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]
- - -
Clark was fidgeting. His left knee bounced at near supersonic speed, blurring the cheap blue fabric of his pants, and the thud of his heel against the floor created a low rumble that vibrated the entire office.
“Stop that,” Bruce said, not even looking away from his computer screen. “You’ll bring down the whole building.”
“How can you be so calm?” Clark lurched to his feet and started pacing. “You just found out that Clayface was hired by Luthor to kill Batman, and that Luthor is still trying to get rid of Bruce Wayne in order to get to Dick. Luthor is determined to kill you, and two days ago he almost succeeded. You almost died, Bruce. Remember?”
Bruce absently lifted a hand to his starched collar and the dark, angry bruises beneath. “I remember.”
“Don’t you care?”
“Of course I care.” Bruce followed Clark’s path with his eyes. “But I’m fine, and I already thanked you for that, so it’s time to let it go.”
Clark growled and threw himself violently back into his chair, slumped like a petulant child. Bruce’s mouth twitched in barely veiled amusement.
“What about this kidnapping, then?” Clark asked. “How do we stop it?”
“We don’t,” Bruce said. Clark just stared at him.
“You mean… you’re going to let yourself get kidnapped.”
Clark buried his face in his hands and let out an incoherent sound of despair. “You’re insane,” he said in a muffled voice.
“Listen, Clark. If Bruce Wayne gets kidnapped, that means there’s a good reason for Superman to swoop in and save him, thus proving Luthor’s underhanded dealings in Gotham and earning him a one-way ticket out of my city and into prison.”
“I hate that your reasoning makes so much sense,” Clark said darkly, still speaking mostly into his hands. “But what if he kills you?”
Clark glared at him. “How do you know?”
“I don’t. But I’ll be all right.” Bruce grinned wryly. “Surely Superman will save me.”
Clark grunted, still looking less than convinced. “What about Zucco? Are you just going to let him go?”
“Zucco will go down when Luthor does. You have my word on that.” Bruce’s smile faded and he looked down at his hands, folded on his desk. “Clark… if you don’t want a part in this, I understand. Technically it isn’t any of your business, and I can come up with another plan if–”
“None of my business?” Clark’s voice was low, deadly, and Bruce could not help but meet his gaze. Blue eyes blazed dangerously behind those thick-rimmed glasses, and Bruce doubted anyone would question Clark’s true identity if he looked like that more often. “Bruce, Luthor made this my business when he tried to kill you. I’m not leaving until this is solved and you’re safe. I’m staying with or without your permission. You’ll just have to deal with it.”
Bruce said nothing. He knew his role in this little exchange. This was where he would scoff and make some cutting remark about how he could take care of himself, about how Clark was being a mother hen and his concern was unwelcome and unnecessary. But something stopped him.
Bruce remembered waking up after the fight with Clayface. He remembered how nice it had felt to know that Superman was there watching over him, like Bruce was important, like he was something precious that needed to be protected. Bruce had felt completely, impossibly, wonderfully safe, and when he had opened his eyes and seen the naked, unashamed relief breaking over Clark’s face, lighting his entire countenance, he had been unable to quell the strange emotion that burned in his chest.
It had felt almost like gratitude. Or affection.
Bruce smiled slightly, shaking his head. Maybe he was growing soft.
“Thanks, Clark,” he said finally, and it should not have made him feel so good, seeing Clark beam like that.
“Mr. Wayne?” Bruce’s secretary popped her head into the office. “You have a visitor.”
“I already have a visitor,” Bruce said, gesturing at Clark.
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Wayne, but he insists.” She lowered her voice. “It’s Lex Luthor, sir.”
Clark’s hands clenched around the arms of his chair and Bruce held up a hand to calm him before he crumpled the metal.
“Show him in,” he said.
“What?” Clark hissed when the secretary disappeared. “No. You can’t be serious.”
Bruce shot him one warning glance, then got to his feet just as Lex Luthor burst into the room, teeth flashing and arms spread wide.
“Brucie!” he crowed, and promptly crushed Bruce’s hand in his. Bruce feigned a wince and Luthor’s smile spread. He turned to Clark, then, and his smile went tight. “And you… I recognize your face. You’re that reporter for the Planet. It’s Brent, right?”
“Kent.” Clark stood, and Bruce could see the thinly veiled pleasure in his expression when he loomed over Luthor. They clasped hands and Luthor clearly tried to crush his hand, as well, but whereas the normal Clark Kent would have winced and shuffled away, properly cowed, this Clark simply matched the grip and smiled. Luthor’s brow furrowed, and he surreptitiously flexed his hand at his side when Clark let go.
“Right,” he said. “Well, if you wouldn’t mind, I have some business to discuss with Mr. Wayne. In private.”
“I do mind, actually,” Clark said. He sat and crossed his legs, clearly getting comfortable, then flashed Luthor a saccharine smile. “Mr. Wayne mentioned something about your potential partnership and I’m not leaving until I get the story.”
Luthor’s eyebrow twitched and he threw Bruce a dark look, but Bruce just shrugged.
“I tried to get him to leave when I first heard you were here, but he’s a stubborn fellow.” He gestured to the chair beside Clark’s. “Please, sit.”
