Clark's stomach dropped. His face felt rigid as he looked at the wooden floor. Lois leaned, pressed their arms together, and slid her hand into his. She talked to draw the attention to herself. "Zeus, the Greek god of lightning and father of all the other gods?"
"Yeah, they're real." Selina took Helena back from Mr. Fox. "We met Hermes."
Lois picked up her glass. "I need more." Alfred plucked it from her hand and bustled to the kitchen.
"You can fly?" Blake asked Diana.
"It was a gift from Hermes."
"And you're an Amazon like from Homer?"
She nodded. "I am descended from them."
"Which pantheon are we going to hear from next?" Lois asked.
"That reminds me," Selina turned to Bruce. "I still want to go to Egypt."
"You have to wait until Helena's old enough to travel." Bruce's finger stroked his daughter's cheek.
Diana turned to Clark. "I am sorry to disappoint you. It's hard enough for me and I still have a home to return to."
"Earth is my home." Clark let go of Lois and clenched his fists. "I was raised on Earth, I chose Earth." He sighed. "I should have found some way to save everyone."
Diana gracefully knelt in front of them. Her fingers coaxed Clark's open so she looked at his hands. "You have the hands of a farmer, not a warrior."
His mouth twisted. "Zod said the same thing. What's the point of wearing a secret identity if everyone sees that about me?"
"You look good in the cape, for starters," Lois muttered as she accepted her refill. Alfred vanished back into the kitchen.
"If everyone sees that about you," Bruce said, "it's time for training so they won't."
Clark's head jerked and he stopped his body from rearing back with it. "If there's one thing the Invasion showed me, I'm not a warrior or a soldier. I won't kill again."
"That's not what I--" Bruce began, but Diana interrupted him.
"You had to kill to protect the innocent." Her forehead wrinkled. "It is always the last choice, but?"
Clark slumped. "Zod left me no choice. And he had no choice with how he was genetically engineered to be a warrior to protect Krypton."
He felt Lois tense beside him and glanced at her. "He had no choice only to a point, Clark." She slammed back her rum-diluted eggnog before pressing her lips together until they turned white.
Selina shifted Helena when the infant made a squawk. Helena settled once Selina stood and Diana moved back to her seat. "The family Zod tried to kill never thanked you for saving their lives, did they?"
He didn't know why she wanted to know that, but she had welcomed them into her home on Christmas and the day after she had given birth. "No, they ran as soon as they could. Can't blame them for not sticking around the vicinity of a couple of monsters who tore through buildings and shot fire from their eyes."
She shook her head as she cradled her baby against her shoulder. "What is it with the people you save from certain death never saying thank you? It might help when the nightmare inevitably comes that Bane's vaporized, but my trigger finger was too slow and Batman's head is nothing but a blood smear on marble tiles followed by waking up in an arid hellhole with only morning sickness to remind me that it really didn't happen that way."
Clark gaped at her. How Bane died was chalked up to Batman or a lucky cop. In the sudden quiet, Bruce's flinch was audible. "Selina," he said. She kept her eyes on Clark. Clark managed to shut his mouth.
"You killed Bane," Blake said softly but it wasn't a question.
Selina didn't turn toward him either. "To save Bruce. Bane had a shotgun pointed at his head when I charged in. I had no choice." Her large, brown eyes were moist with sympathy but ringed with fire.
"How do you live with it?" That wasn't what he had intended to say. If his abilities didn't scare them away, his weakness would.
"I'm not giving you any song and dance how the nightmares will stop someday. But thank you's do help. So thank you for saving me and everyone else on this planet." Before Clark reacted, Selina set Helena into his hands. He cradled her head and neck. She yawned and blinked at him. Her blue eyes stared at him without fear. "Thank you for saving my daughter."
"You were pregnant during the Battle of Metropolis," he said. Helena scrunched her nose.
"About twenty-three weeks along." Selina gave him a lopsided smile. "Relegated to the home front since I had a baby bump."
Diana and Bruce protested at the same time, but Clark heard them both clearly. "The first duty is to protect the next generation," Diana said. Bruce said, "Selina, you were vulnerable."
"Both of you, it's over, Helena's here, drop it," Selina said. "I made myself useful in the computer chair, regardless."
Mr. Fox chuckled. "Overprotective much?"
