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wildest dreams (burn it down)

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Clark isn't sure why it happens. Maybe it has something to do with dying, coming back—like a system reset, jarring something that had been asleep into wakefulness. Or maybe it has something to do with being around other Kryptonians, with being on a Kryptonian ship and breathing Kryptonian atmosphere. Maybe that's where it started, and he just didn't know it. Periodicity—cycles. A fuse that needed to burn down, eighteen months where he felt the same as always.

(Maybe it had to do with—skin. The rest of them had had suits on, most of the time. But Zod—Clark had—

Clark had touched Zod's face, his chin, when—

Clark had touched him. Maybe that was where it started.

Clark doesn't really want to think about that.)

It's not instantaneous. Even once he's noticed, it takes a few days to build up.

At first it isn't all that strange, and he doesn't think much of it. Warmth, mostly; he's rolling up his sleeves all the time, unbuttoning his collar, getting up from his desk at the Planet to go splash some water on his face in the bathroom. Warmth and a strange jittery energy—but that doesn't feel all that unfamiliar. It's happened to him before a few times, long bright summer days in Kansas with more sunlight shining down on him than his body knew what to do with. He'd felt like this, hot and alive and too much. And back then he'd been able to run it off, speeding through miles of empty fields faster than anybody could see; but he can't do that in Metropolis.

It's fine. He flies at night, longer than usual, even when there's no one to save—goes high enough that frost tries to form on his eyelashes. And when he's cooled off enough that it can form, that means it's time to head back down. He's got it handled.

Except it starts to take longer and longer, late at night turning into the small hours of the morning. And then it gets worse.

He starts to—it's—it's inappropriate, the things he's thinking about people, but he can't stop. At first it's only when he isn't concentrating. He lets his mind wander on the walk to work, and then realizes with a start that he's idly picturing the woman on the other end of the crosswalk with her blouse unbuttoned, one bra strap slipping off her shoulder, her legs—

He clears his throat and drags his eyes away, and very carefully reads every single street sign from there to the Planet building.

But that's just the first time. It keeps getting worse: the cashier when he buys lunch, a man standing on a corner trying to hail a cab with a stack of suitcases next to him (waist height, perfect, Clark could just bend him over it and—), a woman reading the newspaper on a park bench, and Clark could just—just slide a hand up her skirt, easy as anything—

With Lois it's even worse; Clark has actual memories to draw on for that, even though they aren't together anymore. He tries not to look at her and spends a lot of time staring fixedly at his desk and counting, doing multiplication tables: concentrating.

But it gets beyond the point where he can tell himself concentrating is good enough when he gets called into Perry's office. It's Perry, but all Clark can think about while Perry's yelling at him is—it's—the way Perry's moving his hands, his fingers and knuckles, the breadth of his shoulders, that his desk is—jesus, Clark thinks, feeling his face go fiercely hot, and painstakingly recites scraps of half-remembered poetry to himself until Perry finally dismisses him.

"It's like you're not even listening to me, Kent!" Perry yells after him, shaking his head and then closing the office door with a snap. And Clark stands in the hallway, flushed with that relentless warmth, and decides that maybe it's time he took a sick day.

 

 

The ship is safely back in Antarctica—along with the database that holds everything Clark doesn't know about being Kryptonian. A few thousand years out of date, probably, but if there's anything on this planet that can tell Clark what's wrong with him, that's it.

But he doesn't have to go all the way to Antarctica, because Bruce has a copy.

Clark hadn't especially wanted to have anything to do with Bruce Wayne after coming back from the dead. He'd proven he could work with the Gotham Bat when it was necessary—to save Metropolis, millions of lives, the planet. That kind of thing. But that didn't mean he was interested in making friends with Bruce Wayne.

Except it had turned out Bruce Wayne was the kind of person who could smooth over damaged alien ships being abruptly removed from Metropolis. Bruce Wayne was the kind of person who could keep the press about Superman's return mostly positive—and Clark had had a sneaking suspicion that Bruce Wayne was also the kind of person who could get Clark Kent his job back post-mortem, though he'd never managed to get Bruce to admit it.

Clark had also had a sneaking suspicion that Batman wasn't about to let a resource as vast as the scout ship's database just vanish back under the ice. And that one, Bruce had admitted to, once Clark had pressed him enough.

"You might need it," he'd said, not looking Clark in the eye.

"You mean you might need it," Clark had said.

That had gotten Bruce to look at him; and then he'd said coolly, "You understand the capacities and limits of human biology, Clark. If the Justice League is ever going to be an effective team, I need to understand you—"

"And it also might come in handy if you, say, wanted to try to kill me again," Clark had said.

And that had made Bruce's gaze go flinty. But all he'd said was, "Or if Lex Luthor finds any more Kryptonian DNA lying around," and how could Clark possibly have argued with that?

That had been months ago. They're better now—Clark might not have been interested in making friends with Bruce, but he's pretty sure he's managed to anyway. Sort of. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and bank holidays.

There's a weird kind of tension in it: by now, after two or three more global crises, Clark trusts Batman as much as he trusts Diana. But Bruce is a little harder to pin down. Clark would call Bruce a friend on the record, but he's not sure whether Bruce would say the same about him.

This, though, is exactly the kind of situation Bruce had probably had in mind when he'd copied the database.

(Well, not—exactly. Presumably Bruce hadn't been speculating to himself that one day Clark might be suddenly unable to stop thinking in technicolor pornography. But that something could go wrong with Clark, something Clark wouldn't understand. That part.)

So Clark doesn't take his sick day and fly off to Antarctica. He goes to see Bruce instead.

 

 

If he'd been thinking straight, he wouldn't have done it. Bruce is—Bruce frustrates Clark a lot, annoys Clark and keeps up with Clark and won't tell Clark anything, won't leave Clark alone but won't let Clark close the distance between them either. Clark's wanted to grab him and shake him, shove him into something hard, even when he isn't suffering from weird irrational urges out of nowhere.

(Almost as often as he's watched Bruce slip off into the shadows, and found himself wondering whether he's ever going to be allowed to really—know Bruce, even a tenth as well as he wants to.)

Which means that the kind of stuff Clark's been thinking about random strangers all day, or about Lois even though they're long since over, or about his own damn boss—that kind of stuff gets about a thousand times worse when he's in the same room as Bruce.

He'd been turning over the idea on the way up the stairs that the thoughts had been getting more vivid, harder to push away; but then he steps into Bruce's office and for a second he thinks he is touching Bruce—has crossed the office and slid his hands up Bruce's arms, crowded Bruce backward against the side of the desk and—

Clark blinks and shakes his head and is back at the threshold—no, not back, because he never moved at all. It didn't happen.

"Clark?"

Bruce is looking at Clark from across that gleaming desk with a genial smile but narrowed eyes; and then he—is right now? Has already, entire minutes ago—is or has or will move around it. He reaches out for Clark with both hands, his grip steady, strong, reassuring; Clark might be wavering, dizzy, all this relentless heat like a fever in him, but Bruce is a sure and solid anchor, knows exactly what to do. He wouldn't be unbuckling Clark's belt otherwise—

"Clark, are you all right?"

