Summary: Wayne Manor is haunted
Author: Harmless One
Summary: Wayne Manor is haunted. Clark doesn't mind.
Pairing: Urk…? Clark/Bruce…I think.
Word Count: About 3000.
Warnings: Some language, vagueness, general creepiness. Probably should mention angst. Not beta-read.
Author's note: I'm reading "Birthright" and this popped into my head. Also, I wanted to write something that's not funny since I always try to write funny. All the quotations from Oscar Wilde are from "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Proper ghost stories should be told during the winter. Imagine it's cold outside and get yourself a mug of cocoa first.
The ghosts open and close the doors. There's no pattern to it, like with other things they do. The routines that live on.
He reads by the fire—curled up in one of Bruce's big chairs—thinks of Lois because the silence would have bothered her. The random noises would have done much worse. Here, he doesn't like to fly or move at full speed. Everything is crystal and precious and dusted with memories. Delicately sculpted brass figurines; priceless rugs from around the world; glass windows both tall and grand make him afraid to do anything more than move as a man.
Everything here is as it ever was—even as silent at night as it ever was. Half the time, anyway. When they have nothing to say.
Metropolis doesn't have ghosts. He thinks the city itself, like some giant sentient machine, is far too modern and advanced for ghosts. Impossible things happen in Metropolis, but only because someone has realized they're not impossible at all. Nothing there is beyond explanation.
Gotham sips impossibility like wine. Laughs in the dark at the performance it gives nightly. In Gotham, one man can easily be two, and sometimes three. In Gotham, all the shadows have names. Come and see! Tickets on sale now! Step right up, young traveler. Wonders await you.
The fire is pleasant and the wood of the old house creaks in the winter wind.
He is reading Wilde.
"I really can't exhibit it," said Basil Hallward of the portrait. "I have put too much of myself into it."
Clark settles into the cushions and reads until he sleeps.
Today, he hears clanking in the kitchen followed by the pad of well-polished shoes up the steps. He stands at the foot of the stairs—lushly carpeted and endless—hoping to see the familiar shine, the quick-snap step. Suit tails flickering. The stairs stay empty. And Clark can see life; a kind of aura surrounds all things. He can see it fade and the emptiness left behind is crushing. This isn't emptiness or anything like it. He's not certain what it is. There were no ghosts in Kansas, either.
With nothing to see, the chair invites him back. The snow outside has become impassable. Everyone stays inside, huddles together. He licks his finger and finds his place.
"I believe he is in love," cried Lady Narborough, "and that he is afraid to tell me for fear I should be jealous. He is quite right. I certainly should." The paper of the book is fine between his fingers. It's a first edition. Inside is a note from Jason. He flips the page.
As if on cue, the sound of someone swinging from the chandelier shatters the winter silence.
"Come down here this instant young man! If you think I am cross, just wait until Master Bruce returns!"
"Why the fuck do you call him that?" Swing, clatter, swing. "Nightwing says he used to do this all the time!"
"And you are not Nightwing!"
Clark shuts the book and places it on the table. He swallows. 'Master Bruce' never returns. For all the running of little feet—and then bigger feet—
For all the sounds of bikes roaring to life down back roads—
For all the dinners that were prepared unseen and carried up the stairs—
Bruce is never here.
Vesper Fairchild is crying in the bathroom. He walks by the slightly cracked door and the movement must have caught her eye for she turns and looks at him. Her pale face is drawn and haggard-looking. There is blood at her feet.
"Oh, it's you," she says and sniffles. "He's a right regular bastard, isn't he?"
Clark thinks about it. "Yes," he says after a moment. And she really is very pretty, or was. Once.
She laughs and it is a sultry, come-hither voice. "I guess that's why we love him," she says at last.
Clark opens his mouth then shuts it. "No," is all he says. He closes the door as quietly as possible and leaves her to her crying. He feels sorry for her.
Then he walks towards the master bedroom. It's a room he has stayed away from. He's never heard a sound from it. Even the boys don't bother the door. It's almost comical that even Jason stays away.
For the first time in ages, he opens this door. The bed is made but has a fine collection of dust, unlike the rest of the house where Clark has cleaned. All the knickknacks are where Bruce left them, where Alfred always remembered to dust.
He takes a deep breath and releases it. For a moment, it's as if the snow has come inside as the dust floats through the air, swirling and clouding his vision. Through the haze, he sees a wicked smile, tousled black hair. Bruce was always a healthy tan, no matter how much time he spent in caves, in a suit of armor.
Bruce in the morning. Teasing. "What are you doing over there?"
"Clark, the journalist in you never ceases to amaze me. It's better to live than observe. Come here."
The bed had always been big enough for the two of them. And Bruce had glowed. Even at his darkest, he had been vibrant, like a flame. Vital, immutable. He remembers the slide of rough hands across his body, wants to feel it again.
