Clark squinted at his phone and read the text again.
come 2 384 Regency St. emergency. no cape. business.
The text was from Tim, and it had arrived exactly fourteen seconds ago. Like all of Tim’s text messages, it was short and to the point, even if the point wasn’t immediately evident. After reading the message a third time he had a pretty good idea of what Tim needed from him: Clark Kent, not Superman. It was a Saturday afternoon and Clark had been slouching around his apartment in sweatpants and an old t-shirt, clearing away dirty dishes and sorting through junk mail.
Two minutes later, he touched down in a Gotham back alley half a block away from the requested address. He hurried, walking briskly, but no faster than anyone would expect a too-big reporter to walk. The address was home to an independent boutique hotel that presented itself as a viable alternative to chains, but was really far too expensive for any regular person. Clark tugged at his sleeves and pushed the door open with his shoulder.
‘Thank God, you’re here.’ Tim was on him in a moment, adjusting his tie and looking him up and down. ‘This is going to be weird, but go with it.’
Clark was so used to seeing Tim in his uniform or in the ratty loungewear he seemed to prefer at all other times that he was surprised to see him in full business wear, his tie a muted blue and the bottom button of his waistcoat undone. His hair was slicked back and if Clark couldn’t hear his heart, the pat-pat-pat of stress, he would have thought Tim was utterly at ease.
‘Bruce is doing something stupid, and we need you to save him.’
‘Me? Clark Kent?’ If Bruce needed to be saved, Superman was a more logical choice.
‘He’s auctioning off a date with him for charity and we need you to win.’ Clark hadn’t quite processed the statement before Tim barrelled on: ‘We heard through the grapevine that one of Black Mask’s lieutenants is trying to win it and I know what you’re going to say, Bruce can handle himself, but even Jason says she’s bad news. We need you to outbid her. Don’t worry, we’ll pay for it.’
‘Us kids. Bruce left his phone in the green room, and she’s in civilian wear, so we’re not sure he recognises her. Your next question, I guess, is why me and the answer is you’re the best option, and you’re the only option that would get here in time.’ Tim ran a hand through his hair, undoing the work of the hair gel. Clark opened his mouth to ask a question, but Tim held up a hand. ‘No time for questions. Go in. Bid. Keep bidding until you win. Don’t think about the money.’
It was a good thing that Tim told him not to think about the money, because as soon as he entered the ballroom where the bidding was held, it became clear that the amount of money was obscene. Clark had never bid on anything, except that one time he had spent two hours bidding on a vintage farming equipment toy he was going to give Pa for Christmas only to be outbid at the last second. The bidding process seemed to exist out of time. The Black Mask lieutenant, a handsome woman with cold eyes and a scornful mouth, lifted her hand and bid with quiet confidence. Clark countered every bid. Bruce, dressed to the nines and smiling at the crowd from the stage, momentarily frowned when he heard Clark’s voice for the first time before his vacant grin was back. The auctioneer paused after Clark’s first bid, murmuring something in Bruce’s ear. Clark focused his hearing.
‘Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. I can be ambidextrous.’ Bruce murmured back to the thin man, a crooked smile on his face.
Seven minutes later, the lieutenant’s red-painted mouth was twisted in a frustrated frown. When Clark raised his bid for what felt like the millionth time, she stayed still, exhaling hard through her nose.
‘And that’s sold for a date with Gotham’s most eligible bachelor to the gentleman with the glasses.’
Across the room, Bruce looked at Clark, his face unreadable.
Tim ushered Clark to a suite on the eleventh floor. Jason was sprawled on the sofa, an open book splayed over his face. Dick was pacing the room, chewing on a granola bar and reading something on a tablet. Both of them looked up when the door opened, Jason lifting the book and holding it like a visor.
‘Did we do it?’ Dick asked.
Tim collapsed onto the bed and nodded.
‘Clark did it,’ Tim corrected. ‘Clark, what’s your bank account details? I’ll need them to – no, actually, got them already.’
Clark tried not to dwell on how easily Tim accessed his bank account numbers but made a mental note to change banks.
‘I – it feels really weird for you to pay for all of this. Maybe I can pay for some of it?’
Three pairs of eyebrows were raised at him.
Tim sat up.
‘Give me a penny, and we’re even. After all, you’re kind of doing us a favour in, hopefully, helping prevent Bruce from either having a terrible date that he’ll complain about for weeks or getting kidnapped by Black Mask. It’s a win-win.’
Clark pulled out his wallet and fished out a penny. Tim accepted the coin and put it in his inner jacket pocket.
‘There. All even.’
‘Timbo, what are you gonna do with a penny?’ Jason asked.
‘The zinc can be useful.’ Tim shrugged and fidgeted with his sleeves. ‘Did you know that the raw materials required to make a penny are worth more than the minted coin?’
Before anyone had the opportunity to react to this, the door opened. Bruce stepped inside, looking just as well-dressed and coiffed as he had on the stage with a stack of papers under his arm.
‘Ah, Clark, I thought I’d find you here.’ Bruce clapped Clark’s shoulder before turning to his sons. ‘Come on then. What’s going on? I’ve only got a few minutes before I need to go back to the party for the dinner.’
Tim explained the situation to Bruce, same as he had to Clark, with the one difference that Dick and Jason would chime in with opinions or additions. (She’s nasty, Jason added when Tim talked about the lieutenant, head buried in the book again.) Bruce listened to the tale with an amused look on his face, his forehead creased.
‘And you agreed to this?’ he asked Clark, hands in his pockets.
‘Yeah, I mean… I thought it would help you out. That’s what friends do, right? I’m sure you would’ve preferred Diana, but she was a little far away.’
For a moment, Bruce didn’t say anything and Clark almost wanted to shy away from the intensity of his gaze and the way it travelled over his face, his shoulders, his poorly-made tie. He flashed him a grin Clark had only ever seen Bruce use on socialite divorcées and simpering admirers. Clark was grateful that no one else in the room could hear how his heart rocketed.
‘You’ll do, Clark. However, boys,’ Bruce sobered and put on his most fatherly voice, ‘did any of you consider that this ploy would require Clark Kent to, intentionally or not, come out of the closet? Did you consider the optics of this?’
The silence that stretched made it clear that, no, none of them had considered that. Worse still, Clark had not considered this. They had never discussed sexuality, and Clark realised that Bruce possibly thought that he was straight. It wasn’t that Clark wasn’t willing to tell Bruce, but the risk was that Bruce would cock his eyebrows, wink, and ask if there was a particular man who had caught his eye. Lying by omission was easier than lying to Bruce’s face.
The three young men looked appropriately bashful.
‘Maybe he’s just horny for a good scoop.’ Jason finally said.
Bruce huffed and passed the papers he had been holding to Clark. They were still warm from being pressed against his side. Clark had started leafing through them when Bruce spoke.
‘Then he’s out of luck, as the waiver spells out that he is not allowed to use this date for self-promotional purposes, including posting on social media. Clark, are you sure you’re okay with this? I don’t want you to have to...’ Bruce trailed off, shrugged, and touched Clark’s forearm, his fingertips warm through the layers of cloth. Clark stared at the hand on his arm. ‘Clark?’
