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Bat Soup, Or: How Bruce Wayne Made Friends With Pleasure Before Business

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i.

The agreement was to meet with Lois Lane, antagonistic star reporter of the Daily Planet. Bruce is ready for her sharp eyes and the way her fingers drum on the table in lieu (as per their agreement) of taking notes. His hands would itch for a pen, too, even with how little he’s telling her.

Anyway. What Bruce had not agreed to was her partner. Annoyingly enough, his gently attentive doe eyes are more distracting than all of Lois Lane’s verbal curveballs. He has to fight to keep his answers in check every time he looks Clark Kent’s way.

“Do you think a merger with Luthorcorp could possibly do anything but hand him Gotham on a platter?” she demands, breaking her lobster’s back. Kent smiles privately into his wine glass. Bruce is almost too busy noticing him to be irritated by the question. Almost.

“It wouldn’t be a merger,” he corrects her. “It would be a mutually beneficial, limited arrangement. And your question presupposes certain weaknesses in my company, Ms. Lane. Maybe I’m making a bid for Metropolis.” It doesn’t ultimately matter what he says; she’ll turn it against him if she wants to. But he doesn’t know what to expect from Kent. He wishes he did.

“That’s a charming smile, Mr. Wayne, but Metropolis isn’t here to be bought and sold,” Lane says. “We’re flesh and blood. Now, maybe that’s not something you’re familiar with, spending your time with people like Lex Luthor.”

Bruce brandishes his glass, very slightly, for a point scored.

“What are you planning to do with Metropolis, if you can get us?” Lane asks. She doesn’t look even a little worried. She may have Bruce Wayne all lined up as the new Lex Luthor, but Bruce sincerely doubts she’s afraid of Lex, either.

Bruce sighs, watching Kent from the corner of his eye. “I was only being glib. The idea is Lex’s, and frankly, I’m not convinced yet. Philanthropy has never been his strong suit. I’m not committed, and there won’t be any deal unless certain details are hashed out.” He toggles between smug billionaire Bruce Wayne and effective businessman Bruce Wayne to see what yields the best results. He’s pretty sure that Kent’s eyes at least flickered when he called Lex by his given name.

“Yes,” he says directly, “we’re on a first-name basis.” He injects into it the appropriate amount of condescension.”

“I hope so,” Lane says lightly, “since you’re planning to make a baby together.”

“I always heard that Gotham’s the only thing that matters to Bruce Wayne,” Kent interjects thoughtfully. Bruce listens for the unspoken and one or two other ignoble things, but if he thinks it, Bruce can’t see it. “What’s Luthor got that you don’t, that you’d put your city in Luthor’s way? Just because he asks nicely? Just because it looks good in a write-up about corporate morality? Trust me, Mr. Wayne, he’s not nice enough to earn you a gold star.”

Bruce frowns. “I’m aware,” he says sharply, and that’s not any version of Bruce Wayne. He reins himself in. “But Metropolis is putting itself on the map. I like to be where the action is.” And if anyone can tell Bruce about that frustrating development, it’s these two.

Lane swirls her wineglass and smiles dazzlingly. “I can see how you’d want to associate your name with Superman’s hometown. Especially coming from a place like Gotham.”

Bruce narrows his eyes. “Yes, well. Gotham’s struggles and its heroics take place on a much more--intimate scale. Human problems, human solutions.” Let it go, he tells himself. It’s not a road worth going down with two reporters, especially not these two. They’re too bright.

“If that’s what you want to call it,” Lois says. “I guess we all have to settle for the heroes we’re given.”

“Leaving aside vigilante justice,” Kent says, earning an immediate (frequently invoked?) look of disbelief from Lois, “what makes a deal with Luthor look like a good idea at all? I know, first name basis, you’re a smart guy. But I know if I was a shareholder, I wouldn’t even be worried about what debauchery that man would bring into my company. I’d be worried about how exactly fast my company was going down the toilet. He’s not known for taking care of his own, Mr. Wayne. I’m just not seeing the brains in this move.”

Unless, he’s pointedly not saying, it’s not about business at all. Bruce is really annoyed now, but even more he’s intrigued. Where did Lane dig this man up in the first place? In self-defense, he backtracks to clueless billionaire. “Lex couldn’t get his finger that deep in the pie. You don’t need to be concerned on my behalf--or maybe I’m wrong,” he says. “Maybe it’s a mistake. But only time will tell. I have faith in my company. Can I pour you another glass of wine, Mr. Kent?”

Lane looks annoyed now. In her last twenty minutes of bouncing back and forth between charming conversationalist and brutal interrogator, Bruce has not been able to tell for certain if any sincere flirting has been coming his way. What he is certain of is Lane’s ego--no, not ego. Pride. He can relate to that. Charm is part of Bruce’s arsenal, too, and he’s a professional, in some areas more than others. He wouldn’t like to see his best efforts wasted while all the attention went to the goofball in the next chair.

“If it’s a mistake, Mr. Wayne,” Lane says, “never fear. You won’t be suffering alone. And we’ll be sure every single person who’s suffering alongside you knows where to lay the blame.”

Bruce chuckles gently. “That, Ms. Lane, I don’t doubt for a second. But I do feel a little ganged up on. It seems unfair to put two such vicious reporters on my case over trying to do a little charity work.” He watches for Kent’s reaction.

“One vicious reporter,” Kent says cheerfully. He and Lane both smile at Bruce, but it’s clear they’re smiling more at one another. Now Bruce does feel ganged up on.

“Well, I hope you got your story,” he says mildly. He means Lane, but he’s still watching Kent.

“We’ll see,” Lane says, watching him right back.

“You know your lobster’s getting cold,” Kent tells her.

Bruce laughs and meets Kent’s eyes. They’re extremely blue. He may be on the wrong side of the news tomorrow, but at least he’s getting some pleasure out of it now. “Next time I’d love a one-on-one with you, Mr. Kent,” he says breezily.

He watches Kent check Lane at his side, Lane dig into her dinner with a kind of I couldn’t hear anything over this lobster-breaking zeal. Kent looks back at him, with those blue, blue eyes.

“If you’ve got something to say,” Kent says, “I’ll be all ears, Mr. Wayne.”

~

Bruce waits two days. That’s in part a deliberate move, but mostly he’s busy with Lex and other Metropolis business concerns. Bruce’s hotel is booked through the week, though, and he doesn’t want to waste it. On day three, after he’s had just about all the Lex-weaseling he can handle, Bruce settles into a chair by his hotel room window, and calls the number on Kent’s business card. While the phone rings, he looks out over Metropolis and the blindingly bright day. Almost like a personal insult, his call goes to voicemail.

Bruce never leaves voicemails, but this time he does.

“I’ve been thinking about that one-on-one,” he says. “Call me. Tonight, if you’re free. And just to be clear, don’t bring the notebook. Or Ms. Lane.” He doesn’t bother identifying himself. He hangs up and puts it out of his mind. Either Kent will show or he won’t.

Kent calls back two hours later, as Bruce is trawling through the Daily Planet’s online archive.

“Wayne,” he manages to say without sounding either guilty or sleazy, which are the two things he might be inclined to feel.

“Sorry I didn’t pick up your call,” Kent says. “I was out chasing a story. What exactly did you have in mind for your one-on-one, Mr. Wayne? Assuming you’re the person who left me a cryptic voicemail. You know, it’s considered polite to leave your details with a message.”

“I assumed you don’t get a lot of invitations,” Bruce says, glad to hear his voice and, at the same time, a little irked.

“Then you might be surprised,” Kent says toothlessly.

“Fair enough. Dinner at my hotel,” Bruce decides. He’d suggest skipping dinner, but that might be pushing it, especially with a nice young man who might be taking his come-ons more literally than Bruce intended.

Besides, he finds, he wants to talk.

“When? Dress code?” Kent says. He doesn’t hesitate. If Kent really does come from the same place as Lex, it’s the middle of nowhere. Maybe he doesn’t recognize a come-on. (He must recognize a come-on.)

“Eight,” Bruce says. “And I liked what you had on the other day.” Bruce doesn’t love the charm oozing into his voice. The playboy is fine, and useful, but it doesn’t taste great at this moment. Kent is funny, and smart, and if dinner goes well, Bruce is eventually going to have to give him something real.

“I’ll check their website,” Kent says. “Eight it is.”

~

In fact, it’s eight twenty when Kent arrives. Bruce had begun to wonder if he was being stood up. Kent apologetic and flustered, but accoutred exactly for the occasion. It’s almost what he was wearing before, dressed down. Bruce thinks a reporter must have to live on a small but versatile wining-and-dining wardrobe.

“Sorry,” Kent says again as he sits, plucking up his napkin and putting it in his lap. “There was an accident downtown.” A truck dared an underpass it was too tall for, hit it, and caught fire. Bruce knows. He saw it pop up on local news when he was checking for messages.

“It’s fine. You live in the city?” He’s picturing a poorly-furnished studio apartment. The Planet can’t pay much.

“Can you imagine being more than twenty minutes away from work with Lois Lane or Perry White demanding your presence?” Kent says, and then considers that Bruce might not be able to imagine. “You wouldn’t want that, trust me.”

Bruce raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know, Mr. Kent. You seem to hold your own.”

“No one calls me Kent,” Kent says. “Not even Perry. No one even calls my dad Kent.”

“Clark, then,” Bruce says, enunciating every sound in the single syllable. “You know, Clark, this is vastly preferable to being interrogated by your partner. Although that had its charms.”

“Lois can be very,” Clark says, and stops there with a smile. “You should have ordered without me. You must be starving.” There’s a glass of water waiting for him, soaked in perspiration, ice mostly melted. Clark drinks half of it in one gulp.

“You must have rushed to get here,” Bruce says, watching.

“Practically flew,” Clark says.

The hasty arrival doesn’t fit, really, with how quickly Clark has regained his cool. Cool that, to be frank, Bruce hadn’t realized he possessed to begin with. One more mystery for the already-growing pile. Of course, maybe there’s nothing mysterious about him, and Bruce is seeing things where they aren’t. But it’s in the best interests of all his roles that Bruce have a nose for oddities.

“There are appetizers coming,” he says. “I hope you like sweet potato.”

“Sweet,” Clark says. “Mr. Wayne.”

“Bruce, obviously,” Bruce says with a laugh. He’s impossibly charmed. First name basis. He thinks of Lex, and of the things he wants to ask Clark, but he doesn’t say them. He’s not going to ruin a potential good thing before it begins.

“Bruce,” Clark agrees, lifting his water glass. “So--was there something in particular that you wanted from me and not my colleague? I’m sure you’ve had time to work out that Lex Luthor and I have some history. Let me be upfront: I’m not going to share any grisly details. Not in the paper, not over dinner, not to help you work out whether you want to mix your business up with his. If you’re looking for anything like that, I’ll go.”

“No,” Bruce says, more harshly than he means to. Not that he ever hates information, but he has enough grisly details on Lex to get by on. “I wanted dinner. Just dinner. Unless, of course, dinner goes especially well.” Bruce doesn’t play coy.

Clark’s cheeks turn the slightest bit pink, and the edge of fight in him smooths out a tad. He doesn’t look displeased, although Bruce thinks he’s embarrassed to have been so boldly off the mark. Bruce has the terrible chance to tease him, and has almost decided to do it when the server sails by with their sweet potato fries. They’re thin and crispy and drizzled with truffle butter. There’s some kind of white thing to dip them in. Bruce wasn’t paying attention.

Clark snags one, eyes the white thing, and foregoes it. “So,” he says, “what are you going to tell me about yourself?”

Bruce considers. He so rarely meets people he actually likes. “I can’t stand Metropolis,” he offers. “I think Gotham is the best place on Earth and I’m only still here because you were so intriguing the first time we talked that I had to see you on your own.”

