The Dark Knight and a Steel Hope

Chapter 1

Please note: This story is fan-fiction. I do not own the rights to any characters portrayed herein. The purpose of this story is simply to provide entertainment. That was why I originally posted this story on a fan-fiction website several years ago, and it’s the reason why I’m posting it here as well. I hope you enjoy.

Claire adjusted her dress as she made her way back down the hallway toward the ballroom of Gotham’s Ritz Hotel.

She did a quick once-over in a mirror just outside the entrance. In that ballroom, she had to be Claire Kent—mild-mannered reporter, and she had to look the part. Her black hair was still pulled back in a tight, simple bun, her dark-rimmed glasses needed to be pushed higher up her nose, and her posture had to be fixed.

She was standing up too straight at that moment. Claire Kent was always supposed to cower a bit when she stood and walked, doing what she could to avoid drawing attention to herself. Her dress managed to help with that. It was a long, dark blue gown with a boatneck cut and capped sleeves. It showed no skin but her arms, and it wasn’t so tight that it accentuated her curves. She had a figure, but the dress did a good job of hiding it.

And hiding was an important part of Claire’s life, because she was more than just Claire Kent.

Claire was also a super-powered alien who used her abilities to try to help people—but the public didn’t know that. They knew that someone dressed in black was speeding around Metropolis saving people from harm. They called that someone “the Blur.” They didn’t know that it was Claire—they didn’t even know that the Blur was female—and Claire liked to keep it that way.

Her adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent knew her secret, along with a select few others, but she couldn’t risk letting anyone else find out about her. She realized that during a few close calls in high school. After that, she decided to take on the persona of nerdy and meek Claire Kent in her everyday life. The more bumbling and awkward Claire seemed, the less likely people would question what she really was.

And somehow, the fiction worked. After college, Claire had found herself a career at the Daily Planet to fill her time when she wasn’t off being the Blur. Her childhood friend Chloe Sullivan had suggested that Claire pursue journalism. Chloe knew Claire’s true identity and had thought working in that field would help Claire determine where the Blur’s skills might be needed. As usual, Chloe had been right. Working for the Planet had helped Claire pick the battles she fought as the Blur, and it also helped her in maintaining her cover. If she had to run off and assist someone as the Blur, she could just tell her boss that she had to leave to track down a lead.

Thankfully, her boss was supportive and not too difficult to convince. It didn’t hurt that Chloe had also accepted a position at the Planet and was willing to help cover for Claire. Chloe was one of Claire’s best allies. Not only did she help in concealing Claire’s identity, but she also kept an ear out for criminal activity that the Blur should deal with.

Tonight, for example, Chloe was keeping Claire apprised of any incidents that needed the Blur’s attention while Claire was in Gotham with her father for a charity event. Jonathan Kent was running for an election within the state, and his opponent Lex Luthor was apparently attending the party. When Jonathan’s campaign manager had learned of this, he recommended that Jonathan go to the event as well. Jonathan wasn’t opposed to going, but his goal wasn’t to upstage Lex. Jonathan actually supported the charity and wanted to vocalize his appreciation for the work they did.

Claire always admired her father and his honorable motives, but she didn’t accompany him to support his actions or his campaign. In truth, Gotham had one of the worst crime rates in the nation—despite the efforts of a new vigilante in town—and Claire wasn’t going to let her father walk around this city alone.

But just because Claire was spending the evening in Gotham, it didn’t mean that the Blur could have a night off from fighting crime in Metropolis. Once Claire ensured that her father was safely inside the hotel’s ballroom, she made several discreet exits through side doors and alleyways. As soon as Claire was outside, she would check the calls and texts she’d received from Chloe, change into her Blur clothing, and head straight for the crime scenes.

She’d already managed to stop two armed robberies and a jewelry heist that night, and she thought it was perhaps time to stay and visit with her father for a bit. She didn’t want her repeated disappearances arousing anyone’s suspicions.