"Yeah, Helena's probably an only child now after how they acted."
"Is her heart supposed to be beating this fast?" Clark asked.
"That's normal for newborns," Bruce answered.
Clark smiled at Helena. She waved her chubby fist. Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van had held him like this thirty-three years ago before launching him into space. Jonathan and Martha Kent had held him like this after they opened the starship on Earth. And now this woman trusted him to hold her daughter. Trust felt good after the year they had all had between Gotham's Occupation and Zod's invasion. His smile widened.
Helena squirmed and kicked her legs. "She's ready to move again," Selina said as she and Clark traded off. "Here Blake, don't get cop cooties all over my kid."
"I resigned months ago," he replied as he accepted the baby.
Diana smiled at them before turning the sunny expression to Clark. "Training is more than learning how to kill. It harnesses your strengths and abilities and teaches you what you can do with them. And sparring would benefit us both. I have to hold back with everyone else."
"She picked up a Jeep at the compound in Uzbekistan," Lois confirmed.
Clark didn't have to worry about hurting her. He should accept their offer, before they decided he was someone to fear. "Okay, training, when?"
"After New Year's. I have plans with Steve." Diana's smile softened with the mention of Steve.
"Now if that's all settled," Alfred said from the kitchen. "Find something cheerful to talk about for dinner. It's ready to be served."
"Everyone make your way to the dining room." Selina shooed them toward the hallway branching away from the kitchen before taking Helena from Blake.
"Sorry about barging in," Clark said.
Bruce waved it aside. "Alfred always over cooks for the holidays, so the more the merrier."
Diana led them and Lois quizzed her about Steve as the rest of the group followed them. Bruce lingered to take Helena and whisper to Selina. Clark heard the quiet aggrievement. "I did thank you."
Selina snorted under her breath. "You thanked me for not being scared of you. Don't worry, I figured you implied gratitude when you kissed me," she whispered back.
"That was more than gratitude." Bruce's whisper ended with the rasp of skin on skin and pounding hearts.
Clark found his seat at the long table and focused on Lois to give them some privacy. She glanced across the table at him and smiled.
Selina got out from under Bruce's arm without waking him. Good, he needed more sleep after staying awake for the last forty-eight hours. She silenced her cell phone alarm before going to the bassinet. Helena had just begun kicking. "Shush, let Daddy sleep. Clean diaper first and then you get food."
It didn't take long to wrap a clean diaper around Helena's legs. Considering the wait before potty training, it was great she was becoming less clumsy. She carried her daughter through the living room and into the kitchen, fixed a large glass of water, and settled in the over-stuffed armchair with the Boppy pillow before Helena wailed. The infant latched on and Selina winced. The nurse swore she'd get used to the sensation. She looked around the living room, watching how the flames from the fireplace shifted the familiar shadows. The dark house with its sleeping inhabitants wrapped around them like a blanket.
The door to the tower didn't creak, but the sense that had helped Selina on so many break-ins recognized that it had swung open. Diana's room was on the third floor above the house, Blake had been put into the bedroom next to Alfred's on this floor, Lucius went to his reserved hotel room, and they had put the reporters in the tower bedroom. One of them must have woken. Selina watched the dining room hallway.
The red-haired woman loudly crept out of the shadows; she needed more practice, Selina decided. Lois spotted her in the living room. "Sorry, I'm jet lagged."
"Jet lagged or still pissed at Zod for hurting Clark?"
"What happened to my poker face?" Lois flopped into the other armchair. "I used to win all the poker games before Perry banned them from the bullpen. Now anybody mentions Zod, and Clark tells me I should have a doctor check my blood pressure."
"Well, I have experience with hating a guy who can squash you like a bug should he deign to do so."
"Does Bruce feel sorry for Bane?"
"Not Bane, he and that puppet master bitch had more than enough opportunities not to turn Gotham into a crater. Two-Face," Selina paused, considering how little of that story was available, "I wasn't around, but Bruce makes it sound like he had a psychotic break and needed help. Bruce regrets that outcome." Selina thought about what Clark had said about Zod. "You're not a proponent of the genetic predisposition theory?"
