picking up her purse entirely to stalk toward him. "Bisexual billionaire Bruce Wayne?"
"You could," Bruce said. "But you won't."
"And why not?" she asked, stopping right next to him. He looked up to meet her gaze, steady.
"Because I'd rather you didn't." Then his eyes went back to the paper.
She blinked in surprise. "You... what?" Lois felt herself getting indignant. She was a reporter. Men weren't supposed to trust her with secrets.
She wasn't supposed to want to keep them.
"I have a fourteen year old at home," he said, a non-sequitur that wasn't.
"You think some people would say..."
"Some of them already do," he said, casual as anything. "For right now, people still prefer casting me as the victim."
Political cartoons and skits about a swarthy teenager in a house full of bikini-clad models and expensive liquor. Bruce Wayne cast as the hapless manchild trying to do the right thing. Practically a sitcom. It didn't help that no one ever really saw the kid, carefully sheltered from the spotlight as he was.
"That's a shitty reason," she said.
"It is," Bruce agreed.
"You could be a trailblazer."
"But I don't particularly want to be," he said, which was hard to argue with. "Besides. I'm only about a one. Maybe a one-point-four."
She snorted. "Oh, well. Is that all. That's nothing to write home about."
"Mm." Bruce narrowed his eyes near the end of the article. "Superman arrived on the scene before any of the water systems could be damaged," he read. "He doesn't specify who would have damaged them."
"Want to defend your boyfriend's honor?" Lois teased, having turned her attention to her makeup.
"Don't you start. Who are these anonymous sources?"
"Hell if I know," Lois huffed. "I've lived in Metropolis most of my life, but Kent blows in from Smallville and suddenly he's friends with every hooker and hobo that might have a quote he can use."
"Huh." Bruce looked over the picture at the head of the article again. "Smallville?"
"I know, right? Smallville, Kansas. It's like he emerged fully-formed out of an apple pie. The fucker." She swept powder aggressively over her cheekbones.
The corner of his mouth curled upward. "Getting ready for war?"
"With Kent?" She snapped her compact shut. "Always."
Lois' plans to kick Clark Kent's ass were ruined when she bumped into him in the hallway of the Daily Planet. This was not, on its own, enough to ruin anything. The real problem was when she turned to snap at him, and something crunched under her shoe.
She didn't even have to look.
She sighed. Clark, with his hand over his eyes, winced. "Was that...?"
"That was your glasses, yeah," she confirmed. Bad enough that he was comically near-sighted; he also had some kind of a light sensitivity, rendering him completely unable to function without coke-bottle lenses.
He perked up at the sound of her voice, and tried to squint at her through his fingers. "Lois?"
"Don't you Lois me, mister," she warned, jabbing him in the chest with her finger. He flinched, covering his eyes again. "I am pissed. I am beyond pissed. I am—you're just making it really difficult, right now, because you're all—" She gestured to all of him, but without his sight it was wasted on him. "Do you have another pair of glasses? I can't do this when you're like this, it's like trying to kick a puppy."
"Because I'm cute?" he asked hopefully.
"Because you're fucking useless, is what you are, and it's sad. It's making me sad to look at you right now."
His shoulders slumped pitifully, worsening the kicked-puppy metaphor. "Sorry," he said, and she put her fists on her hips and rolled her shoulders back. There was nothing like a good power stance to ward away guilt. "I've got another pair in my desk, I'll just go get them." He turned, and immediately headed in the direction he seemed to think that his desk was.
Which was actually an open stairwell.
"Oh no you don't," she warned, hooking her fingers in his belt. He stopped short, nearly stumbling backward into her in the process. "I'm dealing with enough shit today without having to put up with you going all Mr. Magoo on me again." She headed toward his desk, still holding him by the back of the belt, forcing him to walk backward to follow her.
"Going all who with the what now?" he asked, twisting and bending backward to try and see her face. Except that he still had a hand over his eyes, and he was still walking backward, and so he'd turned himself into an elaborate contortionist act accomplishing nothing. Unless what he wanted to accomplish was making it harder for her not to look at his dumb idiot face. Which was possible.
"Don't even try it," she said, gaze flitting to where his eyes should have been despite knowing better. "I know you know who Mr. Magoo is, that trick's not going to work anymore."
"What trick was that?" he asked, as she deposited him into his desk chair. She hooked her shoe underneath it to keep him from rolling backward while at the same time pulling herself up onto his desk to sit on it. It was a well-practiced maneuver, because she'd learned long ago that the wheels on his chair could roll far and fast with very little provocation. Sometimes into other rooms.
Which was goddamned hilarious.
But she was busy.
"The one where you pretended to have never seen Sesame Street," she said, opening the top drawer of his desk to look for his spare glasses. "Because all you had to watch down on the farm were old cowboy movies on laserdisk and reruns of Hee-Haw." She grabbed his hand to deposit his glasses into them, wanting to be sure he couldn't drop them and get them crushed again.
"To be fair," Clark said as he slid the glasses on, "I didn't actually expect you to believe me." She huffed. "It was very sweet of you to try to explain the concept of a muppet to me, though." He opened his eyes, then blinked furiously as they adjusted to being open again, those absurd eyelashes of his all aflutter. The first thing he looked at was Lois. Specifically, her legs. Followed quickly by the rest of her. He clasped his hands over his knees. "So what can I do for you, Miss Lane?"
"Cut the crap, Smallville." She grabbed the paper resting in his inbox and opened it to the front page—his front page. "What is this?"
"That's crazy, right?" he said, disgusting in his earnestness as he pointed to the blurry photo of Scarecrow. "All the way here, from Gotham? That's got to be, what, almost five hundred miles?"
"That's not what I meant and you know it," she snapped, crumpling the paper into her lap.
He wilted. "Sorry."
"Why didn't you warn me about this? After everything I've done for you—"
"Everything you've what?" he asked, pushing his glasses higher on his nose.
She opened her mouth, then shut it again, trying to think of a single example to back up her claim. "I got you into the smuggling at the wharf story," she managed finally, triumphant.
"The—?" He blinked. "You didn't tell me we were going undercover, and then you told them that I was your fiancé from Arkansas."
"You introduced me as Bumpo Tungus."
"... to go with your backstory as a man from Arkansas."
"Your name got to be Dolly Davenport."
"Yeah," Lois agreed. "I really like that name, I think I give off a good 'Dolly' vibe." Clark did not seem swayed by this argument. "Okay, so what about when I let you in on the mutants at the sewage treatment plant?"
"The one where I was your deaf-mute, amnesiac husband, Mingus McGillicuddy? Whose memory you hoped to restore with his love of industrial processing?"
Lois crossed her arms, chin tilted upward. "Molly and Mingus McGillicuddy got us full access to that facility, so I don't know what you're complaining about." She moved the newspaper out of her way entirely and crossed one leg over the other; Clark, commendably, didn't even look.
"I don't know what you're complaining about," he shot back, "because I tried to call you."
She frowned. "You what?"
"I. Tried. To. Call. You."
Lois' eyes narrowed as she tried to recall noticing any calls from Clark. She made it a point to try not to notice calls from Clark while she was with other men. She opened her purse to find her phone, and checked the call history.
There was, indeed, a missed call. And a text, which said simply 'You okay?' to which she had never responded.
"Oh." This took a small amount of the wind out of her prodigious sails.
"I was pretty tired," she said as she put her phone back away. "I had a busy night."
"That's—that's great. For you. I'm very happy for you."
She narrowed her eyes at him, but it was hard to divine anything from his expression when he was busy pulling at a loose thread on his tie. "And don't think I missed that, by the way," she said, and he looked up, startled. "That little thing you pulled with Bruce?"
"Oh, so he's Bruce now."
"He noticed it, too, so don't think you're clever," she continued as if he had not spoken.
"I don't know what you mean," Clark said, adjusting his glasses. "Everything I wrote was factual, attributable, or both."
"Don't pull that shit with me," she warned, resisting the temptation to kick his chair and send him rolling. "Eligible bachelor Bruce Wayne?"
He shrugged. "It was an identity-clarifying detail."
"Yeah, right. Because you couldn't put in 'billionaire Bruce Wayne', or 'CEO of Wayne Enterprises Bruce Wayne'. Instead it had to be 'these people seem like they're stalking Bruce Wayne, also a lot of people want his dick, just saying'."
"Gosh, Lois," Clark said, a dry monotone. "You don't really think anyone will take it that way, do you." She glowered, though for him to have been so obvious with his sarcasm meant he must have been furious. Or jealous? "Besides," he added, "if you can think of a better explanation for why they're all in Metropolis right now, I'd love to hear it."
"Obviously I don't know," she said, "but I imagine there's a more plausible explanation than 'Batman wants to touch Bruce Wayne's dick'." Clark snorted. "Which was very petty, by the way."
