One Scar Away (From Falling to Pieces)
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't profit, just like to play
* * *
He slipped through the window and stepped silently down onto the storage locker that allowed him a vantage point of the main space from a few feet off the floor. He felt more than he heard or saw the man moving easily through the dark toward him a few minutes later.
“Everyone thinks you're dead, you know.”
In the darkness of the abandoned garage, blue eyes turned up to meet those covered in shadow and hidden behind a mask so dark it melted into its surroundings.
“Is that so?” the man said.
“There have been reports you were shot and left for dead after an explosion destroyed the suspected headquarters of the League of Assassins.”
“Do you always believe everything you hear, Batman?”
Batman dropped the six feet to the ground, landing lightly beside David Cain. “Not always. That’s why I’m here.”
“Looking to settle the score?”
“There’s no score to settle, Cain; only the deliverance of justice.”
Cain looked Batman square in the eyes and laughed; the sound echoed off the walls while he ran a hand through his short-cropped, white hair. His other hand held a gun pointed nonchalantly at Batman’s chest. “You can lock me back up if that will make you feel better, but we both know I’ll escape again.”
“Right now I’m more interested in who that bullet is actually meant for,” Batman said, nodding at the gun while keeping his eyes fixed on Cain’s scarred face.
“How do you know it’s not for you?”
“You weren’t waiting in the dark for me.”
Cain let the arm holding his gun drop. “This is personal. Walk away now, Batman, and I promise not to shoot you in the back.”
Batman chuckled and the sound was dark and grim. “We both know I’m not going to do that.”
The gun was on the ground suddenly, tossed carelessly to the side as Cain moved into a fighting stance, throwing first one then two blows at Batman. He laughed mirthlessly when Batman returned the blows without success. “You think you can take me in hand-to-hand combat? I think you’re in for a rude awakening.”
Batman blocked again and spun, narrowly avoiding the next half-a-dozen blows before the seventh found purchase in the form of a kick to the head. He stumbled backwards for only an instant, but that was all Cain needed to rain several more down on him in rapid succession.
Batman twisted his body, boots scraping against the oil-stained concrete as he side-stepped another kick before landing three more hits of his own. Cain started laughing again.
“There are few people in this world who can match me in a fight, and I’ve trained most of them myself. What makes you think you’re one of them?” He dodged the next hit and swung his leg out to connect with the Batman’s lower leg.
Batman went down to a knee and one hand, using the fall to his advantage as he pushed up and into another attack using the ground as leverage. “I think I can hold my own,” he growled.
“How is my little Cassandra, anyway?”
Batman sneered, landing a succession of blows that forced Cain’s back up against the storage lockers. “Don’t pretend you actually care, Cain.”
“She’s my daughter.” He pushed off the lockers and drove a kick into Batman’s kneecap.
“That doesn’t mean anything coming from you.”
“Why Batman, you offend me.” Cain moved them across the cracked floor, not backing off until the flashing lights of the Gotham City Police Department filled the windows and Gordon’s voice boomed over a bullhorn.
“David Cain, this is the GCPD. You are surrounded. Come out with your hands in the air.”
Cain turned to Batman and grinned, a thin trail of blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. “Sneaky, Batman, very sneaky. Didn’t think you could handle me yourself?”
Batman’s answering grin was darker, deadlier. “The thought never crossed my mind, Cain.”
Without warning, Cain turned and leapt, his legs coming down to scissor around Batman’s neck, forcing him to the ground under the weight of his body. Batman’s head hit the concrete hard enough to crack the material of his cowl and send sparks of bright light and white-hot pain rolling through his head. Cain’s legs released him just before everything went black. The next thing Batman saw was Gordon’s face hovering blearily over him – mere inches separating them – as he regained consciousness. Batman tried to move, gain space by shifting, but the pain in his head stopped him.
“Whoa, hey, it’s alright.” Gordon’s hands were in the air as he backed away from Batman.
“Did you get him?”
“He got away.” Batman grunted as he tried once more to gain his feet. “Take it easy! You’re going to hurt yourself more. I contacted the Justice League. Figured taking you to the hospital was definitely out of the question. Someone should be here soon.”
Batman shot him a grateful look through his mask, relieved that it was still intact and on his head. He noticed the lack of officers in the large space. Gordon met his questioning glance with a rueful smile.
“Evidence will still be here in ten minutes,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d like waking up to half of the GCPD hovering over you.”
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
“Batman?” A third voice joined them as Superman strode across the room, cape fluttering out behind him as he moved. “You’re hurt?” He didn’t wait for an answer before turning to Gordon. “Thank you, James. We appreciate the call. I can handle it from here.” Gordon nodded and backed off, shooting one last glance at Batman before disappearing outside.
Superman held his hand out. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” Batman allowed himself to be pulled carefully to his feet. A few seconds later they were airborne and heading toward Wayne Manor.
Once in the batcave, Clark set Bruce on his feet and gently nudged him until he sat down and allowed Clark to carefully lift off his cowl.
“Sorry,” he muttered at the resulting wince.
“I’m fine, Clark.”
Clark looked down into Bruce’s eyes, noticing the unevenly dilated pupils. “You let me carry you. You’re definitely not fine.”
“We were flying. What else was I supposed to do?” He winced again as Clark’s fingers brushed against the goose egg forming on the right side of his skull. Clark’s eyes focused on him intently, and Bruce shifted in discomfort.
