The home of silence and heat
by Te
August 16, 2006

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Many references to older storylines. This
is wedged in the time between Clark's return from the dead
and Bruce's unfortunate lower back problems.

Summary: In which, among other things, Clark loves, Tim is
honest, Dick is wary, Lois is horny, Bruce machinates, and
the earth is considered very deeply indeed.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which does and
does not dovetail neatly with the content some readers may
find disturbing.

Author's Note: A direct sequel to And never do
prove true, starting about a week after the end of the
original story. Will not make very much sense at all without

Acknowledgments: To Betty for wrestling opacities, Jack for
many suggestions, corrections, and a large quantity of hand-
holding, and to Petra and Gloss for a rock 'em sock 'em
combination of enabling and intelligence against a very
neurotic writer, indeed. All of the above made this far better
than it had any right to be, and none of the above can be
blamed for the flaws that remain.


When Bruce tilts his head in an amusement that, due to the
lack of ambient lighting in this part of the Tower's stores,
would really *only* be visible to Clark himself, there's a

There's something like a moment's pause within Clark's
mind, and he remembers the smell of the Benson and
Hedges (light, 100s-size) cigarettes that Pete had stolen
from his mother's purse, and the way the cards in his hands
had been slick and slippery and abruptly almost impossible
to hold the way he'd seen James Bond do it in that movie,
and the way Bobby Johnson's eyes had looked almost
impossibly wide, and the way the bottle of Night Train had
spilled rancid-smelling (it hadn't seemed that bad *before*)
*stain* all over the floor of the barn as it had rolled and
rolled and rolled --

And *stopped*, just before it would've banged into the toe
of his father's boot.

He remembers thinking 'oh, *Jeez*,' thinking it so loudly it
had taken his father asking if any of them had anything to
say for themselves for him to realize he *hadn't* said it

Later -- endless eternities of the sort of entirely human
subjectivity Clark *sometimes* feels obscurely guilty for
not missing *later* -- his father had said something that
has, of course, stuck with Clark to this day:

"Son, gambling is dangerous not because there's anything
especially wrong with the games, or even the trappings --
though you boys ought to *know* better about drinking
and smoking at your age. It's dangerous because it's the
easiest thing in the world to *think* you know what the
stakes are."

He'd been grounded for a whole month, of course.

And it had taken even longer for Mrs. Ross to stop pursing
her lips (they should have always been pulled out wide in
a smile that was soft and warm and maybe even softer
than his mother's) when she saw him.

And the corner of Bruce's mouth pulls, just slightly, out of
true and *into* a deeper amusement.

It has only been -- a moment, after all.

"Kal. Did you *really* want to discuss... that?"

Clark has yet to become sure, if only within himself, just
what factors go into Bruce's occasional choice to use
*that* name. Of course, the fact that it's an excellent
distraction almost certainly has to be *one* of those
factors... but it's ultimately (again) an irrelevancy. At the
moment. "Yes, Bruce. I did."

"Hmm," Bruce says, shifting the box containing several
deactivated *and* mostly destroyed weapons (the simply
deactivated ones are, of course, stored elsewhere) minutely
before crossing his arms over his chest -- and under the
cape. "What did you want to know?"

"For a start, what *possessed* you to --"

"I was under the impression," Bruce says, and Clark could
almost *wish* he couldn't see the edge of that shadowed

That Bruce didn't *know* he could see it --

"... that Robin had explained the parameters of his mission
to you, at its end."

Naked in Clark's bed, mouth still swollen and body tense
seemingly everywhere Clark had touched -- no. "Are you
*suggesting* that Robin was the only one with anything
to explain, Bruce?"

"Of course not, Kal. I *had* been wondering about your
motivations, now that you mention it."

"*My* motivations? Bruce, you're the one --"

"Or was Robin's report perhaps somewhat... misleading? In
terms of just *when* you became aware that he was...
present under false pretenses, I mean."

When Clark was fifteen, he'd watched Ellen -- Nellie --
Bowles run, stumbling and awkward and crying, away from
a boy named, somewhat excessively, Jameson Wilbur St.
George Cartwright. Even at the time, he had found himself
wondering if perhaps she hadn't been *truly* running away
from the smile on the boy's face, which, while not
*precisely* the same as the one currently on Bruce's, was
certainly a rather close relative.

Clark had not punched -- truly, even then it would've been
easier than a *push* -- his fist through the boy's white and
even teeth. Certainly, he has just as much control now.


"Well, Kal...?"

"Perhaps," Clark says, just as calmly and quietly as his
mother might wish, "you'd consider first explaining when it
began to seem a good idea to treat Robin as a --"

"You don't really want to finish that sentence, do you?"

The hell of it is -- Bruce's late mother would almost
certainly be just as satisfied as Clark's own with how very
calm, how very quiet --

"After all. That's just... insulting."

The man is actually leaning -- *casually* -- against the
shelving -- no. No. Clark breathes, and remembers that
shockingly, terrifyingly, damningly, *intriguingly* brief flash
of fear, of *confusion* in Tim's eyes, and --

And, as ever, there's nothing quite like feeling one's stomach
clench to force a greater degree of focus.

"I really only have one question, Bruce."

"You're *quite* sure about that...?"

Clark knows he's begun showing his own teeth, and he
knows he shouldn't -- he knows he *shouldn't*. He knows.
It's just -- "For the next time... you *were* planning to
make sure Robin is a bit better *informed* about certain
things beforehand, weren't you?" He -- *shouldn't* -- "I
mean, I'm used to you imbuing your charges with rather
more *preparation* for their missions, Bruce. It's a little
disappointing, really."

Somewhere, his mother is undoubtedly pursing her lips in a
way that would make Mrs. Ross somewhat envious, and
his father -- he doesn't want to *think* about his father,
and no, it *isn't* a victory that Clark doesn't need to use
his X-ray vision in order to see the tension spreading all
over Bruce's body within the armor, to *know* it.

It's not a victory, even though it feels like one, and he has
to -- "Jesus. Bruce, I didn't --"

"Really, Kal. That was spoken a *lot* like a man who *isn't*
hoping desperately that a certain brightly-costumed
vigilante will consider another visit to Metropolis.
Impressive. In a way."

God damn him. Just -- there's a distinct sound of
rapid-applied metal fatigue coming from the portion of
shelving directly beneath Clark's hand, and he can't --

"There's one thing that needs to be said here, *Clark*,
though I would've thought, by *now*, it was a concept
that had proven itself an obvious one: None of us have the
*luxury* of perfect trust. Though I suppose if it would
make you more comfortable --"

"It's not about *comfort*, you bastard --"

"Intriguingly, it also isn't about making it easier for you to
conduct your infidelities without complication --"

He wanted -- Tim should be his *friend*, and -- no. "You'd
do it again."

Bruce moves past him, effortlessly managing to keep even
the edges of his cape from brushing against Clark in the
narrow corridor, and pauses at the door. "As I was going
to say before you interrupted, Superman... the Kryptonite
you provided will not always be the most expedient
option --"

"I'd had a bad *day*, Bruce!"

"-- for when you have another bad day."

And he's gone.

Clark considers and rejects indulging himself in the use of
his powers enough to track Bruce's 'silent' progress through
the Tower.

He can't actually stomach *more* pettiness.


However, there are degrees.

It's been a week since the end of that -- *abortion* of a
mission, and it has, predictably, been a week since Tim
has spoken to him.

He wouldn't be surprised if Tim was considering continuing
that state of affairs indefinitely. After all, in order *to* be
surprised, he would have to first forget -- perhaps by
means of Kryptonite lasers to the brain -- everything he
knows about the boy's mentor.

It's not --

It's not *enough*, and while the words sound weak, vague,
and *assailable* in his mind, they are as much truth as he's
ever --

(A near-unblinking stare for the smile on Clark's own face,
and the question -- "You weren't lying very much. Were

Where they had left it -- it's just not *enough*.

(The image -- not a memory, not yet -- of Lois letting her
head *fall* to the side in faintly theatrical exasperation,
crossing one long, sleek, silk-clad leg over the other,
carelessly buffeting him with all of her wonderful *scents*,
including frustration, and -- "That's *it*, Smallville?")

Clark leaves his position above Gotham, dutifully ignoring
several crimes Bruce and the family Clark actually *does*
believe, most of the time, that he deserves, will undoubtedly
get to before the dawn and flies to New York, instead.

Dick isn't at his apartment, but, because he is who he is, he
has two changes of civilian (there are times when Clark
finds himself thinking the word 'human' instead of 'civilian,'
and it's something of an open project for him to figure out
whether it would ease the problematic nature of the thought
to think 'western,' or 'American' instead of 'human') clothes
hidden away that fit Clark perfectly -- between the ones
which would fit Bruce and the ones which would fit... Wally,
he believes. Possibly Garth.

Bruce is far better than he at judging such things at a glance,
and --

And he doesn't, really, want to think about Bruce until he's
had time to remember that the man is, in fact, his closest
friend, and all the reasons *why* that's so. It occurs to him
that visiting Dick probably isn't the best way to implement
this plan, but...

It shouldn't be *very* hard to steer the discussion to Tim,
in one way or another.

The bar where Dick works is quite possibly one of the
cleanest and most orderly of such establishments in the city,
even with the somewhat obvious crush -- and it almost
surely is a mot juste -- around the bar which doesn't *quite*
match the time of night.

Clark nods at the smile Dick sends his way over the heads
of a clutch of twenty-somethings -- fractionally broader and
more familiar than the ones Dick gives to the patrons --
and settles in a relatively quiet corner.

A young man wearing jeans, boots, a very tight t-shirt, the
eyeliner Lois favors, a great deal of body art, and an
incongruously old-fashioned earring takes his order for
beer and nachos, and Clark waits for Dick.

He amuses himself for a time trying to recall the brand of
the Indonesian beer a farmer had presented to him with
all the ceremony of royal bequest after Clark had diverted
the local river just enough to prevent dangerous flooding
for the man and his neighbors. It had actually been nearly
identical in flavor and color to the Miller Genuine Draft in
his mug, save for the hints of peanut and curry.

After a while, he moves to trying to judge which of the
customers at the bar are propositioning Dick by focusing
on only the way they move their heads. It's a challenge --
it would be easy to cheat by watching the way the muscles
move under their clothes -- or listening, of course -- but the
point *is* to pass the time.

He's almost sure about the young woman with brilliantly
green hair when his waiter returns and plants himself, with
a sort of conscious gracelessness, in the chair across from
Clark's own.

"You know he won't even notice you if you don't make at
least a *little* fuss."

Clark blinks. "I'm sorry...?"

The expression on the man's face is an entirely perfect
illustration of 'skepticism.' "You've been eyeing Dick -- that's
his name, by the way -- all night. It's okay, everyone does,
you know. I'm just saying -- the guy can be a little dim
when it comes to figuring out he's got *quiet* admirers."

Clark had had *something* like the same thought --
theory -- about Dick's relationship to Tim, but that's... not
for this abrupt conversation. "Ah. Dick and I -- we're
actually old friends. I'm just waiting for his shift to end.
But... thank you?"

"Old friends....? You don't say," the man says, resting his
elbows on the table and leaning in. "Friendly enough to
break the hearts of seventy percent of the customers? If
so, keep it quiet -- it's *terrible* for business."

Clark laughs, and has a fair amount of subjective time to
consider how best to deflect the conversation before the
man's expression shifts to something both pleased and
somewhat avid, at which point he realizes that he's being
flirted with.

And it's... well, he can *feel* Lois rolling her eyes at him,
acutely enough that it's almost painful not to immediately
fly himself to whatever heartbreakingly war-torn corner of
the former Soviet Union she's found herself in tonight so
he can see it first-hand --

It's *just* the sort of thing Lois finds exasperating and
amusing, but Clark really *can't* help but be gratified
whenever people choose to flirt with *him*... as opposed
to Superman.

Which is, of course, how he'd found himself in this mess in
the first place, and --

And it's really quite fortunate how *much* freedom
subjective time gives him to be an idiot within the privacy
of his own mind.

Clark waits a little longer -- just enough time for the man's
gaze to begin to track over his body -- and deliberately
places his left hand palm down on the table.

The man sighs when he notices Clark's wedding band, and
arches his eyebrow. "What can I say? You spend too much
time around Dick and obvious starts to look like a *good*
option. Should I leave you alone?"

"Really, it's all right. It's just... I'd actually come to discuss...
ah. Romantic matters with Dick. And..." The blush on Clark's
face is almost certainly enough for the not-quite-deception,
but Clark brushes his right hand over his left just to be

"Oooh, tough deal," the man says, with a sympathy that
seems entirely sincere before standing. "I'll get Dick to
knock off a little early so he can play agony aunt, k?"

"I'd appreciate it," Clark says, and wonders how much
tarnish the sympathy picks up by the fact that the man --
David -- has also left a small slip of paper with both the
name and a telephone number.

