The first gift is inconspicuous.
It was almost unnoticeable, except to the trained eye. Bruce holds up the ultra thin piece of metal alloy in his fingers and watches as the light bounced off of it. It was perfectly weighted, and freshly buffed, giving it an almost ethereal glow when the light in the bat cave hit it. He gently places the batarang back into the weapons case with over four dozen just like it. He knows its bad practice, but Bruce usually waits till the end of the week before dragging a thirty pound bag of batarangs down to the workshop to sharpen them. Upon careful examination, he realizes every single batarang in the case has been sharpened to perfection. The blade used was obviously set at an angle; whoever did this knew what they were doing.
It seemed like something Damian might do, but also came off as too affectionate. Tim had been out all week and Dick wouldn’t leave Bludhaven just to sharpen some batarangs. He continues to brainstorm other possible suspects but comes up blank. He takes off his cowl, his cape, his utility belt and then his gauntlets, leaving on the rest of his suit. Who could it be?The billionaire simply frowns for a moment, before settling into his chair in front of the Bat computer. After a while, Bruce is called upstairs by the familiar voice of Alfred over his comm, saying that dinner is ready. To his pleasant surprise, all four of the boys are there, including Jason who is sporting a nasty bruise on his jaw. "I had a bad landing from the roof,” the ex-vigilante supplies. “Ah,” is all Bruce replies. He’s learned not to question Damian when he’s tired, Tim before coffee, Dick about his Tuesday and Saturday afternoons and Jason at all.
Dinner is eaten in silence except for Tim’s retelling of his joining of the debate team. Before he heads back down to the bat cave to suit up, he pauses at the table.
“To whoever sharpened my Batarangs; thank you. It was actually a good job.” But because he leaves as soon as he’s finished spoken, Bruce doesn’t see the look of confusion on his sons faces.
(Later, Bruce discovers that exactly thirty grams had been buffed off of each batarang, and he allows himself one of the rarest smiles while wearing the cowl when one glides through the air silently, aerodynamics perfectly calibrated, and hits a thug in the back with a solid thud. When he’s back at the Tower, Superman, clad in his contrasting blue and red, notices his nicer mood and asks, “Had a good night Batman?”
Bruce’s smirk is somewhat coy, and he thinks back to the thirty six arrests he’s had for the night when he says, “You could say that.”)
He doesn’t notice the second gift for almost a week.
Between the arrival of his new PA (actually useful, this one), the opening of another subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, an increase in petty crimes due to a new mafia head and organising the JLA, it actually took Bruce a while to figure out when he received the second gift. The pens weren’t complex, but almost identical to the ones he kept in his cup. These had a few key differences though. The new pens had very nice cartridges, with jet black ink and fountain tips, but the most prominent difference was the word خفاش engraved at the flat part of each tip, above his initials. Fortunately, all these details were hidden as long as the cap was on, because even the world’s greatest detective hadn’t noticed them initially.
Logically the box must have been put in his office five or six days prior, because Bruce had been using from the same set which he recalled having opened recently. The only reason this stood out to him is because he’d never seen the packaging his pens typically came in. They were always in his ‘World’s Laziest CEO’ cup from Dick, and he hardly used any because most of his work was digitized.
It was midday on Wednesday when his PA came in with some documents needing his signature. He was quietly working on League business while in the office, so he closed what he was doing upon the young man’s entry. “Excuse me sir, I just need your signature on these when you get a minute-“ Bruce flashed his signature lazy grin and beckoned the boy over. “Why don’t you just drop those over here and – “He paused to pick a fifty dollar bill, “go take that ginger from the IT department for a coffee, huh?” The boys eyes lit up and he gushed, “Thank you sir!” before rushing out of the office. Bruce looked around for his cup of pens, but found it empty. Then he noticed the box next to the pile of paperwork. It was a simple black box with silver satin ribbon, and upon opening it discovered more pens.
He placed some in his cup, and took up one, quickly signing the contracts after skimming them, and getting back to the JLA work he was overrun with. It became more of a temptation to strangle Wally West after his ruining of a galactic parade, inciting threats of war against earth, but he figured one of Clark’s disappointing looks would have more effect on the speedster anyways. When he leaves the office, the pen is in his pocket and somehow stays with him throughout the week. He finally notices when he starts compiling a list of Wally’s damages by hand, because he can’t find his WayneTab.
