Shadow of the Bat
A Smallville X-Over
Summary: Chloe hates rich, stuck-up party boys almost as much as she hates those who use that face to hide something.
A/N: I watched The Dark Knight, and it was spellbinding. SPELLBINDING! Nothing on Smallville can compare. Nothing in film currently can compare. It went beyond a simple superhero movie into something transcendent. Obvious response? Weave Smallville into that tapestry and see what happens.
He was an arrogant bore. He walked around with beautiful women all the time, never discussed anything honestly, and most the time seemed one heartbeat away from laughing at everybody in the room.
She'd heard ugly rumors about him. Rumors about breakdowns, about going missing. She'd heard bizarre rumors. That his management of his parent's company was inane, at best. That he would dive into research and development and pull out when it looked promising, deep-sixing projects. That he had turned his back on lucrative government contracts. That he had severed ties with many companies over small slights.
She hoped that was the extent of it. If he was really the kind of shallow, insipid millionaire he appeared to be, then he was no threat. He was nothing, and Clark had nothing to fear from this man.
But that wasn't quite how the story had started.
He'd come to town to take over the plant. Luthercorp's latest loss, and one of the worst. There was a rumor he was retasking it, doing new things.
Chloe had thought herself so far beyond Smallville it wasn't even funny. Wasn't she a grown-up girl now, a Metropolis girl? But here she was, sitting, smiling, and asking questions of a brand-new millionaire.
His face was a mask. A pretty mask, one with a witty answer and a pleasant smile, and cheekbones that hid everything he might be thinking. And his plans made perfect sense, after all. Retask and refit the plant, turn it profitable by changing the game.
It was a gamble, but this man rarely lost.
"Of course, Lucius is the man who cooked all this up," said Bruce. "I was out parasailing for most of this."
He had been shamelessly flirting with her throughout the interview. She hadn't discouraged him, exactly, but she had no intention of taking his attempts at deflection lightly. She wasn't ready to trot out Bad-Cop!Chloe yet, saving that for if he actually tried to lie directly. "He tells me you stay mostly out of the day to day company work," she said, acknowledging that their stories matched up eerily well.
Bruce smiled. "My job is to make sure I'm never in his way, and that people always remember who the 'Wayne' in Wayne Enterprises is. Incidentally, I hear your town here is quite the hotspot for paranormal activity." He was smiling the indulgent smile of a rational man, and Chloe avoided a groan narrowly.
"That's what they say," she replied.
"I pulled some back issues of your old school newspaper when you were writing for it. Fascinating stuff." His smile was so condescending she wanted to scream. "I have got to have you over to my mansion soon. I have a room where I've got this collection—I doubt it's weird enough to meet your high standards, but I'm quite proud of it."
That was strange. A date? Not on your life; she was too smart to get entangled with somebody this rich and commit-o-phobic. But a dangled bait? She'd fall for it every time. She couldn't help it. "I don't often visit Gotham," she demurred.
"Oh, I can be very persistent," he purred in that smooth voice. "We'll find a way."
She decided that she would have to find a way to resist this bait.
She met the stranger that night, trying to get to her car. He was wearing a ski mask, and a leather jacket, and leaning against her car. His voice was rough and brutal, down-register and full of menace. "Miss Sullivan. May I have a word?"
She reached for the mace in her purse, wrapping her fingers around it and white-knuckling it. "You have a message for me, huh? Can I guess who it's from?"
The stranger shrugged. "No message. Just a question. The word is you've done a lot of good, and put a lot of people behind bars; but word also is it's unwise to cross you. Who are you working for?"
She glared at him. "Who are you working for?"
He shrugged again, but this one was a threat, and she could see it. "I suggest you don't go to Gotham. Tell your employer the same. It might look like easy pickings, but it's not."
He left like some kind of ninja, silent and deadly. She dropped the mace into the purse, chewing on her lower lip as she considered that warning.
It took her a few hours to find amateur video of the Batman, shot during the Joker crisis. He was walking across a sidewalk, wearing that absurd uniform, and growling out something. It was the voice that confirmed her nagging suspicion; she'd just been visited by Gotham City's very own vigilante, a known murderer who had killed the District Attorney and several others in putting down the Joker's crime spree—terror spree, to be more accurate.
She'd been visited by yet another vigilante, somebody who thought they could do better than the average joe when it came to justice, somebody who had excessive amounts of power and not enough good sense. And he had to have some sort of superpowers. All the reports she read made that clear. He was a flier, strong enough to bend a gun barrel, able to rip holes in steel walls, able to defeat dozens of men single-handedly. One report had him being able to see through walls.
There was a report he had defeated an entire SWAT team without breaking a sweat. Another had him tearing through Gotham's streets in an enormous, ridiculous vehicle.
