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Mortal Man

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           The snoring woke Clark first.

            Loud, unabashed, and clearly coming from a sick person. Or rather, a sick man. Bruce had been nursing a cold for the better part of the last week and it only seemed to be gaining ground. He’d been popping vitamin C like it was candy in between green smoothies and Dayquil.

            But it didn’t appear to be working.

            Clark frowned over at Bruce, whose face was partially obstructed by a nest of pillows and reached out to place a hand on the man’s forehead. His cheeks were flushed, and his forehead was damp under Clark’s palm, so it shouldn’t have surprised in the least that he was running a low-grade fever. But it did.

            It always seemed to surprise Clark when Bruce had these sorts of moments. The human, mortal man, moments. Bruce paraded around as if he was invincible, immortal, and infallible. To some degree, that was true. Batman had carved out a place for himself in the annex of history as an unstoppable force—an unforgettable terror to the criminals of Gotham. He’d made himself bigger than one mere man.

            He’d made his symbol and deeds legend.

            Bruce could go years without really getting sick. He could work through broken bones, show up to charity balls with carefully hidden lacerations and torn muscles. It never failed to amaze and then occasionally piss Clark off. Mostly because Bruce had a habit of working himself to exhaustion, or illness. He also had a habit of hiding injuries to avoid censure. Though, Clark could say after years of marriage, the man was far better than he’d been in the beginning about honesty. He was far more willing to admit when he was tired, hurting, or in this case, sick.

            A work in progress. Clark would take the little victories where he could.  

            Slipping out of bed, Clark tucked the blankets firmly back around Bruce’s side and crept toward the bathroom. There was a collection of cold remedies and creature comforts sitting on the counter and Clark was certain that Alfred was responsible. It made him smile as he picked up the Vicks, a box of tissues and more cold medicine to bring back to bed.

            Bruce hadn’t moved. Not that Clark had expected him to, but it still made Clark pause. It still made him look down at his husband and feel a clench of worry as he watched the blankets rise and fall with each wheezy breath.

            He might need to drag Bruce to a doctor. Or call Leslie. Whichever was easier. Bruce wouldn’t be happy about either one. He was always a terrible patient, no matter who or what or how it was happening. Gracious was not Bruce’s middle name when he was feeling poorly. Then again, Clark didn’t think he was a particularly good patient when ill either. Was any man?  

            “Bruce,” Clark whispered, leaning near, pressing a kiss to the man’s sweaty temple. “Wake up so you can take more meds.”

            Bruce’s nose wrinkled, his eyes squeezing more tightly closed as he rucked the blankets up to nearly swallow his head.

            “No, come on.”

            Bruce gave a raspy cough, or growl, Clark couldn’t tell, then burrowed deeper. It should not have made Clark smile fondly at the lump. It did.

            “B, come on sweetheart,” Clark tried again, shaking his head as he peeled back covers and pillows to dig Bruce out. It was like exhuming a strange bedraggled creature from the deeps of a cavern. Bruce squinted with glossy gray eyes at him when he managed to unearth him and then scowled darkly. The scowl might have been more effective had he not had sheet marks on his face and his hair standing on end.

            “What?”

            Clark lifted a brow, showing off the blister pack of cold pills and the Vicks. “You need meds.”

            “I need sleep.”

            “In a minute.”

            After a heated staring contest and a huff of agitation, Bruce struggled up to a sit and accepted the pills with a glass of water. Clark watched him dutifully take the pills then blink foggily as he took in their bedroom. It was just before sunrise and everything was in that ephemeral haze of not quite reality. It was Clark’s favorite time of day. Bruce would never agree, because of his staunch dislike of mornings in general. But Clark felt as though the time just before dawn, was particularly enchanting. Like anything might happen, with all those shadows and murky gray light.

            “Did I wake you?” Bruce’s voice sounded painfully raw.

            Clark shrugged, motioning for Bruce to pull off his t-shirt. It was sweaty and needed changing anyway. Bruce obeyed silently. When finished, he fell more than lay back into the pillows.

            Clark applied the Vick’s like it was a healing ointment from the gods. With care and a steady hand. Tracing Bruce’s throat, the veins in his neck, the thick musculature on his chest. Bruce sighed into the touches, his eyes falling closed and Clark let him. When he was finished, he found Bruce a clean t-shirt and returned to help him get it on. It was a testament to how poorly Bruce felt that by the time they’d pulled it over his head, he was out of breath and sagging against Clark, weak as a kitten.  

            “Maybe we should call Leslie,” Clark hummed, smoothing both hands down Bruce’s back as the man coughed.

            “No.”

            “Bruce, you’re running a fever. You’ve been sick for days. It might just be a cold, but it might not. She could come by and just see if you need some antibiotics or something.”

            “I don’t need—” he coughed again, hard, until his eyes were watery, and he was scrubbing angrily at them, “I don’t need anything.”

            Clark lifted a brow, clearly not in agreement, “Babe, you look terrible.”

            “Thank you, Clark. How sweet of you?”

            “I’m serious.”