Clark shrugged, pulling the thread on his tie again. "Under the circumstances, I thought he might appreciate it," he muttered.
The right side of Lois' face all scrunched in baffled incredulity. "What?" Clark looked up, eyelashes fluttering again. "Under what circumstances would he appreciate being matchmade with a man bat?"
At this, finally, Clark looked abashed. "It's complicated," he said. "It's a... guy thing?"
"What guy?" she asked, loud enough that half the office looked to see what was happening. On seeing that it was just Lois, sitting on Kent's desk being baffled, they realized it was business as usual and went back to work. "Find me the guy that that's a thing for."
"Have you checked Twitter?"
"I will set your desk on fire."
He looked, briefly, at where her ass rested on his desk. Then back up at her. "Right now?"
"Watch it, Kent."
"I thought that was what I was doing." He glanced around the room, running a hand through the blue-black whorls of his hair. "Actually, Lois, can we talk?"
"What'd you think this was, a musical number?"
He scratched his head, watching the room and keeping his voice at a low volume. "I meant alone."
"Oh." She looked out over the open floor plan. It wasn't something he often asked, if ever; she felt suddenly self-conscious. "Yeah, sure. That's fine."
"Meet you next to Mister Peanut?" Clark suggested.
"Sounds good," she said, sliding off his desk.
Mister Peanut was not actually a corporate mascot. It was, instead, the bronze head of the building's architect. Clark and Lois both thought it looked like a peanut, if a peanut was also Alfred Hitchcock. That it was terrible may have explained why it was tucked away in such a remote location.
"So?" Lois asked when Clark joined her. "Spill."
"It's about Bruce Wayne," he admitted.
"Oh, honestly, Kent," she began, rolling her eyes.
"Not like that," he said. "It isn't like that, I just—haven't you wondered what he's doing here? In Metropolis?"
"Wayne Enterprises is all over," she said, crossing her arms and leaning back against the wall. "It would be weirder if he didn't come to Metropolis once in a while."
"He doesn't, though," he pointed. "Until right now, he's been perfectly content to be hands-off and leave it to his executives. What changed? Why now?"
"What are you suggesting?"
"I don't know what I'm suggesting," he sighed. "I just—I don't think it's a coincidence that these people are all here at the same time, and whatever the reason, Bruce Wayne is at the middle of it. And... so are you, if you're with him." There was a finality to the way he said it.
She was almost speechless. Almost. "I—I'm always in the middle of it. That's exactly where I want to be, why are you acting like this is new? You don't complain about me spending time with Superman, that's much more dangerous."
"That's not—that's different."
"How is that different?" she demanded, her voice getting louder as she grew more irritated.
"Superman can keep you safe!" Clark shot back, matching her tone. "Or he'll—I know he'll try, anyway!"
"But Bruce won't?"
"Do you have to keep calling him Bruce?"
"I don't think this has anything to do with Scarecrow, or Batman!" she practically announced to the whole building, and only at the last second did it occur to her to lower her voice to an angry, hissing whisper-shout. "You're just mad because Bruce Wayne and I had sex."
Clark's eyes were wide. He opened his mouth and then shut it, pointed at her and then dropped it. Then he leaned sideways to put his hands over the ears of the bronze bust. "You did what!"
"I thought I was pretty clear with the whole busy night thing!"
"I thought you were just working on your article and I was reading too much into it!"
"Why are you covering Mister Peanut's ears!"
"Because he's from a different time, Lois! They didn't talk about these kinds of things back then!"
Lois was briefly stunned. Then she tried to smack his hands away from the statue, but he pulled away before she could, recoiling and putting a hand over his sternum. She looked the statue directly in the eye. "I fucked Bruce Wayne," she informed it. Clark gasped. "And I had a great time!"
Clark sputtered as he searched for an appropriate response. "Well—well—that—good for you!"
"It was! It was good for me!"
"I'm very happy for you!"
"Yeah! You work really hard and you deserve to have a good time once in a while!"
"I do work hard!" she agreed. Neither of them had at any point stopped yelling at each other. "I had a lot of fun and I feel fantastic!"
"I can tell because you look great!"
"That dress really suits your eyes!"
Lois felt herself start to blush. "Bruce picked it out for me!"
Clark looked conflicted about this information. "He did a good job!" he yelled anyway.
"He has really good taste!"
"Obviously! He went out with you!"
"Why are we yelling?"
"Because you were yelling!"
"That doesn't mean you have to yell!"
"I'm a natural people-pleaser and that makes me very prone to mirroring even in confrontational situations!"
"That's very self-aware of you but that's not a good trait to have in your line of work!"
"I know it's a problem and I'm working on it!"
"Good for you!"
"I appreciate your support!"
They stared at each other in silence. Shouting had done a number on Lois' throat, and so her breathing was ragged. She cleared her throat, and tried to modulate her tone like a normal person. "I don't know if I'm going to be seeing Bruce again," she said carefully, "but if I do, that's my business, and I can take care of myself."
Clark took a deep breath, dialing himself back. "I know that you can," he said. "I didn't mean to be patronizing, I just worry." He fidgeted with his tie and pulled at that pesky thread.
"You weren't patronizing," she began, before Clark's tie broke into three pieces. She rubbed her forehead. "Clark, you unmitigated human disaster."
"Sorry," he said again, loosening the knot and pulling on his tie. And pulling. And pulling.
"Clark," she said, watching as multicolored fabric filled his hands, "why are you doing close-up magic right now?"
"I don't always know what to do with my hands in conversations."
"So you wore an elaborate trick tie? Just in case?"
"It never hurts to be prepared." The last of the tie finally came loose from his neck, and it was impossible to tell where exactly he'd been hiding the enormous pile of necktie filling his hands.
"You took something that wasn't even a problem," she said, taking it from him, "and tried to fix it with another, worse problem." She looked for a trash can, and, not seeing one, dropped the mess onto Mister Peanut's head. Clark caught it before it slid off onto the floor.
"I do that sometimes," he said morosely. He started assembling his tie into a makeshift turban.
"I'm sorry I got defensive about sleeping with Bruce," she said, resting a hand on his elbow. He stilled, and didn't move again until she'd stopped touching him.
"It's okay," he said.
"And I'm sorry if I scandalized you with my salty language," she said to the statue.
"You should be," Clark sniffed. "Life's hard enough for a centenarian peanut. You know he has heart problems."
"I lost my head."
"He lost his everything else." He tucked the fabric just-so, and the elaborate tie-turban was complete. They considered it, cocking their heads to the side in unison. "I think he's making it work," Clark said.
"You two!" someone called from behind them, and they spun on their heels to see who it was. Jimmy Olsen, jaw squared, nostrils flaring, a crumpled paper in his hand. "What the hell is this?" Jimmy demanded. Before either of them could say anything, he held up the paper, shoving it in Clark's face and then Lois'. "A cell phone picture?" he asked, jabbing a finger into the photo at the head of Clark's article. He opened the paper up to Lois' piece, and pointed to the photos so aggressively his finger nearly tore straight through. "Photos by Lois Lane?"
"Jimmy," Clark began.
"Olsen," Lois started.
Jimmy yanked his phone out of his back pocket with such force that he nearly dropped it, hit the home button and shoved it in their faces. "No calls!"
His lockscreen was of an athletic man with no shirt, no apparent body hair, and a kitten on his shoulder.
Jimmy, who'd been glaring at them, glanced at the screen for a split-second before glaring at them again. Then he swiped away the lockscreen so they could see his phone's log. "No calls!" he said again.
Clark frowned. "How often do you get takeout?"
Four of the six recent calls were outgoing to a contact labeled 'Noodletown'.
"That's beside the point," Jimmy snapped, shoving his phone back in his pocket. "What do you even think my job is? You think you can do my job with a cell phone?"
"No one thinks that, Jimmy," Clark said.
"A lot of people think that, but not us," Lois said.
"I can't even believe you two," Jimmy said, shaking his head. "And look what you did to Pistachio Dan!" Jimmy turned and stalked off. "Unbelievable."
"Jimmy," Clark called after him. "I didn't even take the picture! I wasn't even there!" He sighed, and looked back at the statue. "Who calls it Pistachio Dan?" he asked after a moment.
"No one calls it that," Lois scoffed. "That's not even a thing."
"It's obviously a peanut," Clark agreed.
"Actually, now that he said that, it does kind of look more like a pistachio."
"Yeah, and that does mean you can leave Alfred Hitchcock out of the equation."
"Where did he get Dan, though?"
"I think the guy's name was actually Dan." Clark adjusted his glasses and squinted at the plaque. "Yeah, see? Daniel."
"Shit," Lois said, putting her hands on her hips. "Pistachio Dan is a way better name."
