I apologize for my exposition-laden dialogue.

Lois woke in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown, an IV in her arm, and a mask over her mouth and nose. Clark was slouched, asleep, in one of the uncomfortable guest chairs next to the bed, Jason lying across his wide chest. She couldn't help but smile. The two of them looked so natural together like that, and she'd been seeing it more and more lately.

She was hit by a massive wave of guilt when she remembered who else was in the hospital.

Clark stirred, blinking at her blearily from the other side of his thick lenses before smiling, his face written with obvious relief. "G'morning," he whispered, shifting so that he could slide Jason off of him without waking the boy, and coming to sit on the bedside at her hip. "How are you feeling?"

"Crappy," she responded honestly, taking the mask away from her face to speak, her voice coming out scratchy, her throat burning when she talked.

"You're very lucky to be alive," Clark said. His voice was deeper than she was used to hearing, his eyes darker, hardly existent lines around his eyes and mouth seeming more shadowed. She'd been kidnapped plenty of times before and never seen him so grave.

"So the world is finally returning to normal: hell is warming up, pigs are coming in for a final landing?" She joked. Clark's face didn't lighten.

"It was complete chance that he found you, Lois. There was a pillar of smoke and he followed the natural course from there. I know you're mad as hell at him, but if it weren't for him you'd be dead—there's no way the firemen would've made it down there in time themselves," he said, taking her tiny hand in his large one and rubbing her fingers. Her skin was dry from the heat of the flames after the humidity in the air of the bunker.

"Bill's men took me," she said, clearing her throat uncomfortably and only making it worse. The conversation paused while Clark got up and filled a plastic cup with water and located a straw, handing it to her and helping her sit up to drink.

"I thought so," Clark admitted.Lois cocked an eyebrow, asking for more information. "It was like you were kidnapped by ghosts. They aren't associated with any known organizations of any kind. No gangs, not even dealers. It's like Luthor's old gang when he was in his prime."

"Do you think Luthor's behind all this?" Lois asked, talking much easier after the water, though less painful when she whispered, so whisper she did.

"I hope not," Clark said, lowering his voice as well. He was holding her hand again, hip touching hers through the sheet. Her thumb was moving over his ever-soft skin, tracing a circle.

"It's his style. The roundabout attack from no traceable source with random appearances that can't be linked to anything. It wasn't seven years ago when he had a few men in every gang, in every chain of dealers, informants on every street corner, in half the businesses in Metropolis… he was as bad as Carmine Falcone was in Gotham at the time, only worse because he kept going after Superman," she sighed and took a drink.

"There was never corruption in the police force here. He tried for it, though; the Henderson murders. He messed up back then," Clark reminded her. "He connected himself to the murders. He's arrogant enough to mess up again, if it's him."

"Whoever this 'Boss' guy is is smart."

"Lex is smart, but he's human."

"So are we," Lois reminded him and he couldn't help but feel a flash of guilt. He had the feeling everything was going to come crashing down around his ears and soon. Lois was Clark Kent's best friend, Lois was Superman's former lover—she was furious with Superman even after six months of apologies and attempted explanations, while she kept letting Clark deeper past her defensive walls. When he finally told her, removing the block he'd discovered he'd put in place when he'd messed with her memory five years ago, stopping her from being curious about his identity again or paying attention to the details that would entice her to look beyond, he predicted any number of negative reactions. He was Pompeii and she was Vesuvius. And she worked for an internationally renowned newspaper. "We can miss things."

"Constant vigilance," Clark quipped, a smile touching his lips for the first time since she'd woken. Just seeing him smile lifted Lois's heart a little. "What happened, Lois?"

"Well," she cleared her throat, taking a moment to breath from the mask before continuing. "I was sleeping; I heard my window click in a certain way. I know that click because it's done that ever since I was fifteen and I 'fixed' my window so that I could open it from the outside without much effort."

"You delinquent, you."

