Chapter 1: Backtracking
It's not everyday that people rise from the dead. Clark kind of wishes he wasn't the one to answer that call but then again, who else could have?
(First chapter is long, rest should be shorter)
Clark comes back from the dead just a bit wrong, there’s no other way to put it.
Maybe there are other ways to put it, he’s a journalist after all and creativity is part of his job, but the word ‘wrong’ is the one he uses when he thinks about it. Wrong, wrong, so wrong that he couldn’t control himself. The damage he’d done to others and his own reputation with them, it isn’t something he wants to think about in this moment but forces himself to. He has to come to terms with it, he tells himself. He has to come to terms with Diana not being able to reach him, with Victor and Arthur finding him threatening, with the fear in Barry’s eyes at being caught by someone at speed when no one should be able to even see him.
Come to terms with Batman being right about him, in the end. He is a threat, a danger, something of an outsider in the outsiders group, and Clark sees it now. It sits sticky in his chest, a black ball of rolling oil and slick disappointment.
“Kal.” Diana calls him and he floats down with a wince, meets her halfway on the abandoned apartment building he’s made his lookout point over the blooming, alien roots that have invaded the world and ruined a good portion of this place. He should be helping clear it but he can’t force himself to do anything more than replace the buildings he’s already moved once. They don’t seem to need much help anyways and Clark digs his heels in, hears the crack of the concrete below them as he settles. “You have done well today.”
The hug is tight but Clark can’t find it in him to reply, just smiles at her tightly. She speaks so freely even though he’s hardly paying attention, but with what she’s saying he guesses she knows that bit (recounting what they’ve done when he’s been there, though just a tad late, later than he should have been). Instead, his eyes are on the scene below, watching Arthur tear at things and mark buildings as structurally unsound after Victor and Flash check them out. Those were the names someone said over the comms after everything went quiet, he thinks -- Alfred had only given him an earpiece and there wasn’t time for introductions in the chaos. His gaze flickers and he spots a vehicle in the distance, black and sleek and entirely out of place against the red backdrop of sunset. Eyes return to the team effort below him and he doesn’t think about how much he now owes the man behind that wheel, doesn’t think about what he could have gained by being more open the first time around. It’s a shock to his system to realize he’s not the good guy in that scenario and Clark swallows down the taste of bile, knows he won’t throw up but still disgusted with himself for not trying harder. Is he even trying now?
“He thinks the world of you.”
“I did not say they,” Diana corrects, gentle but serious. A hand makes its way onto his arm and squeezes, something his Ma used to do. Still will probably do now that he’s back and he needs to get home, needs to figure out what’s going on there because Ma wasn’t in the house and -- no, he needs to focus here first. That’s what heroes do. That’s what Batman would do. He can’t even be angry with him about it all because he was just trying his best against the unknown, unstoppable force that is Superman. Was Superman. “Though I do think they look up to you. I understand your hesitance. He has not been kind.”
“He told you about it?” He can’t image Batman opening up to anyone. Another thing he could have learned if he’d tried talking first and hitting second. Pa wouldn’t have been proud, he was never supposed to do things this way. There was an order to things and he’d gone completely backwards. “I’m guessing you know a bit more than I do then.”
“He can only tell me what he knows from his perspective. One day, you may tell me yours, when you’re ready. If you wish. You are an enigma to him, Kal. He relies on numbers and statistics and psychology of killers and you defy all he knows about the world around him, how people respond. You are the only one that he gravitates to so strongly and it was that strength that brought you back, not just the Mother Box. Talk to him. And if you cannot speak to him yet, speak to me.”
“We’re speaking now, aren’t we?” He shouldn’t be petulant and he throws a smile at Diana, warmer but still stressed at the corners. Cracked. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”
“Do not apologize to me,” she laughs, warm and low. He likes the sound and hopes he can learn to accept it as a harbinger of good things instead of a sick reminder of what he almost ruined. “I am fine. You two are the dual stars, sparking at one another even at this distance. Go home, Kal. Rest. Death touches many but you have felt it deeper than most those I have come to know. I will take care of things here.”
“They’re in good hands. I have that earpiece from Mr. Pennyworth. If you need me,” Clark hesitates, fingers grasping the sides of his cape. He feels unsteady, too young to understand the expression on Diana’s face but old enough to know he won’t be any help here right now. Kicking off, he floats and he can feel eyes on him from the ground, knows what he looks like as he hovers and bends at the waist. Barry’s heartbeat is elevated, excitement flushing through him, while the other two seem wary but slightly in awe from the briefest glance of their expressions. He doesn’t try to find Batman’s pulse as the rover stops short on the street, doesn’t think he wants to know if it’s different or the same as last time. “If you need me, if the League needs me, page me. I’ll be around.”
It takes a few days after that for his brain to decide it wants to work in any sort of capacity and it makes his skin crawl that it takes that long. Is that really the only thing standing between himself and world destruction: soft memories and a small Kansas farm, a warm hand in his hair and a voice that shouldn’t be scared of him wavering with fear? Lois is there to ground him, Ma right behind her, but it does little to help when there’s only a small apartment to go back to and the farm is in the hands of someone else. Everything is different, he’s different, and he can’t say a damn thing about it without someone mentioning that it’ll take time, that he just needs time. They mean well, he knows that, but he still disappears out his window like when he was a kid and doesn’t come back until morning. The hole in his head and the black in his chest don’t feel like something time will erase, so he starts to bite his tongue, starts to find a way to get the farm returned so at least he can give back that much.
Not that he ends up being the one to give it back. Boxes and furniture are being unloaded and Clark can’t help with all these people milling about, his strength a hindrance in public at times. It’s not so strange to leash his powers, that at least seems the same. In the back of it all is that man again though, Batman standing straight in the shade of a truck with kevlar replaced with wool and linen. Chest constricting, Clark can’t help but think he’d look softer if he just let his shoulders loosen, if he didn’t seem like he was carrying the weight of the world. Granted, Bruce Wayne is somewhat carrying the weight of Clark’s world right now, hands passing childhood memories and tangible evidence of a life led from truck to stoop. His hands shake when he approaches, the other’s gaze a pin through his chest attached to some sort of invisible string as he pushes forward, so he pockets them and keeps going. He can’t repay him, he can’t do anything but thank him, and it doesn’t feel like enough.
“How did you get the house back from the bank?”
“I bought the bank.”
Startled doesn’t begin to cover it. He’s not worth this, he’s not the man Bruce thinks he is (or he’s exactly that kind of monster but Bruce keeps looking at him like he’s a man -- Clark is falling through space as soon as their eyes meet, wondering what’s changed as his chest fills with bitter disappointment and a longing to be more like whatever Bruce sees), and it feels so different standing side by side with him here than it did in battle. Looking up though, seeing his Ma smile at him and Lois wave, Clark believes she’s worth it and he yanks Bruce with him up the stairs, introduces him to his mother as he is by day, ignores the shadow of who he is by night standing behind them. Dinner is an awkward affair but it happens and he can’t help but linger in Bruce’s presence just a bit longer when it comes time for him to go, walking him out to his truck. He wants to reach out for him, ruffle Bruce up a bit, shake him until he tells him what’s going on here.
“You have a lot of unboxing to do.”
“We can handle it, I think,” Clark assures, quiet and plain. It earns him a sharp gaze but he can’t be bothered to change the blankness behind his eyes for anything warmer despite what the man’s done for him. It feels wrong to lie to him too, something else to add to the mental list he’s starting to keep of things he needs to pay back. Kindness, hearth and home, life. The list will never be shorter and only seems like it’ll get longer if he really does reach out, so he balls his fists and doesn’t. Not yet. “She deserved better than what she got.”
“You all did.”
“You really believe that, don’t you.”
“And you don’t.” Not a question, there are no questions between them anymore it seems, not that there ever was. Accusations but never questions. Bruce watches him and Clark lets him stare, heel grinding into the soft soil under his feet as he contemplates just shooting up into the atmosphere and leaving a crater behind. The silence goes on a beat too long before broken. “Call me if you need anything, Clark. Not your mother, not Lane, you.”
“Awfully kind of you to take someone else under your wing.” There’s a child somewhere waiting for him, Clark has seen the news. That’s new too, too new to comprehend fully yet. “I expect I’ll be fine, Mr. Wayne.”
“Don’t,” Bruce growls, low and warning. It almost surprises him he can sound so close to Batman without the equipment. “We’re not enemies. I’ll help where I can.”
“Sure,” Clark agrees, flippant but quiet. “I’m just trying to figure out why.”
“Then I guess I should leave you to figure that out.”
Bruce drives away and Clark is left with nothing more than dust in his face. He’s being unkind. It feels too surreal to be reality, earth spinning under him and the stars sparkling above. Things should be darker, more enclosed, he shouldn’t be standing here -- there’s that feeling again, of being wrong. It was easy to ignore before, when he had something to do. He wonders briefly if he would have come to if they’d just waited a bit longer, if the Mother Box hadn’t been there to shock him into consciousness and be a threat to the world, because he’s pretty sure he remembers being buried. He remembers the darkness, the emptiness, that followed that hulking figure that was too much and not enough like himself.
He also remembers more, a destroyed city and his own anger destroying things down to dust, but that couldn’t be right. That world doesn’t exist. No, that too is wrong.
Fingers clench in his pockets and he ducks his head into the house for a moment to tell Lois and Ma where he’s going, leaves his jacket by the door before jetting into the sky. This high, the sweat on his shirt starts to crystalize a bit and Clark breathes deep, ice invading his lungs. It’s easier to think up here where he can’t hear everything as if he’s standing next to it, where he doesn’t have to twitch and spasm over an idea of wrong and right and what he is or isn’t. He just needs to look at the facts, something he’s good at.
Was good at. Maybe that’s something else that’s changed too.
Nothing gets figured out that night. When Lois leaves and there are fewer boxes (and fresh wildflowers on the table from a man who just keeps sending them, for whatever reason), he starts to write and write and write to try. He writes until his laptop is full of documents that will never see a publisher. It’s supposed to help, he thought it would at the start, but all it does is give someplace for the vitriol to sit in the open. It doesn’t lessen the gunk inside him to air it out, it seems. He writes a few dozen or so articles about himself, about his death and return -- some are scathing and condemning of his actions, blaming him for the destruction and reminding him that the good he’s done doesn’t erase the horror. Some are wistful, hoping for a better tomorrow where he’s better than this, better at what he does. Some are mostly blank pages that have a few words scattered across them like a list of ‘why me’ and ‘why does it matter’ and ‘who am I now.’ All of them end with the idea that maybe a martyr is a better place for an all-powerful alien than on a daily superhero beat.
He starts keeping a journal after that, but that too dwindles down to his confusion behind wanting to help and wanting to live his own life, to make his own way without the world weighing in on every move he does or doesn’t take. He’s handling it the best he can, and his Ma understands to some extent and lets him be, but soon it’s not enough and he stops writing. It takes a month for him to realize he can’t just stay at the farm doing chores, for him to decide that he’s not helping himself here and he needs to get out, needs to be someplace else. Someplace, he decides, that he wouldn’t know if it had changed or not while he was away. The world is holding its breath, or at least it feels like it is, and he might be too. He’s been waiting for a sign but when he realizes that one isn’t going to come, there is no hand going to reach out to him unless he reaches first, he gets up.
He’s exhausted his mind against all its sharp edges and he’s scabbed over instead of bleeding rawly. That has to mean something, the start of some other phase. It’s about time, he harshly tells himself. Surely he should be beyond this by now if he really was the man people believe him to be (who Bruce believes him to be and he scoffs, tries not to think about the hope in those eyes that reflect him larger than life -- they’re like stained glass in a church, hiding the light behind them, and Clark tries not to think about the reverent notes in that deep voice, tries not to think about Bruce at all).
He packs up his bags, chooses a direction. Maybe he’ll finally kill some of that time people keep tell him he needs.
Settling for a small town on the coast he can be employed at a dock without too much hassle, Clark lets the work take him to task. The League hasn’t called him, not that he honestly expected them to after all the grief he’s given them, so he has an opportunity here to take it day by day. It’s not far from things if he’s needed but it’s hidden enough that he feels like he has space. Days turn into weeks and Clark starts to measure his life out in moments. One, two, three beats at a time. The simplicity of it regulates his thoughts just a bit. He calls his Ma when he gets the chance, he talks to Lois briefly and lets her keep the ring when she asks if he wants it back, and then he starts to consider moving again. And again. Two more moves and he settles on the outskirts of Metropolis, takes time to watch the sunset as he leans his head against brick and mortar, comes to terms that things are getting better for Kalvin Smith but maybe not for Clark Kent, though he doesn’t know how to make things better for a dead man. He doesn’t even know where to start to figure out how to make things that are wrong, right.
So he plugs names into Google to feel less alone in the evenings, looking up the people who are not quite his saviors but definitely brought him back to life. Most of them have little background that he can find on the web, hidden away like he is now (a few pictures of a high school athlete, a few mentions of a murder case, one or two legends of a man disappearing into the sea, and a few more myths about a goddess at war).
Of course, not everyone’s story is hidden, but he tries to ignore the tabloid powerhouse that is Bruce Wayne because there’s so much to go through and he doesn’t feel he’ll learn much from social columns. Batman would never allow something to be published about him he didn’t approve of. Knee-jerk reactions to buy banks for people he wanted dead (or who doesn’t not like him and what does that mean anyways Clark rants on the phone to Lois one night and she just sighs, tells him to ask but he always hangs up without promising anything of the sort) is not the picture the media gives him of the business morgal. Champagne smiles and diamond eyes are as far from the truth he knows as cows are from birds. It’s unfortunate that he finds as little as he does about the actual people behind the masks and with no connections to databases and backlogged articles, Clark makes do with the crumbs.
For next time. If there is a next time. Do they even need him? They have each other and some of them even has partners, teens with shining eyes looking up to them.
While he may not have made a great first impression, he still has that communicator Mr. Pennyworth gave him. That never leaves his side. That has to count for something. Sure, it’s probably got a tracking device in it but he also realizes that the same paranoia is what saved the world. Toying with the device, looking at the various buttons along the piece that would fit snugly over the curve of his ear, Clark almost activates it. Almost.
Maybe he desperately wants to remind himself he’s not alone in the world, but he can turn on the news to confirm that. Maybe he wants to know why him, why did they even bother when it may not work, why was it Batman of all people that made it happen. What did he have to gain? Surely there must be something to gain, right? He doesn’t even know the man, he should mean nothing to him. But there’s that hope and softness in Bruce that leaked into the night at the farm, that made him buy a bank to apologize for something they both were at fault for, that string between them that drew Clark in. Almost everything he learns about the other man is empty space, slipping from him into shadows he wishes he could burn away. Everything about Bruce is like that except for this strange connection that tells him there’s something more there. Something big and raw and covered in blood, old and twisted and waiting for him. Bruce thought he was a threat once, would have never let him close enough, would have never let him see those pieces of him, and now? It drives his reporter instincts a bit batty for lack of a better word, so he dives into that gilded life when he can’t focus, brings up articles and gossip and rumors.
Constantly surrounded by people, Bruce is a shining example of what he, himself, is not. Superman has always been alone, Clark Kent has had his hay day but in the end he went home to Ma and Lois and there wasn’t much else. A webbed feeling fills Clark’s chest, sticky and black and painful, forcing him to see the teamwork and the unity that he believes he’ll never be a part of. Batman and Robin swing across his tv and he turns it off, throws the remote into his couch cushions and goes to bed too late to really count as sleeping.
Trying to prove to himself that he’s alright, that’s nothing’s changed, Clark starts to aggressively expand his horizons. He goes out more, makes friends at work, and even saves someone from a mugger or two while walking home. Even if he doesn’t really know what being himself means anymore, he’s willing to bet he could make a good teammate to these shadowed people. Maybe, and he doesn’t hold his breath on this idea that starts boiling in the back of his mind, he could even make friends. Friends that know who he is, can talk to each other about powers and demons and legends without thinking they are going insane. That would be a first. Snorting around a mouthful of microwaved pasta, he can’t help but miss things being the way they were before he died. Ma’s cooking on Sundays, patrols where he could dip and dive through Metropolis, and working for a paper that made him feel like he was changing the world by just being himself. It makes him realize he wants that again, a life and an apartment and slapdash dinners after long but good days.
It isn’t lost on him that he doesn’t think once about the cape being a part of that life. He isn’t sure he’s that man anymore. The world has changed and now he has to come up with the idea of Superman all over again. He has to relearn what that means in context of the world as it is now, as he is now.
He still works on the docks, he still only calls Lois despite the proximity, and he still doesn’t contact the League. He does start to flying again though, and puts a stop to some minor criminal activities in the city. It’s like letting loose a ball in his stomach to float around the tall buildings and find the gigantic globe of the Daily Planet marking out the skyline in the sunset, to remember that this is where he really came into his own. Maybe it’ll help him do so again. Lois has lunch with him all of twice before they determine it’s better to keep it to just calls, but he finds even that is needed because it’s too different now to sit there and watch her bloom while he’s withering. His shoulders roll and he flexes his muscles out with a few crime sprees that seem to be plaguing the city the next week, a reminder of what he can do but not who he is. He never stopped wanting to help people, but he certainly doesn’t have a cape on right now to do so. Black on black, a trench coat flapping behind him in the wind, it almost feels the same but just different enough to make it worth it. He needs different to be good.
So maybe he’s just a guy trying to do his best. Only his best comes with the power to save the world on a semi-regular basis with others who have the same outlook. Complicated, but it’s a definition he’s working on. It’s so much harder to work on it alone, though.
Clark knows Lois would let him stay if he showed up at her door, would pet through his hair, tell him she understands, and come up with a way to make it all better. She’s good at patterns and putting people at ease, at digging out the truth no one can see. Hell, he’s sure he could go to Bruce Wayne for the same thing, he said he could after all (there are wildflowers that show up at his apartment and he knows, he knows he’s being tracked but he can’t help but arrange them in the middle of the folding table, press the soft petals between his fingers and hope). But Bruce will only makes things better, make the apartment feel more cluttered, make the day feel less long. Bruce will distract him, maybe with time out on the town, maybe with fists to his cranium.
He doesn’t want it to be better though. He wants it to be right.
For some reason, Clark feels there’s a difference. Superman was and is an ideal, something to reach for instead of achieve, that’s what he’d been told. Clark Kent was never perfect and continues not to be. He gets angry, leaves his dishes in the sink, doesn’t always remember to do his laundry, sometimes shoots up into the outer atmosphere to sulk. That’s not very Superman like, but it’s human, isn’t it? Minus the whole flying bit, of course. Most people just went to their rooms or out for a walk, but they also couldn’t hear the entire world crying out to them for every little thing, as if he could change their lottery ticket or cure illnesses. He’s not a god but some people don’t believe that. Besides, they’re now blaming his absence for things happening whereas before they’d just blame him directly.
Wonderful. Just what he wanted to come back to. Right when he starts to dig himself a hole wondering if he’ll ever want to be that person again with all the weight that comes with it, alarms go off to stop him. Literally.
The blaring that stirs his senses are across the bay though, so instead of shooting off to check it out, Clark turns on the tv. Already, Gotham is reacting to another break out from Arkham and the bright flashes of thunder give way to manic laughter somewhere behind the reporter. It’s disturbing but his own eyes are fast enough to catch the figure that momentarily swings through the background, disappearing over the fence. Strange, Bruce normally has a tail these days and Clark watches a bit longer to see if he can spot the green and red that’s almost become as familiar as the pointed eared shadow has. There isn’t any flashes of color, tonight the only thing that moves in the shadows is Batman. Still, with his hearing pitched out towards Gotham, he ends up catching something entirely different. There’s a pounding, screaming sobs for Batman gasping out from somewhere below ground. With the activity focused on the asylum, however, Clark realizes that the other won’t make it to them in time and probably hasn’t heard them despite his devices throughout the city. Weighing his options, the sound of breaking wood is what gives him encouragement to jet forward, realizing that whoever this is isn’t just underground -- they’re buried alive. Time is against them and Clark doesn’t realize he’s decided until he’s there.
His feet touch down on soil that’s too soft, covered by just the wrong kind of sod, and the gravestones in front of him are of a mother and son years apart. Clark feels horror drip down his back with the rain and he panics, realizes almost offhandedly what is happening as he pulls back the grass in chunks and shoves his hands down into the dirt. Tall while he might be, he’s not that long in the arm, and so he super speeds through digging down to coffin level, the pounding decreasing for more strategic hits of knuckles and feet. Unnerved, he’s not thinking clearly and Clark hauls out the wooden box as it splinters open, revealing a bleeding boy who looks at him with wide eyes that shine darkly in the lightning. They stare at each other a bit too long before the boy slumps forward and Clark catches him to his chest. Distantly, he hears an explosion. He can’t take this kid to the hospital here, they’re dealing with the trauma of a full outbreak. Kicking the dirt and coffin back into the ground, Clark scoops the boy up and cradles him close, ignores his mumblings as his heel catches the sod and rolls it back over the hole. He’ll come back later, clean it up, but right now he has to get this kid to a professional.
Only, who can he take him to? Hovering, he makes a split second decision before setting off for home. He knows someone who’ll ask just the right questions and he darts over a few streets before coming to the back entrance of a simple clinic in Smallville that is just closing up for the day. He hasn’t had much hope these last few months but here, he has to have some for the boy’s sake.
“Clark?” He’s been his doctor for ages. Perhaps it wasn’t ethical to forge a birth certificate, but the man had done so for the Kent’s all those years ago when he’d dropped from the sky. Hell, he’d been the first call Ma had made after the dust of Steppenwolf had settled. Clark just prays he can perform another one of a kind examination as they’re brought immediately inside. “What on Earth?”
“I didn’t know where else to bring him. He dug out of a grave. I think, I think he just.”
“Slow down, slow down. You’re not up to full par yourself, son,” came the gentle reply and Clark lays the boy out on the exam table, keeps a hand pressed to his chest where a gash is dripping blood onto the floor. Dead and alive mix, and Clark chokes as he’s pushed back. “Let me take a look at him, go into the next room and get Andy. If he’s already gone home for the day, get him to come back. Can you do that, Clark?”
“Yes, sir.” He feels like he’s ten and doing errands for a buck or two so that he can buy the latest type of weird soda from the corner store. What a strange thing to remember now, but he would have been this kid’s age. “I’ll be--”
Doctor Brown hasn’t gone home, thank heavens. It’s slow going but Clark waits outside the door, only paces a bit before Ma shows up in the darkened waiting room, truck outside and a hard set to her lips when she takes in the state of him. Hair wet from Gotham rain and blood on his arms, he’s told to go scrub off immediately. Ma takes up his sentry position and Clark returns only marginally less of a mess than when he flew in.
This isn’t something he expected, isn’t something he wants, but it’s something he has and it terrifies him to his core. The doctors scrub the boy down and dress his wounds, get a name out of his murmurs as they become more disjointed. They don’t know what to do with him when he starts to throw punches, hollering like the Devil is in the room with him, sobbing dryly as he tears open stitches with well placed hits that break a nose and a few fingers. Clark does know what to do though and he wraps his arms around the kid before he can break through the window, whispers to him calmly, brings him down to earth again. Pa used to do this when he was a child and frustration overtook good sense, though it ended up with a few more bruises than Clark will ever receive. Ma watches from the doorway, a proverbial angel of calm and nods slowly when he looks up at her, accepts this is their life now as the boy babbles through the pain, surrounded by four adults that want nothing but the best for him.
“Are you -- I know you. But. He’s supposed to come when I’m in trouble,” comes the croak before a choking sound gurgles out. Clark curls around the boy in his arms silently, let’s him speak as everyone shares a look of mild questioning. “He didn’t come when I called. I thought he’d hear me. But you came and I can’t -- Fuck, everything hurts.”
“Just stay awake a bit longer and we’ll clean you up, call-- ”
“No. No cops. No social workers. No nobody,” comes the cracked growl, though it’s through the kid’s back teeth as if it’s not supposed to come out as pained as it does. God, how is he still with them? “They aren’t going to help a kid like me. I don’t. I know things, I saw them. He has. There were flashes. I can’t.”
“Quiet, kiddo,” Clark hushes, petting through blood tacky and knotted hair. “I’ve got you.”
It works and the boy sags into him, trying to breath evenly just like he’s being told to, regulating his heartbeat to Clark’s along his back as the doctors come in and close up the wounds he’s reopened. This close, with the overwhelming smell of iron and salt gone for the time being, he catches a hint of the ‘how’ of the situation (because he doesn’t think it’s the Mother Box, it can’t be, can it -- he doesn’t want to think about how many more might rise if it is). It smells the same as Diana’s lightening, the same as the foam that froths up when Arthur leaps from the water.
Magic. Under that? Death.
Clark holds on slightly tighter to the hand in his as machines beep in the background, doesn’t know what to do again. He should call someone. He should respect the boy’s wishes. He needs to let him rest before he does anything else.
“You need sleep,” he murmurs, tucking the boy back into bed once everyone is cleaned up. Kid’s big, bigger than a twelve year old should be, but it doesn’t phase Clark. Not like he can’t lift him when the time comes, can’t stop him from hurting himself. It’s not like he gets sore anyways from a few nights on a lumpy, tiny chair if it comes down to it. It’ll have to do and for the first time in over a year, Clark’s thoughts are clear as he waits and answers the doctors quiet questions, braves these waters. “I’m taking you home when this is over.”
“I don’t have a home. Not anymore.”
He’s shivering and Clark knows how he feels suddenly, desperate to cling to something but finding nothing there. It’s why he’d let Lois keep the ring, not needing another reminder. It’s why he left the farm and all it’s subtle differences, heart breaking at Ma’s looks and the empty space where he, himself, used to be and couldn’t quite fill again. It’s why he didn’t come back to Metropolis right away, knowing it would be far too different a pill to swallow. It’s why he stays away from the League, understanding they see him as something he may no longer be. It’s why he stays away from Bruce, unsure of the string tying them to each other and feeling as if it’s only a matter of time before one of them breaks, to what end he doesn’t want to find out. It’s why he never thinks to find out who sends those flowers, knowing they’re probably scheduled for a grave but if he never finds out then they’re for him, alive and well.
Who knows what the kid remembers, what he saw when he was under. It doesn’t matter anymore, they’re both there now and can’t go back.
“I’ll take you to mine,” Clark assures, quiet and cordial as Ma leaves to bring him a change of clothes, to make sure the guest room is done up properly. They’ll leave when allowed but for now, he can sit vigil and let the other sleep, thank the doctors for what they’ve done. “Rest, Jason. You’re allowed to rest now. I’ve got you.”
Chapter 2: Finding Equilibrium
He's trying, he really is. Now more than ever it feels like maybe he has been all along. The problem remains though, where exactly is his trying going to get him?
It takes a few days but eventually the kid becomes coherent enough to give a few details. He’s cagey but Clark learns that his name is Jason Todd and that he grew up in Gotham. His father is in jail the last time he checked and both his mothers are dead. He’s been on the streets before and he remembers a bit about the world he shouldn’t, like who Superman is and that Batman has a Robin. Then there’s the foggy idea of a hellscape, sand settled between cracks it shouldn’t be in, and a boy with an S on his chest flashing bright enough to blot out the sun. It’s familiar in a way Clark doesn’t want it to be and he keeps his mouth shut.
There’s nothing more from the young man after that is let loose, mind shattered enough to make the small bouts of coherency few and far between, especially with the medication he’s on. It makes Clark’s stomach roll and he can only be grateful that he, himself, didn’t have to wake up in a coffin despite feeling as if he’s definitely slept in one. He won’t even touch the visions the kid had, wondering if they’re prophetic or just a muddled mind trying to make sense of the last few moments before death. No one should have to experience what he has and yet, here is a twelve year old that has done much the same.
“I’m thirteen now.” Words spill out after dinner a few weeks in, sluggish. Clark stays close, lips quirking in an almost smile as Jason begins to fall asleep between the pillows and his side. Ma has propped him up to make sure he can drink without dribbling on himself and Clark has taken to his side to make sure he doesn’t fall over the other way. Besides, kid clings despite pretending he doesn’t and Clark is used to giving out his affection easily. It’s the one thing he didn’t forget how to do in all this and it feels right to do so now. “I didn’t die to wait another year to be a teenager.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” It’s a settlement of the situation without agreement. The words are all his mother’s, falling from his own lips making him the adult in the situation more than he thinks he could ever be. He’s sure Ma will laugh at him later, if her ducking out now with a snort is anything to go by. “Now hush.”
Clark isn’t sure if he should call the League to warn them about the rising dead and the implications that might hold. They should be told but there’s been no reports and when he went back, Jason’s grave had looked like it hadn’t even been touched. There’s no sign of struggle, no giant neon sign saying ‘this is where the dead live again,’ and there’s no reason for Clark to worry about zombies or other reanimated corpses. It’s a one time deal. Well, a two time deal and he takes a deep breath, lets it out, allows the Gotham rain to fall on his shoulders like it’s supposed to, and if only for a short time he’s thankful to be alive.
