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Stuck in the Middle (With You)

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"-negotiations with the Klemariens have remained at a standstill. I don't envision them restarting anytime soon, considering our current...situation. In fact, I would say we've moved past almost all possibilities of negotiating intergalactic peace. They've chosen to take what appear to be drastic, military measures. The threat to Earth is..."

Clark trailed off as the founding members looked up at the main conference telescreen. The stark image of thousands of alien battalions headed their way was certainly sobering. The Watchtower whirred around them, oblivious to the incoming threat.

"Well. It's a big problem. That's obvious."

The room grew even more silent, processing this. Nobody liked to imagine worldwide destruction, even if it was hardly imminent. Clark opened his mouth to continue, only to find himself at a loss for words.

"And there's no way to contact them?" Diana asked, raising her hand briefly. Arthur nodded along to her left. "No way to ask for an armistice?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Clark said. Finished with his presentation, he took his seat next to Batman with a grimace. "We need to begin considering possible retaliatory actions if they breach the Tenkin asteroid belt."

Batman stood, nodding at the unspoken cue. He was quieter than usual, a tightness to his jaw that wasn't usually present, barring serious injury.

"I agree. Their lightspeed travel capacities are far too great for us to not prepare some defenses. Of course, they can't cross the Tenkin until at least next month, but this prompts multiple concerns…"

Clark watched as Ollie bit his lip, turning to murmur something in Arthur's ear. Neither looked particularly hopeful.

J'onn was silent at the head of the table, staring at the screen. His expression was inscrutable. Even Hal Jordan was suspiciously quiet, watching Bruce's presentation with unusual focus.

"...lightspeed calculations would place them at approximately ten-"

Batman cut off, frowning at his wrist. A red light was flashing on one of his gloves, accompanied by a beeping noise. He jabbed at a button, silencing the alarm.

"Excuse me. As I was saying, the Klemarien array is-"

A loud alarm sounded over the room's speakers, startling its inhabitants.


Batman glared at the telescreen, tapping at his wrist. "Computer, disengage."


Bruce traded a look with Clark, something clearly along the lines of this isn't a drill and you better not be fucking with me.

Not me, Clark sent back with a quirked brow. Something wrong?

"Computer, accept emergency message," Batman said, moving to stand in front of the screen's camera. He ignored Clark's worried look. "Open."

Clark took a sip of his coffee, unsure what could be behind the emergency message screen. A message from the Klemariens? Lex Luthor hacking their satellites again? The president? All possible, but unlikely-


He nearly spit his coffee across the Founders' table as Dick's face filled the JL screen. The younger man wore an expression of pure panic, squinting desperately into the camera.

It was the absolute last thing he'd expected; Bruce's eldest in his pajamas, looking miles out of his depth.

"Oh thank Jesus," Dick said, breathless. He waved to someone off camera, half-frantic. "Tim! He finally picked up!"

Behind the younger man, the familiar backdrop of the Cave was split by what appeared to be a large, rusting pipe. It was nearly twenty feet long, hardly more than a foot wide.

What the...

A quick tap from Bruce, and the camera zoomed out.

Tim was crouched by the far end of the pipe, still dressed in his costume. Cass and Stephanie were perched behind him, watching the end of the pipe intently.

The younger vigilante had a laser-cutter in one hand, a look of frustration on his face. He was bent over something, muttering too softly for the microphone to pick up.

The camera zoomed in slowly, taking a moment to focus. Something was moving in the pipe, struggling to free itself.

No, not something, Clark realized. It was Damian's head.

The room went silent.

"Jesus Christ," Bruce muttered under his breath, so quiet, Clark was the only one who heard it. "Jesus fucking Christ."

"Alfred's not home and Jason's not answering his phone and Damian's stuck but he won't admit it and I can't get him out so I called the Watchtower, which I know you told us never to do, but this is really an emergency, Bruce," Dick said, breathless. "Like, worse than that time when Alfred was gone and we broke the sink. So much worse."