“Nice pen, you got there, Batman. That must have cost a bit.” Bruce doesn’t bat an eye at what he thinks are Clark’s attempts at small talk. He just continues compiling his list and enjoying metal images of Wally trapped to a treadmill, forced to run for the rest of eternity.
(Later, he realises the tips are actually made of pure silver, and that the pens also serve as both a compass and a non contact thermometer. Bruce stares at the Arabic above his initials. خفاش means bat, and he smiles fondly thinking it was a thoughtful gift from Damian.)
The third gift is strange; very strange.
Before adopting his children, Bruce was the kind of man who was content to be alone. He sought intimacy in order to keep his playboy reputation, and interacted with Alfred occasionally. Aside from that, he was a picture perfect loner.Now, he avoided League events that weren’t mandatory, and told his children that even when sick, their pets were their responsibilities. He takes notice of the third gift almost immediately, and his senses are completely on edge because of it.He feels like he’s being watched all of the time, and he always sees it in his peripheral. The black lump glides through the shadows as though mimicking him, but is never there for more than a brief moment.The first time it comes out of the shadows, Bruce sits on a counter in the bat cave and reigns in his surprise. It isn’t a miniature alien following him around, or an evasive enemy bot spying on him, or even a threat really.
It’s a cat.
The cat is all black, with icy blue eyes like his, and a tentative nature, as though she’s suspicious of Bruce’s intentions. He looks at the cat, looks at his leftover sashimi from Hiko’s, and then glares.
“Not a chance, cat.”
She continues to look at him with those cerulean eyes, and he finds himself wavering. She rolls over on to her back, and plays her cards to her advantage. Finally, she gets up with an exhausted expression, and walks over to him, wrapping her tail around his ankle, causing a strange sensation to overcome him. Bruce has to resist the urge to jump out of his seat when a soft voice enters his mind with a gentle, “Please? I’m hungry.”
He looks down at the cat, and her expression is sentient. Too sentient.
“Really? A telepathic cat?”
“My name is Zina.”
“Okay, Zina. Can you tell me if you’re from this planet?”
He quietly takes a sedative out from his belt while she pauses to groom, with full intentions of putting it in the sashimi.
“Put that pill in there and you’ll wish I’d died with Krypton, Batman.”
Bruce takes a deep breath and continues. Okay, potentially dangerous telepathic cat. He could do this. It wasn't the craziest thing he'd dealt with this week. He subtly slips the pill into the fish and speaks.
“Do all Kryptonian cats have telepathy?”
“Would you mind if I run a few tests on you then?”
“As long as you keep that sashimi far away from me, we’ll be fine. Tell Alfred I want salmon for dinner, too.”
Bruce pauses to think that he is actually considering taking demands from an alien cat, but then does it anyways. The feline peruses the manor at her pleasure, somehow entrancing Titan to give her the pet bed, and getting both feline and human Alfred to play with her at her will. Over the course of a month, Zina cozies up to all the boys, sitting on Tim’s shoulder while he studies, stalking Dick when he visits and stealing his boxers, affectionately biting Jason now and then, and curling around Damian’s head while he sleeps.
The only exception is Clark.On the rare occasions that Clark shows up, Zina just stays a few steps behind him and seems almost confused by his presence. When Bruce inquired about it, she simply jumped onto his desk and said, “I cannot read his mind, but some how he can read mine. He speaks to me sometimes without acknowledging it.” She does not elaborate, but instead jumped onto his lap,before sitting down to groom.
Somehow they all adjust to having a telepathic cat in the house, and to be honest, this isn’t really strange to them because they’ve all met Krypto. When Bruce turns on the GCN and sees a report on the latest super feline, ‘Bat Cat’ he just sighs. Knowing the boys, Tim probably made the suit; Jason would have spread the rumours underground, Damian would train the cat, and Dick would show her where to patrol. It was amazing that they could orchestrate the uprising of a super pet in probably a few days, but couldn’t set up a Christmas tree.
(Later, when he goes on patrol, he sees a flash of grey Kevlar jumping off a building and smiles. Zina follows him back to the Tower this time, and makes trouble for members of the league. Food is stolen, parts of suits destroyed and a few freak outs occurred at the knowledge of a telepathic cat in the Tower. Strangely enough, the only people left unscathed were Bruce, Diana (who offered a peace treaty of smoked salmon) and Clark.
