Bruce was grumbling and he was doing it without making a sound. Another person might miss it, would think he was simply waiting out the situation patiently, but not Clark. He knew Bruce was grumbling. He knew by the set of his shoulders and the angle of his jaw. In the shadowy maze of his mind, Bruce was grumbling. It took considerable focus for Clark to keep a straight face, not that it mattered.
"Stop grinning," Bruce ground out and despite himself, Clark's face broke into a smile.
In leu of a response, Bruce only glared from his hospital bed. "Don't you have work to do?" he asked and let out a hacking cough.
Clark nodded and looked over the displays around Bruce. "Yup. And as it happens, I'm doing it."
"I don't need to be babysat."
"No, you need to be monitored. And I'll point out that nearly all the human members are ill. Even Wally was sick for an hour. So just sit back and relax. You'll be back to prowling rooftops in no time flat."
With a sigh, Bruce seemed to resign himself to the hospital bed and actually allowed a pained wince to crease his features as he brought a hand to his chest.
"Do you need anything?" Clark asked, almost coming to his feet.
The wince shifted into a grimace. "No."
"I can't leave you alone, Bruce," Clark replied to Bruce's unspoken desire for solitude. "This thing can get nasty fast. We nearly lost Hal."
Batman could only nod, and Clark was glad to see the combativeness fade a bit from Bruce's eyes. This bacteria was virulent and Clark was just thankful that they'd gotten everyone susceptible to the station before it was too late. Hal had gotten a face full of the stuff and was nearly dead by the time they got him help. It would have been far worse had Bruce not been there.
It was supposed to be a simple talk to diffuse tensions on an alien planet. Everyone had assured them it was a quick job, and just needed an impressive display to make it clear to the inhabitants how important peace was to the galactic community at large. Hal had been certain that this would be an afternoon of shaking hands and scripted speeches: perfectly boring. Bruce had been unconvinced, but Bruce was always unconvinced. He thought that sealed packages of cookies had the potential to be poisoned by an assassin that knew their target's desert preference, so no one had paid his paranoia much thought... until the planet's officials had released a cloud of deadly spores right in their faces. As it was, Bruce had moved quickly to put on a mask as he called for Clark to clear the cloud. By the time he had, Bruce had all the humans pulled clear, masked and their craft was descending for them.
Biological warfare was practically a tradition on this planet and Bruce's thorough research had uncovered that. He'd been watching their "hosts" and had taken special precautions: like having small gas masks for all their susceptible members hidden under his dark cloak and keeping their craft hovering just out of sight. It could have been far worse than it was, so Bruce shouldn't be too upset about his ratcheting cough.
"Must be nice, never getting slowed down with a cold. I can just see you with your perfect attendance award every year at school," he remarked, drawing strength and comfort from his eternal font of derision.
"Almost," Clark replied and got up to check some read outs and make some adjustments to the IV dripping into Bruce's arm. The dark knight watched everything he did, in case he make a mistake, but Clark was long past being insulted. That was just Bruce being Bruce. It would be like getting offended by water being wet. "It's fine, just making a small change. All your vitals are steady or improving."
Bruce nodded and settled down again when Clark finished. "Did your parents keep you home a few times so you didn't stand out?"
"A couple times, but I did honestly miss some school, too. Contrary to popular belief, I do have some experience with being laid up in a bed," he explained before retaking his seat. "You've been there for several of those occasions, if not most of them."
Bruce frowned. "Yes, and none of the causes of those incidents were the sort you'd run into in Smallville. Did one of your teachers have a secret stash of kryptonite that you've never mentioned before?"
"No, it was nothing so sinister. Just a mistake that snowballed. Still, I did miss class due to valid sickness, so no perfect attendance awards. Well, not many," he added with a shrug and a smile.
"Why? What snowballed?" he demanded and now it was Clark's turn to grimace as Bruce latched onto this small remark.