He doesn’t end up making any calls, though that’s mostly because he has his hands full. Jason keeps waking up to nightmares of dark, tight spaces and murmuring half a name -- Clark doesn’t want to admit it but it’s something they have in common, only choking on Batman’s name in confusion is very different than a boy calling out for someone to help him. It’s nothing like the bitterness that everything else is said with when Jason’s awake and present in his own skin, spitting out curses like venom and flipping over whatever he can reach.
Jason is confused, angry, and Clark is a good target for that instead of someone who glasses and plates can’t bounce off of (though he does buy a set of plastic ones just to make a point and he has to admit that the kid never throws anything at Ma, polite as can be when he’s coherent enough to greet her -- it’s fine, it’s all fine, and he doesn’t think about himself so he feels marginally better day after day without really meaning to). He also doesn’t want the boy to run, so he doesn’t ask because that seems all too likely after the few times he’s found Jason trying to pry the window open to get out, half in a daze. There’s too many things that need healing and Clark can offer food, shelter, a safe place to break things in the meantime. So he sleeps on the floor of the guest room, leaves the light on so that the dark doesn’t touch them, and lets Jason fall off the bed onto him whenever he needs to.
Ma, of course, has something to say about that over dinner one night, Jason sleeping soundly for once on the sofa where he can hear them, know he’s not alone.
“He’ll need more attention than you’re used to giving, baby boy.”
“I can handle it.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t. But I know you’ve been doing those fly bys for a bit now, trying to get back on your feet. You didn’t expect having to come home. He’s going to need you more than that city ever did.”
“Then the city can wait. They have Diana anyways. She and Aquaman are taking care of things while I’m gone, just like they were before. Well, before I--”
“Before you died,” Ma says for him, no nonsense, and he doesn’t have to look up, can hear the soft smile in her voice. “If you can’t even say it then you’ll never come to terms with it, Clark. I’m here for you but, by God, you seem to be doing just fine by yourself.”
It stuns Clark for a moment that his mother would think so when he still feels like he’s sunk up to his waist in muck most days. That isn’t mentioning the tarpit in his chest that claws at him at night, reminds him that he should be doing something at the same time that it reminds him the world doesn’t need him anymore, doesn’t want him. Then again, ever since he’s focused down to what needs to be done instead of what he feels he should be doing, it’s become easier to breath. There’s something hopefully quiet in his voice when he asks, “You think so?”
“Clark Joseph Kent, only you would pick up a kid off the streets when you’ve barely got enough room for yourself in your head,” she murmurs, leaving Clark smiling softly for what felt like the first time in months. “Now I’m not saying you’re the only one that would have taken him in, mind you, but it’s nice to see you acting a bit like you used to. Goodness knows you brought home enough strays when you were younger, it was only a matter of time before it was a person.”
The conversation ends not long after and Metropolis is a no fly zone for a bit. No monitoring crime lords and leaving Diana anonymous tips, no rushing off to help someone cross the street, no flickering out to the Planet building just to lay on the roof in the middle of the night. Clark stays right where he is, goes to work with a bit of super speed to make it there on time, and leaves Jason in his Ma’s trustworthy hands when he has to. He brings back groceries and magazines and treats he’s sure aren’t healthy for a healing boy but make the dark circles under Jason’s eyes lessen slightly when he recognizes what they are. He gets a lecture or two from Ma about sweets and growing strong, but both he and Jason come to a silent agreement they’ll just not tell her about them (and readily acknowledge that she may know anyways).
He keeps tabs on the world, of course. He can’t just stop listening in, especially when he hears a faint ‘Superman’ on the wind or a terrified sob. But there’s always someone else responding and he sticks his feet into the soil, reminds himself he’s healing just like Jason is. Besides, who would someone rather have? Superman or Wonder Woman? He’d say the latter, mostly because that’s who he’d call if he were in trouble. She saves everyone, including the heroes.
“No you wouldn’t.”
“Ma,” Clark says exasperated as he helps Jason down the stairs, paying more attention to him than his own words. How did they even get on this topic? “Who else would I call. She can handle anything I throw out. I have far less chance of hurting her if something’s gone wrong.”
“She’s amazing,” Jason agrees, wincing as he takes another step on a newly wrapped ankle, the fracture now healed enough to put slight pressure on. “She can fly and fight and she has that sword. Plus I hear her bracers are magic. I’m with Kent on this one, sorry Miss Martha.”
“Now you don’t go arguing with me,” Ma says and Clark gets a look that says he’s being teased, smiles faintly at it too. “You’d call that Bat of yours, just like you did for me. No denying it, it’s just how it is in this family.”
Silence reigns supreme and Jason tenses like he always does when Batman is brought up or seen or even implied to exist. Clark has to wonder if they’ve met, if there’s a reason this kid looks at the caped crusader on the tv screen and hates him (if that’s the reason he called for him first, thought he might be nearby). Then again, he was born in Gotham and he died in Gotham. Batman wouldn’t let that go, a child dying as violently as Jason’s injuries imply. That he knows that simple fact in his bones, that Bruce would forever hound the person that took a child’s life, he doesn’t think about too hard. He tells himself it’s just because he understands why they do what they do, not that he’s been thinking about Bruce on and off for awhile now (the wildflowers on the table are in bloom, always replaced at the beginning of the week).
“He’s not mine.”
“He’s not anyone’s,” Jason adds softly, voice thick as he grunts and takes the next few stairs to the floor faster, pushing himself needlessly. Clark’s muscles lock, gaze flying to Jason as he listens and pays attention to the hurt behind the words. “He doesn’t get tied down like that. He’d never let anyone hold him back from his mission. Especially fuck ups like us.”
“Jason,” Clark murmurs a beat too long afterwards. He’d said us and Clark’s world rearranges as he stares. “I don’t think that’s quite right.”
“Not like you talk to him,” Jason shoots back, teeth bared. The anger is just him dealing with things Clark reminds himself and he plants his feet to not be goaded into arguing. He bought a book, it says a lot of things, and he’s trying desperately to apply them. Ma backs up, disappears without a word or a sound as he faces this trial alone. “Not like you do anything anymore but hideout here.”
“I’m not hiding.”
“Bullshit.” Jason deflates and his bravado goes with it, hanging onto the banister as he wobbles, eyes downcast. His body won’t let him do what he wants. “But then, so am I.”
“Do you know him?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Do you know him. Jason.”
“No. No, I don’t think I ever did.” There’s that silence again and Clark sighs as Jason’s legs give out under him finally, Clark catching him easily. “Crap. Sorry. I should go back upstairs.”
“No, no. You’re fine. Just. We’re not done here. But we’re done for right now.”
Jason reminds him of Batman, now that he’s thinking about it. He doesn’t talk about things, he just does them. He doesn’t ask for help, he just determines the best course of action on his own and then does what he wants anyways. He looks steadfast and strong, shoulders straight and sturdy under the world, but their eyes look like fractured glass ready to give way with any passing storm. And hell if it doesn’t make him even more fond of the boy, seeing that man in the other. He’s a bit standoffish, violent, and then confusingly close to him all at once too.
Clark watches Jason toss and turn in bed later that evening, chair pulled up to the side and one hand buried in thick hair where a stripe of white resides, humming to help ease the stress in that sleeping face. It grounds Clark in a way everything else up to this point hasn’t and he finds that want to be better start to eat at him again. Only, this time it’s softer, a new start. Scrubbing his soul clean of the gunk sticking to it with every off key note that passes his lips, he just wants to help settle the boy in front of him. It feels like hope, always there but flaming up anew to remind him. If he can do this, so can Jason, but they have to do it together, don’t they? Just like a battle, they’re going to have to be each other’s backup. He has to start facing the music, start trying again. Jason deserves the best he has to give and his best needs to come free from all the guilt, all the expectations he has placed on himself. If he can clean himself up, maybe just maybe he can be the person Bruce and the League hope he can be, the person that this boy needs in the here and now. Time, people had said he’d need time, and after two months Clark at least takes the box with his suit in it out and hangs it in the closet.
It takes them a while to come around to Jason being a person again and the subject of Batman isn’t touched in that time. There’s something else that comes up though, a topic Clark was happy not touching at all, but they have to eventually and he knows it. By the time they make it to full meals, doctor visits only every other week, there are leftovers between them and Ma is out for Sunday dinner with her friends. Clark is almost prepared for it.
“Why’d you do it?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Why’d you pick me up off the street?”
“Because you needed help.”
“Yea but. I’m in your mom’s place. You’re not bringing home anyone else.” Jason picks at his food, though Clark knows he’ll finish it before the night is through. Even healing, even out of it, Jason always finishes his food. “I’m not your problem. You could have dropped me off at the hospital, let them take care of it. What’s it to you?”
“I could have, yes.” Swallowing, Clark pauses. If he can’t be honest here, in his own home, then where can he be. Jason deserves the truth and Clark turns a bit, shrugs a shoulder up. “Honestly? I panicked. I know what it’s like. Truth be told, I was kind of hoping I was a fluke. Seems I was starting a trend.”
Jason stares at him, gaze hard and curious, a hurt that Clark has been unable to reach so far buried deep behind that. He wonders how long that hurt is going to be there and he reaches out to gently ruffle Jason’s hair. It’s worth it to see the grin smothered quickly that follows the gesture, a small light going on behind those eyes.
“I know what it’s like to be confused afterwards. To wonder why you’re back and think the world is still ending. To know what it’s like to feel everything slip away from you, for everything to go dark, and then flash back to the present like popcorn popping. Life after death doesn’t change except for all the ways it does,” he murmurs around a mouthful of chicken, pushing another round of veggies onto Jason’s plate despite the wide eyes on him. He might be the only one to understand what his life is like now. This is the first time he’s spoken freely about it, actually. Death wasn’t a topic he just brought up out of the blue but this feels right. “It’s just you that isn’t right, turns out. No one notices for awhile either because they’ve changed slowly, something deep inside them shifting where what shifts in you is right there in the open for everyone to see. You need time, I want to give that to you.”
“Because you didn’t? Get time.”
“No. I was expected to fight, immediately. I was expected to be the same despite doubt it would even work to bring me back, despite an idea that I’d be brought back wrong. I’m still not sure I’m not. Wrong that is. But I’m working on it. I don’t know how much you know but I didn’t want you to be alone. So I stayed. I’m probably not the best person right now to be doing this, but then again, not many people can roll with these kind of punches. Or your kind of punches. You apparently have a mean right hook. You’re still expected to apologize to Doc Abbott for his nose, by the way. Don’t think Ma or I forgot.”
The tv has been turned down to almost nothing and the quiet is comfortable as Clark chews. Jason is struggling expressively, face pulling and twisting with that information, teeth gnawing on chapped lips that will turn bloody soon if he continues. He allows Jason to get to wherever he’s going on his own, simply stocking up plates with more when food disappears. Ma was right, all his attention is needed every time Jason opens his mouth. Clark never knows if it’ll be new information or grunts of pain or gasps of fear, but he knows he needs to be there for them all. A quiet bark draws his attention for half a second and Clark gets up to let Hank out the back, but when he returns it’s to a much different expression on Jason’s face.
“I didn’t know you died too,” Jason whispers more to his food than Clark, rubbing his nose across the sleeve of an old Smallville sweatshirt. They’ll have to go shopping for him soon, get him out of Clark’s old clothes and into things that actually fit. “I saw a memorial somewhere but I didn’t think it was for that. I thought it was for something you did. I didn’t read the article all the way, the type of too small and made me dizzy.”
“Technically it is for something I did, so you’re not wrong,” Clark offers, pointing his fork at him. “It’s just the thing I did was dying.”
“Christ.” The laughter is startling even though it’s a quiet sound, really just an amused breath. Clark catches the plate that almost slips from Jason’s lap and rights it, allows the kid the time to process. “We’re fucked up.”
“Yes.” It’s not beyond Clark’s comprehension to know he’s not in an entirely good place but he thinks he’s getting things right every time he focuses on the day instead of his doubts and fears of the future. Maybe it’s even making things better. It does take all his willpower to not scold the other for his language though. “Finish your dinner. I’ll call social services tomorrow when I’m back in Metropolis and we’ll see about getting everything sorted.”
“No.” Clark jumps, the force behind the word only outweighed by the calm. It’s the most present he’s heard the boy. Blinking, he furrows his brow in exasperation, meeting Jason’s eyes as the other shakes his head. “I don’t want to do this now. I just want to be here for a bit longer. If you call them, I’ll make my own way.”
“Jason, you’re in the middle of nowhere. You can’t just-”
It’s so soft a word and in such a small, desperate voice. Clark relents almost immediately, sighs softly as he runs his hands through his hair, pulling at the curls. Technically, he did this to himself by not making the call right away. Knowing it’ll be his head on the platter when things end, he can’t regret picking the boy up.
“One more week, Jason,” he warns, expecting the frown and earning it. “You can’t stay here forever. I’m a stranger to you. Besides, you don’t want to keep relying on Ma’s goodwill, do you?”
“Low blow, Kent. What if I want to stay here, huh? I thought you were supposed to be the fair one.”
“One of what?” Clark laughs, leaning back into the shattered tension and throwing his arm over the back of the sofa. “It’s just me here, Jason. Who are you comparing me to? Can’t be Ma, she’s not the one making the decisions.”
“One, we both know you’re lying, Ma makes all the decisions. And two, you know, out of the lot of you.” There’s a grumble and the remote is snagged, the boy still more flexible than Clark can believe with his middle taped up like a grade school paper mache project. He flips to the news where Batman and Aquaman are dashing around Gotham bay, cleaning up an illegal dumping issue. He tries not to focus too much on how tired Bruce looks, how rolled those shoulders are as he works. Clark’s shoulders slump slightly in turn, as if he could take on some of that weight if he could just get himself to reach out, though he also doesn’t miss the way Jason’s entire being tenses when he forces out, “You know, these guys.”
“Truth, justice, and the American way,” he recites under his breath with a sigh. He’s read the articles, Hell he helped write some of them. He should have never given Jason access to his laptop when he wasn’t home. Kid knows too much now, might have known too much to begin with. “I’m trying my best just like everyone else. I like being good, I like following the rules, I like helping and learning and being friendly. If that makes me the fair one, then I guess I am. But I’m not some standard of virtue. I’ll have Lois send you a few articles okay? Plus, you can ask Ma when she gets home. I’m as human as the next guy, no matter my DNA. I want you to know that.”
“You really do just talk about all that emotional crap don’t you? You remind me of -- You’re just a weirdo.”
“Language,” finally falls out of his mouth and Clark’s scowl matches Jason’s in that moment. “Talking about what you’re feeling is healthy, Jason. I mean, you don’t have to do it all the time but you asked, we’re alone, and I’d rather be honest.”
“Yea. Like a weirdo. No one’s that honest.”
“Jesus, just finish your dinner.”
He can’t fault the laughter that follows the exasperated tone he’s just unleashed and he ends up chuckling a bit himself. Another quiet night in but he stares a bit too long at the screen where Bruce and Arthur are working before it gets changed back to some Gotham basketball game. If Jason notices, he doesn’t mention it, just puts his shoulder to his and pretends he hasn’t. Good kid and Clark relaxes again, tries not to imagine what it would be like to have a partner like Batman does, a flash of bright colors flying across the screen right before it’s changed. It seems to upset the boy beside him, the remote buttons being viciously pounded as his gaze goes unfocused. Strange and Clark let’s Jason fall asleep against him instead of telling him to get to bed tonight just to make his face relax.
It’s foreign to Clark, who has had to hide what he is since he was a child, to think of having a partner that knows the inner workings of what he does. So few people know about him and here is a world where somehow Batman is more open than he is. Head dropping backwards, he can’t help but wonder if he could be a part of that world somehow, grounded to humanity not just from his upbringing but because he’s standing at the side of someone more worthy of being a hero than he is, now that he’s thinking about it. Maybe if he could get through this, get Jason through this, he’ll be in a good place to try. Gaze dipping across the room, he spots a few fallen petals and casts his eyes back down, has been the one to put the wilted flowers in the compost, waited for the next bunch to arrive on the front porch.
Maybe he’s already trying and hasn’t noticed.
When Ma returns, he’s passed out cold with Jason in his side, blankets thrown haphazardly over them as they both attempt to fit on one tiny sofa.
Chapter 3: Difference of Opinion
He reminds Jason of someone, so he's been told. Clark finally figures out who that someone is. It's not who he expects. In fact, nothing he gleans this time around it what he expects but like Hell is he going to let Jason handle it on his own.
Eventually, Clark does have to take time off because he doesn’t end up contacting anyone in Gotham or Metropolis about the boy. The reason?
“How are you going to explain it, Kent? Magic? Alternate realities?”
“However you want to, kiddo. But I have to tell someone.”
“No one’s looking for me, I’m not missed. I’d just end up back in Crime Alley and you’re just going to draw unwanted attention to yourself. I’m fine here,” Jason had argued, face sour and lips thin. It paled his face significantly and Clark had worried he’d pass out but he stayed upright, though possibly only through sheer force of will. “I want to stay here. I can’t -- the memories from that place, if it’s even a place -- can’t I just stay a bit longer?”
Needless to say, he’d caved and hard. There may have been ice cream involved. Ma had laughed but then, this was the same woman who hid away an alien baby from the world. She probably had no issue with hiding a zombie boy, as Jason had taken to calling himself (mostly because he knew it upset Clark, but Clark is getting better at not being egged on, at being the responsible adult for a teen to lean on -- he’s being tested and he doesn’t plan to fail this kid in this life or the next). Plus, Jason is getting stronger and needs more time dedicated to him, something Clark has no problem doing with the seasons changing and the farm needing a few extra hands to close up for winter. These ones can lift hay bales with a finger, but that’s neither here nor there, even if Jason keeps daring him to lift progressively bigger objects now that he’s awake and getting up every morning with them.
He has a routine now and it’s good, it’s great, it’s something Clark comes in and does with him as they both watch the sunrise. Wake up, cup of juice, walk around the house, sit on the back porch until Ma gets up to the feed the chickens and Clark has to head to the barn for some weatherproofing. Kansas light is different than Metropolis light and Clark is practically leaking sunshine by the time he comes in from morning chores to find Jason at the kitchen table, reading a recipe to Ma and suggesting alternatives in the same breath. It makes him smile. It makes them all smile. It’s something good and wholesome. He hasn’t seen Ma smile like that in awhile, knows Pa would have already roped Jason into various chores if he’d been there, and Clark sits to just watch.
If Clark is being honest with himself, he probably isn’t going to make that phone call. He doesn’t want Jason to be taken away, the kid a part of his life he doesn’t want to give up and this playing at family is warming him up after the long, cold dark of nothing that came before. It’s selfish but he hasn’t been selfish in a long time, and it feels right in this instance to be. Jason attempting to get up and down the stairs by himself, starting to help with the chickens, going to the grocery store with Ma, winning the hearts of the neighbors, and actively arguing with Clark about things that don’t matter is just icing on the cake. There seems to be some sort of joy in being contradictory so he allows it, turns them into debates versus straight disagreements. He forces Jason to explain why he thinks a certain way and then gives his own rebuttal, listening and sharing, as well as giving in when his point is rightfully derailed.
“You’re doing just fine,” Ma says one evening, watching Jason sit on the porch steps and throw a stick for Hank over and over again as Clark helps with the dishes. Having him walk around the farm and play with the dog seems just the right speed to get him moving again. “It’s good for you to have that boy.”
“Don’t you mean it’s good for Jason to have us?”
“That’s a different discussion entirely, sweetheart. You saved his life but you can’t be a hero like that boy without being the right person for the situation. And you are quite the situation,” Ma laughs, patting his arm and leaving soapy bubbles lingering on it that he wipes away with a face that just makes her laugh more. It seems to draw Jason’s attention back to the house and the open window, leaving Clark to smile at him sunnily before Ma puts a handful of suds to his face just because she can. Jason seems both intrigued and amused as Clark sputters out the soap, wiping at his face.
“Oh, don’t pretend you didn’t know that was coming.”
Anyway, it’s normal now to have him around. There are still hiccups, but things are turning out alright and the anger is coming in waves instead of being there all the time. Jason looks healthier, is healthier, though he still gets his pants in a twist when he feels left out and takes to growling out abuse when things frustrate him. It’s taking some time to get him to realize that if he just asks, Clark will tell him what he wants to know about anything at all. From what Clark can guess, it’s not something he was raised with and so he gives Jason hints to just be straight with him when he senses him getting annoyed, that Clark isn’t telling him something he doesn’t even think he’ll want to know. Those hints come in mighty handy when Doctor Abbott comes around, though this time Clark lets Jason sit and simmer for a bit, trying to understand what’s being said before he opens his mouth to help. The kid beats him to it though and Clark smiles. Improvement.
“So what you’re saying is that I’m physically going to be okay.”
“In not so many words, yes,” the doctor shoots back. He’s from a big city, Clark thinks he remembers, and moved to Smallville because he thought he was needed there more. Jason isn’t old hat but Abbott knows how to handle him. “You’re still going to need a whole lot of physical therapy, I’ve got some of the x-rays back and you’ve got fractures up and down yourself, but you’re healing better than expected and your movement has improved immensely. I would guess you’re used to physical activity?”
“I -- Yea, you could say that.”
That’s new and Clark takes the kernel of information, tucks it away in his chest, lets the doctor out after a few more moments and then turns around to find Jason with a thoughtful expression.
“So I gotta get moving, huh?”
“Yes. That’s the main idea. But you’ve already been doing that.”
“I could help more?” he suggests and Clark grins. “I could do some of the cooking. I used to do that, when it was just. Just me and my mom. I can take over the chicken feeding in the morning, so that Ma doesn’t have to do it too. Get some sunshine, since it’s getting colder and we won’t be able to go out much.”
“All good things. Why don’t you start going out with Ma and helping her first, see how it’s done instead of just walking around. You don’t have to earn your keep, but more hands are always useful on a farm,” Clark admits, offering Jason a hand as if to prove that point. He doesn’t take it to stand but he does smile at him, so it’s a win. “How about it? You ready for a bit more farm in your farm life?”
Jason snorts but his eyes gleam and Clark stops. The anger isn’t there, the hurt is faint, and the amusement is good to see. But there’s a shyness there too as Jason attempts to put something into words, struggling to just ask. Baby steps.
“Can we go flying?”
“Flying. You know.” Jason puts his fist on his hip and then the other into the air, a mimicry of the Superman up, up, and away before he slowly lowers his arms, shaking his head. “I know you don’t do that anymore, you just speed to work. But.” Something settles in the quiet and Jason bails. “Forget it, it’s stupid.”
Clark feels something hot explode in his chest all the same. He’s right, he doesn’t fly anymore. It’s been awhile, he should -- something overwhelms him and Clark pulls the boy into his arms, squeezing him lightly in a hug that’s more for him than Jason. Hesitant arms wrap around him before they start to really tighten, the boy burying his nose in Clark’s chest. Petting through his hair, Clark hums and nods, thoughtful.
“We’ll have to wait until after dark,” he murmurs, holding tight. “I’m not back.”
“We’ll talk about that later. Now let’s go tell Ma the plan. She’ll want to know about the physical therapy and you taking over the chickens.”
The fact that he agrees at all is startling and Clark holds tight to this feeling, the feeling of something being wholly his own and the puzzle pieces starting to create a picture. There’s still pieces missing but he’s got an outline, a border if you will, and Jason is smack dab in the middle of it all. He’s not going to let him go now, he can’t, and Clark does the rest of the chores he can before dinner and then waits excitedly afterwards for the sky to stop glowing in the aftermath of sunset. When he picks up Jason, pulling him across his shoulders in a piggyback, it feels like the first time he took flight. There’s joy in the woosh of air and the tension in the boy releases the higher they go until they can see out over the fields, out until the earth curves, which isn’t all that high in the flat land that is Kansas. Slowly, Jason starts to struggle until he’s in front, feet on top of Clark’s and facing out with his arms wide. Clark’s arms remain around his waist as they go, holding tight but so that the kid can feel like he’s flying on his own. He gets a laugh, full bodied and happy as they swing through the night.
They do that for some time and then Clark lands on the roof of the barn, tucks Jason’s scarf back into his jacket with a tut, and flops down. He’s not exhausted, can’t be, but he does feel drained from all the excitement. Stretching out like he used to do as as teen, he lets Jason sit beside him and curl up, both staring at the stars.
“You remind me of my mom. She was a lot like you before the -- before.”
That’s new. Clark blinks but doesn’t move, relaxes the slight tension that formed momentarily when Jason started to speak. He reaches out a hand and lets it rest on the kid’s back briefly, lets him know he’s listening in the dark.
“She used to want the world to be better too, she tried to make it that way with anything you can buy in a back alley. It killed her.” Bitterness leaks out of Jason and Clark lets it air, lets the world hear what it’s done to this child because that’s what Jason is. He’s just a kid and Clark sits up to be closer. “The world isn’t a good place and she learned that the hard way. I always knew it. Gotham made her into what she was and made me into what I am, just like here made you. I don’t know, maybe if I was made here, I’d be better.”
Hunching down over his knees, Jason looks tiny, which is impressive considering just how tall and broad he’s obviously going to be. A bit like Clark and he reaches out, pulls Jason into his side, feels the shake of the boy’s limbs as his voice goes hoarse.
“She was good though, just like you. She could find the silver lining in anything, used to try and get me to believe in it too. She protected me the best she could, I know that. It’s just her best wasn’t good enough, was it?” Jason sniffs and puts his forehead down on his knees. Clark looks to the stars and silently demands retribution for the Gotham prince beside him, made by a city that tried so hard but couldn’t control its streets. “You’re better. She isn’t coming back, but it’s like she’s here with me too. Breathing. You know, she wasn’t in that other world either? The one I saw when I was six feet under. I looked for her, hoped this one was just a bad dream, but maybe it’s the other way around. Everyone was afraid and it felt right, it felt normal to be afraid, and I fit. People were finally dealing with the bad in the world and it felt like I wanted it to, where I got to be the good guy and fight for people like me without reservation, where I could make more of a difference in my own way instead of someone else’s. I didn’t come out this far though, I just stayed in Gotham and hoped for the best. Maybe it got better out here, but there was just so much dust and destruction. You were there, I think that’s why I knew who you were. Not exactly though. That guy was someone else with your face but they were just wearing it. They weren’t Superman. You can be better than that, Clark. But you’re still just hiding out here.”
“Like you, you said.”
“Like me,” Jason agrees quietly, finally falling to the side and ending up with his head on Clark’s thigh, using it as a makeshift pillow. “I didn’t have many people, you know? But I had this one guy, this old fart, who stuck with me for awhile. He tried too. I don’t think I did well by him, but I didn’t think I’d failed entirely. He listened and taught me to defend myself. Maybe a little too well. I thought I could do anything, so long as I was under his wing. I ended up with Joker.”
“Joker? As in--”
“The Joker. Crazy son of a bitch in Gotham. Pretty sure he’s not even crazy, it’s too calculated and it’s awfully convenient that he always ends up in Arkham and not somewhere they’d kill him. No one else can see it but I see it. I can see him. Everytime I close my eyes, I can hear him laughing at me, telling me it’s a joke, that I’m a joke, that I’m no fun because I wouldn’t scream or play along. That I’m just another mark on the floor, another blood stain. That I didn’t mean anything in the first place. That I’m not good enough.”
“He killed you.”
“You saw the injuries,” Jason whispers, tense and still. “Crowbar. Explosion.”
“God, Jason.” Clark doesn’t even know how to respond, disgust and nausea filling him up to overflowing as he pets through Jason’s hair, tries to remind himself that he’s standing between this boy and the world now. He won’t let it happen again.
“He kills and kills and kills. No one does anything about it, either. He just gets sent back into the asylum, as if that place helps anyone. Their doctors are about as mad as the inmates sometimes, falling into the trap. He was always around Crime Alley, haunting it almost, but I knew what to look for to disappear before he showed up. I got too big for my pants though, distracted by other things, and he caught me out. He taught me a few things. I thought, I thought I could take on the world. I was wrong. I wanted the world to pay for taking everything from me, for taking mom. I’m too screwed up to help, you know. I’m too much like Gotham. And you don’t go into Gotham, do you?”
“I haven’t, no,” Clark murmurs, shaking his head. Not from lack of trying, of course, but he’s heard the rules loud and clear when a spear cut through his cheek, scarred him in a way that would never show. Gotham isn’t for him to interfere with (not that he listened, obviously, as he looks down at the boy in his lap). “Though I have to say, Gotham makes slow progress. With time and people helping her out.”
“People like Batman?” Jason sneers, a spike of rage making his heart rate elevate. Clark puts a hand on his shoulder, tries to quiet him to mediocre results. “He was supposed to come when I needed help. That’s what heroes do. He was always there before when people needed him. But where was he when I needed him? Now I can’t even go back. I’m broken. I’m too different.”
