Characters/Pairings: Clark/Bruce, Alfred
Summary: Clark is chagrined to discover a betting war for his "services" at an online charity auction.
Notes: Story idea and art by rai_daydreamer ; click on the thumbnails or the link at the end to see the full art! Prompt #5: "This is what it means to sing the blues." (see the full table here)
Word count: 4700
Clark Kent desperately mopped coffee off his computer keyboard and screen. The dripping display revealed a charity auction web page proclaiming: "Win the services of a Metropolis celebrity for an evening! Bidding open now!" Various famous and semi-famous people were listed, with the current bids next to their name. Baseball star Jose Martinez was up to $200. Newscaster Jim Thurston was at $40. Lois Lane, not surprisingly, had quickly shot to $400.
Clark stared at his own name and hit the "refresh" button. Then hit it again. The number stayed the same. $1,000.
He hit "refresh" again in disbelief. The number changed, jumping to $1,200, and Clark involuntarily jumped back away from the computer a little. This couldn't possibly be good.
"Kent!" Perry White's bellow caused Clark to jump again, and he cast a last confused glance at the screen before hurrying to answer his editor's call.
His chagrin was mitigated only slightly by a mean-spirited pleasure at noting Steve Lombard was going for seventeen dollars and thirty-seven cents.
: : :
As the numbers next to his name continued to climb, Clark's behavior became increasingly erratic. He began to eye his co-workers suspiciously, suspecting this was an elaborate practical joke of some sort. But Jimmy Olsen's surprised amusement--and everyone else's incomprehension--when the anomaly was noted were too convincing to be faked.
Did Clark Kent have a secret admirer, a faithful (and wealthy) reader who had finally seized an opportunity? Impossible. Actually, there would have to be two of them, bidding against each other. Doubly impossible! The rest of the staff ribbed Clark as the bids climbed to five figures, but he was so honestly appalled that they stopped eventually, although there was still some stifled giggling as they watched him check the web page and inevitably display some new expression of horror.
For his part, Clark was quickly beginning to become quite worried. There was no reason in the world for reporter Clark Kent to be receiving so much attention. This could only mean that someone who knew about his secret identity was bidding--against someone else who also knew. But everyone in the superhero community who knew him also knew they didn't need to spend--he loaded the page again and groaned; the bid was up to $20,000 now--so much money to get his services. Just asking would be enough to get Superman's help. So there must be something sinister going on. Was it possible Luthor was sending him a message? Or...the Superman Revenge Squad? Or Toyman? Someone had finally figured out Superman's secret identity and was...was...
It seemed rather unlikely arch-villains would use that knowledge in such an unspectacular fashion, Clark was forced to admit. He needed advice. But when he considered confessing to J'onn or Ollie or Diana--or, god forbid, Bruce--that he was in a startled panic because someone was trying to win a day with him...well, the whole idea seemed ludicrous.
Still, something was terribly wrong about the whole thing. He checked the numbers again. The bidding seemed to have settled down into two competing bidders--grouchyboi23 and oxenfree. $25,000--a five thousand dollar jump in five minutes! Clark Kent was outselling porn star Delilah Lyte by a factor of five now.
Clark buried his head in hands and groaned.
Back at Wayne Manor, the setting sun was starting to send scarlet-gold rays across the mahogany desk as Bruce Wayne glanced at his watch, scowled at his computer screen and stood up. "Keep an eye on this for me, Alfred," he said, pointing to the computer screen.
One of Alfred's eyebrows lifted inquisitively as he viewed the screen. "Grouchyboi, sir?" he asked, the British inflection managing to make the handle sound nearly dignified, somehow.
Bruce wagged a finger at him, already loosening his tie. "Misdirection through relative honesty."
"I would never call you 'grouchy,' sir."
"Of course not. I pay your salary." Bruce's grin was almost boyish. He seemed in an inexplicably good mood for some reason. As he headed for the grandfather clock he turned back, his features abruptly back in their usual scowl. "And don't let that Star City bastard outbid me!"
