*AUTHORIAL DISCLAIMER*: I do not own, did not create, and have never been paid to write about (including for this story) Tony Stark/Iron Man or Bruce Wayne/Batman, or any other trademarked/copyrighted characters that appear here. Also, don't bother suing me, I'm broke. And unemployed. And did I mention broke?

Some small bits I pulled from non-movieverse sources; in other parts, characters minor to this story may behave in somewhat unfamiliar ways to suit my idea of the story (or I may have just taken an educated guess at how they'd behave in these situations). No fictional characters were permanently harmed in the making of this fanfic. Except that one guy.



The Imperfect Storm

The anomaly happened in the air somewhere past the Rockies.

Ahead of Bruce was a woman dressed in red, her auburn-brown hair tucked up in a glossy coil, topped by a pillbox hat with a stiff red fishnet veil. He had her pegged for an eccentric European.

Thudthudthudin the small of his back, the spoiled young scion of an East Coast family marking time on the back of his chair, the young nanny watching him too exhausted to make him behave. First class seating did muffle the tattoo of small energetic feet a little, thankfully.

Next to him sat a florid, beefy man in a determinedly tacky suit and fez. The fez had a propeller on top and a dent in the side where it had fallen and been squashed by its hapless owner, already on his fifth Harvey Wallbanger. The man's suit sported a pin that appeared to be Masonic in origin.

He'd never taken public transportation outside of Gotham (and in it, only cabs) before and was frankly regretting it, but by a series of cataclysmic foul-ups his fleet of private jets were all in the repair bay or being retooled, and Lucius had the Wayne corporate jet for a trip to Montreal. So here he was, shuttled across the continent by Amerilines' finest.

"Think of it as fuel conservation, sir," said Alfred cheerfully as he packed. "Doing your bit for the war and all that."

"I hate doing business out of town," he grumbled, prowling angrily around his room. "Why can't someone else go?"

"Because no one else has the Wayne charm," replied Alfred placidly. "Someone's got to winkle the money out of investors, or how are you going to pay for all those fancy toys? What's the new one, a motorcycle with a built-in gun?"

"I have to travel without the suit," he continued, clenching his fists. "No weapons, either. No anything."

"You mean you'll have to go a whole day and a half without dressing up like a bat?" asked Alfred in mock horror. "Behave like a normal human being? Saints preserve us! It's a wonder you'll survive. Who's the lucky chap meeting you, anyway?"

"Tommy Smith. He's got a finger in a lot of pies, and a lot of cash to show for it. He'll invest if I laugh at his jokes and drop hints about upcoming ventures, most likely. The usual." Then he sat down, counted to ten, and ate his breakfast, watching Alfred.

Now he sipped mineral water, breathing recycled air and wishing for it all to be over. Gotham was quiet for the moment, but he didn't like to be away. He closed his eyes to rest. Bad things happened in his half-doze, people shot, stabbed, crying our for help, nothing between them and harm. While he sat here sleeping his rich man's sleep on a plane-

He started forward. Smell of ozone. He looked out the window.

The sky was warped up ahead. They were flying into a storm. Weird green lightning played in the clouds.

"Aren't they going to pull up?" he asked aloud.

"Pull up what?" asked the man next to him, breath reeking.

"Above the storm," Bruce answered. "Fly above the storm we're about to hit." That's about to hit us, more like.

The man leaned across him, plastering one red cheek against the window. "Nozznot."


"I said, 'No, there's not.' A storm, that is," he answered. "You, my friend, need to lay off the sauce." He pointed one finger at Bruce like the barrel of a gun, made a bang-bang gesture, and managed one boozy wink before passing out. His fez tumbled off and landed in the aisle.

Bruce stared at his seatmate. Something was wrong with him, beyond the drunkenness and the bad outfit. It took him a minute to work out that it was the light.

The man was bathed in rich, golden late-morning sunlight. So, when he looked, were the passengers across the aisle. Everyone in his field of vision basked in the same glow.

Outside the window, dark clouds roiled closer. The sun hid behind them. The light was grey murk.

And then. His own hands were muted, his rich suit dull. The light they partook of spoke of rain and turbulence. He rested his hand on his seatmate's arm. The shadow of Bruce's fingers lay across the other man's light, but that same light did not grace himself, and no stormlight crept over to his seatmate.

"Is something wrong, sir?"

The flight attendant shone, her dark blue uniform hinting at undertones of aquamarine, her alabaster complexion now coppery. The dull ash-blonde of her hair became honeyed, luscious. He wanted to stroke it, for comfort. An unpleasant picture struggled to form in his head. It centered around her hair, his seatmate's gilded slumber, the incandescent air of the cabin.

Outside the window, a flicker of that eldritch lightning. His heart pounded. He realized it had been, for some time.


The word was crisp, but her facial expression's shift to concern, her gestures, his fellow passengers' movements, all took on a slow, underwater grace, slow motions through some dense medium-

"I'm fine, thanks," he smiled. "Just tired." The Wayne charm. Time fluttered in and out between his words. Her expression relaxed slowly into a smile, the entropy of relief. She turned away now, walking as if through syrup.

Another flash of lightning, licking close to the windows, sizzling. His skin took on a poisonous tint in that instant, and he stifled a shout. Everyone else remained the same brilliant California-bound hue.

He knew there would be no help coming.

-walking through syrup-

Clouds churning like spoiled milk. The flight attendant turned quizzically back to him, still shining.

Outside, the air boiling.

-like shining syrup-

Flying into a hungry maw, that's what it was like, it was like-

-amber that's it they're like insects trapped in amber oh jesus what's happening WHAT'S HAPPENING-

Just then, the red woman in front of him turned around and peeped at him over her seat like a little kid. Her skin was bleached, her clothes a dull blood color. Viridian light rolled over him and there was something, looking at her he almost had it and she looked at him with a kind of triumphant pity and what was it-

-she's moving as fast as me she's-

A loud crack and he couldn't help it anymore, he cried out-

-and the sky split open.