Actions

Work Header

World's Finest: Giving Thanks

Work Text:

 

Bruce didn’t like many people, but he liked the Kents. With them, he was able to be himself, and, so far from Gotham, he had no reason to be anyone else. There were no secrets at the Kent farm. There was no need for secrets.

Except today, he was holding tight to one secret that he couldn’t speak. And it was like a fog, transforming a warm sunny day into a swamp.

The Kents were warm, and sweet, and comforting. The air was full of pumpkin pie spice and stuffing herbs and gravy.

And Bruce was choking on it.

But he couldn’t tell them that.

Not now, when they were sitting down around a table draped with an orange-and-brown-leafed cloth, and Clark was passing Bruce an orange casserole dish full of something that perhaps was once a healthy side of green beans, but had been transformed into a cardiologist’s nightmare.

“It’s my favorite,” Clark said, catching Bruce’s skeptical eye.

Bruce smiled and scooped some onto his plate before passing it on to Jonathan Kent.

“Mine too,” said Jonathan, taking an even smaller scoop than Bruce, “but Martha says I’m not allowed seconds of it anymore, so you boys should eat my share.”

“Don’t worry, Pa,” said Clark. “I’ll eat your seconds. And thirds.”

“Now, Clark,” Martha jumped in, “we don’t know how your heart reacts—”

Clark laughed, taking up the sweet potatoes. “I’m fine, Ma. Nothing the sun can’t fix, anyway.”

The sweet potatoes were, like the green beans, only a vessel for other much less healthy ingredients. But Bruce took them obligingly as well.

The first few times he met the Kents, Bruce had kept one foot out the door. He’d humored Clark, but farms and wholesome gatherings were not his style.

But the Kents weren’t a bland Hallmark family, forcing sweetness down his throat. They were good, and patient.

The very first time was just a brief meeting, out of necessity. But then Clark had dragged him there, back after some injury, after his first breakup with Selina. A change of scenery, Clark had called it.

Bruce hadn’t known what to do without Gotham. He’d tried to sleep, but it hadn’t stuck. Instead, he’d ended up sitting on the back porch of the farmhouse, watching the stars move across the sky, resisting calling Alfred to ask for updates lest he wake up Clark’s parents.

Eventually, they’d woken up on their own. Jonathan came into the kitchen and began rustling about, and then the door creaked open, slowly. Bruce had turned to find Jonathan holding a shotgun, shaking his head in relief.

Y’nearly gave me a heart attack, he’d said.

Sorry to scare you, Bruce had replied, and Jonathan had laughed and offered him a cup of coffee. And then they sat, side by side, mostly in silence, until Jonathan went back out for his morning chores.

Can I help? Bruce had asked, and Jonathan had given him an appraising look and then waved him along. They didn’t say much, beyond what had to be said, but it was a comfortable kind of silence.

The Kents were good like that, letting Bruce sit in quiet when he needed it, and they didn’t force him into small talk when he wasn’t ready for it.

And then that evening, when Clark and Jonathan were out on the porch chatting over beer, Jonathan had called back to Martha for a second round, and when she came back into the kitchen, she asked, Are you okay, dear?

I’m fine, Bruce said, but then he added, because he clearly wasn’t fine, Your name. It just… that was my mother’s name, too.

She’d put her hand on Bruce’s and nodded sweetly, saying, I’m so sorry about what happened to her. To both of them. To you.

After so many years, his parents had become symbols of themselves, larger-than-life icons of legacy, innocence, justice, expectations. But in Ma Kent’s touch, that dissolved and the actual memories came back. Suddenly his mother wasn’t a ghostly memory, but a vivid one, animated and generous and impatient and quick-witted, with perfectly curled black locks and bright lipstick and always the perfect black dress and slender-but-strong arms hugging him close or pushing him forward. Go on, Brucie. Go say hi.

And everything had come flooding out.

He talked about their deaths, their lives, the fuzzy memories that he clung to.

Martha Kent surprised him then, saying, I remember reading about her and thinking she sounded so wonderful—her work with that clinic, and with all of those schools.

Bruce blinked in disbelief. Everyone in Gotham knew the Waynes, but he hadn’t expected that here. Not in Smallville, with this family that looked on the coastal cities with such suspicion.

You read about her?

She nodded, and then disappeared into another room for three minutes before returning with a magazine. The pages were warped from humidity and the pictures were faded, but he recognized it. American Housewife, Fall 1972. Feature interview with Martha Wayne, newlywed.