Clark blinks again.

Bruce hasn't moved.

"Fine," Clark manages, "I'm fine," except that's a lie. A lie he's been believing anyway for the past couple days, but being here with Bruce has shown him how thin a farce that is. There's definitely something wrong with him.

(And isn't that what always happens, with Bruce? Superman is noble, distant, and rises above the petty unkindnesses of humanity—except when he's in a wet dark alley with Bruce. How thin a farce: how very, very easy it is to make Superman angry, to render him as violent or careless or cruel as anyone.

Always, always, stripping Clark's illusions bare—

And now it's back to nakedness again. Jesus, Clark tells himself, get a grip.)

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure? You look a little—flushed."

"No, it's—just too much sun," Clark says, because Bruce will understand that that means something different for Superman than it does for anyone else.

And then he doesn't go around the desk himself, doesn't slide his arms around Bruce's back and feel Bruce grip his shoulders for balance; doesn't heave Bruce up and backward into the wall and listen to him gasp—

He doesn't do any of that. He's made a mistake. He can't ask Bruce for the database, he can't stay in this room for one minute longer than he has—he's got to go to Antarctica, where he can get his answers and he can't—he won't—

Where he'll be alone. Where he won't hurt anyone.

So he closes his eyes, shakes his head, and says very carefully and precisely—

(—Bruce, oh, god, touch me, please touch me, I want to fuck you through the floor—)

—"I just wanted to let you know I'm—I'll be out of town. For a few days. I'm sure the League can manage without me and all, but I—I just wanted to let you know."

"Yes," Bruce says slowly, "you said that already," but Clark doesn't—can't—check to see the expression on his face.

"Great, okay," and Clark backs up blindly, hits the corner of a filing cabinet; he probably dents it, but he's—he needs to get out of this room. "So I'm leaving. Now. I'll—I'll see you."

Something in him quails at the idea of trying to make it all the way back down through Bruce's building feeling like this. But one thing is working in his favor: he didn't just come to see Bruce. He came to see Batman. There's a balcony opening off almost all of Bruce Wayne's offices.

"I have to go," Clark says, and he opens his eyes just long enough to blur his way across, yank the doubled door wide, and throw himself into the sky.

(His hearing is still working just fine; he can't get far enough fast enough to not hear Bruce shout his name. But he still has enough self-control to not turn around.)

 

 

He has his phone. He gets lucky, and Mom doesn't pick up—she must be out in the garden. He leaves a message with the important points: he's got something to take care of, something important; and because he's said it like that, she'll know it's a Superman thing. He remembers to add that he's told the Planet it's a family trip, so it would help if she didn't pick up the phone for Metropolis area codes for a week or so.

And then he does tell the Planet he's got a family trip. More specifically, he tells Lois. He knows already that she's away from her desk for an interview, so she won't pick up either, which is for the best right now. Better her than Perry, after that dressing-down Clark got this afternoon. She'll make fun of Clark for asking her to clear the absence for him, when he gets back; but she'll also do it.

He's pretty sure he manages to explain without anything obscene slipping out. And then—

Then he flies to Antarctica.

 

 

He's almost grateful for whatever this is, right then. Another day, with his head clearer, he'd have the presence of mind to be afraid. He hasn't spent very much time with the ship since Luthor laid hands on it, crawled into its insides and shaped it to his purpose.

(And it hadn't been like that before, Clark is almost sure. When he'd found it and used it, when it had explained to him who he was, it had been—bright, hadn't it? Clean. An ebb and flow of neat interlocking pieces; Father's mind in control. Hadn't it been like that?

He thinks it had. But that memory's been superseded by the way it had looked when he'd found Luthor and that—thing inside it. Dark; strange and close and—sticky, clinging, grasping.

Maybe that was what it was like inside Luthor's head. Maybe that was why.

But Luthor is gone, and so is Father. Clark is in command of the ship; and he's not sure he wants to see what it looks like in there now.)

As it is, all he can think as he flies—besides increasingly pornographic things he's trying really hard not to focus on—is that he should have known. He's speeding through the air at speeds that would probably suffocate a normal person, and it's air that should by all rights freeze him solid. Instead it's a chill he can barely feel over the heat radiating off his skin, as some kind of weird Kryptonian—sex fever does the best it can to boil him from the inside out.

And he should have known. He's spent so long trying to blend in, trying to be like everyone else, and it never ever works. He's gotten close, sometimes; and then he has to cauterize Lois's gut wound with his eyes. Or Zod shows up and tells the whole world there's an alien around. Or an irradiated corpse with delusions of grandeur starts tearing up portside Gotham. This is just one more thing to add to the list: one more way in which Clark will never quite be human, no matter how hard he tries.

 

 

By the time he skids in for a landing, thoughts that complicated aren't really on the table anymore. And he does skid—carves a furrow into the ice that's almost two Clarks deep, and leaves a pool of steaming water behind when he manages to get it together enough to climb out.

(It feels good. The water surrounding him, and for a brief instant blissfully cool against him before he can heat it up all the way, soaking in and around and through, touching him everywhere

Jesus, Clark needs to get to the ship.)

Luckily, he doesn't need to do anything complicated to get the door open. He just puts a hand against the ship's side (resists the urge to slide his palm across the surface, to press his cheek to it—) and says, "Ship—"

"Welcome," it says, and as though it means it, it opens for him.

"Ship, can you—what is this?" Clark says, trying not to lurch sideways into any walls. "What's wrong with me? Am I sick, or—"

"Scans will be completed momentarily," the ship says, almost gently. Everything about it is helping him: doors are opening in front of him before he can even touch them, and the floor is shifting—not away from him but toward him, moving with his feet so that every step he takes is in the right direction.

Something about that should make him happy, but he can't focus long enough to remember what. He lets his knees go out from under him the way he wants to, and sure enough, the ship catches him—did he know that would happen? Does it matter, when as long as he doesn't have to walk anymore, that means he can finally shove a hand into his pants? He almost can't decide where he wants it more, his ass or—

"According to the last data burst that was received from mission headquarters," the ship says, "the number of Kryptonians experiencing regular mating cycles was decreasing sharply, in part due to increased adherence to Codex regulations. However, you are—not regulation."

Not even a normal Kryptonian, Clark thinks dimly, with a deep slow ache that's an utterly different temperature from the one that's been consuming him all day. The contrast brings him back to himself, just for a minute. Just long enough for him to re-hear mating cycles and feel his jaw literally drop. "Oh, god," Clark says, staring sightlessly at the ceiling; and even then, with the bottom crawling out of his stomach, he still can't keep from wrapping a hand around himself and groaning.

 

 


 

 

There's no doubt in Bruce's mind: Clark had been acting strangely.

He's erred on the side of keeping his personal offices clear of cameras, on the off chance that an emergency demanding a response Bruce Wayne isn't capable of should arise. The Gotham Bat will never be caught on tape if Bruce can help it.

But, fortunately, he doesn't need the reinforcement. Even if he had been uncertain, told himself that perhaps his memory was exaggerating the flush in Clark's face or the tremor in Clark's hands—he has evidence.

