By Zoomway <Zoomway@aol.com>
Submitted August 2000
Summary: Was it fate or destiny that brought a small spacecraft to Gotham City instead of Australia, Timbuktu, or even a small farm in Kansas? This Elseworld tale explores a very different beginning to the Superman legend. A Charity Fanzine story.
A Charity Fanzine story, first released summer 1999
This is a prose adaptation of a DC Comics 'Elseworld' story. An Elseworld story asks the all-important "what if" to create a world with familiar characters, but in settings, continuity and history that vary slightly or greatly from their *true* origins. The Elseworld this work is derived from was written by J.M DeMatteis and adapted here
Some people confuse 'fate' and 'destiny.' They are sisters after a fashion, but Fate is capricious, unpredictable and driven by whim. Destiny is uncompromising, unstoppable and always in the driver's seat. So which of these sisters guided a small spaceship through a seemingly endless void? With all of the things that could have caused the ship to swerve from its course, surely Fate could have deposited it anywhere on the planet, or caused it to overshoot Earth entirely.
The tiny vessel streaked through the sky like a falling star — a speeding bullet. It was so vulnerable even to the nature of the winds in the atmosphere that it could have been sent miles off its course. After such a long journey, was it fate or destiny that deposited it in a field in the middle of nowhere? Which of the sisters made certain a childless couple just happened to be passing by the field that night and so fortuitously witness the miraculous event? To the infant passenger of the spacecraft, nothing of philosophy intruded. He knew nothing of fate or destiny, only the love and warmth of the man and woman who took him home and raised him as their son.
The child was raised with love and though indulged and doted upon, he never became spoiled. He gave back the love he received, and yet there was a loneliness to the boy that no amount of affection from his parents could counteract.
Their home was isolated from the city and so it was almost like a castle with an impossibly high wall at times. It was this isolation that made him look forward to the once a month outing in the city. He and his parents would shop, have dinner in a real restaurant, and catch a movie at the Monarch, a theater that showed only classic films.
"I want to be Zorro!" the nine-year-old boy proclaimed enthusiastically as he and his parents began walking back towards their car.
"Last year it was Sherlock Holmes," his father smiled.
The woman sighed. "Tyrone Power was so handsome."
"You're as bad as our son, Martha," her husband chided. "Last month it was Clark Gable. Maybe we should watch current movies. Dustin Hoffman doesn't make me jealous."
Even before the family's laughter had a chance to fade, a man stepped into their path drawing a weapon. The moonlight glinted off the pistol's nickel-plated finish. He motioned for them to move into the alleyway next to the theater. The child's heart pounded. Who would help them? Where was Zorro?
"This is how it works," the bearded stranger said. "You give me everything you have, and I let you live. You seem like reasonable people," he smiled, and then reached for Martha's necklace. "Let's start with these pearls."
"All right," she said breathlessly. "But please let me take them off. The clasp is cutting my neck."
The boy watched horror-stricken as his father rushed forward. A shot rang out and his father fell.
The bearded man pushed his mother back. "Now I have witnesses," he said and pulled the trigger again. "I hate witnesses."
The child, tears streaming down his face, looked up at the gunman.
The man who had killed his parents raised the pistol again. "I also hate crybabies, kid."
The boy's eyes narrowed with rage. "And I hate you!" he shouted, his tear-choked voice sounded like a growl. He was no longer afraid. The people he loved were gone and he was alone. There was nothing more the gunman could do to hurt him. He awaited the speeding bullet — but it never came.
The gunman, his self-assured cold smile still on his face, literally burst into flames. He screamed in agony, clawing at his body as he staggered from the alley. It was as if Hell had opened wide to reclaim him.
Over three hundred people attended the double funeral of Martha and Thomas Wayne. To young Bruce, still numb from the loss, it looked as if all of Gotham City was there.
He heard some of the whispered gossip about why his parents had made a stipulation in their will that Alfred, a servant, would be given charge over their son should anything happen to them, but none of that interested Bruce. He knew Alfred was not just a servant to his parents, and certainly not just a servant to him. Sometimes when his parents would take a long trip, Alfred was his only friend in the world.
Alfred had sat by him as police questioned him about the man who killed his parents. Bruce remembered nothing of that night, nothing except speeding bullets.
The police had found the body of a man known only by his street name 'Joe Chill,' but he was almost burned beyond recognition. His pistol, dropped at the scene of the double homicide, was run through a ballistics test. His gun had killed the Waynes and his prints were on the gun, but still the police were baffled.
Joe Chill's name had become rather ironic considering his mode of death. What or who killed him? That, it would seem, would remain a mystery, and the Gotham police department would get nothing more from Bruce Wayne, a child who had blocked that horrible night from his memory.
Years passed, and though Bruce seemed to grow into a normal, healthy young man, he had become solitary, sullen. Even the papers had referred to him as a 'recluse,' Gotham City's very own Howard Hughes…
Bruce sighed and rose from his chair in the study. He looked at the small mention in the society column one last time and then refolded the paper. The mentions got smaller each year, and for that Bruce was grateful. The less the world intruded, the more content he was.
He tucked the paper under his arm and headed for the dining room. It was always the same. Read the paper, go to the dining room, have breakfast. It was more of a ritual than anything else since Bruce never felt hungry. Then again his meals were always there; maybe he had never gone long enough without food to experience hunger.
He tossed the paper on the table and seated himself. The dining room made him feel smaller and more alone than any other room. Maybe it was the long table, or the terribly high ceiling, or maybe just so many empty chairs.
Alfred entered from the kitchen, thankfully breaking the melancholy spell. He set a plate of bacon and eggs in front of the young man.
"Sir," he said as he arranged the silverware, "you're an adult now, and so I have no sway over you, but do you really feel it's healthy to sleep away the daylight hours and then prowl this big empty house like a … ghost?"
Bruce set the napkin in his lap. "Alfred, please stop calling me 'sir.' Just call me 'Bruce,' okay?"