“Different can be good.”
“I want to shoot the Joker in the face,” Jason clarifies bluntly and Clark blinks, almost surprised but not entirely. Jason grew up on the streets and he knows how to win on them, and sometimes that’s how people feel they can win. “I want to kill them all for what they’re taking from people. Two-Face, Penguin, every last one that brings my city down. But that’s not his way, so no. Different isn’t good. Not for Batman. It’s either his line or not.”
“Then he wouldn’t be working with Wonder Woman or offer to work with me,” Clark counters, falling into their pattern of argument and counter argument. It’s good for them, a reminder that there’s more outside of these moments of reflection. “He and I have very different modes of operatus and Diana carries a sword that she can use quite elegantly. She has no such qualms and he works beside her all the time now. She does have rules about that, from what I can tell, but that sword of hers is more than just for show.”
“But she’s not his.”
“Neither are you, Jason. You’re your own person, this life or the last. He may say Gotham is his but it’s just like any other city. It belongs to the people who live in it. Plural, not singular.”
“But I don’t live there anymore. I live here. I think technically that means I’m yours now,” Jason murmurs, yawning as he curls up into himself, exhausted but wary as he watches from the corner of his eye to see how Clark will react. Clark just blinks again, unsure of how to proceed. “I’d rather be that anyways. Unless I could be Wonder Woman’s.”
“I don’t think that’s what I meant,” Clark amends quietly, brow furrowed in concentration. He doesn’t want to mess this up, he doesn’t want to make Jason pull away. He’s getting (some) answers and the more he gets, the less he wants this kid to be anywhere but at his side. “If anything, that would make you a son of Smallville, like I am. What I meant though was that you can be whatever you want to be. If that’s here, you have a room and two people who love and care about you. If that’s in Gotham, we’ll still be here with that room open to you, but the visits will be further between. Either way, it’s up to you.”
“You… You just came right out and said it.”
“Said what?” Oh. This again and he sits Jason up. “Jason, look at me. No matter what happens, no matter what else goes on with you, you’ve got a home here and we love you. You’ve been here almost half a year already, struggling and fighting and healing. I’ve got only about a few months on you in that department. We’re with you in this, good or bad. And if you need a few extra hands to make it good, then let them be ours.”
“Ma… Martha won’t mind?”
“Only if you keep calling her Miss will she mind.”
Jason sniffs but Clark notes his eyes are dry. He doesn’t cry, not often at least, and Clark shuffles his fingers through his hair again, petting down the white streak that always seems to go straight up. It’s so different from his own hair but considering the darkness of it, the same unearthly blue of the kid’s eyes, they could be related. Gently, Clark shifts closer, lets his arm fall around smaller shoulders.
“Maybe it’s about time I made a call.”
Jason tenses up immediately, eyes wide. Clark stares right back in complete seriousness and takes that young face between his palms. If Jason wants to be under his cape, then so be it -- though he has to stop for a second and realize he’s speaking about the cape. Superman. His hands drop and he considers everything, bringing up his own knees as he faces the stars.
“Not social services. All of Smallville knows you now, the bakery gives you free samples. They only do that for people who grew up here and you’re still growing. We need to put some meat on your bones and get you back into something like a regular schedule. Ma and I are pretty much the worst at sending people away, if you haven’t noticed. But I should call Wonder Woman. You could learn a thing or two from her. So could I. And she did say when I’m ready, I should call her. It might be a good first step,” Clark continues, ignoring the way Jason’s gaze burns at his temple. “She has a code you’d need to learn before doing anything and I need someone to talk to about coming back. She’s a good starting point.”
“Ma said you’d rather have Batman.” That name, he can hear the spitfire behind it but there’s a sort of reverence too. Interesting but they’re still taking baby steps. Maybe it’s the dark that makes Jason open up but either way, he’s not going to push it until he has to. “He apparently has all the money in the world, so he can do anything he wants. He should use it to help you.”
“He already has. I owe him a lot, Jason, including my life and this farm. I need to make sure I have something to show before I call him though, because I’m going to want to make sure I have something to return. And I know you’ve met him -- oh don’t look so surprised, I used to be an investigative journalist -- and don’t like him one bit.” The soft ‘I never said I didn’t like the jackass’ is mumbled there but Clark only pauses just long enough to point out he’s heard it and is ignoring it for now. “But there’s something there that you’re not ready for and I’m not going to push you until you’ve talked to someone about everything in your head. Fully. Without reservations. Besides, Ma also thinks I’m still twelve and need her to pick out my clothes for me. She may not be a good person to ask about all this.”
“Well, have you seen what you wear?” Jason asks, shock still evident in his voice and Clark allows him to change the subject. There’s time. “I mean, you could bag anyone you want. Without your glasses, you could probably catch Bruce Wayne. But you’re not exactly chic, more rugged and burly.”
“Let’s not talk about bagging anyone, please.”
“No need to apologize,” Clark offers, finally turning back and offering Jason a hand to shake. “What do you say, I call Wonder Woman and we try to make this work? You eventually get back into being a kid again, I eventually take back the cape and get to being Superman again.”
“I haven’t told you everything,” Jason responds instead, face serious. This Clark knows but he keeps his hand steady, reaching out. It’s the right thing to do. “You don’t know half of it.”
“No but you’ll tell me in time. I trust you to do that. Do we have a deal?”
“You don’t sound sure, kiddo.”
“I’m not. But what else is there to do in Kansas.” Jason’s hand is cold in his and they shake, Clark yanking him into a hug moments later so that the boy can tuck a colder nose into his shoulder. “Touchy feely crap.”
“Stop complaining and just let me hug you. You should be in bed anyways, considering. We’ll talk about the bigger plan later, when you’re not falling asleep on me. There’s going to have to be some ground rules.”
“Don’t you dare.”
There’s sad laughter and Clark hushes it softly, tucking his chin over Jason’s head and lifting them both off the roof for a gentler flight to see the lights of Smallville not too far away. Ma is already asleep by the time they make it in and Clark decides he won’t be sharing any of that with is own mother. She doesn’t need to know how Jason died, just that he did and that right now he needs them more than anything. There’s an idea that he’ll have to talk to Bruce about this but that can wait. He’s sure Bruce has met plenty of kids on the streets, he doesn’t know if he’ll even believe him anyways, so he’ll sit on that particular egg until it’s ready to hatch. Besides, there’s something there he’s not ready to face himself and Clark passes by without really seeing the new bouquet of flowers in the house just this once so that he can tuck Jason in (they’ve changed with the weather he finds out the next morning, heartier and with a bit more thorns, but they’re just as understated and beautiful as the others -- even if sometimes they feel like they belong on a grave instead of the dining room table).
It takes him a few days to activate the communicator, tuning into Diana’s channel with apprehension. Would he be doing this if he didn’t make a promise or would he have just continued on by himself? He doesn’t know but he does consider it a possibility that without a bit of prodding, he probably would have continued on alone.
“Clark, actually,” he corrects, letting a smile peak through his words. “Uh. Hi. Hello. I was hoping we could. Or more, can we -- I called to ask if we could meet up sometime this month. You said I should call when I’m ready and I think I’ve finally got enough to say and enough words strung together to say it properly.”
“Of course. It is good to hear your voice. I’ve seen some of the work you’ve been doing in Metropolis. I do thank you for the tip offs.”
“Not much work lately, I’ve had my hands full here on the farm, but I think it’s about time I did a bit more, don’t you?”
“Arthur will be pleased. He doesn’t like the city.”
“I don’t think he likes any city that isn’t home,” Clark finds himself laughing before he lets out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Still, his voice wavers on, a bit unsure and hesitant to approach the subject. “I’ll take his place. But I still might need some help. I have a few people here but. I think you’re better at this kind of thing.”
“Then I will remain at your side. You live in Kansas, yes?”
He’s penciled in, barring world emergencies, and Clark lets Jason whoop and holler about getting to meet Wonder Woman for the rest of the afternoon. He can already see it, the way Jason’s holding himself differently, the way he resolutely takes care when he walks to make sure he’s healing the best he can. Ma suddenly has two hands wherever she goes, helping and holding and taking over when allowed. Jason stretches and starts to put in more effort, the same kind of effort Clark put in when he was in high school, which is actually exactly what Clark needs to talk to him about.
“Sit,” he instructs, hands on Jason’s shoulders after chores days later. “I need to talk to you about something. Those ground rules I mentioned.”
“Alright.” Paperwork is put between them and Clark lets Jason read it over, sees the way his eyes widen as he starts to shuffle through the rest. “What’s this?”
“It’s registration for the local public high school. You’re thirteen, you should be a freshman if I’m remembering right how the ages stack up. You won’t be starting until after summer, but this is something you have to do if you want me to include you in this superhero business.”
“What--” Jason pulls up short, confusion evident but the frustration building. “I don’t need this shit.”
“Language, young man,” Ma says from the sink, washing up.
“Sorry,” is the murmured reply before Clark is returned to. He knew this conversation would be hard but the way Jason is sitting, he’s in for a fight. “But I’m right. I don’t need this. I know what I need to know.”
“This isn’t only about learning new academic things, Jay. This is about your social skills. You need to be around people your own age, you need to understand that being upset all the time isn’t normal, even if trying to figure yourself out and being upset by some outcomes is. It’s okay to be angry, to acknowledge that fact, but you also need to learn how to handle it. This setting is a safer place to do that. I want you to tell me when it happens and we can work out how to do it together if you need to but this can’t continue. You still throw things when you’re angry and I’m not about to let you out of my sight for other things if that’s how you’re going to act.”
“How else am I supposed to act? I died and it’s not fair.” It always comes back to this and while Clark tends to use soft hands when talking about the subject, Jason puts it in everyone’s face. He wants people to know what the world did to him and while Clark can’t blame him, he also doesn’t want this to become a thing. “This isn’t going to work. I’m not right for this kind of sh-- stuff anymore.”
“No, it’s not fair. But you can’t go out and kill them all just to prove your point. You start running people through and you’re suddenly the one that people are afraid of, Jay. And yes, I’m sure that sounds enticing. The Big Bad who just has to look at someone to get them to give themselves up works for some people. But you want to get back at the people who did this to you, you gotta think outside the box,” Clark admonishes, a tone coming through his voice that makes his mother pause in her dishes and Jason sit straighter. He leans his elbows on the table and looks Jason in the eye, taps the paperwork between them without much notice. “This is how you get better. This is not throwing punches but this is still fighting. You learn, you grow, you get better, and then you go and eradicate the type of things that make people like the ones that hurt you. You’re smart but you’re going to get nowhere by screaming. The quietest voice can cause the most problems, son. So if you want to eventually go back to Gotham with my help, this is where we start. We start with you remembering what it’s like to be a kid.”
Jason is quiet for a time before he stands, goes upstairs and the click of a door signals he’s in his bedroom. There’s a scream of frustration muffled by a pillow only Clark can hear and he tenses as it gives way to pillow punching and then stillness. Ma takes the vacated chair to keep him from running off after him. She reaches out to put a hand over his and Clark squeezes gently, sighing and putting his own head down on his arms.
“Children are hard, but they’re worth it,” she murmurs, keeping hold of him. “Give him time.”
“He’s angry because he’s knows I’m serious. I’m not talking college here, that may not be for him, but he needs to at least finish high school. He needs to find people outside of himself and this house to interact with, even if he doesn’t make friends. He’s so angry sometimes, Ma.”
“Yes. Just like you were angry whenever Pa told you that you couldn’t help, powers or not.”
“Did I give you this much trouble? Because if I did, I’m so, so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Kids aren’t made to be good to you, Clark. They eat your food and break your heart, but they’re worth it. You sound like him, you know. Your Pa would be so proud of how you’re handling this. All children fight with their parents,” Ma soothes. “You less so than the others I heard about at luncheons, but you still did. It’s more difficult because you didn’t raise him, you don’t know what kind of compass you’re working to override with your own. But he’s a good kid and you’ll find a way together. You can only try.”
“Ma, I’m not his father.”
“No. No you aren’t,” she murmurs right back, soothing the hackles that jump up. “But it certainly sounds like that boy needs someone in that role, wouldn’t you agree? And really, Clark, you don’t have to be his father to mean something.”
“He already feels like the world gave up on him. I don’t want to add to that. I don’t want to make him feel like this isn’t someplace he’s safe anymore. I don’t want to fail him.”
“You can’t fail me, Kent,” comes a voice from the stairs and Ma turns around as Jason descends, sits down again sullen but present. “I don’t have all that high expectations.”
“I’ll do it,” he interrupts, teeth grinding. “I don’t want to but I will. I liked school before, I guess I could like it again. It just seems pointless, ya know?”
“Because you died,” Ma intervenes, placing her free hand on Jason’s this time, connecting everyone at the table. God, where would he be without her and Clark gives her hand a small squeeze again. “Because nothing seems all too important after something like that.”
“Man, I see where Clark gets it,” Jason mumbles, blinking at Ma owlishly enough that Clark has to bite back a smile. The quiet remains but it shifts, comfortable instead of tense as Jason hangs his head. He’s getting better at talking to them and they wait, allow him the time to put his words together. “I just don’t want to be the odd man out again. I always was, because of my… family. People knew where I’d come from, my situation, and they thought it was great fun to point it out that I didn’t belong. What if I can’t do it?”
“Then we look at online options and just get you into a thing or two outside of that where you interact with people. Sports, clubs, whatever interests you,” Clark says immediately, having already thought long and hard about it. “But I think you can do it, Jay. You don’t give yourself enough credit. You can make this work and--”
“And if I need another pair of hands, I have them,” he finishes for him and Clark grins, fully and brightly. Jason sinks in his seat and sighs, lips twitching. “Thank you. I guess.”
Stretching into minutes, the silence sits happily among them as they start to fill everything out. It’s so quiet, in fact, that the knock on the door startles every single last one of them, including Clark who should have heard someone coming. Jason catches his eye, a deer caught in headlights as the situation becomes clear.
“Come on in!” Clark calls out, grinning wolfishly at the boy across from him who looks frantic, fixing his hair and pulling at his clothes to straighten them. “Should be open.”
“You have quite the charming home, Clark. These were on your front porch,” Diana says when she enters only to pause and tilt her head at the occupants, hidden halfway around a rather large bunch of daisies. She knows Ma, of course, she’s the only one that stayed after the funeral or so he’s told. Jason however is another story. “Hello there. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“Jason. Jason Todd.” The kid is up and out of his chair, eyes full of wonder and smile brighter than Clark has ever seen it as he shakes Diana’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Miss.”
“Pleasure to meet you.” Clark doesn’t miss the slight narrowing of eyes but fails to see what the problem is as he’s given a hard stare. “Clark?”
“I took him in awhile ago, he was badly injured and needed someplace to stay,” Clark offers in return with a shrug as he stands and pushes forward, sliding around Ma who is already asking about drinks and shoo-ing them into the living room. He takes the flowers with him, tries not to be a bit startled at how many there are after such small bunches for so long. This looks real professional (expensive too, God damn it Bruce, it can only be him at this point) and it’s not the beginning of a new week, so he wonders what’s changed as he sets them in the family room. “This seemed a good a place as any.”
“I popped out of the ground like, well, like a daisy,” Jason offers with a tilt of his head towards Clark, springing over the back of the sofa and settling down in ‘his’ spot in the middle with barely a wince. Clark takes to his left and Diana watches them, close enough that he’s a bit unnerved by her stare as Jason continues. “Magic, we think, but no one’s really sure. I looked a few things up online and it can only be magic. Am I glad Superman was around to hear me? Sure, sure.”
“I see.” She looks so thoughtful and Clark relaxes with the change in her expression, the smile that blooms over her lips. “He knows your identity.”
“He’s the one that’s suggested getting it back,” Clark admits, ruffling Jason’s hair, much to the kid’s displeasure. He feels oil on his fingers and he swears he’d gotten rid of all that junk when he’d moved back home. “He’s actually what I wanted to talk about. In part. But please, sit, sit. Ma will cook you anything you want, in reason, and you can tell us about your latest find at the museum. I saw you’d published a paper on a Demeter statue that was misidentified as Aphrodite, I think?”
“Museum?” Jason pipes up, gaze darting back and forth. “Which museum, Miss?”
“I work at the Louvre. And please, call me Diana.”
In that moment, he watches Jason fall in love and can’t help but smile as he gets up to help Ma with lunch. They’ll make it, he decides as he listens in on the questions Jason is asking (rather interested and intelligent questions, Jesus he should have told him he liked art history, he would have brought him home books), as well as the bemused and passionate answers from Diana. Ma hip checks him gently before going back out and Clark relaxes.
They’ll all make it, this is just the beginning of that road.
I'm finally on summer break after my first semester of graduate school, so this chapter is late because I was finishing up projects and that is also why I haven't answered comments for a bit. I have only a month off before summer classes start so I'm hoping to get this mostly completed before that, thankfully it only needs editing.
This chapter does feel a bit... packed for me but I couldn't figure out how to not make it so full. So this is whatcha got! :) Thank you all for the feedback and interest. It means a lot and I hope this chapter continues to entertain.
Chapter 4: Imperfect Soldiers
Running into Bruce Wayne at work is not what he wanted to do today when there's trouble at home. Not that he can't handle a bit of trouble, of course. This just isn't the type of trouble he's used to anymore.
Diana meets with him every other week to catch up on current and past events. She also takes that time to meet with Jason, after an afternoon of ‘just the adults’ speaking about Clark’s concerns and how Wonder Woman could help him reign the kid in. Ma takes Jason out that day to get a few winter specific clothes, so it works out, though Clark still has no idea why Diana looks so amused at this fact. There’s something she knows that Clark doesn’t, that much is obvious, but he can’t worry about it right then and there as he rifles through the closet, moving aside boxes of old articles and writing awards from high school. He steadfastly ignores the cape hung in the corner, even when it drapes over his arm as he searches.
“I am surprised,” Diana states, leaning elegantly in the doorway. She looks as if she is just as at home on a farm as the streets of Paris. It’s almost unsettling that she can plant herself anywhere and be at ease. “That you have moved back in with your mother.”
“Jason needed stability, I think I did too, and Ma is the best person I know for that kind of thing,” Clark says, muffled by old clothes and dust. “Plus, I panicked when I first found him. He thinks it’s funny, I think it’s somewhat telling that when I panic, I go home.”
“It has been good for you. When we last met, you were not standing as straight as you do now.”
“Yea, well, I won’t be standing anywhere if I can’t find that spare coat.”
They’d agreed that he shouldn’t be wearing the House of El sigil until he’s fully prepared for the massacre the news will enact on his already rather derisive public image. Dead or not, they still are considering him the herald of things to come, bad things mostly. He can’t say he’s surprised but he’s taking it in stride, has to with Jason shoving it into his face every other day, making sure he knows they’re idiots and wrong and a whole list of other things. The kid is getting creative to get around his and Ma’s cursing policy. Plus it’s good to stand side by side with Wonder Woman and rope together goons again. His entire posture changes, he does stand taller, and even the other dock workers are beginning to notice. There’s been an influx of jokes that he gets to share in, people approach him differently, and one of the managers comments that it’s good to see him less sullen before his shoulder is slapped goodnaturedly.
It’s not the Daily Planet but Clark finds he doesn’t mind all that much anymore, working with his hands is rewarding in a way he hadn’t fully considered as long-term goals when growing up. There’s been a decrease in wistful thoughts about returning to the past and he even has gone so far as to take in a beer or two after work before speeding away to Kansas. Life is beginning to feel like it’s going again, the bubble he created to protect himself popping without him even really noticing.
Just the same way, winter begins. The cold outside cranks up to eleven and everyone gets up a bit later just so that they can be out in the sun during the afternoon (though not much later, they still have chores after all). Clark takes the time to make a few more calls, though he chooses to email Bruce instead because he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stutter through a conversation just yet. The man is a constant shadow in his life, looming and there in the corners of both the farm and his head. Not that he tells anyone that but one day Jason looks at him, really stares, and Clark gets the feeling he knows from the twist of his lips and narrowing of eyes. The flowers don’t help his case, either. In truth, Clark doesn’t quite know what to make of it, no longer focusing on what was but instead what is and what could be. And what could Bruce and he be? Well, he’s not real sure about that either but he’s hoping he can at least make friends with the man and prove his stability one of these days (not today though).
Besides, there’s not much to tell him other than he’s working on things and if they need him, please call. He’ll be around. What can he even say about what’s going on? ‘Hey, I think I accidentally adopted a kid, any pointers?’ That seems irreverent and much too forward, a bridge that is too big to cross at the moment when all they have are peonies and tulips between them. Thankfully, the message back is short and friendly, an offer included not unlike the one from the last time he saw the other. But he doesn’t need anything and Clark writes Bruce back to tell him so, thanking him again for all he’s done and promising that he’ll attend one of these ‘Justice League’ meetings in the upcoming months. He just has to set up a few things at home first and Bruce doesn’t respond right away but there’s no need for him to, so Clark doesn’t expect it when it eventually happens. But it’s nice in an unsure kind of way that leaves Clark rubbing at the back of his neck when his mother raises her eyebrow at him.
So what if the bouquets that arrive at the house are just slightly bigger, slightly more sleek with a rose in the center, and Clark starts to feel as if they’re actually for him and not the household? It starts a correspondence that is curt but prevalent, giving life to the other man’s shadow in all the corners he inhabits in Clark’s day to day routine. Sure, the emails are getting longer and the tone more challenging, more impromptu and relaxed, but that can’t be a bad thing.
It’s easy, almost too easy. Something in his gut warns him that it’s going too well and he ignores it, thinks it’s just pessimism. All it takes it one pebble to start a landslide though.
Jason gets into a fight in town. There’s been people passing through, a slap was involved between two of the folks, and he’d gotten involved. Enough so that Ma has had to call him at work to mention the black eye. Jason doesn’t hit anyone (hard), just scares them rightfully back to their car with a few well timed fists flying through the air by their heads and an artful shove into a brick wall, but Clark sighs all the same. The anger had slowly started to dissipate after he’d started moving around, taking on responsibilities, trusted to get things done for Ma. Sure, the kid sometimes just disappears to go to the library or walk around town, riding an old bike that Clark forgot he owned to get there, but they’ve adapted. There’s a whiteboard next to the door now with a magnet that can be placed by wherever he’s headed when he leaves. Freedom had seemed just as important to Jason as the family dinners where he can interrogate Clark about his day and announce his progress with Diana (who is there more and more, teaching Jason stances and morals that Clark can only listen to with awe -- it helps, Jason has worked out his own code with time and patience, giving him a mantra that Clark couldn’t have hoped to have conceived of).
But this feels like a step backwards and it just gets worse because when Clark comes out of work to head home for the day, there’s a familiar face walking with him after a late meeting. Bruce Wayne is, of course, expanding into Metropolis and he’s acquiring some interesting properties, including the shipping yard he’s standing in. Clark can only blink and nod as his boss mentions it, sends him out for the day only to have the socialite grab his arm, smile at him warmly as if this is the place or the time to do this.
“I think I’ve met Mr. Smith previously,” Bruce offers after looking him up and down, and Clark wants to bolt, shifting on his feet as he raises a brow. Right, he’d forgotten about this part of Bruce’s life. The hand on his arm is too warm and Clark wonders if this is what scalding water feels like. “Kal, was it?”
“Kalvin, yea,” Clark offers in return, swallowing down the suspicion that lodges in his throat. His accent comes out thicker because of it and he shakes Bruce off, crosses his arms and grins sharply as he tilts his head. “Don’t know where you’d have met me but I can’t remember most things, you can ask the boss. Always forgetting one thing or another.”
“One of our best workers though.”
“Looks like it,” Bruce murmurs, watching Clark like a hawk. It’s unsettling and Clark stretches out his neck, glances over his shoulder and shrugs. “You remind me of someone.”
“I can walk ya out,” he drawls, nodding at his boss. “You can remind me where you know me from and then I’ll just head home.”
They walk in sync all the way from the offices where Clark punches out to across the street where even Bruce has had to park, fancy car shining strangely next to a row of mud caked trucks and SUVs. Hands shoved in his pockets, Clark doesn’t have a car (at least not here), but he still turns into the parking lot and disappears among the vehicles easily.
“Something come up?”
“No,” Bruce grunts, stopping them when they’re what Clark assumes is far enough away to talk. “At least, not currently.”
“Oh. You really are just here for a meeting then?”
“Yes. I didn’t even know you worked down here,” Bruce admits, expression sour. Strangely, it looks almost like the one Jason wears when he’s heard particularly unpleasant news. “How long have you been a car drive away from Gotham?”
“You -- wait, you don’t know?”
“Why would I know that?”
“Because you know everything?” Clark guesses, blinking away his surprise. There had been a short amount of time where flowers had appeared at his apartment here but those had stopped when he’d moved back home. “I mean, about me, mostly. But I wouldn’t put it past you to know most things. You haven’t been logging where I am? I thought you did things like that.”
“Not since--” Bruce trails off, can’t look him in the eye, and Clark is flabbergasted.
“Since I died.” It’s interesting seeing Batman’s face, mostly because the mask would cover the flinch that just happened at the mention of it. His ears are also turning a particular shade of purple and Clark actually has no idea how to handle that, so he reaches out and sets a hand on the other’s shoulder. It stills them both and Clark gives a small, encouraging grin that he’s worn more and more these days to ease the tension in Jason’s shoulders. “I’ve been in Kansas mostly. Bit of Metropolis here and there. You know that though. I sent the team an email.”
“Working with Diana, yes. I heard.” Did he detect a hint of stiffness there? Clark takes his hand back and crosses his arms, leans against someone’s truck, keeps his eyes trained on Bruce calmly. He has a teenager at home now, he can wait him out. “She said that you had taken back to things like a fish to water, that you’re getting better at fighting and telling what your opponent is going to do. She had let me know when you left the city, she failed to mention you still worked here. Pointed out that you have someone under your wing but she failed to give any details on that either.”
“Hey, you have Robin. I have Jay,” Clark shoots back, shaking his head. Bruce stares at him, wide eyed, and seemingly lost for a moment. “And you didn’t go looking into it?”
“I don’t spy on you, Clark,” came a breath before a deep silence and Clark grins. There’s no heat behind it, which means in some way he’s won a small victory. “Besides, I don’t watch over the farm. Your mother deserves her privacy.”
“She does but that’s getting harder and harder with two boys in the house,” Clark admits, head tilting merrily as a new view of Bruce starts to make itself known. Now, if this was the man he’d met at Luthor’s party they would have had a very different experience. But he has him here now, so he’s going to make the best of it and holds up his hands, quiets his voice to smooth over any ruffled feathers. He’s distracted anyways, thoughts on the back burners of his mind whirling over what he’s going to have to do when he gets home. “I guess I just didn’t expect it, is all. I’d been assuming you had been keeping tabs so I hadn’t -- well, I hadn’t bothered to update you. I thought you did that yourself.”
“Would you have called if you had known?”
“Sure.” A curious gaze lands on him and Clark laughs softly. Why did no one believe him when he said things like that? Jesus, he’s just like Jason. What did he think was going to happen, sending him flowers like that? “I don’t want to fight you, Bruce. I don’t think I ever really wanted that but a lot has happened between then and now to make me see it. I understand it better, I think. Why you did it, why you had to. And I’m okay with it. I’d like to bury the hatchet so to speak and move past it, at least.”
It’s the first time he’s acknowledging it out loud, that he’s getting to be okay. The nightmares have stopped, mostly, and there’s been a somewhat yearning to figure out how to learn and work with a man who has been in this superhero business so long. Granted, not as long as Diana, but Diana also was hundreds of years old he’s fairly sure. She had them all beat for most things. The way Bruce is staring, it’s like he’s seeing something he’s both worried about and intrigued by, though there’s a bit of knowing behind it too. Perhaps Bruce had a Clark sized shadow that sat in all his corners and at the mere thought of it, Clark softens. All over his muscles go lax, like he does when Ma looks at him and tears up, and he curls out of his stance to lean closer, prove he’s really there, that he’s alive and well.
“You’re not just watching out for someone, are you.” It’s not really a question and so Clark doesn’t answer. Just waits and blinks and smiles, listening fully now that he’s at last comfortable in his own skin around this man. “You have a family now.”
“I always had a family, Bruce,” Clark murmurs, shrugging up one shoulder and extending his hearing towards Kansas. Maybe this is for the best, this ruffle in his day, so that he doesn’t go home as sour as he could have been to have a sit down with Jason. “I just forgot that for a bit. Lois left and I didn’t think you’d want me around.”
“I do,” Bruce says and then snaps his mouth shut so fast his teeth clink before he continues. “We all could use a bit of your optimism.”
