"Bet he's a cop."
"Are you serious?"
"Sure, why not? Undercover, you know."
"Yeah, trying to catch what? The salmon mafia? Fuckin' ridiculous."
"Oh, yeah? You got something better?"
"Assassin. Here for Heraldson, and once he's dumped the body, he'll just vanish. Like he was never on board at all."
"Wow, yeah, that's—something. Not sure 'better' covers it—"
"Of course it doesn't," Blake says comfortably, and then he elbows Clark until Clark looks up from the cable he's winding. "Well? You got a guess, Kent?"
Clark shrugs, and keeps his expression bland, a little amused. "No idea," he says. "You could always just ask him, if you're that curious."
"No way," Hansen says from Blake's other side, shaking his head. "Ask Dixon? You kidding?"
"If he told us," Blake intones soberly, "he'd have to kill us."
Clark shakes his head, and puts on half a smile he doesn't quite feel.
It's funny enough, especially the wide-eyed mock-credulous look on Blake's face. But Dixon's not something Clark can find it in him to laugh about.
Dixon hadn't caught his eye at first. Just another guy signing on for a season, that was all. They'd introduced themselves, shaken hands, and then Clark had gone to claim a bunk for himself below and hadn't given Dixon a second thought. He'd just been eager to get started, now that he knew what he was doing—now that he wasn't the greenhorn anymore.
Except then it turned out Dixon was a greenhorn: he'd never worked a boat before in his life. Weird, for a guy Dixon's age. Who went and just decided to try out fishing in Alaska when they didn't have to, when it wasn't their life already?
The answer was apparently Dixon—Dixon, and Clark.
Not that Dixon couldn't hack it. He'd caught on quick, learned his way around all the equipment, kept his balance on deck, didn't wash out over the strain or the danger or the hours. But even now that he knows what he's doing, Dixon still doesn't seem to get how to fit on a boat. He's just too—too standoffish, too serious, too quiet.
It makes Clark's skin prickle just looking at him, working alone in silence while everybody else stands around making up stories about him. He wants to yell at Dixon—don't you get it? Don't you understand how to make them not notice you? All Dixon has to do is be friendlier. Just a little, just enough to seem normal, without getting close enough to anybody that they feel entitled to pry. Clark can do it. Surely Dixon could, if he just put in the effort.
But he doesn't seem to want to.
Clark finishes up with the cable, and then glances past Blake one more time. Just for a glimpse at Dixon; just to remind himself of everything he wants to avoid, everything he wants to make sure he isn't. And Dixon—
Dixon's looking back. They're locked like that, caught, for a long strange moment; Dixon's gaze is steady, dark, unreadable.
And then Clark blinks and turns away, and makes himself stop thinking about Frank Dixon.
It's just that that's the other big thing that bugs him about Dixon.
Everybody else thinks Dixon is weird, but just because of the way he acts, that quiet uncrossable distance he keeps from everybody. Should be impossible, on a boat the size of the Debbie Sue; no matter how untouchable a guy might look at the start of the season, a few weeks crammed in those bunks, or shambling into the galley breathing everybody else's morning breath, or dropping nets in the pouring rain, and there's no dignity left, no sanctity preserved.
Dixon manages it, though. And that's what makes him stick out, to the rest of the crew.
But Clark—Clark's the only one Dixon looks at like that.
Nobody else ever seems to catch Dixon at it, except Clark. And at first he'd been scared stiff by it. He doesn't use his powers on the boat except when he can't help it, when he has to help somebody. Or when it's something he can't turn off—and it isn't like he minds that he can't break a shoulder or lose a finger, doing a job like this.
The only reason he doesn't think Dixon's caught him yet is because Dixon's never said a word to him about it.
Dixon hardly says a word to him about anything. Just looks at him. Watches him, with that deep unwavering stare.