"I wouldn't dream of it, sir," murmured Alfred as the clock slid shut.
: : :
When Clark learned who the mysterious "grouchyboi" was that had won his services for the day, relief, dismay and confusion knotted in his gut. What would Batman require Superman's services for that he couldn't just ask? He decided not to contact Bruce directly and wait to see what the man wanted.
The email he received a few hours later had the subject line, "Now that I've won you..." Bemused, Clark opened it and read: How about tomorrow night? My place, six o'clock? B.
Shrugging, Clark responded, I'll be there. Then he had to spend that day and the next wondering what strange sort of emergency could require such elliptical communication between Batman and Superman.
At six o'clock sharp, Superman floated into the Batcave. "Batman?" he asked the echoing cave. "Mind telling me what's going on?"
The cave was empty. Strange. Superman looked around in the darkness, the bats in the roof making sleepy noises above his head. It seemed a lot creepier here without Bruce in it, he thought. It wasn't like the man to not be here when he said to meet him; Clark wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or worried.
Finally, he slipped up the stairs to the door leading into the Manor, feeling like a strange reverse-intruder. "Hello?" he said softly, opening the door and peering into the library. No one was there either, so he padded across the thick Persian rug and into the hallway. There he startled Alfred, who was heading toward the stairs to the second floor, carrying a small box.
"Sir!" said the butler, "I didn't know you were here! Why didn't you knock and..." his gaze took in the Superman costume and he frowned, "Why are you wearing that?"
Clark had no idea how to answer that, and his attempts to formulate a response were interrupted by an irritable voice from upstairs: "Alfred, have you found those pearl cuff links yet? I'm running late here and--" Bruce appeared at the top of the stairs in a black suit, brushing at the seams; his expression shifted from harried to surprised when he saw Superman standing at the bottom of the staircase. "Clark? Why are you wearing that?"
Clark was getting tired of being asked that. He opened his mouth to try and reply again, but Bruce was already at the bottom of the steps, frowning and adjusting his cuffs, standing in front of Superman. "I don't want Superman's services, you idiot. I won Clark Kent for an evening. Zip home and get changed into something nice, I don't want us to be too late." He was wearing some very light, spicy cologne that had a hint of leather to it.
Clark closed his mouth.
Bruce was smiling like any handsome young man in a well-tailored suit, but his eyes seemed rather grave; the contrast made Clark feel a bit disoriented. "Clark, I want to get our date started. Hurry home and change." He made little shooing motions with his hands.
Clark spent the three minutes it took to get back to Metropolis, pick out a suit that wasn't too unflattering, and return to Gotham pondering what the devil Bruce could have possibly meant by that. By the time he was knocking on the Manor's door he had decided that some case Bruce was working on must require him to seem to be interested in a man. It must be necessary for him to be seen in public on a date with some man, and Clark was someone he could trust to play along and not make...incorrect assumptions about the nature of the evening.
Clark couldn't come with a possible reason why Bruce might need to be seen flirting in public with another man, but the ways of the Bat were inscrutable at the best of times.
The door swung open and Bruce checked him out from head to toe. "I didn't know you even owned a suit that fit you this well," he said appreciatively. "It looks very good on you." He put a hand on Clark's shoulder and steered him back toward the driveway. "Alfred will be around with the car in a second; our reservations are in a half-hour or I'd invite you in for a drink first."
Clark settled himself in the car next to Bruce and waited for the other man to take the opportunity to explain why this charade was necessary, but Bruce seemed preoccupied in studying Clark's face silently. After a while, Clark broke the silence: "So...a date." He resisted the temptation to make air quotes.
Bruce leaned forward, his expression worried. "Is that okay with you? I know this is kind of...irregular, but I didn't know how else--how else to ask."
"It's okay, Bruce. No problem." Clark waited for the fuller explanation, but Bruce sat back, looking relieved.