Claire entered the ballroom and quickly distinguished her father’s voice from the rest of the crowd. He was on the far side of the room, and Claire began to make her way toward him when a familiar face blocked her path.

“Claire,” Lex said, as he moved in closer—much closer than Claire would like. “I haven’t had a chance to speak to you all night.”

“Well, I’m sure there are much more interesting people here than me that you could speak to, Lex,” Claire replied, trying to sound as nervous as possible. In all honesty, the man did make her nervous. She might be nearly indestructible, but Claire knew that Lex was dangerous to her. On several occasions, he had come close to discovering her secret, and at one point, she’d nearly told him. Over time, though, Claire saw the man that Lex truly was, and she was grateful she hadn’t revealed her identity to him. If he knew that she was the Blur, Lex would no doubt try to use her for his own gains.

“If you’ll excuse me…” Claire mumbled as she tried to move around Lex, but he caught her arm before she could go past him.

“Hold on, Claire,” Lex said in a voice that was somehow both soft and sinister. “I just wanted to have a chat…for old times’ sake.”

Claire knew she could break free from his grip—she could even break his whole arm without much effort. Sadly though, such an action would only solve one of her problems—and invite several new ones.

“Look, Lex,” Claire began, “I’m only here to spend the evening with my father. I’m not looking for a fight.”

“I’m not either, Claire,” Lex said, slowly rubbing his thumb across her forearm. “You know how I hate this rift between us…and between your parents and I. This election is complicating things, but I want nothing more than for you and I to be friends again.”

“Sorry if I find that difficult to believe, Lex,” Claire replied.

“You should believe it, Claire,” Lex asserted. “You sh—”

“Lex!” a man interrupted as he approached them. The newcomer had dark brown hair and blue eyes, and his suit suggested wealth. Claire thought he looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him. He continued speaking to Lex, smiling as he said, “It’s been awhile, but I see you’re still having to use force to keep a woman in your company.”

“Bruce,” Lex responded, tightening his grip on Claire. “I guess your little disappearing act didn’t last long enough. You’re interrupting a private conversation, so why don’t you just go back to wherever you were hiding the last few years?”

“Come now, Lex, I can’t just leave. My name’s on the charity. Speaking of, ” the man said, turning his attention—and charm—to Claire. “How rude of me—I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Bruce Wayne.”

Bruce extended his hand to Claire, and the action seemed to make Lex realize that he was still holding Claire’s arm. His grip loosened, and Claire managed to free herself.

“I’m Claire Kent,” she said, as she shook the offered hand.

“Kent?” Bruce repeated. “So, Lex, you’re not just harassing any woman. You’re harassing a family member of the competition. Seems low—even for you.”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you, Bruce,” Lex stated. “So if you’ll just—”

“You’re absolutely right, Lex,” Bruce replied, raising one hand to indicate that Lex should stop speaking and keeping Claire’s hand enclosed in the other. “I don’t need an explanation, and I doubt that Miss Kent needs one either. I just need to know if Miss Kent would care to dance.”

Bruce’s gaze fixed on Claire, and she couldn’t help but stare back at him. The man was certainly handsome, and somehow he managed to put Lex on edge. Those were positive traits from Claire’s perspective, but she still didn’t know what to think of him. She’d heard of the mysterious billionaire Bruce Wayne—the poor soul who’d survived childhood tragedies, the spoiled youth with a fortune but no idea what to do with it, and most recently, the aimless wanderer with no regard for his life or the lives of others.

Claire knew that billionaires could be trouble, especially with the secrets she had to keep, and Lex had given her all the proof she could ever need of that fact. Lex had been desperate to get the truth from her since the day they’d first met, and he’d used his nearly limitless resources in trying to obtain it.

