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]
- - -
“Don’t come back unless you have a story.”
Clark heaved a sigh as Perry’s parting words ran through his mind yet again. The chief had been less than thrilled to send one of his reporters winging off to Gotham to chase down a possibly non-existent story involving Lex Luthor, but in the end he had relented; the possibility of an exposé on Luthor was too good to pass up.
Clark tossed his bag onto the bed in his cheap hotel room and winced when the frame gave a mournful creak. Maybe he could talk Bruce into letting him stay at the Manor for a while…
Speaking of the Manor… Clark checked his watch and cursed softly, already heading out the door. He was late for dinner.
Wayne Manor was much brighter than it had been during his last visit. Sunlight flamed against the windows as the sun sank toward the horizon, and Clark could see movement in one of the front rooms. When he knocked he was – surprisingly – not greeted by Alfred, but by a small dark-haired boy.
“Hi,” the boy said. “Are you Mr. Kent?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Good. Because Alfred said it was okay for me to open the door but only if it was you.” The boy – Dick, presumably – stepped aside to let Clark enter. “Alfred’s getting dinner ready, so he told me to let you in and take your coat.”
“Sorry, but I’m not wearing a coat.” Clark spread his arms, fighting to keep from smiling; the kid looked very serious about his duty.
“Oh.” Dick’s brow furrowed slightly, as though he were trying to solve a great problem. “Why aren’t you wearing a coat? Isn’t it cold out?”
“It’s not too bad.”
“Oh. Okay. We should tell Bruce you’re here,” Dick said, waving for Clark to follow him. “Are you one of his friends from work? He works a lot, so I haven’t gotten to see him much lately, but he did take me on a tour of the house when he got home today and that was fun. Did you know there are eight bedrooms in this place? That’s a lot of bedrooms.” Dick’s chest puffed out slightly. “Mine’s one of the biggest.”
“Is it now?” Clark said, finally allowing himself to grin. They had arrived at the first floor study now, and Dick knocked three times before opening the door.
“Mr. Kent’s here!” he called into the room, grabbing Clark’s sleeve to tug him close. Bruce stood behind the desk, leaning over some papers. He looked up when Dick and Clark entered the study.
“Is dinner ready?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Dick said, scurrying over to one of the large leather chairs in front of the fireplace and leaping into it in one fluid motion. “But Alfred told me it would be ready in ten minutes so we can eat then.”
“Why don’t you go see if he needs any help?”
“Okay!” Dick hopped down from the chair and ran for the door.
Clark watched him go with a smile. “Cute kid.”
“Yeah. He’s great.” Something like affection shined on Bruce’s face for a moment, but in the next moment it was gone and Bruce’s brow darkened into its usual grimness. “I have a lead on Luthor’s plans.”
“What’d you find?”
“Luthor definitely set up the murder.” Bruce tossed a hefty file onto his desk, and Clark stepped over to pick it up. Inside was a blurred photograph of a hefty Italian man in an ill-fitting suit, clipped to multiple police records for a man named Anthony Zucco. Bruce tapped the photo. “Anthony Zucco is a local mob boss. I’ve busted him at least three times before. Luthor paid him to threaten Haley and kill the Graysons so he could gain custody of Dick.”
Clark frowned. “But… why? It seems so random, especially for Luthor. I mean, why Dick? Why not some other kid?”
“I don’t know,” Bruce growled, clearly exasperated. “It doesn’t add up. Luthor has always been logical in the past. He usually has a plan of some sort, some selfish reason for committing a crime. But this…” Bruce shook his head. “This makes no sense.”
“Maybe he knows something we don’t,” Clark said, tapping the closed file against the desk as he thought. “Have you noticed anything different about Dick?”
“You mean like… super powers?” Clark shrugged, and Bruce’s brow knit. “No, not that I’ve seen.”
Before Clark could speak again, Dick burst into the room with a triumphant cry of “Dinner!” and the subject was dropped.