I never keep these kinds of things, she said, but… she had such good things to say. And she was doing work with the orphanages, and, well, we were thinking of adopting. But I don’t need it anymore. If you don’t have it, you should take it.

He opened the stiff pages and found a two-page spread of his mother, his house. He’d seen it before, but not handed to him like this. He bit back the emotional torrent and turned through the pages.

I wish you’d been able to meet her, he said, even though it made no sense, even though that other universe where Martha Wayne had survived would’ve had no Batman, and in that case, would he have continued his friendship with Clark beyond that first interview?

Me too, she replied. But I met you, and even without knowing her, I can see her in you. She would be proud.

Do you think so?

Of course she would be, Martha Kent had said, without missing a beat. Any mother would be proud of you.

He’d smiled, and then they’d sat in a warm Kansas silence, drinking coffee and eating pie until Clark and his father returned.

They weren’t family, exactly, but after that, they were far from strangers. He trusted them with his secrets. He trusted them with Dick.

If he and Clark continued like this… maybe the Kents were something like family, after all. That was the idea, clearly, with them gathered around for the holiday meal like this.

“Now,” said Martha Kent, “We always go around and name what we’re thankful for this year. Clark told you? I didn’t want you to be put on the spot.”

“He mentioned it,” Bruce said.

Clark had told Bruce and Diana about all sorts of ridiculous traditions, back at the League Headquarters a month ago. Bruce hadn’t been sure if it’d been meant as a selling point or a warning, though Diana had declared each one more charming than the last.

The town parade. Gathering goods for charity to bring to the church service. The Thanksgiving morning walk around the farm to gather items for the centerpiece. Reading all the slips of paper that Martha had collected in a little jar from the year to remember every time one of the Kents had been grateful. Writing notes to soldiers and prisoners. A hay ride with cider between dinner and dessert. Decorating for Christmas the next two days and rounding it out with a family viewing of The Sound of Music and It's a Wonderful Life.  They’d sounded nice from a distance. Up close, though, he was a stranger in an elaborate ritual.

Clark smiled. “Well, mine’s easy.” He pulled at Bruce’s arm, and Bruce gave in, leaning in to let Clark kiss the crown of his head.

Clark was good. And loving. And the best partner Bruce could dream up.

And Bruce was choking on it.

“Excuse me,” he said, pushing off the overly-soft chair cushion.

Eyes followed him for half a second, until Dick swept in to deflect, saying, “I’m thankful for lots. For Bruce, and Alfred, and Uncle Clark, and you guys, and Wally, and Roy, and catching that stupid art thief before we came out here so we can enjoy the vacation, and…”

Bruce was thankful for Dick.

He reached the top of the stairs and turned into the bathroom. After nudging the door closed behind him, he turned on the water, letting it pour over his opened palms.

The setting sun glimmered on the water cupped in his hand just before he tossed it onto his face.

Get a grip.

He breathed in through his nose, counting to six.

Clark had asked if it would be okay, only a week earlier. And he’d said yes.

Why wouldn’t be okay? he’d asked.

That’s what I said, Clark had said, patiently helping as Bruce changed his own wound dressings in the Cave. You’ve always been okay out there.

Bruce had always been okay there, as much as he could be okay. Alfred took care of him plenty well, but there was a different feeling at the Kents. A chance to be outside of his usual routine, his usual reminders of sadness. There was a lightness and warmth there. But now, instead of the warmth of a fireplace, it was broiling him.

Pa said holidays can be different, Clark had continued. After my Aunt Ruthie got breast cancer, Ma’s always been sort of sad around Easter, because it was Ruthie’s favorite. So Pa just… wanted you to be sure you felt okay coming out there. You’re not doing it just to make them happy.

I’m sure, Bruce had said, again and again. I’m sure I’m okay. I’ll be fine.

Why had he said that?

He was never okay at Thanksgiving, not really. The Wayne family had always come most alive in the winter—his father would insist on finding the tallest tree in the Gotham area for Christmas and adorning it with crystal so it looked like ice and then surrounding it with gleaming red packages, and then his mother would put all of her efforts into their New Year’s party, the event for anyone who was anyone at all. But Thanksgiving, once long ago, had been a quiet family day, the one holiday that his father would insist on taking off of work, off the on-call list. They’d drop off food at all the local food pantries and then settle in back home with a meal cooked by Alfred that would take the small family all weekend to eat. After they were shot, after they died, Bruce had told Alfred he didn’t want to do it anymore.

