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What We Don't Say Hurts Us

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                It wasn’t as if they hadn’t gone through a few rough patches before. Bruce understood that with time, things changed, and relationships did not always remain the same. Stressors made for fights. Fights made for pauses and even breaks. Breaks made for long gaps in things like physical intimacy or cuddling.

                Even being married for ten years did not preclude the possibility of rough patches.

                Bruce idly ran his phone between his fingers, watching the sun filter in ribbons onto his desk with absent study. He’d been waiting for Clark to call for almost an hour. They’d had plans for lunch. It didn’t appear that Clark remembered.

                Or maybe he had and had decided that it wasn’t worth the effort.

                After all, he’d missed the last three lunch dates they’d set up with one excuse or another. They’d been having lunch, in the little dive Bobby’s Burgers, just around the corner from his office, every Wednesday for the last ten years. Sure, they could have gone somewhere else. Bruce had even offered as much. But Clark seemed perfectly content to leave the status quo unchanged. So, they’d never bothered to go anywhere else.

                Maybe that was part of the problem.

                Maybe Bruce shouldn’t have grown so comfortable with his predictable patterns and the little nuances that he’d come to take for granted. He relied too heavily on Clark always saying yes. On Clark coming home every night at six thirty for dinner. On Clark whispering nonsensical overly gooey tidbits into his ear when they ‘watched’ a movie every Friday night.

                Bruce had let things get—boring. That was what it was. Clark was bored. How could he not be? Bruce had been doing the same damn things for the last ten years. No--longer. Since they’d started dating even. It had felt natural to just let things slide into a comfortable niche that was predictable and easy. Bruce liked those things. He liked knowing where he stood with Clark and what Clark was going to do and how he was going to do it.

                It wasn’t that he wasn’t adventurous. If that was the case, then Bruce never would have said yes to that skydiving package Clark insisted they buy for their fourth anniversary. He never would have let Clark repaint the master bedroom or redecorate their bathroom—without offering any oversight whatsoever. If Bruce was averse to adventure, he wouldn’t get into the car with Clark and just pick a spot on the map, like they sometimes did, and just drive. Those were some of his favorite memories. The times where he let go and just let Clark take him for a ride.

                But maybe Bruce had been too lax, too lazy about their relationship and Clark needed more. Bruce wasn’t getting any younger, but forty-three was hardly senile. He could probably mix things up and spark Clark’s interest again. That’s what you did, right? When there was a problem in your marriage, you found the culprit and you fixed it.

                Clark didn’t come for lunch and he never called.

                Bruce wasn’t hurt exactly. No, that would imply that he’d done nothing wrong and Bruce was certain that he had to have. Clark wasn’t ever, ever intentionally rude or hurtful. That simply wasn’t who he was.

                So, Bruce decided that Clark was upset with him and that he’d done something to warrant that upset. It wouldn’t be the first time that Bruce had fallen into a mistake without even knowing it. But Clark always told him when he did. Clark was good at communicating and getting his point across. He was good in all the areas that Bruce was not. It was part of the reason why they worked so well.

                Still, when six-thirty rolled around, and Clark didn’t come home, Bruce felt the painful little tears in his gut viscerally. The ones that told him, something was wrong. Something wasn’t right. That maybe it was worse than boredom or dissatisfaction with Bruce’s regimented scheduling. Maybe it was something a lot worse.

                Bruce checked his phone for messages. None. He paced a little outside the dining room, politely skipped dinner, then went to bed early. By eight o’clock, Bruce gave into the niggling fear and called Clark. It rang a few times, then picked up. Lying in the dark, pressing his phone hard to his ear, Bruce had to choke back a sigh when he finally heard Clark’s voice.

                “Bruce?”

                “Yes, Clark,” Bruce swallowed thickly, trying to make the words come out without sounding angry or accusatory, “It’s eight o’ clock. Where are you?”

                “Is it that late already?”

                “Yes.”

                “I’m sorry Bruce. I lost track of time. I’ve been so busy—deadlines at work and such. I should have called. Or at least texted. I’m sure you’ve been worried.”

                Bruce sat up in bed. “You’ve been working?”

                There was barely a pause, but it was there. It was enough. “Yes. I’ll be home in a few minutes. I’m sorry.”

                “It’s—” Bruce sucked in a pained breath, gripping the sheets hard. Clark was lying to him. Clark was lying. Why would he lie? Why would Clark need to lie about where he’d been and what he’d been doing? “It’s alright. I understand.”

                It wasn’t alright.