‘Yeah, no, it’s fine. I don’t mind.’ Clark pulled away and held the waiver up. ‘So I just need to sign this?’
‘Read through it before you sign it, of course, and just get it signed before the day of the date. You’ll get an electronic copy to sign after the donation is processed. It’s boilerplate, mostly. The winning bidder needs to sign the document to show they understand that this date is no kind of obligation for anything, i.e. they want you to know not to expect me to put out.’ Clark wasn’t sure what the expression on his face looked like, but whatever it was, it made Bruce give a short laugh. The boys tittered. ‘Just sign it before the date.’
‘Okay, sure, I’ll do that.’ Clark had opened the papers at random and was reading through the terms to have a good excuse for not meeting Bruce’s gaze. ‘So, uh, when’s that happening? The date, I mean.’
‘It’s whenever works. I was thinking I could organise it? My schedule is probably a little more packed than yours.’
‘Yeah, that’s fine.’
‘It goes without saying, but,’ Bruce looked him up and down, and Clark bit his cheek at how thoroughly he perused him, ‘wear something nice. Should I send you something?’
The idea that Bruce would be willing to pick out clothes for him made Clark’s heart do something funny. He hoped it didn’t show on his face.
‘No, I’ll figure it out.’ Clark, uncertain what to do with the papers, rolled them up and put them in his inside pocket. He stuck his hands in his back pockets. ‘So, you’ll text me?’
Bruce studied him for another second, that strange soft smirk tugging at his mouth again, before he nodded.
‘I’ll text you.’
Bruce had texted the details of the date and it was time for Clark to figure out what to wear. Tim had texted him and offered to help pick something out, which Clark appreciated. He should have anticipated that Jason and Dick would invite themselves along. He was waiting in the west wing of the mall where they had agreed to meet up. Clark had arrived early, and while waiting for the boys, had finished two chapters of his current library read.
‘Sup, Clark?’ Jason, trailed by Tim, appeared at his side. He turned his head to read the title of the book. ‘ Maltese Falcon ? Good choice.’
Clark smiled at the young men, putting away the book in his satchel. Jason had unzipped his leather jacket, revealing a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans that both managed to look incredibly ratty and expensive. Tim was in a suit, his hair slicked back. He looked the epitome of a high-flying Wayne Enterprises employee.
‘Just so you know, the two of us are going to have to bounce a little early,’ Tim apologised, checking his watch before leaning against Clark’s side, wrapping an arm around his waist in a quick half-hug. ‘Jason lost a bet so he’s my ride for the day and I have a board meeting at four o’clock.’
‘What was the bet?’ Clark asked Jason.
Jason did not lean in for a hug, but held a hand up for a fist bump. Greeting completed, Jason rolled his eyes and exhaled noisily.
‘Don’t fucking ask,’ he grumbled. ‘Where’s Dickie at?’
‘Did someone say my name?’
Dick appeared, dressed in well-worn jeans and a band tee, and hugged Clark before he turned to his brothers. Clark watched them perform the most complex handshake he had ever seen, complete with jazzhands, finger guns, and a complex series of snapping.
‘Right, where are we going first?’ Tim asked, glancing up at Dick.
‘That one.’ Dick pointed at one of the storefronts and they set off.
‘Yeah, let’s get you hot for Daddy,’ Jason winked at Clark.
‘You’re unbelievable,’ Dick said fondly.
As it turned out, Bruce’s adopted sons were a perfect trio to go clothes shopping with. Dick and Tim were both keen to pull out potential outfits: Dick’s choices were bold and brash; Tim’s restrained and conservative. Jason was a counterpoint to them both, mixing their choices to create outfits that were interesting without being too haute couture.
‘Hey, Clark, sorry about the – uh – outing you thing.’ Tim said twenty minutes in.
Clark finished buttoning up the shirt and pulled back the curtain. The young men were lounging on the padded bench in the changing rooms area. Dick leaned against the wall, arms folded over his chest. Tim held his phone in both his hands, thumbs darting over the screen even as he was looking up at Clark. Jason was cleaning his nails with a pocket knife.
‘Really, it’s okay.’ He gestured at himself. ‘What do you think?’
‘Give us a spin.’ Jason drew a circle in the air with his knife. ‘So… tell us, Clark. Are you?’
‘Am I what?’ Clark asked and spun around.
‘Gay,’ Jason said just as Dick declared:
‘Those pants aren’t any good.’
‘What’s wrong with the pants? I like the pants. And, uh, no, I’m not gay.’ Clark swallowed and realised that he had never said it out loud before. There had never been any reason to; he’d never felt like it was the kind of thing he needed to tell anyone. ‘I mean, I’m bisexual.’
‘Does Bruce know?’ Dick asked.
‘What? Uh, no, it’s never come up.’ Clark licked his lips and felt far too studied by the three pairs of eyes on him. ‘Seriously, what’s wrong with these pants?’
‘They’re far too saggy. I know you don’t want Clark Kent to look like an Adonis, but even regular humans can have a nice butt.’ Dick considered. ‘I like the shirt, though. What do you think?’
‘Yeah, the shirt’s good.’ Jason said, and Tim hummed his agreement.
It took another three stores to complete the ensemble. At each register, Jason or Dick would distract Clark while Tim paid. Somehow, it worked every time. In the end, they settled on a pair of wool trousers and a cotton twill blazer, both black, to pair with the black dress shirt with a dark grey pinstripe. Tim told him to keep the top button of the shirt unbuttoned, or else he’d look too stuffy. They finished just in time for Tim and Jason to leave so Tim was on time for his meeting.
‘Do you have time to grab a coffee?’ Dick asked once his brothers had left. ‘It feels like forever since we hung out.’
‘Sure. But I’m paying.’
‘I’ll allow it.’
The mall had a small coffee shop tucked in under an escalator and Clark paid for their order. He let Dick take their pastries and wrangle the shopping bags at their table while he waited for their order to be made. Dick wrapped his long fingers around the red bowl-like mug and took a long sip. He had asked for a peppermint mocha with extra whipped cream. A dollop of cream ended up on his nose. He wiped the cream off with a thumb and licked the pad of his finger clean. Clark tried his cappuccino before adding a second packet of sugar.
‘Why did you ask if Bruce knows that I’m bi?’ Clark asked when the silence had stretched.
It hadn’t been an uncomfortable silence, but Clark had been left with the distinct impression that Dick was waiting on something. He wasn’t sure if that was the right question. Behind his oversized mug, Dick’s pale eyes focused on Clark. He tasted his mocha again before replying.
‘You like him, right?’
Dick asked the question like it was nothing special, like he asked questions that cut Clark to the core every week, like the answer to this question didn’t have the ability to wreck everything.
‘I – I don’t… I’m…’ Clark heard himself fluster and stutter. He pressed his lips together and inhaled. ‘What kind of question is that, Dick?’
Dick pursed his lips. He wore the exact same considering expression that Clark had seen on Bruce’s face countless times.
‘It’s just a question.’
‘I mean, of course I like Bruce. He’s one of the best people I know. And of course – of course he’s a very attractive man. But, I mean. We’re colleagues. We’re friends.’