He stares down at the dent, and imagines he can almost perceive the shape of Clark's hip in it. He'd been considering his options for a redesign; increased security is, in Bruce's mind, never a bad thing, but a filing cabinet? Not the best disguise for a safe—plenty of people would be smart enough to notice the discrepancy, a filing cabinet sitting quietly in an office whose only other analog features are its walls and floor. And the ones who aren't smart enough would probably try to open it anyway looking for actual files, and might eventually realize what they were dealing with instead.

But Bruce hadn't had any complaints to offer about the materials used to make the thing—a good eight inches of high-strength alloys and some new variation on fireboard R&D was thrilled about.

And Clark, backing into it without paying attention, has buckled one corner sideways almost four inches. Bruce finds himself thinking that stranger than the dent itself is the fact that Clark hadn't paused to apologize for it. He had to have heard Bruce shout after him, but hadn't turned around either. After he'd gone, Bruce had crossed the room and touched the dented metal—he'd half expected to get burned outright for his trouble, but it hadn't been quite that bad. Definitely above room temperature, though, the sudden deformation creating more heat than the metal could vent.

The inescapable conclusion is that there's something wrong with Clark. And even with only a partial list of symptoms—elevated temperature, judging by the red cheeks, the rapid breathing, the glazed eyes; impaired balance and fine motor skills, though Clark had been able to fly as well as ever—Bruce is leaning toward illness.

Except that should be impossible. Shouldn't it? Or is there a viral equivalent of kryptonite: no effect whatsoever on humans, but capable of taking Clark down like a sack of potatoes? A Kryptonian illness, even; Clark could have been exposed on Zod's ship, and an incubation period of nearly two years might not be out of the question for an alien bug. Or—

Or, Bruce thinks slowly, it could have been Luthor. Something in the chamber where he'd merged Zod with himself, all that stray DNA flailing around in a pool designed to create new organisms out of nothing.

He doesn't panic. He clears his schedule for the rest of the day, Bruce Wayne taking an afternoon off just because he feels like it, and he goes back to the lake house.

Alfred greets him with a raised eyebrow and a nod, and Bruce heads down to the Cave and settles in to work.

 

 

Bruce's version of the Kryptonian ship's database isn't complete—the ship wasn't fully functional at the time the copy was made, and Bruce hadn't had a chance to go back to try to collect the rest of the data. Not without Clark noticing him doing it, and at the time he'd been trying to avoid that.

(It hadn't worked, of course. Clark had been suspicious of just about everything Bruce did, right after he came back from the dead, and Bruce's insistence on helping him get the ship back and out of Metropolis probably hadn't helped.

And the worst part was that he hadn't been wrong. Early days still, back then, and Bruce hadn't been sure—hadn't been sure it was Clark, couldn't figure out how to tell. If something else had come back in his place, in his body, or if he'd been cloned, or—

Bruce had thought that perhaps with the database, he could come up with a way to know for certain. And if it hadn't been Clark, then yes, maybe the database could have helped Bruce kill whatever it was. It had been important to consider those things, it was—it would have been foolish to just accept Clark's return for what it seemed to be, to not look the gift horse very carefully in the mouth.

Because that was precisely what Bruce had wanted most to do. That was how he could tell it would have been a mistake.)

It's somewhat difficult to filter through what he does have, partial entries that turn into gibberish partway through, closing tags and metadata that have gone missing. He comes up with an algorithm that should help him sort through it, sets up the utility and gets it running, and then—has to wait to see what it comes up with.

He goes on patrol a little earlier than usual.

 

 

Once he has the usable portions of the database in some kind of order, of course, he still needs to translate them. His current working dictionary isn't as robust as he'd like, and the sections he's most likely to want to read are also the sections most likely to contain technical terminology he won't be able to understand. But he has to try.

He spends a day ignoring everything in Bruce Wayne's inbox and sorting through the results as best he can. Of course, for all he knows this is Kryptonian chickenpox, and Clark will be just fine in a week.

For all he knows, in fact, Clark is already fine. Bruce turns this over, considers his options, weighs the pros and cons; and then he throws all that out the window and calls Lois Lane.

"Someone from your office contacted me about a possible interview," he tells her, breezy. "A—Crane? Klimt?"

Lois is briefly silent. "I don't believe Klimt is a current employee of the Daily Planet," she says at last, very dryly. "But my colleague Mr. Kent—"

"Yes, that's right," Bruce says amiably into the phone. "Kent! Clive? Clint?"

"Clark," Lois says, flat.

"Clark! Clark, sure, how could I forget? Didn't leave a number, and when I called the main desk they sent me up to you—he playing hooky today?"

"I'm afraid he's away from the office right now, and will be for the rest of the week," Lois says coolly. "I'll let him know you called, and I'm sure he'll get back to you just as soon as he can."

Not back yet, then, Bruce thinks as he bids Lois a smarmy farewell and hangs up. Where else would Clark go? He can't be tracked easily, the way he travels—but Bruce does have an alert in place for outgoing flights from Eisenhower National with a Kent on board, and it hasn't been activated. Odds are that Martha's still in Smallville.

For a long moment after he's dialed, he thinks he must be wrong: he gets two rings, three, four, and then there's the click of the machine picking up—

And then the first cheery words of Martha's recorded voice (Hi there, you've reached the Kents, sorry to have missed you—) are drowned out by the rattle of a landline getting lifted off the hook. "Sorry, sorry," Martha says breathlessly, "Bruce, hello," and then, mouth moved away from the phone, "Oh, shut up, damn you, I've got it," before the beep of a button turns the answering machine off entirely.

"Is this a bad time?" Bruce says, feeling himself smile.

"No, no," Martha says, "not at all. I am sorry, Bruce—you're in one of the Metropolis offices today, aren't you? I wasn't going to answer, just in case, but then I realized it was you."

"Screening your calls?"

"Oh, well, I didn't want to blow Clark's cover and all, you know—"

Bruce sits forward, phone pressed a little tighter to his ear. "Oh?"

"Whatever he's doing, this 'something important'," Martha says. "He's told the Planet he's off on a family trip, and if somebody from his office calls and I pick up—"

"Yes," Bruce says, "I can see how that would cause a problem."

Martha snorts, and then sighs. "He told me not to answer for anybody with a Metropolis number. But I'm sure he didn't mean you. Honestly, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind when he gets back. Just taking off like that—you don't know what it's about, do you?"

"He didn't share the details with me."

Martha sighs again, and Bruce can almost picture her shaking her head, running a hand through her hair. "Well, that's all right. I just—I'm worried about him. He left a message, but he hasn't called again or anything. Has he been in touch with you?"

"Not since he left," Bruce says slowly.

There's a brief stillness, nothing but the static of the line. And then Martha lets out a breath and says, "Oh, Bruce—I'm sorry, but—I don't suppose you could do me a favor. Just check on him? If he told you where he was going—"

"He didn't," Bruce says. "But I think I can guess."

(Within another day, he would probably have gone anyway. A problem with Superman is a problem with the League, and that makes it Bruce's prerogative.

