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In sickness and in health

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It all started when the giant alien birds attacked.

The entire Justice League had been there, fighting valiantly against the onslaught of razor-sharp plumage and laser eye beams from the beings that sought to take Earth’s most treasured landmarks and use them in their nest building. As it turned out, their ocular weaponry were no match for Clark’s own laser vision, and their numbers were quickly decimated. In the end, the Ptarrows (as Wally had named them) retreated empty-taloned, leaving behind little else besides a layer of bloody feathers coating the streets of downtown Paris.

When the exhausted Leaguers returned to the Watchtower, desperate for a shower and a good night’s sleep, they discovered the other thing the attackers left behind on Earth.

Zatanna peered at the dark red mark that had appeared on Clark and Bruce’s arm. “It appears that Superman and Batman happened to soulbond during the fight against the Ptarrows,” she announced. “I believe a special compound in the Ptarrows’ blood combined with their…” she looked dubious for a moment, but quickly recovered, “natural compatibility as bondmates to initiate the process of bonding without the need for a ritual.”

The rest of the Justice League stared at her in disbelief. In the corner of Clark’s eye, Bruce shifted minutely.

“Wow,” said Wally, finally breaking the awkward silence that had descended. “Who woulda thought Bats and Supes would be the ones most likely to hook up in a soulbond together out of all of us? It’s almost unbelievable.”

“That’s because it is,” said Bruce. Clark and the others turned towards him, surprised. Once Zatanna had finished her examination of him and Clark, Bruce had drawn his cape up and around him so that it obscured everything but his cowled head. His facial expression was as stoic and inscrutable as ever. “Some sort of mistake has occurred. Superman and I are not soulbonded,” he stated shortly, and stalked out of the briefing room.

“Bruce, wai— ” Clark tried to call after him, but Bruce was gone.

Wally looked pensive. “Do you guys think he already has a bondmate and doesn’t want to share?” he wondered. “Or maybe he’s not gay? Or maybe—” he stopped when Diana thwacked him on the arm.

Zatanna patted Clark comfortingly. “Trust me,” she told him, “you two are soulbonded. The luos eguag never lies. He’ll come around eventually.” She gave him a conspiratorial wink.

Clark wasn’t exactly surprised that she knew. As Lois had generously informed him once, he was not exactly subtle about his stares whenever they were scheduled to cover a gala in Gotham and Bruce turned up in an immaculate suit. At this point, he was pretty sure the giant alien birds had known about his massive, embarrassing crush on Bruce. Since Bruce’s perception was so eerie as to be nearly inhuman, he had probably known about it a long time ago, and had ignored it up until the moment when he no longer could. Of course, since this was Bruce, he had apparently decided to ignore it anyway.

“Thanks,” he told Zatanna, then gently pushed past her so he could fly home and wallow in his misery alone.

Clark hadn’t expected his first bonding to go so spectacularly wrong. When his parents had told him about their first bonds with one another, their descriptions of the connection that had flowed between them had been so beautiful that he had been brought to tears. Ever since then, he longed to meet the person that would bring him the same sense of joy and completion that it had brought his parents.

That hope died when he first met Bruce. Bruce was abrasive, dismissive, and always kept his true depths of emotions firmly locked up somewhere deep inside him. None of that stopped Clark from falling in love with the way his face transformed when he deigned to smile, the triumphant glint in his eyes whenever he solved a particularly difficult problem, his love for Alfred and pride in his sons that he often failed to hide, and his devotion to justice and bettering the world that was matched by few others. However, he knew that neither Bruce Wayne nor Batman would ever be able to bond with anyone. Bruce’s alter ego thrived off his playboy persona, which necessitated no relationships, such as a bondmate, that might be permanent. In addition, a soulbond would get in the way of Batman’s endless crusade for revenge. Plus, as Wally had so helpfully pointed out, it was highly likely that Bruce was not interested in men at all, much less Clark.

Objectively, Clark had known all this for a long time. He thought that he had made peace with the unrequited nature of his feelings, but apparently he hadn’t, because Bruce’s abrupt rejection of their bond had hurt. Badly.

It was enough to make him want to curl up on his couch and eat three entire cartons of strawberry ice cream. Which was exactly what he did.

The next morning, Clark slept through his alarm. When he finally did wake up at a quarter past ten, he found that he was still incredibly tired. When he tried to stand up to get ready for work at super-speed, he was hit by a wave of nausea and vertigo and had to lay down again. He hadn’t felt like this since the time Lex Luthor had slipped traces of Kryptonite powder into his apartment. When he scanned the building, however, there was no Kryptonite to be found.

He called in sick. Perry wasn’t happy to hear that Clark would be absent from work yet again, but when he heard Clark’s hoarse voice, his tone softened a little. “Get some rest, kid,” he told him gruffly. “But I better still have that Johnson article on my desk by next Monday.”

“Yes, sir,” Clark croaked, and hung up. He reached over and grabbed his League communicator, setting it to Bruce’s frequency automatically. When he realized what he had done, it was too late.

“Uh, hey, Bruce. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been exhibiting the symptoms of low-level Kryptonite poisoning this morning despite not finding any Kryptonite within a three-mile radius. Was wondering if you had any clue what’s going on.”

He was greeted with deafening silence. He kept the communicator open, just in case Bruce was at a board meeting he couldn’t escape or something. Two hours later, there was still no response, so Clark gave up and set about trying to figure out the cause of his sudden bout of weakness by himself. Nothing came up.