Clark realised that he could probably tell Dick the truth and Dick would neither make fun of him nor tell Bruce. Clark could tell Dick about how every time he saw Bruce, the world seemed brighter. How every time Batman did something heroic in the face of insurmountable odds, Clark’s heart soared even as worry twisted in his gut. How he had to fight a smile every time he saw some stupid rumour about him in the gossip column because unlike all the gossip columnists, Clark knew Bruce.
Dick picked at the muffin he’d ordered.
‘I’m going on this date with him because you asked me to help you out and I care about Bruce and of course I wasn’t going to let him go on a date with someone associated with the Black Mask. I’m not trying to…’ Clark trailed off and broke his snickerdoodle into pieces. He chewed, tasting sugar and cinnamon, before continuing. ‘I’m not sure if you’re trying to set us up, but if that’s what you kids are trying to do, please don’t. Bruce isn’t interested in me and I know this for a fact.’
‘Oh?’ Dick raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow at Clark, his chin in his hand.
Clark didn’t tell Dick that if Bruce wanted Clark, he would be able to tell from his heart picking up when they spent time together, from the way Bruce would be looking at him, from things that Bruce would do for him. (Then again, Clark realised that there were things he wanted to do for Bruce that he decisively did not do.)
‘How’s Blüdhaven?’ Clark asked instead.
Dick didn’t comment on Clark’s abrupt change of subject. He smiled softly and told him all about life in his adopted hometown. They didn’t talk about Bruce again.
Sooner than Clark expected, the day of the date arrived.
Bruce had sent a car. It was excessive. It was too much. Clark slipped into the backseat of the Bentley, a racing green vintage beauty, and mumbled an embarrassed thank you to the driver.
‘It’s no trouble at all, Master Kent.’
Clark’s head snapped up, and he saw Alfred smile at him in the rearview mirror.
‘Alfred! What are you doing here? Did Bruce make you drive here?’
‘No, not at all. I volunteered.’ Alfred checked his blindspot before he pulled out, easily finding an opening in the busy Metropolis traffic. ‘There’s a little delicatessen in East Metropolis that I wanted to make it out to, and this ended up being the perfect opportunity. I finally found some acceptable rose jam. You wouldn’t believe how hard it’s to find that in Gotham.’
Clark was pretty sure he could believe how hard it was, seeing as he had no idea what anyone would want with rose jam. They fell into a comfortable silence, interspersed with the occasional question from Alfred about specific Metropolis landmarks, Clark’s parents’ health, the Justice League’s horrid food orders.
‘Did Bruce tell you about the day’s itinerary?’
‘Late lunch and the game?’ Clark asked. Bruce had chosen a Saturday when the Gotham Knights were playing. Clark wasn’t sure if he had yet been forgiven for mentioning in passing that he quite enjoyed the odd Metropolis Meteors game. ‘Or is there something I don’t know about?’
Alfred shook his head, though Clark almost thought he could see the curve of a smile.
‘Nothing I’ve heard of, Master Kent.’
‘Of course, Master Kent.’ Yes, that was definitely a smile.
Gotham rose in the distance like a mythical beast, growing closer with each mile. Alfred navigated them through the narrow back alleys to the waterfront. The restaurant Alfred parked in front of was understated, elegant, and definitely ludicrously expensive. The front was floor-to-ceiling windows, and Clark could see through the entire restaurant. The other end of the restaurant opened up to Gotham’s refurbished waterfront, the dark waters shimmering in the afternoon sun. He pulled the restaurant door open and stepped inside.
‘I’m, uh, supposed to have lunch with Bruce Wayne?’ Clark approached the host stand with uncertain steps, irrationally half-expecting the young woman behind the podium to look over his ensemble and throw him out.
The host, her bowtie perfectly askew and her waistcoat sitting just right, smiled at him.
‘Clark, right? Come along, this way.’
Clark barely had time to nod before she started walking, and he followed her into the din. He had expected that Bruce would be late, so he was surprised to see Bruce at a window table, his chin propped onto the heel of his hand, staring out at the Gotham harbour. Clark was always amazed at the difference in the way Bruce held himself in public from the way he did around the League and even the way he held himself when alone with family. This Bruce held himself languidly, his shoulders relaxed, his expression lazy.
The host cleared her throat.
Bruce’s smile was dazzling, white teeth perfectly straight. Clark wondered if he had worn braces as a child. It was a funny thought. Bruce stood and reached down to grab something and held out a wrapped bouquet.
‘This is for you.’
‘Oh– thank you.’ Clark accepted the bouquet, carefully holding it.
‘You have your menus. Gemima will be here to take your order when you’re ready.’ The host smiled at them both and excused herself.
‘Is it too much?’ Bruce asked and sat back down, watching Clark unwrap the flowers. ‘I thought it would make this look less like, I don’t know, an interview and more like, y’know. I thought you’d appreciate this more than footsie under the table.’
‘No, it’s fine, I appreciate it, I–’ Clark pulled the paper away and lost his train of thought. The bouquet was bold, bright yellow sunflowers and green foliage. ‘Oh, Bruce, these are beautiful.’
Clark realised he was still standing and that people had started staring. He had expected people to look – he was out with Bruce Wayne in Gotham. Of course people were watching. But right now, he felt exposed. Clark sat down and wrapped up the flowers again, putting them by the window. One sunflower peeked through the wrapping, like it was reaching for the sun.
‘You like them?’ Bruce smiled again, and it was a different smile, soft and secret. ‘I didn’t think roses would be right.’
‘Did you know sunflowers are my favourite?’ Clark brushed his thumb over the exposed sunflower before adjusting the wrapping to cover it.
‘Of course they are.’ Bruce seemed ready to continue his train of thought when a waiter appeared and he turned to grin at her. ‘Hi, Gemima, right? I was thinking some champagne – Champagne alright for you, Clark?’ – he glanced at Clark before he turned back to the young woman – ‘An ‘02 perhaps, or a nice ‘08.’
‘I’ll bring our somm over – he’s sure to have some suggestions. Anything else I can get you? There’s some bread on the way, but you might want another couple of minutes to think about food?’
‘Another few moments would be marvellous, thank you.’ He returned her over-excited smile and turned back to Clark when she left. ‘Champagne okay?’
‘It’s a date after all.’
This was the first time either of them had explicitly acknowledged that it was a date. It was weird that it was a date. But this was the only chance Clark could ever imagine having of going on a date with Bruce, so he was going to make the most of it.
‘That it is.’ Bruce glanced over at the flowers again. ‘I didn’t want to overstep, but if I didn’t get you anything, there’d be some article tomorrow saying that I was phoning it in. I saw the sunflowers and they made me think of you. Y’know, always reaching for the sun.’
Clark didn’t know if it was the way the light filtered through the stained glass details of the tall windows, but there was a brush of soft pink across Bruce’s cheekbones. Before Clark could reply, the sommelier came up and presented two bottles of champagne. Bruce listened to the descriptions of both and, dragging his lower lip between his teeth, tapped one of them with a fingertip. His fingernail made a soft clack against the glass.
‘They actually don’t, y’know.’ Clark said once the sommelier had left. ‘Always reach for the sun. They only move while they’re growing. When the sunflower reaches maturity, it only faces the east.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Bruce glanced up from the menu, an eyebrow raised in amusement. ‘I wouldn’t have pegged you for a flower enthusiast.’
‘They’re the state flower of Kansas.’
