Clark began to understand Bruce's unspoken promises.
Clark returned to his apartment again after eight months. He had left Metropolis in early spring. And when he came back, winter had reached its peak. His mailbox was crammed with old magazines and discount coupons, the corridor littered with rubbish -- it seemed that in the past six months, it had never occurred to his neighbors – a couple of rock and rollsingers – that the helpful guy next door, who had always been happy to lend ahand with the recycling, had disappeared at all.
As he went to turn on the light, he imagined his apartment had become a cave in a virgin jungle: ferns had taken over his bookshelves; tarantulas crawled on the moldy floor. But he had overestimated the influence of time. Although resurrection had been a long journey for Superman, his room remained as banal a mess like it had always been. Apart from a thick layer of dust on the desktop, and a yellowing note – demanding last April's rent – tacked to the door, nothing had changed.
"Why didn't they take the apartment away?" Clark asked, but as the word left his mouth, he realized there could only be one person with enough spare time and money to have kept him his apartment. "Why did he do it? Payingthe rent for a dead man?"
"Don't try to reason with Bruce's quirks," said Diana, standing in the middle of the room. She was eyeing the decorations on the walls withgreat interest, looking much more ordinary than Clark had expected. "He is a nostalgic person, which is not a bad thing. But sometimes he stays in the past for toolong."
Clark sensed that there was some deeper sentiment to Diana's remark that he didn't understand. So he just allowed himself a smile.
"I'm afraid it's too much to expect him to buy groceries for the dead," he said, as he glanced inside the refrigerator. He then looked through the window into the night, "There is nothing to make for dinner. And at this time only the fast food places are still on the clock," he hesitated. "Do you eat Chinese food?"
The Amazon warrior laughed, apparently amused by the question.
"I gulped down cans of rotten fish on the battlefield of Verdun." she said, "But Bruce is a picky diner."
"Is he coming?" Clark asked.
"No," she said. "However, I think he will come sometime."
They had Chinese food. Diana was a carnivore—hardly surprising when you took her strength into consideration. Clark began to understand why she was the first ambassador to represent the League: a diplomat forged by Time, Diana was charming, open and possessed a level of insight attainable only through years of experience. And more importantly, she understood the loneliness of an alien living among humanbeings.
"I decided to walk away from mankind after the War," she said, "but I didn't stray far from them. I kept watching and was still willing to protect them. I was just……not one of them anymore. I cut off all emotional connections."
"And?" Clark asked.
"And I saw Bruce standing in front of your grave. I saw his eyes." Diana said, curling up her lips. "I think we can try it one more time."
Clark searched for the local fancy restaurants to be prepared for the picky diner's raid. He had listed what he wanted to discuss with Batman on his mind; not least the name of the Justice League and the eight months' worth of rent payments. Yet another month slipped away. Clark had finished the first puff piece for the Daily Planet. Superman had completed two rescue missions with the League. Cyborg and Flash had stopped by and Clark had taken them to the grill house Perry had recommended. He had called Wayne Enterprises twice, and both times the PA to the CEO had told him that Bruce was skiing in Switzerland. The perfunctory manner in which he was dealt with got under his skin. So when Clark noticed a dark figure outside his apartment, silhouetted against the falling snow, his desire to be a welcoming host had long perished.
"I worked all night," he said to Bruce, "so no matter what you are expecting, you'll be getting junk food tonight."
Clark had pictured Bruce Wayne asking a bemused chicken shop waitress for a knife and fork; but his wild assumption proved ungrounded. He didn't know as much about him as he thought. As Wonder Woman – swapping her warrior garb for a formal suit – had managed to look ordinary and at-home in his apartment, the tall billionaire fit in with gaudy floor and plastic trays of the restaurant without a challenge. Indeed, he didn't eat anything. But one wouldn't have guessed that his watch cost as much as the whole joint just by looking at him pressing his lips into a thin line at the sight of a box of onion rings.
