DISCLAIMER: The Justice League of America characters are the property of DC Comics. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2005 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.
Trinity: Two by Four
Diana sat on the steps of the deck, moving aside slightly to let Alfred pass her. He carried a glass of milk to Lois, who rolled her eyes at him but then took it from the silver tray and sipped. Lois lay on one of the many chaise lounges set out by the pool. Her belly, just becoming prominent, was covered by her swimsuit and a black gauze blouse; her legs were protected by the damp towel Kal had set over her. She was wearing a floppy straw hat that Bruce had brought her to keep the sun off her face.
Diana looked down at her own arms, tanned by constant exposure to the sun. She'd never worried about sunscreen or cancer or anything else. Her skin never grew old or leathery, as she'd seen so many humans' skin do. She would be young and beautiful forever.
She would be young and beautiful and barren. Forever.
Bruce and Kal were in the pool. They swam laps, neither talking to the other as they both worked off steam. Alfred watched them for a moment, then he turned and walked back up the stairs. Diana expected him to pass her again, but he surprised her by laying the tray on the next step and sitting down beside her.
A companionable silence fell between them, then he sighed, and she turned to look at him. He met her gaze, his eyes searching. She smiled, wanting to trace the lines around his eyes. Lines of worry and care. Lines of love. For Bruce. For her. And even for their strange little foursome. Soon to be a quintet.
Little Phoebe. Lois had called it that day on the planet. She hadn't meant to, but she had. Diana had looked up the meaning of Little Joe after their first visit to the planet as a group. Little Joe. Two pairs in craps.
She wasn't sure they were two pairs anymore. Lois's baby had changed that.
Lois and Bruce's baby had changed that.
Little Phoebe. Five, made up of three and two. Not one and four. Not one baby and four consenting adults. But two and three. Clark and Lois and baby. Or was it Bruce and Lois and baby?
Diana realized she was clenching her fists and forced herself to relax.
"It hurts you to have her here," Alfred said, his voice low.
"No, it's fine. She's my friend." But was that what they were?
He looked back out at the pool. "I think it hurts Master Clark to come here."
"We're family." The words came out harsh. They weren't family. They were lovers. Lovers who should have realized the crazy situation they were getting into. Lovers who should have stayed friends. People who wanted each other but didn't indulge that hunger.
"That's one way of looking at it." Alfred's voice was gentle, taking any sting out of the words.
It was her turn to sigh. "I thought it would get easier." She'd never told Alfred that Lois's baby was probably Bruce's. She didn't think Bruce had ever told him. Certainly, Kal or Lois had never told him. Yet Alfred knew. She knew he knew, but she couldn't bring herself to ask him how he'd guessed, because then she would be admitting that this had spun completely out of her control.
He'd tried to warn her.
"You need to talk about this, don't you?" His tone held no condemnation.
She nodded, refusing to put her weakness into words.
"You should talk to him." Alfred pointed to where Bruce was climbing out of the pool. "You should let him know this hurts you."
"He has enough on his mind."
"And whose fault is that?"
She turned to Alfred, but he kept his gaze locked on the pool. She saw how tight his jaw was, how carefully he blinked. "It's all of our faults, Alfred."
His answer was a tight move of his head, barely a nod, more of a jerking motion. "I suppose it is a little late to blame anyone in particular."
She leaned in, letting her shoulder rest against his. "Why don't you judge us, Alfred?"
"No, you don't. You've tried to spare us. You've been disappointed in us. But you're not judging this. Not the way anyone else would. Why?"
He didn't answer, started to get up, and she grabbed his arm, careful not to hurt him, but also not letting him rise.
"You said once that you knew what we were doing."
He stopped trying to get up, sank down to the step, his lips very tight.
"Why? Because you need to know you aren't alone in this folly?" He turned, his face angry.
She'd never seen him look that way at her. "Maybe. Yes."
"Everyone's alone in this folly. No matter how many other people have done something like this. Everyone's alone."
She let go of his arm, hoping he would stay with her of his own free will.
But he got up quickly, moving faster than a man of his age should--all to get away from her.
"I'm sorry, Alfred."
"I can't make your life better with stories from my past, Miss Diana. I won't even try."
"Of course not. I'm sorry I asked." She looked down, felt his hand rest on her head for a moment. A strangely affectionate touch. "Alfred?"
He looked down.
"When they were together before, did you think Lois and Bruce would make it?"
"No." His hand moved down, to touch her cheek. "But I did think you and he would make it."
"Did? Not do?"
"I don't know anymore. Everything's changed." He pulled his hand away and walked back to the house.
He was right. Everything had changed. They'd all seen to that.
Clark watched Diana sitting with Alfred. He could hear what they were saying. Diana had to know he was listening in. When Alfred left her, Diana stared down at the pool, her eyes locking with his. Then she got up and disappeared into the gardens.
Clark looked over at Lois. Bruce was sitting with her, talking quietly. Clark could hear them easily too. They were just talking about how she was doing, how she was feeling. But there was something in their tone. Something...intimate. More intimate than sex.
They were parents. Bruce was the father of the child that grew inside Clark's wife.
It shouldn't bother him. That was Clark's mantra now. It should not bother him.
He felt like flying out of the water, shooting from the pool with a great splash, but he settled for climbing up the ladder. Neither of them looked at him as he passed them, heading up the steps to where Diana had disappeared.
He found her in the rose garden, sitting on the grass, a row of laurel blocking the view of anyone looking out from the house. "Hiding?"
She nodded, holding her hand out to him.
He took it, squeezing gently as he sat down next to her.
"I think he's in love with her," Diana said softly. Only another meta could have heard her.
"I think you're wrong." Clark smiled at her when she glanced at him in surprise. "I think he's in love with the idea of a baby. But I think you're the one he loves."
"It's her baby, Kal."
"I'm well aware of that." He pulled her close, holding her tightly against him. Her arms stole around him, squeezing hard.
She would break Bruce's ribs if she squeezed him this hard.
"Remember at the press conference?" he asked. "When you said you wanted to fly away?"
"You said no."
He laughed softly. "I'm not sure I answered you either way."
"Which means you were saying no without saying it." She nuzzled his neck.
Their special chemistry. Only grown stronger now that they both felt so isolated. He turned, kissing her slowly. They were rarely frantic in their affection. They both knew what they were doing. Solace wasn't desperation. Solace wasn't frenzied or hidden. They would have kissed the same way on the steps.
Or so he liked to tell himself.
"Why are you hiding?" he asked.
"Because no one is looking for me."
He traced her lips. "I came looking for you."
She smiled. "Maybe because you want to hide too."
Diana was strong. Even now, hurting and sad, she wouldn't hide for long. She would face what she had made. Or what Lois and her lover had made.
"I'm tired, Kal." She kissed him again, her tongue running along his upper lip, making him shiver.
He felt the familiar confusion fill him. He loved this woman so. And he loved his wife. He was jealous of his wife's relationship with his best friend. He was jealous of his best friend's relationship with Diana. He loved Diana. He loved Lois. He loved Bruce.
And that was exactly what had gotten them into this damned mess. Why the hell couldn't he have just picked one of them? Why couldn't he let well enough alone?
"I love you," she whispered, her lips against his cheek.
"I love you too." He said it far more to Diana than he did to Lois these days. He had a feeling that Lois didn't care what he felt.
She was untouchable. Pregnant and glowing and part of something that didn't include him.
"Will you love it?" Diana asked.
She nodded, the motion felt rather than seen as her silky hair glided under his chin.
"How do you know?" She pulled away, studying him. "How do you know you will?"
He felt as if she'd wrapped her lasso around him. Her eyes bore into him, drawing the truth out. Truth he had not admitted to anyone. Truth they'd all been more than happy to let stay buried.
She pulled him close, holding him as he squeezed her harder and harder. She didn't complain, but he felt her breathing catch as he held her even tighter. He eased up before he could hurt her.
"Let's fly away?" he said. "Just the two of us. Far, far away. Maybe the Fortress, where no one can find us."
"You love her. You can't leave her."
"Do you love her, Diana?"
She buried her lips in the crook of his neck, "I don't know anymore, Kal."
"That's a lie."
She froze and he smiled, and knew it was a bitter expression. He so rarely called her on her untruths. But today he had to.
"Yes. I love her." She pulled out of his arms. "But she doesn't love me."
"You're wrong. She does. She loves you and she loves me and she loves Bruce."
"I wish she just loved you again. Only you." Diana smoothed back his hair. "You'll be a good father."
"I'm not his father."
"His?" She looked away. "Of course...you can tell?"
He'd known it was a boy for weeks. He hadn't told Lois. She swore she didn't want to know the sex of her baby.
"What are you going to call him?"
"I don't know. We haven't...had that conversation yet." Although Lois had tried several times. He usually pleaded a JLA crisis, making up telepathic messages from J'onn to get him out of the apartment. Which was stupid. One call to Bruce, and Lois could blow that lie out of the water.
"Don't give up, Kal." Diana looked away, toward the stairs.
Clark could hear Bruce's footsteps. He got up, pulling Diana to her feet, then moving away a little.
Bruce walked over to them, his arm going around her waist. "You okay?"
She nodded. "You know how I like the rose garden."
His smile was a bit twisted. "I also know how you like Clark."
Her face seemed to freeze, then she pushed him away. "That was unkind, Bruce."
"It's also the truth." He watched her walk into the house, then turned to Clark. "What did I miss?"
"Nothing." Clark walked away. Then he turned back to Bruce. "She's upset. She needs you. You should go to her."
