Clark thinks he's doing pretty well, really.
He keeps a lid on everything while the mission's still underway. He stays focused, keeps his mind on the objective; he doesn't yell at Bruce in midair, or while they're waiting for the police to arrive, or even on the way back to the Hall. It's an admirable show of restraint on his part, in every respect.
But you'd never know it, looking at Bruce's face. Just one more ridiculously frustrating thing to add to the list: he wouldn't express appreciation of Clark's self-control to save his own life, Clark thinks darkly.
"—and you can't just pull stunts like that," Clark finishes, very carefully not shouting. "Not without telling us what you're doing."
Bruce leans back in his chair. His expression is so placid, so blandly neutral, that Clark can't think of a single thing he wants to do more than punch it off Bruce's face.
"There wasn't time."
"Oh, come on—"
"My apologies if this comes as a surprise to you," Bruce grits out, "but I'm not particularly inclined to pause in the middle of a fight in order to run my decision-making process through a committee."
And the hint of ice creeping into his tone shouldn't be so satisfying—but it really, really is. Just because it's not flat, featureless. Because it means he's feeling something, even if that something is frigid disdain. At least it matters enough to him that he's showing it, at the barest possible minimum.
"I'm not talking about a committee, Bruce. A warning would be more than enough—"
"I'm not Barry."
"No shit!" Clark mimes the intensity of his surprise at this revelation, deliberately exaggerated. He regrets it almost immediately, the pettiness of it, the childishness, but jesus, Bruce just makes it so difficult for him to keep his head on straight. And the reward is impossibly sweet: the genuinely visible reaction of Bruce's mouth flattening into a line, Bruce's jaw tightening. How is Clark supposed to resist?
"I'm not Barry," Bruce repeats, sharp, "and I'm not Diana, and I'm not you. I'm human, Clark; maximizing the efficiency of my reactions in battle is critical—"
"Having backup is critical," Clark snaps.
"—and you need to trust my judgment—"
"When you won't trust ours? You're assuming we'd get in your way or cause some kind of problem—"
"Ah, yes," Bruce says, precise and acidic, "because to date you've done nothing but demonstrate your willingness to let me act without questioning every single step along the way—"
"Because to date they've been really stupid steps!" and Clark might be shouting just a little bit now. It's just—
It's just that it's so hard not to, when he's suddenly flooded all over again with the way he'd felt an hour ago: the abrupt realization that the Batmobile wasn't where he'd thought it was, was speeding away from him instead of toward him, right into the middle of that parademon swarm. Hearing Arthur's muttered, "Not again," and being struck by the cold clear certainty that it was on purpose. That Bruce
(—I'm human. As if Clark doesn't know that, isn't constantly and helplessly aware of it. As if that isn't half the reason why he's doing this, why he can't let this go: the thought that Bruce, human, alone, might so easily get himself—)
had done it before and would do it again, would risk himself so pointlessly, so stupidly.
Clark's breath is coming fast. It shouldn't be; there's no reason for it. He swallows hard once, twice, and forces himself to unclench his fists, to lay his hands flat on the table in front of him.
"We're a team," he makes himself say, a little more calmly. "We're a team, and that means we work together. I understand that you're used to operating alone, Bruce. I'm—I am, too. Okay? I understand. But this is different, the League is different, and we need to make adjustments. We need to be able to depend on each other."
Bruce doesn't answer. He looks up at Clark levelly, steadily, from his chair, and says nothing. He stands, a single smooth motion, and turns away, as if to leave.
As if there's nothing he wants to say to that—nothing he can say. As if he knows perfectly well that refusal will get him nowhere, but can't bring himself to agree, either. Not if it would mean agreeing with Clark.
The hot spike of bitterness that jabs through Clark at that thought goes deeper than he expects it to, piercing. And he should be patient, should be considerate
(—because it only makes sense, doesn't it? Considering what he is, what he's capable of. Bruce brought him back because there was an even worse threat than Clark, that's all. And if Bruce still thinks of him as alien, as something strange and powerful and unpredictable—then it's hardly a surprise if he's uncomfortable around Clark. If the idea of telling Clark his plans, explaining what he's thinking, still feels risky, dangerous, it—it only makes sense—)
but he just can't quite hold back a bark of unamused laughter. Doesn't help that it's so horribly satisfying to watch the line of Bruce's shoulders jerk itself taut.
"Sorry," Clark says, not sorry at all; and by the look in Bruce's eyes, Bruce can tell as much. "Sorry, it's just funny. That you should be the one who can't get yourself to trust me. I mean, which one of us was the one with the grand plan to kill the other, again? You'll have to excuse me if my memory's a little fuzzy," he adds, feeling his mouth twist in something that's definitely not a smile. "Seeing as I was dead for a while there—"
He has a moment's warning in the way Bruce's jaw tenses, the change in his stance. He uses the speed, for a split second: not to move or to get out of the way. Just to look—just to watch. Batman in motion, an arm's length away, without the suit or the dark or some other threat splitting Clark's attention; nothing to obscure the sheer power of it, the coordination, the solid driving muscle involved.
(Clark can move faster, can hit harder. But it's not his body doing it, or at least not alone. Biology, sunlight, physics: he cheats. Bruce is—every pound of pressure behind every blow, every fraction of a second shaved off his reaction time, is earned—)
Bruce isn't stupid; they both know that there's no way he can hurt Clark, not with his bare hands. If anything, this is only going to reinforce that truth
(—as if, after Clark brought up his own death like that, Bruce—wants the reminder? The reminder, or even just the excuse to put his hands to Clark's chest, right where the hole had been; but no, that's stupid, Bruce wouldn't—Bruce doesn't—)
and Clark doesn't have to move at all. He could just stand his ground and absorb Bruce's shove entirely. But the impact is just hard enough that it could also push Clark back against the wall behind him, if he let it. And that's exactly what he does.
It should have been out of care, caution. It should have been because he didn't want Bruce to break his fingers. But it's a sharp bright sensation, nearly an ache, to have Bruce's hands on him like this; it knocks the breath right out of his chest where the blow itself couldn't, and he doesn't want it to stop. He finds himself hoping, weird wordless yearning, that Bruce will push him again.
Which he very well might, judging by the way his expression darkens. He—oh, he knows Clark had to let it happen, that's what it is. Must seem downright patronizing, that he should strike out in all that carefully-calibrated anger—because he wouldn't risk injury to his hands or arms, either—and Clark should allow it. That Clark is in control. Clark is always in control.
Except he hadn't been, once.
"It's fine," Clark hears himself murmur, almost kindly. "Go get it. I'll wait."
In an instant, Bruce's expression is wiped clean, blank, as if he has no idea what Clark means. As if they just happen to be standing here; as if they aren't in the middle of a fight at all.
Little too late for that, Clark thinks distantly. "I know you must have it. Whatever's left of it, whatever you dug out of that thing's corpse after it killed me. The whole head of the spear? Or did it break? I'm not stupid, Bruce. I know you'd never have brought me back if you weren't sure you could put me in the ground again if you needed to—"
It's just the truth. It's—it should just be the truth.
They fought side-by-side. They took down Steppenwolf. Bruce bought a bank. But that was back when Clark had only just risen from the dead, back when they were both still trying to be careful with each other. Now it's been months, and the more time they spend at each other's throats, the more Clark looks at Bruce and remembers that night in the alley instead. Because he's still spending a lot of time glaring at Batman, shouting and not getting heard, thinking maybe he'd rather smash Bruce into a few sinks; and it's all too easy to imagine that Bruce feels exactly the same way. That if he had that spear in his hand again, he'd use it.
Except now that Clark's said it, he's not so sure. Bruce's face is flickering unexpectedly, a rush of something Clark can't quite pick apart passing across his brow, through the muscles of his cheek, his jaw, twisting the line of his mouth. It's—he—he crumples without warning, throat working, teeth visibly digging into his lip.
He's still got one forearm pressed to Clark's chest, the knuckles of the other hand braced in a line against Clark's ribs. All one way: Clark hasn't moved.
He does now, fumbling his hands up belatedly to Bruce's shoulders, the back of his neck.
(Bruce is taller. It shouldn't matter, but it does. Bruce is taller, and the consciousness of needing to—to reach up toward him is like a trail of sparks lighting up Clark's spine—)
"I—sorry," Clark manages. "Sorry, that wasn't fair—"
"Shut up," Bruce bites out, and Clark isn't expecting it at all when he shoves at Clark again. The look on his face, the sudden jerk of movement, it's—it seems almost involuntary; not tactical, not strategic, Bruce is just—doing it.
Clark hangs on, his back coming up against the wall a second time, and feels a ragged little sound tear its way out of his throat. Bruce is so close, looking at him with such weird ferocity, dark-eyed and intent, and so clearly in the grip of some emotion Clark can't pin down. Bruce, who hardly ever seems overcome by anything; the whole idea of him out of control for once, all that tightly-leashed force suddenly freed, is—
—bad, Clark tells himself firmly, swallowing.
It's bad. It's a bad idea. It doesn't matter how much Clark's skin is prickling at the thought alone, whether there's a wave of crackling heat sweeping into his face, his hands, his—his thighs. If he's shuddering against the wall, if he hasn't let go of Bruce, that isn't any kind of excuse to grip Bruce tighter, to drag him in and—
Bruce is already moving, five steps ahead: unbuckling Clark's belt with quick efficient yanks. Clark gasps out his helpless reaction to that against Bruce's cheek, his jaw. Oh—oh, fuck—he can't possibly have been this hard the whole time, surely?
Bruce's forearm is still against his chest. He could knock it away; but it's indefinably better to surge against it, to restrain himself just far enough that he can—he can really feel all Bruce's weight and strength pressing into him. At the first brush of Bruce's fingertips against his cock, though, no restraint in the world can keep Clark from jerking forward, chasing the sensation.
Jesus. This can't possibly be happening. Can it? This is—this is nuts, there's no way he's actually letting Bruce pin him against a wall and jerk him off in the Hall of Justice. This is a trick, or a hallucination, or—Bruce doesn't even like him.
Except Bruce doesn't look like he's kidding. His gaze is intent, searching, flicking across Clark's face and then down to his throat, his chest—his gaping-wide fly, though surely Bruce's own hand is in the way of a really good view of Clark's dick. Clark snags for a moment on the image of himself spread out properly, well-lit and bare; what would it be like, to be naked and have Bruce looking at him like this, all Batman's relentless search-grid attention squarely on him, wanting him?
And it feels ridiculous, a contradiction in terms: Bruce has things, buys them or invents them, makes tools out of them. But wanting them is—Clark can't get his head around it, can't picture what that would look like.
Or couldn't, maybe, if he didn't have it in front of him right now.
Because he's never seen Bruce like this before. Flushed, breathing so hurried it could almost be called ragged, eyes wide and impossibly dark, and—and reaching out. Reaching out for Clark.
It occurs to Clark, a dim slow dawning, that what he hasn't seen before, he might as easily never see again. And with that thought in his head, it's impossible not to reach back.
Bruce's grip on him is tight, hot, just a little rough; perfectly modulated, and every twist of his wrist is sending Clark spiraling higher. Clark gives himself a split second of superspeed to just feel it, to let the sparking pleasure wash through him with excruciating slowness, to sink into every microscopic detail of the sensation so deeply that he could probably draw Bruce's fingerprints with his eyes shut. And then he bites his lip, draws back, and clears his mind just enough to slide one clumsy hand to Bruce's hip.
The reaction's immediate. Clark already had a palm at the junction of Bruce's neck and shoulder, a thumb drifting idly into the dip at the base of his throat; they were already touching. But when he reaches for Bruce with—with intent, hooks his fingers in the waistband of Bruce's ridiculously well-tailored slacks, Bruce tenses up so hard he almost jerks out of Clark's grip entirely.
"What?" Clark says, bewildered, and then gasps as Bruce's thumb catches him just right on the upstroke. "Jesus, Bruce—god—come on, come on, please. Please, just let me—"
"No," Bruce snaps. But the knot of tension that had snarled itself tight across the small of his back is already unraveling, the cut of muscle over his hip easing against the backs of Clark's knuckles; and he is hard. For Clark, because of Clark. "You—you shouldn't—"
"Please," Clark murmurs against his jaw, Bruce's stubble dragging against his lips—and Bruce stays braced a moment longer, stubborn, and then relents: softens, by grudging degrees. Gives in.
A miracle, Clark decides dimly. What other word is there for it, when it's right in front of him and he still almost can't believe it?
(Bruce is the human, between the two of them; but he's always seemed so far above things like fatigue, pain, hunger. Arousal. He's always seemed untouchable, indefinably but undeniably, in a way all Superman's powers put together have never been a match for.
Inexplicable, that it should give way at last under so slight a pressure as Clark—just Clark—yelling at him across a table.)
He's clumsier than Bruce, less practiced. He tries to make up for it with enthusiasm, dedication, reckless greed: if this is the only time he's going to get to wrap his hand around the hot hard weight of Bruce's cock—Bruce's—and feel Bruce shiver, then the least he can do is make it count.
He comes first, of course. He can't stop it, doesn't even try to. The reality of Bruce's hand against him would probably have been enough to do it, even if Bruce hadn't moved it an inch.
He gasps and swears, grits his teeth and rides out the rip tide of it with his head dropped forward, his temple pressed to Bruce's cheek; and he thinks that might be the thing that sticks with him, later. After the boggling reality of the situation as a whole, the second weirdest part is that brief and unexpected intimacy, the prickle and burn of Bruce's stubble against his forehead, his cheekbone.
When Bruce comes a moment later, he does it silently. But Clark is pressed up so close against him that it doesn't matter. Clark can feel it wrenching through him, every helpless ecstatic jerk and shudder. Clark can feel everything: the breath noiselessly caught in the back of Bruce's throat, the convulsive tightening of his grip at the nape of Clark's neck, his thundering heart; and for that instant, Clark thinks, at last, he understands Bruce perfectly.
Clark probably shouldn't be wringing his hands like this. Could there be a more obvious tell?
But then everything he's done today has been a tell in its own way. Asking Bruce if he had time to talk, and it had come out all stiff and weird, nothing Clark could do about it. Showing up at the Hall almost half an hour early; he'd landed on the roof, tried to take up the time by pacing and double-checking with his hearing, his vision, to make sure nobody else was around. And then it hadn't even mattered—Bruce had heard him, or had maybe been checking the cameras, the security monitors, and had come up to meet him. No danger of anybody walking in on them, up here; even Diana, Arthur, would need to jump, and Clark would be able to hear them coming.
He's going to tell the rest of them, too. Just—later.
Bruce should know first.
Clark swallows, drags in a breath, opens his mouth—flicks a glance at Bruce and then, helplessly, away, and closes his mouth again. He turns on his heel, lets himself stride in the opposite direction. He's not going to run away. He's not. It's just—it's just nice to feel like he could, to let himself indulge in the possibility for a few seconds.
He squeezes his eyes shut, inhales long and slow through his nose, and makes himself turn around. One step, two, three, and he's back in front of Bruce again.
And Bruce is just standing there, watching him. His shoulders, his arms, are relaxed into casual angles, his hands loosely tucked into the pockets of his slacks; his expression is pleasantly neutral. But his eyes are on Clark, careful and steady.
Bruce should know first, Clark tells himself again. Bruce
(—doesn't want to know, probably—who'd want to know a thing like this? He's going to wish Clark hadn't told him. Clark's going to wish Clark hadn't told him; this is a terrible idea, he should—he should leave, disappear, vanish off the face of the earth and never ever have to speak to Bruce ever again—)
should hear this from him. That's all there is to it.
He opens his mouth, and the words are right there, ready; there's no reason why his throat should close on them, why he shouldn't be able to just spit it out.
He can hear the bones in his hands creaking, just a little, in his own grip.
"Clark," Bruce says evenly, carefully. "What is it?"
"I can't," Clark blurts. Can't what? The natural question, and he could—he might as well just say it, but, hell, he can't. He shakes his head, clasps his hands at the back of his neck and squeezes; he feels sick, unsteady on his feet, unpleasant heat creeping into his face, and he doesn't even know for sure whether it's psychosomatic or—or a symptom.
"Okay," Bruce says, and it's his victim voice, his Batman-facing-a-hurt-civilian voice. Which might have annoyed Clark any other time, but today he's pathetically grateful for it. "That's fine. Just answer a few questions for me. Can you do that?"
Clark nods jerkily.
"Are you all right?"
Jesus. Of course that's the first thing Bruce asks. Clark feels his eyes sting, screws them shut and makes himself laugh instead—and it's a pitiable effort, but still the lesser evil. "I'm fine," he says automatically, and then has to amend it, for honesty's sake: "I'm—not in imminent danger."
He risks a glance—Bruce's brows have drawn down into an immediate frown, but the moment he sees Clark looking, he eases it away. "Your mother—"
God. Getting firsthand evidence of Bruce's highest-ranked priorities in a mysterious Clark-related emergency is really not going to help Clark get through this without embarrassing himself. "Mom's fine," Clark interrupts. "It's not—it's nothing like that, Bruce, I promise. No one's in trouble. Not that kind."
