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[personal profile] munnin
Title: From the outside looking in.
Rating: PGish
Verse: Mended Wings. Previous chapters: here.
Characters: The Bat family, Jason and Clark.
Disclaimer: No ownership, no profit and no offence meant. Everyone is of the age of consent in their country and period of history
Author’s notes: Big hugs and thanks to [livejournal.com profile] kyrdwyn without whom this would not have been possible!
Bingo card: AU - Other: Aliens. Masterlist here. (I know it’s stretching but I’m still hopeful I’ll finish that card one day.)

Summary: Gotham is the last place Clark wants to be...




Right now, Gotham was the last place Clark wanted to be. Five years ago he had made a promise to an officer of the law, now the Commissioner of Police, that no member of the Justice League would enter Batman’s city. And in essence he had kept that promise; he wasn’t there as Superman, he was there as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. But the distinction didn’t make it feel any less dishonest.

He had begged Perry not to make him cover the Wayne Enterprises charity gala. He had pleaded, tried to convince Lois to swap assignments with him, even feigned illness but none of it was enough to get him out of being there.

So there he was, huddled at the back of the vast ballroom in his rumpled ill-fitting suit, trying very hard to go unnoticed.

Five years ago he made a foolish and costly mistake. Clark’s arrogance and stupidity that day had caused him to accidently hurt Robin and earned him a well deserved beating at Batman’s hands. But in the process, he had learnt what he had been sent there to find out – the identity of the Dark Knight.

Heartbeats were as individual as fingerprints and once Clark heard someone’s, he never forgot.

And the tiny arrhythmia he’d heard in Robin’s heartbeat that day echoed in his ears as the same young man stood only a few yards from him. Nineteen year old Richard Grayson, the adopted son of millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, was chatting amiably with his father’s guests, every inch as charming as Wayne himself.

Clark squeezed his eyes closed, trying to block out his x-ray vision so he wouldn't see the two healed breaks in Richard’s right arm, a too permanent reminder of his failure that day. But his other senses were just as acute and it was impossible not to hear the faint creak of the exo-suit that supported the young man’s shattered legs and the slightest strain in his laughing voice as he moved.

The crippled child and his dark protector.’ Clark sipped his orange juice, trying to swallow past the lump in his throat. ‘And I made enemies of them both.

A raucous shout of laugher shook him from his thoughts and made him step further into the corner as the man himself walked by, calling for more drinks.

Playboy Bruce Wayne was the life of the party, the centre of attention and everyone’s best friend and yet... Clark could see the tiny tells that gave him away – the glass of bubbly in his hand which, unless Clark’s super-senses lied, was in fact sparkling apple juice; the way he circled the room, talking and joking and flirting and yet keeping his son in his line of sight at all times; the way he slung his arm around Richard’s shoulders in a sloppy, seemingly drunkard hug, subtly checking on the youth.

Missing was the black Kevlar and the gravel in his voice but Clark could see Batman there nevertheless. Drunk as he was pretending to be, Wayne’s eyes were sharp and watchful, his movements purposely careless but no less controlled. Clark dreaded the moment when he would have to do what he was sent here to do – interview the man who had once, quite rightly, beaten him near senseless. Especially knowing they would both be pretending to be someone else.

And then there was the new boy, Tim.

Clark couldn’t help but watch the boy as he arrived with the family’s retainer. The scandal surrounding Tim Drake’s emancipation and later adoption into the Wayne family had held the front page for nearly a week, even in Metropolis. At the time, Lois had been scathingly sceptical about the whole thing, claiming it was some sort of publicity stunt between the two powerhouse companies but now Clark wasn’t so sure.

Tim was a solemn youth, quiet and polite but... sad, deeply and heart wrenchingly so. The way he held himself, the scar on his cheek, the way his smile never quite reached his eyes...

As Richard rushed to greet his brother, pulling the youth into a warm hug, Clark knew he wasn’t the only one who felt for the boy. Even as the many speeches of thanks from the many charities droned on, Richard made sure to keep Tim close, an arm around his waist. Only as he leaned into his brother’s touch, did Tim ever truly smile.

Clark pulled out his recorder as Wayne took the podium with a stumble, getting a laugh from the crowd with his slightly drunken antics as he tried to give his speech. Out of the corner of his eye Clark saw Tim stiffen and his heart skip as he spotted someone in the crowd. With an apologetic word, he slipped away from his brother for a moment, heading for the bathrooms but turning to slip out a side door. Something about the tension in young Tim’s shoulders made Clark watch him go, feeling something wasn’t right.

As Tim reached the doorway, someone grabbed his arm roughly and dragged him into the shadows beyond. Clark narrowed his eyes, looking through the wall to see what was going on as he heard Tim’s pulse race. A dark haired youth, maybe a year or two younger than Richard had Tim pressed against the wall, whispering urgently in his ear as his hand drifted over the boy’s lower back and down onto his bottom.