Weighed against his own deception... probably not very


As it happens -- and not unexpectedly -- there's a cache on
the roof of the bar which has just enough space for Clark's
borrowed civilian clothes -- perhaps David's interest had
had something to do with the fact that he has yet to
convince Dick that he chooses poorly-fit clothes for a
reason? -- once Dick removes the boots for his Nightwing

"You know, I'm pretty sure Bruce has been trying for
*ages* to develop suitable boot materials that collapse as
well as the uniforms," Dick says, gripping Clark's forearm
and nodding up toward the ever-curiously lavender that
New York offers for a night sky.

Clark grunts somewhat non-committally, wonders if humans
would be more cautious if pollution didn't periodically create
such beauty, and flies.

Dick offers the quieter, more self-conscious version of the
whoops he used to make when *he* was Robin, and it's
simultaneously calming and something else to be angry
at Bruce about.

Clark shakes his head at himself, focuses on the slick-sleek
feel of the Nightwing suit beneath his hand, and indulges
himself with a quick detour through the cloud-layer --
enough for the damp to shift the texture of the suit, and
the scent of the man within it.

Dick laughs and twists with muscular daring -- heedless
and beautiful, of course -- until he has his legs locked
around Clark's thighs and Clark can thus safely (ever
relative, with Dick) loosen his grip enough for Dick to set
his arms comfortably again. Around Clark's neck.

"If you wanted me to shower before patrol, you could've
just said something, Clark."

This high, and at this speed, it is, of course, a matter of
lip-reading rather than listening. Clark belatedly sets his
comm to Nightwing's frequency. "I really just wanted to
get you a little damp, Dick."

It makes Dick laugh again, and shake the few actual
droplets his hair had picked up in Clark's face.

"Careful, you'll muss your ponytail," Clark says, and feels
himself breathing in some irrationally not-at-all-lung-related
way as the smile on Dick's face becomes -- finally -- the
one Clark had felt no compunction whatsoever about falling
in love with years before.

"It's good to see you, Clark."


"But... is it *really* just a social visit? I mean -- everything's
okay, right?"

One of the many wonderful things about Dick is that
squeezing (the word 'hug' is, at best, disingenuous,
sometimes) the man -- and doing it tighter -- can, actually,
be defined as offering comfort and reassurance, as opposed
to merely indulging oneself. "It's... there's nothing...
terrible," Clark says, "though it does feel... serious. To

"Are you gonna tell me what 'it' is?"

The fascinating thing is that, right until this moment, Clark
had planned to do just that. But... "As much as I can, if
you don't mind."

Dick hugs him with seemingly every part of himself, and
doesn't stop until Clark sets them down on the bank
opposite the trail, overlooking the highest set of falls in
this park. Dick's grin at the entirely natural night sky is
somewhat knowing, though the one he offers directly to
Clark is still gentle. "Where are we, anyway?"

"Kent Falls State Park -- we're not very far over the border
between New York and Connecticut."

Dick nods, almost certainly calculating how quickly he'd be
able to return to New York City and his responsibilities
should Clark himself not be available to bring him back, and
drops into a crouch, peeling off one of the gauntlets and
letting his fingers trail in the cool water. "You know, if it
wasn't for you, I'd almost never get to see places like this --
unless they were the site of some disaster, of course."
Dick's laugh this time is quieter. "Of course you know.
Please try to do this with Robin whenever you can? His
parents didn't really take the kid *with* them when they

Robin. Of course, Dick doesn't know, yet, that Clark had
received sanction to know Tim's name. Why did Bruce have
to find ways to make *everything* complicated? Clark sighs
and crouches beside Dick. "It's Robin -- Tim -- I wanted to
talk about, actually."

The fact that Dick stiffens at the name is -- expected, but
that doesn't make it sting less.

"Bruce had Tim... working closely with me, recently." There.
That should --

"How close are we talking about, Clark? I mean -- *Oracle*
doesn't know his name."

Clark is absolutely sure that Dick can feel the wince he's
struggling to hold back.

"Clark...? What --?"

It seems strange that he'd had far more success -- if it
could be called that -- with the use of partial truths with
*Tim* than with either Bruce or Dick. He's not sure if it
should, or not.

"Clark, I really need you to --"

"I had given Bruce reason to believe... that I needed to be
monitored. He sent Tim to do it. *As* Tim."

"What -- he had Tim *spying* on you?"

It's an entirely correct assessment, it's just that it *feels*
simultaneously too weak and too strong a term for it.
Clark settles for nodding.

"Jesus, I -- Jesus." And Dick is up and moving, pacing
easily over the uneven ground and shoving tangles into
his hair with his hands. "I don't know whether to be
grateful that Bruce didn't try to have *me* do it or -- I
don't even know. God, what -- how -- *Jesus*. No wonder
you needed to talk." Dick stops and crouches beside Clark
again. "I'm so *sorry*!"

And the feeling -- it's easier to describe, to *think* about
the feeling in terms of its effects than in terms of itself. It's
humbling, it's humiliating, it's large and crushing and filling
at once. Of course he'd never expected anything
resembling an apology from Bruce -- or Tim, for that
matter -- but he'd wanted one more than he ever would've
imagined. "I -- thank you. Dick. I --"

"No, just --" Dick shakes his head roughly, a gesture Clark
hasn't seen since he was a boy. "I can't even imagine how
I'd feel if someone I trusted -- someone I cared about --
God, you know, I've had years to just *deal* with all the
things Bruce just won't do, or *can't* do, but I don't think
I'll ever be able to understand some of the things he

Clark smiles ruefully. "I imagine that's why Tim was chosen."

It makes the frown on Dick's face shift from merely angry
to something dangerous, and Clark has to put a hand on
his shoulder.

"Dick, I do understand, to some extent, why Bruce --"

"You shouldn't *have* to understand that. And I -- all right,
I've barely had time or the opportunity to get to really
*know* Tim, but. I never really thought of him as
someone who could..." Dick shakes his head again,
slightly less violently, and puts an arm around Clark's
shoulders in a gesture that seems only half-conscious, but
may very well be entirely *unconscious*, knowing Dick.

The only thing wrong about the throngs of admirers Dick
attracts is that far too many of them are drawn to the man's
physical beauty, which can't help but seem excessively
small, excessively *shallow* when considered against...

Clark swallows and closes his eyes, for a moment. He would
like to be naked with Dick, again, close enough to him and
far enough away from everything else to be able to say,
again, that he has loved Dick for years. He settles for
leaning into the touch.

"God, Clark. So... what can I... *how* can I help?"

"I've... talked to Bruce, about this. And... well."

The laugh is something of a surprise. "If you're here for
permission to kill him, I don't think I can actually do that.
Though I can't say I don't sympathize."

Clark chokes a little. "No, I... I was hoping you could give
me advice on how I could go about talking to *Tim*."

There's no laughter for this. There's no... there's nothing at
all for this, for long enough that even the sound of Dick's
breath begins to fade into the rest of the mild and quiet
music of the park. But then, his heartbeat begins to speed


"I just. I just realized that Tim's been *in* this for over a
year, and that. God, I think I would've had an easier time
answering that question if it was about *Jason*. I think I
might've had an easier time answering that question about
Jason six *months* after meeting him, and --" Dick
shudders, once, and moves slightly away.


"You know, when Tim came to me after Jason died, I was
too angry, too *messed up* to be much of anything else.
But I think if I *hadn't* been, I might just have been a little
scared." The laugh is humorless. "He's... do you know that

"Not really. Did you want to tell me...?"

"No," Dick says, snorting and running a hand through his
hair again. "No, I really don't. It feels weird to say it, but --
I'm almost *used* to hero worship, you know?"

"Of course you are --"

"But that's not... that's not really what I *got* from Tim.
What he -- what he tried to *explain* to me --" Dick moves
away a little more, and hugs himself briefly and a little
terribly. "It's my fault, at least in part, that I don't know
him that well, yet, Clark. I'm just realizing that, too."

Clark lets his hand rest on Dick's shoulder again. "You found
him... troubling."

Another humorless laugh. "You didn't? Or -- you *don't*,

There should be something, some great being Clark could
believe in deeply enough to offer thanks to, at this moment,
for having not had the chance to tell Dick about the *sex*.
"I... I don't, now that I consider it."

Dick blinks at him.

"In retrospect, even with all of the troubling *aspects* of
our acquaintance, we seemed to... I thought that we had,
perhaps, come to something of an understanding. Or...
common ground, perhaps?"


The sheer incredulousness in Dick's voice would probably be
funny, in other circumstances, or at least some
problematically petty form of flattering. As it is... "I think
this *was* helpful, Dick. I hadn't really considered..." He
hadn't really considered how very much he's wanted to be
someone more like Dick, and what it meant about who he
really is.

"What hadn't you considered, Clark?"

All of those handy, safe, complicated, damning, convenient
little deceptions, of course. Clark smiles, ruefully, and lets
himself cup Dick's face. "I think I was more caught up in
my anger and hurt than I realized, Dick."

"You were -- you *are* justified --"

"Perhaps, but it wasn't really getting me any closer to
talking to Tim about it, either."

And really, Clark does feel a lot better, but Dick's expression
is the sort of dubious which is... a little worrying, actually.

"Dick -- I don't want... I hope you won't *let* this get in
the way of your own relationship with Tim. I know your
opinion is very important to him."

"I... there was a time when I couldn't imagine ever doing
anything but exactly what Bruce wanted me to, no matter
what it was."

Clark isn't entirely sure if Tim will ever have anything like
that... problem, and yet. "I remember," he says, letting his
tone have a bit more solemnity than is strictly... true.

"He really... he must've really believed he was doing the
right thing."

"I have every reason to think he did, Dick."

Dick nods, slowly, and leans against him again.

"How long can I keep you?"

"Well..." The smile is entirely audible. "I *had* only been
planning a light patrol."

Undoubtedly because he had reached the point, over the
last several days, when he'd begun to *notice*
exhaustion... however. Clark smiles against the top of Dick's
head. "I'm glad to hear it."


The question has become *when* to approach Tim, which,
on the surface, is a much easier question than *how*.


When Dick had been Robin, he had, of course, been... it had
never been an *issue* of when to approach him, and
sometimes Clark wonders if it will ever be that *easy* with
Bruce again.

When Jason had been Robin... Clark hadn't had the
opportunity to spend nearly enough time with him. No one
had, of course, but still...

Jason had patrolled on his own even more than Tim does,
now. And even though Tim *does* patrol alone... there's
nothing remotely *approachable* about the way he goes
about it. He can't quite picture the boy pausing between
interrupted muggings and drug deals to buy himself an ice
cream cone, much less to light a cigarette with matches
rescued from a spreading pool of blood.

He knows...

It would ultimately be very difficult not to understand, at
least a little, just why things had changed so very much
with Bruce.

Which is not to say Clark *feels* especially understanding
whenever Bruce chooses to announce his knowledge of
Clark's presence over 'his' city by smirking -- whether or
not Bruce thinks of the expression that way, it *is* -- up
at the sky.

Clark knows for a fact that Donna used to -- and still does,
periodically -- deal with similar concerns on *her* team by
occasionally flying low with a supply of water balloons,
and Bruce's cowl is almost certainly well-armored enough
to compensate for the greater altitudes Clark prefers, but...

There are, as ever, things Superman simply can't do, no
matter how tempting.

Additionally, the fact that *Bruce* knows of his presence...
well, it's never been especially challenging to understand
that Tim is a very different Robin indeed than either Dick
or Jason were, at least in terms of his... vigilance.

It's curiously both gratifying and something worthy of a
great deal of chagrin to consider the greater degree of
tension he can -- sometimes -- see in both Tim's motion
and stillness as a function of his presence --

After all, it wouldn't be very difficult at all -- save within the
confines of Clark's opinion of himself -- to continue to come,
and wait, and thus *goad* Tim into calling to him, once
again, through the judicious use of the worst sort of passive

Clark sighs to himself, gives himself just enough additional
*leave* to enjoy, once more, the sight of his breath
condensing and sinking away into a more hospitable altitude,
and then flies down to join the boy on the roof of a building
which just happens to have a wonderfully clear view of
several young men and one young woman engaging in
chemical-related criminal activity.


"Superman." The breath Robin takes is as quiet and
measured -- nearly -- as any of the others Clark has listened
to tonight (and the past several nights).

It's just that it doesn't seem, by Clark's calculations, to be a
remotely necessary one.

"What can I do for you?"

A questionably necessary breath as the only visible *sign*
that Robin, that *Tim* may feel just as awkward and
*conflicted* as Clark does himself --

Clark closes his eyes, and remembers, somewhat helplessly,
the almost reckless *thrill* of *that* morning, of watching
Tim *become* Robin again, at *Clark's* goading.

Watching him... hide himself? Expose himself?

Is that the question he wants to ask?

Clark shakes his head ruefully and uses his last moments of
subjective time to pull himself as far as he can into the
shadow Tim's occupying without unfortunate *loom* -- and
revels, almost certainly too much, in the way it elicits
another unnecessary breath from the boy. "I wanted to talk
to you again, Robin."

"I. Yes. But... I have patrol."

