Bruce watched as twilight began to set over the town common. Sometimes it still amazed him that he was sitting here right in the middle of a Norman Rockwell illustration.
He glanced over at Clark and smiled. His lover was watching as his mother was adjusting his father’s uniform tunic. His father was a member of the town band, which was pretty good, Bruce had to admit. They weren’t the Boston Pops, but then this wasn’t the Esplanade, either.
It was Smallville, Kansas, and the evening of the Fourth of July. The whole town had gathered on the Common to play games, eat food they had grown themselves, and listen to the band play after supper. The fireworks would go off gloriously, and it would be all very Americana on a very American day.
Bruce settled comfortably in his lawn chair. Clark was sitting next to him in another chair, both of them happily sated with some of the best food that Bruce had ever eaten outside of the Manor: from the grill had wafted the barbecue smell of the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers, and then chicken and fish. On the picnic tables were fried chicken, ham, and roast beef; all kinds of salads: potato salad with dill, pasta salad and garden salad peppered with fresh vegetables and homemade dressing, corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes large and small and incredibly rich in flavor, and pies of all kinds: apple, cherry, lemon, and blueberry, and two kinds of cake: chocolate and carrot. There was plenty of water, soda, and beer, but no wine or whisky, though there were probably jugs of the homemade variety of the latter stashed around somewhere. It was a good thing that patrol was out of the question here in Smallville, because Bruce doubted he could get himself out of the chair!
An afternoon of touch football followed by feasting made for a tired Bat, probably because he felt so relaxed. Clark’s presence helped that feeling, of course, but the good people of Smallville had grown accepting of him and Clark through their visits to Jonathan and Martha over the years.
That included Dick, who was talking with some kids from Metropolis U., comparing Gotham University to that fine institution, Bruce thought with a smirk. Even better, Roy was with him, and everyone knew about them, too, as the tabloids and TV gossip shows ate up the fact that two scions of wealthy families, the Waynes and the Queens, were currently dating.
And very much in love.
He and Clark had paved the way here in Smallville. Clark was a favorite son, a famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had made good in the Big City. Once he had begun dating Bruce, he had brought him home to meet his parents and eventually, the rest of the town. Visits over the years had accustomed the townspeople to a billionaire in their midst, since Lex Luthor had not been rich when he had grown up here.
“Clark, did you have a piece of my cherry pie?” asked an elderly lady as she walked over with a cane.
“I did, Mrs. Abernathy.” Clark’s eyes twinkled. “I won’t tell Mom, but your cherry pie is the best in town!”
The old lady laughed, mock-swiping at Clark with her cane. “Come by before you leave for Metropolis, dear, and I’ll give you one to take home. You, too, dear,” she said to Bruce, who replied with his most charming smile, “Thank you very much, Mrs. Abernathy.”
Celia Abernathy walked away chuckling, proud of her baking talent and boosted by two charming young men treating her with the utmost respect.
Clark grinned at Bruce. “Even Alfred can’t object. I mean, between her and my mom, you’ve got two of the best cooks and bakers in town!”
“Don’t worry, Alfred is secure in his cooking manhood and doesn’t mind me bringing home Smallville goodies.”
Clark laughed, a slight breeze ruffling his hair. Bruce brushed his bangs back, rewarded by sparkling eyes and a dazzling smile. His heart fluttered. Even after all these years, that beauty and that warmth could still pierce him with the sweetest joy.
Bruce settled back in his chair. The red-checked tablecloths were being removed from the tables as food was stored away in coolers and back in refrigerators of nearby houses. Ice buckets filled with soda and beer cans were still available, and people were settling down for the band concert. Kids were running around but once the concert started, would be expected to come and listen. The fireworks were the biggest draw, and professionals were busy setting their pyrotechnics up. Stars began to twinkle in the hazy twilight, a tiny pinpoint of light streaking across the sky. High-flying jet.
Martha sat next to Clark, smiling at her boys. “I see that Dick and Roy found some kindred spirits.”
“Dick always attracts people,” Bruce said dryly.
Martha laughed. “He’s a sparkling young man, as is Roy.” She lowered her voice. “Not just pretty bored rich boys, either.”
Bruce smiled placidly. The Kents knew their identities and Bruce had no doubt the secrets were safe. Any couple whom had raised Superman in secret had the drill down pat.
“They’re good boys, Mom,” Clark said, watching as Roy talked to a younger boy with a leg brace, making sure he felt part of the group. “They’ve got good hearts.”
Martha nodded. She gazed at the bandstand, finding Jonathan. Bruce noticed how her look was one of pure love, pride in her man obvious. Bruce slipped his hand into Clark’s, pleased at Clark’s startled expression that turned to happiness.
Holding hands with Clark, even in the gathering dusk, wasn’t risky. At first the townspeople had been wary of their relationship. Bruce amusedly remembered overhearing some people declaring that the city-bred Easterner had corrupted their good Midwestern boy! Well, he would take the credit, er, blame for corrupting Clark, thank you very much.
