I call this 'Bruce-speak'. And these undercurrents are supposed to be unsaid, not put into words. To do so, would be to flatten out the meaning, change the actual spoken words too much because those mean something too. It's not a direct translation, only a loose one - undercurrent. Even from his own POV, he's not this emotionally aware. Plus, to expose his emotional underbelly probably makes him look too pathetic and he really isn't.
But since I wasn't ecstatically pleased with "I Will If You Try", just for fun, I thought I'd post the scaffolding version with the Bruce-speak in parentheses after each part of his dialogue. (The Bruce-speak in the letter is also in parentheses but not italics.)
"What do you want, Clark?" (Oh God, Clark, not now.) Bruce said from the lab bench in the cave. He had the mask and cowl pushed back to look at slides through the microscope. "Make it quick. Obviously, I'm busy." (Just go. I can't deal with this.)
"I just came by to see how you are," Clark said, Superman in uniform only. All Bruce had to do was say his name and he was. Clark. No one quite said his name like Bruce. Not his parents, not even Lois.
"And your communicator's not working?" (Please, take a hint.) Bruce said, not looking up, adjusting the microscope and taking notes. Not for the first time, Clark wondered how Bruce could master fine motor skills through the heavy gloves. Out there, sure, he had to, but here he could easily strip them off.
"Don't be disingenuous, Bruce. You know as well as I do that you didn't answer."
"For most people, that would have been enough of a clue that I'm not interested in being disturbed." (Just leave me alone. I can't.)
"I'm not most people."
Bruce braced both hands against the counter then, tensed. "Neither am I. Save the emotional triage for the others, Clark. I don't need the aggravation." (I'm hurting, Clark. I really need to be left alone. For once in your life, take a hint.)
"Am I what? I really don't have time for this." (I don't want to talk about what happened.)
Bruce rose then, faced him. Clark didn't want to cross his arms, but he did, always on the defensive with Bruce. How many years and Bruce still made each conversation difficult.
"How dense are you?" (I'm not you, Clark. This isn't how I handle things.) he said. "Clearly, I'm aggravated. Would you prefer perturbed?" (Fine, I admit it. That's more than most people get. Happy?) He turned back to the lab bench. "You know the way out." (Please, just go away.)
Clark took a step forward rather than back. "If you don't want to be treated like a victim, then stop acting like one."
Bruce whirled, strode forward, mouth a horrible grimace and voice a gravely whisper. "They took something from me. They know my name, and they just took it. And you dare to come here and--" (How could they do this to me? I trusted them and look what they did. And now you want to talk? As if that would change anything?)
"I wasn't a part of that, Bruce, and you know it. I'm not defending what they did."
Now only a foot away, Bruce just looked at him, eyes narrowed. "Now who's being disingenuous? You did the same damn thing. That's the thing about power, no one's above using it. Not even you." (I don't know who to trust anymore, Clark. You took something from me too, just because you could. I know that it was different and I know why and I've mostly forgiven you. But it's all coming back. So yes, I'm pissed at you too.)
Burned alive and buried. Flayed. The screaming. Clark could still feel it, what he took into himself. "Believe me, you don't want those back. What I did, I did for--"
"Me? You die and come back and suddenly you're Jesus Christ? I've never been a member of the Church of Clark." (You died, Clark, when I believed, had to believe, you never would. You betrayed me, a loss of faith. I need to believe in you, Clark, your absolutes. Otherwise, what is there?)
"I did it for me, Bruce. I knew you didn't want it, wouldn't forgive me, but I did it anyway."
Bruce's heartbeat remained steady, pulse the same rhythm. "Then you're no different from the rest of them." (Don't tell me you need me. Right now, I'll take it the wrong way. You are different, Clark. You have to be.)
"No, I'm not."
"I despise your relativism. You, of all people, shouldn't subscribe to that excuse of a philosophy." (Don't fucking agree with me. Stop trying to be everyone's friend and negotiator. Don't lump yourself with the others, take their side. Your absolutes, Clark, remember?)
"Why do you do that? Make me different from the others? We're all--"
"Because you are. Because you know better. Because we--" (You are different. You should know me better than anyone. Because we--)
"Because we what, Bruce?"