And Clark *knows* his smile isn't really appropriate for the
moment, but he can't really... help it. "I'd been thinking
sometime... after."

"Ah," Tim says, and offers Clark the somewhat desperately
fascinating question of whether he'd thought to move his
face further into shadow before or *after* he'd felt himself
begin to blush.

"I've missed you," Clark says, shocked -- perhaps damningly
so -- by the complete sincerity of the statement. Is it really
an *excuse* that it's the sort of thing he only says to Bruce
to *make* the man uncomfortable?

"C -- Superman. I."

And Bruce has --

Bruce has had far too *much* place here, between them.

The daring Clark feels when he reaches out to turn Tim's
face toward his own, to tug him just a little -- just his
*mouth* -- back into the soft and poisonous ambient light
of yet another Gotham night --

"Clark..." A human wouldn't be able to hear that whisper as
more than a breath.

The *daring* is, actually, nothing whatsoever like the way
Clark had felt the first time one of Dick's smiles had
*driven* him to cup the boy's cheeks in his palms, just to
cherish --

"I. Clark, I never -- I didn't want to -- I think --"

A human wouldn't hear the way Tim's heart is starting to
race, though perhaps they would sense it in some other way.
Some -- "I would know you, Tim," Clark says, and wonders,
fleetingly, if *Tim* had ever found himself a bit lost in the
ways you could be entirely honest when in the commission
of a lie, a bit -- enchanted.

"I -- oh."

Not that Clark's *lying*. It's just that there was no reason
to say that in *that* tone of voice, not really. Tim is --

He's not Bruce, and Clark has the sinking, anxious feeling
that he'd teased -- is *teasing* -- too much, or too...
acutely, somehow. It would all be a great deal less
*confusing* without the tantalizing warmth of Tim's blush --
flush -- under Clark's fingers, without the sense memory of
the boy's hand wrapped around him, of the way he'd
pushed -- just slightly, just *twice* -- against the grip Clark
had had on his shoulder, the grip keeping Tim *upright*.

He doesn't say aloud, "if you'd put your mouth on me that
night, I would've had a far more difficult time goading you
to honesty the next morning," but it's very much a question
of *yet*.

And he hasn't stopped *wanting* to tease. "Would you tell
me when I can come to you, Tim?"

It *isn't* -- entirely -- wrong to want the tease with *Tim*.
A voice on the *telephone*, of all things ("Alvin...? To
what do I owe the pleasure?" "A habit of circumspection.") --
and the palpably amused self-deprecation therein.

And, sometimes, subjective time just means having far too
long to *wait* before being able to reasonably ask an, at
best, tangential question -- is it the small and *chill* smile
that's Tim's true one, or one of the others he'd given? --
without causing far too much confusion.

Then again, right now it *also* means having precisely
*enough* time to stroke -- fast and very light -- the
wind-roughened skin beneath the edge of Tim's domino,
and remember how breathtakingly different, *tender* the
skin had been *under* the domino. Just like Dick.

Salty, human *sweat* on the tip of Clark's tongue --

"I'm available tomorrow -- I -- I'm sorry. I have a longer
patrol tonight, and there's no... free time between when I
retire for the night and when I have to start home."

Clark nods. "After school, perhaps...?"

And abruptly, things -- *everything* is much faster, much
more *dangerous*, because Clark finds himself holding
back a *storm* of his own desire, the need to at least
*kiss*, well before his conscious mind catches up with the
fact that it had been the sound -- the inescapable
knowledge -- that Tim had been slowly, agonizingly running
the tongue Clark knows is pink and sharp, sweet over
human acids, against the backs of his own teeth --

Clark would like to know, rather intensely, *when* that had
become such a trigger. Lois is, after all, far more likely to
tickle the roof of her *own* mouth with her tongue.

And the question of how much of that struggle Tim had
seen or sensed in some other way...

"All right."

... is not at all answered by the way the flush in his cheeks
deepens and warms before he pulls away.

Clark watches Tim settle back into his entirely professional
crouch, unable to convince himself that the implied finality
of the dismissal is *enough* of a lie --

-- and unable, in some way he'll undoubtedly find *useful*,
when he's once again able to think of himself as someone
his parents could be proud of, to convince himself that
*Tim* will take any pleasure in Clark's quixotic urge to offer
his undoubtedly unwanted assistance. Still...

He brushes his fingers over the back of Tim's armored neck,
lightly and fast enough that the boy will almost certainly
never realize it had been done at all, before taking off into
the lovely and awful sky.


"Hi, Smallville. Put the telephone down."

Clark blinks at himself, laughs at the feel of the receiver
curving against his palm, and lies back in the bed that's
much too large thinking, "But you almost never *do* this."

"Yes, I *know* I never do this with you -- it really is creepy,
you know."

But convenient, at times. For example...

"As you may have guessed, I've found myself at least ten
miles -- in any direction -- from a working phone line."

Perhaps he could --

"No, you *can't* help with that. I'm *working*." Lois snorts,
and, when Clark concentrates, he can hear the whisper of
her long, thick hair against the back of -- yes, it would be
one of her father's old, sturdy flak jackets. She hasn't had
the opportunity to wash it in at least a few days, judging by
the sound.

But no, his assistance isn't required. Perhaps something

"Anyway, I need you to drag my sister back to your parents'
place for some reprogramming when you get a chance --
she's been bugging the *hell* out of the field office."

Yes, it's terrible when your loved ones will just *insist* on
worrying about you --

"And don't think I can't *feel* that snippy little look on your
face. I just know the woman's gotten herself pregnant
again, and I don't have *time* for the hormones."

It's reflexive to duck his head to hide -- terribly ineffectually --
the way he really *can't* keep from biting his lip at *that* --

"*One* word about PMS and I demand Perry send me to,
oh, say, sub-Saharan Africa next. Or maybe something
nasty will happen in Papua New Guinea."

Your wish is my command, sweetest --

"Think of it *this* way, Clark -- you'll undoubtedly be doing
that sad little schmoe of a husband of hers a *favor*."

-- deadliest --

"Mmm. Damn, I'm tired."

-- *teasingest* --

"Heh. And *horny*."

-- no, deadliest. Definitely, truly...

Lois yawns, broad and graceless and easy. It's entirely
criminal that Clark *can't* (yet) fine-tune his senses to be
able to taste her breath when she's farther away than a
bare few *miles*. "I trust," she says, "that you're holding
up the standard of post-marriage sexuality for both of us."

He's certainly *trying*.

"If only because I'll expect some *good* stories -- excuse
me, *confessions* -- when I do get back home."

And when will that be...? And Lois, I think --

"And *I* -- need to sleep."

I think I could use your advice, certainly your --

"I love you, farmboy. Be good."

-- Guidance. Clark laughs to himself, and wonders, once
again, if he'll ever be able to convince her to take a

Once again, he chooses *not* to wonder what it would take,
what terrible things would almost certainly have to
*happen* for her to agree to it.

After a time, the volcano he'd been monitoring in a not-
quite-unpopulated *enough* area of Kamchatka begins to
grumble (wonderfully, *vitally*) ominously. He has at least
a week before he *has* to do something about it... save
that experience has given him entirely too much reason to
hope that the average human doesn't think too deeply
about the number of last-moment saves he has provided...
and how much early warning *he* gets of natural

There's just no guarantee that a week from now he'll have
the *freedom* to do this in a manner which could still be
defined as timely.

Clark suits up, flies, and does his duty --

But he allows himself the time to burrow his hands into the
earth near the volcano to the wrist, to feel the frustrated
heat and cup it and *hold* it for a moment, and the time to
fly just far enough west that he can look down through the
rubble, through the wrong and chaos, and watch the woman
he loves at rest.


Clark remembers the taste of his mother's chocolate custard
pie on Dick's tongue, and the scent (so very *close* to the
taste he would never have) of strawberry ice cream --
warring fascinatingly with old cigarette smoke and older
blood -- on Jason's breath.

He had, actually, shared more meals with Tim in their brief
and problematic time together than he had in the first three
*years* of his acquaintance with Dick. By rights, it
should've been easy enough today, when his mother had
finished soothing Lucy with chamomile and sympathy and
asked him if there was something she could cook up for
Clark to take home, to be able to answer her with

Well, something other than oatmeal raisin chocolate chip
pecan walnut cookies for himself, of course.

It's not that he isn't positive Tim would appreciate a few of
the latest tomatoes from his mother's personal vegetable
plot -- without fail, if there had *been* something involving
fresh tomatoes on the menus they've shared, Tim had at
least considered ordering it --

It's just that there's something of a disconnect in Clark's
mind, gaping broadly *and* mockingly, between the image
of himself offering Tim a nice *salad* and the image of
himself then seducing the boy. (Perhaps a bruschetta...)

Which *should*, of course, be irrelevant on top of somewhat
embarrassing -- they really do need to talk, and he also
*wants* to talk -- except for the inescapable fact that he's
meeting Tim after school, has no intention of allowing Tim
time to pull on his more tangible armor, and thus will, for
the first time in far too long, have the opportunity to at
least *see* the skin just below Tim's eyes without having
to resort to using his powers.

He's neither positive why that, more than anything else,
attracts him to the boy nor does he particularly care.
There's always something, something marvelous and
beautiful and unique -- he misses the thick-fuzzed nape of
Lois' neck so *badly* -- no.

He misses *touch*. That particular variety of touch that
always seems to -- that *must* -- cost, the kind with neither
ease nor comfort, no matter how much experience one has
with the person who offers it to you, no matter how much
'official' leave one has *to* it -- *no*.

Clark listens, with one ear, to the familiarly homey scrape of
desks and chairs, the rising atonal chorus of young voices,
that signal the end of every public school day in America,
and flies far into the stratosphere and beyond, deliberately
not pausing to take even the smallest breath, and then
back down to a vantage point a mile above the school itself.

It doesn't clear his head.

It doesn't ease the conflict, the confusion, the anticipation,
the fear, or the hope.

It occurs to Clark, as he watches Tim walk with a falsely
casual stride further and further away from his classmates --
and the more heavily-populated areas around the school,
that all of this would be paradoxically *easier* if he
were truly sure what he *wanted* from Tim -- or even
this conversation.

Yes, of course he wants to make love again. Yes, of
*course* he wants to repair (build...?) his friendship with
the boy.

It's just --


"Yes," he says, landing gently in the sad and artificial
clearing Tim had chosen. There's a great deal of human
detritus for an area so empty of actual humans --

"Between three and five hours from now, this area will have
at least four but no more than fifteen teenagers suffering
from varying degrees and, well, varieties of chemical
dependency. Just... not until the sun goes down," Tim
says, smiling ruefully at a space somewhere behind Clark's
right shoulder.

"Am I so easy to read, Tim?"

The eye-contact is brief enough that most humans would
surely miss it, but Clark can't help but think they'd *feel* it,
just the same. He takes a step closer, and watches the play
of leaf-shadow and sunlight on the back of his reaching
hand --

It's just that he needs to *hold* Tim before they can fly
somewhere else. It's --

It's not that at all, of course, and of course Tim must know
*that*, now. Certainly, it's a message of some kind that
Tim catches Clark's hand with the *back* of his own, as
opposed to the palm Clark's skin remembers as callused
and strong and just a little sweat-damp.

The question of whether the small, quiet smile on Tim's face
is part of the same message or something else entirely is
just one of the many things Clark would dearly love to at
least have the *tools* to resolve. "I've been told," Tim says,
"that the r-points I choose are somewhat... non-standard.
In the past."

"Non-standard and yet entirely sensible, of course...?"

"Certainly I try." The smile is fractionally larger, and --

It's probably a miscalculation to take the boy's relative -- yet
*tangible* -- lack of overall tension as an excuse to cup his
hand within his own, but it's also an entirely *sensible*
prelude to pulling him close enough for the safest possible

Close enough to feel the hitch in Tim's breath.

"Where may I take you, Tim?"

"I -- I'd assumed you'd have someplace in mind," Tim says,
breath damp and human-cool through the material of
Clark's uniform, and, yes, he's tense once more. It's -- all of
it is -- worth a great deal of consideration and *savor*, but
the immediacy of the moment is too tempting.

"I do, of course. It's just that I'd assumed *you* would
want to choose."

Tim's laugh *feels* entirely honest to more of Clark than
just his hopes, even though (because?) it comes with an
even greater degree of tension.

If it gets worse, it would actually be some definition of
*reasonable* for Clark to give Tim a rubdown, and *that*
thought occurs in a timely enough fashion that they wind
up laughing together, for a time.


"Clark, I --" Tim laughs again, and shivers. "It's -- technically --
your turn to choose."

And it's... it's difficult to *breathe*, and Clark has to catch
himself to keep from pushing Tim *away*.

It's the last thing he wants, but it's...



"You're referring," he says, unable to do much of anything
at all about the *growl* under his own voice, "to our last


It's terrible, of course, to be able to smell Tim's sudden
rush of *fear*, to feel the precise *kind* of tension that
Clark knows, from various experience, is all about the
human -- or not especially powerful metahuman -- in one's
arms considering trying to escape and realizing there's no

And it's even more terrible that it's the perfect path to
*focus*, again.

