Clark looks over the accounts once more, pushing his hair back from his eyes. It's been a long day, and he’s tired. He frowns at the pages.
“It doesn't make any sense,” he says again, for what must be the fifth or sixth time in that hour. “There's no way they can be making such sizeable profits in such short amounts of time.”
Bruce hands him another page. It's some kind of spreadsheet, he realises. He wills his strained eyes to read through the data. It’s late in the night, and this is Bruce’s and his fifth hour of going through the books of a new cartel that had emerged in the Narrows. Bruce doesn't usually ask for his help. Actually, make a correction to that. Never. He never asks for Clark's help. But today he had received a terse text, and all it had said was: Batcave. 7pm sharp. Need help on case .
He’d been at the Daily Planet when he’d seen the message. It had made him put his cup of coffee down.
Clark had stared at the message on his phone for too long. So long that Lois had tapped sharply on his desk with her pen.
He looked up.
“You're not watching those cat videos on your phone again, are you, Smallville?” She said, an amused look on her face.
“I never watch cat videos.” Clark had said.
Lois snorted. “Right.” She said, and went back to work.
Lois. Lois knew he sometimes watched cat videos at work because she'd seen him do it once, near the water cooler. She'd laughed when she saw him blush, her eyes bright and her smile quick and easy and simple. Everything had been so simple. That had been three days before she'd made him go out for dinner with her. Two months before she invited him back to her apartment. Three months before he had accepted the invitation. A year before he could look her in the eye and be brave enough to tell her who he really was. What he really was.
Five years before she'd looked at him like that, that way she looked when her eyes went bright and soft and and sharp all at once.
“Smallville,” she had said. She had been crying, he remembered. He had longed to wipe the tears off her face. To touch her. He didn't do it; his hands were useless, clenched fists at his side. He knew what she was going to say.
“Clark.” She had said. “I don't think this is going to work anymore.”
“Clark.” Bruce looks distinctly impatient, snapping Clark out of his thoughts.
“Bruce, this is a 300% profit. In two weeks. That's not– that's just not possible.” he says.
“It is, with a particularly efficient business model.” Bruce says. He's wearing a slightly rumpled shirt. A vest over it. The first two buttons of his shirt are undone, and Clark tries not to look at the small triangle of exposed skin there, just below the hollow at the base of his throat.
“They're money laundering. Or embezzling funds. Bruce, there's no other explanation. You can't make that kind of money that fast unless you're selling some form unadulterated, concentrated heroine that also cures cancer or something."
Bruce looks at him in that way that he does when he thinks Clark is saying something stupid. Clark's used to that look. It's pretty much ineffective on him now.
“I asked you to come here so you could help out, not make up conspiracy theories about wonder drugs.” He says, his voice flat. “Here, look at this.” He hands him another sheaf of papers. More spreadsheets.
They look through the books for another hour or so, emerging on the other side of it with no more answers than they had originally. Clark rubs at his eyes, trying to scrub away the exhaustion that he feels so often, these days.
Bruce pushes the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows, looking at another printout. His eyes are red rimmed; Clark wonders how much sleep he's got in the last week.
“Bruce,” he says, “Let's take a break. This stuff isn't going anywhere.”
Bruce raises an eyebrow, not looking up from the papers. “Tomorrow that profit margin is going to be five percent more than it was today. You're right when you say the problem isn't going anywhere. If we don't do anything about it, it's going to be here to stay.”
“You can't do anything about it if you black out due to sleep deprivation.” Clark says, pushing away the papers to one side of the desk. His hand brushes against Bruce's, and pauses there.
Bruce looks up at him.
He pulls it back quickly. “Just take a break.” He says. “Fifteen minutes. It won't kill you.”
“Fine.” Bruce says, after a while. “Fifteen minutes. Not more than that.”
“Good.” Clark says. “I'm gonna take a walk, stretch my legs a little. I can go up to the kitchens. Make myself a cup of coffee. You want a cup?”
Bruce just grunts, an abstracted expression on his face while he looks at the papers.
Clark assumes it's a yes.
“You're supposed to be taking a break too, you know.” He calls out as he leaves the console room of the 'cave.
Bruce just grunts again. Clark shrugs.
In the kitchens upstairs, Clark finds the kids huddled around the kitchen table, nursing cups of hot chocolate. Tim's looks like coffee, though. Dick is holding a bag of frozen peas to one of his eyes. Stephanie's head is flat against the table, her eyes closed. They all look bruised and tired.
“Rough night on Patrol?” Clark says, heading to the coffeemaker.
Stephanie makes a weary, affirmative sound.
“Dick almost got run over by some mob guy's truck.” Tim says.
Clark shoots Dick a concerned look, but Dick just shrugs, smiling tiredly. “I'm okay. Dami was real shaken up about it, though. I should go check up on him.”
“Where is he?”
“Sulking. In his room.” Tim says.
“That's too bad.” Clark says sympathetically. He looks at Tim. “You want a fresh cup?”
Tim nods eagerly.
Steph snorts out a laugh. Her head is still flat against the table, cushioned by her arms, so her voice is a little muffled when she says, “Careful, Clark. You're enabling his drug habit.”
“Yeah yeah.” Tim says, apparently too tired to argue tonight.
Clark laughs, and turns back to the coffee maker. The next few minutes are passed in a companionable silence, while Clark tries to figure out the large strainless steel monstrosity that is Bruce's coffeemaker.
“Veronica Winters.” Stephanie says after a while. They're talking softly, amongst themselves, but Clark can't help but listen in. Super hearing, and all that.
“Who?” Tim says.
“She's the weather lady on channel six. Pretty sure the last name is made up for the air, but she's super hot.”
“Hold on,” Dick says, typing on his phone. “I'm looking her up.”
“Oh wow.” He says.
Stephanie laughs. “Yeah.” She says.
“Think you can get in contact with her?” Tim says.
“Do I think so, Tim? Is water wet? Do birds fly?” Steph says, lifting her head off the counter. “I'll just call from Bruce's office. Say it's official business that Wayne Enterprises wants to do with Channel six. No TV channel in their right mind would hang up on Bruce Wayne.”
Clark hands Tim a cup of coffee.
“What are we talking about?” He says, good-naturedly.
“We're trying to find women for Bruce to go out with.” Stephanie says.
Clark doesn't drop his cup, but it's a very close thing.
“What?” He says.
“It's sort of become a bet.” Tim says sheepishly. “There's quite a bit of money involved.”
“And my motorcycle.” Stephanie adds.
“And Steph's motorcycle.” Tim says.
“What?” Clark says again. He doesn't understand.
“The thing is, Bruce is starting to grate on our nerves, okay?” Stephanie says. “I mean, we love him and all, but do you know how he spent Valentine’s day, Clark?”
Clark blinks. “I suppose I'm about to find out.”
“He looked at traffic footage in the batcave, in his sweats.”
“Oh,” Clark says. Even for him, a recently dumped man, that does seem a bit– well, sad.