"It was nothing. Really. Just dumb kid stuff. It's nothing that can cause a tactical weakness or be exploited in some villainous plot. I shouldn't have even brought it up. I just wanted to say that I missed some school." It was nothing that would impact an JLA activities but Clark's reassurances might as well have been uttered in whale song for all the attention Bruce paid them. His steely eyes never left Clark, looking like he was willing to wait years if that's what it took to hear what it was that had kept Clark from school as a child. "Honest Bruce, it was nothing," he implored.
"Then why are you working so hard to not tell me?" he asked, raising a single eyebrow.
Clark sighed. "Why? ...Firstly, it was due to a very foolish mistake of my own, and you already treat me as if I can hardly tie my own shoes," he began, earning a huff from Bruce. "And secondly, it involved religion and I know your views on that. Why open this can of worms?" he implored.
"I don't hold your faith against you and I've never mocked you for it," Bruce said, sounding faintly offended. "And as for your intelligence, I could point out that you mostly wear boots and loafers, neither of which have laces, but I'm sure that isn't indicative of anything," he finished airily and Clark had to laugh a bit."Now... what foolish, childhood mistake kept you from school?"
Clark paused a moment, before opening his hands before himself in defeat. "Sunblock." Bruce may have brow beat him into giving up the story, but he at least got the satisfaction of seeing him surprised. It happened so rarely; Clark knew to savor the experience.
"Sunblock? Sunblock wouldn't sicken you," he pointed out flatly.
Clark shook his head. "Not now it wouldn't, but at the time I was seven. At seven I wasn't quite so hardy. More so than a human, of course, but nowhere near how I am now. At that age Pa's tractor felt heavy."
"Alright..." Bruce replied, waiting for the story that Clark had been dangling in front of him for two, long, annoying minutes.
Again Clark paused, trying to find the best starting point. "Well, I was seven, as I said," he began and Bruce nodded. "It was getting towards the end of summer, before harvest so after church one Sunday, they had a big picnic."
Clark waited impatiently as his mother wiped some smudge from his nose. He was trying to be good, he really was, but there was watermelon and it was already being passed out and Mrs. Alder had said that the Jamesons were bringing strawberries. Ma had an enormous tub of potato salad that Pa had been stealing spoonfuls of since last night, and he could already smell the fried chicken. He'd been looking forward to this all week. "Ma... Come on..." he moaned as he saw his friends from school playing tag.
"It had everything I'm sure you're picturing would be at a corn-pone church picnic," he added with a wry smile to Bruce.
"It's not my fault that you grew up in a stereotype."
The sunny day had been spent eating and playing. Ma had let him have two big slices of strawberry shortcake and his friends had had the best games of hide and seek he'd ever played. As the day wore on, he found a cluster of older kids, being cool and talking about junior high, bands Clark had never heard of, and tv.
"It was all way over my head, but then they started to talk about Star Trek. As you can imagine... the show appealed to me," he explained with a self-depreciating shrug. "Space. Aliens and humans working freely together. I was too little to understand most of the show, but I still watched it every week like clockwork, so I hoovered at the edge of their group to listen to what these world wise 7th graders thought of the show," he explained with a chuckle. "But as they were talking, Preacher Thomson came over."
"I'm shocked," he huffed and eyed the older children reproachfully. "I would think your parents would be more responsible than to permit young impressionable minds to be exposed to such Godless nonsense."
Most the children had the sense to look admonished or at least held their tongues. Clark looked very apologetic, though he wasn't sure why. All he knew was that he had apparently done something bad without realizing it.
"One of the bolder kids tried to explain to Preacher Thomson that the show was all about teamwork and tolerance and showed that if people worked together they could accomplish great things. That differences were a strength, not a weakness," he explained to his shoes, feeling stupid to gush about such a cheesy show from his childhood, so he didn't see the Bruce's eyebrow raise once more.
Though he didn't say anything, he couldn't help but wonder at the interesting ways that television and movies influence children.
"...But the Preacher wasn't hearing any of it," Clark continued without notice of the connections Bruce was drawing.
