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The Benefits of Optimism

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“Magic.”

Bruce says it like it’s a dirty word but coming from Clark’s mouth it somehow sounds even worse. His eyes are hard, lips in a thin, flat line, entire expression deeply unimpressed. If anything, he looks offended. And on Superman’s face, in full costume with his arms crossed over his chest, the effect is kind of alarming. For some reason, Clark feels vaguely embarrassed about it.

“Magic,” Diana confirms. “You can trust me on this — you and Clark are the victims of magic. I’d recognise the effects anywhere.”

“Diana,” Clark starts, and has to take a moment to process the sound of Bruce’s voice saying her name instead of his own. “Diana,” he tries again, “that’s impossible. Magic doesn’t exist.”

“Oh, really?” She raises an eyebrow. “You do know how I was born? Where I’m from? The history of my people?”

“That’s different,” Clark protests, a little desperately. “This can’t be magic. It can’t.”

Diana frowns. “Why does this upset you so?”

“It doesn’t,” Clark lies. “It’s just so —”

“Because he can’t fight magic,” Bruce interrupts. “Not the way he can fight everything else.”

He’s watching Clark with a strange expression on his face, made even stranger by the fact that it’s not his face at all. Clark would have thought that he’d be able to recognise his own expressions but apparently Bruce could make any face as annoyingly inscrutable as his own.

“Don’t fret, Clark,” Diana says, and gives his arm a reassuring squeeze. He jumps a little, surprised by how strong her grip feels. “Going by everything I’ve studied, the effects are only temporary. It shouldn’t last for more than a week or two.”

“Two weeks?” Clark exclaims.

“What’s the matter, Clark?” Bruce smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes; it’s just a curl of lips, nothing more. “Can’t handle life without superpowers for a little while?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Clark snaps.

He goes to run a hand through his hair and freezes when his fingers make contact with the smooth, strangely cool-to-the-touch material of Batman’s cowl instead. Batman’s head, he thinks, fingertips following the edge of the mask where it curves around his cheekbones and the line of his jaw. Batman’s face. I’m touching Batman’s face. He has a sudden, hysterical urge to laugh.

“What do you mean, then?” Bruce asks, watching him with narrowed eyes.

Clark sighs.

“Come on, Bruce. Surely you can see how dangerous this is?”

Bruce stares at him.

“You think I won’t be able to control your abilities.”

He doesn’t sound offended, but his voice — Clark’s voice — is so flat that Diana takes a subtle step towards Clark, as though instinctively getting ready to protect him. Or at least, protect Bruce’s body from whatever Bruce might accidentally do in Clark’s body.

“Actually, I'm not worried about that at all.”

Clark is perversely satisfied to see the surprise on Bruce’s face. Or rather, his face. God, this was confusing.

“If there’s one thing I know about you, Bruce,” Clark adds, answering the question Bruce hasn’t asked yet, “it’s that you don’t have a problem with self-control.”

And then it’s Clark’s turn to be surprised, because Bruce — Bruce actually smiles. Grins, even, wide and amused as he raises an eyebrow.

“Why do I get the feeling I’ve just been complimented and insulted at the same time?” he asks.

“Probably because you just were,” Diana says, with a small smile of her own. “But we should move. We need to get to the rendezvous point and meet with the rest of the team.” She gives both of them a sympathetic look. “And then together we can decide on how best to deal with this… situation.”

Bruce shakes his head.

“Magic,” he repeats, disgusted. Clark can only agree with him.

----

By team consensus, they agree to keep the body swap a secret amongst themselves — plus Alfred, whom Clark had always thought of as a kind of honorary League member anyway.

“It shouldn’t last for too long,” Diana says. “So just pretend to be each other for a few days and with any luck, no one will know anything is amiss.”

“Wait a second,” Clark protests. “What if you need us for a mission? I can’t very well pretend to be Batman and Bruce can’t pretend to be Superman — our skill sets are far too different for it not to be obvious that something’s wrong.”

But to Clark’s surprise, it’s Bruce who shoots him down.

“It should be fine,” Bruce says. “It’s unlikely that anything will come up in the next few days that the rest of the team can’t handle on their own.” He absently taps a thumb against the table and freezes when the entire piece of furniture — all 300 pounds of it — shudders under his fingers. “And I have other people who can patrol Gotham while we’re... like this,” he adds slowly. He lifts his hand and stares at it for a moment before very carefully putting it back down on the table.

Clark’s jaw tightens. Other people. He’d hoped that by now Bruce would have eased up on his territorial protectiveness over “his” city but really, Clark isn’t all that surprised — Bruce wasn’t exactly the kind of person who let things go. Good things, bad things — it didn’t seem to matter; Bruce clung to both with a ferocity that frustrated and impressed Clark in equal measure.

“You’ll still need to pretend to be each other, though,” Victor points out. “Not as Batman and Superman but, you know. As Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent.”

“Hey, that’s right.” Arthur’s eyes light up. “You know what, maybe I’ll stick around for a few days instead of going straight home.” He grins. “This ought to be good.”

“I’m sure Atlantis would miss you,” Diana interjects. She gives Arthur a warning look but the smile at the corners of her mouth diminishes the effect a little. “This is not a laughing matter.”

“No,” Barry agrees, squinting at Clark and Bruce in turns. “This is just fucking weird.

----

“Stay on comms,” Bruce says. “Hopefully we won’t need to keep up the charade for long, but it’ll be easier if we can communicate the whole time.”

“Agreed.”

Clark is a little apprehensive about the prospect of having Bruce in his ear nonstop for several days, but he’s still relieved that Bruce suggested they stay in contact. He wouldn't be totally lost without it — he already has a fairly good grasp of what Wayne Enterprises is, his curiosity having gotten the better of him after seeing just how different Bruce Wayne, Public Figure was to the Bruce he was slowly getting to know after the whole Steppenwolf ordeal. Not long after the League was officially formed, he'd spent several weeks researching the company and discovered that as well as the for-profit subsidiaries, it also had extensive corporate social responsibility schemes in place too — scholarships, pro bono initiatives, programs to help former inmates find work — most of which Bruce had initiated himself. Clark told himself it was research for a potential article but he never did mention it to Perry, and the more he found out the less it seemed like research and the more it felt like snooping. It was hard, after all, to look up Bruce Wayne on the internet and not find dozens of lurid tabloid exposés as well as actual, useful information.

Still, the day-to-day work of the company is something Clark doesn't know much about. He'll need all the help he can get if he’s going to pass as Bruce Wayne there, even if he was just going to hide in Bruce’s office all day.

The others had left a while ago, after he and Bruce had run some tests to see how the body swap affected them physically. As far as they could tell, muscle memory stayed intact but their ability to use those skills was compromised — Bruce could turn on the freeze-breath, for example, but he couldn’t control its intensity; likewise, Clark could execute a perfect roundhouse kick but he couldn’t aim one with much accuracy.

And now it’s just the two them, alone. Bruce is working on something at a laptop and Clark is a little impressed by how quickly he seems to be adjusting to the increased strength — he’s not typing as naturally as Clark would be but he doesn’t look like he’s expecting the thing to shatter under his hands anymore, either.

“Okay,” Bruce says. “I’ve emailed you my schedule for the rest of the week, as well as any other pertinent information you might need. What about you?”

Clark blinks. “What do you mean?”

Bruce stares at him. Clark feels an odd sort of dissonance; it was the strangest feeling, being glared at by your own face.

“Your schedule, Clark. Where do I have to be? How do I get there? Who will I interact with?” Bruce shakes his head. “I bet you know all your neighbours' names and have actual conversations with them if you see them in the lobby, don't you.” He frowns a little. "Maybe you should give me dossiers on everyone on your floor."

“I hadn’t even thought about that," Clark admits. "But I'm pretty sure dossiers are a little excessive. Even for you.” He hesitates a little and Bruce's frowns deepens, head tilting to the side and looking at Clark as though he was some kind of broken engine with a flaw he couldn’t find yet.

“Are you…” Bruce trails off. “Are you embarrassed?”

“Well, can you blame me? I don’t exactly live like this.” Clark gestures around at the enormous — and enormously expensive — League meeting room they’re currently in, which was just one of dozens of similar rooms inside the partially-restored Wayne Manor. “I didn’t think we’d actually have to live in each other’s houses while we’re, you know. Swapped.” He sighs. “I didn’t even get a chance to clean my apartment before we had to leave for the mission.”

Bruce gives him a look that’s so thoroughly Batman that his exasperation is crystal clear, even through the filter of Clark’s own face.

“Give me a little credit, Clark,” he says. “Slumming it in Metropolis for a few days is the least of my worries.”

“What are your worries, then?” Clark snaps, and immediately regrets it. “Sorry,” he adds quickly, and holds up an apologetic hand. “This is just — Barry was right. This is just weird.”

Bruce sighs.

“Look at the schedule I sent you.”

Clark checks his phone, taking a moment to be grateful for the fact that it’s not a new model and just uses a good old-fashioned password rather than a fingerprint reader or facial recognition — neither of which would be much help to him right now. He opens the email Bruce sent, scrolling down until he finds the schedule, and —

“Oh, crap.”

Bruce sighs again. “Exactly.”

Saturday, April 24, 7pm till late — Wayne Foundation Annual Spring Ball.

Dress code: creative black tie.