“What are you smiling at?”
Bruce looked at his lover. “Oh, just happy.”
Clark’s smile was slightly wary, Bruce knowing that Clark knew that his smile wasn’t just pure joy, but the Kryptonian didn’t pursue it. He squeezed Bruce’s hand and turned back to Martha.
Bruce had been rather surprised by the acceptance that Smallville folk had shown him and Clark. Of course, a big chunk of that was their regard for Clark. Talking to them once they felt comfortable with him had allowed him to glean tidbits such as the adults of his childhood considering him a kind, quiet boy who was always willing to help someone out, and that his peers had usually either liked him, simply hadn’t known he’d existed, or bullied him. The adults had thought Clark to be rather clever in that he rarely seemed to come out on the wrong end of the bullying stick despite never throwing a punch. The bullies had ended up either steering clear of him or had become his friends, and the small circle of friends he did have spoke glowingly of him.
Clark was famous now but was still Clark Kent, Martha and Jonathan’s boy, and when he brought home a man as his choice of partner for life, some people accepted that right away, while some were taken aback and then thought about it, decided that if Clark was truly in love with this rich Wayne fella than it was all right, and of course there were those who vehemently disagreed, but luckily they were in the minority.
Smallville might be the typical conservative Midwestern town, but the threads of liberalism streaked through it, from the majority of the town’s founders being pro-abolition during the days of Bleeding Kansas in antebellum America to people using the town meeting to speak out and deliver unpopular opinions.
Martha and Jonathan were the same mixture: often black-and-white when it came to teaching their child right and wrong, they also acknowledged gray areas and a liberal past: Martha’s lawyer father had been a practicing member of the ACLU in Metropolis, and Jonathan’s ancestors had settled their land here in the 19th century as the anti-slavery faction during the wild, bloody days of Bleeding Kansas.
Clark had been raised to keep his secret for his own sake and theirs, but also to use his powers with restraint so as not to cause inadvertent damage, and to help people, not dominate them. Otherwise he had been raised like a human child: responsibilities around the farm, earning an allowance, going to school, having friends over, going to the county fair and planning for college. He had enjoyed baseball and football and had even played a little football before it had become impossible not to hurt his teammates and the opponents badly, and he was still a fan of the game, he and Bruce arguing and teasing each other about the Metropolis Sharks versus the Gotham Knights endlessly. Clark had always loved going to the circus, a topic he loved to discuss with Dick and learn more about the life, and he was raised with holidays and family traditions and love.
And somehow that had made it all right, as this little town that could have spurned him with hatred and prejudice against his orientation welcomed him instead. Not completely, not at first, but some townsfolk had done just that right from the beginning, and those sitting on the fence had mostly jumped down to Clark’s side.
Bruce knew that it hadn’t helped that he was so alien to them: rich, famous, and from the East Coast, but he had plied his considerable charm into winning them over for Clark’s sake, and damnit, for his own. He wanted to show them that he was just as worthy of Clark’s love as any of them were worthy of their heterosexual partners. He wanted to make a statement without speaking, and it had worked. Despite the presence of the vicious homophobic Church Of The Divine Light less than fifty miles away, Smallville had accepted its most famous son in a gay relationship, and now Clark and Bruce were just part of the crowd.
The band began to tune up and people stopped talking, their children hurrying to join them. Dick and Roy came over and sat on a blanket as they rested against a huge maple tree, Roy’s arm slipping around Dick’s shoulders.
The mayor mounted the steps of the bunting-decorated bandstand. It served as the town gazebo, too, and was a popular resting spot for people when they were in town. Mayor Scrodd was portly and a consummate politician, smiling and wearing his flag lapel pin and a red blazer with blue pants. Bruce was always amused at the name that sounded like it should be that of a mayor in a New England fishing village.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. To continue in the holiday vein, I won’t be making a long speech.” Laughter and applause, and Scrodd smirked. “I just want to say today is a day that we should all reflect on our blessings, and hope that our country continues to still get better! We’ve had freedom today, my friends, the freedom to get together and enjoy each other’s company, the food we’ve grown ourselves, and to listen to this wonderful band and watch the fireworks! So let’s do that, and feel proud that Smallville is a place that people want to live in, or come back to!”
Clark squeezed Bruce’s hand and Bruce smiled. Smallville was very important to his love.
The band started playing, the songs in tune and the musicians good. Some of them had been playing together for fifty years, and what they lacked in any talent was made up in enthusiasm. Jonathan’s instrument was the horn, and he played it well.
Clark’s parents were interesting people. Not just farmers, they liked to dabble in the creative arts. Jonathan had his music and woodcarving, and Martha was a good artist, painting the occasional picture to brighten up her home, and she also wrote, she said with a wink. What kind of stories, she never said.
