The Justice League, or a portion of it, at least, had just returned from a very difficult mission. Half the team was in medbay and the half were either aliens or trying not limp. Batman, though a normal person wouldn't know it by looking at him, had suffered more than most. While Green Arrow was human, his archery allowed him to escape a good portion of close range combat. Black Canary had her Cry to keep away someone she couldn't beat up with her fists or staff. The Flash was a metahuman with an increased healing factor. Green Lantern had his shields of energy. Wonder Woman was an Amazonian Princess, and was a lot tougher than she looked. Superman, of course, was fairing the best due to his virtually indestructible skin and super strength and flight ability and all that.
Batman, though..., he had it bad. He didn't have any super powers. Sure, he was fast, and agile, and had really good reflexes. Sure, he was one of the best martial artists alive. But while most of the League could get thrown through a building without getting more than a scratch or a bruise, Batman was human. He could brake, oh so easily.
He was a strong human, the strongest Superman had ever known, but that didn't mean he was indestructible, invincible, or unbreakable. He was human, which meant his skin bruised and bled, his bones broke, his internal organs suffered from the jarring crashes and body throws. He could get concussions, though his cowl partially helped in that area.
Compared to most members of the Justice League, though, Batman was so vulnerable.
He wouldn't admit it of course. Batman had pride, a lot more than most people, and he was determined to carry more than his fair share of the load. He was a leader, a fighter, an ally, a soldier, a detective, a mentor, and he had a secret identity to manage all at the same time. He had to be strong, or he would buckle under all the weight he continuously stacked on his broad shoulders.
Yes, they were broad, but not infinitely so.
Batman had limits, though he'd be the last one to admit or acknowledge that fact. Superman knew it though. He knew it well. He knew just how much Batman suffered after each battle, and yet he was never one of the people in medbay. He always waited until he got back to the Batcave where he'd either patch himself up or let Alfred do it for him.
He never limped. He never winced. He never made a single sound of pain. Yet Superman could hear the almost imperceptible hiss in each breath as his lungs pushed against his shattered ribs. He could hear the broken bones shifting against each other with each of Batman's steps.
After this particular mission, Batman was more beat up than normal. He refused help, though, like always, and went about his business, like always. He never complained. Never said a word about his numerous broken bones, countless bruises, about the mild concussion, or the long jagged cuts along his left leg, abdomin, and left bicep.
Superman was fed up.
Once the debriefing was over and Batman had had his say about the mission, he dismissed everyone. Superman walked up to him and asked if he could speak to him alone for a minute. Being Superman, he could see behind the cowl. He could see the obvious disappointment that he couldn't go home yet. He could hear the minute resigned sigh that anyone else would have missed. It kind of hurt, to make him go through this, but Superman knew it was necessary.
Of course, Batman agreed to speak with him, so they patiently waited for everyone to filter out. As soon as the room was empty, Superman spoke. "Close doors." The doors followed his command, silently sweeping across the floor as they shut. Batman gave him a strange look, but Superman ignored it. He felt something close to rage burning inside him ,and he was having a hard time keeping it under control.
He grabbed Batman's arm, the one with the deep cuts, and used it to push Batman against the wall. Batman was too shocked by the actions and the pain it wrought to fight him off. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did that hurt, Batman? Did it hurt your broken ribs when you hit the wall? Does it hurt the lacerations on your arm when I grip them like this? Are you in pain, Batman?"
The ice in his voice was enough to chill anyone. Batman was Superman's best friend in this world, and he was tired of watching him suffer. "You haven't answered my question, Batman. Does it hurt? Or are you somehow immune to pain?"
Batman glared at him and swallowed tightly. "I don't know what you're talking about, Superm-"
Batman actually seemed surprised at Superman's outburst. He was usually so under control, so calm in any situation. Superman could understand the shocked look that he glimpsed on Batman's face for a nanosecond.
Superman used his free hand to pull off Batman's cowl for him, trying to ignore the barely audible hiss of pain from the man in front of him. "What the hell are you doing, Kent?"
Clark didn't back down. There were no masks between them now. They were Clark and Bruce, not Superman and Batman. He could do this, handle Bruce's temper. "I'm helping you. You are just to stubborn to recognize or accept that help."
Bruce didn't need the cowl to give an impressive glare, but Clark didn't twitch. "Let go of me, Clark."