Luthor hesitated before taking his seat, clearly trying to decide whether or not to be insulted, but he eventually settled himself primly in the chair and smiled at Bruce. They chatted politely for a bit, Luthor enthusiastically telling complex tales of his time in Gotham with Bruce smiling politely along. Clark was fidgeting again, and he kept shooting uneasy glances at Luthor. Whenever Luthor was distracted with a particularly elaborate story, Bruce would meet Clark’s gaze with a reassuring smile, but Clark appeared anything but reassured.
“So.” Luthor finally stopped spinning tales and spread his hands, getting down to business. “Have you thought any more about my business proposition?”
“I thought we settled that the last time you came.”
Luthor frowned. “Then your answer is still no?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Luthor sat forward in his chair, his face going pale with barely concealed fury. “Then why am I even here?”
Bruce cocked an eyebrow. “How should I know? You’re the one who came to see me.”
“But you promised this buffoon–” Luthor flung a hand in Clark’s direction, “–a story!”
“No, I just told you he wouldn’t leave. That doesn’t mean I promised him a story.”
Luthor took a deep breath and got to his feet. He adjusted the lapels of his suit jacket, fixed his cuffs, and by the time he looked back to Bruce, he was smiling again.
“Well.” He held out his hand and Bruce gripped it once more. Luthor covered Bruce’s hand with both of his, and Bruce saw Clark go ramrod straight in his seat, his eyes briefly flashing a deadly crimson. “I figured I would pay you one last visit before I leave your illustrious city, but I can tell when I am not welcome. I will be back in Metropolis in two days’ time. You take care of yourself, Bruce.” His hands tightened around Bruce’s, and his eyes gleamed. “I’d hate for anything to happen to you and your new ward.”
“Thank you, Lex,” Bruce said. “Have a nice trip home.”
Luthor left without even a glance at Clark, and Bruce was about to scold Clark for unnecessary posturing when Clark held up a hand and mouthed, ‘Wait.’ His head cocked slightly and his eyes went distant, and Bruce knew he was listening to things no human could hear. Then Clark’s jaw clenched. His hands curled around the arms of his chair, crumpling the steel like paper.
“Damn it,” he hissed. His eyes refocused and he looked at Bruce, his expression almost helpless. “Luthor just called Zucco. They’re planning to kidnap you tomorrow.”
“Good.” Bruce sat down once more, turning absently to his computer. “I’d rather get it over with.”
“Good?” Clark closed his eyes, clearly trying to calm himself. “Bruce, this whole plot is anything but ‘good.’ I know you think you have to do this, and I trust your judgment, I do, but when I see him with you, touching you, pretending like everything is okay… it makes me sick.” Clark looked up at him, his blue eyes pleading. “It’s just… he’s destroyed so many things in my life. Please don’t let him destroy you, too.”
“It’ll be okay, Clark.” Bruce kept his voice gentle, unused to seeing Clark so desperate. “I’ll be careful. I promise. But you know I have to go through with this.”
“I know, I know.” Clark buried his head in his hands for a moment, then ran his hands through his hair and lurched to his feet. “I’m going to get ready for tomorrow. Take care of yourself as best you can, okay? I’ll see you soon.”
“Sure,” Bruce said, his brow knitting in concern, but Clark was already gone.
* * *
Superman hovered outside Wayne Manor later that night, watching the house in silence. A chilly breeze caught his cape, rippling the red fabric around his shoulders. He wrapped the cape around himself and drifted a little closer to the Manor. He kept telling himself he was there to keep an eye on Bruce and Dick, to make sure nothing happened to Bruce while the boy was nearby, but he was doing a poor job of convincing himself.
He knew why he was really there.
With his x-ray vision, he could see Bruce and Dick in the second floor library, curled up on a sofa in front of the fire. Dick was snuggled against Bruce’s chest and a book was spread in Dick’s lap, and if Superman concentrated, he could hear Dick reading the story aloud. It sounded like one of the Harry Potter books, though Clark could not tell which. Dick stumbled over a word and Bruce peered over his shoulder and helped him sound it out, and then Dick beamed up at Bruce and something warm fluttered in Superman’s stomach.
He realized it now, of course. After witnessing Luthor’s slimy chit-chat with Bruce, after hearing him say, “Pull the plug” to Tony Zucco right outside Bruce’s office, thus handing Bruce’s fate over to ruthless gangsters and – as much as Bruce might deny it – possibly condemning the man to death, there was no way Clark could not know.
He just wished it had taken something less consequential than Bruce’s life being in danger.
Because now Clark knew he was well and truly smitten. He knew it as he watched Bruce laugh with Dick over something in the book. He suspected he had known it that first night, when Bruce had called him at two in the morning, fretting and worried for his new young ward. And he had definitely known it when he had seen Batman falling, when he had been forced to admit that the sheer amount of pure, cold-blooded panic he had felt at that moment, that he felt now – waiting for Bruce to get kidnapped, injured, maybe killed – was greater than what he should feel for a man who was just a colleague, or even just a friend.
Bruce had to be something more. Clark wanted him to be something more.
And for some reason, that frightened Clark almost as much as the thought of Bruce’s kidnapping.
