Bruce doesn’t mean to overhear them.
He’s not a prying person. Sure, there are times when he needs to investigate something, he is, after all, a detective, but he never goes actively out of his way to eavesdrop unless the situation calls for it.
Wandering the halls of the League Mansion with a bunch of paperwork and coming across the majority of your team having a secret meeting in a side room is not a situation that calls for it is definitely one that Bruce is not only interested in, but also definitely calls for a little bit of eavesdropping.
After all, his team is still relatively new. In the six months that they’ve moved into the mansion and the year since they joined together, they’ve not had a lot of time to really gel and bond.
Barry spends most of his time commuting between Central City and the mansion just outside of Gotham, but only because he’s able too. The run takes him just under ten minutes at this point, so it’s not a large deal.
Victor is similar in that he spends almost all of his time at the mansion now. He’s the most permanent resident, only really leaving to go and argue on the occasion with his father just to come back sullen and depressed. Bruce doesn’t pretend to get what that’s like. His father was dead before his tenth birthday. Parent-child relationships are not his forte.
Arthur barely spends time with them now that he’s the King of Atlantis. There was a long period of time after Steppenwolf that he disappeared, only coming back after numerous months with a new suit of armour that is a personal blight on Bruce’s eyes. The bright yellow and green made Barry laugh, but he was stopped when Arthur aimed an incredibly old yet still deadly trident at them all.
Diana, though, has the perfect blend of being away and coming to stay. Bruce envies her ability to manage her entire life perfectly, but he chalks that up to having hundreds of years to practice. She appears at the mansion when needed, is gone when she’s not, but no matter what they all know that she will be there if they call.
Then there’s Clark, and Bruce struggles the most when it comes to Clark. He says it’s because of the fact that he tried to kill the guy, then resurrected him, almost got killed by him, saved the world, then promptly had to go straight back to civilian life where Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne do not interact at all.
Diana laughs derisively every time and says it’s because Bruce has a ridiculously huge crush on Clark and is too emotionally repressed to deal with it.
So really, with knowing how distant his team can be, seeing them all converged in a random side-room and having a decent meeting that doesn’t include yelling, something Bruce hopes they’ll carry over to the official meetings, definitely catches Bruce’s attention and he plasters himself to the wall just outside of the doorway that is wide open.
Which, really, Bruce has taught them better.
It doesn’t matter now though, not if it means Bruce can hear everything they’re saying, but just what they’re saying is a bit of a mystery. Clearly, he’s arrived when they’re already halfway into their discussion.
“It’s getting ridiculous,” Arthur is bemoaning when Bruce tunes it, and it’s not exactly something that’s out of the ordinary. Arthur’s always bitching about something.
“You’re right,” Victor chimes in though. “I hate to admit it, but you’re right. They’re getting insufferable, and I have more important things to be worrying about then when the hell they’ll finally cave.”
Bruce frowns and is tempted to peek around the doorway, but he stops when he hears Diana sigh.
“Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do, boys,” she says, and she genuinely sounds remorseful. “If there was a way to, I don’t know, force them together then I’m sure, against my better judgement, we would but there isn’t-“
“Yes, there is!” Barry pipes up, and Bruce wonders just what the heck they’re all talking about. “There is a way we could do it, guys! We could play matchmaker and-“
“Be serious, Barry,” Victor interrupts. “Neither Clark or Bruce are teenagers. Throwing them in a cupboard and expecting them to kiss isn’t going to work!”
Realising just who they’re talking about has Bruce’s cheeks turning red for the first time in a very long time, and it’s only because he’s used to shocking things that he doesn’t drop his files everywhere. He thought he was being subtle about his feelings for Clark, at least slightly quiet about them, but clearly not if his team is holding a secret meeting about it.
“But how do you know that?” Barry protests and Bruce feels his eye starting to twitch at just what he’s suggesting. He really doesn’t fancy being shoved in a small confined space to begin with, and having Clark in there to top it off isn’t thrilling either.
“Maybe not a cupboard,” Diana muses, silencing the boys before they start to bicker. “But you could be right. If we maybe create a sort of romantic atmosphere for them it could trigger something? They’d have to be alone, of course, but-”
“What, hire someone to play violin over a candlelit dinner?” Arthur snorts derisively. “They’re men of action, Diana. They need something that’ll get their blood pumping.”
“If throwing them in a pit with all the Arkham Asylum patients is your idea, then you really need to stay away from them,” Victor snaps, and Bruce can almost hear him rolling his eyes. “You’re all vastly overestimating them. They’re intelligent, granted, but they’re both dumbasses. It wouldn’t take much to practically trick them into confessing to each other.”
“So it’s decided then,” Barry cheerfully pipes up. “We all give matchmaking them a go. We’ve all got different ideas. It’s bound to work at some point.”
There’s a very lengthy silence, one in which Bruce is desperately hoping that Diana at least pipes up and refers to her better judgement to not do this, but then it’s cut off by Diana letting out a loud sigh.
“Okay,” she agrees, “let’s give it a shot. What have we got to lose?”
That has Bruce’s breath hitching, and he braves a quick glance around the doorway to see the all four members of the team nodding at each other, Barry, in particular, looking determined, and Bruce can’t stand there for another moment.
He makes sure not to hit the squeaky floorboard as he rushes away.
“So, they want to get you together?” Dick asks with just as much surprise as Bruce has been feeling all day so far.
Bruce doesn’t look up from where he’s pretending to be absorbed in the computer in front of him, something that he has no doubt his boys have picked up on but are being too polite to mention, and he refuses to look up still even when Dick reaches over to slam a hand down on top of the keyboard and effectively quit out of all the tabs Bruce had open.
“Don’t be childish,” he scolds, clicking through to reopen the tabs. “It’s unbecoming and I have taught you better.”
“You didn’t teach me that,” Jason yells from behind Bruce, and Bruce glances in one of the closed down monitor screens to see Jason is still playing an incredibly deadly game of table-top ping-pong with Tim. He’d told them not to bring it down to the Batcave but he never gets any respect from the boys.
“You weren’t raised,” Tim points out as he fires a ping-pong ball straight at Jason’s face. “You were dragged up.”
“Kicking and screaming,” Dick agrees from where he’s sitting in front of Bruce up on his desk, something that Bruce also told them all not to do. “But seriously, the League wants to get you and Clark together? As in playing matchmaker?”
“As in interfering in mine and Clark’s personal lives without our consent,” Bruce clarifies, and he huffs as he lets his fingers fall flat on the keyboard and turns his head to glare at Dick. “Get off the desk.”
Dick ignores him as he taps a finger to his chin. “That could work you know,” he says, and Bruce narrows his eyes. “I mean, you’re too repressed to do it yourself.”
“Fucking repressed,” Jason calls out, and Bruce catches Tim reaching over the small table to punch Jason in the shoulder. At least he’s got some back up from him.
“I’m not repressed,” he grits out through his teeth, and he glowers at Dick when he only gets an incredulous raised eyebrow in response. “I’m not.”
“Only a repressed person would say that,” Tim points out, and Bruce immediately takes away any hope of Tim being on his side. “Seriously, Bruce. This whole mooning thing is getting a bit tiring. You should probably let them try and matchmake you together.”
“He doesn’t moon over Clark,” Dick says, and he grins at Bruce. “He pines over him.”
“That sounds so pathetic,” Bruce and Jason both mutter at the same time, and Bruce tries not to feel a sense of camaraderie. No doubt Jason will be slagging him off again in a moment. He can’t win with any of them.
“Look,” he says, trying to make his voice as no-nonsense as possible, “what happens between Clark and me is of no-one’s business but our own. Letting the team get involved is just asking for trouble and, in any case, even if Clark were interested, we don’t need to get to together because it has too many outcomes that I can’t possibly predict.” He glares at Dick before he swivels in his chair to glare at the other two as well. “What if it is one-sided? Clark will be uncomfortable around me without a doubt. What if we get together then break-up? Imagine the chaos that would cause in a team. What if we got together and stayed together? That could lead to potential bias when we’re involved in large scale missions with the team! There are too many unpredictable outcomes that this cannot be a good idea!”
There’s a long moment of silence in response, Dick quiet beside him, Tim and Jason just blinking back at him with open mouths, and just when Bruce is satisfied that the three of them have seen just what could go wrong, a small voice perks up from near the stairwell.
“Wow,” Damian says, his eyebrow raised high enough to be caught in his hairline as he stares Bruce down from the top of the stairs. “You really are pathetic.”
Whatever hope that Bruce had of his boys butting out is immediately gone as Jason starts to laugh, Tim smirks, and Dick reaches over to clap Bruce’s shoulder.
“He’s right,” Dick sighs and Bruce reaches up to swat his hand away, resisting the urge to flip the boy completely over his shoulder and off the damn desk.
“Go away,” Bruce snaps as he swivels in his chair to face his computer again. “All of you. Go irritate Alfred. This conversation is done.”
No one responds for a moment before Bruce is suddenly swamped by the other three boys joining Dick. Tim sits on the other side of the desk, Jason pulls Bruce back in the chair before parking his ass on Bruce’s computer, and Damian surprises him the most as he pushes Bruce’s crossed arms apart as he wriggles up onto Bruce’s lap.
The sight of all four boys looking at him imploringly is enough to make Bruce melt.
He doesn’t though. He refuses to melt on principle because he’s Batman, and instead he just glowers at all of them until Jason sighs.
“Look, Bruce,” he says, holding up a hand to cut Dick off before he can speak and maintaining eye contact with Bruce. “Yeah, okay, we’ll give you a point there. There’s a lot to be worried about with this whole relationship business with you and Kent. We get that. We can even say we understand that.”
“You’ve always warned us about not screwing the crew,” Dick continues as he bats Jason’s hand away. “And we get why. It’s not that hard to understand, and we can definitely see why dating Clark within the League is scary business.”
“I’m not scared,” Bruce protests, and he winces when Damian pinches him.
“You can’t tell us that when you’ve just shown how pathetic you are,” he grouches at Bruce, and really, Bruce doesn’t know just where this vindictive ten-year-old came from. “You’re scared shitless.”
“Language,” Bruce and Tim scold at the same time, and Damian rolls his eyes and blows a raspberry.
“In any case,” Tim continues as he rolls his eyes at Damian before meeting Bruce’s. “None of us think that sitting there and ignoring this opportunity is a good idea. Yeah, it’s weird to be relying on the League to get you together-”
“Especially when two of them are single, one of them is still not over her dead boyfriend, and the other one literally fell into a relationship,” Jason points out.
“-but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a go,” Tim continues as if Jason hasn’t spoken. He shrugs as he glances over at Dick who nods back.
“Come on, Bruce,” Dick implores, and Bruce refuses to meet his gaze and instead stares at the split ends on Damian’s hair. “Give it a shot.”
Bruce stays quiet as he thinks on the boy’s words, and he fidgets with a thread hanging off Damian’s t-shirt as he maintains staring at the boy’s hair. A small part of him wants to agree, wants to cheer at the possibility that he could get some help in this department. No, he’s not stupid enough to convince himself that he feels nothing for Clark. It’s pretty obvious that he does. But he’ll also admit to not knowing what the hell to do about it.
He can feel all four gazes on him, all waiting for an answer, and despite the larger part of him absolutely protesting this like mad, he decides to give in to that small little voice at the back of his head.
“Fine,” he eventually caves, and he refuses to smile at the cheers from Tim and Dick, “I won’t actively sabotage their efforts, okay?”
“Fine by me, baby,” Dick grins as he reaches out to clap Bruce’s shoulder again before ruffling Damian’s hair. The boy lets out an indignant yelp before he flies off Bruce’s lap to tackle Dick from off the desk, the two crashing to the ground as Jason lets out a whoop and joins the fray.
Bruce tries not to roll his eyes and doesn’t succeed and, when he turns to Tim, it’s to see him grinning as he gives Bruce two thumbs up.
“Good luck,” he says cheerfully, and Bruce groans as he drops his head into his hands.
The first attempt is clearly made by Barry.
It’s painfully obvious what he’s doing to Bruce, although that might be because Bruce is actually privy to just what is going on. Not that he should and, as he climbs the mansion stairs to see Barry calling out to Clark who is floating inside one of the closets along the hallway and rummaging along the shelves, he resists the urge to immediately turn around and walk away.
He doesn’t, thinking instead about how it’s either this or the disappointed looks of all four of his adopted sons, and it’s an easy choice as he grits his teeth, finishes climbing the stairs, and moves to stand by Barry.
“What’re you doing?” he asks, and it’s only because he’s really focusing on Barry that he knows Barry knew he was there. The fake jump of surprise he gives is almost over the top, and Bruce fights back the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose and sigh.
“Oh, Bruce!” Barry calls, his voice a little too loud as he obviously tries to grab Clark’s attention. Not that it should be. Clark can hear them from miles away, let alone the metre between them and the closet. “I didn’t see you there! What’s happening?”
His voice is a little too fast, obviously caused by the stress he’s feeling, and Bruce doesn’t answer straight away as he pauses for a moment to take in the situation.
If he’s not mistaken, Barry is probably going to lock them both in the cupboard.
He takes a deep breath before he finally responds. “Nothing,” he says grouchily because he didn’t agree to be happy about accepting the League’s help. “What’s Clark doing in the closet?”
That makes Barry’s lips twitch for a second and Bruce realises the innuendo. He doesn’t comment on it as he just raises an eyebrow that has Barry clearing his throat and scrambling to answer.
“See, I lost some of my baby pictures,” he explains with a waving hand. “I know you have them around here somewhere, so Clark was giving me a hand. I just can’t reach the top of the cupboard.” Barry shakes his head. “Why they have to be so tall, I don’t know, and there’s no ladder around here at all and-”
“Two more cupboards down,” Bruce interrupts and he sees Barry’s mouth drop open momentarily, probably worried that they’ll have to move cupboards as, after all, this is the only cupboard on this floor that will hold both Bruce and Clark. “The ladder is two more cupboards down,” Bruce continues to explain after he’s enjoyed the moment of Barry’s panic.
“Ohhh,” Barry responds, nodding his head as he glances over to see Clark looking at them both with a raised eyebrow. “No point in getting it now that I’ve roped you in!”
A good save, and Bruce almost smiles. He looks away from Barry though to glance at Clark, and he refuses to let his breath be taken away at the sight of him hovering in the air with his terrible plaid shirt, wrinkled jeans, and wonky glasses perched on his face.
It’s terrible, Bruce tells himself, and he almost believes it.