Bruce’s fingers curled around Clark’s, the warmth of his lover’s skin familiar and relaxing. The living solar battery was always a little warmer than human-normal, and Bruce was accustomed to it by now. When Clark’s skin felt cool, Bruce always worried.
He allowed the music to wash over him: patriotic tunes, mostly, some from the old songbook of John Philip Sousa, naturally, but played with vigor. Some of the music had first been played during the days of the Spanish-American War, with Sousa the head of the Marine Band, and all the wars that the country had fought drifted through Bruce’s mind, his ancestors part of nearly all of them: the Revolution, War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. All of them each with their own objectives, different in their importance, all basically the same with young men dying for older men’s mistakes, or just trying to bring honor and security to the country. War was part of human life, sad to say, and was part of the race’s DNA.
His mind turned to the positive aspects of history: to the freedom the country had offered its citizens, to the optimism and can-do spirit of a nation free from the old restrictions of Europe, unfortunately inventing some of its own but striving to be better.
No better example could be pointed to than the fight for gay rights. Because of pioneers pushing for equality, he and Clark could enjoy acceptance for the most part from his old hometown, and the way had paved a little more for Dick and Roy.
When he opened his eyes again, dusk had turned to darkness, the band beginning a new set of songs to punctuate the pyrotechnics. The final one would be the 1812 Overture, just like the Boston Pops did it, and the fireworks began.
The rockets boomed and exploded into gold, red, green, purple, orange, and blue. One slowly opened into a golden rose, then another turned into a flag, and then others simply broke open into bouquets of sparklers.
Bruce remembered what Clark had told him about flying through fireworks:
& & & & & &
There’s so much energy from the fireworks that they tingle along my skin. Flying through them, I can’t see the shapes or designs, but I can see the colors so bright and incandescent, a shower of fiery rain.
& & & & & &
Bruce looked at Clark. Was he yearning to be up there, soaring through the fireworks?
The light reflected in Clark’s eyes, the fireworks tiny images in his glasses. Bruce could see roses, stars, and streamers of light in the lenses, tiny sparkles in Clark’s sea of blue.
As if sensing Bruce’s scrutiny, Clark turned to look at him, the smile rivaling the fireworks. Bruce’s breath caught, then he lifted his hand and traced his fingers along the smooth cheek, over the lush lips, and Clark kissed his fingers, calm and placid and content, golden sparkles in his hair as his love poured out into Bruce’s heart, chasing away the darkness that had too long dwelled there.
The booming of the music grew as the fireworks grew bigger, louder, and more spectacular. Each pounding matched with the throbbing in Bruce’s chest as his heart thumped, squeezing Clark’s hand.
The band played the 1812 Overture and the fireworks burst into a wild display, and then Bruce’s eyes widened at what he saw reflected in Clark’s glasses. His head whipped around and saw the sparks falling down like streams of stars from the giant symbols in the sky: the ‘S’ for Superman, the Bat symbol for him.
He turned back to look at Clark with inquiry in his face, and Clark seemed as surprised as him. Then he caught sight of Martha’s face, and she winked.
“’Truth, Justice, and the American Way,’” she quoted with a grin. “With a touch of the Bat.”
Bruce shook his head with a chuckle.
Oohs and aahs lingered at the sight of the two symbols side-by-side, burning brightly in the sky before they began to fade, Bruce distracted by the light purple color used for the Bat symbol. Purple! What was he, Lex Luthor?
People let the magic slowly fade, then they stretched, yawned, and began to pack up to leave. The farmers in the audience had to be up early, and the townsfolk weren’t exactly late sleepers. Clark stood and stretched, still holding Bruce’s hand.
“I guess we’d better get home,” Martha said, standing and folding her chair. She looked over at Dick and Roy and laughed. Bruce looked, too, and saw Roy holding a finger to his lips as he grinned, holding a sleeping Dick in his arms.
Bruce wasn’t surprised. He and Dick had gotten very little sleep in the past week due to the usual Gotham craziness multiplied by ten.
Roy nudged Dick awake while Jonathan came over and herded his little family to the truck, he and Martha getting into the cab and ‘their boys’ climbing into the back. Dick rested his head in Roy’s lap and promptly fell asleep again despite the truck’s jouncing over country roads. Bruce sat close to Clark and yawned. He thought of the soft but firm feather mattress in Clark’s room and his head drooped to Clark’s shoulder.
They reached the farm and Clark and Roy helped their respective Bats out of the truck and to the house, Roy and a sleepy Dick following Jonathan and Martha inside. Clark and Bruce paused on the porch, Bruce looking up at the stars, imagining that he saw wisps of fireworks still trailing through the air.
“It’s very nice here, Clark,” he murmured.
Clark’s lips brushed his temple. “I know.”
He helped Bruce into the house, the screen door slamming shut behind them.