"Of course, Bruce. But we are having this conversation. Now." Clark released Bruce's arm, his heart twinging at the other man's tiny sigh of relief. With one more scowl, Bruce stomped off to the doors, but Clark spoke before he could get there. "Initiate lock down mode. No one leaves the room." The sound of the doors locking echoed through the otherwise silent hall as Bruce slowly turned around to stare menacingly at Clark.
He nodded. "Hal, J'onn, Diana, and Barry have all been informed that this conversation is happening. They understand its importance and are prepared to use any means necessary to keep you here until this talk is over."
Clark recognized the look on Bruce's face, knew he was considering trying to fight his way out, and Clark sighed. "Bruce, you're strong, very strong, but right now you are bruised, bleeding, broken, and exhausted. In prime condition it would be nearly impossible for you to beat all of us at once. In your current condition, you'd probably get yourself killed trying. You are Batman, Bruce, so learn how to pick your battles. Sit down and listen to me talk for a few minutes. If you still feel and act the same way when we are done, we will both leave here knowing you are running me into an early grave. Now please. Sit. Down."
With a look that could make the sun freeze over, Bruce grudgingly grabbed a chair and sat down in it. With a small smile that was only slightly smug, Clark pulled out a chair to place it across from Bruce and plop down in it. "Are you prepared to listen, Bruce?"
The billionaire worked his jaw but he nodded. The atmosphere was tense, as were all of Bruce's already tired muscles, and Clark let out a disappointed sigh. "You don't have to be so tense, Bruce. You can trust me, you know that. I promise this won't escalate into any sort of physical confrontation unless you let loose the first blow. And even then, I'll only defend myself. You don't need any more injuries than you've already got."
Bruce huffed, still refusing to speak, but Clark caught some of the tension seeping from the man's muscles. Letting out a long breath, Clark ran his fingers through his hair. He had been thinking about how to approach this topic for a while now, but he was still unsure he knew what he was doing. Deciding now was better than never, regardless of what he said, he plunged ahead.
"Bruce, I'm human." That got his attention. "I'm an alien, yes, but I'm human. I was raised by humans, with humans. I live in a human world, surrounded by humans. If it weren't for a couple physical differences that aren't even really visible, I'd be completely human."
"Being human means that I have human feelings. I feel anger, obviously, and guilt and shame and regret and happiness. But I feel worry too. I, like all humans, worry about the people that I care about. Bruce, you aren't going to like it any way I phrase it, but I worry about you. A lot. All the time. And it isn't because I don't think you are capable, or strong. I don't think you need to be worried about. I don't think you are weak. I think you deserve to be here more than anyone else."
"You are strong, Bruce. You are so strong. When people look at me, they know I'm an alien, so when I get thrown through a couple buildings and get a mountain dropped on my head, they aren't really all that surprised when I come out on the other side without a hair out of place. But you, Bruce, you are human. You are a very strong human, but still human." Bruce made a very unhappy face when Clark pointed that out, so basically, his face didn't really change.
"And yet, you seem to make everybody forget that very fact. When you are leading missions or giving them out, taking on the Joker or dealing with the League's diplomacy, everybody seems to forget that the man under the mask is just that - a man. You make everybody think you're invincible, even when inside your bones are grinding against each other and you've got black and purple bruises covering just about everything. Everybody forgets you're human."
"Except me. I can't forget that, Bruce, because I have supervision. I can see every cut, every bruise, every fracture in your nose and ribs, every torn ligament, all the destroyed cartilage. I see the concussions, the contusions, everything. I see the scars. I see the lines in your bones that mark all the previous brakes. Do you want me to count how many times you've broken each of your bones? Because I could count. I can't forget how human you are, because I can hear every hiss of pain. I can hear the broken fragments of your nose, or knuckles, or ribs scraping and clicking against each other, and it kills me every time."
"It doesn't help me though. It doesn't help me to see all your wounds and injuries. Yeah, it reminds me that you're human. Yeah, it let's me know to be careful when I'm around you so I don't jar your broken ribs or bump into a bruise bigger than my head. But it doesn't really help me to see your injuries, because you don't show your pain. I am virtually invincible, Bruce. I don't know what it is to have those bruises, or those cuts. I don't know what it is to have broken every rib in my body at least seven times. I don't get it. I can't. Seeing the wounds doesn't help me, because I don't actually know what hurts, or how much. It doesn't help me to see. It just makes it worse. I truly understand the whole 'ignorance is bliss' thing. If I was ignorant like everybody else, if I didn't know about the sprained ankle you've been walking, running, climbing, flipping, and kicking with for a week and a half without so much as a brace or a wrap, then maybe I wouldn't worry about you half as much as I do. But that isn't true, because you always worry about the people you care about, no matter what, and I care about you, Bruce."
