By: Arian (arianstarr)
Disclaimer: don't own, don't profit, just like to play
Notes: Written exclusively for Once Upon a Time in Gotham: A Superman/Batman Fanzine, organized by the lovely tmelange. Visit wfslash by clicking here to download a copy of the ebook! It is 142 pages of awesome stories and beautiful artwork. Enjoy!
The sky has melted from cerulean to midnight blue when Bruce's eyes flick open, and he blinks rapidly to clear the haze and refocus his vision. A frigid wind burns across the exposed skin of his face while he tests his limbs, rolls onto his side, and slowly gains his feet. A desolate field surrounds him, birdsong absent with the threat of the coming cold, and Bruce is grateful for the thermal properties of his suit as he begins the one mile trek back to the Batmobile. Half a click into the walk his head starts to spin and his gut clenches, and Bruce finds himself on his hands and knees losing the contents of his stomach with little warning.
Gagging in the dirty snow, Bruce makes a strangled gasping noise that sounds faintly like Clark's name. Seconds later there is a hand pressed between his shoulder blades, hardly felt through the bulk of his suit but recognizable all the same.
He retches again, dry heaves for another minute or so, and is finally able to find his voice and greet Clark with a gravelly, "Hey."
"Can you stand up?"
Bruce takes a moment to assess his aching body before giving Clark a stiff nod. "Give me a hand."
They move at a careful pace, letting the silence carry them as Bruce's steps shift from sluggish to smooth, and they reach the Batmobile in significantly less time than Bruce would have managed on his own. He is infinitely grateful that Clark chose not to super speed them anywhere, unsure if his stomach could handle the motion without rebelling painfully. When Clark slips a large hand around his elbow and leads him to the passenger side, Bruce glares and informs him that he doesn’t ride shotgun. Ever.
"Do you honestly think you’re in any condition to drive right now?" At Bruce’s silence, he shifts away and moves to the driver side, leaving Bruce no choice but to grudgingly slip into the seat next to him. "What happened?" he asks once they are on their way.
"I was tracking Poison Ivy."
Clark sends him a fleeting look, worry painting his eyes dark and furrowing his brow. "I wasn't aware Poison Ivy was an issue. Were you exposed?"
"Not as far as I can tell. I'll know more once I can run some tests."
Bruce is sleeping when the vehicle manoeuvres through the passages and into the Batcave; he remains unresponsive when Clark shakes him gently. Clark sighs and carries him past the dark bank of monitors and up the elevator to the main floor of the house. Bruce wakes only when Clark lays him down in bed and shakes his shoulder with more force.
"How do I get your suit off?"
Bruce's head is too fuzzy to wonder why he is asking when Clark is well aware of how to remove the suit, just guides him through it with slow words and too-heavy hands. He focuses bloodshot eyes on Clark and returns a faint smile with a bleary one of his own. Clark runs his hands over Bruce's body in search of injuries, wincing at the black-blue-purple bruise flaring across his torso just beneath his ribcage.
"There’s a lot of bruising, but you seem to be okay. Do you want me to get you an icepack or anything?"
"I should go back downstairs and start running tests."
"You should sleep off whatever happened to you."
"I need to figure this out, Clark. Sooner rather than later."
"Rest," Clark says sternly. He pushes Bruce back down gently when he tries to get up, smiling ruefully as he leans over to press a chaste kiss to Bruce's scowling mouth. "You look beat. We'll work on this once you've had a couple hours."
Bruce closes his eyes, feeling the pull of sleep on his weary body. "It would be better to deal with this right now."
"Sleep first," Clark says warningly.
"To be honest, I'd rather just stay here with you. Fuck the world. Let them fend for themselves for once." And shit, Bruce finally realizes that he really needs to let his body recuperate when he starts spouting garbage like that.
Clark lays a hand on Bruce's chest, careful to avoid the bruising as he makes a soothing back and forth motion. "All the more reason you need to take it easy," Clark responds, voicing Bruce's thoughts. "Since 'fuck the world' isn't generally part of your philosophy."