“I told you, Barry,” Clark calls as he leans against the doorway a good two feet off the ground.”I don’t think Bruce will have your baby pictures around here. Why would he have anyone's baby-”
“Unfortunately,” Bruce cuts him off, and he wishes he didn’t have to admit this, “I do have his baby photos. I have a copy of everyones. Except Diana’s. But… well…” he trails off. It’s pretty self-explanatory that one, and the other two just nod.
“Why?” Clark asks, and Bruce shrugs.
“I have full and comprehensive files on everyone for every occasion,” Bruce answers, and he doesn’t tell them about the de-ageing ray he saw in Lex Luthor’s files. That will be for another time.
Clark watches him for a moment before he shrugs. “Are they digital or physical?” he asks, which is a completely fair question. “And are they even in here?”
Bruce really thinks that Barry has thought this through as he nods. “Both,” he says, and he takes a moment to pull himself together as he gives Barry the cue he needs. “They’re all in there.”
“Maybe you could show him?” Barry asks, practically bouncing with glee.
Bruce eyes him wearily, watching as the longer he takes to agree the less bounce there is. He wants to say no, just tell Barry to use the digital copies and use the tablet in his hand to send them straight through so he doesn’t have to do this. But, he said he’d give it a go and wouldn’t actively sabotage them, so he sighs as he hands the tablet over to Barry.
“Fine,” he agrees through gritted teeth. Barry grins at him as he takes the tablet, and it’s only because Bruce knows what he’s about to do that he doesn’t question Barry following close behind him.
See, the damn cupboards all only open from the outside, and they require a key to do so. Bruce hasn’t seen the key insight, only a doorstopper holding open one of the cupboard doors and, as Clark moves back into the cupboard to let Bruce in, he waits for the sound of the stopper to move.
“It’s in here somewhere,” Bruce starts to say as he looks at the shelves at eye height, and he doesn’t even get to look at the second damn box in here before he hears the creaking of the hinges and the door is slamming shut behind him.
There’s a moment of silence as Clark obviously processes what’s happened, and Bruce tries not to drop his head into his hands before Barry bangs on the door and pipes up outside.
“Oh shit, guys!” Barry calls, and Bruce does have to admire the fake concern the kid has going on. “The stopper slipped! I don’t have the key on me so I need to go find it!” He pauses for a second, in which Bruce feels Clark drop to the floor beside him. “I’ll go get it! Hang tight!”
He’s gone straight afterwards, although it’s obvious he’s not hurrying as there’s no crack of lightning. Bruce rolls his eyes at the stupid flaw in the kid's plan, but it’s probably only obvious to Bruce who knows what’s happening.
“Well,” Clark pipes up in the dark, which is really unfair since Bruce can’t see a thing but no doubt Clark can see everything. “This is an unsavoury situation.”
Bruce knows what he means as he shuffles on his feet and bumps into Clark. When he said it’s the only cupboard able to fit them, he meant only just able to fit them. His shoulder is pressed right into Clark’s chest and his hand is hanging dangerously low to another part of Clark’s body and, with a few grumbles, Bruce shifts until they’re facing each other.
Clark is a little taller than Bruce, something that’s always been a tad annoying, and his breath is hot against Bruce’s forehead and it ruffles his hair and, frankly, makes Bruce feel a little dizzy. He tries to take a step back but one of the shelves presses hard into his ass, which is incredibly uncomfortable and has him stepping right back into Clark’s space.
They stand in silence for a long moment, Bruce unsure of what to say and Clark still clearly trying to figure out the situation, but it’s broken when Clark lets out a sudden laugh.
“So,” he says cheerfully, and Bruce can smell his breath this close and of course it smells like damn peppermint. Can this man be any more perfect? “I haven’t seen you in a few days. How’re you doing?”
“Seriously?” Bruce can’t help but ask. “We’re stuck in a damn closet and you want to do small talk?”
“I don’t know about you,” Clark responds, and his hand brushes against Bruce’s waist as he shuffles, something that has Bruce holding his breath suddenly. “But I’ve not been stuck in a closet since I was nineteen and kissed Johnny Braski.”
There’s a long pause as Bruce processes just what Clark said, and the moment it sinks in he starts groaning and shaking his head.
“Really?” he snaps, and Clark starts laughing again.
“Really really,” Clark says, and Bruce can almost feel the man’s damn smile. “He was terrible though. Would not recommend.”
Despite the fact that this has confirmed one of Bruce biggest questions, Bruce cannot excuse the poorly timed and executed joke. He rolls his eyes, knowing full well Clark can see it and shakes his head.
“You’re a moron, Kent,” he grumbles, and Clark snorts as he reaches up and pokes Bruce’s shoulder.
“Lighten up, Bruce,” he tells him. “I have a feeling we’ll be stuck in here for a while. Barry’s been scatterbrained all morning.”
Sure he has, Bruce thinks darkly but he sighs and concedes to Clark’s point. Standing here in the dark being all bitter and twisted is not going to help, even if that is a strong percentage of Bruce’s personality, and he shuffles again on his feet and winces as more shelves press into his back.
This was a terrible idea.
“So,” Clark starts again. “What’s in all the boxes? So far I’ve found a whole lot of ancient accounts, some jewellery, and what looks like a serious amount of opera and play programmes.”
That makes Bruce wince, and he drops his head to look at the ground. Not that he can see much, only the light creeping in from under the doors. It takes a moment to respond, having to swallow past the unwanted emotions.
“I keep mostly memorabilia in here,” he ends up saying, his voice quiet to even his own ears. “Old accounts from when Wayne Enterprises first started up, my mother's jewels… all the programmes of the shows they attended.” He can hear the hitch in Clark’s breath and he ploughs on to get past it. “I keep copies of the things on everyone’s personal files in here too. Like baby pictures.”
He can almost feel Clark trying to work out how to reply. He hopes that he continues in the lighthearted vein instead of focusing on the first half of what Bruce said.
Thankfully, he does. “How did you even get the baby pictures?” Clark asks, and Bruce shrugs and knocks something off a shelf.
“You can get anything if you know where to look and throw money,” he explains as he contemplates crouching down to pick up whatever he’s knocked off. It’s not worth it though if it leaves him in a momentary awkward position that Barry opens the door to.
“Typical,” Clark says, but it’s not cruel. He seems to dally on something before continuing. “That reminds me though. I never actually said thank you for buying Mom’s house back.”
“You don’t have to-“ Bruce starts to say, but he’s quickly cut off by Clark.
“No, I do,” he interrupts, and his hand is suddenly resting on Bruce’s shoulder. “I really do. You didn’t have to do that for us. The house... it was lost because of our own faults. You know, Mom couldn’t keep up the payments and I died and-“
“How is dying your fault?” Bruce demands, and he doesn’t need to see Clark’s face to know his mouth is open. “Seriously, Clark. How is dying your fault? You lost the house because the bank is a greedy handed company who doesn’t have a semblance of human decency. That wasn’t your fault at all.” Bruce shakes his head and raises his hand halfway to brush off Clark’s hand, only to stop at the last second and instead grip Clark’s wrist. “If anything? I should’ve looked after your mother better. You shouldn’t have had to die because Lex Luthor is a psychopath. You shouldn’t have had to die because...” He grits his teeth and bows his head. “Because I’m the asshole that wouldn’t listen to you.”
“Bruce, no, that’s not-“
“When the hell is Barry coming back,” Bruce mutters, ignoring Clark as he moves to slam a fist against one of the doors but it only rattles enough to show it’s still stuck shut. Bruce grits his teeth and slams a fist against it again as he bitterly regrets agreeing to this nightmare. He wants out. This was stupid. This was so so stupid.
He’s stopped from punching the door again though by Clark catching his wrist and holding it tight as he tugs Bruce forward by his shoulder, and Bruce stumbles forward until he’s pressed right up against Clark’s chest.
“You did nothing wrong,” Clark murmurs as his hand slides from Bruce’s shoulder to wrap around his back. He pulls Bruce closer until Bruce’s nose is pressed into the ridiculously soft plaid shirt and all Bruce can smell is cheap laundry detergent and lavender fabric softener.
He opens his mouth to say something, but Clark must feel his jaw work against his collarbone as he squeezes Bruce’s wrist and drops his forehead to rest on top of Bruce’s shoulder.
“I’m not saying that to be kind, Bruce,” he continues to say, his voice muffled between their chests. “I’m saying it because it’s true. You did what you could with the information you had, and if I were in your position then I would’ve done the same.” He huffs out a short laugh. “Diana would’ve done the same, Bruce.
“She would’ve been smarter,” Bruce protests weakly, and Clark sighs.
“Don’t be obtuse,” Clark scolds, and Bruce can’t help his lips twitching into a small smile. He doesn’t hug Clark back, in fact, he continues to stand rigidly until Clark sighs and pulls away.
Bruce is expecting some sort of follow up, but there’s not. He knows that Clark is staring at him, probably searching his face for something, but all Bruce can see is just darkness. It’s not helpful, and he takes a steadying breath as he tries to put as much space between them, damn the shelves that press into him.
Eventually, the air feels less suffocating and Bruce can breathe without wanting to choke. The silence is still heavy between them, and Bruce wonders if he should say something? Part of him wants to break down these damn doors and escape, but another part wants to just damn well drop to his knees and confess to Clark that there’s this warm feeling in his chest every time Clark is around him.
It’s draining to think about, and Bruce is actually thankful to hear the sudden noise of a key rattling in the keyhole before the door is being dragged open by an incredibly hopefully looking Barry.
“You guys alright?” he calls as he peers at them, and he must see the distance as his hopeful expression falls off quickly. Bruce blinks back at him, the sudden light a bit much for his eyes to get used to instantly.
“We’re fine, Barry,” Clark answers for them both, an easy smile on his face. “And we found your pictures, so that’s a bonus.”
Bruce frowns as Clark turns to him and he freezes in place as Clark leans right into him, his face incredibly close to Bruce’s for a moment that leaves Bruce completely breathless, before he pulls away with a box that had been right behind Bruce’s head, clearly labelled Barry Allen’s Adolescence Photographs.
Bruce frowns as, oddly enough, the box had been directly at eye level. Clark can’t of missed it whilst looking, and he watches as Clark steps past him and hands the box to Barry with a smile.
But the smile isn’t the typically bright Clark smile. Not that Bruce has time to really investigate as, the moment Barry thanks him, Clark turns his back and hurries off down the staircase.
It leaves Bruce standing beside Barry, who is really starting to look disappointed, wondering just what happened.
They're questions for later though, and Bruce shakes his head before he turns and sticks his hand out towards Barry. Barry regards his hand with a frown before he slowly reaches out with his own and drops it on top of Bruce’s outstretched palm.
Bruce sighs. “The tablet, idiot.”
Barry yelps as he rips his hand away and quickly shoves the tablet at Bruce with a flush on his cheeks and a sheepish expression.
Bruce rolls his eyes. Maybe whoever is next will have a better plan, and won’t be a complete moron.
Bruce has a policy.
It’s one that is absolute, and it’s that no League business is ever to be discussed whenever he is outside of the manor if he’s not Batman. The possibility of being overheard is too damn high, and Bruce can’t run that sort of risk with his own life, let alone the others.
Although, this is the first time that Dick has thrown that rule out the window.
“Come on,” he drawls as he sits on Bruce’s desk, something that has a vein in Bruce’s head wanting to pop. “It was one dud run, Bruce. There’s still the other three to go.”
“Get off the desk, Dick,” Bruce growls, glancing at the door to make sure it is still firmly closed. “And stop talking about this. We're supposed to be discussing the latest acquisition.”
Dick rolls his eyes. “Lara took a long and late lunch,” he says, gesturing vaguely at the door. “She won’t be back for another hour at the least, and Lucius has the board together discussing said acquisition so you don’t have to do it.”
“I’m the CEO of this company,” Bruce points out. “I have to be up to date on everything.”
“The CEO of repressed,” Dick snarks, and Bruce’s eye twitches as he turns to glower at Dick. That word alone is Bruce’s personal kryptonite, and Dick knows that as he grins back at Bruce.
“Don’t you have a woman to be womanising somewhere?” Bruce mutters darkly, and Dick scoffs as he reaches for the pen in Bruce’s hand. He takes it with a quick yank and starts to flick it between his fingers.
Bruce sighs and reaches for another pen to continue correcting certain parts of the contract in front of him. Clearly, he’s not going to get any help in doing so, and he groans as Dick leans sideways until he’s lying across the desk and crushing Bruce’s hands beneath him.
“Seriously,” Dick says as Bruce tries to yank his hand out to no success, “stop being so morose about it. If anything, look at the positives! No one died and you guys got at least some feelings out.”
“I don’t want to talk about my feelings, Dick,” Bruce snaps as he pulls his hand out but sacrifices his second pen in the process. “I don’t want to talk about Clark or emotions or anything to do with anything that’s not this acquisition!”
“And why not?” Dick asks instead of caving in and letting Bruce get back to bloody work. Dick sighs and reaches out with the pen in his hands and prods Bruce’s cheek. “Who else are you going to talk to? Alfred? Tim? Jason? Damian?”
Bruce slaps away the pen and glares at Dick. “Or no one. I could talk to no one about any of this.”
Dick raises an eyebrow. “And this is why you’re the repressed one,” he mutters before he sits up straight and taps the pen against his palm. “Look, I’ll make you a deal. Tell me what happened with you, and not the situation, and I’ll sit here with you and run through acquisitions until you’re ready to go home.”
“Until I’m ready?” Bruce repeats and, even though he looks pained, Dick gives a very reluctant nod.
That does catch Bruce’s attention, especially since they have a huge pile on Bruce’s table that needs to be gone through as they’re the same ones the board is going through now, and Bruce caves easily to that deal. He links his fingers to rest in his lap as he leans back in his chair, and he gives Dick a small nod.
“Nothing else happened besides what I told you,” Bruce eventually points out, and Dick groans. “I’m not kidding, Dick. Barry locked us in, we talked a bit about our past, and when we left we were both ready to go.” He shrugs and drops his gaze to his lap. “And that was all.”
“What about your past?” Dick presses and Bruce shifts awkwardly in his chair as he fixes his gaze to a spot over Dick’s shoulder.
“It’s not a big deal,” he starts, and Dick mutters something colourful under his breath. “Really. It’s not. We only talked a little about his death and resurrection and-”
“Not a big deal?” Dick laughs, his eyes wide when Bruce hazards a glance at him. “Seriously? That’s not a big deal? Goddamnit, Bruce! What’s your rule about this?”
“I have lots of rules,” Bruce grumbles, purposefully being obtuse.