"I will endeavor to call you 'Bruce,'" Alfred smiled, "when I find 'Bruce' in the daylight."
"Suit yourself, Alfred." The young man shook his head and sighed. "And what's out there in the daylight that isn't in the dark as well?"
"Color, music, women, parties … life."
"Ah." Bruce laughed without really laughing. "I read the papers. There's also murder, rape, suicide … death."
"Only if you don't move past the front page, sir."
Bruce cut into the eggs with his fork. "Don't forget one of my many holdings is the Gotham Gazette, so I'm quite familiar with all sections of a newspaper, Alfred."
"Indeed," Alfred nodded. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I should polish the brass in the entry hall."
"That's another thing, Alfred. I've offered time and again to hire a staff. People you can delegate to do those tasks, but you've turned me down each and every time I've offered. Why?"
"Unfortunately there are few people who would relish doing domestic work at midnight, and for another," he added, "I enjoy doing the tasks myself. It's almost meditative."
Bruce looked at him skeptically. "Mm hm. This house is huge, Alfred. Taking on all that work single-handedly, you'll meditate yourself into the grave."
"With all due respect, sir," Alfred said, that air of 'impending lecture' in his voice, "were this mansion a home, I would agree, but it is not. Most of the rooms have had the furniture in them covered for years. The guest rooms serve no purpose, and so they too are in disuse. I don't work nearly as hard as you might suspect, sir."
Bruce buttered a piece of toast. "You make it sound as if you're the caretaker in a museum, Alfred."
"Perhaps a good analogy. After all, a caretaker merely makes his rounds dusting and polishing the relics," he said, and wiped a dab of egg yolk from Bruce's watch crystal. "If you need me, sir, I'll be in the entry hall." He bowed his head slightly and departed.
"Very amusing," Bruce muttered under his breath.
He knew what Alfred was trying to do. Trying to force him back into the mainstream of some semblance of a normal life, but as much as Bruce would love to accommodate him, he could not.
There was a fear that never left the pit of his stomach. The outside world killed his parents. That night had altered his concept of the world forever. It was a dark, lawless place that he did not want to be part of, yet, oddly enough, its lawless nature did seem to fascinate him, even obsess his thoughts.
Bruce pushed away from the table and walked out into the courtyard. He removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the door to the old gatehouse.
His preoccupation with the crime and ugliness of the outside world covered every inch of wall space. Headlines carefully cut and pasted created a macabre decor in the long-forgotten building. Maybe he was insane after all. Who but a madman would have such a fixation?
As he glanced over the yellowing print of long ago crimes of violence, it was almost as if he could hear the screams of the victims in his head. No. Not in his head. In his home!
Bruce rushed into the entry hall. Two men wearing masks amused themselves by roughly pushing Alfred back and forth between each other asking him where the master of the house was.
"I own this house," Bruce said angrily. "Now let him go!"
One of the men tightened his grip around Alfred's neck. "If you cooperate, Wayne, Jeeves here might survive the night."
The contempt. The sneering contempt for life was so familiar. Bruce's mind began reeling backward in time. "Animals," he said, his voice low and wounded.
"Shut your freakin' mouth!" the other shouted. He held a Mac-10 submachine gun, the preferred weapon of all good street trash. So inaccurate beyond a few feet that a baseball bat would be a better choice. However, like most cowards who wield the weapon, he made certain he was well within the limited lethal range.
The outside world had finally intruded violently on Bruce Wayne's private sanctuary. There was no safe haven, no refuge, and no Zorro to right the wrongs. The masked gunman had a face, a face that existed only in Bruce's tormented memory. A bearded man who had fired speeding bullets sixteen years ago.
Bruce reacted out of instinct fueled by hatred. He backhanded the man holding Alfred. His surrogate father fell to the floor and his assailant went crashing through the entry hall window. The other man, startled into action, began firing.
Bruce matched his contempt, his own lips curling into a sneer. "You can't hurt me," he said, placing a crushing grip on the man's hand. "But I can hurt you."
The man's knees buckled from the pain, but Bruce hoisted him off the ground.
"I can hurt you like I hurt the other. I can hurt you like I hurt—" Bruce suddenly dropped the man. He didn't even give chase as the intruder dashed through the exit provided by his high velocity partner.
Alfred, rubbing a sore arm, approached Bruce. "Are you all right, sir? Shall I phone the police?"
"I remember," Bruce said, his voice barely a whisper.
"My parents, Alfred, I could have saved them." Bruce finally looked up. His eyes were slightly glazed with tears. "I felt the fire … the man who killed them — I killed *him*. I remember it all now. I killed him with just my eyes — a fire from my eyes."
Alfred put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I may know why, sir."
"You… you ..know?" Bruce swallowed. "What *am* I, Alfred?"
Bruce liked the musty smell of the cave. It was a huge underground cavern, yet completely hidden and apart from the main house. He had never once guessed it existed. Then again, he had never expected his parents, pillars of the community, to have a cave accessible via a secret panel from the study.
Alfred clicked on the light. "Your father kept journals down here. He kept meticulous notes on your history from the day he and your mother found you."
"Found me?" he asked absently as he looked around the room. "Is this—?"
"Yes, sir. A space vessel of some type that brought you to Earth."
Bruce ran his hand along the side of the small ship. "This is impossible. I must have been some kind of lab rat for the government. It would explain a lot of … strange things."
"Indeed, sir, the very conclusion your parents came to initially. However," Alfred added, and held up a white, perfect sphere, "this object changed their minds."
Bruce eyed the globe warily. "And this is what? A Martian bowling ball?"
"Actually, sir, your father never did ascertain the nature of this item," Alfred said evenly. "He had some of the finest scientific laboratories at his disposal as you well know, and yet they came up empty-handed."
"Other than the fact that it could not be x-rayed, cut, crushed or marred in any fashion available to modern science, they never discovered its function or purpose," he said, and handed the globe to Bruce.
Bruce felt an odd sensation the instant he touched it, as though it were his property, long lost, but reclaimed. The blank surfaced swirled and then coalesced into a tableau of continents and oceans, but not of Earth.