But Martha Kent asking for a favor—)

He tells her not to worry, says goodbye, and then makes one more call—to Alfred. "Our schedule's going to need a little more rearrangement," he says when Alfred picks up. "There's somewhere I need to be."

"And where is that, Master Wayne?" Alfred says, mild and a little distracted, presumably already looking to see how many fires he'll need to put out.

"Antarctica," Bruce says.

"Ah," Alfred says, eloquent.

 

 

What results Bruce does have from the database are already loaded and accessible from the Batplane by the time Bruce has reached the lake house—and so are the coordinates of the scout ship's location.

(Or its last known location, at least. Bruce had tried to place a tracker, but nothing had stuck to or penetrated the outer shell successfully, and nothing left inside had proven able to send a signal that was detectable outside. If Clark has moved it, Bruce is going to have to hope that his adjustments to the Batplane's radar really have allowed it to pick up on Kryptonian alloys.)

And he has the flight time to Antarctica in which to force the translated database to spit out something he can use.

He checks again, but keyword searches for things like "illness", "sickness", and "plague" still haven't turned up anything that matches his observations of Clark. Either this really is something Luthor created in that genesis chamber, or he needs to change his approach.

He thinks for a moment, and then clears the parameters and starts over. He's been considering disease the baseline, but that isn't true, is it? The baseline is Clark—the symptoms Bruce observed in person. That's what he needs to search for. He can't afford to miss anything that might help him figure this out, just because Kryptonians use some kind of weird idiom for this particular sickness, or only refer to it with discreet metaphors.

He sets up two separate searches, running contemporaneously, with any result that matches both specially highlighted: one for "fever" and one for "heat". An accurate hunt for mentions of "disorientation" is probably a little much to ask of the translation, but after a moment he adds a third for "dizzy", just in case. But—

(—Clark's face, flushed in the cheeks and across the forehead; and his mouth, Christ, he'd practically been panting, he'd kept biting his lip and every time it had gotten redder. His eyes, heavy-lidded, and the way he'd stared at Bruce, fixed and helpless, Tantalus starving with sweet ripe fruit just out of reach—)

—it's the temperature Clark must have been running that sticks out in Bruce's memory. Probably the primary symptom.

 

 

The Batplane's just leaving the Argentinian coast behind when the triple search finally completes. The Kryptonian database is certainly comprehensive.

Any other day, Bruce would be tempted to sit there and read it all: the results include reports on the weather systems of distant planets, quirks of biology alien even to the Kryptonians, half a galaxy's worth of information. Not even as old as the scout ship itself, which had continued to receive sporadic updates from deep space even after its crew and mission had long since been forgotten.

But there's something wrong with Clark. And about halfway through the highlighted subset of the most significant results, Bruce finds out what it is.

 

 

Not much of a price to pay. It would have been far, far worse to discover that it wasn't something Bruce could fix—compared to that possibility, this is nothing. This, Bruce can manage. Clark saved the world, and had to die to do it; getting fucked is perhaps one of the least unpleasant things Bruce would do to save Clark.

It's not clear that that's even necessary, but the database entry isn't clear about a lot of things. The—fever, Bruce decides, fever is a better word than—Christ—heat? Rut? Which would be the better term? Did Kryptonians even distinguish? The language is so vague, the last update coming after this particular embarrassing trait had been almost entirely weeded out of the population, recessive at best. Bruce isn't sure that what he's taken to calling Final-Stage Kryptonian even has a word for "sex" anymore, let alone a way of drawing distinctions between different kinds of sexual activity.

(What is it Clark is desperate for? What is the longing-obj. require satisfy, that the distorted entry claims will persist length-of-time limit-condition fulfilled? Is he lying on that ship panting to fuck—or to get fucked? Does it matter? Or does he just need someone else, something other than his own hand or the floor, the wall, oh, god—)

It might not kill him. But it also might not go away. And now Bruce knows, so he's—prepared. He can be prepared. Clark won't have to explain anything, which is for the best considering he might not even be able to form sentences anymore. And no matter what he does, what he wants to do, Bruce can handle it.

 

 

"Requesting access," Bruce tells the ship, for the third time.

"Access—access," the ship says haltingly, yet again. And then, after a long moment, "Granted."

"Finally," Bruce growls.

"Denied," the ship amends. "Granted—"

"Ship—"

"Deni—granted," the ship says, sounding almost as frustrated as Bruce is, and then the shell cracks open and lets Bruce inside.

For a moment all Bruce can think about is how warm it is. Which is probably because even the leeward side of the ship, out of the wind, was still on Antarctica.

But as he moves further into the ship, he starts to get the feeling back in his face, his fingers, and it's—it's warm. Really warm.

There's something about the ship that's different. Bruce looks around: the surfaces are still that strange Kryptonian metal, gleaming and subtly brass-tinged, but something about the texture has changed since the last time Bruce saw the ship's interior. When he'd first set foot in the ship after everything, Luthor in prison and Clark dead, the patterning to the walls and floor had been a little—rounded, he thinks, like chain mail. Perfect and repeating, infinite.

System default, maybe; because it's not like that anymore. It has lines, now, subtle and a little curved, bending here and there to join or part or swirl into each other. Like wood grain, it occurs to Bruce. The wood grain that Clark and his x-ray vision can almost certainly see through the worn blue paint that covers the Kent farmhouse's front steps.

Because this is Clark's ship now.

And the moment Bruce thinks that is also the moment he realizes he's five minutes away from going in a circle.

"Ship," Bruce says, looking backward at the corridor behind him and then ahead, to the lone door. "Is there by any chance another door nearby?"

The door—doesn't quite flash, but ripples a little, reflecting light in a wave that catches the eye, as the ship chimes affirmatively.

"One I haven't already seen the other side of," Bruce clarifies.

A silence; and then the ship chimes again, more slowly.

"And where might that door be?"

Another stillness. This time it lasts so long that Bruce shifts his weight once, twice, and opens his mouth to ask again—this is important, he needs to find Clark as soon as he can, because he has no idea what the effects of an extended state of hyperarousal might be on a Kryptonian—

And then, gradually, a hatch begins to form out of part of the wall. It's not smooth the way Bruce associates with the motions of the ship; it comes in fits and starts, the edges of it wavering in and out of focus for a moment.

This is Clark's ship now, Bruce thinks again, and then he looks at the ceiling and says, "Ship, what is the status of my access request?"

"Granted," the ship says, and it says it strangely, half on a sigh, before suddenly snapping, "denied. Denied—granted."

Clark's the commander. And Clark must have some inkling of what's going on, must be able to feel himself wanting—things; and he knows Bruce is here.

"The commander wants you inside the ship," the ship is saying, "and—doesn't." It sounds frustrated, confused by Clark's helpless mixed messages.

"Ship," Bruce says carefully, "the commander's health is important to you, isn't it?"

"Yes," the ship agrees instantly.

"It's essential that I get to him. Do you understand? He doesn't know how important it is, but—"

"The commander's orders must be followed," the ship says, sounding doubtful.

"He's in distress, isn't he? Physically."

"Yes," the ship admits.

