"You think we should. . . what?"
Clark knew he sounded like an idiot. But he knew there was no way Bruce had just said what he thought he had. If he had just said it, he wouldn't be sitting at the monitor station in the Batcave, calmly clicking away, eyes shuttered behind his cowl.
He tried again. "Okay, so, just to be clear—"
"Stop sputtering." Bruce spun in his chair. "It makes sense. It's the logical thing to do. Try to think rationally for a moment."
"I am!" Clark protested. "At least, I think I am. Who knows, maybe I'm having a psychotic break, because I swear it sounded like you just said we should get married."
Bruce sighed deeply. "I had no idea you were going to be so Kansas about this. Look. Last year, when I was in the hospital."
"I remember." The timbre of Clark's voice made Bruce glance up. Bruce wouldn't remember. Bruce had been unconscious. For days, he had been unconscious. There had been no time, no way to get him to the Watchtower. And it had happened when he was out of uniform anyway. One quick spray of bullets, and Bruce was down, and all Clark had heard was the roaring in his own ears that he only later realized had been his shouts, his own guttural scream of no. Days of sitting by Bruce's bedside, listening to the blip of the monitor, watching the drip of the IV. Days whose gray emptiness and despair he would never, in a million years, wish on his worst enemy.
"Anyway," Bruce was saying. "You have my medical power of attorney, and I have yours. But I know for a fact it still took a solid twenty-four hours before any of the surgical team would listen to you, and even then, they still deferred to Dick. You know I trust Dick, but it's your name on that document and not his for a reason. One word would have sliced all that red tape they made you wade through."
"Spouse," Clark said, hesitantly.
"Exactly. And the same holds true for you, though obviously physical injury is less of a concern. The point is, marriage is legal in this state now, and it's the best and most airtight protection out there for all the various powers of attorney you hold for me. It's a legal formality, but it saves you from juggling nineteen different pieces of paper in an emergency situation. It makes sense."
Bruce had gone back to typing, and Clark lapsed into thoughtfulness. "You don't. . . I mean, you might want to get married for real someday."
The snort told him what Bruce thought of that. "Not very likely, though if you're saying that you might want to, we'll forget the whole thing."
Clark shook his head. "No," he said sadly. "That—I'm done with marriage. The actual kind, anyway."
"Wise decision." He saw Bruce hesitate. Oh my God, he's going to say it, Clark thought with dread. Please don't say it. "I'm sorry about. . . things with Lois, by the way."
"Right," Clark said, and left it at that. A fan of his relationship with Lois Bruce had never been. "Well, the divorce was two years ago, but thanks for the timely condolences."
As usual, sarcasm rolled off Bruce's back. He was busy squinting through his cowl at a data stream that clearly displeased him. "So that's a yes?"
Clark shrugged. "Sure. That's a yes. You're right, it makes sense. And why not?"
The ceremony was the following week, at the Gotham courthouse. Bruce hadn't wasted time arranging it. He had texted Clark the details, told him when to show up, and all the documents had been prepared. Clark had signed a few things, they had stood in front of the judge's desk (it hadn't been in the courtroom, just in the chambers of a judge Bruce knew who looked like she was hoping this wouldn't take up too much of her lunch hour), they had said a few words, and that had been that. Afterward Bruce had walked down the courthouse steps and headed to his car.
"That's it?" Clark said. He was still standing on the steps. He had an odd feeling in his middle, like maybe his breakfast wasn't sitting well.
Bruce's eyes behind his shades were blank. "You wanted me to buy you lunch?"
Clark glanced at his watch. "I did take off the whole afternoon. And I wouldn't mind lunch."
"I have an executive board meeting in twenty minutes. How about I give you the black card and let you go shopping? Buy yourself something nice."
"Fine, I see how it is. Your dinner tonight's going to be cold, just you wait."
He could tell Bruce was rolling his eyes. "Are there going to be a lot of these jokes?"
"Possibly. There'd be fewer if you'd at least bought me a meal. I'll let you off the hook this time, but you're definitely buying before the League meeting on Thursday. Something nice, not Chinese take-out in the Cave."
"Thai, then." Bruce had headed back down the steps. Alfred was holding the door of the car. There was still that odd sensation in Clark's middle. That's it? he wanted to say again, but he had said that before. He felt strangely different, in a way he couldn't quite place. Bruce got in the car. He watched Bruce's limo pull away from the curb.