                “Be home in a couple minutes. I’ll make it up to you. I love you.”

                “Love you too,” Bruce murmured the words, hung up the phone, then laid back into the cool embrace of the sheets numbly. His heart was slamming into his ribs, pressing hard on his lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

                Clark had lied to him. Clark was lying to him.

                Clark never lied to him.

                Clark came home a few minutes later. He snuck into bed like he sometimes did, when he was actually working late on a deadline, and nuzzled into the back of Bruce’s neck. Bruce let him. Bruce said nothing about what he knew or the terrified rabbiting in his stomach that made him feel sick. He let Clark make love to him, he let Clark kiss him till the fears were clouded by lust and a love so deep it should never be broken. And then he let Clark cuddle him close and murmur those endearments into his ear that always made him smile.

                But he didn’t smile. And he didn’t sleep.

                Clark lied to him.

 

                Days blurred into each other, normalcy returned and Bruce forced himself to forget what he knew and the suspicious deadly thoughts he’d given life to.

                He was wrong. He was a fool for ever having thought for even a moment that Clark could hurt him like that. And so what if Clark had lied about where he’d been? There was a good reason. There always was. Bruce just needed to let it go. Hadn’t Clark told him over the years, that he needed to learn when to obsess and when not to?

                He was certainly trying.

                They ate lunch together for two consecutive weeks at Bobby’s Burgers. Clark came home on time. They made love four times a week and Bruce threw himself into it each time, doing his damndest to let Clark know how much it all meant to him. How much he loved him. How much their life together was better than he could have ever imagined.

                Any seedlings of doubt or fear? He buried. Bruce told himself it was what couples did for the greater good. They didn’t start fires where there weren’t any.

                But then Clark missed lunch again. And he didn’t call again. He didn’t apologize for it either and maybe that was because Bruce didn’t bring it up. Maybe that was because Bruce was afraid to rock the boat or lift the rock and see what might be crawling underneath of it.

                Clark was late coming home for a solid week. He lied every day of those seven days. He told Bruce he was working. He was being hard pressed by Perry to finish a series of articles about the projects in Metropolis’ new low-income housing district. Bruce wished that he could have given him the benefit of the doubt.

                He wished he didn’t know Clark so well that he could hear the lies in his voice.

                But he did, and he could.

                Bruce didn’t know when he started snooping around in Clark’s dresser drawers and his books. But it became a bit of an obsession. He started stealing glances at what Clark was writing on. He thumbed through Clark’s calendar, his notebooks, and laptop. He didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, was afraid to know, but he kept looking.

                There was an answer to Clark’s distance, his separating himself, Bruce just needed to find it.

                What Bruce did find, was unsettling. He found that cash was being withdrawn from their account. A lot of it. Off and on and that it was by an ATM near Clark’s work or by the local bank branch in Gotham. It made no sense not to use the debit card or even the credit card. Unless Clark didn’t want Bruce to know where or how he was spending that money.

                Clark made mentions in his notes of their upcoming anniversary, things about work, and then little tidbits that were done in a shorthand Bruce hadn’t seen before. Bruce knew Clark’s shorthand for work, he’d read it enough times. He also knew Kryptonian fairly well. But this was different enough, he’d have to study it to find out what Clark was meaning. And that was more than a little suspicious, it was worrying.

                During his surveillance, Bruce also found out that Clark had opened another email account. One that was separate from the ones Bruce knew about. And had the passwords to. Bruce couldn’t bring himself to hack it and see what Clark didn’t want him to. There was no other logical reason for opening a new account unless Clark was trying to hide something.

                Clark was tired more too. Subsequently, they didn’t have sex as much as a result. Their numbers diminished from four times a week to two. Maybe even one. Bruce said nothing about it. He didn’t initiate more either. He was afraid of being turned down and what it might mean.       

                The day Bruce found a notation for a meeting with someone named Axel in Clark’s agenda, was the same day that Clark said he needed to work late and lied—again. Bruce almost, almost confronted him then. He wanted to. He wanted to present his case, all of his findings and demand answers. He had a tremendous amount of evidence. But Clark would surely refute it all and tell him the truth, wouldn't he? Clark would never hurt him like that. Never. It wasn’t in him. It couldn’t be.

                But Bruce worried. Bruce feared. Bruce ached with the doubts and the pain of not knowing for certain that he was wrong.

                Everyone made mistakes. Everyone hurt someone. Even boy scouts. Even men who were supposed to be the one, forever and forever. Men who were supposed to love till death doeth them part. Clark was as susceptible to infidelity as the rest of the population. Bruce just didn’t want to believe it.

