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Title: Acts of Man
Author Name: niftywithan
Artist Name: hitokaji
Genre: Mostly Gen, with some Slash mixed in; Action/Drama
Pairing/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Dick Grayson, Lex Luthor, Alfred Pennyworth, etc.
Word Count: 19,400
Warnings: Some violence and language
Summary: It all started with a circus, a fall, and a boy...
Note: Many thanks to my lovely beta, halcyonmuse, and my magnificent artist, hitokaji, whose illustration is simply wonderful. You are both fantastic, and I'm so glad I got to work with you! :D
Link to Art: [link]
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It all started with a circus, a fall, and a boy.
Dick remembered faces. Concerned faces, sympathetic faces, horrified and disgusted and traumatized faces. Faces he had never seen before in his life and would never see again.
Some of these faces stood out from the crowd. Like the dark-haired man, one of the only ones who stayed after the fall, whose gaze never once landed on the mangled, broken bodies of Dick’s parents but remained focused solely on Dick, his expression shadowed and impossibly sad. The dark-haired man who stayed even after the crowds cleared out, even after Dick was cleaned up and led to a bench to sit with a blanket around his shoulders and a cup of tasteless cocoa in his hands. The dark-haired man who kept glancing at him while speaking in low tones with the police commissioner and Mr. Haley, and who never gave Dick so much as an encouraging smile but whose unwavering, intense attention somehow made Dick feel a little warm inside.
And then there was the bald man. The one who did offer up encouraging smiles, who braced a hand on Dick’s little shoulder and told him everything would be okay even though Dick knew that was impossible, that nothing would ever be okay, not after this. The bald man who flashed money all around and spoke to the police in a loud voice like he knew what was going on and who kept gesturing toward Dick with a dramatically sympathetic frown. The bald man who slung an arm over Mr. Haley’s shoulders like they were friends, who earned derisive glances both from the nice commissioner and the dark-haired man. Dick felt no warmth from the bald man’s gaze. He felt nothing but emptiness.
So when the bald man sauntered over and sat beside Dick and threw an arm around his shoulders, Dick wanted nothing more than to slide away.
“We’re going to take care of you, son,” the bald man said, and when he said ‘we’ Dick knew he meant ‘I.’ He seemed like that kind of man. “You see,” the man continued, lowering his voice like he was telling a secret, “I have an eye for talent. And I can see that you are destined for great things. If you come with me, you’ll be set for life. I can promise you that.”
Dick stared into his lukewarm cocoa.
Dick’s head snapped up at that cool, authoritative voice, and he saw the dark-haired man and the police commissioner standing before them. It was the dark-haired man who had spoken. The bald man’s arm tightened almost painfully around Dick’s shoulders and this time Dick did sidle away, spilling some of his cocoa as he moved. The police officer held out a hand. Dick got to his feet and grasped it.
“Ah, Mr. Wayne.” Luthor addressed the dark-haired man with a voice like sugarcoated steel. “Still waiting around for your photo op with the little orphan boy?” He slouched comfortably on the bench as he spoke, like he didn’t have a care in the world. Like two people hadn’t just plummeted to their deaths mere yards from where he sat. Dick felt ill. His grip on the commissioner’s hand tightened, and he felt a little squeeze in response.
“Not all of us are here for the P.R., Lex,” Mr. Wayne said with the barest hint of a barbed smile, and the bald man bristled.
“Enough,” said the commissioner. “Mr. Luthor, you have overstayed your welcome here. This is a crime scene, and you are a civilian. It’s time for you to go.”
Luthor shot to his feet. “But the boy –”
“Will be in the custody of Mr. Wayne,” the commissioner said coolly, jerking a thumb toward the dark-haired man. The bald man’s jaw dropped almost comically and he gesticulated like a wild man.
“This incompetent buffoon is to be the boy’s guardian?” he finally spat, flinging one hand toward Mr. Wayne. “He can hardly take care of himself, let alone a child! Why the hell should he have the boy? Surely I’m better suited for guardianship, what with –”
“Your similar lack of child-rearing experience?” the commissioner interjected. “Your multiple criminal offenses? Your recent stint in a Metropolis prison? Please, Mr. Luthor, tell me which of these is the best reason for us to give you custody of the boy.”