----

This is your apartment?”

Bruce’s voice is so clearly disbelieving through the comm in his ear that Clark can easily imagine the look on his face right now. Or at least, how he’d look if he was in his actual body, and not Clark’s.

“I thought you said you wouldn’t mind, and I quote, ‘slumming it’ for a few days,” Clark replies, as he cautiously steps into Bruce’s lakehouse. “Who knows, maybe it’ll do you good to see how the other half lives.”

“Maybe it will do you some good, too,” Bruce retorts. There’s a creaking sound and then an odd sort of rustling, before Bruce lets out a disappointed sigh. “At the very least I hope it’ll make you appreciate the benefits of decent tailoring.”

Clark pauses on his way through the living room.

“Are you looking through my closet right now?”

“Yes, I am,” Bruce replies, totally unapologetic. “Are your work clothes in here? For your day job, I mean.”

“Check the blue laundry basket in the corner,” Clark says, making his way to the guest room that Alfred set up for him. “The iron should be right next to it.”

There’s a sudden silence on the other end of the comm.

“I’m supposed to iron?”

“Oh, my god,” Clark mutters, and pinches the bridge of his nose. There’s an odd feeling behind his eyes, a kind of throbbing discomfort, and it takes him a moment to realise, with no small amount of amazement, what it actually is — a headache. A headache, he marvels, despite the throbbing pain. An actual, human headache.

There’s a clunking noise from the comm and with some effort, Clark manages to refocus.

“You don’t actually know how to iron, do you?” he asks.

Bruce scoffs. “You do realise I build all my own equipment, right? It can’t be that complicated, Clark.”

“If you burn my clothes, you’re buying me new ones.”

“Good,” Bruce replies. “Maybe then you’d actually have something that fit you properly.”

Clark ignores that in favour of admiring the view from the guest bedroom. It was more than a little ironic that a man as guarded as Bruce chose to live in a house with walls that were almost entirely made of glass, but Clark can’t deny that the effect is nothing short of spectacular. The lake ripples gently, a haze of mist distorting the reflection of the surrounding woods as the sun sinks below the treeline. It’s quiet too, much quieter than his apartment in Metropolis, and not just because he doesn't have superhearing right now. It's nothing like the farm back in Kansas but it's sort of familiar all the same — the lack of city noise, the quiet chirping of distant birds. Clark finds himself oddly grateful for the reprieve despite the strange situation he's in.

“Clark?”

Bruce sounds a little wary now.

“Sorry,” Clark says. His voice is softer than he means it to be. “I was just admiring the view.” He laughs a little, equally soft. “You have a beautiful home, Bruce. Thank you for letting me stay here for a while.”

There’s a brief pause.

“Thank you for letting me stay in yours,” Bruce replies. His voice is surprisingly serious.

“Even though you’re slumming it?” Clark asks, amused.

“I’m not slumming it.” Bruce seems to hesitate. “Your apartment is perfectly fine,” he adds. “It’s just not what I expected.”

Clark starts exploring the rest of the bedroom. Some of Bruce’s clothes have been moved to the closet, and the bathroom is fully stocked with a rather alarming amount of personal care products, half of which Clark has no idea how to use.

“What did you expect?” he asks, genuinely curious.

Another pause, longer this time.

“I didn’t expect it to be so... “ Bruce trails off. “Normal.”

There’s an odd catch in Bruce’s voice, and if he wasn’t speaking with Clark’s voice then Clark might not have recognised it for what it was: an apology, and no small amount of guilt.

Clark takes a deep breath.

“Well, sorry to disappoint you,” he says, deliberately keeping his voice light. (And isn’t that weird, he thinks to himself: Bruce’s voice sounding lighthearted.) “But I’m actually pretty aggressively normal. One might even say, boring.”

There’s a quiet snort of laughter.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“See that you do,” Clark says, a little more seriously now. “If anyone at the Planet gets suspicious —”

“They won’t,” Bruce interrupts. “All I have to do is pretend to be a giant boy scout, right? And wear these ridiculous glasses.”

“I like my glasses,” Clark says mildly.

He starts changing into the pair of sweatpants and t-shirt that had been laid out on the bed for him. The fabric is unbelievably soft against his skin and Clark tries not to think about how much it probably cost.

“We’re lucky Lois is on assignment overseas,” he adds. “It would’ve been impossible to fool her.”

“That’s right,” Bruce says. There’s some more rustling noises through the comm and Clark realises that Bruce must be getting changed too. He tries to imagine Bruce wearing his old Metropolis U sweatshirt and almost laughs out loud, before he remembers that Bruce doesn’t actually look like Bruce right now and feels oddly disappointed. “She knows you pretty well, doesn’t she?” Bruce asks. “Biblically, I mean.”

“She used to,” Clark says. It didn’t sting to say the words now, not anymore, but his voice is still too even to be entirely offhand. Bruce, of course, hears it anyway.

“Sorry,” he says, and sounds like he means it. “That was uncalled for.”

“It’s fine,” Clark replies, and really — it is. “I just meant it would be impossible to fool her because we’re such good friends. And as convincing as you can be when you’re out Bruce Wayne-ing it for the press, you passing for Clark Kent is an entirely different thing.”

“I could say the same about you,” Bruce points out. “Just try to stay in the office for the day, okay? I’ve postponed all my meetings till next week and Lucius can take care of most other things while I’m gone.”

“Yes, thank you, I read your notes, Bruce,” Clark says, rolling his eyes. “I know what to do.” He rubs his temple, trying to ease the throbbing pain, but it just seems to be getting worse. He sits down on the edge of the bed and groans a little.

“Headache?” Bruce asks.

“How did you know?”

“I get them a lot.” Another brief pause. “There should be some ibuprofen in the bathroom cupboard. Take two and then go to bed.”

Clark hauls himself up. It's still early but he's already tired, dull aches and pains in odd places — his right leg, his lower back, his shoulders. He’d gotten changed as quickly as he could, not wanting to look at the many, many scars and half-healed bruises that were scattered all over Bruce’s body, knowing without being told that to do so would be to violate Bruce’s trust in some tangible, fundamental way. But it’s not lost on Clark that the tiredness and pain he's feeling now were how Bruce felt all the time, that this is what he lived with every single day, and the knowledge that he dealt with all of it willingly, that he constantly put himself in situations where he knew it could get even worse, made Clark feel faintly sick. Bruce was ostensibly the only one of the team that didn’t have superhuman abilities, but Clark is starting to understand that just choosing to be Batman was in and of itself a superhuman act of will.

“Clark?” Bruce asks, a faint edge of worry sharpening his voice.

“Sorry,” Clark says. “I just… got lost in thought for a second. I found the meds.” He swallows a couple of pills from the ibuprofen bottle. “There’s actually a whole lot of meds in here.”

“I know,” Bruce replies. “I left you everything you might conceivably need, just in case. But ask Alfred what to do if the pain gets worse. Some of that stuff you shouldn’t take unless you really, really need it.”

“You left it here,” Clark repeats slowly. “For me.”

“That’s what I just said,” Bruce says. Clark can actually hear the frown in his voice.

“No, I meant…” He trails off.

Bruce had anticipated that Clark would be in physical discomfort — a lot more than he was used to — and had planned accordingly. It was smart and efficient and thorough, all things Bruce always was, but it was also — incredibly thoughtful and considerate, too. And that, Clark realises with some surprise, was also very typically Bruce: showing his empathy through his actions, rather than his words.

“Thank you,” Clark adds. “Just… thanks.”

“No problem.” Bruce sounds a little puzzled and Clark smiles as he settles down on the bed. “Get some rest, sleep the headache off. We’ll talk again in the morning.”

“Okay,” Clark says, closing his eyes and already starting to drift off a little. “Goodnight, Bruce.”

There’s silence on the comm for so long that Clark doesn’t think Bruce will answer. And when he does, his voice is so quiet that Clark half-wonders if he just imagined it.

“Goodnight, Clark. Sleep well.”

----

Clark tries to ignore the eyes that track his every movement, but even if he didn’t already know how sharp Alfred’s mind was it would still be a little unnerving.

“I know it’s weird,” he says, breaking the increasingly awkward silence.

Alfred starts a little at the sound of his voice.

“I apologise, Master Kent,” he says quickly. “I’ve been extremely rude. Do forgive me.”

Clark shakes his head. “There’s nothing to forgive, Alfred. It’s —” Clark laughs a little. “It is really, really weird.”

Alfred stares at him for a moment, somehow looking both fascinated and appalled at the same time.

“It’s so strange,” he murmurs. “You look just like him, yet I can tell at a glance that you’re not him.”

“Well, here’s hoping I do a better impression at the office today.”

Clark nervously fiddles with his cufflinks, which had been laid out for him earlier that morning — along with everything else that he was wearing — by Alfred himself. He’s infinitely grateful that Alfred had had the foresight to get everything ready on his behalf, because even Clark knew that Bruce Wayne dressed in a very specific way that he had no hope of emulating on his own.

“You’ll do fine, Master Kent,” Alfred says reassuringly. “It’s just strange for me since I know him… differently, than the rest of the world does.”

“But you deal with different Bruces all the time though, don’t you?” Clark asks.

Alfred gives him a questioning look.