And, perhaps, it's even more terrible than that to find the
deeply mean-spirited humor in this situation... affecting
enough that he has to laugh, again. ("But you're so *cute*
when you're bitchy, Smallville.")

On the other hand, the laughter -- or the honesty behind
it? -- is enough to make Tim relax marginally again.
Perhaps he can restrain himself to considering it a victory,
as opposed to a victory and *permission* --

"I just... you had mentioned something, recently, about the
*nature* of the best lies, Clark."

Recently -- no, perhaps he can't. "You're right, of course,"
Clark says, and bundles Tim into his own cape before
lifting off. "And I did, in fact," he says for the admirably
flesh-toned communicator in Tim's ear, "have someplace
in mind."


His biological father -- or perhaps his mother, there's no
way to tell -- had somehow, along with everything else,
found time to program the Fortress' AI to begin attempts to
*converse* with Clark, as opposed to simply following
orders and responding to questions.

There are times when it's welcome, and there are --
slightly -- more times when he's considered offering Bruce
even more access than he's already been given -- and
taken for himself -- if only to have the man *re*program it.
(Could Tim...?)

Most often, those times have been when the AI begins to
explain, with dryly patient didacticism, the importance of
sharing his Kryptonian heritage with as many intelligent
humans as possible, for both the honor of his people and
the opportunity to edify.

All of *this* means that as soon as he's within the AI's
sensor range, it begins offering countless suggestions -- at
*Clark's* speed -- on just how best to program *Tim* --
the AI, of course, uses the term 'inculcate,' because Clark
had finally explained forcefully *enough* his discomfort
with that aspect of the AI's chosen vocabulary -- with
everything Tim would need to know in order to become
a productive citizen of the modest Kryptonian colony the
AI is quite sure Clark will get around to forming as soon as
he (finally) matures.

It's enough to distract from the feel of Tim (and the lack of
tension in his body may not be actual trust, but Clark will
settle for the apparent lack of *intense* fear) in his arms,
though, to be fair, it *is* easier to deal with than the AI's
persistent reminders that it had long since calculated four
distinct methods via which Clark's 'human female' (better
than 'concubine,' and Clark remains hopeful that the AI will
eventually allow itself to be corrected into 'spouse') could
be altered enough to produce satisfactory offspring, all of
which have at *least* an eighty percent likelihood of being
survivable for the female in question.

Clark sighs internally and subvocalizes a command to be
left to his own devices until he requests assistance, and
considers it a victory that the AI has *only* turned the
airlock into a museum celebrating the achievements of
the House of El, as opposed to Kryptonian society as a

Tim lands with easy grace when Clark releases him, and
examines the airlock with a curiosity which would seem
merely calmly academic -- without the sound of his
swallow, and the tantalizing sight of it when Tim
(deliberately?) looks up toward the curve of the ceiling.

Clark clears his own throat and allows the AI to take the
cape -- doubtless to sterilize the thing. "May I get you

Tim blinks twice, not precisely *at* him, and swallows
again. "No, thank you. I..." He looks at the floor -- at the
massive representation of the *shield* --

And the AI, with a subtlety based entirely on the
specifications it had been programmed with on the limits
of human observation, begins to *move* the thing so that
Tim will be at its precise center.

It's somewhat hysterically awful to watch, given that
politesse -- and the importance of maintaining
conversational coherence -- demands that he can't
interrupt *now*, instead of simply waiting for Tim to

However, the AI had been programmed with human
*averages*, and Tim --

"Is that -- is the AI offended by where I'm standing...?"

-- is not average. Clark smiles, pleased and pleasantly
helpless. "Aesthetically, perhaps. How much... has Bruce
given you access to much information about the Fortress?"

The blush is sudden and *thorough* enough to be almost
alarming, on top of the confusion. And then Tim clenches
his fists at his sides once, and unclenches them and --

"Bruce... made sure I had access to all information available
about you, Clark."

-- he understands. "Of course. I was only going to ask --"

"Clark -- I need to. There's something I'd like to say. To
you. If I could."

The fact that Clark is feeling a paradoxical -- and desperately
counterproductive, considering what he'd *like* his goals
for this rendezvous to be -- urge to silence Tim, in almost
any way he can...


... is something he can absolutely control, especially since
'control,' in this respect, would not be harmed by closing
the distance between them once more, and cupping Tim's
cheek. "Please do," he says, and wonders how very
closely he'll be able to pay attention, considering the way
Tim's eyes start to fall closed when he strokes the soft,
lightly stubbled space just in front of his ear.

"Thank you. I..."

He wonders, idiotically and not quite fleetingly *enough*,
if Tim shaves his own sideburns, or if Alfred does it. And
if Alfred does, in fact, cut Tim's hair the way he had done
for both Dick and Jason -- And Tim clears his throat, and
deliberately looks up enough to meet Clark's eyes. It's --

"I tried -- repeatedly -- to get *out* of the assignment. At
first when I realized the assumption you'd made about why
I was there, and again when I."

When Tim laughs, it's sharp and cold enough to make it
difficult not to tighten his grip. Not to kiss him *precisely*
the way he kisses Lois when the world has irritated her
enough to make anything gentle a further irritant --

"I realized I was starting to enjoy myself, Clark. And the
fact that I was enjoying dating you, *being* with you,
was precisely as problematic as the fact that I was
enjoying... playing the game."

Clark can't, actually, decide whether Lois would enjoy Tim's
company or do her level best to slice him to ribbons with
her tongue -- and, perhaps, her least favorite pair of Italian
spike heels. "Playing *me*, you mean?"

It's enough to make Tim blink, and to make the (illusion
of...?) sharpness fade into something shocked and briefly
almost *young*. "Is that...?" He shakes his head, once. "No.
I think I would've had to be even more incorrect in my
assessment of you than I was -- I can't really imagine you
as someone who could both honestly believe something like
that about me *and* still want my company."

And that --

I would *know* you, Clark doesn't let himself say, again. He
shakes his own head. "No, you weren't wrong. It's just...
what you seemed to imply," he says, and forces his thumb
to still on Tim's face. He wants to know if stopping has any
part of the way Tim nods, slowly and easily, or if it's merely
a matter of conversational --

"I don't. Have many friends. It hurt to --"

The muscles of Tim's face bunching, twisting -- and stopped,
with another even, careful breath.

"What I meant to say before was -- I was enjoying the
opportunity to be... more than one person in a way that
was, somehow, *less* stressful than, well, the usual
question of secret identities. I was enjoying *cheating*,
or... lying without purpose? I'm not sure. Have you ever..."
Tim doesn't trail off so much as pause, deliberately, tilting
his head to the side and parting his lips for something Clark
knows --

He knows, intellectually, that it was a very brief moment
for a human --

And Tim looks down, flushing harder. "Does that... does
that make sense?"

"It does," Clark says, because it was everything that *felt*
most honest about the boy's attempts to seduce him --
and to *be* seduced -- and because it's the closest option
he has to being remotely *articulate*, as opposed to simply
kissing Tim until he can know, for sure and *finally*, what
sort of kisses Tim likes best.

It doesn't matter. Tim nods, again, and, "that's -- that's
what you had started to tell me, that morning?"

"Would it be *terribly* inappropriately humorous if I said
I'd often wondered if that sort of... pleasure was simply

A fascinating discovery -- it *is* easier to continue speaking
like something resembling an adult once he surrenders to
the urge to press his nose against Tim's ear and *breathe*.

Tim's laugh this time is shuddery and brief, seasoned with
the quietest of moans, and he cups Clark's upper arms
with his hands, and --

"Clark... please..." And his palms are sweating, and his
fingers curling *in* --

"Please keep going." His hair smells strange, and it takes a
moment for Clark to realize --

"There isn't -- there actually isn't much more, I --"

-- that he apparently uses entirely different styling products
for 'Tim' than he does for 'Robin.' In retrospect, it makes
so much sense Clark feels like a fool. "I think. I think I
need you to tell me how much you enjoyed -- how much
you *desired* -- the physical aspects of our relationship,
Tim --"

"I -- I --"

"Please," he says, again, and the dozens of tiny, colorless
hairs along the edge of Tim's ear prickle, tickle --

"It's difficult to -- quantify. Things. Like that."

"Understandable, Tim, but -- *please*," Clark says, and
doesn't breathe Tim in any more than he already has, and
doesn't kiss him, and doesn't *kiss* him --

"I wanted -- I wanted you. I was really -- scared out of my
mind isn't much of an exaggeration, and I --"

"Oh, Tim," Clark says, and while he could wish for
something closer to coherence, if not profundity, the truth
of the matter is that both of the above would also require
him to not be slipping his tongue between Tim's lips
whenever the attempt was made.

The sweetness in Tim's mouth is neither human nor natural,
which strongly suggests that he has a fondness for *some*
terrifying artificial 'food' product which Clark had not yet
discovered. Perhaps it would turn out to be something his
mother could duplicate in a way involving ingredients
actually *of* the earth --

And the feel of Tim slipping the fingers of his right hand
into Clark's hair is excuse enough, if not reason, for the
delirium, especially when considered with the sound he
makes into Clark's mouth when Clark lifts him against his
body -- again and finally -- and flies them into the first
part of the Fortress he can find that hasn't been made
educational --

He can smell sweat, and finds it in the hollow of Tim's
throat --

"Oh, I -- I was close to translating -- some of the
Kryptonian on the plaques --"

Clark hums, desperate and *very* obviously, against Tim's
skin, and pulls away enough to pant. He'd rather be silent --
Tim is *laughing*, just under his breath -- but he can't
make himself stop *tasting* him, if only in the air. "You
should know -- I need you to understand how very difficult
it was to *only* touch you in the ways I did --"

"Because -- because I was lying. Because you *knew* I was
lying to you --"

"*Yes*," Clark says, because he's sure -- he's almost sure,
right now, that raising his voice is better than simply
shredding Tim's clothes.

Even though it turns the expression on Tim's face into
something shrewd and -- *unapproachable*.


*Measuring*. "Yes," he says again, and only tears Tim's belt
*slightly*. The AI absorbs it instantly --

"What -- where --"

"Fortress. Do *not* recycle that, please."

"If you're quite sure, Kal-El."

And Tim... there's something in his eyes which is almost
*delighted*, though the edge of shock and continued
apprehension makes it all somewhat... murky. As does the
fact that Clark is abruptly (irrationally?) positive that at
least *some* of the delight has far more to do with the
opportunity to observe and *study* than it does with
anything Clark is actually doing.

And --

Perhaps it's a matter of the danger of human averages
when considered against (Robin) Tim, but subjective time
has failed, judging by the curious (wary) expression slipping
just beneath the skin of Tim's face, and --


"I -- had every intention of having a conversation with you
before doing my level best to taste you all over."

"I --"

"It's just that I really have to admit that the intention,"
Clark says, sliding the simple and neat chinos down over
Tim's hips, "had lost a great deal of urgency well before
we had the opportunity *to* talk again."

"-- see. Clark, I -- I really was. Afraid."

There's an urge to take the words at face value, to take the
past *tense* at face value, especially with the proof of
Tim's own arousal outlined so perfectly by the equally neat
and simple briefs.

But it would ultimately be just as dishonest as --

Clark knows, with a clarity he's both grateful for and
resentful of, that it would be maddening to even make his
relationship with Tim more *problematic*, much less to
jeopardize his chance for more of it in the future, and he
pauses with his fingers curled under the waistband (sweat-
damp, *warm*) of Tim's briefs, and he breathes. "You're
still frightened," he says, but he can't make himself look
into Tim's eyes.

"I -- yes, I. I'm sorry, I just --"

"Would you tell me, please, if there's -- anything we can do
that you would feel comfortable with?"

The breath Tim takes is a shuddering one, far less quiet to
Clark's ears than he *knows* Tim is trying to make it. It --
feels like a different sort of fear. He surrenders to something
which may be the remnants of the better nature Clark is
beginning to suspect he'd lost the *first* time he willfully
ignored the boy's --

The first time he'd allowed himself to indulge despite
everything he *knew* he wasn't being told. He opens his
eyes in time to watch Tim squeeze his own shut, to watch
him clench his fists *again*... to watch him lick his own
*teeth* and cant his hips just slightly toward Clark.

"I'm only... Tim, please -- there are certain aspects of human
nature I've never had any trouble whatsoever
understanding --"

"I -- I don't want -- I don't want to say no. To you." And
Tim opens his eyes again --

And in some ways it would be *easier* if he hadn't, if only
because the last time Clark was this *sure* about Tim's
sincerity was before he had failed to chastise him for
endangering his secret identity in that *diner*.

Even Dick would've --

Clark snatches his hands away from Tim's waistband and
stands, flies *up*, just far enough away to -- he's not sure.

"Clark, what...?"