Bruce laughed, surprised and sonorous.
‘Of course they are.’ He shook his head at Clark, a smirk curling his lip. ‘What do you think about the food? What looks good?’
‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Clark had looked at the menu, but half the menu was in French and the other half was equally incomprehensible. Not a single item had a price listed.
‘Then how about I order for you? Give you the full Bruce Wayne experience.’
Bruce winked at him, and it wasn’t the teasing wink Bruce would throw his way sometimes when finalising plans with the League, when Bruce was the only one that fully understood the plan and he was eager for Clark to catch up. This was a wink that was pure flirtation. Clark tried not to blush.
As though she knew they were ready, the waiter appeared with a basket of bread. Clark watched Bruce discuss the menu with the waiter, accepting her recommendations with a grin. Bruce Wayne, the persona, smiled so much. Clark wished he could make Bruce Wayne, the man, smile half as easily. When Bruce was satisfied with the order – a smattering of appetisers and main courses ordered in rapid French – he thanked the waiter and turned his attention back to Clark.
‘How much did you pay for this date, anyway?’
‘ Me? I paid a penny.’ Clark dug his fingers into the bread roll, popping the soft bread into his mouth before he started tearing the crust into strips.
‘Worth it?’ Bruce leaned his chin on his closed fist, elbow propped on the table. Terrible table manners – but no one was going to tell him. His eyes, lambent and languid, didn’t leave Clark’s face.
‘Jury’s still out.’
Bruce laughed. It was the kind of laugh that Clark barely ever heard from Bruce, bright and brilliant. Clark liked it.
‘Better make an effort, then.’
‘The full Bruce Wayne experience, right?’
Bruce shook his head slightly, still smiling, and glanced out the window.
‘The paps are here. Ignore them, will you? They’ll take photos but the less you acknowledge them, the more fun we’ll have.’ Bruce reached for a bread roll and bit into it, considering while chewing. He sounded a little hesitant when he continued. ‘You’re not really getting the full Bruce Wayne experience. That would be my hands under your shirt and a quickie in the backseat of my car.’
Clark watched Bruce’s hands, calloused and scarred, his fingers long and manicured. He wanted those hands on him, skimming along his waistline, scraping up his back. He had seen Bruce like that before, his behaviour just south of inappropriate, his fingertips reaching under the skirt of the woman in his lap, his head tipped back, his mouth laving over her neck. At that party, Clark had stared longer than he should have before he tore himself away and found the politician he had been meaning to interview. Clark wondered how bad it would be if he said he wouldn’t mind, if he said he wanted to be a notch on Bruce Wayne’s bedpost. Maybe it would be better than nothing. Maybe it’d be worse. Maybe admitting this would turn Bruce’s eyes flinty and distant.
‘I can’t imagine your backseat would be big enough for the two of us.’
Bruce skated his eyes over Clark, taking in his broad shoulders, lingering over his neck and chest. Bruce looked contemplative, like he was considering the logistics of getting Clark off in a Rolls-Royce. (It would be Bruce in Clark’s lap, the front seats pushed all the way forward, his hands in Clark’s hair, his mouth against Clark’s. It would be a stretch limo, splayed across the floor, Bruce’s weight the only thing that kept Clark from floating. It would be Bruce’s hands, his mouth, his impossible smile.)
‘I can’t imagine it would, no.’
The silence that hung between them was heavy and Clark should’ve known things would have gone pear-shaped so soon. His attempt at a joke had backfired and now he didn’t know what to do. Then Bruce dimpled again, the tension gone as soon as it had appeared.
‘I like your outfit, by the way. All black looks good on you.’
‘Oh, uh, thank you. The boys helped me pick it out.’
‘I guess I’ll have to thank them,’ Bruce smirked and reached for his flute. ‘I just realised – we didn’t taste the champagne yet. Cheers, Clark.’
Their glasses clinked together in the way only crystal ever did. Clark felt the wine in his mouth, the bubbles rolling over his tongue. Bright and cold and warming all at once, the taste reminded him of the red apples from the farm next door growing up; Clark had always eaten on the roof of the barn, dangling his feet and trying to decide who he was and what he was going to do. In many ways, he was still the same child.
Bruce had ordered well. The appetisers were small enough that they only got a few mouthfuls each, but each bite was exquisite. As he grabbed a shishito pepper by the stem and dipped it in the aioli before taking a bite, Bruce told him they could spend a couple of hours at lunch before they had to leave for the game. They were in no hurry. Clark was distracted by how Bruce licked the salt off his fingers, the touch of his fingertips against the pad of his tongue. He was aware of how much he was looking at Bruce, but Bruce was looking at him just as much. After the first hour the photographers got bored and started dispersing, their disappearance helped by the waiter who politely but firmly told them that they were disturbing the diners. The appetisers were replaced by two plates of pasta, crab claws poking up among the linguini strands. Bruce cracked a claw and mused on the lack of crustacean-related supervillains. He refilled their glasses and they debated having a second bottle before deciding that with the beer they’d drink at the ball game, there was no need.
Clark had worried that the fact that it was (technically, if nothing else) a date would lead to awkward silences. Instead, their conversation flowed easily. Bruce’s smiles were quick and comfortable. If it wasn’t for the bouquet by his side, the care he had put into getting dressed, and the fact that they were together in daylight without a business excuse, it felt just like the late-night meals they sometimes had together in quiet gas station diners where no one cared about Bruce Wayne and no one connected the well-coiffed man in a Gotham U hoodie with the billionaire. (Clark let himself imagine for several long seconds while he watched Bruce twirl linguini around his fork that this is what dating Bruce would be like. Just the same as it ever was, but: Bruce wouldn’t shy away if Clark scratched his fingers down his back; Bruce would angle his head for a kiss when Clark touched down in the garden behind the manor; Bruce would kiss Clark’s forehead coming to bed after patrol, before wrapping his arm around Clark’s waist and pulling him in for a cuddle. It was a beautiful fantasy.)
It was a good lunch.
Once the main course was cleared away, they still had time before they needed to leave. Bruce ordered dessert: crème brûlée for himself, tiramisu for Clark, and a suitable glass of dessert wine for each of them. Two espressos on top of that, please.
‘I’m happy to trade if you’d rather have this one,’ Bruce said and cracked the top layer with the back of his spoon.
‘Nope, chocolate’s good with me.’
The tiramisu was exquisite, light and complex all at once, just sweet enough. He closed his eyes and savoured the flavours: the bitterness of the coffee against the sweetness of the mascarpone, against the… whatever else was in tiramisu. When Clark opened his eyes, Bruce was studying him, the corner of his mouth curled into a smile.
‘Yes. It’s amazing. Do you– would you like to try?’
‘If you don’t mind. I’ll trade you a bite.’
Clark looked at the dessert spoon Bruce was holding out, cradling the custard impaled with shards of sugar. (Clark thought, suddenly and inanely: Bruce had been eating with that spoon. ) Clark took the spoon, his fingers brushing Bruce’s. The crème brûlée was beautiful and he said as much. Bruce accepted the spoon again with a murmured thanks. Clark cut into the tiramisu with the side of his fork and held it out for Bruce.
