My judgement's impaired…
And I'm falling,
Spinning in that empty space.
But still I can't give up the chase
It's all a big mystery
The Automatics, “Pink Kryptonite”
There were few things in the multiverse that Clark Kent loathed more than Kryptonite. He was not, in general, a man particularly predisposed to loathing, but the intense, shuddering emotion the rock — even the mere mention of it — evoked in him really deserved no other word. It wasn’t just that it hurt, or that it could kill him; truth be told, he’d take Green K over most other colours almost any day, simply because it was at least a known quantity. It wasn’t even the cruel irony of the fact that the mineral was the shattered remains of what had once — for a very brief time — been his home. No, the main reason, Clark thought, was that every two-bit wannabe who managed to get their hands on even a lick of the stuff automatically then seemed to make a beeline in his direction; eyes glittering with the dubious honour of maybe — just maybe — being the one person for whom the plan would actually work. The one person to finally lay-low the mighty Superman.
Quite frankly, it was all a bit of an annoying waste of his time.
So, Clark Kent loathed Kryptonite. But even that emotion, he had to admit, was minor compared to the special kind of fatalistic hatred he reserved for mind control.
And then, one unlucky day, he finally managed to run into something that combined the worst of both…
It was pink. Not a polite, peach- or blossom- pink, either, but loud, obnoxious, bubblegum pop star pink. Everyone assumed it was Kryptonite, partly because of the appearance — an odd, brightly-coloured chunk of glowing crystal-rock — but mostly because it was being waved far too gleefully underneath Superman’s nose. That had been about two hours ago now, and while the root cause itself had been long-since dealt with, Clark had found himself far from off the hook. The problem, it seemed, was simply that no-one had seen Pink K before, and it had been strongly suggested that Clark discreetly place himself in the infirmary for the next few hours until everyone could be one hundred percent certain he wasn’t about to do something… unpredictable.
No-one seemed to be interested in his protestations that he felt fine, really and, gloomily, Clark admitted that he couldn’t really blame them. The worst part was, he was waiting for the punch-line, too. He didn’t feel sick, or crazy, or out-of-control, or like he was about to attempt to inflict harm on anyone he really shouldn’t. All his powers seemed fine — and there, and controllable — and he hadn’t changed size, shape, species or (thank Rao) gender.
Maybe it hadn’t really even been Kryptonite.
“It’s definitely Kryptonite.”
They’d sent in Batman. That was never a good sign.
“I feel fine, really.” The protestation earned him a brief, blank-eyed glare before the man returned to the computer. A 3D model of the crystal’s structure rotated alongside a large block of dreadfully dense scientific text. Clark supposed he should be interested in the analysis. He couldn’t quite manage to muster up any emotion other than gloomy nihilism.
Still, at least Bruce was here. There were few people Clark could think of who knew more about Kryptonite than Bruce, and none at all he could think of who he’d rather knew more about it. Bruce’s glossy-eyed enthusiasm over the mineral was maybe a little creepy, but at least it wasn’t usually personal. It was science. Clark could understand that, and he had to admit it was always refreshing to watch Bruce interested in anything. To witness the ferociously intense singularity with which the man pursued his obsessions. It would be nice, Clark though, to be the focus of so much tightly constrained passion. He even caught himself envying the inanimate chunk of pink rock and forced himself to stop being ridiculous. This was serious, after all.
So instead he said, “Any ideas?” Mostly just to get Bruce talking; it was a cheap ploy, but Clark knew the right here, right now, when it was just the two of them and when Bruce was engrossed with the process of discovery, that it would work.
