Bruce's grip on Clark's thigh tightens; the set of his jaw firms. The actual thrust, the change in angle letting him fuck the whole thick hot length of his cock even deeper into Clark, almost takes Clark by surprise—not that he wasn't expecting it, exactly, but he just—
He was caught up in the flex of Bruce's knuckles, the sweet aching pressure of his fingertips digging in. He was watching Bruce's face, his eyes. He was staring at the line of Bruce's mouth.
Bruce thrusts and Clark has to bite down on a noise he's not allowed to make, has to squeeze his eyes shut and twist his face away. God, god. How is this always so good? Months now, they've been doing this, and it's still so overwhelming, overpowering, almost unbearable. He still wants it so badly, every time.
And Bruce must, too, or he wouldn't keep doing it. Right? He wouldn't be willing to. He wouldn't keep meeting Clark's eyes that way he does, that quick flicker of hot intensity that tells Clark exactly what he's thinking about; they wouldn't keep ending up here like this.
It's convenient, obviously. They keep the same hours—the same secrets. No need for explanations or excuses. It's easy. A glance, a lowering of the eyes or a dip of the chin. The Hall is big, bigger than it needs to be with the League at its current size; with Arthur off in Atlantis half the time, Barry running back and forth to Central City, Diana maintaining a civilian presence in Paris. Even Victor doesn't live here, splitting his time between the Hall and his father's labs. There's always somewhere they can be. Somewhere empty, behind a closed door, where no one will look for them for a little while.
But all the convenience in the world wouldn't outweigh the risk if the sex weren't so fucking spectacular.
(At least not for Clark. The risk—not of discovery, not really, but of a different kind of disaster. Bruce hasn't tried to kill him again. They've found something not unlike an even keel with each other. It's fine. But there are so many ways this could go wrong, so many mistakes Clark could make that could—that might—)
He hooks a leg around Bruce's hip and tries, helplessly, mindlessly, to force Bruce deeper still. He hadn't let Bruce lube up, had sucked his cock long enough to leave it wet and dripping and then lain back and opened up for him; the burn of friction doesn't hurt Clark, can't, and of course it's perfectly safe for Bruce to fuck him bare. He loves it, loves the—the echo of an ache it leaves behind it, even if there isn't any pain in it.
Bruce makes a soft sound, a breath through his nose that's almost chiding. Eases out just a little, thrusts again, and when he does he smooths a hand up the tense heaving line of Clark's chest, collars the base of Clark's throat with three fingers and his thumb. As if to hold him down, never mind that it's impossible with only human strength; as if to leash him, a tacit assertion that Bruce is the one in charge here, and fuck, god, that shouldn't be half as hot as it is—
Clark drives his teeth into his lip, chokes on a noise Bruce can probably feel in his throat, and he's clutching Bruce's forearms so hard Bruce is probably going to bruise. He's close, he's—he's too close, dripping, cock red and heavy and slapping his belly wetly as Bruce fucks him; it's too much, it's too soon.
(—it's always too soon—)
He comes. He can't stop it. He almost tries, except he'd have to let go of Bruce to grip himself hard enough to forestall it, and he's—
Well. He's never really gotten the hang of letting go of Bruce.
He shudders his way through it, jerking, gasping, untouched, awash with pleasure and dimly, bitterly resentful of it; and Bruce holds him there and fucks him in carefully-judged rhythm with the aftershocks until he's trembling, as weak with overstimulation as if there were kryptonite in the room.
And then Bruce presses his thighs apart further still, thrusts sharply once, twice, and comes too. The rush of heat and wet, the knowledge of it, makes Clark's face flush—it feels obscene to like it so much, to relish the mess Bruce has made of him. But he's discovered that he wants as much of Bruce as Bruce is willing to give him, and—
And this is what he's got.
This is what he's got, and it's infinitely better than what's about to happen. What always happens, every time.
They're poised like that for a minute, still caught up together, pressed against each other, breathing hard. Bruce is still inside him, but steadily softening; and after a moment, of course, he eases out.
That's the cutoff. That means it's over. Bruce draws free of Clark's hands, and suddenly they aren't touching anywhere. Bruce isn't looking at him. He's pushed himself to his knees, and then to his feet, and he's reaching for his black undersuit, ready to tug it on without any particular consideration for his cock, still bare and flushed and wet.
Clark lies there on the floor, and closes his eyes. Sometimes it's Bruce down here, Clark over him; sometimes it's Clark who has to give in at last, concede that he's come and he won't get it up again fast enough to keep Bruce there, alien physiology notwithstanding. Sometimes they don't make it out of uniform at all—they just shove aside whatever needs to be shoved aside, tear through whatever's in the way, before they suck or fuck or rub off against anything they can reach.
But it always ends the same way. They part, dress themselves; clean up on their own afterward. Or at least Clark does—for all he knows, Bruce ignores it, doesn't let himself do anything but shower whenever he normally would. Has redone the interior of the undersuit with come-wicking self-cleaning material, the better to proceed through the rest of his day without further interruption to his routine.
"Tonight," Bruce says, very level. "Eight o'clock."
Clark bites the inside of his cheek. "I won't forget," he says, once he's sure it will come out calm, even.
"Good," Bruce says, and leaves.
Clark lies there and listens to his steps—to the undersuit, brushing against itself as it moves; to his heart, low and steady, increasingly distant.
It's probably unforgivably melodramatic to think it, but—god, sometimes it feels like Bruce is always moving away from him, no matter what he does, no matter where they are.
Clark squeezes his eyes shut again, rubs them with the heels of his hands and pretends he's not doing it to press away the sting in them.
This is how it works, with them. He knows that. He knew it when he let Bruce drag him back here. It's fine. There's no reason why he should feel so—tired; not physically, obviously, but somewhere else deep down, a place sunlight doesn't reach.
Sometimes he kind of hates fucking Bruce, he thinks distantly. Too bad he's never going to be able to convince himself to stop.
He's not even sure how it started.
Not that he doesn't remember; of course he does. Even if Superman's memory weren't perfect, indelible, Clark's pretty sure the first time would have etched itself too deep to fade. After Steppenwolf, they'd been unsure of each other, uncertain. Trying to find their footing, to work out how to be something other than enemies.
Trying too hard, probably. Clark always ends up thinking back to the port, to Doomsday—to how easy it had been then, weirdly effortless, for all that Bruce had had him on his back with a kryptonite blade at his throat not fifteen minutes beforehand. They'd needed to work together, and they'd done it. And with Steppenwolf, too. Maybe that was the lesson: as long as there was something else in front of them to fight, they were perfect teammates, precisely in sync, on the same page.
It's only all the rest of the time that they have a problem.
They haven't tried to kill each other again or anything. It's just—it's just that they seem to rub each other the wrong way, somehow. Clark had thought at first that they'd get past it, figure each other out, maybe even become friends. Bruce had seemed willing enough, that day on the farm after everything, moving Ma back in; the way he'd smiled, the mildness of his tone, the way he'd clapped Clark on the back without hesitating.
But, as it turned out, that had been—Clark still doesn't quite know what to call it. A cover, sort of. Half a mask. Bruce deliberately playing softball, bland and inoffensive.
Maybe he'd meant it as a kindness. But it had started to frustrate Clark, that Bruce was so insistent on—on being careful with him, smoothed-out and featureless. If he was going to be friends with Bruce, he wanted to be friends with Bruce, not this easy-going even-tempered approximation.
That had been the foundation of their first shouting match. Looking back, Clark could admit he'd probably been more insulting than he'd meant to be; as if he thought courtesy or consideration, coming from Bruce, couldn't be anything but lies. He just—he just hadn't been able to stand it anymore. After everything they'd been through, everything they'd put each other through, it had felt like an insult of its own that Bruce would try to paper over it all, that he still didn't think Clark deserved any honesty from him.
(He'd hated Clark. He'd tried to kill Clark. So if—if he still didn't like Clark very much, then that was all right. Clark would rather know it than be faced with Bruce pretending otherwise, out of guilt, or—or strategic necessity, or whatever else—)
So: they fought. Just words, this time around, but they fought. They kept fighting. Kept saying just the wrong thing at just the wrong moment, putting each other's backs up; doing just the wrong thing at just the wrong moment, taking each other to task for the littlest missteps. And then—
Then they fucked.
Clark remembers the day it happened. He'd made a stupid mistake, faced with kryptonite when he hadn't been expecting it; almost worse than the sensation of it working on him was just—seeing it, that venomous green glow filling his vision. He'd felt a sting cross his cheek, a weight pressing down on his chest, even though nothing was touching him—
And then Bruce had been there. Bruce had been there, saved him. Hadn't shouted at him the way he was anticipating. Had kept his voice low, even, as he'd systematically ripped Clark a new one with vicious thoroughness. Clark hadn't been able to look at him, face hot, simmering with irritation, trembling a little with lingering weakness. Bruce had gripped him by the chin to make him look up, and Clark had caught him by the wrist, come up out of his seat and shoved Bruce back into the wall.
But he doesn't know which of them moved first, after that. He doesn't know why. He only knows he was abruptly burning with it, desperate, telling himself he needed to let go and move away from Bruce and not doing it.
It was good. It's always good, but that first time—it had been a revelation, like this was what he'd been looking for, what he'd been asking Bruce for with every shout, every bitten-off curse, and he just hadn't known it. Turning all the frustration trapped beneath his skin into something else, something better; melting it messily down into white-hot pleasure instead.