Bruce was never one to avoid anything. But he avoided Clark's eyes right then. It hurt a little, but Clark understood. He understood not feeling strong enough. He understood having your failures or flaws being examined under a microscope, and Clark knew that's how Bruce felt, even if that wasn't what Clark was doing. Bruce viewed every scar, cut, bruise, and break as a mark of failure, a place where he could have dodged or blocked but didn't.
"Bruce, look at me." It took a moment, but the Knight of Gotham finally met Clark's eyes. "I worry about you - no, don't look away from me, Bruce - I worry about you, but not because you're weak. You aren't weak, at all. You really are so strong, and that's part of why I worry."
Bruce almost looked confused, and a pang of fond affection was felt in Clark's gut. "Bruce, you are so strong. You force yourself to be. You don't give yourself room for weakness or limitations. You don't trouble yourself with necessities like sleep or food or a day off here and there. And it scares me, Bruce, because what happens when the weight on your shoulders is too much, but you won't let anyone help you carry it? What happens when a piece of your ribs chips off and pierces a lung or your heart? Where will that leave the League, and Gotham? Where will that leave your friends? And yes you do have those even if you say you don't. I am a prime example of that. So where will that leave me? Where will that leave Dick Grayson, when his father is dead? He's already lost one. He doesn't need to lose another."
Bruce's seemed to be shocked out of his emotionless facade, because his jaw dropped. He floundered for something to say and Clark actually began to hope this conversation might have some sort of impact, that it might actually make some kind of difference.
"Bruce, you matter. I don't mean that the Batman matters. Of course, he does, but you, Bruce, matter too. There are people who care about you. What about Alfred? The guy practically raised you. He loves you like his own son. You know he would blame himself if you ran yourself into the ground, and he would blame himself for the simple fact that he couldn't do anything about it. You aren't the only one who hates feeling powerless, Bruce, but that's exactly how you make me feel every time you ignore your pain or your injuries. I can't force you to take care of yourself, and even if I could, I wouldn't want to. I want you to want to take care of yourself. Being strong is one thing. Completely ignoring the fact that you have four broken ribs, a shattered nose, a dislocated ring finger, a hairline fracture in your right shin, nine gashes along the left side of your body, and two broken toes is entirely different."
Bruce actually looked guilty. He shifted in his seat, grunting quietly in pain when the lacerations on his leg rubbed against the chair wrong. Clark smiled softly at him before asking a question.
"What's so wrong with being human?"
Bruce's head jerked up to look at him. He obviously had not expected that question. He didn't answer, but Clark wasn't going to let him sit in silence.
"It wasn't a rhetorical question, Bruce. What's wrong with humans? Or being one?"
It took him a moment, but Bruce finally came up with an answer. "Humans are weak. Humans aren't the strongest species. We aren't the smartest species. We aren't the oldest or the wisest. We are young and weak and foolish, but I can't afford to be any of those things. If I want to save Gotham, if I went to help the world, then I have to rise above that. I can't do that as a human."
Clark nodded for a moment before he leaned forward on his elbows with a furoughed brow. "I disagree, Bruce. Being human is hard. It sucks. I know because I tried it. I tried to be human. I willingly lost my powers, to be human, and you know what? I couldn't do it. I couldn't handle it. I, Superman, wasn't strong enough to be human. But humans are. You're right when you say they aren't the strongest species. It's their weakness that makes them strong though, because in spite of everything, in spite of the strength of Humanity's foes, they still prevail. They still come out on top in the end. Humans aren't the smartest either, yet they are constantly growing, learning, invented, and creating. One day, if given long enough, Humanity could become the smartest, because Humanity is capable of growth. They aren't the wisest, and they make so many mistakes. And yet, they learn from those mistakes. They use the instances in which they were weak to teach themselves how to be stronger. And they are young. Humanity is a fairly young species, especially when compared to all the others. But in spite of their youth, they still stand. They still hold their ground. Older species have had so long to learn and grow and get stronger, yet in such a short amount of time, Humanity has grown capable of defending itself against forces of insurmountable might and age and knowledge. I admire humans."
Bruce just sat there, stunned into silence. He didn't respond, so Clark continued. "You, Bruce, are human. The fact that you, a human, can fight along side aliens and metahumans proves that humans can be strong. I admire humans, Bruce, but I admire you most of all."
