1 Unknown Visitor
As far as excuses go, Clark doesn’t have a particularly great one for monitoring Bruce’s heartbeat. It’s selfish, really, and that’s one of the reasons he hopes Bruce will never find out, but it...helps.
Being alive again had been strange at first. Even once his legal identity had been reinstated and Clark had been able to return to his apartment in Metropolis, to his job at the Planet, something was irreparably different. It wasn’t just the absence of Lois in his life, who had loved him and mourned him and finally moved on.
Clark can deal with changes, with new environments and new people, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that he’d...missed things. Politics were easy enough to catch up on, everything big enough to make the news was, but somehow the little things slipped through the cracks more often than not.
He’d felt restless at first, like his senses had been dormant for too long while he was in his grave and now tried to work overdrive to make up for lost time. He’d found himself zoning out in the office and just listening to the lives going on outside, or picking out individual people below while he flew across the skies above, focusing on their features, the creases in their clothes, a single strand of hair hanging askew.
He likes to tell himself that Bruce wouldn’t mind if he knew. That he’d been so accommodating, had offered Clark whatever help he needed to get back on his feet, and squeezed Clark’s shoulder in a companionable way that felt like he’d meant it too.
Still, his offer probably hadn’t included an invasion of privacy. Not on this scale at least.
He could have just used his mother’s heartbeat to center himself again, like he had as a child, but Bruce’s heartbeat is different. It’s steady, so steady, always beating at the same slow, familiar pace, slightly elevated when Bruce is out as Batman, but even then it just settles into a new, slightly faster frequency.
It’s not a problem. There’s no reason for it to ever be a problem, because there’s no way for Bruce to know about it unless Clark tells him, and Clark will most certainly not do that. He doesn’t consider other ways in which invading Bruce’s privacy like this might be a problem, until it happens.
Clark is in the middle of work, in the middle of the office, when Bruce's heart skips a beat. He pauses, hands hovering over his keyboard. It’s probably nothing. Just because Clark has never witnessed it before doesn’t mean Bruce is incapable of being surprised. Still his own heart starts beating faster as he waits.
Instead of returning to normal, Bruce’s heartbeat speeds up to almost twice its regular rate.
Clark is already halfway out the door, mumbling some vague apologies about bathroom breaks and tugging loose his tie, when it occurs to him that his hearing isn’t constrained to Bruce’s heartbeat. He stops in an empty stairway and focuses.
Bruce is home, in his bedroom in the lake house, just where Clark would have expected him to be at this time of day after a night of patrolling Gotham. He isn’t alone. There’s someone else in the room with him, but the person isn’t Alfred. Clark feels his own heartbeat pick up another notch.
An intruder in the house is bad. If they’ve managed to get that far without tripping any alarms they’re undoubtedly skilled and Bruce wouldn’t have any of his equipment with him in his bedroom. Even worse, the intruder is clearly after Bruce Wayne, not Batman, so there is no way for Bruce to justify fighting back with any degree of skill.
Clark is halfway to the roof, just about ready to fly to Gotham and stage a heroic rescue, when Bruce’s words stop him.
“I— I didn’t expect to see you.” There’s something wrong with his voice, Clark thinks. He sounds strained, like his throat is closing up, like maybe he’s been drugged or poisoned, but that isn’t even the only thing that’s concerning. Bruce clearly knows the intruder, and Clark has never met anyone who made him falter like that.
He’s so caught up in trying to gauge Bruce’s reaction that he completely misses the intruder’s reply. It’s Bruce’s voice that makes him pause again. “No, don’t—” Clark is in the air, even though he’s still inside the building. He doesn’t think the intruder has a gun, Clark would have heard a gun, and he can be in Gotham before anything else— “Please don’t leave.”
Clark stops, hovering awkwardly inside the stairwell for a moment before it occurs to him that someone could walk in and see, but it’s— It doesn’t make any sense. Bruce’s heart is still beating unusually fast, his voice sounds hesitant, not quite scared. He clearly isn’t afraid of whoever is in his house, but something is clearly wrong.
“I didn’t think you— I didn’t—” Bruce breaks off and Clark can practically feel his irritation at himself, at his uncharacteristic indecisiveness. It doesn’t fit with the image of Bruce that Clark has built up in his head, even though he knows Bruce isn’t always as sure of himself as he makes it seem.
Bruce's heart skips another beat, maybe even two with how fast it’s still beating, so far off its usual pace. “Yes, I— I’d like that,” he says, and his voice is soft, in a way that Clark has never heard it. Vulnerable and hopeful and— Oh.
He forces himself to stop listening, even tunes out Bruce’s heartbeat for the first time in months. He shouldn’t be as surprised as he is, but it hadn’t occurred to him that there might be someone out there that Bruce...cares about. Maybe even loves. Because why else would he be so worried about his words, so scared of driving away whoever is paying him a visit?
Clark knows Bruce isn’t particularly celibate — the Daily Planet does have a celebrity section after all, and he’s seen the pictures — but Clark had never gotten the impression that Bruce especially cared for the people he took home.
He cares about whoever is in his bedroom right now, that much has been clear from what Clark had overheard. It’s not— relevant. It doesn’t change anything, but somehow Clark can’t—
He’s thought about it before, is the thing. Has paid a bit too much attention to Bruce during a League meeting, let his eyes linger a bit too long on the line of his jaw, the cut of his cheekbones, his body in the undersuit that clings to his skin. Bruce is an attractive man, Clark knows that, has known that for a while. Bruce also only ever has one-night stands, with models, young heiresses or pretty socialites.
Clark doesn’t fit into that picture, doesn’t want to fit into that picture, but— It would be different if Bruce cared.
The thought is too much, and he lets himself sag against the stairway wall. It’s worse somehow, that it’s not just a bit of physical attraction, a bit of curiosity. He wants Bruce to— care about him. And five minutes ago he would have laughed at the thought of Bruce ever caring about anyone in that way.
It shouldn’t be worse, to know that there is someone out there who makes Bruce— maybe not happy, not right now at least, but who makes Bruce vulnerable. And open. And scared, but in a good way.
Clark sighs and runs a hand through his hair. He should have known the whole listening thing was a bad idea. He just really hadn’t expected it to backfire in quite this way.
2 First Contact
The dockyard is absolutely overrun with robots. They seem to be coming from everywhere, crawling out of manhole covers, emerging from the murky waters of the bay, flying in from the sky above, all converging on the one warehouse that inconveniently has lead-lined walls.
“What’s in there?” Clark yells over the noise of crunching metal, as he blasts another five robots out of the air with his heat vision.
“I don’t know, it’s supposed to be empty,” Bruce growls, as he throws one of his batarangs into a group of robots. The batarang hits one right in the chest, sticking there for a second before it explodes, taking out a good chunk of the surrounding cluster. Bruce glances down at the screen on his gauntlet and swears. “It used to be owned by LexCorp and was seized by the government after Luther’s arrest. Whatever’s in there, we can’t let them get it.”