"And now it came back and bit me in the ass," she replied, taking another sip of water to sooth her throat. "There were at least three of them, they drugged me," her hand went to her neck where a gauze pad was taped. It felt much better than it had the last time she had been conscious. "I saw Jason run into the room and then everything went dark. I woke up in a cylindrical bunker with all these kids, the missing kids. I recognized the ones we've been investigating and the two Juliana identified, but there were so many more. Bill wasn't happy with the guys that kidnapped me. The 'Boss' wanted Jason, not me. They talked about an experiment…" she trailed off and gulped down some water, her thumb stilling on Clark's hand, Clark's hand tightening around hers. "I don't know, they only mentioned it once. I was supposed to die in the bunker; they want both of us out of the way so they only have to deal with Superman when they try for Jason again. They had kryptonite. They were moving to a new bunker, it sounded like it was out of town. Somewhere where they wouldn't have to worry so much about Superman, but they couldn't go 'til they got Jason."

"Forensics found fragments of fake kryptonite out of Gotham down in the bunker, burned and flakey," he sighed. "They were warding off Superman. Luckily they had the wrong stuff."

Lois nodded once, thinking. They sat in silence for a moment, both looking at Jason.

"Clark, I'm almost certain Luthor is the Boss."

"I think you're probably right."

They sat in silence again.

"What day is it?" Lois finally asked, seeing the morning sun peeking out from around the edge of the curtained window.

"Sunday, July first," Clark said, appearing to stare at the curtains but really looking through them at the sunrise. "Superman brought you here yesterday just before four, grabbed me while I was at Le Bistro getting everybody dinner," he released her hand to put his on the other side of her hip so that he could lean in a more comfortable position. She was reclining on her multitude of hospital pillows, sipping her water. "Your parents got here around six, left at ten. Perry came with them, left after about an hour when the doctors said you'd be fine and just had to sleep off the massive sedative Bill's thugs gave you. He and I checked in on Richard before he left. He's all set to be released with a nice bag full of pill bottles to take from every couple of hours and strict orders to rest as much as possible."

"That's good," Lois said, smiling and nodding weakly, taking another hit from her oxygen mask.

"He'll have a helluva scar, but he'll be fine," she nodded again. "Jason didn't want to leave you, so I offered to stay. We're lucky the night nurse has grandkids."

"I'll have to thank her," Lois swallowed. "I couldn't… I mean, they said they wanted Jason for an experiment…"

"He's fine, Lois. He's right there."

They paused and looked at their son.

"Thank you, Clark," Lois said, her voice sturdier than he'd heard it since she'd woken up, she sat up slightly, bracing herself with her elbows. His eyebrow lifted curiously. "You're just always here when I need you most, even if I throw things at you and cuss you out and order you around like my personal slave. Just—thanks."

"Yeah," Clark said after a weighted pause in which they stared at each other, hazel eyes meeting unearthly blue, faces hardly a foot apart. Lois nodded once, awkwardly accepting that that was as far as they would go.

Then Clark kissed her.

As far as Lois was concerned, it was her third kiss with Clark Kent. There had been that one time after their first encounter with Joe's traitorous nature, and that one time that hardly counted under the mistletoe at the Planet's annual Christmahannukwazika party when nobody was looking. She liked kissing him.

"Don't," Clark whispered against her lips between kisses, her hand that wasn't holding the cup of water and hooked into the IV finding its way to the back of his head to keep him close. "Don't ever," he kissed her nose and eyelids and cheeks before her lips again. "Don't ever do that to me again," they paused for a breath. "Ever, ever."

Lois held his face close to hers, pressing their foreheads together, eyes closed.

"I couldn't bear to lose you, Lois."

Lois's breath hitched in her throat and pressed her lips to his again. She had been tossing and turning in her bed a mere twenty-four hours previous wishing something remained of Clark's old dorky crush on her and mourning its loss. The past six months with him had been more platonic than their relationship had ever been. She hadn't realized how much she had enjoyed toying with Clark and his crush until the crush no longer exited; she'd lived without Clark for long enough, five years—long enough to realize exactly what she'd missed most about him, to herself at least, when he got back.

The earlier kiss had been tender, if desperate; loving. The kiss after Clark's short phrase was passionate, Lois trying to tell him without words just how much she didn't want to be away from him. It was Lois's tongue that first saught entrance to Clark's mouth, but Clark's that first pulled a moan from Lois's throat.

They broke apart, coming to their senses when the cold metal of Lois's engagement ring touched Clark's cheek.