"You have the power to inspire people, Bruce. You have the ability to make humanity stronger. If nobody knows you're hurt, then they won't think of you as human. But if they know that you get hurt, that you bleed and bruise and brake just like the rest of them, if they know that you push through, that you still stand up and do what needs to be done regardless of the pain, you might just encourage them to do the same. You might prove to humanity that they could be some much stronger than they are, if they only choose it."
Bruce's face simultaneously grew more expressive and harder to read. It was like Bruce was feeling so much and he was revealing it, honestly desplaying his emotions on his face, but there were too many to interpret at the same time. After several minutes of Clark watching some sort of debate rage across his friend's features, Bruce sighed and slumped forward in defeat. "Clark..."
They were the first words he had spoken without bring prompted since the conversation had begun, and he sounded so broken and helpless, like he was hoping Clark would figure it out so he wouldn't have to. Bruce cleared his throat and began again. "Clark, I don't know how. I don't know how to show it. I don't know how to really lean on others like you're asking me to. Every since I was a kid, I've bottled everything up inside and I... Clark, how do I do this? How do I do what you're asking me to do?"
Clark's face lit up in a small smile and he dropped a comforting hand on Bruce's shoulder. "First, you need to find people you trust."
Bruce didn't even hesitate. "I trust you."
"Alfred. Mostly Dick, but I don't want to burden him more than I already have. The kid has enough on his plate. Diana and J'onn are good friends, and I know they are reliable. Hal and Barry, too. But I trust you and Alfred the most."
Clark's heart skipped a beat when he heard how highly Bruce held him. To be trusted by Bruce on the same level as the man who had basically raised him was a true honor. "Well, once you know who you trust, you need to learn how to let them take care of you."
That earned a heartfelt grimace from Bruce that drew a hearty laugh from the alien. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well, you have all those wounds that need to be taken care of, and I'm sure Alfred wouldn't mind a break from being your nurse. Let me help you, Bruce. I've already seen the injuries. Let me help them mend."
The billionaire glanced up at Clark before looking away quickly. With a resigned sigh, he sat up straight, looking Clark in the eye. "Alright, Clark. Let's play doctor."
Chuckling at Bruce's choice of words, he quickly went for the medkits, sending the others a quick message that they could go home now because everything was taken care of. Returning with the kit, he sat it down on the meeting hall table and began preparing some of the things he knew he'd need. "Bruce, you'll have to get out of the suit."
Bruce spluttered, trying to come up with a reaction that wasn't mostly embarrassing. Clark let out a deep laugh, giving Bruce a mischievous look. "What? You aren't going commando in that, are you?"
Bruce was beet red at that point, something Clark had never had the chance to see before. "No! I don't... I don't go COMMANDO, Clark!" A few moments passed of Bruce breathing heavily and trying to contain his blush befire the Knight spoke again, stuttering at first. "D-do... Do you go commando?"
Clark couldn't help it. Bruce looked so extremely uncomfortable and yet so genuinely curious. Clark couldn't help but take advantage of it. He threw Bruce a teasing, slightly suggestive, smile. "I'm not telling, but you're welcome to check for yourself any time."
Bruce raised an eyebrow and immediately fell into playboy Billionaire Brucie mode. "Did you just invite me to look in your pants?" The smirk said he was vaguely impressed by his boldness and slightly amused by the flirtatious offer. His eyes on the other hand... they looked quite interested.
Trying to hold back a smile, Clark continued sorting through the kit. "Yes. I believe I did, Mr. Wayne. And I believe the offer extended past merely looking."
Bruce smiled coyly. "Any time, did you say?"
Clark watched out of the corner of his eye as Bruce made a show of eyeing his 'assets'. Bruce knew Clark could see his appraisal, and he was quite the performer. That's what playboy Bruce Wayne was after all, a performance, an act he put on for the world.
"I'll consider it. But you should know," Bruce slowly stood up from the chair and sauntered over to Clark. Placing a hand on his lower back, he slipped a thumb under the hem of the shirt of Superman's uniform. Clark's heart skipped and his breath hitched. Were they really going to escalate this? After all this time, was it finally going to happen? "I'm likely to take up any offer. Next time, make sure you're serious."
Clark didn't allow himself to acknowledge the pang of disappointment as he slipped an amused grin on his lips. Bruce backed away and returned to the chair, letting out a faint groan at the effort it took. Raising an eyebrow, Clark looked over Bruce, taking in all the injuries he needed to tend to. "Alright, Bruce. Here's something you should be familiar with. Strip."
