By: Arian (arianstarr)
Disclaimer: don't own, don't profit, just like to play
It’s been a year since the life he knew was lost to him, irrevocably changed while all he can do is stand by and try not to fall apart along with it. Bruce is struck by the public’s reaction to this anniversary, torn between pride and tears because they still mourn the loss of their hero, and Bruce still mourns for the man he loves. Clark is beside him watching the television with a look of blank disinterest. He doesn’t know, doesn’t remember, and Bruce worries this will trigger some lost memory. He doesn’t share that fear with anyone else because there is no one to tell when he’s alone in the home he’d made with Clark years before. Clark came back to him, and that is the only thing that matters. Bruce feels his chest tighten with desperation and fear as Clark continues to watch the news in silence. The glow of the TV washes over them in the fading light of day, flickering as images of the battle that changed everything flash across the screen.
“Are you hungry?” Bruce starts at the sound of Clark’s voice and quickly fixes a bright smile in place.
“Starving,” he says.
Clark stands and maybe he catches Bruce’s sadness before he can squirrel the emotion away because he plants a kiss on the top of his head and squeezes his shoulder as he leaves. Bruce stays where he is and listens to the sound of cupboards opening and pots rattling before turning back in time to catch the blurry footage of Superman falling from the sky the day everything flipped upside down.
As he listens to Clark – whole and alive and <I>human</I> as he moves about the kitchen – he lets his mind drift back to the day Chloe arrived on his doorstep clutching hope in her hands.
The scarred wood of the kitchen table felt surreal under his hands as Bruce sat staring at the tiny gold fragment that might hold the answers to questions he couldn’t quite let himself think of. He wasn’t sure how much time passed before his feet were moving and he was racing after Chloe. He caught up to her at the Daily Planet, reached her just as she was about to disappear into a staff meeting.
He could feel a dozen sets of eyes on him as he grabbed her arm and spun her around almost roughly. “Are you sure?”
“Not sure enough to give you the reassurances you want.” Her voice was low and he had to bend forward to hear her.
“The test results.”
“Were conclusive for what we had to work with. We should go somewhere else.” Chloe made her way over to Perry, stepping close to speak in low tones. Perry glanced at Bruce hovering nearby and nodded. Chloe led the way out of the building, raising a hand once they hit the street to hail a taxi.
They were silent during the ride, Bruce fidgeting with the hem of his sleeve as his knee bounced nervously. Chloe watched him out of the corner of her eye and didn’t say anything until they pulled up in front of her apartment building.
“Be straight with me, Chloe.” He followed her, crowding against her back as she unlocked the door and pushed it open, allowing him entry.
“I wouldn’t have come to you if I wasn’t confident that there was a good chance this will work.”
“What’s your definition of a good chance?”
Gesturing at him to sit at the table, she pulled two glasses out of the cupboard and filled them with water and ice before taking a seat across from him. “Like I said, I asked J’onn to test some of the skin and blood samples we had on file. The cells were dead until he brought the gold kryptonite into contact with them. He tested the regenerated cells with several types of kryptonite, everything from green to red to silver, and there was no effect.”
Chloe nodded. “He tested more samples against blue kryptonite wondering if we’d get the same results.”
Bruce leaned forward when she hesitated. “And?”
“The cells regenerated.”
“They reverted to dead cells again within the hour.”
“I get the impression you’re not telling me something, Chloe.”
She twisted the claddaugh ring she was never without once, twice, before cutting her eyes in his direction. “The gold k is a permanent change as near as we can tell. There would be no chance that Clark could become Superman again. He’d be human for the rest of his life.”
Bruce sat back in his chair, gaze focused out the window. “He used to want normal,” he finally said, voice low and considering.
“Even when he wanted what everyone else had, he still had to play the hero,” Chloe said carefully.
“You’re worried he won’t be able to deal with not having his abilities.”
“It’s a pretty valid concern.”
“Clark is strong.” Bruce’s lip quirked up at the ease with which he started referring to Clark in the present tense again.
“It’s up to you, Bruce.”
“How did I get to be the one to make that decision?”
Chloe knew he was talking more to himself than to her, but she answered him anyway. “Because he’d want that choice to be yours; he trusts you more than anyone else.”
“How long ago were these tests run?”
“J’onn finished last night. I came to you as soon as he brought me the results.”
Bruce ran shaky hands through his hair, leaving one resting on the top of his head while the other moved down to scrub wearily at his mouth. “We should hurry, then. Tonight. We’ll – we’ll dig him up tonight.”
If Chloe noticed that his voice cracked, she didn’t show it. He was grateful for that.
“Shit,” Clark swears softly, laying the knife down and reaching to turn on the tap. Bruce appears at his back, looking over his shoulder to inspect the long, thin slice running vertically from fingertip to second knuckle on Clark’s left forefinger.
“Doesn’t look deep,” he says, reaching around to bring Clark’s finger under the cool water, washing the blood away.
“That doesn’t make it sting any less.”
Bruce chuckles, the laughter vibrating through his chest and against Clark’s back. “Baby,” he mocks lightly, taking Clark’s hand and leading him to sit at the table before snagging the first aid kit from under the counter.
“I can put a band-aid on by myself, you know.”
Bruce sits down and opens the red, zippered bag. “I know.” He flashes a quick grin at Clark and takes hold of his wrist, drawing him close enough to wrap the plastic strip around his cut.
Clark pulls his hand back a moment later and tosses an amused glance at Bruce. “A Batman band-aid?”
Bruce grins and quirks an eyebrow at him. “Got something against The Bat?”
“Nope. The Bat happens to be close, personal friend of mine.”
“Yeah. A very <I>close</I>, very <I>personal</I> friend.” Clark leans forward and drops his voice an octave. “I’m told he might have saved my life a time or two. And I happen to know for a fact that he’s an amazing lay.” He winks and sits back in his chair, eyes on the yellow bandage covered in little black batwings, missing the melancholy look that crosses Bruce’s face.