“I mean…” Clark frowns a little, trying to put his thoughts into words. “There’s the Bruce that the world the sees, and the Bruce that we see, and then there’s the Bruce that puts on the batsuit every night. I know I’m not any of them, but — I just... I thought maybe this wouldn’t seem totally unfamiliar to you.”

The look on Alfred’s face changes, going from confusion to intrigue to surprise, before finally settling on something Clark doesn’t quite understand.

“Ah," Alfred says, more to himself than anything. "Now I see what his problem is.”

Clark blinks.

“I’m sorry?” he asks uncertainly.

Alfred just shakes his head. He stands and starts making his way out of the room. “It's always the clever ones he's unprepared for.”

Clark stares after him. His face feels hot, his suit too tight.

“Come along, Master Kent,” Alfred says. “I’ll get the car ready for you.” He pauses by the door, half-turning back and catching Clark’s eye. “And to answer your question,” he adds, “this is totally unfamiliar to me, because all those versions you mentioned — the one the world sees, the one we see, the one who wears the cowl — in reality, they’re all one and the same.” He stops, then smiles a little. “Or more accurately,” he amends, “they all have the same heart. And once you understand that, Master Kent —” He pauses, and gives Clark a look so penetrating that Clark has to resist the urge to stand at attention. “Once you understand that,” he repeats, “I have no doubt that you’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

Clark frowns again. “You mean when I’m at Wayne Enterprises?”

Alfred’s smile widens.

“You’ll know what to do,” he says again, disappearing out the door and leaving Clark alone, confused, and strangely unsettled.

----

“Are you aware that you don’t have any food in here?”

“Sorry I got body-swapped and didn’t have time to do groceries,” Clark says drily.

“Easy for you to say,” Bruce mutters. “I bet Alfred left you dinner before he went on patrol.”

“He did, and it’s delicious.”

Clark eats another forkful — beef bourguignon, the best he’s ever had. Alfred had also left him a bottle of wine, but it looked too terrifyingly expensive to touch. In any case, he didn’t want to compromise Bruce’s body in any way and getting tipsy definitely wouldn’t help.

“Just go get some takeout or something,” Clark adds. “The burger place a couple blocks away is pretty good.”

“I’m not actually hungry,” Bruce admits. “It’s just the principle of the thing.”

Clark has to smile at that. “How very Batman of you.”

“Ha, ha.” Clark hears him typing on a keyboard of some kind and wonders if he ever stops working. “I actually haven’t felt hungry all day,” Bruce says. “Do you even need to eat?”

“Not really.” Clark thinks about it a little. “But I like eating. For the pleasure of it.”

“Must’ve been strange today, then. Getting hungry in a human body.”

“Among other things, yeah.”

“Really?” Bruce’s voice sharpens with sudden interest. “Such as?”

“Uh,” Clark says. For some reason, something about the tone of Bruce’s voice makes his face flush a little. “Just, you know. Needing to sleep. Needing to rest. And, uh—”

“Yes?” Bruce prompts.

“There’s a pain,” Clark says reluctantly. “Upper right thigh. I think you might have pulled something during the last mission.”

“Mmm,” Bruce says. “It’s an old injury, but yes — I strained the muscle again.”

“How can you fight when you’re in this much discomfort?” Clark complains, shifting in his seat to try to get more comfortable.

“Because I have to.”

Bruce's voice is so matter-of-fact that it’s clear he never even considers any other alternative. Clark pushes his plate away, suddenly no longer hungry. He knew Bruce pushed himself to the limit but having this kind of first-hand knowledge of the toll it took was another thing entirely.

“You should massage it,” Bruce adds. “It will help.”

“I don’t know how.” Clark shifts again and gasps a little when he moves the wrong way and a sudden spike of pain shoots up his leg. “Could you teach me? Over the comm?”

A long, surprisingly heavy pause.

“Okay,” Bruce says. “But —” He clears his throat. “You’ll need to take your pants off.”

Clark isn’t sure he heard that right.

“Excuse me?”

“You’ll need to take your pants off,” Bruce repeats. “You won’t be able to do it properly otherwise.” His voice turns clinical. “So finish your dinner and when you’re ready, let me know. I’ll teach you how to do it.”

Clark hesitates, but the pain is really starting to bother him. If medication were the more preferable option Bruce would have suggested it already, so massage was probably more effective. And his main objective during this whole ordeal was to take care of Bruce’s body, so that when they were back to normal Bruce would know that his trust hadn’t been misplaced.

“Okay,” Clark says. “Okay, just — give me an hour or so?”

“Sure,” Bruce says. Another pause. “I’ll be right here.”

----

“Okay, I’m all set.”

Clark is sitting on the bed with his back propped up against the wall, waiting for Bruce to answer, and not wearing any pants.

It’s not a situation Clark ever thought he’d be in but really, he never thought he’d get magically body-swapped either, so it’s kind of a moot point. He shifts around on the bed, trying to find a more comfortable position. He’d taken a quick shower after dinner — very quick — and determinedly didn't dwell on any thoughts other than getting clean. It was strange enough being in a human body, but infinitely stranger being in Bruce’s body — a body that he knew was as strong and tough as a human body could be, but one which was still littered with permanent signs of just how fragile human bodies were. Bruce had dozens of scars, all over him, some barely visible and some that hadn't healed properly, leaving strange, misshapen reminders of what must have been major injuries. Clark doesn’t let himself think about what Bruce must have endured to survive them.

“Right,” Bruce says. “Let’s get started.” His voice sounds a little tinny.

“Are you in the bathroom?” Clark asks, a little incredulously.

“That is generally where people take baths.”

“You’re taking a bath?”

“You’d rather I left your body dirty?” Bruce takes a breath. “That was a poor choice of phrasing.”

“What happened?” Clark demands.

Bruce clears his throat.

“There may have been an incident with a ketchup bottle.”

“You broke it, didn’t you.” Clark grins, deeply amused. “You forgot how strong you were and it broke all over you.”

“You’re the one who suggested that burger place,” Bruce mutters. “I had to walk back to your apartment looking like an extra out of Carrie.”

“Still doesn’t explain why you’re taking a bath instead of a shower.”

“Clark,” Bruce says, a sly note creeping into his voice. “Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed about this, too.” His voice drops a little. “Trust me, you’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Clark knows full well that Bruce is just messing with him but his heartbeat still picks up a little. There’s silence on the comm and Clark wonders if Bruce can hear it, if he knows what it must mean. And when he speaks again, Bruce’s voice isn’t quite back to normal, the faintest hint of roughness in it as he tells Clark what to do.

“The strain is in the adductor muscle group,” Bruce says. “Bend your leg up and push your fingers in where the pain is. The upper inside thigh is a good place to start.” His voice lowers a little more. “Near the groin.”

Clark takes a breath but does as he’s told. “I don’t really feel anything,” he says.

“Press harder.” Bruce pauses. “As hard as you can.”

There’s a faint splashing sound and Clark wonders if Bruce is making the same movements against his own leg — to better explain how to do it, Clark thinks, but the flush on his face makes it a little more difficult to deny what he’s hoping Bruce is actually doing.

“Okay,” Clark says, and briefly closes his eyes when he hears how deep his voice — Bruce’s voice — has become. There’s another soft sound on the comm, almost like a sharp intake of breath, and Clark has to focus hard on keeping his own breathing deep and even.

“Go harder,” Bruce instructs. “Really… push it in.”

He almost sounds like he’s giving orders in the field, even though he’s using Clark’s voice. It makes Clark shiver a little and he obediently digs his fingers into the muscle, as hard as he can, and can’t help the soft moan that escapes when he finally feels some relief from the pain.

“Good?” Bruce asks. His voice is very quiet.

“Yeah,” Clark breathes. “Yeah, it — it’s good.”

“Keep going,” Bruce says. “You can —” Clark hears him take an unsteady breath. “You can go as hard as you want to. As deep as you can get. You won’t hurt me.”

There’s more splashing sounds and Clark closes his eyes as he continues kneading the muscle with Bruce’s strong, calloused hands. He tries to think of random things, innocuous things, but as soon as he hears Bruce’s voice again the only thing he sees in his mind’s eye is Bruce in his bathtub — Bruce-Bruce, not Bruce-as-Clark. He hadn’t let himself look closely at Bruce’s body while he showered or changed, but Clark saw enough to be able to picture it pretty clearly — the long stretch of those powerful limbs, the edges and planes of sharply defined muscle, the colour of his skin flushed and damp. His dark hair, a wet lock hanging over his forehead as he slowly, languidly touched himself.

Clark feels his cock getting hard and licks his lips, trying to ignore it.

“Oh,” he breathes, as his fingers dig deeper into his — Bruce’s — thigh. His hands creep upwards even as he tries to tell himself to stop, but —

“Keep going,” Bruce says. There’s a very clear edge of roughness in his voice now as the splashing sound gets noticeably louder. “Don’t stop.”

“Bruce, I—”

Don’t. Stop.”

The splashing gets even louder as Bruce's breathing gets heavier and Clark can't help himself now; he skims his erection — Bruce’s erection — with the palm of his hand, and has to bite his lip to keep from moaning. The sensations are different in a human body, very different, but not entirely unfamiliar — more concentrated, somehow; more direct. In his own body it was more like a wave, lapping steadily at the shore until it crested and crashed. This was more like an aperture closing, a kind of focused tension that kept getting tighter and tighter until, Clark assumes, it shatters into a million pieces. He can’t quite make himself slip a hand beneath his underwear, the idea of touching Bruce's body like that without permission still too much for him to ignore, but it doesn’t seem to matter — he’s hard and leaking just thinking about it, and when Bruce asks in a rough whisper whether he’s feeling any better, Clark can barely manage a strained, breathless yes.

