Title: Hereaftermath (Standalone Conclusion)
Characters: Clark Kent/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Lois Lane
Pairings: implied SM/LL, gen
Word Count: 3800~
Warnings/Spoilers: As usual, I'm a detail nut, and anything in the established (Toonami) DCAU canon (meaning STAS, BTAS, JLU, and BB) is possibly and probably referenced. Specific episodic spoilers for the events of Hereafter. Also, in my personal headcanon, Lois pretty much is smart enough to know who Clark Kent is, she just likes making him squirm. :P
Summary: Shameless wrap-up fluff & h/c scene for the aftermath of Hereafter, just for the heck of it.
Explanation: This was the original oneshot which sparked my as yet unfinished chaptered fic, Hereaftermath. I've come to the realization that I probably will never finish that story, simply because I have pages and pages of scattered scenes between the completed three chapters and this, and no real threads to connect them with.
A/N:I could have left this as a missing scene instead of turning it into a scientific analysis of what had to have happened in the episode, and due to recent comments from old readers of mine, asking if I'll ever write for this 'verse again, I decided to just put this up as a oneshot and thank my old readers for loving my own childhood universes as much as I do. Brought back to mind by the recent resurgence of interest in the DCAU due to several new movies, here's probably my last foray into this universe for a while.
Three hours later, Clark darted back in through the window of his bedroom and shut the curtains. Humming quietly to himself while he thought about Lois's smile (and the slap she gave him for scaring her when he reappeared), he changed into his most comfortable pajamas and slippers and then went out to get something to drink, wondering if everything in his kitchenette would have expired after a month.
He flipped on a small table lamp in the living room on his way, and then began rummaging through the drawers of the tiny apartment pantry in search of anything that hadn't molded over.
Finding nothing, he sighed, and turned around to look in the fridge.
He came nearly nose-to-nose with the silent dark figure leaning against it, and floated a few inches into the air with a startled yelp.
"You know I hate it when you do that!" he exclaimed, settling back down into his slippers.
A small cardboard box thudded onto the counter beside him, rustling enticingly, and he looked from it to his visitor, a question in his eyes.
"Earl Grey," Bruce clarified helpfully.
"Yes, I see," he retorted. "Where do you keep that in your utility belt?"
"Funny. I figured everything you had was moldy or soured by now."
Clark opened the refrigerator door and grimaced, shutting it quickly. "Yeah, I would agree with that." He looked for a moment at the impassive dark mask, searching for any kind of reaction other than the coldness of earlier, but, receiving nothing, finally just decided on smiling uncertainly. "Thank you."
He opened the box carefully so he could re-seal it afterwards. "Um…" he swallowed hesitantly, and glanced up over the fragrant tea bags. "You want some?"
"I'm not here for a tea party," Bruce growled, folding his arms. "I have to fill you in on what we did to make Clark Kent disappear."
Suddenly the room seemed a lot darker than Clark had thought. He filled a cup with water and sighed, absently watching the bubbles pop on the surface as the water rose. "Oh. That's why you're here, then?"
"Why else would I be?"
Yes, the room definitely was darker than he had thought – he needed to change those bulbs in the fixture.
One minute and two short blasts of heat vision later, he was sitting on his couch with a nearly-boiling cup of tea. Batman had partially opened the window curtains and now stood, black silhouetted against black, ticking off points methodically on gloved fingers.
"First, it didn't help matters that you were actually at the Planet building when that fiasco started downtown," he growled. "I don't know what excuse you gave White for leaving your desk when we contacted you, but it wasn't a good one. He was close to firing you when I got there that evening, for not coming back to work."
Clark cringed. "I just said I'd just remembered parking my car in a four-hour parking zone," he mumbled sheepishly into his cup.
"Great. Clark Kent is lucky Perry White was too occupied with the…death of Superman, to really be concentrating on the story Bruce Wayne spun for him."
Superman looked over the rim of his cup, but the momentary hitch in Bruce's voice hadn't left any visible signs. Maybe he'd imagined it? "What story was that?" he asked quietly.
