Grace in a loveless time
July 27, 2003
Disclaimers: Not even close to mine. Dammit.
Spoilers: Vague ones through season one, especially for A Knight of Shadows.
Summary: Clark reaches out.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Author's Note: For Livia and Bex's Superhero Roulette Challenge. Thanks, guys!
Acknowledgments: To Miss Livbun for audiencing.
Feedback: Makes me smile. firstname.lastname@example.org
It starts simply.
Clark doesn't even really think of it as a start -- or at least he hadn't. It was just... one night too many watching J'onn with his artifacts. With the painfully few reminders of who he had been, and the need to do something. Be something more than just a teammate.
He, after all, wears the last of Krypton on his back. He has never been tempted to use Brainiac as more than just an enemy he could hit harder than most. At least... not after he'd come to know the thing.
"Tell me about it," he'd said that first night. "About... them."
And J'onn had looked at him, one of those long, deep, sorrowful looks that Clark knows would break him if the man had pupils to define the expression. (And is that why he doesn't...?)
He'd talked of his family, of the way his wife's scent had spiced the air, the individual particles of her happiness sparkling more than the red sands. Of the time his son had danced across the railings of their balcony, stopping J'onn's heart and making him love him so much it had started all over again.
And Superman had smiled, and wondered what he was supposed to do with such a wealth of memory and grief, what he was supposed to say.
Wondered what he would be like if he'd had more of his parents than the suspect memories of machinery and Brainiac himself. Thought of Bruce, and how very much better at this he would be, and knew he'd never ask.
But J'onn had seen something in Clark that worked for him, and while he never specifically invited Clark back into his rooms, he had not barred him, either. Every night there was a new story, a new memory, and sometimes Clark thought he could see the Mars the man remembered. The sun a distant bright spark in the sky, the winds that would scour the flesh from a human's bones.
Once when he arrived, J'onn had shifted into his true form, and Clark had only been able to stare. So hard and angular, almost insectile as the man had cradled a glowing, irregular sphere in sharp-tipped fingers.
But no insect had ever managed to smile with so much gentle sadness, or had ever exuded such raw, massive age. Like a weight to the air, or a scent that could only be experienced on the skin.
And Clark had only been able to look, eyes wide and helpless, and think: I don't know why you bother with any of us.
And what he had eventually said wasn't much better. "Why don't you use that form more often?"
Before he could even wince, there was a trill of almost-laughter echoing through the back of his mind, and J'onn had shifted back to his usual form. "I think you know the answer to that... Kal-El."
Most nights, now, they sit mostly silently. J'onn teaches him games that don't quite make sense, and corrects the images in his mind with stranger things, truer things that make Clark... hunger for nothing but understanding.
Some nights it's something else entirely, and it embarrasses him deeply -- makes him blush to the roots of his hair -- but J'onn never says anything, just rests one strong, wrongly humanoid hand on his leg and.
Being looked at like that is both wonderful and deeply unsatisfying. Because he knows it's a kiss, it can't be anything but, and yet he can't help but remember J'onn's true form. The chitinous covering of everything soft, everything needy, everything that could feel.
Being looked at like that -- kissed like that -- is like being brushed through a veil. Or numbed all over and... something.
"Our species are very different," J'onn says, an effortless blend of apology and understanding in his tone, and Clark can only nod, and wait for the swirl of feeling and confusion to fade enough for him to leave.
He feels very, very young.
But he always comes back, and now there's nothing like a need to be a friend. Or... there is, but now it's something strangely cleaner than that. Something bereft of pity. He wants to know this man, wants more of that sinking, spiraling sensation of age, of alien-ness.
Because it's a true thing, and Superman lives in a world of masks and courtesy and violence, and sometimes it doesn't feel anything like true.
All of it so much meaningless chatter and fireworks that will fade to nothing long before the sun lets him age.
"I do not think our association is good for you, Superman."
And Clark doesn't miss the implied distance, and knows he wasn't supposed to. But, well, he spends a good deal of his life coping with Batman, and it takes more than a gentle admonishment to push him away. "I want to be your friend," he says, and knows he sounds more stubborn than earnest.
And J'onn smiles with his false mouth and beckons him in to his rooms. 'We already are' shivers its way through the back of Clark's brain.
He knows -- he thinks he knows -- that it's meant to be a caress.
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