"Thank goodness. I didn't want to presume anything. I mean, I knew you wouldn't--but this was kind of--" Bruce broke off, laughed and shook his head. "That's great, I'm babbling. I guess I'm kind of nervous." He looked up at Clark, his dark blue eyes steady, his face looking rather strained. "Tonight's important. I know I'm not good at these things, but I'm trying tonight, Clark. I'm really trying."
The tense expression on Bruce's face startled Clark. Whatever he needed the pretense for, it must be vital. "I understand," Clark said reassuringly, and was pleased to see a little of the tension leave the handsome face. Clark trusted that Bruce would tell him what he needed to know; for now, they were on a "date" and Clark could play along with that.
The restaurant was one of the best in Gotham, all white linen, crystal and candlelight. The cream of Gotham society was there; Bruce must be needing to make the gossip pages in a big way. The maitre d' gave them a prominent table, and Bruce scanned the menu while Clark tried not to gape too much. Bruce ordered for both of them (which was something of a relief to Clark), and then gave Clark a long, level look across the table. Clark returned the gaze, not looking away, and a smile slowly lifted the corners of Bruce's mouth. It wasn't Batman's usual small, sardonic smile; this was hesitant but warm, and it transformed Bruce 's face from grave to strikingly beautiful. "I still can hardly believe you said yes," Bruce said. "This is totally crazy, you do know that."
Clark folded and unfolded his napkin as if he felt shy and nervous, playing up the first-date jitters. Seeing Bruce acting so unguarded was a little unnerving; sometimes he forgot the man could put on such a convincing show. He groped for his next line. It had to be something romantic, and "You bid forty thousand dollars? Are you crazy?" didn't seem quite the right tone. "I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to wait forever for you to suggest it," he said eventually. "I never would have expected you to be the shy and retiring type."
Bruce's eyes widened. "You could have asked me at any time, you know."
Clark laughed. "Who, me?" he said incredulously, and Bruce's smile widened in response.
"I suppose I might be a bit...off-putting," he said sheepishly. Bruce looking sheepish was such a novel sight that Clark found the laugh cut off in his throat; candlelight slid across the planes of the other man's urbane face and caught in his dark hair like flecks of gold. Bruce reached out suddenly and put his hand on top of Clark's, moving his thumb across each knuckle as if savoring the feeling. "But we finally managed it," Bruce said, and slipped his fingers into Clark's. Holding hands with Bruce Wayne in a crowded restaurant...Clark could feel the eyes on them and hoped the charade was convincing enough.
"Against all the odds," Clark said, trying to keep his voice level. It was discomfiting to be the center of public attention as Clark, and the feel of Bruce's hand in his wasn't helping, somehow. Damn it, he was doing his best, there was no reason for Bruce to be so very flirtatious, was there? He smiled as charmingly as he was able and nearly fluttered his eyelashes at the man across the table, trying to outdo him. "God, Bruce, I've wanted this for so long. To be here with you, to know how you feel..."
The corner of Bruce's mouth tilted a little and the look in his eyes became knowing, almost sleepy. "I've wanted a lot of things for a long time," he murmured, and lifted Clark's hand to his lips, brushing a kiss across the knuckles.
Clark was surprised at the lengths Bruce was going to create the impression they were lovers--or at least about to become so, very soon. He did his best to match Bruce's lustful gaze and tried to get his heartbeat under control; it seemed to be skyrocketing. It must be at the combined stress of acting and being observed, he guessed.
The waiter brought a bottle of white wine to the table and Bruce went through the motions of tasting and testing it, never relinquishing Clark's hand. With the glasses poured, his lifted his and tipped it toward Clark. "To us," he said.
"To us," Clark echoed, sipping the wine. Bruce's fingers had been cold at first, but had started to become warm in his. He couldn't resist squeezing his teammate's hand reassuringly, and another flicker of a smile went across Bruce's face.
