Grace in a loveless time
by Te
July 27, 2003

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine. Dammit.

Spoilers: Vague ones through season one, especially
for A Knight of Shadows.

Summary: Clark reaches out.

Ratings Note: PG-13.

Author's Note: For Livia and Bex's Superhero Roulette
Challenge. Thanks, guys!

Acknowledgments: To Miss Livbun for audiencing.

Feedback: Makes me smile.


It starts simply.

Clark doesn't even really think of it *as* a start -- or
at least he hadn't. It was just... one night too many
watching J'onn with his artifacts. With the painfully
few reminders of who he had been, and the need to
do something. Be something more than just a

He, after all, wears the last of Krypton on his back.And
even though he'd never been tempted to use Brainiac
as more than just an enemy he could hit harder than

He could understand.

"Tell me about it," he'd said that first night. "About...

And J'onn had looked at him, one of those long,
deep, sorrowful looks that Clark knows would break
him if the man had pupils to define the expression. (And
is that why he doesn't...?)

He'd talked of his family, of the way his wife's scent
had spiced the air, the individual particles of her
happiness sparkling more than the red sands. Of the
time his son had danced across the railings of their
balcony, stopping J'onn's heart and making him love
him so much it had started all over again.

And Superman had smiled, and wondered what he
was supposed to do with such a wealth of memory
and grief, what he was supposed to *say*.

Wondered what he would be like if he'd had more of
his parents than the suspect memories of machinery
and Brainiac himself. Thought of Bruce, and how
very much better at this he would be, and knew he'd
never ask.

But J'onn had seen something in Clark that worked
for him, and while he never specifically invited Clark
back into his rooms, he had not barred him, either.
Every night there was a new story, a new memory,
and sometimes Clark thought he could see the Mars
the man remembered. The sun a distant bright spark
in the sky, the winds that would scour the flesh from
a human's bones.

Once when he arrived, J'onn had shifted into his true
form, and Clark had only been able to stare. So hard
and angular, almost insectile as the man had cradled
a glowing, irregular sphere in sharp-tipped fingers.

But no insect had ever managed to smile with so much
gentle sadness, or had ever exuded such raw, massive
*age*. Like a weight to the air, or a scent that could
only be experienced on the skin.

And Clark had only been able to look, eyes wide and
helpless, and think: I don't know why you bother with
any of us.

And what he *had* eventually said wasn't much better.
"Why don't you use that form more often?"

Before he could even wince, there was a trill of
almost-laughter echoing through the back of his mind,
and J'onn had shifted back to his usual form. "I think
you know the answer to that... Kal-El."

Most nights, now, they sit mostly silently. J'onn teaches
him games that don't quite make sense, and corrects
the images in his mind with stranger things, truer things
that make Clark... hunger for nothing but understanding.

Some nights it's something else entirely, and it
embarrasses him deeply -- makes him blush to the roots
of his hair -- but J'onn never says anything, just rests
one strong, wrongly humanoid hand on his leg and.

Being looked at like that is both wonderful and deeply
unsatisfying. Because he *knows* it's a kiss, it can't be
anything but, and yet he can't help but remember
J'onn's true form. The chitinous covering of everything
soft, everything needy, everything that could *feel*.

Being looked at like that -- kissed like that -- is like
being brushed through a veil. Or numbed all over and...

"Our species are very different," J'onn says, an effortless
blend of apology and understanding in his tone, and
Clark can only nod, and wait for the swirl of feeling and
confusion to fade enough for him to leave.

He feels very, very young.

But he always comes back, and now there's nothing like
a need to be a friend. Or... there *is*, but now it's
something strangely cleaner than that. Something bereft
of pity. He wants to know this man, wants more of that
sinking, spiraling sensation of age, of *alien-ness*.

Because it's a true thing, and Superman lives in a world
of masks and courtesy and violence, and sometimes it
doesn't feel anything like true.

All of it so much meaningless chatter and fireworks that
will fade to nothing long before the sun lets *him* age.

"I do not think our association is good for you,

And Clark doesn't miss the implied distance, and knows
he wasn't supposed to. But, well, he spends a good deal
of his life coping with *Batman*, and it takes more than
a gentle admonishment to push him away. "I want to be
your friend," he says, and knows he sounds more
stubborn than earnest.

And J'onn smiles with his false mouth and beckons him
in to his rooms. 'We already are' shivers its way through
the back of Clark's brain.

He knows -- he *thinks* he knows -- that it's meant to be
a caress.