Pairing: Clark/Bruce, Clark/Lois, Bruce/Selina implied
Rating: Teen, PG-13
Length: 3063 words
Spoilers: only semi-recent, continuity? what continuity?
Warnings: slash, het, angst
Disclaimer: Not mine, seriously. All belongs to DC Comics.
Summary: Clark insists on labels. Bruce deals in scenarios.
Sometimes he thinks the best thing he ever did was to push Dick away. Dick’s a survivor, and he must have known that even then. He had places to go, people to turn to. One of them being Clark.
He resents that even now.
He can’t say that he understands Dick. Dick isn’t him and never will be.
He’s never been more disappointed in anyone or more proud.
Bruce understands Tim more. This scares him as few things do.
Bruce despises the word if. It implies regret and wishfulness. If only belongs in logical formulae, conclusions and outcome, the anticipation of an opponent’s move. The narrowing of possibility, not the broadening of it.
Clark demands labels, terms of relationship. Bruce offers ‘strategic ally’. Clark counters with ‘friend’ and ‘brother’. Neither of them understand ‘fraternal’ although it’s on the table, both of them only children. The term only loosely applies, like one of Clark’s carefully rumpled suits or wrinkled t-shirts.
Clark is like a dog scratching at the door, insisting to be let in. Not understanding that he has been put out.
Bruce has little use for telepaths. Few dare to breach his mind. And whatever they find there, they deserve.
As much as Brucie is a caricature, he’s a part of who he might have been. He despises him and envies him.
He’s been accused of asexuality and over-eroticism. He’s guilty of both. The mission makes sure of that.
The mission keeps him from becoming an alcoholic. He’s developed a tolerance for many poisons, alcohol being one of them. Brucie has to drink for appearances. Bruce drinks alone. Occasionally, it helps him sleep.
He goes years, at times, without truly touching anyone. Months without taking a hand to himself. He has nightmares and nocturnal emissions, his body allying with his mind to betray him.
Until he meets Clark, he thinks that no one has the same force of will as he does. Clark doesn’t. He’s merely stubborn and willful, believing outrageous and laughable things. There are times when he tells Clark exactly this at the top of his lungs. Clark just smiles and does whatever he wants anyway, completely unreasonable.
Clark is an arrogant bastard.
Diana calls him Kal, but Bruce hasn’t called him anything but Clark for years. At least when they’re alone. He’s alone with Clark entirely too much, Clark having the mistaken impression that Bruce prefers his company.
Once, he refuses to answer to Clark and refuses to call him Bruce. Even after Bruce unmasks. And then Kal leaves. Bruce stands on that rooftop for half an hour, exposed, insisting to no one that his name is, indeed, Bruce.
Clark apologizes too much. Even for dying. Now that one, he should apologize for.
Years later, on a mission, he tells Clark that Superman is the true being, Clark just the construct. Of course, he calls him Clark the entire time he says this. Clark only shakes his head, smiling, continuing to work, unbelieving. Then again, Bruce doesn’t believe it either.
Bruce enjoys telling Clark to go away.
Bruce has an infrequent but recurring dream. He and Clark are sitting on a driftwood log on Madaket Beach which is somehow deserted save for a small boy flying a red kite in the distance. Thomas and Martha Wayne are resting back at the summer house, within walking distance. There are no such people as Batman or Superman. They watch the sunset. Then Clark walks over to Bruce’s seven-year old self, helps him reel in the kite. He stoops and laughs, picks up the boy and places him on his shoulders, walks back to the house. Bruce follows.
As far as nightmares go—discounting those of death and dismemberment—it’s one of the worst.
Clark talks incessantly, giving details of his life, confidences. He expects them in return. A parlay, a trade, an exchange of information. He owes Clark nothing. And yet the words fall graceless from his mouth, pitiful details. It is fumbling, tantric conversation. He’s certain that Clark sees nothing erotic about it at all.