And that was it, actually.
Bruce never referred to the fact of their marriage at all, that day or any other. It was a non-event, for him. Which was an accurate perception, because it had been both a non-marriage, and non-eventful. And because it was meaningless. A legal formality, like Bruce had said. It hadn't meant a thing.
Not like the time he'd married Lois, in the big church wedding with everyone smiling and laughing and clapping, and Lois's radiant face. Everyone had looked so happy. Bruce had been there that day. He had seen Bruce only once that day, though, at the reception. Bruce had been standing in the corner of the tent, and Clark had looked up from shaking hands in the receiving line — his face had ached from all the smiling — and met Bruce's eyes. Bruce had not been smiling. Something about Bruce's face had stopped him. Bruce had held his eyes, and Clark hadn't looked away, and then Bruce had just set his champagne glass down and walked off. Hadn't nodded, hadn't given so much as his typical quirk of a smile at Clark. And it was funny, because he had wanted nothing so much as to follow him—to track him down and see what was the matter, to ask him what he was thinking. In that moment, that was all he had wanted. Lois had tugged on his arm then, laughing at something someone had said, and for a moment he had just looked at her, unable to remember why he was there. Funny the things you remembered.
He lay in his bed that night, the night after their whatever-it-was at the courthouse, and tried to put it out of his mind. That it was his wedding night. His and Bruce's. That was pretty funny, too. He considered texting him. Hey B, you slipping on that sexy lingerie yet? But Bruce wouldn't think it was funny. Bruce was probably out on patrol anyway. He lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling.
At the League meeting that week, he tried not to think about it. Bruce did a lot of the talking, and Clark wasn't really following. His lack of following might have been evident, because once or twice Bruce gave him a look. Funny how easy it was for Clark to read his facial expressions even when nine-tenths of his face was covered in Kevlar.
Married. They were married.
He was sitting there at the council table in the watchtower, listening to his husband talk. His husband.
At the thought, a wave of some unnameable emotion broke over his chest—something wild, like tenderness and pain and longing, something inchoate but sharp as knives. It was all he could do not to get up and walk over to Bruce's chair, to kneel down by him, to touch him: his shoulder, his knee, his carefully-shaven face. To breathe in his space, to feel his skin. It felt like those days in the hospital all over again, when Bruce had been so far away from him. The same panicked sensation in him now, the same visceral need to touch Bruce. He frowned, trying to master whatever it was that had gripped him. J'onn, at the end of the table, looked up. Looked right at him.
To a telepath, Clark's surge of emotion must have been like shouting in a quiet room. "Excuse me," he mumbled, and got up, heading quickly for the door. Bruce had broken off and was watching him go. So, no doubt, was J'onn.
Down on the main level, he stood at the observation windows for a while, just watching the dark slide of sky. He wanted to lean his head against the cool thick glass. The meeting would be over in a few minutes anyway. Bruce would wander in here, looking for him, ask him what the hell the matter was. He would make up something.
Self-knowledge, he reflected, was not a pleasant thing. Sudden self-knowledge was even more unpleasant.
He never let it show again, what he was thinking. He had let himself be swamped by those emotions before he had fully recognized them, but now that he knew and could name them, he could control them.
That was the idea, anyway.
Only once in the months that followed did he find that impossible, and that was at the Wayne holiday benefit ball. It was at the penthouse, not the Manor, and it was huge and impersonal and full of celebrities jostling him at the canapé table. He clutched his drink and stared into space. It was the sort of event the lead editor on the Metropolis city desk was expected to attend. He himself had never had dental work, never having needed it, but he imagined this was not unlike a root canal.
Worst of all was seeing Bruce mill about the room—talking to everyone but him, it seemed like—with that impeccably tailored tux on his body and that smooth socialite smile pasted on his face. But that wasn't actually the worst of it. Worst of all was noticing that Bruce actually had a date, and she wasn't some underwear model, either. In fact, Clark was pretty sure he recognized her, from a journalism dinner last year. A reporter from the Gotham Gazette, with cropped red hair and a smile that lit her face and an ass that happened to look fantastic in her dress. Bruce's hand was not too terribly many inches above said ass, as he steered her around the room.
"Great," Clark remarked to his drink. "Just great."
