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It hadn’t occurred to Bruce that after he bought a bank in the middle of nowhere, Kansas, he’d actually end up owning it.

It had been easy enough to play it off as a joke, at least in front of Clark, and Martha and Lois, and forget all about it while he busied himself with the cleanup in the aftermath of Steppenwolf. He’d accomplished what he’d set out to accomplish and as far as he’d been concerned, that had been the end of it; which is why he comes up short in a way Bruce Wayne almost never does when one of his business managers asks about it.

“Oh.” he says intelligently, and runs a palm roughly over the 5 o’clock shadow that insists it’s been longer than he’d care to recall since his last shower and shave. “Business as usual, I suppose. Wait—actually—give everybody a raise. Filter in cash from my personal accounts, whatever you have to do to keep them all on payroll. And put a modest amount into Martha Kent’s account. Enough so she never has to worry about—about anything.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, because he’s Bruce Wayne, and tucks his sleek phone into the inside breast pocket of his coat before turning up the collar against the ten seconds’ worth of Gotham rain he’ll have to endure between the revolving doors of Wayne Enterprises and his chauffeured limousine.

 

*

 

“Mom, are you sure this is the most recent bank statement?” Clark can’t help hollering: force of habit. It’s a big house and a lot of land and it always used to be that something loud was going on. It’ll be like that again, anyhow, if it’s the last thing he does.

“There’s no need to shout, honey, I’m just bringing in the laundry.” Mom never could scold him properly; her face was always too fond, her voice too gentle. If anything it’s worse now.

She comes through to the kitchen with the laundry basket on her hip and stands over Clark where he’s bent at the table, methodically filling in her decades-old ledger. “What on earth do you think you’re doing.” It’s not a question.

Clark looks up. “Just some bookkeeping, it’s no trouble; only, I can’t seem to make sense of these numbers—”

“Clark,” she says, and this time firmly, like she means it, “I may not be the most modern of women but even I can log into online banking.”

“I know that, Mom. I just want to make sure everything adds up all right after Bruce—well, after everything.” The weight of the past year, of Bruce’s anger and guilt, of Bruce’s sacrifices and of his gift are a burden Clark’s a little surprised to feel the weight of, after all. He’d hoped it’d all come out in the wash, that they’d break even over times they’d tried to kill each other measured against the times they’d ended up saving each other instead; but he feels irritated, itchy in his own skin in a way he never has, even when everything got all twisted around and he’d had to die to fix it.

It’s hardly his fault Bruce decided to bring him back.

Mom sets down the basket on the table and runs a warm hand through Clark’s hair, tips his face up so he can’t help but meet her eyes. “Bruce fixed what he broke. You can trust him on that.”

Clark lets half his mouth curve up and brings Mom’s hand off his neck and around so he can kiss the back of it. “I don’t doubt it.”

Mom smiles and pats his cheek, gathers up the laundry and heads towards the stairs; then she throws over her shoulder, as if she hasn’t been waiting for the perfect time to say it, “And anyhow, if you have questions about all of that, I imagine he’d know a hell of a lot better than I would.”

Even with all his superspeed, he can’t think of a decent way to reply before she adds, “I think he’d like to see you. And I think it’d be good for you to get out of the house a bit, give yourself something to do other than go through my mail trying to fix things that don’t need fixing.”

 

*

 

As a rule Clark doesn’t much care for casual invasions of privacy no matter how easily he’s able to manage it, but sometimes there’s really no good way of going about something. Sometimes putting his powers to use is just the least objectionable of a variety of unpleasant options.

That’s what he tells himself, anyway, when he extends the most innocent of superhuman ears out into Gotham’s night air in search of a moment Bruce seems at rest, in his house by the lake, heart beating a steady metronome of calm for long enough that it might not be the worst of inconveniences if Clark happens to stop by. He consoles himself that at least he’ll ring the doorbell like a civilian.

“Mister Kent.” Alfred greets him fondly, like an old friend, which Clark supposes he sort of is, from Alfred’s perspective. It’s honestly a hell of a lot more comforting than the weirdly cautious distance a lot of other folks seem to want to keep between themselves and Clark. Alfred’s hands are large and warm and weathered and he uses both of them to envelop Clark’s. “Master Bruce neglected to mention you would be coming round.”

Clark brings up his other hand to clasp Alfred’s and gently presses a moment beyond the normal length of a gentleman’s handshake. “No, no, Bruce is in the clear, this time. I just—I’m sorry to just drop in like this. I can give him a call and reschedule, if it’s not a good time.”

“Don’t be absurd, Mister Kent,” Alfred says in that particular way he has of at once sounding deferential yet still up to no good, a contradiction with which Clark is sweetly, soul-achingly familiar, “Master Bruce never invites company, and the sort who tend to turn up all on their own aren’t typically appreciative of a warm meal Himself will barely deign to touch. I couldn’t be more pleased to see you.”

 

*

 

The levels of surveillance Bruce would have to deliberately ignore to be caught even remotely off guard by the shadow of Clark’s careful hovering just outside the the entrance to the Cave don’t rate mentioning and Clark knows it, so he doesn’t bother looking up until he’s finished bricking the external hard drive he’d had every original intention of repairing. Somehow his hands have gone overlarge and clumsy off his own wrists and he bristles with irritation.

“Alfred sent me. After explicitly guaranteeing my personal safety if I let him.” Clark’s grin is genuinely rueful, as if there were anything Bruce could possibly do (quickly enough, anyway, he can’t help but think in the nasty guilty sotto voce that’s taken up residence inside Bruce’s head as a near-constant companion) to make a liar out of Alfred. Displayed here is how Bruce learned never to make a wager he might not win; he then proceeded to reject the lesson entirely, of course, and spends his adulthood routinely going all-in on abysmally poor odds. He briefly wonders if Alfred considers this failure on his own part, or success; if Clark considers any of it at all.

“Clark.” It’s easy to forget Clark knows him. Not Bruce Wayne, the philanthropist playboy who carelessly manages to luck his way into everything he wants; not the Bat, deliberate and coarse and expressionless, outlined in smudged black charcoal that renders him indistinguishable from the air around him. There isn’t a hell of a lot of time to indulge in the idea but Bruce is pretty sure there’s something sort of solid that’s grown up in between, and that it’s as near as he’ll ever get to being a person; and that’s a guy Clark’s met. “What can I do for you, son?”

Kryptonians must have some kind of trippy fucked-up sex pheromone that kicks into hyperdrive when they smile, and of course Clark’s the type of guy whose smiles are easy and frequent and generous, who smiles by default because he thinks it’s polite. “You can come upstairs for dinner? Sort of traded that one in for Alfred’s protection.”

 

*

 

“More hasselback potatoes, Mister Kent?”

The irony’s hardly lost on Clark that somehow a conversation intended to deter Bruce from his absent-minded habit of excess insofar as it manifests in the Kents’ bank account ends up delayed by an invitation for dinner, but Clark could smell the buttered ribeye halfway to Gotham, and in this he’s only as human as anyone else. Anyway, Bruce will have wine, and then a glass of Scotch, and Clark’s stomach won’t assert itself rudely at entirely the wrong moment, and all of that can only make things easier.

He holds out his plate dutifully. “Thanks so much, Alfred. And it’s Clark, please.”

Alfred smiles mildly as if to say that it may be but you’ll never hear it from my mouth as he spoons out three crispy little golden potatoes. Clark’s not even all that hungry anymore, but they’re delicious and the longer his mouth’s occupied with chewing the more time he has to plot out a delicate segue into an appropriate explanation for why Superman turned up for supper at the Wayne residence, ostensibly apropos of nothing.

To Bruce’s credit, he neither treats the situation as suspect, nor without cause; he drains the last of his cabernet sauvignon and dabs his mouth with a cloth napkin that probably cost more than Clark’s entire wardrobe and very calmly asks, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

It’s the first conversation between them at the dinner table, Clark realizes, and he stumbles a little over how comfortable the silence had been. “Well—it’s kind of silly—no, not silly, exactly, just—I appreciate everything you’ve done for my mother, and for me, and I want to first say thank you, so much, for all of it.” Clark pauses, and Bruce’s expression remains schooled.

“As I said before: I made mistakes, and I’m only grateful it was within my capacity to fix them.” Bruce shifts then, and Clark only sees it because he’s really looking: a warm broad hand on Alfred’s elbow, a gentle squeeze that could be called affectionate were it not the work of Bruce Wayne, as Alfred sets a cut glass tumbler full of something amber-brown and probably unbearably expensive in front of him. “Can I interest you in a fifty year old single malt?”

“It’d be wasted on me,” Clark demurs, “but thank you.”

Alfred disappears smoothly as Bruce shrugs and lifts his glass. He sips, rolls it around his mouth like he’s searching for something, and Clark lets himself watch the bob of Bruce’s adam’s apple when he swallows.

“I’m assuming you didn’t invite yourself over for dinner as a way of thanking me.”

Clark barks out a laugh. “No, no I did not, though I will point out that it was Alfred who invited me, and he didn’t ask your permission.”

Half of Bruce’s mouth quirks up at that and it’s not an expression Clark remembers ever seeing on him before. He kind of wonders what it would take to see it again.

“Noted.”

Another lackadaisical sip, another heavy swallow that pulls Clark’s gaze from Bruce’s eyes down to his mouth, to his throat. Clark doesn’t blush and he’s never been more thankful for it because he’s pretty sure otherwise he’d be flushed all over and he silently prays Bruce isn’t paying him enough attention to catch on.