Dick snorts. “Damn straight you do,” he agrees before he reaches out and pokes his pen repeatedly into Bruce’s shoulder. “It’s never talk about the past. Never mention it. Because you can’t solve anything that’s already happened and often when you dwell in the past you-”
“Stay there,” Bruce finishes, and he glares at Dick. “Don’t quote me to me, kid.”
Dick glowers right back and crossed his arm. “You’re an idiot, Bruce. I hope you know that.”
Bruce scoffs and turns his gaze back to his computer. Of course, he knows that, but he’s not going to admit that to anyone, especially not one of his irritating children. He reaches out to start typing again in hopes of turning the conversation, but he’s stopped as Dick places his hand on top of both of Bruce’s.
“Bruce,” he calls softly, and the complete change of tone catches Bruce’s attention. “Seriously, I want this to work out. We all want this to work out.” He shrugs. “Okay, so maybe it didn’t work the first time. No big deal. I mean, it’s not like you’re both horny teens so the whole cupboard idea was a bit of a stretch.” He grins at Bruce and pats his hands. “But come on, there are more options. There’s still the other three to go.”
“There’s just one problem,” Bruce mutters, and he doesn’t want to admit it but, out of this boys, Dick is the most responsible and easiest to talk to. “I just… I clam up whenever I’m around him.”
Dick smiles. “That’s not uncommon around a crush, bud,” he says, and Bruce narrows his eyes at the endearment. “It’s okay though. You can work on it.” He pokes Bruce with a finger. “You’ve got three more chances. It’ll be fine.”
Bruce rolls his eyes and pushes Dick’s hand away before he reaches for the nearest acquisition, easily a thousand pages clamped together, and he slaps Dick in the chest with it.
“We’re finished,” he states, no room for argument in his voice. “Get cracking. There’s at least twelve to finish before dinner.”
Dick looks like he’s just been burnt as he takes the acquisition from Bruce with a reluctant hand, and he looks like he’s about to argue until Bruce reaches out and shoves him unceremoniously to the floor.
“And stop sitting on desks,” Bruce mutters as Dick snorts with laughter from the floor. “It’s a bad habit.”
Diana is next.
In complete honesty, Bruce is sure that out of all the League it is going to be her than succeeds. It’s not because he doubts the other three, even though he really really does, but it’s because she’s the only one with a romantic bone in her damn body.
Arthur’s way of romancing Mera was to go on some Atlantis related saving mission. Really, there was no romancing, just mutual attraction that boiled over into a relationship after multiple brushes with death in an adrenaline-fuelled environment. So, that doesn’t count.
Barry is consistently running between dating Iris West then having an absolute meltdown over his superhero status and breaking up with her. If they don’t split at least once a week, and it’s been nine months in the League at this point so Bruce isn’t exaggerating, then something is incredibly wrong.
Then there’s Victor, and his womanising days before the car accident that turned him into Cyborg would almost rival Bruce’s own reputation, but he’s never been in a relationship at any point and, unless Barry somehow spots the longing looks Victor sends him, then it looks like he won’t be one at any point in the near future.
So, yeah, Diana is definitely going to be Bruce’s best chance.
Although, it does take her a while to actually give it a shot. Two months easily go by, and Bruce starts to wonder if he actually made the whole thing up until her obvious plan hits him directly in the face when they’re all out on League business.
It’s not often that all members of the League are needed for a mission. It’s not quite all of them though, as Victor has stayed behind to monitor the manor and bicker with Alfred for the time they’re away. Still, it’s the other five of them that end up travelling all the way to France together to stop none other than the sorcerer, Felix Faust.
Only Bruce and Diana have actually met the man, mainly because of his previous alliances with Talia al Ghaul, who’s the mother of Bruce’s damn kid, and Cheetah, who has a special vengeance again Diana for some unexplained reason. It’s probably a good one, Bruce bets, but Diana stays tight-lipped about it.
In any case, the five of them travel to France at a moments notice when they hear that Faust is creating some sort of magic conductor through the Eiffel Tower, and he explains in some great big monologue about bringing the gods down from the heavens or something as Bruce is struggling to push an incredibly aggressive skeleton off him.
Diana yells something about how the gods don’t give a shit about what Faust wants, and Bruce thinks it’s pretty badass that she gets close enough to Faust to almost lop his damn head from his shoulders. The only reason she doesn’t succeed is because of some barrier around the sorcerer that protects him from weapons.
Although, it doesn’t protect him from the big blue and red blur that’s Clark tackling Faust right off the top of the Eiffel Tower, and Bruce would watch the fight if it weren’t for another few skeletons attacking him. Bruce does yell at Barry to help him though, even as Barry stands a small distance away and points at the rotting flesh on one of the skeletons and explains in a very high voice that he can’t cope with decomposing things.
Bruce’s eye twitches, but Barry does step forward and Bruce only just misses being hit by Barry’s vomit when they’re finished.
Thankfully, with all the skeletons down, Faust doesn’t have any backup. He’s still one of the most powerful villains they’ve come across, especially considering it’s taken five of them to wear him down to get a grip on his shoulders but, as Bruce approaches Diana and Clark who have firm holds on Faust’s arms, he can already see it’s not going to go well.
He barely has his mouth open to warn them before Faust’s hands glow a neon green and, what seems like a sonic blast, bursts from his palms. Bruce swears colourfully as he’s blown back, slamming into Arthur as he goes and the two of them crash to the ground in a heap. It hurts more than Bruce thought it would, but then again Arthur is a wall of muscle and, with his new armour, pointy things.
By the time they manage to untangle themselves from each other and get to their feet, Faust is gone. Bruce isn’t surprised. The guy has been alive for, quite literally, thousands of years. He’s not going to let the League capture him that easily.
They’re all bruised, broken, and sore when Bruce glances around, Arthur supporting him as they push off each other to stand. Clark is the only one that seems like he’s not bleeding, but even then he’s panting and looks exhausted. No one is coming out of this unscathed obviously, and Bruce claps Arthur on the shoulder before shuffling forward to where Diana is leaning on her sword.
“I don’t know what the hell he does,” she mutters as soon as he gets within hearing distance. “But there’s something in his magic that bypasses our physiology.” She looks at Bruce and rolls her shoulders. “I’m exhausted, and I’m never exhausted.”
Bruce shakes his head. “He’s an ancient sorcerer,” he points out. “He’s no doubt had a lot of time to fight against gods and goddesses.”
Diana scoffs but smiles nonetheless. They both turn to the approaching others, and Bruce really hasn’t seen such a sorry group before. Even Steppenwolf left them better off than they do now.
There’s no way they’re making their way back to the mansion in this state, especially not since Bruce sent Alfred back to get him out of the firing line. By the time he arrives in the jet and loads them all up, it’ll be well into the early morning and by the looks of Barry, who’s falling asleep on his feet, Bruce just really doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“We’re not going back tonight,” he says when they’re all close enough, and Barry starts to groan loudly. “Alfred is too far away and I think we’re all in need of rest.”
“And just where do you think we can all go and remain inconspicuous?” Arthur demands. He crosses his arms as he glares at Bruce, and Bruce tries not to roll his eyes.
“I have a townhouse nearby,” he tells them, and he pulls up a mental map to try to calculate how far away it is. For once, he’s thankful he didn’t get rid of the small real estate empire his parents had amassed when they were alive. Bruce owns houses in six states of America, a townhouse in Paris, a full apartment complex in England, and a small cottage in the back hills of Scotland.
It’s not often he uses them, hardly having business outside of the States, but the townhouse should have running water and beds available for them.
Thankfully, it’s only going to be a half-hour trek or so. They make their way off the Eiffel Tower as discreetly as possible, Barry disappearing with Arthur in a crack of lightning and Clark carries both Bruce and Diana off the top. They meet a few blocks away before walking down the deserted streets towards Bruce’s townhouse.
Arthur is muttering something about being rich and privileged behind Bruce as they go, but he doesn’t pay him any mind. He’s used to comments like that. At this point, they all wash off him easily. Clark makes a cutting remark back though, and Bruce tries not to let the fact that Clark is defending him make him feel overly warm inside.
Eventually, he speeds ahead of the group when he spots the house. The spare key is tucked underneath the lose the second step leading up the house, something that does have the others chuckling at the simplicity. Diana snorts and asks if there’s a biometric lock as well, and Bruce rolls his eyes at her as he simply unlocks the door and pushes into the atrium.
It’s pretty abandoned feeling, which is something Bruce was expecting. Last time he was here it was six years ago at some out of town socialite event. It’s in dire need of a dusting and the smell definitely needs to be changed to something that’s not old musty wood, but it’s suitable for five very tired and disgusting superhero’s as they pile into the house and Bruce closes the door with relief.
“There are two bathrooms, both upstairs,” he says as he flicks on lights that illuminate all the white linen-covered furniture in the visible rooms. “Towels are in the hallway cupboard just to the left of the upper landing.”
Arthur and Barry both start to make a break for the stairwell, but Diana puts out her hand to stop them with a strict look.
“As he’s our host, Bruce should go first,” she scolds them, and Bruce nearly laughs as twin puppy eyes turn to him.
“Go ahead,” he says, rolling his eyes at Barry’s whoop. They scuttle off together and leave the other three behind. Bruce glances at Clark and Diana and winces when he sees that Clark is really starting to sag where he stands. “There are also three bedrooms,” he continues as he ushers them into the kitchen and starts to rummage through the cupboards. “There’s also the couches, but they’re not really designed to accommodate people sleeping on them.”
There’s not much but long-life milk and beans, but there’s water in the jug and he thinks that Diana could definitely do with a tea. He yanks off his cowl as he flicks the jug on and he turns to the other two as he starts tugging off his gloves.
“We’ll just have to share,” Diana says as she drops her sword and shield to the ground and collapses on a stool at the kitchen island, supporting her chin with her hand. “I don’t think any of us will have a problem with that.”
“Absolutely,” Clark agrees as he drops down beside her. He looks like he’s barely capable of holding himself upright and Bruce wonders briefly if pain relief will work on either of them. Most likely not, but it’s something he makes a mental check to experiment with later.
There’s a lull for a moment as they all wait for the jug to finish boiling. As it clicks off, Bruce turns back around and reaches up to pull some mugs off the hooks under the cupboards. He knows that Arthur will probably enjoy a hot chocolate, even though he’ll deny it with everything in him, and it’s surprisingly relaxing as he putters around making everyone’s preferred drinks.
He’s just sliding Diana’s tea and Clark’s weak coffee towards them when Diana finally breaks the silence.
“I vote we put Barry and Arthur in together,” she says, and it would seem a random statement to make if Bruce didn’t see the sudden calculating look on her face and he nearly drops his own mug of tea as he realises what’s about to happen.
He’s not stupid, not at all, but dammit he’d forgotten that Diana is a diehard romantic at heart.
Clark, typically, chimes in. “You can have one to yourself, Diana,” he says, all country boy charm, and Bruce knew he was going to say that. Diana clearly did too if the small satisfactory smile she has on her face is anything to go by.
“I really don’t mind sharing-” she starts to say, and Bruce narrows his eyes. She knows how to play Clark like a fiddle and, despite his usual admiration for Diana, he wants nothing more than to snap at her.
But, he promised not to sabotage any of the League’s attempts and this is clearly one.
“We insist,” Clark interrupts Diana, looking at Bruce for back up, and Bruce bites his tongue before he plasters on a gritted smile.
“Of course,” he agrees, and Diana smiles brightly at the two of them. Dammit. He hates it.
“Thank you,” she says. “That’s incredibly chivalrous of you both.”
Bruce nearly snorts into his mug. “Take the master bedroom,” he instructs her. “Although, we may use the ensuite first.”
She nods, still smiling, and thankfully Bruce is saved from more conversation by the appearance of Barry in the doorway, dripping wet and grinning hugely.
“Shower’s free,” he cheers before he disappears again in the flash, and Bruce purses his lip when he spots the puddle that Barry has left on the varnished wood floor.
Before the other two can speak, Bruce pushes off from the counter he’s leaning on and heads towards the stairwell next door in a silent bid for the next shower. No one argues though, and Bruce grips his mug a bit tight as he ascends the stairs and heads past the still occupied main bathroom towards the master bedroom’s ensuite.
The bathroom is a disaster. It looks like a whirlwind has swept through it, which it really kind of has in the form of Barry, but Bruce is happy to see that Barry hasn’t touched his old robe that hangs on the back of the door. He sheds his Batsuit with methodical precision, resisting the urge to just throw it off, and he leaves it folded neatly on the counter beside Barry’s suit, which he also smartly folds up from its haphazard state.
He’s quick enough through the shower. Despite the fact that standing under the hot water and letting it warm some knots out of his back sounds tempting, he needs to clear the area for Diana. When he steps out and swings on his robe he grimaces at noticing how tight around his shoulders it is.
It really has been a long time since he’s been here.
He steps out of the bathroom with the robe tied neatly around his waist, only to bump into Diana waiting outside. He’s thankful the robe just fits as he automatically reaches to tighten it around himself, but Diana doesn’t seem fazed at all by his half-nakedness.
“Are you sure you’re alright with sharing with Clark?” she asks immediately, fidgeting where she stands. It almost makes Bruce laugh to see her avoiding his eyes. Clearly this meddling this really doesn’t sit well with her.
“It’s fine, Diana,” he says as he pushes past her towards the drawers on the other side of the room. A quick rattle through has him coming up with a pair of old sleeping pants. They should fit, and he holds them in his hand as he bumps the drawer closed and heads towards the door. “Goodnight, Diana.”
“Goodnight, Bruce,” she replies, and Bruce pushes out into the corridor and heads down the hallway. Both spare rooms have lights on, visible through their ajar doors, but Arthur helpfully clears up which room is which by sticking his head out of one.
“That robe suits you, Bruce,” he tells him cheerfully as Bruce walks past. “Nice ankles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them.”
“Piss off, Arthur,” Bruce mutters, and Arthur laughs before he closes the door with a quiet click. Bruce keeps walking until he gets to the last door and, after a moments pause to take a deep breath, he pushes it open.
Thankfully, Clark isn’t in, and Bruce shuts the door quickly and shoves on his sleeping pants. His robe falls open but it doesn’t bother him, and he’s just pulling back the top bed cover on the immaculately made bed when the door swings back open.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were in here!” Clark practically yelps as Bruce pushes back his natural urge to slam Clark against the wall to prevent an attack. It’s not an enemy, it’s Clark, he repeats to himself as he turns around slowly.
“We are sharing a room,” Bruce stresses, and he refuses to short circuit when he realises that Clark is dripping wet and staring at him while holding up a very short towel.
He looks away when he realises he’s staring, and there’s a very awkward moment where they both stand still before Clark clears his throat and steps towards the drawers on the other room.