Both of them stayed silent, like two black reefs exposed to the warm light. Clark guessed that this awkward meeting might end up with one of them dashing out of the window into the snow storm. Batman would see a signal light up from across the bay and Superman could explain that there was a car accident on the other side of the city. A superhero's duty was such a flawless excuse for escaping an embarrassing situation that Clark could not help but wonder why it had never occurred to him before. And then he realized that Superman had never had a partner: he had always worked alone. Perhaps this was why he was still waiting, with great patience, for Bruce to speak.
"I noticed that you had wanted to talk." Bruce said, finally. Clark arched his brows at this glaring understatement.
"If by 'noticed' you mean you have rejected my call twice," he retorted, "yes, sure."
"The less we meet in our civilian life, the better." Bruce said, looking as cold as a marble statue. "It would help us protect our secret identities, which I had stressed again and again in the League report."
His attitude was predictable, but after lying in the dark for such a long time, Clark was tired of ambiguity.
"Do you have a problem with me?" He cut straight to the chase. "I thought we were friends of some sort."
Bruce opened his mouth and then closed it, his eyes lit up by the twinkling lamp hanging from the ceiling. He seemed to be observing Clark from a new perspective; trying to dig something more out of him. Calmly, Clark looked back into his eyes. He had looked into the Batman's dark eyes like this before, ignited by the amazing blaze of hatred inside—but now those eyes were soft and reserving, looking as serene as the silent undercurrent of the ocean depths.
"If I stayed, I think you'd want me out of your sight before long." Bruce said.
He lifted up a hand as though to close the distance between them; but made agesture instead. It took Clark a few seconds to digest what he meant—the wound caused by the Kryptonite spear had left no scar at all.
"Oh,"he said, a bit lost.
Bruce studied him thoughtfully.
"You came back only last month. I thought you'd remember it."
"Deathwas a very long journey. I feel like it is in the past now." Clark replied. "It should feel like ages for you."
"And you saved my mother."
Bruce stayed silent for a moment.
"It is very difficult to forget," he started, "when someone behaved like a beast."
"Diana told me that you were a person who dwelt on the past," Clark told him. "Maybe you've done it for so long; it's time to make a change."
They sat face to face in silence as the smell of fried food wafted around them. Yet the silence differed from the awkwardness of when they had first sat down. Clark heard the soft, peaceful rustling of snowflakes as they sifted down onto the street; they reminded him of blossoms blooming under the deep blanket of snow in a field. He listened for a while and became suddenly aware that Bruce was watching him intensely.
"You paid the rent for me?" A thought jumped out of his mind.
It was Bruce's turn to look a bit lost.
"MaybeI did. Maybe I bought the building."
Clark changed his mind: Bruce Wayne wasn't always so staunchly strict—at least not when it came to controlling his spending.
Clark thought that the relationship between Superman and Batman had improved significantly in that fast food restaurant in Metropolis. However, it could all be in his head. Even though Bruce didn't purposely avoid him anymore, the paths of their double identities hadn't crossed as often as he had thought. Bruce had come to dinner in Smallville at Christmas. Clark had been assigned a column about Wayne Enterprises at the end of the year. Superman had flown over Wayne Tower one evening; the photos snapped by lucky passers-by instantly went viral. And that was as much as their lives intersected. So, a week later when he heard the snap of breaking blades and the clink of bullets ricocheting off the ground, Clark hesitated to make up his mind. By the time he arrived on the fight was over, leaving him only one option: follow the racing Batmobile down to the cave under the lake.
Bruce leaped out of the vehicle, ripping his cowl off and onto the ground. He was soaking wet from head to toe.
"Are you alright?" Clark asked.
Bruce turned around and stared at him with penetrating eyes. With his messy hair, tightened jaw and ruffled cape dragged behind his back, he looked like an old tree burning in the rainy night, radiating flame of exhaustion and indignation.
"This is exactly what I need." He snarled at Clark. Clark was about to reply. But Bruce already walked onward without glancing back. "Get out."
