Clark awoke on a bed of pulverized concrete, naked but for a thin layer of ash caked over his body. He rose carefully, aware of all the ways his joints bent, his muscles contracted, and his skin folded. It occurred to him that the ash he was dusting off his body was probably all that remained of Batman’s retired armor.
“He’s going to kill me,” he said—and then burst out laughing. Tilting his face toward the sky, he spread his arms. The sun had risen high, hot and golden at its zenith. He soaked it into his skin, let it warm him to his marrow, stretched up to feel each beam against every inch of his body, and realized he was flying—hovering, really, if he wanted to get technical. His feet had risen off the ground—the air was warm—the wind was cool—fuck it all, fuck him, fuck everything—
He shot straight up, let himself fall; swooped low over the pitiful remains of the LexCorp plant and headed up the river. J'onn had retracted the containment field leaving Clark free to soar above the winding waters and skim the treetops with his toes. He arrived at the League's rendezvous spot in time to watch Luthor’s bald head duck into a police car. A crowd consisting mostly of Smallville residents had gathered outside the police tape to ogle the League.
Someone spotted Clark flying overhead and shouted. There came a roar from beyond the police line, a horde of people cheering and screaming all at once. Clark covered himself with one hand and waved awkwardly with the other, praying no TV crews had their cameras angled at the sky.
The livid, shocked look on Luthor's face as he was driven out of town was enough to brighten Clark’s week. Wonder Woman looked like she wanted to laugh; John and Shayera standing close together, grinned up at him. Even J’onn’s normally unreadable face was split into a smile. But it was Batman’s unfathomable gaze that left Clark feeling a rush of something warm and terrifying in the pit of his stomach. He remembered, suddenly, embarrassingly, that he was naked. In the sky. Surrounded by people.
“Um. Yeah. I should probably go find some pants.”
A sonic boom heralded his departure.
Clark made another appearance at the site of the explosion—in costume this time—to give his statement to the police. Afterwards, Wonder Woman, Shayera, Flash, and even John gave him long, tight hugs.
While Robin darted in too to wrap strong, skinny arms around Clark’s waist and press a cheek to his chest, the Flash wiped his eyes.
“I’m not crying,” he muttered at a grinning John. “You’re crying. Shut up.”
As Robin stepped back, everyone turned to look at Batman, who stood tense and still off to the side.
Clark raised his eyebrows. “Don’t sound so disappointed.”
A gauntlet came up to grab him by the suit front. Batman hauled him close enough to roar deafeningly right in his face. “You don’t get to joke about this!”
“I don’t get to joke about my own near-death experience?”
“Not when I was the one responsible for it!”
It took a second to follow Batman’s derailed train of logic, but when he did, Clark felt his stomach drop to his feet. “No,” he said quickly, “no, see, I told you to fiddle with the reactor—”
“And I reset it.”
“Luthor shot me.”
Batman looked away. “I should have just called in Hawkgirl after I made sure all of us were out—“
“Not even her mace could have destroyed all forty-three of those floors.” Clark placed a gentle hand over the fist bunching the collar of his suit. “You did nothing wrong.”
“I should never have listened to you.”
Clark threw up his hands and smiled. “See? It’s my fault after all. You’re completely off the hook.”
“Shut up, Kal!”
“Why do I always have to be the one to shut up?”
“Boys,” John Stewart said, the same time Wonder Woman hissed. “Please.”
“Look, Bats,” Clark said soothingly, still half-smiling, “one little explosion was never going to kill me—”
Batman actually snarled at him like some sort of angry, wounded beast. “Good! Because I’m going to kill you myself!”
“That would undermine your reason for being upset in the first place,” Clark said dryly.
“Would you two just get a room!” Shayera shouted. “Somewhere remote! Far away from innocent civilians!”
“And reporters,” John suggested.
Batman, still glaring at Superman, snorted. “Too late for that.”
Clark turned around in alarm, expecting a TV station van, and instead caught his mother’s eye from among the curious Smallville bystanders. Hurriedly, he shrugged off Batman’s grip on his cape. “I’ve got to go.”
“I’ve got a thing.”
“We’ve got a ‘thing’ right now!”
“This is personal,” Clark snapped. “My… family will want to know I’m fine.”
Batman deflated. “Alright. But later—“
“Tomorrow, I want to go see the kid,” Clark interrupted easily, with a sideways glance at the Flash.
“Doc said Superboy is in stable condition, but he’s going to need a few days to purge the Kryptonite from his system. He should be awake tomorrow at the earliest,” the Flash rattled off.
“‘Superboy’?” John deadpanned.
“It sounds cooler than ‘the kid’.” The Flash shrugged, turning to Clark again. “When I left, Good Ol’ Leslie said she wanted to check-up on you tomorrow; but, given that she’s probably about to find out that you blew up and got your mojo back, she might prefer talking to you today—”
“Can’t. Family thing. But I’ll be there bright and early tomorrow. Gotham practice?”
“I’ll come with you to see Superboy,” Batman said.
“That won’t be necessary,” Clark insisted automatically. “Now that I’ve got my strength back, I can handle any—” He stopped. Batman was already turning away.
“Never mind, then.”
And then Clark grabbed him by the wrist. “Wait!”
Batman barely turned.
“Sorry; old habits die about as hard as I do,” Clark joked. “I…Actually, I wouldn’t mind backup tomorrow.” A slight hesitation. “If you wouldn’t mind.”
After a tense moment, during which the Flash glanced between Supes and Bats like a spectator at a tennis match, Batman nodded. “Then I’ll see you soon.”
“I look forward to it,” Clark replied, letting go of his wrist and rising off the ground. Without a backward glance, he shot straight up into the clouds.
After a circuitous route to the farmhouse, Clark landed soundlessly on the floor in his old room. He took a prolonged time changing into civvies, running his hands over worn plaid shirts that smelled like his dad and faded jeans with holes in their knees. Once he had his old glasses on his nose, he finally felt like himself again.
Eventually, though, he did brave the downstairs where Martha Kent was viciously shelling peas at the kitchen table. At the sight of him on the last step, she went over to give him a silent, side-squeezing hug.
“Son,” Martha said after reclaiming her peas and handing Clark a bowl of potatoes to peel, “I know your father and I said we understood the tolls your job would take; but, getting yourself blown up twice in one month was not something I was ever prepared to deal with.”
“Well, obviously I wasn’t actually blown up.”
Martha slammed her hands on the table. “Clark Kent,” she announced, “you are grounded.”
Clark laughed. “Ma, I’m thirty-three.”
“So, you’re thirty-three and grounded.”
“Mom,” Clark said, a cocky grin spreading across his face, “The explosion? It was part of the plan. I was always going to be fine!”
Martha’s shoulders slumped; but, to Clark’s great surprise, a second later she leaned across the kitchen table and gave him a long kiss on the forehead.
“I know you don’t want me to panic,” she whispered, “but Clark, I’m going to worry no matter what you say. You might as well tell me the truth so I know what’s going on. And can express the appropriate amount of distress.”
