Title: On the Couch, Or The Way
Clouds Feel - posted April 2005
Series: Comrades in Arms
Author: Lacey McBain
Rating: PG - alas, no smut, but some potential for future relationships.
Summary: "Superman. Batman. The Flash. On my couch. I might never wash
that leather again."
Notes: Featuring Dr. Chase Meridian (the Nicole Kidman character from Batman Forever) - with apologies to
all professional psychiatrists everywhere. And a minor spoiler for
Justice League "A Better World."
Fandom: Batman/Justice League cartoon verse.
On the Couch, Or The Way Clouds Feel
Report to the Presidential Advisory
Council on the Justice League
Submitted by Dr. Chase Meridian,
In accordance with the parameters set
out by the Presidential Committee
on National Security and agreed to by the Justice League, I conducted
separate interviews with three members of the aforementioned
League. The following reports contain my initial psychological
profiles and an assessment of the potential threat levels posed by
these individuals, as requested. Keep in mind these are merely
preliminary findings as I was led to understand the matter was of some
urgency. A more detailed report will follow.
There’s only one reason I’m doing this, and it’s not because he trusts
me. I know he doesn’t. Yet that’s part of it too.
Maybe it’s simply he distrusts me less than he would someone
else. Someone affiliated with Arkham or Belle Reve. Too
many bad associations there.
Or maybe he trusts me a little because I slept with him once upon a
time. Not him exactly, but the other one. The one he
pretends to be when he isn’t wearing that cape. The cowl.
And maybe it’s just because I slept with both him and Lex – not at the
same time, mind you. But maybe there’s some sense of fairness
there. That I might be able to look at things equally. More
than anyone else. Because I know them. Who they are when
they’re not hiding in the shadows. Naked. Vulnerable.
That maybe I know enough to hurt them both, but I won’t.
It was Lex’s idea, of course. President Luthor now. The
Justice League too powerful, and what do we really know about any of
them anyway? What if they decided to turn against the
world? I have to admit he has a point. Even if he is a
bastard who sent me diamond earrings. Apparently my two months
with him was some kind of a record for long-term relationships.
And I have to admit, they were pretty damn big diamonds. That had
to mean something. Right? Even though he never, ever called.
Until last week. When he wanted me. For my professional
qualifications, and damn him for having the nerve to flirt with me on
the phone. For making my skin feel feverish, my panties damp as
he talked to me – all he did was talk to me – with all that
Presidential smoothness that got him elected in the first place.
Two minutes with that slick honeyed voice and my professionalism walked
right over to the window and took a giant leap. I know it’s going
to hurt when I come down, but right now I’m flying.
So, they want a psychological profile put together on the Justice
League. And for once, they’re not being sneaky about it. No
secret surveillance. No trying to infiltrate the organization
with some superhero wannabe in an ill-fitting cape and baggy
tights. No team of fresh-out-of-Quantico profilers making guesses
in a basement office after too much coffee and not enough sleep.
Just an outright presidential “request” that the League submit to the
assessment. A public request. And if they’d said “no,” how
would that look? Lex isn’t stupid.
Superman stepped up and agreed. Big smile. Innocent as some
small town kid, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out he thinks he
can handle anything Luthor could throw at him. That he doesn’t
have anything to hide. Except he probably does, and Luthor knows
it. Superman would’ve sat down right there on camera and talked
to the world. He’s a sweet guy, but dumb as a post when it comes
to politics. Although I think he’s getting better. Luthor’s
been teaching him. The hard way. Maybe Bruce has too.
It was Batman who stepped in. Set the rules. Only three members
interviewed. Findings to remain classified. No pressure to
reveal secret identities. And Batman who asked for me.
Luthor agreed. I wasn’t there when that conversation took place,
but I can imagine the looks. The dance. Did you sleep with
her? Did you send her earrings? Those two have been
competing since high school, and it’s no secret Lex knows exactly who
Bruce is and doesn’t care. Maybe somebody needs to do a
psychological profile on President Luthor. Maybe I’m just the
woman to do it.
After I get done with this assignment. Nothing like anything I’ve
ever done before. Stepping into the minds of three of the world’s
greatest heroes. Getting to see what makes them tick. What
pushes their buttons. What makes them dangerous. Or
afraid. No one’s asking me to be nice, or to play by all the
rules here and that’s fine by me. I know I’m just another player
on the chessboard and I’m already six moves behind.
But I’m game anyway because … Superman. Batman. The
On my couch. I might never wash that leather again.
“Please sit down, Superman.”
“All right.” He perches uncomfortably on the edge of the leather
couch, tucking the cape underneath him the way women smooth their
skirts before they sit down. Interesting. I make a mental
note. It’s never good to put pen to paper in the first ten
seconds. It tends to scare them off. Keep them from
talking. I want him to be relaxed.
“Relax, Superman. We’re just going to talk.”
He doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself, all long legs and
broad shoulders. He rubs at the bridge of his nose, as if he’s
used to wearing glasses there. A nervous habit. There’s something
about him that reminds me of Bruce, but not because they’re
similar. It’s like looking at a photo with all the colours
reversed. This man’s so open he doesn’t need a mask. Bruce
was always wearing one. Even when he wasn’t.
“So, how are you feeling?”
“A little nervous,” he says honestly, and I can’t help but smile.
He has that effect on people.
“That’s natural, but it’s just you and me. No cameras, no
recording devices, and everything remains confidential. I’ll
write a report based on my findings, which will be presented to
President Luthor and a small committee. The report will also be
made available to the Justice League. My notes will be destroyed.”
I can see him scanning the room to see if I’m telling the truth.
Everyone knows Superman can see through things with his x-ray vision,
but it’s quite another to sit there and know he’s looking through the
walls. And possibly my blouse. I’m glad I changed out of my
ratty old sports bra at the gym, put on something pale and lacy.
He blushes and continues his survey of the room, looking apologetic
about it. I’m no longer sure if the blush was for the quick
(accidental) peek at my underwear, or because he doesn’t like doubting
a person’s word. He’d like to believe there are no cameras just
because I say so. But he can’t. Something else he’s learned
from Luthor. And Bruce.
He relaxes visibly once his scan is done, but he doesn’t lean
back. Sits straight as a fencepost and looks me in the eye.
Ready to answer anything I have to ask. Ready to prove to the
world that’s he no threat. No danger. I want to believe him.
Maybe I underestimated Bruce’s capacity for revenge.
I mean, it was a long time ago, and although it was a mutual decision
to go our separate ways, I couldn’t resist telling him to lighten
up. I need a man who makes me laugh, Bruce. Someone
spontaneous. Someone fun. Someone who remembers what it’s
like to act like a kid once in a while.
“Wow. Those little balls just keep knocking together until they
run out of steam. That’s so cool!”
I can’t decide whether Bruce is punishing me, or trying to set me
up. Somewhere I know he’s laughing.
There’s a blur of red at the window. Then by the door.
Checking out the small fridge in the corner of the room, and then back
at the window with a soda in his hand. I curse myself for not
stocking up on caffeine-free beverages.
“Flash! Flash!” I yell to get his attention and the blur
materializes on the couch, stretched out with his hands behind his
head. The soda can’s already been drained and deposited in the
trash. Two cans, apparently. God, he’s fast.