Bruce doesn’t quite know what to do with himself as he turns his back and tries not to listen to the rustling of Clark drying himself off and getting changed. Part of him is cursing the hell out of Diana for this entire situation, but Dick’s voice is in the back of his head reminding him he’s not to actively ruin this.
When Clark clears his throat again, Bruce turns back to him and raises an eyebrow when he recognises the pair of pants that are hanging off Clark’s hips.
“Diana gave them to me,” Clark says as he continues to towel dry his hair. “I hope you don’t mind."
“Not at all,” Bruce replies, aware his voice is slightly husky. The sight of Clark wearing his clothes though is a bit much for him, and he quickly busies himself with readying the bed.
It’s incredibly domestic when Clark steps up to the other side of the bed and picks up the cover. Together, the two of them fold and settle it back before pulling all the show pillows off and piling them in a heap at the foot of the bed. Bruce refuses to look at Clark until he starts to pull back the duvet.
“You don’t have a side preference, do you?” he asks somewhat hesitantly, but Clark just shoots him a smile and shakes his head. That’s good enough for Bruce, and he quickly yanks off his robe and slides into the bed.
There’s silence for a moment as he waits before the light flicks off and he feels the bed dip on the other side as Clark slips in beside him. Bruce can feel the tension in his shoulders that he tries to will away, but he just can’t help but feel uncomfortable as he breathes shallowly and wishes for sleep.
Of course, sleep doesn’t come, and it takes a long time before Clark sighs behind him.
“Still stressed about Faust?” he asks, and Bruce is hyper-aware of how close Clark’s shoulder is to his back as he rolls over behind Bruce.
“What makes you think that?”
Clark shrugs, jostling the blankets around Bruce’s upper body. “You seem tense,” he muses. “I thought it might be about letting Faust get away.”
“We’ve never been able to catch him, Clark,” Bruce mutters. “I'm used to it by now.”
“So what’s wrong then?”
Bruce doesn’t answer, instead of trying to think of an excuse but, when nothing comes to his head, he just sighs and gives in to the temptation to roll over on to his back. Despite the large bed, their shoulda bump and Bruce tries not to focus on it.
“Why would something be wrong?” he instead counter-asks, and Clark buffs beside him.
“I can hear your heartbeat, Bruce,” he says as if it’s something that Bruce is silly for forgetting. Admittedly, Bruce does feel silly having forgotten. “It’s like a trumpet this close, and it’s not slowing down.” Clark moves his head, rustling the pillows. “It’s usually calm and pleasant to listen to.”
The fact that Clark regularly listens to Bruce heartbeat shouldn’t make Bruce feel warm, but it does. He pushes one of his fingernails hard into his palm to distract himself from smiling at that.
“You know,” he eventually says, “the whole heartbeat thing could be misconstrued as being stalkerish.”
“Tell me about it,” Clark groans, and Bruce has adjusted enough to the dark that he can see Clark rubbing his face with his other hand. “I use to listen to Lois’s, and at first she thought it was endearing.” He sighs. “But then when I started to ask her what was wrong when her heartbeat would pick up when she was away from home, it became clingy and overbearing. And I get it.” Clark huffs and jostles Bruce again. “I do get it. It must be weird to have your boyfriend constantly knowing your heart rate. The lack of privacy is probably what really started to cause cracks in the relationship.”
Bruce doesn’t comment on that. He can count the number of relationships he’s had on one hand. What’s healthy and what’s not is a very foreign concept to him.
“It’s comforting,” Bruce murmurs. With the way he jumps, Clark mustn’t have been expecting an answer. “Knowing that no matter what happens, there’s someone that will always know how you are is a rarity.”
“I don’t think she saw it that way.”
“She’s not in our line of work.”
Clark hums beside him, and Bruce can feel his fingers fidgeting with the sheets under them. Bruce almost wants to reach out and still him, stop the incessant tugging, but he lets it go. Clark is obviously processing something.
It’s not until Bruce is contemplating falling asleep on his back that Clark finally pipes up again, and Bruce blinks his eyes a few times to wake up.
“I guess I never thought of it that way,” Clark is saying when Bruce turns his head to find his outline in the dark. “She never really would have been able to understand what my life was like. We were both reporters and we got that, but being Superman? I don’t think she could ever wrap herself fully around the idea.” Clark rolls around the bed until he’s on his side, and Bruce can see him more clearly as Clark faces him.
It’s a bit breathtaking how close Clark is, their faces only a hand-width apart, and Bruce can feel his breathing almost stop.
“There would be times that she’d ask me not to go,” Clark continues like Bruce isn’t having a crisis. “She never really understood. She couldn’t get why I always had to go be Superman.”
“Because if you wouldn’t, who would?” Bruce fills in, and Clark nods.
Bruce shifts where he lies, bumping his shoulder against Clark’s bare chest, and his arms erupt in goosebumps at the feeling of their skin touching. It feels incredibly intimate, and it’s only because he can almost feel his sons judging him that he leaves his shoulder resting there.
The quiet is comfortable, and Bruce listens to Clark’s quiet breathing as it pulls him further and further into relaxation. He’s still alert, hyper-focused on where Clark is pressed against him, but the conversation seems to have petered out naturally. Bruce wonders if he should press for more, maybe steer towards his feelings, but it feels wrong.
Despite Diana’s best intentions, this isn’t the right place for Bruce to push forward with their relationship.
“This house is gorgeous, Bruce,” Clark suddenly says, and Bruce nearly laughs at the abruptness.
“Really, Clark?” he asks huskily, and he turns his head to raise an eyebrow at him. “Pillow talk?”
“Isn’t that what you do when you have a sleepover?” Clark points out cheekily, and Bruce can see enough of his features to spot the grin that Clark is sending his way. “Aren’t you suppose to talk nonsense?”
“From what I’ve seen it’s more about the best way to murder people or steal things.”
Clark laughs, and the sound is delightful to Bruce’s ears. “I think that’s specifically for your boys,” Clark chuckles. “I’ve never seen such a murderous bunch of kids.”
Bruce cracks a smile at that. Clark’s right. His boys are more murderous than the average person, but he chalks that up to bad parenting and leaves it at that.
He turns his head back to face the ceiling. “Thank you,” he says, referring to the compliment over the house. “It was my grandparents on my mother’s side, and when she inherited it my father rebuilt it for her.”
Clark shifts a little, and Bruce’s breath hitches briefly when he feels one of Clark’s knees bend to press against the side of Bruce’s thigh. They’re close, too close, and Bruce forces himself to continue looking at the ceiling.
“She would’ve loved it.”
“She did,” Bruce agrees. “She always loved Paris. Every year she’d bring me here and we’d spend days in coffee shops and boutique stores.”
“Your father never came with you?”
Bruce frowns. “Sometimes,” he says honestly. “When the company could spare him. He loved the theatre here, and mother always insisted he’d come for at least one opera a year.”
Clark hums, and Bruce can feel the vibrations through their overlapping pillows. “What was the last one you went to?”
There’s a pause as Bruce thinks before he smiles as he turns his head. “Les Troyens,” he murmurs, his voice fading when he realises that Clark has shuffled even closer. Their noses are almost touching, their breaths mingling, and Bruce doesn’t know what the hell to do.
“Bruce...” Clark murmurs, and Bruce feels Clark’s arm moving and his fingers come up to press against Bruce’s collarbone. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Bruce can’t help but ask, his voice feeling strangled.
Clark smiles, and this close Bruce can see the whole thing. “For telling me this,” he says softly, his fingers light on Bruce’s skin.
Bruce doesn’t know what to say and his heart is thumping wildly in his ears. He knows that Clark has feelings for him, if the League are to be trusted, but he feels sheer panic building in him. What if Clark doesn’t? What if Bruce is reading into this too much? Is this the time to take action? Why can’t he breathe? What’s happening and why the hell does he suddenly feel faint? Why can’t he just admit he likes Clark and be done with it? Why can’t he just be normal and be okay and know how to act like a human being?
His thoughts are stopped as Clark suddenly pulls away, his knee remaining pressed to Bruce’s thigh but his hand leaves Bruce’s collarbone and he rolls the top half of his body onto his back.
“Well,” Clark says, and Bruce doesn’t know if he’s making up the strain in Clark’s voice. “I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.”
Bruce doesn’t know how to reply, feeling like a fish out of water, and he opens his mouth only to close it again as nothing intelligible tries to come out.
Clark glances at him but, with the distance now between them, Bruce can’t see any of his features. It’s awkward to know that Clark can probably see the dumb-struck and panicked expression on his face, so Bruce quickly moves his head away to look back up at the ceiling.
It’s a bust, a huge bust, and Bruce feels like a failure.
“Goodnight, Bruce,” Clark calls out gently, nudging Bruce with his knee, and Bruce swallows past the lump in his throat.
Bruce tries to avoid everyone after that.
Admittedly, it’s because he’s feeling a bit downtrodden after the Paris incident. What confidence he did have is completely blown now, worsened by the times he does see the others. Clark avoids his eyes and talks to the floor while Diana gives him sympathetic looks every chance she gets. It makes Bruce wonder just how they think they’re being subtle, but then Barry gives him the cold shoulder and he decides he doesn’t care.
It's not that they’re angry at him, not that he thinks so, but they are disappointed and that is enough to have Bruce slinking back to his Lake-House and not wanting to come back out.
Somehow, he even manages to convince Alfred to keep everyone away. He gets a raised eyebrow and the most judgemental look yet, but Alfred nods and sweeps forward to intercept Dick as he steps through the door and gives Bruce a chance to slip away.
Unfortunately, Bruce doesn’t factor in Tim.
Tim, who ambushes him at some ridiculous time in the early morning when Bruce is standing in the kitchen and quietly trying to make some packet pasta he’s stolen from Damian’s stash.
“So,” Tim says from behind Bruce, the kid silent enough that Bruce nearly jumps through the ceiling in shock and it’s lucky that Tim has excellent reflexes as he easily dodges the wooden spoon Bruce hurls at him.
Bruce glares at him for a long moment before he turns around and pulls another wooden spoon out of the ceramic jar beside the stovetop element.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Bruce asks haughtily as he stirs whatever pasta this is. “It’s a school night.”
“It’s still late,” Bruce corrects as he glances over his shoulder to raise his eyebrows as Tim takes a seat at the kitchen island and he notices Tim’s attire. “Did you just come off patrol?”
Tim still in his Red Robin outfit minus the mask, cape, and chest harness. His hair is plastered to his head, most likely from sweat, and his head droops slightly as he watches Bruce with tired eyes.
Wordlessly, Bruce reaches out and pulls down another bowl.
“We bumped into Penguin and his goons,” Tim says after a moment. “Jason helped me-”
“Jason was with you?” Bruce can’t help but cut him off, and he leaves a trail of pasta sauce on the ground as he whirls around. “Why the hell was Jason with you? I thought I’d been very clear when I said that neither you or Damian were to go on patrol with him.”
Tim just glares straight back at him. “Well, I wouldn’t have had to if you weren’t busy play hide and go seek and came out like you were supposed to do!” he fires back, and Bruce winces.
“I had things that needing attending to, Tim,” he mutters, dropping his gaze and clenching his hand tight around the wooden spoon. Tim snorts in response though, and Bruce hears the sound of his gloves slapping the marble benchtop as he starts pulling them off.
“Yeah, like what?” Tim demands, and Bruce turns back to the stovetop to avoid looking at him. “What’s more important than patrolling with your sons?”
Bruce grits his teeth as he stirs the pot a bit more viciously than it needs to be. “As I said,” he says, breathing thinly through his nose as he does so. “I had things to do, Tim-”
“So what happened?” Tim interrupts, and Bruce lets out an incredibly long exhale. Somehow, his boys always know how to jumpstart his nerves and get him wound up in moments. “Obviously something happened while you were in France with the League. Who’s turn was it?”
Bruce doesn’t answer immediately as he takes the pot off the stove and distributes the contents into the bowls, making sure that Tim has just that little bit more extra. The kid will be exhausted and starving after a patrol with Jason.
He’s right when he slides the bowl in front of Tim, and Tim barely gets his hand around the fork that Bruce passes him before he’s inhaling the bowl’s contents. Bruce still isn’t sure just what the pasta type is, but it’s got white sauce and bacon through it and it seems like Tim is enjoying it.
They eat in silence for the time that it takes Bruce to decide that he can talk to Tim about this. Dick is definitely the more mature one out of the lot, but Bruce’s been avoiding him for the last few days in fear of having another one of those conversations where Bruce is coerced into talking about his feelings.
But Tim is a bit different, more logical, and, after he finishes his first few mouthfuls, Bruce fesses up.
“It was Diana,” he says quietly, pushing the pasta around his bowl as Tim hums in acknowledgement. “I forgot how much of a romantic she is. Sometimes I think that she reads too many romance novels and forgets that they’re not biographies.”
“Humans don’t really act like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy these days,” Tim agrees, and Bruce huffs a small laugh.
“After the fight with Faust, we ended up heading back to the Paris townhouse,” he continues, twirling some of the pasta noodles around his fork before letting them all slide back off into the bowl with a dull splat. “We had to share rooms, of course, and Diana-”
“Suggested you share with Clark?” Tim tries to fill in, although Bruce winces at the way he spits out his words around his full mouth.
“Don’t speak with your mouthful,” he scolds, reaching over and flicking the back of one of Tim’s hands. “But yes, she did in a way.”
“Feminine wiles, huh,” Tim muses, waving his fork in the air, and Bruce rolls his eyes.
“More like country boy chivalry,” he mutters, and Tim laughs. Bruce can’t help but smile, but he drops his gaze again when Tim stops. “We shared a room and I assume she thought that would spark some sort of reaction.”
Bruce’s lips twist into something a bit ugly. “Maybe,” he says honestly, and he looks up to see Tim looking quite surprised. “Maybe it did. I don’t know though.”
Tim quirks his head to the side. “What do you mean you don’t know?”
Bruce shrugs and drops his fork, pushing the bowl away from him. He’s not exactly hungry anymore. “This isn’t really appropriate for you, Tim. You don’t need to hear about my sorry excuse for a love life.”
“Did you bone?” Tim asks abruptly, and Bruce nearly swallows his tongue in surprise.
“No!” he denies, his voice a little high. He clears his throat as he glares at Tim. “That would be none of your business anyway, Tim, nor appropriate for me to discuss with you.”
Tim rolls his eyes. “I’m not a child, Bruce. I’ve grown up.”
“If I’m old enough to go out and patrol the streets of Gotham then I’m old enough to hear the truth about what happened.”