"Maybe in a perfect world."
"This could be a perfect world."
"I wish," Bruce mutters in return. He opens his eyes again when the air pressure around him seems to shift. Clark is seated on the side of the bed, still smiling at him. When he drifts back into a state of slumber moments later, he misses the shimmer of light that scrolls across the surface of Clark's skin, energy manifesting in shades of gold, green and pink.
* * *
Bruce wakes the next morning feeling impossibly tired for all that he's slept nearly twelve hours. Clark is lying on his back next to him, one hand resting over his heart and the other fisted down near his hip, legs kicked out straight. It's a very un-Clark-like position, Bruce thinks. Usually he wakes with Clark sprawled half on top of him, heavy limbs pinning him to the mattress and drowning him in his familiar warmth. A flashing light beside the bed lets him know that there is a message waiting for Batman.
"Clark," he says in a sleep-raspy voice. "Wake up."
Clark's eyes open instantly and he offers a dim imitation of his usual grin. "How did you sleep?"
"Fine, thank you. I'm getting up now."
Clark doesn't appear to notice the clipped tone, instead stretching to place a hand on Bruce's stomach, hovering close to the bruising hidden beneath a t-shirt. "I can get you whatever you need."
Bruce grunts and slips out from beneath it, rolling awkwardly out of bed with a wince. He steps across the room, reaching for his clothes as his head throbs in time with his heartbeat. "I'm going downstairs," he says before stepping into a pair of dark pants and an exquisitely soft and appropriately expensive sweater and striding out of the room. The sound of his shoes tapping against the hardwood floor echoes through the wide hallway as he walks away from Clark.
"It's Gordon. Something truly fucked up happened this morning. A ten-year-old walks into his family's home, shoots his mom and dad, leaves his little sister alive where she`s hiding in the closet, and drops dead in the middle of the living room. Only the kid has been dead for six months already. We've got nothing. Could use your help on this one."
Bruce replays the message twice, listening to the content as much as the hesitation in the Commissioner's voice. An attempt to return Gordon's call reveals the line is dead. He goes in search of Alfred first, perplexed when he discovers the man is nowhere to be found. He calls for Clark, stopping in the kitchen to peer out the fogged windows, straining to see if Alfred has gone outside. When he tries the door, Bruce finds that it isn't locked, but the knob sticks stubbornly; he can't get it open. He bellows Clark's name again as he moves towards the front hall. Finding the same with the front door he makes for his study to try the windows, still calling out for Clark. Frustration colors his pale cheeks red when he arrives back in the front hall, and the realization strikes him that he can't get out of the house.
Clark ambles slowly down the staircase after Bruce calls out for him twice more. He's dressed in yesterday's jeans with a grey t-shirt which fits so snugly across his chest that Bruce knows it must be one of his own. Bare feet make a light slapping noise on each wooden tread as he descends, stopping before Bruce.
"I called you. I've been calling you for ten minutes." Bruce is sure there is a note of panic in his voice now as his head continues to ache and his limbs feel so heavy he can hardly move.
"I'm sorry." Clark shifts, lifting his hands to grasp Bruce's biceps when he begins to sway unsteadily. "I was upstairs. I didn't hear you."
Bruce blinks. "You didn't hear me," he repeats flatly.
"Gordon says a dead kid murdered his parents."
He pauses for a moment at the sudden change in subject. "Like, from beyond the grave, or did he die after killing them?" Confusion thickens Clark's voice and shadows fill his eyes; eyes that are a blue one shade too dark.
"There's something wrong; I can't get out of the house. The doors won't open and neither will the windows. They aren't locked, but they won't open."
"The kid was dead, then he wasn't, then he was again."
"I'm calling Gordon."
"The line is out; I couldn't even get a satellite connection in the cave. See if you can get the door open. Something's not right here." Bruce knows he is changing topics at an alarming pace, and he feels like he is on the edge of freaking right the fuck out.