He watched them for a while. The woman's dress was backless. He wished he could remember her name. Karen? Coreen? Kendra? Something like that. They had talked for a while at that dinner. She had been very nice. Bruce's hand was on her bare skin as he laughed at something someone had said. The wave of anger caught him in the throat so hard he had to set his drink down.
This was not okay. It was just a party, and Bruce was just doing what he always did. It was just a formality. No, you're the formality, a voice inside him said, and he wiped a hand over his face. This was ridiculous. He was ridiculous. He was watching his husband—his husband—flirting with another woman, and the sick wrongness of that made his stomach lurch and his insides roil with anger he didn't know what to do with.
He walked his drink back to the bar and started to head to the elevators, thinking to make an early escape. Whatever it was he was expected to do here, he couldn't do it. He got stuck behind a group of half-drunk people by the shrimp table, and his sigh of frustration was more of a growl, he knew. He got backed into a potted palm of ferocious size.
"Mild-mannered," Bruce admonished, at his elbow. He restrained his startle.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Mild-mannered," he repeated. "Your cover is supposed to be mild-mannered. The scowl on your face is frightening my guests."
"Hmph," Clark snorted.
"That's supposed to be my line."
Clark gave a laugh at that, against his will. "Go back to your party. I'm going to head home. It was—really nice, though. I had a great time."
"Yes, I can tell." Bruce's eyes on him were odd. "Listen. Things are winding down here, and I'll be heading back to the Manor in a bit. We could go over those—"
"I have to get home," Clark said. "I've got a deadline tomorrow, and I'm—I have to get back."
Bruce's hands were in his pockets. He didn't say anything. Clark pushed past the palm and a clutch of supermodels and made it to the elevator. He didn't have to turn around to feel Bruce's eyes still on him.
He no longer thought that self-knowledge was unpleasant. It was goddamn torture.
So a few weeks after the holidays, he asked Bruce to meet him for lunch. He waited until January, when he knew things in Gotham were relatively quiet (even criminals hibernated under Gotham's blanket of polluted snow) and things at the Planet were in the January slump. They met up at the Everton, one of those downtown Gotham hotels so nice Clark had never seen the inside of it. Clark raised his eyebrows at the napkin sculpted into an orchid on his plate.
"Do I have to pay extra for that?"
"I'm buying, cheapskate. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I was just remarking on the napkin."
"Something's wrong if you want to have lunch in the middle of the day."
"We have lunch in the middle of the day plenty of times."
Bruce unfolded his orchid and tugged at the wine list. "At the diner. But you specifically said 'someplace quiet,' and the Everton's a tomb in the middle of the day, so I chose this. I'm assuming you wanted a quiet place because something is wrong, and you don't want to be overheard."
"I. . . maybe." Clark shifted, ran a finger under his collar. Bruce was right about this place, though. Other than the splash of water in the marble fountain, there wasn't any other sound. A few grayhaired socialites enjoying a late lunch, but no one else around. "Sure. I mean yes, I did want to talk. I was thinking that we should—that I'm going to need to consider—"
The waiter arrived, and Bruce was ordering. Bruce ordered for him, the asshole. The waiter collected their menus and left, and Bruce arched an eyebrow at Clark's glare. "What? I know what's good here, and what isn't. Relax, you'll like it."
Clark tried to keep his voice as steady as his gaze. "You don't get to decide what's best for me."
"I know that." There was a faint line between Bruce's brows, the line that meant he was trying to puzzle something out. Clark, was what he was trying to puzzle out. He wasn't making much sense, he knew that. And that remark about knowing what was best for him, that hadn't been fair. Bruce hadn't forced him into this.
"Here is the thing," Clark said quietly. "I need a divorce."
"All right," Bruce said. There was still that puzzled furrow.
"Because the thing is—" Bruce's unconcerned all right registered with him. "All right?"
Bruce shrugged. "That's what I said. Honestly Clark, it isn't a big deal. As easily undone as it was done, don't worry about it."
Clark studied his damn orchid. It was still folded on his plate. That was bad manners, he knew. He ought to have unfolded his napkin. Only, right now he was trying to resist stuffing it down Bruce's throat. Not a big deal. Of course. "Will you let me explain," he said, through a tight jaw.
"Of course. But it isn't necessary." Bruce bit a bread stick and surveyed the fountain. "When it's in season, their she-crab soup is magnificent. It's one of those places that has done the same thing for decades, and on the whole the menu is as stodgy as their clientele. But they have one or two things that they do beautifully. We'll have to come back when the crab's in season."