“Tell me, Doc. Tell me the truth.” Even through the lenses
of the mask, his eyes are blue and earnest. “Will I ever play the
I find myself smiling in spite of myself. “I don’t know.
Did you play the violin before?”
“You’ve heard that one,” he says, and it sounds as if it’s a complete
surprise. “What about this one? A duck walks into a
“Flash.” I hold up my hand, hoping that visual signals might help
catch his attention. He rolls onto his side and gives me a huge
grin. “I’m supposed to be asking the questions.”
“Right.” He looks me up and down, and I’m trying to remember if
he has any special powers besides the speed. The Fastest Man
Alive, and I’m beginning to think it isn’t entirely about his ability
to run around the globe in a matter of minutes. I can’t tell for
sure but I think he winks at me. “So, Beautiful, ask me some
I duck out to the bathroom between sessions. I tell myself it’s
all about looking professional as I reapply my make-up. A
brighter shade of lipstick. Dab a touch of lavender between my
breasts. I turn my head upside-down and finger-comb my dark
blonde hair. Take another look in the mirror and decide I look
good. Better than when we were dating. More mature (not
older), but I’ve grown accustomed to myself now. I never stumble
when I walk on three inch heels. Or until after the fourth
martini. I wonder if he’ll notice a difference.
I walk across the empty reception area. Not a surprise since it’s
a Sunday afternoon, but it’s also about keeping this below the
radar. No one wants to see The Inquisitor with a headline that
says “Superhero Seeks Help from New York City Psychiatrist,” and
although I trust my secretary – my entire staff – it’s no point shoving
temptation in their faces. Besides, I owe it to everyone to keep
this quiet. Professional.
My watch says he’s late, and I know that’s not likely, so I push down
the butterflies mating in my stomach, and punch in the security code to
my office. The door closes behind me and I know he’s there before
I even turn around. I’m not sure I want to know if he figured out
the code, or if he arrived through the window. My office is on
the 32nd floor.
“Chase. Thank you for agreeing to this. And let’s stick to
“There are no recording devices. As per your request. You
“I’ve already checked, Dr. Meridian.” Of course he has. I
expected nothing less.
His face is the same as always, or at least what I can see of it.
There’s a new scar on his chin, and I’m sure the country club rumours
will explain it away as a careless golf swing or a drunken encounter
with a martini glass. I stop myself from reaching out to touch
it, and gesture towards the couch.
“I’ll stand,” he says, and that’s no surprise at all.
“We’re going to start with some simple word associations,
Superman. I’ll say a word and you say the first thing that comes
into your mind. Okay?”
“Pie.” I jot it down on my notepad and feel a moment of sympathy
for a woman who’s best associated with food.
The look in Superman’s eyes is distant. Wistful. Everyone
knows the story of his miraculous arrival on earth. Last Son of
Krypton, saved from destruction by parents who put their infant son in
a spaceship and sent him across the stars. Yet, we don’t really
know what happened to him as he grew up. I suspect he doesn’t
remember his real parents, but somewhere on earth someone made him
pie. Someone taught him right from wrong.
Someone gave him a home.
Real Identity: Unknown
Subject’s origin is widely known and
nothing in this session
contradicts earlier reports. It has long been speculated that the
Subject spent his formative years living with a family on earth, and
this conclusion appears supported by verbal corroboration.
Subject clearly embraces traditional (conservative) values.
Flash doesn’t understand the concept of a one-word answer, and it’s
hard to interrupt him to explain. But I keep trying.
“The first thing that comes to mind, Flash. Just one word.
That’s all I need.”
“Got it,” he says, and I know his thoughts are racing faster than his
“Box.” The expression on my face must scream confusion because
he’s leaping into an explanation before I can stop him. “That’s a
thing, a device. From Apokolips, I think. I mean, I don’t
know where it came from originally, but it’s kind of a living computer
in a way, but it’s more like--”
“Father.” I jump in and hope he’ll come along with me. I’m
going to have to be the Fastest Psychiatrist Alive to keep up with him.
“Time. I met him once. That’s a story--” I bet it is,
but there’s no time to stop. If only most of my patients were
this willing to talk. I could take advantage of it, of him, but I
took an oath. Made promises. I take my work seriously.
“Oh, um.” For the first time, he hesitates and I don’t know what
that means. No family? No one he’s close to? Maybe
the fast-talking is a way of keeping everyone at a distance.
“Wow. Family. There are so many people that are important,
“Yes?” I lean forward.
“Um, Bats told me not to give names.”
I have to stop myself from laughing. Bats. I’ll have to try
that sometime. The Flash looks sheepish, and I can almost see
Batman taking this guy aside and having a nice conversation about what
you do and do not say to the lady psychiatrist, ending with Flash
nodding and saying “Sure, Bats,” a second before he forgets all the
rules. Yet I can’t quite picture Flash being on the receiving end
of the death-glare I would’ve gotten if I’d ever thought of giving
Batman a nickname, and that in itself is a total surprise. Maybe
Bruce has changed too.
“Names aren’t necessary. Just tell me what you think of when you
hear the word ‘Family.’”
“Oh, when you put it that way.” He nods and I can almost see him
flashing through the images of everyone he considers family.
“Big,” he says, and his grin matches the word perfectly.
Subject: The Flash
Real Identity: Unknown
Subject is cooperative and
extroverted. He has a high regard for
family and friendships, and although his personality is that of the
“class clown,” this characterization may be simplistic and
misleading. An effective communicator, he uses humour to
discharge potentially volatile situations and to put people at ease,
although he appears to be easily distracted. This may simply be
the result of moving at a much higher speed than most people.
“Beautiful.” Dead, he doesn’t say.
“Strong.” He doesn’t say dead, but it’s written in the hard edge
of his chin. I know the story, the history, the horror.
It’s my job to stay detached. Just ask the questions, write down
the responses, make the assessment later. But it’s hard to be
neutral when I know every word is like a bullet through his heart.
“The first word that comes to mind, Batman.”
His gaze is steady and dark. “You think I’m not telling you the
“I think you think too much about what your answers say about
you.” He doesn’t disagree, and I try again. “Parents.”
“Dead,” he says, and there’s no pleasure in being right. I resist
the sudden urge to turn on all the lights in the room, to take away
some of the darkness.
“Colony.” A group of bats. There’s even a hint of a
smile, and he’s trying to tell me it’s not all bad. There are
people around him. People like him. I already knew that,
but I take some comfort from it anyway.
I don’t write anything down.
Subject: The Batman
Real Identity: Unknown
Subject is human with no particular
metahuman abilities. He
relies on extensive experience and training in the martial arts, likely
gained over years of intensive training. He is driven to act
because of some tragedy in his past, likely during childhood. All
of his impulses stem from this primary trauma and dictate how he lives
his life. Because he’s experienced great loss, he refuses to take
a life. Although he operates outside the law, he has considerable
respect for the justice system and the police. One can
extrapolate that this respect extends towards the larger political
system, although his particular views are unknown.
“How am I doing?” Superman asks.