“Sure. The team.” Clark stares and tries to keep his stomach from doing a strange flip at the thought that he might have a shot at this whole team-up thing after all. They’re standing too close to not at least be friends, right? “Well, this time around I have someone else coaching me on things, so I won’t argue that there is something going on. It’s about time I started making amends though for how I treated you. You know, if you want--”
He stops, his senses finally hitting far enough out to hear what’s going on at the farm. Ma’s heartbeat is elevated, as is Jason’s, and neither is the calm rise of exercise or laughter. There’s also a soft ‘click’ that rings through his ears and he’d know Pa’s shotgun anywhere. It’s old, passed down generation to generation, and the safety sticks. It’s good enough for the farm, in case of coyotes trying to get at the chickens, but this is pointed at another heartbeat. Clark freezes, feels more than sees Bruce’s hands travel up his arms and to his shoulders after a moment.
“There’s someone in the house.”
He’ll call Bruce after he figures out what’s wrong but he’s in the air and tearing through the front door before he can even think about it.
There’s quite a few things he’s expecting and none of them are what he ends up with. Ma is partially hidden behind the kitchen walkthrough, butcher knife in hand and wide eyed. Hank is growling at her knees, one hand keeping him back by his collar. And then there’s Jason, standing steady and sure in the middle of the hallway, gun cocked and held expertly, pointed directly at a woman Clark doesn’t know but looms over. She’s sleek and dark in all the ways that scream dangerous, and when she turns around to him, her eyes hold something sharper. He sees it then, the knife at her hip, and he braces himself for a fight.
Jason doesn’t lower the gun.
“Get out,” Jason says easily, voice low. He doesn’t like it one bit as the gun is shifted for a better hit. He didn’t even know Jason knew how to handle something like that. “I’m not going with you.”
“I can heal you, Jason. Your very existence calls to my father.” Voice thick, Clark can’t identify her accent and the warning bells in his head get louder. There’s not many places for tourists in Kansas, much less in Smallville. The fight they have to talk about starts to make sense. “There are ways to be who you were meant to be. We can help each other.”
“I believe the boy said no,” Ma speaks up, voice hard and Clark’s heard that before. She’s scared, but she’s in her own home and unwilling to budge. “Now why don’t you escort our guest out, Clark.”
“You are not prepared for what this boy has been through,” the stranger says, turning on him and Clark steps forward, puts himself between her and his family. Her snarl is evidence enough it’s the right choice to make. “You are getting in the way of greatness.”
“I’m doing what’s best for me and mine,” Clark answers, voice dipping and he almost hovers to prove he’s a formidable opponent. Here he’s not Superman though and he stands his ground on old floorboards that squeak and wobble, lets himself fill up a hallway he used to race through with Pa in an attempt to get to Ma first after school. “Leave. Now. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“As if you could.” Her eyes spark and Clark lifts his chin, sets his jaw. “I’m not the one pointing a gun at a civilian.”
“Bullshit,” Jason growls, backing up to Ma but keeping himself tight. The way he moves, this isn’t Diana’s training and Clark feels his heart skip a beat. He knows this training and his world tilts as he moves with it. “Leave me alone, Talia. I don’t want your magic or your future. I remember hearing about you, you know. And you’re batshit crazy.”
“I can make you his again.”
“I’m no one’s,” Jason states after a pause, struggling as the gun drops and the safety engages once more with a bit of force. He won’t look up though and it’s telling. “I’m my own. I’m not leaving.”
Clark doesn’t wait for another response, instead jetting this Talia out of the house and into a Metropolis park before either can blink, gone just as soon. He doesn’t feel entirely bad about leaving her in the city, there’s enough going on there that she’ll be safer than somewhere else. What worries him more is the teen that slumps into a chair as soon as he’s back in the house, Ma already having secured the shotgun back into the safe in her bedroom.
“She was in the house when I came back from the library. Ma was upstairs taking a nap, or was until I starting shouting,” Jason admits before any other words are said. He sounds so tired and the anger that they’d worked so hard to control is there, coating his words. “She’s in love with Batman. Or obsessed with. I’m not real sure. I just remember reading a file on her.”
“File.” Jason nods and Clark turns to Ma, silently asks her to go back upstairs where she’s just come down from. She does without question, calling Hank to come, and Clark turns back, watches Jason get up and start to pace the kitchen. “Why was she here, Jason.”
“You know who he is but not what he is. He’s my -- he’s the one that took me in when I was on the streets.” Jason stops, goes tight and rigid before he raises his head defiantly. “He adopted me before I-- I’m his ward.”
The words settle around Clark, distant at first and then hit him hard. He must move at superspeed with the way Jason’s eyes go wide and can’t seem to track him as he slumps onto the stairs. Elbows on his knees and face in his hands, Clark isn’t quite sure what to say to that. Of course it’s Bruce. The one person that he wants to get to know better is the man that Jason hates (doesn’t not like, excuse him, and where has he heard that before -- God he’s really bad at seeing things right in front of him). Rubbing his palms together, Clark feels more than sees Jason take a knee in front of him, concern and frustration bubbling from the beat of his pulse. Not what he expected but it almost makes sense now that he’s thinking about it.
“Well that’s a new one,” Clark gets out around a sigh, looks up and meets Jason’s eyes head on. How long has he been emailing back and forth with Bruce now? Not long enough, evidently. “You made it seem like you were on the streets until you died.”
“I know. But I couldn’t tell you. You’re Superman, you would have gone right to him and I didn’t want that. It’s stupid, he’s stupid, but he took me in. I was jacking things to make ends meet. And then I tried to steal the tires off the batmobile.” Clark chokes on a laugh, incredulous as Jason continues with a sharp grin. “Bruce Wayne’s second ward, just another kid to make the lush socialite look good.”
“You’re him.” It’s obvious so suddenly that it makes Clark ache. He tries to trace what he knows of the boy wonder but there’s so little out there, most likely on purpose. What he comes up with is a bloodied suit in a glass case in the back of his mind, a sliver of memory from meeting Alfred. Oh God. All the air in the room turns heavy, thick and sticky like syrup. “You’re Robin.”
“Yes. No.” More frustration and Clark waits. “I don’t know.”
“Hey.” Clark cups Jason’s shoulder, pulls him into his lap with minimal struggle and hugs him, pets through his hair. Jason doesn’t even grimace, used to the way this family shows attention and affection after so many months with them. He’s still tense though and Clark sighs. “That’s what you meant when I first picked you up, isn’t it. About how you don’t have a home.”
“I mean, yea. He lets the bastard that killed me live, he lets someone else wear the suit, and he doesn’t even notice I’m--”
Choked off words give Clark just enough time to turn Jason’s face towards him, see the hurt that still lingers in his gaze at the forefront instead of buried. This time he knows where it’s from, this time he can try to unwind it from the kid’s heart. He doesn’t know how to do that, can see the anger starting to flood in at the sides, so instead he keeps hold of Jason as he explodes. He’s used to taking those kinds of hits.
“I DIED,” comes the scream, agonized and furious as fists fly, the dam breaking. Clark relaxes his shoulders so that Jason can beat on them all he wants without breaking his hands. “I fucking DIED and what did he do? Joker took me from him and he didn’t. He didn’t do anything. He just let him go, he didn’t do ANYTHING. And now he’s got another kid, probably in my room because Alfred doesn’t want to open up another spare one, doesn’t want another shrine in his house. He's going to kill another kid. He's going to let another kid die for his cause. It’s not right. It’s not fair. That was my life. I made it home. Why did he take me in the first place? He should have left me behind, I KNEW this would happen eventually. If all I was going to be was a footnote, he should have just left me. I could have been great, I could have made it work, I didn't step out of line that much did I? I TRUSTED him. I would have torn the world apart if I’d lost him and he just LEFT when it was for me. Erect a headstone, make the papers, take in someone better. Someone more like him. Replace the sucker that got himself killed. Just another kid that thought he was better than he was.”
“I made it back, Clark. I made it back. Why didn't he come for me?”
Clark rubs up and down Jason’s spine, blinking wetness from his own eyes because he has to be strong for this boy taken from the world and then thrust back into it like it didn’t matter that he’d been murdered before that. There is no rest in death, or at least Clark hadn’t felt any, and the pain of returning had been greater than dying. It hadn’t seemed worth it at the time just to be expected to fight again, to be hope to others when he couldn’t find any himself. But to have been murdered (brutally), to wake up six feet under, see signs that the man that did the deed is still at large, and come to find everything as it was except that the void where he’s supposed to be has someone else in it -- yea, Clark can see what Jason sees.
But he can also see the world as it is. Was. Whatever.
Bruce couldn't hear him, he isn't like Clark. There's no way he could have known Jason was there, looking for help. Sons should bury their fathers, not the other way around, and the spiral out of Batman makes sense all too clearly. Then comes Superman, Black Zero, and Doomsday. Steppenwolf. Diana and then the League held him accountable after that, a new Robin had stepped in to stitch a wound that needed healing still, and people who understood the pressures of the whole thing were in easy reach. There was a new Robin because Batman needed one, not to replace a boy who he still thought was dead.
He can see how it wouldn’t feel that way. With Jason shuddering against his chest, Clark wonders if he’s somehow become a brick wall surrounding Jason, something he didn’t wholly intend. He wanted to protect the kid but he didn’t mean to lock him away from the world, didn’t mean to leave him to stew in his own thoughts until they ran wild with grief and confusion. Gently, prying fingers from a now wrinkled shirt, Clark eases Jason backwards to stand. Kid is good at looking like he isn’t falling apart from the inside out.
“Do you want to wait to hear what I have to say about Bruce or hear it now, when it may make things just a bit worse?”
“Nothing makes sense anymore,” Jason murmurs with a sniff, throwing his head down against Clark’s shoulder. “Hit me with it.”
“I don’t know much about you and him but I know a lot about him and me. He tried to kill me, Jason, because I was a potential threat. I’m an outlier in his rather long history of cases and I think that was because I came after you were gone.” It sounds right and Clark holds tight to the kid, lets him hide in his neck away from the foolish world and the foolish men in it. “I saw a man mad at the world, taking justice into his own hands, being brutal, cruel, and determined I was the one to stop it. Bruce saw me as a threat, one he could stop so that the world didn’t have to be subjected to someone so powerful. Maybe he thought he could keep people from feeling like he did. Jesus, Jason, I can’t imagine a world where a man who determines the cleanup of his hometown is his sole responsibility would turn you away.”
“He already has,” Jason argues, though there’s a waver underneath it. “I wasn’t what he wanted, I’ve been told I have a mean streak. I hurt people sometimes. I--”
“You’re a kid, you need patience and training and a world outside of this whole vigilante business,” Clark interrupts, voice stern and words fast. “Kids aren’t meant to follow strict rule sets and they need to find out who they are on their own sometimes. God, Jason, he bought a bank so that Ma didn’t have to lose this house, so that I didn’t have to worry about my childhood home being in someone else’s hands. If he knew about you, he’d be here in a heartbeat.”
“You don’t know him.”
“Not well. But maybe neither do you,” Clark says gently. “Or maybe you’re remembering the worst instead of the best, because the worst is what ended in your murder. I can’t tell you why he didn’t take it out on the Joker, but I can say that the Batman I came face to face with without a Robin at his side was someone I found monstrous. Now? Now, he’s trying the best he can. You can see it but you always change the channel.”
“What if his best isn’t enough?”
“Then that city will kill him,” Clark says with such certainty that they both wince. “But I won’t let it. We won’t let that happen. Alright? Hate him all you like, but you still feel for him. If you didn’t feel anything, you’d be apathetic. This isn’t apathy.”
“I just. I want him to pay,” Jason whispers, sniffing and ducking his head more. Clark lets him, has realized that Jason can’t look at him when he’s talking about certain things. “I want him to feel like I feel.”
“Have you thought maybe he already does?”
“What do you mean?”
Clark scoops the kid up and balances him on his hip, Jason squawking a bit and hanging on tight as they float off the ground. Despite the cold, despite the frost on everything, he brings them up to the top of the barn and lets Jason go, points them towards where he knows Gotham resides states away.
“He feels guilty about my death because he couldn’t stop it, may have played some sort of factor in it,” Clark says, standing behind Jason with his hands on his shoulders. While he realizes he’s babbling, Clark can’t help but believe what he’s saying, wanting to point out that things aren’t nearly as bad as Jason has built them up to be. He has to believe Bruce is a good man, puts faith in that thought and lets it start to grow strong in him. “He keeps your suit behind glass where he can see it every time he goes into the cave, graffiti and all. You can’t tell me he doesn’t feel like you do, Jason. He wants someone to pay. If he had let go of your death, he would have put it away, you wouldn’t linger in the dark of the cave. If he really didn’t despise the Joker, he wouldn’t immediately go when he broke out, wouldn’t constantly keep him under watch despite having put him away. There’s no way he’d be that fast on the uptake unless he was always watching. He may not kill him but every time that man gets put back into Arkham, it’s with a few more fractures than he left with before. Because killing him isn’t worth it. Because--”
“Because it won’t bring me back,” Jason whispers, something like understanding starting to leak into his voice. “Because if he kills him, where does the pain go.”
“I’m probably not right. But the pain has to go somewhere. Yours is seeping out of you with every breath you take out here because you aren’t always in the middle of it. He has made it his life to revel in it, to use it to crack skulls and bash teeth. Is that what you want to do? Or do you think there’s another way?”
Jason stays silent, shivering a bit in the wind as he stares out over the fields between him and what used to be his home. Clark lets him, only wrapping an arm around him to stave off some of the cold. Eventually, he’s leaned into more solidly and Clark brings them down, lets Jason run to Ma and hug her tight, has them all pile into the truck and get fast food instead of dealing with cooking tonight. Through it all, Jason continues to throw glances at the north east, as if he could see something there. With all the shadows that follow them around, maybe he does, but Clark doesn’t ask and he doesn’t tell. He also never answers Clark’s question, but that was really more rhetorical. When dinner is cleaned up and everyone is piled onto a too small couch, blankets strewn over all of them, Ma in the middle and Hank underfoot, safe and sound if a bit haggard from the day’s events, Jason does end up speaking on the subject.
“You’re going to have to tell him,” he murmurs during the middle of a movie, glancing over at Clark and avoiding Ma’s gaze. “You have to tell him before he gets himself killed.”
“I will, Jay,” Clark assures, passing a hand over his hair and nodding. “I will.”
With how long the other chapter took, I figured a faster turn around with this one was required. Enjoy!
Chapter 5: Mistakes Were Made
He wasn't prepared for this. He thought they'd have more time, that he could talk to Jason a bit more before all this came crashing down around his ears. He thought he could at least get some traction with the anger in the boy's head, sort out a few tangles that still stood between them and the finish line. He just thought... he thought they'd have more time to do this right, to ease themselves into it.
Then again, when has anything concerning Bruce ever been anything less than complicated and hard? Clark should have known better, he really should have.
There’s a whole script he has planned in his head but Bruce doesn’t answer his text to arrange a call or maybe meet up for lunch the next day. Instead, Clark walks into a screaming match with both eyes open, concerned at the well dressed man in their living room. After what happened yesterday, he’d taken his lunch break to rush home when he’d heard the yelling start. It’s not as distressed as he imagined it would be but it’s the anger that stops him dead in his tracks when Bruce looks him in the eye, teeth bared like a wild animal and body pulled taunt enough to snap a tendon.
It strikes him across the cheek, the tone of voice familiar to him and Clark winces backwards slightly, parsing through the surprise and pushing down the cold crawl of memory up his back. He doesn’t even try to move out of the way when Batman comes flying at him, allows himself to be pushed up against the wall with an arm against his throat. He holds his ground though in other ways, stays calm and collected, allows Bruce this justified aggression. While he hadn’t exactly imagined this was how the conversation would go, he does think that the lack of kryptonite is a good thing. Still, he frowns down at the man holding him against the wall when he’s shoved back into it again, creating a few cracks where his shoulders meet plaster. He’s about to speak, to call this all to a halt in the hopes of sitting down and talking this through (so unlike they did before, they need to not do what they did before) but he doesn’t get the chance.
It happens so fast that neither can even get anything out before things change.
“Don’t touch ‘em!”
The call is high pitched, nothing like he’s heard at the farmhouse before, and suddenly Bruce is off of him. There’s a fogginess in Jason’s eyes and he’s reacting instead of planning this out. A trigger has been flipped and something has gone wrong. Clark quickly rifles through his memories to remember what Jason’s said about his past and freezes in the process. The hit must have stirred something in Jason because he’s placed himself between Clark and Bruce quite solidly, fists up despite the unfocused gaze. He has to fix this, because Bruce is getting up, falling into a defensive position that would let him strike out again, and he doesn’t want them to destroy each other or the house. It’s cold outside, they’d never make it through the renovations until the spring and Bruce will pay for it because of course he will, but he doesn’t want to owe the man anymore than he already does. So he stands straight and prepares to move, takes a breathe and lets himself become someone different.
“Jason.” His voice is hard and clear to call attention to himself. Superman floats just slightly off the floor, a hand through his hair to flatten it down just slightly. It startles the teen in front of him into bracing him upright, as if he needed the help or was about to crumple to his knees. Clark doesn’t need it but appreciates the sentiment, takes Jason’s wrists and gives a gentle squeeze before urging him to release. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
“What?” the boy blinks, comes back to the present like a shot and startles. “I let him in. He showed up and I let him in, sent Ma out for groceries before she saw him.”
“I was wondering where she was.”
“Jason, get away from him.”
“Master Bruce, perhaps it’s best if-” Alfred’s here? Clark glances up as he lands, releases Jason and wonders exactly what kind of conversation was being had before he walked in. He does try not to eavesdrop but he’d heard a yell, had been in the air the next breath without thought. He didn’t need a repeat of yesterday.
“Move away. From. Him.” Jason holds his ground, staying right in front of Clark and rapidly breathing like he’s about to charge, only barely holding himself back. “I’m warning you.”
“Bite me,” the boy hisses, teeth and fists clenched. The thoughtful boy of yesterday is no more and instead an angry teen with a vendetta has taken his place. It’s like a haze has covered him from head to toe, mixing violently with his words. “He came when I called. Where were you? Oh right, probably off with Robin. Wait, is it the same suit? Does that kid even know you’d let him die for your antiquated moral high ground? I feel bad for him, he has the shittiest job in the world. Play second fiddle until the string snaps, right. Don't do this, don't do that, only ever do as your told child soldier. Would you have even let me in if I’d knocked, or would you have kicked my ass first and asked questions later, put me down like a rabid bear that shouldn’t be alive?”
Nothing can stop the train wreck that is pouring out of Jason but the way Bruce pales and blanches leaves Clark’s chest feeling tight and hollow, so he tries. Hands go to Jason's shoulders and then he’s turning the other around. Robin, dead by the hands of the Joker. Todd, beaten by a nightmare. Jason, who looks like his chest feels.
Superman takes a knee.
“Stop,” he murmurs, sees when the words hit and mix with the exhaustion that still echoes Jason’s every move. He’s still healing, he’s just a kid, he needs to breathe before he passes out. “Stop, Jason. No more.”
The gasp is all that he’ll ever get for a sob, dry and broken as arms are thrown around his neck. Clark reels him in, doesn’t make a sound, just lets his eyes close and his heart open wide. This is what Superman is for and in that moment, Clark feels something slide into place in his chest. When his eyes open, Bruce is standing still with Alfred by his side, standing down from the fight. Both are watching unabashedly, one unreadable and the other with open curiosity. He’s able to meet Alfred’s eyes but not Bruce’s, standing easily and lifting Jason with him, letting the boy cling but also allowing him to be the barrier between himself and the stares. Kid’s still wearing that damn Smallville sweatshirt that he gave him that first day on the farm.
“Let’s just part for a bit until Ma gets home. I’ll take him upstairs and bring him down, when he’s ready,” he murmurs, soft and easy. “I can’t guarantee that will be anytime soon but you’re welcome to stay for dinner.”
“I’m not leaving you with my son.”
Stalemate. Clark feels his shoulders slump because he thought they may have been past this distrust but then Jason unlocks his legs from his waist, drops to the floor in a way that shows skill in dropping from high places. Clark lets him, ruffles his hair gently before he steps back in an attempt to give him space. Jason moves with him and he stills, allows the boy to stay close. It’s in that moment, as he’s carding through the boy’s hair like Ma used to do with him, he wonders just how much like Jason’s mother he is. There’s so little he knows (he found a police report but what about before that, what did she do to make her name be said so softly by a boy who's all hard edges) but he's been willing to trust he’ll get answers eventually. These are answers, alright, but to a different set of questions. Glancing across at Bruce and Alfred, he doesn’t know if they’re headed in the right direction, but he knows that he wouldn’t change it with the teen currently stitched to his side.
“I don’t have to listen to you. I’m gonna do what Clark says.”
Ringing silence. Those words hurt, Clark can see that, but he doesn’t try to fix them this time. They’re calmer words that quake out of the boy, quiet and sure, and they’re not his to fix.
“Master Jason.” Attention drawn, Jason curls up as if ashamed. Alfred is the first to approach calmly, draws Jason away from him just by getting closer. Good, Clark thinks as he watches, encourages Jason forward a step more with a press of gentle fingers. “Should you wish to stay, then I see no reason why you should not. But you are welcome in any home I hold the keys to, now or in the future. Should I arrange to send some of your things? I doubt Mr. Kent has the right resources for a growing boy.”
“I gave him some of my old stuff,” Clark does admit, voice hushed now. Jason is shaking, a barely noticeable tremble that he’s sure everyone in the room can see. “Ma and him went shopping not too long ago for a winter coat. It almost fit him so he can grow into it and the older clothes were good for the bandages.”
Jason and Clark both wince, the boy glaring as his own face morphs apologetically.
“I came into the middle of this, I’m not sure what you’ve heard,” he says, choosing his words carefully as he finally faces Bruce, who hasn’t moved from his position across the hallway. “But Jason was pretty banged up when I found him. Got him stitched up and have been making sure he refrains from over exerting himself. He started physical therapy and next year, he’ll be starting school again if all goes according to plan.”
“How’s that going for you?”
“Just fine, thanks. He saw a good doctor and he’s a good kid-”
“Teen, Kent. We talked about this.”
“Teen,” Clark amends before turning back to Bruce. “I haven’t had much trouble.”
Jason’s incredulous face is in his peripheral as Bruce’s changes into something resigned, sad before it’s blank as an empty chalkboard. If they knew each other better, if he had the time or they'd been able to meet for lunch, he’d do something about that. Instead, Clark has had his hands full trying to figure himself out and then taking care of a fast growing boy. But it still hurts to see this man curl inward somehow by standing straighter, to turn and leave even when Alfred is calling him back. Clark attempts to disentangle himself from Jason’s grip only to be hauled back, the boy shaking his head frantically. But when has he ever been any good at listening when it came to Bruce?
“Jason, stay here with Alfred. Tell him about anything you want. About me, about you, about Ma. Talk to him. I need to talk to Bruce.”
“He won’t want to talk to you.”
“Mister Kent, if I may-”
“Let me make this mistake, if it is one,” Clark cuts them both off, rushing out. “I’ll be right back.”
He jogs out the door without his coat on, ignoring the first few flakes of snow that are starting to drift down in the spotted sun, and makes a beeline for the dark swath of man making his way through them. The car is too nice for the farm they’re on, the man too slick and professional, but Clark still wants him to stay anyways. Things are falling into place faster and faster, the idea that Jason was poked at in school for his background (because being a Wayne meant something to people in Gotham so of course a kid off the streets was going to be a bit out of place), the idea that Jason didn’t just get information but had to dig for it himself (they’re all detectives aren’t they, looking for clues because they don’t have the luxury of superpowers -- and it’s not like Bruce is an open book with his lifestyle, of course Jason wouldn’t know to just ask and expect an answer), the notion that Gotham is theirs, through and through (because it is, God it is both of theirs to protect and master).
“Go back inside, Superman.”
“I didn’t know.”
“You didn’t know.” He’s whipped around and Clark comes to a halt, hands out and trying to convey he’s not a threat. It hurts, seeing the rage boiling under the surface, drawn tight across Batman’s skin. Clark has no misunderstandings about who he’s dealing with here and he tries to make himself smaller, make himself seem less of a threat. “How do you expect me to believe you didn’t know?”
“Because I haven’t lied to you,” Clark answers immediately, trying and failing to not pull on his hair in frustration. He sees how this ends and he doesn’t want it that way, but doesn’t know how to stop it. “Because I wouldn’t lie to you about this. Because I really didn’t know. He only told me yesterday who he was before.”
“Convenient you never looked him up. I saw what happened. You have no idea who you were dealing with.”
“I thought you said you didn’t keep tabs on the farm?” Clark shoots back and it’s familiar, too familiar, to snap at each other and get into each other’s faces. He’s just a tad shorter than Bruce is but he’s starting to get riled too and it doesn’t feel like there’s a difference. “When did that change?”
“I had it handled.”
“I saw that too,” Bruce snarls, closing in and Clark swallows down the regret, backs up more than he should. “Along with a boy who should be home instead of the middle of nowhere Kansas.”
“I didn’t know.”
“You should have checked.”
“He’s my kid.”
The words ring like bells in the cold after that and they’re exhausting, Clark slumping against the salt riddled sports car as they fade. His hands come up to rub at his face and Bruce has stalled out, perhaps not expecting the exclamation or agreement to what he’s been saying since they argue, not agree (even when they’re on good terms, maybe even flirting, they’re arguing and boy does he have many emails to prove that point). Clark has changed the dance they have and suddenly, neither knows the steps or even the tune anymore. But he is right. Jason is Bruce’s son, should be home with him in Gotham, and Clark’s the reason that he isn’t. The anger, the lashing out, it is all justified and Clark doesn’t know how to repair what has just exploded in his face. So he rubs at his eyes and crosses his arms, bows his head low so that he can breathe evenly without seeing who he’s hurting. It’s either going to be Jason or Bruce, and neither he wants to see wounded.
“You’re right,” he manages again, softer this time. “He should be at home. But he never told me where home was, just that he didn’t have one. And I should have looked him up, but I don’t have the resources I used to. He said he lived on the street, it seemed like if he didn’t come home with me then he didn’t have a place to go to, and I panicked when I heard him in his grave, okay? I could barely get myself to give flying a chance and then there’s a kid calling out from a grave for help. I couldn’t do nothing.”
“He--” Bruce ends up next to him, pale against his dark clothing. Jesus, didn’t the man own anything colorful? Of course he did and then he gave it all to Robin, staying in the dark. “You dug him out of his grave?”
“I dug up the dirt, he broke through the casket,” Clark murmurs, curling his shoulders more. “The wounds the Joker inflicted on him at the end, they hadn’t exactly healed. It felt surreal after everything I’d been through. I just pulled him out and got him to a doctor. Then he said he didn’t have a home and I -- I couldn’t just leave him, Bruce. I wasn’t right either so at least we could both be wrong together.”
Bruce rubs a hand across his lips and Clark looks away, shamed faced. He should have done a bit more digging, should have figured out who this boy was that he was allowing to live with him, but it had seemed so innocent at the time. Jason had needed help and Clark had understood what it was like to come back from the dead.
“You think you came back wrong?”
“I certainly wasn’t right, was I? I dislocated your arm, if I remember correctly. I headbutted Diana. I scared Barry and Victor and maybe even Arthur. I shook Ma’s world and left Lois alone to fight with a secret only a few other people knew. I ran for a few months, hid for a few more. Would Superman have just let a boy he hasn’t thoroughly checked out stay with his mother without a fight?” Clark asks, chuckle dark and sad. “I’m not who I used to be.”
“But you are who you should be,” Bruce murmurs back at him, and Clark looks up to catch the furrowed brow, the guarded gaze. “Or who I thought you would be.”
“Do you think about me a lot?” Flowers on the kitchen table, a rushing feeling in his gut when the other’s name appears in his inbox. Maybe it’s the other way around but Clark still wants to know, knuckles going white as his fingers press into his arm to keep them from fidgeting. “What kind of man I am or am not?”
“This is exactly the man I thought Clark Kent was. Someone who took in those who needed it and tried to make things better than when he found them. I just didn’t expect it to be--”
“Jason,” they say together and Bruce is the one to hang his head now. Gently, hesitantly, Clark reaches out to put a palm across the back of Bruce’s neck. Warm and steady to give him something to focus on, he’s found the technique works with Jason at times and he might as well. When he isn’t shrugged off, he gives a tiny squeeze before letting them stay there in the falling snow. Eventually, Bruce shifts the tiniest bit and ends up in his side. Clark keeps himself calm, lets Bruce lean into him up until he hears a truck at the end of the dirt road they’re on.
“Ma’s coming home,” he whispers, passing his fingertips through the finer hairs at the base of Bruce’s skull before he drops his hand. “We should get back inside before we both freeze and she lectures us about it.”
“Alfred already knows how long we’ve been out here,” Bruce comments instead of agreeing, pushing off the car and moving back towards the door. No questions, no comments, they walk slow and steady, side by side as if they do this all the time. “I should see if. Jason probably doesn’t want to talk to me after what he’s said.”