The graveyard was deserted save their small group. Bruce led the way, weaving through gravestones, alert for the sound of approaching intruders as he scanned the path to Clark’s tombstone. It was already a route he could follow with his eyes closed. Lex followed directly behind him with Oliver bringing up the rear. Chloe and J’onn walked in front, carrying a stretcher between them.
“Here,” he said quietly a short time later. He stopped in front of Clark’s resting place, dark earth now hidden behind rolls of sod with the seams still visible. Setting a hand on top of the stone, Bruce took a moment to read the simple words beneath Clark’s name: we will never forget. Chloe had selected them in the days just after his death when Bruce couldn’t seem to force out a complete sentence let alone pick out the words that would sit in remembrance above Clark’s body.
Oliver stood next to him, keeping his silence for several seconds. “Are we sure about this?”
It was J’onn who answered. “The tests are as conclusive as can be expected. I’ve taken measures to protect us should something other than <I>Clark</I> be returned.”
Bruce looked up sharply. “That’s the first I’ve heard of these measures.”
“It didn’t seem appropriate at the time.”
“What are they.” It wasn’t a question.
“Should some thing arise instead, I will transport myself and it into space. From there I will be able to deal with it while not endangering the rest of you. Or the world.”
“And if it were to subdue you? What then, J’onn?”
“I’ve thought of that as well. You need not concern yourself with the details.”
“Tell me,” Bruce growled, stepping closer to him.
“He’s wearing a homing beacon,” Oliver spoke up when J’onn remained silent. “If the distress call goes out, the Watchtower will release a subsonic wave that will debilitate any life form in a twenty mile radius of him that does not match J’onn’s DNA signature.”
“And if he’s not able to activate the beacon?”
“There is a failsafe in place,” J’onn said. “If debilitating bodily harm is detected, it will activate automatically.”
Bruce stepped back, expression wary as he analyzed their plan. “You’re sure that will work?”
Lex placed a hand on his shoulder. “LuthorCorp designed it. It’ll work.”
“You knew about this.” Lex didn’t respond. “What else aren’t you telling me?”
“That’s it, Bruce.” Chloe moved to stand in front of him. “There’s nothing else.”
Bruce turned his back and picked up a shovel, saying nothing more as he pushed it into the pliant earth and began to lift the sod. Oliver joined him a moment later and they dug until Lex switched places with Oliver halfway down. Bruce steadfastly refused to let anyone take the shovel from him until the blade clunked against the mahogany wood of Clark’s coffin. He passed the shovel up to Chloe and dropped to his knees, using his hands to sweep the dirt back and to the side as Lex moved to do the same.
It was only seconds before they unearthed the top half of the casket. Bruce sat back on his heels, drawing in a deep breath, holding it for several beats before letting go. He didn’t wait for anyone to speak, grasping the edge of the coffin and pulling, lifting it up and open.
Clark’s body was pale, wasted. Cheekbones showed in stark relief against sunken skin and the amount of weight he’d lost before his death was startling to those who hadn’t seen it yet. Bruce could hear Chloe’s choked sob behind him and ignored it as he began pushing dirt off the lower half of the casket, shifting to the edge so Lex could lift the lid.
“Is that stretcher ready?” Bruce found Lex’s eyes in the dark, thinking back to the day they had carried and unconscious, rogue Superman into a specially designed underground facility.
Above them, Oliver’s head dipped in the affirmative. “We’re ready.”
Reaching down, Bruce slipped his hands under unmoving shoulders, gripping cold flesh. Lex did the same at Clark’s feet. With a nod as a signal, they lifted in tandem, passing his body up to the waiting hands of J’onn and Oliver. Bruce watched as they lifted him onto the waiting stretcher, Chloe reaching for his hands and carefully laying them across his chest.
They retreated swiftly, Bruce relenting enough to allow Oliver and J’onn each take one end of the stretcher and instead led the way back to their vehicles. No one spoke as they moved through the dark, and when one of Clark’s arms slid from his chest and hung limply over the side, Chloe hurried forward to tuck it back into place, translucent tears slipping down her cheeks. Clark was secured in the back of the hearse Lex had managed to acquire, and the group split for the trip to the farm where transportation to the Watchtower was waiting.
He knows something is coming; can tell by the way Clark throws him what he thinks are covert looks every few minutes. Finally he turns his attention from the book in his hands to the man sitting on the couch opposite him. “What’s on your mind?”
Clark startles slightly and a brief flash of guilt crosses his features. “Nothing.”
Bruce waits, knowing Clark will speak when he’s ready. It takes several minutes of watching him flip through a magazine with a feigned interest, but finally Clark tosses the glossy pages onto the coffee table separating them and focuses a serious gaze on the discarded material.
“I’m ready to go back to work.”
Bruce has to fight the urge to say no right off the bat. He sits without speaking and waits for Clark to tell him whatever carefully planned argument he has constructed.
“It’s been a long time since I woke up, and I know there are still pieces missing, things I don’t remember, but I can’t sit around waiting for my life to come back to me. I have to go after it. Going back to work seems the best way to do that.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for that?”
Bruce sighs and struggles to find a way to say he disagrees that doesn’t involve Superman and the past Clark can no longer recall. Clark’s not ready. He only thinks he is. “Clark,” he begins, forcing himself to make and maintain eye contact. “I don’t think you are.”
“I’m sorry. When it comes right down to it, this is your decision, but I don’t think you’re as ready as you feel you might be. I won’t tell you not to go back to work, but I will tell you I think it’s a bad idea. It’s too soon.”
Clark stares at him incredulously. “Too soon? I’ve been sitting on my ass in this house for months, Bruce, and you’re trying to tell me it’s too soon? Are you serious?”
Clark is standing now, pacing, and Bruce’s eyes track his movements. Clark’s body still holds the memory of movement, the ability to almost glide as he walks, all traces of his manufactured clumsiness gone. Bruce loves to watch him move, and he finds himself getting lost in the motion until Clark’s words bring him back to the present.
“Look, I know this has been hard on you, too. We’ve been together a long time, and it can’t be easy when you come across things, significant events or special memories that I can’t remember. You’ve been filling in the blanks for a long time now, and I guess –“ He stops short and paces the length of the room once more before coming back and kneeling before Bruce. “I guess I feel like I need to do something to help lighten the load. You know? And going back to work seems like the best thing. It might trigger memories that I can’t recall any other way.”