“There are no right or wrong answers.” The standard response, and
his smile dims just a little. I want to see him smile
again. “You’re doing just fine.” Suddenly I feel like I’m
sitting in front of a thousand-watt bulb. What would people give
to be the recipient of that smile? I let the warmth wash over me
and then begin again.
“Super.” He hesitates, and I know he was waiting for his name.
“Man. And that sounds so … pretentious.” He shakes his
head, obviously uncomfortable. “I didn’t pick the name, you
know.” I know. It’s still interesting that he feels the
need to explain himself. He’s modest. More than someone
with those powers probably has any reason to be. I wonder what
his parents were like – the ones who made him pie and taught him that
being strong wasn’t about being able to bend steel. I think I’d
like them. A lot.
“Flood.” And that makes perfect sense in a strange way.
This is the man who saves the world from natural disasters.
Tornados. Floods. Tsunamis. Fires. No one even
knows how many people owe him their lives.
“Ball.” It’s out of his mouth before he realizes it. It’s
probably the most common answer given, and it’s not the one he would’ve
given if he’d thought about it. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
“I won’t.” We share a secret grin, and I suspect he’ll tell
Batman anyway. It seems like the kind of thing he would do.
It feels like they’re friends, and maybe this is what Bruce wanted me
to see. A league of friends. It’s an attractive idea.
“Too easy. Green.”
“Woman.” Now that he’s caught on, the responses aren’t
important. It’s the first ones that make the real
difference. That tell a story. The rest don’t matter.
He is articulate, although somewhat
naïve, and would perhaps be
found working in a profession that supports irregular hours and an
affinity for helping people such as counselor, nurse, substitute
teacher, or coach. His dedication to the truth may also lead him
to pursue careers in law enforcement, the legal profession, or
investigative reporting. Subject is likely active as a volunteer
or lobbyist as well. He is uncharacteristically modest given his
abilities, and sees them as a gift and a privilege.
“Sized.” I can almost hear his stomach growling from where I sit
across from him. I know the next thing out of his mouth will be a
request for food. It scares me that I feel like I know this man
so well already, even though I’ve known him hardly any time at
all. Maybe time moves differently for everyone around him.
“God, I could really go for some fries right now. Would you--”
“No,” and then there’s a rush of wind and I’m sitting alone in the
office. I have no idea if he was going to ask if I minded or if I
wanted something. Three minutes later he’s back in front of me, a
half-eaten burger in one hand, and a basket of fries threatening to
leave grease spots on my leather couch.
“Thanks,” he says gratefully between mouthfuls, and offers me a
fry. It’s still hot and crisp, and there’s just a hint of salt on
it. I promise myself I’ll do an extra circuit tomorrow
morning. I wonder if Flash ever jogs through New York. I
help myself to another fry and make some lame comment about really fast
I am not flirting. I am a professional. I turn back to my
“Yes?” The fries are disappearing quicker than I can see. I
steal another and feel the momentary brush of a hand against my
own. There’s no way that was an accident.
“No, that’s the next word.”
“What is?” He’s starting on the second burger, and I can’t
believe he got that kind of service from the place down the
street. I would’ve still been standing in line. I guess you
get special treatment when you’re a superhero, and I wonder what would
happen if I walked up to the counter in tights and a cape. Would
I get faster service or would they call the men in white coats to come
and get me? I want to ask him where he keeps his money. I
am not checking out his tights looking for pockets.
“Flash,” I try again. “The next word is ‘flash’.”
He seems puzzled, but goes along with it anyway. I can tell he
thinks it’s some whacky psychiatrist thing, and his look says “hey,
you’re the boss”.
“Gordon,” he says, and it takes me a minute to realize he means the old
“You watched that?” I have dim memories of a black-and-white
television set and a spaceship that looked like someone was dangling it
from a thread.
“Sure! I loved it. He was always saving the world from
impending doom. Him and his girl Dale, and Dr. Zharkov.”
I can imagine him watching Flash Gordon defeat evil-doers and wanting
to be just like him when he grew up. For some reason, I picture
him in red-footed pyjamas, and it’s not an unpleasant image. I
wonder what colour his hair is beneath that mask.
“--and then they went back in time to stop the bomb from blowing up the
planet and destroying the future.” I realize I haven’t been
listening and scramble to make some notes on my paper. “It’s out
on DVD now. Bats got it for me.”
The pen slides off the edge of the page. “Batman bought it for
“Sure. He does stuff like that.” My raised eyebrow is
sending off alarm bells somewhere in his head and he stammers out an
explanation. “For everyone. Not just me. He’s just
Not the Batman I knew. Not even the Bruce I knew. Not for
anyone. Maybe I don’t know him as well as I thought I did.
Maybe I never did.
The Flash is still trying to explain, the top of his mask wrinkling as
if he’s furrowing his brow. “He bought Supes a copy of
‘Oklahoma.’ I think it was some kind of an in-joke, though.
Something about corn.”
Supes and Bats. I suspect Flash gets away with things no one else
would even dream of doing. He probably doesn’t even realize
it. It’s remarkably sweet. It’s sweeter that they let him.
“Man.” He blushes just like Superman did, but I suspect it’s for
an entirely different reason. “Don’t tell Bats I said that.
I mean, he’s the first one I thought of, but … just don’t tell him
“Okay,” I say, and it’s easier to be professional now. The Flash
clearly flirts with anything that moves, male or female, and maybe he’s
got a crush on the whole damn superhero world. I know how he
“Green.” Didn’t even have to think about that one, and he’s happy
about it. Stomach full of grease and salt, sucking back a
super-sized drink that’s appeared from nowhere, and I can tell what you
see is pretty much what you get with him. He’s not hiding much,
even if he does wear a mask.
“Full.” He stretches like a cat across my couch and pats his
stomach cheerfully. He winks at me again, and I giggle like a
kid. There’s something about him that makes me want to take him
by the hand and race downstairs to the fountain in front of the office
tower, throw off my shoes and splash in the cool water. He makes
me believe in being a kid again.
I understand why the other two like him. Why everyone does.
Subject: The Flash
He is one of the younger members of
the Justice League, and as such
commands less authority. However, underestimating him may be a
grave mistake. There’s no clear information available about his
family or history, but he seems to have an extensive network of
connections he can draw on when needed, and his ability to move at
super-sonic speeds allows him to make use of these connections within a
highly concentrated time frame.
“Sonic.” He’s making me tired just standing there. I wish
he’d sit down. He’s probably practicing some ancient yoga posture
called Lurking Bat.
“Powder.” He’s so fucking predictable. He takes the shake
of my head as a sign of confusion and starts to explain. “A
low-grade explosive usually combining potassium perchlorate with
aluminum or magnesium.”
“I knew you were talking about blowing something up,” I say. I
don’t bother trying to be polite. He’s been giving me one-word
responses and nothing more for more than twenty minutes, and I’m tired
“That’s what you asked for.”
Only Bruce could manage to piss me off by doing exactly what he’s
supposed to do.
“I know.” I’m angry and he knows it. He probably even
thinks he knows why, although I’m not sure myself. He sits down
on the couch, wrapping his cape around him. It’s the only
concession I’m likely to get from him.
“This is the way I think,” Bruce says as if that explains everything.
