<SUPERMAN VS. MONGUL>
Clark’s having a rough day.
Actually, Clark’s having a rough week. His inexperience in fighting other aliens is starting to hurt him, and hurt him bad. Every time this guy throws a punch, there’s some sort of concussive wave behind it, that feels like it cracks every bone in Clark’s body. The guy-- Mongul, he’d called himself-- is enormous, to boot, towering in the ruins of one of Metropolis’ massive art-deco skyscrapers.
There’s no way he’s calling Bruce. They’re way out of the Batman’s league. Clark can handle this.
Clark levers himself unsteadily to his feet, every joint protesting. None of this will leave a mark, but for now, it hurts like hell. Mongul winds up again, and Clark barely has time to brace himself before that massive fist hits him again, and he slams through the air and into the side of a building. There’s the sound of glass shattering, bricks crumbling, people screaming, but the noises are far-off and indinstinct.
Clark pushes up on his elbows, breaths coming in painful stabs. Mongul’s gargantuan footsteps shake the earth on approach. Clark flops onto his back, about ready to use his flight to shoot out from under Mongul’s next blow, except it never comes. Instead, the giant drops some sort of wriggling black plant on him.
It latches onto his face. The effect is instantaneous.
He’s no longer on the battlefield. Instead, he’s in bed. Or, sort of in bed. The air is cold on his skin, all the tiny noises-- breathing and sheets rustling and water dripping-- reverberating in the massive, cavernous space around him. There’s a warm body in bed next to him. Clark rolls over, a thick arm falling across his chest. The hand grasps the curve of his shoulder, and Clark smiles, grabs it, and presses a kiss to the palm.
Lips move against his jaw line, and the warm body presses closer. “Morning,” Bruce rumbles.
“Good morning,” says Clark brightly. Bruce glowers a bit-- he’s not a morning person. The sheets are musty from last night, but Clark couldn’t care less. He ducks in to catch Bruce’s mouth, and the other man grumbles against him, the taste of blood still in his mouth from last night.
Bruce’s hands drag down to Clark’s hips, pushing the sheets down dangerously low. His fingers span nearly the whole curve of them-- Clark’s always had a lean torso, narrow hips. Not like Bruce-- every inch of that man is thick, ripcord muscle. Clark wraps his arms around Bruce’s middle, and slides in flush against him. They never actually made it out of their underwear last night, but Bruce’s black briefs and Clark’s plaid boxers aren’t hiding anything.
Clark wants to feel Bruce’s weight over top of him. He starts to make that happen, rolling Bruce between his knees, but before things can get really interesting, Bruce makes a noise of protest and is gone.
He moves across the cave, broad back crisscrossed with scars. Clark’s eyes follow him, over to the massive computer bay, where the Batman cape is draped over a chair, the cowl discarded on a keyboard. “Could that really not wait another fifteen minutes?” he asks.
Bruce’s lips curl in a smirk, but he doesn’t look over. “That’s an optimistic timeline,” he returns. “Yesterday when you said that, we were in bed for another hour. You were late for work.”
“So were you.”
“Bruce Wayne is always late for work. Clark Kent, on the other hand…”
“I’m recently returned from the dead,” Clark snarks. “I’m sure they understand me needing to take a few personal hours. Besides, everyone’s late for work every once and a while.”
“Every once and a while, he says, like we haven’t spent hours in bed every morning for the past week.” Bruce turns the full force of one of those rare smiles on Clark, and a strange sense of wrongness twists in Clark’s gut. It’s not the smile, it’s the past week. No matter how idyllic a week of lazy mornings and late night patrols with Bruce sounds, it doesn’t fit in Clark’s recollection.
No, the past week, in Clark’s memory, is a lot of vague, ultrahot fire, and a gnarly slugfest on the moon.
“I’ll take an early lunch,” Bruce says. “Come down to the Planet. We can use that supply closet again.” Bruce paces away from the computers, deeper into the cave. He finds a t-shirt from some sleek automatic drawer, and starts pulling it on. Clark’s eyes move past him, to an empty glass case near the darkness in the back of the cave. And that’s an even wronger feeling. He sits up in bed.
