The sign under the register said:
CASH OR CHECKS ONLY
NO LARGE BILLS 50+
Bruce stared at it. "Shit."
Clark snorted, and started to make a joke about buying a pack of gum with a hundred dollar bill. Then he remembered who he was with. "Wait, are you—"
"It's fine," Bruce said before Clark could finish asking. "Excuse me," he said to the woman behind the register. Her hair was the approximate color and consistency of straw. She had somehow conspired to form her bangs into a sort of tumbleweed above her forehead. Her pants were a distinctly visible shade of a pink camouflage print. Bruce held up a pack of gum. "I don't suppose I could get this on store credit?"
She scoffed. She was chewing nicotine gum actively and open-mouthed. It was impossible to say if she didn't know how to chew it properly, or just didn't care. "Store credit's for locals that I know are good for it," she said. "No offense, but I don't know you from Adam."
Bruce could hear, over the chewing, the shaky breath of Clark trying to laugh silently.
"That's understandable," Bruce said mildly.
"I'm getting stuff anyway," Clark said. "Throw it in with mine."
"I can write a—"
"You're not writing a check for a dollar." Clark took the gum from Bruce's hand before he could stop him. As usual, he did not care that powers were cheating. He did that thing where he used his shoulder to hide the unnatural speed of his hand from any possible audience.
Bruce didn't even want gum. He was only buying it because of the other sign, the one that declared the bathroom was for paying customers only. "Where's your bathroom?" he asked, the ramshackle wooden building seeming too small to hide such a thing.
"Outside, take a right," she said, reaching beneath the counter as she entered prices into the register. She tossed him the key, attached to a piece of driftwood whittled in the shape of a gun.
Clark said nothing. It was a very meaningful nothing.
"You didn't have to do that," Bruce said as they stepped back outside, past the bushels of deer corn.
"But I did," Clark said cheerfully, offering Bruce his gum.
"Hey!" the cashier called from the doorway, and both men stopped and turned. She held up a tabloid, and pointed at it. "This you?"
Bruce Wayne was on the cover, a classic paparazzi shot of a hotel balcony. He was on his phone, and had an expression of utmost exhausted disdain.
"No," Bruce said.
"This says you're supposed to be a billionaire," the cashier said, ignoring him to bring the tabloid down and squint at it. "But you couldn't even afford a pack of gum."
Clark and Bruce exchanged the look of two men both trying not to look at each other while wanting to check and see what their expressions were. It was fleeting and confirmed all their suspicions.
"I'm always telling Jodie these things are fake," she said, self-satisfied. "Just wait until she hears about this." With a grin, she disappeared back into the gas station.
Clark opened his mouth to say something.
Bruce snatched the pack of gum from his hand, and stalked wordlessly around the building.
Clark hadn't even finished pumping gas when Bruce got back in the car, sitting stiff in the passenger seat.
"That was fast," Clark observed when he was done, buckling his seatbelt.
Bruce looked at the seatbelt. He looked at Kal-El. He said nothing as Clark started the car.
"That bad, huh?" Clark asked.
"I don't want to talk about it," Bruce said.
"I'd have thought the Dark Knight would be made of sterner stuff." Clark took his time pulling out onto the interstate, staying always a careful three miles higher than the speed limit. Other cars were rare, but consistently passed him rather than slow down.
"There was a hole in the wall instead of a mirror."
"I've seen worse."
"It was full of spiders."
"There aren't many venomous spiders around here."
"There were so many they looked like insulation."
"The seat was rusty."
"Are you sure it was rust?"
They passed a billboard for a fifties diner which may have once been a modern diner.
"On the bright side," Clark said, "I don't think you two have any mutual friends for her to tell about this."
"She wasn't that bad."
"She's my nemesis now," Bruce said.
"I thought that was the Joker."
"Do you think it hurts him every time you say that? He feels hurt suddenly and doesn't know why?"
"Yes," Bruce said. He pointed at a horse grazing in a field. "That's also my nemesis."
"You're just in a mood because you don't carry ones like a normal person."
"Why would I ever need ones."
"Strip clubs?" Clark suggested, clearly only saying it to say it and with no positive expectations.
Bruce looked at Clark. Clark looked at Bruce. Clark looked back to the road.
"I'm aware you don't go to strip clubs," Clark said.
"I do," Bruce corrected. "I just don't bring ones."
"… fair." They passed a barn with JESUS SAVES painted in white on the roof. "You must be very popular."
"Yes." Bruce watched a passing field of corn. "I'm rich."
"Maybe they like your charming personality."
"Hm." They watched the landscape change without changing, corn punctuated with cows. "Clark, what are we doing?"
"Fishing?" he said, a touch hopefully.
"I told you why."
Luthor had this new game: large-scale charitable projects. Superman knew that Luthor always had an angle, and Luthor knew that Superman knew—
It wasn't the first time. But Clark didn't trust himself not to take the bait, not when the risks were so high. Knowing he was being fucked with didn't stop him from being fucked with.
So Lois and Kara sent him out of town. If it were a real problem, they could always call him home. In the meantime, no risk of Clark impulsively smashing something designed to look smashworthy.
"Why am I here."
"To keep me company?" Clark said. "Because we're friends?"
Bruce raised a single eyebrow.
"You're very popular," Clark reminded him.
"Do you want me to pull over?"
Bruce frowned. "Why."
"There's a river here," Clark explained, clarifying nothing.
"Do you still need to go to the bathroom?"
Bruce looked at Clark with horrified incredulity. "In a river?"
"Because there's a bridge!" Clark said defensively. "For privacy."
"I'm not a troll," Bruce said. "Is this what you do? You fly around pissing in the water supply?"
"It's not anyone's water supply!" Clark insisted. "I thought the running water might—you know what, I'm not explaining to you the finer points of peeing outside." The wheels rumbled over the intermittent grates along the bridge.
"The fact that I'm here to kill fish is bad enough without pissing on them first to establish dominance."
"Even if there were fish—and I don't think there were—you wouldn't have to aim at them."
"I think it would happen reflexively. The fish is my nemesis."
"You're going to get a bladder infection and you're going to deserve it."
"If I see any scenery worth pissing on, I'll be sure to let you know."
"That won't be necessary."
A crudely made wooden sign came into view in the field beside the road. It had a lot of opinions about what constituted sin and what happened to sinners.
"I see some scenery," Bruce said.
"Eyup," Clark agreed, pulling onto the shoulder.
When Bruce got back in the car, he was already sterilizing his hands. He had somehow managed to hide a utility-belt's worth of preparedness in a pair of tailored linen pants.
Clark had told him to dress casual, but Bruce's idea of casual was slacks instead of trousers and an untucked shirt.
