Summary: Misery doesn't just love company; it invites it.
Disclaimer: Fans have rights and feelings too, you know :)
Pairings: Clark/Lex, Bruce/Lex, Bruce/Clark
Inspiration and Reference: Music--"Uninvited" by Alanis Morrisette, "Mad World" as performed by Gary Jules on the "Donnie Darko" soundtrack.
The very anticipation irritated him. It got under his thick skin, but not enough that he would squirm. He was resolved to indifference, married to it in his imagination. Still, the thought came again like a shard of glass stuck in the folds of his brain; Lex was on his way, due to arrive any minute, with his new lover.
Lex was bringing his latest boy toy to put him on flagrant exhibit. They would be staying, Lex had presumptuously informed him, for the weekend, while Clark had the extra days off from school. Too many annoying points insinuated within those details.
Bruce shuddered inwardly, wondering what the hell Lex was doing--if he even knew. Mainly, Lex had told him that this boy was beautiful, seventeen, and from Smallville, the pair having met almost three years ago when Lex first came to the town, and their two paths had collided in a miraculous feat of destiny. Why Lex felt the inexplicable compulsion to escape with him to Wayne Manor for a getaway was a front that lacked substance, but what it left to be desired of cause, it compensated for in imposition, surpassed only by Lex's proud enthusiasm--which, come to think of it, reminded Bruce of how Lex came every now and then showing off his most recent vehicular menace in all its imported automotive pretension. In fact, that was what this seemed to be. Lex had even boasted that Bruce would like Clark. This was usually the case when he wanted Bruce's analytical opinion on something. The more Bruce mulled over the matter, the more dreadfully true the car analogy appeared to ring, but there had to be something more to it. At his core, Bruce knew he would allow Lex's agenda with feigned altruism on the surface and genuine apathy underlying.
Finally, the doorbell rang, and since Bruce was waiting in patient vexation at the entrance hall gallery, he trudged up to the door in a cold yet casual form that belied his inconvenienced state. As soon as he peeled the door back, Lex burst in dragging his company by a hand held delightfully in joined display. Bruce could feel his bile rage against the sight, but he contained his disgust in a silent manner, somehow managing to act respectful of his uninvited guests.
They stopped in the center of the vestibule as Bruce followed to meet and greet them, paying the same kind of false hospitality to them in this moment as he did to patrons of his famous fundraisers and charity balls, only now he was purposely being transparent.
He glanced at the boy and immediately sized up his character; gorgeous but almost plainly no more than a classic pretty boy, intelligence distinctly absent from his young features, and a mindless smile that was almost pitiful. He was paraded in, ever positioned at Lex's side like ostensible arm-candy, and the awkward yet lively air with which he conducted himself was little proof that he was anything to the contrary. Bruce felt a radiance about this stranger that made him want to shield himself from it, his brilliance and vivacity like something that required shade and passive tolerance to withstand.
"Bruce, this is the one I've been telling you about; this is Clark Kent." Lex's voice resonated an energy borrowed from his companion, as if he had been infected by this virulent force of daylight and sunflowers.
When Bruce made no motion of courtesy, Clark simply curled his lips, in a sheepish manner, and his voice came in the same fashion. "Hi." A marked solemnity overcame him as he tried to compose himself more maturely.
"Clark, this is Bruce Wayne." Lex turned his address fully to his docile significant other, expecting nothing from Bruce and getting what he expected.
"It's a pleasure, Bruce. Lex has told me so much about you." Clark's mellowed excitement was deflected by Bruce's blank visage.
Conscious of the slight tension Bruce exuded and the highly intimidating countenance he wore protectively, Lex sought to relieve some of the uncomfortable pressure. "Don't worry. He doesn't bite," Lex quipped offhandedly.
Bruce scowled at the remark--especially knowing Lex had mentally added something typically obscene to that already trite and unwarranted witticism.
"We'll be heading to our room, and... getting settled." Lex's coy smirk flashed at Bruce as he led Clark into the mouth of the mansion's labyrinth of corridors, and the kid was donning a bubblegum smile as he was hauled off to more private quarters for the conspicuous sexual interlude.
Bruce suppressed a reflexive eye-roll, and could not help the thought that crept into his head that it was going to be a long weekend.
Bruce was wandering the halls aimlessly, a bored insomniac losing himself in the deep shadows of the night. The city was more tranquil than usual at this hour, but he would be on his way out soon enough, if only to make his patrol, which was rapidly becoming routine. His restlessness was unending, and his lackluster daily existence bid him take up his mantle more often, but he still clung to a strong and habitual part of him that had roamed the mansion in blackened silence for years of disillusioned adolescence, and now in his young adulthood. There was something about these bizarre midnight explorations that agreed with him, and he absorbed the atmosphere like it was water to replenish him--lived in harmony with this environment as though it were an extension of his inner self.