"Maybe you did get hit on the head."
"You scanned me. There was no concussion; I don't even have a bruise or a bump." Silence meets his comment. "Clark? When you found me, you scanned me. Right?"
Clark's face shimmers for a moment so brief Bruce thinks he could have imagined it – a side-effect of the way he's feeling – but then his face begins to morph into something else. Bruce sidesteps him, backing towards the stairs as the thing turns to follow his movement.
He demands, "What are you?"
One step closer and Bruce is pressed back flat against the wall, eyes wide and fixed on the misshapen, greyish creature appearing where the image of Clark's face is melting away. The thing – half Clark, half monster – smirks menacingly as one disfigured hand extends and a single finger stretches slowly upward.
"One wish left," it grits out in a voice more animalistic growl than human cadence. "Make it and you go free."
"Wish? What the hell are you?"
Clark's likeness has vanished entirely when it speaks. "I am Djinn. I am god. I feed on a wish's power. Make your final wish, human; be free."
"You'll twist it," Bruce growls as his mind races, slotting pieces together through the haze of disorientation. "I wished for Clark and you took his shape. I wished to stay here with him forever and you locked me in. If I make a wish, you'll turn it into something it's not."
The Djinn laughs, a flat, eerie sound that halts him in his tracks. "Wish and live, human. Refuse and die." It advances and Bruce finds he cannot move. The Djinn touches Bruce on the temple. "This will fall to madness." It lays a hand across Bruce's racing heart. "This shall fail before Djinn will release you." An unearthly cold spreads from where mottled flesh touches his chest.
"Why not just kill me now?"
A row of jagged yellow teeth are revealed when the Djinn forces a facsimile of a smile onto its humanoid face. "Wish brings power. Strength. Death is amusement. Here and then gone."
"And if I wish?"
"What do you mean by home? I thought this was home but it isn't. Where am I?"
"Parallel. Suspended. Time passes here, time passes there. They do not pass together."
Bruce wants the Djinn to stop touching him almost as much as he wants the real Clark to find him.
It grins again. "You want but do not wish. Speak and it shall be yours. Djinn leaves and never returns. Human returns home."
"It can't be that simple. You'll manipulate what I say."
Bruce opens eyes he hadn't realized were closed. "That's nice and ambiguous." The snarky tone makes Bruce feel stronger than he is.
Almost against his will, Bruce's mouth opens and the words begin to spill out. "I wish-" for a life with Clark, for freedom, for peace, for an existence that belongs only to me and not to all of Gotham City. "I wish that Clark – my Clark – would find me now."
The Djinn laughs, a hoarse and grating noise that reverberates in his ears as he feels a tug in his belly. Everything around him falls into a cold, soundless nothing.
* * *
Clark was seated in Bruce's study, senses reaching past the sounds of the house and grounds around him, breath held fast, listening. He searched for the sound of Bruce's heartbeat amidst the hundreds of thousands of pulses in and around Gotham City. He forced his thoughts past the voice in his head screaming that Bruce had been missing for three days, three days, simply gone without a trace.
Clark's eyes snapped open and focused on the fireplace opposite, not really seeing it. Instead he listened harder, straining to pinpoint the origin of the disjointed sound.
Gaining his feet, Clark's head cocked to the side in an unconscious imitation of Shelby when she caught an unidentifiable sound coming from the farm's fields.
lub dub, lub dub, lub dub
Without further hesitation Clark took to the air, scanning the snowy fields for a visual clue to go with the familiar beat thudding in his ears. One swooping curve and a sharp descent later and Clark knelt on the ground beside Bruce. His eyes tripped across Bruce's body in search of injury. Relief flooded him when he was finished; Bruce appeared to be oddly unscathed.
"No element damage," he muttered, leaning in to take a closer look.
Bruce stirred when Clark brushed his fingers across the exposed, undamaged skin of his face. "Hey, Bruce. Hey, come on. Wake up." No response. Clark didn't hesitate any longer; he scooped Bruce up into his arms and set a swift path back to the manor.
