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This Time Around

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Clark comes back from the dead just a bit wrong, there’s no other way to put it.

Maybe there are other ways to put it, he’s a journalist after all and creativity is part of his job, but the word ‘wrong’ is the one he uses when he thinks about it. Wrong, wrong, so wrong that he couldn’t control himself. The damage he’d done to others and his own reputation with them, it isn’t something he wants to think about in this moment but forces himself to. He has to come to terms with it, he tells himself. He has to come to terms with Diana not being able to reach him, with Victor and Arthur finding him threatening, with the fear in Barry’s eyes at being caught by someone at speed when no one should be able to even see him.

Come to terms with Batman being right about him, in the end. He is a threat, a danger, something of an outsider in the outsiders group, and Clark sees it now. It sits sticky in his chest, a black ball of rolling oil and slick disappointment.

“Kal.” Diana calls him and he floats down with a wince, meets her halfway on the abandoned apartment building he’s made his lookout point over the blooming, alien roots that have invaded the world and ruined a good portion of this place. He should be helping clear it but he can’t force himself to do anything more than replace the buildings he’s already moved once. They don’t seem to need much help anyways and Clark digs his heels in, hears the crack of the concrete below them as he settles. “You have done well today.”

The hug is tight but Clark can’t find it in him to reply, just smiles at her tightly. She speaks so freely even though he’s hardly paying attention, but with what she’s saying he guesses she knows that bit (recounting what they’ve done when he’s been there, though just a tad late, later than he should have been). Instead, his eyes are on the scene below, watching Arthur tear at things and mark buildings as structurally unsound after Victor and Flash check them out. Those were the names someone said over the comms after everything went quiet, he thinks -- Alfred had only given him an earpiece and there wasn’t time for introductions in the chaos. His gaze flickers and he spots a vehicle in the distance, black and sleek and entirely out of place against the red backdrop of sunset. Eyes return to the team effort below him and he doesn’t think about how much he now owes the man behind that wheel, doesn’t think about what he could have gained by being more open the first time around. It’s a shock to his system to realize he’s not the good guy in that scenario and Clark swallows down the taste of bile, knows he won’t throw up but still disgusted with himself for not trying harder. Is he even trying now?

“He thinks the world of you.”

“They shouldn’t.”

“I did not say they,” Diana corrects, gentle but serious. A hand makes its way onto his arm and squeezes, something his Ma used to do. Still will probably do now that he’s back and he needs to get home, needs to figure out what’s going on there because Ma wasn’t in the house and -- no, he needs to focus here first. That’s what heroes do. That’s what Batman would do. He can’t even be angry with him about it all because he was just trying his best against the unknown, unstoppable force that is Superman. Was Superman. “Though I do think they look up to you. I understand your hesitance. He has not been kind.”

“He told you about it?” He can’t image Batman opening up to anyone. Another thing he could have learned if he’d tried talking first and hitting second. Pa wouldn’t have been proud, he was never supposed to do things this way. There was an order to things and he’d gone completely backwards. “I’m guessing you know a bit more than I do then.”

“He can only tell me what he knows from his perspective. One day, you may tell me yours, when you’re ready. If you wish. You are an enigma to him, Kal. He relies on numbers and statistics and psychology of killers and you defy all he knows about the world around him, how people respond. You are the only one that he gravitates to so strongly and it was that strength that brought you back, not just the Mother Box. Talk to him. And if you cannot speak to him yet, speak to me.”

“We’re speaking now, aren’t we?” He shouldn’t be petulant and he throws a smile at Diana, warmer but still stressed at the corners. Cracked. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”

“Do not apologize to me,” she laughs, warm and low. He likes the sound and hopes he can learn to accept it as a harbinger of good things instead of a sick reminder of what he almost ruined. “I am fine. You two are the dual stars, sparking at one another even at this distance. Go home, Kal. Rest. Death touches many but you have felt it deeper than most those I have come to know. I will take care of things here.”