The bald man was almost frothing with rage, but the commissioner ignored him, instead turning to crouch in front of Dick, eyes shining sincere behind his glasses.
“Richard,” he said quietly. “You’ll be going to live with Mr. Wayne for a while.” He indicated the dark-haired man, who smiled slightly. Dick’s tummy did a funny flip. He wanted Mr. Wayne to smile at him again. “He will take good care of you, but you need to let me know if there’s anything else you need. If something goes wrong at Mr. Wayne’s house, or you don’t like this arrangement, all you have to do is call me, all right? Here.” He pulled out his wallet and slid a battered business card out of one of the slots. He handed it to Dick, then tapped on it. “This has both my office and home number on it.” Dick memorized the name on the card – Commissioner James Gordon – then stowed it with a little nod. The commissioner, seemingly content with that, squeezed Dick’s shoulder. “Good luck, kid.”
Then the commissioner stood and shook hands with Mr. Wayne. They exchanged a couple of words in low voices that Dick did not catch, and Mr. Wayne nodded a lot. Dick waited, shifting from foot to foot. His gaze slid absently to the man called Luthor and he realized with a start that the bald man was watching him with an expression that could only be called hungry. A chill crawled down Dick’s spine and he stepped hurriedly to Mr. Wayne’s side.
“Ready to go, Richard?” Mr. Wayne asked. This time it was Mr. Wayne who held out his hand, and it was the most natural thing in the world for Dick to take it. Big, strong fingers closed gently around his, and as Mr. Wayne led him away from the seething bald man, for the first time since his parents fell, Dick actually felt okay.
Clark Kent was brushing his teeth when the call came. He paused mid-brush and leaned out of the bathroom to watch his cell phone buzz its way across the coffee table. Grumbling, he spat into the sink and rinsed out his mouth before striding to grab the phone.
There was a slight pause on the other end, and then a low voice said, “It’s me.”
Clark perched on the edge of the couch, scrubbing at his damp hair with the towel around his shoulder. “Bruce? What’s up?”
“I may have done something stupid.”
Clark automatically sat up straighter, tensing in an unconscious preparation for flight as visions of disasters flickered through his mind. “How stupid?”
A huff of self-deprecating laughter. “So stupid, I’m calling you at two o’clock in the morning to talk about it.”
Clark smiled a little at that. “Good point. So what’d you do?”
There was another pause on the other end of the line, and that alone was enough to concern Clark. Very rarely did Bruce Wayne find himself at a loss for words.
“I…” Bruce paused, then let out a heavy sigh. Clark could just picture him, slumped in that huge black chair in that damn, damp cave of his, all alone save for some bats and glowing computer screens. He sounded exhausted, and Clark wondered for the first time if he was injured. He didn’t sound injured, but then Bruce always did have a knack for hiding pain. “Look,” Bruce continued, “it would be easier if you just came over and saw for yourself.”
“Now?” Clark asked, but he was already standing and sweeping the towel from his shoulders as he headed for his bedroom.
“Yes, now.” For the first time that night Bruce sounded kind of irritated, and Clark relaxed slightly; that was more like the Bat he knew. “Unless, of course, you are unable to get away from your busy night life.”
“No, no. I was just getting ready for bed.” Clark grabbed an old Metropolis U sweatshirt from his dresser and tugged it on before putting the phone back to his ear. “I can be there in five minutes, maybe less.”
“Okay. Good. Thanks.”
“Not a problem. See you soon.”
“Come to the Manor. Not the Cave.”
In other words, no costumes. Clark frowned at that, but said, “Sure thing.”
Bruce hung up without saying goodbye – typical – and Clark donned a dark jacket before heading outside into the chilly night air. He shoved his hands casually into his pockets and strolled a couple of blocks away from his apartment before slipping into a darkened alley and taking off for Gotham. He spent the entire flight trying to imagine what Bruce could possibly have done to make him feel the need to call Clark, of all people, in the middle of the night. Each scenario he came up with seemed more unlikely than the last, and all of them made him fly a little faster than usual.
Just in case.