“That came out of nowhere. Honestly, Bruce, I think the kid just wants to be angry sometimes, but he’s getting better about it.”
“Because he’s here.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just something we haven’t figured out yet and now we have to do a bit of thinking together to make it make sense.”
As they trudge up the porch stairs, a curtain moves just slightly by the front door and Clark sighs. There’s going to have to be a conversation about eavesdropping, isn’t there? Still, when they walk in, Jason is downstairs instead of hiding somewhere else and he even goes so far as to skirt Bruce to get out the door to help Ma with the groceries. Alfred smiles cordially to everyone but Ma is in a right tizzy about not knowing they had company that can’t even stay. Clark has to get back to work, Bruce should probably call into a meeting, and Jason is hiding behind Hank as if that dog could hide his bulk. There’s going to have to be quite a few conversations, now that Clark is thinking about it, and he sighs as he realizes that he can’t just keep down the road they’ve been on. No, things need to change again and maybe this time it’ll be right. As he watches Alfred promise to return the next day because they have a motel in town they’re staying at, watches Bruce stare and catalog Jason’s every move, he can’t help but think that it’s going to be far more complicated than when it was just him and Jay trying to figure out which way to go and what to do to get better.
Much, much more complicated as that calculating gaze turns to him and Clark can only offer a half hearted grin back.
Chapter 6: Five Peas in a Pod
Dinner with the family. That should be easy enough, right? Except they're still not whole, they're still learning, and sometimes the cracks still are more prevalent than the healing.
“I made dinner.”
“It smells great, Jay.”
“You’re--” There’s something bitten off there, an unfinished sentence or thought, but Clark just steps further into the house and lets Jason come to him. “Your day go okay?”
“Just fine,” he responds, going to check pots and pans. Whatever Jason wanted to say, he isn’t going to now. He knows that stubborn set of shoulders a bit too well, has seen them before both on Jason and someone else. He wonders why there’s not three more heartbeats in the house. “Nothing too noteworthy. Mike almost fell down a hole.”
“Mike’s an idiot, from everything you tell me.”
“Just because I agree with you doesn’t mean I was going to say it. How’s your day been?”
“I slept through most of it,” Jason admits, getting out silverware and gingerly sitting down as Clark takes them from him to set the table. “My side aches but my chest is better. The last few days wore me out more than I thought they would. But I think I might be able to -- Well, I don’t know.”
“What did you used to do?”
“I used to fight bad guys,” Jason says slowly, as if picking his words. Clark gives him a look, tells him that’s not what he meant, but lets him continue as he sits opposite him when the table is done. Jason doubles down, frowning. “I did.”
“There’s not many of those in Smallville, kiddo. In fact, we haven’t really talked at all about the last few days.” Jason stiffens but they both knew this was coming. So Clark throws the kid a bone and pauses. Maybe he, himself, needs a bit more time too. “So. Do you want to do that again?”
“Not with Batman, I don’t think.”
“Speaking of, I thought they were joining us for dinner.”
“I needed fruit for dessert,” Jason mumbles, scuffing his feet across the floor and sliding down in his chair. “They went with Ma to talk about me.”
“It wasn’t very subtle if you knew.”
“What else would they be talking about? Bruce doesn’t give two hoots about the chickens. He’s probably already trying to get Ma to let him pay for the repairs on the barn loft that is still nonexistent.”
It still seems like Jason wants to say something to him as he prattles on, staring a bit too long and watching Clark from the corner of his eye. Clark leaves himself as open as possible for it, asks leading questions to get the boy talking, but Jason doesn’t fall for it. Maybe that’s a good thing, the kid thinking before he speaks, and when Clark gets up to check on a few things in the barn before dinner, Jason actually hugs him around the middle tightly before heading to check on the meal. Weird but Clark just hugs him back, promises to be as fast as he can be to help with whatever needs some extra hands. He thinks it’s best to let Jason be alone for a bit though, especially after how they woke up this morning. A thirteen year old waking up screaming is sure to put anyone on edge, especially the boy in question. Besides, everyone else is still out so they all have time to think, be alone in their own heads for a bit and sort things out. Clark finds himself up on the roof of the barn for a bit to do just that and only descends when he hears the truck sputter on the road nearby. By the time he comes back in, Jason is cutting up fruit and rolling out pastry dough, Ma’s chatter filling up the empty space of the front porch.
“Sorry we’re a tad late.” Clark finds a brown bag in his arms and he’s surprised to see much more than fruit in there, eyeing the bottle of wine that’s far too expensive to come from their little town store. “Raspberries just aren’t quite in season anymore. Frozen will work, yes?”
“Yes,” Jason murmurs, quickly taking the bag and focusing down on what he’s making. “I’ve got it. Thanks Ma, ah. Miss Martha.”
He’s not making eye contact with anyone and Bruce still has his coat on in the doorway, as if he’s about to skedaddle. So Clark does the only thing he can think of and shanghai's the Batman, touching his elbow gently and encouraging him turn his attention elsewhere. Jason is a miracle, yes, but the boy probably doesn’t want to feel like he’s being stared at. He’s fairly sure they all stare at each other enough as it is, they don’t need to do it right now in their own home.
“Take your coat for ya?”
“That’s what Diana said,” Clark laughs, practically hauling Bruce out of the kitchen. “I know it’s not much, but it’s home.”
“It’s nice. Quaint.”
“You’re the only person I’ve ever heard use that word and it doesn’t sound like an insult.”
“I wouldn’t insult your mother’s home.”
This is easier than he expected and he’s grateful. It feels right to talk with Bruce one on one, just like it does with Jason, and Clark relaxes into it as best he can. Maybe if he visibly relaxes, Bruce will too, but that seems a longshot. Still, it’s the best he can do and really, he doubts Jason will be the one to carry the conversation over dinner tonight so he’ll have to do his best. That the kid agreed to it at all is a small victory (and he’s not sure if agree is the right word, but Ma heavily implied it would be rude to turn Alfred and Bruce away after coming all this way, and Jason is picking up some of Ma’s manners so agree might have to do). Bruce looking at him as if to follow Clark’s lead is another victory he’ll take and he blocks his path before they can go back in, allows Jason the breathing room he needs to deal with his family one at a time for right now, listening to Alfred try to help and be rebuffed by two voices at once. As if that man could even get his own drink in this house and Clark smiles at the familiar hospitality.
“We’ve only just found an equilibrium. He’s not a big talker about everything he’s thinking, but you probably already know that. I just want to warn you. I think--” Clark cuts himself off, lowers his voice more and tries to express through his whole being how unsure he is about all this and that he’s trying his best. “I think he wants answers to questions that aren’t exactly fair or realistic to bring up. What this kid’s been through... It’s difficult to figure out what to do to help him. But I don’t think I’m the one to so anymore. This is a new road.”
“I don’t know. You seem to have done a fine job so far,” Bruce admits and Clark feels something in him that’s been fluttering go still. There’s no hostility in the other man, there’s no wariness, there is only deep, dark resignation and curiosity. When Bruce hesitates though, Clark fights to keep still in anticipation for the other shoe to drop. “I suspect he’s the reason that you’re back on the beat?”
“What would make you think that?” Maybe it’s his time with Jason that has him reading Batman easier, maybe it’s the continued lack of cowl and cape between them, but the man across from him, shifting in his shoes ever so subtly, is honest to God trying to reach out to him and ends up doing so just a bit more physically than he probably wanted to. The question is if Clark will take the metaphorical hand being offered as he shifts just a tad closer by rocking onto the balls of his feet.
“You haven’t worn the suit since Steppenwolf.” Blunt, straightforward, nothing hidden. Clark eases more and leans forward across the space dividing them, crosses his arms and tilts his head to show he’s listening. “And now you’re meeting with Diana and offering something to me, or would have been if Talia hadn’t invaded your home. I finally saw your texts.”
“Maybe it’s just time.”
“What made it time?”
“You ask a lot of questions that you know the answer to already,” Clark laughs softly, adjusting to this new dynamic, remaining casual despite the seriousness of what Bruce is asking. Now that he’s certainly picked up from being around Jason, the way to speak about things that still prick at him like they aren’t a big deal. “If I wasn’t already checking for things I wouldn’t have found him when I did. Who knows where or who he would have ended up with if I wasn’t already unconsciously trying to find my way back. I can’t regret that, not even if it means the world is starting to figure it out.”
“He knows who you are.” Not a question but Clark takes it as one, leans against the stairs and wonders how many talks the walls have heard, how many discussions, arguments, debates have taken place where he and Bruce are now. There are worse examples of a functional relationship than Ma and Pa.
“He does. He knows a lot more than that, I think, but he’s not an open book. He’s a bit like you.” Bruce’s eyebrow pings and Clark blushes, startled before he glances over his shoulder with a mumble. “I’m working on it. We haven’t come to blows, I don't think we will either. We have an understanding, agreements. We shake on them sometimes. He’s a good kid.”
“He always has been.”
“Did you ever tell him that?” Clark asks, voice gentle as he turns back around. “He talks as if he doesn’t remember any good things of his past, as if it’s all clouded over by dust.”
“I did, but perhaps not as often as I should have.”
“There’s still time. You get a second chance, Bruce.”
“Of course,” Clark blusters, nodding his head vigorously. “What other reason would you be here right now than for that?”
“You two done whispering about me?”
Sighing out a laugh, Clark looks up and finds Bruce’s eyes immediately before rolling his own. Turning to push Jason back into the kitchen, breaking the quiet they’d created around each other in the hall, he feels a bit heavier somehow when he thought he’d feel lighter. Ma is the first to tug him into the conversation thankfully, something about pies and Alfred’s blueberry ones, but it’s the feeling in his chest as he sits down to Jason’s meal that he focuses on. It’s not the sticky guilt of not doing enough with his time but there’s a weight to it, something like gravity pulling him down to earth and then trying to tug him down further as if to smother him in it.
‘You are an enigma to him, Kal. He relies on numbers and statistics and psychology of killers and you defy all he knows about the world around him, how people respond. You are the only one that he gravitates to so strongly and it was that strength that brought you back, not just the Mother Box. Talk to him.’
Diana always has something to say and most of the time it’s wisdom, but he hadn’t seen it as such then. He never got the chance to or maybe he didn’t take the time to. Now, blinking there in the evening light with gravy sitting at the corner of his lips, he feels what Diana was talking about. The problem is that it has no relation to himself.
Something switches on and he sees the offhand gestures Bruce does mirrored in Jason, can see the telltale signs of unspoken words that still mean something between them, and that even death couldn’t touch how they move around each other, still partners that can communicate in a glance. He wants that, he realizes suddenly. He wants what they have with someone. Clark’s throat closes up and he looks down, swallows thickly around some sort of fresh bread that just tastes like sand and feels he’s failed the man across from him (he could have taken Jason to him, he could have let them heal together, that’s something Superman would have done). He could be doing more and right before the goop in his chest that guilt left behind starts to hum, a leg presses against his under the table and grounds him just as a smaller hand comes down on his arm. It’s enough to pull him out of his head and he looks up, sees Jason’s gaze first.
“We need to talk after dinner,” Jason whispers, running a frustrated hand through his bangs and making them stand up more. Bruce’s hand twitches, as if to stroke it down, and Clark begins to wonder if this show of affection that he’s thought was all his own might actually be something familiar to the kid next to him. “With Bruce. Without Ma or Alfred.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
It’s a quiet dinner and Clark keeps himself open to conversation, though it hardly turns towards him for input. Ma and Alfred must be used to talking over awkward silences because their running commentary keeps things pleasant, if a bit wayward in approach. Some sort of fruit tart goes into the oven about halfway through and Clark suggests coffee in the living room after dishes make it to the sink, something that Jason steadfastly is not supposed to have in this house and Clark just generally dislikes the taste of. But it gives them an opening and Ma, bless her, takes it and Alfred by the arm so that they can be alone. Jason wanders out as well and Clark finds himself surefooted the same as he was at the beginning of the evening but he’s not the one that starts the conversation.
“You keep the flowers.”
“Yes. And you don’t hate me.”
“I don’t know what to do with that.”
“Neither do I.”
Confusion settles in the base of Clark’s skull, but it helps knowing he’s not alone. Maybe Bruce feels it too, this string tying them together, tugging at their insides for resolution of whatever is between them, knotted now around a young man. He steadies himself and breathes, hands curling around the lip of the sink as Bruce hovers just next to him, arms crossed and leaning on the counter. God, they have issues and he’s not helping them by being silent, especially with Jason out on the back porch in a coat too big for him, waiting for some sort of resolution himself that may not come from just one night together. None of their problems are that simple.
“I’d like to try to work that out,” he admits, sighing out his tiredness and bolstering his defenses for the fight that may or may not be about to happen. Bruce reaches out, tucks a curl behind his ear, and Clark doesn’t even hide his shudder at the feeling. “After tonight, we need to do this together. Because Jason needs you, Bruce. I don’t care what he says, has said in the past. He needs you. I think we both do, to make things really right.”
“I’m-- the League is here if you need anything.” The slip doesn’t go unnoticed and Clark has been tracking slips, half words, and stutters for the last few months (do they even know how similar they are, how much they stand the same and want to take the world on by themselves just so that others don’t have to). He doesn’t know what it means but he plans to find out. “You’re welcome anytime.”
“With the League, right?”
“What about the cave?”
“What about the cave? Are we welcome there?” There’s an idea forming and Clark’s heart speeds up. He wants this and he knows he might be the one that needs to make the first step, needs to start weaving that bridge that takes them past all this hurt. “Jason needs to know he can come home and I’d like to speak with you about a few things. Maybe get some advice on teenage boys.”
“My door is always open. Alfred will be overjoyed at your presence.”
“He seems like a good man. Anyone able to keep up with Ma is a saint.”
But that’s not why they’re here and Clark holds the back door open for Bruce before stepping out after him. Jason has moved from the porch to the middle of the yard, halfway between the last wilting soy leaves and the house, staring up at the star speckled sky. Clark looks up briefly too but he’s already seen them. Seeing Bruce with his son, seeing Jason with his father, that is not something he’s seen before and doesn’t intend to miss.
“Why isn’t he dead?” It’s so soft, so different than the screams over the past few days, and Clark takes a seat on the porch to listen. This is not his conversation to be a part of, just bare witness to. It doesn’t go unnoticed they never look at each other when they talk and Clark almost smiles, a hollow feeling in his chest at the implications. “Why isn’t the Joker dead, Bruce.”
“What would it do to kill him?”
“He took me from you. Doesn’t that matter?”
“Then he should be dead. If it had been you… I would have killed him.”
“You would have played into his hand.”
“Then I’m no better than he is because I still would have.”
“You are nothing like the Joker, Jason.”
“Well I’m certainly nothing like you, since you didn’t take the shot. We’re from the same place but. What’s he always saying, one bad day right? Look at me. No one went and got me like you went and brought back Superman. I’m fucked up, Bruce. I crawled out of my grave like a maggot and now I’m hiding away from all the problems I know can be dealt with, one way or another. I yell at Misses Kent and scare the dog when I do it, I start fights and end them with my fists. I think people deserve the pain of it when I hit them sometimes. I’m mean. I’m the same kid you picked up, just better at kicking peoples ass. I’m exactly what he said I was.”
“Sometimes. But sometimes you also help Mrs. Kent bring in the groceries and feed the chickens in the morning. You cooked dinner and made dessert to show off to Alfred, you dragged Superman out of his head and work with Diana to come up with your own rules. You still react viscerally to someone being put into a position where they could be hurt and jump in to save them when you see it. You are nothing like him, Jason, because you worry too much about being that way. Sometimes isn’t always.”
“Then why didn’t you come for me?”
“Because I didn’t know where to look anymore.”
“I’m right here. I’ve been right here.”
There is real agony in that final statement and it’s almost against his will that Clark finds himself standing and joining them out under the open sky. It’s eerie how they blend into the darkness, despite the moon being out and the world being alight with the reflection off a dusting of snow. He wonders if they’re cold and just dealing with it or if maybe they’re doing it on purpose to see who can withstand the bitter temperatures longer. Either way, he’s next to them with a few strides, neither even turning to him as he settles. It’s about time they came inside, understood they weren’t alone in the big, old universe. It’s something Clark has had to learn too. The dark may be a preference but it isn’t their home. It’s hard enough convincing Jason he’s got people to rely on, he can’t imagine what it will be like working through the same issue with Bruce.
“You were everywhere already I think, Jay,” Clark murmurs, running a hand through his hair and letting the kid fall into his side. Progress is measured in many ways and the way that Jason molds to fit under his arm when he used to just stand shoulder to shoulder with him is one of them. Here, they’re allowed these weaknesses, where the Gotham skyline can’t see them and judge them for it. “Remember what I told you about where the hurt goes? Every shadow carries you in it, just like every shadow in the corner of my eye carries Pa. You weren’t really gone, but we eventually have to stop looking for the ghost and realize they’re not coming back. We had to move on, but us two. We get another shot, another chance. We’re lucky.”
He lets that sink in, reaching out across Jason’s shoulders to wind his hand around Bruce’s arm, tugging him closer until they’re all side to side. That he’s allowed to is something he doesn’t want to focus much on right now, just the feeling of finally breaking through to something new. It’s like when he first woke up, staring down the League and unsure what was right or wrong in his head -- he knows they can’t go back to the way things were, so they have to figure out what this new world is like with each other. Now that they’re all involved, it might be easier. It may be harder too, but that’s a chance he’s willing to take. A chance they have to take.
“But let’s not tempt that luck, shall we? We stay out here any longer and you’ll turn into popsicles. I’m not explaining that to Alfred or Ma. The fact that they’ve teamed up at all is something we need to face together, at the very least.”
Dessert happens without too much incident after that, Clark actively avoiding questions about his life and instead trying to encourage Bruce and Jason to share. Alfred and Ma take up the cause, each pulling strings for the one at the table that would feel it was rude to not answer otherwise. What he finds is that it is greatly satisfying to see the calm and collected businessman rant about dullards in board meetings, only there to make a buck instead of trying to advance anything or come up with new ideas. Apparently, the man liked to take risks. Who knew? Jason gets involved with that one and they’re soon both going on and on about how ineffective some of the businesses in Gotham are, how to change that, who to kick in the shins to make it happen (which is an interesting turn of phrase from Jason who he is so used to hearing the word ‘kill’ from). Clark does the same thing he did last time Bruce was there, walking him out to the car, only this time he gets to linger just because he can. Jason stays back, lets Alfred dote on him a little bit longer and shines underneath the spotlight, even if he’s grumpily shrugging off the tutting.
“I’ll keep him safe until he’s ready to come back home.”
“I think he is home, Clark.” The long stare that has been settled on Jason all night turns to him and Clark shuffles underneath it, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, awkwardly. “You’ve done him a justice I couldn’t have.”
“I’m trying my best, just like you did.”
“That may be all he wants.”
“Don’t.” Bruce holds up a hand and Clark stops short, shoulders sagging. “I’m technically his guardian, yes, but he’s not mine anymore. He’s more than that. You’re more his parent than I ever was. I was his partner and maybe that’s not what he needed. He’s doing well here, outside of Gotham. I can’t offer him anything more than what he’s already been through.”
“You were more than that, Bruce, or he wouldn’t be so confused about it all. You have plenty to offer beyond your mentorship to young birds.”
“Not to him.”
“Yes to him. To all of us.”
Glass, shattered glass, that’s what Bruce’s eyes look like in the moonlight and Clark smiles softly, stands up a bit straighter to carry the weight of that stare. Reaching out, he offers his hand to shake and Bruce’s still feels as scalding against his palm as it did against his arm the other day at work. It’s a focal point to concentrate on, to narrow down the world to these four people around him. There’s more there than he could ever hope to unpack and the snow in Bruce’s hair looks so much like Jason’s that he almost reaches out to run his fingers through it. None of them are related but God, he almost can imagine they are just parents trying to work this out. With that thought he lets go of the other’s hand, though Bruce’s warmth lingers for some time.
“We should have dinner more often.”
“It’s a date,” Bruce throws out quietly like it’s nothing, opening the door to his car and sliding in without a backwards glance. Clark stalls, head tilting curiously at the choice of words. “We’ll set something up when Jason’s ready.”
“Okay. Keep in touch though. I promised him I’d help where I could.”
Clark’s mind whirls the entire way back to the house, feet taking him unconsciously there. With a blink he refocuses, shakes Alfred’s hand and promises to take care. Every intention he has once they’re gone is to finish the dishes and go to bed, but instead he finds Jason much like he did before, standing in the middle of the hallway, awkward and stressed out from seemingly nothing at all. Dinner went well, Bruce is driving away without any yelling having been done, what on Earth is this about?
“He likes you.”
“Well, he doesn’t not like me,” Clark says evenly, slowly going by Jason to start collecting cups and plates from where they were left. He can hear Ma turning on the news in the background and resists glancing at it to see if anything happened today that he may be needed for. “It definitely could be worse. I think we get along alright, for the most part. Having something in common will help that, probably.”
“No, Kent,” Jason shoots back, voice distressed and face twisted, fingers tugging at his hair. Clark briefly wonders if he picked that up from him. “He likes you. He wouldn’t do all this if he didn’t. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“There’s nothing to tell. I owe Bruce a lot, I’ve told you that Jason. There’s nothing more than that going on. He didn’t come here for me.”
“Bull. He doesn’t look at anyone like that and he certainly doesn’t let anyone interfere like you do. He just left me with you, do you even realize how big a deal that is?”
“Oh my God, you’re both going to try and do this together, aren’t you?” Horror crosses Jason’s face and he swings around, points a finger at Clark in accusation. “I’m not letting him call the shots, I’m not going to call him Dad either.”
“That’s not… why is he dad?” Clark pauses, realizes what he’s questioning and restarts. “We haven’t spoken about it. The most I’ve spoken to Bruce face to face has been around you and there were bigger issues to handle at those times. Ideally, he will be involved with choices from now on, yes.”
“I refuse. I quit. I want out.”
“I don’t want to be part of that anymore. I’m better here. I’m stronger here. I actually -- I talked to him, Clark. I actually talked with him and he listened. He listened and responded. I don’t want to go back to having to do exactly what he says when he says it, I don’t want to be told to jump and expected to ask how high.” Jason is shaking and Clark moves forward, sits him down and takes a knee to listen to him ramble. Frankly, he prefers this boil over of emotions versus the yelling that sometimes takes its place (less so nowadays, but he has a feeling that it may return with Bruce’s involvement). “I’m not his. I’m NOT HIS. You said. You said that. I don’t want to go back. I don’t. I don’t want to die again.”
“Hey, hey. No one’s asking you to, Jay. Breathe. Hey. Breathe with me.” Pulling one of Jay’s hands to his chest, Clark focuses on his breathing until Jason starts to do it in time with him, forcing himself to keep tempo with Clark. “Look at me, Jason. I’m not going to allow that to happen, alright? I’m here, I’m listening, and I’m going to keep you as safe as I can. But so is Bruce. Bruce is here for you, he made this trip for you. Not for a Robin but for Jason Todd. Alright? No one’s asking you to go back, to put on a suit and follow him out. All I asked for was that you talk to him and you know what, you did that. I’m so, so proud of you Jason. You’re worried about something that may not come to pass and if it did, it would be on your terms. You’re not his, okay? You get to make that choice and if you don’t want to be his in any way, shape, or form, then we’ll find some way around it.”
Nodding answers him and Jason slips down to the floor to curl up, flopping over his shoulders like some sort of cut open bag of flour that’s been dropped. Clark catches him easily enough, concern leaking into every bone as he holds him close and practically rocks him there in the middle of the kitchen. Sometimes he forgets that Jason is still broken, that his mind is still fragmented, that he forgets things and still zones out if he’s had a bad night. With the way he vaults over the sofa to sit these days, the way he works with Diana to focus and really see the world around him, Clark is almost tempted sometimes to say he’s fine. But they aren’t fine, not really, and the healing process keeps getting sidetracked. These wounds have always been there but now they’re finally being cleaned, stitched up. It’s going to take more time and Clark stretches out his legs, allows Jason to hide the best he can in the quiet of a Kansas night. There is more there, he’s sure Jason’s right, but right now it’s about the boy in his arms.
“It’s going to be alright, Jason. We’ll find a way to make it alright.”
Chapter 7: Wild Cards
It's simple really. Do what they can and try to do it in a way that allows for tiny steps in the right direction. Tiny steps towards healing, towards talking, towards letting go of some anger. There's only one problem: Sometimes... sometimes, those tiny steps have to turn into running ones without much notice.
They should have known trouble had their number from the moment they breathed air again that wasn't surrounded by grave dirt. They should have known.
What Clark expects is simple: Jason does his chores, helps around the house, and starts to catch up on schoolwork until he’s at a point where he’s ready to enter high school.
Nowhere in that idea is there room for vigilante justice and swinging from rooftops, only physical therapy and lasso practice. Smallville doesn’t exactly have flying buttresses to swing from anyways and that helps the situation marginally. There’s no expectation to be anything more than a boy trying to figure himself out and there’s always the option of talking about it should Jason want to. He does not want to but that’s neither here nor there, so Clark lets it go. Besides, sometimes he finds him on the roof, half asleep and willing to spill his guts so long as he doesn’t have to look Clark in the eye. They make due like that and things start to get better, despite the now open secret that Jason is an actual superhero alongside the alien in the house.
Ma takes it in stride, coming to terms with the fact that Bruce Wayne is Batman and Jason was Robin. If Clark could walk up to Heaven and thank them for giving this woman the chance to be his mother, he would. There are not so subtle hints that Bruce would do well to come around for dinner more often, how handsome that man is in a suit, and a general commitment to digging up old newspaper articles from the Gotham Gazette where Robin was central to a big case so that she can hang them in the office, but beyond that there’s no mention of it.
What there is mention of is not tracking snow into the house, making sure Hank is washed appropriately when he’s somehow sprayed by a skunk, and the abysmal state of both their bedrooms. Both Jason and Clark try to ignore the implications of it but it can’t be denied, they are Martha Kent’s boys through and through. It’s like the hand waving in Smallville that Clark Kent is Superman and not actually dead, it’s that level of blatant sidestepping. They still keep up his gravestone and put flowers around it when they go to visit others laid to rest there, but they also wave at him as he drives by and flirt with him over the meat counter when they go to the grocery store (embarrassing but necessary to get a discount and Jason hoots about it all the way back to the farm).
“Jay, I swear to God.”
So expectations are there, of course, but they are limited. Reasonable. They match with a reality they are trying to create and Clark sometimes sets up video chats with Bruce to discuss the homework Jason has to do in order to be admitted to Smallville High as the boy grumbles and paces in the background, demanding to know who wrote this history book because it’s all wrong. It’s domestic, it’s a role he plays and he likes it, cherishes it when Jason beams him in the face with a snowball one day only to find himself scolding the other the next for unkind words to one of the local kids (even if the moment is justified, truth without tact is cruelty and Jason is still learning). Jason whines while he sighs and he’s come full circle into becoming his parents, right down to the ‘take your feet off the table, young man’ and ‘leave your hair alone, son’ that fall out of his mouth seemingly ad nauseum. Still, it’s no surprise when Clark sneaks into the spare bedroom to find his oil to slick back his hair only to have it thrown at his head from the darkest part of the room.
“If I have to do shit, you have to do shit.”
“Fair enough. Go back to sleep.”
“Don’t get killed.”
A genuine laugh echoes through the house and Clark smiles.
“Again,” Jason agrees as he rolls over.
What Bruce expects is simple: Clark keeps him up to date on Jason’s activities and Alfred gets to have weekly chats with the boy as he grades his homework.
Really, it’s more what he doesn’t expect but then has to deal with that defines his role in this new world order. He doesn’t expect invitations to dinner (though Martha somehow ends up with his personal phone number so he gets many of them), he doesn’t expect to have any influence over decisions that involve Jason at all (though Clark keeps asking for advice and calling him to run choices by him as if he has any say), and he doesn’t expect any interaction with Batman (except someone’s been trying to hack into his system with an old password and he’s worried he knows who it is). There’s a good month where he doesn’t come to dinners, where he answers vaguely when Clark asks him a question, and he retaliates against the pings to his databases by locking it down tighter. Valid though they all may be, he’s not ready to be direct with them, so instead he subverts them and carries on.
Then he gets a text from an unknown number and he realizes he might just be in over his head.
[Unknown] Just let me in, old man. I want to look these Justice people up. Don’t tell Clark - J
He allows it. An old profile is brought out of the archives and he ignores it the best he can that he can still guess what the password is when he tries. He does end up telling Clark, of course, but that’s for entirely different purposes (mainly to see him become exasperated when at lunch in Metropolis, groaning like a young father over his tuna sandwich -- he’s been there and somewhere deep inside him aches because Dick doesn’t know and he can’t be the one to tell him). It’s easier to do than he thought it would be, to fall into a pattern with Clark and hear about his dead son from a dead man on a regular basis. His days fill to the brim with training, walking the halls of Wayne Industries to make the board nervous that he’s talking to people, meeting with Clark on and off for lunch in the hopes of sharing in some of the sunlight that leaks out of him, of absorbing all he can through him about Jason.