That’s what I’m afraid of, Bruce thinks. Out loud he says, “What the hell are we supposed to tell people?” Bruce stands and crosses the room, putting his back to Clark and resting a hand on the bookshelf before him.
“What do you mean? We tell people the truth, Bruce. Why would we say anything other than the truth?” Clark’s voice has calmed and now holds a note of confusion.
Bruce realizes his error. Clark thinks he was working deep undercover on a story when the situation went bad and he was presumed dead. Until Jimmy Olsen captured his face in a crowd shot (a photo that had been easily manipulated into existence by the photographer), and Bruce had tracked him down. Clark thinks he suffered a head injury that left him comatose only to wake up several weeks later with large chunks of his memory missing.
“I’m sorry, Clark. I know you think this is a good idea, but I can’t agree with you. It’s your decision if you want to go back to work, and I’ll support you in that –“
“But you don’t think it’s the right move.” Clark stands angrily and Bruce turns to watch as he leaves, still speaking. “That’s fine, Bruce. You’re entitled to your opinion.” And then Clark is gone, holed up in the room that used to be his office, Bruce thinks, if the distinctive creak of the door as it shuts behind him is anything to go by. Bruce is left standing like a fool with his head in his hands and a grim expression fixed on his face.
The trip to the Watchtower had been silent. No one knew what to say, and idle talk seemed so far outside the realm of appropriate that silence was the only thing left to them. There were others waiting when they arrived; Diana, Bart, Victor, and A.C. Each had the same look in their eyes when they caught sight of Clark’s body for the first time; bone-deep sorrow followed by faint hope mingled with fear that what they were attempting would work.
As a group they moved towards the medical facilities, a quiet procession of serious faces and tensed shoulders. The room had been readied in advance with a bed equipped with restraints and a grouping of medical equipment. A chill raced down Bruce’s spine as he took it in, reminded of the room where Clark had been kept when the entity had taken control of his body. Glancing towards Lex and Chloe, he could tell they were thinking the same thing.
It wasn’t until Clark had been stripped to boxers and outfitted with a slew tubes, wires, and other medical paraphernalia that Bruce considered the question of <I>how</I>. It was unlike him not to know the exact details in advance, and he had to force himself to analyze his decision not to ask. In the end, he realized he couldn’t have gone through with it if he’d known. Going in blind was against his natural inclinations, but he couldn’t justify the risk of that knowledge clouding his judgement.
At least, that’s what he kept telling himself.
“It’s remarkable,” J’onn said, interrupting his thoughts. “The cells have not degraded at all. There’s been no decomposition of the body.” He looked up from the microscope set in front of him.
Bruce frowned. “We’re sure he’s actually…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.
“Without a doubt, yes. I’ve attempted to scan him several times with no results. This tissue sample may not have decomposed, but it is most certainly not alive.”
“How long do you think the kryptonite will take to affect him?” For her part, Chloe’s eyes were the only things that revealed her fear.
“With the skin samples it was instantaneous. Given his size, I believe it will take no more than a minute or two.” J’onn turned his focus to the room at large. “This will be a great shock to his system. Whatever happens, remain calm. You’ll do him no good if you panic.”
”All it takes is exposure to the kryptonite?” Bruce asked. “It doesn’t need to be injected?”
“It works much in the same way as green kryptonite. I’ve determined it needs to be within a two-foot diameter in order to be effective. Beyond it has no effect.” J’onn stood, reaching for the small, lead box sitting innocuously on the workbench. Looking to Bruce, he asked, “If we’re ready?”
At Bruce’s nod, he stepped forward. Everyone in the room drew closer, some to watch and some to stand by equipment that might be needed. J’onn stepped close to Clark’s body and slipped the latch free on the box, pulling the lid back and letting loose a shimmer of gold light into the room. It bathed Clark’s body instantly, and the others watched in fascination as the emaciated flesh began to fill out, muscle mass rebuilding, skin taking on a healthy glow.
Machinery began to shriek and beep as Clark’s heart beat twice slowly and then so rapidly that a warning began to flash on the monitor. A great, rasping breath was drawn in and his chest began to rise and fall, hyperventilating. Clark’s eyes flew open and squeezed shut an instant later as if the bright lights above the bed blinded him. His body jerked in distress, pulling against the restraints wildly and then he was flat lining. J’onn was already moving, reaching for the defibrillator paddles and charging them as A.C. slid an oxygen mask over Clark’s mouth then removing it at a nod from J’onn. Clark’s body arced off the table as the paddles delivered a jolt of electrical current to his unresponsive heart three times before a staccato rhythm began to tap out on the monitor.
Bruce had stood nearly frozen while they worked, moving only to return the movement only as Chloe appeared at his side and slid her hand into his to squeeze tightly. What felt like an eternity had taken three minutes from beginning to end. Clark was unconscious but <I>alive</I>. Alive. His heart beat steadily now, his breath was coming easily and his body had stilled, no longer wracked with spasms.
“It worked,” Bruce whispered.
J’onn glanced up from where he was sliding the tip of a needle into Clark’s IV. “I’ve administered a heavy sedative. It’s best that he sleep while his body recuperates. We’ll wake him in a few days.”
Clark is pliant beneath Bruce; head tipped back and throat exposed as he arches his body into Bruce’s touch. He is quiet for the moment save the hitch in his breath as Bruce’s probing fingers connect with his prostate. They’ve been doing this for nearly an hour now, slowly working up to the moment when Bruce slid a finger, then two, inside of Clark. Their talk and laughter pushed aside for now in favour of sinking into the simple sensation of touch. Bruce presses a kiss to the rise of Clark’s hip, letting his lips drift over exposed skin and smiling at the tickle of soft hairs trailing down towards Clark’s groin. He crooks his fingers again and Clark shudders beneath him.
“Ready, Bruce. I’m ready. Please.”
