Hands in the Night
By: Arian (arianstarr)
Disclaimer: don't own, don't profit, just like to play
Notes: This was originally written for The Greatest Gift (the 2007 holiday zine organized by tmelange). The version below is the final one; it does not match what you'll find in the zine. I’ve edited the original story and written another 4,500 words or so. It was supposed to have been two separate stories with the first appearing in the zine, but good intentions will only get a person so far. To be honest, this one had never sat quite right with me, and it several months and more hours than I can count, but it feels like I’ve finally gotten what I wanted out of it.
Bruce stumbles away from the room, away from Clark’s too-still body. Can’t be dead; his mouth moves but the words won’t come out. The scene around him shifts without warning to a small, windowless room where he can hear the fragile bones of Harley Quinn’s hands snapping under the strength of his own. The room melts away once more and is replaced by walls lined with weapons and swirling, multi-coloured lights. The Joker towers above him ready to deliver a killing blow just as Clark leans over his shoulder.
“It’s your fault,” he says and his voice echoes when should be no echo. “You should have saved me.”
The Joker brings down the length of 2x4 in his grasp and Bruce can hear the whistling sound it makes as it cuts through the air towards his head –
Bruce snapped into consciousness with a sharp exhalation of breath. He squeezed his eyes shut briefly before sitting up with one hand rising to brush sweaty hair from his forehead. He looked down to see Clark sleeping beside him, the sheets twisted around his legs and one arm tucked beneath the pillow. Bruce shook his head as if that could dislodge the dream, the same one he’d been having since Clark had died and come back to life. He brushed a hand across Clark’s cheek, feeling warmth radiating off flushed skin and the steady in-out of breath ghosting over his fingertips.
Unbidden memories flooded him in vivid detail: entering the room in which Clark and Lois had been held captive, the single bulb swaying in the push of air created by the opening door, casting eerie shadows on cement walls and illuminating Lois’s hunched form. He remembered the blood on her shirt and the hopeless expression in her eyes. Then his gaze had fallen on Clark; pant leg stained the colour of rust with dried, flaking blood and skin too pale to contain a hint of life.
“Nightmare?” Clark mumbled, eyes still closed.
“Sorry I woke you.”
“S’okay, go to sleep, Bruce. Everything’s okay.” Clark’s hand found his and tugged until Bruce lay back down. He settled their joined hands over his heart and slipped easily back into sleep.
In the dark Bruce listened to Clark draw in one breath after another.
* * *
Clark tossed a dishtowel to Chloe to wipe up the flour she’d tipped onto the counter, laughing when it caught in her hair and she mock-glared at him. Bruce was seated at the island with his sleeves rolled up and his fingers busy pressing pastry into a pie pan while he watched. Clark glanced over his shoulder at him and smiled before ducking out of the way as Chloe launched a handful of flour at his head. A hand brushed against Bruce’s shoulder and he turned to see Martha leaning over his shoulder. She smiled kindly and moved towards her son a second later.
“Are you actually making something or just seeing how much flour you can get on the floor?” There was laughter in her eyes as she spoke. Clark leaned down to press a kiss to her cheek, leaving a smudge of the white powder in his wake. Martha moved back to the island to take the pan Bruce had just finished with and got started with the filling.
Clark appeared to his right a moment later and dropped an arm across his shoulder. “How are you and those pie crusts making out?”
“Great. I’m thinking of giving up my day job and going into the baking business.”
Clark caught the faint hint of wistfulness in his voice. “You know,” he said softly as he leaned closer, a teasing smile playing at his lips. “I think my mom is looking to do something a little less exciting after being a Senator. Maybe you two can start up your own mom-and-pop type bakery.” Bruce elbowed him lightly in the stomach and Clark shifted out of the way, chuckling.
“As soon as you’re done with that last one, I can start on dinner,” Martha said to Clark and Chloe as deft hands laid a crisscross of pastry over the cherry filling.
Clark eyes the bowl of half-mixed ingredients sitting on the counter then glanced at the fridge where he knew the ham was waiting to go into the oven. Bumping Chloe gently out of the way with his hip, he had the pastry neatly rolled out and fitted into the pan a second later.
Martha shooed the three into the living room with coffee in hand a few minutes later. Clark settled on the floor in front of the couch, his legs stretched towards the crackling fire with Chloe next to him and Bruce at his back, splayed legs framing his broad shoulders. Bruce let the fingers of his free hand card through Clark’s hair and Clark tilted his head back to smile as a knock at the door preceded Lois’s greeting as she and Oliver entered with Jimmy in tow.
“Hey, Chlo. I found
your boyfriend wandering aimlessly around the mean streets of Smallville. Figured
I’d better bring him along before he hurt himself.”
“I wasn’t wandering. I missed the turn because I couldn’t see the street signs. The wind is blowing all the snow around like crazy out there.”
“Don’t blame your faulty sense of direction on the weather, Jimmy.”
“Do you guys want coffee? We just made a fresh pot.” Chloe stood, effectively cutting Jimmy off as he tried to defend his honour.
“I’ll help,” he offered, following her through to the kitchen.
Lois dropped down onto the couch next to Bruce. “Wayne,” she nodded at him.
Clark’s shoulders hitched with silent laughter against Bruce’s thighs as Chloe and Jimmy reappeared with Martha and a tray of steaming coffee mugs. Bruce let himself fall into the rhythm of the people around him as they relaxed, laughed, and helped get the Christmas Eve meal on the table. He found himself pulled from the moment when his phone rang shortly before they sat down to eat. Excusing himself, Bruce made his way up to Clark’s room to answer.
“Master Bruce, you’ve received an urgent message from Commissioner Gordon. Your presence has been requested in Gotham. He’s asked that you meet him as soon as possible.”
Bruce sighed as his eyes moved around Clark’s childhood bedroom, listening to the muffled sounds of conversation from below. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Moving back downstairs, he caught Clark’s eye and lifted his chin in the direction of the front hall. Clark set down the dish he’d been carrying and followed him to the door. “I’m sorry, Clark, I have to leave for a few hours. Gordon’s asked for my help.”
“Do you want us to come with you?”
“There’s no need to pull you and Oliver away from everyone.”