The Manor was dark and peaceful when Clark arrived, so he ruled out a few of his more outlandish ideas, like invaders from space or a surprise ninja-robot attack. He landed discreetly in the wooded grounds before making his way to the front door (Bruce had thrown a fit the last time he had flown directly to the house, even though there were no neighbors around to question why Superman would visit Bruce Wayne), and Alfred opened the door just as Clark was raising a fist to knock. Clark flashed him a sheepish smile.
“Mister Kent.” Alfred stepped aside with a slight bow, waving Clark into the Manor. “Master Wayne awaits you in the library.”
Clark studied Alfred carefully as they walked together through the dimly lit halls of the Manor, but the butler’s expression betrayed nothing.
“So,” he finally said, trying his best to sound casual. “Do you have any idea what Bruce is so worked up about?”
“I think I may have a guess, sir, yes,” Alfred said dryly, but his eyes twinkled when he opened the library door for Clark and Clark couldn’t help but feel a little relieved. Not an emergency, then. Good.
“Mister Kent is here, sir,” Alfred called into the room. Bruce was pacing in front of the floor to ceiling windows across the library, his dressing gown open and billowing behind him like… well, like bat wings. He froze when Clark entered the room. The silvery glow of moonlight through the windows cast his face in shadow and Clark was unable to read his expression.
“Thanks for coming,” Bruce said.
“You know me,” Clark said with a shrug. “I’m always willing to help a friend who calls me in the middle of the night, sounding all vague and frazzled.”
“I am not frazzled.”
“Yes, you are. Look at you. You’re fidgeting.”
Bruce’s fingers dropped from where they had been worrying the tie of his dressing gown. “Do you want to help or not?” he growled.
Clark did his best to sound soothing. “You know I do. Just tell me what happened, and–” He broke off with a frown, cocking his head to the left. Bruce tensed visibly. “Is that…?” Clark murmured. “Is that a heartbeat?”
Before Bruce could stop him, Clark left the library and headed for the stairs, climbing them two at a time until he came to the second level. He followed the steady little beat echoing in his ears and arrived outside a door near the end of the hall. He hesitated for a moment, then gingerly opened it a crack so he could peek inside.
The sliver of light from the hallway shined upon a huge bed covered in downy pillows and blankets. Clark could hear the soft breathing of a small body, the rapid thump-thump-thump of a little heart, and when he opened the door an inch wider he spotted the dark head of a young boy buried among the mounds of pillows, his pale face peaceful in sleep, a stuffed elephant clutched under his chin.
Clark stared wide-eyed at the boy until he heard Bruce come up behind him.
“That’s… there’s a child in there,” Clark hissed.
“I know that.” Bruce reached past Clark and closed the door with a quiet, firm thud. This close, Clark could see the concern in Bruce’s expression, the weariness in his eyes.
“Is that what you called about?” Clark asked. “The boy?”
“His name is Dick.” Bruce sighed and ran a hand through his hair, glancing at the closed door. “And I’m his new guardian.”
Clark gaped. “Wh – How?”
Bruce turned away. “Let’s go downstairs to talk. I don’t want to wake him. He…” Bruce paused, his hands clenching at his sides. “He hasn’t been sleeping well.”
They did not speak until the library door closed behind them. Alfred had started a fire in the grate during their brief absence, and the merry crackling of the flames filled what could have been an awkward silence. Clark lingered near the door, watching his friend carefully. Bruce collapsed onto the settee with a deep sigh and reached with one hand for a half-full tumbler of scotch.
“Well?” Bruce fixed Clark with an expectant look over the rim of his glass, his eyes glinting in the firelight. “Start asking, I know you want to.”
Clark settled on the edge of the high-backed chair opposite the settee. “When did you…? How…?” He stopped, took a deep breath. “What happened?”
Bruce took a sip of the scotch, his eyes fixed on the fire. “Haley’s Circus has been in town for the past week or so. I attended a performance four nights ago. During the trapeze act, a rope snapped and two of the acrobats – John and Mary Grayson – fell to their deaths.” Bruce paused, glanced down at the ice melting in his drink. “They were a family act. The Flying Graysons. And they left behind their eight year-old son.” Bruce met Clark’s eyes, his expression almost challenging. “I couldn’t just leave the boy. I stayed, spoke with the commissioner and Haley, and they agreed to let me have temporary custody of him so he wouldn’t have to go to an orphanage.”