"Krypton," Bruce whispered.
He looked up and smiled at Alfred. "It told me I'm from Krypton. Not with words, but … in my head."
Bruce shrugged and stared at the globe with fascination. After a few moments it began to glow. A three dimensional image of a man appeared. The apparition was so vivid it seemed to be as real as Alfred.
The white-haired man spoke. "Your name is Kal-El, you are my son … This is the first of five messages … You may wonder why I speak to you in your language, and not my own … The planet Krypton was doomed…"
The man, Jor-El as he called himself, wove a tale of the last days of the planet Krypton, the planet of Kal-El's birth,* his* birth. How Jor-El and his wife Lara spared their only child and sent him to Earth, a planet whose inhabitants were very similar to those of Krypton, save for the fact that growing up under the yellow sun of Earth rather than the red sun of his home world would imbue Kal-El with powers and abilities far beyond those of human men.
After the fifth and final message was completed, Bruce began to levitate. It was one of the many powers he had denied himself, punishing himself for a little boy's crimes.
"Do you hear them, Alfred?" he called down as he neared the ceiling of the cave.
Alfred looked up in astonishment. Till that moment, Bruce's unique abilities had been hidden from him, from everyone.
"The bats. I know who I am now! I have a purpose, and I intend to spread my wings," he said, and swooped down, stopping short in front of Alfred. "And you're going to help me."
The heart of Gotham City was a dark place. Even the brightest daylight was confounded by the grotesque architecture from the late 1920s that adorned the majority of buildings in the downtown area. A nightmarish zoo of gargoyles, griffins and harpies peered down to the street below through stony, dispassionate eyes. All but one.
A man-sized figure of a bat took its place alongside its masonry companions, but this was a living inhabitant of the menagerie, a flesh and blood being dressed in a foreboding costume as dark as the city itself — a harbinger of ill portent to those who might cross him, its living eyes and ears scanning, ever aware, never sleeping.
The sound of distant gunshots split the still night.
The Batman left his lofty perch with such swiftness that one witness would later recount that the fearful creature moved as fast as a speeding bullet.
The headlines and blurred photos infected all the papers around the world like a journalistic contagion. Everyone wanted to know about the flying 'Batman.' He had so captured the imagination of the world press that representatives of most major international news bureaus had uprooted their staffs from the scandal at the White House and billeted them in Gotham City in hopes of another chance appearance of the mysterious hero … or 'vigilante' as some had marked him.
Only one man seemed unmoved by the hyperbole, was perhaps even a bit envious, given that the sudden appearance of Batman had eclipsed his own return after a year of seclusion.
Lex Luthor glanced up at the man who had whispered his name. "Yes, Fillmore?"
"You can start the meeting. All members of the board are here now."
"It's about time," he mumbled as he snapped open a briefcase. He retrieved a thick stack of papers stapled together and held them above his head.
"Gentlemen, and ladies, of the board, you'll be given duplicates of this document. Once I affix my signature, it will relieve you of any further affiliations to Wayne Enterprises and make your former employer even more wealthy. However," he said, bringing the document down to the table and picking up a pen, "I've provided that you all receive pensions. Certainly not as liberal as the pensions provided by Mr. Wayne, but quite livable."
He smiled up at the vacant faces surrounding him. He was signing their futures away and yet was utterly untouched.
"We could all do with a few less luxuries — couldn't we?" he asked as he rolled the five-hundred dollar fountain pen between his fingers.
"Not today, Luthor."
Lex's eyes narrowed on the young intruder. "If you're not a messenger here to pick up this document, I hope you have a good explanation for your rude interruption, or I'll have security escort you to the sidewalk."
Bruce strode casually to the table. "Wayne Enterprises is no longer for sale. I've decided to take an active interest in looking after my holdings from now on."
Luthor gripped the arms of his chair. "You're not seriously expecting me to believe you're the reclusive Mr. Wayne, are you?"
"I'm afraid he is, sir," Alfred said matter-of-factly.
Two men rose from their places at the table and flanked Luthor.
"Mr. Wayne," the taller man said. "Please rethink this strategy."
"I concur," the other man nodded. "You have no experience with such matters, Mr. Wayne."
"Maybe not," Bruce conceded. "But I intend to do the best I can with a hands-on approach. That will require some faith from those who work on this team, and seeing as how you and Mr. Fillmore seem to lack that faith …" Bruce shrugged. "Your legal services are no longer needed at Wayne Enterprises."
Luthor pushed the stunned attorneys out of the way and grabbed Bruce by the front of his jacket. "You can't do this, Wayne! I didn't move my corporate chair to this hell-hole just so you could pull it out from under me!"
Bruce grabbed Luthor's wrist. "It wasn't a move against you personally, Mr. Luthor," he said, freeing himself from Luthor's grasp. "In fact I read the story of the tragedy at your chemical factory with great compassion. I admired how you came back after a year in seclusion. I can understand how much courage that took."
"Spare me your sympathy, Mr. Wayne. You couldn't possibly know what that accident cost me. As for this aborted business transaction," Luthor said as he approached the door, "you may yet discover what it cost *you*."
"I'm so disappointed in you two," the voice behind the high-back chair intoned evenly. "You were to go to the mansion, take a few things, vandalize what you could, and threaten Wayne. Scare him. Drive the rabbit farther into his hole."
"But he was crazy, boss!" a man with a badly bruised jaw whined.
A man with a bandaged hand stepped forward. "And strong! He picked me up off the floor with *one* hand."
"Instead," the voice continued as if the men had not spoken, "the rabbit showed up at a board meeting he shouldn't have even known was taking place. Gentlemen, I'm afraid I must demand a refund."
The lights in the penthouse went out and there was a strangled moan followed shortly by the sound of two bodies slumping to the floor.
"That's the last time I pay in advance," the voice whispered in the darkness.
"Mr. White, I can't tell you how honored I am having you working for the Gotham Gazette," Bruce said, shaking the new editor-in-chief's hand.