Considering Bruce’s offer now, though, Claire didn’t see the harm in accepting. It would provide her with a quick escape from Lex, and she doubted that Bruce would cause her any real trouble after only one dance. No matter what parts of his reputation were true, she felt that simple, country girl Claire Kent wouldn’t hold a billionaire’s attention—so long as she could keep up the act.

“I…uh,” Claire stuttered. “I’m afraid I’m not really good at dancing.”

“Don’t worry,” Bruce replied, warmly. “I won’t let you fall.”

“Okay then…I guess,” Claire answered, pushing up her glasses with her free hand and allowing Bruce to continue holding the other.

“Great,” Bruce said, his smile broadening. He began to lead Claire to the dance floor, when Lex came up behind them.

“This isn’t over, Claire,” he stated, somewhat menacingly.

“It is now,” Bruce said, stopping to look back at Lex before pulling Claire into his arms. He quickly guided them into the middle of the crowd, moving them further and further away from Lex.

“You’re not bad at this,” Bruce stated after a few turns, and Claire managed to blush and stumble a bit in reply. “Well,” he corrected, “I guess I should say you’re not too bad at this.”

Claire didn’t look him in the eye as she said, “Well, I did say I wasn’t good at dancing.”

“I suppose you did,” he said before adding, “and you’re also not good at avoiding fights.”

“What do you mean?” Claire asked quickly.

“Lex,” Bruce said, motioning his head back to where they had met. “Your little back-and-forth earlier.”

“I wasn’t trying to start a fight.”

“Knowing Lex as long as I have, I believe you,” Bruce replied. “But still, you should be more careful. Going anywhere near Lex is asking for trouble.”

“I didn’t mean to run into Lex,” Claire answered. “I was looking for my father, and I didn’t see Lex standing there.”

“Really?” Bruce asked, teasingly. “With that head, you’d think he’d be hard to miss.”

“He didn’t ask to be bald,” Claire replied without thinking. She’d wanted to keep any conversation with Bruce Wayne as short and sweet as possible, but she knew she’d just made a misstep. Bruce had managed to hit a sore spot when he mentioned Lex’s baldness. Claire knew that Lex had lost his hair during the meteor shower that had marked her arrival on Earth, and Claire felt some level of guilt for Lex’s baldness—as she did for every suffering of the meteor-afflicted.

Claire looked at Bruce to see what damage she’d done, and she could tell that the mirth and playfulness had left the man’s eyes.

“I…I just meant that…um…you can’t judge a guy based on what happened to him in some horrible childhood incident,” Claire stammered, fixing her eyes on a button on Bruce’s shirt. “Lex has had a rough life,” she added.

“He’s not the only one,” Bruce replied somberly.

It took Claire less than a second to realize how much of an idiot she’d been with her statement. Horrible childhood incident? She couldn’t believe she’d just said that to a man who’d witnessed his parents being murdered when he was a boy.

She needed to work on speaking—or better still, on keeping her mouth shut.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t…I was out of line just then.”

“No, Miss Kent,” Bruce said. “You were just letting me know that I was being out of line.”

“What?” Claire questioned.

“You reminded me that if I’m going to insult Lex, I shouldn’t go for the cheap shots. There are a million other critical comments I could make about Lex, so let me pick one of them,” Bruce answered. “Perhaps something on his shady business arrangements? Or how about the mistreatment of his employees? Or my new favorite—that he enjoys picking on the daughter of his competitor?”

“I guess any of those would work,” Claire replied quietly.

“So what was he saying to you?” Bruce asked. “I hope he wasn’t trying to make you persuade your father to pull out of the race.”

“No,” Claire answered, deciding to keep her responses brief. “We were talking about something else.”

“Something other than the election? Well now, I’m intrigued. What were you two discussing?”

Claire hesitated for a moment. This was exactly what she didn’t want happening. Intriguing Bruce Wayne would only bring her trouble—Claire was certain of it. She had intrigued Lex when she first met him years ago to the point that he was still suspicious of her. Claire needed a good answer for Bruce

She thought back to the advice that Chloe had given her on coming up with a good cover story. The first step was always to start with the truth and then go from there.