And, okay, it bugs him except when it doesn't. Because sometimes—sometimes he can think of a few other reasons why Dixon might be looking at him like that; reasons that have less to do with secret superpowers, and more to do with other things it's smart to hide if you're working a fishing boat. With things like how nobody ever catches Dixon calling a wife or a girlfriend, when they dock. Or the way Clark feels his chest, his gut, heat up when Dixon says his name—even if it's just to get his attention, to point out how he's tangled the net he's fixing or that a cable's starting to fray.
Clark doesn't even know which is more likely anymore. He doesn't trust himself to be able to tell. Sometimes it seems impossible, ridiculous, that somebody as self-contained as Dixon would ever even think about it, about Clark. And other times—
Other times, it's the only thing that makes any sense. Like now.
Clark thought he'd have the bunks to himself for a bit; but he steps in and Dixon's there, and instantly he's way too conscious of himself. Of his own breathing, whether it's coming faster, whether Dixon has noticed if it is. Of his steps as he crosses to his bunk, of exactly how much distance is separating him and Dixon at any given moment.
It's not a lot.
Dixon doesn't say anything. Clark sets his hands on the edge of his bunk and then hesitates.
He's got half a dozen layers on, because that's what humans do off the coast of Alaska. But humans also take some of them off when they get into bed. Clark doesn't really need to; the same way it's hard for him to get uncomfortably cold, it's also hard for him to get uncomfortably hot. He could just get in.
But that would be conspicuous. Wouldn't it? If Dixon's watching him because Dixon thinks there's something off about him, something suspicious, then doing anything out of the ordinary is a mistake.
He takes a long slow breath, and keeps his back to Dixon. Just a couple layers, that's all. Nobody strips down completely.
But the instant he reaches for his waist, he swears he can feel Dixon's eyes on him. He's got three layers, an undershirt, beneath the sweater he's tugging off—but the sweater's ribbed waistband catches, brings the rest of them riding halfway up Clark's back.
The shock of cool air against his skin is what makes him shiver. Probably. He closes his eyes and swallows. It's a bad idea, but there's no way Dixon will be able to tell he's doing it.
He doesn't even have to open his eyes again to look through himself. And Dixon is staring at him, unmistakable, gaze flicking up along the line of Clark's back and then off to one side, the other, across the level of his hips, down even further—
Clark tugs the sweater the rest of the way off his head with a jerk, and when he turns to tuck it under his pillow so he can grab it again in a hurry, he can see Dixon out of the corner of his eye. On his side, rolled away from Clark, as if he's already asleep.
But Clark's pretty sure he's not.
Clark's dreams are a muddle, hot and confused, half the nauseating jangling fear of discovery and half somebody's steady dark eyes on Clark's face, the scratch of fabric riding up Clark's chest.
He's almost glad to be shaken out of it, to come awake alone in his bunk with Dixon nowhere to be seen.
And then he actually hears what Hansen's saying to him. "—on, come on, quick. Storm, coming up fast. Come on, Kent, up and at 'em—"
"Up, I'm up," Clark says, and rolls out of his bunk to make it true.
Rain's already lashing the deck by the time Clark gets out there, waves piling up angrily on all sides. He takes a second to peek into the bridge, Heraldson's expression as clear as if Clark were standing next to him; and it's grim, Heraldson's jaw white with tension.
The Debbie Sue shudders under Clark's feet, is tossed up and to one side and barely has time to come down before another wave hits—and this time she teeters even further, balance briefly elusive.
Clark's never been on a boat that's capsized, and he doesn't really want to start now.
He looks ahead through the dark. They were supposed to make harbor tonight, or early in the morning if the sea had been against them. Shore can't be all that far away.
A wave slaps down across the deck, hard, and Clark lets the water catch him, lets himself skid across the deck. Might as well set the scene. He can't do anything for the Debbie Sue from here, not with the rest of the crew rushing around and not with nowhere to grab onto. He'll wait for the next big one, let it take him and see what he can do in the water, and if it doesn't take too long he can even let them fish him out alive without causing too much fuss.
He jerks and turns, looking for whoever shouted, and then stops, breath catching in his throat. It's Dixon—of course it's Dixon. Dixon's got one hand braced against the wale and is reaching out with the other, as if he weren't a good thirty feet from Clark.