Clark snorted half-heartedly, staring down at the knife in his hands. Now, he could fold it into a bow; a few hours ago, it could have sliced his throat. He would have bled out in seconds. Under his flannel, he could still make out the faint scar on his forearm from the scalpel cut in the infirmary; could still feel the cold ghost of the barrel of Lex’s gun on the back of his head.
“Do you remember when Lex’s car hit me on the bridge?”
“Of course not,” Martha said dryly. “Why would a mother remember the time her son was nearly killed by a speeding Porsche?”
“Right,” said Clark, trying for a winning smile. “Well, you remember the talk we had afterwards?”
Martha smoothed his hair. “You said you were worried that you were a freak because of your powers. That you would give anything to be normal.”
“Yeah, well… that changed.”
“It usually does,” Martha said casually. “At some point, you realize you want to be different. Then you meet other people who are just as talented and realize that your abilities aren’t all that unique; that you will have to push yourself further in order to really stand out. You try that for a while, fail, of course, and then realize that being the most special to a bunch of strangers—even important, intelligent strangers—doesn’t mean anything.” Clark just stared at her. “What? I was thirty-three once.” She winked. “I have an Ivy League law degree. You think you have an ego? You should have seen me at the bar exam.”
Clark tried to smother his grin, then shook his head and said quietly, “It was different with the Porsche. There was no time to think. But before the explosion…”
“What did you think about?”
“You,” Clark said. “Dad. Lois. The League. My responsibilities. My duties. My jobs. Bruce.”
“I’m pretty happy where I am,” said Clark. “You know, I have a lot going for me, even without the powers. And I think I have a lot to offer the world aside from being Superman. Maybe not as much as, say, Lois Lane or Batman, but I have my own something. And it’s enough because, for someone out there or—if I’m lucky—for a handful of someones out there, it’s just what they need.”
They peeled potatoes and shelled peas peaceably for a while before Martha stood and hugged the still seated Clark. Gently, she smoothed his hair to the side, absently tugging on the wayward forehead curl. “I love you so much,” she murmured. “You have no idea how worried your father and I were when we got you—not just about the powers—but how were we going to raise a child that wasn’t human? What if you developed differently, in ways we couldn’t anticipate? What if your brain chemistry was fundamentally different?
“But you had—still have—these familiar struggles,” she continued. “Not exactly the same ones I did, obviously; but, close enough that I know what’s going through your head. I can raise you; I can help you.” Her smile faltered slightly. “And speaking of helping… Clark, my dearest, sweetest child, could you do you poor, senior citizen mother a favor?”
“Please start taking martial arts classes.”
There was a brief but pointed pause.
“…Where is this coming from all of a sudden?” Clark demanded.
“I really should have enrolled you in self-defense courses when you were younger,” Martha muttered, pulling away. “But your father and I were so worried you might injure the instructor or your fellow students. And then you would have revealed your secrets and—”
“—would have wound up with my organs floating in jars of formaldehyde,” Clark concluded with the obligatory eye roll.
“You need to learn how to dodge bullets.”
“But I know how to dodge bullets.”
“Well, clearly you need more practice.”
“Ask Batman to train you. He’s a ninja, right? And he trained all those Robins.”
“I thought you weren’t… overly fond of Batman,” Clark said, eyebrows raised.
“I’m not crazy about watching a bunch of steroid-infused super-apes fire laser beams at my favorite son either.”
“Oh, wow, I’m the favorite son? Really? I had no idea.”
Matha tweaked his nose. “I don’t care if you’re ‘almost always’ invulnerable; it’s that ‘almost’ bit that has me worried. Train for that ‘almost’, not the ‘always’.”
Clark felt a slow grin spreading across his face. “That does sound like something Batman would say.”
After a moment, Martha asked casually, “So, who’s ‘Bruce’?”
“Hm?” Clark blushed. “Oh. Um. Boyfriend.”
Martha poked him in the bicep. “Does he come with a last name?”
“Yes,” Clark said, bracing himself for inevitable onslaught. “It’s Wayne.”
Martha dropped her bowl of peas. “Wayne? Oh, Clark.” She buried her face in her arms. ”Not again.”
“Can’t you date someone normal?” Martha demanded. “A farmer? Another reporter? A small business owner?”
“Bruce is not like Lex,” Clark insisted. Martha continued to look suspicious. “I’m serious. He has actual moral fibre, not just affected charm.”
“I grew up with people like the Waynes and Luthors,” Martha argued. “And I also know you aren’t very good at dealing with deviousness; yours is a very forgiving nature.”
“I can be devious,” Clark said defiantly. “And what’s this ‘forgiving nature’ business? You think I’m soft-headed?”
“Soft-hearted, my dear,” Martha corrected with a fond smile, patting him on the cheek. “You tend to trust people’s potential goodness so much you lose sight of how they actually behave.”
“Not all rich people are corrupt, greedy narcissists, Mom,” Clark argued. “You aren’t.”
“I am not wealthy,” Martha said loftily. Then, almost under her breath, “My parents are.” Loudly, “Why do you think I became a lawyer? Someone had to help defend the world against the corporate corruption of the Clarks.” Righting the bowl and scooping up the spilled peas, she added, “By the by, that’s also why I married your father: We shared the same values.” The look in her eyes was hard and pointed.
Clark stifled a grin. “That and, according to Lana’s aunt, he looked like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne had a stubbly, sun-tanned baby.”
“I said I was principled, Clark,” Martha said, pink-cheeked. “Not blind.” Watching him choke back a laugh, she frowned. “I almost wish you were dating Batman instead. I don’t approve of his methods, but at least I know he cares about you. I mean, Lord, he was practically climbing into your arms the moment you landed in the clearing—”
“Bruce cares about me too,” Clark asserted. Then, “I’m actually… I want to tell him about Superman.”
Martha raised her eyebrows. “Already?”
She smiled. “You really like this one, don’t you.”
“There’s no ‘this one’,” Clark said bluntly. “There’s only Bruce.”
After a beat, Martha simply shook her head. “Fine. But promise me one more thing.”
“Get a prenup.”
After Clark superspeed-peeled the rest of the potatoes and chopped a handful of carrots, Martha shooed him out to the barn.
“I know that look,” she said. “This stew is going to take a few hours to simmer anyway so you might as well get your brooding done before dinner”
Obediently, Clark headed up to the driveway past the empty horse-stalls to the barn. Amid a wave of sentimental nostalgia (he was pretty sure they had kept the wood chipper he stuck his hand in over by the faded fair ribbons), Clark ascended the steps over the tack room to his old loft.
Only to stop dead on the landing. Batman, with his cowl pushed back, stood next to Clark’s high school telescope gazing out at the sun-drenched Smallville farmland. Clark couldn’t make out his profile, let alone his face; but, he could see the back of his head. Batman, it turned out, had black hair too.
Some very surreal things had happened to Clark in the past month: He had swallowed two lungfuls of Kryptonite; had hooked up with Bruce at Luthor's posh sex party; had infiltrated a LexCorp plant wearing a Batsuit and discovered his clone in the basement; had been kissed by Lex at gunpoint; and had woken up naked in a wasteland, a survivor of an explosion that had reduced several cubic miles of buildings and trees to ash. Yet, all those moments paled in comparison to the sight of Batman skulking around the Kent barn in broad daylight like a grumpy, armored jungle cat.