Bruce is stepping into a pair of thousand-dollar slacks. “Yeah?”
“Where’d you move the kryptonite?”
Bruce smiles at him oddly. He pads back across the room, feet still bare, halfway to being re-dressed as Bruce Wayne, billionaire businessman. “What?” he asks, mildly. “Why would I have kryptonite?”
Clark frowns, looking between Bruce and the empty case. This makes no sense. There is never, under any circumstances, a version of Bruce that is not always, in the back of his mind, plotting to kill Clark. That case shouldn’t be empty. It should be full of variations of kryptonite weapons, and different colors of the gemstones themselves. Clark should feel vaguely wary just being down here, even though the glass is lead-lined.
And, as much as this is filling the empty spot in his chest, this easy domesticity-- well.
“This isn’t real,” Clark says, and meets Bruce’s eyes. Just one last look. “None of it.”
The black plant screeches and falls away from Clark’s face. Clark gasps, and rolls onto his hands and knees, the fractured pavement warm under his hands. He heaves in a breath, and turns his head slowly to look at Mongul, heat already pooling behind his eyes. Clark’s mad.
Mongul tries to do some of that appeal-to-morality stuff that intergalactic villains tend to go for as a last resort. Clark isn’t listening to any of it-- he’s channeling the frustration of being back to here, where Bruce doesn’t spare him more than a perfunctory glance outside of team meetings. Where Clark’s got no job at the Planet to be late for and no one who loves him to go home to because Lois left, where all he’s got is the next punch and thrill actually getting hit gives him.
He pounds Mongul into the ocean, because the guy can survive in space. He powers down to the ocean floor, lands a few good punches, superheats the water with his heat vision, and then leaves Mongul there, so the crushing pressure of millions of gallons of water can do its good work.
The black plant thing makes a good post-mission gift for Bruce.
The Batman takes it with fascination, face already creased as he tries to figure it out just by looking at it. Whenever Clark brings home something alien, he’s overjoyed. He just doesn’t do overjoyed like normal people. “Where did it come from?” he fires off. “What’s it do?”
Clark leans back against the computer bay. “It’s from outer space,” he says, tiredly. “It grabs onto your face and it shows you the life you wish you had. It lets go when you figure out it’s not real.”
Bruce is already entering that scarce information in his database, the dead plant on a scale next to his keyboard, scanner sweeping over it. “What did it show you?”
Clark goes with the easy answer. “Krypton.”
Bruce hmms like that makes sense. Good. The detective, fooled. “I guess it was easy to tell it wasn’t real.”
“Yeah,” Clark says. “It’s all in the details.”
<SUPERMAN VS. DEATH>
Clark’s smarter than a lot of people give him credit for.
He figures out pretty quick after the whole resurrection event that he can’t actually die. It is, contrary to what most people might think, a really really terrible realization. If the world felt small before, now it’s got the added blur of impermanence. He’s not sure how Diana and John Jones do it, keep their heads on straight, maintain their self preservation instinct when there’s no good reason to. He’s got no fear for his life anymore, but he wants to. He wants to.
There’s a whole other level of ingenuity required for Superman to become reckless.
Jumping off buildings is out-- he knows he can fall in a dead drop from the upper atmosphere and still feel pretty okay when he hits the ground. Bullets are no use, unless they’re kryptonite, and he’s not suicidal. Not yet. He can’t drown, can’t burn, can’t freeze, can’t suffocate. So mostly he just fights alone when he really should call the team, waits that extra second to move out of the way of a punch, lets a few baddies beat him within an inch of consciousness before he comes back swinging.
When Bruce is gone, on patrol, Clark sits in front of the case of kryptonite and stares at it.
Despite the fact that he’s living in the same house as two other immortals, Clark can’t bring himself to talk about it. They’re so well-adjusted, and he’s-- well. Staring at kryptonite in his free time.
It’s not like there’s anyone else he can talk to, either. His mom is out. She wouldn’t understand how important it is to Clark to be able to die, to be able to feel human. She wouldn’t appreciate the line his thoughts are following. She would hug him, and he could really use a hug from his mom right now, but whenever she touches him these days she does it like he’s not quite real. It hurts.