“Stop scanning me.”
“You have a concussion. Are there any ice packs down here?” Bruce stared up at him without answering. “Bruce?” Clark tried again. “Ice packs?”
Bruce blinked a couple times, trying to clear his momentarily fuzzy vision. “In the first aid kit under the console.” He jerked his chin towards the bank of electronic equipment and immediately regretted the motion.
Clark was gone and back again in an instant, cracking the bubble inside that would release the chemicals and produce the cold effects. He had also grabbed a thin towel from somewhere and wrapped it around the pack before laying it against the side of Bruce’s head.
He reached down and lifted Bruce’s hand, placing it firmly against the ice pack. “Hold that there, I’ll be right back.” He returned wearing his own clothes and carrying some of Bruce’s in his arms. He set the items down before turning back to Bruce.
“Keep holding that there. I’m going to get you out of this suit.”
“Of all the times and places I imagined hearing that phrase, this was definitely not one of them,” Bruce mumbled under his breath.
Clark didn’t miss a beat. “You imagine people trying to get you out of your suit often, Bruce?”
“Just because you have super hearing, doesn’t mean you should use it.” Clark only laughed in response. “Has anyone ever told you you’re not that much fun?”
Quirking an eyebrow at him, Clark subtly scanned Bruce’s head again, looking for additional swelling. “Lois informs me of that on a daily basis.”
Bruce was back to mumbling under his breath. “Didn’t even have the courtesy to change in front of me.”
He was more worried by the comment than he was surprised, but Clark didn’t let it show. “I’ll be sure to strip for you next time. Right now it’s your turn.” He went back to carefully working Bruce out of his suit and into a pair of wash-worn jeans and a black, long-sleeved t-shirt. “I didn’t even know you owned jeans until I raided your closet.”
“We all have our secrets, Clark. Mine happens to be denim.”
Clark laughed as he reached out to lift the ice pack from Bruce’s head, checking the size of the bump. “I’m willing to bet you have more interesting secrets than an old pair of jeans. Looks like the swelling isn’t getting any worse. Let’s get you upstairs, ok?”
Bruce ignored him, pulling Clark’s hand from his head. “I’m fine.”
“You hit your head hard enough to crack your cowl. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a pretty good indication you’re not fine. That whole x-ray vision thing confirmed it.”
“How long was I out for?”
“Less than five minutes. Gordon had heat detectors on the place since there wasn’t time to set up video surveillance. They came in as soon as you went down.”
“Then I’m fine. Keep me up for a few hours if it’ll make you feel better, but stop treating me like I’m about to break!”
Clark’s mouth opened and closed once at the sudden outburst. “Alright,” he finally said, heading for the elevator. “You coming?” he called over his shoulder as he pulled open the grate.
Bruce stood, ignoring the momentary wave of dizziness, and made his way over to Clark silently. The ride up was equally quiet. Reaching the top, Bruce went directly to his study with Clark walking close behind him. Alfred appeared soon after with water and a bottle of aspirin. He didn’t acknowledge Bruce’s answering glare when asked how he was and left the room soon after with a parting glance at Clark that clearly said, you’re in for it now. Clark sighed and sank down on the couch opposite Bruce.
“How long have we been doing this?”
Clark glanced up at Bruce, who still had the ice pack pressed firmly to his head. “It’s been almost half-an-hour. You can take that off soon.” Bruce switched hands, letting the cold one drop onto his thigh.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“How long have we been doing what?”
“This.” Bruce’s hand was back up and gesturing between them.
“You’re going to have to elaborate. Reading minds isn’t one of my abilities, remember?” Bruce stared back at him, and Clark shook his head minutely. He let the subject drop when Bruce hadn’t said anything a full minute later.
“This endless round of flirting,” Bruce finally offered.
Clark was momentarily stunned. Neither had spoken out loud about it yet. “Um, I don’t know. A few months maybe.”
“Six months and three weeks.”
“I – what... you’re keeping track?”
Bruce leaned forward and tried to hide his grimace when movement made the room spin, but Clark didn’t miss it. Bruce started talking before he could say anything. “I’m usually a one night stand kind of guy, Clark. More to the point, I’m usually a one night stand with a woman kind of guy. But you,” he paused and watched as Clark’s eyebrows tried to disappear beneath his hairline. “I’ve been flirting with you for almost seven months and we haven’t even come close to fucking.”
Clark seemed to regain some of his composure, sitting up straighter and clearing his throat. “I’m not. A one night stand kinda guy, I mean. I don’t do that.”
“That’s not who I am.”
“So all this flirting has been because?”
“It’s been half-an-hour. You can take that off now.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Bruce, you have a concussion; you’re hurt. We should talk about this later.”
“I said don’t change the subject.”
“What do you want to hear from me?”
“I don’t want to fuck once and walk away.”
“We can fuck more than once.”
“No we can’t.”
Clark’s cheeks were going pink. “No!”
“I told you –”
“You’re not into one night stands, I get it. I’m offering more than one night. What’s the issue?” Clark muttered something under his breath in response. “I’m not the one with super hearing here.”
“I said it’s a heart issue,” Clark mumbled at the coffee table.
Bruce didn’t say anything for a long time. Clark stood.
“Keep icing that in 30 minute intervals. I’ll let Alfred know to keep an eye on you, and I’ll check in tomorrow.” He started to leave.