“It’s just that I was running the numbers, you know, making sure the accounts were okay, before I left the farm again.” Clark’s fiddling with the edge of his napkin and he feels a little bit like he's the one who’s done something wrong, which is immediately irritating enough to push the rest of it out of him. “You put all that money into Mom’s account. I know you did. My mother knows how to stretch a dollar and she’s always put away for rainy days, but there’s no way she could ever—the records do not reflect—”

“Clark, son,” and Bruce finally shifts enough that now every part of him is focused on Clark; his shoulders and knees and feet, his dark expressionless gaze. “It was a windfall. Happens all the time with mergers. Employees all got a salary bump, too.”

“You really think I’m that dumb of a hick?” Clark shakes his head and grins a little, hopes it doesn’t read as a grimace. “It’s incredibly generous. But it’s too much.”

“It’s not nearly enough. What kind of invulnerable idiot doesn’t have life insurance?”

“The broke kind!”

“Well!” Bruce seems to realize he’s raised his voice and is leaning forward, nearly up out of his seat, and he looks a kind of way Clark might have thought was surprise had it not been all over Bruce Wayne’s face. He clears his throat and mindfully resumes his pretty-boy slouch. “That’s exactly my point.”

Clark lifts his hands to cover his face and groans. He pulls off his glasses and tosses them onto the table. “I know you feel guilty, Bruce, and I can’t say I wouldn’t feel the same, in your shoes. But I’m here, alive, right now in your home, telling you it’s all right. I’m not angry with you. You don’t owe me or my mother anything more than you’ve already done. I wish I knew better words so they could make you believe me.”

“And you call yourself a journalist.”

Clark lets his jaw fall open and thinks he might have actually been rendered totally and physically immobile for a full fifteen seconds before he lets his invulnerable idiot head thunk hard against the high wooden back of the dining room chair, and then he laughs and laughs and laughs.

 

*

 

Clark doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to leave. He sits with Bruce as he finishes his drink and, once he stops being pointlessly noble, is actually tolerable company. He doesn’t scramble to fill up silence, doesn’t say anything without good reason, or that he doesn’t wholly believe; his voice is warm and pleasant and his mind is sharp, quicker than Bruce anticipated.

Sort of annoying, actually, what with the whole rugged farmboy-cum-Abercrombie & Fitch model thing he has going on. So Bruce invites Clark back down to see the rest of the Cave, because he’s too amped up to sleep and for now the Bat is lying low, and frankly, Bruce has always been a firm believer in exposure therapy.

“This is…” Clark whistles low between his teeth rather than putting a word to it. Then he snorts. “You dress up as a bat and you live in a cave.”

Bruce shrugs. “In for a penny.”

“I’ll bet.” Clark’s wandered over to the car now, and Bruce has to admit she looks beautiful; Alfred is as exacting as he is loving in everything he maintains.

“I have good help.”

“The best, I’m sure.” Clark looks up at him and Bruce is struck by the inexplicable desire to find out if that color blue is even possible in the human eye, or if it’s something special, something only Clark has. If it would upset Clark, or make him happy, if it were.

He’s deeply disappointed in himself.

“If we’re going to be a team, we’ll need HQ. Somewhere difficult to access and as neutral as possible. I have the money to build it and you have the kind of advanced technology that could help me create it. I would relinquish ownership of it, legally; that wouldn’t be fair. I’d put you in charge, first in command, and me second.” He shrugs. “Or Diana. If you’re not comfortable with me.”

Clark stares at him. “A team?”

Bruce nods. “It’s the smartest way to move forward. We’ve already proven public opinion is fickle, and divided we are weak. The only people capable of keeping us in check are each other. Well, not me, so much. I’m just an old guy in a really nice suit.” He lets the side of his mouth lift a little, an echo of a rueful grin. “But you, Diana, Barry, Arthur, Victor. You’re all in danger on your own, from people like me. We should proceed together, as a team. It’s the logical thing to do.”

Clark folds his arms across his torso and Bruce tries and fails not to watch the bulge and flex of each muscle engaged. “Do you normally propose an alliance among five superhumans over whom I have absolutely zero actual authority by reminding me, the alien you intend to put in charge, that as far as the history of mistrusting well-meaning superhumans can be traced, you yourself have presented the most deadly threat?”

Don’t,”  Bruce says, and it’s sharp enough for cutting, enough that Clark’s eyes widen and he takes a step back. Bruce clears his throat like the gruff edge of his voice was only caught on something stuck there from before, from dinner or wine or whiskey, and Clark frowns, but he drops his arms. “Don’t say it like that. You—you’re not like that. You may not be human insofar as genetics are concerned, but since when have genetics explained anything useful about anyone. You’re a better person, a more human human being, than most of the rest of us will ever be, myself certainly included. I won’t stand here and let you refer to yourself that way; and you can stop looking at me like that. I know better; I’ve met your mother.”

Clark’s eyes and mouth soften and Bruce looks down at his own hands and wishes he had something in them to distract him. Thing is, he’d had a whole plan, a presentation done up on powerpoint. He hadn’t even managed to boot up the mainframe.

“Anyway,” he says, because now it’s getting kind of awkward and he’d prefer to steer this conversation back around somewhere productive, and hopefully less humiliating, “it’s another reason I’d feel more comfortable ensuring the economic stability of everyone on this team. Diana doesn’t need me, never has. Arthur laughed in my face. Victor is TBD; seemed to rude to get into it until he updates me on his family situation. And Barry is—well, he gets an allowance, and a trust. I’m not personally involved with either.

“Look, kid, it’s not charity; I just need for everyone on this team to feel secure in every possible way. I can afford it, and I have lawyers who can ensure it’s impossible for strings to become attached. I’ve placed enough funds outside my purview to support that for a long time, and there’s a failsafe protecting it that I can’t override. I don’t want that kind of power.” He lifts a shoulder in a half-shrug. “I’m not a very nice person. The best I can do is make sure nice people have as much say as I do, at the end of the day.”

“Bruce—”

“And,” Bruce interrupts—because he knows he’ll break, he’ll crack wide open and his tender human vulnerable guts will run all out and over them both completely if he looks up now and Clark’s making that face, the face he made when he realized what Bruce had done to get Martha Kent’s home back, the face he made when he realized Bruce was the one who’d wanted Clark back so badly he risked everything to have it, could barely breathe through the desperate need of it—“I hear there’s going to be a wedding, and weddings are expensive, and I’d hate for Lois to have to compromise on anything more than she already has.”

At this Clark’s eyes widen and he looks down. “No, no—sorry—” he chokes out a sound like might’ve been on the way to a laugh but instead ran headfirst into an intake of breath, and he coughs his way through it. “I thought you knew. Or, at least, I thought maybe someone would have told you. No wedding. Not so much.” His shrug-and-a-smile is as pitiful as it is self-deprecating and doing its utmost to radiate I’m doing just fine don’t worry about me. “These things are—they’ve become—well, you know. It’s complicated. Probably best to stick to my own kind,” he doesn’t falter but Bruce isn’t fooled, “of which there are none.”

Bruce allows the requisite amount of time to pass to be both respectful of the delicacy of the topic yet clear about his intention to abandon it altogether. “Well, that makes things simpler. You should stay here at the lake house for a while. At least until we figure some things out, like how to move forward with the league. Plenty of space, and I’m hardly ever around; Alfred prefers your company over mine anyway. You can use the Cave to start your training.”

Clark’s expression radiates skepticism. “Training?”

Bruce half-smiles with a rigid jaw. “Sorry to point it out, farmboy, but the last time you went hand-to-hand in a fair fight, you lost. And then you died.”

Chapter Text

So that’s how Clark ends up moving in with Bruce Wayne.

It’s actually kind of perfect, if he’s honest: the sort of perfect he never could have begun to expect when he accepted the invitation out of a sheer loss of any idea of how not to. Living with Bruce is definitely better than living by himself in whatever rundown shoebox of an apartment he’d be able to afford, or tiptoeing around living with Lois, or even Mom, all the while pretending not to see the open abject sympathy radiating off their expressions, off every aborted motion of their bodies as they tried not to be too obvious about their inability to understand why he stayed on in the first place.

It’s just that Clark’s never been afraid of being alone in the dark before.

In any case, living with Bruce is actually pretty perfect. He wasn’t lying about hardly ever being home, nor about Alfred’s sincere appreciation for Clark’s company. Against all expectations Bruce seems kind of pleased to have Clark around too, in his own gruff, monosyllabic way, and it’s nice how neither he nor Alfred ever ask for Clark’s help, but both accept graciously when it’s offered in the form of superstrength or superspeed or the ability to see through walls. Clark likes that he can make things easier, and still Bruce never expects him to sing for his supper, or anything like that. It’s a novel experience to spend so much time with people who don’t need him, and are still so grateful for any silly little super-thing Clark does.

Clark knows a hell of a lot about being needed but it’s nice sometimes to know you’re wanted.

And then there’s just being around Bruce, now, this way: it makes Clark feel a kind of way he’s never really encountered. Not afraid in the unsafe, weak way he’d felt around the Bat, before; not warm all over in the soft, expanding way he’d felt around Lois. There’s fear and there’s heat but it’s all tension and butterflies and stolen glimpses of the way Bruce’s eyes sometimes seem to settle on Clark like he’s the only living thing in the world Bruce Wayne isn’t quite able to figure out some way to control. Clark’s spent his whole life giving people the slip and now he notices himself holding the breath he doesn’t really have to take in an effort to stay so exquisitely still, on the off chance Bruce might want to catch him.

At what—Clark doesn’t let himself dwell too much on that part. He’s got some idea of what it is, and what that means, and, well—it doesn’t do to dwell.