Superman’s hands clenched around the fabric of his cape as he thought of Luthor getting his hands on Bruce. The man had ruined so many things in Clark’s life already. He had desecrated his Fortress, threatened his city, attacked his teammates, and now… now he was after Bruce. The very idea of Luthor getting anywhere near Bruce made Clark’s skin crawl. It was a miracle he had managed to keep his cool during the meeting, when Luthor had had the audacity to touch Bruce, to pretend that everything was okay when really he was plotting his downfall. Clark had wanted nothing more than to incinerate the man on the spot.
Clark breathed in deeply, counting on the crisp night air to calm his mind.
He could do this. He could stand by and watch his best friend (more than friend) get kidnapped by his mortal enemy. Because it was part of the plan. And after the kidnapping, when enough time had passed, Superman would be allowed to fly to Bruce Wayne’s rescue, just like he wanted.
Surely that was all that mattered. He could wait. He could.
“Bruce?” Dick said, pausing his reading.
“Hm?” Bruce’s voice was warm, sleepy, and it did funny things to Clark’s pulse.
“I know you’re busy with work, and with… you know.” He tapped Bruce’s chest, where the Bat symbol would have been, and Clark felt a jolt of surprise (and a bit of jealousy) that Bruce had already told this boy his biggest secret. “But can you promise me something?”
“Promise me you won’t leave me all alone.”
Clark’s jaw clenched as images of Bruce in a gangster’s hands, in Zucco’s hands, in Luthor’s hands, flashed in his mind. He watched with bated breath as Bruce silently tugged Dick closer against his chest.
“Dick…” Bruce sighed, closed his eyes. “I can’t promise that I will always be here. There are dangers in my line of work, and I think you understand that. But as long as I can help it, as long as it is in my power to protect you, I will not leave you alone. I promise.”
Dick set aside the book and snuggled closer to Bruce. “Okay.”
Superman watched them for one moment more, unable to breathe, then flew away, headed north. Perhaps a few hours in the Fortress would calm him.
* * *
Dick was in bed. Bruce stood in the windows of the second floor library and looked out over the dark grounds, searching for… something. A flash of crimson. A hint of blue. An unnatural breeze. Anything. He had felt eyes on him while reading with Dick, and he suspected he knew the spy, but the grounds were motionless. Silent. Bruce felt a small, inexplicable twinge of disappointment at that.
Moonlight shimmered through the trees in the garden, and Bruce headed downstairs and into the yard. He breathed deeply, enjoying the chilly air on his skin, the slight breeze ruffling his hair.
A whisper of displaced air was the only warning of attack. Bruce dropped instinctively into a crouch and pivoted, lashing out with one leg. The blow caught his assailant on the kneecap with a sickening crack and the man toppled, howling.
Too much, Bruce scolded himself. He rose from his crouch to face the other men, who were approaching him with much more care. Clearly they had not expected resistance from Gotham’s infamous feckless playboy, and their eyes kept shifting warily to their whimpering comrade. Fuming (he would have liked nothing better than to strew these men all over the Manor grounds), Bruce tooled his expression from a battle-ready scowl to wide-eyed terror, and the thugs relaxed a bit, undoubtedly writing their partner’s injury off as a fluke.
They circled Bruce, eyes flashing behind dark ski masks, and one of them let out a malicious little laugh.
“Got in a lucky hit there, didn’t ya, Mr. Wayne?” the man growled, keeping his voice low and rough, barely recognizable. Bruce realized with some amusement that the man might have picked up the technique from Batman.
“What do you want with me?” Bruce asked in a tremulous voice. He caught a glimpse of a blindfold and duct tape in the hands of Thug #1. These were the kidnappers, then. Bruce’s brow furrowed slightly. They were striking earlier than expected.
“Isn’t it obvious?” growled Thug #2. A needle glinted menacingly in his hand.
Ah, hell, Bruce thought grimly. He knew he had to go through with this, knew Clark was in on the plan and would never let anything happen to Dick while Bruce was gone, knew Superman would come for him before too long… but damn, he hated getting drugged.
“Enough,” rasped Thug #1, also disguising his voice. “Grab ‘im.”
Bruce let himself be caught from behind, grimacing as the thug who seized him yanked his arms back at an agonizing angle. A sweaty hand clapped over his mouth to keep him from crying out and Thug #2 approached, syringe in hand. Bruce barely had time to feign a struggle before he felt the sharp slide of the needle in his throat. The drugs took effect immediately, so quick that Bruce did not even have to playact sagging in his captor’s grip, his vision blurring and fading to gray around the edges. His assailants shoved him into the waiting car, and just before the door closed Bruce caught a glimpse of a pale, wide-eyed face in one of the second story windows of the Manor.
“Dick,” Bruce slurred, barely even aware of what he was saying, and then the car door slammed shut and the world went dark.
* * *
Dick watched, frozen in terror, as the biggest man seized Bruce from behind. Then another man stepped in way too close – Dick’s hands went automatically against the window, pressing hard, trying to reach – and then Bruce slumped forward, maybe unconscious, maybe dead –
Dick clenched his hands into fists and tried his best to ignore the wave of sheer devastation that racked his body at that thought. It wouldn’t happen. Bruce had promised – he promised – he would never leave Dick all alone. And Bruce would never break his promise. He wouldn’t.