“I told you I’m not into guys.” Clark sighed and said nothing. “Except...”
“Except for you apparently.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I thought that was pretty obvious.”
“We’re not fucking. You have a concussion.”
“That your only reason?”
“Right now it’s my biggest.”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Next week? Next month?”
“Because I think I love you.” Clark gaped at him, and Bruce’s mouth dropped open briefly before he snapped it shut with the realization of what he’d just said. They stared at each other for a never-ending second before Bruce sighed and said softly. “I shouldn’t have said that. Not like that.” He cleared his throat and his voice rose to its normal volume. “Sorry.”
Clark said nothing. He couldn’t think of anything to say. So he turned and left the room in search of Alfred. Bruce sat back down heavily, fingers brushing against his head absently as he wondered what the hell he’d just done.
It was a good forty minutes later before Alfred entered the room. “Master Bruce?”
“I think I hit my head harder than I thought.”
Alfred delayed answering by drawing the curtains closed over a window on the opposite side of the room. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable in your bedroom? You should have ice on that again, you know. And you need to eat something.”
Bruce shot a frustrated look at Alfred’s back before standing with a muttered “fine” before heading out of the room.
* * *
“Did you mean what you said?” Clark was standing in the door to Bruce’s study, watching him sort through Wayne Enterprise paperwork.
Bruce looked up at the sound of his voice, giving Clark a good view of the spectacular mass of bruising on the side of his head; he cringed in sympathy. Bruce caught it and waved him off.
“It doesn’t hurt too much. Just looks bad. Mean what?”
“What you said yesterday after I brought you back from the garage.”
“Sorry, Clark, you’ll have to remind me. I don’t remember much of anything after the knock to the head.”
Clark frowned in concern. “Have you had a doctor look at you?”
“I’ll be fine. Anterograde amnesia is a common enough side effect of a concussion.” He shrugged nonchalantly.
Clark’s lips pressed into a thin line for an instant before breaking into a smile. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter then. Does Gordon have any leads on where Cain disappeared to?”
“Nothing yet. Stop hovering in the doorway.”
Clark flashed a sheepish smile at Bruce as he stepped inside and sat down onto the soft-cushioned couch. This was Bruce’s private study; the one he held the occasional meetings in had stiff backed, leather furniture made to intimidate and impress. In here the furniture was the same as it had been when his father had occupied the room. Comfortable, welcoming, and well-worn. “At least you know he’s alive. Better than chasing a ghost.”
“Cain might as well be a ghost, Clark. It took months to track him down this last time, and even that was a fluke. Gordon had intelligence from another case brought to his attention.”
“There will be other breaks, Bruce.”
“Ever the optimist. How do you do it?”
Clark shrugged. “Practice. And a lot of years wasted spent seeing only how things could go wrong.” Bruce grunted in response and Clark just shook his head, a slow smile creeping across his lips. “Don’t make me sing it.”
“I should never have let you talk me into going out with you guys that night. Ever since, Oliver and Bart insist on singing that damn song at me. Don’t you start.”
Clark chuckled and started humming the song from Monty Python’s ‘The Holy Grail’ under his breath, breaking into an off-key butchering of the chorus when he came to it and ignoring Bruce’s glare. He let out an unnecessary yelp when the stapler Bruce threw in his direction connected with his shoulder.
“Other than traumatizing me with your inability to sing and my inability to clarify whatever unknown thing I said in my post blow-to-the-head haze, did you need something?”
Clark sobered quickly. “Just to see how you were doing. I said I’d check in with you today. Since you seem to be in one piece, I should get going.”
Bruce nodded, giving him an odd look. “Good night, Clark.”
“Night Bruce.” Clark was gone an instant later.
* * *
“What’s with the pity party, Smallville?” Lois dropped into her desk chair and reached to turn on her computer.
Clark glanced up and offered her a distracted “nothing” before returning his attention to the article he was trying to finish for a deadline looming in less than an hour.
“Right, you just look like someone kicked your puppy because that’s how all the cool kids look these days.”
“I’ve got a deadline, Lois. Your conversation attempt is not helping me finish any faster.”
Lois lifted her eyebrows briefly and turned to her own work. “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed today,” she muttered.
Clark glowered in her direction but otherwise ignored her. Chloe caught the tail end of their interaction and looked curiously between the two. Clark pretended not to see her.
* * *
“Have you spoken to Master Clark recently?”
Bruce glanced up from the monitor in front of him and set aside the data he’d been going through. “Outside of League business? Not since he was here the other week. Why?”
“Perhaps you should review the security footage from the day he brought you home.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You might find something interesting.” Bruce stared at Alfred’s retreating back, frowning slightly. His communicator activated then, and thoughts of Alfred’s words went to the back of his mind as Oliver Queen’s voice filled his ear.
* * *
Lois and Chloe ambushed him three weeks later. He was on his way back from the washroom when Chloe took hold of one arm and Lois snagged the other. After a startled “hey” earned him a glare from Lois, he shut his mouth on a sigh and allowed them to pull him into an empty office.
“Sit,” Chloe ordered, pointing at the desk. It was the only piece of furniture in the room, so the two moved to stand in front of him once he was settled.
“What’s going on?”
“With you, Clark.”
“Nothing. Is this what you dragged me in here for?”
“You’ve been moping for weeks.”
“I don’t mope.” Lois snorted and Chloe fixed an incredulous look on him. “Ok, maybe I do. Sometimes. But I haven’t been lately.”
