The first time Clark saw Bruce Wayne was at the tail-end of the Planet buyout. Perry had just made the announcement that Wayne Enterprises had bailed out the paper and Bruce Wayne had stepped up to the podium to give a short speech of his own. It was as if Clark had suddenly swallowed a Kryptonite brick: his knees knocked together and his voice dried up in his throat. Lois gave him a very pointed look after Wayne’s speech while Clark tried very hard neither to fidget nor to follow Bruce Wayne out of the building with his X-ray vision.
“Just ask him out,” Lois said. “It’s not like he’s really your boss. He just spent ten minutes assuring us that he’s not going to do anything besides pay the bills.”
“He’s Bruce Wayne.”
“And you’re Clark Kent,” said Lois, “who sometimes moonlights as Superman. Wayne’s flesh and blood and bone, just like you. Ask him out. It’s that simple.”
Clark made a pained face.
“I’m screwed,” he moaned to Batman hours later. They were sitting in the monitor hall of the Watchtower where Bats was running diagnostics on the comm system.
“I have a crush on my boss.”
Batman didn’t flinch. “That’s not uncommon. People in positions of authority have a certain appeal to those beneath them. It’s an evolutionarily advantageous attraction to power; nothing to be too worried about.”
“I don’t think his position has anything to do with it,” Clark said glumly. “He’s ridiculously handsome. I’m talking about the kind of pretty where if you look at him too long, you can feel your face breaking out in hives.”
Batman checked one of his lines of code and frowned. “If you feel that uncomfortable around him, perhaps you shouldn’t pursue a relationship.”
“I wasn’t planning on it anyway.” Clark dropped into the spinning chair and slowly twirled himself in half-hearted circles. “He’s way out of my league. I mean, there’s him, a line of supermodels wrapping twice around the globe, nine hundred layers of dirt, mud, crude oil, and magma, and then at the bottom of some dark, dank parallel dimension, there’s me. Banging my head on a wall and calling myself eight different kinds of idiot.”
“Oh, good; for a minute there I thought you were going to be melodramatic.”
Clark sagged against the table. “And he’s obscenely wealthy.” Then he perked up. “Bats—you’re rich. Got any tips?”
For the briefest moment, the typing paused. “I thought you weren’t going to pursue him.”
“I’m not,” Clark said hastily. “I’m just… hypothesizing.”
Pushing himself away from his desk, Batman’s face took on a pinched look. “Have you ever even spoken to him?”
“And why is that?”
“Because my throat closes whenever he gets within two feet of me.”
Clark tried not to look shamefaced.
Batman glared unsympathetically. “You really want my advice?” Clark peered at him. Batman leaned forward. “Actually talk to him.”
Clark twitched. “But—”
“Pretend he’s me,” Bats said, spinning back toward the monitor and typing as if the keyboard had personally maligned his ancestors. “You have no problem talking to me.”
“I did at first,” Clark grumbled. “You were utterly terrifying. Now you’re…” He thought for a second. “Actually no, you’re still terrifying. I’ve just grown accustomed to the chill of fear that sinks into my gut whenever you look at me.”
“Good to know,” Batman hissed.
“All joking aside,” Clark said. “Help. Me. Please. You’re my best friend. I need advice.”
Batman pursed his lips. “All people are fundamentally the same,” he said finally. “You just need to find the differences. That’s how you connect with them.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?” Clark muttered, but Batman seemed to have gone back to ignoring him. Clark stopped himself just shy of actually whining. “So, I’m supposed to assume he’s you until he… isn’t.”
“Exactly.” Batman seemed grimly determined to destroy his backspace key. “Just. Like. Me.”
The next time Clark saw Bruce Wayne, he didn’t actually see him. Wayne called the Planet but was unable to reach Perry and, since Lois was out on a stake-out with the police, someone had redirected his call to the desk of the next most senior reporter at the paper.
“Yello, cap’n,” Clark said, carelessly juggling the receiver while he fished a pencil out of his breast pocket. He had been expecting a ring from his contact on the docks for the past hour. “Watcha catch?”
“Not much,” Wayne responded dryly. Clark nearly dropped the receiver. “I’ve been trying to reach Perry White’s desk for the past quarter of an hour. Can you take a message?”
“Sure,” Clark said hoarsely, fumbling his pencil.