                The day of the meeting with Axel was the same day that Bruce went through every stick of Clark’s laundry, his pockets, his shoes. He didn’t give into the urge to follow Clark and spy on this ‘meeting’ with Axel. No, Bruce hadn’t worked up enough courage or gumption for that. But he did wait till Clark fell asleep that night before taking his dirty clothes he’d worn that day and pressing them with trembling hands to his nose to see if he could smell the other man on them.

                It wasn’t much of a relief that he couldn’t. It wasn’t much of a relief at all.

                Clark had been careful thus far. Of course, he wouldn’t let an errant smell or mark be left behind for Bruce to find. He wasn’t stupid.

                “Bruce?”

                Bruce froze, Clark’s dress shirt still clutched with a death grip in his hands, his stomach so hollow and tight he felt sick. “Yeah?” he whispered back into the dark, aware that Clark was watching him carefully. Aware of the physical press of eyes in his skin.

                “You OK?”

                “Yeah. I was just—” smelling your shirt. Smelling your shirt because I think you’re cheating on me and I’m panicking inside because I don’t want to lose you, but I think I might already be, “Just checking for a pen.”

                “A pen?”

                It was Clark’s turn to know that he was being lied to. The lie was so pitiful it was obvious. Bruce knew Clark could see it, could hear it, because one brow lifted, and Clark was frowning at him, his face confused and worried. Bruce dropped the shirt and climbed back into bed, struggling to get his heart to calm. To get his breathing under control.

                “You’re shaking.”

                “I’m cold.” Another lie. Another fracture in his chest.

                “Here,” Clark snugged up tight to his back and wrapped his arms around Bruce and Bruce had to close his eyes to hide the sudden onslaught of tears because he wasn’t sure that he could stop them if Clark saw. “Let me hold you.”

                “Thanks,” Bruce whispered.

                “Bruce, are you sure you’re alright?”

                “I’m—” Bruce sucked in a shaky breath, “I’m just a little sick to my stomach. Maybe it’s the flu.”

                “Oh babe,” Clark murmured, moving a hand to trace lightly over Bruce’s stomach. Bruce wanted to roll away because he didn’t know where those hands had been tonight and if they’d been with someone else, he would be sick. All over himself and the bed. But he didn’t move, because he couldn’t do this right now. He couldn’t tell Clark that he knew because everything would implode then and he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to lose him. “I’m sorry.”

                “Nothing to be sorry about.”

                Clark’s hand hesitated over his belly button, “Bruce, I should tell you, I’ve got some things coming up this week and I’ll be out of town for a few days. Is that alright?”

                “Out of town?” Bruce’s voice came out a little strangled, too close to tears.

                Clark stiffened at his back, “Bruce?”

                “Yeah, it’s fine,” Bruce choked back the emotion, locked it tight in the safe that stored all of the ugliest feelings he had, “It’s fine.”

                “OK. It won’t be more than a few. Three at the most. I’ve got some business for the Planet in Chicago.”

                “Sure.”

                Clark smoothed that hand down Bruce’s belly and held it tightly over his pelvis, brushing one thumb on his hip. “I’m sorry I haven’t been home as much. And that I’ve been so busy. I’ve just got a lot going on right now.”

                Bruce swallowed, “Yeah. I get it. I’ve been busy too.”

                “You’re too good for me, Bruce. Seriously.”

                Bruce looked over a shoulder, “Am I? Am I really?” the words came out in a half-whisper and had something too dark laced into them for this conversation. He was leaving himself too exposed. Too open for more wounding. He couldn’t stop himself.

                “Bruce,” Clark’s brows furrowed, “What’s wrong?”

                “Nothing,” Bruce looked quickly away, burying his face into the pillows. Not yet. He couldn’t face it yet. “I’m fine.”

                “Something is wrong.”

                “Stomach ache.”

                “Bruce…”

                “Let it go, Clark,” Bruce pleaded, his voice coming out thick, “Just—not tonight. We’ll talk about it when you get back.”

                “OK. Alright. I won’t push you.”

                “Thank you.”

                Clark shifted, resettled himself into Bruce. “Our anniversary is next week. It’s a big one. Ten years.”

                Bruce didn’t say anything.

                “Don’t make any plans, OK?”

                Bruce snorted, “I won’t.”

                “Good.”

                “Bruce?” Bruce ground his teeth, scrunched his eyes to block out the familiar outlines and shadows of their bedroom, “I love you.”

