Author's Note/Disclaimer: They're not mine, and they're not gay. But they do love each other. They've been through too many adventures together to NOT love each other. Sooo... this struck me as a ridiculously cute idea for a one-shot and then it got all these serious overtones and spiraled out of control. Had a blast writing it.
Clark Catches a Bat
Clark was on vacation, at home in Kansas, on the farm, in the barn, in the hayloft, when it happened. He was in the middle of x-raying the roof looking for holes and weak spots when out of nowhere a tiny, warm blur swooped into his field of vision and made a beeline for his face.
"Waah!" Clark fell backwards, startled. Reflexively, he put his hands up to defend himself as the little creature reattacked, flapping erratically around his head and making extremely high-pitched and angry-sounding noises.
Frowning, Clark reached out at super-speed and caught the little thing, being careful not to crush it. The tiny furry body struggled desperately against his fingers, shrieking at him all the while. "All right, little guy," Clark muttered, flying down from the hayloft and out into the yard. "Here you go." He released the bat, which flapped around him awkwardly, seeming disoriented.
Just as soon as Clark turned around to go back into the barn, the bat crashed into the back of his head.
"Hey!" Clark swatted at it, but this time it avoided his grasp. It danced around his head, bothering his sensitive hearing with its piteous squeaking. Exasperated, Clark took a short breath and blew at the little bat, which sent it riding a riptide of an air current about 300 feet into the air. Clark smiled. "Well, that takes care of that." He went back into the barn, closing the doors behind him.
Less than a minute later, the bat was back in his face, swiping at him with its wings and trying to scratch him with its little claws. Clark managed to catch it again. "Hmm," he said, studying the beady-eyed face of the animal he held. "Pa hasn't said anything about bats roosting in here. Maybe there are more holes in the roof than I thought."
Suddenly the bat gave up on shrieking at him, and started biting him instead.
"Careful, you'll just break your teeth," Clark warned it, but the thing persisted, practically gnawing on the skin between his thumb and forefinger. While Clark couldn't truthfully claim that it hurt, it was kind of annoying. And then a troubling thought crossed his mind. "Your behavior is awfully strange. It's one thing if you're just going to come after me, but if you're going to attack other people…" he sighed. "I can't risk it. Because you probably have rabies."
The bat froze, and stared up at him with round, rodent-like eyes. For such a small creature, it had an incredibly piercing glare. Clark almost felt like it was trying to stare him down, and he felt a small nudge of attachment towards it as a result.
Still, that wasn't enough to dissuade him from the decision he'd made. Clark was a farm kid, after all, and he knew that sometimes a sick animal had to be put down before it could infect others--and bats were notorious for spreading rabies to humans. "Sorry, little buddy," Clark muttered. "I hate doing this, but it's for the best." He tipped his glasses down with his free hand, and slowly unwrapped his fingers from the bat's quivering little body.
Clark had been half expecting it to fly right at his face again once it was free, but instead, it clung to his palm, staring bravely up into the eyes that were about to end its fragile life.
Red light pooled in those eyes, and Clark would have killed the bat instantly, but instead--
"Youch!" Clark exclaimed, shaking his hand in the air. Impossibly, the bat had darted aside at the last millisecond, causing Clark's blast of heat vision to sting his own hand. Clark looked around for the bat, and found it clinging to the nearest wall, staring back at him.
"Unbelievable," Clark muttered. And then, he grinned. The vague attachment he'd felt towards the bat when it had defied him was more like an all-out fondness now that the little creature had actually gotten the better of him. "All right, you win. Maybe you don't have rabies. I guess I shouldn't have tried to kill you without knowing for sure."
At that, the bat made an awkward little leap off the wall and flapped over to Clark's hand again, lighting on it less-than-gracefully. Clark tried to pet it with the fingers of his other hand, but the creature shied away, seeming flustered. Finally Clark managed to touch the silky fur behind one of its pointed ears, and the bat gave a little shiver before promptly biting him and shrinking away. Then it froze, staring hard at Clark as if half-expecting to get zapped at again.
"Calm down, it's okay," Clark reassured it.
The bat relaxed, and then began to climb up Clark's sleeve. "I wonder what's going on in that tiny brain of yours," Clark mused. When it got to his shoulder, it seemed to have found a place that it liked, because it sat there without moving until Clark had finished one or two other chores in the barn, and gone back into the house.