Clark took her hand in his hands again, both of them staring at the emerald set in the gold band. She had told him once, when she had been drunk and thought he was too, that if she were ever engaged she'd want a sapphire in a platinum setting, but that she'd want the man buying it for her to know that and didn't plan on telling him. It had broken Clark's heart at the time because she was telling him what she wanted, obviously holding him separate from any potential fiancés.

He kissed the ring, holding her hand carefully in his, and looked her in the eye sadly. "I'm sorry, Lois," he said slowly. "I shouldn't have done that."

"Clark," Lois said, her voice small, tight, and scratchy. She took a breath from the mask. "Don't apologize," her eyes pleaded with him. "Please don't apologize."

"Lois…"

She shook her head.

Clark dropped her hand and scooted to a more 'friend appropriate' distance, looking at the door. They both could clearly hear somebody coming down the hall. Clark prayed what was left of Lois's lipstick hadn't transferred to his face as the door opened to reveal Perry, looking tired and disgruntled, in the doorway.

"Good, you're awake," he truly did sound relived, noticing Jason asleep on the chair and keeping his voice down.

"Hey, Chief," Lois said, coughing slightly and having a sip of water. Clark watched her carefully, concerned for her throat. He could see into her trachea and bronchials, it didn't look comfortable. He wasn't sure, though, if the cough was her worrying about what their editor-in-chief and the uncle of her fiancé had seen, or if it really was her throat needing liquid.

"How are you feeling?"

"Peachy."

"Good, has Kent told you the plan yet?"

"Er, n-not yet, Chief," Clark said, scooting a bit away from Lois's hip so that he could see Perry better.

"What's kept you?"

"She woke up hardly a minute ago!" Lois was surprised at how earnest he sounded. He was a much better liar that she had ever thought possible. Perry frowned.

"I'm gonna go get the nurse and Richard, you have five minutes," he gave Clark a significant look and strode out the door with purpose.

"There's a plan?" Lois asked, an eyebrow arcing.

"Perry wants us out of Metropolis," he said it quickly, almost hoping she wouldn't quite process the fact that they wouldn't be following up on their story until they were gone. Her other eyebrow arced to join its sister and he accepted that talking fast hadn't helped.

"And off the story?" She ground out.

"Sort of."

"You've got about thirty seconds before I roll over and pretend to have a coma so that I miss the train outta here."

"You don't have a coma—you 'slip into' one."

"Twenty-nine, twenty-eight…"

"Fine," he sighed, forcing down a smile. "Perry is sending you and me and Jason and Richard to Smallville. For safekeeping, I suppose. There's internet access and phones," he rolled his eyes upon her completely aghast look. "We can continue research from afar, but we'll be way out of the way of those trying to kill us and kidnap Jason," adding Jason in there was the clincher, he knew, but she'd pretend to resist, at least in front of Perry, for another few minutes. "The house is big; there'll be plenty of room for everybody. Metropolis P.D. already has protection in place for the people listed on the poster, and your parents."

"How are we getting there?" Lois asked, almost grudgingly.

"The doctors don't want to release you and Richard until tonight—the only reason they're letting him walk around is because he plans to leave tomorrow and they want to make sure everything is okay with him moving around. The only flight to Kansas that doesn't involve a half dozen switches leaves just after noon, so we'll be spending the night at a friend in Gotham's, and I'll be flying out early in the morning to help Mom move around some furniture, then I'll meet you at the airport in Topeka."

"So, we're escaping from the madmen trying to kill us by going to Gotham, where they're buying the stuff to make it easier to kill us with…" Lois said, biting her lip and nodding slowly, giving him a look.

"Well, we're going to make it look like we never left the hospital."

"How's that?"

"One of the EMTs, one we've interviewed before… Jim—something… Harris. Jim Harris offered to drive us out in his ambulance, and has it set up with the police department to have it look like they're transferring critical patients to the Gotham hospital for their superior cardiology department or something. Then we get lost in the crowd, get on the train, sleep a bit—you even get to sleep in—and we're all in Smallville by dinner tomorrow," Clark said, nodding smugly to himself. "I think Mom's making her homemade chicken rice soup and fresh bread. It's delicious."