Clark doesn’t reply, just turns to take out a group that has snuck up on the back of the warehouse, leaving them in a heap of sparking wires and crushed metal. “There’s a backdoor here! I’ve got it covered.”
“No, get back in the air,” Bruce orders. “They can get in through the roof.”
“I can’t cover both at the same time,” Clark says, even as he’s lifting back up, hovering above the warehouse and picking off robots with his heat vision before they can land. “We need back-up! Have you contacted the others—”
He doesn’t get to finish the question. He hears the telltale hiss of a grappling line being shot, the light displacement of air as a body swings down from a building. Then a black-clad figure neatly lands on top of a robot that’s definitely too close to the warehouse and jabs it with a baton-like weapon.
The robot goes down instantly, taking its assailant with it, but before they both hit the ground the figure neatly tucks their body into a roll, coming up with their feet planted and ready for more fighting.
Clark is so surprised that he just stares at the man for a moment. Because it is a man, clad in a skin-tight black suit, a streak of bright blue the only thing disrupting the line of his costume across his chest and along his shoulders, running all the way down his arms to his hands. He’s wearing a domino mask, floppy black hair falling into his face, and he’s holding two of those sticks he used to take down the robot.
They must be electrified, Clark realizes when another robot goes down spewing sparks.
“Superman, the roof!” Bruce barks, effectively shaking Clark out of his trance. He turns and quickly dispatches a new wave of flying robots that have gotten close enough to start digging at the roof access hatch, when a new, unfamiliar voice comes over the comms.
“Got the backdoor covered.” There’s a moment of static where neither Clark nor Bruce reply.
“I didn’t call you for backup,” Bruce says and there’s something strange about his voice, a tension that Clark isn’t used to hearing from him. Not anger at being disobeyed, or cool disapproval, but something that sounds almost wary, like he’s afraid of the reply.
“Well, you should have, because you clearly need me,” the stranger replies. His voice barely wavers, doesn’t show any signs of exhaustion even though Clark can see him vaulting from one robot to the other, taking them down neatly, but with what seems to Clark like unnecessary flair.
“We could have handled this. There’s no need for you to—” Bruce breaks off abruptly, and Clark hears him take one deep breath, like he’s trying to calm himself.
“Right, because you did so well on your own,” the newcomer retorts, a sharp edge to his words that Clark doesn’t understand. He feels like an outsider to this conversation, like there are layers that he’s missing, a familiarity he’s not a part of.
“You hacked into my comms,” Bruce admonishes, but it doesn’t sound like much of a rebuke to Clark’s ears. The stranger doesn’t seem to think so either, because he just laughs, and it’s strange to hear such a cheerful sound through the light buzz of static. Usually Bruce is meticulous about not using the comms for idle chatter.
“It would have taken me more than two minutes if you really wanted to keep me out,” the stranger quips, and Bruce’s resulting silence is as good as confirmation.
Clark tries to focus on the robots before him, but the barrage seems to be finally coming to an end, just when he could have used the distraction. He feels wrong-footed by Bruce’s behaviour. It’s clear that he knows this new vigilante, but Clark has never seen him act like this with anyone before.
The last robot on the roof crumples in a heap of melting metal, and Clark flies back down to where Bruce is just finishing up his fight. Metal limbs are strewn around him, and Clark idly wonders if he has the explosive batarangs for exactly this purpose, or if he’s used them against humans before. The thought reminds him of a rainy night, and glowing, emotionless eyes set in a metal mask. He shudders.
“Roof is secure,” he reports dutifully, although he’s fairly certain Bruce trusts him not to abandon his post while the fight is still underway. Bruce gives him an approving nod and opens his mouth to say something when the new voice comes over the comms again.
“Backdoor is secure.”
“Good job,” Bruce says, and Clark has to rein in his surprise. “Meet us at the front.”
It takes less than a minute for the stranger to join them. Walking around the warehouse like a normal person seems to be too mundane for him, because instead he jumps off the roof. His hands catch a protruding ledge to slow his descent and he executes two flawless, superfluous flips before landing with a graceful roll and smoothly coming back to his feet.
“Next time, warn me if you’re planning to join a fight,” Bruce says, and there’s that tension back in his voice. “It’s inefficient to have you randomly dropping in on us.” The stranger bounces on his feet and props a hand against his hip.
“Next time, don’t make me find out from the police scanner that there’s a fight,” he replies, and the domino mask makes it impossible to tell, but Clark is pretty sure one of his eyebrows is quirked upwards.
Bruce sighs, inaudible to human ears. “I told you I don’t want you involved.” If it were anyone else, Clark would have said he sounded almost pleading, but Batman doesn’t plead.
“And I told you that’s not your call to make.” The tone is harsher than the simple statement really warrants and Clark feels distinctly like he’s intruding on something private. Bruce grinds his teeth before opening his mouth to reply, but the stranger pointedly ignores him, turning to face Clark instead.
“Hi, I’m Nightwing. It’s nice to— I mean, it’s an honour to meet you.” He sounds like he means it too, so Clark can’t do anything but take the hand he’s holding out. His handshake is firm, but not overly so. No power play or intimidation, like so many people have tried with Clark.
“Nice to meet you,” he echoes, and he wants to say something more, wants to ask how he and Bruce know each other, but it doesn’t feel appropriate. Nightwing grins, the expression lighting up his whole face, and it strikes Clark how young he looks.
“This is so cool, you’re like a proper hero. I mean, I’m a fan.” Fortunately Clark is saved from having to reply to that by Bruce, who sighs again, fully audible this time. Nightwing’s grin only widens. “I would have totally convinced B not to try and kill you, but I wasn’t around for that part, sorry.”
“Nightwing,” Bruce admonishes, but the vigilante in question doesn’t pay him any mind.
“Anyway, it was an honor to fight with you. Sort of fight with you. Not like we really had to work together or anything, but it was really cool to be on the same team.” Clark still has no idea what to say.
“Thank you for your help,” he settles on, and it must have been the right thing to say, judging by the way Nightwing seems to light up even more.
“The pleasure’s all mine. Let me know if you ever need my help again.” He shoots a pointed look at Bruce when he says the last part, then pulls out his grappling gun. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I got a city to protect. Crime doesn’t sleep and all that.” Clark is fairly sure he’s just mocking Bruce at this point, but the tension around Bruce’s mouth seems to ease somewhat, so he doesn’t say anything.
“See you around,” Nightwing says, and then he’s off, being pulled along by a grappling line and disappearing into close-by cluster of buildings. Clark could track him with his x-ray vision if he wanted to, but his attention is captured by Bruce instead.