As he turned a corner, he was startled to come across an intrusive silhouette that bathed in the glow of a dim light overhead. The light hung atop a piece of artwork mounted majestically on the wall, the illumination created there solely to spotlight this very special painting. Bruce realized that it was Clark standing before it in awe and wonder, and his feelings clashed in the mix about Clark staring at it so intently. It was a portrait of his mother and father as he stood in front of them, barely as high as his mother's hip, but each of his parents held one of his hands in theirs, and the depiction froze a short-lived time when they had been three. Questions flooded Bruce's head, and he approached warily with a disguised ambivalence, as Clark remained distractedly oblivious to his coming.
When Bruce got nearer to him, Clark became conscious of his presence and detached himself, his admiration of the picture perfect vision and ideal parental fantasy interrupted. Clark saw the inquisitive and authoritative temperament in the face that stared at him with so hard an expression, as though he were a truant child in a boarding school, the association stemming from what Clark knew regarding the origins of Bruce and Lex's friendship. Clark felt he owed Bruce an explanation, and from the look burning in Bruce's features, Clark gathered that Bruce felt he was owed one as well. His tone was embarrassingly apologetic in its nervous naivete. "I couldn't sleep."
Bruce blinked, and nothing more. The impression he had of Clark was not improving with acquaintanceship. This was the first time Bruce had even seen Clark separated from Lex since their arrival earlier in the day, and his perpetual silence spoke for his judgment thus far.
In the absence of a reaction of any sort, Clark's attention was drawn irresistibly back to the lovely portrait that seemed to capture an optimistic contentment in family life. He respected that and was enchanted by it. "They look so happy." Clark spoke possessed of an almost dreamy reverie. "Where are they?"
Bruce's defenses shot up instinctively, and that steeled edge of his disposition injected a vague animosity into his response. "Where are your parents?" Bruce regret that he snapped a little in his harsh retort, believing this kid had no right to ask or even speak of such things, regardless of Clark's obvious ignorance being an excuse.
The resentment barely registered in Clark, however, as he almost absently made the inevitable concession in a defeated and defeating counter. "Dead." He ducked his gaze, dodging the truth he had let haphazardly slip, that much more distraught that he had answered so automatically, and then with a little more thought and care, he added, "Long gone."
The first signs of depth, strength and character in this mysterious young man had caught Bruce off guard, and he had certainly been unprepared to have anything in the way of revolutionary oddity in shared common with this jolly-rancher farm kid, but the similarity struck him drastically. Bruce relaxed some in his guest's presence with that unknown link having been unsuspectingly established. "What were they like?" He dabbled with the onset of interest.
"I don't know." Sad eyes and a pathetic half-smile turned to Bruce. "I was very young."
While Clark sunk into a dismal mood at the thoughts this turn of topic had yielded, Bruce watched him carefully, a sympathy planted in him suddenly.
Clark sighed a laugh in spite of himself, then, under that breath, mused, "If Ryan could see me now... he'd probably tell me to quit feeling sorry for myself."
At the risk of instigating some sort of implied illusory bond facilitated by his interaction, Bruce inquired further. "Ryan?"
"He was this kid I rescued from a lab. They were experimenting on him." Clark started to inadvertently spread his soul open a crack, and so much that he had hidden away there came sneaking through at the chance for release. "He told me he thought I was lucky. He was an orphan like me, but he never got adopted, and he died not too long after I saved him from that place. I thought I was making a difference, and I'd like to think that in the end I did." There was so much dangling off the cliff of that sentence, but Clark was growing self-conscious about this line of discourse, and promptly abandoned the track he had taken.
Bruce could not deny being intrigued. "Lex mentioned that you saved his life, but he didn't tell me you made it your business to be a hero."
"I try my best to help." Humbleness and modesty shone in his quiet and reserved aura, two qualities Bruce had not expected to find in this visitor. Clark shifted into a somber gear, and Bruce felt a segue to the prior half of the conversation coming, as Clark was compelled to drift back to the matter of Ryan. "He was right, though. I am lucky, and I really shouldn't complain. My adoptive parents are great... but..."
"But, you can't help but feel you were cheated somehow."
Clark's eyes rose to make contact with Bruce's, subdued shock and maudlin compassion moving in his features. "Yes." Some profound connection had been cemented in the completion of that sentence. They understood one another well, perhaps even better than Lex truly knew either of them. With the conduit opened, Clark fed willingly into its outlet. "I lost any family I ever had, and I don't even know why what happened happened."
Bruce was gradually becoming engrossed. "What exactly did happen?"
"There was some kind of disaster." Clark shook his head slightly, as if to illustrate his loss for articulation. "No one survived."
Tragedy. Remembering Clark was from Smallville, Bruce thought of the notorious meteor shower. Tragic losses. Victims of fate's cruelty.
Before Bruce could gain perspective enough to press the matter, Clark gestured to the portrait of Bruce and his parents, turning the initial question on the one who had posed it, but in the most congenial and benevolent tone. "What happened to them?" Via Bruce's reactions in kind and evasive methods, Clark had detected some trouble in that painted paradise, and so he ventured the harm, and asked.
