Chapter 1: A Voice on the News
The danger over and the day saved, Superman was ready for the standard post-battle “I don’t need you in Gotham” speech from Batman, but as he landed on the dock, he was greeted with a new and highly irregular sight.
Dumbstruck, Superman stared mutely at the… teenager? Surely this newest vigilante was not an adult yet, dressed in his bright red, green, and yellow outfit. The combination of his wild colors contrasted sharply with his stern guardian lurking only a few steps behind. Batman was far enough away to seem aloof but close enough to put himself between the two of them if Superman was to make any aggressive moves.
As if Superman had any reason to be aggressive to the beaming kid in the domino mask, but that was Batman for you- taciturn and mistrustful.
“I’m Robin,” the kid said suddenly, offering a hand to shake. “I’ve always wanted to meet you, even if Bats isn’t keen on having you in Gotham.”
“Yeah, about that,” Superman replied as he shook this new sidekick’s hand. “I thought Batman worked alone.”
“He used’ta,” Robin said with a careless shrug. “But he’s got me now.”
“Robin…” Batman’s voice was a low rumble, a tone of warning there.
“Right, right, we got stuff to do! Bye Supes!”
And with that, Robin backflipped away from him, performing a series of cartwheels and flips before he scrambled up and over a wall and into the darkness. Superman had the distinct impression the kid was showing off.
Batman turned to follow his new sidekick, grappling hook already out of his utility belt, before Superman stopped him.
“Batman, what’re you doing? If you need help, the League is more than willing to—”
“I don’t need the League, and I don’t remember calling you here either.”
As always, Batman’s expression was impassive, hard to read, but his whole posture was even more tense than usual. Of course, Superman knew when he responded to metahuman activity in Gotham that Batman would scowl at him and act like a skittish angry cat, but he hadn’t expected to see the man with a brightly colored partner. This new addition to his crime fighting routine was a sensitive spot for him perhaps.
“That’s my point though,” Superman said, unable to keep the annoyance from his voice as he heaved a sigh that lowered the temperature of the air around him just a little. “You’re working with a teenager, Batman, a kid! If you need help, there’s plenty of qualified adults that are offering.”
Batman’s expression didn’t flicker at all, and the silence stretched out a beat too long. Superman wasn’t Batman’s favorite person in the world- the man had made it clear repeatedly just how unwelcome his super powered assistance was in Gotham. Superman never understood why- still didn’t- and so he pushed when most other J-leaguers would’ve backed down already.
“Why are you so against taking help from your teammates in the Justice League, Batman? This isn’t a hard question!”
Or apparently it was. Batman had never satisfactorily answered it, and Superman was hardly expecting an answer now, not really. So, his surprise was obvious when Batman lowered his grappling hook and turned more fully toward him.
Batman took his time to consider his wording, his response measured and careful, “At the end of the night, Superman, after all the obvious danger is over, you’ll go home to your big city, but all the crime lords, all the drugs, all the corrupt politicians that you didn’t catch will still be here.” Batman’s face turned slightly toward the wall Robin had disappeared over. “That kid will still be here too.”
“Batman, what does that even—” Superman started, but the sound of Batman’s grappling hook zipping through the air interrupted his question. Superman found himself abruptly alone, and he sighed again. That was Batman speak for ‘I’m done interacting with you, so get the hell out of Gotham.’
Superman’s feet left the ground, hovering, and he peered into the darkness after Gotham’s Dark Knight. But Batman wouldn’t be making a repeat appearance, and so Superman zipped up into the sky and headed back home to Metropolis.
As strange as it was, Clark had never actually tried to find Batman’s civilian identity. Oh, it would be simple enough even though Batman’s cowl was lined with lead and impossible to see through. With his enhanced abilities coupled with his background in investigative journalism, it would be so easy for him to pry, but somehow, doing so felt rude and invasive considering Clark also kept his identity private. Clark had left it alone, because it was only fair that they both got to take the costume off and go back to their lives.
The whole ‘teenage sidekick’ thing though… it got under his skin. Who was that boy? Why did he end up with Batman? What kind of moral person would take in a kid only to teach them how to fight crime at night in the most crime-ridden city in the country? Surely this was a matter to look into…
But then Batman’s words came back to him… “That kid will still be here too .” As if that were an adequate explanation and validation all at once.
Ultimately, though, a complete coincidence revealed Batman’s secret identity through no real work on Clark’s behalf a few days later.
Sitting at his desk at the Daily Planet, Clark was only half listening to the news piece one of his colleagues was watching on their computer. Crime family in Gotham had been busted after the murder of two circus performers, their orphan kid testifying in court, the sordid ordeal carted in front of the media for the morbid amusement of it—then a voice, familiar and bright, came through the speakers, and the surprise of hearing it during his day job rather than his superhero moonlighting made him jolt hard enough that one of the wheels on his chair snapped off.
Though he absolutely could’ve prevented himself from slamming into the floor, Clark had a cover as an intelligent but clumsy nerd to uphold. Lois was the first to his desk, helping him up and complaining loudly about ‘ old office equipment ’ and how ‘ Perry White sure should do something about it .’ Clark’s usual flustered confusion wasn’t so wholly faked though, his mind still tripping on the fact that he’d just heard Robin’s voice on the news.
Clark’s investigation of that voice from the newscast was delayed at least long enough to find himself a new desk chair and pass over the now broken one to maintenance to be patched up. When he finally returned to his desk again, he hooked his headphones into his computer and googled news about the crime family bust in Gotham City…
In the first video Clark clicked on, a young news reporter was standing in front of the Gotham City Courthouse catching up the viewers on the details of the case. All of these things- the murder, the drugs, the takedown of the ‘family business’ as they lost their court case- were details that Clark had been aware of as a member of the press, but this wasn't what Clark was watching the video for really. Finally the camera cut to a close-up of a teenage boy standing on the steps of the courthouse, the infamous billionaire Bruce Wayne in the back left of the shot talking to lawyers.
“I’m just so relieved,” said the young man, captioned with the name Richard “Dick” Grayson at the bottom of the screen. His expression was open and honest, artless and more steady than one might expect for the circumstances. “I know that crime families like this are notoriously difficult to take down, but the Gotham City Police Department and the District Attorney’s office came together to make sure justice happened here today.” Suddenly, Dick’s beaming expression of relief fell, eyes clouding with tears. “It’ll never… it won’t bring my parents back, but it’ll prevent these mobsters from doing this to other families, to other kids, to-to…” Dick’s breath hitched, and he valiantly attempted to choke back his tears.
Even though Bruce had seemed deep in conversation with the lawyers in the background, he appeared at Dick’s side instantly at the first sign of emotional distress. He put one hand on Dick’s shoulder, the other hand extended toward the reporters in a subtle quieting gesture.
But Dick’s expression calmed with Bruce’s appearance at his side, tense shoulders relaxing and his breathing becoming steady again. Then he flashed a watery grin up at Bruce. “It’s okay Bruce. I’m okay.” He turned to wave at the reporters, friendly and forlorn at once, and he said, “I’m gonna go home now.”
A slightly awkward end to an interview, perhaps, but Bruce cut in with a practiced apologetic smile. “We’ve all had a long day. It’s time for a little rest, eh Dick?” And he steered the boy’s back toward the cameras, effectively taking the spotlight for a moment. “Thank you all for coming, if you’ll please excuse us—”
Clambering and pushing followed, questions being shouted out- “Mr. Wayne, how far in the adoption process are you?” “How did you get involved with this incident, Mr. Wayne?” “Has Wayne Enterprises really been supporting the Haly’s Circus performers in the wake of the tragedy?”
Bruce ignored the questions as he led Dick away from the reporters, bodyguards flanking the two of them as they headed for a sleek black car. The feed changed back to the reporter at this point who returned control over to the newsroom after a few closing statements.
The video screen went dark, and Clark stared at the replay loop button, simply processing.
Dick Grayson’s voice sounded so much like Robin’s, and that meant he might be the common denominator. What were the odds, then, that Batman got a new boy sidekick who sounded like and had a similar build to the new heir to the Wayne fortune? In this equation, what exactly did that make Bruce?
Clark was an investigative journalist, and he couldn’t ignore the connections. A little digging would be necessary.
Billionaire Bruce Wayne finalizes the adoption papers- Enter Dick Grayson, new Wayne heir
By Vicki Vale
Infamous billionaire Bruce Wayne has been the center of countless scandals, affairs, and gossip columns ever since he re-entered the public eye after he came of age. No stranger to drunken pictures on Instagram and notorious for turning up with models on his arms, Bruce has made entirely different waves this week as he finalized his paperwork to adopt Richard “Dick” Grayson.
Our readers will need no introduction to Dick Grayson, the orphan son of the Flying Grayson trapeze act. He’s been on the front page of Gotham City newspapers for weeks, a shining example of courage through adversity as he showed up in court to testify against some of the most hardened gangsters in Gotham.
“I’m well aware of how dangerous it is to stand up against these guys,” Dick said in a now oft-quoted statement issued to us here at the Gotham Gazette in February. “But I’m not afraid of them either. I know that standing up and pushing back is the only way to prevent tragedies like this from repeating.”
Such straightforward conviction in the face of loss is admirable, and perhaps this is what drew Bruce Wayne’s attention to Dick Grayson. Although in recent years Bruce Wayne has been synonymous with drunken revelry and sexscapades, no one in Gotham can forget the unfortunate tragedy that defined Bruce Wayne’s young life. Just like Dick Grayson, Bruce was witness to his parents’ deaths at the tender age of twelve, and he was at the center of all subsequent court proceedings to bring his parents’ killers to justice.
Although concerns have been raised by the public about Bruce’s capabilities as a father figure, the striking similarities between their situations may actually position Bruce as one of the few people who can relate to and support Dick through this transition. Trauma of this level is hard for a child in any case, but Bruce and Dick both have had their suffering covered in real-time and in minute detail by the mass media. Such a reality adds a unique pressure and publicity to what should be the private process of grieving and healing.
As Bruce announced that the adoption process had been completed in full, he smiled at the collected reporters and said, “Although I’m honored and humbled by the chance to have Dick become a part of my family, it’s also a painful process for us both as we cope with the reason Dick needs a fresh start in the first place. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me and my new ward as we move forward together, and I hope that this can be a start to some much-needed growth and healing for Dick and for Gotham City.” A noble hope, indeed, but one that Gotham Gazette staff writers like myself would love to see come true for our city and our citizens.
Just this week, I had the chance to sit down with Bruce about the new family situation. After insisting that “Mr. Wayne was my father’s name,” I agreed to call him Bruce throughout the interview, but I kept thinking about that charming smile coupled with his waving dismissal. Bruce has come a long way from the sullen child with the red-rimmed eyes who was hounded by cameras all those years ago.
“I never would’ve figured you for a fatherly type,” I teased him, but Bruce just flashed that famous magazine cover smile.
“I was surprised to find that out myself, though of course at his age, Dick doesn’t need much in the way of parenting. The Graysons raised an amazing boy, and I’ll just be taking over the reigns for a while.”
A fair enough assessment but I know how difficult teenagers can be sometimes. Surely there were some particular concerns that Bruce had as a new guardian.
“My biggest concern honestly is simply being able to be what Dick needs. He’s a smart, capable, amazing kid, but he’s going to need a lot of support. New school, new life, new friends. It’ll be a transition.” Bruce relaxed and sipped at a steaming cup of coffee before adding, “I’m more concerned about supporting his cultural identity. As the papers have also covered extensively, one side of Dick’s family is Romani, and I’ve been trying to adjust accordingly to make sure he feels connected to that part of his heritage even as he lives with me.”
When I had arrived at Wayne Towers for the interview, I was able to briefly meet with Dick on my way in, and he shared with me that he was about to ‘teach Alfred a thing or two about cooking.’ When I asked Bruce about the exchange, the man lit up with delight.
“You remember Alfred, don’t you, Vicki? He was my guardian after the loss of my own parents, and he’s still with me. He’s been supporting Dick as well, taking over the kitchen to keep us fed. As you might suspect, I’m hopeless in the kitchen, and a growing boy needs proper meals.”
Of course, I remember meeting Alfred Pennyworth, the long-term Wayne family butler and sole guardian of the so-called Prince of Gotham as he grew up. Staunchly British and painstakingly polite, Mr. Pennyworth has always been a pleasure to talk to when I've had the chance to meet with him. I can’t help but wonder how Dick is getting along with him. A boy raised in a travelling circus must have very different expectations of ‘normal’ when compared to Bruce and Alfred’s lifestyle.
“Well yes, sometimes Dick surprises us with things from his unique upbringing, but he’s getting along amazingly with Alfred. Today, Dick is going to teach Alfred how to make some of his favorite traditional family foods. Alfred wants it to be perfect anyways, but if he does mess up, Dick is always... forthright with his opinions.”
The interview and the article continued in much the same vein, Bruce chatting amicably about his new role and generally giving the impression of an indulgent but attentive caregiver. The reporter managed a mix of light-hearted questions among the heavier ones, going as far as to mention some of the more heinous speculation about how Bruce’s Jewishness might factor into how he cares for his new ward.
An excellent article, surely, for those interested in either the Flying Graysons’ murder case or Bruce Wayne, but as Clark set the newspaper down, he couldn’t quite stop himself from sighing. Bruce Wayne’s image in this piece was carefully curated, and Clark wondered just how much effort the man went through to present this side of himself. No doubt a PR staff member worked closely with Ms. Vale and Bruce to perfect this story, but the calculated nature of it prickled at Clark’s mind.
Clark has been covering events for years where Bruce was either the host or a guest, and so he has some experiences with the man. The first time Clark met Bruce Wayne was a museum opening in Gotham City, and Bruce was already drunk by the time Clark arrived. When they were introduced, Bruce had declared that Clark was a “very sexy librarian” and had extended an invitation to “read me from cover to cover” as he undid the top three buttons on his shirt. Bruce had delivered the atrocious line with all the confidence of a man who has been successful with similar nonsense in the past.
To be fair, Bruce has a charming smile, and the attempt might have worked if he didn’t have a reputation or if he weren’t so clearly intoxicated. As it was, Clark had flustered a little and reminded him that he was a reporter, and Bruce followed with a teasing smirk as he offered an ‘exclusive to the handsome newsman.’
That interaction had pretty much defined how Clark mentally characterized Bruce. Every subsequent time the man drank, flirted, or got a little too rowdy at a party just further solidified that impression. This was why doting parental Bruce was so bizarre an idea, but it was one that Gotham had taken to. A rich man-child trying to grow up to help a boy with a story that was practically a parallel to his own…
It certainly made for an enticing narrative, but was it real ? Could there be anything to the itching thought that Bruce and his new ward were really a dynamic crime-fighting duo?
Clark needed to know now, needed to understand a man he’d written off years ago as just another bit of society gossip fluff. Huffing to himself, Clark disappeared into videos, pictures, and articles about billionaire Bruce Wayne.
The first thing that became clear was that Bruce Wayne was selective about the events that he got into drunk shenanigans at.
Out of the events Clark sifted through, he’d found Bruce was drunk at every ‘for fun’ opening or party or film premiere, but he remained sober and utterly in the background during every major Wayne Foundation Charity Event. Bruce also hosted a variety of research, academic, and informational conferences, and he was sober for the whole lot of them.
The Wayne Foundation opened a halfway house, and a sober almost stern Bruce was in the background of the party making sure the event got good publicity. The Thomas Wayne branch of the Foundation opened its twentieth free and low-cost clinic in Gotham City, and Bruce was mentioned only briefly along with the exorbitant sum he’d donated. The Martha Wayne branch paired with the Library Summer Lunch Project to host a whole summer long educational program intended to make sure all kids in Gotham had food and a safe place to learn for free during school holidays. Though Bruce was only mentioned sometimes in the articles about the summer program, a quick google led to dozens of personal photos of Bruce helping with the program posted to twitter and Instagram but not a single scandal among the bunch.
Honestly, Clark found it jarring switching from ‘Bruce Wayne challenges Oliver Queen to a Drunken Duel at the Premier of Star Wars’ to Bruce Wayne giving a somber speech at a charity gala about the displacement of poor minorities due to gentrification of Gotham’s historic communities. Sure, maybe Bruce was aware there was a time and a place… or that he didn’t want to lose money at his charity or educational events. But that explanation didn’t seem quite right to Clark.
“Why would a true party boy be choosy about the places he gets smashed at?” Clark asked Lois idly as they sat on his couch and watched a low-key British baking show.
“Hmmm?” Lois looked up from the screen, a bit of mustard from her sandwich smeared on the edge of her lip. Clark smiled but didn’t mention it.
“Bruce Wayne,” Clark clarified. “I guess I just noticed. He only ever gets drunk at galas and movie premieres, but he never interrupts charity balls to play a drunken game of ‘golf’.”
“I’m pretty sure Bruce said he was playing hockey that time, actually,” Lois said with a snort of derision. “Points for most creative use of a lamp at a fancy rich people party though.”
Clark laughed, but he shook his head. “Don’t get distracted. I had a reasonable question.”
Lois leaned her head back against the top of the couch, her face at an odd tilt, as she studied him. “I dunno. There’s a lot of reasons a man might be selective about where he drinks. Why are you so interested anyways? Got a crush, Smallville?”
“What! Of course not!” Clark frowned and shook his head. “I just… he’s adopted that boy, right? And his whole ‘doting dad’ persona is completely different than how he acts the whole rest of the time.”
“Oh, that, right,” Lois replied, suddenly sounding a bit bored-- as though this was a topic she’d already thought through herself and discarded. Her eyes returned to the television where a sweet older lady was discussing how her grandkids encouraged her to join the competition. “That’s just PR stuff, Kent. You’ve met him yourself. Did he seem like he was hiding anything to you? Or did he just seem like another spoiled rich boy who could get whatever he wanted?”
Clark turned a little pink, embarrassed to admit he definitely thought the latter. But looking deeper… Bruce just didn’t make headlines when he was well behaved. All those more serious events got extensive coverage, but Bruce was a side note, mentioned only glancingly for his role in the evening. Any number of the other less serious parties however… there Bruce was in the headline or the first paragraph, sitting in male models’ laps or finger feeding Russian ballerinas.
Lois was right- the most likely answer was that Bruce was a ridiculous spoiled rich boy having fun when the moment allowed him to do so. Even as he tried to just drop it, Clark kept thinking it was too deliberate, and he always circled around to Robin’s voice coming out of Dick Grayson’s mouth. To Bruce hovering in the background and watching over him. To Batman standing close by while Robin introduced himself. To watching acrobat Dick Grayson doing backflips in one of the Haly’s Circus advertisements and how eager Robin had been to show off his own abilities...
And despite how well it fit, Clark found it hard to believe that drunken playboy Bruce Wayne could possibly be The Batman.
All of Bruce’s employee’s loved him. Every single article and video with Wayne employees, they had good things to share. Okay, well one exception was the upper level CEOs who sometimes had harsher opinions. Some of them complained about lower salaries compared to similar jobs in Gotham. Others complained about Bruce refusing any attempt to negotiate with military weapons tech development. Others still complained about Bruce’s tendency to show up late or miss meetings when it suited him.
All of the lower rung employees had only good things to say though. Their pay was higher compared to similar positions at other companies. They were impressed with the overall Wayne employee benefits packages, and Bruce worked closely with the HR department to make sure any and all criticisms of work-place culture was considered and corrected when necessary.
And yet even these lower rung employees often bookended their praise with “Yeah I know he’s a playboy, but--” and “...even if he could stand to drink a little less.”
At the end of the day, Bruce’s reputation as a drunken playboy still characterized the thoughts of even those who had never actually seen Bruce drinking.
Clark had mulled all of this over before he’d come to this particular ‘society mixer.’ He’d volunteered for the job after Cat Grant had called out with the flu, even though he hadn’t written society news or gossip pieces in a long time. But Clark, in his ongoing ‘Is Bruce Wayne Batman’ investigation, had an ulterior motive to cover this particular event.
Time to stare at Bruce Wayne across the party.
At first, Clark wondered if all the evidence in the news that Bruce actually worked tirelessly in the background didn’t change the fact that the man was just an immature alcoholic frat boy. Or perhaps all those positive bits that he’d read in the news were a really proactive PR team that simply didn’t have time to babysit Bruce at every party…
Bruce has been moving around the room, drinking and teasing people and having a generally drunken bit of fun. Clark took his eyes off of him long enough to take notes about some of the other famous celebutantes for his article. Jimmy Olsen was wandering around taking pictures, so at least Clark didn’t need to worry about that. Next time that he looked up and scanned the room, however, Clark couldn’t immediately find Bruce Wayne. As he considered where to move from there, an arm slid around his waist.
Clark flustered, looking down into the pale ice-blue eyes of Mr. Bruce Wayne himself.
“Oh!” he said, brain halting completely as he tried to process the abrupt attention. “Long time, no see, Mr. Wayne.”
“Missed me?” Bruce said with a teasing expression. He leaned close, and his eyes dropped down to fix intently on his mouth- just long enough to make Clark blush. “I’ve caught you staring a few times tonight, Mr. Kent.”
Bruce’s tone was heavy with implications, and Clark caught the scent of champagne on the other man’s breath.
“Have I been staring?” Clark asked, tone forcibly perplexed to cover his shame at being called out. Hopefully Bruce would mistake it for embarrassment from the flirting. “I was just, uh, thinking, I guess. That’s all.”
“Hmmm?” Bruce’s arm tightened around his waist, drawing him a little closer. “About me? I like the sound of that. I’ll admit, I thought you were straight, no offense-- ” his tone changed to indicate that he might’ve meant offense, actually, before returning to that smooth flirty lilt again-- "but if you’re not, I’d be happy to entertain interesting thoughts.”
Clark knew he was turning a vibrant shade of red, because he wasn’t so great at handling such forward flirting. That, on top of the guilt he was feeling at essentially spying on the man, well, Clark wasn’t sure what to do with all the feelings at once. He stammered for a moment before he could respond.
“Well, I actually can’t say I’m super straight. I can appreciate an attractive person without, uh, gender really factoring in?” Clark said it like a question, even though it was true. He was just confused, because coming out to Bruce Wayne wasn’t really on his list of things he had planned for the night. He scrambled to recover his composure. “But that’s not the point! I’m not thinking the kind of interesting things you’re implying, Mr. Wayne.”
“Is that so?” Bruce said, his tone disbelieving, and he attempted to take an alluring drink from his glass only to misjudge and dribble a bit of the orange concoction out of the side of his mouth.
“Maybe that’s enough of that,” Clark replied, plucking the glass from his hand before he moved to step free of the arm about his waist.
“Ahhh, what a gentleman. Cutting me off before I am too deep in the cups.” Bruce thankfully didn’t fight to keep the drink, instead stepping back to a more appropriate distance. “Well, then, entertain me at least. If you aren’t thinking about getting more acquainted, what is on your mind tonight?”
Clark almost huffed out a laugh. No matter how many times Bruce flirted with him, as soon as Clark pulled away or edged back, Bruce would get out of his space. A very conscientious drunk flirt, really, to pull back so immediately upon any hint of rejection or discomfort. It wasn’t something that Clark had thought on too deeply before, but Bruce had a knack of never pushing too far past his boundaries.
Another tick in the ‘Bruce Wayne is more than he appears’ column.
Of course, Clark hadn’t come up with an answer yet- to the ‘what I was thinking about as I stared at you’ question- and so he took a moment to ostensibly call over a server to deposit the half full glass on a tray to return it to the kitchen. As he did so, though, he caught a whiff of the drink, realizing rather instantly that while it looked like a cocktail, there wasn’t any alcohol in it at all.
Startled, Clark thought back over the many flutes and glasses that Bruce had nursed over the evening, and he suddenly couldn’t be sure how many of them were alcoholic… and how many just looked like they were. Bruce had said that Clark was ‘cutting him off’ but he must be well aware that this fruity drink packed no alcoholic punch.
And if Bruce knew that, he might also be pretending to be drunk.
At this point, Clark was forced to face Bruce again despite the roaring white of stage fright preventing him from coming up with any kind of good lie.
What came out of his mouth was almost the truth. “I was thinking about Dick Grayson actually.”
Silence followed that statement, and they stared at each other. A fierce protective look flickered on Bruce’s face, and for half a second, the man looked completely sober. There was even a subtle shift in the man’s posture, a more defensive stance and a challenging tilt to his head.
Just as quickly though, Bruce was flashing one of his sardonic smirks, waving a hand flippantly through the air. “Ah, I see. A popular topic these days, the personal life of a traumatized boy. You were going to ask for an interview I presume?”
Clark’s eyes went wide, and he felt a little like the air had been punched out of his lungs. That wasn’t what he meant at all, but he couldn’t exactly say anything about Robin either. So he went with another truth within a lie. While he hadn’t been thinking about it now , there was something he’d been wondering over.
“No! No, no, no,” Clark said, huffing out a breath and looking down at his notepad. “No, I was thinking how hard it would be. I was adopted too, but I was really young when it happened.” Clark hazarded a glance up, but he couldn’t really figure out what Bruce’s expression meant. So even though he kept his eyes up, he focused his gaze just beyond Bruce’s left shoulder and not on his face. “I thought, y’know, I didn’t know what I was missing when I was growing up, because I never met my birth family. I only ever knew my adopted parents. But to know exactly what I was missing…how different, how much harder would that be?”
Clark could feel the flush in his neck now, his own tendency to be painfully honest in the worst moments coming out to haunt him. Bruce hadn’t responded, and Clark couldn’t quite meet his eyes. So he tugged nervously at his tie and shrugged, adding lamely, “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business, of course. Just, uh, the thoughts of another… adoptee.” The word orphan had stuck in his throat, but adoptee was probably more sensitive anyway.
Clark took an uncertain step back, ready to flee from what was rapidly becoming the most awkward social situation he’d ever been in.
But then he felt a gentle hand on his elbow, and Bruce was standing closer than he had been before. Bruce’s expression was complicated- sympathetic and awkward and edging on encouraging. Never before had Clark seen Bruce make such an expression in person or in any of his media appearances.
“You’re sympathetic,” Bruce said, a statement rather than a question. “Your situation is undoubtedly different, but it’s caused you hurt and struggle all the same. That matters.”
None of this was what Clark expected, and despite how short- how straightforward- the comfort was, he did relax. There was something earnest about Bruce’s manner, like Clark had managed for just a moment to pull back the curtain and see the wizard himself rather than what Bruce wanted him to see.
Bruce squeezed his elbow, and Clark smiled in response. “No worries, Mr. Wayne. I’ve been dealing with my issues for awhile. I hope that Dick-- Mr. Grayson, that is-- is healing as well… I’m sorry I brought up such a delicate topic.”
Bruce’s expression was thoughtful now, more neutral than drunk or calculating. He gave a nod, and his hand slipped from Clark’s elbow. Then he smiled, wide and flirtatious again. The serious moment had passed, and whatever mask Bruce wore slipped seamlessly back into place.
“You’re such a refreshingly honest man, Mr. Kent,” Bruce said, voice light and jovial. “I’ve never had a man come out to me and share such a personal revelation nearly back to back before.” Then he winked at him. “Maybe next time we meet we can have more intimate conversations.”
With that as a goodbye, Bruce wandered back into the crowd, leaving Clark behind in the corner with rather a lot to think about. When he wrote his article, Clark naturally left out the strangely intimate encounter with Bruce. Even still, he felt an unexpected burst of shame as he typed up a description of how a sloppily drunk Bruce stumbled out of a closet with a giggling model on his arm later in the evening. Clark couldn’t decide if the shame was because of the salacious behavior…
Or because of the fact that this tidbit would be a bigger headline than Bruce’s recent efforts opening a crisis center for LGBT+ youth. Guilt for covering Bruce Wayne’s tawdry behavior wasn’t something Clark had expected at the beginning of this little investigation at all...
Chapter 2: A Tad Bit Dramatic
Clark acts on his newfound information.
Originally intended to be two pieces, but this will be longer at least by one chapter than intended. Chapter 1 was mostly investigation. This chapter is mostly acting on that investigation. I hope you enjoy.
note: I realize that in a lot of the comics Diana has blue eyes too, but I've elected to give her lovely warm brown eyes. There's too many blue eyed babes. Also, Spider-man comics exist in this universe. That way I don't have to make up some fake comic heroes that Bruce could be a fan of (other than the Gray Ghost, which will also be mentioned at a later date probably.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Throughout the whole Justice League meeting, Superman was trying hard not to stare down Batman, but he wasn’t being very successful. He kept looking for the cut of Bruce’s jaw or the sharp edge of the Wayne trademark smirk. But the cowl hid enough of the jaw to make it hard to trace with his eyes, and Batman was unnervingly skilled at schooling all his reactions. Superman hadn’t told the other League members about what he’d seen and what he suspected. For one, he didn’t have all the facts about why Batman had decided to take on an apprentice. A good journalist didn’t take their scoops to the presses until they had as much reliable intel as possible.
For another, if Bruce was Batman, how deeply private was he really to maintain for years a double identity as the most famous celebrity in Gotham City and also as the most elusive? Heck, if Superman was right, Bruce had been simultaneously on the cover of several magazines while the Gotham press debated if Batman were a man or an urban myth. “Is the Batman real or simply an elaborate social media prank?” was the headline for months when the caped crusader first became active.
Superman’s attempts at subtlety were not incredibly successful if the tight frown on Batman’s face was anything to go by. Admittedly, there was a whole laundry list of things that could be annoying Batman, and typically Superman wouldn’t be so bold as to assume that the man’s sour mood was his fault. In this case, however, Batman wasn’t the only person who had noticed Superman’s misplaced attention.
A voice interrupted Superman’s thoughts as he weighed the pros and cons of chasing Batman down as the discussion closed and J-Leaguers began filtering out of the meeting hall.
“Have you had another fight?” Wonder Woman asked, a smile curving her lips. The other members of the Justice League had all left-- Batman had vanished quicker than anyone--, but she had waited behind to speak with him.
Superman shrugged helplessly. “No, not a fight – well, okay, it was a little disagreement, but we didn’t argue.” Annoyance rose up in his chest, and he added in an unkind tone, “Or more that he didn’t stick around long enough for it to become an argument.”
Wonder Woman’s responding laugh was light and musical, dragging a smile to Superman’s face. Of all the members of the J-League, she was perhaps one of Superman’s closest friends both in and out of the costume.
“He is slippery indeed,” she replied. “He noticed your distraction today too. Would you care to talk about it? I’d be honored to lend you a sympathetic ear.”
The kneejerk answer was no, but Superman allowed himself a chance to consider the offer. Wonder Woman did have a unique vantage point, and she might be able to understand Batman’s decision to take on a kid instead of asking for League support.
“I know you can keep a secret,” Superman said slowly, uncertainly. “I don’t have all the information though… but maybe you can help me make sense of what I do have.”
At his words, Wonder Woman flashed one of those perfect empathetic smiles that made Superman feel normal somehow, stripping him back down to Clark Kent and his friend Diana rather than the two super-powered, ‘larger-than-life’ heroes they were currently acting as. He’d always wondered if it was particular to their friendship or if Wonder Woman was like that with everyone- fierce and determined yet always soft and sensitive when she saw those around her had need of a gentle touch. Even in costume, Wonder Woman softened into ‘call me Diana’ so easily, and Superman always appreciated that.
“Of course, I can keep your confidence,” Wonder Woman said back, hand on Superman’s shoulder as she steered him toward an office that would give them a bit more privacy than the meeting hall. “We'll get comfortable, and you can share your troubles.”
So Superman did- he sat and told her the story about the teenage sidekick, about maybe knowing Batman’s identity by accident, and about his own distress that the caped crusader hadn’t reached out to him- them- for help. He did leave out some details though. If Bruce Wayne truly did serve as Batman, Superman didn’t feel like that was his secret to share, so he carefully left out any information that might lead Wonder Woman to the same conclusion he was coming to about the man’s identity.
If Wonder Woman felt any slight at the intentional omission, she didn’t let on. She simply listened to what he was willing to share, nodding and encouraging him at the appropriate pauses.
Finally, he wrapped up his little ramble. “And, well, yeah. That’s pretty much it. I just… I think I know his secret identity without his permission which he’s definitely gonna be pissed about when he finds out. And I’m really worried about this whole Robin business. I wanted to bring it up to the League today, y’know, see what they think, but after what he said… I dunno. I hesitated. He’s got to have a reason, right? Batman always has a reason.”
Wonder Woman gave a thoughtful hum after he finished, and she was clearly sorting through all the facts he’d laid out. She could be diplomatic when situations called for it, but she was always forthright with her opinions when they were asked for.
The smile she favored him with was infinitely kind, her brown eyes warm with genuine affection. Even though Superman didn’t have any romantic feelings for her, his heart skipped a beat at the charming expression anyways. He figured that was simply unavoidable for anyone around Wonder Woman long enough to earn one of those smiles.
“You are such a gentle man, Clark,” she said then, using his real name despite how often Batman insisted that they keep their civilian identities apart from their hero personas. Wonder Woman- Diana- was more than willing to break that rule for a heart-to-heart like this one. “You said the boy was in trouble, right? That you recognized his voice because he was in public talking about the dangerous situation he was in?” She reached forward and put a hand over his. “You worry that the boy is being put into danger and that he’s too young to be at Batman’s side. A sensible worry- I understand your concern.” Her brown eyes shone with humor as she continued, “But your upbringing… you were very sheltered, weren’t you?”
“I mean,” Superman replied slowly, blushing from both her words and the amusement in her expression. “I was, but I don’t really see what that has to do with anything.”
“Admittedly,” Wonder Woman continued. “My upbringing is considerably unique, but I was raised a warrior in a peaceful place. I had a sword in my hand from a young age, and I never saw that as a loss of innocence. It was an expression of love from my family, from my people. They were giving me a gift I could protect myself and others with when the time came. And the time did come. I was grateful for learning those skills early.”
“Yeah but you’ve got super powers. There was no avoiding getting mixed up in dangerous things for you, was there?” Superman almost felt bad to say such a thing, but his own super powers dragged him forward into a role he never imagined taking. It was a role he couldn’t shirk off.
If people’s lives were at stake, he had to step in to help. Nobody had powers quite like him, and he couldn’t stand to the side if those powers could be used to help others in need. Superman didn’t always relish the peril and heartache that came from hero work, but leaving the world in danger was never an option for him.
He knew Wonder Woman likely felt the same.
“Of course not,” she agreed easily. “But my point is simply that training Robin could be an act of kindness- of love even. Batman has helped dozens of children, teenagers, and adults in the past, but this is the first time that I’ve heard of him partnering with one of them. I’m inclined to say that the boy is like me in at least one way- violence and turmoil was either inevitable for him or already a part of his life. Batman could simply be trying to prepare him for it.”
Superman nodded mutely, holding back a pout. Naturally he’d been considering that as a possibility, and Wonder Woman was right about his own perspective too. With his background as Clark Kent, ordinary farm boy grown up in the relative safety of rural Kansas and being utterly cherished by a loving set of parents… well, he had a hard time imagining living the kind of life where learning how to fight was a necessity.
To this day, in fact, Batman and Wonder Woman both critiqued Superman’s poor understanding of fighting and overall strategic planning because of his tendency to lean heavily on his powers to get himself out of tough situations.
“I thought that might have something to do with it,” Superman said finally. “I just don’t know how to ask if that’s what’s going on in his head-- not in a way he’ll respond to at least. Batman doesn’t like to share anything.”
Wonder Woman’s smile grew larger, edging on mischievous. “He told you that the boy shared his home with criminals and drugs and corrupt politicians. That is likely more than he’d share with many other Justice League members. You’re on his good side. If he hadn’t wanted you to know about Robin at all, he could’ve hidden him once you showed up. Instead he let the boy introduce himself.”
Superman froze at her implications, and he ran through the night again in his head. He hadn’t seen Robin before or during the confrontation with the metahumans, and indeed, Batman could’ve ordered the boy to stay hidden. Instead, once the danger was passed, Robin bounded out of the shadows to introduce himself. Superman had thought at the time that Robin had taken the initiative to approach, but…
“You’re saying maybe he let me see Robin?” Superman said slowly. “Like, he wanted me to know about him, and so he did it the most direct way possible. Just kinda shoving the kid forward in costume so I’d get the picture?”
Wonder Woman nodded. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Robin felt free enough to introduce himself. How long has the boy been working alongside Batman? That might be enlightening to know.”
“Oh…” And Superman started to smile at the idea that the short little introduction had been Batman opening up a little. The whole adoption process took time, right? The court process against the crime family took a long time too. How long had Dick Grayson been at Batman’s side without Superman or the League being any the wiser? “That’s… I hadn’t thought of that. That he might’ve wanted me to know about Robin.”
“I can’t say for certain, of course, but you should consider that Batman actually allowed this introduction to occur.”
“Well, okay then. But what should I do about his secret identity?”
“Simple.” Wonder Woman’s grin was bright, playful, but her eyes held that fierce glint he often saw in battle at her side. “You preemptively reveal your own identity. Distract him from the fact you know who he is by showing him who you are.”
And, well, that sounded like a pretty decent idea from where Superman was sitting.
“That could definitely help- if he knew my identity then he’d have leverage. He’d feel less vulnerable about me knowing his.”
Wonder Woman stood, her ferocious warrior smile now fully on display. She grabbed his arm just below the elbow and pulled him to his feet. Her fingers tightened on his arm, and she said, “Good luck on your mission, my friend.”
“My mission?” Superman asked, perplexed yet still flashing his own wide ‘blue boy scout’ grin. He mirrored her, gripping just beneath her elbow in a show of comradery.
“Yes. Your mission to become Batman’s friend.”
Superman managed to contain his blush at least long enough for Wonder Woman to turn and stride away.
Clark hovered above the trees, the forest surrounding Wayne Manor quiet and dark. Though the sky was overcast, the rain had held off, but the winds were kicked up and howling through the trees, foreshadowing the coming downpour. While he moved much too fast to really show up clearly on most kinds of cameras- too high up as well- Clark didn’t like the idea that someone might snap a picture of Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent flying toward Gotham City. This worry had prompted him to fly most of the way from Metropolis in his Superman costume. Clark had stopped several miles from the edge of Wayne Manor to put on his other costume, Clark Kent’s mild-mannered attire.
The ill-fitting shirt and pants, the tie, the glasses. He’d even paused to slick back his hair, hiding his shiny soft dark locks under thick product.
The forest that sheltered Wayne Manor and its grounds had provided Clark a perfect place to change before he approached without worrying about being seen. The seclusion of the manor likely helped Batman stay hidden as well, especially considering that Wayne Manor was one of the few places in Gotham that journalists were rarely, if ever, allowed to visit.
Clark tilted his head, listening intently for voices and heartbeats in Wayne Manor. Spying was rude, to be sure, but he simply had to confirm his suspicions before he approached. It wouldn’t do to reveal himself prematurely to Bruce Wayne and then to find out that he’d been mistaken.
As he focused on listening in on the manor, the wave of sounds that washed over him at first threatened to overwhelm him, but once Clark had tuned out the wind rattling glass and the hum of electrical equipment, he was able to find what he was after…
Steady heartbeats, laughter, and a masked vigilante speaking frankly in a voice that was recognizably Bruce Wayne’s.
Hating to be rude, Clark only listened long enough to be sure of two things. First, there was a large cave system under Wayne Manor filled with bats, the cavern itself making Bruce and Dick’s voices echo strangely. Secondly, Bruce Wayne was undeniably the master detective and vigilante known as Batman.
The conversation consisted primarily of Bruce questioning Dick on the crime scene investigation techniques used during a case that Batman and Robin had recently closed. Dick was a quick and eager study- although he was also joking and jovial in a way Batman never was. The obvious pride that Dick felt over the work they had done was shining through in his voice. Bruce, less effusive certainly, sounded begrudgingly pleased too, and Clark recognized the moment for what it was- a teacher assessing a student.
Although he doubted Dick had realized that this was the true motive for Bruce’s careful questioning.
It was enough to confirm Clark’s suspicions, and he didn’t want to pry further than that. So he stopped listening in and flew toward the manor, deciding to make his big reveal above a wide, ornate balcony at the rear of the manor. The moon peeking behind the clouds didn’t offer enough light, but the gardens at the back were lit up to their best advantage. This would make him more visible to ordinary human eyes. He wanted his identities as both Superman and Clark Kent to be immediately obvious to the naked eye, and flying in while in his day wear was the best way to do so.
The plan was to startle the Batman first and try to talk to him second. Hopefully, the distraction coupled with discovering Superman’s secret identity would pave the way for a more meaningful talk with the brooding Bat.
And sure, maybe flying right up to Bruce Wayne’s balcony and hovering in the sky with the clouds dark and heavy behind him was a tad bit dramatic. Clark justified this by reminding himself that both the Batman and Bruce Wayne personas hinged on being theatrical and dramatic. Probably the drama would get Bruce’s attention quicker than literally anything else could.
As Clark crossed into the manor grounds, he heard the first of the warning alarms going off. The sounds would’ve been impossible for average human hearing to even register from this distance, but Clark could hear them clear as day. Not for a moment had he doubted that he’d be noticed as soon as he approached. Still, Clark hated how the heartbeats of the occupants all ratcheted up in response, and he felt a twinge of guilt as he invaded the private home and grounds uninvited. But this was the only way that Clark knew to how to start this conversation.
It wasn’t like he could stride into Wayne Enterprises and ask for a discreet talk with the owner. Even less advisable was finding Batman on patrol where anyone might overhear. No, Wayne Manor was the best option, because this location provided privacy in a way that no other approach could. Clark should’ve brought a gift or something. That was what Ma always said about showing up uninvited.
“If you bring a pie,” Martha Kent would say with that teasing glimmer in her eyes, “no one can stay mad about a surprise visit.”
Clark snorted at that thought, but really, wasn’t he pretty much using that advice? Albeit the offered olive branch wasn’t in the form of a dessert. Something as simple as a pie wouldn’t do any good in soothing an angry Batman who felt his private space was being invaded. The gift of Superman’s secret identity though…
The alarms had been turned off, and Superman hovered uncertainly over the balcony. Now that he was here… did he just knock on the door? He knew the people inside were well aware of his presence, but what if Bruce avoided coming out to keep up the vapid rich boy routine? That left Clark awkwardly hovering outside of Bruce Wayne’s house waiting to be acknowledged, and that sorta ruined the whole dramatic scene he'd envisioned when he planned it.
Yeah, okay, his plan hadn’t made it past dramatic reveal. He hadn’t considered that this might happen—that Bruce might stay hidden behind doors and feigning unawares. Cautiously, Clark listened to the movement in the manor, becoming aware first that there was someone in the shower on the second floor. Two heartbeats were on the first floor. He paused, considered simply waiting for someone to acknowledge him, but he had been this nosy already. He needed to know which window to tap at if Bruce did decide to ignore him.
The room downstairs must’ve been a kitchen or a dining room because the first sound that greeted him was the clink of dishes. Then someone heaved a gusty sigh.