Lois sighed as she crossed her cotton-knit covered legs underneath her. "It factors to a point. Yes, I believe that Zod was genetically manipulated into a perfect soldier loyal to Krypton. Both Zod and Jor-El saw a huge problem with the way Krypton was but chose vastly different ways to save it. Zod staged a coup while Jor-El had a kid free of genetic conditioning and shot him into space."
Selina's arm holding Helena in place tightened. Clark's poor Kryptonian mother, damn that must have taken Bruce-levels of conviction. "They had free will how to use their genetic conditioning."
Lois nodded. "So Zod's genetic conditioning compelled him to have a Krypton to protect."
"And he picked to build it on top of Earth; I read that in your story."
"What I left out, what I can't even tell Clark, it had nothing to do with Zod's genes." Lois stared into the fire. "Onboard the Black Zero, Zod had a way of getting into your head. I think it was technology based, and he used it on Clark too. We had to leave it out; the military is freaked out enough about what Clark can do and he can't get into people's heads. The X-ray vision doesn't let you have a conversation with the gray mass."
"And Zod had telepathy?" Selina asked.
"Something like that. He was in my head, taking me to all the places I had been with Clark. But he showed me what was in his mind too. We were on the scout ship and he told me how he wanted to recreate Krypton with the embryos stored on it. So I suggested Mars." Her eyes sought out Selina's face. "The machine they put in the South Indian Ocean could have turned Mars into Krypton. No one would fuss since they were refugees and they had superior weapons."
"So why did he turn down such a sensible suggestion? Was it because you were a woman or just because you're human?"
"He wanted to kill Clark for being an abomination and punish Earth for helping him live."
Selina blinked. Helena finished nursing so she moved the baby up to her shoulder to burp. "Wow, what an asshole. Great, assholes are a universal truth we can't get away from. I'm glad Clark won."
Now it was Lois' turn to blink, which lasted for almost a minute, until she chuckled. "If I have to do a retrospective piece, I'm stealing that."
"Autograph my copy of the Uzbekistan story and you got a deal."
"Okay. Thank you for listening to me. Clark's hurting enough over losing everything connected to Krypton."
"Everything?" Selina asked.
"The key that had a program of his birth father was lost in the Phantom Zone with his starship and the Black Zero. Everything else the government confiscated they turned over to S.T.A.R. Labs, humoring Clark's request. But he doesn't dare go study it. Don't want anyone to think he's interested in taking over the Earth."
Helena belched, such a tiny sound, and Selina moved her down. "Just putting this out there, but if it's an issue after Helena's weaned, I'll go liberate his stuff. Bruce can't have an issue with me stealing it for the rightful owner."
Lois' eyebrows climbed up toward her long bangs. "Thanks, I think. I'm going to try sleeping again. Good-night."
"Good-night." Helena yawned as Lois went back to the tower. "Let's go back to bed too, my little kitten."
Bruce patted Helena's back while Selina detached from the breast pump. Thick curtains over their bedroom windows blocked the morning sun, but Alfred at work on breakfast was audible. Smelled good too. But Selina had nearly black circles under her eyes. "How many times did you get up last night?" he asked.
She glared. "Every two hours she needs to eat. You do the math."
"It'll be better when she can have a bottle," Bruce said. The glare intensified. "I've got her now. Go back to sleep."
She set the pump with everything still attached on her nightstand. "Best plan you have ever uttered." She recovered her breasts and rolled into the blankets in one move.
He scooped up the full breast pump and balanced Helena against his shoulder. Before he reached the door, Alfred was there to take it. "Selina's going back to sleep."
"Of course." Alfred headed back to the kitchen and Bruce trailed after him with both hands on Helena. "Miss Diana went out for her morning run. Mr. Blake opted for gymnasium exercises before breakfast. Neither Ms. Lane nor Mr. Kent has appeared yet."
Bruce drained his green juice glass. "Nothing from Lucius?"
"He never has been one to grill you."
"I also left the mess of rebuilding in his hands. I'll coax Blake down for breakfast." He carried Helena up the tower stairs and recognized the rhythmic slams against the punching bag. The younger man pounded into it with his back to the stairs. He wore sweats the same as Bruce. "How badly do you want to hit me?" Bruce asked.
Blake glanced over his shoulder. "I've seen you fight. I don't want to go home with a broken arm." He threw an upper cut into the bag. "But I'm good with abandonment, you know."
