Title: A Necessary Distance
Rating: Adultish, R/NC-17
Length: 1346 words
Spoilers: no specific spoilers, no specific continuity either
Warnings: slash, angst, emotional unawareness, possible melodrama
Disclaimer: Not mine, seriously. All belongs to DC Comics.
Summary: Bruce is not an open book. Not even to himself.
"Do you miss women?"
Clark, on his stomach and hands disappearing below the pillow, turns his head slightly. Already half-asleep but rousing to the question. "That’s a weird thing to ask," he says. Sighing, he turns to the clock. "Especially at three-thirty in the morning."
And it strikes Bruce how oddly domestic this is. The slope of Clark's shoulders, comfortable against the sheets, one lamp on and Bruce leaning against the headboard, a glass of water on the nightstand. Sides of the bed and Clark's extra shirts and ties hanging in the closet.
"Wait," Clark says, shifting to an elbow. "Are you trying to tell me something? Bruce, if you…Forget it, I really don't want to know." His head falls back, eyes fully open and staring up at the ceiling. "This is the 'We should see other people' discussion. Great."
Actually, it had been an idle question. But clearly from Clark's reaction, he's making assumptions about the exact nature of this relationship, as if there's anything to this, feelings to be hurt. "We haven’t made those types of promises in the first place," he says.
"You mean you haven't, Bruce. Get your pronouns straight."
"Clark, you knew going into this…" His voice trails off, only implying the sexual release, the faint solace of mutual loss that had been the beginning. He certainly had never asked for Clark to return.
And yet he had never turned him away either.
"Yeah," Clark says, hand falling over his eyes. "I know."
"Why don't you get some sleep," Bruce says, reaching over to the lamp cord and pulling, the room darkening and Clark falling into shadow.
"We could do a movie," Clark says, eyeing the paper. They're standing in the library. It's late afternoon, the sun slanting through the French windows, traces on the floor.
Bruce finishes pouring his sherry, puts the stopper back on the carafe. "We're not dating, Clark," he says.
"No." Clark puts his hands in his pockets. "We're not. But you do go out."
"For appearances, yes. I hardly need to explain that to you." Bruce examines the sherry, the reflection of light, before taking a slow sip, swirling it on his tongue and swallowing.
"Look," Clark says, straying toward the windows and farther away, "I don’t want to get into the women discussion again. You go out. Fine. I don't. Also fine." He pauses and then turns. "But we used to do things together. You know, before."
Yes, before this. Whatever this is. Sexual relations and a necessary distance. And whatever before signified, a tentative friendship, this certainly signifies less. Certainly nothing to mourn or to change.
Regardless, films and public cinema had never entered into it. But there had been a few dinners: a shared terrine in Lyon, tatami mats and Clark wincing at the sake in Kyoto.
Bruce puts down his glass, still near full. "I suppose we could go out for Japanese."
Clark smiles, looks down. "I'm more in the mood for Thai."
They end up compromising with Moroccan. He and Clark sit crosslegged at a low table, brass plates strewn with the remains of couscous and lamb.
"We should do this more often," Clark says, leaning back against an embroidered pillow, finishing off a coffee.
Their knees brush and Bruce looks over at him. Clark is ramshackledly beautiful, collar open and throat exposed. His secret odalisque, apparently content with Bruce's infrequent bed and the occasional meal. But Bruce hasn't heard Clark laugh in quite some time. That deep, honest laugh, seemingly grating because it has usually been at his expense. Only Clark could reduce the Bat to mere posturing, a man in a suit and a mask.
But now that Clark has been put into place, so to speak, underneath him, bared and open at Bruce's whim, Bruce finds that he misses it. That laugh.
"Are you happy, Clark?" he says, leaning back on his own pillow.
Clark startles at the question. He puts down his cup. "Don't ask me that," he says.
"It's an honest question. Are you?"
Clark takes off his glasses, rubs his eyes, looks over at Bruce. "With what we do, we can't ask for much. And with you, that's even less. Is that what you want to hear?"
Bruce doesn't say anything.
Clark looks at him some more. And when he finally speaks, his voice is low and tight. "I never expected this to last as long as it did."
Bruce only nods, acknowledging the past tense. "I'll get the check," he says.
"Okay." Clark puts his glasses back on. "I'll meet you in the parking lot."
Bruce takes his time leaving the restaurant. He doesn't expect to find Clark waiting by the car, but he is there nonetheless.
"I considered taking off," Clark says.
"You've made dramatic exits before."
"Yeah, well, you've got me there." Clark does laugh, just an echo.
Bruce fiddles with his keys, thumbs the remote, opening both sides of the car.
Clark stands there for a few seconds before he opens the passenger door. "One for the road. Bruce, are you serious?"
"It's up to you," he says, opening his own door.
Clark holds him up by the thighs, Bruce's arms gripping his shoulders as they enter the bedroom. They fall back on the bed.
"Hey," Clark says, a small smile, before he kisses him.
Bruce rolls so that Clark is underneath. He unbuttons his shirt and then Clark's, knees still gripping that waist.
And when they're fully divested, he doesn't bother with the condom. He can deal with the mess.
As much as they started out quick and hurried, the pace slows down. Clark wraps his legs around Bruce's back. They move slow, excruciating; Clark never closing his eyes. Bruce allows it, until he can't but lean down and kiss that mouth.
"Hey," Clark says again, a whisper against his throat. He says only that and nothing else.
Clark shudders once he comes, and keeps shuddering. He has a hand around Bruce's neck, the other in his hair. Bruce doesn't prevent his own shudder, a brief ragged breath.
And when they finally pull away, Clark's face is tight. "We should break up more often," Clark says. "Wow. Bruce, that was..."
Bruce rolls and faces the ceiling. Yes, it was. "I think once is enough," he says.
Clark curls into him, places an arm across his chest. "I don't even need to tell you how messed up you are."
Bruce turns slightly, brushes a damp curl from Clark's face. "I need to get ready for patrol."
"One more minute isn't going to kill you," Clark says, nestling further.
"It might," he says, without the smile a joke should have. And that's the closest to an admission that he will ever make.
Clark takes his chin in hand, turns it and kisses him. "I love you," he says. "You need to know that."
Bruce stills. "Clark..."
"Yeah, I'm going. It's okay." He rises and gets his valise from the closet, packs his shirts before even bothering to dress. "I'll shower at home."
Bruce rises to his elbows. "Clark..." he says. He can't manage anything else.
"I'll be okay, Bruce." Clark is now fully dressed, holding a toothbrush. "I cleared out the bathroom."
Clark stands there for a minute, uncertain. Bruce is still on the bed. "Well, um, goodbye." And he's gone.
Batman has a busy night. Two thwarted break-ins - one residential, the other a jewelry store. An arsonist never got that match out of his hand to set the warehouse ablaze. Two would-be rapists nursed broken jaws at the police station. He even broke up a bar fight at Sullivan's, coerced information from a possible lackey of the Joker's.
All busy work, really. And he doesn't think of Clark once.
He spends a good deal of the time on the ride back to the cave not thinking about Clark.
Perhaps he'll spend less time tomorrow night not thinking about Clark. And even less the night after that.
And less still until it all will dwindle down to nothing.