"Well, son," Perry White shrugged, "I wasn't about to work for any paper owned by Lex Luthor, and though it broke my heart to leave the Daily Planet and Metropolis, I think we can make some magic happen here at the Gazette. That is," he added and scanned the city room, "assuming I can get some of these reporters jumping through the right hoops."
"Just use the whip and chair you used on me, Perry," a beautiful young woman said as she entered the bull pen. "It was always effective."
"Lois!" Perry beamed and embraced the woman. "Honey, what are you doing here?" He pulled back and looked into her eyes. "Please tell me it's to apply for a job at the Gazette."
She grinned. "That's what I had in mind … that is, if you want me."
"Want you? Lois, I was prepared to beg, so on behalf of my old knees, thank you for sparing me from—" Perry interrupted himself and blushed slightly. "I'm sorry, honey, I'm so used to running the Planet, I kind of overstepped my authority." Perry took a step towards Bruce. "Mr. Wayne is the one you'll have to ask for a job here."
Lois offered her hand. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you face to face, Mr. Wayne. We've spoken on the phone a couple of times."
Bruce, who had not been able to take his eyes off Lois, extended his hand mechanically. His mind raced. The touch of her hand gave him that same instant recognition the mysterious globe had. A feeling that he had known her all his life, but was only now remembering.
"The pleasure is all mine, Ms. Lane," he said, unaware that he was still holding her hand. "Let me be the first to welcome you to the staff of the Gotham Gazette."
"Thank you, Mr. Wayne."
"You can take that desk over there," he said, and swept out his hand, knocking over a coffee mug sitting atop a stack of files. When he bent down to retrieve the mug his hip brushed against the files, sending them scattering to the floor.
Alfred, watching from a discreet distance, smiled. So, he thought, the Ice King does have a beating heart after all.
"Please, Ms. Lane," Bruce pleaded, his face burning with embarrassment. "I'll pick up the files, you take a tour of the Gazette with Mr. White and I'll catch up to you later."
"If you're sure," she said, taking pity on her new employer. "And it's 'Lois,' please."
"Lois," he smiled. "You can call me Bruce, but today maybe 'Mud' would be better."
Lois' mind was overflowing with thoughts as she walked into the snowy street fronting the Gazette, each thought spinning off the other and all overlapping.
She thought about starting over in a new city at a new paper with her 30th birthday looming a year in the future. She chided herself for ascribing something urgent to that particular birthday, but she felt empty.
She had devoted seven years to the Daily Planet, and in that time she'd won several journalism awards, had attained international recognition, and had even been asked to start a small lecture tour. Lately however, and for reasons Lois was at a loss to comprehend, all of the accolades and accomplishments, no matter how carefully tallied, were adding up to zero. Why? She had a job where she not only got paid handsomely, but the trophies and plaques were icing on a pretty exciting cake. Yet that empty feeling only deepened when she pondered her future.
Maybe the switch to the Gazette would recharge her batteries. She smiled thinking of Bruce Wayne. He was something of a klutz, but she had to admit he was a very handsome klutz.
"Care for a lift?" a voice called from the street.
Lois turned and her smile instantly faded. "What are you doing here, Lex?"
"Just passing by," Lex said and rolled down the window a bit further.
"No, I mean what are you doing in Gotham City? Wasn't Metropolis a big enough Monopoly board?"
"Lois," he said sweetly, "you misjudge me. I've changed since the accident. Please, let me give you a lift and we can talk."
In opposition to her better judgment, Lois got into the back of Lex's limo. Curiosity over Lex's 'accident' and subsequent seclusion weakened her sometimes shaky grasp on common sense.
"So, Lex," she began, "it's been a while. The mayor's inaugural was the last time we met, wasn't it?"
"Actually it was in a courtroom after that spurious article was printed in the Planet."
"What really bothered you about that article, Lex?" Lois asked. "The content or the fact that you lost the libel suit?"
Lex inwardly bristled, but his face remained a mask of calm resolve. "I had to do something, Lois. You sullied my good name."
"Well," Lois shrugged, "buying the Daily Planet was an expensive way to save your reputation, not to mention serving nicely to punish those who had any part in that article."
"There you go misjudging me again, Lois," Lex purred, and placed a hand on her knee. "I didn't fire one person from the Planet staff when I took over the paper."
Lois was amazed Lex could make that statement with a straight face. "True, that would have been too obvious. Instead you made working conditions and censorship so oppressive that the staff quit," she said, and glanced out the window at the drifts of sooty snow. "What you ended up with was a PR machine that had once been one of the greatest newspapers in the world."
"That's all in the past, Lois. If you come back to the Planet and work for me, you'll see for yourself my earnest desire to set things right." He smoothly shrouded the words in a tone of practiced sincerity. "The only thing that hasn't changed," he continued, and slid his hand higher up her leg, "is my attraction to you."
Lois slapped Lex sharply on the jaw. "Don't you *ever* touch me again!"
Lex grabbed her shoulders, his eyes darkened by rage. "Stop the car!" The limo stopped so quickly it fishtailed in the snow. "You're a desirable woman, Lois, but your high and mighty independence is your most unattractive feature."
He opened the door. "Perhaps that fire can keep you warm the entire fifty block trek back to your hotel," he said, and literally pushed her from the car. "I'll have you and I'll have this city."
He slammed the door. "Just watch me!" His muffled threat hung in the cold air as the limo sped away.
Lois picked herself up. "Well, Lois, your big mouth has gotten you in trouble again," she scolded herself as she dusted the snow from her skirt.
She surveyed the area of town Lex had dumped her in. Gutted buildings, garbage strewn vacant lots, and graffiti sprayed on every surface.
She sighed. "This doesn't look promising. Where am I?"
"You're in party town, sweetheart."
"Oh, God," Lois whispered as she turned slowly. Four young men were blocking the only exit from the lot in which she had been unceremoniously tossed. Not that it made a difference. They could easily run her down even if her path were clear.