He’s looking towards the place Nightwing disappeared, and there’s a smile on his face. Not the small quirk of lips he sometimes allows himself after a well-won battle, or the twitch of fond exasperation he sometimes spares to the antics of the other League members during a meeting. A real smile.
It makes him seem lighter, less severe than Clark has ever seen him. More human, even though he’s still in full costume. It’s a beautiful sight, but all Clark can think about is how he wasn’t the one who put it there.
3 The Root of the Problem
The noises of the lake house have become familiar to Clark over the course of the past year. The hum of more electricity than a single house of that size should need, the chittering of the bats in the cave underneath, and the heartbeats of the inhabitants, Bruce’s calm and steady as he’d trained it to be, Alfred’s less strictly controlled, more variant, but soothing nonetheless.
It comes as a surprise when he arrives to find a third, unfamiliar heartbeat in the house. It’s not someone else from the League dropping in unannounced either, Clark would recognize them instantly, and the realization that there is a stranger in Bruce’s sanctuary, in their sanctuary, is like ice in his veins. It’s barely light out, and a brief check tells him that Bruce and Alfred are still sleeping soundly, safe and far away from the uninvited guest who is...in the kitchen of all places.
Clark listens for other noises and it takes him a moment to register the clanking of a pan on the stove, the soft sounds of the coffee machine, a song on the radio that someone is humming along to. It doesn’t sound dangerous, doesn’t sound like it’s any of his business, but there’s a restless feeling crawling up the back of Clark’s spine, so he stops twisting his cape through his hands and goes to investigate.
There’s a young man standing at the stove. A very attractive young man from what Clark can see, wearing only low-slung sweatpants and no shirt, his shaggy dark hair falling into his face as he looks down at the eggs he’s frying in a pan, his hips swinging slightly as he sings along to the music, the muscles of his back moving underneath the skin.
Clark awkwardly clears his throat and the man jumps, turning around and almost knocking over his breakfast in the process. “Whoa, you scared me,” he says, with a laugh. Clark feels much the same way, only he doesn’t feel like laughing.
The stranger doesn’t seem bothered by Clark’s apprehension or sudden appearance. He takes a step closer, an open, friendly smile on his face. “Sorry, where are my manners? Dick Grayson, nice to meet you,” he says, holding out a hand, and Clark shakes it automatically.
He doesn’t know the procedure for this, doesn’t know the rules. He knows all about Bruce’s reputation, how could he not? But so far he’s never met one of Bruce’s one night stands and he honestly hadn’t expected to. Bruce’s reputation also hadn’t prepared him that any of his lovers might be men.
The man in front of him, Dick, still clearly fits the picture of a person that would catch Bruce’s interest. He’s beautiful, in that sort of unreal way that a lot of the models Bruce surrounds himself with are, with fine features, a lean body, and big, very blue eyes. A bit young, Clark thinks, and then, but Bruce probably doesn’t keep him around for his brilliant mind.
He bites his lip at the petty thought. He usually tries to be better than that, especially when he’s in costume. Tries not to be quite that bitter, to be grateful for what he has, but it’s difficult when what he can never have is presented quite so blatantly in front of him. He’s been silently staring for longer than is really appropriate and he mentally scolds himself. His Ma raised him better than to treat anyone with stoic, judgemental silence, no matter how much he might dislike them.
“Kal-El,” he introduces, after a brief moment of hesitation. It doesn’t feel quite right for the situation, but he’s always felt weird introducing himself as Superman, so Kal-El will have to do. “I’m here for a meeting with Mr. Wayne. I must be early.” It’s not a great explanation, but it’s the best he can do on the spot.
Dick laughs again, a bright, happy sound, and lets go of Clark’s hand to run his fingers through his hair, making it look even more unruly.
“Right, I forgot. Number one financial backer of the Justice League and all that. I guess that entitles you to summoning Superman to your house whenever you want to,” Dick says and his eyes sparkle with amusement. “Well, he probably won’t be awake for a couple more hours. He had a long night.”
The accompanying grin on his face as he says it is so brazen that Clark has to call on every last bit of his self-control to fight down a blush and he’s glad when Dick turns away to pull the pan with the eggs from the stovetop.
Clark can’t help but let his eyes follow him. Dick doesn’t seem to be the least bit self-conscious about the fact that he’s not wearing a shirt, like he’s used to people looking at him, looking at his body. He’s leaner than Clark, much less bulky, but muscular nonetheless. There’s something about the way he moves, a strange grace to the way he places his feet, shifts his weight, that makes Clark think it’s not just for show, that he knows exactly how to use the strength hidden underneath his skin, and of course Bruce would love that.
Clark is torn between the urge to look away out of propriety and the desire to keep looking at him until he has an exact picture of what Bruce likes in his men.
“Maybe I should come back later,” Clark tries. He needs to get away, but at the same time he wants to stay, wants to know more about this strange man who seems perfectly at home in Bruce’s kitchen. “When Mr. Wayne is awake,” he adds awkwardly.
“Don’t let me keep you if you have somewhere to be, but if you’re not in a hurry I’d love for you to stay,” Dick says, turning back to Clark with a smile that looks almost shy and, Jesus, he’s really pretty. Clark feels terribly wrong-footed. “Bruce talks about you all the time and I’d love to get to know you,” Dick continues, looking up through his eyelashes with so much sincerity that Clark is unsure if he’s being flirted with, or if this is just how Dick talks to people. The more time he spends here, the less surprised he is that Dick somehow ended up in Bruce’s bed.
“Does he?” Clark blurts out, because that is still somehow by far the most surprising part of the statement. Maybe he’s misunderstanding. Maybe bragging about how he knows Superman is part of Bruce’s act, a way to throw off suspicion if they ever have to interact in public, but— all the time.
“You’re here often?” he adds, and it’s as close as he can come to asking after their relationship without being rude. Not a one night stand, then. Probably some sort of casual arrangement? It would make sense. As far as Clark knows, the world thinks Bruce is perfectly straight, he himself had thought Bruce was perfectly straight until about five minutes ago, and keeping himself a couple of repeat lovers seems like a good way to assure a level of discretion.
Dick grimaces, taking two breakfast plates from the cupboard next to the stove before roaming around a drawer for some silverware. “Haven’t been for a while, but hopefully I’ll be around more often now. We’ll see. Want some eggs?”
Clark wordlessly shakes his head. It’s not that he’s not hungry, but there’s something decidedly unappealing about having breakfast with Bruce’s...affair? Boyfriend? What even is the term for that sort of relationship?