Dick chatted nonstop during the meal, about everything from the elephants at Haley’s Circus (mostly his favorite, named Zitka) to how many bathrooms he had counted in the Manor and how he was on a mission to use every single one at least once. Bruce choked slightly on his steak at that pronouncement, and Clark thought he might have seen Alfred’s eye twitch. Clark, however, leaned close to the boy and confessed in a loud conspiratorial whisper, “I’ve already used ten.” That earned him a pleased grin and a low-five under the table from Dick, along with a glare from Bruce.
“So do you and Bruce work together, Mr. Kent?” Dick finally asked as he dug into his ice cream.
“Call me Clark. And yes,” Clark said, his lips twitching into a half-smile as he side-eyed Bruce, “you could say that.”
“That’s cool.” Dick shoveled a dripping spoonful of ice cream and sprinkles into his mouth. “Can I come see where you work sometime?”
Bruce scowled at Clark. “We’ll see.”
Alfred slipped into the room, his face rather pale, and cleared his throat. “Sir? You have a phone call, in the downstairs study.”
Bruce’s face went carefully blank. He rose, placed his napkin beside his empty coffee cup, and headed for the door.
“Sorry,” he said, pausing at the doorway. “I have to take this. Please, enjoy the rest of your meal.” With that, he disappeared, Alfred at his heels.
Dick drooped slightly in his chair, his face clouding. He jabbed mournfully at his soupy ice cream. Clark took a moment to glance through the walls of the Manor and into the night sky and was unsurprised to spot the Bat Signal, floating ominously in the clouds above Gotham.
“Alfred tells me Bruce is really important,” Dick mumbled, still stirring his ice cream. “That’s why he gets important phone calls all the time and has to go into the office at weird hours.” He glanced up at Clark, his blue eyes dispirited. “Do you have to go into work at weird hours, too?”
Clark smiled, but he had a feeling it did not reach his eyes. “Sometimes.”
“Oh.” Dick looked down at the tablecloth, and Clark’s heart ached at the dejection in the boy’s posture.
“Does it bother you?” he asked, keeping his voice soft. “That Bruce isn’t around much?”
Dick fiddled with the spoon. “No. Not really. I get that he’s busy, and he’s not used to having me around, but my parents…” Dick broke off and swiped at his eyes. “They were… they were always there.” He sniffled, straightened a bit in his chair. “I’ll just have to get used to it, that’s all.” He stopped suddenly and looked over at Clark with horrified, teary eyes. “Please don’t tell Bruce I said that. He’s been great, he really has.”
“I won’t say a thing,” Clark said.
Clark held up a pinkie. “I promise.”
Dick’s face brightened and he curled his tiny pinkie around Clark’s.
“Mister Kent?” Alfred had returned, standing stiffly in the doorway. “There is something happening downtown that I think you might like to see. We can use the television in the living room, if that is all right.”
Clark’s jaw clenched as he got to his feet. “Of course.”
“Wait.” Dick climbed down from his chair and hurried over to Clark’s side, grabbing his hand. “I want to watch, too.”
Clark glanced at Alfred, then squeezed Dick’s hand. “All right. Come on.”
* * *
Despite the sounds of wailing sirens, panicked cries and hissing feedback filling the cockpit – the products of a hacked police scanner – Batman took a moment to relish the way his jet purred as he flew to the east side of Gotham. And then the moment was ruined.
“You sure you don’t need any help?” Clark asked, his voice cutting crisply through the mayhem.
“If I can handle this on my own, no one has to know you’re in Gotham. I’d like to keep you as my ace in the hole for as long as possible. And besides…” A wry smirk played on Batman’s lips. “You’re not supposed to be in my city anyway, remember? Big macho turf wars, and all that.”
A sigh. “Fine. But I’ll be watching. Be careful, B.”
“You seem to be saying that a lot lately.”
“Yeah, well, Alfred and I aren’t the only ones waiting for you to come home anymore.”
Batman’s smirk faded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Batman out.”
He slowed the jet on approach. A quick glance out the window showed a chaotic tableau of flashing lights, intermittent gunshots and fleeing pedestrians. Batman set the jet to autopilot and jerked a lever beneath his seat. The floor of the jet dropped out from beneath him and he slid out into midair, whipping his cape out like a glider until he alighted on a nearby rooftop.