He starts sending old books with every bouquet of flowers.
Of course, he keeps his mouth shut on the topic of Jason at home, throwing a black drape around the uniform that stands in the cave. Tim doesn’t ask and Bruce doesn’t tell, just moves around it like he always does, his heart pounding if he looks at it too long. In fact, Tim stays away for a good week afterwards and Bruce doesn’t have the wherewithal to call him back. He thinks he remembers a note saying his father was in town but if something came up, Alfred would have let him know. In fact, Alfred somehow frowns at him more these days but he’s used to it and continues on, focuses on the tasks at hand, on making Gotham a place where no one else has to lose a son or parent so young.
“Sir, if I may.”
“Did the DNA come back from analysis?”
“Yes. You will find the file already brought up on your screen. But Martha Kent has extended another invitation to dinner for Wednesday evening.”
“I have an early meeting the morning after.”
“Then I wish to request a leave of absence so that I may attend.”
He lets him go. Not that he believes Alfred would ever deem it appropriate to not go to one of the boys if he thought they needed him and Jason definitely seemed to warm up to the older gentleman better than he did with Bruce. Then again, he did attack his caretaker at the time of reintroduction, so perhaps that’s his fault (a memory he would have remembered he could trigger if he wasn’t so furious with Clark for a perceived slight, hadn’t been so intent to bring Jason home right then and there without question). Definitely his fault but he can’t say that, can’t just apologize. Clark would shrug it off, all smiles and dimples and perfectly white teeth, hair bobbing in a genuine laugh. Jason surely wouldn’t listen, not that he’s tried to reach out to him since the initial visit to the farm. But he’s not wanted, all evidence points towards that (except for the evidence that doesn’t but he’s not used to hope and to have the reason he saw the light and the reason he fell to the darkness so closely linked, living together even, scares him to his core -- what could the universe send at him next to bring him to his knees if this is what it gives him now when he thinks he has a handle on things).
It’s the perfect storm, however, and Bruce finds himself alone when he shouldn’t be. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to live the life he does. Distractions hurt more than just himself and the more that black shroud lingers in his peripheral, the more he realizes that maybe Jason is right.
What Jason expects is simple: the world isn’t nice to him and so there must be another hammer that’s going to eventually drop. There has to be a bullet hole somewhere in him that he has yet to feel, another way this could go wrong.
Not that he’s unhappy and not to say that there aren’t people who are nice to him. Clark and Martha Kent have something about them that just settles the stomach, puts the world on standby until someone’s ready to deal with it. It’s nice, too nice, and he’s suspicious of it so wholly that it’s hard to not be suspicious of them sometimes. But they aren’t trying to get anything from him (except maybe a smile) and they aren’t trying to manipulate him (because they just tell him what they want straight, the weirdos).
What he means to say is that he feels useful here where the world isn’t, that Martha Kent has a way with food that makes him want to stay forever and that Clark Kent’s big, old heart makes him want to be related to him for real just to see if he could be the same. Shoveling snow and chasing a rooster around the yard is something he’s good at, and actually he’s good at a lot of things here. Doctor Abbott came by and told him he’s gaining muscle mass extremely well and all his fractures have finally healed (except for the ones he can feel in his head, but Jason doesn’t talk about those, even when he sees them in Clark’s chest, even when he sees them in Martha’s eyes). So he’s doing good, great even if he wanted to be optimistic about it all.
But the world isn’t nice and sometimes he climbs onto the roof, wonders what Gotham looks like this year and if the snow is as black as he remembers it being in Crime Alley.
That city killed him but it was his, through and through. When he laid down at night, he could hear her sing. He hates it because he knows that’s the same mentality Batman has, and sometimes when Clark looks at him, Jason knows he’s seeing Bruce (sometimes when he looks in the mirror, he sees the same thing but that’s not right is it because he would have killed someone and he still feels like maybe if he brings Bruce down to his level, he’ll feel better about not being good enough to get himself out before he died). It irks him, it makes him want to scream, but he’s screamed enough for an eternity and doesn’t want to wear his throat down anymore, doesn’t want to give the world the satisfaction of bringing him to his knees again. When he lays down in Kansas, it’s a different song, one he’s learning to dance to slowly, but it still feels like he’s not exactly who he should be, wants to be. The rhythm just isn’t right.
“Were you lying when you said you thought I could do anything I wanted?”
They’re laying under a Christmas tree and it’s so, so different than the manor. The tree is shedding needles, it’s a bit lopsided and none of the ornaments really match, and the floor is a bit warped from where the planter leaks water every year. It’s homey and good and everything he ever wanted. It’s being alright but not perfect, it’s being good but not stellar, and he reaches out and pokes one of the lights above him, causing color to bounce across the darkened room.
“I wanted to be Robin. I wanted to mean something. I don’t know what I mean anymore.”
That’s the thing though: he does know. He wants to be Robin so badly, to prove he’s more than his past, and he thinks Clark understands because he never says much when he bleeds all over him like this, when he opens his heart and tries to tear it out because it’s not worth having when he’s so tired because of it. Clark understands and it kills him that he does because that means that Kent is just smiling through the pain and he thought maybe Superman of all people wouldn’t have any. If Superman is living with a hole in his chest, what hope does Jason have of healing? But things just keep going anyways and Bruce starts to come to dinner and Alfred comes by too, and it’s like he has a family that’s all his own, even though he knows that there’s a boy somewhere in Gotham in red, green, and yellow doing what he should be doing.
Tim Drake is his replacement and a good one at that, though he’ll never admit it out loud. Kid’s smart, he’s seen his test results, and fast too from the clips he’s found online. From the outside looking in, he’s good like Clark is and gets excited like Dick used to. Man, it’s been a long time since he’d thought about Greyson and with Alfred downstairs enjoying after dinner coffee, he can’t help but wonder if he knows. Hell, he wonders if Tim knows about him and it’s those thoughts that make him open up his laptop and type in the names.
Just a peek won’t hurt.
Bruce is the type to open up his home to orphaned souls, a Peter Pan collecting lost boys and teaching them to take care either through their fists or their discipline. He is the type of man to ruffle children’s hair and let those who are scared hide under his cape until they’re convinced the police or paramedics or whoever can help them. What he is not, however, is very open and so Jason doesn’t hold his breath as he scrolls and clicks and changes camera angles. Dick and Tim won’t know he’s alive, if they even bother thinking of him at all, and maybe there’s a part of him that hopes he’s a big, black shadow hanging over them. Haunting other people seems right up his alley but then he sees a flicker on the screen and his heart drops, his blood speeds up, and he knows deep down that what he really wants is them to not go through what he has (because there’s only one Superman, he can’t save everyone, and maybe he doesn’t want to share just yet what he’s finally reclaiming of his own).
It’s going good. It’s going great. But this type of life was never for him. Emptiness gloats where a boy should be and Jason feels himself go cold at what plays out on the screen in front of him. He’s moving before he even realizes it.
Rushing down the stairs, he jumps over the banister before he even makes it halfway down, landing and rolling and coming to a stop at Clark’s knees. He wasn’t made for easy and he wasn’t made for hiding. He knows where he belongs and seeing a curl bounce onto Clark’s forehead when he takes a step back in his surprise, he knows he’s not alone in feeling just slightly off beat in Smallville. There’s a reason Clark left and he stands up in front of him, radiating fierceness. They have to go, they aren’t wholly like the farmboys that live around them, and he’s ready to admit that this whole hiding thing is only good when someone’s on the run.
Well, he’s not on the run anymore, at least not for tonight.
“We need to go to Gotham,” he hears himself say and for the first time in ages, he’s sure of himself. “We need to go now.”
“What in the world--”
“Joker has Robin.” No one dies this time he promises himself as he sees Clark take that step, his shoulders straighten. No one dies but especially not that kid. “I need to get to Gotham.”
Y'all, I'm brain fried. @__@ Thank you for sticking with me through my rather slow editing escapades. But hey look, a climb to a climax! Woohoo!
Chapter 8: Homeward Bound
They're back in the game and there's not enough time to figure out what that means. Actions speak louder than words sometimes and right now, their actions are deafening.
Bruce isn’t answering his cell phone or communicator. Alfred’s made multiple attempts and by the time Jason is in something other than pajamas, Clark is hovering in the living room, arms crossed and ready to go. All too quickly his arms are wrapped around Jason so that the cold of moving fast at altitude won’t bother him as much. Then there’s work boots touching down on metal grating, the sound of running water and the shuffle of wings overhead drowned out by heavy breathing as Jason takes off further into the cave, Clark’s phone to his ear. Given willingly, Clark still has no idea who the kid is calling until the explosion of noise when the other line comes alive instead of the curses when it goes to voicemail.
“Grayson, suit up. Grab Red. Batman needs you. Meet me at the bridge to the old docks,” is all he says before hanging up, tossing the phone back to Clark without looking. He knows he doesn’t have to. “God damn it, B. You can’t do everything on your own. Where are you?”
“What can I do?”
“Suit up? Damn, I need a suit. My last one, it probably won’t fit me, Ma’s breakfasts aren’t made for agility. But I can patch something together here. I need Alfred to run comms, so he needs to get here too. He’s the only one they’ll answer, even you’re not suspicion free in this house.”
Clark doesn’t even think twice about leaving Jason behind, appearing back at the farm with a gasp. It’s been awhile since he ran that speed for this kind of reason and his head spins with the suddenness and seriousness of the situation. Alfred is prepared, lips a thin and pale line in his face, but Clark takes two more seconds at home to hug Ma and sort himself out before he’s taking back off. There’s a swish as he lands once more, his cape swinging behind him as he gentle deposits Alfred at his side. It’s been awhile and he rubs at his family crest, not used to wearing it anymore.
Tonight though, tonight Superman lives.
But then, so does Robin. He’s clothed in Bruce’s spare parts, black on grey on black, a spare utility belt hanging diagonally across his hips, still a tad too big to fit. Armor coats his legs, combat boots give him a bit more height, and there’s a shine to the finned gauntlets that adorn his fisted hands. A domino mask obscures Jason’s eyes from view but Clark knows him well enough to know they’re shining, focused, especially as he stands perfectly still on the far side of the cave, a shroud at his feet.
Staring up at his legacy, at his memorial, Jason is the picture of calm. A wrench as big as his arm rotates in his hands, loose and carefree, and Clark’s breathe catches. It’s enough noise for the kid to turn slightly, gauge Alred and him without surprise.
“I could never be Robin, could I?” is what breaks the silence and Jason walks closer to the glass, heart pounding so loud Superman doesn’t even have to try to focus to make it ring in his ears. Despite this, he seems alright, calmer than Clark has ever seen him. It’s unnerving and they’re losing time. Jason has to know this. “It’s not something I can be. It was never meant for me. I’m something else. But then, so is Tim.”
There’s a crack as the wrench meets the glass and Alfred is the one that takes the step forward, only to have Clark keep him back.
“We’re not Robin because no one can be Robin.” It’s almost like he’s laughing in his head, the elation in Jason’s voice that flows under all his words. Clark actually pulls Alfred back that single step, just in case. “Only one person can be and he left a long time ago, probably knows exactly what to do in this kind of situation. But it’s his name, it always has been. The boy wonder, the light in the dark, Batman’s hero. Greyson will never not be Robin and I, I’m so tired of trying to be him.”
Another swing, another crack. That glass won’t last much longer but then neither will Tim, wherever he is.
“I am so tired of being the screw up.” Crack. “I’m so tired of being the guilty one.” Crack. “I’m tired of trying to fit into the shoes of someone I’ll never be.” Crack. “I’m not Robin.” The glass bows and Jason pauses, lines up his next hit patiently. “I’m not going to be Bruce’s guilt trip anymore.”
The entire case shatters with the next swing and rains down over Jason like a baptism, leaving him cut in a few places but mostly unharmed as he brings the makeshift bat down on the old suit finally freed. It tips over, falls to the side where it splits to pieces, and in its stead stands a wholly alive young man who turns to them at last. Clark lets go of Alfred and Jason jumps down from the pedestal he never wanted to be on, his heartbeat evening out from the exertion.
“Welcome home, Master Jason.”
“Thanks, Alfred.” Jason throws the wrench to the side and lets out a breath, stretches his neck out and moves towards the computer terminal that is alight with information. Of course he’s already done some of the legwork needed to find Tim and Clark feels pride swell in his chest as they’re motioned forward by a teen who seems to know where he wants to go and what he wants to do. Clark really shouldn’t be surprised, Jason’s a hero after all.
“A purple car picked him up here, he thought he was rescuing someone from a mugging. He was by himself, he’s been gone a week, maybe two. Nightwing is already en route, his comm lit up not five minutes ago but he hasn’t made contact, and I’ve heard chatter from the police saying they’ve seen Batgirl in the area. Bruce isn’t answering any calls, so we’re on our own until he’s either in range or we find him unconscious somewhere.”
“I don’t like option B.” Shaking his head, Clark crosses his arms and frowns down at the console. “That’s non-negotiable.”
“Then let’s make sure we force option A,” Jason concludes, glancing at Clark who is at his side. He shifts his weight and turns on his heel, glances at a monitor that shows a street down by the docks. “I need to get there. Alfred, can you link in Batgirl and Dick when they get close enough? I’ll take Clark with me and start scouting the area.”
He’s already moving, constant motion defining him, and Clark follows steadily. He takes him in as they get to where they can take off again, checks him once for weapons and finds batarangs, a grappling hook, and a few grenades that he’s sure are just smoke. No guarantee, but he’s fairly sure Bruce hasn’t used anything that might cause shrapnel recently. It’s easy enough to lift off the ground and grab Jason’s wrists, to fling them both out into the night and snow and mayhem that is Gotham at its worst, Gotham at its best. A slight turn of his head shows him the bay and Metropolis skyline. Tonight though that’s not where he belongs. He gets the signal to let go of the boy flying below him and he does after a moment of hesitation. Jason flies on his own after that, the grappling hook swinging him along. Where Clark may have hesitated to drop suddenly in altitude when he first started flying again, the boy has no stipulations and falls, shoots, swings in a rhythm that goes with his heartbeat. Thud, thud, thud and they’re zipping across a rooftop, landing (rolling) to a stop on the next. They’re at the end of the street and before them reaches out a section of land barred with wire and fences, a run down building spread out like a battlefield of bones.
Sometimes Clark wonders if Gotham doesn’t tear down it’s old buildings just to fit with an aesthetic because he sees no reason why the old asylum is still here.
“They are not yet in range, Sirs. I’m afraid they may not make it in time to help.”
“Of course not,” Jason mutters, teeth grinding, and Clark puts a hand on his shoulder to stop that. Just because he’s wearing the cape doesn’t mean he’s going to stop caring for the kid like he does at home. “Dick is coming in from Blüdhaven and Batgirl was dealing with something else. Just tell them Superman is on the case. We’re running out of time.”
“Then tell me what I’m searching for.”
“What are you going to--”
“Jay.” Clark looks at him and Jason blinks, blinks again, and then blows his bangs out of his eyes.
“What am I looking for?”
“Kid is eleven. He sounds exactly like you think he does, voice not dropped yet and with a slight upper Gotham accent, like Bruce when he’s tired. He’s tiny though, tinier than I was at that age, but more willowy. He’s fast too, if he’s already gotten out of his restraints he’s probably moving rapidly through the building. Or find a voice covered in oil, manic tendencies underneath it. Sounds just like he does on TV. But Joker may not be with him, so let’s find the kid first. The last injury that Batman documented Robin having was a fractured ankle and that should be in a brace, healing still. Kid shouldn’t even have been out, more or less on his own.”
“Right. Was he in uniform?”
“Yea. Probably stripped of anything noticeably useful. He seems to have been upgrading his suit though, so it’s probably rigged with a few things.”
“Give me a second, I’ll see which floor we need to get into.”
Expanding his senses, Clark takes a breath to calm his nerves, and tilts his head. There’s a certain candence to everyone’s heartbeat and he hasn’t heard Tim’s before now, but he does know what someone trying not to panic (as well as failing to do so) sounds like. If Jason has brought him here, then he can narrow down the search to nearby, listen for a child’s heart. Closing his eyes, he reaches out more and more until he hears the singing of electricity and on the edges of it there’s a hum of electronics that he’s almost familiar with. It’s not a heartbeat but it has the rhythm of one, counter to the one laying underneath it to obscure its pattern but only making it more unique to listen to.
Regulator. That’s Batman’s handiwork and he focuses down on Bruce, finds the crackle of the voice modification system he uses. It sounds like pinging rain on a metal roof instead of static and then there, not far away from it a slick and noisy whine of a voice exactly as Jason described.
“What’s the matter, Batman? No witty comeback, no threat?”
Clark’s blood goes cold the longer he listens, realizing that it’s not Batman the Joker wanted to bait out but Bruce Wayne. But he isn’t here for Bruce he reminds himself and focuses back on Robin (it’s hard, it’s so hard to not track that heartbeat and follow it, more so than he ever thought it would be -- but he’s following Jason’s lead and Jason isn’t following Batman). The electricity pops in the vicinity again and that’s where he focuses. He finds a boy chained to a table, wrapped up in metal, in a room dedicated to arcing currents. They were right, they didn’t have time. Without a word he reaches out, grasps Jason up and barrels over the fences in front of them, through a few openings left by rotting wood. Jason doesn’t even shriek, just ducks his head and hangs on, flipping out of his arms when they land on concrete in what may have once been an operating room now turned into a studio lot complete with fake grass and barbeque. Glowering, his eyes feel hot and Clark finds the floor gives with every step he takes towards a woman dressed in black and red, pigtails bouncing as she backs up, fingers covered in grease paint. She’s the only thing between him and the door he needs.
“You. You’re… No. You’re dead.”
“Boo,” Jason snaps and the woman yelps, boots colliding with her side to send her sprawling. Clark doesn’t stop him, more concerned about what’s going on in the room beyond. He’s lost track of Bruce’s signal but he has to trust he’ll be a good enough distraction for the Joker so that they can get Robin out. The door shatters easily enough and there’s a young boy shaking from the jolts he’s only heard, spasming with each flash of light. Clark goes for Tim as Jason dives for the instruments at his side. Superman snaps both connection to the battery output and the restraints, bending back the metal bands with eyes glowing red to cut through the restraints not in his grasp. He knocks down a camera as he goes and Clark about takes off to hit the person responsible hard enough to lose some teeth.
Eleven, Tim is eleven, and the thought makes Clark furious.
“He shouldn’t even be out on patrol yet,” Jason rages again behind him as he goes through the process of shutting down or outright destroying the other devices used against Tim to get him to talk. “Not by himself. Is he breathing? Wait, is he dead? If he’s dead, I’m dragging Harley back in here by her hair and cutting her up into tiny pieces.”
“He’s breathing.” Pulse irregular but there, Clark uses his cape to give the boy a soft place to land. Gently, he eases Tim to the floor and watches as his wide eyes try to take in everything around him at once before landing on the camera, breathes shortening. Hyperventilating or on the verge of it. “Hey, hey, you’re okay now. We’ve got you. Help me calm him down, kiddo. You need to try and talk him through it, you know him better than I do.”
“What? Oh.” Jason freezes then, looking over the scene before him. There’s a moment, just a moment, where he takes in Tim collapsed in Clark’s arms and doesn’t help (and Clark realizes what he sees, he’s been in that position plenty of times in moments of need, God please don’t let him think he’s being replaced here too), can’t seem to get his muscles to even twitch. All it takes is Tim looking up at him, white paint on his face, and then Jason’s skidding forward, kneeling down beside the younger boy, using every bit of soft fabric on his person to wipe away a greasy smile. They box Tim in because he’s holding onto them desperately enough that they don’t want to remove his hands and Jason doesn’t hesitate again as he grabs one of said hands, brings it up to his chest to feel his heartbeat like Clark has done for him before. Tim can barely make a fist, however, and Jason leans in closer. “Can you count out your breaths with me, Drake? Tim. Timmy. Jesus, what did they do to you?”
“Drugs, lots of drugs,” comes the whisper, ending with a faint giggle that stills all their efforts. “He was. I couldn’t stop. I tried to get away but. Wouldn’t it be funny if a Robin turned into a Joker? It’s funny, right? Right?”
Tim loses his voice to quiet laughter after that and Jason propels himself backwards at such force he tumbles about three feet away on his backside. Clark just holds on tight through the manic giggles as he glances up at Jason, who isn’t looking at him at all but instead is transfixed by the child in his arms. Gotham is a place of history and art, but it’s moments like these that remind him why Batman has been in the business far longer than perhaps anyone else, why he took up the mantle of the Bat in the first place. Out there, somewhere close, is a man who did this and thought it was okay to do it again.
“We need to go.”
“Ah, ah. Not so fast. I’m not quite done with that little birdie. But please, do stop by again some time Superman.”
That voice, it’s too slick, too amused, and triggers his gag reflex instantly. Bright eyed and cut out smile, Joker is exactly the kind of clown that people have nightmares about. Clark stares down the bastard though, face set. Jason inches towards him and eventually ends up behind him again, Tim transferred to his arms easily as Clark stands tall, hovers slightly to block them entirely from view.
No more. Never again.
“There has never been a time I’ve wanted to break my own rules more than now,” he says calmly, hearing a rustle in the darkness and knowing Bruce isn’t far. His focus expands and he breathes, sets his jaw to face down a threat he doesn’t fully comprehend. There are more footsteps running towards them, pounding across a roof two streets away, a pair of young people searching for them a bit too late. The quiet laughter behind him hasn’t stopped, but it’s shallow and when Jason starts to whisper it’s going to be okay, they’re not leaving Tim behind, they start to sound more like sobs. “But I’ll leave you to the Bat.”
“Well that’s no fun, that’s not funny at all.”
It takes all of Clark’s willpower to not say ‘bite me’ in that moment but he doesn’t want to encourage Jason to continue that habit. A cape fluttering in the corner of his eye, bright red and sweeping, helps reign in his tongue and he turns instead, takes a knee to where Jason is cradling Tim to his chest.
“It’s time to go. He needs more help than we can give him here.”
“See, now you’re just being unfair.”
He stops listening. Ignore it becomes a mantra in his head and Clark gently takes his cape, wraps it around Tim to help give him something to hold onto that isn’t two strangers. There’s a more prominent rustle somewhere to his left and Bruce lands on an upper level, silent as ever and out of the way. Thank God, they need to get out of here and he really would rather just leave this in the other’s hands. When he takes Tim out of Jason’s arms, however, he’s not ready for him to turn on Joker, himself.
“You seem to like picking on kids half your size,” Jason snarls, voice steady in the same way it was when their home was invaded. “I’m not particularly fond of that.”
“Oh really?” This isn’t his fight but he’ll step in if he has to. “Jason Todd. What a lovely name. How’s your mother? I hear you two had a very nice rest next to each other, shame she couldn’t join us too. How ever did you find your way out of that casket, I wonder?”
“Now, now. That’s no way to talk to the man who gave you everything, is it? Without me, there is no you. Oh, the Drake boy has such potential but you, oh you could have--”
Jason lunges and Clark can’t drop Tim, who is starting to babble about birds and laughing again into the crook of his neck. It’s chaotic and he supposes it’s meant to be considering who they’re fighting. That woman, Harley he thinks her name was, appears again to tip the odds but he’s in over his head as surely as he was the first time he tried to take down Zod. It brings bile to the back of his throat as he goes to find someplace safe to set Tim down, only to hear a crunch and see Batman swing down from the rafters, pairing up with Jason easily. There’s two more that land in front of him, a young man and woman who look both furious and lost when they see what’s going on. They rush him and Superman growls, curls tighter around the charge Jason gave him to protect, and they stall for only a minute before the young woman reaches out.
“Tim. Oh Tim, it’s going to be okay now.”
“Batgirl. Is that--”
Clark pauses at Bruce’s voice, allows Batgirl to take Tim from him in that moment (and he should trust them, one has a bird across his chest -- Dick, his name is Dick -- the other a bat, but the last time he had a child in his arms hurt like this it was Jason and he can’t ignore the similarities so he hangs on just hard enough that she has to tear this new boy away). He’s afraid to turn around because Nightwing is staring and Batgirl is too, protective hold on Tim never wavering as she backs away. But she can’t protect anyone from the pain that must be simmering there, seeing Jason alive and breathing. They obviously haven’t been told. Clark hasn’t asked but he had thought -- well, he thinks a lot of things, some of them wrong. They have to come to terms with this in a heartbeat and that’s just not enough time (why is there just never enough time). Eyes closing, Clark takes a breath and turns, hopes that it helps him understand why Bruce had sounded so frantic, so unsure. It doesn’t help, not really, but it does make him understand.
Jason has a pop-gun pointed at Joker’s head.
This chapter was hard to write because I love Tim but Jason in the cave is my favorite bit in this whole story. It ends where it does on purpose too because if it didn't, this chapter would be hella long. For awhile there, chapters seven, eight, and nine were just a single long one. I had to cut it somewhere. Hopefully it doesn't cause too much of a ruckus. I did play with ages because I have no idea how any keeps those straight in canon with all the recons and what have you. In here, Dick is 19, Jason is maybe 14/15, and Tim is 11.
Chapter 9: Son of Superman
This will never go away, they will always be one step away from this line. Superman knows this, walks that line with as much grace as he can muster. Jason? Well, it has to be his choice and Clark can only hope that Jason chooses the best one.
“Funny story, you and I, aren’t we kiddo? The laughs, the fun, the blood between us.”
“Oh, so authoritative. Did you learn that from Superman? I must say, I’m surprised that he took you in at all. But you’re still a good little birdie, aren’t you?” Joker murmurs and everyone can hear it, despite the quietness of it. The quietest voice can cause the most problems, isn’t that what Clark had said -- only this isn’t the farm kitchen and Jason isn’t saying a word. “Go ‘head, sonny boy. Deliver the punchline.”
The click goes off and a ‘Bang’ flag pops from the gun, leaving Jason’s gaze narrowed as he continues to point it directly between Joker’s eyes. Batman has Harley at his feet, is bleeding from a slight stab wound (upper thigh, no danger of bleeding out but he needs medical attention soon Clark notes in a daze), and is still trying to move, trying to get into a position where he can knock the gun out of Jason’s hands before he can pull the trigger again and end this. But it’s not Bruce’s decision how this ends Clark realizes and he takes a step, two, calling attention to himself. All eyes but the ones he wants turn towards him.
Jason doesn’t move, his focus on his target, but his head tilts ever so slightly to show he’s listening when Clark says his name. It’s a habit of Clark’s to do the same, to show when he’s using his powers. Something squeezes tight in his chest at the implications.
“You don’t have to do this,” he starts, swallowing thickly and knowing what he says now could break this boy. “You don’t. There are other ways and you can decide what those are.”
“He killed me. He killed me and he was going to kill Tim. Or worse.”
“I know, I know that.” Jason is trembling, his heart is thundering, but he has to trust the kid to make the right decision. No, the best decision. But that also means that the decision has to be his and his alone. Joker does nothing to help his own case, muttering under his breath about things only he thinks are funny. Clark continues to ignore him because it could be anyone, it could be Penguin, it could be Two-Face, it could be Lex Luthor, it could be any number of villains in this town or the next. They didn’t matter in this moment. Jason did. “But is this how you win? Is this what you’re choosing?”
“There’s no. He can’t be allowed. This is the right thing to do.”
“But is it the best thing to do. This is your choice, Jason. But I want you to know that this is it. When we talk about all those things you can be, it’s these moments that decide.”
Bruce is holding his breath. Clark glances at him then, glad to see his attention hasn’t wavered but he’s stopped trying to move into a better tactical position. This, right now, isn’t tactical. Raw and bleeding, it’s something they can’t do anything about. If Jason chooses to pull that trigger, he’ll still have a home and a place to come back to, sure, but there is always going to be questions that can’t be answered after that. Clark trusts Jason, has faith in him, and glances back just in time to see the gun spin in his palm. It’s thrust forward and Jason’s heart revs, along with everyone else’s in the room. Even Joker doesn’t seem sure anymore, frowning up at the boy he’d been so sure he had the upper hand with.
There’s a loud crack and Joker falls to the floor, bleeding from his temple where the butt of the gun came down.
Sobbing fills the silence and Clark lets his shoulders relax, frowning at what’s going on but glad that it’s over. Tim is still muffled in Batgirl’s shoulder and Nightwing is standing in front of them, clenching his batons like a lifeline. Both are staring and Clark has a feeling he knows why when Jason turns to them, throws away the gun and instead just kicks the body next to him with his heel for good measure (broken rib, cracked jaw, no internal bleeding with the hits that precise). Clark can’t even fault him the petty move, shaking his head ever so slightly as tension begins to leak out of everyone’s skin and cause an uproar in the quiet.