Within minutes, Clark had freed him from the suit, replacing the stiff material with soft sweats and an old t-shirt. The skin of Bruce's face and hands were cool to the touch, and he stirred again as Clark carefully chaffed heat back into the fingers of his left hand.
"Hi," Clark greeted warmly, keeping his voice low and soothing as Bruce woke up. He struggled not to react when the man flinched and scrambled backwards until he was pressed against the headboard.
"Are you real?"
Clark's eyebrows shot up at the question. "Last time I checked."
Bruce seemed to relax incrementally. "You're Clark."
"How many fingers am I holding up," Bruce demanded as he shoved a hand behind his back.
"One. And not a very polite one either. Bruce, you've been gone for three days. What happened?"
"It said time-" he stopped, cleared his throat, shook his head.
Clark's brow was furrowed, concern etched across his features. "Bruce?"
"I think I hit my head," he whispered.
"You don't show any signs of it. What happened? Alfred said one minute you were in the cave running through police reports and the next you were gone without a word. You didn't take any form of transportation."
"I was here? Are you sure? I thought – I was tracking Poison Ivy." Bruce couldn't fully repress the shudder that ran down his spine at the eerily familiar words. "I took the Batmobile. I woke up in a field in the middle of nowhere and–"
Clark's concern jumped another notch when he slid his arms around Bruce to gather him close and the man didn't put up his usual token protest at being wrapped up in the embrace. Bruce reached around Clark's arm to scrub a hand across his mouth. He paused, frowning.
"You said it was three days, Clark. I don't have any stubble. No windburn or frostbite." He stopped abruptly, tensing. "Time passes here, times passes there, but they do not pass together."
Clark's voice was hushed. "Tell me what you can?"
"I had to have been dreaming." Bruce tried to wait out Clark's ensuing silence and failed. "Have you ever heard of Djinn?"
"Yeah. They're supernatural creatures – some say gods – that have the power to grant wishes. They can take any shape they want, human or animal, and they can drive a man to madness."
Bruce didn't say anything for a long time.
"Do you think you encountered a Djinn?" Clark drew him in tighter when Bruce tensed. "Tell me what happened. I'll listen." The unspoken I won't judge you rang loud and clear. Bruce exhaled noisily once and started to speak; he told Clark everything he could remember happening since he thought he had woken up in the field. Clark didn't move or say anything until well after he had finished. He pressed a light kiss to Bruce's temple when the older man began to fidget uncharacteristically.
"It would explain a lot of things," he offered quietly.
"There was snow built up around you; you'd obviously been outside for at least two days because that was the last time it snowed. It's been a mild winter so far, Bruce. There wasn't any snow to stick on the ground until two days ago. But you don't look like you've been exposed to the elements, and there was no wind burn or frost bite on you at all. Even with your suit's thermal capabilities, the elements should have left a mark on your face."
"The Djinn said that time was being suspended. That it kept moving in both... realities, but it wasn't moving together. I wasn't moving, not in this timeline."
They fell into silent reflection with Bruce shifting away just enough so they were seated shoulder to shoulder. He was beginning to let sleep claim his exhausted body when Clark's whisper brought him back to the moment.
"What did you wish for?"
Clark tilted his head slightly, lips quirking up into a small smile. "Me?"
Bruce nodded, turning his face into Clark's shoulder and laying a sleepy kiss there before bringing his arm up and across their bodies to turn Clark all the way towards him. "Every damn time." He laid a small kiss against Clark's lips and then leaned in further, gripping his chin and pressing their mouths together until the pressure was verging on brutal as he seized control of the moment, letting his body release the tension that had been holding it rigid since waking to Clark's worried gaze.
Eventually he let Clark gentle the kiss and leaned into the sensation of fingers against his neck. "Thank you," he whispered.
Clark breathed against his mouth, "You're welcome."