"All right," Bruce agrees slowly. He's closer than he was a moment ago, though Clark can't say for sure which one of them moved; he lifts a hand, clear deliberate motion telegraphed to keep Clark from startling, and settles it against Clark's elbow. "Clark—"
And if Clark has to listen to Bruce's voice doing that—all softness, almost gentle with concern—for one more second, he's going to say something Bruce wants to hear even less than this:
Of all the possibilities Bruce might have been prepared for, Clark thinks wildly, that couldn't have been one. Clark's the one who figured it out, and he still can't quite believe it; he'll be lucky if the least Bruce does is think it's an incredibly bad joke.
But Bruce doesn't laugh. He doesn't jerk away, doesn't punch Clark, doesn't start shouting. He doesn't even raise his eyebrows. He stays where he is, palm warm and gentle against Clark's arm, and Clark can hear the long slow breath he draws in, the faint click of his eyelashes as he blinks.
"It's, I," Clark fumbles, "I—think it must have been the box? That made it possible, I mean. Because of the ship, and—um, and where you brought me back, I—it—"
"Of course," Bruce says.
Clark stares at him uncertainly. Of—of course? How is anything about this situation an of course?
"Your father stored the Codex inside you. The Codex your people used to reproduce, in conjunction with amniotic pods of genesis fluid. And then we dragged your body into a pool of it, and used something the man who's studied them most extensively calls a 'change engine' to resurrect you from the dead. For all we know," Bruce adds thoughtfully, "the ship and the mother box were able to connect or communicate during the process. If the mother box came to understand what the presence of the Codex meant, what the genesis chamber was for—it's no wonder it might have decided that you wanted not only to live, but to reproduce."
When he says it like that, it almost doesn't sound totally ridiculous. But Bruce does have a knack for that kind of thing.
And then he pauses, wets his lips and takes his hand very slowly off Clark's arm, and says quietly, "And you wanted to tell me first, alone, because I—contributed."
Clark almost laughs, only barely manages to swallow the sound. Bruce would take it the wrong way, and Clark really couldn't blame him for it—it's just he's done it again. Distilled the whole impossible mess of it, you hated me and we started fucking and didn't stop until we did and now I'm pregnant and you're the dad—the other dad, into that one comfortably neutral word: contributed.
"Yeah," he says instead, unsteady, blowing out a breath and rubbing his hands across his face. "Yeah, it was you. I mean, it was—it's been too long since you brought me back for it to have been the box, I think, and I—you were the only—"
He grinds to a halt just a little too late, face hot. As if Bruce needed to hear him say it, as if this couldn't get any more awkward.
He clears his throat and forces himself to look up. Bruce is still just standing there, watching him, face pale and almost aggressively unreadable.
"I'm not expecting anything from you," Clark says hurriedly, raising his hands, palm-out. "I don't—there's no way you could have expected this to happen. I'm not blaming you, and I'm not asking you for anything. I'm not trying to make this your problem."
And he thought that would help; but Bruce's jaw sets, his mouth flattening into a grim line.
"Of course not," he says, very soft.
"I, uh. I just—thought you should know," Clark tries.
That doesn't seem to help either. Bruce looks at him and then away, out across the grounds; along the drive, the gates that lead to the Hall. There's always a few people hanging around, it seems like: reporters, photographers, spectating civilians. Though they're probably just indistinct blobs to Bruce, of course.
"You can't stay here."
"You can't stay here," Bruce repeats, still gazing off into the distance. "You'll have to come to the lake house."
"Uh," Clark says. "What?"
It isn't going to happen again.
It's important to remember that. To acknowledge it, to accept it; to keep his mind clear.
Not that he can ignore it, or act like it never happened at all. It does affect his behavior—it must. He can't allow himself to fall into the trap of arguing with Clark that intensely, irritating him that badly, when he knows that
(—that if he does, it might—they might—
It would be so easy. There's so much to disagree about, so much work to do; now that the League is engaging in group operations on a semi-regular basis, they see each other so often. Clark is so—so present. So strong and solid, so—alive. Alive, alive, brilliant and blue-eyed and impatient; and he hadn't just let Bruce reach for him, hadn't just refrained from pushing Bruce away, but had in fact reached back. Of all the impossible things, that he should have touched Bruce—that he should, even for a moment, have wanted to—
It would be so easy to make it happen again.)
their combined judgment is suspect at best. Bruce shouldn't place them in circumstances where they're likely to re-make that kind of mistake, not when it's in his power to avoid it. That's all.
He has a few days to prepare himself, to repeat these truths to himself enough times to allow them to settle into his bones where they belong. And when an emergency inevitably arises, when the Justice League has to step in to save lives, he goes. It's not a problem.
Which isn't to say it all turns out perfectly. Clark is the one who screws up this time—understandable, of course. He hadn't lied to Bruce, before: he is used to working alone, and sometimes it shows. He hasn't fully adjusted to having assistance, and especially not assistance that can move as fast or faster than he can, hit as hard or harder.
It's not a problem. When they go back to the Hall for debrief, Bruce brings it up without rancor, discusses potential solutions with the whole team calmly. And Clark—
He has to make eye contact with Clark. There's no way to avoid it. But Clark looks
fine. Clark looks fine. He listens attentively, or at least gives every appearance of it. Perhaps his cheeks are a little flushed; perhaps he ends up glancing away, wetting his lips, slightly more often than usual.
Not that it matters, because Bruce is looking at his eyes, not his mouth.
And after it's over, when Bruce has stepped out of the main meeting room, it's Diana who catches up to him in the corridor, not Clark.
"That went very well."
"We're improving," Bruce allows.
It doesn't warrant a smile, but Diana graces him with one anyway. "I'm glad," she says, and then clasps Bruce's shoulder in one steady, warm hand. "It's good, I think, that we should have the chance to prove to ourselves that coming together will not always end badly."
Bruce meets her gaze and doesn't flinch. Her choice of words is unfortunate
(—coming together, that's—that's certainly one way to describe what he and Clark had done—)
but must have been coincidence. She's looking at him levelly, calmly, the barest hint of a smile at one corner of her mouth—but then her expressions always have a certain sage warmth to them. Surely it must have been coincidence.
"Yes," he says, carefully bland, "it is," and she grins at him, eyes bright, and gives him a companionable slap to the back of the shoulder before she walks away.
It doesn't happen again.
Which is fine. Bruce is in control. If he catches Clark's gaze following him a little more often, if he himself is a little more aware of where Clark is and why, what he's doing, how much space is between them—it's not a problem. He makes sure he still touches Clark sometimes; briskly, impersonally, not more often than before but not less often either. Once or twice, Clark does get frustrated with him, but Bruce is impeccably careful to react reasonably, to maintain an iron grip on his own temper in response.
It's not going to be an issue.
And Bruce manages to keep thinking that right up until the day it happens anyway.
There's nothing unusual about that particular afternoon, nothing that could have put Bruce on his guard. Clark doesn't act strangely, isn't especially irritable. In point of fact, he gives Bruce every reason to believe that they're safe from another misjudgment of that magnitude: he smiles at Bruce half a dozen times—even laughs, once, tipping his head back to bare the long line of his throat, at a brief but caustic bit of commentary Bruce mutters on their way back to the Hall.
(Most of the time, Bruce has to be stern with himself about not—not resenting it, when Clark is in a good mood; as if it were a problem, that the chances of committing another egregious error should be lowered. But that day—
That day, he watches Clark smile and doesn't mind at all.)
So when Clark comes and finds him after the briefing, Bruce doesn't consider it an issue. If Clark wants to talk to him about today's mission a little more, that's hardly anything he needs to be wary of.
He keeps one ear on Clark, settles most of his attention on the gauntlet in front of him, and Clark doesn't take umbrage. Not even when he has to repeat himself.
"We work well together," Clark says again. "At least when we aren't screaming at each other."
It's almost a jab, except there's no edge in it; Bruce glances up, meets Clark's eyes, and the corners of them are crinkling up a little, the angle of Clark's mouth comfortably wry instead of displeased.
"We work well together even when we are screaming at each other," Bruce offers. Because it is, after all, true: even on the bad days, the worst days, the League hasn't actually failed. Even—
Even the day Bruce tried to kill Clark. Even then, Bruce and Clark and Diana together had succeeded in defeating Doomsday, if at a greater cost than any of them had expected.
Bruce clears a sudden and inexplicable obstruction in his throat and looks away; and then, without warning, one broad warm palm settles into place against his shoulder.
He goes still, but doesn't move. And after a moment, Clark takes that response for exactly what it is, damn him.
"Yeah," Clark murmurs. "We do," and that hand slides, one long torturous stroke across the width of Bruce's back, following the rise-dip-rise of Bruce's shoulders, his spine; and Bruce should have kept the body armor on. It wouldn't feel like so—so much, if there were something besides a thousand-dollar dress shirt between Clark's fingertips and Bruce's skin—
"Clark," Bruce says. It comes out low, flat, but not half as forbidding as he'd hoped, his voice already treacherously hoarse. But surely, surely, Clark isn't thinking what Bruce is thinking.
Except, impossibly, he is: because the next thing he does is lean in close, breath hot against the nape of Bruce's neck, and say, "If—if you don't want to—" and the words are soft and unsteady against Bruce's skin.
Bruce huffs half a laugh through his nose, unstoppable; and he can feel Clark smile, the curve of Clark's cheek just brushing the shell of his ear.
"I wasn't sure," Clark confesses, almost a whisper. "Since last time, you haven't—jesus, Bruce—"
Bruce's self-restraint is tempered steel, forged and reinforced across a span of years. To say that it snaps is to make excuses, to claim helplessness as a shield he hasn't earned the right to bear. He wants to reach back, to slide his fingers into Clark's hair, to draw Clark inexorably forward so that all the strong generous heat of him is pressed up at once against Bruce's back; and god, fuck, Clark is hard already.
(Was he thinking about it during the flight back? During the briefing, even; sitting there in his chair listening to Bruce's observations, cock thickening inexorably, the first dull heat beginning to pound through his gut—)
And this, at least, is the same: it's quick, ungraceful, a little bit rough. Bruce twists beneath Clark's hands, and with one movement swaps their positions, shifts his weight and turns Clark around and pins him by the hips against the worktable, his back to Bruce's chest. And Clark—
Clark lets him. Clark lets Bruce push him down, bend him over, jerk his slacks and briefs down around his thighs; he accepts the first greedy-curious grasp of Bruce's curved hand against his ass with a gasp and a shiver.
"Bruce," he murmurs, and it's not as if Bruce was expecting him to stay silent, but Bruce tenses anyway, involuntary. It's not a big deal; it's not. Bruce Wayne fucks his friends and he fucks strangers, he fucks people who call him "Brucie" and people who call him "Mr. Wayne" and people who call him "oh, come on, come on, you motherfucker". That this voice calls him Bruce every day, over comms in moments of inattention and in person at high volume, exasperated, isn't important. It doesn't matter.
(—except it might, because it's Clark. Because none of the rest of them could touch him anywhere that counted, anywhere that would leave a mark. Bruce couldn't have bared a vulnerability to them if he'd tried. But Clark is—
Clark knows him. That's all. Clark knows him better; that's what makes it feel strange, frightening—)
"Sorry," Clark gasps against the table. "Sorry, did I do something wrong—?" and Bruce realizes belatedly that he froze in place, went tense; and of course pressed up like this against Clark's thighs, his ass, Clark could feel it.
"No, of course not," Bruce hears himself say, and then, as if from a distance, over the deafening pounding of his heart, "You're—Christ, Clark."
It shouldn't matter. Whether he uses Clark's name or not is—it can't possibly have as dramatic an effect on his judgment as all that. The words shouldn't feel imbued with such significance.
But Clark shudders against him as if startled, aroused, by the very sound of his own name. Because Bruce's voice has dropped so low, maybe, gone a little hoarse; because he sounds ragged, desperate. Because they've acknowledged each other, chosen each other: this isn't a mistake or the heat of the moment anymore. They're doing this with purpose.
And if Clark feels the same foreboding Bruce does at that thought, it doesn't slow him down. The opposite, in point of fact: a rush of movement and he's pushing himself up halfway off the worktable, reaching back with his free hand to clutch Bruce's hip and squeeze. He rolls his hips against Bruce, one long fluid motion rippling through the muscles of his back, or at least what Bruce can see of them—and why is his shirt still on? Why are Bruce's slacks still on?
Bruce applies himself with Batman's focus to redressing these errors, and all told it's barely fifteen seconds before he's watching his own bare cock sliding—not in, Bruce thinks dimly. He wasn't prepared for this; not that Clark can get sick or be injured, no matter what they do, but Bruce doesn't just want to fuck him. He wants Clark to enjoy it, and for that he should probably at least have some lube.
He adjusts, changes his angle ever so slightly and reaches down, hands guiding Clark's thighs tightly together around—god, god, how can that possibly feel so good?
"—your thighs in that suit," he hears himself murmuring against the back of Clark's shoulder. "God, Christ, you have no idea—"
"Harder," Clark scrapes out; Bruce shudders, obeys even before he's understood the word, just at the sound of his voice. The noise Clark makes in the back of his throat when Bruce's fingers tighten around his hips, when Bruce thrusts forward so hard the worktable groans beneath them, is irrelevant.
And then Clark makes a sharp, hungry little sound, knuckles white with tension against the metal surface of the worktable, and just surges, pushes back against Bruce, and Bruce can hardly fail to see the opening: pressing himself backward like this, Clark's hips are suspended far enough from the table's edge for Bruce to reach around and skim his palm along the length of Clark's cock, to thumb the leaking head. When he does it, Clark tries, instinctive, to spread his thighs a little wider—but they're still trapped by the waistband of his jeans, tugged down only far enough to bare his ass fully and no further, only—only far enough for Bruce to shove his cock right where it is, and Christ, that looks obscene—
(—how? How can it? When Bruce Wayne's been caught in coat closets and hotel rooms, with twinks and twins and triplets, how can this feel like the dirtiest thing he's ever done?
—just because he's desperate, panting for it; just because this time he wants it—)
"Please, please tell me you're going to fuck me next time," Clark gasps suddenly, jerking against Bruce's hands, tipping his head back so the whole line of his spine is one long gorgeous curve. Bruce leans into it, can't stop himself, strains forward to mouth against the angle of Clark's jaw, lips catching against the stubble there in a prickle of wet heat; and Clark twists into the contact and shudders, thighs tensing impossibly tighter around Bruce's cock. "You can—I want you to. Please, next time, all the time—every time," and god, the sheer indulgent luxury of that, all the time, every time, is the most obscene thing of all; Bruce screws his eyes shut, presses himself tight against Clark's bare back, and falls apart.
"You'll have to come to the lake house," Bruce repeats, steady, measured.
Clark blinks at him.
"How far along are you?" God, what a thing to have to say; Bruce keeps his tone resolutely neutral. Don't waste time thinking about what it means, how it feels to say it. Plan. Strategize. Be objective.
"I, uh," Clark says. "I'm not sure. I mean, I—considering when we—a month, at least."
He still looks a little shell-shocked, a little unsteady. Bruce decides against raising an eyebrow at him or making this into any sort of joke; it would give Bruce a welcome appearance of emotional distance, but it would also—
It would also be cruel. Crueler than he wants to be.
So when Bruce says, "You might start showing soon," he says it carefully, even gently. "And if you'll forgive the indelicacy—neither Superman nor Clark Kent should be seen walking around with a baby bump, and especially not at the same time."
Clark swallows hard. He's so pale that for a moment Bruce is half-afraid he's about to faint; but then he swallows again, rubs a hand across the back of his neck and nods jerkily. "Yeah. Yes. You're—you're right." He blows out a breath and then angles a wry glance at Bruce. "There's more than one reason I told you. Figures that even with something like this, you'd know what to do."
(Clark's trust shouldn't feel like a more earthshaking revelation than his pregnancy. Bruce certainly can't afford to treat it as such.
"You can't stay anywhere Clark Kent would stay," Bruce elaborates. "Which rules out your mother's house and your apartment in Metropolis." He tilts his head again to indicate the distant shapes of the people lingering at the gate—fewer now than when the League first began operations, but crowds still gather after particularly public incidents. "And you can't stay here at the Hall. This is the League's public headquarters. It would be far too easy for someone to catch a glimpse of you."
Clark had followed his look with confusion; but now his face clears. "Oh," he says, and swallows again. "Yeah, I—you're right."
"The lake house will be better. It's secure; the entire place was set up originally to guarantee as much privacy as possible. Batman's entrances and exits to and from the cave were designed to render their use undetectable from off the property. If you want to leave, you'll be able to do it without drawing attention."
If you want to leave. Bruce should have said when—as if there's any chance Clark won't be thoroughly sick of the whole setup after a week—
"Are you sure?"
Bruce can't figure out how to parse the question, for a second: is he sure Clark won't draw attention? Is he sure the lake house's security is going to be good enough?
But Clark's expression, tentative, a little uncertain, is the only clue he needs.