“They’re in good hands. I have that earpiece from Mr. Pennyworth. If you need me,” Clark hesitates, fingers grasping the sides of his cape. He feels unsteady, too young to understand the expression on Diana’s face but old enough to know he won’t be any help here right now. Kicking off, he floats and he can feel eyes on him from the ground, knows what he looks like as he hovers and bends at the waist. Barry’s heartbeat is elevated, excitement flushing through him, while the other two seem wary but slightly in awe from the briefest glance of their expressions. He doesn’t try to find Batman’s pulse as the rover stops short on the street, doesn’t think he wants to know if it’s different or the same as last time. “If you need me, if the League needs me, page me. I’ll be around.”


It takes a few days after that for his brain to decide it wants to work in any sort of capacity and it makes his skin crawl that it takes that long. Is that really the only thing standing between himself and world destruction: soft memories and a small Kansas farm, a warm hand in his hair and a voice that shouldn’t be scared of him wavering with fear? Lois is there to ground him, Ma right behind her, but it does little to help when there’s only a small apartment to go back to and the farm is in the hands of someone else. Everything is different, he’s different, and he can’t say a damn thing about it without someone mentioning that it’ll take time, that he just needs time. They mean well, he knows that, but he still disappears out his window like when he was a kid and doesn’t come back until morning. The hole in his head and the black in his chest don’t feel like something time will erase, so he starts to bite his tongue, starts to find a way to get the farm returned so at least he can give back that much.

Not that he ends up being the one to give it back. Boxes and furniture are being unloaded and Clark can’t help with all these people milling about, his strength a hindrance in public at times. It’s not so strange to leash his powers, that at least seems the same. In the back of it all is that man again though, Batman standing straight in the shade of a truck with kevlar replaced with wool and linen. Chest constricting, Clark can’t help but think he’d look softer if he just let his shoulders loosen, if he didn’t seem like he was carrying the weight of the world. Granted, Bruce Wayne is somewhat carrying the weight of Clark’s world right now, hands passing childhood memories and tangible evidence of a life led from truck to stoop. His hands shake when he approaches, the other’s gaze a pin through his chest attached to some sort of invisible string as he pushes forward, so he pockets them and keeps going. He can’t repay him, he can’t do anything but thank him, and it doesn’t feel like enough.

“How did you get the house back from the bank?”

“I bought the bank.”

Startled doesn’t begin to cover it. He’s not worth this, he’s not the man Bruce thinks he is (or he’s exactly that kind of monster but Bruce keeps looking at him like he’s a man -- Clark is falling through space as soon as their eyes meet, wondering what’s changed as his chest fills with bitter disappointment and a longing to be more like whatever Bruce sees), and it feels so different standing side by side with him here than it did in battle. Looking up though, seeing his Ma smile at him and Lois wave, Clark believes she’s worth it and he yanks Bruce with him up the stairs, introduces him to his mother as he is by day, ignores the shadow of who he is by night standing behind them. Dinner is an awkward affair but it happens and he can’t help but linger in Bruce’s presence just a bit longer when it comes time for him to go, walking him out to his truck. He wants to reach out for him, ruffle Bruce up a bit, shake him until he tells him what’s going on here.

“You have a lot of unboxing to do.”

“We can handle it, I think,” Clark assures, quiet and plain. It earns him a sharp gaze but he can’t be bothered to change the blankness behind his eyes for anything warmer despite what the man’s done for him. It feels wrong to lie to him too, something else to add to the mental list he’s starting to keep of things he needs to pay back. Kindness, hearth and home, life. The list will never be shorter and only seems like it’ll get longer if he really does reach out, so he balls his fists and doesn’t. Not yet. “She deserved better than what she got.”

“You all did.”

“You really believe that, don’t you.”