“It’s going down, tidbit.” The youth whispered urgently as he shamelessly groped Tim through his clothes. “Very fucking soon. Tell daddy he better step up or someone’s gunna get badly hurt.”

The words were punctuated with a squeeze that made Tim squeak and his heart rate spike.

Richard seemed to know something was off and turned to search the crowd for signs of his brother. His eyes met Clark’s and Clark instinctively nodded towards to door beyond. As much as Clark knew something wasn’t right he was afraid to interfere again, given what it cost Richard last time. And yet... he found himself following Richard towards the door never the less.

Richard grabbed the youth just as Clark rounded the door, his face livid with rage. “You bastard, Jason.” Richard growled, ripping the youth away from Tim and throwing him against the wall, punching him hard. “Don’t you ever touch him. Don’t you dare!”

Jason grinned evilly as he wiped the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand. “Why, golden boy? Afraid he might like it?”

Clark crossed to where Tim sat heavily on the floor, looking startled and a little dazed. He helped the youth to his feet. “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Richard ignored them both as he threw himself at Jason again. “You stay away from my brother, damn you! You have no right to interfere with our family!”

Tim shook himself as if trying to clear his head, his face flushed and his eyes not quite meeting Clark’s. “I need to go. I need to...”

Jason took a swing at Richard, forcing the older youth back a moment. “Fuck you and fuck your family. I came to warn you, asshole. The Joker’s coming.”

Whatever answer Dick might have given was lost as the ballroom beyond exploded with screams and shattering glass. Clark threw himself down, covering Tim as the blast sent shrapnel through the doorway. When he opened his eyes, Jason was gone and Richard was down, blood trickling from his temple.

“Bruce!” Tim was up in a heartbeat, pushing Clark away and running for the other room but Clark caught hold of him and pulled him back.

“Richard’s hurt. I’ll find Bruce.” He pushed the boys hastily into a safe corner and bolted for the ballroom.

Smoke and moans of pain filled the air as armed gunman dressed in clown-suits started to climb through the broken windows. Clark super-speeded across the room to find Wayne pinned under the lectern, fury in his eyes. Clark pushed it away with careless ease, scanning the man for injuries.

“The boys?” Wayne demanded, his voice rough with the Batman’s growl.

“Safe.” It took Clark a moment to register that there was no surprise in Wayne’s tone; no shock at seeing him lift the heavy hardwood rostrum like it was made of cardboard. He met the man’s eyes and knew Bruce Wayne knew exactly who he was. “What do you need?”

“Time.” He growled as he kicked the wall behind him to reveal a hidden hatch. “Protect the civilians.” He pushed hard and disappeared through hatch.

Clark stripped off his cheap suit in a thoughtless second to reveal the colours beneath and threw himself into the fight. The gunmen were rifling though people’s pockets, stealing from the dead and injured alike.

“My, my. All the do-gooders and stuffed shirts of Gotham in one room.” A voice called, off kilter and clearly mad. A green and purple clad figure picked his way delicately through the carnage. “What a lovely tea party.”

Superman turned to challenge the madman just as one of the thugs raised his gun at a woman as she fought to hold onto her necklace. Even with super-speed, Clark only just reached her in time to catch the spray of bullets in his open hand. He grabbed the thug and tossed him back out the window and into the courtyard below as police sirens drew nearer.

“It’s just such a pity the Bat wasn’t here.” The Joker opined, ignoring Superman completely. “I was so looking forward to meeting him in person.”

Batman landed to Superman’s left with a dark growl, a bat-shaped throwing knife in hand.

“Oh goodie, you’re all here.” The Joker grinned as Robin stepped out of the shadows, a long staff in his hands. “Time to liven things up a bit, don’t you think?”

Clark was already in motion as the Joker pulled a device from his pocket and pressed the button but he was too late. Littered all around the room, the table decorations started to smoke green, giving off a noxious gas that made even Clark’s eyes water.

The Joker made a florid gesture and pouted as his thugs retreated past him, bags full of stolen property. “So sorry I can’t stay. Things to be, places to do. Till next time, Batty!” With a flick of his wrist, he tossed a smoke bomb towards Robin.

Robin dropped to a crouch, pulling the protective layer of his cape around himself but Superman took a deep breath, blowing the bomb away before it could connect with the boy.

Batman bolted past Clark, a gas mask obscuring his face as he fired a tangler net at the madman. “Get the roof off.” He yelled as he chased the retreating Joker.

It took a moment for the man’s words to register but Clark got the message, tearing a hole in the roof and flying in circles to create enough updraft to clear the smoke from the room.

He landed as fire fighters and medics swarmed into the room but already too much damage had been done. The survivors who had inhaled the gas started to laugh; whooping and wrong and then died with painful gasps.