                “I love you too.”

                That was the problem. Bruce still loved him. Would always love him. That’s why it hurt so fucking badly.

 

               

                 Clark kept his word. He was gone for three days exactly and was home by Friday. Whoever he’d been seeing, whatever he’d been doing, Clark didn’t call while he was away, and Bruce didn’t either. Their anniversary was four days away.

                Bruce spent the afternoon packing a bag. Meticulously arranging clothes for Clark in neat little piles. He stacked underwear and shirts. Plaids. He might have lingered over the clothes, sat in the bathroom and smelled Clark’s soap until he felt lightheaded. But Bruce figured it was his due. He was allowed to be sentimental about a decade of his life with someone.

                He took his time. He did it right.

                It was a surprise when Clark was home on time. Bruce hadn’t bothered to wait for Clark in the dining room. He sat upstairs, by the packed back, anxiously chewing a hole into his cheek. He smoothed sweaty palms down his thighs when he heard Clark coming up the stairs and he held his breath when Clark stepped into their bedroom and his eyes went right to that packed bag waiting on the bed.

                “I could hear your heart racing before I even got in the door.”

                Bruce blinked up at Clark, studied that face that he knew so well and swallowed, “I was nervous.”

                “What’s going on?”

                “I think it’s time to stop pretending. I think it’s time we get a few things out in the air.”

                “Bruce—whatever you’re thinking—”

                “Do you really want to know?”

                “Yes, of course.”

                Bruce nodded, slid to a stand then walked nearer though every step felt like shredding his insides. “I’ve known for a month, Clark. But I can’t help wondering how long this has been going on. Worse, I wonder why? What did I do wrong? How did it go south without my noticing? What’s he giving you that I can’t?”

                Clark blinked at him. As if he didn’t understand. As if he had no idea what Bruce was talking about. So, Bruce kept talking.

                “At first, I thought it was me. You’ve been distant. You haven’t been as considerate as you usually are with the phone calls or the dates. I thought you might be bored with me. I thought I was doing something wrong.”

                “Bruce, sweetheart—”

                Bruce growled, and Clark abruptly stopped. His color was leeching out of his cheeks and he looked pale. Bruce didn’t have the heart to be happy about it. “Don’t call me that. You don’t get to call me that.”

                “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand.”

                “Oh really?” Bruce bit his lip, nodding softly, “I guess maybe you thought I was too stupid to notice when you started to lie to me. I guess you figured I wouldn’t ever snoop around in your shit when I started to get worried about you working late so much and lying about working late. Or that you’ve been meeting with someone named Axel for long enough he’s a regular tick mark in your weekly agenda. Or how you’ve been too tired to touch me as much or be near me or pick up a goddamn phone and say you’ll be fucking late.”

                “You—you can’t think—you couldn’t possibly?”

                “What? Think that you’ve been sleeping around, getting your rocks off with someone else? Someone a little younger maybe? Or less boring? Or less uptight? Yeah, I could think that. In fact, I know it.”

                Clark’s mouth opened, his eyes so wide it should be comical, “What? You think—but Bruce—I would never—”

                “Don’t,” Bruce hissed, “Don’t you fucking dare.”

                “Bruce, you couldn’t possibly think that of me. I would never cheat on you. I love you.”

                “I don’t just think it Clark. I know it. I’m not a fool. I’m not oblivious. Did you think I would be? That you’d softened me and brought me to heel so well that I wouldn’t fucking notice you running around behind my back?”

                “Bruce! Stop. You need to listen to me. Let me explain. There’s been a huge misunderstanding,” Clark took three steps closer, only three but Bruce snapped. He snapped like he’d never wanted to. And it wasn’t with rage or murderous intent. It wasn’t any of the things he’d expected might happen. Because he’d had the unfortunate opportunity to picture how this little confrontation might play out over and over in his head for weeks. And somehow, the scenario where he fucking lost his shit and started weeping like a child, never crossed his mind.

                It wasn’t anger that came out of him when he snapped. When he broke. It was agony. It was the sound of a wounded animal.

                A strangled sob fell out of his mouth and he immediately tried to run.

              But Clark grabbed his arm to stop him, hard, too hard, hard enough it would bruise, and Bruce snarled through a haze of tears, abruptly trying to free himself. The humiliation was so extreme he was rapidly devolving into something unrecognizable. Something inhuman. All wretched feeling and instinct to protect himself.

              It felt like dying.

              “Let me go.”