He’s never mentioned you, Clark wants to say, just to see what reaction he’d get and he has to bite down on his tongue to keep quiet. He doesn’t know why Dick bothers him so much. Well, he does know, but he’s better than that, he needs to be better than that, and Dick seems like a nice guy, doesn’t deserve to have Clark giving him the cold shoulder just because—
Dick shrugs. “Hope you don’t mind if I eat then. I have to leave soon if I don’t wanna be late for work. The commute to Blüdhaven is terrible so I don’t usually stay for breakfast.” Clark tries very hard not to think about the implications of that. He should leave, should let Dick eat his breakfast in peace, but he doesn’t move. Instead he pulls out a chair and sits down opposite Dick.
“So, what do you do?” he asks, because he can’t stop himself, can’t stop digging for information. There’s something inside of him, something writhing and vicious, that wants, needs, a proper reason to dislike Dick, to confirm that he’s vapid and shallow and not good enough for Bruce, and Clark doesn’t know how to shut it up.
“I’m a cop,” Dick responds after swallowing his mouthful of eggs, and that’s— that’s good. Or, well, bad. Something that can fan the flames of Clark’s dislike at least. The police force of Blüdhaven is notoriously dirty, worse than Gotham even, and there’s no way Bruce would ever have a serious relationship with anyone who— “I mean, I haven’t been one for long yet, but I think I’m making progress. We’re a bit short-staffed at the moment with all the dismissals, but at least the majority of the ones left over are clean.”
The way he looks up through his eyelashes again as he says it reminds Clark of a child looking for praise, for approval, and it makes him feel even worse about the cold disappointment spreading in the bottom of his stomach. Not corrupt, no, but fighting corruption in a city that badly needs it. No wonder Bruce couldn’t resist taking him home.
He can picture it so easily. Bruce, dressed up in all his effusive billionaire glory at some charity gala or other, looking for a pretty face to take home and somehow stumbling upon someone who’s not only beautiful, but good. Of course Bruce had decided to keep him around.
“That’s— Sounds like you’re doing good work,” Clark says weakly, and the responding smile he gets is so blinding it makes him feel even worse.
“Thanks, that means a lot coming from you,” Dick says happily before chewing his way through another fork full of eggs. “I’m sorta hoping that most of it will be over soon. It’d be nice to be able to come home more often.” The expression on his face is sheepish, as if he’s admitting something he shouldn’t, but Clark can’t focus on that.
Home. The lake house is his home. It shouldn’t be such a shock, not with how comfortably he’d moved around the kitchen, with how naturally he’d helped himself to breakfast and even offered some to Clark, but it is. Because home, that’s— that implies a proper relationship. With trust and commitment and shared living space and—
“Hey, are you okay?” The worry in Dick’s voice somehow adds salt to the wound. Because of course he’s worried about a complete stranger, he’s lovely, inside and out, apparently, and Clark— “Is it a Superman thing? Is someone calling for help or something?”
“No, everything’s fine, just…” Clark isn’t sure what to say. I’m just overcome with the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is capable of having relationships, that he dates men, and that none of that matters because I’m too late. And I can’t even hate you for it, because you’re perfect for him.
And it’s a sour thought. He’s Bruce’s friend, which seems like a miracle considering how they’d started off. He knows his secret, gets to fight alongside him. He has Bruce’s trust, and that’s a privilege more important than any idle fantasy of getting to share his bed could ever be, but—
Dick shoots him a concerned look. “Are you sure? B told me the guys you fought yesterday had some kryptonite bullets. There’s a sunbed down in the cave if you need to rest. He said you didn’t get hit but from what he told me the exposure alone might—”
Clark is sure he’s saying more, can see the way Dick’s mouth moves to form the words but all he can hear is static buzzing in his ears.
“You know?” he gasps out, interrupting Dick in the middle of a sentence, not even caring that it’s rude. Dick’s brow furrows.
“Look, I was gonna let you keep up the pretense, but if you’re injured…” he trails off, bites his lip, and then a look of determination settles over his features. “Ah, fuck it. We’ve actually met before, you know. I’m Nightwing.” Clark blinks, his brain refusing to process the information.
Dick shifts in chair like he’s uncomfortable but the expression on his face remains determined. “Just— you know. I know your secrets, you should know mine. Fair’s fair.” He sighs. “Bruce is not gonna be happy I told you. He wants me to stay out of League business for now, but—” He shrugs. “It’s my secret identity. I can share it if I want to.” There’s a defiant twist to his mouth when he says it, like that’s a thing he and Bruce have argued about before and just imagining that level of familiarity makes something in Clark’s stomach knot together painfully.
It makes sense too. The way Bruce had talked to Nightwing over the comms, the hint of fondness carrying in his voice, the hint of tension. Clark had wondered about their relationship. He hadn’t imagined this, but it makes sense.
Dick glances at the clock mounted over the kitchen door and swears. “Shit, I gotta get going if I don’t wanna risk severe traffic violations.” He jumps up and discards his empty plate in the sink. “There’s still some eggs left if you want them,” he says, and then dashes out the door.
Clark is still sitting at the table, staring off into nothingness when he comes back, wearing a crisp white dress shirt and neat slacks this time, haphazardly tying a tie around his neck as he peeks through the doorway.
“Do me a favor and don’t wake Bruce, yeah? It got kinda late last night, so I wanted to let him sleep in.” Clark tries very hard not to react. To not think about that statement any closer, to not imagine what the two of them must look like tumbling into bed together, to not picture Bruce with someone he— someone he loves. There’s no point denying it anymore.
“Sure. I will.” His voice thankfully doesn’t sound as weak as he had expected and Dick gives him another one of those blinding smiles in response.
“It was great to meet you,” Dick says, “and it’s, you know, an honor. I kinda, uh—” He breaks off, shifting from foot to foot. “—I know I already said that before, but, well, it’s different out of costume, so—” He fidgets, his hands fiddling with his tie, undoing all his progress on the knot. It’s incredibly endearing in a way that leaves a bad taste in the back of Clark’s mouth.
“The honor’s all mine,” he says, just to put him out of his misery and Dick blushes. It looks good on him, Clark can admit. It seems like probably most things do.
“That’s— okay, I’m— I’m gonna go now,” Dick announces, still flustered, and rushes out into the hall, leaving behind only the soft ticking of the clock above the door frame.
Clark is still sitting at the kitchen table when Bruce comes in about half an hour later, looking sleep-rumpled and barely awake, and seeing him like this hurts differently today than it usually does.
“Morning,” Bruce grumbles, looking around the kitchen like he’s searching for something. Someone. He covers it well when his eyes land on the coffee machine, promptly reaching for it as if that’s what he’d been looking for all along. Clark knows better now.
“Morning,” he replies, and there’s more he should say, but he’s not sure what. I just met your boyfriend, didn’t know you had one? The thought leaves a bad taste in his mouth. Bruce doesn’t owe him anything, doesn’t have to tell Clark about his private life. Instead he just says, “I met Dick this morning.”