As he assisted the EMTs to rescue as many as they could, he surveyed the scene; knowing there was little more he could do to help. Batman had vanished into the night on the Joker’s heels and there had been no sign of Robin or his brother.

A grey-haired, severe looking doctor stood beside him and shook her head. “An antidote is being formulated as we speak but...” She trailed off, all too aware of how few would survive. She dropped her voice and looked at him with piercing eyes. “Go. You know where to find him.”

Superman nodded, helping to bomb-squad clean up the last of the hazardous material before he turned towards Wayne Manor. It was time to face the music.

***

“You can’t blame yourself, Master Dick.”

“It’s my fault, Alfred! If I’d been carrying my re-breather, Tim would be fine.”

Clark followed the sound of raised voices into the cave, hovering just out of view. The boy Tim was laid out on a medical bed, a drip in each arm and an oxygen mask over his face. The skin around his mouth and nose had a sickly green tinge. Dick was pacing, ranting, his balance off and eyes blown, clearly badly concussed.

“You were incapacitated, Dick. Tim did what he had to to protect you.” Batman growled, storming down the ramp behind Clark, ignoring the floating man as he crossed to his unconscious son.

Alfred laid a gentle hand on the Dark Knight’s shoulder. “His vitals are still weak but he’s stable. The antidote is working. He needs time and rest.”

“And his brother.” Bruce muttered, pushing his cowl back and reaching for Dick, pulling him into a hug. “Stay with him. Let Alfred take a look at you and please, please, sit down.” He pushed the youth into a chair at Tim’s side and turned to face Superman. “You, outside. Now.” His voice was harsh but it wasn’t the fury of Batman. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.”

Clark floated back up the ramp, flying off to fetch his suit and change into his civilian clothes as Bruce Wayne, the father, whispered words of comfort to his injured sons. When Wayne finally appears at the top of the ramp, it was dressed in the rumpled and bloodstained clothes he had been wearing when he vanished from the scene.

“Why are you here?” Wayne sounded tired more than angry as he leaned against the stones that hid the entrance to the cave. “I thought I made myself very clear last time.”

“You did.” Clark shuffled his feet nervously. “But... the paper I work for wanted an interview with the famous Gotham playboy.” There was no point worrying about identities now; they were both well passed that. “I had an appointment to speak to you in the morning.”

Bruce barked a cold laugh. “I’m guessing the bombing will make better news than a puff piece on a drunken millionaire.”

Clark dropped his eyes. “Your sons... will they be alright?”

“Do you care?”

The harshness of Bruce’s retort cut him deep and Clark flinched. “I never meant to hurt him, I swear. You... you have no idea how much regret... I was a fool.”

“You thought I’d hurt him. That I was the cause of his injured legs.” It wasn’t a question but it made Clark look up all the same. “Yes, Gordon told me about your visit. Do you have any idea how hard a broken arm made life for Dick?”

Clark flinched again, bitting his lip. “No I can’t. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be for him given... given his disabilities.” Bruce’s shove took Clark by surprise and he stumbled back.

“My son is not a cripple.” Bruce growled, the fire in his eyes all Bat. “Don’t you dare!”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I never meant to imply... Your son is very brave. I’ve known metas who haven’t half the strength and courage your son has.”

“What do you know of Dick’s courage.” Bruce spat, pacing like a circling tiger.

“I’ve watched him, both of you. Since I... since my foolishness five years ago I made a point of... educating myself on the truth about Batman and Robin. And Nightwing. I was misinformed last time; it was a mistake I never wanted to make again.”

“And what do you plan to do with that truth, Mr Kent?” Clark felt the threat in those words – secret identities go both ways.

“Nothing. Nothing but have respect for you and your sons and the job you do here in Gotham. Your secrets are safe with me. The Justice League will not interfere in any way, you have my word.”

“You said that last time and yet here you are.” Bruce growled again, shaking his head. “I’ll overlook your presence here because you protected my boys but patience isn’t infinite. Write your story and get the hell out of my town.”

Clark nodded and turned to walk away but he paused moment, turning back to face Wayne. “May I ask... what happened to the Joker?”

Bruce sighed, rubbing his eyes, heavy and bone-tired. “He escaped, killing four police officers and injuring two others. This is far from over.”

“If there’s anything I can do-”

Bruce held out a hand to silence him. “Write your story. Claim you saw Bruce Wayne and his sons being bundled into a car by their butler in the aftermath so no-one will question why we’re missing, then leave. Let me and my boys rest.”

Clark hesitated before holding out a hand. “I’m sorry there wasn’t more I could do, Mr Wayne. I hope your sons recover soon.”

“Thank you, Mr Kent.” Bruce shook his hand firmly.

As Clark flew away, letting the cool night air calm his nerves, he couldn’t help but hope it wasn’t the last handshake they would share.


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