Ring of Fire
Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.
I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire
The ring of fire.
Metropolis – one week later
It had been one of those weeks.
Between working at the Independent and being Superman, Clark had been on the go seemingly every minute. Added to that, one of the neighbors in his building had decided to learn how to play the violin. It was either that or someone was trying to train cats to sing Free Bird by squeezing them.
Whichever it was, they weren't very good and didn't seem to be getting any better. They practiced one song over and over, at night. As he lay in bed at the end of one long day after another, Clark began to fantasize about storming downstairs, kicking the door open, grabbing the violin and smashing it against the wall like the scene in Animal House.
It was actually a pretty good fantasy, as wanton destruction of other people's property fantasies go, but Clark knew that wasn't his style. It did explain something Clark had always wondered about, why people hated the French? After listening to the song Frère Jacques being brutally played over and over, it made a little more sense. It was probably unfair to blame a whole people, but it was their God Damn song.
Thankfully at the moment the building was silent or at least no one was playing any musical instruments. It gave Clark his first real moments to think about just two things, one concerning his past and one concerning his future. Somehow they seemed to be linked in his mind.
His past and his ship were something that seemed to call to him. Yes, he had all his memories of growing up in Smallville and being Martha and Jonathan Kent's son. He would always honor them and cherish everything that did for him, but there was a piece missing. He had come into this universe as Kal-El of Krypton, yet for all practically purposes those were just names to him. He'd had visions and dreams about his homeworld and his biological parents but those were like old photographs fluttering by an open window, random images with no meaning.
Everyone wants to know where he or she comes from and Clark was no different. Who he was, was shaped in Smallville and by the Kents, but on a much more fundamental level other forces were just as important. It wasn't a slight to the Kents to want to know who Jor-El and Lara were, to put faces and histories to the names. For all Clark knew he was the last of his kind. What did it mean to be a Kryptonian?
The other part of it was that if he didn't know his past how could he know his future? Everyone's past shapes their present and their future. Who and where we come from, we see reflected back at us in the mirror everyday. Who wouldn't want to know if they got their smile from their father or their eye coloring from their mother? Were their grandparents tall or short, funny or serious? Did your father or your mother say "I love you" first? Did they both know they were in love at the same time?
Those thoughts turned Clark's mind to his future. Having admitted to himself he was in love with Diana, he couldn't imagine her not being a part of it. Now there was just the difficult decision of how to tell her, he was in love with her.
At first it seemed like a straightforward sort of thing, but the more he thought about it the more complicated it got. What if he just came right out and said it the next time he saw her and she replied, "Thanks."
God that would be embarrassing, Clark thought, I'd just be left hanging out there. No good way to reel that one back in once you tossed it out there. What do you say to that, he wondered, "your welcome?"
What made it that much more difficult was that Clark had never really said it to anyone before. Oh, he'd said I love you to the Kents, but they was his adopted parents. The chances of them saying 'thank you' were pretty slim. No, this was saying it for the first time to the most amazing, beautiful, extraordinary woman he'd ever met and probably ever would meet. As hard as he tried not thinking about them, several crash and burn scenarios seemed to be running on a loop inside his brain.
It shouldn't be this hard, Clark thought. He loved Diana and believed she loved him. As he stood in his small apartment, Clark tried saying it out loud for the first time.
"Diana, I love you."
Or should he say it differently, he wondered?
"I'm in love with you, Diana."
Should he hedge his bets and say it causally the first time?
"Hey, love ya."
No, that wouldn't work, as in his mind's eye he saw himself winking and pointing his finger with that version. That had douchebag written all over it.
"You complete me," popped into Clark's head, but he quickly dismissed it. It might work for Tom Cruise, but come on, in the real world that had crash and burn potential from the get go.
Pacing back and forth in his small living room, Clark tried to think of the best way to say it. He thought maybe since it is such a serious thing, he should go the whole nine yards, get flowers and down on one knee … Wait, I'm saying I love you not will you marry me, Clark thought to himself. Jeez, ever since Mr. Cameron put that thought in Clark's head he couldn't seem to shake it.
