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Note: this is based on an amalgamation of JL, Smallville, and comics universes, but specifically is set after the short comic Trust by Chip Kidd & Alex Ross.

A Greater Compliment
by shalott

To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.

—George MacDonald

"I didn't have a chance to say this before," Clark says, over his shoulder, "but thanks."

"You're welcome," Bruce says.

They're in the Fortess. Braniac is safely locked up in the metahuman containment facility eight levels down; Green Lantern will be by in the morning to take him to Oa for permanent storage. The bits and pieces of his equipment that they didn't smash, taking him down, are piled up haphazardly across a series of lab tables.

The overhead light is bright and hot. Clark isn't sweating, of course; the light is in the solar spectrum, and his body soaks it up like desert ground under rain. Bruce's cape and gloves have been discarded onto the nearest table. The cowl, reinforced with steel, stands up mostly on its own, empty eyes watching the two of them.

The wound in Clark's back hasn't closed yet. Bruce thinks there are probably traces of kryptonite residue inside: not enough to be poisonous, but enough to keep the flesh from healing. He's irrigating the gash with sulfuric acid. The kryptonite structure doesn't lend itself well to shaping; it wants to splinter, to fracture, and the only way to manage it is with patience and acid, slowly eating-away until something approximating the right form is achieved.

The gun had to be specially designed to fire accurately and across a long distance without shattering the dart. Bruce knows a great deal about guns, of course; even handled many of them, taken from assorted thugs. He had never before lived with one. Never before fired, over and over, at a target painted in garish colors, moving at high speed, training hand and eye and mind to ignore the blur of red and blue, until he could hit the target every time.

"Ah, there it goes," Clark says. The wound is closing rapidly even before Bruce has the acid stoppered up. He wipes away the last traces. Under his hands, Clark's shoulders flex and roll, like tectonic plates shifting. His mouth is dry. He sees again Clark lying on the floor of the office, remembers every detail of the cheap grey carpeting under the fluorescent lights.

"Hey," Clark says. His hand is a burden on Bruce's shoulder. "You did what had to be done. And I even made it."

Bruce looks at him silently, and wonders if Clark realizes just how questionable the order of those two statements is. The dart came out before he'd found the implant. If Brainiac hadn't been so obvious in his overconfidence, if there had been no simple key to turn in the lock—a thousand possibilities for disaster.

Clark's hands are cupping his face now, the living warmth of them strange on skin more used to the cold grip of kevlar. "Bruce," Clark says.

Clark's mouth is almost unbearably hot, even in the cool silvery alcove of his bed, on thin sheets of alien material that refuse to rip under Bruce's clenching hands. His hands and his tongue move in ways that no human could match, with a perfectly human tenderness that is still more difficult to bear.

It's not the first time he's been here, and like all the times before, he endures in silence as long as he can. That's part of what this is about, Clark taking him apart so very carefully, all to put him back together again with the broken places mended. He hates that he needs it even while he is unspeakably grateful for it. It's too dangerous to need Clark when he has to be the one who can do the unthinkable.

He makes the first sound when Clark slides fingers into him, slick and deep in a single stroke, taking him in completely at the same time. Clark swallows him down as thoroughly as only a man who doesn't need to breathe more than once in twenty minutes can, curling his tongue around the base in small tickling strokes. Clark starts fucking him with the fingers immediately, steady and even thrusts against his prostate, pausing every so often. He knows before Bruce does when he's on the verge of orgasm, and he never lets it happen too soon.

Bruce has never asked where Clark learned to do these things. Clark hasn't had a male lover, not a steady one, since he came to Metropolis and put on the costume; that much Bruce knows from surveillance. And he knows that Clark hasn't gotten the experience through one-night-stands from having spoken to Clark more than twice: alien or not, he's not a hard guy to figure out. But this isn't charity, nothing like it, and he's pretty sure that Clark is more gay than straight. Normally he doesn't leave questions unanswered. But Clark would tell him, if he had the guts to ask, and he figures that if he can't do that, he doesn't have the right to know.

And he hasn't asked, because he knows Luthor spent four years in Smallville, the years when Clark would have been in high school, a couple years older than his classmates, ready to fall in love for the first time. In his own way, Luthor's as dangerous as the man between his legs right now. He might have to die someday, too. And it hasn't escaped Bruce's notice that everything in the Justice Lords' universe spun out of control when Clark killed Luthor. Bruce has promised himself that if it comes to that, it won't be Clark's hand, not here. But Bruce isn't sure he wants to know what he would be doing to Clark in the process.

He'll think of all of this afterwards, when he's caught his breath and Clark is yawning next to him, pulling the blankets over them both. Once again, he will not ask, preserving what little distance remains between them, so necessary to keep faith. For now, there is only the heat, the tension in all his limbs that builds under Clark's control, the broken, gasping cries that are scrabbling deep in his throat, and the pleasure near pain that seems, in the moment, as though it will never end.


All feedback much appreciated!
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