Bruce didn’t take the fork. He leaned forward and closed his mouth around the tines. Clark thought he could feel Bruce’s pulse through the silver. He pulled back and licked cocoa powder off his lip.
‘Delicious,’ Bruce agreed. He dabbed his mouth with the napkin and took a sip of his wine.
Dessert demolished, Bruce took the espresso like a shot and excused himself to settle the bill. He often did this when they ate together, or at least since that one time when Clark managed to present his credit card first and paid for their meal. The tab that day had been for $32, but ever since, Bruce had gone out of his way to prevent Clark from having to pay for anything when they were together. Bruce returned and nursed his dessert wine while Clark finished his dessert. When both plates were clear and the wine was finished, Bruce led the way out of the restaurant. Clark almost forgot the flowers and had to dart back to get them. Bruce chuckled at his forgetfulness.
‘Right, this way.’
For a second, Bruce’s hand was warm against Clark’s jacket, nudging him to turn right. Clark wondered if Bruce was intentionally touching him the way Clark had seen him touch the girls in the magazines, sliding his hand down his back in a way that could be brushed off as innocent but which definitely didn’t feel innocent. The way Bruce’s hand was suddenly gone seemed to suggest that, no, maybe he had just forgotten himself. Clark looked for the racing green sports car, but it was nowhere to be seen.
‘Oh, I gave him the rest of the day off. I parked closer to the stadium. I’ll take you back after the game.’ Bruce was a couple of steps ahead, his left hand deep in his pocket, looking back at Clark with a self-satisfied grin, all Wayne. ‘If you don’t mind?’
‘You’re driving me back to Metropolis? Really?’
Clark didn’t know why this surprised him. Metropolis wasn’t quite an hour away by car, but the idea that Bruce would take the better part of two hours to drive him home struck him as strangely sweet. Of course, it was possible that Bruce would park in a quiet mall parking lot outside of town and ask him to fly himself home. (Clark hoped he wouldn’t.)
Bruce nudged him with his shoulder, the gesture more playful and juvenile than what Clark had come to expect from him.
‘I thought I said this was gonna be the best date you’ve ever been on?’
‘That’s not what you said. You said you’d give me the full Bruce Wayne experience.’
‘Yeah?’ Bruce winked at him. ‘I said what I said.’
‘You’re really full of yourself sometimes, aren’t you?’ Clark laughed, shaking his head.
‘Well,’ Bruce kicked a heap of leaves and grinned a half-shorn smile, ‘maybe most of the people I go out with aren’t quite as discerning as you?’
Clark didn’t know what to say to that.
‘So, how far is the stadium from here?’
The afternoon sun was warm, and Clark shrugged out of his jacket and hung it over his shoulder, hooked on his index finger. Bruce followed suit and loosened his tie, undoing the top button of his fine shirt and revealing pale skin, unkissed by the sun.
‘Twenty minute walk, give or take? ‘We can get a cab if you want, but really, even with the Knights playing Star City Stingers, traffic will be bad.’
‘So Stingers aren’t any good?’
Bruce barked a laugh, loud and genuine.
‘Oh, they’re terrible.’ He insisted. ‘And do you know what the best part is?’
‘What’s the best part?’
‘Oliver Queen bought a ten per cent stake in the team and ever since then, they’ve lost every single game they’ve played.’ Bruce was grinning like a cat that caught the canary, metaphorical feathers still caught in his teeth.
Clark couldn’t bite back the laugh. After seeing Batman spend so much time dead-panning Green Arrow’s unending attempts at quips, Bruce’s amusement at Ollie buying into a terrible baseball team was as bizarre as it was funny. Clark barely ever got to see Bruce like this, relaxed and unhurried.
They walked side by side in silence. At each corner they turned, Bruce moved Clark so that Bruce was the one closer to the street. Clark remembered his pa teaching him the same lesson when he had been young: When you go out with a girl, make sure you’ll always be the one on the side of the road. That way, if a carriage splashes you, she’ll be out of harm’s way. Clark had raised an eyebrow and asked when a horse and carriage would be a problem. Well, Ford truck then. Principle’s the same, boy. Every time Bruce maneuvered him, Clark was too aware of the warmth of his skin through all of the layers of clothes, the sheer physicality of him.
At the waterfront, it had been busy but not too crowded. As they moved further into the city, toward the stadium, the people milling about turned into a crowd. As they got closer to the main entrance, the crowd was a throng of excited fans, the Star City fanatics draped in gold and green, the Knights in black and blue.
‘You’d almost think that Queen bought the club for the team colours, wouldn’t you?’ Bruce murmured the words into Clark’s ear, navigating him through the throng of people with a hand between his shoulder blades. ‘Come on, this way. I parked over here, and there’s a VIP entrance around there, too.’
They had to pass through the crowd diagonally to get the entrance, but Bruce was apparently ready with two weapons, both unexpected by Clark: one was an easy rapport with Gotham’s baseball fans, slipping compliments about a fan’s favourite player as he snuck through the crowds; the other was the firm grip he had on Clark’s hand, dragging him through the crowd. No one seemed to want to be in the way of two larger-than-average men cutting through a line. At least Bruce was unfailingly polite as Clark followed dumbly in his tracks. When they reached the garage, its silence was deafening after the roar of the fanbase. Bruce let go of Clark’s hand and led him to his car, black and all smooth edges and glossy finish.
‘I thought you might want to leave the flowers. They’ll probably be happier with a few hours in a parked car than to be on the floor for a few hours.’
‘I wouldn’t put them on the floor,’ Clark muttered as he put the flowers in the passenger backseat, ‘I would’ve had them in my lap.’
Bruce slammed the door shut and made sure it was locked.
‘That’s almost worse. You’d spend more time making sure you don’t drop them than watching the game. Come on, this way.’
After another five minutes, they reached the stadium entrance. Bruce pulled out two tickets out of his inner suit pocket and asked how the stadium attendant, Grant, and his nieces were enjoying the season.
‘Kayla’s disappointed with Samuel’s batting average.’ The man scanned the tickets and returned them to Bruce.
‘It’s not that bad, is it? I mean, he’s no Curtis, but both are pulling their weight.’ Bruce put the tickets back in his inner pocket, the jacket still draped over his arm, and grasped Clark’s elbow before jerking his head in Clark’s direction, addressing the attendant. ‘Plus one. He’s a Meteors fan.’
‘Ew.’ Still, the stadium attendant grinned at Clark.
‘At least he’s cute, so I let it slide. Have a good one, Grant.’ Bruce led Clark through the gate Grant held open for them, clapping Grant’s shoulder as he passed.
‘Enjoy the game, Mr Wayne!’ The attendant called out after them.
‘Friend of yours?’ Clark asked as he let Bruce lead him further into the stadium.
‘It’s always good to know people. Come, this way, we have to get to the store before the games begin.’
‘Yes. The Knights store.’ Bruce raised an eyebrow at Clark. In the dimness in the corridor, Clark could almost superimpose Batman’s cowl. ‘How do you expect to watch a baseball game without a cap?’
‘I don’t even know what to say to that.’
Bruce led him to the store on the lower levels of the stadium. It was filling up with fans but empty enough that Bruce must have decided that he didn’t need to use Clark as a battering ram. In the store, Bruce brought them to the baseball cap section. Clark, having never visited the fan store of a popular baseball franchise, had never expected there to be so many different styles of baseball caps that an entire section would be needed. Bruce mulled over the selection before grabbing a blue cap with a stitched G in the Gothic print the Gotham Knights used.