Bruce snorted, the action somewhere between his Bruce Wayne facade and his darker alter ego. He removed his gauntlets and leaned over to slip off his boots. He hissed again, obviously in pain due to his fractured shin, broken toes, broken ribs, and dislocated finger, all of which were jostled by the action.
Clark took a second to watch, concern evident on his face. The third time Bruce made a sound of pain, he couldn't take it any more. He walked over to Bruce and helped him slide out of the upper portion of his suit. When he looked down to examine the broken ribs, Clark caught a glimpse of the actual skin. It was black, pure black, with traces of purple around the edges. The bruises were swelling, a lot, and Clark choked on his inhale. "Rao, Bruce." He kneeled down, staring at the abused flesh with a lump in his throat. He didn't even want to think if the gashes that twisted along his side and over across his chest, all nearly a foot long.
Bruce forced a chuckle, trying to play it light. "I know my abs are amazing, Clark, but I didn't think you of all people would be very impressed, considering your own physique."
Clark shot a stern look at Bruce, his hands coming up to lightly trace at the dark flesh. "First of all, your abs would be impressive to anyone, regardless of their own muscularity." Clark ignored the skip in Bruce's heart beat in favor of tending to his wounds. "Second of all, how the hell have you been walking around like this? You should have gone to medbay the moment we arrived, you stubborn bastard."
The smile Bruce gave him was entirely fond, and it warmed a portion of his chest. The rest of it was still frozen over by the sheer enormity of Bruce's wounds and, obviously, his pain. Clark let out a sigh and helped Bruce remove the rest of the suit. Now the man was sitting before him in nothing but underwear.
"Should I take these off too, or would you prefer I leave them on?"
Rolling his eyes, Clark pulled the medkit over and knelt down in front of Bruce's legs, keeping to the side slightly to keep them both from dirtier thoughts. "Do have any injuries under there?"
"Shouldn't you already know, Mr. Supervision?"
"Then why are you bothering to ask?"
Clark gave the man an amused smirk. "So you can practice being honest about your wounds."
Bruce huffed and shook his head in irritation, but there was a light in his eyes as he spoke. "Bruises on my left hip, and and a small scatch that I promise isn't even big enough for a band-aid."
Clark gave him a critical look before blatantly staring at the spot on his hip that was covered, taking in the sight of the injury. Bruce shot him an annoyed glare. "If you can see right through them, why do I even bother wearing them at all?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "I can only see through them when I choose, and where I choose." The alien made eye contact with Bruce, looking as genuine as humanly possible. "I would never invade your privacy on that level, Bruce. Injuries are one thing, but that is another. I'm not a perve, Bruce." He changed his voice to something more light and teasing. "Unless you want me to be, Mr. Wayne?"
Bruce scoffed, but the corners of his lips turned up in a small smile. "Don't you have a job to do, Mr. Kent?"
That was a cop out. Bruce was deliberately deflecting these situations. Clark wouldn't have given it a second thought, except that he knew Bruce wasn't entirely straight. And he knew Bruce wasn't entirely uninterested, either. Bruce wanted him, of that much he was sure, so why the evasion?
Clark thought he knew why. Today, Clark had made Bruce feel very vulnerable. He had shed light on many things Bruce had tried to keep hidden. He had dragged the cat out of the bag with force, and then with words, and Bruce had had more than enough excitement for one day.
"Yes, I do." Clark grabbed a soft washcloth and dabbed it in a bowl of warm water. He reached over and gently grabbed one of Bruce's feet, the one with the sprained ankle, not the broken toes. He ran the cloth over the skin, cleaning and massaging and kneading the balls of his feet, the heels, and the arch. He took extra care with the ankle. At first, Bruce let out a barely audible hiss of pain, but after a few moments of tender kneading, the hiss turned into a moan of pleasure. Clark did what he could to keep his thoughts pure, seeing as his skin tight suit didn't hide anything in the slightest, but the moans were killing him.
After a few minutes of massaging, Clark grabbed a bandage and wrapped it skillfully around Bruce's ankle and heel so it could heal properly. Clark washed out the cloth so that it would be fresh for the next food and used his laser vision to heat the water again.
When the water was not too hot for application to human skin, he started again with the other foot. The instant he touched his fingers to the Achilles tendon, Bruce clenched his fists. This leg was the one with two broken toes and a fractured shin. Clark knew he would have to be careful, but he hadn't expected such a violent reaction (it was the Batman equivalent of a normal human crying out in pain). He quickly scanned the foot and leg, but he frowned when he didn't find anything knew. Clark looked up at Bruce, searching for an explanation in his eyes.
