Clark was in a white room.
His head hurt.
It was a hospital room. Sort of.
Sitting next to his bed was a man in a black turtleneck and beige slacks. He had dark, thick hair that fell into his eyes a little bit. Deep blue eyes. He looked worried.
"Where am I?" Clark managed to say.
The man eyed him warily. "You're in the infirmary, Clark."
Clark tried to sit up. "How do you know my name? Who are you?"
The man looked down abruptly. When he looked up again his face wasn't worried anymore, it was closed and shuttered. "Clark. You're—there's been an accident."
Clark realized he was in a hospital gown. "Did something happen at the Planet? Are you a doctor?"
"No, I'm your...co-worker."
Clark shook his head and the room wavered around him. "No. You don't work at the Planet." He started to get out of bed. "And I'd like to see a doctor. I don't know what's going on—"
The man reached out and pushed him back down into the bed. "Clark, no, let me explain—"
Frustrated, annoyed, and starting to be a little alarmed, Clark shoved angrily at the dark-haired man. It wasn't a really hard shove, but the man was thrown backwards into a cabinet as if he'd been hit by a truck. Medical supplies flew everywhere, and the man landed on his feet like a cat, and nearly spitting like one. Clark stared in terror at his own hands. What was going on? He looked over his shaking hands to the man, who was still collecting himself, his handsome face furious. He stalked up to Clark, jabbed a finger at his chest. "You. Stay here. And don't touch anything." He was gone, the door slamming behind him.
Clark was only too happy to obey the man at this point. He had caught the expression on the man's face when Clark had shoved him, and it had been distilled, killing fury. No, before that. It hadn't been anger at first, but something else. Something like shock, maybe.
Clark didn't dare move or touch anything. He lay down on the bed. He could still hear the man's footsteps pounding angrily down corridors somewhere. Another door slammed, and Clark could hear the man's voice, snarling.
"Find someone else to play nursemaid, Princess! I don't know why you picked me for this job anyway, he's liable to kill me before I re-train him."
A woman's low contralto answered him. "Bruce, please. We voted, and we all agree you're the best person for this task." The woman's voice paused and she continued more hesitantly. "Bruce...I know that you two were—" she broke off and Clark could hear the man's heartbeat leap, stutter, stammer for a moment before she continued, "—not always good friends, but you know him better than anyone..."
The husky voice continued, but Clark couldn't process her words as shock rang through his body. He could hear the man's heartbeat! But that was impossible—impossible.
Clark suddenly became horribly aware that he could hear the woman's heartbeat as well, he just hadn't been listening to it. Like a floodgate opening, all the sounds he had been hearing and not attending to rushed at him. Scattered conversations—You think the big guy will be all//Can't do this, Diana//He'll pull through, I know//needs you now, Bruce//but Blood said the loss would probably be permanent—the hiss of machinery from a hundred machines, the hum of lights—still Superman, even if//what if he never—a cacophony of heartbeats, breathing, rustling clothes, the ringing sound of tiny particles of something hitting the metal building they were in—it was too much. Clark cowered on the bed, lost in a welter of sound, clinging to sanity.
Dimly through the chaos he heard the man's voice nearby, barking at someone—"Get everyone else off the station! Everyone! Now! He's not used to super-hearing anymore, he can't—just go! I'll shut down everything but life support—" The random voices and heartbeats picked up a desperate urgency We have to//He can't//Hurry up, Wally—then the first man was next to him again, his hand gripping Clark's firmly, his voice in Clark's ear.
"Clark, listen to me. I know it's overwhelming, I know it's frightening, but just focus on my voice." The low voice was urgent but gentle. "Just listen to my voice, hang on, Clark. Listen to me, it's going to be all right. You can get through this, you've gotten through worse, it's just super-hearing, listen to me, just to me, don't worry about the rest." The words didn't matter; Clark clung to the man's hand and honed in on his voice like the beam of a lighthouse, guiding him in from a stormy sea. "It's all right, Clark. You can do it. Just...trust me. Focus on my voice. I'm sorry." As the tremors wracking Clark's body eased slightly, the man continued. "That's it. Good. Good job. Now, keep relaxed and just...open up a little bit. Let a few more sounds in." The other people were gone, the random machinery noise was dulled, and Clark eventually found that he could open his eyes.
The man sighed as Clark met his gaze, and his shoulders slumped a little. "Better?"
"What...what have you done to me?" Clark was ashamed of the tears in his voice, the fear and uncertainty, but the man merely squeezed his hand once and let go.
"We haven't done anything to you."
"Look," Clark sat up with an effort, trying to make himself clear. "My name is Clark Kent and I'm a reporter at the Metropolis Daily Planet. I don't know what's happened to me, but I shouldn't be able to—to throw you across the room like that. Or hear...everything."
The man covered his eyes for a second, gathering his thoughts. He looked up at Clark, grimacing, the hand still on his forehead. "Yes, Clark, you're a reporter at the Planet. You're from Smallville, the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent."
"You know all that about me—"
"But you're also much more," the man said, cutting him off. "You're—" He stood up. "Well, I'll show you." He went to one of the screens on the wall, typed in a few commands. On the screen, a video of Clark. Wearing a red and blue suit. And flying. Bullets bounced off of him, and beams of light lanced from his eyes and melted guns to slag. The man stood with his back to Clark, staring at the screen.
"That's not me. That's someone who looks like me. I—" Clark couldn't find the words to explain how wrong the image seemed.
The video ended. The man continued to look at the blank screen. "There was a fight. Dr. Destiny. A magical backlash. It...took out all your memories of being anything but a mild-mannered reporter. We scanned your mind, had our best magicians examine you. They all agreed: There's a good chance you'll never remember this side of your life." The man turned, his stormy blue eyes bitter. "So the League voted me to train you in the use of your powers, your background, your history, your teammates. Get you...up to speed again."
"Why not just let me be? Why not leave me in my normal life?"
"Your normal life?" The man barked a mirthless laugh. "How normal would your life have been when you lost control of your super-hearing? Or—God forbid—your heat vision? No, Clark, the world needs Superman. Your team needs you. And you've never had a 'normal life,' and never will, whether you get your memories back or not."
He leaned forward, his wolfish blue eyes sarcastic, his hand out. "Clark Kent, I'm Bruce Wayne. I'll be your trainer until you're back in control of your powers."
Clark shook the proffered hand. Without really thinking, he said, "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wayne."
The man winced. "Well. Call me Bruce, at least."
Bruce flicked on the last switch. "You're still all right?"