Bruce shrugged. "Just that I was pulling owner's rank, and reassigning you to the Gotham offices for the next month or so. In a week the intrepid reporter would conveniently be knifed by a typical Gotham thug in a dark alley. Special edition of the Planet in your honor, an apology from Wayne Enterprises and the Mayor for the city's dangerous residents, and that would be the end of it."
Clark shivered, even though he didn't really feel the cold, at the clinical tone. "And he believed you?"
A muscle twitched under the cowl. "Pitched a fit about it, but he really couldn't do anything. Besides, he had other things on his mind, such as a hysterical Lois Lane crying on his office couch."
Clark set the tea down, his appetite gone now. "Did you –"
"I did what I had to, and so did she," Bruce stated flatly, though his voice softened for a moment from its chilled steel. "She's a strong woman, Kent."
Clark studied the carpet for a moment. "I know."
"She took it better at the time than Diana did, but the funeral was harder on her. Diana and I flew out and told your parents, too, that first night."
He blinked quietly for a moment, and Bruce cleared his throat loudly and continued. "But I didn't go through with the death scheme for Kent, because I found out you weren't really dead – there was still hope. So I just informed the Planet offices you were being sent into Europe on a correspondence venture. They think you're coming back from somewhere in Italy right now, so get your story straight before you go back to work."
He nodded mechanically. "Anything else I should know?"
"No. Other than the fact that every supervillain on the planet views your monument as a sign for open season on Metropolis." Bruce's lips tightened thinly under the cowl, and he turned to glance out at the twinkling lights of the city below. "They've been all over the city, no matter how hard I – we've worked to stop them."
It didn't take super-hearing to notice the word change. "I appreciate you keeping everyone safe, Bruce," he said gently. "And taking care of…of things, instead of hiding in your cave and letting the media do it for you. It means a lot to me."
He wasn't sure if the grunt was a you're-welcome-and-you-owe-me grunt, or a what-else-could-I-do-you-were-dead grunt, but either way he stood and moved slowly toward the window. The lamp on the table cast a haloed reflection on the glass, and beyond it the lights of the city sparkled, mirroring the stars just above the clouds. He'd missed it so much, and it had never looked so beautiful.
"So…" he began from a safe distance away. "You really believed I was still alive?"
"I knew you were." Leather creaked in protest as, hidden inside his cape, Bruce's fists clenched. "I just didn't know where you were, or when."
"I tried everything I could think of. Every test, every bit of research, every person I could think of. You couldn't have been sent to the past, because nothing changed, no anomalies in the world's history as far as I could tell."
Clark looked worriedly sideways, as a talkative Batman was rarely an in-control Batman, but Bruce was staring straight ahead at the window, expressionless.
"Dr. Fate couldn't locate you in any dimension. Zatanna couldn't find traces of magic because there was no residue left at the scene. I went down to the Fortress to see if you'd ended up in the Phantom Zone. While I was there I tried to use that Kryptonian technology and discover what that disintegration beam could have been, but couldn't find a single trace."
"Star Labs and WayneTech scientists couldn't explain what might have happened beyond the idea of it being an accelerated tachyon beam, which didn't help us figure out how to get you back. I even went to LexCorp, practically begging for scientific explanations and willing to pay a fortune for them."
"Listen, Bruce –"
"Luthor just laughed at me, and reminded me of the business deal I broke with him all those years ago."
"Bruce!" Alarmed, he grabbed the black-draped shoulder with the intention of giving the man a good shake – but then he realised Bruce was already shaking, the movement unnoticeable until now, buried as he was in the thick dark folds of his impenetrable cape. And now he paused for a minute, listening instead of just watching, and realized Batman's pulse was dropping radically.
Clark's eyes widened, and he loosened his grip, gently turning Bruce to face him, and became concerned when he met no resistance at all.
White-lenses eyes stared unseeing at him, lips pressed together into a thin, wavering line. "He laughed at me, Clark. Said that you were dead, and he wasn't about to do anything that would ruin that for him."
"It's okay, Bruce."
"They all believed you were dead."
