Kansas, Kent Farm
"You sure you don't need my help?"
"I've been cooking for two for months now, Ma, so just sit back and relax."
"Alright," She sighed behind him, leaning back into the old chair and making it creek almost as much as her backbones. This was the fifth time she tried to get into the kitchen and help him out and once again, Clark reminded her that wasn't necessary. He wanted her to rest as she'd spent the better part of the whole afternoon and well into the evening working at Ben Hubbard's dinner.
Old Ben as they affectionally called him was their neighbor for a long time, always smiling and talking to them whenever they crossed paths. He even let Clark and Lana use his hay to build forts and play around all over the place, just as long as they didn't break anything. Ben never had kids of his own, and from a very early age, Clark realized letting his neighbors play around was the closest he'd get to have any around, even for a short while.
Eventually, Ben's nickname became a little more literal, he'd actually gotten old in the last few years and with the farming business hitting a bit of a rut all over the country, he decided to sell the old place and start a small dinner right in the heart of Smallville. Ma couldn't keep up with the place either anymore, it would've been difficult even with Clark's around but by herself, it wasn't feasible, so, she and Ben worked out a deal, letting her work in the dinner for good pay even though she should've been enjoying her retirement instead.
Even as dishes clanked together alongside the shuffling through drawers for spoons and forks, Clark could distinctly hear the weariness in his mother's breath, the somewhat off heartbeats pounding in her chest and her tired bones cracking around her neck.
"How're things at the dinner? You see Old Ben much?"
"Here and there," His mother replied with a sigh. "He used to be around more often but I've heard gossip that he's thinkin' about opening another joint."
"Who knew Ben was secretly a businessman," Clark put the plates down along with the cutlery and immediately headed back into the kitchen when the oven bell rang.
"Yeah, next thing you know he'll marry someone young enough to pass for his grandkid and start having little Ben's run around."
The idea of a 65-year-old man trying to keep up with kids running circles around him got a good laugh out of him as he gently reached into the oven with a pair of worn out old mitts. When he took it out, Clark stopped for a second and took in the smell of it and couldn't help but grin. Just from the smell, he could intensely feel the milk, chopped onion, ground beef and everything else inside the meatloaf. Just taking in the scent of a fresh meal like this, never mind the incredible taste afterward, was reason enough for him to keep eating despite the fact he didn't really need to, it was just too much of a thrill to abandon the habit.
His mom had a similar reaction when he put the dinner down, stopping for a second to just take it all in. "Mmm, that smells good."
"I learned from the best."
"Damn right you did."
That was more or less how their meal went, mother and son exchanging a little banter about each other's lives, Martha telling him about Smallville of all places potentially turning into a tourist trap while Clark told her some assignments he'd done but made it a point not to bring up Superman or Batman. Not yet, anyway, it was a long time since the two of them could just sit down and talk without a care in the world and Clark wanted to make it last for a while. His mother, very pointedly, turned the conversation away from more serious subjects when it looked like they might broach them as well. It wasn't until dinner was long finished and the two of them switched to sitting on the porch that Clark decided he'd get down to the other reason he decided to visit.
"Senator Finch invited Superman to Washington tomorrow," Clark said before drinking a little beer, hoping he sounded less nervous then he felt.
"I know, the whole dinner stopped dead when she and that Keefe man showed up," She replied, looking at the clear night sky hanging over them. "You thinking about accepting this time?"
"Maybe," Clark finished off the beer. "Lois had mixed feelings about it. She doesn't want me to get tangled up in politics and agendas, for the government to get its hands into me which, isn't entirely impossible, general Swanwick certainly didn't stop trying to track me until he'd lost more than a few drones."
He sighed. "I recently talked to the Commissioner of Gotham City's police department, Jim Gordon, you probably heard about him from all those Batman stories a ways back. Think about it, an official state-approved police officer working publically and proudly with a vigilante to help the city in mutual trust and cooperation."
His mother didn't immediately respond, with a deliberate slowness she sat next to her boy and put a comforting arm around his shoulders.
"And you'd like to have that too?"
"Well, yeah," Clark admitted, feeling oddly silly about it. "I mean, I'm not stupid, I know politics is a dirty game but this woman, this June Finch, ever since the Superman Committee started, she hasn't sung my praises or called for my head. She's had genuine discussions about who Superman is and what he means for the world. Maybe she's my Jim Gordon, someone I can count on from the inside to make it easier."
"How'd Lois take that explanation?"
"She told me she understood where I was coming from and she'd support me either way, but," He smiled. "She was gonna stay cautiously pessimistic if I went through with it. For both our sakes."
"That makes two of us," When Clark looked at her, she smiled at him. "What? I'm your mom, I was worrying about everything you do way before your girlfriend ever did."
Clark couldn't deny that, besides his father, no one knew him quite as well as his mom did. It was her voice, after all, that helped him focus his powers during the early days when they first manifested. The same principle got him soaring across the sky too.
"I know every mom worth a hay says this, but I've always had your back son and I always will. If you want to stay independent, go ahead, but if you think you could use a friend as Superman besides me and Lois, I'll support that too," Her eyes took a mischievous glint. "And if that Finch woman messes with you, tell her to go to hell or else she can come down her from her fancy office and try that on me."
He laughed at the thought of her facing down the entire US government, thinking she was probably tough enough to pull it off too. All jokes aside, it was good to know the most important people in his life we're ready to help him any which direction he wanted to go. He always knew they would deep down, but with so much uncertainty still left all around him, it was nice to hear the rocks in his life weren't flinching an inch.
"Thanks, Ma," He breathed out a sigh of relief at getting this done, at least. "That's one problem sorted out I guess."
"I'm guessing the other one has to do with Batman?"