"I can fix that," Bruce tells it. "But I need to know where he is. I need you to take me to him."

The ship is silent for ten seconds—fifteen—thirty—

"Yes," the ship says, and the new door in the wall shifts, in an instant, from closed to open.

 

 

Clark's at the center of the ship, as best Bruce is able to estimate. The last wall forms a door before Bruce can even ask it to, and Bruce has a half-second to remind himself of the essentials as it goes translucent, transparent: Clark might not have control of himself, his strength. It might hurt—it might hurt very, very badly, in point of fact. For all Bruce knows, Clark will break every bone in Bruce's body just touching him the way Kryptonians might handle each other. But whatever happens, it isn't Clark doing it, not really. It isn't Clark, it isn't Clark—

Except it is.

The wall goes clear and then is gone. Clark is right there, and—extremely naked, which at this point would be a stupid thing to be embarrassed by. Bruce doesn't look away.

Clark is on his knees, Bruce sees, supported partly by the wall, which has curved out like a hand to hold him—space enough to let him throw back his head and cry out, solid and steady under his shoulders, graceful as sculpture in the small of his back. And he's—

(Observe. Be objective. State the facts.)

—he's clearly orgasmed already, multiple times. Just did, Bruce thinks distantly, judging by the way he's panting, the glistening drips across his stomach, the (surely temporary) lack of tension in the hand whose fingers are still fanned out over the length of his cock.

Which is—despite all evidence of recent satisfaction—very, very hard.

"Bruce?" Clark says, squinting.

Bruce, swallowing, is momentarily unsure how to answer.

"Bruce, you—" Clark shakes his head, lifts his free hand away from the ship's deck and drags it to his face; and Bruce can see the tremor in it. The flush in Clark's cheeks is worse, if anything, and those panting breaths are rasping a little in his throat. Despite the ship's help supporting his weight, his thighs are trembling. "No, no—no, you aren't, you're not—"

"Clark," Bruce says, and is prepared for any number of things. For whatever part of Clark is driving right now to decide he's an intruder, to smash him into paste against the wall. For Clark to grab him faster than he can even see, to drag him to the floor and take him apart without even thinking.

But he's not prepared for Clark to stumble up off the deck the way he does—for his eyes to go strange and soft and dark, for him to say Bruce's name again and sound almost hushed.

"You shouldn't be here," Clark adds unsteadily, but even as he says it he's reaching out, and when his hands find Bruce's wrists he makes a low thick sound in the back of his throat. "Bruce, oh, god—"

"Clark," Bruce says again—tries to say again, but it sticks in his mouth. He'd left coat, jacket, boots, socks, in a trail behind him, as he'd gotten closer to Clark and the air had gotten warmer around him; if he'd been thinking, he would have taken his shirt off, his slacks—

But he hadn't. Clark does it for him, buttons rattling away across the deck, but Bruce barely hears them. Because Clark is also—Clark's pressed his face in close against Bruce's throat, the hinge of his jaw, still murmuring, "Bruce, Bruce," in that soft sweet way. Bruce had spent the last portion of the flight constructing potential scenarios and running through them, considering all the most likely possibilities, bracing himself for every worst thing that had leapt into his mind at once the moment the words spouse-mate imperative cycle had appeared on the screen in front of him.

But he wasn't prepared to be kissed like this—Clark clutching for him so eagerly, licking slow and deep and lush into his mouth. He wasn't prepared to have Clark touch him like this—clumsily tender, all over, running his fingertips with such singleminded focus over every new inch of Bruce as the shirt gets worked off. And he wasn't prepared to have Clark look at him like this: hazy and reverent, with a quiet lingering delight.

"Bruce," Clark sighs, into the side of Bruce's throat, hot and close and surrounding; and Bruce's knees go out from under him, but it doesn't matter.

Clark has him.

 

 


 

 

Clark isn't alone.

He's supposed to be. He—he's pretty sure about that.

He's been here for days; for forever, it's felt like, touching himself every way he can think of and absolutely none of it enough. He gave up on the hope that he'd figure it out, that he'd trip over some secret perfect combination of sensations that would finally make this stop, hours and hours ago. He's just been stroking himself off since, again and again, helpless and relentless, because every time he comes his head clears a little—just for a minute, but he can—he can think again, about something other than how many fingers he can fit into himself.

He gave up because he knows what he needs. He knows what he needs, and it's not here.

He can't quite remember why anymore, but he knows that's important: Bruce isn't here. That's true, and is going to stay true—has to stay true.

("Please clarify: access—"

"Denied," Clark insists, thighs tensing, "denied—")

Bruce isn't here, and Clark is, and that's—

(—wrong, god, it's the worst thing Clark has ever felt; what is he even doing here? What is he doing anywhere Bruce isn't?

"Granted," Clark gasps, "oh—" but no, he—he shouldn't say that, he has to make sure Bruce never ever—)

—how it's staying.

Which is what makes it all right to wish. If Clark weren't here, safe—because the ship won't let him out, he made it promise—then it would be wrong to wish so hard, because he couldn't be sure he wouldn't do something about it, letting himself long for it like that. But Bruce isn't here, and so it's all right to want him to be, to think about all the things Clark would do if he were.

Except—suddenly, impossibly—Clark isn't alone.

He tries to focus, to understand what's changed: he's not better yet, there—there shouldn't be anyone until he's better. The need is the same, the desperation and ragged furious energy, and of course the heat is still there, persistent and inescapable, smothering.

And then he realizes it's Bruce. Who isn't here.

He tries to explain this—that no matter what it looks like, he knows Bruce isn't here, because that's why Clark is; that's why Clark is allowed to be here and to keep feeling like this, that's why Clark gets to keep wishing. But he doesn't think very much of that makes it out.

(Even if it had, Bruce never listens to him. Bruce is stubborn that way.)

And then—

Then Bruce is still here. He says Clark's name, and he sounds—strange, hoarse and uncertain. He's in the doorway, not touching Clark at all, and that's nothing like what Clark's been imagining; he's wearing clothes, even.

That's—it's—it's really him.

And there's something about that that's not right. But Bruce is here and Clark can't remember what—

He's crossed the room, and he's touching Bruce—actually touching him, for real, not just seeing it or telling himself he is, remembering something that's never happened. "Bruce," he says. It's for at least the thousandth time; but it feels like the first, knowing Bruce can hear him saying it, and that's so good it makes Clark shudder.

All of it is good, everything. Putting his hands on Bruce the way he wants to, the way he's always wanted to—there'd been a reason he hadn't, he thinks dimly, but Bruce is in front of him now and closing the space between them is the easiest thing in the world. It would be harder not to.

Bruce is odd at first. Braced, Clark thinks, but there's nothing he needs to be braced for here—all Clark wants to do is kiss him. Clark manages to find half a thought to spare for the room, the lights; he tosses a muddled request through his link to the ship, and everything obediently dims around them. Bruce is more comfortable in shadows.

He's also more comfortable when no one is looking at him or touching him, but Clark can't manage that part. "Sorry," he murmurs, "sorry, Bruce, oh," but he just can't help it: Bruce is right there, all of him, increasingly bare under Clark's hands and mouth, and there's so much Clark wants. So much he hasn't done, and now he can.