This was exactly what you deserve when you try to reach out and help Batman. Clark hovered in the midair, hesitating. When the old gentleman who raised Batman arrived to tend to the armor-plated vehicle, Clark tried an affable smile.
"Please move aside," the gentleman told him.
What a friendly cave. Clark watched him as he worked on the bullet holes that peppered the rear door.
"He's wounded." He blurted out.
"It happens sometimes," the other man replied half-heartedly.
"Maybe I can help." Clark said.
He took the old man's silence as approval. After beginning to fly in the directionin which Bruce had disappeared, Clark decided to drop on the ground. The air was damp and oppressive, amplifying his footsteps on the stone floor. A few minutes later, he found Bruce, half-naked, sitting on a basic operation table, with one hand raking through the medicine chest. A trembling suture needle was stitching a thread across his shoulder; as blood surged down his protruding veins.
"Come here," the unarmored Batman ordered without looking up.
Clark walked towards him and saw the bloody grimace of the half-stitched wound. The torn skin stretched from his shoulder to the upper part of his back. Bruce pinched his wound together tightly near his neck, gesturing Clark to watch the suture needle.
It felt strange to guide the needle and thread in and out of Bruce's flesh. It reminded Clark of a shark fin slicing through the ocean, and the rising sun piercing over the horizon. When he cut the thread, Bruce's muffled exhalation reminded him of a gust of biting arctic wind. He put the medical scissors and suture kit back in order. Bruce picked up some bloodstained medical sponges, threw them into the tray with broken blades and waved his injured arm, looking exhausted.
"What do you want?" He demanded.
The question seemed sharper than words. And Clark didn't know how to answer it.
"I want to help." He confessed.
"There are countless people in the world waiting for your help." Bruce said. "I am notone of them."
His manner was indifferent, and matter-of-fact. And Clark couldn't refute him.
"Maybe it's me who needs to help." He said.
Batman raised his eyebrows.
"You need to help me?"
"WhatI need……is to help someone who knows who I am," Clark said. At first, he didn'treally know what he was talking about, but gradually he realized it was the truth. "Someone who knows where I come from and what I want, who knows my Ma,my mistakes and my fears. What I need is someone who can understand……when I……you……"
He finally singled out the word that had kept him awake, that he had really wanted to say.
"I need a friend, Bruce." he said, "I want to help you, and I think you can help me too."
He tried to meet Bruce's eyes. But Bruce was staring downwards at the blood on his fingers; his brows tightened into a knot, his face grim. He seemed poised to lash out with a rainbow of harsh words any second.
However, he just nodded when he spoke.
"You do need someone to help you." He said in a critical tone. "You don't know how to fight."
He tried to teach Clark how to fight. He urged him to learn how to use his talents in the most effective way; and warned him to always be prepared to lose his powers. Three weeks later, he asked Flash to join in with sprinting practice. And from then on, team training sessions began to spin out of control; evolving into buzzy get-togethers, where everyone would smile when being called upon. But Bruce began to retreat from the training ground. Knowing his nature, Clark wasn't surprised at all. He was used – and indeed, fond of - Batman's reservation and unspoken commitment. When summer arrived, they held a real party in Diana's place. Clark walked up to Bruce, as he leaned against the balcony railings. Standing by his side, he felt comfortable and relaxed.
"Hey," he whispered.
Bruce didn't reply. As he looked closer, Clark saw that he was breathing heavily, and his cheeks were flushed. He was drunk.
Bruce nodded slowly, looking as dizzy as a large animal that had just fallen into water. Clark almost burst into laughter. He took out his phone to snap a photo of this rare tableau. But the other man pounced upon him with a disgraceful savageness and tried to wrench the phone out of Clark's hand. They had been wrestling for half a minute before Batman tripped over his feet. Superman let go of him immediately to lend a hand—and Bruce took advantage of the opportunity to snatch Clark's property and tossed it into the pool under the balcony.
"I can't believe it." Clark stared at the rippling pool. "You'll definitely regret that tomorrow."
The man in front of him grunted dismissively, and leaned over the railings again, eyes half-closed, seemingly asleep already.