Diana ends up handling the bulk of Clark’s training. Her upbringing as a literal Amazonian warrior coupled with her status as an actual deity qualify her above anybody else, though Bruce oversees everything, both in the passive way nobody bothers to hide the fact that everything from the equipment to the regimen have the Bat’s hands—wings—paws?—all over it, and in the literal way he sometimes obliquely watches them from his enormous and foreboding desk in the Cave that’s angled just enough to allow a convenient view for hovering. He never steps in, and if he communicates with Diana through any number of hums or grunts or micro-expressions he makes while he tinkers with his playthings, Clark hasn’t caught on to the pattern.

Sparring with Diana is what Clark imagines it might have been like to have brothers to wrestle with when he was young: good-natured, teasing, and fairly evenly matched so long as neither of them cheats (which is an admittedly somewhat frequent occurrence). Diana has a reassuring way about her that gives Clark permission to let go of himself a little bit, more than he ever has in this kind of context, anyway. Diana can take care of herself.

Bruce probably could, too, but he never interferes or offers, and that fact settles in Clark’s stomach in a mixture of anxious relief even as Bruce watches with inscrutable eyes while Diana throws Clark around the slick, beat-up mats like a rag doll. He’d be embarrassed if not for the fact that Bruce has to know he himself wouldn’t fare much better.

It barely registers that Clark’s never really been alone with Bruce until the night it happens, three weeks after Clark first moves in, when he trots down the steps to the Cave in his gym shorts and an admittedly gamey-smelling ribbed undershirt, mentally preparing himself to lose a few more fair fights. He pulls up short when he encounters Bruce, only Bruce, all decked out in some kind of professional black and silver I’ll-kick-your-ass-into-next-Tuesday get-up, eyes shut and arms extended in a yoga-esque pose.

Bruce doesn’t open his eyes. “Sorry, I meant to tell you. Diana’s out for the evening. World War I retrospective, at some museum... gallery... thing? Managed to convince Alfred to go along with her despite his heretofore borderline obsessive reluctance to let me out of his sight for longer than five minutes on my own.”

“Wow,” Clark says, “Alfred actually passed up a night of cooking food you’ll barely touch and supervising your irritatingly perfect sun salutations just to hobnob with famous art historians and drink free champagne on the arm Diana Prince, arguably the most accurate picture of devastation in an evening gown to ever exist?” He shakes his head and grins. “Some people have really messed up priorities.”  

The curve of Bruce’s lower lip hitches in that half-smile that charms Clark so and one of those irritating little butterflies kicks up a fit in the middle of Clark’s solar plexus. Then Bruce shifts liquidly into downward-facing dog and, without missing a beat, says, “Be that as it may, you’re not entirely out of luck. If you agree to disable all your cheat codes I’ll be happy to mop up the floor with your corn-fed ass more than a few times, son, just so the night’s not a total waste.”

The combined stimuli—Bruce’s smile, Bruce’s cavalier offer to manhandle Clark repeatedly to Clark’s own satisfaction, Bruce’s ass in the air like that, firm and toned and even though Clark wouldn’t dare use his powers to confirm it, not betraying even a hint of a seam of an undergarment that might ruin the line of his thin cotton pants—it all sends Clark’s poor butterfly into a wild panic, frantically looping upwards to lodge itself in Clark’s throat.

He imagines this is what a gag reflex feels like.

 

*

 

Bruce wasn’t kidding—by Clark’s count he’s been thrown ass over teakettle at least fifteen times before Bruce even breaks a sweat.

He doesn’t think he’s letting Bruce win; a lifetime of measuring others’ strength against his own and adjusting himself accordingly can’t have suddenly failed him. It’s just that Bruce is strong, and whip-smart, and he sees every move Clark thinks to make as if he’s telegraphing it directly into Bruce’s brain thirty seconds before actually doing it. It’s kind of amazing, frustrating as hell, and, Clark realizes as his gut drops so fast he can’t be sure it still inhabits his body, a total turn-on.

Bruce has him pressed to the mat by the hands, forearms, an incriminating amount of hips. At first Clark struggles, but succeeds only in rubbing himself against Bruce exactly where his shorts have gone tight and slippery, so he shuts his eyes and lets as much of his body go limp as he’s currently able.

“Uncle,” he says.

Bruce doesn’t move right away. His hips press down again and Clark can feel the hot whisper of Bruce’s thigh against him, and he forces himself not to chase the sweet friction of it when Bruce finally sits up and pushes off.

“Adrenaline,” Bruce says, too casually to be offhand, “arousal response; fear, or anger.”

“Ri—right,” Clark huffs out a breath. “Fight or flight.”

Bruce lobs a grin at him. “Or fuck,” he says, landing hard on the plosive in a way that makes Clark shiver and does nothing helpful for the state of his shorts. “Funny, people almost never go for that third option. What a world that would be.”

 

*

 

Clark’s too polite to run away screaming but it’s a near thing, Bruce figures. They don’t spar again. Clark sort of sits there on the mats with his head hanging between his knees, elbows propped and forearms dangling, and breathes heavy and deep for a little while without responding. Then he shoves a few errant curls off his forehead with one hand and pushes himself to standing with the other, and then he thanks Bruce, like they just went to junior prom together, or something.

Bruce carefully keeps his gaze up on Clark’s face as he makes his excuses and heads back up to the main house in search of dinner. Then Bruce strips his shirt and sits at his desk and slowly lowers his head, face-first, towards the ink blotter, letting go just in time for a satisfying thunk.

“Smooth, Wayne. Nicely done,” he says, to no one in particular, but then there’s the tinny buzz of Alfred in his ear with an impressively wry,

“Smooth indeed, sir.”

 

*

 

Bruce idles an hour and a half at his desk pretending to read a couple of files in ominous red folders sent over by general counsel before he gives up and figures that with all his superspeed if Clark hasn’t foraged and made himself scarce with ninety minutes to spare, that’s his own damn fault.

The smell of something delicious and familiar hits him long before he reaches the kitchen and finds Clark with his broad back to him at the stovetop, tied up into one of Alfred’s aprons with an open carton of eggs on the counter next to him.

“So Kansas can cook,” Bruce says, inhaling appreciatively.

Clark doesn’t turn but Bruce can hear the smile in his reply. “When I was in high school the nearest takeout Chinese was a forty-five minute drive; certain skills were necessarily acquired.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” Bruce approves of all of it, even if it gives him a jumpy, growling stomach.

“There’s enough for us both, if you’re hungry,” Clark says, as if he couldn’t hear Bruce’s hunger pangs all the way from Metropolis, if he wanted to.

By some ritual of Midwestern manners Bruce doesn’t end up having to do or say much of anything in response before he’s sitting at the table with Clark and two plates of perfectly crisped corned beef hash and runny-yolked eggs, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and, oddly enough, Budweiser straight from the can.

“My dad,” Clark says, and of all things, this he’s embarrassed about. “Never did much for me, but, y’know; tastes like home.”

“Your dad would have hated me on principle,” Bruce says around a mouthful of hash. Clark can’t have missed the entire shelf of expensive microbrews, arranged by type and region, in the fridge. Bruce isn’t even really all that sure where he found a can of Bud.

Clark shakes his head, but laughs. “If he got to know you, he’d’ve liked you. He’d’ve liked how you were kind to Mom.”

“I killed his son.”

“His son killed him,” Clark says quietly. “He would have understood.”

Bruce knows the story; it was one of the first things Martha Kent had told him about Clark’s dad, the day Bruce was there with her, helping her box up Clark’s things, the day Bruce finally broke down and told her the truth. Martha Kent is one of the few living people to ever see Bruce Wayne cry.

He doesn’t know how much of it Clark knows, so he doesn’t reply. “This is good, kid,” he says, instead.

“High praise coming from a man with live-in help.”

“Alfred’s never made a meal in his life that he didn’t want to.”

“I find that extremely easy to believe.”

Bruce raises his juice and clinks it against Clark’s beer can, then downs two-thirds of the glass in one go.

 

*

 

Clearing an entire plate of food is something Clark can cross off his list of things he’s never seen Bruce do; he supposes that’s as good of an indication as any that he enjoyed it. He stands and makes to clear their plates but Bruce lays a broad, warm hand over Clark’s.

“Don’t,” he says, and Clark won’t, Clark couldn’t if he wanted to, not with Bruce’s smooth palm bearing down, searing into his skin. Then Bruce pulls away. “You cooked; I’ll wash up. It’s only fair.”

Clark’s insides rearrange themselves back where they belong. “If I agree to that, you’ll just leave it for Alfred.”

“I resent the implication that I’m incapable of washing a dish.”

“I never implied that at all. I just know you won’t.”

“Oh yeah?” It’s more criminal than all of Gotham, the way Bruce’s eyes sparkle sometimes. “Challenge accepted. Consider the gauntlet thrown.”

“All right, tough guy,” Clark stands and throws his napkin at Bruce. It glances off his chest and lands somewhere in his lap. “You wash, I’ll dry. And then you can embarrass yourself by trying to tell me where everything goes when it’s clear you have no clue.”

“I have a dishwasher, Clark.”

“You want to use the dishwasher for a few measly plates? The pan’s nonstick. Quit being a baby and get out your rubber gloves.”

Bruce certainly knows Clark can hear his grumbled that’s not how dishwashers work, Clark, but he clears the table and dutifully dons bright yellow gloves anyway, and Clark can’t ignore the tiny ache in his heart at the sight of Bruce Wayne elbows-deep in soap suds, his hair falling over his forehead, bottom lip caught between his teeth in concentration.

This way madness lies, he thinks, grabs a dish towel, and starts drying.