Bruce frowned, looking first up at the house, then back toward the pool, as if torn.
"Diana. Needs. You. You shouldn't have to think about that, Bruce."
Bruce nodded, as if he was finally hearing Clark, and hurried into the house. Clark let himself spy; super voyeur powers letting him hear and see Bruce pull Diana into his arms, soothing her even as they fell back on their bed.
Clark made himself look away.
Then he turned back, unable to not watch. Diana was looking at the wall, as if she knew he would be looking right at her. He thought he saw her mouth, "Kal." But maybe that was just his imagination?
He took a deep breath, then walked down to Lois. She was dozing, a small smile on her face. He stood gazing down at her. She looked stunning. Leaning down, he kissed her gently.
"Mmmm." Her smile grew bigger. "Do that again, Smallville."
"How do you know it's me?"
She opened her eyes, studying him.
He kept his expression light.
"I just do." She moved over so there was room for him if they snuggled.
He held her close, his arms just tight enough to keep her safe. His hand stole to her belly. To the baby that wasn't his.
She looked up at him. "What's going on in that handsome head of yours?"
"Just thinking about our baby." He could say the words with no catch in his voice. Say them as if he meant them. Our baby. Ours as in the four of them. Not ours as in the two of them.
The answer seemed to please her. She kissed him and shifted until she was comfortably nestled against him, her belly pushing hard at him. He rubbed it, listening for the heartbeat of her child. Their child. The heartbeat was strong and sure. Their baby was healthy and growing well.
It pained him to think that things might be better if their baby refused to grow. Cupping his hand over her belly, he mouthed to the child, "I will love you," as if that could make up for Clark not being as super a man as he should be.
Bruce stood at the door of the Daily Planet pressroom, watching Lois move from copier to printer to her desk and back again. She wasn't clumsy yet, was just starting to look heavily pregnant. He looked around for Clark; his friend was nowhere in sight.
Lois turned, frowning at him slightly. He wondered how she'd known he was there.
"Ms. Lane," he said, and then wondered if she went by Mrs. Kent at work.
"Mister Wayne," her smile was open, easy. He must have picked the right name.
"How are you?"
"Did you come all the way to Metropolis just to ask me that?"
He smiled. His best playboy smile. "It's possible."
She looked down, seemingly shy, then back up, giving him the full force of her cornflower eyes. "I think I love that."
They both looked down then. Bruce mumbled, "Clark isn't here, I take it?"
"Nope." She pulled a chair over from the desk next to her. "Take a load off, Bruce."
She was the one who sat gratefully. "Your baby is killing me." She looked up, eyes shocked as they met his.
She'd never said it that way before. Never called it "his" baby.
"I'm sorry if you're uncomfortable," he said, trying to ignore the opening. It was sheer folly to even consider how much he wanted to pursue it. "Where is Clark?"
She shrugged. "Out pursing a lead? Out pursuing Diana? Who can tell these days?" She was sorting printouts, laying them with photocopies she'd made. "I think they're having an affair."
"Can that word even apply to us anymore?" He sighed. She was probably right. Diana and Clark were most likely having an affair.
"Yes, it still applies," she said. "The other...thing was open. In front of each other."
Bruce leaned in. "Clark might object to my being here."
"I know." She suddenly pushed away from her desk. "I'm hungry. Are you hungry?"
He stood. "I'm very hungry." He wasn't hungry in the least.
"Let's get out of here."
"Are you here on business?"
"Sort of." The only business he had in town was seeing her.
She was leading him past the deli in the lobby of the Planet. Out onto the street. She pointed to the waiting black cars. "Which is yours?"
He led her to the one idling on the corner. They got in, and he told the driver to take them to his hotel.
Lois didn't say a word, just sat next to him, one hand on her belly, the other on the seat between them.
He put his hand over hers, felt her move her fingers apart so he could push his between them, holding her. They rode in silence to his hotel.
She slid out, still capable of exiting a car gracefully, and he put his arm around her shoulder as he led her to into the hotel and through the lobby and to the elevator that would take them to the penthouse.
Lois had always loved penthouses.
The elevator opened onto the hall, and he used his key card to open the door. She brushed past him, smelling of amber and citrus and some kind of subtle flower. Walking to the large French doors, she stepped onto the terrace and stared out at her city.
"Do you like the view?"
"Did you get this room because you thought I would?"
"Yes." He hadn't told Diana he was going to be in Metropolis overnight. But then she hadn't told him that she was going to be at the Fortress all day so they were even.
Lois turned. "I'm here with you, but I don't want to cheat on Clark."
"Okay." He resisted telling her that even without sex, she was probably cheating on Clark.
She walked to the other side of the terrace, leaning over a little to see the park below them. She turned back to him, holding out her hand. "Would you hold me and tell me it's going to be all right?"
Moving toward her, he took her hand, pulling her gently back into the room and to the bedroom. He lay down, easing her into his arms. His hand found her belly in a way he tried not to do when Clark or Diana were watching him. His child lay just under his hand. His son or daughter. He hadn't expected it to move him so. That this woman carried his baby inside her.
"It'll be all right," he said softly, but he wasn't sure that it would be. He wasn't sure that it all wouldn't come crashing down around them.
She shook, and he realized she was crying. "Hormones," she said, but he didn't think it was.
"Is he mistreating you?"
"Clark? God, no. He's probably going the other way too much." She looked up at him.
He leaned in, kissed her. It was a stupid thing to do. Her lips met his with passion and tenderness, and he pulled away with regret.
"I love Diana."
"And I love Clark. Hell, I love her too, damn her perfect Amazon soul." Lois cuddled against him, her stomach rising then falling under his hand as she shifted.
"Are you hungry? I can order room service."
"No, I ate already. I'm eating like a pig."
"That's good. We can't have a scrawny superhero, now can we?"
"You think that's what he'll be? A superhero?"
She smiled softly. "Clark slipped up one day. I don't think he realized he did it. But I heard him." She sighed. "A boy. A son."
She nodded. "Yes. Your son."
He took a deep breath. It was all right that Clark would raise his son. Clark was probably better with kids than he was anyway. More heroic. Less scary. Good god, Bruce would give the boy permanent nightmares if he showed up in the dark still in his uniform.
Only...wouldn't the kid wonder why he wasn't super? Or why he looked a lot more like his uncle Bruce than his so-called daddy?
Or would he be so proud of his super-daddy that nothing else would matter?
"What are you thinking?"
He laughed softly. "I'm trying to make it all right that I won't be his father."
"How's that going?"
"I'm making progress. Slowly."
Her hand stole up to his cheek. "Have you ever thought that maybe we--"
His hand over her lips shushed her. "Words have power. Power we're not prepared for. You're his wife. You love him. I love her. This is the way it is."
"Fine. But have you ever...?"
He didn't answer for a long time. He heard her exhale, as if she was giving up on getting an answer. Touching her lips with his finger, he traced the way they were curving downward. "Yes," he said. "I've thought about us together."
"So have I." She pressed her head against his chest, not speaking. They lay like that for a long time, until she stirred and said, "My lunch hour is long over."
"I'll have Victor take you back to the Planet." He walked her out of the hotel and to the waiting car.
"We can't do things like this, Bruce." She leaned in and kissed him.
It was a long, slow, easy kiss on the lips. Could they do things like that?
"You tell me what's allowed and what's not." He didn't like it, hated giving up control. But it was the only way this was going to work. He had to take a back seat. She was married to someone else.
He heard her murmur, "I love you," as he reached past her to open the car door.
"I love you too," he said back, even though it was the worst possible thing he could say.
He stayed out on the street watching her until the car finally turned out of sight.
Lois watched Diana pace through the apartment. "Would you sit down? You're giving me a headache."
Diana ignored her.
"Why the hell are you here, anyway? Clark is on assignment."
Diana turned and looked at her. Her face was hard--harder than Lois had ever seen it. "I know perfectly well where Kal is."
"Well, bully for you." Lois shifted, trying to get comfortable. She felt huge, especially in comparison to her majestic princessness. "I'm sure he'd be much better company than I am, toots. Why not fly on out that window and find him. You and he can sleep together some more."
Diana turned to glare at her.
"Don't look at me like that. I'm not the one cheating."
Diana sat in the chair opposite her. "No?" Her gaze was hard again. Hard and full of some dark emotion.
Lois didn't look away. "If you have something to say, just say it."
Diana leaned back, crossing her legs the way Lois still wished she could do. "Kal's not the only one with super smell. And your perfume is quite distinctive."
"I spent time with Bruce. But I didn't sleep with him. I leave the adultery to you and my husband."
Diana didn't react, seemed to be trying to read the truth in Lois's eyes.
"Use your damn lasso, if you don't believe me."
Diana shook her head. "It might harm the baby."
"And you care about that?"
For the first time, Diana looked hurt...and soft. "Of course I care about that. I'd never harm an innocent." She got up, began pacing again. "And I care for you too, although I doubt you believe that."
"You are sleeping with Clark, aren't you?"
Diana stopped, turning to face her. Their eyes met, almost in a battle of wills. Neither would look away. Finally, Diana walked over and sat down on the couch next to her.
"Aren't you?" Lois said again, pressing against her physically even as she pushed her for the truth.
"Yes." Diana didn't meet her gaze. "Everything we touch breaks. Everything we love gets dirty."
Lois laughed softly. "And Clark calls me a drama queen?" She took Diana's hand, running her finger lightly over Diana's palm. "I'm jealous. But I'm not sure which of you I'm more jealous of."