“I don’t understand why I can’t go and talk to him,” Dick Grayson’s voice said. “S’not like I haven’t met him before.”
“Best leave it to Master Bruce,” a posh British accent cut in. “The situation requires some delicacy.”
Dick snorted and grumbled, “All the more reason I should be the one talking to him.”
Silence followed, the second voice neither scolding nor objecting to that statement. But Clark had once again heard enough. The two downstairs were Dick and presumably the Alfred Pennyworth that Clark had read about.
That meant the man in the shower was Bruce. He was the one Clark wanted to talk to anyways. The shower cut off, and Clark huffed out an impatient breath, knowing he'd have to wait now for Bruce's after shower routine to finish. Clark hovered uncertainly, fiddling with his clothes and his hair to distract himself until he was sure Bruce was dressed and at least somewhat decent to accept visitors. For the longest time, Clark stared at the windows without using his x-ray vision, simply watching to see if the curtains moved or if any lights were turned on.
Finally, Clark pulled out his phone to check his messages and maybe keep himself busy for a few more minutes to give Bruce his privacy. He almost missed the sound of the door clicking open on the balcony, and a smooth voice spoke before he could move to put his phone away.
“Normally I’d already be calling my lawyer to get a restraining order against you. Cellphone cameras can take pretty clear paparazzi shots these days, and you must be aware of my stance on reporters at the manor.” Bruce’s hair was damp, and he was wearing a bathrobe over expensive silk pajamas.
Okay, ‘bathrobe’ might’ve been an understatement—the expensive bit of clothing Bruce was wearing screamed dressing gown, and wasn’t that a weird thought? To Clark, it seemed so dated- positively Victorian- and yet there stood Bruce Wayne looking like a dashing gentleman who had retired for the night after sweeping young ladies off their feet on rainy English moors. As though this was utterly normal.
Perhaps for Bruce, it was. Or perhaps this was another little act.
“Normally?” Clark replied, lowering down to where his feet brushed the railing. When Bruce didn’t make any move to stop him, he came forward and lowered himself fully onto the balcony, both feet on the ground as if he were a normal man.
“Well, I highly doubt a restraining order would mean much against Superman.” Bruce’s expression was sharp, clever, as he raised his tumbler of whiskey up into a mock toast. He was keeping up appearances as a recreational drunk even now. “That’s who you are, right? Unless you’ve been bitten by something radioactive that gave you the ability to fly right up to my balcony door.”
“No radioactive animal bites, Mr. Wayne,” Clark responded with his most winsome smile. “I am Superman.” And to further prove his point, he tugged his first few buttons open and pulled his tie to the side to reveal the symbol on his chest.
Bruce took a step closer, his eyes on the symbol first and then darting up to Clark’s face. Despite the tension in Bruce’s shoulders, an odd fascination came into his expression, one that Clark doubted Bruce was aware of. Bruce had the look of a man figuring out a puzzle, eyes tracing the curve of Clark’s cheek and the bridge of his nose as if trying to find Superman’s features in an otherwise ordinary man’s face.
“Ahhh,” Bruce exhaled softly, expression smoothing back out to something playful and soft. “Very nice. Come to reveal your chiseled chest to me then? You were thinking interesting things at our last meeting. But really, you didn’t have to reveal your little hobby for a roll in the sheets with me, Mr. Kent. I thought my invitation had been clear enough without any… complications required.”
This wasn’t quite the dialogue that he’d been expecting, and too surprised even to be embarrassed at the lewd implications, Clark frowned at him as if trying to figure out what exactly Bruce was playing at. The wind snatched at Bruce’s hair, and Clark caught the scent of his shampoo.
“Oh,” Clark said, surprise rendering him more honest than he should’ve been. “You showered to get rid of the smell of Kevlar and alleyways and gadgetry. You put on a different mask- one made of cologne and…” Clark sniffed the air again. “Sandalwood scented shampoo?”
The words were enough to make Bruce’s flippant expression become more guarded. “You have a good nose,” Bruce said, his tone low but still airy- like he was genuinely confused by the observation. “But I haven’t the faintest clue what you’re implying.”
“Mr. Wayne…” Clark was trying to even out his tone, because if he wasn’t careful, he knew he would dip down into that soothing register he used on panicked citizens when he had to calm them down in a crisis. “I’m not trying to imply anything. I’m telling you I know your secret. So I told you mine.”
Bruce crossed the final few steps between them, eyes narrowing but smile edging on flirty. “I’m telling you I don’t know what you mean. A man in my position has many secrets, and I’m terribly good at keeping most of them.” Bruce curled his fingers into Clark’s tie, tugging the other man’s face down more level with his own. “I can keep it a secret that the great Superman fell for the Wayne charms. I have nothing against being a bit of gay experimentation for a handsome super hero.”
The feigned ignorance and flirtatious distractions might have been endearing in how authentic it all seemed—Bruce was a frighteningly good actor—but Clark didn’t come here to be distracted by charming smiles and blatant flirting.
“You can stop acting like you’re actually interested in taking me to bed,” Clark said with as much irritation as he could muster despite how red-cheeked he’d become at the other man’s closeness. “I know you’re the Batman. I figured it out. Robin doesn’t change his voice like you do. I… well, I heard him on the news, and I figured it out.”
“You’re sure I have no interest in taking you to bed…?” Bruce’s voice was practically a purr, and he leaned a little closer, his eyes locked on Clark’s.
They had reached that point in the exchange where if he pushed the charade any further Bruce ran the risk of stepping over Clark’s boundaries. Well aware that Bruce wouldn’t chance his flirtation crossing the line into anything that might be construed as blatant sexual harassment, Clark simply frowned and arched a brow at him.
The rain began to fall, softly at first but quickly picking up into a furious downpour. Both men were locked in that moment, utterly ignoring the rain in favor of staring into each other's faces. Finally, Bruce sighed and released the grip on Clark’s tie. The salacious playboy grin suddenly dropped into something more Batman-like, neutral and critical and irritated all at once. The transformation was so swift that Clark actually jolted a little in surprise.
“Come inside, and we’ll discuss this.” Tone brisk and businesslike, Bruce turned on his heel, rain soaking through his dressing gown.
Then the careful way Bruce held his shoulders eased somewhat. Oh, the man was still very much on the alert, but his perfect gentleman posture slumped into something more natural, more relaxed. He stalked across the balcony and swept through the diaphanous white curtains hung inside the doorway. Bruce’s purposeful stride was one that Clark had seen a thousand times before- although normally it was accompanied by the swish of a long black cape.
Clark hurried after him into the darkened room to get out of the rapidly worsening weather. Though it was already hopeless with the combination of product and rain, Clark instinctively brought his hands up to tame his messy hair. Then he pulled his glasses off. They were meaningless at the best of times, and right now they were drenched to the point of distracting him.
His clothes were wet too, but he figured he’d just live with that. Clark admired the dark room, realizing it was some sort of party hall with a pianoforte in one corner, an area for dancing, and a variety of furniture at the edges of the room to be arranged as necessary. He could almost see the place decked out for a dance or a party full of the upper crust in all the latest fashions.
While Clark mutely admired the place, Bruce had already made it to the door across the room. He didn’t turn to look at him, but he did clear his throat meaningfully as he slipped out of the door. Clark stumbled in his haste to follow him, and then he found himself in a long hallway that looked more like a museum than a house.
Bruce led him to a sitting room, and he flipped a light on. Clark didn’t really want to sit down on any of the expensive looking furniture, wet as he was, but he watched as Bruce shrugged off the wet dressing gown. The man’s silk pajamas had a ring of dampness near the collar, but he was otherwise pretty dry underneath. Clark decided to follow his lead and at least take off his wetter outer layer since he had his super suit on as well. He laid his shirt and pants over Bruce’s dressing gown, and then he sat down in one of the plush chairs.
All the while Bruce was moving around the room, turning up the thermostat and drawing the curtains closed and sending messages on his phone. Finally, the man came and sat opposite of him, arching a brow and giving Clark a hard stare.
“So, uhm, I dunno where to start now,” Clark said finally, breaking the silent tension in the room.
“You’re the one who came to reveal his big secrets,” Bruce replied, his tone derisive. “I would’ve thought you’d have what you wanted to say planned.”
“I got through the first bullet point on my list. I wanted you to know who I was since I figured out who you were.”
“And so? What now?” Bruce smirked and arched his brow. He leaned back in his seat. “You show me yours and then I show you mine?”
There was an air of lewdness to the delivery of those words that brought a flush to Clark’s face. He had thought Bruce had shucked off the playboy billionaire schtick, but maybe he had simply shifted more firmly over to the ‘businessman’ part of that little persona. Indeed, not even the ridiculous silk pajamas could disrupt the bold-faced confident CEO vibe that Clark was getting now.
“You don’t have to act weird anymore. I know you as Batman, remember? I know you can be much more serious than all this…uh…” Clark trailed off as he struggled to come up with a word for what Bruce was being, and he waved his hand awkwardly as if that expressed it instead.
In response, Bruce actually snorted. “What makes you think I’m more authentically myself as Batman? Maybe Batman is the act, and I’m not much more than a philandering party boy the rest of the time.”
It was Clark's turn to give the other man a long hard stare, and he felt a pang in his chest. Although he had no illusions about how hard it was going to be to suss out the real Bruce under all the bull crap, Clark hoped that at least having their secret identities out in the open might make Batman a little less evasive.
“I don’t think either of those acts are who you are, Mr. Wayne. Batman? I’m not sure what I should call you now to be honest.” Clark flustered as he tripped over his words, but he valiantly pressed forward despite his embarrassment. “I want to know the real you under it all. I think it would be good for us- for the team- if we were friends. But that’s not… I mean, I know I can’t force a thing like that. I feel guilty that I figured out who you were even though I knew you’d be mad about it. I think you’re mad at least?”
Clark hadn’t meant for that last bit to come out as a question, and yet it had. For all of Bruce’s reactions to Clark’s sudden appearance, the man hadn’t acted angry. Frustrated, cagey, irate at worst- but so far he hadn’t exploded or yelled at him.
Heck, Bruce had only even obliquely agreed that he was Batman.
“For your first question, you can call me Bruce. As for the rest of that… I’m not pleased that you found my identity, no, but yelling at you would hardly change things now that you’ve worked it out. What do you plan to do? That’s more what I’m curious about. Clearly, you intend to keep my secret, or you wouldn’t have revealed your own identity. I simply don’t know what you expect to happen now.”
That was a good question. What did Clark intend to happen now? It took him a moment to collect his thoughts.
“I’d never reveal your secret! I wasn’t here to threaten you or anything!” Clark felt gratified, though, that Bruce had utterly skipped the process of accusing him of anything or being suspicious. Perhaps Diana was right about Clark being on Bruce’s good side. Or- just as likely- the Superman secret identity thing really had softened Bruce up. “This was a show of good faith. That I trust you with my secrets, that I respect you. I wanted to apologize for working out your civilian identity. I know you’re a private man, and I should’ve left it alone.”
“No, I’m glad you told me how you figured it out. Now I know how to prevent this from happening a second time. I appreciate your sentiments, and if that’s all you’re concerned about, I’ll be happy to send you on your way home.” Bruce stood then. It appeared that the man had gotten all the information he wanted out of the conversation and was eager to see it over. “I’ll keep your secret, and you’ll keep mine. An easy bargain. Do you need a bag for your clothes?”
“Wait I have other things to discuss though!”
“What things?” Bruce was already folding Clark’s suit, nose wrinkling in distaste as he wrapped the clothing up into an easy to carry bundle.
“Well, Robin, for starters.”
Bruce froze, eyes narrowing into slits as he looked over at Clark. Tense and angry and looking like a cat about to strike, Bruce replied in a tight voice, “Robin?”
“Yeah, y’kno, the ethical thoughts behind training a kid to be a vigilante detective!”
“I explained my position on Robin when I introduced him,” Bruce replied, voice finally dipping into the angry caustic Batman voice that Clark was so familiar with.
“Not well enough, in my opinion.”
“As his legal guardian, it’s my opinion that matters.”
Bruce and Clark glared at one another, and Clark wasn’t quite sure how to pursue the topic without making the man angrier and even more defensive. Just as Clark opened his mouth to respond, the door to the sitting room came open, and a man dressed in a pressed suit entered with a tray laden with tea and cookies.
“Tea for you and your guest, sir,” the man said in a flat neutral tone. He crossed the room and set the tray down.
“My guest,” Bruce repeated, tone dripping with sarcasm, “was just leaving. Sorry to trouble you for the tea. Why don’t you share it with Dick?”
“I’m sure Master Dick would much rather take tea with you, Master Bruce,” Alfred said back, the words almost a rebuke. “Besides, if Master Kent wants to stay a moment more to take tea, hurrying him out so quickly would be absolutely inhospitable.”
“You know who I am?” Clark asked, genuinely a bit shocked.
“Of course, I do. Master Bruce and I always read your columns in the paper.” Alfred gave a short, rehearsed bow. “Alfred Pennyworth, sir. Do call if you need anything.”
Bruce gritted his teeth, hissing out an irritated breath. “I said that he’s leaving now Alfred.”
Clark failed at suppressing a grin and had to bite his lip to hide it before Bruce got more worked up. Even if their conversation had been short and not every enlightening, Clark was getting to see Bruce interact with someone that he clearly cared a lot about. Hopefully, he’d get to see this side of him again soon. So despite still having questions, Clark decided to make a strategic retreat.
“I do believe—” Alfred started, but Clark held up a hand.
“I have things to do myself, Mr. Pennyworth, and I really should get back before the weather decides to get worse.”
Alfred’s narrow eyed look was almost as formidable as a Bat-glare, but then the man gave a short bow. “As you will, sir. Give me a moment to fetch you a warm drink to go and an umbrella, if you please.”
“Oh that won’t be…” But Clark trailed off when Alfred disregarded his words entirely and disappeared into the hallway again.
“Arguing with him won’t do any good anyways,” Bruce said after a beat of silence. “Better to let him have it.”
“My Ma would like him. She’s as headstrong as he is when it comes to hospitality.” Clark smiled at the comparison, but Bruce’s lips turned down as he focused a hard stare on Clark.
Those sharp eyes made Clark feel vulnerable, as if Bruce was assessing him and could pinpoint every flaw with laser focused accuracy.
“Ahhh, is that what comes now? Getting to know each other?” The words were resigned, and Bruce gave a barely perceptible shake of his head as he closed those clever ice-blue eyes.
Clark breathed a sigh of relief. A moment to collect himself without being taken apart by those intelligent eyes would be nice. Clark had no doubt that Bruce flashed that intense thoughtful expression pretty often under the cowl. He was suddenly infinitely thankful that he couldn’t see those intense eyes through the lead lined mask.
“I’d like that yes. Getting to know you I mean.” Clark flushed, because he could hear how painfully earnest his voice sounded.
Bruce didn’t open his eyes. “Flattered I’m sure,” he replied, and it sounded more reflex than agreement.
“I’m being serious here Bruce.”
With a heavy sigh, Bruce opened his eyes. “As am I, Mr. Kent. Your sentimentality may well get you killed some day, but if someone from the League had to find out about my civilian identity, you are one of the least objectionable options.”
“Call me Clark,” he said with a smile… before frowning. “And thanks? I think that was a compliment? Wrapped up in pessimism?”
“Take it how you will.”
After a pause, Clark added, “I'm already learning a little about you, y’kno? Seeing how you interact with family… finding out you read my articles in the Daily Planet. I’ve also deduced that you like Spider-man comics from that reference earlier.”
The sour face that Bruce made in response was funny enough that Clark couldn’t help but laugh, only making Bruce’s sour lemon face worse.
“I’m not media illiterate, Clark. I do pretend to be an air-headed media-obsessed playboy, and everyone knows the basic Spider-man story.”
As Clark puzzled out whether or not Bruce’s tone was defensive or simply still tense from the weird situation, Bruce gathered up their wet things and passed a bundle of them to Clark. Without another word, Bruce strode out of the room with the same speed he always fled from Justice League meetings.
Clark grinned. Defensive then-- Bruce must like comic books.
Dick and Alfred both came to see Clark off at Bruce’s side, and Clark accepted the thermos of hot chocolate easily. He tried to refuse the umbrella because he knew it was going to slow him down and make him look ridiculous… But Alfred was adamant.
As he flew away from the manor, the last words he caught were Dick calling out gleefully, “Goodbye Mary Poppins.”
Instead of being embarrassed, happiness bubbled up in Clark’s chest. So the meeting had been stilted and strange, Bruce stonewalling him and hardly giving up any of the information that Clark was looking for.
But that just meant that Clark would have to come again for round 2, and he was already looking forward to it.
I really like Diana and that scene with her got out of hand. It was not meant to be so long lmao
author's reflection just to say that I love the juxtaposition of Bruce unbuttoning his shirt when he meets Clark the first time and "Superman' unbuttoning his shirt when he meets Bruce the first time. It makes me smile.
Comments always welcome and are a good writing motivation C:
Chapter 3: The Mundane Made Metaphor
Clark has a heart-to-heart with Dick Grayson.
I had finals and end of the semester stuff and then dire computer issues. I'm not out of the other side of the dire computer issues situation yet, but I tried to get this done before I went back to working through them! Enjoy!
(Warning: grief and grieving is a topic in this chapter!)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Superman had too much going on in his own life to deal with the Bat-business for a while. Deadlines at work, bad guys to thwart, cats in trees, war machines with dubious origins- his heroing seemed to take up all his available free time outside of work. At least Batman continued to come to all the League meetings as though nothing had happened, but he acted so normal that it felt almost… hurtful.
Superman knew the feeling was irrational, but for him, meeting Batman and knowing his real name and seeing him in his home… the situation between them should’ve shifted. Indeed, for Superman, things had shifted, and their shared secret came with a chance- a chance at friendship and casual intimacy that neither of them could often allow. Superman couldn’t give up a chance like that. He also had a friendship with Wonder Woman out of costume, and he knew that Batman had an even smaller social circle.
Which meant the brooding Bat probably needed a friend more than anyone else did.
Wonder Woman had said this was a mission to become Batman’s friend, and she was right. Of course, he still wanted more information about the whole situation with Robin, but Superman trusted Batman to have good reasons for bringing the kid into the fold. He just needed to hear them to understand and possibly accept them.
Like always though, Batman was sweeping out of the meeting hall at the first chance, and even if Superman could easily catch up, approaching him in a semi-public place was a highly risky choice. Talks with Batman would definitely go better somewhere the man felt comfortable and in control.
Superman had so much to say to Batman, so much to ask, that required the strictest privacy, so of course when he finally ran into the man and his ward again, they were all in their civilian identities in a public place.
The Metropolis Museum of Natural History was unveiling their newest acquisition- a near complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil affectionately named Suzie after the woman who had discovered it. Donors, media, and other important figures both to the city and to the staff had been invited to a sneak preview of the updated fossil exhibition. All the beloved displays would still be there, but the space had been rearranged and renovated to house Suzie as well.
Clark was lucky enough to get assigned to cover this bit of local interest publicity. Typically, he would dislike an assignment like this with no hard-hitting investigative angle, but there was no way Clark was going to bellyache about seeing such a phenomenal display of ancient natural history and learn about the process of unearthing the beast. Clark glanced down at his notes- a list of potential questions for the presenters and museum staff. They were all thoughtfully written and prepared ahead of time...
Okay, so maybe he had no real interest in the answers to most of the questions, but dinosaurs were cool enough that he was willing to sit through a lot of tedium and jargon to be among the first of the public to meet Suzie the giant dinosaur skeleton.
Most of the guests were specifically Metropolitan figures, so when Clark looked up to make direct eye contact with Bruce Wayne, his heart rate jumped- from nerves probably. With what he knew now, Clark was surprised to find that he actually cared what Bruce thought of him, both in and out of costume. Despite his nerves, he put on his best polite smile and waved. Bruce waved back and started toward him. Bruce’s stride was confident and his expression intent, and Clark fought back the rising warmth in his cheeks and neck. No doubt Bruce was brewing up some flirtatious trouble in that big brain of his.
Dick Grayson appeared then, ducking around a group of people talking together, and fell into step easily beside his guardian as if he too were simply waiting for his chance to approach. The boy’s face had lit up in recognition, and it was a level of delight that would be odd if Clark wasn’t well aware that Dick knew his identity as Superman as well.
Such a young kid knowing his identity after years of only a handful of other trusted adults possessing that secret should make him nervous, but oddly Clark simply felt a swell of affection and hope. All three of them had secret identities, and he couldn’t ignore the potential for the type of open friendship that Clark rarely found.
“Fancy seeing you here, Mr. Kent,” Bruce said, all charming smiles and smooth low tones. “You look as refreshing as ever~ Always so plainly dressed but it makes your handsome features stand out all the more.”
Apparently, Dick didn’t like being left out of the conversation, and he jabbed Bruce in the side with his elbow. The addition of a second person in Bruce’s public façade must still be new territory, because the man blinked and froze halfway through straightening Clark’s tie. There were still a few stumbles in their new public personas, perhaps? A young ward would complicate the whole playboy debonair routine.
Clark used the moment to brush Bruce’s hands away, the same gentle bemused rejection he always used before he knew the flirting was a calculated act.
“Oh right, sorry about that, Dick!” Bruce stepped back and gestured between them. “I should’ve introduced you two. This is my ward, Dick Grayson. Dick, this is Mr. Kent…” Bruce stalled, and Clark thought he saw a glimmer of mischief in his eyes. The expression was so brief that Clark wasn’t sure he saw it at all. “Kevin Kent? Kyle maybe? It starts with a ‘k’ sound. I’m close, right?”
“Clark. My first name is Clark, Mr. Wayne,” he replied, trying desperately not to smile and give the game away. He managed a frown at least.
“Oh yes right, like Clark Gable. Another very handsome man. Perhaps that’s how I’ll remember it next time.” Bruce’s tone and expression were both pointedly flirtatious, but this time no response from Clark was necessary.
“Uuuughhhhhh Bruce!” Dick said then, exaggerated distaste clear in his slumping shoulders and the set of his mouth. “What have I said about the flirting?!” He directed a long-suffering expression at Clark and added, “He’s still getting used to having a son around. Parents and guardians are not supposed to flirt with someone within earshot of their kids!”
Clark sputtered a laugh, and Bruce gave a half-hearted shrug, one that didn’t look the least bit ashamed. Then again, perhaps the routine was more honed than Clark thought- a guardian caught in the act of being flirtatious and forced to dial back the charm. Actually that sounded like an even better act- Bruce could easily get out of flirting with anyone without hurting any feelings just by a quick interruption from his adopted son.
“I would agree with you,” Clark replied. “’Cept my own parents flirted in front of me when I was your age for the sole purpose of embarrassing me sometimes too.”
Dick heaved a put-upon sigh, though his grin was hard to stifle even through his mock distress. He offered a hand to Clark as he replied, “Well, I am going to train Bruce not to be that kind of a Dad. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Kent! Are you as excited as I am to see Suzie?”
The kid’s eyes were bright, his smile dimpled and just as charming as his guardian’s. They made a striking pair, and with Dick’s dark hair and his blue-grey eyes, they might even look related if Clark wasn’t already well aware of their situations.
“Yes, of course I am, Mr. Grayson,” Clark replied. “You two sure traveled a good ways to see her though.”
Impossibly enough, Dick’s beaming smile became even more brilliant at being called ‘Mr. Grayson.’ “Yeah! We took a train! Dinosaurs are awesome, and I was reading on the way here—”
Dick was off then, sharing bits that he had learned on his way over. Clark responded to the information he had to share with the appropriate levels of interest and curiosity. He glanced over at Bruce, who looked as though he had heard every bit of this on the train… but under the surface of long-suffering tolerance was fondness and pride.
Clark’s own grin stretched wide and pleased as well. This young boy had done wonders integrating himself into Bruce’s life. Sure, Bruce was a man of many faces, but Clark knew in his bones that this moment was an honest one. Bruce glanced up then, meeting Clark’s gaze. Cheeks dusting suddenly pink, Bruce’s expression shuttered, an awkward, self-conscious frown taking its place, and his eyes cut away to focus on a nearby curtain as though it were the most interesting thing in the room.
An honest moment indeed, Clark thought, his own heartbeat speeding up again for no good reason at all. Or well, not no reason. Simply put, Bruce being earnestly embarrassed was shockingly far more charming than any bit of wicked flirtations he’d ever come up with before.
Dick’s ramble came to a stop as a woman crossed the room with an audibly quick pace, the click-click-click of her heels announcing her approach. She was short and tan, dark hair piled on the top of her head, and she had the air of a proud professional- confident, sure, and ready to make certain everyone recognized it. Made sense- her name-tag announced her as a member of the museum’s archaeological consultants, and she would be at home in her element here.
Still, her attention was so focused on Bruce Wayne that Clark wondered if she was one of the targets of the playboy’s flirtatious attention.
“It’s wonderful to see you again, Dr. Harrison,” Bruce said warmly, turning to offer her his hand as she joined the group.
She looked down at his hand, then her professional expression became something almost giddy, delighted. “I’ll have none of that, Bruce!” Then the woman threw her arms around him. “Thank you so much for coming! It means the world to me!”
Bruce wasn’t to be startled apparently, and he simply hugged her back. “Thank you for inviting me. I have been looking forward to meeting this Suzie of yours.”
“Oh yeah! Thanks for the invitation, Dr. Harrison!” Dick said, interrupting the moment.
When the woman pulled back, she seemed to notice them the first time. “Oh! Sorry! I didn’t mean to steal Bruce from you! You must be the Dick Grayson I’ve heard so much about.” She offered Dick a hand, shaking quickly before greeting Clark the same way. “I’m Suzanne Harrison. I’m the one who found the big ol’ dino we’re about to unveil to you guys.”
“Clark Kent, nice to meet you,” he replied. He gestured almost shyly at his press pass. “I’m a reporter from the Daily Planet .”
“A journalist,” she said, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “Was Bruce here to pitch something for the Enterprises or was he trying to bamboozle you with bedroom eyes?”
“Bamboozling, unfortunately,” Dick cut in instantly.
Bruce gasped in mock hurt, and Clark couldn’t stop himself from laughing.
“Don’t worry. Mr. Grayson has been keeping him in line.” Clark grinned at her. “And how do you know, Mr. Wayne? Has he tried to bamboozle you too?”
At this, Bruce cut in smoothly, “Of course not! She’s one of the Wayne Foundation Scholars! She earned her scholarship through hard work too. What's more, she made the most of it-- Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Gotham University, served on as many councils and research teams as she could, and went on to get her Ph.D.” Dr. Harrison flushed at the praise, and then Bruce shot her a saucy wink. “I wouldn’t dream of being able to bamboozle her.”
Dr. Harrison laughed in utter delight and smacked him on the arm.
As she was laughing, Clark couldn’t help but ask, “But I’m just a simple minded journalist who’s much easier to confuse?”
Bruce’s eyes twinkled with mirth, putting on a very convincing show as always, and he said, “No offense meant to you of course. Chock it up to wishful thinking on my part~” His eyes started to roam over Clark’s body too openly to be polite in any company, much less in a crowded foyer in the middle of the afternoon.
Bruce opened his mouth to deliver no doubt a horrendous bit of flirtatious nonsense, but Dick interrupted the proceedings with a loud “UGH,” before he shoved at Bruce’s side. “Come on!!! Is it time to see the dinosaurs yet?!”
Dr. Harrison shrugged and straightened. “Come with me, boys, and I’ll give you the tour personally before we start the presentations and the speeches!”
“Does the invitation extend to press as well as your personally invited guests?” Clark asked, fiddling with his press pass again. It was more polite, he thought, to confirm he was invited. He’d ask as they got started if he could take notes to use it in his article as well, but he knew how the press made some people nervous and careful of their words. He didn’t want her to force herself to keep on her toes or be on her strictest behavior with her own guests.
Dr. Harrison gave him a smile. “Any friend of Mr. Wayne’s!” Then she added, “Besides, I don’t mind showing off for the press at all.”
Dick stepped up and offered Dr. Harrison his arm like a gentleman, and the woman gave another delighted laugh. “And I don’t mind being escorted about by handsome men either.” She took Dick’s arm and the two of them led the charge into the next room, Dr. Harrison important enough that she didn’t even pause to flash her name badge to the men minding the door. Clark was about to get the VIP treatment on a story with no overly polite theatrics or strings attached at all.
This must be another unexpected side effect of getting to know Bruce Wayne.
The presentations and the speeches that came afterwards paled in comparison to the private tour with Dr. Harrison, and beyond that, Clark found it hard to concentrate with a giant historical marvel in the room.
Well, that and Bruce Wayne.
Clark had been turning the whole meeting with him and Dick over and over in his head, trying to combine what he knew about the two as public figures with what he knew about Batman. The whole process would’ve been hard enough only trying to reconcile the dark brooding Bat with a playboy prince charming, but with Dick in the picture, the added layer of newfound parental guardianship made it even harder.
As an official at the front started talking about potential fundraisers and the need for donations- hint hint to the rich people in the crowd- Clark’s attention wandered back to what Bruce thought of the way Dick had talked- to so casually refer to Bruce as a parent, for Dick to call himself son. Clark had dug around after his conversation with Diana. Dick had been living with Bruce since the night his parents had been killed a little over a year ago. Bruce had been fostering Dick throughout that time, but it wasn’t until the public announcements of Dick’s formal adoption into the Wayne family several months earlier that Dick had started to appear at Bruce’s side at official functions and making statements to the papers.
The announcement of the adoption coincided closely with renewed interest in the murder case as it finally went to trial in the Gotham courthouses after extended delays. Clark wondered what Bruce had intended the announcement to be—perhaps, a distraction, something else for the media to talk to Dick about that wasn’t simply more of the same invasive questions about his parents’ murder? Or perhaps Bruce was using his own fame to announce such a thing to turn the court case into an even LARGER news story? It might be harder for a crime family to get off scot-free with so much attention and pressure from the public.
At the bottom of this all was one truth that Clark had to acknowledge: it wasn’t actually his business. Journalist though he was, Bruce and Dick’s life weren’t a story he needed to pursue, and they definitely weren’t a puzzle for him to figure out and piece together. Most of these answers he could only ever get if they accepted him into their lives, and they didn’t have to do that at all.
The thought stung him, because Clark desperately wanted to be a part of their inner circle, a person that they could trust.
So he tried his hardest to focus on the presentations and speakers. Only once did he catch Bruce glancing back at him, a calculating and thoughtful look in his ice blue eyes.
After the presentations, they had light refreshments for the guests and gave further chance for all the guests and staff to mingle. Clark hardly imagined that he’d get another moment with Bruce or his ward, knowing that this was a rare chance for networking with a lot of important Metropolis elite all in one place. On top of that, singling out Clark again might be too much pointed attention, and that kind of thing led to rumors.
So nope, Clark didn’t expect another chance to talk with either of them, and he made his way through the room, trying to gather as much information as he could for his own article. Just as he was talking with one of the men responsible for mounting the bones up into place without damaging them, Clark heard a wheezing intake of breath- the kind a person might take just before a wracking sob. A few beats of silence followed, a breath held, and then a small broken sob was being stifled against some kind of cloth.
Clark thanked the man for his time but didn’t linger, listening for any other signs of peril- the sounds of physical struggle that might indicate a kidnapping for instance. No other sounds followed except another hastily bitten off sob of anguish. The crying led him out of the presentation area, deeper into the museum, and despite the fact that Clark was almost 100% sure that no one was supposed to be venturing out of the fossil exhibition, he kept following the sound until he came to a viewing room. This was the kind of place they aired little informational films throughout the day, but right now it was the perfect place to hide away with no one around.
At the end of a bench in the corner of the room, Dick Grayson sat with his face buried into his arms, shoulders shaking.
Clark took a breath to steel himself and knocked quietly at the open door. Dick looked up, eyes red and face streaked with tears. He hastily rubbed at his cheeks, and he sat up straighter even as he dropped his head and turned his face away. Slowly, Clark crossed the room and sat beside him, careful to give the boy space. Some people shied away from physical assurance when they were upset, and he wasn’t sure yet what Dick needed.
“Do you need quiet or would you like to talk about it?” Clark asked then, looking forward toward the dark screen. The emergency lights on the floor were the only ones that were on, and the dimness made the room feel strangely somber for two o’clock in the afternoon.
“Quiet first,” Dick mumbled, still hicupping and gasping softly. “And uh, we can go from there.”
Clark nodded in response, and he took slow measured breaths, his exhale just barely audible. A little soft reminder to breathe slow and steady could do wonders- or at least it seemed to help some of the frightened citizens he rescued. Sometimes controlled breathing was what a person needed to help their body calm down.
The silence stretched out, but it wasn’t nearly as awkward as it could be. The sounds of tears subsided, and Dick finally turned toward him a little more fully, breaking the quiet. “You can ask me why I’m crying now.”
“Why are you crying?” Clark asked in reply, almost smiling at Dick’s wording.
Only then did Dick turn his eyes up to meet Clark’s. The low lighting darkened those blue-grey eyes until they looked more like the color of storm clouds. For the space of several heartbeats, Clark wasn’t sure Dick was going to reply.
Dick’s expression twisted into something vulnerable and angry at once. “Muffins!” he spat out, frustrated and sad. “Blueberry muffins prepackaged in individual lil plastic wrappers.” He dropped his gaze again as he pulled a slightly-squished plastic-wrapped blueberry muffin out of his jacket, pressing his thumb against the rounded edge. “Go ahead. It’s stupid. You can laugh.”
Clark tried to keep his bewilderment out of his face and his voice, simply replying, “I don’t get it, but it doesn’t make it stupid. Can you explain it to me?”
The silence was heavy for a minute more, and then the tension eased from Dick’s shoulders- if only slightly. This was surely something he needed to say aloud, and Clark had always been a good listener.
“There’s this thing about grief that they don’t tell you,” he said, hurt in his tone but conviction lacing through it. “There’s all this stuff that you expect is gonna hurt and tear you up- when you see the coffins, when you go through their stuff, the first day at the funeral home… and the last day, I guess, when they put them in the ground. Point is just that, you know all of that stuff is gonna hurt. So you put your armor on, grab your utility belt. You face the day with a heart prepared to take some pain.” Dick turned again and fixed him with a searching look.
“Yeah,” Clark agreed softly. “Yeah, that makes sense. It’s still hard, but knowing that… and knowing it’s coming gives you a chance to prepare at least a little. I get that.”
Dick nodded at his words and continued. “But it’s the other times that are the hardest. Those dumb little moments where something catches you off guard. Something that no one could possibly predict, something you walk right into with your armor off and it claws right into ya.” Dick pressed his finger harder into the muffin, crinkling the plastic while he left a thumb mark in the little pastry. “For me today it’s a prepackaged stack of blueberry muffins sitting on a snack table. You know, I haven’t even seen one of these since before…” His breath caught, dangerously close to more gasping tears, before it evened out again. “Since before I moved in with Bruce… Alfred always bakes any pastries or muffins or whatever we want. Seriously, how in the world was I supposed to know a stupid prepackaged muffin could make me cry?”
Clark was starting to get the idea now, but he could sense that Dick wasn’t quite finished talking. After another beat of silence, he asked, “What exactly about the muffin made you cry, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Then Dick actually managed a wavering laugh. “It’s so cheesy. So so so cheesy. But my parents- their work uniforms had rhinestones and glitter and sequins on them. People like that are gonna sometimes be cheesy or corny or whatever.” Dick trailed off, expression self-conscious as though he expected laughter or judgement. Clark didn’t laugh- simply smiled his encouragement-, and Dick took the invitation to go on. “Okay so… sometimes when my dad would head out before my mom, she’d be like, ‘Hey!’ and she’d toss him one of these cheap plastic wrapped muffins. And she’d say, ‘A muffin for my muffin.’ Like, ugh, so corny.” Dick made this little disbelieving sound, and Clark did laugh then.
“Yeah, that’s a little corny, I guess,” Clark admitted even as he smiled at the mental image.
“It’s super corny, Mr. Kent,” Dick said with a roll of his eyes. His tone was what Clark could only describe as a ‘no duh’ voice. “And it gets worse.” He looked up now, disbelief and confusion shining on his face. “My dad, he’d catch the muffin, and he’d blow her a kiss. Then he’d say, ‘And sugar for my sugar.’” Dick heaved a sigh. “I always thought it was ridiculous and corny and embarrassing and…” His words choked in his throat, and then he buried his face in his hands. “… and yet seeing those muffins again was like someone cutting my chest open.”
If Clark were anyone else, he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to hear his words, so quiet and muffled as they were.
“Oh,” Clark said softly, wishing he had the words for a moment like this one. He settled on, “The memories… are fond at least?”
“Yeah,” Dick agreed. “They are.”
Clark tried to imagine what Dick was experiencing- to be discovering how the human brain can make singular items so important that now something as average as a muffin might be tied inexplicably up with grief.
“Does this… happen often?” Clark asked slowly, leaning around a little to attempt to make eye contact with Dick again.
“Not so much now. It was worse, right after. But Bruce… he gets it, told me similar times he was triggered by stuff that was otherwise normal.” Dick smiled and looked up at Clark. “You’d have to ask him about the personal stuff though. Like the birthmark thing.”
Birthmark thing…? Clark thought, mystified but sure this was something similar to the muffin- a mundane thing made metaphor by grief and human memory.
“Bruce, huh? He helped you through it?” Clark couldn’t help but think of the awkward yet earnest comfort Bruce Wayne had offered him at the party that night when he confided in him about his own adoption. That Bruce Wayne would be able to comfort a hurting child, but Clark had only met that version of him once.
“Yeah. He’s a quiet guy, I get that. He's a little blunt and brusque and like, distant sometimes. But he cares a lot, and he knows firsthand what this kind of thing is like. He told me…” Dick smiled. “He told me that the pain, that these little moments of grief, are worth it. ‘Cause eventually the pain will just be--” here Dick deepened his voice, posture becoming straighter, shoulders back. He even added air-quotes with his fingers, “-- ‘an old dull ache, but those memories will still remain.’” His posture slumped out of his mimicry of his guardian. “He said the memories were the most important part. And y’know. I think he’s right. I might’ve forgotten how happy something as silly as a cheap-o muffin from the convenient store made them if this didn’t happen today. Like, maybe that’s a memory that wouldn’t end up standing out, and I’d forget how corny they could be.”
“And you won’t forget very easily now, you mean?”
Dick nodded, adding in a fierce whisper that only super senses could hear. “Crying over muffins to Superman is going to make it pretty damn hard to forget, yeah.”
The sudden use of the curse word and the vehemence in his tone startled a laugh from Clark, and he fidgeted with his glasses.
“Well when you put it that way…” Clark finally put a hand on Dick’s shoulder, giving it a companionable squeeze. “It’ll be pretty hard for me to forget this either. Do you think you’re ready to go back now?”
Dick nodded and stood up. “Yeah, Bruce’ll probably be looking for me soon if we don’t get back. Let’s go.”
Clark stood and started back across the room. “I’ll walk back with you, but I think I’ll steer clear of the Brucie Wayne act right now. He’s always throwing those ridiculous flirty lines at me, and I’m not sure I can handle more of that today.”
Although he was almost to the door, Clark realized suddenly that the sound of footsteps behind him had stopped. When he turned, he found Dick shooting him a facsimile of the calculating detective look Bruce used sometimes. No doubt Dick had picked it up from his guardian.
“You’re saying,” Dick said slowly, trying to suppress his grin, “that Bruce flirts with you every time you’re around?”
The conversation had taken a weird turn, and Clark shrugged. “Well, yeah… but he flirts with everyone.”
Dick came closer, and he put his hands on his hips. "Here's one of the first things Bruce told me about being undercover: the best way to tell an effective lie is to mix in some truth."
"... Okay…?" Clark knew his eyebrows were getting high enough to be comical, but he couldn't quite school his expression to neutrality. "That's a wild thing to teach a kid."
Dick gave a delighted peal of laughter. "He's right though. If you're basing your act on something, details are easier to keep consistent if there's some truths! It's genius honestly. Bruce is so smart." And Dick beamed in a way that showed just how much he believed in Bruce.
Clark could hardly doubt how much the kid adored his new father figure.
"And what does this have to do with the flirting?" Clark knew he was using his skeptical reporter voice, but he wasn't following the logic of the conversation.
Dick lit up again, excited to share his thoughts. "Here's the thing: I've been watching the Brucie routine up close for awhile now, and I've been trying to figure out what truths he's basing his persona on."
"You… you've been using the skills he's teaching you on him?!" Clark would need to take this kid seriously. He was clever and likely being taught to analyze everything as Batman's student. Although Clark was definitely pretty good at keeping his own secrets, he had no doubt that there was subtle and thoughtless things that Dick might pick up on to deduce facts about him and his life.
"Of course I have! But that's not the point here. The point is that I think I’ve figured out at least one of the truths about the Brucie Wayne stuff.” Dick drew close to him, smile sly and voice dropping low to share this secret. “Bruce likes brunettes. He flirts with a lot of people the first or second time he meets them, but after he gets brushed off a few times, he doesn’t really keep up the flirting consistently… Unless~”
“Unless they’re brunettes,” Clark finished as he willed his blush to go away. "My hair is black though. Am I still considered a brunette?"
The question prompted an eye roll. "That is a semantic question and a distraction and we both know it!" Dick crossed his arms. "People with dark brown and black hair- that's who Bruce flirts with the most."
"Including me, huh?" Clark was grinning now, even though the topic was so silly.
“Yep!” Dick shrugged and added, “If he’s really consistent about flirting with you every time… I’d wager that old Brucie thinks you’re hot stuff.”
“You’re just teasing me now,” Clark said, still flustered regardless. He turned again and headed back down the hallway. “You’re trying to embarrass me.”
“Maybe? But it’s kinda funny. He still flirted with you today even after knowing...” Dick trailed off again, his meaning clear. Then, as though the two thoughts weren’t related, he asked, “Do you think Bruce is into Superman too? Or Wonder Woman? Super powered brunettes!”
It was an odd mood whiplash following so soon after the other conversation, but that wasn’t so wholly surprising. After a cry like that, Dick needed something to redirect his attention to and harmless teasing was fun enough.
“I can’t say,” Clark replied smoothly. “If Mr. Wayne ever meets Superman or Wonder Woman, you’ll have to tell me how the meeting goes.” He smiled at the boy, and Dick grinned back.
At that moment, Bruce rounded the corner at the other end of the hallway, looking just as unruffled as ever. Only the barest tilt downward at the edge of his mouth gave away any distress.Then he caught sight of Dick, and his face evened out… until he glanced over at Clark. Bruce then shot him a glower more intense than any Clark had received before, fierce enough that he almost instinctively straightened up.
“Hey Bruce!” Dick didn’t seem to notice or care about the glaring, his walk simply becoming faster as he rejoined Bruce.
“Dick,” he said in a curt tone. “And you again, Mr. Kent. What are you doing sneaking off with my ward?”
To prying ears this might sound like a accusation of a different kind of impropriety, but Clark was sure Bruce thought he was trying to get sensitive information out of the kid, poking around to ‘check-up’ on them.