But then Dick let out a quiet, helpless cry as one of the men hefted Bruce’s limp body into his arms and deposited him in the dark car, and then another thug grabbed his downed companion and they all sped away.
Dick stared after the fading taillights and felt despair building in his throat, threatening to choke him. His breath came in rapid, shallow gusts. His eyes prickled and his hands were shaking but he swallowed down his pain and threw himself away from the window, unable to look anymore at the empty grounds.
He couldn’t fall apart now. Bruce needed him.
For a moment Dick thought of the business card tucked away in his dresser drawer, the one given to him by the kind, bespectacled commissioner who had told him to call if he ever needed anything, but Dick thought this was probably bigger than James Gordon. This, he suspected, was a Batman problem.
And Dick knew how to handle that kind of problem.
It took mere moments for Dick to hurtle down the stairs, into the study, past the clock and into the Cave. For once Dick ignored the bats and the cool cars and the giant penny and went straight for the huge collection of monitors that Bruce had never actually allowed him to touch before, but Dick had to touch them now, had to use them, had to get a hold of someone who could help.
Dick eyed Bruce’s huge black swivel chair for only a second before bypassing it completely (he could never fit in it without Bruce’s lap to sit on, anyway; it wouldn’t be right) and heading straight for the keyboards. He licked his lips nervously and scanned the myriad of buttons, wondering which one would work.
There. Dick scrambled over the keyboard, trying not to press anything else, and slammed his palm over the button labeled “Comm 1.” The big middle screen hummed to life and Dick waited, bouncing on the balls of his feet, as a ring-like tone echoed through the cave once, twice, three times, before…
“What is it, B?”
Dick almost fainted in relief when he heard Superman’s calm, smooth voice over the link.
“Superman?” he said. “I need your help.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then the glowing screen shifted and Dick found himself looking into an icy fortress, with Superman – resplendent as always and wonderfully, wonderfully real – standing in front of the screen, his brow dark with worry.
“Dick, is that you? What’s wrong? What happened?”
Dick didn’t even bother to wonder how Superman knew his name. He hugged himself with trembling arms, his panic finally starting to catch up with him.
“Some… some guys came to the Manor and attacked Br – Batman.” Dick heard a small intake of breath from the monitor, and he looked up at Superman with tears in his eyes. “They took him, Superman. Can you… can you find him?”
“I’ll be there soon,” said Superman, already stepping away from the screen. “Just stay where you are. Okay?”
Dick sniffled and hugged his arms tighter around himself. “Okay.”
The screen went dark, throwing the cave into shadow, and Dick shut his eyes. The kidnapping kept replaying in his mind, and he wondered for the first time why Bruce hadn’t fought back. Bruce was Batman. And no one beat Batman.
There was a gust of frigid wind and then Superman was crouching in front of Dick, looking worried. Big, warm hands rested on Dick’s shoulders and Dick found himself staring into impossibly blue eyes.
“Are you all right?” Superman asked, and he sounded so genuinely concerned that Dick couldn’t help but lurch forward and fling his arms around Superman’s broad shoulders, burying his face into the silky red fabric of his cape. Arms that could crush steel closed gently around him, holding him close, and Superman shushed him as he cried. One hand brushed lightly through Dick’s hair – just like Bruce had done on that first night, so gentle, so careful – and Dick’s shoulders shook.
“Please save him, Superman,” Dick whispered, voice muffled against red fabric. “He’s… he’s all I have.”
Superman’s arms tightened just barely around Dick’s trembling form. “I will,” Superman said. “I’ll save him. I promise.”
Dick finally relaxed against him, still sniffling, but if he had been paying closer attention he would have heard Superman draw in an unsteady breath, would have felt those strong hands clutch at him in something akin to panic.
“I promise,” Superman whispered again. And Dick knew he meant it.
Bruce opened his eyes to darkness. His head was pounding and his stomach heaved. Bile burned the back of his throat and Bruce clenched his eyes shut, pressing his lips together to keep from vomiting. The nausea gradually lessened, and Bruce took some time to twitch his fingers, only to find them tied tightly to a metal pole behind him. No surprise there. He shifted slightly, trying to find other bonds, and realized that – save for his bound hands – he was relatively free. A small smile crossed his face as he silently thanked Luthor’s hubris.
His eyes began to adjust to the darkness, revealing a barren, metallic room with stairs opposite, leading up to a closed door. A dim thread of light shined beneath the door, and Bruce could see shadows moving around up above.
Bruce closed his eyes and tentatively got his feet beneath him, then heaved himself upright. His head reeled and his stomach churned, but before he could recover properly the entire room shifted. Bruce almost fell, and he grunted when his bound hands snagged on the metal pole, lurching him backward. It took him a moment to regain his balance. He froze and listened, trying to hear beyond the voices and stomping footsteps above.
There. Very faintly, he could hear the rush of waves breaking on a hull in time with the subtle rock of the room.
He was on a boat, then. That was unexpected, but not unworkable.
The door slammed open, and Bruce winced; the sound hit him like a blow to the skull. A man came down the stairs, silhouetted against the bright light in the doorway, and it did not take long for Bruce to recognize Lex Luthor.
“L-Luthor?” Bruce barely had to feign his raspy voice, but he blinked blearily at Luthor in an attempt to look pathetic and dazed.