Bruce winced as he crossed the room and set Helena in the baby swing next to the weight stand. Her blue eyes looked at the mobile hanging on it. Once the swing was moving, he toed off his shoes and stepped onto the mat that covered most of the floor. "I didn't intend to abandon you. I thought it would be easier for you to find your own way."
Blake left the punching bag and walked onto the mat. "See, that's something you could have emailed us back in April when we knew you weren't dead."
"My headspace didn't improve to think about doing that until July, and then we all got distracted with an expected baby and alien invasion." They circled each other, looking for openings in the other's stance. "This year… this year has just… I promise if I ever have to fake my death again, I'll let you in on it."
Blake lunged forward and Bruce deflected the grapple. "I want those instructions given to Alfred and Selina too."
"Selina was a factor."
"Why, because I arrested her for kidnapping a Congressman?"
Bruce's kick had more force than was necessary, but Blake dodged it. "You didn't have to put her in Blackgate."
"I didn't make that decision and you know it. Besides, if she's the reason you're not living in a bathrobe, we all owe her."
Bruce paused, considering that. Blake lashed out, but he blocked it. "She is a big part of the reason."
"Okay then." Blake stepped back. "You put me in a tight spot with my partner. Babs has convinced herself Batman doesn't approve of her."
"You didn't tell her when you and Lucius gave her a suit?" Bruce followed after him.
Blake swung and the impact stung. "None of us were telling Bruce Wayne was Batman. Babs concluded that you were the money and tech behind Batman and I lied by letting her keep believing that. She found the trackers and plugged herself in, so you saw her when you tagged you and Selina. And she knows you've linked into the Batcomputer, so don't even pretend you haven't." He swung again.
Bruce dodged that one. "And she has been fretting since April. It's two a.m. in Gotham now and she spent Christmas with her father; we'll call later."
"You mean that?" Blake dropped his fist. "Because she will be furious and I can't work the computers like she can."
"I'll take the heat. I deserve it." Bruce stepped back as he heard heavy footsteps. Clark's head poked over the stairwell wall. "Morning, hope we didn't wake you."
His black-haired head shook. "Didn't sleep well, probably from talking about Zod so much." His blue eyes sagged.
Bruce sympathized. He never liked explaining his nightmares either. Selina dragged them out of him, but he doubted he could emulate her technique. "We better go down to breakfast before Alfred decides we don't deserve any." Helena waved her arms, but didn't cry as he picked her up.
"Will any stores be open today?" Clark asked as they headed down. "I'd like to find something Italian for my mom."
"A few will be," Bruce answered, "along with some booths at the holiday market. I don't mind showing you around."
Lois sat at the dining room table with her plate and coffee. "There's the male half of the household," she said.
"And Helena." Bruce set her in the bouncer seat on the table before he turned to the dishes on the sideboard. "Selina's sleeping and Diana likes a morning run to the beach and back when she doesn't have classes."
Blake looked up from the pastries. "Aren't we inland?"
"About fifty miles."
"That's some dedication to jogging," Lois said.
Bruce shrugged as he helped himself to an omelet.
Clark set his plate next to Lois. "We're seeing the city today."
"Didn't see enough of it with Diana's tour of the nativity scenes yesterday?"
"I want to get Mom something from Italy."
She nodded as she nibbled. "The thank you for letting me not come home for Christmas gift. John needs to find something for his partner."
Blake sat down. "That might help my chances."
"Chances at what?" Clark asked. "Are you two together?"
The younger man coughed when he inhaled some orange juice. "It's complicated," he said with a red face. "But right now I need a please don't hurt me because I knew and you didn't guess right present."
Bruce tickled Helena's foot as he sat. "She's superior to you in computer skills and martial arts?"
"She's got a black belt in karate already and is taking classes in Aikido. Me, I'm learning boxing from a guy in Old Gotham named Ted Grant."
"He's still around?" Bruce chuckled. "I hired him to teach me boxing when I was a kid. He knows more than that, even though he likes it best."
"Go have fun," Lois said. "I need to finish the compare and contrast on the federal financial aid between Metropolis and Gotham." Her gaze unfocused and Bruce wondered if she was composing her story right there. Clark's glance at her was fond bemusement, so she probably was.