“And you don’t.” Not a question, there are no questions between them anymore it seems, not that there ever was. Accusations but never questions. Bruce watches him and Clark lets him stare, heel grinding into the soft soil under his feet as he contemplates just shooting up into the atmosphere and leaving a crater behind. The silence goes on a beat too long before broken. “Call me if you need anything, Clark. Not your mother, not Lane, you.”

“Awfully kind of you to take someone else under your wing.” There’s a child somewhere waiting for him, Clark has seen the news. That’s new too, too new to comprehend fully yet. “I expect I’ll be fine, Mr. Wayne.”

“Don’t,” Bruce growls, low and warning. It almost surprises him he can sound so close to Batman without the equipment. “We’re not enemies. I’ll help where I can.”

“Sure,” Clark agrees, flippant but quiet. “I’m just trying to figure out why.”

“Then I guess I should leave you to figure that out.”

Bruce drives away and Clark is left with nothing more than dust in his face. He’s being unkind. It feels too surreal to be reality, earth spinning under him and the stars sparkling above. Things should be darker, more enclosed, he shouldn’t be standing here -- there’s that feeling again, of being wrong. It was easy to ignore before, when he had something to do. He wonders briefly if he would have come to if they’d just waited a bit longer, if the Mother Box hadn’t been there to shock him into consciousness and be a threat to the world, because he’s pretty sure he remembers being buried. He remembers the darkness, the emptiness, that followed that hulking figure that was too much and not enough like himself.

He also remembers more, a destroyed city and his own anger destroying things down to dust, but that couldn’t be right. That world doesn’t exist. No, that too is wrong.

Fingers clench in his pockets and he ducks his head into the house for a moment to tell Lois and Ma where he’s going, leaves his jacket by the door before jetting into the sky. This high, the sweat on his shirt starts to crystalize a bit and Clark breathes deep, ice invading his lungs. It’s easier to think up here where he can’t hear everything as if he’s standing next to it, where he doesn’t have to twitch and spasm over an idea of wrong and right and what he is or isn’t. He just needs to look at the facts, something he’s good at.

Was good at. Maybe that’s something else that’s changed too.

Nothing gets figured out that night. When Lois leaves and there are fewer boxes (and fresh wildflowers on the table from a man who just keeps sending them, for whatever reason), he starts to write and write and write to try. He writes until his laptop is full of documents that will never see a publisher. It’s supposed to help, he thought it would at the start, but all it does is give someplace for the vitriol to sit in the open. It doesn’t lessen the gunk inside him to air it out, it seems. He writes a few dozen or so articles about himself, about his death and return -- some are scathing and condemning of his actions, blaming him for the destruction and reminding him that the good he’s done doesn’t erase the horror. Some are wistful, hoping for a better tomorrow where he’s better than this, better at what he does. Some are mostly blank pages that have a few words scattered across them like a list of ‘why me’ and ‘why does it matter’ and ‘who am I now.’ All of them end with the idea that maybe a martyr is a better place for an all-powerful alien than on a daily superhero beat.

He starts keeping a journal after that, but that too dwindles down to his confusion behind wanting to help and wanting to live his own life, to make his own way without the world weighing in on every move he does or doesn’t take. He’s handling it the best he can, and his Ma understands to some extent and lets him be, but soon it’s not enough and he stops writing. It takes a month for him to realize he can’t just stay at the farm doing chores, for him to decide that he’s not helping himself here and he needs to get out, needs to be someplace else. Someplace, he decides, that he wouldn’t know if it had changed or not while he was away. The world is holding its breath, or at least it feels like it is, and he might be too. He’s been waiting for a sign but when he realizes that one isn’t going to come, there is no hand going to reach out to him unless he reaches first, he gets up.

He’s exhausted his mind against all its sharp edges and he’s scabbed over instead of bleeding rawly. That has to mean something, the start of some other phase. It’s about time, he harshly tells himself. Surely he should be beyond this by now if he really was the man people believe him to be (who Bruce believes him to be and he scoffs, tries not to think about the hope in those eyes that reflect him larger than life -- they’re like stained glass in a church, hiding the light behind them, and Clark tries not to think about the reverent notes in that deep voice, tries not to think about Bruce at all).