“I don’t mind.”
Bruce offered him a quick smile. “But I do.” He didn’t mention that Gordon had asked only for him. Clark would have followed him anyway if he told him that.
Clark nodded in acceptance. “Get your coat. I’ll let my mother know I’ll be right back.”
“Give her my apologies.”
Clark left Bruce alone in the hall, reappearing soon after with his coat already on. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?”
Bruce’s eyes flicked back in the direction of the kitchen as the sound of clinking cutlery was followed by a burst of laughter. The knowledge that Clark almost hadn’t been around to see this Christmas played at the forefront of his thoughts. “I’ll call if I need help. Stay with your family, Clark.” He fixed a smile on his face that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Clark either didn’t notice or let him get away with it – the latter, knowing Clark.
“Alright.” Clark opened the front door and stepping out into the cold winter afternoon. “Let’s go.”
“A bomb threat on the Gotham City Children’s Hospital came in about three hours ago. It’s set to go off at 7 p.m. tonight if you don’t meet the bomber at a location and time of their choosing. They’ll set it off if we try to evacuate, or if the media catches wind of it. The bomb squad is combing the hospital with no luck so far. I think it’s an ambush, but we can’t take any chances.”
“When will they reveal the meeting location?”
“They’ll call on this line after you’ve arrived,” Gordon said just as the phone rang. He wasn’t given an opportunity to speak before being instructed to hand the phone over to Batman.
“You hitched a ride from Big Blue when you were instructed to come alone, Batman,” said a distorted voice. “Makes me think you’re not taking this very seriously. You don’t want me to think that, do you?”
“I get the impression I wouldn’t like the results if I didn’t take you seriously. What do you want?”
“Nothing much; only the chance to have a little chat with the Dark Knight himself. You’re a hard man to get in touch with. I had to go to extreme measures.”
“All you had to do was ask nicely.”
“Now, Batman, there’s no need for sarcasm. I think you’ll find that if you give us a chance, we’ll get along swimmingly. Meet me at the corner of Dillingham and Bayley at precisely 6:50 p.m., and you might have the opportunity to talk me out of blowing up all the little children. And make sure your personal transportation system stays in Metropolis where he belongs.” The line clicked as it disconnected.
“No luck getting a trace,” an officer said as she stepped up to the doorway. “The line was routed through several different locations from DC to New York. It’s probably a dead end, but we’re getting the locals on it.” Gordon nodded curtly and the woman disappeared.
“We have just over an hour to get a backup team in place. He’ll likely be watching, but there’s not much we can do about that at this point.”
“No team, Gordon.”
Gordon assessed Batman, his thoughts hidden behind a hard exterior. “I want us close enough to get to you if this guy tries something. I’m not taking no for an answer on that, Batman,” he added at the look on Bruce’s half-hidden face.
Bruce nodded curtly after a pause. He considered contacting Clark to search the hospital, but the bomber had already spotted him once. Clark was fast, but there was no way he could save an entire building full of people in the span of a few seconds if it happened again. Bruce knew he was in this one alone.
* * *
The distorted voice spoke from the shadows between two buildings. “Ditch the radio, Batman. I hardly think that’s playing fair. This is, after all, a private conversation. I went to a lot of trouble to arrange it.”
Bruce pulled the radio free and dropped it beneath his heel, crushing the receiver with his boot heel and kicking the remains into the dirty snow lining the sidewalk. “Better?”
“Much, thank you.”
“What do you want?”
“Lead the way.”
“I don’t think so.” The tall, thin figure gestured down the alley with the detonator. “You first, Batman.”
Bruce set out in front, eyes and ears alert, body deceptively loose and ready to react. They reached the halfway point when a door to the on the left opened and two men appeared.
“Ah, our escorts. Come along then, we’re on a limited schedule. Seven more minutes until the kiddies go boom.”
Bruce stepped inside the building and started down a dark, cramped hallway until another door appeared at the end. The taller of their escorts opened the door and allowed the others to enter first. Once inside, the door was shut and locked. Within walls he suspected were soundproof, Bruce found the room eerily silent.
“All electronic signals are scrambled in this room. That means if you’ve been hiding any sort of communication or tracking device, it no longer works. It also means,” he said, catching Bruce’s eyes as they tracked the detonator. “This does not work. So long as you give me what I want, Batman, the detonator will remain dormant. Fail to cooperate, however, and well, you know what will happen.”
“What do you want?”
Instead of answering, the man stripped off his long dark, coat and ski mask to reveal a woman. A slow, dark smile graced Bruce’s mouth as he recognized her.
“What exactly do you think you’re playing at, Poison Ivy?”
“Why Batman, you wouldn’t take the fun out of the game so quickly, would you?”
“You’ve got sixty seconds to explain yourself.”
“Or? My associates will put a bullet in you before you get close enough to do anything to me, I’m afraid. Listen to what I have to say, and perhaps we can all leave no worse for the wear.”
“Talk,” Bruce conceded, well aware that she was lying. He shifted subtly, readying for an attack.
“There is no bomb, of course. Shame on you for thinking I would hurt innocent children, Batman. You know better.”
“Then what’s this about?”
She stepped forward, lowering her voice and meeting his eyes straight on. “You, Batman, dead at my feet. In a perfect world, that is.”
Bruce laughed. “You’d be dead before you get close enough to try.”
“Come now, you’re not a killer. Oh,” she paused, one finger tapping her chin thoughtfully. “That’s right, I nearly forgot. You are. You killed Joker. I know the Justice League never revealed just which member took him down, but I have a teeny, tiny inkling it was you.”
Bruce didn’t offer to set her straight. Instead he tracked her movements with shadowed eyes as she began to pace in front of him.
“Harley is my friend, Batman. In as much as a girl like me can have friends, that is. And you hurt her. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Torture? It doesn’t become you. Not to mention what you did to him.” She paused, tone turning to mockery. “But maybe you’re not as dark as you like to play at, are you?”
“I’m talking. Hush now.” She paused mid-step and turned to him. “You think they’ll come for you. You’re holding out hope that the Justice League will swoop in to save the day, just like they do for everyone else.”
“If I was worried, I might think that. What I do think, however, is that you’re in over your head.”