“I know.” It’s not his fault. It never was. He’s had
to think about death and blood and guns and safety for most of his
life. I shouldn’t expect him to be any different than he
is. To be honest, I’m not supposed to be expecting anything at
all. Just record the data. Assess it later.
“I’m sorry.” Another concession, and I don’t want his pity.
Or his understanding. The world’s greatest detective who never
had a fucking clue about the people in his life. People who
would’ve done anything for him. To make him smile. To hear
“Lantern.” My voice is cold. It doesn’t seem to bother him
“Now tell me what you really thought.” I put down the pen and
paper and stare at his mask. I know exactly what his eyes look
like through the lenses, and I don’t look away.
“I did,” he says. I throw the notepad across the room.
Subject: The Batman
Subject is non-communicative unless
pushed, and prefers to convey his
beliefs through action rather than words. He is highly secretive,
bordering on paranoid at times, but given his lifestyle, paranoia seems
to be a reasonable response.
Subject has a strong sense of loyalty
to family and friends, and will
do almost anything to ensure their safety and well-being. He
commands tremendous respect and has gained a following of competent
assistants over the years. He is considered an authority figure
within the Justice League. Subject does not rely on metahuman
powers. Therefore it must be assumed that his strength lies in
his character and because of this he is both more and less dangerous
than other members of the superhero community.
“Do these word associations really help you assess if we’re a risk to
the planet?” Superman asks. He’s honestly curious.
“They give me some sense of who you are as a person, how your mind
works. I can make certain assessments from that.”
He nods and I know it’s all a mystery to him. He’s not good at
subterfuge, even though he obviously has to live with a certain amount
of it. He doesn’t like it. Games are supposed to be fun.
“Close your eyes, Superman.” He does so without hesitation.
It’s amazing to be the recipient of that much trust. “I’m going
to give you a series of words that might invoke images. Give me
the first word that comes to mind.”
“Peaceful.” I suddenly have an image of him sitting in a lawn
chair on the dark side of the moon, drinking a tropical drink with a
little umbrella in it. It makes me smile. I guess everyone
needs a place to get away from it all. Why not the moon?
“Energy.” He gives a rueful smile. He’s given something
away there, or at least he thinks he has. I make a note.
“Don’t feed themselves.” His eyes flash open. “Just
something my dad used to say.”
I smile, and he closes his eyes again. I’m pretty sure they
didn’t have cows on Krypton.
“Wisdom.” I can’t help but smile. I know he’s thinking of
his family, things they told him. Be a good boy. Tell the
truth. We’re proud of you, son.
A frown. “Bullets.”
A deeper frown. “Pain.” I try to remember if I’ve ever seen
Superman bleed on the news. I think so, but I’m not sure.
Reports of his invulnerability are contradictory. Probably
purposely so. I wonder why Lex hasn’t asked for a physical
assessment of the League. Maybe he already knows everything he
needs to know.
“Servant.” His tone says everything he believes. All that
talk about Truth, Justice, and the American Way, isn’t just talk to
him. I can tell.
“Luthor.” He doesn’t try to hide his feelings.
“Fishing.” He’s on the verge of starting a story that begins with
“My dad and I” and ends with “the fish was this big.” There will
be beige vests and hip waders, a rotting rowboat and a creek, arms
thrown around shoulders and happiness that even the smell of fish can’t
hide. I can imagine a photograph proudly displayed on a mantle
somewhere. A prize trophy stuffed and mounted. Or cooked
over an open fire and shared with friends. It’s written all over
“Alfred.” He coughs and his smile fades. His lips form a
tight line. So they know each other’s identities, it would
appear. It makes sense. That kind of shared knowledge
engenders trust, and they need to be able to trust one another.
With their lives. All of their lives. I’ve never met anyone
who didn’t adore Alfred. Sometimes I think he’s the only reason
Bruce is even remotely capable of functioning in society.
“Secret.” He opens his eyes and surveys me carefully. “I
hope that wasn’t an attempt to find out anything in particular, Dr.
Meridian.” The warmth has faded from his smile.
He’s not convinced. Neither am I.
Subject was most likely raised in the
American mid-west, probably the
only son of older parents. He appears to have strong ties to this
“adoptive” family and likely keeps in relatively close contact with
them. Subject has the type of personality that will form
long-lasting attachments and do what it takes to maintain them.
He is extremely loyal and committed to what he believes in.
Subject purports to be a patriot,
although he expresses some
dissatisfaction with the current administration. It is doubtful
that he would be considered a threat given his high regard for the
His leadership role in the Justice
League is well-known, and he appears
to have close personal ties to several other members. The League
seems to function as a democratic unit with disagreements being settled
through discussion and majority rule.
“Do you use the same words for everyone?” Flash asks. He’s
growing restless and I tell him he can move around the room if he needs
to. I suspect I’ll regret that shortly as a red blur begins to
circle my office, lifting the pages from my notepad and blowing my hair
into my face.
“Yes,” I lie. Mostly the words are the same, but sometimes it’s
interesting to just go where my instincts tell me. I’ve learned
to rely on those instincts.
“Watchtower.” The blur stops and looks at me. “You know
about that, right? The base on the moon? I mean, it’s not a
big secret or anything.” He looks nervous. I wonder if that
was on the list of things Bats told him not to talk about.
“The Watchtower isn’t really a secret.” He looks relieved.
“Tan.” I bet the sun loves him.
“Moon. The cows jump over the moon in that rhyme for kids.
Did I tell you I volunteer at an orphanage? The kids are so
great. … I talk too much, don’t I?” he says. “Bats says I talk
Batman thinks everyone talks too much. Because he doesn’t
talk. At all. Unless threatened. Or tortured.
“You’re doing fine, Flash. I think it’s great you help out with
“You do?” The dangerous sexy grin is back, and it seems like the
couch is closer than it was a moment ago. Now he’s lying on his
stomach, arms draped casually over the sides, fingers trailing on the
floor, and I’m not looking at his perfectly tight ass.
I’m not. But running has obviously been good for him.
“Fly.” My voice sounds rough. I’ve been talking too
much. I need a glass of water.
“Soup. Or button fly, although those take way longer to get out
of when you’re in a hurry. And I’m kind of always in a hurry.”
I’m not even going to go there.
“Death.” He’s standing by the window now, and he’s not
moving. Not at all. It makes me nervous to see him so
still. I try to remember what these people go through every day
while saving the world. The number of times they’re shot
at. Shot. I remember counting the scars on Bruce’s
back. I wonder how many Flash has underneath that suit. If
anyone counts them when he goes home at night.
“Sucks.” The hand against the glass forms into a hard fist, and I
think he’s going to punch it for a moment. He just shakes his
head and smiles back at me over his shoulder. “I need a
drink. How ‘bout you?”
I must have nodded or something. There’s a blur and he’s
gone. I can hear every tick of the clock in the time that he’s
absent. I count them. There are more than I thought there
would be. Suddenly there’s a Styrofoam cup of coffee in my
hand. I know the coffee shop is across town. Across a
bridge. Maybe two. The coffee’s hot enough to burn my
tongue, but I don’t say anything. Just drink it.
He’s on his second cup, piled high with whipped cream and chocolate
sprinkles. I stare at the barren top of my own cup. It
suddenly seems desolate in comparison.