Bruce immediately shut down all external tells of emotion. He waved a hand at Clark dismissively. "It's nothing. You can continue, Clark."
Uh-uh. No. Clark was not having it. He shot up from his spot on the floor, leaning over Bruce with his hands on the armrests and a knee on thr seat between Bruce's legs. "Bruce, no. Stop hiding. You don't need to, not with me."
Bruce made eye contact, but barely. After a few moments of a silent staring contest, Bruce sighed in defeat and looked down at his lap, their foreheads inches from each other. "It's not really that bad, Clark, I promise. I just got relaxed. I was more comfortable, so my reaction was less guarded. It's no worse than anything else that's happened tonight, and far better than a lot of it." Bruce looked up at Clark, their noses brushing against each other for a second before Bruce pulled a bit away. "I'm fine. Not perfect, but fine. You can continue."
Clark searched Bruce's eyes thoroughly. Batman was a skilled liar, but not skilled enough to fool a guy who could take a professional triage just by looking at him. After a few seconds, Clark nodded and knelt back down, satisfied. Bruce released the breath he had been holding, and Clark gingerly got to work on the other foot.
After gently cleaning off all the dirt, Clark looked up at Bruce. "You have two broken toes."
Bruce gave him a wry smile. "Yeah, you mentioned that."
"I'm going to have to set them."
Nodding, Bruce shrugged. "Do your worst, Doc."
Clark rolled his eyes, but immediately reached for a toe and pulled, not giving Bruce any warning or time to prepare. Once that toe was back in its proper place, Clark moved on to the next one without a second's pause.
Bruce let out a long, even exhale when Clark was finished. Broken fingers and toes are some of the more painful things, along with setting them. Clark knew this from research he had done. It kind of amazed him that Bruce had managed to be completely silent during the process of getting the bones back in place. The only sign of pain he had made was a small wince. Still, the amazement didn't mean he wasn't frustrated. He decided not to say anything this time. He'd work his way there.
Clark massaged the foot for a bit before moving on to the shin. "It's only a fracture, so it isn't too big a deal. I highly doubt you'd let me give you a cast," a quick glance up proved his suspicion, "So I'll have to settle for asking you to move around as little as possible. Sit at home. Don't get up to do anything. Let Alfred take care of you. Don't go to parties to maintain your social life." Bruce was cowling at him, and Clark couldn't hold back the small laugh. "Tell people you broke it spelunking. I don't know. The less you use it, the faster it will heal and the less pain you will feel." Clark ran his fingers up and down the side of Bruce's calf, looking up at him with sincere eyes. "I'm just looking out for you, Bruce."
It took a minute but Bruce finally grunted in agreement. "How long?"
Clark sighed. "You won't listen if I tell you to stay off it for a month, so let's cut to three weeks. But I'm coming to check on you." Bruce glared at him, and Clark glared right back. They each did silent negotiations in their heads. Clark tried again. "How about I come by every week to check, and if you're doing better, I'll let you off early. That better, or are you still going to be a stubborn martyr?"
Clark could see the small smile Bruce was holding at bay. The billionaire nodded his consent and Clark grinned. "Well hallelujah. Miracles still happen." Clark rewetted the cloth and gently massaged first one calf, then the other. Thankfulky, Bruce managed to contain his moans of pleasure as Clark's deft fingers worked knots out of his muscles.
When that was finished, Clark stood up and looked over Bruce, trying to decide where to start next. After a quick consideration, Clark held out his hand. "Give me your hand, Bruce. He one with the dislocated finger." Bruce complied and set the hand in Clark's. Feeling brave, Clark sat on the now empty armrest, facing backwards, and began dealing with Bruce's hand.
As Clark worked, slowly running the cloth over the skin to clean away any dirt or sweat that had accumulated within Bruce's gauntlet. Then, without saying a word, Clark grabbed Bruce's ring finger and pulled to line it up again. When he released the finger, it was straight again, and Clark gave himself a pleased smile.
Gudging by the glare Clark was skillfully ignoring, Bruce was not happy with the lack of warning. Clark was though. In his surprise, Bruce had made a sound of pain. It was quiet and strangled, but it was progress.