“That’s where you’d be wrong,” she whispered, leaning close to let her lips lightly sweep across the exposed line of his jaw,
He felt the poison creeping into his skin as his face went numb. It was only a matter of seconds before he was falling to his knees and then to the ground as his body gave out. Fingers he could barely feel slipped across his skin to trip against pressure points on his neck and send him into oblivion.
* * *
Bruce woke stripped of everything but his cowl, leaving him without modesty or protection. His back was pressed against a damp cement wall, his hands and ankles chained in place. He forced himself to focus his attention on Ivy as she stood before him, smiling demurely in the dim light of their new location.
“I suppose the numbness has worn off?” She was close enough to stroke a hand across a small scar running along the ridge of his abdomen. Bruce glared and forced himself not to jerk away from her touch as she continued to fix him with that same little smile. A flick of her wrist when he didn’t answer her and Thug #2, as Bruce was beginning to think of him, advanced and took hold of his knee in hands that would have dwarfed even Clark’s. The pressure increased as the man’s fingers found the edges of the cap and pressed until something moved with a sickening squishing sensation and Bruce’s vision went white at the edges.
“I don’t know if you realize the extent of your situation, Batman,” she paced languidly in front of him as he choked back a groan.
“I guess you’re going to explain it to me whether I want to listen or not,” he panted.
“You shouldn’t smart mouth me, you know. Not when I call the shots on whether you live or die.”
“It’s cute that you think that.”
A second flick of her wrist preceded a brutal blow to his jaw that sent him spinning into the grey-white fog of semi-consciousness for several seconds. When his eyes opened again, she was standing very close to him. He shifted, trying to lift his weight off his injured knee.
“As much as I’d like to kill you, you’ll live to fight another day, Batman.” Her voice was whisper soft in his hear and only he heard her add, “Or should I call you Bruce?”
Bruce fought to slow his heart rate to normal and focused on his breathing. “Sorry, try again,” he said quietly.
“I don’t need to unmask you to know I’m right, Brucie. It was only a matter of time before someone figured it out. Bruce Wayne, one of the Gotham elite, starts taking more and more trips to Metropolis. All of a sudden, Batman begins to appear in the city. It wasn’t rocket science, you know. I’m surprised you’ve been so careless.”
“Maybe Wayne has a new girlfriend,” he joked grimly. “You could always take off my mask and find out.”
Ivy laughed and stepped back. “What do you take me for? I know all about the security measures you’ve taken to prevent anyone but you from removing your mask. Thanks, but I’m fine without the added jolt of electricity.” She brought her hand up to caress his cheek beneath the cowl. “I’m going to unchain one of your arms, and you’re going to take it off for me.”
Bruce’s eyes closed as he tried to resist, tried to prevent her from taking control of his mind and body. In the end, his effort was useless.
Clark glanced at the clock for what felt like the hundredth time in an hour. It was coming up on 10:00 p.m. and Bruce hadn’t check in yet. Chloe’s voice filtered in through the sound of the Christmas movie she and Martha were watching.
“Did he say what was going on?”
“Just that Gordon had asked for help.”
“Have you tried contacting the Commissioner?”
“I didn’t want to step on any toes.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “So you’re going to sit here worrying until he checks in.”
Clark sighed and stood. “I’ll be back soon,” he said, raising his voice. His mother flashed him a concerned look, asking if everything was alright. He forced a smile for her benefit and nodded. To Chloe he said, “Come on, I’ll drop you at home on my way. The snow is starting to get really bad out there.”
Chloe didn’t speak until they were out of Martha’s earshot. “I’ll try to track him through his communicator. Keep me posted, okay?” Clark nodded rightly and pulled her close to him as he lifted off the ground and flew in the direction of Chloe’s apartment.
Superman was striding into the precinct in Gotham and heading directly towards the sound of Gordon’s voice a few minutes later. He knocked on the door of the conference room where the man stood with several officers and tipped his head in greeting when Gordon looked up.
“Have you heard from him, Superman?”
“Tell me what’s going on, James.”
Gordon scrubbed a hand across his mouth and dismissed the other officers. Pacing the length of the room, he quickly filled Superman in on the events to date. “We had a team in place to watch the meet from a distance. As expected we lost radio contact almost immediately. The homing device we placed on his cape cut out shortly after that. We tracked it to the location of its last transmission, but there was nothing there.” Gordon reached to unfurl a swath of familiar black material from the chair to his left. “Except for this.”
Clark took the cape, letting his hands slide over the unique material briefly before turning cold blue eyes back on Gordon. “Were you planning to call the League at any point?”
“We swept the hospital and came up with nothing, but we couldn’t take that chance, not yet. I’m sorry.”
Clark’s expression softened slightly. “I understand. Now we need to figure out how to get him back.”
* * *
Ivy’s men were efficient and thorough in their work; professionals, Bruce had figured out. She’d sent them from the room long enough to force him to pull his cowl off and replace it with a thick, black hood that made it difficult to breathe. He was coated with a thin sheen of sweat and the cool air began to chill his skin until he was left shivering involuntarily.
Some time later the fingers of his right hand hung limp from his wrist. He did his best to ignore the sharp throb radiating up from his arm, but Thug #1 and Thug #2 seemed to have an affinity for tugging on the broken appendages whenever Bruce insulted them; Bruce insulted them often if only on principle.
He didn’t really register the prick in his forearm until his head started to swim.
“Time to sleep, Bruce.” Poison Ivy’s whispered voice sounded distorted in his ear.
* * *
Clark was mid-sentence when the sound of Bruce’s heartbeat reached his ears. He glanced briefly at Diana and J’onn, holding up a hand to silence them as he tried to focus his hearing on the steady rhythm. He looked grim as he listened, pinpointing the spot to a rough neighbourhood in Gotham before taking off.
“Got him. He’s hurt.” His voice came over the communicator an instant later. He knelt at Bruce’s side in the middle of a grungy alley and scanned his body, taking stock of his injuries. He winced at the swollen knee and broken bones, knowing it would hurt but that he’d have to pry Bruce out of his suit before he could take him to the emergency room. To the others he gave their location and instruction to investigate the area.