He shivered, for Bruce's voice was flat, cold, completely devoid of any emotion or inflection, and it frightened him. "I know. But –"
"All of them. Even Dick told me I needed to accept it, and move on."
"Bruce, you're scaring me." Bringing his left hand up as well as his right, he squeezed his friend's quivering shoulders tighter in an effort to bring some reality back into a day - a month! - that had spiraled completely out of control, for everyone. Clark wasn't a doctor, but if the signs he could see and hear were accurate, Batman was dangerously close to going into delayed shock. "Calm down now. It's over, all of it."
For the first time, the pointed ears started, and suddenly inclined toward his voice. "…What?"
Relieved at the response, small though it was, he breathed in relief and bent his head slightly toward the uplifted, blank gaze. "Bruce, it's okay," he repeated, more confidently this time.
For few seconds he could hear every car wheel outside, a plane circling into the Metropolis airport, Lois's television down the hall blaring the newsreels of his return to life and the clink of her coffee-spoon, but loudest of all were Bruce's eyes blinking, suspiciously rapid, under the mask.
At the same time that he decided to move closer even if it meant Batman was going to get angry with him, Bruce finally went limp, as if an invisible puppet string that had been holding him upright had just snapped. Clark was there to catch him as his head slumped forward onto the shoulder of his pajama jacket, and shifted his grip to be tight enough for to feel secure but not so tight that Batman would feel trapped.
Apparently he needn't have worried about the last, because the man was shaking too badly to even move at the moment.
"Hey…it's all right, Bruce," he murmured quietly, and he felt a responsive shudder. "When was the last time you slept?"
"For how long?" was grunted thickly into his shoulder, and he frowned.
"More than an hour?"
He bowed his head over the stern lines of the Bat-costume. "That's what I thought. I'm taking you home, right now."
"No." The protest was dull, but pleadingly sincere. "Not yet, Clark."
"All right," he answered softly. "You can stay as long as you need to."
He heard a muffled mmrrf by way of thanks, and tightened his arms for the next minute or so. Finally, Batman cleared his throat pointedly, and Clark stepped back a pace, still keeping his hands on Bruce's shoulders.
"You okay?" he asked, eyes soft and worried.
"Don't ever do something like that again," Bruce rasped.
"What, hug you?"
"You know what I mean," he growled, muscles tightening under Clark's hands.
"And you know I'm not going to promise to never take a bullet for you, or Diana, or anyone else I care about," Superman responded simply, but in a tone that promised an epic battle for anyone who dared argue – even the Batman.
For a moment they stood there, glare to glare, willpower to willpower. Then,
"Thanks," Bruce croaked in a gravelly mutter, and Clark nodded, smiling and thereby acceding a stalemate rather than a one-sided victory for either of them. Bruce's gauntleted hand started to rub mechanically across his eyes, only to scrape against the cowl. Sighing, he pulled the mask backward and began to pinch his forehead.
"Headache?" Clark asked solicitously, though his mind was more on the dark circles underneath Bruce's blood-shot eyes.
"So you haven't slept, and if that's your stomach I hear you haven't eaten either?"
"Alfred's going to murder me," he muttered in agreement, taking two unsteady steps and collapsing onto Kent's couch in an inglorious sprawl of cape.
Clark frowned. "I could order a pizza?" he suggested.
A disgusted grumble.
"I think I have some popcorn somewhere. Popcorn doesn't expire in a month, does it?"
"Kent. Shut up."
Clark laughed at the snarl, muffled as it was in one of the sofa cushions his Ma had made for him. "That's more like the Batman I missed." Covering a yawn with the back of his hand, he floated over to perch on the arm of the couch. "You know I have extra pajamas, if you want to spend the night here."
"No," Bruce muttered wearily, rolling over to look upside-down at him. "You fly in your sleep, and I shout. Not a good combination for an apartment complex."
"Mmm," he shrugged. Eyes contracting, he glanced dreamily down to where he could hear Lois washing up her dishes for the night.
Bruce raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Are you peeking into her apartment?"