Dick finally caught on to the mood. “Oh! No, no, Bruce.” As they met in the middle of the hallway, Dick put a hand on Bruce’s arm. “I, uh, well, I had one of those… birthmark moments, like we talked about before. Clark found me crying, and he calmed me down. He was really super nice actually.”
“That’s right, Mr. Wayne,” Clark agreed readily. “Of course, anything Dick said is strictly off the record. I’m a journalist with that much integrity at least.”
At this point, Bruce still hadn’t really come out of his defensive angry posture, but finally, after enough silence that the moment was becoming awkward, Bruce turned his attention to Dick fully.
“Are you alright? Would you like to go back to the hotel? We don’t have to stay here if you’re upset.” Bruce began to fuss like any parent might, straightening Dick’s jacket and sliding his hands over his shoulders.
Dick almost rolled his eyes at Bruce, but he cut off the little check-up by throwing his arms around him. Bruce relaxed into the embrace easier than Clark expected, one arm around his shoulders while he used his free hand to smooth back Dick's hair.
"We'll leave," Bruce decided aloud. "Find some other fun thing to do."
Dick pulled back and looked up at him with a smile. "Sure Bruce!" Then he glanced over at Clark just briefly. "But uh, let me grab another one of those muffins they got in there. You know, for the road."
That was a very Batman way to say, "I'm alright, thanks," and Clark smiled at him. Dick was picking up all sorts of interesting things from Bruce it would seem, and Clark couldn't help but wonder how much of it was passive learning and how much was intentionally taught.
"Sounds like a good idea. I'll see you two at another important event sometime soon I'm sure," Clark said. Then he reached into his coat pocket for his wallet. "I'm pretty sure Mr. Wayne has my card already but..." He pulled one of his business cards out and passed it over to Dick. "Call me if you ever need anything, Mr. Grayson."
"Please, call me Dick," he replied as he took the card. A pause followed by another bright grin before he added, "All my friends do."
Clark laughed. "Only if you call me Clark. I'm very firm on the issue."
"Clark it is then!" Dick was now turning away. "See you later, Clark!"
"Good-bye Dick! And to you, Mr. Wayne."
Dick was already making his way back down the hall, but Bruce paused. There was that speculative expression again, like Bruce was looking a puzzle that was missing pieces and he was trying to fill in the gaps.
"Goodbye. And Mr. Kent," Bruce said finally. "Thank you. For being understanding." Bruce didn't smile, but Clark could tell he was pleased anyways. Then the moment was over, a flirtatious grin splitting Bruce's face. "I do hope to see you later, handsome." Bruce winked, then he turned and strode after his ward.
The final parting bit of nonsense made Clark laugh, louder and more genuinely than he intended to. He called to Bruce, "One of these days I'm going to flirt back, and you're going to regret all this teasing."
Although Bruce didn't turn back around, he waved a hand dismissively as he went. "As if I could ever regret a handsome man flirting with me~"
Clark watched them both disappear back into the fossil exhibition, knowing a dorky grin was plastered over his face. When he finally schooled himself back into a more professional expression, he was not surprised to find that Bruce Wayne and his ward had already left the museum.
A few days after the meeting at the museum, Superman received an email through his secure Justice League account. It was from Batman and read simply, "You know where to find me if you really must discuss the new situation in Gotham. I'm usually finished with patrol after 3 a.m. on a good night." There was no sign off or greeting- not that Superman ever expected such niceties from the Gotham Bat.
Undoubtedly, 'new situation in Gotham' referred to his new apprentice, and now Batman finally seemed willing to at least entertain some questions. Superman smiled. He'd set aside some time later that day to finally have a heart to heart with Batman.
This chapter is inspired by my own experiences with grief and as such isn't necessarily universal. This particular chapter is dedicated to anyone who has ever cried over something as normal and everyday as chocolate milk and struggled to explain why.
Chapter 4: Connecting the Dots
Superman finally gets the brusque Bat to talk about his new protégé, and Clark Kent receives a second invitation.
This chapter and the overall version of Batman and Robin I've been using comes from the 1990s Batman the Animated Series. In particular, this chapter will be referencing events depicted in Robin's Reckoning, Part 1 & 2. Having seen these episodes aren't required for understanding as I took some creative liberties with the timeline to do what I want with it (for example the arrest and trial of the crime family happens differently here), but if you want to watch the actual scenes being referenced in this chapter, I'm using the events of those two episodes as the foundation. Since this story is told in third person limited from Clark's perspective, he doesn't have access to all of the story just because it's hard to get details out of the taciturn Bat, but the full details can be available to you if you google those episodes!
I also reference the collection of Gray Ghost memorabilia that is shown in the BtAS 'Beware of the Gray Ghost" episode.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Superman was thrumming with excitement as he flew toward Gotham- more particularly toward the manor house out in the lush forested outskirts of the city. An official invitation to finally talk about things from the Batman himself meant something should come of the night, right? Unless Batman changed his mind after that curt email and was going to end up growling the same nonsense all over again.
Well, surely that wouldn’t happen. Superman flew faster, letting the wind whip his hair around, and he smiled up at the stars. Tonight, they’d make some progress, and he had to believe that until he was otherwise thwarted.
This time as he approached Wayne Manor, he heard no screaming alarms but simply a buzzing notification from a computer somewhere beneath the earth far below. Instead of making it to the house itself, Superman came to a stop as he heard the faint but distinct click of a lock coming open and the gentle crunch of rocks as a section of the wooded hill below him moved aside.
Superman was at the doorway in an instant, peering into the dark tunnel that led downwards toward the sounds of computers, the scratch of bats, and the soft even breathing of the man he’d come to see. Normally, Superman would zoom in, eager and bright and ready for anything.
Indeed, he was completely unafraid of any kind of subterfuge or trap, but he slowed his descent out of something like respect. He was being invited into Batman’s inner sanctum, and Superman wanted to savor the moment. The man waiting at the end of the tunnel- would it be Bruce or Batman or Brucie or the shrewd CEO? No doubt the man would be as acerbic as he had been every single time they tried to have a sincere conversation, but at least for the length of this dark earthen corridor, Superman could focus on the actions shouting louder than any of Batman’s words had so far.
Batman trusted him enough not just to allow him in but to send him an invitation.
Superman was beaming when he finally came out into the wide main cavern that housed Batman and his gadgets. Some of it he expected- the computers, the Batmobile, the training gear. Other things were more surprising- the T-Rex, the giant penny, the collection of Gray Ghost memorabilia set up like a shrine in a display case. For a moment, Superman was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and the number of things collected there. Was this the work of a paranoid hoarder or could it be that Batman was more sentimental about his work than he let on?
‘It’s gotta be a bit of both,’ Superman realized, his grin softening into something fond and affectionate. “Silly ole Bat,” he said quietly, watching Batman work away at his computer console. The sight was a little strange actually, because the cowl was pushed back and the man had lost his gloves too. Sure, it was sensible enough that the vigilante wouldn’t want to type in gloves and a mask, but Superman had never seen him work like that before. The effect of seeing the man halfway between Batman and Bruce was certainly interesting and made his curiosity even stronger about which version of the complicated man intended to come out for this particular meeting.
Finally, Superman stopped gawking around at the hideaway, and he landed a few feet behind Batman. The vigilante still hadn’t greeted him yet, and Superman was aware that he might not turn from his work unless interrupted directly.
“Evening, Batman!” Superman said then, clapping Batman on the back.
The first glare Superman received was more Bat than Bruce, but he was used to them even if they were usually hidden behind the cowl. He couldn’t suppress his grin, which made Batman’s eyes narrow further.
“Don’t hover,” Batman said in his characteristic deep voice. “Pull a chair over. We’ll talk when I finish this.”
Interacting with Batman, at least, was well-trodden territory, and so none of the growling and posturing really got to him like it did back in the beginning. Once you realized how much the whole charade was the calculated act of a shrewd man, it was harder to take it all personally. Didn’t mean they fought any less but Superman wasn’t so affronted about Batman’s unapproachable demeanor anymore.
He had also learned when to pick his battles, and right now was one of those times to simply let the Bat have his way. The conversation would be much more pleasant if Superman indulged the man’s need to control his environment. So, he pulled a chair over, and he watched as Batman finished typing up his nightly report.
In fact, Batman was at it so long that Superman was getting fidgety, and the longer he went, the more Batman had to stop and think before adding more to his report. As the words started coming slower and slower, Superman realized that Batman was stalling- struggling to find more observations to note down so that this conversation was delayed than many seconds longer.
Could the legendary Batman be nervous?
“I feel like I’ve interrupted at a busy time,” Superman said with a slight smile during one of the quiet lulls between bursts of typing.
Batman heaved a put-upon sigh, but he didn’t look over. “I’m always busy, so yes, you are interrupting.” He finally saved his work and swiveled his chair toward Superman. “But I did invite you here to sate your curiosity.” He paused, expression expectant. “Well? Ask your questions.”
As always, Batman was incredibly careful about his non verbals- expression schooled, gestures carefully rehearsed, and posture stiff. The full Batman treatment was usually intimidating, but right now, it wasn’t having the same effect. The difference was subtle, but Superman could see it. Usually Batman’s preternatural stillness gave him the appearance of a crouching predator, but right now, the act was… off. Batman looked moments away from simply stalking out of the cave, giving his stillness a more skittish undertone- like a deer about to bolt at the first sign of anything unusual.
Yeah, the Batman really was nervous about this conversation. Superman swallowed his grin and raised a brow. “You invited me this time,” he said before adding, “I would’ve thought you’d have what you wanted to say planned.”
The words were a parroting of what Bruce had said during Superman’s first visit to the manor, and he was sure the other man would realize as much.
Indeed, the reaction was instant- Batman’s expression going harder and more irritated. “I’m not the one with questions!” he ground out. Despite his growling, Batman did move to pull open a desk drawer and retrieve the single manila file folder from the top of a pile of miscellaneous gadgetry.
Superman took it as it was passed to him, and he saw that this was information collected on the Flying Grayson’s murder investigation. He skimmed it at super-speed, but most of it were things he already knew. Tony Zucco trying to extort “protection” money from the circus owner, Zucco sabotaging the trapeze, Dick being the sole witness to the thug’s involvement, the manhunt, the eventual arrest made by Jim Gordon... this folder wasn’t Batman’s own investigation. This was the publicly available information, and there was no mention of Batman’s involvement.
He looked up at Batman, brow arched. “I could’ve read all of this in the Gotham Gazette.”
“Yes, but that data, as we both know, is incomplete.” Batman’s gaze cut to the side. “It doesn’t tell you the true impact on Dick, doesn’t even brush against the reality that he’s been living with.”
Superman couldn’t hold back his disappointed sigh, and he caught and held Batman’s gaze. “I’ve seen the impact on Dick! I've talked to him myself. I get all that. But that doesn’t explain why you took him on as a protégé.”
Batman’s jaw tightened. “Dick was the target of a mob hit, and he’s been living with the crushing weight of his own parent’s murder.”
There was still something unspoken about those words, something that seemed intuitive to Batman that wasn’t as clear to Superman. These were two dots that connected somehow, and Superman hadn’t figured out how to draw a line between them. He said, “You’re speaking in riddles. You want me to read between the lines of what you’re saying, but Bruce please just tell me what you’re skirting around.”
Suddenly the Batman persona drained out of Bruce’s posture, leaving a man who looked lost, tired, and angry. Even the deep Batman voice softened into Bruce’s regular speaking voice. “Dick was entrusted to me, because my manor is highly secure,” he said, leaning forward and gesturing emphatically with one of his hands. “Gordon needed a place to keep the boy safe so that the mob couldn't get to him, and I—I couldn’t—” He cut himself off, sat up straighter again, looked away. A lot of emotion was tied up in this situation, more than Bruce knew what to do with apparently.
For the span of a few panted breaths, neither of them spoke, and Bruce composed himself slowly. He couldn’t recover the full Batman act anymore, but he was back to calm. “The news was right- Gordon caught Zucco. Not the Batman. Have you considered why that might be?”
Superman rubbed his forehead, not understanding how this point connected to the earlier one either. Even though the question was likely rhetorical, Superman opened his mouth to respond, but Bruce held out a hand to quiet him.
“Gordon was the one who arrested Zucco, because Batman- because I- had to take care of Dick. The night of the arrest… Zucco almost successfully ended the rest of the Graysons.”
A cold chill ran through Superman at the thought of that brilliant, bright eyed boy being murdered, taken from the world by an act of human cruelty. “But how? Did Zucco get into the manor? Wouldn’t that have made it to the news?”
Bruce’s ice blue eyes fixed on Superman’s, boring into him with a fierce and almost imploring expression. Bruce desperately wanted him to understand. “Zucco didn’t find Dick—Dick went to find him.”
The words clicked things into place for him. Dick Grayson had become a mob hit because of what he’d seen, but Tony Zucco had become the focus of an angry, sorrowful boy who needed to reassert control over his life.
“Dick… tried to play vigilante on his own. Without any push from you.” Superman hadn’t considered what a young boy might do to act upon such circumstances, and he had to turn his face away from the intense expression Bruce focused on him. Throughout his contemplation of the case, Superman had been reflecting on how he would deal with the death of his family. The emotional trauma and being suddenly being torn from his home- those were the things that had weighed heavily on Clark’s mind, but he hadn’t considered what he might have done if his family had been murdered in cold blood rather than simply becoming the victims of a disease or an accident. What kind of lengths would such a thing drive him to?
Superman shuddered and pushed the thoughts away. He couldn’t dwell for long on how destructive he might be in such a situation, super-powered as he was.
“No, I didn’t. I… I wanted better for him,” Bruce admitted. "He didn't even find out that I was Batman until that night."
Superman’s eyes darted back up to Bruce at the pure exhaustion in his voice.
Bruce simply shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. “I wanted to give him his childhood back, his life back. Doing what I do- working the streets and filling in the gaps the police department can’t handle. It’s a hard and painful road to walk. But Dick… even though the case is over now- the jury is out and verdict final- I can’t guarantee he won’t become the victim of some thug trying for some petty vengeance or spoiling for a power trip.”
“You can’t give him a normal childhood, because he’s not in a normal situation,” Superman said softly, eyes sad. He could see that Bruce had made no decisions lightly, that even now the man was unsure about whether he was making the right choice. Superman wasn’t sure how, but Bruce’s indecision made it easier to trust him. Maybe because it showed how much thought and care had went into the decision itself.
“I’m hoping that Dick can still become a normal member of society,” Bruce said then. “I train him, because I can’t always be around to protect him. Ideally, the vigilante angle will get old as soon as he realizes how much work and pain go into it.”
“Ideally?” Superman repeated slowly. His reporter’s instinct sensed a story behind the words.
“The night he went looking for Zucco, Dick was delayed in the search because he stopped an assault.” At this admittance, Bruce’s lips twitched up into a small smile, and when he continued, pride was evident in his tone. “He used his acrobatics and his speed to neutralize a gangster more than twice his size and helped a young lady get out of danger.”
Superman couldn’t help but smile at this as well. “I think I’m getting a clearer picture already. He’s going to be a force for good either way, and your mentorship will make him safer in the long run.”
Bruce nodded, glancing away as his expression turned painfully earnest. “That’s the hope anyway.”
“Bruce…” Clark leaned in and took hold of the other man’s hand. He might still be in costume, but this was a moment for Bruce and Clark- not Batman and Superman. “Bruce, look at me. You’re doing amazing with him. I might be a little late to the party since so much of this happened a while back, but… but I can see it. I can see how much good you’ve brought into that kid’s life, and I’m impressed. You’re a good guardian for him.”
Bruce stiffened at the hand on his, but he didn’t pull away. Those ice blue eyes were on him again, and Clark forced himself not to squirm under the scrutiny. After a moment that felt like a lifetime, Bruce gave a barely-there nod and gently pulled his hand back. He then reached for the manila folder and made a show of putting it away.
Clark smiled and leaned back. The moment was over, and Clark was sorry to see the strange comfortable intimacy go. Still, he was incredibly lucky to be able to see Bruce being authentic and simply himself, and Clark was sure this wouldn’t be the last time. He stood, and he pulled his shoulders back into his Superman stance. Batman was already opening one of his numerous work folders.
“Well I can see you have things to get back to…” Superman said.
“Yes, if you’ve got all your answers, Superman, I really am busy.” The gruff Batman voice was back, and the cave was again full of the steady beat of Batman’s typing.
Superman turned to go but paused. He realized he had one more question and this might be the only time to get an answer to it. “Actually…”
Batman didn’t turn, but his shoulders stiffened slightly. “What?”
“That night, when Robin introduced himself…” He hummed softly as he thought over how to phrase this. “Did you plan that? Or let it happen?”
“I did.” The response was terse, and Superman was worried that this was all the answer he was going to get… But some of the previous intimacy must’ve softened Batman up, because he added quietly, “I know that my lifestyle is dangerous, and I know every night I fight there’s a chance I might not come back. As we’ve established, Robin is a burgeoning hero regardless of my involvement, and I needed to know another crime-fighter was aware of him in case I was… no longer a part of the equation.”
Superman smiled at the back of the other man’s head, warmth spreading through him. Batman trusted him to take care of his ward in his absence, and after all of the interactions he’d seen, Superman felt the full weight of the respect and trust that such a gesture would require.
He was about to say as much before Batman turned toward him, face barely in profile as he cut him off with a gruff, “Don’t go getting arrogant. Superman is Robin’s favorite Justice League member, and the most likely one for him to reach out to in a pinch. I intend to arrange a meeting with Wonder Woman soon as well.”
The irritated words might’ve stung if Superman couldn’t see the edge of Batman’s smirk before he turned back to his computer screen. As it was, Superman grinned even brighter. Even if the circle of trust extended to Wonder Woman, that simply meant that Superman was in excellent company.
“I’ll bring her by the cave myself then,” Superman replied, happier than he’d felt in a while. “Maybe Mr. Pennyworth can make us all some tea.”
Batman gave an amused snort and said firmly, “Good night, Superman.”
Superman’s feet came off the ground, and he was sure that Batman could hear his mischievous grin in his tone. “Good morning, actually!”
The only reply was a huff of breath as Superman flew up and out of the tunnel he’d come in through.
Clark thought about Bruce and his adopted son pretty often after that but without the swell of apprehension or worry that had come before. He still worried, of course, because neither of them had bullet proof skin or super-speed. He always had to trust in his non-meta friends to keep themselves safe. After his talk with Batman though, he no longer worried about the strange choice to teach a kid how to be a vigilante detective. Dick was in good hands, and Clark had no doubt that Bruce would find a way to drag the moon out of the sky if it would help his new ward.
This was all confirmed by the regular texts that Clark now received from Dick Grayson as well photo and video evidence after his invitation to follow Dick’s top secret just-for-family-and-friends Instagram account. Apparently, Bruce had forbade him from having a public one until he was older, a decision that Clark rather agreed with. Although he knew the basic mechanics of social media, Clark only had his own accounts to keep up with friends and follow newsworthy individuals and groups. Even he, however, was well aware of the negative impact social networks could have on children- especially those who are already the object of intense media scrutiny.
Still, access to Dick’s Instagram was also a rare glimpse into everyday life at Wayne Manor. The kind of food Alfred cooked, the beautiful art decorating the Manor, and Dick’s hobbies played a prominent role in the pictures that populated the dickybird Instagram. From the myriad of angles that they were taken from around the Manor, the pictures also revealed that Dick was rather fond of climbing into places Clark was pretty sure he wasn’t allowed to be. One notable picture included an up-close glimpse of the chandelier as though the photographer was sitting on it, but the main focus of the frame was Alfred far below looking skyward with a very nonplussed expression.
But Clark’s favorites were the rare shots of Bruce. One post had a picture that showed Bruce bent over a math textbook, his brow furrowed in confusion and his pencil awkwardly hovering in the air over the page. The caption said, “Bruce is upset that they changed math. I think I like the book’s methods better tho…” The second image in the photoset was a picture of what must've been Bruce’s scratch paper. Although the penmanship was beautiful, for the life of him Clark couldn’t figure out what Bruce’s thought process for solving the problem had been.
Another picture showed Bruce in fencing gear with sweat shining on his forehead and a small smile on his face. Another showed Bruce and Dick both trying to balance intricate but much-too-small origami samurai helmets on their heads. Dick was grinning broadly, seconds way from laughing, but Bruce’s expression was one of intent concentration. Clark found the juxtaposition of the two different personalities absolutely charming. Still another showed Bruce with a giant cotton candy in one hand and a tray with hot dogs and drinks balanced in the other, a stuffed rabbit tucked under his arm. Dick was in front of him beaming at the camera and taking a selfie. Bruce’s expression was an interesting mix of annoyed and fond.
Literally hundreds of selfies existed of Bruce with fans, with celebrities, and on his own at bars and clubs. Clark had seen the media-perfect handsome smile Bruce Wayne had sent a thousand cameras in the past, but those smiles paled in comparison to the ones that Bruce focused on his young ward. They were indisputably more authentic and more beautiful even if they were sometimes annoyed or long-suffering. Dick had captured a more honest side of Bruce that the media never really got to see.
Clark couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be privileged enough to get to know the Bruce captured in Dick's messages and pictures- still quiet and taciturn but good-natured and gentle. That was the Bruce that Dick Grayson had gotten to know, and Clark desperately wanted to know him too.
It was a completely different picture posted on the dickybird account that would lead Clark Kent to Wayne Manor in a more professional capacity. This image showed Bruce with dirt caked on his hands, sleeves rolled up, as he assisted Alfred in transplanting a young apple tree onto the Manor’s grounds. The casual work clothes and the sweat dripping from Bruce’s jaw caused strange things to happen to Clark’s heart, and he was blushing as he read the caption. Apparently, Dick had learned about the environmental impact of lawns and had scolded Bruce into making more economical use of the wide front turf. The apple tree was just the start of Bruce, Alfred, and Dick’s little project to replace the turf with native plants and trees that would have less impact on the local environment. It was a the kind of project that Clark always itched to be involved in anyway with his own background as a farm kid, but he hated to invade what seemed to be very necessary bonding for Bruce’s small family.
Thankfully, Clark received an invitation from Bruce Wayne himself.
from Bruce Wayne <firstname.lastname@example.org> to Clark Kent
Long time no talk, Mr. Kent! I was glad I got to see you at that dinosaur exhibit back in Metropolis. You gave your card to my ward, Dick Grayson, if you remember, and he has decided he requires a bit of media coverage for a little project of ours at Wayne Manor. You must’ve made a good impression, because he asked if you might be interested in an exclusive.
I know Metropolis is a fair distance from here, of course, so I told him I’d handle the logistics and make it worth your while! I’d pay for your accommodations throughout your stay and ensure you have transportation as well. I can give you more details on the project itself, but it would require you to make a few visits to the Manor. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you’ll probably need to bring some clothes you don’t mind getting a bit dirty!
If you’re interested in covering this for us, let me know as soon as you can!
Thanks a bunch!
Bruce Wayne | CEO and Owner of Wayne Enterprises
Clark had expected this to be an easy assignment to get permission for, and it was- easier than even he expected it to be.
“You got an invitation to go to Wayne Manor? Why’d you even stop to ask for permission?!” Perry had demanded. “Tell him you’ll be there, and I’ll transfer that piece on the new housing regulations to someone else.”
Although Clark was almost positive the ‘project’ mentioned in the email was the lawn renovations, he still pointed out, “I- uhm- but we don’t have details on the project even! What if it’s not all that interesting? It is a kid’s project after all—”
Perry had cut him off swiftly. “Kent, Wayne Manor hasn’t allowed the press for years, and you’re going to have exclusive access to the grounds and to Wayne’s new kid. Just getting pictures of the place and some information out of the kid would be enough to sell papers. If the project is some kid’s game, you’ll make it work! Now go respond to Wayne before the flake decides to give the exclusive to a Gotham paper or before he decides to make us pay for your travel expenses.”
And that was that. Clark had responded, set up available dates, and Bruce had almost immediately sent over all the travel information. Details of the project would be discussed in person, but the speed with which Bruce had everything arranged was almost startling for Clark. He knew the man was efficient and powerful, but seeing the wheel turning so fast couldn’t help but to astound him.
Then Clark was packing his bags and boarding a train to Gotham rather than an airplane, something he was happy about. Planes were faster indeed, but they did not make hasty exits easy in case of a catastrophe that needed Superman’s attentions. He had no doubt that Bruce had been thinking of that when he booked the tickets.
The extra time gave him space to reflect on just what he was getting into with this article, and he pulled up Dick’s excited texts about the renovations they were doing to the lawn. The kid even had a mock-up of what he thought would be cool, as well as what native plants they were already considering. The fact this was environmentally motivated gave Clark an angle to focus in on besides prying into Bruce and Dick’s personal life which was a bit of a relief. He already arranged some questions about how the project was being planned and implemented on the grounds, and he was sure that this would be an easy article to write.
Then his thoughts turned naturally toward seeing Dick again. Dick was so vibrant and happy most of the time despite what he’d been through, and Clark was impressed with both Dick and Bruce. With his parents’ killers behind bars, Dick was moving from victim to survivor- a process that surely would’ve been much slower without that closure. This was also a process that required a strong and supportive hand from other people in Dick’s life, and though he knew Alfred was there as well, Bruce had taken the role of central support as the boy’s new guardian.
Clark replayed what Bruce had told him that night in the Batcave and how he'd said it. “Dick was the target of a mob hit, and he’s been living with the crushing weight of his own parent’s murder.” For Bruce, the connection was clear between these two things- Dick was in danger either way, and the boy had known exactly who he needed to get revenge on. Wasn’t it obvious then that Dick would eventually try to get his own justice while the police struggled to find the killer?
That was what Bruce had wanted Clark to read between the lines of those statements, but he hadn’t been able to. Bruce had quite literally been in almost the exact same situation, although Joe Chill, infamous murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, had been locked up a few weeks after the fact. During those short weeks, had a tiny child Bruce considered doing exactly what Dick Grayson had done? Perhaps he’d successfully escaped the watchful eyes of Alfred Pennyworth to look for the man on his own. Sure, the arrest might’ve helped a young Bruce work through those feelings, but even that would’ve been short lived. Joe Chill had been high at the time, and his reduced mental capacity and his addiction to opiates had been used as a defense to get a more lenient sentence than many thought he deserved.
Clark huffed out a breath and tried unsuccessfully to push the thoughts away. It was easy to imagine what Bruce looked like at that age. That famous photo of a young distraught Bruce Wayne cradled gently in the arms of Leslie Thompkins, a local doctor and a family friend, right after the murder ensured that everyone could imagine it. Understanding this life-altering moment was one of the most instrumental keys in understanding the Batman, and Clark was having trouble not giving in to his reporter’s instincts to follow all these little clues about Bruce’s life. The connections that seemed so logical to Bruce that they were hard to vocalize; the expression as Bruce had gasped out, “Gordon needed a place to keep the boy safe so that the mob couldn't get to him, and I—I couldn’t—"; the carelessly referenced ‘birthmark thing.’ Clark was struggling hard to keep his curiosity down.
Can you elaborate on your logic?
What birthmark thing?
Couldn’t what, Bruce?
The urge to question and to know was a strong impulse for Clark. He’d always been curious by nature, and even more than that, he’d always been intensely interested in other people. His curiosity was fueled by his need to connect with and understand others around him. This was, perhaps, a little tragic because that connection always had to be carefully managed to prevent anyone discovering the truth of his identity and his superhero moonlighting. Still, Clark didn’t value those connections any less, even as he struggled to find others he could be more open and honest with about all aspects of himself.
Bruce was one of those rare chances, but there were some basic roadblocks there that Clark couldn’t help but fret over. Batman- Bruce- was also a curious man, driven and intelligent and always seeking more information. Unlike Clark, who wanted this information simply to understand others and the world they live in, Bruce was driven to collect that information to calculate, plan, and control his environment.
Clark’s own want to learn about Bruce for the simple sake of understanding him conflicted starkly with Bruce’s control freak tendencies. They’d made some progress since the introduction of Robin, but it still felt so fragile. Was there a limit to how far Clark could push as he tried to reach Bruce before the man shut down entirely? That was his chief worry, and one he couldn’t quite shake, even as he exited the train and entered the receiving hall at Gotham Central Station. He was supposed to meet a driver who would take him to his hotel, and as he scanned the crowd, he caught sight of Alfred before he even registered the placard in his hand that read ‘Clark Kent.’
Duffel thrown over his shoulder and dragging his roller luggage behind him, Clark crossed the room and came to his side.
“Nice to see you again, Mr. Pennyworth,” Clark said with a grin.
“And you, Master Kent,” Alfred said with that no-nonsense resting expression he always seemed to have. “I hope the train ride has not been overly tiring. I have an invitation for you.”
From his suit pocket, Alfred produced a piece of high-quality stationary that had been folded carefully and sealed with a Wonder Woman themed sticker. Clark raised his eyebrow at the sticker, but at Alfred’s curt chin tilt, he took the chance to open the paper up. On the inside in messy slanting scrawl was a message from Dick.
Hey Clark! Alfred says if I want to invite you to dinner myself, I have to ‘do it properly’ and ‘send a tasteful invitation to my guest.’ I think that’s silly since I could just text you while you’re on the train, but he insisted. I know you just got here, but wanna come eat with us? Alfred makes the absolute best food ever, and it would be cool to talk to you tonight before the workers come to the manor tomorrow!!!! Please come! Alfred is picking you up and he can get you checked into your hotel before you come over! I hope to see you soon!! From, Dick
Clark was grinning the whole time he read the message, and when he looked up, there was a twinkle in Alfred’s eyes despite the man's usual passive blank expression remaining mostly in place.
“I can’t say no to an invite like that, can I?” Clark said back. “Can we drop off my stuff at the hotel first though?”
“Certainly, sir,” Alfred said as he made to take Clark’s duffel and luggage from him. There was a brief struggle as Clark insisted he could carry his own things before a fierce look and a firm yank had Alfred taking control of Clark’s possessions to carry them to the car.
As they walked, a thought struck Clark. “Oh, does Bruce- er- Mr. Wayne know I’m coming?”
A rare smile graced the butler’s face- there was a considerable bit of arch mischief in the expression- and he turned to consider Clark for a moment. “Dick informed me that there are such cases as these where forgiveness is easier to ask for than permission.” He then pulled open the back seat of the car to usher Clark in. “I simply request that you ignore any stately pouting and grumbling that might occur.”
Clark buckled his seat belt and looked up into Alfred’s face with his brightest smile firmly in place. “I think I can handle a little stately pouting, Mr. Pennyworth.”
Alfred's smile was gone now, but the approval was still clear in his expression. “Please call me Alfred, sir. I’d like you to feel at home during your visits to the Manor this week.”
“Of course, Alfred, thank you,” Clark said. “And you can—” But the door was shut before Clark could return the invitation to use his given name, and he listened as Alfred hurried around to the trunk to put his things away. All the same, Clark got the distinct impression that no amount of insisting could tempt Alfred into calling him just Clark with no honorifics or titles attached.
If Clark was already seeing habits and quirks that Dick was picking up from Bruce, he was definitely seeing the amount of influence that the quiet dutiful butler had on Bruce as he grew up. Clark hid his spreading grin behind his hand and turned his gaze toward the sight of Gotham out the car window.
Chapter 5: More Keenly for the Quiet
Clark gets to see the family project on the grounds of Wayne Manor.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Why wasn’t I informed he was coming?” Bruce fumed, not even under his breath. He didn’t care that Clark could pick up every word he was saying even without super-hearing.
When Clark had arrived, Bruce had met them at the door to talk to Alfred. He was dressed more casually than Clark had ever seen him in a nice pair of slacks and a deep blue button up shirt. He had started to speak before Alfred had moved aside to let Clark in. Instantly, Bruce’s open expression closed off, and he’d demanded ‘a word’ with Alfred in a nearby sitting room.
Clark had told Alfred that a bit of grumbling wouldn’t bother him, but to hear Bruce upset at his arrival did get under his skin. As much as he wanted to be Bruce’s friend, Clark didn’t want to make him uncomfortable in the pursuit. He simply hoped that Bruce’s discomfort this time was caused by his obsessive need to be in control rather than with Clark’s very presence. That left him hovering awkwardly in the entryway of the Manor, peering around at his lavish surroundings.
“I know how you detest surprises, Master Bruce,” Alfred was saying, “but as per agreement, I have allowed Master Dick to set the terms of his weekly dinner.” Alfred’s voice was patient, no trace of anger or annoyance, and Clark bit his lip to contain his smile.
“The agreement was that he could plan family dinners!” came the quick reply.
“And it still is a family dinner. He simply invited a guest this week. I wasn’t aware that was against the terms.”
Dick’s voice startled him out of his intense focus on the strange conversation taking place. “Hey Clark! Glad you could make it!” he called out as he dashed forward to get a hug.
Tuning out Bruce’s little temper tantrum, Clark smiled and hugged Dick in return. When Dick squeezed tight, Clark playfully ruffled the boy’s hair. At least two out of the three Wayne family members wanted him there.
“Nice to see you too, Dick,” he replied before he raised an eyebrow and added, “Agreement? Terms?”
When Dick pulled back, he was grinning, expression somehow becoming even brighter at the question. He hastened to explain, “Oh! Me and Bruce have, like, a contract that I get to plan a family sit-down dinner at least once a week. I mean, hopefully twice but at least once. So long as there’s no cases that put people in immediate danger, and no catastrophe happens that requires Batman’s attention, Bruce has to actually come out of the cave or his study and eat dinner at the table with me and Alfred.”
“That’s a reasonable agreement—” Clark started to reply before Dick pulled out an actual honest-to-god document on high quality paper stock.
Clark was too startled to continue, and Dick didn't seem to notice how surprised he was. He was too busy unfolding the document to show Clark. The page held up was certainly formatted like a contract with sections for the terms of the agreements, the parties involved, and dates at which the contract could be amended. The language of the contract was at Dick’s reading level at least, no legalese in sight. At the bottom, Dick and Bruce had signed as the first and second parties, and Alfred had signed as witness. More than that, Alfred had apparently notarized it with a stamp and everything.
“See, this part here says that I get to plan the dinner with Alfred’s help,” Dick said as he pointed out a line in the contract. “And I helped him plan just in case you could come! Without renegotiating the contract, Bruce can’t make you leave.” Dick grinned with the kind of smug-assuredness that said he was sure he’d get his way this time.
Still a bit too stunned to work through how bizarre he found this, Clark simply said weakly, “Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
“Exactly! That’s what I told Alfred,” he replied, and he opened his mouth to say more before the door clicked open.
Alfred and Bruce came back into the entryway, and at a sharp look from Alfred, Bruce said stiffly, “Welcome to the Manor, Mr. Kent.”
Ahhh, there was the stately pouting, Clark thought to himself. With a smile, he replied, “Thanks for having me!”
Dick, exuberant and happy, latched on to Alfred’s shirt sleeve. “You guys are just gonna love the stuff me and Alfred planned!” And with that, Dick was trying to hurry the old butler toward the kitchen. Alfred followed easily with the slightest hint of a smile around his eyes.
That left Bruce and Clark in the entryway together, and well, he couldn’t not ask.
“So… you made Dick sign a formal contract about family dinner nights?” Clark asked, turning toward the other man.
“I kept missing dinner, and Dick wanted me there,” Bruce, still looking tense, replied, “I read research recently that parents and guardians should negotiate boundaries with children to help them develop interpersonal conflict resolution skills.”
“What you mean to say... is that you read parenting magazines,” Clark said, mind leaping to the major publishers of such ‘research.’ This startled a laugh from Clark, who had the hilarious image of Batman in full costume reading a magazine splashed with pastels and pictures of babies. Clark wasn’t really surprised though. Of course, Bruce would approach parenting the same way he did everything else- through careful planning, researching, and evaluating the pros and cons of every approach.
Bruce let out a sharp breath, his cheeks dusted pink. “It has proven effective with giving him control over his environment while also giving him a chance to plan and implement weekly events.”
The words were in Bruce’s regular voice, but it sounded so incredibly like something Batman would say in a meeting that Clark was laughing again. This time, he moved close to Bruce, relaxed enough to clasp a hand on Bruce’s shoulder in a companionable way. Surprisingly, the man didn’t immediately shrug him off, heart rate and breathing even and calm. Instead, Bruce watched Clark with narrowed eyes, as if waiting for rebuke or judgement.
“I’m sure it has, Bruce, but I’m almost positive the…” Clark had to pause here to keep from grinning, and he continued when he managed to school his expression to seriousness. “Research. I’m positive the research you read was more meaning making compromises about bedtime and allowance. Not… writing and signing a legal contract with your kid.”
Bruce was stiff as he listened, but Clark could feel when the shoulder under his hand relaxed- even if only fractionally. “Well, Dick is a minor. So.”
Clark didn’t understand what that meant, so he arched a brow at the seeming non-sequitur. “So?”
Then Bruce actually rolled his eyes. “So, it’s not a legal or legally binding contract, because he’s not capable of signing such a thing.” With a final embarrassed huff, Bruce stalked down the hall. “Come on. The dining room is this way.”
Sure, Clark thought, it wasn’t legally binding. However, he was pretty sure that Bruce would stick to the letter of that contract as if it were. Clark let his amused smile finally blossom on his face now that Bruce wouldn’t see it, and he ran his thumb over his palm, mind caught on how the warm, soft material of Bruce’s shirt had felt under his hand. Then he followed after Bruce to see what Dick had planned this week.
After all, no one in the Bat family could do anything by halves.
For all of Bruce’s grumblings and showy protests, once dinner started, the mood relaxed substantially. Clark got the impression that he was still being more than usually reserved, but the Brucie Wayne flippancy and the Batman growls were nowhere to be seen. Bruce was a quiet thoughtful man, and he listened attentively as his ward described how he and Alfred had carefully arranged the menu and the portion sizes. Alfred would add more information about the cuisine, the nutritional balancing, and cooking tips, though Clark wasn’t sure if these interjections were more for his benefit or for Dick’s.
Whatever the case, the food was amazing, and though it was more 'gourmet' than what he’d associate with home cooking, Clark could see that this was what Bruce saw as a normal family dinner. Indeed, the atmosphere was exactly what Clark would expect- light teasing, easy conversation, and the kind of comfort born from sharing space with others.
Dick and Alfred were even able to make Bruce chuckle- a low rumbling sound that lit sparks in Clark’s chest. He wondered if he’d ever be able to coax that sound from Bruce. That led him to a second pondering: If the man’s chuckles were so pleasant, what would a real laugh sound like?
When the main course came to an end, Dick announced, "I'm gonna serve the dessert! It was one of Mom's super special recipes!"
Then Dick was racing out of the room. Clark was surprised by the casualness of the words. Bruce's expression did flicker briefly, worry evident, but Dick's mood hadn’t faltered at all. Indeed, he was eager to share this ‘super special’ treat with them.
Once Dick was out of earshot, Alfred dabbed at his mouth with a cloth napkin. "I should mention, of course, that Master Dick made the dessert without any assistance or interference from myself."
Bruce nodded, expression stern. Clark wondered if this was meant as a warning about Dick's culinary skills, but when the boy reappeared carrying a tray, the little pastries looked amazing.
"One for everyone!" Dick said, nerves a bit more evident now that Clark was looking for them. Dick’s voice was edging on too bright and high to be authentic. "But I have some more in the kitchen!"
Alfred may not have helped with the cooking, but the plating was so elegant-looking that Clark wondered if Dick had some pointers. Dick definitely had some directions on serving, because he passed the plates out in the same way and order that Alfred had. Then Dick sat down, and instead of digging in, he watched everyone else at the table start. The pastry was some sort of raspberry cheese tart, and while it wasn’t as restaurant perfect as the dishes that Alfred had put in front of them, it was well made. Clark took a bite and hummed in satisfaction.
It was Bruce’s reaction though, that got Dick’s attention. Bruce’s eyes went round, and he turned his gaze to Alfred. “Alfred, you’ve outdone yourself! This has to be one of the most delicious desserts you’ve made in a while,” Bruce said, voice soft and earnest.
At his words, Clark glanced over immediately to see Dick’s reaction and got to see the boy light up with such pride and delight that Clark found himself beaming too.
“I made them!” Dick said eagerly, practically bouncing in his seat. “All by myself! Alfred just helped me make the plates look pretty!”
Bruce’s surprise looked utterly sincere. “I didn’t know you were such a good baker, Dick! This is incredible!”
Dick would’ve been ecstatic with any praise after successfully imitating a beloved family dish, but the way that Alfred and Bruce had colluded made the compliment that much more flattering. Then Alfred turned to Dick to give his own compliments, and while Dick was distracted, Clark caught Bruce’s eyes. Clark shot him an infinitely amused expression. Dick’s delight must be more contagious than he thought, because in return, Bruce offered him a small secretive smile, winking at him before going back to his dessert. The message behind that smile and wink was clear- a shared secret between them that Bruce had delivered this compliment to maximize its impact.
But it also made Clark’s heart do the strangest somersault in his chest. Clark pushed the warm feeling aside and focused on his plate.
After all, the little pastry really was one of the best things he’d had in a while.
All trace of the surliness that Clark was used to from Bruce had gone by the time dinner was over, and Alfred led them to a sitting room. Dick tried to teach him and Bruce how to play a card game called Munchkin, but the game ended early because Dick got too tired to keep his eyes open.
Of course, that didn’t mean Dick was going to willingly go to bed either- not when he had a guest and was busy playing. After his head drooped once more, Bruce said quietly, “Wait for my turn. I’m going to get another one of those pastries. Mr. Kent, would you help me carry up a tray of lemonade?”
Clark saw this for what it was, and Dick might’ve too. Regardless, Bruce and Clark headed out of the room, and indeed made a show of doing just that. They didn’t talk as Bruce led them to the kitchen, but the silence between them wasn’t awkward. Bruce simply didn’t seem to have anything to say, and Clark felt the comfort that settled between them more keenly for the quiet.
The mood was only briefly interrupted by Bruce saying- well demanding really, the bossy bat-, “Put the empty glasses on the tray and bring up the whole pitcher.”
Clark obeyed without comment, mind trying to commit this Bruce to his memory. There was no guarantee he’d get to see the softer side that Bruce could apparently relax into around his family any time soon, and Clark wanted no detail to go unappreciated if this was the only opportunity that he was privileged enough to see it.
By the time they made it back to the sitting room, Dick was fast asleep, his face smushed against the side of the sofa.
“Suppose I should bring the lemonade back down?” Clark whispered with a smile.
Bruce nodded. “I’ll put him to bed, and then I’ll see you out.”
Although he felt it was somehow invasive, Clark succumbed to the urge to watch Bruce carefully lift Dick into his arms. Bruce was so tender and gentle that Dick barely stirred, moving only enough to bury his face against his adopted father’s chest.