“Good,” Bruce says. His voice is smoother now, less tense, and the splashing seems to have stopped. Clark wonders if that means what he thinks it means and he can’t hold back the moan anymore, can’t stop himself from panting, because just the thought of it, of Bruce in his bathtub and touching himself, hands running all over his naked body — Clark’s naked body — until he was pushed right over the edge —

God,” Clark chokes, shuddering and surprised as he comes without warning, cock entirely untouched.

“Good?” Bruce repeats. His voice is very soft in Clark’s ear as come continues to spill out of him, as his cock continues to throb.

“Yeah,” Clark whispers hoarsely. “Yeah, Bruce. It was good.”

----

Clark stares blankly into the depths of the open closet.

Alfred had added a huge number of things while he’d been at Wayne Enterprises for the day and Clark doesn’t have the first clue where to start. For one thing, half the clothes were in virtually identical shades black, dark grey or dark blue, and had he been in his actual body with its superior vision Clark’s still not sure he’d have been able to tell the difference between them all. He wishes Alfred had laid out another full outfit for him but this time, he'd just left a note, stuck to the closet door: Apologies — need to patrol early. But don't worry. You'll know what to do.

He glances down at the email on his phone again. Creative black tie. What on earth did that even mean?

“Clark?”

“Oh, thank god,” he mutters. “In here,” he calls out, and a few minutes later Bruce walks into the room.

Clark blinks at him.

“Is my hair always that messy after I’ve been flying?” he asks. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Bruce runs a hand through his hair, half-heartedly trying to tidy it back up.

“It’s not messy when you fly,” he says, “because you actually know how to fly. Me, on the other hand,” he shrugs. “You only gave me the theory a few days ago, and the Cliff’s Notes version at that.”

Clark winces a little, remembering all too well how his own first attempt at flight had gone.

“How was it?”

“Passable,” Bruce says with a tilt of his head. “Muscle memory and all that. I made sure no one saw me.” He pauses, then suddenly grins. “I have to admit, though — it’s a hell of a rush.”

“Yeah,” Clark agrees with a small laugh. “It sure is.”

They just stand there, smiling at each other, and for a moment it’s just nice — sharing a little private joke instead of being kept at a distance. But then something in Bruce’s eyes seems to shift, and Clark is suddenly reminded of two nights ago when he’d lain on the bed in this very room and came in his pants — from just the thought of Bruce touching him, from the thought of Bruce wanting to touch him. Clark feels his face heat up and looks away quickly.

“Anyway,” he says. “Now that you’re here, could you help me figure all this out?” He gestures vaguely at the closet.

Bruce frowns at him and for a brief, wild moment, Clark wonders if he’s actually going to ask the question that Clark doesn’t want to answer. Not yet, at any rate. But then the moment passes and all Bruce says is, “What’s there to figure out? The dress code is clear.”

“Clear?” Clark repeats. “The meaning of ‘creative black tie’ is clear?”

Bruce presses his lips together, trying not to laugh.

“It just means that you can wear an appropriate suit instead of a tuxedo, if you want to.” He shakes his head. “This is why you made me fly here? Seriously? You could’ve just asked over comms.”

Clark raises his eyebrows.

“You really trust me to pick out something appropriate?” He glances down at what he’s currently wearing. “Your work suits are one thing — Alfred always gets full outfits ready for me so I don’t have to think about it. Although god knows why you even need these—” Clark reaches up and tugs at the collar bar pinned to his shirt. Plain silver today, snug against his throat. “Since as far as I can tell, they don’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever.”

“It keeps your collar in place and lifts the knot on your tie.” Bruce sounds amused, but his eyes are sharp when he adds, “Everything I do has a purpose, Clark.”

“You always have an answer for everything, don’t you,” Clark says, trying not to wonder what that look might mean. He shakes his head and looks away again. “Just tell me what to wear, okay? Please?”

When there’s no immediate response, Clark glances over. Bruce is looking at him with an intent expression and for all his familiarity with that face, Clark has no idea what to make of it.

“Okay, Clark,” Bruce says, eventually. He smiles a little. “Since you said please.”

He steps closer, reaching past Clark and into the closet.

“I said creative black tie meant you could wear a suit instead of a tuxedo, but you — Bruce Wayne, that is — will be expected to wear the tux.” Bruce rifles around the closet for a moment. “But not necessarily a traditional one.”

He pulls out several things in quick succession, apparently knowing instinctively what went with what: a jacket made of a plush, deep blue material; a pair of black slacks; a crisp white shirt; a black bow tie.

“Velvet?” Clark asks, running his fingers over the jacket.

“Yes.” Bruce glances at him. “I like the texture,” he adds with a tiny smirk, “and I’m told the colour brings out my eyes.” Clark makes a show of rolling those eyes and Bruce laughs a little. He opens one of the drawers and starts surveying a frankly unnecessary number of cufflinks.

Clark rubs the sleeve of the jacket between his fingers. It was very soft. He starts thinking about how good it would feel against his bare skin, against Bruce’s skin, and for no good reason at all his face flushes again.

“Go get changed,” Bruce says. Clark jumps a little but Bruce isn’t even looking at him, still bent over the drawer. “I'll choose the cufflinks after you're dressed.”

Clark goes to the bathroom and starts stripping off. He tries to be quick about it but as he slips the shirt on and steps into the slacks, he can't help skimming his hands over the smooth planes of Bruce's chest; can’t help running his fingers over Bruce's flat stomach and strong, firm thighs. And when he sees what he looks like when he's fully dressed, tuxedo on and hair combed back but bow tie still draped untied around his neck, he has a sudden, sinking realisation that asking Bruce to come over had been a mistake. A big mistake.

Because now that he knows what Bruce looks like underneath all the suits he wears, now that he knows how that body feels under his hands, Clark is never going to be able to look at him again without thinking about it. Including right now, despite the fact that Clark is the one currently occupying the body that's distracting him so badly.

“All done?” Bruce asks, fiddling with a cufflink as Clark emerges from the bathroom. He looks up when Clark doesn’t answer, then frowns at what he sees. “Why haven't you done up the tie?”

“I don't know how to,” Clark admits.

“Why doesn't that surprise me?” Bruce asks, but he's smiling a little as he says it. “Come here,” he adds, setting the cufflink down on the dresser.

Clark hesitates.

“Uh,” he says, not really wanting to get any closer and risk giving himself away. “Do I really need to wear one?”

“You're wearing a tux, Clark. Wearing one without a bow tie would be like you wearing the Superman suit without the cape.”

Clark reluctantly steps forward. Bruce comes closer, close enough that Clark can smell the shampoo he’d used — just some generic thing Clark had bought at the supermarket but for some reason, the scent of it makes him feel a little dizzy. Or maybe it's the heat coming from Bruce's body — or rather, Clark’s body. Warmer than a human body, he thinks vaguely, and wonders why he'd never noticed that about himself before. Clark stares at a button on Bruce's shirt — blue plaid, one of his favourites — and tries unsuccessfully to will his heartbeat to slow down. This close up, there's no way Bruce isn't able to hear it.

Bruce tugs lightly on the ends of the bow tie. And then —

Warm fingers land on Clark’s cheek, carefully tracing the line of his jaw before sweeping down over his throat. Clark looks up in surprise, and no small amount of alarm.

“What — ” he starts. He doesn’t actually know what to say but Bruce interrupts him anyway.

“Why haven't you shaved?”

Clark blinks.

“I... I don’t know. I didn’t really think about it.”

“Well, you can't go to the ball looking like that.” Bruce leans closer, frowning a little as he looks over the stubble. “Hmm,” he says. “I never realised there was so much grey in my beard. I don’t usually let it grow out this much.” He gives Clark an amused glance before he turns his attention back to the cufflinks. “Being in a human body must be strange enough, let alone one that’s pushing fifty.”

“You’re not exactly the average fifty-year-old, Bruce,” Clark points out, voice dry with understatement.

“Still going grey, though.”

“I like it,” Clark says unthinkingly. Bruce glances over again. “I mean,” he adds quickly, “it — it suits you.”

“Does it?”

There’s a watchful sort of expression in Bruce’s eyes. Clark clears his throat.

“I should, uh… I should go and shave.”

He hurries back to the bathroom, trying to cover how unsettled he is, and starts rifling around the cupboards. He looks for anything that might look like a fancy electric shaver and jumps when Bruce unexpectedly comes in after him.

“Not in there,” he says. “Second drawer on the left.”

Clark opens the drawer and — freezes.

It's not an electric shaver. It's a straight razor.

“Clark?” Bruce asks, when he does nothing but stare.

He looks up and meets Bruce's eyes in the mirror.

“I — I've never used one before,” he says.

Bruce raises his eyebrows.

“No, of course not,” he says, after a pause. “I should've thought of that.” He shrugs. “Well, it's not too complicated. Just wet the brush, swirl it around on the —”

“No, Bruce — you don't understand.” Bruce falls silent and waits for him to continue. “I — it's not that I don't know what to do.”

