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Fic: Sparked; Bruce/Clark; PG-13, Part 2/3

Title: Sparked
Series: Sparked Part 2/3
Author: Aravis Tarkheena
Pairing: Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent
Rating: PG-13. Yes, I SERIOUSLY just wrote Bruce/Clark without ANYONE getting naked.
Warnings: None, really? There's a good deal of angst inherent in the thematic elements of this fic. Oh and fire. If you're scared of fire give this a skip.
Disclaimer: Not mine, everyone's legal
Word Count: 10,000/16,000ish? Around there.
Author's Note: Written for the World Finest Gift Exchange prompt F 24: Get to know each other fic: Batman and Superman are unawares of other civilian's identity. Clark is sent to Gotham to try and find some information about the so-called dark knight. Bruce Wayne is annoyed. (DCAU) In retrospect, it seems I took it in a slightly different direction. Hope you like it anyway.

ALSO for the dcu_freeforall Winter Challenge, Prompt 8. Family/Home

Beta: kirax2 She is awesome, and I owe her big for editing this monstrosity.


Part 1




Part 2




Clark took a deep breath of the thick, humid air, and leaned back in his chair. He let the two front legs of the chair come up off the ground, teetering back. The smell of rich, sweet coffee filled the air. Clark focused on its dark, earthy scent. He let all the other horrid smells that seemed to have permeated his very skin since touching down in Gotham City, fade away under its onslaught.

The coffee was excellent. According to the sign, it had been roasted that morning by the shop's owner. The brew was perfect, not too bitter or too acidic. Just the sharp bite of the beans tempered with cool, soothing cream. The cream wasn't quite as fresh as Clark preferred, but he had worse in his day.

Much worse.

The diner Lois frequented, for example, didn't bear thinking about. Just the memory of that cream, made Clark shudder.

The cafe wasn't quite perfect. Clark's danish was a touch stale. However, in the grand scheme of things, that didn't matter very much. Clark had lost his appetite about three blocks away from the sewage treatment plant he had visited several hours before. The danish languished, sweet and crumbly on his plate, reproaching him for his lack of appetite.

Clark wasn't quite sure he could bring himself to eat ever again.

He looked down at his notebook in distaste, and considered burning it after he was done with this column. Along with the suit he had worn to the plant. Also, the shoes. Possibly the glasses, as well.

Clark ran one hand through his still shower-damp hair, and tapped a pen against his story notes with the other. He was waiting on some information from Metropolis' treatment plant for comparative purposes. However, there were parts of the article he could easily write without those statistics.

Clark was just stalling shamefully.

His copy was due tomorrow around nine in the morning. Clark should be finishing up the bits of the article he could now, before he was short on time. Unfortunately, Clark couldn't seem to concentrate.

Clark's mind kept drifting, understandably in his opinion, from sewage to arson.

According to the rest of the reporters on the Gotham City desk, there were still no leads on the arson cases. The fire last night brought the number up to five.

Clark wasn't sure what the numbers were on the injuries and deaths, anymore. He was almost too afraid to ask around. Human misery aside, the sheer amount of property damage done should be enough to motivate the fire department and police to find something on this arsonist.

After his interview that morning, Clark had gone back to his hotel room. He had scrubbed off vigorously for almost an hour before he was convinced the smell was gone. At least for normal human beings. Clark could still smell the foul odors of refuse and smoke on his skin.

He tried to convince himself it was nothing more than a sense memory as he got out of the shower. He had dressed quickly after that.

Rather than heading straight to the coffee shop to start his article, Clark had gone over to the Gotham field office. The reporters there, most of them either exiled or old, were very susceptible to Clark's particular brand of wide eyed, country boy charm.

Five minutes after he walked through the door, he had the police files in his hands, along with all the copy that had been written on the case. Both sheaves of paper were distressingly thin.

The general consensus was that there just wasn't enough information on the ground about the cases for any sort of conclusions to be drawn. Manpower in Gotham City was spread pretty thin. No one could give the arson cases the resources all the people quoted in the article wanted. Not with the cut backs on city funding from the federal government. Too many people had been let go from the police and fire departments.

Everyone on the case was stumped. The arson investigators knew how the fires were started. Unfortunately, the MO didn't match up with any known arsonists operating in Gotham City, or the surrounding areas that ViCAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, covered.

Unless someone saw the culprit fleeing the scene, there wouldn't be a break in the case.