Clark crossed his arms. "It really is. I regret all the time we wasted on Mister Peanut."
"So how are you going to make it up to him?" she asked, nudging him in the side with her hip.
"Jimmy?" he asked, looking down at her sideways. "I'll probably bake him a pie, everyone likes pie."
"Can you put my name on it?" she suggested.
"What? No. I'm not putting your name on the pie. Get him your own pie."
"He doesn't need two pies."
"He doesn't need one pie, it's not like there's such a thing as too many pies."
"Don't be stingy," she scolded, turning to head back for her office. "Just get him a pie, put my name on it, and tell him we're sorry."
Clark leaned back with a frown to watch her leave. "That's not how apologies work!" he called after her. He looked back at Pistachio Dan. "That's not how apologies work," he informed him.
Pistachio Dan was unmoved.
Lois woke in the wee hours of the morning, sunlight not yet cresting the Metropolis skyline. Bruce had sent a rose to her apartment the day before; not roses, not a bouquet, not even red. Just a single white rose, in a slender glass vase accented in black. It suited her apartment's minimalist aesthetic with almost suspicious perfection.
She pulled her phone off its dock and stared at the screen.
Five in the damn morning. Too damn early. No sensible person would be awake.
Lois: You up?
Bruce: If you need me to be.
Bruce: What's up?
She rested the screen of her phone against her chin with a sigh. What a ridiculous thing to feel nervous about. He was an interview subject. That was all. She lifted the phone above her face to type an answer.
Lois: I'd like to meet with you today, if you have time
She had to wait a minute for him to respond. She rolled onto her side, rested the phone sideways on her pillow.
Bruce: I don't know if that's the best idea.
Lois: My intentions are purely professional
Bruce: I didn't mean to imply otherwise.
Bruce: Is it something we can discuss over the phone?
Lois: I'd rather see you in person
Bruce: That could be problematic.
Lois: Is it a scheduling issue?
Bruce: Not exactly.
She huffed, blowing a stray lock of hair out of her face.
Lois: It might help if you actually explained what the issue was
Bruce: It's difficult to explain.
Lois: Because it's complicated, or because you don't want to?
Bruce: Off the record?
Lois: If you insist
Bruce: I had a crazy night and I look like shit.
Lois laughed aloud, the sound filling her empty apartment and bouncing off glass.
Lois: You've got to be kidding
Bruce: Dead serious.
Lois: You're self-conscious about your looks?
Bruce: I think we've established it's a problem I have.
She bit her lower lip. He sort of had, hadn't he? With his scars, certainly. But he was also image-conscious in general, aware at all times of how things might look and how others might perceive him. His whole life a performance acted out under the assumption that he had an audience, an assumption often correct.
Lois: As long as we're being honest, I'd also like to see you for personal reasons
Lois: I have questions that aren't necessarily relevant to the article I'm planning to write
Lois: Your shitty face is also irrelevant, if that helps
Bruce: Not enough people think to reassure me about the irrelevance of my shitty face.
"Good job, Lane," she said, out loud just to emphasize her own stupidity to herself. "How could any man resist such well-practiced charm."
She'd been spending too much time with Clark, that was the problem.
Bruce: To be clear, I was being genuine.
Bruce: I was genuinely reassured by your glib dismissal of my appearance.
Bruce: My schedule is a little all over the place today, but if you can swing by here within the next two hours or so we can talk.
Lois: Your hotel?
Bruce: If you're comfortable with that.
Lois: I'll text you when I get there
"What the fuck did you do to your face?"
"Hello, Lois," Bruce said, unfazed. "I believe we already discussed this."
He did not quite have a black eye. But a bruise was swelling over his brow, his lip was split, his nose looked like it had been broken again. Bruises on his arms, his sides, injuries revealed by the fact that he wore nothing but loose black pants.
"I just thought you'd be hungover!"
He stepped aside to allow her into his suite. "Who says I'm not?"
"Bloodshot eyes, a little green around the gills," she continued as she walked inside.
"I'm allowed to have multiple things wrong with me at once," he said, closing the door.
"You look like everything's wrong with you at once." She sat down on the couch, sinking further into the cushion than she expected as she set her purse down next to her.
"You've got a real way with words."
"That's what they pay me for. Get over here and sit down so I can look at you."
"You kind of sound like you don't want to look at me," he said. This did not stop him from sitting down beside her.
"You're like a car wreck," she said, gingerly using her fingers on his jaw to tilt his head. "What happened to you?"
"I don't mean to alarm you, Miss Lane," he said dryly, "but I believe that Superman may sometimes travel the streets of Metropolis in the guise of an ordinary man."
Lois snorted, trailing off into a mild cackle. "Yeah, you and every other guy who's ever lost a fight he shouldn't have picked in this city."
"How can so many drunks possibly be wrong."
He'd already set his nose, and while his eyes were bloodshot they weren't bleeding; nothing to be done but wait for the swelling to go down. "Honestly," she huffed, running her thumb along his jaw. "It's like no one appreciates art anymore."
His brow twitched in a way that suggested he wanted to furrow it, but was prevented by the risk of reopening his wounds. "What."
"Whoever did this to your face," she said.
His mouth tilted. "At least someone has their priorities in order."
Not having anything that she could do for him was frustrating, to say the least. She bit her lip as her eyes traveled the edges of the purpling monstrosity over his ribcage. "Have you been to the hospital?" she asked.
"I've had worse."
"That's not an answer."
"I have a doctor I can see at home if it's serious."
It was a gentle rebuke, but a rebuke nonetheless. She stared at him, and he watched her do it.
Keeping up appearances. Always, unfailingly, keeping up appearances.
But he'd let her see him.
"Why are you in Metropolis?"
Mild confusion in the way his eyes wandered. "Official company business. Housekeeping stuff."
Another huff of frustration escaped her. She rested her hand on top of his, and she felt him tense beneath her, an instinct to recoil. She held on rather than let him, careful of raw knuckles. "I'm asking for me. It's—it might be important."
"Hm." He tilted his head sideways, stretched it for a second so his neck cracked. She winced. "Your article's not coming out until I'm back in Gotham."
"I told you—"
"I know what you said. I'm giving you permission to change your mind. Just wait until it's over." He took his hands back so he could rub at his shoulder. "We've been looking at an acquisition. A research lab here, they've been working on a new water filtration system. Promising the moon, because that's the only way they can get funding. Faster, cheaper, easier. We've been in talks—not quite negotiations, but talks—for years now. Not anyone's fault, that's just the way it is sometimes with new science."
"But," Bruce agreed. "Last week, we start hearing rumors. Luthor is making offers. Ridiculous offers, considering the stage they're at. They're still in early testing phases, they're not anywhere near final approval for public use. Even private use. There's no way. Luthor's essentially offering to pay exorbitant amounts of money to take on all those costs himself. They're not about to turn that down."
"Unless someone makes them a better offer."
Bruce gave a slight nod. Then he smiled, suddenly, broad and bright and perfect porcelain white. "Hi there," he said, a perky baritone that should rightfully have only existed during wrestling announcements, offering her his hand to shake. "I'm Bruce Wayne, it's a pleasure to meet you."
"Augh." Her whole body shuddered in horrified revulsion. "That is so creepy, don't do that, Jesus."
He barked a laugh, then immediately stopped, pressing a hand over the bruise on his ribs.
"If it turns out you've had a broken rib this whole time, I'm going to be pissed," she warned him.
"It's fine," he assured her with a dismissive wave. His voice was back where it belonged, that slightly quiet huskiness that made him seem languorous. Or maybe just tired. The latter seemed more likely. Liquor and coffee and late nights and forced smiles all burning holes in his throat.
"It better be." Science had not yet shown it possible to threaten a man into good health, but if it was, Lois would be the first to find out. "So you're just here to make sure Wayne Enterprises gets a water filter?"
"Close." Bruce used two fingers to massage one of his temples. "I'm here to make sure Luthor doesn't get it."
She was starting to get a sinking feeling. "... why does Luthor want it?"
Bruce stifled a yawn. She wondered how long he'd been awake, if he'd slept since whenever it was he got his ass kicked.
Who had been stupid enough to punch Bruce Fucking Wayne?
"Promising the moon," he said, "remember? Better, faster, cheaper; it slices, it dices, it evenly distributes the FDA recommended amount of fluoride throughout a body of water or reservoir in record time."
Lois froze. "But it doesn't have to be fluoride."
"It does not."
She swallowed a lump in her throat. "Bruce," she said, reaching out to tilt his face back toward hers. "Do you know who did this to you?" His eyes on hers were steady, but he said nothing. "Is it possible that Luthor could have sent someone after you?" The pull at the corner of his mouth had a rueful air. "He did, didn't he? They're the ones that did this."
