Sitting in front of the monitors of the Watchtower equals a lot of free time. Clark gets why it's important - he wouldn't offer to take the weekend shifts if he didn't - but he's also honest, and therefore knows that he'll most likely end up bored.
He leans forward, resting his face on his propped up hands. Stretching his wings feels good, and he really hopes he gets to fly later, for more than just the trip back to Metropolis. He hasn't flown around for the sake of flying in a while, and he misses it. Distracted, he reaches out to smooth out some of his feathers. They're a little ruffled, they always are, but these seem a little worse than usual.
Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpses a look at a dark figure moving, and even on the monitor, Clark recognizes the graceful, dangerous stride. Batman.
Sometimes it still unsettles him that a man of Batman's size and figure can move that silently, both on the ground and in the air. But, that is probably part of the theatricality of the Bat - dark, mysterious, silent. It helps that Batman's wings are like two shadows following him around - and their colour is strange enough it made Clark's skin crawl with anxiety to be around the man.
Usually, human wings are lightly coloured. They are somewhere between cream or beige, some dip into the lightest grey or blue - but that's it.
The Bat's wings are, imitating his namesake, pitch black. They seem to swallow the light around them, like black holes. Their sight is utterly wrong even to Clark, whose wings are too golden, too bright to be human.
Batman never talks about the colour of his wings, and honestly? Clark is a little afraid to ask. He leans back, lazily following the man with his eyes. He doesn't know why Batman is here, but it doesn't surprise Clark to see him - the Bat frequently shows up even though he's not on watch.
Clark knows what people say about the Bat. They wonder whether he's still human, or something else. His wings are wrong, they whisper. That's not how wings are supposed to look. Clark's wings aren't black - they are the colour of sunflowers, glittering golden in the sun. At least, that's how they would be. He bleaches them, and after all those years it has become something so natural by now that it doesn't even register as something strange. Only when he's around Batman, he wonders if maybe he could just… stop. It doesn't hurt - he's pretty sure that is due to kryptonian genes - but it feels itchy and kind of disgusting. He would like to stop.
Clark is honest enough to recognize the little pang of jealousy for what it is. Batman wears his wings so openly, as if there is nothing strange about them. As if he has no reason to hide them. Clark knows that that isn't true - but where Batman chooses to present his wings openly, Clark chooses to hide his true colour. And he is jealous, he admires and hates that kind of bravery.
Seeing the black wings flutter, he sighs. Then something catches his eye, something green. Clark blinks and leans forward. Is that… a child?
The child is clad in red and green, half-hidden behind Batman's leg, but when they step out of the shadows, Clark's heart skips a beat. Their wings are a vibrant green, a heart stopping, brilliant colour. Clark's heart seizes in his chest. That's impossible. Human wings don't take that shade, they just don't. But Batman doesn't like meta-humans, or aliens, so the child has to be human.
The child bounces on their toes, clearly excited. They flutter around Batman, smiling and gesturing, and Batman lets them.
It takes Clark way too long to figure out what the scene reminds him off - a father with a child. He never thought of Batman as a father, as a family person at all, but he watches with a growing fondness the easy way the man handles the bouncy child.
He doesn't mean to intrude on their moment, so he just smiles to himself, ready to turn away. Then the child's wings suddenly start to shimmer and change . Clark's pretty sure he's gaping, but the green of their wings just morphs into a bright, neon orange colour.
Considering Clark has seen a lot of strange things since he joined the Justice League, he should not be surprised. Somehow, he still is.
Batman looks slightly distressed, but his posture seems relaxed. Whatever he tells the child, they start pouting, but their wings change back to green. Seeing the wings change colour a second time does nothing but deepen Clark's fascination.
The child keeps pouting at Batman, and even though Clark can't access the live audio from here, his curiosity forces him to listen in on their conversation. He knows he'll probably regret it later, but Clark decides he'll cross that bridge when he gets to it.
"Why can't I change the colour?" The child's voice is soft, slightly accented though Clark can't really place it.
Batman pinches the bridge of his nose. "You have to pick one, Robin. If you want orange, that's fine, but you have to stick to it. Okay?"
The child - Robin - looks unsatisfied. "But, B, that's so uncool", they whine, and Clark almost chokes. This tiny kid just called Batman a nickname, and Clark very vividly remembers the time Green Arrow tried that. It didn't end well for anyone. But Batman only frowns and sighs, picking the kid up to settle them on his hip. "If you keep changing your wing colour, the criminals will know that it's a trick. But we don't want them to know that, right?"
Clark blinks. It's a trick. The words ring in his ears, because that doesn't sound like magic or a superpower. He watches Robin shake their head, looking a little sad. Then they perk up. "Can I change them at home then?"