Bruce made a choked noise next to him, like he'd been punched in the gut. Hard.

"I mean. Look at him. This is definitely your kid," Dick waved at Damian's protruding head, oblivious, "He won't even admit he's even stuck!"

The younger Wayne was flushed, wiggling around in obvious displeasure. His mask was half off, his cape wrapped up around his neck. Something shiny was smeared across his face. His wiggling only managed to push the cape further up around his neck, giving him the appearance of a temperamental flower.

He looked adorable. Murderous, but adorable.

"We tried grease, pushing, everything," Dick said, waving, "I swear to God, he's stuck, and I don't know what to do Bruce please help us-"

Bruce's face was caught in a priceless expression of absolute confusion and horror. His mouth was open, jaw hanging loose. Parental concern warred with outright disbelief in his eyes.

"I am not stuck!" Damian cried from inside the pipe, squirming against the confines of the metal. He was turning an impressive shade of puce, only exacerbated by the movement. "Drake dropped a batarang down the confiscated construction material-"

"We were looking for evidence on that trucker case," Tim added, looking mournfully at his laser cutter. "Damian insisted on being the one who went in."

"I am the only who would fit. Of course I would be the one to retrieve Father's priceless weapon!"

Tim rolled his eyes. "It's a batarang, dumbass, how many of those do you think he just leaves embedded inside criminal every night, huh? A couple dozen?"

"Drake! This is not funny!"

Dick face-palmed onscreen as the two broke into bickering, quickly devolving into threats.

The Founders' Hall was absolutely, utterly silent. All attention was on the telescreen, and Bruce's crazed children. Clark couldn't tear his eyes away.

"-rip your intestines out myself-"

"Yeah, but what are you actually gonna do? Glare me to death?"

"I will do far worse when I'm free of these confines!"

"If I were you, I'd stop yelling, Damian. You look like you're about to burst-"

"Stop making plumbing jokes!"

Clark jumped in his chair as a low, rumbling sound began next to him. It took him a few seconds to realize that the noise was coming from Bruce.

Batman was laughing.

Laughing. Out loud.

In public.

The room's attention quickly turned away from the screen as Bruce's laughter grew louder. He tore away the cowl with a trembling hand, tears pouring down his face.

On the screen, Dick cleared his throat.

"Bruce, now is really not the time-"

Clark watched in amazement as the vigilante collapsed into his chair, dissolving into actual, full-out giggles. He blinked, unable to believe his eyes.

"What the fuck," Hal Jordan whispered, sharing a horrified glance with Oliver Queen as their co-leader broke down in front of them. "What the actual fuck."

Clark cleared his throat, struggling harder than ever to keep a straight face.

"Nightwing, you aren't-ah, you're not on private comms," he said, cringing internally, "This is a Founders' meeting. You contacted the emergency system."

Dick's eyes went to Bruce, still trembling in his seat, then back to Clark. Dawning realization filled his gaze.

"Well, shit."

Diana snorted at that, leaning back into her chair. "An apt conclusion."

"-stuck-" Bruce managed to force out, leaning forward to put his head in his hands. He was still shaking, drawing in an errant breath with a wheeze. "-he's fucking stuck-"

"Batman has kids?!" Hal Jordan had finally managed to form a coherent sentence. His eyes were locked on the screen, watching as Dick attempted to intervene between Damian and Tim in the background. "Actual, breathing, little shithead kids."

"Don't you watch the news?" Oliver rolled his eyes. "He has like, seven."


In the background of the screen, Damian and Tim were still arguing, only now, the elder had a fully-lit laser cutter in one hand, waving it near Damian's face. Dick was attempting to wrestle the cutter away from his brother. Cass and Stephanie refused to move from their perch above the pipe.

"Um, Bruce." Clark nudged his partner in the ribs, "Bruce. You need to-intervene. Bruce. Now."

