Dark Night

by Talya Firedancer

The night after Superman returned he stopped by Gotham first, because it had been a den of iniquity the last time he'd recalled, a far cry from Metropolis' swept-clean streets. The recession of the eighties had hit the city hard, and when the dot-coms burst, the shining towers of Gotham had gone rotten from within. Before he left for those five years there'd been rumors of a vigilante who dressed up in cape and cowl and he'd thought it odd, but then, he who wore milliskin was in no position to throw stones.

From high above the scud of impending bad weather and crust of smog he waited for the city to call out, and he didn't have to wait long.

The metallic shuff-clack of a gun being cocked and loaded caught his attention first, followed by "We do it quick, and quiet," a gravelly masculine voice growled, answered with the sounds of other guns cocking. "Boss wants the Tapas place out of the way."

"Collateral damage?" another male voice prompted.

"Huh? Oh -- bystanders, family? Fine, this is about getting the message out. The messier the better in his books."

Superman changed his flight-path to a sharp angle, plunging downward through the juddering seethe of clouds. He homed on the words that followed, "Let's do it," and sped through the intervening space to alight at the mouth of an alley. This particular situation turned out to be a group of five men, decked out in the uniform black and knit ski-masks of thugs, packing an assortment of Glocks and Colt handguns.

"What the--" one man exclaimed, and they turned as one for the other direction.

A piece of night detached, swooped down, assumed shape as a gigantic bat-winged figure that hit the ground from the other side, looming tall. He cast a fearsome glare from beneath a cowl with two skyward-pointing ears, almost horns.

"The Batman!" one of the thugs cried, sounding more terrified than the look at Superman had inspired. He aimed his gun nonetheless, managing to squeeze off a round as the Batman dodged, casting out a device to disarm that at first glance seemed a throwing star, but was in fact a bat-shaped kunai. The moment the first left his black-gauntleted hand, another was thrown, and another, until the gunmen had been relieved of their bravado.

There were a few over-the-shoulder glances as if assessing their chances. Superman smiled broadly and crossed his arms over his chest. With cornered snarls of rage, they threw themselves bodily at the dark-cloaked man before them.

The Batman cleaned up the main action without a word or even a grunt of effort. The most Superman saw for his troubles was knocking a pair of heads together when two fleeing thugs tried to get past him. Before he could ask if there was any way in which he could help, the Batman was peremptorily cuffing his 'catch' to each other in one big circle, back to back.

"Nice work," Superman commented at last, when it was done and the Batman straightened, paused, and did not - quite - glance his way.

A beat of silence. "This is my town," the Batman said. "I want that understood."

Superman gave him a taut nod. There might be some things beyond him, but he had a firm grasp on the proprietary look that dwelt in the man's eyes. "I'll leave you to it, then." He lifted a fist to seize a gravity line and draw himself up.

"Wait," the Batman said, harsh tone softer if not gentling. He raised one gauntleted hand in a sketchy version of a salute. "Welcome back."

A smile touched his lips. That was the first instance in which someone had actually said it. "Thank you." Then he sprang up, and away.