“We were talking about the past,” Claire replied. “My family has known Lex for a while now, and he didn’t used to have this animosity toward us…but I guess…well, things change.”

“Being on opposite sides of an election will do that to people,” Bruce said. “It’s funny, though. From what I’ve heard during this race, I would’ve thought your family wouldn’t run in the same circles as Lex, but you say you’ve known him for some time now?”

“Yes,” Claire answered. “My family’s farm is in a town called Smallville. Luthorcorp has a plant there, and Lex was put in charge of it briefly. My family met him then.”

“So let me get this straight,” Bruce began. “While Lex was out in this Smallhill—”

“Smallville,” Claire corrected, before returning her gaze to Bruce’s button and trying to will herself to stay quiet.

“Smallville,” Bruce repeated. “So while he was there, he decided to mingle with the locals and get to know the farmers? That doesn’t seem like Lex to me.”

“Well, um…,” Claire uttered. She didn’t know what to tell him. Of course she could tell him the real reason why playboy Lex Luthor had bothered to become acquainted with the Kent family—that, as a teenager, Claire had retrieved Lex from a river that he had driven his car into, saving the man’s life that afternoon. But that was exactly the kind of story Claire was determined not to share. It was the kind of story that would only bring her trouble.

So Claire kept quiet. In a way, she thought it might work out for her. Simple Claire Kent should find it difficult to carry on a conversation with someone as rich and famous as Bruce Wayne.

“But maybe you’re right,” Bruce said, breaking the awkward silence.

“What?” Claire asked, looking at her dance partner’s face again and not knowing what he was trying to say.

“Things change,” Bruce answered. “Maybe the Lex you knew in Smallville wasn’t the one I knew as a kid or the one we just ran into tonight. People can change over time—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But no matter what, you should be careful around him.”

Bruce’s tone was surprisingly serious, but suddenly the song ended and another began, and just like that, a playful grin returned to Bruce’s face. He released her hand finally, but the hand he’d had on her waist remained in contact with her. It slid to her back as Bruce said, “Let me see you to your father.”

Claire puzzled over the man’s behavior as she let him guide her across the room. He was a mystery to her. One minute he seemed like a stuck-up rich boy, and the next he sounded like a heart-broken orphan. And his eyes—at times, they seemed thoughtful and honest, but then they would change, and a superficial glaze seemed to cover them.

Claire also didn’t know what Bruce’s concern with Lex was. She’d have to look into any connections or disputes between Luthorcorp and Wayne Enterprises to see if that could offer an explanation, but she doubted it. From what she knew about Bruce, he’d only just arrived home after years abroad, and he hadn’t shown any real interest in his family’s company.

If it wasn’t business-related, Claire wondered if it might be some sort of rivalry from their youth. Bruce and Lex had obviously known each other for years. Perhaps some old grudge between them caused them to still dislike each other—and perhaps it made Bruce believe that he should warn people about dealing with Lex.

Before Claire could contemplate Bruce any further, they found themselves approaching her father and several other people, having what appeared to be a heated discussion.

“He’s a menace!” one man said. He was older than her father and had greying hair and a stern face. “They’re all menaces! They should each get their own padded cell in Arkham as far as I’m concerned.”

“Who are we talking about?” Claire quietly asked her father as she went to stand beside him.

“Gotham’s new vigilante—the Batman,” Jonathan replied, his voice sounding tired. “And vigilantes in general.”

“Then clearly you haven’t seen the good that these people are doing,” another voice said in response to the older man’s comments. This voice Claire knew well. It belonged to the Daily Planet’s star reporter Louis Lane. He was there to cover the event, including the political candidates’ attendance there. It was for that reason that Claire couldn’t work on the story herself. Her editor didn’t want her covering anything to do with the election because he didn’t want the Planet to seem partial to any particular candidate, and having the name Kent in a byline wouldn’t help with that.