“Jason. Is it really you?”
“Hey, Red. Dick.”
“You’re. You’re alive.”
“Something like that.”
Batgirl has Tim in her arms but Nightwing has nothing to lose. Batons crash to the floor and the young man is sprinting full tilt to crush Jason in a hug. Of course, it’s not that simple and a full grown man rushing at him after all that’s happened leaves Dick with what will probably be a large bruise on his jaw, but that doesn’t stop him from tackling the other and wrapping him up in his arms. Clark startles, having never interacted with anyone other than Jason and Bruce when it comes to bats and birds, so he hangs back and takes Tim into his arms so that Batgirl can join in on making Jason grumpy. The boy is lost in black kevlar, blue and yellow and purple hemming him in as he tries to escape their hold.
Rocking the child in his arms, Clark allows Tim to cling to him, props him up on his hip to help. Jason was right, he’s tiny. It’s strange but the kid seems calmer watching everyone in front of him talk over each other, try to get answers or give those answers, fill in the silence with anything other than manic laughter.
Joker is tied up without any of them paying any attention, Bruce by his side with the guy dragging behind him.
“He almost killed him.”
“But he didn’t. And if he did, that would have been his choice. He knows the limits.”
“He’s walking a line--”
“That we all walk everyday. That every cop, every soldier, every person that stands up for something has to deal with when things truly go to Hell. He’s the hero here, Bruce. Let him be the hero.”
Sirens in the distance indicate it’s time to leave and all of them evacuate to the rooftop after stringing up the bad guys, Jason finding his way to Clark’s side immediately after landing. He squirms his way under his arm and stays there, lips thin and shoulders sagging in relief as the others gather around Tim instead of himself. Clark is about to hand Tim over in fact, cape cocoon and all, when Dick pauses and pulls them all to a stop.
“Hey B… when did you find out Jason was alive? Cause you sure seemed unsurprised back there. Like you knew.”
Clark blinks, holds onto Tim and Jason tighter, watching as Batgirl and Nightwing square off with their mentor. They’re actually between them, a line to cross if Batman wants to get to his wards, and it takes a minute for Clark to realize that the tension is back in the air around them. He stays still, curls his hand into Jason’s shoulder gently to keep him quiet, and lets this happen. Alfred knew but he’s not exactly aware of Bat-policy when it comes to what information is shared and things make sense this way. Jason always thought he was hiding something for a reason and now, that reason stands before him. Batman tells people what they need to know and Jason’s living status? Well, it depends on what they’re doing but Clark can guess that it’s not something that would have come up for a case, so it’s probably been kept quiet. Going off of the stances of the two young adults in front of him, Clark guesses that isn’t what they want to hear. The fact that they don’t hear anything from Batman at all might make it worse.
“God dammit, Bruce,” Dick whispers, anger shaking his lithe frame as he balls up his hands. “God dammit. First Superman and then this?”
“Anyone else we need to know that’s come back from the dead?” Batgirl asks, scornful and frowning. It’s an aside but one everyone hears when she tilts her head towards Dick, “I’ll run a check on people when I get back. See what comes up.”
“It wasn’t something you needed to know yet.”
Oh God. Clark winces and he feels Jason curl inward, leaving them both somewhat huddled on the end of the roof. He hadn’t considered that his own death and resurrection might be a surprise to those around him too. After all, the League knew. This heavily implies that there was no such communication to the rest of Batman’s team, if they are a team. From the way they fight together, glide into each other’s spaces, he’s going to say that’s exactly what they are in uniform -- dare he say family outside of them. His thoughts are confirmed, actually, as Dick goes forward, pokes a finger into Bruce’s chest.
“Isn’t something -- are you KIDDING me? He’s by little brother and you just decided we shouldn’t know about him being alive? We mourned him, Bruce, same as you. And don’t get me started on the Superman thing because it’s ridiculous. No. I don’t. You are losing your children privileges. Babs, I’ll call you tomorrow, tell your dad hi.”
Dick storms back towards them and grabs Jason before scooping Tim from his arms, a mouthed ‘thank you’ being his only warning before both are being hauled out of there. Jason follows seemingly out of pure shock and Clark trails behind, floating down to a bike that can’t fit all three of them, though not from lack of trying for the next few minutes. Frustration eventually wins out and Clark steps forward, puts a hand on Dick’s shoulder as he tries yet another combination of squirming teen, tired child, and himself on the seat.
“Let me take Jason.”
“I’ve been living with him for almost a year, Dick,” Jason interrupts and he isn’t looking at them, too intent on rewrapping Tim in Clark’s cape, frowning at the lines of it and ignoring the way Tim’s hand is curled around his wrist like he’s a lifeline right now. “We’ll go back to the cave if you want, but I’m dead tired and want to sleep in my own bed, if it’s all the same to you.”
“That’s not funny.”
“I think it is,” Jason counters, finally sighing and giving up on the cape burrito. “Take Robin home, let Batman do whatever Batman does, and let me go sleep. We can do this whole reunion thing later.”
“Isn’t home here?”
“Maybe for you it is. But I’ve got homework to do this weekend and a mean, old rooster to chase down tomorrow morning in a foot of snow because the barn just isn’t meant to house evading poultry. Ma is probably worried sick, too.” Jason kicks off the bike then, eyes widening as he takes a step to Clark. “Oh God, Ma. Do you think she’s okay?”
“She’s fine, Jason,” Clark actually smiles, ruffling his hair. “She’s lived with me all her life. She understands this sort of thing.”
“Ma,” Dick repeats, blinking at the both of them. “Rooster. Where the Hell have you been?”
“Living with Superman.” Tim’s voice rings out, even if there’s a bit of a wobble to it still. He’s cuddled so tight in Clark’s cape he might be cutting off circulation to parts of himself but he seems like he can focus a bit. “Training with Wonder Woman. He’s going to high school next year, he’s already enrolled, but he has to do well on the makeup work from when he was gone.”
“How the fuck do you know all that, Timbo?” Jason asks, pale and concerned.
“I saw activity in the files from an unknown account so I hacked the profile. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I started to look through the appropriate location tracking. You should really change your password more often.”
“Language,” Clark finds himself saying with a sigh and Dick makes a strangled kind of laugh that leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, Clark would be alright not hearing anyone laugh for the next few days after this. “I’ll take Jason home with me, we’ll sleep tonight off, and we’ll stop by and see how Tim is doing tomorrow, alright?”
“Ten thirty lunch,” Bruce says from behind them and Clark actually jumps, whipping around and frowning at the man standing there, watching them. He doesn’t even look apologetic and Clark crosses his arms, lifts off a little to even out their height. “Alfred will make anything you like. I’ll have him cook something your mother told him about last time they spoke.”
“Okay. Wait,” Dick cuts in as everyone nods and Jason starts to adjust all the gear on him so that he can hop onto Clark’s back to ride home instead of waiting. Dick holds up his hands, creates a T with them for time out. “Alfred talks to Superman’s mom? And Jason lives with them and like, lives with them?”
“Well yea,” Jason says as he climbs Clark, settling like a child on his shoulders, feet dangling. His grin is sharp and it takes Clark a moment to think why that could be. Oh, he must realize he has something that Dick doesn’t and Clark catches Jason’s ankles so he doesn’t fall off, squeezing slightly in a silent warning to be nice. “I mean, he’s like my mom now. You stick with your old man. Maybe we can get shared custody of Tim or something because like hell am I leaving him to this fate without a few helping hands.”
There’s another strange, strangled noise from Nightwing and Clark lets it go, backs up so that he can take off to get home. He’s not smiling but he does feel slightly better about the whole situation, glancing at Tim who seems to be systematically pushing buttons on the bike until he can find the starter. He doesn’t want to think about what would have happened if they hadn’t moved in when they did, hadn’t noticed him missing for another day or two. It sends a shudder down his spine and Clark holds on tighter to Jason as he walks off, only to find his momentum stopped by a warm hand on his arm. This is becoming a habit with them and he turns easily enough, though it’s a bit harder to be graceful when he has a teenager balanced on his head.
Jason is going to get too big for this soon, even with his super strength.
“Ten thirty,” Bruce murmurs, voice soft under the modulator. The mask makes it much harder to read him and Clark would really rather just pull it off, tug the entire family back home, and make them all sleep for a thousand years. “I expect to see you both there, not just Jason.”
“Of course. We’ll bring your gear back as well. I’m sure I’ll be able to help with some of the questions that are bound to come up anyways,” Clark reassures, serious but comforting. He releases one of Jason’s legs to cover Bruce’s hand, pats it for good measure. “I wouldn’t leave you alone to face a firing squad.”
“They’re not as bad as you’re thinking.”
“Your oldest is panicking about what he doesn’t know right now and no one has taken Robin home yet. You should be doing that, Batman.”
“He’s in good hands.”
“Then add a few more helping ones. Nightwing isn’t his caretaker, you are.”
“If you two keep staring at each other while I’m up here, I will kick you in the face,” Jason intervenes, glowering. “I swear to God, you two are the worst guardians to have.”
“I’m going to tell Ma you don’t get any of pie until you finish all your science homework,” Clark threatens easily, turning away before the flush of his cheeks can be identified in the dark. “We’re going to talk about this later, you know.”
It’s not good, it’s not great, but it’s some sort of working arrangement that will get them all home in time for a few hours of sleep. Clark doesn’t even give back the communicator tucked in his ear that connects him directly to Alfred, who he’s sure has been listening to the entire exchange. He does pocket it, however, just in case. He’d prefer to not have Alfred hear exactly what kind of dressing down Ma has in her backlog when it comes to shooting off with a boy who is still healing and shouldn’t be tugging on old wounds. Maybe he should just take it easy he figures as he ducks away from Bruce and focuses on his own agenda. Maybe an hour to get home is just the ticket for calming down nerves and quieting the lecture he’s going to get once he touches down.
Only, there is no lecture and Ma just hugs them tightly, holding Jason’s face in her hands before sending him off to shower with hot water to relax whatever muscles he’s probably upset. In fact, it’s only once Clark comes down from changing that he even gets more than a few words out of her, leaning in the passthrough to the kitchen and waiting.
“That dish do something to offend you, Ma?”
“It just won’t dry.”
“Clark.” The dish clunks when set down and Clark stills, chews his lip despite knowing this was coming. Ma takes a minute to breath and he’s patient, wants to know what she has to say even if it’s probably not great for him. “Clark, I worry for you and that boy. You’re the one making the decisions but Heaven help you because he’s not like you in the ways that would make me worry less and entirely like you in the ways that will make me worry more. But I got no right to tell you how to raise your son and I’m just. Having a moment of clarity and frustration about it. I’ll get used to it. I’m too young to be a grandmother, so give me some time.”
It takes a minute for everything to sink in and it isn’t until he hears Jason turn off the water upstairs that he moves in to wrap his arms around his mother, hug her tightly. He was never going to be the first one to say it, really it’s Jason’s decision, but he certainly feels like a parent in these moments. He can even hear what Ma doesn’t say, that she’s not ready to take this step without Pa being there too. Well, they’ve got each other at least. She buries her face in his shoulder, patting his back with a wet laugh when he doesn’t let go after a few beats.
“Oh, Ma.” What could he even say to that? “You’re not too young. Miss May down at the corner of Oak Street has a birthday a month after yours and was a grandmother when I was in high school. You’re just right, wisdom and all.”
“Did. Did you just call Ma old?” a tired voice asks from behind them and Clark turns, looking at the shocked and horrified face of the young man who seems for all intents and purposes to be his own. With his wet hair curling around his ears, that damn white streak finally bogged down with water, Jason looks younger and much more like Clark than he’s sure anyone would care to admit. All it does is make him smile, tension finally breaking down his back and refusing to allow the cold grip in his stomach to fester. “What? Why are you looking at me like that? What did I miss? Hey, wait! My hair!”
Clark grasps his family to him and holds on tight, squishing them all together until Jason is complaining about lack of oxygen and Ma is saying something about finishing the dishes. Letting go, the warmth of them remains and he figures it’s not so bad anymore. Jason chose him but then, he chose Jason. Tomorrow it’ll be time to see who they choose together. It seems Tim is already on the table but as Clark watches Jason from the corner of his eye, the teen slowly falling asleep on the sofa that’s just a tad too small for him, he wonders if it’ll be more who isn’t on the list than the other way around.
After all, there's two brothers to look after now and if he knows anything about Jason, it’s that Gotham taught him well to watch his family’s back.
Chapter 10: Aftershocks
This isn't their normal life anymore but it probably won't be the last time they break out of their routine. At least this time they're together when they step foot in Gotham again. At least this time, they know a bit better what they want.
Ten thirty lunch doesn’t happen. Jason is wracked with nightmares half the remaining night and hardly slept at all, leaving Clark on the floor of his bedroom once more. Months, that’s how long it’s been since he’s had to do this, and the text that Clark sends out to Bruce is responded to promptly with the notion that Tim is having similar issues. Rescheduling isn’t just an idea but a necessity. It certainly doesn’t help his calm that Ma has her tablet out and propped up where he normally eats breakfast, an article from some small paper in Gotham looking to strike at the big names proclaiming Superman is alive with pictures to boot. Clark rubs at his forehead and doesn’t comment, just calls into work and tells them his son is sick. A wave of sympathy is sent his way and Clark hangs up just slightly less annoyed than when he picked up the damn phone.
“I don’t feel so well.”
“Back to bed, Jay. I’ve got you.”
“But. Tim. I promised I’d help.”
“Dick is there with Bruce and if you think Alfred is just ignoring the issue, then you’re very very wrong. Now do you want me to call Ma up here or would you like to lay down yourself?”
It’s not actually a discussion because Jason has hardly sat up as it is, so Clark sits down next to him and works on his computer, updating files and putting in data to whatever programs Bruce has set-up on the device. Diana had placed it in front of him without a word last time they’d seen each other, like she delivered fancy laptops to farm boys everyday. He’s getting real tired of being the last one to know what’s going on but he’s pretty sure that frustration is just a matter of the day and not his actual feelings on the matter (his actual feelings on the matter are a rather mournful realization that Diana probably has him and Bruce all figured out already while they’re still stumbling around). Pressing his cheek to Jason’s forehead, Clark types and types and types until there’s nothing left in him, and then types some more.
See, it’s easier to distance himself when he’s writing reports, when he’s distracted by softer thoughts that don’t lead anywhere. It’s easier to ignore the sub-vocal whimpers that he can’t do anything about as Jason sleeps when he feels his stomach jump every time his phone vibrates, thinking it’s Bruce calling to check in (sometimes it even is, though most of the time it’s Lois demanding retribution for his story not being hers and that Jason call her when he’s well enough to be coherent so she can check on him properly). It’s easier to forget about the quick, jagged breathes Tim took when they unhooked him from that machine when he’s considering that Bruce and him don’t really know each other that well in person, that there is a conversation they need to have and not just allow this to be a thing they’re going to do despite actions speaking louder than words between them. It's easier to forget the way his instincts told him to ‘find Batman’ when he’s realizing they’re already all in, especially with Jason huddled in his side in a novelty Batman tee that he’s been sworn to secrecy about.
Easier doesn’t mean easy though and the hard part is thinking of all the ways he’d like for this to work so that none of them have to take on these events separately anymore. He'd like to be the man that family comes to, relies on like Jason does. He'd like to see where those flowers lead, if there’s something more behind the glances, warm hands on each other’s arms, and following after each other when the battle is through. He’d like to know what it’s like to finally rest, to settle down next to Bruce and talk to him like Jason or Alfred or even Ma does, to see if he can’t take on some of the weight of the world from those shoulders. He’d like to make this real instead of in his head, only he thinks it already is and he hasn’t even noticed, head full of fluff from yesterday and mind wandering all the backroads that he normally doesn’t allow himself to.
He’d like to know how Bruce deals with days like yesterday, how he keeps his family from splintering after something like that or maybe how he learned to deal after they already shattered, what steps he takes to keep it from happening again. He’d like to move forward with the feeling of being right in his own skin when the other is around, that his world is right, and that anything could be defeated by a sturdy pair of helping hands.
He’d like to be the one that helps when right turns to wrong again.
Unfortunately it’s not enough thinking to make sense of it all. By the time dinner rolls around, he’s jittery and has almost gnawed through his own bottom lip on several occasions. Jason is awake but only barely and there’s been no more contact from Bruce about Tim’s condition after lunch, whether Dick was able to get more time off to help take care of him, or how Alfred was fielding questions from Barbara (that’s her name, Jason’s told him and he feels like he’s now the keeper of a secret far greater than himself). Clark has known the others less than an hour and he’s already deeply concerned with their well being. Then again, he’s intimately aware of what kind of trauma the Joker can cause these days.
“Are you going to be here tomorrow too?” Jason asks, quiet and somber as he shivers under a mass of blankets, staring at the snow drifting outside his bedroom window. “Cause, you know, they’re probably lost without you, making sure Mike doesn’t fall down that hole.”
“Do you want me to stay Jason?”
“You. You don’t have to.”
“What do you want, Jason? Forget about what the boss wants, what do you want?”
“I don’t think you should go.”
“Then I don’t go. I’ll send Jess an email before I get to sleep.”
It’s the easiest thought he’s had all day and Clark readjusts on the carpet not long after, tries not to poke at the boxes that he can see under the bed from his position. Jason curls up tighter above him and burrows down, making himself a giant lump of heat and incoherent grumbling, both of them exhausted despite what little they had to do today. Ma doesn’t even duck in and out more than a few times, leaving them to themselves, and if Clark wasn’t feeling as if there were kryptonite laced concrete blocks tied to his ankles, he might feel guilty about leaving her to take care of the farm all by herself for the day. But chickens be damned, he needs a day off once and awhile too, and Ma’s never been one to let him work when he’s exhausted anyhow.
Waking up to a singing cell phone doesn't help the tired situation but the message does make him feel slightly better in the pit of his stomach where it counts the most. Apparently, Tim wants to see Jason and lunch is back on, if he’s willing and Jason is ready for it. The only attempt he makes to be a functioning human being at that time in the morning though (because Gotham is in an entirely different time zone and Bruce should know this but either he can’t be bothered or he’s forgotten what a normal schedule is like) is to roll over and lob his cell phone at Jason’s stomach. He makes contact directly enough, hearing the gurgle of the boy above him.
“Bruce wants lunch,” he grumbles into his own pillow, hiding from dawn for just a bit longer. “You up for it?”
“Can I kick him for calling us at four in the morning?”
“Sure. And it’s a text.”
“You have a full ringtone for your text chime?” Jason hangs off the side of the bed just enough to slide down to the floor without making too much noise, landing at Clark’s side and waving the too bright screen in both their eyes. “What is wrong with you?”
“Many, many things. Just answer the damn text.”
There’s a bark of laughter and Clark tucks all the blankets in the room around them once more, texting Bruce back with a picture of one mildly blinded alien and a tuft of hair under blankets, confirming their attendance and annoyance. The chime goes off again, earning him a groan from Jason as he fumbles to get the volume down now that it’s apparently a conversation and not just a verification of plans.
[B. Wayne] Are you two on the floor? Why are you two on the floor?
Clark is not awake enough for this. The phone once more gets lobbed onto the bed and forgotten until six, an appropriate time to wake up on a cold morning. Jason still grumbles but there’s less of it when the smell of breakfast is in the air, bowls of oatmeal soon warming both their hands and systems before they have to trek out into the knee high snow. Clark briefly wonders if Bruce will be able to land the jet in the powder but shakes his head, figuring that man could do just about anything he set his mind to (Bruce has brought him back to life after all and to say he’s taking this whole dead being alive thing better than the average person is an understatement). It’s almost annoying how accurate the man can be with things he’s just picked up. Despite the short amount of time he’s observed Bruce in his natural habitat, they've had a somewhat long correspondence and it seems that the other is comfortable wherever he sets himself, so long as he’s the one that put himself there.
Monsters from another planet? That’s fine, he chose to square off with them. Common crook wants to make a name for themselves in a city known for its themed bad guys? Well, he’s used to it and made it his day job to be ready for anything they can throw at him. Magic? Been there done that. Amazonian princess reaching out and laughing at him, being a friend? That one seems to be taking some time if what Diana says is true but they have a standing lunch so that’s that. Is there anything Bruce isn’t good at?
“Talking about his emotions. Listening to Alfred. Sleeping. Eating full meals. Not adopting orphans with dark hair and blue eyes. Not falling for aliens.”
“I said that out loud, huh?”
“Yea, ya did,” Jason responds from somewhere beyond the stable wall, in the next stall doing a bit of egg hunting. They really needed to fix that fence on the back of the chicken coop and right now is a good a time as any. “You really are caught up by him, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“He can be real charming when he wants to be. I’m almost looking forward to seeing him try it on you. It’ll be gross and all that, but. Fun too.”
“Bruce and I are working out our differences, Jason. We’ve come a long way but we have a bit of a way to go. We can’t just jump in without looking first and--”
“Too late for that,” Jason interrupts, popping around the corner so that Clark can see his head and look him in the eye. Pausing in his wrestling match with a ball of barbed wire, he finds himself stared down and almost drops his gaze. Even Superman can be rightfully abashed. “I know the flowers are from him, okay. Everyone knows. Frankly, I'm offended that you think I'm dumb enough to not realize you two have the hots for each other. But I know something you don’t know. Those are from the manor, right? Like, the flowers aren't from a store. They’re from the Wayne estate grounds. Some of them even from the gardens.”
“Yea. They’re not just fresh, they’re from the house. The thistles grow more up towards the back wall but the others grow in the garden or up by the family crypt.”
“That can’t be right.”
“Have you ever accepted a delivery of them? Would you call those guys standard delivery?”
“Well, no. But.”
“You’re hopeless. You’re both so hopeless,” Jason sighs, disappearing once more into the stall next door. “I swear, I pick up the lousiest adults to ever bang two brain cells together. You with your bleeding heart and his dysfunctional loyalty or whatever. I’d say you were trying to save the world but you actually are. I’m not going to say I admire you, that ship has long sailed but. Maybe I do. A little.”
“Is this your way of saying you approve, Jay?” Clark floats just high enough to peek over the stall wall, knowing that Jason liked to speak when no one is watching him directly and deciding that just this once, it’s okay to peek. “That Bruce and I working together to try and make sure you’re okay is going to be. Well. Okay?”
“Dumbass. I’m saying it’s okay if you two get jiggy with it. And stop staring at me,” Jason growls, throwing a handful of hay up at the wall right under where Clark’s nose is over it. “I can hear when your voice changes directions. You’re really bad at this.”
“I’m not really designed for stealth.”
“I know. You’re meant to be a distraction and a giant target so that everything hits you first, doesn't hit your teammates. You’re purposefully loud and out there so that everyone else can do what they need to do.”
“Now where did you hear that?”
“Diana. You’re also a self sacrificing idiot and you can blame that observation on me.” The grumbling doesn’t go unnoticed but Clark can’t confirm if there’s a grimace to go with it, having put his feet back down to the ground. “But I guess I’ll keep you.”
“Love you too, Jay.”
“Aw man, don’t say it like that.”
“Don’t lay on the ground, son.”
“How did you…”
“You’re not the only one who can recognize sounds from different angles.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“Language,” comes a deep voice from the door and Clark laughs as a new string of curses starts from Jason. There’s the sound of a scramble and a crack of an egg, more swears, and then both are appearing in the main passage to welcome their guest. “What has Kansas been teaching you? Alfred would not be impressed.”
“Big tattle tale you are.”
“Are you sure Alfred is the one that has the stiff upper lip in this situation?” Clark asks, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he moves towards Bruce, eyeing him up and down in curiosity. He doesn’t ask how long he’s stood there listening, he already has some idea by the way his gaze has strayed back and forth between both of them instead of staying firmly affixed to Jason. “Wasn’t he in the army or some sort of secret service? I doubt he truly has a problem with cursing. Probably just wants it used in appropriate context.”
“Scaring teenagers and eavesdropping is appropriate context,” Jason butts in, rolling out his shoulders and trying to appear bigger than he is. Soon he won’t even have to try, he’s filling out nicely with all the work and steady meals. “I thought you weren’t supposed to be here until nine thirty.”
“It is nine thirty.”
“Go tell Ma we’re on our way out and that I’ll handle the barbed wire when we get back, will ya?” Clark asks, jerking his head towards the house. “Ask her to pick up some two by fours if she’s heading into town this afternoon too, since I’m leaving her my truck. Grant down at the store said he’d help her load them if she did.”
“How many?” Jason asks, suddenly at attention and all traces of disturbance passing from his face. “For the coop, right?”
“Why don’t you make your best guess. If you want to guess a little high to ensure you don’t go low, I got paid last week and a few extra beams wouldn’t be amiss around here.”
“Oh. Okay.” Jason nods, expression turning serious as he ducks between Clark and Bruce to head up to the house, hands miming out dimensions as he goes. It’s quiet for a few beats before Clark motions Bruce out, closing up the barn behind them and shaking his head with a smile, enjoying the crisp air and the harsh light as they wait. Chores are a necessity but they are also a distraction, one they desperately needed this morning.
“So, how’s Tim doing?”
“Better. Not great, but better. I think it’s the best we can hope for right now. He talked to someone briefly yesterday but. It’s harder when they can’t exactly know the situation.”
“We need to find a doctor that we can trust for these things.”
“Alfred is already on the case while Dick and I have been handling everything else.”
“He stop laughing?”
“Yes. For the most part. Seems to happen at night when he wakes up in the dark.”
“That must be unnerving.”
“More than you know.” Bruce pauses, takes his eyes away from where he can see Jason through the kitchen window and places them squarely on Clark. “How is he handling it?”
“Jason? Oh. You know.” Clark waves a hand through the air, sighing as he tries to figure out how any of them are handling it. He, himself, keeps thinking he hears an echo of a laugh behind him sometimes but then, it’s only been a day or two so it might take more time. Bruce actually sets his hand on his shoulder at his lack of response, squeezing in a way that Clark has done a few times before for him. It makes goosebumps trail up his neck and Clark shivers, stuffing his hands deeper into his pockets. “We kept the light on last night for him to sleep, I slept on the rug in his room, but the nightmares that I’m used to on bad nights didn’t happen despite it being what I would consider an exceptionally bad night. They still happened but they were lessened, if that’s a thing. So, good I guess? He asked after Tim before throwing up yesterday but that seemed to be a one time deal. Getting sick, I mean.”
“After some of the things he said, I’m surprised he went after Tim in the first place.” A palm travels up to the back of his neck and Bruce’s voice lowers, leaving Clark caught and swallowing hard, unsure if this was for his or Bruce’s benefit. The man swings wildly between stoic and personal without much time to adjust between and Clark wonders if this is how Bruce handles his emotional ranges: not at all or all at once. “He could have called me. He knows I’d immediately be on the case.”
“He does but he was more upset you’d gone at it alone. And we did try calling. He says he thinks of Tim as replacing him but there seems to be something more there. Like it’s his job to save Tim from the life he had or something.” Clark stalls for time by huffing out a breath, trying to put his thoughts into words and ignore how he’s quickly losing a battle of wills to not just push into the other man’s touch for comfort. Bruce shifts subtly closer to him and Clark wishes Jason would hurry up as he avoids eye contact, cheeks heating. “I think he would have saved him either way. But being protective, even just the little bit we saw, it’s like he thinks Tim is his responsibility. Like he’s the one that has to make sure no one else gets hurt, even or especially the person he sees as taking his place.”
“You’d think after what he did to the old suit, Tim would be his worst nightmare.” Have they gotten closer? Is Bruce really leaning in that far or is it him? Clark tilts his head, watches the other man from the corner of his eye and tries not to feel a bit like a songbird being stalked by a leopard. It’s nice and warm, sure, but suddenly he’s vividly aware of how right Jason is that it’s far too late to not say that they’re not something to each other. Those ongoing emails seem to have allowed them a few strides forward that he honestly never thought Bruce would go for after all Clark had done. “I didn't expect him to destroy it as thoroughly as he did.”
“Yea. He really wasn’t happy with that either. I think he found it macabre.”
“It was. But it helped.”
“Did it?” Clark asks, turning suddenly and finding himself too close. Far, far too close. But he doesn’t back down because that’s not what they do and while he knows now is not the time, he just can’t help it. “Did it really help or did it keep you exactly where you thought you were meant to be instead?”
“That’s a pretty leading question. Is this for an article? Exactly when did you have time to psychoanalyze me, Kent?” Bruce growls, thumb rubbing circles behind Clark’s ear as he stares him down. Clark doesn’t budge but his heart picks up speed when his muscles relax. Tension he didn’t even know he’d been carrying starts to melt away at the familiar playing field before him and he wonders exactly how Bruce knew. “You think about me a lot?”
“Ah. I see turnabout is fair play.” Clark tries not to shiver, frowning as he hears the screen door swing. “Yes, I think about you a lot. No, I’m not doing this now.”