Clark wasn't too surprised by her figuring that particular issue out, he wouldn't take to the infamous Batman's police partner if it didn't have anything to do with the recent reports of brutality concerning Gotham's old vigilante.
"It does and I'm not sure what to do about it," He got back on his feet and walked a bit on the front yard. "If he was just some murderer in a costume, it would be so much simpler. But... he is... or was Gotham's hero, Ma. One of the only people who fought for that place even when things were just getting worse and worse there and he didn't do with superpowers either."
"He just a guy?" His mother asked in genuine surprise. "I always figured he might've been like you, specially after your powers started showing up at home."
"We're not alike there, no. But in a lot of other ways? Yeah, we are. We both use secret identities, we both operate outside the law to deal with things regular people can't-"
"But you're not the one painting targets on people's backs in prison."
"Exactly, he's taken things too far now, not only is he more brutal now but he's not even cooperating with Jim Gordon. They haven't spoken at all since he's come back and if it gets worse,..." Clark trailed off, once again feeling the pressure of the world on his shoulders. "I'll have to bring him in, expose who he is and potentially cause even more problems for a lot of people. That's why... I'm hoping to talk to him, help him change his mind."
"Do you think you can?"
"I'd like to think so. I've done some more research into who he is and why he does it, that's why I want to give him a chance. He's had a hard life, Ma, the kind that would break someone completely. But he seemed to stay the course, trying to help somehow even when he retired five years ago."
"What does Gordon think?" His other asked as he wrapped her jacket closely around her, joining her son on the porch.
"He said Batman helped him out during a bad time in his life, that he didn't give up on him then and didn't want to... Not yet, at least."
"I'm getting the feeling there's another side to this story you haven't told me yet."
"You're... not wrong about that," Clark admitted reluctantly as he remembered the other conversation he had, the one that brought him to Gordon in the first place. "I met with the wife of Carlos Santos. She said that putting him in prison wouldn't work, that he'd just break out just like all the other... freaks. That he deserves to die, instead."
"Something her husband's victims might say about Carlos."
"And if the law decided he should answer for his crimes that way, then I would accept it. But it wasn't, Batman knew the brand would get the attention it did and he made Carlos a target. That's why I feel like... I'm gonna lose no matter what."
That was an understatement, even besides what he'd told his mother, there was another factor in play that made Batman's potential arrest that much more complicated. Though he had no only circumstantial evidence, for now, Clark strongly suspected that Gotham's vigilante was also it's most eligible bachelor, Bruce Wayne. He'd started thinking about that when he spied in on Wayne and someone else blatantly stealing data from Lex Luthor and decided to dig into the man's background.
What Clark discovered was one tragedy after the other. Wayne witnessed his family get gunned down right in front of him, the killer never brought to justice. That alone made him more sympathetic, and more interesting to investigate.
Wayne left Gotham for a few years shortly after this, coming back as a grown man with promises to renew Gotham alongside the former District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Until Dent's face was destroyed during a courthouse hearing for Sal Maroni and the man went insane, murdering Maroni's rival, Carmine Falcone in his own home.
Wayne didn't seem deterred, from what Clark could glean out of old news posts and the like, the man seemed to shrug it all off and continue the playboy act. One Clark knew was was fake just from their one encounter, he saw something much darker during that conversation, something old, tired and bitter. Finding out about Wayne's multiple, vast financial resources further increased the possibility of him being Batman outside crime marking his life as profoundly as it did. Batman was shown driving and using vehicles that could best be described as sports tanks, alongside an actual one during a vicious, city-wide rampage of a peculiar cult just a few months before his retirement.
A retirement caused by the Joker who apparently kidnapped Batman's partner, Robin and caused the man to tear the city apart in a search. When the Joker turned up at the steps of the GCPD with most of his teeth viciously beaten out, everyone knew who did it, and until very recently, hadn't seen or heard from him since. Around the same time, Wayne himself became somewhat more of a recluse, not even bothering to rebuild his house after a drunken accident left it a burnt out husk on the outskirts of Gotham.
Then Metropolis happened where one of his companies oldest living associates, Lucius Fox died and Wayne promptly fell even more off the radar. Only appearing around the same time as Batman.
Just for feeling sympathetic to the man and his many woes, one of which Clark personally felt responsible for, made it that much harder to feel entirely angry about him as he did during his initial investigation. To say nothing of the fact numerous charities still fighting for Gotham could potential go down under if he was brought in was another matter to consider, alongside the fact Wayne had a ward, Dick Grayson living in Bludhaven with his fiance, the daughter of Jim Gordon, Barbara. Another person whose life could get dramatically upturned for something they may never have known or been a part of.
And yet... Carlos Santos was still branded and murder and more could follow suit. Potentially getting executed personally by Batman himself if he escalated his renewed war on crime even further. Where would Batman draw the line then? Who could possibly be safe if he took things to higher extremes? Wasn't the plight of his wife and son something that demanded a resolution too? Did Wayne's and by extension, Batman's issues matter more than hers?
Clark sighed, feeling very, very tired. His mother just laughed and rubbed her hand against his back. "I'm starting to get why dad never left Kansas much, it must've been a lot simpler for him here then... out there."
"My boy," She kissed the side of his head. "Trust me, things get complicated no matter where you are. Your dad just chose farming complicated over all the other ones. It's the one he understood best."
He was about to ask more when his enhanced hearing caught something he'd made a point to keep an ear out for, along with Lois. Thousands of miles away, where the river rushed against old stones, Clark could hear the screeching of car tires against concrete, shouts of fear and panic, guns and even rockets firing off.
And all of it, from what he could hear, had to do with Batman.
Next time, the "Worlds Finest" finally, at long last meet! After the Batmobile chase, of course.