            “So, am I.”

            It was another war of wills. Another angry staring contest, but Clark would win. Bruce was too weak and too sick to fight it. After a long moment, Bruce sighed, settling back into the nest of pillows on his side of the bed.

            “I can’t believe I let you bully me around.”

            “Let me?”

            “Yes,” Bruce murmured, eyes falling closed, lips pressing into a firm line, “Let you.”

            “You’re ridiculous.”

            “And you are a pushy asshole.”

            “It’s my job to take care of you. Sickness and health, right?”

            Bruce opened one eye, attempted glaring and failed entirely.

            “Fine.”

            “I’ll call her first thing. Let’s get some more sleep.”

            Bruce seemed far more amenable to that offer and immediately curled up like a shrimp the moment Clark climbed back into bed and spooned him. Clark nuzzled in close, liking the smell of the menthol on Bruce’s skin and the laundry detergent in the clean shirt he was wearing. The combined scents were intoxicating in the all the right homey ways that Clark adored and despite Bruce being sick and crabby about it, he liked Bruce like this. Bruce was less conscious of himself and far easier to finagle into extra cuddles.

            “I’m cold.”      

            “It’s the fever,” Clark whispered back, listening to Bruce’s pulse steadily slip towards the cadence of sleep. He tugged the comforter up tighter around Bruce. “Better?”

            “Mmm.”

            “Sleep,” Clark suggested, fulling expecting Bruce would do just that.

            Five minutes later, Bruce struggled out of the tight enclosure of blankets Clark had made for him then rolled so he could press himself flush to Clark, face to face. Bruce burrowed in like a mole, hiding his face in Clark’s neck, tickling the sensitive skin there with his whiskers.

            “Comfortable?” Clark chuckled, pleased and always a little surprised when Bruce did something so needy and soft.

            “Mmm.”

            “Is that all I’m getting out of you now? Grunts and hums?”

            Bruce answered with just that, wrapping a leg around Clark’s, and an arm limply around Clark’s middle. He was a little sticky and little too hot for Clark’s comfort, but there was no way in hell Clark was going to stop Bruce. This was too good an opportunity to waste for that.

            “I guess that’s my answer.”

            Clark knew when Bruce fell asleep again. His breathing slowed, his pulse too, and the puffs of hot air in Clark’s neck steadily turned back into little choked snores. Adorably imperfect signals of the imperfect man his husband was. Clark loved that.

            After years of being the only person Bruce was willing to show this side of himself to, it still didn’t get old. Clark tried to never take for granted the fact that he had the great big Bat smashed up against him, snoring, limp and desperately vulnerable. He tried to never forget the trust that Bruce put in him.

            Sunlight was pressing into the drapes, warming the bedroom from slightly chilly to something more neutral but Clark couldn’t sleep. Rather, he didn’t want to. Not now. Bruce would laugh or make fun if he knew. He’d probably be embarrassed on some level as well, that Clark was such a romantic fool he’d stay awake just to do something as simple as catalog the way the sunlight caught in Bruce’s hair or lit on the hollows of his cheeks.

            There was a part of Clark, the part he rarely liked to discuss, that knew these moments, these details would be all he had some day. The memories would have to last then. So, Clark was determined to make them perfect. To make them as raw and real as he could.

            He refused to miss a single detail or forget a single moment.

            Clark smoothed a hand down Bruce’s back, to the small of it, where spine met tailbone and concentrated on the texture of the bones. On the delicate jut of Bruce’ hip and the long line of his legs that curled around his own. The softness of Bruce’s messy hair and the texture of his whiskers against Clark’s steadily thrumming pulse.  

            It was almost—almost like a secret. Like Clark was privy to something precious and rare, in the quiet stillness that was their bedroom. And in some ways, that was true. No one else, no one, would know these things about Bruce like Clark would. Ever. That was comforting, to some degree. But not enough.   

            Time was a finite, fickle thing. It was not a kind master.

            There were moments, Clark resented his biology and what that would mean about his days on Earth. He did his best not to dwell on it, because it did no one any good and because he was afraid of becoming bitter. But there were times—there were times it was so, very, very hard.

            He swallowed thickly, possessively curling himself tighter around Bruce like a cage and felt him stir a little.

            “Clark?” Bruce scratched out, sniffing.

            “It’s alright. Go back to sleep.”

            “You—” Bruce sounded drugged, not really awake, “—alright?”

             Clark smiled weakly, clearing his throat of the tears that wanted to make his voice thick and would immediately alert Bruce to a problem. Another time, another day, another conversation. Not now. Nothing would fix it. Not really. But it didn’t need to be a worry for Bruce now.

             “I’m fine, love. Go back to sleep.”

              Bruce sighed, long and ragged, “M’kay.”

              Clark stayed awake a few minutes more, careful not to hold Bruce too tightly, not to hurt him on accident, though he desperately wanted to squeeze until he could make Bruce apart of him. Then he drifted off to sleep to the sound of that same wheezing snore—and it was a lullaby he hoped he would always remember.