Slowly and delicately, he removed her hands from his skin. "There may have been an altercation with people I suspect of being Luthor's associates," he admitted.
"Wow that's a lot of weasel words."
"But they're not the ones that did this."
"What?" She pulled her hands from his, aghast. "Then who did?"
"That's a little more complicated," he said, "and I think I'd rather keep that part to myself, for the time being."
Luthor buying an experimental water filter. Scarecrow. Mercy Graves bribing a senator. Batman, The. Bruises on his skin and in his voice and in the way he never touched her first. Too much information, not enough time. "For fuck's sake, Bruce," she managed finally. "How many people want to kick your ass?"
He shrugged. "I think I have a spreadsheet somewhere, if it'll help."
"Not now, Smallville," she said, not slowing down.
"Yes or no question, it will only take a second," he said rather than giving up. She got in the elevator as he caught up with her, hit the door close button. "Do you trust Bruce Wayne?" he asked, and she made a face as the elevator doors shut in his face.
Honestly. Hadn't they just had that conversation? It wasn't as if it was any of his business, anyway.
Someone stopped the elevator the next floor up, and Lois leaned back against the far corner to make room for the interloper.
The elevator doors opened, and there was Clark.
He put his hand over the door before she could leap for the button. "Did you run?" she asked.
"Yes or no, that's all I need," he said instead of answering. It didn't suit him at all, holding the door and blocking her way, looking suddenly as large and as intimidating as he always had the potential to. She didn't think he was even aware of the inherent menace in what he was doing. What it could have looked like, if he wasn't Clark Kent and if she weren't Lois Lane.
"Stop holding up the elevator, dipshit," she said, waving him in. He entered and hit the door close button, didn't press for a floor. Going wherever she was. "What is this about?"
"I just—I need to know."
"Does it matter?" she asked, leaning against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Because I trust you," he said, which was both factual and obvious on the face of it but which still hit her like a surprise. "I'm not—I can't be objective about this. I'm not going to pretend I can be objective."
"First time for everything."
"That's why I'm asking you. If you think Bruce Wayne is a good person, then you're probably right. I know you're right."
"Seriously, Clark. What is this about?"
"Can I get away with explaining later?" he asked back instead of answering.
She decided with a sigh to take mercy on him. Mostly because she was in as much of a hurry as he seemed to be. "He's a good guy," she said. "He's a really good guy."
"You trust him?"
Clark released a whoosh of breath with enough force that she almost felt it, tension leaving his shoulders. "Okay," he said, and she couldn't tell if he was relieved or disappointed. "That's it, then."
"Whatever it is you think you're doing," she said as the elevator doors opened, "you're being way too dramatic about it."
"I'll tell you all about it tomorrow," he promised.
"You do that," she said, no longer paying attention. She had better things to do than worry about Kent's imagined little feud. Archives to check, public records to consult, maps to locate. Cities to save.
She loved her job.
It happened too fast for Lois to do much about it. One minute, she was investigating the aqueduct; the next, she had a hand over her mouth, her arms pinned at her sides. Leather gloves, something textured rough on arms she couldn't see, felt like being tied to a mast made of sharkskin.
"I need you to not make a sound," a voice said directly in her ear, "and I need you to not move. Can you do that for me?" Pitched low, quiet but not breathy enough to call a whisper, too little voice to patch over the rough spots in his larynx.
His. Its. Whatever.
Lois had been snatched by strangers just often enough to find the question patronizing. He'd left her nose uncovered, and she used it to full effect with the most put-open huff she could manage. She couldn't nod, because he wasn't letting her move her head. She tried to signal assent by forcing herself to relax. And not trying to jab him in the ribs with her elbow.
"Thank you." He didn't move, certainly didn't let her go. Just didn't want her to struggle. She tried to memorize details, put him into words that she could use. The smell of leather and metal and smoke, was it recent or had it seeped into his skin too deep to dislodge? It was impossible to gauge size in this kind of situation, she knew that from experience; everyone seemed ten feet tall when they had her trapped in the dark.
"When Superman gets here, I need someone to make sure he doesn't hurt himself. I wouldn't ask if I didn't think you could handle it. Can you do that for me?" He let her mouth go just enough that she could manage a small nod, though just as quickly she tried to turn enough to see him. He didn't clamp down on her again, but his thumb against her jaw forced her to face forward. "Watch the door."
Her gaze immediately honed in on a small hallway door on the far wall, anticipating... something. Superman? Scarecrow? She didn't know. It was just enough that when he let her go, she kept watching. It was easy to rectify, but by then it was too late, nothing but shadows. She strained to hear footsteps, but all that filled her ears were pipes and pumps and motors and the echoes of a sound like if nighttime could talk.
Whatever she'd thought Batman would be, it hadn't been that.
Reporters and detectives and criminals all ran into the same problem trying to find him: Gotham loved him. Not just the usual suspects, either. It was the Runners, the Banshees, the Cherry Street Girls. Helpless and hopeless and did he take them aside in the dark and tell him they were needed? Not an order, just a question, can you do that for me? Implicit that he thought they could.
She turned back to the door he'd asked her to watch. No sign of anything, of anyone. She was taking it on faith that this wasn't a boondoggle meant to keep her busy.
Lois nearly jumped out of her skin when Superman came crashing through a wall to her right.
... which meant Batman had only asked her to watch the door as a distraction. And she'd fallen for it.
Superman hit the floor sideways, tumbled with his cape wrapping and twisting around him. Just as quickly as he'd come to a stop, he was trying to get back up again.
"Are you okay? What's going on? What happened?" She rushed to his side, though she knew she wouldn't be much help. That never stopped her from trying, taking his arm in her hands and pulling him upward.
"Lois?" His voice took up less room than it sometimes did. He cleared his throat, neither accepting nor rejecting her help as he rose. "What are you doing here?" That sounded a little better, a voice made to fill a chest like his, a careful lack of accent that only rarely drifted dangerously close to mid-Atlantic.
"The same thing I'm always doing," she snapped. "Asking what the hell happened, and not getting any damn answers."
Superman's eyes had a backlight. It wasn't an ideal word, but nothing else captured that dim glow, that ring around the iris that left his eyes looking the color of a sunny summer sky at noon. Easy to miss in the daylight, still only barely apparent in the dark.
Except, in that moment, they were flickering like faulty neon.
His skin was peeling, tiny dark spots splattered across his face that usually meant he'd been caught in a fire. He was worryingly grey.
"Radiation?" she asked.
"It's nothing to worry about," he assured her. His nose was starting to bleed. "It can't hurt you."
Kryptonite, but she didn't think she'd ever seen him react so badly to it. More of it? Longer exposure? "What about you?" she asked instead. No point asking questions he wouldn't answer.
"I'm—" He stopped, swallowed nothing.
"You're not going to vomit, are you?" she asked warily. He shook his head, wiped blood away from his nose.
"Wait here," he said, but she wrapped her arms around his elbow to trap him.
Not that she actually could. It worked, regardless. "You wait here," she countered. "You're going to hurt yourself."
"You don't need to worry about me, Miss Lane."
"This is me, worrying about you. It's Scarecrow, isn't it? That's why Batman is here?"
Superman paused. "You saw him?"
"Not really." Enough to know the stories of a creature weren't accurate, not enough to know which of the others might be true. "Do you think you can trust him?"
"Who else?" She squeezed his arm. "He's not like you, he's not..." Unambiguous was the word that came to mind, precise and all-encompassing but not the kind of word she could say to his face. "Nice," she finished, but that wasn't much better.
Superman smiled, and she knew better than to call his smile perfect, not after she'd seen white porcelain and careful curves carving an uncanny valley in someone's face. He had an extra set of canines. She didn't know how many people had seen his smile close enough to notice. Such subtle little points. "That's a pretty high bar," Superman said. "I'm very nice."
It was hard, sometimes, not to tell Superman to go fuck himself. It was a lot like flipping off a puppy: occasionally tempting, but ultimately not worth what doing so would say about her as a person.
"Don't worry," he assured her, maybe misinterpreting the expression on her face. "I have it on good authority that he's as good as they come."
"That had better be one hell of an authority."
"They certainly think so." He picked her up suddenly, and she bit down a reflexive yelp. No one else could surprise her like that, the way he moved like there were frames of reality missing, the way her stomach lurched too late. By the time she'd gripped his shoulders he'd already carried her outside, safely away from the threat.
And the story.
"Wait here," he said, the night air cold and filled with crickets.
"Don't you dare go back in there," she warned as he set her down, though he didn't let her grab him this time. Like trying to hold the wind still. "You look like hell, god knows what it'll do to you if there's more Kryptonite."