"Kent," Dixon calls again, the most urgent Clark's ever heard him.
And he's saying it like that because the wave Clark was waiting for is here. Clark glances up at the towering icy shadow of it. If he goes under too long, he'll have to stay there; he can't let the Debbie Sue pull up a totally undamaged Clark Kent when anybody else would be dead.
So he lets himself indulge in one more glimpse of Dixon, just in case it's the last one he ever gets: soaked and straining, shoulders bunched with the effort of holding himself in place, eyes wide. The least untouchable Clark's ever seen him, Clark thinks, and then the wave breaks over him and drags him away.
He draws his arms and legs in close as he goes over the side so he doesn't damage the Debbie Sue on the way, and then he's in the sea. He takes a moment to orient himself, turning in the water until the dim shadow of the Debbie Sue is above him instead of off to the side, and then he swims up to settle a hand against the hull.
He shouldn't have to lift it out of the water. Right? If he can stabilize it a little, maybe speed it up—not enough to make anyone too suspicious, just catching a good current at exactly the right time—then they can get closer to the harbor. The shallower the water, the less powerful the waves will be, and the easier any rescue boats will have it. He just has to be careful not to put too much pressure on the Debbie Sue. He can have all the superstrength he wants, and it won't do any good if the Debbie Sue's hull can't handle the speed, the pull of the water.
He's settled his back up against it, flattened his palms against it and is testing a little push just to see how it feels, and that's when he hears a distinct splash.
Not the roar of the storm or the patter of water, the sound of waves against the hull or the deck.
He twists around, hoping against hope that it was just a trap being dragged off the deck, or a coil of cable—but the dark shape slicing through the water is a figure. Not somebody who fell; it's moving too deliberately for that. It's—
It's Dixon, Clark thinks blankly. Dixon, swimming, striking out with purpose into the water. Is he—did he jump in? Looking for Clark?
For a moment, he's trapped by indecision. If he goes to play rescuee, lets Dixon pull him back up, falling off the boat a second time is going to be a way harder sell. What can he do for the Debbie Sue up there?
But Dixon thinks he's in trouble, and threw himself into a stormy sea to try to do something about it. Clark can't let anything happen to him. He can't.
He bites his lip, choice made; but the hesitation has cost him. Dixon's plunged down far enough to catch sight of Clark—braced against the belly of the Debbie Sue like some frigid Alaskan Atlas. Dixon jerks in the water, a clear and obvious startle.
And then Clark hears shouts overhead, which is all the warning he gets before the Debbie Sue starts to tip.
There's no choice but to set himself counter to the motion, brace against it and stretch his arm out across the hull to tilt her safely back the other way. And there's no way Dixon doesn't see him do it.
It's harder to steady the Debbie Sue than Clark was expecting. He's used to working on solid ground, not in water that's trying to move him at the same time. He has to shift a little to find an angle that's effective, ignoring a dozen little splatters and splashes to keep an ear on the shouting instead. When the tone changes, when the volume starts to drop a little—that's when he'll know they've felt that the boat's out of danger again.
And then he looks over toward Dixon again, only to find that the man's gone.
For a moment, Clark's baffled. The Debbie Sue has found an even keel again, at least for the moment, so he lets go and drifts forward a little, toward where Dixon was. Did he need to breathe? Has he surfaced? There's a shadow up there that might be Dixon, except it's not alone.
The Debbie Sue is powering off toward the harbor, the spray of waves and sheets of rain between it and Clark. It should be safe enough to come up.
And the second Clark does it, he can see what must have happened.
Dixon surfaced, all right—and next to him in the water, just starting to sink, is a stack of unused traps left over from crab season, a tangle of netting and cable. It must have come off the deck, and even if Dixon had time to see it, Clark guesses he wouldn't have had time to dive out of the way. A human wouldn't be able to pick it out of Dixon's dark hair, especially not sopping wet; but Clark can see the blood trickling down his forehead, before a wave laps up half over Dixon's face and wipes it away.
Half over Dixon's face, because Dixon's clothes, boots, are starting to drag him down.