“I know.” Bruce scrubbed a hand over the stubble on his jaw, looking back to the fire. “Damn it, I know. It was rash and stupid and I don’t know the first thing about taking care of a child, but I just… I couldn’t leave him. He’s a good kid, Clark. And it’s not like I don’t have the means to support him.”
Clark was silent for a moment, watching the play of firelight on Bruce’s face. Clark knew the real reason Bruce took the boy in, of course. He knew the story of Bruce’s childhood, knew that Bruce probably saw himself in that poor boy, both of them forced to watch as their parents were ripped from them all too soon. Clark looked down at his folded hands, remembering that tiny form buried in blankets upstairs.
“I’m so sorry, Bruce,” he said. “That’s terrible. The accident, I mean.”
“It wasn’t an accident.” Bruce’s knuckles went white as his grip on the tumbler tightened. “I returned to the scene after everyone left and checked the broken ropes. They weren’t worn or frayed, and the ends were slightly blackened. They smelled of acid.”
Clark’s eyebrows lifted. “You think it was murder?”
“Looks like it.”
“But who would want to kill two innocent acrobats?”
“I’m not sure, but… Luthor was there.”
Clark’s brow darkened. “What? Why?”
Bruce shrugged. “Apparently he’s in Gotham for business. However, said ‘business’ has been completely off my radar, both as Bruce Wayne and as Batman.”
“Which means it’s most likely a cover for something else,” Clark said; if Bruce did not know about Luthor’s business in Gotham, it could only mean there was none.
“Precisely. He showed a keen interest in Dick, after the fall. He even tried to talk Gordon into letting him adopt the boy. Luckily the commissioner knew who he was and Dick came with me instead.” Bruce shook his head, his lip curling in disgust. “But what the hell would Luthor want with an eight year-old boy?”
“Everyone needs a successor,” Clark said quietly, revulsion curling in his gut at the mere idea of innocent little Dick in Luthor’s custody.
“Well, that’s a terrifying prospect.” Bruce paused, staring into his drink. “Clark, I think Dick is in danger. The way Luthor watched him that night…” He closed his eyes, looking about as sick as Clark felt. “It made my skin crawl. I have a feeling that as long as Luthor’s in Gotham, Dick isn’t safe.”
Clark bobbed his head slowly, brow furrowed in thought. “How long do you think he’ll stay?”
“I’ll know for sure tomorrow morning,” Bruce said with a grim smile. “Apparently Luthor wants to meet with me in order to propose an alliance between our two great companies.”
“And you’re really going to meet with him?”
“Yes. I need to know what he’s planning. If I can find enough evidence that he’s doing something underhanded, then I can get him away from Gotham and away from Dick.”
Clark pressed his palms together, his brow deeply creased. “I don’t like it. This is just you setting yourself up for trouble, isn’t it? You’re going to piss off Luthor as Bruce Wayne in order to make him do something rash so you can catch him red-handed and get him out of Gotham. Am I right?”
Bruce said nothing. He stood and stepped over to the fireplace, grabbing the iron poker to invigorate the guttering flames.
“I hope you haven’t forgotten how dangerous Luthor can be, Bruce,” Clark said, his eyes narrowing. “I know you can take care of yourself, but as Bruce Wayne –”
“This isn’t about Bruce Wayne,” Bruce said, his voice firm. “This is about Dick.”
Clark sighed and ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up at odd angles. “Fine. If you want to endanger yourself, Rao knows there’s nothing I can do to stop you.”
“However,” Clark continued, fixing Bruce with a stern look, “as much as I trust you, I don’t trust Luthor, so I’ll be sticking around for a little while as back-up.” He held a hand up when Bruce opened his mouth to protest. “I promise I’ll only intervene if you need me. This is just to make myself feel better, okay? Besides,” Clark said with a crooked smile, “if Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are discussing some sort of partnership, then Clark Kent should probably get the story, don’t you think?”
Bruce sighed, replacing the poker with a clang. “Unfortunately, that sounds reasonable.”
“It’s settled, then,” Clark said, rising. “I’d better head back to Metropolis and talk to Perry. At least that way the story will be legitimate.”
“And if said story happens to change into an exposé on Luthor’s attempted crimes in Gotham…?” Bruce prompted.