Bruce asked Clark why Zina couldn’t read his mind and he was met with a knowing smile.
“I guess it’s just a Kryptonian thing,” The reporter replied.
Batman walks away, expression contemplative and grim, with a Bombay cat clad in Kevlar on his shoulder. For some it was a truly terrifying sight.)
The fourth gift was breathtakingly beautiful.
It stood proudly in the middle of his office when Bruce arrived, and had already drawn the attention of many employees before he got there. It consisted of silvers, blues, and purples, with white and black. The painting was almost as big as the billionaire himself and seemed too realistic for everyday artists. It captured a foreign land, with the galaxy beyond it, and jutting spikes of metal that made a fortress. It showed streams of grey water, strange creatures, and glorious people dressed to challenge gods running through trees bearing fruits that earth could never dream of.
In the midst of original Picassos and da Vincis it reigned supreme. The art was like nothing of this world, and he stood staring at it, mesmerised for a while, before sitting down to do his work, and still occasionally looking back at it. He had to do a cover spread for the Daily Planet, and was expecting photographer James Olsen to arrive. When James entered, he had brought a friend.
His friend just happened to be Clark Kent.
“Kent. Olsen.” Clark did not reply but instead looked around the room as though seeing it for the first time. James’ eyes landed on the painting, and he gasped.
“Great piece you got there, Mr. Wayne,” he said, fingers thrumming on his camera with excitement.
This time Clark speaks up. “Who’s the artist?”
“I don’t know. It was a gift, unsigned sadly.”
James frowns and says, “What a shame, it could have won a Pulitzer.”
Bruce thinks for a second and then replies, “Perhaps it can. Would you enter it under photography if I allowed you to take a couple shots?”
“I would in a heartbeat, Mr. Wayne!”
“Then it’s settled, you can borrow it tomorrow and take it wherever you think you’d get the best lighting. I’ll have my PA arrange it.”
“Thank you Mr. Wayne!”
After the photo shoot for the Daily Planet, he and Clark discuss League business under the ruse of a friendly lunch. The reporter orders a burger with fries and a chocolate shake, and Bruce settles for a steak and cheese sandwich with a salad and a glass of water.
They’re halfway through their discussion on the political strategy they should use with the new Thanagarian royalty when Bruce has to go. His phone starts ringing nonstop and he puts on silent, and Clark gives him an understanding look.
The Kryptonian seems to look forward to these little meetings and Bruce actually feels bad at the small pout he receives.
“I expect to see you at the Tower at seven to finish this discussion. Don’t be late Kent, I have patrol tonight.” He drops a fifty dollar bill on the table and makes for the exit when the car is brought around.
Bruce doesn’t need super hearing to hear Clark's murmur of, “I guess I’ll be bringing coffee then.”
When Bruce gets in the limo, he takes his phone and sends a text.
‘Black coffee, one sugar, and bring me a scone from Ally’s.’
‘No problem. :)’
Bruce does not grin at Clark's childish use of an emoji.
(Later, the next day, Clark shows up with James for the painting and just stares at it with an unreadable expression. He smiles at Bruce’s PA, and his laugh causes a little stutter in Bruce’s heart rate. Before he leaves, he reaches into his messenger bag and pulls out a raspberry scone from Ally’s and leaves it on Bruce’s desk with his boy scout smile that charms every one from Arkham to Zimbabwe.
Oh. The painting wins the Pulitzer too.)
The fifth gift comes sans makeup.
Bruce spends a longer time than necessary putting all the plates for his suit on, wincing slightly as he pulls on stitches from a recent wound. He’d been on Joker’s trail for eight months now; the longest time the trickster had gone without attacking Gotham. He’d escaped from Arkham, and Harley Quinn had gone off the grid with him. He knew Joker must be planning something big, but he’d gotten next to no leads on what it could be.
Even the rats in the underground gave him the barest minimum of information, as though they weren’t in on the big surprise. All he knows is that large shipments of fruits and fish have been going off their routes; disappearing within forty miles of Gotham. He’s pretty sure the Joker has something to do with it, if judging by the sheer absurdity of it, but has no solid proof.
He goes out on patrol, packing extra zip ties with hopes of a few good arrests. He does the standard runs: muggings, hijacking of medical supplies, looting in The Narrows, and of course, attempted murder. In the end he leaves 23 people bound and waiting on the GCPD, and heads back to the rooftop near the Bat signal, expecting to see Commissioner Gordon.