‘Any of these looking good to you?’ He finally asked.
‘I – it’s just a baseball cap. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but I don’t really care about which one I go for. I mean,’ Clark noticed a retro neon pink cap and another with a camouflage pattern and a garish orange print, ‘there are some I don’t like.’
Bruce tapped his foot and considered. A fan eager to get a cap darted past and jostled into him. This seemed to break his reverie. He took a red cap off the wall and held it up in front of Clark’s face, considering.
‘That’ll do. It goes well with your colouring. What do you think?’
Clark shrugged and took the cap.
‘Yeah, it’s good.’
Once Bruce had paid for the hats, he bit off the plastic connecting the price tag to the cap and put his on, adjusting the back and pressing down on the brim, slightly bending it. Clark followed suit.
‘Don’t you own a lot of these already? I know I’ve seen you in them.’
Clark had seen countless paparazzi pictures of Bruce in various baseball caps, the brim pushed low as if he was trying to hide. Clark didn’t add that he remembered the pictures because he had been struck by how attractive Bruce looked in something so pedestrian as a baseball cap. Clark followed Bruce’s lead and put on his hat.
‘I wasn’t going to bring a baseball cap to the restaurant.’
‘You could have left it in the car and picked it up when we dropped off the flowers.’
‘ You didn’t have one, which was the more egregious issue. And anyway, I didn’t have this one.’ Bruce pointed at his head and winked.
Before they made it to their seats, Bruce took them to the refreshment stands where he bought them beers and boiled peanuts, telling Clark that they would return later for hot dogs. The beers were filled to the brim, and Clark took a sip to prevent spilling. The beer was a cheap Gotham lager, one he had had before and never particularly cared for, and Clark was surprised to discover how much he enjoyed it this time. He followed Bruce making a path to their seats and pondered what had been written on stadium beer. A two-dollar beer sold for $10 in a plastic cup shouldn’t be a culinary delight, but Clark was already looking forward to his next sip.
Clark had half-expected Bruce to have a box, somewhere hidden away from curious eyes. Instead, the seats were along the third base line, on the second row from the diamond. The grandstand seating was spacious enough that they could both sit comfortably, and with the empty seat on either side of them, they weren’t rubbing shoulders with their closest neighbours.
‘We won’t have to worry about anyone sitting next to us. I’ve got four seats. It’s good for business deals and sometimes some of the boys want to come.’ Bruce placed the peanuts between them and reached into the bag, popping several into his mouth.
‘So – why these seats?’
Bruce must have waited for the question. He lit up and turned in his seat, elbow on the seatback, his knee almost knocking against Clark’s. Clark listened to Bruce explain the reasons why these seats, not any other, were the best in the house. Throughout the explanation, he would add sidebars and asides related to the Gotham Knights’ history or the construction of the ballpark. Bruce was a fount of knowledge about the Knights, and once he finished his spiel, he scrunched up his nose and apologised.
‘Sorry. Sports are a juvenile thing to be excited about.’
‘Don’t apologise.’ Clark licked his lips and considered whether saying what he wanted to would be foolish. He glanced out at the field, following Bruce’s gaze. ‘I think it’s cute.’
Bruce barked a laugh and Clark turned back to look at him. He had crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes, and his eyes were bright.
‘We are on a date, so I’ll accept cute, though I can’t say that’s how most of my dates describe me.’
‘Yeah? How do most of your dates describe you?’
‘I thought you worked in the media business, Smallville.’ Bruce nudged him with his shoulder. ‘Anyway, the Knights are going to crush the Stingers. And next week, the Meteors won’t stand a chance. I considered taking you to that one, but I realised you’d be supporting the wrong team, and I have to draw a line somewhere.’
‘I actually don’t like them that much. They’re just the local team. Outside of high school sports, Smallville didn’t have a lot of teams to root for so it’s fun to support a sports team that didn’t have anyone I’ve known since I was a kid. It was Lois who was the big fan.’
‘No one’s perfect. How’s she doing, anyway?’
‘She’s good. Busy, as always. Getting into trouble, as usual. I heard you helped her out a few weeks ago?’
Lois had been chasing a lead that led her to the Iceberg Lounge and a nasty brush with Penguin. Lois had told Clark with great excitement about how Batman had kicked Penguin in the face. It had been a couple of years since their break-up, and the initial awkwardness at the end of their relationship had settled itself into a platonic friendship that Clark wouldn’t trade for anything.
‘You’d think she’d know better than that at this point.’ Bruce shook his head slightly and sipped his beer. ‘But I’m glad she’s well. She deserves that.’
‘She really does.’ Clark looked out at the ballpark. ‘So, when does the game start?’
Bruce checked his watch. Clark didn’t recognise the brand, but it was unassuming and sleek. Unimaginably expensive, probably.
‘Any minute. Look, we’re starting. Do you want me to tell you about the players?’
During the full first inning of the game, Bruce pointed at each player in turn and explained to Clark their strengths and weaknesses, again proving how much more he knew about baseball than Clark did. Clark was happy, listening to Bruce talk about something so trivial and normal, watching the same small half-grin flutter across his face when he talked about a player that particularly impressed him. Once all the interesting players had been accounted for, they drifted from topic to topic, chatting when the game lulled, staying quiet in the moments of excitement.
‘Did I ever tell you I went to state?’ Clark asked towards the end of the third inning, glancing over at Bruce. ‘Basketball.’
‘Of course you played basketball.’ Bruce glanced away from the game and threw another lazy half-smile. Clark could get used to seeing that grin all the time. ‘Were you any good?’
‘I went to state.’
‘In Kansas. I can’t imagine the competition was that tough.’
‘Wow, Bruce, rude.’
Bruce lifted a finger to silence him as the next batter set up. Once the play was done, he lowered the finger and replied.
‘I went to state too, you know.’
Clark looked at Bruce. Bruce sipped his beer, the plastic cup at odds with the fine cut of his suit. Football? Surely not.
‘You are shitting me. You can’t go to state for fencing !’
‘In New Jersey you can.’ Bruce grinned at him, the corner of his mouth upturned.
‘I swear, Gotham isn’t a real place.’
‘The greater metropolitan population of 10 million people may argue otherwise.’ Bruce bumped his shoulder against Clark’s again, the smile still on his face. ‘I got bronze.’
This is nice, Clark thought. He knew that it wasn’t a real date, and that Bruce was unlikely to – well, unlikely to do any of the things Bruce tended to do on dates. (Clark, unbidden, remembered the kiss-and-tell interviews he had read when he first learned that Bruce Wayne was Batman and Batman was Brucie Wayne and had tried, desperately, to reconcile the two in his mind. Most of the women Bruce took out were considerate not to bleat to the press about Bruce’s flirting or – as per one giggling socialite whose name Clark couldn’t remember and whose words he couldn’t forget – how he truly was larger than life, if the reporter knew what she meant. Clark’s date with Bruce was a world away from any of the dates Bruce would usually go on.) Still, just spending time with Bruce felt like a blessing, a boon. Clark had no plans to ever tell Bruce about his crush – or maybe it had gone past a crush at this point, but Clark didn’t want to study that realisation too much – but he liked spending time with Bruce. He liked to see Bruce with some of his defenses down. He liked that Bruce let him see him with some of his defenses down.