Clark swallowed hard. The machines buzzing to life around them one by one had been disorienting, but slowly he managed to adjust his hearing until he was involuntarily focusing on the most important thing to hear. The hissing noise of space particles hitting the space station--and he still couldn't believe he was on a space station—faded into the background.
He had still put up some protest at the idea of his being a super-powered alien, but when Bruce had attempted to jab a scalpel through his wrist—and it had broken off even as Clark flinched—he was forced to conclude the man might have a point. After he had patched Clark through to talk to his mother there was really no way to argue anymore. Even the relative ease with which he had regained control of his hearing seemed to indicate that perhaps this was a skill he was used to having. But it all still seemed completely bizarre.
Bruce was still looking at him, waiting for an answer. "Yes. Yes, it's fine."
Bruce worried his lower lip for a while. "I think I'm going to risk taking you down to the Fortress. It's a better setting for you to practice in—for example, I don't have to worry about you punching a hole in the wall and letting in vacuum. And your computer has files..." He trailed off at Clark's confused face and sighed. "You have a Fortress. Of Solitude. Underneath the Arctic icecap. It's where you keep most of the things associated with your Kryptonian identity." He walked toward a different machine. "We can use this to teleport there. If your hearing gives you any problems, let me know and we'll teleport right back."
Clark nodded and followed him onto a pad of some sort. There was a weird disorienting feeling, and suddenly he found himself...somewhere else. It was a lot noisier there, and he had to stand with his eyes closed for a few minutes, getting used to the extra input of waves, sea-life, and wind nearby. When he opened them again, Bruce was watching him carefully. "Okay?"
"Yes. I think I'm getting used to that."
"Good." The aristocratic eyebrows lifted. "You won't be much use to us if you can't handle the noise of a battle." The man turned and stalked away down a corridor, and Clark followed, feeling stung and rebuffed. "Use to us"—the man acted like Clark was a fancy windup toy that was currently broken, somehow, and he was the mechanic assigned to get the gears whirring right again. Clark would have left him—but he didn't know how to work the teleporter and had no idea where he was. Great. Resignedly, he followed Bruce into a large hall dominated by a huge computer screen.
Bruce was calling up a few windows. "All right," he said as Clark trailed in behind him. "Let's start with your powers." A bulleted list appeared on a window: "Superman's Powers." "As Superman, you have access to a large variety of powers: invulnerability, super-strength, and super-hearing, all of which seem to be involuntary, and an array of others such as flying, cold breath, heat vision, and x-ray vision, which appear to need your conscious control."
"You have a Powerpoint presentation prepared about me."
Bruce crossed his arms and nodded at the neat bulleted list with some satisfaction. "It's more advanced software than Powerpoint, but the same basic idea. I put it together while you were unconscious. It's got three major sections: powers, history, and—" the clinical tone stumbled just a little, "—relationships. Obviously your powers are top priority, but I assumed we'd work in some of the other sections as we—"
"I'm not some lab rat, you know."
Bruce looked confused. "What?"
"I'm not some machine you can input the right data into and make... work again! Like a business plan for projected earnings or something. I can't believe you took the time to break down this whole other life into nice little neat components, like a—a frigging Wikipedia entry!"
Bruce looked at the screen and tapped a console absently with one finger. "It was...something to do. While we waited."
Clark walked up to the other man. He was tempted to jab him with a finger, but he was a little worried about what his super-strength might do. "Something to do? I have a whole life I've lost, and you're looking for something to do?" He threw up his hands and stepped away. "What if I don't even want to do this super-hero thing from now on? Maybe I don't want to work for you people. Have you even considered that possibility?"
Without looking at him, Bruce called up a video onto the screen, his fingers snapping angrily on the controls. Clark in the red and blue outfit again, saving people. Stopping lava flows, damming rivers, rescuing kittens from trees, catching falling people. Bruce turned his head just enough to meet Clark's eyes. "This is what Superman stands for. If you don't want to use your powers to help people, then you've lost a lot more than your memory."
He left the video running, the presentation screen up as well, and walked toward a door on the far side of the room. At the door, he paused, not looking back. "Let me know when you're ready to start training. What you do after you get in control of your powers is up to you."
A few hours later, Clark walked into the next room. Bruce was doing push-ups next to a cot, mechanical, his breathing deep and steady, his eyes fixed on the floor below him. He looked like he'd been doing them for hours and might well continue to do them indefinitely. Clark cleared his throat and the other man stopped in mid-pushup and looked over at him, eyes flinty.
"I've read the part about the history and background. About Kal-El. I'm...ready to work on my powers, if you're still willing to help."
Bruce didn't smile. He stood up, straightened his sweater, and nodded. "I'm always willing to help you, Clark."
"This is crazy. People can't fly."
"You're not 'people.' You're Superman. I still think you should wear the costume, it might help."
Clark took another tentative hop, landing firmly on the ground yet again. "No way. I'm not going to put up with you sniggering at me. And you haven't given me a single bit of useful advice on how to do this."
Bruce rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "That's because I have no idea. I've heard it said that the best approach is to throw yourself at the ground and miss."
"That's great." Clark steeled himself to really put his all into it this time, crouching.
"You could try saying 'Up, up, and away.' That always seemed to help."
"Fuck you, Bruce." Clark leapt as high as he could--and landed on his stomach on the stone floor with a resounding impact. He rolled over to glare at the other man.
"Maybe we should work on the vision-based powers instead," Bruce suggested.
"The cold breath came so easy, I don't know why the flying's so difficult." Clark sighed and pulled himself into a sitting position.
"You're trying too hard. And it's late, and you're still recovering from your injury. Maybe we should call it a night and give you some rest."
"I don't want to rest, I want to fly," Clark complained, but embarrassed himself by yawning at the end of the sentence. "Okay, maybe some sleep would do us both good."
Bruce dusted his hands off. "All right, I'll be back in about six hours then." He started to move back toward the teleporters.
"You're just going to leave me here alone?" Bruce turned and gave him a surprised look. "Can't I go back to my apartment in Metropolis?"
"Not until I feel more confident about your powers."
Clark looked down at his shoes. "Couldn't you, um, stay here? What if something goes wrong with my hearing again, or something?" He looked up to see Bruce gazing at him, his face unreadable. He felt himself blushing, but said it anyway. "This is a really lonely place and I'm feeling very...alone."
"That's why it's the Fortress of Solitude, not the Fortress of Companionship."
Clark ignored the sardonic tone and spoke instead to something he saw in the back of the man's gaze, something elusive and quicksilver. "Please stay."
It was Bruce's turn to look down. "All right." A quick, cynical glance. "If you really feel you need a babysitter."
Clark decided to ignore that too. "Uh, where do we sleep here?"