And he didn’t, until Dick had come around. Their first year together, he’d invited as many people as he could think of, to avoid the ghosts. And then last year, he’d tried to recreate the old traditions with Dick, but it felt like a sham, trying to fill shoes of his parents. Shoes he could never fill.

But here, he was a kid again. He’d expected it to be something entirely foreign—and in some ways it was, with the cream of mushroom soup and the televised sports and tacky Americana decor—but in too many ways, it was like he was eight years old again, tugging at the tightness of a new holiday suit. What are you thankful for, Brucie?

He set aside the memories, inhaled, tried to clear his mind once more.

Get a grip.

But the cloying feeling closed around him again, and he let the air out, slow and steady.

He’d always felt at home here. But now? He was an imposter. A black spot in a happy, normal, well-adjusted American family.

It was good for Dick.

But what did that say about him and their life back home? Dick would be better here than with him. He didn’t deserve Dick, and Dick didn’t deserve to be dragged down.

And neither did Clark.

Mine’s easy. Clark deserved someone who would laugh and say something clever back, who had no hesitations when asked what are you thankful for?

Bruce was thankful for Dick. He was thankful for the money and privilege that let him do something with his completely undeserving life. He was thankful for Alfred, for putting up with him for so long.

He was thankful for Clark.

But it wasn’t really thanks. It wasn’t gratitude. It was unworthiness.

It was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It was the guilt of knowing that he was tethering something made to soar, tying its ankle to a chthonic darkness.

“Fuck,” he whispered.

He knew he shouldn’t feel like this.

It wasn’t right, to feel this way.

It wasn’t fair. A childish voice in his head kicked and screamed, and he tightened his fingers around locks of hair, tugging them as his elbows dug into the cold white porcelain.

He inhaled, counted to six. Held, tried to clear his mind. Exhaled.

Get a grip, repeated the voice in his head.

He glanced up at the echo of himself in the mirror. He didn’t look like he felt.

His hair had come out of place, locks of black falling to the side, away from their slicked-back neighbors. His eyes had a hollowness that fit his mood. But otherwise, he looked fine. Presentable. Not like a man falling apart.

It wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t supposed to have these doubts. He was Bruce fucking Wayne, and there was an alternate world out there where he got whatever he wanted and didn’t question it for a second. Where a gorgeous, good-hearted alien superhero could fall in love with him and he’d say, Of course. Where life was easy for a Wayne, and material comforts weren’t balanced by constant anguish.

But he didn’t live in that world, and he hadn’t for twenty years.

He lived in a world that ripped good things from him, over and over. Father, Mother. Harvey. Selina.

Dick’s laughter came up through the air vents and teased out tears from his eyes. Dick hadn’t left, not yet. Dick wouldn’t.

What would Dick say, if he were here? If he were sitting, perched on the counter, looking down with piercing eyes?

Get a grip. Dick’s voice.

Inhale, to six. Hold. Exhale.

I don’t belong there, he’d told Dick as they flew out. The flight wasn’t long, all in all, but it sure felt that way after Dick’s fifth time asking him what was wrong. Usually Dick opted for more creative approaches, prying out his thoughts, or simply hypothesizing and forcing Bruce to correct his errors. I don’t fit into their world, he’d said.

And Dick had laughed, like it was all a big joke, and said, Neither of us do, Bruce. We’re fuck-ups. But they like us anyway.

And Bruce had protested—Dick wasn’t a fuck-up, and fuck-up wasn’t appropriate language, especially at the Kent farm.

Dick had shook his head and asked, I’m not a fuck-up how, exactly? Because I can make jokes? I still dress up at night and punch bad guys in the face to avoid hating myself for surviving. We’re the same, you and me.

Bruce hadn’t said anything else after that. He’d let the hum of the jet engine take over until landing.

He didn’t want Dick to be the same. He didn’t want anyone to feel like this.

Dick was fine. His voice carried up the vents, full of words telling the story of the art heist. He was thriving on the attention, laughing.

Because I can make jokes?

If there was any chance that Dick might be just as uncomfortable, just as pained by being here… Bruce retched, despite grasping for self-control, and he threw more water on his face.

Dick had been excited to come, he reminded himself. He’d spent every available moment tracking down the art thief so they wouldn’t have to stay in Gotham an extra day. And Dick was an extrovert. Time around people was good for him.

And even if it were hard, he was still young. Temporary discomfort would turn into healing in time.

A rap on the door interrupted his thoughts.

“Dick?” he asked.

Not Dick. He knew better than that. The sound came from too high off the ground, the rap was too strong.