Clark works an arm around Dixon, hauls Dixon's head safely clear of the water, and then glances over his shoulder at the Debbie Sue. She's just a few miles from safety, and Clark can always come back for her if he has to. But Dixon—Dixon's been in the water for too long already, probably. How cold is it, to him? Clark can't be sure. He's been in the water for too long and he's bleeding from the head.
Clark gathers him up carefully, an arm around his shoulders and another tucked around his knees, and then hoists him up out of the water, up into the air and away.
Clark's a little surprised that the receptionist at the lone tiny motel just outside Cordova doesn't scream the minute he steps into the lobby. He's done his best to drape Dixon against his side, hoping to pass him off as profoundly drunk. But Dixon's face is pale, slack, and he's still sopping wet; he looks like a dead body Clark's dredged up out of the sound.
The receptionist seems totally unaware of this possibility, or else unalarmed by it. She accepts the cash Clark "borrowed" from the dollar store a little way down the road without hesitation, gives him a room key, and doesn't call the police at any point during the process.
He carries Dixon to the room, eases him down onto the lone bed, and stares at him. God. Is this a terrible idea? Is he doing the wrong thing? He really, really doesn't want to take Dixon to a hospital if he can possibly avoid it, because who knows what Dixon might say? Clark needs to talk to him before he has the chance to talk to anyone else. But Dixon got dunked in the Pacific, hit on the head, and then flown through the air—if he's not already hypothermic, he's got to be on the way there, and Mom had been really, really thorough about explaining to Clark that head wounds weren't something to kid about, for humans.
Clark can't let him die. No matter what he did or didn't see.
Dad wouldn't want him to be doing this; but it's not up to Dad anymore, and Clark's done watching people get killed in front of him when he can stop it.
He bites his lip, and then starts wrestling with Dixon's jacket. Maybe Dixon's not that badly off. If Clark can just—just heat him up—
"Jesus, not the time," he mutters to himself, feeling a flush climbing his face.
He just has to get Dixon out of his clothes. They're sodden, freezing; they can't possibly be helping. He has to get Dixon out of his clothes, for medical and humanitarian reasons.
He swallows, and starts working Dixon's sleeves carefully down Dixon's arms.
The jacket, a vest, a button-down, another button-down—Clark's impressed, in hindsight, that Dixon had been able to swim as well as he had, with all this on. He takes a break partway through when he realizes Dixon's head is still bleeding; and that's got to be a good sign, right? If Dixon's circulation is strong enough for that? He towels Dixon's face and hair carefully, settles some gauze—also from the dollar store—against Dixon's head and holds it in place with one hand, and keeps on working his way through Dixon's layers with the other.
He makes it all the way down to the long-sleeved undershirt at last, picking away at the row of tiny buttons and telling himself it would be creepy to get distracted by the lines of Dixon's chest, his muscles, under the wet fabric. He hitches it up, and then does get distracted—by how cold Dixon's skin feels. Shit, maybe Clark needs to get him to a hospital after all.
He shifts to cradling Dixon's head, working the undershirt up and off the guy; and then he tosses it away, checks the gauze and gets it back into place, and makes himself lower his other hand to Dixon's belt.
And that's when he realizes Dixon's eyes are open.
Not by much: they're still half-closed, Dixon regarding Clark with wary, bleary effort.
"Haven't bought me dinner," he slurs out.
Clark flushes and jerks his hand away from Dixon's fly, and then reminds himself firmly that he's just trying to take care of Dixon. Medically speaking.
"You fell in the sea," Clark says aloud, not meeting Dixon's eyes. Says something, probably, that that would be harder than staring fixedly at Dixon's waistband, the cut of muscle just over his hips. "Do you remember?"
"You want me not to?" Dixon asks, flat.
Clark swallows. So Dixon did see—and gets that Clark's life would be a lot easier if he hadn't, which means he's worked his way through at least some of the implications.
"Just asking," Clark says carefully, and lifts the gauze away from Dixon's head again. Not too much blood, but he should still probably switch it out for a clean square.