"Do you want to go back to your room?" Clark asked. "It looks like that you might need to take a rest."
Bruce shook his head with the stubbornness of a drunk.
"I will take no rest." He declared solemnly. "I still have a long way to go."
"There are many people on the same journey," he continued after a while. "But no one can accompany you to the very end."
"I can." Clark blurted out.
He didn't expect this; neither could he explain it. He thought about taking back his words, yet – at the same time – he wanted to say something more. For a prolonged second he was in a daze of airy confusion. Then the answer dawned on him; shimmering with the same light of serenity, tranquility and peace that he found under Bruce's eyelashes. Suffused by a warm breeze of relief, he no longer worried that he was not sober enough. Instead, he began to worry that Bruce had sobered up.
But Bruce slowly turned his head toward him, observing for a while, and chuckled.
He reached out an arm around Clark's neck and whispered in his ear. His tone was gentle, mixed with fondness and mild mockery.
"No, young man," he said. "You can't……you are too perfect."
He pushed Clark aside and stumbled back to his room alone.
Clark looked up at the canopy of the stars in the middle of the silent night. He could fly to them if he wanted. Among the billions of living creatures on the earth, only for him was the starlight not an unapproachable dream. But he had lived on the ground for so long that all the dreams - no matter happy or cruel- affected him as equally as they did everyone else.
He woke up the next morning and went to work; trying to convince himself that nothing at all had happened. He hadn't made up his mind, at least not yet.
He trained with the League as usual; while Batman was making himself scarce. Clark often tried to make small talks, but Bruce remained distant. While it was still enjoyable to work as a team, Clark finally realized how Bruce committed unrelentingly to his unilateral promise: Superman needed help. Batman never did.
One sunny autumn morning as he flew above Metropolis; it hit him. A sudden surge of cold fury swept past his mind. He tried to fight against the darkness. But it was too powerful to resist. Thirty seconds later, he found himself heading straight towards a tower. He mustered up all his willpower and swerved to miss the building by a millimeter. The shockwave caused by his sudden change of direction shattered the structure's glass windows. And when he turned back, it was the piercing sound of human screams in his ears that made him aim the burning lasers shooting from his eyes to the sky at the last minute. He flew up, up and away; air roaring beside him.
In his dizziness, someone struck him with the force of a falling skyscraper. As he spun around, snarling, he saw a golden chain being flung towards to tie him up.The next moment he was wrestling against Diana. They fought from the sky to the sea; tumbling waves splashing around them. The rough water wanted to hold him so he set it aflame. Then something vibrant flashing behind his eyes triggered another wave of venomous rage. Breaking out of the Lasso of Truth and shackles of the sea, he tried to follow the flash—but a sharp, piercing pain suddenly consumed him, and he crashed into the water.
It was the kind of pain that peeled away his skin of steel and torn down the tender flesh beneath it. And he recognized the pain. But it was too late. His body felt so heavy that he could no longer defy gravity. Someone pulled him out of the water while he was screaming and struggling in the rope that bound him. A hand ripped something out from his neck. The wall of chaos shattered abruptly and world came back into focus. The rage faded away with only the pain remained. He was lying in the water, surrounded by his teammates, panting helplessly.
"Are you alright?" Barry asked, eyes gleaming with compassion and fear, flinching ever so slightly…….yet not flinching from him.
"Take it away." A familiar voice commanded. The red flash disappeared; Clark felt a sudden relief throughout his body. The pain receded. Flash took something out of his sight. Clark heard the dull clink of something made of lead.
"……Bruce?"He said in a hoarse voice, staggering to his feet from the beach. His legs wereshaking. The tearing pain was spiraling up his chest.
Batman was standing a few steps away, looking as if he was evaluating his condition. Behind the cowl, his eyes revealed no emotions.
"It was probably a mind-control device. I'll have it checked out with specialists. In the meantime, everybody beware," he said, holding two different boxes in hishands.
And he jumped into the black helicopter that had been stationed beside him, and left.