"How 'bout wrapping me in a love-hug with those hot long legs?" the blond man in the baseball cap asked. "You got all it takes to keep four boys warm on a day like this."
It was difficult in such a moment to remember the words of her Tae Kwan Do master. How often in fantasies had she dispatched twice this number of thugs? How different it was in grim reality in a city so new and strange and so far from security and friendly faces.
She took a couple of steps backward and as she tumbled over a fallen garbage can realized that she had something in common with Bruce Wayne. In times of stress, she was a complete klutz.
Her antagonists howled with laughter and her temporary lapse into embarrassment was quickly overridden as the men renewed their approach.
She began contemplating the best moves that would afford escape. Perhaps leaping up and pushing the closest man into the others and stunning them long enough to get closer to the exit.
Just as she began tucking a foot beneath her, the ground started to tremble. The only thing Lois could compare the sensation to was the day a gas main ruptured underground in Metropolis and sent manhole covers sailing several meters into the air.
Chunks of asphalt mixed with slushy snow began to erupt in front of her. She covered her head as a dark object broke its way through the ground below, showering bits of debris in its wake.
She glanced up and saw him. The Batman!
He went to work quickly.
One of the men drove a knife into Batman's chest, only to have the blade snapped off as if impacting a stone wall. Batman grabbed the man's wrist and Lois could hear the bone snap. He backhanded another with sufficient force to render him airborne. A third he blasted briefly in the face with heat vision causing the young man to bury his face in the snow. The last thug, one who had tried to run, Batman lifted by his ponytail. He then placed a gloved finger to the man's forehead.
"I could drive this through your skull," the dark figure boasted. "Sort of a holistic lobotomy."
The man, suspended only by his hair, began to kick and flail as if he were dancing at the end of a hangman's noose, and in a way he was.
"Please, God, don't!" he screamed, and despite the freezing temperature, he was sweating.
Batman dropped the man to the ground. "You're not worth it," he said, and then turned to Lois, extending his hand.
Lois, still horrified by the display, slapped away the offered hand. "Don't touch me!"
To her surprise the ominous figure just stood there, somewhat like a rebuffed child. Though the sky had turned dark and fresh snow was falling, she could still see his eyes. Something in them touched her. Was it sorrow? Hurt? Regret? The moment passed quickly, and Batman flew away without a word.
After trying to get her mind off the events of the evening, and failing miserably, Lois took a cab back to the Gazette and began to write. Hers was the only desk in the darkened city room humming with life. The glow from the screen provided the only light in a cemetery of empty desks.
Lois started at the sound of the voice. "Bruce? What are you doing here this time of night?"
"I do my best work at this hour," he said, but his voice sounded troubled. "How about you?"
"Something happened to me tonight." She turned the monitor towards him. "I had to write."
Bruce looked at the screen and read Lois' account of the incident. He read the last paragraph aloud.
"'Is this what we've become? A society so violent, so twisted, that this is the kind of hero we produce? If so, God help us. But God help the Batman most of all.'"
He turned the screen back around. "You realize there will be those who read your article and wonder if the men who almost assaulted you would have shown the mercy you seem to want Batman to show."
"That's *exactly* the point! He had no more regard for human life or dignity than those street punks."
"But he saved you."
"Bruce," she said softly as she rose from her chair. "He's so powerful. There's almost no limit to what he could do to improve the world instead of adding to its pain."
"You really think so?"
"Look at you." She smiled and placed her hands on his chest. "Your idealism, dedication, and using your wealth to better the … better the …"
Whether it was the darkened office, Bruce's face so close to hers, or wanting the ugly events of the evening replaced by something good, she wasn't sure, but—she kissed him.
She *never* had done anything like that before. She had a bad record with romance, and so avoided the sweet entanglement even to the defeat of any lasting happiness. Embarrassed, she started to pull away, but Bruce enveloped her in his strong arms and deepened the kiss. Lois, lost to the instant attraction, slid her arms up his chest and around his neck.
She was diving in without checking the water level, but she didn't know how to approach life any other way. And while that had led to some of her most inspired journalism, the trail of disasters it left in the romance department was legion.
She broke the kiss breathlessly. "Lex!"
Bruce raised his eyebrows. "What?"
She pulled back slightly. "Lex Luthor — I almost forgot." Lois shook her head. "The reason I was in that god-forsaken part of Gotham City was because of Lex."
"Okay, calm down," Bruce soothed, and pulled Lois' chair over. "Have a seat." He dragged a chair from the adjoining desk and sat opposite her. "What about Mr. Luthor?"
"It's like he's finally gone over the edge. I mean he's always been pretty power mad, but he used to be good at hiding the madness part, but now—" Lois sighed. "He said he'll have Gotham City. I don't know what he meant by that, but I don't have a single doubt he means it."
"And can accomplish it."
"Exactly," she nodded. "So I was thinking maybe the Gazette—"
"Could do some investigative journalism?" Bruce suggested, and smiled broadly.
"You know, you should smile more often. It looks good on you — goes great with your eyes."
Bruce reached behind Lois, shutting off her monitor. The city room was reclaimed by darkness. He pulled her out of her chair.
"Believe me, Lois," he whispered against her lips. "I'm smiling."
Alfred stood near the kitchen entrance to the dining room. How long had it been since he'd heard laughter ringing through the walls of the old mansion? He shook his head. Probably as long as it had been since a woman had sat at the dining table. Yet there she was, Lois Lane, the woman who had pulled Bruce Wayne out of the darkness and had driven the shadows away. In just the span of a few short weeks, Bruce had become a changed man in the company of Lois, or perhaps a *whole* man would be a more apt description.
Bruce no longer brooded and haunted the estate like some restless wraith. He actually arose at nine in the morning. Certainly not the crack of dawn, but most definitely not vampire hours either. Bruce attended parties with Lois and had even thrown a Christmas party at the mansion to benefit the Gotham Children's Home. He had become a man who found smiling easy — irresistible —something that hadn't been a facet of Bruce's personality since the death of his parents. Best of all, the house had once again become a home. Alfred sighed a contented sigh as he stepped into the kitchen and retrieved the coffeepot and tray. He realized that it could have been any other woman, and the thought made him shudder.