Feeling a familiar warmth wash through him, Clark hurried away to give Bruce his privacy. After he put the lemonade away again, he headed toward the entryway knowing that the family night had come to an end. He definitely didn’t want to overstay the welcome Dick and Alfred had managed to wrangle out of Bruce.
True to his word, Bruce appeared from one of the numerous doorways with Alfred at his side.
“Would you bring the car around please, Alfred?” Bruce was saying as they came into view.
Alfred gave a short bow. “Of course, Master Bruce. I’ll be but a moment!”
“That’s okay. I can fly back—” Clark started to say.
Bruce interrupted him. “You were chauffeured in, and you should be chauffeured out. If even one paparazzo got a good shot of you getting into my personal car with my butler at the hotel but didn’t see you return? There’d be all kinds of rumors.” Bruce flashed a Brucie smirk and said, “Not that I would mind a rumor like that, but I assume you’d rather avoid it.”
Clark sputtered a laugh and rubbed the back of his head. “That’s, uh, a good point. I don’t think anyone got any pictures or anything but…” As Alfred slid past him out the door, Clark said to him, “Thanks for the trouble Alfred!”
Alfred stopped only briefly to give Clark a curt nod. “It’s no trouble. I’m happy to be of service.”
The formality of the moment made him feel off-kilter somehow, the bizarre mix of polite distance and familial bonds hard to decipher for him. Clark would need time to process the unorthodox relationship that existed between Alfred and Bruce- such an inexplicable mix of professional and private ties. For a mind-bending moment, Clark tried to imagine paying either of his parents to keep his house for him and immediately shut down that line of thought.
Like Dick Grayson becoming Robin, Bruce and Alfred’s relationship was the product of unusual circumstances, and perhaps it was best if Clark accepted the reality of that rather than put Bruce even further under a microscope than he already was.
“Thank you for coming,” Bruce said. His expression was neutral and impassive, but that was practically pleasant for the man. “It really did mean a lot to Dick.”
“Thanks for allowing me to stay with minimum grumbling,” Clark replied, grinning at Bruce’s sour reaction to his words. “And the food was delicious of course.”
Bruce nodded. “I’ll pass the compliments along.” Then he straightened. “I’m going to head out for patrol. A car will arrive at your hotel at 9 o’clock sharp tomorrow, but I may not be up by then.”
“Alright,” Clark nodded. “Flaky billionaire angle then? For the article?”
“You got it,” Bruce said with a grin. “Tomorrow when I deign to roll out of bed, I’ll give you the details as to how I’d like to be depicted in your article as well as all the other information you’ll need.”
“You’ll walk me through all that delicate phrasing, so you come off as air-headed but endearing,” Clark replied with his own grin.
“Precisely. It’s become a more interesting task with Dick around. It’s even more vital now that I come across as incompetent but capable enough to care for a child.”
With the air-headed vapid playboy routine so well-loved by the media, Clark could see how this could become a problem, but he knew between the two of them they could manage in this article at least. “I was thinking for this article ‘thoughtful but overly indulgent father.’ Makes for a good lifestyle piece.”
“Over-indulgent?” Bruce asked, confusion clear in his tone.
“You’re letting your kid direct an overhaul of your whole front turf, a process that you’re calling a whole landscaping crew to come in to get started,” Clark replied with a laugh.
Bruce’s face turned red, cheeks and forehead most prominently, and Clark found that delightfully endearing.
“Ah, I see.” Bruce schooled his expression again and offered his hand. “Until tomorrow then.”
“Until tomorrow!” But instead of taking his hand to shake, Clark swept Bruce up into a hug. He’d hugged him as Batman before and now he’d hug him as Bruce too. Clark noticed that Bruce smelled like that sandalwood shampoo again, and he inhaled the scent of it happily. Bruce smelled differently in his Batman armor- of course there was a consistent scent underneath it that was uniquely Bruce, but the variations on that scent depended entirely on how he had outfitted himself and what he’d done that day.
Although Bruce went a bit stiff, he did reach up to pat Clark twice on the back before stepping backwards out of his arms. Could’ve responded much worse, Clark thought in amusement. He favored Bruce with one last parting smile before he turned toward the door.
He was across the threshold before Bruce called out to him, voice gone low and gruff, “One more thing: I don’t want to see you poking around Gotham tonight in the clown suit.”
Clark bit down on his smile, holding back his laughter. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll leave the ‘clown suit’ hidden unless you call for help, Bruce.”
Bruce’s only response was a soft disgruntled snort.
Clark was settled in his taxi at exactly 9 a.m. and arrived at the Manor precisely as scheduled. A security point had been set up at the gate, and everyone was being checked for clearance and given identification cards. His driver dropped him off, and Clark signed in to get his press badge. The only Wayne Manor press pass in the bunch- that fact put a pleased little smile on his face. As he came down the front drive, already workers were setting up in different areas of the front lawn, and Clark stopped to take a few pictures of the work as it was getting started.
When he made it to the front door, Dick greeted him.
“Clark! Good morning!!” He waved him in. “I’ve got all the plans and stuff set up so you know what we’re doing!”
“Of course, Dick,” Clark said, but he paused here to offer him a handshake. “I’m looking forward to hearing about your environmental project!”
Dick seemed surprised at the hand offered to him but then he put on his most business-like expression- it was a stern expression reminiscent of Batman’s. “I hope we can raise some awareness together.”
For the next hour, Clark sat with Dick and local environmental expert Su-Yeon Park as they laid out what the plan was. Dick started the talk with a description of how much of an impact ‘lawn culture’ had on local ecosystems, explaining how he’d learned this during his school studies. Ms. Park elaborated and expounded on what Dick had learned in more detail. She then outlined the major goals of the project which were to reintroduce only local plants, create small lanes for humans to travel safely through them, and to determine the natural movement of water to minimize the amount of watering needed. They had also planned for various local fruit trees, because not only could the family have fresh fruit, this would also serve to attract wildlife into making use of the space as well. Clark found the whole thing more fascinating than he thought he would, and the expert even broke down the process for small scale projects as well in case any readers wanted to follow suit. Indeed, that was the final part of the plan- publicizing an economical and environmentally friendly alternative to clipped short grass lawns- and it was the whole reason that Clark was there.
“The guiding principle,” Ms. Park said, “is to share space with all the local wildlife and plants rather than displace them. Naturalized lawns generally improve soil and air quality as well, and really people need to make adjustments to live alongside local species.”
Clark had taken that quote down word for word. After they had been through all of this, Brucie Wayne finally strode into the room.
“Ahhhh, I see you were on time after all. Sorry I missed all the boring stuff. I just couldn’t seem to get myself out of bed this morning,” Bruce said, waving a hand as though this really was just a minor oversight on his part. He looked ready for the day’s business at least- fresh faced and dressed in clothes for working outdoors that still managed to scream ‘name-brand.’ He even had one of those fancy looking clipboard folders.
“That’s alright, Mr. Wayne,” Ms. Park replied with an easy smile. “We were ready to head out to the lawn and show Mr. Kent the work being done.”
Bruce’s eyes focused on Clark, and the man gave a rogue-ish grin. “I am delighted to see one of my favorite reporters here and available.” There was an odd inflection on the word ‘available’ that made Ms. Park and Dick both roll their eyes. “If you two would give us a second, I need to go over some guidelines from my publicist about press coverage at the Manor.”
Dick shot him a look, but Ms. Park didn’t question it at all.
“Of course,” she said. “Mr. Grayson, would you mind showing me the areas you want to plant the different fruit and nut trees?”
“Sure thing!” Dick said, and he chatted amicably about what trees he really hoped would start producing fruit faster as he walked toward the door.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Brucie Wayne became Bruce again, his whole posture and demeanor changing. “Let’s get right to business then,” he said as he slid into a chair.
“Very professional of you, after your late arrival,” Clark replied, no trace of upset in his voice.
The edges of Bruce’s mouth twitched upwards, but he managed to maintain a neutral expression, and he rummaged through the folder. Therefore when he responded, his words were distracted and blunt. “Precisely so. This will be shorter and less delicate than I usually am with the press. I trust you to keep my secrets.”
The words rocked Clark for a moment- he had never heard such a bold, straightforward assertion of trust from Batman- or Bruce in any persona- before. Sure, it was implied through every improvement in their working relationship, but the feelings had never been quite put to words. To hear them announced so matter-of-factly jarred him and made him blush.
Although Clark tried to push his happiness down before it became too obvious, it felt like struggling to repack after a long trip- nothing fit back into your luggage the same way and you’ve got all this additional new stuff you bought to fit in as well. That was the only way Clark could describe how he felt in that moment, pushing at more happiness and affection than he realized he had. Bruce and his family adding to it at every turn didn’t help at all, and Clark’s emotions felt much too large to stifle.
Unfortunately, Clark was so flustered that he couldn’t hide it- face flushed and unable to form a response to Bruce’s words. The delay in response was noticed after a moment, and Bruce’s sharp gaze was on him again.
Then Bruce scowled. “Don’t blush like a schoolgirl, Kent. I wouldn’t work with you so regularly if I didn’t trust you. Successful working relationships, for me in any case, require at least some modicum of respect to remain functional.”
Clark knew he was glowing with delight to rival even Dick’s display of sunshine at the dinner table the night before. “I mean, it was definitely implied, but you’ve—”
“I’ve never flattered you by pointing it out, I suppose,” Bruce cut off in a testy voice. “I’m not in the habit of unnecessary flattering. Please look this over and stop with the dopey smile.”
As the initial delight and surprise ebbed, Clark could see that now Bruce was embarrassed too. Perhaps he hadn’t meant to make such a blunt announcement of trust either… or maybe something about Clark’s reaction was bringing just the slightest bit of pink to Bruce’s cheeks.
Clark didn’t have time to think on it as Bruce shoved a paper at him. He took it almost reflexively, and he looked down through the information. The page was a bullet pointed list of all the major things Bruce was hoping to see in coverage of the renovations, and for the most part, Clark understood the necessity of them all. No invasive photos, no details of Dick’s personal life that might endanger him, a request to add some practical advice that readers can use in their own environmental practices. The one thing that made him pause was a bullet point that simply read: ‘Refer to Bruce Wayne simply as Bruce if possible, rather than Mr. Wayne or Wayne.’
Clark read this bullet point out loud and looked up at him, raising an eyebrow.
“Makes me sound more approachable,” Bruce replied with a careless shrug. “Mr. Wayne sounds so formal, and my last name alone calls to mind Wayne Enterprises immediately. Bruce on its own makes me sound more human, more approachable. It’s easier to take me less formally.”
There was a knock at the door, and Bruce slid easily back into Brucie Wayne mode, leaning on his elbow and offering a salacious grin. “Or maybe I simply like the sound of my own name all the more when it’s on the lips of a pretty man.”
“Bruce!!!” Clark replied, tone admonishing even as he was laughing and blushing at once.
The person at the door turned out to be Alfred, and he managed to make the stately tilt of his head feel infinitely judgmental. “Master Bruce, I do believe your presence is requested out on the grounds. I know working in the heat is unpleasant, but you did promise Master Dick you’d help with the planting and the work.” From behind his back, Alfred produced two pairs of gardening gloves.
“Of course, Alfred,” Bruce said as he rose, crossing the room in several of those bold strides Brucie Wayne was known for. “Won’t be so bad. I have a handsome man to work with today~” His gaze flickered briefly back in Clark’s direction, and Clark shook his head in a way he hoped was more long-suffering than fond.
Clark wasn’t quite sure he was successful.
“Indeed, sir,” Alfred replied. To anyone else, the answer would sound stiff, but to Clark, he could recognize Alfred’s dry amusement.
“Thank you for lending me the gloves,” Clark said as he came forward to take the second pair.
“Don’t thank me quite yet. We do intend to put you to work, after all,” Alfred said.
“Can’t scare me off like that, Alfred! I’m a farm boy. I’ve actually been looking forward to getting my hands dirty today!”
“Glad to hear it. Well then—” He gestured out the door with one arm and bowed slightly.
Clark followed Bruce to the entryway and just before they got out the door, Bruce slid neatly into his personal space, arm wrapping tightly around his waist. Clark startled at the sudden close contact, and the effect was such that when the workers on the lawn caught sight of the two of them, it seemed as though Bruce had been rather successfully flirting with a handsome but meek looking reporter.
Real or not, Clark was beginning to suspect that Bruce’s flirtations were becoming more effective each time they were together, but he decided not to entertain those thoughts with so many sets of eyes on him.
The next few days involved a lot of planting, working, and writing. Clark spent a lot of time at the Manor to take pictures, run through early drafts of his article with Bruce, and assist in the transformation of the lawn in any way that he could. The reality was, of course, that the Manor lawn would look a little barren- or, as Dick insisted, bald- while they allowed the grasses that they were seeding to really take root. As it was, Clark would likely have to release follow up photos several months down the line, because at the moment the lawn was a lot of mulch, young saplings, and carefully laid stone paths. At least he had a rather impressive 3D render of what Wayne Manor might look like after things started growing in to include with his article.
If not for the stone pathways that needed to be laid down, Clark was pretty sure that Bruce would’ve tried to oversee most of the remodeling himself. The whole point of using native species was that they could survive easily without too much interference from humans. The initial removal of the current turf and the reintroduction of seeds and fresh mulch was manageable with only a handful of people to help, but laying down the careful stone path was a larger task that could be accomplished more efficiently by a skilled team of professionals.
With the sheer size of the work force that Bruce had brought it, within a week’s time, Clark was able to see the lawn transform into a simple set of pathways, a lot of fresh dirt, and a decent number of saplings and small plants. The paths had been laid in such a way that one could stroll through either side of the lawn and always circle back around to the center front drive. Clark could easily picture in his mind’s eye little Dick Grayson wandering around the paths after the plants grew in properly. All in all, as the crew packed up the rest of their gear on the last day, Clark was under the impression this was his last visit to the Manor for the time being as well...
Until Bruce called him a few hours later.
“I know I told you that we were finished when the crews left but…”
“Yeah?” Clark said. “Is there something else we need to go over?”
“A little bit more, yeah,” Bruce admitted. He sounded hesitant and unsure. “This is something special for the family.”
Clark wished he could see Bruce’s face while he was talking, because the man’s voice was so even. The slight hesitance gave away only so much, and with no other sign of what was causing the uncertainty, Clark was at a loss for the proper way to respond.
“If it’s for the family, you’re not obligated to invite me, Bruce,” he replied. “I understand that sometimes you need space for the important things.”
Bruce was quiet for several breaths before he finally responded. “Yes, I know. But it’s important to Dick, sharing this project with you. And it’s…” The pause here was even longer. “But it’s important to me, that you’re here for this.”
Heat in his cheeks, Clark stammered out, “O-oh! Oh! Uh, in that case, count me in!”
“Good. A car will be there in 5 minutes to get you.”
“Sure! I’ll be ready!” Clark said, but the line had already went dead.
Each time Clark got into a car to head to the Manor, the ride seemed longer than the one before it somehow. Maybe he just really looked forward to getting to work on the project, or maybe he was just excited to see the Wayne family again. Whatever the reason, this last car ride seemed so long that Clark was practically fidgeting in his seat by the time they arrived. The fact he could’ve flown at super-speed to arrive at the Manor instantly made it all the more annoying for him.
He got out of the car, tipped his driver, and started up the drive. Bruce stood on the front step, looking at the time on his watch as Clark came to meet him.
“Right on time. Alfred should be back any minute,” Bruce said in lieu of hello.
“Right on time for what though?” Clark asked. “I’m glad for one more visit to the Manor, but I have plenty enough for my article at this point.”
“This is important,” was all Bruce would say.
Before Clark could really push for more specifics, Dick and Alfred appeared in the doorway.
“Oh, hey Clark!” Dick said, brightening up instantly. “What’s up? I thought you’d left already with all the stuff being finished.”
Dick didn’t know what was going on either then. A surprise for him? Clark looked over at Bruce, but the man’s whole posture was closed off and stern. Then he looked over at Alfred whose expression was equally impassive.
“I guess we have a little more to talk about?” Clark finally replied, confusion clear in his voice.
Bruce didn’t say another word and simply turned and led the group down one of the paths. This path emptied into the center of the left side of the lawn. The very first tree that Bruce, Dick, and Alfred had planted stood there with a little bench to the side of it. Clark realized that was where they were going, but he couldn’t fathom why until their arrival gave him the clear answer. In front of the tree was an elegant plaque that hadn't been there earlier that day, and the bench to the side had a basket placed on it, blanket draped over the top. Bruce stopped well short of the tree, and he turned to find Dick. Despite the confusion on his face, Dick stepped up next to Bruce and gave him a curious look.
“Go on,” Bruce said gruffly, gently pushing Dick forward. “Go and look.”
Hesitant, Dick approached the plaque and dropped to his knees in front of it as he read it. Clark hung back, though with his eyesight reading the plaque from this distance was easy. It read:
The Grayson Natural Garden
This garden honors the formal adoption of Dick Grayson
into the Wayne Family and serves as a physical reminder
that sometimes we grow stronger by growing together.
Below this inscription was a poem:
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
The tone of the poem was a bit somber, but the circumstances that surrounded Dick’s adoption perhaps necessitated this kind of bittersweet verse. Even still, the meaning was obvious. Bruce was trying, in his own clumsy way, to communicate to Dick how important he was and how much his presence had changed life in Wayne Manor. There was silence as the gathered adults gave Dick a chance to read and understand what the message meant.
Slowly, like a spooked rabbit, Dick turned toward Bruce. Voice softer and more uncertain than Clark had ever heard it, Dick asked simply, “A… a crow?”
Bruce cleared his throat, glancing over however briefly at Clark and Alfred as if for support, before he said, “I suppose the type of bird is immaterial to the poem’s meaning. It could be… could be a cardinal. Or a… robin. Or…” He trailed off, but as Dick rose to his feet, he managed to add with the smallest of smiles, “Or perhaps a dickybird.”
In the quiet that followed, Clark watched red bloom across Dick’s cheeks. The blossom of color signaled the start of the boy’s tears, but before even a single one had time to fall, Bruce was striding forward and grabbing Dick up into his arms.
Clark had to wipe away his own tears as Dick and Bruce clutched each other close, and finally, under the harsh sound of crying, Dick managed to say, “I love you too, Bruce.”
When the two broke apart, their eyes were red, but neither of them were crying. Dick was grinning, and Bruce looked just as stern and awkward as he had when he led them here.
“Did you, uhm, help with the sign, Alfred?” Dick asked, shy and hesitant.
“I may have helped on the wording a bit,” Alfred admitted and smiled when Dick lunged at him for a hug. “Now, now, Master Dick,” he said gently as he embraced the boy. “Help me get this picnic set up before the food gets cold.”
“Okay Alfred!” Dick said as he grabbed the basket sitting on the bench. Clark watched him for just a moment while he and Alfred began laying out the blanket before he turned his eyes to Bruce.
Bruce was standing a few feet away from the excitement now, eyes fixed on the little plaque he’d had commissioned. He didn’t look up when Clark stepped close, and they were both quiet as they read the inscription again.
“That was sweet- this whole project was very sweet,” Clark murmured to him, worried to break the quiet between them.
“Sweet wasn’t the goal. The goal was to make him feel welcome, like a genuine member of the family who makes decisions about our home.” Bruce still kept his eyes on the sign, unable or unwilling to make eye contact.
Clark was sure that Bruce would be chewing on his lip if he allowed himself such demonstrative gestures. Regardless, Clark didn’t force Bruce to look up at him. He simply placed a hand between Bruce’s shoulder blades and tried not to smile too much when Bruce relaxed into the touch.
“You could’ve just told him that,” Clark said, voice still soft. His words were for the two of them alone.
“I’m… I’m not very good with words.” Bruce gestured at the plaque. “It’s why I borrowed someone else’s.”
While he could argue the point, Clark decided against it. Bruce was incredibly adept with his use of words- as Brucie and as Batman. The man could be eloquent and dramatic and intimidating. But Clark knew what he meant. The emotions Bruce wanted to communicate carried too much weight for them to be easy to unload, and yet he’d done his best to communicate them anyways. For a man as articulate and careful as Bruce always was, no clever rearranging of words would’ve felt adequate to express himself fully in a charged emotional situation like this.
“He understood you, loud and clear,” Clark assured him. “I told you that you were good for him.”
Bruce hummed doubtfully and then said in an almost mournful way, “So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay…”
Another Robert Frost poem, one that Clark knew well. The overall theme of the poem he also agreed with generally, but it had never seemed so heartrendingly sad as it did in Bruce’s mouth.
Clark steeled his courage and rubbed Bruce’s back soothingly. “The heart can think of no devotion greater than being shore to the ocean. Holding the curve of one position, counting an endless repetition.”
The shoulders beneath his hand jolted, and Bruce jerked his face toward him to give him a narrow-eyed look of surprise.
“I was raised in rural small town America, Bruce. I can quote Robert Frost as well as you can.” Clark’s memory was better than most, and he’d always loved poetry. “You won’t always be exactly what he needs; no one can do that. But you can always be there for him. You can hold your position and meet him when and how he needs you.”
After an uncomfortably long moment of scrutiny, Bruce smiled. “I’ll think on that.”
Clark’s heart raced at the sight of that sad aching little smile. He let his hand slide gently from Bruce’s back, and he realized he had only few seconds more of this intimacy with Bruce. So he blurted out the thought that had been on his mind since he got there. “I’m glad you invited me really. I mean, I wanted to be here. But this is so personal, so private. You really didn't have to so... why...?”
Bruce turned his body back toward Alfred and Dick who were almost finished unloading the basket of treats. “As I said, I’m not good with words, Kent,” Bruce said gruffly. “There are many things I don’t have the words for, and I wanted you to see.”
Clark was beginning to understand the unspoken words that hid between what Bruce did say and how important those unvoiced thoughts were. This time Clark didn't need any help to know how Bruce’s words connected to his question. Unable to assure Clark in words how seriously he took his new role as a father figure, Bruce had resolved to simply demonstrate those feelings. Bruce's message was that he would do nothing that would endanger the boy currently waving them over to the picnic.
“I do see,” Clark said softly, gaze intent on Bruce's face. “I see you, Bruce.”
Despite the unexpected uptick in his heartbeat and his sharp intake of breath, Bruce still managed to sound thoroughly put-upon when he said, “Only because you stare so much.”
Clark gave a delighted peal of laughter and threw an arm over Bruce's shoulder to drag him over to the picnic beside the young apple sapling the family had planted together.
I'll throw a headcanon here: Unlike Bruce, Dick is perfectly capable of cooking and is rather good at it, but when he lives in his own apartment later in life he eats like a teenage boy while his dad is on vacation. Part of the fun of cooking is eating with others, and when no one else is around, Dick has no motivation to cook anything more complicated than Kraft macaroni and cheese.
Bruce's blush from BtAS which always makes me smile.
For the plans for the Manor lawn, I was imagining something like this with a simple stone path instead of mowed pathways through the grass. Of course, this is the END GOAL of the manor lawn because right now all the newly seeded local grasses are probably small or just seeds. I'm also imagining the lawn as a wide rectangular place with a drive down the center with flat turf that they're pulling up to replace with native plants. I know that BtAS Wayne manor is at the top of like, a winding cliffside but I'm imagining them on more ..... realistic foundations with woods surrounding them on all sides and the cliffside area just a little further in the distance than... you know, a sharp drop behind the manor. Like, "how did dick break his arm?" "Oh you know, he fell off the sharp precipice that exists just beyond the garden gate, typical kid stuff lmao"
Chapter 6: Little Rituals
Superman embarrasses himself in front of the League. But he just wanted to ask Batman out to lunch!
We get more Diana in this chapter! I'll also probably update the story information since this has become more expansive and longer than I ever intended it to be. I will probably be updating the tag 'pre-slash' to 'getting together' at the rate I'm going at.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Superman was on cloud nine after his time at Wayne Manor. He’d done a number of things he really enjoyed: hanging out with Bruce, working in the sun, gathering information on an interesting article, helping the environment. Of course, he took his day job seriously, but this particular project had been so incredibly fun he felt a little bit guilty spending so much time on it.
Still, the article had been a successful one, a fact that alleviated that feeling a little. He knew that he had successfully managed just the right mix of celebrity interest with environmental awareness. According to Dick, “hashtag lawnculture” had been all over twitter alongside several hashtags calling Dick things like ‘baby Bruce’ and ‘baby billionaire philanthropist’ which had prompted the boy to text a bizarre amount of emojis that apparently indicated amusement.
His good mood from his civilian life was definitely carrying over to his heroing, because he’d spent the past ten or so minutes of the post-battle Justice League meeting praising all the amazing work his fellow heroes had done.
“Yes, everyone has done an excessively tolerable job of preventing the robots from wrecking downtown, Superman,” Batman cut in with a deep frown. “We can move on now.”
Even this didn’t have any effect on his mood, and he simply beamed around the table as the different Leaguers shared what they knew about the robots’ origins, what they had personally witnessed during the fight, and any potential theories that might help prevent further trouble.
If Superman happened to turn his bright smile on Batman more often than anyone else, well, who could blame him? Batman had been the one to pinpoint and exploit the robots’ weakness which turned the tide of the battle. Yeah, that was the only reason why Superman kept turning toward Batman, toward Bruce, and flashing his mega-watt smiles. Nothing at all to do with his recent visits to Wayne Manor.
Superman blamed this high mood for approaching Batman so quickly after the meeting ended. The logical side would’ve told him to wait for a bit of privacy, but the decision to stride forward and engage with Batman in front of the majority of the League was made entirely by his heart.
“Hey, Batman!” Superman said, moving to his side to throw an arm over his shoulder and pull the other man close. “Want to grab a bite of lunch with me?”
The silence that fell over the room was the first clue that Superman had done something strange. For one thing, he’d never touched Batman like this, and even if it was starting to feel kind of nice as Bruce and Clark, Superman’s physicality with Batman mostly consisted of quick hugs and firm back pats that made the other hero grumble and frown. Not only that, he’d clearly just asked Batman to spend time with him outside of ‘working hours,’ something that Batman never did. Some of the other Leaguers had given each other their identities- had in fact given Batman their identities-, and they had active friendships outside of the League. Batman was notorious for being one of the only members who hadn’t yet shared his identity with anyone.
Wonder Woman and J’onn were watching the pair of them discreetly, but several other heroes were openly staring at them and waiting to see what would happen. Green Lantern turned his whole body toward them to watch the interaction, not even pretending to carry on his conversation with Flash. His eyebrows were raised, and he was smirking, clearly waiting for Batman to become surly and rude.
Indeed, Batman scowled so effectively that Superman retreated instantly, his mood plummeting for the first time in days.
“Batman can hardly be seen in a diner in full armor in the middle of the afternoon,” Batman said in that tone he reserved for when he thought Green Lantern had a particularly dunderheaded idea.
“Sorry, Batman, I mean- I should’ve—” Superman tried to stammer out-- and wow, wasn’t that weird?! Superman never stammered in full costume, and yet here he was, eyes wide and imploring as he tried to placate an agitated Batman.
“Superman!” Batman said sharply, holding a hand up in a silencing gesture. He was frowning so fiercely as he rounded on him that Superman took a reflexive step back. Only when Batman had his back fully to the rest of the room did a smirk spread across his face that only Superman could see. “Surely you can wait an hour for me to change into my civilian clothes.”
Despite his expression, Batman maintained his rough irritated voice, and the words conflicted starkly with his whole posture. Superman realized suddenly that Alfred’s particular brand of dry but playful humor was coming through strong, and he couldn’t help but grin back at Batman’s smirk, knowing that only hints the rest of the room had about the vigilante’s mood was his angry tone and the tense line of his shoulders.
“OH! Oh! Right! Yeah, sure thing! No problem at all!” Superman managed to say, excitement swelling back in his chest and his mood instantly restored.
The smirk directed at him was so teasing that Superman was afraid he’d start blushing, but just as soon as he thought this, Batman’s face became a mask of frowning neutrality again. Without responding, Batman turned on his heels and strode from the room. The other League members were gaping as Batman crossed the room in a few almost angry looking strides. How Batman made all of his body language scream ‘grim and frightening’ Superman would never know, but it certainly did the trick.
Batman paused at the doorway long enough to add, “You better not be late, boy scout. I’m a busy man.” Then he was out of the room, making as dramatic an exit as always even with all eyes on him.
The hush was broken by the audible click of Green Lantern’s teeth as he shut his mouth. Then he took a breath and asked, “Did you just ask Spooky out on date in front of the whole League?”
Before Superman could argue that it wasn’t a date invite, Flash cut in. “I’m more surprised that Bats accepted!”
Green Lantern gave a snort of distaste. “Probably has some weirdo night-stalker reason to say yes.”
The room was suddenly full of chatter again. Trying to cut into a conversation once the League got going was hard enough normally, but Superman was at a loss for words. He was still trying to process what had just happened, and the heroes in the room were talking not only to each other but directing questions at him too. The voices all overlapped for a moment into a strange swell of talking that only hushed when Wonder Woman managed to speak over them all with a pertinent observation of her own.
“Civilian clothing… He said civilian clothing,” Wonder Woman said loudly, arms folded in front of her and her brown eyes sparkling with delight. People turned to her then, and she tilted her head at him. “You truly do know his secret identity.”
This revelation caused all eyes to snap back to Superman, and several people opened their mouths at once.
“Whoops!” Superman said, voice overly loud as his feet came off the floor. “Look at the time! I have to change into my civvies too! Bye!”
And then he zipped out of the room, completely unwilling to answer any of the questions that were suddenly directed at him. He could suffer the embarrassment of their intrusive questions later. Right now, he had to hurry after the Batman anyways. Bruce wasn't the kind of man to be left waiting.
When Clark arrived at the little diner, he found Bruce settled into a booth in the back with a tablet attached to a travel size keyboard. Bruce didn’t raise his head from his furious typing to greet him, but Clark knew that Bruce was aware of his arrival. Bruce was hyper aware of everything in his environment, and so the choice not to look up and greet him was one that the man was actively making.
“You could, you know, say hi or something,” Clark said as he approached the booth. Bruce didn’t look up, but he did smirk.
“Can’t you handle the pleasantries for both of us? You can see I’m a little busy.”
Clark snorted as he slid into the booth. “Oh right, yeah. ‘How are you, Bruce?’” Then Clark tilted his head into some approximation of Batman’s thoughtful head tilt and growled out, “‘Busy, make this quick, Kent.’”
Then Bruce gave that low chuckle that Clark was starting to love and finally looked up from his tablet. His ice blue eyes shone with amusement, and he said, “See? I knew you had it handled.”
Ahhhh, that warm, authentic Bruce chuckle-- and Clark had managed that all on his own. He smiled at Bruce and said, “I’m glad I’ve won your approval. Are you still amused about your little prank?”
Bruce’s face went utterly neutral again. “I don’t know what you mean at all.” Then that smirk came back slowly. “Unless you want to talk about the gob-smacked look on Jordan’s smug face. That was entertaining.”
“You shouldn’t tease them like that,” Clark said with his own laugh. “They don’t even know they’re being teased.”
“I don’t know about that,” Bruce said. “I’m relatively positive the cleverer ones realized. Diana definitely understood that I was having a bit of fun.”
“I don’t think it’s a matter of cleverness,” Clark replied. “More a matter of getting used to you underneath all the…”
Bruce leaned forward on his elbow, brow high. “Underneath all the what?”
“Sharp edges,” Clark replied.
After a long scrutinizing look, Bruce shrugged. “The sharp edges serve their purpose.”
A waitress approached them then with two coffees, putting one in front of each of them. Then she took their orders- a mushroom swiss burger for Clark and a chicken caesar wrap for Bruce. As she walked away again, Clark curled his fingers around the mug and arched a brow.
“I see you’ve already ordered my coffee,” he said, sipping at it cautiously before finding it was exactly how he’d have ordered it.
“I know how you take it, and I saw fit to have it ready for your arrival,” Bruce replied, hardly interested in the way both of Clark’s brows were steadily rising.
Clark, oddly touched, finally managed to ask, “You… you know how I take my coffee?”
The response was an incredulous glare and a harrumph. “You were at my estate quite a few days in a row, Kent. Time enough to realize that you like cream and sugar better than you like coffee.”
So surly a response couldn’t hide the fact that Bruce had been paying attention to him, to his preferences. Clark laughed and shrugged. “I like what I like! Can’t help that.”
“I’m sure if you could help having bad taste, you would,” Bruce said, finally pulling his attention fully away from the tablet and closing it up. He smirked, still teasing apparently, and he asked Clark how work had been.
The conversation came easily after that, and the rest of the lunch was surprisingly… nice. Perhaps it would seem quaint or boring to others- simple chit-chat over a nice lunch-, but Clark felt normal for once. Bruce was a good listener, witty, and a bit sardonic, and Clark was glad that he had persevered in his attempts to connect. While the other man didn’t offer much of his own personal life without prompting, Clark didn’t take that personally and simply asked enough questions to encourage Bruce to share what he would.
All in all, the lunch was friendly and open- everything that Clark had ever hoped he might find in Bruce’s company. Sure, Bruce was quiet and had a tendency to be surly if asked a question he didn’t want to answer. Clark was familiar enough with that from Batman too, and this would simply be a matter of learning to avoid those sensitive topics if they weren’t necessary to address.
To prolong the moment, Clark ordered them both a slice of pie for dessert even though Bruce complained about his carefully managed diet. Bruce complained again when Clark insisted on picking up the tab, but he allowed it. Probably because Bruce realized that Clark was just the kind of polite that wouldn’t accept making the guest he invited out pay regardless of how much money said guest had to his name.
As Clark watched Bruce walk away, he dearly hoped that his next invitation would be as successful.
After his lunch, Clark got a call from Diana. Honestly, he should’ve expected it. She had been the one he’d complained to when he was still freshly discovering the mystery of Batman’s identity. It made sense that she’d want to know more after he’d acted on her advice.
“Hey Diana,” Clark said when he picked up. “How’s it going?” His nerves were obvious in his voice, and he couldn’t quite face precisely why this conversation might make him nervous.
Diana definitely picked up on the nerves though, because she laughed. “I’m well, Clark,” she replied. Then she continued, her voice low and amused, “How are you? How was your lunch?”
“I knew you were calling for gossip,” Clark said as he carried his Chinese take-out to his well-loved old couch. “If you’re not careful, you’ll end up as bad as Barry is about gossiping.”
“Barry is simply a curious man with a vested interest in his friends’ lives,” she replied. Clark could hear her smile in her tone. “He’s already asked me numerous questions about the little show the Bat put on today.”
Clark’s ears turned red, and he shrugged even though she couldn’t see him. “I can’t shine more light on that than you can. B was in a mood.”
“He certainly was. He rarely allows himself those playful moments, and I’m always rather glad to see them. I take it your friendship outside of the work is going smoothly, then?” Although curiosity was obvious in her tone, Diana also seemed genuinely concerned with the situation, and she was reaching out to check on him.
The thought made him feel warm. He took a breath, and he nodded. “You know, it is going well. Better than expected. He’s still serious and moody, but he’s also, how do I put this? He’s quiet and introspective while still being the best actor I’ve ever met. I’m still not sure I’ve seen all the sides of his personality yet.”
“You’re trying though.”
“I’m glad you’ve managed to befriend him,” Diana said, voice going soft and warm again. “He needs friends more than he realizes, and you're such a caring man. Perhaps, he will relax a little with the rest of us as he gets more comfortable with you.”
The warmth and care in Diana’s voice made Clark ache somehow, because he could tell how much she cared for not only him but for Bruce- as Batman- as well. Clark was aware how great Diana could be for him if Bruce would allow her into his life. Out of everyone in the League, Bruce seemed to hold particular regard for her, and she could be another strong friend if he shared his civilian identity with her.
“Diana,” Clark said then, almost uncertainly as he poked at his food. “You know he respects you as much as he does me, right? He mentioned he planned on introducing his protégé to you as well. Has he not?”
Thankfully, Diana sounded exasperated but not at all annoyed. “Not yet, but Clark- I’m not jealous of your newfound closeness. I know how much our scowling friend cares about me despite his dramatic shows to the contrary. I have no doubt that one day he’ll feel comfortable sharing his life with me as well.”
Clark let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “That’s. Yeah, that’s good to hear. I wouldn’t want you to feel slighted or something.”
“You mustn’t worry. I’ll handle my own business with the man,” she said. Mischief came into her voice then. “With more serious matters aside, I do have a question though. Is he as handsome under the mask as I suspect he is?”
Glad that she couldn’t see him blush over the phone, Clark responded honestly. “He is. Maybe handsomer, even. He’s so stylish, and his hair always looks soft and touch-able. Oh, and he has the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Diana gave a delighted laugh. “Perhaps I have to reconsider my stance on jealousy after all in that case!”
“Don’t worry, Di,” Clark said. “I’m sure you’ll get to find out soon enough.”
“Until then, I’ll content myself with your assurances of his lovely eyes and soft hair,” she replied. “I have to go, but we’ll talk again soon.”
“Of course! Talk to you later!” Clark was right at the edge of hanging up the phone when Diana spoke again.
“Oh, and Clark?”
Clark had already returned to his dinner, lo mein hanging from his chopsticks as he tipped his head back to lower the noodles into his mouth. “Yeah?” he said instead, noodles still poised in the air.
“You should be careful about the lovestruck expressions you send your new friend during meetings. Our other comrades are creative, nosy, and would love teasing you if they noticed.”
The words startled Clark so bad that super-speed was all that saved him from dropping lo mein all over his own face. He stammered for a minute before he managed to say, “I’ll take that under consideration!”
Diana was still laughing when he hung up the phone.
A week passed and Clark hadn’t heard from Bruce. That didn’t bother him all that much, because he hadn’t exactly expected things to change too quickly. Friendships often did bloom slowly, after all, and Clark had technically been trying to become Batman’s friend since shortly after he met the man. Just like it took ages to befriend Batman in costume, Clark was prepared to take the time to become the man’s friend out of costume too.
Around lunch time, however, Clark got a call from Bruce’s personal cell phone. Clark knew that Bruce had gotten the number from Dick, but he’d never even texted him. To be fair, Clark had never texted the number Bruce had given him either, but that was more worry about overstepping on his part. Bruce hardly seemed the type to engage in idle text conversations, and Clark had never found anything important enough to send him. Still, to get a call made Clark’s anxiety ramp up, and he found himself instinctively seeking out the sound of Bruce’s heartbeat. It was a habit that Clark had gotten into as Superman- seeking out his comrades’ breathing and heartbeats in the heat of the battle to be sure that they were okay. He tried not to in his daily life, but sometimes, he still found himself reaching out to listen to the sounds of life from his friends and family.
Clark found Bruce’s heartbeat- strong and steady- as he hit the accept call button which hopefully meant nothing was wrong after all.
“Hello—” Clark started before an impatient growl cut him off.
“Kent! I’ll be at the diner in a few minutes.” Indeed, the sound of mid-day traffic was almost drowning out Bruce’s voice. “You’re coming right?”
“What?” Clark managed, almost too flabbergasted to make a response. The lunch invitation last week hadn’t been a standing repeated invitation, and surely Bruce knew that. Why in the world would Clark assume they’d meet at the same time and place today? Regardless, it was close to his lunch break, and he hurried to add, “I mean, yeah, sure I can be there. I might be a little late though.”
Bruce grunted in understanding. “Fine. See you there.”
Then the call abruptly went dead.
Too stunned to really work through any of the thoughts flying through his head, Clark stared incredulously at his phone before finally moving to save his work. He was flustered by the sudden invite, and he was trying to do everything that needed doing before he left on break. All his instincts screamed to super-speed through tidying his desk, and in his attempt to move at a normal human speed, he fumbled around and knocked things over instead. When he finally stood up, ready to go, he knocked his pen cup over, and pens scattered over his desktop.
"You look like you saw a ghost, Smallville," Lois said as she walked by his desk. She whapped him gently on the head with the stack of papers in her hand. "What's up?"
"Apparently," he said slowly, still dumbstruck but starting to smile. "I'm having lunch with Bruce Wayne."
Lois studied his expression and huffed a laugh. "Your crush finally notices you. You must’ve made quite an impression on him when you did that article.” She plucked the mug that housed Clark’s pens out of his hand, and she started putting his pens back into it for him. “Well, Kansas! Don’t keep the man waiting.” Then she grinned and winked, “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
“It’s not a crush!” Clark replied, but there was no force to it. He suspected he might have a crush as well, but he could think about that a little more deeply after lunch. Lois was being supportive in her own strange way, and he hurried away while she straightened his desk for him.
When Clark arrived, he was panting and flustered. He wasn’t truly breathless, of course, and he never was outside of some unfortunate situations with kryptonite. Only, he’d learned long ago that showing up somewhere in a rush without being breathless and a bit put-out usually made people question just how fit he was. That was a conversation best dodged with a bit of show, and for all Bruce knew his secrets, habits were hard to break.
Not only was Bruce already there, but he was in the same booth they’d been in before. Once again, Bruce didn’t raise his head from whatever work he was doing on his tablet, but as before, Clark knew that Bruce was aware of his arrival. Instead of hurrying over to the table, Clark studied him, the hard line of his mouth and the tense set of his shoulders. Clark had seen Bruce embarrassed before, and embarrassment was written in those sharp edges, not irritation or annoyance. Bruce was hunching in as if waiting for questions that should be normal, but that the man would find intrusive.
Clark found himself smiling, and he approached the table. This was his surly friend’s way of reciprocating interest in casual meetings, and Clark couldn’t be happier. Well, okay, he would be happier if he knew exactly what had embarrassed Bruce. Was it his inability to ask Clark out to lunch in a more normal way? Or was it because he wanted to be around Clark in the first place? If the first, that was kind of endearing, but if it was the second, Clark would probably feel a little stung. Even if Bruce had hang-ups about friendships and close personal ties, Clark didn't want to feel like a guilty pleasure.
Either way, Clark didn’t ask. He simply slid into the booth and said, “Am I supposed to handle the pleasantries on my own again today?”
The tense line in Bruce’s shoulders eased at his words- probably glad that Clark didn’t bring up how he was invited to lunch that day-, and then Bruce looked up straight into his eyes. “I’ve never understood your need for such niceties. If I’m saying something purely for the sake of decorum, does it really have any meaning at all?”
“Decorum,” Clark repeated, voice deadpan. “It’s not about decorum. It’s about, I dunno. Connecting.”
“Connecting.” Bruce closed his tablet, tilting his head expectantly. “Explain your thoughts, Kent. I don’t see how rote recitations of greetings help in connecting.”
Clark wracked his brain for the best way to explain this to Bruce, because it seemed so obvious that it needed no explanation. “It’s like this- every time I meet another person, I know that they’ve been through things I have no idea of. All those ‘niceties’ that you think aren’t necessary are like little invitations for people to talk, to share. To, y’know, connect.”
Bruce snorted. “I concede the rationale, but most pleasantries don’t end up in sharing. It’s a simple discharge of responsibilities. A quick ‘how are you’ and an ‘I’m fine.’ It leads to no real conversation and no depth of understanding.”