Bruce is out, for obvious reasons. Id est, Clark irritates him. Bruce has told him so, on multiple occasions, slinging something casual about Clark being too much of a sparkly-eyed do-gooder. Whatever that means.
Diana and John-- he knows they would be helpful, would give him counsel. But he’s scared to ask what lies ahead of him, watching everyone he loves fade to dust. Lois never quite reconciled his resurrection, not to even mention his invulnerability. He can’t ask her for anything, not now.
Arthur is good for a drink and a romp through town and lewd, innocent comments about tail, but that doesn’t help in this scenario. Barry Allen’s just a kid, more worried with homework and zipping back to Central City for school than anything. And Hal Jordan, easygoing and understanding as he is, is still in the phase of trying to wrap his head around the whole Green Lantern, other-planets, aliens stuff.
On the whole, immortality is a very lonely venture.
So Clark goes to Alfred.
Bruce’s butler has adjusted to living with not one, but seven superheroes remarkably well. He has somehow multiplied the daily food output of the lakehouse by at least fifty, to accommodate the ridiculous metabolisms that all of them are trying to feed, and he’s very understanding about things like bloodstains on the carpets and saltwater on the tile. “What can I do for you, Master Kent?” he asks. “Coffee?”
Clark shakes his head, and sits down. Alfred looks mildly alarmed. “Can I talk to you, Alfred?”
Therapists are pretty much off the table. If Clark walked in, sat down, and told them the whole truth, the headlines the next day would be something like SUPERMAN SUICIDAL?
“Indeed, Master Kent. What would you like to discuss?”
“You can call me Clark, if you want.”
“Alright then. Master Clark.”
Clark picks up a spare rag, and one of the ornate teacups Alfred is cleaning, and sets to work absently, just for something to do with his hands. “I don’t think I can die.”
If Alfred is surprised, he hides it well. Clark supposes he’s had a lot of practice-- the only indication that these aren’t the exact words Alfred was expecting is a slight uptick in his eyebrows. “And how, pray tell, did you come across this knowledge, Master Clark?”
“Well, there was the-- you know,” Clark gestures with the teacup. “The whole coming back from the dead incident.” He can still feel the dirt under his fingernails, but that’s beside the point. “And since then, I think I… probably should have died, at least a couple times.”
Alfred sets aside his clean specimen and moves to another. Clark wonders if Bruce knows he owns these many teacups. “I see,” Alfred says. “And I assume this revelation is bothering you?”
“Yeah, yes,” exhales Clark, gratefully. “It’s really-- it’s really getting to me, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it. I mean, not that I would necessarily do anything about it, but I… I don’t know. I don’t feel human, anymore.” He meets Alfred’s eyes, and the old man just nods sagely.
“Well,” Alfred sets down the teacup, and moves methodically to another. “I’m not sure immortality falls within my particular field of experience. But, from what I’ve seen of other extraordinary individuals like yourself… One must find something to keep oneself grounded. Humanity is an easy thing to slip away from, when you’re operating apart from it.” He offers Clark a wan smile. “Master Wayne has often faced this same problem. But, I think you’ll find… it’s all in the details.”
Clark huffs out a laugh. “The details.”
“The little things that make us human, Master Clark. Surely, if Master Curry can cultivate a home brewery, Miss Prince can find fascination restoring ancient sculptures, and Master Jordan can go on terrible internet dates-- you can find something small to live for.”
Clark thinks on that, for a long moment. Then he places his clean, polished tea cup with the legion of its brethren, and stands. “Thanks, Alfred.”
“Any time, Master Clark”
Something small. Small, and impermanent, but human. Clark will try.
<SUPERMAN VS. PURPLE KRYPTONITE>
Not everyone forgives Clark for dying.
Sure, the newspapers still blare tales of his successes, along with the rest of the team. They still expect him to be the curator of truth, justice, and humanity, but it’s a lot to shoulder, especially for the recently-deceased. He’s sure Lois and Perry can both attest to the fact that Clark is an awful multitasker. But the papers have developed a nasty habit on focusing on all his failures, too.