Clayface was battling on a street corner far below, defending himself against the hordes of Gotham policemen who had him surrounded and were wasting their time filling him with bullets. Batman located Gordon among them, glasses gleaming in the whirling lights as he spoke tersely into a radio.
Batman reached back into a pocket on his belt. He selected a Batarang, flicked a switch on the sleek black underside, and whipped it through the air. It struck Clayface directly in the chest just as he was rearing up for an attack. The creature stared down at it for a moment, shocked at the sudden pain, and then the Batarang flashed and released an electric shock that made Clayface roar and thrash in pain.
Gordon and his policemen whirled, searching the rooftops, and Batman rose to his feet, allowing himself to be seen. The wind caught his cape in an impressive billow, and he suppressed a satisfied smile.
“Finally,” Clayface growled, his grimace slowly transforming into a grin, and with one muddy limp be swatted the Batarang from his chest and launched himself toward Batman.
He landed heavily on the rooftop, shaking the entire building, and sank into a defensive crouch.
“You never could leave well enough alone, could you?” he said in a guttural rumble.
Batman glared, reached beneath his cape for another Batarang. “I could say the same about you.”
“Ah, yes, but this time I’m only doing a favor for a friend. And I’m getting paid for expediency, so…” Clayface’s grin spread and he lashed out with one muddy arm. Batman ducked and rolled, then flung a Batarang at Clayface’s chest. Clayface smacked it out of the air and it landed on the roof with a metallic clang. “Don’t you have any other tricks?” he growled, spreading the clay of his arms into hard, sharp talons.
“A few.” Batman dodged a slice from the clay talons and aimed a taser-like gun between Clayface’s eyes. Two slim wires shot out of the end and burrowed into Clayface’s gooey flesh, followed rapidly by a white-hot electric current. Clayface screamed, grabbed with one hand for the offending wires, and shot the other for Batman’s face. Batman tried to avoid the strike, but Clayface was too fast.
“Shi–” was all Batman managed to say before clay smothered him from the neck up, pinning him to a nearby wall. Globs of clay forced their way into his mouth and he choked around it, clawing for something in his belt that could help. His fingers scrabbled against one of the pockets at the small of his back, and he managed to release the catch and grab the Batarang located inside. Praying he was making a good choice, he stabbed the projectile blindly into Clayface’s arm. The monster hissed in pain as his entire arm froze, and Batman shattered the limb with one well-placed punch. Clayface reared away with a roar. Released from his hold, Batman dropped to the rooftop, gasping and coughing raggedly.
“Enough!” Clayface growled. Before Batman could get his breath back, solid clay closed like a vice around his throat, heaving him into the air. “And before I forget…” Clayface latched a newly formed limb around Batman’s utility belt and ripped it off with a bruising jerk, then tossed it over the rooftop to the street below. “This is going to be so sweet,” he said, his mushy face splitting in a broad grin as he walked over to the rooftop and dangled Batman over the edge.
Batman clawed at the clay around his neck, only managing to gouge small grooves into the hardened limb. His vision was beginning to gray out and his lungs felt like they were shriveling in his chest, but he managed to get one hand up to the comm. button on his cowl and choke out something that sounded vaguely like “Clk” before realizing that was the wrong name to be asking for.
“I’m on my way, B,” Clark said through the rushing in Bruce’s ears, somehow managing to sound both anxious and reassuring. Batman let his hand drop to his side, weak with relief and lack of air. “I’m on my way. Just hold on. I’ll be there soon. Hold on.”
“I have no idea why it’s taken so long for someone to do this,” Clayface was saying, still grinning. “I’m gonna be a legend, you know. A very rich legend.” His grip on Batman’s throat tightened even more and Batman bucked as armor dug agonizingly into the flesh around his neck. Black light flashed before his eyes, and he knew he was going to faint soon.
“So long, Batman,” Clayface said. Then the clay around his throat receded, and Bruce began to fall.