“I’ve got a dinner party coming up with a lot of hard-to-reach VIPs attending—Alfonse de la Vega, Beatrice Carrington, the Fragonnard brothers, Ylsa Vanndersol, and Ivan Borisovich Glazinsky. Almost everyone from Perry’s VIP list. If Perry wants to send someone competent over to interview them before they get too liquored up to answer questions—“
“Yarp,” Clark interrupted. “I mean, yes. I’ll let him know. He’ll probably send… Well, Cat Grant usually covers Metro. Lois might want in if Ylsa Vanndersol can answer questions about the Finnish embassy conundrum. Paul does political; he might like to get a quote from the Patrick Fragonnard—or is it 'Victor'—”
There was a bit of a pause. Normally, in a lull in his conversations with Batman, Clark would bring up some inane tidbit about his job or some aspect of his personal life (compromising details omitted, of course) and Batman would chime in with a growl about his kids. Clark began with, “Are you—” and was promptly interrupted by the dial tone.
“Well, I talked to him today,” Clark muttered gloomily. Batman was still typing away at something on the Watchtower computers.
“Good for you.”
Clark dropped his head on the meeting table with a thump.
“I’m sure it was much less embarrassing than you’re making it out to be,” Batman said in a voice utterly devoid of compassion or interest.
“He hung up on me.”
“Well, if he’s your boss, he’s a busy man. Trust me.”
Clark went back to denting the desk with his forehead.
“Stop it, Kal,” Batman ordered. “The table’s mahogany.”
“I have feelings,” Clark muttered, wounded.
“Yes; they’re currently ruining the furniture.”
Clark sat up and folded his arms. “I managed to string sounds together that could have been construed as words. But…” He bit his lip. “Now we need something to actually talk about. What do you do with people you’re interested in?”
“Sleep with them.”
“I’m serious, Bats.”
“So am I.” There was a pause. “Well, most of them. I’ve struck out… well. The normal amount of times.”
“You can count them on one hand, can’t you.”
“One finger, actually.”
Clark sagged back into his chair. “How is everyone so good at this?”
“Because it’s easy. You go up to them, you smile, you ask them if they’d like to see you naked. End of story.”
“Gross,” said Clark. “I’m talking about… What if you want to… you know… really meet someone. Not just sleep with them. You like them and you want to date them. Then what do you tell them?”
“To get lost.”
“I run full background checks on them and their immediate family and close associates.”
“That’s usually when I find out they have some criminal history that makes them unacceptable as permanent partners.” He scratched his chin. “I’ll lend you my facial recognition software. And give you the backdoor codes to INTERPOL’s database. You’ll want to run a credit score on your boyfriend too, just in case. ‘Rich’ doesn’t always mean the same thing as ‘actually having cash.' There are quite a few millionaires out there with all their money tied up in assets who live off of company perks.”
Clark blinked at him.
“When did I lose you?”
“The moment you claimed millionaires might not actually have any money.”
To his undying shame, Clark did use Batman’s decryption software to run a background check on Bruce Wayne—and accidentally discovered where Wayne had been hiding during his ‘gap decade’ before reappearing in Gotham six years ago. Security cameras might not have been installed outside of every building in every city in every country, but Clark had found evidence that a man with Bruce Wayne’s bone structure and gait had been arrested in Beirut for stealing guns off of a Wayne Enterprise truck ten years ago. Someone else had described a man like Bruce Wayne working with a notorious jewel thief in Paris, Vienna, and Milan three years prior to that. Finally, there had been a former KGB operative who had taken on an ‘apprentice’ who matched Wayne’s description a few weeks after Wayne had left the States for 'an extended vacation to Fiji.'
Clark traced Wayne’s flight path from Gotham all the way back to Alaska (via Hawaii, New Zealand, and several other points no doubt only accessible by private jet) and then to Côte d’Ivoire where Wayne had worked as part of a pirate crew on the Mediterranean, smuggling food and medical supplies from Europe into war-torn Kaznia.
Clark had spent the next few days wondering how on earth he was ever going to face Wayne again when Perry gave him the Manor Party as an assignment.
“Interview that Mexican fellow that runs the fruit company in Brazil.” A folder two inches thick landed on Clark’s desk.
“He’s Guatemalan, Perry.”
“I don’t care if he’s Cuban, sunshine, I want a quote on avocado imports tomorrow. Get me a something on mangos too, while you’re there.”
“And on cigars, Perry? Should I bring back some samples?”
“He’s Guatemalan, Clark; don’t be racist.”
Perry even lent him—and Lois, who refused to let Clark leave for a party with Ylsa Vanndersol without her—the company car, also known as Perry’s BMW from “divorce number three.” After circling the buffet table a few times, Clark finally found himself in a corner by the stairs talking Central American fruit export projections with the CEO of Vegafruits, de la Vega himself.