“Yeah!” Steph says, throwing her arms up dramatically. “And I was all like, “B, do you have a date?” And he was all like, “Crime doesn't stop for romance” and I pointed out that there was absolutely no,” here she makes dramatic finger quotes, “Crime that night, and the only thing he was looking at was traffic footage, so what did he want to do? Arrest someone with too many parking tickets? And then he was all like, “Stephanie, justice does not–””
“I think he gets it Steph,” Dick says, grinning.
“Right. So anyway, long story short, we all decided that the first of us to get him to go out on a date with someone of our choice would get aforementioned huge sum of cash and also get to use my bike for a month. It's a custom Harley. Purple paint job. Top specs. Oh, and if I win, I get to use Jason’s bike.” She says, grinning.
“Jason's in on it too,” Clark says, surprised. Jason keeps to himself. Doesn’t talk to the family much. Especially not to Bruce. Not since his return.
“Everyone's in on it.” Steph says, grinning. “Jason, Damian, Kate, Cass. All of us. The rules are that you've got to pick the date and make the reservations for the restaurant. And hope that Bruce agrees.”
“Wanna add to the pool?” Dick says. “We wouldn't mind some higher stakes. It's somewhere around a hundred and fifty dollars, right now. Damian hiked it up after he had a thirty minute phone call with his mom, trying to convince her to come to Gotham and hang out with Bruce for a few days. Talia said she'd think about it.”
“Which obviously means no, but he's too young to know that.” Tim says, grinning. “Idiot.”
Dick smacks him on his head. “Be nice, Timmy. He's your brother.” He turns to Clark. “So what do you say? Got any bets you wanna make?”
“No thanks,” Clark says, laughing a laugh that doesn't quite reach his eyes. They don't notice, though. “Well. Best of luck. I should go back to the cave.”
“Bye Clark!” Dick yells as he leaves the kitchen. Tim waves.
Clark walks out of the kitchen and into the hallway, where he leans heavily against the wall and closes his eyes.
This is stupid. It's– it's immature and selfish of him to feel this way. Like a child who's not been allowed to play with a toy and won't let the other children play either.
He thinks of that warm summer evening on Kent farm all those years ago. Of the smell of machine oil and honeysuckle. Of Bruce's parted lips and the feel of him, of his solid frame and warm skin under his thin shirt.
He closes his eyes again, and pointedly stops thinking about that day. It's stupid to, at any rate. Like wishing on stars and hoping to get lucky. His headache is getting worse.
It's just stupid.
He heads back to the cave and thunks down the coffee cup on Bruce's worktable.
“For you.” He says, a little shortly.
Bruce looks up. “Where’s yours?” He says.
“I. . . forgot.” Clark realises. “It's fine. Coffee doesn't work on me anyway. I just like the taste.”
Bruce makes a derisive noise. “You mean the taste of sugar and milk. What you drink can't be called coffee.”
“I guess not.” Clark says. He's quiet.
They work in silence. Clark tries let his mind go blank, to focus just on the data in front of him, the variables and numbers.
“Alright,” Bruce says, after about half an hour. “What's wrong?”
Clark sighs. “Nothing. I'm just. Just tired, is all.”
“Okay.” Bruce says, although clearly he doesn't believe Clark at all. “Go home. Get some sleep. I'll finish these up myself.”
“I can't– I can't do that Bruce. Come on.” Not when Bruce distinctly asked him for his help. Clark could count on one finger the number of times that's happened.
“You can, and you will.” Bruce says, looking back at the data on the monitor. “Go home to your girlfriend and your warm bed and get some sleep.”
Clark breathes out. “About that, Bruce.”
“I– we, uh– that is to say, Lois and I– we're not together anymore. She moved out last week.”
Bruce looks at him.
“It was a mutual decision.” Clark lies. He wonders if Bruce can tell. He probably can.
“I'm sorry.” Bruce says slowly. His face is impassive as ever.
“It's okay.” Clark says. He nods, rising to his feet. “Right. Well. I'll see you. The watchtower briefing on Tuesday, right?”
“Yes.” Bruce says, low. He's looking at Clark unflinchingly, his eyes impossibly gray. He looks almost– almost sad. Or possibly it could just be a trick of the shadows. There's a lot of those, down at the ‘cave.
Clark smiles tightly and leaves before he can say something stupid and fuck up the one good friendship he has, his heart thudding all too fast.
He can feel Bruce’s eyes on him as he goes.
The next few weeks are the strangest of Clark's life. And Clark's an alien superhero from an extinct race. He's seen some pretty strange things.
Dick walks in one day when they're looking over some video footage of one of the cartel members assaulting another man.
“Hey,” he says cheerily. “Are you guys doing case work?”
“What does it look like?” Bruce says dryly.
“Alright, no need to be so touchy,” Dick says, grinning.
“What is it.” Bruce.
“I found something interesting.” Dick says. He hands him a thin folder.
Bruce flips it open. “This is a mugshot.” He says, his face blank.
“Of a woman.” Dick adds helpfully.
“A mugshot of a woman.” Bruce says.
“Dick,” Bruce says, looking up at him. “What am I supposed to do with this.”
Dick sighs. “Don't you think she's pretty?”
“I fail to see how that is relevant. Is she a suspect in some case you're involved in?”
“No. Well, she was, but her alibi checks out.” A pause. “Mostly. Anyway, I had to interrogate her down at the precinct in Bludhaven, and apparently she likes shrimp curry. So do you. I could get you some pretty good reservations at that Thai place downtown that you like.” Dick grins.
“Dick.” Bruce says. He sounds very resigned. “You used your powers as a police officer to extract information from a suspect in an active investigation about her favourite cuisine.”
Clark clears his throat awkwardly.
“And she likes spending time with her dogs.” Dick says weakly. “Doesn't that sound nice?”
“I don't like dogs.” Bruce says, turning back to the monitors, his eyes back on the video footage.
“What are you talking about, you've got two.” Dick says.
“Doesn't mean I like them.” Bruce says, “Dick. This whole bet thing needs to stop.”
Clark stares. “Wait, you know about this?”
“Of course I know.” Bruce mutters, not taking his eyes off the screen. “My children are nothing if not incredibly bad at hiding secrets from me.” He looks at the mugshot in hand. “Exhibit A.” He says.
“But–” Dick protests.
“No.” Bruce says, and that's the end of that.
Except, the very next week, there's a fire in Gotham, and Bruce calls for help. Again.
But this time he doesn't text.
Clark hears him, of course. Hears him all the way from across the bay in Gotham, all the way to his apartment in Metropolis.
Clark does drop his cup of coffee, this time.
By the time he reaches the burning building, Bruce is stumbling out of it, past a crumbling beam, holding something in his arms. His cape is torn and smouldering. Clark peers at the small thing in his arms, and then inhales sharply.
“No time. I’m going back to the cave. Upstairs. Third floor.” Bruce says. He hauls his son further up in his arms.