"I'm feeling much better, Miss Lane." He rubbed at his face with his hands, everything gone blurry with the speed of it. Then he smiled again, and the peeling skin and the freckles were both gone. His skin was back to its usual golden hue, his eyes weren't flickering any longer. He turned his attention to the aqueduct, and she could tell without any real evidence that he was looking through the walls. "I'm afraid I'm needed elsewhere."
He was gone before she could protest again.
She stomped a heel against the pavement in irritation. Nothing left for her to do but wait, unless what she wanted to do was risk getting taken hostage.
Lois was torn, as ever, between a desire to be useful and a desire not to be a liability.
The tiebreaker was Batman. If the Kryptonite was an issue again, he was there to help. She pulled her phone out of her purse to call the police, assuming they weren't already on their way.
They probably had the situation under control.
"You see, Miss Lane," said Dr. Crane, "at small doses over an extended period, the effects of the toxin are hardly noticeable."
"So why bother?" Lois asked, writing notes on her phone.
Crane was handcuffed, waiting for the police to finish their sweep of the aqueduct. He had a split lip and a bad case of mask-hair, but was otherwise looking quite fine. Delighted by the attention from the press, it was clear. He was still a novelty in Metropolis, not just one of Gotham's more irritating also-rans.
"I've hypothesized—this would have been a test, you see, this little experiment—that a combination of careful dosing alongside subliminal messaging could induce a fear response toward a single target."
"Like an alien."
"Perhaps." Crane took too long to blink, or else timed his blinking to match hers so that she wouldn't see it. The effect was creepy enough to be deliberate.
"Where did you get the money for all this?"
"Oh, here and there."
"Did Luthor give you the filtration system?"
"Certainly not, Miss Lane, certainly not. It wasn't even his yet, was it? I suppose the security at the lab was poor enough that you could say they gave it to me."
"Where did you get the Kryptonite?"
"Oh, here and there."
Lois leaned a little closer to him. "What did you do with it?"
Crane smiled, twisty and unpleasant. "It's not easy to work with, you know, Kryptonite. The crystalline structure is very strange, very strong. I'm not a geologist, an evil geologist could do a real number on your boy. Took me forever to even make a suspension. I did manage it, eventually."
"You aren't taking notes, Miss Lane."
"I'm not," she agreed. "Does Luthor know what you did?"
"With the Kryptonite? Oh, no. He'd probably like to."
"Will he?" she pressed.
Crane tilted his head too far sideways to think about it. "I don't think so, no."
"A falling out?" she suggested.
"We were never in," he corrected.
"There are benefits to turning state's evidence."
"There's at least one large drawback." He straightened, that unpleasant smile again. "Did you see him?" he asked.
"In a manner of speaking."
"That's all anyone ever sees." He was looking over Lois' shoulder. She took the bait, and looked.
The roof of the building. Eyes in the dark. A barely-visible silhouette in the moonlight.
"If you were going to try making a city scared of someone," Lois said, "I'd think he'd be the more obvious choice."
"Do you really?" Crane sounded surprised. Lois looked back to him.
"Don't tell me you're scared of Superman."
"He has a total lack of moral ambiguity that I find unsettling," Crane admitted easily.
Lois laughed. "You think he's too good?" She looked back over her shoulder, but the shadow above the aqueduct was gone.
"He can't possibly be like that all the time," Crane said. "He'd go insane."
Lois checked the time on her phone. She didn't think Bruce would go back to Gotham without saying goodbye, but that didn't stop her worrying. She'd been watching his Cessna like a hawk, but for all she knew he had extras. Just for occasions like these.
Something like relief filled her as a familiar black Jaguar pulled onto the tarmac.
The relief disappeared when Clark stepped out of the car, laughing. Bruce emerged from the driver's side, no laughter but faint amusement evident on his face, only evident because she knew what it looked like. He popped the trunk and tossed the keys to Clark.
"What fresh hell is this?" Lois demanded, and Clark laughed again.
"You don't sound happy to see us," Bruce said, collecting his minimal luggage from the trunk.
"I understand you," Lois said, "but what the hell is he doing here?"
"He will be driving Mr. Wayne's car back to the garage," Clark said.
"Mr. Wayne suggested that he keep it," Bruce added, handing off all but one bag to airline employees, "but he refused."
"He doesn't need Mr. Wayne's charity," Clark said.
"Oh, cut the third person crap," Lois snapped. "Since when are you two all..." She gestured between the both of them. "Whatever this is."
"We happened to run into each other last night," Bruce said.
"I'm sure," Lois muttered.
"We agreed that there had been some minor misunderstandings between us and we decided to resolve them in the usual manly way," Clark said.
Lois eyeballed him suspiciously. She could not, in this instance, tell how many layers of irony he was wrapped in. At least one, surely. "I know you didn't fight," Lois said, "because you once got upset about hurting a spider, and you still look like shit."
"That daddy long-legs wasn't hurting anyone."
"You flatter me." Bruce had come to stand beside Lois, bruising and scabs still apparent on his face. His five o'clock shadow had become an eight a.m. shadow, and was halfway to an impressive beard. Clark remained by the car, babyfaced as ever. "The usual manly way, in this case, means that we got fucked up and talked about our feelings, then had a 45-minute argument about 1940's romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story."
"She divorced Dexter for a reason," Clark said. "She was under duress, if Mike had more time—"
"She'd have eaten Mike alive," Bruce interrupted. "She married Dexter for a reason, too."
"What about George?" Lois asked.
"What about George?" Clark and Bruce asked in unison.
"Anyway," Bruce sighed. "We never did settle that, as you can see."
"I can," Lois agreed.
"Whereas you seem to have accomplished quite a bit," he said, pulling a copy of the Daily Planet out of an outer pocket of his bag. "Don't suppose you'd want to sign it for me."
"You're kidding," she said, and he shook his head, offering her a pen. "What, you want a souvenir?"
"I'm sentimental. Don't tell anyone." He turned to offer her his back, and she spread the paper across the impressive width of it to sign. The headline in large print, SUPERMAN AND THE BATMAN UNITE AGAINST COMMON FOE, subtitled SCARECROW DENIES LEXCORP INVOLVEMENT IN WATER POISONING SCHEME.
She'd have preferred something snappier, but she didn't pick the headlines.
"I know you said to wait until you were back in Gotham," Lois began.
"I said to wait until it was over," Bruce corrected. Lois offered him his autographed paper as he turned back around. "It's over—no thanks to me."
"It's sweet that you tried, though," she said. "Turns out all the money in the world's no good unless you've got a cape."
"I could buy a cape."
"Don't you dare," she scolded, tapping him on the sternum with her knuckles. "Get yourself killed and I'll bring you back just to kick you in the dick."
"It's bad enough having to worry about Superman."
There was a pull at the corner of Bruce's mouth. "Do you worry about him?"
"Wouldn't you?" She looked to Clark for support, but he was leaning on the car, watching planes take off and land. "God knows what might have happened if Batman hadn't been there last night."
"I'm sure Superman would have handled it," Clark said, despite his apparent lack of attention to the conversation.
Bruce lifted the paper to look at Lois' article. "This makes it sound like he was in pretty bad shape."
"Miss Lane has been known to exaggerate for the sake of the narrative," Clark said.
"Bullshit," Lois said. "If anything, I downplayed it."
"I doubt it was that bad," said Clark.
"He shed his radioactive skin like a lizard."
"That is a much grosser turn of phrase than feels strictly necessary," Clark said. "I'm concerned by your new, pro-Gotham agenda."
She snorted. "Don't turn this into some kind of Batman versus Superman, Gotham versus Metropolis thing."
"Batman and Gotham did come first both times," Bruce said.
"Oh, don't you start. It's alphabetical order, that's all." She put her hands on her hips. "If one of your choices is Superman, you don't pick the guy who isn't Superman."
Clark stood to circle around to the far side of the car. Bruce turned his head enough to watch him. "I can see how that would be a problem," he murmured.
"Not if you're Superman."
"Since I'm not," Bruce said, "I'm going to have to get in my plane before the weather turns if I want to make it back to Gotham." He and Lois circled each other as Bruce headed toward his Cessna. "Mr. Kent," he called, and Clark perked up. "If you're ever passing through Gotham, feel free to keep going." Clark laughed, and the sound made Lois smile. "But if you want to stop by, Miss Lane, you know where to find me."
She bit her lip as she watched him walk away. "If you'd like to know my opinion," Lois said suddenly, projecting her voice, and Bruce stopped, "I'm going to have to side with Kent. Mike's the only one who never tried to put Tracy on a pedestal or knock her off one."
Bruce turned with a crooked smile. "What about Liz?"
She didn't follow Bruce, but she came a little closer. "Tracy can help her keep Mike in line."
Bruce met her halfway. "What about Dexter?"