“Good morning, Mr. Wayne,” said Luthor, casually slipping his hands into the pockets of his overcoat. “I hope you’re enjoying the accommodations.”
Bruce squinted up at him. “Where am I?”
“Just outside Gotham Harbor. Where no one can hear you scream.” Luthor let out an abashed little chuckle. “Sorry. It’s just that I so rarely get to enjoy a victory this sweet.”
“Victory?” Bruce shook his head slowly, trying not to exacerbate his headache. “What are you talking about? Why am I here?”
“Ah, ah, ah.” Luthor held up a finger, grinning wickedly. “One question at a time.”
Bruce bit his tongue to keep from blurting anything too damning. “Why am I here?”
“Because you stole something from me,” Luthor said. “The boy should have been mine. And now – with you out of the picture – he will be.”
“Boy? What boy? Wait…” Bruce glared, allowing some fire to show through his façade; it wouldn’t be too farfetched to suppose that Bruce Wayne would be protective of his ward. “You’re talking about Dick, aren’t you? What the hell could you possibly want with him?”
“Let’s just say I have it on good authority that the boy will grow up to be a thorn in my side, much like his heroic predecessor, Batman.” A snide smile spread across Luthor’s face as he spoke, and Bruce wondered just who this ‘good authority’ was. “So I have decided to take the boy under my own wing and raise him away from bad influences like you.”
Bruce’s brow knit. “I don’t understand. How could anyone know what Dick will be like when he grows up?”
“That is no concern of yours,” Luthor snapped, but then his expression turned pensive. “Or perhaps it is… after all, mysteries like time travel must be intriguing to a talented crime fighter like yourself.”
Bruce’s blood turned to ice, but he managed to maintain a look of innocent bewilderment. “What in the world are you talking about?”
“Don’t play coy with me, Mr. Wayne.” Luthor stepped forward and parted Bruce’s collar, brushing light fingers over the fading bruises around Bruce’s throat. “What interesting wounds you have here. The product of some late night excitement, I’m sure.”
Bruce’s cheeks flushed in feigned embarrassment. “What I do in the privacy of my bedroom is no–“
Luthor backhanded him hard, cutting him off. Bruce’s entire upper body jerked to the side and his bound hands caught on the metal pole again, wrenching his left shoulder painfully. He kept his eyes averted afterwards so Luthor wouldn’t see the fury in his eyes. He tasted blood.
“Don’t lie to me, Bruce,” Luthor said quietly. “I know who you are. I know what you’re planning for that boy. And I know that you’ve been working with Superman.” He leaned in close and Bruce could smell brandy on his breath, sickeningly sweet. “You’re bait, Mr. Wayne. For a much bigger fish. And once I’ve taken care of both you and the alien, I will sail back into Gotham and take care of your little ward, as well.”
Bruce whipped his head around to glare at Luthor, hardly even bothering to hide his rage.
“You won’t touch him,” he growled. “I’ll kill you first.”
Luthor grinned and stepped back. “Big words for a playboy, Mr. Wayne. I rather think you’re showing your hand.”
Bruce bit his tongue and looked down again, seething.
“But perhaps it is too much of a risk leaving you alive,” Luthor said thoughtfully. “I’m sure Superman will come for you either way, so…”
Suddenly there was a gun in Luthor’s hand, the muzzle a mere hairsbreadth from Bruce’s forehead. Bruce’s blood ran cold and his mind shifted automatically into battle mode, formulating possible ways to escape: If I dart to the right the bullet will only graze me. I can disarm Luthor with a well-placed kick. It’ll be painful, and I might pull a muscle or two, but the gun would be gone and Luthor would be stunned and I’d have a minute to free myself and get away –
“No,” Luthor said, and the gun lowered a few inches. “No, I guess I do need you alive if my trap is to work properly. So instead…”
The gun fired, deafening in the metal room, and Bruce let out a strangled cry as his right leg exploded in pain.
“That will at least ensure that Batman does not show up, I think,” Luthor said.
“You’re insane,” Bruce snarled through gritted teeth.
Luthor smiled darkly. “We’ll see.” He stowed the gun and patted Bruce congenially on the cheek, then disappeared above deck once more.
Bruce glanced down at his leg to survey the damage. There was a small hole in his thigh and dark blood blossomed against the fabric of his pant leg, dripping steadily into a shadowy pool on the floor. He couldn’t tell if the bullet had gone through or not, but his entire leg throbbed in time with his pulse. Clenching his jaw against the pain, he pressed his right heel against the cool metal floor and felt the telltale click of the homing device hidden in his sock as it blinked to life. Then he sank to the ground with a groan, already feeling lightheaded, and prayed that Superman didn’t take his time.
* * *
Superman was hovering impatiently over Gotham when he heard the high-frequency tracking device suddenly activate.
“Finally,” he muttered, and shot off in the direction of Gotham harbor, ready to play his part.
He had left a frantic Dick with a slightly less frantic Alfred, and the promise that Superman would bring Bruce back alive and well. Clark prayed that did not turn out to be a lie. He knew Luthor well. Too well, in fact. The man ruined everything he touched, and now that he had his hands on Bruce…
Bruce is well enough to activate the device, he told himself. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.