Clark lets out and then politely stifles a bark of laughter.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m not laughing at you. I mean, I didn’t assume this was a business dinner, but, if I can be candid, handsome billionaires aren’t my primary dating pool. Not that we’re dating. I guess you could call this a date--I’m talking way too much. I’m sorry. Thanks. I mean, I like talking to you as well.”

Bruce smiles, relieved. Clark isn’t going to be impossible after all. “I’m glad we’ve cleared up the situation. Now, please tell me what makes living in Metropolis bearable.”

“I’m here for the Planet,” Clark says immediately, then shakes his head. “It was weird. For a long time, actually. Smallville is...small. And have you noticed that everybody shouts here, like that’s normal talking volume or something? It takes adjusting to. But it’s a beautiful city, and it’s got good people, and you can get to anywhere from here if you need an escape.”

Bruce takes a fry out of the pile and stares at it. “You’re very...genuine. I wasn’t sure you would be.” Could possibly be, is more like it.

Clark grins, winning and boyish. “I come from a very genuine place. You should see my parents.”

Of course Clark Kent still has parents. “I’ve heard about Smallville,” he says. “Mixed things.” Clark already said he wouldn’t give up the secrets of his past with Lex, but that’s not really what Bruce is digging for. Bruce is waiting for some hint that Clark is secretly a criminal mastermind. It seems increasingly likely.

“Well, if you prefer places like Gotham,” Clark says, raising a reasonable hand palm-up. “Smallville’s good. Small. Like I said. It’s a decent place to grow up. Everything smells like corn and everybody knows each together. I guess that could be mixed if you hate corn or care about, you know, privacy.”

“In Gotham no one dares to know each other’s business,” Bruce says. “Which suits me very well. My privacy is important. Hence my standoffishness during our interview the other day.” He doesn’t mention the tabloid gossip, but if anyone knows how rarely a fact makes it into that garbage, it’s Clark.

“You’re not the first taciturn man of business we’ve talked into an interview,” Clark says. “Lois knows how to squeeze a guy like you into front page news. Although, you were actually on page three. Did you see yourself? I think you came off better than you could have, all things considered.”

Bruce considers that a favor, then. “I hadn’t checked. I try not to. Even when it’s written by someone I like--especially then. I’d intended to read some of your other work, though. See what kind of man you are.”

“It’s what you’d expect,” Clark says. The server comes and takes their order, and Bruce has almost forgotten what they were saying when Clark speaks again. “Kitten rescued from rain gutter, historical bridge to be restored as a monument. National scout group raises millions for charity, terrorist plot injures dozens, kills two, politicians corrupt, water wet, and absolutely no financial new or society news unless I’m sharing a byline with Lois. Perry knows better.”

Bruce laughs. “Well, that’s a relief. And what about Superman stories? Has your partner cornered the market on those?” All of this as though he hasn’t been feverishly backreading. He knows Clark is telling the truth. He hopes he isn’t ruining his chances of Clark staying the night.

“I think she’s coming around to sharing those,” Clark says with a smile.

“Lucky you,” Bruce says dismissively. Clark’s smile is--just use the word--adorable, but Bruce doesn’t care for Superman. At all.

“Mm,” says Clark. “I haven’t talked with him as much as she has. Looked him in the eye a few times.” He waits for the server to set their food down and thanks her before asking, “Has the great Bruce Wayne ever been rescued by Batman?”

Well, Bruce walked into that one.

He starts to cut his steak and says, keeping his tone light, “I don’t need as much rescuing as you might think. And I think Batman is more interested in punishing the wicked than helping people like me.” He could lay on the dislike for Batman a little thicker, and some days he would, but he’s in too good a mood.

“Friends of Lex Luthor,” Clark agrees with surprising bluntness, and then surprises Bruce again by changing the subject. “How long are you in town? There’s good sightseeing here, if you aren’t hiding out in your room hating Metropolis. If you need a guide, I’m actually pretty good at keeping a low profile?”

Good luck hiding that smile.

“Ten days,” Bruce lies, deciding to make it true. It’s an absurd amount of time, but who’s going to question it? “And I would be delighted.

“Poor lonely Gotham,” Clark says.

~

For a nice country boy, Clark sure takes it for granted when Bruce brings him upstairs. Bruce undoes his tie and tosses it onto the bedside table before turning to Clark. “You promised to show me around,” he says. “What does that entail?”

“There’s a boat shaped like a goose that does a river tour,” Clark says, deadpan. “Or did you mean now?”

Bruce hates talking about sex, in fact. Can people not just do it? “I didn’t bring you to my room to listen to your charming sense of humor, Mr. Kent. Clark.”

“Internet cat videos?” Clark suggests mildly, but he’s comfortably not backing out the door in a way that reminds Bruce of--someone. Someone else who uses waiting and jokes to mean yes, yes, yes.

“We should sleep together,” Bruce says gruffly. He has no time or patience for being Bruce Wayne at this point. Clark can take this version of him or leave it. He’s clearly capable of deciding for himself. “No cat videos.”

Clark doesn’t answer, for a few prudent seconds. Then he says, “I’m up for that.” His hands stick into his back pockets and he leans forward, like they’re discussing a project at the office. Normal, funny, very good looking. Normal and nice should be boring. But they’re not. Bruce wants to lay hands on Clark so badly that it hurts. He doesn’t waste time with further negotiations. He gets in Clark’s space, crowding him back, grabs his hip with one hand and his face with the other. He kisses him almost as hard as he wants to.

“Mm!” Clark says, and Bruce must be too used to sleeping with suspicious-minded people, because Clark hands himself over immediately, a light, giving weight opening itself up for Bruce to do what he wants, and it makes Bruce’s stomach drop like a rock. Clark tilts his head back and moans when Bruce kisses down his jaw to his throat. His skin feels almost too warm against Bruce’s mouth. He’s pushing back, like he’s brushing against a trap waiting for it to spring shut on him. Like he wants it to.

Clark doesn’t know how to be afraid. Bruce probably won’t scare Clark off.

Clark’s not chatting, now that they’re touching. It’s oddly not a relief. Chatter tells Bruce how things are going. Clark doesn’t talk, so Bruce has to guess. On a chance, he pushes Clark up against the door. The door and Clark both give a satisfying shudder. Bruce pushes Clark’s arm against the door, grabs Clark’s tie and pulls him straight into a kiss. The kiss is more like a bite. There’s a low, choked sound in Clark’s throat. Bruce feels Clark’s arm tense, hears his nails curl against the wood varnish. His hand squeezes tight.

Bruce shouldn’t have worried that Clark might try to take charge. Bruce could probably throw Clark to the floor and fuck him right there, and Clark would beg him for it.

He strips Clark’s clothes off, as fast as he can without ripping anything, because it wouldn’t be nice to rip anything. Clark has one suit and Bruce shouldn’t ruin it, but, God, all Bruce wants is to get to naked skin. Clark keeps touching Bruce all over with maddening good manners, like he’ll never be rough, like he wouldn’t dream of taking over and would never need to try. He’s being so nice and it feels so nice and he just goes on being nice while Bruce goes on doing anything he wants to. When Bruce gets to Clark’s pants, they’re already unzipped. He swears under his breath. A person can be too accommodating. Bruce is about to lose his mind. Instead, Bruce shoves his hand through Clark’s open fly. Clark spreads his legs for Bruce’s hand. Bruce makes an appreciative noise.

“Can we do this lying down?” Clark murmurs in his very normal way.

So much for the floor. Bruce, startled out of his mind-losing, muffles a laugh in Clark’s shoulder.

“Come on.” He leads Clark by the edges of his open shirt, then throws him down on his back in the center of the bed. Clark looks so pleased about it that Bruce almost laughs again. There are so many questions he could be asking, about Clark’s relationship to Lex, his relationship with Lois, whether he spends a lot of weekends (as an intrepid reporter) being fucked in interviewees’ hotel rooms. He doesn’t even want to ask, which is refreshing and disturbing at once. Clark rolls over when Bruce gives him a nudge, face down in the hotel’s down pillows. There’s a shiver in his shoulders. They’re more muscular than Bruce expects. It’s still not fear.

“Pants off,” he says shortly, mostly because it will give him a second to find a condom and lube in the recesses of his luggage. Clark rolls back around, kicking his clothes off and watching Bruce.

“I’m okay to you know,” he says without a pause, like “you know” is a legitimate sexual act.

Bruce raises his eyebrows. “Yes?”

Clark stops kicking, and says in the most wholesome, unlaughing way imaginable, “Have intercourse.”

Bruce refrains from saying any of the things that come to mind. It’s good of Clark to check their trajectory, he tells himself. It’s not unattractive, anyway. He tries not to feel self-conscious about the condom already in his hand.

Finally, he just says, “Good.”

He refuses to be unnerved by the lack of a cheeky smile at this juncture. Most of his partners would have a cheeky smile. Clark just waits, leaning back on his elbows, naked and unselfconscious. He doesn’t tire out, propped up like that. He watches Bruce undress and get ready like there’s nothing in the world to worry about.

Clark might be a confident nerd, but he’s still a nerd. Bruce thinks maybe he’s so oblivious to potential awkwardness that it just fails to materialize. Bruce wonders if he wears costumes at comic book conventions. Then he banishes the thought firmly. He decides to do Clark the courtesy of checking in, although he hates to talk in the middle, and he’d rather just pin him down and do what he wants.

“Tell me if you want me to stop.” His voice comes out rough as he lays his hand on Clark’s leg.

“I’ll be fine,” Clark says. “All set.” A little urgent, under the manners. Bruce gives Clark’s hair a tug and looks into his painfully blue eyes and tilted-back chin and feels it like lurching, ugly lightning through his entire body. He wants to destroy Clark.

“Fingers first?” he asks through clenched teeth. Clark’s eyes slide shut and he hums a yes that Bruce only understands because of the stiff, trapped nod that comes with it. Bruce shoves Clark roughly into place, forcing one knee up towards Clark’s chest. He slicks his fingers, and pushes one inside. He watches Clark squirm and flush.

Clark takes everything Bruce dishes out. He mostly keeps his eyes shut, which Bruce cannot imagine doing. Once, he reaches up and presses his hand hard against Bruce’s back. But he pulls it away quickly, slamming it flat-palmed against the bed and digging his fingers into the blankets. He’s not abnormally loud, but he doesn’t try to hide his noises. Bruce imagines him in a crappy apartment and a cheap bed, the sound of his voice lurching into his neighbors’ ears as he gets fucked. He has to shut his eyes for a second, fingers moving, to keep it together.

He flips Clark over onto his stomach, and even then, Clark’s moaning, panting voice doesn’t stop. By now, Bruce is shaking. He pulls Clark onto his dick, and while Clark is still gasping, clenches a fist in his hair and knocks his legs wide with his knees. Clark moans, but Bruce doesn’t give him time to adjust.He grips almost hard enough to bruise and slams forward with his full weight, until they’re both sweaty, noisy, shivering messes.

They go fast and hard and it doesn’t take long, but short and intense is better than slow anything else. Bruce comes hard enough to shout and not mind it, then flips back Clark over. He gets a hand around Clark’s hand, and Clark’s hand on his own cock, and jerks him off until Clark is screaming almost silently, biting into his lip, thrashing and rigid like the world is about to end. Bruce is almost scared by it, until Clark collapses back with a little chirp of shaky satisfaction. Bruce throws himself down next to Clark and they lie there, damp and breathing loudly.

Clark lies where Bruce has put him. He says blearily, “That was nice. Can I...stay lying down for a sec?”

“That’s fine,” Bruce says, surprising himself. “I mean, that would be good.” He drags a sheet around himself.

“Thank you,” says Clark. He says again, “That was nice.”

“Yes,” Bruce says. He feels himself start to frown. He hopes Clark sees it. A lot of things about Clark don’t seem to hang together, but Bruce can’t find the problem, yet, and it’s troubling him.
“Do you do this often, Mr. Kent?”