Clark had always liked animals, and over the next few days, he devoted a good amount of time to studying the little bat that had attacked him, outsmarted him, and then decided to cling to his shoulder that night.
It was very much a nocturnal creature, sleeping through the day and flapping frantically around the room and squeaking vehemently just around the time when Clark was ready for bed. To humor it, Clark stayed up an extra hour, assuming that it just wanted some attention and for someone to play with it. Eventually, though, he shut the thing away in a cage—which it escaped from in a matter of minutes. Impressed, Clark decided not to bother caging it again. If it wanted to leave, after all, it was free to go. He just wished there was some way to make it be quiet when he wanted to sleep.
"I might end up having to keep you in the Fortress," Clark muttered, when he was woken up yet again in the middle of the night by the bat's incessant squeaking.
At that comment, however, the bat fell silent, flapped around Clark's head a few more times, and then crashed into the corner of the ceiling, hanging upside down there and sulkily folding its wings around itself. From then on, it didn't wake Clark up anymore.
But it did pick up an annoying habit of scratching on the walls. The first few times Clark caught it in the act, he shooed it off with a firm clap and a loud "No!" but that didn't discourage it for long—it would return to the same spot and go right back to scratching. Examining the scratch marks, Clark realized that only superficial damage had been done to the paint, so he brought up some paint from the garage and painted over it right away. This apparently irritated the bat, who flew at his ears screeching in its nearly ultra-sonic voice until Clark threatened to call animal control. Jonathan Kent, observing this incident, remarked that a phone call wouldn't be necessary, as he would be happy to do his son a favor and simply net the little pest and then smack it with a shovel.
After that, the bat stopped all destructive behaviors, but it developed an odd fascination with pencils. When Clark was sitting at his desk one evening, writing a post card to Lois (because he knew she would tease him for how old-fashioned it was of him to send a post card, even though she'd secretly love getting it), the bat struggled valiantly to pick up a pencil. But it was just too heavy, and in the end the little creature wound up all but collapsing from exhaustion.
Worried, Clark picked the little bat up and cradled it in his palm, watching it tremble from the rapid pace of its breathing. "You need to take it easy, little buddy," Clark told it, and gently petted the back of its neck. Rather than try to bite him again, the bat only closed its eyes, and lay still for a while.
From then on, the bat no longer avoided it when Clark tried to pet him.
A few more days passed, and then it was time for Clark to head back to Metropolis. The bat watched him critically that night as he packed his suitcase, and at the first opportunity it flitted over and settled into Clark's hand.
"Hello," Clark said fondly, rubbing behind the little bat's ears. "I'm going back to the city tomorrow."
The bat just stared at him.
"And you're going to have to find someone else to look after you," Clark went on. "Since I can't take you with me, and my folks think you're a pest. They always were telling me I couldn't keep the birds and squirrels and bullfrogs I brought home in boxes as a kid. Now that I think about it, that might have something to do with why I've got a whole zoo up in the Fortress now."
Hesitantly, the bat pressed its nose down and licked Clark's palm. The skin at the corner's of Clark's eyes crinkled; that had tickled.
"Well. At least you're a cute little pest. I might actually miss you a little bit."
The bat stared up at him, indignant. And then it flew over to his suitcase, which was sitting open on his bed, and furiously began burrowing into Clark's neatly folded clothes.
"Hey!" Clark protested. "Get out of there!" He reached his hand into the suitcase, and felt the bat's futile attempt to bite him. Slightly upset, Clark dumped the suitcase out onto the bed, and the bat flapped free, and began to squeak at him in such a painful pitch that Clark winced and covered his ears. "Stop that," Clark ordered, and instantly, the bat shut up.
Cautiously, Clark uncovered his ears, and narrowed his eyes at the madly fluttering bat. It had just occurred to him that the animal might have obeyed his command. "Wait a minute…" no, that was ridiculous. There was no way the bat could've actually understood him. But now Clark was curious. "Land… land on the desk," Clark directed, and to his amazement, it did just that, staring up at him with beady black eyes that were half full of hope and half full of anger.
"Okay," Clark said, trying to process this incredible revelation. "Okay. Maybe you can understand me. So, obviously you're not a normal bat. Let's see. Can you nod and shake your head for yes and no?"
The bat nodded 'yes.'
"Okay. Do you know where you came from?"
The bat nodded.
"Were you… made in a laboratory?"
The bat shook its head 'no'.