So Claire stayed on the sidelines at the Planet during this election season, but she was fine with that. It left more time for the Blur to be helping people.

“The Blur has been credited with saving countless lives in Metropolis,” Louis continued. “And the Batman? He just helped put away one of Gotham’s most notorious criminals.”

“And how many times has the Blur stuck around and actually followed the judicial process that this country was founded on?” the other man questioned, and Claire felt a stab of shame at his words. She hated having to work in the shadows, staying in a place only long enough to hand criminals over to authorities but not remaining to make sure that justice was done. She wondered how many criminals would walk just because the Blur couldn’t appear in court to testify against them. “And the Batman? He likes putting people in the hospital more than he likes seeing them behind bars. Why else would the police set up a task force to bring him in?”

“Maybe because they’re jealous,” Louis replied quickly. He’d always been an advocate of the Blur, writing articles arguing that Metropolis’ vigilante was a hero, and Claire had always appreciated it. She could never show that appreciation, though—at least not as Claire Kent—but as the Blur, she’d given Louis some of his biggest stories.

Seeing that Louis wasn’t backing down, the older man looked for someone else in the group to support his view. “Bruce,” the man said. “Help me out here. What do you think of this Batman character?”

“Well,” Bruce began, with the earnestness once again missing from his voice and eyes. “A guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues.”

“And I would say the same thing about the Blur and any other vigilante out there,” Lex said as he approached the group, standing next to the older man. “Anyone who thinks that they can take the law into their own hands has to be mentally unstable.”

“I’m glad to hear others share my convictions, Mr. Luthor,” the man said, offering his hand to shake Lex’s.

“I believe any sane person should share your convictions, Mr. Earle,” Lex replied, returning the handshake. He then turned to Louis before adding, “Emphasis on sane.”

“That’s funny, Luthor,” Louis said. “Because I would’ve said that only criminals with something to hide—something that they’re worried someone like the Blur or the Batman might find about—would share those convictions. Do you have something to hide, Luthor?”

“I have nothing to hide,” Lex answered. “It’s the Blur and this bat-guy that are hiding. They’re breaking the law. They should come forward, face punishment for their crimes, and leave law enforcement to the professionals. Or do any of you disagree? Mr. Kent,” Lex stated, turning his attention to Claire’s father. “What do think of these vigilantes?”

“I don’t agree with vigilantism, Lex,” Jonathan replied. “And I certainly can’t agree with the violence employed by this Batman. Our legal system is in place to protect people—their rights, their safety—and no one should disrupt that system.”

Louis scoffed, but Claire wasn’t surprised by her father’s answer. Jonathan knew that Claire was the Blur, and he also knew how important it was to keep her alternate identity a secret. Speaking out against the Blur was just one more way of doing that.

The conversation continued, but Bruce quickly excused himself. Claire couldn’t help but hear his cell phone vibrate just before he left, and for some reason, she let her hearing follow his voice.

“Alfred,” Bruce said as he answered.

Sorry to disturb, sir,” the voice on the other end replied in a thick British accent. “But you’ll want to know about this. I just saw a suspicious vehicle pull into the alleyway behind the hotel. A number of men got out of it, and they appeared to be armed. I’ve phoned the police…

The voice continued speaking, but Claire turned her ears elsewhere. She listened beyond the ballroom to the surrounding hallways. It didn’t take long to find them. There were multiple male voices down one corridor discussing how to make their way into the room. Claire could then hear the mechanical clicks she’d learned to associate with guns.

She knew that a normal gun couldn’t hurt her, but there were over one hundred people in the ballroom that weren’t so impervious to bullets, including her father. She needed to do something to protect them.

“Dad,” she said calmly. “Can I speak to you for a moment?”

Their group had become embroiled in another debate, and Louis was being particularly argumentative at that moment, so fortunately, no one noticed the Kents moving to a quieter spot.