“Which?” Clark says, surprise in his voice. Mr. Kent may have been a little harsh.

“Let near-strangers sleep with you in their hotel rooms on a whim,” Bruce says smoothly. “I can’t say it’s what I expected when we met.” Clark’s physique isn’t what he expected either. If he’s a little more fair than he wants to be, at least one of these things is what he hoped for.

“As an adult,” Clark says, a touch crankily, “I sometimes make decisions. Anyway, how often do you proposition near strangers in your hotel room and then judge them for accepting? That’s not fair play, Mr. Wayne.”

“I’m not judging you,” Bruce corrects. “I just want to understand. You were very...restrained.” He catalogued that, too. It wasn’t modest restraint. It’s the kind of restraint Bruce has to exercise.

“I’m not trying to get at your secrets through sex,” Clark says, not unhappily. “I’m not a paparazzo. Don’t worry about that, Mr. Wayne. My interests were legitimate, and I had a good time. Anyway, you invited me.”

“That doesn’t mean much.” Bruce is glad to have something to pretend to be concerned about, though. His secrets aren’t easy to get at; people have tried stranger, worse tactics. “I guess I just don’t expect nice boys from Kansas to be so...amenable.”

“Nice boys from Kansas are a lot like nice boys from everywhere else,” Clark says, and then turns and hits Bruce with the full, blinding might of his smile. “They do like to get out sometimes.”

For a few seconds, Bruce is speechless. Then he does something incredibly rare, and says, “Sorry.”

“Thanks,” says Clark, instead of brushing it off. He sits up, twists to stretch his back, and gets out of the bed. “I should head out,” he says. “I’ve got a long day tomorrow. Try to enjoy the city with an open mind. If you need anything, you know where I work.”

He doesn’t say it like he expects Bruce to really call, but he doesn’t say it like he’ll call the cops if Bruce shows up, either.

“Okay,” Bruce says, because he’s at a loss for another response. “I’ll see you.” That, he means.

Clark puts his clothes back on with a smattering of smalltalk, and his goodbye comes with a smile and a wave that Bruce can’t feel bad about, exactly. But he does leave. That leaves Bruce, who just fucked a nice small-town boy who let his partner in journalism do all the talking, but who wasn’t intimidated by Bruce Wayne at all.

ii.

Bruce doesn’t call. He stays out the rest of the week in Metropolis, does a little sightseeing, then goes home. He tells himself that he needs to keep an eye on Gotham and doesn’t have time for harmless enigmas, but he can’t pretend avoidance isn’t one of his motivators. It was fun, but Bruce doesn’t want to repeat that little adventure. It’s not the kind of thing he does twice.

About three weeks later, though, he’s back in Metropolis to deal with one of Lex’s badly-timed fits of pique. Lex is supposed to meet him at the Metropolis Museum of Craft and Art, but he’s late enough that Bruce may have been stood up. This has been happening a lot lately.

When someone turns up whom Bruce knows, it’s not Lex. It’s Lois Lane. She’s obviously trying to be discreet, but discreet for Lois means a veritable wall of energy bursting out of her while she fails to look uninterested. The second it’s clear that Bruce sees her, she heads straight at him.

“Mr. Wayne,” she says with a tilt of her head. “I’m sorry to bother you--Lois Lane? Daily Planet? It’s an incredible exhibition, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Bruce says, recovering with invisible quickness. “I didn’t realize you covered culture. Or is this a day off?”

“There’s no such thing, Mr. Wayne.” Her teeth gleam. “To be absolutely truthful, I had heard a whisper of a rumor that you might be meeting Lex Luthor here. I guess they were half right…?”

Bruce sighs. At least Clark isn’t with her. “Lex is a busy man. And it wasn’t a business meeting, so that’s the end of your lead. You can go back to enjoying the art.”

“Hmm,” Lois says. “I was thinking more, lunch?”

Bruce sizes her up and, as with Clark, isn’t sure what he’s seeing. He knows what’s obvious. It’s not always smart to be satisfied with the obvious.

“Your partner isn’t around here, is he?” Probably the wrong question to ask, he thinks, and sure enough, her face lights up like a weasel that has just caught sight of something it can murder and eat.

“Not to worry,” she says. “It’s just you and me.”

“Then let me treat you to lunch,” Bruce says, breezing past his annoyance. To hell with Lex. He’s not going to show anyway.

“Absolutely I will,” Lois says. She doesn’t promise not to interrogate him, but that’s to be expected. Interrogation seems like Lois Lane’s primary mode of conversation.

They have a nice lunch and talk mostly about art, with politics, Metropolis, and Gotham barely skimmed. Bruce guesses it’s deliberate that Lois waits until dessert is turned down and the check has arrived to say, “What’s the problem with Clark, anyway? I can’t imagine him scaring you off. He’s about as frightening as a dandelion.”

“Say that to a gardener,” Bruce says reflexively, but he’s at a disadvantage. He has no idea how much Clark tells Lois. “But there’s no problem,” he says belatedly.

“All right,” Lois says. “I’m sure you can work it out on your own. I just know he thought you might run into each other, you know, in all those extra days you were here last time. Oh, here’s the check!”

Bruce busies himself with getting his card out. That way he doesn’t have to look at Lois when he says, “If you see him today, you can let him know I’m in town.”

“Sure,” Lois says. “Thanks for lunch.”

Bruce has a terrible feeling she’s just gotten what she wants.

~

He spends the rest of day holed up in his hotel over a laptop, glaring at the sunny day outside and checking his phone too often for messages from Lex. He tells himself it’s not his problem if Lex is in prison or dead, and it’s not so bad if the deal falls through. He also tells himself he doesn’t want Clark to call. In the evening he wanders down to the hotel bar. He could check the news, in case Lex’s face is on it, but he doesn’t.

The text of interest that he does finally get isn’t from Lex or Clark. Again, it’s Lois.

Told Clark and he said if u want to see him u will call him

Then,

If this is a hookup thing im now OUT but if theres a scoop and i’m not invited im kicking someones ass

Then,

I have better things to do than be a kindly matchmagkrog MATCHMAKER FOR BOYS I HAVE A CAREER AND LIFE so b blessed I even said anyting and GOOD LUCK GOODBYE, CALL IF YOU WANT 2 DISH RE LUTHOR

Bruce looks at his phone and smiles. Well then. If he doesn’t call now, he’s really an idiot. He goes through his contacts and finds Clark. This time it doesn’t go to voicemail.

“Clark Kent,” Clark answers, in the way of someone who expects not to know most of the people who call them.

“This is Bruce,” Bruce says, feeling stupid. “Wayne.”

“Oh,” says Clark. “I heard you were in town. Give me one second--” Sound through the phone grows blurry, and then he says, “--and you’re on. As the TV people say.”

Bruce laughs, charmed. “I thought--well, I should have called you last time. If you’re not too annoyed about that, I thought we might have some loose ends to pick up.” If they do dinner again, he’s making Clark pick the restaurant.

There’s a few seconds’ silence. Clark says, “Is this a daytime or a nighttime kind of thing you’re talking about? Euphemistically speaking? I don’t actually mind, you know, if you do one thing or the other in the other time.”

Bruce surprises himself by saying, “Both, ideally. Would that be acceptable?”

“All right,” Clark says. “I’m working right now. But you should meet me at the aquarium at four. You haven’t been to the aquarium, have you?”

 

“No,” Bruce says carefully.

“You should see the aquarium,” Clark confirms.

Bruce lets out a little sigh of relief. “I’ll take your word on that. See you at four.”

~

This is the first time Bruce has met Clark when he isn’t dressed to his (modest but presentable) personal nines. Bruce almost doesn’t spot him at first, and then he does. Of course, he thinks. Somewhere between work and aquarium, Clark has changed clothes, and now he’s semi-bashfully smiling in Bruce’s direction, plaid sleeves rolled up, hands in jeans pockets.

He’s not the only person to dress this way in fall in the city, but it’s a lot easier to think of him as a country boy dressed like this. And, Bruce thinks, it’s fair to say he wears it differently than a lot of people. He strides over to Clark, smiling back in spite of himself.

“Getting back to your roots?” he asks, indicating the outfit. Clark looks self-consciously down at himself.

“Which roots are those?” he says. “I thought I dressed okay. Actually, I thought Lois was the only person in Metropolis with a prejudice against flannel.”

“You look good,” Bruce says. “You look like you’re from Smallville.” He can’t begrudge the change of presentation. It’s not like he wears his whole identity on his sleeve.

“And yet, I’m not much of a farmer,” Clark says. “It’s a big disappointment.”

“Sometime you’ll have to tell me how you ended up here,” Bruce says.

“Sure,” Clark says. “I’m--not a disappointment. By the way. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my parents.”

“Don’t tell me your family is as presentable as the rest of you,” Bruce says. He can’t imagine Lex and Clark in the same room, let alone interacting.

“What’s that mean?” Clark asks, but he turns toward the entrance and looks back for Bruce to catch up. “You aren’t afraid of fish, right?”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Bruce says.

“I just know people who are creeped out by fish,” Clark says. They pay and go in--Bruce isn’t quick enough to stop Clark from getting their tickets in--and find themselves surrounded by dark tanks filled with glittering, moving creatures. Hoards of children and tourists with cameras wash up against them from every direction.

“Let’s find the turtles first,” Clark says. “I like the turtles.”

Clark is the kind of person who’s easy to go places with, because he talks. He talks, but he doesn’t barrage. Bruce follows Clark through the aquarium, wondering. He hasn’t been so perplexed by a person in--a while, at least. With his luck, Clark really will turn out to be a criminal. Bruce almost hopes it takes him some time to figure it out. They stop at the ray tank last, and by then Bruce knows a lot (but not too much) about Clark’s parents, hometown, and opinions on the quiet country life (generally positive). He doesn’t touch politics, business, or anything related to Lex Luthor. Bruce considers holding Clark’s hand, but he still has a reputation to maintain. Besides, Clark might take it as a sign of trust, or something else that Bruce would never offer. Anyway, for one reason or another, Clark seems to actually value personal space--even on a date. Bruce deeply appreciates it.

It’s all too appealing. Bruce is looking for the catch. Is it worse if there isn’t one?

They wait for a gap between children and put their hands flat in the water. The rays glide, soft and flexible, under Bruce’s hand. It’s peculiar to feel like they’re wet compared to the water all around them. Bruce takes Clark’s hand in his after all.

“So,” he says. “What’s your dark secret?”

“Mine?” Clark says. “Oh, mine. Well, I am dating Lois.”

“What?” Bruce barks.

“She doesn’t mind!” Clark says. “I didn’t think you would mind. But now you know.”

Bruce is so taken aback that for a second he’s not sure he does mind. Then he says, “Isn’t she a little out of your league?”

Clark’s head swivels back and he stares at Bruce, incredulous.

“Oh, thanks,” he says. “At least that puts her out of your league, as well--wait, does that mean I’m out of yours?”

Bruce grits his teeth. “I misspoke.” If he can have secrets, so can Clark. And they’ve only had one and a half dates. “I’m sorry.”

This must be the record number of apologies any one person has gotten out of Bruce.

“Oh, sure,” Clark says. “I forgive you. That’s easy for me, since I’m completely out of your league.”

Bruce laughs. “I--Jesus Christ, you have a lot of confidence for someone dressed like that.”

“I thought you liked it,” Clark says. Is it Lois who’s taught him to be completely unswayed by personal comments? Did he come this way?

“No, I didn’t--look,” Bruce says. “Now that I’m aware of the whole situation--barring other secret girlfriends--where does that leave us?”

“We’re blocking the ray tank, Bruce,” Clark says. “Pet the rays.”

Reluctantly, Bruce turns his attention back to the water. Flat jelly bodies glide past him, some brushing his fingertips. Possibly some people find this relaxing, but Bruce does not relax. At least this answers the worrying question of whether Clark is perfect.