Clark nods once, using his X ray vision, seeing what he needs to see. There's a little girl and her mother sitting in a bathtub full of water. The girl is crying, and her mom is trying hard not to.
Clark flies up, and goes in through the window, through the flames. He breaks through the bathroom door.
“Hi there,” he smiles, leaning down, to the bathtub. The girl's eyes widen in surprise.
“Superman?” The mother says.
“At your service.” Clark smiles. “Filling the bathtub up with water and sitting in it? That was quick thinking.”
“My mom's a scientist.” The girl whispers, looking at him with awe. “It was her idea.”
Clark looks through the wall that's opposite the bathtub, checking for beams or supporting structures. Thankfully, he finds none. The structure will stand even if this wall breaks.
“What kind of scientist?” He says conversationally.
“Particle physics.” The girl says, enunciating both words carefully, like she's no doubt been been taught to do.
Clark whistles, impressed. “That's incredible.” He says.
“Thank you,” The girl's mom says, her voice breathless, like she can hardly believe what's happening.
He punches through the brick wall. The mother gasps.
“Don't worry about it, ma'am. You can't go out through the window in the hall where I came from, is all. Too much smoke and fire from that side. Just finding you folks another way.” He smiles again. Smiling is good. Smiling keeps everyone calm, even when they're watching too-powerful aliens break down the walls of their house through smoke and flames.
He takes the little girl in his arms. “Hold on tight.” He says, and they shoot through the hole in the building that he made.
“What about mama?” She says, her face starting to crumple.
"What's your name?" Clark asks.
"Lucy," the girl says, sniffling.
“Lucy, I'll be back with her faster than you can say bathtub.” He says, and she giggles.
“Go on,” he smiles, even as he lands back on the ground gently, letting her down. “Try it.”
The girl watches, craning her neck up, as Superman flies into the building once again. Already, she can see him coming back out, her mother in his arms.
“Bathtub,” she says, grinning.
By the time Clark finally gets everyone out the building, it's late into the hours of the night. He makes his way to the Batcave, going through the tunnels.
“Is he okay?” He says quietly, when he reaches the medbay.
Bruce has changed into a worn, gray t-shirt and sweats. He's sitting on the stretcher in the medbay, Damian's head on his lap. He looks up when Clark approaches, and then looks back down at Damian, pushing a stray strand of hair back from his small, sleeping face.
“Smoke inhalation. Passed out, but he's stable now. He'll be fine.” Bruce says.
Clark sits in one of the chairs near the bed. “Let me guess,” he says. “He went in there to try to rescue a cat.”
The side of Bruce's mouth quirks up in a tired smile. He doesn't look up, through. Keeps looking at his son's face, like maybe if he blinks it'll be gone.
“A dog. But close enough.” He says.
Clark tilts his head. It hasn't left his mind that Bruce was the one to call for his help. Even in situations like these, it was usually one of the kids who did it. It wasn't like Bruce to swallow his stupid pride, this way.
“You holding up okay?” He asks.
“Yes, you.” He says.
Bruce is still looking at Damian, tracing his brow with an idle finger. “I'm fine.” he says, absently.
Clark waits. Years of experience have taught Clark how to read Bruce like an open book.
“He almost died, today.” Bruce says, his voice low.
“I know.” Clark says.
“Tell me I'm doing the right thing, Clark.” Bruce says, and if Clark didn't know him better, it would almost sound like he was pleading. “Tell me this isn’t something a monster does, making children run into burning buildings for their cause.”
A silence. Clark wants so desperately to touch him. To pull him into his arms and tell him that it will be alright.
“You're not a monster.” he says. “And have you ever doubted that if you tried to stop Damian from going on patrol with you, that he'd just go without your permission anyway?”
“Bruce, you know he would. You're keeping him safer, this way.”
Bruce nods, looking down at Damian's sleeping face. It's serene in a way that it usually isn't when he's awake. “I hope so.” He says, after a bit. “I really do.”
Clark tells him he'll look over the cartel files some more while Bruce sits with Damian in the medbay. Not more than half an hour passes after their conversation when Clark, while looking through endless streams of data coming at him through Bruce's monitors, hears the first sounds of Damian waking.
“Father?” His ears pick up the soft whisper even through the multiple walls of stone and steel.
“Hmm.” He hears Bruce say. Imagines him sitting there, on the stretcher, Damian's head still on his lap, a soft look in his eyes.
“Dog's okay?” Damian slurs, still half asleep.
“Yes. His owner told me to say thank you to you.”
“Hmm.” Damian says, but he sounds pleased. “Who got the rest of the people out?”
“I called Clark.” Bruce says.
“Really?” Damian says.
“Don't sound so surprised. It's okay to ask for help sometimes, Damian. I think it's something that the two of us, especially, should keep in mind.” Bruce says. He sounds stern.
“Fa-ther.” Damian protests. “Come on. Don't tell me you wouldn't have gone into that building if you had seen someone in there.”
“Hrn.” Bruce says. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
“You're not even trying to hide your hypocrisy.” Damian says crossly.
“No I'm not.” Bruce says. “Now close your eyes and go back to sleep. No more speaking. Your lungs need rest.”
“Tt.” Damian says.
There is a silence for the next fifteen minutes. Clark goes back to his work.
“Father?” He hears Damian say again, after a bit.
“If I–” a pause as Damian breaks off to cough. “If I called Mother, would you consider talking to her a little?”
“Damian,” Bruce says, his voice an endearing mix of frustrated and amused, “is this about that bet?”
“I just– I just want to see you and Mother back together again.” Damian says, his voice small. He coughs again.
There's a strange sound that comes from the room, and all of a sudden Clark realises Bruce is laughing. Laughing.
“Damian,” he hears him say, “If you think I buy your whole act even for a second, you're a fool. And stop coughing on purpose, it's painstakingly obvious.”
“Father.” Damian says.
Bruce just laughs some more.
“Tt. The first cough was real, for your information.”
“Alright, Damian,” Bruce says, although it sounds a lot like he's just humoring him. Clark can hear the smile in his voice.
“And there's quite a lot of money in it, now. And Brown's bike.” Damian says.
“You don't have a driver's license.”
“I learned how to pilot a helicopter at age nine, Father.”
“Good for you. Doesn't change the fact that you're not sixteen.”
Damian huffs out a dramatic sigh. “You are,” he declares, “as Drake calls it, a buzzkill.”
Bruce just snorts. “Go to sleep, Damian. Your Mother and I talk precisely as much as we need to.”
“Tt. Fine.” Damian says.
Five minutes later, he hears Bruce speak from the other room, his voice still quiet.
“Clark, I know you're grinning. Stop it.”
Clark doesn't stop.
The next month proceeds in much of the same, strange fashion.
Clark is in the watchtower breakroom one day, eating his lunch, when Diana comes up to him and sits down on the chair opposite his. He looks up.
“Clark,” she says.
“Yeah?” He says, putting his ham and cheese sandwich down.