"I don't want to be in your way," Clark adds, before Bruce can muster the words to reply. "Or—or cause you any problems, or—"
Bruce arranges his face in bland, neutral lines. "I'd make the same offer to any member of the team, regardless of my—contribution, or lack thereof."
Clark falls silent, and just looks at Bruce for a long moment, searching. And Bruce bears up beneath it as steadily as he can, patient and clear-eyed.
Because Clark has nothing to worry about. This isn't going to cause any problems; it isn't going to be uncomfortable. He's barely even going to have to see Bruce, if he doesn't want to. Bruce isn't going to—to insist on any particular privileges, to require Clark to take his opinion into account in any respect other than as a colleague. Clark's made his perspective on the matter perfectly clear
(—I'm not expecting anything from you. Because of course he isn't. Of course his expectations of Bruce are, at this point, painfully low. He knows Bruce as well as anyone, these days; he knows what Bruce is and isn't capable of. Of course he wouldn't be foolish enough to ask Bruce to—to be anything at all to a child—)
and Bruce is both willing and able to respect that. It's—
It's not going to be an issue. It's fine.
"Of course you would," Clark says at last, softly. He smiles; and there's something odd about it, some lingering shadow around his mouth, his eyes.
But then he's not having a particularly good day. It's no surprise, that he should perhaps cast a little less light around than usual.
"That would be—that would be great, Bruce. I appreciate it. Thank you."
"Of course," Bruce says, very evenly, and then turns to make his way down off the roof. He's got some research to do.
So he and Bruce are—doing something.
Clark isn't sure what to call it, but that's okay. Right? It's not nothing, but it doesn't have to be a big deal, either. Bruce had gotten weird for a little while there, composed and impersonally congenial; Clark hadn't been able to decide whether that meant it was okay to touch him again or not, and finally he hadn't been able to stand it anymore, had forced himself to take that last step off the cliff and ask.
And now everything's fine. They're getting on each other's nerves again, but maybe not scraping each other quite so raw—there's just as much arguing as there ever was, but a little less yelling. It's just easier to not get so worked up, or maybe to get worked up but in a different way, when he can meet Bruce's judgmental glare and think about what Bruce's hands are going to feel like on his hips later. Or the way Bruce will carry on murmuring the full list of Clark's tactical errors into the side of his throat, even as he wraps his hand around Clark's cock. Or the way he'll shiver, just a little, when Clark grips just so at the back of his neck, fingers tight in his hair—
Anyway. Whatever it is, it seems to be working okay. And after everything with—with Lois, the ring, the series of increasingly painful conversations that had led to Clark getting his own apartment—well. Clark's not sorry to have something no one's asking him to label or talk about; something that feels good, hot and crackling and full of friction, an ache he can resolve by crowding Bruce up against a wall somewhere and holding on tight.
There's no reason any of that should change. And Clark might have taken a lot longer to realize that it has anyway, if it hadn't been for Tuesday.
Because on Tuesday, Bruce almost dies.
Bruce wouldn't describe it that way, of course. It wasn't an explosion, that's what he'd say; just an incendiary device, an over-ambitious igniter. Firefly doesn't blow things up. Over too quickly. He likes to watch them burn.
Victor could have handled it in five seconds, merged with the device and shut it down. But Victor's on the other side of the bay with Arthur, dealing with a building collapse that's suddenly looking more and more like a deliberate distraction. And it takes Clark a little too long to even figure out what's going on, where Bruce is—that he went into the middle of the conflagration instead of away.
When he does find Bruce, his throat's so tight with something he can't quite call anger that he can't speak right away. But of course Bruce has noticed his arrival anyway.
"We should have known there would be a second device. Suits Firefly, to start the first fire in the right place to spread here and ignite a second—he's always been fascinated by that kind of domino effect." Bruce's voice is even, a little clipped; his gloved hands are quick and precise, moving across way more wires than Clark would feel comfortable with.
"Bruce, we need to get out of here—"
"You can't move this," Bruce interrupts, indicating the device in front of him without even bothering to look up. "You'll set off the trembler—"
"This building falling in is going to set off the trembler," Clark snaps, because maybe Bruce can't hear it but he definitely can: the crackle and crunch of wood crisping, the groan of metal and scrape of plaster. Barry should have cleared the block of civilians, by now; the only person in real immediate danger at the moment is Bruce.
"Almost got it," Bruce says, brusque.
And Clark teeters on the edge of indecision for just an instant too long. The first rumble of sound coming from above them seems endless, the space he needs to cross to reach Bruce measureless; he gets his hands around Bruce's chest with clear, singular focus, an instant after Bruce has tugged one particular wire free, and he clutches Bruce against himself, bows his head over Bruce's, and blows them both up through the floor above them and out one blazing wall, fire roaring up in the rush of air that forms Clark's wake.
It's not that much more dangerous than any of the other problems Batman's made a life's work out of throwing himself at. But for a moment, hanging there in the cool clear air, smoke trailing up below them, Clark can't think about anything except the feeling of his own grip on Bruce—how wordlessly, inexpressibly important it should be that he is touching Bruce, that Bruce is breathing and alive and Clark has him: the whole armored, crabby, crisply angry weight of him, pressed up along Clark's front.
"—if I hadn't gotten that trigger deactivated," Bruce is biting out, sharp with controlled frustration.
"Yeah," Clark says belatedly. "Sorry, I just—"
—panicked, he definitely isn't going to say to Bruce, who probably doesn't even know what that word means. Or, well, does—but just doesn't see why it should matter, why Clark would let such a thing determine his course of action. Clark almost smiles, thinking it, except—except he can't, quite. Except he's still holding onto Bruce a little too tightly to feel like smiling.
It doesn't get less weird afterward. Long afterward, after he sets Bruce down, after the scene is secured and the fire department has arrived, after the League's met back up at the Hall to discuss the possibility that Firefly had deliberately set up a diversion to force them to split up. He sits there in the briefing room with the flow of voices rising and falling around him and doesn't hear any of it; he flattens his hands against the tabletop, stares down at them. They look strange—bare, conspicuously empty.
(—if he hadn't been fast enough—
—but he was, he was, it's fine. Bruce is fine. Clark got to him in time.
—but if he hadn't—)
And later still, when nobody's looking, when he finally gets his hands on Bruce again, it isn't just about feeling good. It's urgent, it's—it's necessary. He yanks Bruce's shirt open even less carefully than usual, but slows right after: settles his palms along the lines of Bruce's bare chest and leaves them there, just to feel him breathe.
They do fuck, too; not that there's lube stashed at critical locations around the Hall, but it turns out not to matter, because Bruce has some with him this time. The second Clark realizes that, feeling Bruce's fingertip skim slickly over hot damp skin where Clark had expected it to catch, his vision blazes up so red he has to squeeze his eyes shut to make sure he doesn't set anything on fire. Jesus.
(Had Bruce been planning on this all day? Standing in his bathroom this morning, dawn light just starting to filter in through the drapes of one of Bruce Wayne's dozen penthouses, picking out a discreet little squeeze-tube and thinking about this—about Clark—)
But as much as that does it for him, there's—there's other things, too. Things he hadn't necessarily paid all that much attention to the first time they did this, or the second; things like Bruce's hands, the dark blurred fan of his eyelashes for an instant against his cheek when he screws his eyes shut to curse at Clark harder. The lines of his throat, the weirdly vulnerable hollow of it, when he throws his head back—Clark wants to touch it almost as much as he wants that last critical half-inch of Bruce's cock inside of him, reaches up at the same time he rolls his hips to land himself both at once and feels lit up by it, blazing, his own face stupidly hot. Considering what they're doing, that Bruce has driven himself to the hilt in Clark's ass, is clutching Clark's thigh so hard you could probably fingerprint him off Clark's skin—why should that be what makes Clark self-conscious? That he—he wants to feel, to linger; that his attention keeps catching, snagging, on the flex of Bruce's muscles, the uneven arcs of his tensed knuckles where he's gripping Clark's hip—
It all adds up, unexpectedly fast. Clark has to bite into his cheek, his lip, and center every ounce of his attention on the pain, and even then he comes too soon. Luckily it turns out he likes getting fucked for a little while afterward; he can tell Bruce to keep going and mean it, and with his own arousal so gradually, luxuriously ebbing, he can focus—well.
He can focus even more thoroughly on Bruce. And focusing on Bruce the way only Superman can, in high definition and technicolor, surround-sound, as he jerks and shudders and comes apart that deep inside of Clark, probably isn't the best way to help Clark get over whatever this is.
But he can't really convince himself to regret it.
It's temporary. It's for the sake of security, safety, privacy. It's a well-considered, objectively reasonable solution to a very obvious problem.
But no matter how many times Clark tells himself as much, there's still something acutely bittersweet about the process of moving into the lake house.
He hasn't been here very often. Not in the actual house, anyway. He'd come by to find Bruce sometimes, but always down below, in the Cave. They'd fucked on half a dozen different levels of it, on tables and against walls and rolling around on the floor. But somehow they'd never quite made it upstairs.
In retrospect, of course, that feels like a particularly sharp-edged metaphor for—for everything they'd been doing; for the way it had stumbled on, self-perpetuating, without ever managing to become anything solid enough to put a name to.
It's ironic that Bruce should have invited him to move in only now, when it can't possibly mean half of what Clark had once wished for. The thought makes Clark feel sort of nauseated.
(Or maybe he should chalk that up to the—the baby.)
He doesn't really know what to expect, and to be honest he's half-dreading it. Sure, Bruce made it sound like the only reasonable way to handle this situation, but then that's what Bruce does; he made what's happening to Clark sound reasonable, he made contributed sound reasonable. Clark would really love some privacy and security right about now. But he's not all that sure he's going to feel particularly private or secure in a house with glass walls, full of furniture that probably doubles as modern art.
He should have said no.
(—never mind how he feels about it, how it sounded to hear Bruce ask; never mind the way his stupid, stupid heart leapt. As if now, after they haven't touched each other that way in weeks, it would be at all plausible that Bruce should be asking him to move in, and not just asking him to move in. As if it meant something—)
He really should have said no.
Except when Alfred smiles and leads him inside, it's—it's to an actual room.
Curtains, Clark realizes, after staring in bewilderment for a second. The glass—or whatever painfully advanced transparent substance Bruce invented to pass for glass upon casual inspection, anyway—is still there, if he looks through the fabric. But this particular space is surrounded, floor to ceiling: a warm dark color, almost like varnished wood, with "windows" blocked out here and there by fine bright linen, summery. And there's a—a bed, enormous, neatly made; a desk, a bureau, drawers, shelves, chairs. Not a span of polished chrome in sight—honey tones and shades of cream, finely-grained wood, the barest sky-blue accents here and there. And best of all, it manages to look lightly used, real. Like something a person could actually touch without leaving smudges.
Clark looks around and lets out a long slow breath, and feels the tension that had been ratcheted tight across his shoulders ease all at once.
And then there's a soft double knock against the wall behind him, and he turns.
There's a genuinely opaque interior divider between this room and the rest of the house—Clark can't quite call it a wall when it doesn't cross the full space properly, but it's pretty close. And Bruce is leaning against it, braced on a forearm; the angle his body makes, an easy bend stretching through his back, is casual, and his expression is placid. But his gaze on Clark's face is weird, somehow off-centered—tentative, even.
"Settling in all right?"
"Yes," Clark says immediately. "Yeah, thank you. This is—Bruce, this is great."
He feels himself flush a little, saying it. It's just the truth, of course, but
(—but it makes him swallow hard through a suddenly tight throat, picturing it. Bruce, in here, looking around this space and imagining Clark in it; trying to decide what Clark might like or want, what might make him feel comfortable. Even if it had been spur of the moment, even if he'd taken five minutes to idly consider it and then made a list for Alfred and forgotten all about it, that's still more than Clark would've figured he had any right to expect.
And—and Bruce hasn't forgotten, has he? After all, he's standing right here, checking in so carefully and—and looking at Clark like that, and—)
it's really kind of Bruce to have gone to the trouble—to have been so quick and so thoughtful and so thorough, doing all this in response to the utterly bizarre problem Clark's dropped on his doorstep without any warning.
Bruce offers him a smile, small but startlingly warm. "You like it."
"If you'd asked me, I couldn't have come up with this. I'm kind of glad you didn't," Clark adds, compelled by honesty, "because if you had, I'd probably just have said, 'Uh, red and blue, I guess?'"
He molds his expression into a parody of cluelessness, and is rewarded by one corner of Bruce's mouth twitching ever so slightly higher. And then—
Then something else passes across Bruce's face. Just for a moment, the barest soft shadow, before he glances away.
"Well, good. Your suite extends a little further than this—bathroom's through there," and he gestures toward one curtain edge, where there is in fact a discreet door hiding, "and a study. Left the glass alone in there; it looks out onto the lake."
"It sounds wonderful," Clark says, without hesitation. "Thank you."
No good: Bruce shrugs a shoulder and still doesn't look at him. "You should be comfortable here. You'll be staying for a while."
Right. Seven or eight months, at least. If this goes the way Clark's expecting, that is; for all he knows, the mother box kindly set him up for some sort of three-year nightmare of a Kryptonian pregnancy. He swallows. He should probably check the ship's database, just in case.
"I appreciate it," he says aloud. Because it's true—even if it does take three years, knowing that he can stay here for it, that Bruce is around, that he's not going to have to do it alone, is—it means more than he could possibly have guessed. "You're going to get at least as sick of hearing this as I'm probably going to get of saying it, but I do mean it when I say thank you. This is going to be a lot more trouble than it's worth, for you, and you didn't have to agree to—to take it on. To take me on. I'm—thank you."
It's clumsy, fumbling, but Clark forces himself to stumble toward some kind of conclusion and then gratefully shuts his mouth. Jesus. He's going to have to set some ground rules for himself about—cleaning up, keeping quiet, staying out of Bruce's way. Anything to make sure this whole situation is as minor a pain in Bruce's neck as possible.
He risks a glance after a second, and Bruce is staring back at him. Intent, brow furrowing, and his eyes are—
"It's no trouble," Bruce says, mild, quick; and then he turns away, walks back into the main house, before Clark can so much as reach out to stop him.
This should never have happened. Bruce shouldn't have let it.
He knew as much the first time. Even then, he'd been aware of the unconscionable risk involved, the endless catalogue of dangers. But, held fast in the grip of his own utter inability to do otherwise, he had—he had reached for Clark anyway. Had betrayed the untamed morass of all his hopelessly confused sentiments toward Clark: the lingering anger, resentment, pushed aside by guilt but not replaced by it. The overpowering relief of that day in the park, of being certain at last that even if Clark killed him right there—only as much as he deserved, surely—he had still managed to fix at least one mistake. And the endless echoing reverberation of that instant when he had set that glowing spear to Superman's cheek, Superman trapped beneath him and wholly at his mercy, and had felt neither sorrow nor grim satisfaction, but rather a sudden unexpected crackle of—of want—
It would have been understandable, if Clark had been surprised. Only as much as Bruce might have expected, if Clark had pushed him away.
But instead, Clark had seen that in him and had—had responded to it. Had done more than that: had, inexplicably, reached back.
The moment Bruce had felt Clark's fingertips settle tentatively against his hip, he'd known, with dim resignation, what would come of it. The instant he'd understood what he was seeing, that long-ago day in Metropolis, Superman had inspired a sudden sharp awareness of his own vulnerabilities, his own weakness; and even as his comprehension of Clark as an individual has changed, that never has. In the Hall, for a split second, it had been Black Zero all over again: he'd looked at Clark and shuddered, helpless, knowing with sick certainty that he wasn't going to be strong enough to stop this.
And given that fact, all that remained was to mitigate the potential consequences, insofar as that was possible, and to prepare to manage the fallout.
Bruce has applied himself to both, and overall, he's satisfied with the results. The situation is far from ideal, but many of the worst-case scenarios have built-in cover that should help mask the most exposed weak points.
Membership in the League means continuous potential for various threats to Clark's safety, for example. But Bruce's reaction will be evaluated by the others, and by Clark, in the context not only of his position as Clark's teammate but of the lengths he's already gone to—forced them all to go to—to bring Clark back from the dead. That's established, common knowledge among them. Hardly diagnostic of any change in circumstances.
And if Clark is in danger, it'll only be expected that Bruce should go to his aid. That's what teammates do. Bruce's patterns of behavior in such situations are already familiar, entrenched: Batman reacts with efficiency, urgency, keeps chatter to a minimum, takes calculated risks. If the risks should be a little less calculated than usual—Victor is probably the only one in any position to confront Bruce with hard numbers; and if he should do so, Bruce can grudgingly admit to some pretended error, can concede that he failed to account for all the factors involved with accuracy. It won't be conclusive.
The cowl means no one will be able to see his face, in the moment. That will help.
So: the situation is far from ideal, but it is potentially tolerable. Sustainable, even, at least over the short term. Bruce has reviewed a variety of hypothetically problematic scenarios and has braced himself for them, with reasonable confidence that even his least governable responses can be explained without
(—without anyone realizing that he—without Clark realizing—)
undue difficulty. He is, to as great a degree as possible, prepared.