Gotham harbor was mostly empty, the waves shining golden in the faint light of dawn, but beyond the mouth of the harbor proper floated a large dark freight boat. Superman squinted against the sunlight and saw that the boat had no identification numbers, and Luthor was traipsing about on the deck, surrounded by black-clad gangsters. Superman decided that these men were probably the kidnappers, and his vision flashed crimson as rage stirred in his chest. He x-rayed the hull of the ship and found Bruce bound in an empty room, apparently unconscious and – Superman’s heart stuttered – bleeding from a wound on his leg.
Without another thought, Superman sped for the boat. Within seconds he found himself with an armful of stunned, terrified gangsters, and he dropped them unceremoniously into the sea. He repeated this until only Luthor was left on deck, then – on a whim – dropped one lifeboat in the midst of the panicked, water-treading gangsters. As much as he loathed them for what they did to Bruce, he wasn’t out to kill anyone today.
The entire task took about a minute.
When he was finished, he descended slowly in front of Luthor, who was watching him with crossed arms and a smug smile.
“I knew you’d come,” Luthor said. “Couldn’t leave your buddy to die, could you?”
“I have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish here, Lex,” Clark said in his best booming Superman voice, loud enough that he was sure Bruce would hear (if he’s alive, added a terrible little voice in Superman’s head; he ignored it). “But I will only ask you once to let Mr. Wayne go.”
“I don’t think I will,” Luthor said. “You see, I know how important he is to you. I want to see how much I can make you squirm.” He clapped his hands and a big man burst through the door leading from the hull, dragging a bound and limping Bruce. Superman’s throat clenched when he caught sight of how pale his friend was, but at least he was conscious, and a tourniquet had been tied haphazardly around his leg. Icy blue eyes met his, fierce and determined, and Superman felt a little better.
“Are you all right, Mr. Wayne?” Superman called.
“I’ve been better,” Bruce said.
“Your ward is safe,” Superman added; that was something he could know, right? Either way, the relief that came across Bruce’s face when he said it was enough to make it worthwhile.
“Enough of this.” Luthor waved at the big man holding Bruce and the thug shifted his grip, hooking a meaty arm around Bruce’s neck and flicking open a knife to hold very close against Bruce’s throat. “If you don’t give up and surrender yourself to me, Superman, I’ll tell Nick here to carve open your friend Batman’s throat. How does that sound?”
Superman’s blood froze; Luthor knew about Batman? His eyes met Bruce’s and he saw a warning there, so he threw on a puzzled expression. “I’m sorry, what?”
Luthor sighed. “Honestly, you two. I’ve already told you that I know Bruce Wayne’s secret, and still you deny it. Fine. Why don’t we start with this: if you don’t admit that Bruce Wayne is Batman, I’ll kill him. Deal?”
Thug Nick tightened his grip around Bruce and the knife nicked Bruce’s pale skin, and Superman fought down his panic. He could handle this.
“Enough,” he said, glaring at Luthor, and he blurred forward, catching Thug Nick off guard. One solid hit on the jaw was enough to knock the big man off his feet, and then Bruce was safely in his arms and Superman was high above the ship.
“Come back, you coward!” Luthor shouted, waving a gun at them.
“I’ll be back for you once I get Mr. Wayne safely to the city,” Superman said, and he flew off, ignoring the screams at his back.
“That went well,” Bruce said.
Superman glared at him. “It could have gone better. You got shot.”
Bruce shrugged. “I’ve had worse.” He paused, then looked down at the water streaking past beneath them. “Wait, stop. Let me go.”
“What?” Superman halted in midair, hovering about twenty feet above the water.
“Drop me. There’s something I need to do.”
Superman stared at him. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am. Trust me. Just look down.” Superman did, and he caught sight of a dark shadow just below the surface of the water, which looked vaguely like…
“How long has that been there?” he asked. Bruce grinned and showed him the tiny blinking device in his hands, which were by now freed from their bonds.
“About two minutes. Now drop me.”
Superman sighed and lowered himself until he was five feet up from the water, then let go of Bruce. The other man disappeared under the waves just above the Batplane, and Superman waited until he saw the plane light up and pull away before heading back to Luthor’s ship.
Luthor was still yelling and frothing by the time Superman returned.
“I’ll be taking you to the Gotham PD now,” Superman said, hovering just over the bow of the ship. “And I’ll ensure that you get sent directly to Metropolis, so that both Mr. Wayne and his ward remain safe. You can either come quietly, or with a fight. It’s your choice.”
“You’re an idiot for actually coming back,” Luthor said with a grin, twirling the gun in one hand.
Superman frowned. “What?”
“I knew you’d come for him,” Luthor said with a manic laugh. “I knew you were partners. So I made plans for this. And since Batman is injured…” He leveled the gun at Superman. “There’s no one to save you now.”
The gun cracked three times in quick succession. The first bullet caught Superman in the arm as he tried to dodge, and the next two caught him in the leg and side. He plummeted to the deck with a cry, writhing in agony. Kryptonite seared like poison through his veins, and his whole body felt like it was on fire. He tried to crawl away, tried to regain his feet, but his limbs shook and his vision blurred and he sank weakly to the deck.