“Have you seen Bruce anywhere?” She says, frowning slightly.
“Uhh, I think he left like fifteen minutes back. He had some business in Gotham. Why?” he says, taking a bite out of his sandwich.
“I received this. . . strange email from one of his children.” she says, gesturing to her phone.
“Which one?” Clark says.
“Timothy. It's– well. It's a little hard to explain.”
“Tim sent you an email?”
“Yes. It is– I believe it's called a PowerPoint presentation?”
Clark frowns. That's weird. He takes another bite out of his sandwich. “What's it about?”
Clark chokes on his sandwich.
“Clark! Are you alright?” She says, hitting his back a shade too hard.
“I'm– I'm okay.” Clark says, coughing. “I'm sorry, did you say you got a PowerPoint about Bruce?”
“Yes. More precisely, the pros and cons of pursuing a romantic relationship with him.” Diana says, looking at her phone, her perfect brow scrunched up in confusion.
Clark leans over to look at the PowerPoint slides. “Oh wow.” He says. “There's pie charts and statistics and everything.”
“He certainly was very dedicated.” Diana agrees. “Look, here's a infographic about Bruce's top three interests.”
“All three of them say Justice.” Clark says, dryly.
Diana laughs. “I like Timothy. He is funny.”
Clark stares. “Is that a graph of the longevity of his relationships with women versus said woman's hair colour?”
Diana whistles. “He seems to like brunettes. That is one steep slope.”
Clark looks at her.
Diana shrugs. “What? We studied Cartesian geometry in Themyscira too, you know.”
Clark just shakes his head, and stares at the PowerPoint some more.
“Is that. . . a bar graph of his net worth versus Matthew Mcconaughey’s?”
“Hera,” Diana says. “That's a big bar.”
Clark clears his throat, going pink, and Diana smiles, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“No need to take any of this so seriously, Clark. I have a boyfriend. Besides, I'm not blind, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Clark says.
Diana just smiles again. “Let us just say, there aren't enough PowerPoints in the world to make me break my best friend's heart.” She says, clapping Clark's shoulder.
“Uh. Okay.” Clark says. He eats some more of his sandwich. His heart is pounding. Is he really that obvious?
Diana’s smile flickers a little. “What does it mean when all three of this Matthew Mcconaughey’s interests say only the word Alright? I do not understand.”
Clark chokes on his sandwich again, but this time it's because he's laughing too hard.
The very next day, while he's walking home from the daily planet building, it starts to rain slightly, and the cold and wet makes Clark pull his coat closer to himself. A purely learned reflex. He can't actually feel the cold. At least, not enough to bother him. Still, pulling his coat closer to himself makes him feel strangely better. He knows it's stupid, but it makes him feel more. . . human.
A young man in a leather jacket casually starts walking alongside him, matching his stride.
Clark looks at him, startled. “What are you doing here?” He says.
“In Metropolis? I had business here.” The young man says.
Clark looks at him sharply. “Nothing too crazy, I hope.” He says.
The man grins, quick and sharp, like the edge of a razor. “You know me, uncle Clark. I never get into any trouble.”
“Right.” Clark says, shaking his head. Uncle Clark. That sends a twinge through his chest. Not even Dick calls him that anymore. They all grew up, all had a chance to grow out of it. All of them, except Jason.
“Anyway, what's the matter?” Clark says.
Jason takes a small, half-crumpled piece of paper out of his jacket pocket, and hands it to Clark. “The cartel guys. I found out what they're putting in the heroin that's making it sell so quick. Maybe you can synthesize a compound to nullify its effects, or something. I dunno.”
Clark looks at the piece of paper. There's a phone number written on it.
“A guy I know looked over a couple samples for me. He's the best at this stuff that I know. Call him.”
Clark looks up. “Jason, we've been having trouble with this case for months.”
Jason smirks. “I know.” He says. “Dick told me. So I tracked a few people down, did some digging of my own. Figured that you guys needed all the help you could get.”
“Thank you,” Clark says, sincerely.
Jason shrugs with one shoulder. There's something closed off in his face. Like there's been for so long now. “No problem.” He says. He turns around and starts to walk away.
“Wait, Jason.” Clark calls out.
Clark scratches his neck. “I'm no good at this, but I know that Bruce– he, he misses you. Maybe you could go over to the manor sometime.”
Jason tilts his head. He smiles a little. It's not a mean smile or anything.
“I'm trying to get Angelina Jolie's phone number.” He says.
Clark blinks. “What?”
“Angelina Jolie. She's not married anymore, did you hear? One minute you're a fifteen year old kid – dead in the ground, and Brad and Angie are living it up with their eighteen kids or whatever and the next, you're suddenly nineteen and alive and now she's divorced and you're in on a bet to get your da– to get Bruce a girlfriend.”
Clark frowns. “I don't really see where you're going with this.”
Jason shoves his hands in his pockets casually. “Steph's bike is way better than mine, let's face it. And you've got celebrity contacts, right? I gave you a phone number. You give me one. Looks like a win-win to me.”
Clark smiles a little. “I’m a lowly reporter for a local newspaper. What makes you think I could get Angelina Jolie's phone number?” He says.
“I’m saying that if we combined the families there'd be at least one and a half football teams between all of us. Think about it.” He says, and Clark laughs again.
“I'll do my best,” he says. “If I get it to you, will you go to the manor and see Bruce?”
Jason just smirks again, and turns up the collar of his jacket, and walks away into the gray and wet rain.
“Sure thing, uncle Clark.” He calls out. “Sure thing.”
Even Cass tries her hand at the bet. Clark isn't there to see it, but he hears all about it from Dick.
“God, you should've been there.” Dick is saying over the phone, laughing. “It was amazing. The delivery girl was shook, Clark.”
“Shook.” Clark says slowly. He's at the Daily Planet, proofreading one of Lois’s articles. Lois is standing over his shoulder, looking at him expectantly. He holds up an apologetic finger.
“Yeah, shook. As in, like, really shocked? Keep up with the times, Clark.” Dick says.
“Yeah yeah.” Clark says. “What did the delivery girl say?”
“Oh man. She was all like “this is very flattering, but I've got a boyfriend” and Cass was all like “oh” and Bruce was actively trying not to tear his hair out, it was awesome.”
“And Cass just decided to introduce them after she saw her delivering the pizza to the manor?” Clark says.
“Yep! I think she thought the whole reservations thing wouldn't be a problem if she just got a restaurant employee to go out with Bruce? I don't know what went through her mind, but it was so funny Clark. And you should have seen Bruce's r–”
“Smallville,” Lois says, sounding impatient. “Work now, chitchat later.”
“I'll talk to you later, okay?” Clark says into the phone.
“Sure! Cool. Oh, hey, you're gonna be there on Wednesday, right? For the drugs bust? We found the cartel factory unit, with the help of that guy Jason knew.”
“Yeah, Bruce told me. I'll talk to you later.”
“Bye, Dick.” He says, and hangs up.