She wasn't entirely sure how much to believe. Obviously, the reports she'd been reading could have been inflated—but if it were a story about, say, Clark, no matter how they inflated the stories they still wouldn't even come close to the truth.
It was maddening. The warning was having the opposite of the intended effect; now she absolutely HAD to go to Gotham.
Bruce sat in his chair, watching the video feed. All he was getting was a copy of whatever showed up on her computer screen, which was pretty limited compared to his normal levels of intelligence gathering; he was pretty far out of his town, here. But it was telling, anyway.
He'd done a bit of investigation before approaching her. He hadn't brought the suit—no way he could pull that off in a town like this, not inconspicuously. But he'd wanted to get her to Gotham. Needed to get her to Gotham.
Arranging the interview and dangling the Wayne collection in front of her had obviously been insufficient bait. Given her past entanglements with weird happenings, he knew that she would be unable to resist a different kind of bait. And given how stubborn she appeared, telling her to stay away was easier than asking her to come.
He smiled slightly.
"Do you think this is wise, sir?" asked Alfred, a thinly veiled bit of sarcasm behind the question. He wanted to ask another question, obviously. Wanted to ask 'are you out of your mind?' That question was always on the table, of course.
"Wise? No, Alfred, I don't. She definitely has the ability and temerity to break down walls, and the last thing I need is somebody actually good at it trying to learn my secrets. But there's a definite connection between the Trio and the Smallville incidents; something changed them there, made them something else. Something I need to understand to defeat. From the looks of things, she's one of the few people who understands what happened, and I need that knowledge."
"If she truly knows something, it won't be easy to get her to share it."
Bruce rubbed a knuckle against his chin. "No, it won't. When she was interviewing me she was… she's good, very good. She could see through most of what I said, see the masks. See the deceptions. We're going to have to limit her time with that aspect of me. I suspect we'd get further if I show her the other mask."
Alfred smiled sardonically. "And which mask shows more of who you really are, sir? Your face, or the cowl?"
Bruce scowled at him. "So we agree it'll be easier to keep her out by letting her deal with Batman, yes?"
"Good. I'll pretend not to trust her, draw her into a little game of building trust. Let her see the Trio, figure out the Smallville connection, and see if she'll trust me enough to tell me."
"And if she doesn't?"
"Problems that she runs into have a way of going away. One way or another. If this is stuff from her city leaking into mine? Maybe she'll mop it up. Maybe the best we'll get is some intelligence."
"And if this doesn't pan out at all?"
Bruce grimaced. "Then it's back to the drawing board, and back to the idea of building some kind of weapon that could stop a tank, or one of those three."
Taking up Bruce Wayne on his offer of a tour of his house proved to be a boring half hour, after which he shunted her aside for four supermodels he was taking out to dinner. It was utterly humiliating, and Chloe was glad nobody saw it except for the butler.
After he left she stayed a few minutes longer than necessary in his collection room, examining the trophies, the slightly weird, moderately weird, and excessively fake trophies. Pictures of mermaids, what might be a fossilized mermaid but was almost certainly a carving, and various other errata.
It was all interesting, but none of it would have made the Wall of Weird.
She glanced up at the fatherly man standing there, smiling gently at her. He was wearing a suit, and had his hands clasped behind his back. His entire demeanor just screamed butler. He didn't even have to open his mouth to assert his authority here.
She wished she could figure out how to do that.
"Alfred, wasn't it?" she asked.
"I notice there's nothing here on the resident weirdo."
"I beg pardon, madam?" He tilted his head, letting some of that silver hair do his work for him.
"Gotham's own Bat? I would think he would feature prominently."
"Ah." Alfred smiled. "I'm afraid that he's a bit of a villain, and Master Bruce disapproves on principle of villains and those who go around shooting police officers, no matter how corrupt. We did have a small shrine, with a few items, but once the Batman's character became clear to everybody we turned them over to the police, to be used as evidence."
She thought that was a shame. She didn't like killers, but it seemed to her that on the whole the Bat tried very hard not to hurt anybody. There was some evidence he'd only resorted to lethal violence at the very worst of the war.
Still, she could see why a shallow person might toss it aside. "So he just turned with the tide of public opinion?"
There was a protective glint in the butler's eye. She suspected there was steel in that one, which didn't surprise her. People like Bruce swept through life picking up loyal followers and not appreciating them; she knew that. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't quite understand your question," said the butler.
"People turned on the Bat, and your boy was oh-so-willing to take a stand for a Golden-Boy DA, but unwilling to take a stand for a vigilante?"
Alfred bowed his head forward, and for a second she thought he wasn't going to answer her question at all, which would have been a terrible shame. When he did speak, his voice was a little too tight. "Master Bruce lost both his parents at a young age to a gun-man, as you must surely know. His views on firearms are quite, quite stark."