“What’s wrong, Claire?” Jonathan asked. After years of raising her and helping her to cope with her abilities, Jonathan knew how to read Claire, and he could tell when there was trouble.

“There are armed men in the hotel, and they’re on their way here,” she said quietly. “I need to take care of them, and you need to stay safe.”

“Wait,” Jonathan said, placing his hand on Claire’s shoulder. “If there’s a sighting of the Blur in Gotham while you’re in Gotham, you don’t think that might be a problem? Lex is suspicious enough of you as it is.”

“What should I do? Stand back and let these guys hurt people?” Claire replied.

“No,” Jonathan answered with a conflicted look in his eyes. “Aren’t there any alternatives?”

“The cops have been called, but I don’t hear them anywhere nearby. The gunmen will be in the ballroom before they get here. I need to go,” Claire stated.

“Fine, but just…” Jonathan hesitated before adding, “Grab a black tablecloth or sheet or something and tie it around your neck. They say that Batman wears a cape—make them think it was Batman who stopped these men tonight, not the Blur.”

Claire was about to speed away when doors around the room were kicked open. Under normal circumstances, she would still make a run for it. In a crowd this size, no one would notice if Claire disappeared through a door or window—especially not at the speeds that she could move and with the low profile she usually kept. Tonight was different, though. It seemed the second these armed and masked men walked in the room, one of them pointed in her direction and shouted, “There!”

As two of the gunmen approached, Claire realized they hadn’t been pointing at her. They were looking at her father. Two other men grabbed Lex and pulled him closer to where Claire and Jonathan stood. The remaining gunmen moved through the crowd, filling bags with jewelry and money taken from the attendees and creating a sense of panic throughout the room.

Lex was shoved next to her father, and one of the gunmen stepped forward. “Well look what we have here. It’s the men of the hour, boys.”

Claire recognized the voice. It had given most of the orders to the men on their way through the hotel. She assumed that he was the ringleader behind this.

“Tell me,” the man said to her father and Lex. “Are you gentlemen feeling lucky tonight? Because I’m certainly feeling lucky. You see, I get to kill two of the most annoying men I know tonight.”

Claire knew she could stop this. She could have all the men disarmed before one shot could be fired—but it would mean revealing to the world that Claire Kent and the Blur were the same person. Her life as she knew it would be over, and the lives of her family and friends would never be the same.

But she couldn’t let her father die. She couldn’t let anyone die or suffer here tonight just because she was afraid to reveal her identity, but she had to try one more option before giving up her life as Claire Kent.

She had to try to save the day—as Claire Kent.

Claire stepped in between the ringleader and her father. She faced the man as she said, “You don’t want to do that.”

“Oh really?” the man replied with surprise in his tone. “Why don’t I want to do this, doll?”

“Well,” Claire began, forcing herself to tremble slightly and pushing her glasses up her nose as she spoke. “You don’t want to face the consequences of doing something like this. Right now, you’re just looking at being sentenced for armed robbery and assault. The sentencing will be much worse, though, if you allow things to escalate from here.”

“That’s only if I get caught,” the ringleader said, raising his gun and pointing it right at Claire. “Now, sweetheart, I’ve got no problem shooting my way through you to shoot the old man behind you, but if you don’t want to be the first to die, I suggest you move now.”

“Claire,” her father said from behind her, pleadingly. He wanted her to move; he wanted her to keep her secret safe, but she couldn’t stand by and let this happen. As soon as the first bullet hit her, she would grab the gun from the ringleader and then disarm the others.

Claire could hear the man’s finger beginning to squeeze the trigger. She expected to hear the bullet leaving the chamber next, but another sound—a sound she didn’t recognize—interrupted everything. The gun had still fired, but the bullet went nowhere near its intended target, and protruding from the ringleader’s hand was a piece of metal shaped like a bat.

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