On that night, he dreamed of what had happened a year ago: Bruce frowning as he sat at plastic table in his expensive overcoat, hands carefully placed on the narrow surface. The air in the chain restaurant had been warm and thick, diffusing against him like the waves crashing over a black reef. "It is verydifficult to forget," he'd said, "when someone behaved like a beast." "It is now past." Clark had assured him. "I don't mind it." Bruce had curled up his lips, but the grim bitterness in his eyes had betrayed him. Yet Clark had mistaken it for a smile. He had reached out a hand, trying to hold Bruce's shoulder. But Bruce, with a flip of his hand, had caught his wrist. His fingers had been feverishly strong, burning under the steel of his skin like the toxic debris of his faraway homeworld in his veins.
"I didn't mean that." He had said.
"You know me," he'd gone on. "You know I wouldn't say the word."
Indeed, when he woke up, Clark had already forgotten how his face had looked as he spoke the word.
He came to Gotham in the depth of the night, overlooking the city as it swirled in dazzling light. And at the center of this bustling world were Bruce's echoing heartbeats. Clark hovered over the building for a while, and then opened a window. He swooped down into the room, framed by moonlight. The next second,Bruce opened the door and slammed it again quickly. A soft complaint of a woman's voice could be heard from the room outside.
"Do you want to hit the headlines?" He reentered the room, voice as cold as ever, one hand fastening up his unbuttoned collar. "I had repeated many times that—"
"—do not enter Gotham uninvited." Clark said, "But I had a question about that for along time. If you refuse to go outside, what options do other people have other than being an intruder?"
Bruce didn't say anything, and the cautious look reappeared. But Clark was able to see through his calm façade to recognize his precaution, worry and fear. He strode towards Bruce, whose back jerked backward a little but didn't give in a single step.
"I'm not angry." Clark said.
"I'm not worried." Bruce replied.
"Apparently you are." Clark said bluntly. "And you'll never stop worrying. You don't have to apologize for that."
Bruce's face twitched a little as if he was about to say something. Clark ignored him.
"But now I'll name one thing that you should apologize for," he said as he took the last step, trapping Bruce. He kissed him.
It tasted like a massive wave, a hurricane, solid ice and fire. A moment later he savored lemonade, mellow wine, sweaty Kevlar and raw steel alike. After what seemed a hundred years had gone by, Bruce roughly pulled Clark down by the hair. Clark stepped back, and found Bruce's back pressed against the wall with one hand on his shoulder, and himself floating in the air.
"You want me." He confirmed.
Bruce fixed his eye on him and said nothing; his icy façade cracking under the shock and desire. Clark leaned over again. But Bruce clenched his wrist.
"You said it was hard to forget when someone behaved like a beast," Clark said, "You weren't only referring to yourself. You meant me as well. You know how easy it could be for even the most moralistic person to be corrupted. So you can never trust anyone. You fear what I could become. And you are always prepared."
"But," he demanded, "why do you think I can't understand?"
"Of course you can." Bruce said, "You are too perfect."
As the moonlight shimmered on his face, it lit up a familiar fondness and mild mockery in his eyes that Clark recognized.
"You've been pushing me away."
"Find someone else who's not hiding a blade." Bruce answered.
"Then who will accompany you on the journey?" Clark asked.
"You are adding weight to my yoke and burden." Bruce said. "The more I know you; the harder it will be for me to hurt you."
"If not so," Clark said, "why should I grant you the right?"
"You mean I can't do it myself." He scoffed.
"Yes, Batman." Clark said, "You'd need my help with this."
Then he kissed him again, and felt warm and at peace this time. Bruce traced his fingers across his profile as if they were gentle blades, while Clark supped at the unspoken promises in his mouth. There were gratitude, trust, wariness and love…… "I'll do the same for you." He whispered to his lips. "We can walk downthe road together."
Bruce remained in silence. Yet Clark knew that everything in the world had been committed to his silence.
1.翻译送给jofing，一如既往。Merci, mon amie.