A building collapse in Metropolis, a mudslide in Argentina, a factory explosion in Bombay. Every time someone dies on Clark’s watch-- and everything, always is on Clark’s watch-- they drag his name through the mud. WHERE WAS HE? and ONLY GOD CAN SAVE US and less creative stuff like FALLEN ANGELS (SUPERMAN = LUCIFER?) and NOT-SO-SUPER MAN.
Technically, Clark doesn’t need to sleep. But he’s exhausted. All he wants is a nap.
And maybe some ice cream. Yeah, an ice cream cone sounds good. Clark shuffles patiently through a line outside an ice cream truck, orders a vanilla cone, and then goes to sit on tip-top of the bridge over the bay between Gotham and Metropolis. His cape whips gently in the breeze behind him, and his feet dangle over the windy meters between here and the bay.
After this, a nap. Or maybe not. There’s a whir of engines, and the slish of something gliding through the air, and then the Batwing is in front of him, hovering. The cockpit cover slides back, and Bruce appears. Clark glances up, then away. “Hey, buddy.”
Bruce clambers over onto the small platform that Clark’s claimed. You can see for miles up here, almost all the way out to the sea. Or at least, Clark can. Granted, he can see anywhere from anywhere, if he really wants to, but he doesn’t even have to turn on the super vision, here. “Feeling weird, Clark?” Bruce asks.
Clark crunches down on the last of his cone. His fingers have ice cream on them, so he licks them clean. It’s not sanitary, but he’s immune to literally everything, so it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. “Not really,” he answers. “Why? Do I seem weird?”
“Curry said you went down into the cave, and then disappeared,” Bruce rumbles, in his Batman voice. “I checked the surveillance footage. There was kryptonite out of the case. You picked it up.”
Clark makes a noncommittal noise. Bruce folds down awkwardly to sit next to him. Clark’s not sure he’s ever seen him sit in the suit, at least not outside of a driver’s seat. “It was an unstudied fragment. I’m not sure what it does, yet-- the purple crystal. But-- you feel fine?”
“Well,” Clark says, “I don’t feel like I’m about to drop dead, and I haven’t turned into a rage monster. So as far as kryptonite goes, I feel pretty spic and span.”
“As far as kryptonite goes?”
“Yeah,” Clark says. “Yeah, I…”
He can feel Bruce turn to look at him. Having the full force of the Batman’s attention on you is pretty hard to miss, all that intensity narrowed to one point. Clark can even imagine Bruce is worried about him, focused on him, not the Superman, not the crisis of the unknown kryptonite. It’s a nice thought, almost as nice as waking up next to Bruce in a nonexistent, imaginary bed in the Bat Cave.
Clark turns to look at Bruce. He wants to tear the cowl off, so Bruce’s hair can stick up in every direction from the static, so Clark can run his hands through it and pull Bruce down on top of him, laughing. He wants to feel Bruce’s hands on him, and in him, but more than all of that, he wants…
A hug. He wants a hug.
“Okay,” Clark admits. “Maybe I feel a little weird.”
Because, as he lets Bruce herd him into the Bat Wing and back to the lakehouse, he’s seriously considering asking for that hug. Or, just taking it. Only, it won’t work if Bruce locks up, if Bruce shoves him away, if Bruce’s arms don’t go around him and hold him tight. It’s been a long time since someone touched him like that, not to hurt him or run tests on him or help him up in a fight. Just-- to touch him.
Clark is certain he’s the most pathetic superhero in the world.
He lets Bruce runs his tests, hands perfunctory and clinical. The examination table in the cave is cold and metal, and Bruce looks warm and soft in his sweatsuit. Clark wraps his fingers around the edge of the table, cape unclasped, feeling small and ridiculous in just his skintight jumpsuit. He spends nearly all his time as Superman, these days, and Superman isn’t supposed to feel small and ridiculous.
“How do you feel?” Bruce asks, for the millionth time. Clark shrugs. Bruce presses his lips into a frustrated line, and steps back. “Okay. I’m going to bring out a chip of the purple kryptonite again.”
“Sure,” Clark says, even though it wasn’t a question. “Why not?”