She grinned back, raising an eyebrow of challenge as they came close enough that she had to tilt her head back. "The only person he had healthy chemistry with in the whole movie was Mike."
"What about George?"
"I was just playing devil's advocate," she said. "No one cares about George."
"May I make an observation, Miss Lane?"
"You seem to prefer a version of the movie that ends with everyone loving the handsome reporter."
She didn't know why she looked at Clark, but she did. He had his back turned towards them, like he was trying to give them privacy. She turned her head back to Bruce; he was watching her intently. "Who doesn't love Jimmy Stewart?"
"George, probably, but nobody likes him." She smiled. "Is this the part where I kiss you goodbye?"
She tilted her head to the side, considered his face and the shape of his eyes. "I don't think it is."
"Bruce." She reached up to touch his cheek. "Do you want to kiss me, or does it just seem like the thing to do?"
"You're very kissable," he said, which wasn't an answer.
"When's the last time you kissed someone just because you wanted to?" she wondered. "Not because they asked, not because they kissed you first. Just because you couldn't stand to go another minute without their lips on yours."
"I try not to kiss people who don't want to kiss me."
"You're very kissable," she said, though he hadn't asked a question.
"Would you like to know a secret, Miss Lane?"
He leaned down until his mouth was by her ear. Her hand was still against his cheek. "I'm sure that there must be a way to tell the difference between when someone wants to kiss you, and when you just wish they'd want to," he said, his voice low, "but I can't for the life of me seem to figure it out."
She wondered what his face would look like, if she turned to see it. "If you have a theory, you can always test it," she suggested quietly.
"What if I'm wrong."
"A little rejection won't kill you."
"You can't know that for sure."
Her smile felt bittersweet. She was glad no one could see it. If anyone could die of a broken heart—or maybe he already was. "Someday, Mr. Wayne," she said, "you're going to meet someone that leaves you tongue-tied and clumsy, and they'll never have to wonder if you want to kiss them."
"Let's hope for their sake that you're not always right," Bruce said. They turned their heads at the same time, mouths met in a kiss as gentle as a door latch in the dark. "Goodbye, Lois."
She walked back to the Jaguar to join Clark, didn't look back even when the engine started.
"Clark!" Bruce shouted over the sound, and Lois and Clark both looked over their shoulders. Bruce was hanging out the door of the plane; she couldn't figure his expression. "When I got here," he called, "you said you wanted to learn how to fly."
Clark's fingers didn't hide his grin. "I did," he called back in agreement.
"You're a real asshole, Mr. Kent." Clark's response to this was to step away from the car enough that he could take a bow; Bruce slammed the door of the plane shut behind him.
"What was that all about?" Lois asked.
"Inside joke," Clark said.
"Another guy thing?" she asked.
"Something like that." They watched as the plane started to taxi toward the runway. "You like Jimmy Stewart more than Cary Grant, then?" he asked.
"That's got nothing to do with it," Lois said, crossing her arms and leaning against the Jag. "Instead of appreciating his wife he projected his insecurities onto her and blamed her for his alcoholism. Her own father blames her for the fact that he's a cheating old fuck. Stewart plays the only man in the whole movie who sees her for who she is, no one else deserves to lick her boots."
"That's exactly what I said."
They watched as Bruce's plane took to the air, steady as a shot.
"No you didn't," Lois said.
"It's basically what I said."
"You only like Mike better because you think he's you," she accused. "You're wrong, though. He might be an idealistic reporter, but he at least pretends to be a cynic. Only one of us is the cynical reporter assigned against their will to write about the rich and famous." She looked up at him sideways, and he looked down at her, eyebrows raised.
"So you're Jimmy Stewart," he said, and she grinned. "But then who's the beautiful and uncompromising woman that only you understand?"
"Can you do that?"
"I can." Lois pushed away from the Jag; her own car was calling, an article she still hadn't written about a man she still didn't know. "Not everyone gets to be as straightforward as you are, Smallville. Some of us contain multitudes."
Chapter 10: The Daily Planet
SUPERMAN AND THE BATMAN UNITE AGAINST COMMON FOE
Scarecrow Denies Lexcorp Involvement In Water Poisoning Scheme
By LOIS LANE
In the middle of an otherwise unexceptional Thursday night, the city of Metropolis narrowly avoided killing Superman.
This is a tale of two cities, and one that begins not just months ago, but years. It starts with the Metropolitan Water Engineering Research Initiative (MWERI), a small collection of scientists and engineers dedicated to bringing clean water to more people for less money. Noble work, but when keeping it cheap is the whole point, profit margins can only be low. Nobility for its own sake is a hard sell.
Unless one of the buyers is Bruce Wayne.
Jonathan Crane's first experiments took place in Gotham, the city Bruce Wayne calls home. Crane was fired from his work as a doctor at Arkham Asylum for illegal experimentation on patients. Later, under the moniker of Scarecrow, he would join those patients after being judged criminally insane.
Whether Crane is truly insane is a matter of debate. The justice system in the city of Gotham is known to lean on Arkham as a way of managing the unmanageable. Activists argue that this does a disservice to those residents of Arkham seeking real treatment. Crane's former victims are likely to agree.
Scarecrow's so-called research has always focused on the matter of fear. He chemically induces fear in his targets, usually through the use of a gas. He has cited as his inspiration the Joker, and his now-infamous Joker Gas. But while it may be his preferred method, it is hardly the only option.
Last week, rumors reached Bruce Wayne. The experimental water filter that Wayne Enterprises had been in negotiations to purchase had another buyer. Not just any buyer: LexCorp.
Noble pursuits and Wayne Enterprises go hand in hand. The Wayne name can be found on hospitals, clinics, shelters, schools, scholarships, and clean water initiatives. Lex Luthor's name can be found on defense contracts, ballistic missiles, combat aircraft, and misconduct lawsuits. Yet LexCorp was suddenly eager to acquire a singularly unprofitable piece of technology. Technology that, according to Wayne himself, had a long way to go before being approved for use for the public.
It didn't take the world's greatest detective to figure out that something was amiss. And all this was before employees of LexCorp were found offering bribes to officials capable of fast-tracking potential public works projects.
According to Mr. Wayne, his primary source of concern was a fluoridation system built into the MWERI filter. With it, it would theoretically be possible to distribute chemicals far less benign than fluoride. Given LexCorp's interest in weaponization of technology, it was a reasonable concern. Wayne decided on impulse to investigate in person, to see if he could intervene on his company's behalf. After all, it's one thing to be in negotiations with a representative from Wayne Enterprises. It's another thing altogether to be shaking hands with Bruce Wayne himself.
Wayne seemed to be making good progress. It wasn't difficult. Wayne Enterprises is known for being straightforward in their dealings. LexCorp is currently being sued by three different companies alleging infringements on patents and intellectual property. Many more such suits have been settled behind closed doors. It's likely that Wayne would have closed the deal, if Scarecrow had not stolen the experimental technology before he could.
It is unclear in the aftermath how exactly Scarecrow managed to break in to the MWERI facility. According to a spokesperson for the MPD, Scarecrow entered the lab using the official keycodes and seemed to know exactly where to find what he was looking for. MWERI researchers insist that no one on their staff would have given him this information, but it's otherwise unclear where he could have obtained it.
Lex Luthor, who had also been given recent access to the facility, could not be reached for comment.
Through installation of the water filter at one of Metropolis' aqueducts, Scarecrow sought to disperse his fear-inducing chemical throughout the water supply. If the equipment had been installed successfully, it could have gone unnoticed for months.
"At small doses over an extended period, the effects of the toxin are hardly noticeable." Crane has a voice higher than suits his appearance. His strength is in his mind; he is lank and long-fingered. It is easy to imagine him as a doctor, looking the delicate intellectual, prim and precise. Now he wears a ragged mask, and those same features make him look the monster that his patients always knew. His goal this time was not the mass hysteria that Scarecrow is sometimes known for. "A combination of careful dosing alongside subliminal messaging could induce a fear response toward a single target."
There is an alien living in Metropolis. The laws of physics do not apply to him. He is a bulletproof man, an impossible man; he can fly and break the sound barrier, sometimes simultaneously. He has blue eyes and an easy smile, and it does not occur to most people that they might ever fear him.
A few disagree, Luthor among them. Lex Luthor reminds the city of Metropolis, often and at length, that he believes we have much to fear from Superman. There are also the intermittent op-eds, written by someone who sounds suspiciously as if he is wearing a wig and a fake moustache. Perhaps it was these op-eds that inspired Scarecrow. It is hard to imagine why else he would choose a target so difficult and far from home. Scarecrow has thus far refused to reveal who it was that paid his travel expenses.