“Enjoying yourself, Alfonse?” Wayne said jovially, sliding over to clap one of his guests of honor on the back.
“Of course.” De la Vega held up a small plate of jumbo shrimp. “Your food is, as always, most delicious.”
“And those are only the hors d’œuvres.” Wayne turned his dazzling smile on Clark. “You must be from the Planet.” He held out a hand. “I’m glad you could make it, Mr…?”
“Kent,” Clark said breathlessly. “Clark Kent.”
“Kent! Perry speaks highly of you.”
“Only when I’m out of earshot.”
It was the sort of remark Clark would have made at Batman, and he was rewarded with a real shout of laughter from Bruce.
“Can’t have you getting too complacent, I suppose.”
“The threat of impending unemployment does keep most of us on our toes.”
“And the rest?”
That made Bruce laugh again. Clark tried very hard to tamp down on the warm feeling rising up in his chest, threatening to strangle him as it settled in his throat.
“I take it you’re enjoying the salmon,” Wayne said, eyeing his plate. Clark smiled sheepishly; eighteen years in the deep midwest made you appreciate fresh fish more than spoiled, seaside city-dwellers.
“Yes, it’s delicious,” Clark said. “Washington State?”
“Wild-caught Alaskan,” Bruce said, eyes twinkling. “Afraid I didn’t catch these myself, though, ’Cap’n.’”
Clark flushed pink.
De la Vega very pointedly gazed off in another direction while Bruce Wayne leaned a hand casually on the banister and tilted his head toward Clark.
“Would you like to—?”
“What’s Alaska like?” Clark blurted without thinking.
Wayne’s smile stayed firmly in place. “Afraid I’ve never been that far north.”
Clark blinked, flinched, and said, “OH. Right. Yes. Sorry.”
Wayne pulled back. “What makes you think I’ve been to Alaska?”
“Nothing,” said Clark guiltily before his mouth ran away with him. “I just… heard you spent eight months there.” Internally, he was screaming. “Before you, uh, headed for Austra—Fiji.”
Wayne’s smile wavered. His eyes turned flinty. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” His voice stayed easy and smooth. “Enjoy the shrimp,” he added to Alfonse. “Excuse me. I have to check on the other esteemed guests.”
“Of course,” said Alfonse while Clark stared after Bruce. Once Wayne was out of earshot, de la Vega whispered, “That’s what we call ‘striking out’ in Guatemala. And Brazil."
“I wasn’t trying to—”
“Next time, don't reveal that you're stalking him.”
“I’m a reporter,” Clark countered. “We don't stalk; we investigate.”
Alfonse gave him a look and ate another shrimp.
“The background check was a terrible idea,” Clark announced, landing behind the computer in the Watchtower's monitor room where Batman was typing faster than the Flash could run.
“Oh?” Batman sounded almost happy. “Does your mystery man have a criminal record?”
“Yes,” Clark admitted, “but it’s only made him more attractive.”
The keyboard slipped off the desk and crashed to the floor.
“You okay?” Clark asked, brows furrowed.
“Fine,” Batman said shortly, slamming his fists on the desk. “Just peachy.”
Clark circled the computer to peer over Batman’s shoulder at the screen. “Who are you tracing?”
“A leak.” Batman glared at the screen. “Someone’s been digging into my past. I need to find out how much they know and stop them from accessing any more data.”
“I thought that’s what your super-mega-awesome encryption programs were for in the first place.”
“They are,” Batman grumbled, “but my decryption code keeps looping in on itself for some reason.”
Clark frowned. “Do you think someone hacked your system?”
“No one hacks my system,” Batman said. Abruptly he rounded on Clark. “Kal, do not get involved with a criminal.”
“He’s not a criminal now,” Clark argued. “The statute of limitations has passed... in most cases. Anyway, shouldn’t we be more concerned about your security breach than my love life?”
Batman restored his keyboard to his desk. “We need to work on your taste in men,” he griped.
Against his better moral judgment, Clark decided to check up on Bruce Wayne’s background a second time. Batman had told him not to use a home computer in case any of his hacks were traced, so Clark decided to stay late at the office to commandeer the PC in the Planet’s printer room, which was accessible by anyone in the building and therefore less likely to lead back to any particular employee.