Bruce purses his lips slightly at the logic. This is why it’s bad to talk to Tim. Even if what he’s going to say is obvious and logical, it’s still incredibly compelling.
“Nothing happened,” Bruce finally caves. “We talked-“
“You did pillow talk?”
“- and that was it,” Bruce continues like Tim didn’t just squawk loud enough to inspire a parrot. “Nothing else happened.”
“You’re lying.” Tim pokes the back of Bruce’s wrist with his fork. “You’re definitely lying. What else happened?”
Bruce contemplates lying again and saying nothing else, but Tim is watching him with an expectant look and, after all, Tim is the most logical of the boys. Maybe he can work out just what was happening that Bruce can’t understand.
“There was informal touching,” Bruce managed to say, the words sounding nasty to his own ears and Tim snorts out a loud laugh.
“You make it sound like a chore.”
“Excuse me for not being particularly comfortable telling my sixteen-year-old what happened,” Bruce snaps, and Tim just continues to laugh. Bruce rolls his eyes but nonetheless continues. “Do not quote me on this, I’m unsure, but I do believe that Clark might have tried something?”
Tim stops abruptly. “Like Clark made a move?”
Bruce shrugs. “I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “It seemed like it, but I also could’ve taken it out of proportion.”
“Well, what was the move?” Tim asks, and he grins when Bruce gives him an incredulous look. “I’m a teenager, remember. I know all the moves.”
“I sure hope you don’t,” Bruce mutters, thinking about all the moves he’d used on women in the past and idea of Tim doing that is incredibly unnerving. “But it wasn’t a move as such. Just, a hand on my collar.”
“A hand on your collar,” Tim repeats flatly, and Bruce awkward shrugs before reaching up and pulling down the neck of his shirt.
“His hand on my collarbone,” he repeats, tapping his finger on the place. At times it still burns, a memory of Clark’s hand against him, and he shakes it off as he lets go of his collar.
“Oh,” Tim murmurs, frowning at Bruce before it’s like a lightbulb goes off. “Oh. A hand on your chest. You mean his hand on your chest.”
“Well, technically it was my-“
“It was a hand on your chest while you were in the same bed, Bruce,” Tim says excitedly. “Oh, that is a move alright. That’s a huge move. And you didn’t go for it?”
“I didn’t...” Bruce starts to say but trails off as he realises how stupid it all must sound to Tim.
But Tim just nods and gives Bruce a grim smile. “You didn’t know if it was really a thing or not,” he says, taking the words right from Bruce’s mouth and he nods a bit grimly. “Yeah. I get that.”
That’s one thing that Bruce admires the most about Tim. Out of all his boys, Tim has the most sympathy for Bruce and the most patience for him. It doesn’t come out that often, especially when the others are around, but when it does it always makes Bruce feel just the slightest better about whatever situation he’s in.
“So,” Tim presses after a few moments. “What’s next then?”
Bruce shrugs and pushes off the counter to start washing their abandoned bowls. It’s soothing to start up the tap, ignoring the perfectly good dishwasher as he reaches for dish soap and a scrubbing brush.
“I don’t know,” he says honestly as he drops the bowls in the sink. “There is still the other two to go.”
“But Diana was your best bet, right?”
Bruce clenches his jaw. “Unfortunately,” he mutters through gritted teeth. Tim sighs behind him and Bruce pauses to brace himself on the sink as he feels a wave of disappointment. Tim is right, Diana was his best bet. Now he’s got Arthur and Victor to go and he hasn’t got the highest of hopes.
“Well, since Clark made a move you can now guarantee he’s interested.”
“You weren’t there,” Bruce points out as he continues with the dishes and scrubs at one of the bowls. “I don’t know if he was interested or if I was just reading into it.” He huffs as he pauses in his scrubbing and shakes his head. “I don’t see how he can be interested.”
He hears Tim scrape back in his chair and he braces himself for Tim walking up behind him. Tim is also the most openly tactile of his boys, so it doesn’t surprise him when Tim wraps his arms around Bruce’s waist and pushes his face between Bruce’s shoulder blades.
“I think you’re pretty great,” Tim mumbles, his voice muffled by Bruce’s sweatshirt. “And I think that Clark can see that too.”
“You’re too optimistic, Tim,” Bruce scolds him gently. It’s not good in their line of work to be so cheerful. He dreads the day Tim loses his optimism. It’ll be just another casualty because of Bruce.
“Nah,” Tim says though, and he pulls away to pat both of Bruce’s shoulders. “I’m not optimistic enough. It’ll be fine though. There’s still Arthur and Victor to go and if that doesn’t work then we can try something else.”
Bruce turns his head to see Tim is grinning at him. He can’t help but shake his head but a small smile breaks out on his face.
“Thanks, kid,” he mutters, and Tim grins even more before he takes a few steps back and scoops his gloves off the countertop. “Now go have a shower. You stink.”
Tim laughs and flips Bruce the bird, but he doesn’t linger as he walks out of the room, making more noise than normal, most likely for Bruce’s sanity.
And Bruce waits until he hears Tim’s footsteps completely disappear before he lets out a long, shuddering breath.
It’s pretty obvious after the Paris incident that the League starts to become a little desperate.
Bruce has no illusions that everyone probably thought Diana would be the one to get him and Clark together. It’s no doubt why she went second so that Arthur and Victor would be spared of any attempts.
The whole thing is completely childish, ‘middle school’ as Damian puts it, which is probably correct since Damian is in middle school.
Although Bruce has no other options, so he lets the time go by in wait of whoever is next, and he puts up with Diana and Barry interfering casually.
It’s subtle enough not to be noticed at first, but Bruce isn’t stupid. He notices the way he ends up sitting next to Clark more often than not in team meetups, both casual and formal. It definitely doesn’t escape him when he’s assigned Clark as his sparring partner for more than the usual two sessions in a row. It’s almost comical when he ends up sharing car rides with Clark rather than Barry, like normal, when Barry starts to complain about motion sickness which, really, is the worst straight-up lie he’s ever told.
But Bruce puts up with it because he really does need the help, and he uses the times with Clark to practice talking to him. Admittedly, it’s hard. It’s more than hard. Especially when Clark is still awkward around him and barely meets his eyes. Bruce perseveres though until he can get through half a conversation without wanting to set himself on fire.
Surprisingly, where Diana had taken months to wait for her moment, Arthur seems to be desperate to get his over and done with.
Bruce doesn’t anticipate that Arthur is next though, so it does come as a surprise when they’re discussing the latest batches of missions at their biweekly League meeting and Arthur starts to volunteer Bruce and Clark for everything.
“Arthur,” Clark says in obvious frustration when Arthur puts their names up beside the fifth mission on the whiteboard. “Bruce and I can’t do anything. There are four other functioning members of this team.”
“Yeah, but Barry has a cold,” Arthur argues as he starts to scribble Bruce’s name beside the sixth mission which is in the Atlantic Ocean. “Victor never leaves the house. Diana’s ex-boyfriend’s death anniversary is next week-”
“You meant the commemorations of the hundredth year anniversary of World War One,” Diana pipes up, her voice slightly bitter, but Arthur waves her off as he adds Clark’s name beside Bruce’s.
“-and Mera has asked me to take a week off for some Atlantian party that’s supposed to be held every couple of years.” He punctures the end of his sentence with a solid dot beside Clark’s name.
There’s a moment of silence as Bruce tries very hard not to stand up and throw his chair at Arthur. Thankfully, it’s Diana who breaks it by standing up and crossing over to the board, yanking the pen out of Arthur’s hand as she goes.
“You’re being an idiot,” she snaps at him as she starts to rub off Bruce and Clark’s names. “This one is in Atlantis. How do you expect them to breathe?”
Arthur just shrugs and tries to wrestle the pen back off her. “Mera will cane my ass,” he protests as Diana smacks his face with the pen. “I can’t-”
“You can and you will,” Diana tells him, pushing him away hard enough that he stumbles back a few steps and she quickly writes his name down. Arthur rushes forward and starts hissing at her, and Bruce rolls his eyes as he drops his head into his hands.
Beside him, Clark lets out a low snort. “Reckon this is a good time to throw Arthur out of the League?” he asks Bruce, and Bruce can’t help but smile as he shakes his head.
“I voted for that two months ago, but you all said it was unwarranted.”
He glances up in time to see Clark grin. “We were wrong,” he says. “It’s definitely warranted.”
Bruce smiles back at him and ignores the warm feeling in his chest. It’s dissipated though by Barry letting out a large sneeze followed by a coughing fit, and it really does prove Arthur’s point that Barry is sick as Bruce leans away from a large dose of spittle heading his way.
He looks over to see Victor handing Barry a box of tissues despite looking disgusted, and Bruce shakes his head. One cold and it leaves the kid completely wrecked. Barry had tried running back to Central City yesterday and only got as far as Gotham before he’d vomited everywhere and Bruce had to pick him up and bring him back to the manor. Now he’s on bed rest, except he’d insisted on coming to the meeting like an idiot.
The other two are still squabbling over the whiteboard when Bruce tunes back to them, and he lets out a long-suffering sigh before he speaks up.
“Look,” he calls out, both Arthur and Diana jumping as they turn to him. “There are six missions and there are five of us. One of them can wait. I vote it’s the investigation into Kryptonite out in Central City.” When Diana opens her mouth, Bruce quickly talks over her. “It’s not a priority, and it’s only based on hearsay. Barry can do that when he’s feeling better.”
Arthur looks a bit put out but, with a dramatic sigh, he turns around and crosses out the third mission on the list. “Fine,” he says haughtily. “But we’ll need to remove another from the list.”
Bruce frowns as he looks at what’s left. There’s the mission to the Atlantic to recover League technology that was sunk in a fight with Black Manta, clearly a job for Arthur. The monitoring of the World War One commemorations in Washington DC to ensure no-one disrupts them, something that Diana had already volunteered for. A follow-up lead on Faust’s latest appearance in Italy. There's also solving Riddler’s latest clue and, potentially, stopping him doing whatever dangerous thing he’s decided on doing. Then, finally, the latest files from Lex Luthor’s storage of information need to be read and catalogued.
“Why?” Bruce asks. “There’s something there for each of us.”
Arthur shakes his head though. “Faust is going to be a two man’s job,” he says as he writes Diana’s name beside the Washington DC job. “He’s dangerous. If we send only one person and they do encounter Faust, then they’re going to be in trouble without back up.”
Unfortunately, Bruce can see the logic, but he doesn’t like the way that Arthur is smiling. He vaguely remembers what Arthur had said when the team had agreed to intervene, something about action and danger, and he has a sinking feeling that Arthur is going to push them towards Faust willingly.
Clark pipes up though. “That’s reasonable,” he says, and Bruce wonders if Clark realises he keeps playing straight into their hands. “Luthor’s files can wait until we’re back. Victor, would you be comfortable chasing up Riddler?”
“It’ll be good to stretch my legs,” Victor mutters in agreement, a hint of sarcasm there but also a bit of a challenge directed at Arthur. Bruce tries not to roll his eyes again.
Barry clears his throat, gaining everyone’s attention, but the minute he opens his mouth he starts to cough again. Diana sighs and takes the pen off Arthur to cross out Luthor’s files on the board.
“No, Barry,” she says as she does so. “You’re not well enough to go through the files on your own.”
“Plus you’ll spit all over them,” Arthur points out. “And they’re paper, so that won’t do anyone any good.”
Barry pokes his tongue out at Arthur but doesn’t argue. Diana huffs at their behaviour but, after finishing writing their names all up, she drops back into her seat beside Clark and starts to tap away on the tablet in front of her.
“Arthur has all the information on Faust,” she informs them as she works. “Since it’s his idea, he can give you the handover.” She glances up just once to give Arthur a hard look that Bruce nearly misses. “Hopefully, it won’t go completely wrong.”
“Have a bit of faith, Di,” Clark says cheerfully as he reaches over to pat her on the back. “Arthur, do you just want to send us through the files? We probably need to get a move on sooner rather than later.”
“It’ll be my pleasure,” Arthur agrees as he reaches for his own tablet and Bruce narrows his eyes at the triumphant look on Arthur’s face. If this entire mission goes pear-shaped then Bruce is definitely going to beat Arthur’s ass in, Atlantian party be damned.
He gets a small notification pop up on his own tablet and when he looks down its to see the full detailing of the latest sights of Faust accompanied by some grainy photos. Obviously, it’s been one of Victor’s robots that have been tracking Faust, and when Bruce flicks through the information briefly it’s to see that they’ll be going to Pisa, Italy.
Italy, Bruce decides a few days later, is not as exciting as Arthur thought it might be.
He has no doubts that Arthur’s intentions were for them to meet Faust, have a huge dramatic battle, confess their undying love for one another during the heat of the moment, and come back so Arthur could be crowned the victor of the group.
But from where Bruce is currently sitting on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, of all places, it definitely looks like that won’t be the case.
They’d arrived earlier in the day and remained on the tarmac until nightfall before donning their super suits and heading out. Bruce had tried not to flush with embarrassment when Alfred had called out a reminder to get dinner while they’re out. After all, they might not know when they get their next meal.
Clark had been delighted hearing that and, after depositing Bruce on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he’d disappeared to follow up on Alfred’s request. Bruce was going to yell some profanity after him but, considering there was and still are the occasional tourist lingering below, he decided against it.
Instead, he flicks through the tablet he has in his lap, looking at all the recent surveillance pictures of Faust. A lot of them do seem to involve the Leaning Tower, Clark didn’t just drop him here on a whim, but there’s the odd photo of Faust lurking around the Trevi Fountain. That’s currently four hours away in Rome though but, considering the last time Faust was near a body of water they all ended up fighting these horrifying swamp monsters, Bruce really doesn’t want to revisit that again anytime soon. If they need to fly to Rome to stop him then they will.
He’s just pulling out his night vision binoculars and contemplating sending out the small drone folded up at the back of his belt to look at the small crowd for signs of Faust when he hears the sound of someone approaching behind him.
It’s a testament to how used Bruce is getting to his teammates that he can recognise the sound of Clark’s approach and his footsteps, and he turns his head to see Clark holding a large paper bag.
“I didn’t understand a word the woman said to me,” Clark says with an easy smile as he steps closer. “But she got a photo and I got free lasagna, so I guess that evens out.”
Bruce starts to roll his eyes but realises that, with the mask on, Clark can’t see him through the lead lining. It’s probably not the smartest idea, but he reaches up and tugs it off just to smile at Clark.
Clark grins back brightly, his eyes lighting up as they follow Bruce pulling off the mask, and it clearly doesn’t escape Clark how much of a rarity this is. He doesn’t comment on it though, thank god, and instead just settles down beside Bruce and starts to pull packages out of the paper bag.