Bruce's phone buzzed as soon as he got in the car, at the same time as Clark checked his. He looked at his messages.
Lois: How is your totally heterosexual, not at all suspicious fishing trip going?
Lois: Have you spooned in a tent yet?
A response came in as Bruce watched.
Clark: not yet but will keep u posted
Clark tossed his phone carelessly into the center console, pulling back into the road.
Bruce looked at his phone. He looked at Clark.
Lois:... he didn't realize this was a group text, did he?
Bruce: I don't believe he did.
Clark glanced at where his phone was buzzing. Then at Bruce's phone, also buzzing.
Bruce watched Clark's eyebrows.
"That was a group text," Clark said instead of asked.
"I knew that."
"I was joking. It was a joke."
"A joke about spooning me."
He was turning pink. "Yes."
"With your girlfriend, who keeps asking me about threesomes."
"That's also a joke."
"No it isn't."
"It's kind of a joke."
"The joke is that she's serious."
Clark was getting flustered. "It isn't—I'm not—"
Clark didn't seem reassured.
"I am well aware you're not trying to seduce me."
That was a fun shade of red.
"Would you like me to turn on the radio so we can pretend this never happened."
"It's fine," Clark said, clearly not actually fine. "I just... didn't mean for this to get weird."
"This was never going to not be weird."
"I mean that kind of weird. This was supposed to be a nice friend thing."
"It's still a nice... thing. Friend. Thing."
"It was just nice. That one time. After Lois found out about me."
Bruce kept his face impassive. It may have been too impassive.
"Not—I mean. Just hanging out and drinking and talking about work. Normal stuff."
"You were drinking anti-freeze."
"There aren't really a lot of people I can talk to about 'work'. What we do. There are other people who do this, but none of them know who I am, and the people who know who I am are all... Lois. And relatives. That's not the same. And it was nice. I thought."
Bruce considered the appropriate response to this. "It was." That was not an ideal reply. "Nice," he clarified, in case that was unclear.
Clark sighed. "Thank you for being a good sport."
Bruce didn't know how he felt about this characterization of himself. Or maybe he only didn't know because it was Clark. He was right. They didn't have many peers.
"You could have invited Diana," Bruce said suddenly.
Clark seemed surprised. "I thought that would make things weird."
"… you two?"
There was an irony here that Bruce thought might be lost on Clark. It was hard to tell. Clark was too sincere to seem sincere at the best of times. "It wouldn't have to be weird."
"I don't think it would be the same," Clark said. "Besides, aren't you glad she didn't see what happened with your new nemesis?"
"She would have defended my honor."
Clark started to laugh. "What, like challenge her to a duel?"
"Why didn't you defend your own honor?"
"Ask Lois what the headlines would look like."
"God, she comes up with the best headlines," Clark said, briefly distracted by how smitten he was. Had always been. Could still be distracted by.
"She does," Bruce agreed.
"I don't think Diana would come across much better if she punched a cashier."
"The cashier would thank her," Bruce said, and Clark laughed again.
"Do you have a lot of fantasies about Diana punching people you're not allowed to?" he teased.
"Do you not?" Bruce countered, and that brought him up short.
"... it would just be really satisfying," Clark admitted. He was clearly imagining Wonder Woman's fist in Luthor's face.
"It would," Bruce agreed. "How far is this place."
"I'm not sure," Clark said, lowering his glasses to consider the horizon. "The guy said there'd be a lot of trees, we'll pass an old park, and then it's going to be on the right."
"Have you not been here before."
"No, I thought it would be more fair this way."
"Instead of taking you somewhere that I know where you're out of your element, this way it's new to both of us."
"You thought I would be more comfortable if we were both unfamiliar with our surroundings," Bruce said for clarification.
"In retrospect, I can see where I may have assumed incorrectly."
"You may have."
"I've seen pictures!" Clark assured him. "Dad's been here before, he says it's nice."
"This is the beginning of a horror movie."
"If I see a man with a chainsaw I'm going home."
"You can't just retreat at the first sign of lumberjacks."
"I can. I will. And I have."
"I'm going home."
"There is not a single lumberjack within miles of here," Clark protested, dropping his bags on the floor of the cabin. "I checked."
"The only running water is outside," Bruce said, setting his bags down more carefully.
"I'm sure you've dealt with worse," Clark said, and Bruce didn't contradict him.
Jungles, deserts, swamps, slums, oil rigs. No one who knew him. Alone. Sections of his life compartmentalized into different people. The awkward position of not knowing who to be when nothing was expected but to be himself.
"There's only one bed," Bruce pointed out.
Bruce raised an eyebrow.
"I'm going to be on the roof," Clark clarified, pointing with his thumb. "Slightly above the roof," he corrected. "Sort of... floating—look, I don't have to explain my sleep habits to you. I'm on vacation."
"That sounds cold." Summer nights could be warm, but there were limits.
"I don't get cold," Clark reminded him, pulling a thin blanket from one of his bags.
Bruce looked at the blanket. So did Clark.
"I can't sleep without a blanket," Clark said. "Or, I can, but I don't want to. I'm allowed to want to feel safe."
"I don't think that's how ghosts work."
"Ghosts can't pass through bedding," Clark insisted. "It's a rule."
"That's not a rule."
"That's why they're always under sheets. They're trapped. Ghost rules."
"Nothing about that sounds right."
"You know what's not right?" Clark asked, balling up the blanket and holding it against his chest. "The lingering souls of the dead."
Bruce had started and subsequently finished a book on the presidency of Chester A. Arthur before he accepted that he couldn't sleep.
6625211850: How are things going?
FineMess: Everything's a-okay out here, Boss!
FineMess: How's camping?
6625211850: How are things going?
HypatiaLives: It's a train wreck, but it isn't any worse than one of yours
HypatiaLives: Go to bed, sleep in, enjoy your time off whether you like it or not
The moon and the stars were too bright in the sky. The night was noisy with crickets and frog song. Lithobates clamitans melanota, mostly. The occasional Pseudacris triseriata. There was a mourning dove somewhere doing its best impression of an owl.
Loud. The wrong kind of loud. The city was white noise by now, and he didn't hear it. There were woods around the mansion, but they weren't alive like this. Not now. Maybe when he'd been young.
He had not realized for many years that it was a constant problem, people dropping off stray cats in what they thought of as the wild. His parents, his grandparents, they'd made a job of it. Collecting strays and taking them into the shelter.
He hoped that was what they'd done with them.
It had never been Alfred's job. It had never occurred to Bruce that it was a job that needed doing. Their woods were a colony of cats, now. He couldn't bring himself to clear them out properly.
It was hell on the bird population.
Maybe one of these days he'd ask Selina if she could do something about it.