“I know you are,” Bruce whispers back to him, pulling his fingers back and out before moving in again with three. Clark grunts, his head hits the pillow beneath him and his hips cant further into the touch. “But I’m not.”
Clark has no time to respond because Bruce is moving his mouth down over his cock, and all Clark can do is fist his hands in the sheets at his side and let the feeling overwhelm him.
Bruce isn’t sure how long it takes for Clark to unravel beneath him, but soon enough his mouth is filling with the slightly bitter taste of come and Clark’s body is tightening around his fingers. He doesn’t let go right away, doesn’t withdraw completely. Not until Clark pushes at him, too sensitive for more. He leans up and draws Clark’s mouth to his with a hand slipping into his hair and neither cares about the taste of Clark still on his tongue.
He pulls back just long enough to reach for the condom sitting on the bedside table; Clark is human now, and Bruce refuses to take any chances with the life he just got back. Clark whines low in his throat and Bruce knows the words are coming.
“I want to feel you.”
“I know. I just…” He meets Clark’s eyes and sees understanding. He’s never been able to fully explain his sudden need for a layer of latex between them, not without telling of who Clark once was. But Clark, he knows, understands that there are reasons and his token protest is never said to hurt.
Clark’s hands slide down his body, reach to take the square packet from him. Deft fingers tear it open and Bruce closes his eyes against the heat of fingers sliding the condom down over his length followed by the burst of cool against hot as Clark slicks lube over the latex before moving down to add more to his own stretched body.
He moves closer and slips easily inside Clark’s lax body. One of his legs rests across the back of Bruce’s thigh while Bruce wraps his arm under the other and gently pushes it back, knee to chest, opening Clark to him further. He thrusts as slow and shallow as he can manage, turning and dropping his head to sink teeth into the soft flesh of the inner thigh held close by his arm.
Clark whines, the sound coming out high and hitched as his cock twitches and slowly begins to fill with blood again. He’s half hard by the time Bruce begins to move faster, deeper, and sweat gleams on his chest as his breath starts to come in short, harsh bursts. The room is hot, the cloying heat smelling of sex and sweat.
Bruce leans down, forcing Clark’s leg further and he grunts at the stretch before Bruce’s cock presses into his prostate and he makes a strangled, choking noise in the back of his throat. Above him, Bruce pauses.
“Alright there?” he asks, arching an eyebrow.
“No one said stop.” Clark thrusts up, forcing Bruce deeper, shivering as his prostrate is hit again. “C’mon, Bruce, move.”
Bruce grins and draws back only to push forward hard and fast, setting a pace that leaves a fresh layer of sweat slicking his back and coating his forehead, rolling down his nose to drip onto Clark’s shoulder. When he comes undone his hips stutter in the rhythm of his thrusts as he shudders through the height of orgasm.
Hours later, Bruce lies on his side and watches Clark shift restlessly in sleep. He’s dreaming; soft groans and sparse whimpers indicating it’s not a pleasant one. Bruce reaches out a hand, resting it on Clark’s bicep and shaking gently. Clark’s head rolls towards him, but he doesn’t wake.
“Hey, wake up. Clark?” Bruce shakes him again without result. Moving his hand up to brush the hair from Clark’s forehead brings about a small sigh and a slight stilling of movement. Bruce continues to stroke until Clark has settled back into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
“Morning,” Clark says blearily as he walks into the kitchen the next morning. He takes a seat next to Bruce and smiles gratefully at the waiting mug filled to the brim with hot, black coffee. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Figured you’d need it this morning.”
“Did I keep you up?”
“No, I was awake anyway. What were the dreams about?”
Clark frowns into his drink for a moment before shrugging. “I don’t really remember.”
Bruce watches as his shoulders pull in close to his body just slightly and notes the way he avoids eye contact for just a second; Clark is lying. He files that thought away for later and instead reaches out to brush a stray eyelash off Clark’s cheek. His own eyes find the coffee in front of him as Clark’s lips twitch up at the silly gesture.
“Do you have everything you need?”
This time Clark does meet Bruce’s eyes and understands that he’s really asking if he’s ready for this. “Yeah, thanks. It’s only a half-day. Everything should be fine.”
“Going back to work is a significant step.”
“You don’t have to worry, Bruce. I’ve got to get myself set up with Human Resources and IT, and I have a meeting with Perry and Chloe. I’ll be only be gone for about three hours.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Right,” Clark grins. “Sure you’re not. That’s why you’re playing The Brooding One.”
Bruce can almost hear the capital letters in Clark’s tone. “I’m not brooding.”
“You still don’t think this is a good idea.”
“There are too many things you don’t remember. Things that could hurt you.”
“I’m a big boy now.” Clark leans over and drops a kiss on Bruce’s lips to soften his words.
“Big is one word to describe you.”
“Mind out of the gutter, at least until I get home.”
“You could stay home. We could fuck instead.”
“Tempting.” Clark dips his head slightly to kiss Bruce properly this time, letting his tongue run across dry lips until they open for him. “Really tempting,” he groans, drawing back.
“I’ve got a conference call this afternoon, but after that? We’re fucking.”
“No arguments here.”
Bruce watches Clark go. “What are you hiding from me?” It’s a whisper to an empty room as the front door closes behind Clark’s back.
“You should get some proper sleep, Bruce. He’s sedated. I’ll sit with him while you lay down, but I promise he won’t even realize you’re gone.”
Bruce didn’t look up at Chloe from his station at Clark’s side. “I can’t leave him.”
“You need to rest. Not to mention shower, shave, and change your clothes.” She smiled lightly at him. “We both know he’ll call you an idiot for not taking care of yourself. Save the talk for better subjects.”
She watched as he leaned forward and took Clark’s hand in his own, stroking the dry skin of the palm gently with his fingertips. She knew when his shoulders slumped and his chin dropped to his chest that four days of pestering had finally won out. Bruce stood after a moment, laying Clark’s hand back at his side and bringing hollow, red-rimmed eyes up to meet her gaze.
“Promise you’ll come get me the instant something changes.”
“Even if I have to pull you out of the shower naked and lathered in soap.”
“Try to contain yourself.”