Bruce pointed back to the room with the cot. "I sleep there. Your room is over here." He led Clark to a large room with a big circular bed. Silver sheets.
"Looks like a tacky honeymoon suite."
Bruce pursed his lips and eyed the room. "No accounting for alien tastes." He went to a spot on the wall and touched it; it slid open to reveal a drawer full of fluffy blankets. He tossed a red one at Clark and snagged a black one for himself. He paused at the door, looking back at Clark, forlorn on the large shining bed. "Sleep well, Clark."
"Happy dreams, Bruce."
The other man sighed and rested his forehead on the doorframe for a moment. "Yeah. Happy dreams." Then he was gone, his footsteps echoing down the hall away from Clark.
A new scorch mark was added to the wall as Clark focused. "Good job, Clark," said Bruce approvingly. "See, that wasn't so hard once you figured out the right way to focus your vision. Think you're ready to try the x-ray vision now?"
Clark squinted at the wall. "How do I switch?"
Bruce frowned. "I think you described it once as feeling like a sort of...extra eyelid? There's a set of muscles at the corners of your eyes, here and here," he reached out and lightly touched Clark's eyes. "If you flex them, somehow..." He trailed off, looking slightly annoyed. "I know," he muttered to himself, "Let's get the guy with no superpowers at all to train him! That's perfectly logical!"
Clark screwed his eyes up in concentration, ignoring Bruce's dire grumbles. "I think—" He blinked a couple of times. "Hold on." It was a strange sensation, but he could actually feel the muscles now that Bruce had pointed them out. He focused—and scorched the wall again. Bruce backed a few steps away. "All right, no, this time I think I've really got it."
"I hope so."
It took another twenty minutes or so of squinting and de-focusing, but then there was an odd shifting feeling around his eyes, and he was looking through the wall into the bedroom. He made a relieved sound. "I've got it, Bruce! I can see into the next room!"
Bruce looked skeptical. "I'm not letting you off that easy. Prove it."
"Well...my bed's not made."
Bruce snorted. "You already knew that."
Annoyed, Clark cast around for something that would prove him right. "Um, there's a seal swimming just outside the walls...I can see the circuitry in the computer..." He glanced at Bruce. "...And you're wearing a ring on a chain around your neck, underneath your clothes, with a Latin inscription: Dilectus meus mihi, et ego illi. He smiled triumphantly at the other man. "How's that?"
Bruce looked just a little pale. He reached up and touched the spot the ring lay hidden beneath. "All right, Clark, I believe you." He turned away, back to the computer. "Maybe it's time for you to learn more about your teammates, since you're going to have to start working with them again soon." He called up a screen with five faces on it, masked and costumed. "These are the members of the Justice League. All of them have unique powers and abilities. Together, we make one of the most powerful groups in the known universe."
Clark frowned. "'We'? Are you on this team?"
"What did you think I was?"
"Well, actually I thought you were a kind of...specialist, brought in specifically to train me."
Bruce shrugged. "I don't have powers like the rest of you, but yes, I'm on the team."
Clark eyed the five faces. "You're the one wearing black."
The other man looked slightly surprised. "How did you know?"
Clark laughed. "Well, you're not green or black, and I'm pretty sure you're not a woman. That leaves only the man in red and the man in black. And the man in red is smiling. Ergo, therefore, you must be the one in black, because I've never seen you smile." He eyed the pictures again, ignoring Bruce's snort. "So we work together? You and me? Did we...get along?"
"We've worked together for about a decade now. And we...don't always get along, no. Didn't. We did sometimes," Bruce added softly.
The idea that he and this man could have a whole history that he didn't remember unnerved Clark. And this led him to the inevitable question...he blurted it out before he could think better of it. "Did I—as Kal—was I in a relationship with anyone?"
Bruce seemed neither alarmed nor amused by the question. "As far as the League knew, you weren't involved with anyone," he said, as though he'd prepared an answer in advance. He continued briskly, "We're going to drill the history and powers of these people until you get them memorized. You have to know what roles we all play in combat if you're ever to join us again." He reached up absent-mindedly and touched the place on his chest where the ring lay underneath, continuing his lecture. Clark suddenly realized he had seen Bruce make that unconscious gesture many times now, but he had never realized what he was touching, like a talisman.
Clark did his best to try and focus.
"Damnit, Clark, the flying is important."
"I know it is, Bruce! That's probably why I can't get it." In the last three days, Clark had memorized the powers and the strategies of the Justice League until he could recite their usual maneuvers in his sleep. He had become able to switch back and forth between heat and x-ray vision effortlessly. And he had gotten much better control of his super-strength, to the point where he could engage in some cautious sparring with Bruce without hurting him. Going through the intricate fight choreography with the other man, like a dance that his body seemed to remember on its own, was his favorite part of the training. Late at night, as he drifted off to an exhausted sleep, he would almost admit to himself that he liked the feel of Bruce's body against his, the muscles taut and straining together, the gleam of the other man's eyes challenging him. Almost.
But flying continued to escape him. Bruce kept pushing him to wear the red and blue suit, Clark kept refusing. And he stayed earthbound and frustrated.
"Maybe if I went outdoors, had some more space to maneuver in."
Bruce shrugged somewhat dismissively. "At this point, I'll try about anything."
Soon they were standing on a set of sheer ice cliffs, sparkling in the Arctic moonlight. The Northern Lights rippled wanly overhead and thick sheets of stars glowed as Clark crouched and leapt, crouched and leapt again, trying to reach for them. Finally, he walked to the edge of a cliff and looked down. About thirty feet below, icy rocks glittered. Swallowing hard—he knew he was invulnerable, but it was hard to keep in mind at key moments—he jumped.
And smacked into the rocks below, shattering some of them.
"I think maybe you got a little bit of air time during the fall," a voice pointed out helpfully from the top of the cliff.
"You know what? You suck at encouraging," he yelled back, and began the long climb to the top again.
At the top, he sat down and put his head on his knees. "I'm never going to get this. I give up."
Bruce wrapped his arms around himself in the cold wind. He sighed. "All right, Clark." Clark looked up at his tone, which was an odd mix of resignation and irritation.
Then Bruce walked to the edge of the cliff and jumped over.
Clark had Bruce safe in his arms before he got ten feet down. He felt the earth's gravity holding him, pushing and supporting him like a friend, and he reached out against it. The stars rocketed crazily above them, and he was airborne and it was like every moment of freedom and joy he had ever experienced or imagined, every dream of ecstasy possible...he started laughing and couldn't seem to stop. Bruce was warm and solid in his arms—finally, finally, his mind sang—and as he coasted to a halt in midair, he pulled back from the other man's tight embrace to smile at him in a rush of relief and happiness.