“Sent him home.” Bat flicked a hand at the loft behind him: the faded couch with a crocheted Afghan draped over the back, the simple bookshelves stuffed with half-torn paperback sci fi novels, and the dusty coffee table with the wobbly leg. “This is…homey.”
Clark stuffed his hands in his pockets. "My dad set it up for me. Called it my, uh, 'fortress of solitude’. Said everyone needs to have a place of their own—especially teenagers.”
He heard Batman’s smile in his voice. It made something in Clark’s chest ache. “Wise man.”
After a minute of just staring at Batman’s stiff back, Batman finally spoke again. “I came here to see you.”
“Well, here I am.” Clark eyed his guest warily. “You’ll have to turn around if you really want to see me, though.”
Batman didn’t move.
“You can put the cowl back on. I won’t—”
“Take off your glasses.”
Clark froze. Opened his mouth to ask something pointless; closed it again.
Clark seriously considered turning around and sprinting until he hit an ocean. Instead, with a sort of nervous, rueful smile, he reached up and smoothed back his hair, flipped the infamous curl over his forehead, and took off his glasses.
“How long have you known?”
Clark looked away. “I was going to tell you.”
Another brief, poignant pause.
“I guess you’re pretty mad about the whole, um, Penguin’s safe business, huh.”
Clark grimaced. “I’m sorry I called you…” He frowned. “What did I call you, again?”
“A pompous windsock,” Batman said with the hint of a laugh, “and a moron. And an idiot. In that order, too.”
“You know… when we landed in that alleyway after I swung you through the streets…” Batman’s stilted voice was soft; gentle. “I wanted to kiss you.”
Clark’s mouth went dry. “Why didn’t you?”
“I was… intimidated.”
Clark couldn’t help it. He snorted.
“You can be very formidable when you wish to be, Kal.”
“Oh, yeah; compared to you, I’m absolutely terrifying.”
“Perhaps I’m just biased, then,” Batman continued smoothly. “Seeing as I'm in… interested in you.”
Clark gulped. “I know.”
“But you love Bruce Wayne.”
It wasn’t a question.
Clark heard Batman swallow thickly. “If there were no Bruce Wayne… would you be interested in me?”
A hypothetical that Clark had honestly not considered. There had been too many strange occurrences and odd moments and misunderstandings to consider a world that might involve prosaic problems.
“I don’t know.”
“Are you attracted to me at all?”
A loaded question. “I haven’t thought about it.”
“You seemed like you were at Cadmus.”
“I was flattered,” Clark said, “and caught off guard, but I’m only interested in Bruce. I don’t know how to want anyone else while I’m with him.”
“Even though you barely know anything about him.”
“I know he’s kind,” said Clark. “I know that he cares deeply about Gotham and its people and he acts decisively to help them. I know enough about the basic foundation of his character to understand that whatever frills operate on the periphery, he’s a man I could love for… a long time. I even like his terrible jokes, sometimes.”
“Even if he has aspects of his life you don’t know about, you still love him?”
“Provided his secrets aren’t of the ‘I’m a member of the mafia’ or ‘I have another five boyfriends on the side’ variety… sure. Because they wouldn’t conflict with what I love about him: that he is, when all is said and done, a good man.”
Batman said nothing.
Eventually, Clark started laughing. “Are you ever going to turn around? Because the suspense is killing me.” They both flinched. “Sorry; poor choice of words.”
“I don’t want to lose you,” Batman whispered. “Not again. If I turn around and you don’t…” Something in his voice hardened. “I won’t lose you too.”
Oh. Oh, Lord, that hurt. “You won’t. I promise. No matter what, I won’t leave you.” Clark put his hand on his shoulder. “I know right now this may feel like the worst thing I could say, but to me… I’ve never had someone I admired and liked so much who knew me before; who liked me too; whom I could trust so completely. Maybe that isn’t enough for you, but to me…” He tried to keep the hand on that shoulder from shaking. “To me, our friendship means everything.”
If not for his superhearing, Clark might have missed Batman’s quiet, “It's enough.”
With a final squeeze, Clark let go of Bats’ shoulder. “Still nervous?”
A shallow laugh. “At least three Nobel Prizes worth.”
They both froze.
As if in slow motion, several things became painfully clear: One, Clark was an idiot. Two, Batman was an even bigger idiot. And three…
“Bruce,” he said, “turn around.”
There was only a slight delay, and then Batman faced him. For a minute they simply stared at one another, Bruce Wayne in the Batsuit as if he had been poured into it, and Kal in plaid flannel and ratty jeans looking, he assumed, like some sort of super-lumberjack.
“I was half-expecting you to be sweaty and shirtless in dirty overalls,” Bruce said a little regretfully.
Clark blinked, stunned into slight outrage. “You—" a smile spread uncontrollably across his face “—have the weirdest kinks, I swear.”
Bruce kissed him.
It took Clark's brain a full ten seconds to grasp that this was, in fact, happening. Batman’s—Bruce’s—hands slid underneath Clark’s shirt, wrapping around his waist and pulling them chest to chest, hip to hip. Bruce was kissing him with more violence than finesse, making Clark's heart stutter frantically in his chest. More out of surprise than anything, he pulled back.
Bruce's lips were wet and swollen. At the look Clark gave him, he flinched away, but Clark grabbed a fistful of his cape and dragged him close. He found himself studying this face—one he had seen many times before—with fresh eyes. Every plane and feature seemed new and sharp and painfully sweet. This was Bruce. This was Batman.
“I can have you,” he heard himself say, as if from a great distance. His voice sounded weightless and ethereal even though he had never felt more present and powerfully aware of every weighted cell of his body. “All of you…”
“Yes,” Bruce breathed.
Clark let go of his shirt, opting instead to card his fingers through soft, familiar hair. Then he leaned forward and pressed a slow, chaste kiss to Bruce’s lips.
It stayed neither slow nor chaste for long.
“You have a lot to answer for,” Clark whispered sometime later, draped over Bruce's gloriously naked, sweat-streaked body. “Like that bit in the Cadmus elevator."
Bruce started laughing at him. “The look on your face—”
Clark smacked his chest lightly. “How long have you known?”
"Since the League meeting after the party."
"Oh," said Clark bashfully. "So, not until after the first time we—?”
Bruce grinned. “I should have guessed then, of course. The sex was pretty super.”
“Oh, wow,” said Clark blandly. “That was terrible, even for you.” Then he frowned. “But you kissed Superman way before that."
“I wanted Leslie to check you for a concussion, so I took advantage of your painfully obvious attraction to me to make sure you didn’t fly away. Literally.” When Clark continued to glare at him in embarrassed outrage, he added, “You’re welcome.”
“And I suppose you really were checking my tonsils when you stuck your tongue down my throat the second time.”
“That was a get well kiss,” Bruce said innocently.
Clark gave him a superior look. “Can’t even admit that you found Superman attractive.”