A socialite, an heiress, one of those pampered women who marry pampered men and produce pale, spoiled children. Instead, miraculously, it was Lois Lane who had brought Bruce Wayne kicking and screaming into manhood — into the daylight.
A woman who had always worked for a living, she could have anything at all from Bruce just by hinting, but she never hinted, never asked. Material things seemed to mean as little to her as social status. In fact, Alfred mused, she seemed fairly contemptuous of the 'class system' so prevalent in their little corner of Gotham City.
Alfred set the tray on the dining table and approached Lois. "More coffee?"
Lois checked her watch. "I wish I could, Alfred," she said and kissed his cheek. "But I'm running late."
She moved around the corner of the table and lifted Bruce's chin away from the newspaper. "Bye, sweetie," she said and kissed him softly.
"Wait a minute," Bruce said, and pulled her into his lap playfully. "I own the paper." He kissed her neck. "I can give you a tardy slip."
Lois rolled her eyes and hopped out of his lap. "That's all I need. Our relationship is already the hot gossip at the paper."
Bruce smiled with admiration. "Really?"
Lois placed her hands on her hips. "Don't look so smug, Wayne. Half the staff think I'm a gold-digger."
"Uh huh," he nodded, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "And the *other* half?"
Lois slipped her arms into the jacket Alfred dutifully offered.
"Well," she hesitated. "It seems they think you have *really* great taste."
Alfred, despite himself, chuckled softly. "I heartily agree," he said and handed Lois her briefcase.
"Thank you, Alfred," she said and turned to leave. "I love an honest man." Bruce leaned over the back of his chair and gently swatted Lois on the rump with the newspaper. "Now who's being smug?" "I was *born* smug," she said, and exited without looking back.
"She's high maintenance, Alfred."
Alfred folded his arms and nodded. "But worth it, Bruce."
"Definitely worth … Bruce? You called me 'Bruce'!"
"I did indeed." Alfred smiled. "I told you I would call you Bruce once I found you in the daylight."
Bruce thought a moment. "It'll take me a while to get used to that … but I like it."
"And Ms. Lane?"
"I'm sure she'd want you to call her Lois."
"No, Bruce, that's not what I mean," Alfred said, his tone turning serious. "I assume you love her."
The question would have been ludicrous from anyone other than Alfred. Even at that, however, Bruce still felt incredulous that anyone would even have to ask.
"Of *course* I love her, Alfred. I've never loved anyone the way I love Lois." He pushed away from the table. "I know most people don't believe in love at first sight, and I was certainly one of them, but with Lois—" He sighed.
Alfred regarded Bruce sympathetically, even with a bit of envy at his being tongue-tied by his deep feelings for Lois. "Have you told her the truth then?"
Bruce lowered his gaze. "No," he said softly. "I don't think she'd understand, or isn't ready to understand."
"Or perhaps you're not yet ready to risk everything to tell her the truth."
Bruce looked up, his eyes flashing momentarily at the challenge. "That's not fair, Alfred."
"No?" Alfred studied the young man's face. "Your parents left you in my charge for one very good reason, Bruce. They needed someone they could trust with your secret. I would *never* betray that trust. Lois wouldn't either."
Bruce, wanting to abort a conversation that was inevitable, but one he was not prepared to face, unraveled.
"Don't you think I know that, Alfred? Don't you think it's on my mind every single morning when I wake up next to her?" He tipped his head back as if searching the ceiling for an answer. "I don't know what to tell her. I don't know *how* to tell her. I don't want it to destroy what we have, but I do know the longer I keep the secret from her, the harder it will be, and I'd rather crawl into a hole somewhere and never be seen again than to ever hurt her."
Alfred softened. "Bruce, your first instinct has always been to run, to put the bad things behind you, but Lois is the best thing in your life, and running away from her would destroy you." Alfred sighed. "Quite likely destroy both of you."
Bruce kept his gaze averted. "Lois is stronger than that. She's stronger than me."
"Then surely she's strong enough for the truth."
"Maybe that's it," Bruce said, finally bringing his gaze down level with Alfred's. "She's strong enough that she can take the truth and then walk out that door and never come back after hearing it."
"You underestimate her love for you, Bruce. I saw it in her eyes from the day I met her." Alfred shook his head. "I am not the type of man to romanticize anything. You should know that about me if nothing else by now. I'm not weaving some fairytale of love everlasting, it's not in me to do so. But I *do* know you are as vital to her life and happiness as she is to yours."
"How do you know?" Bruce asked, not sarcastically, but with true curiosity. He wanted to believe Alfred at that moment more than he ever wanted to believe anything in his entire life. "Were my parents like that? I only remember them from a child's perspective, and each year even that memory fades a little more."
"No," Alfred said after a thoughtful pause. "Their relationship was tender and loving to be sure, but they did maintain separate orbits. That is, they had interests and friends, like most couples, that existed apart from who they were as a couple. But you and Lois—"
"We only orbit each other."
Bruce shrugged. "That doesn't exactly sound … healthy, Alfred."
"Oh?" Alfred asked sardonically. "Have you been feeling yourself withering on the vine? Your life-force draining? Any serious flirtation with insanity?"
"No — well, the insanity thing has always been there, but Lois hasn't seemed to notice." Bruce managed a faint laugh. "But she's not exactly Batman's biggest fan."
"According to her article, she seems to feel that Batman should use his power more constructively for the betterment of Gotham City," Alfred said, and then smiled. "And I can't really disagree with her on that point."
Bruce rubbed his eyes. "I'm not going to debate the virtues of Batman's approach to crime-fighting, but you've convinced me that I do have to tell Lois the truth. If she wants to end our relationship because of it, then so be it. I guess it's better to find out sooner than later."