"There are no such things as aliens. God made earth and then he made man in his image and that's it," he insisted, bringing his fist down into his other hand. "If God had made aliens it would be in the Bible, but it isn't. Man is God's greatest achievement, crafted in his His own image. So if there were aliens, which there aren't, they certainly didn't come from God. They'd be soulless monstrosities made by the devil himself."
Great and mighty Superman, most powerful being on the planet, looked small in his chair as he recounted the old memory.
"Clark..." Bruce began, managing to sound both kind and belittling at the same time. "He was a small minded hick that knew nothing about-"
"He was the Preacher," Clark interrupted, pointedly. "And I was seven. At that age, he was the foremost expert on God in the world. ...And he had just informed me that I was made by Satan and had no soul." He rubbed a hand over his face, as if to scrub away the old sting.
"Surely your parents were quick to tell you he was wrong?" Bruce asked, but Clark shook his head.
"They weren't nearby and I didn't tell them," he said emphatically. "How could I? Ma called me her shooting star, said I was a gift from heaven. How could I tell them that I didn't even have a soul." He sighed heavily. "I thought they'd send me away."
"Ma?" the little boy asked softly, tugging on her sleeve. The picnic was still going strong as the light dimmed into evening. "Can we go home?"
"So you just pretended like nothing happened?"
"What else could I do?"
The old truck trundled down the dusty driveway before coming to stop. Night was falling over the small farmhouse as Ma climbed out. "Are you okay, Clark?" she asked him as she helped him down to the ground. "You've been so quiet."
"I'm just tired," he said in a small voice, eyes downcast.
"Well, okay then." Worry tinged her voice, but she didn't press. "Why don't you go get your pjs and I'll get a bath going for you?"
"Okay, Ma." He fidgeted a moment before hugging her around her middle briefly, but before she could hug him back though, he was gone, running towards the house. If he held on longer he'd do something or say something. He couldn't risk that, so instead, he kept busy and focused on the little things: what pajamas to wear (blue striped), how many strings hung from the bottom of the towel Ma put out for him (6), how many seconds he brushed his teeth (131), how the floor boards creaked when went to the top of the stairs to say good night.
It wasn't till he was in his room, with the door shut, that his breathing started to hitch and his eyes watered.
"I'd said my prayers every night since I was old enough to speak, but that night? I didn't even know if I was allowed to do it."
"Um... God?" he asked softly, looking up at where ever God was. "Um... I... I don't know if you're listening... to me," he added and wiped his running nose. "I'm sorry, if you don't want me to pray, but... but... but I didn't know I was... Ma and Pa don't know. Please don't be mad at them. Please. I promise I'll be good," he pleaded and squeezed his lips shut a moment to keep his tears silent ones. If Ma and Pa heard... If they knew... "I will, I'll be good. I'll pay attention at church, I'll clean up all my toys, I'll never forget to pick up my socks," he begged, stumbling over the words through his muffled sobs. "Can't I have a soul? ...Please?" Tears were coming up harder and he buried his face in the old quilt on his bed. "Please?"
"That was my plan. I would do everything perfectly and I'd prove that I was good and I'd get a soul. Do my chores, clean my room... At that age, not leaving socks laying around seemed like a large moral issue," he said with a small smile that was trying not to be sad. "But, of course, nothing happened. I was as perfect as could be, day after day, week after week, but nothing. I was sure I'd feel it when I got a soul, but I didn't notice anything different. I was starting to get desperate. I packed my pillow case twice to run away, but chickened out of it every time."
"Why run away?" Bruce asked.
"To protect Ma and Pa," Clark answered simply. "I was afraid that me being there would get them in trouble. If I was evil, what if God got angry at them for taking me in? If it was too late for me, I could at least protect them.
"I spent every moment of my free time trying to find new ways to prove I was deserving. When Ma and Pa were busy, I would pull down the bible trying to find some clue, but I could understand even less then when the preacher read at Church. I was grasping at straws, but then I stumbled on a part talking about witchcraft. 'I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells,' it read and I thought that powers weren't that different than witchcraft."