Clark took a sip of his coffee and stared at the blinking cursor on his laptop screen dejectedly. If he was being honest with himself, and Ma would be disappointed in him if he wasn't, Clark didn't actually care about the story anymore.

After last night, ushering those people out of their burning home, the whole thing was personal. These weren't just victims of a crime anymore, they were individuals. He knew their names and their faces. He had seen pieces of their lives go up in flames.

Clark was involved now. In a very deep sort of way that took him by surprise.

The worst part was, he wanted to help, he just didn't know how. He didn't have the skills, or the knowledge he would need to help these people.

He didn't even know where to start.

Clark was due back in Kansas in two days’ time. How could he go back home knowing that there would be more people like that old woman who was dying in the street last night.

Clark couldn't have helped her, either. He had gotten her out of the building, sure. It just wasn't fast enough to keep her lungs from filling with toxic smoke. If it hadn't been for that other man, she would have died there in the street while Clark looked on, stupid and helpless. She could have died because he had always been to scared to take a CPR class.

It wasn't that Clark was too lazy to take a class. It was just that it would be easy, under that sort of pressure, in a life or death situation, to press too hard or breathe in a way that could kill a human being.

Clark shook his head, and ran a finger around the rim of his mug.

The man last night, he had known what he was doing. There was a sense of purpose to him, as he moved and as he worked it was clear that there was nothing on his mind but the life of the woman he was saving.

Clark wished he had that sort of direction.

Right now, Clark was just lost.

Clark's cell buzzed and he fished it, half-heartedly, out of his pocket. He didn't bother to check the read-out on the screen before he answered.

“Kent here,” he said absently as he scrolled idly up through the bits of the article he had already written.

“You didn't call your mother last night,” Lana said, her voice teasing, not accusatory.

“I didn't, no. I got in too late last night. She would have been asleep,” Clark explained. “Then I had to head out for an early interview...”

“I figured it was something like that,” Lana said. “It was what I told your mother.”

“What did she say?” Clark asked.

“She said she wasn't worried. She said that you're an adult. She said she wasn't going to call, because she wasn't the sort of mother who nagged. She said all of this at great length...” Lana trailed off. Clark could hear the amusement in her voice.

Clark sighed as he slipped his fingers under his glasses to rub at his eyes.

“It's been an intense couple of days,” Clark said.

“You're mother said you were doing a story on sewage,” Lana said skeptically. “How is that intense?”

“It's not just that...”

Lana was quiet on the other end of the line, and the silence was pensive. Clark didn't really have anything to say, so he didn't speak. The silence stretched between them for a few minutes before Lana broke it.

“You sound tired, Clark,” Lana said, and her voice was almost tentative.

“Long night, remember?” Clark replied lightly.

“It's more than that,” she said quietly. “You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Clark admitted. “It's nothing.”

“It's something,” Lana insisted. “Ever since you moved to Metropolis, you've been unhappy. In Smallville you were content, but there was this sense about you. Almost as if you were waiting for something. Then you went out into that big wild world, and that something never came. Or at least didn't come when you expected it.”

Clark took a deep breath, and tried not to let what Lana was saying penetrate too deeply. Even in the overly warm cafe, Clark felt something in the center of his chest go cold.

“Is it me?” Lana started again in a scared sort of voice. “Is it because I left? You know I still love you Clark, just not--”

“No,” Clark cut her off. “It's nothing like that. I'm happy for you - I really am. I'm happy with where we are. I'm happy with our friendship. Honestly, Lana. I don't want you to think this is about you.”

Lana sighed in relief, but went on. “That was always the impression I got. I know that you're happy for me, but ever since you finished school--”

“It's not you, Lana,” Clark said again.

“Then what is it?” Lana asked again. “It's not just me, Clark. Your mother sees it too. And your dad. They're worried and upset.”

Clark closed his eyes, and let out a long breath.

“Lana I-” Clark began, but she cut him off again.

“If you don't know what it is, that's fine, Clark. Sometimes we just don't know. Not right away at least. Just--” Lana trailed off again.

Clark fiddled with his mug and made an interrogatory sound, not trusting himself to use actual words.

“Just think about it. Think about what it is that you need from life that you're not getting,” Lana's voice was low and urgent. Clark could hear the worry in it.

It made him feel sick.

Lana was right. Clark knew he wasn't happy. He just figured he needed an adjustment period from college life to real life. It was a difficult adjustment.

Clark had trouble finding a job out of school. Most newspapers were firing people, not hiring them. He had gotten lucky at the Planet. After four interviews he had gotten the job. Clark was pretty sure he had only been hired because the editor he had at the paper he interned with in college had made a few calls on his behalf.