He liked Bruce. He had known this before, and he had known that he found Bruce attractive. He had been well-aware of the fact that he had some kind of crush on Bruce, even though he didn’t really try to think of it too much. This date, even though it was strictly platonic and Bruce was just playing up his public persona, made Clark realise just how much he liked Bruce. He liked Bruce an awful lot.
Lost in introspection, he didn’t really pay attention to the game again until Bruce touched his shoulder.
‘This is going to be a great catch.’
Bruce was right, and it was a great catch. The ball flew in an elegant arc, and the Gotham left-fielder backed up and caught the ball smoothly, pitching it to the shortstop. The hitter was two inches from third base when the catcher closed his fingers around the baseball. The home supporters roared in excitement. The Stingers hitter kicked the ground and loped back to the dugout. The rest of the inning stayed exciting, and Bruce kept his fingers on Clark’s shoulder, as if they belonged there. Clark stopped himself from leaning into the touch.
The fourth inning had rolled into the fifth when the game cut to commercial. The players waited in place, stretching, chatting, and kicking the dirt.
‘How are you enjoying the game?’ Bruce turned to look at Clark and let his hand drop. Clark wondered if he had forgotten he was touching him.
‘It’s good, yeah. Baseball isn’t my game, really, but I’m having a good time. How about you?’
‘The Stingers are getting smashed and I’ve got someone who’s putting up with me explaining the game.’ Under the brim of his baseball cap, he flashed a smile. ‘I’ve had worse times at the ballpark.’
‘It’s fun that we get to hang out,’ Clark said. ‘It’s nice to see you in a, y’know, less life-or-death situation.’
‘This is the Gotham Knights we’re talking about, Clark.’ Bruce shifted closer and bumped his elbow against Clark’s. Clark couldn’t get enough of how intimate these small touches felt. ‘Knights are always life-or-death.’
Clark laughed and realised how loud his laugh sounded in a sudden susurrating silence. The crowds had stilled. The silence was expectant.
He looked out at the field and saw his own face. The billboard-sized televisions were showing both him and Bruce, framed by the outline of a heart. At the top of the screen, Clark read: KISS CAM sponsored by WE Insurance. He saw Bruce turn, both in the corner of his eye and on the screen. He saw Bruce realise what was happening, and could read his lips on the jumbotron when Bruce said:
‘You don’t have to.’
Clark turned back to meet Bruce’s gaze.
‘I don’t mind. This is part and parcel of a baseball game, right? And, you know, this is a date. So, uh, I really don’t mind. But of course, you don’t–’
Clark could hear himself rambling. He could hear the crowd get impatient. He could hear the commentator saying something about them, maybe perhaps identifying Bruce and calling him out, Clark couldn’t quite tell, because Bruce was licking his lips and then he closed the distance between them and kissed Clark, shutting him up. Clark was aware of two things most of all. First of all, he was dimly, distantly, aware of the roar of applause, the whoop whoop of the commentator and wolf whistling in the crowds. Secondly, he was well-aware that it was an awkward kiss. It was difficult finding an angle that worked with their hats, the brims knocking against each other. Bruce put a hand on Clark’s cheek, angling his face as he leaned the other way, slotting their lips together. Bruce tasted of stadium beer and salty peanuts. When Clark felt the tip of his tongue against his lips, he couldn’t silence his satisfied sigh, yielding for him. He let Bruce take the lead and followed, deepening the kiss but not pushing further than Bruce took them.
All at once, Clark remembered his hands. He still had them in his lap and that wasn’t right, that’s not where to keep your hands when kissing. He should touch Bruce, probably, like Bruce was touching Clark’s cheek. He curled his right hand around the back of Bruce’s neck, feeling the soft hairs and the rough fabric of the baseball cap. Bruce’s skin was cool under his fingers, and for a second, he thought he felt Bruce shiver. One hand down, one to go. Bruce kissed him again and Clark’s free hand found Bruce’s, trailing up his knee before catching his hand, threading their fingers together.
As kisses went, it wasn’t technically very good. Their hats made it clumsy and the audience made Clark feel self-conscious. Then again, it was a kiss with Bruce and by virtue of that, Clark couldn’t get enough. He was reeling when Bruce at last removed his hand from Clark’s face, where he had been tracing his thumb over Clark’s cheekbone, the touch intimate and tender. Bruce pulled back and flashed another grin, the smile soft at the edges. Under the brim of the baseball cap, his eyes were a brilliant blue. His cheeks were slightly flushed, his lips a darker shade of pink. Clark desperately wanted to kiss him again.
‘Okay?’ asked Bruce.
Clark laughed, embarrassed, adjusting his baseball cap and glancing away before looking at Bruce again. The game had started up again. Clark had no idea how long they had been kissing.
‘Yeah, fine, I – yeah, the hats were kind of awkward, right?’
Bruce’s laugh was breathless and didn’t have the polished cadence of the socialite Bruce Wayne’s laugh. He took off his baseball cap and smoothed down his hair before putting it on again. The blush had faded from his cheeks.
‘As first kisses go, not one of my best, I’m afraid. I– uh.’ Bruce fixed his gaze on the empty plastic cup on the ground. ‘Another beer?’
‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. Do you want me to keep you company?’
‘No, I’ll be fine. Keep an eye on my jacket for me.’
Clark watched Bruce as he made his way through the row and up the stairs. Had he done something wrong? Had he been too obvious? Had he enjoyed the kiss too much? Clark forced himself to watch the game, following the arc of the ball as it was thrown and pitched. He forced himself not to think about how Bruce’s lips had felt against his (perfect if just a little dry) nor dwell on Bruce’s fingers caressing his cheek. Bruce returned with the beers.
‘I realise I might have come across as a little brusque when I left,’ Bruce began and handed Clark one of the beers, sitting down and taking a sip of his own beer. ‘I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I just didn’t anticipate – well…’
Bruce trailed off and stared at the game. His mouth was a thin line, his eyes fixed on the players moving around on the field.
‘Really, Bruce, it’s okay. We don’t have to be weird about it. And we don’t – y’know, we don’t have to talk about it. It was just a kiss cam kiss. It’s not a big deal.’
It took a few minutes before their conversation started up again. Soon, it flowed easily, smoothly, the kiss between them by no means forgotten but no longer a roadblock. In the break between the seventh and eighth inning, one of the vendors passed by their seats and Bruce ordered hot dogs for them both, paying with crisp bills. After hearing stories of how Bruce Wayne ate hamburgers with a knife and fork, Clark watched Bruce eat, curious if he had a similarly obtuse way of approaching hot dogs. But, no, Bruce ate his hot dog like a normal person. He swore when some stray red onion fell onto his pants leg and stained the wool. He told Clark that he knew that the hot dogs served at baseball games weren’t actually good, but just like how Retsina tastes better when served on the back porch of a bar on one of the small Greek islands where tourists never go, there was something irresistible about a ballpark hot dog.
‘What would Alfred say?’ Clark asked, nudging Bruce’s shoulder as Bruce had done before. Playful, teasing.