"And if you were made by Satan, then of course you'd have powers," Bruce remarked, sounding faintly exasperated, picking up on the logic Clark's seven-year-old brain. "Damning evidence."
"But also a possible solution," Clark replied, holding up a finger. "If my powers were part of what made me evil, maybe if I got rid of them I'd prove I was a good kid, that I should have a soul. That's where the sunblock came in."
Sneakiness wasn't his forte. He'd snuck the occasional cookie, gotten out of eating his broccoli, but this was bigger. Lying was bad but if it fixed a bigger bad, God would forgive it, right? And Ma and Pa had said it was okay to lie about what he was, so sometimes lies were okay if it was important enough, and a soul was the most important thing in world.
Today was shopping day, so he was following Ma around from store to store. He was trying to be patient while Ma talked to Mrs. Jenkin's about her flowers and fussed over the "poor batch" of apples at the grocers. He kept his hands in his pockets as she asked after the butcher's family, fingering the cluster of folded bills he'd hastily stuffed inside before they'd left. By the time they were walking past the pharmacy, he was practically bouncing. "Ma, can I go in and look at the comics? I brought my allowance."
She pursed her lips and looked down at him fondly. "Oh, okay. But don't be long. I've just got to pick up Pa some new socks and then we're done."
Without another word, Clark rushed into the pharmacy as quickly as he was allowed to in public. He headed towards the comic rack at first, but once he was sure Ma wasn't watching, he started hurriedly looking around the store for the display of sunblock. He'd passed it a million times, with its pictures of smiling suns and palm trees. Ma had tutted at it once, saying that a little sun never hurt no one, but these were dire times.
"Sunblock?" the pharmacist's wife asked when he stepped up to the counter with the largest bottle of the strongest kind they sold. (He could tell because it had the word, "ultra" on it, plus had the biggest number. Big numbers were a good indication of strong medicine and this was a pharmacy, wasn't it?) "Summer's almost done, Clark."
"I'm... I'm trying an experiment," he told her, trying to sound very grown up and thoughtful.
She laughed as she put the bottle in a paper bag. "Are you now? Well, I hope it goes well."
"Thanks," he replied with a wide smile before rushing his prize out of the store. Now all he had to do was hide it under the seat in the truck and he was in the clear.
"My parents had long since figured out that I needed the sun. They considered it like a food group for me. In the winter they'd make sure I got outside more, because of the weaker sunlight. If the sun gave me my powers, then if I used sunblock the powers would go away and I'd prove how much I... Well, how much I wanted to change."
Bruce held his tongue. Now was not the time for pithy remarks about Clark "wanting to be a real boy." As much as that "silly" story is treated lightly, the pain of feeling artificial or incomplete must be fierce. "Knowing" you're wrong and having no way to make yourself right. Hardly a topic for a child's story, when you thought of it.
"I used the sunblock constantly. Every few hours if I could and I didn't just stop there. I wore as heavy clothes as I could, stayed indoors when possible. When school started a few days later, I volunteered to help the teacher during recess, so I could stay inside."
"Your parents never noticed you were covered in sunblock?" Bruce asked.
"They did, a couple times, but I told them I'd grabbed Ma's hand lotion. I told them my skin felt dry. I'd never caused problems before, so I don't think it occurred to them to question me."
"Mmm," Bruce replied. "And the sunblock worked?"
"Eventually. It took time, about a week and most of the first bottle, but my powers did shut down. No speed, no strength, but aside from that, I didn't feel any different. So, the next shopping day, I got a second bottle and kept going.
Clark got off the old school bus and waved to his friends cheerfully, but as soon as it was gone, he slumped down against the fence post, panting. He was so tired. School days seemed to go on forever these days (even more than regular boring school days) and he had to fight to stay awake. He was also cold and he took the moment away from others to wrap his arms around himself and shiver. No one else looked cold, but he just couldn't get warm these days. Even after a hot bath at night, the cold came back so quickly. "Cold to the bone," he'd heard his parents say, and now he was starting to understand. The cold went all the way in and settled there.
