Scorching land devoid of life. Screams of agony. Monsters wearing the faces of his loved ones. Everywhere he looked, the world seemed to fall a little bit more around him, turning the gardens of eden into endless pits of hell.
Bruce took a step forward, then another, intent of reaching the heart of the chaos, but his body was fighting against an invisible force pushing him back, forcing him to bear witness of all the destruction and keeping him from interfering.
“No,” he rasped as he caught sight of two figures fighting against each other, one wearing a black and blue suit and wielding escrima sticks, the other dancing around the attacks in quick blur of yellow and green. “No!”
He fought to reach them, snarled when he couldn’t, yelled their names until his throat burned and his voice left him and kept trying to yell some more, to make himself heard over the cacophony of death.
Behind him. “We could have stopped this.”
Bruce Wayne turned around wildly, heart hammering in his chest as he came face to face with Batman. His suit was worn out and damaged, covered in blood that clearly wasn’t his own, and he was holding a shredded red cloth in his hands that Bruce would have recognized anywhere. Bile rising in his throat, he watched, horrified, as Batman looked up and pinned him with dark, unforgiving eyes.
“We could have stopped him.” His hands fisted Superman’s cape so tight that the fabric ripped even more. “This is on us.”
In the distance, Bruce heard the familiar sound of a sonic boom.
He woke up with a start, a silent scream stuck in his throat.
A dream, he reassured himself as he tried to push past the terror sealing his throat. It was just a dream.
Rubbing his face wearily, Bruce absentmindedly reached for the body that should have been lying next to him. Nothing. The mattress on this side was cold to the touch. He scowled, sat on the bed and looked around the room. The French windows leading to the balcony were opened, letting a gentle breeze inside.
Bruce got up.
Clark was enjoying the first shafts of sunlight, willing the warmth to push away the unusual coldness of his limbs, when he felt two hands slowly slide down his arms and settle on his hips.
“It’s too early,” rumbled Bruce, voice still hoarse from sleep. “Why am I up?”
“Who told you to get out of bed?” Clark teased.
Bruce shrugged. “You weren’t there,” was all he said, as if it was common knowledge that he couldn’t sleep without his alien boyfriend by his side.
It made Clark smile. He didn’t think he would ever get used to Bruce’s affectionate behavior towards him. At least, he hoped that these feelings of wonder and amazement filling his chest every time the other man so much as touched him would never disappear.
In the privacy of their home, Bruce never tried to hide how much he cared about Clark. He was more subtle about it in front of his family, of course, but in a house full of trained batkids and a former spy— Dick’s theory, Clark tended to agree— even the smallest tug of lips or the most casual brush of fingers spoke volume.
It was one of the things that surprised him the most about Bruce, even though it really shouldn’t have. By his own admission, the man had fought his feelings for Clark every step of the way, contemplated the thousands of reasons why pushing the boundaries of their friendship was a terrible idea, went as far as to try to cut Clark out of his life when a delicate situation involving Diana’s lasso forced a confession out of him, but once the line had been crossed, once Bruce finally gave into his feelings, well, all bets were off.
Bruce Wayne didn’t do things by halves, didn’t know how to not throw his entire being into any task he undertook and in many ways, his relationship with Clark was no different. From the moment he had agreed to give them a chance, there was no holding back anymore. Clark had never been the recipient of such blazing intensity before and Bruce could be—… Well, he could be overwhelming.
It unnerved him sometimes, but Clark wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I just couldn’t sleep.”
“What’s the matter?” Bruce breathed against his ear, sending shivers down his spine.
“Stop lying. Tell me what you’re thinking about.”
Clark bit down a grin. He had the perfectly cheesy, disgustingly sweet response to that. “You.”
Bruce groaned in a mix of disappointment and amused exasperation that had Clark letting out a quiet chuckle, leaning more firmly into the strong chest behind him.
“That was awful, Kent,” Bruce complained, putting his chin on Clark’s shoulder, taking full advantage of the few inches he had on him. A few moments of peaceful silence was all he allowed before pushing the subject once more. “Tell me,” he repeated.
"Bruce, I swear, it's nothing."
"Tell me anyway."
Clark would, if only he knew how. “I just—…” he started. Stopped. Pondered on the right way to describe this feeling he had been experiencing for the past few days. “I don’t know how to explain it. You’ll probably think I’m insane.”
Bruce nudged him. “Try me.”
Clark sighed. Clearly, there was no escaping the interrogation. “I just have a weird feeling, alright?”