The grass was wet under his bare feet. He'd only worn pants to bed; the air wasn't cool enough to feel refreshing against his skin. He hadn't thought he'd feel self-conscious, practically alone like this.
He glanced up toward the sky, above the cabin. The shape of Clark floated in the air, the blanket hanging down from him. He was sitting upright, and waved. Bruce tilted his head in something like a nod.
"Can't sleep?" Clark asked, sounding like he was on Bruce's shoulder.
"Don't do that," Bruce said, at a normal volume.
Ventriloquism was creepy at the best of times.
He could see Clark shrug.
Clark was still floating when Bruce pulled himself up onto the roof. "I assume you don't mind," Bruce said.
"You're good," Clark said, before yawning. "I don't actually sleep that much."
"Of course you don't," Bruce said, and Clark snorted. "I try to stick to a schedule."
"How's that working out for you?"
"Not well." Bruce yawned. "It's not so bad at home," he said. "Routine. Gets disrupted and it fucks up my whole... nap schedule." Clark started to laugh. "Have you ever tried to maintain a fucking nap schedule. Excusing yourself after lunch because it's time for your scheduled nap. That's the real reason everyone thinks I'm depressed, the constant excusing myself for naps."
Clark was still laughing. "That, and all the black."
"And the moping."
"I don't mope."
"And the angst."
"I don't angst."
"All the brooding."
"I do not brood."
"Based on the number of birds you've raised, you must."
Bruce groaned audibly, and Clark started to laugh again, a quiet and giggly thing. The mild hysteria of someone who should have been sleeping.
"Of all the ways to make yourself laugh," Bruce said.
"Sorry," Clark said, not sorry at all, rubbing at the corners of his eyes. "I wasn't laughing at that, it was..." He trailed off into giggles again. The corner of Bruce's mouth twitched. "Silkies," he said, as if that were an explanation. "With the little..." He brought his fingers to his eyes to make a mask of them.
Bruce's mouth twitched again, and his nose twitched with it. Looking out at the forest instead of at Clark, he bent his arms, brought his hands close to his shoulders. Deliberately pitching his voice low, he said: "Bawk."
He gave his 'wings' a single flap for effect.
Clark was immediately undone, pulling the blanket up over his head and shaking with laughter high-pitched enough to be inaudible.
Bruce buried his face in his knees and made a sound like a water balloon full of pudding landing on a frog.
This did not at all improve the situation for Clark, who struggled to breathe.
"We're in our thirties," Bruce managed, muffled.
"You have kids," Clark agreed, blanket still over his head.
"You almost won a fucking Pulitzer."
Clark seemed to have recovered, silent and catching his breath. Then he moved his arms a little under the blanket, and said: "Bawk."
The conversation lost cohesion again.
"Thank god someone had this blanket on hand to catch this chicken's ghost," Bruce said.
"Chicken ghosts would be the worst," Clark said with startling vehemence, distracted from his own amusement by the horror this concept represented.
"How do you know chickens don't have ghosts?"
Clark pulled the blanket down off his head. "I definitely would have met one by now," he said. "I lived on a farm," he added at the look on Bruce's face.
"I thought you grew corn."
"We didn't just grow corn. We grew a lot of things. There were chickens, and goats. Rabbits, for a while. Ma was experimenting with more ethical meat sources."
"Yes, rabbits. Don't look at me like that, it isn't worse than cows, I know you eat those."
"No, it's—I know." Bruce scratched his chin, his lips a careful line. "You should tell me about it."
"Tell you about—?"
"Oh, ha," Clark said, as Bruce's hand went higher to cover the curve of his mouth. "That joke doesn't even work," he said, and Bruce had to duck his head as Clark's indignation made it funnier. "You're clearly trying to imply that I'm Lenny, but that's Lenny's line. It's a poorly constructed own."
"You're getting your money's worth out of that English degree."
"It's a journalism degree, you pretentious ass."
Bruce snorted reflexively at the sound of Clark swearing. "I didn't go to Yale to not be a pretentious ass."
"Just for that," Clark said, "the next time you fight the Joker, I'm showing up and I'm standing where only you can see me, and I'm impersonating a chicken."
Bruce swallowed the sound that tried to escape him, and Clark started to giggle again, floating a little higher and then settling down again. "How do you not..." Bruce gestured vaguely upward with his hand.
"Not just keep going up?" Clark asked for clarification, and Bruce nodded. "Iunno," Clark shrugged, and Bruce made a sound of disgust. "It's not like I naturally drift spaceward at all times. I just don't fall." He wobbled slightly. "Ugh, let's not talk about this."
"It's like thinking about breathing."
"You know, like—dangit, now I'm thinking about breathing." He huffed, shaky and petulant. "When you think too much about breathing, and it stops happening automatically. You start having to consciously inhale and exhale." He huffed again, and scowled.
Bruce buried a high-pitched hiccup. "You're a fucking cartoon character," he accused. "You fall when you learn about gravity."
"That isn't how it—I need to sit down." Bruce pressed his fist to his mouth as Clark sank back down to the roof.
"Does Lex know your weakness is a heavy hardcover with the word 'gravity' printed on the front?"
Clark started laughing harder than the joke warranted. "God damn it," he said, as Bruce buried the lower half of his face in his elbows, resting on his knees. Clark pulled the blanket higher again, not entirely over his face. "I'm imagining the worst fight," he admitted.
"Hawkman and a mirror."
"No, I said worst. You, standing there reading a physics textbook like it's a wizard's scroll—"
"—and meanwhile I'm flapping my arms like a chicken, bawk bawk bawk."
"There's no way we're going to get enough sleep," Bruce said when he caught his breath. "When are we fishing, again?"
Clark squinted at the sky. "Three hours from now?" he suggested.
"God." Bruce rubbed at his eyes. "My nap schedule is fucked," he said, making Clark laugh again. "I should get to bed." He stood up, brushing himself off. "If I don't see you out here in three hours, I'll assume you're in the mesosphere."
"If I don't see you I'll assume you saw a lumberjack. Or a lumberjack saw you."
"Don't make this weird," Bruce said, jumping off the roof.
"We both know it's too late for that."
"You know," Bruce said, "technically speaking, I think you could catch every fish in this lake with your bare hands."
He hadn't slept much, but he rarely did.
"That'd defeat the purpose."
"Fishing's not about catching fish," Clark said.
Clark had caught a walleye. He'd reeled it in and killed it with a flick of his wrist, invisible to the naked eye. As humane as it was possible to kill a fish. It was unsettling to imagine a rabbit in its place.
Bruce thought about chickens packed tight in steel barns with their beaks cut to keep them from killing each other. An imagined distinction wide and deep between a bird on a perch and a bird on a plate.
There'd been a few tugs on Bruce's line. He'd ignored them.
"We're going to end up foraging for mushrooms."