“Of course I found you attractive.” Bruce’s voice was equally lofty. “You reminded me of my ex-boyfriend who had dumped me a week prior.”
Clark sputtered. “I dumped you? You dumped me!”
“I beg your pardon.” Bruce looked genuinely affronted. Clark gaped at him.
“You blew me off; told me you weren’t going to be in town until Luthor’s party,” Clark said.
“We broke up before then,” Bruce countered. “Remember the diner? I was having issues with… you, as it turned out, which I took out on… you.” His bewildered look was reassuring; at least Clark wasn’t alone in realizing the absurdity of their situation. “And then you dumped me again over the phone because I couldn’t make time for you due to all the extra shifts I had with the League—your. Former. Shifts.” Somewhat less irate, he added, “You have to appreciate the irony.”
Clark traced the scars along Bruce’s chest. “And what about Selina?”
“For the love of…” Bruce rolled out from under Clark to glower at him. It was interesting to finally see the top half of the infamous Batglare. Clark was—to his chagrin—charmed rather than intimidated. “She is not and has never been my girlfriend!”
“I know that,” Clark threw in hastily. “But why did you have to take her to the benefit instead of me? I mean, we wound up… together… anyway.”
Bruce gazed heavenward as if praying for patience. “Selina and I were going to gather information on Luthor for the League; but then I got sidetracked by you while Selina stole Luthor’s fifty-thousand dollar cat sculpture—”
“What?!” Then, “Cat sculpture? You aren’t saying that…?”
“Yes.” Bruce closed his eyes. “Selina Kyle is Catwoman. Occasionally, Bruce Wayne will help her gain entry to parties or fundraisers that will advance her animal rights initiatives. In exchange, she, as Catwoman, helps Batman with his spy work—when she’s not robbing crime bosses blind, that is.”
Clark could only stare at him open-mouthed.
“I would have stopped her, but by the time I heard about the theft, Selina’d already returned the statue to the former owner in Guatemala and left for Paris with the reward money.”
Clark gently pulled Bruce back to use his scarred chest as a pillow. “Taking your fake girlfriend to an orgy to uncover LexCorp secrets does make more sense than dragging your thirteen-year-old son along,” he said reasonably.
“Don’t even joke about that,” Bruce said with a shudder. “I wouldn’t have brought Dick—Nightwing—either. He may be a grownup and Tim may be very mature for his age, but I'm not taking any son of mine to an orgy, regardless of how useful he might be. It's just… unthinkable.”
“You are the ultimate dad,” Clark said fondly. “I bet you asked them both for permission to tell me about Batman and family.”
“Of course. And I asked Alfred. And Barbara—Oracle, to you.” Bruce’s hands trailed lazily down the low curve of Clark’s spine. “I got permission from Selina as well; but, then, when I found out you were Superman and had to ask everyone all over again, I couldn’t get ahold of her. Still… I think she would understand.”
Clark mentally added up figures: Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, and Alfred. With Leslie and his mom and Luthor and Batman and Amanda Waller that made… “Nine people.” He felt a little overwhelmed. “I’ve never had more than two people know my identity at a time.”
“I put my family’s safety first,” Bruce said, defiantly but with a hint of apology. “I always will.”
“I would expect nothing less from Batman or Bruce Wayne.” Clark grimaced. “If I had found out you were Batman, I would have told my mother too. You’ve got to protect the people you love. And dating Superman… It’s not just going to affect you personally; Robin and Nightwing and Oracle and Catwoman could become targets for my enemies too. That’s not something you can just… compartmentalize.”
Bruce sagged against him. “Exactly.” He started mouthing his way up Clark’s neck when his stomach growled.
Clark croaked, “Dinner?”
An embarrassed grunt. “In a bit.”
“My mom’s making stew.” Clark sighed. “Oh, and for your own safety, try to downplay your whole ‘oodles of wealth’ schtick; she doesn’t like rich guys.”
“Wonderful,” Bruce deadpanned.
“And she’s not all that taken with Batman either.”
“I’m just the manifestation of your delayed teenage rebellious phase, aren’t I.”
Clark gave him his widest, most annoying grin. “On the plus side, she agrees with you that I need more martial arts training.”
“Does your mother have a preference for any particular form?” Bruce asked immediately.
“You realize that ‘martial arts’ is a broad term encompassing, among other things, various international forms of military offensive and defensive training.” Bruce scowled. “It’s not just a series of uniform kicks you memorize and intersperse with sloppy punching.”
“I’m not a total hick,” Clark defended. “Shucks, Bruce, I traveled all over the world in my twenties; I speak fifteen languages. I’ve spent every Chinese New Year for the past decade in Beijing. Forgive me if, when I’m there, I focus more on kung pao chicken than kung fu kickin’.”
There was a pause during which Bruce fought and failed to keep a straight face.
“Well, shucks, Clark when you put it like that—”
“Oh, shut up.”
The horrible southern accent got thicker. “We should get to that kung fu kickin’ right quick!”
“I hate you.”
“That was a euphemism for sex, by the way.”
“What isn’t with you?”
Bruce kissed him tenderly and Clark tried his damndest to stay mad before giving up and climbing on top of him.
Suddenly, he reared back.
Bruce sighed. “What now?”
“I just realized,” Clark said, grin splitting across his face, “that you didn’t bring any clothes with you. Besides the Batsuit.”
“So, you’re going to have to borrow some of mine.”
“Unless you want me to meet your mother in the nude, that’s probably a good idea.”
“I was just thinking turnabout’s fair play.” Clark grinned. “I got to wear the Batsuit, now you get to embrace your inner farmboy.”
Bruce wrinkled his nose. “I will not wear plaid.”
“You’ll wear what I give you and like it,” Clark growled sternly in his best Batman voice. At the look on Bruce’s face, he cackled and dove in for another kiss.
“Kon—the Superboy—is awake,” was the first thing Dr. Thompkins said when Clark and Bruce arrived out of costume at her Gotham practice the next morning. “He’s asking for you,” she added to Clark, “but, before you see him, I want to check you out first.” While she ushered him into an examination room, Bruce made himself comfortable in the waiting area.
“You’re back to your normal levels,” Leslie concluded twenty minutes later. “Strength, invulnerability, speed, vision… Everything appears to be in order. Even your scars are all but faded. How do you feel?”
“Excellent.” Clark ran a hand through his hair. “It’s the first time in weeks that I haven’t had a headache—or felt like I was lugging a lodestone around my neck.”
“I still want you to take it easy for a while,” Leslie mused. “Monitor duty is fine, but don’t dive into the alien invasions immediately; let’s see how you hold up against a couple bank robberies first.”
Leslie stared at him. “You’re not going to fight me on this?”
“After what happened at the Smallville plant?” Clark grinned. “No. See, I’m trying this radical new approach to health care where I actually listen to my doctor’s recommendations.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t trust me so blindly…” Leslie’s voice faded out. Angrily, she removed her reading glasses and rubbed her eyes. “Yellow sun! I should have realized the color was relevant. Haven’t you always told me that Krypton had a red sun? That that was the reason none of your people exhibited superpowers on their home world…?”
“That and Krypton's higher mass,” Clark muttered.
