by M. Scott Eiland

Superman brought the tiny spacecraft in for a perfect landing in the shuttle bay, and waited for the hangar doors to close and the bay to repressurize. After a few moments, the green light above the exit flickered on, and he stepped out of the cockpit and left the bay.

He flew down the hallway, then up the main shaft of the Watchtower, heading towards the monitoring station near the "top" of the structure. One of the things that Superman found most attractive about the structure was that it provided for both fliers and non- fliers in getting quickly from point A to point B inside--important not only for Batman and Flash, but for the occasional visitor.

He reached the monitoring station and spotted Batman sitting quietly in the watch chair, apparently lost in thought. He called out, "Hey-- the others off on missions?"

Batman looked up as Superman landed next to him and nodded absently. "Mostly. Green Lantern was summoned to Oa for a consultation regarding some recent events in the Orion sector. J'onn, Flash, and Hawkgirl are handling the aftermath of some major flooding in the Far East. Diana is staying with the Princess of Kasnia, dealing with the aftermath of the recent crisis."

Superman nodded--he had listened to a summary of the news events that had occurred in his two-week absence in a burst-feed playback that had included Batman's own report on the crisis regarding the International Space Station and Vandal Savage's rail gun. "Nasty business--I'm sorry that it coincided with my mission at Proycon."

Batman shrugged. "The whole point behind this organization is that you can't be everywhere at once, and that there are some things that even you can't handle alone." He frowned, and added, "And there are some times when the full-timers are busy, and the reserves have to fill in. Fortunately, my 'regulars' in Gotham City are all in Arkham for the moment, which is how I was able to take the time to trace those Kasnian soldiers to that site in Paris."

Superman nodded. "Lucky that Diana was there too--I hear she made quite an impression on the media there." He saw Batman nod tersely, and raised an eyebrow: "Something happen that you'd rather not talk about?"

Batman turned and glared at Superman, then glanced above his right shoulder and reached out to hit several buttons on the console in front of him. Superman immediately recognized the switches--Batman had just killed the automatic recording cameras and microphones that were designed to keep a permanent record in case the monitoring hero was incapacitated or killed. Superman frowned and asked, "All right-- what's wrong? The only reason you'd have for killing the monitors is- -"

"She knows who I am, Clark." Batman reached for his cowl and pulled it back, revealing fully the visibly unsettled features of Bruce Wayne. "She called me on it."

"Really?" Clark relaxed the unconscious guard he kept regarding his identity--Bruce was one of the few people who knew the secret, and he knew that the dark hero would guard it as carefully as his own, for leverage if for no other reason. He pulled up a chair and sat down, commenting "Diana's smart, but I didn't think she'd seen enough of Bruce Wayne in the media to make the connection--I certainly never did, and I've got advantages that she doesn't--"

"I approached her at the party the Kasnian commandoes tried to crash when the whole thing began, just before the ceiling fell in." Bruce shook his head slightly at the memory, and added: "Dance called on account of attempted kidnapping."

"You approached her as Bruce Wayne, danced with her, and you're shocked that she might have figured out that you two are the same person?" Superman shook his head in disbelief and commented, "You weren't exactly yourself that night, were you?"

"Hey, the mask has fooled some pretty smart people over the years, Clark--Lois never would have caught on if my cowl hadn't been pulled off by that machinery. Hell, you were able to impersonate Batman with no one being the wiser." Bruce looked over at the Kryptonian in annoyance and added, "You're one to talk--Mr. 'Eyeglasses and a wimpy voice make me a whole different person.'"

Clark smirked. "It took you a tracer and a pair of binoculars to make the connection--and I have danced with Lois in both identities without getting caught. Expectations make a big difference in how people perceive you. If I approached Lois dressed as Clark, but walking like I do when I'm wearing this costume, she'd spot me in an instant--but I'd bet that if I flew into her window wearing Clark's glasses and not otherwise acting like a mild-mannered reporter, she'd tell me that I looked stupid and to take them off." Bruce looked skeptical, and Clark added, "You saw her, wanted to impress her, and you walked up to her acting more like Batman than Bruce Wayne, because deep down you trusted her to see you that way."