“True,” Clark replied. He could feel a strange warmth building in his chest, and he squashed down the urge to reach over and pat Bruce’s hand. The man just looked so earnestly interested and curious about so silly and simple a thing. Instead, he smiled. “There’s something to be said about repetition though. Repetition can turn something mundane into a ritual.”
“Such as?” Bruce leaned closer. He was wearing that now-familiar expression of a man working through a puzzle. “I’d like an example please.”
“Well…” Clark huffed a breath, trying not to squirm under the intensity of Bruce’s focus. “For example, every time I go to visit Smallville, the first thing my Ma always says is ‘Welcome home.’ Logically, I know that’s a standard greeting when someone comes back home after a while, but if she didn’t say it… I’d notice. It’s so simple but I’d definitely miss it, if she didn’t say it. It’s a part of homecoming for me- looking forward to hearing Ma say ‘Welcome home.’”
Bruce tilted his head, expression going thoughtful and introspective. After a silence long enough that it was almost awkward, Bruce finally said softly, “I admit… Alfred and I have such… rituals, as you called them. I’ll have to consider the importance of such things.”
Clark was blushing when the waitress put his coffee cup in front of him. They ordered their food, and then Clark lifted his coffee mug as if in toast. Clark knew that the meaning behind his words wouldn’t be lost on Bruce, so he offered a charming little smile as he said, “To developing little rituals.”
Even though he narrowed his eyes suspiciously, Bruce still lifted his own mug and clinked it softly against Clark’s. He didn’t repeat the words, but Clark could see that the other man was turning them over in his head.
As expected, Clark’s coffee was exactly how he liked it.
The next week, Clark texted Bruce first. It was short, to the point.
“Same time, same place?” it read.
The responding text simply read, “Don’t be late this time.”
Clark never knew how much a text could make him smile until he could hear it clearly in Bruce’s voice in his head.
Their weekly lunch dates became expected after that. Barring any catastrophes or major cases, Clark found himself sitting in what he now considered their booth across from Bruce every week. Sometimes they didn’t even have all that much to say, but the quiet was comfortable. Even the occasional irate outbursts from Bruce couldn’t ruin the atmosphere, but those were becoming fewer and farther between. Clark wasn’t sure if he was learning Bruce’s ticks or if Bruce himself was sort of relaxing into the friendship in a way he hadn’t before. Whatever it was, Clark was grateful.
Until, of course, they had their first lunch date fight.
Technically, Clark knew this would be a sensitive talk, and he’d opted to have it anyways. So, the ensuing fight was probably his fault. Clark was hardly the type to avoid something just because it was going to be messy or difficult, and Bruce would just have to get used to that.
“Bruce, can I ask you a question?” Clark started hesitantly.
Bruce was slightly distracted- he was filling numbers in rapidly into a sudoku puzzle he’d found on a newspaper page. Clark had been fascinated the first time he’d watched Bruce work a newspaper puzzle, because Bruce didn’t seem like the kind of man who’d be interested in such things. Maybe interest wasn’t the right word though. Bruce wouldn’t necessarily seek out the puzzles himself, but sometimes if he found them, he’d eat with one hand, scrawl answers with the other, and all the while maintain his conversations with Clark.
Clark chocked it up to Bruce’s overactive brain. Once his eyes landed on something that wanted solving, Bruce’s mind was already rising up to the challenge. Usually a question like Clark’s would get a narrow eyed look from Bruce, but today it only garnered a grunt of assent.
“Did you ever introduce Dick to Diana?” Clark asked.
Bruce jerked his gaze up, eyes narrowed and suspicious. He shook his head. “Haven’t had the opportunity yet. She’s not as nosy as you are. Doesn’t show up unannounced and uninvited in my city as often as you do.” Instead of returning his attention to the puzzle, Bruce’s gaze stayed pinned on Clark’s face as if in defiance.
“Oh, well, maybe you should send her an invite. I’m sure she’d come if you asked. Actually, I know she’d be delighted to come and meet him.” Clark was hesitating slightly, because he was hovering on the edge of saying something he knew would tick Bruce off.
“Hmm,” Bruce hummed thoughtfully. “I don’t currently have a case that would require inviting her to Gotham. Perhaps I’ll find something…”
Well, at least Bruce wasn’t resistant to the idea of inviting Wonder Woman to Gotham, and Clark was only a little frustrated that they had to avoid mentioning the other half of their lives in public. Clark had been trying to imply something else entirely.
“Well, I mean that could work,” he said. Then he took a steeling breath before he added, “But I was thinking that maybe, uh, you could invite her to the Manor.”
Ahhh there it was- Bruce went utterly rigid when the meaning of the words sunk in, that Clark was suggesting sharing his secret identity with Wonder Woman. The man’s face closed off, and he dabbed at his mouth before tossing his handkerchief over his plate.
“I do believe I’m done here, Kent. I’ve got to be going.” Bruce was already collecting his things and preparing to leave.
“Oh, c’mon Bruce, don’t act that way. I just think it’s a good idea. You said you wanted Dick to have more adults in his life that… that understand and can protect him.” Clark was desperately trying to phrase everything in a way that wasn’t revealing, which he was finding more difficult than he thought. “That only works if Diana understands all, uh, facets of Dick’s life.”
Bruce ignored his words entirely. “Sorry, I really don’t have time at all—”
Before the man could brush past the table, Clark caught his wrist. The pulse under his fingers was going wild. “I’m not trying to be intrusive. I just thought that it would be good—”
“Stop,” Bruce growled, leaning down until they were almost nose to nose. “I can decide what is good for me and my ward, Kent, and I don’t need you nosing around in my business whenever you think you know better than me.”
Then Bruce shook his wrist, and Clark obediently let his grip loosen. Bruce stalked away, and Clark fell back against the booth.
“Well, could’a gone worse,” Clark muttered to himself before he picked up the check.
Clark wasn’t sure when he arrived at the diner the next week if Bruce would even be there, but lo and behold, Bruce sat there as if he hadn’t thrown a tantrum and left in a huff the week before. So Clark came and sat down, and edged around all the tense sharp edges of Bruce’s ruffled feathers.
About halfway through the lunch, when Bruce realized Clark wasn’t going to revisit the topic of Diana, he relaxed, and the lunch managed to be pleasant overall.
If Clark was a bit miffed, he didn’t let it show. Bruce had heard what he had to say-or at least some of it-, and that was all Clark could really do in the situation. It was ultimately up to Bruce if he wanted to share with Diana, and no insistence would make him change his mind if he didn’t want to.
Well, at least the man wasn’t mad enough to skip their lunches. Clark was beginning to look forward to them.
Their meetings had mostly returned to normal after that little fight- they both simply avoided the topic-, and three weeks later, when Clark had almost forgotten about it, Bruce broached the topic again in the most unexpected way right as he stood to leave the diner.
“Oh by the by, could you pass this on to our mutual friend?” he had said in the most off-handed Brucie Wayne voice he could muster. “I’d do it myself, but I probably won’t see her soon enough.”
Then, he passed over a heavy cream envelope with the name ‘Diana’ written in elegant calligraphy on the front. Clark took the envelope in confusion and glanced up at him.
“Uh, yeah, sure. I can deliver this to her,” he said back. “Is it urgent or…?”
“Oh, it’s just a little luncheon and tea at the Manor. But it would be better to deliver the invitation sooner rather than later. So, she can clear her schedule, if she needs to.” Then he faltered for just a moment before the Brucie Wayne act came out in force again. “And while I’m at it, I should give you yours, handsome.”
The second envelope was just as heavy and fancy as the first, but it had Clark’s name in calligraphy on the front.
“Oh!! Thanks,” Clark said, blinking at the man’s careful mask in bewilderment. “Is this a black tie kinda affair?”
“Not so much. Just a little family get together, nothing fancy.” Brucie waved his hand dismissively. “If you’re busy, feel free to skip it~”
And with that as a goodbye, Brucie Wayne strutted away as though he hadn’t a thought in his head.
“Nothing fancy, huh?” Clark said, tracing his own name on the fanciest envelope he’d ever seen. Then he started to laugh, and he allowed himself the pleasure of expressing his disbelief in a way he would never dream of if anyone nearby could hear him. “What in the absolute fuck, Bruce?" he choked out, staring at the envelope in abject confusion.
Then he buried his face in his hands and laughed harder. How in the world could such an intelligent thoughtful man struggle so much trying to earnestly invite a couple of friends over to his house for lunch? Why was it easier to do such a thing if he acted a like a dramatic fool when he did it? When he'd finally recovered enough, Clark tucked the invitations away and headed off to find Diana. She would be interested to know she’d just be invited to one of the ritziest houses in Gotham City.
Clark’s hair was windswept when he found Diana reading in a quaint park, and he reached up to adjust his post flight curls into something more suiting to his mild-mannered alter ego. Diana looked up from her book as he approached, and her face lit up with recognition.
“Clark!” she said, and she got to her feet to greet him. She was in her own alter ego disguise- nice blue slacks with a matching blue blazer over a white blouse. No matter what it was, Diana wore it well, and she came forward to accept the hug Clark offered.
“Hello, Diana,” he said with a smile, and he hugged her tight- knowing he couldn’t accidentally hurt her.
Diana hugged him just as tightly back. “I didn’t realize I’d see you today! I’m glad of it. Come and sit with me!”
She led them back to the bench she'd come from to sit down.
“I didn’t plan to stop by, but I have something for you,” he said, reaching into his inner jacket pocket to produce the heavy cream envelope. “It’s an invitation.”
“From you? For what?” she asked, taking the envelope from him. At the sight of the calligraphy, she gave him a doubtful look. “You didn’t write this, did you?”
Clark laughed. “I could learn calligraphy if I wanted to, if that's what you're implying." Diana's brow rose higher, and he added sheepishly, "But no, no I didn’t.”
“As you say,” Diana agreed, and she opened the invitation.
As she did, Clark opened his own as well. He’d waited to do so until they could do it together. The invitation was straightforward enough- just a simple opener followed by the details of a Saturday afternoon luncheon hosted at stately Wayne Manor. It described the lunch menu followed by specifying that it would be kosher and requested any dietary restrictions be made known to the hosts prior to the day in question. The hosts were listed as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. The whole invitation was hand-written in elegant script, and the signatures at the bottom were actually Bruce and Dick’s.
Clark smiled down at the paper, heart beating faster. Bruce had listened to him after all and was too emotionally constipated to go about admitting that in a normal way. Anything he did, Bruce did with an unerring sense of drama. Clark slid his thumb along the margin of the expensive paper and thought about how this contrasted with the handwritten dinner invitation that Dick had sent to him before. Then he had the unexpected mental image of Alfred teaching a smaller, younger Bruce Wayne how to write these kinds of invitations just like he was teaching Dick to do the same now.
Diana cleared her throat, and Clark pulled his attention back to the moment.
“I do not understand why Bruce Wayne would invite me to his home,” she said frankly, eyebrows raised. “He’s that rich man you mentioned writing articles for, is he not?”
“He is,” Clark agreed. “How much do you know about the Waynes?”
“The usual amount, I suppose,” Diana admitted. She hardly had interest in celebrity gossip, and so Clark wasn’t sure what the ‘usual amount’ was until she clarified. “I know that Wayne Enterprises is one of the richest corporations, and yet they are one of the few with more progressive business habits. I have been given to understand that this is from the top of the management chain…?”
Diana still didn’t seem to understand why he asked, and so Clark continued with another question, “And what do you know about Bruce Wayne in particular?”
“I know he took over the company dealings when he was in his twenties,” she replied. “And he started a charity in the name of his parents, tragically taken from him too soon.” Her brows furrowed, thoughtful, and she looked over to Clark, her clever eyes assessing him. “I don’t believe I have ever met Bruce Wayne in person, Clark.”
“I didn’t think you had,” Clark admitted, unsure exactly how Bruce envisioned this would go. Clark doubted he should directly acknowledge that Diana had met Bruce in another capacity, and so he settled on carefully phrasing his next reply. “Maybe you two have a mutual friend in Gotham that managed to get you the invitation…?”
Her clever brown eyes sparkled in amusement at his cautious words, and she said, “I do have a close acquaintance in Gotham. I always thought him a bit grim and overly serious for midday tea invitations, but I’ve been given cause recently to reexamine that notion.”
Clark grinned at her, relaxing as she seemed to come to her own conclusions. “Oh, have you? That’s good to hear. Do you think you’ll be going then?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Diana replied, her grin fierce and bright.
The expression had Clark holding back laughter, because he could hardly wait to see how Bruce would interact with this bold, passionate woman with no masks to hide behind.
There's one major scene that inspired the first part- a scene in which Robin is pestering Batman with questions and Batman just keeps grunting at him until Robin makes a wisecrack about Batman. Batman just grunts again and when the camera pans in, Batman is grinning because he's just fucking around with Robin because the kid is bored. The beginning little 'joke' Batman pulls on Superman is based on that- the kind of dry straight faced humor that I think Bruce picked up from Alfred.
The second thing I wanted to point out was a Supes headcanon. Sometimes he's depicted as faking clumsiness completely, but I choose to think some of Clark's clumsiness comes from faking being normal. He works so hard sometimes to keep himself from breaking things with his strength or moving too fast that he actually ends up dropping things and fumbling around as well.
This chapter also prominently features how Bruce, when feelings are involved, never seems to do things directly. Sure, he can invite a supermodel to do drunken karaoke with him at a red carpet event- where there are no karaoke machines and they're standing on something they shouldn't- but when he wants to ask a friend out to lunch he's at a loss. He also doesn't know how to admit when he's wrong, so instead of just saying, "hey clark I thought about what you said and I decided..." he just pulls a ridiculous drama move instead. Hopefully Clark will call him on it in the future hmm?
Also I've almost completely managed to sidestep most of the vigilante superheroing in this story so far. Might keep that up tbh. The focus of this story is supposed to be on alter-egos because there are plenty of iterations of all of these characters battling it out that are flashier and neater than anything I could write up. For this particular AU setting, I'm going with "Although Batman knows several hero's identities, he's never shared with them." Superman knows many of the secret identities of other heroes. Finally, Diana tends to share her identity with everyone because she doesn't drive as hard a line between who she really is and who she is as a crime fighter. So Diana probably knows everyone's alter egos.
Chapter 7: The Courtesies Accorded to Friends, pt. 1
Clark gets nervous about his upcoming visit to Wayne Manor, and only a quick trip to Smallville can help calm him down. But the truly startling realization comes a little too late- that Diana might be able to confirm with her own eyes just how deep Clark's feelings for Bruce are becoming.
Part 1 of Diana meeting both Dick and Bruce.
The story started as a character study of Bruce Wayne via Clark, but slowly, it's also becoming a character study of Clark as well, though more indirectly through Clark's thoughts and actions rather than his personal observances. Whoops?
I also tried to carry some of the little verbal things Clark tends to use over to his parents. He got a lot of his charm from them after all. C:
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After the shock of Bruce’s invitation, delight followed…which rapidly gave way to mounting horror which in turn finally settled into anxious nerves. The realization hit Clark that he had been the one to suggest that Batman un-mask himself to Diana. Okay, sure, Bruce hadn’t directly admitted to taking his advice, but the fact remained that this luncheon invitation came on the heels of Clark’s suggestion. Bruce was a good man, an excellent one if Clark was being honest with himself…
But Clark knew well enough that the man was prone to moods and fits of pique.
If this went poorly and Bruce blamed him, Clark could say goodbye to those weekly lunches. Whatever else happened between them from here on out, Clark’s heart was already caught by the Wayne family, and the loss of casual intimacy with Bruce would be a hard blow to take.
Not only was Clark suddenly anxious about the whole thing, he also had several days to imagine more and more inventive scenes with full excruciating details about how badly things could go and what kind of horrible retaliations Bruce- Batman- might think up as revenge. Of course, Clark didn’t think that it was going to go bad in the normal sense.
But Bruce wasn’t normal- his strange moods could be kickstarted by something as simple as inviting a friend out to lunch. Who knew what innocuous social nicety would set Bruce off next? Even more troublesome, would Bruce make an appearance, or would Diana be treated to the full Brucie?
Diana would not at all like Brucie Wayne, and Clark was utterly dreading the thought that this was the side of Bruce she might meet. Honestly, Bruce might even be petty and stubborn enough to act like Brucie to spite Clark- a casual ‘see I knew she shouldn’t meet me, hah’ kind of I-told-you-so moment. At the end of the day, Bruce’s own stubbornness might be what ruined the attempt to connect, and that would be heartbreaking. Clark knew that Diana agreed with his personal assessment- that their friendship out of costume could help Batman a lot.
If the invitation and the overall planning of the event was any indication, then Alfred agreed as well. A luncheon with formal handwritten invitations and a thoughtful request for guest input to ensure no one had food allergies? All of it screamed Alfred’s attentive involvement in the whole affair.
No matter how good it could be for Bruce, none of that really mattered if the man himself was stubborn, and that led Clark right back around to drowning in all the possible ‘what-if’ scenarios that ended in Bruce’s angry vengeance.
In fact, Clark had managed to torment himself so effectively that he needed to go to the one place he felt completely comfortable and safe--
His Ma and Pa’s house.
The flight to Smallville always put Clark strangely at ease- the lights of skyscrapers giving way to stars and crowded suburbs giving way to farmlands. Technically, Clark was dressed like Superman as he flew through the night sky over Kansas, but he never really felt like Superman when he was flying home. He simply felt like a Kent, heading back to the family farm for some soul-healing.
Clark admired his home state as he flew over, eyes drawn just as much to the landscape as to the stars above it. Some people would call these long stretches of grasslands and farms empty, ignoring how much life called this place home. Sure, humans weren’t as heavily populated in this area, but they were here doing their good works surrounded by plants and animals and the broadest stretch of blue-sky Clark had ever had the fortune to admire.
Of course, that blue sky was currently dark, shining with so many stars that the lights of the city choked out and obscured. That gorgeous view of space was another point in favor of the sky over the fields of Smallville.
Maybe Clark was a little biased, but he’d first been awed by the sky on his little family farm when he was too small to understand how large the planet- the universe - truly was. The Kansas sky was the first he had touched too, blue and endless and inviting, and he remembered his initial controlled flight like it was yesterday. No gravity holding him to the Earth, he was able to look out and admire the glory of his home from above, and none of the incredible, gorgeous sights he’d seen since could rival the warmth, the wonder, and the gratitude of that moment.
Of all the planets and situations that he could’ve found himself in, Clark had landed in a quiet peaceful place with thoughtful, hardy, and loving parents who taught him about the land, about kindness, and about how important community is. He had found two people willing not only to raise and love him as their own but also to weather a whole roster of strange happenings to keep him safe.
Oh yes, there were a lot of strong reasons why Clark ended up at his parents’ when he needed to calm down and relax.
When he touched down behind the old barn, Clark super-sped into casual clothes. As he walked around the edge of the barn, he looked toward the house and paused to admire his Ma, sitting on the porch swing and drinking a glass of lemonade.
Ma had a book in her lap that had been abandoned in favor of staring up at the starry night sky. Clark couldn’t help but smile, the weight on his shoulders already easing as he started up to the house. The sound of rocks crunching on the dirt path under his feet had Ma’s expression sharpening, her gaze jerking toward her henhouse immediately.
Clark followed her look over his left shoulder, laughing as he said, “I’m no coyote. You don’t have to worry about your hens, Ma.”
When he looked back at her, she was already on her feet hurrying down the walk toward him. Then she was in front of him, beaming, and she said, “Welcome home, Clark.”
The words caused such a sweet ache in his heart, and he found he was as grateful as always for this particular ‘ritual.’ Ma was already reaching up, cupping his cheeks gently with both of her hands and looking into his eyes. Then her fingers were in his hair, smoothing it down and looking proud of the sight he made. Then her hands were on his shoulders, smoothing his clothes down too. This little check up was something that Clark was used to as well, his mother assuring herself through touch that he was whole and healthy.
“Glad to be back,” Clark replied, only scrunching up his face a little as she straightened up his hair and studied him.
“Oh, my baby is home,” she said, her voice choked with same relief and happiness he always heard when he returned home for a visit. Clark had found himself wondering if that relief was because of the dangerous things he did in his daily life or if all loving parents felt that way after reuniting with their grown-up children.
Clark didn’t have time to think long on that before Ma embraced him as fiercely as a lady her size and age could. Smiling, Clark returned her embrace with infinite care, listening to his mother’s steady heartbeat and reaching out with his senses to hear his Pa’s quiet breathing. Once, when he was still developing his powers, he accidentally cracked one of his Ma’s ribs because he hugged too hard and too fast. He still thought about that sometimes when he embraced her- still glanced at her bones with his X-ray vision just to be sure she was alright.
“Yeah, Ma, I’m here. Let’s get inside, huh? I’d like a glass of that lemonade you were drinking.”
Ma pulled back, giving him an appraising look. Then she said archly, “You can have the lemonade only if you let me feed you too. I know you don’t eat right in that apartment all on your lonesome.” Her expression became scolding, but she was taking him by the arm to lead him back up to the porch. “Even though you know plenty well how to cook, Clark Joseph Kent. I taught you myself.”
This was also a pretty standard bit of huffing and puffing he’d come to expect from his Ma, and so he just looked a bit put out.
“I can, but your food always tastes better than what I make. Can you blame a guy for just wanting to come home when he gets hungry?” Clark offered his Ma a charming dimpled smile.
Ma gave him a dubious look in response, even though she always liked having her ego stroked. “I can’t fault you for missing your Ma’s cooking, of course, but I can fuss at you when you don’t eat right.” She hurried him inside, and she added, “Go and say hi to your Pa. He’s grumbling at the television.”
Pa was indeed watching television, though he was pretending to be more invested in the paper in his lap. If the score was any indication, the Metropolis Meteors were playing a really bad game that night, and that was probably why his father was feigning disinterest. Pa was always a bit grumpy when his favorite team did poorly.
“Hey Pa,” Clark said as he came into the room.
After only a brief startle, Pa looked up and fixed his glasses on his nose. “Oh, I didn’t realize you were coming over tonight, Clark. You missed dinner.” As was only polite, Pa rose up to greet him with a gruff smile and a quick hug.
“I didn’t miss it—Ma’s already heating it back up.”
Pa looked almost long suffering, but affection sparkled in his eyes. “Of course she is.” He started toward the kitchen. “Let’s go sit and visit then.”
Glancing back at the football game going strong, Clark felt guilty. “Awww, Pa, you can wait for your game to be over if—”
“Hush. You can go ahead and cut that noise off,” Pa replied. “No one’s playing well enough to keep watching anyhow, and I’d rather sit and talk with my son.”
“Of course, Pa,” Clark said, suppressing a smile. Pa was gruffer than Ma on the best of days, but the football game had made him downright surly. Clark turned off the television and went to sit at the kitchen table.
While Ma was heating up a plate, Pa took over pouring three glasses of lemonade and setting them on the table. Clark came forward and sat down, knowing three people moving around the small kitchen would be a bad idea. His parents liked to fuss over him when he came home, and it was best to let them do so. Besides, he loved to see them in the old kitchen together. They moved like a team, supporting each other and helping when and however they could.
One day, Clark hoped to find a love like theirs- caring and loving equals who managed to work things through even if they bickered sometimes. His Ma and Pa had always had this easy comfortable understanding with each other, and Clark wondered how long it took to develop such a thing.
Soon, they were all at the table, Ma peppering him with questions about his life and Pa jumping in now and then to add his opinions on Clark’s replies. Only when Ma finally asked, “And how is Batman? You said you got to know him outside of work?” did Clark remember what he had come there for.
His parents truly did have a way to make him forget his troubles.
“Oh right,” Clark said, cheeks going pink. “I did, yeah. I can safely say that we’re friends now. Or at least, I think I can.”
Ma smiled and shared one of those knowing looks with his Pa that always made it seem like they were talking without words. “Then what’s bothering you, Clark? I can tell something’s got you keyed up.”
“Well,” Clark said, squirming a little in embarrassment at being so transparent. “It’s just, I made a suggestion that Batman make a… make a big change. Trust someone, expand his social circle. And I’m…”
“You’re worried if it goes sideways he’ll blame you?” Pa surmised.
Clark relaxed, huffing out a breath and nodding. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m worried about.”
“From what you tell me about that boy,” Pa said then, expression thoughtful, “He throws tantrums, but he always seems to come around when he needs too. Just takes a while sometimes.”
“Yeah, I mean he’s the most hard-headed person I’ve ever met…” Clark said, smiling a little at his Pa calling Batman ‘that boy.’ That was a habit his Pa had- referring to Clark and any man considered his age-mate as a ‘boy.’ Sometimes the habit irritated Clark- especially in reference to himself- but it was always unexpectedly funny when Pa referred to any of the other men in the Justice League that way.
“He’s also your friend though,” Ma said. “I think you just gotta have a little more faith, Clark. Helping someone trust and change, that’s part of being a friend to them.” Ma was putting a slice of pie in front of him now. “Worrying about how things might go wrong in this case is just complicating something that should be easy.”
“B always complicates things that should be easy,” he grumbled, knowing that he was pouting but unable to help it.
Ma smoothed his hair back and gave him a gentle smile. “You always were so sensitive. I’m proud of you, worrying about your friends like this.” Then her expression became arch and a little sassy. “That grumpy ole Bat is lucky to have a friend like you- whether he knows it or not.”
Clark couldn’t fight the grin tugging at his lips, and he let his Ma stroke his hair and pat his shoulders. Both his parents were fiery and opinionated and kind, and he was so glad he had them. They were rocks in the storm, steady and firm when the tempests of his life threatened to knock him down.
For the moment, Clark allowed himself to be soothed, and he focused on his pie and his parent’s smiles.
Even with the comfort from his parents, Clark had to call Diana the night before the luncheon. If the tables were turned, he’d want a warning about the Brucie Wayne treatment. It was only polite to extend a courtesy call.
When Diana picked up, she sounded pretty happy. “Clark! Are you excited for luncheon tomorrow?”
Her eagerness made him hesitate. Maybe, it actually was rude to say anything at all about Bruce’s sometimes bizarre behavior, but he was nervous enough about it that he simply had to.
“Yeah, pretty excited,” Clark replied, in a tone that sounded anything but.
“You certainly sound it,” Diana said. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just, okay. This is gonna sound weird, or maybe bad. I wanted to give you a bit of warning.”
The silence stretched out a beat too long before Diana said with steel in her voice, “What kind of warning, Clark?”
Clark regretted not having this conversation in person where he could at least read some of her expressions. Perhaps he had already miscalculated.
“About Bruce, I mean. Nothing serious.” He took a breath, holding it as he counted to five in his head before he let it out in a whoosh of air. “He’s an amazing man, he really is. But he’s… moody, y’know. Like, he can come on really strong sometimes, and he can act… strange too…?” His statement trailed into a question, wishing he had a better way of describing ‘Brucie’ without going into detail.
The silence was heavy again for several long seconds before Diana broke it with a boisterous laugh. “Oh Clark,” she said, tone heavy with amusement and curiosity. Oddly, it sounded like she was humoring him more than anything when she continued by saying, “You want me to like him. I am fairly certain of the kind of man I will find, and I assure you that you have nothing to worry about.”
“Really?” Clark asked. “It’s just that he can be… a lot sometimes.”
“I imagine,” she said indulgently. “But I’ve done my due diligence as well as you have. I read up on this Bruce Wayne character, and I am not likely to be shocked by what I find.”
Clark had to swallow down the jolt of panic that went through him that she had read up on Bruce. Unless she dug around a lot, she was likely to find a lot of the same fluff he'd read about Brucie Wayne’s vapid party habits- the surface level of his persona.
“I was afraid you might read up on him,” Clark admitted. “But you have to know a lot of coverage of Bruce is… uh… misleading.”
Instead of acknowledging the words directly, Diana said bluntly, “I can simply tell you the impression I have from what I’ve read, and you can stop sounding so concerned.” The words weren’t unkind, but they weren’t exactly soothing either.
He wanted so much for Diana and Bruce to be friends, and so he was invested in what Diana had to say.
“Yeah,” Clark finally said. “That’s a good idea.”
“From all accounts of Bruce as an adult I’ve seen, he’s depicted as a glib tongued, vapid hedonist with enough money to buy several small islands if he so wished,” Diana started, and Clark’s heart sank down to his toes before she continued, “But instead of hoarding his wealth as most capitalists in this country do, he has funneled a vast majority of his profits into funding private charities. Would you say so far that I’m rightly understanding the typical coverage of Bruce Wayne?”
“Oh, uh, yeah, that’s pretty accurate, I’d say,” Clark said slowly, considering her words and how best to respond. “But you know, about the vapid hedonist stuff—you can’t always trust stuff like that…”
“I’m aware of that,” came the quick response, and Diana made an annoyed sound. “You are worrying for nothing. I saw the same thing you did- a caring man with a precisely managed social persona. I can’t pretend I understand all of the social rules of your culture, but I can see that Bruce Wayne has managed perfectly to be incredibly visible while avoiding attention he doesn’t want. Everything I’ve seen speaks of calculation.”
“Well, of course I agree with that too,” Clark said, starting to smile. This was easing his troubles, but at the same time, Diana still hadn’t met Brucie. He wasn’t sure how to say that delicately, so he barreled right through it. “I guess I worried that he’d turn some of that vapid playboy routine on you, and you’d get angry at him.”
Diana laughed again. “Oh Clark,” she said, voice a mix of humor and blunt self-assuredness. “I can more than handle the flirtations of a handsome man- especially if they are unasked for. I won’t let a few stale pick up lines distract me from the man underneath. I assume you wouldn’t have passed on the invitation if there wasn’t more underneath?”
The last question was delivered in a tone that Clark couldn't quite unravel- or maybe he was too embarrassed to- and he cleared his throat uncertainly. “Of course not. I wouldn’t expose you to someone I thought wasn’t worth your time.”
He found himself once again wishing he could read Diana’s expression over the phone.
“Then you have nothing to fear, friend,” Diana said, her tone so warm and indulgent and… and… something. Something that made Clark’s cheeks turn red. “I look forward to meeting him. Your Bruce Wayne seems like an interesting man indeed, and I intend to befriend him without being taken in by flirtations. No need for anxiety or jealousy.”
Clark’s heart stuttered, and the blush had spread from his cheeks all the way down to his neck. Yeah, Clark was not going to put any kind of description on what Diana was implying with her tone. “Jealousy?! Okay, that wasn’t why I—”
But Diana cut him off. “Now then. Do you feel less nervous?”
Too overwhelmed to protest further and, afraid that if he did, she’d have more embarrassing things to add, Clark nodded mutely before he realized she couldn’t see him and said aloud, “Yeah, I do. It just means a lot to me that you two get along.”
“I’m sure it does Clark,” Diana said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, tomorrow then!”
After the line went dead, Clark stared at his phone and tried to calm himself down. He wished the women in his life were less perceptive sometimes. He had barely accepted the idea that he might have the tiniest bit of a crush on Bruce, and yet Diana was already teasing him for it.
He’d laughed before, at the idea of fiery, strong-minded Diana teasing a grim and serious Bruce, but he hadn’t yet considered that he might also be a target for gentle ribbing during this luncheon. It was too late to back out now- and he wouldn’t anyways- but well, he had a whole new type of nerves after that phone call.
Clark arrived early to the Manor, eager to beat Diana to the estate and see what kind of mood Bruce was in before she got there. Alfred met him at the door, and he led him to a comfortable sofa in the sitting room closest to the entryway.
“If you’d give us a few moments to put on our final touches,” Alfred said with that air of gravity he could lend the simplest things, “We’d be quite grateful. Would you like a coffee while you wait?”
The formality did make Clark feel awkward, but he sat down and shook his head. “No thank you Alfred- I know I’m early. Take your time!”
Alfred gave him a nod, and he had turned to walk away before the man paused. Alfred seemed to consider something, head tilted just the slightest bit, and then he reached some decision. Turning back toward Clark, he fixed him with a barely-there smile.
“I must say that you’ve been quite the influence on Master Bruce. A social call like this one is rare at the Manor indeed, but I’m gratified to assist. I do miss the days when the estate was livelier.”
Clark blinked at Alfred, knowing there was a whole layer of meaning going on behind his words. Some of it, Clark thought he could guess at- that Alfred was glad that Bruce was trying to be social and that Clark’s friendship had helped. But there was something more complicated in Alfred’s eyes, and Clark wished he knew the old butler better. Alfred had known Bruce so long, had raised the man, and he understood Bruce in a way that no one else could.
“I always try to do right by my friends,” Clark finally replied, returning the smile with a small one of his own.
“Rightly so,” Alfred replied, and then he strode off to his work again, leaving Clark to turn over his words in his head.
“Livelier,” Clark murmured to himself, looking around the room again. The first night he’d been in the Manor, he remembered thinking that it seemed more like a museum than someone’s home. The elegance of the décor contributed to that feeling, of course, but the main problem was that the estate was so large and yet simultaneously so empty.
Clark knew that once he’d gotten old enough, Bruce had went travelling around the world- backpacking party tour if the media was to be believed. Although he hadn’t asked directly, Clark was sure that this was when Bruce had trained himself- both physically and mentally- for the job he’d already decided he was going to take in Gotham.
In the intervening years, what had the Manor been like? Had Alfred been here, taking care of the place and simply waiting for his wayward son to come home? Son… Perhaps Alfred wouldn’t use the same terms, because of that weird part where he was still employed by the Wayne family. It was true though- Clark had been here plenty enough to see that Alfred was a surrogate father much the same way Bruce was for Dick now.
The addition of Dick to the Manor would certainly make life livelier too. This brought Clark to another question: what had the Manor been like when Bruce first started as Batman? Had it been almost as empty as before- with Bruce constantly down in the belly of the earth below the estate rather than in it? Less lonely for Alfred of course but probably difficult to watch.
Brucie had a lot of friends, but he didn’t seem to entertain at the Manor often. How many of Brucie’s friends were actually Bruce’s friends as well? Probably not many…
Clark was so deep in his contemplation of the Manor, of Bruce, of Alfred, that he didn’t even hear Diana’s approach. The ringing doorbell startled him, and he jumped out of his seat. In a moment he was out of the sitting room and heading for the door. He was opening it for Diana as Alfred came around the corner.
“Oh, thank you, sir,” Alfred said, hurrying forward at the sight of them both in the entryway.
Even in a simple white and blue sundress, Diana looked elegant and regal. Her eyes were already taking stock of the entry hall, the richness of the surroundings meant to impress, and then she turned her gaze to Clark.
“Hello Clark.” She gave him a hug, and when she pulled back, she looked between Clark and Alfred. “I’m not late, am I?” Her brown eyes were bright and expressive most of the time, and so it was no surprise that he could already see the teasing in them.
“Not at all, Madam,” Alfred replied, bowing deeply. “You must be Ms. Diana Prince. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Diana looked at Clark again, her brow high. She strode forward, her hand finding Alfred’s elbow. “Your manners are impeccable, but I demand no such ceremony. What’s your name?”
“Alfred Pennyworth, Madam.” Alfred straightened, and his expression was flat and almost scolding. “Indeed, you may demand no ceremony, but every visitor who graces this house deserves it. The world could stand a bit more politeness.”
A brief staring contest followed, one of Alfred’s brows just barely arched while Diana studied his face.
Diana was the one to break the tension, a broad grin spreading across her face. “Well spoken! I can’t argue that.”
“I wouldn’t try to argue that particular point with Alfred,” Clark said, coming to stand beside them.
“A wise decision, sir. This way please.” Alfred’s body language was carefully orchestrated for the role of butler, and no movement was wasted. There was an uncanny stillness in his body even when he walked that reminded him of Bruce as Batman.
All three members of the Wayne household were dramatic in their own ways, and Clark found himself smiling as he and Diana were led through the gorgeous house and out to a dome gazebo nestled in the back gardens. Unlike the front lawn which was still in the process of growing into a ‘natural’ garden, the back garden was carefully manicured and planned. Luncheon was set up already on a lovely grape vine themed white wrought-iron table. The table had four matching chairs with the same intricately designed art nouveau style curling vines that ended with detailed leaves and grapes.
More than that, Clark had a suspicion that the set was actually vintage- heirloom kind of old- and that would make it the most expensive patio furniture that he’d ever seen.
On the opposite side of the table, Dick and Bruce were standing at the edge of the veranda, admiring the gorgeous rose bushes. They were casually dressed at least, in nice jeans and button up shirts. Probably more expensive than most of Clark’s closet combined but it wasn't nearly as fancy as they could be dressed. When they came into view, Dick had practically his whole face buried in one of the largest roses, and Bruce was simply watching him with a pensive expression on his face.
“Master Bruce, Master Dick,” Alfred said then. “Your guests have arrived.” Alfred moved to the side and beckoned them to step up inside the gazebo.
“Thank you, Alfred,” Clark said as he entered. Bruce had went just as still as Alfred was, but Dick turned eagerly to them.
“Hey Clark! Hello, Ms. Prince! Come and see the roses! Bruce’s mom planted them when he was young!” Dick came across the gazebo to grab Clark’s hand, then he offered the other to Diana with the brightest smile he could muster.
Without a moment of hesitation, Diana smiled and took his invitation.
And so two of the most powerful beings on the planet allowed a boy to drag them by the hand over to admire roses. Throughout the greeting, Bruce was quiet, and Clark chanced a glance over at him while Dick pointed out the ‘best smelling rose’ to Diana. There was no trace of Brucie yet. Instead, Bruce looked… awkward, shy. His eyes were intense though, flitting from Dick to Diana. Dick held a rose still for her, and Diana leaned down to take a deep appreciative inhale. All the while, Bruce simply watched the interaction.
“Indeed, this is a fine smelling rose,” Diana said, approval in her voice as she straightened up.
Before Dick could reply, Bruce said in a quiet intent voice, “Dick, where are your manners? You should introduce yourself first.”
Dick shot a huffy guilty look over at Bruce, but then he turned his big blue-grey eyes on Diana. He offered his hand to shake. Instead of simply introducing himself, he said, “Any friend of Clark’s is a friend of mine! You can call me Dick!”
The bold greeting made Diana smile. “And you can call me Diana.” She turned a challenging look on Bruce then. “What about your manners, Mr. Wayne? You haven’t introduced yourself either.”
Dick’s expression absolutely lit up, and he put his hands on his hips to give Bruce a sassy look as well. "Yeah Bruce! Mind your manners!"
There was the quietest huff of laughter from Alfred that Clark would've missed without super-hearing. Clark barely managed not to laugh himself, but his broad grin was probably giving him away far more than Alfred’s almost inaudible chuckle.
“My apologies,” Bruce said, and he took a step forward. “My name is Bruce Wayne, but you may call me Bruce.” And then he reached for Diana’s hand, and instead of shaking it, he bowed slightly as he lifted it to his lips to kiss her knuckles. If anyone else had done this, Clark would probably find it inauthentic and awkward- a dated, bizarrely showy gesture and usually flirtatious to boot.
But Bruce was elegant and sincere and handsome enough to look like he’d fallen out of a Jane Austen novel. The kiss didn’t linger or turn into Brucie flirting either. Bruce simply let her fingers slip from his own, and he offered her a smile. “I’m glad you could make it,” Bruce said, stepping out of her space. He was retreating like a wallflower, a funny idea given how forward the man could be.
Ahhh, so this was what it was like to meet Bruce the first time authentically without any personas in the way. Clark found he actually was a little jealous. Not of the hand kissing or how gorgeous a picture Bruce and Diana both made together or anything like that—Clark was jealous that Diana hadn’t had to wade through the acts to meet this Bruce first. Even after Clark admitted to knowing his secret identity, Bruce had opted to rifle through his personas instead of just… being himself. Clark was getting the impression that Bruce wasn't sure how to be himself either, and that was why Bruce became quiet and reserved until he found his footing.
“You know me by name already,” Diana said then, looking infinitely amused. “I can see everyone in this house was trained to have graceful manners.” And she shot a smile at Alfred. “I’ll allow Mr. Pennyworth his politeness, but I won’t have formalities from a comrade, Bruce.”
Bruce stiffened but barely, and he shot a sharp glance at Clark. Then he looked at Diana again, his smile becoming a flat neutral expression that absolutely radiated displeasure. “I prefer not to discuss such things out of uniform,” he replied, ice in his tone.
“We don’t have to discuss anything, Bruce,” Diana said, kindness shining on her face. “I simply want to be accorded the courtesies reserved for a friend rather than a special guest.”
“Hmmm…” Bruce said, Batman’s thoughtful stillness written in every line of his posture. After an excruciatingly long moment, he replied, “I shall try.”
Before Diana could speak again, Dick gasped in utter shock. Everyone had quite forgotten he was standing there during the formal introduction, because a little startled jolt went through the assembled adults- well, minus Alfred. Despite his interest in the proceedings, Alfred was surveying the whole party with the studied disinterest of a servitor.
They all turned to Dick whose eyes were huge as he looked from Diana to Bruce to Clark. Then his gaze fixed on Bruce in a look of utter shocked betrayal. Bruce took a step toward him, concerned and confused, as Dick took a huge breath.
“You invited WONDER WOMAN, and you didn’t tell me?!? I would’ve dressed nicer!! Bruce, how could you?!” Dick’s whole face was turning red, almost unable to look at Diana now that he had put together who he was meeting.
Bruce looked as close to gob smacked as Clark had ever seen him, brows furrowed over wide eyes and lips parted. The expression made Bruce look as though he wanted to say something and was too bewildered to work out quite what.
Diana laughed heartily at the two of them, delighted by Dick and Bruce both. "Yes, I am Wonder Woman as well, but you needn't worry about your clothes. You look quite handsome, Dick."
Dick's focus shifted to Diana, and he said, “Omigod, Ms. Diana! It’s so nice to meet you. My mom thought you were just the coolest- like, an inspiration to women everywhere!” And then he was directly in front of Diana, expression intense and bright as he looked up into her face. “My family even had a costume inspired by your armor! It was deep red with like, these golden wings on the front and…” Dick’s face scrunched with emotion, and Clark’s heart stopped as he realized that he’d seen this costume in online articles.
It was the costume his parents had died in.
Bruce must’ve realized as well, because his jaw was tight, tension and worry flashing in his eyes. Clearly the man hadn’t known this, or he might’ve handled the meeting differently. He hovered at the edge of the interaction, attention fixed on the pair of them and ready to intervene at any moment. As always, Clark was impressed by how protective Bruce was of his ward, how attentive he was to his needs.
Fortunately, Dick didn’t cry and instead rallied bravely to say, “And it was one of my favorite costumes. I always wondered if you would like it, if you saw it.”
Though she hadn’t talked about Dick on the phone the night before, Diana's expression made it obvious that she understood the gravity of Dick’s words. She took a knee in front of him, putting herself more on Dick’s eye level, and she offered one of her fierce smiles. “Your family gave me a great honor when they crafted such a garment. I know I would've loved the costumes if I had had the chance to see them.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry that I never met your mother, because I would have had the pleasure to tell her that I take the greatest inspiration from my fellow women as well.”