"Yours aren't quite so?" she asked lightly, trying to cover up her dismay. She'd known that. She'd KNOWN! And still she'd mocked the man to his butler, not realizing there was trauma there, not just inbreeding and a spoiled little boy.
No, it made sense. A boy who lost everything, running out and seeking thrills and pretty girls to fill a void in his heart. It made terrible sense, and suddenly she felt sorry for Bruce Wayne, looking in all the wrong places for the wrong things.
Alfred shrugged slightly. "I like to think I have a more balanced view of the Batman than Master Wayne does."
It had taken her a moment, but now she saw it. There was doublespeak in what the butler was saying. It sounded like he was saying he liked the Batman more, but he hadn't said that, had he? Only that it was balanced.
Which could mean anything.
So she smiled. This man was a closed door, with no obvious tells. "I'll show myself out," she said.
It was a nice mansion. Newly refurbished, she'd heard, which was nice. But it was also a bit plastic for her taste. Prepackaged wealth. She had heard he had burned it down in a drunken rage. Now she felt some sympathy as well. Trying to hold on to and get away from his parents memories, all at the same time?
Anyway, she was here on business.
Finding the Batman was easier than taking a walk. In fact, it was by her car again. She wondered if he had planted a tracking device on it last time.
This time he was wearing his costume, with the ears, and in person it was so much more dangerous looking than the YouTube videos made it seem.
"Miss Sullivan. Never one to listen to advice, I see," he growled at her.
She locked her hand around the mace, and stared at those barely-visible glints of light in the cowl that might have been his eyes. She had no idea if she could hit him, or if the mace would even slow him down. Given that he was probably some sort of metahuman, probably not. She hoped he wasn't as angry as he sounded. "Well, it just seemed like the place to be," she said lamely. Now that she knew what she was facing it was harder not to freak out.
He nodded. "It seems I've underestimated you. You certainly aren't working for the mob, are you? No, word is there's a small price on your head. Certainly not a sign you're getting on with them." His throaty growl was intimidating and deadly. And that costume… up close, it definitely wasn't just a cloth mesh. It was armor. That was … fascinating. And yet she'd seen him move very fast in it; how much protection could it provide?
"Well, if I'd known I was being threatened by the Batman… aren't you afraid to show your face around here?"
He didn't shrug, but she got the distinct impression he almost had. His lips twitched, and it was almost a smile. As if to ask the silent question, who's going to attack me here? Who stands a prayer against me? Could they really arrest me, or shoot me? "Who are you working for?"
"I'm not working for anybody," she said brusquely. "If you'd really done your homework you wouldn't even have to ask."
"The timing seems suspect," he replied. "If I find out you have anything to do with them, we'll have problems."
She kept her eyes riveted on him. "Them? Them who? What are you talking about? Why were you in Smallville?"
His voice sent shivers up her spine—the good kind, and the bad kind. "After them. Why were you in Smallville?"
Her eyes narrow. "I was after a story. Being a reporter, that's what I do."
"Miss Sullivan, if you're hiding anything, I will find it," he rasped, and for a second all her blood ran cold. The way he said it, standing there in all that, the tone of voice… it actually scared her. For a minute every secret she had, every secret Clark had, they all ran together in one very vulnerable stream in her mind.
And the Bat, when he said he'd do something, she believed it. Believed it like she believed it when Clark said he'd do something. The man was beyond dangerous, suddenly.
And then he was gone, ducking behind her car and sliding out the window. She knew they were three stories up, with five more above them, so she didn't think he jumped down. But when she ran over and looked, he was gone.
"I guess he really can fly," she muttered.
It took her a while to find out who they were. When she found the reports, she understood. Reports of super-powered baddies tearing up the town, folks who could throw cars and withstand hails of bullets.
There was a Smallville connection, of course. They were rejects from the Smallville pool, smalltimers Clark must have beaten. That was why Batman was in Smallville, researching it, no doubt.
And that was why he was suspicious of her. If he knew she had reported on the freaks in the past he may have thought she was connected.
She called Clark.
"Clark? It's Chloe. Yeah, I'm in Gotham City. Can you come visit? Oh, I just found out there's some old friends in town. Yeah, that kind of friend."
He said he'd be out as soon as he could get free of whatever he was doing, which probably meant stomping some Smallville or Metropolis beastie into the ground.
In the meantime, it was time to research the Bat a little more thoroughly. She started with Jim Gordon, the fast-rising policeman who had helped turn this city around. An honest cop, by all accounts, and a loyal one.
Getting an appointment was easy. As new commissioner, Gordon was having to talk to the press a lot. She didn't even have to say what the interview was about, although she was sure he already knew. Everybody was after the Bat.
She smiled and sat down across the huge desk from the Commissioner, a slight man with a mustache and guarded eyes. "So, the official story is that Batman killed a bunch of dirty cops and dirtier lowlifes and… Harvey Dent? What's up with that?"