When Diana turned, Lois pulled her closer. Diana adjusted for Lois's jutting stomach as if she'd been making love to her this whole time.
It had been a long time since they'd made love. "I need to be touched," Lois whispered. "I need to be touched by you."
"Lois, save it for Kal." But Diana didn't fight as Lois pulled her closer. "Or for Bruce."
Lois had her arms around her, met Diana's lips softly, gently. "No. You."
"Do you hate me because I carry his child?"
"Yes." Diana kissed her harder, but she was careful as she moved closer, didn't do anything to endanger the child.
"Do you hate me because I have Clark?"
"Yes." Diana was using those marvelous fingers.
Lois fantasized about Diana and her fingers. She slouched down a bit, giving her more room if that was possible when her figure now resembled a beached whale. "Do you hate me because you want this?"
Diana looked at her, anger in her eyes. "I hate you for everything." But she kissed her tenderly, and her fingers were dancing and twirling until Lois was overcome...for a very long time. Hormones could be a good thing. She touched Diana's face, making her move on the couch so that she could play. She was kissing Diana's cheek, her eyes closed as she concentrated on making her own little sexual concerto with her fingers, when she realized that Diana was crying.
"Don't. I'm sorry. Don't cry." She didn't let up with her fingers, kissing Diana on the mouth lightly and lovingly. She hated this woman. She loved this woman. When had life become so damn complicated? "Diana, shhh."
Diana's tears stopped, her lips pressed harder against Lois's and then she was bucking under her touch. When she stopped moving, Lois pulled away, smoothing her hair back, kissing her still-wet cheek softly.
"I love you," Lois whispered, and Diana buried her face in her neck, as if she couldn't bear the words.
She found Lois's belly, gently rubbed it. "I will protect your child with my life."
Lois smiled, touched. It was the most that Diana could promise anyone, and Lois recognized what she was saying. "Thank you."
"And I love you too," Diana said so fast that the words ran together. Than she was up and across the room practically flinging herself out the window as if she couldn't get away fast enough from Lois and the terrible mess they'd all made.
Clark watched Diana as she stared at the ceiling of his bedroom in the Fortress. He touched her arm lightly, moving his finger up and down. She smiled and closed her eyes.
"You're very far away, my love." It was dangerous to call her that. He was going to slip up someday when they weren't alone.
She turned so she was facing him. Her eyes were gentle as she touched his cheek tenderly. "I'm right here." But her smile was off this time.
He kissed her slowly, letting the emotion he felt out. Just as earlier they'd let out the passion they felt, coming together with a ferocity that would have killed a human partner. They had never made love that way when it was the four of them. They'd exercised restraint.
Passion and disappointment were excellent bed partners.
"She knows we're doing this," Diana said softly.
"No, she doesn't." Lois might suspect. But she didn't know.
"Yes, she does."
"And you know this how?" He kissed her again, laughed as she tickled his upper lip with her tongue, then he realized she might be trying to distract him. "Diana?"
"Because she asked, and I didn't lie when I answered."
He pulled away a bit, stared at her. "Did she have the lasso on you?"
"No." Diana didn't look away. "She just seemed to know already."
He felt a surge of irritation. Diana could be innocent at some very perplexing times. "It's called a secret affair for a reason. Telling the wife is not the recommended method of keeping it hidden."
She sighed. "I'm tired of secrets, Kal." Closing her eyes, she whispered. "We had sex after I told her."
"This just gets better and better." He turned so he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling that had so mesmerized Diana. Everyone was intimate with his wife but him. "She and Bruce--"
"--I know." Diana curled around him, her hand settling on his chest, over his heart. It felt warm and strong there. "They've been together. But they haven't had sex."
"Sex is the least of our worries. They're getting closer. That's what's troublesome."
She took a long, deep breath. Then let it out very slowly. "I know. I'm not sure Bruce cares that I'm here."
"You think he knows?"
"Yes, he probably does." Bruce always knew everything. Maybe he liked Clark being with his girl? It gave him more time to sniff around Lois.
"Things are a mess."
Sometimes Diana had the irritating habit of stating the obvious. He was about to answer when she said, "But we have this. And I'm not sure I mind."
She also had the wonderful ability to make him feel good about himself again.
"I know." He wasn't sure he minded either. He knew he should mind, but it was hard to know what he felt anymore.
She held him tightly. "I feel so...disconnected."
Yes, that was a good word for it. He felt as if someone had taken his moral center and hidden it. He should not be with Diana. If he was with her, he should feel guilty. He should be appalled that his wife might be curled against Bruce the same way Bruce's woman was curled against him.
"What's happening to us, Kal?" She nuzzled against him. "Are we rotting inside?"
"I still love him."
He held her closer, heard her sob. She wasn't crying though; she was fighting it.
"Let go, Diana. It's all right."
"I want to. But I don't have any tears. I don't even know what I'd cry for." She pushed herself up so that she was leaning over him, her weight on her elbow, peering at him through her lush hair.
He pushed it away from her face so he could see her eyes. "Do you love Lois?"
"I do. And I'm not sure how that happened." She shrugged. "I understood myself once. I knew that I would do certain things, and not do others. This...with you and her. It's not something I set out to do."
"I know. It's not something I set out to do either." But that was a lie. This was all his fault. He hadn't been able to leave well enough alone. He'd had to get them all to that damned planet.
Diana was kind enough not to call him on his lie. She just cuddled in against him. "I'm tired, Kal. I don't know when I've been this tired."
He felt tired too. Weary in a way he normally did not. As if Lois was feeding their energy to her baby.
He closed his eyes, was mortified to feel tears starting anyway, slipping out no matter how tightly he pressed his eyelids together.
"Kal?" Her touch on him was gentle.
"I don't know if I'll be able to love him."
"You will." She wiped his tears away. "I know you will. You're good and you're kind. Even now."
"I'm not. I'm not any of the things I thought I was."
"Open your eyes, Kal."
He resisted but she whispered it again and again, until he finally did as she said.
"What you did, you did because you love us. Not out of greed or out of some overwhelming dark passion. You love me and Bruce and Lois, and we all love you." She sighed. "You didn't force any of us into this. It may have been your idea, but we all jumped in with our eyes wide open."
"--If you're guilty of anything, it's of being stupid." She smiled gently. "We all were very, very stupid. Someone tried to tell me that. I wouldn't listen."
"What do we do now?"
"I don't know." She kissed him, and the kiss turned into something desperate and crazed.
When they finally came up for air, he let his fingers twine with hers. "I love you. I will always love you."
"I'll always love you too." Her eyes were sad, but he didn't know if they were sad because she would soon be leaving him or if it would be Bruce she left behind.
Bruce dodged a bolt of what looked like lightning. He was sick of super-villains always coming back with new and better toys--snazzy new gizmos were his department. He noticed that Clark seemed to be sticking close to him, closer than he would have in the past.
"Are you looking out for me?" he asked, his voice coming out gruff as he moved over to Clark's position.
"Right. I really want to look out for you." Clark took off, flying erratically as if to throw off the wanna-be Zeus.
As the villain tried to line up a shot, Bruce took him down with his batarang--nearly taking the guy's head off. He hadn't meant to throw it quite that hard.
"Nice shot. Were you going for decapitation?" Superman was searing the villain's neck wound closed with his super-vision.
Fortunately, the man was unconscious. The smell was bad enough; Bruce didn't need screams too.
"I guess I don't know my own strength."
Bruce shot Clark a look. "Your language is getting worse."
"Well, color me bad." Clark motioned for the police to take lightning boy away. He seemed to be scanning the area for something--or someone.
"She's not here."
"I know." But he kept looking.
They weren't even pretending that Clark didn't know which she Bruce meant. Or why he might look for her.
That probably wasn't good.
Bruce tried to muster up something that resembled hurt or anger. The most he could manage was an underlying stream of annoyance.
Diana was sleeping with Clark. His best girl with his best friend. And all he could come up with was annoyance?
That definitely wasn't good.
"You want to get a drink?" Clark asked.
"You mean a soda or something?"
"No, I mean we'll pass around a bottle of rockgut. Yes, I mean a soda or something." Clark stalked off, muttering something about not having changed that much.
Bruce followed at a slower pace. Clark was heading for the park, moving fast and barely seeming to see the people he passed. By the time he stopped at the concession stand, he was way ahead of Bruce.
Clark looked back, and Bruce smiled. "Coke, no ice," he said under his breath, knowing Clark would be able to hear him anyway.
Clark turned to the window and walked back with the drinks. It looked like he'd chosen grape soda. Bruce didn't know how he could stomach the stuff.
They walked for a while, sipping at the drinks, then they came to a stretch of grass. A group of children were tossing a frisbee.
Clark seemed mesmerized, and a look of incredible sadness passed over his face, then he turned to Bruce. "If I'm not a good dad. If I don't raise hi--it the way I should..."
"Him?" Bruce smiled at Clark's embarrassed look. "If you don't raise him the way I would, you mean?"
"He's your son." Clark looked away, back at the kids, who had just noticed that Superman and Batman were watching them.
They looked like Gotham locals, so Batman wasn't as unusual a sight as Superman--although Bruce wasn't given to frequenting the park in his costume in broad daylight. Had he lost his sense along with his morals?
"You haven't said that before," Bruce said. "That he's mine."
"I've been trying to convince myself that he's not. Been trying to fool myself into thinking that he's mine."
"She's yours. So he is too." Poor logic from the Batman. But the only thing he could think to say.
"Doesn't necessarily follow, my friend."