Chloe grinned triumphantly in response to the small smile he flashed at her. “I make no promises,” she joked. “Go on. I won’t leave until you come back. And I don’t want to see you for at least six hours, understood?”
“I can take you.” He arched an eyebrow at her in mock challenge and Chloe’s smile widened.
“But you wouldn’t.”
“No, I wouldn’t.” He placed a chaste kiss on her forehead. “I haven’t thanked you yet, have I?”
Surprised by his gesture, Chloe took a second to respond. “Don’t thank me until he’s back with us, okay?” Bruce was already on his way out the door as she spoke, but she still caught the whispered thank you as he moved away from her.
* * *
Six hours and two minutes later, Bruce strode back into the medical bay. “Yes, I slept,” he said by way of greeting and effectively cutting Chloe off as she opened her mouth to speak. “Just not well,” he admitted.
“If it’s any consolation, at least you don’t smell anymore.”
“Thanks,” he said wryly.
“J’onn should be here soon.”
“He didn’t say. Just left word that he’d be here to talk to us once you were awake. And no, Bruce,” she held up a hand at the look on his face. “That doesn’t constitute something I should have woken you up for.”
“You should have tried to rest longer,” J’onn said as he entered the room.
“Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine. It’s time we try waking him.”
“You say try as if you don’t think he’ll wake up.”
“I believe he may be too disoriented to do much more than go back to sleep.”
“I stopped the sedative while you were resting this morning, but it will take some time to work its way out of his system. Diana has left to get Lex; they should be arriving shortly.”
“Alright,” he nodded and fell silent for several seconds. “We have no idea what to expect, do we?” His voice was pitched low as if he didn’t want Clark to hear him.
“Not really, no.”
“And if something’s wrong with him,” Chloe began. “Does the same failsafe apply as when we brought him back initially?”
J’onn nodded. “He and I will be transported away.”
“Do we have any concrete reasons to believe that will be necessary?” It was Lex who spoke as he strode towards them, followed closely by Diana.
“The brief reading of his thoughts I was able to get was jumbled, disjointed. But they were Clark’s thoughts. His-“ he stopped.
“His what,” Bruce prompted.
“His panic. His body was in distress; panic was to be anticipated.”
“You don’t have to hide those things from me. I can handle this.”
“No one’s disputing that.”
“Yet you all seem to think that keeping me out of the loop is the best course of action. Why?”
“Bruce, we’re trying to do the best we can.” Chloe put her hand on his forearm. “But honestly? You can be a little scary.” She felt the tension ease under her fingertips as he cracked a faint grin.
“Only a little? I must be slipping.”
“You should probably work on that.”
“I’ll get right on it.”
A faint groan from the bed drew their attention. Clark hadn’t moved, but his eyes shifted slightly from side to side beneath their lids. Bruce was at his side in two strides, reaching for Clark’s hand and searching for any further sign of consciousness. Chloe stood next to him while Lex, Diana and J’onn took up residence opposite.
“How long?” Lex asked, turning to look at J’onn.
“The sedative was strong; it should still be a while. But without the ability to know how his body is metabolizing the medication, he may wake up sooner rather than later.”
* * *
It was an hour before medicated sleep turned to actual rest, and an hour longer until Clark really began to show signs of waking. By that time several League members had gathered in the room to watch and wait. When Clark groaned again, Bruce found himself returning Chloe’s grip when she held his tightly in both of hers.
Blue eyes blinked open several minutes later, squinting and closing again before a slim line of colour reappeared. Clark drew in a deep, shuddering breath and forced his eyes open further. No one spoke at first, waiting for a sign from Clark that he knew they were there. When he spoke, his voice was cracked and ill used, so rough that if the word hadn’t been a logical choice, even Bruce would not have been able to understand.
Bruce answered, leaning forward so that Clark wouldn’t have to turn to see him. “The medical facilities in the Watchtower, Clark.”
Clark blinked up at him slowly, expression blank. “I don’t…” He cleared his throat, eyes closing and opening again as he shook his head. “I don’t…know.”
“It’s alright, just take it easy. You’ve been through a lot.”
Clark frowned, eyes never leaving Bruce’s. “Where?” he tried again.
Bruce flicked his eyes swiftly up to J’onn, who had a hand on Clark’s wrist, and then fixed them back on Clark again. J’onn stepped back, signalling for all but the few gathered around the bed to leave the room. He shut the door after them and returned as fatigue took over and Clark’s eyes slid shut.
“What is it,” Bruce demanded. “What’s wrong with him.”
“His memories are incomplete.”
“Amnesia?” Lex asked.
“Something to that effect.”
J’onn faced Bruce with a serious expression. “He doesn’t know us. Not yet. He hardly knows himself.”
“You said incomplete; what does he remember?” Bruce forced his body to relax.
“I saw images of his life in Smallville. High school, his father’s death, the day he left for Metropolis University. The day he met you, Bruce, the last Christmas he spent with his mother, several other events from his life. None of these were things he consciously recalled upon waking; they are memories he has retained.”
“You’re leaving out some pretty large gaps.” Bruce fixed him with an intent look. “What about his memories relating to Superman?”
J’onn didn’t hesitate. “There were none that I could see.”
“That you could see,” Lex interrupted. “Does that means they’re gone, or just not at the forefront of his mind?”
“We’ll know more when he’s able to remain awake longer.” J’onn moved to pass Bruce, but the other man grabbed his bicep and held him in place.
“You’re saying he may have no memory of himself as Superman?”
“I’m saying I didn’t pick up on those particular memories.”
After a long, searching look at J’onn, Bruce let go and stalked back to Clark’s bedside. No one spoke as he resumed his watch, settling back into his chair with a weary sigh. He listened while all but Chloe filtered from the room, turning his head towards her only after they were alone again.
“Did you eat?” she asked.
“I’m starving, and my caffeine levels have dropped way below acceptable levels. Is a sandwich alright by you?”
“Thank you, Chloe.”
He turned back to Clark once she’d left and found blue eyes at half-mast watching him. “Clark?” He leaned forward, taking Clark’s hand in his own again. “You with me?”