“I’ve waited so long for this,” Luthor said, stepping over to him. He aimed a kick at the bullet wound in Superman’s side and Superman let out a strangled yell, rolling away in an attempt to protect himself. “Look how pathetic you are. I could kill you right now, you know. It would be so easy…” Luthor lifted the gun again and pointed it at Superman’s forehead, but then a low drone filled the air and he looked up in time to watch as the Batplane zoomed by overhead. A dark shadow detached from the plane, and Luthor barely raised his arms in time to catch the black-booted kick aimed at his head. The blow knocked him off his feet, and the gun rattled away across the deck.
Batman landed with a solid thump in front of Superman, crouched in a fighting stance, dark cape flaring.
“It’s over, Luthor,” Batman growled. “Come quietly.”
“But…” Luthor struggled into a sitting position, bleeding from a cut over his eyebrow. “But… your leg…”
Batman stalked over to him and slammed a foot down on Luthor’s hand as he tried to reach for the gun. “What about my leg?” he asked over Luthor’s howls.
“Shot you… didn’t I shoot…?” Luthor trailed off, looking dazed. “But Wayne…”
“Is safely back in Gotham, reporting this to the police as we speak.”
“No… I was sure… Wayne…” Batman sneered and lashed out with his other leg, and Luthor collapsed to the deck with a thud.
Batman grabbed the gun, checked to make sure it was out of cartridges, then hurled it into the water before hurrying over to Superman’s side.
“Clark,” he whispered, already digging in his belt for tweezers and a scalpel. “Clark, can you hear me?”
Superman groaned and opened his eyes, blinking blearily. He was far too pale and shivering so hard his teeth chattered, but he managed a small smile.
“Your l-leg…” he stuttered, and Batman cut him off with a glance.
“Is fine. Hold still. This is going to hurt.”
Superman closed his eyes as Batman leaned over him. He hissed when he felt the smooth slide of a scalpel over his skin, opening the bullet wound in his arm, but he concentrated instead on the close, comforting smell of leather and Kevlar, and the knowledge that Bruce was all right.
“P-plan worked,” he said. Batman grunted, and Superman heard the creak of hinges and then the tiny tinkle of a bullet against lead. He kept his eyes closed, but he sensed movement as Batman shifted to remove the bullet in his side next. Silk slid over Superman’s fingers and Superman clutched at it, tugged a little.
“You okay?” Batman asked when he felt the tug.
“Yes.” Superman bit down on a yelp at the sensation of tweezers digging deep into his skin, but relief came soon after, accompanied by another clink of a bullet being dropped into the lead box.
“You’re lucky these didn’t hit bone and shatter,” Batman said, turning his attention to Superman’s leg. The silk in Superman’s fingers threatened to slide away with the motion, but Superman clutched it tight, unwilling to let go just yet.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Batman muttered. Superman clenched his teeth and tried not to anticipate the scalpel this time, but there it was – the painful tug of skin, the heady smell of his own blood, and then – Superman grunted – the tweezers, deft and sure and mercifully quick, and then…
Superman sighed and opened his eyes to watch Batman deposit the last bullet into the little lead box and stow it in his belt, along with the scalpel and tweezers. A fleeting smile played over Batman’s stern lips, and Superman felt his heart skip.
“Better?” Batman asked.
“Much.” Superman started to sit up and Batman helped him, gripping him firmly by the bicep. Feeling ambitious, Superman managed to gain his feet soon after. He lifted Batman easily up with him, but then the boat swayed and Batman staggered against him, biting back a pained grunt.
Superman held him steady, his brow knitting in worry. “What’s wrong?”
“The adrenaline injection is wearing off,” Batman said, his voice tight with barely suppressed agony. His face was pale and sweaty behind the mask.
“And that means…”
“It means my leg hurts.”
Superman blanched. “You mean that wasn’t a fake out for Luthor? You actually got shot?”
Superman gathered Batman into his arms, ignoring the other man’s protests, and muttered, “You’re such an idiot.” Then he took to the sky.
“Wait. Where are you going?” Batman asked.
“I’m taking you to Alfred.”
“But what about Luthor?”
“He’s not going anywhere.”
Batman glared at him. “Don’t you think it’s more important to get him to jail than to–”
Superman shut him up with a kiss. It wasn’t a very good kiss, really. It was hard to get the right angle with Batman tucked in his arms, and there was some clashing of teeth and a startled sound from Batman’s end, but the most important thing was that Batman didn’t pull away first. And even when Superman did manage to pull away, slightly flushed but completely unrepentant, Batman only half-smiled and said, “Hn.”
“Never tell me you’re not important again,” Superman said sternly. “You’re one of the most important people I know, and if I want to take care of you before hauling Luthor into jail, then damn it, I’m going to take care of you.” Then he kissed Batman one more time and descended to the Manor. He landed on the balcony outside Bruce’s bedroom and gently forced the doors open, then carried Batman to the bed. He settled him tenderly on top of the covers, then paused and cocked his head slightly, listening.
“I set off the perimeter alarm,” he said, “so Alfred’s on his way. I’ll be back soon.” He pointed a threatening finger at Batman’s injured leg. “Don’t use that leg while I’m gone.”