He’s waiting, very much waiting, for Clark to ask about his secret girlfriend. It’s almost annoying that he doesn’t, like a nerve pinging an itch you can’t scratch away. Behind them, a kid makes an anguished sound of frustration.

“That’s our turn,” Clark says, stepping back suddenly. He flicks the water off his hand. Children instantly fill the space. Bruce steps out of the way after him.

“We should go back to my hotel,” Bruce says as Clark picks his way to the the handwash station. “If that’s still on the table.”

Clark frowns, casting a look about their surroundings as if to say, “Do you not see masses of innocent children rolling around petting rays at our feet?” Bruce hates children.

“Can we at least get out of this noise?”

“All right,” Clark says meekly, climbing awkwardly toward the door of an aquarium that has no right to be packed with people fifteen minutes before close.

When they’re free and Bruce can breathe, he says coolly, “That was nice. Right?” He feels as though he’s completely lost his footing, so he distances himself. He doesn’t reach for Clark’s hand again.

“Nice,” Clark says. They might be on uneven ground, on the boardwalk in the dusk, but there’s still a simple pleasure in seeing a red-cheeked Clark out of sorts, looking around blusteringly with his hands on his hips.

“Are we...hooking up?” Bruce forces himself to ask. “Is that what we’re doing?”

Clark looks mournfully back at the aquarium full of children, but there’s really no one here to overhear them.

“I don’t know, Mr. Wayne,” he says. “What are you looking for it to be?”

“I don’t know,” Bruce says. “Contrary to what the tabloids say, I don’t do this kind of thing every day. But this was nice. The date part.”

“You aren’t honestly mad that I’m seeing someone?” Clark says. “I mean, you must see people, even if you’re not--”

“I know,” Bruce says quickly. “I’m not angry. You make me…” He casts about for a better word and doesn’t find one. “Uncomfortable. I don’t have a lot of space in my life for things I can’t understand.” Because he’s famous. That almost holds together.

“I’m not that mysterious,” Clark says mildly. “Most people would say I’m not mysterious at all! Which is a little unfair, but--”

“So you’re just a reporter who gets around,” Bruce suggests. “Fine. That’s fine. Then we’re going to my hotel.”

Clark opens his mouth, and seems to rethink. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I’m just a reporter who gets around. If we go to your hotel, would it be okay to stop by a McDonald’s or something first? I’m starving. No lunch.”

Bruce laughs. “Are you--? What about room service?

Whatever else there may be in all this, he’ll figure it out. He will.

~

Halfway through their dinner, Bruce gets a call. As soon as he sees who it is, he says, “Excuse me,” and shuts himself in the other half of his suite before Clark can say a word. As soon as the door is locked and he’s placed himself in the far corner of the bedroom, Bruce turns his face down and says quietly, “Yes? What is it?” He said only to call in an emergency.

“Exactly how far away from getting back to Gotham are you, right now?” Dick says.

“Hours,” Bruce says shortly. “Dick, what is it?”

“I think I’m going out,” Dick says. “No biggie. Just time sensitive. That’s okay, right?”

“No,” Bruce says. Dick knows it isn’t. “I told you, no going out alone. It’s not safe. If it’s urgent, I can fly out.” He can imagine this quickly becoming a nightmare scenario. He shouldn’t have left Gotham.

“Can you calm down for one second?” Dick says, exasperated but a little cautious. “You know I’ve been doing this for three years? I’m not going to engage with anybody, just collect a little evidence before it disappears.”

“No,” Bruce says again, like saying it enough times will make Dick listen. “I told you, these people operate on fear. And no matter how nice it would be to say otherwise, they’re not afraid of Robin. Not by himself. If anyone sees you…”

“It’s not even anyone scary,” Dick says. “It’s not even anyone that anyone scary likes! It’s just one little thing, and I can handle it, Bruce, if you’d just stop acting like someone’s going to catch me the second I put my foot out the--”

“No!” Bruce takes a breath and glances at the door. Lowering his voice, he says, “I can’t stop you, but there will be consequences if you don’t respect my judgment.”

There’s a stung silence over the phone. Bruce could have asked Dick nicely, maybe, but it was already too late for that.

Dick finally says, “How are things in Metropolis?”

Bruce takes a deep breath. He rubs his forehead. He doesn’t apologize. “Fine. I haven’t seen Lex. I have seen Clark Kent.”

“That reporter?” Dick says. “Again? Careful what you show him, the Planet’s a rag.” It’s not, but Dick is in all things Gotham-loyal by ferocious choice.

“I didn’t show him anything,” Bruce says, truthfully in one of Dick’s senses, and not at all truthfully in the other. “And if I did, he wouldn’t print it. We’re on good terms.”

“Okay,” Dick says.

Bruce takes a deep breath. “Please stay safe tonight, Dick. I’ll fly out in the morning.”

“I’m fine,” Dick says. It’s almost weaseling, but how often does Dick finally refuse to toe the line? Not often. “It’s a good lead. Maybe it’ll be good tomorrow.” Clearly it won’t.

“We’ll manage,” Bruce says. “I have to get back to--I have to go.” He suspects Lois is easier to deal with than this.

“Night,” says Dick tersely. “Enjoy fighting crime in Metropolis with Clark Kent or whoever.”

Bruce hangs up. When he’s had a second to get his temper back, he returns to the other room.

“Sorry,” he says, shooting Clark a smile. “Work thing.”

“Mm,” Clark agrees. Bruce puts a preemptive stop to any real words by kissing him. The rest of dinner will be nearly as good cold. Besides, Bruce would rather Clark think there was nothing on his mind more important than some friendly sex.

~

Afterwards, Bruce rolls over and immediately starts booking a flight on his phone.

“That bad?” Clark says remorsefully, but when Bruce looks up, “Kidding. But you bring your work stress right to bed, did you know that?”

“I’ve been told,” Bruce says, trying not to think about Gotham. “I’ve got to fly out first thing in the morning.” It wasn’t what he wanted and it probably won’t help anyway, but he has to go.

“Mm,” Clark says, which he’s been saying a lot. “RIght, yes. I’ll get out of your way. Feel free to call next time you’re…”

“Staying in an overpriced hotel in Metropolis?” Bruce asks, tossing his phone aside. “It might be easier to meet at your place next time.” If that’s not overstepping. If Clark and Lois aren’t secretly living together, too.

Clark laughs. “Were you thinking of slumming it?”

“I was thinking of prying into your private affairs,” Bruce says testily.

“Oh, well it’s easy to pry,” Clark says. “My private affairs are about the size of this suite.”

“I’ll take that into account in my scheming,” Bruce says. He shifts closer and presses his nose into Clark’s bare shoulder.

“Mmm,” Clark says. This sound is slightly different. Bruce likes it better. “Where did you go to school?”

Bruce props himself up on his elbow. “Hm? Princeton. But I didn’t finish.”

“No, before that.”

“A prep school,” Bruce says. “Excelsior.”

“That explains the Luthorcorp deal,” Clark says. It breaks his own rule about talking business in bed, and Bruce nearly calls him on it, but first he has to shoot this down. He hates it when people associate him with Lex.

“No,” he says, annoyed. He wishes he had more clothes on. “I mean, yes. That’s how we know each other. How do you know him?”

“I told you,” Clark says. “We grew up in...proximity to each other. That fancy school didn’t buy him manners, either.”

Bruce spares a moment to take in the unspoken implication--that Clark and Lex are more than passing acquaintances.

“Don’t judge me by my friends and I’ll do you the same courtesy,” Bruce says, without any malice. It’s just not worth it, with Clark. “My manners are my own fault.” He smiles, hoping Clark takes it as an apology. For one of the few people whom Bruce never seems to upset, Clar is awfully good at wringing apologies out of him. Without trying, even.

“I’m not judging you,” Clark says. He sticks his arm beneath his head. “You’re welcome to come to my place. I just didn’t think you’d--it’s just, reporters aren’t paid all that well.”

“I don’t care,” Bruce says sharply. Sometimes he forgets about being Bruce Wayne and having pampered tastes and needing everything just so. “But we can meet where you want. It’s fine. I’ll be back in a few weeks, anyway.” He hadn’t planned to be, but he can find a reason. If he even needs a reason.

~

True to his word, Bruce flies out first thing in the morning. He comes back to the manor sleepless, distracted, and still thinking about Clark. That isn’t right. He should be thinking about Dick, and whether he did anything stupid last night.

Dick, whether on not he did something stupid last night, is making himself scarce for a Saturday morning. Not even Alfred can point Bruce in the right direction. Eventually Bruce tracks him down by process of elimination and presence of dog. The dog is at the foot of one of the huge fir trees far back on the grounds, and Dick is in the tree, precariously high and hanging upside-down with headphones on.

“Dick!” Bruce calls up to him. He tries not to sound angry. “Come down so we can talk!”

Dick visibly plays with the idea of pretending not to hear. After a few seconds, he reaches down to grab another branch, unhooks his legs from the first, and swings down to start his descent. He’s about eight feet off the ground when he pushes his headphones back and says, “Hi.”

Bruce winces. He’s athletic, but not like Dick. “I always think you’re going to break your neck,” he says. “Dick, I need to know if you went out last night.”

As usual, he’s starting out all wrong. The neutral look on Dick’s face flattens out further. “How was Metropolis? Did you ever catch Luthor or was it Clark Kent all the way?”

“No Lex,” Bruce says. He really wants Dick out of that tree. “I think he’s avoiding me. Kent is an associate of his, though.” A misrepresentation, which Dick is smart enough to see through, but Bruce is in no mood.

“Huh,” Dick says. He rocks back and forth on his heels, fingers catching the branch before he can topple out of the tree. “So I guess if I did go out, it’s two of us who were playing with bad guys when they shouldn’t be.”

Dick,” Bruce says sharply. They’re not in the cave and they shouldn’t be having this conversation, even aside from the personal remarks. But here they are. “It’s entirely different, and you are going to tell me what you did. Then, maybe I’ll return the favor.”

Dick raises an eyebrow.

“You like Metropolis so much lately,” he says. “I thought it was Luthor corp but he keeps skipping out on your meetings. You don’t usually put up with that from anybody. So it must not be Luthor you’re there for after all.”

Bruce expects Dick to figure out this much, but normally he’d also expect Dick to hide it. He’s either very angry or hiding something very bad. Either way, Bruce wishes he hadn’t lingered in Metropolis for the sake of a good time.

“It’s not,” Bruce says, perturbed. “It’s a romantic entanglement. Please come talk to me.” It’s better than he usually does. He should do better than he usually does.

Dick gets down.

“It’s not fair you’re always taller,” he says. “I should carry around a ladder.”

“I have a ladder,” Bruce says, momentarily relieved. “You’re not hurt, are you?” Clearly Dick is not in pain, but there are plenty of other kinds of disaster.

“I told you I wouldn’t get in trouble,” Dick says with the finite patience of a capable teenager. “Also, I’m not dead. Or on the front page. Or on any page. So what does the romantic entanglement do when they’re at work?”

“He’s a reporter,” Bruce says through his teeth. “Stop it.”

Dick says, “Sorry.” He always means it. Bruce sighs.

“I should have been here last night. I shouldn’t have been distracted.” It’s never comfortable, talking to Dick about anyone else. Not least because Dick won’t always react, and Bruce can’t guess what he feels.

“Nothing bad happened,” Dick repeats. “If you--do you want to know what happened? Or not?”

“I do,” Bruce says.

“You could stop acting like I died,” Dick suggests. “It makes it hard to relate the facts. All these fantastic notions, I mean. All this giving a--what’s that, the speech about dead people?”

“Eulogy,” Bruce says drily. “I’m not allowed to worry? Well, go on.”

Dick sighs. “Sometimes I don’t know what you think I’m good for. I made a report? I put it on your desk. I didn’t go out, but maybe some of it will still be useful. If you do something about it right away. If you read my report.”