“I know you,” he whispered roughly.
“You do. I’m Bruce.” Clark frowned under his watchful eyes, and Bruce could all but see the confusion racing through his mind as he searched for a memory. His heart sped up the longer Clark remained silent until finally the other man’s expression cleared and a small smile found its way to his lips.
“Bruce,” he said and hummed softly. “I remember. Did we…” his smile faltered for a moment. “Did we have a fight?”
Bruce struggled to think of what fight Clark could be remembering as he offered a simple answer. “Nothing major. I don’t even remember what it was about.”
“I… pushed you.” Clark’s words were coming slowly as he struggled to place his thoughts into context.
The kitchen. When Lois was there. “What’s the last thing you remember before that?”
Blue eyes closed for a few beats before opening again. “Staff meeting. Perry said he… he’d be retiring in a year. Then lunch. With you.”
The day of the attack, Bruce realized with a start. “That’s good,” he said out loud. “Can you keep thinking back?”
“What happened to me?”
“An accident. It doesn’t matter right now. What’s important is that you’re awake.” And alive.
“Don’t remember an accident.”
“That’s okay. We expected that.”
“Where am I?” he asked again.
Bruce hesitated, wondering how much to tell him. “In the medical facilities of the Watchtower. Do you remember what that is?” Clark frowned in confusion again and Bruce would give anything to never see that expression on his face again.
“The Justice League. You…” His eyes roam over Bruce’s face as he hesitates. “You’re Batman.”
“I was. I stopped when you got hurt.”
“People need you.”
“You need me more.”
Clark didn’t say anything for a while, flexing his fingers in Bruce’s grasp as Bruce pretended not to notice the faint tremor humming through his whole body. “I’ll be okay,” he said, his voice rising on the last word as if he’d been asking a question rather than offering reassurances.
“You’ll be okay,” Bruce repeated, voice low and expression intense. “Between the two of us we’ll make sure you’re okay.” The sound of dishes rattling could be heard, foreshadowing Chloe’s return, and he looked up as she entered.
“Hey, Chloe.” It was only a moment’s hesitation this time and there’s a genuine smile on Clark’s face when Chloe set the tray of food on a table and drew a chair close to his side.
“If I’d known you were awake, I’d have made enough for three.”
“Not sure I could eat now. You go ahead.”
“The food will keep, Clark. How are you feeling?” She glanced up at Bruce as she spoke.
“Tired. Weak. Just… Just weird.”
Bruce frowned. “Weird how?”
“Like the edges don’t quite meet up.” Clark’s eyes drifted down to where Bruce’s hand covered his own. Above him, Chloe and Bruce shared a worried look.
Bruce begins to notice how Clark hides what he’s doing whenever he enters the home office. He doesn’t comment because Clark’s habits have changed since he woke up. Just slightly. Just enough that Bruce had stopped questioning certain things and started chalking them up to this new behaviour. This is new, though, and when combined with the nightmares Clark still claims to have no recollection of, Bruce finds it enough to warrant concern.
There is nearly a month of secretive behaviour before he cracks and hacks into both Clark’s personal and work computers. He finds weeks worth of research and notes on Superman with particular focus on the tail end of the time he was under the influence of the alien entity.
While Clark is still at work, he makes a thorough search of his office. He finds a notebook full of Clark’s handwriting; accounts of the dreams he’s been having, a comparison of dates to that of his “death” and Superman’s, clippings of his obituary and Chloe’s article about the final string of events in Superman’s life. He’s about to put the notebook back under the sheaf of papers it had been tucked beneath when Clark’s voice in the doorway stopped him.
“What are you doing?”
“Reading your notebook.” He holds it up in one hand and shuts the desk drawer with the other. There’s no point denying when he’s already been caught in the act. “Clark, if you’d come to me, I could have–“
“You had no right.”
Clark stepped close, took the book from him, but didn’t move back. “Then why go looking?”
“We’ve been together a long time. I can tell when you’re lying to me, when you’re keeping something important from me. If it was only that you needed to keep something to yourself until you could figure it out on your own, I would have left well enough alone. But this has been hurting you. You’ve been having nightmares, and even before seeing that,” he gestured at the book clutched in Clark’s white-knuckled grip. “I knew you were remembering them. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Clark doesn’t answer for a moment, holding his ground, their chests separated by inches. Finally, his body sags and his face crumples. “Because I couldn’t remember, Bruce. I couldn’t make the dreams fit into what I know of my life. I didn’t think you’d tell me what I needed to know.”
“I would have. All you had to do was ask.”
“Because that’s worked so well in the past!”
“You weren’t ready.”
“Why do you get to decide that? Why can’t I decide when I’m ready?”
“What do you know, Clark? What do you remember?”
“Fragments.” He moves back and leans against the wall, letting his body slide slowly down until he’s sitting on the floor cradling his head in his hands. “I wasn’t sure what the dreams were at first. I knew who Superman was, but I didn’t know why I was dreaming about him. I still… It doesn’t make sense, Bruce. None of it makes sense!”
Bruce sits beside him, takes one of his hands away from his face and squeezes it. He doesn’t let go. “Tell me what you think.”
“I had a dream last night that my father was talking to me. Only it wasn’t my father, it wasn’t Jonathan Kent. It was his father; Jor-El. He told me that it wasn’t over. I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t answer. It was cold and dark and I couldn’t see anything. I remember screaming at him, asking what he wanted from me, but he didn’t say anything else. I was alone in the middle of nothing.”
Bruce waits while Clark draws in a deep, shaking breath. “What do you think he meant?”
“I don’t know,” Clark whispers. “Why would I… why would he be in my dreams, Bruce? It doesn’t make sense. Not unless I’m missing something pretty fucking huge here. Not unless I’m…” He trails off, tips his head back to thud against the wall.
“I didn’t want you to know.”
“Know what.” Clark fixes him with a look full of anguish he couldn’t hide anymore.
“It was selfish of me, but I was hoping you wouldn’t remember. I was hoping you could have normal. Just this one time. You’ve earned normal. You don’t deserve to carry that burden.”