The walleye sat lonely in the cooler full of ice. Dinner, eventually. The other cooler contained whatever Clark assumed they couldn't catch.
"Are you hungry?" Clark asked, concerned.
"I brought snacks."
Bruce turned his head. Clark was offering him a plastic container he'd pulled from the second cooler.
"Rysh Krishpie treatsh," Clark explained.
"I'm fine," Bruce said again.
Clark swallowed. "They've got Fruity Pebbles in them," he said, with a waggle of his eyebrows. He clearly thought this was an irresistible selling point.
Bruce claimed a square so that Clark would stop offering. He had to eat it in small pieces. Clark's sweet tooth was painful for anyone over the age of eight.
The lake was exactly as large as necessary to make calling it a pond uncomfortable. The few small wooden piers were rotting; their boat sat neat in the middle. The breeze smelled like clover.
"I don't know what it is about sitting in a boat," Clark said, "that's so good for a conversation."
"Not much else you can do," Bruce pointed out.
"Yeah," Clark conceded.
"It's like a car."
"Conversations are easier in cars," Bruce said. "It's private. There's a designated endpoint. No eye contact, so you can't see how they react to what you say. Makes it easier."
"Huh." Water lapped against the wood of the boat, the reel of Clark's rod winding and unwinding in minute and irregular amounts. "Does that come up a lot?"
"In the Batmobile?"
"Kind of." Bruce's rod and reel were both unmoving. "Depends on who's with me."
"Dick has never had trouble talking," he said, and Clark laughed.
"The hard part with Tim is keeping him off his fucking phone," Bruce said, and Clark laughed harder. "Any other time I couldn't give half a shit, but he wants to get on Snapchat in the middle of the fucking night, we're at the docks, he's got location services on—I don't even know how he installed Snapchat, those burners are supposed to be locked, he shouldn't be able to install a goddamn thing."
"I'm surprised you even let him use a phone out there."
"They're useful. I'm not calling Alfred while we're out just so he can check Wikipedia for us. And CBChat works fine."
"I don't get that name," Clark admitted. "I get that it's a CB radio thing, but it doesn't really make sense. Citizen band chat."
"That's not what CB stands for."
Clark frowned. "It's not?"
"Cartoon bomb chat."
"What?" Clark turned in the boat to try and see Bruce, but it didn't work, since he was facing in a different direction. The boat rocked.
"One of the first features I wanted was being able to destroy the chat history on both phones," Bruce said, eyes still on his motionless fishing rod. "Artie—you'd like her. She put the icon in as a placeholder."
"And you made her keep it."
"You're goddamn right."
"That's—is this common knowledge, and I just didn't know because I'm not a tech journalist?" Clark asked.
"No. It's supposed to be a secret because everyone hates it."
"Being the boss means making the hard decisions."
"You're getting your money's worth out of that business degree," Clark said.
"Ouch," Bruce said, and Clark laughed. They lapsed into an easy silence.
"Thank you again," Clark said. "For... coming out here. Doing this."
"It's fine," Bruce said, regretting the word immediately. "Good," he attempted to correct.
The silence felt a little less easy this time, and Bruce couldn't tell which one of them wanted to say something. He didn't think it was him. It usually wasn't.
"Should I have invited Diana?" Clark asked.
"No," Bruce said. He considered whether the lack of equivocation made the word too forceful. "It would have been fine if you had," he clarified. "It's fine that you didn't."
Needed to find a better word.
"Okay," Clark said. "If we do this again, maybe I'll invite her."
"You don't have to."
"I just want to make sure you're having a good time."
"It's hard to tell."
"I don't want this to be selfish," Clark said. "This whole trip."
"This is your idea of selfish?"
"I..." Clark trailed off. "I'm being stupid," he admitted finally. "Sorry."
Bruce rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "If I'm not having a good time," he said, "you'll know. I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be. This is nice." Nicer, before. A little less so now that his own inexpressiveness had become a problem. Not enjoying himself loudly enough, visibly enough. It wasn't an annoyance he'd prepared himself for.
"Thanks," Clark said. It seemed like he might say something else.
"Clark," Bruce said before he could.
"Let's try doing the manly thing, here."
Clark paused. "You want to argue about romcoms?"
"No," Bruce said. "Maybe later."
"Good," Clark said, "because I just rewatched Love, Actually and I have opinions."
"Oh, god," Bruce said. "No, I meant we'd sit quietly in a boat together, not talk about our feelings, and tell ourselves the silence says good things about our friendship."
"Ouch," Clark said.
"It's early," Bruce sighed. "I like to listen to the birds."
They listened together for a moment. "Yeah," Clark sighed. "It's nice out here."
"It is," Bruce agreed. He listened to the water and the wind, watched small birds flit between trees on the shore. A crane took off, wings large enough to make a sound moving through the air. Clark, trying to be quiet, clearly ate another Rice Krispie treat.
Bruce didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he woke up. The sun was high above, but a towel-and-sticks arrangement had been set up at an angle to keep it off his face. His back hurt, but his back usually hurt. He rubbed at his eyes.
Fucking nap schedule.
It was the smell that woke him up. Fish, and smoke. He sat up in the boat, and assessed his surroundings.
Clark had brought the boat ashore. Not the dock where they'd taken off. A secluded little area, barely a beach, but the view was nice. Clark had a cast iron skillet resting above a campfire. Bruce wondered idly how he'd started it—if he'd used his eyes, if he'd rubbed his hands together too fast, or if he'd just used a match. Never could tell with him.
"Hey," Bruce said, not bothering to raise his voice.
"Hey," Bruce's shoulder said with Clark's voice.
"If you keep doing that I'm leaving," Bruce warned. He didn't move, still figuring out the logistics of getting out of this particular boat without looking like a clumsy oaf. Boats were tricky that way. When he finally stood and stepped onto the sand, he still didn't manage it gracefully, but it could have been worse. "Lunch?" Bruce asked.
"That was the plan," Clark agreed. "If that's okay with you."
"Works for me," Bruce said, looking for a patch of sandy ground that he could sit on. "How did I sleep through that parking job," he asked, gesturing back to the boat.
"I picked it up," Clark explained with a shrug. Because of course he did. Got bored of fishing, picked up the boat, set it on the shore like it was nothing. Clark flipped each fish over in the pan using his bare fingers. Somehow that startled Bruce more than watching him throw a car, realizing that Clark was holding the pan's hot handle with his bare hand. "I did remember to bring cutlery," Clark assured him, misinterpreting whatever expression was on Bruce's face. "How do you like your eggs?"
"Cooked," Bruce said. "Usually."
"Sunny-side up it is, then. Can you grab some out of the cooler?"