The dust settles, with a little coaxing, to the sides of the bed. The lovely blue of the comforter and the crisp white of the sheets—so familiar. Still just as unblemished, still just as empty. When specters roam the hall and whisper and laugh and chase each other around—
When all the life of Wayne Manor is still refusing to end, enduring beyond everything—
When Tim and Jason and Dick and even Alfred are his companions through the long lonely days—
It hurts Clark like nothing else that his memories of Bruce prove stronger than the spirit of the man himself.
He backs away and closes the door.
Today, Dick spends his time with the punching bag downstairs. He grunts in pain every few moments. And Alfred is telling him that there is a reason for light duty, and even more reason for being pulled off patrol entirely.
Dick just hits harder. The punching bag swings, swings with no one near it.
And it's such a change for the invisible phantom that is Dick to move without zest. Usually he bounds up the stairs, slams all the doors, vaults across furniture and leaves the cushions disturbed. He leaves the refrigerator door open.
Today he moves more like Tim, methodically and with some kind of weight on his shoulders making him slow. Clomp, clomp, clomp on the mats.
Clark wants to comfort him, to have a heart to heart like he used to. Instead, he pulls the chair closer to the fire, reads, listens.
The words on the page blur before his eyes and the dark wooden shadows of Wayne Manor creep while the house finally sleeps. The grandfather clock tick, tick, ticks and hides secrets, but he never goes down there. He has convinced himself that there's no reason to. It's no place for the Bruce he wants to remember. Besides, he thinks, gauntleted fingers never type or stroke a chin in contemplation. A familiar chair never slides from one screen to the next.
Dick falls asleep in that big chair—it squeaks back on its springs, empty—waits for the car to come back. It doesn't.
Clark turns another page. His mind is only half-focused on the words.
"We women, as some one says, love with our ears, just as you men love with your eyes, if you ever love at all."
"It seems to me that we never do anything else," murmured Dorian.
"Ah! then, you never really love, Mr. Gray," answered the duchess with mock sadness.
He sleeps and when he wakes, something to his left makes him turn. There is a mirror over an ancient phone in the hall. He squints at it through the fog of shadows. Blue eyes stare back at him and he stands excitedly. The eyes rise as well. The nearer he moves, the outline of broad shoulders becomes clearer. The strong jaw.
Finally, he is before it, and the blue eyes, he realizes, are too blue. Like nothing else on earth. He winks and the reflection winks. Only himself, he thinks. The same as always. Timeless, like Dorian in that book.
And maybe, just maybe, he's tired of waiting.
Tim sits on the couch. Clark realizes he must be dreaming because he can actually see him. His college sweatshirt has a grease stain and he's let his hair get too long. Soon, he'll pull it back into a ponytail and Dick will tease him mercilessly. He's too pretty, as opposed to Dick's handsomeness, and he's thin. Clark knows he can take out an army on his own, but now he just sees a scrawny guy with grease on his shirt.
"Homework? Studying?" Clark asks.
"Ha," Tim says. "Done and done." He gives Clark a look. "Can we go flying or something?"
"Your dad said—"
"Yeah, well Bruce isn't here, is he? Besides, if Superman can't be trusted to take care of me, who can?"
Clark stands and the motion wakes him. He comes to his feet unsteadily. High above, through the pat, pat, pat of falling snow he's certain only he can hear, a young man shouts, "Woo-hooo! Higher!" He looks through the plaster and beams and shingles and sees…
The drear of a Gotham blizzard.
And he remembers it like it was only yesterday. He'd smelled like motor oil and laughed like the child he'd never been.
Clark moves to the couch and places a hand on it. The seat is warm and it almost makes him cry.
Selina runs through the halls in one of Bruce's shirts. She's bounding from the master bedroom with a playful laugh, looking over her shoulder as if she's being chased and enjoying it. She sees Clark, slides to a stop, makes a girlish squeak and pulls the shirt tightly around herself. She's posing and it's a very pretty sight. She has a way of looking soft, even though there's nothing but muscle under the silk.
"You scared me!" she lies. He's not sure if he's dreaming or not. Her perfume seems real enough, her grace. Certainly her long, long legs and wicked smile.
"I'm s-sorry," he stutters. It's unconsciously done, playing the gentleman, playing the square. But Selina is a greater liar than all of them, even Clark.
"Sure you are," she says with a wink. She lets the blouse hang and it's buttoned, but just barely. "What are you doing up here?"
He's looking away and blushing and knows she thinks it's funny. "Looking for Bruce."
"Hah!" When she shakes her head, long black curls bounce around her face. She looks like a million secrets, all of them good, but just a little naughty. "Now why," she says and moves closer to him, "would he be up here?"
One more step and she passes through him and something like champagne bubbles swirl all over his body. He turns on his heels stares down the long hallway. Empty, of course. He hears a laugh fading down the stairs, around the corner, and then further down.
Down, down, down until the laugh, too, is gone.
He nods slowly. Why indeed?
It's something he's never wanted to acknowledge: Bruce was who he was. No matter the act he played, Bruce wasn't to be found in the carpets and vases and paintings of the Manor.
Clark sits down and the book is always there.