Despite what Scarecrow may have hoped, the Batman proved more than willing to chase his quarry to a new city. This despite the presence of Superman, who one might assume could handle a man like Scarecrow perfectly well on his own.
Prior to the confrontation in the sewers earlier this week, Superman had no personal experience with the Batman, though he knew the rumors as well as anyone. Witnesses on the scene suggest that Superman was initially hostile to the presence of Gotham's Dark Knight, but he was unwilling to comment. Regardless, any and all differences were set aside when it came time to take down Scarecrow.
The Batman uses shadows so effectively he may as well be made of them. It's no wonder that no one has ever managed to get a good picture of him. Even having met him, it's impossible to describe what he looks like. Criminals of all kinds have told their stories of a great beast, of something inhuman, ten feet tall and walking through walls and snarling in the dark.
As the reporter on the scene, I found him to be quiet. Perfectly courteous, almost genteel. I saw no sign of any snarling beast; but then, I am not a criminal. He leaves no doubt that he is a powerful man, if indeed he is a man at all, if he is not some manner of wraith. I found myself reminded of smoke: intangible, but undeniably real. He has an overwhelming presence without having any solidity to him. He is, in short, everything that Superman is not; nothing that Superman is.
One of those things he is not is vulnerable to Kryptonite. Scarecrow had obtained a sample of the dreaded mineral, and used it to great effect. I have rarely seen Superman in such bad shape as he was after his encounter with Scarecrow. Weak as he was, even I might have hurt him. I asked Scarecrow, later, why he did not simply kill Superman himself while he was in his weakened state. The thought did not even seem to have occurred to him.
"What would that have proven?" he asked me. The tilt of his head when he asks questions is birdlike.
I do not doubt that Superman could have dealt with Scarecrow on his own, given time. I nonetheless find myself grateful for the Batman's presence, so that he did not have to. My gratitude might be greater if not for a sense of irrational pride in my city. I am a Metropolitan woman down to my bones, and I can imagine no world in which a monster of Gotham could best a hero of Metropolis.
What might have happened if Scarecrow had succeeded? How long would the citizens of Metropolis have been quietly and unknowingly poisoned? How long would it take before Luthor's screeds began to ring true, to fill hearts and minds with a fear previously mocked? I would like to believe that I would resist such things, but I'm glad not to have this belief tested.
Human beings are fearful things, even when faced with blue eyes and easy smiles.
In the aftermath, Superman was unusually reticent to share details. He had a much better look at the Batman than I did. They may have even had a conversation or two. I asked if his silence was for the sake of a new friendship.
"I'm not good at keeping secrets," he tells me. He's smiling. He is tangible and solid and utterly weightless. He is as human as any legend can be. "I'm just going to play it safe and not say anything." He gives a nod of acknowledgment to a distant shadow. I must assume that he sees something or someone that I can't.
Proceedings are already underway to have Scarecrow sent back to Gotham. It seems the Metropolis justice system is just as pleased to lean on Arkham, when Arkham is an option. Crane, for his part, seems eager to be back in more familiar territory. He'd rather return to the devil he knows than deal with the angel he doesn't.
Gratitude aside, I'll be as happy as Gotham to have their protector back where he belongs. This is Metropolis: we prefer our nights neon.
WHEN YOU MEET BRUCE WAYNE
By LOIS LANE
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will spend too much time trying to figure out why you didn't recognize him. He will not look the way you expect him to look, because he won't look like his pictures. He loses something in the transition to an objective medium. You will think that he is taller than you know he is, and you will find yourself unsettled by his perfect smile. He will have veneers too expensive to look unnatural, and yet you will know that this is not the smile that belongs on his face. His smile will be a white picket fence in front of a crumbling brick facade.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, he will shake your hand. It will be the perfect handshake of a powerful man who regularly shakes hands with other powerful men. If he finds you comparatively underwhelming, he will never show it. He will be polite and attentive. You will believe that you are interesting for as long as he is there to convince you. He will smile. He will try not to make you nervous, but he will not succeed.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, he will remind you of an uncle, or a friend of a parent, or a parent of a friend, or a teacher. But not your teacher — that other teacher, the one that everyone who had seemed to love and that you never had but wanted. He will not remind you of an authority figure. He will remind you of someone else's authority figure, who you always thought but could never prove would be nicer than the authority figures you had.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will meet Death, who follows him everywhere like a childhood sweetheart. You will see her in his picket fence smile, in the scars he hides so well. You will see her in the way he jumps out of planes and off of cliffs and into fast cars. You will hear echoes of her voice in his, in the vast quiet of him that will make him sound distracted. Death is not a jealous lover, but there's a reason no one has been able to make him settle down. He's already felt the arms that will hold him last.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will meet Death's most jealous lover. If he has his way, it will be a long time before you meet her. He has built hospitals, and he will build more. He has built shelters, and he will build more. Time is money, and he has all the money in the world to buy you all the time you need. He will try to keep her from meeting anyone before their time, but he will not succeed. He knows that he will not succeed. He will try anyway.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, if you meet him soon, he will seem forty. He will be twenty-six. He will have as his legal ward a boy of fourteen. You will try to reconcile these things when you look at him, but you will not succeed. You will ask him if he thinks of himself as a father, with a son. He will say:
"His father is John Grayson. His father will always be John Grayson. I'm just the guy who makes sure his homework gets done, and I'm not great at that, either."
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will ask him about the boy who is not his son. You will be curious, the way everyone is curious. He will not smile, but he will almost try. You will know that you are toeing a dangerous line. He will say:
"He's a good kid. He likes old movies. Does okay in school. Misses the circus, mostly the animals. Anything more than that, you'll have to ask him when he's eighteen. It's up to him if he wants to be news."
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will find yourself wanting to ask him the strangest questions. He will answer most of them. He will be so carefully symmetrical that you will ask if he can balance a book on his head as he walks. He will answer with a port glass of Douro wine on his head as he does a pirouette. It will be the most ridiculous, absurd, and graceful thing you have ever seen from a man of his size. You will find it unbelievably arousing. You will not tell him so, but you will have the sense that he knows. He will be polite enough not to say so.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will talk about charity. He knows a lot about charity. You will ask why he doesn't just give his money away. He will say:
"The thing about being really rich is that it means I'm capable of things that no one else is. For instance: at any time, if I want to, I can kick Lex Luthor in the balls. I'm being very serious. I'm trying to have a serious discussion, here, and you're laughing. Would you like another glass of wine? Well, you're not getting it. I'm cutting you off. No, listen. Here's how it works. If I ask to meet with Luthor, he has to say yes, because I'm Bruce Wayne. You'd think he'd know better, since I just said I'll kick him in the balls, but not Luthor. If he refused to meet with me, that would be admitting that he's scared I'll kick him in the balls. He can't do that. His pride won't let him. If it were me, and Oliver Queen said he wanted to kick me in the balls, I'd tell him to fuck off. Have you seen him lately? Oliver Queen? If he kicks me in the balls I'm going to need reconstructive surgery. There is nothing funny about reconstructive testicular surgery, your laughter right now is very tasteless. Are you actually writing this down? Good. I want to see all of this in print. Where was I? Lex Luthor's testicles. I regret that sentence. The point is, from this point forward, Luthor is going to spend the rest of his life worried that I'm going to kick him in the balls and completely unable to do anything about it. That doesn't work if I give my money away."
When you meet Bruce Wayne, he will make you laugh. He will mostly do it by saying the absurd with a straight face. Sometimes, it will distract you from the question you meant to ask. Sometimes it won't. Sometimes you will ask for a real answer, how he can justify possessing more money than almost the entire rest of the planet combined. When he sees that you are asking a serious question, he will give you a serious answer. He will not insult your intelligence. He will explain to you, over the course of an hour, years worth of advanced economic theory. You will remember that he graduated at the top of his class from Yale, younger than his peers. You will realize that he earned it. You will feel as if you understand everything he is telling you, even though you will know you cannot possibly. He will show you the interest rates on his savings accounts, rates that you could never dream of. He will show you the amount of money he makes passively on investments. You will watch the screen of his phone as, over the course of a few minutes, he makes more money than you have all year.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, every aspect of his existence will frustrate you beyond all reason. You will ask him if that's his explanation, those long and complex theories. He will say no. He will say:
"It's hubris. Pure and simple, it's hubris. I have to believe that the best way to help a half-million people — or more — is to spend it on their behalf, instead of just giving them the money. I have to believe that the things that I'm building will help more people for longer. It's arrogance. I am an arrogant man, doing an arrogant thing."