Bruce's impassive face glared back at him. "It's about time. I shouldn't have had to resort to that."
Some of the joy went out of Clark's flight, and he glared back. "You know, I have never seen you smile. Not for anything. What the hell is wrong with you, anyway?"
Bruce looked like he was considering a nearly infinite set of options. "My parents were murdered in front of me when I was a child."
Clark blinked. "I'm very sorry to hear that. But you can't tell me you've had no reason at all to smile since then."
He found his feet touching the icy cliff again; he had drifted down like a slowly deflating balloon after seeing Bruce's face. He let go of Bruce and the other man backed off, then turned to look away from Clark.
"I lost someone I cared about. Recently." His voice was very quiet. "We had been quarreling—you may not have noticed this, Clark, but I can be somewhat high-maintenance—and he said." He paused. "He said he wished he hadn't fallen in love with me, that he would never do it again if he had the choice. And then he left. And then he was gone."
He turned back and looked in Clark's direction, but seemed to be looking past him, at something just beyond Clark's left shoulder. "He made me smile, even when I didn't want to," he said flatly. It sounded like a eulogy.
He started to walk back toward the entrance to the Fortress, but paused when he drew level with Clark. "Trust me, I'm pleased you've managed to fly. Good work." Then he kept walking to the entrance, leaving Clark alone with the cold stars.
Clark found him later, doing push-ups again, eyes on the floor. He didn't look at Clark.
"You shouldn't be angry at him, the person who died," Clark said softly. Bruce kept moving through his exercises. "People sometimes say stupid things that they don't mean. I'm sure he would have taken it back if he had had a chance. I mean, he must have been used to you being something of a jackass if he was able to be in a relationship with you."
"How very comforting," said Bruce dryly, still not looking up.
Clark sighed. "I'm just saying that—" he paused, uncertain. "That once someone did the work to get to know you, once they actually fell in love with you, I don't think they'd ever want to do it differently. I suspect you inspire a great deal of loyalty in your friends and your teammates. I mean, I've only known you for four days and you've talked me into wearing this."
Bruce rolled into a standing position at that, looking gravely at Clark in the bright suit. Clark felt deeply embarrassed standing in that appraising gaze, but eventually Bruce merely nodded. "You look..." he paused as if searching for the right word, "correct."
"I feel ridiculous," Clark complained.
Bruce drew closer. "That...is...correct," he said lightly, flicking invisible lint from the shining shoulders with each word. He eyed Clark's face. "But you don't wear glasses, because you don't need them," he said, reaching out and gently removing them. "And you wear your hair differently in uniform. Like...so." Long fingers reached out and stroked through Clark's hair until he could feel it falling across his forehead. He closed his eyes, lost in the caressing sensation for a moment. He didn't want it to stop, he realized. He wanted—
He knew what he wanted, but the raw grief he had seen in Bruce's eyes outdoors constrained him. The man didn't need him intruding on his pain. Clark stepped back away from Bruce's hands, breaking the contact. Bruce stared at him, his face unreadable. Into the silence, the computer suddenly burst into urgent light and sound.
A woman's face formed on the monitor. Clark recognized it from the files: Wonder Woman, Princess Diana of Themyscira. When she saw him in the costume, her pale blue eyes lit up. "Kal—Superman," she said joyfully.
"You must be Diana," he said, and watched the hope die out of them.
"Yes," she said a bit dully. She looked at Bruce, and Bruce shook his head very slightly.
"He seems to be in control of his powers, Princess. No field testing yet, of course."
"Do you think he's ready? The Key and Luthor are causing some trouble in Metropolis, and we could use the assist. At least one of you."
Bruce was already halfway to his room. "We'll be there in a moment."
Diana looked dubious. "Both of you?"
"Both of us." The door slid closed.
Wonder Woman nodded. "I'll see you soon, Superman. It's...good to have you back."
He wanted to say it was good to be back, but it didn't feel like he was "back" at all. Nor did it feel good. It felt like this was going to be his first fight ever, and he was frankly sick with anxiety. "Thank you," he managed before she cut the connection.
The door opened and Batman came out, cape swirling around him in the cold drafts of the Fortress. Clark blinked at him. He looked about a hundred times more deadly in person than he had in the files, all of the dangerous beauty Clark had sensed in Bruce put on open display, carved into ebon and shadow. He strode past Clark toward the teleporters, speaking quickly.
"J'onn will set up a telepathic link when we get there, connecting us to the rest of the team. It feels a bit...scratchy, inside the head, but don't let it distract you. Standard operating procedure here is that the rest of us will deal with the Key and you'll focus on Luthor. He has a power suit that makes him quite formidable. I'm going to suggest we run this one a bit differently and have Lantern give you some backup while we see how fine your control is. If you feel you're having difficulty, don't be stupid and insist on sticking it out—fall back and let us handle it. We don't want you jeopardizing the battle. Or getting yourself hurt," he added grudgingly.
At the teleporters, he glanced at Clark's face, then suddenly laid a hand on his arm. "You'll be fine, Clark. You're Superman. You won't let us down."
Clark rather wanted to disagree, but then the teleporter took them, and he had no time to argue after.
Bruce pulled off the cowl as they re-appeared in the Fortress, clearly fuming. "I told you to focus on Luthor!"
"You didn't know that monkey was going to be there too—I made a judgment call and went to help Flash deal with him."
"Gorilla Grodd is not just some monkey. You could have ruined everything. What if he—"
"—But I didn't ruin everything."
"Flash might disagree."
"He was going to get a lot worse than a broken arm without some quick backup, Bruce!"
Bruce made an angry hissing sound. "You! I was hoping this accident would change your style a little, but you're the same pigheaded, arrogant prima donna you ever were."
"I lost my memories, not my personality, Bruce. I'm sure you'd rather I had ended up some lobotomized, tractable and biddable super-pet, but I'm still me."
Bruce snorted. "Well, thank goodness." Clark couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not. The tone was dripping with sarcasm, certainly, but something about his eyes seemed otherwise. "I'm surprised you didn't want to go back to the Watchtower for the 'Welcome back Superman' party," Bruce continued quickly.
"I...wanted to rest. I have to get back to my civilian life tomorrow after the 'sick leave' you finagled me." Actually, he had felt rather flustered and overwhelmed by the rest of the JLA's relief and exuberance at having Superman "back." He didn't want to depress them as they found out how little he actually remembered them. Plus he could tell Batman was furious and he wanted to get the inevitable scolding over with.
And maybe he wanted just a little more time with Bruce.