He didn’t need to turn around to see the look on Bruce’s face, could actually picture his puzzlement pretty accurately in his mind.
“Alright…,” Bruce eventually said, clearly baffled. “What kind of ‘feeling’ exactly”?
Clark grimaced. “I-... I don't really know.” There was no hiding that small note of frustration in his voice and he felt Bruce’s hands on his hips tighten slightly. “I don’t—… It’s nothing bad. But it doesn’t feel good either. I just feel like I’m always on the edge, lately. Like I’m waiting for something to happen but I have no idea what it could be. All I know is that it’s coming and I—…” I don’t feel safe, he added silently. I’m the strongest being on Earth and I don’t feel safe.
Somehow, it seemed like Bruce heard him anyway, if the sudden tension in his body was any indication. “I don’t like where this is going, Clark,” he said very evenly, betraying the real worry behind the calm mask.
Clark said nothing at that, just closed his eyes and tilted his head back, pressing his temple against Bruce’s, focusing on the soothing song of his heartbeat and letting it drown out everything else.
For now, that was enough.
Alfred was already preparing breakfast when Clark entered the kitchen.
“Good morning, Master Clark,” the British butler greeted him pleasantly.
“Good morning, Alfred,” Clark smiled as he took his usual place around the table. He had learned the hard way not to try to interfere with Alfred’s tasks around the manor, especially when it came to cooking. Still, at the end of the day, Clark was still a farmer’s son, and standing idle while letting others do all the work wasn’t possible for him. So he found new ways to help Alfred, learned when to push and offer his aid and when to sit back and be silent. Breakfast was one of those times.
Eventually, he knew he could wear Alfred done. All he had to do was show patience and be more stubborn than the man who raised Batman. Right. Easy.
“It smells amazing, Alfred,” Clark marveled, breathing in the delicious aroma filling the kitchen.
“Last night, young Timothy expressed a desire for pancakes. We have come to an agreement that I would grant his wish on the condition that he gets at least a full 6 hours of sleep.”
Clark snorted. “You drive a hard bargain.”
“Perhaps,” Alfred shrugged his shoulders casually. “However, the results cannot possibly be denied in this particular case. If only all could be just as accommodating.” A pointed look at Clark. “I take it Master Bruce has already left?”
Clark sighed exasperatedly, but there was no hiding the fondness in his voice. “He had a meeting early this morning at Wayne Enterprise. Breakfast was a losing battle, but we’re meeting for lunch later today, so don’t worry, that man is going to eat one way or another.”
“Your presence amongst us is a gift from the heavens, Master Clark,” Alfred said, simultaneously teasing and serious.
A blush seared through Clark’s cheeks and he coughed, ridiculously embarrassed. “Ah. It’s nothing, really, I—… Oh, it’s getting late! Should I go wake the boys?”
“There’s no need,” the butler said mysteriously. A few seconds later, Clark heard the sounds of heavy footsteps and sarcastic bickering, followed by a loud yelp and what seemed to be a battle cry. He smiled, amused despite himself, and caught Alfred’s just as jovial gaze.
The warmth swelling in his chest felt nice.
When Tim finally left for school, free of the demon brat at last, something made him stop right before he got into the car. Dick called it the “Robin sense”. Jason thought their older brother was full of shit.
He looked up, eyes widening in surprise when he saw Bruce looking at him through the window. The man observed at him for a long moment before a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips and he nodded at Tim. Hesitantly, Tim raised his own hand in return.
His dad was so weird.
“Master Bruce?” Alfred exclaimed, surprised. Had he returned from the city already?
His charge walked further into the room, brushed his fingers against the now empty kitchen table, looking thoughtful. “Where’s Dick?” he asked quietly.
Alfred lifted an eyebrow. “Master Richard spent the night at Miss Gordon’s, sir. I doubt he has any intention of returning home today,” he remarked meaningfully.
Bruce hummed, kept his eyes fixed on the tip of his fingers. “He’s happy, isn’t he Alfred?” he suddenly asked, and Alfred couldn’t remember the last time he had heard the man sound so insecure, so terribly desperate for reassurance. Not many people could detect the slight change of his tone, but then again, not many people had the privilege of watching Bruce Wayne grow up.
It made him pause and he slowly put the damp sponge down. “I believe he is, Master Bruce.” He hesitated, then added. “We all are.”
Bruce tensed, looked up and met Alfred’s gaze straight on, an invisible storm hidden behind cold grey eyes. The old butler watched his charge swallow back words that refused to come out of his mouth. It was alright, Alfred knew enough not to push. Eventually, Bruce muttered a simple “good” and walked out of the room.