He packs up his bags, chooses a direction. Maybe he’ll finally kill some of that time people keep tell him he needs.

Settling for a small town on the coast he can be employed at a dock without too much hassle, Clark lets the work take him to task. The League hasn’t called him, not that he honestly expected them to after all the grief he’s given them, so he has an opportunity here to take it day by day. It’s not far from things if he’s needed but it’s hidden enough that he feels like he has space. Days turn into weeks and Clark starts to measure his life out in moments. One, two, three beats at a time. The simplicity of it regulates his thoughts just a bit. He calls his Ma when he gets the chance, he talks to Lois briefly and lets her keep the ring when she asks if he wants it back, and then he starts to consider moving again. And again. Two more moves and he settles on the outskirts of Metropolis, takes time to watch the sunset as he leans his head against brick and mortar, comes to terms that things are getting better for Kalvin Smith but maybe not for Clark Kent, though he doesn’t know how to make things better for a dead man. He doesn’t even know where to start to figure out how to make things that are wrong, right.

So he plugs names into Google to feel less alone in the evenings, looking up the people who are not quite his saviors but definitely brought him back to life. Most of them have little background that he can find on the web, hidden away like he is now (a few pictures of a high school athlete, a few mentions of a murder case, one or two legends of a man disappearing into the sea, and a few more myths about a goddess at war).

Of course, not everyone’s story is hidden, but he tries to ignore the tabloid powerhouse that is Bruce Wayne because there’s so much to go through and he doesn’t feel he’ll learn much from social columns. Batman would never allow something to be published about him he didn’t approve of. Knee-jerk reactions to buy banks for people he wanted dead (or who doesn’t not like him and what does that mean anyways Clark rants on the phone to Lois one night and she just sighs, tells him to ask but he always hangs up without promising anything of the sort) is not the picture the media gives him of the business morgal. Champagne smiles and diamond eyes are as far from the truth he knows as cows are from birds. It’s unfortunate that he finds as little as he does about the actual people behind the masks and with no connections to databases and backlogged articles, Clark makes do with the crumbs.

For next time. If there is a next time. Do they even need him? They have each other and some of them even has partners, teens with shining eyes looking up to them.

While he may not have made a great first impression, he still has that communicator Mr. Pennyworth gave him. That never leaves his side. That has to count for something. Sure, it’s probably got a tracking device in it but he also realizes that the same paranoia is what saved the world. Toying with the device, looking at the various buttons along the piece that would fit snugly over the curve of his ear, Clark almost activates it. Almost.

Maybe he desperately wants to remind himself he’s not alone in the world, but he can turn on the news to confirm that. Maybe he wants to know why him, why did they even bother when it may not work, why was it Batman of all people that made it happen. What did he have to gain? Surely there must be something to gain, right? He doesn’t even know the man, he should mean nothing to him. But there’s that hope and softness in Bruce that leaked into the night at the farm, that made him buy a bank to apologize for something they both were at fault for, that string between them that drew Clark in. Almost everything he learns about the other man is empty space, slipping from him into shadows he wishes he could burn away. Everything about Bruce is like that except for this strange connection that tells him there’s something more there. Something big and raw and covered in blood, old and twisted and waiting for him. Bruce thought he was a threat once, would have never let him close enough, would have never let him see those pieces of him, and now? It drives his reporter instincts a bit batty for lack of a better word, so he dives into that gilded life when he can’t focus, brings up articles and gossip and rumors.

Constantly surrounded by people, Bruce is a shining example of what he, himself, is not. Superman has always been alone, Clark Kent has had his hay day but in the end he went home to Ma and Lois and there wasn’t much else. A webbed feeling fills Clark’s chest, sticky and black and painful, forcing him to see the teamwork and the unity that he believes he’ll never be a part of. Batman and Robin swing across his tv and he turns it off, throws the remote into his couch cushions and goes to bed too late to really count as sleeping.