He's not *sure*, because Dick would have to be
fundamentally *broken* before he ever even considered
just -- surrendering himself in apology and shame, no
matter how aroused he *also* was, no matter whatever --


He's not sure of anything, because, in the end, it's the
single most *understandable* thing Tim has ever said to
him. Clark covers his face with his hands, and listens to
Tim standing beneath him, stepping out his pants, his
shoes --

And Lois -- never. Just --

("You *do* realize that Lives of the Saints wasn't
actually a stroke book, don't you, Smallville?")

He listens to Tim moving *closer*, all that human coolness
and vitality close enough to Clark's boot that he can --

That he can *laugh*, really, and that has to be better than
something, doesn't it?

"Will you tell me what -- exactly -- is amusing, Clark?"

("Clark, what... what's... amusing?" And fear, so *very*
much fear, so very satisfying to every part of himself he'd
never, ever wanted to know --)

"I -- please."

Clark drags his hands off his face and flies back down,
placing them on Tim's small, lean, *small* shoulders -- and
resisting the urge to *pull* when Tim leans into the touch.
He wants. They *both* want -- "Tim, there's nothing funny
here save for my own..."

("What's so funny, Smallville...? Let's see: Dark hair, blue
eyes, *unflinching* generosity, a tendency to wear very
tight jockey shorts over -- or instead of -- pants...")

"Yes, Clark?"

For a fleeting moment, Clark considers asking Tim if he'd
ever studied ancient Hellenic theology, perhaps the parable
of Narcissus, but it would involve leaving himself entirely
too vulnerable to being informed of planned missions to
the Themysciran embassy, which he doesn't think he could
hear, right now, without also needing to ask Dick if he was
*sure* Clark couldn't simply *maim* Bruce.

And, ultimately, it isn't the point.

Clark moves his hands to Tim's face, and struggles against
the *need* when the expression on Tim's face softens,
opens --


"Do you think -- do you think the deception was worse, for
you, because you knew how very well we *could*
understand each other, given time?"

Tim frowns -- "I, yes, that's what I -- I thought you
understood --"

"Would you consider... there's a place Dick asked me to
show you, because he found it very beautiful. Would you
consider failing to say 'no' to joining me there tonight?"

The ruthless, narrow, *wary* suspicion on Tim's face is so
blessedly, *soothingly* unfamiliar that Clark kisses him again.



Tim spends several moments very clearly analyzing the area
in terms of the defensibility of the position, the relative level
of exposure when considered against the brightness of the
stars here, and, doubtlessly, any number of other things
which would seem perfectly reasonable had he spent the
better part of a year with, essentially, only Bruce to speak

Clark sits down and stretches his legs until his boots are
close enough to the falls to be splashed with spray, and
waits patiently through Tim's silent investigation, and
through the moment's clear distaste on Tim's face once
he realizes how damp the ground is, and just which shoes
he's wearing -- Bruce *and* Alfred, of course.

Considered against everything else he's done and thought
lately, the somewhat malicious urge Clark has to also take
Tim on a walk through the fields surrounding his parents'
house is really quite minor -- *venal*, even -- but it still
feels prudent to shy away from the thought as entirely as
he can.

"Do you like it, Tim?"

"It's... quiet," Tim says, and then gives Clark the unique
opportunity to watch as a desire to be more polite appears
to war quite viciously with a desire to be -- with him, now --
as honest as he possibly can.

Clark lets all of his own smile make it onto his face, and
takes one of Tim's hands in his own. "In truth, I suspected
that Dick had overestimated, somewhat, how well you'd
react to being brought here, but..."

The smile on Tim's face is doing a marvelous job of being
both rueful and, well, vicious. "You did seem to --
abruptly -- desire a change of scenery. And activity."

He can really only hope that the AI still lacks *enough*
integrated knowledge about human psycho-sexuality that
it won't *realize* why Clark had stopped. It would've
undoubtedly found *Tim's* reasoning perfectly valid --
surely a fine citizen in the making -- and would thus never
stop *nagging* him about it

Still, it's a problem to be considered another time.

Clark smiles with an only *somewhat* deliberate form of
ruefulness and brings Tim's hand to his mouth. "I trust
you realize that my stopping had nothing whatsoever with
how attracted I am to you?"

"You might consider... elaborating on that a *trifle* more,"
Tim says, and Clark isn't sure at all whether the blush the
 belies the *tease*, vice versa, or nothing of the kind.

It seems like something worth spending at least a fair
amount of time examining. For now... "I think I'd be very
surprised if you told me that you hadn't already become
at least somewhat accustomed to knowing others far
better than *you* are known."

Another conflict of message, at least if Clark lets it be
one -- Tim blinks rapidly, four times... and then stops,
and raises an eyebrow.

Kissing Tim's fingers, running his -- still only faintly --
scarred knuckles over his lips, and kissing Tim's fingers
again isn't, actually, meant to be a distraction from how
closely he's studying Tim right now, but if it works that

"I... surprised you, Clark?"

"I think it would be -- slightly -- more accurate," Clark says,
and tugs on Tim's hand until he's kneeling over Clark's
lap -- the cape should do nicely at protecting his chinos,
"to say that you surprised me with my own ignorance."

Clark waits again, allowing himself to enjoy Tim's naked,
thoughtful scrutiny. It's something he can, of course,
*identify* with... though he'd never really allowed himself
to be so... shameless, about it. His powers can hide so

After a while, he brings Tim's hand to his mouth again --

"I -- wait."

Clark nods, and remembers the first time he'd had to watch
the flat, sharp shine of arousal film itself over Lois'
expression with no one's eyes but Superman's. There'd
been a sort of humor in that, too, though not one he'd
been especially keen to share. "I don't ever want to hurt
you again, Tim."

"Oh, I -- I only meant that I wanted --"

"Tell me --"

'Please,' he'd been planning to say, but even though there
actually *is* time to say it at something *close* to human
speed before Tim's jerky, awkward lunge toward Clark's
mouth is truly begun --

It's better to say it *directly* into Tim's mouth.

The artificial sweetness has faded dramatically -- and far
faster than anything natural... he doesn't care. This is a
different sort of sweetness, though it might be just as
poisonous, in its way. Tim had made just that sound,
necessarily wordless and so very *easy* to read as
grateful and hungry the first time Clark had kissed him --
in those last few seconds of naive belief that he would
have some safety from the boy's deception if he were
surrounded by Lois' possessions and scents when he
touched him.

Is he self-destructive (prone to martyrdom...?) enough
to question this now *because* he has every reason to
feel safe again?

Is he just a little smarter now?

And if it's nothing of either kind, then isn't it just another
kind of dangerous to rock his hips up against Tim's own,
to swallow another of Tim's moans, to smell his scents
change to an arousal Clark *hadn't* had the chance to
savor before --

There's so much less *fear*, now.

Clark listens to himself groan and strokes the roof of Tim's
mouth with his tongue, just to see, just to *do* it in the
moments before he lets himself lick the boy's teeth, instead,
before he uses the hand that *isn't* still locked around
Tim's wrist to cup his buttocks, instead --

Muscle and bone and there's every possibility that Tim's
metabolism is fast enough to allow Clark to warm him to
something close to his own heat, to make him sweat and
cry out and *move* --

If nothing else, the roil of otherwise *unhelpful* confusion
in his mind makes it easier not to follow immediately when
Tim almost *tears* away from the kiss.

He's panting, each breath catching a note deep in his chest,
and his smooth cheek drags with every hitching motion
against Clark's lips. Clark kisses him there, less because he
can than because he has to, and the hitching stops
suddenly -- and far sooner than it should, considering the
pound of Tim's heart.

But Tim remains still, and close, and --

"Please -- I'd be very disappointed if you lost consciousness
due to lack of oxygen."

It surprises a laugh -- and *breath* -- out of Tim, and
when Tim shifts further away, it's only to look Clark in the

"I -- wouldn't want -- to disappoint," Tim says, and the utter,
perfect seriousness in his eyes does nothing whatsoever to
belie the small, cool smile at the corner of his mouth.

He is beautiful.

"And I'd... I'd like to do that again. When I have air. If you
don't mind."

He -- Clark remembers asking his mother almost
relentlessly, from nearly the time he'd learned how to
speak until well into first grade -- and the impossible to
avoid realization that his mother was much, much older
than everyone else's -- for a younger sibling of his own.

Clark wonders if Tim had ever wanted a brother of his

"Unless -- Clark, *do* you want to... I mean, with me? I'm
not asking if you're attracted to me. I know you are. But
this is -- it's different. Right?"

He is beautiful, and the fact that Clark, once he realized/was
deceived into believing that he was entirely available, had
no intention of having anything *deeper* with Tim than
casual friendship and sexuality --

"*Yes* -- but, perhaps, not tonight?"

It's just that he hadn't wanted to fall in love with yet another
beauty who would only ever come to him easily when Bruce
was being particularly awful. Clark strokes Tim's cheek, and
wonders if it's honest *enough* that he truly is rueful about
their -- yes, *abortive* -- attempts to make love, even
though he's far more rueful about a dozen other things.

(What *if* Bruce had been human enough to set the
mission aside for *just* long enough to pay attention --
and homage -- to the way Lois still, sometimes, looks at
him? What if he *becomes* that human?)

"All right, Clark," Tim says, and it's terrible and wonderful to
see a smile so honestly grateful stay so brilliantly *sharp*.
"But then -- perhaps -- I should... move?"

"Almost certainly," Clark says, and kisses Tim again, making
sure to move in slowly enough that, at first at least, he's
kissing a laugh.

After, he lets Tim pull away and stand and *move* away,
and it's somewhat insulting that he moves so *purposefully*,
until --

"You noticed this... stand? Grouping...? My grasp of
botanical terms isn't the best, obviously, but -- I've always
thought Monotropa uniflora looked rather... well..."

"Unearthly, Tim?"

Tim *grins* -- brief but *there* -- over his shoulder.
"Aaaalien," he says, waggling his fingers -- and blushing,
self-consciously. And turning away again. "Anyway, unless
you've changed things since Bruce last had the opportunity
to surveil the Fortress... the only plants you have there are
sentient and locked behind forcefields...?"

(Jason, grinning, one horrifically impractical boot --
somehow more obviously so on him than Dick -- still planted
on the neck of one of the thieves who'd planned to rob the
MMoMA at a time when Batman and Robin had just
happened to be around. Jason, wild and alive and
*mussed*, snickering up at the Mirò on the wall -- "I dunno.
You *don't* think it goes with your freakin' decor down
there? Man, don't tell anyone I ever said this because I will
deny it six months after I'm *dead* -- but you need some
knick-knacks or something.")

Clark shivers internally and smiles. "I'm afraid I've yet to
convince the AI that only supervillains are likely to try to
introduce dangerous contaminants to the Fortress. There
was an incident..."

"Ah -- your birthday," Tim says, and nods. "Of course. I'd
forgotten that sub-section of the file."

Even turned away --

("Man, I have no idea why Bruce decided to bring me along,
and I'm never gonna be able to eat calamari again, but I'm
glad you're alive and stuff, Supes.")

Even with Tim turned away, even without *reaching* for
the boy with any of his enhanced senses, Clark knows, to
the bone, that Tim is chastising himself for the lapse.
Because he's himself, and, almost certainly, because it
involved Jason.

One day, Clark promises himself, he will be *close* enough
to Tim to at least *believe* he has anything like the right to
touch that -- no.

"I wish -- you'd had the chance to know him."

Tim stiffens, and stays that way for quite a while -- but he
does, eventually, relax again. "I do, too. Perhaps. Sometime.

"I'll tell you everything I can, of course."

It makes Tim look at him again, the Monotropa uniflora
Clark had noticed lying broken from the rest still in his left hand
(perhaps his thumb is pressed to the portion of a deer track
embossed into the ever-curiously fleshy stem) -- and Clark can
*hear* the incredulous and pleased way Jason would've said
'*Corpse* Plant?!' -- and there, in Tim's eyes, is something
Clark strongly suspects Dick would remember, though Clark
hopes it wouldn't scare him, anymore.

"I should take you home," Clark says, when he can stand to
encourage Tim to *stop* looking at him that way.

On something like cue, Tim turns, ducks his head, and
smiles. "I -- yes."


The sun hasn't been down for very long at all before Bruce
rolls out of the Cave in his ridiculously powerful car, and,
since he's Bruce, it isn't very long at all after *that* that he
parks the thing, slips up to the rooftop of yet another
habitation that barely deserves the name, crouches in a
shadow, and --

"*Yes*, Superman...?"

Clark resists the urge to roll his eyes, lands beside the man,
resists the urge to stay backlit, obvious, and Bat-irritating,
and says, "I'd like a truce, Batman."

"Were we at war...?"

Entirely predictable, of course, and, in the interest of peace,
Clark assures himself with positively *blithe* dishonesty
that the fact that it was predictable means that it doesn't
make him want to hit Bruce in the head even a little. Of
course. He breathes, and smiles, and says, "you were right."

He hadn't realized just how very much Bruce can look like
Tim when he seems most tempted to place Clark -- painfully
and efficiently -- under a microscope. "About...?"

"I *was* most -- agitated about the possibility that I
wouldn't be able to further my personal relationship with

"I see."