Except, of course, for all the ways he isn't.
Bruce has insisted from the beginning that even on quiet days, League members check in at the Hall at some point—if nothing else, it will make it easier to notice if one of them should go missing, or should suffer some other crisis and find themselves unable to call for help.
He hadn't necessarily anticipated that sometimes they would—choose to. But Victor seems quietly relieved to have somewhere to stay that isn't a lab or a darkened apartment. Arthur, Barry, Diana, all have other places they could be, and yet they do show an inclination to spend time at the Hall.
And Clark does too, sometimes.
Which is what happens to give Bruce the opportunity to notice the lines of tension in his face, the shadow of discomfort lurking in the shape of his mouth.
He doesn't mention it then, not in the hallway. He doesn't bring it up when Clark stops by the monitor room before leaving. They're not on a mission; it isn't critical. If Clark has something on his mind and wants Bruce's input, he'll ask for it.
But later, in the Cave, it's—Clark has appeared again, as Bruce has begun to anticipate he will; has caught Bruce up in that warm inexorable grip and pushed him back against a wall, and then flickered away at Bruce's suggestion to grab some lube. And once he's come back, settled in front of Bruce again and started sliding a hand up the line of buttons closing Bruce's dress shirt, flicking them open one by one, he suddenly shakes his head.
Barely even that: it's brief, quick, not so much an attempt to communicate a refusal as it is the absent reflexive motion one might use to dislodge a fly. His hand doesn't slow against Bruce's chest; but the line of his mouth flattens, and the breath he exhales, short, through his nose, has a certain edge of frustration in it.
And he can't be expecting Bruce not to have noticed. Surely—surely he might as well have put up a sign, displaying so clear a reaction to no obvious stimulus. Surely he's inviting Bruce to ask.
"No, no, it's not a big deal," Clark says, and then seems to hear how self-contradictory that is and makes a face at himself. He thumbs the last of Bruce's buttons free, and for a moment appears distracted by the hollow of Bruce's throat beneath his fingertips; and Bruce is tempted to let him carry on, but—
"What isn't?" Bruce murmurs, catching Clark's hand, and Clark twists his fingers in Bruce's, skims a thumb back and forth across Bruce's knuckles with such unthinking gentleness that Bruce's throat constricts, involuntary.
Not that it matters. He got the question out first.
"It's—I," Clark starts, and then stops and bites his lip. "You know about my senses."
Bruce does. Clark's even let him run a few tests, trying to pin down the full extent of their capabilities.
"And I do know how to handle them," Clark's saying. "I have since I was a kid. But sometimes—I don't know." He shrugs halfheartedly. "Sometimes I just can't concentrate quite enough, if I'm tired or I'm in a bad mood or something, and the more things slip through the worse my concentration gets. It's not a problem. I, uh," and he shrugs again, looking away; sheepishness, that's the emotion sweeping so skittishly across his face. Sheepishness, embarrassment. "Perry yelled at me this morning—I missed a deadline because of that thing with the robot sharks last week. He was really keeping after me today, and I got a little stressed out, and—" He cuts himself off again, ducks his head and offers Bruce a tentative smile. "Sorry, it doesn't matter. You're not here to listen to me whine. Let's just say I've—I've really been looking forward to this."
His tone is wry, self-deprecating, a little cautious; but beneath that—sweet. Sweet, undeniably sincere.
"I'd be sorry if you weren't," Bruce hears himself say, light and not unkind, and Clark smiles a little wider, relaxes the whole length of himself against Bruce's body just a fraction.
"Well, I mean, obviously I'm always looking forward to this," Clark murmurs, easing a knee between Bruce's; but Bruce doesn't let go of his hand the way he's clearly expecting, and after a moment he pauses and tilts his head inquiringly.
And the presentiment of danger is there. Of course it is. Bruce isn't an idiot. But—
But he is, when faced with Superman, always so goddamn weak.
"What is it? Sight? Hearing?"
"What—oh. Mostly hearing, I guess," Clark admits.
"Then listen to me."
Clark's expression is bewildered, for a moment, and then merely uncertain. "I—are you sure?"
And Bruce can understand exactly why. Clark has made a point of establishing the care he takes with other people's privacy—repeatedly, and usually because Bruce's assertions of doubt have goaded him into it, when Bruce decides to prod him with the memory of Luthor's fundraiser, the way he'd listened in; the way he had, so casually, looked at Batman and used Bruce's name.
(The same night Bruce tried to kill him. But no matter how many times Bruce brings it up, Clark still refuses to hurl that particular trump card back at him—)
"Will it help?" Bruce asks, evenly.
Clark's staring at him, gaze flicking back and forth across Bruce's face; and then he swallows once and murmurs, "Yeah. Yeah, it'll help."
"Listen to me," Bruce repeats, letting his voice drop a register, letting it deepen and round itself out with a hint of a rasp in his throat. And fuck, he can see it, Clark letting his super-hearing blow wide; the way Clark's eyes drop half-closed, the way his mouth parts, the barest shift in his weight: as if Bruce's voice is surrounding him, moving him, sweeping him away like a tide—
Clark had been the one to back Bruce up against the wall, earlier. But now Bruce nudges him, crowds him, one step and then another, until they've come up just against the edge of the desk instead.
"Listen to me," Bruce says again, and then, unable to stop himself, "Look at me," and god, that's even worse
(—better, fuck, Christ, look at him—)
than before—Clark's sweetly heavy eyes fixing themselves intently on Bruce's face. It can hardly be a compelling sight, with Superman's vision: pores and scars and the first fine wrinkles, all the wretched imperfection of skin that's never been invulnerable. But Clark's focus doesn't waver, doesn't falter. He's starting to flush, red heat blooming up the length of his throat, his cheeks; and he's impossibly, undeniably hard against Bruce's thigh; and he's looking at Bruce like he can't imagine ever wanting to look at anything else.
And after that, it's as easy as falling. It would be so much harder not to tip him back against the desk, murmur an endless stream of filthy observations into his ear and listen to him gasp; it would be so much harder not to strip him, slow, a layer at a time. At some point Bruce realizes that Clark hasn't just tuned his hearing, his sight, to Bruce, but his baseline sensory perception, too: the chill of the metal desk against his naked back, the base of his spine, doesn't seem to give him pause at all, but he jerks and shudders at even the faintest brush of Bruce's fingertips, the barest half-formed exhalation against the skin of his throat.
So Bruce—touches him. Everywhere, every inch of him that Bruce can get a hand on, those arms and those shoulders, the backs of his knees, even gently skimming the shells of his ears. In all honesty, that incredible ass could almost have ended up an afterthought, except for the way he cries out and thrashes, trembles, when Bruce brushes greedy palms around from his hips to follow the curve of it. The noises he makes, impaled on Bruce's fingers, wordless and helpless—and fuck, god, if he really has zeroed down to just Bruce, he might not even hearing them; that might be why they're so desperate, so loud, so indescribably shameless.
Clark comes once when Bruce is only halfway through working him open, sudden and unexpected—or at least Bruce isn't expecting it, had no idea how close Clark was to the edge, too preoccupied with the discovery of the particular way he shudders each time Bruce's knuckles catch just a little against all that soft hot skin on their way in.
He makes up for it, though: presses in deeper, adds another finger, teases idly along the rim with his thumb, and Clark is so exquisitely responsive. It doesn't take long at all. He feels the way Clark starts to tense around him, rhythmic and helpless, and watches every jerk and shudder of Clark's cock with careful attention, until at last he can reach out, trail a single fingertip feather-light up the exposed length of it, and know that's going to be just enough to make Clark come a second time.
"One more," he murmurs, leaning in close, smoothing a soothing hand up one of Clark's shaking thighs. "You can do that, can't you, Superman? One more."
And Clark makes a small low sound in the back of his throat, drags his head up off the desk with what looks like genuinely intense effort. Bruce is half-expecting to be shoved away, but Clark reaches for him instead, catches Bruce's upper arms in his hands and tugs and then wraps an unsteady leg around Bruce's waist.
(It isn't exhaustion. This is Superman. It's nothing but the pleasure, the sheer sensory overload, that's making Clark tremble like this—)
"Bruce," he's gasping out, ragged, "Bruce, god, please don't stop, don't stop—"
And Bruce is dimly aware that his own hands are shaking now, as he presses Clark's thighs apart. Christ, his open dress shirt is still hanging off his shoulders, his unfastened slacks are halfway down his thighs—he'd meant to take them off, he had, until Clark had distracted him again; but Clark's asking him, begging him, and he can't wait another goddamn second.
This, then, is the real mistake. All the possibilities he'd considered, all the contingencies he'd planned for, all the excuses and justifications he'd had marshaled at the ready—and yet somehow he failed entirely to armor himself against this: sinking into Clark at last, clutching helplessly at Clark's hip, his ass; and with this endless pornographic vision spread out in front of him, finding himself nevertheless unable to look away from Clark's face. From Clark, who's looking back at him, eyes beautifully dark and almost frighteningly intent—who gasps, quick, each time Bruce fucks into him a little further, sounding startled, overwhelmed, overcome. As if—
As if Superman, faced with Bruce, has somehow found himself suddenly vulnerable, too.
Having Clark in the house isn't a problem.
(In point of fact, Bruce wishes he were lying to himself about that a little more than he is. He should hate this. He should resent it—the situation, Clark, his own pathetically predictable response. He should arrange to spend the next year and a half in one of the penthouses, or maybe in Hong Kong; he should leave right now and pretend none of this is happening, find a beautiful gleaming Wayne Enterprises property to trash and drink in it alone until he can't see straight. But instead—
Instead, he likes it. He—he loves it. There's something viscerally satisfying, too deep and wordless to be reasoned with, about having Clark in his space: secured, provided for, enclosed. Protected.
Of all the idiotic urges to have toward Superman—
But then of the two of them, Clark's the one who's died before. So perhaps Bruce's preoccupation with where he is, how he's doing, whether he's comfortable, is understandable, viewed in that light.
Understandable, if still unforgivably stupid.)
Clark is, of course, an ideal guest. Almost too ideal, at first; he's thoughtful, neat, in a way that starts to feel to Bruce as though he's being—careful. As though he's afraid he's intruding, or disruptive. As though if he doesn't clean up after himself well enough, he expects to be unceremoniously ejected.
And however poorly Bruce may have planned this, that isn't what he wants. Granted, none of this should ever have happened. But given that it has, that it has and it is and Clark was invited here, the last thing Clark should be doing is punishing himself.
(He hardly deserves it. The errors have been Bruce's, every time.)
So Bruce bites the bullet and consciously, deliberately, makes a show of engaging in what could be assumed to be casual routine. He doesn't avoid Clark, doesn't goose-step his way around the house. He shows up for meals. He leaves dirty dishes here and there, plates absently discarded with a scattering of crumbs and mugs with two fingers' worth of cold coffee abandoned on the corners of tables; he lets Clark catch Alfred scolding him for it, pulls a more rueful face than he otherwise might just because it will make Clark smile.
Clark should feel welcome, comfortable, and Bruce pursues an intentional campaign to accomplish that aim. And if it should
(—mean he gets to see Clark smile at him more often, Clark barefoot and lounging with increasing boldness in the main room, Clark pink-cheeked and warmly drowsy after lying on the dock in the sunshine; if he should enjoy it, damn him—)
make certain unwise impulses a little more difficult to rein in, that's not much of a price to pay. He's more than able to bear it.
And over time, of course, it gets easier. A week in, they're all still trying to make their own adjustments—it's been just Bruce and Alfred in the lake house for so long, and Clark doesn't know his way around, is stressed and unhappy about making the arrangements for his "sabbatical" from the Planet and about the prospect of Superman's absence from League operations.
But then it becomes two weeks, three. And the less Clark holds himself back, the more present he becomes. He's around all the time: Bruce sees him first thing in the morning before leaving for the office, comes home to him every evening, and even when they aren't face-to-face the signs of him are everywhere. Dog-eared books left out on the coffee table that Bruce hasn't read in years; shoes lined up by the door that cost less than a hundred dollars. The wet kitchen sink and soap-sudded sponge, because Alfred won't allow him to cook but he insists on washing up afterward.
Which is fine. It's what Bruce wanted.
(It's everything he wanted. Everything, always, the whole time—the sickening, selfish, impossible dream, laid bare in its entirety: Clark under his roof, settled into his space; safe and relaxed, happy, planning to stay—)
It's what he wanted, and he can bear it. That's all that matters.
Clark mentions once, rubbing at the back of his neck with a sheepish laugh, his total uncertainty about how this is all going to happen, what to expect; and after that it's only reasonable for Bruce to start keeping track, to assess whether Clark really is on pace for the nine-month human-normal baseline.
(It's the obvious question. The number of superficial similarities between Kryptonians and humans defies common sense, logic, and every other factor except perhaps sheer random chance: a billion-to-one odds, in a universe of a trillion possibilities. But, by the same token, there's no reason to assume gestation period is among them. It's just—
It's just that in so many other ways, Bruce has begun to see Clark as painfully, almost prototypically human. The powers barely register as evidence to the contrary, these days; because on some level it almost makes sense, intrinsic, subconscious, that Clark should be as literally and physically arresting, as singular and as overwhelming, as Bruce finds him in the abstract—)
So the day he comes back to the house to find Clark out on the dock, looking off into the middle distance instead of at the lake in front of him, he isn't entirely surprised to ask and receive the reply, "What? Oh, I—sorry. It's the, um. The heartbeat. I can hear it."
"Seven weeks," Bruce murmurs to himself. "Just about right," and then he looks up to find Clark grinning, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Don't tell me: you have a spreadsheet."
"Don't be ridiculous," Bruce says, light. "I have a dozen spreadsheets."
Clark tips his head back and laughs, swipes a hand through his hair—and that's the only reason Bruce notices that he's shaking a little bit, too.
"Are you feeling all right?" he asks, looking away, careful not to let his tone change too much—
But his caution is, perhaps, unnecessary: it's Clark, who always gives so much, so generously; who hardly even needs to be asked. "Yes," Clark says, a little too quickly, and then, "Or—no," and then he blows out a breath and explains himself: "I'm fine, Bruce. Physically, I mean. I just—"
He cuts himself off, bites his lip, and Bruce takes the opportunity to seat himself on the dock. Not too close, not crowding, just—there.
"It's just weird," Clark elaborates, after a moment. "I knew this was happening. But I don't think I believed it. I could see it, in there, but it still seemed like some kind of trick. I haven't really been sick or anything, and it hasn't changed much about the way I feel or move. It wasn't real to me. But—I don't know. I can hear it," he says again, more slowly. "Which freaks me out a little, but it's—it's kind of cool."
And then he looks up, meets Bruce's eyes, and his smile is tiny, wavering, but there.
"I wish you could hear it, too."
"Well, Alfred's never built an ultrasound machine before," Bruce listens to himself say, before any of a half dozen utterly unacceptable alternatives can claw their way out. "I'm sure he would enjoy the challenge."
Clark falters, just for an instant: he clears his throat and glances away, says, "Right, um—sorry," and then stops, without even explaining exactly what it is he thinks he's apologizing for.
(Doing Bruce the courtesy of pretending that he doesn't attribute Bruce any particular responsibility or fault, that he doesn't resent Bruce—
Hardly likely. Clark wouldn't say sorry for that, not in that sort of spirit of snide irony; he's too polite, too kind, to draw attention to it, and wouldn't be inclined to conceptualize the matter in such a labyrinthine way in any case. Bruce is projecting.
It's only that it's so very difficult to come up with any other explanation that makes sense—)
"I'm glad you asked me to stay here," Clark adds after a moment, more quietly.
And that's—Bruce feels an unfamiliar heat trying to climb into his throat, his face, just hearing Clark say it. You asked me—except he hadn't, not really; he'd only told Clark it was the best option, and he'd explained his reasoning, it had all been perfectly logical—
Clark moves, shifts his weight and leans, and suddenly he's—he's much closer than Bruce had intended them to be, reaching out to settle a warm hand across Bruce's mouth before he can open it.
"I know you had your reasons," and his tone is light again, even fond, the smile creeping back into place. "I don't need the list again, and I don't need you explaining to me how if I just look at it like this, I'll understand that you're not actually doing anything nice."
Bruce raises an eyebrow.
"I just want to say thank you without you trying to argue me out of it," Clark tells him, mock-stern, without moving his hand. And then he pauses, absently bites his lip, and the lines of his palm, his fingers, soften against Bruce's face. "Because I do appreciate it. I—I don't know what I would've done, where I would've gone. The ship, I guess, or—I don't know." He swallows, unsteady, and—
And Bruce can almost imagine it. The state Clark had been in that first day, when he'd told Bruce: except he almost hadn't, had barely been able to say it. And if he hadn't said it, if he'd given up and left Bruce there on the roof as clueless as ever, flown off alone to the ship's new resting place in the middle of an ice field and just sealed himself up in there, panicking—how would they have figured it out? When would they have found him? What would he have said? Would he have lied to them, tried to hide it? Or would he have told the rest of them, and just not Bruce?