And it did. Bruce started with, “The structure appears to be similar to Sample #0029, except for this”— he jabbed a gloved finger at the screen, he had nice fingers, Clark thought —”which seems to indicate a relationship to #0007 and #0102. But the radiation patterns are like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. They’re almost similar to #0078 which might indicate it affects brain activity, but it would be impossible to determine for certain without further exposure and of course we couldn’t risk—”
The words weren’t particularly important, though Clark was excellent at feigning interest. Looking eager and nodding encouragingly meant Bruce — the undisputed master of attentiveness — wasn’t paying much attention when Clark moved to stand right behind his chair, hand resting against the high back, fingers just slightly brushing Bruce’s shoulder; silk over leather over Kevlar over skin over muscle. Bruce’s heart and his breath and the humming of his nervous system were a symphony; the perfect score to that rich, bass voice speaking so eloquently and so passionately. Clark’s eyes half-slitted in pleasure, letting the sounds and sensations and smells — Bruce had a rich, musk-and-soap smell that was deeply male and thunderously alluring — wash over him. Everything else seemed so very small, so very insignificant, and so what if he had potentially been exposed to some unknown form of Kryptonite because Batman was on the case and everything was going to be fine.
The deep, bass rumble stopped. “Kal?”
Bruce was looking at him oddly. Not unpleasantly so, simply… intensely. And though it was hard to tell with the cowl obscuring so much of his face, Clark had become a master of reading Bruce’s emotions from the set of his mouth, his lips.
“Kal? What are you looking at?”
He smiled, just slightly. “Your mouth.” Honesty seemed like the best policy, especially with the way Bruce’s heart leapt — just slightly, a brief loss of control — and the faint, secret whisper Clark knew was the sound of pupils dilating. They were good sounds, encouraging, so he reached out, brushing fingers gently along the sharp, square jaw. Bruce’s skin was warm, soft, and tinged with just the slightest sheen of sweat, despite the air conditioning.
Clark traced it, pleased with the way the lips parted ever-so slightly, the way Bruce’s breath hitched briefly, warm and moist against his fingers. “The part of you I get to see the most of,” he explained.
A brief scowl, thoughtful. “And do you like to see… my mouth?”
Clark laughed slightly. “Oh yes. Amongst other things.” He traced the edge of Bruce’s cowl, questioning. A moment of hesitation, then capitulation, then a rustle of silk and it was gone, and Clark was staring into curious, wolf-blue eyes. He smiled — brilliant and happy — and though the expression didn’t quite touch the face of the man opposite, Clark noticed with no small amount of pleasure that Bruce seemed to be having trouble keeping his heartbeat and his breathing even; was having trouble keeping his interest hidden, his desire, and Clark almost laughed at the horrible irony of it all. Because it was so obvious and he’d never noticed, because he’d never looked. Because it had never occurred to him to look, never occurred that someone like Bruce could possibly want someone like him. But it made sense, now; so many things all falling into place, and Clark didn’t bother to resist the wave of emotion that was welling up within him. Relief and joy and want and oh, Bruce’s lips were soft and sweet and Clark was sure he was doing this all wrong but hoped desperately that Bruce was getting the message anyway.
I want you too. Please.
The kiss wasn’t nearly long enough, in Clark’s opinion, and it was Bruce who broke it; breathing hard and no longer attempting to disguise his desire. That was fine by Clark, because they were alone and there was a bed not three feet away and Clark was pretty sure he wanted to get Bruce into it so he could… do something. He was a little hazy on the bits that came next, but was fairly confident Bruce would know how it all worked — because Bruce knew just about everything — and Clark was a quick learner and, right now, dreadfully eager to please. Bruce’s hair felt wonderful between his fingers, and—
“Well. That answers that question.”
Clark was pretty sure this was not what Bruce was supposed to be saying right now. “What question?” His voice was hopeful.
Bruce’s eyes almost rolled, though he managed to restrain himself with visible effort. “The effects of the Pink Kryptonite,” he said, then scowled in disapproval, before muttering, “Pink? Honestly…” He looked… resigned. Clark wasn’t sure he liked that, and leant forward again to steal another kiss when a raised gauntlet stopped him. “Clark, no.”