Lois is looking at him, her eyes narrowed. “You were talking to Wayne's kid?”
“You told him how you feel about him yet?” Lois says, bluntly.
Clark goes pink. “Jesus, Lo. No I haven't, ‘cause I don't feel any sort of way about him.”
“Uh huh.” Lois says, skeptical. Her voice softens. “There was a reason we broke up, Smallville. You didn't get your ass dumped so you could just sit around moping, and waste your opportunity.”
At Clark's silence, she sighs, and points back to the word document that he's supposed to be proofreading.
“Back to work, Smallville,” she says, her voice weary.
He goes back to work.
They break up because of him.
“Lois, I don't understand–”
“Look, let's just face it, Clark.” Lois says, and she's crying, and it's breaking his heart that he's just standing there looking at her and not doing anything about it. Just standing there.
“Face what,” he says quietly, although he already knows the answer.
“You don't love me anymore.” She says, and her eyes are bright and fierce with tears. “And that's okay. It is. It's not your fault. It's just– I can't do this anymore, okay? I can't watch while you fall in love with someone else and get your heart slowly broken piece by piece everyday because you don't do anything about it. I can't watch you being too kind to break up with me. I can't bear it for another moment.”
“Lois,” he says. Pleads. “Lois, please.”
“Clark, I can't do it anymore.” She just says again. “I'll always be your friend. I'll be honoured to be your friend, do you hear me?”
He closes his eyes against her words, even though he knows she's right. It's not fair to her. Everytime he thinks of Bruce, think of touching him, thinks of running a hand over his jaw, of that warm summer evening on Kent farm all those years ago that they promised never to talk about again.
“Clark.” She says, through her tears, “I don't think this is going to work anymore.”
They move in at midnight.
Clark prefers the light himself, choosing to operate during the daytime, but he knows how Bruce can get about the degree of accuracy of his whole bat avatar. Besides, Clark can see in the dark, no problem.
A gunfight erupts in the warehouse, and he hears someone cry out as they get shot. Someone shoots overhead, and the light bulbs break.
They are plunged into darkness.
And Bruce and his kids don't have the powers that he does.
“Superman,” he hears Bruce mutter. More gunfire.
“Yeah,” Clark says, looking around. “Yeah, I've got it. Two on your left, approaching. A man on the right. I'll take him.” he says, flying a few metres to his right, and punching hard.
Bruce nods, and takes a flare out of his belt and lights it, throwing it up in the air.
A brief second of blinding, sizzling brightness, and the last thing the men see is the Batman coming their way, a batarang in each hand.
Clark has to admit, Bruce has always been very good at his work.
“Three men on your–” he starts to say.
“I know.” Bruce says. “I saw them when the flare lit. Nightwing!” He says, raising his voice a little. “Gamma ops. Three to your right.”
“Sure thing, B!” He hears a voice say, somewhere from their right. “Hey guys, get in position.”
He sees Dick do a flip in the darkness, and take out a man from the back, who falls to the ground with a muted thud. Red Robin vaults over and dropkicks a second, and Robin does something in the darkness that makes the third man scream.
“I think,” Nightwing says, “we got all of them.”
“Good move,” Clark says, impressed.
Dick beams at him through the darkness.
“Clark,” Bruce says, his voice tight.
“Where's Red Hood?”
Clark looks around.
“Here,” comes a lazy voice, from the far side of the warehouse, in the darkness. A light from a cell phone torch flickers over at them. “Found the additives they've been putting in the heroin. Oh boy, Batman. You're gonna want to see this.”
Bruce grunts. “In a moment,” he says, and sits down.
Clark frowns. “Batman? You okay?”
“Hey.” Clark says, his throat feeling dry. “Hey! Someone switch on a light. I think Batman got shot.”
A multitude of voices at once.
“What do you mean he got–”
“When did he even–”
“Bruce did you–”
“Everyone calm down,” a voice says, and it's not Clark's. He's supposed to be the adult here. The one in charge. Except he can't move, can't stop staring at Bruce lying on the ground, motionless.
“Tim, get the light.” Jason says. “Dick, call Alfred. Damian, go take a walk.”
Damian stays where he is.
Damian leaves, stalking off. Clark wills his muscles to unfreeze. He kneels next to Bruce. He's unconscious, his breathing slow and laborious. He can see the exit wound now, and the blood that's fresh and wet and soaking through the side of the batsuit.
“He should have said something.” Clark says, trying to swallow that terrible, dry feeling in his mouth.
Jason kneels down next to Clark, reaching into his belt and extracting some kind of bandage. He starts wrapping it tightly around Bruce's waist. “Oh, you know Bruce.” Jason says, almost conversationally, like they're just having a chat over lunch, or something. “He can't communicate with people to save his life. Literally, I suppose.”
“Don't say that.” Clark says sharply.
Jason wraps the bandages in silence for a little while, and just when Clark is about to apologize, Jason speaks.
“I'm sorry.” He says, his voice stiff.
“Jason,” Clark says. He trails off. “Look, it's okay.”
Jason nods once, curt and short. He finishes wrapping the bandage around Bruce, and stands back, surveying his work. “Must've slipped between the plates of his armour,” he says. “We need to get him to the batmobile.”
“I'll do it.” Clark says, and Jason nods.
“Red Hood,” Dick says, walking back towards them. “Alfred says to take him to Leslie's. He'll meet us there.”
Jason nods. “Let's go.” He says.
Bruce wakes up all at once, gasping and choking. Clark puts a bracing hand on his chest, before he can struggle enough to hurt himself.
“Shhh.” He whispers. “It's going to be okay. You're going to be okay.”
But Bruce isn't looking at him, he isn't looking at anything at all.
“I'm so sorry,” he's saying, and he's looking over Clark's shoulder, at a patch of wall. It looks like he can see someone in the brick. He gasps sharply. “God, I'm sorry.”
A pause. Jason shoves his hands in his pockets, looking down.
“He's delirious,” Dick says. “We should probably get him to the clinic now.”
Clark sizes up the situation. “Okay. Bring the batmobile here. He's too weak for me to fly him all the way to the clinic.”
Dick nods. He presses a finger to the communicator in his ear. “Red Robin, bring the car around.” He looks back at the two of them. “I'll go get Damian.” He says, and runs off in the direction of the exit.
That leaves Jason and Clark alone with Bruce.
Clark looks back down at Bruce, peeling his cowl off so that he can breathe better. “Come on, Bruce, stay awake for a little while, okay?”
Bruce's eyes focus blearily on him. “Clark?” He says. His hands are shaking.
“Yeah, it's me. Stay awake. Come on.”
“I'm sorry,” Bruce says, his eyes unfocused again. He's looking at the top of Clark's head. “Please,” he says. “I shouldn't have let you go alone.”
Beside Clark, Jason gets stiffer still.
“Bruce,” Clark says gently. “All that's in the past now. Focus on breathing, okay?”