And perhaps the... placement could be more painful than
efficient, Bruce? Clark surrenders to the urge to smile rather
more broadly. "I was, of course, being entirely too
pessimistic about the whole thing." He laughs, shaking his
head. "You always *did* say I had the tendency to be
over-dramatic, Batman."

On the surface, the way Bruce turns back to the street is
simply another example of the man's unflinching dedication
to remaining, well, vigilant. Beneath the surface, perhaps
huddled companionably with Clark's worse nature, is the
possibility -- small but present -- that Bruce turning back
to the street is truly Bruce turning *away*...

"You're busy, of course..."

And turning away from Clark's *victory*. He doesn't hum
pleasurably. Not even sotto voce.

He doesn't hum, but he does allow his cape to flutter --
slightly -- as he rises. "I'll just leave you to it."

Bruce grunts.

Clark smiles, and flies.


It's a question of chemistry and mathematics. So many
things are, of course, but rarely so *pleasurably*.

Clark kneels near the edge of what had once been a lush,
verdant -- in a way that would be shocking to many
Americans, Clark knows -- Quraci farm plot. If he focuses
very closely indeed -- and even a few years before, the
degree of focus required would have been painful -- he can
see how the irradiation had twisted the former *poetry* of
the ground's fertility into something terrible, something --


It's a matter of heat, yes, and also the surgical killing of
things not alive by any definitions he's allowing himself to
recall --

It's possible that he -- or the AI, or some staggeringly
brilliant human scientist, or the even the ever-frustrating
*Guardians* -- that there could be some other *way* --

There's horror, of course, at the feel of slick, light *ash*
slipping through his fingers, at the reality of the fact that he
is causing further *hurt*. However, in the fields to the west
of this one, the ash he'd blended, slowly, carefully, and by
hand with mud and silt he'd brought up from the beds of
the Tigris and Euphrates...

In the fields west of this one, there is *life* again, new and
young and sweet, brown and green and *rich*, bright once
more -- *alive* --

Clark breathes in, and breathes out much more forcefully,
blowing the ash into something that can coat him, cover
him, and oh he loves, he *loves* --

"*Clark* -- I --"

And Tim's voice is so urgent, so *fraught* that he's over the
Atlantic in -- moments. Clean, fresh from burned-off
condensation -- heavy clouds over Tunisia --

"I don't know. I don't know if I want you to be listening to --
ah -- *this* -- or not, oh God --"

And under the sound of Tim's voice... there. Callused skin
sliding -- quickly -- over skin mostly untouched, mostly --

"It's just... it feels -- oh -- it would be. Dishonest if I -- oh
God, I don't *know* --"

-- *harder* now, and there's no way to tell, to be *sure* if
Tim's still trying to speak, or if he's --

"*Oh* -- it's because -- you hear me. You *hear* --"

-- overcome, beginning another ruthless *stroke*, and Clark
would like to believe --

Surely there could be some measure of *credit* that he's
aware, focused, adult, *inhuman* --

That he can stop, even against the unmistakable sound of
Tim's -- it would be his *thumb* -- sliding through the
slickness at the head --

That he can *stop*, and note that Tim is in his father's
house, and that his father is -- there, sleeping, drugged on
mildly narcotic painkillers -- he will remember to express
hope for the man's continued recovery --

"Oh -- *please* -- "

And there is no need whatsoever for credit once he can be
there, kneeling on Tim's bed and watching the wake of his
flight press the boy's loose t-shirt briefly *tight* against his
chest -- and do absolutely nothing to his hair.


To be there and to be *seen*, and Tim's mouth falls open
on a breath that *becomes* a moan as his hand continues
the slide -- jerky now, shuddering --

No, his hand is shaking.

"C -- C --"

His erection is dark, slick -- he's so very close, and it's an
agonizing choice. Tim is too aroused to bring himself to
orgasm *efficiently*, and yet that only means there would
be more for Clark to *see* --

"Clark, I -- oh -- *please* --"

"Anything," he says, and reminds himself to say that again
when he isn't kissing the *slick* and clumsy fingers Tim
has wrapped around his own penis, when the head isn't
sliding so perfect and vulnerable against his palate --

He had *done* this before, in the bed he shares with Lois.
The taste is the same, and the sounds Tim made were
precisely the same, but it had been utterly different.
Imperfect and frustrating and *wrong*.

"*Oh* -- n-- Clark --"

Here, now, Tim's hips are sharp and bruising -- if only
emotionally -- against Clark's palms. Tim's fingers spasm
helplessly -- Clark is sucking them, too, and he won't stop.
He --

He won't stop, not this time, and while some part of him is
fully aware that it probably isn't *entirely* acquiescence
that Tim is chewing audibly (of course) on the fingers of
his other hand, that Tim is muffling himself, bracing
himself for this --

The sound of his feet, the toughened soles sliding against
sheets so expensive Clark would never buy their like were
the alternative not Lois' *intense* displeasure, toes curling
in and knees bumping Clark's sides before spreading more,
bumping again, *retreating* again --

("Oh, Clark, you're so *warm*!")

("*Jesus*, Smallville, back off, it's *July* --")

("Perhaps you might consider... I mean. I don't suppose I
could interest you in paying me a visit the next time Bruce
has me doing surveillance in the middle of a blizzard...?
Though it seems somewhat like *cheating*...")

-- like something burned, or schizophrenically thermotropic,
and the pump of Tim's hips feels belated, a clumsily
fervent afterthought --

The pump of Tim's hips is perfect, wonderful, and Clark has
no problem whatsoever with the fact that the change in his
assessment is directly related to the feel of Tim's left heel
digging into his back and the *smell* of fresh new sweat,
salty with the teasing hint of the blood beneath the skin --

The blood pounding, thrumming in the vein against his
tongue --

Though it seems unfair that he would have to be far worse
a man than he is in order to stop for even long enough to
tell Tim, to *promise* -- he will always protect this boy. He
will always love.

If only for the opportunity to selfishly swallow everything
Tim gives, to -- perhaps -- give *Tim* some of his own
control back, though it would be too greedy to take credit
for the way Tim is stroking his face now, on top of simply

"Clark, I... I didn't..." And Tim trails off, staring...

Staring at *him*. "Tim?"

"You. You're very. Attractive. I." And he bites his lip.

And it's -- very difficult not to laugh. It's necessary, really,
to press his mouth against Tim's palm, instead, and lick
away the sweat and the few traces of pre-come he had

Terribly sloppy, really. Inexcusable --

"Oh, I -- I was touching you --"

And so *sweet*. "Yes, and I'm very grateful, Tim."

Tim's laugh is somewhat incredulous, and less cautiously
quiet than the sounds he'd made while Clark was tasting
him. There is an urge simply to examine, to *see* if Tim
enjoys it the same way Clark does when the situation is
reversed, or if, perhaps, they might simply study each
*other* -- but there are more direct methods.

"You were going to say something earlier...? You 'didn't'...

Another of those series of rapid, startled blinks, eyelashes
like the feathers of some improbable -- bird.

Clark would like to feel them against the skin of his throat,
or, perhaps, his thigh --

"Oh -- you're right, I'm sorry. I was going to apologize. I
hadn't meant to -- call you. Per se."

And that... *seems* as though it should be a lie. It just
doesn't sound or feel like one. "No...?"

"I only meant... perhaps something like a... phone call?"

("Put down the telephone.") "A phone... call?"

"Or... no," Tim says, frowning thoughtfully and moving his
hand away from Clark's face to tap at his own chin, instead.
"'Phone call' still at the very least *implies* an -- expectation
of mutuality, I think, and what I really wanted -- it just
seemed as though --" Tim stops, smiles, and *then* smiles
 at him. "Perhaps more like a text message."

It was, perhaps, Clark's *turn* to blink. "A text message...
that you were in the process of masturbating and wanted
me to know that, and that you were thinking about me
while you were... doing it?"

This blush is fast and extensive, though not alarmingly so.
"Well, I. More the latter. I think."

Beautiful. Very, utterly --

"I. Find myself... somewhat invested. You should." Tim
stops, shifting on the bed until his back is to the headboard,
shifting *away*, and, when he crosses his arms, he might
as well be in uniform.

Or at least the cape, and Clark doesn't say "there you are,"
because it's not quite enough of the truth.

And because Tim objects neither physically nor vocally when
Clark moves to sit beside him, and his smile for it is no
more miserly than any of his others. "Please continue,"
Clark says, instead, and rests his hand on one slim and
nearly unscarred thigh.

After a moment, Tim nods, and says, "I've given the matter
some -- thought. It just doesn't seem as though it can be
in any way *productive* to express -- or even *imply* --
arousal when it's not... present."

"Certainly, I've always found the alternative infinitely
more... efficient. For certain definitions of the term."

It's hardly a laugh at all -- Tim doesn't even open his mouth
to do it -- but it's accompanied with a smile that touches
both sides of his mouth and narrows his eyes. The overall
effect is of a rather more predatory sort of -- yes, bird.

"I'd like to have you straddling my lap again, if you don't
mind," Clark says, and watches the fading remnants of
the blush become rather more of a flush, and feels the
muscles of Tim's thigh tighten and flex -- "May I?"

"Yes," Tim says, and Clark manages to time it so that the
sibilant hiss tickles his chin. "Oh -- I suppose I should give
thought to... getting used to that."

"I'm willing to help in any way you think best."

"I like the way -- you're always laughing," and Tim touches
Clark's face, once more, lingering on the hinge of his jaw.
"I'm not sure how you manage to make it seem so
innocuous, however."

Beautiful. "'Seem...?'"

And after a moment, the only possible word for Tim's
expression is 'arch.' Mere skepticism is, in comparison, as
blunt and coarse as a corncob doll carved by a child.

"I'm sure," Clark says, and strokes his way up Tim's back,
under *and* over the -- wonderfully, now that Clark
considers -- loose t-shirt. "I don't know what you're
referring to, Tim."

"Of course not," Tim says, and hesitates.

And kisses him.


"Busy, Clark?"

There's no urgency in Dick's tone, but there's an interesting
degree of complication. Something that may be insecurity
or ruefulness, something else that could be either
irritation or the result of whatever stressors -- doubtless of
the heavily-armed variety -- had most recently caught his
attention. And something Clark can't place at all --

"I wanted to know how things were going. With B and --
heh. R." And quieter, "you think I'd be used to that, by

Clark lands on the rooftop beside Dick with an entirely
adequate amount of time to brush the lock of hair that
had fallen out of Dick's ponytail from the man's headshake
back into place.

"Clark," Dick says, and, along with the smile that's *both*
visible and audible, it's yet another casually offered

"You should *definitely* be used to the fact that I'm never
too busy for you by now, Dick --"

And Dick is waving it off before Clark is even finished and
dropping into a crouch at Clark's feet. "*You*. Tell me
what's going on with you. Did you talk to... R?"

Clark has never met anyone more comfortable than Dick
with having serious discussions at a distinct height
disadvantage... and it is, as ever, ultimately unsurprising.
"Yes, I did, but -- shall we go somewhere... else?" Where
you could use more comfortable names, perhaps?

Dick's gaze sweeps quickly -- once, twice, again -- over the
stretch of New York City visible to him from his vantage
point and he frowns. "*I* actually don't have nearly enough
time for this, but it -- well, it was *bothering* me, Clark."

As usual, the lenses on his mask aren't down, and, as usual
the effect is startling against the newer, darker uniform.
Disconcertingly *not* incongruous -- Clark crouches beside
Dick. "I'm sorry. I never want to give you *more* things
to --"


It's almost the *Nightwing* voice. Clark laughs, more to
distract than because he finds it remotely funny, and turns
to cup Dick's shoulders in his hands. "It's all right."

Dick looks at him. And looks. And -- "*And*? I mean --
*how* is it all right?"

There's something distinctly troubling about the fact that
Clark isn't sure if he can -- much less *should* -- tell Dick
about *this* sex, either. But it's there, and it's... it's there.
"We talked -- Tim and I, I mean."

Dick's impatience is growing more palpable by the

"It was actually... it was actually somewhat uncomfortable --"

"Well, *yeah*, but --"

"His apologies, I mean," Clark says, squeezing Dick's
shoulders until he can be at least somewhat sure that the
burst of movement he can *feel* building within all the
muscle is banked *enough*.... there.

Dick's frown is a thoughtful one. "How... how do you mean?"

("I -- I don't want -- I don't want to say no. To you.")

"I mean, I understand that a lot of this is personal, Clark,
but... I just..."

Clark represses the wince as much as he can. "It's fair to
say he was more upset -- far more -- with himself than I
ever was with *him*."

"As opposed to with *Bruce*," and it's less of an emphasis
than a growl, and, this time, Dick's head-shake has enough
vicious precision that his hair remains in place. "All right.
That's... that's *better*, at least."

Dick, of course, only *thinks* he would've preferred it if
Tim had groveled... though the reasons why he's wrong
about that may not actually be very surprising to him at
all, considering. Clark indulges himself with another
squeeze and says, "He's a very... serious young man."