"-will make your unfortunate existence even more miserable from this day forward, mark my words-"

"I'm sorry-I-" Bruce pushed himself to his feet, still laughing. He stumbled a little as he made his way to the door, nearly tripping over his cape. Clark had never seen him this unsteady in his life. "I-I need a-a moment-"

"-lot of tough talk coming from a kid who's literally covered in Vaseline-"

Clark groaned internally as the door slammed, their only chance at saving Bruce's ridiculous kids from murder charges disappearing behind it.

As soon as the other man was outside in the hallway, Clark heard him break down into full-out laughter. The vigilante slumped against the nearest wall, sliding to the ground as he was wracked by chuckles.

"He's going through a lot," Clark said awkwardly to the room, "Lots of, uh, personal stuff."

"Holy fuck," Jason said onscreen, entering from the left entrance. "What the fuck happened?"

Stephanie waved a hand. "Damian got stuck."

Jason kicked the pipe, getting an outraged roar from Damian.

"Well, Captain obvious, I can see that-"

The laser cutter fired up in the background. Dick made a desperate noise as Tim leapt forward, slashing at the pipe. Clark saw his life flash before his eyes, unable to look away as Damian's screaming filled his ears.

The pipe split like butter under the cutter. Within seconds, the entire front portion was in two pieces. They hit the floor of the Cave with a deafening clang.

Tim made a pleased noise, stepping back from the destruction.

Damian slowly wiggled out of the remaining metal. His face was smeared in Vaseline, still flushed a bright pink. He wasted no time, diving for Tim's throat before he was completely out of the pipe.

"Whoah, hey! No! Bad Damian!" Dick scrambled to grab the youngest Wayne by the cape, yanking him back. "Jason, a little help here?"

"I-why the fuck is he covered in Vaseline?" Jason wiped his hands on Damian's cape, horrified. "He's too slippery, I can't get a grip-"

Bruce poked his head back into the conference room, by all appearances, completely calm. One look at the scuffle on the screen sent him over the edge again. He ducked back into the hallway, breaking into laughter again.

"Right," Clark said, standing. He placed a hand on the conference table, willing his face to stay blank. "Computer, disconnect emergency message, please."

Damian's war cry cut off mid-way, the screen turning dark as the connection was terminated. The conference room went silent.

"Should, uh, someone go check on Batman?' Ollie asked, casting a worried glance at the door.

Clark x-rayed the hallway, clearing his throat. "...Nope."

"I vote to adjourn the meeting," Diana said, raising her hand. "There's no more business to be done until tomorrow morning."

"Yeah, Batman's kids are obviously the bigger galactic threat," Hal Jordan muttered. Next to him, Barry snorted. "I'm not even joking. Dead serious."

"I second that," Arthur nodded at Diana. "Resolution passes. Let's get the hell out of here."

The conference room emptied fairly quickly. A moment later, Bruce stepped back in, his cowl in his hands. He frowned at the empty chairs.

"They're terrified," Clark explained, "Apparently your kids are scarier than the Klemariens."

"Obviously," Bruce muttered.

Clark slid an arm around his waist, drawing him close.

"Let's go home. See if the house is still standing."

"It's probably not."

"That's your opinion."

"It's a fact."

They made their way towards the zeta tubes, hand in hand. Clark shook his head.

"I'm just saying, there's no doubt in my mind, whatsoever: Damian is definitely your kid."

"They're all our kids," Bruce said, looking mildly horrified at the premise. "Jesus. Did they actually cover him in Vaseline?"

"Yep. He tried to murder Tim."

Bruce hit the coordinates for Gotham. "That's all Talia's side."

"Uh huh."

A quiet chuckle echoed inside the zeta chamber. Clark stared at Bruce.

"I'm sorry, it's just-" Bruce took a breath, steadying himself as the tube fired up around them. "They covered him in Vaseline. Vaseline. He's going to kill Tim. The worst part is, I'm going to have to let him."

Clark frowned as the other man broke into laughter again.

"That's not funny."

"It's hilarious."