Clark shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll just have to roll with it.” He smiled and held out his hand. “Just… be careful, all right? Luthor’s scum. I’d hate for something to happen to you. Or to Dick.”
Bruce cocked an eyebrow. “You really don’t think I can handle Luthor?”
“I didn’t say that. I just told you to be careful. And don’t forget, you have someone else to take care of now.”
Bruce gripped Clark’s hand so hard it would have hurt anyone else. “Thanks for the concern, Clark. But I’ll be fine.”
“Just remember who called whom.”
Bruce made a face. “Right.”
After a farewell to Alfred and a promise to be back in Gotham by the next evening, Clark lifted off into the slowly lightening night sky. He paused just before leaving the property and looked back toward the Manor in time to watch Bruce step quietly into Dick’s room, checking on him one last time before going to bed.
Clark smiled when Bruce rested a hand on the boy’s tousled head, and after one more fleeting look he sped off for Metropolis.
The soft padding of bare feet on carpet woke Bruce from his doze. He blinked rapidly and cleared his throat, then finished rinsing the shaving cream from his jaw just as Dick – still clad in striped pajamas, one hand holding his stuffed elephant and the other rubbing sleepily at his eyes – appeared in the doorway of the bathroom.
“Good morning,” Bruce said, already formulating a multitude of reasons for why the boy would be awake at five o’clock in the morning. None of them were good.
“Morning,” Dick mumbled. He squinted against the bright light of the vanity as he tried to look Bruce in the eye. “Are you leaving?”
“Soon.” Bruce reached up to button the collar of his shirt. “I have to go into the office today.”
Dick frowned at that. “Oh.” He gathered the stuffed elephant close to his chest. “Will you be back later?”
“I’ll be home around four.” Bruce stepped around the boy into the bedroom, pressing a hand to Dick’s mussed dark hair as he passed.
“Okay.” Dick watched with impossibly big eyes as Bruce selected a slim dark tie from his wardrobe and fastened it around his throat, tugging and knotting with practiced ease.
Bruce hesitated before shrugging into his suit coat. “Dick, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Dick said unconvincingly, still hugging the elephant. “It’s just that this house is really big and I’m afraid I’ll get lost without you here.”
Bruce was silent for a moment, absently straightening his jacket, before he said, “Why don’t you spend today with Alfred, then? He won’t get you lost. And when I get home this evening, I’ll take you on a tour of the whole Manor. Okay?”
Dick’s entire face lit up. “Okay! Where’s Alfred?”
“Go throw on a robe while I finish getting ready, and I’ll take you down to find him.”
“Okay!” Dick said, and bolted from the room. Bruce watched him go with a little smile. Maybe he would get the hang of this, after all.
* * *
Few men could walk into another man’s company and act like they owned the place.
Lex Luthor was apparently one of those men.
Bruce watched Luthor’s entrance from his office on the top floor, his eyes narrowed, fingers tented before him. He had long ago hacked into the Wayne Enterprises security feed on his laptop, so with only a series of clicks he was able to watch Luthor’s progression through his company. The other man shook hands with random suits, flashed lascivious grins to secretaries, and threw his arm over the shoulders of the security guards in a manner that spoke of years of arrogance and undisputed power.
It was a sickening display.
Lucius Fox stood silent beside Bruce’s huge mahogany desk, his hands folded behind his back. Although he could not see Bruce’s computer screen from where he was standing, he knew his boss well enough to guess what was making him glare.
“Do you know why he’s here, sir?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
“I believe so.”
“He’s going to offer what he believes to be a lucrative business proposal, isn’t he?”
“And are you going to work with him?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why did you agree to meet with him?”
Bruce just smiled, and Lucius tried not to roll his eyes. It was hopeless, of course, trying to understand Bruce Wayne’s reasoning, but the young man had yet to steer them wrong, so Lucius let it slide.
Bruce closed the security feeds on his laptop just as his secretary announced that Lex Luthor had arrived, and Luthor strode into the office with a blinding grin, arms spread wide.
“Bruce, my boy!” he said, reaching out to grip Bruce’s hand. “How has life been treating you?”