Dick’s bottom lip trembled briefly before he was smiling bright as sunshine at Diana. “That’s awesome! You’re awesome!” Then he threw himself into Diana’s arms, giving her a tight hug. “I’ve got some cool pictures of the costumes, if you wanna see ‘em.”
“I’d be delighted,” Diana said, hugging him and threading her fingers gently through his hair.
When he pulled back, Dick nodded and said, “After lunch though. I’ve been hungry like, all morning.”
Diana grinned and nodded. “I’ve been quite interested in the menu since I was invited. Such care went into the meal planning, it’s hard not to be.” Diana’s gaze flickered over to Alfred, and she smiled at him. “It is a lovely spread indeed.”
Alfred replied to the compliment with a polite nod, and he said, "Please enjoy, Madam."
With that, Dick moved to pull out Diana’s chair for her in the most gentlemanly way he could manage. Diana seemed amused at the fuss he was making, but she allowed it- though she returned the favor by reaching out to push Dick’s chair out for him in return.
Bruce remained at the edge of the gazebo, watching intently, and Clark caught his eyes to give him an encouraging smile. Bruce didn’t quite smile back, but he accepted the encouragement with a little nod. Then he moved to one of the two empty chairs and pulled it out. Instead of sitting, Bruce gave a dignified little bow and gestured for Clark to sit.
“I can’t let Dick’s manners outshine mine, now can I?” Bruce said, almost smirking. It wasn’t like the teasing flirtations of Brucie Wayne. The teasing was more earnest, humor brightening the smirk into something more charming than lewd, and Clark’s whole face was hot from the effect it had on him.
“How dashing,” Clark said as casually as he could, and he slid into the seat. Bruce didn’t push his chair in for him or anything. In fact, the man never even touched him, but Clark could practically feel Bruce’s gaze lingering on him as though it were a physical caress.
Clark watched Bruce settle in his seat, and then he realized that Diana and Dick were both staring at him. Diana gave him the most knowing, smug smile possible, and Dick assessed him with that familiar fledgling detective look. It was bad enough that Diana had cottoned on to his burgeoning feelings but now Dick…?
Oh, Clark was definitely screwed.
For the table, imagine this but in a fully restored condition.
I headcanon that Diana has a tendency to use names a lot when she addresses people, a way to remind them "I see you. I hear you. Your ideas and your issues matter to me." I don't know why, but she just seems like the type to be careful about addressing people by their names throughout a conversation to me.
Here's the costume I always got Wonder Woman vibes from- and it was the outfit they die in in the animated series. To me, it looks very much like they borrowed some elements from Wondy while also being careful not to be just a redo of her outfit- almost like an homage. (Here's another image from a different continuity that I found when I went to get the first picture.) it's always made me wonder what kind of interest the family had of supers. I think Dick is always a Supes fan but what if his whole family kinda had a soft spot for heroes? His mom surely would love Wonder Woman, imo. Family arguments about just who the coolest superhero was definitely happened at the Grayson dinner table.
Chapter 8: The Courtesies Accorded to Friends, pt. 2
A continuation of the garden party. Dick introduces Diana to some important American television, and Bruce and Clark have a heart-to-heart. Clark might just make a startling discovery.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Lunch started out quiet at first, everyone tucking into the light but delicious meal. Dick kept sending starstruck looks at both Clark and Diana which was incredibly cute if a little embarrassing.
Diana was the one to finally jumpstart the conversation, thankfully avoiding superhero stuff in favor of asking after Dick’s life in Gotham City now that he was settled here for a while. A lot of it was things that Clark had heard of before- Dick’s studies, his life at the Manor, the books he’d been reading-, but he still listened attentively. Bruce didn’t add much to the conversation, quieter than he was during Clark’s first dinner at the Manor.
His seriousness didn’t faze Diana, and she addressed remarks and questions to Bruce here and there to draw him into the conversation. Clark didn’t realize until Diana nudged his foot under the table that he himself was being quieter than usual too.
Honestly, he wasn’t even sure why exactly, except now that they were all sitting down to lunch like this Clark felt like a teenager introducing his boyfriend to a close friend for the first time. He was shy and awkward and felt like he was waiting for her to say he had bad taste in relationships.
Since Clark was not dating Bruce, it was an utterly ridiculous way to feel. And yet…
He kept watching for signs from Diana and Bruce to determine if they were getting along, if they could be friends if given enough time.
By the middle of dessert (which was a gorgeous restaurant quality strawberry shortcake), conversation was trailing off a little with both Clark and Bruce needing a bit of prodding to participate.
Then Dick decided to rock the boat in perhaps the best way.
Curiosity shining in his eyes, he asked Diana, “So, if you’re an Amazon, do you have a wife like Xena??” He licked a bit of cream from the edge of his lip before he continued, “I mean, they don’t call Gabrielle her wife most of the time, but they’re soulmates which is kinda the same thing.”
Politely perplexed was the best description of Diana’s expression. “I’m not married,” she replied, and she tilted her head. “Who is this Xena? I don’t know of her.”
Clark wasn’t at all surprised that Diana didn’t know who Xena was, but the show was old enough now to be called a classic-- he was more taken aback that Dick had seen it.
Dick’s eyes went round, all childish shock and eagerness to share. “You don’t know Xena Warrior Princess?! She’s so cool though!! It’s kinda an old show but like, super good. You wanna watch some episodes with me after lunch?”
At the question, Diana glanced over at Bruce who covered his mouth with his hand. For a second Clark thought he might be embarrassed at the boldness of Dick’s question, but when he pulled his hand away, Bruce had clearly just swallowed a smile.
His eyes were laughing for him though as he said, “Yes, Diana. If you’d like to stay, you can tell us all how…” Bruce made a hitching sound that resembled the start of laughter before he cleared his throat instead. “How accurate a depiction Xena Warrior Princess is with regards to Amazon life.”
“It’s a story about Amazons?” Diana asked, expression turning thoughtful and curious. “I wouldn’t mind watching something like that with you, Dick.”
“Am I invited?” Clark said, not even pretending to hold back his grin. Although it was a campy entertaining classic, Xena was notorious for not getting basic historical timelines correct much less anything too detailed. Diana’s reaction would be interesting to say the least.
“Of course!” Dick said with a grin, glancing over at Bruce for permission. Bruce only nodded, actually full-on smirking now, and with that, Dick was out of his seat, offering his hand to Diana again “We can watch it up in the media room! C’mon. I have the whole set on DVD!”
“Let’s go then,” Diana said, indulging Dick’s excitement. She shot an amused look the other two adults at the table.
“I’ll follow in a minute,” Bruce said. “I’ll need to grab my laptop first.”
Clark started to say that he’d follow them after he finished the last bit of his shortcake, but Diana didn’t even ask- like she assumed that Clark would be staying at Bruce’s side if he could. She allowed Dick to lead her back to the house, Alfred at their heels. For the moment, at least, Clark and Bruce were alone.
“Sooooo,” Clark asked. “I know you’re into Gray Ghost and Spider-man. Is Xena one of the things you’ve shared with Dick since he moved here? Seems a bit old for a kid his age to know about.”
Bruce shook his head. “Actually, Dick’s parents were fans of it. In fact, Dick has a surprisingly thorough knowledge of a lot of old media.”
“His parents passed on a love of older stuff then huh?” Clark asked, the thought making him fond and sad at once.
“Well yes,” Bruce said slowly. “But there was another reason, I think. Movement.”
Clark blinked at him and tilted his head. “What do you mean movement?”
“Xena, like several of the old movies and shows Dick watched with his parents, has a lot of overacting. The gestures, the body language, the backflips. It’s part of what lends campy charm to the whole thing. For a family of trapeze artists, it’s almost a training video on entertaining movement and expression.”
At this point, both of their desserts were gone, but they hadn’t made a move to leave the table yet.
“Ahhhh, I see what you mean. They probably watched a lot of silent films too if that’s the case,” Clark replied, thinking back on videos he himself had watched about nonverbal communication when he was coming up with his own body language for his personas.
“In fact, they did,” Bruce said with a smile. He cleared his throat, and he pushed back from the table finally. “If we don’t hurry, they’ll start without us. I can’t wait to see Diana’s reaction to a 1990s American idea of what ancient Amazonian culture was.”
“It should be interesting alright,” Clark said, moving to grab and stack the dishes.
Bruce was about to simply leave before he saw what Clark was doing. He cocked his head and assessed Clark, thoughtful. Then he huffed a laugh. “Polite Kansas farm boy,” he said softly.
If Clark were being daring, he’d say that Bruce’s tone was fond. Bruce shook his head, but he still moved to grab a service cart that had been discreetly tucked away near the gazebo. Together they stacked the lunch dishes onto the cart and were just finishing up when Alfred reappeared.
“Sirs!” Alfred said, tone scolding. “You shouldn’t have troubled yourself!” He hurried forward to take charge of the cart from them. “Master Bruce, you’re wanted in the media room. Hurry on. I’ll bring light refreshments up in a moment.”
“Of course,” he said. “I’m sorry all your sophisticated luncheon plans have turned into a television marathon.”
Alfred arched a brow at him. “Sophistication was never my primary concern for today’s plans.”
“And what was your primary concern?” Bruce said, arching an eyebrow as well.
“What indeed, sir!” Alfred replied, the edge of his mouth twitching.
Bruce scoffed and shook his head, turning back toward the house without another word and striding toward the door. Clark and Alfred exchanged a glance, and then Clark shrugged before he made to follow him.
Watching Xena with Diana was a one of a kind experience, Clark would give it that. She generally seemed to enjoy it, despite the numerous inaccuracies that she pointed out. Beyond the errors, though, she was utterly charmed by the action, the characters, and even the costuming. She found it humorous and exciting, and after some of the more climactic scenes, Diana was alight with energy.
They had only watched a few episodes that Dick had hand-picked for ‘awesomeness’ before Diana declared she needed to be up and moving. This had led the whole group to the back lawn again, though this time to a wide expanse of grass that looked like it was usually used for croquet. Today, however, the space was being used for broadsword combat training. Diana and Dick both had heavy training swords, and she was teaching Dick how to use it. In all actuality, Diana had wanted to practice with a chakram as well, but apparently Bruce didn’t have such a thing readily on hand. So sword training it was- Dick all bright eyes and eager energy and Diana a firm handed teacher full of power and authority.
Clark had decided simply to watch, realizing how unique Dick’s physical skill set would be. Starting off as an acrobat then going on to learn fencing and hand to hand combat from Batman and then learning how to use a broadsword from Wonder Woman herself. To be honest, Dick was probably better suited for fencing with his speed and his leaner build, but despite the sweat shining on his face and drenching his hair, Dick looked to be having the time of his life hefting the weighted training sword.
Throughout the viewing and the sword training, Bruce worked on something on his laptop. Clark wasn’t sure if it was Wayne Enterprises business or Bat-related, but he didn’t think it was polite to ask. When they were watching Xena, Clark had an easier time of tearing his attention away from Bruce, but in the shade at the little lawn table, Clark’s focus kept being drawn to Bruce’s hands as his fingers flew over the keys.
Finally, Bruce spoke, though his eyes never left his screen. “Something on your mind, Kent?”
“Uhhhh,” Clark said, biting back his instinct to blurt the honest answer (which in this case was ‘Yes, you,’ but he doubted Bruce would appreciate that.) “I guess I’m just confused.”
“About.” Bruce’s word was clearly a question but lacked any kind of tone that would indicate as much.
“Well, when I brought up this idea to you, you threw a fit and left the diner and didn’t text me back for days. And yet, suddenly out of the blue, you show up with these invites.” Clark watched Diana as she successfully dodged one of Dick’s lunges and then rapped him on the shoulder with her training sword. “And I love that you did. I think that this is amazing, and it’s going so well, but also. I dunno. I wish I knew why you got so upset.”
After another burst of typing, Bruce sighed and saved his progress. He minimized his work and pushed the laptop back on the table, revealing that his background was a picture of Dick leaping down out of a tree and into an obliging lake. Despite the blur of motion on the picture, Dick’s beaming smile was still easy to see, and all in all the effect of the photo was intriguing. The tranquility of the nature in the backdrop and the calm surface of the lake made Dick in the center of the photo seem like a point of brightness and energy in a still and quiet world. Perhaps it was presumptuous on Clark’s part to think maybe that was how Bruce saw his new ward’s place in his own life.
He wasn’t about to ask that either. At least now he could deduce that Bruce was working on Wayne Enterprises paperwork. Clark couldn’t see Bruce keeping Bat-related case work and unmasked civilian photographs on the same machine.
After a pause long enough to be awkward, Bruce finally managed to find his words. “I… I’m not good at this,” he admitted, seemingly out of nowhere, but Clark was well acquainted with the circuitous windings of the man’s mind. This would somehow loop back around to the initial point somehow. “Of all my adult friendships, the two of the most important are Veronica Vreeland- who by the way has been kidnapped or harassed by my so-called ‘rogues gallery’ on many occasions- and…” He let out a long-tired breath, expression pinched and hard. After another deep breath, Bruce pinned him with his cool gaze. “And Harvey Dent. I assume you know how that relationship has been in recent days.”
“Harvey Dent…” Clark repeated, his heart clenching in sympathy. Of course, he’d seen Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne together in the media before Harvey became Two Face, but he’d never thought all that much on it. In fact, Harvey Dent used to rub elbows with a lot of high-ranking people, and Clark had never stopped to wonder if Harvey had been a particularly close friend to Bruce. At the time, Clark hadn’t thought too long on Bruce or Harvey at all, but now, he’s remembering all the times Batman has had to face off against Two-Face…
Bruce didn’t speak again, merely humming as he looked out over the fight as Dick gave a shout of victory as he managed to push Diana back a step. The sounds of mock battle were distant to Clark as all of the information that he knew about Dent both from Justice League data and the daily news reports came back to him. He was keenly aware how hard Batman had worked to help Two Face get well after his accident, and knowing that Batman and Bruce were the same person made an already tragic situation that much worse.
“Oh Bruce…!” Clark finally managed, voice a little choked and small. Clark reached out to curl his fingers around Bruce’s wrist, his thumb over his pulse point and his palm cupping the back of Bruce’s hand. “I didn’t know—”
“No, it’s fine,” Bruce cut in sharply. He didn’t pull his hand back, but he turned to look at Clark again. “I simply want you to understand why… why this is hard for me. In the diner that day. I wasn’t.” He didn’t trail off- he simply stopped, as though he had no more words to say.
“Wasn’t what?” Clark prompted softly, squeezing his hand.
Voice dropping down low, barely above a whisper, Bruce finally said, “I wasn’t ready to hear someone put voice to my own thoughts. I realized myself that Wonder Woman would only be able to help Robin so much if she didn’t know him out of the mask. You… surprised me with a conversation I wasn’t ready to have. You’re always doing that.”
“What? Am I really?” Clark asked, confused. Usually Clark simply said what was on his mind or brought up what he felt was the obvious thing to discuss. As he waited for Bruce to elaborate, he was memorizing the weight and the heat of Bruce’s hand under his own, glad he was allowed to offer physical comfort even in the smallest of ways.
Bruce’s expression was tight as he said, “Yes, you are. Though clearly you hardly ever realize you’re doing it.”
Then Bruce did something that Clark was not prepared for at all. Bruce twisted his hand as though to yank it back, but instead, he slowed down. Bruce's fingertips slid up along Clark’s palm, a ghost of a touch that punched the breath from his lungs. The touch only lasted a few seconds, but Clark's whole world had reduced down to the feel of those fingers- rougher than his own from years of hard work- along his skin.
Too soon, the touch was over as Bruce's hand slipped free from his own entirely.
Clark’s throat felt dry, his hand tingling with the lingering sensation of Bruce’s fingertips against his. He wanted to speak, but his mind was a swirl of panicked and confused thoughts.
Did Bruce do that on purpose? That could’ve have been an accident, but Bruce isn’t exactly known for accidents. Did Bruce want to touch me? Was Bruce trying, clumsily, to reciprocate the comforting touch?
Despite the rapid string of questions firing off in his brain, Clark was too stunned to give voice to any of them. Instead he found himself watching the blush crawl up the back of Bruce’s neck and listening to the uptick in Bruce’s heartbeat. Clark had no idea what his own expression looked like, but he knew it couldn’t be nearly so neutral as Bruce’s was at that moment.
Still… the blush had climbed all the way to Bruce’s cheeks at this point.
“Ridiculous,” Bruce muttered, even as he curled his other hand around his fingers as if—
As if he’s chasing the memory of my skin against his, Clark thought wildly. Could it be that he’s feeling this same huge thing developing between us as I am?
Before Clark could say anything else or even react to the small but surely monumental moment between them, Bruce stood up and shouted at Diana and Dick that it was time to go back in. When Clark tore his eyes away from Bruce, he dazedly noticed that Dick was getting pretty winded and sweaty at this point- though of course Diana looked perfectly composed. Dick tossed his training sword aside and flopped dramatically into the grass as though exhausted, but Clark was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t even manage a smile at the dramatics.
At least not while Bruce was making a hasty retreat, shoulders tight and his laptop gripped in tense hands.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur for Clark. After the impromptu lesson was cut short, Bruce was making excuses to end the afternoon visit. Goodbyes were mostly quick, though Dick didn’t want either Clark or Diana to leave. He attempted to wheedle Bruce into letting them stay for dinner, but Bruce’s answer was firm.
“You have schoolwork, and I have casework,” Bruce had said, and so Clark and Diana had left together.
Clark realized that he was being chased out, and if his mind hadn’t been in such a tailspin, he might’ve tried to push for a little longer at Wayne Manor. Instead, he allowed himself and Diana to be hurried out into a cab.
Diana vocally approved of them all- Bruce, Dick, and Alfred-, and she was delighted with the visit. She had a lot to say, but Clark… he wasn’t really listening. It was so rude, so unlike him, but he was so stuck in his head. He managed to keep up enough responses that she wasn’t feeling slighted or ignored, but Clark knew she could feel the strangeness of his mood.
Instead of goading him to talk, Diana simply kept a watchful eye on him until halfway through the ride when she could ignore it no longer.
“Clark,” she said gently, putting a hand on his shoulder. “My friend, I know you were nervous about today, but everything has gone well. Even with the abrupt goodbyes, the day was a success. What troubles you now?”
At first, Clark couldn’t pull his gaze from the window, too embarrassed and lost in thought, but finally he turned to look at Diana. His internal struggles must’ve shown on his face, because she gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze. “Di… I think… I mean it occurred to me that...” He spoke haltingly and with effort before he managed to say on a soft whisper, “I think I might be falling in love with him.”
“Oh Clark,” Diana said, voice dripping with empathy and understanding, and for a second Clark was almost irrationally mad at her for it.
He couldn’t say why exactly except that he wasn’t looking for understanding or encouragement or… or anything really. He needed to say it, to make it real, and Diana had used that kind of a tone that always preceded advice from people. At the moment, any advice would feel premature, because he’d only just admitted his feelings himself. He didn’t need advice until he had time to process it.
Diana didn’t try to give him advice though. She simply gave him a knowing little smile. “What made you realize this today?”
“He… he touched me,” Clark replied. “He has never tried to touch me- well, he’s never tried to touch my bare skin at least and even when he fake flirted he only touched me over my clothes. When he touched me today, I realized how much I wanted him to.” He sighed and buried his face in his hands. “I knew before, of course. That I had a crush. I wanted his flirting to be real, I wanted to see him smile and hear him laugh. I just…” He trailed off, shrugging helplessly when the words wouldn’t come. How could he clarify feelings he was just now letting himself feel fully?
Diana understood well enough for the both of them though. “You didn’t know how deep your feelings had become until today?” Diana supplied, and Clark nodded. Diana rubbed his shoulder and smiled. “You seem more upset than I would’ve imagined. Love is a good thing, Clark. It makes us more powerful.”
“I can’t imagine that Bruce would see it that way,” he mumbled into his hands, half hoping that Diana wouldn’t hear.
“I think you underestimate him,” Diana replied thoughtfully. “Of course, you have more experience with him, but I saw a shy, lonely man who—”
Clark made a gesture with his hand, cutting her off. Mostly he didn’t want to talk about it, but he motioned toward the front of the taxi at the driver now pulling into the crowded streets of downtown Gotham.
Using his proximity for an excuse, not even sure how much the man could hear with the window between them closed, Clark simply said, “Not… not right now, Diana. This is a talk for later.”
The frown he got in response was concerned and scolding at once.
“Of course,” she replied, and she gave his shoulder one last squeeze before she released him.
Her expression made him feel guilty, but he was relieved to have a few moments to pretend nothing monumental had shifted inside him, to pretend that things would continue as normal for a little while longer.
A little while longer was actually only a few hours of not thinking about Bruce as he made his way home and did chores that needed doing. Well, and perform a few daring rescues. And save a few cats from trees. And help settle down a couple of riled up infants. And if maybe he spotted a few pedestrians that needed help crossing a busy street, he might’ve helped some of them out as well.
It wasn’t like he was stalling because he didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts in his own apartment on a Saturday evening. That would be ludicrous.
Yet as soon as he got back to his apartment, tired and keyed up at the same time, his feelings for Bruce were the only thing that occupied his mind. The feelings, sweet as they were, made him panic, because Clark was not good at hiding how he felt. Sure, he’d hidden his identity for years with pretty decent success, but his feelings always seemed to shine out of his eyes to anyone who knew him well enough to see them.
As Diana had. As Dick had. As Lois had, even though she’d never even seen him and Bruce in the same room after Clark learned about the man's alter ego. The way Clark had been responding to the other man’s texts was probably a dead giveaway to his eagle-eyed friend.
Inevitably Bruce would figure it out, and when he did, the friendship would be over. The man put on this whole flirtatious Brucie routine, sure, but he didn’t seem like the kind of person who would be willing to… what exactly? Date a teammate? Hold a long-term relationship? To be in love with Clark specifically?
It was probably a combination of all three, if Clark was being honest with himself. The hitch here was that Clark didn’t have a grasp on what he wanted either, and every time he tried to imagine what he might have with Bruce if his feelings were returned, the sensory memories of Bruce—of how his hair smelled, how his skin felt, how his cheeks looked when he blushed—turned his thoughts in a decidedly unchaste direction.
So, Clark forced his mind to the reality of what he knew about Bruce’s love life before he realized how little that actually was. He knew that Batman had a thing with Catwoman for a while- in fact still might, in that on-again, off-again way. Other than that, the fake affairs in the gossip rags were all he had to go on. None of those affairs were a real point of reference for how Bruce might react to an earnest advance from someone that knew about all sides of his life, and Clark probably couldn’t make such an overture anyways.
Which led him to the major issue really: even if Bruce potentially returned his interest, Clark could hardly expect him to take the initiative. The whole friendship so far had been Clark pushing while Bruce worked out of his carefully constructed boundaries. Romantic relationships weren’t really something he could push without feeling skeevy. When it came to friendship, he had honestly never minded being the one directing the friendship and nurturing it, always satisfied when Bruce reciprocated in his own little ways after he got comfortable with the relationship.
The subtle returns had been more than enough for Clark for a friendship, but he wasn’t sure if he could handle a romantic relationship like that. Always wondering if Bruce felt the same, always wondering if they were on the same page. Heaven help him, Clark been sent into a tailspin of ‘does he, does he not?’ from one gentle caress of his hand. Hours later, Clark was still agonizing over whether or not it was intentional, whether or not it meant anything at all.
Because even if it was absolutely on purpose, so gentle a touch could still be an expression of friendship and nothing more.
Clark realized that his thoughts were going in a circle, but he couldn’t stop them. Instead he laid awake in his bed all night, staring up through his ceiling at the stars.
Clark had hoped that he’d feel more settled by the time Monday rolled around, and he was back at work. No such luck, of course, and he spent most of Monday morning spacing out at his desk.
Lois realized something was up almost immediately, and by the middle of the afternoon, she’d figured out that it was related to Bruce. She’d known about the luncheon after all. Clark hadn’t kept his friendship with Bruce a secret- doing so would make the whole thing more suspicious in his opinion. After that first article, all the lunches and meetings seemed to be related to the good impression that he’d made.
Sure, Lois had made some cracks that Clark was entertaining Bruce’s whimsies for all the potential scoops, but she knew the truth. Clark enjoyed Bruce’s company, and she had accepted that well enough. For all Brucie’s shenanigans, Lois knew how charming he could be.
After several attempts to make conversations, she came over to his desk again and sat down on the top. She gave him her imperious reporter look and asked, “Did something happen with your not-crush on Saturday, Kansas? You’re being such a downer today. Tell me what’s up.”
Clark gave her his best dimpled smile, the kind he’d been using on his own Ma for years with varying success. “It’s nothing, Lois. I’m great. Just distracted.”
“Uh-huh,” Lois hummed in the most unconvinced way she could. “Sure. Distracted. By what though? It’s gotta be something big for you to be acting like a space-case all day.”
“Nothing particular at all,” he said, moving a folder to his desk drawer and trying not to look Lois in the eyes. Once she caught his gaze and gave him that look, he’d feel guilty.
“Which is why you ignored my question about your Saturday date entirely. Did something happen?”
This time, she leaned down into his eye line, gaze both assessing and kind. A strange mix, but one that Lois wore well. She’d be a damn good lawyer if she wasn’t so in love with journalism. He’s pretty sure that she could coax answers out of even the surliest witnesses on the stand if she tried hard enough.
“Something… may have happened,” he found himself unwillingly admitting. Lois was his best friend, and he never was any good at keeping non-cape related secrets from her. He gave a half shrug and moved to stand. The only surefire way to get out of a conversation that Lois wanted to have was to make an excuse to bolt.
“What kind of something…?” Lois prompted, already positioning her body so that he’d have to push past her if he wanted to get anywhere without walking backwards around his own desk.
Clark engaged in a brief staring contest with her, but they both knew who would win this little competition. After she arched her brow and impatiently tapped her foot, Clark finally blinked and caved. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Fine, I realized that maybe my not-crush might be a crush after all. Can we please not talk about it in the middle of the office?” Clark glanced meaningfully over at Cat Grant a few desks away.
Following his gaze, Lois smiled. “Well, you are surrounded by reporters who can smell gossip from a mile away.” She turned her eyes back to him, and she jabbed his chest twice. “We’ll wait but only because I don’t like to share my scoops. We’re getting a beer after work, Smallville, and I’m not letting you off the hook.”
Clark winced at her jabs, and he fell back a step. “Sure thing. I don’t think it’s that much gossip really, but uh, it would be nice to have a fresh perspective.”
Or at least a more normal one. He hadn’t yet continued his conversation with Diana because he had a feeling he knew what her advice would be. She would tell him to take the leap- to trust Bruce to accept him or let him down easy. He needed someone who would hear him out about his concerns and not give him a bold hero speech. Who better to do that than his best friend?
“Might have a crush on a billionaire but that’s no big deal. No gossip here,” Lois said under her breath, close enough that he could still hear her. Even with that bit of teasing, the last glance she threw towards him was one of concern…
He shook his head and slid back into his seat. Of course, she’d be concerned- Bruce Wayne was famous for breaking hearts.
As Clark settled into the booth tucked in the back of the bar, he found himself wishing, not for the first time, that alcohol had any effect on him. It would make this conversation so much easier if he had something to loosen the knot in his chest at least a little. He had mentally composed how he would present his current love issues without addressing the exact problems. A carefully mixed rendition of the actual issues with what Lois knew of Bruce’s love life was necessary for this conversation to be helpful, and he really hoped it would be.
He sat with his back to the wall, gazing out over the rest of the bar as he waited for Lois to catch up. She’d been in a spirited argument with some of the political writers by the copier when he’d left, and she paused mid-tirade as he walked out to give him a pointed look and a wave.
The music was loud, but the bar was mostly empty. It was a bit too early in both the week and the day to attract a lot of clientele, but Clark knew that it would be busier closer to dinner time. He pulled out his phone to distract himself. A poor distraction because his first order of business was to check his Instagram to see if Dick had posted anything. He didn’t think checking something he had permission to access should make him feel invasive, but feelings don’t always make sense. He found himself tucking his phone away again.
Thankfully, Lois caught up to him, striding into the bar with the kind of confidence and strength that always had heads turning toward her.
When she made it to the booth, she tossed her bag into the seat with exaggerated carelessness and said, “Have you bought us beers yet, cause if you haven’t, I’m gonna get us a whole pitcher. This conversation is gonna need it I think.”
“A pitcher? Lois, that’s going a bit overboard, don’t you think?” Clark replied, not really worried about himself but more for how hard it would be to put up with a hungover Lois at work the next day if she decided it was a good night to get drunk.
“It’s one pitcher between the two of us, Kansas. It’s not that much.” Lois went to the bar to order a pitcher and an appetizer tray, and she came back to slide into the booth across from him. “Now that that’s done, do you wanna wait for the alcohol to get here or do you wanna jump right in?”
Clark almost laughed at the expression in her eyes- the bright fierce light that she always had when she was about to hound a source- but he let out a huffing breath. “Oh, well, uh, why not jump right in?” Although she didn’t know it, the alcohol wouldn’t affect how willing he was to talk or how easily the words came.
“Your choice, Smallville,” Lois said, and she leaned on her elbows. “Sooooo, you might have a crush after all? Finally seeing what I see every time the man texts you, huh?”
“Right to the marrow, as always Lois,” Clark said, grinning and amused. Then he switched gears for a more serious heart to heart. “And I… yeah. I think I might be falling for him, Lois. It’s scary, actually.” Clark moved to shrug his over-sized coat off, and he admitted, “I just don’t know if he could ever feel the same way back.”
Lois’s expression became more sympathetic, the concern that he had glimpsed earlier creeping back. “He doesn’t seem the type to call a person back after he’s had his fun.”
“He’s not as bad as all that, Lois,” Clark replied. “I know he’s got a reputation, but he’s…” Clark paused and hummed as he tried to make the words line up right. “He’s a kind man, but he doesn’t really know how to connect. He struggles with it, and it leads to heartache sometimes.”
There, Clark thought. An acknowledgement of his history while wrapping it back around to what needs to be talked about.
He wasn’t sure Lois would buy it, and she tapped her fingernails on the smooth wood finish. She looked thoughtful for a long moment before she nodded. “I couldn’t imagine you liking a man who uses people for one night stands and hurts them constantly. But I also know how charming he can be. Are you sure he’s not the one playing you here?”
Clark paused in answering as the waitress brought them a large tray of appetizers- several kinds of fried foods arranged around a dipping sauce- and a large pitcher of beer.
“See, I would be concerned about that if he were actually acting interested in me.” He took a fry and popped it into his mouth. He was too busy enjoying his food to notice the incredulous look Lois was training on him. When he did finally look up, he startled a little. “What?”
“Not interested? Clark! Every time I’ve seen you two together he’s flirted outrageously!” Lois said. “It’s almost pitiful actually, some of the stuff he thought was gonna work on you.”
Blood rushed to his cheeks, and he shook his head. “That’s different though. I don’t think he really meant most of that stuff. He flirts with everyone like that. Means it’s not all that special when he flirts that way.”
“Is that so?” Lois asked, pouring them both a large glass off beer and pushing one over to Clark. She took a long slow drink of it, looking at him over the rim of the glass. “And what is he like when his flirting is real?”
“What?!” Clark asked, surprised again. He’d never considered what Bruce’s authentic flirting might look like- just what it didn’t look like.
“If you know the other flirting he’s done is fake,” Lois said, rephrasing the question and saying it slower, “Then what does real flirting from Bruce Wayne look like?”
“I don’t…” Clark felt almost silly for not having thought of that. “I don’t know actually. I… hmmm. Suppose I should, what? Actually flirt with him? See where it gets me?”
Lois laughed, almost delighted by the confusion shining on Clark’s face. “You’re such a ridiculously earnest person, and if Wayne doesn’t like what he sees then he’s a moron.” She reached over and patted his hand. “Listen, I know that his reputation precedes him, but despite your naïve country bumpkin routine, I do think that you’re a good judge of character. If you say he’s a good man, I believe you.”
Clark smiled at her, worry abating just a little as he appreciated her words. “Thanks Lois. I’ll tell you what I can, y’know? He’s kinda a private guy, but I can tell you about how he is when there are no cameras around.”
“I was getting the sense he was kinda private with all the living alone on a manor with zero neighbors nearby and hardly ever inviting people out to see him,” Lois said, expression alight with mischief. “But I do have one more thing to say before you wax poetic about your crush.”
“Oh?” Clark managed. “And uh, what is that?”
Lois reached over again, but this time, she grabbed his hand, giving it a tight squeeze. “You say he’s a good man, sure, but I know for fact that you’re one of the best guys out there. If he hurts you or breaks your heart, I’ll be after him. Money or not, he won’t know what hit him.”
Clark laughed despite how much Lois meant those words, a mental image of Lois versus the Batman in his head. He squeezed her fingers, and he said, “Thanks Lois—for being such a good friend.”
“Of course, Kansas. Who else is gonna make sure no one takes advantage of those good farm boy manners?” Lois topped off her beer and leaned back. “Now, spill. Tell me about boy billionaire when he’s with you.”
So Clark smiled, and he told her- not everything, not by a long shot. But he told her what he could about Bruce- told her how shy and awkward he could be. Told her how he loved Gray Ghost and Spider-man and crossword puzzles. Told her how he was with Dick. Told her about his wit and his humor. Nothing too in depth, but he gave her enough information that she was satisfied that Clark wasn’t being played.
“Sounds like you really love him, Clark,” Lois said, leaning her chin on her hand after the all the beer was gone, and Clark had forbidden her from buying more.
Unable to find the right words for that, Clark simply smiled and ducked his head bashfully, letting the words settle in his chest where they warmed him.
He did love Bruce, and no matter where that led, he’d enjoy the feeling while it lasted.
Listen, I need the Xena-Diana crossover like I need breathing it would be TOO GOOD. There is a throw away line in BtAS that Dick failed Greek mythology and if all he knew was Xena well.....
Also the Jane Austen meaningful hand touch is one of the scenes I've been dying to get on here y'all. All good romances need one ;)
I adore Lois and even when it's superbat, Lois and Clark should be buds !
Chapter 9: A Private Moment
Clark and Bruce have a couple of private moments, and none of them seem to go to plan.
Trigger warning for this chapter: there is reference to child sexual abuse. Nothing is described or explicit, but I like to give warning just in case.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Flirting with Bruce sounded like a fantastic idea while talking to Lois over drinks, but when it actually came down to figuring out how to do it, Clark was a little stumped. How did you go about flirting with a man like Bruce Wayne? His whole daytime persona fed off of how many people were into him, and indeed, there were an unnervingly large amount of ‘thirst tweets’ about Brucie. Someone in the celebrity gossip section on dailyplanet.com had even published an article about how tweets containing the words ‘Bruce Wayne’ and ‘daddy’ together had tripled since Dick Grayson's adoption.
Clark was trying not to think on that little factoid for too long.
Honestly the only thing Clark could really think to do was continuing as he had but… more pointedly. His feelings had been pretty obvious to several people, and so Bruce, master detective that he was, would definitely notice, right?
The next time Clark met Bruce at the diner, he timed it just so, and he was able to walk in after him. He slid in close, his hand resting on the small of Bruce’s back as he led him to their booth. If Bruce noticed anything strange about so intimate a gesture, he didn’t let on. It made Clark feel awkward enough that the next time he stepped in close and slid his hand to the small of Bruce’s back, he quietly asked, “Is this okay?”
Bruce had given him a narrow-eyed look, huffed, and replied tersely, “I’ll allow it.”
That wasn’t the most positive wording to be sure, but Clark was well aware that if Bruce didn’t like the touch, he would’ve forced him to stop the first time. Still, consent was necessary, and asking was the only way to really figure Bruce out since his non-verbals were so finely controlled. Most people leaned into or away from physical touch, but Bruce simply allowed it in the most passive way Clark had ever seen.
Clark realized with a sinking in his stomach that this likely came from the amount of people Brucie took out on dates that he wasn’t interested in at all, and yet he schooled himself to react to according to his script. Sure, maybe Bruce wasn’t all that uncomfortable by it at this point, but Clark couldn’t imagine doing anything close to similar for his own cover.
So Clark, as Superman, took to stopping in at the Batcave as well, and Batman accepted it in that grumbling passive way of his. Sure, Batman huffed and puffed particularly vehemently the first time, but he’d still hit the button to open the hidden entryway without Superman even having to ask.
Their nights together in the Batcave were intimate as well, albeit in a different way than their diner dates. Clark would hover over Batman’s shoulders and offer his own insights on cases. He’d pat Batman’s back while the man laid out his investigations. Apparently, Batman liked talking through his cases with someone else, and Superman was content to sit close, their knees very nearly touching, and listen.
Touching Bruce, both as himself and as Batman, was something that Clark liked though, and it was a natural enough escalation of their friendship… But maybe it wasn’t an obvious flirting tactic to go with. Clark was the doting type though, and all his other tactics were too obvious. If this wasn’t working, he wasn’t sure where to go with it next.
Then Clark hit a snag he hadn’t expected—he touched Bruce and Bruce-as-Batman more than before without even vaguely considering what he would do when confronted with Brucie Wayne.
The party was in Metropolis, and Clark hardly considered that Bruce Wayne might be there. Clark himself was only there because some of Lex Luthor’s new cooperate pals were going to attend. Superman couldn’t exactly show up, but Clark could at least be close to the action, listening in. A better choice would probably be to listen in from across town, but well, Clark preferred being up close especially since Luthor had developed ways to evade Superman's honed senses.
This particular party was hosted by a Luthor subsidiary company to close off a two-day tech and business convention. The event was scheduled as a ‘networking reception’ in the agenda, but everyone knew it was an excuse to wear fine clothes, drink deliriously expensive liquor, and make questionable decisions with other glamorous people.
Okay sure, that sounded exactly like the kind of thing that Bruce Wayne would show up to, but the man hadn’t attended a single one of the actual tech functions during the convention. Clark had no way at all to prepare himself for looking up to see Bruce practically glowing under the entrance lights in his bespoke suit and with his hair perfectly coiffed. The lights were low inside the hall to give the atmosphere a more intimate feel, and Clark was grateful that no one would notice his blush as he watched Bruce enter the room. He moved closer to the wall near one of the tables loaded with food, carefully apart from the other attendees.
Clark Kent was supposed to fade into the background anyways, but at the moment, he needed space to get himself back under control. The whole rich boy look Brucie went for never really worked on Clark before, but now that he knew the real Bruce, Clark couldn't help but appreciate how good the whole costume looked on him.
From the edge of the party, Clark tracked Bruce around the room, wondering what he would do when the man approached. Feeling jittery, Clark rubbed his sweaty palms on his slacks, and he tried to imagine what kind of flirtatious nonsense Bruce would come up with when he noticed him. Should Clark flirt back? He threatened to before, when they were at the museum.
"One of these days I'm going to flirt back, and you're going to regret all this teasing."
Clark shouldn’t have been that cheeky probably, but Bruce had simply quipped back at him, "As if I could ever regret a handsome man flirting with me~”
God, Clark hoped that was true, because he knew that when Brucie flirted this time that he’d be flirting back.
Perhaps he should try to get as much of his work and his investigation done before he had to confront that possibility…
For the next hour, Clark had managed to make good progress on both his work assignment and his Superman one, but not once had Bruce been close enough to talk to or even look him in the eyes. Pouty and feeling like a love-struck teenager, Clark was hovering near the bar as he considered that maybe Bruce had realized that all the touching was Clark’s inept attempt at flirting and was intentionally avoiding him here. Bruce didn’t seem the type to fake-flirt with a friend if he thought that he was leading them on. Despite the fact that this theory hinged on a lot of assumptions on Clark’s part, he couldn’t help but consider it. Bruce was so damn smart and kind and emotionally distant that it was hard to really be sure sometimes.
As he was ruminating on Bruce, the man himself appeared suddenly in front of him, grinning like a shark.
“My favorite reporter~” Bruce said, voice low and smooth. His collar had come undone at some point, and there was an edge of drunkenness to his tone. “You’ve been hiding from me! I had no idea you were here~”
“I’ve been here the whole time, Mr. Wayne,” Clark replied in a halting, embarrassed voice. “I, uh, figured you were just too busy to chat.”
“Never too busy for you, Mr. Kent,” Bruce said, moving in close to slide a hand along Clark’s lapels. The scent of liquor was easy to pick up from this distance.
Clark knew he was blushing, but he took the invitation to lean in closer, able to discern that the majority of the alcohol smell was actually coming from Bruce’s neck rather than his breath. Keeping his voice soft, just for the two of them, Clark murmured, “Wearing your whiskey like cologne today, Mr. Wayne? It does suit you, but I like the sandalwood better.”
A flash of annoyance almost too fast to catch flickered in his face before Bruce was shrugging carelessly. “Jealous, are we? I’m rich enough to bathe in the stuff if I choose to.” His long fingers were now plucking at the knot of Clark’s tie, pulling it loose as he continued, “If you’re looking for some of the top shelf whiskey, I always keep the best in my limo.”
There was a lewd invitation in the curve of Bruce’s smirk, and Clark was desperately shoving down the mental images that called up. Normally, this would be the point where Clark Kent would shrink back from Bruce and gently shoo him away. Tonight though, Clark steeled himself and pressed forward. Here goes nothing…!
“And what if I were interested?” he replied, reaching forward to put a hand on Bruce’s hip and draw him closer. “Would you call the limo around for us?”
The pause was a second longer than usual, Bruce’s glib responses usually coming rapid fire when he was in this persona. Bruce hadn’t expected Clark to flirt back, and he needed a moment to consider how to proceed. People around them were starting to notice Brucie at the edge of the party pinning a hapless reporter to the wall, a reality that made it very easy for Clark to act out the embarrassed confusion the crowd likely expected to see from him.
“Why, Mr. Kent,” Bruce said, voice dangerous in a different way now and almost too quiet to hear. “You are being bold tonight. I think we’ll need a bit of privacy, hmm~”
Bruce moved swiftly then, pushing in against his side and wrapping an arm around his waist. As always, Bruce never touched his skin directly, but he was plastered against his side and dragging him through the room. Clark put his arm around Bruce’s shoulder as he was clearly supposed to, overwhelmed suddenly by the proximity. Bruce was warm and close and looking at him with those maddeningly teasing eyes, and yet Clark knew this was an extension of Brucie.
Suddenly, his heart was twisting, worried that this had been a mistake. He was getting attention from Bruce, sure, but it wasn’t real in the way he wanted.
Clark didn’t have to fake how dazed and overwhelmed he felt as Bruce steered him down a hallway and into an abandoned corner. It was heavily shadowed and deserted, the kind of place Bruce had done God-knows-what with countless of his flings and dates.
“So you’re planning on being my scandal tonight, are you?” Bruce was saying, pushing Clark into the wall. His voice was more normal for the moment, lower and more serious. “At functions like this, I always end up on or under some warm handsome person, and you’re angling to be that hot body tonight, hmm? I didn’t think you liked that kind of notoriety, Kent.”
