All's Fair, part 19
by ChicagoDisclaimers in "part 0"
It was tempting just to go home. Or better, back to Prague and Lois - although if he went back and had to confess that he had not talked to Batman, she would lecture him. He weighed the options - a Lois lecture or a confrontation with the Bat. Because even if Superman was here to apologize, it was going to be a confrontation.
"Is this going to be another lecture on trust?" a gritty voice interrupted his thoughts.
Superman winced. Definitely a confrontation. And he couldn't well zoom off to Prague now that Batman had acknowledged him. He dropped down, settling his feet firmly on the roof of Wayne Towers.
Batman still faced out at the city. "I didn't invite you onto my rooftop," he said coldly.
Superman managed to bite back a response, aware that he was being baited. Besides, his childish rejoinder about who's rooftop it was would have made him look foolish - it did belong to Batman. "I didn't come to lecture."
He got no answer, and he wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.
"I owe you an apology."
Again, no response - just a flutter of one corner of the black cape as a small gust of wind kicked up from the urban canyon below.
He tried again. "Ever since you and J'onn -" He hesitated. Got together? Became lovers? How was he supposed to phrase this? No, best try another tactic.
"Bruce," he sighed. "I know I questioned your judgment and put the mission in jeopardy. I feel like I've been doing that a lot lately."
"I - I've been feeling really conscious lately - I know you feel this way, too - no loss is acceptable. And I keep getting my priorities confused. During the whole Imperiex thing, I was torn eight different directions and if I could've kept my head straight -" He stopped. He didn't want to talk about this, but his relief at Aquaman's safe return had also tapped into other unresolved issues.
"And there was the Id situation. I know it was an idle wish which on any other day wouldn't have mattered, but -" Again he stopped, watching the unmoving shape in front of him. He remembered Bruce Wayne sans Batman, the unbridled, impotent rage caught in such a fragile shell. He wondered how many other people were like that out there, torn by their losses and their frustrations and powerless to do anything about it. He felt like he was beginning to understand their feelings, and yet he couldn't really. Or he could, but not in a way they could empathize with. They saw him and they saw Superman - a symbol, not someone who might struggle with loss and the fact that there was much he could do - and so much more that he couldn't. He himself might be physically invulnerable, but his heart could still ache, and the people he loved could still be hurt. He could still make mistakes.
The therapist J'onn had recommended had suggested he think about people with whom he could share this burden, but he hadn't expected these issues to bubble up around Batman. It made sense, though - how often had Batman disparagingly reminded him of the losses he didn't understand, the vulnerabilities he couldn't fathom?
And now, of course, the Dark Knight sat in utter silence, completely unresponsive on a Gotham rooftop, and Superman could scarcely blame him.
He would start over, he decided, rising off the rooftop and this time settling in the thin air in front of Batman. "Is this better?" he asked.
Batman still didn't move, but at least he spoke. "No."
"Batman - Bruce -" he appealed hopelessly. At least if he got sent away, he could get Lois' sympathy for trying - although now he didn't want to be chased away. He was almost surprised when Batman nodded faintly to the space beside him.
"Sit," he ordered.
Superman blinked at the ledge, then silently obeyed. Strangely, sitting on the edge gave him an odd moment of vertigo, and after a moment, it actually became uncomfortable without a back rest or space to settle his feet beneath him. He shifted then, adopting the crouch that Batman favored. His muscles protested the unfamiliar position, not so much with pain as with a vague over-stretched feeling. He found his balance easily enough, although he cheated slightly, using his ability to defy gravity to ease the pressure on his ankles. He finally settled, following Batman's gaze over the city skyline.
As much as Clark Kent was still a farm boy at heart, he had to admit that there was something magnificent about the expanse of Gotham glittering against the velvet sky. It was a cold and lonely city as far as he was concerned, a teeming mass of humanity that specialized in isolation, even after the lessons of the quake. But Batman loved it.
He unconsciously shifted his position as this realization sunk in. He had always known Batman was fiercely loyal and protective of his city, and during the Congressional hearings about No Man's Land, he had heard the desperate appeal in Bruce Wayne's voice for the home of his father and his father's father. Crouching here on the ledge of Wayne Tower, though, looking out over the lights of Gotham, hearing the distant traffic below - he thought he could almost hear the city's heart, and he suddenly comprehended that for Bruce, this was as moving as the waving grain of Kansas was for him.
He shifted again. What had J'onn said? "You hurt his feelings." He'd done it more than once in the past month and a half. In fact, he and Batman had barely talked in that time.
Batman's voice startled him from his thoughts, and he suddenly realized that the Dark Knight was no longer crouched beside him but standing on the rooftop.
"You fidget too much."
It was a jab, Superman knew, remembering how a very young Dick Grayson had been stilled contritely by a hard look from Batman years ago for crimes as small as adjusting a glove. But it was better than the unrelenting silence. He stepped down from the ledge and turned to face Batman.
"You're not comfortable with J'onn and I."
"No, that's not -" No. Denial wasn't going to solve anything. "Yes," he confessed.