Properly embarrassed, he blushed darker than the burgundy carpet and returned the walls to their usual opacity. "Of course not! Well… I mean, I don't usually," he amended sheepishly. "It's just that I heard her getting ready for bed, and – no, that is not what I meant, Bruce!" he spluttered, his face darkening at the Batman's obvious amusement. "I just…wanted one more look at her, before she started getting dressed for bed, because this past month I didn't think I would ever see her again, and…ohh…forget it." He finally moaned, giving up on digging himself out of the verbal grave he had just made.
"You, Clark, are a very, very bad Boy Scout."
"Never mind," he muttered, feeling his ears burn in utter mortification. He was glad when the telephone rang, because it gave him the opportunity to escape Bruce's smirking.
"Don't answer it as Kent, remember," the latter instructed tiredly as Clark moved to the kitchenette to get it.
"Right," he answered, and lifted the receiver. "Hello?"
"Ah, Master Kent, it is good indeed to hear you again! We had nearly given up hope, until we saw the news this evening. Welcome back, sir."
He smiled happily at the familiar voice, reminiscent of the best cooking he knew of outside the state of Kansas. "Thank you, Alfred. It's good to be back."
"I think I can guess, but why are you calling me at this hour?" Clark asked with a grin toward the oblivious Batman, who despite his previous protests was more than half-asleep already on the couch, one gloved arm dragging limply on the carpet.
"Yes, sir, I am rather certain you can. Would Master Bruce be there with you, by chance?"
"Yes, he is. How did you know?"
He heard a cultured sigh trickle through the line. "Master Bruce has spent all of, I believe, six nights in this house in the last four weeks, Master Kent. Over half of those remaining, I happen to know he spent in your apartment, doing heaven only knows what; not sleeping, by the look of him. The probability was simply high that he might be there with you now."
His eyes softening at this piece of news, Clark glanced back out to the living room, and grinned when he saw that Bruce was definitely asleep now, silently snoring with his mouth half-open. "Yes, he is. I'll bet he forgot to tell you he was all right when the Batplane went down today, didn't he?"
"He did indeed, sir," the elderly butler sighed the tolerant sigh of those who are always left behind to pick up the pieces and work magic to put them back together. "Shall I come and fetch him?"
"No, I don't think so." He walked noiselessly back into the living room. Bruce grunted and rolled over, but didn't wake up when Clark shouldered the phone and pulled the afghan off the armchair to throw over the sleeping man. "I'll bring him home in time for work tomorrow, all right?"
"Very good, sir. And many thanks. We are all very glad to see you home safe."
The wealth of unspoken but honest sentiment warmed him inside and out, and he finally felt the contentment spread to push out the awkward uncertainty of earlier. "Thank you, Alfred," he ended, and hung up the phone smiling, thankful from the bottom of his heart that he was home.
Then he crept to the living room lamp and turned it off, but left his bedroom door ajar, just in case.
However, the apartment was peaceful all the way until early the next morning.
Thanks to a telephone message left the night before by Bruce Wayne, Perry White's first action upon returning to the Planet offices after three hours of sleep (having been up running the presses all night with an extra about Superman's miraculous resurrection) was to phone Lois Lane and ask her to check on Kent's apartment, to make sure no one had trashed it while he was away.
After a string of instances where Clark had either locked his keys in his car, his desk, lost them between the elevator and his apartment, or half-a-dozen other reasons he gave her for knocking on her door in the evenings and asking to use the phone or chat her up (though she had the odd feeling that half the excuses were completely made-up), he had sheepishly asked her to keep a spare apartment key for him, just in case.
It came in handy this morning, since she was in a hurry (having also been up all night writing the story on Superman's reappearance). Pop into the apartment, make sure nothing had died in the kitchen during the last month, turn the air conditioning on, pop back out. And when Clark got back and called to thank her for it, she could demand he buy her dinner in repayment. Flawless logic.
She was certainly not expecting the lights to be on in the living room when she let herself in, and dead sure wasn't expecting to find a half-costumed Bruce Wayne sitting at the kitchenette's small breakfast table, gagging down the sugared brew Clark liked to call coffee and reading the Daily Planet's extra.