“Stop talking around what you’re trying not to say.”
Bruce sighs and turns to face Clark’s fear-filled blue eyes. “You were Superman, Clark. A lifetime ago.”
“It’s been months. He still doesn’t remember.”
“Are you going to tell him?”
Bruce looked at Diana across his kitchen table and thought about how she looked just slightly out of place in the space. “I don’ t know.”
“If he starts to recall things on his own, it might be more traumatic for him. He would have no context in which to analyse those memories.”
“I’m aware of that. He deserves to know who he really is, but I know him. I know how he’ll react to the things it did.”
“That isn’t something you can shelter him from.”
“I know I need to tell him.”
“Then why are we having this conversation?”
“Because I can’t have it with him.”
Diana watched Bruce as he stood and pushed away the chair. It bounced lightly off the wall, leaving a scuffmark in its wake. “How is he otherwise?” she asked, mercifully changing the subject.
“Adjusting. He’s… almost like he used to be. Only not. Does that make any sense?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “He’s back at the Daily Planet. Things are going well for him. Did you see it yesterday? His first front-page headline since going back. He found out that the head of Gray Industries, an architectural firm, was utilizing bribery and blackmail to obtain contracts for prominent jobs within the city limits. Once he got them, he’d cut corners to raise his profit margins.”
“I did see it. His detective work was impressive. Something he learned from you, I suspect.”
Bruce sat back down. “He’s been dreaming. I think his subconscious is trying to return his memories.”
“Has he said what the dreams are about?”
“No. Clark claims to not remember them.”
“You think he’s lying.”
“He remembers them. And they’re getting worse. Nightmares. There are nights when he wakes up screaming, but he still says he doesn’t know what they’re about.”
”He’ll come to you when he’s ready, Bruce. Give him time.”
“I should have told you long before now, Clark.”
“Why didn’t you?” Clark presses his head back against the wall as if the pressure will ground him somehow, make the feeling that he’s floating away finally stop.
“I didn’t know how.”
“That’s not good enough.”
Bruce looks helplessly at Clark and sees that his eyes are closed and his face is pale. The body-wide tremor he remembers from the days just after Clark was resurrected has returned. Bruce can feel it where their shoulders touch, see it in the line of Clark’s arm and where his fingers are splayed limply in his lap.
“Chloe’s article said that he wasn’t… I wasn’t myself at the end. When I – when I did those-“ He stops, unable to finish the sentence out loud. When I did those things, he thinks. When I killed those people.
“On the anniversary of your death,” Bruce almost choked on the word. “Do you remember the news report on the battle? The one where you fell?”
Clark nods. “The dreams started after that. Dreams about him. Good ones. The nightmares… they came later.”
Bruce closes his eyes against the emotional distress he can feel rolling off Clark in waves. “They infected you with an alien entity. A weapon. The things you did were controlled by it. Not you. It wasn’t really you.”
“I don’t remember any of it. Chloe’s article… didn’t say how it was stopped. Not really. Just that my body gave out under its onslaught. I need to know what happened.”
“I don’t think this is a good time, Clark. You’re upset, and-“
Bruce jumps at the force of his shout. He doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t think he can.
“Damn it, Bruce. Tell me, or I’ll find someone who will.” He starts to rise when Bruce keeps his silence, but the whispered words stop him cold a moment later.
“You died. We killed you. Injected you with enough kryptonite to make your heart stop. You… when it left you were too far gone. You asked, and I…””
Clark sits back down heavily, waiting and not looking at Bruce.
“We killed you, and then we brought you back.”
“How long was I dead?” Clark whispers.
“Eighteen days.” Bruce feels a physical pain in his chest when Clark moans. There is silence for several minutes.
“You buried me in Smallville. With my parents.”
“I was dead.” His eyes are glazed, fixed unseeingly on the opposite wall.
“How did you do it? How did you bring me back?”
“It made you human. As a human, your body recovered from the damage done by,” Bruce paused, drawing in a deep breath. “By the green kryptonite we used to restrain you in the end. It regenerated your cells. Brought you back.”
Clark is silent, processing this new information as he forces himself to breath slowly, steadily, trying to calm his racing heart. He sits without moving until Bruce’s tentative hand on his arm startles him.
“I have to go.”
“I can’t stay here. I can’t just sit here after this.” He stands, shaking off the other man’s touch. “I can’t. I can’t! I have to – I just need to… I have to go.”
He’s gone, running for the door as Bruce climbs to his feet behind him and calls his name. Out the front door and down the steps, he runs until his lungs burn and he doesn’t know where he is. It’s late and the streets are quiet as he slows to a walk and then stops, resting a hand against the rough brick of a deserted building. The sounds of the night slowly filter in past his loud, panting breaths. He can hear murmured voices approaching from the opposite side of the street, a television playing too loudly in an apartment above the empty store fronts. He doesn’t notice the shuffling in the alley behind him until it’s too late.
An arm encircles him from behind and a cold knife is pressed against his throat. He can feel the sharpness of the blade as its owner uses a touch too much pressure and the skin breaks slightly.
“You should know better than to be out on the streets so late at night, Kent.”
Clark starts as the man calls him by name. “W-what do you want Who are you?” he stammers.
The arm around him tugs and Clark is forced to bend and walk backwards as the man steers them into the alley with the knife held firmly in place.
“My father. Because of you, he’s dead.”
An icy wave of dread washes through Clark. “Who are you?” he whispers again.
“Just another nameless face on the street, Kent.”
“Your father – I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Think real hard, Kent. You wrote a story that exposed some of his not quite squeaky-clean business practices. He went to jail. He died in jail. That’s your fault. Had to stick your nose where it didn’t belong, didn’t you. Fucking reporter.” The man laughs and tightens his grip as they reach a dumpster and slip behind it, out of sight from the street and hidden in the shadows.
“You should have left well enough alone. My father would still be alive.”
“Cooper Gray.” Clark grunts as the knife digs in a little more, confirming his suspicions.
“Imagine my surprise when I looked up to see you running past me. I figured, someone’s on my side tonight, because look what the universe brought me. A fucking gift from the heavens.”