              “No. Bruce, I never cheated on you. I would never do that. I need you to listen—”

              “Clark!” Bruce yelled, “Let me go!”

              “Bruce, please, please baby listen to me.”

              “Don’t you ever,” Bruce was openly sobbing now, tugging on his aching arm madly to free himself, “ever call me that again. I’m not your baby. I’m nothing to you now. I w-want you out. Get out. Get out now.”

               “God damn it Bruce, listen to me! I have a good explanation. You’re not even trying to understand.”

               “Fuck you!”

               Clark jerked like he’d been slapped and abruptly let Bruce’s arm go. The sudden release caused Bruce to fall on his ass and he scrambled back up with as much dignity as he could muster. Which was far too little. Clark didn’t stop him again. He didn’t stop him when he rushed to the bathroom and slammed the door closed. Or when he locked it.

                Bruce turned on the shower, the sink, anything he could think of to cover up the sounds he was making. But he knew Clark would hear it anyways.

 

 

                Bruce stayed in the bathroom till almost midnight. He’d cried himself dry, had showered, shaved, stared at his reflection with enough disdain it should have cracked, then finally risked opening the door.

                He didn’t want to see the empty bedroom he knew would be there. He didn’t want to face the reality of what he’d asked from Clark or that everything was over. But he’d been hiding for long enough. And he wanted to sleep. Just sleep it all away.

                The bedroom was dimly lit still, the lamps on either side of the bed turned on. And the room was empty.

                Bruce wished he could sag with relief and not feel his throat threatening to close again. He wished he could feel like he’d done the right thing. He felt none of those things. Numbness wouldn’t come either, though he wished heartily for it.

                He walked carefully further into the room, bare feet padding on familiar carpeting, heartbeat still unsteady and fast ticking in his ears. When he reached the middle of the room, he could see that Clark had taken the suitcase when he’d left. But he’d also left something on the bed. A lot of somethings.

                Frowning, Bruce strode over to the mattress and peered down at the strangely organized stacks of papers. It looked like a mess of junk at first, then as he studied them, a picture started to come into view.

                Clark had arranged everything by categories.

                One stack was filled with receipts. Purchases. Bruce picked up the one on top and saw that it was for a caterer. The next was for flowers. The next, a minister.

                Bruce’s hands started shaking and he dove into the next stack. Emails printed off. Between Clark and a man named Axel. Axel went on and on about tuxedo measurements, florist costs, guest lists, honeymoon packages.

                Bruce felt sick. Horrendously sick.

                Desperation flooded his middle and he tore into the next stack, they were all drawings. Hand sketches that read like blueprints. Clark’s handwriting scribbled in the margins and on the pages and all over ripped out notebook pages. Clark had always been good with his hands, a carpenter in his free time, but the sketches for this particular piece were astounding. Lovely. Simple and exactly what Bruce would have loved.

                It was a wooden chest, deep and big enough to hold several quilts or blankets, just the right size for the end of a bed. Like what Bruce had been saying they should buy for the last two years but had never gotten around to doing. Clark had to have been working on it for months. 

                “Oh God,” Bruce whispered, then dropped the pages back to the bedspread and started trembling all over, “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”

Breath backed up in his lungs and he choked on a wave of panic so strong, he stumbled as he rushed for the door to their bedroom.

                His limbs weren’t working right, everything was too fat and clumsy and he couldn’t get down the stairs fast enough. Bruce skipped a step three from the bottom of the landing and fell the rest of the way. He didn’t even feel the burn as the banister ripped his knee open. He was up and moving again within seconds, tearing around the downstairs like a wild man, rushing for the garage.

                He had to fix this. Clark had to forgive him. It had to be fine. It was going to fine. Bruce just needed to find him and they’d talk and everything would work out. It would be fine. Clark would forgive him.

                He had to.

                But he didn’t even know where to go? What to do? He’d just told Clark to leave, he hadn’t said where. And Clark had sold his apartment in Metropolis a long time ago.

                Fortress. Of course, the Fortress, he’d go there. Or the farm. He could be in Kansas within six hours, if he broke every speed limit on the way. The Fortress within a couple of days. He’d need to make a few phone calls.

                But Clark would forgive him. Clark had to.

                Oh God, oh god, oh god. He’d fucked up. He’d fucked up so badly.  

                “Bruce.”

                Bruce was so focused on getting into the car, so focused on making his trembling fingers work enough to get the fucking door open, he hadn’t heard someone coming up behind him. He spun around and flattened himself against the car’s door.