* * *
Clark had almost forgotten how hard it was to sit on the sidelines and watch as others fought.
When Clayface tried to smother Batman, Clark would have bent the back of the sofa in the living room if not for Alfred’s firm grip on his shoulder. A quick glance at the tight-lipped butler, then at the child sitting on the sofa watching the battle with terrified eyes, was all he needed to calm down.
“Sorry,” he murmured to Alfred, and the older man allowed himself a quick smile.
“Mister Kent,” he said, keeping his voice low, “I have broken far too many dishes watching my boy fight to ever blame you. Believe me, there is nothing to apologize for.”
“Yes!” Dick fist-pumped in the air and Clark whirled back to the television just in time to watch Clayface rear back, one of his arms shattered into ice crystals. Clark let out a little breath, but sucked it back in when Clayface grabbed Batman around the neck, tore off his utility belt, and dragged him toward the roof’s edge.
“Is he…” Dick’s little voice broke. “Is he gonna fall?” His face was ashen, his eyes round and terrified, and Clark remembered with a jolt the murder that had brought this boy here, yet another tragedy caused by a long and deadly fall.
The comm. in Clark’s ear buzzed slightly, and Clark heard a tiny choked sound that could have been his name. His heart leapt into his throat, pounding way too fast.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, exchanging a meaningful look with Alfred. Alfred nodded solemnly and went to get Dick, gently coaxing the wide-eyed boy away from the television.
Clark slipped into the hallway, already heading for the front door. He couldn’t hear Bruce anymore, but he knew the other man was listening – had to be listening – so he just kept spouting reassuring nonsense. Then from the living room he heard a sharp intake of breath and Dick’s helpless cry and he simply knew.
Batman was falling. Bruce was falling. And he had no way to catch himself.
Clark was out the door before he even knew what he was doing. He shed his civvies midflight, abandoning shirt and pants and shoes to the trees around Wayne Manor, and was soon clad only in red and blue, streaking for the city.
Panic urged him on, and within seconds he was speeding through buildings and then there was a solid weight in his arms, limp and heavy in unconsciousness but mercifully alive. Superman clutched Batman close to his chest, barely slowing his flight as he continued away from Clayface and the drop that had almost killed his best friend. Impossibly strong fingers curled into dark armor, leaving little dents, but Superman hardly noticed and did not lessen his grip.
He almost hadn’t made it.
Still panicking slightly, he took a moment to bury his face against Batman’s cowl, to listen to the soothing sounds of his friend’s heartbeat (a little rapid) and breathing (ragged, of course, but even). He breathed deeply, calming himself, then sped for the Manor, intending to drop Batman off and deal with Clayface himself.
Alfred met him in the Cave, his grim expression fading into relief as soon as he saw the dark bundle in Superman’s arms.
“Oh, thank God,” he mumbled, stepping over to rest a hand on Bruce’s head. His eyes closed, briefly. “Thank you.”
Superman laid Bruce out gently on one of the surgical cots and turned away, already striding for the exit.
“He should be fine,” he said over his shoulder. “I’m going back to deal with Clayface.”
“There’s no need,” Alfred called after him. “The commissioner ordered liquid nitrogen to be brought to the scene and it changed the course of the fight. Clayface is frozen and on his way back to Arkham as we speak.”
Superman paused, still facing away.
“Damn,” he muttered, fists clenching.
Alfred frowned. “I’m sorry?”
“Nothing. It’s just…” Superman turned back, and his blue eyes blazed. “I really wanted to hit him.”
Glass shattered against the wall of the hotel room. Whiskey streaked the plasma screen television and ran in rivulets down the wall, staining the expensive wallpaper.
Lex Luthor was on his feet in front of the television, seething. His arms curled at his sides, his eyes wide and raging.
“Superman,” he growled. Then, louder, “Superman?”
He spun and lashed out, knocking a lamp off the table beside the couch. The loud crash made him pause and he took a moment to catch his breath before turning back to the television, which was still broadcasting replays of the fight between Batman and Clayface. Luthor lowered himself slowly onto the couch and watched as the newscast replayed in slow motion the moment when Batman was spirited away by a blur of red and blue. Even in slow motion, the rescue only took a few frames, but Luthor saw enough to know what had happened.