Bruce exhales. A report. Jesus. He puts his hand on Dick’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he says. “Well done.” It’s as close to sorry as he’ll get. It was right to keep Dick home.

But Dick is suddenly all smiles. He leans towards Bruce’s arm, carelessly affectionate, then pulls back and stretches.

“I didn’t eat breakfast,” he says. “Alfred said he’d make it when you got here. Did he see you yet? Say yes, I’m so hungry.”

“Yes, yes, he’s making it, I think,” Bruce says, still perturbed. Dick sometimes proves to be an unknown quantity, even after all this time. “Let’s go. And stay out of trees for at least the rest of today.”

“Stay out of trees,” Dick scoffs. “Bruce. Normal kids climb trees.” A beat, and then, “Don’t you want me to be normal?”

Bruce sighs. But it would be difficult to genuinely wish for Dick to be anything other than what he already is.

iii.

The deal with Luthorcorp is supposed to keep Lex out of Gotham, but that isn’t what happens. If anything, Lex takes it as an open invitation. He’s given access to exactly one Wayne Enterprises facility, a small, mostly disused site with R&D space and a few high-scale production printers. They, together, are supposed to be producing super lightweight emergency supply backpacks for refugees. Lex appears to be making space suits.

It’s like he knows that Bruce doesn’t hate anything more than people in his territory using his own resources against him, and has decided to do the most ludicrous possible version of this thing. The problem with Lex is, he’s not entirely a Bruce Wayne problem or a Batman problem. Everyone in big business is some kind of a villain, but until now Bruce had thought Lex was a Wayne kind of villain, not a Batman one. Therefore, Wayne is the name alongside Lex’s, while Lex issues death threats over something that sounds too silly to merit them, and therefore probably isn’t silly at all.

Bruce puts on a necktie, makes sure there’s a knife in his sock, and goes the facility Lex is working out of. Their deal, which after three months finally came to fruition only a week ago, already feels like one of Bruce’s worst ideas ever. They’re supposed to be doing something that makes both of them look good--and in theory this works, because in theory, they’re not evil.

Space suits. Of all the damned things.

When Bruce arrives on the production floor, Lex has the gall to look surprised, innocent, and possessively wary.

“Hi,” Bruce says flatly. “What, exactly, do you think you are doing?”

“It’s simple, Mr. Wayne,” Lex says, which is when Bruce remembers (as he always does, in person) that Lex is not as smart as he would like to be. Smart doesn’t pretend not to be on a first name basis while condescending to Bruce about what kind of fool he’s being taken for.

“I’m multi-tasking,” Lex says. “While we’re getting what we both want out of this giving-to-the-war-orphans deal, I’m getting something else I need. It’s just not convenient to make them at home. Surely you can understand.”

Bruce takes a few more steps, enough to make Lex uncomfortable. “I don’t care what you’re making,” he says. “This wasn’t the deal.” If he were Batman, he’d be punching Lex in the face by now. “I don’t like it when people don’t stick to their deals.”

“I’m going so far forward, Bruce,” Lex says. “Do you want to go forward? Sometimes I think you’d rather bury your parents’ company in the mud. We’re going to space, Bruce. We’re privatizing more than satellites now.”

Bruce clamps down on his fury. “Oh, I don’t think we are,” he says. “We’re dissolving this partnership. I’ll find someone else to take up your role.”

“That’s a mistake, Bruce,” Lex says. “You don’t understand what I’m doing. I knew you wouldn’t until I could show you, but now--”

Several alarms blare at once.

“Thank god,” Bruce mutters. Not that those alarms should be going off, but he didn’t want to hear any more of Lex being Lex. “That means someone came in where they weren’t supposed to,” he tells Lex. “One of yours?”

“What?” Lex says. “No. All of my people are--”

The air around them seems to be sucked away. (Are we in space now? Bruce wonders for half a second.) And then it is back, the air, in a blast of wind, and there, in Gotham, against every rule, is Superman.

You,” Bruce says, with more venom than Bruce Wayne would. He adjusts. “Superman? Don’t you live in Metropolis?”

“Sorry for intruding,” Superman says. “Metropolis seems to have exported a rat to you accidentally.”

“What are you doing here?” Lex demands.

“I can handle this situation,” Bruce tells both of them. This is ridiculous. “I’m sorry, is Lex an alien problem now?” Space, Bruce reminds himself.

“Lex is a talented man,” Superman says. “Lex can cause problems in more than one place at a time.” The lightness in his voice is thinning into a hard, sharp thing. Man of steel, Bruce reminds himself. “While he’s been making suits on your property, Mr. Wayne, he’s been making everything else he needs elsewhere. And not all of that is very nice when it’s a manned mobile weapons station, is it?”

“I’m not sure what you’re saying,” Lex says smoothly.

Bruce swears under his breath. He should have caught this. But he’s not having any little war play out on his territory. “Lex, I mean it. We’re done, and so is everything you’ve made here. As for the rest, you two are free to work it out in Metropolis.” Having Superman here makes Bruce’s teeth itch.

“Of course,” Superman says. “Normally I’d have let you work out your problems yourself, let me assure you. But this one is my problem, unfortunately. And he has to tell me where the weapons are being kept.”

“There are no weapons,” Lex says. “I’m not weapons dealer, freak.” But even plausible deniability is never very plausible on him.

“I’m not concerned about you dealing them,” Bruce says.

“Better just get them out of the picture,” Superman says. A suggestion to Bruce? “Meanwhile, I think you’d better come back to Metropolis and put the rest of this project to bed--don’t you think, Mr. Luthor?”

“I do not,” Lex says. Superman isn’t rude about it, like Bruce wants to be (and even Dick would be). He just picks Lex up and carries him away. Through the air. There they go.

~

Bruce arranges the flight as soon as he gets home. He flies out that night. He’s still angry enough not to be thinking clearly. Superman came to his city and took care of his problem. This time he takes a private plane. There are some things he needs to bring.

Since he’s in Metropolis, Bruce does what anyone trying to meet Superman would do: he goes looking for trouble. He stops three muggings before he starts to get really frustrated. Batman isn’t here to clean up Metropolis, and what is Superman doing all the while, anyway?

Instead, he goes up on a rooftop and gets ready to jump off.

Nothing.

Well, it’s a big city. He wishes he had a Superman signal--what he does have are some flash grenades. He sets off two, standing at the edge of the roof and sending them rolling across the rooftop. Thirty seconds later, he’s there, floating imperiously above with that obnoxious chiseled mug and those obnoxious chiseled pecs. (What about Metropolis gives everyone these pecs?)

“Are you trying to kill yourself or just get my attention?” Superman says.

“I could have killed myself in Gotham,” Bruce growls. “Which is my point. I stay in Gotham, you stay in Metropolis.”

“I thought you might be upset about that,” Superman says. “Unfortunately, it really was a Metropolis problem. You just imported it. Or rather, Bruce Wayne did.”

Bruce squares off opposite Superman. What’s he going to do, punch him? Possibly. “Then you could have left me to send him back home. You don’t come into my city. Ever.”

“It was a timing issue,” Superman explains. “I had to shut things down fast. You were, no offense, taking the scenic route. There was a situation here you didn’t know about, and Batman wasn’t even on the scene when I got there. Sorry if your territory has been invaded. I won’t make a habit of it. But I really think the fault lies with the man who brought Luthor into Gotham to begin with.”

Bruce can’t argue with that. For one thing, Superman isn’t wrong. For another, it wouldn’t look good to get defensive on a corporate suit’s behalf. But everything about Superman, from his stance to his manners, is positively infuriating.

“I’ll deal with that, then,” he says. “My way.”

“Great,” says Superman.

Great,” Bruce repeats flatly. “Who do you think you are?”

“I’m sorry you’re angry,” Superman says, and the worst part is that he means it. “But I can’t apologize for being there. More was at stake than your pride or any territory.” He adds gently, “Maybe it’s time to go back to Gotham.”

Bruce knows that if he hits Superman, he’ll either miss or break his hand, which may be why he says, “Maybe it’s time for you to go home, too. All the way."

“Earth is my home,” Superman says. “Are your politics on all immigration all this draconian, or do you have a special grudge against extraterrestrials who dare to set foot on your turf when you’re not paying it close enough attention?”

"I was paying attention!” Bruce practically shouts. “And I’m not going to waste more of my time when I could be back in Gotham.” He’s not going to let Superman know his numerous and detailed reservations about aliens.

"No one’s keeping you,” Superman says wryly. “Would you like a lift home?”

“I heard about the lift you gave Luthor,” Bruce says. “Save it. What did you do with him, anyway?”

“Would you like me to tell you I placed him in a prison at the heart of the Sun?” Superman says.

Bruce would not like that. And he didn’t know that Superman was sarcastic. “You didn’t kill him, did you?” He forces his tone to return to mild. He shouldn’t be wasting a second on this.

“Of course I didn’t,” Superman says. “It’s fine. Go home, Batman.”

“I’m going,” Bruce turns to follow through with his leap. “Next time, let humans handle human problems. You don’t know what you’re doing.” And he’s gone.

~

Lex doesn’t come back to Gotham. He quietly withdraws from their deal, as if the showdown in Gotham didn’t happen. Superman keeps to Metropolis, which does not make it an appealing place to go. Bruce stews about it for two weeks before calling Lois and offering her an exclusive on the dissolution of his deal with Lex, and his intention on continuing the project with another partner. He has to fix up his company’s image, at the very least. This time, he flies her into Gotham. He knows the Gotham press will throw a fit when the story comes out, but in this particular case, he’s willing to be a little selfish.

He considers sending Alfred to meet them but opts to go himself. he’s been cooped up at all hours he isn’t scouring the city in a rage, and it’s good to do something normal on his own. At the gate, Lois successfully fails to look surprised at his presence. Clark is so polite they might never have met before. They make a cute couple. If Dick were with him, Dick would be sure to say so.

Bruce gets them into the house on the power of platitudes about how their trip was. Once there, he casts a glance around to make sure Dick isn’t nearby and needing to be introduced, and seats them.

“You look good,” he says, trying to catch Clark’s eye.

“Easy flight,” Lois says.

“If you say so,” says Clark.

“He hates airplanes,” Lois explains.

“They’re supposed to be efficient and they aren’t,” Clark says. “And they’re not built for anyone over four feet tall.”

Bruce smiles. “Charming as ever, Mr. Kent.” He feels like he should say something. About how Clark and Lois are a couple. Or about where he and Clark left things. But this is supposed to be professional, and talking directly to either of them with the other one sitting there is difficult.

Lois, either ignorant of the situation or more intelligent than either of them, steers talk back around to the story they’ve been promised. She gets everything he promised her, and a couple angles even Bruce didn’t expect. Then all that’s left is offering them the cordial farewell, the address of a hotel, and a list of things they can do with their evening.

“Don’t you want to show us the sights yourself?” Lois asks.

Bruce glances at Clark. “I’m not as good a tour guide as Mr. Kent. I have a prior engagement, but I could drop by later, if…”

“Don’t be afraid to interrupt,” Lois says. “As long as you book us two rooms, that is. Although honestly, Mr. Wayne, I’m wracking my brain trying to decide what’s more insulting, you trying to go on a date with my boyfriend when I’m sitting right here, or the idea that you might be enough of a cheapskate to book one room for two reports when you have no reason to know anything at all about their personal lives.”

Bruce is never prepared for Lois.

“Two rooms,” he says after a second. “And do you get veto power on all dates? This situation is a little new to me.”

“Help,” says Clark.

“Oh, come on,” Lois says. “Let’s sight-see. I’ll drop you off at the hotel at seven and he can have you then. I’d offer a three-way but, no offense, Mr. Wayne, I only love you for your stories. Anyway, I’ve got plenty to do tonight without dragging you along, Kent.”