Even with all his superstrength (and his not insubstantial willpower) Clark can’t quite stop his brain from whirring, from replaying everything in his mind, from—god help him—playing out that last tussle on the mats if it all had gone differently, if he’d been brave enough to chase Bruce’s hot hard thigh and lick the slow drip of sweat from Bruce’s neck, and Bruce’s mouth—Bruce’s mouth

He’s reaching over where Bruce is hunched down at the sink to put away the last plate before he realizes that it is the last plate, that Bruce isn’t bent over at all anymore, isn’t turned away from him, and then all at once they’re so incredibly close, chest-to-chest, a deep inhale from either all that’s keeping them from actually touching.

Clark can’t stop himself from licking his lips. He lifts his gaze and their eyes almost meet, he almost blurts out all of it, every last filthy thought running through his filthy head, but then Bruce’s eyes move down and away.

Clark backs off and slings the dish towel over his shoulder in a poor attempt to appear casual. “Sorry,” he manages, “was just… I kind of spaced out there for a moment.”

“Earth to Clark?”

The laugh Bruce startles out of him at that is genuine, and he can’t help but smile even as he says, “Now, coming from you, that’s just mean.”

Bruce winks and smiles that damned half-smile that turns Clark’s insides to jelly, throwing a wave over his shoulder that’s warm, friendly, even. “Just glad to have you back.”

And then he disappears, either down to the Cave, or up to bed, or anywhere Clark isn’t, leaves Clark all tied up and twisted around something he feels woefully ill-equipped to even begin to understand.

Chapter Text

“That’s my seat, son,” Bruce says, for lack of anything better to say. It’s become painfully obvious that Clark’s a morning person, and as such is somehow always awake, showered (and, Bruce’s subconscious adds unhelpfully, smelling amazing), and at least halfway through breakfast before Bruce is ever able to drag himself out to make an appearance. “And my newspaper. And my breakfast.”

It’s mean, intentionally condescending, and kind of untrue: for starters, he’s the one who invited Clark to stay; Alfred always cooks enough for everyone, and Bruce hardly ever bothers with the paper. It’s just that Bruce has never had to deal with so much actual, literal sunshine this early in the morning, never mind the highly appealing and totally off-limits package in which it comes.

“Ignore him,” Alfred cuts in smoothly, and pointedly lays a plate full of scrambled eggs and bacon to the left of where Clark’s shoveling the last of his own into his mouth. “Master Bruce is insufferable before he’s had coffee, and generally unpleasant before noon entirely.”

“Oh I know,” Clark says, grinning in a way that’s far too attractive for anyone with that much food in his mouth, “I’m used to it.”

Bruce grumbles as many unflattering things as he’s able to string together this early in the morning under his breath.

“I heard that,” Clark says.

“Good,” Bruce replies; but then he takes his Alfred-appointed seat, steals the society pages from under Clark’s elbow, and pretends to ignore the warmth radiating from Clark’s expression when Bruce grunts with approval into the mug of hot black coffee already steaming by his plate.

 

*

 

Clark decides it’s a personal victory of considerable magnitude when Alfred sits to enjoy a cup of tea and the Financial Times while Clark clears the table, rinses the plates, soaps up the pans, loads the dishwasher; he figures he’ll risk it.

“Say, Alfred?”

“Mm?”

“Why don’t I take care of dinner tonight? I can go food shopping. And do any other errands you need. Truth is, I’m going a little stir-crazy here.” Alfred’s definitely too smart not to see right through him, but Clark figures he’ll appreciate the reprieve all the same.

Alfred’s eyebrows are a language unto themselves. “I would be churlish to pass up the offer.”

“Great,” Clark says, “just make me a list and I’m at your disposal.”

“Careful, you’ll spoil me.” Alfred folds up his newspaper and levels Clark with an eerily omniscient gaze. “Can’t think of anything else at the moment but I’ll let you know. I’ll give you the codes to the garage; take any car you like.” He tears off a corner of the paper and scribbles on it with a pencil pulled from behind his ear, then folds it twice before holding it out for Clark (as if Clark couldn’t read the whole thing as fast as he wrote it from all the way across the room), and Clark takes it, feels nearly weightless with relief; Alfred’s trust is hard-won. “Off you go.”

 

*

 

When Clark gets back from his admittedly satisfying day of driving around a forest green Aston Martin, Alfred’s in the kitchen again, and from the looks of things, putting out afternoon tea. It wouldn’t be a particularly remarkable display if not for the five-foot-ten Amazonian princess sitting cross-legged on top of the counter beside the tea tray, unbearably elegant in a sublimely cut cream-colored single-button pantsuit with a sheer crimson blouse and tapered ankle-length trousers. Her feet are bare, but a pair of lipstick-red pumps stand proudly on the hardwood beneath.

“Alfred, you dog. You didn’t tell me Ms. Prince would be joining us; you’re lucky I got enough food.”

“No luck involved, Master Clark.” Alfred reaches for the groceries but Clark is wilfully too quick for him. “I merely depended upon the shopping habits of six-foot-tall midwestern boys with appetites to match.”

“Anyway, I am here to help,” Diana says, hopping down from her countertop perch and slipping smoothly into her heels.

Clark gives her pristine and very expensive-looking outfit a dubious glance as he transfers his purchases to the refrigerator. “You like to cook?”

Diana rolls her eyes. “Of course I don’t like to cook. I’m here to help you flirt.”

He finds the timing of it very suspect when Diana manages to rescue a dozen eggs from certain disaster only a tenth of a second after Clark drops them. “Don’t be childish.”

Childish—”

“—and not only Alfred, I cannot believe you would—”

“—honestly, if we left it to the both of you—”

“—certainly at least ask me, should—”

Enough.” Alfred deliberately lifts his tea things and carries them to relative safety on top of the breakfast table, taking his time to select a Digestive, break it in two, and dangle half over his teacup as he sits. “Shall we compose ourselves?”     

 

*

 

Within forty-five minutes a passable bolognese is simmering on the stovetop, and Clark is pointedly ignoring Diana’s explication of Cosmopolitan magazine’s article outlining twenty-five ways to surprise your man (in bed), and Alfred is even more pointedly ignoring the both of them as he taps away at his tablet.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the thought,” Clark grits out, his jaw clenched against his embarrassment, “but I’m pretty sure I’ve got my hands full just keeping him on the right side of not killing me.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Alfred pipes up, and who even asked him anyway, since when was he even paying attention to this conversation, “what with the moving in together and the meal-taking and spending every spare moment huddled together strategizing, without question you and Master Wayne paint the very picture of two people who can’t stand one another’s company.”

Clark snatches the tasting spoon from Diana’s hand and starts rinsing it, irritably. “I’d rather not look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Diana, to her credit, doesn’t flinch away, and Clark feels instantly sorry; he’s too obviously strong to be doing things like that, even to Diana. He’s about to apologize when she shakes her head minutely. “I hope you can appreciate how deeply I understand your feelings, Kal. It is different for us, of course, but it is also the same. I loved someone I was forced to lose, due to such circumstances. It is painful for us to be who we are, and to care for people. To love them. It will always hurt us but without it, we are nothing.”

Clark closes his eyes and lets himself relax into the slow circles Diana is rubbing across his back. “I know,” he says. “I know that.”

He exhales.

“It’s just Bruce—with Bruce it’s—it’s different. He thinks he’s one of us, but he’s one of them. And he has no idea! He has absolutely no idea how fragile he is, how breakable and irreplaceable, and instead he gets it into his head somehow I’m the one who needs protection, and even though he knows who—he knows what I am, he still—I haven’t done a thing to earn it, and he still—protects—” Clark hears his own voice waver, and he stops, recalibrates. His shoulders settle into a tense line.

It’s Alfred who finally disrupts the tenuous silence.

“If I may.” He stands, glides in that sleek, effortless way he has of doing everything, to stand between them. “We all of us here are of a kind: super-human or not. We all of us know what it is to love and to lose and to be rendered weak by that very same love which fortifies us. Let us not stand ceremony on technicality. Master Wayne may be breakable, Master Clark, but he has already once watched you die, and suffered that death. He’s within rights.”

Clark sighs. “Alfred—”

“You would do well to remember for how long I’ve served Master Wayne, and in what capacity.” Alfred busies himself with seasoning, but Clark’s not fooled. “We all of us are of a kind.” He gently pries the tasting spoon from Clark’s grasp. “Here. Try it now.”

Feeling unbearably human, Clark imagines the too-hot sauce burns his tongue, the roof of his mouth, the back of his throat.

“Better,” he says.

 

*

 

Bruce might have assumed he has the wrong home, on the wrong street, in the wrong city, were it not quite so obviously and only his own lake house that he lets himself into. When you own the modern equivalent of a remote country castle within city limits, it’s fairly difficult to mistake your front door for your neighbor’s; it’s the right house, maybe, but Bruce still isn’t sure it’s quite his.

He briefly laments his own precious, self-consciously cultivated disdain for cliché as he realizes how utterly, solely responsible he is for the moment he’s about to experience.

 

*

 

There must be a force of nature, of equilibrium and mercy, Clark posits, that swings so easily the macabre, self-destructive musings of comrades-in-arms all the way around to the hilarious and absurd; there’s only so much melancholy that can exist at any given point, on any given plane.

It must be that, and definitely not the—wine? Whatever it was, Clark had long since given up on the idea that alcohol had any effect on him, and assumed the same was likely true for Diana. Alfred he’s never seen drinking anything stronger than PG Tips.