But Bruce is still talking. “Don't go alone. I'll come with you. I will. I'm sorry we were fighting. The warehouse, we'll go there together.”
Clark looks at Jason a little helplessly.
Jason sighs, squaring up his shoulders. “I know,” he says, roughly. “Stay awake, Bruce. We'll go together.”
“Yeah, it's me.”
Bruce stares at him for the longest time.
“Jason?” He says again. He's clearly not lucid.
Jason just sighs. He turns to Clark. “Look, you still need me?”
“I– no, but–”
“Look, I have to get out of here, okay?Just get him to Leslie. Keep the bandage tight around him and he should be fine.” Jason says.
“Okay,” Clark says. “But Jason?”
“Yeah,” Jason says.
“He does mean it, you know.”
Jason doesn't say anything. Just leaves.
Clark waits there until Dick comes back.
“Where's Jason?” Dick says. Clark just shrugs.
“I'm so sorry,” Bruce says again, to no one.
“Clark.” A voice says, and Clark wakes up with a jerk.
“I'm awake, I'm awake.” He says, rubbing at his eyes, and sitting up straighter in the chair next to the hospital bed.
Bruce looks at him, and then looks at the IV in his arm. “How long?” He says.
“Uh, around three days.” Clark says. “You woke up for a bit yesterday too, but clearly you don't remember that.”
“Three days?” Bruce says. He sounds surprised. Or as surprised as Bruce can sound.
“Yeah. It's Saturday.” Clark says. He pauses. “You don't– you don't remember anything from that night?”
“I remember getting shot.” Bruce says dryly.
“Yes. Why, did something else happen?”
Clark thinks of Jason.
“No, uh. No.” Clark says, unconvincingly.
Bruce raises an eyebrow, but drops the subject.
“You've been here this whole time?” He says.
Clark looks at himself, at his unwashed shirt, and the stubble that he's sure must be there on his face. “I– yeah. Yes.”
“What about work?”
“I took a few days off.”
Bruce looks at him again.
Clark feels the heat rising to his face. “I felt responsible. I should've seen it earlier.”
Bruce lies back down on the bed with a huff. “For god's sake, Clark.” He says, but he doesn't sound entirely annoyed. Maybe just a little tired.
He closes his eyes again, and Clark picks up his book from the bedside table that he'd been reading, before he'd fallen asleep.
“Mm?” Clark says.
“Did you say it was Saturday.”
Bruce closes his eyes and mouths a swear word that would definitely make Alfred frown.
“I have a date.” He says.
Clark puts his book down slowly and carefully. “You do?” He says, making sure that his voice sounds steady.
“Yes. Veronica Winters. We have a reservation at O Sole Mio.”
“Oh,” Clark says. “Sounds fancy. Not that you'll be able to go though. On account of the bullet wound, and all that.”
“Hrn.” Bruce says.
Clark looks back down at his book, blinking hard.
“Clark.” Bruce says again.
Bruce sits up a little, wincing. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing's wrong. It's just that you have a date. That's nice. It's nice.” Clark says. He looks down at his book again. For some reason, he can't quite read the words on the page.
A long silence.
“Okay.” Bruce says. He is quiet. “I guess I'll call her, then. Change the reservations. Postpone it to a later date.”
“I guess.” Clark says.
He keeps his eyes pointedly on the book as Bruce makes the call, listens as Bruce laughs into the phone about a jet ski injury, listens as Bruce flirts unashamedly with her.
By the end of it, Clark's skin is prickling with something thick and cruel. It feels a lot like envy.
He looks up, flipping his book shut. “Bruce, I should go.”
Bruce blinks. “But you've been here three days.”
“Yes. And now you're all well again.” Clark says, smiling tightly.
“Besides,” Clark says, getting up, “some of us have actual work to do.”
Bruce stops talking.
Clark pauses, closing his eyes. “I'm sorry. That was rude and uncalled for.”
Bruce is frowning. “Is something wrong?”
“No. It's all good. I'm just tired, is all. I'll see you on Tuesday, okay? At the watchtower briefing.”
“Clark.” Bruce says again, but Clark is already leaving, his book tucked under his arm.
In his apartment, Clark sits alone, on Lois’s sofa, drinking milk out of Lois's cup, surrounded by all of Lois's things.
He hasn't felt this lonely in a long, long time.
He closes his eyes, rubbing at his temple to stem the headache that he feels coming on. What had Lois said?
You didn't get your ass dumped so you could just sit around moping and waste your opportunity.
Clark sighs. What opportunity? He doesn't see one, not when Bruce constantly takes beautiful women out to dinner and dances with them in his charity luncheons. Not when he goes out with the fucking weather girl on channel fucking six.
Clark takes a desolate sip of milk out of Lois's mug.
He goes to sleep in the early hours of the morning, dreaming of summer nights in Kansas, and the taste of Bruce's mouth.
It was eight years ago, and it was hot. That's how Clark remembers it. The peak of summer. A sticky sort of heat, the air wet with it. His skin was damp with sweat, and so was Bruce's. They were fixing the tractor in the shed behind his parents’ house. Bruce was lying on the floor under the tractor, only the lower half of his body visible.
“You know, for someone so adept at doing repairs on a state-of-the-art combat vehicle, you really suck at fixing cars,” Clark had joked. He was kneeling next to the underside of the car, occasionally handing Bruce tools.
“You're very welcome to do it yourself.” Bruce had said. Something fell to the floor with a thunk, and Bruce swore.
Clark laughed. “No thanks. Last time I tried to fix it, I completely ruined the clutch. Dad couldn't drive anywhere without stalling. At least I don't claim to be a car person.” He had said.
“You drive a Prius. You couldn't claim to be a car person even if you knew how to build this tractor.”
“Hey. Priuses are good for the environment.” Clark said.
“You know what'd be good for the environment? Getting rid of this tractor forever. It's old as hell and it guzzles gas.”
“Aw,” Clark said, grinning. “You're just saying that ‘cause you can't fix it.”
A pause. Then, “You can't see it right now, but I'm making a very rude hand gesture at you from underneath this tractor.” Bruce had said.
Clark had just laughed. “Seriously though, thanks for coming. I know you're busy, and Ma's been wanting to see you forever.”
Bruce grunted. He slid out from under the engine, running a hand through his hair. “I need a smaller spanner.” He had said. Then he looked at Clark, who was smiling.
“What.” He had said.
“Nothing,” Clark had said, still grinning a bit. “You've just, you've got a little bit of grease in your hair. And on your face.” He said, reaching over and wiping off the grease from Bruce's cheekbone.
Except he realised that they were sitting really quite close to each other, and Bruce was just staring at him. And Clark's hand wouldn't move from the side of Bruce's face.
“Clark,” Bruce said. He couldn't quite tell if it was a warning or if it was permission. Just that Bruce's voice sounded uncertain. His lips were slightly parted, and Clark couldn't stop staring. God.
“I'm going to kiss you now,” Clark whispered. “Is that okay?”