His friend. Bruce touched Clark's elbow, steering him away from the gawking kids, back onto the path. "I know you're sleeping with Diana."
"I know you're spending time with Lois." Clark turned to him. 'Did you know they're spending time together?"
"They are?" Bruce frowned; that bugged him for some reason.
"I think I had the same look on my face when Diana told me."
Bruce looked over to see if Clark had said that to be mean. But his face was composed; he didn't seem to be waiting for Bruce to react. He'd said it because it was truth. Bruce was learning that Diana was cheating on him with Lois from the other person she was cheating on him with.
"Who would have thought Diana had it in her?"
"I think I put it in her." Clark walked over to a bench and sat down as if he no longer had the strength to stand. "Me and my stupid need to get us all on that planet together."
Bruce finished his soda and tossed it in a trash receptacle, then sat down next to Clark. "What the hell happened to us?"
"Sex happened to us. We had sex. All of us. " Clark looked over at him. "You and I had sex. But we never talk about it."
"No. We don't."
"Why don't we?"
"Because we just don't." Bruce wished he had his cup back. Something to play with, to pretend to be absorbed in.
"What? Are you four years old, Clark? We don't talk about it because we're in love with women who may like to sleep together better than they like to sleep with either of us. That's why we don't muddy it up with the fact that we also really dig touching each other." He saw Clark trying not to laugh and turned to see a shocked family of four watching him. "And that's how the lines go in the La Cage Aux Folles Part Four: Gotham Nights. Can you believe they did that to our characters! I'm outraged!"
The family walked on, looking vastly relieved.
Bruce waited till they were out of earshot to say, "I have to learn to stop letting you and Diana provoke me that way."
"Lois doesn't provoke you?" Clark was still smiling, a much more innocent look than he'd worn in a while.
"She does. Just not the same way." Bruce leaned back, suddenly wishing for the innocence of the planet. Where it was okay to touch Clark. To lie next to him and watch the clouds go by and make silly shapes out of them.
Drugged. They'd been drugged and it hadn't been real.
Although the baby growing in Lois's stomach was pretty damned real.
"Are we still best friends?" Clark sounded morose.
"I think so."
"That's not very reassuring."
"Well, I'm sorry, Clark. It's the best I can do under the circumstances."
Bruce started to laugh. "Yeah. That'll show me." He laughed harder. "Damn it, Clark. I'm really pissed at you."
"I'm really pissed at you too."
"Well, okay then."
They sat in silence. Then Bruce said, "Diana's out. Possibly at your place."
"You want to come over and watch the game? I've got milk and cookies."
"Have you got beer and pretzels? I think that might be more my speed. Milk and this purple crap haven't gotten me anywhere." He tossed the soda into the trash.
Bruce chuckled. "Yes. I have beer. Imported and domestic." He got up. "Was Kryptonian beer any good?"
"I don't know, caped moron. I was an infant when I left."
"Well, you have that city in a bottle thing. Ask them."
"I'll put it on my to-do list."
They bickered all the way back to the manor. It was almost like old times.
It was late in the afternoon, the sun shining a dark gold through the heavy linen drapes. Bruce lay on the bed, his arms crossed behind his head, eyes closed. He opened them when Diana eased the door closed, smiling at her as she walked across the room.
But it was a wary smile.
"Want company?" she asked.
"Sure." He moved over, pulling her into his arms once she was settled on the bed.
She nuzzled against him, trying to pretend things were like they had been. Before the four of them had been so cosmically stupid.
"I miss you," he said.
"I'm right here."
"You know what I mean." As she moved in to kiss him, he put his hand just over her collarbone, stopping her progress. "Were you with him?"
She didn't move as she met his eyes, trying to assess his mood. He stared calmly back. He looked like the truth was the only answer he wanted.
"Good." He pulled his hand away, moving it to the back of her head, pulling her toward him.
She resisted. "Were you with her?"
The pressure on her neck stopped. "Not today."
She stared down at him and had the feeling that they were at a critical juncture. She could get up and leave now and he wouldn't try to stop her. He could pull away and go into his study or the cave or wherever else it was that the Batman went to hide out, and she wouldn't try to stop him either.
"This is it. The moment." He touched her cheek. "What are we going to do?"
"What do you want to do?"
"Turn back time," he said without hesitation.
"To when it was just the two of us?"
He sighed. "It was never just the two of us, Diana. That may be the fundamental problem."
"Do you want me to go?"
He slowly shook his head. "But I don't want you seeing Clark anymore." Before she could speak, he put his finger over her lips. "Only I'm not asking you to give him up. Not yet."
"Why not? Because you don't want to give her up yet?"
He didn't answer, but she knew what silence could mean.
Cuddling against him, she whispered. "No one is here right now but us, Bruce. We could try to just enjoy it?"
He turned to look at her. "Do you want to leave me?"
"No." She couldn't meet his eyes. "But I'm not sure I can leave him." Sighing she hid her face against his neck, kissing his throat softly. "This isn't me. This isn't who I am."
But it was who she was. She was living this life; it wasn't living her.
"I love you, Diana. And I don't want to decide anything tonight." He rolled her to her back, began to strip off her uniform. "I just want to pretend it's months and months ago. I just want to make love to the woman I love."
"I want that too." She eased off his shirt, tracing the scars for a moment before she worked her way down to his pants. "You mean the world to me, Bruce."
"I know. Sadly, I understand that perfectly." He kissed her, his mouth insistent and full of love that both moved and scared her. What were they doing to each other? To Clark and Lois? What would they keep doing?
She forced her mind off its dark path and let him love her, lost herself in loving him. It was good, as good as ever. His expression was full of the tenderness that he didn't let many people see.
"Love," she said, as they rolled and she ended up on top of him.
He reached up, twining his fingers with hers. They made love in a silence punctuated only by their soft moans and sighs. She suddenly found it hard to see, realized she was crying.
He watched her but didn't do anything other than squeeze her hands gently. She rode out the tears, moving steadily, bringing them both closer and closer to the edge. Bruce was smiling, his head thrown back, his eyes closed.
"I love you," she said as pleasure took her, lifting her into some place where there was only the two of them.
It didn't last though. The boundaries melted away and she was back in the real world, facing the same moment they'd been at before they'd started to make love.
She touched his lips, moving to his hair, then back down to his cheeks. "I don't want to give this up, Bruce."
"I don't either." He took a deep breath. "We have to decide if we can bear what will come, Diana. Once the child is born...it won't be any easier then."
"I know." But she wasn't sure that she did know. Once the child was a reality, not just buried safely in Lois's body, would she be able to hold onto Bruce? Would she even want to if he didn't want her anymore?
"We'll be fine," Bruce said.
But he didn't sound any surer of that than she felt.
Lois felt another cramp-like feeling start and pushed herself out of her desk chair.
Clark looked over at her. "Everything okay?"
"Yep," she said, waddling toward the bathroom, hoping the walk would make the pain go away. She got to the bathroom as the cramp intensified. Had just sat down when she felt a rush of liquid. Scared for the baby, she got up and stared into the toilet.
Clear. Whatever it was she'd just expelled, it was clear.
Her water. That's what they meant. Her water had broken. She cleaned herself up as best as she could considering she had a hard time reaching around her stomach. "Clark, I need you," she said in a normal voice, and a moment later heard a soft knock on the door.
She opened it, gratefully accepting his arm as another contraction came over her. "It's time."
He looked terrified. He began to pick her up and she stopped him.
"Clark. No flying. Not from here."
He blushed. "Oh. Right. But we have to get you to the hospital." He looked like he was going to throw up.
"We can take a cab like every other city dweller does."
"Okay." He hustled her toward the elevators, yelling to a startled Perry, "Gotta go."
Perry took one look at her face and broke out in a huge grin. "Call and tell us the gory details for the pool." He looked around the press room. "Anyone pick today?"
Norman, the copy repair guy raised his hand.
Lois groaned both at the pain and their stupid pool. She was dying here and they were taking bets. Never mind how many pools she'd played in her time.
"Lois, come on." Clark was supporting her more than letting her walk. He punched the down button again and again as if that would call the thing faster.
He seemed to have let go of any thoughts of whose child it was inside her. He only cared about her, and she was touched. "I love you," she said, and he looked at her as if startled at the endearment.
"I love you too. I would never let anything hurt you."
She groaned as a contraction hit her, and her knees nearly buckled at the pain.
"Well, except the baby. I can't really stop him from hurting you." He took a quick breath. "Shit. I mean him or her."
"It's okay, Clark. You slipped up long ago. I've known it's a boy for months."
"Can't even keep a secret." He looked at her guiltily.
"Well, you're better at it than Diana, but not by much. You two really need to learn how to lie." A wave of pain came, and she gritted her teeth, then felt him scoop her up.
Suddenly they were moving so fast out of the opening doors of the elevators that everything was a blur. In moments, they were in a deserted alley, and Clark said, "We fly, Lois." He took off, and punched something on his watch as they leveled off, flying fast toward Metropolis General.
"Clark?" It was Bruce's voice.
"Get someone else to take Monitor duty. It's time. Bring Diana." Clark looked at Lois. "You do want them there?" he mouthed.
She nodded, unsure that it was the right answer but suddenly needing them both with her.
"We'll be right there."
Lois watched Clark's face. He suddenly looked miles away. "Hey, Smallville. Where'd you go?"
"Do you want me here?" He shook his head as she started to answer. "Think about it before you answer, Lois. From here on out. Do you want me around?"