“No,” said Clark. “It’s me. Can I—”

Bruce opened the door, and Clark stumbled into the gap. No more than what he deserved for leaning on the door like an idiot.

Bruce caught him in his arms. “Careful.”

“You did that on purpose.”

“Maybe.”

Clark stood straight, pushing the door shut and pressing his back to it. “Did I say something wrong?” he asked, his voice low. “Downstairs?”

Bruce shook his head. “No. I just… needed a minute.”

“Mmhmm.”

“It’s me. I’m… working through something.”

Clark’s head cocked. “A something prompted by…?”

Downside of dating a reporter.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Bruce whispered back.

Clark shook his head. “The thanks? I’ll tell them to cut it this year. Or just… give thanks for Ma’s cooking. She’ll love you even more than she already does.”

“Not that. This,” he said, waving at the floor. At Clark. “This isn’t me. Watching football. Giving thanks. Sitting around all day. Being a… happy family.”

Something in Clark hardened. His eyebrows tightened, his eyes narrowed, and his lips pursed. He took off his glasses, and for a second, Bruce could see why people found Superman intimidating—aside from the powers. And then Clark was Clark again, pressing his wrist against the bridge of his nose and exhaling slowly through his nose. Still frustrated, still angry, even. But himself.

“Bruce, don’t—” He cut himself off, put his glasses back on, and softened his expression. And his voice. “You’re globalizing. That’s all this is.”

“You’re not my therapist,” Bruce warned.

Clark answered with a wearied look. “I know. But, don’t make this more than it is. It’s one holiday. Every other trip out here has been good. Am I wrong?”

“No.”

“Maybe it’s just what Pa was saying. Holidays can be hard.”

Bruce looked away. He’d said he would be fine. If only he’d just been honest with himself, honest with Clark, he could’ve spared them his dramatics.

“I’m sorry I ruined your holiday dinner.”

Clark shook his head and bit back a smile. “Bruce, listen to yourself. You think quietly excusing yourself and moping in the bathroom is ruining dinner?”

Bruce shrugged. “Maybe.”

“We’re fine. Ma and Pa… they know things aren’t always easy for you. I know that even better. And Dick knows you best of all. We’re all okay. We just… want you to be okay, too.”

“Hn.”

“Can you try to tell me, though? Why now? You’ve been fine for two days.”

Bruce looked away. He hadn’t been fine, exactly.

He always had Gotham on his mind, and that hadn’t ended on Tuesday. And then Clark had sprung the town parade on him. Not the existence of it—he’d been warned, there—but that Clark was the star speaker. Dick’s eyes had lit up at the idea, so Bruce couldn’t protest it, but he didn’t come to Smallville for Smallville. He came for the Kents.

But Clark was a local celebrity. Not Superman. Clark Kent, star journalist. So the town committee had invited him to speak, at their little gathering that kicked off the parade after the local school let out. And he’d spoken well, of course. It was funny to see him here, in this place where so many people had known him before Clark Kent had become something over-exaggerated. This Clark didn’t trip over his feet when he took the stairs up to the dais, and he didn’t mumble. He smiled a bright Superman smile—and why not? If the people here didn’t already know who he was, no small hint was going to do give it away.

No matter where we came from, he’d said, or how long we’ve been here, whether we are surrounded by family or wishing they could be with us, we have a seat at the same table.

Dick had laced his fingers across Bruce’s shoulder and leaned into his sleeve, looking away to hide his own reaction, and Bruce had wanted to shout at Clark to stop. But he didn’t. And Clark moved into a reading from William Bradford’s description of the 1620 harvest, and the eyes of the good people of Smallville began to drift.

Bruce hadn’t been able to ignore how many of those drifting eyes fell on him. How the drifting eyes were accompanied by dark glances and whispers shared among each other. They all lauded Clark as a local hero, but that didn’t stop their judgments.

After that, he’d missed all the good points Clark was making about community and feeding every family according to their need and holding together for the winter. He just had focused on breathing, on getting through the afternoon and making it back to the Kent farm.

“Why now?” Clark repeated.

“You said you were thankful for me,” he answered, finally.

“And you aren’t. For me.”

Bruce opened his mouth, not sure how to explain.

“Of course you aren’t,” Clark sighed.

He hadn’t expected that. “What?”

“You’re a pessimist.” Clark reached out, his fingers grazing along Bruce’s sides. “You think I’m gonna wise up and leave you. Can’t be thankful for something you don’t have. Something like that?”

It sounded incredibly stupid when Clark said it aloud.