It was ironic that Clark had worked so hard to be unremarkable his whole life in order to protect himself. That very normalcy, that sense of being average, had almost ruined him as well.

“Sure, Lana,” Clark said, hoping it wasn't a lie. “I'll think about it.”

“Clark, I--” Lana began to speak again, but the bell at the door of the cafe distracted him.

He glanced up, and saw a familiar figure walk through the door. Clark couldn't immediately place him, but didn't want to stare. He turned back to the window, and watched the man through a reflection in the glass.

The man walked up to the counter to order a coffee. Clark watched him, and made interested sounds into the phone to Lana.

The man was wearing jeans and a heavy winter coat with a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. His hair was dark and windswept. Under a heavy layer of stubble, his skin was pale and flushed from the cold. His brows furrowed down low over serious blue eyes.

The man nodded a thanks to the barrista, took his coffee. It wasn't until the man walked back through the coffee shop, ostensibly looking for a table, that Clark placed him.

“Lana, I gotta go,” Clark said quickly, and flicked his phone shut.

Clark made eye contact with the man, and he met Clark's gaze. He didn't hesitate for a moment, just walked over to Clark's table.

The man reached out his empty hand, snagged a chair from a nearby table, and sat down. He set his mug on the table next to Clark's. Then he met Clark's eyes again.

“Mr. Kent,” he said in a very serious voice, “I'd like to speak with you.”

Clark brought all four legs of his chair to the ground, and nodded.



^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*



Kent was engaged in a conversation he clearly very much did not want to have, when Bruce walked through the door. Bruce bypassed his table and went directly to the counter. He really didn’t want to interrupt a patently personal conversation.

Bruce ordered a coffee on auto pilot, not really paying attention to either the menu or the barrista who took his order. His intended to wait until Kent was done with his conversation, before any sort of confrontation. However, Kent was quicker than Bruce had realized. He spotted Bruce nearly the moment he walked through the door, and recognized him just seconds after that.

By the time Bruce had his coffee in hand, Kent disconnected his call. Kent made eye contact with him. Bruce felt something jolt in his chest.

The glasses had been a surprise. When Bruce looked up Kent's ID photo from the Daily Planet, he hadn't taken any notice of the glasses. The picture had been extremely low quality.

The glasses did distract slightly from the brightness of his eyes. Bruce, however, felt almost compelled to look past the thick lenses, and into the irises behind them. They were deep and serious. Filled with interest and concern that Bruce was almost certain wasn't faked.

Last night, the initial shock and rush of adrenaline had left Bruce feeling less than clear headed. Bruce had skulked back home, and into the shower. He had still felt a touch shaky when he climbed into the stall.

He had stumbled out after a half hearted scrub, and found a tray sitting on his bedside table. A pot of steaming hot sweet tea rested on the tray, along with a few cookies.

Bruce hadn't made it home in time for dinner, after all. He had figured that Alfred would be angry, so he hadn't woken Alfred when he came in.

Not intentionally, anyway.


Alfred had clearly heard him come in. The tray wasn't dinner, but then Alfred probably guessed Bruce wouldn't have much of an appetite.

Bruce rarely did when he came home after his nights out. He was always ravenous the next day, but when he came in at night he was always far too wound up to eat much of anything at all. Alfred had clearly picked up on that.

The tea and the cookies were sweet. The sugar would probably help bring him back to himself.

It made Bruce wonder how closely Alfred actually watched his movements when he left the house. He also wondered how familiar Alfred was with the symptoms of shock.

It had taken two cookies and a cup of the tea before Bruce felt stable enough to dial the phone. After he had established the well being of the woman he had preformed CPR on that night, Bruce pulled out his lap top to do some research.

Bruce had determined, somewhat muzzily between shampooing and conditioning his hair, that the Daily Planet reporter was probably responsible for the fires. It was exceptionally common, Bruce had learned in his research, for arsonists to watch their handiwork.

The reporter had been there. He had been out of place in the neighborhood. He had inserted himself into the situation. It had looked like a promising lead.

That notion had not lasted much past his second cup of tea.

It had not taken much of an effort to identify Kent. After Bruce got Kent's name, it took very little doing to determine that Kent hadn't been in town nearly long enough to have started any of the fires save the last one.

Additionally, Kent had none of the hallmarks of an arsonist. None of his history gave any indication of violent tendencies.