(Though—thinking about it—Alfred’s still drinking out of a stone-cold teacup from hours ago, the entire time Clark and Diana have been sharing pulls of something she keeps secreted somewhere on her person in a leather canteen, something cool but not cold, something that’s stained her lips and teeth purple-red. Clark’s own mouth must be—he can only guess—)

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’re all a little tipsy, anyway, but it’s not like they’re drunk, Clark’s definitely not that. He’s just not able to stop shaking, on account of all the hideously inappropriate laughter he can’t seem to help as Alfred and Diana take turns re-framing his entire relationship history with Bruce as if they’d starred in a rom-com rather than their useless, wasteful tragedy. This is just the way Clark’s head swims when it’s full of Alfred using the term meet-cute unironically while Diana beams at him like he invented the idea. Plus some crazy-strong Amazonian moonshine, probably.

 

*

 

He blames Clark’s eyes, quite frankly.

Soft, and a little unfocused, they're terribly blue: they're wide open.

Clark’s never looked at Bruce like that, and Bruce should have—he should have known better.

He should never have allowed himself be disarmed.

 

*

 

Clark keeps tasting off the same spoon as Diana and putting it right back into the sauce, which appears to ruffle Alfred’s feathers to no end, and this too is somehow too hysterical to be borne; Clark keeps trying to push the same spoon into Alfred’s mouth, ends up smearing sauce on Alfred’s cheek. The vivid red of it sends Clark into another fit of giggles and he drops the spoon back into the saucepot, just to watch Alfred pretend to be mortified.

“Only very sanitary and appetizing things happening in here, then?”

Clark is very pleased to be almost sixty-two percent sure he doesn’t actually have heart-shaped irises when he looks up at Bruce and smiles.

 

*

 

That’s always the problem; Bruce is sure of it. There has to be something weird and hormonal going on with him and with Clark when Clark smiles like that. Some weird, unintentional sex-pheromone-thing.

 

*

 

Clark is perfectly happy to admit he’s not really thinking any of it through beyond the sheer joy of just indulging for once, when he goes in after that same spoon and brings it over, sauce-laden, for Bruce to taste; when he purses his lips and blows cool air into it, so Bruce won’t burn his tongue. He’s half-expecting Bruce to shrug him off anyway, with an appropriately cutting remark—call him son or kid, let Clark know how ridiculous Bruce thinks he is.

He definitely isn’t expecting Bruce to lean into him and smile, and taste.

And Clark isn’t drunk, he would know if he were.

It’s just he hasn’t felt like this since—forever, really. Not since Dad died. Maybe not even before.

So maybe he just wants to hold onto it; or maybe he wants to shove it behind him and all the layers of plausible deniability, so he can’t depend on his memory of it, or think to miss it.

He couldn’t really tell you why he kisses Bruce then, small and timid, right on the downturned side of Bruce’s mouth, right in front of Alfred and Diana and who even knows who else keeps tabs on Bruce’s security feeds.

But that’s what he does.

Chapter Text

In the earliest days of their cohabitation, the second or third evening after Clark “officially” moves in (he can’t help but think in air-quotes; he’s never owned enough stuff to really move in anywhere), Bruce invites Clark to sit with him in the study after they eat dinner with Alfred. Clark accepts and is led to what would be better described as a small library where Bruce proceeds to ignore a lead crystal tumbler full of something brown and peaty-smelling in favor of skimming a small pile of ledgers at his desk, simultaneously engaging Clark in what he seems to regard as so much idle conversation. It’s too studied, too practiced; however he might deny it, Bruce has tells, and Clark knows them. Mom raised him right, though, and Bruce is a generous host, so Clark humors him, pretends to be too distracted by his own laptop and deadline to notice what Bruce is doing.

Bruce isn’t paying attention to anything but Clark.

 

*

 

Bruce has to hand it to him; Clark’s some kind of wiseass. The following morning Clark is up with the birds and doesn’t hesitate to bombard Bruce with all his opinions about every single topic Bruce had raised as they sat together in the library the night before, like he’s letting Bruce know how well he can pay attention while appearing not to. Hell of a poker face that kid has. Bruce is impressed, if a little irritated by the deliberate lack of subtlety. Still, Bruce feels lucky that in this he’s able to read Clark so well. Bruce knows that for all of Clark’s open warmth writ large across his sunny, expressive face, he can prevaricate with the best of them, and he’s been deliberately letting Bruce see his honest hesitation, his suspicion; his thought process.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m with you, B, for whatever it is—whatever you, and me, and Diana, and Alfred—what we all think is best,” Clark is saying.

Bruce can tell there are questions and lifts an eyebrow, prompting.

Clark takes the bait. “You mentioned there are failsafes to keep you honest. I don’t expect you to give me that kind of power but I do want to know: who has it? Who can override them?”

“You may safely assume Alfred can access anything I can access, and everything I cannot.”

“I assumed. And?” For a guy who doesn’t know the difference between a blood choke and an air choke Clark’s baseline strategic instincts aren’t half bad.

“As I mentioned, we discussed the matter and agree that in balance there is merit.”

“So… Diana?”

It’s not a bad guess. “You, actually. I had hoped. Alfred will of course provide the necessary information, if you accept.”

That’s when Clark’s wide open smile shutters so quickly that Bruce is annoyed to find himself impressed all over again.

 

*

 

After that Clark takes up his own patrol again, training be damned. They still have plenty to sort out, but it’ll keep, and Clark’s not about to stop helping people in the meantime. Bruce is still Bruce and as such is territorial as fuck, so Clark doesn’t interfere with Gotham unless Bruce asks, which happens exactly once.

What with all the times Clark’s felt guilty for listening in on Bruce a little more closely than absolutely necessary he still can’t bring himself to regret it when he registers the bitten-off choking sound for what it is (the slice of a blade hitting a soft spot between panels of kevlar) and materializes at Bruce’s side before Bruce manages to finish calling out for him.

Clark is incandescently angry; he’s not sure he’s ever felt so deadly furious. His hands shake visibly as he holds himself back from doing worse damage than strictly necessary in corralling the quartet of thieves before dumping them unceremoniously inside the back of a nearby GCPD patrol van. He can’t even enjoy the beat cops’ gormless, perplexed expressions with any measure of satisfaction. His eyes burn liquid-hot like they’re about to raze down everything blocking his path back to where Bruce is bleeding out on the pavement.

Bruce, to his credit, is more or less absolutely fine, if a little pale, and limping. His voice is gruff and weak but he’s joking as he says, “I wouldn’t have begrudged you a little unnecessary roughness just this once, boy scout.”

Clark’s in no mood. “If it were up to me they’d be well on their way to another solar system.” He’s trying to scoop up Bruce honeymoon-style so he can get them back to the house, but Bruce keeps hobbling around in impossible circles. “Would you just be still, please?”

“Clark. Stop. I can get home on my own.”

“I don’t doubt that in the least, B, but seeing as I can get you there faster and with more of your own blood still inside your body, would you please just stop fucking moving around.”

Something in Clark’s tone makes Bruce sort of seize up; he doesn’t look remotely happy about it, but he does as he’s told. He’s stiff as a pile of boards in Clark’s arms the whole way, but Clark’s too pissed off about the whole damned thing to care, and stubbornly holds Bruce as close to himself as he’s able.

Later, after Alfred patches Bruce up and Bruce seems a little loose with the whiskey he favors as anesthetic, he sort of nudges at Clark’s side with his foot that somehow found its way almost into Clark’s lap as they sit on opposite ends of the sofa, pretending it’s been the same sort of evening as always, and that everything is normal.

“Does it ever get to you?” he asks.

“Hm?” Clark doesn’t look up from his book.

“Does it bother you? Having to do the right thing all the time. Never getting to be selfish and really let ‘em have it.”

Clark sighs and shuts the book, holds his place with his forefinger. “It’s not that simple.”

“Oh I know, I know, it wouldn’t be fair and the balance of power and responsibility and blah-de-blah. I’m asking you, Clark Kent, the person. Does it bother you?”

“Sure, it bothers me. When they go after people I love, when they hurt—my friends.” Bruce’s eyebrows do a jaunty little dance and Clark ignores them. “But I can’t afford to think that way, even if I wanted to.”

“Surely if anyone around here can afford to do anything he pleases, it’s you?”

Clark can’t remember taking up the decision to touch Bruce, but suddenly his palm is warm over the top of Bruce’s foot and his fingers are pressing into the arch of Bruce’s sole just a little, just enough to force out a low, appreciative groan that Clark files away to enjoy later, in private. “Everything I do has to be a reflection of the trust people have placed in me. If they turn on you, if you get caught and they pull off your mask and try to lock you up, you’re still one of them. You’re a human, a criminal but also a hero, and a man whose checkbook keeps the city in the black. I doubt you’d do a single minute of hard time.”

Bruce snorts but doesn’t deny it.

“If I get caught, if they turn on me,” Clark pauses. “If they lock me up, I’m a specimen.”

Clark keeps his eyes down on his book and enough time passes silently that he’s about to resume reading when Bruce says, quietly, seriously,

“I’d never let them.”

Clark doesn’t know if now is the time for it, but impossible as it ought to be he’s tired, and he’s still raw all over from adrenaline and fear, so he finally goes ahead and says it, throws off the albatross that’s been hanging from his neck since the moment he agreed to move in: “And you have the kryptonite.”

Bruce doesn’t respond and Clark’s not sure what he was expecting, if any response would have been better than none at all, but he’s already exhausted and mad as hell so why fight it? “You know what, B? This was all a very impressive act and everything, this ceding control and resources and command. Giving me all your passwords and pretending like I’m in charge. But as long as you have that, you have the control. And you’ve always had it. So please don’t continue to insult me like this, not after you just admitted it. You’d never let them, huh? That’s supposed to make me feel safe? Because only you have that power?”

Bruce’s focus sharpens and suddenly he looks about a decade older, more weary and serious than Clark’s ever seen him. “This is absolutely about power, son, but I can assure you it’s not any power I’m interested in having. I’m prepared to train you in every form of combat I know, and provide you with excellent resources to aid in your development beyond my capabilities. You’re younger, stronger, faster, and a thousand times more deadly than I will ever be, even without the training.