Despite his words and body language, Bruce didn’t look angry necessarily, only intense and calculating. He was curious about Clark’s reactions rather than put out by them. Clark allowed himself to be led, also just as curious about what Bruce would do.
“I dunno. Clark Kent has been in the news before, and I’m surrounded by press literally all the time. Getting caught in a coat closet with Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be that big of a deal.” Clark found Bruce’s hand, curling his fingers around his palm. Bruce’s hand was the only bare skin that Clark had ever been allowed to touch through the whole of their relationship. Maybe he was pushing his luck, but he tugged Bruce forward. “You’re kinda known for your indiscretions with the press after all. Last month you were putting the moves on Summer Gleeson, if I remember right.”
The moment was almost surreal because Bruce’s posture was so … staged. If anyone happened to turn the corner, the way Bruce was standing was almost posed to make their still rather mild conversation seem like something altogether different. Bruce was such a good actor, but Clark wasn’t playing a role. He wanted intimacy with Bruce, and he knew the detective had to see that written in his face and in every line of his body. How could Bruce miss something so obvious?
“You’re right,” Bruce agreed, tone as mild as before, even as he allowed Clark to draw him in closer. “But I still don’t think an indiscretion with me does anything for your cover as a mild-mannered country boy. If you needed me alone, Kent, you could’ve simply said as much.”
“Well,” Clark said, cheeks warm. “I mean, I didn’t really plan that far ahead. I just… I guess I wanted to see what you’d do?”
The question in his tone made Clark wince, because it sounded so earnest, so interested.
“Brucie Wayne,” Bruce replied, eyes dark and unreadable, “could never resist a man like you. You realized the best way to get a private moment with me was to play the game. And now you have me.”
“I, uh, well. Like I said, I didn’t really get this far in my planning,” Clark repeated, his whole world reduced down to Bruce’s hand still under his and his body too close to be anything other than intimate. He really hadn’t thought that flirting back might have him pressed close to Bruce in a dark corner, having a sotto voce discussion about their civilian personas.
All Clark wanted to see was what Bruce would do, and now Bruce had acted and well… Clark’s whole brain was awash of stage fright. He’d gotten himself here, but where was here exactly? What did he expect to happen? Was he actually calmly discussing the possibility of debauchery with Bruce in a hallway as part of their respective ‘covers?’
Bruce gave one of those warm chuckles that Clark loved so much and said, “You never plan far enough ahead, boy scout.” The use of Batman’s nickname for Superman sent a jolt of unexpected heat through Clark's body, and the only thing grounding him was Bruce’s voice as he added, “What do you need from me. You have something you need to talk about I assume.”
“No, actually, I just…” Clark started, but he glanced down the hallway as the sound of footsteps drew near to their hiding place.
Bruce’s sharp gaze followed Clark’s, and then he heard the approaching people as well. “Time’s up, boy scout,” he said in a jovial empty-headed Brucie voice. “Muss my hair up, if you please, darling.”
Then Bruce was shoving Clark fully against the wall, reaching down at the same time to grab hold of the back of his knee. Dumbstruck, Clark allowed Bruce to position them both, and the pose was a deliciously intimate one. Bruce had urged Clark to wrap a leg around his hip, and then he moved in tight, their bodies now pressed as close together as possible. Startled, Clark grabbed at the back of Bruce’s jacket almost on instinct, and Bruce had taken that as a go ahead to move his face in close to Clark’s neck.
Unfortunately, Bruce wasn’t even doing anything except hovering and breathing against his skin. Clark could feel every exhale as an intimate caress against his throat, and he reached up to cup Bruce’s head, wanting to urge his face down so that they were skin-to-skin for real. He didn’t though, Bruce’s words flashing through his mind.
“Muss up my hair, if you please, darling,” and wasn’t that the easiest request in the world? Clark slid his hand through Bruce’s soft hair, mussing it and playing with it at once.
“Like my hair?” Bruce asked, question actually in his tone for once. Then he was pulling Clark’s tie off and undoing the top few buttons one handed, his other hand sliding slowly up Clark’s back.
At this point, whoever was coming down the hallway had turned the corner and spotted them. At the sound of gasps, Clark tried to turn toward them, but Bruce’s head was still very much in the way. Apparently posing and startling apart wasn’t enough for Bruce, and instead, he moved even closer, nuzzling his nose along Clark’s jaw. Clark gasped, feeling the barely-there caress like a bolt of lightning in its intensity, and Bruce moaned in response, a sound that would surely be haunting Clark’s fantasies after this. Clark’s fingers tightened in Bruce’s hair, feeling almost delirious, as Bruce’s hips bucked into his own.
The click of a phone camera was what finally prompted Bruce to pull back, jolting out of Clark’s arms as though struck. He looked wide eyed and startled for second before grinning at the people at the other end of the hallway.
“Ohhhh voyeurs, how delightful. Too bad I’m not feeling in the mood to share!” Then he gave Clark a saucy look. “Meet me downstairs. I’ll bring the car around~” As if everything in this moment wasn’t utterly audacious and inappropriate, Bruce had one more surprise for Clark. He raised two fingers to his lips, pressing a kiss to the tips. Then he reached out and brushed those fingertips against Clark’s jaw as though he simply had to kiss him but was exercising some measure of restraint in front of strangers.
Showy and ridiculous and all Brucie, and yet Clark felt weak in the knees, skin burning where Bruce’s fingertips had touched him. Fuck, he was in over his head. Clark was too startled to do more than hastily button up his shirt with trembling hands, shove his tie into his pocket, and hurry down the hall after Bruce.
The ride back to his apartment was so normal that Clark was torn between disappointment and relief. On the one hand, he desperately wanted to talk about what had happened, but on the other, he wasn’t ready to yet either. Heck, he hadn’t even managed to process much of the moment beyond the overwhelming sensory overload that was Bruce pressed against him and breathing against his skin.
Bruce simply questioned him about who exactly Clark had been looking in on at the party, and Clark leapt on the chance to avoid talking about what had happened in the hallway. They’d talk about it later, and Clark would try and admit how much he’d enjoyed it…
For the moment, Clark swallowed down his thoughts, and he arrived home without a whisper of what he wanted to say. He managed to wait until the next morning to test his luck. On edge, nervous, trying to talk himself out of it, Clark decided to simply flirt as openly as he could and let the chips fall where they may.
‘I’m glad I got to see you last night, even if you tried to take advantage of me and my country boy ways,’ Clark had typed, hoping to get a flirtatious comment back. All the texts from the other man that Clark had received were from Bruce and never Brucie, and perhaps with the distance between them, they could both be a little bolder with each other. Maybe he could find out if Bruce really was struggling with the same emotions he was.
Twenty minutes later as Clark was finishing up breakfast, Bruce’s response lit up his phone screen. ‘Taking advantage implies I did something you didn’t want me to, and we both know that is very much not the case.’
Clark took a huge heaving breath, realizing instantly that this was a good response from Bruce, an encouraging one. Bruce was playful in the most sardonic of ways, and this was all Bruce- not Brucie at all. Clark replied embarrassingly quickly. ‘So, you weren’t lying when you said you wouldn’t regret me flirting back?’
The next reply came faster than the first, only ten minutes passing as Clark was walking to the subway to get to work.
‘The best lies contain elements of truth.’
Laughter bubbled to Clark’s lips as he scanned his subway card and made his way through the foot traffic of the crowded station. Dick had told him that Bruce had said such a thing to him as well, and the memory of that moment made the comment ring with truth despite the fact that it could be read as flippant too.
‘You're going to let me keep flirting then?’ Clark was getting bolder, perhaps because he wasn’t having to look into Bruce’s bright intelligent eyes as he asked this particular question.
Another ten minutes later as Clark was clinging to the bar that ran the length of the subway car, his phone pinged with Bruce’s response.
‘I’m not your boss. You are the master of your own decisions.’
Clark was grinning, hope a bright eager thing in his chest despite the long minutes between the responses. He typed another message then. ‘Okay wise guy. Do you want me to keep flirting is the better question.’
Ten more agonizing minutes before a response came.
‘Indeed, it is a better question. Are you going to ask it?’
Emotionally constipated, sarcastic smart-ass, Clark thought affectionately. Should’ve phrased that differently.
‘I am asking actually. Do you want me to keep flirting, Bruce?’ Clark’s heart was in his throat as he hit send, his pulse beating a frantic tattoo beneath his skin. His feelings were an exposed live-wire, knowing the next response could make or break Clark’s mood for the rest of the day-- or heck, the rest of the month. The year maybe.
Ten more minutes of waiting with bated breath, and the message popped up, a single word in the text below Bruce’s name.
Clark’s breath caught, the world going still for a moment despite the crowd surging around him as they exited the subway station behind him. He opened his messages, fingers shaking, and he grinned when he saw the three little dots that meant Bruce was typing something else.
‘Now stop texting me, you abysmal morning person. I’m tired of hitting snooze on my alarm, and I’m determined to sleep until the next one two hours from now.’ This message was followed by a picture- an awkwardly angled selfie, clearly taken in a darkened bedroom. Bruce’s face was half buried in a pillow, but his eyes were visible as well as a generous bit of bare shoulder showing where the sheet was slipping down. The man was glaring for all he was worth with his eyes narrowed and his brows turned harshly down. The expression didn’t have much impact though, because his hair was enough of a rumpled mess that he simply looked like a petulant child woken up too early.
And suddenly it clicked: the ten-minute gaps in time between texts were Bruce drifting back to sleep after hitting snooze and answering his text. Bruce- infuriatingly clever and dashingly witty even when he was barely awake- had thought Clark’s texts important enough to jostle himself awake to respond to.
For forty minutes, Bruce had been waking himself up for the express purpose of flirting back, and that, more than anything else, assured Clark that maybe he wasn't misreading things after all.
On the doorstep to the Daily Planet, the sunlight still soft with the early hour, Clark Kent took a beaming selfie to send back to Bruce, knowing he probably wouldn’t see it for another few hours. He captioned it in much the same way as Bruce had his own.
‘Sleep well, you abysmal night owl.’
For two more days, the text flirtation had continued despite them being too busy to actually see each other. Clark was in an utterly embarrassed tailspin as their weekly lunch date approached- finally a day when they were on the same page and actually physically together. When the day arrived, however, he received the most disappointing text he could’ve possibly gotten.
‘Sorry I can’t make it to the diner today; important matters to attend to.’
‘Important matters to attend to’ was their code that casework or a crisis had arisen, but Clark was aware enough of the other man’s moods to admit that Bruce might resort to this as an excuse if he didn’t want to see him. Of course, Clark also felt guilty and self-absorbed for thinking it, and he immediately chastised himself.
Just because he was driving himself crazy about the new dimension to their relationship didn’t mean Bruce was doing the same.
The uncertainty came back in full force. Perhaps all the flirting was just sarcastic, joking bluster, the two of them playing a role. Perhaps it was simply a new dimension to their friendship. Clark hated the idea of that but really, he couldn’t keep himself from considering the possibility. None of this had happened in person, and maybe Bruce wasn’t ready to entertain these thoughts face to face yet.
Clark was caught utterly on the memory of Bruce’s texts in conjunction with the night of the party. Coupling those memories- of Bruce so close to him- with the words they’d exchanged via text fueled Clark’s hopes even though he knew he was definitely getting ahead of himself. Over and over, he replayed Bruce shoving against him, breathing against his skin and moaning, but instead this time Bruce was flirting and teasing the same way that he had in his messages.
Clark needed to stop thinking about it--
Needed to stop wondering if Bruce was thinking about it too.
Clark shoved all his roiling feelings down and buried himself in work, in rescuing people, in making a difference in the world, but thoughts of Bruce were constantly hovering at the edge of his consciousness like his own personal phantasm.
Four days passed with no responses from Bruce whatsoever, and Clark’s uncertainty and embarrassment was warping into something more visceral- worry and dread clouding his thoughts. Prolonged silences weren’t necessarily unusual for Bruce since he so often went undercover, but Clark was used to the increased communication already. After so much contact with Wayne Manor and its inhabitants, the utter silence felt unnatural. Then at 3 a.m. on the dot, that silence was broken by a frantic call from Dick Grayson.
Superspeed was a God-send on nights like this. A blink of the eye and Clark was in his Superman uniform. Another blink and he was halfway to Gotham. A third blink and Clark was arriving right where he was needed-which at the moment was the Batcave. The downside, of course, was that Clark’s brain was just as fast as his body, and he had reviewed the contents of that call in his brain literally dozens of times since he’d gotten off the phone.
“He needs you, Clark,” Dick had gasped through tears. “He… whatever it is, he won’t tell me! He’s been gone for days, and he wouldn’t tell me anything. I was worried he’d…I couldn’t get him to…” Finally, sobs overtook Dick’s words, his breathing ragged and hard through the phone.
Clark had soothed him, assured him that he’d come. Clark would always come when they needed him.
But he’d also asked, with ice in his blood, “He’s alright, isn’t he? He’s not hurt?”
“Physically,” Dick had replied, “Physically he’s alright, he just…” A heaving intake of breath was necessary before the boy could continue, “Just whatever he saw out there. Whatever it was. He can’t tell me and he… needs a friend who can listen, that he’ll talk to.”
Clark hadn’t asked for more details, and he doubted that Dick could’ve given him more. If Bruce really had kept to himself for days on end not even allowing himself contact with one of the people he loved most, then something too dark, too heavy, for a thirteen-year-old boy was going on in Gotham City.
Unlike the other times that Superman had come to the cave uninvited in recent weeks, the entryway that he normally used did not slide open. Somewhere beneath the earth, Superman could hear Bruce’s agitated breathing and his elevated heartbeat accompanied by the sounds that Superman would guess was the man aggressively pummeling something. Superman had to do a quick scan to find a way in that wouldn’t require him doing real structural damage to the cave, and soon, Superman was inside the cave rather than above it.
Alarms weren’t going off, but Bruce had turned to him almost instantly, eyes alight with a vicious energy despite the casual work out clothes that he was wearing. Although there were wrappings on his hands, Bruce’s knuckles and fingers were bloodied from his brutal attacks on a poor practice dummy, wet coppery smears visible across the dummy’s limbless torso and face. Concern and indignation warred in his chest to see Bruce hurt himself in such a way, but worry won out for the time being.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Bruce snarled, looking every bit the fierce warrior that he was. “Get out!”
Despite the almost desperately angry look in Bruce’s eyes, Clark darted forward and took hold of Bruce’s wrists, pulling his hands up to look at his abused fingers. “Bruce, you’re hurting yourself! What is going on??”
Bruce didn’t respond immediately, eyes gone flinty and cold. His jaw clenched, the grinding of his teeth audible to Clark's sensitive ears, and Bruce flexed his fingers.
Voice sounding oddly detached for the emotion in his expression, Bruce said, “You will take your hands off me, and you will take a step back.”
Clark hesitated, feeling Bruce’s wild pulse under his fingers before he finally took his hands away. He stepped back, wary now of the mood that Bruce was in. Of course, Clark had seen Bruce in moods in and out of costume, but something about this was different, more pointed. Whatever Batman’s recent case had been about, it had left a raw aching wound that Bruce was struggling with.
“What happened, Bruce?” Clark pleaded softly. “Tell me.”
The expression on his face tightly controlled, Bruce tilted his head. “You want to know? Truly?”
Then he turned, marched to a work desk covered with files and stacks of photos. Clark made to follow him, but when Bruce came even with the table, he swept his arm over the top. Papers and photos flew everywhere, falling to the cold stone floor with a whisper of sound. The images and the words splashed across some of the pages where enough to know what Bruce had been investigating.
As of a few hours earlier, Batman had busted a child sex trafficking ring, and here was his evidence to prove it. Clark was disgusted enough at the words he'd caught and the images of the conditions the children had lived in that he took a reflexive step back, rage and sadness mixing with revulsion in his chest. If he felt this sick from pictures and text, he could hardly imagine what Bruce was going through as a witness to these places.
Bruce, who had a child of his own upstairs now.
“Oh, Bruce,” Clark said, turning his eyes back up. He fought back a wave of nausea, and he reached out a hand, an invitation. “No one should carry this alone.”
“Indeed,” Bruce said, voice placid. “Indeed no one should.” He met Clark’s eyes. “One of the main perpetrators was a social worker. Someone. Someone that children trusted, families trusted. She was helping get children into the hands of monsters, and I… I’ve met her- as Bruce. I. I had no idea. Someone in the very system that Dick nearly--” Bruce cut off with a wounded sound and brought a hand up to his face, covering the anguish that started to show through the tight expression. “I had no idea,” he whispered. “All that I do, and I missed something so heinous. The burden these children will carry their whole lives because I didn’t…”
A drop of blood lazily dripped down Bruce’s wrist, and Clark took a step forward. “Bruce you can’t blame yourself. You can’t know everything.” The inhale Bruce took sounded like the beginning of a sob, and Clark took another step closer. “Bruce… Bruce look at me," he pleaded.
But Bruce stood rigid, statuesque. He didn’t react at all to Clark’s voice, and his hands were trembling. Clark wondered suddenly what Alfred and Dick had seen when Batman had arrived home after several days, haunted and traumatized. No wonder Dick had been in hysterics.
“Bruce,” Clark said gently, touching Bruce’s shoulders in an attempt to ground him and pull him back.
This was the wrong decision.
Bruce lashed out, hands moving to shove at Clark. On instinct, Clark fell back a few steps, and he knew that if he didn’t get out of the way that Bruce could very well hurt himself on Clark’s bulletproof skin. His feet came off the ground, flying out of striking distance, and he got a good look at Bruce’s face. Angry tears were streaking down his face through the blood that he’d transferred from his injured hands. His eyes were wild and frantic and angry.
“I didn’t know but neither did you!” Bruce accused, almost snarling. “You can hear everything in the world, but you didn’t hear them? Didn’t hear them suffering??”
Clark recoiled like he’d been slapped, the words managing to strike right through his own insecurities. “That’s not... Bruce!” Clark finally managed, appalled. “You know if I’d heard them suffering I would’ve helped!”
Trembling from head to toe, Bruce merely glared at him, unconvinced.
“Bruce!” Clark said again, knowing that his hurt was obvious in his tone as he flew a little closer. The rage Bruce was feeling—it was directed at anything nearby. Clark knew the man didn’t mean it, and yet it was still a barb digging into his chest. He didn’t need to justify himself but still he said, “There’s a hundred thousand children around the world crying for perfectly normal things- hundreds of thousands of people crying and laughing and… and… I can’t do it all. I can’t hear it all. I shouldn’t have to tell you of all people that.”
“What is the use of all that power if you miss things like this?? If you can’t fix things like this??” Bruce said, and Clark almost snapped at him in anger before Bruce dropped his eyes to his bloodied hands. “What’s the use in all this fighting, this training, this study, if something like this can happen right beneath my nose…?”
Bruce dropped to his knees, and he began to cry, burying his face in his wrists. Clark instinctively moved toward him, reaching out a hand. The desperate urge to comfort Bruce was driving him forward even after all his earlier attempts had been rebuffed. Bruce held out a hand toward him, a gesture to stop, and he had to heave in several gasping breaths before he could speak.
“No,” he said softly, teeth clenched again as though the tightness of his jaw could hold his sobs in. “No. Please. Please just leave. I don’t. I can’t. There is no comfort for me.”
Clark hovered uncertainly in the air above him, heart aching at the sight of Bruce’s agony. But he knew that forcing himself into Bruce’s space risked breaking this fragile tentative bond they had. He wouldn’t push past Bruce’s limits, wouldn’t force himself into his space.
“You’ll… you’ll call me. Or. Or text me? Right?”
“If it would make you leave, I’d promise you anything right now. But please. Just. Just trust me when I say that I need to be alone.” Bruce’s shoulders were still shaking, and Clark realized the other man wouldn’t have control over his tears and his sorrow much longer.
“I… I don’t like leaving you alone like this, Bruce,” Clark said. “But I’ll respect that it’s what you need.” He flew further back, hovering helplessly as he tried to convince himself that leaving was the right decision. “Please, at least get your hands bandaged though… okay?”
Bruce gave a curt nod, and Clark finally turned and zipped out of the cave. He became Superman once more, high in the night sky with impotent rage blazing hot in his chest. Somewhere deep beneath the earth, a familiar and cherished voice gave a howl of rage and despair, and Superman had to close his ears to it. He had to force himself to turn toward Metropolis and speed away.
The horrible accusations Bruce had made echoed in his head on loop- condemnation not only of Clark but of himself. The words had cut open a wound for Clark too, because he, like Bruce, was always worried that things could be better in this world if he had only been faster, smarter, more attentive. Logically, he knew it was too big of an ask for anyone to be everywhere at once, but feelings didn't always make rational sense. Bruce had hurt him in his anger, just as he had hurt himself.
Clark landed back in his own bed, the scent of Bruce's blood still in his nose and his question lingering in his mind.
“What is the use of all that power if you miss things like this?? If you can’t fix things like this??”
That was startlingly close to the question Clark was tormenting himself with too.
Where was the good of all his powers if Clark was helpless in moments like this, unable to soothe the trauma and heartache of people when they were hurting the most?
Sometimes when things are looking up and going great, the most unexpected heart break happens. I tried to convey that feeling of whiplash here -- just as it can feel in real life when stuff does go sideways suddenly without warning.
Chapter 10: Tamed
Bruce tries to make amends in his own dramatic way.
There will be the usage of French in this chapter. If you don't know the source or the context, don't look it up! It will be explained but for the best impact, just experience it with Clark.
If you know the source/context, let me know in the comment section so we can start planning our spring wedding ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The worry over Bruce wasn’t really gone the next morning- not that he expected it to be. The feeling gnawed at him, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. Apparently, Clark had pushed too far by showing up without warning to offer Bruce comfort. At this point, Clark had to trust that Bruce would reach out when he was finally ready to, but that didn’t make waiting easier at all.
The only thing the waiting did, honestly, was make the sting of those heinous accusations even more acute. Clark had forgiven Bruce almost instantly upon hearing him hurl the same unfair expectations and venom at himself. Clark might’ve forgiven him even if he hadn’t heard that, though, for the simple fact that he was guilty of stomping all over Bruce’s boundaries. The man had literally locked him out, and Clark had barged in anyways.
Which led Clark to getting up worried about Bruce, going to work worried about Bruce, and saving the world all the while worried about Bruce. He had to force himself over and over while sitting at work not to reach out with his hearing to find Bruce’s heartbeat or his breathing to check on him. Thinking about Bruce was distracting and frustrating and driving the barb of the man’s words deeper under Clark’s skin every day.
Still, even burdened with all the worry that he was carrying around, Clark found his chest aching at the idea of showing up to their usual lunch date that coming week. He had a vivid mental picture of Bruce coming to lunch only to deal with this the way he had with other arguments so far- by simply pretending that it hadn’t happened. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Clark knew that he would not be able to sit across from Bruce and pretend everything was okay. With a sour taste in his mouth and trembling fingers, Clark broke the unsettling quiet that had fallen between them over the past several days by sending a simple text to Bruce.
‘Can’t make it this week, sorry.’
Clark hated to be the one to engage first after promising him time, but he also couldn’t stand the idea that Bruce might show up and sit gloomily across from an empty chair for two hours. There would be no excuses or beating around the bush though, and Clark wasn’t about to lie to Bruce and say he was too busy or on a case. The only trouble Clark had was the rift between him and Bruce. All he could do was hope that Bruce would prove willing to bridge the gap now. The ball was firmly in Bruce’s court, and unless Bruce decided to engage, Clark didn’t feel like he could pressure him to do so. He had said he’d wait for Bruce to call or text him back, and that was that.
No response came to the text, but Clark wasn’t certain he should even be expecting one if Bruce saw him turning up uninvited as an invasion of his privacy. More miserable than he has been in months, Clark started putting his phone in his desk drawer at work so he wouldn’t keep glancing at it, hoping to see Bruce’s name light up the screen. The longer the silence continued, the more Clark imagined just… ignoring the call when it came. It was a mean little urge, maybe, wanting to ignore Bruce, but well, he couldn't exactly force himself not to feel that way.
When his usual meet up time came around, Clark couldn’t have lunch in the office. For one thing, Lois would notice, and he desperately didn’t want to lie his way through explaining two missed lunch dates in a row. Feeling like he had Kryptonite in his shoes weighing him down, Clark trudged out to a nearby sandwich place determined to pout and grump about how much he missed his friend while he ate.
Then, ten minutes before he usually arrived at the diner to meet Bruce, his phone finally rang. Bruce , the display read, accompanied by a candid picture of Bruce reading that Clark had taken himself.
Clark was in line to make his order, and that mean urge flared up to ignore the call… But Clark was practically breathless at the idea that Bruce was finally reaching out. While the hurt from the past few days was still very much present, he couldn’t ignore how happy he was that Bruce was trying to reach out to him. He answered the call with barely any hesitation, and he hurried toward the door on a sudden search for privacy.
“Hello?” he asked, the shop’s bell tinkling above his head as the door swung shut behind him. He turned and found a little quiet spot beside the building in a short alleyway.
“Kent?” Bruce asked. “I know I’m interrupting your lunch period, so if you don’t have time--”
“I have time, Bruce,” Clark replied firmly, fingers almost trembling with the control it took not to smash the phone as he clung to it like a lifeline. “It’s okay. I’m… I’m glad you called.”
A pause on the other end, and then Bruce let out a relieved sounding breath. “Ahhh, well, this is one of the few free times I have per week to make… social calls. I apologize for interrupting regardless.”
“Yeah,” Clark said, unable to help the small smile that tugged at his lips. Bruce had always reserved this time of week for him, and even though they weren’t sitting across from each other like they usually would be, they were sharing time in a different way. “I get that. How… How’ve you been, Bruce?”
There! A neutral invitation to share with no pressure to answer and no acknowledgement of the trauma that Clark had seen Bruce wrestling with little less than a week before.
Bruce’s response was sharp and brusque but surprisingly honest.
“Pretty shitty to be honest,” he said with the same kind of tone Clark would expect from a teenager forced to do homework. “My week has been real shit.”
This startled a laugh from Clark despite how put-out Bruce sounded. The words were more like something from the Brucie script—flippant and slangy and intentionally shocking—but they were said in his normal voice. Bruce rarely, if ever, used such casual language, and Clark wondered how long he planned this phone call for it to be his immediate response to that question.
“Care to talk about it?” Clark asked then, finally allowing himself the relief of reaching out with his hearing and listen to Bruce’s steady heartbeat. “I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”
“Well,” Bruce continued almost breezily. “I’d rather not rehash the whole of it, but the short of it is simple: in a fit of pique, I hurt a friend’s feelings, and I’ve always been terrible at making amends.”
Clark was cautiously starting to smile. While it wasn’t a direct acknowledgement of the particulars- after all, Clark would hardly trivialize Bruce’s trauma by calling it a ‘fit of pique’- Bruce was approaching the issue more straightforwardly than Clark would’ve anticipated.
“Well, I’ve heard apologies can go a long way,” he replied, brow arching. “Doesn’t fix everything but it’s a start.”
When Bruce spoke again, there was an alarming air of gravity to his tone. “A simple apology is inadequate to address the things I said in anger. Some pain is not so easy to soothe.”
The words reminded him abruptly of something that Bruce had said that night in the Batcave--
“There is no comfort for me.”
Perhaps this had been an honest assessment of his feelings, and there truly was no comfort for Bruce. Clark suspected it was more likely that Bruce didn’t want to be comforted, had felt he didn’t deserve it. Even now Bruce was baby-stepping around the issue. He didn’t expect forgiveness, nor did he think it was his due.
Well, Clark was about to surprise him, because he was more than ready to take whatever comfort and contrition that Bruce was willing to offer. Clark was more than reasonable that way- he recognized that his overstepping may have led Bruce to lash out, and he could understand that Bruce was too overwhelmed to check his words more carefully.
Wanting to be soothed, Clark asked the question that had been on his mind all week. “Did you actually mean them? The things you said? We all say stuff in anger that we don’t mean.” Clark actually kind of liked the strange arm’s-length way they were discussing their fight- as though Clark wasn’t the person Bruce had hurt, as if he were just trying to give helpful advice.
Still, no amount of play pretend could stifle the burst of pain that Clark felt when he finally voiced his question, desperately wanting Bruce to take back what he said and apologize.
“Of course, I didn’t mean them,” Bruce said, tone edging on snappish but the anger seemed directed inwards rather than at Clark. “But something as abstract as thoughts or ideas or words are—!! I can hardly snatch those back out of the ether once I’ve communicated them. It’s why I.”
As per usual, Bruce didn’t trail off- he simply stopped, breathing becoming more rapid and agitated.
“Why you what…?” Clark prompted gently, realization settling heavy in his chest. He was pretty sure at this point what Bruce was going to say, but it was just a matter of whether or not the words would come out.
Bruce continued, quieter than before, “It’s why I hate talking about the important things. Nothing ever seems to come out as it should.”
And I can’t undo mistakes I make in those moments, Bruce was implying. Can’t control how people interpret it or interact with it.
Bruce wasn’t saying any of this out loud, but Clark could hear it plain as day. Not only was Clark a master at reading between Bruce’s words, but he was starting to understand why there were gaps in the first place.
Control was a finely-honed weapon for Bruce and for Batman, and conversations with any import at all are hard to control, to prepare for, to anticipate. No wonder Bruce had shut everyone out when he arrived at the Batcave at the end of his case and realized how deeply out of control he was. That night, Bruce could barely contain his own emotions much less worry about how he would respond to other variables around him. Sure enough, Bruce had been punishing himself in the cave, but he had attempted to do so in a way that would protect the people he cared about from his own wrath and pain.
And then Clark had burst in, eager to soothe and comfort and support. He was still eager, actually, to do all of those things, but now he realized that he should’ve given Bruce the alone time he had needed first before offering that comfort.
Next time, Clark thought, fondness and affection bubbling up in his chest. I’ll know better for next time.
“Maybe,” Clark finally replied. “Maybe a simple apology then-- for damages done. And a promise to try and do better?”
Bruce scoffed and replied irritably, “Apologies aren’t enough! And for the second point- I’m always pushing myself to be better. That sounds like such a selfish promise to make- more for me than my friend really.” He gave another angry huff, but there was something plaintive in his voice when he started speaking again, something soft and genuine and an absolute balm to Clark’s feelings. “I think I have perhaps found a way to communicate my… my feelings to my friend. Do you. Hm. Do you think it’s too soon? Would he be amenable, do you think?”
Clark’s heart leapt into his throat, and he could feel his blush creeping from his cheeks down to his neck. Bruce was only trying to apologize, and yet Clark was reacting to the softness and sincerity in his voice in an entirely inappropriate way.
“From what you’ve said, I would guess he’s, uh, very much amenable,” Clark said, wondering what in the hell Bruce was planning to do to say sorry. He knew without a doubt it was going to be something showy and over dramatic and ridiculous.
Normally those showy ridiculous things were for Dick’s benefit, but apparently that kind of attention and affection was about to extend to Clark as well.
“Ahh, thank you for your input then,” Bruce replied. “In that case, I’ve got things to do. Are we on for next week?”
Clark was beaming at this point. “Yeah. Yeah we are, Bruce.”
“Oh good,” Bruce said, his tone edging on Brucie even though Clark could sense that every word was sincerely meant. “I’ve missed our little lunches.”
Concentrating on work was even harder after that phone call, and Clark was keyed up in a different way wondering what in the world Bruce was planning to do to demonstrate his remorse. Sure, none of it could take back what was said, and Clark knew it would take time for him to be fully over the feeling of inadequacy and hurt that the words had left in his chest.
But he was willing to take that time, willing to put in the work with Bruce trying to be better and trying to apologize.
Until he got Bruce’s ‘apology’ though, Clark was sure to be distracted anticipating what the hell the other man was planning, and so it was probably a good thing that Bruce always got things done fast.
Though he wouldn’t know it until that night, Bruce’s apology was already waiting for Clark in his living room.
When Clark finally got home, he knew someone had been in his house before he even opened the door. There was the steady ticking like that of a clock that hadn’t been there before he’d left for work. Could be a bomb or something, of course, placed by an enemy who had lucked out and discovered his identity, but Clark was hopeful this was the surprise that Bruce had alluded to on the phone.
The first thing that became apparent as he pushed open the door was that someone had turned his living room light back on after he’d left. Clark was fastidious about keeping his electricity off when he was out at work- though he did sometimes leave it on at night to imply he was home when he was actually out super-heroing. His preparation for going to work always ended with turning off the light and double checking the lock, and so he was drawn to the living room to see why exactly the light was on.
He still found it a bit unsettling, skin prickling a little at the thought of someone being in his private space without permission, but he could detect a hint of sandalwood and expensive cologne lingering in the air. Bruce had left his apology in the apartment, and Clark wouldn’t have to sit through another afternoon at work desperately failing at being focused. Seemed fair too that Bruce had invited himself into Clark’s space in much the same way that Clark had invaded his. Tit for tat, and an apology ticking away in his living room.
Clark came around the kitchen island to find a single blue-velvet box placed on his coffee table right in the center of the hanging overhead light, his breath catching out how simple but effective the presentation was. His heart got away from him, beating faster than any human heart ever could, and he tamped down the urge to use his x-ray vision from across the room.
If the scent hadn’t given it away as Bruce, the dramatic flair certainly would have.
Clark tossed his bag on the floor by the counter and came to sit down in front of the peace offering Bruce had left. He reached out and slid his fingers over the velvet curve of the top of the box, wanting to savor the anticipation a moment longer even if he was fairly certain from the size, shape, and sound of the gift that this was a wristwatch. A strange gift, maybe, but Clark knew that it would connect to something, that it would hold some message when he opened it.
Infinitely careful, he picked the box up and lifted the lid.
Inside was the most gorgeous watch that Clark had ever seen in his life. Deep blue and covered in stars, the whole watch face was a perfectly accurate rendering of the constellations in the night sky. The months were named around the outer circle of the watch, with numbered dates wrapped around the edges of watch face in an elegant script. There was a small magnifying glass inside the box as well, but Clark hardly needed it. He simply held the watch up for better lighting and started scrutinizing the minute details with his own intense super-powered vision. With a start, Clark realized that the star chart rotated and would keep track of the day of the month as well. The world went hazy for a moment, like it always did when he was using his super-speed, but this time, the only movement was that of his eyes as he used his x-ray vision to trace the inside mechanisms as well.
When the world resolved back into clarity and Clark was again admiring the intricate star chart on the face of the watch, he had a pretty good idea of how the watch worked. It would keep track of the day, the time, and the position of the stars in the night sky. Or at least, in relation to the Northern Hemisphere. Clark was well aware that if he went outside in this moment that the stars and constellations inside the thinly outlined circle marking the lower part of the watch that those constellations would all be visible from his roof.
A beautiful bit of space for a space man? A bit on the nose there Bruce, Clark thought with some humor.
He was also well aware that there was a note tucked up under the face of the watch, and that might hold the key to the larger message this gift presented.
Careful not to get any fingerprints on the shiny metal of watch, Clark plucked the note out and unfolded it. There was a single sentence written in Bruce’s recognizable hand.
On ne connaît que les choses que l'on apprivoise.
After a few moments studying the words, Clark’s confusion only grew. He understood the words- he had a passable understanding of the grammar and the vocabulary of the French language- but the message hardly made sense to him in this context.
“We only know… of the things we can tame…?” Clark said, confusion obvious in his own voice. He looked between the watch and the French, and he honestly didn’t have the faintest idea what they had to do with each other.
Even worse, he had no idea what this had to do with apologizing either. What exactly was Bruce trying to tell him? That he only knew his own feelings once he tamed them? That they could only understand each other once they tamed each other?
“What the heck, Bruce?” Clark said aloud, amused and frustrated at once. “How in the world is this supposed to be clearer than just using your words, you ridiculous man?”
But... the watch was a very nice one, and there was some kind of thought here that was meant to be touching. Clark simply hadn’t pinpointed it… he would puzzle out the hidden meaning tomorrow. For now, he was ready to finally relax for the first time since he and Bruce had exchanged words in the cave.
He ran his fingertip along the rounded edge of the watch, unsure if he’d even keep a gift so evidently expensive, but before he could return it, he’d at least have to unravel what it meant. For a little while at least, he would keep the watch close and admire it as a tangible expression of the strange relationship he and Bruce had found themselves in.
The mystery kept for a few days like that, Clark finding himself listening to the ticking of the watch and thinking about the beautiful artistry of the little machine. When he considered the message, it was so abstract and strange that he pushed it aside, focusing instead on the gift itself. Clark definitely wasn’t worried about what he might find if he pushed too deep and uncovered the actual meaning behind the cryptic sentence, but the thought had occurred to him that perhaps he was avoiding unraveling the message for some reason.
How could Clark be worried about such a thing if he wasn’t thinking about the message? Nope, he wasn’t thinking about the message at all! He certainly didn’t find himself writing the French down and trying to make the words settle into an English translation that made more sense.
At the end of the second day, Clark at least managed to admit that maybe not knowing exactly what the message meant was better than finding out that it meant something he didn’t want to hear. Besides, once he figured out the riddle he would have to give the watch back. Forgiveness wasn’t something bought and paid for, no matter how touched Clark was by the beautiful gift.
No matter how much Clark wanted to keep it.
The third day after receiving the gift from Bruce, Clark still wasn’t trying that hard to figure out what the message meant, not even when he found himself asking Lois absently, “We only know of the things we can tame… what do you suppose that means?”
Lois blinked at him as she smeared cream cheese over a bagel. “Uhhhh that the person who said it was high?”
“Lois!” Clark said, laughing despite himself and shaking his head. “I’m sure that’s not it at all.”
She shrugged and waved her hand dismissively. “Welp, unless I get more context, that’s all I got for ya! Now for the third time, do you want a bagel, big guy?”
“Sure thing, Lois! Thanks!” Clark replied and accepted the bagel before returning to pointedly not thinking about the slip of paper tucked away in his dresser drawer at home.
By the fourth day, Clark had to give up the pretense. The mystery of it was killing him- had been killing him for days-, and he knew he’d never have the heart to give the gift back. He absolutely loved the watch, and it wasn’t exactly Bruce’s fault that his whole adult life he had been showing his love with his wealth. All that money Bruce had funneled into his charities and devoted to the people of Gotham was as much a declaration of love as every scar he carried from his nightly activities.
No, Clark knew that the watch wasn’t an attempt to bribe him for his forgiveness, and the only reason he had put off investigating the riddle more thoroughly was simply that he was worried what the message would be. He had turned over those words and translated to himself again and again and couldn’t resolve them into anything that made sense.
So once he was being honest with himself, Clark settled onto his couch after work while the world was as quiet as it would ever be. He typed the words into the google search bar to find the source. Clark wasn’t an idiot, and he should’ve done this before, even if the half a second that the site took to process his inquiry seemed nerve-rackingly long.
There, right at the top of the search results were the words ‘Le Petit Prince – chapitre 21.’ He clicked open the link to find the twenty-first chapter of what appeared to be a children’s book with little sketches to the side depicting the events happening on the page. For four days, Clark was driving himself crazy with his confusion over the context of the French, and so he found himself opening a second tab. Other people had surely put the leg work into translating this book, and Clark wouldn’t have to spend the next few minutes fumbling around as he tried to establish enough background on the story to accurately translate the text himself.
Knowing and understanding grammar and vocabulary was a great deal different from actually understanding enough of the context and the backstory to translate a piece of text accurately. No, best to leave that to other people who already had the background knowledge and had read the other twenty chapters of the story. Indeed, a few more clicks revealed dozens of links of people dissecting The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint- Exupéry, and if the message hadn’t become clear to him after reading the chapter itself, Clark had tons of further resources to turn to.
In a few more clicks, Clark had found a full English translation of text and clicked into chapter 21. Clark’s palms were sweating, and his face was warm as he scrolled through the page looking for clues.
He looked for the word ‘tame’ as his eyes slid down the page, and he caught on a passage.
"No,” said the little prince. “I’m looking for friends. What does tame mean?"
"It’s something that’s been too often neglected," said the fox. “It means to create ties."
"'To create ties'?"
"That’s right," said the fox. "For me, you are still only a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either. For you, I am only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
Clark stumbled to a halt, heart beating hard against his ribs as he glanced back over at the watch still nestled safely in its box. “To create ties,” he murmured aloud. “We only know the things we create ties with…” His breath came quicker as he added, "Unique in all the world…"
His eyes slid down the page again, this time finding the passage that he was looking for to start with:
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things ready-made in stores. But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends. If you want a friend, tame me!"
"What must I do-- to tame you?" asked the little prince.
"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you’ll sit down a little distance from me--like that--in the grass. I'll watch you out of the corner of my eye, and you will not say anything. Language is the source of misunderstandings. But day by day, you will be able to sit a little closer to me…"
The next day the little prince returned.
"It would have been better to return at the same time," said the fox. "If you come, for example, at four o'clock in the afternoon, then I’ll begin to feel happy by three. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four, I’ll be all agitated and worried; I’ll discover the price of happiness! But if you come at just any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart. There must be rites..."
"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.
"That’s another thing that’s been too often neglected," said the fox...
Only when the words on the screen became too blurred to read did Clark realize his cheeks were wet with tears. He leaned back against the couch, scrubbing at his face with both hands. This was how he and Bruce had become friends. Clark could easily trace the outlines of how he’d gotten close to Bruce, little by little, and as he got to know him, he was allowed not only to be physically but emotionally close as well. In this little metaphor, Clark was definitely the little prince, wanting friends and attempting to connect, and Bruce was this fox, standing off to the side and explaining how things must be done.
“Bossy, so bossy,” Clark said softly, his cheeks hurting from smiling so much. He thought about that second lunch date- the one that hadn’t been planned but that Bruce had expected him to come to anyways. That was Bruce demanding that he return at the same time, fumbling and awkward and unable to ask for what he wanted clearly. He, like the fox, was demanding to be ‘tamed’ but only in this certain way.
There must be rites after all. Rituals. Just like he and Bruce had talked about at that second lunch date.
“Did you need to prepare your heart too, Bruce? Did you need that routine?” Clark’s fingers traced the sharp cut of the fox’s ears on the illustration on the screen. He still felt there was more to be gleaned from this little children’s story, and so he returned to the top of the page. It was the work of only a few moments to read the whole chapter.
The first detail that really struck Clark was that the little prince was not from Earth at all and had only come to Earth to make friends and to learn. He found himself oddly pleased to be compared to this strange little space traveler, so earnest and curious and…
Lonely. The little prince was lonely. Clark rubbed a hand over his chest and wondered if Bruce had noticed that about him- that he had been achingly lonely with the isolation that necessarily came from having two distinct identities.
Of course, there were things in the story that weren’t quite the same- there were no harsh words here, and no fight had happened between these two characters. Instead, the story of the encounter between the two ended with the fox weeping as the little prince prepared to leave. No matter how sad the fox became, he insisted he didn’t regret it, that knowing the little prince had given him memories that were cherished.