For someone deemed perfect, Clark has a number of physical imperfections: the insistent curl on his forehead, the slight indentation on his lower lip from when he bites it in worry, the jagged edge of his left thumbnail from where he chews it. He often catches the nail near Clark’s mouth when his face is intent on a computer screen, absorbing information. Bruce remarks on this and Clark startles, smiles shyly, has the audacity to blush, lowers his hand.
Bruce has never seen anything more frustratingly alluring than that damn jagged nail.
At the funeral, Bruce forces himself to view the body. The hair is combed back, curl gone. The lips are smooth. But the toothmark is on the nail.
It’s really Clark. Bruce turns away.
Bruce would kill for Clark. He knows this. In other times, in other worlds, he already has.
He should kill for Jason. For Barbara. Someday he will.
Clark is family. He does not live in Bruce’s house, not even in his city. Clark has a life elsewhere.
If any one of them deserves that fairytale ending, it’s Clark. In Bruce’s life, there is no ‘after’ and there certainly is no ‘happily’. He attends the wedding, dances with the bride. He hands Clark the keys to his apartment, a gift. He has plans to purchase the Daily Planet. He will keep Clark safe as much as he can, even from himself.
Bruce grinds his teeth every time he hears Clark say: Bruce, I need you.
Clark has violated him, taken some of his pain into himself. Pain informs him, makes him who he is. It doesn’t matter that it made him insane. It doesn’t matter that he would have done the same, if the situation were reversed. It’s his pain and Clark wears it.
And yet Bruce forgives him. Clark is the creature of forgiveness, not himself. He is a creature of vengeance and justice.
Perhaps he wears a part of Clark within himself now, as well. If he does, it is not an even trade.
As anyone, Bruce has demarcations in his life, a series of befores and afters. There is only one that defines him. Nothing will change that.
He hears rumors of his sexual prowess, proclivities, in all guises. Only some of these are true.
He has no reason to spy on Clark’s private moments. Even he doubts that Clark and Lois whisper intrigue against him in the dark. He doesn’t watch, but he doesn’t remove the camera. The system will flag him if his name is mentioned.
One morning, he phones Clark at The Planet, asks him to take the rest of the day off. They walk the five blocks from Wayne Tower to Robinson Park, Bruce not saying a word. They eat hot dogs by the duck pond. Clark insists on buying a balloon and gives it to Bruce to release on a pedestrian bridge over the Finger River. "Tradition," he says, "you have to make a wish." The balloon, of course, gets stuck in a tree upriver and pops.
They spend another two hours in the park. Clark eventually rolls down a grassy hill to skid spread eagle at the bottom. He does this repeatedly before he says, “Well?”
“You,” Bruce says, “are a child.” He sheds his coat in a huff and rolls, landing on top of Clark, who laughs and then quiets.
“You should have been,” Clark says, underneath him.
Clark’s glasses are several feet away. His eyes are blue.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Clark?” Bruce whispers. He stands, retrieves his coat, and walks away.
Four hours later, he’s out on patrol. His timing’s off and he ends up with a small slash on his bicep before he can disarm a simple mugger with a jackknife.
One day, he’s in New York with Bridgette McCall. She wants to stop at Tiffany’s, hinting that she needs new earrings for the Mayor’s benefit that night, which they’re both attending.
Bruce wanders down the display cases as she’s busy deciding with the saleswoman, tapping his Black Card as he goes. He stops at the tie pins.
“You have good taste, sir,” the manager says from behind the counter. “Would you like me to get it out for you?”
His eyes, of course, had stopped at a simple diamond set in platinum. Bruce nods, listens to the details as he holds it in his palm.
“It’s a gift,” he says, “Could you send it to this address?”
But his hand hovers over the plain linen card, at a loss for a single word.
“On second thought,” he says, “I’ll take it with me.”
Bridgette adores her new earrings. Even after Bruce disappears that evening, leaving her with the other hostages for Batman to handle. Bruce is known to only think of himself, notorious for saving his own skin.
The tie pin remains in its blue box, note unwritten, in the upper left hand drawer of his desk in his study back at the manor.