“What is it, then?”

Clark eyes the razor. “I can't — if I make a mistake —”

“A little cut isn't going to kill me, Clark.”

Bruce's voice is as steady as Clark’s ever heard it, despite it not being Bruce's voice at all.

“I know, but I still —”

Clark takes a deep breath. There's no possible way to explain what the real problem is — that he's not worried about accidentally nicking Bruce's skin. It's the idea that he'll be the cause of another one of Bruce's scars that's making him hesitate, and even though he knows that some of them probably are his fault already — he threw Bruce into a police car when he first came back, after all — this just seems different, somehow. Intimate, even, in a weird and unexpected way, and for whatever reason it's a line too far for Clark to cross.

Bruce watches him silence. Clark can't bring himself to meet his eyes again so he just stares blankly into the sink, regretting, again, that he'd asked Bruce to come over. But then Bruce moves, slowly, like he's half-expecting Clark to tell him to stop.

“What if I do it for you?”

Clark’s head snaps up. “What do you mean?”

“You can't go to the ball like that,” Bruce says, still coming inexorably closer. “People will wonder if I've started letting myself go. But if you don't want to do it yourself, I can shave you instead.” He pauses. “If you trust me.”

Clark doesn’t even hesitate.

“Of course I trust you.”

Something flickers overs Bruce's face at that, but it’s there and gone in the blink of an eye, too fast for Clark to catch.

“All right,” Bruce says slowly. “All right. Let me you get a chair.”

He's back barely a minute later — just enough time for Clark to second-guess himself, to consider asking Bruce to just go to the nearest supermarket and buy a cheap disposable razor instead. But there's a look in Bruce's eyes that Clark can't quite refuse, a look that's undeniably Bruce's for all that the eyes are technically Clark’s.

“Take a seat,” Bruce says.

He wets a small towel and then wraps it under Clark’s jaw, pulling it up over this face and eyes too. It’s damp and warm and Clark tries not to think about how close Bruce is standing, how his hands feel as they brush his face and neck.

“Is this okay?” Clark asks, trying to distract himself. He hears the water running before something taps against the sink — probably the brush, he thinks. “I mean, what if you get soap on the tux?”

There’s an abrupt silence, as though Bruce suddenly stopped moving. It stretches on and on until Bruce slowly pulls the towel off of Clark’s face. He’s watching Clark in the mirror again, something sharp in his eyes, but Clark just blinks at his reflection, not understanding what it could mean.

“That's right,” Bruce says slowly, still watching Clark with that very careful, almost wary look on his face. Bruce puts the brush back down and turns away to put the towel on the railing. “Maybe you should take your jacket and shirt off,” he adds.

Clark stares.

“What?”

“Take your shirt off,” Bruce repeats. He glances over. “You're right, soap would ruin that jacket, and since it cost —”

“Don't tell me,” Clark says quickly.

Bruce chuckles. “Then what are you waiting for?” Clark flushes and Bruce raises an eyebrow. “It’s not like I haven't seen it all before, Clark.”

“Right,” Clark says faintly.

He stands, barely registering what he's doing, and then Bruce steps closer and helps him take the jacket off. Bruce disappears for a moment to hang it up in the bedroom as Clark starts unbuttoning his shirt.

What am I doing, he wonders, even as his fingers keep twisting buttons free. I shouldn't —

But that's when Bruce comes back, silently watching him from the doorway as he undoes the last button. Bruce steps forward again and pulls the shirt from his shoulders. His fingers brush Clark’s arms and trail over the back of his neck and Clark can’t quite suppress a shiver.

“Thanks,” he manages to say.

Bruce smiles a little but doesn’t respond. He leaves to hang the shirt up too and Clark sits down again, trying not to stare at his reflection in the mirror — at Bruce's body in the mirror, he corrects himself. But his gaze is inevitably drawn upward, and yes, he sees scars — dozens of them, some of them faint and faded and some of them jagged and ugly — but they do nothing to diminish the broadness of that chest, or the strength in muscles sculpted by over two decades of training and single-minded dedication.

It takes him a second too long to realise that Bruce is back in the room, leaning against the doorframe, watching him catalogue the many, many scars that are now laid bare for him to see.

“The batsuit hasn't always been so well armoured,” Bruce says quietly.

“Some of these don't look very old.”

Bruce shrugs. “The armour gets better, but so do the weapons.”

“I admire you, you know,” Clark says suddenly. Bruce stiffens, but Clark doesn’t stop. “What you do. Even if I don't always agree with — I still admire what you do.”

Bruce doesn't respond.

“I don't know if I would,” Clark admits, “if I wasn’t...” He gestures to his body — his actual body, the one Bruce is currently occupying — “I don't know if I would still —”

“You would,” Bruce says, not a trace of uncertainty in his voice. “Of course you would.”

They stare at each other in the mirror, which somehow makes the unexpected honesty a little easier to bear. How ironic, Clark thinks, that they're only able to see each other this clearly when they're not even in their own bodies.

Then Bruce lowers his head, briefly, and when he looks up again there's a small, rueful smile on face, as though he'd been thinking the exact same thing.

“Ready for your shaving lesson, Mr. Kent?” he asks.

Clark smiles despite himself. “By all means, Mr. Wayne,” he says, and gestures to the sink where the razor and soap and brush are still set up.

Bruce gets a lather going, swirling the brush in the soap dish until he gets a thick white foam.

“Lean back,” he says. His voice is still very quiet, intimate in a way that makes Clark very aware of the fact that he's currently half-naked.

Bruce takes careful hold of Clark’s jaw, hands unexpectedly gentle as he tips Clark’s head back. Clark has to close his eyes, unable to look at Bruce as he bends down and sweeps the lather over his face and neck.

“It tickles,” he murmurs, and hears Bruce's soft huff of laughter.

“Did you even know what a tickle felt like?” he asks. He sounds genuinely curious. “In your own body, I mean.”

“Why wouldn't I? I'm invulnerable, not numb.”

“Yeah,” Bruce says, his voice even quieter now — so quiet that Clark barely hears him. Bruce presses the razor against Clark’s neck. “I know.”

“Do you?” Clark asks, unable to stop himself.

Bruce goes still above him. Clark still has his eyes closed and he's not sure whether it’s better or worse this way — knowing or not knowing what Bruce looks like right now, what’s in his eyes as he contemplates what Clark may or may not be asking.

“I do,” Bruce says eventually.

He scrapes the blade over Clark’s throat. It makes a faint scratching sound and as the sharp edge drags over his skin, Clark’s cock twitches and his face flushes with heat. His breath comes faster, his heart beats louder, and when Bruce goes still again he knows with absolute certainty that Bruce has noticed his reaction, and knows exactly what it means.

For an interminable minute or two, Bruce doesn’t move at all — Clark can’t even hear him breathing. And maybe he's not, Clark thinks a little wildly. He doesn't have to, not while he's in Clark’s body. And then that thought twists inside his head, flipping the meaning into something that makes Clark swallow as heat pools in his belly and his fingers twitch with the need to do something, touch something. The movement of his throat makes the razor press in too hard and Clark feels a sudden flash of pain — brief, but hot and stinging. His eyes flicker open and in the mirror he sees a rivulet of blood trickle down his throat, shockingly red against the pure white of the lather.

Bruce finally takes a breath, still watching him in the mirror. Clark braces himself but Bruce just takes another deep breath before refocusing on his jaw, and for several long minutes, he just continues shaving in silence. Clark is just starting to hope that maybe Bruce will take pity on him — that Bruce will extend him this one kindness and ignore what's happening, how his body is reacting — when Bruce suddenly speaks again.

“The massage the other night,” he says, and Clark’s heart skips a beat. “On your thigh. Did it help?”

“Yes,” he manages to say, but his voice is already embarrassingly rough.

“I'm glad,” Bruce says.

He continues to drag the razor over Clark’s jaw, smooth controlled movements that conversely make it increasingly difficult for Clark to keep still. It makes him think about what else Bruce would be so controlled at, what else he was capable of doing with such focused, precise skill.

“It must have been strange for you,” Bruce adds. “Feeling that.”

“Feeling what?” Clark asks unsteadily.

Bruce pauses. “Relief,” he says. “Release.” He stares at Clark in the mirror and Clark finds himself unable to look away. “Touching yourself like that,” he adds softly, “can be very beneficial.”

Clark swallows thickly. “Yes, I — I suppose it can be.”

Bruce leans down, farther than he really needs to.

“It must have felt different for you,” he says, wiping the remaining foam off Clark’s face. Bruce's mouth is so close to his ear that Clark can feel his breath ghosting over his skin, can feel the heat radiating from his body. “To what you're used to, I mean.”

“Yes,” Clark repeats, voice more unsteady than ever. “It was — very different.” He swallows again, fighting with himself, but the words come out anyway. “But not... not bad different.”

“It was good?” Bruce asks.

“Yes,” Clark whispers. “Very good.”

Bruce's fingers tighten around his shoulders.

“It was good for me too,” he says. His voice is very quiet and his eyes are very intent.

Clark stares at him in the mirror. “You,” he breathes. He licks his lips. “You — touched yourself too?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

Bruce shrugs. “The way I usually do.” He tilts his head to the side, looking thoughtful. “But it was — different. It felt different.”