"I guess I'll have to let you go to eat when the food comes," Bruce said, "but I'm not looking forward to it. I suppose I've gotten lots of chances to touch you in the years we've known each other, but never--" His thumb caressed Clark's knuckles again, "--like this."
"Um," Clark said a bit inarticulately, then kicked himself. He should be coming up with some kind of romantic declaration, not thinking about other times Bruce had touched him in the past and the ways in which this touch was different. The many ways. He tried to match the somewhat salacious tone Bruce had used earlier. "I think you'll get a lot more opportunities very soon."
Bruce drew a sharp breath, his eyes dark and heavy, doing a credible imitation of a man dazed by lust. "I have a confession to make," he said. "I got a room at the hotel here tonight." He half-laughed, his eyes still on Clark's. "I wasn't sure, but--if things went well, I wasn't sure I could make it back to the Manor."
Clark's eyebrows shot upward and Bruce's small smile went suddenly a touch wobbly and uncertain. Hastening to play his role to the hilt, Clark said, "I think things are going well. I think things are going very well." The room must be important somehow--might Bruce need to meet some contact there? Clark wasn't sure, but he knew Bruce looked much happier at Clark's reassurance.
Clark wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew he liked to see Bruce looking happy.
Bruce did have to let go of Clark's hand when the food came, to Clark's relief. He seemed able to think better when he wasn't distracted by the feel of Bruce's fingers on his. The conversation turned to small talk about Clark's job and the boys, but Bruce's eyes on his were still avid and hungry and there seemed to be a constant undercurrent to the chatter that was continually reminding Clark that Bruce planned on taking him to bed later.
No. Bruce was acting like he planned to take him to bed.
That was a stupid slip.
Clark sipped his wine and tried to act flustered and uncertain, which seemed to be getting easier and easier. Was the heating messed up in the hotel? The dining room seemed very warm.
The meal finished, Bruce gestured toward the small jazz ensemble and the dance floor with an assortment of couples. "Would you like to dance?" he asked mischievously.
The man was completely unflappable, Clark had to admit. "Who leads, you or me?"
Bruce's smile was wry. "Shall we take turns? I'll lead first, then you?"
"Oh, I do hope so," Bruce said with a grin that hinted at other things.
The band struck up "Stardust," as the two of them approached the floor, and Bruce put an arm around Clark's waist and took his hand, stepping into the dance with grace. Hating to spoil the moment but watching out for his civilian persona, Clark tripped over his feet fairly quickly and paused, apologizing profusely.
Bruce leaned forward, his lips close to Clark's ear, and whispered, "I understand, Clark, but...just for tonight, let's dance like I know we can together. I want tonight to be perfect." On the last word, Clark could feel Bruce's lips brush against his earlobe, his voice husky and low. Startled wordless, Clark nodded and they picked up the dance again.
This time Clark danced as well as possible within human parameters. There were still errors because he wasn't used to following in a dance, but their bodies fit together well, moving with the beat and the rhythm. Bruce's eyes were bright with the pleasure of the dance, and Clark couldn't help but think it was a lot more enjoyable to move together like this than to be arguing or fighting, like their bodies knew this was more right for them both...
The next song was "Fly me to the Moon," and Bruce chuckled as Clark shifted posture to take Bruce in his arms and lead him in the dance. "This song always makes me think of you," Bruce said, and moved closer until his body was brushing against Clark's with every step, his head too close to Clark's shoulder for Clark to see his eyes. The arrangement was instrumental, but Clark could hear Bruce humming slightly where the words would have been, his breath touching Clark's ear like feathers. Toward the end, the hum resolved into words, Bruce singing the last phrases of the song as if to himself: "Fill my heart with song, and let me sing forevermore; you are all I long for, all I worship and adore. In other words, please be true...in other words..."