Forgetting about his questions, Clark watches in utter glee as the Bat raises his head to glance at the ceiling, a universal parental prayer for patience with a child. Then he nods. Robin squeals in delight, wrapping their tiny arms around Batman's neck.
"Yes! You're the best, B!"
Batman hugs the child back, before he sets them down. "Come in, let's continue. If you want, we can check and see if Superman is still around."
Clark freezes. On the screen, Batman raises his eyes, looking directly at the camera. Oh shit. For a second, Clark contemplates leaving, just vanishing with Batman and Robin nonethewiser. Knowing the Bat, however, that would just mean the man will corner Clark the next time they meet. Clark sighs. That is going to be an awkward talk.
The second Robin sees Clark, they are launching themselves at him. "You're Superman!"
The child's eyes are bright with awe and Clark can't help smiling. "And you're Robin." He says it without thinking about it, giving away that he listened in on their conversation, but Batman doesn't give any indication he's surprised.
Robin, on the other hand, looks delighted. Clark isn't sure how, but they look even happier now." B, he knows who I am! That's amazing!"
Batman huffs a "we'll see about that" under his breath, but his eyes are soft, as far as Clark can tell with the cowl on.
Robin's wings flutter, brushing against Clark's arms. The green is a little darker than he initially thought, but the feathers are as soft as they look. His heart aches, like it always does when he comes in contact with undamaged wings, but he shoves the feeling away.
Instead, he smiles at the child clinging to him. "I'm on monitor duty right now. If you want, you can join me?"
He glances at Batman, but the man doesn't disagree. Robin looks excited. "Yes, please!"
Batman lets him carry the child over to the monitors, but Clark is persistently aware of the eyes staring at his back. For a second he wonders if they'll have that talk today, but then he decides to focus on Robin, who is adorable.
Batman corners him at the Justice League meeting a week later. "I assume you have questions."
Clark nods, unsure where to start. Batman stares at him, clearly waiting for him to continue. He is eerily still, his wings and arms resting against his body. Clark can feel his own wings flutter, curling against his body. They feel fairly soft on his skin, even though he's bleached them just a few days ago. Clark used to be happy about that. When he was younger, he hated how the bleach washed away the colour until only white with a hint of cream remained. Then he had gotten used to it. Bleaching them had become something that he just had to do, whether he liked it or not. But after last week… bleaching them had hurt in a way that wasn't physical at all. Watching the gold go down the drain, feeling the ruffled, brittle feathers - it had felt sickening in a way he hasn't experienced in years.
He swallows. "Are your wings really black?"
It's not the question he wanted to ask, but it's close enough. Batman doesn't seem surprised, but he rarely does.
"No." The modulated voice gives no indication of feeling. Clark nods, curling his fingers into his biceps. It doesn't hurt. He kind of wishes it would.
"And Robin's wings aren't actually green."
Batman doesn't answer, but his head tips to the side, a small nod if Clark was inclined to read it that way.
He bites his lips, considering his options. He could just drop it. He could go back to his life, pretending he doesn't know. It's not like this changes his life in major ways. The ache in his wings reminds him that it could - it could change so much, if he's lucky.
He breathes in deeply, uncurling his finger from his biceps. "Does it only work on your wings? Or could… could it work for mine, too?"
He hates how much desperate hope bleeds into the question. Batman's eyes are watching him, clever and devoid of all emotion. "Why are you asking me that?" Why would you change your wing colour, he doesn't say.
Clark swallows. Here goes nothing. He grabs his bag, fishing out the feather. It's soft in his hands, and its colour makes his heart lurch in his throat. He plucked it out before he bleached his wings, and it's not fully grown. It's from the softest part of his wings, usually covered by longer, more resilient feathers.
He holds it out to the other man, and Batman carefully takes it. Clark desperately doesn't think about kryptonian traditions regarding gifting feathers.
Batman's gloved fingers brush over the feather. Then he looks up, a question written across his features. Clark swallows against the lump in his throat. "It's mine", he confirms hesitantly. "I've been hiding my real colour all my life."
Batman looks at him with a strange expression, his eyes flickering between his face and his wings. "How", he says, and it almost doesn't sound like a question. Looking at the floor, Clark shrugs miserably. "I bleach them."
There's a choked off sound, and it takes Clark a moment to realize it's not him who made that sound. When he looks up, Batman is looking at him with horror in his eyes. Clark almost recoils. He's seen Batman with a lot of facial expression, but this one is new. He looks so… hurt. As if Clark's confession has physically hurt him. Oh. "It doesn't hurt me! Not like it would hurt a human. It's just… uncomfortable."
Or maybe you've gotten used to the pain.
Batman relaxed a little, but his face still forms that hurt expression. "Come see me here on Friday. I'll have something for you then."
He hesitates, and that throws Clark more than his next words. "What colour do you want them? White?"