Bruce ignores the sick heavy feeling that thought puts into his gut, and reaches up to wrap his hand around Clark's wrist, shifting Clark's hand far enough to let him say, "I was never your only option, Clark. The rest of the League, Lois, your mother—"
—there are so many people who care about you, he intends to say, or something along those lines; but instead he ends up stopping short, narrowing his eyes, when Clark's gaze flicks almost guiltily away.
"You haven't told your mother," he hears himself say instead.
And it's nothing but a hunch, intuition, until Clark's miniscule flinch serves to confirm it. "I, um. I did tell her that I was going to be lying low for a bit? Just so she wouldn't worry if she didn't see Superman on the news for a while. I know the official story is some interstellar diplomatic mission or something, but I didn't want her thinking she couldn't call me if she needed help. I just—" He pauses and shakes his head, blows a sudden sharp sigh out through his nose. "God, I don't know. At first it was—it was just too hard. How do you drop that into the middle of a conversation?"
Bruce acknowledges the validity of this argument with a grimace. It had been difficult enough for Clark with Bruce himself, and Clark's relationship with his mother is more important to him by multiple orders of magnitude.
"And I didn't know what to say anyway. She's always gone to so much effort," Clark adds, with the brief spark of a smile flickering to life again, "to make me feel normal. She'd probably have congratulated me and asked me what I was going to name her grandchild. And I couldn't—I couldn't think about it like that yet, like it was going to be anything. I couldn't have gotten my head around it."
"But now you can hear its heart," Bruce prompts gently, when Clark hesitates again. Because Clark had said almost the same thing a minute ago: I don't think I believed it.
"But now I can hear its heart," Clark agrees, "and I—I don't know. I wasn't sure I even wanted this, and now I can't stop thinking about everything that could go wrong."
He's talking more and more quickly as he goes on, blurting the last half-dozen words out in a hushed handful; his hand jerks, tightens, in Bruce's, and—
And Bruce is still holding it, even though Clark's let him lower it away from Bruce's face. He should—he should let go.
"If I told her now," Clark is saying, "and then something happened to it, if I—if I lost it—" His voice is wavering; he looks at Bruce and his eyes are wide, frightened. "Jesus, Bruce, this is the only other Kryptonian in the universe. I—I have no idea what I'm doing. I wasn't ready for this, I don't know how to—"
"Clark," Bruce says carefully, and doesn't move, except to run a thumb gently along the line of Clark's knuckles. "It's all right."
Clark laughs, strangled, distinctly unamused. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Bruce repeats, steady. "The League can handle itself without Superman for a while. As far as we can tell from last week's scans, you're doing fine. You're safe here," Bruce adds helplessly; what a foolish, reckless promise to make. That's not the kind of thing Clark's looking for, not from him, and Clark's made that perfectly clear.
(Bruce made mistakes. Bruce fucked Clark at what turned out to be exactly the wrong time. Bruce made an unwitting donation of genetic material. Bruce—contributed.
None of that entitles him to anything. Clark understands who Bruce is and why. He knows Bruce has been making mistakes since long before Black Zero—)
But Clark doesn't take the opportunity to remind Bruce of it. He doesn't even pull away. He holds onto Bruce's hand, lets out a long shuddering breath, and shakes his head again. "See?" he says at last, wry. "I'm glad you asked me to come here. I know you didn't have to, that's exactly what makes it so—I know you didn't have to. I know there's no reason this should be your problem, but you made it your problem, and I'm grateful."
Christ. As if that's anything Clark should have to thank him for. "It's a reflex," Bruce hears himself murmur, and Clark laughs and still, still, doesn't let go of his hand.
"I should have told you this earlier, and I'm sorry I didn't," Clark says, and he leans in and catches Bruce's other hand, holds them both and fixes Bruce with that brilliant blue gaze and tells him, "I'm glad I don't have to do this alone. I'm not sure I could have, and I'm glad I don't have to find out."
You never will. You'll never have to be alone again if you don't want to, I'd—I would—if you asked, I would—
"Of course, Clark," Bruce hears himself say, and he tightens his grip on Clark's hands for a moment; just a moment, just enough to impress every detail of how it feels onto his memory. He smiles at Clark, disengages: Clark takes the cue and lets go. Bruce stands, and wants to turn and go—his heart is pounding. He forces himself to move like someone who isn't desperate to run; to drop a hand down onto Clark's shoulder and squeeze, light, and look down into Clark's upturned face like someone who isn't blinded by it.
And then, at last, at last, he can allow himself to turn away, and his expression, whatever it might be, doesn't matter as long as no one else can see it.
It's not that Clark decides that anything's going to change.
It's just that he's thinking about it, that's all. He can't help it.
It hadn't bothered him, at first. He'd barely even noticed. He'd been so focused on not letting this slip through his fingers. It had felt as though if he slowed down enough to let the sheer impossibility of the situation catch up to them, they'd come to their senses and stop, and he—
He hadn't wanted to stop. Not that first time, not until he had a chance to touch Bruce back; and not any of the times after, feeling Bruce's cock slide between his thighs, into his mouth or his hands, and then finally, finally, inside him, the most impossible thing of all.
But it keeps happening. It keeps happening, and Clark starts to feel a funny sort of recklessness steal over him. Just—if this is impossible, impossible but they're making it happen
(—and don't they always? They're Batman and Superman: what impossible thing couldn't they do, if they tried?)
then maybe a few other impossible things should be on the table.
It's not a big deal, not really. Clark just gets a little preoccupied with it, once the idea has occurred to him. Because for all the stuff they have done, all the obscene suggestions Bruce's low smooth voice has murmured into his ear, every new thing they try—they haven't kissed.
It has to be on purpose. Right? Because Clark might not have kissed Bruce yet, but Bruce hasn't kissed him, either. Maybe Bruce just doesn't much like kissing; maybe it doesn't mean anything in particular to him. Bruce Wayne has kissed a lot of people, Clark knows, and some of them weren't even people he liked very much. Maybe Bruce just doesn't think of it as very interesting, compared to the other things they could be doing when they're together. Clark should probably just leave it alone.
Except once he starts thinking about it, he—he can't stop. He's preoccupied with it, dwelling on it: daydreaming about it at his desk at the Planet; doing a few other things with the mental images of it, by himself at night. Thinking about it, hazy but relentless, every time he's got Bruce in front of him—gasping at every thrust of Bruce's hips, clutching Bruce's shoulders and clenching his thighs around Bruce's waist and—and snagging, helplessly, on the angle of Bruce's jaw, the way he wets his lips. What would it be like, to lean up and touch Bruce just there? To press his tongue against the prickle of stubble—to lick into that stern, stubborn mouth—?
He gets almost obsessed with it. And he tries to remind himself that if Bruce wanted to kiss him, he would, but—but Clark wants to kiss Bruce and isn't doing it, after all. So what kind of metric is that?
It shouldn't be a surprise, really, that one day he just can't stop himself anymore.
Bruce has him on one of the worktables again, leaning in close over him, breath hot and a little ragged against Clark's throat, and Clark already has a hand curled around the back of his neck, thumb curved up against his jaw. It's the easiest thing in the world for Clark to tip Bruce's face around, to let his lips catch for a moment—as if by accident—against Bruce's cheek.
He thinks for an instant, over the heavy pound of his heart, that Bruce is just going to ignore it, or didn't even feel it. But he likes to train his hearing on Bruce when they do this, ever since Bruce invited him to; and he can hear the way Bruce's breath catches in the back of his throat.
Emboldened, almost dizzy with it, Clark does it again—skids closer to Bruce's mouth, this time, and Bruce's shoulders go so tense underneath Clark's other hand that they might as well be rebar, but his lips part, too, his hips jerking against Clark in a way that's almost uncontrolled; anticipation? He doesn't move away. If anything, he's crowding closer, a single strained full-body shudder rippling through him, and Clark squeezes his eyes shut and swallows, and
(—why, when Bruce has fucked him until he's come untouched, until he's had to blink away tears from the sheer stimulation, is this the thing that feels so frightening? It had scared him a little, just this way, when Bruce had fucked him for the first time, had spread him wide while he pleaded for it and then slid inside him; because he wanted it so much, so much, and Bruce had known it, had seen his desperation and satisfied it. But this is—
—this is just kissing. It doesn't—it shouldn't—)
then he levers himself up and drags their mouths together.
It's such a tiny thing. It shouldn't be able to send a blazing kick of heat up Clark's spine, shouldn't make him gasp this way against Bruce's lips. It definitely shouldn't be enough to make Bruce go so still against him; Bruce always knows what he's doing, always has a plan and a backup plan and three secondary alternatives, never ever freezes—
He already had a hand against Clark's side to steady him. But all at once in a rush of movement, he's slid that hand around to Clark's back to tug him up, to—to pull him in. To kiss him back.
If Clark had had any lingering sense of restraint, it's gone now: he hears himself make a sharp, satisfied sound into Bruce's mouth, feels Bruce shiver into it, and can't stop himself from licking in, tracing his tongue along the line of Bruce's teeth, and then pulling back to catch that wet soft lower lip between his own, and god, god, Bruce is shuddering, catching his fingers in Clark's hair and tugging Clark's head sharply back to lick a long hot stripe up his throat.
Jesus, Clark thinks dimly, gasping and writhing helplessly under Bruce's mouth. Bruce isn't even fucking him anymore; inside him to the hilt, still bracing his parted thighs in position with steady pressure, but not moving, all his concentration utterly devoted to mouthing red heat into the skin along the line of Clark's jaw
(—and it won't bruise. Of course it won't. But Clark's blood still responds to suction, can still be drawn up into the tiny capillaries along the surface of the skin; Bruce can still mark him up, even if it's only for a few minutes—)
before he switches gears, thumbing possessively at Clark's lips until Clark parts them for him and then diving in again, sucking Clark's tongue into his mouth, and jesus, Clark can't help but move against him, tighten around him, and listen for the ragged edge to his breath.
(Bruce never sounds like that during a fight. His athleticism is so essential to how he does his job; his heartbeat is steady, easy, barely responsive to even intense degrees of exertion. But this—this, somehow, is enough to make it skip—)
They don't stop kissing. Even once Bruce starts moving again, short distinct thrusts—he never pulls out far enough to break away from Clark. Clark is surrounded by him, filled with him, yielding to his mouth, his hands, his cock, all of him at once; he clings to Bruce and opens himself up wide and takes it, shivering, eyes squeezed shut, and wonders distantly how he's ever going to give this up.
On nights when Bruce has already decided he won't be patrolling, he's willing to allow Clark to stick around for more than one round. He even drowses a little in between. It's become one of Clark's favorite parts of all this, getting to see Bruce so lushly, obscenely relaxed: bare, still streaked with his own come or Clark's or both, eyes half-closed and all that broad muscle loose and lazy.
This is far from the first time Clark's lain on the double-wide cot beside him—because of course Bruce had a place to sleep in the Cave, and of course even at the bare minimum of fold-out functionality it was still twice as big as the bed in Clark's apartment—and watched him gear down a little. It just—
It just feels like the first time, somehow. It feels different. Everything feels different. Clark still can't stop looking at Bruce's mouth: red, now, red and wet and used, and Clark's lips are still tingling faintly but Bruce's are probably outright sore. Just thinking it makes Clark's breath catch, makes him swallow hard. He does want Bruce to fuck him again, he does; but maybe even more than that, he just wants to lean over right now and kiss Bruce some more—everywhere he can reach, every inch, along the muscled line of those shoulders, those biceps; his forearms and wrists and hands, the bump of each individual knuckle, his fingertips—his thighs, his softening cock, Clark tells himself firmly. Somewhere sexy, somewhere that makes sense, because there's no reason for Clark to be flushing hot at the thought of kissing the backs of Bruce's knees, the delicate bones of his ankles—
"I, um. I have to go."
Bruce turns his head, raises one lazy eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah, sorry, it's," and Clark clears his throat, taps one ear. "Fire, I think. I don't hear Barry or Diana, so I should probably go check—make sure there's nobody trapped. You know," and jesus, what is he doing? What the hell kind of thing is that to lie about?
But Bruce doesn't press him. He just watches Clark for a long moment, through those half-lowered eyelashes, and then he says, "Of course. Tomorrow, then."
Right. Tomorrow. League meeting. Clark'll have gotten a grip on this by then, surely.
"Tomorrow," Clark says, and he dredges up half a smile and then gets the hell out of there.
He just flies for a minute, blankly, trying not to think about anything; and then he actually does hear a fire, and hates that his first thought is what a stroke of luck it is: that if Bruce should happen to check for reports, reality is going to helpfully back Clark up.
He manages to keep his mind where it ought to be while he's actually rescuing people, deploying a little frost breath to cool a temporary path through the worst of the blaze. But once he's up in the air again, he can't avoid it anymore.
He'd just—he'd panicked. It had filled him with such giddy satisfaction, weird intense elation, to find one more way to get himself even closer to Bruce. As if it isn't enough, that they're teammates and they see each other all the time and they're sleeping together. As if even with all the impossible things they already do together, there's still something more to want—
As if this has, somehow, when Clark wasn't looking, gotten much more serious for him than he knows how to handle.
Living in the lake house is weird.
In a good way, mostly. And some of that is obviously down to the—the pregnancy.
(Clark's getting better at not thinking around it, at saying it even if it's only to himself: the pregnancy. He's pregnant. He still can't quite make it to "baby" without freaking out a little bit, but he figures that's understandable, considering he can see it for himself and at this point it's not even the size of his closed fist. It's looking less weird now—its eyes are on the front of its head instead of the sides, for one thing, and the whole shape of its tiny head is getting less distorted.
And then he remembers he's seeing this because he's looking through his own abdomen and it's inside of him, and, yeah: still a little freaked out.)
He'd tried to stay out of Bruce's way at first, to not make a nuisance of himself; Bruce and Alfred both are going out of their way for him here, and they'll have to keep doing it for like another six months. But it's impossible to keep that up all the time. Especially once Alfred finally catches him raiding the fridge.
It's not that he hasn't been eating enough. He's been eating a lot, because Alfred's cooking is fantastic and Clark's always home for lunch these days. He just needs—something.
And he's staring into the refrigerator and trying to figure out exactly what when someone says lightly, "Cravings, Master Kent?"
Clark turns to look over his shoulder and grimaces at the same time. "Alfred, I—did I wake you up? I'm sorry—"
"Not at all," Alfred says, which probably isn't true. "I'm afraid our selection may be a little lacking in certain respects, but I assure you that multiple gallons of pickles and ice cream can be secured within the hour, if necessary."
His tone is so dry, so dignified; but his eyes are definitely twinkling, and Clark grins at him and then laughs, and looks back at the refrigerator. He gives it a moment's thought; he does like pickles, and is it ever the wrong time for ice cream? But he imagines eating either, even both, and—it just doesn't seem like quite what he's looking for.
"Thanks," he says aloud, "but I don't think it's pickles. Or bread, or cheese, or steak, or spinach, or—" He stops and waves helplessly at the perfectly well-stocked fridge, full to the brim of all kinds of undoubtedly top-quality food that just isn't going to hit the spot.
"I see," Alfred says, and strides up to Clark's shoulder to peer into the fridge for himself. "I don't suppose you could narrow down a flavor palette, Master Kent? Even as basic a determination as salty or sweet will help us eliminate some options."
It's a perfectly reasonable suggestion. And it's definitely not Alfred's fault that even a simple binary choice is apparently beyond Clark right now.
He bites his lip and stares at Alfred, in silent helpless appeal, and Alfred's brow furrows.
"Bitter? Sour? The meaty or savory flavor that I believe is now most often referred to as umami—"
"Blue," Clark blurts. "I, um. It's—I want—blue."
Alfred looks at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed, and then he reaches out and slides his hand between Clark's and the handle of the refrigerator door, and closes it decisively, leaving them in nothing but pre-dawn dimness. "Go back to your room, Master Kent, and give me five minutes."
"You really don't have to go to any trouble," Clark insists half-heartedly. He does mean it, but—man, blue sounds good, and if there's any chance that whatever Alfred's got in mind will do the trick, Clark's not strong enough to turn it down.
"Five minutes, Master Kent," Alfred says, and sweeps away.
And whatever Clark was expecting when he looked up to see Alfred in the doorway of his room five minutes later, it wasn't—"Lights?"
"Broad-spectrum," Alfred murmurs, "with filters you can set yourself. If I may, Master Kent?" and he moves aside an end table, ducks down to plug one into the discreet wall outlet and fiddles with it for a moment, and then—
Then it's blue.
Clark moves for it like a moth, he can't help it, and turns his face into the full brightness of it, letting out a long slow sigh.
"This is light at a wavelength of 470 nanometers," Alfred is saying. "You can adjust it in either direction—"
"No," Clark says blissfully. "No, this is perfect."
"As you say, Master Kent," Alfred murmurs, and he sets up another half-dozen of them, bends the neck of each little lamp so it's pointing straight at Clark.