Clark is the second most terrifying sight he’s ever seen. On a planet with three moons, in a star system astronomers have yet to name, Bruce watches as he decimates an entire robot army. Floating in the air, beams from his eyes.
Bruce has fought against men, aliens, gods. And none of them are quite like Clark.
“You were slow,” he says, as they return to the ship. “They could have easily flanked you on your left. Next time, anticipate.”
Clark only nods, heads for the shower.
It is six years and four months before he takes a hand to himself in the name of Clark Kent. He makes it quick. He’s a weak man.
“You’re hard on him,” Diana says. “Both of you have leadership qualities we need.”
“I only tell him the truth,” Bruce says. “He needs to hear it from someone.”
“Would it kill you to give him a compliment?”
“People give him compliments all the time. I hardly need to bolster his confidence.”
“He respects you.”
“Well, that’s his problem then, not mine.”
Three days after meeting Clark, he sleeps with Lois. It’s a petty thing to do, really, but he doesn’t like the man. He has room service bring in strawberries in the morning and he doesn’t call her again.
She has to have told him, but Clark never mentions it.
There is laughter in the house. Dick has come down from Bludhaven. He and Clark sit on the couch, popcorn bowl between them. Tim is on the floor. They’re watching a comedy, rude and brash, low humor.
Sometimes, Clark snorts when he laughs.
“Keep it down,” he says from the door, paper in hand.
Dick turns and smiles, arm resting on the back of the couch, fingertips glancing Clark’s shoulder.
Bruce’s eyes narrow. He’s never understood the relationship they have. Coffee shops and diners. Camping trips to the Adirondacks.
“Sure thing,” Dick says, turning away, aiming the remote and lowering the volume.
Bruce is getting old. He relies on stimulants more. Caffeine mostly, sometimes epinephrine. In the mirror, he can see the fine lines around his eyes. They’re not from laughter.
Someone soon will have their lucky day. He needs to talk to Tim, make arrangements.
One day, in the cave, Clark looks at him from the adjacent chair. “You need to sleep more,” he says.
“Plenty of time for that when I’m dead,” he says, adjusting the monitor.
“Don’t say that,” Clark says, reaching out, the tips of his fingers tracing the side of his face.
It’s the most intimate gesture that Clark has ever offered him. For years, he’s practiced conscious control over his autonomic reflexes. That serves him now. His heartbeat remains steady, his pupils dilate no further.
“Yes, well,” he says, shifting so the hand falls away.
He reaches behind him and puts the mask back in place.
Some people call him callous because he mentions Jason more than Stephanie. It doesn’t hurt any less.
They occasionally invite him over for dinner. Both Lois and Clark cook. Bruce brings the wine.
One night, he hesitates as Clark walks him to the door. Bruce turns and looks at Lois standing near the table, clearing the dishes.
She should invite him to stay for a cup of coffee, another glass of wine. If it’s ever going to happen, this is the only logical way. The two of them must have discussed it at some point.
“Maybe next time, soldier,” she says, a small smile. “We have a busy day tomorrow. You know how it is.”
“Next time,” he says.
He turns and offers Clark his hand. He takes it, but then embraces him, pats him on the back.
“Safe trip,” Clark says, before closing the door.
Bruce declines the next dinner invitation he receives.
Clark will never hit him willingly. But for an invulnerable creature, he’s subject to influence. Mind control. Magic. He’s beaten Bruce several times, broken bones.
Most of the time, Bruce doesn’t hold it against him. Most of the time.
One day, in the Fortress, his ribs still sore, Clark points to the lead-sealed pocket on the utility belt. “Open it and hit me,” he says.
Bruce gets several punches in, Clark not resisting, until he’s on top of Clark on the floor, snarling.
Clark’s bleeding and it’s not enough. He’s impossibly hard and Clark would let him, acquiesce.
This is scenario # 23. Bruce currently has 129 scenarios, all of them plausible. Only eleven of them involve coercion. Three on Clark’s part, eight on his.
He rises. “Next time, fight back,” he says.
Clark stares at him from the floor.