"Okay. Were you always like this? I mean, could you always understand people?"
Instantly infuriated, the little creature squeaked at him.
"Oh, sorry." Clark grinned sheepishly. "One question at a time then. Were you always like this?"
A definite 'no'.
"Are you under some kind of magic spell?"
An enthusiastic 'yes'.
Clark began pacing. "Okay. Let me think about this."
Immediately, an answer came to him. Circe. She was a sorceress who liked to turn people into animals. And there was one person in particular that she might have been inclined to turn into a bat, for irony's sake.
"I'm going to guess who you are," Clark told the bat, something heavy in his voice.
The bat nodded in encouragement.
The bat squeaked at him, enraged. Clark winced. That had been the wrong answer. But, the bat wasn't shaking his head 'no', so he had to be sure.
He bent his head towards the bat, and whispered, "…Bruce?"
In a flash of light, the tiny bat was gone, and the Batman was perched on Clark's desk in all of his scowling, black-cloaked glory.
"Aagh!" Clark cried out, stumbling backwards. Batman glared at him in disdain, jumping down from the desk with infinite composure. "Bruce! You scared me!"
"I do that to people," Batman growled, turning to the window.
"Now hold on," Clark protested. "Was that really you? I mean, the whole time?"
"Yes," Batman replied, curt and cold.
"But how? And why?"
"The sorceress Circe turned me into a bat. And said that if I could get someone to call me by my name, I'd be turned back. The catch was that I had to be recognized as Bruce Wayne, not just as Batman."
"But why'd you come here?" Clark asked. "I could've killed you!"
"I went to Alfred first," Batman rumbled, not looking at him. "He hit me with a broom. And Lois only screamed at me."
"You went to Lois?" Clark asked, dumbfounded. "So you flew from Gotham to Metropolis and then all the way out here to Kansas? But that must have taken you days, weeks!"
"I took the train."
Clark blinked. Of course he would've taken the train. "…right," he said at last, defeated.
Batman opened the window.
"Wait—you're leaving?" Clark asked, confused and concerned.
"Don't follow me," Batman growled, the with the clearly implied threat of severe consequences for noncompliance. Without so much as a swish of his cape, he was gone, out the window.
Clark shook his head, scribbled a thank-you note to his parents promising to pick up his suitcase later, and in the next instant, Superman had caught up with Batman (who, to his credit, had already made it halfway across the neighbor's cornfield).
"It'd be easier if I flew you home," Superman remarked, hovering about twenty feet over Batman's head.
Batman ignored him.
Superman folded his arms. "Come on, Bruce. You've been through an ordeal. Let me take you back to Alfred and then I'll leave you alone."
Batman continued wading through the cornfield, unheeding.
Clark sighed. There was no way he was going to leave his friend to fend for himself in the middle of Kansas, hundreds of miles from Gotham—especially considering what the man had just endured. Making his decision, Clark swooped down and captured Bruce in a full Nelson, lifting him off the ground.
"Put… me… down." It was the Batman's most savage, demonic tone of voice, the voice that could make calloused criminals piss themselves.
Superman set his jaw. "No. I'm taking you home."
Incredibly, Batman began to fight. They were already about 2,000 feet above ground, and speeding towards Gotham. "Bruce, what are you doing?" Clark asked, concerned over his captive's violent struggling. "If you free yourself, you'll fall."
"I know," Batman growled, uselessly trying to peel Clark's hands away from the back of his neck.
"And then I'll have to catch you, and you'll be right back where you started," Clark pointed out, keeping his voice calm.
"I know!" Batman repeated, sounding more enraged than ever.
Frustration started to show in Superman's expression. "So what's the use in fighting?"
"I want the satisfaction of the escape."
Superman blinked, surprised. He thought about that for a while, and then drew his brows together in determination. "Too bad, Bruce. That's one satisfaction you're not going to get."
They flew in silence for a while, Clark doing what he could to spare Bruce from the colder air currents.
Abruptly, Bruce spoke.
"…By now, I thought you would have asked me if I wanted to talk about it."
Clark hesitated before answering. "Well… do you?"
Silence. And then, a revelation: "You were packing to go back to Metropolis. And you weren't going to take me with you."
"Is that why you're mad at me?" Clark asked.
A stony "No" was the reply.
Clark sighed. "I'm sorry I can't read your mind, Bruce. …If you'd just tell me what's wrong…."