And after that, Clark can't help but start to feel more comfortable. He still feels a little bad about it, just—moving into Bruce's space like this and taking it over; because Bruce is at the Wayne Enterprises offices a lot during the day, and of course he still has to be Batman at night sometimes. Clark's here all the time. And he is starting to show now, just a little bit, so he knows it's for the best. It's even kind of relaxing, not having to run off every time there's a natural disaster or an explosion, a bank robbery or a bomb threat. It's nice, to have all that quiet time to himself. To lie on the sunny dock all day, the faint sound of Alfred doing maintenance somewhere in the Cave below him, and just—be. In another couple months he'll probably hate it, start chafing at the enforced inactivity and having screaming fights with Bruce, but for now—
For now, it feels good. For now, it's just enough time to himself, Alfred present but never obtrusive, that he's stupidly happy to see Bruce at breakfast, at dinner—because Bruce seems to be making an effort to show up for both. It's undeniably strange, but good
(—domestic—but he doesn't go there, he knows better than to go there—)
to be there to say hello when Bruce gets home, to sit in the same room with him in the evening and just read. To hear him breathe, listen to the little huffs he makes when he runs across a paragraph he disagrees with. To see him in the morning, watch his eyes sharpen as he downs that first pitch-black cup of coffee. To—
To live with him.
So, all told, it's probably for the best that Clark has an opportunity to distract himself from it all, when the League comes to visit.
"We wanted to give you a chance to settle in here," Diana says kindly, squeezing Clark's hand, when they first arrive.
"And maybe see whether Bruce and I were going to kill each other," Clark guesses, squeezing back.
Arthur shrugs, agreeable. "Figured we'd keep clear of the blast radius."
"Man, this is a really cool house," Barry says, zipping over to one wall, and then through the nearest door and out to the end of the dock, and then back inside. "Neat! You tried to walk through any of the glass by mistake yet?"
"I'm not sure it's glass, and it looks different from air to me anyway," Clark says, and carefully leaves out the part where that's only true when he's got his eyes all the way open and fully focused. That's half the reason he'd decided it couldn't be glass: when he'd walked into it that one time, still partway through a yawn, it hadn't broken. Glass usually does, when Clark hits it without thinking.
"Also neat!" Barry pauses for a second, glancing around, and then adds, "So I guess maybe they're all too polite to ask, or waiting for a good segue or something. But that's why we're a team, right? Because we all have different talents, and mine is how I'm just going to say it: are you doing okay? Do you mind if Victor takes some scans of your, you know, alien doomspawn?"
And Clark really has gotten his head around this whole thing, maybe, because that just makes him laugh. "Sure, of course. Bruce has been keeping track of things, too," he feels compelled to add, in a brief burst of something that's almost defensiveness. "So far everything seems to be progressing pretty much the way you'd expect for a human pregnancy, as far as he can tell."
"You mean it's not going to have tentacles?" Barry says, making a hang-dog face. "Man, I had my heart set on tentacles! Some kind of cute little interstellar squid-baby, like from Men In Black—"
"No tentacles," Victor confirms, already sweeping Clark head-to-toe with some kind of beam from the cyborg eye; and then he looks at Clark and nods and says, "Everything's fine."
Which Clark was already pretty sure about, but it's still nice to have a second opinion.
They stay a lot longer than they need to, just to hang out—and it really has been a while, Clark realizes slowly. As nice as it's been not to have to worry about Superman's responsibilities while he's dealing with this, he's missed spending time with them, all the little moments during missions or after debriefings, or just being at the Hall and knowing the rest of them were close by.
Arthur goes straight for the lake, of course; and Diana and Victor quickly fall deep into conversation with Alfred about how Victor's armor is handling its self-maintenance, whether there's any chance of adapting the technique or technology to Diana's armor or Arthur's.
Which means it's Barry who ends up sitting with Clark at the end of the dock, zipping his shoes off in a crackle of white light and delightedly dropping his feet in the water, before he turns to Clark and says, "So, you really okay?"
And Barry deserves an honest answer, Clark decides. So he doesn't reply right away; he gives himself a moment to think about it, trailing a hand absently in the water.
"Yeah," he says at last. "I think I am."
"I wasn't, for a while," he admits, glancing up; Barry's face is oddly serious, especially for Barry, but still open, intent, and he's always so easy to talk to. "It terrified me at first. It's exactly the kind of thing I was most afraid of, when I was a kid—that I was going to turn out to be different in a way people could see, a way I wouldn't be able to hide anymore."
"Bet you weren't picturing this, though, huh?" Barry says, not unkindly.
"Not—quite." Clark shakes his head and laughs a little, even though it isn't really funny. "I had no idea what was going on, to start with. It was right after that guy with the ray-gun, you remember? Whatever those beams were that he was shooting, if he hit the same spot enough times he could kind of singe a hole in my suit. That's all I was looking for—easier to look through myself than find a full-length mirror."
"I just want to note for the record that I bet you're the first person to say those particular words in that order," Barry says. "Like, on this planet, ever," and then he makes a little motion with his hand. "Carry on."
And it's that, exactly that, Barry's straightforward acceptance of even the most ridiculous stuff, that makes it possible for Clark to open his mouth and say, "I didn't even know what I was looking at. The—the baby was barely—it was the organs that were weird, that weren't in the same places anymore. I just thought the mother box must have made a mistake when it repaired me, until I looked closer.
"And then I didn't know how to tell anyone about it, because I—I wasn't happy. I was surprised, I was scared, I didn't know what to do, but I wasn't happy, and I felt like I was supposed to be. Like somehow that was the first thing anybody was going to ask, if I came up to them looking like my dog died and told them I was having a baby—'aren't you glad?' And I wouldn't have known what to say. It was too weird."
Barry blinks. "Well, yeah. You're, like, making an entire new person with your internal organs! That is super weird. Although," he adds, tone thoughtful, "I still say it would have transcended weird and become just straight-up cool with a squid-baby. Too bad, dude."
"Thanks for that insight, Barry," Clark says levelly, and Barry grins at him, unapologetic, and reaches out to squeeze his shoulder.
"No, seriously, I get you. And in the spirit of friendship and support, I'm here to tell you that it's totally okay that you were freaked out. All right? That is—that is an extremely valid reaction to realizing you accidentally spawned. Even for people who knew they had a uterus to start with! And I don't know how the hell you did it, but it was good that you told Bruce, too. He'd have totally lost it if you'd tried to keep it a secret, but, man. I probably would have just," and Barry pauses to make a bug-eyed face and splay his fingers. "Just like passed out, cold, as a defensive reflex—"
"I did think about it," Clark says mildly, just to make Barry grin; and then Arthur bursts up out of the lake, grabs Barry's dangling feet, and yanks him unceremoniously into the water.
This has to stop.
Bruce had categorized it as potentially tolerable, even sustainable. Not inherently disastrous. But that had been before
(before Clark had
—Christ, why does it matter? Why does it matter—
kissed him like that; tentatively, carefully, as if he weren't sure whether it was allowed. And then, when Bruce had held still for it
—oh, for fuck's sake, as if there's any point in hiding from it now—
had encouraged it, leaned into it, kissed him back, then it had turned wild, lush, recklessly deep. They had gasped into each other's mouths, trailed hot wet lines of kisses along each other's jaws, throats, shoulders; as if they couldn't stop themselves, as if they'd been deprived; as if they were panting, starving, dying for it)
(before Clark had left)
(had smiled and made his excuses, I have to go, sorry, see you tomorrow, and Bruce had lain there and listened without letting the expression on his face change, and had felt himself—
the change in circumstances. And when circumstances change, it's essential to reassess, to adjust your tactical interpretations and options in response. Bruce learned that lesson long ago. To fail to account for new information, alterations in the lay of the land, would be so obvious a mistake that he refuses to make it.
This has to stop. He's no longer in control of the situation; it's time to withdraw, regroup, refortify.
But not quite yet.
He has to decide how to do it, after all. What to say; how to look; how to act. Besides, if he ends things immediately, Clark may link effect with cause. So he should—he should wait. Give it some time. Let their arrangement appear to settle to a new equilibrium.
It's not a good idea. It might even be considered unkind, if he had any reason to believe that Clark
might perceive it that way. But there's no reason to assume that Clark has lent their sexual encounters any undue emotional weight. He hadn't said a word about the kissing, hadn't made any other move to alter the terms of their interactions. He could have stayed, afterward, and chose not to; if anything, his demonstration of initiative in kissing Bruce like that only serves to suggest that he'd be entirely capable of pressing for greater intimacy, if he had any inclination toward it.
And Bruce is the one who started this. He did it in an unthinking spasm of raw impulse; surely, then, it qualifies as an improvement that he's going to take responsibility for ending it—and that he's going to do it carefully, deliberately, with intent.
And of course, if anything, he needs to encourage that new equilibrium to establish itself. Whenever Clark should drop by the Cave next, or pause as he leaves the debriefing room in the Hall to give Bruce one of those brief hot glances—Bruce ought to kiss him again. Bruce ought to pin him there and explore his mouth properly, drag a thumb across those lips until they're red, until Clark makes that one noise in his throat and twists his head to bite at Bruce's knuckle. He ought to act as though he still wants Clark, as though he's as desperate for Clark as ever.
It won't be difficult. Since, after all, he is.
The last time is unremarkable. That's the point. It's indistinguishable from the three or four times before it; when Clark looks back on this
(—if Clark looks back on this—)
nothing about it will jump out at him. There will be nothing for him to see.
If he knew—
But he doesn't. Bruce does. And there's no reason why the knowledge should change anything.
That this will be the last time he tugs Clark in by the collar of one of his abominably cheap shirts, the last time he skims his hand up under the waist and tastes Clark's gasp—perhaps his own subjective experience is altered. Perhaps he does pay closer attention than he might otherwise, to the sensation of tonguing just here underneath the line of Clark's jaw, or breaking away to bite at the long exposed column of Clark's throat.
Perhaps he does take some extra pains to—to remember. To catalogue it all, capture every last detail of the experience and file it away. It'll hurt, of course, but then it was always going to; and he finds he'd rather have the memories. He'd rather demonstrate control over the degree and extent of that hurt, even if only by increasing it.
Because he won't be able to resist trying. He won't be able to resist returning to this, again and again: Superman, pliant and giving and opening up for him by sweetly slow degrees. Clark, in all his strength and stubbornness and indescribable beauty, stretched out underneath him, gasping, thighs trembling; his perfect skin beneath Bruce's fingertips, the particular texture and pattern of the hair across his chest—the way he squeezes his eyes shut and shudders helplessly, when Bruce presses a thumb in alongside three fingers.
And if he's about to make himself give this up—it won't be the first time he's lingered over it. They've fucked two or three times in a night, before, and Bruce's refractory period most certainly isn't Superman's. By the third time, Bruce is usually moving with a distinct and luxurious deliberateness, working himself into Clark long and slow—staggering his way toward hardness one more time, by gradual degrees, while Clark shivers and pants and moves with him in long slow rolls of those hips.
(He'd been reluctant, the first time. He's never been pleased to feel outmatched by Clark, no matter the context, and he hadn't wanted to draw attention to his own recovery time, to the earnest but undeniably languorous response of his body after he'd come once.
But Clark loved it. Something about how long it took, that he had to be patient, that Bruce would fuck Clark again when he was ready to and not before—that additional orgasms took so much more stimulation, that Bruce could get hard enough to fuck him and then just keep doing it, an idle steady rhythm, on and on and on, until he was making breathless uneven sounds with every thrust and still, still, Bruce could keep going—
The second time had taken somewhat less convincing.)
This is, in and of itself, evidence that he's making the right decision. That he's so desperate to cling to this, so greedily insistent on having something to keep for himself—but he's already taking steps to redress the underlying error.
This will be the last time, and he knows it. And if he is, in his weakness, inclined to draw it out, to skim his fingertips across every inch of Clark with particular care, to kiss Clark with such thoroughness he almost forgets what they're really here for—it doesn't matter.
This will be the last time, and none of this will matter, and Clark, surely, won't notice a thing.
Of all the skills Bruce might have required to navigate this situation successfully, he hadn't predicted pattern recognition.
And undeniable: he's become aware of a gradually increasing sensation of inevitability. The natural consequence, perhaps, of the way he's always been trapped by Clark's gravity, that he should find himself going in circles.
Because this is how it always happens. Clark exists; Bruce can't look away. He is driven, consumed, hopelessly compelled—his judgment is unforgivably compromised—he errs.
Each time, he finds some way to assert to himself that he is in control. He's tracking Luthor's movements, he has the mineral, he knows what he's doing. He and Clark are fucking, but that's all, and it won't change the way he behaves. Clark should stay at the lake house for objectively sound reasons, and in order to help him feel at home, Bruce should spend time with him, support him, make him smile.
Each time, he believes he's found a way to make this flavor of obsession bearable. As if there's any evidence for it; as if anything in his history with Clark to date supports the idea that he's capable of withstanding Superman.
Physically—if only it were so easy. He'd survived that fight, for all the walls Clark had thrown him through. But that's never what it comes down to, in the end.
What it comes down to is always so much smaller. Clark never even does it on purpose.
A name; a kiss.
Or, this time around, a kick.
He'd known it was coming, in the abstract. Clark has been checking off milestones with the blithe effortless ease of someone in exquisite physical health; at twenty weeks, there's been a distinct but not encumbering change to the line of his midsection, and he told Bruce almost three weeks ago that he'd felt the baby move.
"Like, inside," he'd hastened to add. "I can't feel it with my hand from the outside. But it's definitely the baby."
Back at ten weeks, they'd taken a trip to the ship, which had been able to scour Clark with a truly dizzying number of scans, and had compared them in exacting detail to all Kryptonian baselines it had available in its database.
(They were just lucky it was so old. It had a genesis chamber, but it had been one of the first ships built with one; it still carried plenty of data about Kryptonian sexual reproduction, though Clark was obviously a bit of an outlier even there.)
Bruce had returned to the Cave to find a copy waiting for him, fully translated, politely stowed on the least-secure public-facing server and practically wrapped up with a bow. After the first spasm of dismay
(—terror, someone had found out; someone knew about Clark, knew where he was, knew that Bruce—
—knew, and was going to—
—JOKE'S ON YOU HA HA HA—)
he'd realized he should have known the ship's sensors could reach much further than halfway around the world; that it would know where Clark was, and that all Bruce's security and encryption and protocol layers probably looked to it like an unlocked chest of drawers.
And, more to the point, it was clearly invested in Clark's welfare. And now they've hit twenty weeks, and perhaps that makes it a good time to head back for a checkup.
That's all Bruce is thinking about, when he comes upstairs one evening and finds Clark in the lounge: that he should mention it, ask Clark when he'd like to go. And then he sees how Clark is sitting—upright, book overturned haphazardly on the low table beside him, gaze fixed somewhere in the middle distance; and one of those hands lowered, spread, gently following the unmistakable curve of his belly.
He has every intention of backing away, of giving Clark a moment. He's neither needed nor wanted here. Except there's something almost transfixing about the image
(and oh, how he wishes that it were a matter of horror, sheer car-crash fascination. That he found Clark's altered body existentially disturbing; that the idea of Clark and a baby, a child, were neutral at best, disgusting at worst.
That would make this easier, wouldn't it? Surely it would have to be easier, if he didn't want—)
and he pauses there, fully visible, for an instant too long.
It never does take more than that, with Clark.
"Bruce, hey," and Clark stands, smiling. It's an odd little expression, this smile: quiet, tentative, a little shy. Nothing like Superman's, polite and disarming and carefully photo-ready; and not a whole lot like Clark Kent's, which is broader, beaming. This one is newer, and Bruce has been seeing it more and more often, and he has absolutely no idea what it means. "Working downstairs?"
"Yeah," Bruce says automatically. Clark is—still smiling.
And reaching for him.
"Give me your hand for a second."
"Your hand," Clark repeats patiently, and then renders the request moot by doing it himself, grasping Bruce gently by the wrist, the forearm. They're—close, suddenly, Clark right there; half in Bruce's arms, even though he was almost across the room a moment ago, and Bruce is watching his free hand settle cautiously against the small of Clark's back even as he tells himself not to—not to—
Just not to. Just don't. Just—
"Come on," Clark is saying, "it'll be any second now."
"Clark," Bruce says, but Clark has already pressed Bruce's palm into place, worn cotton polo hardly enough to keep Bruce from feeling, through it, the undeniably familiar texture of his skin, and—
Bruce doesn't startle, when it happens. The sensation is brief, sudden, but unmistakable, just at the edge of his hand.
"Weird, right? The kicks have been getting so much stronger, I figured this time you might be able to tell."
Bruce swallows. He should—he should say something. Respond. Every moment he remains silent, he becomes more obvious. Because Clark doesn't mean anything by it. He's—he's keeping Bruce in the loop, checking off another milestone, alerting Bruce to a new means of evaluation—
No, that's stupid. Not Clark, not the way he's smiling. He's sharing a sensation with Bruce, an experience. That it doubles as all of the above is convenient, but not his primary motivation. He's allowing—inviting—Bruce to be part of this, if only for an instant: this unique, impossible thing. And Bruce should smile back and thank him for it, step away, disengage.