A few days later, Clark felt even worse. His head felt like it was constantly being stabbed by a thousand needles, and his powers were becoming increasingly unstable. His X-ray vision would turn on and off randomly, and when he tried to take a shower, he twisted the tap so hard it broke off.

He contacted Zatanna and the other members of the League (except for Bruce, who still wasn’t replying to any attempts at communication), but they were as befuddled by his condition as he was. Finally, he decided to try and seek answers from the Fortress of Solitude.

With what felt like the last of his strength, Clark flew to Antarctica. He collapsed in front of the doors of the Fortress, feeling even worse than he had before he’d left. He laid there panting in the freezing cold (had it always been this cold here?) for several minutes before he could gather himself and walk through the doors.

As it turns out, the Fortress had a message waiting for him. It was apparently able to detect the mark on his arm that signified that he was bonded to another person, and it pulled up a hologram of Jor-El as soon as he entered.

“Kal-El,” his birth father said, “if you are seeing this, it means that you have successfully soulbonded with one of Earth’s inhabitants. Your mother and I were worried that the physiologies of Kryptonians and Earthlings would be incompatible with regards to bonding, but this is evidently not the case. We are both so happy that you have found a life partner that is inextricably tied to you in a bond that can be neither broken nor denied.”

Clark couldn’t help but chuckle bitterly at that.

Jor-El’s hologram continued. “The nature of Kryptonian soulbonds, while extremely beneficial to the bonded pair in terms of psychological health, mood, and sexual compatibility, is also quite intense. As such, they can be quite dangerous when handled improperly. Failure for bondmates to engage in regular physical contact with one another will result in severe physiological damage and, after several subsequent days of no contact, cardiac arrest followed by death for both parties.”

As it dawned on a horrified Clark just what would soon happen to him and Bruce, a robotic voice emanating from somewhere inside the Fortress drowned out the rest of Jor-El’s lecture about Kryptonian soulbonds. “Detecting symptoms of muscle fatigue, shortness of breath, and cardiac arrhythmia in Kal-El,” it chirped. “Would you like to lie down, Kal-El?”

A sick feeling of hopelessness and anger overtook Clark. He suddenly noticed the tightness in his chest and the difficulty he was having drawing each breath. Filled with determination, he tried to run out of the Fortress of Solitude and fly to Gotham, to get to Bruce before it was too late for the both of them, but he was so exhausted he merely collapsed to the ground.

As he laid there, his vision started to darken and he felt the last of his energy start to drain from him. Idly, he wished he had told Bruce how he felt about him, even if it would have resulted in heartbreak. It couldn’t have gone any worse than this.

Clark closed his eyes and accepted his fate. Even if this was a twisted nightmare version of what he had always wanted, at least he could die with the knowledge that he and Bruce were bonded.

Suddenly, he heard something outside the Fortress, a soft humming sound. Was it one of the giant alien birds? No, it was a plane. No one other than him, Lois, and the rest of the Justice League knew where the Fortress of Solitude was located. And the only two members of the League who flew planes were Diana, who was busy in Themyscira, and…

The doors of the Fortress opened for whoever was outside without a fuss. Clark found the strength inside him to sit up and turn towards the entrance.

Bruce walked into the room, removing his heavy coat as he did so. He looked sickly and pale, but was still devastatingly handsome. He dropped his coat on the ground, walked straight to Clark, knelt down, and kissed him fiercely.

Clark collapsed back onto the floor, Bruce following him like they’d done this thousands of times before. As Clark’s strength flowed back into him, he found it in himself to raise an arm and cup the back of Bruce’s neck, deepening the kiss. In response, Bruce straddled Clark and slipped his arms around his waist.

When they finally broke apart, Clark no longer felt like he was on the verge of death, and Bruce looked much healthier as well. He also looked incredibly guilty.

“I’m sorry,” he said immediately. “I’m sorry for doing this to you. I was incredibly stubborn and selfish, and it was wrong of me to abandon you like that, especially once I found out what that would do to you.”

“Why did you?” Clark asked him.

“I was afraid,” Bruce admitted frankly. “I didn’t want to admit the way I felt for you was more than friendship or camaraderie, and being suddenly bonded to you brought all the feelings I was suppressing to the forefront when I wasn’t yet ready to confront them. So I convinced myself it was all a mistake. And when I realized that I was being foolish, I felt that it was too late to try and seek you out. I knew I had hurt you, and you had every right to reject my attempt at reconciliation.”

“What made you change your mind?”

“Once I did some research on the differences between Kryptonian and human soulbonds, I realized that I was putting you in great danger by continuing to stay away.” He smiled thinly. “I wasn’t feeling too great at that point, either.”

Clark could only imagine what Bruce, who didn’t have the advantage of super-stamina, had gone through over the past few days.

“So,” he said. “Now what? Where do we go from here?”

Bruce looked down. “We need to stay close physically in order to prevent ourselves from dying, but we don’t have to go any further than that. I said that you had every right to ignore our bond, and that will always be true.”

“Is that what you want from me?” Clark asked quietly. “The bare minimum that’s required to keep us alive?”

Bruce looked away. “You know by now that it isn’t.”

Clark wrapped his arms around Bruce, leaning in to press a quick kiss against his mouth. “Then I’m willing to go as far as you are.”

There wasn’t too much talking after that.

Afterwards, as they lay there satisfied, Clark turned to Bruce. “So, I was wondering if you wanted to go out for dinner with me sometime.”

Bruce smiled. “For my bondmate, anything.”