Alfred confiscated Helena after he cleared the dishes. "I'll watch the little Miss while you entertain your guests."
"We shouldn't be out long." Bruce crept back into his and Selina's bedroom as silent as his training had made him and eased into the dressing room before the adjacent bathroom.
Selina heard him. "Bruce?" She shifted on the mattress. "Helena's okay?"
"She's fine. Alfred has her. I'm taking Blake and Clark shopping." He dropped his sweats into the clothes hamper.
"Boy bonding?" she asked with a yawn.
Bruce pulled on a pair of slacks. "Something like that."
"Don't scare Clark off with your cape theory 101 lecture."
"I know you don't like it." He found a long-sleeved shirt in his wardrobe.
"The only thing I don't like about it is your tendency to turn yourself into two people when you aren't. But he is ready to bolt and you throwing theory and practical applications at him right now will lose you the third person in the prophecy. So save it."
He shoved his feet into his shoes before going into the bedroom. "Why would he be afraid of us?"
"Because the human race has been so kind to him?" She rolled over on the bed. "Be gentle with him."
Selina is the only one on Earth who believes I have a gentle side, Bruce thought as he kissed her. "I will. Later today, I have to call Batgirl."
"Make sure she knows you are no longer an eligible bachelor." She yawned through her glare.
"I will. Go back to sleep." He crept out and met Alfred's look over the half-wall. "I can't sneak up on her any more," he shrugged. Alfred shook his head, so Bruce entered the kitchen and checked on his sleeping daughter. He couldn't resist stroking her fine dark hair.
Clark almost reached the living room when Lois's voice called from the tower. "Smallville, you'll need this." He turned around and returned shrugging on his thick jacket.
"You don't feel the cold?" Bruce asked.
"I feel it, but it doesn't hurt me." Clark chuckled. "I'll never forget the winter I freaked Mom out going out in the snow barefoot. Her name is Martha too."
"I hope your father isn't a Thomas. That would just be odd."
"No, he was named Jonathan."
Blake joined them, and Bruce led them into the historic heart of Florence. The day was brisk but sunny, and the only locals around were the ones hoping for a few more sales from the tourists. A stationary stall drew Blake's attention, but Clark continued onto a leather goods one. He inspected the handbags while Bruce wondered how to phrase the question. "How long has your father been gone?"
"Sixteen years this past May, right before I graduated high school." Clark's blue eyes focused on Bruce through the disguising black-rimmed glasses. "Because I'm not looking for a present for him?"
"That's one clue," Bruce said. "Orphans put out subconscious feelers for others."
"You and Selina?" Clark asked. Bruce nodded. "I wondered why you hadn't invited proud grandparents over for Christmas." Clark reddened as he picked up a dyed blue handbag large enough to hold a laptop computer in it. "Not that it's any of my business if you're estranged from your parents."
Bruce blinked. "You honestly don't know what happened to my parents? You know who I really am." That was surreal after having billionaire orphan after his name for thirty-two years.
"Do you want me to Google it?" Clark picked up a smaller dyed red handbag.
"They were shot by a mugger right in front of me. I was eight."
Clark gave him a measured look. Bruce met his gaze. He set down the red bag for one about the same size but dyed tan. This one met his approval and the stall attendant wrapped the purchase. Without speaking, they both moved toward the fountain in the center of square free from booths and wandering tourists. "Dad," Clark swallowed hard. "Dad was swept up in a tornado. He refused to let me save him." His free hand curled into a fist. "Too many witnesses on the highway to expose myself to."
"He was afraid of that?" Bruce asked.
"Afraid the government would take me away and cut me into pieces. That's not possible now, much less when I was seventeen, but when I was an infant adapting to Earth…." Clark grimaced. "I understand that fear better now, having met your daughter." Bruce's throat tightened as he thought about anyone hurting Helena. "Too bad I didn't get it when I was a kid. It was so frustrating."
"Wandering around helping people was a better outlet for frustration than mine. Nothing like spending your twenties trying to understand the criminal mind so hard you end up in prison." Bruce smirked.
"I couldn't stay home and help." Clark sat on a nearby bench. Bruce sat on the other end. "Not the way everyone freaked out over the bus when I was thirteen."
"The bus?" Blake asked behind them.