“Good different?”

Bruce’s eyes bore into his.

Very good different.”

One of Bruce's hands trails lower, sliding over Clark’s chest as he leans down again, mouth almost brushing Clark’s neck.

“I —” Clark starts. He clears his throat. “I didn't —”

“Didn't what,” Bruce prompts, when Clark can't make himself continue.

His fingers brush over a nipple, so lightly that it could be an accident, but Bruce is watching him in the mirror with such intense focus that Clark is sure it's anything but. He recognises the look in those in eyes — his own eyes. He knows exactly how they change when he's turned on and Clark isn't sure what weird combination of narcissism and lust and Bruce this is, but he's getting harder and harder by the second.

“What didn't you do, Clark?”

“I didn't —” Clark swallows, and watches Bruce's eyes track the movement of his throat. “I didn't touch myself. I mean —” He hesitates. “I massaged my leg like you told me to, but I didn't — didn't touch anything else.”

Bruce goes still behind him and Clark holds his breath.

“And yet you still —” Bruce licks his lips. “You still came,” he says, destroying whatever thin veneer of plausible deniability they had left. As if to hammer it in further, Bruce deliberately rubs a thumb over one of Clark’s nipples, all pretence of it being an accident gone.

Clark can't help it. He gasps, arching into the touch. “Yes,” he pants. “I came.”

“Untouched?” Bruce's gaze is heated.

“Untouched.”

Bruce inhales sharply and looks away from Clark's reflection, letting go of Clark's shoulders as he takes two quick steps away.

“Do you have any idea how —” He cuts himself off and shakes his head. “I can hear your heartbeat,” he adds roughly. “I can feel the heat when it floods your skin. Jesus, Clark — I can smell it on you.”

“I know,” Clark says. He watches Bruce in the mirror, at the tense line of his shoulders, the flush on his cheekbones, the rise and fall of his chest. It’s Clark’s own body that he's looking at but Bruce is all he can see, and the words just spill from his mouth without him even thinking about it. “What are you going to do about it?”

Bruce turns to face him again. The look on his face is impossible to read, but the hunger in his eyes is not. It gives Clark just enough courage to turn around and face Bruce properly, and now, without the filter of the mirror to take the edge off it, the look in Bruce's eyes is burning.

Bruce flexes his fingers, hands closing into fists and then stretching out again, over and over.

“I can't,” he starts. “If I touch you, I — I'm not sure I'll be able to —”

“You've controlled the strength pretty well so far,” Clark says.

“Yes, but this is different. You —” Bruce takes a breath. “It's different with you.”

Clark swallows. Bruce was never very generous with his words but he always said what he meant. His choice of words now is no accident.

“You won't have to control it,” Clark says slowly. “If you — if you'll trust me.”

Bruce stares at him for a moment, then turns away with a small, sharp smile.

“How very Superman of you,” he says.

Clark shrugs. “I am who I am,” he says. “Whether I’m in my own body or not.”

Bruce meets his eyes again. Then he leans against the wall, his gaze on Clark hot and heavy, and just — waits.

Clark takes a deep breath. He knows, somehow, that there's no going back from this. Whatever happens afterwards, this will always be between them, irrevocable and undeniable, and nothing will be the same again. But as he looks up at Bruce watching him, as he trails his gaze over a body that can do things Bruce hasn’t even begun to understand, Clark also knows that he won't be able to say no to this. Not to Bruce, and not to the chance to show him exactly what that body is capable of feeling.

Clark stands. He walks over to Bruce by the wall, briefly meets his eyes, and takes another deep breath. Then he reaches out and starts undoing Bruce's jeans.

“Clark,” Bruce starts.

“Trust me,” Clark says again. He glances up. “I know…” He trails off. “I know how to make this feel good.”

Bruce flexes his fingers again, then slowly and deliberately presses his hands flat against the wall, at either side of his hips.

Clark doesn't wait for another sign. He just sinks to his knees, pulling Bruce's jeans and underwear down with him as he goes, just far enough to expose Bruce’s cock.

He hears Bruce breathing deeply above him, like he's trying to stay in control. Clark allows himself a small smile. He looks up again, through his eyelashes, and Bruce just stares at him, an odd expression passing over his face.

“That's a very…” Bruce laughs a little. “A very Bruce Wayne look, Clark.”

“I’m a quick study,” Clark replies. Then he wraps his fingers around the base of Bruce's cock and sucks lightly on the tip.

“Fuck,” Bruce gasps.

Clark pulls back and starts moving his hand, slow firm strokes that Clark knows will make Bruce's hips move against his will, that will make him thrust instinctively into Clark’s tight fist. He watches his own face twist in pleasure, sees his own jaw drop as he tightens his grip, and it’s almost like Clark can feel it all himself — Bruce's warm palm, Bruce's strong fingers; he can almost see it from Bruce's current point of view: those blue eyes dark with focus, that salt and pepper hair still neatly combed back, those lips parted in anticipation —

And Clark has a sudden hunch, about Bruce and his body and the things it knows how to do.

Clark leans forward and takes Bruce's cock in all the way, right down to the root.

“Jesus Christ,” Bruce chokes. “Clark —”

His fingers dig into the bathroom wall and crack the tile but his hips don't stop moving, can't stop moving, as Clark starts sucking him off.

It’s familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, a taste and a sensation he doesn’t recognise but sounds that he definitely does — soft gasps and deep moans and ragged, uneven breathing that he knows exactly how to cause. He pulls back a little and grabs the base of Bruce’s cock again, curling his other hand around Bruce’s hip to encourage him to move, and when Bruce’s cock hits the back of his throat again Clark can’t help moaning himself. The sound creates a vibration that Clark knows Bruce feels right down to his bones, and Bruce cries out as he thrusts even deeper, whole body shaking as he desperately tries to retain some semblance of control. But Clark just sucks even harder, head moving steadily as he keeps pumping Bruce’s cock with his hand too, cheeks hollowing as he pulls back and tongue pressing against the length of him as he moves forward again.

“Fuck, fuck, Clark,” Bruce pants, the roughness of his voice making Clark suddenly aware of the fact that he’s painfully hard himself. His cock strains against slacks that are so closely tailored to Bruce’s body that there’s zero space for an erection, but Clark focuses only on Bruce, on the sounds he makes when Clark licks at just the right spot, at how his fingers dig into the rubble of tile at his back when Clark moans around him again.

Then he flicks his gaze up and sees that Bruce is watching him, eyes heavy-lidded and unbearably hot.

“Have you thought about this?” Bruce whispers hoarsely. “Have you imagined me on my knees for you?”

Clark moans again, obscenely loud, Bruce’s cock still in his mouth. Because yes, yes he’s thought about this, yes he’s imagined it, and even though he’s the one on his knees it’s almost like experiencing the blowjob himself, because he can see his own eyes dark with lust, he can hear himself crying out in pleasure, he can feel his hips thrusting hard with desperate, barely restrained need. It’s like a feedback loop of sensation, giving and receiving at the same time, and when Bruce’s shaking hands brush the top of his head Clark knows Bruce is experiencing the exact same thing.

“Clark,” Bruce says, voice tight and ragged with the last shreds of his self-control. “Clark.”

And Clark understands, sucking harder, pumping faster, and when he reaches around and slips one finger into the cleft of Bruce’s ass and strokes him there, the back of Bruce’s head hits the wall as he comes with a sudden shocked gasp, eyes shut tight and fingers clawing into the tile at either side of his hips. Come floods Clark’s mouth and he swallows it all down, Bruce’s reaction entirely expected and entirely wanted, too.

Bruce pulls him up when he’s spent, and the ease with which he’s able to do it makes Clark flush again. And then they’re face to face, barely an inch apart, and before Clark can think of anything to say Bruce grabs him by the head and kisses him, hard. Clark’s mouth was already open on a gasp and Bruce takes full advantage of it, tongue pushing in, tasting, devouring, claiming. Clark gives as good as he’s getting, pressing Bruce into the wall and moaning into his mouth, but when Bruce shifts against him his leg brushes Clark’s erection and he has to break the kiss, panting hard into Bruce’s neck.

“It tastes better from your mouth,” Bruce whispers into his ear, “than it did from my fingers.”

Clark briefly closes his eyes, getting impossibly, painfully harder.

“I'll have to remember that,” he says into Bruce’s skin, and is rewarded with a quiet laugh. Then Bruce moves his leg again and Clark clutches at his shoulders as he starts rubbing his thigh against Clark’s aching cock.

“God, Bruce,” Clark whispers shakily, hips jerking a little.

“I can’t touch you,” Bruce says, voice equally unsteady. “I won’t be able —”

“Do you want to?” Clark interrupts.

Bruce sucks in a breath.

“Yes.”

Clark closes his eyes again.

“For now, that’s good enough for me.”

He reaches down and frees his leaking cock, gasping as soon as he touches it — he won’t last long at all. But before he even curls his fingers around himself, Bruce suddenly moves — so suddenly that he must have used the superspeed — and grabs Clark’s wrist, stopping him.

“Wait."

Bruce,” Clark says, desperate.

“Wait,” Bruce repeats. He licks his lips. “I can’t touch you — I can’t show you what feels good, like you showed me. But... I can tell you.” He sweeps his gaze down over Clark’s body — his own body — lingering at his erection, at his bare chest. “I can tell you what to do.”

