Title: Clarity Below the Smoke Line
Rating: Teen, PG-13
Length: 2864 words
Spoilers: no real spoilers
Warnings: slash, schmangst, odd humor
Disclaimer: Not mine, seriously. All belongs to DC Comics, CW/WB and Al & Miles.
Summary: Bruce has a brilliant idea. Bruce can do anything well. Except mornings after. And pancakes.
Bruce quietly panics when he can't find his shoes beneath Clark's bed, the Metropolis early morning sun forcing its way through the half-drawn blinds in accusation. You're still here, the beams seem to say. Go home where you belong.
Last night had seemed a good idea at the time. A marvelous idea, in fact. An incredible idea.
He had been uncharacteristically drunk and careless, abandoning his date and accosting a startled and recently single Clark in the men's room at the Metropolis Plaza. At least he had the presence of mind to overtip the attendant into taking an early break, locking the door behind him.
He had taken advantage. Ten minutes of necking had turned into a cab ride and here and...
Clark had picked the wrong time to tell him exactly why Lois hadn't accompanied him that evening. But he couldn't have known. Innocent and naïve and Clark couldn't have known how Bruce would use that information.
Bruce had taken advantage.
He can't find his cufflinks either. He'll leave those here, a souvenir, but he doubts that Clark possesses a shirt that requires them. Bruce will send him a shirt, tailored, French seams. But if he sends him the shirt then he'll have to send the suit to go with it. Exact measurements would need to be acquired. He could do this surreptitiously, of course. His hands retain the memory of Clark's back, his chest, his thighs.
Bruce sinks down onto the side of the bed. He will not dress him. He will not. He will...
His fingers trace the small dip, the lingering heat. He closes his eyes, resisting the temptation to lie back down in it, the wrong side of the bed. Clark's side. The pillow haphazard and crumpled and now Bruce is lying face down in it, breathing in and lost.
A five minute shower, Clark had said. Clark has been in the bathroom for five minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Forty seconds. Forty-one.
He's politely waiting for Bruce to leave. Bruce has had enough mornings after to know this.
So if Bruce can't bring himself to rise, track down the very shoes that have betrayed him, then Clark will emerge from the bathroom, offer him a cup of coffee, see him to the door, murmur something about how pleasant the evening had been. He will kiss Bruce goodbye.
He's slightly hungover. A cup of coffee is the least Clark can offer him. His shoes can stay in whatever transdimensional portal they've managed to find in this four-room apartment for the next few minutes. And possibly stay there permanently. I have no shoes, he'll say in his defense. We'll need to send out for replacements.
His arm flops down from Clark's side of the bed, his hand landing on his craven and possibly villainous pair of lace-up oxfords.
"I had a plan," he mutters. "And you've ruined it."
Clark emerges from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist and toothbrush dangling from his mouth. "Oh," he says, or rather, foams, "You're..." Still here, Bruce silently adds for him.
Bruce heaves himself up, shoes in hand. "Yes, I'm leaving."
Clark just stands there, toothpaste dribbling down his chin, eyes widening and then narrowing. He holds up a finger and walks back to the bathroom. He leaves the door open, spits into the sink and hurriedly rinses. He braces his hands against the vanity, leans his head down and takes a breath.
"Of course you are," he says. "That's so like you."
Bruce laces up his shoes. "I could do with a cup of coffee first," he says.
Whipping his head up, but keeping his hands braced, Clark snaps, "Make it yourself!"
Clark's obviously had second thoughts, clarity in the shower spray. He can't even bring himself to observe the morning after ritual.
"I can just get an espresso on the way back to the hotel," he says, rising and buttoning his suit jacket.
Suddenly, Clark stands in front of him, arms crossed. "We can't do this, Bruce. I can't do this." An echo of what Clark had said, at first, the night before, finding himself pressed against designer hotel wallpaper, Bruce unheeding.
He hardly needs the lecture, the let down, the 'we work together' speech and 'let's just forget this ever happened'. "Good," he says. "Neither can I." He attempts to move around Clark. But Clark moves with him, blocking his way. "Clark, you need to go to work. And I need--"
"Don't. Just don't." Bruce blinks and Clark's in the same position but with a cordless in his hand.
"What are you doing?" he says, inane and useless. Clark's beyond morning after embarrassment and has reached for the nearest inanimate object to uncharacteristically bludgeon Bruce with. If he had the sudden power to split himself in two, he'd help do it and hide the body afterward. For Clark. So many rules he's broken for Clark.
"Calling in," Clark says. Pressing speed dial, he then says, "Perry, listen, something came up. I can't come in today." He pulls the phone briefly away from his ear, wincing, as the sound of yelling reaches even Bruce's ears. "I have more than enough comp time sav—Yes, I have my laptop with me. Okay. Look, I can't go out into the fie—I already wrote up the prelim—Okay. You'll have it in twenty minutes. That—sure, all right. Thank you. Er, no." He glances worriedly at Bruce, blushes. "That's not—I need to go. I'll send it over as soo—Okay. Bye." He ends the call, lets out a small laugh. "I guess you really will have to make your own coffee."