‘Considering Alfred’s behaviour when the English soccer team does well in the World Cup, I do not think that he has any right to complain about my love of hot dogs.’
The mental image of Alfred as a ravenous soccer fan was so unexpected that Clark laughed out loud. It was nice to laugh with Bruce.
As with every sports event Clark had ever attended, the last part seemed to stretch forever, and by the time the game ended, Clark had watched all the sports he wanted to watch for the next indeterminable future. When he moved to stand, Bruce splayed his fingers over Clark’s knee, the touch holding him there even as other fans started getting up and leaving.
‘Let’s wait until the crowds have thinned. If we don’t, we’ll just get stuck in traffic. That is,’ Bruce seemed to hesitate for a moment, his eyes hidden by the shadow of the cap brim, ‘as long as you’d still be okay with me driving you home.’
‘Oh!’ During the game and especially after the kiss, Clark had completely forgotten about Bruce’s offer. ‘Are you sure it’s not an inconvenience?’
‘It’s really not.’ Bruce leaned closer to Clark, knocking their knees together and tilting his head in his direction as a heavy-set Stingers fan squeezed past them. ‘People have been telling me I need to take a night off sometimes. If I’m not in Gotham when night falls, that’ll help make my decision for me.’
‘For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you for taking a night off. When we first got to know each other, I can’t imagine you taking a whole afternoon and evening off to spend time with a friend.’
Bruce’s smile was small and, as far as Clark could tell, unintentional. (Clark was happy, so happy, that Bruce considered him his friend.)
As they waited for the fans to leave, they chatted about work – the Daily Planet and Wayne Enterprises, not capes. Bruce laughed when Clark told him about Jimmy’s latest escapades, the pancake competition gone wrong that not quite went viral. Clark had never cared for the stock market or earnings reports, but he still found himself interested when Bruce explained why the week before the earnings report was the worst week, and how he half-hoped something would happen that would prevent him from going to twenty hours of frustrating meetings all of next week.
‘Hoping for trouble, Mr Wayne?’
‘Didn’t you know, Kent? Trouble loves me. Come on, I think we can get going now.’
As before, Bruce led him out of the stadium with a hand resting in the small of Clark’s back, but the gesture felt different after their kiss. Clark wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad difference, but it was there, heavy and indefinable between them. A couple of times, he pressed his fingertips or the heel of his palm a little harder against Clark’s jacket, indicating in which direction they should turn. He weaved them through the dispersing fans and back to the parked car. He removed his hand when they reached it and held the door open for Clark. Yet again, Clark wondered if it was intentional or if Bruce was still just going through the motions.
After a few minutes of waiting in line behind other cars whose owners had also decided to wait to leave, they left the stadium parking garage and Bruce signalled to turn left. He hadn’t pulled up the directions back to Clark’s address and even though Clark rationally knew that Bruce had an incredible knowledge of the layout of Gotham and surrounding cities, he felt touched that he knew how to get to Clark’s apartment without directions. They drove in the dark, reaching the highway connecting the cities. Clark could feel the velocity of the car when Bruce accelerated, the old but well-maintained engine roaring.
‘Got a verdict yet?’ Bruce’s voice was loud in the silence.
‘A verdict? On what?’
‘Has the date been worth the money you paid for it?’
‘Mm, the penny.’
‘I’d say so.’ Clark glanced over at Bruce, whose lip curled into a quick smile at the answer. He kept his eyes on the road.
Bruce kept his left hand on the steering wheel, his right curled around the gear stick. Clark bit back the impulse to reach out and put his hand over Bruce’s. It would be presumptuous. But after the day they had spent together, Clark was tempted. Bruce had been the one who had flirted all day, who had grinned and laughed at all of Clark’s stupid stories. I’m glad, he’d said. Clark thought about Dick’s quiet hm when Clark had declared that Bruce wasn’t interested in him.
He reached out.
Clark felt Bruce stiffen, tendons under skin tightening where Clark placed his palm over the back of Bruce’s hand. He was about to pull away and apologise, blame – he wasn’t sure what he could blame, but he’d think of something – when Bruce relaxed. Clark heard Bruce exhale, a short breath that sounded like a gasp. He heard Bruce’s heart. It beat fast. He didn’t remove his hand. Clark interlaced his fingers over Bruce’s.
They rode in silence. Night was falling. Behind them Gotham stayed dark; ahead, Metropolis glimmered with lights and neon signs. For a few precious miles between the cities, Clark could see the stars peek through the light pollution. When they reached the Metropolis downtown exit and Bruce downshifted, he moved slowly so that Clark could move with him, their fingers still entwined. Bruce didn’t shake Clark off until they arrived at Clark’s apartment building, where he shifted to reverse and half-turned, his arm stretched out behind Clark’s headrest, his fingers curled around the side of the seat, brushing Clark’s shoulder. Bruce parallel-parked like it was enjoyable and not a chore. He turned the engine off.
‘Let me walk you to your door.’ Bruce said, glancing over at Clark and then looking away. ‘That’s what good dates do, right?’
‘Sure.’ Clark’s answer was a soft exhale.
Bruce reached back and grabbed the flowers. He thumbed down the sticker on the wrapping before holding them out to Clark, looking at him with something that lived somewhere between curiosity and worry. Clark accepted the bouquet with an attempt at a casual smile.
They rode the elevator together without talking, shoulders brushing in the enclosed space. The air between them felt heavy with anticipation and unsaid words. It was Clark’s turn to lead the way. Bruce followed him, half a step behind. They reached Clark’s front door. He hesitated before putting the key in the lock, ready to turn. Bruce’s hand curled around his elbow. Clark looked at him, Bruce’s face so close, Bruce’s eyes so wide. They were both frozen for a beat, two, before Bruce spoke.
‘Can I kiss you goodnight?’ Bruce’s voice was low and careful.
Clark exhaled, not quite sure he heard right.
Bruce touched his temple, cheekbone, jaw. He curled his hand around Clark’s neck, pulling him closer. His eyes flickered from Clark’s eyes to his mouth and back up. Bruce breathed, hot against Clark’s lips. Bruce closed the distance and kissed him – softly, gently, sweetly. It would have been the perfect first kiss. As it was, it was the perfect second kiss, chaste and innocent, as reluctant to go further as it was reluctant to let go.
‘Would you let me take you out again?’ Bruce asked the question like he expected to be shot down. He turned his head so their foreheads brushed, Bruce’s lips grazing Clark’s ear.
Clark pulled back and let go of his keys, angling Bruce’s face so he could meet his eye. He brushed his thumb over Bruce’s forehead, smoothing the furrow between his eyebrows. Bruce leaned into the touch, eyes fluttering shut. Clark mapped Bruce’s face with his fingers, stroking fingertips over Bruce’s cheekbones and jawline, pushing stray hairs back from his forehead, travelling over Bruce’s soft lips.
‘You know what they say.’
‘What do they say?’ Bruce whispered the words.
When Clark moved closer, Bruce’s hand found his waist, settling there like that’s where it belonged. Clark nestled his fingers in the short hairs of Bruce’s neck and brushed their noses together.
‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’
Bruce laughed. Clark closed the space between them and kissed him the way he had always wanted to.