"But the story's here, Clark," Lois protested, leaning back against her pillows heavily. She had been breathing through the mask while he explained the plan to her, her voice sounding less grainy after she pulled it away, though it quickly degraded again. "Bill and his men are on the move, the kids are out in the open. A lead-lined U-Haul! Superman can hardly miss that!" She sighed, sipping water. "We have the best leads since this whole thing started…!"

"Lois, we're reporters, not the police," he reminded her gently, almost chiding. She glared.

"You sound like Perry."

"Probably because that's exactly what I said to him when he protested when I first suggested this plan," Perry said, holding the door open to let Richard in. He was walking slowly and stiffly, not having been up and about in a week. He pulled an IV stand with him, keeping his left arm carefully still; not that he could move it very easily with all the bandaging. Clark x-rayed the shoulder, glad to see that things were patching together well. He figured it must be throbbing horribly, though.

Lois shot her boss a sharp glare, but didn't protest any more.

- - -

"Jason, I've got a present for you," Perry said, beckoning to his great-nephew from across the room. The four men were gathered in Lois's room, waiting for her to emerge from the adjacent restroom where she was changing into fresh street clothes. Clark and Richard had been talking about the latest police report, having gotten it from one of the detectives after she'd finished taking Lois's statement. Jason, who had risen a few hours after Clark and quickly hugged his mother almost too tightly, had been coloring in his almost-filled Superman coloring book and was ready for a distraction.

"Really?" He asked, practically skipping over to Perry's side. He had been in a much better mood now that his mother was safe, buoyed by the presence of all the adults he trusted—even Mister Jimmy had visited for a brief stetch in the afternoon, bringing the healthy ones lunch and laughing along as Lois endured hospital jello, Richard even laughing because he was used to it after a week. Clark had arrived a half hour later with a bag of takeout for them, having left shortly after Jason had woken. They'd saved the bag he'd brought for dinner, reheating it in the microwave in the staff lounge.

Perry pulled a small, square package out of his pocket and crouched down next to Jason as he eagerly tore the paper off. "Wow, a camera! Thanks Uncle Perry!" Jason said, opening the box beneath the paper to find a simple camera, film already loaded. "Look, Mom! A camera! Now I can take pictures of Uncle Clark's farm!" Jason was practically vibrating with excitement, his smile wide. Everybody turned to look up, not having noticed Lois had re-entered the room.

Richard wondered when Clark had gone from Mr. Clark to Uncle Clark, but didn't say anything.

"That's great, sweety," Lois said, smiling warmly.

"There's extra film in the box, too," Perry told Lois, handing her the remains of the box that Jason had abandoned to run around the room looking at things through the lens.

"Thanks, Chief—I think," Lois said, taking the two extra rolls out of the box and shaking her head.

"Well, that way he won't die of boredom out there," Perry chuckled, getting a scowl from Clark and a hoarse laugh from Lois.

"If anybody dies of boredom, it'll be me," she protested.

"C'mon, guys…" Clark protested half-heartedly.

"Ready?" Jim Harris, the ambulance driver, asked, appearing in the doorway.

"I think we're set," Perry said, looking over the others in the room. Clark had his bag from the White house, having stopped back there briefly to change into dark jeans and a plain t-shirt, packing the Suit away in the hidden pocket so he'd have one less thing to stress about when they made it to the train station. Perry had been to Lois and Richard's house on Riverside and packed bags for them and Jason, Jason helping, especially when it came to the medicines he would be needing—the number of prescriptions made out in Jason's name wasn't as large as it had been only a year ago, but it was still a higher number than Perry's total pill intake, and that included the herbal supplements Alice insisted he swallow every morning. Richard had a thick dressing on his shoulder and a little bag full of the medicine he was supposed to be taking and extra bandages. Lois had her own small new bag full of new health-aides, including a tiny oxygen tank, just in case, and an inhaler to match Jason's.

"Alright, then; I have good news and I have bad news for you, Miss Lane, before we head out," Harris said, hiding a smirk.

"Alright…" Lois said uncertainly.

"Good or bad first?"

"Good. I need some good news," she smiled nervously.

"You're going to be fine. Lots of rest and fresh air and you'll be back to normal in no time… just keep the inhaler with you."

"And the bad news?"

"You're never allowed to smoke again."