Bruce said, "Well, I'll let you get that rest." He looked perhaps just the tiniest bit apologetic. "I really have a lot of catching up to do at my place. I've let a lot slide while training you." That probably should have stung, but he said it without any recrimination.
Clark looked at him, trying to memorize the lines of his face to hold in his mind tonight. "Can we meet here tomorrow? For sparring practice?"
Bruce snorted. "I don't think you need it after today. But yes," he added, looking at Clark's face, "I'll come back tomorrow. If you don't mind."
"I'd like it."
Bruce nodded, absent-mindedly touching his chest again. "All right."
Bruce requested the Watchtower teleport him directly to his place, then stood waiting for the command to go through. "Take care, Bruce," said Clark. Then something darted through his mind, maddeningly elusive...he grabbed at it. "And say hi to Alfred for me."
Eyebrows lifted like black wings. "I've never mentioned Alfred to you. He's not in the files."
Clark shook his head. It was gone again, everything but— "He makes me cookies, sometimes."
Bruce stood very still on the teleporter pad for a moment. Then suddenly he smiled at Clark, his face transformed into something lovely and bright and, for the first time, hauntingly familiar. As Clark caught his breath, it dissolved into blue light and was gone.
Chapter 2: ...Et Ego Illi
Clark struggles to regain his memories and deal with his feelings for Bruce.
Bruce Wayne traced a perfect circle on the floor of the Fortress in white chalk. He placed four white candles around it and lit them; the sweet smell of beeswax scented the air immediately. Then he brought down the lights of the Fortress until the circle was a glowing haven of light in the darkness and walked back toward it. Clark Kent stood outside the circle with his arms crossed, frowning. He knew it looked like sulking, which wasn't fair: when Bruce did it, it was glowering.
"We never had to do any of this mystical mumbo-jumbo before."
"That was before you remembered Alfred and gave everyone hope that you might be able to get your memories of being Superman back, Clark. Now that you've been so foolish as to give people hope you have to pay the consequences." A brief flash of near-smile. "And this isn't magic, Clark, it's just a meditation technique Jason Blood taught me, to help focus your thoughts inward."
"Jason Blood? He's the guy who meditates naked up on the Watchtower sometimes, isn't he?" Clark felt his eyebrows raise in alarm. "We're not going--I mean, do we have to--"
Bruce pulled his shirt over his head and flashed Clark a look that could have been called "sardonically sultry" if it were not entirely impossible to imagine Bruce Wayne so without going raveningly insane. "Clothing is generally considered a distraction and an impediment to meditation, Clark. But I suppose we'll leave the pants on," he added magnanimously.
"Thank you," muttered Clark, feeling relieved, and disappointed, and ashamed for feeling disappointed. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it along with this shoes and socks, dropping them in a crumpled pile next to Bruce's fastidiously folded clothing. Bruce gestured for Clark to step into the circle with him, then dropped gracefully into a cross-legged position on the floor. Clark followed suit.
Bruce rested his hands on his knees. "All right, Clark. This is just an exercise to help you focus and access your memories. First, close your eyes." Bruce closed his eyes and Clark followed his lead again. "I want you to relax and take deep breaths--in through the nose and out through the mouth. Be fully aware of your breaths, feel them moving through your body." There was a long pause as Clark tried to center himself, focusing on his breath. Nothing seemed to be happening. Eventually he slitted his eyes open just a little, peering through the lashes to look at Bruce. The other man was sitting gracefully--you would think a person would need to move to be graceful, but Bruce could do it sitting down--hands resting gently on his knees. His dark hair caught the candlelight, and pale light flickered across his bare chest, throwing the lines of his body into sharp relief, the scars like seams of gold. Clark couldn't resist the opportunity to finally look his fill, his mouth dry and heart pounding. A glimmer of deeper gold dragged his eyes from the perfection of light-edged muscles, and he realized Bruce had left one adornment in place: the ring that he always wore around his neck, usually hidden under his clothes. Clark remembered the inscription: Dilectus meus mihi, et ego illi, "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Clark wondered once again what the story was behind the ring. Bruce had said that he had lost his love; it made sense that was the giver of the secret ring. He had also said that they had parted angrily, that his love had said he wished he had never loved him. Clark stared at the ring, mesmerized, and tried to imagine the being who could ever say that about Bruce, this tangle of darkness and light that he yearned to unravel, all thorns and mystery. Who would say something so cruel to him?
Whoever it was, Clark hated him with all his heart. Hated him for hurting Bruce, hated him because Bruce obviously still loved him. He felt his hands clench into fists of impotent rage. Hating a dead man--was there anything more useless?
"Clark." Bruce's voice. Clark dragged his eyes from the gleaming enigma to realize abruptly that Bruce's eyes were also open, his face expressionless. "You need to close your eyes, Clark," Bruce said softly, levelly.
Clark clamped his eyes closed. "Sorry."
There was a long silence while Clark struggled to control his breathing again, to focus on the circle of his respiration. After a while, Bruce spoke again. "Focus inward, Clark, and think about Diana. Try to imagine her face in your mind." The voice droned on, low and soothing, as Clark let the fierce beauty of the Amazon's face fill his thoughts. He focused on each part of her--her dark hair, the sparkling blue eyes, her unfettered, ringing laugh. The way she charged into battle so whole-heartedly, throwing herself into it as if into some joyous game. He could see her smile, nearly smell the light gardenia-scented perfume he had given her on her first birthday in man's world...
Clark scrambled to his feet, knocking over one of the candles and smearing chalk. He rushed over to the computer and called the Watchtower, his hands shaking. "Diana! I gave you gardenia perfume for your birthday!" he cried as her face filled the screen. "We used to spar together every Tuesday, and we watched Titanic together last month and I cried and you called me a sentimental idiot!"
Without a word, Diana whirled from the monitor and disappeared. Moments later there was a sound of running footsteps, and Diana threw herself into the Fortress and into Clark's arms. "Kal," she said as Clark spun her around.
"I remember you," he said happily, and she laughed, then seemed to notice his half-naked state for the first time.
At her raised eyebrow, Clark explained hastily, "Bruce was using some meditation techniques from Jason Blood to help me remember."
Diana turned to see Bruce standing in the smudged chalk circle, hastily pulling his sweater back on. "Doesn't Jason usually do this naked, Bruce?"
Bruce didn't smile. "The idea seemed to make Clark uncomfortable."
A flicker of something like anger on her perfect face. "Clark, right," she muttered, and Bruce's eyes narrowed, glinting in the dim light. Diana turned back to Clark, a smile lighting her eyes again. "I'm glad, Kal. So glad. Maybe this means you'll remember everything about your life soon. Everything," she said with an odd emphasis.