"It's okay," Bruce is saying, "it's okay, Clark—" and then he hisses, gasps and throws his head back and oh, his throat, god.

Whatever it was that had kept Clark from stripping Bruce naked and laying hands on him, it just isn't there anymore. Whatever it was that had kept him from tugging Bruce down, biting his mouth, sliding greedy tender fingers over every hollow and angle and scar, it's gone. Restraint, or caution, or fear: they've all burned away, and only the heat is left.

So Clark—does what he wants.

He does all of it.

He holds on to Bruce and doesn't let go, because he wants to. The ship makes them a surface that's better than the standard decking, somewhere smooth and soft that Clark can press Bruce against, because Bruce is human and so easily hurt—so careless with himself, he always has been, and Clark hates that.

So he goes slowly and is careful with Bruce, because he wants to. And Bruce is careful back, at first, every motion precise and neatly measured; but Clark pulls him closer, slides a knee between his thighs, licks every single scar he can find on Bruce's shoulders, and Bruce—

Bruce changes. Bruce's eyes get heavy, his face flushed like he feels it too—the heat, the deep endless yearning. All his sharp edges start to smooth, all that corded sculpted muscle easing into something close to pliancy; slow, so slow, Clark finally with all the time in the world to coax Bruce through the one thing he hasn't practiced to the point of reflex: surrender. And he touches Clark back, arches into Clark and moves with him and cries out, opens up for Clark as readily as he drives into Clark afterward—without shame or hesitation, until he's sticky and trembling and gasping, holding on as hard as Clark is.

And that, that's it: the thing Clark's wanted most of all, the whole time.

 

 

Clark wakes up, and the first thing he thinks is that he isn't hard.

He lets his eyes drop shut again in relief. It had been starting to feel like he'd never be able to say that about himself again. Jesus.

But he isn't hard anymore. He isn't hard, and he's—clean, pretty much. He has a vague notion that the ship had changed at some point, formed an increasing depression in the floor that had deepened and then filled with—not quite water, a little thicker, but something clear and steaming and liquid, whose warmth Bruce had relaxed into with a sigh without ever lifting his mouth away from Clark's skin, as Clark had wet his hands with it and then smoothed them over Bruce's shoulders—

Bruce.

Clark jerks up and out of the—bed? Sort of a bed: a low enclosed space, maybe the same one that had been sort of a bath before, except it's dry now. The lower surface is forgiving underneath him, not the way the deck usually feels, with gentle sloping sides; and the ship's made out of some kind of metal, Clark is almost sure, but somehow a bunch of its material has been fanned out, latticed together in a flexible warm web that's kind of like blankets. Clark peers at it more closely. What are those, dodecahedrons?

Bruce would know.

Clark swallows.

The ship's still a little bit in his head. Further away now than it was when he was, uh, indisposed—but he's the commander, and it must be able to feel him wondering. It chimes gently, and then says, "Your husband is still on board."

Clark carefully doesn't laugh, because if he does it'll come out hysterical. "My—my—"

"Automatic protocols of address are consistent with regulation," the ship says, sounding politely confused. "While cycles themselves have become increasingly rare, spending an entire cycle, both commencement and completion, with the same individual or group of individuals is still considered a binding legal arrangement in Kryptonian-administered regions of space, as of the most recent update to—"

"Commencement? Bruce wasn't there for—" and then Clark remembers Bruce's office and clears his throat, rubbing helplessly at the back of his neck. "There is no Kryptonian-administered space anymore," Clark tries.

"This ship is Kryptonian-administered space, Commander," and that's downright frosty.

"Fine, okay," Clark says, because he's really not up to arguing about the practicality of conforming to thousand-year-old alien statutory codes. "Just—do not call Bruce that where he can hear you. Okay?"

"Yes, Commander," the ship says primly.

Clark puts his face in his hands and tries to breathe evenly. Bruce is still on board. Bruce came here and—knew, had to have known; or else he'd figured it out after the first hour of Clark climbing him like a tree and licking him everywhere—

Jesus, stop it. Whether Bruce had worked it out from looking at his version of the database or not, he'd stuck it out, because of course he had. He hadn't shot Clark in the face with kryptonite and left in the middle because he wouldn't have, no matter what Clark had been doing to him—not if he thought Clark needed to do it.

And thinking that makes Clark's gut sink, with a sick cold weight that even Superman can't bear up under.

Bruce takes responsibility for everything within range. For the entire planet, when he'd thought it needed defending from Superman; and Clark's his teammate now, on a team that is at its heart Bruce's. Of course Bruce would take it on himself to—to do this, to come here and let Clark—

Clark sucks in another slow breath, wipes absently at his face, and decides to start with the essentials. "Ship, can I, um—do you have another one of those uniforms somewhere?"

 

 

The ship does have more of those uniforms, or can make them, and can even be talked into spitting out one in two pieces, one that doesn't have the crest of the House of El plastered across the chest. Somehow Clark is pretty sure that going out there as Superman is not going to make this easier.

Once he's dressed, he tries to decide on the least invasive way to find Bruce and then realizes with a guilty start that that low regular sound he's already listening to is Bruce's heart. He'd just thought about where Bruce was, and his hearing had—

(—in the middle of it all, there had been nothing but Bruce, everywhere: filling Clark's ears, his gasps, his low sharp cries, the rush of blood through him like distant waves; too much to look at even though Bruce was the only thing, every scar and furrow, each tiny helpless contraction of the muscles in his hands, his arms—the individual perfect curves of his eyelashes; the feel of him, shameless and alive in Clark's arms, hot and wanting and winding his fingers through Clark's hair, saying harder, come on, I can—Clark, ah—)

Clark blinks and shakes himself. He has to find Bruce, and—and Bruce knows what he's capable of.

But it feels like cheating anyway.

Clark bites his lip for a second; and then he carefully stops listening, and stands in the corridor trying to decide which way he might think Bruce had gone if he couldn't hear anything at all.

 

 

Bruce is a deck up, Clark discovers in the end, in one of the rooms with a ceiling so perfectly transparent it might as well be open to the sky, when in reality even the vacuum of space wouldn't crack it. He's looking up at it, but not through it: the ship is explaining something to him, some kind of ridiculously advanced Kryptonian physics, with hovering metallic diagrams that shift and rearrange and reform every time Bruce asks a question.

And he looks—absorbed. It had started to become one of Clark's favorite things about the League, getting to see Bruce just this way. In the Cave, working on some new schematic, frowning and intent; as though everything else has ceased to exist—nothing to hide or paper over, no one to outwit or outplan or paste on a smile for. Just Bruce.

But Clark can't keep standing here watching like a creep. And Bruce wouldn't look like that if he knew Clark could see him.

So Clark takes another step forward. The doorway chimes lightly around him as he passes through it, and Bruce turns around and—smiles.

Clark shuts his eyes.

After the first time they'd fought—and not Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne arguing about city politics, or Batman being terse and stubborn and not doing a single damn thing Superman ever asked him to, but just Clark and Bruce. Just Clark and Bruce, yelling at each other in the lake house over—over the database, actually, Clark is pretty sure; over Bruce keeping secrets and never asking first.