"Will you just listen to me," he tried again. "This is a question of my personal integrity."
That had Bruce's attention. Those ice-fleck eyes were studying him now, not the fountain. "Is it," he said.
"Yes. Please understand. I—I thought I could do this, the marriage thing. I thought it would be fine, a formality, like you said. But I can't do it. I can't—I can't look at myself in the mirror. This is just not who I am."
Bruce's face tightened instantly, eyes fossilized to granite. "Of course," he said. "I understand. Of all the things Superman is, he's certainly not a faggot."
That suckerpunched the wind right out of him. "What did you just say," he managed. Bruce was opening his mouth to say something else but Clark leaned forward. "You've known me for how long, and that's what you think of me? Truly and quite sincerely Bruce, from the bottom of my heart, fuck you. No, I mean that. Fuck you, if that's what you think of me."
The waiter placed the appetizers on the silent table. He decanted the wine. Bruce sent him away with a wave. "I was simply drawing conclusions from your words," he said.
"The wrong ones," Clark said sharply. He wiped at his face. "Look, your idea was a good one. It really was. That's why I agreed to it. And I agree, I think we need some way of protecting each other legally, of making sure we can speak for each other in situations where others might not know the whole story of who we are. Your idea was a good one."
"It was a legal solution. It wasn't intended to cause you a sexual identity crisis." It was the same lacerating, dismissive tone he used when a Robin had failed him.
"You don't understand," Clark said, in despair. Bruce would never understand. He was so tired of Bruce not understanding, so tired of evading the words. He couldn't even remember the reasons for it anymore. "You've never understood. I'm asking for a divorce because I can't handle it, okay? Look, I thought I was going to stand in some courtroom and say some meaningless words and go on with my life, and clearly—clearly that's what happened for you, and that was. . . it was right, and it was normal. But that's not what happened to me. I can't. . . can you see, is there any part of you that can understand that I can't get it out of my head that I am married to you?"
He sat back. Bruce was nothing but absolutely still.
"I can't get past it," Clark resumed, more quietly. "I can't tell myself it doesn't mean anything. Didn't mean anything. And you'll think that's funny, maybe, you'll think that's the midwestern farm boy in me, and maybe so, maybe it is. But saying those words—it meant something to me, something real. It changed things for me. Made me see things I hadn't before. Things. . . in me, in the way I felt. About. . . us. About you."
He looked at his soup. Good thing it was the vichyssoise, because it would be getting cold otherwise. "It's not your fault. I thought it would be fine. I thought I could handle it. I loved the idea of it, actually—loved that you would trust me like that, loved the thought of cementing our friendship in that radical, ultimate way. But. . ." he trailed off. "I'm sorry. It means. . . more to me than it should, and that's not fair to you or to our friendship. So I need a divorce."
Bruce had steepled his fingers in front of him, absently tapping his finger. His eyes were distant. "Are you listening to me at all," Clark said.
"So, you understand what I mean?"
"You understand that your initial assuption, why you thought I didn't want to do this anymore, was wrong? Because tell me you at least understand that."
Bruce was rising. He tossed his napkin on his chair. "Come with me," he said.
"Ah. . ." Clark glanced at their table, and their uneaten food, but Bruce was standing there impatiently. He rose and followed him, out of the restaurant to the bank of marbled elevators just inside the lobby. They got into an elevator and Bruce hit a button, leaned against the wall in silence. Clark glanced at him. Bruce was just looking straight ahead, offering no comment.
The elevator dinged on the 19th floor, and Bruce got out. They walked in silence down a long, lushly carpeted hall. Bruce slid a key card into a corner door, and opened it on some kind of suite. Clark looked around. "Wow," he said. "This is really nice. So you keep a place here? That's bound to come in handy when—"
The rest of his sentence was pushed back into his mouth by Bruce's tongue. He didn't miss a beat, but pushed right back. Bruce was on him, practically crawling on him, arms pushing against him, mouth fierce. He seized the back of Bruce's head, angling his mouth in deeper, fisting the short hair in an unbreakable grip.
They didn't say anything, was the thing.
Not words, at any rate. Their lovemaking wasn't silent, not by any means. It was just that in his head, Clark had thought that if it ever happened—outside of his jack-off fantasies, that is—it would be a slow exploration, a coupling as quiet and brooding as Bruce himself.