Clark burst out laughing at the look of pure horror on her face. She directed the look at him and threw then pen she'd found in her pocket. He easily got out of the way of the pen-turned-projectile, tripping on the nearest chair when his escape looked too easy. Jason laughed.

"Superman is going to die laughing," Lois mumbled, head in her hands as she shook it. Clark chuckled weakly, the statement sobering him. Richard and Perry, though, found it as hilarious as Clark had found the first announcement.

- - -

The ride to the train station was quicker than any ride through Metropolis any of them had ever experienced while conscious. Jim had the sirens going as part of their cover, whistling a happy tune as he sped around corners at speed that made even Lois nervous, but had Jason grinning like a madman. Clark imagined that that was what his own face had looked like the first time he'd really flown.

They arrived at the station and boarded their train so fast Clark wasn't sure they'd made it through security. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had ridden the train out of Metropolis; usually he just flew. Lois still looked peeved to have to give up the chase, but she kept looking at Jason worriedly, keeping him close. She wouldn't look at Clark, or Richard. Jim was the only one who noticed, pulling away in his ambulance and shaking his head without having said anything.

Perry saw them to the train, getting a last hug from his great-nephew and Lois, handshakes from Clark and Richard. He left as soon as they disappeared into the car, having to go back to his house to make a report to his wife and the Lanes.

Clark ended up on the aisle seat, to his relief. Lois was right next to him, then Jason, Richard on the inside to keep the two with the widest shoulders apart.

They were on a train to get off the island, headed for Staten Island. They'd take a taxi across Staten Island and then the ferry to the mainland, where they'd catch a second train on an express route to Gotham. The whole trip would take a number of hours, giving Jason and the pair of recovering adults a chance to rest, and Clark a chance to think.

The first thing he decided was that the wiser choice would've been to let Bruce send the helicopter like he'd first offered.

He wouldn't let himself think about what had happened in the hospital room that morning, following Lois's lead. They hadn't had a chance to talk yet; and Clark had learned his lesson last time—talking to Lois before making his move generally seemed to turn out better for the both of them. She seemed to have forgotten about it, but he caught her staring at him a number of times with a small smile on her lips that he had only seen directed his way for a few brief days five years ago. Worrying about it 'til they got a private moment wouldn't help. Sitting next to her wasn't exactly helping, though.

He wouldn't let himself extend his hearing past the inside of their car, knowing better.

He roused them when they reached the Staten Island station, carrying a sleepy Jason and the heaviest of the bags. The cab ride across the suburban island wasn't very exciting. Jason fell back into a comfortable slumber on Lois's lap, pressed tight against Clark's shoulder. The three adults were pressed shoulder to shoulder in the back seat, the driver ornery bordering on hostile when it was suggested Clark take the passenger seat.

Jason woke for the ferry ride, watching the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty as they passed by; he had dozens of questions about the statue which the adults tried to answer, Clark fielding most of them.

The second train ride was the longer one. Clark let himself doze, always keeping an ear out for those around him, and for any who passed by, not wanting their baggage in the above rack to disappear because his eyelids felt like bricks.

While everybody else had been sitting around Lois's hospital room, he had been talking to the police and doing a bit of his own investigating.

He had flown over Metropolis, scanning every single U-Haul and finding nothing. None of them were lead lined. The most exciting thing he found was a huge stash of nearly pure marijuana in one of the trucks. He'd alerted the Narcotics division of Metropolis P.D., making their collective day—they'd been chasing the dealer, who was about to move to California, for the better part of a year.

Defeated, he'd stopped at Le Bistro, Lois's favorite soup and sandwich place, and bought food for everybody despite knowing that Jimmy had brought them all Chinese.

The train slowed to a stop, waking Clark immediately. He looked around, checking everything over. Lois, Richard, and Jason were stirring in their seats; the luggage was still on the upper rack where they'd left them.

Relax a bit, Kent, Clark thought, rolling his eyes at himself.

He roused his companions and they gathered their stuff, Jason waking up completely, excited—this was Gotham, after all, home of the Bat-Man. Just because his dad was Superman didn't mean it wasn't an exciting prospect to have a chance to meet another superhero.