Such a simple word to mean so much. But he didn't smile. Had he wanted her to say something else?
"Unless, you don't want to be here?"
"I don't know if I'll be a good father."
"Well, I don't know if I'll be a good mother, so we're even." Another cramp. "Oh, god, Clark. Go faster."
He lost the morose look; it was replaced with the determination of the Man of Steel. She smiled, leaning back into his strong arms as she let him carry her to safety. It's what he did, after all. Maybe it was what he'd always do?
He set them down behind the hospital, in a dark corner of the parking garage where no one would notice them flying in. Then he urged her up the ramp to admitting. The hospital was controlled chaos. She felt herself shutting down--she hated this place.
Clark rubbed her back. "I'm here."
She looked over at him, met his eyes. "I'm glad you're here." They'd screwed up their lives beyond belief, but that much was true--she was glad he was with her.
"Clark? Lois, are you...?" It was Bruce's voice. Sweet, low, concerned.
Lois waited for Diana to say something but heard nothing. Hadn't she come? She peeked around Clark, saw Diana standing a ways off. Their eyes met, until Lois felt another contraction coming on and had to close her eyes.
"Please," she said, holding out her hand. A moment later she felt Diana's hand in her own. How could her skin be so soft when she fought so often?
"I'll take her," Diana told Clark. "Go get her checked in." Her voice changed, became less forceful, as she held Lois close. "It's all right now."
"I'm scared." Lois said it low, trying to keep it between them. But she saw Bruce move closer.
"Women do this all the time," he said with a gentle smile. "You're tough, Lane. You'll be fine." He took her hand, held it up to his lips for a moment. Then he let her go. "We're here."
"Yes, we're here," Diana said.
We. Bruce and Diana. Lois could feel tears in her eyes--tears of pain, of fright, and probably of regret. "Stay together. Don't let this tear you apart. The two of you are good."
"Just the two of us?" Diana's voice had an edge.
"Four doesn't work." Lois sank gratefully into the wheelchair a nurse wheeled to her.
"Mrs. Kent? I'm Nurse Randolph. I'm going to take you to the delivery room and get you prepped." She looked over at Diana. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to let go of her."
But it wasn't Diana who was holding onto her; it was Lois who needed to let go. She looked up at Diana, pulling her closer until Diana was leaning to her.
"Promise me, if anything goes wrong--"
"--Nothing will go wrong," Diana said, her tone fierce.
"Just promise me." Lois laughed, the sound a bit hysterical. "You and the boys will raise him."
"Trust me, Lois. You're stronger than any woman I know. You'll be fine." Diana kissed her gently on the lips. "Eileithyia be with you."
"Who?" Lois asked, but the nurse was wheeling her away, and Lois felt panic come over her. "Don't leave me." She wasn't sure which of them she was talking to.
It was Clark who came. "I'm here."
She turned, saw Bruce reach for Diana's hand, his other hand held up in an easy goodbye--no doubt for her sake, to keep her spirits up. "You'll be fine," he said.
Clark touched her shoulder, saying over his shoulder, "Finish the check in?"
"I'll take care of it," Bruce said. He sounded relieved. Like that was an easy thing, easier than waiting while another man watched his baby being born.
She looked up at Clark, and he smiled. "You're going to be fine."
She nodded. She would be fine. Even though this small thing inside her now felt bigger than the globe on the Planet. A globe that was ripping her insides out as he pushed his way to life.
Her doctor showed up in the delivery room only after Lois was fully prepped and ready to scream with frustration. "Just get it out of me."
"It doesn't work that way, Lois," Doctor Valle said. "I think this is up to him or her."
And the brat took his sweet time getting ready. Lois huffed and puffed and did all the things she'd learned in the Lamaze classes she'd managed to make. Being an ace reporter didn't allow for a normal schedule. Even if she was a pregnant ace reporter.
Finally Doctor Valle told her she could push. And she did, with all her strength, holding onto Clark's hand so hard that he would have felt some of her pain if he weren't Superman.
She screamed with the last push--why had she wanted to do this without drugs? Then the pain changed from agony to something more manageable, and she heard the cry of a child.
He was smiling, his eyes very soft. "He's beautiful, Lois."
The doctor put the squirming mass in her arms. For a moment, she wanted to hand it back, then she looked down, her vision clearing, and she saw her son.
He met her eyes, not looking away, the gaze steely. Batman's gaze. Bruce's son. Then her child nuzzled her chest, his eyes closing, his hands moving softly. He cried, until the doctor opened Lois's gown and showed her how to feed him.
It hurt like hell. "We're switching to bottles as soon as we can. I can't take this."
Doctor Valle laughed. "At least do it for the first week or so. For the antibodies in the colostrum."
Lois nodded, tuning her out. She did not want to think about all this. She didn't want to think about anything. Sleep sounded good. Holding her baby was nice, even if it felt like the kid was gnawing off her breast.
Clark stayed near her, watching her, but he had a faraway look in his eyes.
He was pulling away. He thought she didn't need him anymore, now that she was out of danger. This was not his son. From his expression, she could read his thoughts as easily as if he was speaking them aloud.
Did she want him to go?
She felt the baby finally end his feeding frenzy, and she handed him to Clark.
"Just hold him for a while."
He took the baby gingerly, and sat down in the chair next to the bed. She smiled as he laid the baby across his chest, the child's head resting on his shoulder. As he held him gently, he said, "We never decided on a name."
She resisted saying he'd never wanted to. "Got any ideas?"
Clark took a deep breath. "I was thinking Thomas." It was a huge concession to Bruce. To name him after his dad.
She looked down. "No."
"Don't put that kind of baggage on him. Pick a name that doesn't mean death to us. To any of us." Which meant Sam was out too. Her child would not be named after dead fathers.
Clark smiled. "You're so damn strong, Lois. It's why I love you." The baby wriggled a little in his sleep and Clark smiled.
"I like Justin," she said. She didn't know a single person with that name. It had zero baggage.
Clark seemed to think about that. "Justin Kent?" He spoke to the child. "What do you think of that name?"
The baby didn't answer.
"Justin works, doesn't it?" She wanted this over. Wanted them to choose. Before Bruce could come in and remind Clark why he didn't have to care what the baby was called. Before Diana could come in and tell them to call him Bellerophon or some other Greek name.
"Justin it is." He let a deep breath out, as if he too wanted this done with. He leaned back in the chair, seemed to finally relax. With his non-son. The son it looked like he was going to accept.
And that was suddenly very important to her. That Clark stay. That he be relaxed with this--or as much as he could be given the circumstances.
The baby was certainly relaxed. He snoozed happily, not making a peep.
Lois leaned back, about to close her eyes, when she saw the door open. Bruce and Diana came in. Smiling at them, she looked over at Clark. "Meet Justin Kent."
It was a gauntlet of sorts. One that she hadn't expected to throw down so soon. Not after all the time she'd spent with Bruce.
It was his son.
And it wasn't.
Nothing made sense right now. She was tired and sore and her husband sat in the chair next to her bed holding a child who would think he was the son of Superman. Unless she told him differently. Unless one of them did.
"He's beautiful," Diana said, moving to Lois. "Are you all right?"
"Tired but otherwise fine." She smiled tiredly. "Disappointed?"
Diana's smile was brilliant. As if she was very happy to get back to sparring. "Not really. I don't have time to change diapers."
Diana's hand was very near her own, and Lois looked down at it, then up at Diana. Slowly she moved her hand to cover Diana's.
"You're exhausted," Diana said, as she turned her hand gently, resting palm to palm with Lois. It was a sweet touch.
"They'll move you to a regular room soon," Clark said. "Once they're done observing you." He looked up at Bruce. "How did you get in? They said no visitors."
Bruce grinned then as he stepped closer to the baby. "We snuck in."
Nurse Randolph did not look amused when she came in to check on Lois. "Out. All of you who aren't the father."
Bruce's face went blank, and Lois felt Diana's hand clutch on hers as she watched him.
But he recovered quickly. "We're leaving." He grinned at the nurse, his best playboy persona emerging to flirt with the woman. "You're sure there's nothing I can do to convince you to let us stay?"
Nurse Randolph blushed but remained firm. "You can see the baby later."
"Yes." Bruce's voice held a note of wistfulness that was probably lost on the nurse. "I imagine I can."
He walked out, not waiting for Diana.
Lois looked up at her.
"There's no way this won't hurt him. Every scenario brings pain." Diana gently pulled her hand free. "I'm glad you're okay."
Then she hurried out.
Clark looked over at Lois. "So we're making a choice today, I guess?"
She thought they'd made a number of them. "For better or worse, Clark."
He laughed softly, his hand never leaving the child, as he rubbed Justin's back very gently. "You're giving me his son."
"I did that the moment I became pregnant."
She didn't think she needed to add that she'd done it when she decided not to leave him. He understood that.
Besides, she might leave him later. Or he might leave her. Who knew what would happen when she wasn't so exhausted and could think straight again? When he wasn't so emotionally tied to the moment?
Who knew what the future held?
She decided not to worry about the future or anything else tonight. Closing her eyes, she finally let her exhausted body sleep, secure that Clark would keep her son safe.
Bruce fought the urge to push a happily sleeping Diana off him and sneak out of their bedroom. He was restless, wanted to rush out into the night in full Bat-gear. Take on some criminals. Punish them. Then take on some more so he could punish them too.
Or maybe just sneak back to the hospital and stare at his son, the way he hadn't been able to earlier.
He forced himself to lie still, to close his eyes and try to sleep.
His son's name was Justin Kent.