Bruce is startled into laughter. “I see she’s your manager, too, Clark.” It would be nice if he could get Clark to meet his eyes or smile at him.

“Mm,” Clark says, which is starting to look like a real tic. He’s regarding Lois with a happy, tired fondness that Bruce doesn’t quite recognize. He doesn’t generally feel insecure about anything, but he finds himself wondering why Clark bothers to branch out.

“Well,” he says briskly. “I’ll meet you then.” Unless, of course, something comes up.

“Guess so,” Clark says, but there’s not any bite in it, at least.

~

Bruce shows up at seven-thirty, with no crime-related delays so far. He didn’t tell Dick where he was going, although Dick probably knows. Bruce knocks on Clark’s door, regretting it already.

“Come in!” Clark’s voice says, and then, “Wait, never--” and the door opens with Clark on the other side. “I forgot it was locked,” he says. “Really.”

Bruce laughs. “Not trying to keep me out on purpose?”

“Why would I?” Clark says. “Because of Lois? Trust me, you get past being embarrassed by straight talk, or you stop being Lois’s partner. In any capacity.”

“I like her,” Bruce says, stepping inside. “And clearly, you like her. A lot. But you still make the time to see me. I’ll be honest, if I had someone like Lois, that would probably be all I had time for.”

“You can leave if you feel that badly about it,” Clark says.

Bruce says, “Shut up,” and kisses him. Clark pushes back harder than before, like for every inch he gives and every noise he makes, there’s a solid wall behind it. He gets his hand on Bruce’s collar and squeezes his fist tight. He lets himself be pushed backwards, kissing like he intends to win. Bruce pushes Clark down on the bed and swears he can feel the room shake. He climbs on top of him and bites back a gasp when Clark matches his force with every move.

He’s bearing down on Clark’s shoulders when Clark reaches up and pushes so firmly that Bruce’s elbows buckle. Clark grabs a kiss out of him, his knee pushing up between Bruce’s legs. Bruce swears and clutches Clark.

“You really want the upper hand, don’t you?” he mutters. As if it’s a contest. Clark’s answer is to flip Bruce onto his back, pinning his arms securely to the bed. Bruce makes a frustrated noise, then kisses Clark almost viciously. “I don’t like being pinned,” he says, pulling away. “I don’t want to hurt you by accident.”

“You won’t,” Clark says. “I can take care of myself.”

Bruce grunts and flips Clark onto his back, hard. “You’re right. You don’t look hurt.” He kisses him again, testing. Whatever the moment was, it seems to have passed. Clark lets Bruce take control, and if he’s still a little more--muscular--than usual, it feels normal again. By the end, Bruce has Clark on his stomach, sobbing into his pillows. He gets Clark to come while he’s still inside, then keeps fucking him until he comes after. He wouldn’t say so, but he’s a little anxious to see how Clark will be once Bruce has turned him over.

He watches Clark, as they get their breath back. He tries the sentence out a few times in his head, then says, “How...was that. For you?”

“It was good,” Clark says. “You?” No sarcasm, no hint of that oddness, too normal and nice to get a read on whether he’s hiding anything behind it.

~

Alfred greets Bruce when he comes home. Alfred, but not Dick.

“Master Bruce,” he says with a nod. “A profitable night out, I trust?”

Bruce eyes him suspiciously. He’s still turning the enigma that is Clark over in his head. “Not very,” he says.

“All play and no work is not always the wrong way to spend an evening,” Alfred says thoughtfully. He takes Bruce’s coat as they move towards the stairs.

“Sometimes I wish you paid a little less attention,” Bruce sighs. “But maybe you can tell me what I’m missing.” Maybe there’s nothing, and Clark just makes no sense. Normalcy makes no sense.

“How so, sir?” Alfred pauses at the bottom of the staircase that leads to the family rooms.

“Clark Kent makes no sense,” Bruce says.

“Does he not? I was under the impression that he is a mild-mannered reporter,” Alfred says.

“That’s strange enough,” Bruce says. “But I don’t know what else.”

“Not everyone has a secret identity, Master Bruce. Some people are more or less as they appear--although we all have some secrets, I suppose.”

Bruce stops short of sharing the details of his sex life with Alfred. “He’s just been...inconsistent.”

“As I am sure you would never be, regardless of you hidden obligations.”

Bruce is going to respond, something about Clark not having that excuse. He’s going to, but instead he freezes with one foot on the stairs. “Wait,” he says.

“Wait, sir?”

Bruce’s heart is pounding. “What does Superman look like?” he demands. “I’ve only seen him in the dark or at a distance.” He’s only seen Clark without his glasses in the dark, too.

“Surprising, given his diurnal tendencies. Plenty of other people have seen him during the day. There are lots of pictures.”

“I know that.” Bruce is working up to being furious at himself. He whips out his phone and Googles Superman. There’s no question. The cheekbones, the eyes. He should have seen it. But if he missed it, so did at least a dozen other people who know Clark. Bruce swears under his breath. “It’s him.”

“Sir?”

“Clark Kent,” Bruce spits, showing Alfred the phone, “is Superman. Look. The glasses are the only difference.” Not only that, though. Clark’s stance, the way he holds himself, the way he casts his voice, are all different. Bruce should be able to see through that. He does it, too.

“The gentleman you were visiting with,” Alfred says. “Your reporter.”

“My--yes,” Bruce says. “This is so embarrassing. I’ve been seeing him.”

“And now at last you have seen him,” Alfred says. “Rather good that his partner at the paper writes so many of the best known pieces on the Man of Steel. Do you think she knows, Master Bruce?”

“She’s not an idiot,” Bruce says in exasperation. “She must.” He can’t even be angry. It’s not like he told Clark what he does at night. But the fact that he talked to Superman--yelled at him, actually, and told him to leave the planet--that certainly explains the degree of Midwestern nice that was being leveled at him today.

“Damn it,” Bruce says. “Why did he let me--? Damn it.”

“I will wager a guess, sir,” Alfred says, “that your relationship with Superman is not as warm as the one you share with Mr. Kent.”

“I went to Metropolis and told him off,” Bruce says. “He deserved it. He interfered in Gotham. And of course I only saw him at a distance. He hovers. And Clark is…” He doesn’t know how Clark feels. “He’s not human.”

“We all have faults, sir,” Alfred says graciously. “And it doesn’t seem to have mattered, does it?”

“He can lift a car,” Bruce says, not liking the note of panic in his voice. Superman has always worried Bruce, but it’s worse having been in bed with him. “A train car!”

“Not entirely relevant,” Alfred suggests, “if you’re merely conversing. Or in any other case, so long as you haven’t been too rude and he’s as decent as the picture painted in his popular image.”

Bruce opens his mouth to say that’s not the point, but Alfred’s right. Bruce is acting like Lex. Lex.

“Shit,” Bruce says. He clears his throat. “I just don’t like missing things,” he says. He’s still missing some. Does Lex know? If he does, it raises more questions still.

And is it even remotely possible that Clark doesn’t know about him?

“I suppose that finding out the nice Kansas boy is as strong as five hundred Batmans isn’t doing your mood any favors,” says Alfred. “It is a surprise.”

“I don’t like it,” Bruce says. “He shouldn’t be involved in human business.” But Bruce knows Clark now. It’s hard for that not to affect his image of Superman.

“Perhaps not,” Alfred says. “Although I’m not entirely sure what other kinds of business he might have. Do you happen to know anything about Mr. Kent’s family, Master Bruce?”

“Not really,” Bruce says, a little chagrined. “I know he has one. Back in Smallville.”

“Ah,” says Alfred. “Well, perhaps you might ask him. It could be very enlightening.”

“I think I will,” Bruce says. It’s late, but why should that matter to either of them? “Thanks, Alfred. I won’t be back for awhile.”

~

When Clark opens the door to the suite, it is clear that the call from the concierge woke him up.

“What?” he says, not a demand but a statement of amazement about the world.

“Tell me about your parents,” Bruce says, pushing past him into the room. He’s letting me push him, Bruce thinks.

“At three in the morning?” Clark says hopelessly. “Why?”

“Your parents,” Bruce repeats. “Your town. Is any of that true?”

“Is what true?” Clark says. “What is happening?”

“You’re Superman,” Bruce spits. “Why didn’t you say something?”

What?” Clark says, but it’s a shout really. If Lois is here, she’s going to wake up soon.

“Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out?” Bruce asks. “That the person I’m sleeping with has superpowers? Why didn’t you--after that fiasco on the rooftop, why--?”

What rooftop?” Clark says. “Are you high?”

Bruce bangs his hand against the wall. Stupid.

“I--yeah. Maybe I am.” He needs to take a second before he ruins things for himself. “But I’m still not stupid. I can see you.”

“Is this some kind of anxiety thing?” Clark says. “Listen, I’m sure it’s occurred to you, so I admit I heard you talking on the phone that time. To--you know, to Robin. I get it if you’re afraid I’ll tell somebody. I’m a reporter, telling people things is my job. But honestly, Bruce, making accusations of identity at three in the morning isn’t going to get me on your side.”

“You did,” Bruce says, heart sinking. He knew it. “You--hang on. If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, I’d like to reiterate my previous accusation. How the hell else did you hear anything?”

“I had to go to the bathroom,” Clark says. “I eavesdropped. Sorry.”

“I doubt I spoke loudly enough for someone to overhear by accident,” Bruce says. “But I believe that Superman’s hearing is very good.”

Clark rolls his eyes. “I’m sure it’s super,” he says. “Listen, I won’t tell. I’m a reporter, not a paparazzo. I don’t sleep with people for stories. And if I knew who Superman was, I wouldn’t tell that, either!”

Bruce stares at him for a second. “Don’t expect to hear from me,” he says icily. Then he goes, closing the door very gently behind him.

“Whatever you want, Bats!” comes crabbily from the other side.

iv.

Bruce and Selina are on the floor of someone else’s house. When Selina had said, “Stop me,” he hadn’t meant to take this route, but here they are, again.

“Before we take off,” Selina says, pulling her clothes back on, “do you mind telling me what’s got you so sexually frustrated of late? Not that I mind, but this is the second time in a week.”

Selina’s biggest flaw, apart from the crime, is her frankness. “You wouldn’t believe me,” Bruce says.

“Such a cop-out,” she chides. “Come on, tell me what’s setting a fire in your...brain.”

“Ugh,” says Bruce. “If you have to know. I accidentally slept with Superman.” That isn’t really the problem, of course.

Selina starts laughing, almost certainly not because she thinks he’s making a joke. Selina is just one of the few people to laugh at Bruce for being Bruce.

“And,” Bruce continues gravely, “he won’t admit it. That he’s Superman. And he knows about me.”

“You’re kidding,” Selina says, even less like it’s a joke. “Don’t tell me anything. How did you screw up, is my question.”

“I didn’t--” Bruce sighs. “I did. I told Superman to go home. I wasn’t very nice. But I didn’t know they were the same person!”

“Nevermind Superman’s feelings, how did he find out?” Selina says. “Aren’t you supposed to live and die by this secret identity thing? But yeah, I guess if you’re going to yell at Superman for being an illegal, he’s not exactly going to throw his arms wide and welcome you into the secrets of his private life?”

“He spied on me!” Bruce says. “He heard me talking to Robin. Why should I extend him any courtesy?”

“Is he blackmailing you?” Selina asks.

“He’s not doing anything,” Bruce says, feeling a little stupid. Clark has been nothing but courteous, in fact. “I didn’t even know until I accused him of being Superman.”

“Oh my god,” Selina says. “You know this is very embarassing, I hope.”

Yes,” Bruce says. “Wait, why?”

“Because Superman knows your biggest secret and isn’t holding it over your head at all,” she says. “And he likes you enough to sleep with you more than once, and somehow you think the answer to this is to make him miserable. Mister.