Not so much, as it turned out.
At some point he realized Bruce was not just going to let him fuck him, he was aching for him too, and that was right about the point when Clark lost his last bit of self-control. There was lube in the nightstand (he wasn't going to think about that one too much) and no condoms (so maybe it was just for jacking off, and this was not where he took dates?) but Bruce evidently wasn't worrying about that. He let Clark take him face-to-face, was another unexpected thing. Bruce was gripping onto the headboard and groaning with every thrust, head tilted back, mouth open, legs curled around Clark hard enough to bruise, just so blitzed with pleasure it was all Clark could do not to come in that tight hot ass after five thrusts. He worked Bruce's thick cock with his hand, hard, and that was right about the point where Bruce's moans really got loud, and his own too.
There was nothing elegant about any of it. They were sweaty and grappling and really just all about the fucking. Bruce would have bruises. He couldn't find it in him to care. At some point, Bruce's leg on his shoulder, he had reached up and grabbed that head closer to his, put his mouth right to Bruce's ear and whispered you're mine, don't you ever fucking forget it, this is you being MINE, and Bruce had gasped and come in long arcing splatters on his own chest and Clark's fist. He had come so fast after that he hadn't even been able to gentle Bruce through his own orgasm. He had gripped Bruce's ass with come-smeared hands and just thrust, his head resting in the crook of Bruce's neck, until he shook and spilled.
Afterward they lay athwart the bed, panting, handing back and forth a water bottle Bruce dug up from the shelf of the nightstand. He watched a droplet of sweat streak Bruce's side. Bruce turned his head to look at him.
"Your request for a divorce is denied," Bruce said, when he had breath.
"Oh well," Clark said. "It was just a thought."
Clark hoisted up on an elbow and dragged himself closer. He thumbed the sweat-locks on Bruce's forehead. Bruce's soft eyes were just watching him. "I forgot to say I'm in love with you," he said.
"No, you didn't."
Clark bent to kiss him. This was different from before. This had no urgency to it, no franticness. They took their time exploring, mapping. Bruce's hand stroked his back. "I thought of something," Clark said, pulling off. "No-fault divorce has been law since 1985. I don't actually need your consent to divorce you."
"Well," said Bruce, tugging a pillow under his head, "that's bad news for me, considering you didn't sign a pre-nup."
Clark looked at him, thunderstruck. "I can't believe we forgot that. Bruce. You have billions of dollars of assets to protect, and you forget to sign a pre-nup?"
Bruce chuckled. "I didn't forget, genius. It just didn't seem relevant."
"I could take you to the cleaners."
"Yes, you could."
"I could be rich."
Bruce's laugh was even warmer than before. "You already are. You were the minute we were married."
"Hey, that's right," Clark mused. "And yet somehow I'm still living in a crappy fourth-floor apartment."
"Well, we should maybe do something about that," Bruce said, with a tentative stroke of his arm. They were silent, because this was even newer territory than the other. What was he supposed to do, move into the Manor after one afternoon of (even admittedly spectacular) sex? How the hell did you date someone you were married to, when you knew you were married, and felt yourself to be married? And dating Bruce—what sort of a joke was that, when they knew each other inside and out anyway? What was he hoping to learn, other than how to love him better? He had already been doing that for so many years without knowing it that he hardly needed more practice now.
"We did things a little backward, I think," Clark observed. Bruce gave a shrug of his brows.
"We'll figure it out," he said.
"That's a pretty relaxed attitude, for you."
"It's called afterglow, Kent, give me fifteen minutes here."
Clark grinned, scooted closer, and dropped his head heavily on Bruce's middle. Bruce grunted. "Invulnerable head. Not invulnerable abdomen."
Clark reached up and Bruce laced their fingers together. They drifted like that for a while, the silence as easy as before. "We could do it better," Bruce said at last, and Clark had to replay, try to figure out what he was talking about.
"Do what better?"
"Getting married. We could do it better, with people there. For real this time. I would even buy you lunch."
Clark tightened their fingers. "It was real enough. And it's no one's business but ours, really. I don't need anything better."
He wouldn't have needed super-senses to feel Bruce's heart thump beneath him. "Good enough then," Bruce said.
"Good enough," Clark echoed. He lay stretched on his husband's beautiful body, and let the thin winter sun of the afternoon spin away from him.