“I was only thinking in terms of ultraviolets. Invisible light. I didn’t think the color—the visible spectrum—would have any influence…” She sighed. “And then there was the fusion reactor in the basement—fusion, Clark! Like solar fusion!” She drummed her fingers on her clipboard. “I should have known or… at least guessed. I mean, if the tanning bed wasn’t working, there had to be a reason—”
“It’s not like there’s an abundance of information on Kryptonian physiology floating around in the ether,“ Clark said reasonably.
Clark rolled his eyes. “Fine; apology accepted, even though I think it’s unnecessary. Honestly, you and Bruce…” He glanced up, aiming his X-ray vision at the waiting area, but wound up focusing on the neighboring room instead where Kon sat on his cot, head bowed. “Is he... is the kid going to be alright?”
Leslie glanced at the wall as if she could see through it too, then flipped idly through some pages of her clipboard. “Physically, Kon’s fine,” she said. “His growth was artificially exacerbated, so, I can tell that his joints are likely to give him trouble later on. He also has stretch marks, but they’re already fading. He’s still suffering from Kryptonite poisoning, but it’s mostly out of his system now.” She gritted her teeth. “There are also signs of… physical trauma, but they are almost fully healed.”
“I found a scarred over bullet wound in his abdomen,” Leslie said. “No permanent damage; but, there are also scabbed cuts along his arms and legs in regularly spaced intervals. They don’t look self-inflicted; the angles are wrong. My guess is Luthor was testing him for invulnerability once, maybe twice a week.”
A burning in Clark’s eyes made him look away. He couldn’t tell if he wanted to cry or shoot lasers through the floor. “Has he said anything? About Luthor? Cadmus? Waller?”
“The first thing he did after he woke up—once I coaxed out his name and assured him he was not in another one of Lex Luthor’s labs—was ask for Superman.”
Clark scratched the back of his neck. “I guess Clark Kent will have to do.”
Dr. Thompkins leaned against the door and folded her arms. “You know,” she said, “years ago, I took in a boy after his parents died. His father had been my best friend since med school. I’d never been the maternal sort and, I thought, after everything this kid had been through, the last thing he needed was some friend-of-family stepping into his life, trying to be his mom.” She pursed her lips. “But, somehow, I didn’t screw it up too badly—I don’t think. He may dress up like a bat and fight crime until five in the morning—” She flashed a grin at Clark’s bug-eyed stare “—but… I don’t think I did as poorly as I sometimes fear. He would have turned out much worse without someone there—someone else there, that is. On my bad days, I can always tell myself that at least I made things easier for Alfred.
“I’m still here for Bruce, of course, decades after he’s good and grown. I’ll patch him up when he comes in bleeding and broken, I’ll listen to his problems, if he’s willing to open up, and I’ll try to talk him out of some of his more foolhardy plans. But, even after decades of this, I still don’t know what I’m doing half the time.”
Clark quirked a weak smile. “Does this mean I have you to thank for the terrible puns?”
“I’m afraid those are genetic.” Leslie’s voice was desert dry. “Tom Wayne had a horrible sense of humor too. I sometimes think I graduated from med school just so I wouldn’t have to hear him humming ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’ during every library study session.”
Clark guffawed, quickly covered his mouth with a fist, and found himself staring through the wall again. Kon was looking out the window, idly swinging his legs.
With a sudden uptick in his pulse, Clark lowered his hand. “I think I’ll go talk to him now. If that's alright.”
Leslie tucked her clipboard under her arm. “I’ll be in the waiting room with Bruce.”
She gave his shoulder a tight squeeze before leaving. A moment later, Clark followed, stopping in front of the Superboy’s door, taking an unnecessarily deep breath, and knocking.
There was a muffled thump and a yelp.
“It’s just Clark—Superman,” he said quickly. “Can I come in?”
Bracing himself, Clark finally stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. For a while, he simply stared at his counterpart. Sure, he had very strong memories of what he had been like as a teenager; but, it was hard to believe he had ever looked that young.
“I thought you were Batman,” Kon said finally.
“Ah—no.” Clark tried very hard not to fidget. “I was just borrowing his old suit. Kryptonite poisoning took away my invulnerability, so, padding seemed like the wisest course of action.”
An uncomfortably long pause.
“It’s Kon, right?” A nod. “Well, out of costume, my name is Clark Kent.”
“Clark Kent,” the kid repeated, then frowned. “I thought it was ‘Kal’. That’s what the Flash said…”
“That’s my Kryptonian name,” Clark said hurriedly. “It’s really only used by my teammates and close friends.”
“Oh.” Kon stared furiously at the floor.
“You can use it too, of course.”
The glare became less pronounced. “Okay.”
An even longer, but slightly less awkward pause.
“How old are you, Kon?”
“Eighteen,” came he prompt reply.
Clark’s eyebrows shot up. “You look a little young to be eighteen years old.”.
“I meant eighteen months.” Kon was still eyeing Clark warily. “The hypergrowth will stop in two weeks when I… look sixteen. From then on, I should age normally. Like a Kryptonian.”
“Good to know,” Clark found himself saying.
There was another drawn-out silence.
Clark tried to smile reassuringly. “This must be pretty weird for you. It’s pretty weird for me, at least.” When he saw the boy’s expression grow shuttered he added quickly, “But good weird! I’d always hoped—I didn’t know there would ever be someone else. Like me.”
This seemed the wrong thing to say. Superboy flushed an angry red and bit his lip. “I’m not like you,” he hissed. “I can’t fly.”
“Okay,” Clark said, shrugging.
“And I don’t have super speed. I mean, I can go pretty fast for a human… but I’m not… I don’t have laser vision. Or X-ray vision. Or ice-breath. Or invulnerability.” He swallowed. “My powers are superstrength and superhearing. That’s it.”
“That’s fine,” said Clark soothingly; but, the kid continued to glower at the floor. “It’s no big deal, really; most people don’t have any powers.”
“But,” the boy said tersely. “But… Lex said… I was a disappointment—”
“Lex is an idiot,” Clark snapped. Kon flinched. “Sorry. I mean, your powers—and Lex’s opinions on your powers—don’t matter. You are not only valuable if you… fulfill someone else's arbitrary requirements.”
A look of furious disbelief. “But I’m your clone. I’m supposed to be a perfect copy of you. If I’m not, then—what—” Kon stood, restlessly pacing from wall to wall. “What’s my point?”
Clark looked at the hunched back, the bowed head; felt an internal echo of that pain like a raw scrape in his gut. How strange to stand on the other side of this conversation, to see a body curled in on itself in fear and shame; to know that this wound, too, could be salved. The only question was whether Clark was anywhere close to ready for this task.
Actually, scratch that; the question was, would he do it anyway?
“You know, Metropolis is a really nice place to live,” he blurted. “My apartment’s pretty small—cramped, one might say—” (Lois had. Several times.)”—but, the city itself has a lot to offer and, if you really can’t stand the noise or the crush of people after a while, the Kent family farm is only a day’s drive away. Wide open fields, lots of quiet space… and my mom would love you. And probably express that love through an impossible amount of pie-baking.” He paused; Kon was watching him, heavy lidded, from over his shoulder. “I know it’s a lot to throw at you—and maybe I’m reading too much in you wanting to talk to me. Perhaps you have someone else with whom you would rather stay—"
Kon turned all the way around, face slack. “You want me to live with you?”