Bruce doesn’t say anything at first, it’s so unthinkable being wrong. At last he says delicately, “Well, he’s not going to want to see me now.”

Selina shakes her head. “You could apologize,” she says. “You could agree to pretend that neither of you knows anything. That’s good manners, isn’t it? Even if you don’t want to see him again, that’s still good manners.”

“I know,” Bruce says. “Damn it, Selina. I really liked him.” He still does. But even if Clark forgives him, he’ll mostly likely have come to his senses.

“You don’t say that a lot,” Selina remarks.

“No,” Bruce agrees. “He’s a nice guy. When he’s not Superman.” And Superman isn’t not nice. He’s just a professional problem for Bruce.

“You’re jealous,” Selina says.

No,” Bruce says firmly. “It just makes me--uncomfortable. There are things happening out there all the time that are bigger than us. That we can’t even understand. And he’s part of that.”

He’s sounding like Lex again. That’s never good.

“So you’re scared,” Selina says.

“Y-es,” Bruce says slowly. He wouldn’t say it to anyone else. “And now I’ve slept with him. A lot. What am I doing?” It’s worse than that. Clark is a nice person, too.

“Sweetheart,” Selina says, “you really take your role too seriously. In bed, I mean. Just because you’re the guy with his hands on the steering wheel doesn’t mean nobody else can drive. It’s nice they want you to, but it’s shitty behavior to get mad just because you know they want it that way.”

“That is not--” Bruce starts, but Selina is always right about him. Right about everything, when she’s not robbing people. “Fine. So I owe him an apology and I got scared. I didn’t want to hear any of that.”

“Not sorry,” Selina says cheerfully. “I only regret not getting to you before you hurt the feelings of the most beautiful man on the planet.” She smiles contritely, getting to her feet. “And now I’m going to leave, before the owners of this nice house come home and catch me in it.”

“Thanks,” Bruce mutters as Selina vanishes out the window, before getting out quickly himself. On the way home, he calls Clark’s cell phone. When Clark doesn’t answer, he considers hanging up, but he leaves a message.

“Clark, it’s Bruce. I’d like to meet up, if you’re free. I can come to Metropolis. I want to apologize for how things went.” There’s more to say, but not to a machine. Bruce hangs up.

~

They met at a hotel again, in a huge suite with relatively thick walls, a well-stocked minibar, a spectacular view, and spotlessly expensive fixtures. The pillows are probably two or three hundred dollars. Clark looks uncomfortable and mad, and he only sits when Bruce asks.

“Don’t you think another venue might have been better for this?” he asks. “Something more al fresco?”

Bruce’s temper flares, but Clark is right. “Sorry,” he says. “This was a horrible place to do this. I just wanted to apologize for the other night. I’m sorry. Can we work from there?”

“Sorry for what, exactly?” Clark says. He looks unmoved. He looks like a nice guy whose nos no one ever takes seriously, except that they really, really should. Bruce remembers that Clark spends most of his time with Lois.

“I’m sorry for barging in on you in the middle of the night accusing you of things that aren’t my business,” Bruce says. He wishes he could get Selina to come explain it for him.

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry I know about Batman,” Clark says, frowning, arms crossed. “Although it really explains your personality.”

“I’m not going to apologize for my personality,” Bruce says. “You’re not going to tell anyone?” What could he do if Clark did? And with his speed, how could he stop Clark getting all the evidence he needs.

“I’m not telling anyone!” Clark says, and then sighs. “I didn’t mean it. Actually you make less sense this way. So...good disguise, I guess.”

“Thanks,” Bruce says drily. “Look, I wouldn’t tell anyone about Superman, either. If you were worried.”

“That’s very nice,” Clark says, as if something about it isn’t, quite.

“What?” demands Bruce. “Did you know that you’re kind of difficult?”

“That’s not normally--all right, yes, sometimes,” Clark says. “I’m allowed to be a little difficult.”

“Yes, because otherwise you’d be perfect.”

“Haha,” Clark says, and then has the unbearable decency to look slightly hunted. “Nooo,” he says. Bruce rolls his eyes.

“Well, apart from the deception and condescension. Look, what do you need for me to make this right?” The words feel comically like somebody else’s, but he means it. Clark frowns at him, reminding him of Dick when Dick is about to say something both smart and infuriating.

“You could try not being such a xenophobe,” Clark says. “Or--no, I think that’s the best word. I’m sure we’ve got political differences but at the least I’d ask you not to go around telling people to get off your planet like it’s not their home.”

Bruce winces. “No--I know. I’m sorry. I don’t think I realized--I might have bought into some of the propaganda.” Lex’s goddamned propaganda, in particular. Until now, Bruce had supported a vague understanding that Superman wasn’t at home on Earth, that he had floated down from the heavens to get his hands in other people’s problems, knocking the locals out of his way without care. Clark, though, Clark is probably more comfortable with Earth than Bruce is.

“Don’t trust that,” Clark says. “Please? Trust me instead. This is Superman’s--I mean--” He tugs at his own hair. “This is so--I really wish you hadn’t yelled at me. Twice.”

“So do I, trust me,” Bruce says. “I panicked. I don’t do well with panicking. I’m truly sorry.”

“I just think we could work well together,” Clark says. “You know, if you could stop yourself going off about me being a scary alien. You really don’t give the impression of working well with others, though.”

“Oh,” Bruce says. “You wanted to...oh.” Clark isn’t perfect, but he’s so nice Bruce almost can’t stand it.

“You’re not even going to pretend you believed me,” Clark says morosely. “I’m really good at keeping this secret. This is awful for my confidence.”

“You look the same,” Bruce says, incredulous. “Tell me your coworkers all know.” But he can see how they wouldn’t.

“No!” Clark says, looking horrified. “I mean, people say it, as a joke, but I never tell anyone.”

“But Lois knows?” Bruce asks, suddenly not sure.

Clark looks guilty. “She does now,” he says. “Not when she and I started seeing each other.” Lois is so famously into Superman that it’s easy to see how the revelation could have gone terribly. “But only her, and my parents. Then you and one other person, and that’s it. Ever. I mean, ever, ever, ever.”

Bruce should probably have known. Superman isn’t the kind of secret you mess around with.

“I think you’re better at hiding your identity than I am,” he says. It’s a little troubling.

“Thanks,” Clark says. “Great.” He scrubs his face with both hands. “This is a disaster,” he says through them.

“Hey,” Bruce says. The Superman element melts away, and there is just Clark. He puts a hand on Clark’s shoulder. “It doesn’t have to be. I told you I won’t say a word.”

Clark gives him the mildest version of a sour lemon look. “I believe that. I just--I don’t tell people. And I didn’t mean for you to know.” He’s staring into Bruce’s eyes like he has not idea if what he’s trying to say is making it into his words, let alone into Bruce’s head.

“And you don’t trust me,” Bruce says. “That’s fine.” He never meant for Clark to know about him, either.

“No,” Clark says. “I can’t mess up. All right? Because I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Bruce lets that sink in. “Oh,” he says. He rubs Clark’s shoulder. “Well, you’re not going to mess up. I’m the world’s greatest detective, remember? I think you’re safe otherwise.” His hand slides to the back of Clark’s neck.

“Probably it’ll be fine,” Clark agrees. He shuts his eyes. “So, now you know and I know and we can go our separate ways. Right? Because you said--” Both that Clark should leave the planet and that Bruce would never call him again.

“I didn’t mean it,” Bruce says quickly. “I’m still interested. How often do I have this much in common with someone?”

Clark looks around the suite and raises his eyebrows, but he doesn’t quibble. “All right,” he says. “I mean, I am the same person as before. I’m really normal! I just have this one other little thing.”

“Well,” Bruce says reluctantly. “I can handle that, if you can handle Batman.”

“I have been, haven’t I?” Clark says pointedly. Then, “Oh--please. Don’t tell--I’m not sure which name to use--Robin. Please don’t tell Robin.”

“His name's Dick,” Bruce says. “I wasn’t going to. I won’t.” He feels a twinge of guilt about Alfred, but Alfred barely counts as a separate person from himself. “As long as you don’t tell Lois.”

“No one in their right mind would tell Lois!” Clark says. “I love Lois.”

Bruce laughs. “All right. So we’re--fine?” Bruce ignores the nagging notions dueling in his head, first that he might need any kind of validation from Clark, second that it’s illogical for Clark to want anything from him.

“Everything’s fine,” Clark says. “I think I’m going to go, but we’re fine.” He grins. “Although it’s pretty weird to think of Clark Kent needing things patched up with the Bruce Wayne. My parents would be horrified.”

Bruce really wishes Clark hadn’t said anything about his parents. “Mm,” he says. “I’m sure they’d feel differently if they got to know me. I’ll see you soon, Clark.”

Clark smiles at him bemusedly. “Night,” he says. “Call me if you need me professionally, don’t forget.” And he walks out the door like he’s a completely normal, human being, who can’t fly at all.

~

“Are issues resolved, sir?” Alfred asks when Bruce gets in.

“Yes,” mutters Bruce, and beats a retreat downstairs, in the hopes that no one will ask him anything else.

~

Clark calls Bruce up. On his office phone. Bruce can tell he’s had a hard time getting through, because he sounds thoroughly harassed when Bruce answers his office phone and Clark says, “Your cell is off. I had a thought. Sorry, hi, Bruce.”

“Hi,” Bruce says. “I can’t say I expected your call. What is it?” He lets a little pleasure into his voice, but tries not to give away how glad he is to hear Clark.

“It’s not exactly fancy, I mean that it’s absolutely not fancy, but I thought next time you’re in Metropolis you could come over. To my place. I’ll make dinner.” There’s a pause. “It will not be Zagat-rated. Fair warning.”

Clark hunted him down this hard for a date? Oh.

“Really?” Bruce says. “I’d like that. I’ll bring wine. Next Friday?” Unless something comes up, of course, but the good thing about Clark knowing his secret is that he’ll understand things coming up.

“Sounds good,” Clark says on a sigh. “Wine is good. I’m guessing you won’t be bringing ten dollar rosé from the liquor mart on the corner?”

Bruce laughs. “You don’t always have to be so self-deprecating.” Although it’s almost a relief. For an alien, Clark is very human.

“I don’t know what people of means expect out of a date,” Clark protests. “That’s all.” Bruce tries not to jump to assumptions, based on this, about the capacities in which Clark knows Lex.

“I’d rather you didn’t think of me that way,” Bruce says. Selina’s finally stopped, he doesn’t need a new one to start. “I just want to spend time with you.” Too much? Clark brings out that kind of thing.

“I have class anxiety,” Clark says. “You should see the suits you wear from the outside. Six o’clock?”

“Perfect,” Bruce says, shaking his head.

~

The car service that drops Bruce off is noticeably out of place in Clark’s neighborhood, and Bruce is happy to send the driver on his way before he rings the bell. The problem is, his suit probably did cost two months’ rent in one of these apartments. When Clark lets him in, Bruce tries to cross his arms over his chest, overwhelmed by the normalcy of Clark’s life. The wine bottle gets in the way. He puts his arms back in the usual place.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m overdressed.”

“You’re what I expected,” Clark says. “To be honest. Come in.”

Bruce snorts and brandishes the wine as they start up the stairs. “I hope this is satisfactory, anyway.”

They go through the only door on the second floor. Bruce looks around while Clark shuts the door. “Hm, as promised,” he says. “Clark, do you like your job?”

“Yes,” says Clark patiently. “I like my job. Corkscrew?” He holds one out. It’s shaped like a fish. Bruce gives up and opens the wine, wondering what they’re going to put it in.

“I just didn’t expect--this is nice. It’s very nice.” He means it. It’s homier than anything he’d expect of Superman.

“Anything you see that’s good is a direct result of Martha Kent,” Clark says. “You’ve never been in a house as cozy as the house I grew up in. I mean, maybe you have. But most people haven’t. In my opinion.”

