This is why Bruce trusts absolutely no one. He’d expected kickback, maybe a little surprise, okay, maybe a lot of surprise. He’d prepared answers to every question they might ask, a contingency plan in case things turned hairy and he needed to get them out of the cave on a moment's notice. He even has Robin hiding on some vantage point, ready to drop in if necessary.
(He definitely didn’t include him because Dick begged to be there for three straight days. That is not true. This is purely tactical. Shut up Alfred.)
The second he takes off the cowl, he expects a ‘oh my god Bruce Wayne?’ Or ‘That’s how you pay for everything?’. He does not expect stupid, cocky, Hal Jordan, to shout, “How old are you?”
Bruce very much would like to have the last two minutes back please, turns out, he does not want to trust them with his identity.
“Twenty-three,” He growls.
Hal, dramatically, and very unnecessarily, falls off his chair.
“You’re twenty ?” Clark all but shouts, leaning forward in his chair. Diana is sitting next to him with her hand gripping his arm, eyes wide and mouth slack. She mouths ‘twenty-three’ and Bruce would like to have a heart attack please.
“Twenty- three ,” Hal corrects, getting up off the floor.
Bruce glowers at them. “Is there a problem?”
Apparently, his glare and voice are still effective, and Hal shakes his head mutely.
Barry raises his hand, and Bruce pinches his nose with a sigh, but nods at him.
“Is this your house?” He looks around, almost concerned. “Like, we all thought you might be a meta, and you don’t look it, obviously, I mean you are Bruce Wayne, which like, wow, whiplash, but if you actually live in a cave I think we should talk.”
One hundred and twelve. That’s the amount of questions Bruce had gone through with Alfred the night before. One hundred and twelve and not a single one has been asked.
Very slowly, and very patiently, Bruce shakes his head. “This is my basement.”
“Your basement?” Hal shouts, again.
“There’s plenty of echo in here without your contributions,” Bruce snaps.
Clark stands slowly, “Sorry, Bat- Bruce. All of us were just under the impression that you’ve been doing this longer than any of us.”
Diana’s forehead connects with the table.
“What?” Clark sputters, trying to keep his mediating attitude. “I- Bruce I’ve been doing this since you were seventeen.”
Clark sits down.
Barry raises his hand again. Bruce regrets every life choice he’s made up to this point. “Are there actual bats in here?”
“Dude, you’re like, committed.”
Bruce swears he hears Dick laugh. Clark looks up, and Bruce suddenly feels an urgent need to cause a distraction. He really doesn’t need to explain a child on top of everything else.
Oliver fucking Queen to the rescue.
He’d been quiet until then, whispering back and forth with Dinah, and Bruce had foolishly hoped it meant he’d known all along. Maybe he figured it out when Bruce did, back when they were teenagers.
Apparently, Oliver was just giving himself time to steam.
“You’re fucking Bruce Wayne ?”
“Language,” Bruce says on instinct. Clark looks up at the ceiling again.
Oliver stalks up to him, shoving his finger in his face. “I have known you since I was six, and you don’t even bother to tell me you’re the goddamn Batman?”
“You’ve known him since he was six ?” Hal echoes, again, like an asshole. Everyone here is an asshole, excluding Dick and Dinah.
“This is the friend who broke his leg trying to impress a girl when you were thirteen?”
Dinah is no longer excluded.
Barry looks absolutely ecstatic, he jumps up to sit on the conference table. “Bats was a wild child?”
“Last week at a gala, you knocked over an entire champagne tower and drunkenly asked the mayor of Gotham on date,” Oliver continues, obviously not listening to the others.
“Bats is a wild child,” Hal says in awe.
Bruce hums, he crosses his arms. “It was an act, Penguin had escaped, I needed an excuse to leave.”
Oliver narrows his eyes. “How long have you known about me?”
“Since you left a sketch of the Green Arrow suit on your desk at school.”
“That was junior year !”
Dinah waves at them to get their attention, “You didn’t live in the same cities, how did you go to the same schools?”
“Boarding school,” Oliver and Bruce say at the same time, not breaking eye contact with each other.
Oliver stabs a finger into his chest, “You should have told me.”
“I was going to,” Bruce answers honestly, “but then things changed, protecting my identity wasn’t just about protecting me.”
“What changed?” Diana asks, looking up.
“Robin,” Clark says.
Bruce’s eyes snap away from Oliver so quickly it makes him dizzy. “Excuse me?”