If Bruce is surprised he doesn’t show it, just leans back against the counter to look at Clark while the coffee machine hisses and gurgles along beside him. “I was wondering if you would.” There’s a pause and while silence is far from unusual with Bruce, this feels weighted somehow. “What did you think?” he asks, turning around to pour two cups of coffee, casually avoiding Clark’s gaze.
There’s a subtle tension in the line of his shoulders, only hidden by a thin layer of fabric, and Clark is glad Bruce can’t see his face as he deliberates his answer. He’s nice, would be a cop-out. Do you love him? too forward and he’s fairly certain he doesn’t actually want to hear the answer. Congrats on tapping that, far too vulgar for Clark, even if it would effectively hide his jealousy. “He seems like a good person,” is what he finally settles on.
There’s a smile on Bruce’s face when he turns back around to hand Clark his coffee, one cream, one sugar, just how Clark likes it. It’s small and private and filled with a soft fondness that Clark has never seen from him before. “He is,” Bruce agrees, and the way he says it alone is enough to break Clark’s heart all over again.
He doesn’t stay for long after that. Cites an important deadline as a reason to jet off to Metropolis and Bruce just nods, still lost in thought as he slowly sips his coffee, that soft smile still dancing around the usually so severe corners of his mouth, and Clark hates that he’s not the one who put it there, not really.
Not even flying feels as good as it usually does.
4 Out of Reach
Despite all of Bruce’s considerable efforts, the rebuilding of Wayne Manor is a long, weary process. The foundation of the burnt out building is still good, but there is too much structural damage that needs to be torn down first.
No member of the league complained, especially given that Bruce immediately offered up the Batcave as a temporary replacement until they have proper headquarters. Clark is certainly not complaining.
It’s just that recently the cave hasn’t been used exclusively by League members.
“Ah, sorry, I didn’t know you were down here,” a by-now familiar voice says. Clark grits his teeth and tries to not let his annoyance show on his face when he turns around. It’s not that he dislikes Dick, it’s just that he’s— there. Clark’s been looking forward to going over the last mission with Bruce. It’s become a bit of a ritual for the two of them, a way to combine Bruce’s strategic mind with Clark’s ability to process input much faster than anyone and isolate patterns and inconsistencies.
Clark must not be particularly successful because Dick’s face falls a bit when he meets Clark’s eyes. “I can come back later, if—”
“No,” Clark interjects hastily. “No, I was just surprised. Bruce didn’t tell me he invited you.” And you’re not part of the League, Clark doesn’t say. It’s enough to get Dick back to his usually upbeat self.
“Oh, he didn’t. I’m just here to train. The setup is a bit better than what I can get at the gym in my building,” he says with a wink, and somehow it’s worse that he doesn’t even need an invitation to show up here. “I can leave if you have League business.”
Clark desperately wants to tell him to leave, that he and Bruce need the space to themselves, but it’s a selfish want. “It’s fine. We’re just doing a bit of brainstorming. Nothing urgent. Did you need Bruce for something?”
Dick shakes his head. “Nah, I was gonna ask him for a spar, but we can do that some other time. He’s all yours.” There’s a sparkle in his eyes and Clark has to fight down a blush at the word choice. If only.
Now that he’s paying attention it’s obvious what Dick is here for. He’s wearing a loose tank top and leggings, and is holding a water bottle in his hand. He walks over to the area of the cave covered in mats and drops down into a series of effortless-looking stretches.
The sound of a door opening makes Clark tear his gaze away, turning to face Bruce instead as he descends the stairs. “Sorry for keeping you waiting. Lucius needed my seal of approval for a new design,” Bruce says instead of a greeting. He’s wearing grey sweatpants and a dark tshirt and the casual simplicity of it makes Clark’s breath catch as much as the tailored shirts and suits ever had.
“I haven’t been here long,” Clark replies with a smile and Bruce opens his mouth to say something else, but then his gaze drifts over Clark’s shoulder, over to the training area, and his eyes light up. Clark bites his lip, and tries to shove the jealousy back down where it belongs. “Let’s get started?”
Bruce nods, but his eyes linger on a spot just off to Clark’s right for a moment longer. Clark forces himself not to turn around and look.
Bruce pulls everything they need up on the Batcomputer, a collection of footage different TV stations had managed to capture, supplemented by shaky and blurry recordings from various social media accounts. He lets all videos play simultaneously and simply says, “Let me know if you spot something.”
Clark happily throws himself into the work. Bruce had been reluctant at first to make use of Clark’s powers, especially for mundane tasks such as this, and Clark still doesn’t know if that was because the reminder of Clark’s abilities scared him, or because he didn’t want to offend Clark by giving him busy work.
Nowadays Bruce doesn’t even ask, just sets everything up and trusts Clark to do the rest, trusts his judgement.
Normally Clark enjoys wading through hours of video or audio with Bruce sitting next to him, waiting attentively for Clark to single out a moment for him to take apart and analyze. There’s something companionable about it, a sort of camaraderie and trust. Today, Bruce is distracted.
It’s not obvious, but there’s the slightest delay before he reacts to Clark’s words, like his mind has been on something else. Like his attention is on something else. The fourth time it happens, Clark chances a glance behind them and freezes.
Dick has moved on from his warm-up stretches on the mats, and has made his way over to elaborate rope rigging Bruce had installed down here just a few weeks ago. Thick, braided ropes are interspersed with thinner lines, some even looking like pieces of shiny fabric, and all are hanging down from the ceiling in uneven intervals, like stylized vines in a fake jungle. Barry was warned off from climbing them, seeing as a fall from that height would be uncomfortable, even with his healing factor.
Dick doesn’t seem to have the same stipulations, because he’s already halfway up of one of the thickest ropes, his hands holding steady as he starts swinging his legs to gain momentum.
Clark watches as he suddenly releases his grip and goes flying through the air, his body twisting three, four times, before his hand catches on another line and he goes swinging in an arc through a sea of ropes. He catches one of the pieces of fabric with his leg, and with a quick movement gets it wrapped around his thigh. He lets go of the rope in his hand and is left hanging upside down, but somehow he looks perfectly comfortable as he reaches for the next line over to start swinging again.
Clark’s heart is beating faster just watching him. He’s fairly certain he could never move like that in the air, and he can actually fly.
“I haven’t seen him do that in three years,” Bruce voice interrupts his thoughts, and it takes a second for Clark to become aware of his surroundings again. “Incredible, isn’t it?”
Clark is saved from having to answer. Not that he would have been able to give anything except full agreement.
“If you’re gonna watch you might as well join me,” Dick calls across the floor of the cave.
Bruce lets out an amused huff. “I’m happy to leave the ropes to you. Not really my area.” Dick just grins back at him and twists so the fabric around his legs comes loose. He lets himself fall to the floor, tucking his body into a roll and coming to stand in the middle of the mats.