Whenever Dick had looked up at him through his lashes
in the past, it had been something worth savoring. Now,
with *that* mask on his face, it's rather more dangerous,
and an entirely different sort of beauty.

It freezes him in place, and it's --

"You know, Clark, whenever you describe someone you
like in a less-than-completely-complimentary way..."

-- rather reminiscent of Bruce. "Yes?"

The expression shatters into a laugh, fast and *utterly*, and
Clark has just enough time to wonder what that *looks*
like to people who can't track every small motion before
Dick shrugs out of Clark's grip, stands, stretches his left
quadricep, and crouches slightly closer. "Let's just say that
I'm suddenly wondering if *Bruce* isn't more likely to tell
jokes than the kid is. God, I --"


"Well... certainly very *different* jokes. Dick --"

Another hand-wave, and now they're close enough that
Dick's gauntleted fingertips rake over Clark's shield with
careless grace. "You know something? That kid stalked all
of us for four years. *Years*. And maybe I just spent too
damned long with Bruce for anything *like* my own good,
Clark, but..."

Clark frowns, reaching. "Bruce... he'd mentioned, some of
that, and I understand. It's certainly -- well, it's certainly
remarkable, but do you really find it so different from your
own --"

He's cut off by the laugh, more than anything else. It's so
sharp, so knowing and strange --

"*Yes*, Clark. I know, I know, you want me to spend more
time with him, and I will."

But it's only Nightwing's laugh. Clark waits a long moment
before nodding --

"I *will*, I promise." Another laugh. "*Dad*."

"*Really*, Dick --"

Dick snickers -- undoubtedly at whatever expression had
made it onto Clark's face when he wasn't being *vigilant* --
and stands again --

And the twisting leap he makes up and over the balustrade,
into the night and out of *reach*, is as breathtaking as ever.

"Gotta go, Clark -- keep me posted?"

Always, and as much as he can.


"Smallville, put the damned phone *down*."

Yes, dearest...?

"Good job with Luce. That's not the important thing," she
says, quick and curt, and... tossing her head?

Clark focuses, and -- no. She's shaking her head back and
forth, curiously rapidly. Had she gotten a chance to wash
her hair?

"The important thing -- is that my fucking vagina is insisting
that I actually haven't gotten laid since approximately *high*
school --

He doesn't think he can be blamed for the fact that he's
suited up -- it's the *darker* one, no one will *see* him,
and --

"-- and no, you *can't* help, because the next thing I know
you'll be getting in front of bullets and ruining this perfectly
good stupid human war and then I'll have to *kill* you
before some bright spot in Congress convinces the President
to try to shoot you into high orbit."

-- except for how, apparently, he *can*. And really, it's not
like he's a teenager. He's perfectly capable of self-*control*.
*Honestly*, Lois wouldn't even notice if he --

"And don't you fucking think you could get around by only
rescuing a *few* dumbass armed *kids* on your way to
rescue me from the ravening fucking *beast* between
my *legs*, either, you asshole --"

"Dammit, *Lois*," he says, aloud because he *wants* to.
But the echo --

"God, I --" The growl is higher than she'd like -- he *knows*
it --

The echo is *terrible* --

"I *miss* you. And -- I'm sorry, shut up, you were *right*,
shut up, I need a comm."

He can live with the echo. He can absolutely, positively --

"Just -- shut *up*. It'll only be for phone-sex related
emergencies, and the *second* you use it just to remind
me that I'm the most beautiful woman on earth or that
you think I'm *nifty* I swear to God I'll crunch it between
my *back* teeth."

Clark uncurls his fingers from around the edges of the
window frame and silently, solemnly promises to only use
it to give her orgasms, and really, he could get it to her
right *now* --

"No you *can't* just bring me the one you designed to
match my fucking *eyes* that you have hidden
oh-so-passive-aggressively in my work purse, either."

To be fair, it's only in her *third* favorite work purse.
Really, it could've been much more --

"Just -- God -- okay -- shut up and listen to me masturbate."

She's absolutely right, the suit he's wearing *should* go
right back into storage this *instant* -- or perhaps after he
takes himself in hand --

"Ohnnngrr -- oh fuck if I get shot with my hand in my crotch
you are *so* allowed to show up and arrange me better.
But that's -- God *yes* -- that's *it*, Clark --"

It absolutely -- it *is*, he thinks, and falls to his knees --

"No -- no more -- oh God I *need* you -- just -- something
*alive* --"

And if his moans echo this loudly --

"I hate you -- fuck, fuck -- shut up and *fuck* --"

-- then, perhaps, she can hear.


Even a spare two miles above this latest patch of abused
and blasted earth, he can't smell her over the cordite and
blood and --

At one and a half, the screams are agonizing.

He flies.


He finds Tim in the shadow of a gargoyle, and the way he's
turned seems awkward and a little strange until Clark is
back deeply enough into the atmosphere to note the
direction of the wind --

Like so, with one booted foot hanging still and sure over a
thirty story drop and the other planted firmly not *very*
close to the edge of tonight's balustrade, the wind turns
his cape into something closer to a *cloak*, and the
entirety of Tim's body into a disturbingly ambiguous

As he watches, a particularly strong gust presses the cloak
tight against Tim's shoulder, and Clark has what feels like
*barely* enough time to note the lines of his body, the new
and deep tension before --

Tim looks up just as the wind shifts again, and his face is a
pale oval above a pool of darkness.

His expression neither welcomes nor forbids --

And then he raises an eyebrow. It's more of a relief than he
can understand -- no. It's more of a relief than he wants to
*admit*, and that's a very different thing.

"Again, Clark? People will talk."

"You sound like Bruce," he says, and wants to remove his
tongue from his *head*, because the smile on Tim's face
had been small, yes, but so quietly, innocently *proud* of
the *joke* --

"I -- sorry."

It isn't, anymore, and Clark frowns and -- the only real way
to *face* Tim would be if he hovered, brightly and
obviously, in front of the building. He settles just behind
Tim, instead, and cups the shoulder that seems most tense.
"No. I -- that was really uncalled for, Tim, and I'm sorry."

He doesn't relax, exactly, but he does turn his head back
towards Clark -- over the shoulder he's not touching. "It
wasn't -- I mean. I'm not always very good at saying the
right. Things."

And that's -- it's necessary to squeeze Tim's shoulder, and
to stroke Tim's cheek with the other --

"I. Clark --"

It's also necessary to *say* something. "I'm not always the
best at leaving my frustrations with others out of the path
of my relationships with loved ones."

And while Clark had certainly hoped to clear at least *some*
of the tension he'd clumsily created, it's rather less
gratifying than *surprising* to see the flash of Tim's teeth
as he -- laughs?

The sound is rough, hoarse from both the security-conscious
*quiet* of it and something else he isn't --

"Yes, I -- I believe it's fair to say I've *noticed* that, Clark."

-- sure of. Ah. Clark -- blinks, and he really needs to *think*
about how best to respond this time, because it surely
wouldn't be the best idea to --

"Oh God, I just... teased you about. Why I was sent to -- oh

"Well," Clark says, and deliberately squeezes Tim's shoulder
again -- the movement under his hands is very, very
different from Dick's, but still *present* -- "It was certainly...

Tim turns toward him a little more, biting his lip for a
moment. "For certain definitions of the term...?"

It seems a little wrong, or at least *curious*, that it's his
own laugh that leads to gratification, to Tim relaxing once
more under his touch, and *studying* him from behind his
domino, as opposed to simply watching.

"It is good to see you --"

The curiosity, while probably not entirely irrelevant, is
certainly easy to push *aside*. "I'm glad," Clark says, and
considers a kiss --

"There's something I'd like to share."

"You certainly never have to ask, Tim."

The smile doesn't leave Tim's face so much as it seems to
be swallowed by a palpably analytical calm. He tilts his
head -- the angle is surely somewhat uncomfortable for
his neck considering the armor of the cape, and Clark
moves his hand there from Tim's shoulder in order to
offer support --

"Thank you --"

"Of course," Clark says, and watches Tim -- watch.

This close, with the force of the wind demanding Clark
*work* a little for Tim's scents, the watching and the
silence seems to last a little too long --

("And maybe I just spent too damned long with Bruce for
anything *like* my own good, Clark, but...")

Clark shakes it off internally, waits, and, sure enough, it
doesn't take too much longer before Tim's lips part
again -- the brief pink flash of his tongue is only a tease
within the context of Clark's *own* mind, of course --

"Bruce finds the reports... the word he used was, actually,
'illuminating.' I --"


Tim closes his eyes behind the mask, and while the fact that
he doesn't duck his head or turn away is fascinating --
moreso when considered against the fact that he surely
knows Clark is *looking* --

Interesting isn't really the point.

"Tim, what --"

Eyes open again and, "You didn't know. I -- in all honesty,
I was sure you didn't. But I'd hoped."

Reports. *Reports* -- Clark doesn't squeeze Tim's shoulder
any harder, and he doesn't grit his teeth, and -- "*Tim*."

"I'd like to say something clever, now -- or perhaps simply
some... charming, I suppose, variety of self-deprecating
about how challenging writing the reports has been in
terms of phrasing and retaining some -- some tiny, pathetic
*shred* of privacy, but..."

He doesn't squeeze any harder, and it's a victory, even
though he had to let go to do it. To back *away*. "Tim,

Tim exhales sharply, nods once, and turns to face him,
sitting on the balustrade just like a normal person. "I
wanted. I want to be clever, because you're not laughing
right now, and I -- I like it. When you laugh."

"Dammit --"

"*Why* is the same reason it's always been, Clark. You're
the most powerful being... etcetera." When Tim tilts his
head this time, his smile is a rueful one, open and not
entirely steady -- *no*.

He won't make *excuses* this time --

"I like it when you kiss me, and I like it when you -- wrap
me up in that cape like a mummy. I'm sure *that* probably
says something about my -- psyche maybe, but really I --
I like it when I can make you *laugh*, Clark. I -- he
*knows* -- "


Tim gasps, sharp and high, but the wind is kind to him, and
the cape would surely hide the hitch of his chest from
*human* eyes -- no. He can't --

Clark *won't* do this --

"Please don't go. Yet. There's... well, I think there's more.
I'm not. Entirely sure if you'd find it useful. But I. I *think*
there's --"

Clark closes his own eyes and pauses, toes brushing the
roof when he lets the wind catch him, when he -- "Talk."

"I -- thank you." Tim swallows, and --

"Dammit, *talk* --"

"I was going to say. He knows. He knows how I feel. About
you. He knows, and he doesn't care. Or maybe it's Batman
who doesn't care, but I haven't had enough experience -- it
doesn't matter. I wanted. He doesn't care, and, ultimately,
neither do I. You're the one who appointed him the...
*guardian* of your reliability, and I'm Robin, and --"

"You have a job to do...?"

"Yes," Tim says, nodding again, *thoughtful* again. "Yes,
that's it precisely, isn't it? You know, when I used to dream
about Batman and Robin... I. No, that's not relevant at all."
Tim stands, straight and sure. "It also isn't relevant that I'm
going to miss you, but I've enjoyed being honest, Clark."

He's well over the Atlantic in far less than a second, of
course, and it doesn't take much longer to make it to the
volcano he'd so *helpfully* crippled, but, of course, he can
still hear Tim saying "good-bye."


On Tuesday -- a rather less infuriating designation than 'the
day *after* the day after -- no,' though the latter remains
compelling, for several of the most enraging definitions
thereof --

On Tuesday, Clark circles and figure-eights and spirals over
Eastern Europe for longer than he'd care to admit before
he's forced to admit he's daring his wife to sense his
presence and harangue him unfairly, or to *not* sense it
and thus prove... nothing at all.

He watches forty-seven distinct male humans, none older
than approximately thirty-seven, murder or otherwise
cause the deaths of eighty-eight other male humans, and
seventeen females.

In this corner of the world, at this time, he is only allowed to
save the ones who might have died from mechanical
malfunction, accident, or natural catastrophe.

There are only twenty-three of those in the stretch of time
in question, and the scales are --

There have never been scales, not really.


On Wednesday, Lois is far too busy trying and failing to
repair her cell phone, a fax machine with either six or
seven -- difficult to tell, due to overlap -- bullet holes, a
computer which appears to be an obscure East German
(former) knock-off of an Apple IIC, and a tangle of wires,
chips, bullets, and what may or may not be human hair.
Difficult to be sure --

She's too busy to call, in any way, even though she does
manage to get the cell phone working again.

Fifteen miles from her makeshift bunker, twelve human
children die in a school bus. They hadn't been traveling, as
far as Clark can tell. It had been their home.


On Thursday, his mother calls him a broody-puss, and he
finds himself staring, and wondering at the deepening
wrinkles around her mouth, and the tremor in her right
hand that's still too slight for her to notice.

On Thursday morning, Lois had washed her hair -- cursing
at the cold, groaning, orgasmic and self-contained, at the
clean. She has three new grey hairs.