Now it was his turn to scowl. “Why?” Bruce was being extremely unhelpful; Clark was no great expert in these things, but even he could see Bruce wanted him, and he was fairly certain he was doing an okay job of conveying that the feeling was mutual. Talking was simply getting in the way of… of the bits that were supposed to come next. The ones involving far fewer clothes.
“The Pink K, Clark,” Bruce explained, voice inching around the edges of patience in the kind of condescending tone that always used to drive Clark absolutely insane but was now, well, still doing exactly that. In a good way. “It’s obviously making you… act this way.”
Clark thought about it momentarily. “Yes, I think so,” he agreed, because Bruce was very clever and the explanation seemed highly likely. “Is that a problem?” At Bruce’s raised eyebrow he hurried on, “It’s just that you obviously seem to… to like me, and I really like you, and I thought that maybe we could, you know…?” Clark hoped Bruce did, because he certainly didn’t. Sensing he was losing the moment somewhat, he moved forward again — leaning heavily on the armrests of Bruce’s chair — though didn’t quite go for the kiss this time; instead ghosted his lips around the shell of an ear, pleased with the shudder the gesture elicited.
Bruce sighed, hand on Clark’s chest just slightly shy of pushing him away completely. “Clark…” he didn’t quite seem to know where to go with that. “Yes, I… desire you. Of course I do; you’re attractive and infuriatingly likeable.”— Clark couldn’t help the grin that broke out at the words —“But you’re suffering from the effects of a mind-altering substance; one that appears to change sexual orientation. You don’t know what you want, right now. But I do, and it’s not some Kryptonite-created persona. I will not take advantage of you.” He pushed back against Clark’s chest; just hard enough to make his intentions clear without actually attempting to enforce them. After a moment, Clark retreated too; disappointment evident on his face and in his posture. Another sigh, and Bruce continued — not quite looking at Clark’s face as he did so. “Go home, Clark, and get some sleep. Tomorrow everything will hopefully be… clearer.”
“And if I still feel this way?” Hope crept in…
… And was dashed. “Then the effects of the Kryptonite haven’t worn off, and you should wait until they do.” Bruce turned back to the computer, shutting down screens before rising stiffly.
He turned to go, stopping only briefly at Clark’s quiet, “And what if they never do?”
“I don’t think that will be a problem.”
And he was gone.
The morning was far too bright for someone with a splitting headache and a sinking feeling of regret, but the curtains really were an awfully long way away. So he rolled over instead, pulling the blankets over his head, trying not to groan mournfully.
Had he really tried to…? God.
Clark Kent loathed Kryptonite. It was bad enough when it was life threatening, but somehow the effects that were simply embarrassing were so much worse. Bruce was never going to forgive him; the man was so private, so compartmentalised. To have a confession like that all-but forced out of him…
The worst part about it all, of course, was that Clark could still feel the ghost of the man’s mouth against his; the kiss all-too brief but engraved in his mind like stone. It had been… good. Better than good, really; it had been amazing. Because Bruce had been wrong; the Pink K didn’t change sexual orientation, not at all. Not that the revelation was going to do him much good, because Bruce was never going to believe it now; and what a cruel irony that was going to be.
Still, Bruce wanted him. It would take effort, but Clark though that he could probably eventually convince the stoic man that his feelings were returned; that, now he was aware that such an option was on the table, Clark was definitely very interested in pursuing it to wherever it might go.
And where would it go?
The thought stopped him; what would a relationship with Bruce Wayne be like? Words like ‘difficult’ and ‘intense’ rose unbidden into his mind. Bruce and serious relationships seemed, from Clark’s perspective, to get along like the proverbial house on fire; which was to say, they were hot and destructive and ended with smoking ruins and terrified neighbours. The man was too withdrawn, too damaged, spent half the time skirting the edge of paranoia and the other half diving right in; few sane people could put up with that for long. Bruce, Clark thought, would never say ‘I love you’; would ruthlessly squash down any and every attempt at romance or sentimentality. Oh, the sex would be great, of course — it was just another skill, after all — but it wouldn’t change the fact that he could see, with crystal clarity, their first anniversary; Clark sitting alone in a restaurant, waiting for a man who was never going to show. How long would he sit there, he wondered. One hour? Two? And of course there’d be some good reason for it — an escape from Arkham, probably, or something like that, anyway — but it wouldn’t change the fact that Clark would never receive an apology. If he ever mentioned it, Bruce would simply fix cold blue eyes and tell him that work came first — work always came first — and if I expected anyone to appreciate that it would be you, Clark.