Behind her, Bruce snorted. "Everything worth remembering, Princess." He pulled on his socks and shoes and snuffed the candles; the Fortress lights came up automatically to compensate. "That went much better than I expected, Clark. Shall we try again tomorrow?" Clark nodded and Bruce left; both Clark and Diana stared after him with very different expressions on their faces.
Once Bruce was gone, Clark found himself grinning at Diana. How could he have possibly forgotten Diana? The long arguments they had over gender issues, the way he had been teaching her American culture by renting different movies...one of his closest friends, and he had forgotten her!
"What are you grinning about?" She socked him gently on the shoulder.
"I'm just glad to have you back," he said, and she smiled.
"I know just what you mean."
Clark walked over to a chair and dropped into it, feeling the smile fade from his face. She sat down next to him, frowning at his change of expression. "What's bothering you, Kal?"
Clark felt a sense of relief go through him. To finally have someone he knew and trusted to talk to--"Diana, is it possible my encounter with Dr. Destiny did more than wipe my memories? Could it have...altered my personality, somehow?"
She leaned forward, all business immediately. "I suppose it's possible, but I have to admit I don't see any real change in your character, Clark."
"It's not--I--" He broke off, unsure how to continue. "Diana, from what everyone says, it's obvious Bruce and I hardly get along at all. Flash will make jokes about how if I had all my memories back I'd be furious about Bruce training me. People tense up when we talk, like they're waiting for us to hit each other. Everyone...expects us to be at each other's throats. I mean, Bruce himself is barely civil to me. We seem to have...hated each other before my accident."
Diana didn't look at him. She was staring down at her hands. "But you don't--"
"I don't hate him!" Clark blurted it out and then couldn't seem to stop. "I don't hate him, I--God--I need him, Diana, I want him. I can't stop thinking about him. I--I think I love him." He took a deep, shaky breath, shocked at hearing his words echoing around the Fortress. "If my reactions to him have changed so much, what else might Dr. Destiny have tampered with? I think you might have to consider me...compromised, Diana."
Diana was still looking down at her hands. "I don't think you've changed that much, Clark. Maybe starting with a blank slate has let you see aspects of Bruce you weren't able to see before. Maybe." She glanced up at Kal, her eyes mostly hidden behind a curtain of black hair. "Have you considered telling him how you feel about him?"
Clark laughed mirthlessly. "You are aware the man has a Kryptonite ring, aren't you? And I'm sure he'd be happy to use it if I ever told him how I felt. Besides, he's still grieving for his dead lover, I can't interfere with that process."
Ice-blue eyes blinked. "Did he say his lover was dead?"
"Dead, lost, something like that. He still wears a ring around his neck, I think it was from him." Diana blinked again, looking a bit stunned. "He told me that they argued, just before his lover died. That his lover said he wished he had never fallen in love with Bruce."
Diana rubbed her forehead slowly with one hand. "Bruce," she said. "Damn it, Bruce." Her voice was filled with pity, pain, and anger.
"Did you know him? The person Bruce loved?" Still loves.
The Amazon exhaled slowly and spoke with her eyes still closed. "Bruce never spoke to me of any relationship he was in. He kept it a secret from the rest of the League. And it's...not my place to make unfounded guesses if he doesn't see fit to tell you himself, Clark." She stood up, meeting his eyes directly now. "I will tell you this, Clark. Bruce is a man of tremendous passion under tight control. If he's still wearing that ring, he's still deeply in love with whoever gave it to him." She looked at him compassionately. "But I think you have to tell him how you feel, difficult as it may be."
After she left, Clark sat for a long time, staring at nothing, seeing steel-blue eyes, candlelight caught in a net of dark hair, play of shadow and light on taut muscle. Light glinting off the ring swaying gently with Bruce's breath.
Diana was right, of course. Right about it all.
: : :
Bruce's voice washed over Clark as he sat cross-legged again, shirt off, in the chalk circle. He had managed to remember Flash and the Martian Manhunter in their last session, Green Lantern so far in this one. Now Bruce was talking about remembering Hawkgirl. Bruce's voice was low and warm, brandy and chocolate. Clark imagined what it would sound like whispering intimacies rather than describing Shayera. It would be even lower than it was now, yes, and huskier, except for the moments when it broke upward in uncontrolled passion, spiralling into the reaches of the Fortress, calling his lover's name...
Clark realized he was shivering, his whole body aching, and he slitted his eyes open to stare at Bruce. Bruce's feet were bare against the gray stone of the floor. Clark looked at the instep of one pale foot, the curves and bends of skin around it, each individual toe. Bruce's feet looked cold. Clark fought a desperate urge to lean forward and warm them in his hands. To put his mouth to them. He couldn't seem to stop shivering, shaking with longing to kiss Bruce's feet. The idea that he might actually be going crazy went through his mind; it couldn't possibly be right to want someone so much, someone you apparently disliked just a few weeks ago. What other weaknesses had Destiny put into his brain that he didn't know about?
Bruce sighed and Clark shut his eyes tightly again. "You're not getting anywhere further today, are you." Clark cautiously opened his eyes to see Bruce looking at him. "What's distracting you, Clark?"
Clark swallowed. "I'm in love," he blurted out before he could think better of it.
Bruce fleetingly touched the ring around his neck, his face sad for just a moment. Then he just looked resigned--probably to the tedium of talking Superman through his first crush. "So who is it, Clark? Diana, I suppose? I'm sure she--or any other lucky lady--will swoon at your declaration of love."
"Actually--" Clark couldn't help but laugh somewhat helplessly at the image of Bruce swooning, "--I really doubt he will."
A flicker in dark-blue eyes. "He?" Then Bruce shrugged. "The gender doesn't matter. I'm sure Wally would be delighted to hear you're interested."
"Wally is nice," Clark agreed. A muscle in Bruce's jaw jumped as if he were biting down hard on something, but he said nothing. "But I don't think I'm so smart as to fall in love with him."
Bruce's lips twitched. "Just...promise me it's not Lex Luthor," he said, and Clark burst into laughter despite himself.
"No, it's not Lex. It's--Bruce." Clark broke off in panic and the name sounded almost more like a question than a statement. As the silence stretched out, the other man raised his eyebrows in polite query.
"Yes?" There was something elusively mournful in his face beneath the sardonic look and Clark found himself pulled to it like he was bound with chains, gold chains the like one around Bruce's neck, glimmering...he leaned forward and put his lips to the junction of Bruce's neck and shoulder, feeling cold metal links and softer skin under his mouth.