"The school bus my classmates and I were riding on careened off the bridge into the river. I planned to open the emergency door, but the bus filled with water too fast for the others to get out. So I pushed it up on the bank and rescued Pete who had been pulled out. I swam across the river and ran all the way home, but three different kids had seen me and their parents came to my parents."
Bruce winced. "Did they want to run you out of town?"
"Pete's mother would have named me a saint if she was Catholic. She couldn't understand why my parents wanted to hush up an obvious miracle. Me, I was just confused why God had made me such a freak."
"When I was thirteen," Blake said, "my crisis of faith was why God let my father die."
"So everyone questions God when they hit thirteen?" Clark asked.
"Everyone questions God when they go through trauma," Bruce said. "Regardless of age."
Clark shifted his feet. "I never thought about the bus part as trauma. What happened after, sure, but not the accident."
"If you thought you and the rest were going to die, that's pretty much trauma." Blake propped his foot on the bench.
"What happened after?" Bruce asked.
"They sent me outside while they talked to Pete's mom, but I can hear what I want to. Her going on about how it was a miracle made me uncomfortable, so I stopped listening and went for a hike across the farm. Dad found me for his lecture. 'We talked about this, Clark; you have to keep this side of yourself a secret.'
I countered with all my teenage righteousness. 'What was I supposed to do? Just let 'em die?'
Dad shook his head. 'No, that's not what I mean. There's more at stake here than just our lives, or the lives of those around us. When the world finds out what you can do, it's going to change everything; our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human, everything. If you use these gifts of yours, you have to do it secretly or be ready to leave afterwards. Everyone in Smallville knows who you are, Clark. If more people knew about what you can do, they would hurt you out of fear.'
'Why would God make me somebody to fear?'
Dad didn't have a good answer for that, so he showed me what they had hid under the barn back in 1980."
"The ship that brought you here," Bruce said. He had hacked into NORAD and DARPA's files on Superman months ago and remembered the footage of the car-sized spaceship that was instrumental to defeating Zod's forces.
It was too cold to remain seated, so they ambled back towards the villa. Clark waited until they were clear of the crowd again. "Mom and Dad thought it was a secret NASA program or a foreign government's. But when nobody hunted down the ship, Dad took the command key to a metallurgist at Kansas State. He said what it was made from didn't exist on the periodic table, so not from Earth, and neither was I. In a black cellar, I found out I was the answer to 'are we alone in the universe?'"
"Heavy," Blake said.
"How did you take it?" Bruce asked.
Clark's lips twisted. "Told Dad I didn't want to be that. He said, 'I don't blame you, son. It'd be a huge burden for anyone to bear, but you're not just anyone. And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. All these changes that you're going through, one day you're gonna think of them as a blessing. And when that day comes, you're gonna have to make a choice. A choice of whether to stand proud in front of the human race or not.'" Clark sighed. "I know what Jor-El's reasons are and I made my choice, so what happens now?"
"It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you," Bruce said as he opened the electronic gate to the villa.
"And don't over think it," Blake said. Both Clark and Bruce stared at him. "If Gotham City can turn around in our lifetimes from poverty, drugs, and corruption to people leaving thank you cards to Batman, the rest of the planet will come around on Superman too."
"But I don't want people afraid of me," Clark admitted.
"Being seen in daylight helps," Blake said. Bruce led them across the villa's yard, down a set of steps at the base of the tower, and ushered them into the computer room. Blake continued, "It looks like you have nothing to hide, which is probably helped with how candid you've been about everything but the name on your driver's license."
"The government is siccing drones on me." Clark set his shopping bag on a clear desk as he sat.
Blake frowned as he flopped into another one. "Yeah, that's some trust issue stuff unless they feel like Bruce does about tracking implants."
"Just a moment." Bruce hit the intercom button. "Alfred, we're downstairs in the computer room if we're needed."
"All is serene up here, Master Wayne. Lunch is nearly ready."
"How does Bruce feel about tracking implants?" Clark asked once Bruce's finger left the intercom button.
"Puts them into everyone he can't stand losing," Blake answered. "When does Helena get hers?"
"When she's old enough to get her ears pierced." Bruce shrugged off his coat. "The other model has only been used on adults." He sat in his computer chair.
Clark shook his head. "They think I'll act against America's interests."