Flowers might be a nice touch, he mused. The whole down on one knee would probably freak her out though.
No, he wasn't asking her to the fair, he was trying to say, "I love you."
Should he hedge his bets and say it the next time they were making love, Clark wondered? It was a bit of a cheat, since usually the other person just automatically says, "I love you too" but most times has their mind on other things. No, that's the coward's way out, Clark thought. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right.
Now all he had to do was figure out how to do it right.
As if on cue, Frère Jacques began whining its way up through the building.
"I really need to move,' Clark groaned, rubbing his forehead just above his eyebrows.
The atrium of Wayne Towers had been transformed and was playing host to the annual charity event of the season. The cream of Gotham's society was in attendance, as were dignitaries from around the globe. Diana had arrived a little late, but in time for dinner.
Part of her didn't want to be here, as this should have been her first free night all week. What she really, really wanted to do was go to Metropolis and see Clark. Since her talk with her mother, Diana had been thinking about him pretty much all the time. She was in love with him. In Diana's mind, if she could admit that to her mother, telling him would be easy. She hadn't really thought about how she'd say it, just imagined she'd say, "I love you." She was courting him after all, so it just made sense she would be the one to say it.
Unfortunately her schedule hadn't really given her much time the entire week. She was still new and tended to frighten people the first time they saw her as Wonder Woman. The fact that she usually had a sword in her hand played a part in this, but Diana was determined to win the public over. With the end of her relationship with Steve, she wasn't sure how the government saw her, so it just made it doubly important she put her best foot forward.
Diana had thought of canceling her appearance at this event, but the fact that it was being held in Gotham seemed irresistible. It still irked her a bit that Clark had met Batman and she hadn't. It almost felt like he was avoiding her to Diana's mind. She figured since an invitation hadn't been forthcoming, she would invite herself.
Diana believed if she could just talked to Batman, she could win him over to her idea. So as she moved through the party making small talk with the other guests, Diana already had a plan worked out in her mind. She would have dinner and then politely excuse herself. Switching to her armor she would search the city and find him. She was fully prepared to spend the entire night talking to him if that's what it took to get him to agree. Diana figured if she could convince Superman and Batman to be part of her team, the rest of the heroes would be easy.
Tonight was the first time Diana had been to one of these events alone. Up until now she was always with Steve and her mother. Why Steve wasn't here didn't need an explanation, but Hippolyta had meant to come. At the last minute she received a message from Themyscira. Apparently General Phillipus want to speak to her urgently, so she remained at the Embassy and told Diana to go without her. Diana understood but was also a little excited to be out on her own.
As she accepted one of the pancetta wrapped scallops appetizer from the waiter, she thanked him and savored the flavor. Diana knew it was difficult for her mother being out in the world. She'd been Queen for so long and if it hadn't been to prevent a civil war among the Amazons, Hippolyta would have never left the island. Diana understood her mother's love of their home and shared it. Themyscira was a magic place growing up, yet now Diana felt this world was where she belonged. It would always be home and she would return, but Themyscira felt like the past and Diana was too excited about the future. This world was still opening up to her and she wanted to see and experience it all.
Diana wished Clark were here. Just the thought of him sent tempting little flames of desire throughout her body. She absently licked her lips as she remembered their weekend. So many things about him came to mind; even how he tasted seemed so alluring. Too many times to count this past week, she'd found herself thinking of just dropping everything and going to him. She just wanted to see him, to touch him and have him touch her. She wanted things to go much further than that, but concentrated on those so she wouldn't get lost in her desires.
The want and desire were still new to her. She'd had a taste, just a taste of what it was like and knew she wanted more. That she was in love with him just made it all the better. Diana absently thought if she could wrap up convincing Batman quickly, she could still make it to Metropolis and truly enjoy the night.
Clark hovered high above letting his eyes scan the area below. He was too high for their radar to pick him up. He had to admit the secret base was well hidden. Most wouldn't even notice it even if they flew right over it. He needed to thank Bruce again for this information.
