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Aftercare

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When Clark arrives and falls heavily to the cave floor, reeking of musty earth, tainted water and the tang of other people’s blood, Bruce knows what to do. Leaning over Clark, Bruce holds out his hand, ‘Okay, let’s get you cleaned up,’ his voice kept low and steady, offering a service. Clark grasps his forearm and then Bruce hefts him to his feet, half carrying Clark to the cave shower. Not the row of cubicles and changing area set aside for Justice League members going on patrol; this is Bruce’s personal shower, large and private, carved into the rock face and designed to jet powerful gouts of water at a punishing force or pattering warm raindrops on command.

Bruce props him against the stone wall, takes Clark’s palm and places it against the uniform’s insignia. Bruce is still for the space of precisely two breaths as each strip of material automatically peels away in a geometric pattern, uncovering Clark’s perfect physique. Bruce meets Clark’s gaze, then he looks away and shucks off the shirt, shoes and dress pants, stripping down to his boxers, throwing the balled-up clothing into a corner.

‘On. Temperature 98.  Rainfall.’

Bruce guides Clark to stand under the warm water and moves to lather some bodywash. Clark’s grip is a steel band around his wrist, ‘Please...I…’ Clark rests his head on Bruce’s shoulder, face into the side of his neck. ‘I’m sorry…I just need to…need to…’

Bruce feels Clark’s face, warm and wet against his neck; the sudden deep intake of breath followed by a small choked out sob. He wraps an arm around Clark, gentling him with murmured assurances, ‘Easy son… okay… I’ve got you,’ over and over, deep and low. Bruce’s sotto-voce refrain repeats through the waves and ebbs of harsh breaths and weeping, until they subside. Finally, Clark inhales long and slow, and the only sound is the steady rhythm of water drumming on tile. ‘I should go back, check again...’ Clark twists away.

‘Baby, no,’ Bruce holds his waist. The endearment hangs in the air, and he can’t reel it back in. Clark sags a little in his arms, relents.

Bruce takes that as a signal to reach again for the wash, and begins to methodically lather it into Clark’s back; over his traps and deltoids, the round, hard arc of each bicep, slipping up the corded tendons, round to the nape of his neck into his dark, soft curls; sudsing and sluicing the detritus from Clark’s hair. Bruce’s hands move firmly across the landscape of Clark’s hard abs, fingers sliding along the Adonis Belt musculature - as familiar as his own and yet so unlike his: smooth and unscarred, a pure tabula rasa. Bruce’s sins, and penance, are detailed across his own flesh; violence doled out, earned and worn, tattooed by an ungentle hand.  Not pure, not blank. For such a taciturn man, Bruce’s skin screams his lurid story like a graphic novel.

Quickly soaping over the firm curve of Clark’s ass, and running his strong, slippery hands over the hard, hewn muscles of Clark’s thighs, Bruce reaches around, and as he does, his wrist brushes against the other man’s cock. Keeping his movements brisk and firm, Bruce tries not to notice Clark’s hardening length. ‘Sorry,’ Clark’s face is flushed.

‘Totally normal, don’t worry about it.’

 He crouches to wash Clark’s mud bespattered, tapering calves. He tightens his grip around Clark’s ankles, lifting each foot one at a time, smoothing his thumbs over the arches, keeping his head bowed, watching the dirt and debris circle away down the drain.

‘Off.’

The water flow ceases, and Bruce reaches for a large soft towel, enfolding Clark in it.

‘There’s a fresh set of clothes in the locker.’ Bruce towels his own hair and heads to a cubicle to change.

When Clark emerges, Bruce is back at his computer, damp hair slicked back, studying the feeds from his Gotham street cams.

‘Thank you.’

‘I saw the news, the mudslide in Bangladesh. Looked rough. You saved a lot of people, Clark.’

Bruce turns. Clark stands, head bowed. ‘Not enough, Bruce. Never enough.’

Bruce could argue, could challenge the statement, but he also gets it - that gut-deep curl of helplessness.

‘Get some sleep, Clark,’ a gentle command. He's familiar with the arc of crisis – adrenaline, violence, pain, shock, self-doubt, the drop and the aftercare.

Clark sighs and goes to the cot set up near the surveillance bay, the one Bruce falls into when the night has been too long, and he can’t quite get up the stairs. 

Bruce half listens as Clark settles, as his breathing evens out. He thinks: Come up stairs with me, lie down in my bed.

His bed:  huge and filled with empty, six feet wide.

Let me wrap myself around you, hold you, take care of you, love you. Seep into my skin, like the sun warming the cold earth at dawn, let me bury myself in your warmth, your light, in… you.

Bruce pushes his desire down, away, and sets his mouth in a hard line: He is the one who is not enough, never enough.   Unworthy.

Tomorrow, Clark will rise, save the world again and then, eventually, come stumbling back into the cave, to fall at Bruce’s feet. And Bruce will be here, every time, to pick up the pieces.