“If you want,” Clark added hastily. “I mean, there are logical reasons for this being a good idea. For one thing, I could help you get a handle on the superstrength and superhearing. For another, if you do happen to develop any additional powers, I’d be the most qualified person on the planet to help you deal with them. Besides—” he winked “—we Kryptonians need to stick together, right?”
The face tilted toward him looked frighteningly fragile. “And what if I don’t get any more powers?”
Clark grinned sheepishly. “If all you ever have are superstrength and superhearing, you'll be the luckier of the two of us; trust me.” When Kon just looked insulted—patronized, Clark realized—he leaned closer and dropped his voice conspiratorially. "Laser vision? You spend days after it manifests wondering if you're going to kill someone just by looking at them. Ice breath? Really only comes in handy when the fridge goes out. Superspeed? It’s a good thing I’m virtually invulnerable or I would have killed myself a million times over on all the things I’ve run into. And, honestly, the X-ray vision? It just freaks people out.”
“But what if I never fly," Kon said, his voice hard.
Clark felt like his heart might break. “There’s always hiking,” he mused. “Horseback riding. And if we ever feel too earthbound, we could go snorkeling. I tried it once; it’s a lot like flying underwater, but without all the shouting pedestrians pointing up at you.”
Kon considered him with a small crease between his brows.
“If you ever want to go flying, though, I’d be happy to carry you,” Clark added. “I do that with everyone, actually. Most of my friends and family can’t fly; you’d be in good company.”
The next break in the conversation was slightly longer than seemed tolerable.
“Alright,” Kon said finally.
Clark sagged against the counter. “Great! Okay, then.” They stared at each other while Clark tried to keep the monumental combination of panic and joy from rising to his face. “I’ll just… I’d better go sort out your paperwork, then.” Calling his mom seemed like a good idea; after all, she must have gone through similar documentation issues when an alien baby landed in the Kent cornfield. Clark moved to leave, but Kon followed him.
“Aren’t you supposed to rest?”
“I’ll walk you out,” said Kon, as if reciting a line. “It’s what Dr. Thompkins did with everyone who came in here this morning.”
Clark was touched. “That’s very polite of you.” They made their way down the hall to the waiting room where Bruce was chatting with Robin over comms.
“Is something wrong?” Clark asked hurriedly.
Bruce tapped Robin out. “We’re discussing logistics.”
“Connor Kent’s birth certificate, adoption papers, and medical history, for starters.”
Clark and Kon both said, “What?” and Bruce looked between the two of them with poorly disguised amusement.
“He’s going to need to be enrolled in school too, of course. I’ll be calling Gotham Academy this afternoon to secure a place for him in the fall.”
“Now, hang on.” Clark put his hands on his hips. “Who put you in charge of his education?”
“I figured you were going to ask me for help anyway; so, in anticipation of your needs, I went ahead and arranged everything.”
Clark folded his arms. “I’m not sending him to Gotham Academy!”
“For one thing, I just got him,” said Clark. “I’m not dropping him off at some boarding school to be raised by a bunch of snooty, over-paid professor types when we’ve barely had time to bond. For another, he’s eighteen months old—he’s not ready!”
“He’s going to have to get out into the world at some point,” Bruce drawled. “And I was going to hire private tutors for him over the summer.”
“You’re hiring them?”
“Do you have the funds necessary to send a kid to Gotham Academy and pay for private tutoring?” Bruce’s calm, refined tone made Clark want to fling him into a mud pit.
“It doesn’t matter if I can because he’s not going to Gotham Academy!” Clark snapped. “And even if he were—not even you could cram ten years of schooling into a few months!”
Clark rounded on Leslie, who had put a reassuring hand on Kon’s shoulder. (“Don’t worry; they’re always like this.”) “Tell this idiot that I’m not sending my soon-to-be-newly-adopted first child to a far away boarding school with a bunch of spoiled trust fund babies!”
Bruce rolled his eyes. “Now you sound just like your mother.”
Everyone froze. Slowly, Clark pivoted back to Bruce. “And by that I assume you mean I sound well-educated, intelligent, wise, and insightful,” he said in a dangerously low voice.
“Of course,” Bruce said quickly, to which Leslie’s jaw dropped. “However, I would like to remind you that Gotham Academy is an internationally ranked institution that looks excellent on college applications. Also, while the Academy offers boarding for students, it is not required for attendance. Kon could live with you in Metropolis commute to Gotham.”
“It’s a four hour drive from Metropolis to Gotham and back, if I’m dropping him off and picking him up,” Clark said dryly.
“Only if you’re driving him,” said Bruce. “It’s forty-five minutes each way, if you know the right roads and don’t drive ten miles under the speed limit.” He eyed Kon speculatively. “You’re supposed to be almost sixteen, I’m guessing? Which means you can get your license. Would you like me to teach you how to drive?”
“You will do no such thing!” Clark snapped. “You drive like a bat out of hell! Pun not intended,” he added. “I won’t let him pick up any bad habits from you! I will teach him so the world doesn’t end up with another hooligan on the streets!”
“Marvelous,” said Bruce airily. “You can use the Batmobile to practice.”
Voice a dead croak in his throat, Clark stared at Bruce like he’d been smacked over the head with a Kryptonite baseball bat.
“You and Kon should stay at the manor over the summer,” Bruce continued, rising gracefully to his feet. “That way, he could practice socializing with Tim and Barbara and Dick, and I’d be able to ensure he receives all the tutoring he will require to be competitive at Gotham Academy in the fall. Furthermore, you two could spend as much time together as you want.” If Clark hadn’t still been staring at him dumbfounded, he might have missed the nervous twitch in Bruce’s fingers. “If you want, that is.”
There was that warm feeling again that left Clark a little breathless. “So much for ‘stay out of Gotham’,” he muttered.
Bruce wasn’t looking at him; he was ‘adjusting’ his cufflinks. “Is that a ‘no’?”
“I have a job in Metropolis,” Clark reminded him. “Two jobs, in fact. Clark Kent and Superman can’t just vacation in Gotham for an entire summer.”
“On the weekends, then,” Bruce suggested.
There was a tug on Clark’s sleeve. Two large blue eyes stared up at him. “I want to go,” Kon said with a sort of nervous glance back at Leslie. She gave him a thumbs up. In a very small voice, Kon added, “Please… Dad?”
And just like that, Clark felt his insides melt into saccharine goo. “Oh… All right.”
Kon gave him a too-tight hug while Clark mumbled something incoherent, glaring over Kon’s shoulder at a revoltingly smug Bruce. After another tight squeeze, Dr. Thompkins tapped on Kon’s arm.
“Back to the solarium with you, young man.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Clark promised him as Kon pulled away and followed Dr. Thompkins back toward the exam rooms.