Clark smiled smugly as he walked around to Bruce's other side to deal with the two gashes running along his left bicep. Bruce huffed when he saw the smile, but his expression was fond as he watched Clark get rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and disinfectant. Clark cleaned the wound thoroughly before applying an antibiotic cream and firmly wrapping bandages around the gashed. "Get Alfred to change these everyday for a week. And try not to get them wet until they've scabbed over. These ones aren't deep enough for stitches, but you still should be careful."
Bruce hummed his understanding, too busy watching Clark to give more of a response. Clark felt his cheeks heat up slightly under Bruce's scrutiny, but he was pleased at the attention. It only confirmed his early thoughts about Bruce's attraction to him.
With a sigh, Clark decided in what order he would deal with the rest of Bruce's injuries. Broken nose first, and then the three gashes on his left thigh. He'd deal with the four lacerations on Bruce's side last, since his broken ribs would make it most painful. Clark grabbed what he need and went in front of Bruce. He kneeled with one knee of the chair and hovered over Bruce. "I'm going to set your nose now." Bruce nodded once.
With a deep breath, Clark placed his fingers on the bridge of Bruce's nose and used all his self control to push the bones back into place without using too much strength and destroying one of Billionaire Brucie's best features. Bruce closed his eyes as Clark set the two nasal bones back in place and he breathed deeply though his mouth. Clark could feel his warm breath ghosting over his chin, and he had to consciously keep himself from letting his breath hitch.
Clark applied the tape that held the nose together, allowing the jaw bone to act as a sort of cast for the nose. Quickly, because he felt like it, he took the cloth and wiped the dirt and grime off of Bruce's face. It was particularly helpful in the places that weren't covered by Batman's cowl. Bruce raised an eyebrow and gave him a dubious look, but Clark just smiled at him and kept going till Bruce was clean as new.
When Clark's hand dipped down to clean Bruce's neck, Bruce let out a contented sigh before he caught himself. He reached up and grabbed Clark's wrist, making him freeze. "My neck isn't dirty, Clark. The cowl does a pretty good job of keeping me clean."
Clark knew Bruce wasn't stopping him because his actions weren't needed. He didn't push. He only looked at Bruce for a moment before nodding and pulling away. "Don't blow your nose," was his reply. "If you get conjested, take a hot shower and breathe the steam in through your nose. It'll help brake down the mucus and stuff. Try not to touch your nose, and breathe through your mouth more often."
Bruce rolled his eyes. "I've had a lot of broken noses before, Clark. My nose still looks exactly the same, so I think I know what I'm doing."
Clark smiled. "I know you've had a lot. I counted. I just wanted to make sure you're being careful."
Bruce smirked. "I'm always careful with my face. It's the money maker."
Laughing, Clark grabbed a stool and carried it over close to where Bruce was sitting. "I need you to sit on this so I can get to your thigh without the armrests getting I can the way."
When Bruce stood up, Clark heard his back and hip pop. He snorted quietly at the sound and Bruce raised a questioning eyebrow. Clark shrugged. "It's nothing, Bruce. I think I only just now realized that you have actually aged some since we met. You don't show it, not really, but it's there." Clark knew he was practically making heart eyes at Bruce, and that, mixed with the goofy, fond smile on his face, pretty much gave away how strong his feelings were for Bruce, but if the billionaire noticed he didn't mention it.
Who was he trying to kid? Clark knew Bruce had seen, had noticed. Bruce noticed everything. He just didn't let on that he knew anything, that he had learned anything. Maybe this was nothing new to him. Maybe Bruce had known for a while. It wouldn't surprise him, considering how perceptive Bruce was and how obvious Clark knew he could be at times. Clark sighed as Bruce sat down on the stool and got what he needed before going an kneeling down at Bruce's side.
Gingerly, Clark washed off the blood with the cloth, cleaned the wounds, and applied some disinfectant. Two of them were shallow enough for just bandages, but one needed to be stitched. He reached over, having to stretch his back to get to what he needed, and grabbed a sterile needle and the appropriate thread. When he leaned back, he noticed Bruce had been watching him, eyes moving up and down his body.
Forcing down the blush that threatened to ravish his face and neck, Clark got to work stitching up the deep laceration in Bruce's thigh. It started at the middle of his hip and curved down and over ending at a spot almost in the middle of the inside of Bruce's thigh. He worked slowly, making sure he did it well. He didn't want to the stitches to rip or come out before the wound was healed.
As he made his way over Bruce's thigh, he had to change positions, moving to kneel between Bruce's legs. Since he was having trouble reaching it, he gently pushed Bruce's thighs apart more and leaned lower so his hands had a better angle. He heard Bruce's heart beat more rapidly. Clark just then released how compromising the position was. He was definitely blushing at that point, but he pointedly stared at the gash on Bruce's thigh, trying to keep his thoughts clean and his lower deck soft.