Clark leaned forward and shifted to get an arm underneath Bruce so he could lift his head onto his lap and carefully pull off the mask. There were dark bruises on his jaw and cheekbone and a thin line of blood trickling from a small cut at his hairline. Beneath paper-thin lids, Bruce’s eyes moved rapidly back and forth before his lashes fluttered and Clark caught a glimpse of white shot with red and a slim flash of blue.
“Found me,” Bruce slurred, struggling against the sedative in his system. “You found me.” Clark tried to wipe the fear from his expression while he brushed dark hair off Bruce’s forehead. Bruce’s eyes closed again and his body fell slack in Clark’s grip.
“Of course I found you. I’m always going to find you.” He got his other arm under Bruce and lifted carefully, holding him close to his chest as he rose into the night sky and the soft blanket of snow now falling on Gotham. “It’d just be easier if you didn’t take off half-cocked without telling anyone what you’re doing,” he added, a wry smile pulling up the corners of his mouth.
* * *
Bruce could tell he was in a hospital before he opened his eyes. The florescent lights glaring through his lids coupled with the smell of antiseptic and the sounds of the emergency room bustling with activity around him gave it away. Sensing someone at his side, he grudgingly opened his eyes to find Clark looking down at him.
“Your hovering is a sure-fire way to out us to the rest of the world,” he said too quietly for a normal person to overhear.
“At least we know your attitude wasn’t affected.”
“Get me out of here, will you?”
“Sure. I figured sticking around wasn’t going to happen. Doc says you’ll be alright. Some deep tissue bruising, several minor cuts and scrapes, and six broken bones. You’ll have to stay off your leg as much as possible until the knee heals.”
At the cataloguing of his injuries, Bruce became fully aware of the pain throbbing just beneath the thin veneer of the medication they’d pumped unto his system. “What’s the cover story?” He shifted upward using his left hand and pulled off the blanket up so he could take a look at his knee.
“You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Clark dipped his head briefly and he cleared his throat. “Got mugged. I wasn’t the one who came up with it. The others took care of all that.”
“It’s fine, Clark.”
“The papers –“
“Will do what they always do and make a big deal over anything relating to my name. They’ll dredge up my parents and make correlations between the two muggings, and then something else will come along and it’ll be forgotten. Press got wind of it before you could cover everything up, didn’t they?”
“Less than twenty minutes after you were admitted. There wasn’t much we could do about it.”
“Mr. Wayne, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
Bruce glanced up as a physician appeared at the foot of his bed. “Like I’d like to get out of here.”
The doctor, a younger woman with deep red hair pulled back into a short ponytail, flashed Clark a quick grin before turning her attention back to Bruce and giving him the run down of his injuries and care instructions for the next several weeks.
“I trust Mr. Kent can get you home?” she asked once she’d tucked Bruce’s chart back under her arm. At Clark’s nod, she smiled again. “You’ll need to get fitted for a crutch, but then you’re a free man, Mr. Wayne.” She was gone a moment later, leaving behind the faint scent of vanilla and fruity shampoo.
“What was that all about?” Bruce asked, a tired smirk threatening to break as he looked at Clark.
“What was what about?” He pulled the privacy curtain around the bed and tugged the hospital gown off Bruce’s upper body.
“That little smile she shot you. Flirting with the staff while I was out cold, were you?”
“Nope. Just warned her that you’re cranky when you first wake up.”
“I’m only cranky when I wake up in the hospital,” he said, letting Clark help him slip his right arm into the sleeve of his shirt before placing it back in the sling.
“Either way,” Clark grinned and helped him slide into a pair of track pants, settling the loose material carefully around the brace on his knee. When a nurse arrived with a wheelchair soon after, Bruce grudgingly allowed himself to be helped into it.
“You doing okay?” Clark asked, glancing away from the road long enough to take in Bruce’s pale skin and tired eyes.
Bruce let his head fall back against the headrest with a small grunt. “You’re taking us back to Smallville, right?”
“I don’t think I should carry you that far when you’re hurt.”
“You’re not missing out on any more of Christmas than you already have. Drive if you don’t want to carry me.”
“You can’t just go home and rest, can you?”
“I’ll rest wherever you take me, but I’d prefer we go back to the farm.” Bruce paused and his mouth quirked up. “Those are words I didn’t anticipate ever saying.”
Clark chuckled and said little else for the rest of the trip to the manor. Pulling into the driveway, he glanced over to find Bruce’s eyes closed and his breath coming in long, slow beats.
“Hey,” he said quietly, reaching over to brush a hand over Bruce’s forehead in a move he knew the other man would mock him for if he hadn’t been doped up on painkillers.
“Sap,” Bruce muttered anyway.
“We’re at the manor.”
“That’s not Smallville.”
“You need to put on warmer clothes first.”
Bruce opened his eyes and shifted up in the seat. “Good point.”
It was late by the time they arrived at the farm. Clark settled Bruce onto the couch when he protested being put to bed like a child.
“Painkillers make you cranky, don’t they?”
“I’m not cranky.”
“You’re practically pouting.” Bruce’s expression shifted into a glare. “Alright, I take it back.” Clark’s grin faded a few seconds later. “So are we going to talk about this now or in the morning?”
“Now,” Bruce drew in a deep breath. “Better to get the famous Clark Kent lecture over it.” He glanced up at the silence that followed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know. You’re tired and hurting, and you don’t have a filter on the best of days.”
Bruce started to protest but shook his head and laughed lightly when he saw Clark’s smirk. “Don’t tease the injured man.”
“Gordon filled me in on the details from before they lost contact with you. When the League went looking, they found two dead men in an empty room. What happened?”
“Revenge. Poison Ivy didn’t like how I treated Harley when you were-“ He paused to draw in a deep breath. “When you were missing.” He glanced down at his splinted fingers and the cast that covered his arm to the elbow. “She thinks I killed Joker.”
This was something they hadn’t talked about in detail yet, dancing around the subject instead. Clark cleared his throat, stalling for time while he tried to phrase his next question.