Clark wanted it. He still does. But they've just—
They've just kept doing it. It's always like that. They aren't better, closer. They aren't kinder to each other; it hasn't made Bruce any easier to understand, hasn't made Clark any more patient with him. They aren't sweet. They don't kiss.
It's just sex. And if there had, hypothetically, been any chance Clark were in danger of forgetting it, Bruce's every word and action seems calculated to remind him.
There isn't any reason for it to change. It's not like Clark's put any effort into trying to make it, and god knows he doesn't have the words to—to ask, to talk about it at all. Hell, he should probably count his lucky stars that Bruce is willing to fuck him; to let Clark fuck him. That he trusts Clark's control of his strength enough to allow it, instead of just rolling him over and cutting his throat again—
It's good. It's fine. It's probably the best Clark can hope for.
He wishes things were different, sometimes. But that's not news. It doesn't matter. This is how it is with them, and it's not like Clark could give it up; he wants it too much, and he probably always will.
Bruce's gracious reminder was, as it happens, unnecessary. Eight o'clock is the GothCorp Charity Gala; they were tipped off over a week ago to escalating threats directed toward Ferris Boyle and his staff, the gala itself, and every one of Gotham's upper crust who had accepted an invitation.
Clark Kent had, with no small degree of reluctance, made a deal with Cat Grant to owe her a favor of her choosing if she'd agree that he could join the Entertainment & Arts staffer who was assigned to cover it. And it was in keeping with Bruce Wayne's less-than-admirable public behavior toward his business rivals that he'd crash a fundraiser just for the sake of making a spectacle of himself.
They'd both have comms with them; on the off chance they needed assistance from the rest of the League, they'd get it. But the two of them had the best excuses to be on the scene in their civilian identities from the start, and the odds were good they'd be able to handle it.
Clark dresses with his usual care, which is to say he makes sure his suit doesn't sit right on his shoulders, double-checks that his dress shoes are still a little scuffed, and carefully doesn't wash off the smudge of ink he got on his fingertip at work.
And then he goes to the gala, and is almost immediately cornered by Bruce Wayne.
It's not that he wasn't expecting it. Obviously they were going to have to—to interact with each other. The less they can use comms in public areas, the better. There are all kinds of things Bruce is more likely to notice than Clark, and all kinds of things Clark will quite literally be able to see and hear that Bruce can't. And it's not like they don't have a perfectly good rationale to come face-to-face, when one of them is a reporter and the other one is Bruce Wayne.
Clark talks to Bruce all the time. They've already fought shoulder-to-shoulder, shouted at each other, and fucked so far today. But—
But it's been kind of a while since Clark Kent has talked to Bruce Wayne.
It's disorienting, that's all. The way Bruce—smiles at him when their eyes meet, slanting, a little wicked; it makes sense, Clark reminds himself, but he can't help hooking a finger in his collar, helplessly aware of a weird flush of heat creeping up his throat. Because Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent haven't seen each other since—
"I suppose perhaps I owe you an apology, Mr. Kent," Bruce observes, and if there's a bit of a barb half-concealed in his tone, it's also—his voice is pitched low, simmering with disconcerting warmth.
"Oh, I'm—I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Mr. Wayne," Clark says, ducking his head, reaching out belatedly to clasp Bruce's outstretched hand.
Strange thing to have to playact their way through, after so long. But it's fine. It doesn't have to be awkward. One quick firm shake, a little more mild small talk; maybe Clark can come up with a question or two, and Bruce can demur, and Clark can spend the rest of the evening chasing a soundbite at intervals, just often enough for them to check in with each other. That'll work—
"I think you do," Bruce murmurs. The gala is a major event for the entire metro area; the room's crowded. That must be why he's standing so close. He's—he hasn't let go of Clark's hand yet. Shouldn't he have let go of Clark's hand?
"No, uh, really, Mr. Wayne, it's—I—"
"Call me Bruce," Bruce suggests, mild, and somehow manages to lean in even closer. "I was terribly rude, Mr. Kent—"
"Clark," Clark manages to force out, through a suddenly tight throat.
"—and it was uncalled-for." Bruce pauses, and the barest flicker of something else, something that isn't Bruce Wayne's carelessly-bestowed half-engaged attention, crosses his face almost too quickly to catch. "I had a lot on my mind that evening, but that's no excuse. I jumped to conclusions, I insulted you; I was unnecessarily harsh. Please, Clark," and—jesus, Clark thinks despairingly, that's dirty pool, that gravel-scraped torn-silk-sheets tone; that thing Bruce is doing with his face, staring at Clark with his eyes all heavy like that—"do tell me you'll let me make it up to you."
"You, um," Clark hears himself say. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
Bruce tilts his head, lifts his free hand—there's a sparkling champagne flute suspended in it. Clark hadn't even noticed he was holding one. "Buy you a drink?"
Clark clears his throat, and raises an eyebrow. "This event has a open bar, Mr. Wayne."
"Does it," Bruce murmurs, and he's definitely not actually asking. He's not even pretending to be actually asking.
"Yes," Clark says, a little more firmly, and finally manages to draw his hand free of Bruce's. He can't decide whether to laugh or run the hell away; there's something ridiculous about Bruce like this, in the best way—a joke Clark is in on. But even knowing it's an illusion, there's a sick kind of appeal in playing along, too. In pretending that Bruce—likes him. That if they'd met just like this, a reporter and a business magnate running into each other at a couple fancy parties a year apart, Bruce would have taken his hand and smiled at him, brought him a glass of champagne and stuck around to watch him drink it.
Stupid. As if Clark Kent would have any hope of holding Bruce Wayne's interest, if their mutual cover didn't require it.
He looks away, and clears his throat again. "I'll just go—get myself something, Mr. Wayne. But I appreciate the offer. If you'll excuse me?"
"I'll be here," Bruce murmurs, and it doesn't matter that Clark's avoiding his gaze; he can feel it anyway, the weight of Bruce's eyes on him like a brand. It's a relief to shield himself with Clark Kent's unassuming hunch as he turns away, a reassurance to lift his fingers to the bridge of his nose and find his glasses there.
He'll go get a drink, and take a quick look through all the walls, the floor, the ceiling, while he's at it. Do an auditory sweep, maybe, for voices somewhere they shouldn't be, radios, beeping countdowns; any sign that someone's out there actually organizing some kind of attack on the gala. And if he finds anything, he'll let Bruce know, and Batman and Superman will take care of it.
Except, of course, it isn't quite that easy.
Whoever it is who has their eye on the gala, they weren't kind enough to share their plans down to the minute, or even the hour; it could be half the night before they make their move, whatever it might be.
So Clark can't just dodge Bruce and leave it at that, can't settle for avoiding temptation as scrupulously as he knows how. He has to—to let Bruce find him in the crowd again, track him down and trap him against a wall with a smile. Which is exactly what Bruce does: he even pulls out a smooth little forearm-lean, like the jock Bruce Wayne must once have been crowding a cheerleader up against her locker, angling to ask her to the winter dance.
"Well, hello again, Clark," he says, mouth slanting, and Clark stares at him and clutches his drink like it's a lifeline, and hopes dimly that he isn't stammering too much when he says whatever the hell he says in reply.
He just—he wasn't ready for this. It does make sense, if Clark squints. Not that Clark Kent badgering Bruce Wayne for a quote all evening wouldn't have worked just as well, at least for a while—but Clark supposes it might start to strain credulity for Bruce to just put up with getting hounded, instead of having Clark thrown out of the ballroom on his ear or something. But he wasn't—he wasn't planning on this, he wasn't prepared for it. He fucks it up, he can feel himself fucking it up, but jesus, Bruce is hitting on him.
He's—he takes Clark's hand, curls his own around it and lifts Clark's drink to clink their glasses together. And then he leans in and skims that hand up Clark's lapel and says something, the—the toast he meant to make, or—probably it's in bad taste, maybe it's obscene, but Clark can't even hear it over the roaring in his ears. He stares at Bruce like an idiot instead, face red, wordless.
He's fucking it up. And Bruce is definitely getting irritated with him. That has to be what it means, the way Bruce is looking at him, the way he eases back and opens up a careful stride between them, the tight set of his jaw. Because Bruce is only doing any of this to maintain their cover, for the sake of plausible deniability; it's League business, and Clark's making a mess of it, tying himself up in knots over nothing.
Unless—he isn't supposed to brush Bruce off, is he? No, that doesn't make sense. Clark Kent's from Kansas, but he's not dead; Bruce can't possibly have strategized for this based on Clark pretending not to be interested. Plausible deniability is supposed to be, well, plausible. It's baked in.
He's not supposed to ignore it. He's supposed to give Bruce a reason to come back again and again, he's—he's supposed to be playing hard-to-get, he realizes distantly. He's supposed to be interested.
It's okay. This once, it's okay. It must be.
He takes a deep breath, ignores the prickle of his skin, the sting of heat along his spine, the lurch in his chest.
(—everything he wants and none of it at the same time, when it's all just playing pretend—)
"What a kind sentiment, Mr. Wayne," he says—banking on Bruce's toast having been at least not overtly insulting; aiming for a mild, wry tone that hopefully sounds like Clark Kent's amused despite his better judgment. "That's real gracious of you," because if there were ever a time to play up the good Midwestern boy bit, this is it.