Bruce was essentially back to square one by the time he poured his third cup of tea. It was tepid, and a little too sweet by then. Bruce barely took one sip of the tea before he set the cup down and started to think.

He had gone to sleep, feeling very indecisive. It wasn't until he woke up this morning that he decided to make contact with Kent.

Bruce decided that he had very little to lose, and Kent might have some information that could help. At the very least it couldn't hurt.

Bruce had tracked down where Kent was staying. Kent wasn't in his hotel room when Bruce arrived. After a few educated guesses, Bruce finally found Clark in the cafe.

“Thank you,” Kent's voice, low and quiet, broke through Bruce's thoughts. “For what you did last night. I wouldn't have been able to save her.”

Bruce nodded thoughtfully, and broke eye contact.

“Doris Hensen is in serious condition, but she'll live,” Bruce found himself compelled to say.

Kent gave him an inquiring look.

“I called the hospital last night, and again this morning. She'll live, but she'll be in bad shape for a while,” Bruce clarified.

Kent nodded, thoughtfully. Then he paused for a moment, and shook his head a few times, It was a movement that implied he felt the need to clear his head to start over.

Kent gave him a wry smile, and reached across the table.

“I'm Clark Kent,” he said in a tone of voice Bruce couldn't quite place past 'non-threatening'. “I didn't get your name.”

Bruce reached out, and took Kent's hand in his. Kent's grip was soft and light.

“Malone,” Bruce answered smoothly. “Mike Malone.”

Kent gave Bruce's hand a light squeeze.

“Nice to meet you, Mike,” Kent said. He sounded like he meant it. “How did you track me down?”

It was always best to lie, Bruce had learned, with as much of the truth as possible.

Bruce released Kent's hand. He nodded to the press card, new and shining, hanging from the pocket protector on Kent's shirt.

“Saw your ID yesterday. Looked you up. Wanted to ask you a few questions about the fire,” Bruce admitted. “I guess you're working on it for the paper. I thought you might know more than what they're saying in the Gazette.”

Bruce knew full well that Kent wasn't on the arson case at all. He was in town on a completely different story. That fact was part of what had made Bruce think he might have been the arsonist. Though, it wasn't much of a stretch to think he was doing some legwork for a more senior reporter at the Gotham desk while he was in town.

From what Bruce understood, journalism was a like a vehicle that ran on favors rather than gas. It certainly couldn't hurt this rookie to earn a few favors of his own during his time in town.

Kent gave him a quizzical look. “I just got into town yesterday. I honestly haven't read what the Gazette has been reporting on the fires. I didn't know they were happening before I touched base with the reporters on the Gotham desk. What are they saying about it?”

“Almost nothing,” Bruce informed him. He watched as Kent pursed his lips disapprovingly. Interesting. “There have been a few articles, but not much. There was an Op Ed by a local minister calling on the surrounding communities to help their neighbors. That's about the extent of it.”

Kent nodded thoughtfully as he toyed with his coffee mug.

“I'll be honest with you Mr. Malone, I'm not actually on the story. I just got into town and thought I'd take a look...” Kent trailed off. He didn't make eye contact with Bruce. Kent looked vaguely guilty.

Bruce nodded, and tried to look encouraging. “Did you find anything?”

Kent sighed. “I didn't even know what to look for.”

“Well, you did find the burning building, so you must have done something right,” Bruce pointed out dryly.

Kent looked up, and smiled at him.

“I did do that,” he admitted, eyes shining with humor.

Bruce swallowed, and tried hard to focus on the conversation.

Kent was interesting and not at all what Bruce had expected. It was distracting.

“You also saved that woman's life,” Bruce added softly.

Kent's eyes went serious again, and his mouth went tight.

“I didn't,” Kent said very seriously. “You saved her. She would have died if you hadn't been there.”

Bruce found himself looking abruptly down at his coffee mug as something warm settled in his chest. He chalked the feeling up to the steam in the air, before making himself refocus.

“You pulled her out of that building, from what I heard,” Bruce said thickly. “Let's consider it a team effort.”

Kent smiled again. It was soft this time, without that bright edge of amusement. It made that something warm pool in the center of Bruce's chest again. Bruce took another sip of coffee to distract himself.

“A team effort, huh?” Kent said, the smile still full on his broad lips. “I like that.”

Bruce nodded again, and took another sip of coffee.

“So, what did you find?” Bruce asked after a moment.

Kent shrugged, and leaned back in his chair. Two legs of it came up off the floor, and he teetered on the back legs.