Dixon's eyes follow him away and then back, heavy on his face when he leans over Dixon again.
"How are you feeling?" Clark asks. With one of his urgent questions answered, it's almost calming to focus on the other one; and looking at Dixon's bare chest, the network of scars that's sketched out across his ribs and shoulders, Clark's guessing Dixon's not unfamiliar with hospitals. He might be able to gauge whether he needs one now better than Clark can.
"Does it matter?" Dixon says.
Clark blinks down at him. "Uh. Yes? You're not shivering, which I'm pretty sure is bad, and I don't think you breathed in any water but I don't really know exactly what that would look like, so—"
"So that's the price."
"You want me to keep my mouth shut," Dixon says, without inflection.
Clark stares at him, suddenly sure that he has no idea what's going on in this conversation at all. Dixon's face is expressionless, his tone perfectly neutral; but he's saying things that sound like he thinks—what? Clark's trying to extort silence from him? Dangling the promise of a hospital like a carrot, with untreated hypothermia for a stick?
"Well, that would be nice," he agrees slowly. "But it's up to you, and it's got nothing to do with whether or not you need an actual doctor instead of a cheap motel room. I'm not going to kill you, Dixon—"
"You could," Dixon says. "Couldn't you?"
Clark looks away.
"Bringing me here," Dixon adds, almost conversational. "Where nobody would think to look, with the Debbie Sue just coming into harbor. I saw you, Kent. If you can pick up a boat that size—"
"Yeah? Then why would I bother?" Clark snaps. "Huh? I could've killed you just by leaving you out there in the water, Dixon. I could've killed you just by doing nothing. But I—" He swallows. "I don't do that. I won't do that."
Dixon stares at him, eyes narrowed, unmoving. Considering he was just accusing Clark of planning to murder him, he doesn't seem to mind that Clark's still leaning over him, holding that fresh square of gauze to his head.
In fact, Clark thinks slowly, he doesn't seem to mind any of this very much. Including the part where he's just been hit over the head—almost literally—with Clark's decidedly unusual capabilities.
And Dixon always did watch him a lot.
"You were looking for me," Clark says. "Weren't you? You knew something."
"Something," Dixon agrees; and then, grudgingly, as if he has no idea he's turning Clark's entire universe on its side, "Not just you. But you're the first one I've found."
"What? You—there are—there are more? Are you—?"
"Not me," Dixon says, and then grimaces a little. "Not exactly. What you do, when people need you? I've got—something similar. You're the greenhorn here, Kent," he adds, with the barest little twitch at the corner of his mouth. "And there are others."
"And you're, what, recruiting?"
"Something like that," Dixon says, and then pauses. For the first time, he's not looking at Clark, but rather into the middle distance. "There's something coming."
"Something coming," Clark repeats.
"I've seen it," Dixon adds, absently, still with that distant look in his eyes. "I've seen—" And then he cuts himself off, gaze snapping back to Clark, and his mouth goes flat. "I've seen a lot of things," he says, brusque, that line of conversation clearly closed.
"Okay," Clark says, to signal he's not going to push Dixon on it. At least not yet. "Well, that's real interesting and all, but you're still not shivering. Even if the hospital's your best bet, you need some dry clothes," and he tries to sound authoritative, businesslike, instead of like somebody who's still half-hard over working Dixon's wet undershirt off him.
Judging by the way Dixon's eyes go dark, it doesn't really work.
"That so?" he murmurs, and even though Clark would swear he hasn't moved at all, there's suddenly something deliberate, heated, about the way he's lying there watching Clark, letting Clark work the tongue of his belt through the buckle onehanded instead of reaching to do it himself.
This is probably a really bad idea, Clark thinks. "Or at least you'd better get these wet ones off," Clark says, hoarse, tongue abruptly thick in his mouth.
"Mm," Dixon says, half a sigh, eyes dropping almost shut again. "So you can warm me up?"
And he could. Clark could do a lot of things—the laser vision's probably a little too much to apply directly, but he could boil water with it, heat the whole room up like a sauna; rub his hands together for the friction, faster than Dixon will even be able to see, and—and touch him—
Clark swallows. "If you'd let me," he manages, soft.