Bruce plops the little piece of crystal in his hand. Clark curls his fist around it. There’s none of the usual lethargy that comes with the green version, no roiling sickness in his gut, no weakness in his bones. Instead, he feels oddly-- free. Like he can do anything he wants, and there’s no reason not to.
Bruce watches him closely. “Adjectives, Clark,” he says. “Describe how you’re feeling.”
“No,” Clark says, grabs Bruce around the middle, and kisses him.
It’s perhaps the least graceful thing either of them have done in their entire lives-- and Clark has spent a lot of time pretending to drop papers in elevators. Bruce stumbles forward with a noise of surprise, and his hands come down on the exam table on either side of Clark’s hips. Clark grasps the back of his neck and presses into the kiss, hooks a leg around the back of Bruce’s thigh, because Bruce is warm and big and the one steady thing in the world Clark wants to hang on to, and what’s the worst that could happen, really?
Bruce can’t kill him. It won’t stick.
So, Bruce pulling away. That’s probably the worst thing that could happen, and it does.
Clark stares after him, lips still parted. Somehow, he still doesn’t feel as pathetic as before. The purple kryptonite shard is still in his hand, and he lets his fingers unfurl. It falls to the floor. Dread rolls into him in waves, faster and more violent than before. Bruce finishes his cool-down lap of the med area, and comes back, dragging a hand over his face. “What,” he says. “Clark. What the hell?”
Obviously, take me to bed isn’t going to go down well, in this situation. So instead, Clark goes with, “The purple kryptonite, it makes me-- everything that comes into my head, I do it. I don’t even think about it, or question it, I just… do it.” He looks down at the little shard. “Sorry.”
He hopes Bruce doesn’t think too deeply into why Clark was thinking of kissing him in the first place, but he knows it’s a fat chance. Bruce re-thinks and overthinks and underthinks and side-thinks everything.
Bruce kneels to pick up the glittering purple gemstone. “Damn,” he says. “That could be dangerous.”
“Yeah,” says Clark, a little bitterly. “Super dangerous. Like right now, I really wanna go take a nap, and without my inhibitions, there’s nothing stopping me from carrying out my evil plan.”
Bruce frowns. “That’s not-- “
“Save it,” Clark slides off the exam table, and picks up his cape. “Good night, Bruce.”
<SUPERMAN VS. ULYSSES>
It’s a slugfest, and Clark is losing.
The offworlder with the long blond hair is drawing energy from the earth’s core. He’s meeting Clark punch for punch, slogged in the downpour. Clark’s cape is heavy with mud, and there’s blood in his eyes, which doesn’t happen often. He recovers from the last hit, and surges into Ulysses’ ribcage, taking him down hard in the dirt. Ulysses isn’t even slowed, though-- he shoves Clark off, hard, with a burst of bright blue energy.
Clark hits the ground and slides for what feels like miles. He just lays there for a moment, breathing heavy, and then staggers up again-- just in time for Ulysses to power into him in a cone of energy. They slam back through the air, Ulysses a pile driver in Clark’s stomach.
They hit a rock. A big one.
There’s an inch of space between them, and Clark uses it to come out swinging, blind punches that connect without any real effect. They keep Ulysses back for now, and that’s the aim of this whole exercise-- keep Ulysses away from the six million people in Metropolis. He shoves Ulysses away hard, and backs up, regrouping. This is harder than it should be. Maybe Clark should call backup.
But Ulysses is already powering up for another hit, and Clark’s comm is tucked away in his suit. So there’s only time for him to fall to his knees, bracing, and yell to the only person who will hear, “DIANA!”
The heat of super-vision bubbles behind his eyes, a molten burn. Clark turns his gaze on Ulysses, the heat still building, and building. And the second Ulysses unleashes his blue-white energy--
Clark lets go.
Everything is fire and light, blinding and all-encompassing. Then, everything is black.
Clark comes to slowly, like he’s surfacing from deep within the water. His body feels strangely empty, like he’s been scooped out and left as a hollow husk. His skin hurts, like it’s been seared raw, but when he lifts a hand in front of his face, everything looks fine, apart from the monitor patches and wires stuck to him.