He does not see Commissioner Gordon, but rather a wriggling mass of limbs trying to bite through an obviously well tied knot. “Who left you up here?”
His heart freezes when he hears a very familiar and hysterical laugh.
“Well Bats, I’m afraid I can’t tell you!”
Bruce resists the urge to outright slap the convict, but sees he’s still in his classic straight jacket from Arkham. There isn’t a trace of makeup on his face, and his usually radiant green dye has faded to an almost mint color. His natural pallor is unusually pale, but not quite as white as his grease paint and powder.
“But you are going to tell me what you were planning to attack Gotham with.”
“If you say so Bats...”
Getting a straight forward answer from Joker isn’t easy, and every ten seconds the conversation is flipped on him.
“Why were you stealing shipments of produce headed to Gotham?”
“Well, Harley gets quite hungry while planning mass genocide, don’t you? Ha!”
He continued in a bout of hysterical laughter Bruce slammed his hand on the table, leaving a solid dent. He didn’t even flinch at the sound or the pain, but rather stared at Joker almost hard enough to cause his soul to combust.
“Tell me where the components for your attack are!”
“I suppose you could ask your lover boy for answers, can’t you Bats?”
Bruce doesn’t respond but his confusion is written across his face, even through the cowl. He doesn’t get another straight answer out of Joker for the night. He leaves, hoping to find answers elsewhere.
(Later, at the Tower, he discusses the gifts and situation with Diana, and she looks at him for a total of two minutes before sighing and going to get a coffee. He follows with his eyes across the cafeteria, and he notices Clark standing in the corner, and when their eyes meet, he receives a smile bright enough to rival the sun. His heart skips a beat, but he steadies it with well practised breaths.
No wonder everyone swoons over him, Bruce thought. For a moment, he thinks the gift could have been from Clark, considering the fact that he could probably hear Joker’s voice from halfway across the world, and the others were right up his alley, but their friendship isn’t that strong. Was it?)
The last gift is everything is should be, and so much more.
The aquatic planet of Terina was not suited to humans. Bruce, Clark, Diana, Wally, Hal and Oliver had taken the Javelin to get there, and truth be told, Bruce spent most of his time on board because he couldn’t handle the atmosphere.
It was simply too wet. Even the air felt like water, and it disturbed him that his atmospheric filters did nothing to help. Strange, he thought. Bruce idled around the ship, at least looking productive by editing political strategies for gaining the Terinian’s alliance.
Once the others had left, (Bruce having settled that he wasn’t a necessary party), he took a seat in the pilot’s chair and took off his gauntlets. A few drops of water fell out none the less, but that was expected on a planet as water-logged as Terina. Bruce set up the surveillance cameras in the areas via mobile drones, and sat back contently to watch how the others handled mediation without him.
The meetings went over smoothly, despite the Terinian prince hitting on Diana. Personally, Bruce felt bad for the kid, because he was barking up the wrong tree. Diana looked completely disinterested, and continued discussing the potential boon of earth minerals and their effect on Terina, should the king join their allies.
Clark, surprisingly Wasn’t. Even. Paying. Attention. The Kryptonian kept looking around as though there was a fly buzzing by his head, or some other hindrance, but Bruce could see nothing that would actually be bothering the man of steel. Clark’s arms bulged in the fabric of his suit, and he forced himself to look away. After all, it was no use wanting something he couldn’t have.
Clark shortly excused himself, and walked into the garden, finding the cause of his agitation. It was a miniature camera. It just so happened to be Bruce’s miniature camera. The alien couldn’t focus with the light magnetic buzzing they gave off while recording, and quickly gathered them in his fist, crushing metal and plastic alike to dust. He’d handle it later. Bruce couldn’t get that mad right?
Bruce shot out of the chair in a rage. Who did he think he was, destroying thousands of dollars of equipment?
He pulled back on his cowl and stormed out of the Javelin, ready to find Clark and shake some sense into him. Bruce usually wasn’t this rash, but he’d blame on the limited oxygen in the damp atmosphere. By the time he found Clark, he didn’t stay mad at him for very long. Rather, he got mad at Wally.
“What did Wally do this time?” Bruce asked, dodging and rolling from a splash of scalding hot water thrown by a creature resembling a very angry Nereid. The sea nymphs were there by the dozens, their tails swishing dangerously.