“Fun fact,” Clark says as he hands Bruce one of the hot plastic containers and cutlery, “lasagna is the only tomato-based pasta I’ll ever eat.”
Bruce raises his eyebrows. “Not a fan?”
Clark shakes his head as he pulls out his own container and folds up the paper bag into a small square. “I don’t like tomatoes,” he explains. “Never have. But I’ll always eat lasagna.”
“Any reason why?” Bruce asks as he cracks open the container and spears his first piece of pasta. It's beautiful and delicious and definitely rivals anything Alfred has ever made, not that Bruce will ever tell him that.
The fact that Clark doesn’t answer instantly though has Bruce looking up at him with a frown. It surprises him to see Clark’s cheeks are red as he stabs at his food, and Bruce nudges him gently with his elbow.
Clark sighs. “You’ll think it’s stupid,” he mutters and Bruce shrugs. Clark looks up and shakes his head but awkwardly smiles. “It’s because I was obsessed with Garfield when I was younger.”
Bruce pauses for just a moment, trying to process what Clark just said before he bursts out laughing.
“Don’t,” Clark groans but he starts to laugh too as Bruce drops his head and his shoulders shake. He hasn’t laughed like this in a long time, too long, but that’s such a weird confession that it’s completely taken him off guard.
Clark being obsessed with Garfield is not exactly something he would’ve pictured.
“One time Mom dressed me as him for Halloween,” Clark continues to say despite Bruce’s laughter. “I didn’t take off the costume for weeks and I demanded to only eat lasagna.” He shakes his head as Bruce tries not to drop his food over the edge of the tower with his laughter. “Dad supported me though. Mum couldn’t believe him.”
“What supportive parents,” Bruce snorts, and Clark just grins at him.
“Come on,” he says, bumping Bruce with his shoulder. “You can’t tell me you didn’t go through a phase when you were younger.”
Bruce shakes his head but he’s already got the answer on the tip of his tongue. Hours of watching TV, collecting the comics, collecting memorabilia finally accumulating into one awful confession.
Clark stares at him for a moment “Seriously?” he asks and, when Bruce awkwardly nods, Clark breaks out into an even larger grin. “You were obsessed with The Smurfs?”
Bruce holds his fork up and waves it in Clark’s face. “I never got to dress up as one though,” he says, and Clark just shakes his head slowly. “The kind of parties I went to were never really appropriate for that.”
“High society doesn’t like Smurfs running around at the dinner parties?” Clark asks, and Bruce snorts.
“Not really, no,” he replies, thinking about all the glitz and glamour and trying to picture younger him running amongst it dressed as a Smurf. “But this other time I was obsessed with Alfred. All I wanted to do was be like him when I grew up.” He smiles at the memory, how chuffed Alfred was when Bruce told him how much he admired him. “One day, Mom dressed me up as a mini-butler and sent me off to one of Dad’s board meetings. I got to play butler for the whole afternoon.”
“Your dad wasn’t fazed?”
“Surprisingly, no. He was pretty liberal for the role he played in high society.”
Clark’s still smiling, a big dorky smile. “How did the board members react?”
“They thought it was great,” Bruce admits, pushing his pasta around with his fork. “They were all Dad’s friends back then, not the malicious egotists that are there now. Only Lucius Fox is there from back then.”
There’s a pause for a moment as they both spear their lasagna and have a mouthful. Clark can’t seem to keep quiet for long though.
“Lucius Fox,” he repeats slowly. “Isn’t he the one who knows you’re Batman?”
Bruce nods and swallows his mouthful. “He’s known me since I was a child,” he points out. “After the time that Batman saved him and a hundred others from the Riddler, it didn’t take long to match up the dots.”
Clark lets out a small hum. “It’s good to have people out there who know who you are,” he says quietly. “To have people outside of the League and the superhero world who just, know. Who get it.”
Bruce thinks about his boys and Alfred. He couldn’t do what he does without them. Without his boys to ground him, Alfred to support him, even Lucius Fox to cover for him every time there’s an incident. Without them, Batman would be nothing.
“You’re right,” he murmurs to his lap, and Clark shifts a little bit closer until their thighs are pressed against one another. “Without them, there would be no Batman.”
“I don’t know,” Clark disagrees. “You are Batman, Bruce. I think you’d have always made it work. Batman runs in your veins.” He grins and pats Bruce on the knee. “And you’re an excellent one at that. I admire that about you.”
Bruce lets out a light laugh. “Thanks,” he says, if a bit awkwardly. “I think you’re a pretty great Superman too.”
Clark hums his response and gives Bruce a smile before they both fall silent. Their food remains in their laps, grown cold by now, but that’s okay. Bruce is okay where he is.
It’s beautiful where they are. If Diana where here then she would no doubt label it romantic with the view of the sprawling city in front of them and the smallest of stars peeking out from behind the overcast night.
It’s that realisation that has Bruce feeling nervous all of sudden.
It’s a perfect time, he thinks. He could turn to Clark now, Clark who is pressed against his side and warm as the sun, and tell him. Tell him how he feels, what he feels, tell him how much he... he loves Clark. How much he wants and needs him.
The feelings are bubbling high in his throat, desperate to come out, and he thinks this is it, this is when he can finally get the words out, and he opens his mouth ready to just confess-
Faust’s voice behind them cuts through the silent air like a whip, causing Clark and Bruce to jump to their feet, their food overturning and splattering everywhere, and Bruce reaches for his cowl and shoves it over his head as fast as he can manage.
They turn to Faust together, the old wizard standing on the other end of the tower with his arms crossed and a satisfied look on his face. The slight tilt of the building has him towering over them, and Bruce feels rather than sees Clark rise just that little bit off the rooftop to meet Faust’s level.
It leaves Bruce a bit off, the shortest of them all now, but he pulls his shoulders back and tries to look as imposing as ever.
“Did I interrupt something?” Faust asks mockingly, gesturing vaguely at all the spilt pasta. “A date perhaps? À la Lady and the Tramp style?” He grins wickedly. “Oh, I do hope so. I can’t wait to tell the others at our annual villain expo that Superman and Batman are dating.”
The sarcasm drips from his voice, but Bruce refuses to rise to the bait. Thankfully, Clark seems to be on the same train of thought.
“We’re here for you, Faust,” he practically growls. “Only you.”
“Don’t be silly,” Faust sighs as he starts to walk towards them. Bruce braces himself for whatever Faust is about to do, but is surprised when nothing happens besides Faust stopping arms-length away from him. “I’m not here to hurt anyone. Why would you be here for me? Doesn’t that go against your moral codes or something?”
“Ironic, coming from someone with no morals,” Bruce snaps, and Faust lets out a low laugh.
“Everyone has morals, Mister Batman,” he responds cheerfully. “Just because they don’t align with yours doesn’t mean they’re not valid.”
Bruce doesn’t say anything back because, admittedly, Faust has a point. He feels Clark lower back down to stand beside him, and he takes comfort in the fact that he’s got back up. It’s not clear which way Faust is going to take this interaction, and Bruce is honestly a bit worried that it’s going to go south.
“I’m not here to fight you, boys,” Faust says when it’s apparent neither Clark or Bruce are going to speak up. “I have at least a three-year wait policy before starting up another evil ploy.”
“Forgive us for not trusting that,” Clark states, and Faust merely shrugs.
“Well, that’s your decision.” Faust smiles at them both. “But that doesn’t make it any less true. I thought I’d just come by to let you know that I’m leaving Italy now. No point in letting you squander your evening looking for a ghost.”
“Considerate,” Bruce bites back, and Faust raises his eyebrows before he sighs.
“Such hostility,” he bemoans. “There’s no need to be uncivil, Mister Batman.” Suddenly he grins and quirks his head to the side. “Or perhaps the bravado is for something else?”
Bruce freezes at the implication and forces himself not to look at Clark. Faust can’t know about the League’s plan, he can’t. But he’s known stranger and more specific things in the past and Bruce feels an overwhelming sense of dread as Faust let’s out a sharp laugh.
“I have just the thing to help that along,” Faust declares with a wide sweep of his arms. One of his hands starts to glow an unpleasant, blue, small ball crackling in the centre of his palm, and Bruce slides his foot back into a defensive stance as Clark steps forward.
“Enough, Faust,” he calls, one hand raised in placation. “We will leave you alone if you do the same. We want a fight as much as you do.”
Faust glances away from Bruce to smile at Clark. “Oh, I know that,” he says cheerfully, rolling the electric ball between his fingers. “No fighting, but you have been rather rude so far. I can’t let that go I acknowledged.”
Bruce is halfway through opening his mouth to speak up when Faust let’s out an overly dramatic sigh before he simply flicks the electric ball towards them. The speed of it is untraceable, and Clark barely lets out a shout before the ball slams straight into Bruce’s chest.
It’s like a douse of water is poured over Bruce’s head, flowing down his body and course through his veins with an awful cold feeling. It makes him shiver, but it’s not painful at all, more uncomfortable. It dissipates quickly enough though, and Bruce turns to glower through his mask at Faust and opens his mouth to fire off an insult.
But nothing comes out.
Bruce falters for a moment, thinking it’s in his head, but when he tries to speak again it feels like a hand wraps around his throat and squeezes.
He raises his hand to touch his neck as he tries again, but the phantom feeling is there and he turns to Clark with his mouth open in silent question.
Clark, on the other hand, looks horrified. “What’ve you done?” he demands, reaching out to grip Bruce’s elbow but falters before they touch.
Faust laughs. “Don’t worry,” he jeers. “It’ll wear off by tomorrow. I’ve just simply upped the stakes.” He ignores Clark when they turn to look at him and just wiggles his finger in a wave at Bruce. “There’s still one more opportunity, Mister Batman. Good luck.”
He punctuates his last words by thrusting his suddenly glowing red palm at Bruce and, with a silent shout, Bruce feels himself being lifted up and thrown off the edge of the tower.
He hears Clark’s yell of surprise, and Bruce doesn’t have much time to reach for his grapple gun before he sees Clark throw himself off the top of the tower. There’s a loud boom as Clark tears towards him, and Bruce reaches out to grab his outstretched hand.
He halts in midair, panting silently from the adrenaline rush that’s surged through his body, and Clark levels himself to match and wraps an arm around Bruce’s waist to pull him close.
“You okay?” Clark asks frantically, his eyes searching Bruce’s face, and Bruce isn’t surprised when Clark yanks off his cowl to look him in the eyes. He tries to nod in response but is stopped when Clark pulls him in close for a tight hug.
Bruce feels like his heart has dropped to his feet at that moment, and he doesn’t know if his light-headedness is from the fall or Clark being so close. He reaches around and loops an arm around Clark’s back in response, playing it up in his head that it’s to stop himself from dropping instead of wanting to press in close to Clark. When Clark pulls away, he sniffs just once and gives Bruce a watery smile.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified,” Clark admits with a small laugh.
Bruce raises his eyebrows and, with his free hand, taps his grapple gun. Clark’s smile turns a bit awkward and bashful, followed by a flush on his cheeks, and Bruce realises just how close they are.
It’s a perfect moment. The moment that Arthur had tried to aim for with the tension and battle without the bodily harm and Bruce hates the fact that Arthur was completely right.
Except, when Bruce opens his mouth, nothing comes out. There’s only that feeling of a hand around his throat and he damn near explodes with sheer frustration.
Thankfully, Clark doesn’t seem to notice anything as he turns his attention up and flies them both up to the top of the tower. Faust isn’t there, of course not, and Bruce has the urge to track him down and beat the ever-loving shit out of the wizard for screwing this up.
Twice. For screwing it up twice.
“Let’s get back to the plane,” Clark decides after they’ve obviously looked at the empty rooftop for long enough. “We can update the League from there.”
Bruce just nods his ascent, and Clark holds Bruce that little bit closer before steering them towards the tarmac where Alfred and the place are waiting.
By the time they get there, explain what happened to Alfred, and Clark calls up the League to update them, Bruce is furious beyond belief at how much of a screw up this ended up being.
Alfred just smiles grimly and pats Bruce’s arm. “Faust is right though,” Alfred says. “At least you’ve still got another shot.”
Bruce glares at him and stalks off to fly the damn plane.
The look on Arthur’s face when they get back is something that Bruce wishes he could’ve taken a photo of.
The way the Diana, Barry, and Arthur all turn to look at Victor, however, is not subtle and makes Bruce want to bury his head in the sand. Already, he can see Clark staring at them, and it’s surprised Bruce that Clark hasn’t actually asked about what Faust was prattling on about.
Bruce can either take it as a bad omen or just be thankful that he’s not having to awkwardly explain anything.
He’s unanimously grounded by the rest of the League until he’s recovered from Faust’s magic. Victor asks to run some tests quickly to update their file on all things Felix Faust, but after he and Barry are through with him, Bruce runs back to the lake-house with his tail between his legs.
Alfred is a good sounding board when he finally gets his voice back. He throws all his frustrations at Alfred in packaged form and, because he’s so damn wound up, he fires off a message to Dick as well.
It’s just being childish, but he does blame Dick for this whole mess to some extent.
“Stop playing the blame game,” Alfred scolds him when he pulls Bruce’s phone out of his hands after reading the message over Bruce’s shoulder. “I’m sure you have other things to be doing rather than being an overgrown child.”
He does, admittedly. Alfred confiscates his phone and sends him packing down to his Batcave with clear instructions to not come out until dinner time, and Bruce searches for something to take his mind off Italy.
After grabbing a creeper board and his mechanic kit, he heads towards his Batmobile. The car needs a tune-up and an update, so it’s lucky he’s got time to do it now.
It’s easy to lose himself in the twists and turns of metal and bolts. The Batmobile is so intricately made that it takes more of his brainpower than he thought, but it’s not a problem. Not thinking about Italy is fantastic, and hours go by with Bruce focusing on only the Batmobile, the way the machine just works under his ready hands.
That is, of course, until Jason arrives.
“So, how did it go?”
Bruce nearly smashes his head on the exhaust as he jumps at the sudden voice, and he narrows his eyes as he pushes out from underneath the Batmobile to glare at Jason. He’s lurking on the stairs, eyeing up his old suit that’s encased in glass, and if he were popping gum instead of twirling a gun between his fingers then Bruce would think he’s a normal hoodlum.
“What’re you doing here?” he asks as he rolls the creeper he’s on a little bit further out so he can sit up. “Don’t tell me, Dick sent you?”
Jason snorts as he looks away from his old suit to descend the steps. “You got it,” he says with a grin. “Boss sent me to come check on you since he’s on patrol in Bludhaven tonight.”