“Clark, I am training you to be better than me, to be the best, because somebody has to be, and you are without question the only eligible person who can be trusted with that responsibility.

“I keep the kryptonite in a highly protected vault, lead-lined, far from you or anyone who wants to hurt you. I can’t access it without about a hundred safety protocols. I couldn’t do a thing to you unless you wanted it, unless you asked for it. I still have half a mind to destroy the stuff altogether rather than be even a little bit responsible for hurting you like that again.

“So the answer is yes, Kansas, I have the kryptonite. But you must understand: it’s not for me that I have it.”

And Bruce is just looking at him now, expectantly, even a little desperately, and maybe that’s when Clark finally gets it. Maybe it’s always been unavoidable, them being who they are, that on paper, they’re each other’s kill switch; that Bruce would go out of his way to make it look like that, anyway, to whomever it might concern. Bruce’s esteem is a hall of funhouse mirrors and his protection feels an awful lot like an insult, but it turns out that’s entirely by design. It’s actually kind of sweet; romantic, even.

“Five hundred times, maybe,” Clark says finally, quietly, as he resumes his gentle petting of Bruce’s foot.

“Hm?” Bruce’s eyes are almost all the way shut again and his chest rises and falls, steady and bare beneath his dressing gown.

“Five hundred times more deadly, and only if I’m lucky, B. Don’t sell yourself short yet, old man.”

Bruce’s face does something complicated before he smiles. “Thanks, kid.”

After that, Bruce doesn’t mention that level of emergency protocol again, and Clark never asks. He assumes if there were anything he needed to know, Bruce would tell him. Clark trusts him.

 

*

 

The problem here is that Bruce really should have been able to anticipate the whole thing boiling over the way it does; how embarrassing, at his age, to have so grossly miscalculated his own ridiculous pride, his silly, self-deprecating, superstitious vanity.

The problem here is that Bruce has been honest with Clark from the start, this time, presuming Clark would react in a reasonable way. The problem here is that Clark has some other definition of truth, or fundamentally misunderstands what the truth means, and he has not responded reasonably.

The problem is that Clark already gave himself away to Bruce, and he isn’t even worried about it.

The problem is Bruce never accounted for this, for homemade spaghetti sauce and cheap domestic beer, for Clark’s wine-stained mouth landing on Bruce’s mouth like that, easy and unselfconscious and a little bit clumsy, as if kisses have always lived between them—no, Bruce never set up any safety protocol for this.

Chapter Text

Upon slightly more objective, scrutinous reflection, Bruce can definitely reverse-engineer the whole thing back to exactly where this could have possibly become mostly his fault.

(Though to focus on what’s happening presently—how Clark even managed to get drunk in the first place—that blame Bruce can solely place on the admittedly intimidating shoulders of one Diana Prince, who, now that Bruce thinks about it, is really turning out to be a lot more trouble than anyone could have reasonably expected—)  

Anyway.

He knows that as a rule he runs cold and he’s mean, and he’s always had self-destructive tendencies. He’s spent the last two decades paying off the debt of a bad personality by functionally taking responsibility for those with worse, and he’s been able to keep it all balanced, thus far, with a strict and unforgiving code of conduct, of satisfaction always tempered by restraint. He never pretended to have some sacred ethical roadmap to making any kind of sense out of humanity, or anything, but for whatever it’s worth, he’s always done his level best to live and work by a set of rules agreed upon among a class of men Bruce pictures as so many Alfreds: some without glasses and some with elbow patches on their cardigan sweaters; some with hidden photos of loves lost to time, to diaspora, to the draft; some with pipes or cigars pinched between their teeth.

He has to picture it that way because otherwise it doesn’t exist.

Bruce has never been challenged on this method, not in this particular way. Of course, he’s lost his temper and he’s made mistakes and he’s pissed off the real Alfred more than he truly ought to ever have done, considering how soft and yielding Alfred can be about Bruce, and Bruce both knows it and knows he exploits it; but he’s also never managed to totally fuck up anything or anyone he or even Alfred would consider really good, anybody kind and pure and important.

He’s not an idiot. He’s especially not an idiot when it comes to sex.

But Bruce isn’t all that accustomed to being wanted so openly, so wholly and viscerally by someone he actually wants back, a little bit—okay a lot, he can admit it; he wants Clark a lot—desperately, in fact, and he knows it, the way he’s always known he’s a little too selfish to ignore it completely. So he hasn’t been, and he didn’t, because it all seemed kind of harmless. A little bit of fun.

Only Bruce can see now how wrong he’s been, how he’s been monumentally, embarrassingly stupid, intentionally or otherwise, because now Bruce has to figure out a way out of this while everyone in the room (and, if his suspicions are anything to go by, quite a few folks outside of it) thinks that Clark kissing him is just the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened.

(Including himself.)

 

*

 

So maybe sometimes it really is just like the movies.

There’s this frozen moment Clark could swear moves slower than any he’s ever passed on Earth (and that’s saying something) and at the end of it Bruce somehow feels different, his body warm and hard and molded all along Clark’s side; Clark’s mouth is still pressed wetly to Bruce’s, but Bruce has somehow simultaneously gone both alert and lax, and deliberately sensual. His tongue is slow and methodical, as though scanning Clark’s mouth for resistance, gently plotting pathways to memorize for later.

All of it tastes like sauce, like Bruce, like something slick, heady and addictive and Clark makes to chase after it, but Bruce just smiles and licks his own lips (which, incidentally, are still right up against Clark’s lips) before he backs off and swallows and promises to be right back, because of clothes or shoes or some other stupid thing Bruce shouldn’t even be thinking about, never mind wearing. Then everything goes a little fuzzy for just long enough that when Clark refocuses Bruce is gone, and that’s when Clark remembers that there are other people here; Diana, for example, is faintly glowing.

Deceptively less preferable is Alfred, facing away and busying himself with draining the pasta, tossing out (infuriatingly mild): “You’ll trust I’m not paying even a jot of attention to anything in particular intentionally but from the unavoidable amount of everything I’ve witnessed thus far I assure you it’s all going really, very well.”

Not for the first time Clark considers the amount of irony the universe amassed especially for him, in order that he might fall ass-over-elbows in love with this exact person, the only person it may actually require superpowers to convince it’s for real that he has. To that end, Clark doesn’t want to cheat in order to figure out what’s going on with Bruce when it’s been notably longer than it should take anyone to change out of anything; even a Batsuit.

It’s a little weird, Clark realizes, that he hasn’t even seen Bruce’s bedroom, yet. Obviously he could have at any time, with his powers or without, it had just never occurred to him that Bruce might have a bedroom that he uses solely for the indulgence of sleep. For not-sleeping, well, Clark assumes being the president and CEO of Wayne Enterprises offers Bruce his choice of Gotham’s (or any other city’s, for that matter) most luxurious penthouse suites; Alfred has a special infirmary-style bedroom for when Bruce overextends himself, and besides that, Clark’s only seen Bruce in common areas and the Cave. Funny he never thought about it at all until now, the moment he’s rapping lightly on the not-quite-closed door of the master bedroom and poking his head around it with his eyes closed, as if Bruce would be comforted by that,

“Bruce? You decent?”

 

*

 

Sometimes Bruce wonders whether Clark would have just stayed away, had he been asked. Sometimes Bruce isn’t sure he hasn’t spent his whole life inventing the most impossible-to-scale boundaries all around himself all in pursuit, in anticipation of someone like Clark, or even just Clark himself, to come along and prove that just because a man can break down a door doesn’t mean he should, or even will.

Sometimes it strikes Bruce as altogether hysterically funny that Clark bothers to knock.

He tries not to think too much about whether it made any difference, all of Clark’s consistent, gentle cooperation, in how far Bruce has let him inside already. It’s a moot point. “Come in.”

It’s not until Clark’s standing over him with Bruce’s knees between his legs that Bruce realizes how ridiculous he looks, sitting at the edge of his own bed in a white tee shirt and dress pants, his belt half-pulled off and both of his hands dropped palms-up on the bedspread to either side of his own hips; like a grown man who can’t even undress himself.

Like the gentleman he is Clark says nothing, just pulls Bruce’s belt the rest of the way off and sets it to the side before taking Bruce’s face in both of his big warm hands and the worst part is Bruce knows if he pulled away, Clark would let him go, so he doesn’t have any excuse for letting the rest of it happen: Clark kisses him, sweetly and chastely on the corner of Bruce's mouth, like he’s apologizing for something. Then Clark’s hands aren’t on his face anymore, they’re wrapped around Bruce’s hands, and he’s pulling Bruce to his feet without even a hint of superstrength as coercion.

“Come on, B. Never mind all this. Let’s just eat.”

Bruce can’t really speak past the lump in his throat so he casts a gimlet eye that he hopes conveys the appropriate response.

Clark laughs. “Don’t worry about them. We’re all starving, and lord knows how long it’s been since you ate a decent meal. Forget about it. Come eat.”

And overall—overall it’s not even a little unpleasant, this whole family dinner thing, at a table that’s lively and warm, passing bowls and platters and wine bottles, nobody waiting on anybody else or standing on ceremony. Miraculously Alfred and Diana seem inclined to cut him some slack, at least for as long as dinner continues, and Bruce loses himself in the easy sway of the conversation swirling around him, having nothing and everything to do with him, even manages to appreciate how earnestly Clark serves up his homemade bolognese over bowtie pasta.

Still, he can’t resist—“Farfalle, Kansas? Tell me this isn’t about how much you miss wearing those god-awful bowties.”