Clark feels himself nod clumsily. He never thought about that, to be honest. It always felt like the only option. Maybe Batman can read his thoughts on his face, because he reaches out and puts a heavy hand on Clark's shoulder.
The man looks like he wants to say something, but whatever it is, he swallows it down in exchange for a soft squeeze. Then he turns and vanishes out the door, leaving Clark alone with his thoughts.
Friday can't come soon enough. By Wednesday, Clark is so on edge that he cleans his entire flat. That leaves him with nothing to do once he's home after work on Thursday, so he attempts to groom his wings. Attempts, because when he starts really looking at them, he suddenly feels sick. They are so… fragile. The feathers feel brittle, if not broken, under his hands. He hasn't cried over the fact that he has to hide who he is in a long time, but now he does. He lets himself be sad about the fact that nobody in the world has his wings, that he will never look at anyone else and see his colours on them. He cries for all the years he spent hurting himself by bleaching his wings until they had no colour left to give.
When Batman presses it into his hands, Clark simply blinks down at it. It feels like fabric. Two stripes of fabric, to be exact. He looks up at Batman, and even though the man doesn't sigh, he radiates that he wants to.
"Place it along the bones across your wings. It'll spread out and cover your wing all by itself."
Clark frowns but follows the instructions. He can't really see it, but he feels the fabric come alive, stretching across his wings, down to his primaries. It feels strange, but when he stretches his wings out to see more of them, the fabric stretches with them. It's almost invisible, he realizes. He can see it because he knows it's there, but if he didn't, he'd assume his wings are just a little shinier than usual. Suddenly there are fingers on his wrist, warm and human and calloused. They are gone a second later, but the feeling of them lingers on his skin. Batman's eyes seem unmoved, when Clark looks at him, questioning the existence of the bracelet on his wrist without actually saying it.
"Pick a colour." Clark squints at him, unsure if he's serious, but looks down. The little display offers him a list of colours, with way too many options. Clark decides to just scroll blindly and pick by stopping at a random moment. Watching his wings, he sees the soft shimmer he recognizes from the time with Robin. His bleached wings suddenly turn blue, the colour vibrant and shining. He gasps, hesitantly reaching out to touch his own wings. The fabric feels almost like feathers - not completely, but close enough that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference after a short brush. He looks at Batman, feeling his heart ache with affection for the man. The Bat isn't smiling, but he looks softer than usual.
Clark should be worried about how little he thinks about it before he follows that command, hitting white on the display. The blue shimmers and vanishes, a pure white taking its place. It's not like the bleached white Clark's wings are now, this is a white he's never seen before on wings. It's perfectly white, the kind that is spotless. It's inhuman in the same way Batman's black wings are. He loves it.
"Thank you." He doesn't notice how raw his throat is until he tries to speak. Batman just gave him something he's never had before - the choice to wear his wings the way he wants.
The Bat doesn't shrug, but Clark has a feeling he wants to. "You're welcome."
The device is perfect. Clark wears it every day, and only takes it off when he's alone at home. His wings still feel brittle, but the soft feathers coming in are the perfect yellow of a sunflower in full bloom. With every bleached feather he loses, he feels a little bit better. At work, only Lois comments on the fact that his wings look better. He shrugs a little, arguing he's trying a new grooming routine. It's true - he just doesn't say that it included a colour-changing device that Batman made for him.
The man in question doesn't ask about his wings, but sometimes his eyes linger on Clark's wings, just a second too long. He's checking if it's working, Clark realizes. For some reason, that makes him feel pleased.
Robin is around more often now. He visits Clark on his monitor shift, fluttering around him, asking questions about everything. Clark is happy to indulge him - which has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Batman always gets this soft look when he watches over them. After a few times, he starts to give them space - and the fact that Batman lets him watch over his child, that he trusts him to take care of his son, is mind blowing. Clark hopes he won't disappoint him.
Today, Robin is a little quieter. He seems to be thinking very hard about something, but Clark doesn't want to push him to talk.
Then Robin gets this determined look that always reminds him of Batman, but when he looks at Clark, he hesitates and doesn't say anything.
Sometimes kids need a little push, his Ma once told him. He turns in his chair, looking at the child next to him.
"What's on your mind, pumpkin?"
Robin looks a little hesitant, but he kicks his feet against the desk in front of him. "Were you… sick? Because your wings look different now. Better. Not that they looked bad, but now they look really good, you know, and I thought maybe you were sick before, but you never said anything."
He's frowning, and it hurts Clark to see him in distress. Sighing, he opens his arms, and Robin doesn't hesitate to flutter into his lap. The kid is so small, it always surprised Clark.
"I wasn't really sick. I used to bleach my wings, that's why they looked that way."