“I… don’t…”

“I get it,” Clark said, relieving him of the need to put words to his doubts. “Honestly, I was sure you’d do the same, those first few weeks. But Bruce… it’s nearing six months.”

“Hn.” Bruce looked away. Nearing six months. Clark said it like it was an assurance, and not now’s the time to run for the hills. It had been five months.

Five months—exactly when Selina had left him.

Both times.

The first time… he could understand that. Not that it hadn’t hurt. Not that it hadn’t been awful. But he’d started seeing Selina that September, years ago, and they’d had a whirlwind of a fall. And a Thanksgiving without any strings, any family, any football, any turkey. It was easy to be with her. Simple. But then the Hangman Killer case had gotten worse, and the Arkham inmates had broken out, and he stood her up one too many times. And she wrote him a note, and that was that.

But this was different. That had been Bruce choosing his mission. Clark never made him choose.

Still, Selina had done it again, only a year ago, with no excuse at all. Practically vanishing without warning, abandoning all efforts at reforming, and cutting all ties.

Five months.

It figured. Six months was serious. Six months was a question demanding an answer about intentions, about commitment. Bruce had only gotten that far once, and then he’d left it. For Gotham. For his mission.

He wasn’t cut out for long-term relationships. Five months of passion, he could do.

And yet, here was Clark, saying, “I’m not going anywhere, Bruce.”

“Maybe you should,” Bruce bit back.

Clark stared him down, unblinking, and Bruce stared back. He could do this for hours.

At last, Clark shook his head and said, “Yeah, I bet you’d love that.”

“What do you—”

“You want to be the victim here—is that it?” Clark’s voice stayed low, but there was a caustic edge to it that didn’t fit Clark. The dissonance set Bruce on edge even more than the words. “You want more pain to fuel your drive?”

“I wouldn’t lo—”

“Yes, you would.” Clark’s eyes flashed.

Any sensible person would’ve stepped back, breathed faster, registered any semblance of fear. Bruce wasn’t so easily intimidated. His chin jutted forward, meeting Clark’s glare.

“You would, because you’d know what to do with that,” Clark pressed on. “With rejection, with pain. That’s easier. You just want to be alone and hurt and raging at the world, don’t you?”

Bruce swallowed. He didn’t have any words to argue that.

“That’s not what I want,” he choked out, his mouth dry as ash. It wasn’t a lie. He didn’t want that. He just was used to that. And being with Clark was hard—in the good way, in the way that learning a new skill was hard, that physical therapy to learn to fight again after an injury was hard—but hard nonetheless. It was healing. And healing took work. And Bruce was exhausted.

Clark studied him, watching, listening. After a while, he closed his eyes and nodded, small and hardly noticeable.

“I don’t want that,” Bruce repeated. “I’m tired of it.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. I just don’t want to drag you down,” Bruce said, his voice gravelly, his eyes fixed on the yellowing paint of the bathroom door.

“You don’t drag me down,” Clark said, smiling. “You keep me grounded.”

Bruce huffed, but then Clark leaned in, tightening his grip on Bruce’s hips, and whispered, “And really, if’s pain’s what you want, you can just ask.”

Bruce barked out a laugh, but it hardly made up for the way his back arched under Clark’s touch.

“Shut up,” he growled.

Clark laughed into his ear and dropped his forehead to Bruce’s shoulder. “I’m not leaving you,” he said, sneaking a kiss onto his neck. “I’m happy with you. And I’ll remind you of that as much as you need reminding.”

A shaky breath left Bruce’s chest, and he tightened his hand around the edge of the sink. “Clark. We can’t—”

“Can’t what?” Clark pulled away, shaking his head.

Bruce answered by grabbing Clark’s shirt, pulling him into a long, desperate kiss.

Inhale, hold. Clear the mind. Exhale.

He needed Clark. And that’s what was so utterly terrifying.

That’s all this was. Fear. He knew fear, how to harness it, how to embrace it.

So he held tighter, despite his earlier rational objection.

Get a grip.

Maybe it wasn’t the kind of grip he was supposed to get, but it was something, fingers full of flannel, faded and soft from too many washes, but still touched with that smell of the open air that always danced around Clark. Sunlight and fresh breeze.

He was dizzy with it, and he held even tighter, pulling himself closer, sliding a hand between Clark’s legs.

Clark’s fingers closed around his wrist and pushed him away, and then Clark as whispering, “Yeah, no, can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

Clark nodded down. “They’re waiting.”