“I didn’t.” Bruce sensed the question and headed t off. “It was Oliver. Joker was about to finish me, and Oliver killed him first.” Clark nodded without a word. “I wanted to. But you were gone, and I was down, and it just didn’t seem worth fighting for.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, side-by-side and facing forward with Bruce’s hand still held loosely in Clark’s. In the corner of the room, the soft white lights of the Christmas tree bathed the room in a soft glow. The minutes ticked by, and Bruce was nearly asleep when Clark spoke.
“When I woke up and you weren’t there, I was more scared that something had happened to you than about what was wrong with me. I used to think that I had to be alone to do what I do. I could go back to being alone if that’s what it came down to, but I would lose a part of myself without you.”
“I don’t have plans to go anywhere.”
“Most people don’t plan to die, Bruce. It just happens.”
“We both know death is inevitable, Clark. That doesn’t matter.”
“What matters is the here and now, I get it. Just promise me you won’t take off like that again.”
“I won’t make you a promise I might have to break.”
“Promise you’ll try?”
“We need to find her.”
“We will. There’s time. I think she’s finished with me for now.” Bruce fell silent, considering how to broach the next subject.
“She knows who you are, doesn’t she?” Bruce cast a glance at Clark from the corner of his eye, making a soft noise of assent in the back of his throat. “Then I need to find her now.”
“And do what, Clark? She left me alive for a reason.”
“She killed those two men.”
“Thug #1 and Thug #2 as I like to call them. They were hired help, and she didn’t want anyone out there to tell the tale. I don’t think they saw my face, but I doubt she wanted to take any chances.”
“She’s a threat.”
“I know. We’ll deal with her, Clark, but it’s not going to be tonight. It’s Christmas and we’re together with the people we care most about. Let’s just not think about this, alright? Not tonight.”
“Lois is going to have a field day, you know. She’ll want to know how you got from here to Gotham and back. Not to mention the digging she’ll do about your injuries. She’ll either start calling you Bats or be oddly oblivious. It’s how she works.”
“I never quite understood that one. She still doesn’t know about Oliver?”
“It’s one of those things she knows but doesn’t talk about.”
“If she calls me Bats, I can’t be held responsible for what I may do to her. Anyway, we can deal with Lois in the morning.”
Clark laughed and turned to face Bruce, leaning in enough to press a kiss against his mouth. “I should take you up to bed. You must be exhausted.”
“I like the bit about bed, but I’d prefer to pass on the sleep in favour of other activities.”
“When my mother’s not asleep in the next room and you’re not about to pass out, we’ll talk.”
“You’re going to deny me sex the whole week we’re here, aren’t you?”
“You talk too much; she’d hear you,” Clark said as he stood.
“You talk just as much as I do.” Bruce allowed himself to be picked up and pulled close against Clark’s body, losing the battle against medication and pain.
“He said, she said, either way you talk too much.”
“You’re the girl in that equation, you know.”
“Whatever you say, dear.”
“Remind me to hit you as soon as my hand is healed.”
“So you can break it again?” Clark moved them up the stairs slowly, trying not to jostle Bruce with each step up.
“You’re getting squishy in your old age, so I’d be fine.”
“I’m not –“
“Shh, you’ll wake your mother.”
“We’ll finish this in the morning.”
“No we won’t. You’ll be too speechless over what I got you.”
Clark’s voice dropped to a whisper as he pushed open the bedroom door with his foot. “What did you get me?”
“You’ll see in the morning.”
“Tell me now,” Clark said as he set Bruce down on the bed and batted his hand out of the way when Bruce tried to stop him from pulling off his clothes.
“It would ruin the surprise.”
“I can just x-ray the box, you know.”
“That would be cheating.” Bruce settled himself back against the pillows and shifted over enough to make room for Clark.
“You’re the one who brought it up to begin with.” Clark turned out the lights after stripped down to a t-shirt and boxers. “So if anyone is cheating, it’s you.” He climbed into bed next to Bruce and turned on his side to face him.
“Go to sleep.”
“You’ll see in a few hours.”
Clark rested one hand across Bruce’s abdomen, carefully to avoid the places he knew would hurt. “I love you.”
“Still not telling you.”
Clark laughed and pulled the covers up higher, settling them across Bruce’s chest. “It’s okay, I’ll see in a few hours.”
Clark’s side of the bed was empty when he woke the next morning, and Bruce knew that he wouldn’t be anywhere on the farm.
“He’s probably in Gotham by now,” he muttered under his breath. “Damn it, Clark.” A quiet tap on the bedroom door stopped him from reaching for his phone to call Alfred.
“Come in,” he called, shifting the covers back up to his waist.
Martha opened the door and the emotion that flickered across her expression when she took in the sight of his battered body was one that Bruce recognized from his childhood; the “mom” look he realized.
“It’s nothing,” he tried to reassure her, his growing affection for Martha Kent conflicting with the instinct to hide his identity. Martha seemed to sense this and spoke before he had the chance to continue.
“I’m not looking for details, Bruce. I wouldn’t presume to ask you for that kind of information, and I don’t expect you to offer. All I want to know is if you’re alright.” Her voice slid up at the end, questioning.
He smiled, mildly surprised to find it was genuine. “I’m–“ He paused when she raised an eyebrow at him, sensing that “fine” wasn’t going to cut it. “Sore,” he finished lamely. “But it’s nothing that won’t heal in a few weeks.”
“I’ll bring up some coffee. Are you hungry? You slept through breakfast, but there are plenty of bagels and fresh muffins.”
Bruce’s stomach answered with a growl. “I think I’m channelling Clark,” he said wryly, smiling again when Martha laughed in response.
“Where is my son anyway?”
“He was gone when I woke up." The communicator activated in Bruce’s ear at that moment and he smiled at Martha. “Could you excuse me for a moment.”
She nodded in understanding as she moved back into the hallway. “I’ll go put on a fresh pot of coffee.”
“Batman,” Bart said, concern evident in his usually relaxed voice. You listening to me or not, amigo?”
“I’m here,” he said.
“We received a communication from Superman stating he had located Poison Ivy and would be transporting her to Arkham. That was over an hour ago, and Arkham hasn’t seen either of them yet.”
“Did he provide a location?”
“His transmission got cut off before he could give full details.”
"I designed those things so that wouldn't happen," Bruce frowned, pushing down the fear rising like bile in his throat. "Play me what you’ve got, Impulse.”