It made Bruce nervous.

Alfred certainly wouldn't approve.

I didn't find anything,” Kent said with exasperation. “The general consensus among the reporters, and the cops that talk to them, is that it's some crazy guy that just snapped. They'll find him eventually, but to find him, he needs to start another fire. That, of course, means that more people are in danger of serious injury or death before this comes to a close. Honestly, I don't like that.”

“I don't either,” Bruce admitted.

Kent pursed his lips, and shook his head.

“I honestly wish there was more I could tell you, Mr. Malone. Or at least that what I had for you was more helpful.”

“I wasn't expecting good news, Mr. Kent. This is Gotham City, after all,” Bruce replied.

Kent gave him a look that was sympathetic. It was honestly, sincerely, and deeply sympathetic in ways Bruce wasn't sure he had ever seen before. At least not since the day of his parent's funeral.

“It shouldn't be that way,” Kent said quietly.

“Maybe not,” Bruce admitted thickly, his eyes focused on the coffee left over at the bottom of his cup. “But it is. There aren't that many happy endings around here.”

“I wish I could do something to change that,” Kent said softly, but meaningfully.

Something hot, and almost electric shot through Bruce then. He looked, up startled, to see the expression on Kent's face.

It was a very familiar expression.

“Why?” Bruce found himself asking.

His face felt hot. The air in the cafe was suddenly too thick. Bruce tried to breathe around it, but he couldn't. Not clearly. His head throbbed as the blood started to pound in his veins. Bruce had to work hard to keep his face neutral.

Before he had time to think about what his question meant or about what he was feeling, Kent was already answering him.

“It's just--” Kent began, and then trailed off before trying again. “I feel... Almost like I have to, you know? I know that I have the capacity to help these people. The capacity to save lives. I just don't know the right way to do those things. I just can't... I don't know.”

Kent shook his head in frustration. He looked up to meet Bruce's gaze. His deep blue eyes were hot and fervid. There was something needful and unfulfilled in their cerulean depths. It spoke very deeply to a part of Bruce that he had he tried hard not to think too much about.

Bruce knew that feeling. He saw that same look in his own eyes every morning when he woke up after having tried and failed to help the people of Gotham who needed him most.

Bruce knew what that capacity Kent spoke of felt like. That frustrated desire... No, that frustrated need, to do something more than what was just expected of him was so very strong. To go further, to push past convention and actually change something rather than just try and fail again and again through conventional means was just...

It hurt in ways Bruce could never bring himself to speak about with anyone.

Now Kent was trying to speak about just those things.

With Bruce.

“I know how it sounds,” Kent broke through Bruce's thoughts again. “It sounds insane. Stupid and egotistical, even, but I can't help but feel that way. As if there was something more I should be doing.”

“No,” Bruce said, and his voice was thick and hoarse. “I know exactly what you mean. I feel that way too, sometimes. That's why I'm here.”

When Kent looked up at him and smiled again, those blue eyes flashing with gratitude and kinship, Bruce realized that was the truest thing he had said in almost fifteen years.


Part Three ---> Stuff happens. I'm too tired to come up with a pithy summary.



Incidentally, I copied pasted the EPILOGUE here, rather than Part two the first time. This is what happens when I am simultaneously exhausted, talking to Gloria, and drinking. Multitasking is HARD.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mithen
Jan. 1st, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
Mmmmmmmm, oh, I LOVE pre-capes stories where Clark and Bruce both inspire each other, and you've got the balance and rhythm of it so perfect, I'm totally savoring it. Also, I really loved Bruce fretting over Clark's dangerous chair-tilting and thinking Alfred would not approve! :)
aravistarkheena
Jan. 1st, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
It's always easier to figure things out when you have a support systems. I think Bruce would have been a very different person if he'd met Clark sooner.

Bruce would NEVER tilt his chair back. EVER.
larsinger29
Jan. 1st, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
This part was so great! The conversation between the boys was really quite wonderful! I love that they are able to see in one another a compatriot so early into their lives, without realizing what that the other truly is or will be. It's a really refreshing take to see their ability to inspire one another and find solace in the idea that they are not alone in their thoughts and desires.

Fantastic job, my dear! This is a remarkable look at the early Batman/Superman relationship (without them even realizing what it is)!
aravistarkheena
Jan. 2nd, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
The main idea behind this story was for them to come into this TOGETHER. The whole 'Let's dress up in feetie pajamas and beat up bad guys' thing seems MUCH more reasonable when TWO people want to do it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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