Night had fallen while they were on the train. By falling asleep, Clark had missed one of his favorite views. Gotham at night, from above at least, was a beautiful sight. The general deterioration that had been its constant state for the better part of three decades had surrendered to Bruce's efforts in and out of the Suit. As Batman, he had driven fear into the hearts and minds of criminals, breaking up the long-standing system of power, beginning with Carmine Falcone and his underlings. A new 'mob boss' of sorts had risen and fallen just as quickly, and no one man had risen to the position since. Several often warring factions within the criminal population were a good thing as opposed to the alternative. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne had rebuilt his public image, making a joke out of his supposed drunken antics—every party he'd thrown since the scare in the Narrows ended just before eleven. He'd suffered as the butt of many jokes, lost a good many supporters, and tarnished his father's image, but he'd continued on. Bruce and Alfred had rebuilt the manor to their own specifications, taking on a good deal of the construction themselves, at least in the southeast corner. Years had passed, Bruce was back in the public's favor as well as the good graces of his socialite comrades. He nurtured the playboy image, but ran his father's company well—or left it in the hands of a man, Lucius Fox, who ran it well—and donated to all the right causes, mostly anonymously, to continue to better the city. Gotham's monorail-type train had been the first thing he repaired after Wayne Manor. The city was famous for the train because it was such a visible part of the cityscape. That was part of what made the view one of Clark's favorite: skyscrapers rising from the hazy orange glow of street lamps below and up, up out of sight all around. Through the windows of the train, one could see every aspect of the city, though only if one knew where to look. Clark had toured the city with Batman himself and certainly knew where to look. He could see the regal outline of Wayne Tower at the center of the city surrounded by other skyscrapers, still dwarfing them all—due to city ordinance more than architectural preference. He could also spot, though, the busiest prostitution corners and the back alleys where more drugs were moved every night than in a week in Metropolis.

The train came to a final halt and the four of them made their way down a few flights of rickety metal stairs to ground level where a tall, elderly man with thinning white hair in a very nice black suit leaned against a limo. He stood when he saw Clark, smiling.

"Master Kent, very good to see you again," he said in a crisp English accent.

"Alfred," Clark smiled, holding out a hand to shake; Alfred Pennyworth used both of his hands to shake Clark's. "It's been a long time."

"Six years-ish," Clark said, pushing his glasses up his nose with a goofy grin. Alfred smiled back, resisting the urge to shake his head.

- - -

"Why didn't you tell me you knew Bruce Wayne?" Lois hissed. The four of them were in the back of the limo with the screen up separating them from Alfred. Clark knew the elder man could hear them anyway and couldn't help but glance through the screen at the reflection in the rearview mirror. The old butler was very good at hiding his smile, but Clark knew him better than most people.

"Er, yeah," he shrugged, the gesture making the space look smaller than it was. Lois made her eyes bigger, gesturing for more information. Clark sighed, rolling his eyes. Jason giggled. "I met Bruce in Tibet when I was twenty… five?" He shrugged. "Quite a while ago."

Flashback:

Clark was happily tired. That was one thing about living in the huge, temple-like ninja training center that Ras al-Guhl lorded over; it tired him out. The work wasn't just the physical stuff, like on the farm. Sure, there was the training with different types of weapons, sparring with the other trainees. But there was also the intellectual side of the experience. It wasn't like traditional learning. The texts were in a variety of languages, mostly Chinese, though a few of the smaller journals were in one of the various Himalayan languages. Clark had found that he had a mind for languages on his travels and enjoyed spending the hours of the night he didn't need to sleep, he was able to get tired over the course of the day but he still didn't need as many hours as humans. He told Ducard, the only person he really talked to of all those he'd met, he was an insomniac.

He'd spent the morning, starting with the sunrise as usual, in the library reading the books and journals. It was all incredibly interesting, if somewhat disturbing. He was withholding judgment until he'd read all there was to read and learned all they could teach him. He'd been traveling the world for a year, learning a lot about many different cultures. He'd never found a faction quite like the one Ras al-Guhl ruled over. His intellectual side was at war with his morality whenever he let himself think about it.

They called themselves the League of Shadows and they claimed responsibility for destroying an incredible number of cultures among other morally reprehensible acts. They had their own justice, usually based in vengeance or their own interpretation of what was best for mankind at large.

He sighed, not wanting to follow that train of thought again.