“He’s an urban legend, more so than Batman. People on Gotham’s streets swear he’s real, but every time a reporter tries to publish an article, the story falls apart.” Clark nods at Bruce, “I assume you have something to do with that?”
Oliver is staring at him with wide eyes, his voice raising an octave, “ Dick ?”
Bruce leans away, resisting the urge to rub his ears, and gives him an annoyed look. “Alright, Robin, you can come down.”
Two tiny feet land just behind Bruce, and a small hand fists a handful of his cape.
Diana puts her head back down on the table.
“Hey, uncle Oli,” Dick waves, then looks up at Bruce. “Do you think he’s gonna punch you?”
Have children, they say, light of your life, they say.
“Yes,” Oliver growls. Dinah catches his arm before he can.
“Alright, everyone calm down. We promised going into this that no matter what happened, we’d give Batman a chance. Can we please stick to that?”
Okay, Dinah’s back on the not-asshole list.
“Is he your son or did you like, steal him?” Hal asks.
Dick laughs loudly, jumping up to Bruce’s shoulders in one movement. “I’m adopted!”
“I didn’t steal him.”
“Adoption is kind of like consensual stealing.”
“ Dick .”
Oliver narrows his eyes, looking hurt. “So when you invited me to theater camp when we were nineteen, it was for tactical reasons, not because we were friends?”
The room erupts.
“Dick,” Bruce calls, walking through the manor living room, phone in hand. “Dick!”
“Incoming!” Dick shouts, sliding down the railing.
Bruce watches as he lands on two feet, not even bothering to conceal his fondness. “Don’t let Alfred catch you doing that.”
“It was a trick, Bruce,” Dick tells him exasperatedly, “you’re supposed to clap.”
Setting his phone down on a nearby side table, Bruce claps a few times as Dick bows. “Just a quick question, chum.”
“An old video came across my screen today, should I clap for that trick too?”
Dick blinks up at him innocently. “What video?”
Bruce narrows his eyes as Dick runs off, shouting something about cookies. He knows for a fact Dick was watching stunt videos on YouTube the night before.
His phone rings, Bruce answers with a grunt.
“ I want you to know I had nothing to do with it .”
Bruce pinches his nose, “Hello, Oliver.”
“ Seriously, I forgot I even had it, just some dumb keepsake in my attic. I don’t even know how the kid got to it .”
“ Yes ?”
“You’ve been my best friend for how many years?”
“ Seventeen .”
“You’ve been Dick’s uncle for how many?”
“ Two. Where are you going with this ?”
Bruce pulls the phone away from his ear, angling the receiver right at his mouth. He hisses “ Betrayal .” and hangs up before Oliver can reply.
“ I am vengeance ,” nineteen year old him says, shitty camera quality making his already awful acting even worse. “ I am the night… I am Batman !”
The tv cuts back to the reporter, whose face is just a little red and eyes just a little watery. “ You saw that right, folks. Billionaire Bruce Wayne giving his final monologue at Anderson’s Drama and Theatrics week long camp, four years ago !”
“ The next clip we’re going to show you is one of the first actual videos we’ve gotten of the infamous Batman ,” The reporter next to her says. He clears his throat, “ This video was taken one year ago .”
The camera quality is better, but the lens keeps shaking, never getting a clear view of Batman’s face. His voice is a growl, low and intimidating. “ I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman !”
Back to the reporters, the first one nods. “ So, is Batman really a plagiarizer? We are currently waiting for a response from Bruce Wayne himself, but one of our reporters managed to get this statement from his ward, Richard Grayson, after school today .”
“ Oh, my dad is definitely mad ,” Dick says, smiling like an angel. “ He told me he’s planning on suing Batman for the rights to his monologue !”
Alfred turns off the tv, and turns to frown at Bruce. “I believe your friends are a bad influence on him.”
“My- my friends are the Justice League, Alfred!”
Alfred hums, “I’m quite aware, sir.”
Bruce marches into the watchtower, a newspaper in his hand. He stomps up to Superman, engaged in a conversation with Diana and Barry. He slams the paper down in front of them. “What the hell.”
Clark blinks at him with his stupid do-gooder face. “I’m sorry?”
“‘Bruce Wayne to Sue the Batman’?” Barry reads off the paper. “Written by Clark… Kent.”
“Clark!” Diana admonishes. “We agreed we’d stay out of this!”