“Shut up,” Clark says cheerfully, “I look great in bowties.”

“Sure you do,” Bruce says solemnly, and narrowly avoids being beaned in the face by a slice of garlic bread sent airborne by Diana’s lariat.

For a brief, excruciatingly perfect moment, they all eat in companionable silence, or near-silence anyway, if one were inclined to count the unintelligible grunts of so good and more wine? and yes, please as legitimate conversation.

Then Diana says, “You know what? These—how do you call, bowties—they kind of look like bats.”

Bruce looks up sharply.

Silence, when compared with near-silence, is absolutely deafening.

Clark, for all appearances, is suddenly fascinated by something at the bottom of his bowl. Alfred is ostensibly coughing politely into his napkin, but the look he exchanges with Diana gives him away.

The shape of the evening changes then into something else, something lopsided and heavy on top of Bruce’s chest, forcing all the air out and making it difficult to breathe anything back in. Bruce shovels the last of his pasta into his mouth and begs off dish duty; it’s easy enough to do when he’s already feeling like Gotham’s absentee parent lately.

He doesn’t miss the way Clark’s face falls, when he leaves, and he doesn’t miss the way his own gut bottoms out knowing it’s his fault. Clark is confused and unhappy and wrong-footed, and Bruce can hardly blame him. He’d be well within his rights to call Bruce out for being a complete dick then and there in front of everyone, make a whole damn scene right in the middle of Bruce’s dining room.

Clark doesn’t, of course; he’s too good for that, he’s too good for Bruce, and that’s the truth.

They can’t keep going on like this; that’s also the truth, and Bruce knows it. It’s just that the full force of Clark doing just about anything is far too much for one man to withstand, never mind this, and Bruce was never going to be ready for this.

He has to get out of here before he gives in, if only for Clark’s sake.

Chapter Text


“I did not realize that Bruce had planned to patrol this evening,” Diana says, a good thirty seconds after the silence has become uncomfortable. “Will this prevent you from joining me, Alfred?”

“Good heavens, I should think not, Ms. Prince,” Alfred says mildly, “as Master Bruce has little interest in much besides tactical retreat, and Master Clark has long since given up suppressing the urge to keep regular monitor of the former’s vitals. I imagine they’ll survive the night without my assistance.”

“Y’know, I’m real glad this isn’t the kind of situation that gets more embarrassing with each passing minute,” Clark says to no one in particular.

“Master Bruce, whether he chooses to recall or not, was made aware of my plans with plenty of notice to make any necessary arrangements. Speaking of which,” Alfred gestures vaguely at his own timepiece.

“Go,” Clark offers, stands to begin clearing the table, “leave me and what’s left of my dignity to recover in peace. I’ve got this. And, you know. I’ve got Bruce, too.”

“Just this once, then, Master Clark,” Alfred says as he gathers his things, helps Diana into her beautiful winter white peacoat, “you have my eternal gratitude;” and then, remarkably, he winks.

“Do not forget,” Diana adds helpfully, “that there is always ice cream.”

 

*

 

It would almost have been bearable, Clark thinks later, after several hours of what can only be fairly assessed as stewing irritably, if Bruce had hauled off and gotten himself maimed or killed or something like that, while he was running around Gotham all night, effectively avoiding Clark.

But Bruce doesn’t do anything like that. His heartbeat barely rates monitoring; it stays low and steady as always, all through the interruption of several routine muggings and one B&E. Bruce’s body, or at least the parts of it Clark’s privy to, betray nothing exceptional whatsoever.

This in and of itself stings, absolutely reeks of direct, deliberate insult.

By the time Bruce climbs out from behind the false wall in the study, barefoot in loose cotton pajama pants and a black ribbed undershirt, rubbing at his freshly-washed hair with a hand towel, Clark is fairly boiling over.

“Bruce.” He rises from where he’s been waiting on the sofa and comes much closer than Bruce typically allows. He’s pleased to discover he still sounds as if he has a modicum of control over himself. “What exactly are we doing, here?”

Bruce lifts an infuriating eyebrow.

“Don’t give me that. You know exactly what I’m asking you. Is this how Bruce Wayne gives the gentle brush-off? Because if that’s the case I’m going to have to recommend using less of your tongue next time.”

At this Bruce has the decency to look convincingly chagrined. “You’re right, Clark. For that I owe you an apology. Won’t let it happen again.”

He moves to push past Clark but for once Clark has no qualms about using his powers to render himself immovable, and in the way. “Bullshit,” he says. “You didn’t let me do anything. I kissed you, and you kissed me back.”

Bruce heaves a sigh that’s so deliberately put-upon Clark would laugh if he weren’t already so furious, and then spreads his large, elegant hands. “What do you want me to say, Kansas?  You’re a good-looking kid, but I shouldn’t have done that. You don’t even know what you want.”

“You don’t know that. You don’t know what you want.”

Bruce snorts; now Clark’s really pissed.

“All right, fine, then, mister super-genius Wayne, let’s say you know everything, including what you want and what I want. Congratulations on your incredible intellect. Now what are you planning on doing about it?”

And that’s when the funniest thing happens: Bruce doesn’t answer, but his whole face, the very way in which he holds his entire body undergoes the tiniest, most distinct change. That’s when, right then, Clark can hear it: Bruce’s pulse pounding, his blood rushing hot all over, his breath coming quick and shallow. The hand towel drops to the floor, seemingly without Bruce’s permission. It’s not fear, not really, nor anger; Bruce is aroused, he’s a little ticked off but not more than he’s turned on, and he’s letting Clark see. Bruce knows that Clark can see it, that Clark can feel it, and he’s allowing it.

God, Clark can smell it.

“What would you have me do,” Bruce says, “someone like me, and you. What would you have me do?”

When Clark doesn’t reply right away Bruce moves around him only far enough to reach the bar, where he pours himself two fingers of something brown and assumedly strong. He holds the cut crystal tumbler in his palm like a comfort.

“I don’t know, Bruce. I can’t tell you what you should do. But I can tell you what I see.” Clark takes the drink from Bruce’s hand and Bruce gives without argument. “I see you pour a lot of glasses but you hardly ever finish them.” He places it down on the small desk behind them and Bruce’s eyes don’t bother to follow it. “I see you date a lot of conveniently inappropriate people but I never see you come home with them. I think you like to keep the easy, frivolous things right by you because they’re a useful cover, and they hold absolutely no appeal for you whatsoever. I think you like to keep the things you really want as far away from you as possible, just in case someday you might decide you’d like to have them.”

Bruce remains silent.  

So Clark continues: “You say you would have to go through a hundred safety protocols, but, conceivably, you could get through them. So you do have it. But you wouldn’t let them take me and you wouldn’t hurt me again; so, what: you think you’re some kind of barrier between them and me?” Clark’s eyes go wide and round. “Holy shit, Bruce.”

Bruce shakes his head but Clark can tell it’s not denial.

And what’s Clark supposed to say to that, exactly? He sits again, sinks into the overstuffed leather sofa cushions and buries his face in his hands. “Shit.”

He feels the space next to him shift as Bruce joins him.

“Tell me something,” Bruce says.

“Anything.”

“You really mean that? Anything? Careful with open-ended promises, kiddo. They’ll get you into a world of trouble.”

Clark makes a face he hopes comes across as vastly unimpressed and Bruce shrugs. “Okie-doke. Take my advice, don’t take my advice; I’ve only been doing this for twenty years, what could I possibly know.

“Here it is, then: something I’ve never understood about that day, about when Zod came here for you. If his entire biological imperative was to protect his people at all costs, and he lost all of his people except for you, then how could he turn on you like that? Why would he try to kill you? Shouldn’t he have been—I don’t know—biologically compelled to protect you?”

It’s a fair question; it’s a question Clark’s asked himself not a few times, and he can only offer his own conjecture, but surely Bruce knows that. Bruce is asking him anyway.

“What I’ve learned from being raised on this planet is that with higher consciousness comes choice and responsibility. We get to choose who our people are: who we care about, who we protect. Who we love. What Zod never understood was that he had a choice, that he’d been making choices all along. He didn’t know what it really meant to protect people. To love them. Kryptonians—at least, these ones, anyway—they did not see any value or logic in love.

“But I do. I was raised on it.

“And I wouldn’t tell just anyone anything, Bruce. I think you know that, and I think you know why I’d never hesitate, with you.”

“Clark,” Bruce says; he sounds a little desperate, and if that ain’t the sweetest shape Clark’s heard his own name take in a long while, “why would you want this? Why are you in my kitchen making bat-shaped pasta for dinner? Don’t you get it, son? I’m the reason you lost everything. I’m the reason you died."

“Bruce. I know you're not that stupid; in fact, I’m pretty sure you're smarter than anybody I’ve ever met so you can't possibly believe that you've done anything but give me everything I’ve ever wanted."

A little hurt noise escapes the back of Bruce’s throat and it sets Clark’s insides on fire.

“And I want this because I finally know what it is you want,” he says.

It looks sort of like Bruce is trying to shut down but not quite able to pull it back together, and Clark’s a little drunk on the idea of it, that Bruce has lost his composure and it’s all because of Clark. It’s addictive.

“I could do so many impossible things to you. I can stay hard for hours. I could come five times and stay hard, just to keep you on edge. I could punish you like that, let you punish me like that, if that’s how you want it, if that’s really what gets you off and makes you happy. I’d do almost anything to make you happy.”

“Almost?” Bruce, god help him, looks suddenly prepared for it: to be the butt of the joke, the signature on the dotted line.

“I’ll do anything to make you feel good, Bruce; but I will never hurt you.”

There’s a fraction of a second of disbelief and then he’s Bruce Wayne again, closed-off and sneering; Clark knows better.