Bruce's expression was profoundly irritated, but after a moment he sighed wistfully and replied, "If you'd seen her that night, you'd have wanted to impress her too."

Clark leaned over the computer console and quickly typed a phrase into a search engine. After a few moments, a picture appeared, and Clark's eyes widened for a moment before he turned to Bruce and admitted, "Yeah, I probably would have." He shrugged and added, "But she's not interested in me--I get `big sister' vibes from her, kind of like how she treats Hawkgirl and J'onn. Must be the whole `aliens sundered from their people' thing. Besides, I'm interested in someone else--I just need to figure out how to work the whole thing, without--"

"Without her freaking out like she did when she found out what I was doing nights?" Bruce replied. Clark sighed and nodded, and Bruce shrugged: "Not sure what you're worried about--it's not like she disapproves of what you do in that suit, and you're a little less susceptible to sudden death than I am. Once you let her know that the mild-mannered reporter thing is just an act, you two could probably live happily ever after."

Clark snorted, and Bruce raised an eyebrow as the Kryptonian elaborated, "Bruce--Lois is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and she's every bit as good as that implies. How do you think she'd react if she found out that I've been fooling her for years with nothing but method acting and an unassuming wardrobe? She'd rip my spine out and use it for a coatrack."

"You're invulnerable." Bruce pointed out.

"She's very resourceful." Clark replied, wincing. He sighed and looked down, muttering, "I need a plan to make it work--and I just haven't come up with one yet."

Bruce looked at Clark shrewdly and asked quietly, "You've been dealing with this particular problem for quite a while now, haven't you?"

Clark blinked. "Huh? What are you talking about?"

"A folically-challenged individual we've both known since long before we started running around in these costumes, Clark." Clark stared at Bruce, and the older man locked eyes with him and asked bluntly:

"Luthor doesn't know, does he?"

Clark reacted as if slapped, and he glared at Bruce for several seconds before replying, "If he does, he figured it out on his own--I never told him." He paused, then amended: "At least, I never told him on an occasion where he didn't have his conscious memory wiped by some routine Smallville weirdness." He shook his head and commented, "Shouldn't be surprised you knew Lex and I had been friends--you probably hired private detectives to dig up every scrap of information you could on both Clark Kent and Superman the minute you discovered we were one and the same."

"Not at all--I was rather busy at that moment, and I have sources of information far more reliable than private detectives." Bruce smirked, then frowned as he continued, "He was still in his wild years when I knew him--prone to taking stupid risks just to convince himself he was still alive." Clark raised an eyebrow, and Bruce noted the reaction and admitted, "Glass houses, stones, yes. Lex was pissed off at his father, and I was pissed off at God, the human race, and life in general--still am. Fortunately, I found an adequate outlet for the emotions in question. Lex obviously didn't."

Clark sighed and looked out the window, watching as the Watchtower passed over the Hawaiian Islands. After a moment, he turned back to Bruce and replied softly, "For a while I think he did, Bruce. Oh, there were always problems, and looking back there were signs of darkness that I chose to overlook at the time because I just didn't want to see them--but he did a lot of good in those years. He saved the economy of Smallville by keeping the factory going, helped many individuals with their financial and legal troubles, and generally acted as a protector of the town against the worst excesses of his father. Whatever else he became, that man is someone I am still proud to have known."

Bruce nodded in understanding, and Clark continued, "He was always too enamored of power: he'd have apparently sincere and laudable reasons for wanting to have it and use it, but the desire to control was always near the forefront. I was oblivious for a long time--I stopped schemes of his without ever knowing he had been behind them, and the veneer of good works began eroding. One day, I had a moment of clarity and realized what he had become--and I vowed that I would save him from himself."

Bruce frowned. "What did you do?"

"I simply called his office for an appointment and went to see him: on the surface, our friendship was as close as ever. Of course, by then I was Superman and he was basically lying to me about his entire daily routine, so appearances were pretty obviously deceiving." Clark shook his head sadly, then continued, "I dumped a CD full of evidence that I had gathered regarding his activities on his desk and told him that Superman had come to me and asked me to intervene with him--and that I had refused to believe it was true until he had presented me with incontrovertible proof. Which--identity of the provider aside--was true."