"Yeah, I'm not the one to have this conversation with. I'm still pissed off over the government's response to Bane." Blake unzipped his jacket before crossing his arms.
"Sorry, I didn't know how to fly when that happened and I was on the West Coast." Clark grimaced.
"Gentlemen, I propose we keep ourselves above political frays," Bruce said. "People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. As flesh and blood, we can be ignored or destroyed, but a symbol is incorruptible, everlasting."
"I talked to Commissioner Gordon about you, well Batman you." Clark's dark eyebrows knitted together. "You wanted people to fear Batman."
"Batman is the product of my embracing my fears and anger and forcing criminals to share my dread. To the good and innocent, he is a symbol of justice." Blake nodded. Bruce continued, "It's not a technique I recommend for everyone. Diana wears her empathy on her breastplate. Nightwing and Batgirl's partnership doesn't put them at odds with the police." He glanced at Clark's slight frown. "You need something else. Fear doesn't work for you."
"We sound like image consultants," Blake said with a chuckle. "You'd look fabulous with a splash of truth." Clark's lips twitched. Blake dropped his teasing tone. "Was it true about your insignia?"
"Jor-El told me it was the Kryptonian symbol for hope as well as the symbol of the House of El." Clark glanced down at his white long-sleeved T-shirt. "I was Jor-El's hope that a better Krypton could be built with the embryos and humans, but that won't happen now."
"Humanity must make better choices than Krypton did." Bruce leaned back and pressed his fingertips together. "Superman is our example and reminder. That has the potential to go very badly."
"I know," Clark said with a sigh. "That's what I don't want to happen."
Blake leaned forward. "Helping with those earthquakes and typhoons has gotta be good for the image."
"I didn't do it for my image."
"Of course not, but it doesn't hurt it."
The door to the tower stairwell unlocked and opened. "Are you subjecting your guests to your random hunger strikes, Master Wayne? Miss Diana has threatened to not leave anything for you three to eat."
"Sorry, Alfred, we got involved in brainstorming." Bruce stood.
"And what are we plotting?"
"Consulting, not plotting," Blake answered. "Superman wants people to like him."
"That takes time and a steady stream of goodwill. Perhaps some events that don't involve constant peril of someone," Alfred said.
Clark looked perplexed. "What celebrities do? I don't know anything about that."
"No, nothing red carpet, one should always play up strengths in a campaign like this. Thanks to Ms. Lane's and your Superman stories, he is one of the most famous orphans on Earth. That could be put to good use for other orphans in need. The Wayne Foundation could handle the logistics of finding projects that only Superman could handle."
Bruce smirked. "Your abilities would cut down infrastructure construction time."
"Yeah, I'm pretty quick with a hammer." A smile blossomed on Clark's face. They followed Alfred up to the dining room between the tower and the kitchen. Selina sat with her hand propping up her head. Her blurry, brown eyes focused on Blake's shopping bag. "So you found something to bribe your partner with?"
"A handmade journal." He pulled out a leather-bound book. "She likes old-fashioned books and the pages and the cover were both made locally."
"Old-fashioned books?" Selina wrinkled her nose.
"She's big into digital. My second choice was a leather tablet case. Let me put it with my stuff." Blake retreated as Selina yawned.
Diana set a plate underneath Selina's chin. "You came out to socialize, not to antagonize the boy."
"I was curious."
Bruce avoided getting pulled into a Selina versus Blake debate by offering Alfred help with the drinks. Lois arrived with Clark, carrying her laptop. "You have got to see this." She played a YouTube video maximized to fill the screen and set the laptop down on the table.
The image stabilized into the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and a crowd of people circled it. They swayed as they linked hands and sang nonsense but familiar words that Bruce didn't recognize.
Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!
Welcome Christmas, come this way!
Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!
Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day!
"Are they reenacting the "Welcome Christmas" song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas?" Clark asked.
"Yes, they are," Lois said. Selina giggled and hummed along.
"What is a Grinch?" Diana asked.
"We didn't get to that Christmas movie," Bruce explained.
"What, Italy banned it?" Blake asked.
"No, Diana didn't believe how many times A Christmas Carol had been filmed. We watched five of them before I went into labor," Selina explained.
Bruce sighed. "We'll have to buy a copy, won't we?"