A moment of silence paved the way for an admission that came so readily it surprised Bruce. "They were murdered right in front of me when I was a child." He had managed a matter-of-fact tone, sounding reverent, but disconcertingly open and removed at the same time. "I can't believe I just told you that." The thought spilled from his mouth when it entered his head as he spoke mostly to himself, alarmed by his forthcoming candor.
Morbid curiosity was not what motivated him--it was painfully apparent that the sincere sympathy made him ask. "Did they ever catch who did it?"
Chills and suspense loomed briefly.
"No." Bruce couldn't conceal the ominous and angry grumble that rolled under that word, carrying the answer on his heartache and bitterness.
More silence was born unto the air in the crushing wake of that bleak and miserable reply. Clark cast his gaze back at the painting considering this, and his eyes grew glassy, like he was overwrought with the notion, the unspoken story, the empathy of a loss more devastating than any should ever have to endure.
"And you've never given up on the case, have you." More mystical perception roused of intuitive compassion.
It was a very general and obvious assumption, but accurate in more ways than Clark could have ever imagined. "No, I never have."
Clark's head hung heavily, and he mired himself in the distinguishing parallels that he and Bruce ran. The comparison was discouraging, and dealt damage to his own faith and courage of plight ongoing. "I don't even have a wrong to right. I'll never come close to that kind of satisfaction."
Bruce found the severity of the burden on Clark's soul too heavy for him to bear by himself, but he was fairly sure that Clark had a confidant in his lover that would assist him in shouldering the brunt of emotional tailspins like this one. The concept made him curious. "What's Lex's insight into all this, Clark?"
"He hasn't ever asked. It's not something we really discuss." Clark paused, leaving Bruce to fill in a momentary blank, and then he continued. "I think I've talked more about it with you in the last ten minutes than I have to Lex the entire time he and I have known each other." In the disoriented state of his melancholy, Clark returned his darting focus to the Rockwellian images upon the canvas, brimming with more concentration than before, almost as if he could live vicariously through the fleeting happiness Bruce had once enjoyed. Another question rose to be turned back on its source. "What were they like?"
What answer could even begin to do them justice? "They were the two greatest people I've ever known." It was the only way Bruce could think to sum up their impact on him.
Clark smiled heartbreakingly, and his tears welled but did not drop, as though he would cry from that touching response and all the love it conjured, a type of unconditional love inherent in blood he had always wanted to experience, and the dubious joy on his face made it appear that he had attained that to some small end in this moment, but the pretense was horribly temporary. He spoke while admiring the likenesses of the dearly departed couple and their infant son, and his eyes glazed glassier still. "I wish I had known my real parents. I wish I could remember them."
Clark ached because of the painting as much as he was soothed by it, and their juxtaposition of duality and mutuality moved Bruce incredibly.
"That's my only real comfort--my memories of them. It must be rough not even having that much." Bruce meant it, jarring as that sentiment was.
"It's not that bad. It only gets hard when I really feel like I don't belong anywhere, or that I'm all alone in the world... Then, there are times like when we had to map out our family trees for a class project..." Clark trailed off into the oblivion of a despair too consuming to describe.
Bruce felt he and Clark were on opposite ends of the same dark abyss. "I can see how something like that must make you homesick."
"It would... if I still had a home." Clark's sorrowful eyes never wavered from the artistic rendering of the loving couple and their child, and Bruce's eyes remained fixed on Clark in the same fascination; it was like peering through the looking glass in a sense--a circle of one-way mirrors.
The gap bridged by mute understanding swelled in the vast space between them again.
"Clark!" The serene atmosphere shattered at Lex's call as he approached eagerly. "There you are. I've been looking all over for you."
Instantly, Clark made every visible attempt at gathering himself together again, and then his face swiftly reassumed its glorious glow. Whether inspired byy love he harbored for Lex orsome other place from which he summoned the light, the fluid transition Clark underwent to become the shining beacon of hope that he gave every illusion of being transcended successful, and was uncanny to say the least. Bruce believed he had witnessed the slip of the veil, seen behind the curtain. He was convinced by this encounter that Clark wore a faade to hide his secret misery just as Bruce did; only Clark had no need of a mask. Bruce had experienced a conversation without the charade, and he marveled at how Clark's pretense and solace was actually one of happiness, while his was knotted up in brooding distance and locked forever in disturbing depression.
All too abruptly, Lex had reclaimed his soulful coompanion, and was leading himcheerfully back to their luxurious sleeping quarters. Oddly enough, Bruce deemed his exchange with Clark incomplete, and when they rounded the corner to vanish from sight, Bruce turned his own longing on the portrait, gazing in the usual sadness he paid this painting, the same exact way Clark had been staring at it and its immortalized subjects himself.
In that moment, Bruce felt the sting and suffocation of his solitude more than he had in a very, very long time.