“Fine. How about a spar instead then? Doesn’t look like you’re all that busy over there.” Bruce hesitates and shoots Clark a look. There’s tension in the way he’s holding himself a bit too still, like he forcibly has to stop himself from doing something.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fight outside of a battle,” Clark says, looking back and forth between Bruce and Dick. “Might be good for me to be more familiar with your moves.” Something in the line of Bruce’s shoulders relaxes, and Clark makes sure to let none of the fondness he’s feeling show on his face. Of course just wanting to do something is never a good enough reason for Bruce.
“We haven’t finished the analysis,” he hedges anyway, voice not betraying his feelings either way, but Clark knows him well enough now, knows where Bruce’s mind is.
“We can always continue some other time. I kinda want to see what you’re like when you’re sparring with someone without any powers,” Clark admits, and it’s the truth. He’s seen Bruce give Barry basic self defense training and has seen him attempt to evade Arthur and Diana’s attacks, but he’s never watched him go up against someone he could beat on strength alone.
“Come on, B. Let’s show him what we got. I’ll even go easy on you if you want,” Dick chimes in, and Bruce snorts, but gets up anyway.
“I taught you everything you know,” he teases, and Clark is momentarily distracted by the way the muscles in Bruce’s back move underneath the thin fabric of his shirt.
“Not everything,” Dick says, and takes down two baton-like sticks from the carefully arranged weapons rack Bruce keeps at the edge of the training area. He twirls them a couple of times, testing their grip, before settling himself into a ready combat stance. Bruce grabs a bo staff, swinging it around to test range and speed, and Clark sits up a bit straighter in his chair.
He’s seen Bruce fight multiple times, but never like this, never in close combat, and never without his assortments of gadgets.
“Three strikes?” Dick suggests, watching Bruce get in position opposite him, body tense and ready to spring into motion.
“Let’s make it five,” Bruce suggests, and then he attacks. If there was some sort of go-signal Clark missed it, but Dick is ready for it anyway. He easily deflects Bruce’s downward swipe with one of his batons and jabs the other one at Bruce’s middle, making him dodge backwards to put some space between them.
They’re fast, fast enough that Clark might have trouble following their movements if he was human, and they’re good, incredible even, but so very different. With them so close together it’s easy to see that Bruce is several inches taller than Dick, and more broad too. But whatever advantage his strength and reach give him is cancelled out by the sheer speed with which Dick moves, the way he seems to always be able to bend his body just out of the way of Bruce’s blows.
One time he even lets himself fall backwards, letting Bruce’s staff pass harmlessly through the air where his chest would have been, and plants his hands on the floor to do a backward handspring, kicking out at Bruce. He would have knocked Bruce’s staff out of his hands if he hadn’t somehow been prepared for the act and moved out of the way just in time.
It’s like a dance, Clark thinks, watching them move together, graceful and fluid and so, so familiar with each other. There’s so much power and elegance, and it’s only magnified by how well they complement each other in all their differences.
I could never give him that, Clark thinks, and the thought leaves behind a hollow feeling in his chest. No matter how well we work together, it’s never going to be like that.
Clark touches down on the deck without a sound. The light from the porch catches on the ripples on the lake’s surface, like liquid silver across a sea of black, but he doesn’t pay any attention to the beautiful scenery. He locates Bruce’s heartbeat with ease, a tad elevated due to the ebbing adrenaline from the fight and possibly some pain. Clark is halfway down the stairs to the cave before he registers the second person.
He freezes midstep, hovering awkwardly just out of sight of the medical area.
“Hold still.” Dick’s voice is easy to recognize, even though it sounds different than Clark has heard it before, more tense, the jovial edge gone completely.
“You don’t have to— Alfred can—”
“We’re not waking up Alfred for this,” Dick interrupts Bruce’s protests. There’s a sound of rubber snapping against skin and it takes Clark a second to place the noise as someone putting on surgical gloves. “Unless you don’t trust me to do this?”
“Of course I do.” Bruce’s reply is instantaneous, free of any doubt or question. There’s a moment of quiet, underlined by the soft sounds of their breathing, the rustling of clothes, the creaking of the cot Bruce must be sitting on. It would be a good moment for Clark to make some noise to alert them to his presence. It wouldn’t feel like walking in on a private moment now, wouldn’t interrupt anything. Clark doesn’t move.
“You know this wasn’t your fault,” Bruce finally breaks the silence, his voice quiet but intent. Dick hums in response. Clark can hear the crinkling of plastic packaging being torn open before he answers.
“I know. That’s not why I want to do this. Silently atoning for stuff that’s not your fault is more your style than mine. I like to actually use my words.” Clark can’t help the way the corners of his mouth twitch up at that, because while he’s never used those exact words, the sentiment is something he’d thought quite often.
“Why, then?” Despite the brusque question, Bruce’s voice isn’t hard or accusatory, more curious than anything.
There’s a pause. “Maybe I just like taking care of someone I— care about.” Bruce’s heart jumps, an irregular beat that’s so out of the ordinary for him it would have made Clark’s breath catch even if Dick’s words hadn’t. The reaction must not have gone unnoticed by Dick because he lets out a huff. “Oh, come on. I didn’t even use the L-word.”
“Dick, you know I—” Clark has never heard Bruce’s voice like that. He’s heard him angry and cold, devastated and even afraid, warm and soothing when faced with people who needed his compassion. He’s never heard him sound so fragile before, like his whole world is hanging by a thread and one wrong word from him could irreparably shatter it.
Clark feels a terrible cold weight sink in his stomach. He isn’t meant to hear this. He shouldn’t have listened. This vulnerability isn’t for him. Guilt washes through him and he turns as noiselessly as he can manage, hovering above the steps to avoid any accidental sounds as he makes his way back to the entrance of the cave. Before he can close the door behind him, Dick’s words drift up to him.
“I know, Bruce. You don’t have to say it.” His voice is soft and filled with affection.
Clark closes his eyes and flees.
“I’m just saying we could use a new member. Six people don’t exactly make a league,” Arthur says, leaning back against the railing of the stairs. Clark is pretty sure he can hear Bruce’s teeth grinding together and not just because of his powers.
“And if you find someone else with meta abilities I’ll be happy to consider them,” Bruce shoots back, his tone dark in a way Clark isn’t used to hearing from him when he’s not wearing the cowl. “But Nightwing is not suited for being a member of the Justice League.”
Arthur raises an eyebrow. “What, we don’t take members without abilities now? Did I miss something? Did you resign or did someone finally follow through and turn you into a vampire?”
Bruce stiffens, his back going ramrod straight. “If you have any objections to me being part of the league—”
“Oh come on, you know that’s not what I meant,” Arthur argues, pushing off the wall with an exaggerated eye roll. “I’m just saying, the guy’s not a kid, and he’s good. We could use someone like him. You should let him make his own decisions. And we should at least offer.” With those words he grabs his trident and starts making his way up the stairs. Presumably that means the meeting is officially over.