"I'm sure it's online if you'd rather watch it that way." Lois pulled the laptop to her once the video had finished.
"We'll find it on Netflix on the big TV after lunch," Selina offered.
"We can still watch the Christmas films?" Diana bit her bottom lip. "We never finished the list, but I didn't know if we must wait until next Christmas season to start again."
"I think we can extend the season to New Year's. I want to see my favorite Christmas movie." Selina pointed at Bruce. "And you can't run away like you did during Mickey's Christmas Carol."
"That was business I couldn't put off." He slipped into the chair beside her. Her cocked eyebrow telegraphed how much she believed him.
Lois stowed the laptop while everyone seated themselves. "Is it Die Hard? Your favorite Christmas movie?"
"Nightmare Before Christmas, but Die Hard needs to go on the list."
"What happened to the classics like It's a Wonderful Life?" Clark helped himself to some mashed potatoes.
"I couldn't get past the title," Bruce said. Selina's hand found his under the table and squeezed. Clark's head turned to Helena dozing in her bouncer on Selina's right. "Maybe now I can," Bruce admitted.
The movie discussion continued. Lois was a fan of untraditional Christmas movies, which included Lethal Weapon and Gremlins. Blake admitted a soft spot for Santa Claus the Movie. "The orphans go live at the North Pole. Best movie ever." Clark's picks included White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street.
They found two movie versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas listed on Netflix, but both Clark and Selina agreed the live-action was better once you knew the cartoon. Bruce pulled Blake aside while the group surrounded the television set above the fireplace mantle. "We need to call your partner."
Blake nodded as he looked at his wristwatch, set on Gotham time. "She'll be up by now." He followed Bruce back downstairs into the computer room. He shook his head as he pulled out his cell phone. "If her yelling is audible over the speaker it won't ruin the movies down here. Merry Christmas, Babs. Why is Gotham turning into Whoville?" His lips frowned. "I'm out of the country; it can't be my fault." His eyebrows rose. "Yes, I did call Isley a Grinch, but I said it to you and Superman was there, and I didn't organize a flash mob while packing." He listened to her before laughing. "So it's all your fault! Nope, if you share my witty observations with the Commissioner and MCU and someone posts it to Twitter and then it goes viral while I'm out of the country, I'm not responsible. Did anyone get hurt?" Blake's concerned expression eased. "Well, I guess we won't take your Christmas present back then. Your turn." He passed the cell phone to Bruce.
"Hello, Miss Gordon, this is Bruce Wayne."
The young woman inhaled on the other end. "Bullshit," she blurted.
Bruce raised his eyebrows. Not the reaction he had expected. "I faked my death, and that will come to light soon."
"No, no, there is no way you're Batman. I don't blame you for wanting to get out of Gotham, though an obituary was drastic, but there's no way one of the richest men in America was Batman." Doubt crept into her voice. "There's no way."
"Because a hedonistic, womanizing playboy wouldn't put his life on the line for Gotham City?"
She was silent for nearly a minute. "You said it, not me."
"September 16, 2004, Harvey Dent lured your mother along with you and your brother to the remains of the warehouse at 250 52nd Street. He threatened to kill your brother in revenge for your father failing to save Rachel Dawes. He said, 'It's not about what I want, it's about what's fair! You thought we could be decent men, in an indecent time! Well, you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance.'" Bruce swallowed hard against the tightness in his throat. "I told him that the Joker chose him to lose everything because he was the best of us. The Joker wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall."
Babs Gordon choked. "None of us have ever told that part to anyone. Oh God, it's really you."
She took a huge inhale. "You're not mad at me, are you? I'm doing good and Blake needs me and Dad couldn't stop me so don't even think you can."
Bruce smiled. "Batman was meant to inspire others. I don't want you to stop. You and Blake are doing good work."
"John Blake knew," she said flatly.
"And so does your father. It was more important to stay dead until the League of Shadows was incarcerated. Then General Zod invaded and my daughter was born on the 23rd."
"Your what? I mean, congratulations."
Bruce chuckled. "I'll send birth announcements back with Blake. So don't take it out on him that I didn't leave clear instructions on what to say when someone new volunteered."
"So I'm officially in the club?" And her voice sounded so young.
"Yes, you are," Bruce said. "I'll send you contact information once they let me on a computer again."