He doesn't know what Dixon might say. He's always tried to be careful, always had to be, the fear of discovery hanging over him all the time like a shadow; they'll know you're not one of them, they'll hate you, they'll be afraid.
But now, he's—he feels himself teetering on the edge of something new. Dixon saw him, Dixon knows. Dixon knows and wanted to know, was looking for him and hoping to find him, and not even so he could strap Clark to a lab table. Dixon thinks Clark's important, and that what Clark can do could really matter. All Clark's secrets, every frightening thing, is laid out in front of Dixon, and Dixon's not even weirded out. Dixon's looking at him with hot dark eyes and letting Clark undo his belt.
"Dixon—or, uh. Frank. Frank, I should tell you, I'm—I'm an—"
And that, finally makes Dixon move: he leans up off the bed just far enough to put a hand across Clark's mouth.
"Bruce," Dixon—Frank—Bruce—corrects him, low, and then hooks that hand around the back of Clark's neck instead, and drags him down to kiss him.
Clark forgets about Bruce's pants completely, forgets about basically everything except leaning down into him and sucking on his tongue, biting at his mouth. God, he'd been kidding himself so hard back on the Debbie Sue—he'd caught it when Dixon looked at him, yeah, because half the time he'd been looking at Dixon first, staring at the stubble-dark angle of his jaw, his throat, the way those massive shoulders bunched and shifted as he hauled in lines or helped pull up a net. Jesus.
And now he's got Dixon spread out under him, and—oh. Right. Pants.
Pants, and also gauze, because that's why he's grappling at Bruce's waistband onehanded. He tears himself away from Bruce's mouth to gasp, "Your—your head, are you—"
"I'm fine," Bruce growls, shoving Clark's shirt up.
Except, of course, he's not, because he's still frozen half to death. It's almost gratifying; the way Dixon acted all the time, Clark had struggled to imagine him being anything but efficient, practical—to imagine him being overcome. But Dixon's really cold and Clark's really warm, and even Dixon's Dixon-ness can't quite counter that.
Clark's pretty sure he's trying to force it to, if the vague frustration that flashes across his face now and then is any guide. But he shudders helplessly when Clark's hands are on him, Clark's arms around him; he presses himself up into Clark and breathes unsteadily into the side of Clark's throat, and lets Clark touch him.
And Clark does. Clark can't stop himself, it's—it's like painting, sculpture, art: Bruce coming to life under his hands, that pale cold skin pinking up slow, that frigid mechanical shuddering smoothing out into shivers and then further, easy steady motion. Almost secondary, really, to finally get him out of those pants and get a hand around his cock, to find the right angle to grind down against one of those incredible thighs.
Almost secondary—but not quite.
Clark wakes two or three times in the dark, still wrapped firmly around Bruce and vaguely surprised by it before he drifts off again. When he wakes up again and there's light filtering through the motel drapes—that's when Bruce is gone.
Clark rolls over into the space where he was, stretches a hand across the sheets; he can still feel a little warmth left there, can breathe in deep and taste the salt sting of seawater left by Bruce's skin.
He should be upset about it, maybe. Except Bruce had wanted to find him once, and had, and Clark's pretty sure he'd as good as said that he'd be finding Clark again soon enough. There's something coming—and he meant for Clark to be there, with him, when it arrived.
Clark turns his face half into the pillow and smiles into it. And then freezes, when something makes a soft shushing sound.
He sits up and slides a hand under the pillow, feels around, and comes out with—a business card? Clark eyeballs it. Frank Dixon hadn't been a business card kind of guy; but maybe Bruce is.
A logo, intertwined W and E and an address and a bunch of other stuff, but surely that wasn't all Bruce had meant for him to know—
He flips it over and smiles.
Looking forward to working with you, greenhorn.
"Oh, I'll show you who's a greenhorn," Clark tells it with a laugh, and starts looking for his clothes.
He can get to Gotham in no time at all, if he flies.