He'd packed them in a small plastic case, tucked beside the now-empty container that had held the Rice Krispie treats. The rest of the cooler had a six-pack of beer, a bottle of tequila, and a jug of anti-freeze.
"Clark," he asked as he handed off the eggs, "why is this cooler full of poison."
"The anti-freeze is still sealed," Clark said as he cracked the eggs one-handed into a pool of oil at one side of the pan. "It shouldn't have contaminated anything else, I was careful."
"Are we day-drinking, now."
"We're fishing," Clark said defensively. "It's traditional. You sit in a boat, you start a fire, you get drunk."
"That feels like the most Kansas thing you've ever said to me." He didn't know enough about Kansas to be sure.
"You don't have to drink," Clark said. "It's an option, is all. I... remembered it being kind of fun." His eyes were on the pan. Bruce lowered his to the fire.
The thought was clear and sharp, questions coalescing into a single answer that made perfect sense and which he did not care for: this was a do-over.
After Lois had found out, after their big fight, Clark had shown up at his doorstep drinking anti-freeze. Bruce had opened up the liquor cabinet, tried to do whatever it was that friends do. Drink together and commiserate. Act like a normal fucking person, for once.
It hadn't ended well.
The fishing trip, the apologies. Clark wanted the kind of friend that he could drink with and talk about work. Bruce was the closest he could get.
So he got a do-over.
"It was," Bruce said. "Fun," he clarified. He reached into the cooler to grab a beer. Clark relaxed a little, sliding eggs and fish out of the pan and onto bamboo plates. Bruce accepted his lunch, setting it on his thigh and resting his beer in the sand. Clark found the rumored cutlery.
Bruce's blood felt like cold syrup. He cracked open his beer, and drank more of it in one go than he should have. It wasn't always easy to tell what Clark could hear in a heartbeat. Drinking seemed like an effective way to hide any inconsistencies.
It didn't mean anything. This was fine.
Clark produced a flask from in his bag while Bruce worked on his fish. Bruce raised a pointed eyebrow.
"I'm not going to drink straight out of the jug," Clark explained, getting up to retrieve his poison of choice.
"I won't judge," Bruce said, and Clark snorted.
"You," Bruce said, "can't handle your anti-freeze."
"Neither can you," Clark pointed out with disdain.
"No shit," Bruce said, squinting at the tequila.
Clark considered possible responses. "The other thing," he said instead, "is that—fuck Hugh Grant. Or, the character. Maybe the guy. I don't know, I feel like maybe he sucks. But the, the prime minister guy—"
"Still?" Bruce interrupted. "You're still on that?"
"Yes!" Clark said, with vehemence. "It was—it's so bad. Everything with the Hugh Grant story, the—the lawsuits. Can you imagine the lawsuits. All of these girls needed lawyers. All of them."
"It was the nineties," Bruce said.
"No! No, I looked it up! It was... aughties."
"That can't be what we're calling it."
"This is why you need to stick to old movies," Bruce said. "Sixties and earlier—you expect those ones to be fucked up. You can tell yourself it's because they're old. Everything from the nineties is a minefield."
"It wasn't the nineties," Clark insisted.
"It was barely not the nineties." Bruce set the tequila bottle down and struggled to his feet. "I need to go see a fish about a horse."
"I was trying to do a callback," he said. "It didn't work, let's move on. I have to piss."
"Oh. Don't pee on any of our fish."
"Obviously." He wandered crooked into the trees. There wasn't much grass, but ferns brushed against his ankles. He thought about ticks, and shuddered.
Clark was still sitting on the ground, waiting for Bruce to get back, when he heard a familiar sound. A small explosion, a percussive burst, a groan and rattle. He sat up straighter, and tried to pinpoint where it had come from. The woods were too full of small sounds, animal sounds, bugs and Bruce's breathing. Clark wasn't in the right headspace to filter it, and he jammed his palms over his ears until he could keep his hearing a reasonable distance.
"Did you hear that?" Clark asked, projecting his voice to where he thought Bruce was.
"Jesus!" He could hear the sound of water against bark stop abruptly, the rise in Bruce's heartrate. "Why—of all the fucking times, why would you—fuck me."
"Sorry," Clark said, still projecting his voice because he didn't want to yell. Not here, not now. "I thought I heard a gun. I'm pretty sure I heard—I can't tell how far it was. Sometimes with guns I hear them. Further away than other things."
"Shit." Bruce emerged from the trees, rubbing sanitizer into his hands. It smelled like a plastic lemon. "Yeah. Think I heard it. Thought maybe a tree fell." Clark shook his head. "Shit." He ran his fingers through his hair. "Hunters?"
"Not here," Clark said. "Not at this time of year. I checked."
"Not legally," Bruce corrected.
Clark's eyes widened. "Poachers," he said.
Bruce squinted at him. "That's. Probably technically correct. If dramatic."
"We should—should we do something?" Clark asked. "About the poachers?"
Bruce rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. His hair was tousled, and he already had a visible layer of stubble along his jaw. "Not a rich area," he muttered. "Might just be hungry. I don't know."
"We could bring them fish!" Clark suggested, perking up. "We have plenty of fish. We should help."
"We don't know if they need help," Bruce reminded him.
"Right," Clark said unsteadily.
"Yeah. Shit. We should—we're drunk."
"Can you tell where it came from?" Bruce asked, offering his arm to help Clark up. Clark accepted, but floated upward off the ground with no effort whatsoever, only using Bruce's hand to anchor himself at the right height before letting go.
"I think so," Clark said.
"We'll look," Bruce said. "If they seem shitty we'll report it. Because we're drunk. And vacation."
"Good call," Clark said. He headed out along the shore, floating slightly above the ground. Bruce was reminded of a will-o'-the-wisp. Those didn't usually wear flannel and denim. He thought about reminding him of walking, but decided against it. He wasn't convinced that Clark knew how to be quiet on his feet. He didn't have to be. He was invincible and he could fly.
Bruce found himself wishing he'd worn something different. He hadn't wanted to dress like a mad hermit foraging in the woods. There was probably a way to strike a balance between that and business casual. He just didn't know how. Which was why he was trying to pick his way through the underbrush in tailored slacks and derbies.
Clark stopped suddenly. "No." He gestured to their left. "Back–the lake. An ATV. Can you hear it?"
Bruce shook his head, but Clark wasn't looking. It made him lightheaded. Too much tequila.
"It's headed back to the lake. That way. I think it's them. I don't hear anyone else." Clark rubbed at his ears, knees curling upward in the air. "Woods are loud," he mumbled, before letting his feet drop to the ground for the first time.
Bruce fell into a half-crouch so that he could drop if he needed to, moving between trees. Clark stopped to watch him. "That looks really different when you don't have a cape." Bruce rolled his eyes, stepping carefully over a half-rotted log. "You point your toes," Clark added.