“You’ve done nothing but, Smallville.”
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on, Chloe.”
“You haven’t fallen off the Lana wagon again, have you?” Clark’s expression clearly said he had not. “Ok, ok, I had to ask! You used to save this level of moping for her.”
“I’m not –”
“Then what’s going on?”
“It’s about a girl, isn’t it?” Lois chimed in.
“There’s no use mooning over some woman who probably isn’t good enough for you anyway, Smallville.”
Clark stared at her.
“What?” she asked.
“I think that’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever said to me.”
Lois rolled her eyes. “Don’t get used to it. Now, are you going to suck it up and put a smile on your face, or are we going to have to kick your ass?”
“If I say I will, does that mean you’ll let me get back to work?”
“Only if you mean it,” Chloe said.
“Yes,” he sighed. “I’ll suck it up.”
“Good.” Lois landed a light, closed-fist punch on his bicep. “Now get back to work before Perry has a fit.”
Clark opened his mouth to retort, but Chloe shook her head at him with a look that said it wasn’t worth fighting with Lois. He slid off the desk and followed them back toward the bull pen. He arrived at his desk in time to find Bart Allen rifling through his top drawer while several of his co-workers looked on suspiciously.
“Looking for something, Bart?”
Bart looked up and grinned. “Chloelicious’s phone number.”
Clark laughed. “What’s going on?” he asked, coming around to sit in his chair as Bart leaned down to pull an envelope out of his backpack.
“Got a message for ya, Stretch.”
Clark glanced down at Bruce’s neat, cramped writing on the front as he took the proffered envelope. “Thanks. He say anything?”
Clark slit the envelope open and tugged out a single sheet of paper. Unfolding it and taking a moment to read, he rolled his eyes. “Does he have something against the telephone?” Bart looked over his shoulder. The only thing written on the paper was “Manor. 8 p.m.”
He shrugged and cocked a half-smile. “Guess so.”
“Hey Bart,” Chloe called from a few feet away. “I didn’t know you were in town.”
“Just dropped in to say hello to you, beautiful.”
“I still have a boyfriend,” Chloe said, laughing.
“A guy can always dream. Gotta jet, Stretch. Later Chloe.” He winked at her and grabbed his bag, shrugged it onto his shoulders, and headed for the exit.
“What was that all about?” Chloe turned back to Clark and glanced at the paper in his hand.
“Someone doesn’t seem to believe in using phones.”
“What did the brooding one want?”
“The brooding one didn’t say.”
* * *
Clark’s arrival was announced by a soft tap on the heavy, oak door separating Bruce and his office from the rest of the manor. Bruce drew in a long, steadying breath and called out a short “come in.” The door opened and Bruce didn’t look up right away.
There were several seconds of silence before, “You can be pretty cryptic some days.”
Bruce brought his eyes up to meet Clark’s. The room was dim, and even across the ten or so feet that separated them, Bruce could see the shadows his lashes cast on his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he said, knowing Clark wouldn’t understand what he meant.
Clark’s head titled slightly downward and curious green eyes looked up at him beneath arched eyebrows. “For being cryptic? Bruce, I’d say it’s a bit too late to be apologizing for that.”
“I don’t think I can be what you want, and I’m sorry.”
Clark’s expression went from teasing to closed-off almost instantly. “You remember.”
“I was encouraged to review my security footage.”
“Alfred,” Clark muttered to himself. To Bruce he said, “It doesn’t matter. Is that all you wanted?”
“Good night, Bruce.”
Bruce was left staring at the empty space Clark had occupied an instant before and wondering if he hadn’t just made a mess too big to clean up.
* * *
“You’ve been fake smiling for weeks now. What gives?”
“Chloe, just leave it alone, ok? Please.” They were standing on the balcony of Clark’s sixth-floor Metropolis apartment. Below them, the city was a mass of activity; cars, buses, and people crowded the streets. Clark’s eyes were on the sky, watching the sun sink below the horizon. A silence fell between them until the twilight had taken over.
“I –” He stopped, unable to find words to make sense of what was going on in his head. His head shot up a moment later, eyes narrowing and focusing on something beyond Chloe’s ability to see. “I have to go.”
Chloe watched as he disappeared from her side a moment later. “Clark,” she sighed, moving indoors and curling up on his couch with her laptop. “Why won’t you just talk to me?”
She was asleep on the couch when he arrived home several hours later, covered in dirt and soot from a fire on the outskirts of the city. Two people had been taken to hospital in serious condition, and two others had died. Clark was emotionally exhausted when he stumbled in through the balcony door. He closed it behind him and let his back hit the cool glass before sliding down into a heap on the floor. Chloe stirred as he landed.
“Hey,” she said, her voice soaked with sleep. “Everything ok?” Clark looked up to see her blinking owlishly at him as she tried to adjust to the darkness of the room.
“What happened?” She was up and off the couch, moving across the room. He flinched from her touch, missing the look of heartbreak she flashed at him as she settled back against the door with a foot of space between them.
“I didn’t get there in time. I was distracted.”
“You can’t save everyone, Clark.” Her voice was low and all-encompassing in the silence of the room.
“I could have saved them, Chloe. They shouldn’t have died. If I’d had my head on straight, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Chloe said nothing, just inched her body closer and watched him carefully for signs that she should back off. When he didn’t move, she slipped an arm around his shoulders and tugged him down until his head rested on her shoulder. The angle was awkward, but it didn’t seem to bother Clark as he wrapped his arms around her waist and started to shudder.