Bruce didn't answer, only his heart, his blood now racing. He leaned in. "Stop me," (What am I doing? Stop me. Hit me, push me away. You have to. I need your absolutes, Clark.) he finally said, barest whisper and breath against Clark's mouth, a dare and a plea all at once. "Stop me." (Don't stop me. I need this too much.)
Clark didn't stop him. He only opened up and let him in.
"So now you're an adulterer," (Jesus, Clark, you're married. What the fuck did we just do?) Bruce said as he rolled off Clark, the two of them now a sweaty mess in the middle of Bruce's bed.
Clark sighed, rolled over, placed a hand over his eyes. This, apparently, Bruce's idea of afterglow. "I suppose I am."
"Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right, Clark?" (This never even occurred to you, did it? The possibility.) Bruce only stared at the ceiling. "You're going to tell her, of course." (Don't tell her, Clark. This should be our secret.)
"Marriage shouldn't be based on lies."
Bruce let out a laugh then, a bark only and narrow sound. "Why do you have to make my life so damn difficult? Just get out and let's forget this ever happened." (Oh, you are going to tell her. Great. I'm just your small little oops. Thanks for nothing. It finally happened and you could give a shit. Fuck you. Just get the fuck out.)
"Forget? Is that what you want?"
Bruce rolled away, faced the wall. "I can live with myself just fine without having my memories sorted like spoons in a drawer." (Maybe you did it because you can't say no to me, and that's all it was. Jesus, Clark, you're married. How am I supposed to live with that? But I will. I don't want to forget. I've had too much taken away from me already.)
Clark didn't move. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"You're always sorry, Clark. That doesn't change anything." (You regret it, don't you? Don't pretend you care about my feelings. If you did, you'd hear what I'm saying.)
"You think I would have pushed you away? Hit you? You get enough of that out there. You don't need that from me."
Bruce only turned his head, glared. "So I needed to fuck you up the ass instead?" (This was just a fuck to you. Humor the crazy man because he can't really touch you.)
Bruce shifted, faced him, but the glare remained. "I have outlets. You have no idea what I need." (You know, I could go out there and get this anytime. That's not what I need, and you have no clue what that is. I was inside you and you couldn't feel it.)
"I'd feel better if you knew. I don't think you do, Bruce."
"You're not my therapist!" (We just had sex. In my bed. In my bed, Clark. And you want to talk about my issues? This is therapy to you?)
"No, I'm not. I hope I'm your friend."
"Friends don't do what we just did." (This is not a buddy-fuck. We're lovers now, Clark.)
"In our line of work? They do it all the time. Don't tell me you haven't noticed."
"Oh, so you're a slut. That's good to know. What number am I then?" (What? This isn't personal? Fuck you and your sex therapy. How many, Clark? How many?)
Clark rose up on an elbow. "I'm not your first, Bruce. But you're mine. I've said no plenty of times and I'm sure you have my entire sexual history on file."
The glare softened, faded to nothing. "There are things I have to do. It doesn't mean that..." (So I am your first. Oh God, I'm sorry. Yes, I fuck around and for less than noble reasons. But I'm obsessed with you, Clark, have to know everything about you. I know there's something wrong with that. But it doesn't mean I don't love you.)
"Doesn't mean what?"
"Nothing. Just go home, Clark. Salvage your marriage. If anyone can come out smelling like a rose, you can." (But I'll never tell you that. Especially not now. Go home, Clark, and live the life you're supposed to have. I didn't really touch you in any way that matters. So, in a way, you're still pure, didn't cheat.) Bruce stared at the ceiling again.
"This is ridiculous, Bruce. We're in bed. We need to sort things out, the two of us."
Bruce sat up, leaned against the headboard, ran a hand through his hair. "There's nothing to sort out. We fucked. It was a mistake. End of story." (I'm giving you an out, Clark. Can't you see that?)
Sighing, Clark sat up too, looked over at him. "This isn't about sex. If it were, I would have stopped you."
"So you know everything now," Bruce said, apprising him coolly. "Picked up some wisdom from the great beyond that you want to share with the rest of us?" (Just stop it. Stop preaching from the mountain. You know nothing about what's going through my head or why I do anything. Least of all, this.)