“You think that’s what this is,” Bruce spits, “that I’m just some kind of hobbyist? That I want to fight you because I get off on it? Clark. I expected better.”

Clark throws up his hands, but he’s smiling. He’s won and they both know it. “You can be very exasperating, you know. I think I’m going to enjoy this next part.” He slides a little bit more into the circle of Bruce’s space, all the way inside the dangerous perimeter he’s only really ever seen Alfred permeate without asking.

Bruce’s nostrils flare. “Which part is that?”

“The part where I get to kiss you, again. The part where I get to lay you down and spread you out and taste every part of you, and I get to love you the way you deserve to be loved and hold you the way you need to be held, for as long as you’ll let me, no matter how much you think you should push me away, or whatever stupid noble reasons you come up with for doing it.” Clark’s mouth is almost touching Bruce’s now, and Bruce isn’t moving, so Clark figures he can risk the hand on Bruce’s waist, the other cupping Bruce’s neck. “The part where I get to show you that I know exactly what this is.”

Chapter Text

The whole embarrassing thing of it is that Clark’s is not even the first verbal lashing Bruce receives for his behavior that night, behavior that includes his admittedly somewhat cowardly attempt to slink back home late and quiet, hoping all would be asleep (Clark) or dispersed (Diana) or at least so monumentally disgusted with him that they wouldn’t bother (Alfred, to be sure). He of course later finds that he has been wrong about this on more than one count.

Forty-five minutes before Clark flays him apart in his own study, and about thirty yards outside his own property, Bruce had quite literally run headlong into the full force of Diana Prince when she’s no longer messing around.

He’s honestly grateful all she did was a little cosmetic damage: a couple of dents to the hood that Alfred can probably pull out with a magnet (though it doesn’t escape Bruce that he’ll have to tell Alfred what happened, and why).

Diana is probably well aware of this.

“Can I help you,” Bruce had said, not bothering to disguise his irritation.

“Hmm. Unlikely,” Diana had replied, with that quirk of her mouth she reserves for those who are really in for it. “At least, not until you stop pretending to be angry as a shield against whatever else you might find occasion to feel. You do that a lot, by the way. Did you know?”

“It’s late,” he’d tried, and shifted gears, as if anything he could do with his car or otherwise would remotely discourage her from her purpose.

“Believe me, Bruce, I don’t want to be here any more than you want me to be. But you are a cruel, pedantic man when you think that you are doing people favors by pushing them away, when you think that only you know best; and whether or not you’re right about that, Clark deserves better.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Stop treating him like a child.”

Nothing could have prevented Bruce from visibly wincing away from that, from the blinding, abject, humiliating truth of it getting caught in this throat like a fistful of sand.

“No one is arguing your seniority, or the value of your wisdom and experience, least of all Clark,” Diana had kept on, as if nothing had happened, as if Bruce wasn’t sitting right there in his own stupid car, choking on his own stupid air, “but you don’t get to decide for him. Not about this. About you.

“Clark is good and kind and even wise, in his own right, and he ought to be trusted to know what—or even who—he wants.”

Bruce had tried to swallow past all that sand but in that moment, it had turned to glass.

“Even if you can’t understand it, unless you’re truly opposed to it—which, by the way, I would be inclined to dare you to lie about—unless there’s something beyond your own panicked, self-loathing cynicism—Clark deserves your trust.”

“I do trust him,” Bruce had said, grateful for the cowl and the modulator and every last layer of shiny black grease paint covering his face.

Diana hadn’t laughed or rolled her eyes or done anything as unfeeling as Bruce had probably deserved, but her face had done a complicated thing that conveyed a sort of pitying mirth.

“Then let him in, Bruce. Let him all the way in.” She’d stepped aside then, and somehow Bruce hadn’t succumbed to the suffocating urge to gun it until she was already walking away, until she had already laid waste to everything that remained of Bruce’s broken, shredded heart when she’d seen fit to add,

“It is where both of you want to be.”

 

*

 

It happens so fast, even for Clark, and then Bruce is right there, almost on top of him, using that irritating few inches he has on Clark for all they’re worth. Clark fights the instinct to square his shoulders and instead he relaxes, exhales, leaves his body open and his arms by his sides, lets Bruce take up all the space he likes.

Bruce looms impossibly more and his voice is all hot rough gravel when he mouths against Clark’s ear. “You know you’re out of your corn-fed mind, son?”

Clark pulls back enough to smile sunnily up at Bruce, rests his hands on Bruce’s hips and firmly pulls them flush against his own.

It sounds as if all the air in Bruce’s lungs vacates in a single aborted grunt as he jerks his hips back, and what he’s trying to hide Clark can’t fathom; Bruce knows that Clark knows how turned on he is. He falls sort of limp then, drapes his forearms over Clark’s shoulders and touches his forehead to Clark’s, and then—and Clark can’t quite believe it, but—Bruce actually whimpers.

Clark rolls his pelvis again, feels the jerk of Bruce’s dick as it begins to fill; Bruce isn’t quite hard yet but he’s on his way, and that itself is enough to send hot dribbles of pre-come blurting out from the tip of Clark’s—apparently super-reactive, superhuman—dick.

Soon there’s a wet spot too obvious to ignore and Bruce rubs up against it, deliberately drags his own dick all along Clark’s and whispers, “Is it always…?”

Clark nods, a little desperately. “Yeah, pretty much the whole time, when it’s this—when I’m like this.”

That’s when Bruce groans out the filthiest string of words Clark’s ever had the good fortune to hear.

 

*

 

The thing is, Clark looks even better out of clothes than he does in them, and Bruce wants—needs—to be fucked. He thinks he remembers saying as much—didn’t he?—but Clark’s big and hard and so, so wet and right there and Bruce can’t seem to stop rutting up against him like a cat in heat, and Clark’s just letting him, and—

There’s a flurry of movement too quick and perplexing for Bruce to parse and that’s how he ends up with his face pressed into his own forearms, belly-down on the sofa with his bare ass in the air, Clark’s beautiful mouth blowing hot and cold all down the middle, right where Clark his him spread open with both hands, and Bruce feels his face go red because Clark’s just looking at him—

Clark’s tongue is all over him now, warm and wet and velvet-soft, and Bruce is pretty sure it’s poor form but he’s about to come any minute, just from this, just from Clark eating him out like he’s absolutely starving, and a panicked noise Bruce would swear he never gave himself permission to make escapes his throat as Clark moves up over him and slides his slippery dick all along where Bruce is wet and wide open for him, and Bruce all but howls.

Clark’s incredible mouth and incredible dick have everything slick enough for him to push right in, from the sweetly flared head down to the root. Bruce thanks every improbable deity for Kryptonian DNA because he can’t remember the last time he had to think about something like stashing lube in the study, and he wouldn’t have missed this for anything. He’s hot and full and cranked all the way up to eleven, and he can feel Clark’s heartbeat inside and all over.

The thing is, Clark is as good at this as he is at just about everything, and when he pulls all the way out Bruce lets out a strangled sort of moan, but Clark just flips him easily, gently in the cradle of his arms and fills him right back up again.

“Want you,” Clark pants hoarsely with his face pressed to Bruce’s neck, “wanted you. For so long.”

“Have me,” Bruce groans, and Clark’s hips swivel just so and then they’re both right there, falling one after another into the white-hot, bliss-oblivion of letting go.

 

*

 

It’s not like Clark thought (finally, finally) having sex with Bruce would change absolutely everything. In fact, he’d been pretty sure it would change absolutely nothing, except for maybe a slight improvement in Bruce’s overall mood, now that he was actually getting laid on the regular rather than just pretending to.

They’d already been living in each other’s pockets, anyway.

Bruce is still Bruce, after all, even if what Clark used to think was a suspicious glare has turned a little bit molten and a little bit able to turn the insides of Clark’s belly to butterflies. He’s gruff and monosyllabic and nearly impossible to satisfy, save in the bedroom, but truthfully Clark wouldn’t have him be otherwise. He’s Bruce, and Clark loves him for it, even if he has to keep it to himself.

Which is why it takes him by completely delighted surprise when Bruce starts making an effort.

He’s home for meals more often. He invites Clark to patrol alongside him, though he’s still fairly territorial about letting Clark actually do anything much. He wordlessly clears out half of his bureau.

Clark’s being let in, the whole damned way.

He’s smiling to himself about this around a mouthful of eggs and breakfast sausage when Bruce stands to pull on his beautiful wool coat. He squeezes Clark’s shoulder briefly, affectionately, and heads for the door to the garage.

“I’ll be back tonight for dinner, before patrol,” he says.

“Mhm, good.” Then Clark grins. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

A brief moue of disbelief tinged with outright horror seems to pass over Bruce’s features before they settle into something more like the resignation of a condemned man facing the gallows. He sets his shoulders before making the short journey back to where Clark and Alfred are still seated at the table and then, to Clark’s mute amazement, leans in for a sweet little peck on the lips.

“Wow,” Clark says, when his mouth is free and his ability to formulate words kicks back in, “that was… something else entirely, if I’m honest. I was referring to this.”

He holds up Bruce’s cell phone, previously abandoned next to his half-empty mug of black coffee.

Not even Bruce’s most menacing look can stop Alfred’s snort of poorly-concealed laughter.

“All right, Alfred.” Bruce says, with both eyes shut.

“No, sir, please allow me to congratulate you on achieving a status of domesticity of which I did not previously believe you to be capable,” Alfred replies, not bothering to hide his amusement. “It shows remarkable growth.”

“You’re a remarkable growth,” Bruce growls, and takes his graceless exit.

“Charming, isn’t he?” Clark says fondly.

“Only you would know, Master Clark.”

Clark laughs.