Feeling uneasy, Alfred shook his head and returned to his previous task.
Turning around the corner of the long corridor leading to the main stairs, Damian stopped short, blinking in confusion at the sight that awaited him.
Dressed in a fine three piece suit and leaning against the wooden balustrade, Bruce turned around and, in a comical imitation of his own son’s reaction, blinked as he looked at Damian. The puzzlement on his face seemed genuine, which only served to make Damian’s confusion grow even more.
His father was not a man easy to startle.
“Damian,” was all he said. Just his name, spoken in a steady tone with just an hint of curiosity and something else the young Wayne couldn’t even begin to describe.
Damian frowned, walked closer to his father. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the office?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
Damian crossed his arms, lifted his chin in defiance. “Mrs Jenkins is ill and they could not secure a proper replacement for the day. Incompetent fools.”
Bruce snorted in amusement, which made Damian widen his eyes in surprise before he glared, suspicious. “Your turn.”
His father always had such a tight control on his reactions, as well he should, and seeing anything less than that, seeing him relaxed and, dare he say, happy was… disarming.
As was the easy smile he was now harboring. “I thought about taking the day off today.” Damian nearly choked, mystified. A day off?! “Spend time with my family.”
Of all the ridiculous—… Such ludicrous idea could only come from one person. “Tst,” Damian grumbled. “The alien is a bad influence on you.”
The change was immediate. Bruce lost his smile and, tilting his head just so, regarded Damian severely. It was an expression he was sadly not unfamiliar with. Out of all the robins, he seemed to be the one who invoked the most frustration from Batman. Grayson claimed it was a tie between him and Todd, but Damian knew the truth. He had too much Al Ghul in him, something his father couldn’t train away, no matter how much he tried to.
Bruce said nothing and, to Damian’s astonishment, lifted his fingers to gently brush them against his son’s cheek.
Damian froze. “F – Father ?”
“His name is Clark and he is a good man,” Bruce said, and if the quiet conviction of his voice was already enough to cut off any form of protest from Damian, it was the light kiss Bruce dropped on his son’s forehead that truly rendered him speechless. “Please, remember that.”
Feeling his traitorous cheeks heat up, Damian lowered his gaze and coughed in a pathetic attempt to hide his embarrassment. Mumbling under his breath about homework, he quickly descended the stairs and fled the man’s overbearing presence.
His father was becoming too soft. He didn't care what Grayson claimed, the alien truly was a bad influence.
Alfred was folding the laundry when something caught his eyes. He paused, frowned as he pulled a white cloth from the basket.
Odd. He thought he had seen his charge wear this very shirt earlier. Oh, well. His eyesight was clearly not what it once was. He probably ought to consult a doctor about that.
Shrugging his shoulders, Alfred finished folding the rest of the clean clothes and then left to start the preparations for lunch. With any luck, and some push from a certain journalist, Master Bruce would join them today.
“I thought I would find you here.”
Startled, Clark nearly dropped his book, quickly turning his head towards the familiar voice.
“Bruce?” There was no hiding the surprise in his voice. “What—… You’re back already?”
Bruce didn’t respond, just walked further into the room until he was standing right in front of Clark. He offered a hand casually, leaving it hanging in the air between them. Clark lifted both his eyebrows incredulously, his reaction only bringing a satisfied smirk on Bruce’s face.
“Seriously?” Clark mouthed, stunned, to which the other man only answered by grabbing his hand and pulling him up forcedly to his feet.
“Can’t you recognize a grand gesture when you see one, Kent?” Bruce teased, bringing him closer and threading their fingers together.
“I’m half convinced that this is a trap and I’m walking right into it like the idiot you keep saying that I am,” Clark laughed, shaking his head in mute amazement.
A strange glint crossed through Bruce’s eyes. “I just want to hold you.”
Something about his tone made Clark frown. Bruce’s eyes, a mesmerizing grey storm that always seemed to enthrall him even after all those years, stayed locked onto his face like he was somehow drinking Clark in. He felt a blush rising in his cheeks at the attention and ducked his head, clearing his throat as he slowly brought his free hand on Bruce’s upper arm.
“You’re awfully romantic today,” he said, embarrassed but fond.
“Are you complaining?”
“Not one bit. Keep going.”
Bruce let out a quiet chuckle, warm breath tickling Clark’s skin. Eyes closing on their own, Clark dropped his forehead on Bruce’s shoulder as the man kept swaying them slowly to the rhythm of a silent song only he could hear.