“I’m fine with later,” Bruce mutters, finally taking a step back with a sharp grin and a look that is entirely crafted to make people’s knees weak (and damn it all, it works). “I’m sure Jason won’t mind, will you Jason?”
“Me stealing Clark to talk a bit later.”
“Oh, no. Go for it. I mean, Dick keeps texting me so I’m probably going to be dragged somewhere as soon as we touch down,” Jason offers, hugging his coat tighter around himself. Clark reaches out and adjusts the collar almost absentmindedly. “I didn’t even know he had my number.”
“Technically it’s my number,” Clark interjects, moving Jason between himself and Bruce as he starts to walk towards the jet that’s cloaked in the field behind the barn. He can just see the outline of it around the corner if he’s really looking (and he is really looking because if he’s not focusing on that, he’s going to have to focus on the way Jason is glaring at Bruce as if he’s just figured out what talking might entail as he catches a look between them). “Clark Kent’s number, that is.”
“Oh. That would explain why sometimes Lois texts me first.”
“Lois Lane?” Trying to be casual, it just doesn’t seem to work for Bruce like he wants and Clark narrows his eyes at him as they enter the much warmer cabin of the Batwing and start the preparations for take off. “I wasn’t aware you two were still in touch.”
“Lois is one of my best friends, Bruce,” Clark states matter of factly. “She’s also been attempting to be the first one to break the Superman is back story. She was beaten to the punch and she’s not real happy about it. Besides, she’s made friends with Jason and sends him interesting articles when she gets the chance. By the way, you’re supposed to call her.”
“Yea, like the one from Iraq where they were scanning some sort of ruin in the desert before it got swallowed up again. Alfred’s going to love that one.” Jason is a ball of fidgeting and changes seats a few times, which Clark can only assume is because he’s nervous. “I have it on my phone, so I can show him. I’ll call her later, though.”
“Like that, yes. But really, she’s just trying to get me out of the house. Apparently, I’m a homebody that needs pushing and the Planet is looking for contractors. She thinks I could pass as someone else. I don’t. It’s an ongoing argument.”
“I am. Mostly because it’s my decision to apply for the position or not. I have a few ideas on how to get back into writing but that’s not one of them.” Clark slides into the second seat in front of the flight console and considers the buttons before him. “I could fly us there faster, you know. You didn’t have to come pick us up.”
“But then I wouldn’t have been able to talk to Martha,” Bruce points out, already starting up the engine. Clark memorizes the sequence as he does, tucking it away for later or emergency use. Somehow, he has a feeling he’s going to be seeing this plane a lot more. “Your mother is a lovely woman, Kent.”
“He dropped off more flowers,” Jason calls out from the back, tapping away on his phone. “And here I thought Bruce only got a hardon for justice.”
“Please don't be crude,” Clark sighs, rolling his eyes. “And please never put those words in a sentence that includes my mother again.”
“... Fair. Shake on it?”
“Stay seated until we get to Gotham. I’ll just take your word for it.”
Bruce is chuckling and Jason is grinning far too wolfishly for this to be anything but intentional harassment, so Clark just sits back and folds his arms across his chest. Letting the batboys take pot shots at each other and him for the remainder of the flight, how bad could it get? Needless to say, he does immediately exit the plane on touch down and practically throw himself into Alfred’s path to escape the torment but it’s generally good natured in intention. Clark can’t help but be pleased that at least Jason and Bruce are getting along.
“Please help me,” he begs, finding the twitch of Alfred’s lips all too telling. “They won’t stop.”
“I see you have encountered the joys of riding with Master Bruce and Master Jason.”
“That implies they are always like this.”
“Oh yes, Mister Kent. Quite right.”
It’s easy to move through the manor when following in Alfred’s footsteps, sniffing out the fresh plaster in the upper floors and spotting the shine of new polish on a few wooden doorways that lead deeper into the renovated home (and Jason may not realize just how long it’s stood a skeleton but there are some things Clark doesn’t share, despite his honest ways, and he thinks this one is for the best). Bruce makes himself known with a hand on his lower back, leading the way, and Clark wonders if Jason and him have spoken about this beforehand with the lack of comments that follow. Frankly, it’s quite a shock to suddenly have Bruce in his personal space, to feel that if Jason just spent a bit longer inside with Ma that he may not have been able to keep the conversation going without breathing in Bruce’s air first. They’re far too close and have been for some time, constantly in each other’s orbit and Diana would be laughing at him right now if she could see him, he’s sure. He's not panicked, not quite, but he does have an all consuming want for a mint right now that thankfully distracts him just a bit longer.
Okay. He is panicked. He’s not used to this kind of attention and it seems Bruce has an agenda he’s only now being to see but has been aware of for a long, long time. Diana is definitely laughing somewhere. So is Arthur. Oh God.
As soon as he enters the kitchen though, the distractions end and he understands why everyone is actively trying to break any tension around them with jokes and flirting and talk of lunchtime rituals. Tim is crouched in a seat, folded in a way that only the very young can be, Dick hovering nearby and trying to get him to respond in quiet but short ways. Words, gestures, noises, he goes through all of them within the short amount of time Clark is standing there unnoticed. Eleven, he reminds himself. Tim is eleven. This is not the world a child should be a part of and his heart sinks to his toes when Tim looks up and there's no joy in his face, only exhaustion and forced blankness. Jason pushes past to make his presence known but it doesn't do much of anything about the staring, the silence that seems to be haloed around the younger boy before them.
Clark takes a step when Jason takes two, moving in tandem without much thought to it when they assess the tension of muscles, the leap from the chair and the run. Jason catches Tim easily and it’s Clark’s turn to hover, filling out the space behind them like some sort of protective failsafe. Tim is babbling in hushed whispers and Clark can make out apologies, questions, and admiration in turn as the voice trails off, deadens down to nothing when he realizes everyone is staring.
“Woah there, Timbers. Give a guy a break, I just got here.” Jason must have done this before with the way he shifts the boy’s weight, allows it to rest on his side and shoulder as if it were an everyday occurance to do so. He really is going to have a massive build Clark realizes, watching Jason easily adjust to his task and continue on his path as if he hasn’t just been jumped on. Not for the first time he wonders what living on the streets taught Jason, who he came across and what he did to earn his stripes. “Have you eaten this morning? No? Well, why not? I ate hours ago, and I’m already starving. Hey Alf, what’s for lunch?”
Things move on quickly, the pause to collect and digest what’s just happened passing by without anyone calling attention to it. Staying to the fringes of it, Clark gets to watch and he begins to take note of Jason’s behavior. The rather brusque way he handles anything said from the younger boy, the way he’s flippant with Dick, yet at the same time refusing to set Tim down, actively avoiding when his older brother tries to steal him back. It’ll take time to figure out how Jason came to the conclusions about his role in this family and having as much information as he can will help with that.
“Quite the showman, isn’t he.” Warm breath tickles his ear and Clark turns slightly, allows Bruce to crowd him in the doorway. “Tim’s a bit taken with him.”
“Well, he did save his life. But if I had an older brother like that, I’d have whiplash.”
“Do you think they see themselves like that?”
“What, as brothers?” He turns more fully now, leans back against the doorframe and lets his stance melt, lets his mind stop cataloguing every jump of muscles in Jason’s face to see if he needs someone to rescue him from the situation, if he needs Clark to step in. He doesn’t, he has this, but Clark can’t help but watch and wait to be needed again. “I can’t imagine they’d see themselves as anything else after this. And Dick did mention that’s how he saw them already, so the seed is already planted.”
There’s no distractions here to take him away from the aftershocks of the kidnapping, the face off with one of Jason’s demons, the reality of their situation, but somehow it still feels better than when they were at home. Taking a moment to fill his lungs with the scents of new paint, pot roast, antiseptic, and Bruce’s cologne, Clark can’t help but start to relax. It’s all familiar in a homely way despite being miles away in Gotham, despite the old world finishes and sleek modern appliances that fill his vision. The air is filled with Ma’s unique spin on a recipe and Jason’s derisive snort, his argumentative tone of voice as he makes his point about something or another. There’s Alfred making comments, his eyebrow a staple of any conversation, and his dry humor subtle enough to glue together every crack that appears between the boys. There’s Bruce’s warmth at his side, chest to shoulder with him as they listen and take in the moments between the heartbeats, the spaces where shadows could be lingering but for now are cast away.
And then there’s all the new things that he couldn’t have accounted for but somehow fall right into place all the same. Dick’s chatter seesaws between attempts to be mature and falling into the trap of childish poking, tempting Jason and Tim to follow him out into the sunshine with his smile. There’s Tim’s quiet contemplation that sounds out in hums of breath and blunt remarks on things, providing facts for both sides of whatever debate has arisen at the table. There’s Alfred preparing food and moving about the kitchen with such assurity no one would have ever known it was built last month, something Clark is almost mesmerized by. There’s even an arm around his waist, pressed tight between his back and the doorway, a palm flat against his hip and refusing to let go, a nose tucked into his shoulder as haunted eyes challenge him to say something, to prove that Bruce is pushing his luck. He’s waiting to be told off, to be rejected, to be fought off and left bleeding.
Clark doesn’t say a damn thing, instead choosing to take a chance and feather his lips across the forehead in front of him, grinning against the skin there and decide maybe he could get used to this. There is no peace here, not quite yet, but there is the start of something that could lead to it. Ear twitching, he turns back at a sharper word from Jason, frowns a bit when he realizes he’s lost the thread of the conversation somewhere along the way.
“You’re wrong, Grayson.”
“Look, I’m just saying. There’s an unaccounted for year. So.”
“I’m not fifteen.”
“You could be is all I’m saying.”
“Can we talk about something else? Like Tim. Let’s talk about Tim replacing me, how about that? Or B deciding to keep Clark and I a secret.”
“Jesus, you really are just going to throw that out there, aren’t you?”
It keeps going, because of course it does after an outburst like that. There’s so much here that still has to heal, torn open again and again. But as Jason glances over Tim’s head, his arm thrown across the back of the younger boy’s chair and elbow curled just enough to keep him close, there’s the distinct impression that it won’t always be this way and that Jason is being difficult on purpose. Clark thinks back, remembers being egged on by the kid that now seems to be determined to make things as uncomfortable as possible for those in the room with him, and knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s a test, maybe not a fair one, but Jason’s life hasn’t exactly been fair and he’s still trying to figure out how to work with that. Sighing, Clark pushes fingers through his curls and tries not to tug on them, twitches when it happens anyways because apparently Bruce can’t keep his hands to himself.
“That’s enough,” Clark calls out in warning, meeting Jason’s gaze head on. What he doesn’t expect is for the other two to also go quiet at the tone. Somewhere up high, Pa is laughing his ass off. “Why don’t we talk about something a bit more needed, yes?”
“Like?” Bruce offers, helping him lead the conversation to a different end.
“Like what we’re going to do from here on out.”
Yes, there’s things that are still broken here. Yes, it’s going to take time to come to terms with the many, many things that have happened between them and around them that have caused those breaks. Yes, there’s going to have to be a discussion about flirting turning into touching turning into something more because he can already see this being problematic if they don’t talk about it soon. But they’re all here, they’re all alive, and maybe that’s all they need to start, to make this work. Maybe, just maybe, the world never was right but now at least Clark and Jason are learning how to be.
My summer classes are kicking my butt. Eight weeks of work in four weeks. I'm so glad I got a bit of breathing room so I could post this chapter and now, only one more to go!
Chapter 11: This Time Around
Where they stand now is steady and sure, even if it's constantly changing. Back to back, however, it doesn't seem so bad. Are they perfect? No, not by a long shot. But they definitely have things a bit more figured out this time around.
“Jason, get down here. You’re going to be late.”
Feet rush down the stairs only about halfway before they turn abruptly and pound right back up them, catapulting down the upstairs hallway before swiftly returning. Whatever the boy had forgotten had best be on his person now, Clark has a meeting to get to and he’s not entirely sure fancy Gotham lawyers enjoy their patrons being late.
“How’s my hair?”
“Doesn’t matter now, Alfred is already outside. Get.”
The look that passes over Jason’s face is mostly panicked as he sprints out the door in a whirlwind, leaving Clark to grab his mug of coffee and car keys from under the fresh batch of flowers in the hallway. Messenger bag already on him, he strides to his own car and gives a wave as Tim pokes his head out of the sunroof to begin a conversation with Jason before the older boy is even in the car. Alfred is nonplussed, even as he encourages Tim to get his head back inside so that they can stop blocking the driveway that Clark needs to back out of.
Mondays are the worst sometimes and this one is no exception, Clark glancing down at his watch as it buzzes, Bruce confirming he’s awake and getting ready same as the rest of them. It takes just enough of his attention that he isn’t gracefully able to catch Jason when arms are flung around his neck to say goodbye before they’re off to school, leaving a harried Superman in his mild disruption. Mrs. Killburn across the way waves with a chuckle and Clark waves back, the understanding in the other’s face as her own children are boarding the bus down the street calming him just enough that he can drive off without leaving his coffee on his roof.
Hectic events are his forte, in a way, but these kind of occasions leave his palms sweating and his tongue numb. There’s little he can do to counteract the nervousness on his drive to Gotham, waiting in the morning rush to cross the bridge and tapping his fingers to a mindless pop song that blares from his speakers. It’s completely normal, he tells himself, to feel this way when everything he’s worked so hard for is on the line and being threatened by something he can’t punch into another universe. He’s only just started to really figure out what he wants to do with himself, only just resurrected his name, and now this? Sure, there’s a travel blog up and running to bring in some money and a few contract pieces for online magazines are also on the table so he has steady work thanks to his reputation for getting things done. He even has character references in his bag from Lois, Alfred, and Doctor Abbott. Surely that’ll help his case. He’s making ends meet and he doesn’t have a criminal record. Bruce Wayne has even put in a good word for him and that means something in Gotham.
But will that be enough to help him adopt the boy who lives across the hall from him?
Sure, their rooms could be better organized. Jason’s is strewn with books in languages Clark didn’t even know he could understand and his soccer cleats are hanging off the doorknob while his own room is a disaster of sticky notes, various scrapbooking materials, and old, highlighted newspapers. Most of the place is still boxes from moving anyhow, so it’s not exactly put together enough to call a disaster but it feels that way anymore. Still, they clean the entire place from top to bottom once a week, both on Ma’s orders and Alfred’s advice, and because it’s the first home they’ve both really had all to themselves. Neither one of them wants to live in a sty and they’re all too aware of what one of those looks like.
Moving away from Smallville was harder than either of them expected but Bruce had offered to pay for Jason’s school costs. Clark wasn’t going to pass up the chance to move back to Metropolis and give the kid a better education than he would get in Kansas. For one, they have sex ed out here and with the way Jason is growing and the way his smile has already startled a few ladies back home, he has a feeling the boy is going to need that class more than most.
Clark adjusts his tie before he gets out of the car once he arrives, goes to catch the next elevator up from the parking garage, thinking about everything that’s changed. It’s only been a couple months since they sat down with the Waynes and determined what they were going to do but it already feels like a lifetime ago. Fixing up the farm and hiring a few people to do the fields, buying a two story house in suburbia, moving back to Metropolis, finding himself writing again, Jason starting up school after they’d determine he really was fifteen or at least would be this year. In the months that followed Lois had won a Pulitzer Prize, Dick had become a junior detective in Bludhaven, Tim had started to spend the night on the weekends, Robin’s suit may have a few Kryptonian influences these days, and Bruce wasn’t even pretending anymore that he didn’t have Clark wrapped around his little finger. Batman, Superman, and the Justice League were just as praised as they were condemned but they were all alive despite a few hiccups of invading aliens or lunatics with world domination on their mind. Hell, they had even made a few more alien friends. He really needed to figure out what that man with the ring was all about because frankly, the green glow was a bit off putting.
Blinking out of his thoughts, Clark steps into the nicest lobby he’s seen in awhile without the cape and swallows thickly. Right, he can do this. If he can date Batman, he can do this. Bruce appears at his elbow and Clark almost throws up. He wants this so much it hurts his chest but it’s happening so fast that his head is spinning (or maybe not fast enough because it’s been at least two years at this point since he picked up Jason, that’s plenty of time to consider him more than just a kid off the street).
“I’m an alien refugee who can shoot lasers out of his eyes and goes out almost nightly to fight crime, now wanting to make the case that a kid who is somewhere between the ages of thirteen and fifteen that came back from the dead should be legally allowed to stay in my care and you want me to breathe?”
“Well, when you put it like that.”
“You’ll be fine, Clark. He’s already your son, this is just making it official, puts both of you back on the books. They can’t take him away from you and if they did, I get him. I’d just give him back because it’s not like he’d actually stay with me with you close enough to run to.”
As comforting as that might have been any other day, Clark just stares as he works on keeping his tongue pressed to the roof of his mouth to help calm his stomach. It doesn’t work, but it does give a secretary he hasn’t registered being there enough time to call the right people in to take them back into the offices with a warm smile and cooing over Bruce Wayne being in their building.
It takes them all day, the sensitive nature of the circumstances not helping speed up the process, but these are men and women who deal with property damage from supervillains and cases of right and wrong while under mind control. They’re a specific unit who specializes in disasters of the superhero kind and this case is going to be a bit of a landmark for future situations like it, as the more the Justice League gets around the more people realize that anything is possible. Clark is suddenly grateful that Wayne Enterprises owns about half of Gotham because it encourages people like this to continue doing what they’re doing, to expand their business as the world changes. It may take all day but they sure do get things done.
Thank God because Jason has a soccer game tonight and Clark doesn’t plan on being late to that, either.
It takes about a minute and a half to get to the top of the Wayne Enterprises main building from the school parking lot in Metropolis. There’s a group of brightly striped superheroes he spots on his way up, party crashers of a sort. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say they were on their own but he can just spot the glow of powered optics off to the side under the eaves and the glare of light off the glass that is probably showing Gotham in the green tint of night vision. He always did wonder how Batman didn’t immediately break those eye pieces in his mask but that was a question for another time when he’s not hovering, ankles crossing comfortably in the air under him, cape blocking some of the weather from the trio that were seemingly waiting on his arrival.
He wasn’t there to meet up with them but there is no problem with company tonight. Robin is the first to wiggle to standing, tilting over the edge just slightly as he shakes water from everywhere it’s gathered.
“Jason isn’t here yet.”
Not that Clark was expecting him to be, his team had gone out for pizza after a loss to another Metropolis school, and he didn’t want to not encourage social activities. He easily catches Tim as the kid leaps without looking, scrambling up to sit on his shoulders as Dick takes the better approach of offering his hand so that Clark can pull him to his side much easier for carrying. Barbara just jumps off the building, swinging out into the night and expects Superman to follow, ending up above them on the roof where they can wait a bit more loudly. He does follow, granted, but he still wishes he could get in the habit of saying hello before she jumped off something tall. He also doesn’t miss the flutter of cape behind them either, quieter than everyone else, stalking their flight pattern and ending up just out of reach when they land.
“He’ll be here soon, I’m sure,” Clark assures as the boys spring under the roofed area that has to have been made specifically for these types of gatherings. “He’s just finishing dinner. Didn’t want to rush him.”
“They lost,” Batman says from the darkness, frowning. In the capes they tend to stand apart but the other man is still right there, hovering close enough that Clark can almost feel his heat. “Their other forward isn’t as good as they need him to be.”
“When did you learn your soccer positions? Besides, he’s learning. He’s approached Jason for some help and I’m sure they’ll be a well oiled machine in no time.”
The ‘hmph’ from Batman is enough to make Clark smile, having spotted the dark trail of cape and cowl just outside the stadium lights earlier that evening. If he were to make a guess, it would be that Bruce didn’t know anything about soccer until Jason got on the team and then, suddenly as if by magic, he knew everything. There had been field layouts hastily put out of sight the last time Clark had stopped by the manor and Bruce was beginning to take the time to stop by the field if he was in town and a game was happening.
Somehow, he was almost always in town.
“So, did you do it?” Dick interrupts, climbing and swinging from the eaves, now eye level with Superman even though he’s upside down. “B has been tight lipped about the whole thing all day. We’ve hardly even seen him.”
“It’s done, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“What does that even mean?” Barbara’s foot is tapping and her arms are crossed. Even Clark knows that’s not the look he wants to be getting from her. “He’s not a workbook or assignment.”
“No, he’s not.” Hands up to hopefully adjust some of her ire towards anyone but him, Clark does smile. Batman’s cape flutters in the wind, winds around his ankles, and it eases the tension somewhat in his chest, the nervous energy now longer crackling. “The paperwork is done, is what I mean. It’ll take a few weeks to process but they said there shouldn’t be any hold ups and I have right of guardianship until it’s official. No more interviews, no more house tours, no more calling in teachers and other family members. Just waiting for the official stamp from someone in an office somewhere near City Hall.”
“Geezers in poorly fitted suits apparently are the only ones capable of stamping important documents.” A thump follows the words that float by, the young man in question appearing at the edge of the roof with a giant coat on that does nothing to hide his growing stature. “Easiest job in the world but they can’t do anything quickly.”
“How was the party?”
“Not much to celebrate,” Jason laughs as he dives under the eaves between Dick and Tim, ruffling the latter’s hair and elbowing the other. “But I ate about an entire pizza myself. Coach wants you to know I’m eating him out of house and home but he’s afraid to tell you that to your face. Apparently giant, well meaning cowboys scare him.”
“We didn’t have cows on the farm until after I left.”
“That’s what I told him.”
There’s a few snickers across the younger crowd and Clark rolls his eyes, shaking his head as he surveys Jason for a bit. Not too long ago they were lost and struggling, trying to find their footing in a world that didn’t seem to want them and yet, wouldn’t let them go. Now, they at least had found their path, rocky and winding as it may be. Knocking shoulders with Batman, he realizes that he’s not the only one staring and turns to Bruce with a sly grin.
Today wasn’t only for him. He had taken a huge step with Jason but sometimes it’s good to remember where you came from and the boy wanted to do something special for that. Never let it be said that Jason didn’t care, just that he had an odd way of showing it sometimes. With Jason now once more a legal child, alive and well according to the government, it seemed the perfect time for something like this.
“Why are you wearing that ridiculous coat.”
“I’m thinking of becoming a private eye. Need to dress the part.”
It wasn’t really a question and he knows it, the flat tone of Batman giving nothing away as the kid fiddles with the buttons on the trench that at one point had been Clark’s. At least now he knows what happened to it. He has to admit, it is suspicious in an obvious way but then it’s supposed to be. They’d worked long and hard on what was underneath it and really, if Bruce wasn’t so against surprises, they would have done something much grander to show off.
“It’s my suit,” Jason mutters, hunching down a bit so that he’s not almost as tall as Nightwing. Clark can hear the double beat of Batman’s heart under all that kevlar despite the nonplussed expression on his face and he realizes that this must look much like the boy he picked up off the streets that first time, so long ago. Messy hair, oversized clothes, a snapback reply always ready on his tongue, he can almost picture the resemblance. Quiety, Clark floats backwards and places Bruce in front of him, brushes their palms together to ease any worry about this particular situation. “Uh. You wanna see?”
“Yes.” It’s a chorus and Jason jumps a bit, surprise evident on his face, even with the domino mask around his eyes. “Okay, okay. Jesus, you’d think I died or something.”
“Jason…” Clark starts only to trail off with a sigh. They’ve been working on this.
“Right. Sorry, mom.”
His head goes into his hands at that, groan leaving his lips, and he misses the reveal. Well, mostly misses. The soft gasps and then excited noise that Robin makes before he lifts his head back up is enough to tell him everything. There, standing proud and straight, is Jason Todd.
Jason Kent, actually, but that’s neither here nor there.
“What do you think? We had the ship make the crest, and Superman and I. Well, we came up with all sorts of designs but--”
“It’s a phoenix.”
The roof goes silent and Jason shuffles his feet at the attention before huffing, crossing his arms over the symbol that’s styled just like the House of El crest. But Batman is right, it’s definitely a bird in that outline, pointed wings making most of the diamond shape, pointed head dipped down between them, a bright red streak on an otherwise dark uniform. The jacket that falls open on top of it, brushes against the back of Jason’s knees and missing its arms for range of motion, is a blue that lets him blend into the shadows easier but under the light... Well, it would be just as primary colored as Superman’s suit, especially with the knee high boots in the same color. All his colors are a bit reversed from Clark’s but they still match, still come from the same stock.
Everything else on the teen looks military, charcoal colored and reinforced, a helping hand from Alfred written all over it right down to the grappling hook on his hip and the tranq gun beside it. There’s also something new there, a few metal barbs that look entirely Kryptonian and attach to something that may or may not be lasso like.
“It’s a firebird, actually,” Clark speaks up, tilting his head to let his hair slide wetly out of his eyes. “Phoenix seemed just a bit too comic book.”
“Because obviously our lives are just so realistic,” Jason pipes up, shaking his head. “Don’t worry though, the trenchcoat isn’t part of the getup. It was just like, wrapping paper. Uh. Surprise?”
That seems to break whatever bubble they’d created, Nightwing and Robin immediately on him to see what new gadgets he has, Batgirl yanking them away in turn when needed to give the poor kid space. Clark doesn’t worry about it much, knows they’ll figure out their own boundaries eventually, and turns to the man at his side. Somehow, he’s the one being given all of that laser focused attention, not Jason, and he does much the same thing under the stare: shuffle his feet and look away, crossing his arms across his chest.
“He didn’t want to give up the idea of being Dick’s wingman,” he whispers when Batman steps closer, blocks Superman from prying eyes. “But he also wanted to be something his own. It seemed the perfect mash up, a bird that rises from the dead but something that still needs to grow up all over again.”
“He always did like mythology.”
“Seemed appropriate, yea.”
“Grandson of the House of El.”
“No,” Clark hums, chuckling under his breath as he watches Jason take a running leap off the building to get away from his brothers. “Son of Houses Kent and Wayne. He’s got one Hell of a legacy to live up to. But his father does that all the time, so I think he’ll be okay.”
“You certainly do.”
“Not who I was talking about.”
Batman kisses exactly how Clark imagines he would, all teeth and finesse, and he grins against the wet lips of the other, nose bumping kevlar. He can’t taste anything but mint and coffee, something acrid in the background of it that means Bruce was working on the smoke canisters this afternoon, and he doesn’t even care a little bit as he floats up a bit to break away from him. There’s a fist in his cape, however, so he can’t get too far and Superman laughs softly into the wind and rain at the picture they must make.
“Patrol?” The bubble has already burst, Jason is hollering across rooftops, and it’s suddenly just another Monday night. “Or should we leave them to run themselves ragged while we go do something important?”
“Let them do Crime Alley. I could use your eyes and ears around the docks tonight.”
“Well, if you need my eyes and ears.”
“Diana will meet us there.”
“Oh. Right then.”
It’s normal, somehow, and Clark lifts off to follow after the children they’ve collected between the two of them once he commandeers his cape back with a not too subtle yank. Batman swings out after Batgirl so that she can take point and Clark dives for the boys, though Jason hooks onto him about halfway through his flight down the building. Landing solidly in his side, he falls with Superman for a few meters before being let go to swing out on his own again. They’ll have to practice more or Jason is going to bruise his side something awful, but for now it works for the both of them. For now, it lets them do what they need to do and get where they need to be. For a moment when they land, it’s just the two of them like it is in Metropolis, talking about how to fix the underlying problems that cause the crimes they often see and what they have to do tonight.
Then Nightwing and Robin are in front of him and Clark passes the torch on, gives Jason free reign to do what he thinks is best tonight. He has to trust him to make the right decisions, to make his own decisions on what is right. It feels a bit like growing pains, releasing him like this, and Clark gives Jason’s hair a ruffle to ground himself. There’s a moment where Jason stills when he realizes that Superman isn’t coming with them, tenses, but they’ve also been working on that and Clark eyes him as the kid counts beats in his breathing, allows his worry to melt away. Some things take time and Jason is still far from being alright day in and day out. They’re still working on it, the both of them if Clark is being honest, but having someplace they feel welcome and safe certainly helps.
That he still takes off with the others, that Clark still takes off after Batman and doesn’t hover just out of sight even for a minute, speaks to how much better things could be this time around.
The support for this story has been otherworldly. For those of you that read, commented, or left kudos, you have made my time writing amazing and my creativity soar with your excitement. I really enjoying talking to so many of you, I think this is the most active story I've had! From the depths of my heart, thank you.
I do plan on writing more in this fandom. My heart lies with BatFleck and SuperVill (which I didn't know people called him until like, last week when I saw it floating around). I can't get enough of Clark interacting with the BatFam and I would like to explore a bit more on Bruce's side of things. That and I have a pretty good Stardew Valley AU in my head that I'd like to get down eventually... But that's probably a long way off as I try to figure out how that crossover would even work.
(And yes, Jason revealed himself like that woman in the Anastasia cartoon movie. Just sayin')