He didn’t make any noise; just held on to Chloe until the tremors finally subsided as dawn began to paint the sky in shades of pink and orange. When his breathing began to slow and deepen, Chloe shook him gently and helped him to his feet. She didn’t say anything as he allowed her to lead him into the bathroom, and he stood by looking dazed when she started the shower and tugged at his suit.
“Hey,” she said softly. “Little help?” Clark reached with numb fingers to peel the suit from his body until he stood naked in front of her. “Come on, into the shower. Get cleaned up.” In the bright light of the bathroom, she could see blood smeared amongst the dirt on his face and found herself wondering who it belonged to and if they were still alive.
She moved to the bedroom after he stepped under the hot spray. In the midst of turning down the covers and pulling a clean pair of cotton pyjama pants and a t-shirt from a drawer, the knock at the door caught her off-guard. Making her way through the dawn-lit apartment, Chloe approached the door and peered through the peep hole.
“Bruce,” she said as she pulled it open. “What are you doing here?” In the background the sound of running water stopped.
“I heard what happened. I know how he gets when he thinks he was too late.” The bathroom door opened down the hall, and they could hear Clark making his way slowly into the bedroom.
“I don’t know if he’s up for company right about now.”
“Too busy wallowing,” Bruce said quietly. Chloe offered him a small smile. In the silence that followed, Chloe noticed the lack of sound coming from the bedroom.
“I should check on him.”
“Go ahead, I’ll still be here.”
Understanding his desire to stay, Chloe nodded and made her way down the hall. She paused in the doorway, taking in the sight of a still-damp Clark sitting on the edge of the bed. He’d dressed in the clothes she’d laid out for him, and she could see them sticking here and there to the moisture on his skin.
“You should sleep,” she said as she entered.
“I don’t need to sleep.”
“Bruce is here.”
A pause and then, “He should go.”
“He’s worried about you.”
Clark offered only a small, sarcastic laugh in response. She glanced over her shoulder when she sensed movement behind her. Bruce appeared in the doorway.
“Can I talk to him?” he asked, more out of courtesy than seeking permission. Chloe retreated to the kitchen to turn the coffee maker on.
“What are you doing here?”
“I heard about the little girls.”
“So you came all the way from Gotham to tell me it wasn’t my fault? That I couldn’t have saved them?” Clark didn’t look up. “You wasted a trip. I’m not like you, Bruce. I can’t just shut off my emotions.”
Bruce understood the multitude of meaning in his words. “I came to tell you that everyone has a destiny, Clark. One way or another, that destiny always ends in death.”
“You think it was fate that killed them? Coming from you I find that hard to believe.”
“I am who I am today because of what happened to my parents, Clark. Without their death I would have led the life of a spoiled, rich brat.”
“From what I know of your father, I doubt he would have let that happen.”
“Divining the future now, are we?”
“You don’t know me, Clark. You like to think you do, but you’ve barely scratched the surface. Don’t pretend to know anything about my father.”
Clark’s eyes lifted to meet his, anguish hidden behind a front of cold. “I think you should leave now.”
Bruce walked away without another word. Clark listened for the sound of the door closing behind the man before he let the tension ease from his body. Chloe reappeared a few minutes later.
“Do you want coffee?”
“No thank you.”
“Sleep, Clark. I’ll be in the living room.”
“You don’t have to stay.”
* * *
Bruce was back that evening, two boxes of pizza and a twelve pack of beer balanced in his grasp as he knocked on Clark’s door. Chloe couldn’t help but laugh when she saw him.
“Nice jeans,” she greeted him.
Bruce found himself returning her smile. “Clark didn’t believe me when I said I had a secret love of denim.”
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’m not sure I would have either. Here,” she said, reaching out to relieve him of the drinks. “Come in. Clark’s still sleeping.”
Bruce glanced at the hallway. “Actually sleeping or just staring at the ceiling?” He followed Chloe into the kitchen.
“Out like a light the last time I checked on him. What happened this morning?”
Bruce liked that she didn’t walk on eggshells around him the way most people seemed to. “I said the wrong thing.”
“That’s what Clark said when I finally managed to worm something out of him.”
Bruce’s eyes cut towards her for a moment as he lifted plates down from the cupboard and pulled napkins out of the pantry, so he was aware of her watching him easily make his way around Clark’s kitchen. Clark appeared before either could say more. He looked slightly rumpled from sleeping away the last twelve hours, and his hair had dried into a mess of soft-looking waves. Bruce smiled at the sight, turning his back to hide it from the others.
“I thought you left,” Clark said.
“I came back.” He passed a plate and a bottle to Clark when he turned back around. “Here, you should eat something.”
“I’m not hungry,” Clark said at the same time his stomach decided to express the opposite sentiment. “Ok, maybe I’m a little hungry.” He took the food and sat down at the kitchen table, waiting for them to join him before taking a bite of the still-steaming pizza.
Bruce and Chloe carried the conversation as Clark contented himself to eat, drink and listen. Eventually Chloe begged off, leaving Clark alone with Bruce. Neither spoke as they cleaned up the remains of dinner, putting the leftovers in the fridge before moving into the living room.
Clark settled into the corner of the couch still dressed in the pyjamas he went to sleep in, bare feet kicked up onto the coffee table. “Pizza and beer,” he eventually said. “That’s a new one.”