“You seemed like a non-fat, no-whip kind of woman,” he says, and I want
to hit him for being exactly right. What the hell does it say
about me that he’s pegged me by my taste in coffee. Is that what
the rest of the world sees? Non-fat, no-whip, no fun at all?
“But I wasn’t sure,” he says slyly, and from behind his back he pulls a
frothy whipped cream covered mess with a cherry on top. “Triple
cappuccino, extra whip.” He hands it to me and I suck the cherry
into my mouth. Old habits die hard and I pull out the stem, tied
in a knot. It seems important to make him smile right now.
It’s not exactly an awe-inspiring claim to fame, but it’s gotten me
more than a few dates since college. Flash looks impressed, and I
wonder when that started being important to me.
“Thanks,” I say, and I mean it. I also won’t forget he ran as far
and as fast as he could when the topic turned serious. There’s no
way it took him ten minutes to get that coffee. I ignore the mud
on his boots, the snow melting on the carpet.
Everyone deals with things differently. Flash runs. I get
I really do.
This is the longest moment of silence since he’s been in the
room. I’m not used to it with him. If it were Batman, it
would be fine. But it isn’t, and I’m not sure what to do.
I toss the empty cup into the trash. The franchise address is
from another state. Not a neighbouring one, either.
I pretend not to notice. He pretends not to be grateful.
“Shall we go again?” I say. He nods. “Butler.”
“Did it.” The grin is back, and I know he watches the Late, Late,
Late show and eats greasy popcorn and tries to figure out
whodunit. Just as I know he never figures it out. That he
likes horror movies because he wants to be just a little bit scared,
and that he turns on all the lights when something hits too close to
the truth. He’s as easy to read as an open book. Maybe I am
“Bats. And Supes, of course. Lantern, too. They’re
all really great. Lantern lets me watch movies at his place
sometimes. Lets me raid the fridge.” I secretly hope Green
Lantern is also independently wealthy. The Flash could bankrupt a
small nation in a matter of weeks, I suspect.
“Mine.” I blink. I’ve got nothing, and he starts to
explain. “It’s a movie. These two guys – one’s an alien -
who are as different as … well, Bats and me, get stranded on a planet
and have to rely on each other to survive.”
I’m already imagining what can happen between two men stranded on a
planet. Except now they look like Bruce and whatever Flash looks
like under that mask. I picture blue eyes and a feverish
grin. I have no trouble picturing Bruce. Without a
mask. Or anything. At all.
“It was on real late and,” Flash thinks for a moment, “it’s possible I
watch too much TV.”
It’s also possible it’s been too long since I’ve had a real date and
that I spend too much time on the Internet. The words “gay porn”
do not leave my lips. Besides, that’s research. It’s
important to understand my clients interests, needs, obsessions.
That’s all it is. Still, the next word’s an easy stretch.
His grin lights up the room. “That’s a sneaky one. He said
you’d ask that.” He doesn’t give me a response, and I know he’s
not going to. I also know exactly who he means by ‘he’.
What I don’t know is why they had that particular conversation, and I
really want to know. I’m beginning to wonder if I know Bruce at
“’scape. Computer thing. It’s possible I also spend too
much time on the computer.”
I’m not sure how he could sit still long enough to surf the Net.
Maybe he’s learned to use a laptop while he runs. It’s an
interesting mental image.
There’s a moment of absolute silence as I process what he’s said.
I can see him hang his head, and there’s no way he can backtrack from
that. I turn the name over on my tongue. Wally West.
It suits him somehow. I try to smile reassuringly.
“You’re not going to tell Batman, are you? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure
that was on the list of things I wasn’t supposed to talk about.”
He’s pretty sure, but not entirely. I want to hug him. I
give him the only reassurance I can.
“I won’t tell, Bruce,” I say with emphasis, and his eyes open wide.
“You know--” He stops and shakes his head. “You’re really
good, Doc. Really good.” He shifts on the couch until he’s
on his back, legs straight up in the air, crossed at the ankles.
His thighs are the size of my waste paper can.
It’s against the medical ethics code to ever touch a patient for a
purely personal reason. That doesn’t stop me from thinking about
those thighs. I clear my throat.
“Can I call you Wally?”
“Sure,” he says. “What’s next?”
Subject: The Flash
Subject feels things very deeply, and
is uncomfortable when
conversation turns more serious. However, he can be counted on to
do what is necessary, especially when people are at risk. He is
an astute judge of character, and is remarkably persistent.
Because of the speed at which he processes information, he occasionally
forgets what is vital and what isn’t.
“Rocket.” Still obsessed with gadgets and technology, and I can’t
stop myself from changing the order of the words to suit his
obsession. He doesn’t have to tell me there’s a Bat-Plane, a
Bat-Rocket, and probably a Bat-Boat.
“Boat.” I knew it. It probably turns into a submarine with
the press of a button. Boys and their toys. James Bond has
nothing on Batman.
“Icarus.” I roll my eyes. Trust him to trot out mythology
in the middle of this, and I want to hurt him just a little for being
so removed from everyone else. I want to melt the wax off his
wings and watch him fall.
“Daughter.” I hear the catch in his breath. He wasn’t
expecting that, and he’s angry at himself for not thinking of his
boys. Sun. Son. No way to tell the difference, but he
thinks he should’ve known.
“Daughter,” I repeat.
“Girl,” he says, and I want to kick him, but I know I’d only hurt
myself on the steel in his boot. Bat-Girl. Another
accessory. Another necessary tool, and I wonder if he realizes
he’s stopped seeing the people behind the masks. Behind the
names. I wonder if he ever calls Superman by his name – I know he
has one, although I don’t know what it is. I wonder if he ever
calls Flash Wally. I doubt it, but part of me knows that I’m
wrong. It’s easier to believe that he doesn’t see them, doesn’t
care, and everything the other two have told me says otherwise. I
don’t want to believe it. It’s easier when I’m angry, when I can
hate him just a little.
He’s changed. A lot. And mostly for the better.
“Did you pick these words for a particular reason, Dr. Meridian?”
His tone is even. No one else would realize he’s angry.
“Butler,” I repeat. He never discussed his reasons for anything
with me, and I’m not about to start explaining myself to him.
“Alfred.” It’s a surprise, even though I know who he is. I
didn’t expect him to say it and he knows it.
“Superman said the same thing.” It’s unprofessional and it’s
petty, but I say it anyway.
“Superman’s known me a long time.”
“So have I.”
“He’s known me longer. A lot longer.” It’s a warning, and
even I’m not stupid enough to push things further.
Or maybe I am.
“Everywhere.” I close my eyes. He’s holding nothing
back. I know what he’s seeing. What he’s seen since his
childhood ended in a dark alley with two gunshots. And I have to
“Forever.” It’s the only way he understands it. Death
changed his life forever. And then changed Dick’s life. And
Tim’s. I want him to remember the good things that came out of
it. There have to be some. I know there have to be.
“Sons.” There’s the edge of a smile beneath the cowl, and the
slightest movement that wouldn’t be a nod if it was anyone else.
“Superman said that too. And The Flash. In his own way.”
“I told you I’ve known them a long time.”
“No, you said Superman’s known you a long time.”
“Semantics,” he says casually, and I know there’s nothing casual about
his choice of words. There never was.