“Very well, Mr. Luthor,” Bruce said, flashing a brilliant smile. Lucius took a moment to marvel at the dichotomy between the polite, wide-eyed man shaking Luthor’s hand and the predatory expression Bruce had worn only seconds earlier. But then Luthor looked away for a second and the fierceness settled briefly back into Bruce’s eyes, and Lucius had to smile; that was the Bruce Wayne he knew.
“So,” Luthor began, reclining into one of the leather chairs in front of Bruce’s desk. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here in Gotham.”
“For the circus?” Bruce said with a disarmingly ingenuous smile.
Luthor laughed. “Perhaps at first, yes. But that was such a tragedy. How is the boy?”
“He’s doing fine.”
“Good, good.” Luthor leaned further back in the chair, folding his hands across one knee. “I was going to leave that night, you know. But then seeing you there, and the way you took the initiative with that poor little orphan boy…” Luthor shook his head, and Lucius saw the faintest sign of tension in Bruce’s shoulders. “It made me realize just how useful an ally you could be, and how much good our companies could do together.” Luthor spread his hands. “So I decided to come down here and pay you a visit.”
Bruce smiled, folded his hands on his desk. “That’s very flattering, Mr. Luthor. What exactly did you have in mind?”
A slight frown creased Bruce’s forehead. “Space?”
“The final frontier,” Luthor said with a dramatic hand wave. “Think about the possibilities, Bruce. If we combine our technology, our brightest minds –”
“Our funding,” Lucius cut in; Luthor ignored him.
“– we could accomplish great things together.” Luthor leaned forward, his eyes bright. “Think about it, Mr. Wayne. We could make new strides in everything from space exploration to orbital weapons manufacturing. We could rule the field.”
Bruce said nothing, but Lucius could see the calculation behind his eyes.
“Why now?” Bruce asked. “Why this sudden interest in space exploration?” Bruce smiled, and Lucius could see the fangs hidden in that smile. “Are you getting so tired of trying to take over this world that you’ve set your sights on another?”
Luthor’s eyes darkened. “I see you are not to be fooled, Mr. Wayne. Fine. Truthfully, I’m only trying to level the playing field. I see no reason why we should allow the Justice League to have control of our skies, when they are a team made up of aliens and exiles. The two of us, together…” Luthor leaned forward to thump a fist against Bruce’s desk. “We could take back our planet. We could make our planet safe again. What do you say?”
Bruce stood, tight-lipped, and turned away to look out the window.
“You should not assume that everyone shares your mistrust of the League, Luthor,” he said. “If you were actually looking to make progress in space exploration, I might have been able to consider working with you. But I know you.” Bruce turned to him, eyes glinting. “All you want to do is spit in the eye of the League, and I’m not willing to risk my company and my reputation for your petulant feud. So my answer is no.”
Luthor’s jaw clenched. “Bruce, surely –”
“That’s ‘Mr. Wayne,’ to you,” Bruce said. He turned back to the window, crossing his arms over his chest. “We’re done here. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Gotham.”
Luthor stood, shoving his chair back so hard it almost toppled. His nostrils flared as he struggled to contain his fury.
“Very well then, Mr. Wayne,” he said, sketching a mocking bow. “But my offer still stands. I will be in Gotham for a few weeks due to other business, so you can contact me when you change your mind.” He paused on his way out the door, glancing back with a smirk. “Oh, and just a word to the wise. You’ll want to be a bit more careful with yourself now that you have a little one depending on you. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you or the boy, now, would we?”
Bruce glared out the window long after the door closed on Luthor. Lucius sighed and slumped into the chair Luthor had vacated.
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” he asked, rubbing a tired hand over his eyes.
Bruce blinked at him, his glare disappearing into feigned innocence. “Did what?”
“Egged him on like that. Targeted his pride. You’re planning something, aren’t you? You wanted him to leave here furious.”
Bruce turned toward the window again, but not before Lucius caught the hint of a smile.
“Mr. Fox, I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
* * *
Later that night, Anthony Zucco sat in his office puffing on a cigar, blowing smoke rings into the lazily spinning fan above his head. A ratty newspaper spread before him on his cheap desk, and he gripped a ballpoint pen in one meaty hand, poised over the half-completed crossword. He was just glaring at one of the spaces – surely there weren’t more than five letters in ‘rodeo’? – when the door to his shabby office slammed open, making him jump to his feet and drop his pen.