“Your father may not have deserved to die, Cooper, but he deserved to be in jail.”
The arm releases him and he’s spun, shoved back hard into the wall and his head bounces off the surface. Spots dance in front of his eyes for a moment and then everything goes white as the blade slides neatly into his gut and Cooper pulls up, twisting it, opening the wound wide. Clark is being held up by the wall and Cooper and his grip on the blade and nothing else.
“Shoulda minded your own fucking business, Kent.” He lets go and takes the blade with him. Clark falls to his hands and knees, the world spinning around him. His chin bounces off the pavement when he topples, but Clark doesn’t feel it. He curls onto his side, gasping with the effort, and wraps his arms around his torso. The last coherent thought he has is that Bruce will be so upset that he got himself killed again.
* * *
Out on the streets, Bruce is jogging in the direction he thinks Clark went when a blinding light fills the night and forces him to squint against the painful glare. When he can see again, he is faced with the sight of a man laying on the street half a block away, arms outstretched and legs bent awkwardly. He breaks into a run and comes up short when he sees lifeless eyes staring blankly upward and a forgotten knife coated in blood laying just beyond the reach of the dead man’s fingers.
A chill grips Bruce and he turns in the street, searching for any sign of Clark. When he spots the alley, he makes a run for it. Slowing several feet in, he calls Clark’s name and waits for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. He moves methodically through the dirty space, searching the ground and surrounding debris. On the far side of the dumpster a coppery scent catches his attention above the stench of refuse. He kneels in the grunge, searching with outspread hands until he finds the pool of cooling blood. Lying in the centre of it is a medallion on a chain. Bruce picks it up, wipes as much blood as he can from its surface and holds it by the chain. He can just see its surface glinting in the dim light from the street. It holds the symbol of the House of El. Inverted.
“Clark?” he whispers.
* * *
Clark notices the cold before anything else. There is a wind coming from somewhere, chilling his already cold body to the bone. He’s past shivering as he forces his eyes open to take in the sight of ice. As far as he can see, columns of ice surround him, broken only by a clustered group of crystals.
“Kal-El,” a man’s voice says. “Do not be afraid.”
“Where am I?” Clark tries to sit up, gasping against the instant retort of pain rushing through his senses. Looking down he sees blood and the memory of a knife slicing through his flesh comes at once. He leans back and tries to breathe through the pain.
“Your Fortress, Kal-El. You may no longer possess the abilities provided to you by the effects of the yellow sun, but you are still the rightful owner of this sanctuary.”
“What’s going on?”
“You will be alright, my son, I promise you. Trust me.”
“I’m cold,” he whispers. The sensation of warmth covers him instantly, and the wind seems to bend around him.
“It will not be long now, Kal-El. Don’t be afraid.”
“I don’t want to die. Bruce – he won’t know – if I’m here he won’t know what happened.” Clark’s head rolls to the side, and he can feel his grasp on the world around him slipping as the steady flow of blood drains his life away. “We – we fought. He’ll think I left. He’ll think I left!”
Clark shudders as the disembodied voice seems to fill his head. “You will not die here.”
He coughs, blood staining the purity of the ice beneath him and Clark can feel his panic rising, choking him. His breath falters and his eyes squeeze shut. “Bruce.”
“Soon, Kal-El. It will be over soon.”
A warm light swirls up and around him, piercing through his eyelids and blinding him. He holds on to the thought of Bruce as his body goes numb and the ground below him begins to disappear. The pain in his stomach fades and he feels a pressure building in his skull before everything around him goes silent. He can’t move or speak, and for several terrifying moments he can’t breath. Then the silence is replaced by a rushing noise and suddenly his mind is filling with images, voices; a series of memories he’d woken up without. The gaps were rapidly filling in, in Technicolor surround sound.
Then there was nothing.
* * *
"You have much left to do in this world, Kal-El; this path has not yet ended. When you wake, your powers will be restored. Use them well. Do not dwell on the past, my son; it will only prevent you from seeing the future."
Clark's head turns at the voice, tries to place its origin. Jor-El is the one speaking, that much he knows. A flash followed by a jolting impact, and suddenly he's in the dark again. He can hear the traffic on the streets and the sounds of someone nearby struggling not to sob. The familiar heartbeat sends a shock through him.
"Bruce?" he calls, rolling from his back to his side and then up onto his hands and knees. He stands and moves towards the now silent figure.
"You weren't there a second ago." Bruce’s voice wavers between suspicion and relief.
"I was in the fortress."
"You were – what?"
Clark kneels before Bruce, who has shrunk back to the sit against the brick wall, arms wrapped around his knees. "I was attacked," he says, reaching out slowly to put his hand on Bruce's arm. "I must have passed out, and when I woke up, I was in the fortress and my father was speaking to me."
Bruce's voice shook. "What did he say?"
"That it would be over soon."
Clark raises his hands to Bruce's face, framing it, fingertips brushing against the edge of his jaw and sliding up into his hair. "This break from my true path, from my destiny."
"I thought you didn't believe in destiny."
"I didn't until you."
Bruce holds up the medallion, traces of blood drying inside the lines of the insignia. "I found this. I thought I'd lost you again."
Clark takes it from his loose grasp, frowning as he turns it over. "The symbol itself means hope in Kryptonian along with representing the House of El, but upside down… upside down it means resurrection." He looks up to meet Bruce's eyes.
"I remember everything. I-" he pauses, uncertain. Bruce brings his hands up to rest against his wrists and Clark watches as he aligns his grip against his pulse point. He finishes in a whisper. "I've got my powers back."
"How is that possible?"
Clark smiles at him, half sad and half hopeful. "I still have things to do here." He repeats Jor-El's words. "My path has not yet ended."
Jimmy Olsen's photo appears on the front page of the Daily Planet little more than a week later. It's taken at night and the angle is from the back, but the two figures holding court on the roof of the Planet are unmistakable. Superman and Batman stand side-by-side at the ledge, capes whipping out in a blur behind them, heads turned towards each other in profile. The headline reads, Welcome Home, Superman.