“I never said I didn’t need people in my life, Chase.”
You just didn’t need me, I don’t say. I don’t have to. It’s
written on his face.
“I’m glad you’ve made friends. I am.”
“And do you still think we’re a threat to humanity?”
I put the notebook aside. “Humanity’s a threat to humanity.
But having people who can knock over a mountain with one solid punch or
circle the globe in a minute are bound to raise a few eyebrows.
You’ve never exactly been the most trusting person. What’s
He grins, and I know I’ll never fully understand that smile. I’m
not sure I even want to. “I don’t trust anyone. Not
completely. You know that. Luthor knows that too. I’m
still the best defense against the Justice League getting out of hand
because I’m human. And I’m their friend, and that doesn’t change
the fact I would do whatever I had to to protect this planet.”
“And how do they feel about that? Superman? Flash?”
It takes an effort not to call him Wally. It will take an effort
for the rest of my life.
“They understand. They accept it. They would do the same if
they had to. That’s why it works. We keep the balance by
admitting there’s a danger, not by pretending it doesn’t exist.”
“So you admit there’s a danger in the League going rogue? Turning
into the Justice Lords? They assassinated their President
Luthor. You can’t blame Lex for being a little bit paranoid.”
Batman gets off the couch and glides to the window. I don’t hear
his feet hit the carpet. “I don’t blame him for being
concerned. We all have to be vigilant. And that’s why
you’re giving me a copy of your notes before you destroy them.”
“What?” I sputter with disbelief. It’s not a professional
look, but he’s taken me completely off guard.
“Why do you think I allowed this? It’s necessary. You’re
going to give me whatever you give Luthor, and more. If there
comes a time that The League ever needs to be stopped, it won’t be
Luthor doing it. It will be me.”
“But, Bruce, they’re your friends.” I think of Wally’s comment
about the closet. Of talking to Bruce about it. I think of
the closeness, the affection I can see between these men.
“They’re your … friends,” I repeat. And maybe more.
“Yes, they are.” For him, it’s that simple.
Subject: The Batman
As previously noted, Subject has an
almost pathological attachment to
those who have committed to his mission, but will sacrifice any of them
to a higher moral cause. He makes no apologies for this, and
expects others to do the same. Because he believes in and answers to a
higher code, the Subject occasionally sees himself operating outside
society and may act in accordance with that code even if it is in
defiance of the law. This could ultimately place him in conflict
with the government. He would be a formidable opponent
politically, especially with the backing of other charismatic members
of the League, although he fiercely guards his identity.
It can be assumed he is financially
independent given the technological
repertoire he utilizes.
I pull out the Rorschach images, blotches of black ink on stiff white
paper, and I wish it were as easy to see the right answers in black and
white. I’ve never put much faith in the inkblots, but they’re
amusing, and I know I won’t get anywhere asking Superman to tell me
about his childhood.
I flip through the cards.
He sees a variety of farm animals. An unprecedented number of
cows. Horses. A cock, and he blushes when he makes sure I
understand he means a rooster. I blush right along with
him. How can anyone be afraid of this man?
“I like cows,” he admits.
I’ll bet money he was raised on a farm somewhere in the American
mid-west. A happy warm farm with a mother who made pie and a
father who passed out good advice when he passed the potatoes. He
had friends, normal hobbies, a balanced life. There were probably
girlfriends, or boyfriends, or maybe both. I don’t really care,
but it’s clear he has people he cares about, feels responsible
for. When he talks about Batman, it’s more than professional
courtesy. He likes him, respects him, and although I doubt they
see eye-to-eye on very many things, I suspect that only makes their
friendship richer. Stronger. Bruce never liked people who
agreed with him all the time. He liked people who gave him a
Superman tells me he sometimes flies for no reason at all. He
says it softly, as if it’s a confession. The clouds feel exactly
like clouds should, he tells me. As if that explains
everything. He admits he looks for shapes in the clouds.
Like the inkblots. Dancing cows and laughing faces, and sometimes
elephants wander across the sky. He smiles and looks out the
I pull out a Post-it note and write a reminder to pencil in some time
for cloud-gazing in my daytimer.
I am the lamest person on earth. I toss the note into the trash
and decide to look at the clouds next time I’m outside.
I hope I remember.
Although his strength and abilities
could certainly pose a danger, it
is unlikely that (without coercion) he could ever be used against the
people of earth or its governments. He may not agree with the
current regime, but is highly unlikely to take action that would
constitute an illegal act.
Threat Level: Medium
“Is it an alligator?”
“It’s whatever you think it is, Wally.”
I know I sound frustrated, but I’ve said the same thing at least five
times since we started looking at the inkblots. Wally doesn’t
really believe me, and I guess I don’t blame him. I remember my
Grade Nine English teacher telling me a poem could mean whatever I
wanted it to mean, then marking me wrong because I didn’t see the right
meaning. I would be suspicious too.
“I think it’s an alligator,” he says with absolutely no
conviction. His hands are against his head, and he’s leaning on
my desk. The caffeine rush appears to be over and he keeps
glancing at the window. He wants to go home. Wherever that
is. Maybe he just wants to run.
“Maybe it’s a Wally-gator,” I say without thinking. I’m almost
blinded by his smile.
“Did you watch that cartoon? Wallygator, Wallygator.” He
starts to sing the theme song, and what the hell, I start singing
along. I didn’t know I knew all the words. Funny what the
How do I explain to President Luthor that I just don’t believe a man
who knows the theme songs to old cartoons and volunteers his time at an
orphanage is a threat to the world? Even if he can run faster
than anyone on the planet and create winds capable of duplicating the
effects of an F-5 tornado.
I’m going to have to come up with another answer.
Subject: The Flash
Subject does not seem to present a
threat to national security (unless
entrusted with state secrets) and it is unlikely he would participate
in any action against the current government. It is almost
impossible to imagine him acting alone, in any case.
Threat Level: Low
“What do you see, Bruce?” I’ve been dreading this part of the
“A two-headed horse.”
“And this one?”
I flip to the next card.
I put the stack on the table and glare at him. He sits
stone-faced and waits.
“Tell me what you see.”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
“I went to Harvard. And Columbia. I did a Post-Doc at
Stanford. I’m not an idiot, Bruce, so don’t treat me like
one. Luthor wanted a simple assessment to confirm what he already
knows. You wanted someone who would say you’re not a bunch of
power-hungry megalomaniacs waiting to take over the world. You’re
both going to get what you want out of this, and I’m just the pawn in
the middle. No, I’d rather not be playing word games and looking
at inkblots, but since none of you will answer direct questions about
your childhood, your life, your work, or your families, I was kind of
screwed for options. So look at the goddamned inkblot and tell me
what you see. Not what you think I want you to say. Not
what you’ve studied is the appropriate response for each card. I
know you well enough to know that even though the actual cards are kept
secret and changed frequently, you would’ve done your homework.”
He gives me a grudging smile. Yes, I still know him. At
least a little.
“Just tell me what you see, Bruce.”
I turn back to the first card.
“A pool of blood.”
“A bat with fangs.” I almost roll my eyes, but something tells me
not to. He’s not joking. “Leathery wings stretching out
like arms. Red, red eyes.”