(—never mind that a good Midwestern boy probably wouldn't have been naked on the floor in the Hall not twelve hours ago with Bruce's hands shoving his thighs apart—)
"And here I thought I asked you to call me Bruce," Bruce murmurs. His eyes are still sharp on Clark's face, intent, assessing. But he's leaned in again, so—so at least it wasn't the wrong thing to say.
"Then I guess you'll just have to keep asking," Clark suggests, pointedly and demurely lowering his eyes to his drink before he lifts it to take a sip.
He hears a huff of breath, half a laugh, and glances up again in time to see Bruce's mouth slant, a quick pleased little flicker.
And then he braces himself and does his own lean in—as if to brush by, except he's the one who catches Bruce's lapel for a change, turns his face in toward Bruce's jaw, and hopefully it looks like he's whispering something other than, "No sign of trouble downstairs; no bombs beneath the floor or in the ceiling."
He sucks in a breath at the touch of Bruce's hand to his waist, his stupid heart pounding, pointless and psychosomatic. And of course it's only so Bruce can tap acknowledgment with his fingertips: one touch. Two would have meant he hadn't caught it, that the message needed to be repeated.
Clark swallows down a hysterical noise he really needs to not make—god, he's an idiot—but it doesn't matter. Focus. He should do another circuit around the room, and this time he'll pay closer attention to the people than the building. Look for anything out of place, anyone acting suspicious.
"Have a good evening, Mr. Wayne," he says, at a normal volume, and eases away; looks back over his shoulder as he does it, and maybe he puts a little too much heat into it, maybe he always wants to look at Bruce that way, but—
—it isn't like it matters.
It gets better, after that. Now that he's—now that there's a plan. It isn't like it's a hardship to stand around letting Bruce Wayne put the moves on him
(—or at least it shouldn't be; wouldn't be, if it weren't for—if he didn't want it so much—)
and it's even—it's fun, funny. Bruce is engaging, charming, and at the same time deliberately just awful enough about it that Clark almost bursts out laughing by mistake half a dozen times.
It wouldn't even be that bad if he did. Playing coy in return is even easier, Clark Kent gently dismayed and amused despite himself by turns.
And it's—Bruce touches him. It isn't businesslike, isn't stripped down to pure economy. Bruce touches him like he likes to, like he wants to, like he's getting away with something every time Clark doesn't shake him off or smack his hand away. It stings, to think Bruce wouldn't be doing this if he didn't have to, that underneath it's still about necessity.
Clark drinks it up anyway. He can't stop. And it only enhances the illusion, surely, if Clark Kent leans into it all just a little. That's exactly the kind of tacit encouragement Bruce Wayne lives for, the inch he'll turn into a mile.
In the end, Clark's almost disappointed when a couple dozen gunmen do show up. It isn't more than he and Bruce can handle; they manage to keep the fun part confined to the main entrance outside the ballroom itself, so most of the guests never even know anything's wrong.
But then it's over. Disguises reassembled, gunmen subdued and the police on the way, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent have no reason to linger.
Or, well, Bruce doesn't. Cat's going to have some choice words for Clark if he skips out before the gala's over, after he put up such a fight to get himself sent along. Not that she's going to be relying on him as her primary source of coverage, when Lisa's here too, but still.
Bruce, though—Bruce is probably itching to get out on patrol already, so at least it's only half the night that's been wasted.
Wasted; spent here with Clark. Clark bites his lip, and tries not to let that equivalence sting. Jesus, he needs to get a grip.
The point is, he isn't surprised when Bruce's casual circuit of the room—as if they hadn't just been tying up criminals shoulder-to-shoulder ten minutes ago—ends with a hand at the small of Clark's back, that Bruce Wayne smile, and Bruce murmuring into his ear, "Well, as fun as this has been, I think I'd better call it a night. Always leave them wanting more; isn't that what they say?"
"Something like that," Clark agrees, mild, and Clark Kent is amused, grudgingly charmed.
And—surely it won't hurt. Surely Bruce will consider it part of the cover, if he spares a thought for it at all.
"Thank you, Mr. Wayne," he lets himself say, with Clark Kent's mild self-deprecating smile. "It was an—entertaining evening."
Bruce is looking at him more intently than he'd expected, a dark steady stare, with the corner of his mouth still tilting up slyly. "Entertaining," he repeats, in a contemplative sort of tone. "Not exactly the breathless torrent of superlatives I'd hoped for, Mr. Kent," and Bruce lingers over the name pointedly, eyebrow raised, "but I appreciate it nevertheless."
Clark draws a slow breath. When is he ever going to get the chance again? To say anything like this, and have Bruce hear it? He reaches out, settles a hand on Bruce's shoulder; turns a little into the curve of Bruce's arm against him, the heat of Bruce's palm through Clark's cheap suit. "I mean it. I had a good time. I wasn't expecting to. Thank you."
And for a moment, it isn't Bruce Wayne Clark is looking at anymore. Bruce's face has changed, unreadable; and the feeling of his shoulder beneath Clark's hand, the solid strong muscle, makes it—it's like Clark has reached through the illusion, found Bruce as Clark has begun to know him best beneath it.
"The pleasure was mine," Bruce says, very low. And it's almost too much, just then: looking at him like that, heart pounding, not quite daring to believe he means it; it's almost a relief to let go and turn away, and very carefully not watch him leave.
Two days later, Bruce gets hurt.
Not badly. Not by his own standards, anyway.
But Clark was the one who'd dug him out of the rubble—who'd torn through it, more like, not even bothering with the pretense of lifting or moving it; driving his hands straight into stone, concrete, steel screeching apart in his grip. He'd been able to hear Bruce's heart, he'd known Bruce wasn't dead. But he'd heard the soft wet creep of blood pooling, too, the creak of bone.
Dad had taught him to hate the thought of holding himself back when he could do something instead. But it was a different kind of fear, that he could exert every effort he was capable of and Bruce might die anyway—that before Clark had even gotten there, Bruce might have been injured so badly all there was left to do was listen to him bleed out.
It didn't happen that way. But hours and hours later, Clark is still thinking about the chance that it could have; about the moment he'd reached Bruce in there and lifted him up, the helpless relief of his weight against Clark's hands. The reality of him, breathing, alive, awake—the grumpy little huff of breath he'd let out, disgruntled acknowledgment that Clark had saved his ass, because Bruce was kind of a dick a lot of the time.
And Clark isn't sure why, but somehow it's gotten tangled up in his chest with everything left lingering in the aftermath of that goddamn gala. Sharpened by it, in a way he can't explain; a sense of urgency he can't shake.
It was easier not to mind that he might never spend time with Bruce that way again when he still had everything else, every other way they know each other now. But losing all of it at once—
So, all told, he probably shouldn't be surprised to find himself hovering over the lake.
He hangs there in the air and swallows. He should just turn around and leave. Bruce is fine now, mostly; he was bleeding a lot, but most of it had been just the one head wound. Alfred's probably stitched him up. He might not even be here—it would be just like him to have gone out on patrol tonight anyway.
Clark bites his lip.
And then the surface of the lake trembles beneath him; ripples, opens up, water sluicing away. He's half expecting to be proven right, to hear the rumble of the Batmobile's engine Dopplering toward him from down there somewhere.
But it doesn't happen. It's not an exit, he realizes belatedly. It's an invitation. And the moment he thinks that, he hears Bruce say it, blandly sardonic: "Not polite to leave me standing here holding the door open, boy scout."
Clark feels his face heat. He should have heard it because he'd been listening for it—he should have thought to open up, stretch his hearing out and check. But instead—
It just happened to be close to the sound of Bruce's heart; and he'd already been tuned in perfectly, unthinking, automatic.
But Bruce doesn't ever need to know it.
He drops down into the space where the lake isn't anymore, and he'd expected to have to go looking, to find Bruce in a workroom somewhere, except that low steady pulse isn't far enough away for that. Bruce is—Bruce is waiting for him instead, standing at the entrance to the Cave. Arms crossed, but the effect isn't forbidding: not like this, in a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, the line of his shoulders soft with fatigue, eyebrows raised.
"Uh," Clark says, unprepared, inane. "Hey."
"I'm fine," Bruce says, and then cuts himself off—pauses, chin coming up the barest fraction, gaze suddenly opaque. "Unless there's something else you were here for," he adds, very evenly.
Clark stares at him.
Bruce lowers his elbows, lifts his hands; catches the top button of that crisp dress shirt between his fingertips.
Because, Clark thinks distantly, feeling vaguely sick, this is what they do. There isn't any in between, not unless there's a mission—they fight or they fuck, and Bruce has decided Clark didn't come all this way to fight.
"No, wait," he manages to say, and it comes out pretty level to his ears, for all that his throat's tightened up on him like a vise. "Wait, I didn't—I just wanted—"
He stops. He doesn't know how that sentence ends. Because it's not like he doesn't want to fuck Bruce; he always wants to fuck Bruce, and there's something about the idea he can admit he's greedy for. An echo of the way it had felt to lay hands on Bruce earlier, the reassurance of Bruce's body in all its undeniable solidity—but naked, skin-to-skin, scars exposed, all of him laid bare to Clark's touch. As if that would ever be a disincentive.
He just—that isn't all he wants, that's all. And it cuts deep, somewhere under the skin where Clark won't ever be able to heal it, that Bruce thinks otherwise.
He bites his lip, drifts a little closer. He hadn't even realized it until just then, but he hasn't technically touched down on the Cave floor. Bruce's hands slow, one button undone and fingers only just closing on the next—and then he stills when Clark reaches for him, face blank, eyes dark.