"Is this really the time."
"Just an observation," Clark said, a little sullen. "I hadn't really noticed before. Is all." He took a step to follow Bruce.
"You should float," Bruce advised, with a lifting gesture. Clark took his feet off the ground, checking that he hadn't stepped in anything. "You're loud," Bruce explained.
"No one's gonna hear me over the ATV," Clark said, a little annoyed. It was closer now, enough that Bruce could hear it crashing through trees. Bruce accepted that his stealth seemed unwarranted under the circumstances, but he was still irritated about it. They followed the sound, moving a little faster now that their goal was more obvious, until a cabin became barely visible through the leaves. Bruce knelt behind the largest tree he could find in range, and Clark joined him.
"Should I go say hi?" Clark asked, barely audible over the puttering of the still-running, but parked ATV.
"What? No. We still don't know what's happening."
"They can't hurt me," Clark shrugged. Bruce contemplated what it would be like to always be able to use the front door. It would, regardless, put Bruce at risk. Not to mention secret identities. Clark wasn't thinking straight. Not used to drinking. Not like Bruce.
"I'll investigate," Bruce said firmly. "Don't move."
Bruce dropped to the ground, and pulled himself along with his elbows to stay beneath the ferns. Clark leaned around the tree trunk to watch him go. He was clearly visible through the leaves, and had to crawl at least twenty feet. There was a bush he could have hidden behind. It would have been fine. Bruce had clearly had too much to drink. He should have just let Clark go in.
Bruce stayed flat on the ground, watching the ATV and the cabin from beneath a bush. The smell of the dirt wasn't agreeing with him. The driver finally turned off the ATV, and slid off to unlock the cabin. A familiar figure. Blond hair, pink camo. His anxiety eased a little.
She dragged something off the back of the ATV. Someone. She hauled them like a sack of flour. His anxiety returned. He slid backward behind the bush, pulling himself up to a crouch so that he could scramble back behind the tree with Clark. "It's my nemesis," he hissed.
Clark frowned. "The horse?"
Bruce started to roll his eyes with enough force to carry his head before stopping. "No, not the horse," he said in what was rapidly becoming a stage-whisper. "Why would it be the horse!"
"I don't know!" Clark said helplessly at barely below normal volume. "Why would it be the Joker?"
"It's not the Joker," Bruce said, all rapid and quiet and sharp, and Clark found himself thinking suddenly and inexplicably of Lois. "It's that woman from the gas station."
"Oh—wait, is she really your nemesis? I thought that was a—"
Bruce covered Clark's mouth with his hand, and pressed a finger to his lips to remind him to be quiet. Clark thought very explicably of Lois.
"Why are we even whispering?" Clark whispered when Bruce let him go.
"Because she had a body."
"I should hope so," Clark said with another frown. Then his eyebrows shot up, and he leaned closer to Bruce. "Did you think she was a ghost?" he asked seriously.
Bruce looked to the sky for reprieve, remembered he was an atheist, rubbed both hands over his face. "If you weren't invulnerable it would be very tempting to beat your ass."
"That's never stopped Lois."
"Why would you tell me that," Bruce almost forgot to whisper. "I don't need to know that. No one needs to know that."
"It just slipped out!"
"That woman has a corpse, Clark," Bruce said, trying to return to the issue at hand.
"Oh, gosh," Clark said, not horrified but deeply concerned. "It wasn't hers, was it?"
"Her—she's not a ghost."
"I got confused."
"Yes, I see that."
"Should I get my—I brought my costume."
"Obviously we both brought our costumes," Bruce sighed.
Clark's brow furrowed. "I told you not to bring your costume."
"That was never going to happen."
"We're on vacation," Clark protested, ignoring that he had also brought his costume.
"There's a dead body," Bruce reminded him.
"Are you sure?"
"I didn't get a good look." Easier to tell if there'd been a visible gunshot wound, a pool of blood. Instead just limbs and denim.
"I should look," Clark said, starting to stand. Bruce grabbed his arm and pulled him downward, which shouldn't have worked, except that when someone yanked on Clark's arm he followed as a reflex. He collapsed to the ground, confused and indignant.
"You can see through things," Bruce reminded him between his teeth, pointing at the tree.
Clark made a sound of disgust. "Okay, just—where am I looking?"
"There," Bruce said, pointing in the direction of what he'd seen, which looked remarkably similar to jabbing his finger into a piece of moss. Clark squinted at the moss, then tried to angle himself so he'd be facing the same direction that Bruce was pointing, nearly tipping over onto Bruce in the process.
"Okay, there's—there are so many bugs on this tree."
"You don't have to narrate," Bruce said under his breath.
"This is what's happening now and you just have to deal with that. I don't see anyone."
"Are they in the cabin?"
"They might be in the cabin—augh!" Clark recoiled, rubbing at his eyes. "Organs, I saw—oh no."
"What? What's happening?"
Clark looked at Bruce, his hands still over his eyes, and immediately turned his face elsewhere. "I'm drunk," Clark whined.
"Are you okay?" he asked, putting his hand on Clark's shoulder.
"Drinking makes your vision go funny, I didn't even think—I saw your skull."
"That's. Not good."
"Give me a second to... refocus." Clark looked pointedly at the ground, waving his own hand in front of his face. "There were two," he added.
"People. I think. I saw two people in the cabin."
"Was one of them dead?"
"I couldn't tell, I was trying not to look."
"I think I'm better."
Bruce realized his hand was still on Clark's shoulder. Had been on Clark's shoulder. He detached it slowly, wary of what it might seem like to take it away too quickly. "Good."
"I didn't throw up," he added.
"Good," Bruce said again.
"You should talk to Diana."
"About the body?"
"About your skull." This time Clark touched Bruce's arm. "You're fine," he assured him, realizing this could be worrying. "I just mean—you already know. Right? About your skull."
"I hope so."
"I think she could fix it, is what I mean. Like new."
"That would be too small."
"Not that new. Right?"
"You should. Should I change?"
"Maybe," Bruce admitted. "You might be able to run over and see... whatever the fuck."
"Yeah." Clark started to stand again, then stopped and sat back down. "No."
"I'm not... I think I'd run into someone. If I tried. And they'd explode."
"I don't think they'd explode."
"They would explode."
"How do you know that."
"No," Clark said firmly. "I haven't..." He paused to think about it. "I've never run into anyone. I only know because bullet trains. When they hit cows."
Bruce took a minute to unpack this. "You know. When people say, 'faster than a speeding bullet', and 'more powerful than a locomotive'—"
"That's such a weird benchmark," Clark complained. "That's weird, right? A train guy wrote that. A guy who just really likes that word. Locomotive."