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you will remember the story of the emperor's new clothes. You will remember, when you were young, assuming that the child who pointed out his nudity was rewarded for their honesty. In some versions of the story, they are. Is the point of the story that only the child realized the emperor was naked, or that only the child was willing to say so? No one ever wants to admit they'd keep their mouths shut, regardless.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, he will be a naked emperor. You will shake his hand, and you will not want to believe that he is as vulnerable as he is. He will be powerful and he will be exposed and it will be an uncomfortable thing to see, and so you may pretend you do not see it. The emperor wears no clothes, because he knows he doesn't need them. What's the worst that can happen? He's been flirting with Death since the day they met.
When you meet Bruce Wayne, you might keep your silence. He will smile his picket fence smile, and he will know you don't believe it, but he will hope it's better than nothing. He will look as if he has a secret, but the secret is that he has no secrets. So you might say: nice coat, asshole. And if you express this sentiment properly, he will smile. It will be a real smile. You will know when you see it that it is a real smile, but when anyone asks how you know, you will never be able to explain. His real smile will feel like a secret, a reward that you have earned.
When you meet Bruce Wayne: smile.
Chapter 11: Too Many Years Later
"To what does Gotham owe the pleasure of your company, Miss Lane?" Bruce asked by way of greeting.
Lois' answer was to slap him full across the face, practically echoing through his front parlor, also by way of greeting.
There was a moment of silent stillness.
"Not that I didn't deserve that," Bruce said finally, turning his head back straight and reaching up to rub his cheek, "but may I ask for a more specific explanation?"
"Batman?" Lois demanded. "Really?"
Bruce was still again. His gaze went to where Clark stood behind Lois. Every aspect of his being was as apologetic as she wasn't. "I didn't tell her anything," Clark assured him the moment they made eye contact, though Bruce would not have blamed him if he had.
Clark had finally told Lois he was Superman. It had not gone well.
"He didn't have to," Lois said. Her furious gaze was still fixed on Bruce. It was not the first time he'd been grateful she lacked heat vision. "I asked him if he knew who Batman was, and he hesitated."
Easy enough to put two and two together. If he didn't want to say, it could only have been someone Lois knew, and the number of people she knew in Gotham was limited. A very clever woman surrounded by very good liars.
"Don't take it personally," Bruce said.
"I'm taking it personally," Lois said.
"He really doesn't tell anyone," Clark offered in Bruce's defense. "He didn't tell me."
"Which is why I have lead in my mask, now." Too little, too late.
She turned her glower onto Clark, who withstood it admirably. "How long did you know?" she asked.
They hadn't discussed it. She must have insisted on seeing Bruce immediately after finding out. Or else Clark didn't want to discuss it without Bruce's presence. Either seemed likely. She was too impulsive, he was too considerate.
"It was…" Clark scratched his head as he recalled. "That night in the sewer. I wrote an article about it. Not about Bruce, about the fight, generally."
Looked right through his mask and recognized him. Hadn't said a word about it at the time. Couldn't, without alerting Scarecrow. An advantage he hadn't even used.
"I cannot believe you were your own anonymous source close to the scene," Lois said. "Writing articles about yourself, like an asshole."
"What else was I supposed to do?" Clark said, spreading his hands helplessly. "You were busy, remember? I spent all night worried sick because you were supposed to be with Bruce."
Bruce's brow furrowed. "Why would that be worrying."
"You were in a sewer in a bat costume."
"So? She was at the hotel."
"I didn't know that!"
"Did you think I'd brought my date to the sewer fight."
"It's Lois," Clark said, gesturing to his girlfriend as if this were explanation enough. It mostly was.
Lois turned her attention back to Bruce, hair flipping over her shoulders. "How long did you know?" she demanded.
"… that I'm Batman?"
She jabbed him in the chest with her fingernail. "That he's Superman, dipshit."
He looked at Clark. Clark's expression was resigned.
"Since he kicked my ass," Bruce said.
Lois frowned as she thought back. Then she turned to Clark with wide eyes, hair flipping over her shoulders again. It did that every single time, fanning through the air before falling stock-straight. It seemed exhausting. "You did that to him?"
"He broke into my apartment!" For a man who was theoretically only chaperoning his girlfriend's scolding of Bruce, he was spending a lot of time on the defensive.
"I just wanted to know where you were getting your information," Bruce said.
"I had no way of knowing that. It seemed totally plausible that you were there to try and hurt me."
"I can see how that would be terrifying for you."
"Obviously it wouldn't have worked, but you didn't know that."
Lois was watching them both with equal suspicion. "That didn't mean you had to hit him," she said, coming to Bruce's defense despite having arrived specifically to yell at him.
"I didn't hit him," Clark assured her. "I pushed him a little."
"I saw what he looked like afterward, remember?" Lois said. "His face was fucked."
"Don't look at me like that's a thing that I do," Clark said.
"It's true," Bruce said. "He barely touched me. Which was still enough to knock me through his bookshelves. Which then landed on me. It was extraordinarily emasculating."
"It's fine. I'm not sure which book specifically fucked my face, but I'm going to choose to believe it was Oscar Wilde."
"It was probably either a collector's edition of Lord of the Rings, or a Jane Austen collection."
"I didn't need to know that."
Lois put her hands on her hips. "I remember those shelves," she said. "You took a year to get new ones, you should have asked him to pay for them."
"I did destroy your shelves," Bruce agreed. "With my face. Because you thought I was scary."
"When a masked man in black leather breaks into your apartment at night, it is perfectly reasonable to assume the worst," Clark said.
"Fair," Bruce said. He moved to one of the side tables to fix himself a drink.
"I can't even believe you," Lois said. She had gone back to being angry with him. "Mister super-candid, open-book, and the whole goddamn time you were lying right to my face."
"They were mostly lies of omission." They were mostly the truth. Outright lies were rarely necessary.
"And after we had that whole moment where you gave me a crisis of conscience," Lois continued. Practically giving her a story before asking her not to publish it. She never had, either.
"Expressing trust in a person makes you seem more trustworthy," Bruce said, "and people tend to like people better after getting a chance to do something nice for them."
"Don't you dare," Lois warned, her eyes ablaze again. She pointed a warning finger at him, came closer until she could jab him in the chest. "Don't you dare try to turn that into some kind of master manipulator thing, that is not what that was."
Bruce shrugged. "Suit yourself." He went to drink his whiskey, but Lois snatched the glass from his hand and drank it herself. He blinked. "You know," he said, "you can ask me to pour you a drink." Instead of consistently stealing his.
"Fine," she said, holding out the glass. "Pour me one."
Delicately, he took the glass from her hand to pour her more whiskey. Then he offered it back to her. "Your drink, Miss Lane."
"Thank you." She took it back with her fingertips, and immediately tossed it in his face.
Bruce sighed, eyes shut against the liquor dripping from his skin. "Fair," he said.
"You're goddamn right," Lois said. "You must think I'm really stupid."
"I assure you I do not." He pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket, shaking it out before pressing it to his face.
"All those scars, the weird gadgets—being in the same city at the same time!" She slammed the glass down onto the side table, which couldn't have been good for the finish. "All the weird shit you know, your save-the-world bullshit."
Bruce dragged the handkerchief down his face, and sighed. He was still a little damp. "Connecting those facts to Batman would have been absurd."
"How mad you always get about the Batman!"
"I don't get mad. It's grammatically and stylistically offensive. Ask Twitter."
"Twitter's just mad about the extra characters." She put her hands on her hips. "And you know what really pisses me off?"
Bruce glanced at Clark. They made meaningful eye contact.
"Don't try to answer that," Clark said.
"That does seem like a trick," Bruce agreed.
"I was this close," Lois said, ignoring them both and holding up two fingers about three inches apart, "to having a threesome with Superman and Batman."
Bruce tilted his head to consider the space Lois was using as a visual aid. Then he looked back at Clark, pointing to Lois' hand. "That close?"
Clark started to turn red. "Obviously she doesn't mean—I mean—"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh, for heaven's sake." She used both hands to indicate a distance of about three feet. "There, that close, is that better?"
"God, no, that's terrifying," Bruce said. He was pouring himself another drink.
Clark was covering his face with his hands. "Why would that be better?" he asked, high-pitched and muffled.
"I don't know why you're mad at me," Bruce shrugged. "I'm not the one taking options off the table."
Lois stared at Bruce. Clark splayed his fingers to stare at Bruce through them. Bruce sipped silently at his whiskey. Then Lois whipped her head around to look at Clark, who immediately covered his face again.
"Can we discuss this later?" Clark muttered.
Lois looked between the two men with suspicion. "Fine," she said eventually, and Clark visibly relaxed. "But I'm not done with you!" she warned Bruce.
"Call ahead next time," he said, "and I'll fit a scolding into my schedule."
Bruce remained by the door as they left, watching Clark take them into the air. He could hear, distantly, that their conversation kept getting louder. He tilted his head back to finish his drink before closing the door.
"Yeah," he sighed, looking at his empty glass. "Those two deserve each other."