Trying to prove to himself that he’s alright, that’s nothing’s changed, Clark starts to aggressively expand his horizons. He goes out more, makes friends at work, and even saves someone from a mugger or two while walking home. Even if he doesn’t really know what being himself means anymore, he’s willing to bet he could make a good teammate to these shadowed people. Maybe, and he doesn’t hold his breath on this idea that starts boiling in the back of his mind, he could even make friends. Friends that know who he is, can talk to each other about powers and demons and legends without thinking they are going insane. That would be a first. Snorting around a mouthful of microwaved pasta, he can’t help but miss things being the way they were before he died. Ma’s cooking on Sundays, patrols where he could dip and dive through Metropolis, and working for a paper that made him feel like he was changing the world by just being himself. It makes him realize he wants that again, a life and an apartment and slapdash dinners after long but good days.

It isn’t lost on him that he doesn’t think once about the cape being a part of that life. He isn’t sure he’s that man anymore. The world has changed and now he has to come up with the idea of Superman all over again. He has to relearn what that means in context of the world as it is now, as he is now.

He still works on the docks, he still only calls Lois despite the proximity, and he still doesn’t contact the League. He does start to flying again though, and puts a stop to some minor criminal activities in the city. It’s like letting loose a ball in his stomach to float around the tall buildings and find the gigantic globe of the Daily Planet marking out the skyline in the sunset, to remember that this is where he really came into his own. Maybe it’ll help him do so again. Lois has lunch with him all of twice before they determine it’s better to keep it to just calls, but he finds even that is needed because it’s too different now to sit there and watch her bloom while he’s withering. His shoulders roll and he flexes his muscles out with a few crime sprees that seem to be plaguing the city the next week, a reminder of what he can do but not who he is. He never stopped wanting to help people, but he certainly doesn’t have a cape on right now to do so. Black on black, a trench coat flapping behind him in the wind, it almost feels the same but just different enough to make it worth it. He needs different to be good.

So maybe he’s just a guy trying to do his best. Only his best comes with the power to save the world on a semi-regular basis with others who have the same outlook. Complicated, but it’s a definition he’s working on. It’s so much harder to work on it alone, though.

Clark knows Lois would let him stay if he showed up at her door, would pet through his hair, tell him she understands, and come up with a way to make it all better. She’s good at patterns and putting people at ease, at digging out the truth no one can see. Hell, he’s sure he could go to Bruce Wayne for the same thing, he said he could after all (there are wildflowers that show up at his apartment and he knows, he knows he’s being tracked but he can’t help but arrange them in the middle of the folding table, press the soft petals between his fingers and hope). But Bruce will only makes things better, make the apartment feel more cluttered, make the day feel less long. Bruce will distract him, maybe with time out on the town, maybe with fists to his cranium.

He doesn’t want it to be better though. He wants it to be right.

For some reason, Clark feels there’s a difference. Superman was and is an ideal, something to reach for instead of achieve, that’s what he’d been told. Clark Kent was never perfect and continues not to be. He gets angry, leaves his dishes in the sink, doesn’t always remember to do his laundry, sometimes shoots up into the outer atmosphere to sulk. That’s not very Superman like, but it’s human, isn’t it? Minus the whole flying bit, of course. Most people just went to their rooms or out for a walk, but they also couldn’t hear the entire world crying out to them for every little thing, as if he could change their lottery ticket or cure illnesses. He’s not a god but some people don’t believe that. Besides, they’re now blaming his absence for things happening whereas before they’d just blame him directly.

Wonderful. Just what he wanted to come back to. Right when he starts to dig himself a hole wondering if he’ll ever want to be that person again with all the weight that comes with it, alarms go off to stop him. Literally.

