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, M.D., PhD

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 Flash.  

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.

“Let’s begin.”


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 violin again?”

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 hardware store--”

“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 questions.”


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.

“Hello, Bruce.”

“Chase.  Thank you for agreeing to this.  And let’s stick to professional names.”

“There are no recording devices.  As per your request.  You can--”

“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?”

He nods.


“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.


Subject:  Superman
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 metabolism.


“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, and I--”

“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 truth?”

“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.


Subject:  Superman

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 food.

I am not flirting.  I am a professional.  I turn back to my notepad.


“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 television show.

“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 you?”

“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 like that.”

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 that, okay?”

“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 feels.


“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 of it.

“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.  Impartially.

“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 him laugh.

“Lantern.”  My voice is cold.  It doesn’t seem to bother him at all.






“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 his face.


“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 Identity.”

“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.

“It wasn’t.”

He’s not convinced.  Neither am I.


Subject:  Superman

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 democratic system.

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.  “Earth.”



“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 too much.”

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 kids.”

“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.  Really good.

“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 that.

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 too.




“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 all.


“’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.

“Secret Identity.”

“Wally West.”

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 ask anyway.


“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 changed?”

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 fight.

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 window.

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.


Subject:  Superman

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 mind remembers.

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.

He’s Wally.

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 afternoon.

“A two-headed horse.”

“And this one?”

“A camel.”

I flip to the next card.

“A butterfly.”

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 blood.”

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 fail.

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, after all.

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 needs somebody.

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 smile.

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 think, Bruce?”

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.  He hesitates.

“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 gone.

“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 about.

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 government committee.”

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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