He could see it all; every last cold, intense minute of it. A relationship with Bruce Wayne; the real Bruce Wayne, not the persona. There was a reason the man didn’t date much, and the thought of attempting that thankless undertaking on his own sounded…
Well, quite frankly it sounded perfect.
The pounding in his head continued, but not even that could dampen the dazzling smile that crept across Clark’s face. Not that anyone saw, except possibly his pillow.
“I think I’m in love,” he confided quietly to the bed-sheets, before thinking how inadequate the words sounded. Bruce would have told him to stop being ridiculous, and the thought made him feel… warm. Because it was Bruce, and as far as Clark was concerned, ‘don’t be ridiculous’ was pretty damn close to ‘I love you’. And closeness was all he needed.
Forty-five minutes and he had to be at work. Plenty of time to send one email.
Somewhere overhead, the sun was rising. Bruce supposed that was a good sign. And somewhere, under that sun, Clark Kent would be rolling over — probably blinking back the after-effects of the Pink Kryptonite — and would remember. That thought was… less good, especially as he only had himself to blame. Himself and, of course, Kryptonian super-hearing; damn it all.
He shouldn’t have allowed the kiss, that much was patently obvious. It hadn’t even been particularly good, as far as these things went. Kent kissed, not surprisingly, like a farm-boy. Missionary position kissing; awkward and self-conscious and guilty and almost completely alien. No-one in Bruce Wayne’s world kissed like that, and the knowledge that he would take another unskilled embrace from Kent over all the wild and beautiful creatures any day was a depressing thought indeed. The man had ruined him.
Bruce had ruined himself.
Because, truth be told, he was wrong; there was no-one on the whole entire planet and beautiful and as wild as Clark Kent, no matter what name he was answering to. No-one in the whole entire universe, in fact, and maybe that had been where the attraction had started; the usual desires born of wealth and privilege rising in him and demanding only the best, the most unique, the most unattainable. And there were few things as unattainable as Clark, except…
Except that wasn’t it at all. That would have been easy, if all he desired from Kent was some kind of ornamentation. The man was infuriatingly perfect; strong and handsome and kind and loyal and honest and all those dreadfully inane things. But underneath that lay something else; a broken loneliness, rarely seen, never acknowledged. But Bruce had seen it, was drawn to it with the suicidal fatalism of the proverbial moth, and maybe sometimes — when the night was dark and cold and brutal — he would allow himself to think that if only he could—
A crutch, pure and simple, but one that would warm him enough to keep going; tucked aware with infinite care and no small amount of revulsion after use.
Kent had tasted like Coke, and the worst part about it all was the way the bastard would be so shamefully polite about it all; how understanding and sympathetic. He would be embarrassed not for himself, but for Bruce; for the inexcusable intrusion upon something he was obviously not meant to know. Damage he could not fix. Bruce didn’t know if he could face that, though of course he would. Because he was The Batman, and he had email.
It was from Kent; like he’d known it would be. He considered leaving it unopened, but the petty spite seemed hollow and useless. He opened it, and in words writ large on the obnoxiously large bank of monitors, read:
You were wrong about the PK. It doesn’t change desires, it just makes them easier to express.
I’d like to see you. Dinner this week?
His heart leapt, briefly; a painful reminder that, despite the rumours, he was, underneath it all, still human.
Don’t be ridiculous. —B.