When the stitches were in, Clark ran his finger along the line to make sure the stitches were firm. He noticed Bruce's breath hitch as his finger made its way down the inside of his thigh, and Clark had to swallow harshly to keep himself from deviating from his course. With a firm nod, he tied off the ends so they wouldn't come out. He placed his hands on either of Bruce's thighs as he stood, pretending he was using them for balance, though he knew that Bruce knew better.
After applying some antibiotic cream, Clark grabbed some bandages and, after only only a moment's hesitation, returned to his spot between Bruce's legs, though he wasn't quite so low to the ground in order to get an good angle. He placed a strong hand under Bruce's thigh and slowly, gently lifted it in the air, using his other hand to deftly wrap the cloth around Bruce's thigh. He allowed his fingers to trail over Bruce's skin, just barely enough that Clark could feel it. Judging from slight bulge that was beginning to develop in Bruce's underwear, Bruce could feel it too.
Once that was done, Clark released Bruce's thigh and went to get the supplies he needed for the lacerations and bruises on Bruce's chest and stomach. He talked as he gathered the necessary items. "Don't get the stitches wet. I'll give you some medical tape to use when you shower, but you still should try to be quick just in case. If you want to be extra careful, though I know you probably don't, or you just don't want to take faster showers, take a bath and prop your thigh up above the water level. That should keep it dry." Clark swallowed after he said that, unable to keep from picturing Bruce in in a bathtub with his leg up out of the water.
Clearing his throat, Clark moved back over to where Bruce was sitting on the stool. He took a good look at Bruce's chest, swallowing down the bile that rose at the sight of him so beaten and bruised, broken and torn. There were bruises covering the entirety of his chest and abdomin, which meant the entire area was one big, black, partially swollen bruise. Four lacerations curved across his body, starting at his side and slicing over half of his chest and stomach.
The highest laceration started about two inches below Bruce's armpit and curved over, running underneath his pectoral muscle before changing paths to head up along the inside of the pec, only a couple centimeters from the nipple. It finally stopped just below the collar bone.
The next one was more flat, going in a straight line, starting right beneath the highest one and cutting across the top of Bruce's 8-pack. It ended a little father over than the others, underneath the right pectoral.
The third was extremely jagged, sharp angles jutting out of the main line, which sliced across his belly button, stopping just on the other side. Judging from thr dark red stains layered over the bruises, it had bled the most before it stopped, probably some time after they returned to the Watchtower.
The fourth was the least deep, but it was still deep enough to need stitches and it was also the widest, as if someone had ripped a stripe of Bruce's flesh off his body. It dipped down lower than where it started just below the line of Bruce's hip bone. It's curve brought it straight across the middle of Bruce's V muscle, stopping a centimeter past the middle of Bruce's body.
All were deep. All needed stitches. The bruises needed attention, because the swelling could cause internal problems. The broken ribs underneath it all would only make things more difficult. The administration of medical treatment, especially for these injuries, needed to be light and gentle. Considering his super strength, Clark wondered for the first time that night if he had the ability to help Bruce. He actually was considering calling J'onn for help when Bruce reached out and lightly grabbed his wrist.
"It's okay, Clark. I can take it. And you are more than capable." Clark looked up at Bruce's face, searching for any sign of nerves or fear. He didn't find any. "I trust you, remember?"
The tips of Clark's lips curved up as he nodded. Taking a deep breath, Clark made an executive decision. "I can't do this here."
Bruce's eyebrows furoughed, just enough to be noticeable. "Why not?"
"Sitting will make things more difficult. The stitches would be stretched to much the moment you stood up or lied down to sleep. It just... it won't work out well. Besides, it isn't a very good angle to do what needs to be done."
Bruce cocked his head to the side. "So then what?"
"Medbay. Everybody's cleared out by now. Hawk Woman is on monitor duty, but that's no where near medbay. Nobody else is here. If you can lay down on one of the beds in there, then I can do this properly."
Clark internally winced when Bruce hesitated, but he let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding when Bruce finally nodded. Clark gathered the stuff he needed to bring while Bruce forced himself to his feet. When Clark was ready, he turned back to Bruce and, after a moment's hesitation, gave the billionaire a teasing grin. "You probably won't let me carry you there, will you?"
The glare Bruce gave him was answer enough.