"—but when people say that, they don't mean..." Bruce had to pause to reorganize his thoughts. "A bullet train does not actually have all the powers of a bullet, and a train. Saying: I am in some ways like a bullet, and in other ways like a train, and therefore in all ways like a bullet train. It doesn't work. You're not... that's not one-to-one."
"I'm... I'm working with what I have, here. If I run into a guy, he'll explode."
"I'm not arguing with that."
"It sounds like you're arguing."
"That's just. What I sound like."
"You should work on that."
"I've been. What are we supposed to do about the corpse?"
"I wish I could listen in," Clark said, rubbing his still-smooth jaw. "Every time I try I get distracted by all the birds and the bear."
Bruce froze. "There's a bear?"
Clark waved a hand. "Not near us," he assured Bruce. "It's just—it's distracting."
"Yes," Bruce agreed. "Because it's a fucking bear."
"Is your phone working?" Clark asked. "I don't have signal."
Bruce checked his, then shook his head. "I left my satellite phone at the cabin. I didn't think I'd need it, since I was going to be with you."
Clark smiled. "Aww. Thank you, Bruce."
Bruce almost smacked his shoulder. "Corpse," he reminded Clark, jabbing moss.
"We don't know that for sure," Clark protested. "You said you didn't get a good look. Maybe he's drunk."
"You only think that because we're drunk," Bruce said. "Not everyone is drunk. That's—that's an us situation. You heard a gun."
"Maybe he was firing in the air for help." Clark gasped. "That's dangerous! The bullet must have fallen. Poor guy."
"There is zero evidence of that," Bruce said. "We don't even know if it was a man."
"Lady poachers," Clark said.
"That's not—you're all over the place right now."
"That's why I shouldn't run."
"No shit," Bruce said. "We need to sober up and figure out if we have time to get our costumes."
"Door," Clark said suddenly, and he leaned around the tree trunk instead of looking through it. Bruce leaned around the other side. Bruce's nemesis—who he found himself thinking of as The Pink Poacher, despite the fact that it was a terrible name with no basis in reality—was carrying a denim body back out of the cabin. She had it hooked under her arm this time, moving with significantly more ease. Something looked wrong about it.
"Oh, thank goodness," Clark said, collapsing back behind the tree. "It's just a scarecrow."
"I saw it," Clark said, patting Bruce's side. "I don't mean the Scarecrow, I mean it was full of straw. Not a dead body. We're fine."
"That's not what I saw," Bruce said, trying to figure out where she'd walked to.
"Well, shit," Clark said. "What's—what did the other one look like?"
"A body," Bruce insisted. "I don't know. All I could see was denim. A jorpse."
"I don't know why I said that out loud." He needed to spend more time around people who weren't teens.
"That sounds a lot like the scarecrow I just saw," Clark said.
"You saw two people," Bruce reminded him.
Clark made a thoughtful sound, and floated higher so that he could comfortably look over Bruce's head at the same side of the tree. "Second person," he said with satisfaction, pointing to where Pink was now standing with the denim body. Someone else was standing with her, a long-haired woman in overalls.
"Get down," Bruce hissed, pushing Clark backward. "They'll see you."
"It's okay," Clark said. "No one's dead, it's just some ladies with a scarecrow."
"It wasn't a scarecrow," Bruce said. "It had more weight to it. She's not carrying that like a body. She carried the other one like a body. Bodies are heavy."
"Yours, maybe," Clark said. Then he put a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "I didn't mean it like that," he apologized. "I just meant I'm easy to carry. Because I can fly."
"I'm not trying to make you self-conscious about your weight."
"Why would I be self-conscious about my weight."
"I don't know. You have a lot of problems."
"Yes. Like the fact that you think I can't tell the difference between a dead body and a scarecrow. I've seen a lot of dead bodies, Clark."
"I know," Clark said. "That's one of your problems."
The scarecrow had been propped up on some kind of post. The women came together in front of it, clearly a kiss even from a distance.
"Aww." Clark put a hand over his heart. "They're in love." He made a face. "Now I feel creepy spying on them."
"Spying on people is always creepy."
"What if this is a Goodbye, Earl situation?" Clark asked suddenly.
"What the fuck is a Goodbye, Earl situation."
"You don't like the Dixie Chicks?" Clark asked, scandalized.
"As people, sure."
"We need to listen to Goodbye, Earl."
"I don't know what that is."
"Earl beat his wife, so they killed him," Clark explained.
"Okay," Bruce said. "I can see why you would find that relevant. That still means they killed someone."
"I don't think they killed anyone."
"You just said—"
Bruce stopped speaking as the women in the distance threw a bucket of something red onto the scarecrow.
"... that was definitely blood," Bruce said.
"It might—no, that's definitely blood," Clark said, nose wrinkled. "Maybe it's pig blood?"
"In what way is that reassuring."
There was a smell like sulfur and burnt copper wire, a sound like the echo of a scream. Black smoke rose from where the scarecrow had burst into flame. It looked more like a skull than was usual for smoke.
"I don't think that was pig blood," Bruce said.
"Well, shit," Clark said, watching the spectral shape lingering in the air. "This is—this is summer camp all over again."
"With the bog witches," Clark said, like this was some universally understood phenomenon. "They ended up not being witches, though, they were just regular serial killers. Lana was really mad." Clark pulled his flask out of his pocket, unscrewed the top and took a swig.
Bruce looked at Clark. He looked at the flask. He looked back at Clark.
"What are you doing?" he hissed, and Clark froze. "You're trying to sober up."
Clark did three double-takes in different directions, looked like he was going to throw the flask and then didn't, started and abandoned five different gestures of explanation or apology in quick succession with the end result of a well-contained flail of distress. "I forgot!" he hissed back when he'd finished. "We were having so much fun I just—"
"Not fun," he corrected. "Kind of fun," he recanted. "It's like an investigation," he said, as if this clarified the matter.
"Journalists," Bruce muttered. "Didn't you say that your father had been here before? Did he not check who else lived around here? Mysterious disappearances? Cult activity?"
"Yes, but—okay, even if he did know about about the bog witch lesbians—and this isn't even a bog, this is a lake, and just because they're doing black magic doesn't mean they're witches—but it's possible he considered that a feature. Like a fun extra thing."
Bruce buried his face in his hands.
"You've met my dad. You know what he's like."
"Okay, in the future can you ask him, specifically, beforehand—"
"If there's going to be magical lesbians?"
"I don't know why you keep specifying lesbians, I don't see how that's relevant."
"We don't know that for sure."
"Are you suggesting it was an ethically harvested corpse. That they're necro-freegans."
"I don't—is that a thing?"
"I don't know. It might be."
"Dad's okay with regular freegans."
"Regular freegans are fine. This isn't about freeganism."