He looked to his side, down the long dirt road to his house and sighed. It had never seemed far before, but now? And he had to carry his backpack. Were things this heavy and tiring to other people? Maybe he was just spoiled and everyone felt like this all the time. Pa had said that God didn't have much patience with spoiled kids. Setting his little jaw, he stood up and slung his backpack onto his left shoulder before walking towards the house.
He couldn't sit out here all day. Ma would wonder and besides the sun was out. He had to get inside.
"I'm home, Ma," he said as he came up to the porch. Ma was taking down the laundry, filling the pink, flowered laundry basket one folded bundle at a time.
"Did you have a good day at school?" she asked as she folded a sheet.
"Uh huh. We learned about snails and in-verta-brates in science class," he remarked, earning him the shiver all little boys want to see from their mother at the mention of cool, slimy things.
"Sounds lovely. There's a tray of cookies cooling on the oven. You can have one, but no more. You'll ruin your dinner."
"Okay!" Clark said and went inside as normally as he could, but it was hard and as soon as he was out of view, he had to lean on Pa's armchair. The world was spinning again. It was doing that from time to time, now. He'd fallen a few times lately, but luckily he hadn't done it in from of his parents. The teacher had just thought he'd slipped today. He'd shrugged it off, so he hadn't had to visit the nurse, but his right shoulder still throbbed.
Dutifully, he put his backpack by the steps to carry up at homework time. (There was no sense in going through all of this, only to get disqualified from getting a soul by messing up on the little things.) Then, he made his way into the kitchen, following the smell of cookies. He wasn't actually hungry (he'd given away most of his lunch, too) but he'd never turned down a cookie before and they were peanut butter. He loved peanut butter. He took a moment to look at the cooling racks of cookies, each one with the crisscross pattern on top that Ma made with a fork (cus peanut butter cookies had to have that), before taking the best looking one. It was warm under his fingers, like the stove he was standing in front of and he stayed there a moment... just a moment. It was so warm... But then things went dark.
When he woke up, he was on his bed and Ma was sitting beside him, Pa standing just behind her. They both looked worried and confused. "Clark, honey. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he tried to insist, but it was hard to sit up and look fine.
"Clark," Pa started, sounding stern. "Your Ma found you laying on the kitchen floor."
"And where did you get these?" Ma asked, and pushed up Clark's sleeve to show the ugly bruise forming from his fall at school today. "You've got bruises all over you. You- You've never gotten bruises."
He'd never outright lied to his parents before. Never. He'd avoided the truth, but to lie...? "I'm... I'm just tired. I just feel tired. That's all," he promised, trying to look reassuring.
"Tired...?" Ma began, looking lost and glancing back at Pa. "Well, okay, Clark. You just have a rest and don't worry about homework, tonight," she said and hugged him.
He hugged back a little too much, craving not only the comfort but also her warmth.
"Clark, you're shivering." She placed a hand on his forehead and shook her head. "You don't feel warm. I think you may even be a little cool, for you. I'll get a blanket," Ma said and gave him another squeeze.
As she left, Pa patted his head. "You been doing anything different? Ate anything new? Something a kid brought in to school," he asked but Clark said no. "Gone playing anywhere new with your friends?" he tried as well, but again, Clark said no and Pa frowned. Soon Ma had returned with a big fluffy afghan and Clark had to smile as she tucked him in.
They told him to get some sleep. That hopefully he'd feel better in the morning, and Clark hoped they were right. Before he nodded off, though, he took a moment to whisper his prayers, asking God to look after his family before apologizing for his lies. It would all work out in the end, he just had to keep going.
"Yes," Bruce interjected with a sarcastic drawl. "Because clearly the best course of action would be to continue this self-destructive behavior."
"I was seven," Clark countered, trying not to sound defensive. "And the Bible was full of stories of people going through terrible trials before they got their reward. I felt like this was all a test I had to shoulder through, or lose everything," he added softly. "And I did keep going."
