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A Certain Thought That Lingers

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We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most intimate.

–Rilke

 

Prelude

New Year’s Eve at Wayne Manor…in the present…

He could feel it, in the back of his mind, tickling, echoing. An unwelcome inner vibration that promised—

What? Comfort, safety, an end to loneliness…to never be alone, in his own head, in his own heart—

Bruce Wayne sighed, a tense release of air, grabbed a glass of champagne from a tray as a waiter made his rounds in the crowded exhibition hall and tried to smile at his companion, a certain lovely and talented starlet who was the current darling of the paparazzi. He couldn’t even remember her name.

“Brucie,” she leaned in close to his ear so he could hear her around the noise and the revelry, “it’s almost midnight. I want to be up front when the ball drops.” Her lips formed an artful pout, her long lashes fluttered. “Come with me?”

Bruce grimaced, tried to hide it behind a small cough and a nod, allowed the petite brunette to take his arm, lead him in the proper direction. Her touch burned like a branding, even through the material of his expensive tuxedo, but he didn’t flinch, refused to extricate his arm, even though the roaring in his head was loud, past bearing.

He could do this. He would demonstrate, to himself most importantly, that nothing had changed.

Conversation was easy, vacuous, the excited undulations of the crowd as the night beat down to midnight a welcome barrier to more personal interaction. Still, he could feel Clark like a ghost, like a shadow that lingered even after the setting of the sun.

He’s in Smallville. Home. Family. Such love. He loves his parents so much. So very much.

Bruce felt it as Clark looked up, concentrated, sent a thought through their link that was like a gentle caress, like a whisper of rain against his face, a fall of snowflakes: You’re part of my family, too, Bruce. Don’t—

Bruce clamped down on their connection hard, the way J’onn had taught him, leaving only the reverberation of a disappointment colored by concern, wreathed in…love.

Later, after the countdown to the New Year had come and gone, after he had convinced his companion to accompany him back to his hotel suite, he again tried to banish the echo of Clark from his mind’s eye as he touched her, kissed her desperately, felt the burn, masked the pain, laid her naked body down on the bed, covered her body with his own—

Clark had left the farm. He was flying. He was a star in the sky, falling. He was needed in another part of the world. No rest for Superman…

A cadence, metronomic, even, steady, rather than the usual syncopation that forever sought to strengthen the weakest beat, refused to be silenced in his head as Bruce buried his face in her hair, as he thrust into her, through her. His hands clenched, causing her to cry out in surprise as a sort of stricken longing swept over him, dismantling him, like the lost, bewildered feeling of a child as his mother lets go of his hand on the first day of school.

Don’t—

His heart began a rapid, deep, and painful beating that turned him dizzy. His hold on his companion loosened, fell away. Brightness, the intense brightness of a too bright sun blasted through his boundaries, flooded his mind, scorched his soul, blew the husk of his vision away.