He tried counting sheep.
Clark had looked so comfortable holding him.
He tried deep breathing.
Clark would be a great dad. Bruce would be a favorite uncle. It would be enough.
He tried tensing and relaxing his muscles.
Lois had looked so tired. But beautiful. The mother of his son.
He looked at the clock. He'd been lying awake for over an hour. Giving up on discipline, he eased out from under Diana's arm and walked softly to the door. It opened silently, no squeak to give him away. He stole down the stairs, skipping the ones that creaked and groaned if stepped upon the wrong way.
The portrait of his parents looked down on him as he made his way to the bar and poured himself a liberal amount of scotch and threw it back. He poured another.
He finally felt himself start to relax.
"Drowning your sorrows?" Alfred's voice held some strange mixture of concern and disdain.
"Not tonight, Alfred."
"But tonight is a special night." He was walking a little slower than usual, and Bruce suspected he'd been drinking too. "A child's birth day."
"What's your problem?"
"Can't I be worried about you?" Alfred refilled Bruce's then poured himself a scotch. "I came to keep you company."
"I don't want company."
"That, Master Bruce, does not surprise me." He smiled. An odd smile. Knowing. Sympathetic. Full of pain.
"You have had too much to drink." Bruce walked away from him, staring up at his parents. "Do you think they're proud of me?"
"Of course. Who wouldn't be proud of you?"
"But my father...do you think my father is proud of me?"
"I know he is."
Bruce waved him off.
"I know you're in pain," Alfred said.
"Life is pain."
"How cheery." Again the splash of liquid in a glass.
Bruce held his glass out, felt it get heavier as Alfred refilled it. "Nothing cheery about it. We've screwed everything up. I just hope we didn't screw up my son's life." There. He'd finally said it to Alfred. Bruce had a son.
Bruce had a son who would never know that Bruce had a son. Would they tell him? Someday?
"He'll turn out all right," Alfred said.
"Glad you're so sure."
"He'll have good parents. They won't let him go astray."
"Yes, they're the moral centers of the universe." Bruce wanted to tell Alfred about Clark's affair with Diana. About Diana's affair with Lois. About his own tender rendezvous with Lois where they'd achieved an intimacy that went far beyond the reckless sex of that damned planet.
"How are you feeling about this? It has to hurt." Alfred walked over to the mantle, set his glass down and stared up at the portrait. "Let that pain out. Tell me about it."
"It won't mean anything to you."
"I beg to differ, Master Bruce. How can it not when you mean everything to me?"
"You won't understand." Bruce turned away, but not before letting Alfred get a look at the expression on his face. His "conversation closed" face.
"I said you wouldn't understand." Bruce whirled, anger making him move too fast, his drink sloshing in the glass, a small amount spilling down his hand, onto his shirt. "You can't possibly understand, old man. So leave me the hell alone." The last came out as a shout.
"What is going on?" Diana stood on the bottom stair, his robe pulled around her. "Why are you yelling at Alfred?"
Bruce could feel the scotch fueling anger through his veins. He felt supercharged, cold and distant and powerful in his pain. "Alfred here thinks he knows how I feel. Alfred here thinks that he can understand the pain I feel when I look at my son and know I will never, ever be a father to him."
Diana glanced at Alfred, her look one of shock. "Bruce, stop."
"No, Miss Diana. Let him go. Let him get it out."
"You damned superior son-of-a-bitch." Bruce got up in Alfred's face. "Let me 'go'? Are you judging me? Do you find me wanting? After I behaved so stupidly?"
"Bruce," Diana said, pulling him back.
He turned on her. "Stop it. You don't even love me."
"Do you? Or do you just not want to be alone if Clark is taken? Or if Lois is."
She let go of him, hands held up as if she was a criminal surrendering to him. "You're hateful tonight."
"No, Miss Diana. He's just hurting and trying to make us join him. It's his way." Alfred moved toward her.
Slamming his glass down, Bruce began to pace. "You can't possibly understand what this is like." He turned, saw Alfred staring at him with a helpless look.
Diana's face was dark and angry, and she looked at Alfred, then back at Bruce. "I think he can. I think he can and does, and he just loves you too much to tell you why."
Alfred reached out, as if he could stop her with a touch. "Don't--"
"--Oh, I think I've finally got it figured out. Why you've never judged us."
Alfred shook his head.
"And the great detective is too stupid to see what's been in front of his face." She looked up at the picture. "Your father's eyes were brown, Bruce."
"Miss Diana, please."
"Why not?" she asked. "If he wants to wallow, let him really wallow."
"No." Bruce had never heard Alfred's voice so firm.
Diana backed down, taking a loud, slow breath as if trying to calm herself. She walked over to Alfred, kissing him gently on the cheek. "You've been so kind to me. You'll never know how much that's meant." She seemed about to say more, but then she shook her head. "I'll stop. Don't worry. I'll stop now. This kind of anger. It's bad. It'll be our undoing."
She turned and walked to the door, seemingly forgetting she was still clad only in a robe. "I'll be by to get my things when you're not here, Bruce." The door slammed behind her.
Bruce stared at the door, unsure what had just happened. Had she just left him?
"Go after her," Alfred said softly. But Bruce thought Alfred cared less about his getting Diana back than letting their conversation die.
He replayed her words. They were nonsensical. His father's eyes were brown. So what?
His son had blue eyes. He had blue eyes. He could have blue eyes and still have a father with brown eyes. It happened all the time.
Alfred's eyes were blue. Not sky blue like Clark's or Diana's, or the almost periwinkle of Lois's. They were blue-green. Like Bruce's. Like Bruce's son's might be.
"I'm going to bed now, sir."
"It's too late for that. I've figured it out."
"Have you?" Alfred laughed. A bitter, mocking sound that cut Bruce as it was no doubt meant to.
"Are you my father?"
"No, I'm just the butler. Who occasionally gets drunk with you on very bad nights when he should be upstairs in bed." He tried to walk away.
Bruce grabbed his arm. Not hurting him. But not letting him escape. "I don't understand."
"Butler. Drunk. Bed. Easy words." Alfred tried to get away with no success. "Let me go, sir. I'm not feeling well."
"Neither am I." Pulling Alfred with him gently, he sat on the couch, forced the older man to sit on it too. "How?"
Alfred looked up at the portrait. His shoulder slumped and he looked down, and Bruce knew he was watching the older man giving up something very precious to him. His secret. Bruce's secret. His parents' secret.
Alfred tried one more time to get away, but Bruce didn't let go. Sighing, Alfred said, "Your parents wanted a child more than anything."
Bruce let go of Alfred and waited. Knew the words would come if he was just patient enough to not grab for them.
Alfred sighed, as if realizing he was up against the Batman now. "They tried for a long time. The doctors said it was your father's fault. Not that your mother thought of it in those terms, but Thomas did." Alfred closed his eyes at the name. "I adored your mother." He opened his eyes, met Bruce's. "I also adored your father."
"The three of you?" Once upon a time it would have shocked him. But now?
"It was a strange night. I'm not even sure how it started. I remember it in fragments. I think we'd been drinking quite a lot." He smiled sadly. "Your father said that if he was there, it wouldn't be anything bad. And I was glad he was there. I...loved him. Loved her too, but not quite in the same way. That was our first night. There were others. Until your mother finally got pregnant, and then they stopped." He looked down. "We tried to go back to the way we'd been. It took a long time, but we were finally settling into some kind of routine when they were killed."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I always thought I would. When you were older. But after your parents were killed, you were so very damaged. I was afraid the truth would only make it worse. I waited for the right time. But...it never came."
Bruce leaned back. He felt as if his whole world had tilted, as if he was in danger of falling off his own parapet. "You're my father?" He didn't mean to sound as disapproving as he did.
"I guess I deserve that. I obviously raised you to be a snob. How disappointing this must be for you. To find out that the butler did it after all." Alfred pushed himself up, the movement taking visible effort. "Will you want me to find new employment?"
Bruce stood up. "Alfred..."
"I do hope you'll give me a decent reference. I'm getting on in years. Sleeping on the street just won't do."
Bruce reached for him. "Alfred..."
"Or perhaps Miss Diana could use my help at the Embassy. She seemed to take the news much better than you."
"Damn it, old man." Bruce pulled him into a hug. "Damn you for even thinking of leaving me." The last word came out as a sob.
He was crying? He never cried. Batman did not cry.
He sobbed again. Shit. He was crying.
Alfred held him, patting him somewhat awkwardly on the back. "There, there, sir."
"Cut the sir crap, Alfred. You're my father." This man who had been like a father all these years really was his father.
It hurt. And it didn't. Nearly forty years into his life and he was finally learning the truth.
And it was...all right.
Maybe it would be all right with Justin too. If the time ever came to tell him. And Bruce knew it might not.
"You realize that Diana just left you?"
"Yeah. You have a plan to remedy that, I take it?" Bruce nearly laughed. Alfred always had a plan. He'd taught Bruce that when he'd been a kid. Plan, plan, and plan some more.
"I suggest you go win her back. She's good for you."
"She's also been cheating on me."
Alfred didn't look surprised. "And your behavior with Lois was a shining example of moral fortitude?"
How had Alfred known about that? "You're supposed to be on my side."
"I am. You need Diana. It doesn't matter if she cheats on you or not. You love her and she makes you happy. And you make her happy." Alfred put his hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Your parents were a couple, Bruce." He sounded very uncomfortable leaving off the "master" part from Bruce's name. "No matter how many times I was with them, they were the pair. I was just...a diversion."