Clark slides careful fingertips into his hair, following the neat line of stitches there without quite touching them. He's the one who undoes that second button, but only to tug the collar of the shirt aside—only to expose the narrow dark bruise where a strut crossing Bruce's shoulder had come to rest on his collarbone. Clark swallows and smooths a thumb over it, dials up the sensation until he almost wants to flinch from the heat of the swelling, blood pooled under the skin.
"Clark," Bruce says.
Clark looks at him.
Bruce is watching him, face expressionless but for the barest little dip between his brows, eyes intent. "I'm fine," he says again, but this time it's—it sounds different, somehow. He lifts one hand, clasps Clark's wrist. "I'm fine; and I'd be more than happy to prove it to you."
Clark laughs, a quick huff through his nose. He shouldn't; Bruce doesn't need the encouragement. But he likes it, these little flickers of something he'd call friendliness if Bruce weren't stuffing it with innuendo. He likes it when Bruce is willing to tease.
"You would, huh," he murmurs, and Bruce's eyes go darker still, heavy-lidded. He moves his hand, skims it up the length of Clark's arm, and then it's Clark's buttons getting undone, and—
Well. Clark thought it already: it isn't that he doesn't want to.
He's careful, a little. He can't help it. He tries not to be too obvious about it, but he's—he can't just shove Bruce to the floor like he might have another day, isn't going to push him into a wall when he's got fresh stitches in his head. He keeps a hand at the nape of Bruce's neck, cradles it as he eases Bruce down; spends possibly a tiny bit more time than usual just running his fingertips along the line of Bruce's back, his arms, his shoulders. Cataloguing bruises—checking for places where a touch sends a flicker of tension through Bruce's muscles.
(Bruce never flinches outright. You always have to look closer than that if you want to see where he's hurting.)
Bruce notices anyway, because of course he does. Irritation shows through in the pinch of his mouth, the clench of his jaw.
But he doesn't say anything. He doesn't make Clark stop. He lets Clark strip him bare and touch him everywhere, lets Clark hold him down with a hand on his chest and press one slick finger into him, and then two, three. He moves into Clark's touch, lets Clark take him apart and doesn't say a goddamn word, and Clark's so grateful for it he has to close his eyes to try to squeeze away the sting in them.
It doesn't take nearly as long as Clark expected for it to happen again.
Granted, he was—he didn't ever expect it to happen again. Which he supposes was shortsighted of him; it worked, didn't it? It worked, and Bruce has never been one to discard a strategy that's proven its utility to him.
It's not a gala this time. Some club opening in Gotham, instead. On the surface, there's nothing particularly suspicious about it, but Bruce thinks it might be a front for Sal Maroni—money-laundering, maybe—and Clark's more than happy to take his word for it.
And it's not—it isn't a big deal. It's fine. Bruce Wayne making an appearance won't surprise anyone; Bruce maintains a strict and carefully randomized schedule of drunken nights on the town in questionable establishments as cover for exactly these sorts of situations.
("There are other reasons, of course," he'd added, brusque, when he'd first explained it to Clark. "At this point, there's a certain whiff of desperation about it. A man of my age, engaging in behavior better suited to someone twenty years younger. It's pathetic, self-deluded. Entirely appropriate, in other words."
Clark had thought about Bruce—Bruce somewhere strobe-lit and dark, hair mussed, shirt open, moving through a crowd to a throbbing bass beat without looking away from—
—well. He'd nodded, and kept his mouth shut, because somehow he didn't think that was the kind of tactical feedback Bruce was looking for.)
Really, the only surprise is that he asks for Clark's help.
For strategic reasons, obviously. Because Clark will be able to eavesdrop, look through walls and doors—check for anything out of place and tell Bruce all about it, without any need for additional equipment, any risk of being caught carrying anything they can't explain. And no one in there is going to know or care who Clark Kent is.
Which is fine. None of that is a problem.
The way Clark's skin won't stop prickling with anticipation—the stupid swooping date feeling lurching its way through his chest—that might be a problem.
He's looking forward to it. He shouldn't be, but he is. It's irrational, it's ridiculous. They've established a narrative, that's all. Bruce Wayne hits on Clark Kent, if they happen to run across each other when they're out for the evening; and Clark Kent lets him.
It's not a big deal.
He's ready early. He doesn't mean to be, but he is. He figures he might as well go, instead of jittering around in his apartment for half an hour—he's going to stick out like a sore thumb, there's no help for it; the Gotham club scene isn't his thing no matter what face he's wearing. But at least he can—go inside, get a feel for the place. Have a drink and install himself in a corner somewhere, until people stop noticing him.
It works pretty well. The club's dark; that helps. Music's already playing at exactly the volume Clark expected: loud enough that the beat is buzzing through Clark's bones, loud enough that the actual words, any kind of melody, dissolve into a wall of sound.
He gets himself a drink, stands at the edge of the bar and nurses it while he practices listening through the noise. It's hard, at first. It's always hard at first. But he breathes in slow and sips his drink and thinks of an island, and soon he's got the hang of it, setting the pound of the music aside for the scrape of a pair of heels on the sidewalk outside, the scratch of a pigeon's claws against the edge of the roof—the murmur of voices in a back room.
Clark swallows and listens harder, just in case. But it's nothing that would interest Bruce. A manager sounding hassled, an employee bargaining to arrange for a shift switch.
And then someone's extremely well-dressed elbow settles on the bar beside Clark, and he doesn't even have to turn his head to know it's Bruce.
He looks anyway. He wants to.
Bruce ought to look even more out of place than Clark in here—the undeniable sprinkling of gray at his temples, the three-piece suit. But he's taken the jacket off, slung it over his arm; his cuffs are open, sleeves lazily half-rolled up his forearms; and what would be a ridiculous slouch on anyone else just—just drags Clark's eyes straight to his shoulders, the bunch of the muscle Clark knows is right underneath another one of those goddamn dress shirts. The line of his back, the sculptural curve at the small of it. His thighs, jesus. He's got one leg stretched out straight, bracing his weight against the bar, and the other bent at a casual angle, splayed out sideways like he doesn't care who looks—
"Well, fancy seeing you here, Mr. Kent."
Clark gives him a steady flat look over the tops of his glasses, and hopes Bruce can't see the flush he can feel rising into his face. "An unexpected pleasure, Mr. Wayne," he agrees blandly.
And he pitched his voice carefully enough that Bruce ought to be able to hear it over the music just fine, but Bruce still—still leans in closer, angles himself nearer to Clark. The lighting's bad, but not bad enough to hide the way his mouth is slanting.
"Oh, it will be," Bruce murmurs, practically into Clark's ear; and then, before Clark can shift away, more softly still: "Anything yet?"
Clark clears his throat. "I'm breathless with anticipation, Mr. Wayne," he says, and his tone is appropriately flat but he meets Bruce's eyes and dips his chin just a little. So Bruce will know the words for an acknowledgment, an answer, as much as a cover: whatever it is Bruce is looking for, they're still waiting for it.
Bruce lowers his eyes, acknowledgment in return that he understands. And then he lifts his gaze to Clark's face again, and god, fuck, how does he even do that? All at once Clark's skin is prickling with heat; the weight of Bruce's eyes on him feels searing, impossibly intense.
"It's a good look on you," Bruce says, bland, assessing, and then leans in closer still—trails the backs of two fingers thoughtfully along the line of Clark's cheek. "But then I imagine a lot of things are, Mr. Kent."
Jesus Christ, Clark thinks, half-hysterical. Please let it take half an hour, tops, for Sal Maroni to give his whole operation away. If they're stuck in here any longer than that, Clark's not sure how he's going to survive it.
He does, somehow.
It's better than last time—it's so much worse. The music, the noise, the gradual press of bodies as the club fills up; it all pushes them so much closer than they'd ever had to get at the gala. Bruce keeps—touching Clark, hand at his back or curled around his elbow, fingers tangling every time he passes Clark another drink or brushes off Clark's feeble attempts to pay for something. It's—he cages Clark in against the bar, as if the entire rest of the club doesn't exist; as if there's nothing more interesting, nothing he wants to look at more, than Clark.
Clark doesn't forget why they're there. But it's a close thing, a couple times. Every time Bruce leans in, presses his mouth to the shell of Clark's ear, Clark's expecting Bruce to call him on his inattention to the mission, to castigate him in a ruthless whisper for his lack of focus. But half the time it's just to direct Clark to listen to or look for something in particular, to try a new angle or tell him what's behind that wall. And the other half—
The other half, he's just—saying other things. Pick-up lines so bad Clark can't help laughing; compliments Clark's not expecting, soft startling words, about Clark's hands and arms and eyes, his mouth. Not even all that obscene, really; things Bruce claims to want to do to or with them, sure, except it's mostly—touch them. Or how pretty they are, how much Bruce likes to look at them, or—well.
It just isn't quite what Clark was expecting, that's all.
By about one in the morning, they've identified a few promising areas of inquiry, including a back office with a safe in the wall Clark can't see through; Clark's relayed a handful of references to "the boss" that made Bruce's smile turn briefly vicious; and Clark's half-hard in his jeans, hot and aching, throat tight, heart pounding.
And then Bruce pauses, and for the first time all evening, moves away instead of closer: slides a hand into his pocket and comes out with his phone, and gives it a cursory glance, as if he's received a message or a reminder.
"Alas, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call it a night, Mr. Kent."