“Superman here. I’ve got a location on Poison Ivy. I’m going in and will transfer her to Arkham. Location is approximately thirty miles south–”
“No one thought to look into this sooner?” Bruce snapped. He scrubbed his hand across his face, pushing past the remaining fog of pain and medication in order to focus. “She can hurt him.”
“I’ve been trying to track his location.” Chloe said as she jumped into the conversation. “It came from the vicinity of Gotham, give me a few more minutes and I should be able to narrow it down to a more specific area of the city.”
“I’m calling the Batwing now,” Bruce said as he stood, balancing to keep his weight on one leg and reached for the clothes still packed in his overnight bag. “I’ll be in Gotham soon.”
“I’m coming with you,” Chloe said.
“You need to stay put and track that location, Watchtower.”
“I can do that from Gotham.”
“Be ready,” he said shortly. Bruce heard the sound of approaching footsteps as he tugged on his jeans and fumbled with the button.
“Is it Clark?”
Bruce looked up to meet Martha’s eyes in the open doorway. “He went after the person who hurt me. He’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
“You’re telling me not to worry, which probably means I should.”
Bruce sat back down on the edge of the bed. “Poison Ivy can control Clark, manipulate him. Last night she -” Bruce paused and took a deep breath, lowering his voice. “She ambushed me, jammed my communicator so I couldn’t contact the League, and they couldn’t trace my location. She knows who I am. Clark made it clear last night that he wouldn’t risk my safety because of that knowledge.”
Bruce pulled on a shirt, sliding it carefully over his arm and biting back a wince as the hem caught on one of his splinted fingers. “We’ll find him. We’ve already got a lead on his location. I’m on my way to help now.” He was surprised when Martha stepped forward and looked to him for consent before helping pull the shirt up and over his cast.
“You’re not really in any condition to help, Bruce.”
“I’ll be fine. Clark’s my concern at the moment.”
“You’re both mine,” she said as she took a step back. “Remember that.”
He nodded and picked up the crutch, making his way awkwardly towards the hall, leaving her to watch his retreating back.
* * *
"I've narrowed it down to a three mile radius on the outskirts of Gotham City," Chloe announced just as they began their descent. "I can't get anything more precise than that yet. There’s something blocking the signal."
“Why the hell did it take so long in the first place?”
"Someone corrupted our data during its transmission. As soon as we get him back, I'll look into it."
"Figure it out now, Chloe.
"Do you want me to find Clark, or do you want me to figure out how someone scrambled our communications?" Chloe's sarcastic forcefulness leached into her tone and Bruce smiled grimly. "Because I can only do one at a time right now, and unless you're forgetting to tell me about a head injury that may be clouding your judgement, I'd think finding him is our top priority."
"Clark is top priority," he agreed gruffly.
"I've sent the coordinates to the computer in the Batmobile."
Seconds later they were moving through the bowels of Wayne Manor, heading towards the cave where Alfred was waiting. Bruce nodded briskly at him, ignoring the disapproving look sent his way, and headed towards his suit.
“I need help getting into this.”
“Master Bruce, I don’t think you should be going anywhere in your condition.”
“Save the lecture for later.”
“The suit won’t fit over your cast, sir, or the brace.”
“Then I won’t wear it.” Bruce snatched up his utility belt, slinging it over one shoulder as he slid carefully into the Batmobile and punched in a series of commands into the screen before him. "Got the coordinates. On route now," he said into the communicator.
“He wouldn’t want you risking your identity.”
Bruce looked up at Chloe as she crouched at the open door of the vehicle. “She already knows,” he said as the door closed.
"On my way," Green Arrow suddenly spoke up. I'm about twenty minutes north of the city."
Chloe answered as she watched Bruce peel out of the cave. "Go south, Green Arrow. They're on the other side of the city. Coordinates are en route."
"Impulse and I are almost in Gotham," Wonder Woman added.
There was silence over the communicators until Bruce entered the outskirts of the area Chloe had indicated. "Any luck narrowing our search grid further?"
"I'm working on it."
"Never fear, amigo, Impulse is here. I'm running now." There were several seconds of dead air before Bart's voice came back. "Two miles in from the north-east corner of the zone. Abandoned farm with a greenhouse in back. They’re both here."
"Status?" Bruce asked tersely.
"She's tied up, blindfolded, and out cold. Looks like Supes got in a few blows before she worked her charms on him. He seems to be waking up. Whoa there, Stretch, c'mon!"
"Impulse? What's going on?" Oliver demanded.
"Our boy's a little out of it – tried to take a swing at me."
Bruce smirked slightly at the image. "How close are you, Wonder Woman?"
"I'm passing over your vehicle to land now, Batman."
"Hey guys, you might want to hurry up. The Boy Scout isn't looking so hot and Ivy's waking up."
"I'm here." Bruce climbed out of the vehicle and made for the greenhouse. "Where is he?" he asked as he walked stiffly through the door.
"Over here," Wonder Woman called, taking in his lack of uniform without comment.
Bruce moved past wooden workbenches lined with dark, rich earth and flowering plants, some upright, some overturned from an obvious fight. As he moved, a vine stretched out to wrap around his arm. He snapped it viciously with his free hand.
Oliver appeared in the doorway and headed straight for Ivy. "Impulse – little help?" he called as one of Ivy's plants tried to wrap around his ankle.
Bruce crouched at Clark's side, leg stretched out in front of him in deference to the brace. "Superman? Hey." He reached out to grab Clark's hands and still them when he tried to push Diana away. His skin was clammy and a faint tremor ran through him as if he were shivering from cold. "Can you hear me?"
Clark's eyes rolled in his direction. "Hey," he muttered. "I found her. Made her forget."
"You did a good job, Superman. Can you stand up?"
His head jerked back and forth once. "Everything's spinning. Don't want to move 'til the spinning stops."
"We need to take him to the Fortress," Diana said. "The technology there will be able to isolate and treat whatever toxin she has put into his system."
Bruce nodded. "Wonder Woman and I are going to help you up, alright?"
"Will that make the spinning stop?"
Clark closed his eyes. "Good."