The entire situation was… improbable. Impossible. Why the hell would Superman be rescuing Batman? The two heroes were always at odds with each other, and Batman was notoriously territorial when it came to the Kryptonian’s presence in Gotham. Not to mention that the only way Superman could have known to fly to Batman’s aid at such short notice was if he had been watching the battle, and even then, why would he have assumed that the normally independent Batman would accept his help?
Luthor sat up straighter, an idea suddenly coming to mind.
They’re working together.
Luthor rushed to his computer and pulled up the files he had received almost three months ago, hidden behind complex password combinations and firewalls to keep away any prying eyes. He opened one of the files – the first email, the one that had convinced him of the authenticity of this entire endeavor, the one featuring his own digital signature, years more advanced than his current one but still unmistakable – and started scrolling through it, searching for any information about the future relationship between Superman and Batman.
After two minutes of useless searching, Luthor sighed and slumped back in his chair. There was nothing about Superman in any of the emails; they were all concentrated on the evolution of young Dick Grayson into the hero Nightwing, and finally into the Batman himself. Luthor reread the first email one more time, the one that contained the order from his future self to either destroy the young Dick Grayson or adopt him as his own, to raise him away from the influence of the Bat in Gotham.
Luthor paused and read that line again, then again, his eyes narrowing.
… raise him away from the influence of the Bat in Gotham…
… the influence of the Bat…
… the Bat…
“Wayne,” Luthor said, his eyes going suddenly wide. Of course. Of course.
Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson. Dick Grayson becomes Robin. Which means Bruce Wayne must be…
“Oh, yes,” Luthor mumbled, a slow smile spreading across his face. He no longer minded that Superman appeared to be working with Batman. In fact, it made his plans that much sweeter.
At last, he could rid himself of the two biggest thorns in his side.
And their partnership would help him succeed.
* * *
The chandelier creaked a steady rhythm above Dick, swinging like a pendulum from the Manor’s grand ceiling. Dick curled his legs tighter around the gilded branch he was hanging from and tugged his sweater over his stomach, holding it there to keep it from slipping down to his armpits. He craned his neck, arcing his body into a graceful curve so he could watch the hardwood floor swing dizzily far below. He closed his eyes, losing himself in the sensation of the swing, that moment of stomach-lurching freefall when the chandelier reached its highest point. If he reached out he could almost feel strong hands grasping his wrists, ready to pull him into a familiar routine of midair somersaults, flipping him to another sure grip, to whispered encouragement and bright smiles.
But of course there were no hands waiting, and the chandelier swung him away once more.
Dick sighed and tugged his sweater back into position again.
“Alfred,” he called, and he still was not used to the way his voice echoed through Bruce Wayne’s huge house.
Measured footsteps approach from the second floor and then Alfred appeared on the landing. His eyes widened when he spied Dick hanging from the chandelier, but he did not comment. By now the sight of Dick perched in some precarious position around the Manor had become quite normal.
“Yes, Master Richard?” Alfred said.
Dick waited until the chandelier swung close to Alfred before asking, “Is Bruce coming home tonight?”
A strange expression came over Alfred’s face before Dick swung away. It almost looked like sadness, but it was gone in a moment.
“Actually, he is home right now, and he would like to see you,” Alfred said. “Why don’t you come down for a while?”
Dick gripped another gilded branch of the chandelier, let his legs fall, and somersaulted onto the landing beside Alfred. Alfred held out a hand and Dick took it, but he did not speak as they descended toward the study.
“What does he want to talk to me about?” Dick asked finally.
“Something very important,” Alfred said.
Dick was quiet for a moment, then asked, very softly, “Do I have to leave?”
Alfred stopped in his tracks and crouched down in front of the boy, placing his hands on Dick’s shoulders.
“My boy, you will never have to leave this house unless you wish it,” he said. “This is your home, and it will be for as long as you want. All right?”