Clark waits in his own seat while the others follow Arthur’s example, Victor with a nod of acknowledgement at Bruce, Barry with a nervous flicker of his eyes to each member before he disappears in a crackle of electricity. Diana lingers. She gently puts a hand on Bruce’s shoulder.
“Perhaps Arthur would be more understanding if you shared some of your history with him,” she says with a meaningful glance at the glass case at the bottom of the stairs. Bruce doesn’t follow her gaze but something in his frame eases, some muscles loosen underneath her touch, and Clark feels a familiar ache in his chest.
It’s not jealousy, not exactly. He doesn’t want to be in Diana’s place, but sometimes he wishes he had the ability to read Bruce the way she does, the skill to know what he needs, what could help him set down the perpetual weight on his shoulder for just a second. There’s a closeness between the two of them that has been there ever since Clark came back, and while he would never want to interfere with that, he sometimes desperately wishes he could be a part of it.
“It’s still not rational,” Bruce replies, and Clark wants to shake him, wants to make him understand that he doesn’t always have to be the flawless strategist, that he’s allowed to feel things as well, but that would only make Bruce retreat even further.
“It’s not,” Diana agrees. “And I would agree with Arthur. Nightwing is an adult, he’s old enough to make his choices, even if they’re dangerous ones. But Arthur would be less stubborn if he knew you’ve already lost a loved one to this life. You deserve compassion, and for all of us to honor what it might cost you to see him in danger.”
She squeezes his shoulder once before letting her hand drop away. “I’ll see myself out,” she says when Bruce makes an attempt to get up, and he just nods in acknowledgement instead of trying to argue, which tells Clark exactly how much her words have made him think.
It’s not really a secret that Bruce tends to value Diana’s input more than any of the others’, and it’s only partially due to her being a century-old warrior studied in strategy.
Clark probably should have left with the others. No matter how close he’d like to be to Bruce, they don’t really have the kind of relationship where—
“Clark.” He almost jumps in surprise at Bruce’s voice. The tone is flat, and Clark’s first thought is that he must have really overstayed his welcome if Bruce is getting outright annoyed with him.
“Sorry, sorry, I’ll leave,” he hastily says, already getting up, when he notices the way Bruce is looking at him, the confused frown on his face.
“Don’t let me keep you if you have somewhere to be.” From anyone else it would sound just like a polite dismissal. With Bruce it’s more complicated.
“I don’t have anywhere I need to be,” Clark replies and judging by the way the tension around Bruce’s mouth smoothes out it was the right decision. “Is there anything you...wanted to talk about?”
Bruce doesn’t say anything for a long moment, then he sighs. “I don’t—” he starts, then seems to think better of it. Clark takes a hesitant step closer. This doesn’t seem like the sort of conversation that should be had across the length of a table.
“When I lost Robin— Jason,” Bruce corrects himself, and Clark has never actually heard him acknowledge that those two were one and the same person. He’s seen the plaque of course, has read the inscription underneath the glass case, but the few rare times that Bruce had mentioned Robin, he never used his real name. Whenever he talked about his son, he made it sound like Jason had died in a tragic accident completely unrelated to his vigilante life.
Clark had always wondered if that was a part of the mask, the strict way Bruce kept everything Batman-related from his civilian persona, or if it was simply too painful for Bruce to acknowledge that he’d lost a loyal partner and his son when Robin died. Clark had never dared to ask him about it.
“ — I wasn’t well. Afterwards,” Bruce finishes in what is probably the biggest understatement of his life. Clark still shudders when he thinks about the brandings, the ruthless level of violence from when he’d first become aware of the Batman.
“I can’t lose—” Bruce breaks off, takes a deep breath and it’s unsettling to see such an obvious attempt to rein in emotions from someone who’s usually so in control.
Bruce’s hands are gripping the edge of the table and Clark is fairly sure they would be shaking otherwise. Clark wants to tell him to stop, that he doesn’t have to push himself like this, but he doesn’t say anything. Bruce so rarely ever puts his own emotions into words that it’s not Clark’s place to stop him.
“It can’t happen again,” Bruce says, and he sounds composed, practical, like shifting his attention away from dead loved ones and towards the potential threat, towards the idea of Batman going bad, has brought all his wayward feelings back under control. Clark’s heart aches.
“It won’t,” he replies, even though there hadn’t been a question. Bruce’s fingers tighten around the table.
“You don’t know that.” Bruce’s voice is flat, emotionless, but Clark wants to reach out to him anyway. He doesn’t move.
“I’ll make sure of it,” he says instead, and as he’s speaking he feels something inside him harden, like steel reinforcing his bones, conviction making him straighten his posture. He isn’t good with words, not on a personal level, doesn’t have the close connection to Bruce that Diana does, but there are other things he can do that no one else can.
“I’ll keep him safe,” Clark promises, and he means it. All of his petty jealousy feels so far away now, so irrelevant he doesn’t even feel the usual spike of shame when he thinks about it.
Bruce lets out a noise that’s not trying very hard to be a laugh. He pushes back his chair so he can turn to look at Clark. The corners of his lips are pulled up slightly like he wants to smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Yeah? What are you going to do? Talk him out of being a hero? Because I’ve tried that.” He sounds sardonic, like he’s mocking Clark, but his words don’t have any effect.
“No,” Clark says, “I’ll just protect him.” Bruce snorts, outright derisive this time.
“What, are you gonna spend all your time watching him? Always keeping an ear on Dick, just in case there might be trouble?” It’s clearly meant to be a joke, but Clark doesn’t laugh.
“I can do it,” he just says, eyes meeting Bruce’s and holding his gaze. “You know I can.” And that’s another topic they’ve been carefully avoiding. The extent of Clark’s powers, all the things he could do if he set his mind to it. Bruce’s forehead creases but not in anger, just confusion.
“Why?” is all he says. Not Why would you do that? or Why would you want to? or Why is this so important to you? but all of it at once. Clark drops his gaze as he searches for the right words.
“Because you love him,” is all he can say. Bruce’s stance shifts, sitting up straighter, and Clark can practically feel Bruce’s gaze on his face.
“I do,” Bruce says, easy as breathing, when Clark had heard him fail to actually say the words to Dick only weeks prior. “I don’t understand why that would matter to you though.”
Clark doesn’t look at him, can’t look at his face. It isn’t like Bruce to be cruel in this particular way.
The chair creaks as Bruce gets up and walks closer. He comes to a stop right in front of Clark, close enough that Clark can feel the heat of his body, so warm in comparison to the rest of the cave.
“Clark.” The sound of his name makes Clark look up, makes him meet Bruce’s eyes. It’s impossible to read his expression, but Clark is sure his own emotions must be clear on his face.