Another long pause. "…Stockholm syndrome," Bruce muttered through clenched teeth.
Clark frowned. "Now hold on a second. I never kidnapped you or held you hostage. You were always free to go."
"I wanted you to take me to Metropolis. I wanted to go with you."
"Come on, Bruce, that doesn't mean you have Stockholm's syndrome. Going with me was your best chance for getting turned back to normal."
"You don't understand."
"Look, you're not making much sense. Are you happy you got turned back into a human or what?"
Clark changed his grip on the man, wrapping his arms around Batman's torso so there wouldn't be any pressure on his spine. "You probably just need to rest for a few days. Alfred will know what to do."
"…Rabies," Bruce muttered at length. "You thought I had rabies."
Clark couldn't help but grin. "Frankly, I'm not completely convinced that you don't."
"Clark." His dark voice broke over the name like a wave, rushing over the jagged words behind it. "I need you."
Now Clark wasn't smiling. "I need you too," he said, his voice firm and quiet. "And so does your city."
As if on command, the orange lights of Gotham appeared on the horizon, and a few moments later Superman's red boots touched down on the balcony outside Bruce's bedroom. Clark knocked on the French doors, knowing that would set off the intrusion alarm, and barely a minute later Alfred appeared to let them in.
"Circe turned him into a bat," Clark explained, when Alfred politely didn't ask where his master had been.
"My goodness," Alfred exclaimed, as Clark half-dragged Bruce into the room. "Is he all right?"
"I think he will be," Clark said, still supporting Bruce's weight. "He probably just needs some time to recuperate."
Suddenly Bruce grabbed hold of Superman's cape. "Don't leave me," he growled.
Clark looked to Alfred, who looked back at him in surprise. "An hour ago, he was sprinting across a Kansas corn field saying 'don't follow me,'" Clark recounted.
Alfred nodded, studying Bruce with careful compassion. Not appreciating the scrutiny, Bruce tore the cowl off his face and gave his butler a look. "I'll bring some tea…" Alfred said. "Maybe some soup, too. If you'll excuse me, Mr. Kent—"
"Of course," Clark said, and Alfred stepped out. As soon as he was gone, Bruce turned to his friend and rested his forehead on Clark's shoulder. Clark found himself automatically reaching up, covering the back of Bruce's head with his hand, exactly as he would have done if it had been Lois or anyone else clinging to him.
Bruce's breathing steadied at the contact, and his body relaxed.
"Bruce?" Clark kept his voice soft against Bruce's ear. "Bruce, you're gonna be okay." He petted Bruce's hair, holding his unmasked face against his shoulder and wondering how it was that Bruce was allowing so much closeness. Then he remembered the tiny animal huddled on his palm, closing its eyes as he smoothed its fur. Poor Batman had been through one heck of an experience. "You're home and you're safe," Clark told him. "You don't need me here."
Another minute passed, and Clark was conscious of the tick of the grandfather clock in the drawing room downstairs, and heard Alfred turning on the faucet and filling the tea kettle in the kitchen. And then Bruce raised his head and stepped back, letting go of the fistful of red cape that he'd been clutching.
"Thanks," he said, gruff but sincere.
"For the hug?" Clark grinned. "Anytime."
"For catching me."
"You mean as a bat?"
"I mean before I fell." Before Clark could wonder too much about what that meant, Bruce went on. "Thanks for turning me back. And for not letting me escape from you on the trip over here. And, just now, thanks for letting me go."
"Well, you're welcome," Clark said warmly. He stepped back to the wide glass doors, which were still open, and floated a few feet of the ground. "I know better than to try and keep a wild animal."
And, just like that, he'd had the last word and flew off, leaving nothing but a quiet whoosh and a flutter of curtains as evidence that he'd ever been there at all.
Bruce sat down heavily on the edge of his bed, and put his face in his hands. When Alfred returned a few moments later, he blindly put out one hand and Alfred pressed a teacup into it. Rather than drink, Bruce hunched over the cup and let the steam rise to his face.
"Feeling better, sir?" Alfred asked after a minute.
"Caught and released," Bruce rumbled, not looking up. "He told me I wouldn't get the satisfaction of the escape, and he was right. Because there's nothing to escape from when you've been let go."
Alfred placed a comforting hand on his master's shoulder. "If it's any consolation, sir, I think that someone who loves you enough to let you go might be exactly what you need."
Bruce paused, and then sipped his tea, and didn't reply.