“I was trying to appear less like a snob and more like a real person.”
“Consider yourself successful.”
Bruce cracked a smile and let himself sink more comfortably back into the cushions. “How are you?” he asked, moving just his eyes to watch Clark as he answered.
“Am I still beating myself up, you mean?” Bruce nodded. “I’m taking a break.”
“I’ve heard it all from Chloe already. I’ve heard it a hundred times before. I know I can’t save everyone, Bruce, but that doesn’t make it any easier when someone...”
“I understand.” Bruce stood, heading for his coat.
“I brought a movie,” he said, pulling a DVD out of the inner pocket and glancing back with a questioning expression. Clark nodded, and eventually they fell into companionable silence broken only with the occasional reaction to the movie.
* * *
The next time Clark opened his eyes, the movie was looping on the main menu screen and Bruce was asleep next to him, head back against the couch and slumped comfortably down with his legs extended in front of him.
“Hey,” Clark said quietly, reaching out to brush against Bruce’s slack hand next to his own. The touch was light, but it was enough to wake the other man.
“Couldn’t have been a very good movie,” he said in a sleep-roughened voice. “What time is it?”
Clark glanced at the clock on top of the TV. “Almost three. You can use the bed if you want.”
“No, it’s alright. I should go.”
“Part of the reason I should leave.”
Clark smiled and shook his head. “You can leave when you’re not half asleep.”
“I don’t want to kick you out of your own bed.”
“I’ll be fine on the couch.”
“You could join me.”
Clark paused at the unexpected response, another argument to keep Bruce from driving tired dying on his lips. “We’ve talked about this already.”
“I’ll go put on some fresh sheets.”
“I’ve had time to think.”
“Bruce, please. Just leave it alone.”
“I don’t want to leave it alone. I don’t want to be alone.”
“A few weeks of polite distance and all of a sudden you want more? What’s changed? I’m not up to this right now. I don’t want to play games with you.”
“No games. I realized I made a mistake. I want to fix it.”
“It’s too late for that.”
“Yes,” Clark said quietly. He was standing opposite the couch, just on the other side of the coffee table. Bruce gained his feet and brushed a hand across the stubble growing along his jaw.
“Let me make this right,” he whispered. When Clark didn’t answer him, wouldn’t meet his eyes, Bruce stepped around the table, crowding against Clark and forcing him back a step or two. “Please let me make this right.”
Clark didn’t pull back when Bruce’s hands slid up his neck and into his hair, using the grip to manoeuvre their mouths together. It was awkward for a moment as Clark struggled to fall into the motion of kissing another man, something he’d never done before.
“Relax,” Bruce said against his mouth. He let his tongue slide fleetingly across his lower lip and groaned in response to the shudder that ran through Clark’s body a second before Clark’s hands found his hips and pulled them closer to each other. Bruce deepened the kiss when Clark let him before sliding his hands down until he was able to grasp Clark’s waist and tug him in the direction of the bedroom.
“Let me –”
Clark silenced him with a hand over his mouth, shaking his head. “No talking.”
Bruce’s tongue slipped out to lick at his palm, and he lowered his chin until he could sink his teeth into the soft pad of skin under Clark’s thumb.
“I want –”
“I said,” Clark leaned in to press his lips back against Bruce’s. “No talking. Not now.”
Bruce flipped Clark around until he was walking them backwards into the bedroom once more. Inside he stripped off Clark’s t-shirt, tossing it to the floor where his own soon followed. His hands skimmed across the broad plane of Clark’s shoulders and down his chest to tease at his belly button. He let the tips of his fingers dip beneath the elastic of Clark’s thin, cotton pants and captured the resulting groan as he slid his tongue into the heat of the other man’s mouth. Clark fumbled with his jeans until he could push a hand in to wrap around the heat of Bruce’s erection.
They were on the bed a moment later, pulled down when the back of Clark’s knees hit the mattress hard and he tumbled backwards. Bruce hissed when Clark’s fingers tugged at his cock as they fell and it was swiftly followed up by a moan when Clark stroked deliberately.
Pleasure was replaced with aggravation as their communicators activated and Bart told them unceremoniously to get their asses to Gotham because Cain’s body had just been found dumped outside Gordon’s precinct.
“You’re not carrying me.” Bruce cut the idea off before Clark could even broach the subject.
“How else do you plan on getting from here to Gotham?”
“Flying is faster.”
“Driving means I don’t have to be carried.”
Bart’s voice was in their ears again. “Supes, c’mon man, where are you?”
“On my way.”
“Call me Bats again and you won’t like what happens when I get there.”
Clark grinned. “Should be there in a couple minutes.” To Bruce, “If you’ll just let me carry you already.”
Bruce glared and heaved a sigh. “Let’s go. You can drop me off at the manor.”
* * *
“What happened?” Batman was staring down at Cain’s body where it lay behind lines marked off by crime scene tape on the far side of the precinct. The body was almost completely hidden from sight; just one hand poking out from behind a dumpster.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out. A couple of our guys found him when they came around back to check out a noise. There was no one here when they arrived.”
Superman was scanning the body, looking for signs of injury. “I don’t see any obvious cause of death.” He turned his head to scan the areas surrounding them and was gone without warning an instant later. As he left, Batman heard the name Cassandra breathed across their communicators.