"It's also possible—he didn't say it, but I got this vibe that maybe he came out here to do mushrooms."
Bruce rubbed at his face again.
"I figured that meant it was isolated enough that—you know—we'd have privacy. No paparazzi. But if he did see the black magic he might have thought it was a bad trip. Could that be it? Did we eat any mushrooms?"
"No? N—even if we had, they wouldn't do anything for you."
"Not unless they were very toxic," Clark agreed. He touched Bruce's shoulder. "Are you feeling okay? Mushrooms that strong would definitely kill you."
"We didn't eat any mushrooms."
"I think they took the clothes off of the dead body, stuffed them full of straw, and burned it for a ritual."
Clark considered this. "There's no shame in not being able to see as well as me," he said. "I have superpowers."
"I know I saw a body," Bruce snapped. "I didn't just see a scarecrow. They got the blood from somewhere."
"Okay," Clark said unconvincingly, holding up his hands in surrender.
"Check the cabin again," Bruce said. "See if there's a body in there."
"Ugh." Clark's lip curled as he leaned around the trunk of the tree to look through the cabin walls. Bruce pulled him back behind the trunk, but Clark didn't notice. "Oh, gross," he said, blinking the sight away. "Yeah, that's definitely—they hung him upside-down. Naked. There's another bucket. It's a whole thing." He gave Bruce an accusatory glare. "This stuff never happens when it's just me."
"You said it happened with Lana," Bruce deflected.
"It did," Clark agreed. "It's like the universe can sense the goth energy."
"I don't have—whatever. Okay. So they've killed a man, and they've initiated some kind of ritual by burning a blood-soaked scarecrow thing."
"Nicholas Cage," Clark suggested. "Wicker man," he corrected.
"Don't bring him into this, we have enough problems."
"You can't hold a grudge forever," Clark said. "Yes you can," he amended. "I still don't know what he did."
"He knows what he did."
"What do we do about the wicker man?" Clark asked.
"That isn't even what this is. That's its own thing. This is—this is probably time-sensitive. Do you think you can run to get our costumes?"
"I mi—no. Running back."
"Right," Bruce said.
"I don't want you to explode."
"Thanks. We need to figure out what they're trying to do, and how to stop them."
"Right," Clark said.
"We don't have costumes," Bruce reminded him.
"We don't need the costumes," Clark said. "We can still do the same stuff."
"You don't think Pink's going to mention it if a billionaire and a semi-famous reporter are the ones having her hauled in for murder?"
"I don't think I'm semi-famous."
"You have a lot of followers, it counts."
"Why would Pink—"
"My nemesis, she's wearing pink," Bruce explained.
"Oooh, okay. Okay, cool."
"Did you think I meant the musician."
"I don't know what I thought but I was scared."
"She's fine. We're not arresting her. We can't fight murderous gas station cashiers without costumes."
"We can be sneaky," Clark suggested. "That's your whole thing. You sneak. Right?"
"Maybe," Bruce said, dubious. Sneaking was not an activity best done tipsy.
"Wait." Clark grabbed Bruce suddenly. "Wait."
"Is it the bear?" Bruce said.
"No. I saw two people in the cabin."
"One of them was a corpse," he said. "But there's two women out there."
"Maybe you missed one of them," Bruce offered helpfully.
"One of those women doesn't have a body," Clark insisted. Bruce would have thought he had a hard grip on his arm, if he hadn't known better. For Clark, this was a firm grip at best.
"I think you might be overreacting based on—"
"If there's a ghost I'm not—"
"What is it with you and—"
"I don't have super-exorcisms, Bruce! I get possessed by a ghost, and we're done! I will have been body-snatched, by a ghost."
"I don't know where you get your ghost lore—"
"—but you can resist possession. Regular human beings resist possession all the time. You aren't more vulnerable. You can—it's a matter of will."
"I've eaten eight Rice Krispie treats today," Clark hissed. "Don't talk to me about willpower like that's supposed to make me feel better."
"That's not—this isn't the same thing."
"You don't know that," Clark said.
"Try looking through them again, see if they both have organs," Bruce suggested.
"I hate this," Clark said. "I brought you out here to have a good time, and you keep making me look at organs."
"Please don't tell people that," Bruce said.
Once again, Clark tilted his head around the tree trunk to use his x-ray vision. "Wait," he said. "Who's that?" He pointed, and Bruce had to push his arm down behind the tree before anyone saw. He looked in the general direction indicated, and saw exactly what Clark had meant, lurking in the bushes on the other side of the clearing.
"Please tell me that's not a park ranger," Bruce said.
"That looks like a park ranger," Clark said.
"He looks like his best friend is a talking dog," Bruce said.
"Maybe he's going to call for backup," Clark said.
The babyfaced man started to move toward the cabin.
"He's going to try to solve the crime," Bruce said.
"He's going to get so murdered," Clark said, grabbing at Bruce's arm again.
"Wait here, I'm going in."
"You wait here."
"I'm not the one who can't even run straight," Bruce said. "Look, we need to get him out of the cabin before she realizes he's in there."
There was a scream inside the cabin.
"I think he found the body," Clark said.
"I heard," Bruce said, shrugging out of Clark's grip. The cashier was heading for the cabin.
"Wait, let me try something." Bruce rolled his eyes as Clark squinted intently at the cabin door. Right as the cashier reached for it, it burst into flame. She recoiled, and at the same time they saw the park ranger fleeing out the back of the building. "Heat vision works!" he said triumphantly. Bruce dodged out of the way when Clark turned to him, eyes still glowing. Clark shut his eyes. "Sorry."
"We need to talk to that park ranger," Bruce said. "His life is in danger, now."
"Okay, but—but what if we didn't?" Clark's eyes were still closed, and Bruce realized he was looking through his own eyelids. He poked Clark's closed eye, and Clark blinked as he remembered to open them again.
"He's going to need our help," Bruce said.
"Right," Clark said. "But what if—hear me out. Someone needs to stop these women from completing their ritual, and hopefully have them arrested for murder. One of them. You can't arrest a ghost."
"I don't think she's a—"
"We don't want that to be us, because. Secret identities. Right?"
"You're suggesting we leave it to him?" Bruce asked. "The guy with the Wilhelm scream?"
"No," Clark assured him. "We just make it seem like we left it to him. You know, like. We help him. He just doesn't know we're helping him. No one knows. Maybe it seems like ghosts. Different ghosts. Murdered ghosts."
"To be clear," Bruce said, "your idea is that we allow the hapless park ranger to believe that restless spirits are using him to get vengeance on their murderers, when actually, he is being helped by Superman."
"And Batman," Clark said. "You're here, too."
"That's the dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard," he said, and Clark slouched.
"It's a little dumb," he agreed.
"Obviously that's what we're doing."