Clark paused, and Bruce waited while the younger man took a moment to compose himself before going on: "Lex just sat there as I pleaded with him to stop this course of action--his father had died, and no one would be in a position to question him if he chose to steer a less treacherous course for his company. Up to that point, he had been lucky--little or no death had been caused by his actions, but if they went on, tragedy would be inevitable. I came flat out and told him that Superman would be willing to let bygones be bygones if he could just walk away from it. . .just let it go."

Bruce sighed. "And his response?"

"He looked at me as if I was a janitor who had wandered into his office without invitation, then said, `I'll take it under advisement, Kent. Thank you for stopping by.' Six years of friendship, dismissed with a casual phrase and a nod to the security guards standing fifty feet away." Clark turned away from Bruce and stared out the windows again, shaking his head in dismay as he concluded, "Since that day, Clark Kent hasn't exchanged twenty-five words with Lex Luthor, and their combined warmth wouldn't melt an ice cube."

Batman didn't reply to the last comment--what was there to say? He looked over at the Kryptonian and thought for a long moment before commenting, "Sometimes people cross lines that they can't come back from--and it's made all the worse because they're still with us: we are faced with the evidence that we're not infallible on a daily basis." He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering an explosion and the horrible distortion it had wrought on the features and mind of Harvey Dent. He recovered, and added, "Ultimately, it doesn't matter what we could have done, whether we screwed it up or not--we have to deal with them, and make things right as best we can."

Superman nodded. "I know." He looked back at Batman and added, "At least we can do our best to help the ones who haven't been lost. We have a lot of friends who have had a rough time of things--Diana certainly comes to mind. Perhaps we should--"

"Diana is just fine--but it's sweet of you to think of my well-being, Clark." The amused voice came from the doorway to the entry shaft, and both heroes turned to see Wonder Woman standing there with a vaguely smug expression on her face. Bruce automatically pulled his mask back in place, and Diana sighed and commented, "I'm old- fashioned enough to understand the need for formal attire, but you really should learn to be more casual around here."

Superman frowned in annoyance and asked pointedly, "How long have you been standing there?"

"A few minutes--Green Lantern had some business to take care of at home before his trip to Oa, and he was nice enough to drop me off here before he left." Diana shrugged and leaned against the doorway as she added, "The sensors should have picked us up."

Superman turned to Batman, who shrugged and looked at the panel before replying, "I switched off the auditory warning system--hard to hold a conversation when space debris is setting off sirens every few minutes. Lantern's power configuration is programmed into the system- -he only would have set off a mild response from the system in any event."

Superman nodded curtly, then turned back to Diana--only to be interrupted by the Amazon: "And you didn't spill any secrets I didn't know already. I'm a trained priestess of Hera--I can sense the flow of power in many places. You might as well be glowing in the dark as far as fooling me with your alter ego goes--not that he isn't an interesting fellow in his own right--he's a very good writer." She turned to Batman and added, "Though perhaps not as suave as the personas chosen by some."

Superman blinked, and looked over at Batman: "I'm not sure, but I think were being mocked."

Batman sighed. "Oh, I'm sure." He flipped some switches, and the monitoring equipment came back to life. "If you'll excuse me, I have monitoring duty to attend to."

Superman nodded and flew off the observation deck without another word, and landed next to the dining lounge. After a moment, Diana was at his shoulder, asking quietly, "Are you all right? You two seemed kind of intense back there--I was trying to break the mood a bit."

Superman smiled. "No harm done." He shook his head sadly and turned to her as he added, "Diana--if you're interested in him, I'm glad for you, but be careful--there's a lot you'll never understand about him if you stick to trying to learn about Batman, rather than Bruce Wayne."

"And am I ever going to understand you without knowing more about Clark Kent--or Lex Luthor?" Diana asked, reaching out and squeezing his arm.

Superman considered the question for a moment, then quickly retrieved coffee for both of them before motioning for her to sit in one of the two large easy chairs in the lounge--he sat across from her in the other one. The room was silent for a long moment, and Diana was about to say something when Superman looked up at her with a wistful expression and began:

"We were introduced by the front end of Lex's Porsche--"


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