“You can take him home in a week,” Leslie said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Clark said automatically on his way out the door. He almost crashed into Bruce, struggling to control a giggling fit in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Gloating is unbecoming,” Clark said with a sniff.
“You two,” Bruce practically purred, “are adorable.”
“I beg your pardon,” Clark said flatly.
Bruce’s voice, for all its teasing, had a soft edge to it. “He has you wrapped around his little finger.”
Clark crossed his arms. “I resent that. Strongly.”
Bruce put a hand on his chest, sliding it down to wrap his fingers around Clark’s. “You’re going to make a great father.”
It took Clark a minute to get his face back under control. He nodded silently, leaning in to give Bruce a quick peck on the cheek; but, Bruce stopped him.
“I meant it, earlier.” His eyes darted from Clark’s face to his feet. “If you want… to come live with me. I know you have responsibilities. But… you are welcome in Gotham—in my home—anytime. For anything.”
Clark sagged forward until their foreheads pressed together. “And you, Tim, Dick, Alfred, and Barbara are always welcome in Metropolis. And in my apartment, though it might be a bit of a squeeze.” He winced. “Maybe we should only have family get-togethers at the manor or on the farm.”
Bruce froze. “Family get-togethers?”
“Yeah, isn’t—?” Clark’s brain caught up with his mouth. His whole face felt like it was blistering. “I didn’t—I’m sorry—Oh, hell—”
But Bruce was smiling at him with so much honest, helpless liking, it became Clark’s turn to stare hot-cheeked at his shoes. Luckily, Alfred chose that moment to round and corner in the limo and herd a beaming Bruce and scarlet-faced Clark into the back seat.
“Such a dad,” Bruce quipped.
“Oh, shut up,” Clark retorted.
Two Months Later
Amanda Waller's apartment building seemed different than Clark had expected. It was the same high rise from which Clark had pushed away the Joker’s blimp, which, in hindsight, explained more than he really wanted to contemplate. The building’s lobby featured a wide, tiled entry-way leading to a small but clean elevator. On Waller’s floor, a narrow hall led to her innocuous front door. Next to it, stationed by the neighboring apartment's welcome mat, were a couple tricycles and two pairs of tiny rain boots. Down the hall, someone was listening to Middle Eastern pop music; someone else was fixing either spaghetti or lasagna in an apartment near the emergency stairs.
Clark knocked. Waller answered promptly—and stared.
“It's good to put a face to a name, finally,” Clark said, extending a hand. “I'm Clark Kent."
"I know who you are.” They shook; Clark stuck his hands back in his pockets.
"I don't mean to intrude,” he said apologetically, “but could I come in? There is something sensitive I wish to discuss with you.”
She stepped aside, leading him into a comfortably furnished living room and inviting him to take a seat on a very plush couch by the window.
"Yes, please. Thank you.”
Waller poured and they sipped in silence until Clark set down his cup.
“I came here to tell you that I understand your fear,” he began.
“I doubt that very much.”
“I know what it’s like to fear annihilation,” Clark insisted firmly. “I’m one of the last of my kind because my home planet was destroyed. By Kryptonian hubris, no less.” When Waller said nothing, he continued. “I know why you are terrified." He looked around the apartment. "I could level this building in the blink of an eye, and it doesn't matter if I tell you I never will. People can change; be manipulated; be taken advantage of. Press the right buttons and I could become very dangerous." Here his expression darkened. “But superstrength isn’t the only kind of danger this world faces. Abuse of power can also manifest itself through a particular mind set. Imagine, for instance, a brand of ruthlessness that doesn't allow compassion or basic human decency to influence its actions; a way of thinking that can justify murder, torture, and exploitation of minors all for some individually determined ‘greater good’.”
Waller's eyebrows rose. Clark glanced down at his hands and was proud to discover they were not shaking. "I would tell you that metas are people as well and deserve the same government protections any non-superpowered humans do, but I know that you don't care. I cannot appeal to your better nature because someone who would murder over sixty thinking, feeling children simply because they are alien clones is clearly not capable of guilt or remorse—at least not in ways that will help me make my point.” He paused for breath.
“And what exactly is your point?”
“Have you watched the news today?"
“Then you saw the Justice League make an appearance at the U.N."
Waller’s cold, calculating eyes reminded Clark of the Joker sizing him up behind a wall of Arkham glass. "You gave the Security Council Kryptonite."
Clark tilted his head this way and that. "Not all of it. Batman still has a good amount; and you and Luthor probably have more squirreled away somewhere. I’m assuming I won't find those stashes until you both try to kill me in some new, convoluted way; but, the point is that now, you won't have the legal authority to try anymore. Only the U.N. will; and only the International Court of Justice can decide whether and how to punish us.
"I can't stop you from attempting to kill me or any other metas anymore than you can stop me if I lose control; but, I can make sure that the next time you do, you and whomever helped you will spend the rest of your lives in prison.”
Waller’s expression turned thoughtful. She leaned back in her chair, propping her head up delicately on one hand. "As far as threats go," she mused, "that was actually pretty good, if a bit... naive." She stirred her tea absently. "Does the rest of the League know you're here?"
“I didn’t tell anyone.” He cocked his head to the side. “But I think Batman followed me.”
“Then, as this is an unofficial visit, I'm going to level with you." Waller’s stern expression stood in sharp, dangerous contrast to her otherwise relaxed body language. "I'm just following orders. The reason I am here and am talking to you now is because I have been, as you said, ‘ruthless’ enough to take the measures necessary to fulfill those orders.” She leaned in close. "Kryptonite or no Kryptonite, official backing or no, if the president of the United States tells me to test your limits and take you out, I will. That's my job, Superman: I’m charged with protecting him and the American people from outside threats; and you and your super-powered club up in your Earth-orbiting treehouse are the greatest potential menace our world has ever seen."
“We’re not even the most powerful people in our galaxy,” Clark argued.
"You threaten the authority of the government—of all governments."
"We uphold the spirit of the law."
"As vigilantes. With no outside supervision."
Clark smiled victoriously at her. "Until now."
Waller's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I spoke to the U.N. Security council privately after the public announcement and recommended you for the position of the Justice League Security Council Member, U.S. representative. The U.N.S.C. was in negotiation with the U.S. president all morning, hashing out your new contract.”
Waller slowly lowered her tea cup.
“As of two p.m. this afternoon, you are no longer under the personal purview of the American president," Clark said. “All your programs have either been discontinued or handed over to other management. From now on, you will preside over a special council of international delegates answering only to the U.N. Security Council. Your team will have the power to question any League actions that affect the world on an international level; but, in order to sentence any Justice League member to life-imprisonment—since capital punishment is considered unconscionable—you will have to provide clear, just cause for their request for the sentence. Similarly, all actions on part of your committee for or against the Justice League will be scrutinized by the Security Council and the Court.” He held out his hand. "Congratulations on your new appointment, Madam President."
Stonily, Waller shook, nails digging into his hand. ”How much of this was Batman’s idea?”
Clark easily extracting his hand from her grasp. ”None. He was—still is—strongly opposed to giving you any more power than you’ve already accrued.