Bruce resists the urge to roll his eyes as he drops the spanner in his hand to rifle through his mechanic kit. “And you listened?”
“It’s either come here and have a horrible heart to heart or be berated by Dick for an indeterminate amount of time.” Jason shrugs as he comes even close. “So, did big, brawny, and brainless get you together?” He stretches out and nudges Bruce’s arm with his unlaced boot. “Or are you still dickless and pining?”
Bruce scowls as he pushes away Jason’s leg and glares up at him. “Do you always have to be so uncouth?” he demands, and Jason just grins back at him as he continues to twirl the gun in his hand.
“Do you always have to critique?” he shoots back, and Bruce bites his tongue and pushes down the scathing reply. He loves his boys, don’t get him wrong, but there’s something about Jason that has always managed to ruffle him.
Sensing he’s not about to get any more work done, Bruce drops the wrenches he’d picked out and rests his arms on his bent up knees. Jason seems a little weary at the sudden attention on him, and Bruce admittedly enjoys watching him pause in flicking around his weapon before an easy smirk appears back on his face as he looks at Bruce.
“Really, Jason,” Bruce says seriously, “why are you here?”
Jason looks a little surprised at the question before he answers. “As I said, Dick sent me-”
“No,” Bruce cuts him off with an expectant look. “No. That’s not it. If that were the case you wouldn’t have come and bullshitted some excuse to him about me being busy like you normally do.” He raises an eyebrow and Jason falters. “So, why are you here?”
Jason looks like Bruce has bitten him as he seems to scramble for words. Bruce sighs as he reaches for another creeper beside him and slides it towards Jason. He catches it with his foot, and he regards it suspiciously as Bruce rolls his eyes.
“It’s not going to bite you,” he points out, and Jason turns his nose up before he folds himself down on top of it. Bruce waits until he’s settled before he continues. “Want to know what I think?”
“Not really,” Jason grumbles, and that makes Bruce smile.
“I think that you actually care about what’s happening,” Bruce tells him. “I think that you’re using Dick as an excuse to turn up and see how this whole circus is going because you secretly do care and want me to be happy, but admitting to that is going to ruin your big, bag, stupid macho reputation and no one can know that the Red Hood has actual feelings.”
Jason glares at him for a long moment before he reaches over to pick up a spanner, tapping it between his hands and as he no doubt contemplates throwing it at Bruce.
“And I think,” he says after a tense moment, “that you’re using this as a way of distracting me from asking how everything is going because this the third attempt now and it’s failed. Not to mention the fact that there’s only one more attempt for the League to make before you’re on your own with trying to woo Kent and for the last year you’ve been utter shit at doing so, so you’re scared because you don’t want to be seen as a complete failure in front of the League for the first damn time.”
Bruce blinks at him for a moment, and Jason raises one eyebrow at him as he waits for a response.
Honestly? Bruce doesn’t know what to say. Jason has hit the nail on the head. Bruce is terrified of failing. If he fails this then what the hell else is he going to fail in the future? He knows that there are allowed to be certain aspects that don’t go so well in everyone’s lives, and the whole relationship thing isn’t easy for anyone, but still. The point still stands and Bruce doesn’t know what he can do about it.
He sighs before he reaches down to pick up a wrench and tosses it to Jason, the kid catches it in his other hand with a frown.
“Come on then,” Bruce says as he picks up his own tools and starts to lean backwards. “Talking is for the emotionally available.”
Jason lets out a snort of laughter as Bruce pulls himself back under the Batmobile, and it only takes a moment before Jason is sliding in right beside him.
Bruce isn’t surprised at all that Victor gets his turn in as soon as possible.
They’ve been back from Italy for only a week or so before Bruce comes across his attempt. He’ll admit he’s been worried about what Victor will do, after all, he remembers Victor saying something about tricking them into admitting they want each other, so when he walks into his study in the Manor he isn’t surprised at all to see a large bouquet of flowers on his desk.
Beside it, sitting on top of Bruce’s files, is a small card. Bruce drops his armload of new files down to the side before he sinks into his chair and reaches for the card.
He doesn’t recognise the handwriting, something that Victor is probably expecting him not to focus on. It’s definitely not Clark’s blocky capital letters though, something that Bruce always sees on all the missions boards around the manor, and Bruce rolls his eyes before reading the message.
I love you, you know it.
You love me, I know it.
Please tell me you’re mine?
Bruce groans as he drops the card and rubs his hands over his face. He can’t imagine Clark ever writing this sort of crap. The flowers, yes. He can definitely see Clark grinning stupidly over a ridiculously large bouquet, something that makes his chest warm, but he can’t see half-assed poetry as one of Clark’s styles.
The bouquet on Bruce’s desk is obnoxiously big, not at all tasteful. It’s lilies, and Bruce hates lilies with a passion. They grow well, survive long after being cut, and tend to be popular at funerals because of it.
Lilies make Bruce feel sick, and he reaches over to push the bouquet into the trash bin beside his desk when a bit of plastic nestled amongst the lilies catches his eye.
Bruce pulls it out with a frown, twirling it between his fingers as he wonders why the card wasn’t attached like it's supposed to be. Maybe Victor pulled it off so Bruce would catch the attention of the card first, but when Bruce turns to the card itself and picks it up, he finally notices the files he’d dropped it onto.
They’re not his files. They’re the files about the kryptonite that Arthur had found in the Atlantic just last week. Files that Clark had been looking over last night before passing them over to Bruce as agreed yesterday morning.
It hits Bruce like a hammer the sudden realisation that Clark’s been here, and he surges to his feet with the card gripped between fingers before he heads for the door.
His personal study is quite removed from the main areas and the rest of the team in general, found at the end of the west wing which is the furthermost to go, so it takes him time to rush down the corridor towards the grand staircase at the end. He’s not surprised at all to hear loud voices as he descends into the opening foyer, and he skids across the freshly polished tiles towards the living room on the other side.
“- did you think this was some kind of joke?” Bruce hears Clark’s raised voice as he gets closer to the half-opened door. “Because it’s not funny to interfere in anyone’s life, let alone someone you call a friend!”
Bruce is just reaching for the handle to slam the door open when he hears Diana respond, and he lets his hand fall to his side and pulls back, deciding to wait instead.
“We were trying to help!” she insists, her voice just as loud as Clark’s. It sounds like they’ve been arguing for a while, and Bruce wonders what the other three are doing. Victor hates confrontation like this, Barry is too sick, and Arthur has the tendency to check out of the conversation.
“Seriously, Clark, we meant nothing by our actions besides just wanting to help. Stop reading into things too much.” Arthur pipes up though, and Bruce winces at the words. The best way to get Clark offside is always to start a verbal attack.
“Reading into things?” Clark snaps back, and yeah, he’s definitely wound up. “How about you stop reading into things and interfering in mine and Bruce’s affairs. How does that sound, Arthur?”
There’s a long silence that almost has Bruce pushing into the room, but a small cough breaks the atmosphere as Barry pipes up.
“We didn’t want to hurt you, Clark,” Barry murmurs, his voice still small and his throat must still be tender by the way he keeps clearing it. “We just saw what was happening with all the avoiding and flirting and thought that, maybe, you guys could use a push in the right direction.”
“I got that,” Clark mutters darkly, and Bruce steps forward to peek through the half-opened door to see Clark standing with his arms crossed as he glares at the ground. “I knew what you were trying to do. I’m not stupid, Barry. Orchestrating us into the closest wasn’t exactly subtle.”
“I told you,” Victor groans and Bruce turns his gaze to see Victor punching Barry in the arm.
“Oh, and lilies, Victor?” Clark snaps though, and Victor jumps. “Bruce hates lilies. They’re the funeral flower. The funeral flower, Victor. Why the hell would Bruce send me those? Or why would I send them to him?”
“I told you,” Barry growls darkly and hits Victor right back. Diana snaps at them to cut it out as she glares at them with a tense jaw and Arthur just seems deadset on boring a hole through the top of Clark’s head.
“But this needs to stop,” Clark declares. “This is enough-”
“If you knew,” Diana interrupts though, taking a step forward and Bruce shies away from the door lest she sees him, “then why is it only now that you tell us to stop?”
There’s an awkward silence this time as Clark doesn’t answer immediately, and Bruce drops his gaze to the half-mangled card in his hand. He’s crumpled it badly on his way down, and when he flips the top up he can see the words are barely recognisable.
“Because I thought he was involved,” Clark finally answers, and Bruce’s shoulders stiffen before he crumples the card up again and moves back to looking through the door. Clark looks heart-broken for a moment, and Bruce sucks in a harsh breath when Clark lifts up an identical card. “Because it wasn’t until this morning that I realised that you’ve been manipulating both of us.” He crumples the card just like Bruce did, and Bruce drops his gaze. “I thought you were working with him, and I thought that was nice, sweet even. But you weren’t. You were manipulating Bruce into situations with me and that’s unacceptable.”
“He needed the help too,” Barry pipes back up, the others murmuring their agreements. “You both needed the help-”
“He doesn’t feel the same way,” Clark suddenly thunders, and Bruce’s breath hitches as the others all fall silent. “It’s been made clear. I thought… I thought differently as well but…”
“How can you know that?” Diana calls as she steps towards him. “How can you know that he doesn’t feel the same when it’s so obvious that he-”
“There were opportunities,” Clark mutters, a stark change from his sudden outburst. “He didn’t take them. Bruce isn’t stupid. He would’ve seen them for what they were, but he didn’t take any of them.”
“Enough,” Clark cuts Diana off again, and he looks dark as he raises his head to glare at the team. “We’re all on stand down, as of now. We all need to take some time apart to reassess our values and understand what it is to be a team.” He shakes his head and takes a step backwards from Diana. “Go back home, all of you. We’ll reconvene in a few weeks when we’ve all had some time out.”
Bruce winces at the finality of his tone and draws away from the door again, taking a few steps back out into the foyer. He didn’t take the opportunities as Clark said, and he knows that. He saw every single one come his way, and he didn’t take any of them.
He’s the one that’s screwed this up. If he’d just manned up and told Clark then no one would be in trouble, the team wouldn’t have gotten involved, none of this would’ve happened.
The sound of the door creaking has him looking up to meet Clark’s surprised eyes, the rest of the team right behind him, and Clark takes a few steps out into the foyer with his hands raised in a placating manner.
“Bruce,” he says gently, his voice so damn soft that Bruce has to look away from him. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise that you-”
“There’s no need,” Bruce cuts him off but there’s nothing else to say. He glances up briefly to see Diana looking at him imploringly, but his tongue is tied. There’s nothing coming out.
He looks back down at the card in his hand again before he drops it to the ground, his palm feeling burnt by it. He’s failed. He’s failed all of the team’s ideas, failed the team itself, and he knows why.
He’s a goddamn failure, and he knows that.
“Bruce,” Clark starts to try again, but Bruce holds up a hand to shut him down. He doesn’t want to hear anything or say anything, he just… he just needs to walk away.
So, without a word or noise, he spins around on his heel and leaves the foyer, ignoring Clark’s call to come back.
Bruce rolls his eyes at Damian’s statement as he avoids the boy’s foot flying towards his face. Of course, he’s pathetic. They’re all pathetic according to Damian. Bruce hasn’t met a single person that Damian actually likes let alone thinks isn't pathetic.
Bruce groans before he darts forward and flat out pushes Damian over. The boy yelps as his ass hits the mat beneath them, and the glare he gives Bruce could rival all of his other ones.
“Have you ever heard of respect?” Bruce asks in exasperation as he steps back. Damian just continues to glower as he gets to his feet.
“You’ll get it when you’ve earned it,” Damian sneers before he lets out a battle cry and charges forward. Bruce rolls his eyes and steps out of the way, Damian running back him before Bruce reaches back and hauls him back around.
“What did I say about announcing your attacks?” he grumbles as he pushes Damian in front of him and pokes him roughly in the back as he tumbles by. Damian swats back at him, not hurt at all as he squares back up again.
Bruce doesn’t hurt him. He never hurts Damian whenever they spar together. If he could avoid it, he actually would, but Damian is a nightmare when he wants something and Bruce isn’t prepared to let him out in the Robin suit if he can’t protect himself. Jason always mutters that Bruce babies Damian to much, but Bruce does remind Jason that he wasn’t allowed out by himself at Robin until he was fifteen and could knock Bruce on his ass more times than Bruce knocked him.
Damian, who’s ten, still can’t quite shut his damn mouth before charging into a fight. His tendency to trash talk is also a bit of a problem.
“I’m surprised that the wonder boy is even into you,” Damian snarls as he circles Bruce. He’s damn lucky Alfred isn’t nearby or Bruce would have to protect Damian’s ears from a hell of a crisping. “You’re pathetic.”
“Call me pathetic one more time and I’m grounding you,” Bruce threatens, and he sees the wince on Damian’s face. He might be a vindictive and horrible little child at the best of times, but a grounding is still just as threatening to him as it is to the others.
“But you are,” Damian whines, and Bruce raises his eyebrows enough that Damian huffs. “Fine,” he mutters before he charges forward again.
This time Bruce catches him and swings him up in the air, dodging the very fast kicking feet before he drops Damian from head height only to catch him just before he hits the ground. As he said, he doesn’t hurt Damian.
Damian looks mutinous though as Bruce does drop him the last few centimetres to the mat. He lies there petulantly for a minute with a pout and crossed arms, and Bruce steps back to give him space.
He doesn’t stay sullen for long though, but he does surprise Bruce when he just sits up and glares at Bruce from his place on the mat. He doesn’t appear to have any intentions on getting up, and Bruce takes a few steps forward.
“Dick said that you’re out of options now,” Damian says though when Bruce is close enough and, with a sigh, Bruce lowers himself down to sit cross-legged beside his son.
“He’s right,” he murmurs, and Damian shakes his head.
“So now what?” he asks, and Bruce winces. That’s a loaded question if there ever were any. Bruce feels the weight of all his chances and failures sitting on his shoulder and he really doesn’t want to think about it.
But it’s not often that Damian opens up a dialogue, especially not about Bruce, so he’s not going to shut down the chance to teach the kid a bit more about responsibility and kindness.
“I don’t know, Damian,” he answers truthfully. He’s not in favour of spewing his love life to his tormented ten-year-old son, but Damian has the ‘dog-with-a-bone’ look on his face. “I’m not too sure what can be done.”
Damian huffs before he shuffles closer and presses his shoulder against Bruce’s chest. He looks unhappy about it, and Bruce has to smother a smile. Unfortunately, Damian is quite a tactile kid despite all his attempts to appear otherwise.