Dick nodded mutely. His throat felt thick and fuzzy.
“Now then.” Alfred straightened the collar of Dick’s sweater and brushed nonexistent lint from the fuzzy blue fabric. He rose and held out his hand with a smile. “Shall we?”
Bruce was not in his study. Dick frowned at the empty room and was about to ask a question when Alfred stepped over to the old grandfather clock and – shockingly – swung it open like a door. Dick’s eyes widened.
“Is that a secret passageway?” he asked.
“Of a sort.”
Dick crept forward, craning his neck to see down the shadowed steps. “What’s down there?”
“Answers.” Alfred gestured toward the stairwell, but when Dick made no movement, he frowned. “You don’t have to go down if you don’t want to. I will simply inform Master Bruce, and he –”
“I want to go.” Dick hurried to the stairs and started down them. He paused after four steps and glanced back, but Alfred was already following. The butler flashed him a reassuring smile, which Dick returned before hurrying further down the steps.
His heart beat rapidly and his skin tingled with excitement. He trailed his fingers along the cool stone wall. The deeper he went, the chillier the air became, and he thought he could hear the screeching of bats and the rushing of what sounded like a really big waterfall. He bit his lower lip and quickened his pace, practically bouncing down the steps in his eagerness.
The stairway opened into a great, dark cavern, and Dick froze, still ten steps from the cave floor.
“Whoa,” he breathed. His eyes went wide as he took in the huge bank of glowing computer monitors in front of him. Beyond the computers he could see platforms rising from the depths of a huge chasm, each supporting a car or a plane or some other vehicle Dick could not even assign a name to. To his right he could see the waterfall, surrounded by mist and filling the cave with a rumbling echo, and past it stood a giant penny and a giant playing card. To Dick’s left was a collection of training equipment, complete with mats and parallel bars and rings and a pommel horse. Bats flitted through the stalactites hanging far above and around the top of the giant penny, and standing in the midst of it all – clad, impossibly, in Batman’s uniform, or at least everything but the cape and cowl – was Bruce.
Dick just stared, his jaw hanging open. Bruce ran a gauntleted hand through his hair. He actually looked nervous. It was the first time Dick had seen his guardian look anything less than collected.
“I… I thought you should know,” Bruce said.
“You’re Batman?” Dick asked, descending one more step.
Bruce glanced away for a moment before meeting Dick’s eyes. “Yes.”
“Oh.” Dick’s eyes widened as realization came. “Oh! That’s why you’re away so much. You’re not actually going into the office at weird hours, you’re…” Dick waved a hand, looking around the cave. “… doing this. Fighting.”
“So then that was you…” Dick paused, going a little pale. He crossed his arms across his chest, making himself smaller. “That was you fighting that monster the other night.”
“Yeah, that. You… you fell. You almost died.” Dick’s voice broke. He kept seeing it in his head, kept seeing Batman – no, Bruce – falling through the air, without a line, without a net. Just like his parents. Dick shivered. “You could have died,” he said. Another home gone…
“I know,” Bruce said quietly. “And I’m sorry. But that’s why I needed to tell you about all of this. That way…” Bruce sighed. “That way if something does happen to me, at least you’ll know the truth. You deserve that.”
Dick nodded, then walked determinedly down the rest of the steps and over to Bruce. He looked up at the livid bruises ringing Bruce’s neck, his blue eyes over-bright, and then wound his arms around Bruce’s waist and hid his face against the dark armor over Bruce’s stomach. Stunned, Bruce rested a hand gently on the boy’s head.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Dick muttered into the armor. His arms tightened. “It’s just… this is a little scary.”
“I understand.” Bruce paused, glanced at Alfred still waiting on the stairs. “Do you want to look around?”
Dick nodded and pulled away, but he seized Bruce’s hand and would not let go as they wandered through the cave. Dick’s questions started out shy, but within minutes he was bouncing along beside Bruce, pointing out everything and growing more and more excited with each new discovery. Alfred slipped unnoticed back up to the Manor, smiling as he went.