He starts to sit up, but big hands push him back down. Clark’s vision swims, still tingly-warm. His eyes land on Bruce’s face. The other man is standing over him, tablet in-hand that no doubt has all of Clark’s vitals and other intrusive information on it. “Stay down,” Bruce rumbles, and there’s something strange in his voice.
Clark obeys, watching Bruce as he shuffles around, adjusting Clark’s wires. “What happened?” he asks.
“It seems you discovered a new superpower.”
That’s not what Clark was expecting to hear. He remembers a lot of punches and a lot of hot-bright energy, but not any sort of ingenuity on his part. “Really? What is it?”
Bruce hmms, like he doesn when he’s thinking about something. “I’m calling it the super flare in all my notes. But since it exploded out of your body, feel free to rename it.”
He hands his tablet to Clark. There’s a satellite video running on it. Clark sees the tiny forms of him and the blond Ulysses duking it out on the ground. There’s the intermittent flash of white-blue. Clark sees them go flying, sees them hit the rock. He knows right about now he yelled for Diana, but there’s no audio on this. So it comes as a complete surprise when, out of nowhere, he just-- explodes. The screen goes white.
Clark looks up at Bruce. “What the hell?”
“Yeah,” Bruce says, taking the tablet back from him. “From the tests I’ve done, it appears you blasted all the solar energy out of your body at once. It took out Ulysses, alright. But it also took you down pretty hard. We’re lucky you called for Diana when you did. She got there just as you went down.” His eyes meet Clark’s, dark and intense. “If she hadn’t, God knows who could have gotten to you.”
“Great. Remind me to thank her.” Clark tries to sit up again, but Bruce pushes him back. Clark tries to resist, but Bruce actually shoves him down. Clark frowns in confusion. He tries again, and Bruce pushes him back again. “Bruce,” Clark says. “Have you also discovered a new super power?”
Bruce smirks. “No. You just drained all of yours.”
Gone. Gone. Clark… Clark could die right now. He’s human. Well, he’s an alien, but. Mortal. He laughs, happy and honest and unexpected. Bruce shoots him a look. “Okay,” Clark says, still grinning too big for his face. He probably looks like a dope. “Okay, but this table is really uncomfortable, so I’m gonna-- “
He swings his legs over the edge of the table, puts his feet down, tries to stand up, and crumples. He’s laughing when he hits the floor, head bent against the edge of the table. Bruce abandons the tablet and crouches in front of him, focused on Clark, and Clark’s not even Superman right now, not even close, and still he’s got all of the Batman’s attention. “I can’t-- “ Clark has to stop, to laugh. “I can’t walk.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Bruce says flatly, but there might be a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Clark wants to touch it, but his arms don’t work. Also, he likes his arms attached to his body. “Where are you thinking of going, exactly?”
“Upstairs,” Clark says. “Where there’s a bed that’s not made of metal.”
Bruce huffs out a fond little laugh. “Fair enough,” he concedes. Then he detaches all the wires and picks Clark up, one arm under his knees and one around his back. Clark is, now he thinks to look, dressed in a pair of the sweatpants that Bruce keeps in the cave for post-misison changes. Bruce himself is in a full sweatsuit, and it’s just as warm as it looks. His hands are like brands on Clark’s skin.
They see no one on the way upstairs, though Clark thinks he spots a flash of Barry out of the corner of his eye when they pass the kitchen. Bruce keeps the whole third floor to himself, and the rest of them have rooms on the second, but Bruce carries Clark right past his room, and up another flight of stairs. Clark opens his mouth to ask, but Bruce just says, “Not right now.”
Bruce’s bed is massive, and unslept-in. He moves back the sheets with his foot and deposits Clark on the pillows. Clark is poised to ask why, again, but then Bruce is sliding into bed next to him, and the question dies in his throat. He expects maybe this is a constant vigilance, watch-the-patient situation, but then Bruce moves closer and snags his fingers in Clark’s curls and says, “Clark.”
“What are you-- “
“Just,” Bruce starts, and stops. “Just, be quiet. Talk in the morning, alright?”
“Sure,” Clark says, dumbly. Bruce surges closer to him, but there’s no intent behind it, which is good, because Clark’s too beat to get excited, Clark’s too beat to do anything but melt into his arms. Bruce wraps him up tight, and drags a kiss across his forehead, and Clark’s still too hot, but it’s-- good. It’s good.