Bruce pulled back to meet Clark's eyes again, his voice dying out, not finishing the last line. Clark realized he had stopped dancing, waiting to hear the last phrase. Instead of completing the sentence, though, Bruce leaned forward and brushed his lips across Clark's, barely touching them. He broke away and headed back toward their table, taking Clark's hand and tugging him along. "Let's finish up the wine," he said lightly.
Clark started to move and almost walked into a pillar; Bruce shot him a laughing glance but Clark couldn't join in. His legs had gone wobbly enough that suddenly his clumsy façade seemed distressingly real. As he sat back down, shaking slightly, Bruce poured him another cup of wine and took a long sip from his.
Clark watched that mobile, expressive mouth on the rim of the glass, watched Bruce swallow. His mouth would taste like wine now, Clark found himself thinking, it would taste of grapes and sunlight and oak if he gave Clark a real kiss, if Clark could have more than just a fleeting touch...
"Our first kiss," Bruce said, putting down the glass. "Are you still interested in more?" he asked flirtatiously.
"Yes," Clark said, unable to think of anything coy to add. He had flirted so easily earlier, but now... "Yes," he repeated numbly, watching Bruce's eyes smoulder, the long lashes sweeping down to veil his gaze for a moment. Clark suddenly wished fiercely and bitterly that Bruce weren't such a good actor. He still couldn't come up with anything witty and arch to say, so he captured Bruce's hand this time and brought it to his lips, kissing each knuckle, tasting sweat and the faintest hint of leather. He seemed unable to stop himself from darting his tongue out to capture just a little more, and across the table Bruce took a sharp breath and pulled his hand away, grabbing the wine glass and draining it in one gulp.
"All right," Bruce said brusquely, standing up, "We're done here. Dinner's over." He seemed almost back to his usual self as he gestured to the maitre d'. "Charge it to my room, Charles. Suite B," he said, slipping the man a bill that made his eyes widen. Turning back to Clark, he muttered, "Come on, let's go. I can't stand it any more."
Clark felt a moment's despair that he tried to quash as he followed Bruce; he had obviously pushed it too far and made the other man uncomfortable, seemed to be relishing the act too much. Which he had been, he admitted to himself brutally, and it hadn't been an act.
Rao, how was he ever going to be able to work with Bruce again now that he realized he felt this way? He was still pondering how he was going to manage it when he realized they were waiting for an elevator. Apparently Bruce needed to make sure people actually saw him entering the suite with his "new lover," and Clark braced himself for a continuation of the agonizing façade.
"Elevator's slow," Bruce noted, one wingtipped foot drumming the marble floor.
"Too damn slow," Bruce muttered. "Jesus, I'm not made of stone."
The elevator opened with a polite ding and Bruce stepped in, Clark following him. As the door closed, it dawned on Clark that Bruce must be concerned the elevator was bugged, because suddenly he was in Bruce's arms. His mouth did taste like wine now, he noted dimly. Delicious, irresistible..."God, Bruce, yes," he gasped, letting the act take hold of him and carry him into the truth beyond it.
The door opened and they tumbled out into the hall, the top-floor concierge's eyebrows hardly lifting at the sight of two men in evening dress falling out of the elevator embracing. One more person to fool, one last corridor to navigate...
Clark stopped Bruce as he was putting the key in the door. "Wait. Wait," he said desperately, gathering the other man close for another long kiss. Soon, he knew, the door would close behind them and then the act would end, and Clark would have to start the new act, the hideous facade of pretending not to care, not to want...
Bruce was untying Clark's tie and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt in the middle of the kiss, and then he was breaking away, his face flushed. "Enough," he muttered. "That's enough of being in public. Let's get inside where we can be alone." He opened the heavy door and went inside and Clark followed, miserable. Enough.
The door swung shut with a final click and Clark crossed the room to stand next to the bed, squaring his shoulders. "Well," he said, making his voice casual, "That was--"
Very suddenly, he was half-sitting on the bed with Bruce on top of him. "My beautiful Clark," Bruce said breathlessly, kissing him. "My irresistible Clark, my gorgeous Clark, my Clark."