After his morning in the library, he'd worked with sabers with the newcomer. Ducard had taken special interest in the man, who was probably a year or two younger. Clark didn't recognize him, but hadn't really expected to. He was sharply aware, though, that his arrival meant there were three non-Asian members of the League of Shadows.

Near-silent footsteps alerted him to the approach of the newcomer; his footsteps were the only ones Clark hadn't memorized yet. In a place like the temple, Clark was always watching his back. Especially because Ducard was training fifty men to blend into the surroundings and kill without a sound.

"Hey," the newcomer said, taking a seat next to him and handing over a bowl of the gruel of the day.

"Good afternoon," Clark said quietly, taking the bowl with a nod. He scanned it carefully once. In his time with the League of Shadows nobody had tried to poison or kill him—and there were times when it had been possible, as he kept a tiny shard of kryptonite in his pocket to make him vulnerable, avoiding questions particularly during practice with weapons. That didn't mean he trusted any of the other black clothed, lethally armed 'gentlemen' sleeping in the barracks.

"So… how long've you been in this place?" The man asked, his accent pinning him for an American, probably from the East Coast, though Clark hadn't spent enough time there to recognize it.

"Almost a month."

"Really? You were good earlier, for just having been here a month," the other man observed.

"I'm a quick learner," Clark shrugged, amiably taking a bite of the gruel. The other man nodded, eating a few spoonfuls of his own meal before introducing himself.

"I'm Bruce W… Bruce."

"Clark," Clark replied, his lip quirking to one side. "So, where're you from, Bruce? Obviously not around here."

"No, I'm from Gotham. I haven't been back in years, though."

"Big city," Clark nodded. "I thought so."

"So where are you from?"

"A farm in Kansas," Clark couldn't help but smile at the man's reaction.

"I wouldn't have pegged you for a farm boy."

"Well, we all wear masks here, anyway."

They'd trained together in the months that followed until Clark parted ways with Ducard and the League of Shadows. The parting had been violent, though only witnessed by a few. Bruce was one of the few—those few were the only people who had ever seen Clark really mad. He'd completed a significant portion of the library, enough to decide to not be a part of the League of Shadows, no matter how many books from his childhood epitomize the character of the ninja.

Bruce hadn't understood the entire encounter, as it had been conducted in one of the variations of the Tibetan language, but it wasn't hard to guess what had been happening when the usually stoic Clark, and superior Ducard had been bellowing at the tops of their lungs at each other. Clark's eyes had even taken on a reddish tinge briefly, though only Bruce had really noticed the flare and had had no idea what to make of it.

Clark and Bruce had crossed paths once more before Bruce Wayne had returned to Gotham, causing the city's biggest stir since he'd disappeared. It had been at a small, isolated restaurant in Portugal. Clark had been making his way back to the States, thinking about visiting the East Coast states Bruce had told him so much about before returning to Smallville. They'd reconnected, Clark ending up promising Bruce he'd visit in Gotham when he passed through, and he had. Their friendship had only grown as Batman and Superman emerged and they found they had more in common than they had ever suspected when trying to slice each other with sabers at two in the morning when neither could sleep.

"Earth to Clark," Lois was saying, giving him a hard poke in the knee cap

"Sorry, what?"

"You met Bruce Wayne in Tibet?"

"Yeah, when I traveled the world the frist time."

"Yeah, yeah, I remlember those stories. You just failed to mention Bruce Wayne and Tibet," she had one eyebrow arched, giving him as severe a look as she could when she was so obviously keen for more information.

"He had been declared dead then," Clark said distractedly, remembering. "We were roommates in a sort of temple place for a few months."

Lois was about to say something more, but the limo pulled to a stop and Alfred lowered the screen, turning to smile at them.

"Welcome to Wayne Manor, everybody," he gestured out the side window at the beautiful, brightly lit mansion.

Can I get a lot of feedback on this chapter, please? On every little thing-- especially the Clois angle coming to fruition and the whole thing with the League of Shadows and Bruce Wayne. That'd be great.

Also, sorry to report that this will, more than likely, be the last chapter until mid-January. It's finals week and then I'll be at home, working full time, with no internet access through my laptop. With any luck I'll have a nice, long chapter when 'winter' break ends :) Thanks ahead of time for the input, I really appreciate it. Everybody have a great holiday season ;)