Anyway. After that time, Bruce had mostly stopped doing this to Clark. He'd still hammed it up in public, playing a part, and Clark had understood why—he'd even done it at Clark specifically sometimes, during press conferences or at fundraisers, but that had been—that had been because Clark knew what Bruce was doing. That had been because Clark was in on the joke.

But this isn't a joke, and Clark doesn't have a backstage pass this time.

"Clark," Bruce says, in an easy friendly tone that Clark doesn't let himself flinch away from.

He's lucky Bruce is talking to him at all. Jesus. How is Clark ever going to fix this?

"Feeling all right?" Bruce is saying.

"Sure," Clark says automatically, "fine," and he makes himself open his eyes again. "And you aren't—I didn't, uh—"

"All in one piece," Bruce says, with another perfect awful smile he can't possibly mean.

"You're sure," Clark says in a rush, because—because if he at least didn't hurt Bruce physically, didn't break or—or tear anything—

"Never better, Clark, I promise," and on the one hand he's still got that smile on his face, but on the other hand Bruce has never used those words lightly. "I should be getting back to the office, though," as if this is a meeting that ran long, Clark thinks wildly. "Anything you'd like me to pass along to the League?"

Clark stares at him, helpless. How does Bruce do this? "I'll—be another day or two, I think," he manages.

"All right," Bruce says. He thanks the ship, crosses the room toward—toward the door, that's all, the door Clark's standing in front of. His hand moves like he's going to reach out; like he's about to make himself touch Clark, like he hasn't martyred himself hard enough yet—

Clark steps away. He's not good at this like Bruce, he can't make it look natural, but he hopes it means something to Bruce anyway, that Clark would let him off the hook.

Bruce doesn't look like it means anything to him. There's not a single scuff on the whole gleaming surface of him, as far as Clark can see. But he does pause for a moment, hand still halfway outstretched, to say, "I'm glad it worked."

"Yeah," Clark says inanely, and looks away, and waits until he can't hear Bruce's footsteps anymore—not even when he tries.

 

 

(Who is he kidding? He can't fix this.

He should have realized the second he'd stepped into Bruce's office, the second he'd known something was seriously wrong. He should have made sure Bruce would never find him. At the end of the day, it wouldn't have mattered how responsible Bruce felt or how stupid he'd planned to be. Because Clark could have prevented all of this if he'd just sealed the ship up properly, but—

But a part of him had wanted Bruce to come in. A part of him had allowed that door to open and let Bruce inside.

And there's nothing Bruce won't do if he thinks it's necessary, necessary and his responsibility. He'd known, at some point: I'm glad it worked. He'd thought he had to. And the only reason any of it had even happened in the first place was because of Clark. Because Clark exists and is who he is, is—

not regulation

—what he is.

It shouldn't have happened at all, but it has; and even Superman can't fix that.)

 

 

Bruce said he was all right. But Clark isn't feeling particularly sure of anything right now, and that's something he can find a single solid answer to.

"Ship," he says, "do you—are there sensor records of the time since Bruce came on board?"

"Yes," the ship says, and something comes up out of the floor, forms together out of—

It's him. Him and Bruce, cast in gray-bronze, soundless moving statues, at the precise moment when Clark had first slid inside—

"Stop," Clark says hurriedly, "stop," and they vanish.

Because of course the ship not only had records, but could play them back as life-sized three-dimensional—jesus.

"Just check them, please," he manages, with a hand over his eyes. "If there was ever anything wrong with Bruce's vital signs, or any—blood. Anything like that."

"Yes, Commander," the ship says.

 

 

The only instances the ship flags for him, in the end, are things like Clark biting Bruce's lip a little too hard, or the ferocious bruise it seems he'd sucked into life just to one side of the hollow of Bruce's throat, rippling down over Bruce's collarbone. Nothing Bruce would have flinched from, or would be struggling with—not Bruce, who liked to swan around at fancy parties pretending he didn't have broken ribs. At people who had x-ray vision. Because he was an idiot.

And of course Bruce had come here, Clark thinks, staring down at his hands. Because Bruce is an idiot. An idiot who thinks Clark is his problem—his responsibility—who has no idea that this happened to him because Clark wanted it to. It would almost have been easier if Clark had hurt Bruce physically; then at least they'd have had a starting point they could agree on for—

For what? Clark lies back against the deck, feeling cold and tired and nauseated, and scrubs his hands through his hair. For an apology? As if that'll be enough to make up for it. As if that were even a fraction of what it would take—as if there were any way to make up for this.

But he has to do something. He has to.

 

 


 

 

Clark comes by sooner than Bruce had been expecting.

Then again, he supposes he should have known. It's Clark, and Clark doesn't avoid things that will hurt him. Far from it: he's shown a distinct tendency to impale himself on them instead.

(And that's a worse double entendre than any line Bruce Wayne's ever used. Christ.)

Bruce is ready, of course. He's had plenty of time to determine where he'd gone wrong; aggressively casual had been a thoughtless tack to take when Clark had no doubt still been feeling disoriented, used—violated. It had been unclear how much he remembered, but it had been enough to have him dodging Bruce's hand, placing himself carefully out of reach.

There is still some uncertainty as to what might be foremost on Clark's mind. Will he be angrier about the sex itself or about the assault on his privacy, the interference? Does he intend to end their acquaintance, to demand that Bruce remove himself from the League immediately—or to settle for insisting that Bruce never again intercede in this particular variety of Kryptonian medical crisis?

Fortunately, Bruce's strategy in response will be the same no matter what. He'll remain calm. He'll explain the essentials: that he'd had no way of knowing whether Clark would or even could recover without outside intervention, that he'd deemed it preferable to do what seemed likeliest to help than to wait until it might have been too late to help at all. He can perhaps apologize for the effects of his decisions, if Clark insists on it—but he will not apologize for making them. And, so Clark doesn't walk away with the wrong impression, he will state as clearly as he can that with Clark's life on the line, he'll make them the same way again in the future, if he has to.

What he'd done to Clark had been wrong. He knows that. The commander wants you inside, and—doesn't; and what that meant was that Clark had wanted anyone inside, had been next to mindless with it, but had been doing his best to turn Bruce away anyway.

But he'd do worse things—to himself, certainly, and perhaps even to Clark—to keep Clark from dying again. And on that particular point he will not—

(cannot)

(cannot)

—compromise.

 

 

Clark's generous, as ever. He doesn't come to Bruce in the office, but he doesn't just crash into the lake house, ambush Bruce at somewhere above the speed of sound. He flies in slowly enough to allow the motion detectors at the perimeter to perceive him—he gives Bruce warning. And he doesn't come inside. He lands at the end of the deck and waits there, and refuses Alfred's invitation with a quick bland smile.

"Sir," Alfred murmurs into the radio, already moving toward the Cave stairwell. "Sir, you have a visitor—"

"Yes," Bruce says, and stands, looking away from the exterior camera feed at last. "Yes, Alfred, thank you."