“Where?” he demanded, turning to scan the area for himself, Impulse doing the same beside him.
“Abandoned building six blocks south. I’m going –” Superman’s words cut off as he neared the building’s entrance. “That can’t be good,” he said. He scanned the old factory again; Cassandra was exactly where she’d been a moment ago. She held a blade in each hand and carried no other weapons. He stepped inside.
“Hello Superman. I’m sure you’ve noticed your communicator no longer works. How much time do we have before the others arrive?”
“Cassandra. It’s been a long time. I’d say we have a few minutes. Maybe five at most.”
“Good.” She launched herself forward, blades raised and flashing red in the dim light coming in through grime-covered windows. Superman raised an arm to block the blow and felt a wave of vertigo wash over him. The blade sliced through the material of his suit to graze the skin below. Cassandra smiled at him as she backed off a few feet.
“Red sun energy. The longer you’re around these blades, the weaker you’ll get. I’d say we have about two minutes before I have you on the ground and begging for your life.”
Superman backed off, moving further into the space, giving himself the room he’d need to fight. Cassandra came at him again and he shifted to the left, dodging the blow and trying to fight past the increasing sense of weakness.
“Hey!” He didn’t dare move his eyes from Cassandra as Impulse entered and barrelled towards her. There wasn’t time to warn him before he was crashing into her and knocking her to the ground. From there she was on her feet and on Impulse a split-second later, sending blow after blow with her fists until he fell unconscious to the ground. The blades kept him from getting close enough to help.
“Now, now Superman, that wasn’t very nice. I thought you said we had five minutes.” She smiled coyly at him as she spun the blades in her hands and walked towards him. He kept pace, backing away as she advanced. “What else aren’t you telling me?”
“You killed him, didn’t you?”
“My father? Of course I did. He needed to learn that the dead should stay dead. I was careful about it this time. A bullet wasn’t enough to keep him down, so I went with something a little more subtle. It’s amazing what you can find in nature, Superman. A flower that can kill is grown in gardens all over the world. Foxglove is toxic in the right amount. It can stop the heart, you know.”
Outside the sound of sirens grew closer. Cassandra glanced at the windows lining the top of the building before returning her gaze to Superman. “No more games, your time is ending.” She was on the move an instant later, blades drawn and at the ready.
Superman tried to move past her and stumbled, falling to a knee and then to the ground as one blade drove through his side until it clanked against the concrete below them. She pulled it out as the other slid in, this time into his thigh. He screamed as the blade tore through bone and muscle and flesh to score the ground with its tip before being withdrawn.
Batman was already racing across the factory when Cassandra grabbed Superman by the hair and pulled him up to his knees before driving first one blade then the other through his chest. The sound of gunfire drowned out Superman’s scream of pain, and Cassandra’s body was spinning, turning with the force of the bullets slamming into her torso. She fell to the ground, drawing in a wet breath and expelling a fine spray of blood with her last exhalation.
Batman reached Superman’s side just as he fell forward onto his hands and knees, panting with the effort to breathe, blood spilling from his mouth with each gasp.
“Out,” he struggled to say. “Please. Get ‘em out.”
“You’ll bleed out.”
He whimpered and pushed out another please before his arms gave out and he screamed again as he hit the ground and jarred the blades deeper.
“Ok, ok. Hang on. This is gonna hurt.” He turned his head to search amongst the police filling the building until he spotted him. “Gordon! I need your help.” The older man was at his side right away. “Hold him steady.”
Gordon glanced at Superman’s face when he whimpered at his touch. “You sure about this?” he asked.
“He is.” Gordon nodded. “I’m going on three, alright?” He spoke to Superman as he flashed a look at Gordon that clearly said otherwise. He pulled on two. The resulting cry was choked by blood and ended when Superman lost consciousness after the blades cleared his body.
“Get these as far away as possible.” Batman passed the swords off to Gordon and leaned over the prone body beneath him. Pulling back the material of the suit, he could see the wounds were not yet healing. Impulse was awake and moving unsteadily towards them when Batman next glanced up.
“We need to get him into the sun.”
“Not sure if you noticed, Bats, but its pitch black out there.”
“Then I suggest you find a source of light.” Turning his back to Impulse, he pressed his hands against the flow of blood spilling across the bright colours of Superman’s uniform to pool on the ground below him. By the time Impulse returned, Gordon was at Batman’s side helping to do the same, and the paramedics were making their way into the building swiftly.
“Tanning salon down the street. Cops are already working on getting the owner there to open the door.”
Under the cowl, Batman smiled grimly. “Good one.” The paramedics were there, lifting Superman onto a stretcher and setting to work staunching the blood flow. From the time Superman left the precinct to the time his pale, unconscious body was lifted onto a tanning bed, less than twenty minutes had elapsed. Batman kicked everyone but Impulse out of the room and knelt at Superman’s side.
Impulse was gone and back again in a second. “None recording. I disabled the system just in case.”
The cowl came off and Bruce nodded. “Lock that door if you can. Clark?” He moved closer, tugging at the suit to watch as the wounds slowly started to close over. With a growl of frustration, he began to manoeuvre Clark out of the restricting material. “Help me. He’ll heal faster with more exposure.”
Even with the suit gone, the pace at which Clark’s wounds healed seemed to crawl. Bart paced the room anxiously, biting off short progress reports into the communicator every few minutes to the rest of the Justice League. Bruce stayed at Clark’s side, pressing his fingers against his pulse point every so often and watching the shallow but steady rise and fall of Clark’s chest.