According to police reports, online calendars, gossip blogs, and tax returns, Bruce Wayne’s record was spotless—more or less. Nothing but boring meetings and the occasional scandalous fling with an attractive partner on his schedule. But there was something odd about what wasn't mentioned. A few months ago, Wayne had stepped out of a late-night, call-in meeting from Hong Kong to “chat with Lucius about something;” but Lucius Fox had been home with his family at the time and had received neither call nor visit from his boss. The obvious conclusion was that Wayne had made an excuse to duck another boring meeting to visit a paramour; but, even though there had been a variety of options to choose from during that particular week, Wayne had not been sighted near any of their apartments or at nearby hotels. He had simply slid into his car, driven into a tunnel, and disappeared, only to emerge from his manor the next morning for a briefing on wearable technology.
There were other suspicious tidbits, circumstantial pieces that seemed to hint at a bigger puzzle, such as Wayne’s butler being a former MI6 agent and several of Wayne’s other known associates (and even a few exes) having strong ties to powerful companies across the globe. Some were even the heads of alleged secret societies. It seemed as if Bruce Wayne had connections to every powerful organization just north of the law, as if he had gone out of his away to assimilate these powerful, controversial people into a network of… what? The records couldn’t confirm it, but the more Clark sifted through the lists of meetings, the flights across the globe, and Bruce Wayne’s personal financial records, the more he became convinced that Bruce Wayne had talked his associates into using their wealth and influence to install water purification centers in troubled communities, to provide backing for hospitals, university scholarships, and research grants, to fund scientific breakthroughs in medicine, security, agriculture, transportation…
Clark was staring at the list of Wayne’s most recent business meetings, all concerning the mass-production of an affordable, long-lasting, solar-powered water-purifier when a message flashed across the computer screen. The Planet firewall had detected someone trying to access user information on this computer. Clark immediately reached for the power plug and pulled. The last thing the paper needed was some hacker conglomerate outing their sources again.
After the screen went dark, Clark took the elevator down to the bottom floor and started on a nighttime stroll back to his apartment. To his left, he saw the Batplane hover briefly over the Planet before taking off over the river back to Gotham. Clark made a mental note to ask Batman about it the next time he saw him.
That night, Clark slept fitfully, staring mostly at the ceiling and mulling over how best to apologize to Wayne for so thoroughly invading his privacy—again.
While rushing down to copy to deliver Lois’ and his articles, Clark stumbled into the same elevator as Bruce Wayne, who was leaning against the back elevator wall like he was daring anyone to ask him why he was there.
“Um,” Clark began. “Do you mind—?”
Wayne shrugged. Clark ducked inside, hit the third-floor button, and sank into half-sit on the railing.
“You’ll break the bar,” Wayne remarked.
“Sorry,” Clark said automatically, jumping up. After a bit of fidgeting, he squared his shoulders and turned to Wayne. “…I have to tell you something. It’s been bothering me for a while and I have to come clean—“
Wayne hit the emergency-stop button. The lights in the elevator winked on and off as the whole tin box ground to a screeching halt.
“Um,” Clark repeated. Wayne hit the glowing red call button on the control panel.
“I’m going to need the elevator for the next few minutes. Do not call the fire department or the police. This will be over shortly.” A pause. “I suggest you turn off the cameras too.”
“I’m not sure I’m allowed to—“
“Who signs your paychecks, Greg?”
A beat. “Cameras are off, boss. Just… please don’t kill him. I like Kent.”
The sound cut out and Clark, completely baffled, stared as Wayne sized him up like a boxer before a match.
“Yup,” Clark squeaked.
“You want to talk?”
“I’m sorry,” Clark blurted. “I’m so—I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have looked into your past, but I have this friend and he’s very paranoid and he said it would be for the best if I… if I knew who you were before I… Honestly, I wasn’t expecting anything to turn up. I mean, you’re Bruce Wayne. So, when things did, it was just… I got curious. And it was none of my business and I should have respected your privacy, no matter how intriguing your private life may be. I’m very sorry. I won’t do it again.”
For what could have only been seconds but felt like ages, Clark waited, watching Wayne watch him in the dramatic red light coming from the emergency button. Then, Wayne said almost tiredly, “What do you want, Kent?”
Wayne snorted. “You just woke up one morning and decided to use top-level decryption software to track my likeness across five continents, stretching back a decade and a half?”
“What do you want, Kent.”
Clark took a step backward and held out his hands, palms up. “Nothing. And I promise—I swear—I won’t do it again.”
“Why did you do it in the first place?”
“I was… I was curious.”
“About my past.”
Clark turned red and covered his face. “It doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. “I just…” His hands fell to his sides. “What I want to say, besides I’m sorry, is that I think what you did... what you do... is really admirable.”