"Why do you always--?" Clark shook his head. "I've never understood you. Not really. But I do know that you don't handle death well."
Bruce stood, grabbed his robe. He went over to the window and looked out at the balcony. "Get out of my house." (Damn straight, you don't understand me. This hurts, Clark. Worse than before you got here. They've taken something and now you've taken something too. Taken, when you think you've given. My fantasy that, somehow, you could love me, that we could be intimate. You could have left me with something. Just go before I really lose it.)
"We need to talk," Clark said, leaning back but moving no further.
"I can make you leave, Clark. I'm not going to ask you again." (Talk? You can't hear a word that I'm saying. You think you have all the power here? Why won't you go?)
"You can't make me leave, but you can hurt me. There's a difference."
Bruce turned from the window. "If that's what it takes." (Don't call my bluff, Clark. I'll do it. Don't make me do it.)
"You have some in here? Seriously?"
Walking purposefully over to the nightstand, Bruce placed his hand on the handle but didn't open the drawer. "I'm not bluffing." (One last chance, Clark. Don't make me do it. Don't prove what I'm capable of. Don't make me be like them.)
Clark only drew up his knees, put his head cheek down on them, not taking his eyes off Bruce. "Go ahead. If that's what it takes."
Bruce's hand didn't move, stayed still. "Is this another one of your lessons, Mahatma? You'll just sit there and take it?" (You and your passive resistance. Just go ahead and prove how far you'll go for me when you really don't go anywhere at all. I'm supposed to feel bad about that?) But then he smiled, all teeth. "But then again, maybe you haven't had enough pain in your life to know better." (You don't know pain, Clark. You're a tourist.)
The drawer opened and then the box. Within seconds, Clark could only cling to his knees, trying desperately to keep the groans, whimpers, in. And failed. Bruce was the stoic, not himself, but he still felt that shame. Sweat ran down back. He still hadn't taken his eyes off Bruce, who just looked at him, face unreadable.
"Are you going to wake Tim up to help you hide the body?" Clark said, a bit shaky. "Or are you going to wait until morning?"
Both the box and drawer slammed shut.
"Fuck you, Clark." (I can't get through to you. I just hurt you, and even that means nothing. Hate me, something.) Bruce stormed away from the bed, faced the window again.
Falling back to the pillows, breathing in, Clark did his best to laugh and managed something reasonably close. "It's a little late for that, considering."
And Bruce only said, soft, "What are we...they. What are they becoming?" (I have no 'we', Clark. I can't be a part of that. I need a 'we'. I may say I don't, but I do.)
"Bruce, you have a right to be angry. It's human. But--"
Bruce turned, eyes narrowed yet glittering. "Human? What do you know about that, Clark? You're nothing but a parrot, a mimic, a cuckoo's egg in the human nest." (But you don't have a 'we' either, Clark. You just pretend that you do. Hurts, doesn't it? Will you just go now?)
Clark put a hand over his eyes and kept it there, eyes suddenly stinging, and the breath he had yet to catch completely, stuck. It took a few seconds before he managed, a choking sound, "Congratulations, you finally landed one."
"Clark, are you--?" (Oh crap, I made you cry.) The voice drew closer. "Oh, go ahead and have yourself a good cry. If you can't take this then--" (I hate it when you cry. You're supposed to be strong. Don't you know what this does to me?)
Clark rolled away from that voice, clung to the pillow.
"Clark..." (Clark, I'm sorry.)
A hand grabbed his shoulder, pulled, but not ungently. Clark didn't want to, but he turned his face to Bruce. Bruce, who only looked at him, expression shifting and at war. Finally reaching out, Bruce ran his thumb along Clark's cheek and then brought that thumb to his mouth, tasted it, eyes never leaving Clark's face, intense and intent. Clark opened his mouth to say something, but Bruce shook his head and sat on the edge of the bed.
"This is what they do, Clark. Can't you see that?" (I'm just as bad as they are.)
Clark's eyes only widened, but he stayed silent.
"They take until there's nothing left to give." (If you had come before, I would have given you something besides pain. It's all I am now, all I have to give.)
"Until we turn on our own." (You're mine, Clark, and I hurt you.)