In the morning, Bruce had said, but Clark wakes up alone.
He drifts downstairs, feet a barely an inch off the floor, but Diana’s the only one in the kitchen. She gives him a tired smile, and a cup of coffee. Clark makes eggs for the both of them, a whole carton, and Diana tells him about this painting she’s restoring, Prometheus-something. While they eat, there’s a lull in the conversation, and then Diana says, “He was a wreck, you know.”
Clark shoots her a questioning look. She raises a single, immaculate eyebrow. “Bruce,” she elucidates. “When I brought you back, after the flare. I think he was reliving Doomsday.” She pauses, and scoops up another forkful of eggs. “He was in worse shape than you were, and you were half-dead.”
But through the rest of the day, and the rest of the week, Bruce doesn’t seem in any worse shape than usual. He’s back to his normal, distant self, and Clark lies wide awake in bed and he can still feel the ghost of his warm hands on his body.
<SUPERMAN VS. BRAINIAC>
Clark finds John Jones waiting for him by the fireplace.
He didn’t summon him, but John knew to come anyways, and Clark is grateful. Martian Manhunter never bothers shapeshifting in the lakehouse. He doesn’t sleep here-- as Clark understands it, he still likes to spend most of his time in the astral plane-- but he looks comfortable in a large dressing robe, green skin and red eyes and seven-foot height less menacing in the flickering light from the fire.
John offers Clark a choco cookie. Clark declines, and John bites into one. “So,” he begins, mouth full. “Once again, you find yourself the last of your kind.” There’s no pity in his voice, only understanding, solid and true. “How are you faring, my friend?”
Clark grins mirthlessly at the fire. “I thought I was done with this kind of hurting,” he says. The kind of hurt that’s like a punch to your heart and then a vast, barren emptiness. “After I-- after Zod, I thought. But…”
“Zod wasn’t a whole city of Kryptonians,” John finishes, for him.
A whole city, Kandor, miniaturized and in Clark’s hands. He could’ve saved them. He should’ve saved them. He was so close to saving them, but then Brainiac, and the team, and he couldn’t-- and shards of glass and rubble in his hands, light as ash. A whole city, blowing away in the breeze.
“Yeah,” Clark says, throat dry. “Also, Zod was trying to destroy the planet. So that took the edge off.”
John rumbles an alien-sounding laugh. Clark joins in, wrung out. Clark feels very alien in that moment, sharing a bad joke with the last living martian. Their laughter tapers off, to silence punctuated only by the crackling of the fire. The rest of the team, Clark knows, are giving him a wide berth, except for Alfred, who tried to make him tea earlier. Later, he’ll feel bad about snapping at the old man, but the rest of them have got the right idea. Arthur’s in the lake and Barry is up doing homework and Bruce is… lurking, probably.
“I cannot tell you that it gets any easier,” John says. Clark tenses. “It does not. But you do grow accustomed to being the last of your kind. To the solitary existence of a sole survivor.”
Clark swallows. He feels sick. “I-- thanks.”
He stands abruptly, without having decided to do so. John watches him quizzically. “Cookie?” he asks, and Clark vaguely hears himself saying, No, thanks, I just have to--
And then he’s stumbling out onto the lawn, the night air crisp and cool against his feverish skin, and he powers out towards the treeline, away from the sleek lines of the lakehouse, and falls to his knees in the damp grass, and screams. There are no words, he just-- he just screams, because he wants to get this feeling away from his body, or he wants everyone else to feel it too, or something. Something, other than this.
He screams until his lungs hurt, and then falls forward on his hands. The dirt is moist and he makes his hands into fists and it gets under his fingernails, and he wants to sink into it, sink back into the earth, where he should’ve stayed. This isn’t his world. This world never wanted him, and Clark… Clark…
God, he wants to go back to Kansas, back to his farmhouse, and his mom’s apple pie and his dad’s truck. He wishes he could revert to his childhood, when the biggest problem he had was that none of the other kids at school could fly. He wants all this weight off his shoulders.