The pain of farewell was worth it for all the good that the little prince had brought into his life.
Clark wondered if it was the whole chapter after all that was important, not just the passages near to Bruce’s little quote. The whole of it together painted a picture, delicate and sincere and full of a strange sort of longing.
At the end of the chapter, the fox had one more thing to share with the little prince that cemented itself firmly in Clark’s mind.
"Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
How apt in general-- and how useful particularly with Bruce Wayne.
Clark stood up, and for the first time, he took the watch fully out of its case and put it on his wrist. He looked down at the constellations crowding the watch front, and he smiled again when he saw the time- 7:20 pm. There were still several bookstores open at this time of the day in Metropolis, and Clark had a book to read.
Superman entered the tunnel leading to the Batcave, but somewhere on the way he became Clark- not Clark Kent, bumbling but pleasant ace reporter for the Daily Planet. Simply Clark with a book tucked beneath his elbow and a spray of wildflowers in his hand. He touched down in the cave, having waited particularly for the sound of the cave showers to come on. He didn't want to have this conversation while Bruce was in the Batman suit.
Clark wasn’t here to talk to Batman. He was here to talk to Bruce.
Making his way to a workbench, Clark surveyed the cave to see if there were any new souvenirs from his cases or any new gadgets. Oh, there were always several gadgets in development, and when they were finished, they would find their way to the cases lining the walls. He carefully set the flowers down on the workbench, and then he set the Le Petit Prince book beside it. This particular copy was bilingual with both the original French and an English translation. Clark had wanted to be able to compare the French to the provided translation and other translation of the book that was still at home on his bedside table.
The book was honestly a good one even though Clark was preoccupied with Bruce the entire time he read through it. Clark slid his finger along the binding of the book. He needed to touch Bruce, had needed it for days. With his flirtatious plan before involving so much touch, he’d rather gotten used to it, and he hadn’t realized it until he was deprived of Bruce’s company for so long.
Bruce came out of the shower area, rubbing at his wet hair with a towel. He was in soft black work out clothes and a pair of comfortable looking black slippers. Although he didn’t seem shocked to see Clark in the middle of the room, he did look rather nervous, his eyes darting from the flowers and the book to the watch on Clark’s wrist. Bruce’s gaze fixed somewhere behind Clark's left shoulder, unwilling to make eye contact.
“Kent,” Bruce said, stopping in his path to the stairs, head tilted just a little.
It was unnerving, the way Bruce could go utterly still like that.
“Bruce,” Clark replied, a grin tugging at his lips. “I brought you flowers!”
“I can see that.” A pause. “And why did I need flowers, exactly?”
“I finally understood your message,” he said, picking up the book and waving it just a little. “For a man who thinks language is ‘the source of misunderstandings,’ you sure did send me a lot of words.”
Bruce finally met Clark’s eyes, glaring at him even as his cheeks dusted a barely perceptible pink. “It seemed… appropriate. More adequate than anything I could say.”
“Well, fair enough. This particular bunch of words is internationally famous.” Clark set the book back down on the workbench, and he took a step closer to Bruce. “Gotta be honest though- didn’t feel like an apology.”
“Oh, hm.” Bruce’s brows drew together, almost instinctively taking a step back before his frown deepened and stood up straighter instead. What Bruce thought Clark was going to do remained to be seen, but whatever the reason, the defensive posture only served to make Clark smile.
The smile made Bruce glare. “If it was so inadequate, why have you brought me flowers?”
“Because,” Clark said, taking another step closer, “while it didn’t feel like an apology, it definitely felt like a love letter. A love letter in the form of a children’s book and an obscenely expensive watch.”
Bruce’s pulse instantly sped up even though the man had managed to keep himself mostly under control for the rest of the talk so far.
“Oh,” Bruce said again. This time, he looked away, his whole face turning from Clark as he seemed to think over these words and how to respond to them. Clark watched the flush climb from Bruce's neck to his cheeks, and Bruce flexed his fingers a few times before clenching them in a fist-- a nervous tick perhaps. Finally, he said softly, “I don’t… I don’t know what to say.”
Clark closed the distance between them, fingers slipping into Bruce’s. Bruce allowed the touch, and he sighed softly before turning to meet Clark’s steady gaze again.
“Tell me what you hoped to say,” Clark said softly. “It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’m not looking for international bestseller. Just plain words.”
“You’re always so caught up on the words,” Bruce growled, and then he was stepping closer, bridging the last of the distance between them. “I only wanted to communicate that… that this mattered to me. Your patience and your friendship. They mattered, and they will matter even when this attachment ends.”
“If it ends,” Clark corrected, having anticipated the pessimistic attitude.
“When. I’m not an easy man to get along with indefinitely.”
A fact that Clark hardly needed to be told, and he found himself rolling his eyes. He took a breath, realizing that they were still standing intimately close and staring into each other’s faces. The closeness was… intense, to say the least. Clark ran his thumb along Bruce’s knuckles, smiling wider when Bruce’s heart rate spiked again. Unlike any of the times before, Clark was truly confident in where he stood with Bruce, and Bruce hadn't seen that from him yet.
“You are who you are,” Clark conceded. “You said all of that, about the friendship and the patience. Clear enough. I just think you may have accidentally said more than you intended.”
“It would seem perhaps,” Bruce said slowly, considering this as his eyes darted down for the briefest second to Clark’s mouth, “that maybe I have. And yet, you came here anyways. With flowers.”
Clark smiled at the little tell in that glance, leaning in to nudge his nose against Bruce’s. This feeling- warm and gentle and heavy in his chest- was mutual, and so he said, “I did.”
“Ah, that’s. That’s good then,” Bruce said, the understatement of the century.
“Yeah, I’d say so.” Clark brushed their noses together more pointedly, his breath ghosting over Bruce’s lips. Perhaps he was teasing a little, but he wanted to see if Bruce would take the initiative to kiss him.
For the space of several breaths, they hovered like that, close together but only their fingers touching, and then a visible tremble went through Bruce.
“Clark,” he said, gasping it out as though he hadn’t meant to say it. The shock of hearing Bruce actually use his first name for the first time with not a trace of sarcasm sent a thrill of pleasure singing through him. “Clark!” Bruce gasped again, one hand coming up to cup his cheek.
And then they were kissing, Bruce’s lips hot against his own. The initial press of lips was gentle, tentative, but neither of them could handle that for long. Lips parting to taste him, Clark tilted his head just so to slot their mouths together more firmly. Bruce released his hand to wrap both arms around Clark’s shoulders, dragging him flush against him. Clark responded in kind, wrapping his arms around Bruce’s waist as the kiss deepened. Clark’s whole world had been reduced down to the taste of his mouth and the slow, warm slide of Bruce’s tongue against his own. Then Bruce growled and grabbed a handful of his hair, kiss turning harder, firmer. The forcefulness wouldn’t actually work on Clark if he didn’t want it to, but he very much did. He went pliant, one hand sliding up his back as Bruce explored his mouth with the single-minded focus that he dedicated to everything.
With herculean effort, Clark dragged his mouth away from the kiss. “This has been such a… fuck—”
Bruce nipped at his jaw sharply, distracting him, before he moved in to capture Clark’s lips a second time. Clark’s eyes fell shut again, and he kissed him back, unable to resist. Only when Bruce was utterly breathless could he finally finish his thought.
“This has been such a classy confession,” he said, grinning down into Bruce’s face and admiring his blown pupils and how pink and slick his lips were from kissing. He moved in to kiss along his jaw. “Are you sure you want to end it by making out on a cave floor?”
With a surprising amount of dignity for someone who was currently tugging on another man’s hair to demand more kisses, Bruce declared, “I have never been particularly conventional.”
Clark conceded the point, and really, why would he want to argue? Bruce had found an appealing bit of cave floor to shove Clark down onto, and Clark decided rather quickly that maybe there were worse places to make out. Then Bruce was on top of him, settling between his thighs, and they were kissing again. Kissing and kissing and kissing, fingers tangling in each other’s hair and bodies pressed as close together as they could be.
No, Clark wasn’t about to argue against that.
For the translation of The Little Prince, I synthesized my favorite versions based on my own understanding of the French (so the best balance of the literal meaning while maintaining the right feeling and impact. also the fox's sharp lil ears!! Kinda makes me think of Batman's 'ears.' I also want to thank MeinNameIstJette for their help with how a native English speaker might translate that line from The Little Prince out of context. While I love the idea that Clark can speed learn languages because he can process so much raw data so fast, there's also a lot about language and translation that has to do with culture and context and background knowledge which I don't think Clark would always have (and doesn't have in this case). No translation can ever be 100% absolutely accurate, but it's way easier to do so when you actually have context and intent.
I have had this chapter planned for so long and getting here has KILLED ME. I couldn't wait to get to this part sobs. I have read through this fic THREE OR FOUR TIMES just to make sure that the only usage that Bruce made of Clark's name prior to this chapter was the very first unmasked meeting where Bruce uses "Clark" sarcastically.
Also sorry yes there will be one more chapter. It was supposed to be in this part, but I ran out of space. It's one more bit though, an epilogue-ish thing of sorts. You'll finally get to find out about the birthmark moment and there may or may not be some snuggling.
Chapter 11: The Hours Closest to Dawn
Bruce and Clark come to a few understandings.
The final stretch!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“How long ago did you realize I was falling for you?” Clark asked, staring up at the ceiling in Bruce’s room. After making out for longer than Clark would’ve thought, they’d ended up in Bruce’s bed. They were only cuddling, but Clark had the distinct impression that this was more intimate for Bruce than sex would've been.
The almost permanent pink tint to Bruce’s cheeks may have been giving him away a little bit.
Clark was alright with that though, enjoying laying in the dark with Bruce pressed against his side. He had better night vision than Bruce, and he glanced over to admire him as he settled down to sleep. Apparently, a day of work, a night of patrolling, and then an extending kissing session with an enthusiastic Kryoptonian could take a lot out of a man.
“Your feelings have been rather transparent for a while,” Bruce said frankly, though his tone wasn’t unkind at all. This was simply a fact to him, like any other.
“And why didn’t you think to help me figure it out?” Clark asked, threading his fingers through Bruce’s hair. He may or may not be rather fascinated with how soft it felt under his fingers.
“It’s hardly my duty to help you untangle your own emotions,” Bruce replied with a snort, closing his eyes. “When have I ever given you the impression that I am a master of emotions anyways?”
“Point,” Clark replied. He mulled over his thoughts to try and find a better question to elicit the information he wanted more specifically. “Have you… I guess what I want to know is just… When did you realize you felt the same? I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out when you could’ve possibly fallen for me?”
Bruce looked almost asleep at this point, body relaxed and eyes closed, but then his jaw flexed as though he could sense Clark’s eyes on him. He heaved a put-upon sigh. “Do we have to talk about this now, Kent?” he growled.
“Uhm,” Clark replied, cheeks turning red as he hastily tried to process how hot he found that voice in this context. The context of them curled together in bed, that is. He cleared his throat, and said, “Uhm, no, yeah, I would like to talk about it. If not now, y’know, it’s likely to be never.”
Even though Clark was now staring up at the ceiling he could practically hear Bruce roll his eyes, and the other man sat up, flipping on the lamp on the bedside table. Clark considered following suit, but he figured Bruce needed the distance to express himself.
“I was only able to… diagnose my own condition when I became aware of yours,” Bruce finally managed to say, expression sleepy and sour and embarrassed. “When I realized you were flirting with me, I had to stop and take stock of why I could hardly stand the idea of touching your bare skin.”
Clark did sit up then, feeling apprehension race through his veins. He really didn’t like the way Bruce had worded that. “And why exactly could you 'hardly stand' the idea of touching my skin?”
His mind leapt to self-conscious places- that Bruce might’ve been uncertain about the physical interaction because Clark wasn’t human, that he wasn’t attracted to him, that he felt pressured into touching him. Clark cast his eyes down, worried about how Bruce would answer this question.
Then Bruce turned a glare on him, fiercer than any sharpened by the Batman cowl. “Because of how much I might crave it afterwards, how much I might want a repeat experience. I am not in the habit of entertaining many of my own desires.” He reached up, gripping Clark’s chin and tilting his face up to meet his eyes. Bruce’s expression was hard and stern, but there was no malice there. “When I realized what you felt, the temptation of touching you became unbearable. Thus, I became even more determined to ignore it.”
Bruce released his chin and made to drop his hand back down to his lap, but Clark intercepted it. He took hold of Bruce’s hand, giving it an encouraging squeeze.
“But you couldn’t ignore it, could you?” Clark asked. “You were as swept away as I was.”
For the first time ever, Bruce twisted his hand in Clark’s grip and laced their fingers together. Clark’s breath caught, and he blushed darkly.
“How could I not be?” Bruce replied, tone almost grouchy. “For as often as you call me bossy, you are the most demanding person I’ve ever met. Always reaching for me even with all my sharp edges up.”
Clark couldn’t help but lean in to kiss him, slow and sweet and lingering. “Won’t apologize for that,” he murmured against his mouth. “I don’t intend to stop reaching for you any time soon.”
After a long stern glare, Bruce replied, “Excellent. See that you don’t.” Then he flipped the lamp back off and flopped dramatically back onto the pillows. “Now will you please let me sleep now?”
“I suppose,” Clark relented with a rather unconvincing pout as he settled down next to him, carefully keeping their hands joined as they drifted off to sleep.
Dating Bruce Wayne was as fraught with confusion as being friends with him had been, but Clark has been on cloud nine since that night in the cave and their subsequent talk in Bruce’s bed. They had talked obliquely of Bruce’s emotional state the next morning about the case he’d closed, and while Clark wasn’t able to get a lot of details out of him, Bruce had managed to at least communicate that he had been finding ways to cope.
Clark wished he knew what that meant specifically, but he let Bruce keep that to himself. The relationship wouldn’t get off the ground if he kept hounding such a secretive person for all his secrets, after all, and Clark figured that Bruce would talk about things when he was ready.
If that day never came, Clark was starting to realize that he wouldn’t be disappointed. Bruce had been sharing so much with him that he’d never shared with anyone else, and honestly that was more meaningful than Bruce suddenly becoming an open book. The privilege of being so close to him was amazing, and Clark didn’t want Bruce to feel pressured to change his basic temperament or personality. Relationships like that also never got anywhere, and Clark wanted this to last.
Their lunch dates continued to be the highlight of Clark’s week, but now Bruce would reach across the table and take his hand sometimes. He also allowed Clark to kiss his cheeks when they were leaving the diner, and sure, that had landed them in some tabloids here and there. Thankfully, Bruce getting a new ‘flavor of the week’ was too saturated for the media to really flip out about it too much. If they continued to date or became more serious, then it would probably be a bigger problem, but Clark was willing to cross that bridge when he came to it.
Clark had also started receiving more invitations to family dinner nights from Dick. Sometimes they were notes on high quality paper passed through Bruce on their lunch dates, but other times, Dick simply snuck a text to Clark or invited him over a video chat. Those dinners were even better than their lunches, because Clark was able to have some snuggle time after dinner with Bruce and play games with Dick. Sometimes Dick and Alfred sent them both incredibly pointed glances, but they seemed to approve of the new relationship dynamic.
The upside to have gotten so close to Alfred and Dick before courting Bruce meant that Clark didn’t have to worry about whether or not Bruce’s family was going to like him. They were both already dear friends.
Those nights, after Dick had went to bed and Alfred had retired for the night, Bruce would corner Clark against the furniture and kiss the life out of him… and possibly more creative things, if Clark was lucky.
Best case scenario was that Clark ended up naked and hopelessly entangled with Bruce in his sheets, but even then, he always went home before anybody in the household found them. Bruce wasn’t quite ready to cross that bridge with a teenage child in the house, and Clark was scarcely sure how to handle breakfast with Bruce’s family after one of their trysts.
Status quo with Bruce was actually kind of nice, after struggling for so long with uncertainty, but that didn’t mean that some shifts in their relationship were unwelcome when they finally did happen...
Clark’s pillow moved beneath him, and he tightened his hold a fraction instinctively. The solid body beneath him squirmed again, and Clark made a small noise of protest. Fingers stroked through his hair, a gentle soothing touch, and he smiled against warm skin.
“Bruce,” Clark murmured happily and shifted up to bury his face against Bruce’s neck, listening to his calm even heartbeat. “You’re awake early.”
Bruce grunted, never very pleased right after waking, and he didn’t respond as he twisted in Clark’s grip again. “You always run a little warm,” Bruce complained in a voice whinier than Clark had ever heard it. “I got hot.” He wriggled again, and this time Clark let him slip free.
The pillow was a poor substitute, but it smelled of Bruce, so Clark buried his face in that instead. He cracked an eye open to watch Bruce shuffle tiredly across the room, admiring how the black jogging pants slipped low on his hips until he disappeared into the bathroom.
The barest blush of color peeked through the crack in the curtains, and Clark shifted again, admiring the light of sunrise as he waited for Bruce to return. There was something undefinable and intimate about this time of the morning, hushed and reverent. Clark felt safe and comfortable, heavy with sleep and the lingering feel of Bruce’s body against his own. Being alone after such a relaxing night had him pouting at the bathroom door. Clark wasn’t necessarily prone to pouting, and he’d probably simply drift off to sleep again if he allowed himself to but… He’d quite been enjoying having his face pressed against Bruce’s chest while he slept, and he’d like to get back to doing it if he could.
Bruce reappeared, and his hair, standing up at every angle as it was, became a wild halo back-lit by the bathroom light for half a second before he clicked it off. Clark knew his own smile at the image Bruce made was sleep-drunk and dopey, but hopefully the lighting was too low for the other man to see it. Bruce slid back into bed, and Clark didn’t immediately reach for him, knowing he’d made the man too warm before. He was about to ask for permission to wrap Bruce up in his arms when two cold feet pressed themselves against his.
“Hey!” Clark sputtered, opening his mouth again to complain before Bruce cut him off.
“Bathroom tiles were cold.”
“Too hot one minute, too cold the next,” Clark said, reaching out to grab Bruce by the shoulders. He dragged him into his arms, Bruce struggling all the way. The struggle was playful though, Clark well aware of the kind of things Bruce would do if he were earnest about escaping.
Soon Clark had Bruce flipped around and dragged backwards into his arms. Bruce still squirmed grumpily in his embrace, but he allowed Clark to cuddle him into submission. Clark was the big spoon this time, Bruce fitting nicely against him. He took the opportunity to nuzzle his face down into Bruce’s wild hair, and he smiled as he felt Bruce relax into his hold with a harrumph. Bruce was exactly where he wanted to be, and Clark wondered if this outcome was the anticipated result of putting his cold feet against him.
“You’re so fussy,” Clark murmured to him, affection easy to hear in his tone. A slight jolt went through Bruce, going still immediately. A normal human might not have felt it, so slight as it was, but to Clark’s super senses it was practically a wailing siren. Clark tightened his hold on his waist, curling around him tighter. “Bruce, are you okay…?”
Bruce took a breath, steadying himself, and whispered into the quiet of the early morning, “That’s… My parents. They used to say that. That for as good-natured as I was that I was also the fussiest child they’d ever met.”
The quiet stretched out for a minute, and Clark considered how to respond. The topic was sensitive, and Bruce shut people out so easily when they poked or pried for more information.
“And…” Clark started cautiously. “Were you? A fussy kid, I mean.”
“Yes,” Bruce said. Then he put his hand over Clark’s, lacing their fingers together. “My mother said as an infant that I’d scream to be picked up, and I’d scream when I wanted to be put down. Cry when I was hungry-- then cry harder when I was full.”
“That sounds pretty fussy,” Clark agreed, leaning around a little to see Bruce’s expression.
Gazing at the soft light that cut a line across the carpet from the crack in the curtains, Bruce looked wistful and nostalgic. There was sorrow in his eyes, but it was an old ache, one that Bruce had learned to deal with. Clark was awed by Bruce at the simplest of times, but he was enraptured now, to be privy to something so delicate.
Bruce nodded. “My mother, she told me I was fighting and fussing from the moment I was born, and my dad joked that I was fighting even before I was born.”
Clark huffed a laugh, though it was quiet and didn’t disturb the strange peacefulness of the moment. “I could believe that.”
“Well I couldn’t,” Bruce said, the edge of a smile in his tone. “Told him that he couldn’t prove that. Only six years old and I told him that he had no ‘empirical evidence.’”
“A precocious child,” Clark grumbled. “Why am I not surprised? Where in the world did you learn the word empirical at six?”
“The Gray Ghost,” Bruce replied simply.
“Ahhh, I see. Makes sense.” Clark paused, wondering if Bruce was finished sharing. Still, he asked, “And… and what did your father say?”
“He said he did have evidence.” Bruce moved then, one hand coming up to touch his right elbow. “I have a birthmark on my elbow. He said it was a scar I got trying to elbow an angel in the face. Said I wasn’t quite ready to be born, and that I was fussing when I was being delivered.”
The birthmark thing…? Clark thought to himself, even as he was biting back a smile. “You were born late, I take it?”
“I was,” Bruce replied. “They ended up inducing labor.”
Another silence fell between them, and then he turned in Clark’s arms, moving to snuggle in against his chest. Clark wondered if Bruce simply wanted to hide his face, and he rubbed his back soothingly.
“I’m sure you said something equally precocious to that?” Clark tried, wanting Bruce to share as much as he could, as much as he wanted to, while the strange stillness of the morning allowed it.
“I told him he couldn’t prove that, and he told me that he was the expert. He was a doctor after all.” Bruce made a motion like a shrug, and he went on, “I wasn’t even old enough to doubt that babies came from angels, so I couldn’t make too much argument there.”
Clark tried to imagine that- a Bruce Wayne, small and innocent, asking his father where babies came from. The mental image was such a sweet one that he couldn’t help but drop a kiss on the top of Bruce’s head.
At this point, Bruce had fallen silent, and that seemed all that he was going to say on the topic. While Clark still wanted to know more, he hesitated to ask any further questions. He hated the idea of pushing Bruce too far when he was so willingly sharing such a personal memory. Finally, Clark managed to ask, “If you don’t mind me asking, is this… related to the birthmark thing? The one Dick mentioned back at the museum?”
“The museum,” Bruce repeated thoughtfully, trying to figure out what he meant, and there was a beat of silence before Bruce went carefully still in Clark’s arms. “Ah, yes. Yes, it is related to that.”
Clark nodded and took a breath. “Would you… care to share what that meant?”
Just like Dick’s prepackaged blueberry muffins, this memory too would be tied up in grief, and he wouldn’t be upset or slighted if Bruce wasn’t able or willing to tell him more. He prepared himself to swallow the disappointment down as the silence dragged out. If Bruce wasn’t so carefully motionless in his arms, he would’ve thought the man had fallen asleep.
“I’ll tell you.” Bruce pulled his face back, looked up into Clark’s eyes. “After my parents were… gone, I got into a fight at school. I was angry all the time back then, and one day another child pushed me too far. During the fight, he shoved me, and I bashed my elbow against a wall. It was only a shallow scrape, but when I jerked my arm up to look, I saw the birthmark smeared with blood. I had a clear and vivid flashback of that conversation with my parents even though I hadn’t thought of it in years.”
“And you got upset?”
“I was inconsolable,” Bruce replied, closing his eyes for a moment, and his brow furrowed as he relived this unpleasant memory. “I… started to cry, and surrounded as I was by other children, I, well. I had a panic attack. The others thought I’d broken something. Sobbing and shaking and clinging to my elbow, unable to explain what was wrong to anyone until Alfred came to pick me up…” Bruce ran out of words then, falling quiet for a few moments before opening his eyes to look into his face again. “I… try not to think about that moment often, but the birthmark will always be there.”
Clark’s heart was pounding loudly in his chest, to have Bruce meeting his eyes and opening up to him like this. Truly, something about the hours closest to dawn held some magic for Bruce to show himself as authentically as this. Filled with sympathy and gratitude, Clark leaned down to press his forehead to Bruce’s, meeting his honesty the best way he knew how to- gently and openly.
“That sounds terrible, Bruce. To be triggered in front of your peers like that, hurting and unable to explain why,” Clark said, and this time his hand found Bruce’s elbow, fingers curling over where he thought that birthmark might be. He ached for how that must feel for Bruce, a permanent reminder stamped on his skin.
“The physical wound is gone,” Bruce said, frowning slightly. “You’re too late to ease that hurt.” He didn’t mention the emotional wound though, and so Clark didn’t either. After a moment, Bruce shook his head, and his expression softened into a wry smile. “Always trying to help.”
“I am Superman,” Clark replied teasingly, flashing a dimpled smile. “Helping make my own boyfriend feel better is the least I can do to make the world a kinder place.”
“Boyfriend,” Bruce repeated, one eyebrow going up. “Makes all of this sound juvenile.” He harrumphed, the careful stillness going out of him now that the conversation seemed to be turning away from the more serious topics. Bruce leaned forward, ghosting his lips along Clark’s jaw. “Boyfriend... like teenagers kissing behind the bleachers after a varsity football game.”
“Maybe I’d like to kiss you behind the bleachers,” Clark replied easily, tilting his head to give Bruce access. To his great surprise, this kind of intimacy came easier to Bruce than he expected. For all the care that he had taken in not touching his skin directly at first and the self-denial that he’d engaged in, Bruce was more than willing to indulge now that he’d gotten comfortable with it.
Now that it seemed Clark would be a long-term fixture in his life.
“How sweet,” Bruce said, voice neutral and utterly devoid of tone even as he brushed a kiss against Clark’s chin. “How boy-next-door of you.” He pressed another kiss to the edge of Clark’s jaw. “How unexpectedly innocent.” Then Bruce nipped at his earlobe, worrying the sensitive skin between his teeth.
Clark moaned quietly and trembled. “Innocent, you say,” Clark rumbled, arousal and wonder tangling in his chest. He pushed his knee between Bruce’s thighs, turning them to pin Bruce down against the bed. Clark slid both hands down Bruce’s body, gripping his thighs and pushing them apart so he could settle between them. “I didn’t say kissing was all I’d like.”
“Ahh, an exhibitionist then,” Bruce teased, trying to sound imperious and judgmental even as his fingers tugged open the strings on Clark’s pajama pants. “I didn’t realize that was what you were into. Should’ve guessed with how eye-catching your costume is—”
The words choked off in Bruce’s throat, strangled by a sound of pleasure as Clark rolled their hips together.
“Hush, you,” Clark murmured with a smile, and he kissed the edge of his mouth. “I intend to take advantage of the fact that we not teenagers and are, in fact, both consenting adults. You are a consenting adult, right?”
“Yes,” Bruce breathed out exultantly, eyes going hazy with arousal when Clark took that as permission to slide his hand down to grip his ass. “I’m consenting to being your ‘boyfriend’ as well-- as juvenile as that sounds.”
Clark knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn’t care one bit. “Excellent,” he replied. “Then I have a few good ideas about how to start our day.”
“Show me,” Bruce demanded, and he tugged at Clark’s hair. “And get a move on. I do have a child and a company and a city to take care of.”
“Bossy, bossy,” Clark said with a grin before he moved to pin Bruce’s hands to the bed. “I’m gonna kiss you stupid.”
Bruce glared for a moment, opening his mouth to respond, but Clark swooped in and captured his lips, determined to kiss him thoroughly enough to drive all other thoughts out of his head.
“Stupid,” Bruce gasped against his mouth, “is not how that makes me feel.”
Clark laughed and said, “That’s because I still haven’t distracted you enough.” With another roll of his hips, Clark captured his mouth again, intent on overwhelming the beautiful, brilliant man beneath him.
Between their serious talk and their less serious lovemaking afterwards, Bruce and Clark had both managed to miss breakfast time and sleep until nearly eleven. While this was fairly standard for Bruce, Clark rarely, if ever, slept so late without a reason. At least it was Saturday, and Clark had some time to linger. The day before he’d helped deal with a massive storm that had ravaged the East Coast, and other JL members had stepped up to monitor any crises, leaving Clark to take life at a slower pace that day.
As Clark was buttoning up his shirt, Bruce wrapped both of his arms around him from behind. Bruce hid his face against Clark’s shoulders and breathed in deep. Clark allowed himself the self-indulgent thought that Bruce was enjoying the scent of him. That was only fair with how often Clark found himself pilfering shirts from Bruce’s drawer to use as pillowcases.
Bruce pretended not to notice most of the time which was a relief. Clark wasn’t sure if it was because Bruce found it embarrassing or if because he truly didn’t care either way. Sometimes, Clark wanted to explain himself- that with senses so strong, sometimes certain stimuli became incredibly powerful. After Clark had slept so many nights surrounded by the scent of Bruce, he found it hard to sleep without it. He could… but it was harder. He was constantly bombarded with so many sounds and smells to distract him, but when he could just focus on Bruce’s scent and the sound of his heartbeat, Clark always slept like a baby.
The brush of lips against the back of his neck brought Clark out of his thoughts.
“Spacing out on me, Kent,” Bruce said gruffly, arms tightening around his waist. “You know I hate repeating myself.”
Clark grinned at Bruce in the mirror, shrugging sheepishly, and Bruce responded by dipping his angry face a little further behind Clark’s shoulder.
Adorable, Clark thought. He loved to see Bruce flustered, because his embarrassed face always looked so pissed off.
He was smart enough not to say that out loud though, and instead replied with, “Oh sorry. What’d you say?”
When he spoke again, only the top of Bruce’s head and his eyes, glaring angrily, were visible in the mirror over Clark’s shoulder, and his voice had dropped down into the Batman register. “I said,” he gritted out. “To stay for brunch.”
Clark’s eyes went round, cheeks getting instantly rather hot. “Oh!” Then he was beaming and turning in his arms to drag him into a hug. “Of course, Bruce! Does this mean I don’t have to evade Dick’s questions so much?”
Bruce snorted and pulled out of the embrace with a pinched expression. “The evasions aren’t effective. He has been… making pointed comments regardless, and perhaps if we were more forthcoming, he’d stop with all his silly commentary.”
“He’s been teasing you,” Clark said, brow arched high. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, and he tried to bite back his smile.
The unimpressed expression that Bruce shot him informed Clark that he wasn’t very successful.
“That’s hardly the point. Go on downstairs. I’ll… I’ll be down in a minute.” Bruce gave him one more meaningful glance before he hurried away into the bathroom. The shower came on a few moments later, and Clark rubbed his chest, just above his heart.
“Oh Bruce,” Clark said, shaking his head.
Then he made his way down to the kitchen, following the sounds of Dick and Alfred preparing brunch. Dick was in the process of making French toast, while Alfred bustled around making coffee and preparing other breads and toppings. After watching through the door with his x-ray vision, Clark finally poked his head in and waved, feeling suddenly awkward. This was definitely why Bruce had left him to the big reveal of his presence—let the superhuman deal with the awkward social stuff while he was up there hiding in the shower.
When Dick saw him, his whole face lit up, and he raced toward him for a hug.
“Clark! I didn’t expect you back so soon. You don’t usually get to visit two days in a row!!” Dick grinned, and while he had a truly convincing innocent face, Clark could see the glint of mischief in his eyes.
Unsure what to say, Clark glanced up at Alfred for assistance, but the only response he got was a single raised eyebrow as he artfully arranged smoked salmon on a serving dish. Both of them were waiting for Clark to admit that he’d spent the night, and so Clark dove right in, as was his usual tactic.
“Oh, well, I mean, I never actually left, uhm. The manor. I spent the night. It was late, and sure, superspeed is a thing, but it seemed easier.” He had to forcefully close his mouth against the word vomit threatening to continue, and his cheeks flushed darker.
Dick’s carefully innocent expression transformed more completely into a teasing grin. “Does that mean I can finally call you adopted dad number two??”
“What?!” he replied, all his thoughts startled right out of his head. “Dick! I mean, what?? It’s not like… We’re not married!! That’s not, uh, how adoption works either. I’d, hm, I’d need to adopt you too, and that’s legal paperwork, and I don’t know anything about it! I mean, obviously I’d be happy to adopt you, that’s not an issue but--”
Apparently though, this flustered reaction was exactly what Dick was aiming for, and he interrupted Clark’s sputtering confusion with a delighted peal of laughter.
“You’re even funnier to tease than Bruce!” he said, grabbing on to Clark’s wrist and pulling him over to an edge of one counter covered in lemons. “Here- you make the lemonade! I was s’ppose’ta to get to it next, but the French toast is taking longer than I expected.
Clark huffed a breath, and even though he was blushing and embarrassed, he wasn’t all that upset at the teasing. It felt nice to be acknowledged as Bruce’s partner and to be treated like a member of the household rather than a guest. Back when he first came, Alfred would’ve hardly allowed him to take a spot in the kitchen and work alongside the family. Now, Clark fell into step with them himself with no fuss or feelings of being out of place.
While they were working, at least, he thought that teasing would be put on hold, but Dick had a follow up question to ask while Clark was busy cutting lemons and preparing the lemonade.
“Sooooo, what did you and Bruce get up to??” Dick said as he plopped another piece of soaked bread down onto the hot pan. He sounded moments away from snickering, and he was ignoring Alfred’s disapproving stare. Clearly, Dick thought he already knew what they had done, and he was still aiming to embarrass Clark.
Okay, Clark wasn’t exactly sure what kind of knowledge Dick had about sex and sexuality at his age, but he was clearly trying to imply some sort of naughty behavior with his whole expression and tone.
Thankfully, Clark was now aware of what Dick’s goal was, and he wouldn’t be surprised as easily a second time. “You know. Sleep over stuff. We talked, and he actually talked about his parents a little with me. That was a first.”
Instead of snickering, a hush fell over the kitchen, and Clark glanced over at them hesitantly as he juiced another lemon. He was pretty sure Bruce doing such a thing was a pretty big deal, and the quiet acknowledgement of that made his heart do flips in his chest.
Indeed, Alfred smiled- sure, it was a small one by most standards, but it was practically a grin compared to Alfred’s usual expression. “Is that right? Master Bruce is more comfortable with you than even I realized.”
Dick beamed. “Oh awesome! When Bruce finally was able to like, I dunno, share some stuff about his parents with me… that’s kinda what made it click for me. That I was gonna be a part of his family.” Dick plopped the finished French toast on a plate, and he passed it over to Alfred who brought it to the table for him.
“Yeah I felt… something pretty similar yeah,” Clark replied, smiling and bringing the pitcher of lemonade to the table. Alfred took it from him, emotion still shining in his eyes.
“Master Bruce is careful with who he shares such delicate memories with, and I know the trust such a thing takes. I believe he’s bestowed his trust wisely, in this case,” Alfred said softly, too softly for Dick to hear. There was weight in these words, Clark knew, a silent bit of encouragement from Bruce’s father figure.
And that… that was the implication here, wasn’t it? That Alfred trusted Clark too, was glad to see the two of them ‘getting along.’ Clark smiled and nodded at him.
“I feel the weight of the gesture, sir,” Clark replied, and Alfred nodded before he was back to putting the finishing touches on the table.
Though Dick looked between Alfred and Clark, wondering what had passed between them, he shrugged after a moment’s assessment. Clearly not important for him, and so he said jovially, “In that case, welcome to the Wayne family roster! Bedtime is never, and family bonding takes place in the rec room with swords!”
Clark laughed at this, and he started to respond, only for the kitchen door to swing open again.
“I seem to recall,” Bruce’s voice cut in, and all eyes darted to the door. His expression was stern, and his arms were crossed in front of his chest. “That you do in fact have a bedtime on most nights.”
Even still, there was something almost playful about this stern and gruff stance. Clark wouldn’t have noticed it months ago, but clearly Dick wasn’t cowed by it either.
“Oh! Good morning, Bruce!” Dick said with a bright smile, already moving forward with Alfred to check for any final touches to put on the table. “And sure, like, some nights I have a bedtime, but it’s more a guideline than a strict rule.”
Clark’s role in the brunch preparation had been completed, and since Alfred and Dick were in the ‘double checking everything was in place’ part of the meal, Clark got out of the way and slid himself into a seat. He caught Bruce’s eyes. “Okay so bedtime is a sometimes thing, but the sword part was accurate?”
“Of course, it was,” Bruce replied, sitting down at Clark’s left and making a grab for the coffee. “We have to keep ourselves in good overall physical health, and swordsmanship is one of the ways to accomplish that goal.”
“Though s’pose you could just go sit in the sun-room for that, huh?” Dick asked as he sat down.
Then Alfred joined as well, and Clark smiled at the ease of that too. The first few times he’d dined with the family, Alfred had put up a fuss about it since Clark was a guest. Bruce and Dick had insisted that family dinners meant Alfred eating with them regardless of whether a guest was there, and while Alfred had relented, he hadn’t seemed all that satisfied.
Now it was easy as breathing for him to slide into his place at the family table even with Clark there and reach for his own food and drink.
“I guess I could just sunbathe on the Manor lawn to keep myself sturdy,” Clark admitted. “But I’ll miss out on the bonding part. I think I’ll come try out this fencing nonsense you and Bruce get into sometimes.”
Dick beamed as bright as anything and said, “You should! I really pull some tricks over on Bruce sometimes. Once, he was being all,” he cleared his throat to affect a nagging teacher voice that was clearly intended to be Bruce, “‘Dick, practice control. Think! Finesse not strength!’ and blah blah blah.”
The impression wasn’t really a good one, but it was entertaining—made more so by the flat, long-suffering expression on Bruce’s face. Alfred was hiding a smile behind a napkin, and Clark was allowing himself to laugh at Bruce’s expense.
It was payback for Bruce making him face his family alone that morning.
“I don’t sound like that,” Bruce said as he sipped his coffee. Then his mouth quirked upwards just bit. “I’m more demanding.”
Clark laughed again, and Dick gave him a look.
“At least you know!” Dick said before he turned his eyes back to Clark. “Anyways! Then I was able to somersault between his legs and pop up behind him!” Dick’s face was bright again with mischief, and he gave an expressive hand gesture that was undoubtedly him wielding his fencing epee. “And WHAP! Right on the butt!”
“I don’t think that’s an approved fencing strategy,” Clark replied. “But I like it. Cheers!”
Grin as infectious as always, Dick tapped his glass against Clark’s. “Thanks! You’ll have to come try it sometimes! It’s fun, but it gets boring just facing off against Bruce all the time. I mean, you do have a bit of advantage over me, but you’ll just have to promise to not use super-speed to win!”
“I wouldn’t cheat—” Clark started, but Bruce reached over to touch his arm, barely at the edge of his sleeve, fingers sliding over skin before settling on his shirt cuff.
“Actually, on that note, I was considering…” Bruce turned toward Clark a little more fully, but he was focusing more attention on Dick as he spoke. “We have some red sun protocol technology that we use to train Clark on hand to hand combat and fighting strategy. If we installed something like that here, Clark could come for scheduled training sessions with Batman here rather than us both traveling somewhere else for it.”
Clark felt a smile blooming across his face, knowing that this was one more way for him and Bruce to spend time together. Sure, it was through something that they already scheduled time for anyways. Diana and Bruce both had taken turns trying to polish Superman’s fighting styles and strategies when he was depowered. After a few… close calls, the determination was made that Clark did need training particular to being without powers.
Yeah, it wasn’t the most comfortable thing ever, but Clark saw the value in it. Sometimes he even liked that he could interact with Batman with less delicacy when he knew that he couldn’t hurt him as easily on accident. At the moment, though, the most important fact about all of this was simply that Bruce was thinking about and planning ways to get Clark to the manor even with both of their busy schedules. By planning League training in a way that Clark could come straight to his house, well, this was two birds with one stone.
Having a strategist for a boyfriend certainly had its perks.
“That sounds cool! How does the red sun stuff work!?” Dick was sitting up taller in his seat, and he was clearly gearing up for more extended questioning.
“I’ll tell you all about it in a second.” Clark jumped in before they got too distracted. Then he looked to Bruce. “Sounds like an awesome idea to me, Bruce. I’d love to have more reasons to come by the manor.”
“It’s expedient and more convenient than training you at a League facility,” Bruce said stiffly, looking embarrassed. Still, he nodded and said, “I’ll see about adapting the technology to our training rooms here.”
Clark grinned, and the familiar urge to swoop in for a kiss took hold of him. Usually around Alfred and Dick, Clark shoved those urges down, but this time, he moved in quick to place a kiss against Bruce’s temple.
“Let me know if you need any help,” Clark said happily, and Bruce grunted his assent. Then he turned his attention back to Dick. “So the red sun protocols work kinda like this—”
And he started to explain the technology to Dick. As always, Dick was clever and eager to learn, and Clark was happy to share his knowledge- and, indeed, his own secrets- with him. The conversation took a turn into his powers and his home planet of Krypton, and even Alfred joined in to ask him about his planet’s culture.
Partway through the conversation, Bruce reached over and slipped his hand into Clark’s, and that made the morning more perfect. Sharing food, sharing stories, and sharing secrets- all excellent ways to build relationships on solid foundations. Neither he nor Bruce were ready to talk about long-term relationship plans or goals yet, but he was sure when they got there, they’d have all the kinks worked out.
The rest of their Saturday off was put on hold, though, when both Bruce and Clark were called away by the Justice League. As Superman zipped through the sky, the Batwing engine roaring as it followed behind him, he allowed himself one last moment of self-indulgence to reflect on how much could change simply by hearing a voice on the news.
I couldn't work it into the story- simply because Bruce! He refused to talk about it, no matter how the conversation played out but!! Bruce showed up to the tech party because he knew Clark was going to be there and that as Brucie he'd be able to flirt. He had not realized that Clark would flirt back even in his civilian disguise, and so basically, they were both being dumb. I intended for Bruce to admit that in this conversation at the beginning but... but Bruce was too embarrassed to admit it. Maybe he will someday... He also didn't elaborate further on his issues with the mission, and I left this hanging intentionally. It's not something that talking about or working through can happen immediately all the time, and for a man like Bruce, it would take him a lot of time to get to a place he could verbalize it.
Also I want more batfic where Alfred shares meals and stuff with the family. I realize he and Bruce have an unconventional relationship, but just, Bruce and Dick and Alfred sitting around the table together and enjoying food is so good ;3; Domestic batfamily fic pls!
For those of you who wanted smut, I do apologize. I don't like putting explicit things in long fic like this since some people aren't into it. I also do think that for Bruce, allowing another person to sleep next to him and cuddle them up into their arms is actually more intimate in some ways to him. I think at this point in his life, Bruce has had a lot of sex that didn't mean much but was fun enough while it lasted, but the rest of it- sleeping next to someone and allowing them into his personal sphere is a lot more difficult. My headcanon about Bruce: he tends to be more honest and open when he's very sleepy and tired, and so he is careful about who he allows near him when he's exhausted or injured or anything else that might make him less guarded.
The fencing scene with Dick and Bruce is here and it starts at 2:52!!!
Finally: THANK YOU. For sticking it out to chapter 11 and taking this journey with me! This was supposed to be a one shot that turned into a much larger story, and I'm so grateful for everyone who took the time to read, review, and share their feelings with me. It's been an utter delight and I'm so pleased other people enjoy what I've written.