Alfred suppressed a smile. Bruce was so young, so in love and so miserable. "Well, your morning is open after your appointment with the chairwoman of Wayne Enterprises. Perhaps you could stop by the Gazette after—"
Bruce nodded mechanically. "I guess so. We're about to run with that Lex Luthor expose. I was going to be at the Gazette this afternoon anyway to oversee the launch of the series of articles."
Alfred handed Bruce a notebook. "I gather Mr. Luthor will not be flattered."
Bruce tapped Alfred lightly on the shoulder with the notebook. "That's an understatement."
He turned to leave, but then spun back on his heel. "You know," he said evenly. "For weeks now I've been looking forward to nailing Luthor after all the dirt we've dug up on him, but now, if Lois won't be at my side when it happens—"
"She will be, Bruce. Have some faith for a change."
Bruce sighed and headed back towards the door. "I don't think it's in me."
"It is," Alfred whispered as the door closed.
"Okay, let's have it," Lois said, placing one hand on the desk and the other on her hip.
Bruce, sitting in Perry's chair, tugged at his tie. "What do you mean?"
"You've been schlepping around the city room ever since you got here. If your bottom lip stuck out any further you'd trip over it."
Bruce fixed his gaze on the headline mockup. "Just a big story … kind of pre-occupied with—"
"Bruce," Lois said flatly. "What's *really* wrong?"
Bruce sighed as he rose from the chair. "Okay, as soon as Perry gets back, we'll go to lunch. There's something I have to tell you."
"Oh," Lois said, her voice incredibly small. "Must not be good news."
"It's not 'news' good or bad, just a fact … about me."
Lois' facial tension relaxed. She could feel heat returning to her bloodstream. "Bruce, you know you can tell me anything. I'm not fragile."
He grabbed her wrists gently and pulled her arms around his waist and then enveloped her — folded himself around her. He felt like a lost little boy. He didn't want to lose her. He buried his face in the dark waves of hair that framed her face.
"I know you're not fragile, Lois," he whispered and kissed her neck. "I'm not so sure about myself though."
Before Lois could respond, a commotion erupted in the outer office area.
Bruce x-rayed the city room as a dark figure pushed its way past the receptionist. "What the hell?"
Perry's door banged open.
"Greetings!" the man shouted cheerfully.
"Lex?" Lois asked, taken aback by the garish violet outfit and fedora Luthor sported.
Bruce stepped forward. "You've got five seconds to get out of here, Luthor—"
"Lex Luthor is *dead*, boy!" Lex announced theatrically. "He died in a pool of chemicals and flames and was reborn! Can I get a hallelujah?"
Lois noticed the receptionist frantically dialing a number and relaxed. She hoped that Lex could be kept at bay in his evangelical zeal until the cavalry arrived, but Lex had other ideas.
He removed the fedora, and then peeled a latex mask away. "Meet the *new* me! The Joker!"
Lois, despite wanting to keep calm if only in hopes it would do the same for Lex — gasped. His face had been bleached of all pigmentation, his mouth permanently coiled into a sardonic grin. Though an attempt had been made to color his face in the manner of a clown, his sunken dark eyes, bald white head, and array of exposed teeth gave the instant impression of a dry, brittle skull.
Bruce moved in front of Lois. "What do you want, Luthor?"
"Joker, boy! Joker!" he railed. "You never were the brightest bulb in Times Square, were ya?"
Lex snatched the headline mockup from the desk.
"'Lex Luthor subverts city,'" he said calmly, reading from the mockup. "Yellow journalism … tsk tsk tsk. You'll learn a lesson in true newspaper hyperbole, Mr. Wayne," he said, and grabbed an umbrella whose crooked handle had been draped over his wrist.
He pointed it like a dueling foil at Bruce. "Do you realize this is the very umbrella Alexander the Great used to slay Darius III, thus being proclaimed king of all umbrella stands?"
He laughed wildly and in one fluid motion moved the tip of the umbrella near Bruce's chest. An arc of blinding white light crackled, followed by a loud 'pop.' Bruce flew backward, his body knocking Lois against the wall.
For a few moments after Bruce went crashing through the window, only Lex's hoarse laughter could be heard. He pulled Lois up from the floor. She was still groggy after her collision with the wall.
"My poor Lois," he cooed with false sympathy. "Your studly companion had to take an unscheduled flight, but you know how busy young tycoons can be."
He pulled her to the broken window. "I used to hate this city, but now I love it with all my heart," he said wistfully. "It's more like me than Metropolis. Take a good look out there, Lois! You and I are the last people who will be able to take in this view from this window. Isn't that romantic? No? Well, it *is* historic."
Lois shook her head, still trying to clear the fog. "What are you talking about, Lex?"
"Joker, sweetheart, please remember. I'd hate to dispatch you too." He hung the umbrella back on his wrist. "I've had a lot of high quality explosives planted all over the Gazette building. In ten minutes they'll detonate." He carefully unlocked the shattered window and opened it. He dragged Lois with him onto the ledge. "You might call this a tomb with a view."
"Let go of me, you sick, twisted son of a —"
"Ah, ah, ah!" he cautioned. "Temper, my dear. We have an appointment." So saying, Lex leaped from the ledge.
Lois screamed and clutched at his gaudy suit, but they were in free fall for only a few seconds when their descent not only slowed, but reversed. Some type of engine hummed.
"Like it, my sweet? A wonderful science team came up with this personal flight device," he said, and then frowned, at least as much as his distorted mouth would permit. "It's actually a parting gift. It seems the science team died shortly after they failed to devise a method to restore my face."
"You're insane," Lois said, her voice drained of emotion. "What *happened* to you?"
"Compassion? That's so touching," he said as they darted between buildings. "My little mishap changed me. I told you it did. For a while it made me bitter. I sat around in the dark like some slug, overeating and watching TV." He sighed loudly. "There's just so much ABC programming a mortal man can take … even an insane one."
"And this is all leading … where?"
Lex finally began to descend to a nondescript rooftop. "I was really mad at your boyfriend, Lois. He pulled the rug out from under my plans, but you know, he really did me a favor." Lex took a deep breath. "I just can't get enough of this soot into my lungs."