Bruce smiles in spite of himself. It makes his chest ache, a little, when Clark talks about his family. Bruce's mother was named Martha, too.

“Your parents sound like good people. How old were you when they--adopted you?”

“Four,” says Clark immediately. “I mean, maybe. I don’t actually know. We always say four.”

He brandishes wine glasses. He does have wine glasses. He sets them out on his shabby but well-built kitchen table.

“Old,” Bruce says, frowning. “You’re remarkably well-adjusted.” He doesn’t ask about before. He just remembers that Clark has nowhere else to go.

“I don’t remember from before. There’s not that much to adjust,” Clark says. He gives Bruce a discerning look. “I don’t know if you’ve even been to small-town America. I have no idea what you’re picturing right now.”

“I haven’t been anywhere,” Bruce says. “Not to the Midwest, anyway. Lex invited me to Smallville once, when he was living there. I didn’t think it was more than a joke, so I didn’t go. A joke, or his typical crisis situation.”

“Ah,” says Clark. He twirls his glass. “Lex.”

“I won’t ruin the evening,” Bruce says quickly.

Clark smiles. “You’re sweet,” he says bafflingly, and goes to check on something in the oven. The smell that pours forth is overwhelmingly good.

“It’s just a roast,” Clark says, when he sees Bruce’s face.

“Yes, well,” Bruce says. “I won’t mention Lex again, if you prefer.”

“Don’t promise that, I might need you to help me with him professionally,” Clark says. “It’s all right, anyway. It’s just--ugly and complicated.” He takes the roast out with fat oven mitts, and Bruce has to clamp his mouth shut not to ask why he bothers with the mitts.

“As with most things involving the Luthors,” Clark says, “Lex manages to take horrible ideas, pour large amounts of money into them, and pretend they’re for the greater good, all while pushing himself a little further out of touch with reality and pushing everyone around him to the brink of disaster. I care about my home. Lex never did. Also, he’s lousy about personal boundaries.”

Bruce considers. “I forgive you for hunting him down in Gotham,” he says.

“You have no idea,” Clark says, “but thanks.”

~

Bruce thoroughly intends to get laid tonight, but the roast is, infuriatingly, even better than it smells. By the time he’s finished eating, he needs to keep still for at least an hour.

“Scrabble?” Clark says, with the cheekiest smile.

Score one point for (domestic) alien monster, dock one from absolute paragon. Bruce agrees anyway, for lack of a better idea and because he’s curious about how Clark plays games. He just doesn’t expect to keep liking Clark so much. He doesn’t get bored playing. Clark loses, badly, and fails to mind at all.

This isn’t how Bruce’s dates normally go.

“It’s not my game,” Clark admits. “Do you want to have sex?”

Bruce clears his throat. Of course he does. He just hopes he can stop himself from being weird about the Superman part.

“Yes,” he says.

Clark nods vigorously. “So,” he says. “I was thinking. Because I really--I like what you do. Would you want to do...more?”

“More?” Bruce asks. “Maybe. What did you have in mind?” There’s only a handful of things he can imagine immediately saying no to, and none of them are things he can imagine Clark saying.

“I sort of prefer being tied up,” Clark says quickly, and blushes violently. “I mean, anything is fine, but if you know knots, I have--”

“Oh, I know knots,” Bruce says, raising his eyebrows. He’s not enough of an asshole to make a joke about not expecting this from Clark, although he didn’t. Prefers it, even. Bruce has a not-so-fleeting vision of Lois doing this to Clark, and has to bite his tongue to get himself back under control.

“Let’s do it,” he says.

“Aha,” Clark says. “All right. Let’s.”

The good thing about Clark being Superman is that the fiddling parts at the beginning--digging out supplies, pulling blankets off the bed, setting aside his pointless glasses--go by in an instant. The questionable thing is how Bruce feels about this. He’s never seen them be the same person before. When Clark stops moving for a second, Bruce tries not to stare.

“Well,” Bruce says. “That must come in handy.” He puts his hand on the small of Clark’s back, to make sure that he’s solid.

“I--yes, sometimes,” Clark says cautiously.

“I think I can keep up,” Bruce says. He smiles, and feels Clark relax against his hand.

“Good,” Bruce says. “Get undressed.”

Clarks does, and shivers when Bruce kisses him backwards onto the bed. Bruce arranges him down the center of it, hands rough on his skin. (Skin that can’t break. Bruce tries not to imagine too angrily what it’s like never to be hurt.) He slides Clark’s legs up, calves flush against his thighs, feet flat against the bed.

“If you need me to stop, say so,” Bruce commands. He starts to tie the first shackle around Clark’s ankle. “Better than ruining your belongings.”

Clark nods, a small, quick nod that throws dirt over Bruce’s lurking jealousy. Clark is looking at him like all he wants to do is lie back and trust him, but he’s still not sure how Bruce will cope with the facts of his existence.

Selina is right; being the strongest person in the room doesn’t make you the dominant one. Bruce knows this, intellectually. Clark isn’t as helpless as he looks, but the haze in Clark’s eyes should remind Bruce if nothing else does. It’s all about how power is arranged in a room, and Clark is handing his over to Bruce. Bruce tries to take that for what it’s worth.

By the time his hands are tied above his head, Clark is weak under Bruce’s touches. Bruce has done kinkier things, but the way Clark looks bound up underneath him is sure as hell enough to work with.

“Anything I should know?” he asks, with a smug, almost entirely Bruce Wayne smile.

Clark makes a pained noise. Bruce waits.

“Rough is fine,” Clark says thickly. “But I don’t--ah--most things don’t feel rough. So--” He looks so comfortingly like a flustered, turned on, ordinary person. “Small things are nice, too,” he concludes.

Bruce nods and runs his hands across Clark’s skin, finally able to really think of it as just skin.

“Shut your eyes,” he says.

For a second, Clark doesn’t.

Right now, you’re the most powerful, Bruce tries to tell himself. You’re the most powerful person in the room. They won’t get anywhere if Clark doubts him.

“Clark,” he says. “It’s okay.”

Clark shuts his eyes.

Bruce ducks his head, hot breath and teeth against Clark’s hipbone. His fingers ghost down Clark’s chest, over his stomach and up the inside of his leg. He shifts forward and drags Clark’s head back by the hair. Clark keeps his eyes screwed shut, every reaction making Bruce want more of him.

It was stupid to think he wouldn’t be in charge. Clark’s not putting up any kind of fight. His breath hitches and shudders, and underneath the little tensions he’s limp and begging. The sounds escaping his throat get louder, and after a few minutes he’s slick with sweat, shivering even when Bruce isn’t touching him.

“Tell me what you want,” Bruce says hoarsely. Whatever Clark begs for in answer, he’s incoherent.

“Tell me,” Bruce says again. Clark gives Bruce a one-eyed piteous stare. Bruce is unabashedly proud of himself. He’s never rendered Clark incapable of speech before, but he’s definitely done it now. He breathes out, slow and impressed, trying to keep his brain in order long enough to do this right.

“All right,” Bruce says. “I’m going to finger you.” Clark answers with a tiny sob. “Not this way, though. Be patient.” Bruce unties Clark’s ankles and turns him shaking onto his stomach. His wrists twist over each other.

“Knees up,” Bruce says. He forces Clark’s knees up underneath him, so Clark’s back is an upward slope. His face is muffled against his arms and the pillows. Bruce runs his hand over Clark’s ass and down his leg, and re-ties the ropes just above Clark’s knees. They’re not tight, just something to keep him where he is.

Clark is already a shivering, noisy mess before Bruce lubes his fingers and works them inside. When he does, Clark starts moaning and doesn’t stop. Bruce can feel him shaking like he’s coming apart. He puts a firm hand on Clark’s hip to steady him.

“Good boy,” he says, and reaches down for Clark’s cock. He jerks him and fingers him to two different rhythms. Clark shakes and struggles, opening and clenching his fists as he sobs against his arm.

Fuck,” Bruce says under his breath, turned on and a little awestruck. There’s a limit to how close two bodies can get and how much you can offer, and it’s like Clark is trying to to go past that. He thrusts back against Bruce’s fingers. Bruce works at him until he can’t count the minutes off, until Clark is shivery and weak-kneed and absolutely wrecked. His hands, pulling on the ropes, are turning white. Can that hurt him? Should Bruce worry? He takes his hand off Clark’s cock to run it over his ribs, and Clark shouts.

“Tell me,” Bruce grates out.

“I can’t, I can’t,” Clark sobs. “Please, please!”

Bruce swipes a thumb down his balls and crooks the fingers in his ass. Clark yelps, then swallows it into something quieter and more desperate. His fingers dig in. Bruce hears cloth tear. Clark sounds like he’s about to start crying or screaming, mouth set against the inside of his elbow. His legs are shaking, spread as far as they can go.

Bruce bends his head and runs his tongue around his fingers, squeezes with his other hand, and then sits back fast as Clark comes, screaming into his pillows before it melts into sobs. Bruce can feel Clark pull inward at the moment when anyone else would thrash around. It’s so intense an effort that it’s almost frightening. For a second, Bruce is afraid Clark will implode.

Then Clark slumps against the bed, gulping for air. Bruce thinks, It’s so he doesn’t hurt somebody, and thinks about this for several seconds before realizing that he’s just left Clark lying there.

“I’ve got you,” he says quickly, and unties him as fast as possible. He gently rolls Clark onto his back, running a hand across his collarbone and marveling at how human he feels.

“Are you all right?” he asks. He has to clear his throat.

“Fine,” Clark says, blinking his eyes dry. Bruce can barely hear him. “Fine. You next.” He levers himself up on shivery elbows.

“Give it a second,” Bruce says, alarmed. He’s gotten used to being patient. “I usually just--well, don’t rush yourself.” But he’s proud, seeing how shaky Clark is. I did this to Superman, he thinks. And, perhaps more incredible, he did this to Clark.

“I can do it,” Clark says. “Tell me what to do.” Bruce is paying attention. There’s a difference between those words and tell me what you would like.

“Use your mouth,” Bruce says roughly.

Clark groans a little and crawls backwards between Bruce’s legs. He uses his mouth, and only his mouth; his hands clench against the blankets like they’re riveted in place.

God,” Bruce gasps, sliding onto his back. He thrusts in without worrying about holding back. Clark’s mouth is hot, and he sucks with rough, greedy obedience. Bruce is able to lie back and enjoy it for a minute or two, but he was already on the brink when Clark began. He shifts, clenching his teeth.

“When you, you can,” Clark says around his cock, and the hoarse vibration of his voice makes Bruce’s hair stand on end. Clark’s breath is hitching and his shoulders are shaking, and Bruce can feel all of it. He leans up to see Clark’s mouth on him, and then he’s coming, snatching at Clark’s hair and thrusting hard into his mouth as he does.

When he’s lying flat and panting, he finds Clark still kneeling between his knees, licking his lips and watching Bruce’s face for cues. Here Bruce was afraid that a Clark who was Superman would be too much for him, and Clark has surprised him again by turning it the other way round.

“Clark,” Bruce says. “Hey.” He smiles. “Come on back.” Clark shuts his eyes and his shoulders relax.

“That wasn’t bad, was it?” he says. He sits back and pulls a blanket over his lap.

Bad,” Bruce repeats. “No, Clark. Not too bad.” He smiles at him again. He can’t seem to stop.

“I didn’t think so,” Clark says. “So, all things considered...do you think we might make a good team? Professionally speaking?”

Even earlier today, Bruce wouldn’t have considered it.

“Well,” he says. “Okay. Fine.”

Clark flops down next to him. “Only if it comes up,” he says. “Don’t worry. I won’t come looking for trouble in Gotham.”

“Mm.” Bruce shifts, lining his hip up with Clark’s. “Then I guess we’ve worked everything out.”

“Mm,” Clark agrees. “Although it’s still a little weird, you know.”