Bruce only smiled, face now full of a fierce fondness. He brushed Clark's hair back and kept brushing. "Of course you can't. They can't get to you. But they'll use you, Clark. They'll use you. You need to see that." (They'll twist you Clark, make you see their side. You're invulnerable everywhere but your heart.)
Clark rose up on an elbow. "Bruce, who are you talking about?"
The hand in his hair turned into a fist. "Them. Villain, hero, it doesn't matter anymore." (They're all the same now. It's a two-front war.)
"It has to, Bruce. What we do--"
"Shut up. We're done talking." (No more issues, Clark. No more pain.) Bruce, fist still in Clark's hair, leaned in, mouth parted, and kissed him, pressed until Clark's head lay on the pillow again. Clark allowed it, kissed him back, hands caressing Bruce's shoulders just to gentle him down.
But Bruce didn't gentle. He opened up his robe, crawled onto the bed without breaking the kiss, straddled Clark. "I'm going to fuck you again," (It might not mean anything to you, but it does to me.) he whispered, mouth sliding down Clark's jaw. "You didn't leave when I asked." (You're still in my bed.)
Clark rolled until he had Bruce pinned beneath him, hands around his wrists. "No, Bruce." He had to hold him there, hold him until something made sense, until Bruce made sense again. "This isn't what you need."
"Then take it." Bruce pushed, but only his hips, neck arching slightly, defiantly submitting. "Take it, Clark." (I have something left to give, Clark. Take it. Make me feel something besides this.)
"Bruce, that's not what I mean." Clark released Bruce's wrists, sat back, but knees still around Bruce's thighs.
Rising, Bruce wrapped his arms around Clark's neck, hands in his hair again, mouth ghosting neck, jaw, lips. "The door's already open, you can't close it. Fuck me. You. No one else." (That boundary's gone. You can't pretend it didn't happen. I'll let you inside me. There's no one else, Clark.)
Clark kissed him then, wet and slow, apology and negation. "Bruce, enough's enough," he finally said.
But Bruce didn't pull back. "Tease," (Tease) he whispered. "You demand intimacy but then all you want to do is talk. This is communication, Clark. Like it or not." (Feel my body, Clark. Not my words. Hear what it has to say.) He reached for Clark's hand, kissed the palm and then sucked on two fingers, cheeks hollowing and eyes half-lidded, but no less demanding or daring. "You want me open? Open me up." (I have so much to tell you.)
"Bruce...this isn't intimacy. This is avoidance. Don't do this." But his plea carried no weight as the words disappeared into another kiss.
Reaching for the nightstand, bottle this time and not box, Bruce managed to move his thighs at the same time, spreading them as Clark's knees gave way, allowing it. "No, we've been avoiding this for years. Don't deny it." (We should have done this sooner.) His hand began moving on Clark. "You're hard for me, Clark. You always have been. Even before, as perfunctory as it was, you didn't just lie back and think of England, you made a mess on my bed." (This is sex, Clark, and some part of you wants it. Even if you deny that it's more, you can't deny that.)
Clark closed his eyes against it, but thrust into Bruce's sure hand, moved his knees again when Bruce took those fingers and pushed them inside himself. "Don't..." But he was already in, fingers moving.
"Clark, open your eyes. Look at me." (This is who I am, Clark. You will see me.)
Clark did. Even if he didn't, he would have cheated, stared through his own eyelids, looked anyway.
"You're right," Bruce said, slight flush seeping down his chest. "What we did, I do that all the time. It doesn't mean anything. But this...Be my first, Clark. My only." (I'm lying, Clark. But you can't tell, can you? You'd rather believe the lie, that what we did doesn't mean anything. But this...I've been saving myself for you, as impossible as that sounds. Not in all ways. But in this, this act, yes. My first, my only. No one else.)
Clark's mouth opened, but no words came out. His fingers, however, did, a gentle slide. He adjusted, hovering and hesitant as Bruce wrapped his legs around his back.
"Kiss me," (Kiss me.) Bruce said. And he did, but not moving anything else.
"I know the magic words," (I know what makes you tick, Clark. That button that will change what you mean by intimacy.) Bruce whispered, mouth now grazing his ear. And only a moment more, pause for effect, before he whispered, "I love you." (I love you.)