“Hey,” he said quietly after almost an hour had passed. Bart moved to his side in time to see Clark’s eyelids fluttering. They slit open long enough to reveal a sliver of colour before closing again.
“Stretch, come on man, eyes open now.” A small sounding moan was the only response for the next few minutes. Finally Clark’s eyes cracked open and stayed that way.
“Hey man, how’re you feeling?” Bart lifted the lid of the bed all the way open.
“’m I naked?”
Bruce couldn’t hold back his relieved laugh. “Yeah, sorry about that. It was necessary. How’re you feeling?”
“Everythin’ hurts.” He twisted his head, squinting against the bright glare of the lights. “Where am I?”
“Tanning bed,” Bart grinned. “You needed sunlight. This was the best we could do in the middle of the night.”
Clark’s mouth formed a small smile. “’s good thinkin’.” He tried to sit up.
“Whoa there, stay put Stretch.”
“Least get me a towel?” Bart grinned and tossed one over to Bruce who settled it across Clark’s lap. “Thanks. Where is she?”
“Dead.” Bruce stood and tried to work the stiffness out of his joints from holding the same tense position for so long.
“Cops took her down when they saw what she was doing to you,” Bart added.
“Sure she’s really dead?”
“We’re sure.” Clark glanced at Bruce, eyes open fully now and appraising the older man quietly. “We should get you back into your suit so we can move you out of here.” Bruce helped him to sit and slowly worked him back into the torn, bloody uniform. They left the room to find Gordon and two uniforms waiting in the lobby.
“James,” Superman said quietly, nodding to the man as they passed.
“Glad you’re alright, Superman.” He pulled the door open and held it as they exited.
* * *
Clark let the water run hot, steam wrapping around him as he stood with his head on his arm, leaning against the wall. The crusted blood was washing away under the steady stream from the shower head. When he stepped out he found a thick, soft bathrobe waiting for him on a wall hook. He reached for a towel to run through his hair and across his body before slipping into the robe. Bruce was waiting for him on the other side of the door. Bart had returned to the precinct with Gordon, leaving Clark in Bruce’s care.
“The shower helped.”
Bruce started moving down the hall. “Come on. Alfred brought you something to eat.”
“He didn’t have to get up for that.”
“Good luck trying to tell him that. Through here,” he said, opening the door to a bedroom that felt like it was half the size of Clark’s apartment.
Clark moved into the room, looking around at the simple but rich furnishings. He spotted a tray on the bed with what looked like soup, a sandwich and coffee, and a dress shirt hanging over the back of a chair. He moved over to run his fingers over the material.
“This is your room.” Bruce made an affirmative noise. He headed over to a sitting area where a second similar tray sat. “You trying to tell me you don’t have guest rooms in this mausoleum?”
“I have plenty of guest rooms. I would rather you stay here.”
Clark settled himself onto the bed with an amused huff of laughter. He didn’t say anything as he reached for the soup and brought the spoon up to his lips. “God, this is fantastic. What’s in this?”
“Alfred will never part with the secret, so enjoy it while you can.”
They ate in silence; Clark seated against a pile of pillows on the bed and Bruce across the room in a comfortable looking armchair.
“You should sleep, Clark. You’re still pale.” Clark nodded absently as Bruce stood and headed towards the door.
“I was going to sleep down the hall.”
“No, Bruce. Stay.”
“You offering to share?”
“Thought that was pretty obvious.”
Bruce nodded and began to strip off his clothes. He paused when he was left only in his boxers. He quirked an eyebrow at Clark in question. Clark stood and let his robe fall to the floor before pulling back the covers and slipping underneath them. Bruce followed suit.
It wasn’t awkward when they kissed this time. Clark let Bruce rise up above him, propping an arm on either side of Clark’s body and settling close until their chests pressed together. Bruce’s hands skimmed across the soft flesh of Clark’s sides, running up to brush against skin that had been broken just hours before.
“It’s been a rough couple days, but yeah, I think I am.”
Bruce let his hands trail down until his fingers brushed against the half-hard cock pressing lightly into his thigh. He smiled when the flesh jumped against him and wrapped his hand around Clark’s cock, stroking lightly until Clark’s eyes closed and his head tipped back against the pillow.
He tightened his grip, brushed his hand up over the head and used the wetness there to slick the rest of Clark’s cock. Rosy spots appeared on Clark’s cheeks and his flush soon spread down his neck and onto his chest as he drew in short, panting breaths so different from the ones he’d been struggling for earlier. Bruce dropped his head to Clark’s and let his lips catch against the stubble growing on his cheeks before biting down with the faintest pressure on the skin just under Clark’s jaw line. There was an endless moment where Clark’s body arched upwards before Bruce’s hand skimmed across the flesh to stroke against the vein running along the underside. It was enough to push him over the edge. Clark visibly let his body go slack as Bruce slowly brought him down.
“I changed my mind,” Clark whispered sometime later, long after Bruce had thought him asleep.
Bruce didn’t respond right away. “And what did you decide?”
“That someone needs to be here to stop you from sabotaging yourself.”
“And you’re looking to fill that position?”
“If it’s not too late,” came the quiet response.
Bruce rolled onto his side to face Clark. “No,” he said as a half-smile tugged the corner of his lips upwards. “It’s not.”