"What a shame," Clark murmurs, and—Clark Kent would have been drunk hours ago, Clark Kent would be unsteady on his feet; Clark Kent would hate being left here alone by Bruce almost as much as Clark does. Wouldn't he? So it's all right to sway in a little himself, close that distance back up again. It's all right for him to steady himself with a hand on Bruce's arm. "And here I was hoping we were just getting started, Mr. Wayne."
Bruce catches him at the waist, too. Holds him there, steady, and god, Clark should have—Clark should have told him about his hands, should have spaced apart his murmured reports with every word he's ever choked down about the feel of them against his skin, how much he loves the way Bruce touches him. The precision, the surety; the miracle of it, that hands Bruce had used to beat him half to death could make him feel the way they do. And Bruce—Bruce would have had to sit there and listen to it all the same way Clark has. Wouldn't have been able to call him on it or tell him to stop. It would have been safe, it would have been—Clark could have gotten away with it, like this—
"Bruce," Bruce murmurs, mouth nearly touching the hinge of Clark's jaw. "Really, Mr. Kent, at this point I must insist."
Clark swallows, and moves back just a little. Not enough to dislodge Bruce's hand from his waist, not enough to open a real gap—just enough to look Bruce in the eye, to catch him under the chin with the side of one knuckle. "Clark," he says in turn.
He doesn't know what Bruce's face does then; as if it weren't unreadable enough in daylight under a clear sky, never mind in the hazy flickering light on the edge of a crowded club's dance floor.
And then Bruce moves—catches his wrist, eyes heavy, and says, "One week. Puccio's. Seven o'clock."
Clark blinks. Bruce hadn't mentioned that they might need to do this again; but maybe he hadn't anticipated it. Maybe something Clark's told him tonight points there, and Clark hadn't even noticed it; maybe he's decided it would be worth establishing a pattern, a sequence of public appearances by Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, something mission nights like these can blend into.
Whatever it is—it's not like Clark's going to say no.
"I'll be there," Clark agrees.
He intends to ask Bruce about it. To get more details about whatever it is they're going to be doing or looking for at Puccio's, how he should act, whether there's an endgame or Bruce is going to want to pull out Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent as some kind of—on-again off-again ace up his sleeve, on reserve for the foreseeable future.
He just doesn't quite get around to it.
In his defense, it's a busy week. A string of natural disasters requires not just Superman but the whole League, and of course it's Clark Kent's schedule that pays the price, Perry on Clark's case every spare moment he has to chase him for pieces he hasn't turned in. And of course Mom's birthday sneaks up on him in the middle of it—he's just lucky his powers make travel time between Metropolis and Smallville a non-issue.
By the time the day of rolls around, Clark's grateful for it. He feels like he's hardly even seen Bruce—maybe in passing, five minutes here or there between crises, a voice over his League communicator. It's such a strange, selfish thing to think, but: they didn't even fuck, that whole week. At the very least, Clark is used to being able to count on some time alone, the sheer physical comfort of touching and being touched in return; an awareness of Bruce's closeness, electric gratification, that tends to linger for a while, even if it's never quite long enough.
So he's at Puccio's by ten of seven, and when he sees Bruce already at a table, waiting for him, he's glad. It's going to be a funny kind of torment, playacting his way through this scenario Bruce has constructed, and he knows it; he's braced for it. But he can admit there's a part of him that loves seeing Bruce like this—bittersweet about it, sure, knowing that it's all for show, that Bruce will put the moves on Clark Kent when he never bothered to try with Clark.
(Why should he? Clark's already a sure thing.)
The maitre d' seems to have been expecting Clark, because she doesn't hesitate to incline her head and escort Clark directly through the dining area.
And he's prepared for Bruce to look up and see him coming. He's prepared for Bruce to say, "Ah, Mr. Kent, there you are—always a pleasure." He's even prepared for Bruce to smile at him, in the wry slanting way Bruce Wayne does: like this is a pleasure, in every sense of the word, a luxury and a gift and a self-indulgence; like sharing a secret.
(He's—mostly prepared for it.)
He's expecting some harmless small talk. More flirting, in line with Bruce Wayne's previously established less-than-professional interest in Clark Kent. Bruce is going to take the time to set the stage, before he deploys whatever method he has in mind to communicate why they're actually here.
So Clark smiles back at him, a little abashed and a little amused, and pushes his glasses up his nose. He earnestly accepts Bruce's recommendation as to what he should order (apparently the ravioli golosi is to die for, but the veal Milanese will do in a pinch if you're looking for something heavier). Bruce makes a wine selection without so much as glancing in Clark's direction, which quite frankly is a relief, and he decides on the spot that Clark Kent isn't the sort of person who minds either, to save him the trouble of having to take offense. He aims a small self-conscious smile at Bruce instead, and tips his water glass in Bruce's direction, a tiny and mildly ironic salute of thanks. And then—
Well. Then they have dinner.
Clark's alert to any possible signal from Bruce. Or at least he's trying to be. Any sort of unusual emphasis on particular words, or a motion of Bruce's hand or head or gaze that might serve to point Clark in a specific direction. An apparently casual comment about the windows, intended to tell Clark to look for something outside; or about the music, whether Clark has an ear for it, to prompt him to extend his hearing to the restaurant's back rooms, or maybe a neighboring building.
But it doesn't come. Nothing, he's—if Bruce is trying to tell him something, he has absolutely no idea what it might be.
He'd worry that he missed it, except if he had, Bruce would repeat it; and if he'd missed the repeat, Bruce would get frustrated with him. Not blatantly, at least not to anyone but Clark. But it would be visible, if only for a second: tension in the jaw, a little dip in the brow for just a moment before Bruce carefully smoothed it away. Something.
Instead, Bruce is—charming. Obnoxious, of course, and overbearing, but charming nevertheless. He's attentive, even reasonably courteous. He makes terrible jokes, laughs when Clark's ripostes are even worse.
Their food arrives. It's spectacular, mouthwatering. Clark almost doesn't even want to eat it: he could sit there smelling it for hours, picking apart the scent of each ingredient, the delicate balance they create, and breathing it all in. Except that would be a weird thing for Clark Kent to do. And it's not like it's a hardship to get to taste it; the flavors are just as fascinating and complicated, just as intense, even more immediate.
He almost gets lost in it for a minute, biting off half a ravioli—raviola? Raviolo? Bruce would know—and then closing his eyes, letting himself taste it.
Except then something changes, somewhere else. He's tasting so hard he can't even figure out what it might be, and blinks dazedly once, twice, before he realizes it's a sensation, a touch.
Bruce's hand, smoothing over the back of Clark's, on the table.
"You like it," Bruce murmurs.
Clark stares at him and swallows. Bruce is talking about the food, that's all. That must be all.
"Yes," he hears himself say, and bites his lip—because it's the answer to the question Bruce is actually asking, and to all the ones he probably isn't, too. "Yes, it's—wonderful."
"Good," Bruce says, low and warm, and smiles.
There's no reason for anything to change, after Puccio's. Of course there isn't.
Nothing—nothing even happened. Clark still hasn't figured out why Bruce asked him to be there in the first place; they didn't do anything but sit there eating, talking, laughing. They'd been there for hours, and Bruce hadn't done anything but flirt with him, touch his hand and feed him ludicrously expensive things and smile at him. About halfway through, Clark had given up on trying to work it out. Hell, maybe Bruce Wayne being on—being on a date was the mission, and Clark just didn't know it.
He spent half the night lying awake afterward anyway, even though he'd already decided not to worry about it. He's an adult, he can handle this. If Bruce brings it up, he'll just explain that he must have missed something, that he didn't know what else to do except play along. Bruce didn't seem upset with him, so he can't have screwed things up that badly. It was—
It was a nice night. He liked it.
But it's not like that means anything. It was a cover. It's supposed to be a cover.
So that Clark feels like something has changed anyway is—it must be in his head, that's all.
Or maybe that's exactly it: maybe the thing that's changed is him.
Bruce looks at him the same way on-duty; barks orders the same way, gets pissed at Clark for getting between him and bullets the same way, is cool and steady and hopelessly intense.
And they're—they fuck again, three days after Puccio's, and that's the same, too.
Or at least Bruce is. Clark doesn't even know what it is he's looking for, what he's expecting. He doesn't know what he'd do if he found it, whatever it is.
But Bruce touches him the same way: brisk and steady, efficient, sufficient force applied for the amount of time required to achieve precisely what he intends to achieve, no more and no less. He looks at Clark the same way, too. Intent, assessing—checking to make sure Clark's responding as anticipated, probably.
Clark wishes he could say the same about himself. But for all that he's been naked in front of Bruce dozens of times by now, this is the first time he's felt stripped so thoroughly bare. He feels painfully transparent, excruciatingly obvious. Bruce had touched his hand in Puccio's, had grasped his wrist to eat a bite of ravioli off his fork, poured him a fresh glass of wine and then held onto it so long their fingers didn't just brush but overlapped, slid together around the glass. And he finds himself pressing into Bruce's hands now like they're—
Like they're Bruce Wayne's.
Which is stupid, impossibly and mindblowingly stupid, because they are. Clark squeezes his eyes shut, bites down on a laugh that would have come out inappropriately hysterical given that Bruce is holding him down and pressing his tongue into Clark's ass.