Clark gasped. This couldn't be Bruce. Not as he knew him. He had to be on something, altered, or horribly, someone else entirely. But the words had an effect all the same. He thrust, only partially in and sinking as Bruce rose to meet him.
"I'll hurt you," he whispered back, aiming for caution but failing.
"Love is pain, Clark," (You didn't say it back. Not even as an automatic response. I knew you wouldn't.) Bruce said, head back on the pillow. "Don't you know that by now?" (Because you don't. Because you don't believe me. You think I'm lying and I have to let you think that. This hurts both of us, Clark.)
Clark shook his head, but only slightly, for Bruce's eyes wouldn't let go.
And he was all the way in.
Afterward, Bruce pulled the blanket up. "You're in no shape to go anywhere. We'll think of something." (Stay the night, Clark. Stay with me. I'll fix everything in the morning.)
Clark only stared at the ceiling as Bruce shifted, draped an arm across him, drifted off with an, even to him, unintelligible murmur.
After some time, to the metronome of Bruce's heartbeat, he drifted off too.
The alarm woke him, early morning, but Bruce was gone. Only a breakfast tray, with a plain note, on the nightstand. Clark picked it up.
Yes, I ran away. There are words that must be said, that I wouldn't say if I were there. I'd only lie to you. Have breakfast. Take a shower. Take your time. Don't wait for me to come back. I won't.
(I can't face you right now. I'm a coward. I'd only tell you the truth. My house is yours. What I have is yours. These are only small things and mean nothing. But I can't come back.)
I trust that you'll burn this, but I'll be circumspect regardless. Habit.
(Don't keep this, don't show this to her. She'll know everything, even if you don't. It's not in my nature to be blunt, honest. Not about this.)
I have no excuse so I'll keep this short.
(I'm appalled at what I did. How could I hurt you?)
You're a decent man, Clark Kent. And I'm not. You caught me on a bad night. That's all it was. Don't look for hidden meanings. There are none. I'm not asking for your forgiveness or understanding. I am who I have to be.
(I can see now that you were only trying to be kind. It's not your fault that I feel this way and you don't. Normally, I have more armor than that, will always surpassing want and need. But it was a bad night, the revelations, the betrayals almost unbearable. But I meant what I said, openly and honestly. I love you. That said, you should never forgive me for how I expressed that. I can be ruthless, Clark. The world needs me to be.)
Do not pursue this. If you attempt it, I will turn you away. You know I have the means to do so. For my sake, as well as yours, do not make me hurt you more than I already have. But I will if you try. Abandon all hope...you know the rest.
(I can't bear another therapy session, and you might attempt it. And by doing so, unravel the truth. I will fight this, even as much as I want to embrace it, the vulnerability. There's a good chance that I could hurt you again. I need you to believe that, at least, so you'll stay away. I'm no good for you. And there's no hope for either of us, that I could change due to your understanding or that your feelings toward me would change. We can't have an affair, Clark. We'd enter into it for different reasons entirely. Just, please, stay away.)
Boundaries, fences, exist for a reason. We tore them down, but it's my responsibility to rebuild them. If I have faith in anything, it's this. We will rebuild. Not for the sake of friendship. That's gone. But for a necessary alliance. We have work to do.
(We need boundaries, Clark. There's no other way for us to deal with each other. We can't make this personal. There's just no time. And yes, I sacrificed our friendship for one greedy night that left both of us bereft. But we can't avoid each other. There are so few that I trust now, and I still trust you. We have work to do.)
And yes, my fault. You blame yourself for entirely too much. Apparently, I don't value the things that I should.
(All you wanted to do was talk, extend the hand of friendship. I'm the one that twisted it, tried to turn it into something else, and then blamed you when it wasn't.)
You have a good life, Clark. Go home and live it.
(You're married, Clark. And you're happy. Go home.)
Clark looked at the breakfast tray—eggs, bacon, coffee, orange juice, strawberries, and one red rose. Joke or not, it was still a mixed message.
He left the tray untouched, took the note into the bathroom, felt the heat rise within and escape. The cinders wafted down to the sink basin. He turned on the faucet, washed the ash down the drain, the soot from his fingers.
They've been through worse. He and Bruce would rebuild.
Just not today.