“I didn’t,” Barry cuts in.
Clark shrugs, barely glancing at the article. “Listen, Bruce, my boss tells me what to write, I couldn’t really control-”
“‘Bruce Wayne deserves recognition for his brilliant writing skills and ability to draw a crowd’,” Bruce quotes with a growl, “‘by stealing his work, Batman has shown he cares very little for talent or individuals’.”
Clark shrugs again. Diana frowns, “We shouldn’t be mean to him.”
Bruce does not gawk. He doesn’t. He is Batman and he is scary and he hates these people. “Be mean to- I’m Batman !”
“I am vengeance!” Hal shouts from across the room.
“ Hello ?”
“‘My good friend worked hard on his monologue, to have it stolen from him is an attack on both of us’. Seriously, Oliver?”
“ You didn’t tell me you were Batman for seven years. You are a mean man who deserves this .”
“I’m going to give the yacht picture to Dinah.”
“ No- no, see you deserve this. You deserve this, Bruce, that’s different, that’s- ”
Bruce hangs up.
“#brucewayneisatheaterkid” is trending on Twitter. Dick makes him play charades. He pretends to be dying and Bruce guesses himself. He is correct.
“Diana, why are you on my balcony at two am?”
“I thought I would check in on a friend.”
“You’ve never checked in before.”
“I didn’t know where you lived before.”
“Are those cookies?”
“You did well today.”
“So you brought me… cookies.”
“Did you bring Clark cookies?”
“Twenty-three is not very young.”
“It’s a little young.”
Bruce stares dead into the camera, his lips pursed. Next to him, Dick is obviously trying hard not to laugh. “I am taking Batman to court.”
“On what grounds?” a reporter shouts.
“Plagiarism,” Bruce grits out.
A voice that sounds suspiciously like Clark’s carries through the crowd, “Why?”
“Because he- because he stole my monologue from theater camp four years ago.”
Dick snorts, turning to press his face into Bruce’s side so the reporters don’t see him laugh.
Apologies to his parents, but this is the worst day of Bruce Wayne’s life.
“You sued yourself for two million?” Oliver wheezes, leaning back in his seat, shoulders shaking with laughter. “Did you just put it back in your bank account?”
“No. I donated it to local theaters.”
The room goes quiet. Diana clears her throat, “I’m sorry, what?”
Bruce shrugs, flipping through the case file in front of him. “Theaters need money.”
Oliver snorts, “Everyone’s gonna remember you as the theater kid who sued Batman.”
“I’m more worried about what they’ll remember you for,” Bruce comments idly.
“What?” Oliver sits up, pulling his phone out, he scrolls for a few seconds, and then his eyes widen. “I thought you were sending it to Dinah!”
“I changed my mind.”
“ Dammit .” Oliver stands, rushing from the room muttering something about yachts and being a stupid teenager.
Bruce glances up briefly from his file, “If you need recommendations for a good PR team let me know!”
Bruce sits idly at his computer chair, typing up a report, when Clark and Diana come hurtling into the cave. Bruce doesn’t even jump. “Record time.”
“What’s going on here?”
Slowly, Bruce turns in his chair, his hands steepled under his chin. “There isn’t a threat.”
“You lied ?”
“It wouldn’t have mattered if you hadn’t been tracking my comms.”
Diana shifts on her feet. “We were just looking out for-”
“I am twenty-three, not seven,” Bruce snaps, glaring at them both.
Clark’s eyes flick to his screen, then back to Bruce. He makes a valiant effort, but he can’t hold back a small snort. Bruce glares harder. Diana covers her mouth to hide a smile.
“We understand that, Bruce-” Clark starts, but is cut off by his own laughter, eyes flicking to the screen again.
With a huff, Bruce glances back to look at it.
There, is the security feed of the mansion, where Dick is very proudly holding up a Superman poster that's signed, ‘To Bruce, love, Superman.’
“You signed that?”
“I must have.”
Bruce wants today to go away now. He needs a nap. His friends are assholes. “You’re a bad influence on him.”
“ Me ?”
“Everyone says I’m an awesome influence!”
Bruce Wayne is, in fact, known from then on as the man who sued Batman. The story gets told by a drunk Oliver every Christmas party.
The actual videos, unfortunately, had all been lost to a skilled hackers virus. The perpetrator was never caught.
(Dick still has a copy. He calls it the “initiation video”. Every new Bat has seen it.)