“I smuggled, I stole, I spent time in prison,” Wayne said dryly. “Now I lounge around on beaches instead of working for a living. What part of that is 'admirable'?”
“You studied the criminal underworld, then used—and use—everything you learned from it to fight against corruption,” Clark said. “I mean, you’re gaming the system, but not for yourself—not to increase your privilege. It’s to help those who don’t have it. And that’s… that’s just…” He squared his shoulders. “It’s very, very noble of you.” Resolutely, he dared to look Wayne in the eyes. “If there’s ever any way I could help, please let me know.”
Wayne stared at him. “You…” He took a step forward. “You remind me of someone.”
“Oh?” Don’t say, 'Superman.' Don’t say, 'Superman.' “I’ve been told I have one of those faces.”
“You really don’t.” Wayne squinted. “That’s a pretty distinctive chin.”
“Yours is pretty distinctive too,” Clark defended, then— “Wait. It actually is.”
They were squinting at each in the deathly silence and near darkness of the elevator when Clark suddenly choked out, “Bats?” the same time Bruce blurted, “Kal!”
“Holy crap,” said Clark articulately and dropped his papers.
Bruce looked like he wished the elevator would plummet to the basement. “You have a crush on Perry White,” he said, voice cracking.
“Not Perry!” Clark snapped and froze. He watched in horror as Bruce’s face cleared and his cheeks went from flushed with confusion to pale with fury.
“Bruce Wayne, Kal? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What are you talking abou—?“
“He’s an airhead!”
“You head a multi-billion dollar business on your own, Bruce, how stupid can you be?”
Bruce closed his eyes. “I’ve been right next to you for years,” he said quietly. “You never looked at me once. And this vain, vapid, pretty version of me walks in and—“
“Okay, hold up,” Clark snapped. “I was standing right in front of you at the dinner party—without a mask, I might add—and you looked right the fuck through me.”
“But I didn’t,” Bruce uttered in a voice so gravelly is made Clark’s throat hurt in sympathy. “Do you know… Can you even conceive of how long I’ve been…?” His hands balled into fists. “For years I’ve watched you chase after Lois... ”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Clark yelled. “You said so yourself: It’s easy! You just—you could have just said, ‘Hey, Kal, want to get naked sometime?’ like you have a million times to a million other people!”
“It’s not that simple!”
They were trying to glare at each other, but it wasn’t quite working. Bruce just looked lost. And Clark…
Clark was trying to figure out what to do about the hammering in his chest. His hands, even his knees, wouldn't stop quaking. But for all his body seemed poised to collapse, the turbulence of his thoughts was drowned out by a single, burning desire—
Bruce grabbed him by the back of his head and slammed their mouths together with such rage, Clark was afraid Bruce would try to bite him and chip his perfect teeth. They were still kissing ferociously in the flickering lights when a crackling voice came in over the intercom.
“Uh, guys?” Greg paused. “It's been about ten minutes. Anyone still alive in there?”
“We’re just fine, Greg.” Bruce pulled away, resting his forehead against Clark’s. His lips were shiny and soft. Clark gave them an experimental peck; Bruce shivered in his arms.
“Doing great,” Clark croaked.
Greg sounded relieved. “Can one of you take off the emergency brakes? We’ve got a few pissed-off reporters in this building who would like to get some work done.”
With a jerk, Bruce freed himself from Clark’s embrace and smacked the emergency button again. With a reluctant screech, the elevator started moving.
Bruce glanced warily over at Clark, who was gathering up his stories and stacking them on top of Lois's. “Let me fix your tie.”
Clark straightened and tucked the shuffled papers under his arm. “Okay.”
The third floor dinged just as Bruce finished adjusting the knot. He let his hands come to rest on Clark’s broad chest. “So, would you like to get naked sometime?” he asked, sardonic.
Clark blinked, blushed, and stuttered out a series of sounds that were almost entirely human. “Uh…How about we just get dinner first?”
“My place at six? Or seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Whatever works for you.”
“Eight sounds great,” Clark exhaled.
“Perfect.” Bruce stepped back and hit the lobby button. “I’ll tell Alfred to prepare at least six courses.”
“That’s really not—“
The elevator doors closed. Clark turned and stared into the face of deadly wrath. Lois held out her hand and accepted the printouts from under his arm. Then she grinned at him like a lecherous uncle.
“See?” she said. “It’s really that simple.” Then she smacked him on the ass and jogged off to drop off their stories. Clark, meanwhile, sagged against the wall and tried to keep a stupid grin from spreading across his face.