Ma kept him home from school the next day, and the day after that. At first he spent his days down on the couch, watching television and having soup plied on him, but after a bit, the stairs were too hard. Pa carried him a couple nights before Clark asked to just stay in his room. Thankfully, he'd already hidden the bottle of sunblock under his bed, though he was worried it might run out and he had no way to get more now. Ma and Pa tried to take him outside a few times, but would tell them he was cold (and he was) and would hide in his blankets till they carried him back in. He couldn't walk very far anymore and food just wouldn't stay down, not that he was hungry. The very smell made him ill.
The doctor came by, not that they thought he could do anything. He carefully examined Clark and just shook his head. "I can't say," he told them as they showed him to the door. "He isn't in pain, no temperature, even though he says he feels cold. Only thing I can tell you is that if he gets worse, you should drive him to the hospital in Worthington."
They thanked him and saw him off, but the doctor had been wrong about one thing. Clark's temperature wasn't normal, it was low. he'd always been warmer than humans, but now he'd dropped down to ninety eight degrees. He wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not, and lately it was hard to think much about anything. All he could do was hide under his covers, sleep and beg God to please just fix him. Ma and Pa were scared, but they didn't know what was at stake. If they had known, he was sure they'd have agreed he was doing the right thing. It was his only chance.
Ma sat next to him, giving one of Pa's socks a darning like it had never gotten before. Clark was a bundle of blankets and hot water bottles, with only his face showing as his breath came in shallow puffs. She reached out and pet his hair before setting her darning down on the nightstand roughly, a shaky hand coming to her mouth. Her reading glasses fell to the floor unnoticed as she wept silently.
"I have no doubt at all that I'd have died in that bed... had Ma not dropped her glasses."
She wiped her eyes, worried that Clark would wake and see her. It wouldn't do to upset the little boy in his state, so she went to return to her sewing only to find her glasses had fallen. She cursed lightly under her breath, seeing them well out of reach from her chair and knelt down to grab them. But as she did something else caught her eye.
Clark woke abruptly to Ma shaking him. "Clark. Clark, wake up. Please!" When his blue eyes opened he found her kneeling beside his bed, looking shaken. "Clark, where did you get this?" she asked, showing him the mostly empty bottle of sunblock.
"I... Ma, please, you don't understand," he pleaded, reaching for it but she snatched it back like it would burn him.
"Have you been using this?"
"Ma..." he begged but she stood up and looked her very sternest.
"Clark Kent. You answer me right now! Have you been using this?" she demanded, shaking.
Clark had never seen her so angry, not even when he broke her mother's vase and he shrunk back into the blankets. "Yes, ma'am."
"For how long?" she asked again, looking like the embodiment of every punishment and telling-to every kid had gotten in the history of the world.
"I... I don't know. A couple weeks. Before school," he confessed, not rightly knowing how long it had been, as the days seemed to blend into each other lately. He started to cry, unsure which was worse: Ma being angry or his plan being ruined. It was all gone, now. Everything he'd worked for.
As he cried, he heard Ma yell down the stairs, "Johnathan!" In a flash, she was back, pulling away the covers despite his protests. "Clark, we have to get this off you! Please!" she scolded and begged, tears in her voice as she got him free of the blankets and started at his pajamas.
"Martha?" Pa asked, after thundering up the stairs.
"Fill the tub! Now!" she ordered and as soon as she had him stripped bare, she hoisted him up and rushed him to the tub.
"What is it?" Pa demanded over the rushing water.
She explained the sunblock before ordering him back downstairs. "Your Lava soap, in the kitchen. That'll work better than this," she insisted as she started scrubbing Clark with the soap she had. Soon they were both scrubbing him down and Clark was too weak to fight it or explain. They scrubbed till he cried, leaving his skin bright red and raw. "That's enough!" Pa announced and snatched him up out of the water. Without bothering with a towel, he raced down the stairs with Clark clutched tightly to his chest and out into the sunshine.