“He flirted with some of the sea witches and didn’t understand that marriage proposals usually followed such advances,” Diana growled, blocking a spray of magical water with her gauntlets, and the grass where it fell turned ashen gray before blowing away.
“So we’re being attacked because Flash didn’t get the girl?” Clark asked, clearly confused as to what was going on.
“Basically,” Oliver replies, loading more non-lethal arrows.
Bruce continues fighting alongside Clark, manning his six, and giving a good defense while Clark covers offense. The moment one of the sea witches throws a ball of black water at Clark’s uncovered back, it takes a half second before Bruce is vaulting his way across the line of fire, collecting a hard blow to gut and falling.
When Bruce wakes up, he feels disoriented, but good enough to get off of Terina. But that’s easier said than done. When they reach the minimum flight altitude, Bruce starts to glow in an iridescent blue color before the ship gravitates back to the ground.
“What was that?” asks Oliver, stepping back for good measure.
Hal drags his hand over his face before answering. “Terinian Sea magic. Obviously this is some sort spell, but maybe my ring can identify what it is?”
After several minutes, Hal looks up and sighs.
“Uh, Batman, I’m reading this but it doesn’t make sense. You can’t leave the planet until you’ve had your first kiss?”
Bruce makes no response, but mentally analyses it. Of course he’d had his first kiss, that was obvious, but what else could it mean?
Diana in the meantime lets out a scoff. “If that is the case, and knowing Bruce, I really don’t see why we are still on this planet then.”
Bruce sends his most terrifying glare her way, and she blanches just a little. Just enough. “It’s a matter of Batman not having kissed anyone. Not my civilian alter ego, Diana.”
Oliver looks clearly perplexed for a minute but he then speaks up. “I could do it if you want.” Queen’s billionaire smile almost rivals his own, but Bruce isn’t interested in his proposal.
Clark stiffens at Oliver’s words, make Bruce glance over at him. “Perhaps I ought to do it, considering that Batman took the blow for me,” the Kryptonian calmly states, looking over at Bruce.
His heart is hammering in his chest, but his false pacemaker would cover that up. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“Well, we’ll give you two your space and all that…” Wally drones, making a dash for outside, while quickly followed by the rest of the team.
Clark just stands there awkwardly while Bruce takes off his cowl, resting it on the control panel.
“Bruce, before we do this, I just want to ask something.”
“What, is it Clark?”
“Were the gifts really that bad?”
“Did you not like them? I asked the boys and Damian said the weapons would please you, and then I spent a week on that painting, and-“
“Those were from you?”
“Well who did you think they were from? It’s not like-“
Bruce cuts him off with a kiss, and he feels the magic lift off him- a light airy sensation- before Clark kisses him back in earnest. Every part of his body feels like its on fire now, and his toes are tingling.
There were hundreds of proverbial butterflies in his stomach, but he also couldn’t comprehend how he’d gone so long without this. Clark was perfect; a heady scent of amber, pine and newsprint. The kiss couldn’t have been more cliché if Dick had written it honestly. Clark’s lips are pressed more firmly against Bruce’s, and his teeth nip a bottom lip sweetly.
Bruce cards his hands clad in leather through Clark’s hair, and gently pulls the two of them apart, lightly panting.
“Thank you, Clark. Those gifts were perfect. But why?”
“We do it because we care about you, Bruce. Not just me, but they boys, and Alfred, and the League. We all care.”
Bruce resists the urge to shed a tear, but mumbles an embarrassed, “Thank you,” before donning his cowl quickly and loading the docking bridge.
The team is silent for the ride back, except Wally and Hal who ranted over the last baseball match, being on opposing teams.
(Later, Bruce makes sure to keep all the gifts in secure places, a new weapons case, a silver box, the manor, his bedroom and arkham asylum respectively. He sends a text to Clark on a whim one afternoon, a few weeks into their trying mess of a relationship.
B: Dine with me tonight?
C: My pleasure, Bruce. Where and what time?
B: D’artagnan’s at eight. Dress sharp.
C: I’ll do my best. Oh and Bruce?
C: Don’t forget to debug the suit. No scarring Tim please.
B: If they want to spy then I promise nothing.
B: I’ll collect those kisses in person thanks.
C: I look forward to it.
By the time the Metropolis and Gotham media catch wind of their relationship, Clark and Bruce are to entangled in each other’s lives to care.)