The question J'onn hadn't had to ask. That Lois would have asked had he been willing to reveal to her the new relationship that had developed between his friends. Why, indeed? "I guess," he began, "I guess it makes me feel lonely."
He almost expected Batman to laugh. Instead, the Dark Knight sighed and turned his face back out toward his city. "J'onn said I should talk to you."
Superman cocked his head, puzzled.
"You said - or implied - that I am always hard on those I love. I have to be."
"I am, as much as I am loath to admit it, only a man," Bruce said quietly. "I cannot be everywhere, can't protect everything I hold dear. I try, but sometimes that means trusting their skills. Letting go." He glanced at Superman. "Dick and I have been fighting that battle for years."
"You're right - no loss is acceptable, but sometimes loss is inevitable."
His eyes were back studying the city, and Superman wondered if he was tracing out the lights of ten years before, a ghost city collapsed on thousands of bodies, entombed forever. Out across the land, Superman knew, there were families who still lit hopeful candles for their Gotham missing, unwilling to accept that their loved ones' unrecovered bodies were now little more than foundations for the new construction still going on in the recovering city.
"We live lives of danger," Batman continued, "throwing ourselves in harm's way for the sake of those who cannot defend themselves. It doesn't stop the loneliness, but it gives it meaning."
Superman waited for Batman to go on, but the silence had returned to the deepening night. "I've missed you," he finally said.
"I've been here," Batman replied, shifting under his cape and shooting off a jumpline into the dark. His voice trailed after him as he disappeared from view. "If you had bothered to look."
Superman strained his eyes after his friend for a long moment, then gave up and looked back out over Gotham. The city lights were winking out here and there as people said their good nights and settled into their beds. He thought about the lonely city life of the young people drawn here by the promise of better jobs, of the up-and-comers driven to succeed, of the powerful executives who had sacrificed love and family for their power, of the elderly who had outlived all their peers. He thought about the echoing halls of Wayne Manor, where Batman would return after the night's patrol - hollow luxury for a too-feeling heart. He thought about the empty expanse of the Gobi Desert and the easily missed outcrop that marked the location of J'onn's Martian home - a doorless home which only he and ghosts could enter. He thought about his own Metropolis apartment, empty now as Lois continued her world tour with her mother.
He pulled his sat-phone out of his cape pocket and speed-dialed his wife. She picked up on the third ring. "Lane," she answered, the tiniest hint of sleep still in her voice.
"Hi, honey. It's me."
"Clark. You okay?"
"You talk to him?"
"And-?" There was a faint impatience in her tone.
"How strange would it be for Bruce Wayne and I to both be in Beijing when you guys get there?"
She chuckled softly. "Honestly? Mom's beginning to wonder if they pay you enough for all the world travel they make you do."
"Good thing Perry made me a foreign correspondent, huh?"
"Yes, it is," she agreed easily. "Why do you ask?"
"I thought maybe a dinner date might be in order."
"Clark! Are you trying to set my mother up with Bruce!?"
He had to laugh at that. "No, no, not at all. Can you imagine?"
"Well, she did take a shine to him when he and I were dating, but-"
"Sorry, Smallville. So you're going to get Mr. Deep Pockets to take us out on the town?"
"Actually, I was more thinking that it would be a chance for us to spend some time with him and a friend of his."
"Clark Kent, are you telling me that there's a new lady in Bruce Wayne's life? Well, one that he actually cares about?"
Clark smiled, picturing Lois' reporter's mind sniffing a story. "Sort of," he hedged.
"Oh, ho! Someone I know, then?"
"Yes," he confirmed.
"Not a reporter."
"Umm - usually not."
"Usually not? Wha- Clark," her voice suddenly dropped to a whisper, but it's tone was almost squeaking with surprise, "are you telling me that Bruce Wayne is dating J'onn J'onzz?"
Clark shook his head. "I can't put anything past you," he remarked fondly.
"Well, that explains a lot. By all means, invite them to have dinner with us when we're there. Does J'onn have a set identity for this, or is he playing floozy of the week?"
Clark hesitated. "You know, I don't know."
"Well, find out! Sheesh, Clark, are you at least finding your socks okay while I'm out of town?"
"You're impossible, but I love you anyway."
"I love you, too," he answered. "I'll call you later."
"You do that. And you better have more details on the lovebirds by then."
"Yes, ma'am. Maybe I can tell you about it tomorrow in Budapest?"
"Hmm. Mom and I booked separate hotel rooms there," Lois pointed out suggestively.
"I'll be there after midnight," he promised.
"Barring the end of the world," she amended for him.
"Exactly. Have a good day, honey."
"And you get some sleep, Smallville. You show up dog tired and Perry's going to start questioning what you do with your nights."
"I cover the news. See you tomorrow, then?"
"Tomorrow," she agreed. "Bye, Clark."
He hung up the phone and returned it to his cape, taking off into the sky in the direction of Metropolis. Gotham still shone prettily in the night, but the lonely city no longer suited his mood.