He doesn't tell his mother about the grey, because every
time Lois has a birthday or the two of them an anniversary,
his mother doesn't ask him -- in a very loud silence -- about
grandchildren, and his father doesn't mention -- in a
somewhat quieter silence -- how grateful he is for the
concept of adoption.

Lois doesn't want children, even his own, even if she could
with greater than eighty percent likelihood of survival.

The sibilant hiss of his mother's 'broody-puss' comment is
nothing like a kiss, however dry.

"Land's *sakes*, Clark Jerome! What's *wrong* with you?"

He doesn't tell his mother that he's going to be alone, one
day, because she's known that for longer than Clark has, of

He smiles, shaking his head, and brushes his right hand
over the back of his left.

"Aww, baby," she says, leaning down to hug him, and her
hands are still strong, and warm, and it's only a little tremor.

It's only --

"You knew she wore the pants -- *and* the traveling
shoes -- when you married her, honey --"

"I *know* --"

"-- and you know she'll be traveling right back home soon

He knows that, too -- for, as ever, certain definitions of
'soon enough...'

He stands, and kisses his mother's cheek.


He can never really find much to talk about with Lucy Lane --
which Lois finds hilarious (though, to be fair, it's perhaps
just as funny to her that he keeps trying) and which he finds
a little bewildering.

Clark is absolutely sure it should not be easier to freeze
several hundred thousand gallons of floodwaters, lift the
chunk of ice in one piece, and fly it to a drought-ravaged
area approximately two thousand kilometers due east than
it is to find things to fill the silence with one's perfectly
lovely sister-in-law, and yet he proves this theory wrong
yet again over the Friday lunch hour.

She is indeed pregnant, however, and it's not especially
difficult to let her denigrate Lois' choice of career -- he's
almost sure she really means 'lifestyle' -- and, with the sort
of subtlety and verbal skill that makes her a Lane, his own
manhood as it relates to controlling Lois.

The child is growing within her with every passing insult,
every drop of poison, every --

There's a child, and it is hope and potential -- he can't,
quite, tell, if it will be male or female --

And it is, perhaps, *unworthy* to miss the silences, even
though he has no trouble hearing the rush and flow of
blood, the nutrients she is giving the child with every breath,
yes, *every* moment.

Perhaps he can believe she *needs* to expel those poisons,
so as to protect her child --

"-- mean, *really*, Clark, why bother being married to
someone who can't seem to remember which *country*
she's from?"

"Lucy," he says, in a voice which truly, *truly* has no place

It stops her, and the suspicion is narrow and ugly, so very
*ugly* on her face, and, if he were Tim, it would almost
certainly give him pause.

He leans in closer than he ever bothers to get to the woman
save when his parents are making another attempt to make
her *human* --

She already is.

"Lucy," he says again, and folds his hands nearly directly
beneath the perfect, elegant point of her chin, "since
modern psychiatric and pharmaceutical science has failed
utterly to convince you that it's no one's fault save your
father's that he loved Lois infinitely more than he loved
you -- I'm sure he must've remembered *some* of your
birthdays...? No...? -- could I perhaps suggest you try
alternative means to achieving personal satisfaction?"

"You --"

"Just as an example, you might consider drowning yourself
after your child is born. I've come to understand that many
h -- people find acts of charity most fulfilling."

In the time it takes for her slap to land, Clark considers and
rejects -- repeatedly -- allowing the muscles of his face to
remain unparalyzed enough to snap at least three -- judging
by the force apparent in the tension of the woman's
shoulder -- long, slim, elegant, *Lane* fingers.

It lands, finding a rare moment's human silence to echo
through the overpriced bistro she'd chosen solely to strain
his and Lois' finances.

And Clark smiles -- not *precisely* at her wince -- and
watches her walk away.

His fellow diners stare over menus and from the corners
of their eyes. Their whispers are not, especially,

Clark finishes his -- adequate -- braised cauliflower over
campanelle with balsamic vinaigrette, pays the check,
and leaves.


Between the hours of one p.m. and six p.m. Eastern on
Saturday, Tim lies with -- in order -- winsomeness, charm,
solemnity, and winsomeness once more to four distinct
humans, the first and third being his parents.

He eats dinner -- he has consumed lamb twice in the past
seven days, but he had explicitly chosen it neither time, and
so it remains an ambiguity of taste -- he retires to his room
to "do homework" which had been completed months

He retires to his room to meditate, with questionable levels
of success, judging by the lines of his shoulders, by the
blank and vague sketch of his face which serves the boy as
expression when alone.

He watches CNN with his father while Clark takes a dog
that -- judging by its relative health and friendliness --
someone no longer present had once loved to a desperately
crowded no-kill shelter, and wishes, not for the first time,
that Lois found the idea of having a pet anything more
positive than bewilderingly useless.

Tim drinks tea with the woman who is not yet officially his
stepmother, and there is no way whatsoever to tell if he
has *consciously* modulated his tone and rhythms to
something hypnotic --

Clark flies back to New Jersey from his slow, continued
efforts to excise the blast scars from a played-out mine
in West Virginia without causing too many landslides, and --

There. Both he and Tim are watching the woman -- Dana
Winters -- apologize for her fourth yawn in as many
minutes, but only Tim has a tightness at the corners of
his mouth, and only Tim's eyes slip downcast as soon as
the woman's attention falls, with rueful curiousness, to
her entirely innocent mug of tea.

Tim's father is already snoring in the bed he shares with
the woman --

And Bruce has deactivated several of the security measures
on the Cave side of the tunnel beneath Tim's house.

There is nothing else to learn.

There is --

There never was.


Mortar fire from three weeks past -- as opposed to the
mortar fire from the night before -- had weakened the
foundations of what had once been a hotel with pseudo-
tsarist pretensions. The humans in the bomb shelter
beneath would be safe enough from the imminent
collapse, save that they'll be trapped until someone can
dig them out.

(The slide of fabric on lightly-scarred skin means that Tim
is nude, since the underwear he wears to be a civilian are
in some obscure way unsuitable for his uniform.)

The most difficult thing about the matter of the hotel will
be to convince the two young mothers to release their
children for long enough for Clark to bundle them
separately in his cape and remove them to safety. He
doesn't have to ask, of course.

(As always, he pulls on the lightly-armored 't-shirt' first,
but only after checking it by sight and feel to make sure it
is as perfect as it should be.)

However, the word 'will' should -- human definitions -- be
'would,' because a minor small-arms skirmish between
people who had been neighbors, acquaintances -- the hotel
is in the path, once more, of war. He can't.

(The briefs, the jock, the sigh of satisfaction. He had never
asked if it was the sensation of carefully-engineered

Would anyone truly complain if he simply picked the
gunmen up, moved them a mile to, say, the east, placed
them in as similar a configuration as possible, and returned
their guns with his compliments?

("... wrap me up in that cape like a mummy...")

None of the gunmen are currently placed well enough that
*any* of the chips and chunks and *slabs* of brick and
stone beginning to fall from the walls of the hotel would
hit them without an act of divine providence.

(A grunt for the tunic's weight, a sharp exhale through his
nose as he sets it on and over his shoulders. The seam is
decorative and misdirecting -- his fingers remember the
prestidigitation of Tim's own along the side, the wash of
warmth and scent as it cracked open -- closed.)

Lois would know if he helped, if he hindered. Lois believes
in human-applied Darwinism, and there is no one as well-
educated as she on either the street or beneath the hotel.
Lois is rated master on several varieties of handgun, and
once she had buried her face against the skin of his throat
and told him of the man who'd tried to rape her college
roommate, and how the explosion of his kneecap was
nothing like a hammer to a rotten piece of fruit, and how
she had tracked a dozen different shots to the man's eye,
and groin, and other eye, and heart, and liver, and both
kidneys, and again, and over, and again, but she had only
shot the once.

(It isn't a pause, save in the most shallow sense. Half-
dressed, the kata is skin and the carpeting beneath Tim's
bare feet, and the slightly-imperfect shift of the tunic,
which, while problematic, is only minorly so, and is only
because his shoulders have broadened once more. Faintly
damp skin over dry -- Tim runs his hand over his face, and
he may, perhaps, be brushing away a smile that is rueful,
or pleasantly irritable, or rushed, or it may not be any sort
of smile at all.)

She'd spoken of regret.

(He may simply be tired.)

The gunmen -- both sets -- are being joined by their fellows,
and one has the terrifyingly heavy and clumsy tread of a
man -- no. It is a woman, this time, who has been given
the shoulder-mounted rocket launcher to carry and wield
for someone's definition of honor.

(Crumple and slide, step and lift -- the tights still fit
perfectly, and Tim's bare feet are moving on the carpeting
again, rhythmic and fast, another kata, another portion of
one, the material of the tights is too thick to let Tim's leg
whistle through the air as he kicks. Instead, the dangerous
fraction of a whisper, and the implication of a hum for the
single thrown punch.)

The hotel groans like any dying human thing, and
experience has made the calculations reflexive -- there is
still time to remove most of the people below before it
falls, but not all. Not anymore.

(Bruce had woven the first version of the socks Tim wears
himself. He also knows how to knit, crochet, and tat.)

Fewer now -- they'll be alive beneath it all, if it falls the
right way after he pulls out those he can. If the mortars
falling to the southwest don't alter the mathematics too
badly. If -- no.

(When Tim dresses in other locations, the mask goes on
much earlier. At his parents' house, there seems to be
nothing but a quiet sort of whimsy behind the nightly
decision over whether to pull on the boots or gum down
the mask first. His calves flex against the tights at the
additional weight. The split-toe reminds -- or, *perhaps* --
settles him to moving silently. The mask -- no.)

If Lois were in range, by any definition applicable to her,
he would apologize entirely honestly. Since she is not, there
is nothing to say.

The weapons are bulky, awkward and reeking *things*. It's
distasteful that it's more efficient to destroy them while
they're in his arms, and ludicrously showy, besides, but
there is nothing to say.

Not all of the gunmen scatter, but it's simple enough to fly
*just* fast enough on his way down through the humped
and cracked asphalt that the concussive blast will leave
them unconscious for at least long enough for his purposes.

Once, there had been a terrible oil spill here, and the
ground is stinking. He hadn't known.

Within, the screams bounce crazily off the shaking walls,
and the humans are *stinking*. Fear and waste, dirt and
sweat. They seem to have been going slowly rancid here,
but, of course, it's an illusion built on his own impatient

Save for the one dying from a cancer of the liver.

(All of their gauntlets had been, and remain, subtly different.
Only Dick and Tim wear even faintly traditional masks, now,
and their masks are made of the same materials. The
difference between wood and stone picks on the same
guitar as their fingers slide over them, at too great a
distance to know themselves. At the moment, their
thoughts are their own.)

They could crawl up into the utter insecurity of the day
through the tunnel he's made with his body, but it's faster
to simply widen it once, again, again -- the result will only
remain stable for slightly longer than the hotel, and how
long it remains obvious is a question best left to the men
and women of the warring artilleries, but, once complete,
he can carry them to safety two by two.

The younger of the mothers scoops her child into her arms
and runs. The other does the same, in the opposite

"*Go*," he says to the rest, and it still feels like a waste of
time and breath despite their compliance, despite the
benediction of a storm over the Atlantic, and despite the
only momentary widening of Tim's naked blue eyes in this
irrelevantly wealthy bedroom.

Crumpling Tim's domino in his fist is too small to be
seriously considered -- the material is, of course, designed
to spring back easily from that sort of insult. It's enough to
have it in his palm, lighter than many leaves.

It's enough to *look*. To see and, yes, be seen.

"I've missed you," he says, and knows his smile is correct by
the hectic spots of color in Tim's cheeks, by the way Tim's
back leg wavers in the moments before a ready position,
by the way he *doesn't* reach for the mask.

"I'm afraid of you."

He moves closer, a step, and listens to the proximity alarms
scream in Bruce's Cave. This, combined with the scent --
the uniform is very new, even though it had been designed
for the frame Tim had over three weeks ago. "Right now?
Again? Or in general?"

For a human breath, Tim's eyebrows rise to blunt points.
"Would 'yes' be an acceptable answer?"

"Entirely. Come with me."

He had expected the glance toward the floor, toward the
floors below and the cellar and the tunnel.

He had expected Tim to reach for his mask, and is ready for
that, as well. It's only a symbol, and he has a fondness for
the way Tim holds it by the edge between the tips of his
second and third fingers like a blackjack dealer with a card --
but only if the dealer was both particularly graceful and
something of a tease.

He had not expected the smile, nor its avid cruelty, nor the
way it puts an entirely different variety of hectic in Tim's
eyes. It's not for him, and certainly that's for the best, but
he is not surprised by his paradoxical urge for it to be so --

"Yes," Tim says, and clasps his forearm for a moment
before releasing it, staring at his own hand like a stranger's,
and crossing his arms under his cape until he is as
compact -- containable -- as he can be.

The smile on his face has become rueful, patient, wary,
amused -- dense and coiled as a seed, a smile for *him*,
and the perfect one.

Perfect enough to excuse the fact that the goodbye Bruce
had received had been far more pleasant to watch than his
own had been.


.A goodlier feast.