With a dim sort of terror, he finds himself remaining exactly where he is. Because the part of him capable of exercising a modicum of judgment is, for a moment, thoroughly drowned out by the rest—by the captivating, overwhelming, unbridled feeling.
(—that after everything, everything he's done and tried to do, one of his most egregious errors in and of itself should have helped to make something new, something real, something alive. That he should be part of so unexpected a miracle, even by mistake, even in so small a part; as frightening as it is beautiful, to have everything he could never have hoped for dropped so unceremoniously in his lap. And he's even almost allowed to keep it, as long as he doesn't touch it—
—because everything he touches—
—everything; Clark had been invulnerable, for fuck's sake, and still—)
Clark can see it, he must be able to see it: that's why his eyes are so wide, so round, why all that blank startlement is stealing over his face. "Bruce—?"
Bruce pulls his hand away, turns around, and leaves.
Clark calls for him again, asks him to wait—but out of unthinking habit or relentless politeness or some combination of both, doesn't use the speed to cut him off. All Bruce has to do is keep walking.
He'd thought of the solution long ago; he just hadn't been capable of implementing it, at that point. One of the penthouses as a stopgap, perhaps, until he can finalize all the necessary arrangements. And then—Hong Kong should be far enough.
(Not that Clark couldn't find him there within minutes. But—
But why would he want to? Why would he try? Bruce, not Clark, is the problem the distance is intended to solve.)
Alfred will stay, of course. But for all that Alfred is capable of, in Bruce's absence Clark will undoubtedly consider himself the first line of defense, and that's precisely the opposite of the way this was supposed to work.
So when Bruce leaves the lake house, he goes to the Hall of Justice.
Victor and Barry are there, unmistakably; the sounds of Barry's laughter and rapid-fire trash-talk, Victor's wry and muted replies, are audible from the front hall, over something that might be a movie soundtrack. That could even be Arthur scoffing in the background.
Not a scene Bruce should interrupt, especially not with something like this.
But luckily for him, Diana is there, too: in the equipment room, he discovers. With her sword.
And of course she heard him coming—she's already looking up when he glances in, smiling. And then she sees his face, and the smile drops away. "Bruce," she says, neutral, brows drawing down, one hand settling on the sword's hilt. "What's happened?"
"Nothing like that," Bruce says, carefully light, with a pointed glance toward her hand.
But all that does is make her look at him more closely, sliding the sword aside to lay it across the worktable beside her without shifting her gaze away from him for an instant. "Bruce—"
"I'll be out of town for a while. Short notice." What an understatement. "If you could make an effort to check in on Clark regularly, I'd appreciate it."
He's careful: his tone is even, steady, unrushed. But Diana's eyes go narrow anyway, after a moment. "However far away you are, it would take him minutes—less—to reach you. Why should it be necessary that I—"
"Because he won't do it," Bruce snaps, frustration briefly boiling over. He's trying to handle this correctly, to make the right choice at last after a series of mistakes even he can identify; it's—
It's already difficult enough, dammit.
Bruce makes himself take a slow breath. "He won't do it," he repeats, more quietly, "and I can't. Diana—please."
"I will let no harm befall Clark or his unborn child, if it is in my power to prevent it," Diana says, "but you didn't need to ask to be assured of that. You fought?"
Bruce sighs and looks away, lifts a hand to rub at his forehead. He shouldn't permit himself that kind of tell, but god, he's tired. "In a manner of speaking. There was a situation, I didn't handle it well; he'll be angry with me for a little while."
"And he'll be—less angry, if you abruptly leave the continent," Diana murmurs, her tone implying that she expects precisely the opposite result.
"He'll be angrier," Bruce agrees. But that's hardly a bad thing: if Clark should aggressively and pointedly stay put, in a fit of pique, rather than come haring after Bruce demanding answers, that's a win.
Diana watches him for a long moment, and then takes a step closer. "He'll be angrier," she repeats gently. "You already don't look happy. Are you sure this is the right decision?"
"It's the only decision," Bruce grits out. "Not that I'd expect you to understand, I suppose." He laughs, sharp, brittle. "Raised on an island of Amazons—you could hardly know less about this."
This—fatherhood, except he can't say that. Can't force the word onto his tongue; but shouldn't say it anyway. She still doesn't know. Not for certain, at least.
None of them do—they've all been carefully circumspect, and as far as he's aware none of them have asked Clark exactly who had the gall to knock him up. Bruce has caught enough speculative glances to resignedly decide that Victor has made an educated guess, that Barry has some theories, that Arthur is pretty sure and also decidedly unimpressed with Clark's taste. But the longer he can maintain the fiction, the less it will matter—
Except Diana isn't looking at him like she has much interest in fiction; or like she thinks it doesn't matter. He'd half-expected her to slam him backward into a shelf again, for spitting something so snide at her, but she doesn't. She tilts her head a little, her gaze calm and not unkind, and then she says, "I know a great deal about taking care of people. About defending them, protecting them—loving them."
Bruce looks away.
It doesn't help: Diana reaches out and takes his hand, settles the other gently against his shoulder. "Bruce," she murmurs. "I consider you a friend; I hope you know as much. I want you to be happy, and I want you to look on your own choices without regret. I don't think this decision is the right one."
Bruce closes his eyes. "If you could make an effort to check in on Clark regularly," he repeats, strained, hoarse, "I'd appreciate it."
Diana is quiet for a moment. "I will," she says at last, with a sigh, and squeezes his hand, his shoulder, before she lets go.
He does have to go back to the house eventually.
(He doesn't. He could just go; Bruce Wayne can get away with that kind of thing. He doesn't even need to pack. He could drive himself to the private airfield, climb onto a plane right now, buy anything the main Hong Kong suite isn't stocked with as soon as he lands—)
Just to grab a few odds and ends, to make sure he's accounted for everything.
He isn't expecting to be interrupted. He'd assumed Clark would be angry enough with him for walking out like that to steer clear of him for the rest of the evening, and perhaps the morning, too. More than enough time.
So looking up from his half-filled suitcase at the sound of a footstep to see Clark in the doorway is—a surprise.
"Bruce, there you are," Clark is saying, and then his gaze falls on the suitcase and he stops short, face paling abruptly.
And he must already have guessed; but better, surely, to be upfront about it. "I'm leaving," Bruce says.
Clark blinks. "What?"
"I think we need to stop," Bruce repeats, not unkindly.
Clark stares at him, and can't think what to say.
He just—he wasn't expecting this. They've been doing fine. Better than fine, even; not that they don't still argue sometimes, but it doesn't have the same edge on it anymore, not when Clark knows they're going to finish arguing later, murmuring insults against each other's mouths as they strip each other's clothes off.
But this isn't an argument. Bruce is calm, relaxed. When he'd said he needed to talk to Clark, that it would only take a minute, Clark had—
Well. Honestly, he'd been expecting Bruce to shove him against the wall and smirk and start palming his cock through his pants. And instead, Bruce had looked at him for a moment, a certain rueful angle to the slant of that intoxicating mouth, and had said—
"But—why?" He stops, screws his eyes shut for a second and rubs his forehead, and then adds, "I mean, that's—if you don't want to anymore, obviously that's—"
He's already starting to go back over it all in his head, frantic; had Bruce seemed bored? Disinterested? Had Clark been—pushing him, blithely ignoring Bruce's hints—
"That would actually make this a lot easier," Bruce murmurs, eyes skating on a leisurely and wistful path down the line of Clark's chest—on purpose, Clark realizes, because his gaze snaps back to Clark's face, confirming that Clark noticed, before he smiles that rueful smile. "The unfortunate truth is that I'd very much enjoy continuing to have spectacular sex with you three or four times a week. In point of fact, that's the problem."
Clark hopes his face is conveying his utter lack of comprehension, because he doubts he can find the words for it.
"When it comes to you," Bruce duly elaborates, "I can't think about anything else." He huffs a short, sharp breath through his nose, glances away and shakes his head a little. "We're supposed to be teammates, Clark. Colleagues—friends. When I asked for a minute of your time, what did you think I meant?"
Clark swallows, feeling heat claw its way up the sides of his throat, his face. "Well—"
Bruce looks at him, and for a moment Bruce's eyes are wide, dark, his expression intent. "Exactly," he murmurs. "And I thought about it, too. But spectacular sex isn't a substitute for a functional working relationship. And if I'm throwing away every opportunity to cultivate that kind of relationship with you in favor of dragging you off to fuck you against a wall—"
Clark squeezes his eyes shut, groans a little behind his teeth. He'd already been hot for it, mind running away with him the moment Bruce had asked to talk to him; Bruce's blunt statement had been like a bucket of cold water, but not a big enough bucket to keep that mental image from doing a little too much for him. "Talking like that isn't really helping," he manages.
And to his surprise, Bruce laughs—strained, a little strangled. "I know," Bruce admits, low. "Christ, I know. I'm—I wish there were some other way to handle this, I do. But if I have to choose, the League comes first. The two of us, as part of the League, as team members—that's more important."
And that makes a sudden cold weight settle into Clark's stomach. He'd been right: this isn't an argument. With arguments, Clark has a chance of winning; with arguments, Clark has something to disagree over.
But the League does come first. It has to. And if Bruce is serious about this, about feeling like sleeping with Clark is making it impossible for him to find a way to work with Clark effectively—
Clark had liked arguing their way into a fuck. But—but Bruce had taken him aside after debriefings to hash things out, once upon a time. That was how they'd started doing this in the first place. They had, back then, been starting to push and pull each other into some kind of balance, grudgingly learning to take each other's concerns into account.
And that long slow process did kind of get blown out of the water, Clark thinks, swallowing. Or at least he sure hasn't been giving it a lot of thought—not when he could picture Bruce's cock sinking into him an inch at a time instead.
He meets Bruce's eyes and swallows again.
(If Bruce thinks fucking alone is taking up too much of their joint time and attention, distracting from elements of their broader relationship that are more important—
He won't care to know that Clark's only been wanting to do it more often, that Clark's only been wanting to make it take longer. It'll just prove his point, that Clark can't think about anything else, that he dreams about it, that if he could he's pretty sure he'd spend every single moment he had to spare on Bruce—)
"Okay," he says. "All right. We'll—we'll stop, then."
Bruce's expression doesn't flicker; he looks calm, attentive, a little resigned.
But then why shouldn't he? This has to be the outcome he was hoping for. He wasn't blindsided by it; he's had a chance to think about this. And he—he probably wasn't—he must not have started feeling—
"See you at the next debriefing, I guess?" Clark hears himself say. It comes out a little shaky, he thinks, but okay; nothing Bruce will be able to call him on.
"Sure," Bruce says quietly, and then—
Then something does change, some ripple of upheaval somewhere below the surface. He leans in, sudden, close, and then pauses there, and Clark can't refuse the opportunity to let their temples brush, to stand there and breathe Bruce in.
And Bruce, unaccountably, turns toward him—into him—brings their mouths together. Kisses him, soft and slow and unbearably careful, the tips of his fingers astonishingly gentle against Clark's jaw.
It feels like it lasts forever; it feels like Clark barely even has time to register what's happening. And then Bruce breaks away without looking at him, pushes past with a brief sharp impact of their shoulders, and Clark stands there staring at the wall, listening to the sounds of Bruce's strides moving into the distance, and tells himself there's no good reason for his eyes to be stinging like this.
He flies, after. Not headed anywhere in particular; just to move, to go, to be somewhere no one can see him. On a distant whim, he climbs gradually higher: the horizon turns pale, brilliant, the bowl of the sky deepening to an ever more profound blue over him, and the first pinpricks of stars appear, without him even straining his vision, at the same moment it belatedly occurs to him that the roar of wind has died back dramatically.
Space is so quiet. He can still hear himself—not his breathing, obviously, but his heart, the rush of his blood; the sound of it can still travel through his body, even without any air. But everything else has dropped away.
It's quiet. And he hangs there and listens to all that nothing, and just tries not to think for a while.
"You're leaving," Clark repeats flatly.
"Yes," Bruce says.
And Clark feels his mouth twist, doesn't have any particular inclination to stop it. "No, wait, let me guess—urgent business, huh?"
The burn of anger is starting to glow hot in his gut, and maybe he's tensing up a little; the baby kicks again, sharp, and that only makes it worse. Because—
Because he isn't just mad at Bruce. He's mad at himself, too. He's been trying so hard to be careful, to not make presumptions or impose too much on Bruce's generosity or hospitality; and it had seemed to work. Bruce had relaxed, at least as much as Bruce ever relaxed around Clark anymore.
But he overstepped, making Bruce feel for that kick. He must have. The last thing he wants is for Bruce to feel like Clark is—is manipulating him, or demanding anything from him, just because they—he—just because the baby is Bruce's. They were fucking; they stopped. Clark isn't entitled to anything from Bruce, not anymore, and he knows it. He'd never wanted to imply otherwise.
Good thing he hadn't gotten far before seeing the suitcase, before realizing what it meant. If he'd actually forced the words out—god. Bruce would have turned him down flat. And it would only have been fair, because he couldn't have come up with a worse attempt at an olive branch if he'd tried.
(And it isn't Bruce's fault, that—
—that Clark keeps doing this, keeps falling into the same trap: keeps wanting so much more from Bruce than it's fair to ask for, keeps spilling his helpless desperate need everywhere. Bruce already left him once over it; he should have learned his goddamn lesson—)
Bruce doesn't say a word, just keeps looking at him steadily.
"This is your house," Clark says, as calmly as he can. "If you want me to go, all you have to do is ask."
Bruce turns back to the suitcase, reaching out to tuck one outstretched shirtsleeve into place with precision. "You don't have to go anywhere. I offered you a place here—"
"And you can take it back! Jesus, Bruce, just say it. Did you think I'd have argued?"
Bruce glances back over his shoulder at Clark and raises one eyebrow pointedly.
"I'm yelling at you right now because you didn't ask," Clark snaps, "not because you did. I know how much you've done for me, letting me stay here, making all these arrangements, putting out a public cover for me—for both of me. I know I'm not entitled to any of it. Whatever I did to make you think you needed to leave instead of just letting me know I couldn't—"
"I do need to leave," Bruce says, very evenly. "But that isn't your problem, Clark. It's mine. I've been putting off a trip to the Hong Kong office for a while now. Alfred will be staying here, and Diana will keep in touch with you."
Reasonable. Responsible. Logical. He's almost selling it well enough that Clark might buy in, if he hadn't seen the look on Bruce's face when the baby kicked against his hand.
Not that he'd understood it. There had been so much in it, it had come and gone so quickly; even with a touch of superspeed to catch it, Superman's exceptional memory with which to review it later, Clark isn't at all confident he's been able to parse it.
But he'd seen it. He'd seen it, and he knows it mattered.
Except Bruce doesn't look like it mattered, right now. Bruce doesn't look like much of anything; and Clark, an arm's length away, feels a distance yawning wide between them that he has no idea how to cross.
The baby chooses that moment to kick again, a little more gently, and Clark drops an unthinking hand to his belly, sees Bruce clock the movement and then become, if anything, still more remote.
And suddenly he can't stand it anymore. "Fine," he says, even though that's the last word for what this is; and he turns around and leaves Bruce to his fucking packing.
He goes and finds a book, takes it out onto the dock and doesn't read it; stares out across the perfect still surface of the lake and breathes slowly until he doesn't want to break things anymore.
The sound of a footstep behind him almost undoes all his hard work, tension yanking itself taut up the line of his spine. But when he turns, it's just Alfred, bearing a mug of something, a pair of sandwiches on a plate, and a knowing look.
Clark sighs and scrubs a hand across his face. "Hey, Alfred."
"Sir," Alfred murmurs, setting down the mug and plate and lowering himself carefully down onto the dock.
"I guess you could probably hear some of that, huh."
"Your voice does carry a bit in the house, Master Kent," Alfred says. "Particularly when you raise it."
Clark winces. "Sorry—"
"No need to apologize, I assure you. I've sometimes thought to myself that it would do Master Wayne a great deal of good if he were shouted at more often. Especially by someone other than me."
"Did he tell you what he's doing?"
"He made a brief mention in passing," Alfred allows. "He did not delve into the details, but I believe I have some sense of the general circumstances. And," he adds, before Clark can do more than open his mouth, "I also believe I grasp the essence of your frustrations. Have a sandwich, Master Kent."
Clark glances down, about to refuse—and then the baby kicks him helpfully in the liver. "Okay, fine, you win," he mutters at the absurd rise of his belly, and takes a sandwich.
Alfred takes the other, and they sit quietly through the first few bites each. Alfred nudges the mug toward Clark pointedly, and Clark takes a sip; tea, of course, but it's sweet and milky, the way Alfred has learned he likes it.
"I realize that untangling Master Wayne's motivations can be a difficult and unrewarding task at the best of times," Alfred says eventually, about halfway through the sandwiches. "But—if you will forgive me, Master Kent—I believe there is a piece of this particular puzzle that you may have overlooked.