Bruce drew back, blinking, heart racing.

“And your food’s getting cold. But—later.”

“That a promise?”

Clark laughed and planted a quick kiss on Bruce’s temple. “I told you I’m not going anywhere.”

Bruce nodded and took a last deep breath. Inhale. Hold. Clear the mind. Exhale.

“You okay to go back?”

Bruce nodded. None of the feelings from before were gone, exactly, but he could manage them. Set them aside.

Clark reached for the doorknob, and then paused.

“You do know we’re never gonna live on a farm,” Clark added.

Bruce squinted, not sure what to make of the statement.

“I mean—cooking turkey dinners, spending all day watching football… It’s nice.”

“What are you—”

“This is my parents’ life. It’s a good life. It’s a good retreat for us. But Lord knows—I’ve had enough fights with Pa over it—this isn’t my life anymore.”

“I… I know that.” And yet.

“You don’t need to worry about not fitting in here. I don’t either.”

Bruce breathed a little easier. “But yesterday, in town, you—”

“I left Smallville long before I met you. I’m… well. I’m Superman, Bruce,” Clark laughed. “You fit into my life. A holiday here or there doesn’t change that.”

Bruce nodded, but he looked up with a questioning eyebrow.

“You’re equally at home here, in the Fortress, and in Metropolis,” Clark explained. “What more could I want?”

“I hate Metropolis,” Bruce noted, and Clark burst into laughter.

“You don’t really,” he said, opening the door.

“I do.” Bruce furrowed his brow. Three-quarters of it was built by Lex, and every building was a rounded glistening thing with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Clark rolled his eyes. “You know, anyone out here would say there’s no difference between Gotham and Metropolis.”

“Well, they’re idiots,” Bruce countered. Clark just grinned, like he’d won a great victory.

He had, in a way. Bruce was walking downstairs, smiling, comfortable again.

Dick waved from the other side of the dinner table, prompting the Kents to look over and smile warmly.

Martha Kent jumped up and retrieved a full plate from the toaster oven. “Here you go, Bruce,” she said. “Didn’t want it getting cold.”

He took the warm plate in his cold hands and smiled. “Thanks, Missus Kent. I’m sorry for—”

She held up a hand. “No need. Just eat.”

He obeyed, taking his seat, as Clark slid in alongside.

“I’m on my seconds,” Dick declared, gearing up a monstrous bite of every dish onto one fork.

“That was fast.” Bruce tilted his head in a silent question.

“I used my best manners, don’t worry,” Dick answered with a haughty air, before negating his statement by shoveling the whole forkful into his mouth.

“Remember to leave room for pie,” Jonathan warned.

“He always has room,” said Clark. “Isn’t that right, Dickie?”

Dick nodded.

“Acrobat’s metabolism,” Bruce and Clark said at once, and Dick pointed his empty fork at them in affirmation.

“It’s all very good, Missus Kent,” Bruce said, finishing his much slower sampling of each dish.

Martha beamed and said, “Thank you, Bruce. I’m glad you like it. Clark said it might be different from what you’re used to.”

Bruce shrugged. “That’s all right. Maybe…”

It was a crazy idea. But then he looked at Dick’s stupid grin, and Clark’s contented smile, and he forged ahead: “Maybe you should all come to Gotham for Christmas this year. I can… return the favor.”

Dick laughed. “Alfred can return the favor.”

“Alfred can return the favor,” Bruce agreed. “One extra room and a couple of place settings isn’t much added work. I’m sure he’d be happy to introduce you to his traditional English Christmas feast.”

“That might be nice,” Martha said. “Don’t you think, Jonathan?”

“And Gotham at Christmas is beautiful,” Bruce added.

“Not that we live in Gotham,” Dick noted. “We’re outside. You don’t need to worry about the city.”

“It is nice, with the lights up,” Clark ceded. “Not Metropolis, but—”

“I usually, uh, work overnight,” Bruce interrupted before he could lose his nerve, “but Alfred and Dick go to the ballet, and you could join them, and—”

“And there’s ice-skating! And the Gordons have a party every year—Gordon’s the Comish—” Dick caught Bruce’s stern eye and quickly corrected himself— “the police commissioner. And we get a giant tree, like… ridiculous tall. You should come!”

“Well, maybe we will,” said Jonathan, “if Clark would like that.”

Clark nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I think I would.”

Bruce smiled, and he slipped his hand into Clark’s under the table.

He didn’t speak so much as let the hints of sound dance over his lips, but it was enough for Clark to hear.

“Thank you.”