Alfred hid a content smile, discreetly closing the door of the study and concealing the two men from sight. Next to him, Damian twisted his face in a disgusted grimace.
“They look ridiculous,” he said furiously.
“Do they?” Alfred mused even as he quietly ushered the boy away. “I, for one, found them quite charming.”
“Then you’re as absurd as they are, Pennyworth.”
“Now, now, young Master,” Alfred said serenely. “Petulance does not become you.”
“I know why you’re doing this,” Clark finally said against Bruce shoulder, not wanting to ruin the moment but unable to stay quiet any longer. “I’m sorry for worrying you.”
He felt the hand at his hip tighten slightly. “Don’t be,” Bruce answered easily. “I hear that’s how this whole concept of relationship works. You’re supposed to tell me what’s wrong with you.”
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Clark insisted a little too adamantly. “I promise. Everything’s fine, it’s just—… one of those days, you know?”
Bruce didn’t answer but Clark clearly heard the disbelief in his silence. He didn’t how else to convince the man of the sincerity of his words. This strange feeling he couldn’t quite put a name on, the numbness he was experiencing, it would all eventually pass, Clark was sure of it.
Then Bruce spoke once more. “Do you remember the day you told me you were planning to propose to Lois?”
Clark frowned, thrown by the sudden change of subject. “Yes… ?”
“I wanted to kill you that day.”
Clark went still. Bruce kept swaying them slowly.
“I wanted to strangle you, rip that ring from your hand and destroy it, shove it down your imbecilic throat, track Lois down and make her understand that you were off limits.”
“Of course, I had no right to do any of that. I had no right to even feel that way,” Bruce continued, unperturbed. “I didn’t want to feel that way. But I’m only human. Human and extremely possessive and I don’t let go of the people that I love, Clark. I hold onto them so tight that they eventually have to beg me for a little bit of freedom.”
Clark closed his eyes, breathing uneven. “Okay, that’s—…”
“You’re mine,” Bruce cut him off intensely, lips right next to his ear. “From that very second you accosted me in that party, wearing that god awful suit, you were mine. You know it and I know it so you don’t get to keep your worries to yourself and push me away now. I’ve earned the right to share your burdens. Do you understand?”
God, Clark thought shakily, burying his face into the crook of Bruce’s neck, inhaling his scent and trying to control his racing heart. The man couldn’t even express his feelings like the mere common mortals, no, he had to make it sound like he was sealing a blood pact with the devil, like he was making a oath to link his life forever to Clark’s, more bidding than any marriage vow.
How was he supposed to respond to that? I love you seemed pathetically insufficient next to Bruce’s declaration, but those were the only words he had. And he meant them with all his heart, even if he couldn’t speak them out loud right at this moment because his throat was suddenly closing up on him.
Instead he pressed a kiss to the hollow of Bruce’s neck, kept his lips against that bare skin.
“I don’t tell you enough, do I?” Bruce mused silently. “I should.” There was something sad twisting his tone. “I should have done a lot of things.”
Alfred deposited the tray of snacks next to Damian. Waited for the grateful grunt before turning away and leaving the young sir to his endless load of homework, casting a doubtful look around the Cave as he walked towards the stairs.
Surely, there were better places in the Manor to focus on school assignments?
Just as he was about to leave, something caught his eyes. A red light near the computer, indicating a coming call. Alfred frowned. Who had switched it to silent mode—…?
He walked towards the device. Pressed on the right button.
“Finally.” Bruce’s irritated voice echoed around the Cave. “I’ve been trying to reach the Manor for the past 20 minutes. Is there a reason the main line is disconnected?”
Alfred frowned, glancing up the stairs leading to the Manor in confusion. “Sir? What –...”
“Never mind that. Clark isn’t answering his phone, could you please tell him that we’ll have to reschedule our lunch for another day?”
“Lunch? I was under the impression that Master Clark and yourself would be joining us today? Have you departed already?”
“What do you mean, already? Feels like I’ve been here for days. These damn vultures won’t let me go and I’m stuck at Wayne Enterprise for the moment,” Bruce growled in clear exasperation. Alfred could easily picture him pushing a frustrated hand through his hair.
Sprawled on the training mat, Damian slowly put his book down, exchanging a confused glance with Alfred. “Father?”
“Damian? What—… Wait. Don’t tell me you’re skipping classes again.” The exasperation was at its peak now.
Damian looked completely baffled. Alfred shared the sentiment. “Father, are you daft? I already told you that my classes were cancelled for the day.”