"Bruce," he whispered.
He had expected a polite rebuff at best, sarcastic laughter at worst, but he wasn't prepared to have Bruce lurch away from him and scramble to his feet, for a moment all his easy grace gone, his movements frantic and awkward. It was impossible to read the expression on his face as he stood there in the dim candlelight: it wasn't angry, exactly. He was holding on to the ring so tightly his knuckles were white. "You swore you wouldn't--" he choked, then clamped iron control back onto his expression. But Clark had caught just the faintest hint of something--something like hope?--before that, and it goaded him into continuing to speak.
"I don't remember swearing anything to you, Bruce! If I swore I'd never trust you, or that we could never be friends--I was wrong. I was wrong." His voice shook just a little.
"If you remembered me, you wouldn't say that." Bruce face was bleak.
"I don't believe you," Clark said flatly. Bruce started to shake his head and Clark repeated angrily, "I don't believe you!" he took a step toward Bruce; Bruce stepped back. Clark wanted to weep, he was doing everything wrong somehow, but he bulled ahead instead. "I couldn't dislike you the way everyone seems to think I did. I couldn't have felt that way. Maybe I never told you, maybe I kept my silence because of him--" he gestured toward the ring, still clenched in Bruce's fist, "--But the way I feel, it can't be a new thing. It feels so familiar, like I'm used to it, watching you and--and feeling this way, and wanting to be with you. Maybe now I can finally say something, now that he's gone, but it isn't new. I know it's not."
Bruce was still shaking his head, slowly, disbelievingly. "You never learn, do you?" he said harshly.
Clark felt like he had floundered into deep water at the look in Bruce's eyes, depths that he hadn't realized existed. Had he confessed his love for Bruce before the accident and been rebuffed, rejected for the man who gave him the ring? Was he a spurned lover, pressing his unwelcome suit yet again? "Why haven't we been working on getting my memories of you back, Bruce? Are there things you don't want me to remember about you?"
Bruce's face was closed and almost angry now. "We'll try to get your memories of Hawkgirl back again next time," he snapped, and wheeled for the teleporter, scooping up his shirt and shoes as he went.
"I'll remember you someday, Bruce!" Clark yelled after his retreating back. "And then you're going to have to deal with me somehow."
Bruce's voice floated back distinctly. "I have to deal with you enough already, Clark. Let's not make it worse before we have to."
: : :
"--headstrong and foolhardy!" Batman was snarling at him across the conference table, the other members of the JLA looking like they wanted to be anywhere else but there.
"Well, it's better than your crazy plan, which relies entirely on you risking your vigilante neck while the rest of us sit around and twiddle our thumbs." Clark clenched his fists. Since their conversation and his confession, Bruce had been more abrasive than ever. Now, after a near-disastrous flight with yet another assortment of supervillains, it was boiling over into their meeting.
Batman stalked around the table and flicked contemptuously at Superman's now-tattered cape. "Oh, and your plans work out so well. Look at you. Grundy and Star Sapphire had you on the ropes before Green Lantern came to your rescue." Black gloves brushed angrily over a rent in the blue cloth on his shoulder. "Once again you manage to 'lead' us into near-disaster. I hope you're proud." A swirl of black cape and Batman made his way toward the door. "I'll be in the cave."
"Oh, it's easy to criticize when you've got nothing to offer beyond 'I'll do it all myself, morons!'" Superman yelled after him, then caught himself as he realized the rest of the JLA were staring at him.
"Feels like old times," sighed Flash.
Superman sank into his chair. "Did we...do this a lot? Before my accident?"
Flash waved a hand. "Oh sure. We hardly had a single meeting that didn't end with Batman storming off, and then you growling that you needed to be alone and heading to the Fortress. And then you'd both come back about two hours later, and he'd be acting like he had won the argument and you'd be looking smugger than a Catwoman ate the canary, and we'd go right back to the meeting." The speedster sighed. "You two. You're both crazy, you know?"
Clark glanced around the table. From their expressions, most of the team seemed to agree with Wally. Clark sighed and fingered the rip in his costume, still feeling the touch of leather on his skin, cool and clinical. "Well, we can't get much done until he comes back. Um, does anyone know where I can get a new uniform? This one would appear to be toast."
Martian Manhunter stood. "You usually repair them with your heat vision."
Superman looked at a loss. "Great. I'm not sure I'll get that right the first time at all."
"We also have the costume you were wearing during the fight with Dr. Destiny, when you lost your memories," J'onn pointed out. "I should give that back to you anyway. Come with me."
Clark followed the Martian to a storage chamber and was handed a bundle of bright-colored clothing. He stared down at it and sighed. "I probably ought to get back to the Fortress. Batman will be there soon to work on my memories again."
J'onn's eyebrow wrinkled sympathetically. "Good luck with that, Superman," he murmured, deadpan, leaving Clark to wonder if he meant regaining his memories or dealing with Bruce.
: : :
In the Fortress, Clark stripped the tattered uniform off and put it in a drawer; maybe Bruce could explain later how he mended them. If they could get through a conversation without yelling at each other. He pulled on a pair of sweatpants and looked closely at the uniform he had been wearing at the time of the accident, looking for signs of mending. He saw none, but noticed the hidden pocket where he stored his glasses was weighted down; whoever had packed away the uniform had left them there. He opened up the pocket and pulled out the glasses, checking them for breaks.
There was something else still weighing down the pocket.
He tilted the cape and a gold ring fell out into his hand.
A simple gold ring, it fitted his ring finger perfectly.
His left-hand ring finger.
The Latin words engraved on the inside matched those on Bruce's exactly.
He was still staring at it, his thoughts jumbled, nearly nonsensical, when he heard Bruce's footsteps approaching down the hall. He put the ring--the impossible ring--in his pocket and went out to meet him.
By the time he reached the hall, Bruce had already finished tracing the now-familiar circle and lighting the white candles. He slipped out of his black t-shirt, looking at Clark with something like a glare. "Don't think you're going to get out of this just by being an arrogant jerk in meetings, Clark," he said, sitting down in the circle.
Clark felt almost dizzy, his heart was pounding so hard, looking at Bruce, the ring dangling around his neck as always. He took his place in the circle almost automatically, hearing Diana's words in his mind again, If he's still wearing that ring, he's still deeply in love with whoever gave it to him. Clark didn't even bother to close his eyes when Bruce did, staring at the fringed shadow of eyelashes in candlelight, the grimly set lips, the hollow of his throat, the ring...
My beloved is mine, and I am his.
And I am his!