Distantly, he hears the same door he crashed out of slide open. He broke the glass on his way out, but someone still takes the time to slide it open, carefully. Someone walks up behind him, and just stands there, not saying anything for a long minute. Bruce.
“Sorry about the door,” Clark says, hoarse.
“I’ll send you a bill,” Bruce answers easily. It startles a laugh out of Clark.
They stay there in companionable stasis for a few minutes, Bruce just standing with his hands in the pockets of his slacks, Clark still on his hands and knees in the grass. Clark’s breathing evens out, and he sits back. He’s getting his pants wet, but he doesn’t care. That’s bad-- people are supposed to care about that sort of thing, aren’t they? The details, Alfred had said. Clark should care about the details.
“Did it help?” Bruce asks. “The yelling.”
Clark glances up at him. “Hypocrite,” he says. Bruce is the master of unhealthy, ineffective coping mechanisms. Bruce raises his eyebrows. “No,” Clark admits. “It didn’t help. Congrats, you’re right.”
Bruce doesn’t seem smug, though. He folds down into the grass next to Clark. He’s barefoot, hair wet, like he just got out of the shower. There’s a nick from a razor on his chin-- maybe Clark startled him, with the unhinged breakdown. He probably startled everyone in a hundred mile radius.
Bruce doesn’t seem rattled, though. Bruce never seems rattled. Clark probably looks like a real mess, sitting next to him. They’re quiet for a while, but Clark’s never been good at silences. He feels the need to fill them. “I was happy,” he says, without prompting. Bruce doesn’t look at him, but it’s not cold, it’s-- to let Clark have that little bit of dignity. “I was getting the shit kicked out of me by Brainiac, but I had that city, and I thought… I don’t know. I guess, that I wasn’t going to be alone anymore.”
He winces as he says it, as he feels Bruce look over at him. “Clark,” Bruce says.
Clark shakes his head. “Clark,” Bruce says again, and it’s not-- Diana calls him Kal, and Arthur calls him Man of Steel and John calls him my friend, but it’s a terrible sort of cameraderie. Bruce just says, “Clark,” and reaches out to nudge Clark’s shoulder.
Clark looks over. Bruce meets his gaze, steady and serious, and Clark wants to fold into him. “What the hell gave you the idea that you’re alone?”
“I don’t know,” Clark says, honestly.
Ever since he woke up in that box and fought his way through the earth back to sunlight, it feels like everything he tries to connect with is a specter. All the little things that used to touch him just-- slip off his skin like smoke, billow away in the open air. The only thing that makes him feel grounded is…
“Well, you’re not alone,” Bruce states bluntly. “In case that needs saying.”
Bruce. Bruce, who would find a way to kill him if it really needed to be done. Bruce, who doesn’t so much as bat an eye when Clark literally explodes, just checks his vitals and casually makes note. Bruce, who carries the Superman upstairs and tucks him into bed like a normal human, because he was, and it didn’t matter.
“Thanks,” says Clark. “I… thanks, Bruce.”
Bruce hasn’t looked away, in all this time. Clark feels, vaguely, like he should be embarassed about that loud episode he just had, but he can’t bring himself to focus on it, not when Bruce’s hand is sliding around the back of his neck, in his too-long curls. Snagging, just like that night after Ulysses. Bruce tugs, and Clark stays sitting stiff-backed, not sure what’s happening, here.
“Come here, you idiot,” Bruce smiles, and he looks fond.
Fond. Of Clark, an absolute trainwreck of an alien. So he tugs again, and what can Clark do but go with him, let Bruce pull him in close and wrap those arms around him and press a kiss to his forehead, his cheeks, his chin. His lips skim upwards, and he smells like shaving cream and blood. Clark surges forward and slams into his mouth, and Bruce falls back into the grass, smiling against Clark’s lips.
He rolls them over, and Clark lets him. His weight is heavy between Clark’s legs, and Clark must seem overeager, to someone as suave and put together as billionaire businessman Bruce Wayne, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care, not as long as Bruce is holding Clark’s head in his hands and opening his lips, tilting his head to get closer, closer, closer.
Clark’s heels dig into the earth, and Bruce presses down, warm and solid.
He’s not a city. But he’s something small to live for.