"You have made every effort to assure Master Wayne that you do not consider him beholden to you or your needs in any way, which leads me to conclude that you have some reason to think he might otherwise assume he were. I realize it's indelicate of me to ask, but—he is the child's other father, isn't he?"
"Oh," Clark says, startled. "Um, yes. He didn't tell you?"
"Goodness, no," Alfred says, with a chuckle. "Even if he had felt himself in a position to raise the subject, I've been after him on the topic of grandchildren for so long that he is well aware I would never let it go."
Clark smiles, but he can't help but snag on— "In a position to raise the subject? I never asked him not to tell you, or—"
"No, no, of course not. But your efforts to relieve Master Wayne of responsibility have, I think, also led him to feel relieved of any meaningful claim to fatherhood. Which I imagine he believes is very wise of you, and to which he will therefore never raise even the slightest objection."
Clark frowns. "I didn't want him to feel like I expected anything from him," he says slowly. "This whole thing was an accident. He didn't want to keep—um, doing what we were doing. I didn't have the right to insist that he change his mind about that, or just—just let me right back in, because of—"
"Master Kent," Alfred interrupts quietly, "he believes it very wise of you not because he is loath to be forced to consider himself a father against his will, but because he has been a father before."
The bite of sandwich Clark had been about to swallow sticks awkwardly in his throat; he grabs for the tea, hasty, and takes a gulp to help it down, and fuck, fuck. Fuck.
"Jesus," he says aloud, dropping the mug back to the deck with a clonk and shoving the rest of his sandwich back onto the plate. "Jesus—Alfred, sorry, I—I have to, um—"
"By all means, Master Kent," Alfred says gently, and Clark half-runs, half-flies, huge leaping steps, back toward the house.
Jesus. What an idiot he's been, what an utterly selfish—he hadn't thought of it, it hadn't even occurred to him. What an impossibly stupid thing to overlook. He'd been so caught up with all his own fears and struggles, with everything that was difficult for him about living here with Bruce and Bruce's goddamn baby growing inside him—
And of course Bruce hadn't said a word. It's always been about the negative space; it's always been behind glass. He's never so much as said Jason's name to Clark—it was Alfred who'd answered Clark's first tentative question about the empty suit in the Cave, who'd pointed him toward the few pertinent news articles. Months ago, now, and Clark had never known a Bruce who hadn't borne that loss; it was, inevitably, horribly, an abstraction to him.
Or it had been, at least. Now he's stayed up nights, lying in the dark alone with his hand over his belly, spine prickling with formless anxiety. The first moment he'd felt the baby move, it had swamped him with a wave of relief and, paradoxically, ratcheted the fear higher still at the same time—what if it stopped moving? The further along he gets, the more real the kid becomes to him, and jesus, he'd made Bruce sit there and listen to him talk about how much it scared him to think of losing it—jesus.
Because the last time Bruce had tried to be someone's father, that's exactly how it had ended. That very first day when Clark had come up to him on the roof of the Hall, had told him—Clark's lucky he hadn't run screaming to Hong Kong right then. And every time since, every time Clark tried to be careful, to make sure Bruce understood Clark wasn't asking him for anything, what had that sounded like to Bruce? Thanks, but I know exactly what happens to kids who have you for a parent, and I'll pass—
Clark could cry for the irony of it. He'd been trying to remind himself of the facts, as much as anything: that Bruce was being kind to him; that it didn't mean what it might feel like it meant, being in his house and sharing his space; that Bruce hadn't signed up for any of his freaky resurrected alien reproductive problems, Bruce had just wanted to fuck him—and then not even that.
But now, at last, he understands what all this might have meant to Bruce at least a little bit better. And if Bruce still wants to go away for a while, get some distance, that's all right; but the least Clark can do is apologize to him. The least Clark can do is explain, even if—
Even if it means saying some things he'd never planned to say.
The conversation went well. Clark had been gratifyingly reasonable, faced with Bruce's carefully-chosen expression of concern. Bruce had expected to have to deal with some lingering resentment, potentially; not all that likely, considering Clark had shown little tendency to hold a grudge
(—sure, he'd grabbed Bruce by the throat, thrown him into a car; but he'd just come back from the dead, and he'd thought Victor was attacking him deliberately. What must that have looked like to him? Bruce toying with him, raising him from his rest just to kill him again; experimenting with him, or even forcing him to serve as some kind of superpowered combat dummy. Of course he'd been angry.
And then he'd showed up to help them with Steppenwolf anyway. He'd showed up and he'd smiled at Bruce, tentative but real; and Bruce's fate had, perhaps, already been sealed in that moment alone—)
but possible, and Bruce wanted to be prepared to handle it as deftly as he could.
But it's fine. Clark is a little subdued, perhaps; doesn't meet Bruce's eyes if he can avoid it, directs his comments to the team as a group rather than to Bruce individually. Nothing sufficient to cause a problem.
There are close calls, now and then. Bruce—looks at Clark too often, probably. The first time Batman is knocked out of the belly of the Fox and Clark has to catch him, it's in the middle of a swarm of drones, already shooting beams of red light everywhere; in the moment, Bruce barely has time to feel the pressure of Clark's arms around him, Clark's chest against his, already surveying the area to decide where the best place is for Clark to set him down.
If he should revisit the memory later, embellish the details—it isn't as though he didn't already know how Clark felt against him. At this point, what harm can it do to indulge?
They will achieve equilibrium in time. They must. That's why Bruce did this: because to continue on as they were would have forever removed equilibrium from his reach.
(Unfulfilled want is familiar, perpetual. Stable. The want will never diminish; true fulfillment will never be possible. It is, in its way, a kind of balance.
A balance that weakness, desperate and self-defeating, cannot be allowed to tip.)
Sometimes Clark looks tired, harried. Sometimes Bruce wants to ask him whether it's the senses again, whether
(—listen to me. Look at me, Clark—)
there's anything he can do to help.
The closest call they suffer is over the silliest possible thing: a few cracked ribs, that's all. Sentient vines, helped along by Ivy—one of them had caught Batman particularly tightly, wrapped around him like a constrictor and squeezed, and there had only been so much the armor could do underneath that strong a crushing force.
He doesn't even know Clark is there; he'd thought Clark had left the Hall hours ago. But he sits in the same position for too long in the monitor room, finishing up a report, and when he stands the ache is briefly sharp. He grimaces, puts an absent hand to his side—
—and ends up layering his fingers over Clark's, already there.
"You're lucky I don't startle easily," Bruce murmurs, tone neutral, glancing over his shoulder.
Clark isn't looking back; he's—ah, naturally, scanning Bruce with his vision, that must be the reason for that funny unfocused look to his eyes. "Should you really be moving around right now? That middle one looks pretty bad."
"I've had worse."
And that, at last, brings Clark's gaze snapping up to Bruce's face. "Somehow that doesn't reassure me very much," Clark says quietly, one corner of his mouth quirked up the barest degree, soft and even a little fond.
Not that it matters to Bruce one way or the other.
"Of the two of us," Bruce notes, "you're the who's been buried before. Technically speaking, my record is comparatively spotless."
If he'd entertained a notion that bringing up Clark's death would make Clark stop smiling like that, he'd have been wrong. "Man, die just once—just once," Clark stresses, "and nobody ever lets you forget it."
His hand, Bruce realizes dimly, is still curved around Bruce's side at the waist; Bruce's hand is—is still over it, their fingers overlapping, nearly tangled.
Neither of them moves.
Clark's gaze on Bruce's face has turned intent, searching, flicking back and forth in restless little leaps. "Bruce," he says, very low, and then he swallows hard, bites his lip, and Bruce very carefully does not sway in toward him so much as a nanometer.
Equilibrium. Stability. Balance.
"Bruce, I—I miss you," Clark blurts. He's flushing, pink and hot, all the way up his ears, but he doesn't relent, doesn't move away.
And there's half a dozen things Bruce could say to that, starting with the obvious—Clark, I haven't gone anywhere—and working up from there to the necessary—we talked about this, Clark; you agreed it was for the best.
But Clark is so close to him, still touching him, that broad warm palm a soothing balm over the ache of the goddamn ribs; and the words stay trapped, caught in Bruce's silent throat.
And then, as if from very far away, their communicators both click.
"So, uh, hey, if anybody else is still awake? I was just making a pizza run, and, um, there's a—a guy with some kind of ray-gun? I don't know, I've never seen anything like it and I'm not really sure I'm qualified to evaluate—"
Bruce fishes his out of his pocket with his free hand. "Okay, Barry," he says. "Understood."
"On our way," Clark adds.
"Cool! Great, thank you. And, uh, sorry."
As if, Bruce thinks, he has some idea what he might have interrupted; as if he can see from outside his pizza parlor how Clark has withdrawn.
"Guess we—we better go," Clark says, looking away, and Bruce nods, steps away, and doesn't think about how cold his side feels, the loss of Clark's touch, at all.
He's done. Or he might as well be. As if he needed any of this anyway; as if there's any reason not to just close the goddamn suitcase and go.
He should never have come back here at all. He should have recognized the urge for what it was: his uncontrolled subconscious, wordless and greedy and too goddamn stupid to comprehend that all its witless dreams of unsuitable outcomes were pointless.
(—as if it would be of benefit, somehow, to have been talked out of this, to have his entirely justifiable concerns ignored or set aside or soothed away; as if it wouldn't undercut every single thing he's trying to accomplish, for Clark to—ugh, Christ, get a grip—to refuse to let him go—)
No footsteps, this time; just that familiar rush of air. Bruce braces himself and turns, and Clark—
Clark has touched down, barefooted, only a few steps away, and crosses the rest of the distance in a rush of strides. He reaches out, wraps one wide warm hand firmly around the back of Bruce's neck and tips their foreheads together; and it's such an intense shock, to suddenly be so surrounded by him after going so long without, that Bruce almost doesn't understand what he's saying.
"—sorry, Bruce, I'm so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking, I—I wasn't thinking; I should have realized this would be hard for you—"
"Hard for me," Bruce repeats blankly, unthinking. "You're the one who's pregnant," but Clark's shifting briefly away, shaking his head, shushing Bruce almost chidingly.
"Shut up, shut up," and he clasps Bruce's wrist, settles Bruce's hand firmly against his belly; the baby, as if only waiting for the opportunity, kicks again, distinct and unmistakable. "It's okay. All right? The baby's okay. Bruce, it was never—it wasn't that I thought you weren't capable of being a father, that the baby would be better off without you, or whatever the hell it is you've been telling yourself."
Bruce barely controls the flinch, suppresses the reflex of it down into the barest shiver, and closes his eyes, swallowing hard. There's something he should say now, something that will make Clark understand that this is not a problem, that Bruce is fine; Bruce just has to figure out what, that's all.
(The way Clark's thumb is skimming the hinge of his jaw isn't helping.)
"I didn't tell you this," Clark murmurs, "but I should have. I—even back when I was panicking the worst, at the very beginning, the moment I first realized that the baby was yours? I was glad."
Clark's voice is uneven, unsteady; the last word cracks on the way out, so badly it takes Bruce a moment to parse it.
He startles a little bit, and Clark eases back carefully—he looks strange, pale, but his jaw is set, his mouth pressed into a flat stubborn line. "I was glad," he says again, more firmly. "Because sometimes I felt like I'd lost you, or—or like I'd never had you, like I dreamed it all. But the baby was yours, and it scared the hell out of me, but that was—I was glad.
"I know you had your reasons. And you weren't wrong," Clark hurries to add, "it was—you wanted us to figure out how to be teammates first, and that was important. But I was in love with you. I am in love with you."
He says it quietly, starkly, without hesitation; a bare and unvarnished truth, offered up without condition or obligation.
(The tone is so much easier to analyze than the content. The content is—unhearable. Unbearable. Utterly incomprehensible—)
"That's why I was trying to be careful. I knew I would be tempted to make this something it wasn't, if I let myself. Except I didn't want to be a burden or a duty to you, Bruce. I didn't want to be another responsibility you'd taken on. I wanted—I wanted to be something you wanted.
"But I knew all along that you'd do anything for this kid. I told you I was glad I didn't have to do this alone, and that's because I knew from the start that I could trust you to do whatever you thought was best. Even," Clark adds, a little wry, "if that was flying to Hong Kong instead of just kicking me out of the house like a normal person."
He stops and looks at Bruce, gaze that clear and cloudless blue, biting his lip. The quiet feels loud.
"You, uh." Clark hesitates, looks away and clears his throat, and his hand tightens over Bruce's, still pressed against his belly. "Are you—planning to say anything? Or, I mean, we can keep standing here. That's fine, too."
Bruce thinks it over.
He has options; he always does, always has. He chose to kill Clark, to bring him back; to reach for him, that very first time; to kiss him back. To send him away, and to run from him.
Funny, how few of them have felt like choices in the moment they were made.
And this, too, doesn't feel like a choice, because abruptly he can't fathom looking into those eyes and telling anything but the truth.
"The uniform in the case," he says, slow, stumbling; he never says this, never talks about it, but—the truth. "You know what's written on it."
Clark swallows once, twice, looking sick and sad. "Joke's on you," he whispers.
Bruce closes his eyes. "It is, that's the thing. It is; sometimes I think it always has been."
"With him," Bruce makes himself say. "Jason. With other things, other mistakes I've made. With you. That the moment you died should be the moment I understood that you shouldn't have; that I tried so hard to kill you and then once you were gone all I could think about was getting you back. That I could fuck you but not—"
"Bruce," Clark says again, soft.
"—but not tell you—" Bruce bites the words off, helpless, shakes his head and flattens his palm more closely against Clark's skin. The warmth of him, the transferred movement of his ribs as he breathes—he's alive. The knowledge, so direct and undeniable, is steadying. "And then that you'd come to me and tell me I was a father again, in the only way that doesn't matter; that I'd lost any chance to—"
"Bruce," and Clark's hand has shifted forward, from the back of Bruce's neck to his jaw, his chin, tilting his face gently but inexorably until he can't help but meet Clark's eyes. "You haven't lost anything."
Bruce kisses him.
Another choice that doesn't feel like one: to do anything else, at that moment, seems impossible. He has to press his mouth to Clark's, has to swallow the startled sound Clark makes with his own throat, has to sweep a greedy thumb along the perfect line of Clark's cheekbone.
"Wait," Clark says against his lips, breaks away and then brushes one kiss against the corner of his mouth, another, like he can't help it. "Wait a second, Bruce, you—I thought you didn't—"
"I was afraid."
It comes out—low, hoarse, horribly strained, but it comes out, and the feeling of saying it to that sweetly open face makes Bruce think vague thoughts of thorns dug deep, pulled free; of poison drawn from an old, old wound.
"I was afraid. I don't intend it as an excuse, only an explanation. I'm sorry, I—I should never have let you think that I—" He doesn't know what comes next, how to describe it. All the levels on which it's true, all the different ways in which he means it: afraid of Clark, afraid of the baby, afraid of the looming specter of his own inevitable failure; where should he even begin? How can he hope to make Clark—Clark—understand it?
Except somehow he doesn't seem to have to. Clark is looking at him thoughtfully, searchingly, brow furrowed just the barest degree; and then all at once his whole face softens. He runs careful fingers through Bruce's hair, smooths a broad thumb along the side of Bruce's throat, and then he leans in close and murmurs, "I was, too."
"Clark," Bruce says, cracked.
"I was afraid, too, Bruce—I still am," and he drops one light sweet kiss against Bruce's cheek, three in a line along his jaw, another at a tangent to the curve of his lower lip. "I should have said something. I could have stopped you whenever I wanted; I could have asked. I fucked you and—and didn't tell you either, and I'm sorry. I'm afraid, too. But I think," he adds, so soft it's hardly more than a breath against Bruce's mouth, "that maybe we should try anyway." He kisses Bruce again, full-on, quick and firm, and tightens his hand over Bruce's. "Which, um, I guess this is as good a time as any: when I came in earlier, I was going to ask you something."
"Yes," Bruce says instantly.
Clark grins at him, warm and full of light. "Don't say that until you hear what it is," he says, rueful, and shakes his head. "I think it's about time I went to see my mother. I want to tell her in person, and she'll want to yell at me for not having told her before in person, too. And I—will you come with me?"
Bruce draws in a long slow breath; thinks about all the conclusions Mrs. Kent is likely to draw, all the questions she's likely to ask—about standing next to Clark and holding his hand and answering them. "Yes," he says, "I will."
"Really? Because I know it's sort of a lot," Clark offers, gentle. "You don't have to."
Bruce looks at him for a long moment. Absorbs it, this moment he had thought could never happen, this unearned gift: Clark here, close enough to touch, smiling at him; in—in love with him, and of all the unlikely things, that's surely the most impossible. "I know," he says at last, skimming a thumb along the curve of Clark's cheek, the dip of a dimple. "I know I don't have to. I want to," and Clark's eyes go wide, bright. "I want to," Bruce says again, and kisses him: slow, soft, lingering. Because he can, and he wants to—and at last, maybe, it's all right for Clark to know it.