He doesn't even know why he's so worked up. Not that Bruce's tongue isn't—Bruce loves rimming, or at least has proven willing to do it on a regular basis. He's excellent at it; half the time they don't even actually fuck afterward, because he can make Clark come two, three, four times in a row that way—slides his dick between Clark's wet thighs afterward, while Clark is busy panting dazedly and trying to put himself back together underneath him.
But he's felt weirdly desperate for this for—for days. Since Puccio's. And now he's getting it, and somehow he's still desperate: water water everywhere, and the paradoxical thirst relentlessly unbearable anyway.
He wants Bruce so much. He's got Bruce, and he wants him; and he doesn't understand how Bruce can be right here, holding his thighs apart, shoving his tongue so deep Clark can't do anything but shake and spread his thighs wider and take it, and still feel so impossibly far out of reach.
(Maybe that's the thing he's looking for, in Bruce: Bruce Wayne. And he doesn't even know which is stranger—that he feels like he needs to, when he knows perfectly well that they're one and the same; or that he knows that and looks anyway, and somehow still can't find it.)
When it's over, Clark lies there and doesn't move.
"Three days," Bruce says, somewhere behind him. "The Ocelot. Seven."
Clark squeezes his eyes shut, digs the heel of his hand in against the bridge of his nose. But it doesn't matter. He already knows what he's going to say.
"All right. I'll be there."
Bruce Wayne owns the Ocelot. It's probably very impressive; the food is probably spectacular.
But they don't eat any of it.
Clark doesn't intend for it to happen that way. He's—he has this whole plan. He's going to be responsible, mature, an adult; a colleague. He's not going to get hung up on Puccio's, on the way it felt to him—because it wasn't a date, it couldn't have been. It was just pretend. Everything Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have done, it's all just pretend.
Whatever Bruce was there to do, it went sideways on him. That's all. He decided—he decided not to waste all that amazing Italian, maybe. He decided they might as well sit there and eat it, and he might as well keep on—looking at Clark the way he had been; looking at Clark Kent the way he had been, because that was who had been sitting there with him, and Clark's going to remember that. Bruce Wayne had been staring at Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne had touched Clark Kent's hand over and over and over. Bruce Wayne had smiled at Clark Kent, and cracked terrible obscene jokes in that awful smoky voice he had when he was being—awful, and made every third word sound like a compliment somehow.
None of it had anything to do with Bruce and Clark at all, and that's fine.
And the Ocelot will be the same way. That's what Clark's telling himself as he gets ready.
So it doesn't make sense that every bit of Clark Kent's face that he puts on is ratcheting something in his chest tighter and tighter. He feels—poisoned, somewhere slow and seeping; vicious with it, simmering, like he's going to boil over. He picks out a suit that fits him especially badly, shoves a hand roughly through his hair and leaves it at that, and shoves his goddamn glasses onto his nose. And he does it all with a weird mean sense of resentment. If Bruce wants Clark Kent—then all right, fine. Fine, here's Clark Kent, in all his smallness, his blandness, nothing and no one—
(He's not being fair. Of course he isn't. He's not meeting Bruce, he's meeting Bruce Wayne. Bruce wants him fine, he—they wouldn't have been fucking all this time if he didn't. Clark Kent is only barely a cover, Clark is Clark Kent; he works hard at the Planet, he tries to be kind, he doesn't say things he doesn't mean. It's not a lie. It's not a lie, and even if it were he shouldn't be thinking about that person like this.
God, he's making his own head hurt.
It's just that he doesn't want to be fair. Clark Kent's not Superman, he doesn't have to be fair; he can be a petty jackass, he can look at his own damn face in the mirror and want to punch it because he's—jesus, because somehow he feels desperately, venomously envious of himself—)
He splashes cold water on his face, stares down into the sink and lets it drip, and wonders what the hell he's doing.
The taxi ride should help him clear his head. It should be calming, to sit alone in the rear seat, to look out at nighttime Metropolis—and then the cool dark water of the bay, going over the bridge, and then Gotham. The cabbie isn't chatty, just lets Clark ride there in silence. It should help.
It doesn't. He just feels wound tighter every second he gets closer to Gotham, to Bruce; drawn taut as wire, something inside him that wants to cut through the clay of himself and break open.
And pulling up at last at the corner just down the block from the Ocelot—he can see Bruce there, even if just-Clark-Kent couldn't. Standing in the light that spills through the restaurant's doors as they open and close beyond him, waiting.
God, he looks good. Clark squeezes his eyes shut. Bruce always looks good, no matter where he is or what he's wearing; but Clark can admit it's a very specific kind of good, in a three-piece suit that expensive, collar pin and cufflinks glinting, goddamn pocket square and all.
And he's looking that specific kind of good for—
For Clark Kent.
Clark bites the inside of his cheek and gets out of the taxi, pays, methodical and automatic. He wants to sprint back down the street, just any ordinary man running the hell away from something dangerous; he wants to take off into the air before Bruce sees him, fly so far and so fast that Bruce won't ever find him unless Clark decides to let him. He wants to walk down the street toward the Ocelot with his hands in his pockets until Bruce spots him—he wants to watch Bruce see him coming and smile.
Except it won't be Clark he's smiling at. Not quite.
And somehow that thought catches under Clark's skin, like a splinter that won't come out.
He swallows, and clenches his fists—does shove them into his pockets after all, because he doesn't know what else to do with them; because he's Clark Kent and he's harmless and he—he's not going to hit Bruce, that's not what he wants.
(—god, as if he has any fucking idea what he wants; as if he'd know how to ask for it if he did—)
And then he walks down the block toward the Ocelot. And Bruce Wayne turns his head, scans the street—sees him coming, and smiles.
"Clark Kent," he says, voice half-raised, not quite calling out. "Always such a pleasure."
"Bruce," Clark says, and then almost wishes he hadn't. Bruce asked him to; Bruce has asked him to half a dozen times. But there's something that feels strange, pointed, about actually doing it. As if he's trying to insist on something, to assert that it isn't just Bruce Wayne who's in front of him but Bruce.
Stupid. As if Bruce would be standing on the street in full view of anyone, as if he'd—as if he'd look at Clark like that. Clark should be grateful that it's not him, that the mask is as firmly affixed as it is. Bruce Wayne is the one who asks Clark to dinner and smiles at him, who—
Who leans over with a raised eyebrow and settles his hand on Clark's back; reaches out and opens the door with the other hand, and guides Clark neatly inside.
"I thought I'd go the extra mile tonight," Bruce is saying, and Clark realizes with a distant jolt that they aren't moving into the main dining area. "The private lounges upstairs are normally reserved for exceptionally exclusive events," and his voice dips low, overburdened with meaning; his hand's at the small of Clark's back, now, spread out wide
(—just where he's always liked to hold Clark down, when they—when he—)
and warm. Too warm, Clark thinks, warmer than it should be through Clark's shirt; he shouldn't be able to feel it that well.
Or—Clark Kent shouldn't be able to feel it that well. When Clark looks at it that way, suddenly it's viciously satisfying to extend himself further still, stretch his sense of touch so far that he thinks he can almost feel Bruce's fingerprints—
"—so I took the liberty," Bruce is saying now, almost into Clark's ear, and Clark grits his teeth and shivers at the same time, yanked in two directions, frustration knotted up tight with the want that never quite goes away around Bruce.
There's a ding. The elevator. Bruce crowds him into it, close on his heels, intent; Clark risks a glance and swallows at the look in Bruce's eyes. "I'm not making out with you in the elevator, Mr. Wayne," he manages to say, and it even comes out reasonably level, a little arch.
Which is a miracle, because he's pushing and he knows it. Bruce and Clark don't kiss. They never have, not ever. That's one of the rules that's been there from the beginning, and Clark's never been willing to risk bending it, never mind breaking it. It's not like they talk about it; for all Clark knows, Bruce just doesn't like kissing much—has had to do it often enough for show that it doesn't appeal to him anymore, isn't something he likes when he can get away with skipping it on his own time.
The point is, it's not something that's on the table, and it never has been; mentioning it at all is closer to crossing that invisible line they've drawn than Clark's ever let himself come.
Except—except there aren't any lines for Clark Kent.
Clark meets Bruce's eyes, tilts his chin up just a little. Because he knows what he's done, and he isn't going to take it back. If this is the thing that's going to break the illusion, rip all this playacting down the middle, then Bruce is going to have to do it. Clark's not going to apologize for something Clark Kent has no reason to apologize for.
But Bruce doesn't ask him to. He gives Clark a long steady look in return—drops his gaze, distinctly and deliberately, to Clark's mouth; and then leans in closer still.
"What a shame," Bruce murmurs, very low. "I suppose I'll just have to be patient."
Jesus. Clark bites his lip, hard—and of course that only makes it ten times worse, Bruce's stare abruptly flaring with heat.
For a single breathless instant, Clark thinks, wildly, impossibly, that Bruce actually is going to kiss him after all.
And then the elevator dings.
Clark can't decide whether to be grateful for it or weld the elevator doors shut with his eyes.
"Well," Bruce says, and his voice has changed again: light, now, easy and level. "It seems this is our stop."
The private lounges are probably just as luxurious and opulent as the Ocelot's main floor. But Clark doesn't have the head for any of it. Bruce leads him to one set of double doors, swings one open with a flourish and gestures him inside, and Clark—moves, walks; must look ahead of himself, considering he doesn't crash into the wall, but he feels like he doesn't actually see any of it. Like he can't see anything at all, except Bruce.