Johnathan dropped to his knees on the late summer grass and laid Clark down in the bright sunshine. Soon Ma had joined them, toweling off the water a little with a fluffy towel, but Clark hardly noticed. He felt ashamed to have failed in his one chance to get a soul and though he knew it was wrong, the sun felt so good and so warm. Without him noticing, he fell asleep.
"I don't know how long we were out there. When I woke up it was dark out, but the moon was almost full so my parents felt it was still worth staying outside. Finally I told them everything: what Preacher Thomson had said, my plan with the sunblock... They more or less agreed with your assessment of the Preacher, though they put it differently," he added with a smirk.
"Oh, no, Clark. No," Ma told him, holding him close in his towel. "You have a soul, I promise."
"But the preacher said-"
"He's wrong," Pa said without a hint of hesitation and Clark's eyes went wide. He'd never heard Pa say that someone was wrong. He'd always say that someone "had their own thoughts" on something or another. He'd never said someone was wrong and certainly not the preacher. "He doesn't know a thing, Clark. There's nothing in the Bible about aliens one way or the other. He's just guessing. And guessing wrong."
"People come up with all sorts of strange ideas when they don't have any facts," Ma added and placed a kiss on top of his head. "And besides, I never heard of the Devil making a thing, besides trouble. Are you trouble?"
"No," he replied, looking up at her with red, teary eyes.
"Then the Devil didn't make you. You're a child of God and you're our child, so you have a soul," she explained, wiping the last of his tears away.
"But..." Clark started hesitantly. "But what if... Are you sure?" He wanted to believe, but the preacher had been so certain.
Ma looked down at him, then up to Pa, before wrapping him up in a tight hug. She held on long so Clark hugged her back just as tightly. "You feel that? That warm, brightness in your chest?" she asked, patting his back without breaking the hug. Clark replied that he did and she kissed his hair as Pa joined in on the hug. "That's how you know. That's your soul. You're our shooting star."
"I got better fast and was back to school a couple days later. I probably could have gone the next day, but Ma was fussing."
"After that, I think she was entitled to it," Bruce huffed. "Your parents had the blissful experience of having a child that could never get hurt or sick only for you to suddenly start dying for no apparent reason. I'm surprised they ever let you out of their sight again."
Clark chuckled. "They were wary for a bit, made me promise to never keep secrets again, but eventually they calmed down. They were never very friendly with the preacher after that, though."
"But they kept toting you to church. You'd think your near experience would have dented your gleaming faith a bit," Bruce remarked. "All that prayer and no divine intervention to stop you from inadvertently killing yourself."
"Depends on how you look at it," Clark said, with a small smile. "Like I said, I'd have died, if not for Ma dropping her glasses."
"So a divine power arranged for your mother to drop her glasses? Seems like you're grasping at straws, again, Clark."
Unapologetic, Clark just shrugged. "I think that's the definition of faith. When you see meaning where science tells us is only coincidence. They say that everything happens for a reason and I see no reason to disagree with it. Our lives seem to be constantly carried along by events that start out unconnected but then join together in the end to result in success where there would have been failure."
"Or vice versa," Bruce pointed out but Clark just shook his head.
"We still win far more than we lose."
"Because I'm there," he insisted so strongly he started coughing again. "How many would we have lost today if I wasn't there to save you all from the "harmless" politicians?"
"Exactly," Clark said and smiled at Bruce's frown. "You were there, despite all the many, many times you should have died, but didn't. You were there, untrusting and doubtful as ever. Exactly what we needed for Hal, Wally, Arthur, and the rest to survive. Funny how that works out."
Bruce just rolled his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face. "So God wants me to be an atheist? Seems counter-productive."
Clark could only shrug again. "You are, who you are and who you are happens to be exactly what we need, so often. That's how I see it," he replied, sounding slightly apologetic, as he knew how it bothered Bruce.
"Grasping at straws, Clark," he said, his voice heavy with exasperation. "Straws."