She barely had time to see the unmasked eyes widen guiltily above the coffee mug (ironically enough, the cheap one with the Superman logo on it that Jimmy had given Clark for his last birthday), before a sudden breeze from the open living room window sent her clutching to keep her skirt down; seriously, if she'd known it was that windy outside, she would've dressed a bit more warmly. Ten seconds later, the apartment door slammed, and she turned around to see a slightly-disheveled Clark staring at her in surprise, tie askew and hands full of donuts.
She was no fool, thanks very much, and wondered how Bruce could think she didn't see him relax with a silent sigh of relief.
"Lois? What're you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing, Smallville," she retorted, one hand on her hip. "The Chief said you wouldn't get in until tonight. Or did he misunderstand your message, Mr. Wayne?"
Unperturbed, Bruce returned to his coffee and let Clark flounder visibly for several seconds. Finally Lois took pity on the man and appropriated the smallest of the donuts.
"Um…sure," Clark gulped, setting the rest of them down on the table and busying himself with straightening the napkins (which were already perfectly straight).
"I was in the neighborhood all night, Justice League business as you can imagine," Bruce finally interjected smoothly. "And didn't find out until this morning that Mr. Kent had gotten an earlier flight home from Milan. We had some business to discuss with his returning to the Metropolis offices, naturally."
"Oh, naturally," she agreed innocently.
Clark coughed furiously for a second. "Yeah. I…uh…just told Mr. Wayne that Gotham's not for me, no matter how much more money I'd be making," he added.
"Mmhm." She declined the coffee, making Clark nervous, and sat down beside Bruce, making Superman even more nervous. "I turned down the same job, remember?"
"You know it's still open, if you want it," Bruce said in his softest tone and even softer smile, leaning slightly toward her inclined face and half-draping one arm across the back of her chair.
She wasn't sure which she enjoyed more, the open flirting from the Prince of Gotham, or the look of death Clark sent him for doing it.
But both she and Bruce knew where her heart really was, and she only grinned and scooted away before the man could do anything else. "You don't seem overly excited to learn that your Big Boss is really the Dark Knight, Clark," she observed finally, catching the reporter mid-glare.
"I've known," Clark said at the same time, and both men looked at each other warily.
"Yes, I gathered that from the fact that he's sitting at your kitchen table, drinking coffee with you, as familiar as you please."
"And now, Clark Kent, you have some explaining to do," she continued, smiling ruthlessly at him and tapping one toe on the linoleum. "Such as why you haven't answered a single letter or phone call from me in the last month?"
Bruce cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I'll be going now," he muttered hastily, pulling his cowl back over his eyes.
"No need to," Lois said sweetly. "You're next, for sending Mr. Kent to Europe without even a chance to say goodbye."
"I…er…have urgent business in Gotham." He edged toward the door in hopes that she'd go for the indestructible one of the two. "It was…nice seeing you again, Lois."
"Certainly better than the last time I saw you, the night Superman died but didn't really die…"
"Ulp," Clark swallowed the remainder of his coffee, apparently without realizing it was boiling hot, and promptly choked on it.
Bruce took it for the distraction technique it was meant to be, and beat a hasty retreat despite the frantic looks he was getting from an increasingly nervous Superman. "I'll contact you later, Mr. Kent," he called from the living room door.
"Um…right," Clark mumbled around a cough, pushing his glasses up to look through them at Lois's smirk, instead of over them like he had been for the last five minutes without realizing it. "Now look, Lois…I can explain…"
"You'd better do more than that, after a month."
Bruce shut the door behind him just before Lois pounced.
Almost grinning at the sounds he could hear through the thin apartment walls, he jabbed the elevator button, growled a good-morning to the bug-eyed cleaning woman who emerged and gaped at him, and punched the button for the ground floor.
His mobile phone rang while he was nearly back to Gotham in a private car; Perry White wanting to know if Wayne could tell him when Kent would be returning to the Planet offices permanently, and did he have any idea why Lois Lane was two hours late arriving at work?