"Favor? Ah, yes, ever the dutiful reporter," Lex smiled. "Well, I had planned to return from seclusion, both masks in place, the physical one and the mask of the respectable business man, and try to merge back into the mainstream," he said and then shrugged. "But when Wayne decided to become a player after hiding out his whole life, I saw it as a sign. It was time to make myself King of Gotham City, and since a king needs a queen—"
"Save it!" Lois interrupted. "The only suitable queen material for you resides on the 5th floor of Gotham General."
"The psycho ward?" Lex laughed. "Maybe you envision me sitting on my throne wearing a camisole restraint that fastens in the back."
Lois, now completely contemptuous, smiled. "Isn't that the usual raiment of lunatics?"
"Of course I'm a lunatic! Isn't—" Lex snapped his head around at the sound of a 'thud' behind him, "—everybody?" He completed his sentence as he appraised the dark figure who had invaded his private party.
"Let the woman go," Batman said raggedly. He seemed to be toeing the same shaky tightrope as Lex.
"I'm through taking orders from rodents, dynamic do-nothing," Lex sneered. "If you're as fast as they say, you might want to get yourself over to the Gotham Gazette. It's going to blow up in—" He consulted his watch. "Sorry, there's only ten seconds left."
Batman did not move. "9 … 8 … 7 … 6 …"
"Batman!" Lois shouted, stunned by his cavalier attitude. "Do something!"
"3 … 2 … 1," he finished counting and folded his arms.
Lex, confused, turned to face the Gazette building. Nothing happened. He began to tremble with rage.
"You robbed me!" he shouted and launched himself at Batman.
Batman took the opportunity to lift Lex off the roof and away from Lois. Lois, suddenly bereft of adrenaline, collapsed against the building ledge.
"I'm flattered you want to play with me, Batman," Lex said, regaining some composure. "But there's a revolution going on down below. "Can't you hear it?"
Batman turned his head, listening. He scanned the street as small armored vehicles began to invade the city. Light Antitank Weapons were launched simultaneously in various parts of the city. A corps of motorcycles roamed residential neighborhoods, the sidecar passenger firing randomly into homes and schools. An armada of small dirigibles became airborne, obstructing air traffic and endangering commercial flights.
"You maniac!" Batman growled. "Why are you doing this?"
"Well," Lex said blandly. "Why not?"
Batman lifted Lex over his head. "Hundreds of people screaming out, and it's all because of you!"
"Guilty as charged," Lex laughed.
"I'll *kill* you!"
"Why, Batman, old boy," Lex said, and gasped in mock surprise. "You sound as insane as I am. Could I possibly be correct?"
"Yes!" Batman shouted, and threw Lex earthward.
Batman hovered. He looked at Lois standing on the rooftop, her beautiful face filled with concern … and tenderness. He hesitated only a moment, and then dove at super speed and scooped up Lex. His lunatic passenger seemed almost angry — ungrateful.
"Where are we going?" he snapped, squirming to free himself.
"You're going to jail, and I'm going to save my city."
"Not today, Batman," Lex said, and slipped from his jacket once they had gotten close to ground level. A chemical fire was burning out of control, and though Batman was fast, he was not fast enough to save Lex a second time.
Lex hit the ground running and dove into the burning warehouse. Extruded tendrils of plastic that had once been school chairs began to drip down from their perch on the upper tier and bleed through the storage pallets like lava. Each drip of the plastic made an eerie whistling sound as it flowed to the floor.
Even as the toxic fumes choked Lex, he laughed madly as he darted between the fluid stalactites. The upper tier, weakened by the extreme heat, collapsed. A waterfall of incendiary plastic rained down on Lex and his crazed laughter turned into shrieks of agony as the fire liquefied even his bones.
Lois ran to the observation side of the building and put a token into the scenic binoculars. There were so many fires burning around the city, visibility was no problem. What Lois saw surprised and pleased her.
The vigilante had died, and a true hero had been born. Batman was saving his city, but he was not destroying the invaders. He was carefully, if not too gently, getting them out of the way as he disabled and destroyed their equipment. In less than an hour he had rounded up all of Lex's cohorts and turned them over to the National Guard as they entered the city. Lois folded her arms atop the binoculars and rested her chin on her hands. Batman had gotten most of the fires under control and so it was now too dark to see anything. She started when she heard the familiar thudding sound behind her.
She turned. Batman loomed so menacingly in the darkness.
"What you did tonight," she began, "was different. No hate or vindictiveness. If you can keep the fight going like this," she said softly and placed her hands on his chest, "you can become a symbol … of hope."
Batman turned away and leaned a gloved arm on the ledge of the building. "I don't think I have it in me to do that … to be that."
"Maybe Batman doesn't," Lois said, and then impetuously removed the cowl from his head. As he turned back to face her, she stroked his cheek. "But Bruce Wayne does."
Lois wasn't sure exactly when she had figured out the truth. Maybe it was that moment, or maybe she had known all along, but either way, it didn't matter. She loved Bruce, and he understood what she was trying so hard to say. More than that, he began to believe it himself. To believe *in* himself.
The decent man of high ideals she'd fallen in love with, the man who loved her with all his heart, was ready to be a hero.
Lois stood atop the Gotham Gazette that warm spring day as crowds below in the street cheered their hero. The roar of the crowd had scarcely died down when she felt herself carried aloft in his strong but gentle arms. The arms of her husband, her lover — her hero. His cape fluttered in the breeze like a proud flag as they gained altitude. She smiled as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips hungrily to his.
They had both survived the darkness and the speeding bullets.
Was it fate or destiny that brought a small spacecraft to Gotham City instead of Australia, Timbuktu, or even a small farm in Kansas? Perhaps it *was* fate, but as the legend evolved and grew, destiny was seen as the hand at work the day Lois Lane met Kal-El and fell in love. Destiny decreed that together they would give Earth her greatest hero: Superman.