"Sir," Alfred replies, clearly taking the cue for what it is: by the time Bruce is upstairs, he's vanished.

Though Clark probably knows precisely where he's gone.

And he probably also knows precisely where Bruce is; but he's courteous enough to not turn around until Bruce has stepped out onto the deck, closed the door, and cleared his throat.

He looks well. Sleeves rolled up again, but it's warm today—Bruce's are rolled up, too. None of the hectic flush that had been in his face, his ears, last time; his gaze on Bruce is steady, focused.

"Bruce," he says, and then pauses, swallowing. "I—we have to talk."

Best to cut to the chase. "If you're here for an apology," Bruce says, and Clark jerks back a half-step, paling, but what is there to do but finish?—"you won't get one."

Clark's gone still. And then he blinks, eyes narrowing, and frowns. "Bruce—"

"There was no other reasonable course of action," Bruce says. "I couldn't take the chance that it would have killed you."

"I know that," Clark says quietly, looking down at his hands: wrapped around each other in front of him, knuckles white.

"I'm not sure you do," Bruce says, and takes a step forward—and Clark doesn't take off, so that must mean he's listening, willing to be convinced. "If—"

(—and he's said this before, arguing for an utterly opposing course of action. But he didn't have all the data then. He didn't. That was what had made it a mistake. And now—)

"—if there's even a one percent chance of an unacceptable outcome, it has to be treated as a certainty."

Clark stares at him for a long moment, and then shakes his head, looking out across the lake. "I died before," he says, "and I'm all right."

As if Bruce should count on miracles to repeat themselves—as if he'll ever be that lucky twice. "I couldn't take the chance," he says again, and that makes Clark's gaze snap back to him.

"And what about your chances? At least I died for something that had a point, Bruce. I died saving Metropolis, I died saving the planet—who wouldn't take that deal? I could have killed you just for being there, just because I didn't know what the hell I was doing—"

Bruce blinks and scrambles to reorient himself. This sounds almost like anger, but that's not what it is. It's—guilt.

Unexpected, but still manageable. And it does make a certain kind of sense: it's Clark. Of course Clark considers uncontrollable biological issues something he has to make amends for. He's used to being able to break all the rules, to save everyone from everything even when by all rights it should be impossible—but his own body is the one rule he can't break, the one danger he can't contain.

And Clark has always been a little too conscious of himself. Of the space he takes up, of his height and build—of crowding people or overpowering them, being too insistent or too forceful. He could kill or physically coerce almost anyone into almost anything he chose, demand any price; and he's so aware of it that he hardly even lets himself ask.

(He hadn't this time, after all. He'd known there was something wrong with him, he had to have known: that was why he'd taken time off at the Planet and flown to Antarctica in the first place. Bruce had had to chase him down. If he hadn't come to the office that day—would Bruce even have found out at all? Or would Clark just have gone off and died down there alone—)

But a change in tactics is called for.

"Except you didn't kill me, Clark," Bruce says. "I'm fine." And then, a little more warmly—shades of Bruce Wayne, but no more than that—"It's hardly the worst way I've spent a day. Diana's done more damage flipping me onto a mat." He reaches for his tie, and Clark's eyes Jerk down to it; it only takes the top two buttons to free his collar up enough to tug it aside and show off the truly massive hickey Clark left. "That's as bad as it gets, I swear."

And that, perhaps, was an error. Clark's gaze sticks on the bruise and he swallows hard—for someone who's invulnerable, Clark has developed a habit of dwelling on injuries, and always seems to disapprove of how Bruce handles his.

This is apparently no exception. Clark drags his eyes back up to Bruce's face and says, "But you didn't know that, Bruce, you couldn't have. And I didn't have to break your bones to—to hurt you." He swallows again, and adds much more quietly, "I know you had to. That's what—I know you thought you had to."

And that's the crux of it, Bruce thinks. It must be, the way Clark's shoulders drop saying it; the confession offered up, and Clark standing there trying to make himself small, tacitly promising to accept his punishment.

He's not going to get over this because Bruce Wayne smiles at him convincingly enough. Hell, he's never liked Bruce Wayne that much anyway—even at the beginning, even when he didn't know who he was actually talking to. That tack won't work. But what has worked on Clark?

What ever has, except telling the truth?

Bruce draws a slow breath and braces himself. "I knew what I was getting into," he says, carefully meeting Clark's eyes.

"Yeah, I know," Clark starts, not looking any less troubled, but Bruce doesn't let him finish.

"If anyone got taken advantage of here, Clark, it was you. I wasn't the one who was out of my head with fever. I wasn't the one experiencing a physical compulsion. I knew the stakes and I had a choice, and I made it." And it's so difficult not to hesitate, not to pause on the edge with the opportunity still open to turn back—but Clark needs to realize who's at fault here, and there's only one way to make that happen. So: "I wanted it," Bruce explains, even, without wavering. "All of it."

Clark is staring at him, silent, eyes wide; and then his gaze flickers down again to Bruce's collar, still tugged open—to the bruise there. "All—all of it," he repeats unsteadily.

"Yes."

"But I—" and Clark breaks off, looking out over the water again, brow furrowing. "You can't have wanted it like that. Bruce, I was—maybe you thought you wouldn't mind having sex with me, but I was all over you, I—"

Bruce doesn't permit his expression to change. "You remember," he says, and it comes out perfect, without inflection.

Clark glances at him, a quick darting cut, and then away, and reaches up to rub at the back of his neck. "Some of it," he admits. "It's still, uh, pretty hazy. But I know I was—I must have been—I know what I must have been like." He's gone pale, voice dropping low; he stays where he is for a moment, and then takes a step, two, closer to Bruce, and says very softly, "I know what I would have wanted to do with you, if I could."

He reaches out, and he's—he's entirely himself, Bruce catalogues distantly: no redness in his face or throat, no tremor in his outstretched hand. Temperature, motor function, and all other superficial metrics apparently within the usual range.

But his fingers on Bruce's skin, just where the shirt collar gapes open, feel exactly the same; reverent, intent. The way he slides his hand up to the side of Bruce's neck, the look on his face when he does it—

"Yes," Bruce says—

(—yes, it was like that, that was what I wanted—for you to look at me like that, to touch me like you—like you—)

"—yes," and Clark's expression turns wondering, caught and disbelieving; so in the end Bruce has to tug him the rest of the way in himself.

 

 

"Clark. Clark."

"Hmm?"

"Clark," Bruce says again, and he can't quite stop his hands from tightening on Clark's shoulders, even though Clark has one arm wrapped very firmly around the small of his back.

Clark stops doing whatever he had going on with Bruce's neck, regrettably, and looks down. "Oh! Oh, jesus, Bruce, I'm sorry—" and he lowers them carefully, until the deck is once again actually touching Bruce's feet.

"Kryptonian thing," Bruce says, deliberately light, and doesn't move his hands.

Clark stops apologizing and looks at him. "Kryptonian thing," he agrees slowly, and then starts to smile, creeping up bright like sunrise. "Oh, and, hey, if the ship calls you something—odd?"

"Yes?"

"That's a Kryptonian thing, too."