"Besides," said Lord Henry, "each time that one loves is the only time one has ever loved. Difference of object does not alter singleness of passion. It merely intensifies it. We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible."
He knows he has to stop pretending. He knows where he has to go. Follow the cat down the rabbit hole?
Clark wakes up, stares at the words and carefully, carefully lays the book on the table.
The clock opens just like always. Not many of the League had entered the Cave this way. He can count the number on one hand. The bats are snug and cozy high above. The heart of the Cave with its massive monitors is cast in shadow. The lights haven't been used in so long that they take a moment to flicker to life. Two of them blow and now the light is subdued. He moves down the roughly cut stairs and wrinkles his nose at the damp.
The t-rex looms up at him. "Down boy," he says with a smile.
He walks through the shadowed cavern looking left and right like a tourist. When he arrives on the tarmac that had once held a series of cars, each one greater than the last, he sits down and pulls his knees up, wraps his arms around them.
The doors are still slamming up above but he tunes those noises out. If he's anywhere, Clark thinks, he's here. Where his heart is. Where his soul is. Here is where everything that had ever mattered to him resided, a final resting place for secrets.
But there are no noises, no voices, no whispers.
He waits for hours before he chokes on the words he's been thinking all along, since he first heard the whispers and felt the brush of someone who wasn't there pass him in the halls of Wayne Manor. "You're gone," he says. "You're not here at all."
And just like that, he has no reason to stay.
He still moves slowly as he grabs up his red duffel. When he opens the door, the blizzard tries to push past him, too cold even for it to want to be outside.
He steps out, pulls the door closed behind him, and takes flight. Clark finds he likes the feel of the cold. He's not ready for warmth. When he would have gone north, he veers west instead.
Sane, normal Metropolis, he thinks, is exactly what he needs.
There are no ghosts in Metropolis, nor the hope of there ever being one. It's the hope, he thinks, that hurts.
This is a different kind of cold. Dry and brisk to Gotham's frigid, postcard fluffy wetness.
It's a little incongruous, he guesses, to fly around in khakis and a white button-down. It reminds him of his travels in his younger years, when he would end up saving the day in jeans and a university sweater. He thinks Metropolis in winter is like a snowglobe without the imperfections of mass production, polished and charming.
Now his little apartment welcomes him and he's glad to see it. It's nothing like he had with Lois, but he doesn't need that kind of space now. The duffel he leaves at the foot of his bed; the glass of water he got for himself is on the side table. When he turns off the lights, he has no question that he'll sleep well in this safe, familiar place.
There's a hand on his back, slipping under the sheets and then skimming around his ribs. A warm, sweet breath tickles the hair above his ear. "Clark," a deep voice whispers.
"Mmmm," he tries to speak.
"Clark," the voice says again, a little louder. The hand slides lower and a body is pressed against his.
"Shhh. Wake up."
He wakes when the footsteps start. They are resounding to his ears and he sits up, stares into the dark. The curtains flare out like capes and the lights flicker off and on. There are voices and they overlap, shake the walls.
"Clark, this is not the way this was supposed—"
"—then I don't know what to tell you—"
"Diana knows about—"
"—sorry. I know how much you—"
"We all miss her—"
"Because I lo—"
"Don't say it."
Every door bangs open and closed and the wind outside howls like a monster in the dark.
Clark almost gasps when the glass of water hurls itself across the room. The glass shatters against the wall and water pools on the floor like blood.
It starts to form a line, creeping like a snake in the spasms of light. Clark stands and watches it wiggle past his feet and slide around behind him. Head down, he follows where it leads. He arrives at a mirror in the hall. The water slides up, disappears behind the modern frame.
Clark raises his head, swallows around the nerves. He winks. The reflection raises an eyebrow mockingly.
"What took you so long?" Bruce asks. He's a faint line in the mirror, blue eyes, black hair, a smile like crushed ice. And, best of all, not a reflection at all.
"I-I guess I was looking in the wrong place." And he just has to be awake. He hasn't fallen asleep reading in the chair again because that would just be awful. If he has, he knows waking up is the last thing he wants to do.
The room drops back down into inky darkness. "Like where?" Bruce asks. It's silent again as the doors and curtains still. The water on the floor is just water.
"The mansion. The Cave."
Then the mirror is just a mirror once again and Clark is looking at himself, at his too-blue eyes. He almost panics until something passes by him, brushes against him.
"Why would I be there?" a voice says. His voice. There are more footsteps, leading Clark back over the puddles towards his bedroom. He follows, mesmerized. The bed dips, but there's no one there. Sheets pull back, pillows fluff.
Clark walks to the bed, looks down at the nothing on it. "All the boys are there. Alfred and Selina, too."
"Yes," says the phantom. "But you're here."
His voice leaves him when his throat goes dry. "Oh. Yes," Clark agrees after a minute and thinks he might need to sit down. "And now so are you."
"Of course, Clark. I'm here now."
The door to the bedroom closes—
And stays closed—
And it seems that Metropolis has ghosts after all.