Clark knew he was grinning like a loon, but couldn’t quite bring himself to care. The response was better than he’d expected — infinitely so — and that meant hope crept in. Because of course he hadn’t been so naive as to expect seducing the Bat would be easy. Bruce would need time, Clark knew; time to lick his ego, to accept he’d been wrong, to accept he was wanted. But that was okay, because Clark could be patient, and the light at the end of the tunnel was so close; he could see it, every time he closed his eyes, could taste it on his lips like shadow and silk, could hear the staccato of a terrified heart in his mind. He knew what he wanted, he knew how to get it; all he had to do now was wait. He could do that.
A week passed. He saw Batman once, briefly, in the Watchtower; nothing memorable, simply passing in a corridor. When Bruce had seen him he’d frozen, and Clark had seen the fight-or-flight etched into every line of his body — though of course no-one else would have noticed. Clark had simply nodded respectfully and acknowledged the other man with his name; no reply, of course, but glassy blank eyes had followed him until he’d vanished out of sight around a corner. The man wasn’t avoiding him, exactly — Batman didn’t avoid people, after all — he was simply never anywhere Clark was, always with a perfectly legitimate reason. Any other week, he’d never have noticed it, but this week his hands itched to touch and his heart leapt every time he heard the name.
On Tuesday, he’d even bought a bright, glossy-pink gossip magazine, simply because it had a photo of Bruce on the cover; lurid headline promising further titillating details inside. The details turned out to be mostly wild speculation about some obscure starlet Bruce had been photographed twice in public holding; was she The One To Tame Gotham’s Restless Son? Clark had told her vapid, grinning photo very sternly to keep its gold-digging hands to itself. He hadn’t felt nearly as silly as he suspected he should have, talking to a photo.
One week later, he’d sent another email.
You still owe me dinner. —C.
Bruce hadn’t bitten this time, which was fine by Clark.
The next day, they had asteroids. Lots of them, all heading towards Earth from different directions and apparently deliberately launched by malevolent forced unknown. That had required attention, and the sort of attention that brought him unequivocally into contact with Batman. Under the watchful eyes of the rest of the League, he made sure to be nothing but professional; missing something important because he was busy making moony eyes at his crush was an excellent way to ensure he never, ever wound up naked in the vicinity of said person, which would be a bad outcome indeed. And when they were alone?
Clark had always regarded flirting as a particularly esoteric art; something all human females were trained in extensively, starting somewhere around age fifteen, and which human males were expected to puzzle out over subsequent years. He’d resigned himself to never being particularly adept at it… until he’d caught himself doing it to Bruce. It was surprisingly easy; so much so, he hadn’t even noticed at first. His hands just wanted to touch the other man — even if, strictly speaking, they didn’t need to — and if he smiled brilliantly every time his eyes met Bruce’s, well, that was just because he was happy to see him. It felt good to simply be in the same room together, let alone the times when Bruce addressed him directly, even if it was usually to berate him. Clark found he couldn’t let it get to him for long; he’d get halfway through being angry or hurt or upset and he’d remember the look on Bruce’s face right before they’d kissed and think, You’re difficult and cold and paranoid and I love you for it. Everything else seemed so insignificant, so fleeting.
Bruce noticed, because he was very clever, though didn’t react; Clark rather suspected he hadn’t worked out yet how to. But he knew his message was clear; he was waiting.
The asteroids came and went, and with them a week’s worth of smaller incidents and the usual background noise of his life. He work up, he went to work, he came home, he went to Work, he came home again and — most nights — went to bed. And, all the while, he thought about Bruce. He thought about the Bruce he knew, and — when he was alone — he thought about the Bruce be didn’t know; all barely-constrained passion and exquisite body and ferocious eyes.
Once more, on Friday night, he sent a third email; yet another invitation to dinner. No explanations, no pleading, no flowery declarations of desire; simply a request for company.
And then, on Saturday afternoon, a reply:
Tonight. Gotham. My pick.
Maybe Kryptonite wasn’t all bad after all.