"I don't believe that." He looked down. "And Clark and Lois aren't that to her...or to me."
"I don't profess to understand your situation completely. Or to approve." He gave Bruce the disappointed look that he'd hated to be on the receiving end of when he was a kid. "But I do know this: you love her and she loves you. And you'll have to muddle your way through. And if you don't go to her tonight, I don't think you'll have another chance." He stood up straighter. "Besides she needs her uniform back. What if a League emergency should ensue? I shall go fetch it, sir." His eyes twinkled as he reverted back to his preferred form of address. It didn't matter in the long run. Alfred had been acting like a father to him all these years, even through a butler's protocol.
"Yes. Go get it." He wanted to run down into the Batcave and get the copter. But he was in no shape to fly it. He called up the JLA transporter, put in the code that would send him directly to the Themysciran Embassy. Non-business use of the teleporter was frowned on. He knew because he'd made the rule. But Diana was worth breaking a few personal rules over.
Which probably was at the root of their current problem, but he wasn't going to dwell on that.
Alfred brought down some clothes for him as well as the uniform. Bruce dressed, then took the uniform from Alfred.
"Don't act like Batman," his father was saying. "She never responds well to that. Just be the man she loves. Be Bruce Wayne."
Or be Bruce Pennyworth? It didn't have the same ring to it, even if he would never tell Alfred that.
Alfred looked him over. "Ready, sir?"
It sounded utterly wrong, and Alfred's expression told him not to try it again.
"I mean, ready, Alfred."
Nodding, Alfred smiled gently at him and then disappeared as the transporter started Bruce on his quest to win back fair lady.
Diana was in the Embassy kitchen when Bruce appeared out of nowhere.
"Did you come for your robe?" she asked. She was still wearing it, so she hoped that wasn't his sole reason for showing up. She should have changed. But...it smelled like him and she couldn't bear to take it off.
"No. I didn't come for the robe."
His voice sounded a little raspy and she glanced over at him. His eyes looked red--had he been crying? Was the Batman capable of crying?
She turned back to the bag of cookie creams she was demolishing. "Go away."
"Not a very nice greeting."
"Hello. Now get out."
"Not much of an improvement." He sat down at the counter. "We've played this game before, Diana."
"It's not a game. Not anymore."
"No it's not." He pushed her uniform to her. "I thought you might need this."
"I doubt that you thought anything of the sort."
"Okay, Alfred thought you might." He caught her reacting to the name, and she looked down. She hadn't meant to react, regretted taking the truth as far as she had. "I figured it out, that he's my father. I'm...getting used to that idea."
"I don't know what it's like to have one father, much less two."
He'd probably never thought of that.
She pushed the cookies away. "My mother was always enough."
"She was a strong woman. Not unlike her daughter." He took one of the cookies out, peeling it and handing her the frosted side. "Truce?"
She took the peace offering from him. "You don't peel me cookies anymore."
"Isn't that a Barbra Streisand song?"
She laughed, then felt anger filling her because she didn't want to laugh. "It's not funny. You haven't done it since Lois told you she was pregnant."
"I don't think it was deliberate."
"Just like her not having birth control wasn't deliberate? Just like you spending time with her and not telling me wasn't deliberate?"
"Just like you screwing the hell out of Clark wasn't deliberate?"
So much for their truce. "I can't do this anymore," she said.
"Yes, you can." He undid another cookie.
She didn't take it this time.
"I could force-feed you."
"You could try." She tensed, watching him. She didn't want to fight him but she would if she had to. It might feel good to fight him. To beat the crap out of him and--
--No. It would not feel good to hurt him. She was an Amazon. She was Wonder Woman. Beating the crap out of her friend. Out of her lover. Out of the man she loved. That was frowned upon.
"I love you," he whispered, moving closer. He laid his lips against her hair, just over her ear. "I love you so much."
She turned so their lips were almost touching. "I can't guarantee I won't--"
He put his hand over her mouth. She toyed with the idea of biting him. Hard.
He seemed to realize that because he pulled his hand away. Rapidly.
"Diana, there's an old man in my house who I just found out is my father. He wants you back. How can I show up there empty handed?" He played with a strand of her hair. "Come home?"
She turned to him, wondering if he meant it. There was no guile in his eyes. Just love. And a lot of pain.
"I don't have a home, Bruce."
"Yes, you do. It's with me." He reached out, taking her by the arms, pulling her very slowly to him. "Do you love me?"
"I do love you." She quit resisting, closed her eyes as she came to rest against his chest. "But I'm afraid."
"You think I'm not?" He kissed her forehead, eased her off her stool. "Let's go home."
She let him pull her close, heard him call for a teleport and raised her eyebrows. "League members shall not use the teleporter for personal reasons."
He grabbed her uniform from the counter. "Unless they're about to lose the woman they adore. That's sort of an unwritten caveat."
She smiled--he could be so damn charming when he wanted to be. "It's a nice one."
"I thought so. I intend to use it if J'onn goes through the logs." He kissed her, his mouth firm and tender and possessive and maybe a little bit desperate. How long would they live in this strange state where they loved but couldn't trust?
The manor was quiet when they beamed in. Diana wrapped her arm around Bruce as they walked back up to their bed. "I want to check on Alfred."
"He'll probably sleep easier knowing you're back."
She walked down the hall to Alfred's bedroom and knocked gently. The door opened and Alfred peered out. He saw her and a smile of satisfaction covered his face.
"So Master Bruce managed to find the right words?"
"He did good." She touched Alfred's arm. "I'm sorry. I should never have betrayed you that way."
"It wasn't a betrayal, my dearest. I know you were trying to protect me, and trying to make him see reason." He touched her cheek. "And to make him stop locking us away from his heart when he needs us the most."
"I'm not sure I succeeded in that." She leaned in, kissing his cheek, the skin thicker and less resilient than Bruce's. "Everything's a huge mess. You do know that?"
"Oh, yes, miss." He laughed softly. "It would be quite impossible to fail to notice that."
She laughed. "Especially from the man who taught Batman a trick or two."
Alfred inclined his head. "Maybe it's the right time for him to know the truth. Maybe it will help him to see that he can still influence his son's life, even from the periphery."
"Maybe so." She smiled. "Good night, Alfred."
"Good night, Miss Diana."
She didn't tell him to drop the title. It wouldn't be Alfred if he didn't call her that. But she'd work on him if the truce between Bruce and her turned into something less tentative. Less dependent on Lois's actions.
Right now they all danced to her will. Even Diana.
Bruce looked up as she came into the bedroom. "Everything all right?"
She nodded. "He's an exceptional man."
"I know." He held his arms open, and she went into them without hesitation. "I don't want to lose this. Us. We can endure, Diana."
"It's going to take a lot of work. Especially if we keep seeing Kal and Lois. Even as friends, they'll be turning our lives--and our hearts--upside down."
"I know. Let's worry about that tomorrow."
"That's fundamentally opposed to your 'plan, plan, plan' philosophy."
"It's hard to plan for the vagaries of the human heart."
She looked down. "I'm not human."
"You are to me."
Smiling, she looked back up. "And you're superhuman to me."
She began to take off his clothes. He had a much easier time of disrobing her. One good tug on the slip knot and the robe was open. They made love with the lights on, with eyes wide open. No possible illusions over who they were with. No fantasies or secret lovers in the bedroom. Just them. Just the two of them.
Someday they would not have to be so careful.
Someday was a long way from now.
Justin was howling in his room. Lois groaned and started to get out of bed. Clark stopped her.
"I'll get him." He escaped from the tangled bedclothes--she'd been sleeping restlessly since Justin had been born, listening for his cries and the sheets and comforter were paying the price. A moment later, Clark was back, Justin nestled against his chest, the baby's cries transformed into happy gurgles.
A few weeks on the planet and he was already in love with his father.
His father. Their son. Ways of speaking that were lies but needed to be maintained anyway. Justin was their baby. That's all he would ever need to know.
But she'd been glad to see him respond well to Bruce when he and Diana had come over that afternoon to see the baby. She'd wondered how long Bruce would be able to stay away. He'd made it longer than she would have bet on in an office pool.
The baby had loved Diana too, but then what man didn't adore Diana?
Not that Lois's heartbeat didn't also speed up a little when she saw her. The attraction she felt for her husband's mistress puzzled her more than anything. She should hate Diana, but she just couldn't find it in her heart to do that, not when she wanted her so.
Diana hadn't touched her, hadn't held her hand. She'd stayed away from Clark too except for a quick hug when she'd arrived. She and Bruce were trying. Just as Clark and Lois were trying.
Should they all have to try so damned hard?
Bruce had seemed more relaxed with the baby than with her or Clark...or even Diana. He'd stared deep into Justin's steely gray-blue eyes and had seemed to find some deep level of communion with the baby. Lois had imagined a teenage version of her son hanging out in the Batcave with his Uncle Bruce, learning how to make up for not being a meta. Would he complain about taking after his mother when he could have been super like his father?
She took the baby while Clark went to heat up a bottle. Her milk had dried up the first week, thank all the gods, and she'd been able to switch to formula with a clear conscience. She smiled as Justin dug at her neck with his little hands. He was going to be a strong child, even if he was never going to be super-strong. His father had good genes. Strong genes. After all, he fought the good fight without having any meta abilities to fall back on.
"Here we go," Clark said softly, getting back into bed, then taking the baby from her and sticking the bottle in his mouth. Justin suckled contentedly as his father told him nonsense stories about her. She drowsed, catching only snatches of story.