"You obviously have work to do," Bruce says, attempting to move around Clark again. "I'll just--"
"Stay here," Clark finishes for him, an uncertain smile crossing his face. He's still standing there in nothing but a towel, hair damp and bare skin radiating that peculiar warmth that only Clark seems to possess. If Bruce were a weaker man, he'd be drawn into that, lips pressed against that chest and then lowering, a renewed seduction. Clark holds out the phone, reasserting distance as if second-guessing Bruce's intentions. Bruce collects himself and stares coolly at Clark.
"Do you need to call anyone?" Clark says.
Yes. He's in town on business, has meetings to attend, a five o'clock flight. He needs to check out of the hotel by noon. Alfred needs to be apprised of his schedule. He has to set up a secure line, access his database, update his case file.
"No," he says instead. He pauses, shakes his head slightly, swallows. "Yes," he amends, "But I'll use my cell."
In five minutes time, he's rescheduled the meetings and flight, extended the hotel reservation, speaks to Alfred. The case file, he can't currently do anything about. His own laptop, with his own security measures, lies back at the hotel. Clark, now dressed, t-shirt and sweatpants, sits on the couch in the living room, typing furiously. "Almost done," he says, not looking up as Bruce hovers in the doorway in last night's suit, the still undone cuffs hidden. "Coffee pot's in the kitchen." Clark does look up. "Oh, you know what? Flapjacks would be great."
So Bruce finds himself in the kitchen, frying pan in hand, having painstakingly worked his way through the illogic of Clark's cabinets. He stares at it. The coffee he's figured out. He can make coffee. He reaches for the Daily Planet mug, takes a careful sip. On the counter, lined up, are measuring cups, spoons, a large bowl, and a box of pancake mix. This should be no more complicated than making a small explosive device. A recipe is only a formula, after all. Exact measurements, precise timing, a watchful eye and careful hand.
The instructions on the box, however, make little sense, clearly not written by a scientist. Grease the pan with what exactly? Heat up the pan, but no temperature guidelines. Stir the mix for how long? One formula calls for eggs, the other doesn't.
His suit ends up hopelessly stained, the counter splattered. There are lumps in the mixture no matter how furiously he stirs. The instructions clearly state that he should pour precisely four inches but he can't manage it. Five, six inches, at the very least, bubble and burn in the pan.
He sets off the smoke alarm.
He flings the spatula across the room to find Clark, floating near the ceiling, turning the alarm off. Clark floats down, grin widening as he takes in the disaster scene. He opens up a window, takes a deep breath, blows out and disperses the smoke. "Oh, Bruce," he says, "Only you could turn Bisquick into Three Mile Island."
"Clark," he starts to say. But what can he say? The kitchen speaks for itself. As does the whole course of events starting from when he'd selfishly followed Clark into the Plaza men's room. Completely unsalvageable.
"Shh," Clark says, gleam in his eye and approaching. "Where there's smoke..." Clark doesn't finish. He can't, anymore than Bruce can retort, since his mouth is now on Bruce's and otherwise occupied. There's a hint of amusement in it, yes, but nothing like forgiveness. Clark's hands on his back silently assure him that there's nothing to forgive.
Bruce pushes him down to the floor, below the fading smoke line. Where they can both breathe easier.
Clark smiles as Bruce pulls back, runs a hand through Bruce's hair. "I have a Visa card," he says. "And a Metropolis Zagat's guide." He leans up, both elbows against the linoleum, kisses Bruce again. "But most of the places I go are under Zagat's radar."
Leaning back in and tracing Clark's jaw, he says, "That's ridiculous. You can't--"
"You stole my manly virtue," Clark says, a lascivious whisper. "The least I can do is buy you breakfast. I believe in positive reinforcement. But you can call it bribery."
Bruce rests his head on Clark's neck before pulling back. "Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but we can't be seen in public. If..." He pauses, not for effect but admission. "If you want this, then we need to be cautious."
Clark's smile takes a guilty turn, rueful, and a little bit frightened. "I'm sorry, Bruce, but I think it's too late for that. It made the Planet this morning. Probably the Gazette too. That's why Perry chewed me out on the phone."
Bruce rises then, pulls away. "What?"
Still on the floor and drawing up his knees, wrapping his arms around them, Clark says, "When a certain someone, who is not me, makes People's 100 most beautiful list five years running, a valet with a camera phone isn't going to pass up an opportunity."
Bruce rubs his face, paces. Damage control. The fact that Clark wasn't on that same list himself has only to do with his hard-won obscurity. The tabloids are going to have a field day with this, the golden photo op, Bruce Wayne's new golden boy, swayer of orientation. Lex Luthor, if he hasn't already, will go on a public morality campaign and aim for Wayne Enterprises, its close-minded stockholders. "Crap. Luthor."
Clark puts his head on his knees, rocks a little. He looks up, eyes slightly red but face determined. "He won't," he says. "At least not publicly."
