Home > My Favorites, The Fiction of Fans > Day One Hundred and Fifty-one: Masks Off

Day One Hundred and Fifty-one: Masks Off

The idea for tonight’s writing comes from one of the writing prompts offered up by John Scalzi in his most recent column over at Filmcritic.com – go on over and try your hand at it!

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“Bruce!”

Bruce Wayne turned around and scanned the crowd for a voice he was afraid he knew. The main banquet hall of the Gotham Imperial Hotel was full of the richest men and women in the country, all there for a charity auction of antiquities that had been out of the public eye for decades, if not centuries. The fact that they had been, until a few months ago, almost entirely in the possession of the Penguin was known to only a few people in the room. With Cobblepot’s timely arrest and conviction, it was decided that the objects he coveted should be put to good use, something that enraged Cobblepot to no end.

The charity had hoped to raise several hundred thousand dollars, but Wayne had done his best to see to it that they broke well over several million. Rich people were not naturally sentimental, but Bruce Wayne had a gift for getting people to do what he wanted.

He looked through the sea of tuxedos and silks, and for a moment he nearly let his pleasant socialite mask slip into the habitual grimace he was so comfortable with. He turned to the lovely young lady on his arm and said, “Would you excuse me for a minute, Adriana?”

She smiled, and said, “Of course. You captains of industry must have important things to talk about.” Her accent was beautiful – his ear-link to the cave computer had allowed him to place her from a small village just south of the Polish border. She traced his jawline with an impeccably manicured fingernail. “I will see you later, yes?”

Bruce took her hand and kissed it. “Absolutely,” he said. She blushed and turned before he could say anything about it.

“You know, I thought I was good with the ladies, Bruce, but you certainly put up quite the fight yourself.” Bruce turned and found himself looking directly into the eyes of Tony Stark. Stark had that annoying perpetual half-smile under his thin goatee that just made Bruce’s fists itch. It had nothing to do with the attempted takeover of Wayne Robotics last year, of course. Or the way he’d managed to undercut Wayne Industries in a government-sponsored hydroelectric project. No, nothing like that at all.

“Stark,” Bruce said

“Oh, come on, Bruce!” Tony clapped him on the shoulder. “Lighten up!” He deftly took a glass of champagne from one of the waiters that was working the room. He drained half of it in one swallow, and Bruce hated him just that much more. “Sure you lost, Bruce, but think about it this way – I’m out half a million, and I won’t get that back for -” He checked his watch. “Another twenty minutes, at the very least.” He grinned insolently and finished the champagne. He dropped it off with another traveling waiter and then adjusted his cufflinks. “And now I have a new conversation piece.”

“What I wonder, Tony, is what exactly you needed with a fifteenth-century Chinese sword?”

“What did you need with it?”

Bruce’s glare should have burned right through him. Stark just shrugged. “Open mail. Slice ham.” He struck a pose. “Pretend I’m a ninja.” Bruce rolled his eyes and Tony stood up straight. “I know, I know – Japan, not China. But that’s not the point.” He shrugged. “I liked it. I wanted it. I got it.”

Bruce glanced at his watch to make sure the data feed from his earpiece was working. The hour hand had turned red, meaning that the wireless signal was blocked. Bruce grimaced.

Tony laughed, his hands in his pockets. “Wow, you really don’t like to lose, do you?”

“No,” Bruce said, glancing up. “I really don’t.”

They started at each other for a moment, and Tony Stark’s grin just seemed to grow more insolent by the moment. The first thing Bruce had done when the new billionaire on the block moved in was to find out everything he could about him, and very little of what he found made him like the man. Stark Industries had grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years, mainly on the strength of Stark’s designs. Despite what looked like a serious problem with alcohol, the man was a genius, there was no denying that. But Bruce Wayne had seen genius many times before, and it rarely turned out well for anyone.

“Listen, Tony.” Bruce checked his watch again. Still red. “I’d love to stay and banter with you. I really would. But I have to go.” He forced a smile. “I have a lady waiting.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Tony said. “I wouldn’t dream of keeping you from a lady like that. However,” he said, taking a step closer. “If you want a closer look at that sword, it can certainly be arranged.” Bruce started to object, but Tony held up a hand. “You know there are quite a few people in Gotham besides us who would love to have it. And who would be far less willing to pay a fair price for it.” He raised an eyebrow.

Bruce wasn’t sure if he was hearing what he thought he was hearing. If anything, Stark looked excited by the idea that someone in the Gotham underworld would try to steal the sword, which raised all kinds of alarm bells in Bruce’s mind. Perhaps he was planning an insurance scam? But then why even hint about it? The man was about as far from stupid as it was possible to be, but this was pretty dumb. “Stark,” he said. “I don’t want anything -”

“Listen carefully, Bruce,” Stark said. The joking tone was gone from his voice, which sent Bruce’s mind off in all kinds of different directions. “I’ll be putting this on display in my Gotham headquarters, and I’ll get the word out that security is pretty lax.” He glanced around. “I reckon someone will come after it pretty quickly.”

Bruce snorted. “For a sword?” He shook his head in disbelief. Maybe Stark wasn’t as smart as he thought. “If you want petty criminals digging through your lobby, have fun with that. I don’t see how I need to be involved.” He nodded politely and turned to go.

“How about the Joker?” Stark said quietly. Bruce stopped and looked over his shoulder. Stark made a small gesture to come back over, and then went on in a low voice. “The Penguin murdered one of the Joker’s men to get the sword. The clown had wanted it for himself, and was very unhappy when it got swiped from him.” He glanced around again. “I put that out on display, and it’s almost a guarantee that he’ll come. Him, or someone who can be traced to him.” He looked Bruce in the eyes. The flippancy was gone, replaced with deadly earnestness.

“And what,” Bruce said slowly, “do you think this has to do with me?” He kept his face relaxed, concentrating on the muscles around his eyes and his nose to not give anything away. If Stark was suggesting what he thought he was suggesting…

Stark burst out in a laugh that startled everyone around them. “Oh, you’re good, Bruce. You really are.” He clapped him on the shoulder again. “You enjoy the rest of the party, okay?” He put out his hand and Bruce took it. “But give some thought to my idea, okay?” Tony squeezed Bruce’s hand, just hard enough. “I’ll keep the skylight open for you.”

Bruce just watched as Tony Stark walked away, wrapping his arm around the waist of a beautiful auburn-haired beauty that he probably hadn’t met until that moment. Bruce glanced at his watch. The hands were green again. He tapped the earpiece. “Alfred,” he said. “Looks like we have a problem.”

“I would be surprised if we didn’t, sir,” Alfred said in his ear. “I’ll put on some extra tea.”

Bruce didn’t bother to put his social face back on, and left the hotel without goodbyes. There was something about Tony Stark that he had overlooked, and he would be damned if he didn’t figure it out by morning.

Bruce Wayne is owned by DC Comics.
Tony Stark is owned by Marvel Comics.

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  1. October 20, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    Gotta say, you were spot on with both Bruce and Tony’s personalities. Cool fanfic!

    • October 20, 2011 at 3:21 PM

      Many thanks! I was a little uncertain with Tony – I’m much more of a DC fan – but I’m glad I found his voice.

  2. October 20, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Good work, I quite liked the tone of this.

  1. October 26, 2011 at 10:49 PM

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