He'd thought of asking Diana for help, but this felt like something he needed to do alone. Some steps you have to take for yourself before you can share them with someone else. Finding out who he was felt like one of them.
There was also the fact that he was going to be breaking into a government military facility. Clark knew that many had their own concerns about Diana and the Amazons, just as they had them about him. The last thing he wanted was to make them worse for her and her people. He wasn't sure if Steve Trevor was still working as their liaison or not and without him as an advocate for the Amazons inside the government things could change quickly. Diana was the champion of her people, so her actions reflected on them. It wouldn't be fair to ask her to put her sisters in jeopardy.
As he scanned the facility again, Clark narrowed down where he thought his ship was. It seemed the government had learned a few things since the last time he was in their clutches. Lead shielding surrounded one entire area and heavily armed guards ringed one specific building. He wasn't here to fight them, just retrieve his property.
Clark began to drop down through the atmosphere, gaining speed with each moment. When he hit the ground a cloud of dust exploded high into the air and a shockwave when through the facility. Klaxons began blaring and soldiers rushed into defensive positions. He had landed outside their perimeter on purpose, using the spectacular collision with the earth as a diversion to get the soldiers away from the lead lined building. As they rushed to defend the perimeter Clark was already tunneling up under them. In one incredible blitzkrieg he was through the concrete floor. His ship in tow Clark bolted up through the roof of the building and disappeared into the night sky before anyone could react.
Property reclaimed by its rightful owner.
Bruce Wayne smiled and sipped a glass of champagne as he chatted with some of the local politicians. Being back almost two years he was still working to establish his playboy persona. It was Alfred's suggestion to allow the charity event to be held at Wayne Tower, pointing out that Bruce's parents had done something similar in the first year of the building's existence. Bruce had agreed but left the planning to the charity and only reluctantly agreed to attend.
His focus was on being Batman. Bruce felt he was just starting to make progress in Gotham and this seemed like a waste of time. Oh, he understood what Alfred was saying about establishing an image diametrically opposite from Batman's and even saw the logic in it. Bruce just didn't have any desire to play this game. He'd grown up around people and parties like this so any fascination had long since worn off. In many ways this felt more like wearing a mask than being Batman did.
He was already thinking of ways he could slip out early when he saw her enter the party. Princess Diana of Themyscira, Wonder Woman caused quite a stir in the crowd. Seeing her in person for the first time, Bruce had to admit she was breath taking. That didn't stop him from wondering why she was here? He'd gotten the impression from Clark she was really pushing hard for this idea of a team. Could she actually be here to try and find Batman, he couldn't help wondering?
Bruce had already made his decision on that. He certainly hoped Clark had kept his promise not to reveal who Bruce was to her, but as he looked at Diana, Bruce found it hard to believe Clark could keep anything secret from her. He hated having to trust someone else, but it seemed he had no alternative. Staying towards the edges of the crowd, Bruce kept an eye on Diana. If she knew who he was, he guessed she would approach him almost immediately. When she didn't, he figured maybe Clark could be trusted.
Just to be safe, Bruce decided he would limit his interactions with her. He was briefly introduced along with several other people, but quietly moved off before they had any chance to talk. The other guests occupied her immediately and there wasn't any recognition of his name from her that he could see, so he would just play his part tonight and quietly exit after the dinner.
Diana was still thinking about Clark when a random comment from one of the guests caught her attention. It seemed the Batman was of interest to everyone, especially those that lived in Gotham. Several people said how they would be terrified if they actually met him, but thankfully few people did. One woman chimed in that she had heard Bruce Wayne had met the Batman, but the others just laughed and dismissed this. Diana didn't. She vaguely remembered meeting someone named Bruce Wayne but they hadn't talked. Now she definitely wanted to talk to him. Politely she asked one of the guests to point him out.
Bruce Wayne was half listening to a city councilman talk about some urban renewal project when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. As he turned he saw Diana standing right in front of him smiling.
"Hi!' She said, extended her hand to him.
"Um hello,' he replied, shaking her hand and smiling in return. To himself Bruce was thinking something else.
"Jesus, they both do it."