“You could just pull your head out of your ass-”
“-and do something about it,” Damian points out, ignoring Bruce’s scolding. He looks up at Bruce and his frown in a little less deep. “You’ve known this whole time that none of this was going to work.”
Bruce doesn’t answer. He looks away instead and tries not to think how obvious he must be if a ten-year-old can tell when he’s bullshitting.
“None of the team are you,” Damian continues, his boney little elbow jabbing Bruce in the side. “None of them really know what they’re doing. You’re not the kind of person to let someone push or con you into doing something. You never have been.”
“And how would you know?”
Damian puffs up his chest. “Because neither am I,” he says with a lot more courage and conviction than Bruce has ever seen. “And if Jason is right, then I got that from you.”
Bruce can’t help but smile, and he reaches up to ruffle Damian’s hair. He’s expecting to be pushed away, but Damian must be feeling tired as he just lets it happen.
Unfortunately, and Bruce doesn’t know if he really wants to accept this, the kid has a point. He has a huge point. Up until now, Bruce has really been letting his team do the work. None of it is really what Bruce would be doing himself. He wouldn’t piss around with cupboards or flowers or made-up scenarios. That’s not his style and it never has been.
If he’s too be honest with himself, Bruce is a front-facing person. He deals with situations head-on. He doesn’t piss around, he doesn’t wait for things to just happen. He makes them happen.
He glances down at Damian to see his boy looking back with one hell of a frown, and Bruce can’t help but smile.
“You’re right, kid,” he says as he ruffles Damian’s hair again, and this time he gets batted away. “You’re absolutely right.”
“I’m always right,” Damian mutters, and Bruce can’t help but laugh as he pushes Damian over. The kid sprawls over the mat, hissing and swearing as he goes, and Bruce can’t help but laugh more.
“Sure you are,” he says cheerfully and when Damian turns around and throws himself at him with a yell, Bruce happily falls over backwards.
It takes Bruce a while to find Clark after he finally wraps his head around what he needs to do.
He’s not surprised. Most of the team has actually dispersed following the awful confrontation at the manor. Arthur has disappeared back to Atlantis, Diana is home in Themyscria for a while, Barry keeps claiming he’s really busy in Central City, and Victor has gone to visit his father for an indefinite amount of time.
Clark? Clark was supposed to have gone back to Kansas, but all of Bruce’s searches show that he’s nowhere near Martha Kent’s farm. He’s not in the state either, and he’s not anywhere around Metropolis or Gotham that Bruce can find.
Where he is, Bruce does find, is in the Canadian Arctic.
Bruce knows it’s where the Kryptonian ship, now in the middle of Metropolis, originally was. He’s positive that there’s nothing that was left behind by Zod when he flew said ship, but there must be something if Clark seems to be spending a lot of time there. After a week of tracking him and Clark not leaving the area once, Bruce thinks that maybe an investigation might be good.
The opportunity to talk to Clark himself is a pretty big reason to go as well, as Alfred points out when he shoves Bruce into the cockpit of the Batplane, and Bruce can’t help but roll his eyes when he’s waved goodbye by all four of his boys and Alfred’s sharply raised eyebrow.
It takes ten hours of straight flying for Bruce to get to Baffin Island. Most of the time he dozes, in honesty. The Batplane is good for autopilot, and the little green light on one of the dashboards shows that Alfred is hooked up to the mainframe from the Batcave. Bruce feels completely safe in the hands of Alfred, so it does give him time to just relax.
By relax, he does mean stress about what he’s going to say. He thinks of Damian though and just takes a few deep breaths. Winging it has always been a favourite of his. He doesn’t see why he should change that now.
When he does land on Baffin Island, it’s right outside a large cave that has Clark’s tracker inside of it. Bruce is astounded to see that there’s a phenomenal amount of Kryptonian materials everywhere, giant sheets of metal and doors and, generally, what looks like another Kryptonian ship wedged into the cave side.
Bruce pulls on a few layers of clothing before he steps out and down the ramp, and by the time his booted feet hit the snow he’s already cold. He's not used to chilly weather in the warmish Gotham, and going straight to the Canadian Arctic is probably not the best way to ease into it.
He approaches the large door pointing his way and is thoroughly pleased when it opens for him. He was expecting to knock or work his way in somehow, but on the other side is a little Kryptonian android like the ones that are on the one in Metropolis.
“Hello,” it greets in a pleasant female voice. “You are here to see Kal-El?”
Bruce just nods, a little unsure what else to do, but the android just turns around and starts to walk further into the ship. Bruce follows behind at a steady pace, making sure to pick up his feet as he goes. Kryptonian ships are odd in their design, a lot of bumps and ledges where it should be flat, and Bruce is too busy staring at the ground to register when he finally bumps into Clark.
He jumps and looks up, the Kryptonian android and Clark both look back, and Bruce tries to give an easy smile that probably looks quite strange.
“Clark,” he greets as he shifts on his feet. Clark is just in civil clothes which surprises Bruce, although he’s not surprised to see the familiar plaid jacket he always wears. Alfred has always wanted to burn the atrocity.
He’s also sitting bolt upright on what Bruce can only describe as a bed. Realising he’s probably in Clark’s room makes him a bit uncomfortable, and he starts to look for an exit when Clark clears his throat.
“Thank you, Kelan,” he says to the android, “that will be all.”
The android says something in Kryptonian, Bruce isn’t fluent enough yet to understand, before the android turns and disappears out the way that Bruce came through. The sliding of the door is the only noise in the room for a moment as Clark stares at Bruce and Bruce looks everywhere but at Clark, until Clark sighs and gets up.
“I didn’t think that anyone knew about this place,” he says as he walks towards Bruce. “Typical that you would.”
“I didn’t, actually,” Bruce uneasily replies. “I just tracked your whereabouts through satellite. I didn’t realise you had a whole, ah…”
“Fortress of Solitude,” Clark fills in, and when Bruce looks up with a raised eyebrow, Clark looks away with a flush. “Kelan named it. Not me. Trust me, I don’t think I could be so-”
“Dramatic?” Bruce cuts in with a smirk and Clark laughs as he scratches the back of his neck.
“Exactly,” he says with a small smile. They stay quiet for a moment, just smiling at one another before Clark looks away and folds his arms. “What’re you doing here, Bruce?”
There’s a moment where Bruce contemplates lying. It’s reflex, just the usual for him to never really answer with honesty, but he catches himself before he does. He came here to talk to Clark, not bullshit him. It might take a warm-up to get the truth out there, but dammit if Bruce won’t be doing that.
“I came to find you,” he answers, and Clark looks surprised. “I thought that you might’ve gone home like the others and looked for you in Kansas, but you weren’t there.”
Clark looks uneasy. “Yeah,” he mutters. “I didn’t think going home and crying to Ma was a particularly cool superhero thing to do.”
“Going and being miserable in the middle of Canada is though?” Bruce quickly asks, and Clark laughs again. It’s such a nice sound. Bruce can’t help but smile.
“Point taken,” Clark chuckles. He takes a couple of steps backwards before he gestures towards the door at the other side of the room. “Wanna come make yourself more comfortable?” he asks. “I can get Kelan to heat up the living area. I can’t really feel the cold but your nose looks like it’s about to drop off.”
Bruce doesn’t argue. Just nods and follows behind as Clark leads him into the living area. It’s still all sleek lines and grey, but there are a table and chairs in here and what looks like a ridiculously hard couch. The modernistic look doesn’t always pay off.
The heat is higher in here though, and Bruce hadn’t realised how many of his extremities were starting to feel numb until the ends of his fingers start to prickle with pins and needles. He wriggles them and his nose as he follows Clark to the table and chairs, and he slides into the one across from him.
There’s a tense silence for a moment as Clark taps his fingers on the tabletop, and Bruce sighs as he reaches over and drops his hands on top. Clark ceases immediately, and Bruce gives him a weak smile.
“I’m sorry,” Clark suddenly blurts before Bruce can say anything. “This whole mess with the team was my fault. I should’ve put a stop to it despite… well, I just should-”
“Clark, I knew,” Bruce cuts him off briskly, and Clark’s mouth stays open as he blinks at Bruce. “I knew about everything.”
“You… you did?”
Bruce looks at his gloved-hands, and for a moment he wants to take them off just to place his skin over Clark’s. He’s not stupid though, doesn't fancy the risk of frostbite, and he takes a deep breath before continuing.
“I overheard the team when they were trying to plan this whole matchmaking debacle,” Bruce admits. Clark’s fingers are still beneath his own. “At first, I was going to stop it. I don’t like being manipulated or played like a chess piece. I don’t think anyone does.” He looks up to see Clark looking back expressionlessly. “But my boys convinced me it was a good idea.”
“The boys were in on it too?” Clark asks weakly, and Bruce shakes his head.
“Not really. They just convinced me to give it a shot.” He sighs and looks away. “I probably shouldn’t have listened to them, but I’ll admit, I was desperate.”
“Desperate?” Clark parrots, sounding quite far away. Bruce chances a look and Clark’s face has morphed into confusion.
“I like you, Clark,” Bruce says, his voice strong and each word feels like a damn weight off his shoulders. He grips his fingers tighter around Clark’s. “But I’ll be damned if I ever knew how to tell you.” He bites his tongue for a moment before he pushes on. “After the boys convinced me, I thought they might be right. I never knew what to do or say so I thought that maybe, with the team giving me a little push, I’d finally be able to just get out there and say something.”
Clark doesn’t say a word when Bruce pauses, and his fingers are limp under Bruce’s. Bruce refuses to take that as a bad sign as he ploughs on.
“But then I just couldn’t get my head out of my ass and just do it,” he mutters darkly, anger at himself brewing. “I had so many chances, outside of what the team was doing as well, and every time I failed.” He glances up and gives Clark an awkward smile. “Who’d have thought confessing you like someone could be so hard?”
“Who’d’ve indeed,” Clark murmurs, and Bruce smiles a little brighter.
“It’s taken me all this time, and a verbal ass-whooping from Damian,” Bruce continues, and Clark lets out a tiny laugh, “to realise that the reason I couldn’t say anything wasn’t because the team weren’t doing it right or weren’t working their asses off, but because I’m just-”
“Repressed?” Clark cuts in to offer, and Bruce glares at him.
“I’m not repressed,” he protests, and Clark laughs even more. Bruce can’t help but smile and shake his head. “I guess that yeah, because I’m repressed.”
“Only a little,” Clark says, and he seems to have recovered as his hands tighten around Bruce’s and the smile seems permanent now. Bruce feels his chest lighten and warm a little, and he tries not to think about how corny that is.
“The point is,” Bruce manages to say despite the distraction of Clark’s hands on his, “that I’ve dragged my ass all the way out here to the damn Canadian Arctic just so that I damn well tell you that I love you, Clark. In my way. In the Bruce Wayne way. Not the-”
He doesn’t get to finish his sentence as sudden the table is completely gone from in front of him, in fact, it’s now crumpled against the wall somewhere, and Bruce barely registers that before his head is being tilted up and Clark is leaning down to damn well kiss him.
At first, Bruce doesn’t quite know what’s happening. There’s a hand in his hair and another on his cheek and Clark’s mouth is on his and it’s so damn hot and intoxicating that Bruce forgets to breathe, but when he does he can’t help but grin into the kiss momentarily before he surges up out of his chair.
Clark laughs, god it’s stupid, and Bruce just delights in it as he throws his arms around Clark’s neck and drags him down that inch difference to kiss him right back, to show him just how much he damn well loves Clark, to just wrap himself up in this typical all-American-boy despite everything telling him that this isn't supposed to happen, because for once Bruce just damn well doesn’t care.
And when they pull away, both panting for air, Clark presses a sweet kiss to Bruce’s forehead that shouldn’t make him nearly swoon.
“I love you too, Bruce,” Clark murmurs against his forehead, his lips brushing Bruce’s skin. “God, you have no idea how much I love you too.”
Bruce melts. He’ll admit it. He damn well melts and he’s proud as he pushes into Clark’s arms even more and buries his head into Clark’s stupidly big and warm chest, and he grins because yes, Clark loves him too.
Despite everything, Clark loves him too.
“You know,” Alfred says beside Bruce, “you could’ve asked me for help.”
Bruce nearly snorts, but whether it’s at Alfred’s statement or the fact that Clark has just thrown Damian high enough into the air for the boy to literally shriek as he nearly ends up in the tree above them, he doesn’t know.
“Really, Alfred, I would’ve just gotten a lecture about being myself and that’s enough,” Bruce replies as he looks over. Alfred doesn’t smile, just raises that eyebrow of his, and Bruce can’t help but huff. “And that eyebrow. That damn eyebrow.”
There’s another series of yelling and screaming, and Bruce looks over to see that Jason and Damian have charged at Clark, knocking him flat to the grass with vengeance. Damian looks nearly feral as he climbs on top, and Dick and Tim seem frantic as they try to play mediator and pull the other two off the laughing Clark.
“It would’ve been a lot better than this hare-brained adventure those four boys sent you out on.”
“Three,” Bruce corrects. “Damian was surprisingly helpful.”
“There’s always a first time for something.”
Bruce laughs, and he reaches over to clap Alfred on the back as Tim goes hurtling past towards the house at a great rate of knots, Jason right on his heels. Damian is still shrieking, sounding ridiculously delighted as Clark slings him around, and Dick looks like he’s ready to pull out all his hair as he collapses back on the grass.
“Can’t you just be happy for me, Alfred?” Bruce asks him with a small smile, and Alfred looks back at him expressionlessly for a long moment before he smiles right back.
It’s the first time that Bruce has seen a smile that big on Alfred’s face, something he never thought was possible, and his hand slips off Alfred’s back as his most loyal friend steps forward and wraps an arm around Bruce’s shoulders.
“That’s all that I have ever wanted, Master Bruce,” Alfred murmurs to him, and he squeezes once before he takes a step back and nods at Bruce briskly.
Bruce stares at him, completely dumbstruck, and he watches Alfred turn and walk back towards the house behind them, a butler’s work never done. Not in this family at least, Bruce notices as Alfred clips both Tim and Jason over the ears as he walks past. The boys still continue to squabble though, and Bruce watches them in disbelief.
It’s only when a set of large hands wrap around his waist and jar him from his thoughts that he is knocked out of his stupor.
“Come on,” Clark says into his ear, his breath hot against Bruce’s skin and Bruce grips his wrists tightly. “The team will be here any minute and I’m gonna need your help to at least try and blackmail Jason to be nice to them.”
“You’re going to need more than blackmail,” Bruce mutters, and Clark laughs brightly before he presses a kiss to Bruce’s temple and takes off towards the boys.
And Bruce? Bruce can’t help but follow.