Robin gasps, his eyes huge behind his domino mask. "But that's bad! It hurts!"
He's clinging to Clark now, his fists curled into the fabric of Clark's suit. He smiles at the boy, trying to comfort him.
"I'm not quite human, remember? It didn't hurt me the way it would hurt you."
Robin looks suspicious, but he seems to accept that explanation. "It's still bad for you", he announces, with all the conviction a ten-year-old kid can have.
Clark nods, remembering the sickening feeling the bleach left behind. "That's right. But I don't use it anymore, so it's okay."
Robin bites his own cheek, looking away from Clark's face, but after a moment he raises his head again. "Did B help you? Did he make you one too?"
It's strange, hearing a child speak that cryptic, but this is Batman's son. It's not surprising to Clark.
Robin smiles. "Can you show me one day? Your real wings?"
His soft voice makes Clark's heart melt, and he smiles back. "Of course, pumpkin."
Batman watches him, still. It's been months since he gave Clark the device to cover his wings.
Then he stops Clark after another Justice League meeting - they have to stop meeting like this - by resting a hand on his arm. Wait, his eyes say. So Clark waits.
"Are your wings doing okay?"
Stretching them is a reflex, a reminder to himself of their strength. Batman's appreciative look is just a bonus, he tells himself. "They are great. The bleach did more damage than I realized."
It's true. It's also true that Clark has been thinking about the Bat frequently, in a way that would make it really hard to stay co-workers if it wasn't him, who has experience with crushing on people he sees too often to avoid. (Clark knows he's a moron, but that doesn't stop his crush on Batman either.)
Batman nods. He looks at Clark and pauses, as if he is unsure about his next words. Clark is pretty sure he's seen that exact facial expression on Robin before.
"You can always come to me. With your wings. If that's something you want." If you trust me with them. Clark feels his insides flip-flop, and he knows without a doubt that he isn't able to hide the way his wings flutter a little at the thought of Batman's hands on them. Batman doesn't comment on it.
He wants to take the offer. He probably shouldn't.
He gives a soft smile, trying to find a way out of this conversation without feeling like he's disappointed the Bat. "I feel like we're missing a few steps here. Like names, or first dates, or favorite colours. You know, the little things?"
Batman's lips quirk up, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it smile appearing on his face. It makes him look younger, more carefree. "It's red."
Clark blinks, almost gaping at him. He had said it as if it was mostly a joke, even though there's more truth to it than he likes to admit to himself. But he's apparently not the only one aware of that.
Batman's lips quirk up again, but this time the smile is predatory, a little more dangerous.
He takes a step towards Clark, invading his personal bubble. Objectively, it's not much - Batman has been closer to him, but not like this.
The bat leans forward, his presence warm and dangerous. "I'm free next weekend." His voice is positively beautiful, washing over Clark. It takes his stunned brain a moment to catch up - to realize Batman has turned the voice modulator off, to recognize it for the gesture of trust it is. It makes his heart lurch into his throat, as if it wants to crawl out and launch itself at the man in front of him. He would let it.
"Okay", he says, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. Surprised. Interested.
The other man doesn't smile, but his eyes seem a little warmer. A little less Bat, a little more man.
Jason is a noisy little brat. Clark adores him.
The kid is loud and impulsive and makes Bruce's face scrunch up in a desperate plea for patience and strength. While Dick liked flinging himself from every raised surface he could find, flipping and dancing through the air, their second son descends like a hawk, jump-scaring Justice League members every chance he gets.
His pranks are a little more vicious, but his heart's in the right place. Clark loves watching Hal jump, his wings lighting up with green glow. Or Barry, who usually spins around at super speed. Diana is the only one spared from Jason's attacks, and that is maybe the most adorable thing about it.
Dick's wings had been green when he was Robin, but Jason has made the uniform his own. And Clark has to swallow a lump in his throat whenever he sees him in it because now Robin's wings are golden.
Robin is meant to draw attention, and he does. He's a beacon in the darkness of Gotham, his wings almost glowing. Clark watches him and Batman patrol Gotham, and his heart soares. He had been afraid that nobody would ever have wings like his, that he would never belong, but in the streets of Gotham, there's a boy with wings burning golden. A boy that doesn't call him dad but he doesn't need that, he doesn't need to hear the word to have another son.
Clark hovers at the open bedroom window, everything about him glowing with the moon's pale light, and watches Gotham.
There are two shadows flying through the night, and Clark tracks their heartbeats for a moment.
As if he knows, and maybe he does, the bigger shadow stops moving, hovers for a moment.
"We'll be home soon."
For another moment, he listens for a familiar heartbeat in Blüdhaven, hears his son run across rooftops. He's going to call him in the morning.
Clark smiles, and climbs back into bed. In the dim light of the room, his wings gleam golden.