Who's still talking. Saying something, in a smooth warm tone, about the meal that will be delivered shortly—the best of the chef's specials, something about how Bruce wheedled her away from a restaurant that was about to receive a third Michelin star.
Clark almost wants to laugh. Pure inanity, with self-aggrandizing boasting to taste; it ought to be frustrating, annoying. It ought to make him at least a fraction less attractive. But instead—
Instead, Clark feels something rising up inside him, tightening his throat, aching in his chest. Something hot and wild and reckless: all the indefinable tension from the elevator, the sheer physical effect Bruce's presence has always had on Clark
(—always, always; even back then, in the green-lit dark, sinking into a haze, aching. Rain in his mouth, a throb in his knuckles, Bruce towering over him—even then, he'd felt something, though he couldn't have named it at the time—)
snarled up with everything that's disorienting and infuriating about this—this strange forced division, this compartmentalization. Bruce is drawing a line under it, even, carrying on with all this blithe Wayne patter. And Clark's overwhelmed by a weird vicious surge of audacity, the urge to push and pry and test, to see exactly how far it is Bruce will let him take this.
So he steps forward, one long unsteady stride, and takes Bruce's face in his hands, and kisses him.
He doesn't even know what he's expecting. He doesn't even know what he wants. His heart is pounding; he's pretty sure he's not breathing. He's braced for everything he can think of. For Bruce to break the illusion at last, push away and ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing, in a stern low voice that doesn't belong to Bruce Wayne. For Bruce to evade, wait it out and then slip out of reach, remark casually on—on Mr. Kent's forwardness. Or, maybe, for Bruce to let him—let him—
Bruce makes a soft sound, low in his throat. He moves against Clark, sways in. His hands are at Clark's waist, and then—and then one of them skims up the line of Clark's chest, lingers over the breadth of his shoulder and then finds the nape of his neck; and it's not to grip Clark there and pull him off.
Clark shoves him backwards, keeps pace, manages to keep their feet from tangling and presses Bruce blindly up against a wall. There's—there are so many things he wants, he doesn't even know where to start, and he has to work hard, rein himself carefully in, to keep from blurring into motion and just taking it.
He's still too frantic, too urgent, forceful. He can tell, because after a moment Bruce starts smoothing a thumb along Clark's jaw, soft soothing strokes. He brings his other hand up, catches Clark's face and tilts it a little—holds it where he wants it, and Clark shudders and squeezes his eyes shut tight and tries to relax into it. He bit Bruce's mouth, a second ago, but Bruce doesn't bite back; he's slow, teasing, slicking his tongue along Clark's teeth, dragging it along the curve of Clark's lower lip.
Settling Clark down. Because—because Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are on their fourth date at the most, depending on how generously you're willing to count, and they've never slept together before. Because this is supposed to be new, tentative.
Clark Kent, Clark thinks dimly, probably doesn't bite people.
There's a sound at the door. They ignore it. Probably the food; but then Bruce Wayne must have some kind of sock-on-the-doorknob protocol in place, a rule that if the door's not answered, the staff should retreat with grace so they don't get an eyeful. It doesn't matter—or at least it matters a lot less to Clark, right now, than the fact that he's got his hands underneath Bruce's suit jacket, that he's shoved up Bruce's vest, half the dress shirt below it, and Bruce hasn't stopped him.
God. This is such a terrible idea. This is—Clark doesn't understand any of this, can't even begin to guess what Bruce is thinking. Right now, Bruce might as well be someone Clark's met five times under uncertain circumstances; he feels more opaque, more thoroughly a stranger, here under Clark's hands with Clark's tongue in his mouth than he would if he had the cowl on.
And Clark—Clark is never going to recover from this. He doesn't have Bruce's skill at this game, at keeping the pieces of himself divided neatly into strictly separate lockboxes. Even if things somehow go back to normal after this, even if Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are never in the same room again, Clark isn't going to be able to forget this. God, what an excruciating purgatory it would be, to keep fucking Batman every Tuesday and Thursday and spend his nights dreaming of kissing Bruce Wayne—
"Hey," Bruce says against his mouth, "shh, shh, it's all right," and that's when Clark realizes dimly that he's shivering a little bit.
"Sorry," he manages. "Sorry, I," and then he stops, draws away and clears his throat a little. Reaches up, and adjusts his glasses awkwardly, because—
Because Clark Kent would.
Clark bites the inside of his cheek, and pastes on a tentative little smile. "I'm just kind of worked up, I guess. You're—" and fuck, the clench in his chest is getting the better of him again; he can feel the smile wobbling, slipping. "You're so—"
"Overwhelmingly, mindblowingly attractive," Bruce finishes for him with an understanding nod, as if there's no other way that sentence could end, and Clark can't help but grin then.
"Yeah, exactly," he agrees, mild, and then lets himself reach up and touch Bruce's chin, the dip in the middle of it, the clean stern line of Bruce's jaw. "You must hear that all the time."
And something Clark can't name softens around Bruce's eyes, in the set of his mouth. "But not from you," Bruce says quietly, and rubs his thumb across Clark's lip, and then they're—they're kissing again.
They kiss a lot. Clark loses count, loses track. He manages to get Bruce's suit jacket off his shoulders, more by accident than by design, and Bruce is working away at Clark's shirt buttons one at a time. But it's by far the most time they've ever spent undressing each other, and that's half down to the way they keep stopping, getting distracted: running their hands all over each other, slow and soft and careful, and kissing, kissing, kissing.
Clark gets so caught up in it that he almost screws up, a couple of times. Starts to push, unthinking—closes his hands around Bruce's arms or shoulders too hard, pushes his thigh between Bruce's too desperately. But Bruce is patient with him, pulls away just enough to remind Clark where they are, who they are, until he gets himself under control again.
He doesn't say anything, because he doesn't have to. He told Clark the rules with that first kiss; the way he'd gentled it, eased the furious rush Clark had thrown at him down into a lower gear. And Clark has always been good at following the rules Bruce sets for him. He bends them, sometimes. But he doesn't break them. He always tries hard not to break them.
(—because surely Bruce already has more than enough reasons to call this whole thing off, and the last thing Clark would ever want to do is hand him another—)
It's fine. It's going to be fine. He doesn't know how he's ever going to get over this, but that's always been true when it comes to Bruce. And he wants this so much more than he wants to be careful. If Bruce needs him to be Clark Kent before he'll give it to him, then—then all right.
And that line stays believable right up until they're standing there, open shirts hanging off their shoulders. Bruce has caught Clark by the waistband, thumb curled around his belt, and is steering him backward toward the enormous leather couch that takes up almost a quarter of the room, kissing him once for each step they take along the way. And then he pauses, just as Clark feels the edge of the couch against the backs of his calves, and reaches up, and touches Clark's glasses.
As if Clark needed the reminder. As if he doesn't already know how thin the line is, how close he is to making it all too obvious who's really standing in front of Bruce right now—
His eyes are stinging. They shouldn't be. This is—this is everything he wants, and he's grateful for it. He ought to be grateful for it. He needs to get a goddamn grip, that's all. He needs to not get bent out of shape about things he can't change.
But there's a bitter taste climbing up the back of his throat, and abruptly he wishes he were anywhere but here. There's something like panic, a sick lurching feeling, clawing its way through him, and he can't make it stop.
Bruce lets his hand drift down from the frame of Clark's glasses—just to touch his cheek, that's all, but Clark jerks mindlessly away from it; twists his face away, except that won't be enough to hide this. Not from Bruce.
"Sorry," Clark says quickly, hastily. He stumbles back another step, keeps his face turned away to snatch the glasses off and scrub at his face—because Bruce doesn't want to see him without them, crucial as they are to the illusion of Clark Kent's ordinariness. "Sorry, I'm just—I'm not trying to—" Jesus Christ, Kent, get a grip. He breathes in, rubs the back of his hand against his forehead, breathes out. He doesn't get tired; but he feels tired anyway. "I know you want this to be nice. Normal. I'm trying. I'm trying, I just don't—"
"Clark," Bruce says again, soft, cautious.
"I wish you didn't just want to fuck me," Clark blurts.
And he can't make himself look up, but he knows Bruce has gone still anyway; he can hear it, he can feel it.
It's almost a relief, to have ruined it. A weight lifted, somehow, even as he's resigning himself to—to whatever Bruce will do next, leave or tell him how ridiculous he's being, kindly advise Clark Kent to get some rest. And he's already fucked it up, so it won't matter if he says—
"Superman, I mean."
Bruce is silent.
"I understand," Clark adds. "I do. It isn't like you could go to dinner with him, even if—even if you wanted to. And Clark Kent is—nice. Normal. He's not supposed to know what he's doing, he's never been with anyone like Bruce Wayne before. You were going to take him out, you were going to make him happy; you weren't planning to hold him down and shove your cock in his mouth, I'm guessing." He laughs, except it catches in his throat halfway through; except it sounds harsh and ragged in his ears. "I didn't mind. I really didn't. I'm—I'd take whatever you'd give me, whatever you were willing to give me. I was—I wanted to. I want it too much, that's the thing. It's never enough. I've—I can't get enough. I don't think I'll ever get enough—"
"Clark," Bruce says, sharp.
Clark only has an instant to be startled; the tone is all wrong, doesn't fit right in Bruce Wayne's mouth. And then Bruce's hands are on his shoulders, Bruce has caught Clark's chin tight. Clark fumbles for the goddamn glasses—and Bruce beats him to it, snatches them away with his other hand and drops them to the carpet.