“But, I like you out in front, the public face of a notoriously transparent organization and soon-to-be popular program. So far, you have operated well because of your anonymity. Now, your decisions and actions will be monitored, documented, and judged by a separate, impartial committee; not to mention covered by the world-wide press.” He smiled. “I know the Planet in particular will be excited by the establishment of this new sub-council. As popular as Superman and the League as a whole are, I can’t imagine your new agency will escape our notice.”
Waller's cold eyes remained steady. "What makes you think the U.N. bureaucracy will be any more tolerant of unsanctioned metahuman activity than the U.S. government?" She leaned in close. “What makes you think I can't sway them to my side of things too?"
Clark sighed. "This is where Batman and I disagree: He thinks, since you can't trust anyone to do the right thing unless there's a gun to their head or a trail of money leading to a larger pile of money, we should just leave you alone, collect dirt, and expose you to the public and the authorities."
“And how is that dirt gathering coming?”
There had been nothing incriminating about Amanda Waller in any of the files Robin had stolen from the LexCorp plant; in fact, there had been no mention of her at all. The same had been true of all projects to which Waller was assumed to be attached: Officially, she had never been more than another desk jockey at Homeland Security. Programs such as the ‘Suicide Squad’ were barely more than rumors. The fact that Batman had discovered anything about her at all was a testament to his diligence as an investigator.
She knew that too, from her smug smile.
"Your spotless record is the main reason I could get you this job in the first place," Clark said. “But I can’t imagine it will be easy living up to those sparkling expectations when all the eyes of the world are fixed on you. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope you try.”
Instead of responding, Waller took a long sip of tea. It felt, Clark thought, like the end of a long game of chess: a headache inducing battle that had involved outmaneuvering a far more canny opponent. For now, he had her trapped; but, how long could anyone hold Amanda Waller in check? How many years—months—weeks before she rallied enough of their enemies together to take on the League again?
At least, when the time inevitably came, Bruce would be there with him; after all, Batman would never miss a chance to tell Superman, ‘I told you so.’
Waller rose from her chair, momentarily towering over Clark. "Would you like some macaroons? I usually eat them after lunch, but something told me I should save them today."
Clark stood up as well. “No, ma’am, thank you.”
She showed him out, then watched him from her apartment doorway as he called the elevator. "If it helps you sleep at night," she said, "I didn't know about the clones."
Clark blinked at her, honestly surprised. "I have it on good authority that Cadmus was in charge of providing genetic samples for that particular branch of research."
But Waller shook her head. "We used your DNA, but only for analysis. Luthor must have taken advantage of unfettered access to further his own projects.” When Clark regarded her skeptically, she added, “Why do you think I left that decryption key—a key that just happened to grant access the lower levels of Cadmus—out in the open? I knew Luthor was up to something, but I couldn’t get the information I needed with the resources at my disposal. So, I decided to recruit outside help.”
“You knew we would break in.”
“I was hoping I would get a chance to interrogate one of you about the goings-on in Smallville; but, as it turned out, I never needed to: You uploaded the entire project to the web for the world to peruse.” She smiled wryly. “I usually find it’s very easy to manipulate people into doing what I want and I make a point of always knowing my opponents' strengths and weaknesses. As you can imagine, I’m not often outgunned.” She looked right at him. “And never twice by the same person.”
Clark tilted his head. “Why do you hate the League so much? Is it because of the powers? Or is it a vigilante thing?”
Waller clenched her dark hand into a fist; in spite of this, her voice remained almost pleasant. “Let’s just say I know from personal experience what a group of self-righteous, privileged people can do when they know the law won’t or can’t stop them.”
Clark grimaced. “I can’t argue with that.”
When the elevator arrived, Clark hesitated. “I hope you can use your position on the council for its intended purpose,” he said. “I think you’re right. We do need monitoring—especially if we expand, which I’m pretty sure we will. There are a lot of metas out there—a lot of people who want to do the right thing, if not through the traditional channels.”
Waller didn’t respond. Clark boarded; but, as the doors closed, he slid a hand between them and poked his head into the hall again.
“One more thing: If you had known about the clones,” he ventured, “would you have stopped Lex?”
Waller smiled; it was not a reassuring sight. "Good luck at the Planet, Mr. Kent. And tell your rich boy, 'Hi' for me. Maybe mention that I’m sorry about the Penguin and the Riddler business; I figured kidnapping your boyfriend would be the surest way to lure you out. And I was right.”
“But…” Clark frowned. “I didn’t know Bruce was Batman until after the plant explosion. And he didn’t know who I was until right before we hashed out our infiltration plan.”
Waller looked tolerant, but disbelieving. “Kent, your disguise is a pair of glasses. ”
Clark threw up his hands. “What’s the saying? Love is blind?” Waller continued to look unimpressed. “We really didn’t know!”
To his horror, she started laughing. “I suppose I should have suspected,” Waller gasped during a pause for breath. “After all, you went after the Flash when Mirror Master put his vendetta ahead of the plan…”
“That was supposed to be Batman?”
“They were all supposed to be Batman.”
“Huh.” Clark frowned. “You know, I didn’t rescue Bruce just because I loved him, but because it was the right thing to do. Saving someone—no matter whom—is always the right choice.”
Waller’s face showed no reaction as, with a wave, Clark finally let the elevator doors close.
Bruce was waiting for him in the no-parking zone at the entrance of the apartment complex, leaning casually against a sleek, black convertible with the top down.
“Have you learned nothing from the last few weeks?” he demanded the moment Clark was within human hearing range. “I am your backup; you always call me before engaging with potential threats. Always.”
"I figured you would show up eventually,” Clark said offhand. “And I heard you park just as we sat down for tea."
Bruce looked apoplectic. "Tea?! You drank her tea?!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine; she had some too."
"There could have been something in or on your cup, not just in the tea itself.”
"Seriously, Bruce, you think I wouldn't have smelled Kryptonite and arsenic?" Clark nodded to the car. "Are you driving me home?”
“I figured you could use a rest from flying.”
Clark gave him a surprised look. “You don’t need to rush back to the mansion and handle a case?”
“Dick offered to cover for me. I took him up on it, this time.”
Beaming, Clark kissed Bruce sweetly before swinging himself into the passenger seat. "I left Tim and Kon at my apartment with pizza money before I headed out, so… Want to go out for dinner?”
“I do,” Bruce said, circling to the driver's side, “but, not Bibbo’s."
“You like their Devil’s Food,” Clark chided. “But, I meant we should stop somewhere on the way to Metropolis; I’m far too hungry to wait until we arrive.”
“Well,” said Bruce, starting the engine, “there's a wonderful seaside country club north of Gotham that serves fresh caught lobster—”
"I want someplace where the napkins aren't folded into animals and the prices are listed on the menu."
Bruce mock-scowled at him, peeling out onto the street so violently Clark almost brained himself on the dashboard. (Or, more accurately, left his face-print embedded in the glove box.)
"Spoil all my fun,” Bruce grumbled, smiling broadly as he tore down the road to the dulcet tunes of Clark hollering at him to slow down. The sun was out; the sky was clear. Summer, in all its golden glory, had barely begun.