Please don’t make me say it, he thinks, and to his surprise Bruce doesn’t. Whatever he sees in Clark’s eyes doesn’t turn him away. Instead his gaze softens, the hard analytical edges falling away, and there’s even a soft smile on his lips for a second before they press against Clark’s.
Given how much they argue, Clark has always imagined their first kiss would be somewhat aggressive. Not mean, but passionate, with a bit of a desperate edge to it. A spur-of-the-moment act that was barely a choice at all, but more like a dam breaking under the final drop of pressure.
A part of him has always hoped that they could possibly work their way towards something like this, something vulnerable and delicate, but intent nonetheless.
Bruce’s lips are surprisingly soft, and he’s careful, so careful as if Clark wasn’t unbreakable, as if he’s worried about overstepping some nonexistent boundary. Like Clark might not want this, even though it’s all he’s been dreaming of ever since—
Clark pulls away abruptly. His heart is beating too fast in his chest and he can hear the same echoed inside Bruce’s before he consciously blocks it out. His hands are clenched in Bruce’s cape, like he’d been trying to pull him closer, even though Clark can’t remember grabbing him.
His grip eases as Bruce takes a step back, putting some much-needed distance between them. “Ah, forgive me. It seems I’ve misread the situation.” Bruce doesn’t sound at all affected, his voice perfectly steady, like he’s accidentally offered the wrong beverage or some other inconsequential thing. His face is already turning back into a familiar, emotionless mask, and Clark can see him retreating back into his protective shell right before his eyes.
“No, I—” Clark starts, trying to find the right words. Trying to not just throw all his reservations out the window and pull him back in. “What about Dick?”
Confusion spreads across Bruce’s face, obvious in a way he doesn’t usually let himself be. “What about—” he starts, but then breaks off, his eyes widening. One of his hands comes up to cover his eyes, drops his head, and starts making noises like—
He’s laughing, Clark realizes with a pang. It stings more than it should, and Clark isn’t even sure what about the situation Bruce finds so funny. He takes a step back, ready to leave and stay away for a while, but a hand on his arm stops him.
“Clark, wait.” The laughter isn’t quite gone from Bruce’s voice yet, but he still sounds like he means it. Clark folds his arms across his chest, half to keep some semblance of composure, half because it feels good to have a physical barrier between him and Bruce.
“Clark,” Bruce says again. “Dick is my son.” Clark’s brain freezes. At the same time, his thoughts are running a mile a minute, going through every time he’s seen Bruce and Dick interact, trying to figure out where he went wrong.
“Oh.” It comes out strangled. “He’s your...son,” Clark repeats weakly. Clark’s mind flashes through all the instances he’d seen them interact, all the conversations he’d heard or been a part of playing in his head like an old record player, except there had apparently been some scratches on the record, because clearly he’d missed things.
It makes sense, in retrospect. He’s never actually seen them act in any way that couldn’t also be perfectly platonic. Just, with their level of closeness, with the way Bruce always looks so gratified just to have Dick in his presence, with the wistful way he sometimes stares after him when he leaves, Clark had assumed…
Bruce grimaces. “Well, legally he isn’t, but I’ve always thought of him that way. I took him in after his parents died when he was twelve, but he never wanted me to adopt him.” A shadow passes over Bruce’s face, an unhappy twist in the corners of his mouth. “He left when he was eighteen. My fault.” He says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, like no one would ever expect anything else.
Clark wants to say something, but Bruce continues before he has a chance. “He visited me after Jason— Afterwards. But I couldn’t—” He looks so pained that Clark wants to reach out and touch him, but he’s never known how to comfort Bruce, has never dared to try. “I pushed him away and I thought I’d never see him again. But he came back to me anyway.” The wistful smile is back on his face, full of affection and gratitude, and for the first time Clark feels none of the jealousy that usually wells up.
The companionable silence only lasts for a moment, then Bruce sighs. “Arthur is right,” he says, changing the subject completely. He sounds like it physically hurts him to admit that. “Dick has never appreciated me making his choices for him.” He sounds so unhappy about it that Clark actually does reach out and touch him this time, just a friendly hand on Bruce’s shoulder.
“I meant what I said, you know. I’ll protect him. You don’t have to worry.”
Bruce sighs, but it sounds more exasperated than unhappy this time. “I always worry,” he says wryly, and there’s an almost-smile in the corners of his mouth when he looks at Clark. “It’s what I do.”
Clark is staring. He knows he is. His hand is still on Bruce’s shoulder and he can feel the warmth, can feel the firm muscle underneath the fabric, now that he’s focusing on it, and he drops it, embarrassed.
There are things he wants to ask, things he should say, but he feels distinctly like he’s missed his moment. “I should leave,” he says instead. Bruce’s face closes off, losing the openness from before, but there’s still something in his eyes that Clark can’t place.
“If you want to,” Bruce agrees, then hesitates. “Or you could stay,” he adds. “Now that we’ve established that Dick is, in fact, not my boyfriend.”
Clark feels his cheeks heat up instantly. “I didn’t have all the information,” he mumbles, unable to meet Bruce’s eyes. Bruce raises an eyebrow, but he looks amused rather than offended.
“And now you do,” Bruce says, and somehow he makes it sound like a challenge. He’s not going to make the first move this time, Clark realizes, but he’s not pulling back either.
A smile spreads across Clark’s face. “And now I do,” he agrees, and leans in.
Clark’s phone starts ringing just as he walks through the door. With a sigh he drops his messenger bag on the couch and looks at the screen. Unknown number, which probably means it’s a work thing. Great.
He answers with a reasonably friendly, “Clark Kent,” and is surprised to hear a familiar laugh answer him.
“Hey, Clark,” Dick says, and something in his voice fills Clark with terrible foreboding. “I just wanted to check in with you. See, I heard something rather interesting today.” He pauses, giving Clark a terrible moment to anticipate his next words just for dramatic effect. Because Dick has always been a performer, and always will be.
“Rumor has it you’ve caught yourself a certain billionaire.” And maybe that’s all there is to it. Maybe Dick just wants to give them his blessing. Clark has almost convinced himself to believe it when Dick continues. “And I just wanted to check in. You know, as Bruce’s other boyfriend I was wondering if you wanted any tips.”
Clark shuts his eyes and groans, but Dick just keeps talking. “You know, favorite dating spots, gift ideas; it’s surprisingly hard to shop for someone that rich—”
“Please stop,” Clark begs, even though he knows it’s useless.
“Oh no, you deserve this. I can’t believe he traded me in for an older model. Isn’t it usually the other way around?”
“I’m hanging up on you,” Clark warns. Dick makes an unhappy noise of admonishment and Clark genuinely misses the days when Dick was still sort of in awe of him.
“But Clark, communication is important! Especially in polyamorous relation—”
Clark hangs up on him.