I switch to the next image.
“The victim of a vivisection, chest broken open and splayed
apart. The heart has been removed.” He points to a white
spot in the middle of the black.
“Two women, naked, wrapped in razor wire, huddled in a corner.
Waiting to die.”
“An eye. Punctured by a knife. Surrounded by tears and
I swallow hard and look at him. I reach out and tug his mask off,
run my hand over his damp hair. I would never do this if he were
anyone else. His eyes are darker than I remember.
Older. There’s a fresh scar along the edge of his nose. As
if someone struck him with a whip.
I turn over another page.
“A coffin. Surrounded by damp, black earth.”
“Bones of a child. Buried underneath a weeping willow.” I
want to wrap my arms around him and make it all go away. There’s
no one in the world that has enough love to give this man.
I don’t want to do it, and yet I turn another page. It’s like an
addiction. A sickness. I need to see what he sees. I
need to understand.
“A smile,” he says, and I think there might be hope for him.
“Like the Joker’s victims, full of yellow teeth and blood-red lips,
laughter spilling out like sickly gas.”
I stack the pages on top of the desk and try to banish the images from
my mind. I may never use this set of inkblots again. In
fact, I may burn them as soon as he leaves.
“I’m sorry,” I say. He shrugs.
“You wanted to know.” He pulls the mask back into place, adjusts
the cowl across his nose. “I presume you won’t tell Luthor.”
I won’t tell anyone. He knows that.
I don’t have to say it, but I do.
Subject: The Batman
Ultimately, the question becomes how
stable is a man who dresses up
like a giant bat? He is unequivocally sane. Although he has
issues of abandonment and survivor guilt, he understands his
limitations and the dangers of what he does. Subject is also
keenly aware of the potential for problems among the members of the
Justice League, and takes an active role in monitoring League
relations. Subject could be a potential ally in maintaining a
positive relationship between humans and metahumans.
He is the lynch pin upon which the
League will ultimately succeed or
Threat level: Potentially High.
I look over the first report. It’s sketchy given the time I’ve
spent with Superman, but I know what Lex is looking for, and what I’m
prepared to tell him. Or not tell him. Both sides want to
use me. I knew that going in.
I start my report on Wally. I crumple up the page and restart it
three times. How does someone put Wally West into words?
He’s not something that can easily be contained on paper. I
wonder how Lex will react if I simply write “Mostly harmless” and call
it a day. I almost do it just to see if he’s read Douglas
Adams. I have my doubts.
I start again.
It’s pretty thin, but there really isn’t much more to say.
Wally’s a sweet guy with a heart of gold, and issues that I didn’t even
have time to explore. I resist the urge to write down he can be
thwarted by taking away his food and caffeine supply, or can be
silenced by beating him to a punchline. That he knows too much
about old television shows and nothing in particular about
self-defense. And I definitely don’t write that I think he has a
crush on Batman. At least in the interest of
self-preservation. Bruce will be getting a copy of this report,
I should add somewhere that Wally may very well be the bravest man I
know. Anyone willing to pursue any kind of relationship with
Batman has to have a super-sized portion of courage. Or else he’s
insane. I prefer to believe it’s the former.
Surprisingly, I find myself wishing him luck. Bruce certainly
And we both know it’s not me.
I take my time with the last one. Batman. I know what
control freaks both Lex and Bruce are. They’ll be going over this
report with a fine-tooth comb, analyzing every word choice, every comma.
The smell of burning inkblots settles in my clothes.
I really need a drink.
I close my laptop and get ready to leave, packing every scrap of paper
relating to the sessions in the bag with the computer. I wonder
if handcuffing it to my wrist would be considered too extreme.
Bruce probably wouldn’t think so.
It’s been a long day. A fascinating day, and all I want is some
time to process what I’ve learned. Where I’m going to fit in the
struggle I know is coming. I can feel it in the air the way my
grandfather could always feel a storm approaching. Maybe there’s
a little metahuman in all of us. The thought actually makes me
The bar on the corner is quiet and they make a gin and tonic that will
melt away all your worries. I order two at the counter, and slip
into a shadowy booth in the back corner of the room. No one will
notice if I kick my shoes off under the table. I take off my
leather jacket, lean back, and close my eyes.
The sound of a drink hitting the glass tabletop makes me open my
eyes. Bruce is setting two gin and tonics down. He slides
in beside me. His companions take up residence on the other side
of the table. One of them is tall and broad-shouldered, wearing
glasses that are obviously too big. They keep sliding down his
nose. He pushes at them nervously, but I’d know that smile
anywhere. Long fingers fiddle with his tie as he tries to take up
less room in the booth than he actually needs. It’s amusing to
watch Superman try to look small.
The man beside him has reddish-blonde hair and freckles. I didn’t
imagine freckles, but I like them. His eyes are wired and green,
and he doesn’t so much sit there as bounce.
“Ow,” Wally says suddenly, and I know Bruce has kicked him under the
table. Wally stops bouncing, although the air around him seems to
vibrate just a little.
“Chase, so nice to see you again. It’s been years,” Bruce says.
So that’s how we’re going to play it. I smile and nod.
“Hardly seems like any time at all, Brucie.” I ignore the
glare. He always hated women who called him that. I drink
my gin and tonic, and wink playfully at Wally across the table.
His laughter carries across the bar.
“I don’t think you know my friends,” Bruce continues, and I wonder how
long they’ve been waiting for me to come down from the office.
What they talked about while they waited. If they talked at all.
Superman looks up and extends a large hand towards me. My hand
disappears into his palm as he gives me a good firm handshake.
“Clark Kent,” he says. “Reporter, Daily Planet.”
I feel a note of triumph, and at the same time a shiver of panic.
I figured it out. Not his identity, but I narrowed down his list
of professions, and if I can do it, someone else can too. Maybe
I’ll change that part. Maybe it’s something Luthor really doesn’t
need to know. I was just guessing anyway. He doesn’t need
to know I was right.
I’m starting to figure out what it means to be trusted by people like
this, by men who save the world and try to lead normal lives too.
Men with families and sons and butlers who love them more than life
itself. Men who have friends they’d die for. Willingly.
“Nice to meet you, Clark.”
Bruce is about to introduce Wally, but I can’t resist temptation.
“Aren’t you Wally West?”
He chokes on his coffee, and I’m pretty sure Bruce has kicked him under
the table again. Hard. I feel comfortable with them, or
maybe it’s the second gin and tonic going straight to my head. I
feel relaxed. Talkative. Maybe it’s because I spend my time
listening to other people. Sometimes it’s good to talk.
I see Bruce wave for a refill. He’s drinking bottled water.
Clark has a glass of milk. Wally’s consuming coffee at an
astounding rate. The waitress just leaves the pot on the
table. Even so, she’s going to be a regular visitor to our little
corner of the bar.
“How do you know Wally?” Bruce asks in a voice that is nothing like
casual, and his eyes never leave Wally’s. The Flash looks like a
cornered second-grader who’s been caught eating paste. It’s not a
bad look on him.
“I think he may be dating an old boyfriend of mine.” The words
are out before I realize I’m saying them.