The blaring that stirs his senses are across the bay though, so instead of shooting off to check it out, Clark turns on the tv. Already, Gotham is reacting to another break out from Arkham and the bright flashes of thunder give way to manic laughter somewhere behind the reporter. It’s disturbing but his own eyes are fast enough to catch the figure that momentarily swings through the background, disappearing over the fence. Strange, Bruce normally has a tail these days and Clark watches a bit longer to see if he can spot the green and red that’s almost become as familiar as the pointed eared shadow has. There isn’t any flashes of color, tonight the only thing that moves in the shadows is Batman. Still, with his hearing pitched out towards Gotham, he ends up catching something entirely different. There’s a pounding, screaming sobs for Batman gasping out from somewhere below ground. With the activity focused on the asylum, however, Clark realizes that the other won’t make it to them in time and probably hasn’t heard them despite his devices throughout the city. Weighing his options, the sound of breaking wood is what gives him encouragement to jet forward, realizing that whoever this is isn’t just underground -- they’re buried alive. Time is against them and Clark doesn’t realize he’s decided until he’s there.

His feet touch down on soil that’s too soft, covered by just the wrong kind of sod, and the gravestones in front of him are of a mother and son years apart. Clark feels horror drip down his back with the rain and he panics, realizes almost offhandedly what is happening as he pulls back the grass in chunks and shoves his hands down into the dirt. Tall while he might be, he’s not that long in the arm, and so he super speeds through digging down to coffin level, the pounding decreasing for more strategic hits of knuckles and feet. Unnerved, he’s not thinking clearly and Clark hauls out the wooden box as it splinters open, revealing a bleeding boy who looks at him with wide eyes that shine darkly in the lightning. They stare at each other a bit too long before the boy slumps forward and Clark catches him to his chest. Distantly, he hears an explosion. He can’t take this kid to the hospital here, they’re dealing with the trauma of a full outbreak. Kicking the dirt and coffin back into the ground, Clark scoops the boy up and cradles him close, ignores his mumblings as his heel catches the sod and rolls it back over the hole. He’ll come back later, clean it up, but right now he has to get this kid to a professional.

Only, who can he take him to? Hovering, he makes a split second decision before setting off for home. He knows someone who’ll ask just the right questions and he darts over a few streets before coming to the back entrance of a simple clinic in Smallville that is just closing up for the day. He hasn’t had much hope these last few months but here, he has to have some for the boy’s sake.

“Doctor Abbott.”

“Clark?” He’s been his doctor for ages. Perhaps it wasn’t ethical to forge a birth certificate, but the man had done so for the Kent’s all those years ago when he’d dropped from the sky. Hell, he’d been the first call Ma had made after the dust of Steppenwolf had settled. Clark just prays he can perform another one of a kind examination as they’re brought immediately inside. “What on Earth?”

“I didn’t know where else to bring him. He dug out of a grave. I think, I think he just.”

“Slow down, slow down. You’re not up to full par yourself, son,” came the gentle reply and Clark lays the boy out on the exam table, keeps a hand pressed to his chest where a gash is dripping blood onto the floor. Dead and alive mix, and Clark chokes as he’s pushed back. “Let me take a look at him, go into the next room and get Andy. If he’s already gone home for the day, get him to come back. Can you do that, Clark?”

“Yes, sir.” He feels like he’s ten and doing errands for a buck or two so that he can buy the latest type of weird soda from the corner store. What a strange thing to remember now, but he would have been this kid’s age. “I’ll be--”


Doctor Brown hasn’t gone home, thank heavens. It’s slow going but Clark waits outside the door, only paces a bit before Ma shows up in the darkened waiting room, truck outside and a hard set to her lips when she takes in the state of him. Hair wet from Gotham rain and blood on his arms, he’s told to go scrub off immediately. Ma takes up his sentry position and Clark returns only marginally less of a mess than when he flew in.