Bruce and Dick eventually ended up sitting together in the large black swivel chair in front of the main bank of computer screens. Dick was curled in Bruce’s lap, fingering an early prototype of a Batarang, scratched up and dulled with age. Bruce was looking up some old files for the League.
“Who’s that?” Dick asked, glancing up at the screen.
“His name is Lobo,” Bruce said, unable to keep the annoyance from his voice. “He’s a bounty hunter.”
“Is he in the Justice League with you?”
Dick turned the Batarang in his fingers. “Wait.” Dick looked up at him, eyes shining. “Superman’s in the Justice League, right? Does that mean you know Superman?”
Dick gasped and turned in Bruce’s lap so he was facing him directly. “Can I meet him?”
Bruce’s mouth quirked into a reluctant smile. “Maybe someday.”
Content with that, Dick snuggled against Bruce’s chest and closed his eyes, curling one hand into the front of Bruce’s uniform as he drowsed.
“Thanks for telling me,” he said. He traced the outline of the bat on Bruce’s chest. “This is actually pretty cool.”
Bruce looked down at him with a smile. “Yeah,” he said, tightening his arms around Dick. “Yeah, this is cool.”
* * *
Clayface paced his cell, muttering to himself. Across the way he could hear the Riddler chortling at something or other, and he wanted nothing more than to cross the hall and strangle him.
“I know a word of letters three. Add two, and fewer there will be!” the Riddler squealed with a chuckle, and Clayface roared.
The butt of a rifle rattled the plexiglass wall of his cage, and Clayface subsided with a growl.
“Shut-up, you,” said the guard with a sneer. “Lights out.”
Moments after he said it, the lights in Arkham snapped off with a series of echoing clangs, throwing odd shadows through the halls. The guard disappeared with a final derisive laugh, and Clayface was left alone with only the haunting chuckles of the Riddler as company.
He slumped against the side of his cell, smushing his head against his hands. He had finally unfrozen that morning, and – after a consultation with a couple of Arkham’s best psychologists – the guards in Arkham had reluctantly agreed to let him remain that way. Even so, he knew that at any moment, a guard could put in a bad word and he would be trapped once again.
He hated this place.
A shadow peeled away from the darkness to loom just outside Clayface’s cell. Clayface tensed, at first suspecting a figment of his imagination, some product of Arkham’s hysteria. But then he saw two glaring white eyes gleaming eerily in the darkness, and a smile spread across his face.
“Damn,” he rumbled. “I was so sure I’d gotten rid of you.”
“Who hired you to kill me?”
Clayface snorted. “Right. Like I’m gonna tell you that.”
“I am willing to make a deal for the information.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of deal?” Clayface spread his arms. “I’m already in the loony bin. What’re you gonna do, get me a reduced sentence? You know I’ll just come after you once I’m out. That’s how this whole thing works, right?”
“I can get you cured.”
That made Clayface pause. “Say what?”
“I know some of the most prominent scientists in the country. With a little persuasion, I can convince them to make your case a priority. If you cooperate.”
Clayface said nothing. He stared at his hands – not hands, never hands, only hands if I shape them that way – then at the rest of his misshapen body. He shot the shadow a mistrustful look.
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” he asked.
“You don’t. But I will.”
Clayface clenched his hands – not hands – into a semblance of fists.
“Fine,” he said. “I don’t know who hired me. I was given a ten thousand dollar deposit from an anonymous bank account. It’s probably been closed by now. There was supposed to be another thirty thousand in the deal if I finished you off.”
Clayface hesitated, then added, “I can’t tell you how I know this, but the guy who talked to me… well, he was one of Tony Zucco’s guys. And he mentioned something about a vendetta against Bruce Wayne, and something about a kidnapping. And that’s all I know. But you’re not gonna tell anyone I blabbed, right?” Clayface looked up. “I mean–” He broke off, his muddy eyes going wide.
The hall was empty, the shadows once again merely shadows.
“I hate this place,” he muttered, and sank down against the wall once more.
- - -
Part Three: [link]
Part One: [link]