Bruce glanced up at the crashing noise behind them. Ivy was still restrained and without sight, but consciousness allowed her to control the plants in the greenhouse and she was using them to prevent Impulse and Green Arrow from approaching.
"Damn it," he growled, turning away from Clark and reaching for a tranquilizer dart from his discarded utility belt. One well aimed shot later and Poison Ivy was unconscious again and Green Arrow was untangling himself from a vine that had snaked itself halfway up his body.
"Thanks," he said. "How's he doing?"
"We're taking him to the Fortress now." He turned back to see Wonder Woman helping an unsteady Clark to his feet.
"Won't stop spinning."
"Soon, just bear with us for a little while longer."
"GCPD are on their way," Chloe said. "They've been warned to take extra precautions."
"She'll be unconscious for another hour at least."
"I'll pass on that information. How is he?"
"I'll let you know when we figure out what she did to him."
"She got me, didn't she?"
Bruce glanced over to find Clark sitting up and watching him examine an outcropping of crystals. "Sure did. You've been out of it for an hour, but Jor-El seems to believe you'll be fine. No lasting effects."
"You got Jor-El to acknowledge you. I'm impressed."
"I wouldn't really call it acknowledgment. More like providing a light show and a bed of ice. I can only conclude that you'll be fine. Care to tell me what happened?"
"Later. You've got to be freezing." He glanced at Bruce's clothing. "That jacket’s definitely not warm enough, and you’re can’t exactly wear gloves right now."
"We're in the Arctic, Bruce."
"I might be a bit cold."
"How'd we get here?"
Clark swung his legs off the crystalline platform. "Where is she?"
"Exploring the area outside. She’s already been through everything in the main room."
“I didn’t want to intrude by going further inside the structure.” Diana appeared at the entrance, stopping a few feet away from them.
“You’re welcome to come back with me another time to look around.” He turned back to Bruce as she nodded with a slight smile. "We should go before you start losing fingers and toes."
"Or something else I'm rather attached to," Bruce said under his breath.
Clark laughed and stood, resting a hand on the ice until he regained his equilibrium. "To the plane," he mocked lightly.
"What's wrong with planes?"
"Nothing," Clark grinned at him. "You and your toys amuse me."
"It’s Diana’s, not mine, and I can think of a few of my toys that you find something entirely different."
"I know what you’re like when you get to ride in an invisible plan, Bruce. And can we not talk about our sex life in front of Jor-El?"
"Getting shy on me, Kent?" His eyes dropped to Clark's groin. "Or something else."
"You have the weirdest timing."
"It's one of the things you like about me."
Diana cleared her throat politely and Clark felt a flush rising to heat his cheeks. He slipped an arm around Bruce’s waist to help him as they followed Diana out to the plane, steadfastly ignoring the small grin Bruce was making no effort to hide.
* * *
The journey back to the farm went by with sparse conversation. It wasn't until Diana had gone and they were in Clark's bedroom armed with extra blankets for Bruce and steaming cups of tea at Martha's insistence that the subject was broached.
Bruce watched as Clark pulled off his clothes, stripping down to his boxers, taking in the expanse of well-defined muscles. He tried to wave Clark off when he began pulling at his own clothes, but Clark’s huffed yeah right stopped him. Clark helped to settle him back against the pillows before climbing in beside him.
"It was fluke," Clark said without preamble. He shifted further down and turned on his side to face Bruce, his head propped up on one hand. "Sort of. I couldn't sleep; I didn't go out looking for her specifically. When I saw the greenhouse lights flash on and then off as if someone hadn't meant to turn them on in the first place... The buildings around it were clearly abandoned. When I looked inside, I saw her."
"That's when you called for assistance?"
"No. I went in alone first."
"Clark," Bruce said warningly.
"She hurt you. She knew who you were. I wasn't going to let her use that knowledge to hurt you again."
"Past tense," he said simply.
Clark's eyes dropped to the bedspread, studying the wash-worn material intently. "I erased her memory."
Bruce sat up straight and grasped Clark's jaw, forcing him to raise his head. "You want to run that one by me again?"
"I kissed her. It erased her memories of who you are." He sighed when Bruce gave him a look that clearly said he wanted more information. "Jor-El told me that I’m able to control a person's memories with a kiss. It's a form of telepathy that requires the physical intimacy of a kiss in order to work. That's probably how I got sick."
"You erased her memory of my identity with a telepathic kiss." Bruce's tone was incredulous.
"And you're only telling me about this ability now."
Clark sighed and sat up, tugging at a stray thread hanging from the hem of his shirt. "I went to the Fortress after you fell asleep. Poison Ivy needed to be dealt with, and short of killing her, Bruce, I didn't know how I could protect you."
"You should have woken me."
"Why? So you could talk me out of using it? Would you have preferred I resorted to murder?"
"No, Clark. I would have preferred we dealt with her together."
“There wasn’t anything you could do like this.”
"That doesn't give you the right to mess with someone's head."
"You can't possibly have expected me not to deal with her."
Bruce took his time answering, knowing they were treading on dangerous ground. "I agree that Poison Ivy needed to be stopped, Clark, but you put yourself at risk in order to use some ability straight out of a sci-fi B-movie that you never even knew you had until a few hours ago!"
Clark nodded tersely. "I get it, but that doesn't change anything. I would still do the same thing."
"And you'd be wrong again.” He watched as Clark threw back the covers and reached for his jeans. “Where are you going?"
"I'm going for a run before one of us says something we can't take back."
"You're not in any condition to run yet."
"The Fortress recharged my energy." He yanked on his plaid button-down over his t-shirt. "I'll see you later, Bruce."
"Clark, wait a minute!" Bruce called, but he was already out the door.
He glanced up at her voice as he reached the bottom of the stairs. "Mom, I thought you were in bed."
"I figured you and Bruce might like some time to talk without worrying about me overhearing. Is something wrong?”
He stalled answering by walking through the kitchen to take a seat on the living room couch. "Just a disagreement. Nothing big."
Martha moved to sit down next to him on the couch. "'Nothing big' doesn't usually have you running down the stairs fully clothed in the middle of the night."
"Bruce didn't like the way I handled a situation. Instead of sticking around and saying something I'd regret later, I decided to get some air."