Clark struggled not to take advantage of the situation, waiting for Bruce to come up with some excuse to leave the obviously-also-bugged room. When Bruce showed no inclination to do so, Clark began to worry it was supposed to be his job to come up with an excuse. He interrupted Bruce's rapturous litany to lean forward and whisper in his ear. < Ushurra? > Kryptonian for "Is someone listening?" and their code for checking for bugs.
Bruce pulled back and laughed, pressing kisses onto Clark's cheekbones and nose. "Are you kidding? I checked this room a dozen times today. There's absolutely no way it's bugged, my glorious Kal, my magnificent Kal."
Kal. There was absolutely no way Bruce would use his real name if the room had any chance of being bugged. Clark's mind struggled to make sense of what was going on as Bruce busied himself with unbuttoning his shirt, his hands shaking slightly.
After a moment, Bruce paused. "What's wrong?" He pulled his attention from the buttons to focus on Clark's face, concern changing quickly to alarm at what he saw there. "Clark, what is it?"
"Why are we here?" Clark asked.
Bruce's eyes went wary. "We're on a date. Aren't we?"
Clark stood up abruptly and Bruce slid off his lap. "Of course, but--you mean--this was real? Really real?" Bruce stared at him as he continued, "I mean--sure, but...I thought it was for some mission--I thought you needed someone to pretend with, to--"
For one moment, all the expression drained away from Bruce's face, leaving only bleakness. Then he squared his shoulders and smiled carelessly. "Well, certainly. And you played your part very well, Clark. Thank you." He waved an aristocratic hand at the door. "You may go now."
Clark looked at the door. Then he looked at Bruce, who was brushing a hand through his disarranged hair, his smile empty. He stepped away from the door and closer to Bruce, approaching him as you might approach a wounded, cornered animal. "Bruce," he said softly.
"Just go, Clark," Bruce gritted through his smile.
Clark swallowed. "It was a wonderful date. I've never been on a better one. I was...afraid it was over. I didn't want it to be over." He put out a hand, very slowly, and touched Bruce's hair. "I'm a terrible actor, really," he confessed as he brushed his hand through silky darkness.
Clark couldn't help laughing a little. "The caring about you, the wanting to help, the worrying about you--that could never be an act. I thought the rest was. I was wrong." He slid his fingers through dark hair, curving over an ear. Bruce's eyes drifted shut at the touch. "See, if I could act at all, I'd be acting cool and suave and seductive right now." He drew a finger along the line of Bruce's jaw, lingering. "But I can't...I can't..." He leaned close, unable to say any more.
This time the kiss was awkward, almost clumsy; Bruce's mouth beneath his was cool and closed and Clark felt something tighten in his throat, a choking feeling. "Bruce," he murmured, "I'll never be able to pretend I don't love you again, not even to myself...don't ask me to, please." Bruce made a very small sound, too low to be either a sigh or a whimper, and Clark kissed him once more; this time Bruce returned the kiss, gently at first, then with increasing heat.
Some time passed with Clark reveling in his new knowledge and the feel of Bruce's lips and hands; slowly he became aware that Bruce was laughing quietly into the kiss. "What is it?" he asked, nipping an earlobe very gently.
"All that work, Clark...I tried so hard to be romantic, and you spent the whole date thinking it was business!"
Clark paused to loosen the gray-striped tie at Bruce's throat, dropping a kiss on his Adam's apple, savoring the other man's responding shiver. "I hope not the whole date," he said softly. "It's not over, is it?"
The alacrity with which Bruce tossed him onto the bed and straddled him, a predatory grin lighting his face, was answer enough. "No more pretending, Clark," Bruce said before capturing his mouth once more, and Clark showed his complete and enthusiastic sincerity in every way he could think of, all through the night.
See Rai's full art here!