Lex Luthor stormed into the office, eyes blazing, jacket flaring out behind him.
One of Zucco’s lackeys flailed impotently behind Luthor, grabbing for his arm. “Hey! You can’t go in there without permission – Boss’ orders!”
Luthor just shoved the lackey through the doorway and slammed it shut in his face.
“Zucco,” he snarled, rounding on the mob boss, who collapsed heavily into his rickety desk chair, sweat beading in the wrinkles on his forehead. “You told me I would have the boy!”
“I – I thought you would,” Zucco stammered, piggy little eyes darting round. “How was I s’posed to know Wayne would jump in an’ snatch the boy out from under you, huh?”
Luthor growled and turned away, stepping over to the grimy window. He straightened his shoulders and folded his hands placidly behind his back, looking out over the foggy lights of downtown Gotham.
“Of course you could never have known that,” he said quietly. “My mistake. What was I thinking?”
“It’s not a big deal anyway, right? I mean, it’s just a kid. Plenty o’ those around here, if that’s what you want.”
“No, Mr. Zucco,” Luthor said. “It has to be him.”
“Fine, fine. Look, I can still get the kid for ya,” Zucco said in a frantic voice, unnerved by Luthor’s sudden calm. “All we gotta do is snatch ‘im and bolt, right?”
“Don’t be an idiot.” Luthor turned back to him, a deadly gleam in his eye. “This isn’t a simple job anymore. No one cares if a young orphaned Romany boy disappears from a circus tent, but as soon as Wayne’s young ward gets kidnapped the media will be all over the case. We would never get away with it.” He paused, rubbing his jaw with one hand. “All we need is a different approach.”
“Wha’d you have in mind?” Zucco asked. He wiped at the sweat on his jowls and hoped his trembling hand was not too obvious.
“I’m working on a deal that will merge LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises,” Luthor said. “If I can get a foot in the door there, then once Bruce Wayne is out of the picture, everything he owns could become mine.”
Zucco’s eyes bugged. “Wait a sec. You’re gonna kill Bruce Wayne?”
Luthor hummed in his throat, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “Hm… Maybe not ‘kill,’ per se. But at the very least we will make him… disappear. And I won’t be doing the actual act, of course.” A shark-like smile spread across Luthor’s face. “You will.”
“Wha–? No.” Zucco shook his head, jowls jiggling. “No, no, no. That’s one surefire way to get the Bat on my tail, and I’d like to avoid that at all costs, thank you very much.”
“You’re really afraid of him, aren’t you?”
Zucco said nothing, but his wide-eyed glance at the window and the sweat beading on his upper lip spoke volumes.
Luthor cocked an eyebrow. “Anthony, I am surprised at you. He is a man in a costume. You should be relieved you don’t have to deal with anything more than that. Like, say, a super-powered alien who believes he is a god among men and won’t leave well enough alone.” Luthor’s hands clenched at his sides as he spoke, veins straining against the delicate skin on the back of his hands, but then he shook his head with a smirk. “Perhaps I should just relocate here. Crime would be so much easier with only a mortal vigilante to worry about.”
Zucco paled at the notion of Luthor staying permanently in Gotham, and Luthor laughed, smacking him genially on one fat cheek. “Ah, don’t worry. I’m much more at home in Metropolis, alien or no. However, I do have a solution to your Bat problem.” A sharp smile. “You just leave him to me.”
“Then what do you want me to do?” Zucco asked.
“Wait for my call. And if Batman comes snooping around, don’t tell him anything. Whatever he does to you would be child’s play compared to my retribution. Understand?”
Zucco gulped. “Yes, sir.”
Luthor smiled. “Wonderful. Until later, then.” He slipped out the door.
Zucco stared at the closed door for two minutes after Luthor left, then sprang to his feet with as much agility as his extra pounds would allow and bolted the door. Huffing slightly, Zucco sagged against the doorframe before dragging himself back to his rickety chair and waiting crossword puzzle. His hand shook slightly around his pen, but he did his best to ignore it. He would calm down eventually.
Behind him, a shadow passed over the window, followed by the faintest hiss of a grapple line being released and the whisper of air rustling through silk. Zucco never heard it, of course. Only the most attentive listener would.
- - -
Part Two: [link]
Part Three: [link]