Gordon smiled, but it was an unhappy smile. "If you've read my report, you probably know the official story."
"Dent sniffed out a dirty cop named Ramirez?" asked Chloe. "That one? And then, fearing for your family's safety, he got her out of there, meets up with you, the Bat shows up and ices him?"
"I've told everybody, it looks like Batman thought Harvey had turned on me, and I don't think he meant to kill him," said Gordon. "You're not listening."
"It's just that usually this guy is so meticulous about not killing."
"You weren't here. You didn't meet the Joker," said Gordon firmly. "If anybody could push a man past that point, to where he's willing to kill, it's him. If anybody could turn a good man into something else, could pervert the best part of a man… Harvey had a gun, and my family. He was trying to protect them, but the Batman didn't know that. And he had just captured the Joker for us. He was wounded."
"So you're still a fan of the Bat?" she asked, interested by this. Everything this man had done, every piece of paperwork, appeared to have been intended to sink the protector of this city.
He sighed. "My orders to all officers are to arrest him on sight. How much of a fan do you think I am?"
"I think you think he's doing it for the right reasons, at least."
He smiled and nodded. "I do. He saved us on more than one occasion, and we're grateful. If he turns himself in, we'll make sure he gets the best possible treatment, and we'll make sure the wheels of justice turn as fast as possible." It was a rote recital. It was the quote she was supposed to publish.
She had no intention of publishing any of this.
"So, he flies, cut through metal with his bare hands… any other special abilities he has?" she asked.
"I, uh, don't really know," he said, looking down and to his right, a sure tell of a lie if ever she had seen one. This man was too honest for a lie like that.
"They say the car he drove was a tank. Ever seen it yourself?"
The corners of his mouth tugged back. A hidden smile? Apparently he had. "I caught a glimpse," he said. And apparently he had been impressed, too.
"And his voice… does it creep you out too?" she asked.
He tilted his head at her. "You've seen that You… YouStream video?" He apparently wasn't very familiar with the web site.
"I have," she said. "It was creepier in person."
That got his attention. He looked at her directly now, questioningly. "I see," he said, glancing to the closed door. "What exactly are you looking for, Miss Sullivan?"
She smiled. His tone of voice had shifted slightly. It was clear that he was prepared to perhaps give her a little more. An introduction like this, one that carried either the approval or disapproval of the Bat, meant something to him.
Time to find out what.
"That surprises you?" she asked. "It surprised me. What do you know about the three freaks tearing up your town?"
He hesitated for a long moment. She could see thoughts cascading in those eyes, thoughts that should have made her a bit nervous. Thoughts about who she was, and what her connection might be. "We don't know much," he said. "We know they seem to have beaten the Batman… for now."
She smirked. That last bit sounded like somebody had a bit of a fan-on for the Dark Knight. "You believe he's an unstoppable force of nature?"
He smiled indulgently at her, like she was a small child with a favorite idea she's trotted out. Like believing Batman can be stopped is like believing in the tooth fairy. "Oh, yes."
Clark had no idea how to handle this city, with its darkness and shadows and never-ending corruption. "Chloe, have you seen the crime rates in this city?" They were both knee-deep in her research, and he was holding a stack of newspapers. Chloe didn't much like these local newspapers—not one of them had the guts to stand up to the powerful men in the city, and that was what a newspaper needed.
She gives him a patented fake-bright look. "Have you seen how they're dipping lately?"
"This maniac, this 'Joker'… insane! Completely insane! Not a freak, no special powers, just completely insane… No rhyme or reason for it, nothing to gain, … Chloe, I don't like this city."
She rolled her eyes. "Nice. We just need to save the city Clark, and we can go. Apparently they have meteor-freaks."
"Those guys won't be easy to stop," he said ruefully. "They're tattooing themselves with kryptonite. One of them—I only met one of them before. He's brought in two new guys. He'll be the weakest; it wears you down. You get less from it. I think. Anyway, their tattoos will weaken me."
She considers this. "And guns are out, right?"
"Right out," he said. "They're just slightly weaker, slightly slower versions of me. The ideal thing to do would be to find out where they're keeping the K-rocks, and cut off their supply. Without new doses, their powers fade away."
"And how do we do that?"
He sighed, pulling himself up to his full height. She hated the martyr look he always got at times like this. "We wait for them to strike again, and I'll follow them. If I hang back, they shouldn't see me."
It was a plan fraught with danger for him. Around these guys he wasn't invulnerable, wasn't strong. Around them he was ever weaker as her, so it made no sense for him to be the one to follow them. If anything he was at more risk. Their presence could cripple him, before any fight even started.
But he would never hear of sending Chloe into the line of fire. He just wasn't capable of a thought like that. Most of the time if she wanted to do something dangerous she had to go behind his back.
So while he went out hunting freaks, she waited by her car, hoping the Bat would show up again.