This isn’t something he expected, isn’t something he wants, but it’s something he has and it terrifies him to his core. The doctors scrub the boy down and dress his wounds, get a name out of his murmurs as they become more disjointed. They don’t know what to do with him when he starts to throw punches, hollering like the Devil is in the room with him, sobbing dryly as he tears open stitches with well placed hits that break a nose and a few fingers. Clark does know what to do though and he wraps his arms around the kid before he can break through the window, whispers to him calmly, brings him down to earth again. Pa used to do this when he was a child and frustration overtook good sense, though it ended up with a few more bruises than Clark will ever receive. Ma watches from the doorway, a proverbial angel of calm and nods slowly when he looks up at her, accepts this is their life now as the boy babbles through the pain, surrounded by four adults that want nothing but the best for him.

“Are you -- I know you. But. He’s supposed to come when I’m in trouble,” comes the croak before a choking sound gurgles out. Clark curls around the boy in his arms silently, let’s him speak as everyone shares a look of mild questioning. “He didn’t come when I called. I thought he’d hear me. But you came and I can’t -- Fuck, everything hurts.”

“Just stay awake a bit longer and we’ll clean you up, call-- ”

“No. No cops. No social workers. No nobody,” comes the cracked growl, though it’s through the kid’s back teeth as if it’s not supposed to come out as pained as it does. God, how is he still with them? “They aren’t going to help a kid like me. I don’t. I know things, I saw them. He has. There were flashes. I can’t.”

“Quiet, kiddo,” Clark hushes, petting through blood tacky and knotted hair. “I’ve got you.”

It works and the boy sags into him, trying to breath evenly just like he’s being told to, regulating his heartbeat to Clark’s along his back as the doctors come in and close up the wounds he’s reopened. This close, with the overwhelming smell of iron and salt gone for the time being, he catches a hint of the ‘how’ of the situation (because he doesn’t think it’s the Mother Box, it can’t be, can it -- he doesn’t want to think about how many more might rise if it is). It smells the same as Diana’s lightening, the same as the foam that froths up when Arthur leaps from the water.

Magic. Under that? Death.

Clark holds on slightly tighter to the hand in his as machines beep in the background, doesn’t know what to do again. He should call someone. He should respect the boy’s wishes. He needs to let him rest before he does anything else.

“You need sleep,” he murmurs, tucking the boy back into bed once everyone is cleaned up. Kid’s big, bigger than a twelve year old should be, but it doesn’t phase Clark. Not like he can’t lift him when the time comes, can’t stop him from hurting himself. It’s not like he gets sore anyways from a few nights on a lumpy, tiny chair if it comes down to it. It’ll have to do and for the first time in over a year, Clark’s thoughts are clear as he waits and answers the doctors quiet questions, braves these waters. “I’m taking you home when this is over.”

“I don’t have a home. Not anymore.”

He’s shivering and Clark knows how he feels suddenly, desperate to cling to something but finding nothing there. It’s why he’d let Lois keep the ring, not needing another reminder. It’s why he left the farm and all it’s subtle differences, heart breaking at Ma’s looks and the empty space where he, himself, used to be and couldn’t quite fill again. It’s why he didn’t come back to Metropolis right away, knowing it would be far too different a pill to swallow. It’s why he stays away from the League, understanding they see him as something he may no longer be. It’s why he stays away from Bruce, unsure of the string tying them to each other and feeling as if it’s only a matter of time before one of them breaks, to what end he doesn’t want to find out. It’s why he never thinks to find out who sends those flowers, knowing they’re probably scheduled for a grave but if he never finds out then they’re for him, alive and well.

Who knows what the kid remembers, what he saw when he was under. It doesn’t matter anymore, they’re both there now and can’t go back.

“I’ll take you to mine,” Clark assures, quiet and cordial as Ma leaves to bring him a change of clothes, to make sure the guest room is done up properly. They’ll leave when allowed but for now, he can sit vigil and let the other sleep, thank the doctors for what they’ve done. “Rest, Jason. You’re allowed to rest now. I’ve got you.”