"Oh yes, he will, Clark. If you could stop being naïve for one second and look at what he's truly capa--"
Clark looks away. "He has just as much to lose as you do. More."
Bruce stills. "Are you saying--"
Standing, Clark looks at him, braver than Bruce has ever seen him. As if Bruce can land the deadly blow, not Luthor. "I'm not underage now. He can never be sure that I haven't kept the proof."
"What proof, Clark?" The question flat and deadly. Clark doesn't wince.
"Digital prints. Video. All time and date stamped. Sure, a good lawyer can make them look manipulated, but the public won't believe that. And those are just my copies. A subpoena might find that he still has his own."
Bruce's fist finds the wall, the plaster cracking beneath it. A museum print, smoke stained, falls off that wall, glass shattering on the floor. He draws his fist back again, but Clark catches it.
"I have to live here," he says.
Damage. Bruce has done enough and Luthor before that. "No," he says, "You don't." He storms out of the kitchen, finds the bedroom, opens the closet and rummages. "Where do you keep your damn suitcase?" he yells over his shoulder. Clark is right behind him and doesn't answer. "You're not staying here," he says. "I can't protect you here. We'll take your essentials, send for the rest later."
Clark crosses his arms. "I'm not scurrying off to some safehouse," he says. "That's insane."
Suitcase found, Bruce flings it on the bed, pulls open a bureau drawer and grabs what he finds there, throws it in. "Not a safehouse," he says, continuing to pack. "My house. My bed."
Clark unfolds his arms, mouth slack. "Bruce..."
With an armful of dress shirts on hangers, Bruce continues packing. "We can date after you move in," he says. "The tabloids can call us Blark or Cluce or whatever stupid amalgam they come up with. Wayne Enterprises will survive. Five-star restaurants, the French Riviera, whatever you want."
"What if I want you to slow down?"
Bruce stops then, fingers curled around a hanger. "Do you? I don't have time for a long-distance relationship, Clark. You can commute. I can't."
"I can't believe you! Half an hour ago, you were trying to sneak out while I was in the shower!"
Dropping the hanger in the case, Bruce gets a handful of ties. "One night or a lifetime, Clark. Those are your choices. I'm not made of hearts and flowers so don't expect me to get down on bended knee or make this some grand romance." He pauses, lets the ties fall on top of the shirts. "I can't imagine making this offer to anyone else. Read what you want into that."
Clark's face softens. His impossible blue eyes, the undoing of so much, draw closer. Wrapping his arms around Bruce, he whispers, "You have no idea how this works, do you?"
"Absolutely none," Bruce whispers back.
Clark laughs, quiet, breath against his ear. "As much as I like to think I'm stellar in bed, the sex can't have been that great."
Bruce holds on, silent for a moment. By all rights, Clark should toss him out on his ear for the crazy fool that he is. All the cards aren't on the table, Bruce incapable of making foolish declarations. He doesn't have the words, the language, to explain how Clark felt underneath him, no light but the streetlamp, yet Clark luminescent all the same. "I think stellar would be appropriate," is all he says, voice low and rough.
Clark sighs. "Same here," is all he says in return, voice equally rough. He gives Bruce a gentle squeeze, releases him. Clark retrieves his shaving kit from the bathroom, tosses it on top of the haphazard pile inside his suitcase. Bruce closes the lid.
"Well, that's settled then," Bruce says.
Clark finds his shoes, laces them up. "You'll toss me out before the week's over," he says. "You've never lived with anyone before. Believe me, it's not easy."
Bruce shrugs, lifts the suitcase off the bed. "So we'll fight. We do anyway." And they do, rather frequently, in fact. League meetings have melted away, leaving the two of them alone, yelling at each other over the meeting table. Bats have fled the cave, seeking refuge elsewhere, as their voices have carried up to the manor. Bruce has never raised his voice to anyone as he's raised it to Clark.
Grinning, Clark shakes his head, grabs his wallet, keys, from the dresser. "Not over toothpaste, we haven't. Worlds will tremble, nations will cower."
"Don't get hyperbolic."
"I'm particular about toothpaste. I'm warning you."
Bruce turns, leans up slightly, grabbing Clark's face with both hands and kissing him firmly. "There," he says.
Clark looks puzzled but pleased. "There what?"
"Punishment. I haven't brushed my teeth yet."
Clark leans in, a brush. "I'm immune to morning breath. Think of a new one." They're by the front door now. Clark hurriedly grabs his laptop from the table, stares forlornly at the kitchen. "What you did in there, now that's punishment. I do have a security deposit."
"I'll take care of it," Bruce says. Clark starts to object. "I'll take care of it, Clark." Bruce opens the door.
They'll stop by the hotel, go to breakfast long after the majority of Metropolis will be starting lunch. Clark will insist on paying with his paltry Visa. Bruce will allow it.
After all, when the bill arrives the following month, in Gotham, they'll argue over it then. Whoever wins will make up for it later, mutually beneficial, so it hardly matters.
Only one thing matters. And he's walking down the hallway beside Bruce.