“Clark, we shouldn't.” Bruce said, except he was looking at Clark like he had never looked at him before, like Clark was the only other person in the whole world.
And it did feel like that, in that moment. Like there was no one else out there except the man in front of him. Clark took his hands off of Bruce's face.
“Okay,” Clark said, quietly. “If you're sure.”
“I'm sure.” Bruce said, not sounding sure at all. “It would never work.”
“And we'd have to hide it.”
“From the rest of the world, from my friends, from yours.”
“We wouldn't be able to explain how Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne met.”
“So it's probably a bad idea.” Bruce said.
“Yeah.” Clark said.
“Stop it. Stop just agreeing with me.”
“What do you want me to do?” Clark said, his throat clenched. “You're saying all the right, smart things. You're doing the whole Bruce thing that you do–”
“What Bruce thing?” Bruce said, sounding bewildered, and god he was so beautiful.
Clark closed his eyes, his voice shaky. “The one where you just– I don’t know– just coldly analyze the situation from a distance, and don't let yourself feel anything, and–”
And all of a sudden they were kissing, and Clark was on the floor, under Bruce's weight, the smell of machine oil and grease all around him, and that honeysuckle that Ma had planted outside. Clark surged up, trying to get closer to Bruce, trying to better kiss that stupid, handsome man, and Bruce was kissing him right back, his hands on his jaw, his face.
“This Bruce thing, you mean?” Bruce said, when he pulled up for air, and Clark laughed, breathless and so full of joy, pulling Bruce back down to seal his mouth against his, and they were rolling around the floor again, and Bruce was laughing, oh god he was laughing too.
After a while, though, Bruce decided that breathing was still a thing he had to do, and he pushed off of Clark.
They were both breathing hard. Bruce was looking at him. Clark's arms were still around him.
“I know what you're going to say,” Clark said, finally. “It's okay.”
“Clark,” Bruce started to say, but Clark held up a hand.
“It's okay.” He said again. “I know how you feel about relationships within the team. I know you think it won't work.”
“Clark,” Bruce said carefully. He was tracing the corner of Clark's brow with a slow finger. “It's not just what I think. It's what I know. Our. . . friendship, it's– it's different.”
“I know.” Clark said.
“I've never had a friend like you before. Never. I don't want to ruin it.”
“I know.” Clark said again, and he sat up, sat up and away from Bruce, and tried not to think about how he would never be able to touch Bruce like that again, never be able to kiss him like that. There was a hot, ugly thing in the pit of his stomach.
“I agree.” Clark said, even though he didn't. But it would make Bruce feel better about this. And he didn't want their friendship to wither away either, or worse, become a sour thing, full of resentment and regret.
Bruce chuckled a little, his eyes crinkling at the sides. “There you go again, agreeing with me.” He said. His voice was still a little rough at the edges, and his hair was all messed up because of all the rolling around they'd been doing, and his t-shirt was covered in grease stains. Clark thought about how he'd like to remember that image forever.
He picked something up from the workstation, and handed it to Bruce. “Found your smaller spanner,” he said, and Bruce took it.
They went back to work.
They fixed that tractor, and they stayed friends. They didn't talk about it again.
Clark walks into the manor one day next week, his briefcase and laptop in hand.
“Ah, master Clark,” Alfred said, answering the door. “Come in. I do believe you're just in time for tea.”
“Hi Alfred,” Clark said, as they walked down through the foyer together. “Is Bruce there? I'm gonna need some of the specifics from his case report of the cartel case that we closed, last week. My boss wants me covering it.”
“Master Bruce is on a date,” Alfred says.
Clark stops. “Oh. Right. His reservation at that Italian place. With the weather lady.” He says, and he feels that hot, ugly thing in the pit of his stomach again.
“Quite,” Alfred says. He checks a wall clock as they approach the dining room. “However, he should be returning any moment now. It's almost three, and it was a lunch date. The children are here to keep you company, in the meantime,” he says. They enter the dining room.
“Give it up, demon brat.” Steph is saying, grinning. Cass is sitting next to her.
“Just do it, Dami,” Dick says, unhappily. “A bet’s a bet.”
“Yeah, Dami. Don't be a sore loser.” Steph crows.
“I don't care!” Damian cries out. “Veronica Winters is fat and ugly!”
Steph snorts. “I changed my mind. Sore loser? Understatement of the century.”
Tim narrows his eyes at her. “I don't ever take Damian's side, but you've gotta stop rubbing it in our faces. Besides, you totally cheated.”
“Squirt’s got a point. You did, technically, cheat.” Jason says. Clark blinks. Jason's here. At the manor.
“Did too. Oh, hey Clark's here. Let's ask him.”
“Ask me what?” Clark says, putting his things down on the table. He sits in the chair next to Dick.
“So Stephanie told Bruce that if he went out with Veronica Winters from channel six, she'd never call him 'Bruceman’ again.” Tim says.
“I'm sorry, what?”
“Or Brucie W, or B-boy or Bratman, or Vain Wayne or–” Steph starts to list off.
“I get it.” Clark says, holding a hand up. “I get it.”
“So Bruce made some calls and five minutes later he had a date. Now look me in the eye and tell me that isn't cheating.” Tim says.
Clark blinks. “Wait, so Bruce wasn't actually interested in the Weather lady?”
“Interested? No! I got him a pretty sweet reservation at O Sole Mio, and he really likes lasagna. Also, he just didn't want to be called Bruce-ell sprouts one more time.” Steph says.
“Bruce-ell sprouts. That's not even funny though!” Tim says, and Damian nods furiously.
“Cass liked it. You guys just don't want to pay up.” Steph says, grinning. “The rules never specified that the winner had to make sure Bruce went on a date with someone he was interested in. Just that he had to go on one.”
“I'm not ready to give you my bike just so Bruce doesn't have to hear you call him 'the Dank Knight’ again.” Jason says, crossing his arms.
“I'll admit that that was one of my lesser moments.” Steph says. “I could've made a much funnier joke.”
“I was going to set him up with Angelina Jolie, for your–”
But Clark isn't listening anymore. His mind is racing furiously. Bruce isn't interested in the weather lady from channel six. He exhales all at once, thinking of that shed in Kansas, of Lois telling him to stop sitting around, of Bruce sitting on a stretcher with his son's head in his lap, of Bruce apologizing to his son while he's bleeding out on the floor of a warehouse, of him going on a date to humour Stephanie, of him telling Clark to stop grinning. Of him with grease stains on his shirt, and that absent smile on his face. Of him. Bruce.
And all of a sudden he knows what he has to do.
“When's Bruce coming back home?” he blurts out, standing up.
They all look at him. “He should be home in a few.” Tim says, checking his wristwatch. “Why?”
Clark shakes his head, and sits back down. He's going to do this right. He's going to do this well.
He waits, listening to the others talk and bicker and laugh. He waits until the doorbell rings. Alfred goes to get the door.
A chorus of whoops and yells. “How d’you think it went?” Someone says. He doesn't see who. He can't. There's a strange, fragile thing in his chest, and his palms are sweating.