Clark swallows. Heat floods his face at the thought of it, of Bruce telling him exactly how to move, how to touch himself, watching him the whole time —

“Okay,” he says shakily. “Okay.”

Bruce watches him for a moment.

“Kneel."

Clark’s heart unexpectedly beats harder at that one word — at that order. But he follows it without hesitation and when he's on his knees again, Bruce leans back against the wall.

“Take hold of your cock.”

Clark gasps a little as he complies. Bruce's cock, he thinks to himself, I'm touching Bruce's cock, and has to bite his lip at the prospect of doing this when he's in his own body, at the thought of making Bruce feel this good too.

“Start stroking yourself,” Bruce says. His voice is quiet but intense, all his considerable focus on Clark and Clark alone. “Slower,” he adds, when Clark can't stop himself from trying to end it quickly. Clark has to shut his eyes but he does as Bruce asks, slowing down his hand until he's shaking with the effort of keeping from coming. There's a part of him that's not surprised that Bruce likes it like this, likes being made to wait — being forced to draw it out until the pleasure borders on pain. How else, Clark thinks, as he helplessly thrusts into his own tight fist, how else could Bruce have developed such immense self-control if he didn't always push himself to his absolute limit?

“How does it feel?” Bruce asks, and Clark shakes his head, unable to speak. “Answer me,” Bruce insists. His voice is still quiet but there’s no mistaking the command in it, the order, and Clark moans at the sound of it, not realising he'd been waiting for it all along.

“Good,” he gasps, “too good. Fuck, Bruce,” he whispers, shutting his eyes again. “I can't —”

“Circle the head with your thumb,” Bruce interrupts, in the same low, steady voice.

Clark does as he's told and has to curl in on himself; Bruce's thumb is calloused and the feel of it dragging over his sensitised skin is almost unbearable. He reaches out with his free hand, grasping blindly for something to steady himself; his hand finds Bruce's hip and he digs his fingers in, wishing he could get his hands on bare skin.

“Start stroking again,” Bruce says. “Slowly.” His voice is so rough it's like another caress, a phantom touch all over that makes Clark shudder.

He moves his hand again, agonisingly slow — one stroke, two, three. He waits for another instruction but Bruce is silent and Clark makes a tiny strained noise, tremors coursing through his body because he's so close, too close, but he can't let himself fall because Bruce hasn't told him he's allowed to yet and it's — it’s the only reason he's able to hold on.

“Speed up,” Bruce says. Clark gasps as he does so, but Bruce isn't satisfied. “Faster.”

“God, Bruce,” Clark moans. He sways, forehead landing on Bruce's stomach. He feels Bruce inhale sharply and then there's a sudden pain as his hair is grabbed and his head is forcibly pulled back.

Bruce stares down at him, panting and flushed, arm shaking with something he’s barely able to control. Clark knows exactly how much danger he's in right now and the thought makes him impossibly harder, makes his fist fly over his cock with desperate speed.

“I want to see your face,” Bruce whispers. “I want to watch you when you come.”

“Fuck, Bruce, please,” Clark begs. “Please, I can't, don't make me —”

What,” Bruce asks, his voice like a whip. “Don't make you what?”

Clark screws his eyes shut, thrusting into his fist as Bruce mercilessly tightens the grip in his hair.

“Don't make me disappoint you,” Clark whispers hoarsely.

His face burns with embarrassment but suddenly Bruce is there, on the floor with him, one shaking hand covering his own and forcing him to speed up even more — too fast, faster than humanly possible. Clark cries out, shuddering all over, and then Bruce suddenly slows down again, so slow it's torturous, so slow it hurts. Clark’s jaw drops in desperation, and then Bruce twists a little on the upstroke and he whispers into Clark’s ear, low and dark and rough:

“Come for me, Clark.”

And Clark obeys at once, chest heaving as his cock pulses in their joined hands. Bruce keeps Clark’s head tipped back so that Clark is utterly exposed, come hitting his chest and streaking Bruce's shirt.

As soon as he's spent Bruce stands, tugging hard on Clark’s hair and forcing him to stand too. And then Bruce steps around and presses him against the wall, dragging two fingers through the mess on his chest, and before either of them has gotten their breath back he shoves those fingers into Clark’s open mouth. Clark greedily licks them clean, sucking as he goes, and Bruce’s eyes go even darker, even hotter, so hot they start to tinge with red —

With a desperate groan Bruce tears his eyes away from Clark’s face. He stumbles backwards and shuts his eyes, taking several deep, unsteady breaths.

“Have you thought about this?” Clark asks, knowing he's pushing his luck. “Me giving your orders?” He licks his lips, chasing the taste of his come — Bruce’s come — on his lips. “Or you giving them to me?”

“Both,” Bruce says, eyes still closed, still deliberately turned away from him. “And neither.”

He takes another deep breath, and that's when Clark realises that he's shaking, his whole body trembling as he fights to keep it under his control. And as the silence stretches on, Clark realises something else too, hears what Bruce is saying but hadn’t spoken out loud: he’s thought about both, and neither, and every way in between.

“Bruce.”

He carefully lays a hand on Bruce's back and feels the muscles tense up beneath this palm. Clark steps around him until they're face to face, but Bruce refuses to open his eyes.

“You won't hurt me, Bruce.”

Bruce smiles at that, but it's the opposite of amused — a sharp twist of his lips turning it into an expression Clark hadn't known his face could make.

“I meant right now,” Clark clarifies, ignoring the unspoken implication. “Open your eyes.”

But Bruce shakes his head and keeps his eyes shut tight. “I appreciate the sentiment, Clark, but that’s still my body you’re in. I won't risk burning my own face off.”

“Fair enough,” Clark says. “But you do know that I —”

“What?” Bruce asks, when Clark abruptly falls silent.

“If we were in our own bodies,” Clark says slowly, “I'd have my eyes open. I'd want to see you.” He pauses. “Like I'm seeing you now.”

Bruce says nothing, but his sharp intake of breath tells Clark he understands exactly what he means.

“I'm going to kiss you now,” Clark adds, and although Bruce's eyes stay closed his mouth opens with only the slightest hesitation and for now, at least, it's all the answer that Clark needs.

----

He’s so late to the ball that by the time he arrives, some of the guests are already starting to leave. No one says a word about it though, and for the first time ever, Clark is glad that Bruce Wayne’s questionable reputation preceded him.

Bruce is in his ear the whole time, telling him who to talk to and who to avoid. He’s nothing but professional on the comm and doesn’t make the slightest innuendo — not even when not one, not two, but six separate people try to seduce Clark into going home with them. Bruce just tells him to turn them all down.

“But flirt back,” he adds. “That’s important.”

Clark does his best, and his many years of pretending to get tipsy at parties serve him well, but he knows he seems distracted. He keeps reaching up to adjust glasses he's not actually wearing and then has to run his hand through his hair instead, to cover up his mistake. In any case, he was never going to match Bruce’s skill when it came to Wayne-ing it at fancy events with cryptic dress codes. Bruce had had to find him a new pair of slacks, the ones he’d been wearing completely ruined, but at least he’d managed to save the velvet jacket — which several people did mention brought out the colour of Bruce’s eyes.

“See? Told you,” Bruce says, when another sweet old lady comes up and says the same thing.

“Thank you so much,” Clark says warmly, shaking her hand. “That’s very kind of you to say, ma’am.”

“Dial back the Kansas, Clark,” Bruce says. “I’m Gotham born and bred.”

“What, are you mean to old ladies in Gotham?” Clark mutters under his breath.

A passing waiter gives him a funny look and Clark plasters on what he hopes is a decent approximation of Bruce’s playboy grin. The waiter immediately flushes, looking away quickly and almost tripping over his own feet.

“Do you get this reaction a lot?” Clark asks.

“It’s an earpiece, not a camera. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Someone practically fell all over themselves just because I smiled at them,” Clark says.

Bruce doesn’t reply straight away, and when he does, it’s not what Clark was expecting.

“I'm pretty sure that’s all on you, Clark.”

Bruce doesn’t say much else for the rest of the night. And the less Bruce says, the more worried Clark becomes. By the time Bruce finally tells him he can leave Clark has absolutely no idea what to do about what happened earlier that day — or where the two of them stand with each other.

“Listen,” he starts, as he drives back to the lakehouse. “We really should talk —”

“I know,” Bruce says, cutting him off. “But not tonight.”

“I really think —”

“It's late.” There’s a brief pause and Clark feels every second of it. “Very late. You should get some rest.”

Clark sighs. He is tired, but he also knows a convenient excuse when he hears one. This Bruce — closed-off, distant, all business — was different to the one that had kissed him earlier, the one who'd refused to open his eyes in case he hurt Clark by accident. He wishes he was better at navigating the minefield of Bruce's boundaries but then, Clark suddenly remembers what Alfred said to him, at the start of this whole ordeal: They’re all one and the same. And to his surprise, just as Alfred had predicted, Clark knows exactly what he has to do.

“I'm not going to wait for long, Bruce," he says. His voice is quiet but determined. "And I'm not going to pretend that nothing happened.”

It's a very long minute before Bruce speaks again.

“I didn't expect you to, Clark. Like you said,” he adds, an odd note in his voice that Clark can't quite decipher, ”you are who you are.”