"What about Poison Ivy?"
Clark arched an eyebrow at her, surprised that she knew. "I found her, and I dealt with her."
"Clark," she said, clasping one of his hands between both of her own, her skin warm and soft. "Sweetheart, I would have done anything for your father, whatever it took to protect him. I wouldn't have hesitated. But with your abilities, it's different. You can do damage beyond that of any other human being."
"I didn't hurt her." He looked up and into her eyes, surprised at the assumption that he’d have hurt her, even if it were frighteningly close to the truth. "I just… I made it so that she couldn't hurt him."
"It was a little more complicated than that." Bruce appeared in the archway between the two rooms, moving with a silence that shouldn’t have surprised Clark, even with the crutch.
Martha squeezed her son's hand once before letting go and standing. "I'll leave you two alone."
"I'm sorry for the intrusion, Mrs. Kent. Clark and I can go back upstairs if you prefer."
“Martha,” she reminded gently. “I wouldn’t consider either of you an intrusion. It’s time for me to get some sleep anyway. Good night, boys.”
Bruce waited until she was out of sight. "Fights like this are never easy. Too much grey area At least that's what Alfred tells me when he thinks I'm on the verge of screwing something up with you."
Clark couldn't help but laugh. "I always knew I liked him."
"You used to think he didn't care for you," Bruce reminded.
"Only until he dug a chunk of kryptonite out of my stomach. He could have left it in there, you know."
"He wouldn't have let you die."
"It was a small piece. I doubt it would have killed me."
"You weren't really in a state of mind to remember just how whiney you were."
"I don't whine."
"You do when you've got a piece of glowing, green rock stuck in your abdomen."
"It's not like you did much to stop it from happening."
Bruce sank down next to Clark. "That was a year-and-a-half ago. You're not still holding it against me, are you? I was trying to save Chloe."
"No grudge. I still maintain you could have done more than shout 'move' when you saw her coming at me with a nice, big chunk of pointy kryptonite."
"What happened to it being a small piece? Besides, you lived. Chloe lived. And you made friends with Alfred." Bruce flashed a wry grin at him.
Clark smiled back briefly before dropping his head to study the floor. "We're avoiding the subject."
"It was stupid to go after her alone. What would have happened if you didn't kiss her in time?"
"Never thought you'd say that, did you?"
"You make life interesting,” he agreed. “She could have seriously harmed you. What if we'd been unable to locate you before she regained consciousness?"
"You always find what you're looking for."
“Not always,” Bruce said tightly.
Clark’s head shot up, realizing what he’d said and how Bruce had interpreted it. “I didn’t –“
“You’ve been talking to Alfred.”
“This has nothing to do with your parents,” he said softly.
Bruce ignored him. “Yes, part of why I do what I do is for them. But the theory that I’m looking for their murderer in every criminal I try to stop would be wrong.”
“Alfred cares about you, that’s all. So do I, if you hadn’t noticed. When it counts, you’ll find me. Every time.” Clark sighed inwardly. “This is too big a discussion for tonight, Bruce. Can we get back to the subject at hand, please?”
Bruce nodded curtly and changed tack without missing a beat. “What was it like?”
"The kiss or kissing her?"
"Cold. I don’t feel the cold all that often. It was like all the warmth drained out of me. I concentrated on what I wanted her to forget, and she went limp. I could feel the poison as it started to work through my body, and all of a sudden it was like I was on fire. Too hot, but at the same time it still felt like I was being doused in ice water. I managed to tie her up and blindfold her before I couldn't stand any longer. Next thing I remember was you all showing up."
"How did you know to blindfold her?"
"Your suit wasn't designed to fit over a cast."
Bruce gave a small laugh and some of the tension drained from his shoulders. "You're smarter than you look," he said lightly before turning serious. "Sometimes. We've had the 'you could have died' speech a few times already. I don't think it needs saying again. Do you?"
"No." Clark sighed and stood, striding across to look out the window. "She held your life in her hands, Bruce."
"I needed to know why she let me live," he said simply. "That knowledge is lost to me now."
"She thought you'd killed Joker, and she wanted you to suffer like she was suffering." He turned back around to face Bruce. "Her love in exchange for your safety. She wanted you to always be looking over your shoulder, always wondering if she'd told anyone, or if your secret stopped with her."
"I have you to protect me."
"I can't always be there."
"You are when it counts," Bruce said, turning Clark’s argument back on himself.
"Not always. Sometimes things are out of my hands. I can't be in two places at once, no matter how fast I am."
"If you hadn't found out about the kiss, what would you have done?"
Clark met his eyes across the tree-lit room. "You don't want me to answer that."
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't."
"I'd have killed her." When Bruce didn't respond, Clark looked away again. "Without hesitation, Bruce. I would have ended her life to protect yours."
“And that scares you.”
“Not even a little.”
"That's all you have to say?"
"It's nothing less than I'd have done for you, Clark. I've toed that line already. I hurt others when they hurt you." He paused, considering his next words. “You need to know I’ll always find a way to be here so that you won’t have to cross that line.”
“How do you plan on doing that? You won’t be around forever.”
Bruce rose to his feet and crossed to stand before Clark. “I’m creative.”
"Creative enough to defy death?"
Bruce pressed forward, crowding Clark against the wall and surrounding him with an arm flanking each hip. He lifted his chin, almost closing the distance between their mouths. "Let's hope we don't have to go down that path any time soon."
"We can't kiss and make it all better."
Bruce laid claim to Clark's mouth in a short, almost violent kiss. "You'd be surprised what we can do. Next time, we do this our way."
Clark's hands came up to rest at the small of Bruce's back, tugging him closer. "Whatever you say, Bruce."
"Not good enough."
Clark sighed, a soft exhalation of air as he tipped his head forward to rest against Bruce's forehead. "Our way. I promise."
"Good." Bruce paused and pulled back, frowning slightly. "We didn't get to have Christmas morning."
"We could open presents now."
"Shouldn’t we wait for your mom?"
Clark cocked his head to the side, listening. "She's still awake. I can go get her."
“In a few minutes.”
Clark nodded, smiling and whispering against Bruce's mouth. "That works for me."