“Really.” Bruce doesn’t seem surprised, but I am. I
expected his voice to be cold, but he’s actually smiling. Wally
looks like he wants to crawl under the table. Or up the
wall. Any minute now he’s going to bolt out of the bar. I
reach across and put a hand on his arm.
“Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe he hasn’t worked up the courage to
ask him out yet. My old boyfriend was a pretty scary guy when he
wanted to be, but I think it might just work out. What do you
There’s no way out, but Bruce is more relaxed than I’ve ever seen
him. “You might be right,” he says. The sigh of relief from
Wally is audible.
Clark laughs into his milk. The alcohol is making me think about
cloud pictures and flying. I want to know what clouds feel
like. I want to lick Clark’s milk moustache off. It’s quite
possible I’ve just said that out loud since conversation stops.
Completely. Three tables over.
The waitress arrives with a fresh round. Those gin and tonics
really have a kick. Maybe it’s because I haven’t eaten anything
all day except the cherry and the coffee and a stale granola bar I
found in the top drawer of my desk between sessions.
Bruce slips the waitress a folded bill and whispers something about
decaf. She glances at Wally and nods knowingly. She looks
me over and brings me a water even though I didn’t ask for one.
Apparently she’s an uncanny judge of character. Or
sobriety. Probably both.
“Have you finished your reports?” Bruce asks finally, and I know it’s
the question that’s been on his tongue since the moment I walked in the
bar. He’s even less patient than Wally. He’s just learned
to control it better.
I unlock the briefcase and hand him the files. All of them.
“I’m not that drunk, Bruce. Read them. Tell me what needs
to be changed. I’ve already decided to take out the part about
Superman possibly being a reporter.”
I see startled blue eyes behind thick lenses. A conversation
takes place around the table without a word being said. They each
take a handful of pages and start to read. Bruce makes edits with
a quick angular flick of his wrist. He’s using a Mont Blanc pen
he’s pulled from somewhere. His corrections are dark blue and
obvious, as if there’s no doubt about what changes must be made.
Clark is neatly penciling suggestions in the margins. After a few
moments they exchange pages. They appear to be thinking along the
same lines as there are no further corrections. When Wally reads
them, he borrows Bruce’s engraved pen and draws a picture of Kilroy
peering over the top of a wall. Except he has a mask. And
pointy ears. I laugh like I haven’t laughed in years.
Who would ever think these men could destroy the world? It’s easy
to believe in them. Easier than it should be given what I
know. I’ll think about what that means later.
It’s late when we leave the bar. Papers and revisions are tucked
neatly into my case. I’ll review them before I file the report –
when I’m once again in an alcohol-free zone – but I doubt I’ll find
anything wrong with their changes. I know them now. They’ve
trusted me, and that carries a responsibility all its own.
I feel like I owe them something. Protection. I can give
them that. I’ll make whatever changes I need to.
Bruce presses a button and a car alarm flashes in response.
There’s a sleek black sports car parked across the street, and I can’t
help but wonder what special features it has. Rocket launcher
under the hood? Jet-powered engine?
Wally says he’ll just run home, and Bruce touches his arm and says
something softly. There’s a moment when Wally just looks at him,
and then his face breaks into a grin. He nods and starts to move
away at a slow jog. There’s a wave of his hand, and then he’s
“Thanks,” Bruce tells me, and I hug him tightly. It’s partly the
gin and tonic, but it’s something else. I worry about what’s
coming, and I want him to know I trust him. I always have.
Even when I hated him for keeping me at a distance. I trust them
all. More than I trust Lex. And that’s really what this is
Bruce and Clark exchange words, but I can’t hear them. They look
back at me and nod. I don’t understand the look on Clark’s face,
the smile Bruce gives me. He climbs into his car, and it roars
away in the direction Wally headed. It’s just me and Superman.
Before I know it, there’s an arm around my waist and I suddenly feel a
lot more sober than I did a minute ago. Cool air hits me as we
rise higher into the night, and I can see the familiar streets of New
York stretched out below me like a giant glowing quilt. Neither
of us says anything as he flies towards the edge of the city. He
swoops lower and points. I can make out the outline of a black
car racing through the night, a red blur running alongside it, keeping
pace. From the direction they’re heading, I know they’re going
back to Gotham. Together. I smile, and Clark gives me
a little squeeze.
The cold air clears my head. I have time to think. They
took a huge risk talking to me in the first place. A bigger risk
meeting me at the bar. Except I’m beginning to think they didn’t
take any risks at all.
“What was in my drink?”
“Gin and tonic,” Clark says, but he’s smiling. I don’t know if
he’s lying or not. I think I should be able to tell.
I wonder what sodium pentathol tastes like. If it tastes like gin
and tonic. Bruce never did like leaving anything to chance.
Part of me wants to press Clark for an answer, or maybe I just want to
press closer and make myself feel safe again. There’s a shiver
down my spine despite Superman’s warmth. I let myself think it’s
from the altitude, the wind. I want to be pissed off, but it
doesn’t seem like a good time to start yelling about screwing with
me. I pushed them too. We all knew what we were doing.
What if I decided to tell Luthor everything I know? There’s a
lump forming in my throat as I look down. It’s a long way to fall
and I suddenly feel fragile. As if I could be broken as easily as
a doll. It’s not far from the truth given whose arms I’m
in. I imagine what my body would look like spattered against the
sidewalk. Like one of my inkblots. A Jersey cow. A
butterfly. A bad decision in flesh and blood.
I’m still looking at the faraway ground when I ask, “Would you have
done it?” The air feels colder. “If I hadn’t been willing
to cooperate? Keep your secrets?”
“Bruce said you were incredibly smart.”
That doesn’t answer my question. It doesn’t answer anything at
all. I consider the wisdom of pointing that out when he gives me
an answer anyway. Right. He takes his time to think about
what he’s going to say. He’s not Wally.
“There was very little risk of you giving everything to Luthor.
Bruce assured us of that.”
“Of course he did.” Profiling the profiler. I should have
expected nothing less from him.
Superman shifts, turns me in his arms so we’re facing each other,
flying straight for the clouds. “There are other ways.
Non-lethal ways. There are ways to quash a report, even one for a
Of course. Blackmail. Threats. Theft. All
justifiable. All necessary evils.
“We don’t kill people,” he continues. He believes in what he’s
saying. “We don’t. But we’ve learned to protect ourselves,
each other. Our families. If you’re with us, we protect you
too. There are larger things at stake than Luthor and his games.”
I think of Bruce and Wally, racing in the darkness, stumbling towards
intimacy. Of Dick and Tim and Alfred who would follow Bruce to
hell and back. Who already have. I remember the taste of
whipped cream and coffee-scented cherries. What it must feel like
to run free. To be able to fly. I know there’s a farm
family somewhere sitting down to dinner with fresh pie and corn on the
cob, and behind the lighted windows of the houses down below are a
hundred thousand people who owe their lives to these men.
It’s about choosing sides.
Superman flies higher, and suddenly we’re pushing through the
clouds. I’ve never realized how beautiful the sky is, how close
the stars can feel. The ground is just something I heard about
once in a story. It’s too far away to be frightening anymore.
My fingers trail through wisps of damp air and I realize how right he
was. How there was never really a choice at all.
Clouds feel exactly the way clouds should.
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