----

“Diana was right on the money.”

“She usually is,” Bruce observes, sliding a cup of coffee across the countertop.

They’d gone back to normal overnight, having been body-swapped for a total of eight days. Clark had woken up confused and disoriented, not understanding why he couldn’t see the lake or why he was covered with a scratchy wool blanket instead of the plush cashmere that he’d guiltily started to get used to.

He’d also woken up on the couch and not in his bed and for some reason, the realisation that Bruce hadn’t slept there at all while they’d been swapped made something tighten a little in his chest. After all, Bruce had told him point-blank that everything he did had a purpose to it. That Bruce had maintained his distance like this, even after what happened between them —

Clark hadn’t known what to make of it, not when he'd first woken up and not now, either — here in Bruce's kitchen, sharing a cup of coffee.

Bruce’s eyes are guarded over the rim of his cup as he takes a sip. He’s in his usual work clothes — a perfectly-tailored suit — but he’d shrugged out of his jacket and rolled up his sleeves before he started making the coffee. Clark had thought he’d done a pretty good job of pretending to be Bruce but watching him now, he knows there’s no way he could have pulled it off on anyone who really knew him — the real Bruce, that is, not Bruce Wayne. He moved like he fought, even when doing something as mundane as drinking coffee — purposeful and precise, all six-foot-four inches of him trained for twenty-plus years to be as efficient as possible. Clark had worked hard to learn how to use his own abilities too, but what Bruce had taught himself to become was something else entirely and it showed in his every movement.

Bruce is still watching him. The ball had been two nights ago and they hadn’t been alone together since.

Clark takes a deep breath and steels himself to address the elephant in the room, but it’s Bruce who breaks the silence.

“We need to be realistic about this, Clark.”

Something cold settles in Clark's stomach as apprehension sweeps through him.

“Realistic?” he repeats carefully.

Bruce stares into the depths of his coffee. Black, of course, no sugar. Clark’s is the complete opposite — lots of cream and extra sweet. Bruce hadn’t seemed surprised when Clark told him how he preferred it.

Eventually, Bruce looks up again.

“I got carried away,” he says. His tone is brisk. “I apologise.”

Clark just stares at him.

“You apologise,” he repeats slowly. “You mean you’re sorry?”

Bruce nods, a single sharp inclination of his head. “Yes.”

“You’re sorry I gave you a blowjob, or you’re sorry you watched me jerk off?” Bruce’s fingers tighten around his cup. “Or are you sorry you made me lick my come off your fingers? Oh, wait,” Clark adds thoughtfully. “Technically it was your come, wasn’t it?”

“Clark —”

“Did you enjoy it?”

Bruce doesn’t answer.

“Did you,” Clark repeats, enunciating each word, “enjoy it?”

“My bathroom wall is still a pile of rubble,” Bruce says flatly. “What do you think?”

Clark has to take a breath at that, at the memory of Bruce losing control under his mouth and hands.

“So what’s the problem?’ he asks.

Bruce's eyes are shuttered, giving nothing away.

“You really want to be Bruce Wayne’s boytoy that badly, do you?” He smiles, but there’s a sharp edge of mockery to it.

“I’m not that much younger than you,” Clark says, refusing to take the bait.

“You’re young enough,” Bruce mutters, dropping the act as soon as he sees that Clark won’t fall for it.

Efficient as ever, Clark thinks, and just waits for the next counterpoint. And there will be a next one, Clark knows, and one after that, and another one after that. Bruce was nothing if not always prepared.

“If we kept it strictly physical —”

“No.” Clark's voice is quiet but resolved, leaving no room for compromise. “That's not an option.”

Bruce gives him a look not unlike the ones he gets in the field, when he's facing a particularly tricky opponent. Assessing, observing, recalculating his plans. Looking for a weakness to exploit before he resumes his attack.

“There's a reason I stay single, you know.”

“You're emotionally repressed?”

Bruce's mouth goes flat.

“Clark —”

“I know what kind of man you are, Bruce,” Clark says, interrupting again. “I'm not expecting it to be all sunshine and roses. Besides," he adds, a little more seriously, "you know what kind of man I am, too."

Bruce takes a breath.

“The work we do with the League,” he starts, and Clark has to take a sip of his own coffee now, to hide his sudden smile. Because yes, Bruce was always prepared — but Clark learns fast. He always has. And he was never going to come to Bruce’s house to have this conversation without doing a little prep work himself.

If Bruce was already bringing up the League as an excuse, he had to be scraping the bottom of the barrel now.

“What about it?” he asks.

Bruce gives him an exasperated look.

“When this doesn't work —”

“If,” Clark corrects. “If this doesn't work, then —” He shrugs. “It doesn't work.” He looks Bruce in the eye, steady and unflinching. “Despite what you’re trying to convince me of, Bruce, you and I are both adults. The League is the League and this is...” Clark trails off. “This could be anything.”

“Like a bomb that goes off in our faces?”

“Like something that could be good for both of us.” Clark shakes his head. “The world’s not always doom and gloom, you know.”

“Try living in Gotham for a few years,” Bruce retorts.

Clark waits until Bruce takes another sip of his coffee before he replies.

“Is that an invitation?” he asks, and watches Bruce almost choke on it. “Relax,” he adds, rolling his eyes a little. “I’m kidding. Jesus, it’s not like I’m asking you to marry me.”

Bruce's gaze turns watchful.

“What are you asking, then?”

Clark doesn't waver. “For a chance. Just a chance.” He pauses, then adds, “Batman's all about being prepared, right?” Bruce nods. “Well, you can't be prepared if you don't consider all possibilities.”

“You don't have to experience every possibility to be prepared for them,” Bruce counters.

“True,” Clark acknowledges. “But you can't deny that actual experience isn't a benefit.”

For a long moment, Bruce just looks at him, silent and assessing. There's a small frown on his face and Clark knows he hadn't expected this — Clark calmly refuting every protest, every disaster scenario he could come up with. Which was exactly why Clark had prepared his answers in the first place. But as well as the frown Clark can see a spark of interest in his eyes too, brightening the blue, subtle but clear if you knew what to look for. And now Clark does, because for the past eight days he's seen those eyes looking back at him every time he glanced at a mirror.

Bruce hadn’t expected to be argued with. But he also hadn’t expected to enjoy it, either.

“Sounds like you have an answer for everything,” Bruce says, after a long, loaded pause. “That's some good strategic thinking. I’m impressed.”

Clark shrugs.

“Learned it from some old guy I work with sometimes.”

Bruce looks away quickly but Clark sees the smile anyway, bursting over his face like he couldn't help it. A minute passes, then two, then three. Clark watches him sink deeper and deeper into thought and waits in silence, giving him time. He's not sure how long he waits, how long Bruce takes to go through every possible outcome and every potential risk. But when Bruce lifts his head, Clark knows with sudden certainty that any length of time would be a length worth waiting for, because there’s something indefinably different about the expression on his face now — a new focus, a direction taken, a decision made. Clark feels a tiny flare of anticipation in his chest and hopes it isn’t misplaced.

“You know,” Bruce says, “it won’t be so easy now.”

“What won’t be?”

“Now that we’re back in our own bodies,” Bruce says slowly, “it won’t be so easy to know…” He trails off. He meets Clark’s eyes and his gaze fills with heat — heat, and hunger, and want. Bruce gives him a blatant once-over and licks his lips.

It takes a moment for Clark to hear the unspoken words, the look on Bruce’s face more than a little distracting.

“How to make each other feel good,” Clark finishes, just as slowly, as what Bruce is really saying starts to sink in.

He hears Bruce’s pulse increase, feels his own heartbeat pick up in response, and Clark’s face flushes with something that’s equal parts lust and unexpectedly intense relief.

Bruce narrows his eyes. The he suddenly shakes his head, a tiny smile at the corners of his mouth.

“You heard it, didn’t you?” he asks ruefully. “My heartbeat.”

“I did,” Clark admits.

Bruce gives him a long, searching look. The expression on his face is still impossible to read but, Clark thinks, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He's a reporter, after all. He doesn't mind having to do a little digging, especially when he has a hunch that whatever he finds will be worth all the effort. More than worth it, really.

Bruce puts the coffee cup down. Clark rounds the bench until they’re close enough to touch; all either of them had to do was reach out. He listens for Bruce’s pulse again — a steady rapid beat — before he lifts one hand and presses it against Bruce’s chest. And now he can feel that heartbeat too, thumping against his palm, faster and harder than it had been just a second ago.

Clark takes Bruce’s hand and presses it against his own chest, letting him feel the rapid thud of his own heart too.

“You can’t hear mine anymore,” Clark says, “but that doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage.”

Bruce takes a deep breath.

“Still, there’s a small problem,” he says. His tone is light but his eyes are very dark. “Since we already know how to make each other come in a matter of minutes, I’m not sure there’s anywhere else for us to go.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Clark smiles a little and shrugs. “We still have to figure out how to make it last longer.” He stares at Bruce’s mouth, trails his gaze over those broad shoulders, that sculpted chest, those muscled arms. “How to drag it out, for hours and hours…” He meets Bruce’s eyes again. “Until we just can’t take it anymore.”

Bruce’s fingers slowly curl into Clark’s shirt.

“That’s what I like about you, Clark,” Bruce says, and tugs him closer. “All that youthful optimism.”