It's almost funny. He's Superman, and the one thing that makes him nervous isn't flying aliens warcrafts or evil death rays. It's the prospect of asking out his best friend.
Bruce walks into the kitchen, putting his wallet down on the kitchen island. There is an expectant silence in the room. Bruce must feel all the eyes on him, because he looks up.
“What,” he says.
“Well?” Steph says. “How was it?”
“The food was good.” He says. He walks to the fridge, opening it and talking out a carton of milk. He sniffs it.
“We know the food was good, Bruce. How was the date?” Steph says.
“It was fine.” Bruce says. He's still looking at the milk, faint intrigue in his expression.
“Clark? Does this smell spoilt to you?” He says.
“No.” Clark says, because he can smell it from over here. It smells fine. Also that strange, fragile thing in his chest thumps loudly when he Bruce looks at him. God, he's such a goner.
“What do you mean it was fine?” Steph says, incredulously. “Give us some more details, Bruce!”
Bruce goes over to the cupboards and takes a glass out. He pours himself some milk. “It was okay. She talked a lot.”
“Yeah, probably cause you didn't talk, like, at all!” Steph says, defensively.
“I believe,” Tim says smugly, “that we are at the point where you have to give us our money back.”
“That's ridiculous.” Steph scoffs, crossing her arms. “A date's a date. Doesn't matter if it's a bad one.” She says, and the room erupts into argument.
In the midst of it all, Bruce is standing near the kitchen sink, calmy drinking his glass of milk.
“Bruce,” Clark says quietly. “Can I speak to you? In private?”
“What's wrong?” Bruce says.
“Let's go someplace quieter first.” Clark says.
They slip out of the kitchen, and upstairs, to Bruce's study.
In the study, Clark sits down heavily on the sofa. He studies his hands. He supposes this is as good a place as any.
“Bruce,” he says, “you remember that evening in Kent farm, eight years ago? In the shed, when we were fixing the tractor, and I– we–” he trails off.
Bruce goes very still. “Yes,” he says, slowly. “What about it?”
Clark studies his hands some more. “I was– I was thinking about it. And to be honest, I never stopped thinking about it. And I lied, that day, when I said it was okay with me that you didn't want to pursue our– well, our. . . situation, any further. It wasn't okay.” Clark says, looking down. He swallows. “Because I was– I was in love with you.”
A silence. He is uncomfortably aware of Bruce's lack of response.
“And I still am,” he says, all in a rush. “And I don't think I ever won't be. And that breakup with Lois wasn't mutual. She was the one who ended things, because– well, because of this.”
Still, Bruce is silent.
Clark nods, accepting his sentence. “Okay,” he says, taking a deep breath. “Yeah. I get that I fucked everything up, and now you probably don't want to talk to me anymore. This friendship was really important to me too, and I see that you have your reservations about– about stuff like this. You don’t date.” He smiles a small sad smile to himself. “It's the whole Bruce thing, I get it. I just– I guess I just couldn't keep it to myself anymore.” He says. He gets up from the sofa. “Okay. Guess I'll go now.” He says, walking towards the door of the study. That fragile thing in his chest is broken now, shattered into a thousand pieces. “If you'll let me, I'll see you at the watchtower briefing on Tuesday. Bye.” he turns the door handle to open the door.
“Why is it,” Bruce says, “that we only ever see each other during Watchtower briefings on Tuesdays?”
Clark's hand stills. He can't hear much over the sound of blood rushing through his ears.
“We've been meeting a lot more often the last few weeks,” he says finally, slowly. He's still facing the door, his back to Bruce. “You've starting calling me for help a lot more.”
“Yes,” Bruce says. “I have.”
Clark turns around slowly. Bruce is walking towards him, from across the room.
“I thought you'd get the hint,” Bruce says. “Me asking for your help all the time, like that. I could've handled the cartel by myself, no problem.” He says. His words seem confident, but he looks strangely. . . apprehensive. He walks all the way up to Clark until they're only inches away from each other, and Clark can feel the heat of Bruce's breath on his skin.
“You got shot.” Clark points out, whispering.
“I've been shot many times.” Bruce whispers back. He takes a hold of Clark's hand.
“Maybe– maybe you should ask for my help more, then.” Clark says, swallowing. Bruce brings his hand up to Clark's face.
“I don't have reservations about this,” he says. “Quite the opposite. I've thought about doing it for years.”
“Then why didn't you?” Clark asks, quietly.
“I was stupid,” Bruce softly. He's looking at Clark's mouth. His eyes go warm, and that thing is Clark's chest is alive again, is full of joy and soaring happiness. “And I was young. And I made things more complicated than they had to be.” He says, and his mouth is almost up against Clark's, now.
“Yeah?” Clark says. He puts a hand on Bruce's waist.
“Does this mean I get Steph's bike?” Clark says, and Bruce laughs into his mouth, and it's the best sound Clark's heard in his life.
“Shut up, Clark.” Bruce says, and kisses him.
Clark puts his arms around Bruce tighter, pulling him closer. “You idiot,” he mutters into Bruce's jaw, his throat. “You were trying to make me jealous. With all your potential dates.”
“You can't say it didn't work,” Bruce says, tilting his face back up and kissing him again.
“You could have just talked to me, like a normal human being, you know.” Clark says, pulling away. He rests his forehead against Bruce's. They're the exact same height.
“I wasn't sure you felt the same way,” Bruce says, and his face is that odd mix of vulnerable and brave again. “Besides, what do you always say? It's a Bruce thing.”
Clark laughs, and kisses him again, and Bruce kisses back just as eagerly and selfishly, and it occurs to Clark that the whole time, Bruce has been just as stupidly infatuated with him as he has, with Bruce.
He laughs again, and pulls Bruce to his chest.
“Hey,” he says, after a bit. “I want reservations at a fancy Italian place too.”
“Hmm.” Bruce says against his neck. “I'll fly you to Italy instead. There's a place in Florence with the best pasta you'll have ever had.”
“Maybe I'll fly you there.” Clark says, stroking Bruce's back over his shirt.
“Maybe.” Bruce says quietly.
A long silence. They don't move.
“I didn't say it.” Bruce says. “But I love you too.”
That thing in Clark's chest seizes up. “You don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that,” Clark whispers.
Bruce looks at him then, his pale eyes soft in the dim lights of the study. “I think maybe I do,” he says.
They're both silent again, for a bit. Eventually they're going to have to leave the study, but not just yet.
“Jason's here.” Bruce says quietly, after a bit. “Did you see?”
“That's good, right?”
Clark looks at him, “Of course,” he says, softly.
“What's this he was saying about Angelina Jolie?” Bruce says suddenly, and Clark starts to laugh again.
“What?” Bruce says.
“Nothing,” Clark says, his shoulders shaking, holding Bruce tight. “It's nothing.” They hold each other, and for the first time in a long time, Clark feels not so lonely anymore.