“Clark, wait.” Superman turned back. Batman heaved himself off the bed and limped over to his side. Superman opened his mouth to scold him, but then a strong hand caught him by the back of the neck and reeled him in for a crushing kiss. Superman thought he might have made an embarrassing sound, but he was far beyond caring now. He gently slid the cowl back and buried his fingers in Bruce’s sweat-dampened hair, then looped one arm tight around Bruce’s waist, tugging him close.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” he whispered against Bruce’s lips, and he felt Bruce smile.
“Same.” Bruce pressed a kiss to the corner of Superman’s mouth, then shoved him away. “Now go get our criminal.”
Superman grinned. “Yes, sir.”
“Look, look! Are you watching?”
Dick dashed over to the pommel horse, a blur of yellow, red, and green in the dim light of the Cave. He broke into a series of flips and ended up upside down on the pommel horse, balanced on both hands, then only one. His yellow cape drooped over the pommel horse and he giggled, then spun on one hand, tangling his arms in the bright yellow fabric.
“Careful,” Bruce called from his seat near the computer console, but it wasn’t really necessary; Dick propelled himself neatly off the pommel horse and landed without an extra step, still laughing. He immediately started cartwheeling around the mats.
“This is so cool!” he chirped. “I really like my cape.”
“I’m glad,” Bruce said. He turned back to the computer screen, clicking through the messages he had missed while he had been forced to stay in bed and heal. His hand drifted idly down to the sore spot on his thigh; the bullet had passed through as cleanly as could be hoped, but it had still torn through muscles and nerve-endings that would ache for weeks to come.
“Does it hurt?”
Bruce glanced at Clark, who was watching him with a concerned frown.
“It’s fine,” Bruce told him. “I just need to exercise it, that’s all.”
“If you don’t want to patrol tonight, I can go again. It’s really no trouble.”
Bruce raised a hand, stopping his assurances. “Clark, I’m bored. I’m going out. Plus, it’s Dick’s first night out as Robin. I want to be there with him.”
“Does that mean you’re definitely coming with me tonight?” Dick bounded over, his blue eyes bright with excitement behind the black domino mask.
Bruce grinned at him; his enthusiasm was contagious. “That’s right, kiddo. You ready?”
“Am I ever!” Dick tumbled out three back flips, then skipped back to stand in front of Bruce, his expression suddenly serious. “You’re sure your leg is okay, though? I mean, if Superman’s still worried…”
“Clark is always worried,” Bruce said, emphasizing the name; they had told Dick about Clark’s secret identity, but the boy still had a tendency to only refer to his hero as Superman.
“Well, someone has to worry about you,” Clark protested. “Lord knows you never do.”
Bruce just glared at him and got to his feet, moving swiftly to the lockers across the Cave.
“Keep loosening up, Dick,” he called over his shoulder. “We head out in ten.”
Clark caught up with him while he was changing. He leaned casually against a locker and watched as Bruce slid easily into his armor.
“What?” Bruce finally asked.
“I know you hate it when I say this, but please be careful,” Clark said. He stepped forward and grabbed Bruce’s wrist before he could finish fastening his utility belt, making the other man meet his gaze. “Please?”
Bruce’s glare softened and he leaned up to place a gentle kiss on Clark’s lips. “I’m always careful,” he said, then hesitated. “But just in case something goes wrong, since it’s Dick’s first night out, could you…?”
Clark smiled and wrapped his arms around Bruce. “I’ll keep an eye on you both.”
Bruce sighed and relaxed against Clark’s broad chest. “Thank you.”
Not five minutes later, Batman strode away from the lockers, tugging the cowl over his head, his mouth already set in a grim line.
“Let’s go,” he said to Dick, his voice dark and gravelly, and the boy let out a whoop and sprinted for the Batmobile. He slid neatly across the hood and ducked into the passenger seat before Batman even approached the car.
“Wish me luck!” Dick called to Clark, and Clark grinned and waved at them both.
“Good luck!” he called.
As Dick buckled himself in (after Batman’s gruff command), Batman glanced back and made eye contact with Clark one last time. His lips twitched into the barest hint of a smile and he nodded, then the Batmobile sped off into the night.
Clark watched them go with a smile on his face. He waited for a minute, then two, then slowly stripped out of his flannel shirt and jeans, revealing sleek blue and red underneath, and took to the sky.
Just in case.
* * *
The Metropolis prison cell was cold and barren, but at least it had a small television in one corner. Lex Luthor huddled under his threadbare blanket and flipped on the news. The picture was grainy at best and the sound muffled, but it helped to pass the time.
“– were apprehended by Gotham’s very own Batman, and his young partner, a brightly dressed boy who calls himself ‘Robin.’”
Luthor sat up straighter, and turned the volume up. The reporter described the capture of a well-known Gotham drug ring, which was of little interest to Luthor, but the image they showed of the Bat and his young partner…
“Grayson?” Luthor muttered. He slid forward on his cot, squinting at the television, but the reception was too poor and the screen too grainy to make out any details, and then the image was replaced with a commercial for cat food.
Luthor sat back, staring into space. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. Could it…?
His eyes narrowed and a slow smile spread across his face, the first one in weeks.
- - -
Part One: [link]
Part Two: [link]
A/N: All done! Thanks for reading, guys - I hope you enjoyed it! :D