This time, Bruce was the one who sounded confused. “What? No, you haven’t.”
“Yes, I have. Earlier this morning. You could at least pretend to listen to me when I speak,” he huffed irritably.
The change was imperceptible, barely a faint note of wrongness in the air that only seemed to grow when Bruce spoke once more.
“Damian,” Bruce said carefully, voice as cold as ice. “I’ve been attending a meeting with the board all morning. I left the Manor before you were even up. You haven’t told me anything.”
Alfred felt nauseous. “Oh, dear.”
Everything happened really fast after that, Bruce’s voice echoing urgently around them as Alfred’s fingers went to the computer’s keyboard and Damian sprung to his feet, battle ready.
“Activate the security system, protocol 5. Keep the cave locked and get in contact with Jason. He’s closer than I am –...”
“Stay put, Damian. I’m on my way.”
“Sir, you don’t understand, » Alfred sputtered, alarmed, even as he automatically followed Bruce’s orders. “The impostor was with Master Kent and –...”
“Clark can take care of himself and you can warn him from inside the cave. He’ll hear you. But if this man is who I think he is, then I don’t want you two anywhere near him without backup, do you understand?”
As Alfred and his father activated the Cave’s defenses, something kept pushing at the edge of Damian’s restless thoughts, something important that was trying to find its way in, to form a coherent idea amongst all the anxiousness, something—…
“Clark is a good man,” the other Bruce had said with sad eyes. “Remember that.”
Dread gnawing at his insides, Damian turned around. He ran towards a small safe, quickly put in the right code with trembling fingers, hoping desperately to be wrong, just this once.
He threw the lead door opened.
“It’s gone,” Damian whispered with growing horror before yelling over both Alfred and his father’s voices. “Father, the kryptonite’s gone!”
The silence that followed the announcement was absolutely paralyzing in its force. Damian thought he heard Bruce inhale sharply, but he couldn’t really register anything past the blood pounding in his ears. Next to the computer, Alfred looked frightened.
“Call Clark,” Bruce ordered with barely restrained anger, the cutting edge of his voice piercing through their crippling fear. “Now.”
“Master Clark, that man is an impostor !”
“Kent, get away from –… !”
It surged through Clark’s body like acid, corroding his insides mercilessly and ripping the air out of his lungs. He choked on a pained gasp and fell to his knees, caught by two strong arms holding him in a tender embrace.
Bruce slowly made him lie down on the floor, putting a small black box right next to his head. Something green was glowing from inside of it. Kryptonite.
“For what it’s worth,” Bruce said quietly. “I’m sorry.”
No, Clark thought as he tried to push past the agonizing pain that was eating him alive. Not Bruce.
But not a real impostor either. The terrible guilt in his eyes was real and there was a genuine gentleness in the way these traitorous hands were now stroking his face, persecutor reassuring the victim.
The devastation twisting his face didn’t look forged either.
This man wasn’t his Bruce. But Clark knew him. In fact, he should have recognized him instantly.
“Why?” he rasped between hard drawn breaths.
Bruce closed his eyes. He looked truly distressed and Clark was filled with the ridiculous urge to reassure him, an automatic reaction his body seemed to have when faced with Bruce Wayne’s pain.
“I can’t take the risk that you’ll turn like him,” Bruce whispered. “My world is lost, but this one can still be saved.” Clark thought he felt a kiss against his forehead. It was hard to tell, really, to register anything past the familiar sensation of kryptonite poisoning his blood and destroying his cells.
But he could still see and his eyes widened in shock when a dagger materialized in Bruce’s hands. Magic. How –... Almost by reflex, Clark tried to distance himself from the man, to crawl away from the threat. He didn’t make it far before he was pulled back, two strong arms wrapping themselves around him, keeping him in a gentle hold as Clark weakly pushed his hands against his captor’s chest, slow and useless. Prisoner of a twisted lover’s embrace.
“I can’t fail a second time, Clark. Not with them. Not with you.” Bruce’s voice shook and he pressed his forehead firmly against Clark’s. “You’re so good. In your chest beats a pure heart that we never deserved. But you’re not going to stay that way, Kal. This world corrupts and destroys everything and I—… I have to –...” He choked on a sob. “I have to stop you before it’s too late.”
“B – Bruce...”
Clark thought he heard Alfred’s panicked voice in the distance. Damian’s furious screams. And someone else—…
“… hold on Clark, I’m on my way, just hold on, please...”
Bruce brought the dagger down and then everything went black.