“It’s always too damn cold in this place,” he says, walking away.
He should have talked more to Cassandra. He just never thought it would do any good. For her, it’s never been what she hears, but what she sees.
Clark stands in front of Kon’s case in the cave. “Thank you,” he says, voice tight.
“I didn’t do it for you,” Bruce says.
“I know. How’s he holding up?”
“He’s more like me than I ever wanted to see. How do you think?”
Clark blinks, nods his head, turns back to the case.
This is scenario # 85, and completely inappropriate. Let Clark deal with this himself. He should.
Bruce turns when he gets to the stairs. “Just turn the lights out when you’re done,” he says. He goes upstairs.
He thinks that whoever came up with the term World’s Finest should be jabbed with a cattle prod several times.
They share villains now, completely ridiculous. He never wanted Metropolis’s worst invading Gotham. He’s got enough on his plate.
The next one that says, “When Superman comes for you...” is going to lose several teeth. Even if he is dangling above a tank full of sharks.
Shark tanks. That one just gets old.
“Do you want to hold her?” Selina says.
He looks down at the bassinet. Helena’s not asleep. Alfred would use the term ‘fussy’.
“No,” he says.
“Suit yourself,” she says. “And the answer’s still no.” She brushes past him in her bathrobe, picks the baby up. “So stop showing up here unannounced. Just do a paternity test and get it over with.”
Bruce turns. Selina sits on the edge of the bed, pulls the robe to one side and breastfeeds. She sighs. “She’s not yours, Bruce.”
He’s done the math. The answer’s still maybe. But Selina has her own life now, made her choices, some good ones. And he certainly doesn’t come without a body count.
“I believe you,” he says. And he goes.
Sometimes he wonders if he has Nightingale complex, among other things. He’s a horrible patient, but he lingers too long with the injured.
Clark sits on the floor of the communal shower in the Watchtower. Bruce kneels behind him, scrubbing his back with a steel-wire pad. He occasionally pours hydrogen peroxide over the scrub pattern, watches the green dust froth out, pink bubbles. Red and green swirl down to the drain in the center of the floor.
“Does it hurt?” he says.
“That would be a yes, Captain Obvious,” Clark says, shoulders hunched, arms wrapped around his knees. His hair slightly lengthened from the force of the spray.
“You’re vulnerable enough for an analgesic and a topical anesthetic. I offered.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not the brightest crayon in the box.”
Bruce smiles, despite himself. Clark’s version of humility includes not broadcasting his intelligence. He only reaches toward sarcasm in moments of insecurity and familiarity.
“I should have seen it,” Clark says. “I should have...”
“Shhh,” Bruce says, “We got our people out. That’s all that matters.”
“You took the worst of it. They’re fine.”
Clark slumps a little more forward in relief.
Eventually, the water runs clear. Bruce sets the scrubbing pad and bottle down, but continues to stroke that broad back, the wounds lessening beneath his fingers. Clark shivers.
“I think that’s the last of it,” he says.
Clark reaches back, takes Bruce’s hand in his before he can stand, back away, reassert that distance they’ve always needed.
“Clark...” he says in warning, a whisper.
“It’s all right, Bruce.” Clark’s head turns, looking.
This is scenario # 54. Bruce has already locked the door, turned off the camera. No one will see, but that’s not important.
He leans in, just a brush, excusably fraternal. Clark sighs but doesn’t press for more.
“We should go,” he says. “You need to get in the ultraviolet tank.”
He rises, reaches for a towel, unlocks the door.
For Bruce, the sins of omission will always be less than the ones of commission. He’s crossed too many lines in his life.
Clark foregoes the tank, sleeps face down on a futon spread out on the floor of the manor’s solarium. The sun will be up in just two hours. Bruce swirls a brandy and looks at him from the doorway.
The futon is a queen-size. Clark sleeps to one side, having made room. It could be force of habit or an invitation. Bruce should turn and ascend the stairs. Instead, he sets the brandy down, opens up his robe and lies beside him.
He sleeps. And if he dreams, he doesn’t recall them in the morning.