It hit Clark like a hammer-blow, the one thing he could make sense of in all this: Bruce was his. He proclaimed it true every time he wore that ring, a cry he believed no one could hear now. I'm yours, Clark.
Clark had his mouth pressed to Bruce's before he even realized he was going to, parting those grim lips with his tongue, tasting, and it wasn't at all familiar but it was right, so deeply right he knew he should have seen it all along. Bruce made a small sound of protest, but Clark felt the ring trapped between their bare chests, a circle of fidelity cool and solid between them, and he didn't pull away. "Love you, I love you," he whispered into Bruce's mouth, as if he could put the words there himself, make them real. He traced his hands up Bruce's back, along the scars to the nape of the neck, and Bruce's breathing was becoming ragged against his mouth, the moan of protest becoming something else entirely. Hands on Clark's shoulders, pulling him close, closer, not close enough, never close enough.
Clark broke off the kiss to trail his mouth across Bruce's jaw and down his neck, the other man's breathing so harsh and uneven now that it could be mistaken for weeping. Clark dipped lower still to brush his tongue against a dark nipple, and at the touch Bruce threw his head back and choked, "Clark. Clark." His voice was almost a sob, as full of grief as lust, and at the sound of his name Clark had them both on his bed--on their bed, it had to be their bed--and was easing Bruce out of his tight jeans, licking and sucking with abandon, Bruce making inarticulate frenzied noises, all of his passion unleashed and uncoiled at last. He came almost immediately, hips jammed hard against Clark and his voice stuttering wildly, broken consonants of need and want. Clark angled himself to watch his lover's rapt face, ecstasy chasing joy across it through his climax, the ripples of pleasure fading into sated satisfaction.
Before the satisfaction could shade into the inevitable withdrawal, before he had to witness Bruce's face closing to him, Clark slid up to nuzzle Bruce's hair. He slipped the ring from his pocket and put it on Bruce's chest next to its mate, hearing Bruce's startled inhalation. After a moment, Bruce murmured, "I thought maybe...you had destroyed it." He glanced at Clark's horrified expression and continued, "So, you remember?"
Clark shook his head. "But this tells me all I need to know."
Bruce pulled away from him, pulling his clothes back on, and Clark caught up the ring as it fell. "You said you wouldn't choose to love me if you could."
"I don't believe that." Clark reached out to keep Bruce from leaving the bed; Bruce didn't turn back but didn't pull away from his hand either. "If I said something like that, it was a moment's anger, nothing more. You told me once you weren't the easiest person to get along with--I'm not perfect either, Bruce. I said something stupid and asinine and stormed off. I'm sure I would have come back and apologized soon."
Bruce's voice was low. "But you didn't."
Clark sighed. "I want to remember you, Bruce. I want to remember the first time I kissed you. I want to remember what we said to each other when we exchanged these rings. But if you're worried remembering one argument will destroy what we had, I'll forget it all and start over again. Start fresh and avoid our mistakes from the last time."
After a moment, Bruce looked at him again. "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it, Clark." He stood up and held out a hand to the Kryptonian. "Let's see if we can get your memories back."
: : :
Clark is watching himself from a distance. His face is tense and angry; Bruce is favoring his right arm, his face closed. Another argument.
"You should have called me in, Bruce!"
"I don't call in colleagues for help in Gotham."
"I'm not your damn colleague! Maybe you can eternally force yourself to act it, but I'm not made of stone." From his new vantage point, Clark sees Bruce wince and cover it up by flexing his injured arm. But the Superman in the vision is too angry and distraught to notice. "Diana wanted to know why I was so upset, and I couldn't tell her! I couldn't tell her that the man I love was injured and I couldn't do a damn thing to help because of his code of secrecy. I don't like lying, Bruce, especially not to my friends."
"It would compromise security if--"
"The hell it would! Maybe before the invasion, when our identities were secret, your security fetish made sense. But now that everyone on the team knows we're Bruce and Clark, how could it harm things further to have them know we're together? I know this is how we chose to enter the relationship at first, but--"
Bruce cuts him off abruptly. "Sometimes I don't feel like there was any choice in it at all."
Clark remembers, distantly, the pain and panic that had gone through him at those words, that he had masked with more anger. But now he's more worried about the expression on Bruce's face. "Are you saying I forced this on you, Bruce?" his double snarls.
"That's not what I meant." Bruce's eyes are bleak, but the Clark in the past is unwilling to see that.
"Well, I chose it. I chose it freely, to be with you and love you. But maybe I wouldn't do it again if I could choose once more. Maybe I'd just spare us both the trouble." Superman whirls and is gone, the memory fading out around Clark into darkness, darkness that becomes the back of his eyelids once more.
: : :
Clark opened his eyes to see Bruce sitting near him. At some point, somehow, Clark had moved unconsciously to clasp Bruce's hands in his. Bruce's gaze was wary, eyes like chips of slate.
"I would have come back," Clark said a little hoarsely. "You know I would have. I'd have apologized."
Bruce shook his head, but some of the caution was gone from his eyes. "I couldn't know that."
Clark raised a hand to trace the curve of Bruce's cheekbone gently. "I swear I'll always come back to you," he said, and saw the eyes above his hand blink and darken with emotion at the words he had said the day he gave Bruce that ring. Bruce reached up and drew Clark's hand down to his mouth, pressing his lips to the palm. He cleared his throat.
"I never actually got the chance to respond fully to your arguments, Clark," he said, his voice slightly muffled against Clark's hand. "You left before I could tell you what I had concluded. About telling the rest of the team."
Clark opened his mouth and left it open for a moment, suddenly unable to string together words. Bruce kept Clark's hand across his mouth, hiding it.
But Clark could feel him smile.
: : :
Diana was on monitor duty again when the message came through, voice only: Superman was asking the rest of the team to meet him and Batman at the Fortress of Solitude. Diana relayed the message to the others and hurried to the transporter, her thoughts whirling at the tone of Kal's voice.
When the Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern walked together into the main hall of the Fortress, Bruce and Clark were waiting for them. Not Batman and Superman--Bruce and Clark. Bruce was in jeans and a tight black t-shirt, Clark in baggy sweatpants and a Metropolis sweatshirt. As the rest of the team stood and waited, Bruce reached up and swept his left hand rather nervously through his hair; gold glinted briefly.
Diana looked at Clark in wild surmise, feeling a delighted smile dawning on her face. Clark's hands were clasped behind his back and he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet, an answering smile warming his handsome features. He reached out and put his left hand on Bruce's shoulder, gold catching the light for a moment in turn. At the touch, Bruce almost smiled.
"My friends," said Clark, joy and shyness tangled in his voice, "Bruce and I have something to tell you."