                “Bruce,” he said again, and Bruce just stared, frozen, frightened to move for a paralyzing second because this might be a fever dream. A hallucination.

                “Clark?”

                Clark nodded. But didn’t move. He was staying back, watching Bruce. Waiting.

                Clark.

                Clark hadn’t left. Clark was standing in the pale wash of yellow garage light and was staring at him with a red nose and splotchy eyes and his hands lose at his sides. Clark was still there. Clark was—

                Bruce launched himself at Clark and wrapped himself around the other man. Clark didn’t even stumble with the clash of bodies, nor did he do as he aught to have and shove Bruce away. He grabbed onto Bruce just as tight, just as desperate and Bruce buried his face in Clark’s neck, breathing in deep, savoring the smell of Clark’s skin. The feeling of his flannel shirt pressed into Bruce’s cheek. The heat of those arms banding around his middle, of those lips skating over his forehead, his cheeks, his neck.

                Bruce was crying again. Deep ugly cries. The sort that no one should see. Ever.

                Clark just held him. He held him tighter. He squeezed the cries right out of him.

                “Clark, I’m so sorry, oh God, I’m so sorry,” Bruce managed finally, but it all came out stuffy and wrecked sounding. He barely had a voice at all. “I’m so sorry.”

                “It’s OK B, we’re OK.”

                They kept whispering words to each other. Bruce kept apologizing because he didn’t know what else to do. The whispers turned into promises, gentle kisses became frantic clinging and groping became clothes being ripped off. Literally ripped. Clark tore his shirt in half and had his pants shredded in the next breath. Bruce’s heart was thundering in his hears and all he could think was that he needed Clark more. That he loved Clark. That he never wanted to lose Clark.

                That he’d almost lost him.

                Because of his own stupidity.

                Their joining was wild, frenzied, with little to no finesse and Bruce was going to have handprint bruises on his hips and back. Plus, he was getting a little old to be bent over a car hood like that, but it was good. It was so good.

                Clark carried Bruce up to their bedroom. He wordlessly moved all the stacks of papers off the bed, then put Bruce into it, tucking the blanket up over his naked and now chilled skin. Bruce didn’t need to ask if Clark would join him. He didn’t really need to ask if he’d been forgiven either. Clark had said as much when they’d been in the garage.

                But Bruce still needed to hear it. He still needed Clark to say it.

                “Can you ever forgive me?”

                Clark was playing with Bruce’s hair. Tucking pieces behind his ears, smoothing it off his forehead, drowsily running the pads of his fingers down Bruce’s nose and lips. “Yes. I forgive you.”

                “I was a fool.”

                “No.”

                Bruce tried to say something else, to explain more, to apologize again. Clark stopped him with a finger over his mouth. “No. We’ve said enough. I messed up too. I frightened you. I hurt you. I lied to you. Of course, you thought what you did, how could you not?”

                “I should have talked to you. I should have let you explain.”

                “Yes.”

                “I shouldn’t have done what I did.”

                “It doesn’t matter. It’s over. We’re OK.”

                They fell silent again for long minutes. Drowsy comfortable minutes. Then, “Clark?”

                “Yes?”

                “Were you really planning a vow renewal?”

                Clark’s lips danced over Bruce’s shoulder, pressed into a shoulder blade, “Yes, that’s what I was planning. I shouldn’t have tried to make it a surprise. That was dangerous.”

                “I’m sorry.”

                “Enough. We both are. Many lessons learned. Painfully, but that’s how this works. We learn. We grow. We keep going.”

                “I almost ruined us.”

                “No.”

                “You—”

                “No. I never would have left. I would have tied you to a chair and made you listen. I would have resorted to violence. Imprisonment. I didn’t care. I wasn’t leaving. Bruce, I’ll never leave.”

                “You don’t know—” Bruce’s voice went tight and thin again, “How much that means to me.”

                “I think I do.”

                Bruce’s insides had gone warm and molten. His heart, felt near to bursting. It ached. It hurt to love someone so much.

                “So, are you still marrying me Saturday?”

                Clark laughed, and the sound was a balm on the freshly healing wounds between them, “Yes. If you’ll still marry me?”

                They’d both made mistakes. They would again and again. But marriage wasn’t a destination it was a journey and there would be more mistakes to be had. There would be other fights or battles. But Bruce would never, ever make the mistake of thinking Clark didn’t want him. Not again.

                Bruce closed his eyes, “Yes. I’ll always want you.”

                “I’m counting on it.”