"The brave, beautiful reporter never saw the handsome prince behind the glasses."
"Yes, I did. It just took me awhile." She smiled.
"Who's telling this story?" He continued on, his voice turning into a pleasing background drone. She heard him say, "And then they lived happily ever after."
She pretended to be asleep.
"I hope they did, anyway," Clark said, as he got out of bed and took Justin back to his room.
When he climbed back into bed, she nestled against him. "They did. They did live happily ever after."
"You're usually the rational one, Lois." But he held her closer.
"Believe in the happy ending, Clark. We have to try."
"I love him." Clark sounded surprised. "I love our son." He didn't trip this time over the "our."
"I know you do. And he loves you."
"Is it right, though?"
"It's not going to be fair to someone, no matter how it goes. But I don't think our solution is wrong."
"Our solution? You're talking about our lives. Our hearts." This time he didn't say "our son."
"We'll be fine, Clark." She let her hand slip down and down, touching him, making him groan. "Did I mention that the doctor cleared me for certain activities you might have an interest in?"
He laughed, and it almost sounded heartfelt. "Really?"
For a moment she wondered if he was still seeing Diana. If they'd just gotten better at hiding it.
But she had to believe. Doubting was not the way to do that.
"When?" He sounded much more interested now, and she laughed softly.
"Oh. Tonight, if you're not too tired."
He pulled her nightgown off and kissed his way down her body. With a lot of enthusiasm. The enthusiasm of a man who had not had sex in a while. Not a man who was regularly screwing an Amazon princess.
She was just very glad to have her body back. And to see her toes again. And to feel him with her like this. Just him. Just her. Just the two of them. No others here. No others needed.
No others wanted.
Well, two out of three, anyway.
Clark watched Bruce as he got ready to beam back down to Gotham. "Wait up."
Bruce turned to look at him.
"Come down to the apartment and see Justin."
"I can't." Bruce stepped onto the pad.
"I know Diana's out of town doing some god or other's bidding. Lois is on assignment. My mom is watching the baby. Come over. He's getting to be fun...not so lump-like." Clark saw Bruce's expression change to one of defeat, and he grinned as he reset the controls. "Two to chez Kent."
Bruce just shook his head as Clark stepped onto the other pad. "I'll scare the holy crap out of him in this get-up."
His mother looked up as they appeared. "Oh, boys, good. We're almost out of formula. I told your father to get some yesterday but did he remember? I'm just going to run to the store now that you're here." She kissed Bruce on the part of his cheek that wasn't covered by the cowl. "So good to see you, dear."
As she hurried out, Bruce looked at Clark. "She doesn't know, does she?"
"Yes, Bruce. I told my Midwestern mother that I've been having wild sex with not only my wife but also my two best friends. One of whom sired her grandson."
Bruce laughed. "Well, okay, when you put it that way, I guess it was a stupid question." He smiled a bit sadly. "Justin deserves grandparents. I wouldn't have given him that."
When he turned away, Clark touched him on the shoulder. "I wanted to name him Thomas."
"Really?" Bruce looked surprised.
"Lois overruled you?"
"She thought we were piling baggage on him."
"It's why we love her." Clark was surprised at how easily that came out. Their relationship was still complicated but it seemed to be getting a lot easier to acknowledge their tangled feelings.
Of course it might just be easier because they were all carefully sticking to their chosen mates when it came to sex.
Not that he didn't think of it when Diana stood close like she loved to do. Or now when Bruce was staring at him with that dark pain shining out of his eyes.
"Let's go see our son." Clark led him into the baby's room.
Justin was watching his mobile of JLA members go around. Diana had found it for him. Every time the Superman or Wonder Woman piece went by, Justin pointed and laughed.
"Hey, kid," Bruce said, a great tenderness in his voice as he leaned over the crib.
Justin's eyes widened and then he laughed even louder. He pulled at Bruce's cape through the slats in the crib. Bruce calmly rescued his cape, then he picked Justin up very carefully. Justin gurgled happily, slapped Bruce upside the head, his hands landing against his cowl in that spastic baby way that is too cute and uncoordinated to hurt.
"So much for scaring him."
Bruce's smile was a beautiful thing.
Clark smiled smarmily. "You know, he's a real chick magnet. Wanna take him out to the park and pick up girls?"
Bruce's glare could have frozen fire.
"That was a joke." Clark laughed as Bruce took the baby into the living room, murmuring something about his father being light in his moral loafers.
Clark followed them. "You and Diana are okay?"
"Yep." Bruce didn't ask about him and Lois. They were still together. That's probably all he needed to know.
"Can I ask you what may be a hard question?"
"Yes. I can't guarantee I'll answer it."
"Wouldn't be Batman if you could."
Bruce turned Justin so he was leaning against his chest, and Clark sat down across from them, waving in that idiotic way grownups adopt around babies.
"You look like a fool. Doesn't he look like a big fool?" Batman sounded in danger of making baby talk.
"If Lois left me, would you leave Diana to be with her?"
Bruce kept on murmuring to Justin, nonsense mostly. Then he looked up at Clark and shrugged. It was a helpless gesture.
It said volumes.
"Well, I'm glad one of us does." Bruce pushed the cowl off with one hand, keeping the other carefully on Justin so he couldn't lean away.
They sat in silence for a while, then the baby began to fuss. Bruce looked like he was going to hand him over so Clark got up.
"He's just hungry. Hang tight, I'll fix his bottle."
He heard Justin start the complaining that usually turned into a full scale crying jag, then he started gurgling again. Peeking out, Clark saw that Bruce had opened his utility belt and was showing Justin the contents. He looked up, his eyes meeting Clark's.
"He's a beautiful boy."
"Yes, he is. You did good." It was hard to say, but it was the way it was. And Bruce looked like he needed to hear it.
"We did good. All four of us." Bruce closed his eyes. "I call it that damned planet. But we got him out of it. So how can it be a bad thing?"
Clark came out with the bottle, and handed it to Bruce. "You feed him." He showed him the way to hold Justin, then sat back down. "How's Diana? I haven't spent much time with her."
"Which, by the way, I count as a good thing." Bruce grinned, but it wasn't quite the easy expression he was probably going for. "And she's fine. Or as fine as any of us are. This is really hard on her." He frowned. "And it's not. Of all of us, she seems the most resilient in some ways."
"Well, she's been a goddess. How serious can anything else be?" Clark laughed. "We'll all be okay, Bruce. Just give it time."
"Is that what you tell yourself?"
Bruce laughed, adjusting the baby slightly, probably to cut down on baby drool on the Kevlar. He looked up, his expression grave. "Thank you."
"For what? He's your son, Bruce. I want you to be a part of his life. A big part." He leaned forward. "And I'd want that even if you weren't his father. You're my best friend. And you can teach him things I'll never be able to."
"Let's have someone else teach him about dating. Someone who is not the four of us."
The phone rang just as Bruce's cell went off. Clark answered his.
"Hey, Smallville. How's our kid?"
"Bruce is here. He's feeding Justin. It's unbearably sweet."
She laughed. "That's wonderful."
They talked for a few minutes--the normal routine when one of them was on assignment--then she said goodnight.
He could tell from Bruce's voice that he was talking to Diana.
It suddenly struck him as odd that Lois had not asked if Diana was there too.
"Where is she?" he asked Bruce, who ignored him. Clark listened as hard as he could, trying to determine if his wife was in the room with Diana. Was, say, running her hand up and down Diana's supple, tanned skin. Right where the uniform began to cover her, where her skin changed from tan to a lighter olive.
Bruce hung up.
Clark decided not to share his suspicion with his friend. He got up and took Justin from Bruce, and gently burped him then put him down for a nap. As he walked back into the living room, Bruce was at the window, staring out. The cowl was back in place.
"It's early. Mom will make dinner."
"Forget dinner. Do you think they're together?"
Bruce started to laugh. "Man would it serve us both right if they leave us behind."
Clark walked over and stood next to him. He put his hand on Bruce's shoulder. "At least they left our son with us."
"Damned generous of them."
"I couldn't hear Lois in the background."
"Good." Then Bruce glared at him. "You were listening in?"
"Well, for a righteous cause."
"Clark, there are no righteous causes where the four of us are involved."
"Yes, there are. And you were just feeding him." Clark pulled Bruce's cowl back off. "Come on, she'll make that meatloaf you like."
"Oh, all right." Bruce leaned in just enough that their upper arms touched for a moment. Then he backed off, and pulled his cowl back on. "Your mom is one of the few on this planet not hip to my secret identity. How about we keep it that way?"
"She's very trustworthy," Clark said, but he didn't try to pull the cowl off again.
"I don't think they're together."
"Better work on that delivery."
Clark laughed. "You too."
They both turned with relief to the opening door. Clark grinned at his mom. "Batman is staying for dinner."
"He might sleep over."
Bruce slugged him.
"That's nice, dear. Do you want me to make your favorite meatloaf, Batman?"
"Yes, please, ma'am."
"Wanna play Nintendo?" Clark asked, already heading for his study.
"Just don't break the joystick like last time."
"I didn't break it on purpose."
"Of course not, just because you were losing..."
Clark laughed. As he handed Bruce the new joystick, he grinned. "I'd miss you. If this hadn't worked out, I mean."
"I know what you mean." He turned his attention to the screen. "I'd miss you too."
Their little moment of mush ended as soon as the game started up.
But it had happened. That was the important thing. In their crazy, mixed-up world, it was one of the few things that did matter.
Friends, family, lovers. Sometimes, people were all three.