"It wasn't you," Bruce says. "It was never you."
Clark stares at him. He's—his whole face has changed, tense and urgent, the set of his jaw tight, and the look in his eyes is different, too. His voice is—he doesn't sound casual, charming, seductive, at all. It's harsh, each word clipped and stark, something raw and scraping showing through in the undertones.
"Do you understand?"
"I—no," Clark admits, because it's true. "No, I don't. I thought I did, but—"
The muscles in Bruce's jaw jump. He withdraws his hand, as suddenly as he'd reached out with it. "Bruce Wayne might be a jackass," he says after a moment, more evenly, "but he's—he can be pleasant, when he tries. Easy to get along with, when he chooses to make the effort. Charming, despite himself. He knows how to enjoy himself. How to—make himself enjoyable."
Clark swallows. He suddenly thinks he's begun to perceive the—the shape of what Bruce is saying to him, the outlines of it beginning to resolve themselves in front of him as Bruce sketches them in sidelong. And he doesn't think he's going to like the look of it.
"He isn't a good person," Bruce says, crisp, unflinching. "He isn't admirable. He'll never be in danger of caring too much, or—or of being cared about too much. But if he's a mess, he's a facile one. It is at the very least possible to—like him."
Jesus Christ. Clark lets his eyes fall shut.
"He," Bruce adds more softly, "never tried to kill you."
Clark shakes his head. Not a denial, he can't—he can't argue with that. Of course he can't. It left as deep a mark on him as it did on Bruce; he still dreams about it sometimes, the echoes of the memory ten thousand times worse when it isn't the Gotham Batman who won't listen to him, but Bruce. When it's Bruce he's throwing through walls, Bruce who smashes his fist into Clark's face again and again and again.
It just isn't the only thing between them anymore. It hasn't been for a long time. And Clark had never thought—but of course it would feel like a solution to Bruce, to come up with rules, to enforce them; to try to tacitly guarantee Clark a safe distance, to render an even more profound betrayal impossible.
You like it, Bruce had said, at Puccio's.
Bruce had discovered something else Clark wanted. Something he thought he could provide—if only as Bruce Wayne, and only to Clark Kent.
Clark shakes his head again, reaches out and slides his hands carefully between the open sides of Bruce's dress shirt.
"Bruce," he says softly.
And Bruce tenses up beneath the brush of his fingertips, but doesn't move away.
"Bruce—it's all you. You think I didn't know who I was eating dinner with? You think I didn't want it to be you? It was always you. All of it was you. I told you, I want everything you'll give me, every piece."
Bruce's throat works. Clark skims one hand up to thumb at the hollow of it, to lean in and kiss the side of it carefully.
"Bruce," Clark says again, hardly more than a whisper.
He shifts his mouth to the soft skin below Bruce's ear; the hinge of his jaw; the stern cut of his cheekbone. And Bruce lets him, eyes half-closed, face unreadable.
So Clark gives in and kisses his mouth, too. Kisses it, and then does dig his teeth in, and Bruce's breath catches sharply, Bruce's hands coming up to grasp Clark's wrists. Not to stop him, Clark realizes after a moment. Just to hold on.
They're still right next to the couch, and it's the work of an instant to ease Bruce down onto it. They're both a little unsteady, and the kiss breaks; their mouths bump, catch, part again. But then Clark has Bruce exactly where he wants him: between his thighs, flushed, breathing hard. And this time, at last, he can—he can take his time.
So he doesn't go for Bruce's belt right away. He kisses every part of Bruce that he can reach, shoving Bruce's shirt impatiently out of the way as he goes. Bruce's collarbones, the solid muscled bulk of his shoulders; those long strong forearms, the knobs of his wrists. His palms, one and then the other—and Bruce watches him do it, silent, expressionless, but the red heat creeping up his throat into his cheeks gives him away anyway.
Clark picks a hand, presses his lips to the heel of it, and then turns it just enough to suck Bruce's thumb into his mouth. A noise lodges in the back of Bruce's throat; and maybe nobody else could have heard it, but Clark can.
He's always loved Bruce's hands—and Bruce Wayne had been the one who'd kept sliding their fingers together in Puccio's, any excuse to linger, but it's Bruce's clever fingers Clark has watched in the Cave, in his equipment room in the Hall: broad steady hands always at work, quick and strong and careful. It's a greedy pleasure, sheer helpless self-indulgence, to be able to touch them like this—to drag each of Bruce's fingers over his tongue and listen to the groan Bruce traps behind his teeth.
But of course Bruce isn't content to sit there and leave him to it. Clark thinks the brush against his belt, the stretched-taut front of his slacks, is accidental at first; just Bruce shifting position. But then the touch returns, harder, more blatantly deliberate. Bruce closes his hand, rubs—outlines the shape of Clark's cock through his pants with relentless thoroughness, and Clark shifts his hips into the touch without even meaning to, because jesus.
He has to let Bruce's hand go, gasp out, "Oh, god, Bruce—" and steady himself against the back of the couch, because if he tried to float a little right now he'd probably hit the ceiling.
And Bruce huffs out half a laugh, smug and self-satisfied, and tugs Clark's hips in closer—rubs his hands down the outsides of Clark's thighs and squeezes, and it's not the careful coaxing touch he'd been using before; if Clark were human, he would bruise under it.
It feels almost ridiculous, that after everything they've already done together they end up crushed against each other on the couch with their slacks open, jerking each other off and panting into each other's hair. But Clark doesn't care; he loves it. There's something about it that feels more obscene than any of the times they've fucked each other against a wall in the Hall of Justice—more reckless and more gratifying, the shameless eager extravagance of indulging themselves so utterly.
Clark comes with Bruce's hand tight at the nape of his neck, Bruce murmuring a steady stream of filthy praise that makes Clark's whole body flush with heat: how pretty he is like this, how pretty his cock is, how good he is—how good he's always been, how much Bruce has always loved fucking him; his mouth, his hands, his ass. All the obscene detail he hadn't gone into, that second night in the club; nothing he's ever said before. But Clark is starting to think maybe it wasn't because he didn't want to.
And then Bruce—Bruce doesn't let go of him, keeps stroking his cock even after it's over until Clark is shuddering with the overstimulation, clenching his teeth to keep from asking Bruce to stop. He can—he can take one more. One more. One more—
Clark grits his teeth and tries to concentrate on his own hand, bites his lip and stares down at the wet dark head of Bruce's cock where it's pushing up through his fingers. He tightens his grip a little, except maybe it's too much—but Bruce tenses underneath him, hand faltering, hips rolling up hard enough that Clark needs a hand on the back of the couch to steady himself.
"Clark," Bruce says. "Clark—oh, god—"
And Clark slides his fingers into Bruce's hair, tugs his head back and kisses him; sucks Bruce's tongue into his mouth and bites down just a little, and feels Bruce shake apart beneath him.
They wake up at almost the same time in the morning.
If anything, Clark had kind of hoped Bruce would beat him to it—because then it would be up to him, to stay or leave; to do whatever it was he wanted to do, and Clark wouldn't have to know what it was until it had already happened.
But instead Clark blinks his eyes open and shifts a little, unwary. He realizes what the warm solid weight against him must be a moment too late to prevent that mistake. And they're pressed together, the generous bulk of the couch just barely wide enough for them both to fit. There's no way Bruce doesn't feel the movement.
And a moment later, Bruce has opened his eyes.
They lie there looking at each other. Bruce doesn't move, the look on his face doesn't change; the utter lack of clues as to what he might be thinking is paralyzing, and Clark is struck with sudden apprehension. Surely, surely, Bruce hasn't misunderstood him again—isn't somehow under the impression that Clark went to sleep next to Bruce but would rather wake up with Bruce Wayne—
But then Bruce flicks a glance past him to the floor, and murmurs, "Astounding. We managed to avoid stepping on your glasses."
Clark blinks, and twists to look: and sure enough, there they are, Clark Kent's unfashionably thick dark frames, perfectly intact and right where Bruce dropped them.
"All that effort," Bruce is adding, in a contemplative tone. "All that time spent working up to it, seducing you properly—I didn't want you to have to worry about being anyone but Clark Kent. I didn't want you to even have to think about it. And yet somehow it didn't occur to me at any point along the way that I was going to have to decide what the hell to do with them once I got you in here."
Clark can't help it; he turns his face into the buttery leather of the couch, squeezes his eyes shut, and laughs.
"So that's it, huh?" he murmurs, grinning. "That's the kryptonite to the Superman of your brain, all those strategies and tactics—useless, if correctly countered by the application of ugly glasses."
Bruce's mouth slants; his eyes warm.
And then his gaze flickers away. "I suppose," he says softly, and then stops. "I suppose it didn't seem worth planning on something that felt so improbable."
Clark swallows. And then he cups a hand against Bruce's cheek, holds it there and waits until Bruce looks at him again. "I'm Superman," he says, "and I just jerked Batman off in a luxury restaurant owned by his billionaire alter-ego and then fell asleep on him. It doesn't get much more improbable than that. So—so under the circumstances, I think it's understandable."
"Of course you do," Bruce murmurs. But he doesn't move out from under Clark's hand. He lies there, half-dressed in the scattered morning light striping out from between the curtains; and Clark looks at him and feels something turn over in his chest, earth-shaking and inexorable. He inches forward, just far enough to press his mouth to Bruce's—just because he wants to, because he wants to and he's allowed, at last, and he never ever wants to stop.